Edgar Allan Poe’s Hatchet Jobs

Mark Athitakis at the website of the NEH:

ScreenHunter_2892 Nov. 12 20.28Poe churned out reams of puff-free reviews—the Library of America’s collection of his reviews and essays fills nearly 1,500 dense pages. Few outside of Poe scholarship circles bother reading them now, though; in a discipline that’s had its share of so-called takedown artists, Poe was an especially unlovable literary critic. He occasionally celebrated authors he admired, such as Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But, from 1835 until his death in 1849, the typical Poe book review sloshed with invective.

Tackling a collection of poems by William W. Lord in 1845, Poe opined that “the only remarkable things about Mr. Lord’s compositions are their remarkable conceit, ignorance, impudence, platitude, stupidity, and bombast.” He opened his review of Susan Rigby Morgan’s 1836 novel, The Swiss Heiress, by proclaiming that it “should be read by all who have nothing better to do.” The prose of Theodore S. Fay’s 1835 novel, Norman Leslie, was “unworthy of a school-boy.” A year later, Poe doomed Morris Mattson’s novel Paul Ulric by pushing Fay under the bus yet again, writing, “When we called Norman Leslie the silliest book in the world we had certainly never seen Paul Ulric.”

Such candor did Poe’s career no favors. Fay was the editor of the New York Mirror, where Poe would later go begging for a job in 1844, landing only a low-level copyediting gig. Three years earlier Poe had declared H. T. Tuckerman, editor of the Boston Miscellany, an “insufferably tedious and dull writer,” a statement that haunted Poe a year later when he submitted “The Tell-Tale Heart” to Tuckerman for publication. “If Mr. Poe would condescend to furnish more quiet articles,” Tuckerman wrote in his icy rejection letter, “he would be a most desirable correspondent.” Upon Poe’s death, critic Rufus Griswold wrote an obituary for the New York Tribune of surprising meanness. Griswold claimed that Poe “had few or no friends” and that “few will be grieved” by his passing—perhaps an act of revenge for Poe’s own cruelties toward Griswold as a rival critic. Poe once dismissed him as a “toady” destined to “sink into oblivion.”

More here.