Text: Tula D. Pendleton, “Some Memories of Poe,” Bob Taylor’s Magazine (Nashville, TN), vol. II, no. 6, March, 1906, pp. 639-644


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SOME MEMORIES OF POE

By T. D. Pendleton

[page 639:]

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IN Richmond there are a scant half dozen left who remember Edgar Allan Poe, but there are yet standing some old houses whose lintels have framed the figure of this strange man — this prince in shabby black, who made enemies by his bitter pen but brought love into flower by his wonderful smile.

Out in Park street there is a cottage with a bit of a garden shaded by two tall trees. This tiny house holds the frail body of one who was a friend to the poet in his last days — Mrs. Susan Archer Talley von Weiss. When one looks into her eyes, one knows why Poe spent so many hours at “Taliaferro” in eighteen hundred and forty-nine. It is true the Widow Shelton’s great blue orbs retained much of their child-like beauty, but little Susan Archer Talley’s lashes framed eyes such as one rarely beholds out of the Orient. Even now they are of a surpassing loveliness — burning, compelling eyes, from whose depths look out joy and sorrow, dwelling together there with philosophy as peacemaker. And this slip of a girl, just seventeen when Poe met her, had written some verse that was poetry.

Mrs. von Weiss possesses a brain whose fire her seventy-two years have not diminished. Her memory is perfectly clear. She was able to say at once where she first met the poet, which room he occupied at Duncan Lodge, and to relate many small stories of their friendship. All of these things she told me as unhesitatingly as if it were yesterday’s history [column 2:] we were discussing. When she first met him, he was “calm, cold, somewhat haughty in manner” — she possessed of a trifle of timidity — then she looked into his eyes and he “smiled.” Now, from all the testimony that one can gather, it seems that when Poe “smiled” upon people, they perforce joined the circle of his friends. There may be discrepancy of memory as to the color of his eyes or his hair, but all testimonies agree upon the “wonderful smile”

Mrs. Weiss tells a story of the death of David Poe, whose last days have been hitherto shrouded in oblivion, some biographers stating that it is not known whether the father of Poe died in Norfolk or Richmond. Mrs. Butt, the aunt of Mrs. Weiss, lived, when a young child, in a tall, gabled house that stood (and yet stands) in Bermuda street, Norfolk. One side of the attic, being unused, was let to David Poe, who with his wife and children occupied it in 1811. Mrs. Butt and her sister used the unlet side of the attic as a playroom. There was a break in the plaster and through this hole the children (are they not ever democratic?) made friends with the little Thespians. A nurse would often say, “Be quiet, there is a poor sick man in there.” One day the poor sick man was there no longer, but there was a new-made, unmarked grave in a Norfolk cemetery. Thus passed David Poe, actor, leaving no trace of his passing but the memory of a baby who heard him through a peep-hole in the wall.

Not long after this Elizabeth Poe laid the rouge on her little thin cheek and went on for her last scene upon the stage of the Richmond theater, and the world was legatee to a small, [page 640:] strange being whom it never comprehended and to whom it doled its praise and gold but niggardly — a being who left its guardianship at the age of forty as aloof as when he entered it.

Duncan Lodge [thumbnail]

DUNCAN LODGE, THE HOME OF THE McKENZIES, RICHMOND
 
[Illustration on page 640]

It was Dr. Carter who told me that he remembered hearing the McKenzies speak of the pathetic condition of the little Poes during their mother’s last engagement. Some member of the family went behind the scenes while a rehearsal was on and saw the little Edgar drawing his sister, Rosalie, in a wagon, to amuse her while her [column 2:] mother was engaged in her act. The mite was sucking a “sugar rag” to keep her from crying.

It was at the home of the McKenzies, Duncan Lodge, Mrs. Weiss says, that Poe spent his last evening in Richmond. The house is still standing, and there are traces of the pleasure garden. But the box hedge is decorated with drying clothes, and the trail of the serpent is over it all. There are some magnolias left, and inside the house one finds a lovely old hall with spider baluster and deep window-seat, the ear-marks of the aristocrat that no amount of squalor can quite conceal. Over the doorway is the window of the room that was Poe’s. That room is unoccupied, and at twilight the old place, with its rustling trees, seems not an unfit shrine for memories.

Swan Tavern [thumbnail]

SWAN TAVERN, RICHMOND
 
[Illustration on page 640]

Dr. Crouch lifted for me the curtain of the years for a few too-brief moments. So vivid is his style of reminiscence that one seems to actually see the face and figure of the poet He is one of the few living men who heard the lecture on the “Poetic Principle” in the assembly room of the old Ballard [page 641:] House. He says that the reading of “The Bells” was extraordinarily beautiful. Mr. Poe’s manner, somewhat nervous upon ordinary occasions, became on the platform one of calm dignity.

Dr. Crouch remembers perfectly the poet’s person — his peculiarly blackbrown hair, his hands, his whole figure. In describing Poe’s appearance upon the streets he, after an instant’s search for words, said: “Well, he walked quickly, lightly — he moved like thistle-down driven by the wind.” It was not long until the wind destroyed this exquisite bit of thistle-down.

Dr. Rawlings, who was the poet’s physician in his last illness at Richmond, is long dead, but he has many times related to Dr. Crouch the story of his patient’s abrupt departure from the Swan Tavern. He had been visiting Mr. Poe twice a day. One morning he called as usual, but was informed by the innkeeper, one Howlett, that his patient had that morning appeared in the office, carrying his carpet bag (the weight of which he seemed scarcely able to bear), paid his bill, and departed. Howlett told Mr. Poe that he was unfit to be out of bed, but the protest was unavailing. He must have gone to Duncan Lodge.

The Swan Tavern, long an eyesore to the careless, has made way for a brand-new Bijou Theater. Just before the razing of the old house I braved the noisome upper chambers for a picture of the northeast room which was, from all available testimony on the subject, probably Poe’s apartment during his last illness there. The floors were sunken, the plaster fallen, the windowpanes missing, and the chimney-piece decorated with miscellaneous debris. [column 2:]

Now, nightly, under garish lights, to blatant music, stage villains betray angelic maidens upon the spot where once was the old Swan Tavern. Well, that, too, was a theater whose boards were trod by “mimes in the form of God on high” in a “play of hopes and fears.” And of all the scenes in that century-long play, what one so intense, so heart breaking, as the struggle of Edgar Allan Poe?

Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

EDGAR ALLAN POE
 
[Illustration on page 641]

Miss Bell Lynes, a niece of Thomas H. White, of The Southern Literary Messenger, lives in Richmond. Upon her memory the face of the poet is indelibly drawn. Eliza, the handsome young daughter of Mr. White, inspired Poe with great admiration, and it was said that he singed his wings at the candles of her shrine. “To Eliza” is his tribute to this fair girl. Her greatest physical charm was her beautiful [page 642:] hair. Miss Lynes showed me a long braid of exquisite texture and of a fairness so extreme that when laid upon her own silver head there was scarcely any perceptible difference of shade. This hair was cut from Eliza White’s head many years before her death, which occurred about ten years ago. But Mr. White would hear none of Poe as a suitor for his daughter. Miss White rarely spoke of the poet. “But,” said Miss Lynes, “Eliza never married.” There is no picture of Eliza White in existence since fire destroyed the portrait belonging to the family. Miss Lynes remembers seeing Poe at a party at her ’’) Uncle White’s” house. He and the fair girl made [column 2:] such a handsome couple that all present remarked upon it. “Mr. Poe was the most enthusiastic dancer I ever saw,” said Miss Lynes, “although he remained cold and calm, showing his delight only in his eyes.” This lady was at Dr. Beal’s house once and heard Poe recite “The Raven;” she was very young and the performance ’’) frightened” her. “He suddenly stood up, and immediately began. I thought he was crazy — but it was thrilling and made the hair rise upon my head.”

The Grave of Helen [thumbnail]

THE GRAVE OF HELEN
 
[Illustration on page 642]

This house held memories for Poe, for it was here that he went with Robert Stanard, his schoolmate, and met young Stanard’s mother, Jane Stith Stanard — the Helen of his lines “To Helen.” This house exists, but in a much altered guise. Miss Jane Stith Stanard, Robert Stanard’s niece, went with me to see it. She is a dainty little lady, tvpical of the Old South.” Her softly parted silver hair frames a face that is charming, and in her eyes shines the white starlight of maidenhood. She is unable to secure for me a picture of “Helen,” for it has passed from the family’s keeping and is in Kentucky with the descendants of Robert Stanard’s wife. But Miss Stanard remembers seeing the portrait when she lived with her uncle at his later residence in Grace street (now occupied by the Westmoreland Club), where it hung upon the wall of the library. It represents the lady with a snood in her hair, and is a lovely, oval face.

Mrs. Mallory, an old lady who died many years ago, possessed some interesting recollections of Poe, which she often related to Miss Stanard. This lady lived in the house with Mrs. [page 643:] Clemm at the time of Virginia’s marriage to the poet. One day Mrs. Clemm asked Mrs. Mallory and some other ladies in the house to come into her room and partake of cake and wine. They found upon accepting the invitation that the occasion was the marriage of the young girl to Edgar Allan Poe. The boarding house where they lived was kept by a Mrs. Yarrington, and stood upon the corner of Twelfth and Bank streets. The files of The Richmond Whig and Public Advertiser rewarded a search by disclosing the following in the issue of Friday, May 20, 1836:

MARRIED.

On Monday, May 16, by the’)Revd. Mr. Converse, Mr. Edgar A. Poe to Miss Virginia Eliza Clemm.

A letter to Dr. Converse, of Louisville, Kentucky, brought this response:

Home of Annabel Lee [thumbnail]

HOME OF ANNABEL LEE, RICHMOND
 
[Illustration on page 643]

Your letter respecting the marriage of Edgar Allan Poe came to hand several days ago. Some years ago I would have said that I was present at that wedding, so vivid were my impressions of it; but when I read the life of Edgar Allan Poe and saw the date of his wedding, it showed that I could not have been present, and that my impressions were based upon the accounts which my father and mother had given of it — for they frequently made references to it in my childhood days. He was married by my father, Rev. Amasa Converse, D.D., in my father’s parlor — at the southeast corner of Main and Eighth streets, Richmond. The residence was the corner house of what was known as Bosher’s block. The Spottswood Hotel was subsequently built on this site; the offices of the C. & O. R. R. are now located on the spot. Father was publisher of The Christian Observer, then known as The Southern Religious Telegraph. His office was in the basement, the rear portion of which was entered on Eighth street, on a level with the ground. The family resided above. Edgar Allan Poe came to the house, and the wedding was performed in the parlor, my father standing, according to the impressions which I received, near the mantel piece, and Edgar Allan Poe and his bride coming in at the front. There were very few persons present at the wedding: my mother and the members of the family, and perhaps one or more companions, whom they brought with them. . . .

Yours very truly,

F. B. Converse.

So now the secret is out — the picture of the wedding is ours. What a pitiful little wedding, think you? No Lohengrin, no palms, no white satin — maybe Love folds the closer in his own wings [column 2:] two souls who mate without these fripperies — and surely Olympus’) hydromel fed them. One month his lyre was mute — one month only, for in July he gave us “Irene.”

There yet lives in Richmond a most interesting literary figure of the past century in the person of Dr. Benjamin Blake Miner [[Minor]. Dr. Miner [[Minor]] was, in 1843, the editor of The Southern Literary Messenger, and during his regime Edgar A. Poe was still a contributor to the magazine.

“I paid him,” said Dr. Miner, “three dollars per printed page for his articles. He sent me three papers, none of which would rank with his best work, yet I paid him the stipulated price — three dollars per page. In 1845 Poe wrote me that he would like to have me republish in the Messenger “The Raven,” which had about a fortnight before appeared in the American Whig Review. He made this request because he knew the extraordinarily beautiful typography of The Messenger. He asked me [page 644:] to take out the line which ordinarily divided to front page, and thus allow the poem to have the full breadth of the page. I did this and published the poem from the manuscript which he sent me. Thus appeared the first print of the poem as it now stands, for Poe had made some changes.” Dr. Miner [[Minor]] says that he has searched in vain for this letter, and it is scarcely possible that it now exists.

Library in home of Annabel Lee [thumbnail]

LIBRARY IN THE HOME OF ANNABEL LEE
 
[Illustration on page 644]

Dr. P. B. Price, an octogenarian Presbyterian minister, was the spiritual adviser of Mrs. Ann Elmira Royster Shelton. He remembers here well — a fair, handsome, exceedingly graceful lady, who was ever ready to lend him her aid in church work, and who entertained often in her well-appointed home. “I remember,” said Dr. Price, [column 2:] “that Mr. James Winston, a rich merchant, and gentleman of the old school, was desperately in love with her. I shall never forget his devoted attitude when he came into church with her — or tried to come into church with her. This James Winston was quite an old beau, and always wore ruffles on his shirt. His residence was at Twenty-seventh and Broad streets, and the grounds covered a whole square. The walk at the back he named via sacra, because it was along this way that one approached the domain of the fair widow (one block distant).” In truth it does seem that this “Widow Shelton” was a plum that hung too high for the stature of any man in Richmond. Her heart was buried in an unmarked grave in a Baltimore churchyard. She wrote to Dr. Moran in reference to Poe: “He was more to me than any living creature.”

The home of Elmira Royster Shelton is on Church Hill. It is a high, narrow, gabled house, with an English basement. The house itself is unchanged, but the grounds have been built up with other structures. There remains a bit of the garden at the back, where these two walked in the Indian summer of their love. Was Poe happy then? He was in less deplorable plight than he had been for years. Old friends clasped his hand and trusted him — his magazine venture gave him promise of gratifying long-cherished ambitions — he was about to make “porte after stormie seas.” Here, with the renewed and restored love of his early youth, his “beautiful Annabel Lee,” we can picture the melancholy genius looking forward with something of hope and contentment for the crowning of his ambition, and all unwitting of the fate the impenetrable future held for him, making fresh plans for giving to the world the products of his unique genius.

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TO POE

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Thou saddened singer of a mournful song,

We weep with thee. Through ever darkened glades

Thy soul hath roamed. Sepulchral gloom invades

Our hearts, and sorrow-laden echoes throng

Our listening ears, and almost seem to wrong

Our hopes for thee; but thy rich music aids

To bear the weight of grief, and haunting, fades, [column 2:]

From our spirits never, leads us charmed along

The winding ways of sorrow lit with gleams

Of glowing passion. Love’s undying flame

Illumes thy verse though smouldering under dreams

Of hopeless loss and black despair; but shame

Can never fall on thee, so chastely beams

The matchless love that consecrates thy name.

H. A. Shands.


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Notes:

None.

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[S:0 - BTM, 1906] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Some Memories of Poe (T. D. Pendleton, 1906)