Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v2.djvu/77

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61
Poe's Character

the entire period from 1831 to 1835 is obscure. He sinks out of sight again for six months in the middle of 1837. And a hiatus of several months also occurs in his history during the first half of the year 1846. For this obscurity Poe is himself mainly responsible. He took pleasure in mystifying his public about himself; and in a few instances he deliberately misstated the facts. [1]

As to Poe's character and personality the most divergent views have been expressed. According to Griswold, whom he chose as his literary executor, Poe was a "naturally unamiable character," arrogant, "irascible, envious," without "moral susceptibility" or sense of gratitude, and exhibiting "scarcely any virtue in either his life or his writings." According to the Richmond editor, John M. Daniel, who saw him frequently during the summer of 1849, he was sour of nature, capricious, selfish, a misanthrope, possessing "little moral sense." In the view of Lowell's friend, C. F. Briggs, with whom he was associated for several months in 1845 as co-editor of the Broadway Journal, he was "badly made up," a "characterless character," and "utterly deficient of high motive." And Horace Greeley was disturbed lest Mrs. Whitman should marry him, giving it as his opinion that such a union would be a "terrible conjunction." To N. P. Willis, on the other hand, who perhaps knew him better than any other outside of his immediate family during his last half-dozen years, there appeared, during several months of close association with him in 1844-1845, "but one presentment of the man,—a quiet, patient, industrious, and most gentlemanly person, commanding the utmost respect and good feeling by his unvarying deportment and ability"; and in subsequent years he saw, so he declares, nothing of the arrogance, vanity, and depravity of heart "that were commonly attributed to him." And George R. Graham, editor of the magazine that bore his name, testifies that, when he knew him best (in the first half of the forties), "he had the docility and kind-heartedness of a child," and that "no man was more quickly touched by a kindness, none more prompt to make return for an injury," and, further, that he was "the soul

  1. See, in particular, in this connection, an autobiographical memorandum sent to Griswold in 1841 (Works of Poe, ed. Harrison, Vol. I, pp. 344-346), in which most of the dates are inaccurately given, and in which we have one of several apocryphal accounts of a voyage to Europe in 1827.