Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

and listening to the old voices talking in the old way. We have had new thought and new truth, but presented in the fashion we have known and enjoyed for years. Happily, we can repeat our visit as often as we please, without the fear of worrying or wearying; for we may open the book at will. And we shall hope for new visits likewise. Milverton will be as earnest and more hopeful; Ellesmere will retain all that is good, and that which is provoking will now be softened down. No doubt by this time they are married. Where have they gone : The continent is unsettled, and they have often already been there. Perhaps they have gone to Scotland No doubt they have. And perhaps before the leaves are sere we may find them out among the sea lochs of the beautiful Frith of Clyde, or under the shadow of Ben Nevis.

[ocr errors][merged small]

W. must go back to the days of the early dramatists—of Marlowe, Dekker, Ford, Massinger, and Otway—before we shall find in the history of literature any parallel to the wild and morbid genius, and the reckless and miserable life and death of Edgar Allan Poe. Never was there a sadder story than that of his wayward and infatuated youth, his wasted opportunities, his estranged friends, his poverty-stricken manhood, his drunken degradation, his despairing efforts to reform, his gradual sinking into lower and lower depths of misery, till at last he died of delirium tremens in a hospital, at the age of thirty-eight. And his poetical genius, his extraordinary analytic power, his imagination that revelled in the realm of the awful, the weird, and the horrible, his utter lack of truth and honour, his inveterate selfishness, his inordinate vanity and insane folly,–all go to make a picture so strange and

* The Works of the late Edgar Allan Poe with a Memoir by Rufus Wilmot Griswold, and Notices of his Life and Genius by N. P. Willis and j. R. Lowell. In Four Volumes. New York ; 1856.

sad that it cannot easily be forgotten. We believe that this extraordinary man is but little known in this country; and we think our readers may be interested by a few pages given to some account of his life and works. The American edition of Poe's works consists of four handsome volumes of five hundred pages each, which, as regards paper, printing, and binding, are very favourable specimens of transatlantic publishing. The first volume contains a memoir of Poe's life by Mr. Griswold, and notices of his genius by Mr. N. P. Willis and Mr. Lowell. Mr. Griswold gives us the severer estimate of Poe’s life and character: Mr. Lowell and Mr. Willis appear anxious to say as much good of him as possible. There is something that relieves the dark colours in which Poe is usually depicted, in the brief notice of him by his mother-in-law, prefixed to the work. She says—

The late Edgar Allan Poe—who was the husband of my only daughter, the son of my eldest brother, and more than a son to myself, in his long-continued and affectionate observance of every duty to me—under an impression that he might be called suddenly from the world, wrote (just before he left his home in Fordham for the last time, on the 29th of June, 1849) requesting that the Rev. Rufus W. Griswold would act as his literary executor, and superintend the publication of his works—and that N. P. Willis, Esq., should write such observations upon his life and character as he might deem suitable to address to thinking men in vindication of his memory.

From this statement of Mrs. Clemm, and from a statement made by Francis Osgood, it seems that

those who knew Poe best were witnesses of a more

~~~~

amiable aspect of his character. There is, unhappily, only one account of the melancholy phase of it which was known to the public. We are told by Mr. Willis that the slightest indulgence in intoxicating liquor was sufficient to convert Poe into a thorough blackguard— that “with a single glass of wine his whole nature was reversed; the demon became uppermost, and, though none of the usual signs of intoxication were visible, his will was palpably insane.” The only excuse which can be offered for much of Poe's life is, that he was truly not a responsible agent. He was morally, though not intellectually, insane.

The father of Edgar Allan Poe, when a law student, eloped with an English actress named Elizabeth Arnold. After a time he married her. He became an actor, and acted along with his wife for six or seven years in various cities of the United States. At length his wife and he died, within a few weeks of each other, leaving two sons and a daughter utterly destitute. Edgar, their second child, was born at Baltimore in 1811. He was adopted by a wealthy merchant, one Mr. John Allan; and Mr. Allan having no children, young Poe was generally regarded as destined to succeed to his fortune. The child was beautiful, precocious, highspirited. He could brook no opposition, and Mr. and Mrs. Allan foolishly humoured him in every way. In 1816 he accompanied them to England, and was left for four or five years at school at Stoke Newington. In one of his tales Poe gives a striking description of his life here :

My earliest recollections of a school life are connected with a

large rambling Elizabethan house in a misty-looking village in England, where were a vast number of gigantic and gnarled trees, and where all the houses were excessively ancient. In truth, it was a dream-like and spirit-soothing place, that venerable old town. At this moment, in fancy, I feel the refreshing chilliness of its deeplyshadowed avenues, inhale the pure fragrance of its thousand shrubberies, and thrill anew with undefinable delight at the deep hollow note of the church bell, breaking each hour with sullen and sudden roar, upon the stillness of the dusky atmosphere in which the fretted Gothic steeple lay imbedded and asleep.

In 1822 he returned to America, and entered the University of Charlotteville. Here he was distinguished for ability, but still more for gambling, drunkenness, and other vices, which led to his being expelled. Mr. Allan had given him a very liberal allowance of money while at the University, but the reckless lad ran deeply in debt. He paid some large sums which he had lost in gambling with drafts upon Mr. Allan; and Mr. Allan having refused to pay these, the ungrateful young man wrote him an insulting letter, and set off for Europe with the avowed intention of joining the Greek army, which was at that time engaged in war with the Turks. He never reached Greece; but, after having disappeared for a year, he turned up at St. Petersburg, where the American Minister saved him from the penalties which he had incurred in some drunken brawl.

He came back once more to America; and Mr. Allan, with extraordinary forbearance, once more received him kindly; and as Poe now expressed a desire to enter the army, he procured him admission to the Military Academy. Experience had taught poor Poe

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »