Text: Frederick W. Thomas to Edgar Allan Poe — September 3, 1841


Washington, August [[September]] 3, 1841.

My Dear Poe —

Yours of yesterday came to hand duly — about the time you were writing to me, I was writting [[sic ]] to you — mine you have in this — I will answer you in order — as far as the deponent knoweth —

“My family, by the father’s side, were among the early settlers of New England. Isaiah Thomas, the founder of the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester (Mass.), and the author of “The History of Printing,” was my father’s uncle. During the revolutionary war he conducted the Massachusetts [illegible] and was a “great rebel” — my Father’s name is E. S. Thomas. He learned the printing business from his uncle Isaih [[Isaiah]], and afterwards emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina, where he, after establishing himself in the book-business, met my mother, who was then on a visit to the South from Baltimore, of which city she was a native. Shortly after the marriage of my father he removed from Charleston to Providence, Rhode Island, where I was born in, I think, the fall of 1808, (October 25). I left Rhode-Island a child in the nurse’s arms and have never been back — so I hold myself to be a Southerner — as my parents returned to Charleston with me. (My family consists of myself, then Lewis, Frances, Susan, Mary, Martha, Belle and Calvin.) I was a delicate child, and, at the age of four, I fell from a furniture box on which I was playing, and injured my left leg. I went into the house crying, as a child would, and soon returned to play again. My limb, a few weeks afterwards, became very painful, my health gradually declined, and the physicians advised my parents to send me to a healthier climate. In charge of my aunt I was sent to Baltimore, and placed under the care of my aunt Foulke. There I grew robust and recovered from my lameness except an occasional weakness in my limb, when I over-exercised myself at play. When about eight or nine, in running to the window, over a wet floor, to look at the soldiers passing, I got a fall, which, after long confinement (a year or more), threw me, a skeleton, on crutches. I used them until five years since, when the contrivance I now use was suggested to me. I went to school very little in consequence of my lameness and frequent indisposition, and when I was seventeen I commenced the study of the law. I have never been to college. The first attempt I made at scribbling was at this time. I wrote a poetical satire on some fops about town, and they became exasperated with the printer of the paper, I forget its name — a scurrilous penny-sheet — and tore his office to pieces, making Pi of his type. I attended at this time a debating society, which had a great many visitors, and there I used to hold forth with the rest. I was invited one Fourth of July to make a speech before the society on a steamboat excursion, and, getting some little credit for it I was invited by my political friends to address their meetings which I did, being then rated with Jacksonism. Mr. Scott — (John Scott) — treated me with great kindness, as did his lady — I bear them in most grateful remembrance — as I do Mr. Scotts’ brother my fellow student now a practitioner in Baltimore, T. Parkin Scott Esqr. Your brother and I were then intimate — and rather rivals in a love affair. Scott, my fellow student studied hard, — I often stole out to the Baltimore Library and devoured the works upon Poetry, Oratory and Biography. Just after I was admitted to practice, my father, who had lost a handsome fortune, emigrated with his family, leaving myself, to Cincinnati and established “The Commercial Advertiser.” I practiced a few months, and then from ill health, retired to the country, where, after a year’s sojourn, I emigrated to Cincinnati in 1832 and assisted my father in editing his paper. We soon differed upon political matters, and I commenced the practice of the law, but in bad health. I defended a great many criminals, I believe with some success, and lectured before the Lyceum. In descending the river I wrote several stanzas expressive of my feelings, which I published in my father’s paper. They were noticed and complimented by the contemporary press, and I wrote out some farther impressions which the new scenes had made on me, and upon invitation delivered them before the Lyceum, in the shape of a rambling poem called “The Emigrant, or Reflections in descending the Ohio.” This took, if I may so say, before the Lyceum and I was requested to publish it, which I did in 1833. A few copies were printed by one of our Cincinnati booksellers, and circulated there an in Louisville — He had no faculties of circulating it —

After this, when Judge McLean was brought out for the Presidency, I was selected to publish his organ in Cincinnati, which I called the “Intelligencer.” I had it for about six months, and was compelled to quit the editorial chair, in consequence of bad health. While confined to my house and bed, I remarked one day to my sister Frances that I felt like trying to write a novel. She insisted upon my doing it, and daily brought paper and pen to my bedside, where most of “Clinton Bradshaw “ was written. I should have mentioned that my best friend in Cincinnati was Charles Hammond of the Cincinnati “Gazette,” who is now dead, but who was esteemed the best editor .and lawyer in Ohio. To him I dedicated my “Emigrant,” and he defended me with true chivalry against all critical attacks. In his paper, too, I wrote many satires upon folks about town, which made me some enemies.

When I had finished “Clinton Bradshaw,” with letters of introduction in my Pocket to Mathew Carey (the old Gentleman), from Mr. Hammond and General Harrison, I started for Philadelphia [[on a separate slip of paper]] which I reached in the dusk of the evening. Unknown and unknowing, in bad health and worse spirits, I wandered out not knowing what to do with myself, and shall never forget stopping before a house in Chestnut street struck with a tune that some fair one was playing, as if with a familiar voice. The discovery that the song was mine, “Tis said that absence conquers love,” changed the whole current of my feelings. [[end of the separate slip of paper.]]

Mr. Carey, (this was in 1835), introduced me to Carey, Lea & Co. and they undertook the publication of my work. Let me say that Mr. Carey treated me with the greatest kindness. He was lame too, but a philosopher, and he felt and expressed a real sympathy for me. I was frequently his guest, and he often came to see me. In proof of his benevolent character let me say that he often annoyed me, or rather provoked my sensitiveness, by sending some lame man or other whom he had picked up in the street, to consult with me upon my superior powers of locomotion. Most of the characters in “Clinton Bradshaw “ were drawn from persons living in Baltimore. “Glassman” was meant for Charles Mitchell, a very distinguished lawyer, who was dissipated, “Old Nancy “ for old Nelly, who is still an apple woman in Baltimore. “Cavendish “ was drawn from a young, eccentric friend of mine, named Kelley, who is since dead. “Shaffer “ was a portraiture of Jennings, etc.

“East and West” was published in 1836. It was an attempt to pourtray the every day scenes of life occurring to a fallen family emigrating from the east to the west, most of the characters there were from life. “Howard Pinckney “ was published in 1840. 1 have by me in MS. the poem which you have seen called — (I believe I will so call it) — “The Adventures of a Poet,” which consists of 18 hundred lines; and two volumes of sketches of such persons as Wirt, John Randolph, Simon Kenton, (the Last of the Pioneers), with tales, etc.

— I should perhaps have said that in 1838, I was brought out as a candidate for Congress, on an independent ticket, but with [[illegible]]. If you should like to see the letter I wrote on the subject I can send it to you — However it would be of no use —

In the May number of “The Southern Literary Messenger,” for 1838, you will find a sketch of your humble servant by Ingraham, he there calls me Francis instead of Frederick —

While writing my books I travelled through the west to Louisville, St. Louis, &c., and in the last canvass held forth in those places on the Harrison side. Sometimes upon invitation, in these cities and in Cincinnati, I delivered lectures upon literary subjects such as Oratory, Poetry, etc., Odd-Fellow addresses, and Fourth of July addresses. I was a delegate to the Baltimore May convention in ‘40, where I held forth, and after which I made your acquaintance in Philadelphia and ‘got pelted by the people as you remember — or rather by the Locos.

I came on East last March to get my books out, but the death of General Harrison, and the uncertainties about the currency and the bank have prevented my publishing.

Here I was invited to lecture before different societies, and in Alexandria, and did so to full houses, gratis — which were followed by empty puffs; but you know what Goldsmith says about the Muse” Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe That found me poor at first and keeps me so.” (Don’t say of me that I am in office, as it is only a temporary appointment.)

I am now engaged in writing a novel upon the events of the present day, many of the scenes of which are laid in Washington. My object is to describe life in the varieties in which I have seen it in Missouri, New Orleans and here among the holders and seekers. I have written occasionally for these three or four years past for the Knickerbocker, Graham’s, the Ladies Companion and the Southern Literary Messenger.

As my first literary friend and encourager my gratitude is due to the late Charles Hammond of the Cincinati Gazette — and one of the first persons who noticed me in the West was General Harrison, who shortly after my arrival in Cincinnati invited me to the Bend, where I went and was his guest for some weeks, — 1 was engaged there in one of my first law cases against his eldest son (now dead), William Harrison.

It is singular that my great uncle, my father, my brother and myself have all played editor.

F. W. T.

I should say that my lectures were better received here than any where else — The Intelligencer, The Madisonian, &c. Noticed me in the most flattering terms — And my sketches of Randolph and Wirt were afterwards published in these papers, were more noticed by the press than anything I have yet written. — They are from the two volumes of Sketches spoken of wither —



Thomas dates the letter as August 3, 1841, but the reference at the beginning to Poe’s letter “of yesterday” corrects the month to September. Poe’s letter is dated September 1, 1841. In printing this very long letter in 1902, Harrison omits several sentences, all of which have been restored here.


[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Misc - Letters - F. W. Thomas to Poe (RCL326)