Text: John Carl Miller, “Chapter II,” Building Poe Biography (1977), pp. 19-57 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 19, unnumbered:]

II

Maria Poe Clemm Mourns Her Lost “Eddie”

EDGAR POE apotheosized his mother-in-law Maria Clemm in his sonnet, “To My Mother,” addressed to her and published in 1849, the last year of his life. After Poe had died, N. P. Willis added to this glorious image of her by characterizing her as “one of those angels upon earth that women in adversity can be.” And for years thereafter she was extolled by almost everyone concerned as the saintly guardian of Edgar and Virginia Poe, the spirit incarnate of motherhood, one who had selflessly devoted herself to strengthening the frail hold her children had on life. After Virginia’s death in 1847, the phrase most often used to describe her was, “Edgar’s sole ministering angel.”

There is certainly no reason to doubt that Edgar Poe deeply loved Maria Clemm and that he depended on her to serve as refuge or bulwark, as situations demanded. His unfailing courtesy to her and his often-expressed affection for her are matters of record. There is only one instance known of his having lost patience with her, and that was when she borrowed money, without his permission or knowledge, from Rufus Griswold. We know, too, that Poe cried out to her in his last agony.

Nor is there any more reason to doubt that Maria Clemm loved Poe during his lifetime and sincerely mourned him for the nearly twenty-two years she survived after his death. It is well, however, to remember, as one reads her letters below, that she was by nature selfish and lugubrious, that she was a true daughter of her times, which was an era that literally hugged the symbols of death to itself, placing great emphasis on a code of dress, manners, and attitudes. But these things are not the whole story.

John Ingram was the first Poe biographer to suggest even obliquely [page 20:] that Maria Clemm’s influences on Virginia and Edgar were other than an unmixed blessing.(1) As he read many of her letters addressed to persons who had become his reliable correspondents in America, as well as gathered reports about her attitudes and actions while visiting in their homes, he became convinced, and said so, that she had not always been good for Edgar and Virginia, even in actions that surely seemed to her to have been dictated by mother love. Many of the letters Ingram received that were written by Mrs. Clemm and her hosts are here printed for the first time, and the readers may judge for themselves.

Maria Poe Clemm was the daughter of David and Elizabeth Cairnes Poe and sister to David, Jr., Edgar’s father. Maria was barn on March 17, 1790. When she married William Clemm on July 12, 1817, she inherited a ready-made family, for William’s first wife, Harriet, had died in 1815, leaving him with five small children. Three additional children were born to Maria and William Clemm: Henry, born in 1818, grew up to work in a Baltimore brickyard, and while still in his teens, to go to sea at least twice, and to die unmarried sometime after 1836; Virginia Marie was born in 1820 and died in 1822; Virginia Eliza, Poe’s wife-to-be, was born in 1822 and died on January 30, 1847. William Clemm had died in Baltimore, on February 8, 1826, in his forty-seventh year.

Married for less than ten years, left the sole support of her own two surviving children, plus several left over from her husband’s first marriage, burdened with the care of her invalid mother and her invalid nephew, Edgar’s brother William Henry Leonard, Maria Clemm was rather early cast in the role of the sorrowing widow with orphaned children plus far more family responsibilities than she could well bear alone.

Edgar Poe himself came to live for some time in this Baltimore household that was already crowded and was being held together precariously enough by Mrs. Clemm. Several years later, after Edgar had married Virginia, the invalids were dead, the children from William Clemm’s first marriage had dispersed, Henry Clemm had gone away, either to sea or to the West, and Maria Clemm was, remarkably and strangely for her, free of dependents. It was only natural, from her viewpoint at least, that she should take charge of Edgar’s new household, and take charge she did, until that household was no more. [page 21:]

Again, after Virginia’s death in 1847, and Edgar’s in 1849, Mrs. Clemm was once more alone. She had no home of her own, no really close relative left. For the next twenty years, she moved from place to place, living for various periods of time with persons or families who had either known Poe personally or had become fascinated with his writings, and who welcomed her warmly, at first anyway. She did manage to stay in one or two households for periods up to three years. But she could not have been an easy person to shelter, for she had so long been accustomed to directing the activities of the persons around her, and even though her situations kept changing, her habits did not. She criticized the behavior, the dress, and even the manners of those around her, and she was given to incessant crying and deploring her desolate condition. Given any audience that would listen, she would talk of nothing but her beloved lost children. Then too, in one particular household where she was considered a permanent guest, she was unwise enough to take the husband’s part against the wife; when Sylvanus D. Lewis lost that particular quarrel, Mrs. Lewis permanently ejected Mrs. Clemm from the household.

No matter with whom she was living or where, Maria Clemm wrote a steady stream of letters to other persons asking for help to relieve this ill or that one, or for help to make a trip here or there. She appeared to be always in dire need of one thing or another.

Edgar Poe’s facility in writing ingratiating letters solely for the purpose of borrowing money is widely known; and when Mrs. Clemm continued her practice so diligently after his death, much of the blame for her reprehensible practice was added to the attack on Poe’s character. But almost from the beginning, John Ingram suspected Mrs. Clemm’s influence in the matter on Poe, rather than his on her. He had no proof that his suspicions were valid until very late in his career of building Poe biography, when William Hand Browne, his loyal ally in Baltimore, sent him in December, 1909, a copy of a characteristic letter which Maria Clemm had written before Edgar Poe had come to be closely associated with her. The letter was addressed to a prominent judge in Baltimore whose grandson allowed Browne to copy the letter for Ingram but had absolutely refused to allow his grandfather’s name to be used in connection with it. Browne withheld the addressee’s name, but Ingram did not especially care; for with this copy in hand he at last had his absolute proof that Maria Clemm was adroit and well practiced at writing begging letters long before Edgar Poe came to live with her: [page 22:]

[ca. 1831]

Dear Sir:

I am not myself personally known to you, but you were well acquainted with my late husband, Mr. Wm. Clemm, and also I believe, with many of my connexions. For their sakes as well as my own I venture to solicit a little assistance at your hands. For a long time now I have been prevented by continual ill health from making the exertions necessary for the support of myself and children, and we are now consequently enduring every privation. Under these circumstances I feel a hope that you will be inclined to give me some little aid. I do not ask for any material assistance, but the merest trifle to relieve my most immediate distress.

Very respy.

Maria Clemm(2)

Mrs. Clemm wrote innumerable similar letters over a period of not less than forty years; yet no matter how much she received, there never appears to have been a time when her needs were actually alleviated. It remained for Ingram to make the hard-headed point, in his unpublished biography of Poe, that it was indeed remarkable for people who borrowed or begged as much money as did Poe and Mrs. Clemm, never to have had any!

The letters and portions of letters written by Mrs. Clemm that follow reached Ingram at various times, but they are here presented chronologically; thus it is possible for the reader to follow her career from early in 1847 until just a few weeks before she died in the Episcopal Church Home infirmary in Baltimore on February 16, 1871. It is possible, too, to see in her letters the facts Ingram learned that would help to contribute to one or the other of his double purposes, refuting Griswold or adding to his own proposed true life of the poet.

Letter 1. Maria Clemm, Fordham, to Marie Louise Shew, New York. Copied by Mrs. Houghton and forwarded to Ingram in 1875. Printed in Ingram’s Edgar Allan Poe: His Life, Letters & Opinions (2 vols.; London: John Hogg, 1880), II, [page 23:] 111-12. All subsequent references are to this two-volume biography published in 1880 and will hereinafter be cited as Life. [Item 34, Ingram Poe Collection, University of Virginia Library]

[ca. February, 1847]

My dear sweet friend

I write to say that the medicines arrived the next train after you left today, and a kind friend brought them up to us, that same hour — The cooling application was very grateful to my poor Eddie’s head, and the flowers were lovely, not “frozen” as you feared they would be. I very much fear this illness will be a serious one. The fever came on at the same time today as you said and I am giving the “sedative mixture”. He did not rouse to talk to Mr. C. as he would naturally do to so kind a friend — Eddie made me promise to write you a note about the wine (which I neglected to tell you about this morning.) He desires me to return the last box of wine you sent my sweet Virginia, (there being some left of the first package, which I will put away for any emergency) — The wine was a great blessing to us while she needed it, and by its cheering and tonic influence we were enabled to keep her a few days longer with us. The little darling always took it smiling, even when difficult to get it down. But for your timely aid my dear Mrs. S. we should have had no last words, no loving messages, no sweet farewells, for she had ceased to speak (from weakness) but with her beautiful eyes! — Eddie has quite set his heart upon the wine going back to you, thinking and hoping you may find it useful for the sick artist you mentioned “as convalescent and in need of delicacies.” God bless you my sweet child and come soon to your sorrowing and desolate friend.

Maria Clemm

P.S. We look for you a train earlier tomorrow (in an early train), and hope you will stay as long as possible, what we should do without you is fearful to think of. Eddie says you promised Virginia to come every other day, for a long time, or [page 24:] until he was able to go to work again. I hope and believe you will not fail him, and I pray that every blessing may be yours & may follow you in life, as your angelic tenderness and compassion deserve.

Mr. C. will tell you of our condition, as he is going to call for this note in an hour’s time, and until we see you farewell, M.C.

Mrs. Clemm wrote this letter shortly after Virginia Poe’s death in Fordham on January 30, 1847. When Ingram received a copy of it in 1875, he realized immediately its great value as firsthand support for his refutations of some of the specific charges Rufus Griswold had made about Poe’s life and character. Griswold had opened his obituary of Poe by saying that Poe had few or no friends; with this letter, Ingram could prove that Poe and his family did indeed have friends, and devoted ones at that. Griswold had labeled Poe extremely selfish; with this letter, Ingram could offer evidence that, on the contrary, Poe, even in sickness, was much concerned about another sick person’s welfare. Griswold had said that Poe was an irresponsible drunk; now Ingram could cite an instance of Poe’s undeniable control and unselfishness in a matter involving at least several bottles of wine.

In addition, this letter revealed facets of Mrs. Clemm’s personality and letter-writing habits that Ingram had already begun to watch for: she overwhelmed her benefactors with expressions of gratitude for past favors and insured future ones with emotional reminders of their promises to the dead. The recipients of her letters were left with small choice.

This was indeed a valuable letter for Ingram’s purposes, and he filed it for future use, for whenever it would do the most good. One such time came when he prepared his full-scale biography of Poe in 1880; another came, nearly thirty years later, when he chose to use it again in an article in the New York Bookman (January, 1909), called “Edgar Allan Poe’s Lost Poem ‘The Beautiful Physician.’”

The person to whom this letter was addressed as “dear sweet friend” and “Mrs. S.” was Marie Louise Shew (later Mrs. Roland Houghton) of New York City, who had been introduced into the Poe household by Mary Sargeant Neal Gove Nichols, a water-cure physician of sorts, who had firsthand knowledge of the Poes’ distressed condition. Mrs. Shew’s practical medical training and nursing experience made her especially valuable to Mrs. Clemm during Virginia’s last sickness and Edgar’s collapse after Virginia’s death and funeral. “Mr. C.” was Mr. H. D. Chapin,” a very close friend of Mrs. Shew’s.

Letter 2. Maria Clemm, Fordham, to Annie Richmond, [page 25:] Lowell, Mass. Fragment sent by Mrs. Richmond to Ingram on October 3, 1876. First printing. [Item 52]

[ca. November-December, 1848]

But I so much fear she is not calculated to make him happy. I fear I will not love her. I know I shall never love her as I do you, my own darling. I hope at all events they will not marry for some time. (Thank you a thousand times, dearest, for inducing Eddy to make that promise to you, and which I feel so sure he will never violate. He says he will die before he will deceive you or break his word with you[)] Give my dearest love to Sarah — tell her I love her for her kindness to my dear Eddy — remember me affectionately to your kind mother [page cut].

[on left margin, in Mrs. Richmond’s handwriting] It is the letter containing this promise she borrowed and never returned!

[on verso]

Mother and sincere friend, M. Clemm

Did you see the lines addressed to our Eddy in the “Home Journal” week before last? I forget the beginning, but the concluding line is-“And knowing this alone knows too much.” Mrs. W.* says they were written by Grace Greenwood! They were sent to Eddy in manuscript, and Mrs. W. says she knows it to be Grace Greenwood’s.

Ingram did not choose to print this letter. When he received it he was working very closely with Mrs. Whitman, to whom Poe was engaged to be married when Mrs. Clemm wrote this letter to Mrs. Richmond, and he could understand Mrs. Whitman’s personal embarrassment and hurt if she learned of Mrs. Clemm’s attitude toward the proposed nuptials.

But the greatest importance of this letter to Poe biography is in the intensity of feeling evident in Mrs. Richmond’s marginal note. No biographer of Poe has even hinted about how disillusioned, how angry, Annie Richmond became with Mrs. Clemm over the loss of Poe’s letters which Mrs. Clemm repeatedly [page 26:] borrowed and some of which she never returned, despite her insistence that she had.

Poe was indeed planning to marry Mrs. Whitman when this letter was written, but he had met Mrs. Richmond after he had proposed marriage to Mrs. Whitman, and he was more emotionally involved with Mrs. Richmond than he was with Mrs. Whitman. Mrs. Richmond urged Poe to go on with his plans to marry Mrs. Whitman, for she certainly had no intention of divorcing her husband and marrying Poe herself, flattered as she was by his genius and person.

Mrs. Clemm and Mrs. Whitman never did personally meet, although after Poe’s death Mrs. Clemm initiated a correspondence between them that continued for twenty years, during which Mrs. Clemm expressed her deep affection and repeatedly hinted for an invitation to come and live with Mrs. Whitman for the rest of her life. Mrs. Whitman was already burdened with an elderly mother who still disliked everything and everybody associated with Edgar Poe, as well as with a mentally affected sister to care for, and she had, in addition, learned enough about Mrs. Clemm’s personality and attitudes to understand that she would be an extremely disturbing influence in their home. She skillfully sidestepped Mrs. Clemm’s hints for shelter, which finally became open requests, and she sent to Mrs. Clemm untold amounts of money through the years to avoid taking her in as a permanent guest.

The “promise” Poe made to Mrs. Richmond in the lost letter was almost certainly to the effect that he would not again try to kill himself, as he had recently done with an overdose of laudanum.

“Sarah” was Miss Sarah H. Heywood, Mrs. Richmond’s younger sister, of nearby Westford, Massachusetts, who spent much of her time in the Richmonds’ home in Lowell. On various occasions and for many months at the time after Poe’s death, Mrs. Clemm lived in the Richmonds’ home, and she alone had access to Poe’s letters to Annie Richmond. Later, Mrs. Richmond was to write Ingram that Mrs. Clemm not only did not return this borrowed letter containing Poe’s promise, but that several others were missing, after Mrs. Clemm’s departure.

“Grace Greenwood” was Sara Jane Clark Lippincott (1823-1904), author of Greenwood Leaves (1850), and one of the earliest female newspaper correspondents in America. She wrote popular Washington columns for the New York Times, travel sketches, and poetry in a very light vein. Mrs. Clemm appears to have found her reported notice of Edgar Poe a signal honor.

Letter 3. Maria Clemm, New York, to Annie Richmond, Lowell. Excerpts copied before Ingram returned the letter to Mrs. Richmond. First accurate printing. [Item 59] [page 27:]

July 30 [Tuesday] — [18]49

My dearest Annie,

I have this moment rec’d your of 27th . . . This day week received a letter from my own sweet Eddy. He writes he is better in health and rather better in spirits. He assures me he never did anything while he was so deranged that was in the least disgraceful. He fancied he was pursued by the police but it was not so. I have gained all the particulars from several gentlemen to whom I wrote when I found I could not go to him.

. . . Dear Eddy wrote me in his last that he was going from Richmond in a few days, to stay with a friend in the country for a short time. I hope that is the reason I did not hear from him today.

Ingram handled this letter in the characteristic way he treated materials about Poe that even hinted of unsavory matters: he condensed the letter, quoted inaccurately from the text of it, and summed the matter up by remarking, “There is no need to repeat the details of this episode.” (See Life, II, 223-24. George E. Woodberry* and A. H. Quinn* saw the need — see Woodberry, II, , 311-13; Quinn, 616-18 for complete details.)

Poe’s letter received “this day week” was written to Mrs. Clemm from Richmond, on Thursday, July 19, 1849. (See Ostrom,* 455-56.) Poe’s derangement took place in Philadelphia, on his stopover there after leaving Mrs. Clemm in New York on June 29, 1849. The “several gentlemen” to whom Mrs. Clemm wrote very likely were C. Chauncey Burr, George Lippard, and John Sartain, for these were the persons who had helped Poe to recover and had given him money to continue on his trip to Richmond.

Letter 4. Maria Clemm, New York, to Annie Richmond, Annisquam, Mass. First complete printing. [Item 60]

August 4th Saturday [1849]

My own dear Annie,

I wrote to you on teusday [sic] last, and promised to write to you again the next day, But when I came home I was so sick [page 28:] and wretched, that I could not hold a pen. It is nearly two weeks since I have heard from my poor Eddy. I fancy every thing in the world. This I am perfectly sure of, if he were living and in his senses, he would write. Annie I cannot bear it much longer. I must sink! Yesterday was five weeks since he left, and the misery I have endured since I cannot tell you. When I parted with him aboard of the steam boat, he was so dejected but still tried to cheer me. He said “God bless my own darling muddy do not fear for your Eddy see how good I will be while I am away from you, and will come back to love and comfort you.” But I did fear my Annie! Oh that I could have gone with him! I could have saved him all this suffering. But I could not get the means Even now I cannot succeed in . getting enough to go to him were he dying. I sold every thing I could to get him the means to go with and a few articles that he could not do without. The day after he left I received yours with one to him enclosed. Oh! if it had only come one day sooner. He had waited a week in hopes to hear from you. Poor dear Eddy how grieved he was. I have explained it all to him. Oh darling Annie never for one moment think he will love you less. I know he loves you more than any thing on this earth. Mrs. Lewis* promised him to see me often and see that I did not suffer. For a whole fortnight I heard nothing from her, at last I went there, and would you believe it? She had a letter from Eddy to me begging her for Gods sake to send it to me without a moment’s delay. It was enclosed in a one to her, of two lines, saying, it was of vital importance that I should receive it immediately. Annie if I had received it I would have gone on to Philadelphia, if I had to have begged my way, and then how much misery my darling Eddy would have been saved. I wrote to dear Eddy and have told him that I have wanted for nothing, have told him that Mrs. L. has been very kind to me and did not breathe about the detention of the letter. It takes all I can get to take me in and out of New York. But oh how freely would I do without bread to hear from my precious Eddy. You say you will come on here. Oh Annie if I could only see you, how much I could explain to you which must look Maria Clemm to Annie Richmond, August 4, 1849 to you so strange. When I commence writing I think I have so much to tell you, but in a few moments my mind becomes [page 30:] confused. I enclose to you the last letter I got from our dear Eddy, take care of it for if I should lose him I would never forgive myself for parting with it for an instant. You had better write to him darling, at Richmond but don’t sign your name for fear he does not get it — I have confided so much to you dearest Annie, of our troubles. But I need not ask you never to betray them. If you write him, do not say that I told you the cause of his illness. But oh Annie tell him your fears and intreat him for all our sakes to refrain altogether. He will thank you for urging him for he will know it is your love for him that induces you to do so — You will see in Eddy’s letter to me what he says of Mrs. L. it is gratitude to her for what he thinks her kindness to his poor deserted Muddy — He cares nothing about her indeed less than about any one I know — He would devotedly love any one that is kind to me — But oh Annie if I had been her, how soon I would have relieved some of our misery, how unlike you dearest — She says she knows Eddie does not like her. Oh my Annie how few there are in this world, that we can love.

I am going to the city today, and if I do not get a letter from him my senses will certainly leave me. If I hear, be it good or ill, I will write that moment to you — write soon dear Annie, your letters comfort me so much, for I always feel in reading them, that I have one friend left — And now dearest Annie Goodbye God Bless and when you pray for your self and your dear ones, remember our dear wanderer, and your afflicted but sincerely affectionate Mother and friend,

M. Clemm

From this very revealing letter Ingram printed only a few sentences, Poe’s parting words to Mrs. Clemm (Life, II, 220-21). He enclosed these words in quotes, but he changed “Muddy” to “mother,” and he added information from another letter from Mrs. Clemm to make it appear that Mrs. Clemm had written it in this one.

Poe had left New York on Friday, June 29, 1849, en route to Richmond via Philadelphia on a combination lecture tour and campaign to solicit subscriptions to raise money enough to start publishing his long-dreamed-of magazine, the Stylus. He and Mrs. Clemm had dined the day of his departure with Mr. and Mrs. Lewis and had left from the Lewis home about five o’clock to go [page 31:] aboard the steamboat. Mrs. Lewis had promised Poe that she would take care of Mrs. Clemm in his absence, for she was exceedingly anxious for more of his flattering reviews of her published poems.

Poe’s frantic, almost incoherent letter telling Mrs. Clemm of his sickness and begging her to come to him in Philadelphia was enclosed in a three-line letter addressed to Mrs. Lewis, dated July 7, 1849. (See Ostrom, II, 452-53, for texts of both letters.)

Poe did dislike Mrs. Lewis, but he was much obligated to her for past loans she had made to Mrs. Clemm; Mrs. Lewis considered flattering reviews of herself and her verses from the great critic Edgar Poe sufficient payment, and she got them.

Mrs. Clemm’s strong, pitiful attempt to get Annie to urge Poe to refrain from drinking altogether shows how ever-present and intense this worry must have been to her.

Letter 5. Maria Clemm, New York, to Annie Richmond, Lowell. First printing. [Item 61]

Sept. 3, 1849

Dearest Annie,

I received your dear kind letter of the 27th on Thursday last, but would not write to you in hopes I would have something pleasant to tell you. But alas! alas! darling, what have I to tell you, only that I have heard nothing from our poor dear Eddie since I last wrote you. It is three weeks since I have had one line from him — the letter I received from Mrs. Nye was the last I heard from him. I think perhaps she told him she had written for me, and he is constantly expecting me, this I think is the most likely reason. Or else he is entirely bereft of his senses. Oh God support me in this deep deep affliction, or enable me to bow submissive to it. I have written to Mr. R.* to ask him to loan me enough to go to him, if he does I will go the moment I get it, if he does not, all that I can do will be to pray for him, and give myself up to despair. Oh, Annie, I have prayed to our merciful God to put it in his heart to aid me. Before applying to Mr. R. I made several attempts to get it elsewhere, but without success. I have told him as much as I could, but do you dearest Annie tell him all. I have requested [page 32:] him to keep sacred the confidences I have reposed in him, and I feel sure he will do so-darling Annie I will not trouble you again with my troubles, it is indeed selfish — But never never can I cease to love you — next to my Eddy, you are the dearest object of my poor widowed childless heart — Oh! what a privilege to love you and confide in you — The instant I hear of my Eddie I will write to you God bless you My dear Annie.

M.C.

Ingram neither reproduced this letter, nor quoted from it; consequently it has not made its way into Poe biography. Perhaps no other letter reveals Mrs. Clemm’s distress so acutely, or indicates so clearly her limited finances. As deep as was her agony when she wrote this letter, even greater pain was in store for her; but when that came to her, she at least knew with what she had to deal.

The Nye family in Richmond were friends of long standing, and Mrs. Nye had written Mrs. Clemm in July that she would “make” Edgar stay at her house while he was in Richmond and that she “would take every care of him.” W. A. R. Nye was connected with the newspaper, the Richmond Whig. “Mr. R.” was C. B. Richmond, Annie’s husband, who, up to this point, had been spared details of the many troubles and infirmities that continually beset Mrs. Clemm and Edgar Poe. As a diminutive for Edgar, Mrs. Clemm used “Eddy” and “Eddie” interchangeably.

Letter 6. Maria Clemm, New York to Annie Richmond, Lowell. First complete printing. [Item 62]

Sept. 15,1849

My dearest Annie,

I am only able to write you a very few words. I have had a severe attack of nervous fever, and am now only able to be up long enough to write this — this will account to you for my not answering Mr. R’s kind letter and enclosure of 5 dollars — it found me ill, and if he had sent me sufficient to have gone to Eddy, I could not have done so until now. The anxiety I felt about him brought on my sickness. But my Annie the dark dark clouds I think are beginning to break. I send you his [page 33:] letter, the only one I received for nearly four weeks. I yesterday received a very short one with the slip of paper I enclose. God of his great mercy grant he may keep this pledge. I have written to him telling him of all your kindness since he left — what should I have done without my Annie — But I hope I will soon be able to return it all a thousand fold — you see how he loves you, darling. Thank Mr. R. for me, and write to me as soon as possible. Oh, Annie you have been ill too! Are you better? Do write and let me know. I was too ill to write to you and was so much distressed I could not hear from you. If you cannot write get dear Sarah* to do so for you.

Yours devotedly, M.C.

[on left margin] Gen. Morris* — & Mr. Duyckinck both say he only wanted that — I mean to be temperate — to be the greatest man living!!

This is a first printing of this letter, with the exception of a single sentence, that one dealing with Poe’s temperance pledge. Ingram enclosed the sentence in quotes (Life, II, 230), but, as was usual with him, he made some slight alterations in the wording.

Poe’s letter to Mrs. Clemm, dated September 12 or 13, 1849, has not survived. The “slip of paper” Mrs. Clemm enclosed to Annie was the copy of the temperance pledge Poe had taken in Richmond shortly before he wrote the now missing letter to Mrs. Clemm. William J. Glenn was at that time the presiding officer of the Shockoe Hill Division, No. 54, of the Sons of Temperance, and he remembered initiating Poe into that body.(3)

“Gen. Morris” was George P. Morris, coeditor with N. P. Willis of the New York Mirror and Home Journal. Evert A. Duyckinck, editor of the Literary World, was at one time a good and helpful friend to Poe.

Letter 7, Maria Clemm, Lowell, to Sarah Helen Whitman, Providence, R.I. Copy made by Ingram before he [page 34:] returned the letter to Mrs. Whitman, ca. 1874. First printing. [Item 66]

Oct. 26, 1849

Dear Mrs. Whitman,

Since my arrival here, I have heard that Mrs. Locke has a letter sent to her through you — said to be written by my dear darling Eddie a few hours before his death, & which she says was written to her. As this so entirely contradicts the statement made by my friends in Baltimore, & who never left him for one moment, I wish to hear from you the truth. You loved him once. Do justice to his memory. Mrs. L[ocke] would have been the last woman in the world he would have written to. I know he ——— her. She will have to be more cautious how she speaks of him, or I will have to speak as she will not wish. Will you not reply directly?

Your afflicted friend, Maria Clemm

Ingram did not print any portion of this letter, not has anyone else, for in it Mrs. Clemm reveals a facet of her personality that belies the general conception, fostered by biographers, that her nature was barely short of angelic. Here she brings direct pressure to bear, makes an open threat, and issues peremptory commands to get what she wants.

Sarah Helen Whitman was the brilliant and charming, if sometimes eccentric, poetess who had entered briefly in 1848 into a conditional engagement with Poe. Her reply to this singular letter from Mrs. Clemm has remained unpublished, too, until now. It is here reproduced from a copy, made by Charlotte F. Dailey, in Mrs. Whitman’s papers in the Brown University Library:

My dear Mrs. Clemm

Every day since I received the heart-rending intelligence of Edgar’s death I have been wishing to address you. Not knowing whether a letter directed to Fordham would reach you, I, this morning, commenced a letter to Mr. Griswold requesting him to assure you of my sympathy in your deep sorrow and of my unutterable affection for one whose memory is still most dear to me. I had not finished my long letter to him when I received your note. Its contents greatly surprised me because I have written to no one since your son’s death, nor have I [page 35:] forwarded or received any communication of the kind to which you allude. I cannot but think there has been some misapprehension in relation to this affair. If I am well enough to write you again while you remain at Lowell I will do so. If not, my letter to Mr. Griswold will inform you of much that I have been long wishing to communicate to you. In the meantime, believe me, dear Madame, respectfully & affectionately your friend,

Sarah H. Whitman

Saturday evening Oct. 28th [1849]

How seriously and how long Mrs. Clemm took advantage of Mrs. Whitman’s respect and affection will be seen clearly in the letters ahead. She had moved into the Richmonds’ home shortly after Poe’s death. “Mrs. Locke” was Mrs. Jane Ermina Starkweather Locke of Wamesit Cottage, Lowell. See the introduction to Chapter VI for an account of Mrs. Locke’s enmity to Poe. Poe had been dead less than twenty days when Mrs. Clemm wrote her threatening letter to Mrs. Whitman, and the “coil” about his personality and reputation was beginning to be woven.

Letter 8. Maria Clemm, Lowell, to Neilson Poe, Baltimore. Copied by William Hand Browne and forwarded to Ingram on March 17, 1876. First printing. [Item 68]

Nov. 1, 1849

Dear Neilson,

I last evening received a letter from Mr. Willis enclosing your very kind one. God bless you for the interest you have taken in my beloved Eddie — my poor, poor Eddie! And to think if I had been with him I should not have lost him! Will you have the kindness to send my darling’s trunk by express? It contains papers of great importance to the publishers of his work, particularly the lectures. Mr. Richmond (at whose house I shall spend the winter) thinks it will come direct and safely. I inclose you two of my dear son’s letters, and you can judge who has the better right to anything of his, Rose or myself. God knows how freely I would have sacrificed my life for his. Dear, dear Eddy, will your heart-broken mother never see you more? Oh! Neilson, when my precious Virginia left us [page 36:] to dwell with the angels, I had my Eddie to comfort and console me. But now I am alone. I have the kindest, best friends of anyone in the world, but that is not my dear Eddie — What right has Rose to anything belonging to him — he has not even written to her for more than two years, and she never has done anything for him except to speak ill of him, my friends are all most indignant at her request — I received a kind letter from my friend yesterday (Gen. Morris*) who advises me to pay no attention to her, I mean her request to be included in the profits of the works about to be issued. I am with the kindest friends who do all in their power to comfort me — When you send the trunk which I hope will be as soon as you can make it convenient, please direct to me, care of Charles B. Richmond, Lowell, Mass., and let me know how and when you may send it. Mr. Longfellow has been to see me and has made me promise to spend part of my time at his house in Cambridge. Oh! how kindly he spoke of my dear lost Eddie. He said he considered him the greatest man living only so short a time since, and now mourns for him so sincerely. Give my dearest love to Josephine, ask her to write to me and let me love her. God bless you and all who are dear to you. Please return the enclosed letters to me, for they are most precious.

Your sincere and

heart-broken friend —

Maria Clemm

Poe’s trunk was sent to Mrs. Clemm at Lowell. Sarah Heywood,* writing for her sister Annie, informed Ingram on December 25, 1876, that a package was being forwarded to him containing “an early edition of Mr. Poe’s works” that had been found in the trunk sent to Mrs. Clemm soon after Poe’s death. Mrs. Clemm detested Rosalie Poe and feared her claim on Edgar’s estate so much that she secured the free services of a lawyer, Sylvanus D. Lewis, to contest Rosalie’s claim. Rosalie herself got John Reuben Thompson of Richmond to act as her lawyer, free of cost, for what turned out apparently to be a nonexistent estate anyway, for no one knows if there really were profits made from the sales of Poe’s works, or, if there were, who got them.

There is no record whatsoever of Mrs. Clemm and Rosalie meeting again after Edgar’s death, nor was there any correspondence between them. It is not [page 37:] to be believed that Mrs. Clemm, feeling as she did about Rosalie, would have relinquished Poe’s trunk or anything else belonging to him to Rosalie.

Longfellow certainly had little reason to mourn Poe or to visit or entertain Mrs. Clemm in his home, considering Poe’s violent and sustained attacks on him; but one has to keep remembering that Mrs. Clemm loved to drop important names and deal in hyperbole. It is of course possible that there was more than magnanimity in Longfellow’s bland remark about Poe’s slashing attacks: “The harshness of his criticisms, I have never attributed to anything but the irritation of a sensitive nature, chafed by some indefinite sense of wrong.” “Josephine” was Neilson Poe’s wife, Josephine Emily, daughter of William and Harriet Clemm, and, therefore, Mrs. Clemm’s stepdaughter.

Letter 9. Maria Clemm, Lowell, to George W. Eveleth. Copied (with the omission here indicated) from the autograph letter by Eveleth and forwarded to Ingram on October 1, 1878. First printing. [Item 72]

May 20, 1850

Although an entire stranger to you myself, but from your kind letters to my beloved and much lamented son (E. A. Poe) I feel that I am not writing to one unknown. Your last letter to him was sent to me from Richmond, after he had gone to dwell with the angels. Oh! did you know the desolation of my heart, you could not refuse to grant the request I make in asking you the great favor of disposing for me a few copies of his works. I have not received one dollar yet from the sale of them . . .

If you will write me a few lines and let me consider you my friend, as you were his, I will indeed be most grateful. If you do write me, I will then tell you all about my noble, generous Eddie. Oh, do not, I implore you, believe all the evil things said of him; only look at the bright side of his character. They who speak thus of him, knew him not. Have you seen the Graham for March? There the truth is told of him. May God put it into your heart to listen to the request of a heartbroken and childless mother!

George W. Eveleth’s relationship with Poe and the very important contributions be made to Poe biography are related in Chapter VII. [page 38:]

Volumes I and II of Griswold’s edition of Poe’s works were off the press about January 10, 1850; Griswold gave a number of the sets to Mrs. Clemm to sell wherever she chose. She spent many years later trying to get Poe’s friends to buy them from her and resell them to their friends. It is not known how much she actually received from these sales, but it was not inconsiderable; at least Dora Houghton* wrote Ingram in 1875 that Mrs. Clemm had lived with her family until “she was able to support herself” with the income from the sales of Poe’s works. Even if this statement is not entirely accurate, it is certainly strong evidence that Mrs. Clemm did receive some money from the books.

George Graham wrote “The Late Edgar Allan Poe” and published it in his own magazine for March, 1850 (Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 224-26). This article was a direct and powerful repudiation of Griswold’s infamous “Ludwig Article” that had appeared as Poe’s obituary in the New York Herald Tribune on October 9, 1849, two days after Poe’s death. Eveleth’s ellipsis after Mrs. Clemm’s remark that she had “not received one dollar yet” almost certainly was made to eliminate her request to him for money. In this letter one can feel the depth and sincerity of Mrs. Clemm’s terrible grief for Poe.

Letter 10. Maria Clemm, Lowell, to George W. Eveleth. Fragment copied by Eveleth and forwarded to Ingram on October 1, 1878. First printing. [Item 73]

May 30, 1850

I received your kind letter a few days ago, and am most grateful for your kindness in saying you will try to dispose of some of my books for me . . . I wish to write you a long letter, and tell you many things of my own darling Eddie. Oh! how much I thank you for saying you do not believe all you have heard against him — so few understood him. But now he will be appreciated — God, who he is now with, understands him.

Again, Eveleth omitted a portion of Mrs. Clemm’s letter; the strong probability is that the part he cut had to do with her gratitude for money he had sent to her. Eveleth remained a staunch believer in Poe’s essential good character and he became a knowing and valuable ally of Ingram’s in defending Poe’s reputation. [page 39:]

Letter 11. Maria Clemm, Lowell, to George W. Eveleth. Fragment copied by Eveleth and forwarded to Ingram on October 1, 1878. First printing. [Item 74]

June 8,1850

I yesterday evening received your kind letter . . . I hope I will soon be equal to writing you a long letter concerning my own lost Eddie. At present, my health is inadequate to the task. Eight long, long months since he left me to dwell with the angels, and I feel every hour more desolate.

The “long letter” about Poe, frequently promised by Mrs. Clemm, never reached Eveleth. Her reiterations of her feelings of desolation were to continue for nearly twenty-one years.

Letter 12. Maria Clemm, Lowell, to George W. Eveleth. Fragment copied by Eveleth and forwarded to Ingram on October 1, 1878. First printing. [Item 75]

Sept. 24, 1850

I have taken the liberty to send you by express the third volume of my poor, injured Eddie’s works. I beg you will suspend your opinion until you have heard the other side, which will appear in the Dec. number of Graham. He [George R. Graham], noble fellow, wrote to me the moment of seeing the book, urging me not to grieve, for he had a very host of noble souls prepared to refute many of those base exagerations [sic] and vile misrepresentations, and which would soon make the Right Reverend hide his head and fly the field. There were occasional times that my poor Eddie was not conscious of what he wrote or what he said, and of this Mr. Griswold has taken undue advantage.

