Fred Lewis Pattee.

A history of American literature, with a view to the fundamental principles underlying its development ; a text-book for schools and colleges online

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of his little lyric " Home, Sweet Home," originally a
part of his play The Maid of Milan,



XI.

EDGAR ALLAN POE.

1809-1849.

41 Alone among our poets Poe links us to European literature by
his musical despair." Greenough White.

EDGAR ALLAN POE stands solitary among the Ameri-
san men of letters. Although, by a strange chance,
born in Boston, he had nothing in common with the
New England group of authors, and although he passed
an important part of his life in New York City, he
was in no way a member of the Knickerbocker School.
Whether viewed as poet, romancer, or critic, he stands
by himself ; he refuses to be classified ; he seems out of
place in American literature, like an importation from
the Old World, a Pushkin, or Heine, or De Musset ;
like a brilliant exotic among the native wild flowers.

Life. (Poe's writings were first collected in 1850
by Rufus W. Griswold in a four volume edition pref-
aced by a memoir. This sketch, written in a hostile
spirit, was answered in 1859 in Sarah H. Whitman's
Edgar A. Poe and his Critics, and later by John Ingram
and by W. F. Gill. Prefixed to various editions of
Poe's works have been notices of his life and genius
by such writers as Willis, Lowell, Stoddard, Charles F.
Briggs, James Hannay, Edmund Blanchard, and others.

172



EDGAR ALLAN POE. 173

Poe's life has also been written by Eugene Didier and
by George E. Woodberry. The latter work, which is
one of the American Men of Letters Series, and which
is the most accurate and impartial life of the poet that
has yet appeared, is the only one that can be recom-
mended without reserve for school use. A good work-
ing edition of Poe's works is that published in six vol-
umes in 1884, edited by R. H. Stoddard. This edition
contains an excellent Life by the editor. The latest
and most complete editions of Poe are Stedman and
Woodberry's, in ten volumes, 1895, and J. A. Harrison's
Poe's Complete Works, seventeen volumes, 1902. For a
complete bibliography of Poe, see Stedman and Wood-
berry's edition, Vol. X., pp. 267-281.

In the biography of no eminent American is it so dif-
ficult to arrive at the unvarnished truth as in that of
Poe. His own statements cannot be trusted for a mo-
ment. He gave, at various times, at least three widely
different dates for his birth ; he seemed to be proud of
the reckless exploits of his youth, and magnified them
when possible; and he sanctioned the wildest fables,
like the story of his journey to St. Petersburg in 1827.
His biographers have taken every standpoint, from that
of Griswold, a virtual enemy, to that of Ingram, who
goes to the opposite extreme of laudation.

Poe was born in Boston, Jan. 19, 1809. His father,
David Poe, the son of a distinguished Revolutionary
officer of Baltimore, had abandoned the law to become
an indifferent actor, and in 1805 had married Mrs. Eliza-
beth Arnold Hopkins, a pretty, young actress of con-



174 AMERICAN LITERATURE.

siderable ability.. During the three years ending in
September, 1809, they had found steady employment
in Boston, but in 1811 both died of quick consumption,
leaving three destitute children, the eldest only five
years of age. Their pitiful condition attracted the at-
tention of the people of Richmond, where the mother
had died, and Edgar, the second of the family, a bright,
beautiful boy, was taken into the home of Mr. John
Allan, a wealthy tobacco merchant. The child was
given every advantage. When six years of age he was
taken by his foster parents to England, where for five
years he attended a private school near London. Re-
turning to Richmond in 1820, he was provided with
private tutors, and was ready in 1826 to enter the
University of Virginia. By December of the same year
he had contracted so many debts that Mr. Allan refused
to furnish more money, and Poe was accordingly given
a chance in the counting-room at Richmond. Becom-
ing disgusted with this work, he soon left the city, and,
pressing on to Boston, published, in 1827, a thin volume
of poems under the title Tamerlane and Other Poems.
By a Bostonian. In May of the same year he enlisted
in the regular army, where he served for two years,
rising to the rank of sergeant-major. In 1829, learn-
ing of the death of Mrs. Allan, Poe went home on a
furlough, was forgiven by his foster father, and through
his influence was appointed a cadet at West Point. In
ten months he was cashiered for misconduct, and was
immediately disowned by Mr. Allan, who, dying soon
afterwards, made no mention of him in his will.



