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REVIEWS THE LETTERS OF POE' K ENNETH MACLEAN "A man who is writing for effect does not write thus." These are not great letters in themselves. They are not, like Cowper's, the intimate record of every day. Not typical of this correspondence is the letter Poe wrote to Mrs. Clemm ("dear Muddy") just after breakfast on April 7, 1844, after a rainy arrival in New York with his young wife (Sis). I never sat down to a more plentiful or a nicer breakfast. I wish you could have seen the eggs-and the great dishes of meat. I ate the first hearty breakfast I have eaten since I left our little horne. Sis is delighted , and we are both in excellent spirits. She has coughed hardly any and had no night sweat. She is now busy mending my pants which I tore against a nail. Again, these letters are not greatly important as a larger report on affairs of the second quarter of America's nineteenth century. And certainly these are not letters which, like those of Keats, expound an aesthetic theory. The criticism we meet in these pages is little more than the cynical aside of a busy writer and reviewer. "Nobody is more aware than I am that simplicity is the cant of the day- but take my word for it no one cares any thing about simplicity in their hearts." The life and the times and the theories are of course to be found in a measure in this correspondence, but these letters are in largest measure only the business correspondence of a very busy man. We shall read this correspondence not as literature itself, but rather as it throws light upon a man who elsewhere wrote extremely well. On the whole the letters encourage a nonnal view of Poe. If we will make allowance for the general exorbitances of nineteenth-century life, we shall not find Poe too strange a person. His marriage to his young cousin would seem to have given him real happiness, and we can sympathize with the upsets to which her illness and death made him liable. The total impression is not that of a recessive personality. There is little longing for the old Virginia ways as Poe moved increasingly into the busy centres of American life. His fault, if anything (and this he said himself ), was that he lived too much in the future. The most persistent subject-matter of these letters is Poe's effort to establish a periodical of his own. While he was not immune to those dreams, which the future has realized, of magazines *The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe. in two volumes. Edited by JOH N WARD OSTROM. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press [Toronto: Saunders]. 1948. Pp. xxviii, viii. 664. ($12.50) 85 86 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY of vast circulation with a curt and terse prose, the magazine he want· ed to found was to be of the character which its title Stylus would suggest. The correspondence tells of repeated defeats in his efforts to get support for this journal, and the reader gets tired and discouraged as disasters follow fast and follow faster. But Poe never. In the last year of his life he finally found a patron in a young heir out in Oquawka (the editor should inunediately have indicated the state) . With a fifty dollar advance Poe started on a limited forty-niner journey to meet his young sponsor, taking along two lectures to be exchanged for expenses on the way out. The lectures were stolen from his valise in the Philadelphia depot. Poe's break-down at this point was certainly long overdue. Indeed the general confusion of the last years appears inevitable. Here was a successful writer who could make lnaney lecturing to audiences of 1,800 people. Such lectures were invariably sponsored by America's poetesses, and Poe soon found himself signing his letters "Eddy." "From this day forth I shun the pestilential society of literary women." He was simply a normal casualty of the American literary scene. He was not altogether a willing victim. The gift of a fawn he politely declined. "In the meantime accept...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 85-89
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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