Text: Hervey Allen, “Appendix 04,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1926), volume 2, pp. 874-879


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[page 874:]

IV

POE’S BROTHER(935)

WILLIAM HENRY LEONARD POE, the elder brother, by two years, of Edgar Allan Poe, was born in Boston in 1807 while his parents, David Poe and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, were filling an engagement at the Federal Street Theater in that city. The child seems to have first seen the light sometime between January 12 and February 22, 1807, as the unusual interruptions in the appearances of his mother, who was then playing in Shakespearean parts, “Ophelia,” “Cordelia,” and “Blanche,” indicate. The parents of the Poe boys were both poor, and seem to have been unable to care for their first child, for, on a visit to Baltimore during the theatrical vacation, sometime between May 25 and September 14, 1807, the boy was left with his paternal grandfather, “General” David Poe, who then resided at Number 19 Camden Street, Baltimore. It was thus in the family of his grandparents that he was “adopted” and brought up.

David and Elizabeth Poe returned to play in Boston where, on January 19, 1809, Mrs. Poe gave birth to her afterward famous son, Edgar. Her husband, David, died or deserted her in New York in July, 1810, after which Mrs. Poe went South, playing in Richmond, Norfolk, Charleston, South Carolina, and other places in the Southern circuit. In December, 1810, the date is not certain, she gave birth to her third child, Rosalie, in Norfolk, Virginia. These three children, William, Edgar, and Rosalie, constituted therefore the family of David and Elizabeth Poe. In December, 1811, Mrs. Poe died in Richmond, Virginia, in the house of a milliner, in circumstances of great poverty and extreme tragedy. Edgar was “adopted,” or taken into the house of John and Frances Allan, and Rosalie, or Rose, was taken home and cared for by a Mrs. William Mackenzie, both Mr. Allan and Mr. Mackenzie being Scotch merchants in comfortable circumstances. In the meantime, William Henry Leonard Poe, the eldest born, had remained with his grandparents in Baltimore.

The first mention of “Henry,” as he was called, occurs in a letter written on February 8, 1813, from Baltimore by Eliza Poe (afterward Mrs. Herring), the paternal aunt of Henry and Edgar, to Mrs. John Allan in Richmond. The letter deals, for the most part, with Edgar, whom the Poes were anxious to care for, but goes on to say:

. . . Henry frequently speaks of his little brother and expresses a great desire to see him, tell him he sends his best love to him and is greatly [page 875:] pleased to hear that he is so good as also so pretty a boy as Mr. Douglas represented him to be. . . .

Mr. Douglas was a Baltimore gentleman who had seen young Edgar, then only four years old, in company with his foster-parents, the Allans, at the Virginia Hot Springs.

Edgar’s foster-mother seems to have been afraid that the Baltimore relatives might claim her little “son,” and there was consequently little contact between the two orphan brothers. After the return of the Allans from England in 1820, some correspondence between the two boys seems to have taken place, for, in November, 1824, John Allan writes to Henry Poe, then seventeen years of age, a letter in which he complains bitterly of Edgar, attacks the legitimacy of Rosalie, and apparently attempts to estrange the two young men. In this letter there is reference to a correspondence between the two brothers as follows:

DEAR HENRY:

I have just seen your letter of the 25th ult, to Edgar and am much, afflicted he has not written you . . . etc.

Mr. Allan appears to have had his own private reasons for wishing to estrange the two brothers, but in this he was not successful, for, sometime during the Summer of 1825, William Henry Leonard paid a visit to his brother, Edgar Allan, then living at the corner of Main and Fifth Streets in Richmond with his foster-parents, the Allans.(936) Edgar was at that time paying attention to, and was undoubtedly very much in love with a little girl who lived nearby, Sarah Elmira Royster, and Miss Royster has left a recollection of a visit paid to her by the two Poe brothers, in company with a friend of Edgar’s by the name of Ebenezer Burling.

Henry was, at this time, either in the Navy or the Merchant Marine, probably the former as a letter of his from Montevideo shows, and Miss Royster remembered his appearing in a nautical uniform, seemingly that of a midshipman. The difficulties in the Allan household about 1825 were serious; Edgar was already “on the outs” with his foster-father, and the visit of his blood brother at such a time must have cemented their already natural affection.

From the early poetry left by both Edgar and Henry Poe, it plainly appears that both brothers were of a similar, poetically inclined, and somewhat melancholy temperament. Both inherited the same traits [page 876:] and predilections, and, it would seem, also the same weaknesses for Henry, even earlier than Edgar, went into ill-health. He was said to have been a delicate, sensitive, and willowly youth, and it is known that he died early of tuberculosis and drink.

