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Benjamin E: Fisher The 1890sand Edgar Allan Poe Titling this studyas I have might suggest that here is a topic too vagueforworthwhile examination.If one reflects, however, that several editions of Poe appeared during the 1890s-one ofwhich, at least, continues to be cited in scholarly publicationsand that what I might designatethe “imageof Poe” was one of repeated attention during thisera, then the topic makesfar greater sense.Contraryto longcherished misunderstandings,which ranked Poe’s creativeworks only as “popular”writings (with all the negative implications that term sometimes bears), and thus not sufficiently artistic to stand as equal to those, say, by his contemporaries Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Stowe, Fuller, Whitman, and Dickinson,we find that the opinions in commentaries from the 1890s may be worth more than passing attention. One or another element in Poe’s works attracted notice from a readership that waswell informed about the printed word, in a time preceding technological advancesthat have somewhatdiminished the central importance of the book and other hard-print formats. Such awell-informed readership offered, to be sure, a spectrum of responses to Poe and his creations, and I contend that those century-old responses “speak to” the present generation of Poe aficionados as forcibly and analytically as do many present-dayvoicesthat addresstopicsrelated to Poe. In the following pages I offer a survey of those opinions, anticipating that they may amplify our knowledge of Poe’s reputation during a time when experimentation in the arts would have pleased Poe himself. More eyes might open were I to commence at this point in time, when its centenary is not long past, by quoting a review of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in the Publishers’ Circular (London) for 7 August 1897,which opens, “Bram Stoker is the Edgar Allan Poe of the 1890s.’” As against the long-familiarfigurethat I’llcallthe “F.0.Matthies sen Poe”- (who did not fit well in a group that seemed to have greater relevance for the author of American Renaissance,an influential book these last sixty years), Poe did not fade so dramatically as Matthiessen implied, intentionally or not-an implication that many who have read his book as sacred writ may have accepted without question. Ironically, in this context, a reviewer of Frank V. Irish’sAmerican and British Authors: A Text-Book on Literature (1896) was quick to point out that, although Concordauthorsweregainingprominence in American literature, the sevenpagesdevoted to Thoreau were fewer than those devoted to Poe or Bayard Taylor.That proportioning woulddoubtless make Matthiessenjump, along with many of Poe’s earlier and more hostiledetractors,aswell as members of the Thoreau Society.Or consider another review, from 1897,which stated that, in contrast to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Poe suffered from a “weakcharacter and unhappy life” that retarded his fame, although in the nineties the Decadents and Symbolistswere finding in him “amaster and a forerunner, aswell as ajustification for their own little passing fashion.” This pronouncement was, needlessto say,disputed elsewherein the press.Or yet another review, commenting that Poe and his protagonists “curiouslyanticipate ...the morbid dreamers whom French novelistsof the decadent school have of recent years repeatedly studied.” The last two opinions come respectively from Henry Cabot Lodge and that long-agoinfluential Harvard professor of English Lewis E. Gates, two prestigious Brahmins at the turn of the century, whose words were not intended as compliments to Poe, though Gates was mentor to young Frank Norris, who did admire French authors during The 1890s and EdgarAllan Poe 29 his Harvard sojourn. To round out my gallery of come-on's, I quote a remark from late 1893-that the "chief and most agreeable feature" of the Strand Magazine Christmas number "is the tragic death of Mr. SherlockHolmes [whichis deplored by Watson, but] whose laboured reflections of Edgar Allan Poe did not so endear him to any thinking mind." Whatever the viewpoints,by the 1890s,according to a writer of the time, Poe had become conspicuous among "old authors who have now a new vogue."2What follows here may contribute more to notions that I have dwindled into a mere scholar than to any highlighting of sensationalismand astonishmentin regard to Poe proper-albeit somesurprisesmaylurkwithin my findings.Pursuingbibliographicalpathwaysin the period of the...


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