Text: Thomas Dunn English, “Reminiscences of Poe [Part 03],” Independent (New York), October 29, 1896, Vol. XLVIII (whole no. 2500), p. 1448, cols. 1-2


[page 1448, column 1:]

Reminiscences of Poe.



POE soon became a lion with a coterie of literary ladies, and was an occasional guest at their Conversaziones. I had little taste for such gatherings, but at times went on a pressing invitation. At these Poe appeared at his best. He talked very pleasantly and with an air of authority to the group around him, and was at times, as he could be when he chose, quite charming in his manner. I remember one evening in particular at the house of Mrs. Botta, then Miss Lynch, when he and I were the only gentlemen present. I let him as much as possible monopolize the male share of the talk, and finally he gave quite a lecture on literary matters, to which we all listened attentively. To my surprise and delight he did not attempt to pick flaws anywhere, but confined himself to commendation of such poems as the “Florence Vane” of Philip P. Cook, and a number of others written by men of lesser note, on whose beauties he expatiated at length. It was a notable evening to me, for it was the first time that I remember Poe to have discussed the merits of several authors, poets especially, without finding a number of what he considered defects.

So strongly was the scene impressed upon my memory that I can at any time close my eyes and, by a species of retinism, behold it in all its colors. In the plainly furnished room at one corner stands Miss Lynch with her round, cheery face, and Mrs. Ellet, decorous and ladylike, who had ceased their conversation when Poe broke into his lecture. On a sofa on the side of the room I sit with Miss Fuller, afterward the Countess Ossoli, on my right side, and Mrs. Elizabeth Oakes Smith on my left. At my feet little Mrs. Osgood, doing the infantile act, is seated on a footstool, her face upturned to Poe, as it had been previously to Miss Fuller and myself. In the center stands Poe, giving his opinions in a judicial tone and occasionally reciting passages with telling effect. Were I an artist I should like to put on canvas one of the best episodes of Poe’s varied life.

Poe at length obtained entire control of the Journal, but not having experience in publishing, and having on one or two occasions relapsed into his old offense, besides lacking money, he was soon obliged to seek assistance outside. This and its results I have before narrated.

The coterie of male and female writers with which Poe became intimate at the time, like all other gatherings of the sort, soon became infected with jealousies and heart-burnings. Poe’s attentions were directed mainly to one of the circle, whom he considered the foremost female poet in the country. She shared the general admiration of Poe’s genius, and was always ready to express it. Censorious people made this the foundation for slander, and rumors without basis, growing into assertions by repetition, spread through the town. These reached the ears of Mrs. Poe and gave her some uneasiness. Mrs. Clemm came to me one day and, told me that, as I had more influence with “Eddie” than any one else, she wished I would disengage him from association with the lady. I thought I might say something as a placebo to quiet this jealousy, and told her to say to Mrs. Poe that the connection between the two was purely platonic, that Poe admired her ability and she admired him, and that was all there was in the matter. Mrs. Clemm seemed rather unconvinced, but I suppose she thought it best to impress her daughter with my views; for Ingram in his book gives a letter from the lady which would argue her continued intimacy with the family, and which contains such expressions as “her sweet self,” applied to her by Poe in the presence of his wife. And this intimacy it was that led to the rupture between Poe and myself, and circumstances which I am forced to tell, and which caused him to remain my bitter enemy ever after.

The supposed intrigue became the town talk, at least among literary people. The coterie thought it should be stopped, and it was suggested to Mrs. Ellet that she should say something to Poe about it. Poe became very much excited at this; and when some of the rest suggested that he should return the lady’s letters he accused Mrs. Ellet of having instigated it, and was imprudent enough to say that she had better take care of her own letters which he had, and which compromised herself. If this had been true it would have been a dastardly thing in Poe to say so; but it was false. Mrs. Ellet was not only a clever writer, as her published [column 2:] works attest, but a gentlewoman of undoubtedly unblemished life and character. Her manners and her virtues won for her the esteem and respect of her associates, all of which she well deserved. Her brother, Colonel Lummis, heard of these expressions of Poe’s, and sent him word that he must either show these letters or retract and apologize. Poe afterward stated that he had returned the letters before the demand was made. This was untrue, as the facts of our quarrel will show. Poe came to 304 Broadway — this was after the Journal had been dead and buried — and entering Lane’s room, adjoining mine, where I was chatting with John H. Tyler, a nephew of the ex-President, asked of me to lend him a pistol. I told him I had none, but he still insisted; and when asked what he wanted with it said that Colonel Lummis had threatened his life, unless he showed him Mrs. Ellet’s imprudent letters. I asked him why, if he had such letters, he did not produce them; and he rejoined that he had them, but wouldn’t produce them under compulsion. I told him plainly that he had no such letters in his possession, in my belief, and that the best thing he could do would be to acknowledge that he had used the expression in a moment of irritation, and to make retraction and apology. One word led to another, and he rushed toward me in a menacing manner. I threw out my fist to stop him, and the impetus of his rush, rather than any force of mine, made the extension of my arm a blow. He grasped me while falling backward over a lounge, and I on top of him. My blood was up by this time, and I dealt him some smart raps on the face. As I happened to have a heavy seal ring on my little finger, I unintentionally cut him very severely, and broke the stone in the ring, an intaglio cut by Lovatt, which I valued highly. Tyler tried to call me off, but this did not succeed; and finally the racket of the scuffle, which only lasted a few moments, brought Professor Ackerman from the front room, and he separated us. He then led Poe away. The latter, in going up the street, met a friend of mine, who asked him how he had cut his face so terribly. His reply was that an Irishman carrying a beam on his shoulder had accidentally struck him. I should never have spoken of this, had not Poe, in his “New York Literati,” asserted that he was personally not acquainted with me. Tyler told Lane when he came in about the matter, and the latter doubtless remembers his description of what the present day reporters would term, “a stormy interview.”

From this time on Poe poured forth on me in private letters, besides the attacks I have noticed, a flood of abuse, some of which was shown to me; but this I only laughed at. We never met again. I heard from many that up to the time of his death his fits of drunkenness increased in frequency, but of this I have no personal knowledge.




The page numbers reflect the numbering within the volume, and are given within parentheses. Page numbers are also given within the issue, making page 1448 equivalent to page 1.


[S:1 - IND, 1896] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Reminiscences of Poe [Part 03] (T. D. English, 1896)