« PreviousContinue »
EDGAR ALLAN POE.
As the grave has closed over the poet, we shall give a short biographical sketch of him.
Edgar Poe was the son of David Poe and Elizabeth Arnold. His father was the fourth son of General Poe, a name well known in the Revolutionary War. Some little interest is attached to his memory from the fact of General Lafayette, during his memorable visit to this country, making a pilgrimage to his grave.
Mr. David Poe had three children—Henry, Edgar (the poet), and Rosalie. On the death of their parents Edgar and Rosalie were adopted by a wealthy merchant of the name of Allan. Having no children, Mr. Allan unhesitatingly avowed to all his intention of making Edgar his heir.
In 1816 the subject of this memoir was taken by his adopted parents to England, and after making with them the tour of Scotland, he was left for five years to complete his education at Dr. Bransby's, of Stoke Newington. The curious reader will find a description of this school in one of Poe's sketches called “ William Wilson.”
Returning to America he went to various academies, and
finally to the University of Virginia, at Charlottesville. The dissolute manners of the Institution infected him, and he was no exception to the general rule. His abilities, notwithstanding, enabled him to maintain a respectable position in the eyes of the Professors. His time here was divided between lectures, debating societies, rambles in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and in making caricatures of his tutors and the heads of the college. We are informed he had the habit of covering the walls of his sleeping-room with these rough charcoal sketches. Rousing himself from this desultory course of life, he took the first honors of the college and returned home.
To escape from the reproaches of his friends, and possibly from the consequences of his thoughtlessness, he formed the design, in conjunction with a friend, of visiting Greece, with the intention of aiding the Revolution then in progress in that classic land. His companion, Ebenezer Burling, abandoned the rash design almost as soon as projected, but the energetic nature of the poet was not so easily turned aside from his path. He proceeded, therefore, as far as St. Petersburg, where he had a narrow escape from the fangs of that brutal government, in consequence of an irregularity in his passport. The exertions of the Consul saved him from the consequences of the error, and through his friendship he returned to America.
Here he found a great change awaiting him. His benefactress, Mrs. Allan, was dead; he reached Richmond the day after her funeral. This was the origin of all his subsequent misfortunes. After an apparent reconciliation with Mr. Allan, he entered West Point Academy, resolved to devote himself to a military life. Here he entered upon his new studies and duties with characteristic energy, and an honorable career was opened to him ; but the Fates willed that Mr. Allan should in his dotage marry a girl young enough to be her husband's granddaughter. The birth of a child convinced Mr. Poe that his hopes to inherit his adopted father's property were at an end, and he consequently left West Point, resolving to proceed to Poland, to join the struggle for liberty then making by that heroic nation against her diabolical oppressors. The fall of Warsaw ended the conflict, and our chivalric poet was again deprived of his intention.
He therefore proceeded to Baltimore, where he learned the death of Mr. Allan. As he had left him nothing, he was now thrown upon the world well nigh resourceless. It is said that this man's widow even refused him his own books.
About this time came the turning point in Mr. Poe's life. Nature had given him a poetical mind; accident now afforded the opportunity for its development.
The Editors of the Baltimore Visitor had offered a premium for the best prose tale, and also one for the best poem. The umpires were men of taste and ability, and, after a careful consideration of the productions, they decided that Mr. Poe was undoubtedly entitled to both prizes. As Mr. Poe was entirely unknown to them, this was a genuine tribute to his superior
The poem he sent was the “ Coliseum,” and six tales for their selection. Not content with awarding the premiums, they declared that the worst of the six tales referred to was better than the best of the other competitors.
Some little time after this triumph he was engaged by Mr. White to edit the “Southern Literary Messenger,” which had been established about seven months, and had attained a circulation of about four hundred subscribers.
There he remained for nearly two years, devoting the energies of his rich and ingenious mind to the interest of the Review; so much was he regarded there that when he left he had raised the circulation of the journal to above three thousand.
Very much of this success was owing to the fearlessness of his criticisms. Always in earnest, he was either on one side of the other; he had a scorn of the respectable level trash which has too long brooded like a nightmare over American Literature. Mr. Poe did not like tamely to submit to the dethronement of genius, and the instalment of a feeble, sickly grace, and an amiable mediocrity. What gods and men abhor, according to Horace, a certain class of critics and readers in America adore. America is jealous of her victories by sea and land is proud of advantages with which she has nothing to do, such as Niagara, the Mississippi, and the other wonders of nature. An American points with pride to the magnificent steamboats which ride the waters like things of life. Foreigners sometimes smile at the honest satisfaction, even enthusiasm, which lights up the national face when a few hundred troops file down Broadway, to discordant drums and squeaking fifes. But all their natural feeling and national pride stop here. So far from the American public taking any interest in their own men of genius—in the triumphs of mind—they absolutely allow others openly to conspire, and put down every attempt to establish a National Literature.
The Americans are a shrewd and far-seeing people, but they
are somewhat too material; they must not believe that a nation can long exist without men of thought, as well as men of action. The salvation of America lies in the possession of a Republican Literature. The literature of England is slowly sapping the foundation of her institutions. England does all her thinking, and if this system continues, the action of this great nation will be in accordance with the will of the old country. Like the Gulf Stream of Florida, the current of aristocratical genius is slowly drifting the ark of America to a point they little dream of, and never intend. The very bulk of this country renders the operation unseen; but, though imperceptible to the eye, it is palpable to the mind, and certain in its results.
What hope of victory would the armies and navies of this young republic have had, if, when they were arming for the fight, the bystanders had discouraged them; or when sailing to the encounter, the jibes or indifference of their fellow-citizens had been expressed ? Certain defeat and disgrace, as sure as heaven ! And how can America expect her young authors to vindicate her national glory when she treats them with indifference and neglect. Nay, even worse, she openly discourages them in their attempt, and tacitly confesses that it is hopeless to compete with the writers of England or France. These remarks apply to every branch of American literature ; let the people consider this matter, and remedy it before they find the republican form governed by a foreign and aristocratical mind. If luxury enervated the Roman Body, so will a foreign pabulum destroy the American Mind.
It is a curious fact that the worst enemies of the national mind have been a few of her own sons. These are authors who till