Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 10,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1880), pp. 136-152


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[page 136:]

CHAPTER X.

MARRIAGE.

EARLY in 1836, a gleam of hope broke in upon Poe’s overclouded career. Amongst those of his father’s kindred whom the poet had sought out at Baltimore was his aunt Maria, widow of Mr. William Clemm, a man who, it is stated, had expended his property on behalf of a not over-grateful country. Mrs. Clemm was in greatly reduced circumstances, but she proffered her brother’s son such welcome as was in her power, and a strong mutual affection sprang up between the two relatives. Mrs. Clemm had an only child, her daughter Virginia, described by all parties as an exquisitely lovely and amiable girl. Virginia Clemm, born on the 13th of August 1822, was still a child when her handsome cousin Edgar revisited Baltimore after his escapade at West Point. A more than cousinly affection, which gradually grew in intensity, resulted from their frequent communion, and ultimately, whilst one, at least, of the two cousins was but a child, they were married. [page 137:]

In that beautiful allegory of his life — in his unrhymed rhapsody of “Eleonora”* — Poe tells in thrilling words how, ere the knowledge of his love had dawned upon him, he dwelt in a world of his own creative imagination, in the symbolic ” Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass,” apart from the outer and, to him, less real world. There they dwelt — he and his cousin and her mother — and there they, he and she, who was but a child, had dwelt for many years before consciousness of love had entered into their hearts, until one evening when their secret was unveiled to them, and so, murmurs the poet, ,we spoke no words during the rest of that sweet day, and our words even upon the morrow were tremulous and few. . . . And now we felt enkindled within us the fiery souls of our forefathers. The passions which had for centuries distinguished our race came thronging with the fancies for which they had been equally noted, and together breathed a delirious bliss over the ‘Valley of the Many-Coloured Grass.’ ” And then, in magic words, he tells of the revolution, wrought beneath the wizard spells of Love, of how ” a change came o‘er the spirit of his dream,” and of how all things beautiful became more beauteous; how “strange, brilliant flowers burst out upon the trees where no flowers had been known before;” how the “tints of [page 138:] the been grass deepened,” and how a myriad things of nature, before unnoted, bloomed and blossomed into being.

Then is the delicate loveliness of his child-bride compared by the poet to ” that of the Seraphim,” and she was, he reminds himself, “a maiden artless and innocent as the brief life she had led among the flowers. No guile disguised the fervour of love which animated her heart, and she examined with me its inmost recesses as we walked together.” Rarely, if ever before, was poet blessed with so sweet a bride, or with more artless affection than was Poe when he acquired the heart and hand of her of whom he sang —

“And this maiden, she lived with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.”

It has been stated, but with palpable incorrectness, that the young cousins were married in Baltimore on the 2nd of September 1835, previous to Poe’s departure for Richmond, but that the youthful pair did not live together for more than a year, and that they were again married in Richmond, where they were to reside, this second marriage ceremony taking place to save comment, as the previous one had been so private. This circumstantial romance must be consigned to the limbo whence so many of the legends accumulated [page 139:] round the poet’s memory have been dismissed. The facts are: — When it was learned that the young littéateur purposed marrying his cousin, who was still under fourteen, her half-sister’s husband — Edgar Poe’s first cousin — Mr. Neilson Poe, to hinder so premature a marriage, offered her mother to receive Virginia into his own family, and provide for her education, with the understanding, that if after a few years the cousins still entertained the same affection for each other, they should be married. When Poe heard of this he indited an earnest, passionate protest against the arrangement to Mrs. Clemm, who, consequently, declined the offer, and the marriage soon afterwards took place.

Edgar Poe was married to Virginia Clemm, in Richmond, on the 6th of May 1836, and, says Mrs. Clemm, Judge Stannard and his son Robert, Edgar’s old schoolfellow — were among the first callers. Mrs. Clemm took up her residence with the young couple, both so doubly related to her, and became as it were their guardian and protector. But few weeks, however, had passed over the heads of the wedded pair before darksome troubles began to hover over them “the fair and gentle Eulalie” had indeed become the poet’s “blushing bride,” but it was a “dream too bright to last” to deem the fatality which dogged his footsteps had forsaken him. Some inkling of his [page 140:] troubles may be gleaned from this letter to his friend Kennedy:

“RICHMOND, VA., June 7, 1836.

“DEAR SIR, — Having got into a little temporary difficulty, I venture to ask you, once more, for aid, rather than apply to any of my new friends in Richmond.

“Mr. White, having purchased a new house, at $10,000, made propositions to my aunt to rent it to her, and to board himself and family with her. This plan was highly advantageous to us, and, having accepted it, all arrangements were made, and I obtained credit for some furniture, &c., to the amount of $200, above what little money I had. But upon examination of the premises purchased, it appears that the house will barely be large enough for one family, and the scheme is laid aside — leaving me now in debt (to a small amount) without those means of discharging it upon which I had depended.

