MS. found in a bottle

I take it there is no news advancing the Biden classified documents matter today. Assuming our readers were intimately familiar with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, I may have mystified some by adapting the title of Edgar Allan Poe’s fantastic story “MS. Found In a Bottle” for several of my posts on the Biden matter. (“MS.” is an abbreviation of “manuscript.”) Published by Baltimore’s Saturday Visiter newspaper on October 19, 1833, “MS. Found In a Bottle” won the prize for best story submitted to the newspaper.

Poe had submitted a linked package of tales. The discerning judges found all the stories submitted by Poe worthy, but singled out “MS. Found In a Bottle” for the $50 award. According to the judges, Poe owed it to his own reputation and that of Baltimore to publish the entire volume.

Once upon a time, young readers enjoyed Poe’s stories. Poe’s “tales of terror” are both horrifying and unforgettable; they bear the stamp of deeply felt nightmares. Poe’s “tales of ratiocination” are fascinating as detective stories, and Poe was of course the inventor of the genre. Not even being required to read Poe in school could destroy the pleasure provided by his work. Does anyone now read Poe, either voluntarily or otherwise?

Well, maybe The Raven — not the poem, silly, the 2012 action movie starring John Cusack as Poe that was previewed by the Christian Science Monitor’s Molly Driscoll. I dreamed that it might do for Poe what Oprah’s book club did for John Steinbeck and a host of others worthies, near worthies, and contenders. I don’t think it worked out that way.

Thirty years ago Professor Kenneth Silverman published his compelling account of Poe’s life, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. In Silverman’s telling, Poe’s life becomes the counterpart to Poe’s tales of terror. Poe lost both his mother and father by the age of three, was divided from his brother and sister to be raised by a family friend, and suffered the mortal illnesses and deaths of every other person he loved in the course of his life with the sole exception of his mother-in-law, to whom he was unfailingly loyal.

At the same time, Poe struggled manfully with alcohol and destitution. Nevertheless, by the time he died at the age of 40, he had created the impressive body of fiction, poetry and literary criticism that stands as his monument. With great artistry Silverman conveyed the headlong rush of his life by keeping the narrative going without division into chapters. Silverman’s reconstruction of Poe’s life is something of an inspiration. It turns out that Poe was a hero of a kind, just not the Hollywood action kind.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.