January 31, 2011

Poe and Darley: In his best manner

It had been the dream of Edgar A. Poe to establish his own literary journal, one which maintained such high standards of excellence that it would serve as the flagship of great American writing. He first announced The Penn (based in Philadelphia) in 1840 before deciding to aim more nationally. Poe came close to achieving his goal when the project, reborn as The Stylus, enlisted the help of an up-and-coming illustrator named Felix Octavius Carr Darley, who was already illustrating Poe's most well-read story "The Gold-Bug."

On January 31, 1843, Poe and F. O. C. Darley signed a contract; Darley agreed to provide "original designs, or drawings (on wood or paper as required) of his own composition, in his best manner." He agreed to design up to five images per month at the rate of $7 each. Poe knew that a well-illustrated magazine sold well (one of the reasons Graham's Magazine was so popular while Poe was its editor).  

The Stylus would have been under the complete editorial control of Poe and he would establish its standards from the ground up (unlike The Broadway Journal, for which Poe later became editor and sole proprietor). It would have allowed Poe to continue, without oversight, the type of "tomahawk" criticism for which he was known, sparing no harsh words in his own efforts to push American writers to work harder and write better.

The Stylus never came to be and Poe died in 1849, still hoping it would become reality. The same year as Poe's death, Darley (later acknowledged by some as the father of American illustration) illustrated a satirical poem which poked fun at literary figures — including Poe, his would-be boss:

With tomahawk upraised for deadly blow,
Behold our literary Mohawk, Poe!
Sworn tyrant he o‘er all who sin in verse—
His own the standard, damns he all that’s worse;
And surely not for this shall he be blamed—
For worse than his deserves that it be damned!