Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, made to accompany Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Beardsley, born on August 21, 1872, favored the grotesque and the erotic in his drawings and had a large influence on the developing the Art Nouveau style, though he lived only to twenty-five. He also illustrated work by Oscar Wilde and Alexander Pope and helped found The Yellow Book.
Poe’s vision of the cosmos and the art it inspired.
Since adolescence, Edgar Allan Poe had been picking fights with science. His second collection of poetry, published when he was all of twenty, opened with a mischievous sonnet needling what he called that “true daughter of Old Time”:
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
By the time Poe wrote Eureka: A Prose Poem, the last major work he published before his premature death in 1849, his attitude toward certain men of science had softened. He eagerly absorbed—and sometimes rejected—theoretical works by the brilliant astronomer Sir John Herschel, the popular scientist J. P. Nichol, and the towering, eccentric naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, to whom Eureka was dedicated. He was still capable, on the other hand, of caustic put-downs such as the one he attributes early in the book to a scientist from the distant future. It’s in that figure’s prophetic voice that Poe chews out most of his contemporaries for “their pompous and infatuate proscription of all other roads to Truth than the two narrow and crooked paths—the one of creeping and the other of crawling—to which, in their infinite perversity, they have dared to confine the Soul—the Soul which loves nothing so well as to soar in those regions of illimitable intuition which are utterly incognizant of path.” Read More
- In 1849, not long before he died, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a book called Eureka, the goal of which was nothing less than to outline the origins of the universe. “It’s like a nineteenth-century version of the many manuscripts I have received over the decades from brilliant but deranged autodidacts … Imagine what you might get if you toss Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Newton’s Principia in a blender along with scoops of gothic rhetoric and romantic philosophy.” Did Poe unwittingly anticipate modern cosmology? Well, no—but his book is still fun to read.
- On writing and bravery, or the lack thereof: “Although I acknowledge it can be scary to set down what you think and feel, I’m not sure brave is the operative description … This is my problem with brave and other words like it: They do not engage but rather insist. They are singular, anti-conversational, self-congratulatory even; they pre-digest our experience, before we get a chance to have it for ourselves.”
- “Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.”
- How did pottery become art? A new exhibition in Boston tells the story of American ceramics: “Sometimes art is defined by uselessness. An object that remains functional never quite gains the aura that is normally associated with the highest creations of the imagination … For a century and more, many ambitious ceramicists have labored to lift the status of their craft. In the process, they have left behind any notion of utility, creating objects that, while they may nod to their antecedents in the cup, the jug or the storage jar, are gloriously (and often preposterously) impractical.”
- Joe Franklin, who “presided over one of the most compellingly low-rent shows in television history,” died last weekend at eighty-eight. He left behind an office overflowing with memorabilia and historic clutter, “mounds formed by stacks of old reels of silent films, publicity photos and press copies of books. There were playbills from the Booth Theater from the 1920s and a VHS tape of the comedian Sarah Silverman … somewhere in there was Bing Crosby’s hat, along with a lipstick-smeared drinking glass Marilyn Monroe sipped from on the show. Also somewhere was the tie clip that Ronald Reagan gave Mr. Franklin.”
- Edgar Allan Poe filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Here’s a long list of his debts, with creditors listed in Philadelphia, Richmond, and New York, and orderly columns of numbers that grow large enough to give you a sympathetic panic attack.
- “If ambitious writers work at the boundaries of the written language (as they should), then they ought do it from a path of mastery, not ignorance; broken rules carry no power if writers and readers don’t notice the transgressions. Proper usage shows us where the earth is, so that, when the time comes, we know what it means to fly.”
- Not unrelatedly: “Dickens published an essay on slang, probably by George Augustus Sala. The 1853 article expressed the view that either slang should be ‘banished, prohibited’ or that there should be a New Dictionary that would ‘give a local habitation and a name to all the little by-blows of language skulking and rambling about our speech, like the ragged little Bedouins about our shameless streets, and give them a settlement and a parish.’ ”
- In which Ann Patchett reminds readers of the New York Times that she’s not married to her dog.
- “I found it odd that there had never been a scientist as a Man Booker judge. There have been many non-literary types amongst the judges: a former spy, a former dancer, a Downton Abbey actor—but science, apparently, was a step too far. Until this year, when I joined the judging panel.”
On October 3, 1849, a delirious Edgar Allan Poe was found in a Baltimore ditch dressed in clothes that were, reportedly, not his own. He died four days later at Washington Medical College. There are numerous theories, but the exact cause of death remains a mystery, as does his presence in the ditch.
If Poe interests you, you wish to commemorate him, and you happen to be in New York, be sure to go to the Grolier Club and catch the public exhibition “Evermore: The Persistence of Poe,” which consists of the extensive Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane. In addition to manuscripts, first editions, personal effects, and letters belonging to the writer, the show has a section devoted to Poe’s portrayals in pop culture, which include everything from John Cusack’s unfortunate turn in 2012’s The Raven to the Unemployed Philosophers Guild’s ubiquitous Poe doll. Particularly arresting is a poster for 1944’s The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe, a film that was unknown to me. But I rushed home to remedy that at once, and, luckily for all of us, the whole thing’s available on YouTube: Read More
You could spend hours marveling at Arthur Rackham’s work. The legendary illustrator, born on September 19, 1867, was incredibly prolific, and his interpretations of Peter Pan, The Wind in the Willows, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Rip Van Winkle (to name but a few) have helped create our collective idea of those stories.
Rackham is perhaps the most famous of the group of artists who defined the Golden Age of Illustration, the early twentieth-century period in which technical innovations allowed for better printing and people still had the money to spend on fancy editions. Although Rackham had to spend the early years of his career doing what he called “much distasteful hack work,” he was famous—and even collected—in his own time. He married the artist Edith Starkie in 1900, and she apparently helped him develop his signature watercolor technique. From the publication of his Rip Van Winkle in 1905, his talents were always in high demand. Read More