EDGAR ALLAN POE. 175

The next period in Poe's career was passed in Balti-
more, which, as it was then the literary capital of the
South, had attracted the ambitious young poet. But
his literary efforts were wholly without success until
1833, when he succeeded in winning the one hundred
dollar prize offered lay the newly established Saturday
Visiter for the best short story. John P. Kennedy, who
was one of the judges, afterwards declared that Poe's
manuscript, which was as clean and legible as print, was
decided upon almost at sight. Poe had submitted six
tales, neatly bound, entitled Tales of the Folio Club,
from which was selected for publication "The Manu-
script Found in a Bottle." During the next two years
Poe made his home with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, and in
1835, through the efforts of Kennedy, secured a place
on The Southern Literary Messenger, of which he soon
became sole editor. In 1836 he was married to his
cousin, Virginia Clemm, a frail, beautiful girl of four-
teen, whose love was the brightest sunbeam that ever
entered his sad life. Every prospect of happiness and
success seemed before him ; The Messenger became widely
known, carrying everywhere his fame as a critic and
story writer, but in eighteen months he was again a
wanderer.

During the next five years Poe was employed in
Philadelphia, first on the editorial staff of The Gentle-
man's Magazine and afterwards on that of Graham's
Monthly. In 1842, he removed to New York, where the
rest of his life was passed. He found employment for
a time under N. P. Willis on The Evening Mirror and



176 AMERICAN LITERATURE.

he afterwards became connected with The Broadway
Journal, but his unfortunate habits rendered it impos-
sible for him long to retain a position. " The Raven,"
which appeared in 1844, immediately gave him an un-
precedented popularity, but his wife was wasting away
with consumption amid all the accompaniments of abject
poverty. In spite of his increasing fame and his steady
hard work, he was obliged to receive pecuniary aid.
After his wife's death in 1847, Poe seemed half insane
and wholly reckless. Two years later he proposed mar-
riage to a Mrs. Shelton, of Richmond, a friend of his
boyhood, and, being accepted, immediately started south
to make arrangements for the wedding, but falling in
with old companions in Baltimore, he became crazed
with drink, and was found unconscious several days
later. He lingered until October 7, when he died in
the forty-first year of his age. Such, in brief, is the sad
and tragic story of Edgar Allan Poe.

1. As a Critic. It should be remembered that Poe
first became known to the reading public not as a poet
nor as a story writer, but as a critic, and that it was in
this role that he was best known throughout the greater
part of his life. In 1835, by a single skilful review of
a crude but popular novel, he placed The Southern
Literary Messenger beside the best American magazines.
Throughout his life it was in the service of criticism
that his pen was oftenest used.

That Poe was an unfair and one-sided critic cannot be
disputed ; that his personal likes and dislikes had great
influence upon his estimates, is all too true, yet in spite



EDGAR ALLAN POE. 177

of all this his work in this department cannot be over-
looked. In his work on The Southern Literary Messen-
ger he certainly inaugurated " the new age in American
criticism."' All his honest criticisms have been proved
by time to be strikingly correct. It was Poe who
hailed Hawthorne as a novelist of the first rank when
that shy genius was "the obscurest man of letters in
America." Poe was quick to see the true worth of
Longfellow and of many another American poet at a
time when they were all but unknown.

Of Poe's methods as a critic Mr. Woodberry says :

"The whole mass of his criticism but a small portion of
which deals with imaginative work is particularly characterized
by a minuteness of treatment which springs from a keen, artistic
sensibility, and by that constant regard to the originality of the
writer which is so frequently an element in the jealousy of genius.
One wearies in reading it now ; but one gains thereby the bettei
impression of Poe's patience and of the alertness and compass of
his mental curiosity." Life of Poe.

Poe failed of winning a high place as a critic, first,
because of his inordinate vanity. He wished to be re-
garded as a profound scholar and accordingly disfigured
his work with abundant allusions to occult and curi-
ous lore of which he really knew very little. He
delighted to show the resources of his analytical
mind by investigating minute and unimportant points.
JSecondly, he had a hobby, the charge of plagiarism,
from which he never dismounted, and thirdly, he was
not honest. His Literati of New York, while it contains
very much valuable criticism, is justly to be regarded
with suspicion from its senseless denunciation of its



178 AMERICAN LITERATURE.

author's enemies and its sickening laudation of his
worthless friends.

Stoddard's judgment of Poe's criticism is summed up
in one sentence :

" Apart from the mechanism of authorship, which he called ' the
philosophy of composition,' his verdicts were of no value."

REQUIRED READING. " The Poetic Principle."

2. As a Poet. (Stedman, 239; Richardson, II., 97-116.)
Poe's fame as a poet rests on less than a dozen short
"The Raven." poems. Few writers of any land have
"The Bells." reached anything even approximating his

"To Helen." ,., ... .,, , , .

" The City in literary position with so thin a repertory,

the Sea." yet ^ad p oe wr itten only "The Raven"

"The Valley of J ^

Unrest." his literary fame would still be secure.



All that he wrote was distinctly his own,
original in its melody and form, and per-
"Uiaiume." meated through and through with his
"Thefcon- ' peculiar personality. His sense of beauty
queror Worm." was marvellously fine. Though his poems
are all sombre in hue, mere cries of despair, there
is a haunting beauty in their melody which makes them
cling in the memory, even against the will. There is
something almost magical in the melody of such lines as

" For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee ;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee."

Poe has expressed his theory of poetical beauty in its
highest manifestations by saying :



EDGAR ALLAN FOE. 179

"All experience has shown that this tone is one of sadness.
Beauty of whatever kind in its supreme development, invariably
excites the sensitive soul to tears. Melancholy is thus the most
legitimate of all the poetical tones. . . . Death is the most
melancholy topic according to the universal understanding of
mankind . . . and most melancholy when it most closely allies
itself to beauty." The Philosophy of Composition.

In accordance with this principle nearly all of Poe's
poetical work was done. With few exceptions his theme
is the same. With him poetry was a sacred thing, " not
a purpose but a passion," and he gave to it only his best.

REQUIRED READING. The ten poems at the margin.

3. As a Romancer. (Woodberry, 117; Stedman, 252;
Richardson, II., 116-136.) It was, perhaps, in the
domain of the short prose romance that Poe was at
his best, for here his imagination had free play. His
tales, all of which are short, and which when combined
scarcely make a volume of the size of Hawthorne's
Twice-told Tales, may be divided into two classes:
imaginative tales and analytical tales. Of the former
only two, "Ligeia" and "The Fall of the House of
Usher," need be mentioned. These mark the flood
tide of Poe's creative achievement.

" In < Al Araaf ' he had framed out of the breath of the night
wind and the idea of the harmony of universal nature a fairy
creature,

' Ligeia, Ligeia, my beautiful one 1 '

Now, by a finer touch, he incarnated the motions of the breeze,
and the musical voices of nature, in the form of a woman : but the
Lady Ligeia has still no human quality; her aspirations, her
thoughts a*id capabilities, are those of a spirit ; the very beam and



180 AMERICAN LITERATURE.

glitter and silence of her ineffable eyes belong to the visionary
world. She is, in fact, the maiden of Foe's dream, the Eidolon he
served, the air-woven divinity in which he believed ; for he had
the true myth-making faculty, the power to make his senses aver
what his imagination perceived. In revealing through ' Ligeia
the awful might of the soul in the victory of its will over death,
and in the eternity of its love, Poe worked in the very element of
his reverie, in the liberty of a world as he would have it. Upon this
story he lavished all his poetic, inventive, and literary skill, and at
last perfected an exquisitely conceived work, and made it, within
its own laws, as faultless as humanity can fashion." Woodberry.

11 The Fall of the House of Usher " is nearly as perfect
in its art. (For Poe's idea of the short prose romance
as a vehicle of artistic expression, see his review of
Hawthorne's Tales, Works, Vol. VI.)

The second division of Poe's tales may be understood
best from his ingenious tale, " The Gold Bug." Poe's
brain was keen and electric. He had the analytic
faculty in a high degree, and he delighted in applying it
to the solution of almost impossible problems. It is true
that it is not hard to find the clew in a maze of one's
own construction. Poe's ability as an analytic thinker
has therefore been challenged, since he was free to make
the web from which he was to escape. But one should
not forget that it requires just as much skill to make a
successful maze as it does to escape from one already
constructed. Poe demonstrated fully his analytical
powers by telling the complete plot of Dickens' Barndby
Rudge, after reading the first magazine instalment of
the novel, a feat that filled Dickens with amazement.
With his tale, " The Murders in the Rue Morgue," Poe
may be said to have originated the modern detective



EDGAR ALLAN POE. 181

story. " The Gold Bug " is a tale of the recovery of a
vast buried treasure through the deciphering of an
almost impossible cryptogram.

REQUIRED READING. "Ligeia;" "The Fall of the House of

Usher;" "The Gold Bug."

The rest of Poe's tales need not be mentioned. Their
jstyle is clear and seemingly definite, but the impression
left on the reader is always vague and awful. Their
domain is ghost land. Their very titles are fearsome.
They teach no lesson and serve no purpose, save to chill
the blood by mere revolting physical horror. In his
best tales Poe's art is equal to Hawthorne's. His plots
are arranged with great skill, and the reader is drawn
rapidly to the climax in the way that will most com-
pletely unnerve him. Poe's one thought was of the
effect he was producing on his reader. Instruction and
moral lessons had, he maintained, no place in fiction.

Poe's Character and Rank. The faults of no Ameri-
can author have been so paraded before the public as
those of Poe. Griswold, his first biographer, dwelt at
length upon his failings, but a more charitable view
has been taken by later writers. Willis, who knew him
intimately, declared that " he was punctual and industri-
ous, quiet, patient, gentlemanly, commanding the utmost
respect and good feeling." In his home Poe was at his
best. Passionately devoted to his wife and her mother,
his domestic life was well-nigh faultless. When sober
he took the greatest pains with his productions. He
rewrote his earlier poems many times, some of his most



182 AMERICAN LITERATURE.

haunting melodies being the result of the most exacting
effort.

" On the roll of our literature Poe's name is inscribed with the
few foremost, and in the world at large his genius is established as
valid among all men. Much as he derived nurture from other
sources he was the son of Coleridge by the weird touch in his
imagination, by the principles of his analytic criticism, and the
speculative bent of his mind. An artist primarily, whose skill,
helped by the finest sensitive and perceptive powers in himself,
was developed by thought, patience, and endless self-correction
into a subtle deftness of hand unsurpassed in its own work, he
belonged to the men of culture instead of those of originally per-
fect power ; but being gifted with the dreaming instinct, the myth-
making faculty, the allegorizing power, and with no other poetic
element of high genius, he exercised his art in a region of vague
feeling, symbolic ideas, and fantastic imagery, and wrought his
spell largely through sensuous effects of color, sound, and gloom,
heightened by lurking but unshaped suggestions of mysterious
meanings. Now and then gleams of light and sketches of lovely
landscape shine out, but for the most part his mastery was over
dismal, superstitious, and waste places. In imagination, as in
action, his was an evil genius; and in its realms of re very he
dwelt alone." Woodberry.

Poe's grave in Baltimore remained without a mark
until 1875, when a stone was raised to his memory. In
1885 a memorial tablet was placed in the New York
Museum of Art with the inscription

" He was great in his genius, unhappy in his life, wretched in
his death, but in his fame he is immortal."



XII.
THE ORATORS.

THAT the art of oratory reached its highest develop-
ment in America during the first half of the nineteenth
century was the direct result of the spirit of the age.
Politics held the first place in the popular mind, but
in politics everything turned on one great, burning
issue, slavery. Never was there a question that
divided public opinion more sharply, never was there
an issue that was fought and defended with more bitter-
ness. The history of the legislation of the period is
but the story of this one question, and of the problems
which grew from it. Congress became the scene of
fierce and prolonged debates. It was a school from
which came some of the most wonderful orators of the
century.

The two parties were of almost equal strength. New
States were admitted in pairs, so that the free and the
slave territory were kept constantly equal. The first
alarming crisis came in 1820, when Missouri sought
admission as a slave State, but under the skilful leader-
ship of Clay, who framed the measure known as the
" Missouri Compromise," the danger was averted. The
relief was only temporary, however, for soon the fight
waged with still greater fierceness over the "Wilmot

183



184 AMERICAN LITERATURE.

Proviso " and the " Kansas-Nebraska Bill.'' The debates
centred about the dangerous doctrine of States Rights.
The South maintained that the Union was not necessarily
a homogeneous organism, but rather a league of friendly
powers which were to act together when convenient,
but which were otherwise free to follow their own
counsels. South Carolina even maintained that each
State was the judge of the legality and constitutionality
of any act of Congress, and in 1832 actually attempted
to put in practice this theory. Since both parties pro-
fessed to "stand upon" the Constitution, this instru-
ment was studied with extreme care and expounded
with much learning and rhetoric. During the period,
the leaders of the Northern forces were Webster and
Clay; while the South rallied about Calhoun and
Hayne

DANIEL WEBSTER (1782-1852).

" The orator of the Union."

"Take him for all in all, he was not only the greatest orator this
country has ever known, but in the history of eloquence his name
will stand with those of Demosthenes and Cicero, of Chatham and
Burke." Lodge.

Life. (The standard Life of Webster is that by
George Ticknor Curtis, 1870. In 1851 Webster's works
were collected in six volumes with a biographical sketch
by Edward Everett. Webster's Private Correspondence,
edited by his son, Fletcher Webster, appeared in 1856.
Among the great mass of Websteriana may be men-
tioned the Life., by Charles Lanman, and that by Henry
Cabot Lodge, in the American Statesmen Series. The



THE ORATORS. 185

best study of the comparative excellence of Webster's
eloquence is Judge Mellen Chamberlain's speech at the
Dartmouth College alumni dinner, a work now issued
in pamphlet form.)

Daniel Webster was born in Salisbury (now Frank-
lin), New Hampshire, during the last year of the Revo-
lution. His father, a strong and daring man, had
served through the French and Indian War as a mem-
ber of the famous corps of frontiersmen known as
" Rogers' Rangers," and during the Revolution he had
left his little family on their backwoods farm, and had
served with distinction to the close of the war. Daniel,
the second son of this family, was weak and delicate.
For him the severe round of farm life was out of the
question, and in spite of the straitened resources of the
hard-working parents, it was decided that he should
go to college. Under the tutorship of a clergyman in
a neighboring town, he was fitted, in 1797, for Dart-
mouth College, from which he was graduated in 1801.
After teaching for a short time in Fryeburg^ Maine, he
commenced the study of law in his native town, con-
tinuing it later in the office of Christopher Gore in
Boston, and, in 1805, he was admitted to the bar. He
thereupon practised his profession first in Boscawen,
and afterwards in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, rising
with rapid, strides to legal prominence. In 1812, he
was elected to Congress, and the remainder of his life
was spent in public life or in the practice of his profes-
sion, of which he was soon the recognized leader. He
served for three terms as senator from, MassachusettSi



186 AMERICAN LITERATURE.

and was Secretary of State under both Harrison and
Fillmore.

Webster's first great oration was delivered in 1820 at
the Second Centennial of the landing of the Pilgrims.
In 1825, he was the orator at the laying of the corner-
stone of the Bunker Hill Monument, and during the
following year he was chosen to deliver the eulogy on
Adams and Jefferson. In 1830, he made the crowning
speech of his life in the United States Senate, in reply
to an attack by Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina.
During the same year he delivered the famous speech
at the White murder trial in Salem.

He died at Marshfield, Massachusetts, Oct. 24, 1852.

His Personal Appearance. Mr. Lodge in his admira-
ble life of Webster says, " There is no man in all history
who came into the world so equipped physically for
speech." His person was imposing, his head was of
massive size, his eyes deep-set and piercing, his voice
powerful and sonorous, giving the impression of vast
powers held in reserve. Carlyle, who was not usually
impressed by Americans, wrote to Emerson in 1839:

" Not many days ago I saw at breakfast the notablest of all your
notabilities, Daniel Webster. He is a magnificent specimen ; you
might say to all the world, * This is your Yankee Englishman, such
limbs we make in Yankeeland.' As a logic fencer, advocate, or
parliamentary Hercules, one would incline to back him at first
sight against all the extant world. The tanned complexion ; that
amorphous, crag-like face ; the dull black eyes under their preci-
pice of eyebrow, like dull anthracite furnaces, needing only to be
blown ; the mastiff mouth, accurately closed. I have not traced as
much of silent Berserkir-rage, that I remember of, "in any other
man." The Carlyle-Emerson Correspondence.



THE ORATORS. 187

When in action Webster swept all before him. Once
seen when ho was deeply stirred, he could never be for-
gotten.

" As his feelings warmed the fire came into his eyes ; there was
a glow on his swarthy cheek ; his strong right arm seemed to sweep
away resistlessly the whole phalanx of his opponents, and the deep
and melodious cadences of his voice sounded like harmonious organ
tones as they filled the chamber with their music." Lodge.

As a Master of English Style. (See Whipple's Amer-
ican Literature and Essays and Reviews, Vol. I.) As
the master of a pure and vigorous English prose style,
Webster has had few equals. His best orations may be



Online LibraryFred Lewis PatteeA history of American literature, with a view to the fundamental principles underlying its development ; a text-book for schools and colleges → online text (page 12 of 31)