Text: James A. Harrison, “Chapter 10,” Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (1903), pp. 228-240


[page 228:]




THE year 1845 was, of all Poe’s years, perhaps the fullest of wont: it was distinguished by the publication of “The Raven,” by his editorship of “The Broadway Journal,” first as subordinate, then as one-third proprietor, finally as editor and proprietor; the appearance of the complete and, in one sense, final edition of his collected poems; and the collection of twelve of his tales selected and edited (presumably) by Duyckinck, whose name however nowhere appears in the rather shabby-looking volume. Poe’s best work had been repeatedly rejected by the Harpers; Lea and Blanchard of Philadelphia had shrewdly accepted and published the two-volume “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” in 1840; and now Wiley and Putnam were to immortalize themselves by issuing the twelve Tales and the Poems. The volume of Tales was without preface, extended to 228 pages, and contained the following title-pages and contents (copied from the original edition):

Tales | by | Edgar A. Poe. | New York: | Wiley and Putnam, 161 Broadway; 1845.

Contents. — The Gold-Bug; The Black Cat; Mesmeric Revelation; Lionizing; The Fall of the House of Usher; A Descent into the Maelström; The [page 229:] Colloquy of Monos and Una; The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion; The Murders in the Rue Morgue; The Mystery of Marie Roget; The Purloined Letter; The Man in the Crowd.

Poe objected strongly to the selection because he thought it revealed his ratiocinative side too exclusively, to the detriment of the romantic, poetic, humorous, and imaginative facets of his many-sided authorship.

His own opinion of his prose work as revealed in the well-known letter to Lowell (July 2, 1844) was as follows:

“My best tales are ‘Ligeia,’ ‘The Gold-Bug,’ the ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ the ‘Tell-Tale Heart,’ the ‘Black Cat,’ ‘William Wilson,’ and the ‘Descent into the Maelström’ — ‘The Gold-Bug’ having attained, shortly after its publication, a circulation of 300,000 copies. Only five of these are contained in the Duyckinck collection, which constituted No. z of Wiley and Putnam’s ‘Library of American Books.’ ”

Early in the year Poe had become entangled in the notorious “Longfellow War,” which had smouldered in a subterranean way ever since the publication of “The Haunted Palace” in the “Southern Literary Messenger,” followed six weeks later by Longfellow’s “Beleaguered City,” And now broke out afresh with renewed fury on the occasion of the appearance of Longfellow’s “Waif.” Poe was an exceedingly alert and zealous critic, frequently, from his monomania on the subject of plagiarism, pouncing on intangible resemblances or haunting reminiscences as the basis of a long argument in favor of this or that poet’s “thefts.” [page 230:] Just as his physical machine was extraordinarily irritable and open to influences inapprehensible to less delicate natures, so his moral and intellectual constitution was like an Eolian cord strung between window sashes, vibrating to whispers inaudible to others, continually a-swing with unseen excitements, the prey of stimulations which in some are called madness, in others, genius.

“What the world calls ‘genius,’ ” says he in “A Chapter of Suggestions,” “is the state of mental disease arising from the undue predominance of some one of the faculties. The works of such genius are never sound in themselves, and, in especial, always betray the general mental insanity. . . . That poets (using the word comprehensively, as including artists in general) are a genus irritable, is well understood; but the why, seems not to be commonly seen. An artist is an artist only by dint of his exquisite sense of Beauty — a sense affording him rapturous enjoyment, but at the same time implying or involving, an equally exquisite sense of Deformity, of disproportion. Thus a wrong — an injustice — done a poet who is really a poet, excites him to a degree which, to ordinary apprehension, appears disproportionate with the wrong. Poets see injustice never where it does not exist — but very often where the unpoetical see no injustice whatever. Thus the poetical irritability has no reference to ‘temper’ in the vulgar sense, but merely to a more than usual clear-sightedness in respect to wrong: — this clear-sightedness being nothing more than a corollary from the vivid perceptions of right — of justice — of proportion — in a word, of τὸ καλόν. But one thing is clear — that the man who is not ‘irritable’ (to the ordinary apprehension), is no poet.” [page 231:]

Superadded to these reflections came the fact that Poe had all his life lived too fast, in a seventh heaven of imaginative exaltation, fevered by the continual search for Beauty and the impulse to create it, over-energized by a powerful fancy which made him view things in an unreal, almost spectral, light, haunted psychologically by the pale colors of the spectrum-the violets, purples, blues — that enveloped his spirit in a kind of halo and withdrew it from the warm reds and flesh-colors of life as it really was. Out of this nimbus of encircling glooms he never effectually escaped, and his intellectual view became jaundiced and purblind towards many of his contemporaries.

