- Israfel. A review of Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe, by Hervey Allen; The Works of Edgar Allan Poe: The Poems and Three Essays on Poetry, ed. R. Brimley Johnson; and The Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Tales, ed. R. Br
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[ 95 Israfel1 A review of Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe, by Hervey Allen London: Brentano, 1927. Two vols. Pp. xx + 932. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe: The Poems and Three Essays on Poetry, ed. R. Brimley Johnson London: Oxford UP, 1927. Pp. vii + 570. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Tales, ed. R. Brimley Johnson London: Oxford UP, 1927. Pp. viii + 688. The Nation and Athenaeum, 41 (21 May 1927) 219 Mr. Hervey Allen has written two large volumes, with many footnotes, illustrations, and appendices.2 I have not read two or three recent books on Poe – including one by Joseph Wood Krutzsch – but it is hardly possible that any of them contains more facts than this book.3 No fact about a man like Poe is wholly negligible; and Mr. Allen appears to have found a number of new ones: he is an authority on Poe’s brother Henry, and he has digested the Ellis and Allan papers, and he reprints the wills of William Galt and John Allan.4 All this matter is worth preserving; but Mr. Allen does not make it easy for the reader to sort out the important from the less important. What is less pardonable, though not infrequent with enthusiastic biographers who are steeped in their subject, is that we find it difficult to detach the information from what may be called, euphemistically, the reconstruction. Here is a paragraph describing the first meeting of Poe, as a small boy, with the lady addressed in the poem “To Helen”: Mrs. Stanard was in one of the front rooms standing by a window niche. The light falling upon her, caught in her dark ringlets crossed by a white snood, glowed in the classic folds of her gown, and flowed about her slenderly graceful figure. Her face, the lineaments of which were turned towards Poe, was tinted by the gold of leaf-filtered sunshine. To the 1927 96 ] astonished boy her very being and body seemed to radiate light. “This is Edgar Poe, mother,” said little Robert. “This is ‘Helen,’ Edgar,” said a voice in the boy’s soul, “in her behold the comfort of great beauty.” On thebewilderedearsoftheyoungpoetfellthesweetvoiceofMrs.Stanard thanking him for his kindness to her little son and bidding him welcome with gracious words to her house. [106-07] Whenwearetiredorinattentive,itiseasytoswallowthissortofstuffwhole, especially if, as often in this book, it is interpolated in the midst of minute facts (we are presently told that the Stanard house had a portico and marble stoop with brass rails in front). But if we are wakeful and critical, we begin to look for references. For the paragraph above we find a footnote: There is, of course, no precise contemporary account of the actual scene of this meeting. I am giving the descriptions from a knowledge of the house and descriptions (italics mine) of a portrait of Jane Stith Stanard. The poem “To Helen” seems to be the first-hand impression of a beloved person bathed in and radiating light.  This is creative biography. It is a pity. For there is some good criticism in the book, and much material for the critic; it is a book which anyone who wants to write about Poe ought to read. Not the least useful part of the book is the illustrations – not only the fine portrait, looking like Baudelaire and Buffalo Bill, with a touch of Elijah Pogram, which serves as frontispiece to Volume II, but innumerable views and illustrations of the epoch, which really contribute to make more actual that remote and forgotten society in which Poe lived.5 There are matters on which, with all the information given, one still feels wholly in the dark. We leave unpenetrated the mystery of that strange and powerful personality, Mrs. Clemm, and the truth of that strange marriage.6 On the other hand, we know, if we did not know before, that Poe knew a good deal about opium, and also that he was no drunkard. A man with so weak a head and so delicate a nervous system, living in the world in which Poe lived, could hardly be called a “confirmed” drunkard with less reason; he could be called, at most, an accidental drunkard. Certain errors of this type are rectified, and perhaps more will be rectified in time; but the rectification is only necessary because too much importance has been attached to them in the past. In the end, Poe remains inscrutable.7 But there...