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Edgar Allan Poe
Additional Commentaries
Death Theories
Writing Style
Poe's Influence on Lit
Selected Texts
Poe Psychological Analysis
Photo Gallery
Additional Commentaries

 ". . . the reader [should not] be surprised if a criticism upon Poe is mostly negative, and rather suggests new doubts than resolves those already existing; for it is Poe's merit to carry people away, and it is his besetting sin that he wants altogether such scrupulous honesty as guides and restrains the finished artist. He was, let us say it with all sorrow, not conscientious. Hunger was ever at his door, and he had too imperious a desire for what we call nowadays the sensational in literature."

(Robert Louis Stevenson, "[Review of] The Works of Edgar Allan Poe," Academy, VII, January, 2, 1875. Reprinted in C. C. Bigelow and Temple Scott, eds., The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, 10 vols, New York: Greenock Press, 1906, IX, pp. 255-262.)
"In a dream I once had, I saw a vessel on the sea, at midnight, in a storm. It was no great full-rigg'd ship, nor majestic steamer, steering firmly through the gale, but seem'd one of those superb little schooner yachts I had often seen lying anchor'd, rocking so jauntily, in the waters around New York, or up Long Island sound — now flying uncontroll'd with torn sails and broken spars through the wild sleet and winds and waves of the night. On the deck was a slender, slight, beautiful figure, a dim man, apparently enjoying all the terror, the murk, and the dislocation of which he was the centre and the victim. That figure of my lurid dream might stand for Edgar Poe, his spirit, his fortunes, and his poems — themselves all lurid dreams."

(Walt Whitman, The Washington Star, November 16, 1875.)
"With all due respect to the very original genius of the author of the Tales of Mystery, it seems to us that to take him with more than a certain degree of seriousness is to lack seriousness one's self. An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection. Baudelaire thought him a profound philosopher, the neglect of whose golden utterances stamped his native land with infamy. Nevertheless, Poe was vastly the greater charlatan of the two, as well as the greater genius."

(Henry James, "Charles Baudelaire," The Nation, XXII, 1876 p. 280.)
"Poe's judgements [in his criticisms] are pretentious, spiteful, vulgar; but they contain a great deal of sense and discrimination as well, and here and there, sometimes at frequent intervals, we find a phrase of happy insight imbedded in a patch of fatuous pedantry."

(Henry James, Hawthorne, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1879, pp. 62-63.)
"Some of the old vindictiveness against Poe still crops up occasionally in the Northern papers — partly because they hate the South and everything Southern, and partly because some of the old 'mutual-admiration' set still survives, and have never yet forgiven the man who told them the truth about themselves."

(William Hand Browne, "[Letter to John H. Ingram]," October 16, 1880. Browne was the editor of The Southern Magazine. Although he had not himself known Poe, Browne had excellent contacts in Baltimore and supplied Ingram with much useful information.)
"Poe's verses illustrate an intense faculty for technical and abstract beauty, with the rhyming art to excess, an incorrigible propensity toward nocturnal themes, a demonic undertone behind every page — and, by final judgement, probably belong among the electric lights of imaginative literature, brilliant and dazzling, but with no heat."

(Walt Whitman, "Edgar Poe's Significance," The Critic, II, June 3, 1882, p. 147.)
"My dear Horton . . . I do not know why you or indeed anybody should want to illustrate Poe . . . I admire a few lyrics of his extremely and a few pages of his prose, chiefly in his critical essays, which are sometimes profound. The rest of him seems to me vulgar and commonplace . . ."

(William Butler Yeats, "[Letter to W. T. Horton]," September 3, 1899. Yeats was commenting on the 1884 edition of "The Raven" with illustrations by Gustave Dore.)
"To me his [Poe's] prose is unreadable — like Jane Austen's. No, there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death."

(Mark Twain [Samuel L. Clemens], letter to W. D. Howells, January 18, 1909. Reprinted in Henry Nash Smith and William M. Gibson, eds., Mark Twain-Howells Letters, Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1960, II, p. 841.)
"[Poe] died . . . and was duly explained away as a drunkard and a failure, though it remains an open question whether he really drank as much in his whole lifetime as a modern successful American drinks, without comment, in six months. . . . Poe constantly and inevitably produced magic where his greatest contemporaries produced only beauty. . . . Poe's supremacy in this respect has cost him his reputation. . . . Above all, Poe is great because he is independent of cheap attractions, independent of sex, of patriotism, of fighting, of sentimentality, snobbery, gluttony, and all the rest of the vulgar stock-in-trade of his profession."

(George Bernard Shaw, "Edgar Allan Poe," the Nation (London), January 16, 1909.)
"Poe wrote like a drunkard and a man who is not accustomed to pay his debts."

(Arthur Twining Hadley, President of Yale University (1899-1921) explaining, in 1909, his refusal to support Poe's election to the Hall of Fame. Without regard to Hadley's unjust opinions, Poe's name was admitted in 1910.)
"Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?"

(Arthur Conan Doyle, in an address before the Poe Centennial Celebration Dinner of the Author's Society, March 1909.)

"In him [Poe] American literature is anchored, in him alone, on solid ground."

(William Carlos William, "Edgar Allan Poe," In the American Grain, 1925.)
"The best poems of Poe are lovely things, indeed, but they are as devoid of logical content as so many college yells. . . . [Poe was] a genius, and if not of the first rank, then at least near the top of the second — but a foolish, disingenuous and often somewhat trashy man."

A Coral Gables High School Webquest Project