Text: Hervey Allen, “Chapter 05,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1926), volume 1, pp. 63-89


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[page 63, unnumbered:]

 

CHAPTER V
Israfel in Albion

 

THE correspondence of Poe’s guardian John Allan with his relatives in Scotland during the year 1811 and 1812, and from then on to the end of the war, the letters from his sisters and brother-in-law at Irvine and Kilmarnock(96) fairly teem with references and invitations to him and his wife to revisit the haunts of his youth. In 1811 he had intended to return from Lisbon by way of Great Britain, when the imminence of hostilities intervened. The war, of course, had enforced the postponement of the family wishes, and his own, for some years. Now, at last, he was about to see them realized.

There were, in addition, business reasons the most urgent. The cessation of trade between England and America had borne peculiarly heavily upon the Virginia tobacco merchants. Accounts for cargoes shipped just before the war were still unsettled, and it was necessary to close these and to reestablish personal relations with English houses in a market where tobacco prices were extraordinarily high, due to the cessation of supply, but which might be expected to be glutted as soon as intercourse was resumed, from the immense reserve stocks on hand. All of this required the personal presence of at least one member of the firm, and it was the junior partner, who, combining his personal desires and business advantage, undertook the mission to establish a foreign branch.(97)

Personally it must have been with a good deal of pleasure that John Allan looked forward to a reunion with his family upon his native heath. It had now been many years since he had left Scotland a penniless youth to make his fortunes in the land where [page 64:] fortunes were then to be made. The pot at the end of the rainbow had not proved a mere dream, and the orphan was returning to his relatives in comfortable, though not wealthy circumstances, enhanced social prestige, the prospect of his uncle’s fortune in the foreground, and a beautiful young wife and sister-in-law, for Miss Valentine accompanied them. Perhaps not the least factor in his natural pride of accomplishment was the presence of his handsome, brilliant, and lovable little foster-son, Edgar, a living testimony to the charitable inclinations and capacity of his purse. Some stress has already been laid on the less appealing aspects of John Allan’s character. It is only just to make the point, at this juncture, that there was also in the man a deep and abiding generosity and capability for the finer manifestations of human affection. Like most of us, this wily Scot had contradictions in his nature. He was capable, at once, of a generous bounty and a mean parsimony, a large tolerance and a bigoted determination to dominate. During his association with him, Edgar Poe experienced the entire gamut of the capabilities of a nature, the vigor of which can only be described by the adjective “tremendous.” It was no weakling into whose nest the little fledgling had fallen, but that of a hawk, whose wings were strong to protect, but with talons that clutched, and a beak that pierced to the heart.

At the time when John Allan and his family sailed for England, the child Edgar had been taken not only into the house, but into the arms and heart of his foster-father. The merchant’s correspondence at this date and afterwards bears unmistakable evidence of the pride, the affection and the hopes which he cherished for the boy, and it is safe to say that from 1815 to 1820, and for a year or two after, John Allan looked upon little “Edgar Allan” as he would have regarded the child of his loins. As for his wife, Frances, and her sister, — they were completely under the boy’s spell. Only the cloud of his school days cast a shadow on an otherwise sunny landscape.

Before leaving Richmond, Mr. Allan auctioned his household furniture and some personal effects through the commission house of Monicure, Robinson & Pleasants, drew £335.10.6 from his [page 65:] own firm, had his goods conveyed by dray and boat to the ship “Lothair” anchored in the James, and, on June 17, 1815, set sail for England with his wife, Miss Valentine and Edgar. From these facts it can be seen that he contemplated a stay of some duration.(98) Edgar left behind him his little sweetheart Catherine Potiaux of whom, even at this early age, he was very fond.

As the custom then was, Mr. Allan provided his own stores for the voyage. These he purchased partly in Richmond, while the rest came on board at Hampton Roads, sent over from Norfolk by the firm of Moses Myers & Sons. A few brief glimpses can be caught of the family during their voyage of thirty-six days. The “Lothair” sailed from the “Roads” on June 22, 1815, and a letter brought back by the pilot boat tells us that, “Ned (Edgar) cares but little about it, poor fellow.” From later letters, from the other side, we learn that Edgar soon recovered, however, and inferences show us John Allan, or his pretty wife with the child on her lap in the cabin, instructing him out of Murray’s Reader, The Olive Branch, or Murray’s Speller which had been provided for the purpose at a cost of 16s. 6d.

They arrived at Liverpool July 28, 1815, and next day Mr. Allan writes his partner Charles Ellis that, “The ladies were verry sick. . . . Edgar was a little sick but had recovered.” In Liverpool John Allan had business to transact with Ewart Myers & Company.

Apparently family ties in Scotland were powerful, for business detained them only a short while, and a few weeks later we find them at Greenock in Scotland, where they had probably just arrived, or had come over from Irvine only a few miles away in order to catch an outbound American mail. Evidently they succeeded, for we have this hurried letter from John Allan to Charles Ellis, his partner, written with the family hanging over [page 66:] him with messages for home, and little Edgar pleading, “Pa, say something for me.”

Greenock,(99) Sept 21, 1815

D. CHARLES,

I arrived here about a half an hour ago . . . finding some American vessels on the eve of sailing I avail myself of the chance to write a few lines, though I cannot say much about our business . . . (evidently the time was too short. Here follow some price quotations of tobacco, of which he continues.) I flatter myself from the small quantity in London & the Postieur of affairs on the Continent that our sales will be profitable.

It would appear that France and the Allies have concluded a Treaty but it has not been promulgated — the Allies will hold the strong posts for a while until the refractory spirit of some of the old adherents of Bonaparte has subsided. France is far from being settled. Louis is too lenient & too peaceable the French delight in War I believe they care but little who rules them provided that ruler indulges them in their Habit which 25 years of war has so strongly fixed upon them.

Provisions of every description are extremely low here and in this quarter they are in the midst of Harvest, the crops are abundant and I think will be got in well. . . .

