« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
son. Is there another writer in the land who can of his own criticisms conscientiously say the 'same'? Poe prided himself on an honesty of motive such as animated Wilson and Macaulay. He denied that his course was unpopular, pointing to the fact that during his editorship of the ‘Mes'senger' and 'Graham's' the circulation of the one had risen from seven hundred to five thousand, and of the other from five to fifty-two thousand “subscribers. Even the manifest injustice of a *Gifford is, I grieve to say, an exceedingly popu"lar thing.'
Poe's critical writings take the form of reviews of books (* Longfellow's Ballads,''Moore's “Al
ciphron,” “Horne's “Orion, Miss Barrett's «« A Drama of Exile,” ' *Hawthorne's Tales,' etc.), polemical writings (A Reply to “Outis "'), essays on the theory of literary art (The Poetic ‘Principle,' 'The Rationale of Verse'), brief notes (* Marginalia'), and short and snappy articles on contemporary writers (* The Literati ').
His theory of literary art may be studied in the lecture entitled “The Poetic Principle,' where he maintains that there is no such thing as a long poem, the very phrase being 'a contradiction of ‘terms.' A poem deserves its title only inasmuch 'as it excites by elevating the soul.' This excitement is transient. When it ceases, that which is written ceases to be poetical. Poe even sets the
Reply to “Outis."
precise limit of the excitement "half an hour at 'the very utmost.'
He then attacks 'the heresy of The Didactic,' protesting against the doctrine that every poem should contain a moral and the poetical merit estimated by the moral. “The incitements of Pas‘sion, or the precepts of Duty, or even the lessons of Truth, may be introduced into a poem with
advantage, but the true artist will always contrive 'to tone them down in proper subjection to that ' Beauty which is the atmosphere and the real essence of the poem.'
Poe then proceeds to his definition of the 'poetry of words, which is, he says, "The Rbythmical * Creation of Beauty. Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect, or with the Conscience, it has ‘only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it 'has no concern whatever either with Duty or with «Truth.'
In his concrete criticism Poe never hesitated to prophesy. “I most heartily congratulate you upon ‘ having accomplished a work which will live," he wrote to Mrs. E. A. Lewis. Of some poem
of Longfellow's he said that it would not live.' Possibly he was right in both cases, but how could he know? Here is shown the weakness of Poe's critical temper. He affirmed positively that which cannot positively be affirmed.
He was a monomaniac on plagiarism, forever raising the cry of “Stop thief.' Yet Poe, like
Molière, whom he resembled in no other particular, 'took his own’ whenever it pleased him to do so, and he was not over solicitous to advertise his sources. He was in the right. If poets advertised their sources, what would be left for the commentators to do? Poe hinted that Hawthorne appropriated his ideas, and he flatly accused Longfellow of so doing. He was punished grotesquely, for Chivers, the author of Eonchs of Ruby, accused Poe (after the latter's death, when it was quite safe to do so) of getting many of his best ideas from Chivers.
Poe's claim to mastership in verse rests on a handful of lyrics distinguished for exquisite melody and a haunting beauty of phrase. That part of the public which estimates a poet by such pieces as find their way into anthologies regards Poe primarily as the author of The Bells' and · The Raven. If popularity were the final test of merit, these strikingly original performances would indeed crown his work. After sixty years neither has lost in appreciable degree the magical charm it exerted when first the weird melody fell upon the ear. Each is hackneyed beyond description; each has been parodied unmercifully, murdered by raw elocutionists, and worse than murdered by generations of school-children droning from their readers, about the midnight dreary and the “Runic rhyme. But it is yet possible to restore in a measure the feeling of astonished delight with which lovers of poetry greeted the advent of these studies in the musical power of words.
The practical and earnest soul will find little to comfort him in the poetry of Poe. It teaches nothing, emphasizes no moral, never inspires to action. The strange unearthly melodies must be enjoyed for the reason that they are strange and unearthly and melodious. The genius of the poet has travelled
By a route obscure and lonely,
On a black throne reigns upright, and we can well believe that it comes
From an ultimate dim Thule,
Out of Space - out of Time.
' thing they do not pretend to give, and it can hardly be other than uncritical to describe them as 'very superficial.' They are strange exotic flowers
blooming under conditions the most adverse, a fresh proof that genius is independent of place and time.
In Poe's work as a whole there is unquestionably too much of brooding over death, the grave, mere physical horrors. Since his genius lay that way, he must be accepted as he was. But it is permitted to regret, if not the thing in itself (the domain of art being wide), at least the excess. Poe speaks of certain themes which are 'too entirely horrible ' for the purposes of legitimate fiction. These the 'mere romanticist must eschew, if he do not wish 'to offend or to disgust.' And having laid down this doctrine, Poe goes on to relate the story of (The Premature Burial.' It turns out a vision. But the narrator affirms that he was cured by the experience, that he read no more' bugaboo tales — such as this. In short I became a new man and ' lived a man's life.' Without assuming that Poe spoke wholly from the autobiographical point of view, we may believe the passage to contain a measure of his actual thought. We
may claim for him a more important place in our literature than do his radical admirers whose fervent eulogy too often takes the form of the contention that Poe was greater than this or that American man of letters. His strong, sombre genius saved the literature from any danger of uniformity, relieved it at once and forever from