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THE late EDGAR ALLAN POE, who was the husband
of my only daughter, the son of my eldest brother,
and more than a son to myself, in his long-continued
and affectionate observance of every duty to me,
under an impression that he might be called suddenly
from the world, wrote (just before he left his home
in Fordham, for the last time, on the 2pth of June,
1849) requests that the Rev. Rufus W. Griswold
should act as his literary Executor, and superintend
the publication of his works; and that N. P. Willis,
Esq., should write such observations upon his life
and character, as he might deem suitable to address
to thinking men, in vindication of his memory.

These requests he made with less hesitation, and
with confidence that they would be fulfilled, from
his knowledge of these gentlemen; and he many
times expressed a gratification of such an opportunity
of decidedly and unequivocally certifying his respect
for the literary judgment and integrity of Mr. Gris
wold, with whom his personal relations, on account
of some unhappy misunderstanding, had for years
been interrupted.

In this edition of my son s works, which is published
for my benefit, it is a great pleasure for me to thank
Mr. Griswold and Mr. Willis for their prompt fulfil
ment of the wishes of the dying poet, in labors, which
demanded much time and attention, and which they
have performed without any other recompense
than the happiness which rewards acts of duty and


kindness. I add to these expressions of gratitude
to them, my acknowledgments to J. R. Lowell,
Esquire, for his notices of Mr. Poe s genius and
writings which are here published.




THE situation of American literature is anoma*
lous. It has no centre, or, if it have, it is
like that of the sphere of Hermes. It is
divided into many systems, each revolving round its
several sun, and often presenting to the rest only the
faint glimmer of a milk-and-water way. Our
capital city, unlike London or Paris, is not a great
central heart, from which life and vigor radiate to
the extremities, but resembles more an isolated um
bilicus, stuck down as near as may be to the centre
of the land, and seeming rather to tell a legend of
former usefulness than to serve any present need.
Boston, New York, Philadelphia, each has its litera
ture almost more distinct than those of the different
dialects of Germany; and the Young Queen of the
West has also one of her own, of which some articu
late rumor barely has reached us dwellers by the

Perhaps there is no task more difficult than the
just criticism of cotemporary literature. It is even
more grateful to give praise where it is needed than
where it is deserved, and friendship so often seduces
the iron stylus of justice into a vague flourish,
that she writes what seems rather like an epitaph than
a criticism. Yet if praise be given as an alms, we
could not drop so poisonous a one into any man s

* The following notice of Mr. Poe s life and works was written
at his own request, five years ago, and accompanied a por
trait of him, published in Graham s Magazine for February,
184 5. It is here reprinted with a few alterations and emissions


hat. The critic s ink may sufter equally from too
large an infusion of nutgalls or of sugar. But it is
easier to be generous than to be just, and we might
readily put faith in that fabulous direction to the
hiding-place of truth, did we judge from the amount
of water which we usually find mixed with it.

Remarkable experiences are usually confined to the
inner life of imaginative men, but Mr. Poe s biogra
phy displays a vicissitude and peculiarity of interest
such as is rarely met with. The offspring of a roman
tic marriage, and left an orphan at an early age, he
was adopted by Mr. Allan, a wealthy Virginian, whose
barren marriage-bed seemed the warranty of a large
estate to the young poet. Having received a classi
cal education in England, he returned home and
entered the University of Virginia, where, after
an extravagant course, followed by reformation at
the last extremity, he was graduated with the highest
honors of his class. Then came a boyish attempt
to join the fortunes of the insurgent Greeks, which
ended at St. Petersburg, where he got into difficulties
through want of a passport, from which he was res
cued by the American consul, and sent home. He
now entered the military academy at West Point,
from which he obtained a dismissal on hearing of the
birth of a son to his adopted father, by a second
marriage, an event which cut off his expectations as
an heir. The death of Mr. Allan, in whose will his
name was not mentioned, soon after relieved him of
all doubt of this regard, and he committed himself
at once to authorship for a support. Previously to
this, however, he had published (in 1827) a small
volume of poems, which soon ran through three edi
tions, and excited high expectations of its author s
future distinction in the minds of many competent


That no certain augury can be drawn from a poet s
earliest lispings there are instances enough to prove.
Shakspeare s first poems, though brimful of vigor
and youth and picturesqueness, give but a very
faint promise of the directness, condensation and
overflowing moral of his maturer works. Per
haps, however, Shakspeare is hardly a case in point,
his "Venus and Adonis" having been published, w r e
believe, in his twenty-sixth year. Milton s Latin
verses show tenderness, a fine eye for nature, and a
delicate appreciation of classic models, but give no
hint of the author of a new style in poetry. Pope s
youthful pieces have all the sing-song, wholly unre
lieved by the glittering malignity and eloquent irre-
ligion of his later productions. Collins callow
namby-pamby died and gave no sign of the vigorous
and original genius which he afterwards displayed.
We have never thought that the world lost more
in the "marvellous boy," Chatterton, than a very
ingenious imitator of obscure and antiquated dulness.
Where he becomes original (as it is called) the interest
of ingenuity ceases and he becomes stupid. Kirke
White s promises were endorsed by the respectable
name of Mr. Southey, but surely with no authority
from Apollo. They have the merit of a traditional
piety, which, to our mind, if uttered at all, had been
less objectionable in the retired closet of a diary,
and in the sober raiment of prose. They do not clutch
hold of the memory with the drowning pertinacity of
Watts ; neither have they the interest of his occasional
simple, lucky beauty. Burns having fortunately
been rescued by his humble station from the contami
nating society of the "best models" wrote well and
naturally from the first. Had he been unfortunate
enough to have had an educated taste, we should
have had a series of poems from which, as from his


letters, we could sift here and there a kernel from
the mass of chaff. Coleridge s youthful efforts give
no promise whatever of that poetical genius which
produced at once the wildest, tenderest, most origi
nal and most purely imaginative poems of modern
times. Byron s "Hours of Idleness" would never
find a reader except from an intrepid and indefatig
able curiosity. In Wordsworth s first preludings
there is but a dim foreboding of the creator of an
era. From Southey s early poems, a safer augury
might have been drawn. They show the patient
investigator, the close student of history, and the
unwearied explorer of the beauties of predecessors,
but they give no assurances of a man who should add
aught to stock of household words, or to the rarer
and more sacred delights of the fire-side or the arbor.
The earliest specimens of Shelley s poetic mind al
ready, also, give tokens of that ethereal sublimation
in which the spirit seems to soar above the regions of
words, but leaves its body, the verse, to be entombed,
without hope of resurrection, in a mass of them.
Cowley is generally instanced as a wonder of pre
cocity. But his early insipidities show only a capacity
for rhyming and for the metrical arrangement of
certain conventional combinations of words, a ca
pacity wholly dependent on a delicate physical organ
ization, and an unhappy memory. An early poem
is only remarkable when it displays an effort of rea
son, and the rudest verses in which we can trace some
conception of the ends of poetry, are worth all the
miracles of smooth juvenile versification. A school
boy, one would say, might acquire the regular see
saw of Pope merely by an association with the mo
tion of the play-ground tilt.

Mr. Poe s early productions show that he could
See through the verse to the spirit beneath, and that


he already had a feeling that all the life and grace
of the one must depend on and be modulated by the
will of the other. We call them the most remarkable
boyish poems that we have ever read. We know of
none that can compare with them for maturity of
purpose, and a nice understanding of the effects of
language and metre. Such pieces are only valuable
when they display what we can only express by the
contradictory phrase of innate experience. We copy
one of the shorter poems, written when the author
was only fourteen. There is a little dimness in the
filling up, but the grace and symmetry of the outline
are such as few poets ever attain. There is a smack
of ambrosia about it.


