The Raven; with literary and historical commentary/Fabrications
|←Translations: Latin|| The Raven; with literary and historical commentary
NE outcome of the immense popularity in its native country of The Raven is the wonderful and continuous series of fabrications to which it has given rise. An American journalist in want of a subject to eke out the scanty interest of his columns appears to revert to Poe and his works as natural prey: he has only to devise a paragraph—the more absurd and palpably false the better for his purpose—about how The Raven was written, or by whom it was written other than Poe, to draw attention to his paper and to get his fabrication copied into the journals of every town in the United States. From time to time these tales are concocted and scattered broadcast over the country: one of them, and one of the most self-evidently absurd, after running the usual rounds of the American press, found its way to England, and was published in the London Star in the summer of 1864. It was to the effect that Mr. Lang, the well-known Oriental traveller, had discovered that Poe's poem of The Raven was a literary imposture. "Poe's sole accomplishment," so ran the announcement, "was a minute and accurate acquaintance with Oriental languages, and that he turned to account by translating, almost literally, the poem of The Raven, from the Persian!"
This startling information invoked a quantity of correspondence, but without eliciting any explanation, as to when and where Mr. Lang had proclaimed his discovery; where the Persian original was to be found, or by whom it had been written? In connection with this Oriental hoax, however, the London paper was made the medium of introducing to the British public one yet more audacious and, for the general reader, more plausible. On the ist September of the same year the Morning Star published the following letter:—
Edgar Allan Poe.
Sir—I have noticed with interest and astonishment the remarks made in different issues of your paper respecting Edgar A. Poe's "Raven," and I think the following fantastic poem (a copy of which I enclose), written by the poet whilst experimenting towards the production of that wonderful and beautiful piece of mechanism, may possibly interest your numerous readers. "The Fire-Fiend" (the title of the poem I enclose) Mr. Poe considered incomplete and threw it aside in disgust. Some months afterwards, finding it amongst his papers, he sent it in a letter to a friend, labelled facetiously, "To be read by firelight at midnight after thirty drops of laudanum." I was intimately acquainted with the mother-in-law of Poe, and have frequently conversed with her respecting "The Raven," and she assured me that he had the idea in his mind for some years, and used frequently to repeat verses of it to her and ask her opinion of them, frequently making alterations and improvements, according to the mood he chanced to be in at the time. Mrs. Clemm, knowing the great study I had given to "The Raven," and the reputation I had gained by its recital through America took great interest in giving me all the information in her power, and the life and writings of Edgar A. Poe have been the topic of our conversation for hours.
London, August 31.
M. M. 'Cready."
This impudent and utterly baseless circumstantial account, which, need it be remarked was pure fiction from alpha to omega, was followed by the following tawdry parody:—
The Fire Fiend:
In the deepest dearth of Midnight, while the sad and solemn swell
As the last long lingering echo of the Midnight's mystic chime—
On the red hearth's reddest centre, from a blazing knot of oak,
Speechless; struck with stony silence; frozen to the floor I stood,
Then, as in Death's seeming shadow, in the icy Pall of Fear
"How I revel on the Prairie! How I roar among the Pines!
"I am monarch of the Fire! I am Vassal-King of Death!
When a sombre silence shut me in a solemn, shrouded sleep,
Through my ivy fretted casement filtered in a tremulous note
Ah! the fiendish Fire had smouldered to a white and formless heap,
The above poor imitation of Poe's poetic chef d'œuvre circulated through the United States for some time as the prototype of The Raven, and although the whole affair was treated as a fabrication by all persons capable of judging, it was received by a number of persons, according to the allegation of its avowed concocter, as the genuine production of Poe. In 1866, a volume entitled "The Fire-Fiend and other Poems," was published in New York, prefaced by a "Pre-note " to the following effect:
A few—and but a few—words of explanation seem appropriate here, with reference to the poem which gives title to this volume.
The 'Fire-Fiend' was written some six years ago, in consequence of a literary discussion wherein it was asserted, that the marked originality of style, both as to conception and expression, in the poems of the late Edgar Allen (sic) Poe, rendered a successful imitation difficult even to impossibility. The author was challenged to produce a poem, in the manner of The Raven, which should be accepted by the general critic as a genuine composition of Mr. Poe's (sic), and the 'Fire-Fiend' was the result.
This poem was printed as 'from an unpublished MS. of the late Edgar A. Poe,' and the hoax proved sufficiently successful to deceive a number of critics in this country, and also in England, where it was afterwards republished (by Mr. Macready, the tragedian), in the London Star, as an undoubted production of its soi-disant author.
The comments upon it, by the various critics, professional and other (sic), who accepted it as Mr. Poe's, were too flattering to be quoted here, the more especially, since, had the poem appeared simply as the composition of its real author, these gentlemen would probably have been slow to discover in it the same merits. The true history of the poem and its actual authorship being thus succinctly given, there seems nothing further to be said, than to remain, very respectfully, the Reader's humble servant,
The author of this imposition was, according to the titlepage of the volume it appeared in, "Charles D. Gardette."
As another example of the ludicrously inane absurdities about Poe's Raven to which the American journals give publicity, may be cited the following communication, issued in the New Orleans Times, for July, 1870, and purporting to have been sent to the editor, from the Rev. J. Shaver, of Burlington, New Jersey, as an extract from a letter, dated Richmond, Sept. 29, 1849, written by Edgar Allan Poe to Mr. Daniels of Philadelphia. Some portions of the letter, it was alleged, could not be deciphered on account of its age and neglected condition:—
"Shortly before the death of our good friend, Samuel Fenwick, he sent to me from New York for publication a most beautiful and thrilling poem, which he called The Raven, wishing me, before printing it, to 'see if it had merit,' and to make any alterations that might appear necessary. So perfect was it in all its parts that the slightest improvement seemed to me impossible. But you know a person very often depreciates his own talents, and he even went so far as to suggest that in this instance, or in any future pieces he might contribute, I should revise and print them in my own name to insure their circulation.
"This proposal I rejected, of course, and one way or other delayed printing The Raven, until, as you know, it came out in The Review, and * * *. It was published when I was, unfortunately, intoxicated, and not knowing what I did. I signed ray name to it and thus it went to the printer, and was published.
"The sensation it produced made me dishonest enough to conceal the name of the real author, who had died, as you know, some time before it came out, and by that means I now enjoy all the credit and applause myself. I simply make this statement to you for the * * *. I shall probably go to New York to-morrow, but will be back by Oct. 12th, I think."
The utter falsity and absurdity of this story need not detain us so long in its refutation as it did several of Poe's countrymen. It need not be asked whether such persons as the "Rev. J. Shaver," or "Mr. Daniels of Philadelphia," ever existed, or why Poe should make so damaging a confession of dishonesty and in slip-shod English, so different from his usual terse and expressive style, it is only, at the most, necessary to point out that far from publishing The Raven in The Review with his name appended to it, Poe issued it in The American Review as by "Quarles."
A myth as ridiculous as any is that fathered by some of the United States journals on a "Colonel Du Solle." According to the testimony of this military-titled gentleman, shortly before the publication of The Raven Poe was wont to meet him and other literary contemporaries at mid-day "for a budget of gossip and a glass of ale at Sandy Welsh's cellar in Anne Street." According to the further deposition of the Colonel the poem of The Raven was produced by Poe, at Sandy Welsh's cellar, "stanza by stanza at small intervals, and submitted piecemeal to the criticism and emendations of his intimates, who suggested various alterations and substitutions. Poe adopted many of them. Du Solle quotes particular instances of phrases that were incorporated at his suggestion, and thus The Raven was a kind of joint-stock affair in which many minds held small shares of intellectual capital. At length, when the last stone had been placed in position, the structure was voted complete! "
Another class of forgeries connected with the would-be imitators of Edgar Poe's style is known as the "Spiritual Poems." These so-called "poems" are wild rhapsodical productions supposed to be dictated by the spirits of departed genius to earthly survivors: they have always to be given through the medium of a mortal, and although generally endowed with rhyme are almost always devoid of reason. Edgar Poe is a favoured subject with these "mediums," and by means of Miss Lizzie Doten, one of their most renowned improvisatrice, has produced an imitation of his Raven, which she styled the "Streets of Baltimore," and in which the departed poet is made to describe his struggle with death and his triumphant entry into eternity. One stanza of this curious production will, doubtless, suffice:—
"In that grand, eternal city, where the angel hearts take pity
Such is the mental pabulum provided for the
- This assertion, need it be said, is incorrect. Ed.