Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Yet Another Cautionary Tale

The letters of George W Eveleth to Edgar Allan PoeOn January 11, 1848, George W. Eveleth wrote Poe a letter in which he quoted from a statement made by an editor of a paper called the "Weekly Universe." This statement said, "Edgar A. Poe, in the estimation of the editors of the 'Universe,' holds a high rank, regarded either as an elegant tale-writer, a poet, or a critic. He will be more fairly judged after his death than during his life. His habits have been shockingly irregular, but what amendment they have undergone within the past six months we cannot say, for Mr. Poe, during that time, has been in the country--we know him personally--he is a gentleman--a man of fine taste and warm impulses, with a generous heart. The little eccentricities of his character are never offensive except when he is drunk..." Eveleth went on to say that he had been told the names of the editors and contributors of the "Universe," and asked if Poe indeed knew them.

On February 29, Poe responded, "The editor of the 'Weekly Universe' speaks kindly and I find no fault with his representing my habits as 'shockingly irregular.' He could not have had the 'personal acquaintance' with me of which he writes; but has fallen into a very natural error...I do not know the 'editors & contributors' of the 'Weekly Universe' and was not aware of the existence of such a paper."

Poe's statement is something to be kept in mind when weighing the validity of the numerous "reminiscences of Poe" that were brought before the public after his death. With many of these reminiscences, not only are the stories they offered completely uncorroborated, but we have only the speaker's unsupported word that he or she had ever even laid eyes on the poet--and Poe, unlike in the case noted above, was no longer around to confirm or deny their acquaintance.