EDGAR ALLAN POE
In passing from Whittier to Poe, we learn how wide is the realm of poetry. To use Sir William Hamilton's phrase, the two poets are separated by " the whole diameter of being." Yet the contrast is not absolute; "being " connects the two; each of them depicts life. If we note the differences, we perceive that Whittier is the most American of our poets, while Poe is well-nigh devoid of national characteristics. Whittier is the poet of plain country life; Poe is airily aristocratic, and is at home only in the town. Whittier grew up amid the hardships of a New England farm and the rude lessons of a New England schoolhouse; Poe was the spoiled child of a Southern household, gained in England his introduction to the classics, and had some part of his training in the University of Virginia and in the United States Military Academy at West Point. Whittier was a devotee of duty; Poe was a devotee of beauty. Whittier made his poetry a lifelong protest against slavery; Poe ignored all moral issues, and regarded all reformers as madmen. Whittier was a man of faith, looked upon conscience as the voice of God, saw the future lit up by God's love and God's promises, and so, held to an optimistic view of the universe and to an unwavering assurance of immortal life; Poe was a soured and self-willed unbeliever, esteeming the Bible to be mere rigmarole and the world to be an
l62 POE CONTRASTED WITH VVHITTIER
automatic process from nothingness to nothingness; a victim of uncontrolled appetites which alternately crazed and tormented him, but without God and without hope either for this world or for the world to come; in short, a poet already in hell and singing only of despair.
These are the points of difference. Yet Poe, as well as Whittier, was a poet. In certain respects he was more highly endowed. His range was narrower, but within that range there was more of imagination; he had the critical instinct, which Whittier lacked, and he was our first master of the technique of poetry; above all, he was a melodist, the music of whose verse, like that of Shelley, lulled the senses.1 While Whittier was immensurably the superior in the breadth and substance of his utterance, Poe was the superior in form. In the early day when pretentious mediocrity crowded the stage, Poe both by example and by precept gave direction to our literary ventures, made doggerel contemptible, and set a new and better standard of poetical success. That his work was not in vain is proved by the fact that some European judges, especially among the French, have called him our greatest American poet.
It is the purpose of this essay to expand and to justify these statements with regard to Poe, and I can best begin by briefly sketching his life. It was the pitiful and tragic life of a genius consumed by vanity and enslaved by drink. I would be gentle in my judg
1 In many ways the short life, early excesses and insanity, small poetical product and melodious elaboration of abstract and ideal qualities of William Collins (1721-1759) furnish a remarkable analogy to the life and work of Poe.
AGREEMENT AMONG BIOGRAPHERS 163
ments, but I would be truthful also. Let us remember that Poe made Rufus Wilmot Griswold his literary executor, and trusted him as his biographer. Griswold was the most capable compiler of his day. He was nearest to the scenes, and was most familiar with the facts of Poe's life. His story was so damaging to the poet's reputation that later writers attributed its dark colors to personal animosity. The half century that has followed, however, although it has witnessed the discovery of new material, has invalidated no essential of Griswold's conclusions. The " Life of Edgar Allan Poe," by Prof. George E. Woodberry, printed in 1909, the hundredth year after Poe's birth, is a most complete and thorough resume of all that is really known about Poe's history, and in all substantial matters it concedes the justice of Griswold's earlier judgments. It is a calmer and tenderer review than Griswold's, and the sad truth is for the most part left to tell its own story. But "the archangel ruined" is none the less visible, for lack of the biographer's denunciation.
Poe's grandfather, David, was a stalwart Irish immigrant, who settled in Philadelphia. He loved freedom and hated England. He was one of the patriots of our Revolution, and a quartermaster in our Continental Army. General Poe, as he was called, was so proud and prosperous that, when his son David, our poet's father, married an actress and became himself an actor, the general disinherited him and turned him adrift. Three children were born of this union, of whom Edgar was the second. The parents led the itinerant and obscure life of second-rate players.
164 EARLY TRAINING OF POE
Of the father's end nothing is known. But the mother, after pitiful struggles with poverty and appeals for public sympathy, died in Richmond, Virginia, leaving her children in utter destitution. The heart of the grandfather was apparently touched by their need, for he took the elder son, William, under his care. Rosalie, the youngest child, found a home with a family named Mackenzie. Mr. John Allan, a Richmond tobacco-merchant of Scottish birth, and his young wife, who was childless, had pity for Edgar, the beautiful two-year-old orphan boy, and, without adopting him, treated him in almost all respects as their son and heir.
It might have seemed that the boy's fortune was made. He entered a home of comfort and even of luxury; he became the pet and admiration of the household; pony and dogs enlivened his hours of recreation; while under various teachers he learned to read, to draw, to declaim, and to dance. He was an apt scholar, though impulsive and dreamy. He had inherited the histrionic temperament and he delighted in exhibiting his talents. Mr. Allan most unwisely entertained his friends at dinner by lifting the little boy with his curly locks to a chair, upon which he stood while he held his glass of wine, recited his verses, and drank to the health of the company. He was subjected to no real government; his pranks and his caprices were matters of amusement; Southern hospitality did little to correct his natural pride and selfishness; he tells us, indeed, that he "was left to the guidance of his own will."
The most peaceful, and perhaps the happiest, time of his life was the lustrum which he spent at Stoke
A LUSTRUM IN ENGLAND 165
Newington, near London, under the rigorous tutelage of Doctor Bransby. Mr. Allan made a long visit of five years in England, and Edgar's time from his sixth to his eleventh year was usefully employed in study at this excellent preparatory school. His tale entitled "William Wilson" is in part autobiographical, and it gives us a charming picture of the boy's school life in the somber hall with its oaken ceiling, and in the maze of its dormitory passages. The age and gloom of English architecture made deep impression upon him; then, and only then, after his earlier company with his foster-mother, does he seem ever to have entered a church. He was an athlete among his fellows; a quick and capable scholar; but also a boy of moods and enmities, free with his money and on his off days given to cakes and ale. The master of the school recognized his talent, but regretted that his guardian provided him with so much to spend. Vacations were doubtless occupied in travel, for Poe's writings show familiarity with a great number of famous castles and donjonkeeps, as well as with their blood-curdling histories. These years abroad made our poet a gentleman and a scholar, so far as early training could mold a peculiarly sensitive and wilful spirit.
The return to Richmond in 1820 was followed by three years of schooling under Joseph H. Clarke, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and then by three more years under Master William Burk. Poe was easily the first of his schoolmates in his Latin and his French, but his accuracy and thoroughness were not equal to his own powers of perception. Though handsome in person, a swimmer and a boxer, he was
l66 VERSES TO WOMEN
not popular among his fellows. A certain moodiness and instability characterized him. This was partly due to the fact that his better-born classmates looked down upon the son of an actor and the recipient of a guardian's charity. Mr. Allan himself, notwithstanding his interest and indulgence, was not a man of affectionate nature, and it was his wife who most cared for the boy. There seems indeed to have grown up something like estrangement between the guardian and his young charge. Edgar's leadership of a Thespian Society may have awakened fear that he might, like his parents, gravitate to the stage. Poe, however, attracted women, and was attracted by them. Some of his earliest verses were written in memory of a married lady who had spoken like a mother to the motherless boy, and who had soon after left him desolate by her death. The poem "To Helen" was the germ of "Lenore " and of " Irene," and we may see in it the first-fruits of the poet's genius:
Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Niccean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,
The weary, wayworn 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!
FIRST-FRUITS OF Poe's GENIUS 167
But there were other verses to younger women also, and there was an actual betrothal of the sixteen-yearold poet to a seventeen-year-old girl. Parents, however, had not been consulted, and these youthful fancies were broken off when Edgar, in 1826, was matriculated in the University of Virginia, and the young lady had married another man.
Mr. J. H. Whitty has edited the most complete critical edition of Poe's poems, and has prefaced it with a minute and painstaking account of the facts of the poet's life. He has also done good service by exhuming from the Library of Congress and from the old "Graham's Magazine" certain lost poems of our author. One of these is entitled "The Divine Right of Kings," and it exhibits both Poe's susceptibility to female charms and his early skill in versification. I venture to transcribe it:
The only King by right divine
Is Ellen King, and were she mine,
I'd strive for liberty no more,
But hug the glorious chains I wore.
Her bosom is an ivory throne
Where tyrant virtue reigns alone;
No subject vices dare interfere
To check the power that governs here.
Oh! would she deign to rule my fate,
I'd worship Kings with kingly state,
And hold this maxim all life long:
The King—my King—can do no wrong.
Would that our story of Poe's life might end here! But its brilliant promise was the precursor of a gradual and fearful decline. Whether it was an outbreaking of 168 Foe's D1ss1pat1on At College
innate tendencies hitherto repressed or a reaction from his disappointment in love, his brief course in college was marked by a recklessness of behavior which increased with his years and ended in insanity and death. He was no mean scholar, and he made some progress in Greek, and Spanish, and Italian. But the love for drink which he had learned at the dinner-table of his guardian, and which was fostered by the convivial habits of the planters' sons with whom he associated, was too much for his self-control, and he gave way to occasional intemperance. The draughts which his friends could stand with apparent impunity deprived him of reason. A single glass of wine excited him; a second made him garrulous; a third turned the whole world into a merry-go-round. It was not the taste of liquor which tempted him, but rather its inebriating effect. He would toss off a whole goblet of brandy, without sugar or water, and then would be a lunatic. "At Jefferson University, Charlottesville," he writes, "I led a very dissipated life—the college at that period being shamefully dissolute." But he says long afterward : " I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories." He added gambling to drunkenness, and showed such extravagance in his wagers that he soon lost caste with his college mates. Poe had entered the university in February; when its session closed in the following December the young man's "debts of honor," so called, amounted to two thousand five hundred dollars. These
TWO YEARS IN THE ARMY l6g
Mr. Allan refused to pay, and Poe left the university in humiliation and disgrace. But he threw the blame of his discomfiture entirely upon his patron, for he says of this incident: "In early youth I deliberately threw away from me a large fortune, rather than endure a trivial wrong." He had forfeited his birthright like Esau, but he never, like Esau, repented with tears.
He was offered a clerkship in his guardian's counting-room. But business had no attractions for him, and he fled to Boston. To hide his mortification from the world, to escape the stings of conscience, and perhaps to subject himself to needed discipline, he enlisted under an assumed name, as E. A. Perry, in the United States army, and spent nearly two years in the artillery service, first at Fort Independence, near Boston, and then at Fort Moultrie, near Charleston, South Carolina. He was only eighteen when he became a soldier, but he gave his age as twenty-two. His conduct in the service was so creditable that he was promoted to be sergeant-major. His officers recognized his superior education and refinement, and after nearly two years they used their influence to secure his reconciliation with his guardian. Mr. Allan apparently sent money for a substitute in the army, which the substitute did not receive, and there was a report that Poe forged the signature of the substitute in order to appropriate it. Certain it is that Mr. Allan was obliged to pay the sum twice over, and that he never, after this, took the young man back into his family. He did, however, procure for him an appointment to a cadetship at West Point, and there, on July I, 1830, Poe entered the Military Academy. But on the fol
I/O POES FINAL BREAK WITH HIS PATRON
lowing January twenty-eighth he was dismissed for neglecting his duties as cadet, and for general contempt of discipline. He was older than his classmates, and took the highest marks in mathematics and in French. But he was restless, harsh, and satirical, given to drinking and to escapades, and incapable of obedience as a soldier. Arrest, punishment, and expulsion inevitably followed.
It is no wonder that from this time Mr. Allan lost all confidence in his protege, and disclaimed all responsibility for him. Yet he seems to have paid him an annuity for three following years, and to have kept the wolf from the poet's door when he was first struggling for a standing in the literary world. His guardian's generosity was all the more creditable, since the first Mrs. Allan, Poe's special friend, had died, and Mr. Allan had now a child of his own by a second marriage. Poe went back to Richmond after his expulsion from West Point, hoping still to win back his guardian's favor. Mr. Allan was ill, and forbidden to receive visitors. Poe disregarded the prohibition of Mrs. Allan and made his way into the sick-room. This angered Mr. Allan, and he lifted his cane to chastise Poe, who retired in complete discomfiture. It was only a fit return for Poe's insubordination and ingratitude, and it marked the end of all relations between them. In 1834 Mr. Allan died, and made no mention of Poe in his will.2 From 1831 our poet lived in Baltimore with
s Poe's contemptuous opposition to Mr. Allan's second marriage, and Poe's scandalous treatment of the second wife, must be added to the reasons for this neglect to provide for him. Mrs. Allan spoke of Poe's "ingratitude, fraud, and deceit," and, after her husband's death at the early age of fifty-two, she refused ever to meet the poet. Disparity in the parties' age does not justify Poe's opposition to the marriage, for, while Miss Paterson was twenty-five, Mr. Allan at the time was only forty-eight.
IDOLATRY OF FAME IJ1
Mrs. Clemm, his deceased father's sister, and with her daughter Virginia, whom he afterward married. With the cutting off of his annuity his circumstances became greatly straitened, and his frequent lapses into intemperance made his life wretched. Only the industry and affection of his aunt carried him through the resulting sicknesses and despondencies. But the winning of a prize of one hundred dollars by his tale of " A Manuscript Found in a Bottle" rescued him from trouble, and gave him hope for the future.
Poe was a man fiercely possessed by the desire for fame. "I love fame; I dote on it; I idolize it," he wrote. He aimed, to use his own words, "to kick up a bobbery." "I am young, not yet 20, am a poet, if deep worship of all beauty can make me one, and wish to be so, in the more common meaning of the word. I would give the world to embody half the ideal afloat in my imagination." So early as his fourteenth year he had written verses, and in 1827, before enlisting in the army in Boston, he published a little book entitled " Tamerlane and Other Poems." "Tamerlane " is the story, in verse, of a shepherd's son who, under the spur of an inordinate ambition, leaves his betrothed, without explaining his purpose, and under a feigned name seeks to win for her a throne. He succeeds ; but when he returns to lay the crown at her feet, he finds that, in his absence and apparent desertion, she has died of grief. In this story of the Emperor of Samarcand, Poe found expression for some features of his own biography. He was just about to become a soldier, and under a feigned name. He was conscious of great literary powers, and he fancied that he could
make the whole world sing his praises. He was an exile from home, and had already lost a friend most dear to him. The shadows of a settled melancholy were gathering about him. Death and the sepulcher loomed up in the distance. And the youthful poet has no refuge or comforter but pride:
The passionate spirit which hath known,
And deeply felt the silent tone
Of its own self-supremacy—
The soul which feels its innate right—
The mystic empire and high power
Given by the energetic might
Of Genius, at its natal hour;
Which knows (believe me at this time,
When falsehood were a tenfold crime,
There is a power in the high spirit
To know the fate it will inherit)
The soul, which knows such power, will still
Find Pride the ruler of its will.
And pride brings only despair and a broken heart . This earliest of Poe's verses seems now a prophecy of his end:
I reach'd my home—my home no more—
For all was flown that made it so—
I pass'd from out its mossy door,
In vacant idleness of woe.
There met me on its threshold stone
A mountain hunter, I had known
In childhood, but he knew me not.
Something he spoke of the old cot:
It had seen better days, he said;
There rose a fountain once, and there
Full many a fair flower raised its head:
But she who rear'd them was long dead,
AL AARAAF I73
And in such follies had no part,
What was there left me now? despair—
A kingdom for a broken—heart.
The second of these youthful poems demands notice, not only because it is his longest piece of verse, but also because it represents the imagination and transcendental style of his thinking. "Al Aaraaf," as he himself says, is a star discovered by Tycho Brahe, which appeared suddenly in the heavens, attained, in a few days, a brilliancy surpassing that of Jupiter, then as suddenly disappeared, and has never since been seen. He makes this star the abode of all the loveliness that perishes on earth. In a melodious rhapsody as disjointed as a dream, he celebrates the beauty of a world which earth's sorrows have never entered, and where no moral restraints hinder the activity of its denizens. Nesace, who seems the personified spirit of this ideal realm, summons her lover to join her there:
"Leave tenantless thy crystal home, and fly,
With all thy train, athwart the moony sky,
Apart—like fireflies in Sicilian night,
And wing to other worlds another light!
Divulge the secrets of thy embassy
To the proud orbs that twinkle, and so be
To every heart a barrier and a ban
Lest the stars totter in the guilt of man!"
We might well doubt whether this invocation had any definite meaning, if it were not for the partial explanation, in Part II, with regard to the ultimate destiny of the lovers:
For what (to them) availeth it to know
That Truth is Falsehood, or that Bliss is Woe?
Sweet was their death—with them to die was rife
174 THE ARABESQUE AND THE GROTESQUE
With the last ecstasy of satiate life;
Beyond that death no immortality,
But sleep that pondereth and is not " to be;"
And there, oh. may my weary spirit dwell,
Apart from Heaven's Eternity—and yet how far
What guilty spirit, in what shrubbery dim,
Heard not the stirring summons of that hymn?
But two; they fell; for Heaven no grace imparts
To those who hear not for their beating hearts;
A maiden-angel and her seraph-lover.
Oh, where (and ye may seek the wide skies over)
Was Love, the blind, near sober Duty known?
Unguided Love hath fallen 'mid " tears of perfect
The lesson of the poem is manifestly this, that the delights of love_are^ to be sought eyjm_at_theprice of annihilation. But I must leave the theology of "Al Aaraaf" for later exposition, and content myself now with pointing out that this juvenile poetry, though instinct with imagination and melody, was greatly lacking in unity and rationality. These latter merits came to Poe after years of experiment, and as the result of writing and reflection in other lines. Poetry with him was an occasional and a rare product—to use his _own words, " a passion, and not a purpose." The quantity of it wasexceedihgly small. He wrote exceedingly little, but gave endless emendation and polish to his work. In his day poetry was not a selling commodity; the poet was forced to earn his living; magazine literature alone furnished him a support. His imagination made his first successful work to be " Tales of the Arabesque and the Grotesque." He was the forerunner of Conan Doyle in his detective stories. The mystery and
TALES OF THE CHARNEL-IIOUSE 175
ingenuity of " The Gold Bug" and " The Murders of the Rue Morgue " are distinctly new features of literary romance. We cannot too highly praise the artistic skill with which the elements of his plots are marshaled, and every stroke is made to lead to the sudden and startling conclusion. But little by little Poe came to think that to startle was to succeed. His romance had not the realistic basis of Swift and Defoe. The bizarre, the gruesome, the loathsome, the fiendish, occupied his thoughts and became the subjects of his pen. He aims to make our—fl«sb-efeep. He appeals exclusively to the nerves. Burial alive, epileptic fits, the mesmerism of a dying man, the possession of one soul by that of another who has departed, somnambulism, metapsychosis, the gouging out of eyes, suicidecompacts, ghosts,- tombs, endless sorrow and despair— these have never been' more fearfully portrayed than by Edgar Allan Poe. "His realm," says Griswold, "was on the shadowy confines of human experience, among the abodes of crime, gloom, and horror, and there he delighted to surround himself with images of beauty and of terror, to raise his solemn palaces and towers and spires in a night upon which should rise no sun." In all this he depicted the lashings of his own conscience, his utter lack of faith in God and in a life beyond the grave, his horror in'view of the death to which his lost soul was hastening, and the unspeakable misery and gloom of a sinner without Christ and without hope. There is a somber splendor about " The Fall of the House of Usher," and a melancholy sweetness about " Ligeia "; but Poe's tales are tales of the charnel-house, and their odor of decay is quite foreign
I76 POE AS EDITOR AND CRITIC
to the beauty which he held to be the end and aim of perfect art.
