Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Evermore, by Harry Lee Poe

"Many people know of Edgar Allan Poe, but almost everything that people know of him is wrong."
-Harry Lee Poe
Evermore Harry Lee Poe
Whenever I buy a new book about Poe, I usually wind up feeling like my pocket was just picked. However, the most recent purchase, “Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe,” was a pleasant surprise. It is the most well-intentioned book about Poe to appear in some time, and certainly one of the most original. This attempt to examine “Poe’s life and work from a philosophical and theological perspective” is literary criticism, not biography, but it provides a fine tool for understanding the famously enigmatic writer on both a personal and professional level.

Following a brief overview of Poe's life, the book is divided into five sections: “Suffering,” “Beauty,” “Love,” “Justice,” and “Universe.” Harry Lee Poe (a descendant of Edgar’s cousin William) describes how each of these subjects figured in Poe’s writings, and ties them all together to show the remarkable thematic consistency of Poe’s work, and how even his earliest poems and tales were natural stepping-stones to “Eureka,” that amazing “intersection of science and imagination.” As HLP noted, “Poe had always understood that his body of work had a unity that could only be understood in terms of the whole.” Poe’s unique virtuosity in so many stylistic forms (including ones that had yet to be formally recognized, such as science fiction) had the ironic effect of pigeonholing him. Modern-day readers think of him merely as a “horror writer” or the “father of the modern detective story,” or the author of the one poem everybody knows, “The Raven.” While virtually everyone acknowledges Poe's mastery of one literary genre or another, his mastery of them all is too often overlooked.

“The history of criticism of Poe,” HLP writes, “is the history of individuals who have imposed their agendas on the body of Poe’s work.” Indeed. HLP emphatically refutes the pernicious habit of interpreting Poe’s writings as autobiography (although even he occasionally falls into this seemingly irresistible trap.) Throughout the book, he does a good job of conveying the idealism, nobility, and spirituality that permeates Poe’s writings, but his criticism is most important towards the end, when he discusses “Eureka,” which he recognizes as the logical culmination of Poe’s entire body of work. HLP contributes a concise analysis of that wild masterpiece which alone makes the book worthwhile.

Unlike most critics of “Eureka,” he gives as much attention to Poe’s philosophy as his science. In particular, he addresses Poe’s efforts to explain what may be mankind’s oldest and most frustrating mystery: The paradox of how a world containing such wonder and beauty can also spawn so much evil and suffering. Poe saw matter as “Spirit Individualized,” a mere temporary “means to an end,” a method of creating conscious intelligence. The material universe would eventually collapse in on itself, leaving God to “remain all in all.” However, this expand-and-collapse cycle could be carried on forever, with an infinite number of universes being born and then going into nothingness “at every throb of the Heart Divine.” (Cf. “The Island of the Fay.”)

He went on to state that “no soul is inferior to another.” As the Creator of matter “now exists solely in the diffused Matter and Spirit of the Universe” we are all, in effect, our own God--“infinite individualizations of Himself.” This process of multiplication increased God’s happiness, but magnified the Creator's pain as well. Poe saw God as the author of the ultimate novel. "The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a plot of God.” Pain is an unavoidable, even necessary, part of the plot, but Poe also believed in a high form of ultimate justice that would only be understood when the story of the Universe was complete. As he said earlier in “Mesmeric Revelation,” “pain, which in the inorganic life is impossible, is possible in the organic…All things are either good or bad by comparison. A sufficient analysis will show that pleasure, in all cases, is but the contrast of pain. Positive pleasure is a mere idea. To be happy at any one point we must have suffered at the same. Never to suffer would have been never to have been blessed. But it has been shown that, in the inorganic life, pain cannot be; thus the necessity for the organic. The pain of the primitive life of Earth, is the sole basis of the bliss of the ultimate life in Heaven.”

Poe restated that concept even more forcefully in “Eureka”: “In this view, and in this view alone, we comprehend the riddles of Divine Injustice—of Inexorable Fate. In this view alone the existence of Evil becomes intelligible; but in this view it becomes more—it becomes endurable. Our souls no longer rebel at a Sorrow which we ourselves have imposed upon ourselves, in furtherance of our own purposes—with a view—if even with a futile view—to the extension of our own Joy.”

However, I disagree with HLP’s impression that Poe’s “vision of God remains somehow incompatible” with his “knowledge of Love and Justice.” HLP shares the common assumption that Poe saw the ultimate “annihilation” of the individual soul as a negative prospect, but that is hardly how I interpret Poe’s meaning. “Eureka” is essentially a deeply positive, even joyful work, with the ultimate end of this physical universe seen as not just a necessity for the “plot,” but a final blessing. Poe believed our souls will never actually die—they will just return to their beginnings as one with God. His postscript to “Eureka” tells us, “The pain of the consideration that we shall lose our individual identity, ceases at once when we further reflect that the process, as above described, is neither more nor less than that of the absorption, by each individual intelligence, of all other intelligences (that is, of the Universe) into its own. That God may be all in all, each must become God.”

If that statement doesn’t exemplify Love and Justice, what does?

The book has a few odd flaws and factual errors, mostly in the more biographical sections. For instance, HLP seems to assume (although his wording is rather vague) that all correspondence between Poe and Charles Dickens has disappeared. In truth, there are three letters by Dickens to Poe extant.

HLP also states that Hiram Fuller claimed Poe was a forger who was carrying on an “immoral” relationship with Frances Osgood. Fuller published a column where Thomas Dunn English charged Poe with forgery, but he himself was not responsible for the libel. There is no evidence that Fuller—or any other contemporaries, for that matter—accused Poe and Mrs. Osgood (whose middle name, by the way, was “Sargent,” not “Sergeant”) of any impropriety.

Although I applaud any mockery of “Poe’s Mary,” HLP fell into the common mistake of calling Mary Starr “Mary Devereaux.” And his suggestion that Poe was the model for “David Copperfield,” strikes me as, to say the least, eccentric. Finally, while I agree that Poe’s existence was not the unrelieved Gothic nightmare of popular imagination, I would still hesitate to say that “On the whole, Poe’s life could be called happy.” (In particular, I believe HLP gives an overly sunny view of Poe's circumstances and state of mind in 1848-49. He also possibly reads too much into the allegations that Poe joined the Sons of Temperance shortly before his death.)

However, these are examples of relatively minor drawbacks to an otherwise admirable book. I am not normally a fan of elaborate literary interpretations—I belong to the school of “If you want to know what the book is about, read the book.” However, Poe has been so consistently misrepresented, and so much of his most significant work, such as “Eureka,” consistently ignored, that “Evermore” makes a necessary addition to the canon of Poe studies—a field littered with half-baked Freudianism, willful ignorance, and professorial narrow-mindedness. Although this is a scholarly work, it is written in a clear, unaffected style that is a refreshing change from the usual pompous academese found in books of this nature.

HLP also shows a gratifying recognition of the fact that Poe was not only a great writer, but a great man. The last few lines of “Evermore” note, “Poe discovered that the things that interested him (science, religion, and art) lay at the intersection of the rational, the empirical, and the imaginative. As he explored these matters, he found that Justice, Love, and Beauty pointed beyond themselves toward something eternal from whence they had come. In the midst of striving to be a poet and to raise the standard of American literature, he managed to affect the course of world literature and to provide a philosophy of art that film directors would follow without having any idea that it came from Poe. Yet such a public figure and popular icon remains a mystery.”

Read “Evermore"--or better yet, read Poe’s own writings in their entirety--and he will be far less baffling.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Which Poe Becomes a Soap Star

On this day in 1845, the New York "Evening Mirror" ran an advertisement headlined "The Craven: by POH!" It is one of my favorite examples of how, mere weeks after the first publication of "The Raven," Poe and his bird of yore had already become what we would call pop culture icons. The ad read:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while with toil and care quite weary,
I was pondering on man's proneness to deceitfulness and guile,
Soon I fell into a seeming state 'twixt wakefulness and dreaming,
When my mind's eye saw a scheming fellow counterfeiting soap--
Yes! counterfeiting GOURAUD'S matchless Medicated Soap;
Twisting sand into a rope!

