Mystery Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
By A. L. BURT COMPANY
Mystery Tales of Edgar Allan Poe
BY G. MERCER ADAM.
Reviving interest in the unique figure of that errant genius who lived in the youth-time of the nation—Edgar Allan Poe—is a sign of a quickened apprehension of the poet-novelist's abilities as a writer of tales of baffling mystery and grizzly tragedy as well as of the general diffusion in our day of the literary spirit which enables us to appreciate and enjoy his many varied and artistic writings. Melodramatic as we now deem many of his works, the creation of a somewhat morbid fancy, which revelled in the occult, Poe was a man of rare talent as well as of fine sensibilities. To say that his personal life was on the whole clean, save for his unfortunate addiction at times to drink, is to affirm what most critics of the man and his age admit; though it is known that he was frequently a trouble to his friends owing to the idiosyncrasies of his genius, which incited his mind to find play in the realm of the phantom world and in an atmosphere of more or less brooding gloom. In spite of this, and of a nature unstable and vacillating, Poe had much in him that endeared him to his relatives and acquaintances, gentle, affectionate, as well as of polished manners, and capable of inspiring the love and welling-out sympathy of both men and women. Towards the latter he was ever chivalrous and devoted, and we can well understand what attraction women especially found in him, evoked in large part not only by his rare mental gifts, which found expression in many impassioned poems to the sex, but by sympathy with his misfortunes and his long and high-hearted struggle with adverse fate.
In re-reading his tales, the more notable of which are collected in the present volume, one can hardly fail to be struck by their ingenious though often weird plots and by their author's felicitous and frequently brilliant diction. These characteristics help to create the haunting atmosphere which enshrouds the personages he introduces to the reader, while the artifices of his style seem to intensify the mystery of the stories. Among the writer-craftsmen of his own and a later age few have excelled him or have more effectively enlisted the art of the literary conjurer for the purposes of ingenious prose narration. Even to-day, Poe stands high in the ranks of such writers, foreign and American, as have followed his lead in the field of the detective and mystery story. This will be readily granted by the reader of the within collection—one which includes those wonderful pieces of invention and thrilling interest, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," together with the ingenious story, "The Gold-Bug," which relates how a vast hidden treasure was recovered through the deciphering of the riddle of a cryptogram. Enthralling also will be found another tale in the series, "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt," with its curious parallel in the tragic murder of Mary C. Rogers in the vicinity of New York, which suggested the ghastly story. Poe's inventiveness and skilful methods of work are evidenced in "The Purloined Letter," in which the story-teller relates how he for a time baffled his intimate friend, Monsieur Dupin, and the Prefect of the Parisian Police, in the means by which he got on the track of and secured possession of an important document which had been abstracted from the royal apartments in Paris. No less exciting is the cleverly narrated but blood-chilling story, "Thou Art the Man," a story which relates how a murder had been committed and traced to the scene of its occurrence, and sets forth the means by which the real and not the suspected murderer was discovered and punished. In the fictional artifices and clever, subtle methods made use of by Poe in these and his other abnormally fascinating tales, the author especially well compares with modern, later-day novelists such as Gaboriau of France and "Sherlock Holmes"—Sir A. Conan Doyle—of England. Like them, though even in a higher degree, Poe possessed a marvellous yet at times fantastic imagination, and a phenomenal command of the resources, in prose and verse, of literary construction. Though he was an unexcelled artist in words, as the present writer has elsewhere remarked, his workmanship is curiously uneven; in one place it is polished and melodious, in another unfiled and jolting. His themes are marked by a like diversity: on one page they are sweet and human; on the next eerie and ghoulish. But through most of his writings, and despite their weirdness and occasional unwholesomeness, there shines the manifest, though fitful, lamp of genius.
New York, Oct., 1906.