Thursday, August 26, 2010

Quote of the Day

Edgar Allan Poe
"What was true the brilliant intellect of Edgar Poe never failed to perceive. What was beautiful his soul recognized at first blush, and loved for its kinship. Guided by these, his conscience was rarely in fault upon points of right. An instinctive self-respect, over which he had no control, forbade his ever seeking the lenient judgment of the many by explaining circumstances or appearances, which, unexplained, he knew must be construed against him. The world has little charity for any; for one who spurns its sympathy, none; and he who contemns its tribunal invariably receives the extreme visitations of its vengeance. As no judgment can be more erroneous, so none is more dictatorially given, or, when given, more persistently ultimate. Poe spurned that sympathy and received therefor the minimum of its meagre charity and the maximum of its profuse condemnation. A morbid sensibility impelled him to seek rather than avoid such occasions. He enjoyed the luxury of being misunderstood."
-James Wood Davidson, "Russell's Magazine," Nov. 1857

Davidson did not know Poe, but he knew a number of people who did, including Maria Clemm. He had been planning to write a book about Poe, but most unfortunately all his papers were lost when his Southern home was destroyed during the Civil War. It's a great loss, as his "Russell's" article hints that such a biography might have been well worth reading. I've often wondered if the above quote might not provide a clue to explain much about Poe's life and conduct that is otherwise virtually inexplicable.

Elsewhere in this same article, Davidson quoted a letter he received from a friend of Poe's, a man Davidson identified only as "A gentleman of New York City, a scholar and a litterateur, as widely known as American literature itself." Whoever this man may have been, he made a statement that serves as a poignant coda for the late poet's strange career.

Said this anonymous friend: "I honestly regard the calumnies, to which you allude, as unqualified falsehoods...His scorn of baseness was immense, and as he gave unsparing expression to it, all 'the baser sort' feared and hated him. In his later days he was a sick lion, and the donkeys came and kicked him--him at whose faintest roar they had formerly fled in terror."

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