Rufus Griswald : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

What does Rufus Griswald have to do with Edgar Allan Poe? Did he influence his life/works?

-- Anonymous, October 26, 2000



Actually, the full name is spelled Rufus Wilmot Griswold. He was quite a character and probably had more to do with the public's perception of Edgar Allan Poe than any of Poe's contemporaries. Let me say in the beginning that my personal distaste for this historical figure is limitless and there are few individuals that surpass his perfidious nature. Consequently, I would encourage you to seek out alternative views for balance. Regretfully, you'll not find it here.

Griswold was born in Rutland, Vermont in 1815 and was a failed Baptist preacher. Certified some time in the late 1830s, it is said that he found much difficulty securing and retaining a religious following and chose a career as a newspaper man and printer. While it would be mere supposition to say that his failure as a clergyman was the result of a pious arrogance and opportunistic personality, there is significant evidence of these personal traits (and more) throughout his life. He was known to have worked in New York as an editor where he became aquatinted and friendly with Horace Greeley, the founder of the New York Tribune and a political journalist. While in New England, he also worked with Park Benjamin, a poet, critic and an editor for the New Yorker. Benjamin assisted Griswold in editing the Evening Tattler until they were forced out and started their own newspaper, the New World. When copyright laws became more stringent and better enforced, they were forced to fold up and move on.

In November 1840, Griswold moved to Philadelphia to work on the Daily Standard. Devoid of any measure of originality or creativity, Griswold spent most of his literary talents profiting from the works of others by writing anthologies and biographical notices. Essentially, his talents appear to center on the compilation of other's works as opposed to any literary contributions based on any discernable imagination of his own. However, as noted by Poe biographer, Arthur H Quinn, Griswold did possess a well developed sense of publicity. His book, "The Poets and Poetry of America" was well received publicly and went a long way in establishing him as a "maker or breaker" of American poetic talent. He later expanded this power to some degree in his book, "Prose Writers of America" and "Female Poets of America."

According to Griswold in his "Memoir", he first met Poe in the spring of 1841 when Poe sent him a letter offering several of his poems for Griswold's consideration of including them in his book. Griswold selected three of Poe's poems and included a brief biography. Interestingly, Griswold then paid Poe ten dollars to review the book but was disappointed when the review was published in November 1842. While favorable, it failed to speak in the glowing terms for which he felt he had paid handsomely. So much for literary bribery. There is some evidence that this incident, Griswold's failure to bribe a critic of note, infuriated him.

It is important in understanding their relationship that you appreciate the circumstances of that relationship. Poe, known nationally as a critic and prose writer was less known for his personal passion, poetry. He was, as were many other authors, desperately seeking exposure for his works and he saw Griswold as providing the limelight necessary for that exposure. Never one to miss an opportunity himself, Poe sent Griswold his poems in March of 1841. At the time, Poe was also attempting to establish his own magazine, The Penn (later called The Stylus) for the literary independence he craved. For his part, Griswold initially saw Poe as a means to an end, a method of profit and an opportunity to stand in judgement of Poe's as well as other's brilliance. Unfortunately, Griswold viewed many other poets in this same light such as Whittier, Lowell, Longfellow and Lydia Sigourney.

While they each remained cordial, at least in public, they often expressed wildly contrasting views in private. Griswold's opinion of Poe was a that he was a coarse, crude and uneducated Southerner, unworthy of literary attention. Poe's opinion of Griswold was that he was remarkable only for his lack of talent, a mere literary hack successful only through his unearned association with the New York literary social circles. To add to the animosity, Poe religious views were not up to Griswold's self-righteous piety and Poe's penchant for saying off color things merely for effect surely must have rankled Griswold.

To make matters worse, Griswold and Poe had demonstrated a concurrent interest in a poetess and socialite, Mrs. Frances Sargent Osgood. For Griswold it was a romantic interest... for Poe something different. At times separated from her husband, Osgood and Poe had first met in March 1845 and, subsequently, had had a public exchange of poetry, in print, that was perceived by the public, and certainly by Griswold, as a love affair. Actually, theirs was a close but platonic friendship born more of mutual admiration and respect than romantic love. However, she was an unabashed, unapologetic admirer and enthusiastic supporter of Poe's poetry and gave full voice to his defense following his death. Their relationship surely had a negative impact on Griswold's feelings, at least, certainly, toward Poe.

Then, on October 9, 1849, the day Edgar Allan Poe was being buried in Baltimore, Griswold penned a notice in the New York Tribune. In part, it read:

"Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it...."

Griswold continued with an description of Poe's life and then concluded with a slander of his character. Finished, he signed it with the name 'Ludwig' to escape accountability. He later admitted the deed to Sarah Helen Whitman in a letter in December of 1849 justifying his perfidy by saying, "I wrote, as you suppose, the notice of Poe in The Tribune, but very hastily. I was not his friend, nor was he mine, as I remember to have told you." Unfortunately, for literary history anyway, Griswold's apparent loathing of Poe did nothing to slow his treachery or his desire to profit from other's work. He quickly moved to secure the rights to publish Poe's works. The first volumes appeared as early as late 1849, billed as an aid and benefit for PoeBs Aunt Maria Clemm. This was simply not true but it kept legal scrutiny at bay while he worked on a more vile and slanderous biography and collection that was to be published in 1850. Griswold had graduated to making a living off the dead.

Griswold died in 1857 after years of attempting to defend himself to literary America. His passing and memory has fulfilled a prophetic comment attributed to Poe years before in a critique on which he is said to have collaborated. It said of Griswold, "Forgotten, save only by those whom he has injured or insulted, he will sink into oblivion, without leaving a landmark to tell that he once existed; or if he is spoken of hereafter, he will be quoted as the unfaithful servant who abused his trust." Today, the name Rufus Wilmont Griswold is generally found listed in association with Edgar Allan PoeBs life. It is a name found to be left wanting, much like his literary talents.

I trust you will find this useful, but again, I encourage you to seek balance. I regret that I have none to give. My sources are the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore web site and the book, "Edgar Allan Poe - A Critical Biography" by Arthur Hobson Quinn (1941).

-- Anonymous, October 28, 2000

It was his DAddy you stupid dumbass. Your to obseesed with this phycopath.

-- Anonymous, October 16, 2001

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