Text: Amanda Bartlett Harris, “Edgar A. Poe,” Hearth and Home, vol. VIII, no. 2, January 9, 1875, p. 24, cols. 1-2


[page 24, column 1, continued:]




In a new book which is about to be published on literary men whose lives were those of constant struggle with poverty and untoward circumstances, Edgar A. Poe is to represent America. Poor Poe! who was from almost first to last his own enemy.

It was one of the saddest things in his sad history that the two dearest to him were sharers of his hardships and sufferings — his beautiful young wife and her devoted mother. He married his cousin, who was brought up at the South, and was as unused to toil as she was unfit for it. She hardly looked more than fourteen, fair, soft, and graceful and girlish. Every one who saw her was won by her. Poe was very proud and very fond of her, and used to delight in the round, child-like face and plump little finger, which he contrasted with himself, so tall and thin and half-melancholy looking; and she in turn idolized him. She had a voice of wonderful sweetness, and was an exquisite singer, and in some of their more prosperous days, when they were living in a pretty little rose-covered cottage on the outskirts of Philadelphia, she had her harp and piano. But these articles disappeared, with all the luxuries of house and of wardrobe, being disposed of one after another for the necessities of life, until when they left that place they had scarcely anything.

At times while residing there they were reduced almost to starvation, having nothing but bread and molasses, and that in no great supply, for days at a time. There was then some kind of a society under the care of ladies for helping in a delicate way those who were in need, and would signify it by depositing some article at the rooms — persons whom common charity could not reach; and to that Mrs. Clemm, the mother, made application. Yet so sensitive and proud was the little family that it was almost impossible to aid them to any extent, even when they were suffering for the common comforts of life.

It was during their stay there that Mrs. Poe, while singing one evening, ruptured a blood-vessel, and after that she suffered a hundred deaths. She could not bear the slightest exposure, and needed the utmost care; and all those conveniences as to apartment and surroundings which are so important in the care of an invalid were almost [[a]] matter of life and death to her. And yet the room where she lay for weeks, hardly able to breathe except as she was fanned, was a little place with the ceiling so low over the narrow bed that her head almost touched it. But no one dared to speak — Mr. Poe was so sensitive and irritable; “quick as steel and flint,” said one who knew him in those days. And he would not allow a word about the danger of her dying — the mention of it drove him wild.

Still he was “a perfect gentleman,” as all those brought into relations with the family agreed. “No one could fail to see that — considerate, delicate, and courteous, but lamentably wanting in self-control. A single glass of wine would affect him at once.” He keenly felt the privation that his dearest ones shared with him; he was at times half-distracted with worrying over it, and would steal out of the house at night and go off and wander about the streets for hours, proud, heartsick, despairing, not knowing which way to turn [column 2:] or what to do, while Mrs. Clemm would endure the anxiety at home as long as she could, and then start off in search of him.

So they lived, bound together in tender bonds of love and sorrow — their love making their lot more tolerable — the three clinging to each other; and the mother was the good angel who strove to shield the poet and save him. This was the way their lives went on in those dark days before Mrs. Poe died; he trying desperately at times to earn money, writing some, and fitfully fighting against himself, sustained only by their solace and sympathy, and by the helping hand of the self-sacrificing mother, who loved him as if he had been indeed her own son.




A. B. Harris was Amanda Bartlett Harris (1824-1917). The book to which she is referring about the struggles of literary men was probably Sorrow and Song: Studies of Literary Struggle by Henry Curwen (London: H. S. King & Co, 1874), in two volumes. Her own books appear to have been chiefly aimed at young people.


[S:0 - HAH, 1876] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar A. Poe (A. B. Harris, 1876)