Frances says she would like the Land and lakes better if it was warmer and less rain, she bids me say she will write Margaret (Mrs. Ellis) as soon as she is settled but at present she is so bewildered with wonders that she canna write. Her best Love to Margaret & a thousand kisses to Thos. (Thos, Ellis a playmate of Poe) Nancy (Miss Valentine) says give my love to them all — Edgar says Pa say something for me, say I was not afraid coming across the Sea. Kiss Theo, (?) for him. We all write our best Love to my Uncle Galt and old Friends,

I am — etc.

JOHN ALLAN(100)

(Postscript) Edgars Love to Rosa & Mrs. Mackenzie.

Frances Allan’s remarks about the weather in that part of Scotland where the Allans had gone to visit was by no means purely conversational. Greenock is officially the town with the [page 67:] heaviest rainfall in Scotland,(101) and that is saying a good deal for the rain. It may have been that some early memories of this “dewey, misty” climate and

. . . the chill seas

around the misty Hebrides

were so thoroughly soaked into Edgar Poe that he long remembered the plashy fields about Irvine and Kilmarnock.

Another great poet tramping through Kilmarnock only three years later was overtaken by a rain in the very town, from whereabouts John Keats writes to Reynolds on July 13, 1818, that the rain had stopped him on the way to Glasgow. Mrs. Allan’s meteorological observations are therefore confirmed by great authority, in which His Majesty’s Weather Reports concur, so we may be definitely sure that rain it did.

For a’ that, however, Irvine in Ayrshire, where the Allans “settled down” is in the heart of the Burns country, and was at that time a lovely little seaport on the north bank of the river of the same name crossed by a picturesque old stone bridge. Here Poe must often have stood to watch the ships, or have crossed on excursions with his father’s young cousins and nephews, the Galt or Fowlds boys, over the river to Seagate or Stonecastle nearby, both picturesque ruins. An academy had been founded at Irvine centuries before the Allans arrived, and there during the Summer of 1815 he was sent to school, doubtless in company with several of his “cousins.”(102)

The country about fairly swarmed with John Allan’s relatives and friends, all anxious to welcome him, to see his beautiful wife and the “little boy,” and to hear about the health of their rich uncle in Richmond, a theme of considerable family interest. A married sister and her husband, Allan Fowlds, lived at Kilmarnock with several children, among them Frances, the namesake to whom Mrs. Allan had sent the coral bracelet some years before. One cannot help wondering if Mrs. Fowlds had really [page 68:] saved some of her “nice nappy ale” for her brother, and if Jean Guthrie did come asking for “her Johnny,” how Mrs. Allan took it.(103)

At Irvine itself, where the Allans seem to have set up some sort of housekeeping while Edgar went to the Academy, lived three other sisters, Eliza, Mary, and Jane, together with other relatives, the Walshes(104) and some friends, a Capt. James Solomon, whom Mr. Allan had befriended while a prisoner of war in America,(104) and Mr. Ferguson “who kept a fine gig and dashed about at a great rate.”(106) There is also some reference to “little brothers,”(106) perhaps a term of affection for the Galt children, the orphans.

At any rate, despite the rain and the Scotch mist, we may be sure it was a merry little society and a pleasant home coming, and that young Edgar Poe and Nancy Valentine shared in the welcome. The bonds of family in Scotland are close, and these two fell within the magic circle. The country about is beautiful, and aroused Keats’ admiration three years later, on his walking trip with Charles Armitage Brown.(107) At Kilmarnock, Poe could not escape hearing about Bobby Burns; “Highland Mary” is buried at Greenock; and the poet’s lines and songs were at that time and for a generation to come on everyone’s lips. Here they saw the strange effect of the long northern twilight and the eery red shadows of the sunsets long after the hour of a Virginia night-fall. Even in England in July the twilight docs not end until about 10 P.M., and Poe reveled in just such light effects afterward, and strange valleys — [page 69:]

In the midst of which all day

The red sunlight lazily lay

Here, too, he was moving in the very scenes which Scott describes. If these things did not leave a direct mark upon his style, his foreign experiences must at least have enhanced and made vivid his future delving into the literature of Britain, amid scenes of which he had personal knowledge.

About thirty miles south of Irvine and Kilmarnock on the Cree Water,(108) in a country of beautiful private parks and small lochs, lived the Galts at a handsome estate called “Flowerbanks” that overlooked a charming prospect in the Cree Valley where the fishers could be seen drawing their nets. This is close to the “Bride of Lammermoor” country, and is one of the most charming sections of Scotland. The Allans visited their relatives here and evidently stayed for some little time with the family, which seems to have consisted of an Aunt, Mrs. Elizabeth Galt; William Galt and his wife, “Cousin Jane”; and the orphans, four or possibly three Galt boys, — for Thomas seems to have gone to sea. Here doubtless Poe played about the country with these children, with whom he had ample time to become intimate then and later on, amid scenes the charm of which could not have been wasted, even upon his extreme youth. This was probably in the late Summer of 1815.(109)

“Flowerbanks,” however, was not the only place visited by the Allans. From Kilmarnock the family went to visit in Greenock, and from thence to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Mr. Allan doubtless combined his business and pleasure at these places,(110) but he was accompanied by his family and little Edgar Poe, who certainly could not have been oblivious to the attraction of strange sights for young eyes. Whether all of the Galt orphans went along is uncertain, but it is known that one of them, James [page 70:] Galt, then about fifteen years old, was of the company, and to his later reminiscences we are indebted for the facts. This nephew, it seems, was a favorite of old William Galt in Richmond who to some extent kept a tab on John Allan through the boy’s letters.(111)

It had been John Allan’s intent to leave Edgar at school at Irvine during this pleasure trip, and upon his return to England, but both Mrs. Allan and Miss Valentine objected, an attitude ably seconded by young Poe himself, so that it was agreed to allow Edgar to make the Scotch “grand tour” and return to London with the ladies, provided he would go back to Scotland later to attend school at Irvine with young James Galt. This early rift in the family over Edgar’s care and whereabouts is not without significance as it shows plainly that Mrs. Allan was still the main protagonist for the boy, while her husband was anxious to settle matters, even then, by packing him off to school, a device to which he was to resort later on when the household became divided over more important matters in Richmond.

In the Fall, the family returned to England, stopping at Newcastle and Sheffield on the way, and landing in London on October 7, 1815. Here was another sea voyage, part of the way, amid notable scenery, at a time when Poe was beginning to awaken to himself and the world about him. It may have been that he saw Ailsa Rock glimmering far out at sea of which Keats wrote about the same time:

. . . thou art dead asleep;

Thy life is but two dead eternities —

The last in air, the former in the deep;

First with the whales, last with eagle skies —

These coasts seem to have affected the sea poetry of Keats, and it is certain that much of the poetry of Poe deals with a craggy and mist-veiled region.

The Allans did not immediately find lodgings, but, upon their arrival at London, stopped at Blake’s Hotel, where on October 10, 1815, John Allan wrote Charles Ellis that they had arrived three days before from Glasgow, and that their satisfaction with [page 71:] the Scottish sights was, “high in all respects.” A few days later they found a satisfactory residence in Russell Square, on the present site of the Bedford and West Central Hotels. From here on October 15, 1815, John Allan writes that he is sitting before “a snug fire in a nice little sitting parlor in No. 47, Southampton Row, while Frances and Nancy are sewing and Edgar is reading a little story book.” How we should like to know what it was! Evidently Edgar read a good deal even at seven years of age.

Sometime later, probably about the end of 1815, Poe returned with James Galt to Scotland to attend once more the grammar school at Irvine.(112) Edgar, it seems, was very unwilling to part with the family and the women folks pled to keep him in London, but in vain. Poe’s character even at this time began to manifest its wilful characteristics. James Galt says that on the voyage back from London to Irvine, Edgar made “an unceasing fuss all the way.” Young Poe had started for Scotland very unwillingly, and he evidently intended to let the world know the state of his feelings.

At Irvine, Edgar Poe and James Galt lived with Mary Allan, John Allan’s sister, while the two boys went to school. The house where they stayed, called the Bridgegate House, was till lately still standing. There, James Galt and the young Edgar Poe occupied the same room, and from the lips of the older boy we begin to get a definite impression of young Israfel. He was, it seems, very mature for his age, full of old-fashioned talk, filled with a great self-reliance and absolutely devoid of fear. Life with “Aunt Mary” and at the Academy did not suit him, and he made “plans” to go back to America, perhaps with Catherine in mind, or to run away to London, probably back to his dear “Ma,” and “Aunt Nancy,” but certainly not back to his dear “Pa,” who had so nonchalantly packed him off from all those he loved. This is the first of Edgar’s many plans to run away, and in a little lad of seven or eight years at most, it shows a spirit of adventure, self-confidence and obstinancy that is to be remarked. Evidently “Aunt Mary Allan,” who, from her letters, seems to have been a kindly and knowing person, had a rapid time of it with the fiery little boy storming about her quiet old house. [page 72:]

In the canny and dour atmosphere of the Scotch village, Poe undoubtedly missed the note of gaiety and the warm, generous influences of his Richmond home. Frequent services at the Irvine and Kilmarnock kirks were long and lugubrious; the discipline at the Academy, a school with medieval traditions, was strict and probably corporeal; one of the exercises in writing was the copying of epitaphs from the old graves in the kirkyard close by, and there was doubtless no lack of “auld licht” sermons by Dr. Robertson, to the accompaniment of frequent reversals of the hour glass, — all the atmosphere of Protestant piety which had so outraged Burns a few years earlier. Indeed, in the very square with the Allan house at Irvine, was Templeton’s book shop where Burns had gone to turn over many a sheet of old songs.(118)

There were mitigating circumstances, however; visits to Allan Fowlds, the merry nurseryman, and his family at Kilmarnock a few miles away; games in Nelson Street with Jock Gregory and Willie Anderson, who, as an old man in 1887, recalled Edgar Poe as, much fussed over by the Allans, and a lively apt youngster with a will of his own; — and there was a ghost-walk just opposite in the garden of Lord Kilmarnock’s mansion which the lord’s lady was said to haunt.

Certainly Edgar was restless, and much affected the old, red, creaking-wheeled riding carts of the country upon which he rode gaily beside the driver; a little grey-eyed, dark, curly-headed boy dressed in a green duffle apron and thick-napped, red Kilmarnock tarn o’shanter, — drinking in the strange sights of the old Scotch villages all about — but still making trouble for “Aunty Mary.” She, at last, poor soul, could stand it no longer, and in a burst of exasperation packed up his clothes and shipped him back to London,(112) doubtless to the annoyance of John Allan, and the rapturous kisses of “Ma” and “Aunt Nancy.” James Galt seems to have gone with him, for, not long after, there are letters to Richmond from the former. Mrs. Allan was very fond of [page 73:] these Galt children, too, and in October, 1818, the curtain lifts on the little family for a brief glimpse, when Mrs. Galt of “Flowerbanks” writes to John Allan in London, and encloses a message to his good wife.

Oct. 24, 1818

. . . Tell Mrs. Allan that her attention and great kindness to my children can never be forgotten as in every letter they are extolling her goodness. . . . My kind love to Miss Valentine and if she is half as good as she is represented to me she must be everything that anyone would wish. Compliments to Mrs. A., Miss V., little Edgar and Jane. . . .

Your affectionate Aunt

ELIZABETH GALT(113)

This letter is interesting as supplying the names of the persons in John Allan’s household in London, and is one of the many proofs of the love for children shown by Frances Allan. “Jane” is John Allan’s own sister.

There is an earlier glimpse than this, though, some two years before. Edgar could not have remained very long at Irvine, for he seems to have returned early in 1816 to London where a letter reached him written from Richmond in the Spring. It was from his little sweetheart Catherine Potiaux, Mrs. Allan’s godchild. As the first of the many love letters that Poe received, and from a little girl seven or eight years old, now dead for nearly a century, it is not without a quaint interest of its own.

Richmond, 18, 1816

. . . Give my love to Edgar and tell him I want to see him very much. . . . I expect Edgar does not know what to make of such a large City as London, tell him Josephine and all the children want to see him. . . . (114)

Evidently Edgar was missed and remembered!

Upon his return to London in 1816, Poe was sent to the Misses [page 74:] Dubourg’s(115) boarding school at 146, Sloane Street, Chelsea, not far from the South Kensington Museum, where he continued to live, making short visits to the family, probably until the end of the Spring of 1817 or later. The Misses Dubourg were the sisters of a clerk in the employ of Ellis & Allan during 1816 and 1817, but of them little is known. The record of Poe’s life at this school is now confined to the following bill for tuition, which tells a rather complete story for such a document. Among other things we learn that Edgar was known as “Master Allan.”

Masr. Allan’s School Acct. to Midsummer 1816

Board & Tuition 1/4 year 7 17 6

Separate Bed 1 1 0

Washing 0 10 6

Seat in Church 0 3 0

Teachers and Servants 0 5 0

Writing 0 15 0

Do. Entrance 0 10 0

Copy, Books, Pens, etc., etc 0 3 0

Medicine, School Expenses . 0 5 0

Repairing Linen, shoe strings etc. . . 0 3 0

Mavor’s Spelling 0 2 0

Fresnoy’s Geography 0 2 0

Prayer Book 0 3 0

Church Catechism Explained . . . . 0 0 9

Catechism of Hist, of England . . . 0 0 9

12 2 0

Receipted, July 6, 1816

sgd. GEORGE DUBOURG

On the back we find that, “School recommences Monday the 22nd of July.”(116)

During the stay of the family in England there are several mentions of Mrs. Allan’s being in ill health, a more or less chronic condition, judging by other frequent references in family correspondence of later date, that was to play a considerable part [page 75:] in the relations later between Edgar Poe and John Allan. In a letter written to his uncle in Richmond as early as 1816, John Allan specifically states that his wife is in poor health. The earliest mention of any letters of Poe occurs in connection with his foster-mother’s illness. In August, 1817, John Allan took his wife Frances to Chettingham where she seems to have improved, and on August 14 of that year he writes his bookkeeper George Dubourg in London, enclosing a letter from the boy, and saying that if Edgar, who was evidently left behind at school, wishes to write at all he must send his letters to his mama, “as I do not think she will return with me.” Mrs. Allan, finding the waters of benefit, wished to give them a longer trial. Why John Allan should have returned the letter is not clear unless it was to place it in the office files (sic). In any event it appears he did not wish to receive the boy’s communications. Such incidents as these would be trivial did they not show definitely from which direction the warm and cold winds blew, even as early as this.(117)

In the Summer of 1817 about the time that Edgar left the Misses Dubourgs’ school, John Allan moved from 47, Southampton Row to what is now number 83. This house was still standing in 1915, and is the same one that Poe mentions in Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling, as “39, Southampton Row, Russell Square, Parish o’ Bloomsbury.”(557) Here they remained till shortly before they left London.

While in that city, John Allan had his place of business at 18 Basing Hall,(118) under the name of Allan & Ellis, a reversal of style that is said not to have pleased his partner at home. Most of his business was with Thomas S. Coles, and A. Saltmarsh, his “inspectors,” and with the firm of John Gilliat & Co. His affairs did not prosper, and that certain other worries followed him overseas, this rather snappy glimpse of home correspondence not without direct interest in itself, and bearing directly upon Poe, will testify. The letter is from William Erwin, Edgar’s former [page 76:] schoolmaster in Richmond, which reached Mr. Allan in London March 7, 1818.

Richmond, Novr. 27th, 1817

DR. SIR

I take upon myself the liberty of writing to you this note, relative to Master Edward Collier, whom you placed under my tuition in the spring of the year 1815 and who has regularly attended my school since that period. His mother informs me that she has frequently reminded your partner Mr. Ellis to mention Edward’s situation to you, but thinks that amid the hurry of important communications he had omitted the subject altogether. She has accordingly solicited me to write to you, and to present a statement of Edward’s account from his first entrance to the end of the year. It is as follows;

Mr. Allan To Wm Erwin, Dr.

For Master Edward Collier’s tuition from March isth

1815 to March 14 1818 at $42 per annum $126.00

Cr. June 1815 by cash from Mr. Allan $12.25

Oct. 1816 by cash from Mr. Ellis $29.75 42.00

To Balance 84.00

Thus there will be a balance due me of $84 on the i4th of March next You will confer a favor on me, and equally so on Mrs. Collier, by dropping a few lines to me through the medium of your firm, first opportunity, expressive of your concern for the tuition and education of the above child, as far as you may deem proper in regard to the future. It is proper here also to add, that no improper step was taken by me, or any call made on any of your friends here for the payment of my bill, but on Mr. Ellis, who informed me, that some teacher had warranted the firm of Ellis and Allan, which induced him to refer any claims of this sort to your own inspection — I mention this, lest you might have imagined it to have been done by me.

I trust Edgar continues to be well and to like his school as much as he used to when he was in Richmond. He is a charming boy and it will give me great pleasure to hear how he is, and where you have sent him to school, and also what he is reading. There is no news here at present, . . . Poor Potter ended his earthly joy and miseries last week, so also died. L. Joseph and Miles L., the latter was found dead by his own door supposed to have fallen in drink and to have expired under the consequences. . . , Let me only beg of you to remember me respectfully [page 77:] to your Lady Mrs. Allan and her Sister who I hope are well and do not forget to mention me to their august attendant, Edgar.

I am, etc.,

WILLIAM ERWIN

To this, in a somewhat less merry mood, John Allan replies,

London March 21, 1818

Mr. WILLIAM ERWIN

SIR —

I received your favor of the 27th Nov. last post the “Albert” that arrived here on the 7th inst having your account for the education of Edwin Collier . . . which sum Mr. Ellis will pay you; but I cannot pay any more expense on account of Edwin, you will therefore not consider me responsible for any expenses after the 15th of the month.

I cannot conceive who had a right to warrant Ellis and Allan on my account.

Accept my thanks for the solicitude you have so kindly expressed about Edgar & the family, Edgar is a fine Boy and I have no reason to complain of his progress.

I am etc,

JOHN ALLAN(119)

Mr. Allan’s solicitude for his progeny was evidently in inverse ratio to their distance. But we do not hear what Edgar is reading which would, indeed, have been an interesting thing to know.

Probably in the Fall of 1817,(120) Poe was entered at the Manor House School of the Reverend “Dr.” Bransby at Stoke Newington, then a suburb of London, which still retained the separate identity and the antique atmosphere of an old English village. The Academy was exclusively for young gentlemen, of the fairly well-to-do, and it was here that the young poet laid the first firm [page 78:] basis for an education.(121) He was now upwards of ten years of age and entering upon that period of life when the lineaments of character begin to make themselves visible and reflect most forcibly the modelling of environment.

