Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography

By Arthur Hobson Quinn | Go to book overview

Preface

A biography of Edgar Allan Poe becomes at once an exercise in discrimination. Around his name has accumulated a mass of rumor, conjecture, psycho-analysis, and interpretation based upon imagination rather than fact. To picture Poe as he really was, it is necessary for a biographer to examine all these speculations but it is not necessary to trouble the reader with them.

I have tried to tell the story of Poe the American, not the exotic as he has so often been pictured, especially by European critics. He is best understood in contrast but not in conflict with his environment. His great achievement needs no reflected glory from the mirror of an America depicted as a barren waste of spiritual vacancy. In order to establish his place as one of the pioneers of the sterling group of American writers who dignified our literature during the period before the Civil War, it is necessary to clarify his relations not only with these authors but also with the critics, editors, and publishers who determined the conditions under which a creative artist of that time must live. Only in this way may we understand how vitally Edgar Poe was a part of that life. How keen was his desire to present the best literature America was producing, in the pages of a magazine edited and owned by himself, how he might have succeeded if he had been given the necessary capital, how undaunted he was by failure, will be apparent, I trust, in this biography. If this hope of his was only a dream, it was at least a noble dream.

There is a mass of evidence, based upon contemporary personal knowledge of Poe or later scholarly research, which must be weighed carefully before it is accepted or rejected. In these cases it is obvious that final conclusions must be supported by first-hand documentation. I have usually placed this documentation in footnotes or appendices, in order that the flow of narrative shall not be impeded. I have not, however, been a slave to uniformity, and I have been guided as to my inclusion in the text of original evidence by its importance rather than by its form.

-vii-

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