Saturday, June 19, 2010

On How It Came To Pass That I Should Have Become Poe's Literary Executor...

Having had, up until the time of his death, little or no friendly relations with Poe that could explain why either myself or the poet in question would be inclined toward such an undertaking, it is only proper that the reader should ask how it came to pass that I was appointed his literary executor. Poe was not my friend — I was not his — and he had no right to devolve upon me this duty of editing his works. He did so, however, and under the circumstances I could not well refuse compliance with the wishes of his friends and Mrs. Clemm, his aunt. As the pre-eminent anthologist of my day, and as someone who had a deep understanding of the man and his work, it was clearly expected of me…and let it not be forgotten that it was Poe’s own desire that I manage his literary affairs. Even despite his depraved lunacy he was enough in touch with literary society and carefully discriminating enough regarding the quality of the man who would compile his canon to know that only I could exhibit his life’s work in the manner that most befitted and celebrated it. I chose to accept his appointment and likely spared for some better purpose the time I would have later spent cataloguing all of the inaccuracies and deficiencies that would have festooned the edition were its completion in the incompetent hands of Duyckinck or the like. As it is the herculean labor of immersing myself in the labyrinth of Poe’s papers and emerging with a comprehensible anthology devoured just under one month of my life. His constant habit of repeating himself and his habits of appropriation, his utter lack of organizational skills, the gruel and ale stains that smear and blot out his child-like scrawl and cause the leaves to cling to one another…not to mention the adolescent renderings of genitalia and caricatures of acquaintances in impossibly corrupt acts of fornication and violence; it took the patience of a saint and the constitution of a sailor to stare into that abyss, but the resultant volumes were flawless. My edition of Poe’s complete works is even today the finest and truest collection of Poe ever produced. Were it not for my labors Poe would be consigned to the same oblivion as so many other of the antebellum American poets featured in my anthology of the Poets and Poetry of America.

It seems ridiculous in consideration of the preceding paragraph that there still remain those who would see me hang for the injustice that they claim I have carried out on his legacy. It has been said that even though the publication of Poe’s works was supposed to be for Mrs. Clemm’s financial benefit, she never received more than a small number of sets of the volumes to sell on her own. She complained to an acquaintance that selling the volumes she had on hand was the only emolument that she would receive from them, and she remained as destitute as if they had never been printed. Even if this were true, this charge can hardly be laid at my feet. The publisher of the edition was one J. S. Redfield, and on him and his company lays the responsibility for Mrs. Clemm’s remuneration regarding her nephew’s works. Another claim is that Poe’s sister Rosalie, and not Mrs. Clemm, was actually his true and legal heir and therefore Mrs. Clemm had no claim to his literary estate. This as well has nothing to do with me; Mrs. Clemm alone bears the responsibility for cheating her niece out of what should probably have been rightfully hers.

The lie most often heard and most deeply felt as regards this matter is that I in some way manipulated or swindled Mrs. Clemm into appointing me and that Poe had never requested that I be his literary executor. Leaving aside the fact that the appointment was a imposition for which I received only little, and that I even now dread to recall the time spent shuddering over the fiends private papers, I had no motive for such a deception. Many demands occupied my time; what need had I for another. I will not deny that my distaste for Poe did extend to Mrs. Clemm, who like her nephew was persistently making claims on my charity and who had no element of goodness or kindness in her nature, but whose heart and understanding were full of malice and wickedness. However, the aversion I felt toward the pair, rather than stirring in my heart feelings of envy or retribution, instead made me seek to avoid becoming entangled in their affairs. Often I was able to steer clear of them; sometimes, as evinced in the matter I now describe, I was not.

I hereby repudiate the accusations of those who would suggest that I somehow seized Poe’s literary legacy from his family so that I could exploit my position to defame him. I submit and can provide evidence that the entire affair was as Poe wanted.

To begin, below is the text of the contract for Power of Attorney that Mrs. Clemm had written up on October 15th, 1849.

Next we have the notice written by Mrs. Clemm herself to be included as a note "To The Reader" at the front of my edition of Poe's works.

I quote from the above document:

"...under an impression that he might be called suddenly from the world, [Poe] wrote (just before he left his home in Fordham, for the last time, on the 29th of June, 1949) requests that the Rev. Rufus W. Griswold should act as his literary Executor, and superintend the publication of his works...he many times expressed a gratification of such an opportunity of decidedly and unequivocally certifying his respect for the literary judgment and integrity of Mr. Griswold, with whom his personal relations, on account of some unhappy misunderstanding, had for years been interrupted."

In a letter written to George W. Eveleth on November 6th, 1854, Sarah Anna Lewis confirmed that she "did tell Griswold that Mr. Poe expressed a desire that he should become his editor, in case of his death. I did this in compliance with Mr. Poe’s own request. He had great confidence in Griswold’s editorial ability; and as they became friends prior to Poe's departure for the South, I do not wonder at the appointment. I do not comprehend Griswold, therefore could not tell you what kind of man he is.".

But Mrs. Lewis did not consider me to be a villain and will likely not prove a convincing witness to those who have already condemned me. In the spirit of fairness, here are two quotes from ladies who were less than friendly toward me.

Mary S. G. Nichols, in a letter to John Ingram written on February 4th, 1875, writes that "It was well enough known that meeting Griswold in the street one day on Broadway, not long before his death, in a maudlin fit, he asked him to be his literary executor; he no doubt thought when tipsy that if trusted, this man might respect his genius and do him justice; the event proved how hallucinated poor Poe was."

I will let the slight on my character pass and move on. In a recollection of Poe written for Scribner's Magazine (March 1878, pp. 707-716), Mrs. Susan A. T. Weiss recalls a party at which Poe was in attendance on September 25th, 1849. She writes the following:

"He declared that the last few weeks in the society of his old and new friends had been the happiest that he had known for many years, and that when he again left New York he should there leave behind all the trouble and vexation of his past life. On no occasion had I seen him so cheerful and hopeful as on this evening….In the course of the evening he showed me a letter just received from his ‘friend, Dr. Griswold,’ in reply to one but recently written by Poe, wherein the latter had requested Dr. Griswold in case of his sudden death to become his literary executor. In this reply, Dr. Griswold accepted the proposal, expressing himself as much flattered thereby, and writing in terms of friendly warmth and interest. It will be observed that this incident is a contradiction of his statement that previous to Poe’s death he had had no intimation of the latter’s intention of appointing him his literary executor."

It should be clear to anyone reading this that it was common knowledge within Poe's circle that I was his intended Literary Executor. The myth that I deliberately bamboozled Mrs. Clemm so that I could be in a position to blacken her nephew's memory is jut that...a myth; but this is only one element of the conspiracy to purge from history the truth about the loathsome swine Poe in order to elevate the perception of his character to a level that befits the genius of his literary endeavors. Since the publication of "The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe" and the memoir contained within over 150 years ago, there has been a deliberate effort to portray Poe as the innocent victim of the villain Griswold and his lies! The conspirators, in attempting to relieve me of any and all credibility regarding Poe, have largely succeeded in convincing the public that I not only fabricated many of the details of my memoir, but that I even went so far as to forge letters and other documents written by Poe to imbue my purported lies with a sense of reality. I absolutely deny this! Not a single piece of correspondence quoted in my memoir was a forgery, despite what the Poe apologists would have you believe. As for the remaining content of the memoir, everything I documented is, to the best of my knowledge and personal experience, and excepting omissions or alterations that arose out of the need for discretion, the truth. The monomania regarding Poe that is attributed to me is utterly unfounded; he was neither a nemesis nor an idol, but a brief and unfortunate episode in my life. The revised history of our relationship would suggest that I merely existed as a vindictive character in his biography, but my life beyond Poe was rich and full.

I will close with what I admit is a tepid defense of my efforts regarding my anthology of Poe's works. It comes from the General Preface (dated New York, October 28th, 1894) of the edition of Poe's works edited by George Woodberry and Edmund Stedman. They write: view of the contemporary uncertainty of Poe’s fame, the difficulty of obtaining a publisher, and the fact that the editorial work was not paid for, little fault can justly be found with Griswold, who did secure what Poe in his lifetime could never accomplish, — a tolerably complete collected edition of the tales, reviews, and poems”.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to see quoted articles in which Rufus W. Griswold held the honorary titles of Reverend and of Doctor. I wonder if he also went by the nickname of 'Dubbya'