Text: William F. Gill, “Preface”, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1877, pp. 3-6


[page 3, unnumbered:]



For more than a quarter of a century, the American public, while crowning with laurels the genius of Edgar A. Poe, has lived on, indolently oblivious of the true story of his life.

Carping criticism has gloated over the doubtful record of follies and excesses ascribed to him by malignant enemies like Griswold, while the man, as he actually lived, is known only to the few.

But as truth gradually displaces falsehood, we shall come to understand more correctly the true proportions of that marred and broken individuality, that nature so sensitively organized and so rarely developed, under circumstances so exceptionally perilous and perverting.

Some years since, the attention of the writer of this memoir was called to numerous inconsistencies apparent in Dr. Rufus W. Griswold’s memoir of Edgar Allan Foe, and was induced to make inquiries that evidenced that this memoir, which for twenty-five [page 4:] years has been permitted to stand as the representative biography of the poet, was, to all intents and purposes, a tissue of the most glaring falsehoods ever combined in a similar work.

It appeared, upon investigation, that Griswold’s misrepresentations arose from the bitter enmity in which this mediocre writer held Poe, on account of the poet’s slashing critique of his (Griswold’s) “Poets and Poetry of America.”

It has been the aim of the writer to give an unpartisan transcript of the life and character of Edgar Allan Poe; to be “to his faults a little kind,” without shrinking from the duty of a biographer, to recount all facts that came within the scope of his province to record.

Place has not been given to idle rumors, nor to the unsubstantiated opinions of unreliable persons.

Dr. Griswold has been treated as ‘a disagreeable necessity. So long as the impression created by his “memoir “exists, he cannot, injustice to the memory of the poet, be ignored on the ground of his mediocrity as a writer. His shafts were none the less pitiless, although barbed with “poor fustian.” Until another quarter of a century has elapsed, it cannot be expected [page 5:] that the baleful work done by Griswold can be uprooted, for it has stood and thriven during the past twenty-five years, and, upon many persons now living, has created an impression that will endure while life endures. To the new generation of readers, with whom the lamented poet is finding a favor denied him at the hands of his contemporaries, this memoir may best fulfil its purpose of pleading the cause of a man of genius, condemned unheard.

It may also serve to answer the complaint of an English writer, that “no trustworthy biography of of Poe has yet appeared in his own country.”

It has been the design of the writer to include in this work everything of importance that has been written or related of Poe, so far as accessible and reliable.

It has been our good fortune to be brought into relations of near friendship with several of the most intimate friends and companions of the poet; and in many cases, we speak, literally, “out of their own mouths,” more significantly, without doubt, than if we had had the temerity to assume more independent views. Our especial acknowledgments, for valuable assistance rendered, are due to Mrs. S. H. Whitman, [page 6:] Mr. Neilson Poe, Mrs. Annie L. Richmond, Mr. George R. Graham, and the late Mrs. Maria Clemm and Mr. T. C. Clarke.

The portrait given is from a daguerrotype [[daguerreotype]] taken from life. It represents the poet in his youthful prime, and by one, a near friend of Poe, who has seen all his pictures known to be in existence, is pronounced the best likeness extant.






[S:0 - WFG, 1877] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - The Life of Edgar Allan Poe [Preface] (W. F. Gill, 1877)