Text: Luther Chapin Harris, “Edgar Allen [[Allan]] Poe,” St. Paul Daily Globe (St. Paul, MN), vol. III, no 242, August 29, 1880, p. 5, cols. 4-5


[page 5, col. 4, continued:]





There have appeared at different stages of the world’s history minds so anomalous in their nature, so totally at variance with those surrounding them, so unnatural and equivocal in their construction, that they have seemed more like errant spirits from the world be yond than those possessing the attributes and propensities of common mortals.

Prominent among the names in this strange order of beings occurs that of Edgar Allen Poe. He combines in a remarkable degree two elements of mind seldom found united — analysis and imagination. These constitute the ground work of his genius, they are the source of his wonderful power. No two faculties could stand more opposite in their effects. Their union in him give to many of his subjects the effect of what can only be expressed by the extraordinary phrase of the spiritually material. He treats the most ideal themes in the most realistic manner. He is both poet and mathematician. He conceives with all the vividness of the former, but he reasons with all the coldness and precision of the latter. He is living fire hedged in with ice. He reduces the wildest play of passion to the most exact order. He unites the severest logic to the most exuberant fancy, the heat of passion to the coldness of reason.

A too-close observance of the poetical and ideal port of his nature has gained for him the appellation of dreamer. He has his moods of abstraction, but he is not the typical dreamer. His piercing acuteness, his minuteness of detail, his subtle distinctions, his refined reasonings, all separate him from the purely meditative mind. The dreamer is passive; Poe concentrates them. The dreamer revels in the mysterious; Poe will have nothing to do with it, only as he can explain it. The dreamer surrenders himself to contemplation and reverie till his own individuality is lost

in that of the objects around him; Poe never loses himself in his abstraction, he is most keenly alive when most absorbed.

Mark the contrast between the strength, clearness and precision of his intellectual, and the wild disorder and disease of his moral and aesthetic faculties. He naturally possesses delicate perceptions and refined sensibilities. But what do we find in his tales? A nature attuned to the harmonious and the beautiful reveling in all that is discordant and hideous; a mind intoxicated by the fiendishness of its own creations indulging in all that is self-destructive; all the natural, genuine emotions of the heart blighted and turned away; hope driven into the icy caves of despair; joy banished into rayless caverns of gloom; poetic fervor turned into demoniacal fury; feeling frozen into frenzy; smiles withered into sneers. In fine, the impression produced by these wierd compositions is that of a demon mounting to a throne of evil eminence on the wreck of all that is pure and beautiful; and, having attained it, gazing down with fiendish glee upon the ruins below. The diseased condition of his mind we see manifested in the unnatural delight he seems to take in dwelling on the subjects of death and decay. In one of his tales he says; “I have imbibed the shadows of the fallen columns of Tadmor, Balbec and Persepolis, till my very soul has become a ruin.” That is it. It is always beauty and grace’ dethroned; shattered columns, crumbling walls and tottering arches; the lingering smile on the lips of death; the false ana treacherous bloom on the features of disease; “the gilded halo hovering round decay,” it is all these that his morbid fancy seizes upon with each greedy aridity.

He cares nothing for mere external objects only as they excite his emotions. Therefore he always chooses such subjects as are suggestive of melancholy and sadness. He ever represents love as in the icy clutches of death, not that he may show his affection for the dead, but rather as a means of gratifying his abstract love of grief. He has a morbid craving for unnatural sensations. He feeds on mockeries. He taunts himself with the hopelessness of his despair, and takes a strange delight in this process of self-torture. His most intolerable anguish is his keenest joy; the more painful his emotions, the more pungent his pleasure; the greater his grief, the more delicious his sorrow.

But how shall we account for this perversion of his nature? That a mind should indulge in all that is self-destructive; that the very order and nature of things should be reversed; that out of cosmos should come chaos, and out of beauty hideousness, seems a moral antithesis — inexplicable. The explanation of this apparent contradiction is to be found in a peculiar tendency of his nature — his morbid habit of introspection.

Hawthorne — the profoundest moral philosopher that America has ever produced — has said that, of all of the practices in which a mind may indulge, this one of introspection is the most pernicious. Poe is a slave to it. His [column 5:] eyes are ever turned inward to a “heart gnawed with anguish.” Here, within this spiritual laboratory, he dissects, analyzes, watches. He notes each passing breath of emotion. He catches each fluctuating shade of feeling. He studies with painful minuteness the creeping sensations of crime, guilt, sin and remorse. He pursues with nervous intensity the darkest thoughts as they steal stealthily through the chambers of the heart. He loves to see the delicate tendrils of the soul quiver with agony or pulsate with joy. And it was this process of critical self-analysis, this peering into the innermost recesses of the soul, this cold, analytic dissecting of an emotion as an anatomist would a nerve, this lying in wait for the play of a passion, this trailing a thought through all its tortuous windings — it was this that shattered Poe’s sensibilities and dulled his perception. His characters are but the logical sequence of this intense subjective tendency of mind. In none of them can there be found a complete and harmonious blending of all the elements of mind and soul. They are simply the incarnations of a thought, mere abstractions of crime and guilt, frenzy and despair clothed with flesh and blood. All their sympathy, love and fear is absorbed by a single animating principle. They have but little to link them to humanity, and possess more in common with the denizens of hell than with in the habitants of the earth.

The many conflicting tendencies found in Poe would seem to almost justify a belief in the duality of mind. He was a strange compound of opposites, a curious blending of harmonies and discords. In him “fire and frost embrace.” At times he was mild, gentle and affable; again fierce, passionate and moody. Now he would be charming or electrifying a circle of friends by his wonderful eloquence; and now, sitting apart in some secluded retreat, muttering to himself in dismal monologues. One moment holding you enraptured by his visions of wondrous beauty; the next, chaining you, petrified with terror, among his dismal phantoms, built up in forms of “gloomiest and ghastliest grandeur.” To-day, soaring away into the far-off realms of imagination; to-morrow, wandering in the gloomy labyrinths of his own soul. “At night, the hero of a drunken debauch; in the morning, a wizard of song, whose weird and fitful music was like that of sirens.”

Poe has often been called the Byron of America. In many respects they are similar. Both are egotistical, passionate, arrogant; both have a morbid love of melancholy, gloom and death; both are the victims of passion and diseased self- contemplation. Poe resembles Byron in his ethical, but not his mental qualities. Byron is powerful, vigorous, synthetic; Poe is subtle, acute, analytic. Byron has broader comprehension; Poe has keener perception. Byron treats of individuals; Poe only of principles. Byron is more objective; Poe more subjective. Byron was driven into his own consciousness by forces from without; Poe entered his more from innate necessity. Byron is not only conscious of self — he feels the gaze of the whole world. Poe forgets the outward, in his intense concentration on the inward. Byron broods over his wrongs; Poe analyzes his emotions. Byron dwells upon his sorrows with morbid self-pity; Poe dissects his with frenzied pleasure. In other points they stand in closer relations, but still remain apart. Byron is cynical, sullen, morose; Poe is gloomy, sorrowful, despondent. Byron is a misanthrope; Poe is a hypochondriac. Byron wages war with all mankind; Poe is ever contending with the elements of his own nature. Byron has but little of idealism; Poe has nothing of sensualism. Byron has more of human sympathy; yet Poe has less of scorn and sarcasm. Byron’s passions come hot and seething from the heart; Poe’s are cold as intellect itself. Byron crushes all sentiment and feeling; Poe reverses them. Byron seems like a “mocking devil, laughing at the world in rhyme;” Poe like a scoffing demon, exulting in his own fiendishness.

This, then, is Poe, the saddest, loneliest figure in all literature; who gave the cypress to love and the myrtle to death; who sounded the lowest depths of wretchedness and laughed at his own misery ; who made of life a living death and chanted the requiems of despair over the dead hopes of his own soul. The melancholy and gloom in which he inshrouded himself has tinged with sad ness all that he has written or said. No ode to the nightingale or skylark from Poe — his was to the sable-winged raven, the type of his sorrow. He was ever pursued across life’s stage by the passions of his nature, like Orestes fleeing the furies, and he will ever hold a place in the memory of men rather for what he might have been than for what he was. Gœthe has been called the poet of the universe; Byron the poet of the individual, but Poe is the poet of the soul.




Luther Chapin Harris was born in Grinnell, Iowa, on Junhe 17, 1857 or 1859. He was winner of Interstate Oratorial Association of Oberlin College, May 5, 1880. His presentaion was also printed in a book, The Winning Orations,

“L. C. Harris, of Iowa: Subject, ‘Poe showed the most analytical mind comparisons with Byron,’ being fine, comprehensive and delicate. This, accompanied by a forcible, earnest delivery, marked a really brilliant effort.” (Iowa State Register, Des Moines, Iowa, vol. XVIII, no. 266, November 8, 1879, p. 2, col. 4.

The event apparently took place on November 7, 1879 at Oskaloosa College. It was the 6th annual contest. Harris was a junior at Iowa College. Was May another stage in the competition?



[S:0 - St. Paul Daily Globe, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe (L. C. Harris, 1880)