Text: George E. Woodberry, “Preface,” The Life of Edgar Allan Poe: Personal and Literary (1909), vol. I, pp. v-vii


[page v, unnumbered:]


I WAS asked, somewhat to my surprise, by my friend, the late Charles Dudley Warner, in 1883, to write the life of Poe for the American Men of Letters Series, which he was then editing. My attention had never been drawn to Poe, nor my interest specially excited by his works; so that I entered upon the task, my first important literary commission, with a fresh mind; and, though contact with the subject may have bred prejudice, I had none at the outset, so far as I remember. Out of this biography my later labors naturally grew. The late W. M. Griswold, with whom I had a slight acquaintance in college, on receiving by the death of his father’s literary executor the Poe papers originally given to the elder Griswold, asked me, in conjunction with the editors of “The Century Magazine” and “Scribner’s Magazine,” to edit these papers, and I did so. I also used them in the memoir prefixed to the edition of Poe’s works undertaken by me in collaboration with the late E. C. Stedman and at his request. At a later period I edited, similarly, [page vi:] the Poe-Chivers papers for “The Century Magazine.” Through these years information naturally came to me, also, from other sources, though I have never engaged in personal investigation since writing the former biography. That work has become antiquated by its omissions; and it seems to me proper now to gather up my earlier and later labors in a more full and precise biography.

I have aimed to make this, in the main, a literary biography; as such it has two special interests, in that it is a life led outside of New England, and that it embodies much contemporaneous literary history not involved in any other life of our greater writers. I have aimed also to present in the text the facts of Poe’s career as they lie in my own mind; in the Notes I have allowed others to speak freely, for praise or dispraise, in order that all may have a fair field where there is so great controversy. In the former biography I excluded much, and sup pressed much, of what I thought the world would willingly let die; but this proved a fruitless attempt to assist oblivion, and I have, in the present work, at least noticed all that has been said or alleged on the subject.

I am indebted to my predecessors; and I [page vii:] desire to say that I am unable to fall in with that judgment which divides them into the goats and the sheep — the “malignant” and the “amiable”; they all, divergent as they are, seem to me to have written, according to their knowledge and their conscience, sincerely. I have derived valuable matter from all. I have received also what seems to me now incredible kindness, not only from those who have principally assisted me at all times, but from scores of others, both acquaintances and strangers; so that this biography seems the work really of many hands rather than of my own, and my part mainly that of investigation and arrangement. There will be other lives of Poe. I am content, if no other claim may be made, to have here edited with care the materials for his life; and, whatever shall be the fortune of this work, I am amply rewarded by the conviction that I have, at least, made easier the way for that ideal biographer who, when he comes, shall be perfect in good-sense, good-will, and discretion.

G. E. W.

BEVERLY, MASS., February 1, 1909.





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