Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 15,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1886), pp. 238-285


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ON the 8th of March 1845, Edgar Poe became joint-editor, with two New York journalists, of the Broadway Journal, a publication of no particular influence or circulation. One of his coadjutors devoted himself to the musical and dramatic section of the paper, and the other shred the literary department with their new associate. The views of Poe and his literary companion being diametrically opposite, it was arranged that each should be free to enunciate his own opinions independently of the other — an arrangement that produced a somewhat novel, not to say unseemly, appearance, during the few weeks the system lasted.

No sooner was Poe reseated in an editorial chair than he resumed an unfortunate “Discussion with Outis,” which he had commenced in Willis’s paper, the Evening Mirror, on the unsavoury subject of plagiarism, and which he now continued, from week to week, in the columns of the Broadway Journal. How this unprofitable disputation arose was thus: In the Evening Mirror for the 14th of January, Poe had published a short notice of “The Waif,” a collection of fugitive verses edited by Longfellow, observing in the course of his remarks. —

“We conclude our notes on the ‘Waif’ with the observation that, although full of beauties, it is infected with a moral taint — or is this a mere freak of our own fancy’? We [page 239:] shall be pleased if it be so; but there does appear, in this little volume, a very careful avoidance of all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow. These men Mr. Longfellow can continually imitate (is that the word?), and yet never even incidentally commend.”

“Much discussion ensued,” says Poe, proceeding to narrate in the Journal that “a friend of Mr. Longfellow’s penned a defence, which had at least the merit of being thoroughly impartial; for it defended Mr. Longfellow not only from the one-tenth of very moderate disapproval in which I had indulged., but from the nine-tenths of my enthusiastic admiration into the bargain. . . . This well-intended defence was published in the Mirror with a few words of preface by Mr. Willis, and of postscript by myself. Still dissatisfied, Mr. Longfellow, through a second friend, addressed to Mr. Willis an expostulatory letter, of which the Mirror printed only the following portion:

“ ‘It has been asked, perhaps, why Lowell was neglected in this collection? Might it not as well be asked why Bryant, Dana, and Halleck were neglected? The answer is obvious to any one who candidly considers the character of the collection. It professed to be, according to the Poem [sic, but query Proem. — J. H. I.], from the humbler poets; and it was intended to embrace pieces that were anonymous, or which were [sic, query not] easily accessible to the general reader — the waifs and estrays of literature. To put anything of Lowell’s, for example, into a collection of waifs, would be a particular liberty with pieces which are all collected and christened.’ ”

“Not yet content,” continues Poe, “or misunderstanding the tenor of some of the wittily-put comments which accompanied the quotation, the aggrieved poet, through one of the two friends, as before, or perhaps through a third., finally prevailed upon the good-nature of Mr. Willis to publish an explicit declaration of his disagreement with ‘all’ the disparagement of Longfellow’ which had appeared in the criticism ill question.

“Now when we consider that many of the points of censure made by me in this critique were absolutely as plain as the nose upon Mr. Longfellow’s face, that it was impossible to gainsay them, that we defied him and his [page 240:] coadjutors to say a syllable in reply to them, and that they held their tongues and not a syllable said — when we consider all this, I say, then the satire of the ‘all’ in Mr. Willis’s manifesto becomes apparent at once. Mr. Longfellow did not see it; and I presume his friends did not see it. I slid. In my mind’s eye it expanded itself thus: —

“ ‘My dear sir, or sirs, what will you have? You are an insatiable set of cormorants, it is true; but if you will only let me know what you desire, I will satisfy you, if I die for it. Be quick! merely say what it is you wish me to admit, and (for the sake of getting rid of you) I will admit it upon the spot, Come! I will grant at once that Mr. Longfellow is Jupiter Tonans, and that his three friends are the Graces; or the Furies, which ever you please. As for a fault to be found with either of you, that is impossible, and I say so. I disagree with all, with every syllable of the disparagement that ever has been whispered against you up to this date, and (not to stand upon trifles) with all that ever shall be whispered against you henceforward, for ever and for ever.’ . . . In the meanwhile Mr. Briggs in this paper, in the Broadway Journal, did me the honour of taking me to task for what he supposed to be my insinuations against Mr. Aldrich.”

In his reply in the Mirror (prefaced by a few words from Mr. Willis), the poet reiterated the charge that “Somebody is a thief,” with reference to the palpable “parallelism” between Hood’s beautiful poem “The Deathbed,” and some verses entitled ” A Deathbed,” by Mr. J. Aldrich; but, after a collation of the two pieces, and a demonstration that the resemblance was too close to be accidental, he left it to the public to form its own judgment upon the affair. “At this point the matter rested for a fortnight,” continues the narration, “when a fourth friend of Mr. Longfellow took up the cudgels for him, in another communication to the Mirror,” which communication, signed “Outis,” Poe reprinted in full, and then proceeded to criticise thus: — [page 241:]

“What I admire in this letter is the gentlemanly grace of its manner, and the chivalry which has prompted its composition. What I do not admire is all the rest. In especial, I do not admire the desperation of the effort to make out a case. No gentleman should degrade himself, on any grounds, to the paltriness of ex parte argument; and I shall not insult Outis at the outset by assuming for a moment that he (Outis) is weak enough to suppose me (Poe) silly enough to look upon all this abominable rigmarole as anything better than a very respectable specimen of special pleading.

“As a general rule, in a case of this kind, I should wish to begin with the beginning, but as I have been unable, in running my eye over Outis’ remarks, to discover that they have any beginning at all, I shall be pardoned for touching them in the order which suits me best. Outis need not have put himself to the trouble of informing his readers that he has ’some acquaintance with Mr. Longfellow.’ It was needless, also, to mention that he did not know me. I thank him for his many flatteries, but of their inconsistency I complain. To speak of me in one breath as a poet, and in the next to insinuate charges of ‘carping littleness,’ is simply to put forth a flat paradox. When a plagiarism is committed and detected, the word ‘littleness’ and other similar words are immediately brought into play. To the words themselves I have no objection whatever; but their application might occasionally be improved.

“Is it altogether impossible that a critic be instigated to the exposure of a plagiarism, or still better, of plagiarism generally, wherever he meets it, by a strictly honourable and even charitable motive? Let us see. A theft of this kind is committed — for the present we will admit the possibility that a theft of this character can be committed. The chances, of course, are that an established author steals from an unknown one, rather than the converse; for in proportion to the circulation of the original is the risk of the plagiarism’s detection. The person about to commit the theft hopes for impunity altogether on the ground of the reconditeness of the source from which he thieves. But this obvious consideration is rarely borne in mind. We read a certain passage in a certain book. We meet a passage nearly similar in another book. The first book is not at [page 242:] hand, and we cannot compare dates. We decide by what we fancy the probabilities of the case. The one author is a distinguished man — our sympathies are always in favour of distinction. ‘It is not likely,’ we say in our hearts, ‘that so distinguished a personage as A would be guilty of plagiarism from this B, of whom nobody in the world has ever heard. We give judgment, therefore, at once against B of whom nobody in the world has ever heard; and it is for the very reason that nobody in the world has ever heard of him that, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, the judgment so precipitously given is erroneous. Now, then, the plagiarist has not merely committed a wrong in itself — a wrong whose incomparable meanness would deserve exposure on absolute grounds but he, the guilty, the successful, the eminent, has fastened the degradation of his crime — the retribution which should have overtaken it in his own person — upon the guiltless, the toiling, the unfriended struggler up the mountainous path of Fame. Is not sympathy for the plagiarist, then, about as sagacious and about as generous as would be the sympathy for the murderer, whose exultant escape from the noose of the hangman should lie the cause of an innocent man’s being hung? And because I, for one, should wish to throttle the guilty, with a view of letting the innocent go, could it be considered proper on the part of any; acquaintance of Mr. Longfellow’s’ who came to witness the execution — could it be thought, I say, either chivalrous or decorous, on the part of this ‘acquaintance,’ to get up against me a charge of ‘carping littleness,’ while we stood amicably together at the foot of the gallows?

“In all this I have taken it for granted that such a sin as plagiarism exists: we are informed by Outis, however, that it does not. ‘I shall not charge Mr. Poe with plagiarism,’ he says, I for, as I have said, such charges are perfectly absurd,’ An assertion of this kind is certainly funny (I am aware of no other epithet which precisely applies to it); and I have much curiosity to know if Outis is prepared to swear to its truth holding right aloft in his hand, of course, and kissing the back of Disraeli’s ‘Curiosities,’ or the ‘Mélanges’ of Suard and André. But if the assertion is funny (and it is), it is by no means an original thing. It is precisely, in fact, what all the plagiarists and all the ” acquaintances’ of [page 243:] plagiarists, since the flood, have maintained with a very praiseworthy

The poet continues, for several more paragraphs, in a similar strain; and in the following number of the Journal resumed what he styled “The Voluminous History of the little Longfellow War,” by a further reply to the “Letter of Outis.” This continuation is wiredrawn, and far from brilliant, and deferred till the following week “interesting developments” evidently with the intention of prolonging and increasing any excitement the discussion may have aroused. A few paragraphs may be cited, however: —

“Here is a gentleman,” says Poe, “who writes, in certain respects, as a gentleman should, and who yet has the effrontery to base a defence of a friend from the charge of plagiarism, on the broad ground that no such thing as plagiarism ever existed. I confess that to an assertion of this nature there is no little difficulty in getting up a reply. . . . What could any judge, on any bench in the country, do but laugh or swear at the attorney who should begin his defence of a petty-larceny client with an oration demonstrating, à priori, that no such thing as petty-larceny ever had been, or, in the nature of things, ever could be, committed? . . . ‘What is plagiarism?’ demands Outis at the outset, l‘air d‘un Romain qui sauve sa patrie — ‘what is plagiarism, and what constitutes a good ground for the charge?’ . . . He answers the two questions by two others. . . . ‘Did no two men,’ he says, “ever think alike without stealing one from the other? Or, thinking alike, did no two men ever use the same or similar words to convey the thoughts, and that without any communication with each other ‘To deny it is absurd.’ Of course it is, — very absurd; and the only thing more absurd that I can call to mind, at present, is the supposition that any person ever entertained an idea of denying it. . . .

“But let me aid Outis to a distinct conception of his own irrelevance. I accuse his friend, specifically, of a plagiarism. [page 244:] This accusation Outis rebuts by asking me with a grave face — not whether the friend might not, in this individual case, and in the compass of eight short lines, have happened upon ten or twelve peculiar identities of thought, and identities of expression, with the author from whom I charge him with plagiarising — but simply whether I do not admit the possibility that once, in the course of eternity, some two individuals might not happen upon a single identity of thought, and give it voice in a single identity of expression. Now, frankly, I admit the possibility in question, and would request my friends to get ready for me a strait-jacket if I did not. . . .

“I put no faith in the nil admirari, and am apt to bo amazed at every second thing which I sea One of the most amazing things I have yet seen is the complacency with which Outis throws to the right and left his anonymous assertions, taking it for granted that because he (Nobody) asserts them, I must believe them as a matter of course. However, he is quite in the right. I am perfectly ready to admit anything that he pleases, and am prepared to put as implicit faith in his ipse dixit as the Bishop of Autun did in the Bible — on the ground that he knew nothing about it at all. . . .

“He wishes to show, then, that Mr. Longfellow is innocent of the imitation with which I have charged him, and that Mr. Aldrich is innocent of the plagiarism with which I have not charged him; and this duplicate innocence is expected to be proved by showing the possibility that a certain, or that any uncertain, aeries of coincidences may be the result of pure accident Now, of course, I cannot be sure that Outis will regard my admission as a service or a disservice, but I admit the possibility at once. . . . But, in admitting this, I admit just nothing at all, so far as the advancement of Outis’ proper argument is concerned. The affair is one of probabilities altogether, and can be satisfactorily settled only by reference to their calculus.”

The following week a still more voluminous budget appeared from Poe’s pen, in continuation of this interminable discussion, but from it only these lines — of biographical import — require citation: — [page 245:]

“If Outis has his own private reasons for being disgusted with what he terms the ‘wholesale mangling of victims without rhyme or reason,’ there is not a man living, of common sense and common honesty, who has not better reason (if possible) to be disgusted with the insufferable cant and shameless misrepresentations practised by just such persons as Outis with the view of decrying by sheer strength of lungs — of trampling down — of rioting down — of mobbing down any man with a soul that bids him come out from among the general corruption of our public press, and take his stand upon the open ground of rectitude and honour.

“The Outises who practise this species of bullyism are, as a matter of course, anonymous. . . . Their low artifices are insinuated calumnies, and indefatigable whispers of regret from post to pillar, that ‘Mr. So-and-so, or Mr. This-and-that, will persist in rendering himself so dreadfully unpopular’ — no one, in the meantime, being more thoroughly and painfully aware than these very Outises that the unpopularity of the just critic who reasons his way, guiltless of dogmatism, is confined altogether within the limits of the influence of the victims, without rhyme and reason, who have been mangled by wholesale. Even the manifest injustice of a Gifford is, I grieve to say, an exceedingly popular thing; and there is no literary element of popularity more absolutely and more universally effective than the pungent impartiality of a Wilson or a Macaulay. In regard to my own course — without daring to arrogate to myself a single other quality of either of these eminent men than that pure contempt for mere prejudice and conventionality which actuated them all, I will now unscrupulously call the attention of the Outises to the fact that it was during what they (the Outises) would insinuate to be the unpopularity of my ‘wholesale mangling of the victims without rhyme and reason,’ that, in one year, the circulation of the Southern Messenger (a five-dollar journal) extended itself from seven hundred to nearly five thousand-and that, in little more than twice the same time, Graham’s Magazine swelled its list from five to fifty-two thousand subscribers.

“I make no apology for these egotisms, and I proceed with them without hesitation — for, in myself, I am but defending a set of principles which no honest man need be [page 246:] ashamed of defending, and for whose defence no honest man will consider an apology required. . . . Not even an Outis can accuse me, with even a decent show of verisimilitude, of having ever descended, in the most condemnatory of my reviews, to that personal abuse which, upon one or two occasions, has indeed been levelled at myself, in the spasmodic endeavours of aggrieved authors to rebut what I have ventured to demonstrate. . . . What I have written remains, and is readily accessible in any of our public libraries. I have had one or two impotent enemies and a multitude of cherished friends — and both friends and enemies have been, for the most part, literary people; yet no man can point to a single critique, among the very numerous ones which I have written during the last ten years, which is either wholly fault-finding or wholly in approbation; nor is there an instance to be discovered, among all that I have published, of my having set forth, either in praise or censure, a single opinion upon any critical topic of moment, without attempting, at least, to give it authority by something that wore the semblance of a reason. . . . Very many of the most eminent men in America, whom I am proud to number among the sincerest of my friends, have been rendered so solely by their approbation of my comments upon their own works — comments in great measure directed against themselves as authors — belonging altogether to that very elms of criticism which it is the petty policy of the Outises to cry down.”

To this terribly lengthy discussion anent plagiarism a postscript was subsequently indited by the poet, in which he sought to prove that unconscious plagiarism ” is in the direct ratio of the poetic sentiment — of the susceptibility to the poetic impression; and, in fact,” he concluded, “all literary history demonstrates that, for the most frequent and palpable plagiarisms, we must search the works of the most eminent poets.”

That the results of this “Discussion” were far from beneficial to the contemporary fame and fortune of Poe few can doubt; that it added. to the number of his [page 247:] enemies — who were scarcely so few or so impotent as he affected to believe — is equally certain; whilst that it could in no way increase the presumed “multitude of cherished friends,” whatever it may have effected in the quantity of his readers, needs no demonstration.

It is pleasant to turn from this bitter repast to the more genial topic of the poet’s more literary work, although his gall was by no means all expended in the above profitless warfare. In the Broadway Journal for March, for instance, he contrived to deliver some very severe and, that they were true, ill-endured blows at certain national foibles, in a short article on “Satirical Poems.” In the following month he returned to his more natural manner, contributing revised versions of “The Valley Nis” and “The Doomed City,” and a new tale, “Some Words with a Mummy,” to the American Review.

“Some Words with a Mummy” is written in that humorous style which was so unnatural with Poe, and which his sombre — his ultra-poetic temperament — would have prevented him from ever becoming proficient in. It is, perhaps, his best effort in that direction, and contains many of those cutting satiric touches which he bandied about so freely, if unwisely, at this transition period of his life — the period when constant collisions with journalistic sharpshooters and jealous cliques caused a more decided deterioration of his morale than did any preceding or succeeding calamities. It was his frequent misfortune to attempt to fight men of the world with their own weapons, and with the invariable consequences that happen to those who touch pitch. A single paragraph from the last-named [page 248:] tale will show why it is that Poe’s writings are so unpopular with some of his countrymen; the Americans being, as a general rule, too susceptible to relish a joke at their own expense. The hero, Count Allamistakeo [all-a-mistake-o], the resuscitated Egyptian mummy, is informed of the benefits of the democratic institutions enjoyed by the Yankees; their advantages of having universal suffrage, and no king. “He listened with marked interest, and, in fact, seemed not a little amused. When we had done,” continues the narrator, “he said that a great while ago there had occurred something of a very similar sort. Thirteen Egyptian provinces determined all at once to be free, and so set a magnificent example to the rest of mankind. They assembled their wise men, and concocted the most ingenious constitution it is possible to conceive. For a while they managed remarkably well, only their habit of bragging was prodigious. The thing ended, however, in the consolidation of the thirteen states, with some fifteen or twenty others, in the most odious and insupportable despotism that ever was heard of upon the face of the earth. I asked what was the name of the usurping tyrant. As well as the Count could recollect, it was Mob.”

The April number of the Southern Literary Messenger contained an announcement to the effect that its old conductor and contributor was about to resume writing for its pages. “It needs an Argus to guard and watch the press,” says the editor, “and, to enable the Messenger to discharge its part, we have engaged the services of Mr. E. A. Poe, who will contribute a monthly critique raisonnée of the most important forthcoming works in this country, and Europe.” The poet’s multifarious [page 249:] labours, however, prevented him carrying out this projected scheme, although he subsequently recommenced writing for the Messenger, and continued a contributor during the rest of his life.

During April and May Poe published several minor articles and book notices in the Broadway Journal, and as many of these are uncollected, and their paternity unknown, the more interesting will be alluded to, and quoted from, in these pages. It may, indeed, be remarked here, that the poet’s own revised copy of the Journal being in our possession, and his articles therein which were published anonymously, or over noms de plume, having his initials appended in pencil, we are enabled to rescue much interesting matter from oblivion.

“Human Magnetism” was a subject Poe was now deeply interested in, although he was not to be deceived by many of the impostures prevalent. Noticing a work on this subject, and pointing out certain views in which he differed from its author, he took occasion to say — “Most especially do we disagree with him in his (implied) disparagement of the work of Chauncey Hare Townshend, which we regard as one of the most truly profound and philosophical works of the day — a work to be valued properly only in a day to come.” “Anastatic Printing” was also a subject that attracted his attention, and upon which he wrote a short article, replete with idiosyncratic remarks. The invention was one that greatly excited his imagination, and caused him to foresee a palmy future for authors; to anticipate the time when writers would be enabled to publish their works “without the expensive interference of the type-setter, and the often [page 250:] ruinous intervention of the publisher.” This literary millennium was to produce, among other unfulfilled blessings, “some attention to legibility of manuscript” by men of letters; and i’ the cultivation of accuracy in manuscript,” opined the poet, would “tend, with an inevitable impetus, to every species of improvement in style; more especially in the points of concision and distinctness; and this again, in a degree even more noticeable, to precision of thought and luminous arrangement of matter;” and his conclusion was, that ” at present the literary world is a species of anomalous congress, in which the majority of the members are constrained to listen in silence, while all the eloquence proceeds from a privileged few. In the new régime the humblest will speak as often and as freely as the most exalted, and will be sure of receiving just that amount of attention which the intrinsic merit of their speeches may deserve.”

A revival of the “Antigone” of Sophocles having been attempted in New York, in imitation of similar revivals in Europe, Poe, in commenting very, severely upon the performance, said — “Apart from all this, there is about the ‘Antigone,’ as well as about all the ancient plays, an insufferable baldness, or platitude, the inevitable result of inexperience in art — but a baldness, never “’ theless, which pedantry would force us to believe the result of a studied and supremely artistic simplicity alone. Simplicity is, indeed, a very lofty and very effective feature in all true art — but not the simplicity which we see in the Greek drama. The simplicity of the Greek sculpture is everything that can be desired, because here the art in itself is the simplicity in itself, and in its elements. The Greek [page 251:] sculptor chiselled his forms from what he saw before him every day, in a beauty far nearer to perfection than any work of any Cleomenes in the world. But in the drama, the direct — the straightforward, unGerman Greek had no Nature so directly presented, from which to copy his conceptions. . . . To the Greeks, beyond doubt, their drama seemed perfection — and this fact is absurdly urged as proof of their drama’s perfection in itself. It need only be said, in reply, that their art and their sense of art must have been necessarily on a level.”

Adverting to the absurdity of attempting to reproduce a Greek play before a modern audience, especially with such a want of all the requisite appliances as this little New York theatre displayed, Poe paused to bestow his praise upon the successful manner in which Mendelssohn has wedded his music to the Hellenic drama he must, he says, ” have been inspired when he conceived the plan. . . . He had,” remarked Poe, “many difficulties to contend with; his own natural style must be abandoned, and the cramped and unmelodious system of the Greek unisonous singing adopted. To preserve that distinctive character, and still render the music acceptable to modern ears, must have taxed the utmost ingenuity of the composer. But he has succeeded to a marvel.”

Some of Poe’s strictures on the performance and the performers of “Antigone” aroused the anger of the manager, or director, or whatever he was, of the theatre, and he indited an amusingly pompous epistle to the poet, addressed to “Edgar Poe, Esq., &c., &c., &c., Author of THE RAVEN,” in which, after stating that he deemed his critiquecharacterised much more [page 252:] by ill-nature and an illiberal spirit, than by fair and candid, or even just criticism,” and that, therefore, he, the great Somebody, ” in justice to myself, have withdrawn your (Poe’s) name from the free list.” On this display of “Achilles’ wrath” Poe wrote an amusing paper in the Broadway Journal, from which this paragraph may be cited: —

“We are not wrong (are we?) in conceiving that Mr. — is in a passion. We are not accustomed to compositions of precisely this character — (that is to say, notes written in large capitals, with admiration notes for commas, — the whole varied occasionally with lowercase) — but still we think ourselves justified in imagining that Mr. was in a passion when he sent us this note from his suite of boudoirs at the Astor House. In fact, we fancy that we can trace the gradations of his wrath in the number and impressiveness of his underscoring. The SIRS!! for example, are exceedingly bitter; and in THE RAVEN, which has five black lines beneath it, each one blacker than the preceding, we can only consider ourselves as devoted to the infernal gods.”

Among more serious subjects which followed in the Journal from Poe’s pen, may be mentioned, as amongst his uncollected writings, an article on the science of Street Paving; a review of Leigh Hunt, in which the conclusion was arrived at that taste was his forte, but that of critical analysis he was utterly deficient; a sympathetic notice of “Eothen,” then recently issued, drew forth the remark that its author “brings the East to us more vividly than any other Eastern traveller has done.” A critique on Old English Poetry, replete with Poesque passages, and noticeable for its glowing enthusiasm for “The Ancient Mariner,” followed, and from among old poems singled out for especial commendation, was Marvell’s exquisitely tender lines on [page 253:] the “Maiden’s Lamentation for her Fawn.” A scarification of “Poems” by a Mr. Lord, and ‘a friendly notice of “Philothea” — in which were some significant allusions to “Zanoni” — concluded the week’s number.

In May the tale of “Three Sundays in a Week” appeared in the Journal, in the insatiable panes of which periodical were republished, all more or less revised, and frequently over noms de plume, nearly the whole of Poe’s stories, and a large portion of his poems. As an extract from The New World, some stanzas in parody of “The Raven” appeared in this month’s issue, under the title of “A Gentle Puff;” and were republished with the editorial remark that this one only, out of the many complimentary notices they received, would be reprinted, and it because of its uniqueness. As the opinion of a contemporary journalist on Poe’s non-respect of persons in his critical capacity, one stanza may be worth citation: —

“Neither rank nor station heeding, with his foes around him bleeding,

Sternly, singly, and alone, his course he kept upon that floor;

While the countless foes attacking, neither strength. nor valour lacking,

On his goodly armour hacking, wrought no change his visage o’er,

As with high and honest aim he still his falchion proudly bore,

Resisting error evermore.”

Amid critical notices by the poet, other than those adverted to already, are many interesting opinions upon literature and kindred topics; and his indignation is particularly aroused by some deprecatory comments of certain reviewers of “the august works of Tennyson and Miss Barrett.” “It is worse than sacrilege,” exclaims Poe, “to intrust to such hands poems which, if we are entitled to estimate the merit of anything by [page 254:] its effect on the greatest intellects and the noblest hearts, are divine, if there be any divinity within the soul of man.”

“The Power of Words,” one of the best of Poe’s prose poems, appeared in the Democratic Review for June. The tale, if such it may be termed, for it is utterly devoid of incident, is merely the conversation of two disembodied spirits as they soar through the infinite vistas of space. Their discourse on such syllogisms as that only the acquiring, and not the possessing, knowled;e, produces happiness, passes by natural transitions into a discussion — every line of which is pregnant with poetic suggestion — on the physical power of words, and concludes with a dénouement as startling as that of any of its author’s works.

In the Broadway Journal for this month Poe published a sketch of a very different description, on Magazine-writing, entitled “Peter Snooks.” It was called forth as a commentary on a paper by Mr. Duyckinck on Magazine Literature; is replete with excellent remarks and, it might almost be said, with prophecies that have already been fulfilled. Alluding to the relative value of European and American magazine articles, and to some of the disadvantages under which contributors of the latter then laboured, Poe said: —

“We are so circumstanced as to be unable to pay for elaborate compositions — and, after all, the true invention is elaborate. There is no greater mistake than the supposition that a true originality is a mere matter of impulse or inspiration. To originate, is carefully, patiently, and understandingly, to combine. The few American magazinists who ever think of this elaboration at all, cannot afford to carry it into practice for the paltry prices offered them by our [page 255:] periodical publishers. For this, and other glaring reasons, we are behind the age in a very important branch of literature, a branch which, moreover, is daily growing in importance, and which, in the end (not far distant), will be the most influential of all the departments of letters.

“We are lamentably deficient not only in invention proper, but in that which is more strictly art. What American, for instance, in penning a criticism, ever supposes himself called upon to present his readers with more than the exact stipulation of his title — to present them with a criticism, and something beyond? Who thinks of making his critique a work of art in itself, independently of its critical opinions? a work of art, such as are all the more elaborate and most effective reviews of Macaulay? Yet these reviews we have evinced no incapacity to appreciate when presented, The best American review ever penned is miserably ineffective when compared with the notice of Montagu’s ‘Bacon,’ and yet this latter is, in general, a piece of tawdry sophistry, owing everything to a consummate, to an exquisite arrangement — to a thorough and just sufficiently comprehensive diffuseness, to a masterly climacing of points — to a style which dazzles the understanding with its brilliancy, but not more than it misleads it by its perspicuity, causing us so distinctly to comprehend that we fancy we coincide — in a word, to the perfection of art — of all the art which a Macaulay can wield, or which is applicable to any criticism that a Macaulay could write.”

Hereafter follows an analysis of “Peter Snooks,” that tale being referred to as a specimen of the artistic manner in which an experienced English magazinist constructs his story, a most remarkable deficiency in that branch of literature being ascribed to Americans of the period. Poe declared, indeed, that except Hawthorne and one or two others, there ” was not even a respectable skilful tale-writer on that side the Atlantic.”

In July, Messrs. Wiley & Putnam announced for publication, in their Library of American Books, a [page 256:] volume of “Tales by Edgar A. Poe” himself. This collection was made for the publishers by Mr. E. A. Duyckinck, editor of the well-known Cyclopedia of American Literature. Besides many of the poet’s previously ‘published tales, the book contained the new story of “Mesmeric Revelation,” a story issued soon afterwards in the Columbian Magazine. Poe was somewhat annoyed at the selection made, and wrote to a correspondent: —

“It may be some years before I publish the rest of my tales, essays, &c. The publishers cheat — and I must wait till I can be my own publisher. The collection of tales issued by Wiley & Putnam were selected by a gentleman whose taste does not coincide with my own, from seventy-two written by me at various times — and those chosen are not my best, nor do they fairly represent me in any respect.”

Subsequently the author seems to have somewhat modified his views as to the nature of this collection for the editor of which he always expressed a high opinion. Small as was the volume, and limited its contents in quantity, the quality elicited a large amount of admiration and respect, not only in the United States but also in Europe. The “Tales” were published simultaneously in New York and London, and from the latter city Mr. Martin F. Tupper wrote to the publisher, ” Shall we make Edgar Poe famous by a notice in the Literary Gazette?” Mr. Putnam does not state whether he accepted this generous offer; it is, therefore, difficult to say how much of the poet’s renown is due to the mediation of the ” Proverbial Philosopher.” Probably the most important of the foreign reviews of these “Tales” was the appreciative [page 257:] critique by Monsieur E. D. Forgues that appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes. The reviewer, after an analysis of the various stories, proceeds to comment upon their shortness, and the greater probability of fame such writings possess over the wire-drawn inanities of our novelists, concluding with real prescience, that “il sera opportun de les comparer quand le temps aura consolidé la reputation naissante du conteur étranger et — qui sait? — ébranle quelque peu celles de nos romanciers féconds.” This, and other highly flattering notices of the young foreigner, gave an impetus to his reputation in Europe, which may be deemed to have culminated in the vraisemblant translations of Baudelaire, who, indeed, spent many years of his life in an endeavour to thoroughly identify his mind with that of his favourite littérateur, Edgar Poe, and who has reproduced many of Poe’s finest tales with but little, if any, loss of vigour and originality. Indeed, it is chiefly due to the efforts of Baudelaire — to the, in some respects, kindred genius of him to whom Victor Hugo wrote: — “ ‘Vous avez doté le ciel de l‘art d‘on ne sait quel rayon macabre — vous avez créé un frisson nouveau” — that Poe’s works have become standard classics in France. Edgar Poe, it may be pointed out, is the only American writer really well known and popular in that country. In Spain his ” Historias Extraordinarias ” speedily acquired fame, and have been thoroughly nationalised; whilst in Germany his poems and tales both have been frequently translated; also in Italy three or four separate translations of the latter have been published.

Poe forwarded a copy of his “Tales” to Mrs. Browning, then Miss Barrett, who, writing to a correspondent shortly afterwards, remarked — “There is a tale of his [page 258:] which I do not find in this volume, but which is going the rounds of the newspapers, about mesmerism, throwing us all into most admired disorder, or dreadful doubts as to whether it can be true, as the children say of ghost-stories. The certain thing in the tale in question is the power of the writer, and the faculty he has of making horrible improbabilities seem near and familiar.” The story to which Mrs. Browning referred was “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” not published until December of that year.

In July, the sole management of the Broadway Journal devolved upon Poe, although the publication did not become his own property for some months later. The new volume opened with the usual flourish of trumpets from the publisher, who, after thanking his numerous friends for their aid in “the very difficult task of establishing a literary and critical weekly,” informs them that “the success of the work, in the brief period of its existence, has been, he truly believes, beyond precedent, and that from a brilliant past he looks confidently to a triumphant future.”

To the Journal for this month Poe contributed, besides revisions of his earlier tales and poems, a lengthy review of Mr. Hirst’s poems, a sympathetic one of Mr. Hoyt’s quaint “Chaunt of Life,” several voluminous critiques on The Drama, and many shorter notices and notes, of more or less interest. His dramatic critiques were chiefly occupied with the acting of Mrs. Mowatt — of whose grace and beauty he spoke in terms of enthusiastic admiration — and from the first of them these significant sentences may be cited: —

“We have no sympathies with the prejudices which would have dissuaded Mrs. Mowatt from the stage. There is no [page 259:] cant more contemptible than that which habitually decries the theatrical profession — a profession which, in itself, embraces all that can elevate and ennoble, and absolutely nothing to degrade. If some, if many, or if even nearly all of its members are dissolute, this is an evil arising not from the profession itself, but from the unhappy circumstances which surround it. . . . In the mere name of actress she can surely find nothing to dread — nothing, or she would be unworthy of the profession, not the profession unworthy her. The theatre is ennobled by its high facilities for the development of genius — facilities not afforded elsewhere in equal degree. By the spirit of genius, we say, it is ennobled, it is sanctified beyond the sneer of the fool or the cant of the hypocrite. The actor of talent is poor of heart, indeed, if he do not look with contempt upon the mediocrity even of a king The writer of this article is himself the son of an actress, has invariably made it his boast, and no earl was ever prouder of his earldom than he of his descent from a woman who, although well born, hesitated not to consecrate to the drama her brief career of genius and of beauty.”

Poe’s contribution to the American Review for this month was the poem of “Eulalie,” and to Graham’s Magazine that most suggestive story, “The Imp of the Perverse.” Probably in no other tale of this author will such originality of investigation, and such acumenical analysis of a monomania, be discoverable, as in this one. The field of research would appear to have been quite unexplored in this direction, and had, perchance, been left so, because hitherto no one bad at once combined in his own person the power to analyse, and the morbid “sixth sense” of perversity analysable. Many, most persons, have, undoubtedly, to some extent, and at certain times, felt promptings to act in a manner they know to be diametrically opposed to their own interests, and that for no reasonable reason; yet few, whose mental equilibrium [page 260:] is invariably unshaken, come within the morbid circle of those depicted by Poe, with whom “the assurance of the wrong, or error, of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us, to its prosecution.” Whether this “overwhelming tendency to do wrong for the wrong’s sake” will not, as the poet declares, “admit of analysis, or resolution, into ulterior elements,” or whether it really “is a radical, a primitive, impulse,” may safely be left to the professed psychologist to discuss; but no thoughtful person will refuse to admit the truth of the illustrations Poe offers in corroboration of his theory. The love, inherent in human nature, to dally with danger, is faithfully rendered in these words: —

“We stand upon the brink of a precipice. We peer into the abyss — we grow sick and dizzy. Our first impulse is to shrink from the danger. Unaccountably, we remain. By slow degrees our sickness, and dizziness, and horror, become merged in a cloud of unnameable feeling By gradations, still more imperceptible, this cloud assumes shape, as did the vapour from the bottle out of which arose the genius in the Arabian Nights. But out of this, our cloud upon the precipice’s edge, there grows into palpability a shape far more terrible than any genius or any demon of a tale, and yet it but a thought, is although a fearful one, and one which chills the very marrow of out bones with the fierceness of its horror. It is merely the idea of what would be our sensations during the sweeping precipitancy of a fall from such a height; and this fall — this rushing annihilation — for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imaginationfor this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it; and because our reason violently deters us from the brink, therefore do we the more impetuously approach it. There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient as that of [page 261:] him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a plunge. To indulge for a moment in any attempt at thought is to be inevitably lost; for reflection but urges us to forbear, and therefore it is, I say, that we cannot. If there be no friendly arm to check us, or if we fail in a sudden effort to prostrate ourselves backward from the abyss, we plunge and are destroyed.

