Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Gift For Dr. Griswold

On this date last year, I prepared a little birthday tribute to the remarkable Rufus Wilmot Griswold. The experience inspired me to start a campaign to have the anniversary of his birth given its proper place among history’s memorable events. For instance, with the sinking of the Titanic. Or the Great Lisbon Earthquake.  Or the sack of Rome by the Visigoths. Or the outbreak of the Black Plague.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present World of Poe’s second annual salute to the Reverend Doctor:

“Griswold, having now assumed the mantle of a true villain…”
-Website for the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

“[T]hat very peculiar fancy-piece called a ‘Memoir.’”
-George W. Eveleth extolling Griswold’s talents as a biographer in the “Old Guard,” June 1866

“[Griswold] was one of the most irritable and vindictive men I ever met…”
-Charles Godfrey Leland, one of the Reverend’s closest friends

“Dr. Griswold’s biography of my Eddie is one atrocious lie.”
-Poe’s aunt/mother-in-law Maria Clemm

"[A] gentleman of the highest culture, a contemporary of Griswold, now living in New York, speaks of him as one of those characters in whom the habit of lying had come to be in such a degree a second nature, as to be excusable on the ground of the falsifier’s personal irresponsibility for what was not always a conscious act.”
-William F. Gill

"Almost as devious as they came in this era of deviousness."
-Literary scholar Perry Miller

"If Marie Bonaparte had to find necrophilism in connection with her study of Poe, it seems a pity she did not investigate Griswold, who, upon at least one occasion [after the death of his first wife,] came very close to it indeed."
-Poe biographer Edward Wagenknecht

“’[Poe] doesn’t think I’m a great man,’ quoth Rumpus.”
-George Lippard writing of “Rev. Rumpus Grizzel” in "The Spermaceti Papers," “Citizen-Soldier,” July 26, 1843

“I never see him that I do not think of the school-book description of the ‘Reptile’ in the ‘Animal Kingdom’--that is: a creature, ‘with lungs, a single heart, cold blood, a brain and a cartilaginous skeleton.’ Of course Griswold has a brain. He fancies it is the brain of the American continent, and he has had address enough to induce some of the more affluent book-publishers (more’s the pity!) to agree with him. And that he has but one heart, like a serpent and a fish, is evident from his conduct towards Poe, who, with all his faults, was truly a great man, and had a soul that was, beyond dispute, a splinter fractured from the diamond of the Infinite--and not the less a brilliant because, like other brilliants, it had its flaws and imperfections. . . . Griswold disliked Poe. Everybody knew that. But, when Poe, who equally disliked Griswold, died, and in a fit of magnanimity made the latter his literary executor, it was the infallibility of contemptible meanness, on the part of Griswold, to use the advantages of his position to carry out before the world his petty, personal enmity.”
-Anonymous writer in the “Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch,” September 15, 1850

“[T]his gentleman-the literary executor--I had well nigh said executioner--of Edgar A. Poe, before he had stiffened in his winding sheet, I should have supposed him, though honest enough perhaps, when he had no temptation to be otherwise, and rather willing to tell the truth, if he knew how, and it was likely to pay, yet wholly unfitted for the solemn duty he had undertaken so rashly; because, in my judgment, wholly incapable of understanding or appreciating Poe-dead or alive-and by no means of a temper to forget that he had ever been out-generalled or out-blazed, or not listened to by such a man as Poe, and therefore not likely to do him justice after death, when he would have no longer anything to fear from the poet’s ‘glittering eye’, and searching words.”
-John Neal, “Daily Advertiser,” April 26, 1850

“Have you seen Griswold’s Book of Poetry? It is a most outrageous humbug, and I sincerely wish you would ‘use it up.’”
-Edgar Allan Poe, letter to Joseph Snodgrass, June 4, 1842

“The pedagogue vampire.”
-Charles Baudelaire

“[T]he slanderous and malicious miscreant who composed the aforesaid biography…Edgar A. Poe was infinitely his superior, both in the moral and in the intellectual scale.”
-Lambert A. Wilmer

“…[Griswold’s] favorite pastime of forgery.”
-Arthur H. Quinn

“Rufus Griswold (a gentleman, grim by name, who makes so repulsive a figure in literary history, that he might well have been coined in the morbid fancy of his victim.)”
-Robert Louis Stevenson, “Academy,” January 2, 1875

“I have not a particle of ill feeling toward Mr. Griswold, in truth it seems to me that he ought to be incapable of creating strong feelings of any kind; his want of truth, justice and dignity seems to be an infirmity rather than a vice.”
-Ann S. Stephens, letter to Lydia H. Sigourney, April 27, 1843

“By the way, if you have not seen Mr. Griswold’s ‘American Series of the Curiosities of Literature,’ then look at it, for God’s sake--or for mine. I wish you to say, upon your word of honor, whether it is, or is not, per se, the greatest of all the Curiosities of Literature, or whether it is as great a curiosity as the compiler himself.”
-Edgar Allan Poe, “Doings of Gotham,” “Columbia Spy,” June 29, 1844

“But stay, here comes Tityrus Griswold and leads on
The flocks whom he first plucks alive, and then feeds on,--
A loud-cackling swarm, in whose feather's warm-drest,
He goes for as perfect a--swan as the rest.”
-James Russell Lowell, “A Fable For Critics”

“Stupidity's true mouthpiece, however, was one Rufus Griswold, who easily outgilfillaned the smug Gilfillan himself. This vessel of wrath had been the poet's friend, and (strange to tell) Poe, by appointing him his literary executor, was unconsciously guilty of posthumous suicide. Griswold was not one to lose an illegitimate occasion. Poe died on October 8, 1849. October 9.  Griswold's infamy was in type. Hate and malice scream in every line of this monumental hypocrisy. Here speaks, through the mouth of Griswold, the hungry middle-class, which hated poetry and loathed the solitary dignity of Poe. The poet's character, said this literary Pecksniff, was ‘shrewd and naturally unamiable.’ He recognised no 'moral susceptibilities '; he knew ‘little or nothing of the true point of honour.’ His one desire was to ‘succeed--not shine, not serve--succeed, that he might have the right to despise a world which galled his self-conceit.’ And so magnificently did he 'succeed,' so vilely did he sacrifice his art to prosperity, that America, which kept Griswold in affluence, condemned the author of ‘William Wilson’ to starvation and neglect!

But Griswold's purple patch must be given in its true colour. In these terms did our moralist describe the friend, laid but a few hours since in the grave: ‘Passions, in him, comprehended many of the worst emotions which militate against human happiness. You could not contradict him but you raised quick choler; you could not speak of wealth but his cheek paled with gnawing envy. The astonishing natural advantages of this poor boy—his beauty, his readiness, the daring spirit that breathed around him like a fiery atmosphere—had raised his constitutional self-confidence into an arrogance that turned his very claims to admiration into prejudices against him. Irascible, envious—bad enough, but not the worst, for these salient angles were all varnished over with a cold, repellent cynicism; his passions vented themselves in sneers.’ Those there are who assert that Griswold's outrage upon truth and taste was a revenge, deliberately taken upon Poe's hostile criticism. But there is no need to spy out a motive for so simple a crime. Griswold spoke not for himself, but for his world. Genius is repellent to those who know it not; gaiety is a crime in the eyes of unhappier men who fear not the disease. The envious morality of hypocrites, in whose veins vinegar flows for blood, rises superior to all the obligations of taste and friendship. No doubt the infamous Rufus laid down his pen that day with infinite content; no doubt he adjusted his spectacles over the Tribune next morning with a more than usual placidity. Thus he, who would not allow a poet the license of displeasure, gives an easy rein to his own denunciation. Nor does the poor devil divine the incongruity. Poe's ‘harsh experience,’ he says in a tone of grievance, ‘had deprived him of all faith in man or woman.’

Of course it had: Poe had known Griswold.”
-Charles Whibley, “Studies in Frankness”

“The probing of the personal history of Rufus W. Griswold is like stirring up a jar of sulphuretted hydrogen--it exhales nothing but foul and loathsome odors.”
-William F. Gill

“We have often asked those whose course of light reading was more extensive than our own, to tell us what Rufus W. Griswold, the self-constituted critic among the poets of his country, had written; but no one could name a piece of his composition of the length of a brad awl.

Judge, then, of our surprise, upon opening the Magazine of the intellectual and indefatigable Graham for June, to find Rufus W. Griswold’s Addled Egg--and such an egg!--no wonder the press cackled when such a pullet laid. It would have caused the muses to forsake Helicon in the days of Grecian glory, and made Homer himself forget his rhapsodies, and open his blind old eyes to behold it…the greatest poet of America--the Rev. Rufus W. Griswold, L.L.D. and A.S.S.”
-Jesse Dow giving Griswold’s poetry the respect it deserves in the “Index,” June 2, 1842

“Mr. Rufus W. Griswold is wholly unfit, either by intellect or character, to occupy the editorial chair of Graham’s Magazine.”
-An anonymous writer who may (or may not) have been Poe, “New World,” March 11, 1843

“Did any one read such nonsense? We never did, and shall hereafter eschew everything that bears Rufus Wilmot Griswold’s name...if ever such a thing as literary ruin existed, or exists, nine-tenths of the Poets (!) of America are ruined forever by the praise of Mr. Griswold!”
-Henry B. Hirst's anonymously published review of Griswold's "Poets and Poetry of America," "Philadelphia Saturday Museum," January 28, 1843

Happy birthday, Rumpus!