Of all the littlenesses that weak human nature presses
Surely no disgrace like this is noted on the page of yore;
There could be no concealing, while this craven thus was stealing,
That he knew no kindly feeling, but disgraced the form he wore;
And it wrung my bosom's core!

The heart of this same craven was as black as any raven,
Though nicely shorn and shaven was the hair and phiz he wore;
As cold he seemed, and callous, as a sculptured bust, of Pallas--
And his intellect was dull as the boards upon my floor,
Or the bricks above my door!

I said--"thou man of evil (I will not call thee devil,)
Get thee back into the darkness and the night's Plutonian shore!
By my fame thou hast a token, that the spells which thou hast spoken,
Are scattered all, and broken! Craven, wilt thou now give o'er,
And never counterfeit my Soap or Poudres any more?"
Quoth the craven--"Never more!"

Dr. F. FELIX GOURAUD, of 67 Walker street, again deems it necessary to caution the public against purchasing any imitations of his matchless Italian Medicated Soap, incomparable Poudres Subtiles and marvellous Grecian Hair Dye.

All one can say is, the mind reels at the thought of what the good doctor could have done with "Ulalume."

(Image via the delightful blog The Virtual Dime Museum, which contains in the archives a nifty account of Dr. Gouraud's very messy divorce, if you have a hankering--and who does not?--for Victorian-era bad company.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The YouTube of the Perverse

Yes, my friends, time for another video link dump. Why even bother writing weird, prolix essays that are read only by students hoping to find material to steal for their English literature homework? (Now, go and plagiarize from Wikipedia like you're supposed to, you little rats!)

Our Edgar, from what I can tell, has a bigger YouTube presence than Justin Bieber. Below are a few of my favorite examples:

Kristen Lawrence's exquisite musical interpretation of "The Raven." Beautifully ethereal singing, and I love the pipe organ.

Vincent Price. Edgar Allan Poe. Need I say more? Didn't think so.

The one and only John Astin reads "Eldorado." John Cusack, eat your heart out.

"The Raven" translated into Latin. Well, why not? (Similar video translations of the poem are available in Finnish, Swedish, Dutch, German, and Italian, if you are inclined to drive yourself completely barking mad.)

Rachmaninov's choral symphony, "The Bells." The Russians have an interesting history with Poe, whose writings have long been very popular in that country. (Totally irrelevant but fascinating fact: "Eureka" was forbidden in Russia in 1871, a ban which was not completely lifted until 1996. The country's rulers evidently recognized Poe's power, and feared it.)

Ladies and gentlemen, here's Mr. Lou Reed. "These are the stories of Edgar Allan Poe/Not exactly the boy next door..."

Claude Debussy composed an opera based on "The Fall of the House of Usher." Unfinished, but a wonderful work.

Not to be outdone, Philip Glass also wrote an operatic "Usher." A little of Glass goes a long way with me, (he always reminds me of Horace Rumpole's verdict on Wagner's music--"it's not nearly as bad as it sounds") but I think this works.

And what video roundup would be complete without Poe and, uh, Snoopy. Bet you didn't know he wrote "My Darling Clementine."

That's all until next week, when I return with...a weird, prolix essay.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Colloquy of Edgar and Outis (Part Two)

Poe published the “conclusion” of his reply to “Outis” on March 29. “If Outis,” Poe began, “has his own private reasons for being disgusted with what he terms the ‘wholesale mangling of victims without rhyme or reason,’ there is not a man living, of common sense and common honesty, who has not better reason (if possible) to be disgusted with the insufferable cant and shameless representation practiced habitually by just such persons as Outis, with the view of decrying by sheer strength of lungs—of trampling down—of rioting down—of mobbing down any man with a soul that bids him come out from among the general corruption of our public press, and take his stand upon the open ground of rectitude and honor.”

