Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 14,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1886), pp. 209-237


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EDGAR POE’S reputation had already proceeded him to New York, where, indeed, the publications of N. P. Willis, and other literary correspondents and friends had kept his name for some time before the public.

“Our first knowledge of Mr. Poe’s removal to this city,” says Willis,* “was by a call which we receive from a lady who introduced herself to us as the mother of his wife. She was in search of employment for him, and she excused her errand by mentioning that he was ill, that her daughter was a confirmed invalid, and that their circumstances were such as compelled her taking it upon herself. The countenance of this lady, made beautiful and saintly by an evidently complete giving up of her life to privation and sorrowful tenderness, her gentle and mournful voice urging its plea, her long-forgotten but habitually and unconsciously refined manners, and her appealing yet appreciative mention of the claims and abilities of her son, disclosed at once the presence of one of those angels upon earth that women in adversity can be. It was a hard fate that she was watching over. Mr. Poe wrote with fastidious difficulty, and in a style too much above the popular level to be well paid. He was always in pecuniary difficulty, and, with his sick [page 210:] wife, frequently in want of the merest necessities of life.”

The immediate result of that interview with Mrs. Clemm is not told; but, eventually, Edgar Poe was engaged as sub-editor on the Evening Mirror. Willis, writing to his former partner Morris,* when called upon to make some remarks respecting his acquaintance with the deceased poet, says, in language that would give greater gratification were it a little less self-glorifying:

“In our harassing and exhausting days of ‘daily’ editorship, Poe, for a long time, was our assistant — the constant and industrious occupant of a desk in our office. . . . Poe came to us quite incidentally, neither of us having been personally acquainted with him till that time; and his position towards us, and connection with us, of course unaffected by claims of previous friendship, were a fair average of his general intercourse and impressions. As he was a man who never smiled, and never said a propitiatory or deprecating word, we were not likely to have been seized with any sudden partiality or wayward caprice in his favour.

I should preface my avowal of an almost reverence for the man, as I knew him, by reminding the reader of the strange double, common to the presence and magnetism of a man of genius, the mysterious electricity of mind. . . .

“It was rather a step downward, after being the chief editor of several monthlies, as Poe had been, to come into the office of a daily journal as a mechanical paragraphist. It was his business to sit at a desk, in a corner of the editorial room, ready to be called upon for any of the miscellaneous work of the day; yet you remember how absolutely and how good-humouredly ready he was for any suggestion; how punctually and industriously reliable in the following out of the wish once expressed; how cheerful and present-minded his work when he might excusably have been so listless and abstracted. We loved the man for the entireness of fidelity [page 211:] with which he served us. When he left us, we were very reluctant to part with him.”

Again, in the letter to the Home Journal already referred to, Willis says: —

“Poe was employed by us, for several months, as critic and sub-editor. This was our first personal acquaintance with him. He resided with his wife and mother at Fordham,* a few miles out of town, but was at his desk in the office from nine in the morning till the evening paper went to press. With the highest admiration for his genius, and a willingness to let it atone for more than ordinary irregularity, we were led by common report to expect a very capricious attention to his duties, and, occasionally, a scene of violence and difficulty. Time went on, however, and he was invariably punctual and industrious. With his pale, beautiful, and intellectual face, as a reminder of what genius was in him, it was impossible, of course, not to treat him always with deferential courtesy, and, to our occasional request that he would not probe too deep in a criticism, or that be would erase a passage coloured too highly with his resentments against society and mankind, he readily and courteously assented — far more yielding than most men, we thought, on points so excusably sensitive. With a prospect of taking the lead in another periodical, he, at last, voluntarily gave up his employment with us, and, through all this considerable period, we had seen but one presentment of the man — a quiet, patient, industrious, and most gentlemanly person, commanding the utmost respect and good feeling by his unvarying deportment and ability.”

This characterisation of the poet is not of much importance, save that it affords another link in the chain of evidence as to Poe’s general behaviour. Mr. Willis’s fondness for patronising his betters is somewhat ludicrous, and he quite forgets to remark that the profits of his grandiloquent paper scarcely sufficed to pay his [page 212:] “critic and sub-editor” an honorarium large enough to keep body and spirit together. Poe’s contributions to the Evening Mirror were not great either in quality or quantity, and soon after his resignation of his post upon it, the paper passed from Messrs. Willis and Morris into the hands of new proprietors. At first, beyond those of a “mechanical paragraphist,” Poe’s ditties in his new position had not called for much activity. In October he appears to have resumed his translations from the French, and to have continued them in the columns of this paper for several months but it is not until the beginning of the following January that any original writing therein can be traced to his pen.

Meanwhile, in Godey’s magazine for November, was published his tale, “Thou Art the Man,” — one of the most conventional of his fictions; and in the Southern Literary Messenger for December, a caustic satire on the “Mutual Admiration Society ” system among editors, entitled ” The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq., late Editor of the Goosetherumfoodle.” More important than these were the initial papers of “Marginalia,” contributed to the Democratic Review, during the last two months of the year. From the introduction to these pungent, pithy, paragraphs, which were continued in the pages of various publications up to the very day of their author’s death, and which, despite their idiosyncratic powers, have not yet all been collected — these sentences may be fittingly reproduced: —

“In getting my books I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords [page 213:] me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general. Where what I have to note is too much to be included within the narrow limits of a margin, I commit it to a slip of paper, and deposit it between the leaves; taking care to secure it by an imperceptible portion of gum tragacanth paste.

