The Raven Returns
edgar allan poe bicentennial celebration
1845: The Lyceum Fiasco!
October 16, 1845: With Lowell’s support, Poe is invited to speak at the Boston Lyceum. Kept waiting for over two hours while the first lecturer drones on, Poe reads not a new poem, as requested, but the interminable Al Aaraff, written in his adolescence. When Boston reviewers decry his lack of tact, Poe assails “Frogpondians” in general and insists that he was trying to hoax and insult them: to make “a fuss.” The hostile and snarky tone of these exchanges calls to mind the opening of Poe’s Cask of Amontillado (1846): “The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as best I could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge.”
When the orator had concluded, an officer of the society introduced to the assembly a gentleman, who, as we understood him to say, possessed a raven-ous desire to be known as the author of a particular piece of poetry on a celebrated croaking bird. ...The audience listened in amazement to a singularly didactic exordium, and finally commenced the noisy expedient of removing from the hall, and this long before they had discovered the style of the measure, or whether it was rhythm or blank verse. We believe, however, it was a prose introductory to a poem on the “Star discovered by Tycho Brahe,” considered figuratively as the “Messenger of the Deity,” out of which idea Edgar A. Poe had constructed a sentimental and imaginative poem. The audience now thinned so rapidly and made so much commotion in their departure that we lost the beauties of the composition. ...Another small poem succeeded. This was “The Raven” – a composition probably better appreciated by its author than by his auditory...
-Cornelia M. Walter, Editor, Boston Evening Transcript, October 17, 1845.
In a series of articles published in November 1845, Poe responded to the critical reviews of his Lyceum lecture and put exclamation points
on the Boston-Poe conflict:
Miss Walters (the Syren!) has seen cause, we find, to recant all the illnatured little insinuations she has been making against us (mere white lies–she need not take them so much to heart) and is now overwhelming us with apologies–things which we have never yet been able to withstand. She defends our poem on the ground of its being “juvenile,” and we think the more of her defense because she herself has been juvenile so long as to be a judge of juvenility. Well, upon the whole we must forgive her–and do. Say no more about it, you little darling! You are a delightful creature and your heart is in the right place–would to Heaven that we could always say the same thing of your wig!"
-Poe's November 22, 1845 reaction to Walters in The Broadway Journal
We like Boston. We were born there–and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their common is no common thing–and the duck-pond might answer–if its answer could be heard for the frogs. But with all these good qualities the Bostonians have no soul. ...The Bostonians are well-bred–as very dull persons very generally are.
-Poe, The Broadway Journal, Nov 1, 1845.
"Never was a “bobbery” more delightful than that which we have just succeeded in “kicking up” all around about Boston Common. We never saw the Frog-Pondians so lively in our lives. They seem absolutely to be upon the point of waking up. In about nine days the puppies may get open their eyes.
"The poem, they say, is bad. We admit it. We insisted upon this fact in our prefatory remarks. ...We wrote it at ten years of age–had it been worth even a pumpkin-pie undoubtedly we should not have “delivered” it to them.
"In conclusion: The Frogpondians may as well spare us their abuse. If we cared a fig for their wrath we should not first have insulted them to their teeth, and then subjected to their tender mercies a volume of our Poems—that, we think, is sufficiently clear. The fact is, we despise them and defy them (the transcendental vagabonds!) and they may all go to the devil together."
-Poe, The Broadway Journal, Nov 22, 1845.
“What thoughts must have crossed Poe’s mind as he stood before this audience at the Odeon Theatre in Boston? Poe’s feelings about Boston were, at best, mixed. It was the place of his birth and was therefore associated lovingly in his memory with Eliza; he had also lived there when he was in the army, and he had published his first book of poems there, identifying himself on the title page as a “Bostonian.” But Poe despised the literary coteries in Boston and believed that American literature suffered from a New England bias. This view was of a piece with Poe’s southernness. He opposed the currents that threatened to sweep society toward total Jacksonian democracy, just as when a student at the University of Virginia he had sided more with John Marshall’s urbane, conservative thought and opposed Jefferson’s push for democracy and reform. Poe also unequivocally associated Boston with the transcendentalists (the Frogpondians, as he derisively called them), Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, and others.”
-James M. Hutchisson, Poe, 2005