It seems to me that imagination and reasoning have reached magnificent heights with some writers, especially poets. Among them, I strongly believe, the highest ever was Edgar Allan Poe. With Baudelaire I state that "le poete est souverainement intelligent, qu'il est l'intelligence par excellence, -et que l'imagination est la plus scientifique des facultes, parce que seule elle comprend l'analogie universelle...". One of those poets was Edgar Allan Poe. I reproduce here "The Works of Edgar Allan Poe" as a gesture against what Baudelaire called "la ferocite de l'hypocrisie bourgeoise", and what I personally call mediocrity, imbecility, and comprehensive intellectual dishonesty, all of which is presented as "realistic thinking". And, as we know, contemporary development studies are full of  "realistic thinking". So, let us learn something from Edgar Allan Poe!.  (Róbinson Rojas - 1996)
The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe V. 1
Volume 1 of the Raven Edition  #6 in our series by Edgar Allan Poe

VOLUME I  Contents
Edgar Allan Poe, An Appreciation
Life of Poe, by James Russell Lowell
Death of Poe, by N. P. Willis
The Unparalled Adventures of One Hans Pfall
The Gold Bug
Four Beasts in One
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The Mystery of Marie Rogęt
The Balloon Hoax
MS. Found in a Bottle
The Oval Portrait                          BACK TO MAIN INDEX

THE situation of American literature is anomalous. It has no centre, 
or, if it have, it is like that of the sphere of Hermes. It is, 
divided into many systems, each revolving round its several suns, and 
often presenting to the rest only the faint glimmer of a 
milk-and-water way. Our capital city, unlike London or Paris, is not 
a great central heart from which life and vigor radiate to the 
extremities, but resembles more an isolated umbilicus stuck down as 
near a's may be to the centre of the land, and seeming rather to tell 
a legend of former usefulness than to serve any present need. Boston, 
New York, Philadelphia, each has its literature almost more distinct 
than those of the different dialects of Germany; and the Young Queen 
of the West has also one of her own, of which some articulate rumor 
barely has reached us dwellers by the Atlantic. 
Perhaps there is no task more difficult than the just criticism of 
contemporary literature. It is even more grateful to give praise 
where it is needed than where it is deserved, and friendship so often 
seduces the iron stylus of justice into a vague flourish, that she 
writes what seems rather like an epitaph than a criticism. Yet if 
praise be given as an alms, we could not drop so poisonous a one into 
any man's hat. The critic's ink may suffer equally from too large an 
infusion of nutgalls or of sugar. But it is easier to be generous 
than to be just, and we might readily put faith in that fabulous 
direction to the hiding place of truth, did we judge from the amount 
of water which we usually find mixed with it. 
Remarkable experiences are usually confined to the inner life of 
imaginative men, but Mr. Poe's biography displays a vicissitude and 
peculiarity of interest such as is rarely met with. The offspring of 
a romantic marriage, and left an orphan at an early age, he was 
adopted by Mr. Allan, a wealthy Virginian, whose barren marriage-bed 
seemed the warranty of a large estate to the young poet. 
Having received a classical education in England, he returned home 
and entered the University of Virginia, where, after an extravagant 
course, followed by reformation at the last extremity, he was 
graduated with the highest honors of his class. Then came a boyish 
attempt to join the fortunes of the insurgent Greeks, which ended at 
St. Petersburg, where he got into difficulties through want of a 
passport, from which he was rescued by the American consul and sent 
home. He now entered the military academy at West Point, from which 
he obtained a dismissal on hearing of the birth of a son to his 
adopted father, by a second marriage, an event which cut off his 
expectations as an heir. The death of Mr. Allan, in whose will his 
name was not mentioned, soon after relieved him of all doubt in this 
regard, and he committed himself at once to authorship for a support. 
Previously to this, however, he had published (in 1827) a small 
volume of poems, which soon ran through three editions, and excited 
high expectations of its author's future distinction in the minds of 
many competent judges. 
That no certain augury can be drawn from a poet's earliest lispings 
there are instances enough to prove. Shakespeare's first poems, 
though brimful of vigor and youth and picturesqueness, give but a 
very faint promise of the directness, condensation and overflowing 
moral of his maturer works. Perhaps, however, Shakespeare is hardly a 
case in point, his "Venus and Adonis" having been published, we 
believe, in his twenty-sixth year. Milton's Latin verses show 
tenderness, a fine eye for nature, and a delicate appreciation of 
classic models, .but give no hint of the author of a new style in 
poetry. Pope's youthful pieces have all the sing-song, wholly 
unrelieved by the glittering malignity and eloquent irreligion of his 
later productions. Collins' callow namby-pamby died and gave no sign 
of the vigorous and original genius which he afterward displayed. We 
have never thought that the world lost more in the "marvellous boy," 
Chatterton, than a very ingenious imitator of obscure and antiquated 
dulness. Where he becomes original (as it is called), the interest of 
ingenuity ceases and he becomes stupid. Kirke White's promises were 
indorsed by the respectable name of Mr. Southey, but surely with no 
authority from Apollo. They have the merit of a traditional piety, 
which to our mind, if uttered at all, had been less objectionable in 
the retired closet of a diary, and in the sober raiment of prose. 
They do not clutch hold of the memory with 
the drowning pertinacity of Watts; neither have they the interest of 
his occasional simple, lucky beauty. Bums having fortunately been 
rescued by his humble station from the contaminating society of the 
"Best models," wrote well and naturally from the first. Had he been 
unfortunate enough to have had an educated taste, we should have had 
a series of poems from which, as from his letters, we could sift here 
and there a kernel from the mass of chaff. Coleridge's youthful 
efforts give no promise whatever of that poetical genius which 
produced at once the wildest, tenderest, most original and most 
purely imaginative poems of modem times. Byron's "Hours of Idleness" 
would never find a reader except from an intrepid and indefatigable 
curiosity. In Wordsworth's first preludings there is but a dim 
foreboding of the creator of an era. From Southey's early poems, a 
safer augury might have been drawn. They show the patient 
investigator, the close student of history, and the unwearied 
explorer of the beauties of predecessors, but they give no assurances 
of a man who should add aught to stock of household words, or to the 
rarer and more sacred delights of the fireside or the arbor. The 
earliest specimens of Shelley's poetic mind already, also, give 
tokens of that ethereal sublimation in which the spirit seems to soar 
above the regions of words, but leaves its body, the verse, to be 
entombed, without hope of resurrection, in a mass of them. Cowley is 
generally instanced as a wonder of precocity. But his early 
insipidities show only a capacity for rhyming and for the metrical 
arrangement of certain conventional combinations of words, a capacity 
wholly dependent on a delicate physical organization, and an unhappy 
memory. An early poem is only remarkable when it displays an effort 
of _reason, _and the rudest verses in which we can trace some 
conception of the ends of poetry, are worth all the miracles of 
smooth juvenile versification. A school-boy, one would say, might 
acquire the regular see-saw of Pope merely by an association with the 
motion of the play-ground tilt. 
Mr. Poe's early productions show that he could see through the verse 
to the spirit beneath, and that he already had a feeling that all the 
life and grace of the one must depend on and be modulated by the will 
of the other. We call them the most remarkable boyish poems that we 
have ever read. We know of none that can compare with them for 
maturity of purpose, and a nice understanding of the effects of 
language and metre. Such pieces are only valuable when they display 
what we can only express by the contradictory phrase of _innate 
experience. _We copy one of the shorter poems, written when the 
author was only fourteen. There is a little dimness in the filling 
up, but the grace and symmetry of the outline are such as few poets 
ever attain. There is a smack of ambrosia about it. 
Helen, thy beauty is to me 
  Like those Nicean barks of yore, 
That gently, o'er a perfumed sea, 
  The weary, way-worn wanderer bore 
To his own native shore. 
On desperate seas long wont to roam, 
  Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face, 
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home 
  To the glory that was Greece 
And the grandeur that was Rome. 
Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche 
  How statue-like I see thee stand! 
The agate lamp within thy hand, 
  Ah ! Psyche, from the regions which 
Are Holy Land ! 
It is the tendency of_ _the young poet that impresses us. Here is no 
"withering scorn," no heart "blighted" ere it has safely got into its 
teens, none of the drawing-room sansculottism which Byron had brought 
into vogue. All is limpid and serene, with a pleasant dash of the 
Greek Helicon in it. The melody of the whole, too, is remarkable. It 
is not of that kind which can be demonstrated arithmetically upon the 
tips of the fingers. It is of that finer sort which the inner ear 
alone _can _estimate. It seems simple, like a Greek column, because 
of its perfection. In a poem named "Ligeia," under which title he 
intended to personify the music of nature,, our boy-poet gives us the 
following exquisite picture: 
  Ligeia ! Ligeia ! 
My beautiful one, 
  Whose harshest idea 
Will to melody run, 
  Say, is it thy will, 
On the breezes to toss, 
  Or, capriciously still, 
Like the lone albatross, 
  Incumbent on night, 
As she on the air, 
  To keep watch with delight 
On the harmony there? 
John Neal, himself a man of genius, and whose lyre has been too 
long capriciously silent, appreciated the high merit of these and 
similar passages, and drew a proud horoscope for their author. 
Mr. Poe had that indescribable something which men have agreed to 
call _genius. _No man could ever tell us precisely what it is, and 
yet there is none who is not inevitably aware of its presence and its 
power. Let talent writhe and contort itself as it may, it has no such 
magnetism. Larger of bone and sinew it may be, but the wings are 
wanting. Talent sticks fast to earth, and its most perfect works have 
still one- foot of clay. Genius claims kindred with the very workings 
of Nature herself, so that a sunset shall seem like a quotation from 
Dante, and if Shakespeare be read in the very presence of the sea 
itself, his verses shall but seem nobler for the sublime criticism of 
ocean. Talent may make friends for itself, but only genius can give 
to its creations the divine power of winning love and veneration. 
Enthusiasm cannot cling to what itself is unenthusiastic, nor will he 
ever have disciples who has not himself impulsive zeal enough to be a 
disciple. Great wits are allied to madness only inasmuch as they are 
possessed and carried away by their demon, While talent keeps him, as 
Paracelsus did, securely prisoned in the pommel of his sword. To the 
eye of genius, the veil of the spiritual world is ever rent asunder 
that it may perceive the ministers of good and evil who throng 
continually around it. No man of mere talent ever flung his inkstand 
at the devil. 
When we say that Mr. Poe had genius, we do not mean to say that he 
has produced evidence of the highest. But to say that he possesses it 
at all is to say that he needs only zeal, industry, and a reverence 
for the trust reposed in him, to achieve the proudest triumphs and 
the greenest laurels. If we may believe the Longinuses; and 
Aristotles of our newspapers, we have quite too many geniuses of the 
loftiest order to render a place among them at all desirable, whether 
for its hardness of attainment or its seclusion. The highest peak of 
our Parnassus is, according to these gentlemen, by far the most 
thickly settled portion of the country, a circumstance which must 
make it an uncomfortable residence for individuals of a poetical 
temperament, if love of solitude be, as immemorial tradition asserts, 
a necessary part of their idiosyncrasy. 
Mr. Poe has two of the prime qualities of genius, a faculty of 
vigorous yet minute analysis, and a wonderful fecundity of 
imagination. The first of these faculties is as needful to the artist 
in words, as a knowledge of anatomy is to the artist in colors or in 
stone. This enables him to conceive truly, to maintain a proper 
relation of parts, and to draw a correct outline, while the second 
groups, fills up and colors. Both of these Mr. Poe has displayed with 
singular distinctness in his prose works, the last predominating in 
his earlier tales, and the first in his later ones. In judging of the 
merit of an author, and assigning him his niche among our household 
gods, we have a right to regard him from our own point of view, and 
to measure him by our own standard. But, in estimating the amount of 
power displayed in his works, we must be governed by his own design, 
and placing them by the side of his own ideal, find how much is 
wanting. We differ from Mr. Poe in his opinions of the objects of 
art. He esteems that object to be the creation of Beauty, and perhaps 
it is only in the definition of that word that we disagree with him. 
But in what we shall say of his writings, we shall take his own 
standard as our guide. The temple of the god of song is equally. 
accessible from every side, and there is room enough in it for all 
who bring offerings, or seek in oracle. 
In his tales, Mr. Poe has chosen to exhibit his power chiefly in that 
dim region which stretches from the very utmost limits of the 
probable into the weird confines of superstition and unreality. He 
combines in a very remarkable manner two faculties which are seldom 
found united; a power of influencing the mind of the reader by the 
impalpable shadows of mystery, and a minuteness of detail which does 
not leave a pin or a button unnoticed. Both are, in truth, the 
natural results of the predominating quality of his mind, to which we 
have before alluded, analysis. It is this which distinguishes the 
artist. His mind at once reaches forward to the effect to be 
produced. Having resolved to bring about certain emotions in the 
reader, he makes all subordinate parts tend strictly to the common 
centre. Even his mystery is mathematical to his own mind. To him X is 
a known quantity all along. In any picture that he paints he 
understands the chemical properties of all his colors. However vague 
some of his figures may seem, however formless the shadows, to him 
the outline is as clear and distinct as that of a geometrical 
diagram. For this reason Mr. Poe has no sympathy with Mysticism. The 
Mystic dwells in the mystery, is enveloped with it; it colors all his 
thoughts; it affects his optic nerve especially, and the commonest 
things get a rainbow edging from it. Mr. Poe, on the other hand, is a 
spectator _ab extra. _He analyzes, he dissects, he watches 
   "with an eye serene, 
The very pulse of the machine," 
for such it practically is to him, with wheels and cogs and 
piston-rods, all working to produce a certain end. 
This analyzing tendency of his mind balances the poetical, and by 
giving him the patience to be minute, enables him to throw a 
wonderful reality into his most unreal fancies. A monomania he paints 
with great power. He loves to dissect one of these cancers of the 
mind, and to trace all the subtle ramifications of its roots. In 
raising images of horror, also, he has strange success, conveying to 
us sometimes by a dusky hint some terrible _doubt _which is the 
secret of all horror. He leaves to imagination the task of finishing 
the picture, a task to which only she is competent. 
"For much imaginary work was there; 
Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind, 
That for Achilles' image stood his spear 
Grasped in an armed hand; himself behind 
Was left unseen, save to the eye of mind." 
Besides the merit of conception, Mr. Poe's writings have also that of 
His style is highly finished, graceful and truly classical. It would 
be hard to find a living author who had displayed such varied powers. 
As an example of his style we would refer to one of his tales, "The 
House of Usher," in the first volume of his "Tales of the Grotesque 
and Arabesque." It has a singular charm for us, and we think that no 
one could read it without being strongly moved by its serene and 
sombre beauty. Had its author written nothing else, it would alone 
have been enough to stamp him as a man of genius, and the master of a 
classic style. In this tale occurs, perhaps, the most beautiful of 
his poems. 
The great masters of imagination have seldom resorted to the vague 
and the unreal as sources of effect. They have not used dread and 
horror alone, but only in combination with other qualities, as means 
of subjugating the fancies of their readers. The loftiest muse has 
ever a household and fireside charm about her. Mr. Poe's secret lies 
mainly in the skill with which lie has employed the strange 
fascination of mystery and terror. In this his success is so great 
and striking as to deserve the name of art, not artifice. We cannot 
call his materials the noblest or purest, but we must concede to him 
the highest merit of construction. 
As a critic, Mr. Poe was aesthetically deficient. Unerring in his 
analysis of dictions, metres and plots, he seemed wanting in the 
faculty of perceiving the profounder ethics of art. His criticisms 
are, however, distinguished for scientific precision and coherence of 
logic. They have the exactness, and at the same time, the coldness of 
mathematical demonstrations. Yet they stand in strikingly refreshing 
contrast with the vague generalisms and sharp personalities of the 
day. If deficient in warmth, they are also without the heat of 
partisanship. They are especially valuable as illustrating the great 
truth, too generally overlooked, that analytic power is a subordinate 
quality of the critic. 
On the whole, it may be considered certain that Mr. Poe has attained 
an individual eminence in our literature which he will keep. He has 
given proof of power and originality. He has done that which could 
only be done once with success or safety, and the imitation or 
repetition of which would produce weariness. 
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