Text: Edgar Allan Poe to James Russell Lowell — March 30, 1844 (LTR-173)


Philadelphia March 30. 1844.

My Dear Friend,

Graham has been speaking to me, lately, about your Biography, and I am anxious to write it at once — always provided you have no objection. Could you forward me the materials within a day or two? I am just now quite disengaged — in fact positively idle.

I presume you have read the Memoir of Willis, in the April No: of G. It is written by a Mr Landor — but I think it full of hyperbole. Willis is no genius — a graceful trifler — no more. He wants force & sincerity. He is very frequently far-fetched. In me, at least, he never excites an emotion. Perhaps the best poem he has written, is a little piece called “Unseen Spirits”, beginning

“The Shadow lay —

Along Broadway”.

You inquire about my own portrait. It has been done for some time — but is better as an engraving, than as a portrait. It scarcely resembles me at all. When it will appear I cannot say. Conrad & Mrs Stephens will certainly come before me — perhaps Gen: Morris. My Life is not yet written, and I am at a sad loss for a Biographer — for Graham insists upon leaving the matter to myself. [page 2:]

I sincerely rejoice to hear of the success of your volume. To sell eleven hundred copies of a bound book of American poetry, is to do wonders. I hope every thing from your future endeavours. Have you read “Orion”? Have you seen the article on “American Poetry” in the “London Foreign Quarterly”? It has been denied that Dickens wrote it — but, to me, the article affords so strong internal evidence of his hand that I would as soon think of doubting my existence. He tells much truth — although he evinces much ignorance and more spleen. Among other points he accuses myself of “metrical imitation” of Tennyson, citing, by way of instance, passages from poems which were written & published by me long before Tennyson was heard of: — but I have, at no time, made any poetical pretension. I am greatly indebted for the trouble you have taken about the Lectures, and shall be very glad to avail myself, next season, of any invitation from the “Boston Lyceum.” Thank you also, for the hint about the North A. Review: — I will bear it in mind. I mail you, herewith, a “Dollar Newspaper,” containing a somewhat extravagant tale of my own. I fear it will prove little to your taste.

How dreadful is the present condition of our Literature! To what are things tending? We want two things, certainly: — an International Copy-Right Law, and a well-founded Monthly Journal, of sufficient [page 3:] ability, circulation, and character, to control and so give tone to, our Letters. It should be, externally, a specimen of high, but not too refined Taste: — I mean, it should be boldly printed, on excellent paper, in single column, and be illustrated, not merely embellished, by spirited wood designs in the style of Grandville. Its chief aims should be Independence, Truth, Originality. It should be a journal of some 120 pp, and furnished at $5. It should have nothing to do with Agents or Agencies. Such a Magazine might be made to exercise a prodigious influence, and would be a source of vast wealth to its proprietors. There can be no reason why 100,000 copies might not, in one or two years, be circulated: but the means of bringing it into circulation should be radically different from those usually employed.

Such a journal might, perhaps, be set on foot by a coalition, and, thus set on foot, with proper understanding, would be irresistible. Suppose, for example, that the élite of our men of letters should combine secretly. Many of them control papers &c. Let each subscribe, say $200, for the commencement of the undertaking; furnishing other means, as required from time to time, until the work be established. The articles to be supplied by the members solely, and upon a concerted plan of action. A nominal editor to be elected from among the number. How could such a journal fail? I would like very much to hear your opinion upon this matter. Could not the “ball be set in motion”? If we do not defend [page 4:] ourselves by some such coalition, we shall be devoured, without mercy, by the Godeys, the Snowdens, et id genus omne.

Most truly your friend
Edgar A Poe





[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to J. R. Lowell (LTR173/RCL476)