Text: Catherine Ledyard, “Poe, Poets, Etc.,” Supplement to the Evening Post (New York), March 21, 1853, p. 1, cols. 3-4


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­[page 1, top of column 5:]

POE, POETS, ETC.

[FOR THE EVENING POST.]

MY ROOM, MARCH 5, 1853.

Making a descent the other day upon the library of a friend, in search of “Knickknacks,” I came upon the works of Poe, with Willis’s, Lowell’s, and Griswold’s prefatory remarks. I had long been familiar with “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” and other of his poems, and with a few of those strange, mystical, soul-chilling tales, (so called) but the opportunity of possessing, en masse, all the productions of his gloomy and fantastic genius, (if one may apply such a epithet to genius) was too tempting to be foregone; so I put off the “Knick-knacks” till another time, and bore the “Miscellanies” home in triumph. The portrait prefixed to the first volume delights my womanish fancy exceedingly, not that it bears the impress of intellectual vigor, but that it is so exquisitely beautiful. Oh, Beauty! divine power, that in our hearts we always must acknowledge, however our poor dislikes or paltry envyings may lead us to deny its presence. The face of Poe is certainly not what one would expect; he looks a thorough gentleman, mild, luxurious, benignant — strange key to such a life. How difficult, as the charming countenance smiles at you from the page, to realize that this man lived a slave, and died a victim, to a degrading appetite — how mournful to find that his kindliest biographer can but extenuate, not approve, his conduct. Truly we need our temperance lecturers and societies, and even the dreaded and abused Maine law, when such powers are wrecked by that monstrous vice; and this, too, but a single instance in ten thousand of the ruin it has wrought. Two things strike the reader of these volumes: — first, the horror which envelopes, as it were, many of the poems and stories in the collection — horror for which we can find no appropriate name; “ghostly” does not at all express it — that is too impalpable — it is rather the horror which broods in the charnel, among the foulest remnants of mortal corruption. The second remarkable feature is the analytical character of the author’s mind. This last element is fully displayed in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a narrative, by the way, which thrilled me with terror, though I read it in broad daylight, and in the room with several people; the former is present in Ligeia, the Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, The Black Cat, and many other tales. After going through these books, one puts the question, Cui Bono? in good earnest. Utilitarianism, in its ordinary sense, we all detest; we feel what gratitude we owe the poet who brings us, amid the dust and toil of common life the freshness and beauty of the life so far above it — “who peoples our solitudes with forms fair and noble” — who awakens in our souls aspirations after the Infinite — we feel, I say, that we have cause to be grateful to him, even though he teaches us no one thing which the practical and worldly-wise would deem of value. But what purpose is served by tracing through all its stages the workings of a disordered and infected mind? What good thing within us does it strengthen? To what faculty of our better natures does it afford delight? When we see a man of such creative fancy, such powers of delineation, such insight into motive, debasing all his gifts — drawing inspiration, not from the beautiful face of Nature, or from God’s revelations in the soul, but from a diseased organ of wonder, a miserable craving after the horribly supernatural, we can but close the book, with a sigh for the poor purpose to which such talents were devoted. And then, as we turn thoughtfully to all that remains of his earthly semblance, the severe face looks into ours with such a life-like smile!

To pass from this unhealthy mind to one strong, and sound, and pure — do you know that when I read those lines of Whittier’s in last week’s Post, I was wonderfully impelled to write, and thank him for the pleasure they had conferred on one unknown and far away? Some writer in the National Magazine — Stoddard, I think — denies Whittier’s claims to having produced any real poetry. From this criticism we may safely appeal to the works criticised themselves; to most readers they will need no other vindication. Yet we are apt to regard the true poet-soul as contemplative and recluse. Mr. Stoddard’s preferences for the ideal may have misled him. The muse is by no means bound to dwell forever on the violet-crowned mountain; she may, with great propriety, descend from that retreat occasionally, and walk forth amid the discord, the bustle and the clamor of our human life, and then [column 4:] and there lift up her voice, not to add one note more to the general din, but to charm it into listening silence. So Whittier’s Muse has done, and a few have listened — nay, not a few.

In his poetry, (not the Muse’s, as the “sense” — what there is of it — might seem to indicate) a peculiar use of words produced a remarkable effect — as thus:

  “Yet sometimes glimpses on my sight 

Through present wrong, the eternal right.” 

And again, in Eva, what a charm is imparted by these simple words

  “Gentle Eva, loving Eva,

Child confessor, true believer.”

A slight unevenness in the measure sometimes produces, to me at least, a very pleasing result:

“Oh, bear me thither! let me look

On Siloa’s pool and a Kedron’s brook!

Kneel at Gethsemane, and by

Genessaret [[sic]] walk before I die.”

And how happy it is that we can know Whittier’s poetry to be the true reflection of his mind; that we can be sure he feels, not sentimentalizes — means, not dreams. It rarely chances that we see poetry in the life as well as in the writings; let us then prize it the more when it is beheld.

In the Editor’s Drawer of Harper, I notice a quotation which, from its extraordinary rhythm and general unintelligibility, I take to be the property of a poet indigenous to this soil:

“Only look on that black

Eyed dame who is on that

Noble floor. None in

On the giddy dance

Her cheeks as fair as

The blooming rose in

The morn of life,” etc.

I can assure the editor that he gave us, by no means, as choice a morceau as he might have done.

Well — to quit poets real and pretended. If you ever met with any one who extols the country life, and talks of the virtues of the rural character, just tell them this story from me: Some time since a medical friend of mine was called on, in a case where it was desired to put the property of an insane person into the hands of trustees — the father of said person being active in the affair. The Doctor made his deposition, and went through with the customary formulae; this done, the father seemed to consider the business terminated, but was reminded by his lawyer of the necessity of seeing his physician. So he walked up to that individual, and demanded what his charges were.

“Oh! ‘tis no matter; anything you please;” responded our obliging friend.

The liberal-minded rustic drew forth six cents and a three cent piece. “Will that satisfy you?” he inquired. “Perfectly,” responded the amused M.D. and walked homewards with his story and his fee. Comment would be superfluous, so I shall make none, but will bid you good night, forthwith.

CATHERINE LEDYARD.

 


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Notes:

The New York Evening Post should not be confused with the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post

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[S:0 - SEP, March 21, 1853] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Poe, Poets, etc. (C. Ledyard, March 21, 1853)