There are few men of that peculiar sensibility which is at the root of genius,” says he, ‘I who, in early youth, have not expended much of their mental energy in living too fast; and, in later years, comes the unconquerable desire to goad the imagination up to that point which it would have attained in an ordinary, normal, or well-regulated life. The earnest longing for, artificial excitement, which, unhappily, has characterized too many eminent men, may thus be regarded as a psychal want, or necessity — an effort to regain the lost — a struggle of the soul to assume the position which, under other circumstances, would have been its due.”

In his charges of plagiarism brought in “The Evening Mirror” (January 14, 1845) and reiterated in five instalments (beginning March 1) of “The Broadway Journal,” against Aldrich, Longfellow, and others, Poe was walking on exceedingly thin ice — very dangerous ground in fact — which easily broke in and threatened to swallow up critic as well as criticised. Undoubtedly the cultured reader of Longfellow is continually [page 232:] teased by haunting reminiscences of things seen and heard and read before, and the more cultured the reader, the more abounding the haunting reminiscences. Longfellow had access to many languages; he spent years of his life teaching these languages and translating artistically from them; and he would have been more than mortal if assimilable particles of the foreign gold had not clung to his memory and inwrought themselves here and there with the filaments of a most malleable and plastic nature. The student of “The Golden Legend,” or of “Keramos,” feels “Der Arme Heinrich,” the Schiller background, of these poems shimmering through the rich texture of woven gold as the bit of verbal Gobelins is being fingered; but then: is there any absolute originality predicable? do we not see the very story of Genesis rooting itself in the Babylonian tablets, and the tragedy of Faust germinating from the fifteenth century Faust Such? “Outis ” easily turned the tables on Poe and showed how readily the Coleridgean rhythms took on a Poesque tinge when they were arranged in a certain order; and others have shown how the “silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain ” might possibly be traceable to the curtains hanging in a certain “Casa Guidi’s Windows!”

Poe’s criticisms of these poetic contemporaries only made him the more vulnerable in spite of his daily Achillean bath in the waters of self-sufficiency and intellectual pride; and they did not fail to retort on him with cruel detail and pertinacity. The accusation that scenes from “The Spanish Student” imitated parallel scenes from his own “Politian” was altogether unworthy of Poe, and about as true as that Chivers in “Conrad and Eudom,” William Gilmore Simms in [page 233:] “Beauchampe,” and Fenno Hoffman in “Greyslaer,” all plagiarized from “Politian,” because Chivers, Simms, Hoffraan, and Poe all drew in common, for their romances and tragedies, from the well-known murder of Sharp, the Solicitor. General of Kentucky, by Beauchampe. Of this murder Poe wrote: — The real events were more impressive than are the fictitious ones. The facts of this remarkable tragedy, as arranged by actual circumstance, would put to shame the skill of the most consummate artist. Nothing was left to the novelist but the amplification of character, and at this point neither the author of ‘Greyslaer’ nor of ‘Besuchampe ’ is especially au fait. The incidents might be better woven into a tragedy.”

“Politian” is indeed a delicate idealization of this tragedy, never sufficiently appreciated by the critics. If Poe, in this ill-tempered and unworthy controversy, had only incidentally called to mind from the stores of his own extensive and accurate reading, Chaucer, all ablaze and a-hum with ~- reminiscences ” of Dante and Boccaccio; Shakspere, with Plutarch and the Celtic romances behind him; Milton saturated with classical savors; and Tennyson, the beloved of his heart, all compact of Homeric and Virgilian memories, he might not have inveighed so fiercely against Longfellow, the gentlest and most lovable of the chameleon school of poets whose very essence it is to color and flavor themselves with what they feed on. Who, at all events, does not prefer the glistening, silken tread of the cocoon to the original mulberry leaf which has furnished it?

Later on, in a mood of penitence, he wrote in The Literati ” notice of James Aldrich, whom he had accused of plagiarizing from Thomas Hood’s The Death-Bed”: [page 234:]

“The charge of plagiarism, nevertheless, is a purely literary one; and a plagiarism even distinctly proved by no means necessarily involves any moral delinquency. This proposition applies very especially to what appear to be poetical thefts. The poetic sentiment presupposes a keen appreciation of the beau. tiful with a longing for its assimilation into the poetic ideality. What the poet intensely admires becomes thus, in very fact, although only partially, a portion of his own soul. Within this soul it has a secondary origination; and the poet, thus possessed by another’s thought, cannot be said to take of it possession. But in either view he thoroughly feels it as his own; and the tendency to this feeling is counteracted only by the sensible presence of the true, palpable origin of the thought in the volume whence he has derived it — an origin which, in the long lapse of years, it is impossible not to forget, should the thought itself, as it often is, be forgotten. But the frailest association will regenerate it; it springs up with all the vigor of a new birth; its absolute originality is not with the poet a matter even of suspicion; and when he has written it, and printed it, and on its account is charged with plagiarism, there will be no one more entirely astounded than himself. Now, from what I have said, it appears that the liability to accidents of this character is in the direct ratio of the poetic sentiment, of the susceptibility to the poetic impression; and, in fact, all literary history demonstrates that, for the most frequent and palpable plagiarisms, we must search the works of the most eminent poets.”

Corneille and Guilltn de Castro, Vergil and Theocritus, Plautus and Menander, Manfred and Faust, Byron and Coleridge, are names that one unconsciously [page 235:] couples together in confirmation of the last sentence.

Poe’s other contributions to the magazines during the fourteen months now under consideration were “The Oblong Box” and “Thou Art the Man” (“Godey’s” for September and October), “The Literary Life of Thingum-Bob” (“Southern Literary Messenger” for December), “The Purloined Letter” (“The Gift ” for 1845), “Marginalia” (“Democratic Review” for November and December), “The 1002 Tale of Scheherazade” (“Godey,” February, 1845), a lecture before the New York Historical Society, February 28, and a connection with “The Broadway Journal,” beginning January 4, becoming a co-editorship with Watson and Briggs in March. This connection resulted, during the time that he was co-editor, in the following contributions new and old: “Peter Snook,” “The Premature Burial,” “Lionizing,” “Berenice,” “Bon-Bon,” “The Oval Portrait,” “The Philosophy of Furniture,” “Three Sundays in a Week,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “Eleonora,” “Shadow,” “The Assignation,” “Morella,” “To F——,” “The Sleeper” (rejected by O’ Sullivan of “The Democratic Review“!), “To One in Paradise,” “The Conqueror Worm,” review of W. W. Lord, miscellaneous papers on “Anastatic Printing,” “Street Paving,” and a sour-sweet review of Mrs. Browning’s (Miss Barrett’s) works.

The “Journal” did not monopolize his busy pen. In the April “Whig Review” appeared “The Doomed City,” “The Valley Nis,” and “Some Words with a Mummy,” “The Power of Words” (“Democratic Review“), “The Facts in the Case [page 236:] of M. Valdemar” (” Whig Review” — one of the rejected Grotesques), “Eulalie” (July “Whig Review“), “The American Drama” (August “Whig Review“), “The Imp of the Perverse” (“Graham’s“), “Dr. Tarr and Prof Fether” (“Graham’s“), “Marginalia I. and II.” (“Godey’s“).

After his assumption of the editorship of the “Broadway Journal,[[“]] October, 1845, he revised and reprinted many of his former publications: “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Literary Life of Thingum- Bob,” “The Business Man,” “The Man who was Used Up,” “Never Bet the Devil your Head,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “William Wilson,” “Why the Little Frenchman wears his Hand in a Sling,” “The Landscape Garden,” “The Tale of Jerusalem,” “The Island of the Fay,” “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “The Duc de l‘Ornelette,” “King Pest,” “The Power of Words,” “Diddling considered as one of the Exact Sciences,” “The Coliseum,” “Zante,” “Israfel,” “Silence,” “Science,” “Bridal Ballad,” “Eulalie,” rs Lenore,” ” A Dream,” “Catholic Hymn,” “Romance,” “City in the Sea,” ” To the River — ,” “The Valley of Unrest,” “To F —— , ” “To —— ,‘’ song, “Fairyland,” and reviews of Hoyt and Hirst (the young poet who had written a sketch of Poe). Before the year quite ended, and with it (December 26) his editorship, he had added to these, “Some Words with a Mummy,” “The Devil in the Belfry,” “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” “Four Beasts in One,” “The Oblong Box,” “Mystification,” “Loss of Breath,” and The Spectacles.”

The relentless war which Poe waged on Transcendentalism [page 237:] and its votaries in New England — Emerson, Margaret Fuller, William Ellery Channing, and others — came to a violent and rather discreditable culmination in October (one of Poe’s astrologically fatal months) of this year. He had been invited with every courtesy, probably at Lowell’s instance, to read a poem before the Boston Lyceum on the evening of the 26th; he accepted; but instead of the expected treat he read, “Al Aaraaf,” to the vexation and disappointment of his audience, following up the reading however with an artistic recitation of “The Raven.” The papers did not hesitate to vent their spleen on the poet, whose “imp of the perverse ” was again in the ascendant, and. who retorted from New York in a malicious and inexcusable vein of insult. His vilifiers now streamed from lecture-room, lyceum, and periodical press, and hurled their venom on the unfortunate man whose uncurbable tongue was the root of all his misfortunes. He continually confused independence of speech with dogmatic arrogance on questions about which open-minded men might well disagree; and his imperious tone and temper were anything but conciliatory.

Poe had now received the honor of being pirated and reprinted in England, and pirated, quarrelled over, and translated in France: the “Revue des Deux Mondes,” the “Charivari,” and other French reviews and journals had noticed, copied, or reviewed hum, and his Morgue and Mystery Romances had created a profound sensation on the Seine. Charles Baudelaire, author of “Les Fleurs du Mal,” took up Poe as a lifelong study and translated him so perfectly as to leave little to be desired; Mallarmé, later, reproduced “The Raven” in magnificent form; and [page 238:]

Poe (Poë, as the Quantin edition prints the name) became a cult with Theophile Gautier and his school. In a scarce pamphlet now before the writer — “Mesmerism ‘in Articulo Mortis,’ an Astounding and Horrifying Narrative, shewing the Extraordinary Power of Mesmerism in Arresting the Progress of Death: By Edgar A. Poe, Esq., of New York. London Short & Co. 1846,” we have a curious instance of the intense interest excited by Poe’s mesmeric hoax, an interest shared by Miss Barrett and many others, and doubtless heightened by the Advertisement to the pamphlet:

“The following astonishing narrative first appeared in the ‘American Magazine,’ a work of some standing in the United States, where the case has excited the most intense interest.

“The effects of the Mesmeric influence, in this case, were so astounding, so contrary to all past experience, that no one could have possibly anticipated the final result. The narrative, though only a plain recital of facts, is of so extraordinary a nature as almost to surpass belief. It is only necessary to add, that credence is given to it in America, where the occurrence took place.”

Poe was certainly the transcendentalist — the Cagliostro — the Apollonius — of the crude practical joke etherealized to a work of art: he juggled with the baubles of science, of the intuitional life, of the Shadow-land between sleep and consciousness until, like an Indian fakir, he hoodwinked his gaping audiences before their very faces and made the incredible everyday probabilities.

The crowning achievement, however, of this year of many things accomplished was. “The Raven and [page 239:] other Poems”: New York; Wiley and Putnam 1845, with its glowing dedication:

“To the Noblest of her Sex — To the Author of ‘The Drama of Exile’ — To Miss Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, of England, I Dedicate this Volume, with the most Enthusiastic Admiration, and with the most Sincere Esteem. — E. A. P.”

The thirty poems of this thin volume (from a copy of the original edition of which we derive these details) are the quintessence of Poe’s poetical genius, the decanted spirit of a rare poetic power which was not yet complete indeed, but which was approaching its consummation. “The Raven” alone, of this volume,(1) has given rise to a literature and afforded perhaps the widest discussion of any single poem of its length ever published.

The other poems of the 1845 volume remain as Poe edited them, in their final form for future generations. They had been put through many crucibles of publication and republication — “Southern Literary Messenger,” “Graham’s,” “The Broadway Journal,” and what not — until they reached their ultimate crystallization and avatar in this form.

“The Broadway Journal,” however, was not to extend its fevered and ephemeral existence beyond the year: the January child became the December old man. Appeals to George Poe and others for pecuniary assistance were made in vain; embarrassments carne thick and fast though the circulation of the periodical had largely increased, and some things connected [page 240:] with it seemed hopeful. Its collapse was announced the day after Christmas in the following terms: —

Valedictory. — Unexpected engagements demanding my whole attention, and the objects being fulfilled so far as regards myself personally, for which “The Broadway Journal” was established, I now, as its editor, bid farewell — as cordially to foes as to friends. EDGAR A. POE.

A final number, dated January 3, is said to have been issued under the editorship of Thomas Dunn English. Among the last words written by Poe this year was the Preface to his Poems: —

Preface. — These trifles are collected and republished chiefly with a view to their redemption from the many improvements to which they have been subjected while going at random “the rounds of the press.”(1) If what I have written is to circulate at all, I am naturally anxious that it should circulate as I wrote it. In defence of my own taste, nevertheless, it is incumbent upon me to say, that I think nothing in this volume of much value to the public or very creditable to myself. Events not to be controlled have prevented me from making, at any time, any serious effort in what, under happier circumstances, would have been the field of my choice. With me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not — they cannot — at will be excited with act eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind. E. A. P.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 239:]

1.  See J. H. Ingram’s edition of the poem: London: George Redway. 1885.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 240:]

1.  Poe slightly changed the form of this sentence in a MS. note to his copy of the Poems.





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