Poetry had a rival not only in Poe's tales, but also in Poe's criticism. From being a contributor to magazines he became an editor. Instead of writing stories of his own, he came to criticize the work of others. He passed successively in review all the prominent authors of his day, whether American or English. Much of our literature had been characterized by dull mediocrity, and this dull mediocrity had been praised. Poe subjected this dull work to trenchant criticism. His insight was keen, he had correct principles of judgment, and he had little mercy for those who failed to satisfy his tests. We owe him a great debt, for he was our first American critic. But he was too exclusively censorious. He wielded the broadax rather than the rapier. His magazine motto seemed to be, "Hang, draw, and quarter," it has been wittily said. His exposure of pretense and ridicule of error made him many enemies. He aimed to startle even here. His criticisms commanded attention indeed. Within a few months he increased the circulation of a magazine from five to forty-five thousand. But there was an ill temper and arrogance in his writing which resulted from disordered habits. His tale, "The Imp of the Perverse," well describes his own mental and moral unsoundness. His treatment of Longfellow can hardly be explained except as an ebullition of envy and malice. He prefaced his review of "The Voices of the Night" with the acrimonious title, "Mr. Longfellow, and other Plagiarists "; and he characterized the poet's "Midnight Mass for the Dying Year" as
ALIENATION OF FRIENDS 177
belonging " to the most barbarous class of literary robbery." Longfellow generously replied, "The harshness of his criticisms I have never attributed to anything but the irritation of a sensitive nature, chafed by some indefinite sense of wrong." Those who stood nearer to Poe could not form so charitable a judgment. Griswold, Willis, and Lowell bore with him, but he attacked them all, until forbearance was no longer a virtue. Hawthorne, he thought, had stolen directly from passages in "William Wilson." "Mr. Bryant is not all a fool. Mr. Willis is not quite an ass. Carlyle is an ass, and Emerson is his imitator." He calls Miss Fuller "that detestable old maid." Lowell is "a ranting abolitionist, a fanatic for the mere love of fanaticism." Lowell replied that Poe sometimes mistook his vial of' nrussic acid for his inkstand. His colleagues could not forever endure his whims and his abuse. One connection after another was broken; one friend after another was alienated. Brilliant promise was succeeded by pitiful failure. Riotous intemperance ruined his prospects even after long periods of abstinence. The use of opium was added to indulgence in drink, and under the influence of these stimulants Poe was a madman.
The story of his marriage and of the illness and death of his young and beautiful wife is most pathetic. Virginia was the child of Mrs. Clemm, the aunt who toiled for him and sheltered him through all his escapades and illnesses. His tale " Eleonora " is autobiographical. It tells the story of a romantic love, which seems at first to have been illicit. A license was issued in September, 1835, but there is no record of
I78 "ANNABEL LEE"
marriage following until May, 1836. Then a public marriage took place, when Virginia was hardly fourteen, though a relative satisfied the legal requirement by testifying that she was twenty-two. Her married life lasted for twelve troubled years. A friend describes the scene as she neared her end: "There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but a white counterpane and sheets. The weather was cold, and the sick lady had the dreadful chills that accompany the hectic fever of consumption. She lay on the straw bed, wrapped in her husband's great coat, with a large tortoise-shell cat on her bosom. The wonderful cat seemed conscious of her great usefulness. The coat and the cat were the sufferer's only means of warmth, except as her husband held her hands, and her mother her feet." In 1847 she died, and the poet wrote his memorial of her in "Annabel Lee ":
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That.a maiden lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this 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;
POE TO HIMSELF A VICTIM I79
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me;
Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we,
Of many far wiser than we;
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:
For the moon never beams, without bringing me
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
This is real poetry, and it expresses at least occasional and temporary emotion. But it is certain that Poe made love to other women during the lifetime of his wife. And though he clung to her for sympathy and pity, he plunged her into poverty and distress. He regarded himself as a victim, however, rather than as a criminal, and I quote from one of his letters his own self-justification:
l8o "WHIM, IMPULSE, PASSION"
I can do no more than hint. This "evil" was the greatest that can befall a man. Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever and underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially, and I again hoped. At the end of the year the vessel broke again. I went through precisely the same scene. Then again—again—and even once again, at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death—and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive—nervous in a very unusual degree—I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness I drank—God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity.
To Lowell he wrote: " My life has been whim, impulse, passion "—and this is the only explanation of his career. In him Stevenson's Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were mixed. He was by turns industrious and slothful. One of his friends touched the secret of his troubles when he told Poe that "no man is safe who drinks before breakfast."
Whatever we may think of Poe's defense, drink and opium were his undoing. His tales, his criticism, and finally the poem of " The Raven " gave him an everincreasing fame, and his connection with " The Saturday Visitor," "The Southern Literary Messenger," "The Gentleman's Magazine," " Graham's Magazine," "The Evening Mirror," "The Broadway Journal," whether as contributor or as editor, gave successive promise of pecuniary reward. But there was a demon beside him that always snatched the cup of prosperity from his hand when he was about to drink. Though Poe's M1serable Death 181
he made friends, one by one, of Wilmer, White, Kennedy, Tuckerman, Burton, Graham, Greeley—all of them men who sought to aid him—his ingratitude and rancorous denunciation broke up every friendship, and left him solitary and unhappy. He joined the Sons of Temperance, and broke his vows. He sought to repair his fortunes by marriage, and forfeited all claims to his bride by drunkenness on the eve of the intended wedding. He was a physical and mental wreck. The end came at last. Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York had been places of his temporary residence. He fled from one to another, in hope to escape the fiend that pursued him. He left Richmond in October, 1849, to go North. But in Baltimore temptation assailed him, and he succumbed. He wandered about the city for five days in a state of intoxication. He was found unconscious, clad like a beggar in soiled and tattered garments, in a place of disreputable resort, and was taken to a hospital, where for two whole days he suffered the agonies of delirium tremens, and talked incessantly to spectral and imaginary objects on the walls. Then came two more days of alternate violence and of collapse from exhaustion, in which he cried that his best friend would be one who would blow out his wretched brains. At last, at three o'clock on a Tuesday morning, he moved his head gently, uttered the words, "Lord, help my poor soul!" and expired. We have no other record of prayer or recognition of God's existence but this, in all Poe's life. He used the word " God," indeed, in his poems, but it was only as a conventional and rhetorical accommodation to the beliefs of his readers. He thought himself, and, as
l82 POE AN ATHEIST OF THE HEART
nearly as it was possible for any man to be, he was, an atheist. But are there in Ulia_worldany real atheists? Theoretically, yes; practically._no._ In practice, all men show by their language, actions, and expectations that they have the idea of a Being above them, upon whom they are dependent, who is their standard of truth, beauty, and goodness, and who imposes law upon their moral natures. But in theory, men may ignore or even deny that they have any idea of such a Being, and may believe such an idea to be self-contradictory and irrational. The only way in which we can convince these unbelievers is by appealing to their underlying convictions, and by showing them that they practically admit what they theoretically deny. Poe's restlessness of soul, his tormenting conscience, his impotence of will, his frantic appeals to women to rescue him from degradation, his dreadful fears of death and the grave, were evidences that deep down in his heart was an inextinguishable belief in a just God with whom he was at enmity and whom he feared to meet in the judgment.
^ Poe's atheism was an atheism of the heart, rather 'than an atheism of the head. He lacked the will to bel lieve. The secret of professed atheism is really a dislike for the character and the requirements of God. Theism humbles man's pride, implies his dependence, as a creature and as a sinner. He is willing to believe in self; why will he not believe in God? "Belief." as Emerson says, "consists in accepting the affirmations of the soul; unbelief, in rejecting them." But acceptance or rejection is determined by the will. Since neither theism nor atheism can be proved, we choose
BLINDED BY SELF-CONCEIT 183
the alternative which we prefer. Do we wish a God to exist? Then we may believe in his existence, and our faith will justify itself by its results. We ask the atheist to trust the voice of his own nature, and to make experiment as to its truth. We claim that this is the method of science. Science assumes nature and her laws at the start, but verification comes with every successive step. Religion, in like manner, assumes God's existence at the beginning, but each following experience furnishes new evidence that the assumption is correct. Poe was too proud to take this childlike attitude toward the truth. "My whole nature utterly revolts," he exclaimed, "at the idea that there is any Being in the universe superior to myself!" And so this confessed liar, slanderer, gambler, and drunkard, if not also a forger and a seducer, deified self and turned his back upon his only Lord and Redeemer. Conceit of his own powers and his own worth so blinded him that Infinite Truth and Goodness made no impression upon him. Self was the only God he believjed or served or worshiped. In this respect he furnishes, among all our poets, the most perfect illustra-i tion of the insanity of sin. And yet he did not know himself to be a sinner, for his physician quotes him as saying: " By the God who reigns in heaven, I swear to you that my soul is incapable of dishonor. I can call to mind no act of my life which would bring a blush to my cheek."
It might at first sight seem vain to speak of such a man's theology. But every man has a theology. He is compelled to reflect upon the facts of the universe, and upon his own relations to the power above him
184 Poe's Theology 1n "eureka"
upon which he is dependent. Even if he is a professed atheist, he is driven by an accusing conscience to selfjustification. He must give a reason for the very unbelief that is in him. Poe has declared his theology in his prose poem entitled "Eureka." He regarded it as the greatest work of his life, and that by which he would be especially remembered. He thought it of more importance than Sir Isaac Newton's discovery of gravitation. It was a materialistic explanation of the universe, its origin, development, and destiny. He propounded it with amazing confiden .', and proposed an edition of fifty thousand copies as a mere beginning. It was but the shallow and half-crazy dream of a sciolist who had cribbed his slender basis of facts, and from a single primitive assumption had deduced a universe without a God. It deserves no prolonged study, yet it furnishes s»"°' clue to his theory of poetry that I cannot avoi rief notice of its doctrine. Dreamy and unscientific -s . is, it shows conclusively that theories of the un.jerse are too often constructed to excuse men's practical disobedience to God. And the results of Poe's theory in his own case show that, instead of being God's truth, it was a devil's lie to ensnare and destroy him. While the assumption of God's existence ennobles and saves, the assumption of a godless universe leads only to intellectual and moral ruin.
"Poe was an absolute materialist. He regarded mind ^s,only an etherealized and sensitive form of matter. Body and mind go hand in hand, and are never separated. Whenever he speaks of God, and of God's volition, we must remember that it is a material God
AN ABSOLUTE MATERIALIST 185
that he has in mind, and that the conception and act of such a God are indistinguishable from merely physical instinct. "Is not God immaterial?" he asks. He replies: "There is no immateriality. That which is not matter is not at all. . . There are gradations of matter of which man knows nothing "—and he speaks of electricity as if this answered to his conception of a material God. "Matter, unparticled, indivisible, one, permeating all things, and impelling all things, this matter is God. . . Thinking is the motion of this matter. . . God, w-,•,1 all the powers attributed to spirit, is but the perfection of matter." The universe has originated, he declares, in the creation by this God of a single particle of matter. How a material God was capable of a creative'-volition he does not inform us. This material particle hacl powers of radiation and multiplication. It was 1 ""d through a vast though limited region of spaa. he originating principle acted continuously in ea.'h , rtion of the matter into which the particle had becom divided, and the result was the various bodies, molecular and molar, of the great system. The first element in the universe then was repulsion; and this is nothing but mind or spirit in expression. The original unity has thus become multiplicity. But diffusion and multiplicity do not of themselves provide for progress. Progress can be secured only by partial return to unity. The original diffusive or repulsive force is therefore to some extent withdrawn, and attraction takes its place. Gravitation follows upon radiation, and attraction is body, as repulsion was mind or spirit. So we have multiplicity resulting in mind, and unity resulting in body. But the
l86 A SELF-DEIFYING SCHEME
return to the unity must go on, until all things are again resolved into the original simplicity. What was originally one must become one again. Separation of intelligences must give place to unification of intelligence. As each mind was only a portion of the one Being whom we call God, so each mind must be absorbed in that One and lose its separate identity. There is no such thing as personal immortality. But our compensation is that, as we are now only portions of God, we shall hereafter take all creation into union with ourselves, and so shall ourselves become God. In a note appended to his own copy of " Eureka," Poe wrote:
The pain of the consideration that we shall lose our identity ceases at once when we further reflect that the process, as above described, is neither more nor less than that of the absorption, by each individual intelligence, of all other intelligences (that is, of the Universe) into its own. That God may be all in all, each must become God.
This fantastic and self-deifying scheme does not end with the present universe to which we belong. There are many universes, both in space and in time, and there are as many nature-gods to match them. The tendency to unity belongs to all. But this tendency is only a blind physical impulse which is misnamed when it is called spiritual. It presents to us endless cycles of birth and death, of growth and decay. It is pantheistic and polytheistic by turns, but it is never theistic. Its so-called God has no eye to pity and no arm to save. The beauty which it sees in the universe is only the phosphorescent glow which marks in the darkness a mound of corruption. It gives no real
POE CONFESSES HIS PHILOSOPHY FUTILE 187
explanation of the origin or the progress of the system, since its God is only material force, without designing intelligence and without love for his creatures. It makes the universe a reaction upon will, instead of being itself will. Human will is mere illusion; man is a victim instead of an actor; and Poe deals with crime against man, but never with sin against God. Morality becomes mere convention. In such a universe the best we can do is to plod on, yielding to our every impulse and bearing the penalty of mistakes. Conscience rejects such a scheme as contradicting our moral nature; our noblest aspirations rise in rebellion against such hopeless subjection of the spirit; and Christ's positive revelation of life and immortality make Poe's seem only a madman's dream. In fact, he confesses the futility of his own philosophy when he writes: "My forlorn and darkened nature is full of forebodings. Nothing cheers or comforts me. The future looks a dreary blank. But I will struggle on and hope against hope." The dreamer dwelt already in an Inferno like that which Dante pictured in his "Divine Comedy," and the horrors of which are portrayed by Michelangelo in his "Last Judgment."
"Eureka" has been called "a prevision of the modern doctrine of evolution." It certainly reminds us of Herbert Spencer's process from homogeneity to heterogeneity. But it is not original with Poe. It merely reflects the nebular hypothesis of Laplace, and the first suggestion of it may have come to Poe in his childhood. Whitty, in his Memoir of Poe, tells us that John Allan, Poe's guardian, was a rather liberal thinker, and suggests that the germ out of which the l88 BEAUTY TO VQE MERELY PHYSICAL
poet's later materialism was developed may have come from this source. "There seems an autobiographical hint of this in his tale 'The Domain of Arnheim,' which he has said contains ' much of his soul.' Here he wrote:"
Some peculiarities, either in his early education, or in the nature of his intellect, had tinged with what is termed materialism all his ethical speculations; and it was this bias, perhaps, which led him to believe that the most advantageous at least, if not the sole legitimate field for the poetic exercise, lies in the creation of novel moods of purely physical loveliness.
It is certain that Poe's scheme of the universe greatly influenced his ideas of poetry as well as of life. He was a worshiper of beauty, and in his scheme of the universe beauty has no relation to truth or to goodness; or rather, he would say, beauty is itself truth and goodness, and there is no truth or goodness besides. Truth and goodness are merely by-products of beauty; beauty is the standard by which truth and goodness are to be measured; beauty itself has no standard of measurement, but is to measure all things. This is to reverse all right rules. Poe's denial of a rational Ordainer and Upholder of the universe renders his judgments irrational. Beauty, like truth and goodness, implies a standard to which it conforms. There must be a God to justify our sense of beauty, as well as our confidence in our mental processes and our conviction of moral obligation. The universe is a thought, an ordered whole, a moral system; there must be a Thinker, a Designer, -a Lawgiver, as the Author, Upholder, Ruler, of our mental and moral life. And what Poe's Essent1als Of Poetry 189
is true in the intellectual and moral realm is equally true in the esthetic realm. Beauty is conformity to a standard, and that standard is the eternal Beauty in God. But in him it is " the beauty of holiness," and is never separated from truth and goodness. Poe sought beauty apart from God—but such beauty appeals only to transitory and irrational emotion; it cannot justify itself to reason; it is seductive and delusive; it glorifies the evil as well as the good; it is pessimistic and degrading; it ceases to be beauty, by cutting loose from the true and the good, and by making itself supreme.
Poe was " the wild poet " who exemplified these false principles of ethics. He claimed jhat the awakening o£_£rnotion is the sole aim of poetry. Emotion, he would -say^23H_a\vakened only by beauty; truth and goodness are incidental, and never primary. There is no thrill oFembtion like that of hopeless sorrow, and the death of a loved and beautiful woman marks the acme of human grief. Add now the pain of parting and the horror of the tomb; picture these in verse of penetrating melody, and you have the essentials of poetry. But who does not see that the ideal element has been lost? True poetry presupposes a divine order, and a worthy end, in the universe. There can be no great poetry without faith. Optimism, and not pessimism, must be at the heart of melody, or melody becomes funereal and repulsive. I can best show what I mean by quoting the poem in which Poe's philosophy is most vividly and perfectly represented. The title of the poem is highly significant. It is " The Conqueror Worm."
I9O "THE CONQUEROR WORM
Lo! 't is a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years.
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theater to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly;
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their condor wings
That motley drama—oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever rcturneth in
To the self-same spot;
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see amid the mimic rout
A crawling shape intrude:
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes—it writhes!—with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out—out are the lights—out all!
And over each quivering form
The curtain, a funeral pall.
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
AN IMAGINATION FED ON THE ABNORMAL I9I
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, " Man,"
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.
Here is melody and the thrill of emotion, but all in the interest of a godless universe and a hopeless humanity. Here is imagination, but only of the bizarre and the gruesome. The unbelieving poet can construct only a universe of sorrow and of death. Death indeed is the annihilation of personal and conscious existence, and is the only hope of mortals. In his poem " For Annie " he writes:
Thank Heaven! the crisis,
The danger, is past,
And the lingering illness
Is over at last,
And the fever called "Living"
'Is conquered at last.
Man is "a puppet, cast in the form of God," and conquered by the " Conqueror Worm."
Poe's imagination had only limited range. His moral nature was too self-centered to give him any proper view of human life or destiny. He reveled in the abnormal and revolting incidents of our existence. The grim, the weird, the spectral, the terrible, impressed him most. These left his appetite for beauty unsatisfied; and his best poetry is the expression of disappointed hopes and of everlasting regrets. There are three essays which will live when his "Eureka" is forgotten—essays in which he exhibits unusual powers of analysis and sanity of judgment, and which notwithstanding reveal the shortcomings of his art.
I92 POE S POETIC PRINCIPLE
The first is entitled " The Poetic Principle." Poetry,
he maintains, is the result of man's struggle to appre-
hend the supernal Loveliness and to penetrate into the
mystery that surrounds us. It is the rhythmical crea-
tion of Beauty. Its object is the pleasurable excite-
ment of the soul by our recombination of the images
found in nature. But, since human effort always fails
to realize the ideal after which it strives, there must in
all true poetry be an element of sorrow. A "certain
taint of sadness is inseparably connected with all the
higher manifestations of true Beauty." Since poetry
aims to rouse and to elevate the emotions, it is " inde-
pendent of that Truth which is the satisfaction of the
Reason." The didactic and the moral are foreign to
the realm of poetry. It is more nearly allied to music
than to any other art. Poe was not a musician, like
Lanier; and Lanier improved upon Poe's theory. But
Poe exemplifies his own doctrine by verse so dainty
and sweet, that it enchains our attention and persuades
us against our wills. He dealt in "the witchery of
words." He caught from Negro minstrelsy the tell-
ing effect of the refrain. His finished poems were
works of endless elaboration, in which every stroke is
effective, and the whole product tends from the begin-
ning to a predestined end. His poem "The Bells"
shows him, at his best, as the melodist and literary
Hear the sledges with the bells.
