Edgar Allan Poe: "Bostonians Have No Soul"

Edgar Allan Poe: "Bostonians Have No Soul"

A healthy sense of competition amongst cities has long been a part of the spirit of the United States of America. Loyal son of Massachusetts John Adams once wrote, “Phyladelphia [sic], with all its trade and wealth and regularity, is not Boston…. We exceed them in every thing, but in a market.” But few cities have come in for more smack talk than Adams’s own Boston. When the Boston Red Sox won the World Series last year, Gawker published a post entitled, simply, “Fuck Boston.” Ouch.

Over a century before Gawker published its first snarky blog post, however, the art of Boston-hating was already being perfected -- by Boston’s own Edgar Allan Poe. Though he was born in the Massachusetts city in 1809, he grew up in Richmond, Virginia. As Poe’s writing and publishing career took off, he proved to be a fearless literary critic, even making the bold claim that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the revered poet and Cambridge, Mass. resident, was a plagiarist. Apparently this did not ingratiate Poe to Bostonians, and their poor reactions to his criticism didn’t ingratiate Bostonians to Poe.

After Poe returned to the city in 1845 to recite his poetry at the Boston Lyceum, he wrote an account for the Broadway Journal to let readers know exactly how little he thought of all Boston dwellers. (And he manages to get in a jab at their resident distinguished poet, Longfellow, along the way.) The result is one of the most sly and vicious examples of “haterade” ever written:

We like Boston. We were born there--and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their Common is no common thing--and the duck-pond might answer--if its answer could be heard for the frogs.

But with all these good qualities the Bostonians have no soul. They have always evinced towards us individually, the basest ingratitude for the services we rendered them in enlightening them about the originality of Mr. Longfellow. When we accepted, therefore, an invitation to “deliver” a poem in Boston--we accepted it simply and solely, because we had a curiosity to know how it felt to be publicly hissed--and because we wished to see what effect we could produce by a neat little impromptu speech in reply. Perhaps, however, we overrated our own importance, or the Bostonian want of common civility--which is not quite so manifest as one or two of their editors would wish the public to believe. We assure Major Noah that he is wrong. The Bostonians are well-bred--as very dull persons very generally are.

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