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[Text: Anonymous, “[Review of Gill’s Life of Poe],” Lippincott’s Magazine, October 1877, p. 518.]


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The Life of Edgar Allan Poe. By W. F. Gill. Illustrated. New York: Dillingham.

    Griswold’s memoir of Poe has been actually beneficial to the reputation of its subject, contrary to its obvious design. It has caused a thorough sifting of all accessible records of the poet’s short and dreary life, and elicited many reminiscences from men of mark who were in one way or another personally associated with him. We know now, more certainly than we might have done but for Griswold’s effort to prove the opposite, that Poe was not expelled in disgrace from the University of Virginia, but bore himself well there as a student and a man; that he deliberately went to work and procured his being dropped from the rolls of West Point by building up with venial faults the requisite sum of “demerits,” after having repeatedly and in vain sought permission to withdraw from the control of a system of discipline so unsuited to his temperament; that, so far from being intemperate, a single glass of, wine sufficed to bring on something like insanity; that, instead of neglecting his family, he devoted himself to them with a very rare exclusiveness, and wore down his health by watching at the bedside of his sick wife; that he was as faithful to his business as to his domestic obligations; and that, wholly disqualified for battling with the world, he managed to keep his necessarily troubled life at least unstained. We know, moreover, that he did not appoint [column 2:] Griswold his literary executor, attd that the document used by the latter as a means of deriving from that assumed .ofitce an opportunity of vindictive defamation was drawn ‘up after the poet’s death by Griswold himself. To , the controversy thus excited we are indebted . for the illumination of one or two poems relinquished by the critics as hopelessly, if not intentionally, obscure. Ulalume, for example, held by some to be a mere experiment on the jingling’,capacity of words and the’ taste of readers for grappling with insoluble puzzles, is pronounced by one familiar with his most intimate feelings at’ the time of its composition a sublimated but distinct reflex of them and of the circumstances which gave them Color.

    Could Poe’s pen have cleared itself from the morbid influences which fixed it in a peculiar path, we might have missed some of his finest and most subtle poems and some prose efforts which we could better spare. But his wonderful powers of analysis would have been serviceable upon a broader and more practical field. He had an insight into the laws of language and of rhythm equalled by no one else in our day. What is most mysterious in the forms and relations of matter had a special charm for him. None could trace it more, acutely; and his powers, matured by more and healthier years and applied in their favorite direction, were quite equal to results like those attained by his predecessor Goethe, the savant of poets. He died a few years older than Burns and Byron, but more of a boy than either. The man Poe we never saw. The best of him was to come, and it never came. Poe had, however, what he is not always credited with -- the sincerity and earnestness of maturity. He was anything but a mere propounder of riddles. Had he lived to our day, his office would have been to aid science, so wonderfully advanced in the intervening third of a century, in solving some of its own. And in addition to that possible work we should have been none the poorer in the treasures of poetry he actually gave us.


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[S:0 - LM, 1877]