“All this may be whim; it may be not only a very hackneyed, but a very idle practice, yet I persist in it still; and it affords me pleasure — which is profit, in despite of Mr. Bentham with Mr. Mill on his back.

“This making of notes, however, is by no means the making of mere memoranda — a custom which has its disadvantages, beyond doubt. ‘Ce que je mets sun papier,’ says Bernardin de St. Pierre, ‘je remets de ma mémoire, et par consequence je l‘oublie;’ and, in fact, if you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.

“But the purely marginal jottings, done with no eye to the Memorandum Book, have a distinct complexion, and not only a distinct purpose, but none at all; this it is which imparts to them a value. They have a rank somewhat above the chance and desultory comments of literary chit-chat-for these latter are not unfrequently ‘talk for talk’s sake,’ hurried out of the mouth; while the marginalia are deliberately pencilled, because the mind of the reader wishes to unburthen itself of a thought — however flippant — however silly — however trivial — still a thought indeed, not merely a thing that might have been a thought in time, and under more favourable circumstances. In the marginalia, too, we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly — boldly — originally — with abandonnement — without conceit-much after the fashion of Jeremy Taylor, and Sir Thomas Browne, and Sir William Temple, and the anatomical Burton, and that most logical analogise Butler, and some other people of the old day, who were too full of their matter to have any room for their manner, which being thus left out of question was a capital manner indeed — a model of manners, with a richly marginallic air. The circumscription of space, too, in these pencillings, has in it something more of advantage than inconvenience. It compels us (whatever diffuseness of idea we may clandestinely entertain) into blontesquieu-ism, into Tacitus-ism [page 214:] (here I leave out of view the concluding portion of the ‘Annals’). . . .

“During a rainy afternoon, not long ago, being in a mood too listless for continuous study, I sought relief from ennui in dipping here and there at random among the volumes of my library — no very large one certainly, but sufficiently miscellaneous, and, I flatter myself, not a little recherché.

“Perhaps it was what the Germans call the ‘brain-scattering’ humour of the moment; but, while the picturesqueness of the numerous pencil-scratches arrested my attention, their helter-skelteriness of commentary amused me. I found myself at length forming a wish that it had been some other hand than my own which had so bedevilled the books, and fancying that, in such case, I might have derived no inconsiderable pleasure from turning them over. From this the transition-thought (as Mr. Lyell, or Mr. Murchison, or Mr. Featherstonhaugh would have it) was natural enough — there might be something even in my scribblings which, for the mere sake of scribbling, would have interest for others.

“The main difficulty respected the mode of transferring the notes from the volumes — the context from the text — without detriment to that exceedingly frail fabric of intelligibility in which the context was imbedded. With all appliances to boot, with the printed pages at their back, the commentaries were too often like Dodona’s oracles — or those of Lycophron Tenebrosus — or the essays of the pedant’s pupils in Quintillian, which were ‘necessarily excellent, since even he (the pedant) found it impossible to comprehend them:’ what, then, would become of it — this context — if transferred — if translated? Would it not rather be traduit (traduced) which is the French synonyme, or overzezet (turned topsy-turvy) which is the Dutch one?

“I concluded at length to put extensive faith in the acumen and imagination of the reader-this as a general rule. But, in some instances, where even faith would not remove mountains, there seemed no safer plan than so to remodel the note as to convey at least the ghost of a conception as to what it was all about. Where, for such conception, the text itself was absolutely necessary, I could quote it; where the title of the book commented upon was indispensable., I could name it. In short, like a novel-hero dilemma‘d, I made up my mind [page 215:] ‘to be guided by circumstances,’ in default of more satisfactory rules of conduct.

“As for the multitudinous opinion expressed in the subjoined farrago — as for my present assent to all, or dissent from any portion of it — as to the possibility of my having in some instances altered my mind — or as to the impossibility of my not having altered it often — these are points upon which I say nothing, because upon these there can be nothing cleverly said. It may be as well to observe, however, that just as the goodness of your true pun is in the direct ratio of its intolerability, so is nonsense the essential sense of the Marginal Note.”

Following this introduction are various specimens of Poe’s ideas, grave and gay, on all kinds of topics. The puns and jests are no better than such light ware is generally, but his opinions on certain books and their authors, and on some of the arts and sciences, deserve preservation. Music is a frequent theme with him, for of music he was a passionate devotee, and a capable student. Speaking in commendatory terms of the late H. F. Chorley, he says, “But the philosophy of music is beyond his depth, and of its physics he, unquestionably, has no conception. By the way,” he adds, “of all the so-called scientific musicians, bow many may we suppose cognisant of the acoustic facts and mathematical deductions? To be sure, my acquaintance with eminent composers is quite limited; but I have never met one who did not stare and say ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘hum!’ ‘ha!’ ‘eh?’ when I mentioned the mechanism of the Siréne, or made allusion to the oval vibrations at right angles.”

A lengthy note is devoted to a presumed omission in all the Bridgewater treatises, in their failure to notice “the great idiosyncrasy in the Divine system of adaptation — that idiosyncrasy which stamps the [page 216:] adaptation as Divine, in distinction from that which is the work of merely human constructiveness. I speak,” he asserts, “of the complete mutuality of adaptation,” and then proceeds to furnish examples, needless to cite here, concluding in drawing a contrast between human and divine inventions, “the plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a plot of God.”

Referring to his favourite author, Dickens, he remarks that his ” serious (minor) compositions have been lost in the blaze of his comic reputation. One of the most forcible things ever written,” he opines, “is a short story of his, called ‘The Black Veil;’ a strangely-pathetic and richly-imaginative production, replete with the loftiest tragic power.” That Dickens’s head must puzzle the phrenologists then occurs to him, for in it, he observes, “the organs of ideality are small; and the conclusion of the ‘Curiosity Shop’ is more truly ideal (in both phrenological senses) than any composition of equal length in the English language.”

Some ideas are then hazarded as to the treatment to be awarded dunces; “where the gentler sex is concerned,” says the chivalrous poet, “there seems but one course far the critic-speak if you can commend; be silent, if not.” Frequently his opinions run counter to those of the immense majority of his republican brethren, as in the note, “The sense of high birth is a moral force whose value the democrats are never in condition to calculate: ‘Pour savoir ce qu‘est Dieu,’ says the Baron de Bielfeld, ‘il faut être Dieu même.’ ” His views and reviews of things in general, as set forth in these original and entertaining Marginalia, [page 217:] supply ample literary food for interest and imagination, but scarcely need lengthy notice in their author’s biography, albeit they open many unsuspected sidelights upon the darker recesses of his mental story. When, for instance, he declares “I am far more than half-serious in all that I have ever said about manuscript, as affording indication of character,” we feel that he is really confiding in us, as also in the sequence; “I by no means shrink from acknowledging that I act, hourly, upon estimates of character derived from chirography.” “How many good books suffer neglect through the inefficiency of their beginnings,” is a thought, indeed, likely to have been in the mind of him who invariably acts up to his advice here given; of ” at all risks, let there be a few vivid sentences, imprimis, by way of the electric bell to the telegraph: A large portion of his misfortunes — the rôle of critic he was compelled to play being really compulsory — are suggested by the assertion that “a man of genius if not permitted to choose his own subject, will do worse, in letters, than if he had talents none at all And here how imperatively is he controlled!” “To be sure!” exclaimed Poe, “he can write to suit himself, but in the same manner his publishers print.” Whilst the accusation in the following paragraph is too surely pointed to be taken for any one else than self-reference — “It is the curse of a certain order of mind, that it can never rest satisfied with the consciousness of its ability to do a thing. Still less is it content with doing it. It must both know and show how it was done.”

With 1845 was inaugurated the most brilliant epoch of Poe’s literary career, although the continually [page 218:] increasing weakness of his wife flung a cloud of gloom over its brightness. In The Gift for the new year appeared ” The Purloined Letter,” the last of the famous detective trilogy, of which the “Rue Morgue” and “Marie Roget” mysteries form parts. The three tales should always be read in conjunction with one another, because, although published separately, and each complete in itself, the one is but a sequence of the analytic reasoning of the other, and all are but varied examples of the futility of over acuteness, or rather cunning, when opposed by extraordinary combinations, or by the calculations of genius.

On January 4th was published the first number of a new periodical, entitled The Broadway Journal. It was not until No. 10 that I had anything to do with this journal as editor,” is Poe’s endorsement upon our copy, but from its commencement he wrote for it. To the first, and the following number, he contributed a review of Mrs. Browning’s ” Drama of Exile and other Poems,” and, whilst not forgetful of his critical severities, he found enough in the work to call forth his most enthusiastic admiration and poetic sympathy. That she had, even then, done more in poetry than any woman, living or dead, was a decision Poe could not fail to arrive at; neither was he singular nor original in deeming that she had “surpassed all her poetical contemporaries of either sex, with a single exception,” that exception being Tennyson. What Mrs. Browning thought of her transatlantic reviewer’s strictures on her presumed want of due knowledge of the mechanism of verse may be gathered from this extract out of a letter to Mr. Horne: — [page 219:]

“Mr. Poe seems to me in a great mist on the subject of metre. You yourself have skipped all the philosophy of the subject in your excellent treatise on ‘Chaucer Modernised,’ and you shut your ears when I tried to dun you about it one day. But Chaucer wrote on precisely the same principles (eternal principles) as the Greek poets did, I believe, unalterably; and you, who are a musician, ought to have sung it out loud in the ears of the public. There is no ‘pedantic verbiage’ in Longinus. Put Mr. Poe, who attributes the ‘Œdipus Colonœus’ to Æschylus (vide review on me), sits somewhat loosely, probably, on his classics.”

Poe, certainly, was not a profound Greek scholar; but he had been to classical schools, and was a well-read man, and could not, therefore, have ascribed the Sophoclesian drama to Æschylus, save in a fit of oblivious haste, such as, indeed, the somewhat involved nature of the passage in question suggests must have been the case in this instance.

A critique on N. P. Willis constituted Poe’s sole contribution to the third number of the Broadway Journal, and it contained nothing very original or striking, but was chiefly occupied by an elaborate discussion as to the boundaries between Fancy and Imagination, travelling over much the same ground that had been traversed five years previously, in a review of koore’s poetry.

On the 29th of January the first published version of Poe’s poetic chef d’œuvre, the far-famed ” Raven,” appeared in the Evening Mirror, with these introductory words by Willis: —

“We are permitted to copy, (in advance of publication,) from the second No. of the American Review, the following remarkable poem by Edgar Poe. In our opinion, it is the most effective single example of ‘fugitive poetry’ ever published in this country; and unsurpassed in English poetry for subtle conception, masterly ingenuity of versification, and [page 220:] consistent sustaining of imaginative lift. . . . It is one of those ‘dainties bred in a book,’ which we feed on. It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it.”

This publication with the author’s name, and the immediate reproduction of the poem in the journals of nearly every town in the United States, prevented any attempt at concealment, had Poe really thought to make one. Certain it is that “The Raven” appeared in the American Review for February, as by “Quarles,” preceded by the following note, the inspiration, evidently, of the poet himself: —

“The following lines from a correspondent, besides the deep quaint strain of the sentiment, and the curious introduction of some ludicrous touches amidst the serious and impressive, as was doubtless intended by the author — appear to us one of the most felicitous specimens of unique rhyming which has for some time met our eye. The resources of English rhythm for varieties of melody, measure, and sound, producing corresponding diversities of effect, have been thoroughly studied; much more perceived, by very few poets in the language. While the classic tongues, especially the Greek, possess, by power of accent, several advantages for versification over our own, chiefly through greater abundance of spondaic feet, we have other, and very great advantages of sound, by the modern usage of rhyme. Alliteration is nearly the only effect of that kind which the ancients had in common with us. It will be seen that much of the melody of “The Raven” arises from alliteration, and the studious use of similar sounds in unusual places. In regard to its measure, it may be noted, that if all the verses were like the second, they might properly be placed merely in short lines, producing a not uncommon form; but the presence in all the others of one line — mostly the second in the verse — which flows continuously, with only an aspirate pause in the middle, like that before the short line in the Sapphic Adonic, while the fifth has at the middle pause no similarity of sound with any part beside, give the versification an entirely different effect. [page 221:] We could wish the capacities of our noble language, in prosody, were better understood.”

No single “fugitive” poem ever caused such a furor; in the course of a few weeks it spread over the whole of the United States, calling into existence parodies and imitations innumerable, and, indeed, creating quite a literature of its own; it carried its author’s name and fame from shore to shore, inducing veritable poets in other lands — last but not least, Monsieur Mallarmè, — to attempt to transmute its magical charms into their tongues; it drew admiring testimony from some of the finest spirits of the age, and, finally, made Poe the lion of the season. And for this masterpiece of genius — this poem which has, probably, done more for the renown of American letters than any other single work — it is alleged that Poe, then in the heyday of his intellect and reputation, received the sum of ten dollars!

Mrs. Browning, then Miss Barrett, in a letter written some time after publication of this poem, says: “This vivid writing! — this power which is felt! ‘The Raven’ has produced a sensation — a ‘fit horror’ here in En land. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it, and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by the Nevermore, and one acquaintance of mine, who has the misfortune of possessing a ‘bust of Pallas,’ never can bear to look at it in the twilight. Our great poet, Mr. Browning, author of ‘Paracelsus,’ &c., is enthusiastic in his admiration of the rhythm.”

Poe himself, although extremely proud of the profound impression “The Raven” had made on the public, had no particular fondness for it, and preferred, far more, many of his juvenile pieces; they, he could not [page 222:] but feel, were the offspring of inspiration, whilst this was but the product of art — of art, of course, controlling and controlled by genius. Writing to a favourite correspondent upon this subject, he remarks: —

“What you say about the blundering criticism of ‘the Hartford Review man’ is just. For the purposes of poetry it is quite sufficient that a thing is possible, or at least that the improbability be not offensively glaring. It is true that in several ways, as you say, the lamp might have thrown the bird’s shadow on the floor. My conception was that of the bracket candelabrum affixed against the wall, high up above the door and bust, as is often seen in the English palaces, and even in some of the better houses of New York.

“Your objection to the tinkling of the footfalls is far more pointed, and in the course of composition occurred so forcibly to myself that I hesitated to use the term. I finally used it, because I saw that it had, in its first conception, been suggested to my mind by the sense of the supernatural with which it was, at the moment, filled. No human or physical foot could tinkle on a soft carpet, therefore, the tinkling of feet would vividly convey the supernatural impression. This was the idea, and it is good within itself; but if it fails, (as I fear it does,) to make itself immediately and generally felt, according to my intention, then in so much is it badly conveyed, or expressed.

“Your appreciation of ‘The Sleeper’ delights me. In the higher qualities of poetry it is better than ‘The Raven;’ but there is not one man in a million who could be brought to agree with me in this opinion. ‘The Raven,’ of course, is far the better as a work of art; but in the true basis of all art, ‘The Sleeper’ is the superior. I wrote the latter when quite a boy.

“You quote, I think, the two best lines in ‘The Valley of Unrest’ — those about the palpitating trees.”

Whence Poe drew the first idea of ” The Raven ” is a much mooted point. The late Buchanan Read informed Robert Browning that Poe described to him, (i.e., Read,) the whole process of the construction of his [page 223:] poem, and declared that the suggestion of it lay wholly in a line from “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship: —

“With a murmurous stir uncertain, in the air the purple curtain,” &c.

This account necessarily involves some misunderstanding: that Poe did derive certain hints, unconsciously or otherwise, from Mrs. Browning’s poem cannot be in his parallel line to the doubted, as, for instance, above: —

“And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain;”

but the germ of “The Raven” is most assuredly discoverable elsewhere. Does not the following explanation offer more tangible evidence as to its origin than anything yet published? Does it not, indeed, tear the veil from the mystery, and prove that the first suggestion was derived from an American theme?

It has been seen that in 1843 Poe was writing for the New Mirror. The number for October 14th contained some verses entitled ” Isadore,” by Mr. Albert Pike, a well-known American littérateur. Amongst some introductory remarks by the irrepressible editor, N. P. Willis, these words occur: “We do not understand why we should not tell what we chance to know — that these lines were written after sitting up late at study — the thought of losing her who slept near him at his toil having suddenly crossed his mind in the stillness of midnight.” This statement really establishes a first coincidence between the poems of Poe and Pike; both write a poem lamenting a lost love, when, in point of fact, neither one nor the other [page 224:] had lost either his “Isadore,” or his “Lenore,” save in imagination; and in his half-hoaxing, half-serious,

“Philosophy of Composition ” Poe states that the theme adopted for the projected poem was “a lover lamenting his deceased mistress.” Far more important, however, than the subject of his verse, so he suggests, was the effect to be obtained from the refrain, and in Mr. Pike’s composition the most distinctive — the only salient — feature is the refrain of “forever, Isadore,” with which each stanza concludes. A still more remarkable coincidence follows: in his search for a suitable refrain Poe would have his to-be-mystified readers believe that he was irresistibly impelled to select the word “Nevermore.” Evidently there are plenty of equally eligible words in the English language — words embodying the long sonorous ? in connection with r as the most producible consonant; but a perusal of Mr. Pike’s poem rendered research needless, for not only does the refrain contain the antithetic word to never, and end with the -?re syllable, but in one line are found the words “never,” and “more,” and in others the words “no more,” “evermore,” and “forever more” — quite sufficient, all must admit, for the analytic mind of Poe.

Thus far the subject, the refrain, and the word selected for the refrain, have been easily paralleled, and over the transmutation of the heroine’s name from Isadore into Lenore no words need be wasted. In concluding this section of our argument, it is but just that some specimen of Mr. Pike’s work should be shown; two stanzas, therefore, of his poem — which contains six stanzas fewer than Poe’s — shall be cited: — [page 225:]

“Thou art lost to me forever — I have lost thee, Isadore, —

Thy head will never rest upon my loyal bosom more.

Thy tender eyes will never more gaze fondly into mine,

Nor thine arms around me lovingly, and trustingly entwine.

Thou art lost to me forever, Isadore.

“My footsteps through the rooms resound all sadly and forlore;

The garish sun shines flauntingly upon the upswept floor;

The mocking bird still sits and sings a melancholy strain,

For my heart is like a heavy cloud that overflows with rain

Thou art lost to me forever, Isadore.”

Mr. Pike’s metre and rhythm are, as might be expected, very much less dexterously managed than Poe’s, although the intention was evidently to produce an effect similar to that afterwards carried out in “The Raven;” but the irregularities are so eccentric that one sees that the prototype poem was that of a writer unable to get beyond the intention — one unacquainted with metrical laws.” Of course, I pretend to no originality in either the rhythm, or the metre of “The Raven,” said Poe, adding, “what originality’ The Raven,’ has, is in their” (the forms of verse employed) “combination into stanza, nothing even remotely approaching this combination has ever been attempted.”

But “Isadore” contains no allusion to the “ghastly grim and ancient Raven,” unless its “melancholy burden” be shadowed forth by the “melancholy strain” of “the mocking-bird.” Whence, then, did Poe import his sable auxiliary, the pretext, as he tells us, for the natural repetition of the refrain?” Naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself,” he remarks, and as a favourite work with him was Gresset’s chef d’œuvre, it is not improbable that a reminiscence of “Ver-Vert” — not “Vert-Vert,” as many [page 226:] persist in miscalling that immortal bird — may have given him the first hint, but that it was in “Barnaby Rudge” he finally found the needed fowl seems clear to us. Upon the conclusion of that story Poe, referring to a prospective review he had formerly published of it,* called attention to certain points he deemed Dickens had failed to make: the raven therein, for instance, he considered, “might have been made more than we now see it, a portion of the conception of the fantastic Barnaby. Its croakings might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama. Its character might have performed, in regard to that of the idiot, much the same part as does, in music, the accompaniment in respect to the air.” Here, indeed, beyond question, is seen shadowed forth the poet’s own raven and its duty.

A few additional links in the chain may be added. The story following Mr. Pike’s verses in the New Mirror contains, many times repeated, the unusual name of “Eulalie.” Till the appearance of “The Raven,” for several years Poe had published but onew new poem, ” Dreamland,” yet in the following July appeared — in The American Review — his “Eulalie,” a poem which, in many passages, closely resembles “Isadore.” Thus, Mr. Pike speaks of “thy sweet eyes radiant,” and Poe, in “Eulalie,” of “the eyes of the radiant girl.” Mr. Pike says

— “thy face,

Which thou didst lovingly upturn with pure and trustful gaze,”

and Poe, “dear Eulalie upturns her matron eye;” and, be it noted, the gaze of both is upturned to the [page 227:] moon. There are other points of resemblance between the poems, needless to advert to here, as the genesis of “The Raven” is now, it is presumed, satisfactorily and unanswerably expounded.

This wonderful piece of poetic mechanism underwent, as did, indeed, nearly all of Poe’s work, several alterations and revisions after its first publication. The very many more minute of these variations do not call for notice here, but the change made in the latter half of the eleventh stanza, from the original reading of —

’So, when Hope he would adjure,

Stern Despair returned, instead of the sweet Hope he dared adjure,

That sad answer, “Nevermore’ ” —

to its present masterly roll of melancholy music, is too radical to be passed by unnoted.

Poe’s reputation now rested upon a firm basis. His society was sought for by the élite of American society, and the best houses of New York were ready to proffer a hearty welcome to him who stood even yet on the brink. of poverty, dogged by all its attendant demons. ” Although he had been connected with some of the leading magazines of the day,” remarks Mrs. Whitman, ” and had edited for a time with great ability several successful periodicals, his literary reputation at the North had been comparatively limited until his removal to New York, when he became personally known to a large circle of authors and literary people, whose interest in his writings was manifestly enhanced by the perplexing anomalies of his character and by the singular magnetism of his presence.” But it was not until the publication of his poetic chef d’œuvre that he [page 228:] became a society lion. When “The Raven” appeared, electrified as this same lady records, Poe one evening the company assembled at the house of an accomplished poetess in Waverley Place — where a weekly réunion of artists and men of letters was held — by the recitation, at the request of his hostess, of the wonderful poem.

No longer merely a somewhat-to-be-dreaded reviewer but now a famous man, it became necessary to include the poet in the biographical critical laudations of ” Our Contributors,” published from time to time in Graham’s Magazine. “Edgar Allan Poe” formed the seventeenth article in the series of American literati, so lowly had his merits been gauged, and to James Russell Lowell was intrusted the task of adjudicating upon his claims to a niche in the Pantheon. In many respects Lowell’s critique, published in February 1845, is the best yet given upon certain characteristics of Poe’s genius, and although the estimate formed of his poetic precocity is overdrawn, being founded upon incorrect data, — and although the reviewer evidently lacks sympathy with the reviewed — with the admirable analysis of our poet’s tales, it would be difficult to find fault. In this article, as originally published — and it may be remarked that it has since been greatly revised — Professor Lowell, after styling Poe “the most discriminating, philosophical, and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America,” proceeds to qualify his remarks by adding: —

He might be, rather than he always is, for he seems some times to mistake his phial of prussic-acid for his inkstand. If we do not always agree with him in his promises, we are, of least, satisfied that his deductions are logical, and that we are [page 229:] reading the thoughts of a man who thinks for himself, and says what he thinks, and knows well what he is talking about. . . . We do not know him personally, but we suspect him for a man who has one or two pet prejudices on which he prides himself. These sometimes allure him out of the strict path of criticism, but, where they do not interfere, we would put almost entire confidence in his judgments. Had Mr. Poe the control of a magazine of his own, in which to display his critical abilities, he would have been as autocratic, ere this, in America, as Professor Wilson has been in England; and his criticisms, we are sure, would have been far more profound and philosophical than those of the Scotchman.”

With reference to the poet’s career apart from literature, Professor Lowell observes that ” Remarkable experiences are usually confined to the inner life of imaginative men, but Mr. Poe’s biography displays a vicissitude and peculiarity of interest such as is rarely met with,” and he thereupon furnishes a short résumé of his hero’s adventures. Of Poe’s powers as a writer of fiction he remarks: —

“In his tales, he has chosen to exhibit his powers chiefly in that dim region which stretches from the very utmost limits of the probable into the weird confines of superstition and unreality. He combines in a very remarkable manner two faculties which are seldom found united; a power of influencing the mind of the reader by the impalpable shadows of mystery, and a minuteness of detail which does not leave a pin, or a button unnoticed. . . . Even his mystery is mathematical to his own mind. To him x is a known quality. . . . However vague some of his figures may seem, however formless the shadows, to him the outline is as clear and distinct as that of a geometrical diagram. For this reason Mr. Poe has no sympathy with mysticism. The mystic dwells in the mystery, is enveloped with it; it colours all his thoughts. . . . Mr. Poe, on the other hand, is a spectator ab extrâ. He analyses, he dissects, he watches

— ‘with an eye serene

The very pulse of the machine,’ [page 230:]

for such it practically is to him, with wheels and cogs and piston-rods all working to produce a certain end It is this that makes him so good a critic. Nothing baulks him, or throws him of the scent, except now and then a prejudice.

“A monomania he paints with great power. He loves to dissect these cancers of the mind, and to trace all the subtle ramifications of its roots. In raising images of horror, also, he has a strange success; conveying to us sometimes by a dusty hint some terrible doubt which is the secret of all horror. He leaves to imagination the task of finishing the picture, a task to which only she is competent:

“ ‘For much imaginary work was there;

Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,

That for Achilles’ image stood his spear,

Gripp‘d in an armed hand; himself, behind

Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind.’ ”

Professor Lowell, alluding to the highly finished and classical form of Poe’s writings, refers, as an example of his style, to “The Fall of the House of Usher,” remarking, “It has a singular charm for us, and we think that no one could read it without being strongly moved by its serene and sombre beauty. Had its author written nothing else, it would alone have been enough to stamp him as a man of genius, and the master of a classic style. In this tale occurs one of the most beautiful of his poems” . . . (i.e., “The Haunted Palace”) — “we know no modern poet who might not have been justly proud of it.”

The publication of “The Raven” gave an immediate impetus to Poe’s activity, and aided him to dispose of the result of his labours; the press teemed with his work. The February number of Godey’s magazine contained his “Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade,” a satiric story made up chiefly of odds and ends of scientific wonders, and supposed to relate the ultimate fate of the vizier’s daughter, to whom all the [page 231:] tales in “The Arabian Nights” are ascribed. The poet’s love of hidden hoaxing is well exemplified by the names of the personages in this little romance; for instance, the heroine is “Scheherazade,” (She her has said,) and the incidents are assumedly derived from the Oriental work, “Tellmenow Isitsoarnot,” (Tell me now is it so or not,) which is compared, for its rarity, with the “Zohar,” (So ah,) of “Jochaides,” (Joke aides.) These trifles, and similar ones, occurring frequently in the poet’s prose works, are emanations of the spirit which excelled in, and even delighted at, “The Balloon Hoax,” the “Von Kempelen Discovery,” and, in a higher degree, the analyses of “Marie Roget,” the “Case of M. Valdemar,” and others of that genus.

