Text: Richard H. Stoddard, “Memoir,” Poems by Edgar Allan Poe, London: George Routledge, 1875, pp. 17-99


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­[page 17, unnumbered:]

MEMOIR.

—————

EDGAR ALLAN POE was well born. The original name of the family, which was an old Norman one, was Le Poer, and it figures prominently in the annals of Ireland. The family was founded in that country by Sir Roger Le Poer, a marshal of Prince John, in the reign of Henry II.; and the pages of Giraldus Cambrensis bear witness to the courage of one of its members — Sir Arnold Le Poer, seneschal of Kilkenny Castle, who withstood the power of the Church, as embodied in the person and pretensions of the Bishop of Ossory, from whose holy clutches he rescued the Lady Alice ­[page 18:] Kyteler, who was accused of, and persecuted for, the heinous sin of witchcraft.*

Poe’s great-grandfather, John Poe, emigrated to America from Ireland, about the middle of the last century, bringing with him his wife Jane, a daughter of Admiral James McBride, and his son David, who was then in his second or third year. David Poe grew up to manhood, and served, during the Revolution, as a quartermaster-general in the Maryland line. General Poe must have been a man of some note, for he was the intimate friend of Lafayette, who called personally on his widow during his last visit to America, and, tendered her his acknowledgments for the services rendered him by her husband. The maiden name of this lady was Cairns [[Cairnes]]. She was a native of Pennsylvania, and is said to have been singularly beautiful. To her were born five children, the names of three of whom have reached us, — one being David, the father of our Poe, another Samuel, and the third Maria. Of David ­[page 19:] Poe, junior, little is known, except that he was the eldest son, and that at the age of eighteen, while a law student in the office of a Mr. William Gynne [[Gwynn]], of Baltimore, he became enamoured of Elizabeth Arnold, an English actress, whom he first saw in Norfolk, whither he had been sent on business, and whom he persuaded to marry him. His parents refused to countenance the marriage, but relented after the birth of his first child.

The parentage and early life of Elizabeth Arnold might, perhaps, be traced in England, by a careful student of theatrical annals. The earliest mention of her in America is in 1797, when she was a member of a company of comedians engaged by a Mr. Solee for the City Theatre, Charleston, South Carolina. This company played an engagement at the old John Street Theatre, New York, and among the pieces produced by them was the farce of “The Spoiled Child,” in which she played the part of Maria. She re-appeared in New York as Mrs. Poe, on the 16th of July, 1806, at the ­[page 20:] new Vauxhall Garden, in the part of Priscilla Tomboy. Two nights afterwards Mr. Poe appeared as Frank in “Fortune’s Frolic.” “The lady was young and pretty, and evinced talent both as a singer and an actress; the gentleman was literally nothing.” The next theatrical mention of the Poes, that I have been able to trace, occurs in the Boston Gazette for 1809. They were engaged at the Boston Theatre, where Mrs. Poe played regularly from January 5th to May 12th. At first she appeared in pantomimes, and took minor parts generally; but on the 7th of April she played Juliet, and after that date the leading parts, appearing as Ophelia on the nights of the 17th and 21st of the same month. The leading male parts of the season were played by Mr. Poe, who seems to have improved by practice. It was while the Poes were playing this engagement — on the 19th of February [[January]], 1809 — that Edgar Allan was born.

We lose sight of the family until 1811, when Mrs. Poe died at Richmond, leaving three children to the charity of the world — Edgar Allan, his elder brother, William Henry Leonard, and his sister Rosalie, who ­[page 21:] was an infant in arms. It is the recollection of those who knew Mrs. Poe that her husband had deserted her some time before the birth of her last child, and that she was in poverty and distress. However this may be, she was engaged at the Richmond Theatre at the time of her death, which occurred on the 8th of December, 1811, and is thus noted in the Richmond Enquirer of Tuesday, December 10th: “Died. — On Sunday last, Mrs. Poe, one of the actresses of the company at present playing on the Richmond boards. By the death of this lady the stage has been deprived of one of its chief ornaments, and to say the least of her, she was an interesting actress, and never failed to catch the applause, and command the admiration, of the beholder.” The three orphan children — for their father, it is believed, speedily followed their mother to the grave — were adopted by friends of the family: Edgar, by Mr. John Allan, a merchant of Richmond; Rosalie, by a Scotch gentleman named McKenzie; and William Henry Leonard, by some one, probably a relative, in Baltimore. ­[page 22:]

Mr. Allan was married, but he had no children, which was probably the reason, or one of the reasons, why he adopted Edgar. He was kind-hearted and indulgent, but not fitted to take charge of the young child whom Providence seemed to have committed to his care. The child, we know now, was a genius; but his adopted father could not be expected to know that, or, knowing it, could not be expected to modify himself and his life in order to guide and guard the child. He loved his son — for so he called the boy — as did also his wife, and, between the two, young Master Edgar Allan was in a fair way to be spoiled.

They were proud of him, so foolishly proud, indeed, that nobody was permitted to do anything which could “break his spirit.” He must be his own master, they said, which was but another way of saying — He must be the master of others, a proposition which was set at nought when he was sent to school. His first teacher was a widow lady, who instructed the children of the first families in Richmond, and who believed that she had rights as well as her pupils, and was ­[page 23:] determined to maintain them. “A portion of the grounds was used for the cultivation of vegetables, and its invasion by her pupils strictly forbidden. A trespasser, if discovered, was commonly made to wear, during school hours, a turnip, or carrot, or something of the sort, attached to his neck as a sign of disgrace. On one occasion Poe, having violated the rules, was decorated with the promised badge, which he wore in sullenness until the dismissal of the boys, when, that the full extent of his wrong might be understood by his patron, of whose sympathy he was confident, he eluded the notice of the schoolmistress, who would have released him of his esculent, and made the best of his way home with it dangling at his neck. Mr. Allan’s anger was aroused, and he proceeded instantly to the school-room, and, after lecturing the astonished dame upon the enormity of such an insult to his son and himself, demanded the account, determined that the child should not again be subjected to such tyranny.”* ­[page 24:] This incident, which is well authenticated, was not calculated to inspire a boy like Poe with much respect for his elders.

The Allans made a tour with Master Edgar in England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1816, and placed him at school at Stoke Newington, near London, where he remained five or six years. There is a description of this school and its master, Dr. Bransby, in Poe’s story of “William Wilson,” which he declared was autobiographic, at least in this particular. It was a large, rambling, irregular old Elizabethan building, in a misty-looking village, where there was a vast number of gigantic and gnarled trees, and where all the houses were excessively ancient. The grounds were extensive, and a high and solid brick wall, topped with a bed of mortar and broken glass, encompassed the whole. This prison-like rampart formed the limit of the domain; the scholars saw beyond it but thrice a week — once every Saturday afternoon, when, attended by two ushers, they were permitted to take brief walks in a body through some of the neighbouring fields, and ­[page 25:] twice during Sunday, when they were paraded in the same formal manner to the morning and evening service in the one church of the village. Of this church Dr. Bransby was pastor, and his pupils were wont to regard him with wonder and perplexity from their remote pew in the gallery, as, with step solemn and slow, he ascended the pulpit. That reverend man, with countenance so demurely benign, with robes so glossy and so clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered, so rigid, and so vast — could that be he who of late, with sour visage and in snuffy habiliments, administered, ferule in hand, the Draconian laws of the academy?

If we may credit Mr. William Wilson, such was the schoolmaster and school of Stoke Newington. That both are described with tolerable accuracy I have no doubt, and that they left a vivid impression on the mind of the new scholar is not to be wondered at. Children with his temperament feel rather than see what surrounds them, and what they have once felt is long remembered. Coleridge never forgot his master, ­[page 26:] Bowyer, and it was with a painful recollection of his own school days that he hoped the old man might go, after his death, where there were only cherubs. Poe is said to have received a classical education at this period, but his writings show little trace of it. For my own part I believe that his acquirements were rather in the direction of mathematical than classical learning, and that they were not remarkable in either. I have no faith in the learning of a boy in his second lustrum, or his third, which, by-the-way, is the one described by the shadowy William Wilson, who adds several years to the age of his alter ego, Edgar Allan Poe.

His school days in England over, Poe turned his back upon Stoke Newington and its duplicate pedagogue and parson, and returned to the United States. He took up his abode with the Allans in Richmond, where he continued his studies under the best masters for three or four years. He was a handsome lad, with bright eyes, soft clustering hair, and a face alive with expression. A lady of Richmond, who was his playmate at this time, and earlier, recalls him as a sensitive ­[page 27:] schoolboy, whose inordinate self-esteem often led him to fancy affronts where none were intended, and who used to revenge himself on those who offended him by impaling them with doggerel verses. These verses, which were no better and no worse than the average of such productions, were much relished by Mr. Allan, who delighted to read them to his friends, by whom they were secretly pronounced “trash.” They wondered at his folly, and set themselves against the wayward object of it, some even going so far as to refuse to let their children play with him, giving as the reason that “he was such a bad boy.” That he was ill-governed, there seems to be no doubt. It was his misfortune to be subjected to the treatment of ordinary children, — to be alternately petted and punished, caressed and scolded, — when his sensitive, nervous organization, like a fine-strung instrument, needed gentler handling and a more assured touch. He quickly detected the weak points of his adopted parents, and took advantage of them, so much so that dissimulation and evasion became habitual with him. ­[page 28:] Such, at least, is the opinion of his playmate, upon whom his childish precocity has left an indelible impression.

These shadowy memories of the young poet are brightened by traditions of his precocious powers, and instances of his innate tenderness of disposition. He had a decided talent for extemporaneous story-telling, and was noted for his skill in declamation, especially of poetry. The “piece” which he recited with most spirit was the part of Cassius in Julius C├Žsar (act i. sc. 2), a masterpiece of saturnine eloquence, with which he sympathized deeply, and which his flashing eyes and mobile mouth rendered with consummate art. “He is born to be an actor,” they thought, but he thought otherwise: for his father, Mr. Allan, had lately had a large fortune left him by a wealthy relative, and he naturally considered himself his heir.

He had the art of making friends, and was profoundly touched by kindness. The extreme tenderness of his feelings was shown one day when he visited the house of one of his school-mates, whose mother, ­[page 29:] on entering the room where he was, took his hand and spoke some words of welcome, which penetrated his heart so deeply that he lost the power of speech, if not of consciousness itself. To the friend thus formed he was wont to impart all his youthful sorrows. She had a happy influence over him in his darker moods, and after her death it was his habit for months to pay a nightly visit to the cemetery in which she was buried. The drearier the nights the longer he lingered, and the more regretfully he came away. The memory of this lady is said to have suggested the most beautiful of his minor poems, the lines beginning: —

“Helen, thy beauty is to me.”

It is far more likely, however, that she remotely suggested “The Sleeper,” the concluding lines of which reflect what we may suppose to have been his feelings in his long night watches at her grave: —

“My love, she sleeps! O, may her sleep,

As it is lasting, so be deep!

Soft may the worms about her creep!

Far in the forest, dim and old,

For her may some tall vault unfold — ­[page 30:]

Some vault that oft hath flung its black

And wing’d panels fluttering back,

Triumphant, o’er the crested palls

Of her grand family funerals —

Some sepulchre, remote, alone,

Against whose portal she hath thrown,

In childhood, many an idle stone —

Some tomb, from out whose sounding door

She ne’er shall force an echo more,

Thrilling to think, poor child of sin,

It was the dead who groaned within.”

The next episode of Poe’s life — his college career — was a dangerous one, in view of the liberty which had hitherto been allowed him, and the readiness with which his faults had been overlooked; and that it proved a source of pain and disappointment to his adopted parents is not to be wondered at. He entered the University of Virginia during its second session, which commenced on the 1st of February, and terminated on the 15th of December, 1826. He signed the matriculation book on the 14th of February — five days before his seventeenth birthday, and remained until the session closed.

“The University was then a most dissolute place, ­[page 31:] and Mr. Edgar A. Poe was remarked as the most dissolute and dissipated youth in the University.” So writes one of the most friendly of his biographers; but his testimony is not confirmed by a fellow student,* who declares that he was in good standing as a student. “He belonged to the schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, and as I was myself a member of the latter I can testify that he was tolerably Tegular in his attendance, and a very successful student, having obtained distinction in it at the final examinations, and this, at that time, was the highest honour a student could obtain. The present regulation in regard to degrees had not then been adopted. On one occasion Professor Blatterman requested his Italian class to render into English verse a portion of the lesson in Tasso, which he had assigned them for the next lecture. He did not require this of them as a regular class exercise, but recommended it as one from which he thought the ­[page 32:] student would derive benefit. At the next lecture on Italian, the Professor stated, from his chair, that Mr. Poe was the only member of his class who had complied with his request, and he paid a very high compliment to his performance. Although I had a passing acquaintance with Mr. Poe from an early period of the session, it was not until near its close that I had any social intercourse with him. After spending an evening with him at a private house, he invited me to his rooms. It was a cold night in December, and his fire having gone pretty nearly out, by the aid of some tallow candles and the wreck of a table he soon re-kindled it, and by its comfortable blaze I spent a very pleasant hour with him. On this occasion he spoke with regret of the enormous amount of money he had wasted, and of the debts he had contracted during the session; the latter he estimated at $2000, and although they were for the most part gaming debts, he was earnest and emphatic that he was bound by honour to pay, at the earliest opportunity, every cent of them. ­[page 33:]

“In a biographical sketch of Mr. Poe, I have seen it stated that he was at one time expelled from the University; but that he afterwards returned, and graduated with the highest honours. This is entirely a mistake. He spent but the one session, 1826, at the Institution, and at no time did he fall under the censure of the Faculty. He was not at that time addicted to drinking, but had an ungovernable passion for card-playing. His violation of the laws, however, in this particular, escaped detection.” This testimony is corroborated by the presiding officer of the University, Dr. S. Maupin, who adds, on his own account, that there was not only nothing in the Faculty records to the prejudice of Mr. Poe, but that he appears to have been a successful student; that he obtained distinction in Latin and French; and that he was not graduated, because no provision had been made for conferring degrees of any kind at the time he was a student.

This rose-coloured view of the situation was not enjoyed by the old folks at home. “Mr. Gilliet,” ­[page 34:] said Mrs. Allan one day to a visitor, after Edgar’s return from the University; “Mr. Gilliet, what do you think of Edgar? His father has just paid an enormous sum for his debts in Charlotteville, and now here is a bill for quantities of champagne, and seventeen broadcloth coats, which he has gambled away.” “Yes,” answered Edgar.” I went to see how much of the old man’s money I could spend, and I have done it.”

There must have been some redeeming qualities in the young gentleman of whom this anecdote is related, or he would speedily have found himself outside of the house of his adopted parents. That it was not calculated to promote his worldly interests, the most worldly must allow: that it was ungrateful is certain. Whether it produced an open rupture in his relations with the Allans is not stated, but it is more than probable that such was the case; for about this time there occurs a hiatus in his biography which is not easily bridged over. His biographers have attempted it, and with considerable success. The period was a turbulent one, they have told us, and he was a young ­[page 35:] man of the period. The Greeks were fighting against the Turks: he would go and fight against them too. Byron had done so, and had died at Missolonghi two or three years before, and public honours had been decreed to his memory. Campbell was shouting,

“Again to the battle, Achaians!”

and Fitz-Greene Haileck, nearer home, was raising a monument to Marco Bozzaris in his martial verse: —

“Strike! till the last armed foe expires,

Strike! for your altars and your fires,

Strike! for the green graves of your sires,

God, and your native land!”

There was a comical side to all this enthusiasm, and Byron had been sharp enough to see it, when it was too late: but Poe was not. He believed in

“The glory that was Greece,

And the grandeur that was Rome;”

but he was not destined to see either. There is an old proverb which says, “The furthest way round is the nearest way home,” and experience occasionally ­[page 36:] proves its truth. At any rate Poe found it true: for instead of proceeding post-haste to Greece, where he might have added to the number of the slain, he turned up in some unaccountable way at St. Petersburgh. He got into difficulties with the authorities there, and, it is hinted, came near adding to his acquirements a knowledge of the knout and Siberia; but Mr. Henry Middleton, of South Carolina, United States Minister to Russia, interceded in his behalf, and sent him back to America after an absence of about a year.

This romantic adventure, which is repeated by all Poe’s biographers, and which — if not sanctioned by Poe’s assent, was at least sanctioned by his silence, lacks but one thing to render it credible — truth. It might have happened, no doubt, and, perhaps, it ought to have happened; but unfortunately it did not. He never left the United States after his return from school at Stoke Newington; but he had a brother who did so, William Henry Leonard Poe, of whose erratic life the adventure, or something like it, ­[page 37:] was an episode. He is described by those who knew him as possessing great personal beauty, and as much genius as Edgar. He wrote verses, which were printed in the “Minerva,” a small weekly paper published in Baltimore: he was a clerk in a Lottery Office in that city; and he was not averse to the flowing bowl. This last circumstance, joined to his rejection as a lover, was probably the cause of his going to sea, and his subsequent “sailor’s scrape” at St. Petersburgh — for it was no more — out of which the dangerous and desperate adventure of his famous brother was manufactured.

That Poe was not discarded after his return from college was partly due to Mrs. Allan, who loved him in spite of his waywardness, and partly, no doubt, to himself. He was clever enough to feign repentance, if he did not feel it, and ambitious enough to cultivate his mind for its own sake. He had written doggerel when a schoolboy: he now began to write what by a stretch of courtesy might be considered poetry. His first volume, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor ­[page 38:] Poems,” was published at Baltimore in 1829. I call this his first volume, but if we may credit an advertisement prefixed to “Tamerlane,” that poem was printed for publication in Boston two years before, but suppressed through circumstances of a private nature. What these were it is idle to conjecture now. Mr. Allan must have paid for the publication of this little pamphlet, which by the aid of extra fly-leaves, bastard titles, &c., is spaced out to seventy-one pages, and must consequently have believed in the promise that it contained. It does not strike me as being a remarkable production for a young gentleman of twenty: it certainly is not a precocious one. It is not to be compared, for example, with the first collection of Mr. Tennyson’s verse published in the following year. How it was received, we are not told, but it is safe to say that it could not have attracted much attention. There was but little criticism in America then, and that little was as conventional as possible.

Poe had now reached the age when it was necessary for him to choose a profession, if he was to have one, ­[page 39:] in order to take his place as a man among men. He thought he would like to be a soldier, and on his expressing a wish to that effect, Mr. Allan induced General Scott, Chief Justice Marshall, and other influential persons to sign an application which secured his admission as a cadet to West Point.

Poe’s life at West Point was the continuation of his life at the University, with the exception of gaming, which he was wise enough to drop. It was supposed until recently that he applied himself to his studies at first, and became a favourite with his mess and with the officers and professors of the Academy; but this pleasing supposition is not borne out by the testimony of one of his associates. “The studies of the Academy Poe utterly ignored. I doubt if he ever studied a page of Lacroix, unless it was to glance hastily over it in the lecture-room, while others of his section were reciting. It was evident from the first that he had no intention of going through the course, and both the professors and cadets of the older class had set him down for a ‘January Colt,’ before the ­[page 40:] corps had been in barracks a week. Poe disappointed them, however, for he did not remain until the January examination, that pons asinorum of plebe life at West Point. He resigned, I think, early in December, having been a member of the corps a little over five months.”* The memory of the writer was at fault when he penned the last two paragraphs: Poe did not resign in December, as he thought, and he did remain until the January examination.

The intellectual cleverness of Poe was generally recognized, and the poetical form which it assumed was much admired. He wrote local squibs that enjoyed a wide circulation, and he impressed his comrades with the extent of his reading. He was nothing, if not critical. “The whole bent of his mind at that time,” says the writer just quoted, “seemed to be towards criticism — or, more properly speaking, cavilling. Whether it was Shakespeare or Byron, Addison or Johnson — the acknowledged classic or the latest poetaster — all came in alike for his critical censure. ­[page 41:] He seemed to take especial delight in cavilling at passages that had received the most unequivocal stamp of general approval. I never heard him speak in terms of praise of any English writer, living or dead.” Poe was a careful reader, and he became a careful writer, but not while he was at West Point. He was too idle to take much pains with anything, and too dissipated to be very ambitious. Instead of his boyish drink, champagne, he drank brandy, and his room was seldom without a bottle of the best that could be smuggled in. It shattered his nerves, and made him appear much older than he was. “He had a worn, weary, discontented look, not easily forgotten by those who were intimate with him. Poe was easily fretted by any jest at his expense, and was not a little annoyed by a story that some of the class got up to the effect that he had procured a cadet’s appointment for his son, and the boy having died, the father had substituted himself in his place. Another report current in the corps was that he was a grandson of Benedict Arnold. Some good-natured friend told him of it, and Poe did ­[page 42:] not contradict it, but seemed rather pleased than otherwise at the mistake.”

The January examination came, and a severe one it was for poor Poe. He was brought before a general court-martial on the 7th of that month (1831) under the following charges: —

“ ‘Charge I. Gross neglect of all duty.

Charge II. Disobedience of orders.’

“The specifications set forth time, place, &c., &c. To both charges the accused pleaded ‘guilty,’ and so the court found, and sentenced him to be dismissed the service of the United States, which sentence was afterwards approved at the War Department, and carried into effect March 6th, 1831.”* What was to become of him? He had no right to expect that Mr. Allan would condone his follies, for Mrs. Allan, who had been his mediator so long, was dead. She died before he went to West Point, and Mr. Allan had married again. Worse than that, a child had been born ­[page 43:] to him, and Poe could no longer expect to be his heir. What could he do next? He resolved to publish a volume of his poems by subscription, and an announcement to that effect was circulated among the cadets. The price was large, — two dollars and fifty cents a copy; but his late comrades paid it, almost to a man, in advance. When the volume appeared they were disgusted with it. “It was a penny volume, of about fifty pages, bound in boards, and badly printed on coarse paper, and, worse than all, it contained not one of the squibs and satires upon which his reputation at West Point had been built up. Few of the poems contained in that collection now appear in any of the editions of his works, and such as have been preserved have been very much altered for the better. For months afterwards quotations from Poe formed the standing material for jests in the corps, and his reputation for genius went down at once to zero. I doubt if even the ‘Raven’ of his after-years ever entirely effaced from the minds of his class the impression received from that volume.” ­[page 44:]

Poe’s second volume, which was by no means so puny and ill-looking as the inaccurate memory of his anecdotist would lead us to believe, was in a certain sense a re-issue of his first pamphlet of verse, of which it claimed to be a second edition. It contained “Al Aaraaf” and “Tamerlane,” and omitted the lesser pieces, the omission being more than supplied by pieces of a later date. It was respectfully dedicated to “The U. S. Corps of Cadets,” and was ushered into the world by a long rambling “Letter,” which purported to be written at West Point, —— 1831, and was addressed to “Dear B——,” who was understood to be Mr. Edward Lytton Bulwer, the novelist, with whom, of course, the writer had not the slightest acquaintance! Why Poe’s late comrades should have sneered at it as they did, except that they were enraged at the good taste which had discarded the local squibs by which they preferred to remember him, it is difficult to see. If they had possessed any real poetical taste, they could not have failed to detect its many indications of excellence. It was a ­[page 45:] young book, crude and immature, with an abundance of faults; but there was more than promise in it — there was achievement. There were, nearly as we have them now, “Israfel,” “The City in the Sea,” and the beautiful. stanzas “To Helen,” besides the rough drafts, so to say, of “Lenore” and “The Sleeper.” Clearly, a new poet had risen.

But the cashiered cadet — what was to become of him? He is said to have returned to Richmond, and to have been again received into the house of Mr. Allan; and he is also said to have returned, and to have been denied admittance. The latter circumstance, which appears the most probable one, is stated to have been caused by his own impudence. It is the recollection of the lady who was his playmate in childhood that he insisted on seeing Mr. Allan, who was confined to his bed by illness, and that Mrs. Allan, not being willing to risk the scene that was likely to have ensued, refused him admittance to her husband’s room. This excited his wrath, and he broke forth into invectives against her of a nature so insulting ­[page 46:] that it became necessary Mr. Allan should know of them, and that he should be forbidden the house. There are other versions of this painful affair, but as none are more creditable to Poe, there is no occasion to repeat them now. Enough that he was discarded by his benefactor, who died three years afterwards, leaving a large fortune, and three children to inherit it.

Whither Poe went next, and how he earned his bread, are matters for conjecture. He is supposed to have gone to Baltimore, where his brother was, and where he had an uncle living, and to have tried to support himself by writing. If such was the fact, his chances were far from brilliant. It is the fashion with biographers of a certain sort to maintain that the contributions of the young geniuses whom they celebrate were eagerly sought for by publishers; but if they know anything of literature, they must know better. Poe had as much genius in his way as any American writer, but he was always poor, and I question whether at this time even newspapers wanted or paid for any articles that he may have written. That they could ­[page 47:] not have done so to any great extent is proved, I think, by the next escapade which he is said to have made, and which ended in his enlisting in the army as a private soldier. He was recognized, we are told, by officers who had known him at West Point, and who interested themselves privately, and with prospects of success, in obtaining a commission for him. We are also told that he deserted before it could be obtained. “No authority is given for this story, which I, for one, do not credit. It is too much like an adventure of Coleridge’s, which probably suggested it to its first imaginative narrator, desertion being added in Poe’s case to show how reckless he had become.

The obscurities of Poe’s life began now to disappear, and his biographers find for the first time in two years something like solid ground before them. It is in Baltimore, where Poe is living from hand to mouth — with very little in his hand to put into his mouth. It is the summer, or early autumn of 1833, and the proprietors of the Saturday Visitor [[Visiter]] have offered two prizes to the aspiring literati of America — one for the best ­[page 48:] tale that may be sent them, the other for the best poem. Among those who competed was Poe, who submitted a poem and six prose sketches. The elegance of his penmanship tempted one of the committee who was to make the award to read several pages of the MS. volume in which these sketches were written. He was interested in them, as were also the others, so much so that they decided to read no more of the manuscripts, but to give the prizes to “the first of geniuses who had written legibly.” When the confidential envelope was opened, it was found that the writer’s name was Poe, and Mr. Poe was accordingly notified by advertisement of his success. He waited at once upon the publisher of the Saturday Visitor [[Visiter ]], who was moved by his appearance. This gentleman described Poe to one of the committee, Mr. John P. Kennedy, author of “Swallow Barn” and “Horse Shoe Robinson,” whose sympathies were excited in his behalf, and who desired that he should call upon him. He came just as he was (the prize money not having been paid him), thin, pale, with the ­[page 49:] marks of sickness and destitution in his face. His seedy coat, buttoned up tight to the chin, concealed the absence of a shirt. Less successful were his boots, through whose crevices his lack of hose was seen. Out at elbows as he was, the gentleman was apparent in his bearing, and the man of genius in his conversation. He related his history (though hardly, I imagine, as I have related it), and Mr. Kennedy resolved to befriend him. The pair went to a tailor’s shop, and Poe was rigged out in a respectable suit, with changes of linen and the like. He was on his feet once more, “clothed and in his right mind.”

The kindness of Poe’s new friends restored his self-respect, and he set to work industriously. The most influential of the number, Mr. Kennedy, interested himself warmly in his welfare, and sought opportunities to serve him as a man of letters. He was enabled to do so towards the close of the following year by recommending him to the proprietor of The Southern Literary Messenger, a new magazine which had been started in Richmond. Poe’s first contribution to the ­[page 50:] Messenger was published in March, 1835. It was a tale entitled “Berenice,” and it was thought so highly of, that the editor called attention to it in this provincial fashion: “‘Berenice,’ a tale, by Mr. Edgar A. Poe, will be read with interest, especially by the patrons of the Messenger in this city, of which Mr. P. is a native, and where he resided until manhood. Whilst we confess that we think there is too much German horror in his subject, there can be but one opinion as to the force and elegance of his style. He discovers a superior capacity and a highly-cultivated taste in composition.” The next number of the Messenger contained another tale of Poe’s, and the following critical estimate of his talents: “Morella will unquestionably prove that Mr. Poe has great powers of imagination, and a command of language seldom surpassed. Yet we cannot but lament that he has drank so deep at some enchanted fountain, which seems to blend in his fancy the shadows of the tomb with the clouds and sunshine of life. We doubt, however, if anything in the same style can be cited which contains ­[page 51:] more terrific beauty than this tale.” The next three numbers of the Messenger contained three more of Poe’s tales, “Lionizing,” “Hans Phaall,” and “The Visionary.”

That Poe was a great success for the Messenger did not escape the penetration of its proprietor. It was shown by the critical notices of the magazine, in which his stories were extravagantly lauded. It was shown, too, by the disparagements to which they were subjected. The latter were not relished by the editor, who published a card in reference to them, which is worthy of preservation: “As one or two of the criticisms in relation to the Tales of our contributor, Mr. Poe, have been directly at variance with those generally expressed, we take the liberty of inserting here an extract from a letter (signed by three gentlemen of the highest standing in literary matters) which we find in the Baltimore Visitor [[Visiter]]. This paper having offered a premium for the best Prose Tale, and the best Poem — both these premiums were awarded by the committee to Mr. Poe. The award was, however, ­[page 52:] subsequently altered so as to exclude Mr. Poe from the second premium, in consideration of his having obtained the higher one. Here follows the extract: ‘Among the prose articles offered many were of various and distinguished merit, but the singular force and beauty of those sent by the author of Tales of the Folio Club leave us no room for hesitation in that department. We have accordingly awarded the premium to a Tale entitled MS. found in a Bottle. It would hardly be doing justice to say that the Tale we have chosen is the best of the six offered by him. We cannot refrain from saying that the author owes it to his own reputation, as well as to the gratification of the community, to publish the entire volume (the Tales of the Folio Club). These Tales are eminently distinguished by a wild, vigorous, and poetical imagination — a rich style — a fertile invention — and varied and curious learning.

‘JOHN P. KENNEDY,

‘J. H. B. LATROBE,

‘JAMES H. MILLER.’ ­[page 53:]

“We presume this letter must set the question at rest. ‘Lionizing’ is one of the tales here spoken of — ‘The Visionary’ is another. The Tales of the Folio Club are sixteen in all, and we believe it is the author’s intention to publish them in the autumn. When such men as Miller, Latrobe, Kennedy, Tucker, and Paulding speak unanimously of any literary productions in terms of exalted commendation, it is nearly unnecessary to say that we are willing to abide by their decision.”

Mr. Kennedy kept a watchful eye over the interests of Poe, who remained in Baltimore, doing whatever literary work came in his way. He wrote reviews, and began a tragedy, which he was wise enough to abandon after writing a few scenes. The propriety of his going to Richmond was mooted by the proprietor of the Messenger, and he was delighted: “I am anxious to settle myself in that city,” he wrote, “and if, by any chance, you hear of a situation likely to suit me, I would gladly accept it, were the salary even the merest trifle. I should, indeed, feel myself greatly indebted ­[page 54:] to you if through your means I could accomplish this object. What you say in the conclusion of your letter, in relation to the supervision of proof sheets, gives me reason to hope that possibly you might find something for me to do in your office. If so, I should be very glad, for at present only a small portion of my time is employed.” This was in the summer of 1835; in the autumn Poe removed to Richmond. He was not so delighted as he expected to be, why, we can readily imagine. He was among those who knew him and his history — in the city of his petted boyhood and wilful early manhood — the city of his hopes and his disgrace. Once he could hold up his head proudly there. Now — if he did not hang his head it was only because his intellectual pride was indomitable. He was disowned, poor, the miserable hack of a publisher. He was dissatisfied with his situation, but his good friend, Mr. Kennedy, could not guess why. “I am sorry,” he wrote, “to see you in such a plight as your letter shows you in. It is strange that just at this time, when everybody is praising you, and when fortune ­[page 55:] is beginning to smile upon your hitherto wretched circumstances, you should be invaded by these blue devils. It belongs, however, to your age and temper to be thus buffeted — but be assured it only wants a little resolution to master the adversary for ever. You will, doubtless, do well henceforth in literature, and add to your comforts as well as to your reputation, which it gives me great pleasure to assure you is everywhere rising in popular esteem.” Mr. Kennedy wrote like the prosperous gentleman he was; he could not put himself in Poe’s place. He had not led the life that Poe had, and he had not his temperament and his temptation.

Poe’s editorial connection with the Messenger commenced with the second volume, which was started in December, 1835, with a flourish of trumpets about its contributors. “Among these we hope to be pardoned for singling out the name of Mr. Edgar A. Poe; not with design to make any invidious distinction, but because such mention of him finds numberless precedents in the journals on every side, which have sung ­[page 56:] the praises of his uniquely original vein of imagination, and of humorous, delicate satire.” The new editor remembered that he had an unfinished tragedy, and he printed three scenes of it; he remembered that a story of his had taken a prize, and he re-printed that. He remembered also, that he had published two little volumes of verse, and he soon gave a sample of the second, forgetting to mention that it had been published before. These volumes were very useful to him, when he was not in the mood for writing, and they never lost their usefulness while he was alive.

Poe was not a good editor. He lacked catholicity of taste, and sweetness of temper. He was dogmatic, insolent, impracticable, and always squabbling. He had the genius of the Celt for creating a row; a revolution was beyond his powers. He provoked literary quarrels — a feat that required no great talent in the then condition of American literature. His reviews were usually personal, and therefore worthless. He had no settled standard of criticism, except that he was ­[page 57:] infallible, even when contradictory. All this might have been borne by his publisher, as it was by his readers, to whom it was novel; but unfortunately his publisher had an old-fashioned sense of right and wrong. He had another old-fashioned sense, the sense of sobriety, which Poe violated, and for which he was dismissed. He made promises, and his friends made overtures towards reconciliation which were kindly received. “My dear Edgar,” his simple-minded publisher wrote, “I cannot address you in such language as this occasion and my feelings demand: I must be content to speak to you in my plain way. That you are sincere in all your promises I firmly believe. But when you once again tread these streets, I have my fears that your resolutions will fail, and that you will again drink till your senses are lost. If you rely on your strength you are gone. Unless you look to your Maker for help you will not be safe. How much I regretted parting from you is known to Him only and myself. I had become attached to you; I am still; and I would willingly say return, did not a ­[page 58:] knowledge of your past life make me dread a speedy renewal of our separation. If you would make yourself contented with quarters in my house, or with any other private family, where liquor is not used, I should think there was some hope for you. But if you go to a tavern, or to any place where it is used at table, you are not safe. You have fine talents, Edgar, and you ought to have them respected as well as yourself. Learn to respect yourself, and you will soon find that you are respected. Separate yourself from the bottle, and from bottle companions, for ever.” Poe promised to do this, and no doubt struggled to keep his word. But he failed, as did finally the patience of his publisher. They separated, and the readers of the Messenger were informed of the fact in January, 1837. “Mr. Poe’s attention being called in another direction, he will decline, with the present number, the editorial duties of the Messenger. His critical notices for this month end with Professor Anthon’s ‘Cicero;’ what follows is from another hand. With the best wishes to the magazine, and to its few foes as well as many ­[page 59:] friends, he is now desirous of bidding all parties a peaceable farewell.”

Not to be behind his father in imprudence Poe married, during his residence in Richmond, his cousin, Virginia Clemm, who was as poor as himself, and whose chief qualification for being his wife consisted in a sweet face, a gentle temper, and — in loving him! The young couple flitted from Richmond to Baltimore, and soon after to Philadelphia and New York. Their visit to the latter city seems to have been occasioned by Poe’s desire to publish there “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket,” the opening chapters of which had already appeared in the Messenger. This, the longest of his fictions, was published in the summer of 1838. It received but little attention in America, but was more successful in England. Such, at least, was the belief of the late Mr. George P. Putnam, the well-known American publisher, to whom, in London, the volume was sent. “Here is an American contribution to geographical science,” he remarked to another publisher, who was sitting in his office. ­[page 60:] “This man has reached a higher latitude than any European navigator. Let us reprint this for Mr. Bull.” His brother publisher assented, and took a half share in the venture. The grave particularity of the title and of the narrative misled many of the critics as well as the unsuspicious publishers, and whole columns of these new “discoveries,” including the hieroglyphics found on the rocks, were copied by the English papers as sober historical truth.*

Not long after the publication of the veracious “Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” Poe and his young wife flitted back to Philadelphia. Here he made the acquaintance of Mr. William E. Burton, an English comedian of note, who had emigrated to America about five years before. Originally intended for the church, his talents as an amateur led him to become an actor on the Norwich circuit, and afterwards at the Haymarket. He had dabbled in literature in England, and being a pushing man was ambitious to do the same in America. So he started a periodical, ­[page 61:] which, remembering old Sylvanus Urban, he christened “The Gentleman’s Magazine,” and which he edited after a fashion himself. Poe’s acknowledged genius and poverty made him useful to Mr. Burton, who installed him in the editorial chair of his periodical in June, 1839. His services were slight, since they occupied only two hours a day; but his salary was still slighter, since it amounted to only ten dollars a week! With the exception of the book notices, which appear to be from his pen, his contributions to the first number of the magazine in his charge consisted of two brief poems, “To Ianthe in Heaven,” which was probably printed for the first time (though it was afterwards re-written and entitled “To One in Paradise”), and “Spirits of the Dead,” which was re-printed verbatim from the first of his useful little volumes. The first of these was acknowledged, the last was not. They were followed in the next number by “Fairy-land,” and “To the River,” which were also re-printed verbatim from his first volume, and by two stanzas addressed “To ——.” As they were afterwards rewritten, ­[page 62:] and addressed to Mrs. Frances Sargent Osgood, an American poetess, I am tempted to give them as they stood originally.

TO ——.

Fair maiden, let thy generous heart

From its present pathway part not —

Being everything which now thou art,

Be nothing which thou art not.

 

So with the world thy gentle ways,

Thy unassuming beauty,

Thy truth — shall be a theme of praise

Forever, and love a duty.

The succeeding number of the magazine contained one of Poe’s finest stories, the best, perhaps, that he had yet written, “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

The remarkable story of “William Wilson,” already referred to as being in a certain sense autobiographic, appeared next, but not as an original contribution, since it was credited to the annual in which it was about to be published, — “The Gift for 1840.” A month later “Morella,” his second contribution to the Messenger, did duty for the second time, in the shape ­[page 63:] of an extract from a collection of his writings: “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” which was then passing through the press. The last number of that year contained “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmian [[Charmion]].”

The next volume was ostensibly edited by Poe and Mr. Burton, the names of both figuring on the title-page, but Poe’s labours there were scanty, consisting of “The Business Man,” a slight story, a paper on “The Philosophy of Furniture,” a biographical notice of William Cullen Bryant, and the book reviews, which for the most part were slashing, one on Longfellow’s “Voices of the Night” being especially so, accusing him of plagiarizing his “Midnight Mass for the Dying Year,” from Tennyson’s “Death of the Old Year.”

There was trouble between Poe and Burton — the old trouble that caused him to leave the Messenger — the devil that was shut up in his sensitive nature, and that would out when the fit seized it, and him. Mr. Burton never could be certain when he left the city ­[page 64:] that copy would be forthcoming for the printer — never could be certain of anything, in fact, unless he stood to the fore himself. They separated, but Poe was penitent and struggled to amend, and they came together again. “You must rouse your energies,” the sensible comedian wrote, “and if care assail you, conquer it. I will gladly overlook the past. I hope you will as easily fulfil your pledges for the future. We shall agree very well, though I cannot permit the magazine to be made a vehicle for that sort of severity which you think is so ‘successful with the mob.’ I am truly much less anxious about making a monthly ‘sensation’ than I am upon the point of fairness. You must, my dear sir, get rid of your avowed ill feelings towards your brother authors. You see I speak plainly: I cannot do otherwise on such a subject. You say the people love havoc: I think they love justice.” This was good literary advice, but Poe was not the man to take it. He was nothing if not critical. His connection with The Gentleman’s Magazine ceased in June, 1840. The magazine lived six ­[page 65:] months longer, when it was merged in The Casket, another Philadelphia periodical, which was reissued as Graham’s Magazine. Poe was engaged to edit this, and did so for about a year and a half The old failing continued to overcome him, but it did not prevent his writing several remarkable stories, and many biting criticisms. He was a politic critic, however, when it suited his interest to be so, as it did in the case of Dr. Rufus Wilmot Griswold, with whom he became acquainted in the spring of 1841. Dr. Griswold was a Baptist Minister, who had forsaken the pulpit for literature, as he understood it; had published a volume of poems anonymously, a volume of sermons, and was engaged on a bulky volume on “The Poets and Poetry of America.” He was a man of some talent and great industry, with a passion for compiling from the works of his betters. Poe naturally desired to stand well with him, and to appear to poetical advantage in his great work; so he sent him a number of his poems. “I should be proud,” he wrote, “to see one or two of them in your book.” ­[page 66:] When the book appeared, he wrote further: “It is of immense importance as a guide to what we have done, but you have permitted your good nature to influence you to a degree.” The last half of this sentence was as true as the first half was false. Nobody knew this so well as Poe; but he continued, “It is a better book than any other man in the United States could have made out of the materials: this I will say.” It is a pity that he would say it, for he soon retracted it in a lecture, wherein Dr. Griswold was sharply reviewed.

The restless nature of Poe chafed under the duties which his editorship imposed upon him, and he had scarcely assumed it before he began to cast about for a means of escape from it. One of his friends, Mr. F. W. Thomas, a novelist of some repute thirty years ago, obtained a situation under the Government at Washington, and the knowledge of this fact reaching Poe, he thought he would like to better his fortune in the same way. “Would to God,” he wrote to Mr. Thomas, “I could do as you have done! Do you ­[page 67:] seriously think that an application to Tyler would have a good result? My claims, to be sure, are few. I am a Virginian, at least I call myself one, for I have resided all my life, until within the last few years, in Richmond. My political principles have always been, as nearly as may be, with the existing administration, and I battled with right good will for Harrison when opportunity offered. With Mr. Tyler I have some slight personal acquaintance — although this is a matter which he has possibly forgotten. For the rest, I am a literary man, and I see a disposition in Government to cherish letters. Have I any chance?”

Eight days later he wrote again to Mr. Thomas. It was the national holiday of the United States, — the Fourth of July — the populace was in the streets, the bells were ringing, cannon were being fired, muskets and pistols discharged — it was the maddest, merriest day imaginable; but not to Poe, as he sat pen in hand, tracing these words: “I wish to God I could visit Washington — but the old story, you know — I have no money — not even enough to take me there, ­[page 68:] saying nothing of getting back. It is a hard thing to be poor — but as I am kept so by an honest motive, I dare not complain. Your suggestion about Mr. Kennedy is well timed; and here, Thomas, you can do me a true service. Call upon Kennedy — you know him I believe — if not, introduce yourself — he is a perfect gentleman, and will give you cordial welcome. Speak to him of my wishes, and urge him to see the Secretary of War in my behalf — or one of the other Secretaries, or President Tyler. I mention in particular the Secretary of War, because I have been to W. Point, and this may stand me in some stead. I would be glad to get almost any appointment — even a $500 one — so that I have something independent of letters for a subsistence. To coin one’s brain into silver, at the nod of a master, is to my thinking the hardest task in the world. Mr. Kennedy has been at all times a true friend to me — he was the first true friend I ever had — I am indebted to him for life itself. He will be willing to help me, I know — but needs urging, for he is always head-and-ears in business. Thomas, may I ­[page 69:] depend upon you?” Mr. Thomas interested himself still further, but no appointment could be obtained.

How Poe could have been so poor as this letter indicates, while he was the editor of the most popular magazine in America, I cannot understand. His publisher was liberal and kind to him, although he had to part with him at last, — not much to the sorrow of Dr. Griswold, who succeeded him as the editor of Graham’s Magazine. It is a pity that the two men ever knew each other; for each being what he was, — the one wayward and disappointed, the other cold-blooded, politic, and successful, — their relations could never have been pleasant, much less just. If they had never met, we should have been spared some knowledge of Poe that we would willingly spare — at least from Dr. Griswold, who could remember, when Poe was dead, that he had once lent him five dollars when he and his wife were sick! Of Poe at this time we have the following description by his unforgetting and unforgiving creditor, who seems to have tried for once to relent: “His manner, except during his fits of ­[page 70:] intoxication, was very quiet and gentlemanly. He was usually dressed with simplicity and elegance, and when once he sent for me to visit him, during a period of illness caused by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife, I was impressed by the singular neatness and the air of refinement in his home. It was in a small house in one of the pleasant and silent neighbourhoods far from the centre of the town, and though slightly and cheaply furnished, everything in it was so tasteful and so fitly disposed that it seemed altogether suitable for a man of genius. For this, and for most of the comforts he enjoyed in his brightest as in his darkest years, he was chiefly indebted to his mother-in-law, who loved him with more than maternal devotion and constancy.”

In the autumn of 1844 Poe flitted back to New York. His reputation had largely increased since his previous residence there six years before, and he soon held his own as a journalist. His first literary work in New York was on the Mirror, an evening paper, conducted by Mr. N. P. Willis and General George P. ­[page 71:] Morris. He was sub-editor in general and critic in particular, and was much liked by his brother poets, who were men of mark, for the time, especially Mr. Willis. They had been led by common report to expect a very capricious attention to his duties, and were very agreeably disappointed in this respect. He was at his desk in the editorial room from nine in the morning till the Mirror went to press, — an industrious, affable gentleman. “With his pale, beautiful, and intellectual face as a reminder of what genius was in him, it was impossible, of course, not to treat him always with deferential courtesy; and to an occasional request that he would not probe too deep in a criticism, or that he would erase a passage coloured too highly with his resentments against society and mankind, he readily and courteously assented, far more yielding than most men, we thought, on points so excusably sensitive. With a prospect of taking the lead in another periodical he at last voluntarily gave up his employment with us.”* ­[page 72:]

The periodical referred to was The Broadway Journal, which was commenced in January, 1845, and edited by Mr. Henry C. Watson, a young journalist from Philadelphia, and Mr. Charles F. Briggs, author of “Harry Franco” and other stories. Poe became connected with it just after the publication of “The Raven” in the February number of a new periodical entitled The American Review. It made a great sensation, though his name was not attached to it, and it was at first attributed to the one versifier above all others in America who could not have written it — Mr. Willis. It was published as by “—— Quarles,” and preceded by this singular introduction, which, if not written by Poe, was certainly inspired by him: “The following lines from a correspondent, besides the deep quaint strain of the sentiment, and the curious introduction of some ludicrous touches amidst the serious and impressive, as was doubtless intended by the author — appear to us one of the most felicitous specimens of unique rhyming which has for some time met our eye. The resources of English rhythm for varieties ­[page 73:] of melody, measure, and sound, producing corresponding diversities of effect, have been thoroughly studied, much more perceived, by very few poets in the language. While the classic tongues, especially the Greek, possess, by power of accent, several advantages for versification over our own, chiefly through greater abundance of spondaic feet, we have other and very great advantages of sound by the modern usage of rhyme. Alliteration is nearly the only effect of that kind which the ancients had in common with us. It will be seen that much of the melody of ‘The Raven’ arises from alliteration, and the studious use of similar sounds in unusual places. In regard to its measure, it may be noted that, if all the verses were like the second, they might properly be placed merely in short lines, producing a not uncommon form; but the presence in all the others of one line — mostly the second in the verse — which flows continuously, with only an aspirate pause in the middle, like that before the short line in the Sapphic Adonic, while the fifth has at the middle pause no similarity of sound with ­[page 74:] any part beside, gives the versification an entirely different effect. We could wish the capacities of our noble language, in prosody, were better understood. — ED. Am. Rev.”

Poe was now a famous man; for those who were skilled in literary matters detected him as the author of “The Raven,” which was acknowledged to be his in the Index of the first volume of the American Review. It was the recollection of its publisher that he was paid ten dollars for it! How it was written Poe explained, at a later period, in a paper entitled “The Philosophy of Composition,” which who can may believe. It is very ingenious, and utterly incredible. The success of “The Raven” caused other poems from the same pen to be in request. They were found ready made in Poe’s second volume, now fourteen years old; and, though they had been reprinted in the Messenger, they were rewritten and reprinted again in the American Review, “The Valley Nis” appearing as “The Valley of Unrest,” and “The Doomed City” as “The City in the Sea.” ­[page 75:]

The same process of reproduction was going on at the same time in The Broadway Journal, only to a greater extent. If I may judge of the two volumes to which it extended by the second, which is the only one that I have seen, he reprinted in it nearly everything that he had written. His old stories turn up in almost every number, some with his name, others without it, and others, again, over the signature of Littleton Barry. The same resurrection awaited his old poems. It was an easy way of supplying “copy,” and it kept him before his countrymen.

The Broadway Journal, read in the light of to-day, is a curious medley of good and bad writing. It might be described as the Saturday Review of Billingsgate. It was savagely critical, and bitterly personal, not to say insulting. It astonished and amused its readers, which was all Poe cared for: that he was perpetually in hot water on account of it, could not have astonished, and could hardly have amused, him. It was useful to him, since it made him feared; and it was hurtful to him, since it made him hated. He obtained ­[page 76:] full possession of it in October — in other words, was editor and proprietor — and it was worse than before. He seemed determined to make it as atrocious as he could, and the occasion was offered by a fiasco of his own in Boston. He was invited to deliver a poem before the Boston Lyceum, and unwisely accepted. He was expected to write a poem for the occasion, but he could not do so. He might have pleaded illness, as he had done once before, but he did not do that. He went and read one of his early poems, the one that he claimed to have printed in Boston in his eighteenth year — “Al Aaraaf.” His audience was disappointed, and a newspaper squabble ensued. Poe defended himself in The Broadway Journal. He scouted the idea that he could possibly write a poem for Boston: the Bostonians would not have understood a new poem by him, so he gave them an old one, which he wrote before he had fairly completed his tenth year! It was good enough for them. The tone of his articles may be inferred from one paragraph, which is remarkable as containing the admission ­[page 77:] that he was born in Boston, when he had always claimed Baltimore as his birthplace. “We like Boston: we were born there — and perhaps it is just as well to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin-pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their common is no common thing, and the duck-pond might answer — if its answer could be heard for the frogs.”

Poe continued his connection with the American Review during this period of turmoil, and among the tales which he published there was “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” which was widely copied, and created much discussion. It was accepted as true by the pseudo scientific world, which was just what Poe desired. He published, besides, a volume of his “Tales,” and “The Raven, and other Poems.”

It was while he was one of the editors of The Broadway Journal that I became acquainted with Poe, and my reminiscences of him, slight as they are, must be the excuse, if any is needed, for the apparent egotism ­[page 78:] of what follows. I was a young man, and I had a weakness not wholly confined to young men. I wrote verse, and thought it poetry. Something that I had written assumed that pleasing form to my deluded imagination. It was “An Ode on a Grecian Flute.” I have a strong suspicion that I was fresh from the reading of Keats, and that I particularly admired his “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Be this as it may, I sent my ode to The Broadway Journal, I presume, with a letter addressed to Edgar A. Poe, Esq., and waited with fear and trembling. One week, two weeks passed, and it did not appear. Evidently the demand for odes was slack. When I could bear my disappointment no longer, I made time to take a long walk to the office of The Broadway Journal, and asked for Mr. Poe. He was not in. Might I inquire where he lived? I was directed to a street and a number that I have forgotten, but it was in the eastern part of the city, a neighbourhood now given up to sundry of the tribes of Israel. I knocked at the street-door, and was presently shown up to Poe’s chambers, on the ­[page 79:] second or third floor. He received me very kindly. I told my errand, and he promised that my ode should be printed next week. I was struck with his polite manner toward me, and with the elegance of his appearance. He was slight and pale, I saw, with large, luminous eyes, and was dressed in black. When I quitted the room I could not but see Mrs. Poe, who was lying on a bed, apparently asleep. She, too, was dressed in black, and was pale and wasted. “Poor lady!” I thought; “she is dying of consumption.” I was sad on her account, but glad on my own; for had I not seen a real live author, the great Edgar Allan Poe, and was not my ode to be published at once in his paper?

I bought the next number of The Broadway Journal, but the ode was not in it. It was mentioned, however, somewhat in this style: “We decline to publish the ‘Ode on a Grecian Flute,’ unless we can be assured of its authenticity.” I was astounded, as almost any young man would have been. I was indignant also. I made time to take another long walk to the office of ­[page 80:] The Broadway Journal, and asked again for Mr. Poe. I was told that he was out, but would probably be in in half an hour. I sauntered about, heating myself in the hot sun, and went back at the end of an hour. Poe had returned, and was in the inner office. He was sitting on a chair asleep, but the publisher woke him. He was in a morose mood. “Mr. Poe,” I said, “I have called to assure you of the authenticity of the ‘Ode on a Grecian Flute.’ ” He gave me the lie direct, declared that I never wrote it, and threatened to chastise me unless I left him at once. I was more indignant and astounded than before; but I left him as he desired, and walked slowly home, “chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancies.” I could not understand then why I had been subjected to such an indignity. I can now. When I came to think the matter over, I was rather flattered than otherwise; for had not the great Poe declared that I did not write the poem, when I knew that I did? What a genius I must be!

I had glimpses of Poe afterwards in the streets, but ­[page 81:] we never spoke. The last time that I remember to have seen him was in the afternoon of a dreary autumn day. A heavy shower had come up suddenly, and he was standing under an awning. I had an umbrella, and my impulse was to share it with him on his way home; but something — certainly, not unkindness — withheld me. I went on and left him there in the rain, pale, shivering, miserable, the embodiment of his own

Unhappy master,

Whom unmerciful disaster

Followed fast, and followed faster.

The Broadway Journal died a natural death in January, 1846, and Poe devoted himself to writing a series of short critical articles for The Lady’s Book, a Philadelphia magazine of a miscellaneous, millinery character. Their subjects were, “The Literati of New York,” who were handled according to his personal relations with them, most without gloves, a few with extreme tenderness. These articles possessed little or no value as criticisms, but as they were ­[page 82:] cleverly written, they were eagerly read. A could relish Poe’s smartness at the expense of B, and B could relish it at the expense of A; but each was indignant with him for what he wrote about him — whether any expressed Poe’s “honest opinions” may be doubted; there can be no doubt that they contained “occasional words of personality.” They added to his popularity with the mob, however, as the success which his tales had met with abroad added to his reputation with men of his own profession. They had been translated in France, where they were much admired for their curious analytical power. One of them, “The Murders of the Rue Morgue,” was served up as a feuilleton in two French journals, and occasioned a law-suit, in the course of which it came out that, so far from being the property of either, the tale was a direct theft from “Un Romancier Americain,” named Poe. The publicity given to this fact, and the appearance, shortly afterwards, of a paper on Poe’s writings in the Revue des Deux Mondes, resulted in the translation of all his best tales. ­[page 83:]

Poe was now a celebrity, and his society was sought after by ambitious ladies of a literary turn of mind. Mrs. Leo Hunter was at home on stated evenings during the winter months, and among the lions whom she enticed to her parlour came Poe and his wife. What is chiefly rememembered [[remembered]] of Poe in these evenings is, that his manners were refined and agreeable, and his style and scope of conversation were those of a gentleman and a scholar. His conversational powers are much dwelt upon by his admirers. Mrs. Poe played the part of a silent and admiring listener on these occasions, winning all hearts with her sweet, pale, girlish face. It was evident to those whose perceptions were sharpened by experience in sick-rooms, that she had not long to live, and it was equally evident that her husband was deeply attached to her. Friends and foes alike bore testimony to this bright spot in his character. The natural refinement of his nature drew him towards women, of whom he was a gentle student, and in whose society he delighted. He was lenient to literary women; more lenient, in some ­[page 84:] cases, than strict justice warranted; so lenient, indeed, in general, that his criticisms upon them were worthless. He especially admired the graceful talents of Mrs. Osgood, who has recorded her recollections of him, in a tender, womanly fashion. “It was in his own simple, yet poetical home, that to me the character of Edgar Poe appeared in its most beautiful light. Playful, affectionate, witty — alternately docile and wayward as a petted child — for his young, gentle, idolized wife, and for all who came, he had, even in the midst of his most harassing literary duties, a kind word, a pleasant smile, a graceful and courteous attention. At his desk, beneath the romantic picture of his loved and lost Lenore, he would sit hour after hour, patient, assiduous, and uncomplaining, tracing in an exquisitely clear chirography, and with almost superhuman swiftness, the lightning thoughts, the ‘rare and radiant’ fancies, as they flashed through his wonderful and ever-wakeful brain. I recollect one morning, towards the close of his residence in this city, when he seemed unusually gay and light-hearted, Virginia, ­[page 85:] his sweet wife, had written me a pressing invitation to come to them; and I, who could never resist her affectionate summons, and who enjoyed his society far more in his home than elsewhere, hastened to Amity Street. I found him just completing his series of papers, ‘The Literati of New York.’ ‘See,’ said he, displaying, in laughing triumph, several little rolls of narrow paper (he always wrote thus), ‘I’m going to show you, by the difference of length in these, the different degrees of estimation in which I hold all you literary people. In each of these one of you is rolled up and fully discussed. Come, Virginia, help me!’ And one by one they unfolded them. At last they came to one which seemed interminable. Virginia, laughingly, ran to one corner of the room with one end, and her husband to the opposite with the other. ‘And whose lengthened sweetness long drawn out is that?’ said I. ‘Hear her,’ he cried, ‘just as if her vain little heart didn’t tell her it’s herself!’ ”* ­[page 86:]

In the summer of 1846, Poe removed to Fordham, a small town near New York. The cottage he occupied was buried in fruit-trees. There was a flower-garden on the premises, and near the door an old cherry-tree, in which birds used to build their nests and rear their young. Poe was fond of birds, flowers, and “the little people of nature” generally, and among his pets was a cat, which loved to seat itself on his shoulder, and purr to him as he wrote. A walk from his residence to High Bridge was one of his recreations, and, in the last years of his life, he might have been seen sauntering there at all hours of the day and night. A favourite haunt was a ledge of rocky ground crowned with pines and cedars, under which he delighted to sit, feasting his eyes on the quiet beauty of the landscape around him. He was alone on these occasions, and necessarily so, for his wife was failing fast, and the services of Mrs. Clemm were needed at her bedside, as were frequently his own, in the long, still watches of the night. Finally, he became ill, and the family were in want Mrs. ­[page 87:] Clemm proved his good angel, as she had always done. “It was a hard fate she was watching over,” Mr. Willis wrote, when the tragedy of Poe’s life was ended.* “Mr. Poe wrote with fastidious difficulty, and in a style too much above the popular level to be well paid. He was always in pecuniary difficulty, and, with his sick wife, frequently in want of the merest necessaries of life. Winter after winter, for years, the most touching sight in this whole city has been that tireless minister to genius, thinly and insufficiently clad, going from office to office with a poem or an article on some literary subject to sell, sometimes simply pleading in a broken voice that he was ill, and begging for him — mentioning nothing but that ‘he was ill,’ whatever might be the reason for his writing nothing — and never, amidst all her tears and recitals of distress, suffering one syllable to escape her lips that could convey a doubt of him, or a lessening of pride in his genius and good intentions.”

Attention was drawn to the illness of Poe and his ­[page 88:] wife in one of the New York journals, and by the manly comments made upon the circumstances by Mr. Willis in the Home Journal. Poe’s friends and admirers came promptly forward with contributions of money, which relieved him of his immediate embarrassments. This was in December, 1847. A few weeks later his wife was no longer with him. She died in January; and all that was mortal of her was buried, one cold winter day, in a cemetery at Fordham.

Poe published but little during the next twelve months. He busied himself with the grandest problem that the intellect of man has ever set itself to solve, the Problem of the Universe. This he solved to his own satisfaction, not like a man of science, which he was not, but like a poet. His work “haunted him like a passion.” He was incessantly dwelling upon it to Mrs. Clemm, who told me, after his death, how often he used to talk with her about it, and how one winter night in particular, they passed hours together, under the glittering starlight, walking up and ­[page 89:] down the little piazza of their cottage, he explaining the Cosmos to her, and she, I gathered, shivering with cold, though she would not for worlds have confessed it. She also told me that she had often heard her “dear Eddie” speak of me — which, I fancied, was a slip of memory on her part — and, further, as if there was ever present in her mind the necessity of saying something kind and motherly about him, that a single cup of coffee would intoxicate him, so sensitive was his nervous organization.

The poets are a curious race, so curious that the world never knows what to make of them. One of the most pathetic poems in the language, Wolfe’s exquisite lyric,

“If I had thought thou couldst have died,”

commemorates, we are told — not a woman whom he had loved, and lost, but an imaginary sorrow. Poe suffered many sorrows, the saddest and most recent being the death of the wife of his love, and he wrote that most singular of all requiems, “Ulalume.” There ­[page 90:] is no touch of grief in it, no reality of any kind, all is strange, dim, artificial. It was published, without his name, in the American Review, for December, 1847, but afterwards altered somewhat, and the concluding stanza, which is given below, was omitted: —

Said we, then — the two, then — “Ah, can it

Have been that the woodlandish ghouls —

The pitiful, the merciful ghouls —

To bar up our way and to ban it

From the secret that lies in these wolds —

From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds —

Had drawn up the spectre of a planet

From the limbo of lunary souls —

This sinfully scintillant planet

From the Hell of the planetary souls?”

Early in 1848 Poe announced his intention to lecture, for the purpose of obtaining the means of starting a periodical of his own, a scheme which was always in his mind. His first lecture was delivered in New York, at the Society Library, and was attended by a scanty audience, who were weary before it was over, since it occupied more than two hours in the delivery. It was what was published, not long afterward, under ­[page 91:] the title of “Eureka: a Prose Poem.” Its publication was brought about rather oddly, as Mr. Putnam, the original publisher, has told us. He was in his office one day when a gentleman entered, and with a somewhat nervous and excited manner, claimed attention on a subject which, he said, was of the highest importance. “Seated at my desk, and looking at me a full minute with his ‘glittering eye,’ he at length said, ‘I am Mr. Poe.’ I was ‘all ear,’ of course, and sincerely interested. It was the author of ‘The Raven,’ and of ‘The Gold Bug!’ ‘I hardly know,’ said the poet, after a pause, ‘how to begin what I have to say. It is a matter of profound importance.’ After another pause, the poet seeming to be in a tremor of excitement, he at length went on to say that the publication he had to propose was of momentous interest. Newton’s discovery of gravitation was a mere incident compared with the discoveries revealed in this book. It would at once command such unusual and intense interest that the publisher might give up all other enterprises, and make this one book the business ­[page 92:] of his lifetime. An edition of fifty thousand copies might be sufficient to begin with, but it would be but a small beginning. No other scientific event in the history of the world approached in importance the original developments of the book. All this and more, not in irony or in jest, but in intense earnest — for he held me with his eye like the Ancient Mariner. I was really impressed, but not overcome. Promising a decision on Monday (it was late Saturday p.m.), the poet had to rest so long in uncertainty, upon the extent of the edition, partly reconciled by a small loan meanwhile. We did venture, not upon fifty thousand, but five hundred. Even after this small edition was in type, the poet proposed to punish us by giving a duplicate of the MS. to another publisher, because a third little advance was deemed inexpedient.”*

I possess Poe’s own copy of “Eureka,” a shabby little duodecimo, from the library of Dr. Griswold, whose autograph it contains, as well as many corrections and additions in the handwriting of Poe, made with a view ­[page 93:] to a second edition, which was never called for. They are curious, as showing the extreme fastidiousness of his taste with regard to style, and one is especially interesting, as embodying what was probably the summum bonum of his theology. It is written in pencil on the last page of the volume, to the last paragraph of which it is appended. Here it is: — “Note. — The pain of the consideration that we shall lose our individual identity ceases at once when we further reflect that the process, as above described, is neither more nor less than that of the absorption, by each individual intelligence, of all other intelligences (that is, of the Universe) into its own. That God may be all in all, each must become God.”

Poe delivered some lectures in the summer of 1848, and wrote one of his most characteristic poems, the lines in blank verse addressed “To Helen.” He also made a journey to Richmond, for the purpose of procuring subscriptions for his never-to-be-published magazine, The Stylus. He resumed his connection with The Southern Literary Messenger, by an elaborate review of ­[page 94:] a worthless volume, and he held an insecure connection with the Philadelphia magazines. That wonderful piece of verbal melody, “The Bells,” appeared in Sartain’s Magazine, in 1849. When he first sent it to the editor, it consisted of only eighteen lines: a few months later he furnished another copy, altered and very much enlarged; finally he sent the poem as it is now printed. This was the first version:

THE BELLS.

The bells! — hear the bells!

The merry wedding bells!

The little silver bells!

How fairy-like a melody there swells

From the silver tinkling cells

Of the bells, bells, bells!

Of the bells!

The bells! — ah, the bells!

The heavy iron bells!

Hear the tolling of the bells!

Hear the knells!

How horrible a monody there floats

From their throats —

From their deep-toned throats!

How I shudder at the notes

From the melancholy throats

Of the bells, bells, bells —

Of the bells — ­[page 95:]

Poe wrote at this time, besides “The Bells,” the stanzas “For Anne [[Annie]],” and “Annabel Lee,” and a series of brief paragraphs which were published in the Messenger as “Marginalia.” In the summer of this year he made another journey from Fordham to Richmond, and under the impression that he might not return he requested that Dr. Griswold should be his literary executor. When he got as far as Philadelphia he fell in with some of his old boon companions, and was overcome by the old temptation. It was “hail-fellow, well met” with him while his money lasted. When it was all gone he was obliged to solicit charity for the means of reaching Richmond. When he was first heard of by his friends there he had been for several days at a sort of common tavern in a common part of the city. One of these friends, the late Mr. John R. Thompson, who was then editing the Messenger, took a carriage and drove thither with the intention of fetching him away, but he had disappeared. The tavern keeper knew nothing of his whereabouts, or who he was, except that he said his name was Poe, ­[page 96:] and that he had slept for a number of nights on the sanded floor of the bar-room. At the end of a week or ten days he appeared one morning at the office of Mr. Thompson, whom he knew only by correspondence, and introduced himself. His garments were old and seedy, but brushed with scrupulous care, and there were no signs of dissipation in his clean and fresh-shaved face. He asked permission to have his letters directed to Mr. Thompson’s box, and room enough in his office to write in, both of which requests were cordially granted. A desk was given him, and he was soon at his literary work — “Marginalia.” What Mr. Kennedy had done for him nearly sixteen years before in Baltimore was done for him now — he was rejuvenated as regards his clothing, and made presentable in society by Mr. Thompson’s tailor. For a time all went well with him, but at last he disappeared. At the end of several days he returned with a damaged eye. He had been mistaken for some one else by a ruffian in a bar-room, and knocked down without a word. He returned to his work, to disappear again. He was ­[page 96:] next heard of at a fashionable drinking saloon, where he was found explaining “Eureka” to a motley crowd of bar-room loungers. He returned to his work again, and made another effort to reform. He joined a temperance society, and gave a lecture, which was attended by the best people in Richmond. He renewed acquaintance with a lady whom he had loved in youth, and who was now a widow, and became engaged to her. He had but two things to do before they were married — one was to go to Philadelphia, and write a preface for a volume of feminine poetry, the other was to go to Fordham, and fetch Mrs. Clemm to the wedding.

He started from Richmond on the 2nd or 3rd of October, 1849. What happened during the next four or five days is involved in considerable obscurity, but the facts, as far as they can be ascertained, appear to be these: He arrived at Baltimore safely, but between trains unfortunately took a drink with a friend, the consequence of which was that he was brought back from Havre de Grace, a way station, by the conductor ­[page 98:] of the Philadelphia train, in a state of delirium. It was the eve of an exciting municipal election, and as he wandered up and down the streets of Baltimore, he was seized by the lawless agents of some political club, and shut up all night in a cellar. The next morning he was taken out in a state of frenzy, drugged, and made to vote in eleven different wards. The following day he was found in the back room of a “head-quarters,” and removed to an hospital. He was insensible when found, and remained so until Sunday morning, October 7th. A doctor and nurse were with him when he first showed consciousness. “Where am I?” he asked. The doctor answered, “You are cared for by your best friends.’’ After a pause, in which he appeared to recall what had occurred, and to realize his situation, Poe replied, “My best friend would be the man who would blow out my brains.” Within ten minutes he was dead.

He was buried on the 8th of October, in the burial-ground of the Westminster Church. The funeral was attended by a cousin, a member of the Baltimore bar, ­[page 99:] a class mate, and a Methodist minister, a relative by marriage. The spot selected for his grave was near the grave of his grandfather, General Poe. There was a vacant place left, but it was filled two or three years ago by the body of Mrs. Clemm, who died upwards of eighty years old, in the same hospital where her “dear Eddie” expired some twenty years before, and was buried, at her own request, by his side.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 18:]

*  The incident may be found in Wright’s “Narratives of Sorcery and Magic,” and in Ennemoser’s “History of Magic.” London: 1854, vol. ii. page 464, et supra.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 19:]

*  Ireland’s “Records of the New York Stage.” New York: 1866, vol. i. page 42.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 23:]

*  Griswold’s “Memoir of Poe,” vol. i. of collected works, page 33.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 31:]

*  William Wertenbaker, Esq., Secretary of the Faculty of the University of Virginia, May 12th, 1860.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 40:]

*  “Poe at West Point,” Harper’s Magazine, Nov., 1867.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 42:]

*  Extract from letter of Brevet Major and Adjutant Edward C. Boynton, West Point, May 15th, 1871.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 60:]

*  Putnam’s Magazine, 2nd series, vol. iv. page 471.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 71:]

*  N. P. Willis. Home Journal, Oct. 13th, 1849.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 85:]

*  Letter to Dr. Griswold, quoted in his Memoir of Poe Vol. i, of Collected Works, pp. lii., liii.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 87:]

*  Home Journal, Oct. 13th, 1849.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 92:]

*  Putnam’s Magazine, 2nd series, vol. iv., page 471.


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Notes:

None.

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[S:1 - PEAP, 1875] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Memoir of Edgar A. Poe [Memoir] (R. H. Stoddard, 1875)