Monday, February 13, 2012

A Neglected Anniversary

Rufus W Griswold
As you may know, today happens to be the anniversary of the birth of the most notorious figure in Poe’s history, the Reverend Doctor Rufus Wilmot Griswold. When I contemplated how to go about marking the event on this blog, my first instinct was to remember the old adage about de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est—which is certainly more than the old boy did for Poe. Then, fortunately, reason returned to its throne, and I realized I’d have a lot more fun if I just took that phrase and chucked it out the window.

Accordingly, I decided to offer a brief roundup of some of my favorite quotes about Dr. Griswold. They do justice to his unique and striking personality in a way my own words could never hope to equal:

“Are there no regulations in America to keep the curs out of the cemeteries?"
-Charles Baudelaire

“Griswold, about whose private character there is but one opinion, among those who knew him best, judged the poet according to his (Griswold’s) standard of morality. Mr. George R. Graham describes him as sensual and licentious; Mr. Charles H. Brainard, of Boston, states that he was a hard drinker and a falsifier, who was often detected in questionable practices.”
-Poe biographer William Gill

"I may say, however, that Griswold's biography of Poe was (not to mince words) a malicious libel, that he knew this when he printed it. As I told Mr. Griswold this, to his face, I feel no hesitation in stating it to you. The truth is that Griswold hated Poe, but also feared him; however this libel on Poe was kept back till the latter's death. It is, I suppose, what Griswold meant, when he told me once, 'If I survive Poe, I've a rod in pickle for him.' For Griswold was a coward, among other things, and certainly not restrained by any high sense of honor."
-Charles J. Peterson, letter to John H. Ingram, March 3, 1880
Edgar Allan Poe obituary
“Mr. G. belongs to the class called ‘toady’…“...what will be his fate? Forgotten, save only by those whom he has injured and insulted, he will sink into oblivion, without leaving a landmark to tell that he once existed; or if he is spoken of hereafter, he will be quoted as the unfaithful servant who abused his trust.
-An anonymous writer, believed to be Henry B. Hirst, 1843

“...a notorious blackmailer...I myself had to pay him money to prevent abusive notices of Sartain’s Magazine“
-John Sartain, 1893

“Graham has made me a good offer to return. He is not especially pleased with Griswold--nor is any one else, with the exception of the Rev. gentleman himself, who has gotten himself into quite a hornet’s nest by his 'Poets & Poetry'…He is a pretty fellow to set himself up as an honest judge, or even as a capable one.”
-Edgar Allan Poe, letter to F.W. Thomas, September 12, 1842

“The Reverend Mr. Griswold is an ass, and what’s more, a knave.”
-James Russell Lowell, letter to Charles F. Briggs, March 21, 1845

“This creature…did not ample documentation prove that he actually existed, we might suppose him, along with Dodson and Fogg, one of the less plausible inventions of Charles Dickens."
-modern-day literary critic Perry Miller

“…that base, base man, Griswold…”
-Maria Clemm

“Rev. Rumpus Grizzel.”
-George Lippard

And, of course, the accolades piled up from the witnesses called during Griswold’s 1856 divorce trial:

“I have heard many persons speak of Dr. Griswold, so I may say I know his general character for veracity; and have known it since 1848; it is very bad…his boasts of ladies’ favor and correspondence…”
-Elizabeth F. Ellet

“I have known Dr. Griswold’s character for fifteen or twenty years; it is extremely bad.”
-S.J. Waring

“…he is notorious for insincerity and untruth…I think him an unprincipled and bad man…I know nothing favorable to the man Rufus W. Griswold.”
-Charles D. Lewis

“…a man constitutionally incapable of speaking the truth, a sycophant in your company, a serpent in the company of those who like to hear you unjustly spoken of…a moral coward and a dangerous person to be connected with.” “…a hypocrite in religion, a charlatan in literature, and a bad man everywhere…I don’t know of anything in favor of libelant.”
-Ann S. Stephens

“I do know the general character of Dr. Griswold for truth and veracity; have known him since 1837; his character for truth and veracity is bad.”
-Hamilton Randolph Searles (the brother of Griswold’s late first wife.)

“I have known libelant’s general character since I knew him; it is bad.”
-Fanny J. Searles

So, happy birthday, Reverend. As my personal gift to Dr. Griswold, I was benevolent enough to refrain from quoting some of his poetry in this post. A deplorable biographer, to be sure, but to do him justice, his Twitter account has proved to be immensely entertaining. Even if he did once utilize it to call me a “degenerate gambler.”