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars, that oversprinkle
"THE BELLS" 193
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells,—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
Then we hear " the mellow wedding-bells." But these are followed by " the loud alarum bells ":
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
And finally come the funeral bells. Here Poe is at home, for beyond death he has no vision of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life:
Hear the tolling of the bells,
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
194 "THE PHILOSOPHY OF COMPOSITION
And the people—ah, the people,
They that dwell up in the steeple,
And who tolling, tolling, tolling
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone—
They are neither man nor woman.
They are neither brute nor human,
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A p;can from the bells;
And his merry bosom swells
With the pxan of the bells,
And he dances, and he yells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.
The second of Poe's didactic essays has for its subject " The Philosophy of Composition." I regard this as one of the most thoughtful and instructive papers ever written by an American. It may well be set side by side with Herbert Spencer's essay on style, in which he propounds the principle that its greatest essential is economy of the reader's or hearer's attention—the more energy is expended upon the form, the less there remains to grapple with the substance. ^Poe declares that every work of literary art must be written backward; the writer must first know his terminus ad quern; analysis must come before synthesis; the essay must be a gradual approach to a conclusion perfectly denned in the author's mind, but only by successive steps made known to the reader. The element of
POE S THEORY IN THE RAVEN I95
surprise is necessary to success; attention must be gained, and kept, till the denouement caps the climax and satisfies the mind. Here is a principle of universal application, and writers of note do consciously or unconsciously observe it. Poe does us a great service by illustrating the principle in his composition of "The Raven." I dismiss, as already considered, his theory that melancholy is the noblest and most legitimate of the poetical tones; that is only his inference from a godless and hopeless universe. I dismiss also his view that the true poem must always be a brief one, fot> this view rests upon the premise that poetry appeals, never to reason, but only to fleeting emotion: the epic may satisfy our minds, not only by its successive scenes, but by the unity of their sequence and development. And finally I dismiss his doctrine of the refrain, as unquestionably possessing originality and value. I call attention only to the fact that the last word of the poem is the first in the poet's mind as he begins to construct his work. And that word is " Nevermore."
The^subject^of the poem is hopeless sorrow, and the word " nevermore " expresses it. But that word must have a speaker. Who feels such sorrow more than the lover, the object of whose affection has been snatched from his side? What shall be the locality of his grief? It must be the solitude of his study. How can " Nevermore" be uttered in an endless monotone? Only a non-reasoning being is capable of such heartless reiteration. The parrot is the flippant bird of day; only the raven is the speaking bird of night. How shall the lover and the raven be brought together? -There must be a tempestuous night, and the flapping of the raven's
196 "THE RAVEN"
wings seems to be a knocking at the door. The opening of the door admits the sable visitor. The raven enters to find refuge from the storm, and perches upon the bust of Pallas over the chamber door. The lover begins by jesting at the strange apparition, and by asking questions. But soon he is mystified and solemnized. To all his successive inquiries the bird makes but one reply: it is the ominous " Nevermore." And the result is only the deepening of the mystery and the sorrow of death. As a lesson in literary workmanship, this poem is unique and invaluable, and that without our deciding how far in Poe's case the process of composition was conscious or unconscious. "The Raven" is his masterpiece, and, as uniting his melody and his melancholy, it may be regarded as one of the great works of American literature—a work as wonderful and as perfect as Gray's " Elegy in a Country Churchyard." For that reason, I may be permitted to quote from it several of its most significant stanzas:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'T is some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door:
Only this, and nothing more."
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and
flutter, In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore. Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or
"THE RAVEN 10/
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber
door, Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door: Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,— "Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art
sure no craven, Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly
shore: Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian
Quoth the Raven, " Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! prophet still, if bird or
devil! Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here
ashore, Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted— On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore: Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil—prophet still, if bird or
devil! By that Heaven that bends above us, by that God we both
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name
Quoth the Raven, " Nevermore."
"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend! " I shrieked,
upstarting: "Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian
198 POE A MASTER OF TECHNIQUE
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath
spoken! Leave my loneliness unbroken! quit the bust above my door! Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off
Quoth the Raven, " Nevermore."
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting,
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor:
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
Here is mastery of the technique of verse, and a musical refrain, the impression of which deepens to the very end. But there is also a gathering gloom that chills and affrights. Is this the noblest poetry? Not unless it most truly represents life. Such predetermined sadness is irrational, for hopeless sorrow denies the reality of a divine providence and gives the lie to God's word. It declares that there is no "balm in Gilead," and that Christ has died in vain. Poe was as much a pagan, as if he had never heard of the Cross. He sorrowed as those without hope. He did not see that "the last enemy that shall be abolished is death," and that our God and Saviour has made death to be the gateway to eternal life. Poe's poetry is therefore as unmoral and misleading as if written in the interests of vice. It tempts men, by reaction, to say, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." I acquit our poet of any conscious pandering to immorality. If there is any condoning or glorifying of
THE RATIONALE OF VERSE 199
illicit passion, it is veiled and unintentional. But to remove all hope from humanity is to doom it to death. Despair leads men into sin as often as does the desire for pleasure. And I must regard the quenching of the light of hope as a vicious element in Poe's poetry.
"The Rationale of Verse " is a third essay in which our poet attempts a scientific exposition of rhythm, rhyme, meter, and versification. Here too, he has shown his best powers, and has done great service to his art. His account of the genesis of prosody is novel and interesting. He holds that the rudiment of verse is found in the spondee—equality of sound in two accented syllables. Then the perception of monotone gives rise to an attempt at its relief: the iambus and the trochee are results. Dactylic and anapaestic words naturally follow; and then the line, which first curtails and then defines the length of a sequence. If lines are to be defined to the ear, equality in sound of the final syllables is needed, and hence arises rhyme. The beginnings of rhyme are found in Aristophanes and in Horace, and Dr. Charles A. Briggs has maintained that it is not wanting even in Genesis 4 : 23, 24 and in the Psalms. The stanza gives limitation and unity to lines. The refrain relieves their monotony. It is impossible in this article even to summarize Poe's doctrine. Suffice it to say that he has propounded an original and profound theory of versification—a theory which frees the subject from much superstitious pedantry of the past, and which permits the poet to follow more readily the promptings of the Muse. Of all our poets he has given most scientific expression to the technique of his art.
20O "THE HAUN'TED PALACE
As a last illustration of Poe's theory that poetry is a metrical appeal to emotion—an appeal skilfully adapted to awaken yearning and regret—let me quote his poem entitled " The Haunted Palace ":
In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion,
It stood there;
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago),
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute's well-tuned law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
In state his glory well befitting.
The ruler of the realm was seen.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing.
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
A PICTURE OF POE S SOUL 201
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him desolate!)
And round about his home the glory•
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.
