Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Edgar Allan Poe, Moral Idiot

In our last post we printed a letter written by my son, William McCrillis Griswold, in which he cites a letter written him that somewhat corroborates my memoir of the wretch, Edgar Allan Poe.  Realizing that the shadow cast by my predilection for forgery is longer than I care to dwell upon, it occurs to us that the word of the spawn of my loins may not be readily accepted by the general public.  For this reason we are happy to exhibit this article which appeared in The Old Guard for June, 1870, some twenty-five years before the aforementioned letter quoted by my son in his letter to the Nation on "Poe's Moral Nature".

Edgar A. Poe.
From the Old Guard, for June, 1870

                A recent writer in a southern periodical complains of the unfair treatment of Poe by Rufus W. Griswold, in the biographical sketch prefixed to the poems of the former, asserting that he was dead.  But, though Griswold spoke of those pecadilloes [sic] of Poe best known, he softened those he noticed, and omitted much he might have said.  Still, had Griswold reflected, he might have put in an ingenious plea in behalf of the poet, and have assumed that Poe’s frequent violations of the code of morals and honor, was from the lack of a thorough appreciation of right and wrong.
                Poe’s mind was not well balanced.  Certain of the intellectual faculties were in excess, while some of the moral ones appeared to be deficient.  I doubt, indeed, whether, with all his undoubtedly fine genius, he was not a moral idiot.  Griswold has himself reason to know –If I may credit Poe’s statement.  The latter came to me one day, chuckling over “a neat little trick” he had just played upon Griswold.
                “I told him that I thought he had made a capital book of his ‘Poets and Poetry of America,’ and I’d like to write a favorable review of it; but I was hard pressed for money and couldn’t afford the time.  He bit at the bait like a hungry pigeon, and told me to write the notice, and, as his publishers could use it, he would pay me for them my price.  So I wrote, and handed it to him, and he paid me.”
                “Well,” I asked, for I saw nothing in that but one of the traded tricks of the publishing trade.
                “I knew he wouldn’t read it until he got home,” continued Poe, “but I should like to have seen his face when he got to the middle.”
                “Wasn’t it favorable, then?”
                “Favorable?  Yes!  to the amateur in scalping.  I abused the book and ridiculed him, and gave him the most severe using up he ever had, or ever will have, I fancy.  I don’t think he’ll send that to the publishers, and I’m quite sure they wouldn’t print it if he did.”
                “It is a good joke—of its kind,” was my answer.  “You did not keep the money?”
                “Keep it?  No, Indeed!  I spent it at once.”
                Now, no amount of argument would convince him that he had not obtained money under false pretenses in the matter, there was no intent of wrong itself.
                Another case occurs to me which will put the matter in an even clearer light.  Poe came into my office one day, looking especially haggard.  He had evidently just got through one of his drinking bouts and looked very much the worse for it.  I commenced to lecture him a little, but he interrupted me with—“Oh, you needn’t say a word on that.  I’ve made up my mind on that subject, and I have given my word as a gentleman and a man of honor never to drink anything but cold water again.  But I’m in a terrible straight.  I promised the Bostonians to read them an original poem this week, and I got on this beat, and never wrote a line.  I haven’t time now, and what to do I don’t know.”
                I suggested that he should write, postponing the delivery two weeks; and he might say that circumstances, over which he had no control—for he had no control over himself in the matter of drink—had prevented him, and so on.  “Better still,” I said, “plead simply that you would explain when you come, and then tell the truth frankly to some member of the committee.”
                “Yes,” he answered, “but they’re to pay me for it, and I want the money.”
                “You can’t expect to get it unless you earn it.”
                “Can’t I?  Well, you’ll see.  I’ve just thought of a way.”  And off he went.
                He appeared in Boston on the night set and read a juvenile poem, written before he was of age—he used to say when he was a child, but that was an exaggeration.  He had a critical audience, who were dissatisfied and disappointed, but they treated him with courtesy.  On his return, finding his work was criticized sharply in the Boston papers, he wrote a series of paragraphs for “The Broadway Journal,” vehemently assailing the Bostonians, and asserted that he had planned the thing deliberately; and that he had selected the greatest trash possible to test their literary acumen; that they had gone into raptures over it; that they were asses and noodles—I think he used those very words—and claimed it as a great triumph.  It never entered his head to think there was anything wrong in this.
                I could name a dozen other instances of this same lack of appreciation.  To h old such a man to a strict responsibility for his acts is unfair.  You might as well convict a raving lunatic of murder.  It was not his fault that he had no sense of honor, and no feeling of shame.  The fact of which Griswold speaks, transcribing a copy of Captain Brown’s work on Conchology, and selling it to a Philadelphia publisher as his own original production, would have been a crime in another; but Poe had no idea that he was obtaining money on false pretenses.  He thought it all fair and a clever piece of diplomacy.  The unfairness of Griswold did not consist in mentioning facts that were necessary to be known, but in not stating the one great fact that would explain, and, in some measure, excuse them.
                I could tell some very curious anecdotes about Poe; but as they would not add anything to his good reputation, and as what I have said will be enough to palliate a good many of his shortcomings by showing his irresponsibility, I refrain.  But one thing should be noted.  Some fool critic, a few years since, charged him with stealing “The Raven” from the Persian, with which language Poe was familiar.  The charge is utterly false.  Poe knew no more of the Persian than he did of the Chocktaw, and nothing of either.  In two places in “The Raven,” there is a line taken from the “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship”—a quite unconscious borrowing;  but the spirit, recurring refrain, general idea and mode and management of the poem, are all Poe’s own.  Perhaps the charge was retributive justice, however.  Poe was very fond of charging others with plagiarism; accusing Longfellow, for instance, with having stolen from him and others.  But in either his prose or poetry Poe was the master of his art.  Some one has compared him with a Savage.  In his private life there a few points of resemblance, and in ingenuity and the inventive faculty, he was Savage’s infinite superior.

For those that would reject the offerings of The Old Guard on the grounds of prejudice against Poe, it should be here stated that this same periodical, in 1866, printed an article most unflattering to myself in the wretch's defense; thus charges of prejudice have no merit.  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

"Poe's Moral Nature" by William McCrillis Griswold

The following is a response by my dear son William to a review of "The Works of Edgar Allan Poe" (edited by George Woodberry & Edmund Stedman, 1894-5) in which he continues my important work of blackening the reputation of the wretch.

I would like to thank Undine from The World of Poe blog for helping me locate this document (nearly 2 years ago, and I am only just transcribing it!).

                                      POE'S MORAL NATURE.


     SIR:  Will you permit me to correct a statement made in your notice of the new edition of Poe?  It is of some consequence because it implies a wrong notion of the copyright law, about which it is important that literary people should not have indefinite or hazy ideas.  You say that the publishers "have taken advantage of the recent expiration of copyright," which you date from the issue of the works of Poe edited by Dr. Rufus Wilmot (not William, as you have it) Griswold in 1850.  But nothing was covered by the 1850 copyright except the editor's "memoir."  Poe's tales and poems had been published from twenty to four years previously, and the copyright on any contribution could not have extended, under the most favorable circumstances, more than forty two years from the date of first publication.  If all legal requirements had been complied with, the copyright on 'The MS. Found in a Bottle,' for instance, would have expired in 1875.  But, in fact, if there had been any copyright on this production, it would have ended in 1861, and that on Poe's last published article in 1878, the original term of copyright (twenty-eight years) never having been renewed, since neither the author nor his wife was alive at these dates.  Nor would it have made any difference, except in half-a-dozen cases, if he or she had then been living, for, with these exceptions, Poe's writings were published in uncopyrighted periodicals, and were not individually entered.
     In view of the additional light thrown of late years on Poe's career, and the fact that the Nation has several times pricked the bubbles blown by Ingram and other admirers, it is strange that your present critic should blame Prof. Woodberry for mentioning other faults than his hero's drunkenness and irritable temper.  "His worst faults," you say, "were as surely congenital as his genius."  His worst faults, however, were not the ones named, but his utter lack of honor.  Nor was this lack the result of ill treatment or misfortune.  His first employer, T. W. White, whose honesty and even generosity are admitted even by Poe's defenders, declared, from his early knowledge of him, that "he was an unmitigated rascal."  But his moral character is perhaps best illustrated by incidents related in a letter lately written to me by one of his few surviving contemporaries, and which I desire to put on record:

                                                                                                                                      "Jan. 10th, 1895.
     "The incident to which I alluded was as follows: Poe called on me one day in great glee and said: 'I have a good joke on Griswold.  I met him the other day and suggested to him that he should get me, through his publishers, to write a review of his last work, "The Poets and Poetry of America."  He said it would be a good idea, and that he would speak to his publishers about it, and said, "I am sure they'll pay fairly, and I think you can go on and do the work without waiting."  Well, I wrote the review, and, a few days after, handed it to him, when he gave me the money for it from the publishers.'
     "'Well,' I said, 'this is nothing more than the ordinary bookseller's device, and I dare say your review was a fair one and will be of use to the work.'  'There lies the joke,' he replied.  'I began at the very beginning and did not allow a single merit in the book: I assailed it to the extent of my powers, and should like to have seen Griswold's face as he read the manuscript.'  I looked at him and said, 'That is a very good joke, doubtless, for you, but Griswold and the publishers paid you; of course you returned the money?'  'No,' said he, 'I spent it.'  He had not the least idea that he had been doing a very contemptible thing, and it was impossible to get angry with him because, in spite of his unsurpassed ability in certain lines of literary work, he was in morals an absolute idiot.
     "In other instances I remember that he showed this lack of appreciation of right and wrong, and one of them was his trip to Boston.  He came to me one day looking very dilapidated, and I knew from the fact he was just recovering from indulging to excess in liquor, for Poe was naturally a very neat man in his person, and dressed with great care even when poorest.  Whenever you found him slovenly or careless in his dress, you knew that he was on a drinking bout or he had been on one.  I said to him rather testily: 'You have been on another of your sprees.'  'Well,' he said, 'it is the last; I never intend going on another.'  I said, 'I have heard that so often it has lost its force with me, but what can I do for you?  what do you want?'  'Well,' said he, 'I don't know what to do; I am in a strait.'  'What is the matter?'  'Well, you see, they have invited me in Boston to deliver an original poem, and I have been in such a condition that I am unable to do it; I have got to go next week.'  'Well,' I said, 'write to them that you have been indisposed, because you have been (I consider it a case of disease in you), and postpone the event.'  'But,' said he, 'I want the money.'  'Well,' I said, 'you can't get the money without you earn it.'  He said 'I'll fix that,' and went off.  The next thing I heard was that he went down to Boston and read 'Al Araaf,' a poem which he wrote when he was a young man (he said when he was a boy, but that is another of his figments).  They were disappointed.  It was not what they expected, but they treated him with great courtesy, gave him a supper, and, speaking under the influence of champagne and excitement, he let the facts out.  Of course, they became very indignant, and when Poe came back he wrote an article in the Broadway Journal in which he assumed that he had gone there with this poem in order to test their acumen.  He had not the least notion that he was doing anything wrong.  He never had.  Anything that he did was right, regardless of its morality, or lack of it; and everything he said was true to him, however false it might be.  I could cite numerous instances of his recklessness of assertion and bold statement without basis.  In morals, as I have said before, he was an idiot."

                                                                                                               Yours, etc., W.M. Griswold

W. M. Griswold, “Poe’s Moral Nature,” The Nation, p. 381

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why I Was Blocked By John Cusack On Twitter

I suppose in retrospect I can see why Mr. Cusack felt no further need to endure my abuse; unfortunately that means he likely did not get a chance to read my review of his wretched Poe movie:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

From the Archives: A Rare Piece of Edgar Allan Poe's Private Correspondence

It is with the greatest pleasure that I present this rarely seen letter written to me by the wretch Edgar Allan Poe:

                                                                                                                                 September 1842

My Dearest Griswold

I am much obliged for the copies of the Cabinet [*1] –if you have any other books of interest please do not forget to send them—I will take especial care of any you may deem worthy of my notice.  I will return the aforementioned issues of the Cabinet along with the twenty five dollars you generously loaned me as soon as I have the funds.
            Of particular interest in the Cabinet was Faulkmore’s “Magpie” [*2], which is as fine a poem, in both the style of its versification & expression and its originality, as I have recently encountered. I wonder at its omission from your “Poets of America”.  That it has been published just once, years ago, and forgotten is as unfortunate for the public as it must have seemed for the poet.  Are you certain that it has not seen publication elsewhere?  Do you know what became of Faulkmore?
Have you considered the anthology we discussed?  I know of nothing which would give me more sincere pleasure than to have a man of such exquisite taste and unsurpassed critical faculties as your good self present the comprehensive canon of my work before the public eye.  If you are inclined toward such a project perhaps you would do me the favor of composing a brief prefatory document detailing my biography.  In such a case, as in any future editions of your “Poets”, it would be preferable to me that my works are presented under the name Edgar A Poe, omitting the sobriquet Allan, which I detest.
I trust Graham has made you a good offer to remain in the chair—You are as honest a judge as you are a capable one, and during your tenure with the magazine you have brought about many notable improvements in the general appearance and editorial quality, and above all have rid the Gentleman’s Mag. of the quackery which previously infected it.
I have had word from Reynolds that a certain Mrs. E is seething with resentment over what she perceives as ill treatment from you in your notice on her in “Poets”.  He has told her that she should content herself with the columns allotted her rather than poison the air with her hostile breath but she was unmoved.  I would not worry, however—for all her bleating she seems incapable of any real harm.
Has your wife yet given birth?  You are certainly in an enviable position to have something for which to look forward as a newly minted life, something to occupy the mind other than the embrace of the grave.  Virginia is in good spirits, as always, despite her recent infirmity, and begs me to apologize for suggesting the transaction of which we recently spoke—it was only a need of the greatest importance that impelled me to make such a proposal, indecent though it was.
But perhaps all will yet go well; as I write this I await a meeting with Thomas to secure a Custom-House appointment, which I can no longer doubt that I shall obtain, and will soon, depending on the salary, embark upon the establishment of, if not The Penn, a Journal here or, perhaps in New York.  My days of impoverished anxiety will soon fall behind me, and I shall permit neither my own folly nor any miscarriage of fortune to sour my spirits or blacken my prospects.  I am the master of my own fate.
With high respect and esteem
 I am yr obedient servant, 
Edgar A Poe

[*1] The Hartford Cabinet of Literature & Science (published irregularly from 1826-1831), later became the Hartford Literary Journal.

[*2] "The Magpie" by Jefferson Tiberius Faulkmore (b.1799 - d.1828). 

I certainly hope this helps to clear up a few things. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Original MS of Poe's "Conqueror Worm", "dedicated?" to Rufus Griswold, fetches 300K at auction!!!

Devotees of inexplicably beloved Poet-Inebriate Edgar Allan Poe are all atwitter at the discovery and subsequent auction of an original handwritten manuscript of the drunken scribe's poem, entitled "The Conqueror Worm".  While various online sources report that the rare item was expected to fetch between $10,000 and $20,000 dollars, the brittle yellowed MS actually realized the impressive price of $300,000.  It should be noted that this MS has yet to be authenticated, which I find amusing given it's connection to your's truly, who, for reasons unfathomable, is associated with forgery and the bending of truth. 

To what can we attribute this significant discrepancy between the expected and realized sale price of the document?  Two words: Rufus Griswold.  Only a fool or a Poe could possibly believe that a timeworn scrap of paper penned by a literary nobody like Edgar "Allen because I am so obscure nobody can be bothered to spell it correctly, Allan" Poe could possibly fetch such a price without the one truly remarkable attribute that it boasts...a connection with the most significant shaper of literary opinion of his day, and a humble man at that, the honorable Reverend Dr. Rufus Wilmot Grisold.  

I know not who wrote on the reverse of this manuscript what I can only make out as: 
"The last
Poe's last poem
given by Edgar
Poe to R. W. Griswold, 
but I believe there can be little debate that without this association with such a well respected figure as myself this poem would not have been sold for nearly as high a price as it ultimately did.

