Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore— Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore Of «never-never more!»
THIS stanza from «The Raven» was recommended by James Russell Lowell as an inscription upon the Baltimore monument which marks the resting place of Edgar Allan Poe, the most interesting and original figure in American letters. And, to signify that peculiar musical quality of Poe's genius which inthralls every reader, Mr. Lowell suggested this additional verse, from the «Haunted Palace»:
And all with pearl and ruby glowing Was the fair palace door, Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing, And sparkling ever more, A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty Was but to sing, In voices of surpassing beauty, The wit and wisdom of their king.
Born in poverty at Boston, January 19 1809, dying under painful circumstances at Baltimore, October 7, 1849, his whole literary career of scarcely fifteen years a pitiful struggle for mere subsistence, his memory malignantly misrepresented by his earliest biographer, Griswold, how completely has truth at last routed falsehood and how magnificently has Poe come into his own, For «The Raven,» first published in 1845, and, within a few months, read, recited and parodied wherever the English language was spoken, the half-starved poet received $10! Less than a year later his brother poet, N. P. Willis, issued this touching appeal to the admirers of genius on behalf of the neglected author, his dying wife and her devoted mother, then living under very straitened circumstances in a little cottage at Fordham, N. Y.:
«Here is one of the finest scholars, one of the most original men of genius, and one of the most industrious of the literary profession of our country, whose temporary suspension of labor, from bodily illness, drops him immediately to a level with the common objects of public charity. There is no intermediate stopping-place, no respectful shelter, where, with the delicacy due to genius and culture, be might secure aid, till, with returning health, he would resume his labors, and his unmortified sense of independence.»
And this was the tribute paid by the American public to the master who had given to it such tales of conjuring charm, of witchery and mystery as «The Fall of the House of Usher» and «Ligea; such fascinating hoaxes as «The Unparalleled Adventure of Hans Pfaall,» «MSS. Found in a Bottle,» «A Descent Into a Maelstrom» and «The Balloon Hoax»; such tales of conscience as «William Wilson,» «The Black Cat» and «The Tell-tale Heart,» wherein the retributions of remorse are portrayed with an awful fidelity; such tales of natural beauty as «The Island of the Fay» and «The Domain of Arnheim»; such marvellous studies in ratiocination as the «Gold-bug,» «The Murders in the Rue Morgue,» «The Purloined Letter» and «The Mystery of Marie Roget,» the latter, a recital of fact, demonstrating the author's wonderful capability of correctly analyzing the mysteries of the human mind; such tales of illusion and banter as «The Premature Burial» and «The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether»; such bits of extravaganza as «The Devil in the Belfry» and «The Angel of the Odd»; such tales of adventure as «The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym»; such papers of keen criticism and review as won for Poe the enthusiastic admiration of Charles Dickens, although they made him many enemies among the over-puffed minor American writers so mercilessly exposed by him; such poems of beauty and melody as «The Bells,» «The Haunted Palace,» «Tamerlane,» «The City in the Sea» and «The Raven.» What delight for the jaded senses of the reader is this enchanted domain of wonder-pieces! What an atmosphere of beauty, music, color! What resources of imagination, construction, analysis and absolute art! One might almost sympathize with Sarah Helen Whitman, who, confessing to a half faith in the old superstition of the significance of anagrams, found, in the transposed letters of Edgar Poe's name, the words «a God-peer.» His mind, she says, was indeed a «Haunted Palace,» echoing to the footfalls of angels and demons.
«No man,» Poe himself wrote, «has recorded, no man has dared to record, the wonders of his inner life.»
In these twentieth century days —of lavish recognition-artistic, popular and material-of genius, what rewards might not a Poe claim!
Edgar's father, a son of General David Poe, the American revolutionary patriot and friend of Lafayette, had married Mrs. Hopkins, an English actress, and, the match meeting with parental disapproval, had himself taken to the stage as a profession. Notwithstanding Mrs. Poe's beauty and talent the young couple had a sorry struggle for existence. When Edgar, at the age of two years, was orphaned, the family was in the utmost destitution. Apparently the future poet was to be cast upon the world homeless and friendless. But fate decreed that a few glimmers of sunshine were to illumine his life, for the little fellow was adopted by John Allan, a wealthy merchant of Richmond, Va. A brother and sister, the remaining children, were cared for by others.
In his new home Edgar found all the luxury and advantages money could provide. He was petted, spoiled and shown off to strangers. In Mrs. Allan he found all the affection a childless wife could bestow. Mr. Allan took much pride in the captivating, precocious lad. At the age of five the boy recited, with fine effect, passages of English poetry to the visitors at the Allan house.
From his eighth to his thirteenth year he attended the Manor House school, at Stoke-Newington, a suburb of London. It was the Rev. Dr. Bransby, head of the school, whom Poe so quaintly portrayed in «William Wilson.» Returning to Richmond in 1820 Edgar was sent to the school of Professor Joseph H. Clarke. He proved an apt pupil. Years afterward Professor Clarke thus wrote:
«While the other boys wrote mere mechanical verses, Poe wrote genuine poetry; the boy was a born poet. As a scholar he was ambitious to excel. He was remarkable for self-respect, without haughtiness. He had a sensitive and tender heart and would do anything for a friend. His nature was entirely free from selfishness.»
At the age of seventeen Poe entered the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He left that institution after one session. Official records prove that he was not expelled.