Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 04,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1880), pp. 37-42


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[page 37:]

CHAPTER IV.

FIRST LOVE.

BETWEEN the date of Poe’s leaving Mr. Burke’s school and his departure for the University of Virginia, early in the following year, 1826, little or nothing authentic is known of the youthful poet’s deeds or adventures. During this interregnum of six months or so, there is good reason for believing, however, that he was pleasantly engaged in both making verses and making love, a combination of occupations, it need scarcely be pointed out, by no means unfrequent.

Quoting the assertion of “George Sand” that “les anges ne sont plus pures que le cœur d‘un jeune homme qui aime en vérité,” Poe remarks that “the hyperbole is scarcely less than true,” but that “it would be truth itself were it averred of the love of him who is at the same time young and a poet. The boyish poet-love,” he emphatically declares, “is indisputably that one of the human sentiments which most nearly realises our dreams of the chastened voluptuousness of heaven.” Thinking and speaking thus, and having in memory a [page 38:] similar influence exercised over a short period of his earlier life, he refers to the boyish poet-love of Byron for Mary Chaworth, as an earnest and long-abiding attachment that sublimated and purified from earthliness all his works alluding to it. And yet, he adds, this passion, ” if passion it can properly be termed, was of the most thoroughly romantic, shadowy, and imaginative character. It was born of the hour, and of the youthful necessity to love. . . . It had no peculiar regard to the person, or to the character, or to the reciprocating affection of Mary Chaworth. Any maiden, not immediately and positively repulsive,” he deems Byron would have loved in similar circumstances of frequent and unrestricted intercourse, such as the children are represented as having enjoyed. “The result,” opines Poe, “was not merely natural, or merely probable, it was as inevitable as destiny itself.”

Any ordinary maiden would have served “sufficiently well as the incarnation of the ideal that haunted the fancy of the poet,” continues the young critic, notwithstanding the fact that the affection may not have been reciprocated; or, “if she felt at all, it was only while the magnetism of his actual presence compelled her to feel.” With evident remembrance of the ideal of his own boyhood before him, he believes that to Mary Chaworth Byron was merely “a not unhandsome, [page 39:] and not ignoble, but somewhat portionless, somewhat eccentric young man,” whilst “she to him was the Egeria of his dreams — the Venus Aphrodite that sprang, in full and supernal loveliness, from the bright foam upon the storm-tormented ocean of his thoughts.” Reading his own story by these words, it is suggestive to ind how closely the loves of the two contemporary poets were paralleled.

Between the years 1822-25, as has been told, Edgar Poe was a scholar in a well-known academy at Richmond. The adopted son and reputed heir of Mr. Allan, and “a not unhandsome,” if “somewhat eccentric young man,” the youthful poet made no mean figure among his Virginian companions, notwithstanding any drawbacks incidental to his obscure parentage. Admired by his fellow-students for his superior educational attainments, his daring athletic feats, and for a certain magnetic rather than sympathetic influence which he exercised over them, it is not surprising to learn that he was introduced into, and mingled with, the best society of the Old Dominion. In the coteries into which he was received was a little maiden but a year or two younger than himself, who speedily became fascinated by the charms of his presence.

S. Elmira Royster lived with her father opposite to the Allans in Richmond, and in the usual course of [page 40:] events she made the acquaintance of their adopted son. She remembers Edgar Poe as “a beautiful boy,” as not very talkative, and whose “general manner was sad,” but whose conversation, when he did talk, was truly pleasant. ” Of his own parents he never spoke,” but “he was devoted to the first Mrs. Allan, and she to him. He had very few associates, but he was very intimate with Ebenezer Berling [[Burling]], a widow’s son of about the same age as himself. Berling [[Burling]] was an interesting, intelligent young man, but somewhat inclined to dissipation. They used to visit our house together very frequently. Edgar,” continues the lady, “was very generous,” and “warm and zealous in any cause he was interested in, being enthusiastic and impulsive.” Dowered with “the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn,” the youthful lover is remembered to have had strong prejudices, and, with his adoration for beauty already fully developed, to have detested everything coarse or wanting in refinement. It is also within the memory of the lady that her young admirer drew beautifully “he drew a pencil likeness of me,” she relates, “in a few minutes.” He was even then passionately fond of music, “an art which in after life he loved so well.”

The love passages were kept up between the youthful pair until Poe left for the University; he had, indeed, engaged to marry Miss Royster, and wrote to her [page 41:] frequently after his departure. Her father intercepted the letters, deeming his daughter “o‘er young to marry,” and it was not until a year or so later, and when, having attained the mature age of seventeen, she became Mrs. Shelton, that the young poet learned how it was that his passionate appeals had failed to elicit any response from the object of his affections. The influence and memory of this attachment tinged much of Poe’s juvenile verse, threading like a misty autobiographic reminiscence through the initial version of his “Tamerlane,” and pervading with unpassionate melancholy many of his earliest stanzas. Recurring once more to his remarks on Byron’s boy-love, how naturally do these words appear to shadow forth the thoughts appertaining to the result of his own youthful amours. “It is perhaps better,” he thinks, “for the mere romance of the love passages between the two, that their intercourse was broken up in early life, and never uninterruptedly resumed in after years. Whatever of warmth, whatever of soul passion, whatever of the truer share and essentiality of romance was elicited during the youthful association, is to be attributed altogether to the poet. If she felt at all, it was only while the magnetism of his actual presence compelled her to feel. If she responded at all, it was merely because the necromancy of his words of fire could not do otherwise than extort a response. In [page 42:] absence, the bard bore easily with him all the fancies which were the basis of his flame — a flame which absence itself but served to keep in vigour — while the less ideal but at the same time the less really substantial affection of his lady-love, perished utterly and forthwith, through simple lack of the element which had fanned it into being.”


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Chapter 04)