Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween With Edgar

If there is a better way to observe Halloween than by listening to Bela Lugosi reading "The Tell-Tale Heart," it doesn't exist on this planet:

More Poe-themed entertainment for your tricked-and-treated soul:  The delightful nostalgia-themed blog Embarrassing Treasures compiled a list of radio adaptations of Poe's stories.  The links to the broadcasts can be found here and here.

As accompaniment, I can only add a few words of great wisdom--words that are too often ignored in our blood-and-gore drenched culture:

"But the truth is that, with a single exception, there is no one of these stories in which the scholar should recognise the distinctive features of that species of pseudo-horror which we are taught to call Germanic, for no better reason than that some of the secondary names of German literature have become identified with its folly. If in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul,--that I have deduced this terror only from its legitimate sources, and urged it only to its legitimate results."
-From the preface to "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque," 1840

[Bonus video:  Thanks to Tim Smith of the "Baltimore Sun," I recently discovered this beautiful musical rendition of "Annabel Lee," sung by the late Welsh tenor Robert Tear, with AndrĂ© Previn on piano.  I knew I had to share it on the blog somehow, and it makes a suitably haunting song for this occasion. A good Samhain's Eve to one and all.]

Monday, October 22, 2012

The First Poe Monument Campaign

"Fate that once denied him,
And envy that once decried him,
And malice that belied him,
Now cenotaph his fame."
-Alfred Tennyson's Poe epitaph
Literary scholar Edward Pettit has for some years spearheaded a quixotic campaign to have Poe reburied in Philadelphia, as a tribute to what he sees as that city’s preeminent influence on Poe’s body of work. What is less well-known is that Pettit is merely following in the footsteps of a crusade that began only a few years after Poe’s death.

In July of 1856, the magazine “Cosmopolitan Art Journal” expressed disgust over the fact that the poet’s remains “rested in their burying-place, neglected by friends, and unmarked even by the plainest slab.” They suggested that Poe might be reburied in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, where an appropriate monument could be raised in his honor. This is probably the earliest public call for such a statue.

In their March 1857 issue, they returned to the theme. In an editorial titled “Honor to Genius,” they lamented the “impropriety of such neglect of the man who had done so much for American Literature.” However, they were gratified to report that their earlier plea for Poe to get the posthumous respect he deserved was finding a warm response. Both the “New York Times” and Nathaniel P. Willis publicly endorsed the idea, calling for the formation of an association to attend to the matter.

Unfortunately, the remarkable personal enmity certain factions held towards Poe, even after he was no longer around to battle them, soon asserted itself. The “Art Journal” decried a recent article about Poe in the “North American Review” which “rejuvenated the grossest history of the man, and in a most cold, unfeeling manner, denied the propriety of any monument to his memory.” The “Art Journal” commented, “This expression is not strange, coming from a review for which Mr. Poe, when living, entertained a great contempt, which he betrayed upon many occasions.”

By way of contrast with this small-minded and uncharitable spirit, the “Art Journal” quoted a letter from a correspondent, which they described as representative of the many words of support their scheme had received. The unnamed letter-writer said, “Waving all opinion, and with a sense of gratitude, we would become an active worker in the matter, by soliciting subscriptions for a suitable monument to cover the mortal remains of the poet and critic, whose genius so richly endowed our Literature. Let no mockery of the cold, heartless pietest deter us from prosecuting this matter: what though we cannot worship him while living—shall we cover him with contumely when dead?”

The editorial closed with the “Art Journal” promising to “cheerfully enter” as agents in the matter, inviting the public to write to them with suggestions. “May the Grace which presides over the American Muse, bless the effort to fittingly mark the last resting-place of one of her noblest worshippers!”

Alas, the course of Poe, even more so than with True Love, never did run smooth. In June, the magazine wrote that although they had received “many communications” endorsing their idea, there was no consensus about how such an association would carry out the plan, or even who should be in charge of such a body. The “Art Journal” could merely suggest the names of General George P. Morris, Charles Scribner, and Louis A. Godey as suitable to take the matter in hand, with the hopes that these persons would respond in “a very hearty, generous way.”

The writer of this editorial was obviously well aware of the intensity of lingering prejudice against Poe. They claimed they did not intend to defend Poe against the recent “North American Review” article, (which an anonymous correspondent, who was probably James Wood Davidson, warned had had “considerable influence,”) or Rufus W. Griswold’s “heartless biography.” “We feel that the great American public looks upon these notices of the dead with aversion and disgust—that it recognizes the genius of Poe as transcendent, and will, therefore, willingly lend its material sympathy to any movement designed to perpetuate the memory of the man who has more real distinctiveness in our literature, than any other writer of his generation. There may be a propriety in dragging a man’s shortcomings before the public, when he is alive and able to defend himself: but to drag the dead from the grave, and assault the body as all of the man, is, to our mind, little else than literary cannibalism.”

The “Art Journal” quoted Dr. Joseph Snodgrass’ description of the sadly neglected condition of Poe’s current resting-place, which he considered discreditable to Baltimore in general and Poe’s relatives in particular. The magazine repeated their call for Poe to be removed to Laurel Hill, where he “may be permitted to sleep, honored and visited by those who would pay tribute to genius.”

After all this impassioned prose, the “Art Journal’s” campaign soon reached a sudden and rather depressing anticlimax. In their November 1857 issue, they carried a final notice briefly recapping their desire to give Poe honorable reburial in Philadelphia. They stated that the warm response to their call to action revealed “the great hold which the deceased poet and critic has upon American minds.”

Unfortunately, they were stopped in their tracks by the news that Poe’s family finally erected a stone over his grave, indicating that they wished their illustrious relative to stay put. “There is,” the “Art Journal” sighed, “therefore no propriety in further action, at present, and we may consider the question of the removal of the remains and the erection of a monument as withdrawn from the public,” although “we can but express regret” at how matters were taken out of the hands of Poe’s many admirers. They ended with the wistful reminder that if at any time in the future, it was decided to move Poe to Philadelphia after all, “we shall most cheerfully lend our sympathy and aid in the matter.”

Regretfully, the reports the “Art Journal” received about the belated attention given to Poe’s grave were premature. Stories about the disgracefully unkempt condition of his burial-place continued to circulate, until force of public opinion—not to mention an increasingly agitated Maria Clemm—finally spurred Neilson Poe to order a suitable headstone. However, this stone was allegedly destroyed by a runaway train, after which Cousin Neilson, who evidently felt he had already done more than his duty, washed his hands of the matter. In 1865, a Baltimore schoolteacher named Sara Sigourney Rice started a drive to give Poe’s grave proper reverence. Finally, a whole two decades after the initial monument campaign, a memorial was dedicated on November 17, 1875. It gives Poe the wrong birthday (January 20,) has no epitaph, and curious legends persist to this day that when they set out to rebury Poe under this stone, they accidentally exhumed the wrong body.

The long-gone "Cosmopolitan Art Journal" would not have been amused.

(Image of Laurel Hill Cemetery circa 1848 via Library of Congress.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Civilization Was Actually Kind of Nice, While It Lasted

Just spotted on Amazon:

If anyone needs me for anything, I'll just be off in this corner, drinking myself into unconsciousness.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Birth of a Meme

Over in Twitterville last night, Maria  kindly provided Rufus Griswold with a handy visual aid to assist him in his unceasing battles against the forces of darkness; i.e. that vast legion of morons who insist on calling our hero "Edgar Allen Poe":

The Reverend, who can be called many, many things, but not stupid, was then inspired to create this:

This was my contribution to the cause:

We also discovered this little gem made by some anonymous Allanist:

I may not have had much success so far in eliminating the many damaging myths being spread about Poe, but I can at least help make "Allan, not Allen" viral.  Create your own Poe meme!  Annoy your friends!  Puzzle your neighbors!  Inspire your nearest and dearest to call the police on you!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

In Memoriam: A Little-Known Poe Obituary

"But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn!--for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old-time entombed."
-"The Haunted Palace"

The following eulogy for Poe appeared in the "New Bedford (MA) Mercury" on October 20 and 26, 1849. It does not appear that the author, who was probably "Mercury" editor Benjamin Lindsey, knew Poe personally, but it is one of the most interesting contemporary obituaries of him I have seen. It is particularly notable that this author concentrates on Poe’s crucial and unique role in American literature, while bypassing (except for brief, and not unkindly, comments at the end) the usual tiresome frettings and moralizings about his private life.

This column has largely been overlooked by Poe scholars, (although Burton Pollin republished it in 1994,) so I include it here to commemorate this day. It can almost stand as the “authorized” obituary Griswold would have written if—well, if he had not been Griswold:

"The recent melancholy decease of Mr. Poe seems hardly to have drawn from the public press that hearty recognition of his abilities which they undoubtedly merit. Here and there a member of this conscientious body seizes the occasion to air his morality. This was to have been expected. People who had, Heaven knows, reason enough to remember him while living, will certainly take the opportunity of his death to chronicle his errors, and their own virtues. This too was to have been expected. Men and women, whose pretentions he laughed at, and whose principles of literary labor he despised; who having taken possession of the papers and magazines did not hear the salutary truth half often enough; who seized the mutual idea of the day for praise, as journeymen tailors do for pence, and paid each other monthly dividends with ludicrous punctuality; who maintained themselves precariously by writing verses, none of them better, and not many of them as good as those with which “Persons of Quality” graced the literature of the last century; men and women who, upon the largest and most liberal consideration, seem to the honest judgment wanting as much in sincerity and earnestness of purpose as literary ability—alas! These were the unworthy censors to whom Poe’s works and ways were submitted. Unworthy they certainly were, for he was solid while they were frivolous, earnest while they were sunk in lethargy; full of manliness and vigor which contrasted unfavorably with their monthly produce of poor verses and fashionable tales.

To another class Poe, during his fitful life, owed small thanks! These were the men who are consecrated to the service of respectability in letters and ex officio in dullness in every thing; men too harmless to find much fault with; whose quarterly oracles might indeed be missed by the wakeful. They are men who heartily admire every thing upon which time and reputation have set their seals, but who would have refused to talk with Savage, or visit the garret of Johnson. They are men who do not like to be startled out of their self-complacency; who read Addison or Junius for style, and absolutely could not, if they would, make American letters anything but a dead reproduction of the forms of standard authors. It has never occurred to these sapient philosophers that they are living in the nineteenth of the centuries; that a literature with a head and heart in it which shall remain as the exponent of our struggles, our hopes, or only our despair, which shall indicate to the future by its shortcomings its half-articulate utterance , its very want and weakness, that which spiritual darkness wrapped us as in a garment, and free action and manly thought were forgotten, there remained one or two in whose bosom smouldered the fires of an antique heroism—that such a literature, of necessity intemperate, fragmentary, and eccentric, will not come, heralded by the soft lullaby of the lute or the quiet ripple of Arcadian rivulets, these men have forgotten, if they ever knew. Poe, more than any literary man of his time and country, chafed in his fetters. He saw at a glance through what we call American literature, and as he was a man to say what he thought, he never was forgiven.

