Text: James A. Harrison, “Introduction,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), pp. v-viii


[page v, unnumbered:]


THE present arrangement of Poe’s critical writings would be unintelligible even to Poe specialists familiar with the Griswold arrangement without some explanatory remarks. Readers of Poe have been so long accustomed to the nomenclature of Griswold that they will with difficulty — possibly with disfavour — understand the original titles given by the author himself. The immense injustice done to Poe in rechristening his miscellaneous work will be obvious if we give an example or two. Thus, by way of illustration, in the inviting section dubbed “Minor Contemporaries” or “Literary Criticism” in recent editions, but catalogued indiscriminately “The Literati” by Griswold in his third volume, one meets with such headings as “William Cullen Bryant,” “Nathaniel Hawthorne,” “James Russell Lowell,” “J. Fenimore Cooper,” “Thomas Babington Macaulay,” “Elizabeth Barrett Browning,” etc. Turning to the names, one finds, not an elaborate biographical or character study such as these headings would lead a reader to expect, but sometimes a cursory sketch, a passing criticism on some ephemeral publication, a page or two of caustic comment on some stray collection of prose or verse. In a dozen instances it is not the man himself or the woman that Poe is discussing, but a novel, a poem, a collection of essays and miscellanies, to which are occasionally attached personal comments and reminiscences. [page vi:]

The thirty or forty reviews and sketches of our Volumes X. and XI. appear with Poe’s own titles affixed to them.

We find it well to cite another difficulty with which the Poe student may be confronted, not in identifying Poe with Griswold, but in identifying Griswold with Poe. For example, in the articles on Hawthorne and the poetical Davidson sisters — not to mention others — Griswold (followed by recent editors) has proceeded in a peculiar manner with the original matter. Leaving aside the utter incompleteness of the Hawthorne critique, Griswold has taken the review of Hawthorne in Godey’s Lady’s Book for November, 1847, split it open, inserted another review of Hawthorne from Graham’s Magazine for May, 1842, mutilated the latter, and then continued with the tail fragment of the 1847 review as colophon, thus dissecting Poe’s later paper on the New England writer and inserting scraps and fragments from one written five years earlier.

The case of the Davidson sisters is almost as unique. Two reviews written by Poe five months apart are blended under the title “Margaret Miller and Lucretia Maria Davidson,” without an indication of their source, date, or order. A recent follower of Griswold does indeed furnish a note supplying the chronological data, and inserts the space of one omitted line between the two reviews, but makes no attempt to restore these reviews to their original integrity, or to indicate that they were not integral continuations one of the other.

An edition which goes back of Griswold to the ground-rock of Poe himself is bound to do much of this picking to pieces, restoration, exhumation of the entombed Poe, and removal of the mass of superincumbent [page vii:] accretion that has overgrown him and his works during the last fifty years. This is an ungracious and a gigantic task, considering the immense bulk of Poe’s work and the absolute critical neglect, under which, with the exception of the “Poems,” it has so long lain.

In selecting the reviews of the middle period of Poe’s critical activity, the editor has been guided by the important letter to Burton (editor of Burton’s Gentelman’s Magazine) in which Poe mentions specially the date and amount of his work during the twelvemonth from July to June, 1839-1840; by Poe’s general correspondence and the internal evidence of the reviews themselves; by the history of his editorial connection with Graham’s Magazine, which succeeded Burton’s and “The Casket,” and contains editorial notes and references for 1841, 1842, 1843, and 1844, confirming Poe’s authorship of certain reviews; and by Poe’s constant reference to previous review work along the same lines, or in connection with the same writers as those under consideration. The exceeding brilliancy and power of the reviews of the Middle Period show Poe at his ripest, and have made the labour of collecting and editing them almost a welcome one. Travels, novels, romances, history, essays, scientific memoirs, poems, addresses, pass under his swift and unerring eye. A rich inteIlectua1 force was freely expended on these forty critiques and sketches, many of which laid the foundations of critical writing in America and showed the potency of a fearless and independent pen.

In one of these reviews alone does Poe seem to have obtained help from others — the scrap of Hebrew learning in his notice of Stephens’ “Arabia Petræa,” which was due to the assisting pen of Professor Charles Anthon. [page viii:] Poe was immensely proud of this “red rag” of learning, and waved it repeatedly in the “Marginalia” and elsewhere, bringing his reputation for erudition thereby perilously near charlatanry. His repeated quotations from August Wilhelm von Schlegel show the profound influence of this scholar and of his brother on the plastic nature of Poe; the mediævalism of his romantic mind leaned psychologically toward the Germans, in spite of his disclaimers; and his tendencies to morbid inquiry and metaphysical speculation placed him, against his will perhaps, in the camp of Jung-Stilling, Lavater, Spurxheim, and La Motte Fouqué.

The student of Poe, as he follows our presentation of the critical side of the poet, will for the first time, we think, obtain a connected idea of Poe’s chronologically varying views of Longfellow, Bulwer, Dickens, Bryant, Willis, Cooper, and Lowell, and be able to see that Poe estimated differently at different times and not with the confusion reprints of his works would indicate. Poe may contradict himself, — only he may not now do it in the same breath and the same review, as heretofore. We are not responsible for his self-contradictions; we are responsible only for the purity of his text.

The great mass of the reviews here presented is new and comes from the original text in Burton’s, Graham’s, etc. Old reviews, when reprinted, have been carefully corrected by the originals.





[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Introduction)