Of Henry Poe’s life about Baltimore, of the twenties and early thirties of the last century, very little is known. From a great variety of sources, hints in correspondence, and obscure recollections, it has been possible to piece together the following:

Henry Poe remained with his grandparents Mr. and Mrs. David Poe, Sr., up until the time of the death of the grandfather, October 19, 1816, when the family seems to have been living at Park Lane in the Western precincts (now Roborg Street), according to the old directories. Henry Poe seems also to have been helped and cared for by a Mr. Henry Didier, who had been a law student with David Poe, Jr. before the latter went on the stage. The widowed grandmother was left in poor circumstances, dependent on a small pension. Soon after the death of her husband, she became paralyzed and went to live with her daughter, Mrs. Maria Clemm, afterward Poe’s mother-in-law, whither Henry also accompanied her.

In the meantime, however, probably about the time of the break-up of his grandparents’ household, he went to sea. From various incidents which Edgar Poe afterward “incorporated” into his own biography, it seems likely that Henry visited the Mediterranean, the West Indies and South America, the near East, and possibly Russia. His adventures at least furnished forth a chapter of life which was afterward appropriated, and perhaps enlarged upon by his younger brother for “trade” purposes. It now appears, indeed, that many of the “standard” biographies of E. A. Poe are in reality a synthesis of Henry and Edgar, especially in regard to the years 1827-1829.

About the time that Edgar went to Boston in 1827, Henry Poe seems to have completed his experience at sea, for, from that time on, there is a fairly consecutive running reference to him as being in Baltimore. F. W. Thomas, afterward Edgar’s dose friend, says of Henry about 1826 :

Your brother and I were then intimate — and rather rivals in a love affair.

Thomas was then living in Baltimore, and much about town with a rather gay, young, literary, social, and political set to which Henry Poe must also have belonged. He is known to have been rather wild, to have early developed a fondness for drink, to have been fond of female society — and to have died young. That he must also have possessed a considerable charm, not a little latent talent, a somewhat precocious [page 877:] development, and a vivid imagination, what little we have from his immature pen, seems dearly to indicate. In appearance, he was said to have resembled strangely his brother, Edgar, but to have been somewhat taller. From 1826 on, Henry’s whereabouts, and what scanty information we have about his doings must be traced mainly through those of his brother, Edgar.

Edgar Poe matriculated at the University of Virginia, February 14, 1826. Before leaving Richmond, he had obtained the promise of Elmira Royster to marry him, and, upon departure, had presented her with a locket engraved with initials in which the engraver had made an error. It is also known that he sent back a letter to his sweetheart by James Hill, the Allan’s darky coachman and slave, who drove Poe and his foster-mother to the University. This was probably the last letter which Elmira or “Myra,” as he called her, received from Poe until a year or so before his death (1849), when he again became engaged to her. Owing to Mr. Allan’s undoubtedly calculated parsimony — Poe was in debt upon his arrival at the University from lack of funds — the young Edgar engaged in the game of Loo at which he was unfortunate. Having no cash, he exploited his credit with Charlottesville merchants, and ran up a considerable debt in order to pay his classmates. Poe had “plunged” deeper than he realized, and when Mr. Allan was presented with the bills, he took the opportunity of removing Poe from the University at the end of the year. In the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Royster had intercepted all of Poe’s letters to Elmira, and had persuaded their daughter to become engaged to a Mr. A. Barrett Shelton, a young gentleman of considerable means and social status. The Roysters had, at one time, loaned Mr. Allan considerable sums, and were well enough known to him to be assured that Poe’s prospects for an inheritance, although he had been brought up as a foster-son, were nil. Otherwise it is not likely that they would have opposed his suit. Upon returning to Richmond, Poe found that his sweetheart, who doubtless supposed him indifferent, had been removed and was engaged to his rival. The blow was a telling one. He was heart-broken, pursued by warrants for debt, and in disgrace with his “father” who desired him to be a lawyer. He quarreled with Mr. Allan, and left home going to Boston under the assumed name of Henri Le Rennét. Here, probably on a little money furnished him by Mrs. Allan and his “aunt,” Miss Anne Valentine, he “published” his first volume of poems, called Tamerlane and Other Poems, printed by a tyro printer named Calvin F. S. Thomas. The title poem dealt with his love affairs with Elmira Royster.

It now seems, from poetry published by Henry Poe in Baltimore in 1827, in the North American, that Poe sent a copy of this book to his [page 878:] elder brother who inserted certain selections from it, in the magazine mentioned, under his own initials. Edgar seems also to have written the full particulars of his tragic little love affair to William Henry Poe in Baltimore, after arriving at Fort Moultrie, Sullivan’s Island, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

It was during this time, or shortly before, that he evidently communicated with his brother Henry, The result of these communications may be read in The Pirate, in the Baltimore North American for 1827. Whether the story is by E. A. Poe, or a romantic rendering of Edgar’s letter to him by William Henry Poe, is hard to tell, probably the latter. . . .

In 1829, Henry Poe was known to have been employed in the office of one Henry Didier, a former law student with his father David, and to have been living with Mrs. Maria Clemm, his aunt, in Mechanics Row, Milk Street, Baltimore. His constant writing for the magazine, in 1827, implies that he had been in Baltimore some time. It is the opinion of this writer that Henry Poe’s last voyage was made not later than 1827. That he (Henry) was in sailor togs in 1825, we know by his visit to Miss Royster. In 1827 we find him settled and writing for the North American in Baltimore. He must also have been entering now upon his period of decline for, in 1829, there is record of his illness and despairing drinking. A short time later he died of tuberculosis at Mrs. Clemm’s.

The probabilities are, therefore, that the material that appeared in the North American in 1827 was his own, and Edgar’s poems, copied from Tamerlane. Henry’s romancing upon his brother’s love affair with Elmira Royster, was exactly the tragic-romantic type of star-crossed lover plot which most tickled the sentimental-lugubrious palate of the period, and appealed especially to romantic youth. That Edgar had lost his sweetheart, and run away on an adventurous career was an opportunity which Henry could not neglect. Hence The Pirate. That this story refers to the Elmira incident, there cannot be the shadow of doubt. Henry had been taken to call upon her, Edgar had written him the particulars of the later affair.

Henry having treated the incident in prose, L. A. Wilmer, another contributor to the North American, now did it in poetry, and produced Merlin in which Elmira’s name is used, and the machinery of the same plot more imaginatively exploited. In Merlin Elmira’s “habitation” is given as near the “Hudson” instead of the James.

It is now in order to detail what is known of the rest of Henry Poe’s short life. In 1829, Edgar Poe returned to Richmond, left the Army, visited Washington, and then went to live for a while in Baltimore during the Summer and Winter of 1829. At that time he lived certainly for a while with Henry and his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, and the little girl, Virginia, [page 879:] whom he afterward married in Baltimore. On May 20, 1829, Edgar Poe writes to John Allan from Baltimore, “I have succeeded in finding Grandmother and my relatives.” On August 10,1829, Edgar Poe, still in Baltimore, again writes to John Allan, “My Grandmother is extremely poor and ill (paralytic). My Aunt Maria (Mrs. Clemm) if possible still worse and Henry entirely given over to drink and unable to help himself, much less me” — a statement that sufficiently indicates Henry’s condition at the time. In July, 1830, Edgar entered West Point, and we again hear of Henry through him in another letter to John Allan, June 28, (1830). “I take the first opportunity since arriving here of acknowledging the receipt of your letter of 21st May inclosing a U. S. note for $201 received it three days ago — it has been lying some time in the W. P. post office where it was forwarded from Baltimore, by Henry.” On his way to West Point from Richmond, Edgar had again visited his brother Henry in Baltimore in May and June, 1830.

Edgar Poe left West Point about February 18, 1831, after being dismissed by courtmartial. He stayed a short time in New York, and evidently arrived in Baltimore about the end of March, 1831, when he went to live with his Aunt Maria Clemm at Mechanics Row, Milk Street, in the Fells Point district. There were then in the household, Mrs. Clemm, Virginia Clemm, old Mrs. David Poe, the grandmother, Henry Poe, Henry Clemm, and to them was now added Edgar. Henry Poe was very ill, was dying in fact. Edgar must have spent much of his time nursing his elder brother for whom he had gone into debt On August 2, 1831, the following notice appeared in the Baltimore North American:

Died last evening, W. H. Poe aged 24 years. His friends and acquaintances are invited to attend his funeral this morning at 9 from the dwelling of Mrs. Clemm in Milk Street.

William Henry Leonard Poe was buried in the graveyard of the old First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore where his younger brother now lies. Edgar Allan Poe survived Henry by eighteen years.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 874:]

935.  Reprinted here slightly altered and abridged from Poe’s Brother, The Poems of William Henry Leonard Poe, by Hervey Allen and Thomas Ollive Mabbott, George H. Doran Company, Publishers, New York, 1926.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 875:]

936.  J. H. Whitty prints in his Memoir to the Collected Poems of Edgar Allow Poe, a notice of F. W. Thomas alluding to an earlier visit of Henry Poe to Richmond.

 


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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) (Appendix 04)