From Poe’s own lips in the strange autobiographical and tragic story of William Wilson we have the poet’s confession that in the old school at Stoke Newington began one of those spiritual struggles in the personality of a genius, the results of which have become significant to literature. Both the school itself and its haunted surroundings were well calculated to stir his imaginings, and despite his extreme youth, the capacity of the boy to be moved by it cannot be doubted. “In childhood I must have felt with the energy of a man what now I find stamped upon my memory as the exergues of the Carthaginian medals” — this was written years later about his school days at Stoke Newington — , and “Oh, le bon temps que ce siècle de fer” says Poe, sighing in nostalgic retrospect in spite of the shadow of loneliness which he claimed had been cast upon him!

In 1818 the ancient village of Stoke Newington which has since been absorbed by the growth of London, was a dream-like and spirit-soothing place, “a misty village of Old England” as Poe recalled it, rambling along an old Roman road bordered with a vast number of gnarled elm trees and ancient houses dating from the days of the Tudors. “At this moment,” he says, writing many years later, “I feel the refreshing chilliness of its deeply-shadowed avenues, inhale the fragrance of its thousand shrubberies, and thrill anew with indefinable delight, at the deep, hollow note of the churchbell, breaking, each hour, with sudden and sullen roar, upon the stillness of the dusky atmosphere in which the fretted Gothic steeple lay imbedded and asleep.” It does not, therefore, seem to be straining things too far to say that from this ancient place steeped in the memories of a millennium, where objective reminders of the past still lingered so romantically, some of the foreign coloring, the minute descriptions [page 81:] of ancient buildings, and the love for the “Gothic” and medieval atmosphere, in which he so often revelled later, may have originated.

For just off the village green among deeply shaded walls stood the ancient house of that Earl Percy who was the unfortunate lover of Anne Boleyn, and the mansion of Queen Elizabeth’s noble favorite, the great Earl of Leicester. To the west of the little open square, green, shady lanes melted into the cool and misty meadows, while the school itself was situated on the east of the town on a quaint street of Queen Anne and Georgian houses, “haunts of ancient peace” carpeted about with darkly-shaded English lawns and bordered by hedges. Behind its own box bordered parterre, on this very street, stood the Manor House Academy, a large, white, rambling mansion of various architectures, with a roof that sloped away in the rear to a massive brick wall pierced by ponderous, iron-studded gates. One cannot do better than to let Edgar Poe himself describe it and the life he led there:

The house I have said was old and irregular. The grounds were extensive, and a high and solid brick wall, topped with a bed of mortar and broken glass, encompassed the whole. This prison-like rampart formed the limit of our domain; beyond it we saw but thrice a week — once every Saturday afternoon, when, attended by two ushers, we were permitted to take brief walks in a body through some of the neighboring fields — and twice during Sunday, when we were paraded in the same formal manner to the morning and evening service in the one church of the village. Of this church the principal of our school was pastor. With how deep a spirit of wonder and perplexity was I wont to regard him from our remote pew in the gallery, as, with step solemn and slow, he ascended the pulpit! This reverend man, with countenance so demurely benign, with robes so glossy and so clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered, so rigid and so vast, — could this be he who, of late with sour visage, and in snuffy habiliments, administered, ferule in hand, the Draconian Laws of the academy? Oh, gigantic paradox, too utterly monstrous for solution! At an angle of the ponderous wajl frowned a more ponderous gate. It was riveted and studded with iron bolts, and surmounted with jagged iron spikes. What impressions of deep awe did it inspire! It was never opened save for the three periodical egressions and ingressions already mentioned; then, in every creak of its mighty hinges, we found a plentitude of [page 82:] mystery a world of matter for solemn remark, or for more solemn meditation. The extensive enclosure was irregular in form, having many capacious recesses. Of these, three or four of the largest constituted the playground. It was level, and covered with fine hard gravel. I well remember it had no trees, nor benches, nor anything similar within it. Of course it was in the rear of the house. In front lay a small parterre, planted with box and other shrubs; but through this sacred division we passed only upon rare occasions indeed — such as a first advent to school or final departure thence, or perhaps, when a parent or friend having called for us, we joyfully took our way home for the Christmas or Midsummer holidays. But the house! — how quaint an old building was this! — to me how veritably a palace of enchantment! There was really no end to its windings — to its incomprehensible subdivisions. It was difficult at any given time, to say with certainty upon which of its two stories one happened to be. From each room to every other there were sure to be found three or four steps either in ascent or descent. Then the lateral branches were innumerable — inconceivable — and so returning in upon themselves, that our most exact ideas in regard to the whole mansion were not very far different from those with which we pondered upon infinity. During the five years of my residence here, I was never able to ascertain with precision, in what remote locality lay the little sleeping apartment assigned to myself and some eighteen or twenty other scholars. The school room was the largest in the house — I could not help thinking, in the world. It was very long, narrow, and dismally low, with pointed Gothic windows and a ceiling of oak. In a remote and terror-inspiring angle was a square enclosure of eight or ten feet, comprising the sanctum, ‘during hours,’ of our principal, the Reverend Dr. Bransby. It was a solid structure, with massy door, sooner than open which in the absence of the ‘Dominie,’ we would all have willingly perished by the peine forte et dure. In other angles were two other similar boxes far less reverenced, indeed, but still greatly matters of awe. One of these was the pulpit of the ‘classical’ usher, one of the ‘English and mathematical.’ Interspersed about the room, crossing and recrossing in endless irregularity, were innumerable benches and desks, black, ancient, and timeworn, piled desperately with much-bethumbed books, and so beseamed with initial letters, names at full length, grotesque figures, and other multiplied efforts of the knife, as to have entirely lost what little of original form might have been their portion in days long departed, A huge bucket with water stood at one extremity of the room, and a clock of stupendous dimensions at the other.(122) [page 83:]

This description, however, is not to be taken too literally. It is quite possibly a synthesis of both Irvine and Stoke Newington, and in one particular quite misleading, — the description of the headmaster, Dr. Bransby.(123)

In the first place the good man was not a “Doctor” at all, or so only by courtesy. He appears on his bills as the “Revd. John Bransby.” Nor was he “old” when Poe was at his school, being at that time, 1817, only 33 years of age. The Reverend John Bransby was an M. A. of St. John’s College, Cambridge. He seems to have been a merry, Tory clergyman with a large family and convivial habits, very fond of field sports; the cleaning of his gun was a signal to the boys that he was off for the day. “He was a classical scholar of no mean stamp possessing a large fund of miscellaneous information, both literary and scientific . . . and combined an enthusiastic love of nature with an extensive knowledge of Botany,” and gardening. “Dr.” Bransby wrote political pamphlets and looked upon the days at Stoke Newington as “a bright spot in his life.” He was much beloved by his scholars.

These facts give us quite a different picture, indeed, from that drawn by Poe in William Wilson. John Bransby in after years was said to have been considerably nettled by the use of his name in the story, and to have been quite reticent about Poe, remarking, only, that he had liked the boy, who went under the name of “Allan,” but that his parents spoilt him by allowing him too much pocket money. “Allan,” he said, “was intelligent, wayward, and wilful,” which testimony agrees with James Galt’s.

Of Poe’s associations with his schoolmates nothing definite is known. We have his own statement, however, to the effect that, even thus early, his dominant characteristic of pride began to make itself felt. “The ardor, the enthusiasm, and the imperiousness [page 84:] of my disposition, soon rendered me a marked character among my schoolmates, — gave me an ascendency over all not greatly older than myself.” Master Erwin, his former Richmond schoolmaster, had desired himself to be remembered to the “august” Edgar, so that there is some confirmation of the statement. Pride is not a trait that would have tended to make him companionable, and it is probable that much of the complained-of loneliness sprang from this. There is also some indication that the boys revenged themselves upon him for his overbearing attitude by an annoying repetition of his name which probably, from the Southern twist of his Virginian accent, gave them ample opportunity for a rather obvious and humble pun upon his patronymic.(124) The results upon his diction of a long residence in England and Scotland, and of the Scotch dialect so frequently heard in his foster-father’s house are not to be overlooked.

Bills from the Manor House School rendered for “Master Allan,” which have recently come to light,(125) give us the only direct insight to the life of the schoolboy, Edgar Poe, at Stoke Newington that we possess. From these it appears that like other lads he played hard, and was ruthless on shoe leather. A pair of shoes evidently lasted him a month, by which time they went on the docks for repairs. The total bill for the summer term of 1818, it appears, was £1. 15s. 6d. which includes two new pairs, three mendings, and no less than six shillings worth of laces consumed in that period! For the rest, Poe’s memoirs of the Reverend John Bransby’s sermons in William Wilson are confirmed, and we learn in addition that the boys were charged extra for listening to them, as John Allan is billed 3s. 6d. for pew-rent, and a charity sermon for Edgar’s share. Poe had a single bed at this school, as he had at the Misses Dubourg’s, and for “board and education” was charged £23. 12s. 6d. a term. He took dancing as an extra at £2. 2s., and had the services of a “hairdresser” [page 85:] or barber for 2s. a term. The school allowance of pocket money it seems was 53. the term, which, as it is certainly not the “ extravagant amount” that “Dr.” Bransby mentions, must have been supplemented by “dear Ma,” and “Aunt Nancy.” On August 31, 1818, he seems to have hurt his hand somewhat badly, for his foster-father is charged with an item 10s. 6d. for having it dressed, and 2s. 6d. for ointment and lint a month later. The boy is charged with two large slates, but there is no mention of school texts by title. The whole cost for the term at this excellent English school came to £33. 2s. 11d. By January 25, 1819, Poe was back at school from the Christmas holidays which he must have spent with the Allans in London, for at that date the vacation came to an end.

Unfortunately, then, we do not know what, if any, were the books that Edgar may have read at Stoke Newington. Master Erwin’s inquiry shows that he was reading. There must have been something more than mere text books about the school somewhere, although English grammar schools of the period were amazingly innocent of anything but the dog-eared Latin grammars, spellers, cheap editions of Homer, Vergil, and Caesar, and the ponderous arithmetics of the period. Whether the boys ever went to the theater is doubtful, although Edgar probably saw the sights of London with his “mother” during the holidays, — the Tower and Westminster, at least, and perhaps the Elgin Marbles, then newly arrived.

Let the searchers for the literary inspirations of Poe’s boyhood make the most of the fact that he was in London at school when the first edition of Christabel and Kubla Khan appeared from John Murray’s; but it is not likely that any of this magic fell upon his ears until years later. That was “modern poetry” then, and so we may be sure taboo in the schools where Pope still reigned. “Byron” was a thing for young gentlemen ushers to chuckle over in a knowing way, and conceal from the innocent eyes of their charges. As for Shelley, if he were known at all, to any of the faculty at Stoke Newington, what chance would the works of an avowed atheist have under the watchful, churchly eye of the Reverend and forceful “Dr.” Bransby? That Poe was [page 86:] in the same city at the time when Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Keats were meeting about the same fire with Haydon, is a temporal and geographic fact without literary significance, despite the attempt to make it so from some quarters.(120)

On Christmas, mid-term holidays, and week-ends Edgar must have visited the Allans at their London lodgings. One thing is certain, John Allan is not likely to have become acquainted with any of the literary figures of the day. The Virginia tobacco trade and the social circle which it implies, cannot by the wildest stretch of imagination be advanced as a source for even juvenile literary inspirations or associations. If Edgar saw anyone at his guardian’s house while in London, besides the immediate members of his family, they were probably merchants who had bust ness with the firm and discussed, in a broad lowland accent, the prices current of Virginia leaf, or the vicissitudes of American ships. Mrs. Allan, however, seems to have gathered about her a more congenial and interesting group, for, while Edgar was at school, Mrs. Allan, whose health continued to be precarious, traveled about from place to place, in company with Jane Galt and others, as a letter from Damlish written by Miss Galt to “Miss (Mary) Allan” at 38, Southampton Row, Russell Square, London, on October 24, 1818, shows. At that time Mrs. Allan did not intend to return to London till November.

. . . I think she regrets leaving this part of the country. Mr. Dunlop has been persuading her to remain for some time — he will leave her in charge of the beaus (army officers) who winter here, Major Court and Captain Donnal who she is sure will take good care of her and he would take a nice little cottage for her. What do you think of that arrangement? Don’t you think we plan very well. Mrs. Allan drank [page 87:] tea last evening at Mr. Dunlops. They leave this Monday. Mr. Leslie who has been with them for some time is quite delighted with the country. He has been very busy taking views of the different places around. Mrs. Allan is much about the same as when I wrote, I regret often that we have not you all here to enjoy the beauties of Devonshire. . . . There is one view here which reminds me very much of the first look you get at Ayrshire from —— . . . accept our best regards to Miss Valentine and Mr. Allan. . . .

By which it would seem that Edgar’s “Aunt Nancy” kept house in London, while his invalid foster-mother was in Devonshire, assisted by one of John Allan’s sisters. A little glimpse into the family circle of ever a century ago in England is thus afforded. Evidently Edgar was then well tucked away at “Dr. Bransby’s.”

Leslie, the artist referred to, was E. C. R. Leslie, R. A., who was born in London of American parents in 1784. His parents returned to America and he was later a student at the Royal Academy, exhibiting there the year this letter was written. He later returned to America and became professor of drawing at West Point. It is just possible that Leslie who was in close touch with the Allans painted a portrait of “Master Allan” in England.(127)

The references to Mrs. Allan’s constant ill health continue steadily in nearly all the correspondence from now on until she died over a decade later in Richmond.

Before leaving England, John Allan’s affairs were in bad shape and generally complicated. The tobacco market was poor, and he had adventured considerably with a merchant by the name of William Holder who writes in January, 1820:

I cannot express my dear Sir what I feel at this moment for your kind, humane & feeling conduct toward me & my two unprovided daughters at present I can only offer you my sincere thanks. . . . It would be the proudest hour of my life to make you ample restitution . . . etc. [page 88:]

In March, Mr. Allan was attacked by a dropsy, of which he nearly died, and he was not able to get to the counting house until April 3rd to wind up his affairs. He found that in the meantime he had been robbed by a clerk by the name of Tayle, and gives the details in a letter to Charles Ellis marked “private,” in which he adds, London, April 18th, 1820:

Would say we are all tolerably well, I certainly am much better, Frances complaining a good deal & Ann & Edgar are quite well. . . .

The final crash financially came over the confusion between Ellis & Allan in Richmond and Allan & Ellis in London, both of which firms tried to collect a sum of £2700 due from the estate of a Mr. Guilles of Glasgow, debtor to William Galt. Gravely in debt and cast down by his failure, Mr. Allan rented his household effects, and house (for he hoped to return), took Edgar out of school, and prepared to depart for America. Had he been successful, Edgar Poe would have been raised in England. On May 2oth, Mr. Allan writes home from London:

. . . I trust to be off by the June Packet & when I arrive I shall use every exertion of which I am capable to complete our engagements to our creditors. . . . Mrs. Allan is in better health than usual, Ann quite well & so is Edgar, as for myself I was never better. . . . The arrival of the Queen produced an immense sensation. Few thought she would return, but the bold & courageous manner by which she appeared . . . has induced a vast number to think her not guilty. She was received with immense acclamation & the populace displaced her horses, drew her past Carlton House and thence to Alderman Wood’s House South Audley St. The same day the King made a communication to the House of Lords charging her with High Treason. . . .

From which it is quite plain that Edgar Poe, just before he left England, probably saw the unfortunate Queen Caroline drawn through the London Streets. It was probably his first and last glimpse of royalty, and his last of London.

On June 9th we find the family at Liverpool where they arrived the day before, waiting for the Packet.

(Mrs. Allan) . . . felt much indisposed. I hope the trip to Virginia (?) will be of service to her, she has yet to learn what a pleasing sensation is experienced on returning Home — Even in verry Hot weather. [page 89:] We will trust to God that our congratulations on the Birth of another Daughter to your family will be . . . finally realized . . . make my best respects to our dear Margaret (Mrs. Ellis) & all the children. Mrs. A. & Ann desire their love to you, Margaret & the young ones. Remember us all to Mr. and Mrs. Richard, Doct. and Mrs. Thornton, the children, Rose (Poe), Mr. and Mrs. Mackenzie. . . . Mrs. Mackenzie of Forest Hill called and addressed her love to Mrs. Mackenzie, they are all well.

In a few days, apparently about the end of June, 1820, Mr. Allan and the family with young Edgar set sail for New York.

The net result of Poe’s boyhood experience in England and Scotland seems to have been a precious store of rather distinct and romantic memories, a lively young body hardened by the sturdy games of the English school ground and climate, a little Latin, some mispronounced French, and an ability to work problems in simple arithmetic. Perhaps also, a too well developed self-confidence and boyish pride. In addition, young Poe had seen, long before most American youths, the beginnings of the age of industrialism, in England and Scotland, factories operated by steam, and the beginnings of railways.(128) His horizons had been widened, the provincialism of a Virginia-bred youth inoculated with a valuable antidote, and he had heard and been instructed in English spoken at the source.

In June, 1820, however, he left behind him forever the quaint English town, and the rambling mysterious corridors and alcoved dormitories of the old school where he had spent a considerable portion of his boyhood, to return with Mr. Man and his family to the United States.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 63:]

96.  See the letters in the Ellis & Allan Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C., from John Allan’s sisters, Mary, Elizabeth, Jane, and his brother-in-law, Allan Fowlds, from 1811 to 1814.

97.  Woodberry, 1909 edition, page 20.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 65:]

98.  Letters in the Ellis & Allan Papers, also see letter from Col. Thomas Ellis to Prof. Woodberry, from Baltimore, May 28, 1884, also J. H. Whitty Memoir, large edition, Appendix, page 192. The author of the school texts was Lindley Murray, and the Reader was / “The eleventh Philadelphia edition. / published by Johnson & Warner, / at their Stores in Philadelphia, and Richmond (Vir). / John Bouvier, Printer, / 1814. /

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 66:]

99.  A seaport of Renfrewshire about twenty-three miles from Glasgow on the Firth of Clyde. At this time it was one of the chief ports for American trade.

100.  The letter is evidently very hurriedly written, a little difficult to read in some places, which is unusual with John Allan, whose handwriting is large, round and clear. The lapse into Scotch is unusual and testifies to his agitation, or the effect of a return to early associations.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 67:]

101.  “64 inches.”

102.  J. H. Whitty Memoir. The rest of the information is gathered from a mass of family correspondence in the Ellis & Allan Papers and from competent descriptions of the places themselves.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 68:]

103.  Extracts from a letter to John Allan from his sister, Jane, at Irvine:

104.  “Mr. Walsh has purchased the great part of a galeaat and sails out of Irvine.” There were Mr. and Mrs., and Jane Walsh in this family.

105.  “A very agreeable young man; I had the pleasure of being his bridesmaid.”

106.  “All our little brothers are well and are making fine scholars.”

107.  Extract from Keats’ letter upon entering Ayrshire: We came clown upon everything suddenly there were on our way the “bonny Doon,” with the Brig that Tarn o’Shanter crossed, Kirk Alloway, Burns’s Cottage, across the Doon; surrounded by every Phantasy of green in Tree, Meadow, and hill. — The stream of the Doon, as a Farmer told us, is covered with trees ‘from head to foot’ — you know these beautiful heaths so fresh against the weather of a summer’s evening. . . .” John Keats, Amy Lowell, vol. II, page 46.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 69:]

108.  A river between Wigton and Kirkudbrightshire in Scotland. The description of “Flowerbanks” is from a letter of Mary Allan, who says, “I could be happy to live here forever.”

109.  As late as December 30, 1846, Poe wrote one A. Ramsay of Stonehaven, Scotland, inquiring after his (Poe’s) Allan and Galt relatives.

110.  Charles Denny was the Glasgow merchant with whom Mr. Allan transacted much of his business.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 70:]

111.  J. H. Whitty, Complete Poems, large edition, Appendix, page 302.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 72:]

112.  For the facts detailed here I am for the most part frankly Indebted to the excellent Memoir of Poe by J. H. Whitty, large edition, section VI, Appendix, pages 201-209. Also to the illuminating article in the Dial for February, 1916, by Prof. Killis Campbell, and to extracts from the Ellis & Allan Papers.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 73:]

113.  The extracts from this letter of Mrs. Galt to John Allan have been supplied the author by the kindness of Mr. Edward V. Valentine of Richmond, who has the correspondence in his possession.

114.  Ellis & Allan Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 74:]

115.  “Pauline Dubourg” is the laundress in the Murders in the Rue Morgue.

116.  This receipt has been published in the Dial for February, 1916, and is to be found in the Ellis & Allan Papers, Washington, D. C. Courtesy of Prof Killis Campbell.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 75:]

117.  The full text of Allan’s letter is in the Valentine Museum, Richmond, Virginia, and a quotation from it is given in the Valentine Museum Poe Letters (published in 1925), on page 17, introduction.

118.  From addresses m letters to John Allan at that date. Also Mary Newton Stanard to the author on August 21, 1925.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 77:]

119.  Both of these letters are from the Ellis & Allan Correspondence, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.

120.  The reasons for supposing this date, are arrived at by the dates of correspondence and the fact that the Allans were In Scotland during most of 1815. In 1816, when they seem to have returned to London, Poe first attended the Misses Dubourg’s school and would probably remain for the full term. This would bring his entry at the Stoke Newington Academy to some time in 1817. Poe afterward spoke of a “ five years’ schooling in England.” The “year” at Irvine, a year with the Misses Dubourg, and three years with “Dr.” Bransby covers this satisfactorily as to the time elapsed. The Allans sailed for home in the late Spring of 1820.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 80:]

121.  The Academy stood on the northeast corner of Church Street and what is now Edwards Lane, Prof, Lewis Chase in the London Athenaeum for May, 1916, pages 221-222.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 82:]

122.  The quotations descriptive of Poe’s school days are from his story William Wilson.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 83:]

123.  The description of Poe’s schoolmaster, the Reverend John Bransby is taken from the London Athenaeum No. 4605 for May, 1916, pages 221-222, an article by Prof. Lewis Chase, part of which is quoted. In this connection note that the pictures in several biographies of Poe purporting to be those of “Dr.” Bransby are in reality a likeness of Dr. William Cooke, a rector of Stoke Newington who died when Bransby was thirteen years old. John Bransby was born in 1784 and died March 5, 1857

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 84:]

124.  David Poe was listed on the tax returns in Boston for 1809 as “David Poe,” with taxables of $300 in personable property.

125.  Valentine Museum Poe Letters, Bills from Reverend John Bransby to John Allan for “Master Allan,” see pages 319-327.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 86:]

126.  Owing the the fact that John Galt, the Scotch novelist, and a friend of Byron, hailed from Irvine and Kilmarnock and was a connection of the Galt family, cousins to the Allans, some attempt has been made to connect Poe’s foster-parents with the literary life of the London of the lime. There is not a shadow of proof, however, on which to rest the assumption. John Galt was, however, in London at the same time as the Allans. The following occurs in a letter from Byron to John Murray dated Bologna, September 17, 1819.

“Dear Sir: — I have received a small box consigned by you to a Mr. Allan with three portraits in it.” — etc. The Works of Byron, edited by Rowland E. Prothero, M. A., John Murray, London, 1900, page 353.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 87:]

127.  The letter from Jane Galt and the reference to Leslie came from Edward V. Valentine, Esq., of Richmond, Virginia, from his diary, and from letters given him to copy by Miss Sallie Galt on July 12, 1915, from the Galt-Allan correspondence.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 89:]

128.  “Railways” — see a letter from Allan Fowlds written from Kilmarnock, Scotland, as early as January 4, 1812, to John Allan at Richmond, Virginia, in which Fowlds says, . . . “we are getting a fine new Harbor at the Troon with 3 or 4 fine dry docks, the railway from the Troon to Kilmarnock is almost completed, they are shipping great Quantity of Coals for Ireland” — etc. Steam engines were not used there at that time.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - HVA26, 1926] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Chapter 05)