Text: Hervey Allen, “Chapter 11,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1926), volume 1, pp. 209-226


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[page 209, unnumbered:]

 

CHAPTER XI
Israfel in Carolina

 

TROOP movements, in the leisurely days before the coming of railroads, were by water. Outward bound from Fort Independence, Boston Harbor, the army transports moved through the flashing November weather of 1827, sinking the sand dunes of Cape Cod and the blue haze of Nantucket behind them, as they stood far out into the Atlantic to be rid of the perils of the coast. There was, at least for Poe, the pagentry of adventure about it; the sparkle of brass buttons and uniforms; the call of bugles from ship to ship; the bright sails and the banners.(284)

A voyage from Boston, Massachusetts, to Charleston, South Carolina, in a sailing ship was, even with favorable winds, often a matter of several weeks. In the old clipper days a sailing ship stood well out from the coast to avoid the nightmare of all windborne mariners, a lee shore. Hatteras, especially in the Fall, was given a wide berth, and it was the custom of coastwise pilots to make a “long leg” out into the Atlantic.(285)

The whole interlude of Poe’s life in the Army, taken in connection with the places he visited, affords a remarkable example of the method the man sometimes followed in working directly from his environment. The story of it might almost be called How Poe Gathered his Material for a Short Story. Contrary to the fond and oft repeated opinion of many critics, Poe often found his material in the life and the place about him, and then worked only in a secondary and indirect way from literary sources. He visualized even imaginary localities strongly, and his scenery, although often a [page 210:] synthesis of the hills of one place and the lowlands of another, nevertheless, sprang directly from the vistas which he had seen. Out of the strange and impressive environment into which he was about to be plunged for a year, free from the problem of sustenance and with the opportunity for considerable leisure, came directly much of his material for The Gold Bug, The Oblong Box, The Man that was Used Up, the Balloon Hoax, and bits of the melancholy scenery, and sea and light effects which, from the time of his sojourn in Carolina, haunt so much of his poetry. A comparison of his 1827 and 1829-31 volumes will at once make this apparent. A familiarity with the peculiar nature of the landscape and the section where Poe was about to tarry during 1827-28 will explain the “exotic” sources from which many of his descriptions in prose and poetry are derived.

From November, 1827, to December, 1828, he did garrison duty at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. Sometime in November of the former year, the army transports from Boston found themselves “. . . in full view of the low coasts of South Carolina,”(286) and anchored just under the lee of the walls of the old fortress, near the back channel, where they discharged Battery “H” of the First United States Artillery, bag and baggage, officers and men, among whom was Private Edgar A. Perry, alias Henri Le Rennét, alias Edgar Allan Poe, doing duty even then as a company clerk.(287) He must have been given quarters somewhere within the bastions of the old fort.

Style is very often the result of the impact of a new environment upon the unsuspected potentialities of artistic personality. “For the first and only time in his life, Poe now found himself in a sub-tropical environment,” a district with a highly differentiated fauna and flora, utterly different from anything he had seen so far, either in Virginia or abroad.(288) In addition to this, the place was full of piratical and Revolutionary lore, the very island and [page 211:] the bay upon which he looked had been famous as the haunt of pirates. To the south and west, Fort Sumter, only then beginning to assume the formidable shape of brick and stone so familiar to the reading public of the ‘60’s, looked across a narrow channel at its sister, Fort Moultrie, while a few miles up the harbor could be seen the pillared porches and spires of Charleston, a port which was alive then with ships from all over the world.(289)

Northward and eastward, stretched away from the barrack windows, the long, low, beaches of Sullivan’s Island some miles away to an inlet which separated it from the Isle of Palms where the prospect was repeated. The inlet could be breasted by a powerful swimmer like Poe with a few vigorous strokes. The young soldier had only to pass through the portcullis to find himself upon a magnificent beach washed by a summer sea, a firm strand that stretched for miles, with the Gulf Stream on one side, and a low range of sand hills inland, covered with scrub palmetto and myrtles, the home of strange birds, sand butterflies, amusing beetles, and the haunt of great sea-turtles that crawled out by moonlight to lay their eggs. Here and there, at long intervals, was the hut of a lonely hunter or fisherman, far from the little summer settlement then confined to the immediate vicinity of the fort. The one overpowering impression of the place is the continual bell-like breaking of the “sounding sea,” the eyepuckering glare of the lime-what sun, and the dirge of the wind through the myrtles, accompanied by a faint, clacking sound like an overtone of eery applause caused by the clapping together of the palms of the palmettoes.

This island of sea-weathered monotonies, driven into Poe’s consciousness by the long hours of an idle year, is the home of the Gold Bug. At the beginning of the story he has described it himself.(290)

This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea-sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds [page 212:] a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The vegetation as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands, and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted, during summer, by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found, indeed, the bristly palmetto; but the whole island with the exception of this western point, and a line of hard beach on the sea-coast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle so much prized by the horticulturists of England.(291) The shrub here often attains the height of fifteen or twenty feet, and forms an almost impenetrable coppice, burdening with its fragrance.

Such remote places, haunted by blue herons and other rare and shy bird-life, are, even to~day, the retreats of eccentric characters who find their compensation for loss of contact with their fellows in the observation of nature. Amid the lonely scrub forests of Sullivan’s Island during the long hours of his rambles about the place, Poe seems to have encountered such a person, for he says, “In the inmost recesses of this coppice, not far from the eastern or more remote end of the island, Legrand had built himself a small hut which he occupied when I first, by mere accident, made his acquaintance.”

That Poe had a generous amount of idle time on his hands while at Fort Moultrie there can be no doubt. He was a member of a coast-guard regiment at a remote and little inspected post during a long era of profound peace. There were not even any lawns to be cut, and the situation of the fort, cut off from the world by what was then a row or sail of several miles from Charleston, curtailed even the social ambitions of the officers, and prevented the garrison from being kept busy about the multifarious trivialities necessarily required of the soldier at a “smart post.” The nearest hamlet was Mt. Pleasant, a community whose amusements were strictly confined to the raising of children and the delirious concerts of an orchestra of frogs. Leave in Charleston was the only relaxation of the garrison (“the facilities of [page 213:] passage and repassage,” says Poe, “were far behind those of the present day!”) To these pastimes, Poe seems to have added some conversation with the more cultivated of the officers; swimming, the study of the strange shapes of nature about him, the polishing of verses, excursions in the pages of Moore and Byron, and long hours of wandering along the sounding beaches and the “coppice” of Sullivan’s Island.

The orders of the day governing the routine and discipline of the force at Fort Moultrie, show that the garrison rose about five-thirty AM., policed, breakfasted, and engaged in a short morning’s infantry drill, varied from time to time by exercises at the great guns. The passage of time was punctuated by the sharp reports of the sunrise and sunset gun, the strains of the bugles at meal times and retreat, and by nothing more. Beyond this, there was little to do except to play Seven-up on a blanket, or roll dice. Even from these strenuous duties Poe seems to have absolved himself by assuming clerical work with the consequent familiarity and favor of his officers which it entailed. After a few hours of “paper work,” we can imagine him “calling it a day,” and going outdoors to roam the beaches. To this mode of life, the climate was conducive, and he says:

The winters in the latitude of Sullivan’s Island are seldom very severe, and in the fall of the year it is a rare event indeed when a fire is considered necessary. About the middle of October 18 — , there occurred, however, a day of remarkable chilliness. Just before sunset I scrambled my way through the evergreens to the hut of my friend, whom I had not visited for several weeks. . . . A fine fire was blazing upon the hearth. It was a novelty, and by no means an ungrateful one. I threw off an overcoat, took an armchair by the crackling logs, and awaited patiently the arrival of my host.

In such a scene as this The Gold Bug begins.

There are several prime factors to the story: The first is the eccentric character of “Mr. William Legrand.” He was of an ancient Huguenot family; the next is “Jupiter,” the negro servant, and the others are Poe himself, slightly disguised by the first person pronoun, a wonderful, golden, skull-marked beetle, the solution of a mysterious mathematical cipher, a buried pirate [page 214:] treasure, and the meticulous description of the locality. As an example of Poe’s method of assembling material for his more objective kind of short story, it is the purpose here to suggest briefly the probable sources of The Gold Bug.

The idea of buried treasure is one which would inevitably associate itself in Poe’s mind with Sullivan’s Island, which was from early colonial times the haunt of pirates. Stede Bonnet himself was captured by a Colonel Rhett of Charleston only a few miles north of Fort Moultrie, and the port itself was early blockaded and its citizens held for ransom by Black Beard. Poe gives his pirate the generic name of “ Captain Kidd,” who is supposed to have buried his fabled treasure on Long Island, New York. In Poe’s day the Isle of Palms immediately north of Sullivan’s Island was known as Long Island, and so appears on all old maps. That the suggestion of buried treasure was present, seems fairly clear. “Legrand,” the principal figure in the story, although Poe himself is the real hero who so cleverly solves the cryptogram,(292) was probably suggested by the very prevalent Huguenot name of Legare (pronounced Le Gree) among the many descendants of French settlers upon the Carolina “ sea-islands.” There was a minor poet of this name, which is also common in Louisiana. According to the story, “Legrand “ hailed from New Orleans. Into the mouth of “Jupiter,” the slave or valet, Poe puts the negro dialect of Virginia with which he was familiar, rather than the flat, quacking Gullah patois of the Carolina Low Country. “Jupiter “ talks like a Richmond darkey. So much for the human elements. When we come to the gold bug itself, “the queerest scarabaeus in the world,” there is a synthesis of material which is perhaps even more interesting and original.

POES GOLD BUG SYNTHESIS

The genesis of Poe’s “gold bug” seems to have been beyond peradventure some of the beetles which he noticed on his rambles [page 215:] among the sand dunes of Sullivan’s Island. A clever synthesis of several of these, together with the legends of pirates, the strange aspects of the lonely landscape, and his well-known flare for the solution of ciphers, give all the necessary factors for the plot. Our immediate concern is with the beetles. In the story, the descriptions are scattered; brought close together in connection with one another, their origin becomes startlingly plain.

To make his “gold bug” Poe evidently super-imposed one upon another several of the beetles common to the Island, taking the long antennae and the golden tint from one, and the skull markings and shape from another. These, when assembled became the Scarabæus Caput Hominis, a bug never seen before or since upon sea or land. We can imagine him, upon some idle sunny day, the young soldier in the scarlet and blue uniform of the artillery, lying upon his stomach amid the sand dunes amusing himself with a piece of manuscript and the gyrations of some unfortunate beetle. The one of which “Jupiter” says, “I nebber did see sich a deuced bug — he kicks and he bite eberything what cum near him.(293) 1 didn’t like de look ob de long mouff, myself, nohow, so I wouldn’t take hold ob him wid my finger, but I cotch him wid a piece ob paper and stuff a piece of it in his mouff — dat was de way”(294) — and that is the way we can easily see several beetles going home to Fort Moultrie in the pockets of one Edgar Allan Poe, alias Perry, to be duly drawn upon paper that evening under the light of the glimmering barrack lantern by a semi-scientific young poet who combined imagination with observation and the use of the artistic pencil. Indeed, it is this very operation of drawing beetles in which we surprise “Legrand” at the opening of the story.

. . . He seated himself at a small table on which were a pen and ink, but no paper. He looked for some in a drawer but found none. ‘Never mind’ he said at length, ‘this will answer’; and he drew from his waistcoat pocket a scrap of what I took to be very dirty foolscap, and made upon it a rough drawing with the pen. . . . When the design [page 216:] was complete, he handed it to me without rising. . . . ‘Well,’ I said, after contemplating it for some moments, ‘this is a strange scarabæus, I must confess; new to me, never saw anything like it before — unless it was a skull, or a death’s head, which it more nearly resembles than anything else that has come under my observation.[[‘]] ‘A death’s head! ‘ echoed Legrand. ‘Oh — yes — well, it has something of that appearance upon paper, no doubt. The two upper black spots look like eyes, eh? and the longer one at the bottom like a mouth — and then the shape of the whole is oval.’ . . .

Elsewhere “Legrand” says of the bug, “It is a brilliant gold color — about the size of a large hickory nut, with two jet black spots near one extremity of the back, and another somewhat larger, at the other. . . .” The antennæ, we also learn, are long and accentuated, and the beetle had powerful jaws. With these descriptions in mind we can now proceed to see how Poe played with his beetles to the tune of a charming medley in fact and fancy, the theme of which was the gold bug.

The reader is now asked to accompany an enthusiastic “bug-hunter” upon Sullivan’s and Long Island, South Carolina, about one hundred years after Poe’s historic visit, and to partake vicariously of the excitements of the chase. Some years ago, it appears, a noted entomologist,(295) armed with the classic butterfly net of science, crossed over from Sullivan’s Island to Long Island to collect insects. While he was forcing his way through a dense thicket, a large beetle lit on the end of the dagger leaf of a bristling Spanish Bayonet. The insect was new to him and most beautiful, — nothing like it, he thought, was to be found out of the tropics. It was gleaming with fiery gold, soft satiny green, and dull old-gold — the antennæ nearly three inches long extended in front of the insect as it stood at attention.(296)

In his excitement, the scientific gentleman missed it with his [page 217:] net, but some years later when visiting the same locality he managed to snare several by the pleasant and magic formula of anointing tree trunks in daytime with an alluring mixture of stale beer, rum, and brown sugar. Their fondness for sap it seems suggested his “sugaring for them” as moth collectors do. A specimen of the beetle itself, it appears, must be closely examined if its beauty is to be fully appreciated. A large specimen is about an inch and a half long and about a half an inch wide; they have black antennæ that sometimes measure over two inches in length, while the head and prominent prothorax are glittering with fiery gold sometimes shot with iridescent green. The fore-wings are satiny-green and, when opened, discover the full-gold of the abdomen beneath, so that old “Jupiter’s” description of, “Solid goole inside and all sep hum wing,” fixes it as Poe’s very “gold bug,” indeed.

But how about the skull markings? These, it appears, we do not have to go far to seek, as they are also forthcoming from a beetle very common to the locality of Fort Moultrie. Mr. Smyth, for such was the scientific gentleman’s name, upon this same “sugaring expedition” was so fortunate as to capture upon the same tree, side by side with the golden Callichroma, one of the common big “Click Beetles” of the vicinity, which is known to bug men as Alaus Oculatus and to small boys as “The Jumping Jack.” It is about the same size as the gold-beetle (Callichroma), but flatter and more oval. It has a background of black, thickly spotted with white, and its very large prothorax is provided with two oval, eye-like black spots edged with white that give it a decidedly piratical and skull-like appearance.(297)

Mr. Smyth was then visited, he said, by a “ scientific revelation,” and a moment of literary insight, in which he saw that Poe’s gold bug was a composite, and that by placing Alaus Oculatus, I, the “skull-bug,” on Callichroma, II, the gold bug, he had what the printer has so obligingly done for us here, Edgar Allan [page 218:] Poe’s clever little synthesis, or “Scarabæus Caput Hominis,” Poe’s gold bug.(298)

The description of the beetle which “Legrand” finally places in the hand of Poe is now complete:

It was a beautiful scarabæus, and, at that time, . . . unknown to naturalists — of course a great prize in a scientific point of view. There were two round black spots near one extremity of the back and a long one near the other. The scales were exceedingly hard and glossy, with all the appearance of burnished gold. The weight of the insect was very remarkable. . . .

The weight was necessary if the insect was to be used as a plummet and a divining rod, as it was used in the story. The black marks at the rear, making cross-bones can, of course, be left to Poe’s imagination, but it is all very typical of the young Poe, of his imaginative fancy, his preoccupation with semi-scientific observation, and his love of a good hoax.

There are many elements in The Gold Bug, indeed, which indicate Poe’s insatiable curiosity, his live interest in many things. The long antennæ of the beetle, which when lowered through the eye of the skull, point to the treasure, imply a knowledge of the old legends of the divining rod. There is also an understood element of sympathetic magic, for the golden bug is attracted by the golden treasure, — like attracts like — and there is, last of all, the delightful poetic fancy that the very soil of the island, where pirates have buried their doubloons and jewels, bred an insect that partakes of the nature of the golden treasure and the fearsome markings of the “Jolly-Roger” itself.

Indeed, confirmation of this association of the ideas in the story with the pirate flag is unexpectedly forthcoming from the pen of Poe himself. In an 1845 edition of The Raven and Tales which he corrected for himself, Poe has inserted these paragraphs in his own hand with the evident intention of including them in a reprint of the text. These changes appear to have been overlooked or disregarded by Griswold, Poe’s editor, and they [page 219:] should now be added to all texts of The Gold Bug which is otherwise incomplete. The paragraphs show the hero of the story and “Legrand” talking — (299)

(Hero) I presume the fancy of the skull and of letting fall a beetle through the skull’s eye was suggested to Kidd by the piratical flag. No doubt he felt a kind of poetical consistency in recovering his money through his ominus insignium.

(Legrand) Perhaps, still I cannot help thinking that common-sense had quite as much to do with the matter as poetical consistency. To be visible from the Devil’s seat, it was necessary that the object, if small, should be white; and there is nothing like your human skull for retaining and even increasing its whiteness under exposure to all vicissitudes of weather.

In this bit of dialogue, the double attitude of “poetical consistency” and “common sense,” which Poe constantly employed in his stories, is nicely stressed and the effect of pirate legends upon the plot definitely confirmed.

For the rest, the remaining elements of the story are part and parcel of romance. In the “high rugged country behind Sullivan’s Island,” Poe introduces some of the scenery of the Ragged Mountains into South Carolina, for the country back of the sea-islands is in reality excessively low and flat.(300) The tree, however, is true to life. In the huge tulip trees and live-oaks of the district,(301) [page 220:] covered with the funereal plumes of Spanish moss waving eerily like the canopy of a catafalque, who, but the young Poe, could help but seeing something charneHike, or resist providing a grinning skull among the gloomy labyrinth of branches? Nor is the size of the tree exaggerated. There are many near Fort Moultrie, a little way inland, even more gigantic and incredible than the one introduced in the story itself. The two guardian skeletons buried with the treasure are part of pirate lore. Stevenson uses the same device in Treasure Island, and such, in reality, seems to have been the gruesome custom of the buccaneers. But nothing can exceed the skill with which every item of fact and fancy is combined in the story to lead the reader on and up to the climax of the finding of the treasure when “Jupiter” is digging under the great tree by the glimmer of a lantern, and the dog —

leaping into the hole, tore up the mould frantically with his daws. In a few seconds he had uncovered a mass of human bones, forming two complete skeletons, intermingled with several buttons of metal, and what appeared to be the dust of decayed woolen. One or two strokes of a spade upturned the blade of a large Spanish knife, and, as we dug further, three or four pieces pieces of gold and silver coins came to light . . . , (then the iron bound box, with its heavy lid and two sliding bolts!) These we drew back trembling and panting with anxiety. In an instant a treasure of incalcuable value lay gleaming before us. As the rays of the lanterns fell Sashing within the pit, there flashed upward a glow and a glare, from a confused heap of gold and of jewels, that absolutely dazzled one’s eyes.

In other stories and poems there are to be found distinct traces of his visits to Charleston and the hinterland. The house of Usher, itself, may well be some old, crumbling, and cracked-walled colonial mansion found moldering in the Carolina woods, as it was left desolate by the hands of the marauding British, surrounded by its swamps and gloomy woods, its cypress-stained tarns, and its snake-haunted Indian moats. To see these, is instantly to be reminded of descriptions by Poe. The whole country about, in fact, was one peculiarly in sympathy with his more lonely and melancholy moods. The vault described at the end of The Sleeper, a poem written in its first form about 1831, recalls almost literally some of the great family tombs on the plantations about Charleston, [page 221:] with the semi-feudal pomp that surrounds them.(302) And Poe saw this country, it must be remembered, before the devastations of war had laid low the glories of its old royal grants and baronies. As a disinherited son he must have envied, and as a Virginian sympathized with, its prodigally-generous plantation life.

The young soldier seems to have risen rapidly in the estimate of his officers. Doubtless his gentlemanly manners and appearance soon recommended him. With this and his education, he would, indeed, have stood out in sharp contrast to the average regular army recruit of the period. His attention to duty was strict and evidently satisfactory, for on May 1, 1828, we find him being appointed “artificer,”(303) a title which does not necessarily carry any mechanical duties with it, but is merely the first rung in promotions carrying higher pay and leading to the higher noncommissioned grades. He had already served as company clerk and assistant in the commissariat department, and was evidently about headquarters where he attracted attention and gave satisfaction. The Colonel himself must have had his eye on him, for his rise through all the non-commissioned grades seems to have taken place between May and December, 1828, and on January 1, 1829, he was appointed regimental sergeant major at Fortress Monroe, Virginia.

Naturally enough, with added responsibility went the compensation of greater personal freedom. Poe would have had little difficulty in obtaining considerable leave, and there is evidence that he spent part of it in visits to the nearby city of Charleston. Here was a city with whose quaint streets and high-walled gardens he must have had considerable contact. The wanderings of a young soldier upon leave are not always without romance, and the unique and foreign aspect of the place could not have been lost upon him. Perhaps he knew that he had been there before, as a child-in-arms, with his even-then dying mother, in 1811,(304) [page 222:] and so sat through some play given upon the stage of the theater where she had trod the boards in The Wonder seventeen years before. Mr. Placide, the manager of Mrs. Poe’s company, had been succeeded in Charleston by his son, and it is by no means impossible that Poe, who was on the hunt for information about his parents, may have looked him up.

At any rate, certain passages in the Oblong Box show that he was familiar with the departure of the Charleston sailing packets and the life along the docks, and he may have visited the “Old State House” (the rooms of the Charleston Library Society were located in the same building) and turned over some of the colonial records in the Probate Court relating to pirates and shipwreck, material which seems to have affected The Gold Bug.(305)

.For the rest, oblivion has it in its quiet keeping. The officers of Poe’s regiment died before they could be questioned as to the details of his life at Charleston, and almost nothing but the official records are left. Here is a whole year whose social and whose human contacts are nearly blank. Of its dreams we know more, for Al Aaraaf is the monument.

This is the longest poem that Poe wrote. Its story-plot and general architecture are negligible, although the conception is poetic. Into it the young poet poured, during the lonely hours at Fort Moultrie, a wealth of imagination, lovely sound, and airy fancy that entitle the work, for such it is, to a higher consideration than it has ever received. It has inspired other young poets to first take flight, and it remained for years a poetical bank upon which he continued to draw. Despite its frequent echoes, no one in America up to that time had ever written so many magic lines. Poe’s dreams of the region between earth and paradise, however, were rudely interrupted by the place from which interruptions so often come — home.(306)

His hardship after leaving the house of John Allan, and the opportunity for considerable contemplation which the stay at [page 223:] Fort Moultrie afforded, seems to have confirmed Poe in his ambitions for a literary career. He felt, he says, that the prime of his life was passing, yet three years of his five year term of enlistment remained to be served, with no prospects but barrack life beyond that. Sometime during the close of the year 1828(307) he seems to have gotten into communication with his foster-father, either by letter or through the good offices of friends, and expressed a desire to obtain his guardian’s help in leaving the army. Mr. Allan’s permission it seems was required, for Poe’s company commander, Lieutenant J. Howard, had become much interested in the brilliant young soldier and had promised to discharge him, if a reconciliation between John Allan and Poe could be confirmed. The communications between Richmond and Fort Moultrie were made through the medium of a Mr. John O. Lay who seems to have been a friend of the Allan family.(308)

Although aware now of the whereabouts of his foster-son, John Allan did not write him directly, but wrote Mr. Lay that he thought a military life was a good one for Poe, and evidently indicated that he was quite content to allow him to remain where he was. Nothing is more indicative of John Allan’s utter coldness of heart than this. The letter was inclosed by Mr. Lay to Lieutenant Howard, and must have brought a sinking sense of disappointment to the home-sick and ambitious young soldier. For the time being, his hopes were dashed to the ground and doubt cast upon all his statements to Lieutenant Howard.

With the resumption of intercourse between father and son, a new factor begins to creep into John Allan’s attitude to “the son of actors” — snobbishness. After inheriting his uncle’s ample fortune, the older man developed social aspirations in conformity with the large mansion in Richmond, and these, it would appear, he felt were somewhat threatened by the fact that his “son” had enlisted as a private soldier. The descendant of Scotch smugglers, to judge from expressions in the correspondence which took place, felt that to have Poe return in the uniform of anything less than [page 224:] an officer would be to have entailed upon him a portion of Poe’s “infamy”; nevertheless, he feels a military career is the thing for Poe. “He had better remain where he is until the end of his enlistment.”

In a letter written by Poe to John Allan from Fort Moultrie on December 1, 1828, Poe protests against this, tells of his concern at learning that John Allan had been ill, and speaks with pardonable pride of his own satisfaction at his rapid promotion. He stresses his determination to leave the army unless absolutely forbidden to do so by his “father,” and states that army regulations do not permit of promotion from the ranks, and that his age precludes West Point. It is now that the first mention of West Point occurs.

This letter shows Poe’s character to have considerably hardened during his army career. His promotions seem to have given him self-confidence and poise, and he says that he is no longer a wayward boy but a man with a work to do in the world. His future greatness he successfully predicts, for “he feels that within him” which will make him fulfil John Allan’s wishes, and he excuses his self-confidence by saying that conviction of success is the only thing that can make ambitions and talent prosper. “I have thrown myself on the world like the Norman conqueror on the shores of Britain and, by my avowed assurance of victory, have destroyed the fleet which could alone cover my retreat — I must either conquer or die — succeed or be disgraced.” Poe makes plain that he is not asking for money a letter to Lieutenant Howard assuring that officer of the reconciliation that would procure his release is all he asks — and — “my dearest love to Ma — it is only when absent that we can tell the value of such a friend” — yours respectfully and affectionately.

This cry from the high heart of ambitious and fiery youth in the agony of frustration, and the prison-house of military barracks received as a reply a complete silence. In the arctic labyrinth of John Allan’s brain it was locked away as utterly and securely as some pathetic secret in a vault of cold marble.

One ponders wearily such facts, startled by the amazing possibilities of human nature, wondering a little about the wet eyes [page 225:] of the fragile, failing wife in the great house at Richmond, of what her husband thought when he found his prediction about the boy’s starving in the streets had not been fulfilled — not completely that is — whether he was glad or sorry, annoyed, or simply surprised. Was there not some sorrow and yearning left in the man — or was he, after all, this strong prophet of lean years, who saw to it that his predictions were fulfilled disappointed? Who knows — even Fate must have been astonished John Allan had raised a poet!

In the meantime, Edgar Poe had sailed northward.(309) On December the first, he writes that his regiment was under orders to sail for Old Point Comfort. The low coasts of Carolina faded away forever under the eyes of “Edgar A. Perry,” First United States Artillery; the army transport lumbered heavily up the coast with the warm current of the Gulf Stream; the hours passed slowly while the men played cards in their bunks under the light of whale-oil lanterns. Fortress Monroe drew slowly nearer. Certainly a letter would be there to release him from all this! Only a few lines would do the trick — would save three years of youth from being wasted. Even “Pa” would not fail him there. What had he done anyway to be thought so “degraded”? Played cards for money and read novels, drunk a little heady peach-and-honey, insisted upon being a poet. For that he had done penance in uniform and barracks for two long, lost years. Surely that was enough! It was getting near Christmas time. Perhaps, they would let him come home? Home! — he could anticipate old black “Dab” crying out over him as he opened the big door; “Ma” coming weakly down the steps half blind with joy, “Aunty Nancy’s” hearty rapture, even John Allan’s amused ironical smile [page 226:] and, “Weel, weel, my ain proud cockerel, fluttered back, eh!” Then the glow of the agate lamp in his own quiet room and the books. . . . The ship, whose name has been forgotten, lurched another wave-length northward. To Israfel it seemed to be making no perceptible progress. He was already a little, just a little weary of another voyage which was now half over. Within a few weeks of reaching Fortress Monroe he was twenty years old. Tamerlane had probably been destroyed in Boston, almost the whole edition. There had not been even a flash in the pan.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 209:]

284.  It may be suggested that Henry Poe’s having joined the navy may have influenced Edgar’s joining the army in hopes of adventure. Edgar, we now know, became the Byronic hero of Henry’s group in Baltimore and the subject of their poetic effusions in The North American. See L. A. Wilmer’s Merlin afterward referred to by Edgar Poe in a complimentary manner.

285.  Poe’s touching at the Bermudas is suggested.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 210:]

286.  From the Balloon Hoax.

287.  See the letter of Lieut. J. Howard given to Poe on his discharge — Chapter XII, page 240.

288.  Prof. C. Alphonso Smith to the author, July 23, 1921, “The point you make seems to me a good one and so far as I know the matter has never been presented as you propose. So far as I know, this was the only really “tropical” [[‘tropical’]] background that Poe had ever seen.[[”]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 211:]

289.  At the time of Poe’s service at Fort Moultrie, Charleston, South Carolina, was one of the great American ports, hundreds of ships clearing weekly.

290.  It must be borne in mind that Poe did not write The Gold Bug until many years later, 1842. The beach at Sullivan’s Island seems to have been “photographed” on his retina.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 212:]

291.  Poe is probably thinking of the Rev. “Dr.” Bransby’s garden at Stoke Newington, where he cherished exotic shrubs. See Chapter V, page 83.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 214:]

292.  Poe prided himself upon his ability to solve cryptograms see Woodberry, vol. i, 1900, pages 303-304, and his own articles on the subject in Alexander’s Messenger, Dec. 18, 1839, Graham’s, July, 1841, etc. This was a later development and the cryptogram in the story belongs to the Philadelphia period of about 1842.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 215:]

293.  In corrections in his own hand in the Century Association copy of The Collected Works once owned by Poe and Griswold, Poe has changed deuced to d —— d.” See note 299.

294.  The quotations are, of course, from The Gold Bug.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 216:]

295.  Ellison A. Smyth, Jr. — the author is frankly indebted to Prof. Smyth of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute for the description of the capture of the beetles, and for the idea which they suggested to him which are taken from his article in the Sewanee Review for January 1, 1910, Poe’s Gold Bug from the Standpoint of an Entomologist. The text of the article was supplied the author by the Charleston Museum, Charleston, South Carolina, together with specimens of the beetles described, captured on Sullivan’s Island.

296.  “At attention” — with antennæ pointing. This is the position which suggested to Poe his idea for using the beetle as a “treasure pointer.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 217:]

297.  The drawings of these insects have been made for the author (from specimens captured on Sullivan’s Island within a few miles of Fort Moultrie) by Miss Elena von Feld of the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, specimens furnished by Miss Laura M. Bragg, Director of the Charleston Museum.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 218:]

298.  Arrangement for the synthesis of Callichroma and Alaus Oculatus designed by Theodore Spicer-Simson, Esq. to conform with Poe’s own description in The Gold Bug.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 219:]

299.  These paragraphs added by Poe himself, are inserted in the present text of The Gold Bug immediately before the paragraph beginning, “but your grand eloquence . . .” etc., and are taken from Poe’s own copy of The Raven and Other Poems by Edgar A. Poe. New York, Wiley and Putnam, 161 Broadway, 1845. 12 mo. and Tales, by Edgar A. Poe. New York, Wiley and Putnam, 1845. “mo.” The above two works are bound together, the first precedes. This was Poe’s own copy, with many manuscripts, marginal corrections and additions, evidently intended as the basis for a new edition, afterward the property of R. W. Griswold, Poe’s editor, with his autograph on a fly leaf. It was bequeathed by J. L. Graham to the Century Association of New York. Quotations here by the courtesy of the Librarian of the Century Association.

300.  Prof. Basil L. Gildersleeve in writing Prof. Harrison says . . .” I am old enough to remember what an excitement his Gold Bug created in Charleston when it first appeared, and how severely we boys criticised the inaccuracies in the description of Sullivan’s Island.” Harrison’s Life and Letters of E. A. Poe, vol. I, page 315. Prof. Gildersleeve knew the failings of his home town. Even Poe could not improve on scenery that was “already perfect.”

301.  On Fairfield Plantation on the Santee, some miles from Sullivan’s Island, there is a live oak which requires thirteen persons to span it. Many other large trees abound.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 221:]

302.  Typical of these is the family tomb at Middleton Gardens near Charleston.

303.  One biographer is somewhat confused by Poe’s being appointed an “artificer.”

304.  This is doubtful, however, as Poe knew almost nothing about his family until he lived among his relatives in Baltimore in 1829. See his mistake in regard to being Benedict Arnold’s grandson, Chapter XII, page 248.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 222:]

305.  In 1745, the ship “Cid Compeador,” commanded by one Julian de Vega, was wrecked off the coast of South Carolina. Some of the affidavits preserved in the Probate Court Records at Charleston when compared with The Gold Bug suggest that Poe may have seen them (sic).

306.  See note 350, Chapter XII, referring to Al Aaraaf.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 223:]

307.  The facts related here which conflict with certain “standard” biographies come from the new published letters of the Valentine Museum, Richmond. See particularly letter 6, page 75.

308.  Some authorities say, “a relative of Mrs. Allan.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 225:]

309.  Poe’s regiment almost certainly left Fort Moultrie the first week in December, 1828, for on the first of December he writes John Allan that they are then under orders to sail and that mail must be sent to him at Fortress Monroe. See letter 6, The Valentine Museum Letters. Poe, therefore, spent the time between the middle of November, 1827, and the first week in December, 1828, on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. A considerable slice out of his short life. The statement that Poe left Fort Moultrie in October, 1828, (Woodberry, etc.) is thus corrected and the remaining months accounted for. The voyage to Hampton Roads could not have been under four days in length. This was Poe’s last “long” voyage by sea.

 


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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 11)