Roget's Int'l Thesaurus
Fowler's King's English
The King James Bible
Brewer's Phrase & Fable
Frazer's Golden Bough
Shelf of Fiction
Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I
His Creed and Practice of Poetry
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.
§ 13. Tales.
Poes tales, which exceed in number his fully authenticated poems, have been held by some of the most judicious of his critics to constitute his chief claim to our attention.
There are those who will not subscribe to this view, but it is plain that he was the most important figure in the history of the short story during his half-century. Hawthorne alone may be thought of as vying with him for this distinction; but although the New Englander is infinitely Poes superior in some respectsas in the creation of character and in wholesomeness and sanityhe must yield place to him in the creation of incident, in the construction of plot, and in the depicting of an intensely vivid situation. Whether or not we allow Poe the distinction of having invented the short story will depend on our interpretation of terms; but at least he invented the detective story, and more than any other he gave to the short story its vogue in America.
Like his poems, his tales are notably unequal. Some of his earlier effortsespecially his satirical and humorous extravaganzas, as
are properly to be characterized as rubbish; and he was capable in his later years of descending to such inferior work as
The Sphinx, Mellonta Tauta,
X-ing a Paragrab.
One feels, indeed, that Lowells famous characterization of him:
Three fifths of him genius and two fifths sheer fudge,
applies with entire justice to him as a maker of short stories. The best of his narrative work is to be found in his analytical tales, as
The Gold Bug
The Descent into the Maelstrom,
in certain stories in which he combines his analytical gift with the imaginative and inventive gift, as
The Cask of Amontillado
or in certain studies of the pure imagination, as
The Fall of the House of Usher
The Masque of the Red Death.
In all of these he displays a skill of construction and of condensation surpassed by few if any other workers in his field. In someas in
The Masque of the Red Death,
or in his landscape studieshe shows himself a master of English style; and in two of his briefer studies
he approaches the eloquence and splendour of De Quincey.
His main limitations as a writer of the short story are to be found in the feebleness and flimsiness of his poorer work; in his all but complete lack of healthy humour; in his incapacity to create or to depict character; in his morbidness of mood and grotesqueness of situation.
He suffers also in comparison with other leading short-story writers of America and England in consequence of his disdain of the ethical in art (though neither his tales nor his poems are entirely lacking in ethical value); he suffers, again, in comparison with certain present-day masters of the short story in consequence of his lack of variety in theme and form; and he was never expert in the management of dialogue.
By reason of his fondness for the terrible and for the
he is to be classed with the Gothic romancers: he makes constant use of Gothic machinery, of apparitions, cataleptic attacks, premature burial, and life after death. In several of his storiesas also in his long poems,
he follows in the steps of the Orientalists. On the other hand, in some of his tales of incident he achieves a realism and a minuteness of detail that betray unmistakably the influence of Defoe. And it is easy to demonstrate an indebtedness to divers of his contemporaries, as James and Bulwer and Disraeli and Macaulay. It has been proved also that he knew the German romancer, E. T. A. Hoffmann, if not in the original, at least in translation, and that he caught his manner and appropriated his themes.
For the rest, he drew for his materials largely on the magazines and newspapers of his day, finding in a famous newspaper sensation of the forties the suggestion of his
Mystery of Marie Rogêt
(as he had found in another sensation, of the twenties, the plot of his
), and taking advantage of certain contemporary fads in his myth-making about mesmerism, ballooning, premature burial, and the like; and he boldly pilfered from government reports, scientific treatises, and works of reference such material as he found serviceable in some of his tales of adventure. Hence his originality may be said to consist rather in combination and adaptation than in more obviously inventive exercises of the fancy.
Poes influence has been far-reaching. As poet, he has had many imitators both in his own country and abroad, but especially in France and England.
As romancer he has probably wielded a larger influence than any English writer since Scott. And as critic it is doubtful whether any other of his countrymen has contributed so much toward keeping the balance right between art-for-arts-sake and didacticism. His fame abroad is admittedly larger than that of any other American writer, and his vogue has been steadily growing among his own people.
. E. C. Stedman in the Stedman-Woodberry edition of Poe, Vol.
p. xiii; and Robertson,
. His friend, P. P. Cooke, wrote of him in 1847: For my individual part, having the seventy or more tales, analytic, mystic, grotesque, arabesque, always wonderful, often great, which his industry and fertility have already given us, I would like to read one cheerful book made by his
with little or no aid from its twin brother
a book full of homely doings, of successful toils, of ingenious shifts and contrivances, of ruddy firesidesa book healthy and happy throughout (
Southern Literary Messenger,
January, 1848, p. 37).
. Palmer Cobb,
The Influence of E. T. A. Hoffmann on the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.
Life of Poe,
vol. 1, pp. 379381, and
. In the view of Edmund Gosse, there is hardly one [of the later English poets] whose verse-music does not show traces of Poes influence (
Questions al Issue,
p. 90). On Poes influence and vogue in France, see L. P. Betz,
Edgar Poe in der franzoesischen Litteratur: Studien zur vergleichenden Litteraturgeschichte der neueren Zeit
(1902), pp. 1682; C. H. Page in
for 14 January, 1909; and G. D. Morris,
Fenimore Cooper et Edgar Poe,
pp. 67 f. (Paris, 1912).
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
His Creed and Practice of Poetry