In his youthful ESSAY ON CRITICISM, Alexander Pope contended that only a demonstrated talent for creative writing gives a man the right to assess the literary productions of others. The history of criticism, of course, affords some notable exceptions. We are happy to accept the credentials of such distinguished literary critics as Aristotle, Longinus, George Saintsbury, or, to cite a modern example, I. A. Richards, even though none of these men has produced a substantial work of creative literature. Sometimes the reverse happens. The critical essays of Wordsworth, for example, are sometimes dismissed as the left-handed scribblings of a poet whose own practice repudiates his theory. But the criticism of Edgar Allan Poe is another matter. For whatever it may be worth, he meets the criterion of Pope; he had produced a number of poems and short stories before turning to criticism in the years that followed 1830. Furthermore, in spite of the fact that his criticism is often vituperative, narrow, derivative, or vague, he writes it with the authority of an accomplished master of composition, and it is here that he has something of value to say.
Most of Poe’s critical essays appeared in The Southern Literary Messenger and Graham’s Magazine, both of which he edited for brief periods between 1835 and 1842. Before he began his work as an editor and reviewer, however, he set forth a kind of prospectus of his critical theory in a “Letter” which first...
(The entire section is 1896 words.)
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