|POE AS AN EVOLUTIONIST|
THE career of Edgar Allan Poe was a puzzle to his contemporaries and has been a puzzle to students of his life ever since. Though the mythology with which Griswold and others helped to embellish the poet's biography has been cleared away, the correct summing up of his life seems still far off, and in seeking to find the principle of unity in that strange personality we can but confess ourselves baffled and perplexed. Yet, in estimating Poe's character, one portion of his work may be pointed out on which too little attention has been bestowed. Crude as Poe's philosophic speculations sometimes were, yet foremost among them he entertained, in its broad outlines, that idea of the changes and development of the world which goes, nowadays, by the name of the theory of evolution. To show in what way a recognition of this fact would affect our estimate of him will not be attempted in this paper. It is here proposed simply to exhibit Poe's views on this matter and to point out his place in the list of evolutionary thinkers.
The history of the idea of evolution has been studied by Professor Sully, by H. F. Osborn and by Edward Clodd, but none of them mentions Poe's name in connection with the subject. To "Eureka," the epitome of his thought on this matter, Poe himself attributed the highest value, but his biographers have shown scarcely an inkling of its importance in judging its author. Griswold in his "Memoir of Poe" remarks on the resemblance of "Eureka" to the once famous anonymous work "The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," and Professor Irving Stringham, of the University of California, has a critique on the work inserted in Woodberry's "Life of Poe" and also in Woodberry and Stedman's edition of Poe's works. The only article of value, however, on the subject that the present writer knows of is an essay referred to by Mr. Ingram in his "Life of Poe" by Wm. Hand Browne, entitled "Poe's Eureka and Some Recent Scientific Speculations," which appeared in The New Eclectic Magazine in
- "Encyclopedia Britannica," Art. "Evolution," Part II., Vol. VIII., p. 351.
- "From the Greeks to Darwin."
- "Pioneers of Evolution."
- Page xliii.
- Pages 286-301.
- Vol. IX., pp. 301-312.
- Vol. II., pp. 148, 296. Notice also the first paragraph in the introduction to Vol. XVI. of the edition of Poe's works edited by Jas. A. Harrison.