Today, we’re going to have a look at that guy with the splendid hair:
You may have heard of him. No, he’s not Michael Vick, but nice try! That would be Edgar Allan Poe, writer of creepy tales, doer of drugs, party man and general prototype for failing artists everywhere. Except he wasn’t really as screwed up as all that (IT WAS A SMEAR CAMPAIGN I TELL YA, A PASSEL OF LIES!) but I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, I want to take a moment to plug a new nerd venture called Seven Deadly Divas. If you’re a gamer, a reader, a movie watcher, a dork, a nerd, a geek, someone who spent your formative school years jammed in a locker or getting wedgies from asshole classmates, this site might be for you. It’s a group of women who have committed to blogging one day a week so there’s always something interesting to read about, and our common thread is nerdtastic hobbying. We’re smart and funny gals, so it might tickle your fancy to read our daily brain children, though I cannot guarantee it’ll tickle that sweet spot right under your . . . well, you catch the drift. So wander on over and check it out if’n you like. If you aren’t into gaming, the next day might be a book or a recipe or something. I like to think there’s a little bit for everyone there so keep checking back.
Now then, back to the business at hand. Every person I know was exposed to Edgar Allan at some point during their school years, and I don’t even mean in the creepy-guy-on-the-train-with-the-trench-coat way. If it wasn’t The Telltale Heart or The Black Cat, it was likely some of his poetry. Annabel Lee, to this day, stands as one of my favorite poems probably because it rhymes and I’m a simple creature:
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
(The full text can be found here.)
According to my grandmother, Edgar Allan Poe had the most beautiful prose of any American author – yes over Steinbeck and William Faulkner – and I can buy into that. Even if you don’t agree with the assessment, you can’t debate Poe’s influence on literature; he was responsible for inventing detective fiction, so if you like those crime novels? You have him to thank. He made short stories into an art form, was the first dabbler in science fiction, and took horror on a whole new path. Psychological horror – the beast within versus the vampire without, for example – pretty much began with Edgar Allan.
Like most things that are awesome, people were too stupid to realize how GOOD Edgar Allan Poe was when he was alive, which meant he was perpetually broke. Trying to survive on poetry simply wasn’t done back in the 1800’s, but Edgar was either brave, over-confident, or maybe he didn’t eat his Wheaties, because he made a stab at it anyway. It proved a thankless venture. His diet of pebbles, bird feathers and grass can attest to that. Posthumously, a lot of sources claimed the reason Edgar was so bad off was his abuse of drugs and alcohol, the implication being that had Edgar walked the straight and narrow he wouldn’t have been destitute (so instead of the pebbles bit, he might have gotten three day old bread and a swallow of water or something).
The problem with blaming the booze and crack for Poe being broke? Was that he wasn’t a drunk crackhead. Bet ya didn’t know that. I’m also going to take a stab and say you’ve never heard of Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who was responsible for Poe’s craptastic reputation. Griswold was a contemporary of Poe’s who worked as an editor and a literary critic. His big claim to fame was his work assembling an enormous anthology of American poetry. He didn’t actually start out as Poe’s rival. In fact, he included Poe’s poetry in his anthology because he could appreciate his talent. But then three things happened to sour the relationship:
1) Edgar Allan Poe was critical of a lot of the work Griswold put into his anthology, essentially suggesting Griswold wouldn’t know a good poem if it wedged itself up his butt and exploded
2) Griswold took over Edgar’s old job as editor at Graham’s Magazine and made more money.
3) A woman. Yeah, blame the boobs.
The first two are pretty straight forward. Griswold didn’t like being told his choices were shitty, and Poe didn’t like finding out his successor made more money than he did. This paved the way for Bad Juju between the guys, and matters were only made worse when pretty li’l Frances Sargeant Osgood came around. Telling the story of the tricycle-of-stupid that the Osgood/Griswold/Poe thing became would be another blog post entirely, but let’s just leave it at both men wanted Frances, there were scandals, and she ended up taking off to return to . . . her husband. Yeah, it was one of those messy situations.
Long story short, Griswold and Poe hated each other, and did up until the day both of them died. The problem is how Poe actually died, and his death certificate is nowhere to be found to help solve the mystery. Edgar took off from New York in 1849 and was headed down to Richmond, but he only made it as far as Baltimore. Someone noticed the writer slouched at a bar a couple days later. People simply assumed booze was responsible for his shoddy condition (in fact a local newspaper said he had “congestion of the brain” – a euphemism for alcohol poisoning – when they printed the story of Edgar’s death). But! Edgar managed to make his way to a printer and get this note sent off to a doctor before he passed out:
Dear Sir —
There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance.
Yours, in haste,
Jos. W. Walker
When I’m drunk? I can’t walk, speak, or even breathe properly. That was awfully coherent for a dude supposedly so fucked up he couldn’t take his jang out to pee straight.
There’s also the matter of Poe being found in someone else’s clothes. Manly clothes, mind you – they didn’t make him up to look like Ru Paul on a bender, but still . . . why would a man who traveled with his own baggage wander around a city aimlessly for four days wearing someone else’s suit? Doesn’t make sense, which is now leading historians to suggest that Edgar was cooped. Cooping was this lovely practice where twisted politicians would pay thugs to kidnap people, rough them up, drug them, and them dress them in various disguises so they could vote in polls all across the city. Good to know politicians haven’t changed much in a hundred and fifty years.
Poe kicked off on October 7, 1849 and “some guy” named Ludwig wrote Poe’s obituary. It wasn’t a flattering portrayal of a great American author. In fact, you could say it was petty, threw stones, and accused Poe of being a philanderer, a druggy, and a drunk. You could also say this obituary was a very successful demonstration of character assassination. I mean, most folks still think Poe died in a pile of his own filth thanks to morphine, regardless of the note, the matter of the cooping, and suggestions by medical doctors that Poe’s symptoms were synonymous with multiple diseases, including but not limited to rabies, cholera, or syphilis. But one guy writes one obituary and the next thing you know no one can shake their opinions of Edgar Allan Poe being a degenerate.
Of course, if you take into account that Ludwig was actually none other than Rufus Wilmot Griswold, the bitter douchey rival, it puts a new spin on things. After Edgar died, Griswold proclaimed himself Poe’s “literary executor”, and for some reason, it was allowed – very likely because Poe had no living relations to stop it. Griswold went on to write an incredibly unflattering biography of Edgar, perpetuating his smear campaign, and though Poe’s close friends all said it was a big steaming pile of exaggerated crap, the damage had been done. Americans everywhere assumed – and still assume – Edgar Allan Poe was sniffing lines off of some crackwhore’s ass.
I’m not going to say that Poe was a great guy. He was kind of a peckerhead in his own right, and was the worst of the worst when it came to literary elitism (he used to speak publicly on how crappy Longfellow was), but I don’t think anyone deserves the bum rap he got. It’s one thing to kick a guy in the teeth when he’s alive, but when he’s dead? That’s a new level of low. So moral of my meandering Edgar Allan Poe story: Poe STILL rules, Griswold can suck a fat turd in hell, pass the coffee.