Text: Douglas Sherley, “Old Oddity Papers — IV [Part 02],” Virginia University Magazine, April 1880, vol. XIX, No. 7, pp. 426-445


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­[page 426:]

OLD ODDITY PAPERS.

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IV. — CONCLUDED.

EDGAR ALLAN POE WHILE A STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

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TO MR. THOMAS GOODE TUCKER, of Gaston, North Carolina, who, at our urgent request, has finally consented to allow his name to be used in the present connection — we are deeply indebted. To him we owe nearly all the information that we are now able to give. Being, as he was, Poe’s much-loved and most intimate friend, there is no one who can throw snore light on his brief University career than Mr. Tucker.

Poe is described as having been a most excellent Latin and French Scholar; he could read and speak both languages with great ease, although it could hardly have been said that he knew either language critically. Greek he read indifferently; what a consolation this fact must be to those aspiring youths of genius to whom the tongue in which Homer so divinely sung is distasteful, and to whom Greeks roots are an abomination. ­[page 427:]

Time and again Poe would enter into [[sic]] the lecture-room utterly unprepared to recite if called upon. But his brain was so active and his memory so excellent, that only a few moments’ study was necessary, and then he was ready to make the best recitation, in the class. The bare opportunity of “reading ahead,” as we students term that agonizing ordeal, when one is fully expecting to be called upon, was all that Poe desired when unprepared. As a consequence of this wonderful faculty he was able to maintain a very high position in his classes, and win for himself the admiration, but more oftentimes envy, of his fellow-students. The plodding fellow who wearily bent over his work for twelve or thirteen hours, and came to his daily lectures with a satisfied sense of duty done, could but poorly, and at best ungraciously, brook the easy-won triumphs of his neighbor hard by, who had, to his certain knowledge, spent the better part of the night before with a jolly set of fellows around the card-table, or alone if his room dashing off line after line of poetic beauty, or deeply absorbed in the development of an intricate plot of some wild, strange story, fresh from his brain, of great originality and clearness of thought.

It is delightful to know that Poe was not exempt from that college weakness to which the most of us have at one time or another yielded ourselves — a good, healthy quarrel with that much abused creature, our room-mate. When he first came to the University he roomed on the Lawn with a young man from Richmond, Miles George, who, we understand, is still living. They had been together but a short time when something arose to disturb the harmonious intercourse — perhaps Miles refused to arise on cold mornings to answer the knock of Mr. Wertenbaker, who in those good old days made the rounds each morning to see if the fellows were up and dressed and ready for work, (what a good thing those stiff old regulations have fallen into all honored disuse) or perhaps Edgar Allan was unwilling to connt over the clothes on Monday morning when the washer-woman came. ­[page 428:] (By the way, we know of seven different ancient colored females who claim to have washed for “Marse Ed. Poe[[”]].) Well, be this as it may, they had a falling out and they had something more — a genuine, good, old-fashioned fight. Without saying a word to any one, they quietly retired into that field near the University where a certain enthusiastic little portion of our community daily resort for base-ball purposes, and after one or two rounds, in which they both showed a sufficient amount of courage and a strong desire to black each other’s eyes, they mutually agreed that they were satisfied, and, heartily shaking hands, returned to the University as warm friends, but not as room-mates — Poe, after this little affair, thinking it best to room alone, moved into No. 13 on West range. So that we see that even Poe at seventeen was as much of a boy — although so different from the ordinary run — as our commonplace selves.

Poe at this period of his life was rather short of stature, thick, and somewhat compactly set, but very active, being quite an expert in the athletic and gymnastic arts. Somehow we have hitherto always had a vague kind of a notion that Poe was slight of build, slender as a girl and just as graceful, and wandered about with a slow-moving gait and a dreamy air pervading his whole manner. Instead of this somewhat idealistic notion, he was bow-legged, and walked rapidly with a certain jerkiness in his hurried movements. He had about him the air and the action of a native-born Frenchman. To quote Mr. Tucker: “He was very mercurial in his disposition and exceedingly fond of peach and honey” — something that all Virginians and Carolinians are familiar with, especially those stately, courteous gentlemen of the “Old School” who are now so rapidly passing away.

