Edgar A. Poe’s over the top prose wasn’t limited to fiction. The Raven wrote crazy stuff in newspaper articles too, passing it off as reporting and as criticism. Poe was a well known literary critic, feared and hated. Back in the early 19th century, authors often rebutted their critics in the magazines and newspapers, and the critics often responded. Literary gadflies airing their laundry in public. Here’s a snippet of Poe trashing the early American literary giant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who dared to respond. This is Poe responding to Longfellow:
POST-NOTES BY THE CRITIC. — If ever a man had cause to ejaculate, “Heaven preserve me from my friends!” it is Mr. Longfellow.
My ‘literary strictures’ on the poem consisted, generally, in the assertion, that it is the best of a collection of poems, one of which, at least, ‘should have been received with acclamation.’
I defy Prof. Longfellow and his friend conjointly, to say a rational word in defense of the ‘identical illustration’ to which, as gently as possible, I objected.
I deny that I misconceive either rhythm or metre–call for the proofs–and assert that Prof. Longfellow knows very little about either….
–Edgar A. Poe, excepted from the New York Weekly Mirror, January 25, 1845
Poe’s savage pen ripped Longfellow repeatedly through the years, but his attacks also skewered James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving, yet praised Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Dickens. So maybe Poe did have a critical eye that could see past the contemporary popularity or passing fads.
Unfortunately, Poe paid a price for his unflinching honesty. Poe hated what he called “puffery”, where fellow poets and fiction writers would each trade positive reviews. And so later in life, after his beloved Virginia had died and Poe meandered in and out of poverty and near starvation, no one in the established literary landscape cared to give Poe the break he sought or the help he needed. He had made too many enemies.
The image comes from the masthead of an actual Weekly Mirror from 1844, when Poe was a contributing writer.