Poetry News

Between Popular and Literary: Remembering Edgar Allan Poe 165 Years After his Death

By Harriet Staff


Did you know that Edgar Allan Poe was best known, in his lifetime, as an editor and critic whose cuttingly harsh reviews earned him the nickname "Tomahawk Man?" Or that his on-going feud with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow during the 1840s came to be called "The Longfellow War?" From David Ulin's sagacious remembrance at LA Times:

Today in literary history: On Oct. 7, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe died at the age of 40 in Baltimore, four days after being discovered at a polling place “in great distress.” Poe was in many ways the first “modern” writer, not just in his themes, but also in the way he lived: always scrambling for money, he was the first American writer to live entirely by his pen.

Although we remember him now primarily for his poetry and fiction (“The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado”), Poe was best known in his time as an editor and a critic, called “Tomahawk Man” for the cutting quality of his reviews.

He saved his most effusive contempt for the Transcendentalists, dismissing them as “Frog-Pondians” and engaging, throughout the 1840s, in a series of sorties against the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who he saw as derivative or worse; these efforts were later called the “Longfellow War.”


“The fact of the matter,” Poe wrote in his essay “Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists,” “is, that the friends of Mr. Longfellow, so far from undertaking to talk about my ‘carping littleness’ in charging Mr. Longfellow with imitation, should have given me credit, under the circumstances, for great moderation in charging him with imitation alone. Had I accused him, in loud terms, of manifest and continuous plagiarism, I should but have echoed the sentiment of every man of letters in the land beyond the immediate influence of the Longfellow coterie.”

Longfellow, of course, had the last word: “My works seemed to give him much trouble, first and last,” he commented after Poe’s death to the writer William Winter; “but Mr. Poe is dead and gone, and I am alive and still writing, and that is the end of the matter. I never answered Mr. Poe’s attacks; and I would advise you now, at the outset of your literary life, never to take notice of any attacks that may be made upon you. Let them all pass.” [...]

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