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Of his character, what is there to say ?" Theory" of it, or how to " explain " this and that about such a problem, so as to pronounce what his life meant,— only the presumption of pedants ventures on decisions about these matters nowadays. There is something about the "mystery of a Person"* which we should be very cautious in explaining, though there are some who think that from a post-mortem examination of the body you can learn the soul of a man. The conditions of a man's life, complex as they are, make the real understanding of his character very difficult. Too often—particularly in artificial ages like ours—a man's whole career has to be run—like a race at a fair—in a sack! Many a man never gets fair play— sometimes is born with a constitution that won't permit it—sometimes is born into circumstances that will not. Let us be charitable. Southey's "Doctor," when he heard of a "toper," was wont to say compassionately, "Bibulous clay, sir—bibulous clay!" I would not put forward this compendious excuse for Poe, but we must allow for infirmity in the man. He was indulged early,—he was seduced by example. Because he left traces of something high and beautiful in him in spite of this, don't let us make that a reason for being harsher on him than on the frail mortals of his race. One pious scribbler told us— very soon after his death—[have they not in America, as here, a rule at all Cemeteries that "no dogs are admitted?"] that
His faults were many, his virtues few!
But I learn from those who knew him—men like Buchanan Read, himself a fine, graceful, tender poet—that his friends loved him, and that those who understood him pardoned his infirmities. Much more should they be pardoned now to one,—
Whose part in all the pomp that fills
It has been remarked of him that he united singularly the qualities of the Poet with the faculties of the Analyst. He wrote charming little ballads, and was a curious disentangler of evidence — criminal evidence, for instance — and fond of problems and cypher. The union is indubitable; but I scarcely think it should have been so much dwelt upon. Every man of fine intellect of the highest class includes a capacity more or less for all branches of inquiry. Carlyle was distinguished in arithmetic, long before he became the Teacher which we hail him as now. On the other hand, Inventors in the regions of mechanics partake of something poetic in their inspiration. Brindley was as eccentric as Goldsmith. Watt would muse over a tea-kettle as Rousseau did over la pervanche, or over the lake into which he dropped sentimental tears. One very curious theory was hit upon by a solid critic a little while ago to explain Poe's two-handedness. He knew that Poe wrote fine poetry—he knew Poe made subtle calculations; and what was his inference? Credits posteri! He insisted that the calculating faculty was the fact, and that the poetry was calculation! I scarcely ever remember a more curious instance of the "cart being put before the horse "—by the ass! Nothing can be more clear, to be sure, than that Poe employed a great deal of ingenuity and calculation in the finishing of his Tales and polishing of his Poems. But all this leaves the poetic inspiration pure at the bottom as the essential fact. Otherwise, if we are to make the calculating the predominant faculty, we may look out for a volume of Sonnets by Cocker! Poe has admitted us in one of his essays to the genesis of "The Raven," and has even told us which stanza he wrote first, and on what mechanical principles he managed the arrangement of the story. But surely all this presupposes the pure creative genius necessary to the conception!
Keeping the distinction in view, we shall easily see that all his Tales—analytic and other—resolve themselves into Poems, instead of the Poems resolving themselves into machinery! The " Gold Bug," for example, makes a most ingenious use of cypher, but the cypher is only materiel. Without creative genius mere cypher is an affair for the Foreign Office—which still remains a very inferior place to Parnassus. The same remark applies to his other poetical exercises —for such they are—in Mesmerism, Physics, Circumstantial Evidence, &c. Far from being a narrow student of the details of these, he always has clearly an eye in using them to the poetic goal or result.
However, it is with his Poems that our main business is just now. I should say that he was a true poet, first of all. I mean simply, that his view of a piece of scenery, or an event, or a condition of human suffering or joy, will tell itself to you from his lips in a music inseparable from it, and, by dint of perception into the heart of the feelings which such scenery, or event, or condition, would naturally awaken in every human soul. There is no occasion for going into recondite inquiries about the "Nature of the Poet." We see how Goethe had tired of all that, when he tells Eckermann, "lively feeling of situations and power to express them make the poet." I say, take the verses "To Helen," "The Bridal Ballad," "The Sleeper;" take these two lines,—
The sad waters, sad and chilly
if we do not find poetry in these places, where are we to look for it? It is easy to talk about the " deep heart," &c, and there are half-a-dozen unreadable gentlemen always ready to assure one that poetry is gone to the dogs—all except their own; but submit Poe's volume to persons most habitually conversant with all poetry, and they will admit that the charm of it is in his book. As un gentilhomme est toujour* gentilhomme, so a real poet, of course, ranks with the family. The head of a family is perhaps a duke, but every cadet, however distant, shares the blood.
My remark on a point in his youthful poems extends to all his poems. Traces of spiritual emotion are not to be found there. Sorrow there is, but not divine sorrow. There is not any approach to the Holy —to the Holiness which mingles with all Tennyson's poetry—as the Presence with the Wine. And yet, when you view his poems simply as poems, this characteristic does not make itself felt as a Want. It would seem as if he had only to deal with the Beautiful as a human aspirant. His soul thirsted for the "supernal loveliness." That thirst was to him Religion—all the Religion you discover in him. But if we cannot call him religious, we may say that he supplies the materials to worship. You want flowers and fruit for your altar; and wherever Poe's muse has passed, flowers and fruit are fairer and brighter.
With all this passion for the Beautiful, no poet was ever less voluptuous. He never profaned his