Text: Richard H. Stoddard, “Preface to the Memoir,” Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, London: George Routledge, 1875, pp. ix-xiv


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­[page ix, unnumbered:]

PREFACE TO THE MEMOIR.

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THE life of EDGAR ALLAN POE has been related many times, and always incorrectly. That it was a difficult task to perform, most of his biographers have felt, but how difficult it was none of them have really known. The evidence upon which the received versions of it have rested, has never been examined: there has been a blind acceptance of statements which confuted themselves, — and acceptance of everything as fact which Poe’s first biographer, Dr. Rufus W. Griswold, chose to relate. His estimate of Poe’s character has been questioned, his facts have not. Why, indeed, should they have been? one naturally reasons. Did he not know Poe? and did not Poe make him his literary executor? He knew Poe, but he disliked him bitterly. Poe made him his ­[page x:] executor, but he had no conception of the duties which that delicate task imposed upon him. His first act, after Poe’s death, was to write a long newspaper article, which started off with the announcement that many would be startled by the assertion, but few would be grieved by it. This article was everywhere copied, and commented on, generally in a hostile spirit. It was resented as an outrage over the newly-made grave of the unhappy man whose life had been its own worst punishment. It should be said in favour of Dr. Griswold that when he committed this serious literary offence he had not heard that Poe had requested he should be his executor. This is all that can be said in his favour. It should have been clear to him from the beginning, as it was to others, that he ought not to have accepted the trust, since he could by no possibility perform it in the proper spirit. He accepted it, however, and performed it in his own spirit, which Poe’s friends and admirers declared was a malignant one, and which certainly is one to be avoided by all right-minded biographers. He mis-used ­[page xi:] used Poe’s papers, by using them to his disadvantage solely. He neglected to inform himself thoroughly in regard to Poe’s life. He mis-stated the year and place of his birth; and, writing on them after his death, made no effort to fill up the melancholy outline of his last days. It stands in his Memoir now that Poe was born at Baltimore, in 1811. He had Poe’s authority for the date, it may be said, but he should have satisfied himself that Poe’s authority was correct. None knew this so well as he, for he also had Poe’s authority that he was born in 1813. Both dates, he knew, could not be correct. The fact is, he took no pains with his work, which abounds with blunders. The worst of these have been corrected, I trust, in the short Memoir which follows. It is based upon Dr. Griswold’s biographical sketch, and upon a paper by the present writer, which appeared in Harper’s Magazine for September, 1872, and in which some of Dr. Griswold’s statements were examined. It was received with favour, I believe, and it led to many letters from those who had known Poe, and who ­[page xii:] had information to impart concerning him. These letters enabled me to clear up the obscurity that surrounded his birth, as well as his early days in Richmond, his life at college and at West Point, and his alleged journey to Greece, which ended at St. Petersburg, with a prospect of Siberia. A correspondent in Boston, Mass., traced for me the theatrical career of his parents in that city in the year of his birth: another correspondent, a lady of Richmond, Virginia, traced the date of his mother’s death, and other parts of more or less importance, of which I have availed myself, as I have of everything that I could authenticate. I need not say that I have tried to write impartially, and that I have passed no judgment upon the singular man whose life I have tried to relate, and who has more than once reminded me of what Dr. Johnson writes of Butler, viz., “The date of his birth is doubtful, the mode and place of his education are unknown, the events of his life are variously related, and all that can be told with certainty is that he was poor.” ­[page xiii:]

The present edition of the Poetical Works of Poe is the first complete one that has ever been made. It contains, it is believed, all that he published in verse. The arrangement of the existing editions has been followed, for two reasons, one being the great difficulty attending a strictly chronological arrangement, the other being Poe’s own arrangement of “Poems written in Youth,” and the mendacious note attached to it. A few words on this point may interest biographers, if no others. Poe published two collections of juvenile verse, — “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems” (Baltimore: Hatch and Dunning, 1829), and “Poems, Second Edition” (New York: published by Elam Bliss, 1831). The first contained thirteen poems, in the following order, — a sonnet addressed to Science, “Al Aaraaf,” “Tamerlane,” “Preface,” “To —— ——,” “To —— ——,” “To —— ——,” “To the River,” “The Lake — To ——,” “Spirits of the Dead,” “A Dream,” “To M ——,” and “Fairyland.” The second contained ten poems, in the following order, (besides a prose letter at the beginning), — ­[page xiv:] “Introduction,” “To Helen,” “Israfel,” “The Doomed City,” “Fairy Land,” “Irene,” “A P├Žan,” “The Valley Nis,” “Al Aaraaf,” and “Tamerlane.” Of the whole number in both volumes, Poe re-printed, in 1845, ten among his “Poems written in Youth:” he re-wrote six, which were inserted among the poems of his manhood, the rest he omitted. They are restored here, — not in the places they occupied in the original editions, but after his “Poems written in Youth.” “Al Aaraaf” and “Tamerlane” are substantially the same in the different editions, though there are minor changes in them, omissions, insertions, and the like. I might add other particulars, but they would be out of place here, where my object is not bibliography, but biography, — the biography that I now submit to English readers.

R. H. STODDARD.

THE CENTURY, NEW YORK.


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Notes:

“The Century” was the Century Club, in New York, of which Stoddard was long a member.

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[S:1 - PEAP, 1875] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Memoir of Edgar A. Poe [Preface] (R. H. Stoddard, 1875)