For the Evening Mirror of February 3d Poe wrote an article on “Didacticism,” in which he inveighed strongly against those who deemed poetry a fit medium for the dissemination of “morals;” all the more salient portions of the essay were embodied in subsequent critiques. On the 8th of the month he reviewed, in the Broadway Journal, an American selection from the poems of Bulwer, and rated the editor of the book for giving a selection only; he should, he considers, “in common justice, have either given us all the poems of the author, or something that should have worn at least the semblance of an argument in objection to the poems omitted,” and concludes with the request that in any future edition this editor “will cut out his introduction, and give in place of it the poems of Bulwer which, whether rightfully or wrongfully, have been omitted.” “Some Secrets of the Magazine Prison-House” appeared in the Journal for the 15th of February, and, undoubtedly, throw a lurid light upon the mysteries [page 232:] of the unfortunate poet’s impecuniosity; that the references are to himself no one acquainted with his career can doubt. As this short paper is unknown to many of the poet’s admirers, and as it is explanatory of some of the miseries of his life, we give it in extensô:

“The want of an International Copyright Law, by rendering it nearly impossible to obtain anything from the booksellers in the way of remuneration for literary labour, has had the effect of forcing many of our very best writers into the service of the Magazines and Reviews, which, with a pertinacity that does them credit, keep up in a certain or uncertain degree the good old saying that even in the thankless field of Letters the labourer is worthy of his hire. How — by dint of what dogged instinct of the honest and proper — these journals have contrived to persist in their paying practices, in the very teeth of the opposition got up by the Fosters and Leonard Scotts, who furnish for eight dollars any four of the British periodicals for a year, is a point we have had much difficulty in settling to our satisfaction, and we have been forced to settle it at last upon no more reasonable ground than that of a still lingering esprit de patrie. That Magazines can live, and not only live but thrive, and not only thrive but afford to disburse money for original contributions, are, facts which can only be solved, under the circumstances, by the really fanciful, but still agreeable supposition, that there is somewhere still existing an ember not altogether quenched among the fires of good feeling for letters and literary men that once animated the American bosom.

“It would not do (perhaps this is the idea) to let our poor devil authors absolutely starve while we grow fat, in a literary sense, on the good things of which we unblushingly pick the pocket of all Europe: it would not be exactly the thing, comme il faut, to permit a positive atrocity of this kind; and hence we have Magazines, and hence we have a portion of the public who subscribe to these Magazines (through sheer pity), and hence we have Magazine publishers (who sometimes take upon themselves the duplicate title of ‘editor and proprietor’), — publishers, we say, who, under certain conditions [page 233:] of good conduct, occasional puffs, and decent subserviency at all times, make it a point of conscience to encourage the poor-devil author with a dollar or two, more or less as he behaves himself properly, and abstains from the indecent habit of turning up his nose.

“We hope, however, that we are not so prejudiced, or so vindictive, as to insinuate that what certainly does look like illiberality on the part of them, (the Magazine publishers,) is really an illiberality chargeable to them. In fact, it will be seen at once that what we have said has a tendency directly the reverse of any such accusation. These publishers pay something — other publishers nothing at all. Here certainly is a difference — although a mathematician might contend that the difference might be infinitesimally small. Still, these Magazine editors and proprietors pay (that is the word), and with your true poor-devil author the smallest favours are sure to be thankfully received. No: the illiberality lies at the door of the demagogue-ridden public, who suffer their anointed delegates (or perhaps arointed — which is it?) to insult the common sense of them (the public) by making orations in our national halls on the beauty and conveniency of robbing the Literary Europe on the highway, and on the gross absurdity in especial of admitting so unprincipled a principle that a man has any right and title either to his own brains, or the flimsy material that he chooses to spin out of them, like a confounded caterpillar as he is. If anything of this gossamer character stands in need of protection, why we have our hands full at once with the silkworms and the morus multicaulis.

“But if we cannot, under the circumstances, complain of the absolute illiberality of the Magazine publishers (since pay they do), there is at least one particular in which we have against them good grounds of accusation. Why, (since pay they must,) do they not pay with a good grace and promptly? Were we in an ill-humour at this moment we could a tale unfold which would erect the hair on the head of Shylock. A young author, struggling with Despair itself in the shape of a ghastly poverty, which has no alleviation — no sympathy from an everyday world that cannot understand his necessities, and that would pretend not to understand them if it comprehended them ever so [page 234:] well — this young author is politely requested to compose an article, for which he will ‘be handsomely paid.’ Enraptured, he neglects perhaps for a month the sole employment which affords him the chance of a livelihood, and having starved through the month (he and his family) completes at length the month of starvation and the article, and despatches the latter, (with a broad hint about the former,) to the pursy ‘editor’ and bottle-nosed ‘proprietor’ who has condescended to honour him (the poor devil) with his patronage. A month (starving stir), and no reply. Another month — still none. Two months more — still none. A second letter, modestly hinting that the article may not have reached its destination — still no reply. At the expiration of six additional months, personal application is made at the ‘editor and proprietor’s’ office. Call again. The poor devil goes out, and does not fail to call again. Still call again; and call again is the word for three or four months more. His patience exhausted, the article is demanded. No — he can’t have it — (the truth is, it — was too good to be given up so easily) — ‘it is in print,’ and ‘contributions of this character are never paid for (it is a rule we have) under six months after publication. Call in six months after the issue of your affair, and your money is ready for you — for we are business men ourselves — prompt.’ With this the poor devil is satisfied, and makes up his mind that the ‘editor and proprietor’ is a gentleman, and that of course he (the poor devil) will wait as requested. And it is supposable that he would have waited if he could — but Death in the meantime would not. He dies, and by the good luck of his decease, (which came by starvation,) the fat ‘editor and proprietor’ is fatter henceforward, and for ever, to the amount of five and twenty dollars, very cleverly saved, to be spent generously in canvas-backs and champagne.

“There are two things which we hope the reader will not do as he runs over this article: first, we hope that he will not believe that we write from any personal experience of our own, for we have only the reports of actual sufferers to depend upon; and second, that he will not make any personal application of our remarks to any Magazine publisher now living, it being well known that they are all [page 235:] as remarkable for their generosity and urbanity, as for their intelligence and appreciation of Genius.”

On Friday, February 28th, Poe delivered a lecture in the Library of the New York Historical Society, on the “Poets and Poetry of America.” The discourse attracted much attention, not only on account of the lecturer’s eloquence, personal beauty, and the magnetic fascination of his presence, but, also, by the originality and courage of his remarks. He daringly attacked the ephemeral favourites of the day, and did not forbear from vigorous onslaughts upon the editors and compilers who had belauded them into temporary notoriety. The result of this lecture was that the attacked poured forth torrents of abuse, none the less annoying because anonymous, none the less effective because false. A few friends defended the poet in such publications as were open to them: the American Review referred to “the devoted spirit in which he advocated the claims and urged the responsibilities of literature. The necessity of a just and independent criticism,” says this journal, “was his main topic. He made unmitigated war upon the prevalent Puffery, and dragged several popular idols from their pedestals. His closest critical remarks were given to an examination of the poetry of Mrs. Sigourney and the Davidsons. Bryant, Halleck, and Willis were spoken of briefly, but any neglect in this particular was compensated by several choicely delivered recitations from their verses. . . . There has been a great deal said about this lecture which should be either repeated or printed.”

This lecture of the now famous Edgar Poe was a nine-days’ wonder, and, on the Sth March following its delivery, the poet himself thus wrote about it: — [page 236:]

“In the late lecture on the ‘Poets and Poetry of America,’ delivered before an audience made up chiefly of editors and their connections, I took occasion to speak what I know to be the truth, and I endeavoured so to speak it that there should be no chance of misunderstanding what it was I intended to say. I told these gentlemen to their teeth, that, with a very few noble exceptions, they had been engaged for many years in a system of indiscriminate laudation of American books-a system which, more than any other one thing in the world, had tended to the depression of that ‘American Literature’ whose elevation it was designed to effect. I said this, and very much more of a similar tendency, with as thorough a distinctness as I could command. Could I, at the moment, have invented any terms more explicit, wherewith to express my contempt of our general editorial course of corruption and puffery, I should have employed them beyond the shadow of a doubt; and should I think of anything more expressive hereafter, I will endeavour either to find or to make an opportunity for its introduction to the public.

“And what, for all this, had I to anticipate 1 In a very few cases the open, and, in several, the silent approval of the more chivalrous portion of the press; but in a majority of instances, I should have been weak indeed to look for anything but abuse. To the Willises — the O’Sullivans — the Duyckincks — to the choice and magnanimous few who spoke promptly in my praise, and who have since taken my hand with a more cordial and a more impressive grasp than everto these, I return, of course, my acknowledgments, for that they have rendered me my due. To my vilifiers I return also such thanks as they deserve, inasmuch as without what they have clone me the honour to say there would have been much of point wanting in the compliments of my friends. Had I, indeed, from the former received any less equivocal tokens of disapprobation, I should at this moment have been looking about me to discover what sad blunder I had committed.

“I am most sincere in what I say. I thank these, my opponents, for their goodwill, — manifested, of course, after their own fashion. No doubt they mean me well — if they could only be brought to believe it; and I shall expect more reasonable things from them hereafter. In the meantime, I [page 237:] await patiently the period when they shall have fairly made an end of what they have to say — when they shall have sufficiently exalted themselves in their own opinion — and when, especially, they shall have brought me over to that precise view of the question which it is their endeavour to have me adopt. E. A. P.”

As a pleasing pendant to the whirlwind which some portions of this lecture aroused may be mentioned the fact that, during his discourse, Poe had recited, with approving comments, “Florence Vane,” a beautiful lyric by Philip P. Cooke, a young Virginian, who died a few years later in his youthful and budding promise of fame. Poe’s sympathetic delivery, and the warm encomia he awarded the poem and its author, excited considerable interest, and caused “Florence Vane” to take a place in American literary selections which, however deserved, it might not otherwise so readily have succeeded in obtaining.

On the same day that the above — letter was written Poe associated himself with two journalists in the editorial management of the Broadway Journal. In consequence of this new undertaking, the poet resigned the position he had held on the Evening Mirror, but, in bidding farewell to its wretched drudgery, he entered into trials and troubles almost as bad, and commenced a series of episodes not only as romantic, but, also, quite as unfortunate, as the earlier years of his life.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 209:]

*  Home Journal, Saturday, October 13, 1849.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 210:]

*  From Idlewild, October 17, 1859.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 211:]

*  This is a mistake: Poe did not remove to Fordham until 1846. — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 226:]

*  Vide p. 189. [[p. 152.]]





[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1886] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Chapter 14)