Poe was also particularly fond of playing cards — seven-up and loo being his favorite games. He played in such an impassioned manner as to amount to almost an actual frenzy. All of his card playing and drinking he did under a sudden impulse. His passion for strong drink was of a most marked ­[page 429:] and peculiar character. He would always seize the tempting glass, generally unmixed with either sugar or water — in fact, perfectly straight — and without the least apparent pleasure swallow the contents, never pausing until the last drop had passed his lips. One glass at a tune was about all that he could take; but this was sufficient to rouse his whole nervous nature into a state of strangest excitement that found vent in a continuous flow of wild, fascinating talk, that irresistibly enchained every listener with syren-like power.

It is curious to trace the subsequent career of those men who were Poe’s constant companions around the cardtable, and who filled their glasses with peach and honey from the same punch bowl.

Thomas S. Gholson was afterwards very pious and a Judge of some distinction and great integrity in the Petersburg district; Upton Beale (who always held the winning card) became an Episcopal minister, stationed at Norfolk, and who was succeeded by Phil. Slaughter, who is still living, leading a life of purity and excellence, preaching the Gospel somewhere in the State at the present time, and who remembers with a smile those wayward days of his youth when he and Poe were partners at cards and held a common treasury between them. Of Nat. Dunn, Wm. A. Creighton and Wm. M. Burwell we know nothing. It is more than likely that all of this old set are dead, with the exception of Slaughter and Tucker; the latter says he rarely, if ever, ventured to play with those we have named as they were, each one of thern, regarded, and justly so, as great experts.

But with none of these men, except Thomas Goode Tucker, did Poe form that close and tenderest of all intimacies — a warm, impulsive, genuine college friendship. All old men and those who have in any way experienced the innumerable delights of this relationship bear testimony in the strongest and most unqualified terms, that a true college friendship is that one something in life free from selfish motives ­[page 430:] and worldliness and upon which we may safety anchor our fondest affections, resting in an unmistaken confidence that no matter what time may bring, what our enemies may say or do, there will always remain in the innermost heart of the college friend of our youth a tender spot for those with whom he has exchanged all the sweet and sacred offices of a pure friendship formed at that time of life when we are free from the cool calculations and sometimes sordidness of those maturer years when our friends are chosen according to the prim dictates of the judgment rather than of the heart.

Whatever Poe may have been in after years, he was when here as true and perfect a friend as the waywardness of his nature would allow. There was never then the least touch of insincerity, and never the least indication of that fickleness of disposition with which he was afterwards so often — although in the main, we think, unjustly — accused. The most of people have little or no patience with marked peculiarities, and are always ready to twist them into a meaning little intended by the one so unfortunate as to possess such unenviable qualities; and as an inevitable consequence, constant misunderstandings, and of such a nature that even the person himself cannot explain them away. So it is not a matter of much surprise that Poe had few intimate friends, although he could play cards and drink peach and honey for hours with those who were thrown in his way by matter of circumstance. A genuine friendship asks for something more than mere conviviality, and a shuffling each in turn the same pack of cards. There must be other ties in order to cement a life-long attachment. Poe showed his warm appreciation and high respect for his friend Tucker by reading to him those early productions of his youth — productions that his critical hand afterwards destroyed, thinking them unfit for publication. Sometimes, when he had written an article that Tucker would especially praise, he would call in a few of his friends and read it to them. Those ­[page 431:] men who were so fortunate as to hear those impromptu readings never forgot them, and those of the number who are still living, declare that there is no impression on their minds more strikingly vivid. They were mostly stories and characterized by that same weirdness of style, graphically picturing horrible scenes and incidents, that so strongly marks all of his published writings. His little room on West Range was often filled with a small, select audience of his most particular friends, who, spell-bound, scarcely breathed while they eagerly listened to some story — strange and wild like all the rest — that he had just written and which he read with his whole soul thrown into every action and intonation of his voice — now loud and rapid like the mad rush of many waters, and now sinking into a scarcely audible whisper, of some terrible sentence of incantation or curse sending a shiver over all that heard. What a privilege to have been there!

On one occasion Poe read a story of great length to some of his friends who, in a spirit of jest, spoke lightly of its merits, jokingly told him that his hero’s name, “Gaffy,” occurred too often. His proud spirit would not stand such, as he thought, open rebuke; so in a fit of anger, before his friends could prevent him, he had flung every sheet into a blazing fire, and thus was lost a story of more than ordinary parts, and, unlike the most of his stories, was intensely amusing, entirely free from his usual sombre coloring and sad conclusions merged in a mist of impenetrable gloom. He was for a long time afterwards called by those in his particular circle, “Gaffy” Poe, a name that he never altogether relished.

Gaming during the first two or three sessions of the University was very prevalent. In fact, during the early part of the present century, it was indulged in to a certain extent more or less by our very best people. But of course it was something in an institution like this of so pernicious a nature as to demand a decided check. This, the year before ­[page 432:] his death, Mr. Jefferson attempted by trying to stop the general card playing at the University; and although it did not serve the purpose for which it was intended, yet it furnished a characteristic picture of Poe that it will be well to mention in this connection.

Mr. Jefferson and the Board of Visitors, after much deliberation, decided upon the following device in order to stop the card-playing for money. An arrangement was made with the civil authorities to ferret out the most noted of the young gamesters, and have them indited in due form and brought before the next grand jury. So on a given day that then this formidable personage, the county Sheriff with a goodly posse, appeared within the door-way of one of the lecture-rooms just as the morning roll was about to be called, ready to serve his writs on certain young men as they answered to their names. But those gay young rakes were not to be so easily ensnared in the well-laid toils of the almost triumphant enemy. They needed no word of warning; the mere glimpse of the Sheriff’s shadow in the doorway with his men behind him was more than enough to convey to their minds an idea of what was coming. With Edgar Allan Poe for a leader they, to use the college expression, indiscriminately “bolted” — some through the open windows and some through an opposite door. Sheriff, posse and Professor were left in full possession of the empty lecture-room. Then the hot pursuit. But those who were wanted the most had made their successful escape — not to their rooms, they would not have been safe there; but off to the “Ragged Mountains” over an unfrequented by-path, but one well known to Poe, and over which he had often travelled. They were aware it would not be well to return to the University until after night; so some of the party had managed in their hasty flight to snatch up a deck or so of cards with which to while away the hours of their self-imposed banishment. Their place of retreat was a beautiful dell high up in the mountains, and very inaccessible, being far away ­[page 433:] from any of the beaten paths, but a spot that was a favorite haunt with Poe. There he had often gone alone, when those overpowering fits of depression approaching almost to madness had come upon him, and there he had frequently remained for hours, deeply buried in what have sometimes been termed the “bitter-sweets of melancholy.” And there it was, perhaps, that his active brain became so strongly imbued with those wild, fanciful ideas so realistic in their unreality, that are so abundantly embodied in his weird writings, environed as he was by those low, sweeping pines, from whose dark-green, needle-pointed foliage there seemed to actually ooze a dreary sombreness that permeated all the atmosphere with a fascinating gloom. Surely it must have been the favorite haunt of his youth that he has pictured in exquisite verse and fitly termed

THE VALLEY OF UNREST.

——

Once it smiled a silent dell

Where the people did not dwell;

They had gone unto the wars,

Trusting to the mild eyed stars,

Nightly, from their azure towers,

To keep watch above the flowers,

In the midst of which all day

The red sunlight lazily lay.

Now each visitor shall confess

The sad valley’s restlessness.

Nothing there is motionless —

Over the magic solitude.

Ah, by no wind are stirred those trees

That palpitate like the chill seas

Around the misty Hebrides!

Ah, by no wind those clouds are driven

That rustle through the unquiet heaven

Uneasily from morn till even,

Over the lilies there that wave

And weep above a nameless grave!

They wave: — from out their fragrant tops

Eternal dews come down in drops.

They weep: — from off their delicate stems

Perennial tears descend in gems.

If an old legend is true — and it is only as such that we give it — those lines,

“Over the lilies there that wave

And weep above a nameless grave,” ­[page 434:]

contain a prophecy that has been strangely fulfilled, in regard to that dell in the heart of the “Ragged Mountains” where Poe and his wild young companions in that long, bygone springtime, sought a safe refuge from the civil authorities.

This old legend is a curious kind of a coincidence, if nothing more, and came to our knowledge under circumstances of a nature so peculiar that we cannot refrain from leaving Poe seated on the green sward surrounded by his friends and deeply absorbed in his favorite garne of seven-up, while we coming back again into the present, relate a story that must seem to all, as it does to the writer, like the wild tale of some opium-eater, just rousing himself from the baleful influence of the poisonous drug.

We have often while here as student taken many a pleasant ramble over the University Range of mountains; gathered flower and fern from the almost obliterated site of the Old Observatory; stood on the bare summit of Lewis’ Mountain and looked down upon the Pantheon-modelled dome of the Rotunda, and watched the afternoon sunlight steal beneath the arcades of Range and Lawn; and have seen Charlottesville just beyond with gilded spire and gleaming roof, lying peacefully in the bosom of the beautiful valley, like an old, half-forgotten French town buried in the heart of the land of the golden lilies — with all of its many and grievous defects so apparent when stumbling over the ill-paved walks softened into a suggestion of something picturesque by distance and sunshine. Yet each time, brought back by the approach of night, we have returned from our rambles with an undefined regret that the lonely range of the Ragged Mountains lying some distance beyond should yet remain unexplored. From the time we first saw them, looking then as they do now the embodiment of a dense and sombre loneliness, they have had for us an unaccountable kind of a fascination, enhanced, perhaps, by Poe’s weird “Tale of the Ragged Mountain” that we distinctly ­[page 435:] remember to have read in our early childhood, and that made so strong an impression on our mind that a part of the pleasure that we experienced on first coming to the University was the fact that we would be able to wander over those mountains, made famous by that tale. But a sufficiently available opportunity never offered itself until a short time ago, when, after reading Mr. Thos. Goode Tucker’s most excellent letter in which he stated the episode in Poe’s University career that we have just related, we found ourselves impelled by stronger motives than ever before to delay no longer our often contemplated ramble in the Ragged Mountains. From directions given by Mr. Tucker and others we hoped to find this “Valley of Unrest,” so often frequented by Poe when he was a student here; but after wandering about in an aimless kind of a way for some hours, we were almost convinced of the fruitlessness of our undertaking, and thinking to rest a little while and then return to the University, we seated ourselves on a large shelving rock imbedded in the violet-covered turf at the foot of a huge pine, and out of sheer weariness, and, we must confess, greatly disappointed, closed our eyes. We did not fall asleep, but dropped into that half unconscious state, that is often produced by physical weariness. It was about the hour of noon. We could hardly have been in this condition longer than at most half an hour, when we were suddenly roused by some one lightly placing a hand on either shoulder, and opening our eyes, we found an old man, who seemed to be about eighty years old, peering into our face. “Who are you?” uttered in a low, gentle voice, was the question that greeted our astonished ears. Without waiting for an answer he continued, “What do you want? what did you come for?” Removing his hands from off our shoulders, he turned partly away, and in the same low, monotonous voice, in which there was a tone of indescribable sweetness, slowly repeated those lines:

“Over the lilies there that wave

And weep above a [[sic]] a nameless grave.”

By this time our astonishment knew no bounds, and it was, ­[page 436:] if possible, increased when lowering his voice to a whisper, but first stealthily looking in every direction, he asked, “Do you want to see that nameless grave? is that what you came for?” Somehow the word “Yes” framed itself on our lips and gently clutching our arm for support, the old man turned into a path that we had not before observed, and in a few moments we had completely lost our bearings, although our strange old guide seemed to be perfectly familiar with the intricate windings of this rough mountain path. A ten minutes’ walk, in perfect silence, and we found ourselves in a beautiful dell that we were confident could be no other than the very spot we had been searching for all the morning.

