Text: Richard Henry Stoddard, “Prefatory Note,” Select Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 1880, pp. vii-ix


[page vii:]


THE reputation of no American writer has increased so much in the last thirty years as that of Edgar Allan Poe. The notoriety which attached to him in his lifetime was spiritualized into reputation after his death, and his work has now become a part of the intellectual inheritance of mankind. He is known wherever the English language is read or spoken; he has been translated into most of the languages of Europe, and, judging by present appearances, not many years will elapse before he will have an honored name among the story-tellers of the East.

This selection of Poe’s writings aims to present the different phases of his genius, which assumed the threefold form of poet, romancer, and critic. It contains all the poems upon which his reputation rests, including those which were written in his youth, and first published in his eighteenth year, as well as those which were published in the last years of his life and collected after his death; a selection from his tales, which are among the most remarkable in American literature, illustrating, as they do, his curious power of ratiocination, his strange sympathy with the mysterious and terrible in thought and emotion — his knowledge, in a word, of the “night-side” [page viii:] of nature — and his grim realization of humorous incidents and fantasies; and it concludes with a selection from his most important critical articles — studies of some of his eminent contemporaries, which the shifting literary opinions of the time have not yet antiquated. From these examples of his prose and poetry the reader will obtain a clear idea of the character and extent of his genius, and of his claims to be remembered among the writers of the nineteenth century.

The memoir which is prefixed to this volume has been prepared expressly for it, and in the spirit which led to the preparation of the volume itself. Its object is to narrate the life of Poe — not as it appeared to his friends or enemies, or as it, perhaps, appeared to him, but substantially as it was — a simple, straightforward history of his brief but brilliant career, in which nothing is extenuated, nor ought set down in malice. It is the only life of Poe which can be said to be written with no intention but that of telling the truth, and in which he is drawn as he was — neither an angel of light, nor a demon of darkness, but a man like other men — impulsive and imperfect, but acutely intellectual, and with a morbid literary conscience which was nothing if not critical. It is the only life of Poe in which his career from beginning to end is clearly and intelligently traced. Less voluminous than others which have preceded it, it deals with facts, and not with fancies; and where there are chasms which the researches of thirty years have not yet bridged over, they are as apparent to the reader as to the writer, who has raised no airy structures on speculative grounds, but has confined [page ix:] himself strictly to what is known. He has examined the statements of earlier workers in the same field, and has corroborated them when they were correct, and contradicted them when they were erroneous. He has done this without fear, and without favor, and generally without a word, either of praise or blame, for whatever else might be said of his memoir, he was determined that it should not be called controversial. If the reader desires other knowledge of Poe than is presented here, he must seek it elsewhere. All that he claims for his memoir is, that it was not lightly undertaken, and has not been carelessly executed; and that it clears up some points in the life of Poe which no one before him has cleared up. It contains several of Poe’s letters, which are now presented for the first time.





[S:0 - SWEAP, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Prefatory Note (R. H. Stoddard, 1880)