“Examine these and similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the perverse. “We perpetrate them merely because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might indeed deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the arch-fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.”

Thoughts and investigations like these are not the stock of a conventional writer; even if they be not original discovery, they are the result of personal research, and are handled with a power, and clearness, and fascination, that no attempt at depreciation can dissever from true genius.

In August, Poe published in the American Review a crucial examination of certain native dramatic works, under the title of “The American Drama.” The poet advances some very strong arguments to prove the fallacy of the often made assertion that “the Drama has declined;” but if the specimens of contemporary native art he proceeds thereupon to criticise might be deemed a fair sample of the efforts of To-day, it would have to be confessed that, in this instance, the vox populi is in the right. The article affords occasion for adducing some very pungent and forcible reasoning. “The great opponent to Progress is Conservatism,” says the poet, “in other words — the great adversary of Invention is Imitation: the propositions are in spirit identical. Just as an art is imitative, it is [page 262:] stationary. The most imitative arts are the most prone to repose — and the converse.”

In this and the following month, a series of “Marginal Notes,” in continuation of the “Marginalia” of the Democratic Review, were issued in the Lady’s Book. They vary in value, but embody in a condensed and pithy manner many of Poe’s idiosyncratic ideas. Some of the sayings, indeed, as in the following sentences, are of real autobiographic application: — “So vitally important is this last (i.e., industry), that it may well be doubted if anything to which we have been accustomed to give the title of ‘a work of genius’ was ever accomplished without it; and it is chiefly because this quality and genius are nearly incompatible, that ‘works of genius’ are few, while mere men of genius are, as I say, abundant.” But although, as Poe points out, industry must combine with genius to produce a chef-d‘œuvre, he is very careful to warn his readers against the ancient error that industry itself is genius.

The Broadway Journal during these two months manifested numerous proofs of its editor’s industry, and no lack of his genius. In a running commentary, evidently written in great haste, on Thomas Hood’s works, he took occasion to express his admiration of many of that poet’s exquisite lyrics, restraining, however, his enthusiasm until he came to “The Haunted House,” which struck kindred fire from him; calling forth the remark, that had Hood written nothing else, “it would have sufficed to render him immortal.” Many critiques of books and authors — native and foreign — and all more or less marked by his distinguishing traits of thought, appeared in the weekly columns of [page 263:] the Journal. On the 16th August “Lenore,” a most musical chaunt, founded upon its author’s juvenile poem of “The Paean,” was published, and in the following number the weird story of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” This tale well deserves to rank amid Poe’s best works, not only on account of its able construction, and masterly delineation of a homicidal monomania, but because it embodies within its few short pages some of those hitherto undescribed, but universally experienced, “touches of nature” which make the whole world kin. How true — terribly true — is the description of the old man’s agony, while he is listening in the silent night for the uplifting of the door-latch, and seeks, but vainly, to persuade himself that his fears are groundless; whilst he says to himself, “It is nothing but the wind in the chimney It is only a mouse crossing the floor;” or, “It is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” There is more of real horror in the hints of such a narration, than in all the imaginary bloodshed with which tragedy has drenched the stage.

The same issue of the Journal contained an editorial note defending the editor against an allegation by a contemporary, anent “The American Drama” critique, that he, Poe, could never find anything to admire in Longfellow’s writings. ” Now this is doing us the grossest injustice,” says Poe, for “from Mr. Longfellow’s first appearance in the literary world until the present moment, we have been, if not his warmest admirer and most steadfast defender, at least one of his warmest and most steadfast. We even so far committed ourselves, in a late public lecture, as to place him at the very head of American poets. Yet, because upon several occasions we have thought proper to demonstrate [page 264:] the sins, while displaying the virtues, of Professor Longfellow, is it just or proper, or even courteous, on the part of The Gazette, to accuse us, in round terms, of uncompromising hostility, to this poet?” Poe had made too many enemies not to find these anonymous insinuations and misrepresentations of daily occurrence, and it is a somewhat pitiable sight to see him stooping, although often unavoidably, to defend himself against such scurrilities. One of these charges was somewhat amusingly put, and noticed in the Broadway in a not unfriendly manner. The jeu d‘esprit may be cited here, by way of contrast to the generally but too dark shades in the story, of the “Raven,” as his friends liked to style the poet: —

“The Rev. Arthur Coxe’s ’Saul, a Mystery,’ having been condemned in no measured terms by Poe of the Broadway Journal, and Green of the Emporium, a writer in the — Hartford Columbian retorts as follows:

An entertaining history,

Entitled ’Saul, a Mystery,’

Has recently been published by the Reverend Arthur Coxe.

The poem is dramatic,

And the wit of it is Attic,

And its teachings are emphatic of the doctrines orthodox.

But Mr. Poe, the poet,

Declares he cannot go it —

That the book is very stupid — or something of that sort;

And Green, of The Empori-

Um, tells a kindred story,

And swears like any Tory that it isn’t worth a groat.

But maugre all the croaking

Of the ‘Raven,’ and the joking

Of the verdant little fellow of the used-to-be review,

THE PEOPLE, in derision

Of their impudent decision,

Have declared, without division, that the ‘Mystery will do.’

“The truth, of course, rather injures an epigram than otherwise; and nobody will think the worse of the one above [page 265:] when we say that we have expressed no opinion whatever of ’Saul’ “Give a dog a bad name,’ &c. Whenever a book is abused, it is taken for granted that it is we who have been abusing it. Mr. Coxe has written some very beautiful poems, and ’Soul’ may be one of them for anything that we know to the contrary.”

Other noteworthy things by Poe, which appeared in the Journal during the two months referred to, were a laudatory review of Mrs. Oakes Smith’s “Poems;” a trenchant critique on “Christopher North,” and an analysis of his critical powers; a defence of Machiavelli spoken of as “a man of profound thought, of great sagacity, of indomitable will, and unrivalled during his time, if not in knowledge of the human, at least in knowledge of the Italian, heart;” — new remarks on “Leigh Hunt,” “Festus,” and the effects of travel on literary wares. With respect to this last item, “it is astonishing to see how a magazine article,” said the poet, “like a traveller, spruces up after crossing the sea. We ourselves have had the honour of being pirated without mercy — but as we found our articles improved by the process (at least in the opinion of our countrymen), we said nothing, as a matter of course. We have written paper after paper which attracted no notice at all until it appeared as original in Bentley’s Miscellany or the Paris Charivari. The Boston Notion* once abused us very lustily for having written ‘The House of Usher.’ Not long afterwards Bentley published it anonymously, as original with itself, whereupon the Notion,: having forgotten that we wrote it, not only lauded it ad nauseam, but copied it in toto.” [page 266:]

Charles Lamb next comes under the poet’s critical notice, on account of his “Essays of Elia,” and he is, opined Poe, the most original of all the British essayists.” Of all original men, too, Lamb,” said his reviewer, “has the fewest demerits. Of gross faults he has none at all. His merest extravagances have about them a symmetry which entitles them to critical respect. And his innumerable good qualities who shall attempt to depict?”

But literary squabbles still occupied a large portion of the poet’s time and his journal — the literary world was too much with him, either for his comfort or reputation. A certain Mr. Jones now excited his wrath by his [published] opinions on “American Humour,” or rather his attacks on authors he deemed deficient of that element. “The French,” said this Mr. Jones, “have no humour;” to which Poe retorted, “Let him pray Heaven that in Hades he fall not into the clutches of Moliere, of Rabelais, of Voltaire?” and forthwith proceeded to administer a severe castigation to the offending journalist. The following week the skirmishing was resumed, but nothing very desperate appears to have taken place in this case; although a regular hornet’s nest, of pilferers were stirred up by an exposure, in the same number, of their plagiarisms. From these miserable petty matters it is pleasant to pass to some truly noble thoughts on Milton, aroused by the publication of his “Prose Works,” the language of which, said the American poet, after due allowance has been made for the time in which they were written, “no man has ever surpassed, if, indeed, any man has ever equalled, in purity, in force, in copiousness, in majesty, or, in what [page 267:] may be termed, without the least exaggeration, a gorgeous magnificence of style.” In the course of this’ article occasion was taken to defend Bacon from the accusation of being “the meanest of mankind.” “We would undertake to show à priori,” said Poe, “that no man, with Bacon’s thorough appreciation of the true and beautiful, could, by any possibility, be ‘the meanest,’ although his very sensibility might make him the weakest ‘of mankind.’ ”

Week after week this work of reviewing books, authors, drama, and fine arts, and attacking or defending people and opinions, went on with more or less skill, as if the poet were aided by some hundredhanded demon. Much parade was made in editorial notes of the literary help received from well-known littérateurs, but, beyond a few verses, little was contributed by any of the persons named. In the last week of October Poe became proprietor as well as editor of the Journal, and inaugurated his assumption of the sole control of the publication by the commencement of an absurd disputation with some Boston newspapers. This petty but lengthy journalistic warfare arose thus: In consequence of the furor excited by the lecture the poet gave in New York, in the early part of the year, he was invited to Boston to deliver a poem in the Lyceum of that city. It is stated that the lecture — course of this institution was waning in popularity, and that Poe’s fame being at its zenith, he was invited as a great attraction for the opening of the winter session. Unfortunately the poet accepted the invitation, having the intention, his earliest biographer avers, of writing an original poem for the occasion, upon a subject which had haunted [page 268:] his imagination for years, but his manifold cares and anxieties prevented the accomplishment of the purpose — if such he had — and he contented himself with the recitation of his juvenile poem of “Al Aaraaf.”

“I remember him well, as he came on the platform,” says one who was present. “He was the best realisation of a poet in feature, air, and manner, that I had ever seen, and the unusual paleness of his face added to its aspect of melancholy interest. He delivered a poem that no one understood, but at its conclusion gave the audience a treat which almost redeemed their disappointment. This was the recitation of his own ‘Raven,’ which he repeated with thrilling effect. It was something well worth treasuring in memory. . . . Poe,” adds this authority,“after he returned to New York, was much incensed at Boston criticism on his poem.”

Probably the poet was not incensed to any very great extent at what was said about him, but doubtless deemed it a favourable opportunity, for his journal’ sake, to make what he termed “a bobbery.” A just view of the case was taken by a contemporary publication, the Charlestown Patriot, when it remarked that for a man endowed with such a genius, and constituted as was Poe, “it was a blunder to accept the appointment which called him to deliver himself in poetry before the Boston Lyceum. Highly imaginative men,” as it says truly, “can scarcely succeed in such exhibitions. . . . In obeying this call to Boston,” it continues, “Mr. Poe committed’ another mistake. He had been mercilessly exercising himself as a critic at the expense of some of their favourite writers. The swans of New England, under his delineation, had been described as [page 269:] mere geese, and those, too, of none of the whitest. . . . Poe had dealt with favourites of Boston unsparingly, and they hankered after their revenge. In an evil hour, then, did he consent to commit himself, in verse, to their tender mercies. It is positively amusing to see how eagerly all the little witlings of the press, in the old purlieus of the Puritan, flourish the critical tomahawk about the head of their critic. In their eagerness for retribution, one of the papers before us actually congratulates itself and readers on the (asserted) failure of the poet. . . . Mr. Poe committed an error in consenting to address an audience in verse, who, for three mortal hours, had been compelled to sit and hear Mr. Caleb Cushing in prose. The attempt to speak, after this, in. poetry, and fanciful poetry, too, was sheer madness. The most patient audience in the world must have been utterly exhausted by the previous infliction. But it is denied that Mr. Poe failed at all. He had been summoned to recite poetry. It is asserted that he did so. The Boston Courier, one of the most thoughtful of the journals of that city, gives us a very favourable opinion of the performance which has been so harshly treated. ‘The poem,’ says that journal, ‘called “The Messenger Star,’ ” was an eloquent and classic production, based on the right principles, containing the essence of true poetry, mingled with a gorgeous imagination, exquisite painting, every charm, of metre, and a graceful delivery.’ ”

A week after the recitation of his poem Poe began to comment, in a tone of badinage, upon the remarks made by some of the Bostonian papers with respect to his recent performance: ” We have been quizzing the Bostonians,” was his assertion, ” and one or two of the [page 270:] more stupid of their editors and editresses have taken it in high dudgeon.” In the next issue of the Broadway Journal, the poet, after quoting a vindicatory paragraph from the Boston Sunday Times, proceeds

“Our excellent friend Major Noah has suffered himself to be cajoled by that most beguiling of all little divinities, Miss Walters of the Transcript. We have been looking all over her article, with the aid of a taper, to see if we could discover a single syllable of truth in it, and really blush to acknowledge that we cannot. The adorable creature has been telling a parcel of fibs about us, by way of revenge for something that we did to Mr. Longfellow (who admires her very much), and for calling her ‘a pretty little witch’ into the bargain.

“The facts of the case seem to be these; — We were invited to ‘deliver’ (stand and deliver) a poem before the Boston Lyceum. As a matter of course, we accepted the invitation. The audience was ‘large and distinguished.’ Mr. Cushing preceded us with a very capital discourse. He was much applauded. Can arising we were most cordially received. We occupied some fifteen minutes with an apology for not ‘delivering,’ as is usual in such cases, a didactic poem — a didactic poem, in our opinion, being precisely no poem at all. After some further words — still of apology — for the ‘indefinitiveness’ and ‘general imbecility’ of what we had to offer — all so unworthy a Bostonian audience — we commenced, and, with many interruptions of applause, concluded. Upon the whole, the approbation was considerably more (the more the pity too) than that bestowed upon Mr. Cushing.

“When we had made an end, the audience of course arose to depart — and about one-tenth of them, probably, had really departed, when Mr. Coffin, one of the managing com mittee, arrested those who remained by the announcement that we had been requested to deliver ‘The Raven.’ We delivered ‘The Raven’ forthwith — (without taking a receipt) — were very cordially applauded again — and this was the end of it, with the exception of the sad tale invented to suit her own purposes by that amiable little enemy [page 271:] of ours, Miss Walters. We shall never call a woman ‘a pretty little witch’ again, as long as we live.

“We like Boston. We were born there — and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their common is no common thing — and the duck-pond might answer, if its answer could be heard, for the frogs.

“But with all these good qualities the Bostonians have no soul. They have always evinced towards us the basest ingratitude for the services we rendered them . . . When we accepted, therefore, an invitation to ‘deliver’ a poem in Boston, we accepted it simply and solely because we had a curiosity to know how it felt to be publicly hissed, and because we wished to see what effect we could produce by a neat little impromptu speech in reply. Perhaps, however, we overrated our own importance, or the Bostonian want of common civility — which is not quite so manifest as one or two of their editors would wish the public to believe. We assure Major Noah that he is wrong. The Bostonians are well-bred — as very dull persons very generally are.

“It could scarcely be supposed that we would put ourselves to the trouble of composing for the Bostonians anything in the shape of an original poem. We did not. We had a poem (of about five hundred lines) lying by us — one quite as good as new — one, at all events, that we considered would answer sufficiently well for an audience of Transcendentalists. That we gave them — it was the best that we has-for the price — and it did answer remarkably well. Its name was not ‘The Messenger Star’ — who but Miss Walters would ever think of so delicious a little bit of invention as that? We had no name for it at all. The poem is what is occasionally called a ‘juvenile poem’ — but the fact is, it is anything but juvenile now, for we wrote it, printed it, and published it, in book form, before we bad fairly completed our tenth year. We read it verbatim, from a copy now in our possession, and which we shall be happy to show at any moment to any of our inquisitive friends. . . .

“As regards the anger of the Boston Times and one or two other absurdities — as regards, we say, the wrath of Achilles — [page 272:] we incurred it — or rather its manifestation — by letting some of our cat out of the bag a few hours sooner than we had intended. Over a bottle of champagne that night, we confessed to Messrs. Cushing, Whipple, Hudson, Field, and a few other natives who swear not altogether by the frog-pond — we confessed, we say, the soft impeachment of the hoax. Et hinc illcs irm We should have waited a couple of days.”

This lengthy letter did not conclude Poe’s comments upon the matter; for three weeks he permitted the affair to remain dormant, so far as his own journal was concerned, but at the expiration of that period he issued another long editorial, beginning with the remark, ” As we very confidently expected, our friends in the southern and western country (true friends and tried) are taking up arms in our cause — and more especially in the cause of a national as distinguished from a sectional literature. They cannot see (it appears) any further necessity for being ridden to death by New England.” After quoting certain opinions of the press, the poet goes on to say, that if asked “What is the most exquisite of sublunary pleasures?” the reply would be “the making a fuss, or, in the classical words of a Western friend, the ‘kicking up a bobbery;’ ” adding, ” never was a ‘bobbery’ more delightful than that which we have just succeeded in ‘kicking up’ all round about Boston Common. We never saw the Frogpondians so lively in our lives. They seem absoutely to be upon the point of waking up . . . to certain facts which have long been obvious to all the world except themselves — the facts that there exist other cities than Boston . . . other vehicles of literary information than the ‘Down-East Review.’ ”

Other newspaper opinions are then cited, and other over-wrought banterings indulged in, and then what [page 273:] was really the gist of the article was given in these words: —

“We knew very well that, among a certain clique of the Frogpondians, there existed a predetermination to abuse us under any circumstances. We knew that write what we would they would swear it to be worthless. We knew that were we to compose for them a ‘Paradise Lost’ they would pronounce it an indifferent poem It would have been very weak in us, then, to put ourselves to the trouble of attempting to please these people. We preferred pleasing ourselves. We read before them a ‘juvenile,’ a very ‘juvenile’ poem — and thus the Frogpondians were had — were delivered up to the enemy bound hand and foot Never were a set of people more completely demolished. They have blustered and flustered, but what have they done or said that has not made them more thoroughly ridiculous? what, in the name of Momus, is it possible for them to do or to say?