He addressed, not just his shadowy challenger, but all the many detractors he had inspired during his stormy career when he wrote “not even an Outis can accuse me, with even a decent show of verisimilitude, of having ever descended, in the most condemnatory of my reviews, to that personal abuse which, upon one or two occasions, has indeed been leveled at myself, in the spasmodic endeavors of aggrieved authors to rebut what I have ventured to demonstrate.”

Again, Poe welcomed “Outis’s” responses as an opportunity to repeat and enlarge upon his reasons for labeling Longfellow’s poetry as heavily imitative. After offering lengthy side-by-side comparisons of Longfellow’s writings with poems written by others—most particularly the poems of one Edgar Allan Poe—he declared that Longfellow’s friends should be thanking him for his “great moderation in charging him with imitation alone.” If Poe had flatly accused him of “manifest and continuous plagiarism,” he would be merely echoing “the sentiment of every man of letters in the land beyond the immediate influence of the Longfellow coterie.”

He ended with a playful jab at Longfellow’s friend, “Boston Transcript” editor Cornelia Walter, who had taken to using her paper as a public anti-Edgar forum. He asked if it was “decorous or equitable” for Longfellow to instigate her against him, “advising and instructing her to pierce me to death with the needles of innumerable epigrams, rendered unnecessarily and therefore cruelly painful to my feelings by being first carefully deprived of the point?”

The next battlefield in the Longfellow War was a New York monthly called the “Aristidean.” The April edition carried a scathing assault on Longfellow disguised as a review of his poems. The anonymous article—which is presumed to have been partly or entirely written by Poe—described Longfellow as an overrated plagiarist who had achieved acclaim solely through the puffery of his Bostonian clique. The reviewer expressed his dismay that, in a recent lecture, Poe had proclaimed Longfellow’s “preeminence,” sighing that such a “crude” opinion obviously arose from “want of leisure or inclination to compare the works of the writer in question with the sources from which they were stolen.” The writer, however, expressed relief that “an unfortunate wight who called himself ‘Outis’ seems to have stirred up the critic to make the proper examination...”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poe briefly noted the “Aristidean” article in the “Broadway Journal.” It is impossible not to picture a sly grin creeping over his face when he wrote of the review, “It is, perhaps, a little coarse, but we are not disposed to call it unjust; although there are in it some opinions which, by implication, are attributed to ourselves individually, and with which we cannot altogether coincide.”

Poe was clearly enjoying himself too much to let go of the topic easily. On April 5 the “Journal” carried a “postscript” to his replies to “Outis.” He assured readers that he did not feel “individually aggrieved” by his mysterious debate partner, who, he pointed out, had “praised me even more than he has blamed,” and he certainly never intended to suggest “moral delinquency” against Longfellow or anyone else.

He went so far as to offer a defense for Longfellow that he felt “Outis” had “unaccountably neglected”: His belief that “no true poet can be guilty of a meanness—that the converse of the proposition is a contradiction in terms.”

To explain the apparent thievery of Longfellow and his ilk, Poe offered a curious application of his belief in the “Universal Mind” (a belief found in “Eureka” and many of his other works) onto literary theory. “The poetic sentiment,” Poe mused, “implies…an abnormally keen appreciation of the beautiful, with a longing for its assimilation, or absorption, into the poetic identity. What the poet intensely admires, becomes thus, in very fact…a portion of his own intellect…and when the poet has written it and printed it, and on its account is charged with plagiarism, there will be no one in the world more entirely astounded than himself.” Poe believed “accidents of this character” were “in direct ration of the poetic sentiment…all literary history demonstrates that, for the most frequent and palpable plagiarisms, we must search the works of the most eminent poets.”

That is certainly a more novel defense than anything Lenore Hart ever dreamed up.

Thus concluded the “Little Longfellow War.” The entire episode has been quite a puzzle for Poe’s biographers. As so often happens in his history, his true motives and attitudes for initiating and prolonging the controversy have been vigorously debated. Was Poe offering serious and credible, if somewhat quirky, literary criticism? Was the entire “War” a publicity stunt? Was he simply going mad? And, finally, who was this “Outis” that inspired so many lengthy and passionate responses?

Lacking any direct proof on the issue, one is forced to rely on instinct and circumstantial evidence to come to any conclusion. Over the years, Poe scholars have attempted to identify various contemporary figures as his shadowy adversary, but none of the candidates has earned any sort of universal acceptance. George W. Eveleth (an enigmatic figure in his own right, who conducted an oddly revealing correspondence with Poe during the latter’s last few years,) was probably the first to openly surmise that “Outis” was none other than Edgar Allan Poe. Others have agreed with this assessment (most notably Burton R. Pollin, who believed “The Bird of the Dream” was also Poe’s handiwork.) I have come to agree that the most logical solution to the mystery of “Outis” is that this was indeed a case where—as Eveleth put it—Poe “defied himself.”

One of the main reasons for presuming that “Outis” was one of Poe’s more successful hoaxes is the fact that all of his contemporaries were evidently as puzzled by him as we are. If “Outis” was genuine, surely the writer himself or one of his friends would have stepped forward to take credit. There was no need for concealment—attacking Poe was one of the surest routes to popularity in most of the literary circles of the time. Longfellow himself—even though “Outis” claimed to be a friend of his—was genuinely in the dark about his defender’s identity. (It is surely worth noting that Longfellow’s grandson later concluded that “Outis” was indeed Poe.)

It is also indisputable that publicly arguing with himself was exactly the sort of thing Poe would do. In fact, it was exactly the sort of thing he had done, most colorfully in his unpublished essay “A Reviewer Reviewed.” Under the name of “Walter G. Bowen,” Poe launched a detailed, unmerciful attack on his own writings that reads exactly like something from the pen of “Outis” himself. Poe always took a playful delight in hiding behind multiple identities, and “Outis” was particularly useful to him, as his phantom foe offered “straw man” arguments that he could easily shoot down, as well as giving him a preplanned excuse to repeat and expand upon his literary criticism—a criticism that, however theatrical his presentation may have been, was essentially earnest and well-intentioned. In other words, “Outis” was too good to be true.

Also, “Outis” was far too cheerfully flattering towards Poe (“one of our finest poets”) to be any genuinely offended opponent. (“Write it rather EDGAR, a Poet, and then it is right to a T,” “Outis” wrote genially—his readers presumably unaware that Poe had composed and published this self-glorifying quip a few years before.)

Perhaps the most unwittingly ironic commentary on the “Outis” controversy came from Poe’s biographer Arthur H. Quinn. While assuming that Poe was not “Outis,” with an odd and uncharacteristic obtuseness he noted that Longfellow’s defender wrote “in a clever imitation of Poe’s manner,” and readily agreed that “Poe seized upon this letter of Outis as an opportunity to stage a discussion that would be good publicity for the “Broadway Journal,” of which he had just become an editor.”


The question of the identity of “Outis” is more important than most of Poe’s biographers seem to realize. If the writer was truly “nobody,” it would invalidate the claims that Poe was undergoing a mental collapse at the time—that he was hardly the pathetic wreck who was, in the words of Sidney P. Moss, “thoroughly embarrassed” and “driven to his wits’ end to vindicate himself.” Because most Poe scholars do not appreciate his sense of humor, they assume he did not have one at all. This is unfortunate, as his humor—whatever may be your opinion of it—was a vital part of both the man and his writings. If you never understand his laughter, you never will understand Poe. He took himself far less seriously than his biographers do.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Colloquy of Edgar and Outis (Part One of Two)

Edgar Allan Poe Aubrey Beardsley
From the beginning of his writing career, Poe had a fascination (a monomania, according to Charles F. Briggs) with the subject of plagiarism, which he chronicled in his usual take-no-prisoners fashion. His obsession reached its culmination early in 1845, when he kicked off what he called his “Little Longfellow War,” a series of columns he wrote for various New York publications, most notably his “Broadway Journal.” Using his trademark combination of mockery, erudition, and, at times, unbelievably painstaking detail, he set out to prove that several prominent poets—most notably Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—were unoriginal writers who built their careers by heavily relying on the work of others.

