Sunday, April 19, 2009

Griswold and Graham's

It's hard to tell for certain when the first edition of The Poets and Poetry of America hit book stores. It wasn't until April 18, 1842, however that the anthology's editor, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, was informed by publishers that it was finally published. As Carey & Hart (Philadelphia) wrote to Griswold (in New York): "We have at last published the 'Poets & Poetry of America' & a handsome Book it is."

The publisher must have rushed copies to important or influential literary figures on that first day. George Rex Graham in Philadelphia, the proprietor of the very popular Graham's Magazine, almost immediately jumped to take advantage of the rising star of Griswold. He wrote only a day later, April 19, 1842:

"Have you fully determined on assuming the Chaplaincy* and to abandon the editorial chair? Or could you find it in your heart to locate in Philadelphia? Let me hear from you, as I have a proposal to make. I like your book very much. We received it from Carey & Hart on yesterday, and although it will give offense to a few, it must be popular, and it will please every man of taste."

Graham had recently parted ways with his famous editor, Edgar Poe, who had miraculously increased circulation to 40,000, but resigned in late March. What really drove sales up was Poe's infamous critical review style, which was somewhat controversial. The Arcturus (edited by Cornelius Mathews and Evert Augustus Duyckinck) noted Poe's reviews as "elaborate" and "richly deserving of attention," though he was "somewhat over literal and minute, looking oftener to the letter than the spirit."Joseph Evans Snodgrass in the Saturday Visiter in Baltimore wrote that Poe was "an excellent reviewer" even though he was "at times, provokingly hypercritical." James Russell Lowell was a little less euphemistic and wrote that Poe occasionally mistook "his phial of prussic acid for his inkstand."

The "proposal" Graham wanted to offer Griswold was Poe's former role. Griswold seems to have accepted without hesitation and moved to Philadelphia to take the job with Graham's (leaving his family behind in New York). The transition was so quick, a rumor persisted (and still does in some circles) that Poe came to clean out his desk and saw Griswold already sitting there. The rumor is quite untrue. Nevertheless, Griswold was paid $1000 — $200 more per year than Poe — likely building up some of the animosity between the two.

Griswold's run on Graham's was significantly less successful than Poe's. Though he was able to bring in substantial writers (including James Fenimore Cooper and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), he never earned much respect there. In fact, a year after he took over, George Lippard wrote, "It was Mr. Poe that made Graham's Magazine what it was a year ago; it was his intellect that gave this now weak and flimsy periodical a tone of refinement and mental vigor."

*Griswold had recently earned the title of "Reverend," though he never had a regular congregation.

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