Polemics & Exchanges

Reading Poe

While he is to be complimented on an absorbing essay, Egon Richard Tausch (“The Writer and the Lawyers,” Vital Signs, May) goes too far in claiming that Poe “despised” the New England poets and “proved without [sic] a doubt” that Longfellow, in particular, was “a pathological plagiarist, poem by poem.”  More than once in his critical writing, Poe says that Longfellow and Lowell are the best poets in America.  He scores them—as he scored virtually every poet he reviewed—for metrical imprecision, less-than-true rhymes, and, above all, lack of originality.  The immense—81 pages in the Library of America’s Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews—journalistic campaign against Longfellow that Poe conducted during January through April 1845 does charge the New Englander with plagiarism, but more often with “imitation,” and always from the standpoint that originality is the truest mark of literary distinction.  He quotes particular poems and verses of Longfellow’s, setting them cheek-by-jowl with poems and lines by other poets, including himself, that he asserts are so alike in so many points, which he enumerates, that Longfellow’s must be considered plagiarisms.  The most lengthy comparisons are those of Longfellow’s “Midnight Mass for...

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