As Longfellow was one of the most affectionately popular poets of his time (particularly with the Bostonian set,) Poe’s campaign, as he would put it, “kicked up a bobbery”—which, of course, was exactly his intention. Sincere as he was about his insistence on “originality” in literature, (and many critics have conceded that he had a point about Longfellow,) Poe was an instinctive publicist. The gleeful, hyperbolic tone he showed throughout the “Longfellow War” was not—as far too many of his biographers assume—a sign of his ongoing mental collapse. It was evidence that he knew he had found a way to draw attention to himself and his own projects (particularly the fledgling and financially-strapped “Broadway Journal,”) while having a lot of fun scourging unworthy literary idols in the process.

While a number of Longfellow’s friends and allies came to his defense against this puckish onslaught (largely by making personal attacks against Poe) the most interesting rebuttal came from a source whose true identity is still unresolved. On March 1 1845, Nathaniel Parker Willis’ “Evening Mirror” published a lengthy letter from someone calling himself “Outis” (ancient Greek for “nobody.”)

“Outis” was replying to Poe’s January 25 review of Longfellow’s “The Waif,” a collection of poems largely written by others. Poe compared James Aldrich's poem, "A Death-Bed" to Thomas Hood’s “The Death-Bed” and concluded “somebody is a thief.” Longfellow’s volume, according to Poe, was “full of beauties,” but “infected with a moral taint.” He added mischievously that he noted “a very careful avoidance of all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow. These men Mr. Longfellow can continuously imitate (is that the word?) and yet never even incidentally commend.”

“Outis” countered by declaring that just because there might be “identities” between two poems, that did not necessarily mean that any conscious fraud was involved. “Did no two men ever think alike without stealing one from the other?...did no two men ever use the same, or similar words, to convey the thoughts, and that, without any communication with each other?...It is a thing of every day occurrence.”

As an example, he cited Poe’s “The Raven.” “Who, for example, would wish to be guilty of the littleness of detracting from the uncommon merit of that remarkable poem…by charging him with the paltriness of imitation? And yet, some snarling critic, who might envy the reputation he had not the genius to secure for himself, might refer to the frequent, very forcible, but rather quaint repetition, in the last two lines of many of the stanzas, as a palpable imitation of the manner of Coleridge, in several stanzas of the Ancient Mariner.”

After stating blithely, “Now I shall not charge Mr. Poe with plagiarism…” “Outis” went on to do precisely that, describing in detail the “identities” between Poe’s famed raven and an anonymous poem, “The Bird of the Dream.”

He finished by stating that although he was acquainted with Longfellow, he was writing out of “no personal motives, but simply because, from my earliest reading of reviews and critical notices, I have been disgusted with this wholesale mangling of victims without rhyme or reason.”

One week later, Poe responded in the “Broadway Journal.” A sign that he was not taking his adversary very seriously could be seen in his editorial’s subheading: “A large account of a small matter—A voluminous history of the little Longfellow war.”

Poe began by mentioning another recent defense of Longfellow, noting that this “very luminous friend” “defended Mr. L., not only from the one-tenth of very moderate disapproval in which I had indulged, but from the nine-tenths of my enthusiastic admiration into the bargain.”

In a similarly teasing way, he summarized more published attacks on his “Waif” review—thus, of course, giving himself the opportunity to repeat his charges—and then turned to “Outis.” He repeated the “Outis” rebuttal in full, commending “the gentlemanly grace of its manner, and the chivalry which has prompted its composition. What I do not admire is all the rest. In especial, I do not admire the desperation of the effort to make out a case.” He loftily declared that he would not “insult” Longfellow’s self-appointed champion by treating his “abominable rigmarole as anything better than a very respectable specimen of special pleading.”

His efforts to publicize what he saw as blatant plagiarism did not, he said, stem from “carping littleness,” but “strictly honorable and even charitable” motives. He observed that a plagiarist would be apt to steal from an obscure author. If the similarities between the two works were detected, the “distinguished man” would naturally be given the benefit of the doubt, and the lesser-known writer would be accused of the theft. “Now then the plagiarist has not merely committed a wrong in itself—a wrong whose incomparable meanness would deserve exposure on absolute grounds—but he, the guilty, the successful, the eminent, has fastened the degradation of his crime…upon the guiltless, the toiling, the unfriended struggler up the mountainous path of Fame. Is not sympathy for the plagiarist, then, about as sagacious and about as generous as would be sympathy for the murderer whose exultant escape from the noose of the hangman should be the cause of an innocent man’s being hung?”

Poe continued his dissection of “Outis” in the March 15 “Journal.” “Here,” he observed, “is a gentleman who writes in certain respects as a gentleman should, and who yet has the effrontery to base a defense of a friend from the charge of plagiarism, on the broad ground that no such thing as plagiarism ever existed. I confess that to an assertion of this nature there is no little difficulty in getting up a reply.”

Being Poe, of course he managed to do so. He repeated his observation that plagiarists are often established authors who victimize unknowns. “For the plagiarist is either a man of no note or a man of note. In the first case, he is usually an ignoramus, and getting possession of a rather rare book, plunders it without scruple, on the ground that nobody has ever seen a copy of it except himself. In the second case (which is a more general one by far) he pilfers from some poverty-stricken, and therefore neglected man of genius, on the reasonable supposition that this neglected man of genius will very soon cut his throat, or die of starvation (the sooner the better, no doubt,) and that in the mean time he will be too busy in keeping the wolf from the door to look after the purloiners of his property—and too poor, and too cowed, and for these reasons too contemptible, under any circumstances, to dare accuse of so base a thing as theft, the wealthy and triumphant gentleman of elegant leisure who has only done the vagabond too much honor in knocking him down and robbing him upon the highway.”

He agreed with “Outis’s” assertion that it was possible for two writers to independently come up with similar thoughts and expressions “and would request my friends to get ready for me a strait-jacket if I did not.” However, “do I rightly comprehend Outis as demonstrating the impossibility of plagiarism where it is possible, by adducing instances of inevitable similarity under circumstances where it is not?...He wishes to show, then, that Mr. Longfellow is innocent of the imitation with which I have charged him, and that Mr. Aldrich is innocent of the plagiarism with which I have not charged him; and this duplicate innocence is expected to be proved by showing the possibility that a certain, or that any uncertain series of coincidences may be the result of pure accident.”

Poe concluded his analysis of “Outis’s” “labyrinth of impertinences” by stating that he would continue the subject in the following “Journal,” promising “interesting developments” before he was done.

Accordingly, the March 22 “Journal” found him addressing “Outis’s” suggestion that Poe himself was a plagiarist. He imagined what “Outis” was thinking when he made the charge: “I am perfectly well aware, to be sure, that the only conceivable resemblance between Mr. Bryant’s poem and Mr. Poe’s poem, lies in their common reference to a raven; but then, what I am writing will be seen by some who have not read Mr. Bryant’s poem, and by many who have never heard of Mr. Poe’s, and among these classes I shall be able to do Mr. Poe a serious injustice and injury, by conveying the idea that there is really sufficient similarity to warrant that charge of plagiarism, which I, Outis, the ‘acquaintance of Mr. Longfellow,’ am too high- minded and too merciful to prefer.” He added, “By showing that I have committed a sin, he proposes to show that Mr. Aldrich and Mr. Longfellow have not.” As for “Outis” “imposing upon one or two grossly ignorant readers” by suggesting that Poe borrowed from Coleridge, Poe made a detailed analysis of the two poems in question, showing their utter dissimilarity in rhythm, metre, stanza, and rhyme. He dismissed “Outis’s” example of “The Bird of the Dream” by replying that the similarities to “The Raven” imagined by “Outis” simply did not exist. He also strongly hinted that this poem was an invention of “Outis” himself.

Poe closed his lecture by repeating his plagiarism claims about the poems of Aldrich and Hood, although he shrugged, “who is the original and who is the plagiarist, are points I leave to be settled by any one who thinks the matter of sufficient consequence to give it his attention.”

Next post: The end of the Longfellow War, and the beginning of a literary guessing game.