Monday, July 26, 2010
A Drawer Full Of Ashes
Earlier in these pages I made reference to a certain Mr. Leland who had interfered with my plans to publish further details to Poe’s discredit; details omitted from my ‘Memoir of the Author’ for the sake of the man’s loved ones. I should now like to briefly elaborate on the identity of this man, to whom Edgar Allan Poe is so deeply, if unknowingly, indebted.
Charles Godfrey Leland was first introduced to me in, I believe, the autumn of 1847 by my friend Richard Kimball, a lawyer of some prestige and an author known to many in my circle. Both Leland and myself were frequent visitors to Kimball’s home at that time. I had theretofore been acquainted with Leland’s work, he having contributed a great number of articles to The Knickerbocker magazine, and other periodicals, chiefly on the subjects of foreign literature and art. Graceful, witty, and learned, he was eagerly welcomed into my society. Almost immediately he developed an almost embarrassing attachment to me, which I politely endured for the sake of cultivating his talent and industry. He was nine years my junior and had much to learn, but was already one of the finest scholars and rarest humorists I had yet encountered; I would take him under my wing and make true his great promise of distinction in letters.
To this end I assisted and encouraged him. Through my beneficence he made the introduction of many illustrious and celebrated members of the literary community. From the beginnings of 1850, in my capacity as editor of the “International Miscellany of Literature, Art, and Science” I accepted for publication as many articles as his leisure would permit. When, in December of 1852, I accepted the editorship of P.T. Barnum’s new “Illustrated News”, it was solely for the benefit of positioning young Leland as associate editor; this is evidenced by my departure from the magazine in March of the following year, at which time Leland assumed my former role. I was merciful when he, in his youthful enthusiasm, violated the magazines golden rule of contributorial anonymity, boasting to others that he alone deserved the credit for our many reviews of works in foreign tongues. When later he found himself with no work and little money, struggling with both professional and personal difficulties, I raised his spirits and helped renew his esteem by my inclusion of him in my final revised edition of “The Poets and Poetry of America”.
In his memoir, Leland writes the following about me…
”He was so uniformly a friend to me, and so untiring in his efforts to aid me, that I cannot find words to express his kindness nor the gratitude which I feel.”
But alas, this is merely the movement of a pen…for Mr. Leland did me a great wrong. He continues…
“Dr. Griswold was always a little “queer,” and I used to scold and reprove him for it.”
This statement is utter blatherskite. Leland both feared and idolized me…the very thought of his upbraiding me in any fashion is laughable.
“He had gotten himself into great trouble by his remarks on Edgar A. Poe. Mr. Kimball and others, who knew the Doctor, believed, as I do, that there was no deliberate evil or envy in those remarks. Poe’s best friends told severe stories of him in those days-me ipso teste-and Griswold, naught extenuating and setting down naught in malice, wrote incautiously more than he should… as regards Poe, he is, in my opinion, not so much to blame as a score of writers have made out. The tales, which were certainly most authentic, or at least apparently so, during the life of the latter, among his best friends regarding him, were, to say the least, discreditable, albeit that is no excuse whatever for publishing them. I have always much disliked the popular principle of judging men’s works entirely by their lives, and deciding against the literary merit of Sartor Resartus because Carlyle put his wife’s money to his own account in banco.”
Here Leland clearly acknowledges the damage sustained by my reputation as a result of my memoir of Poe. He seems sympathetic enough to my plight, but his further actions belie that inference…
“One day I found in his desk, which he had committed to me, a great number of further materials collected to Poe’s discredit. I burnt it all up at once, and told the Doctor what I had done, and scolded him well into the bargain. He took it all very amiably. There was also much more matter to other men’s discredit-ascensionem expectans-awaiting publication, all of which I burned. It was the result of long research, and evidently formed the material for a book. Had it ever been published, it would have made Rome howl! But, as I said, I was angry, and I knew it would injure Dr. Griswold more than anybody.”
In this one action Leland betrayed me irreparably. How now could I ever, were I ever to become so inclined, or were any kind of litigation to ever so compel me to, assert my claims to veracity by producing the evidence that even the most devoted Poe apologist could not refute; evidence obliterated as completely as the fondness I once harbored for that sniveling womb-pipe. Despite his meager and pretentious justifications, his true impetus for destroying my papers, and the original cause of his ‘anger’, was his resentment over my having departed the Illustrated News (and his company) to pursue other endeavors. He had wept when I told him I was leaving the magazine in his care, and likely again a short time later when he was replaced-Leland and then his successor would edit the journal into oblivion-by Mr. Barnum. I had vastly overestimated the man’s abilities, it would seem.
Among the papers reduced to cinders were, to mention but a few, the following items:
• An article penned by Dr. Moran regarding the paternity of Fanny Fay Osgood (6-28-46) as it relates to Poe.
• A letter written to Poe by John Allan’s second wife in which she reproaches him for his inappropriate attentions during a recent visit.
• A letter written by Poe himself in which he offers his wife Virginia to me for an act of fornication for profit.
• A letter written by Poe to Goody Thyme, the local prostitute, thanking her for her recent assistance in the composition of a poem.
• An early draft of The Telltale Heart (published Jan 1843)in which the narrator, rather than succumbing to his guilt after hearing the phantom heartbeat, repeatedly murders his visitors, many of whom are transparent caricatures of members of our literary society, until he has run out of space beneath his floorboards…the draft is unfinished.
• Letters, documents, etc. hand written by Poe when in such a state of intoxication as to render the text utterly unreadable; or alternately, pages crudely adorned with pornographic and violent marginalia.
• Several other documents regarding Duyckinck, Mathews, Melville, Ellet, Stephens, Headley, Longfellow, English, Greeley, and others, all of whom owe young Leland a debt of gratitude for committing their secrets to the fire.
His claim that I “took it all very amiably” is true enough; I had grown weary of literary society and at the time a part of me had resolved to absent myself from the war of wits and words being fought in journals and newspapers throughout the nation. However, as Poe’s fame and reputation continues to grow with the passing of time, so too does my fury. I take comfort in the knowledge, acquired only after Leland’s demise, that he had been indoctrinated into the black arts as an infant and later became a depraved diabolist, in league with the nefarious forces of darkness. Perhaps the Black Goat of The Woods With A Thousand Young has made more of the knave than I could.