The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, JUNE 27, 1937
No Ordinary Yardstick For Genius:
Pedagogue Barks At Poe
W. J. Cash For The Defense
Site ed. note: For three early Cash short stories plainly influenced by Poe, see Poetry and Fiction, accessible from the homepage.
MR. EDWARD SHANKS' "Edgar Allen Poe," published by Macmillan at $2.00, is a very good example of what happens when a man with an essentially pedagogic and moralizing sort of mind sets down to deal with genius. Mr. Shanks, indeed, almost denies that Poe had any genius, but that is only proof of Mr. Shanks' complete incompetence to deal with the man who is his subject.
What holds his attention in Poe is the man's lack of dignity and respectability. And he is so horrified by the thought that after a particularly disgusting drunk, Poe's clothes are described as having been "filthy," that he simply can't see the loveliness of "Helen thy beauty is to me..."
There is no doubt that Poe was in many respects a thoroughly shabby figure. And there is no doubt either that he had more than a little of the charlatan in him--that he was continually posing and strutting. He did his best to pass himself off as a man of great and esoteric learning, whereas, as Mr. Shanks demonstrates, he was at most only "half-educated." He was exceedingly careless about the truth when it interfered with his interest, or when he thought that a lie would aid his reputation. The whole story of his composition of the "Raven" is almost certainly fraudulent.
But it will not do to judge a man of Poe's stamp by the same standard which applies to bank clerks. A man of imagination first and above, he passed his days in the half-world of Arnheim, and in a constant effort to escape reality, to seize the beauty which has been the dream of men and the possession of none. And despite Mr. Shanks' efforts to make his work seem of no importance, he did produce sufficient beautiful and original works to justify fully his life. It does not matter to us now as to what manner of man Poe was in the flesh: he will never disturb us now by wanting to borrow five dollars or ten dollars, as he was always doing with his friends. All that matters is that he has left a little sheaf of verse which has few rivals for beauty, and that his stories promise to go on being excellent reading for a great many years. No genius of the first rank, probably, but still a genius--such he was.
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