Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Marginalia: Some Horrible, Terrible, No Good Very Bad Poe Anecdotes

…In other words, perfect Undine Blog Fodder!

These two shaggy dog stories appeared in the “Cosmopolitan Art Journal” for December 1858. They are as fictitious as they are silly, but I thought they deserved notice as examples of how, less than a decade after his death, Poe had already become a figure in pop culture. I doubt even the magazine’s editors expected their readers to believe these anecdotes, (although 20th century Poe researcher Thomas O. Mabbott would, characteristically, treat them with an unsettling seriousness.)  However, it is significant that the "Art Journal" assumed anything, no matter how trivial, about the man was “good copy."  It is also interesting to see how two of the main factors in the modern-day "Poe Legend"--poverty and scandals involving literary women--were already firmly established in the public mind:

“A friend told us, the other day, of one of Edgar A. Poe’s sarcasms, which is worth repeating. Poe had been told that certain ladies in the literary world had resolved to expose him, for some of his misdemeanors. He answered: ‘they are very good at exposures!’ Those who have frequented some literary soirees, will especially appreciate the significance of the sarcasm.”

“Poe once was dunned savagely for a grocer’s bill, long overdue. He immediately sat down, penned one of his most savage onslaughts upon one of ‘the literati,’ and upon the strength of it borrowed the amount needed to free him from the grocer. ‘There, sir!’ said he, ‘grow, sir, you grocer puppy, into a dog, sir, and may you then be dogged, sir, as you have dogged Poe, sir. Now, go sir, and be -------- to you.’ This, properly expressed, would look very like a Poe-stanza. It goes to show that some of his conceptions may have originated in moments of high-feeling, instead of having all been coolly ‘coined,’ with great labor, as he intimates they were.”

Another Poe fable, published in the "Hawaiian (Oahu) Star" on April 28, 1893, has a goofily surreal quality that rather appealed to me:

"During the brief period in which Edgar Allan Poe was engaged to be married he was discovered by her whom, despite his frailty, he held in such sacred tenderness, lying intoxicated in the street. Lest others should recognize him--so runs the story--she threw her hankerchief over his face.  Futile effort to hide one of that multitude of sins which Charity's cloak alone can cover!  When he was capable of realizing his situation he recognized the hankerchief and became a prey to that torture and despair during which he wrote:

'And my soul from out the shadow
That lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted

And, of course, there were those times when Poe's left hand didn't know what his right hand was doing. Or something. Behold an anecdote of his University of Virginia days, from the "Home Magazine" in 1909:
"Poe was very proud of his penmanship. One day, so the story goes, a friend entered the room to find Poe writing busily with both hands.

'What are you doing?' asked the friend.

'Writing with both hands," said Poe.

'Both hands!' exclaimed the friend. 'But how on earth can you make any progress in that way?'

'Easy enough. It is a theory of mine that it is a waste of time not to be able to use both hands at the same time. Both hands and brain can be trained, with care and attention, so that each hand may do its full share of work--each hand being employed on a separate task. It is not really an affair of the hands at all, in the last analysis, but an affair of the intellect. I am training my hands and brain now so that I can do twice as much work as the ordinary person in a given period of time. At the present moment I am writing a poem with my right hand; one that I confidently believe will startle the world. And with my left hand I am blocking out a wonderful story, a story which should capture thousands of readers.

'It will only be a short time before I will be able to take my examinations in this manner and dispose of two subjects simultaneously. It will save time and will give hands and brain their full duty.'"

Meanwhile, the "St. Johns (AZ) Herald" for December 1, 1921 presented their readers with a strangely disturbing bit of information: