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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Milestones

2009 is indeed a special year.  I’ve already noted Darwin’s bicentennial birth.  There are two others, two men quite different in who they were, and how they are regarded in the 21st century.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston.  His father abandoned him when the boy was two years old.  His mother, a prominent actress, died when he was three.  He was taken in by John Allan in Virginia, but was not adopted.  It is possible that much of Poe’s work was affected by his childhood bereavement, especially his obsession with death.
His personal life was Gothic.He married his thirteen year-old cousin in 1836. He was twenty-seven. He called her “Sis” or “Sissy.” It’s likely he didn’t assume a position as her husband for two years.  He also wanted her mother as part of the household.  Although he had a low tolerance for alcohol, he did drink, was occasionally drunk, although the rumors of his alcoholism were likely exaggerated.
His death was, and still is, a mystery.  He was on his way to a meeting in New York City, disappeared, and was found near death in Baltimore, either because of alcoholism, infection, or both.  He died a week later at the age of forty.
Poe’s short stories are gems of terror and horror.  He is quoted as saying, “Terror belongs to the soul.” He felt that the short story had to truly be ” short,” and must be only long enough to be read at a single sitting, one-half to two hours maximum.  He is quoted as saying, “All high excitements are necessarily transient.  “To him, there had to be a totality of effect––– every word, image, etc. had to contribute to the whole of the story.  Nothing could be accidental.
My favorites are: The Fall of the House of Usher; The Pit and the Pendulum; The Cask of Amontillado; The Black Cat; and the little stories, Ligeia, and Berenice.
Poe reshaped the horror story in a way to investigate the darkest corners of human psychology, and deal with his obsession about death (possibly his mother’s death). Poe left an important mark on American literature, on American Gothic literature.  He created the detective story (The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter).  His stories are also filled with new technologies, and so he was important in establishing the genre of science fiction.
A literary giant, he left behind a group of stories whose Gothic terror and horror still haunt the reader.

Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday falls on February 12, 2009.  He was truly a man for the ages.  Despite the negative rantings of modern iconoclastic writers, pundits, and talking heads, he is recognized by almost all Americans as our greatest president, or at least side by side with George Washington.  He brought this nation out of its greatest maelstrom, the Civil War.  Without him, we would have been a nation permanently torn asunder.  His decisions helped guide us to a successful end to that war.  He is rarely seen as a great military strategist, but he knew when to bring Ulysses S. Grant in as commanding general of the Union armies.in order to win that war.  He saw slavery as an evil that needed to be abolished.  His life, cut short by assassination, has cast a shadow greater than life on this country.
He was a master of the written word.  The Gettysburg Address is a gem of prose–– locking in great thoughts and deep emotional meaning in astonishingly few words.  His Second Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1865 is quite short and succinct, filled with biblical messages and a call to the American people to heal the wounds of war. Thousands of spectators stood in thick mud at the Capitol grounds to hear the President.  Lincoln stood on the East Portico to take the oath. Chief Justice Salmon Chase administered the oath of office. Little more than a month later, Lincoln was dead.  I’d like to quote from the ending of the Second Inaugural:
. . . Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.  Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord our true and righteous altogether ”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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