N. P. WILLIS’ RESPONSE
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.
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. 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 invariable 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.
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, 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 sufficiently prove the existence of the very qualities denied to Mr. Poe—humility, willingness to persevere, belief in another’s kindness, 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 it is 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.
N. P. Willis,
Editor of the New York Evening Mirror
The Home Journal, October 13, 1849
"The Death of Edgar A. Poe"
By N.P. Willis