Born in 1809 just a few blocks away from the Paramount Center at 2 Carver Street (now Charles St. South), Edgar Allan Poe made waves in 19th century society that transcended his time and place to influence popular culture for generations to come. He is commemorated for his work in various cities where he spent time from Baltimore to the Bronx to Philadelphia to Richmond. In his birthplace of Boston, however, there is next to nothing that celebrates his contribution to the city, or even his existence. It was not until 2010 that Mayor Thomas Menino named the corner of Charles Street and Boylston Street after the legendary author, and not until this year that a monument will be erected in Boston in his honor, if all goes according to plan.
It is no secret that Edgar Allan Poe widely and vehemently criticized the literary authors of New England, particularly the special breed that thrived in Boston. He rejected the didactic, pious writings of well-renowned authors at the time like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whose stories sounded like the croaking of frogs to Poe’s ears. Poe maintained that the nature and purpose of poetry and writing should be to entertain, not to preach or pursue a moralistic agenda. He used his voice as a book critic to spread his ideas, tearing apart his rivals and making enemies of other New England authors. Many fought back, accusing Poe to be, among the more colorful insults, a “simple, vulgar jingle-writer.” He, in turn, called them “Frogpondians,” a jab at the Boston Common’s Frog Pond that he associated with everything wrong in Boston society.
However, it is unfair to say that Poe hated Boston. His mother, the late Eliza Arnold, a celebrated Bostonian actress/dancer/singer, wished that he “should ever love Boston, the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends.” Boston is where Poe published his first and last works, and where he found his first literary supporter, John Neal, editor of The Yankee andBoston Literary Gazzette. However, as much as he disliked the literary elite, Poe called Boston home, returning time and time again throughout his travels.
Edgar Allan Poe was one of the first artists in the U.S. to argue for the value of art for art’s sake. While many wrote about our moral lives and existence, Poe reminded society of the necessity for adventure, mystery and life. Boston has been the birthplace of many great thinkers and philosophers, but also of literary creativity and beauty. We live in the midst of the best of two worlds, thanks to the works and thoughts of all of our literary forefathers, Longfellow and Poe included. It is no coincidence that all of this happened in this town; Frogpondians have a capacity and inclination for both sensibility and entertainment.
RED-EYE to HAVRE de GRACE will play at the Emerson/Paramount Center Mainstage from Feb 13-16. For more information and tickets, visit our website here.