Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Be of good cheer. At least you're not spending New Year's Eve with this guy.Actually, this card wouldn't make a bad illustration for "The Masque of the Red Death."

Enjoy the last of 2010, and look ahead to a wonderful 2011 for us all!

(Image via the ever-peculiar NYPL Digital Gallery.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Island of the Fay

"The Island of the Fay," which was first published in the June 1841 issue of "Graham's Magazine," is classified as merely an example of Poe's "plate articles"--brief essays that were written specifically to accompany magazine engravings. In this work, however, Poe took such a mundane enterprise to a sublime level. "Fay," is, indeed, one of his most ethereal and beautiful pieces of writing. It is also one of his earliest works to anticipate his magnum opus, "Eureka." Thus, this seemingly irrelevant piece actually plays a key role in the Poe canon.

The scenario of the sketch is a simple one. The narrator begins his tale by commenting that "the higher order of music is the most thoroughly estimated when we are exclusively alone." Only then, he states, can its "spiritual uses" be fully appreciated. "But there is one pleasure still within the reach of fallen mortality--and perhaps only one--which owes even more than does music to the accessory sentiment of seclusion. I mean the happiness experienced in the contemplation of natural scenery. In truth, the man who would behold aright the glory of God upon earth must in solitude behold that glory." The narrator explains that the presence of any other form of life other than "the green things which grow upon the soil and are voiceless" is "at war with the genius of the scene." The "dark valleys," the "grey rocks," the "waters that silently smile," the "proud watchful mountains" are "the colossal members of one vast animate and sentient whole...whose life is eternity; whose thought is that of a God; whose enjoyment is knowledge; whose destinies are lost in immensity; whose cognizance of ourselves is akin with our own cognizance of the animalculæe which infest the brain--a being which we, in consequence, regard as purely inanimate and material, much in the same manner as these animalculæe must thus regard us."

In a declaration Poe would echo seven years later in "Eureka," he states the unity of all things in the universe. "As we find cycle within cycle without end--yet all revolving around one far-distant centre which is the Godhead, may we not analogically suppose, in the same manner, life within life, the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine? In short, we are madly erring, through self-esteem, in believing man, in either his temporal or future destinies, to be of more moment in the universe than that vast 'clod of the valley' which he tills and contemns, and to which he denies a soul for no more profound reason than that he does not behold it in operation."

The narrator then describes how, on one of his solitary wanderings through the wilderness, he chanced upon a little river with a small circular island. The western extremity of this islet was "all one radiant harem of garden beauties" that "glowed and blushed beneath the eye of the slant sunlight...There seemed a deep sense of life and joy about all..."

The eastern end, by contrast, "was whelmed in the blackest shade. A sombre, yet beautiful and peaceful gloom here pervaded all things." The trees "conveyed ideas of mortal sorrow and untimely death," the grass had the aspect of mournful cypress, and the many small hillocks resembled graves.John Sartain engraving of The Island of the FayTo the narrator, the island appeared enchanted--"the haunt of the few gentle Fays who remain from the wreck of the race." As he daydreamed, he fancied he actually saw a fairy circling the island in a fragile canoe. She radiated joy as she floated amid the sunlight of the western half of the isle, but became deformed by sorrow as she passed into the shadows of the east. Over and over, the narrator watched her pass from light and life, to darkness and death, and back again. "The revolution which has just been made by the Fay," he thought, "is the cycle of the brief year of her life. She has floated through her winter and through her summer. She is a year nearer unto Death: for I did not fail to see that as she came into the shade, her shadow fell from her, and was swallowed up in the dark water, making its blackness more black." He asks, "What the wasting tree is to the water that imbibes its shade, growing thus blacker by what it preys upon, may not the life of the Fay be to the death which engulfs it?"

With each cycle, the fairy became increasingly indistinct, and enveloped in shadow. Finally, as the sun set, she and her boat disappeared into the "ebony flood," and "darkness fell over all things, and I beheld her magical figure no more."

What was Poe revealing in this allegorical prose poem? All that is, is intelligence, and intelligence is God. By contemplating nature and music in solitude, we come closer to communing with God and understanding our place in the universe. The meditative exploration of nature is the exploration of the universe, which is within all intelligence. In nature, we are able to observe ourselves--the God within us, or that is us--and we can establish a direct relationship with that God. (Poe explored these same themes in "The Domain of Arnheim," "Landor's Cottage," "Instinct vs. Reason," and "The Philosophy of Furniture.")

Even shadows are substance and therefore intelligence. As the intelligent waters "imbibe" them, the waters are nourished and enriched. The gradual dissolution of the fairy into the darkness is one aspect of eternity--the cycle of life, never-ending, repeated everywhere--which man can observe and comprehend as the work of God.

And it is still popularly believed that Poe was amoral and irreligious!

In "Marginalia," published in the "Southern Literary Messenger" in June 1849, Poe wrote that "Not only do I think it paradoxical to speak of a man of genius as personally ignoble, but I confidently maintain that the highest genius is but the loftiest moral nobility." He expressed this same sentiment indirectly in his more overtly metaphysical writings such as "Island of the Fay." Men and women of true genius (as opposed to those who are merely intellectually clever) are those rare individuals who exist on a higher plane, and because of their elevation, they have a better understanding of who we are, why we are here, our place in the universe, and our relation to "the Godhead." Figures such as Poe--one of the most purely idealistic writers of the modern era--channel their vision of heaven to less enlightened humanity through fiction, poetry, art, philosophy, music, and other creative expressions. Their proximity to what Poe called the Spirit Divine, or Supernal Beauty, eliminates the possibility of an ignoble nature. They cannot perceive, contemplate, and channel the world of the spirit and yet lead degraded lives--no matter how desperately Poe's enemies and his biographers (pardon the redundancy) want us to believe otherwise.

While those very rare geniuses, such as Poe, channel their vision of the universe through their creative work, he also made it clear that by contemplating nature, meditating upon it in solitude, any of us can achieve a more direct relationship with the Divine.

This is why it is exasperating how Poe is commonly labeled simply as a "horror" or "Gothic" writer. This is far from the case. In truth, he was a pure mystic (and a highly-underrated satirist.) Reducing his remarkable and utterly unique body of work to mere "sensationalist" fiction, or worse, simplistic Freudian autobiography, does him the ultimate disservice. Insult Poe if you please, but do not cheapen him.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joy to the World

I wanted to offer everyone the most Poe-like seasonal cheer I could find.Have an Edgar Allan Poe Christmas!Seriously, I think this is the most malevolent-looking Santa Claus I've ever seen.

Merry Christmas and the very happiest of holidays to all!

And may this guy never come down your chimney.

(Image: NYPL Digital Gallery. Which really should be more careful about what it digitizes.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Literary Life of Joseph Cosey, Esq.

Joseph Cosey the Edgar Allan Poe forgerThe period of the 1920s-1950s was a Golden Age for Edgar Allan Poe-related "discoveries." During these years, many previously unknown letters and documents of the legendary poet surfaced for the first time. Unfortunately, a great deal of credit for these additions to Poe lore can be given to an astoundingly imaginative, talented, and energetic forger named Martin Coneely.

Coneely, who was born in 1887, is best known by his favorite alias of "Joseph Cosey." Little is known of his early life. He ran away from home at an early age, and henceforth led a solitary, nomadic life, supporting himself through a series of petty crimes. He apparently had no friends or family ties. Despite his shady and hardscrabble background, he was a highly intelligent man with an instinctive love for books and history--19th century Americana in particular. In other circumstances, he would have become a genuine scholar, but as it happened, his fate was instead not to merely study history, but to make it. Literally.

In the 1920s, he paid what proved to be a life-changing visit to the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress. His motives in requesting to see signatures and documents belonging to such greats as Jefferson and Washington were entirely innocent--he merely wished to gratify his passion for Americana. However, once he was able to actually see and touch these priceless relics of the past, he felt he could not let them all go. Settling his desire upon a pay warrant signed by Benjamin Franklin in 1786, he slipped the paper into his pocket, and, in those more trusting times, left the library unnoticed.

A year or so later, he was living in a tenement in New York City, drunk, alone, and flat broke. Desperate for money, he steeled himself to sell his one prized possession--his stolen Franklin document. Upon taking it to a book dealer, however, he was stunned and indignant when the man scornfully rejected it as a forgery. In his disgust, Cosey resolved to teach this impertinent fool a lesson. He, himself, would create a real forgery and sell it to him! He haunted the local public libraries, studying facsimiles of the handwriting of historical figures. He found that Abraham Lincoln's signature came easiest to him, and after some months of practice, whipped out a handsome "Yrs. Truly, A. Lincoln" on a scrap of paper. The same dealer who dismissed his authentic Franklin bought the bogus Cosey for ten dollars.

It was an epiphany. Cosey, after a lifetime of aimless and unproductive wanderings, felt he had finally found his mission in life. He threw all his previously dissipated energies into his new calling, and he exceeded beyond all expectations. He became to manuscript forging what Tiffany's is to diamonds. G. William Bergquest, an expert on literary hoaxes, called him "the greatest forger of his kind in this century." The renowned book and autograph dealer Charles Hamilton went even further, describing Cosey as "the most skilled and versatile forger of all time." During his long and prolific career, he forged many items of Americana, particularly ones imitating the handwriting of Lincoln and George Washington.

Alas for Poe scholarship, Cosey also had a personal devotion to the author of "The Raven," which he expressed in his own singular manner. He also, for whatever reason, had a predilection for Poe's literary contemporary Nathaniel Parker Willis. He is known to have created more than one letter from Poe to Willis, and enjoyed adding forged notations by Willis to his "Poe manuscripts." Physically, they were impeccable pieces of work, but Cosey occasionally made several factual errors in the text. The errors were relatively minor--I've seen far worse in many Poe biographies--but they were enough to discredit the documents. Otherwise, the letters may well have been permanently accepted as genuine. In fact, Hamilton stated that all of the extant Poe/Willis correspondence has to at least be suspected as being Cosey's handiwork. (All this makes me very curious about a manuscript copy of Poe's poem "For Annie" which sold at auction not long ago for a cool $830,000, even though very limited information was given about the document's provenance. Among the distinguishing features of this artifact were notations added by none other than N.P. Willis.)

Cosey was considerably more ambitious than the typical forger. Not content merely with reproducing signatures or brief snippets of already-published texts, he did serious preliminary research on his subjects, enabling him to convincingly channel the literary style of Poe and his other favorite targets, churning out with unnerving speed and agility lengthy, interesting letters, artifacts such as account books and legal papers, and long samples of documents (including manuscripts of "The Poetic Principle," "The Raven," and "The Fall of the House of Usher.") His instinctive skill for replicating handwritings was coupled with the savvy to use genuinely antiquated paper and writing implements, including a distinctive brown ink specific to the 18th and early 19th centuries. He even became adept at forging letters of verification to accompany his creations. All this combined to make him a formidable menace to the world of manuscript collecting.

Cosey was also clever enough to take advantage of an odd quirk in the penal codes of New York (and a number of other states.) According to the law, merely forging any "archaeological object" was not in itself illegal. The crime occurred only when the owner of the "object" deliberately presented it for sale it as a genuine artifact. Cosey would merely diffidently present his documents to dealers or private collectors as objects of unknown value that he had "inherited," or "been given," or simply "found," and left it up to the prospective buyer to decide whether it was of any worth. Ironically, his seeming casualness about the documents served to enhance their plausibility. And if the forgery was detected, all he had to do was innocently state that he had never claimed the manuscripts were anything other than old pieces of paper.

Another thing that made Cosey notable was that, like many other great figures of his unusual profession, he saw himself as no mere criminal, but as an artist, a craftsman. He took great pride in his output, which he invested with a care that arose not merely from a desire to avoid exposure, but from a love of the work itself. He was, in the words of one of his parole officers, "a likable, ingratiating fraud." To paraphrase one of his favorite subjects, for him forgery was not a purpose, but a passion.

What is more, he convinced himself that he was actually doing a public service. After all, relatively few of even the most ardent Poe devotees have the money or opportunity to possess a letter or other document in his writing. Thanks to Joseph Cosey, many more of them would get that chance! He once told a story about going to a bookstore with a "Poe letter" he had created. "The owner was out," he said, "but his secretary told me she was a student of Poe and would be thrilled to see something in his handwriting. I finally sold it to her for three dollars, but only because I was broke. Well my conscience bothered me about it for weeks, and the first time I had three dollars I went back to the shop to tell her it was a counterfeit, and buy it back from her. But when I heard her talk about how much pleasure that letter had given her, I didn't have the heart to disillusion her. So I walked out and let her keep it and believe in it."

I'd like to know where that letter is now. And how often it has been quoted as source material in Poe biographies.

For all his natural gift for chicanery, Cosey did sometimes turn out product sufficiently flawed to be exposed by the experts. He often ignored the fact that a person's handwriting inevitably changes with age. A Cosey "Benjamin Franklin," for example, would have the same signature in old age that he had in his prime. He would occasionally cut corners by chemically treating modern paper to give it the appearance of age. Such mistakes led to his arrest in 1937, after he sold an "Abraham Lincoln" letter. It was dated "December 2, 1846." but, with uncharacteristic sloppiness Cosey wrote it on paper bearing a discernible 1860 watermark. (By this time, Cosey was not only an alcoholic, but a heroin addict, which undoubtedly affected his talents.) His victim was content to chalk it up to the hazards of the business, but after he heard Cosey was attempting to sell a similar letter to another dealer, the police were summoned. The detectives who brought him in for questioning immediately saw from the marks on his arms that he was a drug user, and evidently promised him a much-needed "fix" if he confessed. He did, and was convicted of petty larceny. He was paroled after less than a year, and he inevitably immediately went back to his life's work. He is believed to have kept up his cheerfully felonious ways right until his death, which is generally thought to have taken place around 1950, when he simply dropped out of sight. Some sources, however, believe he was still producing "artifacts" for some years afterwards. His end, appropriately enough for a Poe impersonator, is a mystery.

Thankfully, many documents have been exposed as his handiwork. (A fine example can be seen here.) Such is his reputation, that many of them have fetched high prices at auction as "Genuine Cosey Forgeries." A side industry even emerged of--seriously--forged "Cosey forgeries." The New York Public Library did him the dubious, if unmistakable, honor of setting up a permanent collection of his "Greatest Hits." (One of the founding items in this file was an assortment of notes Poe supposedly wrote in relation to the printing of "Tamerlane.") However, it is acknowledged that there are many, many more "Coseys" in circulation that have gone undetected. Early on in this blog, I posted a quote from Charles Hamilton (who made a particular study of Cosey's career.) "Long ago," he wrote, "I concluded that there must be far more forgeries of Poe by Cosey than there are original Poe letters."Scribblers and Scoundrels forgery and Edgar Allan PoeConsidering how many leading items of Poeana--items which largely have a sketchy or nonexistent history--first appeared during Cosey's prolific heyday, Hamilton's words should be memorized by any student of Poe's life. And it must be remembered that Joseph Cosey was hardly the first Poe forger, nor the last. Caveat emptor. And then some.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Poe's Overlooked Enemy (Part Two)

Edgar Allan Poe and Lewis Gaylord ClarkClark was now becoming truly unhinged on the subject of Poe--he seems to have found his enemy's teasing much harder to bear than mere hatred. He published an lengthy editorial devoted to working off some of his fury. Clark opened by addressing a correspondent he identified only as "J.G.H.," who had supposedly sent Clark a letter containing charges against Poe. (We do not know what these accusations may have been, or even if "J.G.H." existed outside of Clark's imagination.) Clark thanked "J.G.H." for his communication, but added, "bless your heart, man! you can't expect us to publish it," thus intimating to his audience that this letter contained revelations about Poe too shocking even for publication. (This clever tactic of hinting at horrifying scandals regarding Poe--while never, of course, describing what these scandals may have been, thus allowing the imagination of the reader to picture the worst--went on to become a favored, and highly effective, tactic among his defamers. Cf. the "Poe reminiscences" of Rufus W. Griswold, Charles F. Briggs and Thomas Dunn English.) Clark went on to describe Poe as "the wretched inebriate," a "jaded hack," who was "too mean for hate, and hardly worthy scorn." Clark sneered that "there are but two classes of persons who regard him in any light--those who despise and those who pity him; the first for his utter lack of principle, the latter for the infirmities which have overcome and ruined him." As a means of corroborating his insults, Clark also made reference to recent assaults against Poe that had been made by Hiram Fuller and others, painting a picture of Poe as a drunken, deranged, pitiful scoundrel whose critical opinions could not be taken seriously. For good measure, he closed with a brazen and deliberate lie--the claim that Poe satirized him in "The Literati" only because Clark had rejected some of his manuscripts.

This despicable piece of writing was something of a landmark in the destruction of Poe's reputation. As Moss noted, "Here for the first time--three years before his death--we have in print the allegations so familiar these days..."

The "Knickerbocker" followed up this rant with another clumsy jab at Poe in the form of some feeble doggerel entitled "Epitaph on a Modern 'Critic'," which was probably written by Clark himself:

"'Here Aristarchus lies!' (a pregnant phrase,
And greatly hackneyed, in his early days,
By those who saw him in hs maudlin scenes,
And those who read him in the magazines.)
Here Aristarchus lies, (nay, never smile,)
Cold as his muse, and stiffer than his style;
But whether Bacchus or Minerva claims
The crusty critic, all conjecture shames;
Nor shall the world know which the mortal sin,
Excessive genius or excessive gin!"

Poe, never one to be cowed, again favored Clark with his notice in the subsequent "Literati" essay on Charles Fenno Hoffman. Noting that Hoffman was the original editor of the "Knickerbocker," Poe lamented that the publication subsequently entered into a "dense region of unmitigated and unmitigable fog," a "dreary realm of outer darkness, of utter and inconceivable dunderheadism," under the editorship of "the august person of one Lewis Gaylord Clark."Lewis Gaylord Clark the Knickerbocker MagazineAfter this exchange, the public quarrel lapsed--possibly because Clark either realized he was quite literally outwitted or he simply ran out of nasty things to write about Poe. He largely avoided the topic of his old antagonist until Griswold's notorious biography of their common enemy appeared in 1850. Clark and Griswold were long-time friends, and this gave him additional motivation to defend Poe's literary executor from the outrage that arose over his defamation of the dead poet. As the volumes of Griswold's edition of Poe's works appeared, Clark published several reviews designed to offer Griswold support. Clark enthusiastically reiterated all of Griswold's calumnies, describing Poe as someone "destitute of moral or religious principle." Clark, like Griswold, accused Poe of being a serial plagiarist. In particular, he repeated a claim that Clark himself had originally made in print and that was echoed by Griswold--the allegation that Poe's poem "The Haunted Palace," was a shameless steal from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Beleaguered City." Longfellow--to his credit--refuted this charge, pointing out to Griswold that his own poem was written after "The Haunted Palace" had been published. (Poe himself, noting the similarities between the two poems, had drawn Griswold's attention to this fact as early as 1841.) Clark and Griswold coolly ignored him. As Sidney Moss (with remarkable understatement) wrote: "both Clark and Griswold were parties to deliberate falsehoods. To concur in a truth is simple; to concur in a lie betrays collaboration." We will likely never know just how many more of Poe's supposed sins and personal flaws were merely similar lies his enemies "collaborated" in creating and spreading.The Haunted Palace Edgar Allan PoeClark, like Griswold, could not allow his loathing of Poe to rest. As late as 1856, he was still on the attack, approvingly republishing a passage from an article in the "North American Review" which was essentially a rehash of Griswold's old libels (it has been noted that, however, he carefully omitted a section from this article referring to Poe's battle against "cliquism.") Clark added to this passage his declaration that Poe had had "no literary influence whatever," because he was "destitute of moral sentiment." His final public comment on Poe came in 1860, when he reviewed Sarah Helen Whitman's "Edgar Poe and His Critics." He wrote that his own negative assessments of Poe had been given "frankly and conscientiously." He asserted that "it would give us pleasure to add, that Mr. Poe's biographers had since given us occasion to change them." Clark made it clear that no such transformation had occurred by quoting another review of Whitman's book that asserted it "does not wipe out the...dishonorable records in the biography of Dr. Griswold." The "Knickerbocker" editor ultimately failed in his true goal of discrediting Poe as a critic, but succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in discrediting Poe as a man.

Lewis Gaylord Clark, the man who was, in Moss' words, "the man most guilty of creating and circulating calumnies of Poe while Poe was alive," died in 1873. His friend Thomas Bangs Thorpe eulogized him as a man "never else to the world than light-hearted, always kindly disposed," who "viewed every thing, if you please, from a delicate, truly refined, and humorous stand-point."

If such a petty, crude, unscrupulous and mendacious man was truly so admired by his contemporaries, it provides an eloquent, if unwittingly revealing, commentary on the literary milieu of Poe's time.

(Header image: NYPL Digital Gallery)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Poe's Overlooked Enemy (Part One of Two)

Lewis Gaylord Clark and Edgar Allan PoeEveryone who has even a casual interest in Poe's life story knows of the posthumous attacks on his character made by Rufus W. Griswold. However, surprisingly few people are aware that Poe had another equally vicious, and arguably equally influential libeller: Lewis Gaylord Clark. Unlike Griswold, Clark began his public assaults on Poe while his enemy was still very much alive. Thus, he not only played a major role in laying the foundation for Poe's posthumous image, he did much to shape the living Poe's career and reputation.

Another notable thing about Clark is that, unlike other leading Poe enemies such as Griswold, Thomas Dunn English, and Charles F. Briggs, he had no known personal dealings with Poe. In fact, the two likely never even laid eyes on each other on more than two or three very brief occasions. Clark's efforts to destroy Poe's personal and literary reputation were solely and irrefutably based on nothing more than literary politics--thus contradicting the commonly-held assumption that Poe's controversial career was nothing but a self-inflicted wound, a downfall that was entirely due to his own personal foibles.

Clark, the long-time editor of the widely-circulated and extremely powerful "Knickerbocker" magazine, saw himself as the chief promoter and defender of New York's literary clique. Poe's efforts to weaken the influence of this group--which could be said to have commenced with his devastating review of NYC "insider" Theodore Fay's novel "Norman Leslie" in 1835--would in itself be enough to antagonize Clark. In addition, Clark was a determined sectionalist, promoting only New York (and, to a limited extent, New England) writers, and denigrating the literature of the South. Poe, as the guiding force of the "Southern Literary Messenger," that region's leading magazine, would inevitably be seen as his opponent.

It has also been suggested that a minor reason for the feud between Clark and Poe was the latter's resentment towards Richard Adams Locke. A few weeks after Poe published his "Hans Phaall" in the June 1835 issue of the "Messenger," the "New York Sun" came out with Locke's "Moon Hoax," which Poe considered--not without reason--to be a blatant plagiarism of his own work. Clark had had a hand in creating Locke's story, and it may be that when Poe heard of this, it served to increase his antagonism towards the "Knickerbocker" editor. This remains only speculation, however.

Clark launched his war upon Poe in August of 1838, when he wrote for his magazine a mocking review of "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym." Professing to treat the novel as a factual account, he characterized "Pym" as "a great many tough stories...told in a loose and slip-shod style, seldom chequered by any of the more common graces of composition..." and loftily derided the "veracity" of the narrator. In those days, positive reviews were the only way to advertise a book, and negative notices were generally enough to kill a book's chances for success. Clark's review, appearing as it did in one of the country's leading literary magazines, is considered one of the major reasons why "Pym" was a commercial failure in America. (Ironically, a pirated edition of the novel that appeared in England did well--but, of course, did not earn Poe a penny.)

His next major attack came in 1840, when Poe published a prospectus for his planned "Penn" magazine. The prospectus made it clear that he saw the "Knickerbocker" as one of the magazines his own publication was intended to supplant, and Clark responded to the implied challenge with his usual gusto. He published a snide editorial hinting that Poe, when working for William Burton's "Gentleman's Magazine," had run that enterprise into the ground, and misquoted Poe's prospectus in a way that suggested he meant to merely imitate the "Knickerbocker."

Poe largely ignored such gibes--he apparently found Clark an unworthy opponent--but during the early 1840s, he continued to antagonize Clark by deriding the output of the "Knickerbocker's" favored writers, while establishing "Graham's Magazine" as Clark's chief competition. In 1843, the "New World" magazine published an anonymous article that was one long, scathing critique not just of the "Knickerbocker" itself, but of Clark personally, stating dryly that "Mr. Lewis Clark has made a considerable noise in the literary world, but how he has made it, would be difficult for his best friends to explain." (The article also lambasted Rufus W. Griswold, calling him "wholly unfit, either by intellect or character, to occupy the editorial chair of Graham's Magazine.")

The author of this article has never been determined, but the important point is that--rightly or wrongly--Clark believed it was Poe, and as a result he--in the words of Poe scholar Sidney P. Moss--"began gunning for Poe with a vengeance." Poe became one of the "Knickerbocker's" favorite targets. When Clark did not publish reviews of Poe's writings that were little more than excuses to attack him personally, he reprinted assaults on his enemy that had appeared elsewhere, thus giving these libels greater circulation and credibility. (For his part, Poe, during his editorship of the "Broadway Journal," published several notices of Clark's magazine that were so ostensibly genial and flattering that the effect is of mockery of a particularly polished order.)

With all this, it is not surprising that when Clark heard that he was to be included in Poe's "The Literati of New York City," a series of gossipy satirical essays about literary celebrities that appeared in "Godey's Lady's Book" in 1846, he panicked. He sought to head off what he assumed would be Poe's revenge against him by publishing an editorial on "The Literati," sneering at "a wandering specimen of 'The Literary Snob' continually obtruding himself upon public notice; today in the gutter, tomorrow in some milliner's magazine; but in all places, and at all times, magnificently snobbish and dirty..." and adding that "We do not think that the 'ungentlemanly and unpardonable personalities of this writer,' of which our contemporary complains, are worthy of notice simply because they are so notoriously false that they destroy themselves."

When Poe's sketch of Clark appeared in the September issue, it fully justified all the "Knickerbocker" editor's fears. Claiming derisively that his subject was "known principally as the twin brother of the late Willis Gaylord Clark," Poe characterized Clark's editorials as "easy writing and hard reading." He commented that "Mr. Clark once did me the honor to review my poems and--I forgive him." Poe playfully gave an insultingly low estimation of the "Knickerbocker's" circulation, and said that Clark "is noticeable for nothing in the world except for the markedness by which he is noticeable for nothing." As he did in all the "Literati" papers, Poe closed by giving a detailed, and highly unflattering, physical description of his subject, making Clark a number of years older than he really was, remarking on his "bullety" forehead, and concluding that his smile "is too constant and lacks expression."

In Part Two: The "Knickerbocker" strikes back.

(Header image: NYPL Digital Gallery)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Brief Technical Note

The story of my life, right hereAs you can see, my list of "Followers" has suddenly vanished. (Bye, folks, nice knowing you!)

The Stats page still isn't working.

These seem to be pretty universal problems, and Blogger has been discreetly mum about when or if any of this will be fixed. And as I have all the computer know-how of a tree stump, I'm completely lost about what, if anything, I can do about it.

I fully expect the plague of locusts to come next.

I just knew that instead of attempting a blog, I should've simply handed out xeroxed copies of my Poe writings on street corners, like any self-respecting crank and public nuisance would do.