"The Haunted Palace" is a picture of Poe's own soul. It reminds us of " The Living Temple " by the Puritan John Howe. That represents human nature as originally a magnificent temple in which God dwelt and manifested his glory. But the priests were faithless and the spoiler came; it was deserted by Deity, and only broken column and fallen architrave remained to show its former splendor; it came to be the haunt of unclean birds, and evil spirits congregated in its courts. But God did not forsake the work of his own hands; at infinite cost he began to restore the ruined temple; he will not cease his effort until he has rescued it from his foes and has filled it with his praise. But the palace of Poe's soul was still in possession of fiends, and he had no hope of recovering the glory he had lost. Exquisite literary art witnessed to the greatness of his original endowment, but with this art there was bound up a pessimistic unbelief that p
202 CONFLICTING ESTIMATES OF POE
shut out all the light of heaven and left him a prey to remorse and despair. His life and work teach us that true poetry is born only of true character; that beauty cannot be divorced from truth; that art for art's sake is the ruin of art itself; and that obedience to God and acceptance of his revelation in Christ are the only means of restoring lost character or of opening to us the treasures of the universe.
No one of our poets has had so many memoirs written of him, and about no other has been waged such warfare of opinion. Emerson calls him "the jingleman "; Henry James thinks his verses "valueless "; Brownell regards him as " a conjurer in literature and a charlatan," " our only Ishmael " among the poets, and "our solitary artist." But Tennyson is quoted by Brander Matthews as ranking Poe "highest among American poets—not unworthy to stand beside Catullus, the most melodious of the Latins, and Heine, the most tuneful of the Germans." Gosse calls Poe the first of American writers; and Beyer declares that " he excels all English writers since Milton in the equality of 'his artistry in both the great forms of expression, prose and poetry." Each of these parties has much to say for itself, and our judgment between them cannot be an unqualified one. Poe is certainly great in form. But a haunting melody is not the. highest poetry. Substance must equal form, or the mind is unsatisfied. Truth and goodness must furnish that substance. Every human work must ultimately come before Christ as its Judge. Let us ask how Christ judges even now. It is the purpose of these essays to weigh our poets in the balances of the sanctuary, and
GRISWOLD S VIEW OF POE 2O3
to estimate their moral and religious significance. We may grant to Poe a technical skill and musical cadence as great as Swinburne's, while we find in him a bitter and defiant melancholy like that of Byron. Lauvriere calls him "the poet of the outcast soul." Andrew Lang calls his poetry " the echo of a lyre from behind the hills of death "—yes, we add, from the Inferno of sin and guilt and despair—and such poetry is melody without truth and without love.
I close my essay with two quotations. The first is from Griswold, Poe's chosen literary executor, who -y
knew him best nH formej thf mvnt niHnnfH jiTiff- ^//v
ment of his life: Poe, says Griswold,
"Was at all times a dreamer—dwelling in ideal realms 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 subjected 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 subjugated his will and engrossed his faculties, always 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 204 GRISWOLD S VIEW OF POE
—' 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—nevermore."'
"Every genuine author, in a greater or less degree, leaves in his works, whatever their design, traces of his personal character: elements of his immortal being, in which the individual survives the person. While we read the pages of 'The Fall of the House of Usher,' or of ' Mesmeric Revelations,' we see in the solemn and stately gloom which invests one, and in the subtle metaphysical analysis of both, indications of the idiosyncrasies—of what was most remarkable and peculiar—in the author's intellectual nature. But we see here only the better phases of his nature, only the symbols of his juster action; for his harsh experience had deprived him of all faith, in man or woman. He had made up his mind upon the numberless complexities of the social world, and the whole system with him was an imposture. This conviction gave a direction to his shrewd and naturally unamiable character. Still, though he regarded society as composed altogether of villains, the sharpness of his intellect was not of that kind which enabled him to cope with villainy, while it continually caused him by overshots to fail of the success of honesty. He was in many respects like Francis Vivian, in Bulwer's novel of 'The Caxtons.' Passion, in him, comprehended many of the worst emotions which militate against human happiness. You could not contradict him, but you raised quick choler; you could not speak of wealth, but his cheek paled with gnawing envy. The astonishing natural advantages of this poor boy—his beauty, his readiness, the daring spirit that breathed around him like a fiery atmosphere—had raised his constitutional self-confidence into an arrogance that turned his very claims to admiration into prejudices against him. Irascible, envious—bad enough, but not the worst—for these salient angles were all varnished over with a cold repellent cynicism—his passions vented themselves in sneers. There seemed in him no moral susceptibility; and, what was more remarkable in a proud nature, little or nothing of the true point of honor. He had, to a THE PALACE OF ART 205
morbid excess, that desire to rise which is vulgarly called ambition, but no wish for the esteem or the love of his species—only the hard wish to succeed—not shine, not serve— succeed, that he might have the right to despise a world which galled his self-conceit."
And my last quotation is from Tennyson's " Palace of Art." His picture of the unbelieving soul who in that habitation enthrones herself seems a description of Poe's ambition and of Poe's end:
"' I take possession of man's mind and deed.
I care not what the sects may brawl.
I sit as God holding no form of creed,
But contemplating all'
"Full oft the riddle of the painful earth
Flash'd thro' her as she sat alone,
Yet not the less held she her solemn mirth,
And intellectual throne.
"And so she throve and prosper'd; so three years
She prosper'd; on the fourth she fell,
Like Herod, when the shout was in his ears,
Struck thro' with pangs of hell.
"Lest she should fail and perish utterly,
•God, before whom ever lie bare
The abysmal deeps of personality,
Plagued her with sore despair.
'Deep dread and loathing of her solitude
Fell on her, from which mood was born Scorn of herself; again, from out that mood Laughter at her self-scorn.
'' What! is not this my place of strength,' she said,
'My spacious mansion built for me, Whereof the strong foundation-stones were laid Since my first memory?'
206 THE LAST WORDS OF POE
"But in dark corners of her palace stood
Uncertain shapes; and unawares
On white-eyed phantasms weeping tears of blood,
And horrible nightmares,
"And hollow shades enclosing hearts of flame,
And, with dim fretted foreheads all,
On corpses thrce-months-old at noon she came,
That stood against the wall.
"She, mouldering with the dull earth's mouldering sod,
Inwrapt tenfold in slothful shame.
Lay there exiled from eternal God,
Lost to her place and name;
"And death and life she hated equally,
And nothing saw, for her despair,
But dreadful time, dreadful eternity.
No comfort anywhere;
"She howl'd aloud, 'I am on fire within.
There comes no murmur of reply.
What is it that will take away my sin,
And save me lest I die? '"
Did Poe, in his last hour, feel his need and beg for mercy? Let us hope that this was his meaning, when he cried, "Lord, help my poor soul!" and let us hope that He who had mercy upon the penitent thief had mercy upon him.
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW