My dear friends,
How long since I have departed from the realm of the living! And what pleasure to be called on to exercise my elegant powers of articulation once again. You will have to forgive me, though, if my diction seems unpracticed — slumbering these years in the sepulchral recesses of my grave (with none but the conqueror worm to keep me company) has done little for my writing. But I must not bore you with the macabre lest I once again be criticized for appealing to such a vulgar emotion as horror. I must not forget that I am speaking to the living world. And, I might add, in a literary magazine not unlike the ones I myself labored over as editor. Your title is a clever one and, if I am not mistaken, has its origin in a clever street urchin from a Charles Dickens novel. But why pay more respect to a man already vastly over-rated by borrowing your title from one of his characters?
It is impossible to convey the deep honor I feel upon discovering how my name has gained respect through the years. There seems no end to the accolades bestowed me; — with some naming me the inventor of the detective story, others the father of cryptology, or the first American author to achieve international status, the father of the school of symbolism, a pioneer in fantastic realism, and so on. Some of these titles are well-deserved, perhaps others less so. But in any case it is with mixed feelings that I accept these high honors. Man is still a creature who follows fashion; as it is now fashionable to praise my works, it was once the fashion of publishers and critics to either abuse or ignore me. And it was but little consolation for me to know that overseas, where I was oftentimes known as the poet who wrote “The Raven,” my works were received more appreciatively than in my homeland. In France, England, and Russia I was being read but I drew nothing of the profits on those sales due to the lack of international copyright laws. It does me great satisfaction, however, to find that I had gained the recognition of a foreign author who lived slightly later than me and who is now considered a master of the novel; Fyodor Dostoevsky, who once proclaimed in a Russian journal that the vigor of my imagination distinguished me from every other writer. But I think he erred in describing my work as “capricious” and “materialistic.”
As for capriciousness, my imagination was never half as capricious as that of literary fortune! I’m profoundly awed to find my letters now selling for very near ten thousand dollars apiece — letters sometimes begging an old friend to loan me five dollars that I might avoid starvation, or imploring a publisher to print, on whatever terms he chose, my stories and poems — the exact ones that were to become immortal classics! Ah, how difficult it is to be ahead of one’s time! And how slowly do the minds of publishers adapt to fresh changes. I pity the poor suffering writer of any age trying to succeed by bearing gifts of originality to the world.
The editors of Artful Dodge should be grateful they are independent of any higher authority interfering with the content of their magazine. I was not so fortunate as an editor. The owners and publishers were always censoring and altering the content. I still believe that, for an editor, to be controlled is to be ruined. In my day magazines were just starting to catch on. It pleases me to find that I did not err in predicting that the “direction of the age was magazine-ward.” Although I worked devotedly on numerous magazines, I am rather sorry to report, and literary historians will agree, that I never received my due share of the profits, even though in some cases I was able to triple the circulation in a brief time by dint of my exquisite taste. For many years I had but one burning dream — to have a magazine I could call my own. It was to be called the Stylus. But alas, even the best of human dreams fall. The scythe of time laid me without mercy to a premature grave. Now that you editors of the Artful Dodge do have your own magazine, it remains to be seen if you will make a decent showing of it. Let my own example inspire you; see how much I was able to make with so little at my disposal.
As for my death, how few people know the circumstances surrounding my last hours. It is indeed ironic to note how similar the mystery of my own death is to the mysteries in some of my stories. It is also ironic that there were no detectives assigned to unravel, in the manner of my Dupin, the evidence of foul play concerning my death, when I myself created the genre of detective fiction. As it were, the local politics of Baltimore were notorious for their corrupt balloting customs. Around election time I happened to be stopping over in Baltimore on my way to New York. It was evening and I had been drinking (moderately) in a bar on Pratt Street near the waterfront. I knew that vicinity to be the gathering spot for thieves and blackguards of all sorts, but I could not afford the finer establishments. As I stepped out, as the atmosphere was quite stale and I could no longer stand the insufferable company inside, I was accosted by several rogues, led away by force, made to exchange my expensive new clothes for rags, then made to drink liquor and induce opium, along with a whole den of other victims until we lost memory of time, place, or purpose. Then we were led to the different polls to cast vote after vote…God! What agony I endured! When my kidnappers, dissolute, despicable villains that they were, cast me aside after the voting in an alley that cold night in October, I could not even muster the strength to remove myself from the spot on which they had tossed me, so utterly ruined was my health. On the following morning, as I lay motionless in the alley, chilled and sickened from nightlong exposure, a printer with a Baltimore publisher recognized me in my depraved state, and out of compassion, paid a carriage to transport what was left of me to the nearest hospital, perhaps being aroused in seeing prostrate on the ground a man who may premonition of the soul had informed him would be revered one day as an immortal genius. Sixteen hours after arriving at the hospital, I uttered with my last breath this cry of agony, “Is there no ransom for deathless souls?”
The atrocities dealt me did not cease there. Immediately after my death, my literary executor, whose works I had once railed, endeavored to smear my name in every way possible. He hastily wrote a pernicious biography of my life, the full effect of which still hovers around my public image to this day, where some still feel me to have been a pompous drunkard, an irreclaimable eater of opium, a dissipated womanizer, a shameless gambler, an unscrupulous plagiarizer, a poor husband, a squelcher on debts, ad infinitum….
After I died, a hoard of buzzards picked at my bones, all for the sake of furthering their own reputation, making a profit or satisfying a grudge. Since my letters and first editions now command a higher price than any other American author, there have also been many attempted forgeries in my name. One example concerns the wealthiest poet in history, James Whitcomb Riley, who was to launch his literary career by forging a poem in my name and passing it off to scholars the world over as a new discovery. Much of the literary community, which is always inappropriately credulous, believed the poem was genuine even after the real author admitted it was fraudulent. Riley was to earn and keep three million dollars in his lifetime. What a shameful contrast to the awful poverty I lived through! But in many ways I chose a life of poverty. Had I been willing to sacrifice my principles, I may well have made myself wealthy. I simply resent having had to give up so much for the sake of my art when there seemed no innate need to do so. Things would not have been so bad if in my day there had been a respectable poor class, or if America had not favored the facile over the genius. Unfortunately that seems the way the stage is set in any place, any time.
Let me leave you with a few words about my final work, Eureka, in which I purported to reveal the origin and destiny of the universe, because you might perhaps be wondering if I am going to verify any of those claims I made, now that I have had a chance, presumably, at gathering empirical evidence. In that work, which was laughed at by men of science and literature alike, I stated that no soul is superior to another; that we are all in part the Creators; that God exists solely in the Matter and Spirit of the Universe; that at length, a triumphant epoch would arrive when man shall see Himself as a true God. For those waiting on my comment on these ideas, I am sorry to announce that I will not reveal anything. Some things will not suffer themselves to be told without inflicting more harm than good — and I want to insure there is yet a need for unravelers of mysteries and secret truths, and magazines to print them!
Yours most cordially,
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