Helen, thy beauty is to me

Like those Nicean barks of yore,

That gently, o er a perfumed sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,

Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand!

The agate lamp within thy hand.
Ah! Psyche, from the regions which
Are Holy Land!

It is the tendency of the young poet that impresses
us. Hereisno "withering scorn "no heart "blighted"
ere it has safely got into its teens, none of the
drawing-room sansculotism which Byron had brought
into vogue. All is lympid and serene, with a pleas-


ant dash of the Greek Helicon in it. The melody
of the whole, too, is remarkable. It is not of that
kind which can be demonstrated arithmetically
upon the tips of the ringers. It is of that finer sort
which the inner ear alone can estimate. It seems
simple, like a Greek column, because of its perfection,
In a poem named "Ligeia," under which title he
intended to personify the music of nature, our boy-
poet gives us the following exquisite picture:

Ligeia! Ligeia!

My beautiful one,
Whose harshest idea

Will to melody run,
Say, is it thy will,

On the breezes to toss,
Or, capriciously still,

Like the lone albatross.
Incumbent on night,

As she on the air.
To keep watch with delight

On the harmony there?

John Neal, himself a man of genius, and whose lyre
has been too long capriciously silent, appreciated
the high merit of these and similar passages, and
drew a proud horoscope for their author.

Mr. Poe had that indescribable something which
men have agreed to call genius. No man could ever
tell us precisely what it is, and yet there is none who
is not inevitably aware of its presence and its power.
Let talent writhe and contort itself as it may, it has
no such magnetism. Larger of bone and sinew
it may be, but the wings are wanting. Talent sticks
fast to earth, and its most perfect works have still
one foot of clay. Genius claims kindred with the
very workings of Nature herself, so that a sunset shall
seem like a quotation from Dante or Milton, and if


Shakspeare be read in the very presence of the sea
itself, his verses shall but seem nobler for the sublime
criticism of ocean. Talent may make friends for
itself, but only genius can give to its creations the
divine power of winning love and veneration. En
thusiasm cannot cling to what itself is unenthusias-
tic, nor will he ever have disciples who has not him
self impulsive zeal enough to be a disciple. Great
wits are allied to madness only inasmuch as they are
possessed and carried away by their demon, while
talent keeps him, as Paracelsus did, securely prisoned
in the pommel of its sword. To the eye of genius,
the veil of the spiritual world is ever rent asunder,
that it may perceive the ministers of good and evil
who throng continually around it. No man of
mere talent ever flung his inkstand at the devil.

When we say that Mr. Poe had genius, we do not
mean to say that he has produced evidence of the
highest. But to say that he possesses it at all is
to say that he needs only zeal, industry, and a
reverence for the trust reposed in him, to achieve the
proudest triumphs and the greenest laurels. If we
may believe the Longinuses and Aristotles of our
newspapers, we have quite too many geniuses of
the loftiest order to render a place among them at
all desirable, whether for its hardness of attainment
or its seclusion. The highest peak of our Parnassus
is, according to these gentlemen, by far the most
thickly settled portion of the country, a circum
stance which must make it an uncomfortable resi
dence of individuals of a poetical temperament, if
love of solitude be, as immemorial tradition asserts,
a necessary part of their idiosyncrasy.

