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POE AS HE WAS
R. HANNS HEINZ EWERS, the great poet of Germany, declares that the Anglo-Saxon race is too much concerned with the morality or immorality of the poet to appreciate the unique genius of the greatest American poet, Edgar Allan Poe. Gill says the poetical works of Poe are more popular in England than in America, and that Poe's stories have been naturalized in France by Baudelaire. Regardless of how these attitudes prevent a broad-minded conception obtainable by the study of Poe, there is a higher conception above the German, French, or English—the conception of Culture that accepts the real value and worth of Poe's product of genius. To create for this conception of Culture is worthy of any poet or artist. This Poe deemed worthy, and created for this conception of Culture the greatest of American literature.
Knowing that there are many existing attitudes toward Poe and his works, let us first find out who Poe is. If the readers of Poe and the enemies of Poe could really understand this American genius, how great would be the change in opinions regarding him as a man and as a writer. The only method of determining how we can get an understanding of Poe as a man and as a writer, is to examine him pathologically. This is worthy of attempt by any lover of Poe; particularly at this time, when there are a few remaining poet-lovers who can not read a line from Poe on account of his perfectly horrid nature. Wherein does the immorality of his life, or the mystery enveloping his personality, affect his great contribution to American literature? Poe would never have encouraged his biographers to defend his weaknesses if by this it would have moved the mystic world in which he lived and had his being. In fact, it would be an absolute injustice for any one to acquit Poe of his vices, when they were necessary for making his life so fascinating and contributing to his genius. Poe may have preferred to go down in the annals of man as a villain rather than a saint. Who knows but
what this motive actuated his selecting the perfidous Griswold as a writer of his memoir? At any rate, Poe's Evil Angel avenged Poe for excoriating his poetry by malignantly and jealously blacking Poe's character beyond redemption. Poe understood the dramatics of abnormalities; why ridicule or deprive him of his abnormality if it deprives his personality of dramatic interest? Why should any one wish to attempt such an impossibility? Why should we wish such a Poe? Why depreciate his poetry because of his immoral life? So many of our geniuses have had lives not at all commendable. Poe naturally falls in the same category of abnormalities; if he did not, he would not be a genius. The very fact of withholding appreciation of a man's achievements on account of his manner of living is an offense against the society of man.
While we are passing damnatory sentences upon Poe for his immorality and continue disliking his works on account of his vices, why not cast the same criticism upon other great authors? Lamb, Hawthorne, Dante, Carlyle, Milton, Johnson, Wordsworth, Pope, Goethe, Southey, were all steeped in vices of a damnable nature; yet the would-be enemies of Poe enjoy their literature without the least question concerning the character of these men.
Lamb had a great weakness for gin, which was on a line with his sister's chronic homicide mania. Lamb's kindly sympathy did not save him from alcoholism. Why such an affection for Lamb and none for Poe? Likewise, we may compare Poe with Hawthorne, in whom we find similar traits. Poe was homeloving and had sociable tendencies, especially when he was drinking. Hawthorne was a loveless egoist. He had little home life with his mother and sisters. We know that Poe never assoIciated with his sister or wrote to his brother William. We can find writers with vices equal to those of Poe, yet we appreciate their writings. Dante was irrational, ferocious, and fanatical; Carlyle was possessed of gross injustice; Milton was characterized by marital selfishness; while Luther showed even brutality. Johnson's boorishness, Wordsworth's self-love, Pope's
malice, Goethe's egoism, Southey's bigotry, none of which can be charged against Poe, were vices wholly worthy of condemnation. Would you refrain from reading these world-wide literati because of their vices? Why belittle man's achievements because of some mental or physical weakness?
A pathological examination of Poe shows that his vices were as much a part of himself as was his genius a part of his abnormality. Thus to bring Poe to the judgment bar of a pathological study, not judging him from the Beatitudes, is the object of the following treatise. This creates new interest in Poe's tragic life. Why was it that nature endowed him with so many qualities of a genius and damned him with so many weaknesses of man? No living being ever paid such a costly price for his genius.
What is there American about Poe, anyway? We have said and heard said that Poe was an American. Was he really an American? If we should visit New York City and view the Hall of Fame, we would find one Southern representative among America's literati-Edgar Allan Poe. Though he was born in Boston, he never liked to admit it. Stedman says: "From his father he inherited Italian, French, and Irish blood. His mother, Elizabeth Arnold, was as purely English as her name." J. A. Harrison, in his Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, says, "Rich currents of Irish, Scotch, English, and American blood ran together in his palpitating veins and produced a psychic blend unlike that of any other American poet." We can sit back and exclaim with Shakespeare:
and the elements So mixed in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world, "This was a man.'
Yes, he was a man, but not an ordinary man. Elements of races were in his make-up. How are we to analyze so many inherited traits? He may have inherited his love of mysticism and drink from the Scotch and Irish. His love for logic, perhaps, he inherited from the French; his literary qualities from
the English and American; and his love for beauty from the Italians. Doubtless, he inherited his tendency for opium-eating from the English and Irish. Whence came all his traits we can not know absolutely. However, we do know he drank and used opium. Therefore, we shall attempt to analyze these traits.
Poe was certainly not a habitual drinker. A single drink would give Poe hysteria and incapacitate him for work for days. This proves conclusively that drinking never aided in the least in producing one line of poetry or prose, without further proving my conclusion by an abundance of evidence. No man who drank, with such a stupor following as after-effects, could write a single poem worthy of mention, though he be a genius. Those who are laboring under the illusion that Poe was inspired by liquor to write such wonderful poetry are confronted with contradictions on every side in the case of Poe. Whiskey never inspired or awakened the ability in Poe to pen one line of poetry or prose. To say all the work of Poe was done while he was drunk is idle and fallacious. That he drank to be inspired to write his weird tales is wholly incompatible with the temperament of man.
In opposition to this argument, however, we find Dr. Ewers making this statement: "Even more we love him (Poe) because of his drink, because we know just from this poison which destroyed his body pure blossoms shot forth, whose artistic work is imperishable." But does not the following statement from Dr. Ewers absolutely contradict the above and confirm my argument? "The Griswolds and the Ingrams could take any amount of wine, could take any amount of opium, eat any amount of hashish, nevertheless they would still be unable to create a work of art." Drink never caused any man or genius to pen a single line of artistic work. The capacity for literary pursuit must be subjective, resident within, and a higher and nobler motive or incentive than liquor is necessary to paint such artistic work as Poe painted. Whiskey only dulls and stupifies all mental activities in proportion to the amount taken by the individual and in the proportion to the intellectual capacities resident within the