“We ‘delivered’ them the ‘juvenile poem,’ and they received it with applause. This is accounted for by the fact that the clique (contemptible in numbers as in everything else) were overruled by the rest of the assembly. These malignants did not dare to interrupt by their preconcerted hisses the respectful and profound attention of the majority. . . . The poem being thus well received, in spite of this ridiculous little cabal — the next thing to be done was to abuse it in the papers. Here, they imagined, they were sure of their game. But what have they accomplished? The poem, they say, is bad. We admit it. We insisted upon this fact in our prefatory remarks, and we insist upon it now, over and over again.

“Repelled at these points, the Frogpondian faction hire a thing they call the ‘Washingtonian Reformer’ (or something of that kind), to insinuate that we must have been ‘intoxicated’ to have become possessed of sufficient audacity to ‘deliver’ such a poem to the Frogpondians. In the first place, why cannot these miserable hypocrites say ‘drunk’ at once, and be done with it? In the second place, we are perfectly willing to admit that we were drunk — in the face of at least eleven or twelve hundred Frogpondians who will be willing to take oath that we were not. We are willing to [page 274:] admit either that we were drunk, or that we set fire to the Frogpond, or that once upon a time we cut the throat of our grandmother. The fact is, we are perfectly ready to admit anything at all — but what has cutting the throat of our grandmother to do with our poem, or the Frogpondian stupidity? We shall get drunk when we please. As for the editor of the ‘Jeffersonian Teetotaler’ (or whatever it is), we advise her to get drunk too, as soon as possible — for when sober she is a disgrace to the sex, on account of being so awfully stupid.

N. B. The ‘Washingtonian Teetotaler’ is edited by a little old lady in a mobcap and spectacles — at least we presume so, for every second paper in Boston is.”

Here it should be explained, for those who, knowing Poe’s invariable courtesy towards women, fail to recognise the subject of his satire, that the publica tion alluded to was edited by Mr. Edmund Burke, who, said the poet, “assured us, with tears in her eyes, that she was not a little old lady in a mobcap and spectacles.”

From the postscriptum to this editorial may be cited these few more sentences: “Miss Walters (the Siren!) has seen cause, we find, to recant all the ill natured little insinuations she has been making against us (mere white lies — she need not take them so much to heart), and is now overwhelming us with apologies — things which we have never yet been able to withstand. She defends our poem on the ground of its being ‘juvenile,’ and we think the more of her defence because she herself has been juvenile so long as to be a judge of juvenility.”

During the following weeks Poe delivered a few more Parthian darts at these Bostonian editors, but, so far as the Broadway Journal was concerned, this was the end of the far-famed, attack on Frogpondium. [page 275:] The whole squabble was petty, and little worthy of the strenuous exertions it aroused against the poet. Those hurried jocular, although overstrained, newspaper jottings, — thrown off in the midst of cares and anxieties of all kinds, and whilst their unfortunate writer, suffering under almost chronic impecuniosity, and unable to pay for literary aid, was obliged to supply “copy” for nearly the whole of the Journal, — have been referred to, and adduced from, as evidence of Poe’s irretrievably bad nature. Work of a more pleasing nature, however, was now occupying his attention and time. In October he published in his journal the poetically worded sketch of “The Island of the Fay,” in which some of his most salient traits of thoughts are expressed. In this composition he pointed out how human figures disfigure a landscape; reiterated his ofttold love of solitude; and affected to believe, with the old geographer Pomponious Mela, that the earth is a living sentient being. In this same prose poem Poe, in drawing attention to the palpable fact that space is an object in our universe, laid down a proposition that really contained the germ of his subsequent great work “Eureka.”

In the following month of November, the tale of “Spectacles” appeared in the Broadway Journal, which also contained the announcement that Poe was now its “sole proprietor and editor;” Graham’s Magazine contained “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether,” and “Mesmeric Revelations” was published in the Columbian Magazine. This last story, and its sequel of ” The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” — published next month in the American Review created a more profound and wider-spread excitement [page 276:] than any other of his previous works. He was overwhelmed with inquiries as to their being fact or fiction, and carefully avoided giving the public a definite answer. Commenting upon The Tribune’s remarks about the latter tale — that terrible tale of mesmerising a man in articulo mortis — Poe said, ” For our past, we find it difficult to understand how any dispassionate transcendentalist can doubt the. facts as we state them; they are by no means so incredible as the marvels which are hourly narrated, and believed, on the topic of mesmerism. Why cannot a man’s death be postponed indefinitely by mesmerism? why cannot a man talk after he is dead? why?why? — that is the question; and as soon as the Tribune has answered it to our satisfaction we will talk to it further.” And in reprinting “The Facts” in his journal, he notes that the article ” has given rise to some discussion — especially in regard to the truth or falsity of the statement made. It does not become us, of course,” he adds, “to offer one word on the point at issue. We have been requested to reprint the article, and do so with pleasure. We leave it to speak for itself. We may observe, however, that there are a certain class of people who pride themselves upon Doubt as a profession.”

The wordy warfare as to the facts of ” The Facts ” being a record of real circumstance or not, waxed warmer, and even people who should have known better took the side of the believers. Dr. Collyer, a well-known mesmerist, was among the many who expressed their belief as to the “case of Monsieur Valdemar” being a true one, and he wrote this letter to Poe on the subject: — [page 277:]

“BOSTON, December 16, 1845

“DEAR SIR — Your account of M. Valdemar’s case has been universally copied in this city, and has created a very great sensation. It requires from me no apology, in stating, that I have not the least doubt of the possibility of such a phenomenon; for I did actually restore to active animation a person who died from excessive drinking of ardent spirits. He was placed in his coffin ready for interment.

“You are aware that death very often follows excessive excitement of the nervous system; this arising from the extreme prostration which follows; so that the vital powers have not sufficient energy to react.

“I will give you the detailed account on your reply to this, which I require for publication, in order to put at rest the growing impression that your account is merely a splendid creation of your own brain, not having any truth in fact. My dear sir, I have battled the storm of public derision too long on the subject of Mesmerism, to be now found in the rear ranks — though I have not publicly lectured for more than two years, I have steadily made it a subject of deep investigation.

“I sent the account to my friend Dr. Elliotson of London; also to The Zoist — to which journal I have regularly contributed.

“Your early reply will oblige, which I will publish, with your consent, in connection with the case I have referred to. Believe me yours, most respectfully,


In public allusion to this communication, Poe humorously said, “We have no doubt that Dr. Collyer is perfectly correct in all that he says, and all that he desires us to say; but the truth is, there is a very small modicum of truth in the case of M. Valdemar, which, in consequence, may be called a hard case very hard for M. Valdemar, for Dr. Collyer, and ourselves. If the story was not true, however, it should have been, and perhaps The Zoist may discover that it is true, after all.” [page 278:]

In England “Valdemar’s Case” also startled the public, and actually found certain pseudo scientific writers ready to accept it as a narration of facts. The Popular Record of Modern Science, a London weekly paper sub-styling itself “A Journal of Philosophy and General Information,” reprinted the tale with the comment, “It bears internal evidence of authenticity!” and in criticising the remarks of the Morning Post — which also reprinted the narratio — took occasion to say:

“Credence is understood to be given to it at New York, within a few miles of which city the affair took place, and where, consequently, the most ready means must be found for its authentication or disproval. The initials of the medical men, and of the young medical student, must be sufficient in the immediate locality to bush their identity, especially as M. Valdemar was well known, and had been so long ill as to render it out of the question that there should be any difficulty in ascertaining the names of the physicians by whom he had been attended. In the same way the nurses and servants, under whose cognisance the case must have come during the seven months which it occupied, are of course accessible to sorts of inquiries. It will therefore appear that there must have been too many parties concerned to render prolonged deception practicable. The angry excitement and various rumours, which have at length rendered a public statement necessary, are also sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place. No steamer will leave England for America till the 3rd of February, but within a few weeks of that time, we doubt not, it will be possible to lay before the readers of The Record information which will enable them to come to a pretty accurate conclusion.”

It is easy to imagine the delight with which Poe chuckled over the absurd sophistry of these pseudo scientists, and over the success, in an English self-titled [page 279:] philosophical paper, of his “ ‘Valdemar Case’ hoax,” as he called it in a letter to a friend. He would find more true gratification, however, in these allusions to the work in a letter of Mrs. Browning’s: — “Then there is a tale of his which I do not find in this volume,* but which is going the rounds of the newspapers, about mesmerism, throwing us all into most admired disorder, “or dreadful doubts as to whether it can be true, as the children say of ghost stories. The certain thing in the tale in question is the power of the writer, and the faculty he has of making horrible improbabilities seem near and familiar.”

To Mrs. Browning Poe now dedicated, in most enthusiastic terms, a new collection of his poems, published in November by Messrs. Wiley and Putnam, as “The Raven and other Poems.” In the Preface to the volume the poet pathetically remarks, “Events not to be controlled have prevented me from making, at any time, any serious effort in what, under happier circumstances, would have been the field of my choice. With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not — they cannot at will be excited with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind.” And, in a note to the Poems written in Youth, he says, — chiefly with reference to the remark of Charles Dickens in the Foreign Quarterly Review, that Poe “had all Tennyson’s spirituality, and might be considered as the best of his imitators” — “Private reasons — some of which have reference to the sin of plagiarism, and others to the date of Tennyson’s first poems — have induced me, after some hesitation, [page 280:] to republish these, the crude compositions of my earliest boyhood.” The volume of poetry did not appear to make such a deep impression upon the public as did the volume of “Tales,” partly, perchance, on account of the contents being already well known through reprints, and partly because it contained little beyond “The Raven” likely to earn the approbation of the multitude.

On turning to the less literary, although scarcely less public, life of Poe at this period, he is seen mixing in the best society New York could boast of, and charming every one by the fascination of his manners and the brilliancy of his conversational powers. Mrs. Oakes Smith informs us, that “It was in the brilliant circles that assembled in the winter of 1845-46 at the houses of Dr. Dewey, Miss Anna C. Lynch, Mr. Lawson, and others, that we first met Edgar Poe. His manners were, athese reunions, refined and pleasing, and his style and scope of conversation that of a gentleman and a scholar. Whatever may have been his previous career, there was nothing in his appearance or manner to indicate his excesses. He delighted in the society of superior women, and had an exquisite perception of all the graces of manner and shades of expression. He was an admiring listener, and an unobtrusive observer. We all recollect the interest felt at the time in everything emanating from his pen — the relief it was from the dulness of ordinary writers, the certainty of something fresh and suggestive. His critiques were read with avidity; not that he convinced the judgment, but that people felt their ability and courage. Right or wrong he was terribly in earnest.” [page 281:] “Like De Quincey,” as Mrs. Whitman remarks, “he never supposed anything, he always knew.”

This last named lady, in her beautiful monograph on “Poe and his Critics,” instances, as evidence of the habitual kindliness and courtesy of the poet’s nature, an incident that occurred at one of the soirdes above alluded to: — “A lady, noted for her great lingual attainments, wishing to apply a wholesome check to the vanity of a young author, proposed inviting him to translate for the company a difficult passage in Greek, of which language she knew him to be profoundly ignorant, although given to a rather pretentious display of Greek quotations in his published writings. Poe’s earnest and persistent remonstrance against this piece of méchanceté alone averted the embarrassing test.” Trifling as this anecdote may appear, it is good proof of that generous and charitable disposition which they who knew him only from the scandalous calumnies of his detractors have so unwarrantably denied him the possession of.

Those who have thus far followed Poe’s story through these pages, will know what a passionate adoration he bore towards the beautiful sharer of his luckless lot. “Sometimes,” says Mrs. Whitman,” his fair young wife was seen with him at the weekly assemblages in Waverley Place. She seldom took part in the conversation, but the memory of her sweet and girlish face, always animated and vivacious, repels the assertion, afterwards so cruelly and recklessly made, that she died a victim to the neglect and unkindness of her husband, ‘who,’ as it has been said, ‘deliberately sought her death that he might embalm her memory in immortal dirges.’ . . . We [page 282:] might cite the testimony alike of friends and enemies,” continues Mrs. Whitman, “to Poe’s unvarying kindness towards his young wife and cousin, if other testimony were needed than that of the tender love still. cherished for his memory, by one whose life was made doubly desolate by his death — the sister of his father, and the mother of his Virginia. It is well known to those acquainted with the parties,” Mrs. Whitman proceeds to narrate, “that all who have had opportunities for observation in the matter have noticed her husband’s tender devotion to her during her prolonged illness. Even Dr. Griswold speaks of having visited him during a period of illness caused by protracted anxiety and watching by the side of his sick wife. It is true that, notwithstanding her vivacity and cheerfulness at the time we have alluded to, her health was, even then, rapidly sinking; and it was for her dear sake, and the recovery of that peace which had been so fatally perilled amid the irritations and anxieties of his New York life, that Poe left the city and removed to the little Dutch cottage in Fordham, where he passed the remaining three years of his life.”

Returning to the poet’s labours on the Broadway Journal, we find some noteworthy critiques in the last November number, on various works of contemporary and permanent interest. Professor Raumer’s book on America is noticed, chiefly as an instance of the difficulties experienced by foreigners to obtain correct information about American literature, and the fact that the author professedly derived his knowledge of their poets from Griswold’s compilation is commented upon in stinging terms. Victor Hugo is next alluded to, his fictions being referred to as unequalled, whilst [page 283:] his “Notre Dame” calls forth Poe’s enthusiastic sympathy, as “a work of high genius controlled by consummate art.” Tennyson’s “Poems” then come under review, and their creator is spoken of as “a poet who (in our own humble, but sincere opinion) is the greatest that ever lived. We are perfectly Willing to undergo all the censure,” subjoins Poe, “which so heretical an opinion may draw down upon us.” This month’s literary labours were concluded by the publication, in Graham’s Magazine, of the “System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether,” a tale of no particular value.

In the December numbers of his Journal Poe gave a lengthy review of the Poems of Mrs. Osgood, of whom more will be heard later on, some appropriate remarks on Mrs. Norton’s “Child of the Isles,” sympathetic allusions to Prescott, reference to “Love and Mesmerism ” by Horace Smith, as the work of “an author who never did anything ill,” and manifold minor reviews and notices, including one on the works of Shelley, opined to be “a poet whom all poets, and whom poets only, appreciate.”

The days of his periodical were numbered, but before resigning the control of its columns, the poet contrived to enliven the “Editorial Miscellany” with another small skirmish. “The Brook-Farm” folk, now best remembered by their embalmment in Hawthorne’s “Blithedale Romance,” went out of their way to find fault with Poe, whose fame, their chief journal alleged, was degenerating into “notoriety, through a certain blackguard warfare which he had been waging against the poets and newspaper critics of New England, and which it would be most charitable to impute to insanity.” [page 280:] After this last insinuation — a somewhat awkward one for a people so situated as were the “Farmers ” — its propounders, reviewing Poe’s recent volume of poems, concluded their animadversions by declaring that the author “does not write for Humanity; he has more of the art than the soul of poetry. He affects to despise the world while he writes for it. He certainly has struck out a remarkable course: the style and imagery of his earliest poems mark a very singular culture, a judgment most severe for a young writer, and a familiarity with the less hackneyed portions of classic lore and nomenclature. He seems to have had an idea of working out his forms from pure white marble. But the poet’s humanity is wanting; a morbid egotism repels you. He can affect you with wonder, but rarely with the thrill of any passion, except, perhaps, of pride, which might be dignity, and which therefore always is interesting. We fear this writer even courts the state described by Tennyson: —

“ ‘A glorious devil, large in heart and brain,

That did love beauty only.’ ”

Of these final not altogether unflattering and in some respects not quite unfaithful, remarks, Poe took no note; but the innuendoes as to his insanity, insulting a Boston audience, ill motives, plagiarism of Tennyson, and so forth, he accompanied by a running commentary as caustic as it was pertinent, introducing the subject in this fashion: —

The Harbinger — edited by ‘The Brook-Farm Phalanx’ — is, beyond doubt, the most reputable organ of the Crazyites. We sincerely respect it — odd as this assertion may appear. It is conducted by an assemblage of well read persons who [page 285:] mean no harm, and who, perhaps, can do less. Their objects are honourable, and so forth — all that anybody can understand of them — and we really believe that Mr. Albert Brisbane, and one or two other ladies and gentlemen, understand all about them that is necessary to be understood. But what we, individually, have done to The Harbinger, or what we have done to ‘The Brook-Farm Phalanx,’ that ‘The Brook-Farm Phalanx’ should stop the ordinary operations at Brook Farm, for the purpose of abusing us, is a point we are unable to comprehend. If we have done anything to affront ‘The Brook-Farm Phalanx’ we will make an apology forthwith — provided ‘The Brook-Farm Phalanx’ (which we have a great curiosity to see) will just step into our office, which is 304 Broadway.”

With this farewell volley Poe’s connection with the periodical may be said to have ceased, for although it did not expire until. the following month, and the latest number contained some noteworthy remarks by the poet on Cromwell and on Faber’s Speaking Automaton, the editorial management had then passed into the hands of a certain “Thomas Dunn English,” of whom more will be heard presently. In his Valedictory, the ex-editorial proprietor stated, “Unexpected engagements demanding my whole attention, and the objects being fulfilled, so far as regards myself personally, for which the Broadway Journal was established, I now, as its editor, bid farewell as cordially to foes as to friends.”


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 265:]

*  Edited by R. W. Griswold.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 279:]

*  I. e., the 1845 edition of “Tales.”





[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1886] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Chapter 15)