Text: James A. Harrison, “Chapter 02,” Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (1903), pp. 35-63


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[page 35:]

CHAPTER II.

1826.

POE’S ENVIRONMENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.(1)

I.

ALBEMARLE County, in which the University of Virginia is situated, is one of the finest and most fruitful counties in the Old Dominion. Originally near the centre of Virginia before it was dismembered, it seethed to President jefferson an ideal spot for the erection of the great institution which he had been planning since 1779 and which, overcoming innumerable obstacles, he succeeded in establishing and opening in March, 1825. Around this lovely land, through which trails for more than one hundred miles the delightful greenery of the South-West Mountains, gather all the confluent lines of grace that characterize a gently mountainous country where, exhausted with uplifting giant Alleghanies, the poetic mountain sprites exercise their ingenuity in carving out graceful vales, long undulating slopes, the winding labyrinths of silver rivers, and wooded dells thick with Vallombrosan shades. [page 36:] Albemarle might indeed, apart from its musical name, be called the “picture” county of Virginia, and it was the spirit of the poet who wrote our great epic of the Declaration of Independence that chose this favored spot as the birthplace, cradle, and home of his University. From his own Parnassus of Monticello, three miles away, he looked down and beheld the spacious vale wherein the cunning magic of his persuasive tongue had evoked a scene of Grecian beauty that breathed the spirit of Old World enchantment. Obdurate legislatures had melted before the “old man eloquent” as he pleaded for his University; avaricious pockets emptied their contents into his Educational Fund as he spoke of the boundless advantages of the new institution; distinguished foreign savants listened with attention as his marvellous pen discoursed in countless letters (30,000 of Jefferson’s letters are said to be in existence!) of his plans and projects for an Oxford, a Cambridge or a Gottingen in the New World.

The result was the beautiful scene that lay below Monticello, the exquisitely situated mountain-crest towering eight hundred feet in the air where “The Father of the University of Virginia” had built himself an eyrie among the century-old trees overlooking a view of rolling, river-bounded loveliness, where Piedmont hill and sapphire Blue Ridge, gaunt Alleghany and solemn — Ragged Mountains blend into a delightful harmony, all gathering round and enshrining in their bosom the jewel of Jefferson, the white-domed University.

Such was the spot where Edgar Allan Poe arrived in 1826 and wrote his name, the 136th on the list, on good St. Valentine’s Day, in the Matriculation Book of the University. [page 37:]

A young man’s teachers are often those who in after life influence his career most vitally; and JefFerson’s sagacity. had gathered at the University a galaxy of brilliant scholars who soon worked themselves into this influence and into reputations unrivalled for learning, profundity and force. The eight men with whom Edgar Poe was thrown into intimate official and scholastic contact were Dunglison, Long, Blaettermann, Key, Bonnycastle, Emmet, Tucker, and Lomax; and from this list one dare not leave out the venerably librarian of the University, William Wertenbaker, who was appointed by Jefferson himself and held the position for forty-three years: a man with whom Poe came frequently in contact.

“During the year 1826,” said Mr. Wertenbaker,(1) “there used to come into the library a handsome young student, perhaps eighteen years of age, in search of old French books, principally histories; that young man, even the little I chanced to see of him, made a deep impression on me, and in fact I am sure I will always tenderly cherish my recollections of Edgar Allan Poe.”

Six out of the eight professors (1826) were foreign-born, a little irreverently called by the students in the Faculty Minute Books of the time, when they were summoned up for some student pranks, “those damned European professors.”

At least seven were men of the highest character, scholarship, and worth; all were comparatively young, except Mr. George Tucker, who had been called from the halts of Congress by Jefferson to assume the professorship of Moral Philosophy, and who afterwards greatly distinguished himself as the biographer [page 38:] of Jefferson, the historian of the United States, the novelist of the Shenandoah, and the brilliant essayist and statistician, first chairman of the faculty.

Another, Mr. George Long, had an eminent literary career, adorned by many successes and intimately interwoven with the intellectual life of Greece and Rome as investigator, geographer, historian, editor, and translator.

The University Matriculation Book of 1826 shows that Edgar Allan Poe wrote his name and the date of his birth,(1) the name of his parent or guardian, his residence and the schools that he attended as follows Edgar A. Poe; | 19 January, 1809; | John Allan;(2) | Richmond, Va.; | and the Schools of Ancient and Modern Languages.(3)

Out of the 177 students present that year, 107 “elected” Ancient Languages and go elected Modern Languages, the number gathering from thirteen differ ent states (Catalogues of the University of Virginia, 1825-44), including New York and Pennsylvania.

George Ticknor’s active and open advocacy of the reform educational views of Jefferson had already aroused uneasiness in New England, and particularly at Harvard, whose alert and learned President, Josiah Quincy, favored the elective system and began to inquire into the workings of the new institution (Adams, 130). Edward Everett, too, viewed with admiring but critical eyes the Jefferson experiment and copied into his “North American Review” article for January, 1820, Jefferson’s entire scheme of studies [page 39:] proposed for the University of Virginia and printed in the proceedings and report of the Commissioners for the University in 1818.

What induced Mr. Allan to send his adopted son to the University, apart from the boy’s precocious talents and excellent preparation, and the reputation of the University, we know not; but hither he carne in February, rooming, first on the Lawn, and then, after a pugilistic encounter with his room-mate, Miles George, transferring himself and his goods to No. 13, West Range, according to his friend, Mr. T. G. Tucker; to No. 17, West Range, according to another tradition.(1)

Being Poe’s intimate friend at the University, Mr. Tucker may be taken, along with Mr. Wertenbaker and Mr. Burwell, as giving a fairly accurate account of Poe’s career while the two young men were fellowstudents. He describes the poet at this period of life as rather short of stature, thick, compactly set but active, an expert in all the athletic and gymnastic arts. A gymnasium had been opened in the University, and a military drill-master, one Matthews, from West Point, had been employed to instruct volunteers in military evolutions and tactics, — an association which may have influenced Poe, a little later, first to enter the army under an assumed name and then formally to enroll himself as a cadet at the United States Academy in 1830. Mr. Tucker in 1880 remembered his famous contemporary as bow-legged, jerky and hurried in his movements, and with the air and [page 40:] action of a native-born Frenchman. He was very mercurial in his disposition and exceedingly fond of peach-and-honey. Seven-up and loo were his favorite games, for everybody played cards in those days, and he played in so impassioned a manner that it amounted almost to infatuation. Card-playing and drinking alike were carried on under the spell of impulse or uncontrolled excitement. His passion for strong drink was even then (continues Mr. Tucker) of a most marked and peculiar character. He would always seize the tempting glass, generally unmixed with sugar or water, — in fact, perfectly straight, — and without the least apparent pleasure, swallow the contents, never pausing until the last drop had passed his lips. One glass (the size is not stated) at a time was all that he could take; but this was sufficient to rouse his whole nervous nature into a state of strongest excitement, which found vent in a continuous flow of wild, fascinating talk that irresistibly enchanted every listener with siren-like power.

Poe is described as having been an excellent French and Latin scholar; he could read and speak both languages with great ease, although he could hardly be said to have known either language thoroughly. Greek: he read indifferently. Time and again he would enter into the lecture-room (Pavilion V. or Pavilion IV., where Professors Long and Blaettermann lived) utterly unprepared to recite if called upon. But his brain was so active and his memory so excellent that only a few moments’ study was necessary, and then he was ready to make the best recitation in the class. To have opportunity of “reading ahead“. . . was all that Poe desired when unprepared. As a consequence of this wonderful faculty he was able to maintain a very [page 41:] high position in his classes, and win for himself the admiration, but more often the envy of his fellowstudents.

“It is delightful to know” (continues the author of the paper from which we are quoting: “Edgar Allan Poe while a student at the University of Virginia“) “that Poe was not exempt from that college weakness . . . a good, healthy quarrel with . . . one’s room-mate. When he first came to the University, he roomed on the Lawn with a young man from Richmond, Miles George. They had been together but a short time when something arose to disturb the harmonious intercourse — perhaps Miles refused to arise one morning to answer the knock of Mr. Wertenbaker (librarian and secretary of the faculty) who in those good old days made the rounds each morning to see if the fellows were up and dressed and ready for work, . . . or perhaps Edgar Allan was unwilling to count over the clothes on Monday morning when the washer-woman came [there were seven different ancient colored dames who in 1880 claimed to have washed for “Marse Ed. Poe!“] They had a falling-out — and a genuine, good old-fashioned fight, retiring to a field near the University; and after one or two rounds they agreed that they were satisfied, shook hands, and returned to the University as warm friends, but not as room-mates. Poe after this little affair moved into No. 13 on West Range.”

Poe’s constant companions were Thomas S. Gholson (afterwards a distinguished judge), Upton Beale and Philip Slaughter (later Episcopal ministers, the latter the eminent historiographer of the Diocese of Virginia), Wat Dunn, Wm. A. Creighton, and Wm. M. Burwell (afterwards well-known as editor of “De Bow’s Review“). [page 42]

“Whatever Poe may have been in after years, he was at the University” (says Mr. Tucker) “as true and perfect a friend as the waywardness of his nature would allow. There was never then the least trace of insincerity, and never the least indication of that fickleness of disposition with which he was afterwards so often — although in the main, we think, unjustly — accused.

“Poe showed his warm appreciation and high respect for his friend Tucker by reading to him the early productions of his youth, — productions that his critical hand afterwards destroyed, thinking them unfit for publication. Sometimes, when he had written an article that Tucker would especially praise, he would call in a few of his friends and read it to them. Those men who were fortunate enough to hear these impromptu readings never forgot them, and those of the number who were still living in 1880 declared that there was no impression on their minds more strikingly vivid. They were mostly stories characterized by that same weirdness of style, graphically picturing horrible scenes and incidents, that so strongly marked all of his published writings. His little room on West Range was often filled with a small, select audience of his most particular friends who, spell-bound, scarcely breathed while they eagerly listened to some story, — strange and wild, like all the rest, — that he had just written and that he read with his whole soul thrown into every action and intonation of his voice — now loud and rapid, like the mad rush of many waters, and now sinking into a scarcely audible whisper, of some terrible sentence of incantation or curse sending a shiver over all that heard.

“On one occasion Poe read a story of great length [page 43:] to some of his friends who, in a spirit of jest, spoke lightly of its merits, and jokingly told him that his hero’s name, ‘Gaffy,’ occurred too often. His proud spirit would not stand such open rebuke; so in a fit of anger, before his friends could prevent him, he had flung every sheet into a blazing fire, and thus was lost a story of more than ordinary parts which, unlike most of his stories, was intensely amusing, entirely free from his usual sombre coloring and sad conclusions merged in a mist of impenetrable gloom. He was for a long time afterwards called by those in his particular circle ‘Gaffy’ Poe, a name that he never altogether relished.

“Gaming during the first two or three sessions of the University was very prevalent. In fact, during the early quarter of the present century it was indulged in to a certain extent more or less by our very best people. But, of course, it was something in an institution like this of so pernicious a nature as to demand a decided check. This, the year before his death, Mr. Jefferson attempted by trying to stop the general card-playing at the University; he and the Board of Visitors made an arrangement with the civil authorities to ferret out the most noted of the young gamblers and have them indicted and brought before the next Grand jury. So on a given day the Sheriff with a goodly posse appeared within the doorway of one of the lecture-rooms just as the morning-roll was about to be called, ready to serve his writs on certain young men as they answered to their names. But these young rakes were not to be so easily ensnared in the toils of the enemy. They needed no word of warning; the mere glimpse of the Sheriff’s shadow in the doorway with his men behind him, was more than enough to [page 44:] convey to their minds an idea of what was coming. With Edgar Allan Poe for a leader they indiscriminately ‘bolted,’ — some through the open windows [probably at Professor Long’s, a house having a lower room of many windows, now occupied by Prof. F. H. Smith], and some through the opposite door. Sheriff, posse, and professor were left in full possession of the empty lecture-room. Then the hot pursuit!

“But those who were most wanted made their successful escape, not to their rooms — they would not have been safe there; but off to the ‘Ragged Mountains’ over an unfrequented by-path, but one well-known to Poe and over which he had often travelled. They were aware it would not be well to return to the University until after night; so some of the party had managed in their hasty flight to snatch up a ‘deck’ or so of cards with which to while away the hours of their self-imposed banishment. Their place of retreat was a beautiful dell high up in the mountains, and very inaccessible, being far away from any beaten path, but the spot that was a favorite haunt with Poe. And here the fugitives remained three days.”(1)

Many of Poe’s well-known views on landscape gardening (“Landor’s Cottage,” “The Domain of Arnheim,” etc. ) were doubtless shaping themselves in his fertile youthful brain as he rambled over these Delectable Mountains and drank in their delicious beauty, doubtless too visiting the many lordly plantation houses in the neighborhood, swimming in the yellow Rivanna that cleaves the plain with its golden torrent, and tramping through the hickory and locust forests that [page 45:] fairly flash in spring with the white flame of the milky dogwood blossom.

The following recollections(1) by Mr. William Wertenbaker, were drawn up in 1869. The aged Librarian says:

“Mr. Poe was a student during the second session, which commenced February tst and terminated December 15th, 1826. He signed the matriculation book on the 14th of February, and remained in good standing until the session closed. He was born on the 19th day of January, 1809, being a little over seventeen when he matriculated. He entered the schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, attending the lectures in Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian.

“I was myself a member of the last three classes, and can testify that he was tolerably regular in his attendance, and a successful student, having obtained distinction at the Final Examination in Latin and French; and this was at that time the highest honor a student could obtain. The present regulations in regard to degrees had not then been adopted. Under existing regulations he would have graduated in the two languages above named, and have been entitled to diplomas. On one occasion Professor Blaettermann 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 students would derive benefit. At the next lecture [page 46:] on Italian the Professor stated from his chair that Mr. Poe was the only member of the class who had responded to his suggestion, and paid a very high compliment to his performance. As Librarian I had frequent official intercourse with Mr. Poe, but it was at or near the close of the session before I met him in the social circle, After spending an evening together at a private house, he invited me in on our return to his room. It was a cold night in December, and his fire having gone pretty nearly out, by the aid of some tallow candles, and the fragments of a small table which he broke up for the purpose, he soon rekindled it, and by its comfortable blaze I spent a very pleasant hour with him. On this occasion he spoke with regret of the large amount of money he had wasted and of the debts he had contracted during the session. If my memory is not at fault, he estimated his indebtedness at $2,000, and, though they were gaming debts, he was earnest and emphatic in the declaration that he was bound by honor to pay, at the earliest opportunity, every cent of them. He certainly was not habitually intemperate, but he may occasionally have entered into a frolic. I often saw him in the lecture-room and in the library, but never in the slightest degree under the influence of intoxicating liquors. Among the professors he had the reputation of being a sober, quiet and orderly young man, and to them and the officers his deportment was uniformly that of an intelligent and polished r gentleman. Although his practice of gaming did escape detection, the hardihood, intemperance and reckless wildness imputed to him by his biographers, had he been guilty of them, must inevitably have come to the knowledge of the faculty and met with [page 47:] merited punishment. The records of which I was then, and am still, the custodian, attest that at no time during the session did he fall under the censure of the faculty. Mr. Poe’s connection with the University was dissolved by the termination of the session on the 15th of December, 1826. He then wanted little over a month of having attained to the age of eighteen: the date of his birth was plainly entered in his own handwriting on the matriculation book. Were he now living, his age on the 19th of this month (January, 1869) would be sixty. He never returned to the University, and I think it probable that the night I visited him was the last he spent here. I draw this inference not from memory, but from the fact, that having no further use for his candles and table he made fuel of them.

“Mr. Poe’s works are more in demand and more read than those of any other author, American or foreign, now in the library. To gratify curiosity, I copy from the register a list of the books which Mr. Poe borrowed from the library while he was a student Rollin — ‘Histoire Ancienne,’ ‘Histoire Romaine;’ Robertson’s — ‘America;’ Marshall’s — ‘Washington;’ Voltaire — ‘Histoire Particulière;’ Dufief’s — ‘Nature Displayed.’ ” (University of Virginia, January, 1869.)

Mr. Wertenbaker’s statements may well be supplemented by the following extracts from “Edgar A. Poe, and his College Contemporaries,” published by the Hon. Wm. M. Burwell, editor of “De Bow’s Review,” in the New Orleans “Times-Democrat,” May 18, 1884:

“My recollection of Poe, then little more than a boy, is that he was about five feet two or three inches [page 48:] in height, somewhat bandy-legged, but in no sense muscular or apt in physical exercises. His face was feminine, with finely marked features, and eyes dark, liquid, and expressive. He dressed well and neatly. He was a very attractive companion, genial in his nature and familiar, by the varied life that he had ahead led, with persons and scenes new to the unsophisticated provincials among whom he was thrown. . . . What, however, impressed his associates most were his remarkable attainments as a classical scholar. The professor of ancient languages and literature was an accomplished linguist and philologer. He was a terror to those who had only learned to translate the curriculum of authors taught in the average academy. To these Juvenal and Statius, Homer and Hesiod were the bounds of all classical knowledge, while to most of them the history, literature, geography, and the social conditions of the ancients beyond the lids of the text-books and the dictionary, were unknown.

“With this literature in texts and comments Poe was familiar. It had no doubt been inculcated at Stoke-Newington and is manifest in many beautiful allusions throughout his writings. . . . Among the most significant tributes to his extraordinary powers of analysis and metaphysical reasoning may be noted that Jules Verne, in one of his later novels . . . pronounces Poe the ablest analytical writer of his day, and employs the mathematical methods of The Gold-Bug to solve a cryptographic mystery in his own story.

“The particular dissipation of the University at this time was gaming with cards, and into this Poe plunged with a recklessness of nature that knew no bounds. . . . He called on the writer in Baltimore [page 49:] after his return, as was understood, from Russia. He was in temporary trouble incurred by intemperance, Whatever may have been his natural tendencies to dissipation, Poe found a state of things favorable to their development at the University. Southern young men were indulged in abundant means and entire absence of restraint. They flocked to this new institution as to a watering-place. . . . To the first sessions of this admirable school poured in the Southern youth, most of them intent upon availing themselves of the advantages afforded. Among them, however, were many who had little other object than to combine enjoyment with the preparatory routine of a liberal education. Some of this class arrived with unlimited means, others with elegant equipages. One came from the Eastern Shore with a tandem of blooded horses, a servant, a fowling-piece and a pointer or two. Some were afflicted with habits of extravagance, and contempt for the toilsome acquisition of Knowledge. . . . Mr. Jefferson, having assumed that these high-spirited coadjutors in the defense of our constitutional ramparts comprehended his patriotic motives, had provided no discipline for their scholastic deportment. He confided that the restraints of propriety would be sufficient to make them behave themselves as gentlemen.

“They certainly did behave themselves as gentlemen of the highest style. They gamed, fought duels, attended weddings for thirty miles around, and went in debt in the most liberal manner.

“But we repeat that the University was not filled with this gay and determined class which has been described. There were hundreds who appreciated the privileges of the institution, and who paid no attention to the follies which occurred among their fellow [page 50:] students. These steady students passed through their course of study and vindicated its value by their after lives.

“The particular habit of gaming prevailed because there was no other excitement in which the animal spirits of these wild young men could have evaporated. The buildings first completed stood in the midst of uncultivated fields and other unattractive scenery. The county of Albemarle contained many families of the highest worth. Indeed, it had furnished many of the most eminent men in the State’s history. Mr. Jefferson, Lewis, the explorer of the Missouri, Clark, his associate, Gen. Rogers Clark, who captured Kaskaskia from the British, General Sumter of the Revolution, the Minors, Gilmers, Carters, Carrs and others were all natives of Albemarle, but these families were scattered over a large country. The court-house town of Charlottesville had been the place near which the prisoners captured at Saratoga had been confined. It had been the temporary seat of the Legislature during the invasion or raid of Tarleton. It had a population of several hundred, but at the period now spoken of Mr. Jefferson had recorded, as one of the religious tolerations, that there being no church in the village, each of the principal church persuasions held its services in the court-house under a rotation agreed on among themselves. The families of the professors were too limited to furnish social facilities to the students. So far, then, from there being at or around the University a social intercourse of sufficient extent to have provided even reasonable recreation for so many young men, there was not even a public opinion strong enough to rebuke their excesses.

“The public opinion and corporate ordinances of [page 51:] the village were alike disregarded. The disorder and dissipation of the students were subjects of indignant censure. The few merchants and hotels found their accounts in this extravagance, though the reckless creation of debt led to the enactment of a statute subsequently by which such debts when beyond the reasonable wants of a student, were declared void. A party of students on a frolic were coming along the road between the village and the University, when they suddenly encountered the professor of moral philosophy and political economy. Most of the party escaped; but one, after a distinguished advocate, disdained concealment. ‘I am,’ said he, ‘K. M. M. of Tuscaloosa, Ala., too firm to fly, and far too proud to yield.’ ‘And,’ said the professor, ‘Mr. M. might have added “almost too drunk to stand.” ’ ”

II.

A close study of the Faculty Books for 1825, 1826, and 1827 reveals many facts of interest to the student of University life in Virginia in the first quarter of the century.

Starting out with a democratic theory that the students should be a self-governing body and should — being put on their honor — take care of their own morals and manners, Mr. Jefferson and the early trustees of the institution were before long brought to the conclusion that an outside police was essential to the comfort and reputation of both students and professors. A riot having broken out in October, 1825, among the matriculates, the professors informed Mr. Jefferson that they would resign in a body if a proper police [page 52:] were not appointed to take care of the grounds and buildings, and of their inhabitants. Rules and regulations gradually increased in number and severity (there were already some ninety odd printed in the Enactments of 1825); the blood that oozed from Draco’s famous code began to sprinkle the laws of the , rude forefathers” of the Virginia “hamlet;” and tradition yet lives that one of Jefferson’s own kinsmen was the first student expelled, Roman-like, by the angered founder, through the faculty, from his beloved institution.

As early as December, 1825, a University Reading Room was suggested; the Lawn, well-known and beloved by all University men as the beautiful verdure clad parallelogram that flows in dropping, five-fold terraces from the column-crowned esplanade of the Rotunda down to Lovers’ Walk of the olden days, and to the Ionic-pillared Aula of the present, edged by cloistered dormitories and by the Greek porticoes of the professors’ Pavilions, is first mentioned in the Minutes in October, 1825; the old University bell, purchased by Jefferson himself (now cracked, and preserved as a sacred relic in the Brooks Museum), tolled for the first time July 5, 1826, in honor of the august memory of the great President, who had died the day before; and the first fourth of July oration was appointed to be delivered in this memorable year.

This year, too, a library catalogue was suggested; the library (originally placed in the old Central College building, now Pavilion VII., the residence of Prof. N. K. Davis, and first of the Pavilions to be built) was ordered opened every day except Saturday and Sunday, from 3.30 to 5 P.M., so that students might consult the rare and fine collection of standard [page 53:] works picked and chosen by Jefferson himself, and afterwards enriched by President Madison’s collection and many miscellaneous donations and purchases.

Over and over again during these troublesome years — a triad of experimental beginnings — the students’ names were ordered to be painted on the doors of their dormitories, and professors were permitted to break down these doors if they were not instantly opened on requisition; but for some reason the painting does not appear to have been done. Parents and guardians were admitted to the examinations, reports of which were ordered printed in 1826, in the Richmond “Enquirer” and other papers; and in midsummer, 1827, there is a record of examinations beginning at 5 o‘clock in the morning!

Ever since this same year the janitor has rung the morning alarum-bell at 6.30, and this year was also signalized by the first use of the merit system in the arrangement of the names of the successful examinees, the names being arranged in several divisions (1st, 2nd, 3rd) according to the standing of the student; the earlier announcements, as in Poe’s two certificates quoted below, having been alphabetical. The final examinations of this year seem to have lasted only one and one-half to two and one-half hours each. Professors’ reports were handed in and discussed in full faculty meeting in 1826 and 1827, and the first reference to monthly circulars to parents occurs in October, 1827. The faculty balloted for chairman, and already, in 1827, there were complaints of the arduous duties of the chairmanship.

A valued correspondent throws amusing light on the difficulties of student life at the University in those days, and writes: [page 54:]

“I will relate a little incident of Dr. Thomas’ ” — Thomas was Poe’s desk-mate at Burke’s Academy, Richmond, — “student days at the University as he told me. It may be an incentive to students of today. At that time, while Mr. Jeferson was Rector, . . . there was only one text-book in Mixed Mathematics, which had to be used by a class of ten students to prepare on the lectures given by the professor. Consequently, the class would divide in two sections, one party studying until one o‘clock at night, and the other party after that time until morning!”

No wonder that the chairmanship went a-begging; the professors would not elect, and the appointment had finally to be made by the Visitors.

Poe’s introduction to Latin and Greek, to ancient rhythms and metres in their higher artistic forms, and to ancient and modern literatures in all their myriad cultural and aesthetic associations, was thus in the hands of accomplished men who took him up at the point where his thorough training in England for five years and his brilliant record at Mr. Clarke’s and Mr. Burke’s classical schools in Richmond for four or five years more, rendered him their fit and apt pupil. Col. J. T. L. Preston attested privately and publicly — especially in his rem i niscences of Poe in the Ingram Biography — the poet’s rare accomplishments — for a mere boy — in reading and ” capping” Latin verse, and Professor Blaettermann eulogized his translation from Tasso. It may not be at all impossible that Poe’s penchant for geography, wild and weird as it is, in “Arthur Gordon Pym,” “The Journal of Julius Rodman,” and elsewhere, may have been suggested by Professor Long’s passion for this study and continuous harping on it, following Jefferson’s contention that [page 55:] geography and history must be studied together as essential subsidiaries to textual researches in Latin and Greek; and Poe’s passion for moon-hoaxes and lunar voyages may have had their inception in Professor Tucker’s “A Voyage to the Moon,” published in 1827 and reviewed by Dr. Dunglison in the “American Quarterly” for March, 1828. “Its evident aim was to fulfil for the existing age,” says the Doctor, “what Swift had so successfully accomplished for that which had passed; to attack, by the weapons of ridicule, those votaries of knowledge who may have sought to avail themselves of the universal love of novelty amongst mankind to acquire celebrity, etc., who may have been misled by their own ill-regulated imaginadons to obtrude upon the world their crude and imperfect theories and systems, to the manifest retardation of knowledge.”(1)

It was at any rate the seed-time for this precocious genius who, according to every account, had already composed many a rhyme, even before he came to the University, and possessed a tropically luxuriant imagination only too ready to take in hints and suggestions from every quarter.

His fondness for French and for France was evinced by the little episode in Richmond in 18x4, when Lafayette visited the city, and by Poe’s historical readings in that language in 1876. In 1824. Lafayette had visited Jefferson and was superbly entertained at a banquet in one of the unfinished corridors of the Rotunda; and traditions still float about the ancient burgh of enthusiastic spectators watching the three presidents driving around in a coach with the French general as their guest. [page 56:]

While Poe was at the University, the death of Jefferson occurred, on the ever-memorable 4th of July, 1826, when he and his president-friend Adams passed over to the other shore on the same day.

The years 1825, 1826, and 1827 were undoubtedly critical and crucial years in the history of the University. The novelty of the educational experiment, heralded far and wide over the continent; the scepticism with which it had been viewed by Northern specialists in pedagogy; the doubt as to whether a faculty so thoroughly European could adapt itself to republican institutions; the untried democratic government of the students by themselves; the abolition (so warmly advocated at Harvard by George Ticknor), of the ancient class system, and the wholesale introduction of the elective system of the German universities, a hundred years in advance of the time; the introduction of non-compulsory attendance at chapel and of optional military drill the very first year of the University; the establishment of workshops for practical education in 1825; the encouragement of vaccination by gratis treatment, inaugurated by the medical professors under the supervision of Jefferson — were all items and experiments viewed, some with interest, others with amazement and incredulity by the pedagogues of the time.

The Minutes of this period abound in allusions to the wildness and extravagance of the young men, peculiar not to the University, but common to the whole country during the first decades of the century. Boyish pranks of all kinds, such as ringing the college bell, firing of squibs and pistols, playing loo and whist, etc., are duly and solemnly recorded in these naive notes (which were never intended for the [page 57:] public eye), along with the mention of drinking “mint-slings,” apple-toddy, and egg-nog, the keeping of dogs by the students, gambling, riotous living, and licentious conduct. It was merely the bubbling, ebullient life of the Young Republic released for a moment from discipline, gambolling in its conscious strength, effervescing momentarily in intemperance and revelry, not essentially or irremediably bad.

In fact, of the men who were at the University with Poe in 1826, a long and remarkable list may be compiled showing thirty or forty who became distinguished in various departments of literary, political or ecclesiastical life, his class-mates or intimate friends; members of legislatures, members of Congress, consuls, generals, doctors of divinity, judges, a governor, chairmen of the Faculty, University professors, presidents of colleges, missionaries, editors, scientists, officers in the United States and Confederate States armies, physicians, railroad presidents, — a list(1) long and remarkable indeed, partially as follows:

Baylor, Richard, Member Virginia Legislature.

Boyd, T. J., Member Va. Legislature and of Board of Public Works.

Brown, Algernon S., M. D.; Member of La. Legislature.

Brown, Geo. F., U. S. Consul to Algiers.

Burwell, Wm. M., Author, Editor of De Bow’s Review. [page 58:]

Carter, John A., Member of Va. Convention of 1850; Member Va. Legislature.

Chalmers, Joseph W., Vice-Chancellor of Mississippi; Member U. S. Senate; Judge.

Coleman, Henry E., Member Va. Legislature; County Supt. Schools.

Collier, Robert R., Member Va. Senate. Daniel, Wm., Judge.

Davis, J. A. G., Professor of Law and Chairman of Faculty U. Va.

Dixon, Henry T., Major and Paymaster U. S. A.

Gholson, Thomas S., District Judge, Member of Congress of Confederate States (Poe’s intimate friend).

Graham, Geo. Mason, Capt. U. S. Vol. Mexico; Vice-President and Supervisor Louisiana State Military Academy; Adj. Gen-‘l La.

Harrison, Gessner, eminent philologist, Professor and Chairman of the Faculty of the University of Va.

Harvie, Lewis E., Member of Va. Legislature, President R. & D. R. R.

Holladay, Albert L., Presbyterian Minister, Missionary to Persia, President of Hampden-Sidney College.

Hubard, Edmund W., Member of Congress.

Hunter, R. M. T., M. C. and U. S. Senator, Senator C. S., Secretary of State Confederate States, Treasurer of Virginia.

Lee, Zaccheus C., An eloquent and able advocate, of Washington.

Lewis, Geo. W., Member of Va. Legislature; Member Va. Senate; Judge. [page 59:]

Loving, Wm. V., Commonwealth’s Attorney; Judge. Magruder, B. H., Colonel; Member Va. Legislature. Magruder, John Bankhead, Capt. U. S. A. in Mexico; Maj. — Gen. C. S. A.

Murphy, Wm. M., Member Alabama Legislature. Pleasants, Hugh R., Author, Editor of the Richmond Whig and of the Dispatch.

Preston, John S., Orator, Brig. General C. S. A.

Scott, Robert E., Commonwealth’s Attorney; Member of Va. Legislature, Member of Virginia Convention of 1861.

Shackelford, Henry, Member Va. Legislature; Commonwealth’s Attorney; Judge.

Sims, Wm. D., Member Va. Legislature.

Slaughter, Philip, Episcopal Minister; D.D., author, Historiographer of the Diocese of Virginia.

Sothoron, J. H., Member Maryland Legislature.

Swann, Thomas, Pres. B. & O. R. R., Mayor of Baltimore, Governor of Maryland, Member of Congress.

Taylor, Robert E., Member Va. Legislature.

Taylor, Tazewell, Member Va. Convention of 1950; Col. C. S. A., Member of Va. Senate.

Tutwiler, Henry, zst M.A. of the University of Virginia, University Professor in Alabama.

Wallace, Robert; Member Va. Legislature. Wertenbaker, Wm., 42 years P. M. Univ. of Va., 43 years librarian and secretary of the Faculty.

Willis, John, Member Va. Legislature. [page 60:]

It will thus be seen that there could have been in many respects no more admirable social and intellectual environment in the United States for a young man of precocious promise than existed at the University of Virginia in 1826. The place was renowned for its hospitality, heightened by the delightful sociability that reigned at Monticello; the faculty was full of brilliant men of European culture, distinguished or soon to be in various lines of literature and research; while the vices prevalent at Charlottesville were only those prevalent all over the continents of America and Europe at the time.

A sensitive youth; impressionable to all the fashions of the day, and surrounded by a social circle that thought convivial drinking and card-playing “At Homes” indispensable to remaining at all in polite society, would easily fall in with the habits of his “set,” and perhaps cultivate them with passion and excess. It was the fault of the time, as the Essays of Elia and the contemporary novels will show to any one who is not maliciously predetermined to fig these vices on Poe alone.

That Poe was not indifferent to the advantages of debate and of literary exercises is shown by his signature: “Edgar A. Poe, Secretary Jefferson Society,” appended to the Minutes of the Jefferson Literary Society.(1) His own fine gifts of elocution were noted even when he was a child and continued to distinguish him all through his life, in public as well as in private. Many testimonials attest the beauty of his readings and recitals in parlor and hall, gifts inherited from his mother, who was both musically and dramatically endowed; [page 61:] and these gifts were doubtless exercised in the halls of the Jefferson Society where so many future Congressmen and legislators were his compeers and associates.

The following extracts from the Faculty Minutes of December, 1826, give the finishing touch to Poe’s career at the University of Virginia:

I.

“At a meeting of the Faculty, December 15th, 1826, —

“Mr. Long made a report of the examination of the classes belonging to the School of Ancient Languages, and the names of the students who excelled at the examination of these classes:

Senior Latin Class:

GESSNER HARRISON of Rockingham.

ALBERT L. HOLLADAY of Spottsylvania.

BERTHIER JONES of Amelia.

EDGAR A. POE of Richmond City. etc., etc., etc.”

II.

“The names of the students who excelled in the Senior French Class as reported by the Professor of Modern Languages were as follows

PHILIP ST. GEORGE AMBLER of Richmond City.

JOHN CARY of Campbell.

GESSNER HARRISON of Rockingham.

WM. MICHIE of Hanover.

CONWAY NUTT of Culpepper.

EDGAR A. POE of Richmond City.

WM. SELDEN of Norfolk.

HENRY TUTWILER of Rockingham.” [page 62:]

Thus Poe’s University corer was crowned with scholastic honors in the particular studies which he “elected” to pursue. He was only seventeen years of age, an orphan, the foster-son of a min who in the last six months had inherited a fortune : a child supremely gifted with the excitable poet’s temperament and therefore easily urged to nervous excess, thrown suddenly, a mere boy, into the free-and-easy set of University students over whom, at the time, no restraints had been set. The wonder is that Edgar Poe did not turn out a complete reprobate instead of being mentioned in the final examination reports as “distinguished” in Latin and French. During the next three or four years he still further distinguished himself by publishing three volumes of poems at eighteen, nineteen, and twenty-one years of age respectively, the product of these so-called dissipated years when he was supposed to be doing little or nothing. Ill-fitted as he was, yet, for his life-work, undisciplined, absolutely, alone in the world, without a guiding hand to direct and lead him, the object of a capricious charity that might at any time instantaneously be withdrawn — as actually happened — a waif from the start, yet with influential relations who never seem to have acknowledged him, the eccentric lad of genius developed into the sensitive and sarcastic man with no weapon but his tongue and pen, urged by the irresistible force of his mind to write, to attempt creative worst, to compose poems from his tenth year, to long for public recognition.

Apparently with little or no moral training, yet with an abnormal consciousness of conscience, the boy left the University to return to it home whither, as one of his early friends significantly remarks, he was never known [page 63:] to invite even his molt intimate friend, in the spontaneity of boyish friendship; a home now rendered chilling and inhospitable from the rumors of his escapades at the University, which he was soon to leave, first for the Allan counting-house and then for the army, in the desperate endeavor to work out for himself a position and a career. For the next three years the iron indeed entered into the soul of the boy; his one solace was the beautiful gift of Poesy, which burst all bounds of restraint and was soon to revel in the bold and fanciful lines of Al Aaraaf.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 35:]

1.  Unpublished MSS. Archives of the University of Virginia. Bound Catalogues of the University of Virginia, 1825-44.

Schele de Vere Catalogue of Students of the University of Virginia, 1825-75.

Files of the University of Virginia Magazine, 1856-57, 1900.

H. B. Adams’ “Jefferson and the University of Virginia.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 37:]

1.  University of Virginia Magazine, Vol. XIX., p. 45.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 38:]

1.  Not “the place,” as Professor Woodberry states, “Edgar Allan Poe,” p. 25.

2.  Misspelt Allen in the records.

3.  Professors Long and Blaettermann.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 39:]

1.  University of Virginia Magazine, Vol. XIX., p. 426 seq. Mr. Allan had only recently inherited large wealth from his uncle, Mr. Galt (1825), and thus felt able to give his foster-son the beat University education.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 44:]

1.  The writer has considerably condensed the account in the Magazine.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 45:]

1.  Here reproduced by the present writer from his paper is The Independent for September, 1900, with the kind permission of the editor.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 55:]

1.  University of Virginia Magazine, XIX. [[, p.]] 557.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 57:]

1.  The list of contemporaries of Poe drawn up by Hon. Wm. M. Burwell (New Orleans Times Democrat for May 18, 1884) is very inaccurate; ours is taken from the official catalogue of the University for 1826.

This list was compiled for the editor by the obliging Librarian of the University, Mr. F. W. Page.

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

1.  It is well to add that some doubt has been thrown on the authenticity of this signature.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - LLEAP, 1903] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Chapter 02)