« 上一頁繼續 »
famous men! What idea do we carry away of any of the three Mrs. Miltons? Of all the goodness of the wife of " brave old Samuel?" Of the tenderness and affection of Mrs. Fielding? To us they are barely names; but we ought to hear more of them. Mr. Thackeray might lecture on the Wives of Menof-Letters, and teach us a great deal!
Poe's life henceforth is the life of a man-of-letters, by profession, and on the whole it is a melancholy history. No man can complain that there is not in the literary profession as much—indeed, there is more—allowance made for frailties, eccentricities, short-comings of all kinds, than there is in other departments of active life in our modern social state. When, therefore, we find Edgar Poe quarrelling with so many people with whom he had business relations—continually in miserable embarrassments when he had a pen which could command money, what can we say? A career like that of our old Savages and Boyses—as his, too, often was—what can we make of it? We must even admit that his misery was mainly caused by the " dissipation " which we find universally attributed to him. All his aspirations—his fine sensibilities—sought madly for their gratification through the medium of the senses. The Beauty which he loved with his whole soul, he madly endeavoured to grasp in the forms of sheer indulgence. Like Marlow's " Faustus," he used his genius to procure him self-gratification; and always at the end of such a career, it is the Devil—as our pious old singers believed—who waits for the hero.
In truth, it was the Beautiful that he loved with his entire nature. In sorrowful forms—sombre or grotesque forms—brilliant and musical, or scientific forms, he sought the Beautiful; and in all these forms his writings have embodied it. In his life, too, he loved the emotions which the Beautiful produces; but, we know from the "Phsedrus,"—old wisdom yet new,—" that though the Beautiful be the dearest and most loveable of all things," yet, that " he who hath not been lately initiated in the Mysteries, or rather has become depraved, he is not easily excited to the true Beauty itself, but only to a certain likeness of it which goes by its name; and so he does not venerate it, but after the manner of animals striveth after pleasure.'" And thus Edgar Poe drew a sensual veil across the vision of his soul, and in that blinded way, sinned,—and sinning, suffered.
Other men have been as reckless as he in their youth, and have escaped out of it, and have risen into clear day. But he did not,—he made strong efforts,—he fell, however, finally.
From the period of his marriage, as I have said, he made literature his profession, and was connected at different periods with leading American journals. Occasionally he produced one of the few poems which compose his collection; "The Raven " in particular excited immense attention. He wrote Tales, and Essays, and Reviews of all that was noticeable in American literature; the latter, in his work the " Literati," I have read, and admire their sharp, cutting vividness of analysis. They show a man of large and various literary attainments—(he always passed for one of the best scholars in America)—with a spice of that bitterness which sprang from his misanthropy; for poor Edgar, as Griswold dryly and solidly informs us, "considered Society as principally composed of villains!" He hated and despised the blockheads who, perhaps from no virtue of their own, were exempt from his failings and consequent sufferings; but unhappily the blockheads, in their condemnation of Edgar, were but too often desperately in the right! Yet, let not such—there or elsewhere— be too harsh on the failings of a fine nature, and the degradation of a noble mind. Who shall explain the mysteries of temperament—who calculate the force of circumstances? The spiritual part of this man—of which a specimen remains with us—was highly beautiful, and allied to the perennial beauty I Let solid excellence of the epitaph-description remember, that perhaps all its parlour virtues are not worth one hour of Coleridge's remorse!
* From the Latin version of Plato by Ficmus.
I have hinted above that it is difficult to get such details of the better part of Edgar's life as would enable me to give some little picture of him. Willis has written a fine graceful sketch, both manly and tender, of him, and describes him as "a winning, sad-mannered gentleman." But Willis never visited his home, and cannot be said to have been intimate with him. Yet we hear of the air of simplicity and elegance which pervaded the poet's house,—we have a glimpse of it from the pen of Frances Osgood,—we see the poet industrious, playful, with his beautiful and affectionate Virginia with him—and her mother, whose name is never to be mentioned in the history of Poe's life without signal honour. Maria Clemm, his mother-in-law, was truly a mother to him,— faithful to him through all the strange fortune which he underwent with true womanly constancy.
His portrait, prefixed to the American edition, is a very interesting—a very characteristic one. A fine thoughtful face you see at once, with lineaments of delicacy—such as belong only to genius or high blood. The forehead is grand and pale, the eyes dark, gleaming with sensibility and the light of soul. A face of passion it is, and in the lower part wants firmness—a face that would inspire women with sentiment,—men with interest and curiosity.
His wife died,—they had had no children. His "Annabel Lee" records his recollection of her with something more than tenderness. I suppose his wayward ways caused her much sorrow ; but they loved each other truly. She seems to have been a simple, affectionate creature—contented on very easy terms—rich with a heart that could bear much, and, most likely, placed its highest hopes elsewhere. She, at all events, did her duty in all purity and goodness, and is gone where these virtues are better understood than here.
Poe had been lecturing on "the Universe" in ] 848, and producing his strange great book "Eureka," on which I am not competent to speak critically. In the autumn of 1 849 he had, after a sad fit of insane debauchery, made one vigorous effort to emerge. He joined a Temperance Society,—he led a quiet life, and his marriage was talked of. But, on the evening of the 6th October, 1849—a Saturday evening—passing through Baltimore on his way to New York, accident threw him among some old acquaintances. He plunged into intoxication, and on Sunday morning he was carried to an hospital, where he died that same evening, at the age of thirty-eight years. No details have been given of this last scene: let us be thankful that we bear not that pain in our memory!
It remains that I should say something of his Genius, and the fruits of it which remain with us.