Text: J. J. P., “Edgar A. Poe,” Waverley Magazine (Boston, MA), vol. VII, no. 7, August 13, 1853, p. 105, cols. 3-4


[page 105, column 3, continued:]

Edgar A. Poe.

“Speak of me as I am,

Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught

In malice.”

WE are too apt, in reviewing the works of departed genius, to let the irregularities of their lives, and the vices that marked their existence, influence us in our decisions. Now, to my mind, such a course is obviously wrong; for, though an author’s life may have been marked by numerous failings and short-comings in the path of duty, yet we should, in no instance, let these deter us from acceding to him that homage which is always rendered to Genius.

There is no case that will more clearly illustrate this [column 4:] want of candor on the part of Biographers and Reviewers than that of Edgar Allan Poe. It seems that all who have as yet attempted to review or notice his works, do so that they may carry out some motive of personal spleen, dishonorable to the character of fair and high-minded biographers. Even Mr. Rufus W. Griswold, (that great compiler of other men’s brains,) whom Mr. Poe made his literary executor, took occasion to manifest his dislike for the poet in a notice he wrote of him at his death in the “New York Tribune,” abounding with bitterest reflections upon his life and qualities of heart, and glowing with keenest personal rancor.

In an article signed “Fiat Justitia,” in a late number of the Waverley, the writer took occasion to notice in severe terms Mr. Poe’s course, and wound up by making the puny assertion that he had attained (not fame) but the notoriety only of a confirmed inebriate. A decision which no one who knew him would hesitate in pronouncing an ill-judged and misplaced calumny on that gifted son of Genius.

What! are we who have read with sorrowing raptures his mournful colloquy with “the stately Raven of his saintly days of yore,” — we, who have been entranced by the deep metaphysical creations floating through the chambers of his soul, the caravans of the ocean, the mystery that hangs around old castles, the thunder of wind through forest aisles, the spirit that rode the blast by all but him unseen, — are we, I say, to be told that by these he hai achieved no fame — that these have failed in procuring him an undying name? No! such a thing is incredible; nay, more — it is false! He has left behind him deep “footprints in the sands of Time.” We do not offer any thing in extenuation of his faults, but contend that he had many good traits of soul. Struggling with poverty, often in danger of being thrust out homeless, houseless, beggared upon the world, with all his fine feelings stung to a tension of agony when he thought of his beautiful and delicate wife dying hourly before his eyes, what wonder that he then poured out the vials of a long treasured bitterness upon the injustice of all society around him. Is there no excuse for a man, who, with despair at heart, misery ahead for himself and his loved ones, and gaunt famine dogging at his heels, thus sinks by the wayside, before the demon that watches his steps, and whispers Oblivion.

In my opinion, the great objection the critic, signing “Fiat Justitia,” has to Poe, is that he was born too far South. Had he been a Yankee, (as we suppose Dr. Chivers is,) his genius would not have failed to have been immediately manifest to his countrymen; but be was unfortunately a Southerner, and evinced that Southern supineness and want of tact requisite to compete with Yankee shrewdness in making bargains. There is in the Northern literary press a spirit of determined hostility to all literary effort made at the South. A book, magazine, or newspaper emanating from this section, appears to be pre-doomed in the judgment, or rather prejudice, of all readers who live North. Hence the antipathy manifested towards Poe. He had the unpardonable audacity to utter boldly his opinions in regard to the literati of the North; he accused the greatest of their poets — Longfellow — of plagiarism; and for this he is to be denied a name, because be chose boldly to express his opinion of men and books; and, as a stern, unbending critic, to lay bare the faults and detect the men-quacks in literature, he is to receive nothing but notoriety.

And now allow me to express the hope that before long we shall have a Life and Collection of Poe’s works, unbiassed by any personal motives of the compiler; for, though the author may have had faults, many and great ones, yet he has evinced in his writings a great power of imagination, and a keen, searching power of analysis, unequalled in our literature. But, in those touching lines of Stoddard, we will have done: —

“He might have soared to the gates of light,

But he built his nest with the birds of night.”

J. J. P.




This article is signed only with the initials “J. J. P.,” and no name fitting those initials appears in the list of “Regular Contributor” to the Waverley Magazine.



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