Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 31,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 212-218


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[page 212:]

CHAPTER XXXI.

AFER THE WAR.

In the fall of 1865 — the year which saw the conclusion of the unhappy war — I returned to Richmond and to my old home of Talavera, which I had not seen in four years.

What a shock to me was the first sight of it! In place of the pleasant, smiling home, there stood a bare and lonely house in the midst of encircling fortifications, still bristling with dismantled gun-carriages. Every outbuilding had disappeared. All the beautiful trees which had made it so attractive — even the young cedar of Lebanon, which had been our pride — were gone; greenhouses, orchard, vineyard, everything, had been swept away, leaving only a dead level overgrown with broom-straw, amidst which were scattered rusted bayonets and a few hardy plants struggling through the trampled ground. The place was no longer “Talavera,” but “Battery 10.”

In this desolate abode I remained some time, [page 213:] awaiting the arrival of our scattered family, and with no protectors save a faithful old negro couple. Each evening we would barricade as well as we could the entrance to the fort, as some slight protection against the hordes of newly freed negroes who roamed the country, living on whatever they could pick up.

One evening when we had taken this precaution, some one was heard calling without, and, mounting the ramparts, I beheld a forlorn looking figure in black standing upon the outer edge of the trench. It proved to be Rosalie Poe; and when I had brought her into the light and warmth of the fire, I saw how changed and ill she appeared. She told me of the Mackenzies. Mrs. Mackenzie was dead. “Mat” (Mrs. Byrd) was a widow, with a beautiful young daughter, and her brother, Mr. Richard, was in wretched health. Miss Jane Mackenzie had died in England, leaving her fortune to her brother, residing there, and the destruction of the war had completed the poverty of the family. They lived on a little place in the country, with a cow and a garden as their chief means of support. “They have to work for a living now,” Rose said, forlornly; “but I am not strong enough to work. I am [page 214:] going to Baltimore, to my relations there, and see what they can do for me.”

I inquired after young Dr. Mackenzie, gay, handsome, genial “Tom,” whom everybody loved.

“Tom is dead,” said Rose, sadly. “He died of camp-fever and bad food. When he came home he had only the clothes which he wore, and a neighbor gave us something to bury him in.”

With a pang I thought of the gay wedding at Duncan Lodge, and the happy faces that had been there assembled.

When Rose left me, I could but hope that she would be kindly received by her relatives in Baltimore. But some months thereafter, being in New York, I received from her a number of photographs of her brother, which she begged of me to dispose of for her benefit at one dollar each. Mrs. M. A. Kidder, of Boston, kindly interested herself in the matter, but wrote me that she met with but poor success, at even the reduced price of twenty-five cents, people saying that they had not sufficient respect for Poe’s character to care to possess his portrait. I found it to be nearly the same in New York. And meantime Rose wrote me every few days. [page 215:]

“DEAR S —— : Haven’t you got anything for me yet? Do try and do something for me, for I am worse off now than ever. I walk about the streets all day” (trying to dispose of her brother’s pictures), “and at night have to look for a place to sleep. I feel like a lost sheep.”

Thus the sister of Edgar A. Poe, in the year 1868, wandered homeless and friendless through the streets of Baltimore, as more than thirty years previous her brother had done.

We heard long afterward that, through some kind Northern lady, she applied for admittance to the Louise Home, in Washington, which Mr. Corcoran was willing to grant, but that certain of his “guests” — ladies who had formerly occupied high social positions — were of opinion that, considering Miss Poe’s eccentricities, she would be better suited and better satisfied in a less pretentious establishment. Finally she was received into the “Epiphany Church Home,” in Washington, where she seems to have enjoyed a good deal of liberty, being often seen riding on the street cars and visiting the offices of wealthy business men, who, if they did not care to possess a photograph of Poe, were yet willing to assist his penniless sister. It was never known what she did with the money so collected; but from a [page 216:] letter to Mrs. Byrd, it would appear that her intention was to purchase a grave for herself near that of her brother. Mrs. Byrd wrote to me: “I think Poe’s friends might lay Rose in a grave beside him. It has always been her dearest wish.”

Rosalie Poe died suddenly, with a letter in her hand but that moment received, and which, when opened, proved to be from Mr. George W. Childs, enclosing a check for fifty dollars; doubtless in answer to an application for aid.

They gave her a pauper’s grave in the cemetery of the Epiphany Church Home. The record of her death by the Board is:

Rosalie Poe. Died June 14, 1874. Aged 64.

Some years after the death of Rose Poe, I received a visit from Mrs. Byrd, whom I had not seen since the war, and we talked over times past and present. It had been Rosalie’s own choice, she said, to go to Baltimore. She did not like the country or the hard life which they were leading. She must have collected considerable money, but never told where she kept it; nor was it ever found.

She told me about her family. Her pretty daughter had married a poor man in preference to a rich one who had offered, and they [page 217:] had two beautiful babies and were very happy. Her brother Richard was infirm and able to do but little work. They had a little place in the country, where they raised their own vegetables, and sent poultry and eggs to market. She and her son-in-law did all the hard work about the place. “I wash and cook for six persons,” said she, cheerily. “Yes,” she continued, in her old quaint way, “we are poor, but respectable, and I am more content than ever I was at Duncan Lodge. I feel that I have something to live for, and the working life suits me. Yes, we are happy; although there are not two tea-cups in the house of the same pattern.”

She spoke of Poe, whom she considered to have been always unjustly treated. Everybody could see what his faults were, but few gave him credit for his good qualities — his generous nature and kindly and affectionate disposition, especially as exemplified in the harmony always existing between himself and his wife and mother-in-law. While giving the latter full credit for her devotion to Edgar, her impression was that, except in the matter of his dissipation, her influence over him had not been for good. Her mother and brother, John, believed that the marriage with Virginia [page 218:] had been the greatest misfortune of his life, and that he himself, while patiently resigning himself to his lot, had come to regard it as such.

Some ten years after the death of Poe I received from Mrs. Clemm a letter giving a pathetic account of her homelessness and poverty. But, she added, she had been offered a home with her relatives at the South; and she appealed to me, as a friend of her “Eddie,” to assist her in raising the money necessary to pay her expenses thither. A similar appeal she made to other of Poe’s former friends; but we heard of her afterward as an inmate of the Church Home Infirmary in Baltimore, where she died in 1871, having outlived her son-in-law some twenty-two years. It is a curious coincidence that the building in which she died was the same in which, as the Washington Hospital, Poe had breathed his last.

Her grave is in Westminster cemetery, and in sight of Poe’s monument.

 


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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 31)