“In this dilemma I would be greatly indebted to you for the loan of $100 for six months This will enable me to meet a note for $100 due in three months — and allow me three months to return your money. 1 shall have no difficulty in doing this, as, beyond this $100, I owe nothing, and I am now receiving $15 per week, and am to receive $20 after November. All Mr. White’s disposable money has been required to make his first payment.

Have you heard anything further in relation to Mrs. Clemm’s estate?

“Our Messenger is thriving beyond all expectation, and I myself have every prospect of success.

“It is our design to issue, as soon as possible, a number of the Magazine consisting entirely of articles from our most distinguished literati. To this end we have received, and [page 141:] have been promised, a variety of aid from the highest sources — Mrs. Sigourney, Miss Sedgwick, Paulding, Flint, Halleck, Cooper, Judge Hopkinson, Dew, Governor Cass, J. Q. Adams, and many others. Could you not do me so great a favour as to send a scrap, however small, from your portfolio? Your name is of the greatest influence in that region where we direct our greatest efforts — in the South. Any little reminiscence, tale, jeu d‘esprit, historical anecdote — anything, in short, with your name, will answer all our purposes.

“I presume you have heard of my marriage. — With sincere respect and esteem, yours truly, “EDGAR A. POE.

“J. P. KENNEDY.”

The pecuniary embarrassment to which this communication alludes, even if temporarily relieved by his friend, was doubtless of a chronic character, and probably the chief cause of Poe quitting Richmond, and resigning his connection with the Literary Messenger. Although he parted on friendly terms from Mr. White, and in after years wrote and spoke of him with kindliness, there is little doubt but that the poet relinquished his post on the magazine in consequence of the rate of remuneration he received being not only much less than he deemed his name and entire services entitled him to, but even less than he could decently maintain his household upon. The number of the magazine for January 1837 was the last Messenger under Poe’s editorship, and it contained, [page 142:] in addition to certain reviews and reprinted poems of his, the first part of “Arthur Gordon Pym;” a second instalment of the romance appearing in the following number, after its author’s severance from the periodical.

Previous to giving up charge of the Messenger, Poe, with that thoughtfulness of friends which he often manifested, wrote to Mr. Wilmer, to tell him of his intention of leaving Richmond, and suggesting that he, Wilmer, should come thither without delay, as he was certain he could obtain the post he was about to vacate. Mr. Wilmer, however, could not avail himself of the offer, as he was preparing to leave for Philadelphia.*

Apparently, Mr. White parted with his clever editor with much reluctance, yet he could not, or he would not, comply with his requirements — requirements, indeed, it has been suggested, that included partnership in the publication. In the number of the magazine containing Poe’s resignation of the editorship, announced in the words, ” Mr. Poe’s attention being called in another direction, he will decline, with the present number, the editorial duties of the Messenger,” the proprietor issued a notice to the effect, that “Mr. Poe, who has filled the editorial department for the last twelve months with so much ability, retired from [page 143:] that station on the 3rd instant,” but will, so it was promised, “continue to furnish its columns from time to time with the effusions of his vigorous and popular pen.”

How soon after this Poe left Richmond, and what he was doing for the next few months, are still unanswered questions. After the expiration of a short interregnum, he is discovered as settled in New York once more, and this time accompanied by his wife and her mother. During one portion, at least, of this residence in New York, the Poes lived at 113 1/2 Carmine Street, where Mrs. Clemm attempted, as one method of lessening the household expenses, to keep a boarding house, but the experiment does not appear to have met with any success, and the family fell into very poor circumstances. An interesting account of the poet’s limited mènage at this epoch of the story, has been given by the late William Gowans, the wealthy and eccentric bibliopolist, who boarded with Mrs. Clemm.*

Alluding to the untruthfulness of the prevalent idea of Poe’s character, the shrewd old man remarks —

“The characters drawn of Poe by his various biographers and critics may with safety be pronounced an excess of exaggeration, but this is not to be much wondered at, when [page 144:] it is taken into consideration that these men were rivals either as poets or prose writers, and it is well known that such are generally as jealous of each other as are the ladies who are handsome, or those who desire to be considered to be possessed of the coveted quality. It is an old truism, and as true as it is old, ‘that in the midst of counsel there is safety.’

“I, therefore, will also show you my opinion of this gifted but unfortunate genius. It may be estimated as worth little, but it has this merit — it comes from an eye and ear witness; and this, it must be remembered, is the very highest of legal evidence. For eight months or more, ‘one house contained us, us one table fed!’ During that time I saw much of him, and had an opportunity of conversing with him often, and I must say, that I never saw him the least affected with liquor, nor even descend to any known vice, while he was one of the most courteous, gentlemanly, and intelligent companions I have met with during my journeyings and haltings through divers divisions of the globe; besides, he bad an extra inducement to be a good man as well as a good husband, for he had a wife of matchless beauty and loveliness, her eyes could match that of any houri, and her face defy the genius of a Canova to imitate; a temper and disposition of surpassing sweetness; besides, she seemed as much devoted to him and his every interest as a young mother is to her first-born. . . . Poe had a remarkably pleasing and prepossessing countenance, what the ladies would call decidedly handsome.”

Mr. Gowans — who is remembered as “one of the most truthful and uncompromising of men” — in conversing with Mr. Thomas C. Latto with reference to [page 145:] Poe and his young wife, whom he described as fragile in constitution, but of remarkable beauty, testified that the poet ” was uniformly quiet, reticent, gentlemanly in demeanour, and during the whole period lie lived there, not the slightest trace of intoxication or dissipation was discernible in the illustrious inmate, who was at that time engaged in the composition of ‘Arthur Gordon Pym.’ Poe “kept good hours,” he said, “and all his little wants were seen to by Mrs. Clemm and her daughter, who watched him as sedulously as if he had been a child.” Mr. Gowans was a man of known intelligence, and, writes Mr. Latto, “being a Scotchman, is by no means averse to ‘a twa-handed crack,’ but he felt himself kept at a distance somewhat by Poe’s aristocratic reserve.“* Mr. Gowans only left when the household was broken up, and the close connection which be was daily brought into with members of it, and the opportunity which be had of seeing what kind of life the poet was then leading, render his testimony valuable.

Res auqustæ domi notwithstanding, the domestic life of the poet, at this period at least, was not altogether unhappy. As yet, the fact had not manifested itself to him that his girlish bride’s beauty was but the signal of the fatal disease that she was destined to fall an early victim to; nor could he forbode, [page 146:] that she was to succumb to that fell complaint he had erstwhile so rashly wished all he loved to perish of. A little while later and the devoted husband learnt, as he bemoaned, that ” the finger of death was upon her bosom — that, like the ephemeron, she had been made perfect in loveliness only to die.” Ever since his marriage Poe had spent his leisure hours in continuing his young wife’s education, and under his careful tuition she became highly accomplished. “She was an excellent linguist and a perfect musician, and she was so very beautiful,” records her bereaved mother. “How often has Eddie* said, ‘I see no one so beautiful as my sweet little wife.“’

“Eddie,” declares his “more than mother,” “was domestic in all his habits, seldom leaving home for an hour unless his darling Virginia, or myself, were with him. He was truly an affectionate, kind husband, and a devoted son to me. He was impulsive, generous, affectionate, and noble. His tastes were very simple, and his admiration for all that was good and beautiful very great. . . . We three lived only for each other.“†

This epoch of quiet domestic happiness does not appear to have been one very fruitful of literary produce, or, if it were, the result has been lost sight of. [page 147:] During 1837 Poe contributed a critique of Stephens’s “Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land,” to the October number of the New York Review. This Quarterly was a theological publication, and required a class of writing utterly unsuited to Poe’s range of thought, he therefore wisely forbore from attempting anything of a similar kind again. His next literary essay was the completion of ” The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” the first and second instalments of which romance, as already pointed out, had appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger. The interest the work had aroused during its issue in the magazine determined Poe to complete it, that is to say, as far as he ever intended to complete it, the abrupt and unfinished state of its closing paragraph having, evidently, been intentional. The story was not issued in book form until July 1838. It is said that it did not excite much notice in America., but it was very successful in England, where, besides the authorised reprints of Messrs. Wiley and Putnam, several other editions were speedily disposed of. The truthful air of “The Narrative,” and the circumstantiality of the title-page and preface, doubtless attracted attention, but indeed the whole romance is detailed with such Defoe-like minuteness — with such an apparent want of art — especially in lengthy, almost tedious, citations from [page 148:] presumable kindred works — that the reading public was bound to submit to the temporary fascination, and accept the vraisemblance for truth itself. The abrupt termination of “The Narrative,” and the pretext alleged for it, both contributed greatly to the apparent fidelity to fact. The chief defect in the tale is the supernatural final paragraph — wisely omitted in the London reprint — which neither adds to the interest nor increases the life-like truthfulness. The original title-page of Poe’s longest tale deserves reproduction here; it reads thus: —

“THE NARRATIVE

of

ARTHUR GORDON PYM,

of Nantucket;

Comprising the Details of a Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery on Board the American Brig Grampus, on her way to the South Seas-with an Account of the Recapture of the Vessel by the Survivors; their Shipwreck, and subsequent Horrible Sufferings from Famine, their Deliverance by means of the British Schooner Jane Gray; the brief Cruise of this latter Vessel in the Antarctic Ocean: her Capture, and the Massacre of her Crew among a Group of Islands in the 84th parallel of Southern Latitude, together with the incredible Adventures and Discoveries still further South, to which that distressing Calamity gave rise.

New York: Harper & Brothers.

1838.” [page 149:]

Students of Poe’s works who have learned to recognise his method of thought, know how frequently he discloses his mental history in those parenthetical passages he so much affected. In the above narrative these disclosures, interwoven with autobiographical data, occur both oft and o‘er. In the “preliminary notice,” and in the first chapter of the romance, fact and fiction are ingeniously blended, and real and ideal personages are mingled somewhat confusingly together. His readers are well aware how clearly Poe’s idiosyncrasies, both in his prose and in his verse, show through the transparent masks behind which his heroes are supposed to be hidden, and in this “Narrative” it is rarely that the imaginary hero is thought of otherwise than as identical with Poe himself. The adventurous lad Pym is certainly not the person to whom our thoughts tend when the second chapter of this tale begins, “In no affairs of mere prejudice, pro or con, do we deduce inferences with entire certainty, even from the most simple data,” and we are at no loss to comprehend the autobiographic fidelity of the author when be says, under the pseudonym of Pym, “One of my enthusiastic temperament, and somewhat gloomy, although glowing imagination,” and, “It is strange, too, that he most strongly enlisted my feelings in behalf of the life of a seaman, when he depicted his more terrible moments of suffering [page 150:] and despair. For the bright side of the painting I had a limited sympathy.”

Dreams of the day and of the night are plentiful in Pym’s narrative, and are rather more typical of the psychological introspection of the poet than of the healthy animalism and muscular energy of the sailor. And yet they are not out of harmony with the tone of this work, nor discordant with the overwrought imagination of a sensitive youth. A dreaming fit is described in the second chapter — that whence Pym is aroused by the dog “Tiger” — which fully equals in descriptive terror and power of language any of the English Opium-Eater’s “Confessions;” whilst the analysis of the various mental phases through which the hero passes — as told in Chapter xxiv. — from the time he commences his descent of the soapstone cliff and must not think, until the longing to fall is finally finished by the fall, quite equals in psychological subtlety anything that De Quincey ever did. Another noteworthy passage is that in Chapter xxi., wherein is described the horrible dread, ever recurring with such ghastly effect in Poe’s tales, of entombment alive ” The supremeness of mental and bodily distress of living inhumation” continually overshrouds his imagination, and his readers are goaded into believing that the narrator himself must have experienced the so-graphically-portrayed horrors of ” the blackness of [page 151:] darkness which envelops the victim, the terrific oppression of lungs, the stifling fumes from the damp earth,” and all the appalling paraphernalia of a death-scene, which be shudderingly declares, even as he describes, are “not to be tolerated — never to be conceived.”

The originality of Poe’s genius, as shown in this “Narrative,” will doubtless be the more generally admired, although less real, in such things as where be explains the singular character of the many-hued waters — which never seemed limpid — in the Antarctic island; and in the gradually-revealed horror of the inhabitants of the colour white; or in the ingenuity of the perusal of the torn letter by phosphorus; or in such probably inexplicable psychological facts, as the long ocean travelling voyager, in his delirium, beholding every creation of his “mind’s-eye” in motion — movement being the all predominant idea. Our remarks on “Arthur Gordon Pym” are purposely directed more towards bringing prominently forward certain commonly unnoted characteristics of the tale, than to recalling attention to its generally appreciated, and frequently commented upon, more salient features.

Another of Poe’s productions for this year was “Siope: A Fable. [In the manner of the Psychological Autobiographists].” “Siope,” which appeared in the Baltimore Book for 1838, is the weird prose [page 152:] poem now styled “Silence,” and is paralleled in many passages by its author’s sonnet to “Silence” and other later poems. Poe’s inventive genius, indeed, was much more limited than is generally supposed, leading him to frequently repeat and repolish, rather than to originate, over and over again: the same favourite quotation, or pet idea, may be found doing duty in several places. Those readers well acquainted with his earlier as well as later publications, will be able to recall to mind many instances of such repetition.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 137:]

* Published in The Gift in 1842.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 142:]

* L. A. Wilmer, Our Press Gang.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 145:]

* In a letter to the late Mrs. Whitman, dated July 8th, 1870.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 146:]

* The poet’s pet name at home.

† Letter to Judge Neilson Poe, August 19th, 1860.


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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 10)