Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

"A Great Poet and Original Genius": Hayne Champions Poe

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

"A Great Poet and Original Genius": Hayne Champions Poe

Article excerpt

In 1854 Paul Hamilton Hayne was in Boston seeing his first collection of poems through the press at Ticknor and Fields. From time to time he met with some of the leading writers of "the Hub," and on one occasion at the Albion Coffee House, Hayne was present when the merits of Edgar Allan Poe's work were discussed. When asked for his opinion, the twenty-four-year-old poet responded, as he recalled in 1874:

   Courteously but with all the earnestness and vim at my command, I defended
   Poe's claim to the position he seemed to me to have fairly attained--the
   position of the most original genius in all American literature. At this
   the very air appeared to grow thick with a demurrer of argument,
   expostulation, sarcasm, and invective....

   And in sober earnest, reader, I was right! Go this day to Great Britain, to
   France, to Germany, to Italy, travel over continental Europe generally and
   you will find that the American author with whose name and works foreigners
   are most familiar, is the author of "The Raven" and "Eureka." (1)

Such a view, of course, may have been partially induced by patriotism on Hayne's part--a natural reaction to attacks on a fellow Southerner by New Englanders--though Hayne's subsequent criticism of Poe is as much concerned with aesthetics as with politics. Two years earlier, however, in the Southern Literary Gazette Hayne had championed Poe against a British critic's attack on Poe's poetry. In a series of four articles in October, 1852, Hayne criticized the anonymous author of an essay on American poetry in the North Bristish Review for a narrow and parochial view of the subject. He was particularly concerned on October 16 about the critic's failure to give "The Raven" its due:

   It is, at present, our intention merely to confound so palpable a calumny
   as that which would insinuate that "The Raven" {the only poem of Poe's the
   critic thinks worthy of attention} `equals first class English poetry in
   its own way.' The truth is, that the weird, but powerful production is
   (with two or three exceptions only) the most purely original poem in the
   English language.... In pure invention, lofty imagination, and `novelty' of
   construction, "The Raven" is without a rival; and if an English poem (or
   any other poem) can be pointed out which it `equals merely in its own way,'
   then we are as ignorant of poetical records as the critic in the North
   British Review is of the primary duties and amenities of his profession.
   (II, 176)

Later, however, Hayne focused more particularly on Poe and his work, and during his editorship of Russell's Magazine (1857-1860), he reviewed in April, 1857, the fourth volume of Rufus W. Griswold's edition of Poe's Works (1856), a collection containing Arthur Gordon Pym and other fiction (I, 48-54). Pyro he considers "an eminently characteristic production," and continues: "Since the days when we were accustomed to devour the engrossing history of Robinson Crusoe, religiously believing in the truth of every word we read, it has not been our fortune to meet with so enticing a story as that detailed by Mr. Pym." He also praises Poe's principles of verse and comments on both "prose and verse":

   Fragmentary as most of his compositions are ... the slightest of them
   displays a finished elaboration, a sustained unity, a perfection almost of
   style and treatment, often united to an ingenious audacity of speculation,
   and a purity and force of imaginative insight, which cause them to stand
   alone as works of art. (I, 48)

As to the impact of the edition itself on Poe's standing, Hayne concludes that Poe's "reputation is great, and is likely to be lasting and accumulative" and that the "extraordinary genius manifested in his productions" proves his "claims to immortality" to be "at least equal to the claims of any other American writer whatsoever."

Hayne continued to comment on Poe from time to time in Russell's. …

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