We hear the word “reform” on a regular basis today. We frequently hear everything needs reform, from political to social issues, all the way to global problems. One of the most important areas needing reform today is that of simple history.
Why history? For the simple fact, any researcher who delves into yesteryear’s newspapers, magazines, and texts observes something fascinating. Actual history is virtually unknown. Our lives have been so thoroughly drenched with folklore and fakelore, permeated with tall tales and half-truths, that what we see today is a poorly created copy of what actually was.
Some parts are legible, or truthful. Some areas are faded, or difficult to understand. Oftentimes it seems facts have been deliberately obscured in favor of a modern writer’s arbitrary whims. If we look at contemporary history books, we also see most are authored with personal opinions in mind, and only information that supports those opinions is utilized. Most source or cite other modern works, which cite other modern works, and the pattern repeats with each new volume. The exact same information is repeated with a different layout, or different wording.
One classic example of history’s error relates to the literary genius, Edgar Allan Poe. Today, most readers are given the impression that Poe was a drug-addicted, mad genius. He was an atheist, a dark and morbid individual, a tortured soul who married his cousin. Some sources even suggest he was responsible for the murder of the cigar-shop girl, from the Mystery of Marie Roget. He overdosed and died in 1849. Poe’s decades-long hatred of Longfellow was just a ruse and he admitted he enjoyed the poet before his death.
In reality, Poe lived in abject poverty most of his adult life. He had perpetual financial problems and certainly had no funds to waste on addiction of any kind. His stepmother ensured he had no assistance from his wealthy, adoptive father. Some plausible sources suggest he had issues with alcohol, simply because his biological father was an alcoholic. There is no actual proof he abused substances of any kind.
Poe lived with his two aunts most of his adult life. He was not an atheist, deist, or Gnostic. He was a Christian who carried a bible, although it is not known if he belonged to a denomination. He played cards weekly with a group of Jesuit priests. He was a bright child who was at the top of his class in studies and athletics, a champion swimmer. He was adopted at 3, so technically he had no biological cousin. He never regarded his wife as a child.
Teenage marriage was common in the 1820s and 1830s because the average lifespan, until after the Civil War, was around 40 years. Virginia, his wife, was a prodigy pianist and Poe adored music. It is truthful to say that every female Poe loved died in his arms, from his mother to his wife. His death remains a mystery and many believe he was poisoned by voting officials.
Poe hated Longfellow. Period. He felt the Longfellow was overrated, over hyped, and overpaid. He also made public accusations that Longfellow was a plagiarist. Longfellow was the literary darling during Poe’s lifetime. Another fact is Poe never apologized for his critiques. A related excerpt is featured below.
There is a striking difference between the two versions when compared. What happened to Poe? Serious fans usually think of one word: Longfellow.
Fans of Longfellow hated Poe and they hated his criticism even more. As soon as he died, many of Longfellow’s friends stretched the truth regarding Poe and his life. What were the worst accusations during the Victorian Age? Substance abuse (opium/laudanum addiction, alcoholism, etc.). Perversity (he married a child cousin, pedophilia and inbreeding). Disbelief in Christianity (atheist, deist, or Gnostic). It’s ironic that everything so loathed in that era magically became attributed to Poe after his death.
It’s a classic example of how history has been rewritten and altered to suit the whims of new generations, but it does a tremendous disservice. It also turns fascinating historic characters into caricatures, reduced to one-sided stereotypes. If we want to make history a fascinating subject, which it very well is, we should do so with openness and honesty. Even the History Channel has ignored fact and truth in favor of sensation and stereotypes among many of their historic dramas. What hope does the rest of society have in preserving history, as it deserves?
*Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan never existed, nor any individuals like them. Both were marketing inventions from the Twentieth Century.
* Marie-Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” That was likely invented by French Revolution sympathizers. In reality, Marie was terrified for her two children, and rightly so. Both died around the time of her execution.
* The Civil War wasn’t the “Civil War” until the 1910s. Before that, it was most commonly called “The Great Rebellion,” because the Confederacy rebelled by seceding from the Union.
Poe’s Charge of Longfellow’s Plagiarism: