Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Boston Lyceum incident, cont'd

In October 1845, Poe made his triumphant return to Boston, the city of his birth, but that return was marred by what Poe termed a hoax. For his appearance at the Boston Lyceum, he was asked to present a new, original poem. Instead he presented "Al Aaaraf," one of his earliest poems, under the temporary title "The Messenger Star."

After the reading, Poe was invited to dinner with a gathering of Boston literati. "Over a bottle of champagne," he later wrote, he revealed to his fellow diners (including fellow speaker Caleb Cushing, critic Edwin Percy Whipple and publisher James T. Fields) that he had, in fact, read a "juvenile poem."

Poe was immediately attacked for his strange choice in Boston, particularly by Miss Cornelia Wells Walter (pictured), editor of Boston's Evening Transcript. She wrote: "A poem delivered before a literary association of adults, as written by a boy! Only think of it! Poh! Poh!" This was only one of many accounts "Miss Walter" presented as she continuously attacked Poe, often with terrible puns. When Poe wrote in the Broadway Journal his account of the evening and his promise to return fire at the Boston press, she responded in the Evening Transcript: "The promise... is certainly very poe-tential. We thought the poet might possibly be poe-dagrical, but it seems he is intending to take time enough to become a poe-ser!"

One attendant of the Lyceum, Newburyport's William W. Caldwell, happily wrote to Poe about subscribing to his journal and praising "The Messenger Star" poem, despite "the silly abuse of the Boston Press."

Finally, on November 1, 1845, gives a substantial response to Miss Walter and others in Boston. "The adorable creature has been telling a parcel of fibs about us," he wrote, "by way of revenge for something that we did to Mr. Longfellow (who admires her very much) and for calling her 'a pretty little witch.'" He tells his version of the Lyceum incident, painting it as a success. According to Poe, he was "most cordially received" by his Boston audience and his reading was interrupted with several bursts of applause.

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