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but is also one of the best of all stories in that genre. The image of bodily corruption is not present and the interest is held by perfectly legitimate means. The Black Cat' is a fearful and repulsive piece, and at the same time characteristic. Poe hesitated at nothing when it came to working out his theme. He who had such absolute control of the materials of his art too seldom practised reticence in exhibiting the gruesome details of a scene of cruelty.
The Fall of the House of Usher' is a representative story, if not absolutely the best illustration of Poe's genius. The motive of premature burial haunts him here as often elsewhere. But the emphasis of this tragedy of a race is laid where it belongs, in the terror of the thought of approaching madness. Poe wrote many stories which can be described each as the fifth act of a tragedy. It may be doubted whether he surpassed The 'Fall of the House of Usher.'
'Berenice,' 'Ligeia,' and 'Morella' are highly successful experiments in the realm of the morbidly imaginative, and might be grouped under Browning's discarded title of Madhouse Cells.' The themes are monstrous, and are only saved from being absurd by the author's consummate ability to carry the reader with him. Poe could scale a fearful and slippery height, maintaining himself with the slenderest excuse for a foot-hold. A dozen times you would say he must fall, and a
dozen times he passes the perilous point with masterly ease. In the hands of a lesser artist than he, how utterly absurd would be a scene like that in 'Ligeia' where the opium-eater watches by the bedside of his dead wife.
'Metzengerstein' and 'A Tale of the Ragged 'Mountains' are stories of metempsychosis. The 'Cask of Amontillado' and 'Hop-Frog' turn on the motive of revenge. The Pit and the Pendu'lum,' an episode of the Inquisition, is a study of the preternatural acuteness of the mind while the body undergoes torture. The Assignation' is a Venetian tale of love and intrigue, and would have been conventional enough in the hands of any one but Poe. The most powerful story in the group is 'The Red Death,' a lurid drama of revelry in the midst of pestilence.
Difficult as are the themes, and skilful as is the handling, these tales are in a way surpassed by the extraordinary group of romances in which Poe describes the meeting of disembodied spirits. 'The Power of Words,' 'The Colloquy of Monos ‘and Una,' and 'The Conversation of Eiros and 'Charmion' are excursions into a world unknown to the rank and file of literary explorers, a world where the most adventurous might well question his ability to penetrate far. In these supermundane pieces, in the prose-poems 'Silence' and 'Shadow,' in Ligeia,' and in The Domain of 'Arnheim,' Poe's art is indeed magical.
Poe seems to have been fully persuaded in his own mind that he had the gift of humor. The extravaganzas and farcical pieces bulk rather large in his collected writings. In too many of them the author cuts extraordinary mental capers in the most mirthless way. The Literary Life of 'Thingum Bob, Esq.,' 'How to write a Blackwood 'Article' and its sequel, 'A Predicament,' satires all on the ways of editors and men of letters, are examples of Poe's manner as a humorist. The rattling monologue and dry, hard, uncontagious laughter of a music-hall comedian is the nearest parallel. The effect is wholly disproportionate to the bewildering activity of the performer.
In farces like 'The Spectacles,' 'Loss of Breath,' and The Man that was Used up,' the motives would be revolting were not the characters manifestly constructed of wood or papier-maché. The figures are neither more nor less than marionettes. If Madame Stephanie Lalande (aged eighty-one) dashes her wig on the ground with a yell and dances a fandango upon it, 'in an absolute ecstasy 'and agony of rage,' it is what may be expected in a pantomime. Whoever wishes to laugh at the hero of the Bugaboo and Kickapoo campaign, when he is discovered sans scalp, sans palate, sans arm, leg, and shoulders, is at liberty to do so, but he must laugh as do children when Punch beats his wife.
There is no question of the vivacity displayed
in these pieces. 'Bon-Bon,' 'The Duc de l'Ome'lette,' 'Lionizing,' 'Never bet the Devil your 'Head,' 'X-ing a Paragrab,' 'Diddling Con'sidered as one of the Exact Sciences,' 'The 'Business Man,' and 'The Angel of the Odd' are sprightly with an uncanny sprightliness. It must always be a matter for astonishment that Poe could have written them. The mystery of their being read is explained by the taste of the times.
On the other hand, 'The Devil in the Belfry' is genuinely amusing. The description of the peaceful estate of the pleasant Dutch toy village of Vondervotteimitiss, where the very pigs wore repeaters tied to their tails with ribbons, and the sad story of the destruction of all order and regularity by the advent of the foreign-looking young man in black kersey mere knee-breeches, are most agreeably set forth. This extravaganza is not only the best of Poe's humorous sketches, but ranks with the work of men who were better equipped and more gifted in such work than was Poe.
PoE brought into American criticism a pungency which it had hitherto lacked. He was entirely independent, and had urbanity companioned inde
pendence the value of his critical work would have been greatly augmented. He could praise with warmth and condemn with asperity; he could not maintain an even temper. Swayed by his likes and his dislikes, he was but too apt to grow extravagantly commendatory or else spiteful. He ' had the judicial mind but was rarely in the judi'cial state of mind.' He was not unwilling to give pain, and easily persuaded himself that he did so in a just cause. There was a pleasurable sense of power in the consciousness of being feared. Yet the pleasure thus derived can never be other than ignoble. A man of Poe's genius can ill afford to waste his time in attacking other men of genius whose conceptions of literary art differ from his own. Still less can he afford to assail the swarm of petty authors whose works will perish the sooner for being let alone. Of all harmless creatures authors are the most harmless and should be allowed to live their innocent little lives. But Poe took literature hard, and authors had a disquieting effect on him.
Accused of ' mangling by wholesale,' Poe denied the charge, declaring that among the many critiques he had written during a given period of ten years not one was 'wholly fault-finding or wholly 'in approbation.' And he maintained that to every opinion expressed he had attempted to give weight 'by something that bore the semblance of a rea
I E. C. Stedman.