Produced by David Widger and Carlo Traverso
THE WORKS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
IN FIVE VOLUMES
The Raven Edition
Edgar Allan Poe, An Appreciation Life of Poe, by James Russell Lowell Death of Poe, by N. P. Willis The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall The Gold-Bug Four Beasts in One The Murders in the Rue Morgue The Mystery of Marie Rogêt The Balloon-Hoax MS. Found in a Bottle The Oval Portrait
EDGAR ALLAN POE
Caught from some 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 bore Of “never--never more!”
THIS stanza from “The Raven” was recommended by James Russell Lowell asan inscription upon the Baltimore monument which marks the resting placeof Edgar Allan Poe, the most interesting and original figure in Americanletters. And, to signify that peculiar musical quality of Poe’s geniuswhich inthralls every reader, Mr. Lowell suggested this additionalverse, from the “Haunted Palace”:
And all with pearl and ruby glowing Was the fair palace door, Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing, And sparkling ever more, A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty Was but to sing, In voices of surpassing beauty, The wit and wisdom of their king.
Born in poverty at Boston, January 19, 1809, dying under painfulcircumstances at Baltimore, October 7, 1849, his whole literary careerof scarcely fifteen years a pitiful struggle for mere subsistence, hismemory malignantly misrepresented by his earliest biographer, Griswold,how completely has truth at last routed falsehood and how magnificentlyhas Poe come into his own. For “The Raven,” first published in 1845,and, within a few months, read, recited and parodied wherever theEnglish language was spoken, the half-starved poet received $10! Lessthan a year later his brother poet, N. P. Willis, issued this touchingappeal to the admirers of genius on behalf of the neglected author, hisdying wife and her devoted mother, then living under very straitenedcircumstances in a little cottage at Fordham, N. Y.:
“Here is one of the finest scholars, one of the most original men ofgenius, and one of the most industrious of the literary profession ofour country, whose temporary suspension of labor, from bodily illness,drops him immediately to a level with the common objects of publiccharity. There is no intermediate stopping-place, no respectful shelter,where, with the delicacy due to genius and culture, he might secureaid, till, with returning health, he would resume his labors, and hisunmortified sense of independence.”
And this was the tribute paid by the American public to the master whohad given to it such tales of conjuring charm, of witchery and mysteryas “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Ligeia”; such fascinatinghoaxes as “The Unparalleled Adventure of Hans Pfaall,” “MSS. Found in aBottle,” “A Descent Into a Maelstrom” and “The Balloon-Hoax”; such talesof conscience as “William Wilson,” “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-taleHeart,” wherein the retributions of remorse are portrayed with an awfulfidelity; such tales of natural beauty as “The Island of the Fay” and“The Domain of Arnheim”; such marvellous studies in ratiocination as the“Gold-bug,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” the latter, a recital of fact,demonstrating the author’s wonderful capability of correctly analyzingthe mysteries of the human mind; such tales of illusion and banteras “The Premature Burial” and “The System of Dr. Tarr and ProfessorFether”; such bits of extravaganza as “The Devil in the Belfry” and “TheAngel of the Odd”; such tales of adventure as “The Narrative of ArthurGordon Pym”; such papers of keen criticism and review as won for Poe theenthusiastic admiration of Charles Dickens, although they made him manyenemies among the over-puffed minor American writers so mercilesslyexposed by him; such poems of beauty and melody as “The Bells,” “TheHaunted Palace,” “Tamerlane,” “The City in the Sea” and “The Raven.” What delight for the jaded senses of the reader is this enchanted domainof wonder-pieces! What an atmosphere of beauty, music, color! Whatresources of imagination, construction, analysis and absolute art! Onemight almost sympathize with Sarah Helen Whitman, who, confessing toa half faith in the old superstition of the significance of anagrams,found, in the transposed letters of Edgar Poe’s name, the words “aGod-peer.” His mind, she says, was indeed a “Haunted Palace,” echoing tothe footfalls of angels and demons.
“No man,” Poe himself wrote, “has recorded, no man has dared to record,the wonders of his inner life.”
In these twentieth century days--of lavish recognition--artistic,popular and material--of genius, what rewards might not a Poe claim!
Edgar’s father, a son of General David Poe, the American revolutionarypatriot and friend of Lafayette, had married Mrs. Hopkins, an Englishactress, and, the match meeting with parental disapproval, had himselftaken to the stage as a profession. Notwithstanding Mrs. Poe’s beautyand talent the young couple had a sorry struggle for existence. WhenEdgar, at the age of two years, was orphaned, the family was in theutmost destitution. Apparently the future poet was to be cast upon theworld homeless and friendless. But fate decreed that a few glimmers ofsunshine were to illumine his life, for the little fellow was adoptedby John Allan, a wealthy merchant of Richmond, Va. A brother and sister,the remaining children, were cared for by others.
In his new home Edgar found all the luxury and advantages money couldprovide. He was petted, spoiled and shown off to strangers. In Mrs.Allan he found all the affection a childless wife could bestow. Mr.Allan took much pride in the captivating, precocious lad. At the age offive the boy recited, with fine effect, passages of English poetry tothe visitors at the Allan house.
From his eighth to his thirteenth year he attended the Manor Houseschool, at Stoke-Newington, a suburb of London. It was the Rev. Dr.Bransby, head of the school, whom Poe so quaintly portrayed in “WilliamWilson.” Returning to Richmond in 1820 Edgar was sent to the schoolof Professor Joseph H. Clarke. He proved an apt pupil. Years afterwardProfessor Clarke thus wrote:
“While the other boys wrote mere mechanical verses, Poe wrote genuinepoetry; the boy was a born poet. As a scholar he was ambitious toexcel. He was remarkable for self-respect, without haughtiness. He hada sensitive and tender heart and would do anything for a friend. Hisnature was entirely free from selfishness.”
At the age of seventeen Poe entered the University of Virginia atCharlottesville. He left that institution after one session. Officialrecords prove that he was not expelled. On the contrary, he gaineda creditable record as a student, although it is admitted that hecontracted debts and had “an ungovernable passion for card-playing.” These debts may have led to his quarrel with Mr. Allan which eventuallycompelled him to make his own way in the world.
Early in 1827 Poe made his first literary venture. He induced CalvinThomas, a poor and youthful printer, to publish a small volume of hisverses under the title “Tamerlane and Other Poems.” In 1829 we find Poein Baltimore with another manuscript volume of verses, which was soonpublished. Its title was “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Other Poems.” Neitherof these ventures seems to have attracted much attention.
Soon after Mrs. Allan’s death, which occurred in 1829, Poe, throughthe aid of Mr. Allan, secured admission to the United States MilitaryAcademy at West Point. Any glamour which may have attached to cadet lifein Poe’s eyes was speedily lost, for discipline at West Point was neverso severe nor were the accommodations ever so poor. Poe’s bent wasmore and more toward literature. Life at the academy daily becameincreasingly distasteful. Soon he began to purposely neglect his studiesand to disregard his duties, his aim being to secure his dismissal fromthe United States service. In this he succeeded. On March 7, 1831, Poefound himself free. Mr. Allan’s second marriage had thrown the lad onhis own resources. His literary career was to begin.
Poe’s first genuine victory was won in 1833, when he was the successfulcompetitor for a prize of $100 offered by a Baltimore periodical for thebest prose story. “A MSS. Found in a Bottle” was the winning tale. Poehad submitted six stories in a volume. “Our only difficulty,” says Mr.Latrobe, one of the judges, “was in selecting from the rich contents ofthe volume.”
During the fifteen years of his literary life Poe was connected withvarious newspapers and magazines in Richmond, Philadelphia and New York.He was faithful, punctual, industrious, thorough. N. P. Willis, who forsome time employed Poe as critic and sub-editor on the “Evening Mirror,” wrote thus:
“With the highest admiration for Poe’s genius, and a willingness tolet it alone for more than ordinary irregularity, we were led bycommon report to expect a very capricious attention to his duties, andoccasionally a scene of violence and difficulty. Time went on,however, and he was invariably punctual and industrious. We saw butone presentiment of the man-a quiet, patient, industrious and mostgentlemanly person.
“We heard, from one who knew him well (what should be stated in allmention of his lamentable irregularities), that with a single glass ofwine his whole nature was reversed, the demon became uppermost, and,though none of the usual signs of intoxication were visible, his willwas palpably insane. In this reversed character, we repeat, it was neverour chance to meet him.”
On September 22, 1835, Poe married his cousin, Virginia Clemm, inBaltimore. She had barely turned thirteen years, Poe himself was buttwenty-six. He then was a resident of Richmond and a regular contributorto the “Southern Literary Messenger.” It was not until a year later thatthe bride and her widowed mother followed him thither.
Poe’s devotion to his child-wife was one of the most beautiful featuresof his life. Many of his famous poetic productions were inspired by herbeauty and charm. Consumption had marked her for its victim, and theconstant efforts of husband and mother were to secure for her all thecomfort and happiness their slender means permitted. Virginia diedJanuary 30, 1847, when but twenty-five years of age. A friend of thefamily pictures the death-bed scene--mother and husband trying to impartwarmth to her by chafing her hands and her feet, while her pet cat wassuffered to nestle upon her bosom for the sake of added warmth.
These verses from “Annabel Lee,” written by Poe in 1849, the last yearof his life, tell of his sorrow at the loss of his child-wife:
I was a child and _she_ was a child, In a kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with _a _love that was more than love-- I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven Coveted her and me. And this was the reason that, long ago; In this kingdom by the sea. A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her high-born kinsmen came And bore her away from me, To shut her up in a sepulchre In this kingdom by the sea,
Poe was connected at various times and in various capacities with the“Southern Literary Messenger” in Richmond, Va.; “Graham’s Magazine” andthe “Gentleman’s Magazine” in Philadelphia; the “Evening Mirror,” the“Broadway Journal,” and “Godey’s Lady’s Book” in New York. EverywherePoe’s life was one of unremitting toil. No tales and poems were everproduced at a greater cost of brain and spirit.
Poe’s initial salary with the “Southern Literary Messenger,” to whichhe contributed the first drafts of a number of his best-known tales,was $10 a week! Two years later his salary was but $600 a year. Even in1844, when his literary reputation was established securely, he wrote toa friend expressing his pleasure because a magazine to which he was tocontribute had agreed to pay him $20 monthly for two pages of criticism.
Those were discouraging times in American literature, but Poe neverlost faith. He was finally to triumph wherever pre-eminent talents winadmirers. His genius has had no better description than in this stanzafrom William Winter’s poem, read at the dedication exercises of theActors’ Monument to Poe, May 4, 1885, in New York:
He was the voice of beauty and of woe, Passion and mystery and the dread unknown; Pure as the mountains of perpetual snow, Cold as the icy winds that round them moan, Dark as the caves wherein earth’s thunders groan, Wild as the tempests of the upper sky, Sweet as the faint, far-off celestial tone of angel whispers, fluttering from on high, And tender as love’s tear when youth and beauty die.
In the two and a half score years that have elapsed since Poe’s deathhe has come fully into his own. For a while Griswold’s malignantmisrepresentations colored the public estimate of Poe as man and aswriter. But, thanks to J. H. Ingram, W. F. Gill, Eugene Didier, SarahHelen Whitman and others these scandals have been dispelled and Poe isseen as he actually was-not as a man without failings, it is true, butas the finest and most original genius in American letters. As theyears go on his fame increases. His works have been translated intomany foreign languages. His is a household name in France and England-infact, the latter nation has often uttered the reproach that Poe’s owncountry has been slow to appreciate him. But that reproach, if it everwas warranted, certainly is untrue.
W. H. R.