Monday, May 4, 2009

How Sad Was the Career, How Dark the Fate...

On today's date in 1885, the Actors Guild of New York a monument to Edgar Allan Poe that the guild had commissioned years prior. The ceremony was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where the monument was originally displayed. The ceremony to honor the deceased poet and author featured multiple speeches and music performances. Perhaps the greatest speech given at the event was very long and thoughtful observation on the life of Poe by the Reverend William Rounseville Alger. The following is a small excerpt from the speech (which is 21 pages in length in its entirety):

"How sad was the career, how dark the fate, of the proud dazzling, ill-starred unspeakably afflicted genius we are this day commemorating - overwhelmed with poverty, unappreciated by his contemporaries, beset with calamity, the lights of paradise and the flames of perdition contending in his breast. He was not a bad man in the proper sense of the term; that is, one who willfully preys on others. According to all the evidence, he has been a constant victim of misinterpretation, now ignorantly abused, now unfairly caricatured, now wantonly belied. He had many qualities which compel admiration, and many traits which are worthy of love - his extraordinary intellectuality, his imaginative worship of beauty, his ideal enthusiasm for literary art, his ineffaceable memory of the dead, his unfailing devotion to his wife and mother. He was not in any sense or in any approach a man of deliberate depravity. The worst that can be justly said against him is that he was stained with vicious wickedness - was variously defective and sinful; while his life was a series of trials, griefs, disappointments and tortures which in their intense and fearful array appeal irresistibly for the compassion of every chivalrous nature and the charitable judgments of mankind. Terribly indeed did he atone for his faults such as they were. For more than ten years he gave the world the dread sight of his genius, a kinglier Laoco├Ân, constricted and strangling in the coils of the crueler serpents, pride, appetite, and neglect. And he was deeply and darkly conscious of it, impotently struggling against it, til the divine torch, lighted at first in the sky, went out at last in the gutter."

Reverend Alger's speech was the second to last given at the ceremony. The first speech was delivered by the brother of an infamous assassin.

Pay a visit to The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia (where the monument now stands) and learn the identity of the opening orator that day long ago.

-Tom G

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