October 9, 2010

Edgar Allan Poe is dead

He collected several anthologies, among the highest-selling books in the entire century. An influential editor, a prolific literary critic and essayist, and one of the most well-read men in the United States, Rufus Wilmot Griswold's reputation today rests on one obituary that he wrote. First published on October 9, 1849, in the New York Tribune, the obituary began:

Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it... He had few or no friends. The regrets for his death will be suggested principally by the consideration that in him literary art lost one of its most brilliant, but erratic stars.

Griswold's description of Poe claimed his "choler" was quickly raised, that he was plagued with gnawing envy, and that he believed all people were villains. His career, said Griswold, was spent seeking success only for a "right to despise a world which galled his self-conceit." Much of Griswold's characterization of Poe was stolen verbatim from a work of fiction by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

One of the earliest responses to Griswold's posthumous attacks on Poe came from George Lippard, the young Philadelphia novelist who considered Poe a mentor. In several articles, Lippard both defended Poe and attacked Griswold. At one point, he said that he would give more for Poe's toe nail than for "Rueful Grizzle's soul." Lippard predicted Poe's fate:

As an author his name will live, while three-fourths of the bastard critics and mongrel authors of the present day go down to nothingness and night. And the men who now spit upon his grave, by way of retaliation for some injury which they imagined they have received from Poe living, would do well to remember, that it is only an idiot or a coward who strikes the cold forehead of a corpse.

*The debate between Griswold and Lippard over the legacy of Poe continues this month (October 2010) at the Rye Arts Center in New York as part of their annual "POE: EVERMORE." The original script was written by me, your faithful American Literary Blogger; I'll also be performing as Mr. Lippard.


  1. The full text of Griswold's miserable attack on Poe may be seen at http://www.eapoe.org/papers/misc1827/nyt49100.htm
    The irony is that Griswold, by going so far over the top, may have helped to spur interest in Poe as a person, and thus in his works.

  2. Thank you for the URL! I've added it as a clickable link in the text itself. I didn't think to do that before!