It was as a critic that Mr. Poe made himself especially obnoxious to these retail dealers in literary commodity, as to distinguish them from the wholesale importers, we may call them. The Duke of Nassau who purchases numerous jugs wherein to export to a thirsty world the veritable Selters, submits them all to a rigid and ultimate test. Being filled with water, if it shall be found upon subsequent inspection that any one has leaked, or appeared to leak the least in the world, the stern hammer of the potentate, in the hands of some qualified deputy, settles completely enough that jug’s prospects of foreign travel. It was in this summary manner that Mr. Poe was wont to complete the career of certain “broken cisterns.” They should not pass themselves upon a confiding world, as genuine Selters—the empty jugs. That this prompt and final adjudication of matters gave rise to much lamentation and many tears, is not to be denied. There was then and is now much talk of cruelty. But if a fly will try to convince the world that he is a beetle, or even if a respectable beetle claims to be called and known as a tortoise, what remedy is there but the entomological pin, were it only for the purpose of scientific demonstration and refutation of all that? That Mr. Poe did the state some service, and they did not know it, only proves how blind the state is to that lamentable waste of paper and ink of which our bards, callo[w] as well as callous, are guilty. His way of doing the work may seem questionable to the tender hearted, whose gentle constitution alike blinds them to the extent of the evil, and the immediate need of stringent remedies; we have no doubt that it was judicious, and considering the future, not untinctured by benevolence.

But personal as Mr. Poe sometimes was, we suspect he was irritated and dissatisfied rather with our whole system than with any individual examples. Few men knew better than he, few men had better opportunities of knowing, the falsity and emptiness of the hosts who covet the lofty honors of inspiration, or the impudent assumption of mere imitators, that they were singing the thoughts and achievements of the American age or the American people. He knew that America did not sing other music than the clang of the forge, or the ring of the emigrant’s axe. That his country, unquestionably great and genuine in much, should be forever exhibiting her weak side to the world, vexed him sometimes into virulence, for he himself never attained the pure height of a rational severity. With those who thus compromised her character Mr. Poe lived for the most part in a state of quarrel. It could hardly have been otherwise, for he was a practical man, who knew what he did well, and did what he did do well, and who was not above the examination of details. He was intended by Nature for the noblest warfare against error, but he submitted to champion Truth in meaner contests.

Of Mr. Poe’s works we do not intend to speak at length. They are the various productions of a literary man working for bread, in an age essentially un-literary. But in all he did, whatever may be its intrinsic value, there is a certain completeness or finish, which is remarkable when one considers his erratic courses. This is what we meant when we said that what he did do he did well. About this he seems to have been punctilious. He would have his metre right, if not his morals. His “Tales,” by which he is and probably will be, best known, amidst their wildness, and the luxuriance of their grotesque fancies, exhibit a rigidity of mathematical demonstration which (paradoxical as it may appear) we think is closely allied to the lofty spirituality of his poems. If we might institute a comparison—not in the best taste certainly, but merely for the purpose of a slight illustration—we should say that his mind was not unlike that of Coleridge, while his general handiness, practical skill, and versatility of pursuit, are fragmentary traces of Goethe’s well-disciplined and gigantic intellect.

And of whom are we thus speaking? Whose name is this we are thus joining with those of the illustrious departed? Alas! The name of one whose way of life was not wise; who struggled in vain against the world, the flesh, and the devil. He grappled with the sins and short-comings of his day and generation, and he fell. He sleeps soundly now that was so restless—the weary spirit is quiet at length. The man of many means which he could not use, of dauntless spirit which he could not bridle, who chafed and fretted in the harness of this clod-pated world until he cast it off forever, has departed; and while the censorious renew their shallow estimate of his works, his worth and his ways, we may sit down by his fresh grave and reverently remember that all things, whether of life or of death, are governed by Infinite Wisdom, while as year by year the world tramps forward to a better and brighter era, let us not complain that it treads into the dust so much of what to us is dear and beautiful."

Edgar Allan Poe died October 7 1849

(Header image via Wikipedia. Footer image via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

In Which We Learn the Sad Truth of What Three Years of Poe Blogging Can Do to a Person

Yesterday, I came across a series of cat pictures paired with quotes from Pablo Neruda.  While examining that blog, I thought, "Can a similar Poe/feline tribute be far behind?"

I think you all know where this is heading.

Yes, this is how I spent my morning.  Because I love cats.  Because I love Poe.  Because I'm utterly bored with myself.  Because I'm desperate to find something to help me avoid having to force myself to try any productive work.  Because my mind has finally completely snapped.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Poe Cats: