Text: Jeffrey A. Savoye, “A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe”, January 2009


[[A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe]]

One of the persistent lessons of history is that time moves in strange and unexpected ways. Many who enjoyed celebrity and wealth during their lifetimes are forgotten or even scorned within a few generations of their deaths. Joseph Rodman Drake and Fitz-Greene Halleck were poets of considerable fame a century ago. When Drake died, his coffin was followed by thirty carriages, and Halleck was hailed as the “American Byron” — but who today so much as utters the names of Drake or Halleck? Herrmann Melville, on the other hand, died in poverty, certain that his life had been wasted. Among his neglected books was one about the price of obsession and a certain great white whale named Moby Dick, a book now regarded as one of the two great American novels. And then we have the case of Poe, unrewarded by money or comfort, his fate curiously left in the hands of Rufus Wilmot Griswold, his literary nemesis, and the man who would assert that Poe “had no friends” and that “few will be grieved” by Poe’s death. Yet Poe’s reputation has survived and prospered.

In a letter to James Russell Lowell on July 2, 1844, Poe wrote: “You speak of ‘an estimate of my life’ — and, from what I have already said, you will see that I have none to give. I have been too deeply conscious of the mutability and evanescence of temporal things, to give any continuous effort to anything — to be consistent in anything. My life has been whim — impulse — passion — a longing for solitude — a scorn of all things present, in an earnest desire for the future.” Yes, Poe’s eye was always on the future.

At his death, he had no grand houses or money, yet Poe left behind an estate of untold riches, and we are his very fortunate heirs. All we can offer in exchange is a small but sincere gesture. We raise our glasses, and say “Thank you” — and long may the memory of Edgar Allan Poe endure



This brief item is reprinted here with the permission of the author. It was written for the program commemorating the bicentennial of Poe’s birth, and read aloud as the annual toast at that event, in January 2009.

Because several people have asked the question, the other great American novel referenced but not named in the text above is Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.


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