Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 11,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 64-69


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[page 64:]

CHAPTER XI.

MRS. CLEMM.

His father’s sister, Mrs. Maria Clemm, who had for some years been living in a New York country town, supporting herself and little daughter by dressmaking, about this time returned to Baltimore, and hearing from the Poes of the presence of her brother’s son in the city, commenced a search for him. She found him, at length, ill — really ill; and at once took him to her own humble home, installing him in a room which had been furnished for a lodger, and from that hour attended and cared for him with a true motherly devotion.

Those who believe in the spirit of the old adage, “Blood is thicker than water,” may imagine what a blessed relief this was to the weary and almost despairing wanderer. Here he had what he needed almost as much as he did food — rest; rest for the weak and exhausted body and for the anxious mind as well. [page 65:] Here, in the quiet little room, he could lie and dream, in the blissful consciousness that near him were the watchful eyes and careful hands of his own father’s sister, ready to attend to his slightest want. And from the day on which he first entered her humble abode Poe was never more to be a homeless wanderer. To him it proved ever a safe little harbor, a sure haven of refuge and repose in all storms and troubles that assailed, even to his life’s end.

Mrs. Clemm was at this time a strong, vigorous woman, somewhat past middle age, and of large frame and masculine features. Her manner was dignified and well-bred, and she was possessed of abundant self-reliance, ready resource, and, as must be said, of clever artifice as well, where artifice was necessary to the accomplishment of a purpose. Her abode, though plainly and cheaply furnished, was a picture of neatness and such comfort as she could afford to give it; but her means were only what could be derived from dressmaking, taking a lodger or two, and at times teaching a few small children.

This state of affairs dawned upon Poe as he slowly recovered from his fever-dreams; and he again became aware of the strong necessity of further exertion on his part. Mrs. Clemm [page 66:] would not allow him to go to a hospital. Probably she feared to lose him. In some degree, isolated from her other kindred, she had in her loneliness found a son, and the pertinacity with which she thenceforth clung to him was something remarkable.

Poe soon resumed his weary search for employment, but for some time without success. In his hours of enforced idleness at home he found employment in teaching his little cousin, Virginia, a pretty and affectionate child of ten years, who, however, was fonder of a walk or a romp with him than of her lessons. She was devoted to her handsome cousin, and having hitherto lived with her mother and with few or no playmates or companions, soon learned to depend upon him for all pleasure or amusement. They called each other both then and ever after, “Buddie” and “Sissy,” while Mrs. Clemm was “Muddie” to both.

Of this period of Poe’s life in Baltimore, Dr. Snodgrass, a literary Bohemian of the time, has given us glimpses:

“In Baltimore, his chief resort was the Widow Meagher’s place, an inexpensive but respectable eating-house, with a bar attached and a room where the customers could indulge in a smoke or a social game of cards. This [page 67:] was frequented chiefly by printers and employees of shipping offices. Poe was a great favorite with the Widow Meagher, a kindly old Irish woman. On entering there you would generally find him seated behind her oyster counter, at which she presided; himself as silent as an oyster, grave and retiring. Knowing him to be a poet, she addressed him always by the old Irish title of Bard, and by this name he was here known. It was, “Bard, have a nip;” “Bard, take a hand.” Whenever anything particularly pleased the old woman’s fancy, she would request Poe to put it in “poethry,” and I have seen many of these little pieces which appeared to me more worthy of preservation than some included in his published works.

It happened that Poe one evening, in his wanderings about the streets, stopped to read a copy of The Evening Visitor exposed for sale, and had his attention attracted by the offer of a purse of one hundred dollars for the best original story to be submitted to that journal anonymously. Remembering his rejected manuscripts, he at once hastened home and, making them into a neat parcel, dispatched them to the office of the Visitor, though with [page 68:] little or no hope of their meeting with acceptance.

His feelings may therefore be imagined when he shortly received a letter informing him that the prize of one hundred dollars had been awarded to his story of “The Gold Bug,” and desiring him to come to the office of the Visitor and receive the money.

It was on this occasion that Poe made the acquaintance of Mr. J. P. Kennedy, author of “Swallow Barn,” who proved such a true friend to him in time of need. Mr. Kennedy says he recognized in the thin, pale, shabbily dressed but neatly groomed young man a gentleman, and also that he was starving. He invited him frequently to his table, presented him with a suit of clothes and, seeing how feeble he was, gave him the use of a horse for the exercise which he so much needed. He also obtained for him some employment in the office of the Evening Visitor, whose editor, Mr. Wilmer, accepted several stories from his pen; and it was now, evidently, that Poe decided upon literature as a profession.

Under these favoring conditions Poe rapidly recovered his health and spirits. Mr. Wilmer, who saw a good deal of him at this time, says that when their office work was done they [page 69:] would often walk out together into the suburbs, generally accompanied by Virginia, who would never be left behind. At the office he was punctual, industrious and his work satisfactory. In all his association with him he never saw him under the influence of intoxicants or knew him to drink except once, moderately, when he opened a bottle of wine for a visitor.

I once clipped from a Baltimore paper the following article by a reporter to whom the story was related by “a lively and comely old lady,” herself its heroine. I give it as an illustration of the easy confidence with which Poe, even in his youth, sought the acquaintance of women who attracted his attention:

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - HLFP, 1907] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Home Life of Poe (S. A. Weiss) (Chapter 11)