Emerson (1803-1882) and Poe (1809-1849)

Sources and Works Cited

Hutchinson, James M.  Poe.  Jackson, Miss.: U P of Mississippi, 2000.

Kennedy, J. Gerald.  A Historical Guide to Edgar Allan Poe.  London: Oxford UP, 2001

Meyerson, Joel.  A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson.  London: Oxford UP, 2000

Miller,John C.  "Did Edgar Allan Poe Really Sell a Slave?," “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, December 1976, Vol. IX, No. 2, 9:52





















         Both authors lost fathers in childhood: Emerson @ 8; Poe's father abandoned the family @ 1 and his mother died the next year (adopted by the Allan family of Virginia).  Emerson was raised by his mother and aunt (Kennedy and Hutchinson).

        Emerson was more formal education (Harvard BA).  Poe was expelled from U. Va and West Point, largely self-educated (Kennedy and Hutchinson).

        Both published early (Emerson at 9!) and often, influencing their culture's thinking about philosophy and literature (Meyerson).  Creation of an "American ideology" out of a post-colonial English culture--Transcendentalism (out of German and English Romanticisim); and tales of horror and mystery (the other side of the American frontier experience). 

        Emerson's main disciples were Thoreau and Walt Whitman, author of Leaves of Grass and other influential poems.  Melville and Hawthorne were skeptical opponents of Emerson's philosophy of transcendent union with Nature (Meyerson).  Poe was a Romantic who saw nature as dangerous and human nature as a source of potentially unlimited evil (Hutchinson).

        Poe influenced American literary criticism by taking American writers as seriously as he did European novelists and playwrights.  His influence among French authors may have been greater--they began the tradition of crediting him with the invention of the genres of science fiction and detective mystery fiction. 

Emerson and the Mexican War--He seems to have opposed it but used his public speaking to argue for the abolition of slavery (Meyerson 189 and ff.).

Emerson and Slavery--He was utterly and publically opposed to it, becoming a sought-after speaker at abolitionist rallies (Meyerson 187-92).

Poe and the Mexican War--his best current biographer (Hutchinson) does not mention the war, or even Mexico a a nation.  Based on Kennedy's description of Poe's life during the war's duration, he was too distracted by his literary battles and the death of Virginia Poe from tuberculosis to pay attention to political events (58-60).

Poe and Slavery--indirect evidence suggests he did not oppose it as part of the "Old South" culture of which he was fond, and his criticism attacked Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's abolitionist collection, Poems on Slavery in 1845 (Hutchinson 99-101).  According to Miller, he once may have sold a slave based on a now-lost receipt in a Baltimore public records office.