Thursday, October 15, 2009

George Graham's Defense


Graham’s Magazine, 1850

My Dear Willis,

In an article of yours which accompanies the two beautiful volumes of the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, you have spoken with so much truth and delicacy of the deceased, and, with the magical touch of genius, have called so warmly up before me the memory of our lost friend as you and I both seem to have known him, that I feel warranted in addressing to you the few plain words I have to say in defense of his character as set down by Mr. Griswold.

I now purpose to take exception to it in the most public manner. I knew Mr. Poe well, far better than Mr. Griswold. And by the memory of old times, when he was an editor of "Graham’s Magazine", I pronounce this exceedingly ill-timed and unappreciative estimate of the character of our lost friend, unfair and untrue.

It is Mr. Poe as seen by the writer while laboring under a fit of the nightmare, but so dark a picture has no resemblance to the living man.

The only relief we feel is in knowing that it is not true, that it is a fancy sketch of a perverted, jaundiced vision.

The man who could deliberately say of Edgar Allan Poe, in a notice of his life and writings prefacing the volumes which were to become a priceless souvenir to all who loved him, that his death might startle many, "but that few would be grieved by it," and blast the whole fame of the man by such a paragraph as follows, is a judge dishonored.

He is not Mr. Poe’s peer, and I challenge him before the country even as a juror in the case.

Now, this depiction of Poe is dastardly, and, what is worse, it is false.

It is very adroitly done, with phrases very well turned, and with gleams of truth shining out from a setting so dusky as to look devilish.

Mr. Griswold does not feel the worth of the man he has undervalued. He had no sympathies in common with him, and has allowed old prejudices and old enmities to steal, insensibly perhaps, into the coloring of his picture.

They were for years totally uncongenial, if not enemies. It almost seems as if the present hacking at the cold remains of Poe is a sort of compensation for duty long delayed, for reprisal long desired, but deferred.

Nor do I consider Mr. Griswold competent, with all the opportunities he may have cultivated or acquired, to act as his judge, to dissect that subtle and singularly fine intellect, to probe the motives and weigh the actions of that proud heart.

Poe’s whole nature eludes the rude grasp of a mind so warped and uncongenial as Mr. Griswold’s.

Among the true friends of Poe in this city, and he had some such here, that he did not class among villains; nor do they feel easy when they see their old friend dressed out, in his grave, in the habiliments of a scoundrel.

Poe’s friends had all of them looked upon our departed friend as singularly indifferent to wealth for its own sake, but as very positive in his opinions that the scale of social merit was not of the highest; that the mind, somehow, was apt to be left out of the estimate altogether.

As to his "quick choler" when he was contradicted, it depended a good deal upon the party denying, as well as upon the subject discussed.

He was quick, it is true, to perceive mere quacks in literature, and somewhat apt to be hasty when pestered with them. But upon most other questions his natural amiability was not easily disturbed.

Upon a subject that he understood thoroughly, he felt some right to be positive, if not arrogant, when addressing pretenders.

Literature with him was religion; and he, its high priest, with a whip of scorpions, scourged the money-changers from the temple.

In all else, he had the docility and kind-heartedness of a child. No man was more quickly touched by a kindness, none more prompt to return for an injury.

For three and four years I knew him intimately, and for eighteen months saw him almost daily, much of the time writing or conversing at the same desk, knowing all his hopes, his fears, and little annoyances of life, as well as his high-hearted struggle with adverse fate. Yet he was always the same polished gentleman, the quiet, unobtrusive, thoughtful scholar, the devoted husband, frugal in his personal expenses, punctual and unwearied in his industry—and the soul of honor in all his transactions.

It is true, that later in life Poe had much of those morbid feelings which a life of poverty and disappointment is so apt to engender in the heart of man, the sense of having been ill-used, misunderstood, and put aside by men of far less ability, which preys upon the heart and clouds the brain of many a child of song.

We must remember, too, that the very organization of such a mind as that of Poe—the very tension and tone of his exquisitely strung nerves, the passionate yearnings of his soul for the beautiful and true, utterly unfitted him for the rude jostlings and fierce competitorship of trade.
His views of the duty of the critic were stern, and he felt that in praising an unworthy writer he committed dishonor. His pen was regulated by the highest sense of duty.

By a keen analysis he separated and studied each piece, which the skillful mechanist had put together. No part, however insignificant or apparently unimportant, escaped the rigid and patient scrutiny of his sagacious mind.

He had the finest touch of soul for beauty, a delicate and hearty appreciation of worth.

It was in the world of mind that he was king.

He was a worshipper of intellect, an expectant archangel of that high order of intellect, stepping out of himself, as it were, and interpreting the time he revelled in delicious luxury in a world beyond, with an audacity which we fear in madmen, but in genius worship as the inspiration of heaven.

I think I am warranted in saying to Mr. Griswold that he must review his decision. It will not stand the calm scrutiny of his own judgement, or of time, while it must be regarded by all the friends of Mr. Poe as an ill-judged and misplaced slander upon that gifted son of genius.

Yours truly,

George R. Graham,
Publisher of Graham’s Magazine

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