Text: Edgar Allan Poe to Phillip P. Cooke — August 9, 1846 (LTR-240)


New-York — August 9. 1846.

My Dear Sir,

Never think of excusing yourself (to me) for dilatoriness in answering letters — I know too well the unconquerable procrastination which besets the poet. I will place it all to the accounts of the turkeys. Were I to be seized by a rambling fit — one of my customary passions (nothing less) for vagabondizing through the woods for a week or a month together — I would not — in fact I could not be put out of my mood, were it even to answer a letter from the Grand Mogul, informing me that I had fallen heir to his possessions.

Thank you for the compliments. Were I in a serious humor just now, I would tell you[,] frankly, how your words of appreciation make my nerves thrill — not because you praise me (for others have praised me more lavishly) but because I feel that you comprehend and discriminate. You are right about the hair-splitting of my French friend: — that is all done for effect. These tales of ratiocination owe most of their popularity to being something in a new key. I do not mean to say that they are not ingenious — but people think them more ingenious than they are — on account of their method and air of method. In the “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, for instance, where is the ingenuity of unravelling a web which you yourself (the author) have woven for the express purpose of unravelling? The reader is made to confound the ingenuity of the supposititious [page 2:] Dupin with that of the writer of the story.

Not for the world would I have had any one else to continue Lowell's Memoir until I had heard from you. I wish you to do it (if you will be so kind) and nobody else. By the time the book appears you will be famous, (or all my prophecy goes for nothing) and I shall have the eclat of your name to aid my sales. But, seriously, I do not think that any one so well enters into the poetical portion of my mind as yourself — and I deduce this idea from my intense appreciation of those points of your own poetry which seem lost upon others.

Should you undertake the work for me, there is one topic — there is one particular in which I have had wrong done me — and it may not be indecorous in me to call your attention to it. The last selection of my Tales was made from about 70, by Wiley & Putnam's reader, Duyckinck. He has what he thinks a taste for ratiocination, and has accordingly made up the book mostly of analytic stories. But this is not representing my mind in its various phases — it is not giving me fair play. In writing these Tales one by one, at long intervals, I have kept the book-unity always in mind — that is, each has been composed with reference to its effect as part of a whole. In this view, one of my chief aims has been the widest diversity of subject, thought, & especially tone & manner of handling. Were all my tales now before me in a large volume and as the composition of another — the merit which would principally arrest my attention would be the wide diversity and variety. You will be surprised to hear me say that (omitting one or two of my first efforts) I do not consider any one of [page 3:] my stories better than another. There is a vast variety of kinds and, in degree of value, these kinds vary — but each tale is equally good of its kind. The loftiest kind is that of the highest imagination — and, for this reason only, “Ligeia” may be called my best tale. I have much improved this last since you saw it and I mail you a copy, as well as a copy of my best specimen of analysis —”The Philosophy of Composition.”

Do you ever see the British papers? Martin F. Tupper, author of “Proverbial Philosophy” has been paying me some high compliments — and indeed I have been treated more than well. There is one “British opinion”, however, which I value highly — Miss Barrett's. She says: —”This vivid writing! — this power which is felt! The Raven has produced a sensation —’a fit horror’ here in England. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it and some by the music. I hear of persons haunted by the ‘Nevermore’, and one acquaintance of mine who has the misfortune of possessing a ‘bust of Pallas’ never can bear to look at it in the twilight.... Our great poet Mr Browning, author of Paracelsus etc is enthusiastic in his admiration of the rhythm. Then there is a tale of his which I do not find in this volume, but which is going the rounds of the newspapers, about Mesmerism [The Valdemar Case] throwing us all into most admired disorder or dreadful doubts as to whether it can be true, as the children say of ghost stories. The certain thing in the tale in question is the power of the writer & the faculty he has of making horrible improbabilities seem near and familiar.” Would it be in bad taste to quote these words of Miss B. in your notice?

Forgive these egotisms (which are rendered in [page 4:] some measure necessary by the topic) and believe me that I will let slip no opportunity of reciprocating your kindness.

Griswolds new edition I have not yet seen (is it out?) but I will manage to find “Rosalie Lee”. Do not forget to send me a few personal details of yourself — such as I give in “The N. Y. Literati”. When your book appears I propose to review it fully in Colton's “American Review.” If you ever write to him, please suggest to him that I wish to do so. I hope to get your volume before mine goes to press — so that I may speak more fully.

I will forward the papers to which I refer, in a day or two — not by to-day's mail.

Touching “The Stylus”: — this is the one great purpose of my literary life. Undoubtedly (unless I die) I will accomplish it — but I can afford to lose nothing by precipitancy. I cannot yet say when or how I shall get to work — but when the time comes I will write to you. I wish to establish a journal in which the men of genius may fight their battles; upon some terms of equality, with those dunces the men of talent. But, apart from this, I have magnificent objects in view — may I but live to accomplish them!

Most cordially Your friend
Edgar A. Poe.





[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to P. P. Cooke (LTR240/RCL654)