Text: John H. Ingram, “Appendix F,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1886), pp. 468-473


[page 468:]

( 468 )



TO furnish a full and analytic account of the biographies of Edgar Allan Poe would be a task almost equal to that of rewriting his entire life. The history of this poet’s biographies might, indeed, fill a fresh chapter, and that by no means the least memorable, in the Curiosities of Literature. Naturally, only a concise and cursory summary of these sketches can be given here. Previous to the poet’s death, several slight biographical notices were published in various forms, and more or less diluted by speculative criticism. Griswold’s works on American Poets and Prose Writers, contained a certain number of correct and of incorrect data, to which Mr. J. R. Lowell added his quantum, in Graham’s Magazine for February 1845, in a clever but unsympathetic paper on “Edgar Allan Poe.” Poe died on the 7th of October 1849, and two days later a somewhat lengthy and bitterly hostile paper on his life and character appeared in the New York Tribune, over the signature of “Ludwig.” N. P. Willis, commenting in the Home Journal upon this posthumous hostility, revealed the fact that the pseudonymous reviler of the dead was Rufus Griswold. John Neal immediately denounced the calumniator’s sketch as “false and malicious,” and other friends and admirers were equally disgusted with it; whilst Mr. George R. Graham — that “noble fellow,” as Mrs Clemm styles him — knowing more of the connection between the dead lion and his dissector than any one else, published a long and eloquent reply in Graham’s Magazine for March 1850, in which he justly termed the characterisation by the soi-disant “Ludwig,” “the fancy sketch of a jaundiced vision,” “an immortal infamy,” and other similar appellations.

Meanwhile, Mr. Powell, an English author resident in New York, had just completed a work on “The Living Authors [page 469:] of America,” in which a pleasant, unprejudiced, biographical sketch was given of Poe’s career. The book, however, did not appear until after the poet’s death; its data are very flattering to Poe, but do not appear very reliable.

In March 1850 was published, in the Southern Literary Messenger, what Griswold styles an “Eulogium” on Poe, but what really was a still more dastardly attack on the dead man than the unsavoury “Ludwig” article. It had evidently been written and printed in hot haste, and was so disgraceful and cowardly that the editorial proprietor of the magazine, Mr. John R. Thompson, deemed it necessary to append a short printed note, to the effect that had “it not been inserted during his absence, and not seen by hire until too late to stop it, it should not have appeared in the Messenger. Who wrote this article? It is generally ascribed to Mr. J. M. Daniel; yet, strange to say, it not only uses lengthy passages of “Ludwig’s” sketch without inverted commas, or other signs of quotation, but, when Griswold’s long “Memoir of Poe” appeared in the Boston International Magazine, he also made use of long extracts from the “Eulogium” without acknowledgment. Certainly he does refer to it as his authority for one of the blackest crimes he charges Poe with, and which he himself not unaptly styles unfit for “any register but that of hell.” Was not this miscalled (by Griswold) I defender,’ then, Griswold himself, or some one acting under his inspiration?

In 1850 appeared the third volume of Poe’s works, prefaced by the so-styled “Memoir” of the poet, a concentration of hatred and malice that had already done duty, as pointed out above, in the International Magazine. It is quite impossible to comprehend the immense injury this publication did to Poe’s memory. Its author appeared to be in possession of the facts — as editor of the poet’s works he was in possession of the field — and, therefore, all the numerous writers, friendly or hostile, who essayed biographical sketches of Poe, resorted to Griswold for their data. And, notwithstanding intermittent bursts of indignation, no new life of Poe, founded upon evidence independent of that proffered by this initial biographer, was published until the present writer’s sketch, introductory of the first complete edition of the poet’s works, appeared in October [page 470:] 1874. During this quarter of a century, however, several noteworthy “memoirs of Poe” saw the light. The best known of these was the essay of Baudelaire, and it is chiefly remarkable as the attempt, by a man of genius, to explain Poe’s character as described by Griswold, by an ingenious theory of his own. Of course he failed in that, however valuable his essay otherwise may be and truly is. Baudelaire, it should be added, had read the “Eulogium,” and, probably, Powell’s account of Poe already referred to.

Next in importance to the French critic’s characterisation of Poe, is that by James Hannay, prefixed to the 1853 English edition of the Poetical Works. It is a charming and appreciative sketch, but having no biographical details other than Griswold’s to go by, and being as instinctively attracted to Poe as was Baudelaire, Hannay also started a theory as ingenious and as unsatisfactory as his, to account for the poet’s presumed misdeeds. A writer in the British Quarterly Review for July 1875, now understood to be Dr. A. H. Japp, in a clever and impartial article on “Edgar Allan Poe,” has very thoroughly sifted the errors promulgated by the two writers, and thus disposes of the latest offspring of a remarkable group: “Owing to influences precisely similar, Mr. Curwen, in his Sorrow and Song,’ errs in the same direction as Baudelaire and Hannay; and his sympathy seems wholly misplaced, because he will drive against society, instead of acknowledging frankly Poe’s faults and perversities.”

The above writers, as intimated, did not dispute Griswold’s premises, only his inferences, but others, more or less known in the literary world, doubted the trustworthiness of both. The editor of Chambers’ ’s Handbook of American Literature,” writing in 1854, mildly expressed doubts of several of the allegations made against Poe by his biographer. Nemesis began to loom in the distance. In April 1857 Mr. Moy Thomas drew attention to the fact,that Poe’s miserable story rested wholly upon Griswold’s Memoir; that all since him have followed Griswold, with the exactness of a Hebrew copyist, trembling at the prophet’s curse upon all who should add to or take away one tittle of the text.” “It did appear to me to be an, important and an interesting point,” he remarks, “to learn what [page 471:] explanation, if any, Griswold himself had given of the reasons which had determined him to fulfil his painful task.” Mr. Moy Thomas then proceeded to show, “what even American readers appear to have forgotten, that when Mr. Griswold’s Memoir was first published, its assertions were denied by many who had known Poe, that no person corroborated the worst parts of his story, that some went so far as to impugn his motives; and that others, who had known and had closer relations with the poet, gave accounts differing materially from Griswold’s.” Finally, after alluding to the enmity existing between the poet and his biographer, Mr. Moy Thomas concludes his highly suggestive paper, by reminding English readers that there are “portraits of Poe less repulsive than that one which is best known.” In November 1857 appeared in Russell’s Magazine, Charleston, S. C., a still more remarkable vindicatory article, by Professor James Wood Davidson; is this defence of Edgar Poe’s fair fame, many of Griswold’s imputations were proved to be false, whilst others were rendered extremely improbable. This important step was contemporaneous with similar efforts made by Captain Mayne Reid, Mr. T. C. Clarke, and other personal acquaintances of the deceased poet, in the magazines and newspapers, and by Mr. L. A. Wilmer, in his book called “Our Press Gang.” The slow progress made by these justificatory pieces may be comprehended when reading the last named author’s words respecting an article he had published on,“Edgar A. Poe and his Calumniators.” “I do not know,” he states, “I that this vindication was copied by a single paper; whereas the whole press of the country seemed desirous of giving circulation and authenticity to the slanders.”

But the ball had been set rolling, and in 1860, when Mrs. Whitman published her beautiful little monograph on “Edgar Poe and his Critics,” several influential literati were prepared to add the impetus of their words towards aiding the cause of truth and justice. Mrs. Whitman’s defence of her dead friend dealt almost entirely with his literary character, ” leaving to some later writer the task of giving to the world a more impartial memoir of the poet than Griswold’s,” but at the same time she pointed out that [page 472:] that author’s “perverted facts and baseless assumptions had been adopted into every subsequent memoir and notice of the poet,” and therefore she published her book as an earnest protest against such a “great wrong to the dead.”

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for September 1872, contained an article on “Edgar Allan Poe” which, although showing animus against the poet, was noteworthy as affording evidence of original research. In 1875 this article, revised and enlarged, and for some occult reason ” submitted” to English readers, did duty as 1s an original memoir,” as the introduction to a new American edition of the Poetical Works. In the British Quarterly Review it is disposed of thus: “The last addition to the Poe biography is ‘An Original Memoir,’ by R. H. Stoddard, a gentleman of New York, who denounces Griswold, and then proceeds simply to surpass him in his own line; raking together such a mass of irrelevant gossip as we never read before.” During the last fifteen years the writer of the present biography has published, papers in vindication of Poe’s memory, but it was not until the beginning of 1874 that he was enabled to adduce more than a few isolated items in support of his theory of Griswold’s untrustworthiness. In January of that year he commenced a series of articles in the Mirror, on “New Facts” about the poet; in June the same year he contributed a still more exculpatory sketch to Temple Bar Magazine, and in the following October published a thorough vindication of Poe, as an introduction to the first volume of a complete edition of his works. In March 1875, he revised and abridged this sketch of “Edgar Allan Poe,” for the International Review, and in 1877 contributed a further revision of it, as an introduction to the Baltimore Memorial, a livre de luxe in every respect most creditable to the “Monumental City:” this handsome volume, besides other interesting and original matter, contained Colonel Preston’s pleasant reminiscences of his famous school fellow.

In 1877, a New York edition of Poe’s poems was prefaced by “a New Memoir” by Mr. E. L. Didier, a gentleman who appears to have been collecting “Poeana” for some time past, and who, ultimately, came into possession of the present writer’s life of the poet: by aid of this he was [page 473:] enabled to compile “a New Memoir,” forgetting, however, in the hurry of publication, to acknowledge the chief source of his “much fresh and interesting information.” Mr. Francis Gerry Fairfield, a New York journalist, and the author of an innumerable number of “queer” papers on, from, and about Poe, thus briefly summarised his opinion on Mr. Didier’s book: —

“Dear D—, in your biography of Poe,

The real cause for me is,

That what is true was published years ago,

And what is new not true is:

And the new poems that you tell about

Upon the title-page, are all left out.”

The Last Days of Edgar Poe,” by Mrs. S. A. Talley-Weiss, was a noticeable contribution towards the poet’s biography that appeared in Scribner’s Magazine for March 1878. The present writer has ventured to avail himself of some portions of this account of Poe’s last few weeks life.

Numerous other books and sketches bearing upon the subject of this biography might be mentioned, but beyond those already referred to here, or in the body of the work, few or any are of biographical value, although several might be cited as of critical worth, such as Dr. Landa’s “Noticias Biograficas de Edgard Poe,” prefixed to the 1858 Spanish collection of Poe’s tales, and Dr. W. Hand Browne’s clever analysis of “Eureka,” in the New Eclectic Magazine for 1868 [[1869]], remarkable as the only known attempt to examine that scientific work scientifically.






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