Monday, December 24, 2012

Rufus Griswold's "It’s a Wonderful Libel"

It was Christmas Eve. In a moment of despair over the wretch Edgar Allan Poe’s posthumous fame, which I had thought an ironic consequence of my controversially scandalous biography of He that I loathe, and in frustration at having so imperiled my own reputation and posterity, I lamented having ever been born and prepared to end my life.

My ingestion of the fatal dose of the poison I was to employ to this end was interrupted by an odd fellow, Horace Nobody, who claimed to be my guardian angel and assured me of the significance of my existence. I thought him mad until he cursed me with a vision of a reality in which I had not been.

I saw my “graveyard of poets” untenanted; those poets I would never anthologize truly and utterly cast into oblivion.

I saw the Duyckinck’s had produced an absurdly inadequate Cyclopedia of American Poetry that would be credited as the first attempt at a truly comprehensive anthology of American poetry.

I saw the ‘Young America’ literary clique that would emerge and flourish in the absence of one of their most vital and relentless opponents.

I saw that Graham’s Magazine would fail ever to exceed the quality of that which it could boast under Poe’s editorship.

I saw Francis Osgood would die never knowing her soul mate or her greatest champion.

I saw Charlotte Myers would marry and make some lucky lady a fine husband.

I saw that womb-pipe Elizabeth Ellet, not having my marital affairs as a venue nor I as a victim of her poisonous machinations, would, with her coven of gargoyles, interfere in the lives of others as innocent of her malevolent attentions as I had been, had I been.

I saw George C. Foster would die alone and miserable in Moyamensing Prison, unable in my absence to secure the funds needed to extricate himself from his legal entanglement.

I saw scores of hungry aspiring poetesses who would never know the unparalleled ecstasy of my touch, nor the breathtaking honor of publication in one of my anthologies. 

But most horrifying of all, I saw a literary establishment that would elevate Poe above all his countrymen. I had been on the verge of suicide at the thought that my libelous biography of Poe had, by painting him a dark and deformed character with a luster of evil, improved his success post-mortem; but what I saw in this vision showed me how wrong I had been and sent me into spasms of bitterness previously unknown even to me.

My never having known Poe would not have much interfered with Poe's life, but oh, in death! Poe's literary estate would be managed and anthologized by another, and his biography would be written with respect for the deceased and considerations of veracity.  With Poe's literary and biographical fate entrusted to one with a, let us say different, disposition than I, what would become of it?

Just imagine, if you can stomach it, a universally revered American poet, critic and writer of tales named Edgar Poe who’s literary achievements overshadowed his flaws as a human being.  I recoil still at the thought!

I begged of Horace Nobody to take me back!  I had been wrong; had not realized all the good I had done and the lives I had touched.  And do you know, my prayers were answered...for when I googled Poe I immediately encounted comments about the madness, drug abuse, necrophilia and alcoholism etc. of Edgar Allen [sic] Poe, while those lauding his literary genius were to be found in a much smaller proportion.  Yes, it truly had been a wonderful libel.

My spirits were lifted; and it truly was a Merry Christmas for all-including Horace Nobody, who, for having rescued me from the myself, had finally earned his wings to become a full-fledged Angel.

So remember:

Every time a voice rings out with sound of one of my lies about Poe being repeated, an angel gets its wings.

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