We involuntarily, as we entered the dell, recalled to mind those words of Poe in the “Tale of the Ragged Mountains” placed in the mouth of Bedloe: “The scenery which presented itself on all sides had about it an indescribable and to me a delicious aspect of dreary desolation. The solitude seemed absolutely virgin. I could not help believing that the green sods and the gray rocks upon which I trod had been trodden never before by the foot of human being.” It is almost needless to say that just such as these were our own feelings as we followed the old man into the more open space. He silently pointed to a spot about the centre of the vale, and gently whispered, “The nameless grave.” And there, sure enough, was a mound of earth grave-shaped, without a stone or mark of any kind, but just at the head was a bunch of easter lilies just coming into bud. Yielding to the old man’s desire, we seated ourselves by his side, beneath a clump of trees in full sight of this nameless grave and listened with rapt attention, until late in the afternoon, to his strangest of strange tales, that we give in his own words; but a great deal we are compelled to omit on account of limited space:

“A little over a mile from this place I was born, and there I am living now. During my early life I was a woodcutter and hauled several wagon-loads a week to Charlottesville. ­[page 437:] When I became too old and feeble for active work, I left the wood hauling to my boys, and, until my wife died last Spring, gathered herbs and roots for which we always found a ready sale. But now I do nothing but come here every day and then go back home, sleep a little and think, and think a great deal until it is time to come again. But my time is very short now, and I will soon follow the mother of my boys. Stranger, I have been waiting a long while for the coming of somebody to whom I could tell my story. So listen while I tell you. Nearly sixty years ago I was an ignorant Ragged Mountain Boy, whose daily occupation was to wander over these hills and valleys cutting down trees and loading my father’s wagons for market. One morning, about this time of the year, I was working over there to the left, not far from this spot, when I was surprised by hearing the sound of voices in this direction. Up here in this out-of-the-way place it was then even more unusual than now to see or hear any one but our neighbors who were, like myself, uncultivated, ignorant people. Drawn by curiosity, I came to the outer edge of this little valley and congealed behind the dense foliage peered through the branches and saw a young man who could hardly have been more than eighteen or twenty years old, walking up and down the open space in an excited manner, rapidly repeating words that I could distinctly hear, yet could not then fully understand. For several hours I stood and listened, altogether forgetful of my morning task. Suddenly he ceased his talk, made several turns and then hurriedly disappeared into the thick undergrowth, and, as I could judge from his retreating footsteps, hastened down the mountainside. After that he constantly resorted hither, frequently three or four times a week, and I always managed to be working near, so I could hear him; for there was in the very sound of his voice a nameless charm that I never could resist. One day, anxious to catch all of his words, I had boldly ventured nearer, and consequently he saw me. At ­[page 437:] first he was very much startled, but soon recovering himself, called me to him, asked me a great many questions and at once seemed to take an interest in me, at which I was of course very much gratified. From that time on, which was in the early Spring until late in the following December, he almost daily came to this spot, brought me books and explained many things to me, but his chief delight was to read to me long poems and stories that he had written. He would not for some reason ever tell me his name. He said that he was a student at the University and that more than that it was not necessary or well for me to know. I never pressed the question because I at once saw that it gave him pain. He always came here alone save on three occasions — three days in succession, when a crowd of rollicking young fellows came with him, to hide from the sheriff they said, for what cause I never knew. They carne early in the morning of each day and remained until after night. All day long they would play cards, and at night by the light of great, flaming torches, tell wild stories of wizards, witches and goblins, until about nine o’clock, when they would return to the University. Those stories I readily remember but none of these were ever more wild or thrilling than the stories that my friend told. His story would always be the last, and the endings would be so delightfully, painfully tragic, that, shivering, they would rise to their feet and in silence depart from this spot that I was almost beginning to think was haunted, and that those strangers were surely visitors from the undiscovered country, or from the unknown land of spirit or devil.

“The last time that he ever came here, a chilly, bleak December day, be bade me a tender, in fact almost an affectionate farewell, saying that he would never return again, and pointing to the centre of this valley, slowly said

“Over the lilies there that wave

And weep above a nameless grave.”

Ah, stranger, you may well look in wonder on that lily-crowned grave, but it was not here then, and not until some ­[page 439:] nine or ten years afterwards. I will tell you in a few simple words what I have never told before, and now that my old wife has gone, no one knows but myself, not even my boys. Yet I do not feel as if I can lie down and die in perfect peace until I have told some one.

In the autumn of 1835 a man about fifty-five years of age came about these parts, and proceeded to erect a little hut yonder on the edge of the dell, in which he evidently intended to live. He seemed kindly, disposed towards me from the very first, so much so, in fact, that I gladly offered my poor assistance in order to expedite the erection of his hut because the Fall rains were near at hand and I knew that he would soon be in need of shelter of some kind. To every one but myself he had nothing to say — would answer none of their questions and accept none of their kindly offers of assistance. Consequently he was at first regarded by those few rustics who lived hereabouts as a superior character, and finally, partly, perhaps, on account of his uncouth appearance, produced by a great, heavy beard, and a tangled mass of grey hair, hanging in long, unkempt locks about his stooping shoulders, he was held in absolute dread by all the country side. The mere mention of the name they had given him, ‘Old Shaggy,” on account of his long, thick beard, was enough to quiet the noisy child or even lend terror to many an old woman’s tale, of a midnight crime, or broad-open daylight murder. My intimacy with Old Shaggy cost me the friendship of more than one of those good, honest people, my neighbors, who firmly believed that he was an emissary in flesh and blood sent by the Devil himself to torment the Ragged Mountain inhabitants, and when the older ones saw me they would sorrowfully shake their knowing heads and say, ‘Gasper Conrad, poor fellow, Old Shaggy has bewitched him and his wife. We will have nothing more to do with them.” And they faithfully kept their word for some years until long after Old Shaggy had disappeared. ­[page 440:]

“Hour after hour have I sat in his little hut drinking in the story of his travels. About. these he always freely talked. He must have been in every known part of the world. He told me that he had been steadily going, going, all the time, never remaining in one place long, for nearly twenty years, and that weary of such a life he had come to this spot to die. He said that he was born somewhere in Albemarle near the little town of Milton, that he was of a noble family, but had always been wayward and latterly profligate, and long ago had been considered dead, and he never wished them to know otherwise. That he knew to the day and hour the time of his death, and had long before determined that his grave should be in some inaccessible dell, and above all should be nameless. I gathered from his talk, and more from his manner, that he at some period of his life had committed a terrible act, for which ever afterwards he had been pursued by a relentless, unsatisfied remorse. A short while before his death he told me that he had been with Aaron Burr during his famous expedition, and the irresistible fascination about that brilliant man had been the indirect cause of all of his miserable unhappiness. At the end of this conversation he broke away from me suddenly, exclaiming, ‘For it was then that it happened — it was then! Oh, God, forgive what I can never either forgive or forget!’

“After dark on the night of September 14, 1836, Old Shaggy knocked on my door, and when I opened it and asked him to come in, he hurriedly drew me outside and said, ‘No, no; there is no time to lose; everything is ready. Come with me.’ So taking a fresh-made torch, I followed him to this valley, knowing that it was better for me not to question him.

“By the light of the torch that I had brought, a peculiar scene was revealed to my astonished gaze. Here in the centre of this valley he had carefully dug a grave. He had also torn down his little house, cut the rough boards in short pieces and placed them in a pile alongside this fresh-made ­[page 441:] grave, on the bottom of which, I discovered to my horror, was a clumsily-made coffin, the ill-shapen lid lying outside.