Mr. Poe has two of the prime qualities of genius,
a faculty of vigorous yet minute analysis, and a
wonderful fecundity of imagination. The first of


these faculties is as needful to the artist in works,
as a knowledge of anatomy is to the artist in colors
or in stone. This enables him to conceive truly, to
maintain a proper relation of parts, and to draw
a correct outline, while the second groups, fills
up, and colors. Both of these Mr. Poe has dis
played with singular distinctness in his prose works,
the last predominating in his earlier tales, and
the first in his later ones. In judging of the merit
of an author, and assigning him his niche among
our household gods, we have a right to regard him
from our own point of view, and to measure him by
our own standard. But, in estimating the amount
of power displayed in his works, we must be governed
by his own design, and, placing them by the side of
his own ideal, find how much is wanting. We differ
from Mr. Poe in his opinions of the objects of art.
He esteems that object to be the creation of Beauty,
and perhaps it is only in the definition of that word
that we disagree with him. But in what we shall
say of his writings, we shall take his own standard
as our guide. The temple of the god of song is
equally accessible from every side, and there is room
enough in it for all who bring offerings, or seek an

In his tales, Mr. Poe has chosen to exhibit his
power chiefly in that dim region which stretches
from the very utmost limits of the probable into the
weird confines of superstition and unreality. He
combines in a very remarkable manner two faculties
which are seldom found united; a power of influencing
the mind of the reader by the impalpable shadows of
mystery, and a minuteness of detail which does not
leave a pin or a button unnoticed. Both are, in truth,
the natural results of the predominating quality
of his mind, to which we have before alluded, analy-


Bis. It is this which distinguishes the artist. His
mind at once reaches forward to the effect to be
produced. Having resolved to bring about certain
emotions in the reader, he makes all subordinate
parts tend strictly to the common centre. Even
his mystery is mathematical to his own mind. T<?
him x is a known quantity all along. In any picture
that he paints, he understands the chemical proper
ties of all his colors. However vague some of his
figures may seem, however formless the shadows,
to him the outline is as clear and distinct as that of a
geometrical diagram. For this reason Mr. Poe has
no sympathy with Mysticism. The Mystic dwells in
the mystery, is enveloped with it; it colors all his
thoughts; it affects his optic nerve especially, and
the commonest things get a rainbow edging from it.
Mr. Poe, on the other hand, is a spectator ab extra.
He analyzes, he dissects, he watches

-" with an eye serene,

The very pulse of the machine,"

for such it practically is to him, with wheels and cogs
and piston-rods, all working to produce a certain

This analyzing tendency of his mind balances the
poetical, and, by giving him the patience to be minute,
enables him to throw a wonderful reality into his
most unreal fancies. A monomania he paints with
great power. He loves to dissect one of these can
cers of the mind, and to trace all the subtle ramifica
tions of its roots. In raising images of horror, also,
he has a strange success; conveying to us sometimes
by a dusky hint some terrible doubt which is the
secret of all horror. He leaves to imagination the
task of finishing the picture, a task to which only she
is competent.


"For much imaginary work was there;
Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind,
That for Achilles image stood his spear
Grasped in an armed hand ; himself behind
Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind."

Beside the merit of conception, Mr. Poe s writings
have also that of form. His style is highly finished,
graceful and truly classical. It would be hard to
find a living author who had displayed such varied
powers. As an example of his style we would refer
to one of his tales, "The House of Usher," in the
first volume of his "Tales of the Grotesque and Ara
besque." It has a singular charm for us, and we
think that no one could read it without being strongly
moved by its serene and sombre beauty. Had its
author written nothing else, it would alone have been
enough to stamp him as a man of genius, and the
master of a classic style. In this tale occurs, per
haps, the most beautiful of his poems.

The great masters of imagination have seldom
resorted to the vague and the unreal as sources of
effect. They have not used dread and horror alone,
but only in combination with other qualities, as
means of subjugating the fancies of their readers.
The loftiest muse has ever a household and fireside
charm about her. Mr. Poe s secret lies mainly in
the skill with which he has employed the strange
fascination of mystery and terror. In this his
success is so great and striking as to deserve the name
of art, not artifice. We cannot call his materials
the noblest or purest, but we must concede to him
the highest merit of construction.

As a critic, Mr. Poe was aesthetically deficient.
Unerring in his analysis of dictions, metres, and
plots, he seemed wanting in the faculty of perceiving
the profounder ethics of art. His criticisms are.


however, distinguished for scientific precision and
coherence of logic. They have the exactness, and
at the same time, the coldness of mathematical
demonstrations . Yet they stand in strikingly refresh
ing contrast with the vague generalisms and sharp
personalities of the day. If deficient in warmth, they
are also without the heat of partizanship. They are
especially valuable as illustrating the great truth,
too generally overlooked, that analytic power is a,
subordinate quality of the critic.

On the whole, it may be considered certain that
Mr. Poe has attained an individual eminence in our
literature, which he will keep. He has given
proof of power and originality. He has done that
which could only be done once with success or safety,
and the imitation or repetition of which would pro
duce weariness.




THE ancient fable of two antagonistic spirits
imprisoned in one body, equally powerful
and having the complete mastery by turns
of one man, that is to say, inhabited by both a devil
and an angel seems to have been realized, if all
we hear is true, in the character of the extraordinary
man whose name we have written above. Our
own impression of the nature of Edgar A. Poe, differs
in some important degree, however, from that which
has been generally conveyed in the notices of his
death. Let us, before telling what we personally
know of him, copy a graphic and highly finished por
traiture, from the pen of Dr. Rufus W. Griswold,
which appeared in a recent number of the Tribune:

"EDGAR ALLAN POE is dead. He died in Balti
more on Sunday, October yth. This announcement
will startle many, but few will be grieved by it. The
poet was known, personally or by reputation, in all
this country; he had readers in England, and in
several of the states of Continental Europe; but
he had few or no friends; and the regrets for his
death will be suggested principally by the considera
tion that in him literary art has lost one of its most
brilliant but erratic stars." *******

His conversation was at times almost supra-mor
tal in its eloquence. His voice was modulated with
astonishing skill, and his large and variably ex-

* These remarks were published by Mr. Willis, in the
"Home Journal," on the Saturday following Mr. Foe s death*



pressive eyes looked repose or shot fiery tumult into
theirs who listened, while his own face glowed, or was
changeless in pallor, as his imagination quickened
his blood or drew it back frozen to his heart. His
imagery was from the worlds which no mortals can
see but with the vision of genius. Suddenly start
ing from a proposition, exactly and sharply defined
in terms of utmost simplicity and clearness, he re
jected the forms of customary logic, and by a crys
talline process of accretion, built up his ocular
demonstrations in forms of gloomiest and ghast
liest grandeur, or in those of the most airy and deli
cious beauty so minutely and distinctly, yet so
rapidly, that the attention which was yielded to him
was chained till it stood among his wonderful cre
ations till he himself dissolved the spell, and brought
his hearers back to common and base existence, by
vulgar fancies or exhibitions of the ignoblest passion.
"He was at all times a dreamer dwelling in ideal
realms in heaven or hell peopled with the creatures
and the accidents of his brain. He walked the streets,
in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in
indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate
prayer, (never for himself, for he felt, or professed
to feel, that he was already damned, but) for their
happiness who at the moment were objects of his
idolatry; or, with his glances introverted to a heart
gnawed with anguish, and with a face shrouded in
gloom, he would brave the wildest storms; and
all night, with drenched garments and arms beating
the winds and rains, would speak as if to spirits that
at such times only could be evoked by him from the
Aidenn, close by whose portals his disturbed soul
sought to forget the ills to which his constitution sub
jected him close by the Aidenn where were those
he loved the Aidenn which he might never see, but


in fitful glimpses, as its gates opened to receive the
less fiery and more happy natures whose destiny to
sin did not involve the doom of death.

"He seemed, except when some fitful pursuit sub
jugated his will and engrossed his faculties, alway
to bear the memory of some controlling sorrow.
The remarkable poem of The Raven was probably
much more nearly than has been supposed, even by
those who were very intimate with him, a reflection
and an echo of his own history. He was that bird s

-unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one
burden bore

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden boro

Of Never never more.

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