Text: John Carl Miller, “Chapter I,” Building Poe Biography (1977), pp. 1-18 (This material is protected by copyright)


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I

Poe’s English Biographer

JOHN HENRY INGRAM was a product of lower middle-class English society. He was born on November 16, 1842, at 29 City Road, Finnsbury, Middlesex, and he grew up in Stoke Newington, the London suburb where young Edgar Poe had lived and gone to school, a fact always construed by Ingram to be a tangible link between his life and Poe’s. As a child, Ingram read Poe’s poems and tales many times over, and his early fascination with Poe’s writings developed into a feeling of mystic rapport with the personality of the dead Poe; and from that feeling grew Ingram’s determination to cleanse Poe’s name and reputation of the scurrilous allegations Rufus W. Griswold had made against them in the obituary and Memoir of Poe he had published shortly after the poet’s death. At this point, Ingram had no more to go on than an intense instinctive feeling that Griswold had lied about Poe.

Educated in youth by private tutors and in private schools, Ingram entered the City of London College when he was eighteen, but his college career was cut short by his father’s death and he had to withdraw and find employment to support himself, his mother, and two sisters. On January 13, 1868, he received a commission in the Civil Service, with an appointment to a clerkship in the savings bank department of the London General Post Office. By this time he had served a literary apprenticeship of sorts, which will be described later, and having done so, he was ready to turn to his life’s work: finding out everything possible about Edgar Poe and writing a biography of him that would be both redemptive of Poe’s name and reputation and would also be recognized everywhere as definitive.

Ingram began by searching out Poe’s friends in America, and when they gave him names of other persons who had known and been friendly [page 2:] to Poe, he immediately wrote strongly worded, persuasive appeals to them. The letter that follows is quite characteristic. It was sent to George W. Eveleth, whose name had been relayed to Ingram by Sarah Helen Whitman. Eveleth had corresponded with Poe during the last few years of his life, and, though they never met, Eveleth’s deep interest in Poe and in all efforts to defend him never flagged. Eveleth forwarded Ingram’s letter to William Hand Browne, who was, in addition to being a professor of English literature at Johns Hopkins University, also the editor of the Southern Magazine, and Eveleth added an appeal of his own to Ingram’s for help in finding trustworthy materials about Poe. Browne not only published the two requests in “The Green Table” section of his magazine for October, 1874, but added still another request of his own for all who could to help.

England, London
General Post-Office
Engineer-In-Chiefs
Office 10th March 1874

Dear Sir:

Your name has been given me as that of a gentleman able and willing to assist me in my researches into the life of E. A. Poe. The enclosed cutting will give you some idea of how I am going to work; but it necessarily represents but a very small portion of my discoveries. Assisted by American correspondents, I am able to refute nearly every one of Griswold’s filthy lies. To disgust Poe’s friends, he seems to have stopped at nothing.

In the biography which I am writing, I of course utterly discard all Griswold’s “Memoir.” I have correlated many dates, and have already obtained much correspondence, but shall be very thankful still for the slightest scrap of information, or any reminiscence of Poe or of his family. I am told that you are a Marylander; you may, therefore, know something of the family. He is stated to have been engaged to a Southern lady of fortune, after his engagement with Mrs. Whitman was broken off — do you know her name, or anything of the circumstances? Do you know who “Helen S———” was? — said to have been mother of a school-fellow of Poe while he was at the Richmond Academy. Do you know anything whatever of Poe’s brother, Wm. Henry L. — what he was, etc.? Can you procure me copies of what John Neal and Geo. R. Graham wrote about Griswold’s character of Poe? I would willingly pay for them, or for any copies of letters written by Poe, or anything useful about him. Can you give me a few lines of reminiscence? I believe you knew him personally. Can you refer me to any one in Baltimore, or in Richmond, Virginia, who knew him, or anything about him? The slightest information or clue will be acceptable.

His sister Rosalie is alive, but old and very poor. I am raising a sum of money for her. I am afraid she is not able to give me much reliable information. [page 3:]

I shall be glad to purchase any paper or publication containing anything not included in the 4 vol. collection of his works (New York, Widdleton, 1864). Anything he wrote before 1834 would be acceptable, or any information as to where he was and what he did between March, 1831, and the autumn of 1833. In hopes of your kindly aid toward furnishing the world with the true story of this great man’s life,

I remain yours truly,
John H. Ingram
F. R. His. Society

This letter contains, in brief, a summary of Ingram’s personality and his approach to Poe biography: it is abruptly to the point, perfunctorily and somewhat brusquely courteous, slightly pompous, but obviously sincere and forceful.

This kind of plea was most effective. William Hand Browne became Ingram’s loyal and valuable ally from the time of its receipt, and as a result of his printing it in the Southern Magazine a number of correspondents unknown to either Browne or Ingram responded very quickly. It took Eveleth four years to answer the letter, but when he did answer he enclosed forty-four closely copied pages, on both sides of thin paper, containing copies of six of the seven letters he had received from Poe (later, he added the seventh), and copies of many other letters he had received from persons who had known Poe. All of these letters are reproduced in Chapter VII.

In accord with this response, Ingram shaped his life into a pattern of work and study and writing and answering letters, and he followed that pattern doggedly for his remaining forty-eight years. He spent almost every waking hour away from his Civil Service job in searching out new facts for his proposed biography of Poe; he read indefatigably and he wrote letters to hundreds of persons in England, France, America, and Ireland who had known Poe or who were interested in him and who could possibly help him write a true account of Poe’s life. As he grew surer of himself and his materials, he began to write and publish articles revealing the discoveries he had made, the “new facts” he had brought to light. (See Bibliography I for a list of these articles.)

Ingram’s master stroke in collecting Poe materials was in getting to know, either personally or through frequent letters, a number of the women who had known Poe better, perhaps, than bad anyone else. He discovered that Stella Lewis* and Mary Gove Nichols* had moved from America to London, and he sought them out. He wrote to Sarah Helen [page 4:] Whitman, Annie Richmond, and Marie Louise Shew Houghton in America and told them at length of his own passionate loyalty to Poe’s memory and of his plans to restore Poe’s good reputation. Without fail, these letters evoked, almost inexplicably, these ladies’ immediate and militant devotion to his work and to him personally. They either gave or sent to him Poe’s autograph letters or copies of them, first editions of Poe’s books, magazine articles by and about Poe, and newspaper clippings; they wrote out at great length their recollections for Ingram’s use; and some even gave or sent to him many precious keepsakes that Poe had given to them himself.

With this kind of support, Ingram brought to his biographical work on Poe an unprecedented power and passion that have not since been approximated, and perhaps desirably so. Measured by modern standards, Ingram was not a good scholar; he was emotionally involved with his subject, to the point that he would deliberately suppress testimonies that were as valid as were many he printed, if they showed Poe to be petty or spiteful, as Poe sometimes was. He grew unreasonably possessive about his subject, resenting anyone else who tried to write about Poe, especially if that person were an American. As his collection of Poe materials grew, his publications increased in number and value, giving him an enviable reputation as a Poe scholar. It was at this point that he began attacking in print, sometimes sarcastically, sometimes more viciously, almost every article and book printed about Poe, accusing each author of having stolen materials from his own previous publications, which circumstance was in many cases actually true. Ingram had still to learn that he could not copyright facts.

With all of these serious faults, John Ingram made indelible marks in early Poe scholarship: he edited and published the first reliable four-volume edition of Poe’s works since Griswold’s in 1850; he prefaced that edition with a memoir of his own that had in it much new and important information; in 1880, he brought out a two-volume biography of Poe that contained much of its new information from the letters in this volume and which is still indispensable to any serious study of Poe. In addition to these important pioneering efforts, he edited and published eight separate editions of Poe’s tales, essays, and poems, and he wrote and published nearly fifty articles on Poe affairs in the most important periodicals of the day.

Ingram achieved a truly remarkable number of Poe “firsts.” It was he who first openly called Griswold a liar and a forger — and proved both charges. It was he who, as late as 1874, settled once and for all the true [page 5:] date of Poe’s birth. It was Ingram who discovered the first known volume of Poe’s Tamerlane, in the British Museum Library in 1876; and with this priceless find, it was Ingram who was able to assemble for the first time all four of Poe’s volumes of poems and write the first bibliographical description of them. Then too, it was Ingram who was able to “discover” that Poe had written “The Journal of Julius Rodman” and add it to the Poe canon. Finally, it was Ingram to whom more Poe autograph letters were entrusted than to any other Poe biographer.

Ingram’s edition of Poe’s works, his two-volume biography, and his separate editions of the poems, tales, and critical essays were widely circulated and of course went through many editions for at least twenty or more years, and some of them are still actually available in secondhand bookstores. His discoveries about Poe were immediately copied and republished by other writers, more often than not without acknowledgment, which served to embitter Ingram for the rest of his life. The writers and editors who copied Ingram’s published facts and Poe letters did not attempt to check either the accuracy or validity of his sources or his editorial methods, and their own publications have been recopied ever since, with minor variations designed to ward off possible copyright infringement lawsuits. Thus, Ingram’s approaches to biography and his editorial practices have established facts and created attitudes, even myths, for much that has never been questioned in Poe biography. Many of these facts, attitudes, and myths should be questioned, as this volume will show.

During his lifetime John Ingram would never have permitted any rival Poe biographer to examine his entire collection of source materials, even though now and again he made halfhearted offers to a very few persons to share with them. But Ingram has been dead for more than sixty years and his collection of papers about Poe has been in the Manuscript Department of the University of Virginia Library for more than fifty. The author of that much-desired and still-to-be-written definitive biography of Poe will have to examine all of this collection closely indeed.

In this volume, and in the volumes to come, Ingram and his correspondents at last speak out. They all have much to say, and they speak joyfully, or angrily, or sorrowfully, each according to his bent and his reaction to Edgar Poe. Sometimes it is apparent that they are revealing more than they are aware, but they always speak with emotion, for none was indifferent to Poe, and each deserves to be heard.

Remarkably enough, Ingram interspersed his writings on Poe — especially [page 6:] after 1880, when he thought his work on Poe was done — with numerous magazine articles about other persons and subjects, and he wrote and published at least five other volumes of biography, including lives of Oliver Madox-Brown, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Burns, Christopher Marlowe, and Thomas Chatterton. It is wryly true, and perhaps has significance of a sort, that almost without exception Ingram chose for biographical treatment an author who had in some way been associated with Poe, or who had been a child-prodigy poet, who had died at an early age and left a reputation that needed to be redeemed from slander.

Ingram was retired in 1903 after thirty-five years spent at his job in the English Civil Service, but he remained living in London for another nine years. As Poe’s centenary year drew close, he became especially active. He prepared most of the materials included in the London Bookman’s memorial edition for Poe in January, 1909, and he edited and published still another edition of Poe’s poems to be brought out that year. Moreover, he answered every request from numerous other British and American magazines with contributions to their sections honoring Poe’s hundredth birthday. These numerous calls on him certainly were satisfying, and he must have been very happy as he answered them.

When the centenary celebrations were over, Ingram began writing steadily on his last biography of Poe. He believed that he alone controlled all of the important materials about Poe’s life, and now that all of his correspondents who had sent him personal information were dead, he felt free to use the materials in his files in any way he chose. And so he set to work, believing that his last biography, to be called “The True Story of Edgar Allan Poe,” would establish forever his reputation as the final authority on Poe.

In 1912, with his sister Laura, he moved his household from London to Brighton, where he so much enjoyed the sea bathing, and he continued work on his last biography of Poe. And there, four years later, after finishing his work, he died, on February 12, 1916. For various reasons, among them the disruption of printing caused by World War I, this last biography remained unpublished.

Immediately after her brother’s death, Laura Ingram put her brother’s various biographical collections up for sale; but it was not until late 1921 that the two huge packing cases containing John Ingram’s Poe collection actually reached the University of Virginia Library. The rich [page 7:] materials were examined by the young professor just come from William and Mary and who was to become a great Poe specialist, as well as the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of American Literature in the university, James Southall Wilson. An agreement in price was reached and the sum paid, and for years thereafter Miss Ingram continued to send to the university library package after package of things overlooked that really belonged in her brother’s Poe collection. Finally, in the 1930s, feeling that her death was close, she sent as a final gift the manuscript of his last unpublished biography of Poe.(1)

Even had this manuscript reached publication, it would not have given John Ingram the position he coveted. It contains little that is really new and important and its whole tone is one of unrelenting bitterness aimed at Poe’s detractors and Ingram’s rival American Poe biographers. At the last, Ingram’s spleen had completely overridden his editorial and critical judgments. The manuscript is interesting to the Poe student, but it is not a definitive biography of Edgar Poe.

Ingram’s abilities to ferret out facts, to work long, hard hours, coupled with a reasonable amount of luck and an inordinate amount of love for his subject, have made for him a unique and undeniable place of importance among all Poe biographers. But this would not have been enough for John Ingram.

Actually, his unparalleled contributions to Poe biography resulted from his fortunate timing in reaching Poe’s closest friends before they died and succeeding in garnering from them most of their memories and keepsakes and materials about Poe. By maneuvering when he did, he was able to amass and partially use a collection of Poe source materials that has been the puzzle and envy of Poe scholars everywhere for over a century.

This volume, with its many reproduced autograph letters and with its commentaries, is designed to show haw John Ingram built Poe biography, and to remove some of the puzzles.

Apprenticeship

As a youth John Ingram wrote bushels of verses, as he termed them, which were rejected without exception until he learned the mysteries of [page 8:] metrical lines; after that he published a great many of them in cheap magazines in London. By 1863 he gathered about one hundred of these verses and published them in a little book, using a nom de plume, as Poems by Dalton Stone. Obviously he had learned something about scansion, for one of the poems in this volume was written professedly in the meter Edgar Poe had used in his “Ulalume.” This poem, called “Hope: An Allegory,” was reprinted in Walter Hamilton’s Parodies (London: Reeves and Turner, 1885), II, 66, with the following explanation: “This imitation of ‘Ulalume’ written by Mr. John H. Ingram, was published in 1863, when its author was in his teens. The little volume which contained it, entitled ‘Poems by Dalton Stone,’ has been suppressed, and is now very scarce.”

Ingram was not in his teens; he was actually twenty-one years old when he published this little volume. By this time, apparently, he had already decided to alter his birth date from November 16, 1842, to November 16, 1849, to coincide with Poe’s death year. The date 1849 is still carried by standard reference books, in error, as his birth year.(2) Ingram was educated in private schools and by private tutors until he entered first Lyonsdown and then the City of London College. In 1867, when he was twenty-five years old, he was a fellow of the Royal Historical Society; he spoke and wrote, in addition to his own language, French, German, Spanish, and Italian; and later he added a working knowledge of Portuguese and Hungarian. He contributed articles on literary and historical subjects to leading reviews in England, France, and America, and he was a frequent lecturer on contemporary literature in London.

But John Ingram was no poet, as even he had to realize, and by 1864 he had bid adieu to the dearest hope of his life-that of becoming a great poet. Actually, he continued to write rather bad verse intermittently until as late as 1912.

Having published and suppressed his first volume of verse, Ingram then turned to a more ambitious publication, a book on flowers, Flora Symbolica: Or the Language and Sentiment of Flowers. This history of floriography examines the meanings and symbolisms of more than one hundred separate flowers, garlands, and bouquets; there are long essays on each flower, and the volume is elaborately gotten up with great detail, clearly printed, and beautifully illustrated in many colors. [page 9:]

Ingram’s methods as an author and compiler are clear in this volume: he has ransacked every previous publication on flowers, and sifted, condensed, and augmented whatever his predecessors have had to say on each subject. He tells his readers bluntly, “Although I dare not boast that I have exhausted the subject, I may certainly affirm that followers will find little left to glean in the paths that I have traversed.” He was probably right.

The significance of the 1868 publication is that Ingram’s methods and habits of bookmaking were exercised and found good, by him at least, before he began his important work on Poe biography; for he altered his procedures scarcely at all, no matter what his subject was, in the next forty-eight years. Such was John Ingram’s cast of mind, such was his training, when he began the great task of his life, that of destroying Griswold’s Memoir of Poe and replacing it with a vindicatory one of his own.

The Case Against Poe

By 1870 there was a growing interest on both sides of the Atlantic in Poe’s genius. The power and beauty of Poe’s writings, available only in Griswold’s edition, caused enough interest to call out a number of editions and to produce varied reactions to the discrepancy between Poe’s personal character, as Griswold had pictured it, and the purity of Poe’s artistic achievements. Griswold’s Memoir was generally accepted as regrettable but true, for its position prefacing the authorized edition of Poe’s works gave it final authority. A number of “complete” editions of Poe’s writings had appeared in Europe and America, but none of these had added any poems to the Poe canon established by Griswold, and no new tales or essays were discovered and printed. In Europe, no biographical account of Poe was published, sympathetic or hostile, that was not based on Griswold’s.

Griswold had said, both in the obituary of Poe he had published in the New York Tribune on October 9, 1849 (the infamous “Ludwig Article,”) and in his Memoir prefacing his 1850 edition of Poe’s works,(3) that Poe did possess great powers of imagination, but that as a man he had few or no friends and that his harsh experiences in life had deprived him of all faith in humanity. Then Griswold had quoted, in the Tribune [page 10:] obituary, almost verbatim, an ugly paragraph taken from Bulwer-Lytton’s novel The Caxtons, which describes Francis Vivian as being “without moral susceptibility and having within himself little or nothing of the true point of honor,” By quoting these terrible judgments in Poe’s obituary, Griswold intended to imply that they were applicable to Poe’s personality. Even worse, when Griswold reprinted the same paragraph in his Memoir of Poe, he omitted the quotation marks. Thus, Bulwer-Lytton’s damnation of his fictional character was read and accepted as Griswold’s own judgment of Poe, and incalculable damage was done to Poe’s reputation.

In addition to this, Griswold’s Memoir was even more savage and bitterly denunciatory, repeating the old charges of Poe’s arrogance, envy, misanthropy, and debased sense of honor, and adding a list of new charges:

That while Poe was a student at the University of Virginia he had “led a very dissipated life,” and that he had been expelled in consequence of his excesses there.

That after leaving West Point, Poe had enlisted in the United States Army, but had presumably deserted.

That he had been guilty of a still darker crime in his relations with the second Mrs. Allan.

That in certain of his publications-among them his The Conchologist’s First Book-he had been guilty of plagiarisms that were “scarcely paralleled for their audacity in all literary history.”

That his “unsupported assertions and opinions were so apt to be influenced by friendship or enmity . . . that they should be received in all cases with distrust of their fairness.”

That Poe exhibited “scarcely any virtue in either his life or his writings,” and that both his life and his writings were without “a recognition or a manifestation of conscience.”(4)

The Case for Poe

Evert Duyckinck, editor of the New York Literary World, was the first to voice a suspicion about the validity of Griswold’s Memoir of Poe by [page 11:] inquiring whether Griswold, in publishing Poe’s “Literati” papers had not tampered with the text.(5)

Mrs. Clemm was much distressed and very indignant over the Memoir. Heretofore, she had praised Griswold for his “labor of love,” but now and forever after, she was to refer to him as “that villain.” But she could not escape the facts that she had made Griswold Poe’s literary executor and had turned over to him all of Poe’s papers, expecting, of course, to receive in return thousands of dollars from the sales of her beloved Eddie’s writings.

George Graham* wrote to Mrs. Clemm to remain quiet, that he had a “host of Poe’s friends prepared to do him justice,” and that he intended to devote nearly half of the December number of his magazine to the memory and defense of Poe. But Graham was not ready with his defense of Poe in December of that year of 1850, and actually did not publish it until February of 1854; but when it finally did appear, it was a long, detailed, well-documented article which refuted several of Griswold’s charges against Poe with undeniable evidence.

Three years later, in November, 1857, James Wood Davidson,* editor of the Columbia, South Carolina, Register, published a strong defense of Poe’s character in Russell’s Magazine. Also John Neal* of Portland, Maine, published a strong dissent against Griswold’s estimate of Poe. N. P. Willis* republished in 1851, in his Hurrygraphs, a reply he had made to Griswold’s obituary of Poe. He also republished in the Home Journal for March 16, 1850, Graham’s first article on Poe, which was the sole instance of anyone republishing anything in Poe’s defense.

These protests and defenses were sincerely and earnestly meant to vindicate Poe’s name from Griswold’s calumnies, but the forms in which they were presented to the reading public defeated their ends. They reflected honest indignation and were even passionate at times, but they were not sustained and were shortly forgotten; furthermore, none of them attempted to come to grips with the whole problem. Twenty-five years after he had published his fiery denunciation of Griswold, John Neal did not have a copy of it, nor could he remember what he had said in it, or even in what year it was published. Seventeen years after his publication, James Wood Davidson, after a long search, did manage to find a copy of his article in defense of Poe to send to John Ingram. But George Graham’s articles, the most important defenses of Poe published by anyone, had, in twenty years, disappeared so completely [page 12:] that it took the able and energetic Sarah Helen Whitman four months to locate them and make copies by hand for Ingram.

Such was the state of Poe biography when John Ingram began his efforts to plunge into the entire background of all that had been written about Poe, sift it, determine its value, keep or discard, and in addition, discover or uncover materials that would let him fulfill his purpose of writing the true story of Poe’s entire life.

Making a Beginning

After serving his literary apprenticeship in the 1860s by publishing his small volume of verse and the large volume on flowers, John Ingram was occupied in the 1870s with very few literary activities that did not directly contribute to his planned biography of Edgar Poe, the biography that would prove that Griswold had deliberately lied in his 1850 Memoir of Poe and that would establish Ingram as the world’s authority on the American poet, since he and he alone had been able to uncover facts that had redeemed Poe’s reputation from the slanders that had been heaped upon it and had presented him to the world as a greatly misunderstood but fine human being and as one of the world’s truly great poets and storytellers.

The first article that Ingram published in defense of Poe had of necessity to be thin; but it was thick with rage and invective against Griswold. The article was called “New Facts About Edgar Poe,” and it was published in the London Mirror on January 24, 1874. Unfortunately, the files of that magazine were in that section of the British Museum Library which was bombed and destroyed during World War II, and copies, if any are extant, have not been located.(6)

Having exhausted the resources at hand in gathering information about Poe, Ingram turned to America in the hope of finding there friends of Poe who still resented the injustice done enough to help clear his name.

It was Mrs. Whitman who wrote Ingram that William J. Pabodie had published a letter in the New York Tribune on June 7, 1852, in direct and specific denial of the account published by Griswold of Poe’s committing outrages in the house of a New England lady to whom he [page 13:] was engaged to be married, resulting in the police having to be brought into that house on the evening appointed for the marriage. Mrs. Whitman also told Ingram about the letters from the University of Virginia authorities which denied Griswold’s charge that Poe had been expelled from that institution for leading a drunken, dissolute life.

With these facts plus a few others Ingram rushed into print with an article called “More New Facts About Edgar Allan Poe,” in the London Mirror, on February 21, 1874. In this article, Ingram for the first time had concrete evidence to prove that Griswold had been wrong in many of his statements, and he made the most of it, as follows:

He challenged Griswold’s statement that Poe had been born in 1811 by offering the matriculation record at the University of Virginia showing that 1809 was Poe’s birth date.

He clarified the issue of Poe’s reputation at the University of Virginia. Griswold had said “that Poe had returned to the United States from England in 1822, spent a few months at an academy in Richmond, then entered the University at Charlottesville, where he led such a very dissipated life . . . [that] he was known as the wildest and most reckless student of his class . . . [and that] his gambling, intemperance, and other vices, induced his expulsion from the university.” Ingram pointed out that if Griswold’s date for Poe’s birth was accepted as true, then at the time of his dissipation and expulsion from the University of Virginia Poe could have been only eleven years old. Then Ingram quoted from letters written by Socrates Maupin, chairman of the faculty, and William Wertenbaker, librarian-both certainly responsible officers of the university — in which both denied that Poe was addicted to drink when he was a student, or that he had ever been expelled from the University of Virginia.

He debunked a story about Poe in trouble in Russia. Griswold had written in his Memoir that on Poe’s 1828 trip to St. Petersburg “our minister was summoned one morning to save him from penalties incurred in a drunken debauch.” Ingram countered this by pointing out that James Russell Lowell’s version of the incident showed that Poe’s difficulties in Russia stemmed from the lack of a passport. (It had not been established at this time that Poe never was in Russia.)

Ingram caught Griswold in a contradiction about the 1827 edition of Poe’s poems. Griswold, in his Memoir, had professed to doubt that Poe had published a volume of poems in 1827. Ingram promptly referred to [page 14:] Griswold’s obituary of Poe, in which Griswold himself gave the year 1827 as the date of Poe’s first publication.

Ingram demolished Griswold’s statement that Poe had won the prizes offered by the Saturday Visiter in 1833 for both poetry and prose “by virtue of his beautiful handwriting,” by quoting letters from the judges of that committee awarding the prizes, J. H. B. Latrobe M and John P. Kennedy.*

These and other revelations of Griswold’s malice made this an important publication for John Ingram. His frontal assault on Griswold’s Memoir had succeeded; he had proved that Griswold’s charges against Poe were biased, and he had also proved that Griswold had fabricated at least some of his evidence against Poe.

Ingram’s next public attack on Griswold’s Memoir appeared in Temple Bar, June, 1874, entitled simply “Edgar Poe.” As was his custom, he opened this article with a statement of his purpose of destroying Griswold’s account of Poe’s life; he then proceeded to sketch Poe’s life himself, drawing heavily on Mrs. Whitman’s little book and other authorities; juxtaposing Griswold’s statements and his own refutations, he here repeated many of his important points already made in the Mirror article for February. His object in repeating his publications was to reach as many readers as possible, and since this particular article was reprinted in The Gentleman’s Magazine, Every Saturday, and the Eclectic Magazine, he was successful.

Ingram’s Memoir of Poe and His Edition of Poe’s Works

The tempo of Ingram’s work and correspondence increased mightily in early 1874, as he began preparing his memoir of Poe to preface the four-volume edition of Poe’s works which he had promised to the press for fall publication. He continued his rapid correspondence with Mrs. Whitman, receiving from her at least thirty-seven long letters between January and mid-August, 1874; he had in his files letters from John Neal, to whom Poe had dedicated Tamerlane, from James Wood Davidson, from N. H. Morison* of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, and from Rosalie Poe, as well as correspondence with West Point Military Academy authorities and the American Legation in St. Petersburg, Russia, plus countless magazine articles, newsclippings, and books about Poe. (And he had learned a valuable but unpleasant [page 15:] truth by midsummer of 1874: not all of his correspondents could be trusted to tell the whole truths when they wrote about their conversations and experiences with Edgar Poe.)

Volume I, with Ingram’s ninety-page memoir of Poe, was off the press in October, 1874; Volumes II, III, and IV followed almost monthly until the whole edition was completed in February, 1875.(7) Ingram’s articles in defense of Poe bad been composed and based almost entirely on his belief that Griswold’s Memoir was untrustworthy; and now he was offering the world convincing proof that it was: the unarguable refutations, the new information about Poe, the number of “firsts” contained in these volumes testify eloquently to Ingram’s energy, devotion, and anger. Here are some of the accomplishments of this publication:

Presented as the frontispiece of the first volume a new photograph of Poe, made from a daguerreotype which Poe had sat for in Providence and had given to Mrs. Whitman.

Reproduced in full for the first time a facsimile of Poe’s letter of December 4, 1848, thanking William J. Pabodie for his hospitality when Poe had visited Mrs. Whitman in Providence. This was a first printing of this letter, and it was one of the few times Poe signed his name in full, “Edgar Allan Poe,” because Pabodie had requested that he do so.(8)

Printed for the first time a letter from Poe to Stella Lewis, November 27, 1848.

Printed for the first time excerpts from two letters Poe had written to Mrs. Whitman, October 18, 1848, and November 24, 1848.

Told portions of the true story of Poe’s engagement to Mrs. Whitman; this account is far from complete, but it differs radically from the one told by Griswold and from the ones handed around by the literati. Mrs. Whitman had written out the whole story for Ingram, but had forbidden [page 16:] him to use it until after her death. She was not pleased that he told even this much of it.

Proved the falseness of Griswold’s story of Poe’s having been held in detention in St. Petersburg, Russia. Ingram had written to the American Legation in that city and the secretary, Eugene Schuyler, had the records searched. That search showed that Poe had never been detained in St. Petersburg, and Ingram was with this evidence able to scotch Griswold’s story of Poe’s drunken debauch there, as well as raise serious doubts that Poe had ever revisited Europe at all, after his childhood trip with the Allan family.

Presented for the first time the story of Poe’s career at West Point. Correspondence with the authorities showed that Poe was admitted as a cadet on July 1, 1830, that he was tried by a general court-martial the following January, and on the sixth of March, 1831, he was dismissed. Ingram had brushed off as totally unreliable Griswold’s statement that Poe had enlisted and presumably had deserted from the United States Army in 1827; now it was his painful duty to add and confirm an equally ignominious chapter in Poe’s personal history. But in doing it, Ingram managed to convey the impression that everyone at the academy was out of step but Poe.

Tries to explain away Poe’s questionable action in publishing The Conchologist’s First Book and signing his name to it as the author. Ingram defiantly says that poverty forced Poe to turn his pen to any project that offered pay, and besides, Poe’s knowledge of science was so comprehensive and exact and he made such large contributions to the book the publishers were justified in using his popular name on the title page. It was a fairly good try, but, even so, it couldn’t make that cat jump.

Published the suppressed final stanza of “Ulalume,” which had been dropped at Mrs. Whitman’s suggestion when Poe was courting her in 1848.

Reprinted full and authenticated letters from the University of Virginia testifying to Poe’s good behavior while there. By doing this in his memoir, Ingram gave the letters final form and wider circulation than the previously published but garbled versions ever had, and he established once and for all certain facts about Poe’s career at the university: he was born on January 19, 1809; he entered the university on February 14, 1826; he was neither disciplined by the faculty nor was [page 17:] he expelled or graduated with highest honors; he simply left the university after a single session, sometime between December 15 and 22, 1826. With these letters, Ingram was able to print, too, for the first time in full, an authoritative account of Poe’s ordinary behavior at the university, written by a fellow student, William Wertenbaker, who later became librarian of the university.

Presented William Gowans’ “Recollections of Poe.” This account of Poe’s gentlemanly behavior and sobriety, written by a respectable, well-to-do bookseller who had lived with the Poes for six months at 1131/2 Carmine Street, New York City, had appeared once before in the New York Evening Mail, December 10, 1870. With this printed account and with portions of Mrs. Whitman’s letters from Thomas C. Latto, to whom Gowans had recounted in conversations his recollections of Poe and his family, Ingram was able to reconstruct a story of Poe’s uniform quietness and sobriety as it was remembered by a man who had known Poe and his family intimately by living with them.

Reprinted in full George Graham’s letter to N. P. Willis, a fine account of Poe which had been printed in Graham’s Magazine for March, 1850. After much searching, Mrs. Whitman located a copy of the long-sought volume, which had seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth, but the friend who owned it would neither sell it to her nor allow her to cut out the three pages; Mrs. Whitman therefore copied them by hand for Ingram, omitting “one or two trifling” repetitions or irrelevant “reflections.” In the meantime, James Wood Davidson had found another complete volume of Graham’s for 1850 and had forwarded it to Ingram.

In the four volumes themselves, Ingram made many valuable additions to the Poe canons in prose, poetry, and criticism. By a stroke of great luck, Ingram had found the first known copy of Poe’s Tamerlane, which had been sold to the British Museum for one shilling; he was therefore able to include in his edition the eight poems Poe had published in 1827, 1829, and 1831, which had not been included in Griswold’s edition or in any other later edition. He added Poe’s “Pinikidia,” “Some Secrets of the Magazine Printing House,” “Antistatic Printing,” and “Cryptography,” none of which had been included in Griswold’s edition. Poe’s papers on judging the characters of his contemporaries by their handwriting had appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger for February and August, 1836, under the title “A [page 18:] Chapter on Autographs.” A further paper, styled “An Appendix on Autographs,” had appeared in Graham’s for January, 1842. Ingram published these papers on handwriting for the first time in a collected edition of Poe’s works, in his fourth volume, and there he named them “Autography.”

The immediate reviews of Ingram’s edition were mixed but generally favorable. Almost everywhere it was conceded that Ingram had destroyed Griswold’s Memoir and had exposed that author for the liar and fraud he was. Ingram’s volumes were brought out in America in 1876 by W. J. Widdleton; they were translated into French and German, and for at least twenty years were considered to be the standard edition of Poe’s writings.

But in America, Ingram’s scornful remarks about Poe’s countrymen neglecting their great poet and his volumes themselves were considered something of a national insult: an English author had appropriated one of their major literary figures and was now triumphantly posing as his discoverer and redeemer, or so it seemed.

The impulsive William Fearing Gill* rushed into premature publication with what he termed a complete Life of Edgar Allan Poe. Richard Henry Stoddard,* an able writer and critic, but no friend of Poe, bestirred himself and began publishing on Poe. Eugene L. Didier* of Baltimore, a rather inept but angry writer on the scene of Poe’s last activities, began publishing articles of scant value, but filled with invective against the “presumptuous Englishman.” A new day was dawning in Poe writing and scholarship, especially in America.

In England, John Ingram complacently felt that he had destroyed for the world the Griswoldian concept of Poe, and having done so, his next step was to produce a full-scale biography. And he set to work at it, already with bulging files of Poe materials no one else had; and with many friends in America, England, and France adding to his knowledge and materials daily, he was more than a few lengths ahead of his nearest competitors.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 7:]

1.  This entire collection of Ingram’s Poe papers has been catalogued in book form: John Carl Miller, John Henry Ingram’s Poe Collection at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1960).

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 8:]

2.  See my article “The Birthdate of John Henry Ingram,” Poe Studies, VII (June, 1974), 24.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 9:]

3.  The Memoir was originally placed as a preface to the third volume but was later moved in succeeding editions to the first volume, where it remained.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 10:]

4.  These condensations of Griswold’s major charges against Poe are taken largely from Killis Campbell’s The Mind of Poe and Other Studies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933), 76-77.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 11:]

5.  In the Boston Literary World, September 21, 1850, pp. 228-29.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 12:]

6.  A second article, “More New Facts About Edgar Allan Poe,” was printed in the London Mirror for February 21, 1874. A single copy has survived and is in the Ingram Poe Collection, Item 570.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 15:]

7.  John H. Ingram (ed.), The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (4 vols.; Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black, 1874-75; New York: W. J. Widdleton, 1876).

8.  William J. Pabodie was a neighbor, close friend, and possibly an admirer of Mrs. Whitman’s. He was very courteous to Poe, but he did not approve of their marriage plans. He committed suicide in 1870, leaving this letter as a gift in his will to Mrs. Whitman. She later gave it as a present to Thomas C. Latto, who had from time to time helped her gather information about Poe; she borrowed it back from Latto, and with his permission sent it to Ingram to have copied for his book. Ingram returned the letter directly to Latto, but the original was subsequently lost, and this facsimile remains the source of the text.

 


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Notes:

Some attempt has been made in the current presenation to imitate the idiosyncratic formatting of the chapter heading lines.


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[S:0 - JCMBPB, 1977] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Building Poe Biography (J. C. Miller) (Chapter I)