“Turning to me and seeing my intense surprise, he simply smiled, and taking my hand said, in low, steady voice, ‘I am going now. The time has almost come. You will please attend to what little yet remains to be done.’ Without another word he turned and leaped down into the grave which must have been fully ten feet deep. He deliberately placed himself in the coffin that he had made, closed his eyes, and folded his arms across his breast, paying no heed whatever to my words of remonstrance.

“He had hardly placed himself in position when starting up into a sitting posture he exclaimed in a loud voice: ‘Don’t! don’t! I am Albert Pike Carr!’ Saying this he fell back exhausted, as I thought, from his unusual excitement brought on from some cause that I knew nothing of, but, alas, it was the exhaustion which only death can bring.

“Filled with terror, for who would not have been, I turned to go and call my wife, but found her trembling by my side. Fearing lest something might happen to me, she had followed us here and, concealed in the undergrowth, had seen and heard all. After convincing ourselves that Old Shaggy was really dead, my wife held the torches while I did the work; and by morning everything was just as it had always been before the coming of Old Shaggy, because I had buried everything with him, even the very boards that had formed his hut — everything was the same, only right here in the centre was the nameless grave.

“Stranger, you now know all that I do. I don’t think Old Shaggy’s name was Albert Pike Carr — I think that was the name of a man that he must at some time during his life have murdered, and that Old Shaggy’s dying words, Don’t, don’t! I am Albert Pike Carr!’ was the dying exclamation of the man he had in all probability wantonly killed. ­[page 442:]

“Goodbye, stranger; whenever you chance to be up this way, seek about for old Gasper Conrad, he will always be glad to see you. But if you come again you must come very soon, for I will not be here much longer now.”

As we bade the old man goodbye and turned to leave him, he waved his hand in a mute farewell and with his eyes fastened upon the lily-crowned grave we heard him slowly repeating the couplet that now seemed to have about it a strange, magical witchery,

“Over the lilies there that wave

And weep above a nameless grave.”

And as we left the beautiful dell behind its, and went down the mountain side, the evening wind rising among the low-sweeping, mournful pines, faintly echoed like the last sweet vibration of an Æolian harp, the closing words, “a nameless grave.”

This is the legend as told to us. If true, it is a curious picture of the many strange peculiarities of human life — a blending of different distances [[destinies]], seemingly totally diverse, into one harmonious whole. If not true — only the vague, uncertain mutterings of garrulous old age — then it is surely a most remarkable series of more than extraordinary coïncidences. We know it to be a fact that Poe during his stay at the University constantly frequented that spot, we know, still further, that it was there he guided his friends during those three days of hiding in the mountains. So far the old man’s story is thoroughly substantiated by ours. Of course it is mere conjecture, although extremely probable, that Poe must have been thinking of this, his favorite resort while here, when he wrote his beautiful poem, “The Valley of Rest [[Unrest]].” The old man must have caught his oft-repeated refrain from Poe himself; how otherwise could it have made so deep, in fact, so life-long an impression on his mind?

That a man, run mad by the thought of some terrible crime committed, should choose to end his life at a particular time by poison or some other like means, and carry into execution ­[page 443:] this scheme of a burial, so unique in its character that any maniac might have devised, does not of course signify anything; yet it does seem strange that he should have chosen this partictnlar spot above all others, and that he should so strongly desire what is actually the case that his grave should be forever nameless. While the whole tale may at first seem wildly improbable, yet there is no reason, when we come to carefully examine the matter, for not believing this guileless old man’s story. To more fully establish by a chain of lately-developed evidence Old Gasper Conrad’s claim for credence, we will give a few facts that came to our knowledge on yesterday (Friday, April 16.)

Looking over a bundle of old family letters kindly placed at our disposal, we came across a sentence in one of of [[sic]] the ancient epistles that we would never have noticed for a moment, or thought anything about it, if it had not been for our recent conversation with the old man in the Ragged Mountains.

The letter in question is written by a gentleman who lived in Charlottesville to her [[his]] brother at Richmond, in which he speaks of Aaron Burr’s expedition, and in this connection saps: “I understand one of the Carrs — Albert, I think — at all events, the one who is disposed to be very wild in his habits, has run away from home and, in company with one of his dissolute companions, gone to join Col. Burr.

This brief excerpt from the old letter seems to point to this conclusion; the dissolute companion and young Carr must have yielded to Burr’s fascinating power and joined his miserable cause. Acting under Burr’s instigation the young fellow, who in all likelihood is the man who sleeps in the nameless grave, attempted for some reason to commit a murder; but by one of those mistakes so cruel in their consequences, he falls upon the companion and friend, young Carr, who recognizing his murderer, and seeing the mistake he must have made, exclaims with his dying breath, “Don’t! don’t! I am Albert Pike Carr.” After years of travel that ­[page 444:] have brought no relief, he is impelled by an overpowering desire to return hereabouts, to his native place. He seeks this inaccessible dell in the heart of the Ragged Mountains and with all the cunning of madness brings about a close to his seemingly worthless life on the very day — Sept. 14, 1836 — that the man whom he had declared to be the indirect cause of all his misery, Aaron Burr, old, and almost entirely neglected, laboriously breathed his last.

After reading that old letter we determined to go back to the mountains again and see the old man and question him more closely. Before starting we had occasion to stop in “Bishop’s,” the little grocery and notion store just beyond George Duncan’s University barber-shop; here we overheard a conversation that precluded all good that might come of another visit to the mountains. “So you say old Gasper Conrad is dead,” I heard some one exclaim, and then add, “When did he die?” “Night ’fore last,” answered a gruff, rough-looking fellow, who had a rusty piece of mourning, that had evidently been used many times before, fastened on his left arm. A man lounging near the door whittling a stick enquired, “if Gasper Conrad was the same one that had always acted so curious and always talked so queer about flowers, lilies and such like growing on somebody’s grave oft in one of the valleys upon the mountains?” “The very same ’un,” shortly answered the man, who was evidently one of the Ragged Mountain people, as he and his companions, closing their bargain with Bishop, passed out, and turning their faces towards home disappeared from sight.

Lest we should disappoint those who may be anxious to know the result of the ruse on the part of the Sheriff and his posse to capture Poe and his friends, we will add in con-conclusion [[conclusion]] that as, we have already said, then remained out in the mountains during the whole of three days, playing cards and telling stories, and returning to the University some time after night they would wisely exchange rooms, so that it might be impossible to identify them by their names, ­[page 445:] that were then required to be in large letters on the door of of [[sic]] every dormitory in the University; early next morning they world be off again. The boarding-house people, who were of course in sympathy with the “poor dear fellows,” kept their rooms liberally stocked with the best of everything the market could afford, while “Uncle John,” and an old servant, who in his day was a great character among the students, did not allow their generous supply of peach and honey to run low. Finally everything blew over, and the gay young rascals, with Edgar Allen [[Allan]] Poe at their head, returned to their lectures, where they were greeted with such friendly professorial smiles as to almost make them believe that nothing had actually happened.

This much for Edgar Allan Poe while a student at the University of Virginia.

It was our purpose to give a mere glimpse, that much if nothing more, of Poe’s University career; and it was our desire to add something new — facts hitherto unpublished — to the much that has been said and written about this in many respects wonderful man.

This we have after a manner been able to do, thanks to Mr. Thos. Goode Tucker.

ZU. LULU — MO. ZAL.


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Notes:

The following slip is added between pages of the article:

ERRATA.

On page 427, omit “into.” Page 443, 3d paragraph, read “destinies” for “distances.” Read “Unrest” for “Rest,” near bottom of same page. Same page read “his” for “her,” 3d paragraph.

As it turns out, there are errata in the errata and the errors of Rest/Unrest and distances/destinies actually occur on p. 442.

As a matter of historical record, it is extremely unfortunate that Douglas Sherley has seen fit to append what are presumably authentic reminiscences of T. G. Tucker with a clealy fictional account of his own making. As this article appears in the April issue of the student magazine, it may be that he considered it a hoax suitable for April Fool’s Day.

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[S:1 - VUM, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Old Oddity Papers: IV [Part 02] (D. Sherley, 1880)