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Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849). Eleonora, The Fall of the House of Usher & The Purloined Letter.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Criticisms and Interpretations. I. By Edmund C. Stedman

ACCEPT him, then, whether as poet or romancer, as a pioneer of the art feeling in American literature. So far as he was devoted to art’s sake, it was for her sake as the exponent of beauty. No man ever lived in whom the passion for loveliness so governed the emotions and convictions. His service of the beautiful was idolatry, and he would have kneeled with Heine at the feet of Our Lady of Milo, and believed that she yearned to help him. This consecration to absolute beauty made him abhor the mixture of sentimentalism, metaphysics, and morals, in its presentation. It was a foregone conclusion that neither Longfellow, Emerson, Lowell, nor Hawthorne should wholly satisfy him. The question of “moral” tendency concerned him not in the least. He did not feel with Keats that “beauty is truth, truth beauty,” and that a divine perfection may be reached by either road. This deficiency narrowed his range both as a poet and as a critic. His sense of justice was a sense of the fitness of things, and—strange to say—when he put it aside he forgot that he was doing an unseemly thing. Otherwise, he represents, or was one of the first to lead, a rebellion against formalism, commonplace, the spirit of the bourgeois. In this movement Whitman is his counter-type at the pole opposite from that of art; and hence they justly are picked out from the rest of us and associated in foreign minds. Taste was Poe’s supreme faculty. Beauty, to him, was a definite and logical reality, and he would have scouted Véron’s claim that it has no fixed objective laws, and exists only in the nature of the observer. Although the brakes of art were on his imagination, his taste was wholly pure; he vacillated between the classic forms and those allied with color, splendor, Oriental decoration; between his love for the antique and his impressions of the mystical and grotesque. But he was almost without confraternity. An artist in an unartistic period, he had to grope his way, to contend with stupidity and coarseness.—From “Edgar Allan Poe” (1881).