The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

Lecturer and Critic

New York Weekly Tribune

Poe contributed substantially to the literary criticism of his day. He reviewed more than 200 books on topics ranging from poetry, politics, religion, and science to etiquette, and frequently used these reviews to present his own opinions about literature and the deficiencies of particular writers. He also wrote longer critical pieces espousing his philosophies and theories.

Poe’s critical reviews and essays—prolific, unpredictable, caustic, and sometimes unjust—provoked several wars of the pen with the writers who were the subjects of his barbs. Most famously, Poe accused Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarizing Tennyson’s work. Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, and the literary circles of New York and Boston also felt the lash of his criticism.

Always looking for ways to supplement his income, Poe performed as an occasional paid lecturer, delivering orations about poetry and literature. Shown here are two positive reviews of a lecture on American poetry that Poe gave before several audiences in February and March of 1845, along with the author’s own copy of Eureka, his most ambitious work of literary theory.

New York Weekly Tribune. March 8, 1845.
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Edgar A. Poe delivered a remarkable lecture on American poets and poetry last evening, at the Society Library. It embodied much acute and fearless criticism, with some that did not strike us so favorably. The worst portion of the lecture was the introduction, wherein Mr. P. indulged in indiscriminate and often unjust censure on whatever has hitherto aspired to be criticism in this country, whether in the shape of Reviews, Magazines, or Newspapers, Etc. etc. Mr. Poe writes better than he reads. His Lecture gained nothing from the graces of his elocution, and in one or two instances we thought the Poet suffered more from his recitation of their verses than from his most savage criticism. Etc. etc.

Review of Poets and Poetry of America. New York Mirror. March 8, 1845.

An hour’s lecture on this subject by Mr. Poe is but a ’foot of Hercules,’ and though one can see what would be the proportions of the whole, if treated with the same scope and artistic minuteness, it is a pity to see only the fragment. What we heard last night convinced us, however, that one of the most readable and saleable of books would be a dozen such Lectures by Mr. Poe, and we give him a publisher’s counsel to print them . . . Mr. Poe had an audience of critics and poets—between two and three hundred of victims and victimizers—and he was heard with breathless attention. He becomes a desk,—his beautiful head showing like a statuary embodiment of Discrimination; his accent drops like a knife through water, and his style is so much purer and clearer than the pulpit commonly gets or requires, that the effect of what he says, besides other things, pampers the ear.

Edgar Allan Poe. Eureka: A Prose Poem. New York: Geo. P. Putnam, 1848.
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This is Poe’s own copy of his most philosophically ambitious work. More than three quarters of the pages in this copy contain Poe’s own notes and corrections. Poe believed this “prose poem” to be a major contribution to literary criticism and philosophical understanding; he proposed a run of 50,000 copies, but just 500 were printed. Writing to his friend George Eveleth about the book, Poe declared, “What I have propounded will (in good time) revolutionize the world of Physical and Metaphysical Science.” No one could accuse him of excessive modesty.

Poe’s extensive notes and corrections in this copy reflect his intentions to produce a second edition. But it was not to be; he died the following year.

Edgar Allan Poe. Eureka: A Prose Poem. New York: Geo. P. Putnam, 1848. Bayard Taylor’s copy, with his signature dated New York, August 1848.

Bayard Taylor submitted a letter to the July 15 issue of the Saturday Evening Post mentioning several forthcoming books, including “Poe’s prose-poem ’Eureka,’ in which his new theory of the universe will be revealed. Whether the readers of the work will echo its title, on perusal, is a question to be decided; but many, I have no doubt, will answer with the Raven: ‘Nevermore!’”

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