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    Death of Edgar A. Poe

    by Edgar Allan Poe
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    BY N. P. WILLIS

    THE ancient fable of two antagonistic spirits imprisoned in one body,
    equally powerful and having the complete mastery by turns-of one man,
    that is to say, inhabited by both a devil and an angel seems to have
    been realized, if all we hear is true, in the character of the
    extraordinary man whose name we have written above. Our own
    impression of the nature of Edgar A. Poe, differs in some important
    degree, however, from that which has been generally conveyed in the
    notices of his death. Let us, before telling what we personally know
    of him, copy a graphic and highly finished portraiture, from the pen
    of Dr. Rufus W. Griswold, which appeared in a recent number of the
    "Tribune:"{*1}

    "Edgar Allen Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore on Sunday, October
    7th. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by
    it. The poet was known, personally or by reputation, in all this
    country; he had readers in England and in several of the states of
    Continental Europe; but he had few or no friends; and the regrets for
    his death will be suggested principally by the consideration that in
    him literary art has lost one of its most brilliant but erratic stars.

    "His conversation was at times almost supramortal in its eloquence.
    His voice was modulated with astonishing skill, and his large and
    variably expressive eyes looked repose or shot fiery tumult into
    theirs who listened, while his own face glowed, or was changeless in
    pallor, as his imagination quickened his blood or drew it back frozen
    to his heart. His imagery was from the worlds which no mortals can
    see but with the vision of genius. Suddenly starting from a
    proposition, exactly and sharply defined, in terms of utmost
    simplicity and clearness, he rejected the forms of customary logic,
    and by a crystalline process of accretion, built up his ocular
    demonstrations in forms of gloomiest and ghastliest grandeur, or in
    those of the most airy and delicious beauty, so minutely and
    distinctly, yet so rapidly, that the attention which was yielded to
    him was chained till it stood among his wonderful creations, till he
    himself dissolved the spell, and brought his hearers back to common
    and base existence, by vulgar fancies or exhibitions of the ignoblest
    passion.

    "He was at all times a dreamer-dwelling in ideal realms-in heaven or
    hell-peopled with the creatures and the accidents of his brain. He
    walked-the streets, in madness or melancholy, with lips moving in
    indistinct curses, or with eyes upturned in passionate prayer (never
    for himself, for he felt, or professed to feel, that he was already
    damned, but) for their happiness who at the moment were objects of
    his idolatry; or with his glances introverted to a heart gnawed with
    anguish, and with a face shrouded in gloom, he would brave the
    wildest storms, and all night, with drenched garments and arms
    beating the winds and rains, would speak as if the 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

    " ' 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.'

    "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 villany, 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, repellant cynicism, his
    passions vented themselves in sneers. There seemed to 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 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.

    "We have suggested the influence of his aims and vicissitudes upon
    his literature. It was more conspicuous in his later than in his
    earlier writings. Nearly all that he wrote in the last two or three
    years-including much of his best poetry-was in some sense
    biographical; in draperies of his imagination, those who had taken
    the trouble to trace his steps, could perceive, but slightly
    concealed, the figure of himself."

    Apropos of the disparaging portion of the above well-written sketch,
    let us truthfully say:

    Some four or five years since, when editing a daily paper in this
    city, Mr. Poe was employed by us, for several months, as critic and
    sub-editor. This was our first personal acquaintance with him. He
    resided with his wife and mother at Fordham, a few miles out of town,
    but was at his desk in the office, from nine in the morning till the
    evening paper went to press. With the highest admiration for his
    genius, and a willingness to let it atone for more than ordinary
    irregularity, we were led by common report to expect a very
    capricious attention to his duties, and occasionally a scene of
    violence and difficulty. Time went on, however, and he was invariably
    punctual and industrious. With his pale, beautiful, and intellectual
    face, as a reminder of what genius was in him, it was impossible, of
    course, not to treat him always with deferential courtesy, and, to
    our occasional request that he would not probe too deep in a
    criticism, or that he would erase a passage colored too highly with
    his resentments against society and mankind, he readily and
    courteously assented-far more yielding than most men, we thought, on
    points so excusably sensitive. With a prospect of taking the lead in
    another periodical, he, at last, voluntarily gave up his employment
    with us, and, through all this considerable period, we had seen but
    one presentment of the man-a quiet, patient, industrious, and most
    gentlemanly person, commanding the utmost respect and good feeling by
    his unvarying deportment and ability.

    Residing as he did in the country, we never met Mr. Poe in hours of
    leisure; but he frequently called on us afterward at our place of
    business, and we met him often in the street-invariably the same sad
    mannered, winning and refined gentleman, such as we had always known
    him. It was by rumor only, up to the day of his death, that we knew
    of any other development of manner or character. We heard, from one
    who knew him well (what should be stated in all mention of his
    lamentable irregularities), that, with a single glass of wine, his
    whole nature was reversed, the demon became uppermost, and, though
    none of the usual signs of intoxication were visible, his will was
    palpably insane. Possessing his reasoning faculties in excited
    activity, at such times, and seeking his acquaintances with his
    wonted look and memory, he easily seemed personating only another
    phase of his natural character, and was accused, accordingly, of
    insulting arrogance and bad-heartedness. In this reversed character,
    we repeat, it was never our chance to see him. We know it from
    hearsay, and we mention it in connection with this sad infirmity of
    physical constitution; which puts it upon very nearly the ground of a
    temporary and almost irresponsible insanity.

    The arrogance, vanity, and depravity of heart, of which Mr. Poe was
    generally accused, seem to us referable altogether to this reversed
    phase of his character. Under that degree of intoxication which only
    acted upon him by demonizing his sense of truth and right, he
    doubtless said and did much that was wholly irreconcilable with his
    better nature; but, when himself, and as we knew him only, his
    modesty and unaffected humility, as to his own deservings, were a
    constant charm to his character. His letters, of which the constant
    application for autographs has taken from us, we are sorry to
    confess, the greater portion, exhibited this quality very strongly.
    In one of the carelessly written notes of which we chance still to
    retain possession, for instance, he speaks of "The Raven"--that
    extraordinary poem which electrified the world of imaginative
    readers, and has become the type of a school of poetry of its
    own-and, in evident earnest, attributes its success to the few words
    of commendation with which we had prefaced it in this paper. -It will
    throw light on his sane character to give a literal copy of the note:

    "FORDHAM, April 20, 1849

    "My DEAR WILLIS--The poem which I inclose, and which I am so vain as
    to hope you will like, in some respects, has been just published in a
    paper for which sheer necessity compels me to write, now and then. It
    pays well as times go-but unquestionably it ought to pay ten prices;
    for whatever I send it I feel I am consigning to the tomb of the
    Capulets. The verses accompanying this, may I beg you to take out of
    the tomb, and bring them to light in the 'Home journal?' If you can
    oblige me so far as to copy them, I do not think it will be necessary
    to say 'From the ----, that would be too bad; and, perhaps, 'From a
    late ---- paper,' would do.

    "I have not forgotten how a 'good word in season' from you made 'The
    Raven,' and made 'Ulalume' (which by-the-way, people have done me the
    honor of attributing to you), therefore, I would ask you (if I dared)
    to say something of these lines if they please you.

    "Truly yours ever,

    "EDGAR A. POE."

    In double proof of his earnest disposition to do the best for
    himself, and of the trustful and grateful nature which has been
    denied him, we give another of the only three of his notes which we
    chance to retain :

    "FORDHAM, January 22, 1848.

    "My DEAR MR. WILLIS-I am about to make an effort at re-establishing
    myself in the literary world, and _feel _that I may depend upon your
    aid.

    "My general aim is to start a Magazine, to be called 'The Stylus,'
    but it would be useless to me, even when established, if not entirely
    out of the control of a publisher. I mean, therefore, to get up a
    journal which shall be _my own_ at all points. With this end in view,
    I must get a list of at least five hundred subscribers to begin with;
    nearly two hundred I have already. I propose, however, to go South
    and West, among my personal and literary friends--old college and
    West Point acquaintances -and see what I can do. In order to get the
    means of taking the first step, I propose to lecture at the Society
    Library, on Thursday, the 3d of February, and, that there may be no
    cause of _squabbling_, my subject shall _not be literary _at all. I
    have chosen a broad text: 'The Universe.'

    "Having thus given you _the facts_ of the case, I leave all the rest
    to the suggestions of your own tact and generosity. Gratefully, _most
    gratefully,_

    _"Your friend always,

    "EDGAR A. POE._"

    Brief and chance-taken as these letters are, we think they
    sufficiently prove the existence of the very qualities denied to Mr.
    Poe-humility, willingness to persevere, belief in another's
    friendship, and capability of cordial and grateful friendship! Such
    he assuredly was when sane. Such only he has invariably seemed to us,
    in all we have happened personally to know of him, through a
    friendship of five or six years. And so much easier is it to believe
    what we have seen and known, than what we hear of only, that we
    remember him but with admiration and respect; these descriptions of
    him, when morally insane, seeming to us like portraits, painted in
    sickness, of a man we have only known in health.

    But there is another, more touching, and far more forcible evidence
    that there was _goodness _in Edgar A. Poe. To reveal it we are
    obliged to venture upon the lifting of the veil which sacredly covers
    grief and refinement in poverty; but we think it may be excused, if
    so we can brighten the memory of the poet, even were there not a more
    needed and immediate service which it may render to the nearest link
    broken by his death.

    Our first knowledge of Mr. Poe's removal to this city was by a call
    which we received from a lady who introduced herself to us as the
    mother of his wife. She was in search of employment for him, and she
    excused her errand by mentioning that he was ill, that her daughter
    was a confirmed invalid, and that their circumstances were such as
    compelled her taking it upon herself. The countenance of this lady,
    made beautiful and saintly with an evidently complete giving up of
    her life to privation and sorrowful tenderness, her gentle and
    mournful voice urging its plea, her long-forgotten but habitually and
    unconsciously refined manners, and her appealing and yet appreciative
    mention of the claims and abilities of her son, disclosed at once the
    presence of one of those angels upon earth that women in adversity
    can be. It was a hard fate that she was watching over. Mr. Poe wrote
    with fastidious difficulty, and in a style too much above the popular
    level to be well paid. He was always in pecuniary difficulty, and,
    with his sick wife, frequently in want of the merest necessaries of
    life. Winter after winter, for years, the most touching sight to us,
    in this whole city, has been that tireless minister to genius, thinly
    and insufficiently clad, going from office to office with a poem, or
    an article on some literary subject, to sell, sometimes simply
    pleading in a broken voice that he was ill, and begging for him,
    mentioning nothing but that "he was ill," whatever might be the
    reason for his writing nothing, and never, amid all her tears and
    recitals of distress, suffering one syllable to escape her lips that
    could convey a doubt of him, or a complaint, or a lessening of pride
    in his genius and good intentions. Her daughter died a year and a
    half since, but she did not desert him. She continued his ministering
    angel--living with him, caring for him, guarding him against
    exposure, and when he was carried away by temptation, amid grief and
    the loneliness of feelings unreplied to, and awoke from his self
    abandonment prostrated in destitution and suffering, _begging _for
    him still. If woman's devotion, born with a first love, and fed with
    human passion, hallow its object, as it is allowed to do, what does
    not a devotion like this-pure, disinterested and holy as the watch of
    an invisible spirit-say for him who inspired it?

    We have a letter before us, written by this lady, Mrs. Clemm, on the
    morning in which she heard of the death of this object of her
    untiring care. It is merely a request that we would call upon her,
    but we will copy a few of its words--sacred as its privacy is--to
    warrant the truth of the picture we have drawn above, and add force
    to the appeal we wish to make for her:

    "I have this morning heard of the death of my darling Eddie. . . .
    Can you give me any circumstances or particulars? . . . Oh! do not
    desert your poor friend in his bitter affliction! . . . Ask -Mr. --
    to come, as I must deliver a message to him from my poor Eddie. . . .
    I need not ask you to notice his death and to speak well of him. I
    know you will. But say what an affectionate son he was to me, his
    poor desolate mother. . ."

    To hedge round a grave with respect, what choice is there, between
    the relinquished wealth and honors of the world, and the story of
    such a woman's unrewarded devotion! Risking what we do, in delicacy,
    by making it public, we feel--other reasons aside--that it betters
    the world to make known that there are such ministrations to its
    erring and gifted. What we have said will speak to some hearts. There
    are those who will be glad to know how the lamp, whose light of
    poetry has beamed on their far-away recognition, was watched over
    with care and pain, that they may send to her, who is more darkened
    than they by its extinction, some token of their sympathy. She is
    destitute and alone. If any, far or near, will send to us what may
    aid and cheer her through the remainder of her life, we will joyfully
    place it in her bands.
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