But I would refrain from referring to this note as a "dedication" of any kind.  This was surely submitted to me for consideration of publication in one of my groundbreaking anthologies of American poetry.

See the following from the Edgar Allan Poe Society:

J.H. Whitty, in his edition of Poe’s poems (1911, p. 224), claims to have seen this manuscript, but does not record the text nor where he saw it.  He comments:  A MS. copy of the poem, originally sent to Griswold by Poe and noted in Griswold’s hand ‘Last poem sent by Poe,’ has been compared.  It follows the early texts with slight punctuation changes.”  Whitty again mentions this manuscript in “New Poe Poems and Manuscripts Found,” New York Sun (Nov. 21, 1915), also printed, on the same date, in the Baltimore American.  In that article, he comments only: “It was also thought that no manuscript copy of his poem The Conqueror Worm was in existence, but one has been discovered.”  T.O. Mabbott specifically states that he never actually saw such a manuscript, but he accepts Whitty’s description sufficiently to list this item among his alternate texts, as entry G.  Building on Whitty’s reference to the note about Griswold, Mabbott’s apparent presumption was that Poe sent the manuscript of the poem for a new edition of Griswold’s anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, first published in 1841 and regularly reissued.  Although Poe sent Griswold a copy of the newly published poem “The Raven” prior to April 19, 1845, and approved proof sheets on that date, the earlier stereotyped editions were again reprinted in 1845 and 1846, a new edition not appearing until 1847.  In that edition, “The Conqueror Worm” is one of the poems newly collected.

So, once again, Poe has "evil" Rufus Griswold to thank for yet another lofty posthumous achievement.  You are welcome, you verminous heap of excrement.

EDIT: Thanks to fellow Poe chum Undine (@HorribleSanity) for posting this newer, and admittedly more relevant information on this matter on her wonderful "World of Poe" blog which can be found here: http://worldofpoe.blogspot.com/2013/08/that-motley-drama.html

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.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Popular Poe Stories in Plain English: A Review

[Disclaimer:  The views written in this post that do not degrade or insult Edgar Allan Poe refer solely to his literary output, and not to the man himself, whom I maintain is a maggot.  The passages quoted from the work under review are for the purposes of comparison.]

Regarding the work now before us, "Popular Poe Stories in Plain English" by Jeri Walker-Bickett, we are of two minds.  We are pleased to see the publication (if only in this supernatural digital format) of such a blasphemy against the memory of a man for whom we've nothing but the most undiluted contempt, but simultaneously feel an uncertain dread for the future of which the the perceived necessity for such a book bespeaks.  This ambivalence permits us neither to enjoy to the fullest capacity our joy at seeing Poe's literary labors so abysmally reduced, nor to be overly opprobrious in the handling of the woman who has, by dishonoring Poe's work, even if unintentionally, endeared herself somewhat to the likes of Poe's most notorious defamer.

The volume is slight, containing, mercifully, only five of the wretched degenerate Edgar Allan Poe's tales, rewritten by sophomore English teacher and burgeoning author Mrs. Walker-Bickett, as we learn from her introduction, " in a plain English version that is more accessible to today’s reader.  Both her inspiration for and the purpose of this misguided project was the mutual frustration experienced by both educator and pupil when grappling with Poe’s tales in the classroom.  She informs us that it was not her intent to abridge or otherwise alter the content, but to instead simplify Poe’s sentence structure and amend his “old-fashioned use of language” to make the tales more palatable and comprehensible.  She has done precisely as stated, seemingly rephrasing each individual passage sentence by sentence, and in doing so has transformed five of Poe’s most beloved and effective tales into ugly and pedestrian fare that is less suited to her intended reader, a young adult, than it would be to one who had accumulated half as many years.  Had Poe never lived (oh, if only) and were these tales to be submitted in this vulgarized form as original works tomorrow, they would certainly struggle to find publication.  It is not because the writing is poor; it is not.  It is simply uninspired and anonymous.  As advertised, plain.  

It will perhaps be instructive at this point to introduce a few passages from this new translation of tales, in comparison with Poe's original prose, which is taken from my own edition of the depraved poet's complete works, published shortly after he perished, in order to give our readers (both of them!) a feel for this project.

 From the final passage of "The Oval Portrait:

Poe:  And in sooth some who beheld the portrait spoke of its resemblance in low words, as of a mighty marvel, and a proof not less of the power of the painter than of his deep love for her whom he depicted so surpassingly well.  But at length, as the labor drew nearer to its conclusion, there were admitted none into the turret; for the painter had grown wild with the ardor of his work, and turned his eyes from the canvass rarely, even to regard the countenance of his wife.  And he would not see that the tints which he spread upon the canvass were drawn from the cheeks of her who sat beside him.  And when many weeks had passed, and but little to do, save one brush upon the mouth and one tint upon the eye, the spirit of the lady again flickered up as the flame within the socket of the lamp.  And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice, 'This is indeed Life itself!' turned suddenly to regard his beloved:--She was dead!

In Plain English:  The passage continued, "In truth, some who saw the portrait would whisper how wonderfully it captured her likeness and that the care put into it showed the depth of the painter's love.  As time wore on and the portrait neared completion, nobody was allowed into the tower due to the painter's devotion to his task.  He kept his eyes on the canvas and rarely paid attention to the physical presence of his wife.  He could not see that the colors he applied to the canvas were those same colors on the cheeks of his cheeks of his lady who sat beside him.  After many weeks, little was left to do except for a brush on the mouth and some tint on the eye, when the lady's energy perked up a bit like the sudden poof of a flame when lighting an oil lamp.  Then the last brush stroke was made and the final tint placed.  For a brief moment the painter stood mesmerized by his own work.  In the next moment, as he continued to look upon the finished painting, he began to tremble and grow pale as he held his mouth agape.  'This is Life itself!' he said loudly and turned to look at his love but she was dead."

From "The Pit and the Pendulum":

Poe:  I had swooned; but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost.  What of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost.  In the deepest slumber—no! In delirium—no!  In a swoon—no!  In death—no! even in the grave all is not lost.  Else there is no immortality for man.  Arousing from the most profound of slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some dream.  Yet in a second afterward, (so frail may that web have been) we remember not that we have dreamed.  In the return to life from the swoon there are two stages; first, that of the sense of mental or spiritual; secondly, that of the sense of physical, existence.  It seems probable that if, upon reaching the second stage, we could recall the impressions of the first, we should find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond.  And that gulf is—what?  How at least shall we distinguish its shadows from those of the tomb?  But if the impressions of what I have termed the first stage, are not, at will, recalled, yet, after long interval, do they not come unbidden, while we marvel whence they came?  He who has never swooned, is not he who finds strange palaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow; is not he who beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view; is not he who ponders over the perfume of some novel flower—is not he whose brain grows bewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence which has never before arrested his attention.

 In Plain English:  I had fainted, but didn’t completely lose consciousness.  What dim awareness I retained I will not even try to put into words, but all was not lost.  No matter how deep a person’s sleep, or how strange their madness, how quickly they faint, or how final their grave, all is not lost.  We have to believe that or else man cannot attain any immortality.  When we wake from the enlightenment of sleep, we tear the delicate web of some dream.  Only a second after waking (for that is how flimsy a dream’s web is) we can’t recall a single detail. 
As we drift back to life from that blackout we first feel the return of mental alertness followed by physical awareness.  It seems likely that a person would be able to remember something of that first state once they have crossed over into the second state.  The lingering effects of that first mental state should form some revealing insights into the void beyond it.  But what is that void?  What can we do to tell its darkness from that of the grave?  But if the effects of what I have described as the first stage can’t be remembered at will after some time has passed, does that mean they will never come back to us automatically, while we are left to wonder where those effects originated?  The type of person who never allows their mind to wander in this way is not the sort of person who can see strange castles and familiar faces in glowing coals; nor the sort who sees sad visions hovering in the air.  The focused person will never give pause to the scent of some unique flower and that person certainly won’t get carried away by the meaning of a musical rhythm that never before caught his attention.

The murder in "The Tell-Tale Heart":

Poe:  But even yet I refrained and kept still.  I scarcely breathed.  I held the lantern motionless.  I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye.  Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased.  It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant.  The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!—do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once—once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

In Plain English:  I still did not move.  I barely even breathed as I held the lantern still.  I tested how steadily I could keep the light upon the eye.  All the while the dreadful drumming of the heart grew quicker and louder as the seconds passed.  The old man's fear must have been extreme!  The sound would not let up, do you understand?  I'll remind you again that I am nervous.  I am.  At this dark hour in this frightfully quiet old house, the pounding of his heart drove me to wild panic.  Even minutes later, I still did not move.  Louder and louder beat the heart as if it would burst.  That was when a new thought jangled my nerves.  What if a neighbor was to hear that awful thumping of his heart?  No.  The old man's time was finally up!  Yelling loudly, I fully opened the lantern and dashed into the room.  The old man screamed once and only once.  In no time at all I dragged him to the floor and yanked the heavy bed on top of him.  That made a huge smile spread across my face now that my plan was so close to completion.  The minutes ticked by as his heart continued to sound its muffled beat from beneath the bed.  I didn't let it bother me since no neighbor would be able to hear it through the wall.  After a time, it did stop beating.  The old man was dead.  I pulled off the bed and studied the body.  Yes, he was most definitely dead.  I put my hand over the heart for some time.  No pulse at all.  He was stone dead.  The vulture eye would not trouble me anymore.

The opening passage from "The Masque of the Red Death":

Poe:  The "Red Death" had long devastated the country.  No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.  Blood was its Avator and its seal--the redness and the horror of blood.  There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.  The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men.  And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

In Plain English:  For a long time a deadly plague known as the Red Death had spread over the land.  No virus had ever killed so many or been considered so dreadful.  A sure-sign was all the disgusting blood involved.  It announced its presence with light headedness, followed by bleeding from the surface of the skin, and inevitably death from all the blood loss.  The mess that leaked from the sick person, specifically the blood oozing from the face, made it impossible for anybody to help the victim.  The course of the disease from start to finish took only thirty minutes.

(The reddened portion of this rewrite fails to convey Poe's meaning clearly.  Why, Mrs. Walker-Bickett, does the oozing bloody mess make assistance from the unafflicted an impossibility?  Is it that the unwholesome discharge makes the face and body too slippery for a doctor to get his hands upon?  How, specifically, do the repulsive visible symptoms of the diseased prevent anyone from coming to their aid?  One must consult the original text for clarification, in which Poe makes it plain, despite his dense prose, that sympathy for the victim could not dwell in the hearts of those who were witness to the horrors wrought by the disease.)

From "The Cask of Amontillado":

Poe:  "I have my doubts," I replied, "and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter.  You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain."

In Plain English:  "I have my doubts," I replied, "and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without asking for your advice.  I couldn't find you, and I was afraid of losing what appeared to be a bargain."

(We would be curious to make the acquaintance of any reader who could understand this rewrite, but would find the original text incomprehensible.  We encounter such quibbling alterations throughout the text, changed for seemingly no reason except for the sake of change.)

We are made to understand that this experiment began as a classroom exercise in which the students themselves were made to rewrite portions of Poe’s tales in a more straightforward manner.  This, we believe, has value; but rewriting them for the purposes of the student’s consumption is another matter.  Mrs. Walker-Bickett has stated that she also utilized this project as a means of combating her writers block.  Again, we would not begrudge anyone’s use of any kind of writing exercise if it proves helpful, but to put such a work before the public and to suggest, as an educator, that it should be read in place of authentic Poe if his original language proves too difficult to comprehend is absurd.  If Poe’s writing truly “goes against a reader’s modern sensibilities” would he still be so widely read?  We do not believe so, nor are we inclined to believe that there exists any justifiable reason that the average person, today, by the time they reach high school, cannot read and understand the majority of Poe’s tales (and certainly the ones included in this volume) in their original form.  The most that should be required is a light, a thesaurus and possibly a pair of spectacles.

 In a recent exchange on Twitter Mrs. Walker-Bickett bemoaned the difficulty of teaching literature appreciation “when standardized tests only value comprehension and 80% read below level.” While we’ve no figures before us we will take her at her word.  She would know better than we.  But if this be true are we simply to dumb down the material?  Are we to let indolence reign and disentangle the knots of Poe’s prose so the student does not have to just for the sake of test scores?  Should we throw our hands up and indulge these imbeciles in their bibliophobia?  I think not, and attribute this lack of comprehension to plain laziness; laziness on the part of the student and laziness on the part of the teacher.  If something is challenging is it not the preferable course to meet that challenge?  It is certainly not the fault of Mrs. Walker-Bickett that her pupils were presented to her so miserably unprepared for Poe.  We admire both her confidence and her desire to ease the suffering of her students, but their plight will only be exacerbated if she permits them passage in this manner. 

It is not true, as has been frequently alleged since Poe's death, that his writings are beyond the public's grasp.  Complex literature such as his should not be made duller to be more easily understood by people.  These blunt minds need sharpening in order for them to cease being frightened of syllables and syntax, and Edgar Allan Poe, who would no sooner have watered down the content of his tales to suit the sluggish of mind than he would have watered down his drinks, would no doubt agree, despite our mutual loathing, that this adaptation of his stories is only slightly less of a humbug than what the malevolent forces behind Sparknotes or  No Fear Shakespeare would churn out (though to be fair, a better comparison would probably be with that of Charles and Mary Lamb’s equally unnecessary “Tales of Shakespeare”).  He would likely prefer that his name be stricken from the syllabus than have his name attached to this reduction of his masterpieces. Mrs. Walker-Bickett in her introduction says that she endorses “reading to appreciate an author’s use of literary devices and elements of style” but admits that “there are times that readers just want to get to the good stuff without having to re-read a passage five times to understand it.  Our response would be that the good stuff is the literary devices and elements of style.  Much of what Poe has to teach us is inextricable from his “daunting vocabulary” and “baffling syntax”. The minutiae of word selection and the delicacy with which he constructed his sentences is vital to the effects created by the tales.  What, then, is the point of these Tales of Poe for the Illiterate?  Is it so vital to a student’s education that they be familiar with Poe’s grotesque scenarios? In the absence of Poe’s original phraseology and the music of his prose such details are but macabre titillation.

Mrs. Walker-Bickett declared recently on Twitter that "a public domain work is ripe for re-fashioning."  We respectfully disagree, and can only repeat that the work, treasured amongst the literature of our country-men for over a century, must remain fixed in permanence, while it is the mind of the half-witted modern reader that should be compelled to change.  Is this approach to be adopted by other subjects in the educational curriculum?  Death claimed Archimedes and Euclid over two thousand years ago; clearly the time has come to update their archaic ideas. Beethoven's works are in the public domain, as are Mozart's (and everyone knows that he employed far too many notes), therefore should we not find a way to make them more appealing to the modern ear?  As for history, the actions and motivations of those old-fangled people are so hard to understand and so completely irrelevant that we imagine we should confine our studies only to the events of the last half-century.  Plainly we jest, but do not regard this with an abundance of humor.

 It is not our intent to insult or to injure, and some may wonder why we are so offended by this despite the fact that while alive we would not have extinguished a burning copy of Poe's work with a stream of our own waste.  It is a genuine concern for the literary fortitude of the future population, coupled, admittedly, with a personal fixation just short of monomania regarding Poe, from whence our hostile reaction to this book’s appearance springs.  The enrichment of our young people has always been of importance to us, as evidenced by the publication of our “Readings in American Poetry for the Use of Schools.”  We respect educationists, and that Mrs. Walker-Bickett has undertaken to participate in the literary enrichment of an increasingly disinterested youth displays a certain courage, even if it, in this case, falls short of true erudition.  She is clearly earnest in her desire to help the dimmest among us light their way through Poe’s bibliography, and though we cannot condone her methods we hope we have been kinder than some would have been, poet-inebriate Edgar Allan Poe included (though it matters little for this blog has fewer readers than Poe had hot meals).  We shudder to think of the gore that he, for whom the integrity of American letters was of supreme importance, would have made with his tomahawk of this mass of mediocrity.