Angered at the attacks made on him by the friends he had denied Poe, Griswold prefaced the third volume of Poe’s works, off the press by mid-September, 1850, with the biographical Memoir that was a virulent expansion of his [page 40:] infamous obituary of Poe. Vehement objections appeared in print immediately, but they were unorganized, ephemeral articles in newspapers and magazines. It was not until after Griswold’s death in 1857 that a well-organized and well-written protest was published in permanent book form: Sarah Helen Whitman’s Edgar Poe and his Critics was brought out by Rudd & Carleton in New York, in 1860 (the book was actually on the market by December, 1859). The “Right Reverend” alludes to the fact that Griswold was a Baptist minister. Mrs. Clemm did realize to a degree that her frantic efforts to sell the books given to her by Griswold were, ironically, simply spreading the damage Griswold intended against Poe, but she persisted.

Letter 13. Maria Clemm, Milford, Conn., to Sarah Helen Whitman, Providence, R.I. Copied for Ingram by Mrs. Whitman. Original letter in the Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Nov. 7, 1852

Dear friend,

I cannot express to you how much I was disappointed, when I had to pass so near Providence and not to see you. I have had it in contemplation to go south, where I have warm friends, and know I would have a happy home. But I have been obliged to relinquish this truly delightful prospect for want of means. Oh if I could see you for a short time, I know for his sake you would advise me what to do. How often do I wish I could go to my beloved children! And oh how I regret my dear Fordham home. I have many kind friends, but I cannot open my heart to them, as I could to my beloved lost ones. I sometimes feel so desolate, and think if I had but one left. I know it is very selfish to trouble you with my feelings, but I think you will sympathise with me. Do write me a long letter, I am always so happy to hear from you. Please direct to me, care of Wm. Strong, Milford, Conn. I do hope I will be able to make you a short visit some time this winter. Do you ever hear from Mrs. Locke? As soon as I went to Lowell (three years ago) I was told she had said so many unkind and untruthful things of my dear Eddie, that I was induced to write her a cruel letter. I have often regretted it since, but I [page 41:] could not live and hear such falsehoods about him, without resenting them. Believe me to be your sincere friend.

Maria Clemm

Mrs. Clemm’s lugubrious nature forbids any supposition on our parts that she could possibly intentionally make a pun about the temperature of her friends in relation to their geographic location. Her wishes for death and references to her lonely, desolate condition had been, were, and would continue to be familiar notes, and her references to her “want of means” was a not-so-subtle hint to Mrs. Whitman to furnish her with them. Mrs. Whitman did indeed send her many sums of money on many occasions through the more than twenty years they corresponded, as letters ahead will make clear.

Letter 14. Maria Clemm, Alexandria, Va., to Sarah Helen Whitman, Providence, R.I. Copied for Ingram by Mrs. Whitman. Original letter in the Lilly Library, Indiana University. First complete printing.

April 14, 1859

My dear friend,

I received yours the day before yesterday, and hasten to express to you my sincere gratitude. God only knows what a relief it is to me, to be able now to procure medicines and other necessaries, in the state of my health at this time. I trust it may be returned to you an hundred fold. The family with whom I at present reside, are intimate with Mr. William Cassinoe, who married Judge Stannard’s daughter; from him I have ascertained, that Mrs. Stannard has been dead about 26 years. She died entirely deranged, and had been so many years. Mrs. C, her daughter is hopelessly so. She is now in a lunatic asylum near this city. The Judge has been dead nearly 10 years. Robert married Miss Lyons of Richmond and died 4 years ago. Eddie was not in Richmond “twice.”† We left there in 1837, and he never visited it again since the death of Virginia, until 1849. My father (Eddie’s grandfather), was born in Ireland, but his parents left there when he was only six weeks old. My father was so patriotic he never would acknowledge he was any other than American. He lived in [page 42:] Baltimore from the time of the revolution, he took my mother there, from Pennsylvania, a bride. They both lived and died there. My father was an officer in the army during the revolution, and was intimate with Washington & Lafayette. It is true dear Eddie did love Mrs. Stannard with all the affectionate devotion of a son. When he was unhappy at home, (which was very often the case) he went to her for sympathy, and she always consoled and comforted him, you are mistaken when you say that you believe he saw her but once in her home. He visited there for years. He only saw her once while she was ill, which grieved him greatly, he was but a boy at that time. Robert has often told me, of his, and Eddie’s visits to her grave, he has pointed to her last resting place to me often, when we would visit the cemetery. It was a favorite drive of my darling Virginia’s. I think now dear friend I have answered all your inquiries. Anything else I can inform you of concerning my beloved Eddie I will do with great pleasure. Alas my memory is too faithful, I often wish I could forget.

I am most happy to hear you look upon death as a happy change. God grant it may prove so to both of us. This is our lenten season, and we have church almost every day. There, and at my private devotion, I do and will always remember you.

Please return the enclosed letters when you have read them. They are most precious to me.‡

I have not heard from Mrs. Shelton for a long time, here no one knows her. I cannot ascertain if she is living or not. She has not been the friend to me that you have, and she is rich too, but I will not blame her, for she I suppose is entirely estranged from me. God bless you and take you into his holy keeping is the sincere prayer of your affectionate friend

Maria Clemm

[Mrs. Whitman’s notes scribbled on the margins:]

† This is a mistake. He was there in 1848, also, and at that time renewed his acquaintance with Mrs. Shelton, who received him with marked favor.

S.H.W. [page 43:]

‡ These two letters were the only letters received from EAP after his engagement with Mrs. Shelton. They were the last ever received from him by Mrs. C[lemm].

In one letter was a message of tender & grateful remembrance to Mrs. Richmond of Lowell acknowledging all her kindness to him & to his mother & expressing his unchanging remembrance of her. In the angry letter which Griswold wrote to Pabodie after Pabodie’s article appeared in the Tribune, among other gross calumnies, he says, “Poe wrote to his mother-in-law that if he married the woman to whom he was engaged in Richmond for her money he must still manage to live so near a creature (!) whom he loved in Lowell as to retain her as his mistress”!!! This was the interpretation which the insane hatred of G[riswold] put upon this expression of grateful remembrance!

Two letters from Mrs. Clemm

If Mrs. Clemm is right as to the date of Mrs. Stannard’s death, she must have died in 1833, at which time Edgar Poe was 24 years of age.

Robert Stannard married a Miss Lyons of Richmond & died 1855.

Poe married Virginia Clemm in 1836 when he was 27. The “letters” which Mrs. Clemm speaks of on the 3rd page of this letter & which she says are most precious to her were letters written by Edgar from Richmond announcing his marriage with Mrs. Shelton. They were very, very, sad. They were the last he ever wrote to her, & were apparently written with a foreboding that they would be his last.

They were full of anxious expressions for her happiness & contained words of tender remembrance for Mrs. Richmond of Lowell, who had been very kind to him & to Mrs. Clemm. Mrs. C[lemm] spent a winter with that lady not long after Poe’s death.

Mrs. Clemm placed these letters in my hands voluntarily without any request from me. I did not ask for them nor did I know of their existence. I did not copy them. I believe that she was influenced to do so by the spirit of one who knew how cruelly their meaning had been misrepresented by Griswold in a letter which he addressed to Pabodie after the appearance [page 44:] of his printed article in the Tribune exposing the falsehood of his (G’s) statements. I send you [John Ingram] this letter — this extract — from Griswold’s letter to show you how utterly unscrupulous he was in them that the noblest & purest need [not?] blush to have written. They express a grateful & affectionate remembrance of a Massachusetts lady who had been most kind to him & his mother. Griswold little dreamed that I should read these very letters when he wrote about them so grossly & so falsely.

S.H.W.

Biographical details of the Poe and Stanard families in this letter were in answer to Mrs. Whitman’s specific questions to Mrs. Clemm. Mrs. Whitman was busy at this time gathering data for her forthcoming book, Edgar Poe and his Critics, by means of which she hoped to mitigate the harshness of Griswold’s biography of Poe by submitting to the public “a more equitable and intelligible theory of the idiosyncrasies of his life,” rather than a point-by-point refutation of what she called Griswold’s “perverted facts and baseless assumptions.” At this writing, Mrs. Clemm was living with the Reuben Johnston family in Alexandria, Virginia. Mrs. Clemm boasted frequently of her reliability as to facts and dates and claimed Poe had to refer to her for these things; this letter, however, displays several instances of her inaccuracies. “Mrs. Stannard” was Jane Stith Stanard, wife of judge Robert Stanard and the inspiration for Poe’s first “To Helen,” or so Poe said. She was mentally unbalanced for perhaps a year before her death on April 28, 1824, nearly thirty-five years before this letter, not twenty-six, as Mrs. Clemm writes. Poe did visit Richmond “twice” after he moved his family to Philadelphia in 1837; he was there in the summer of 1848, as well as in the summer of 1849. “Robert” was the son of judge and Mrs. Stanard, and was Poe’s boyhood friend. “Mrs. Shelton” was Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton, Poe’s boyhood sweetheart, perhaps. Mrs. Clemm made pressing applications to Mrs. Shelton for money after Poe’s death, but with small success.

Letter 15. N. H. Morison, Peabody Institute, Baltimore, to John Ingram, London. First printing. [Item 184]

Nov. 27, 1874 [page 45:]

Dear Sir,

I copied the enclosed letters more than a month ago, when pressing business turned my attention in another direction. I have inserted one of the two passages omitted about “literary ladies” by interlining on the last page of the 3rd sheet. As Mrs. Clemm is dead, I can see, on reflection, no harm in inserting the other sentences. On the first page of 4th sheet where the omission is marked, insert after “all letters received,” “I was offered by that base, base man, Griswold, $500 for a certain literary lady’s correspondence with Eddie. This was the reason I destroyed them, for fear I might by poverty be induced to do anything so dishonorable. The other letters I confided” etc.

This gives you all that is in the two letters, except what relates to some business & other personal matters in connection with Nelson Poe,* and containing nothing whatever about Edgar.

Mr. N. Poe began a letter to you, giving an account of Poe, & his (N’s) recollections of him. I hope he has sent it. I have not seen him for some weeks.

Brooks is still living here — his address is N. C. Brooks, LLD. He has charge of a Young Ladies School. I have not seen him since I received your letter, I do not know anything about his Museum, but will endeavor to get information from him. We shall receive with thanks a copy of your edition of Poe’s works, and shall regard it as a valuable addition to our collection of books. Our London book agent is E. G. Allan, 12 Tavestock Row, Covent Garden. Anything left with him will surely reach us. Accept our thanks for your generous offer to present it to us.

I send you a copy of my last report of this Institute.

You know, of course, that E.P.’s father ran off with, & married, an actress, and was in consequence disowned by the family. This accounts for the little interest which they have apparently taken in the fame of Edgar; but I think, from talking with them, that this apparent indifference does not arise from any thought of disgrace, but from simply indolence. Edgar Poe certainly had many faults, but that is no reason for charging him with deeds he was not guilty of. Nelson says a [page 46:] single glass of wine would set his brain on fire, and that his only safety was in total abstinence.

Hoping that you may succeed in your laudable undertaking, and that you may obtain the information you need, and willing to aid you as I can in this respect, I am

Yours truly, N. H. Morison

Neilson Poe was a lawyer, which probably prompted his chariness in allowing Morison to copy possible controversial matters in Poe’s and Mrs. Clemm’s letters for Ingram to publish.

Dr. Nathan Covington Brooks had edited, with Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, the American Museum of Science, Literature and the Arts in Baltimore from September, 1838, through June, 1839; Poe had contributed articles to many of the issues.

N. H. Morison was obviously on very good terms with Neilson Poe and his family, which makes his letters and reports about them and their reactions to their famous relative important indeed.

The statement that a single glass of wine set Edgar’s brain on fire certainly was not original with Neilson Poe; he could have read it as far back as 1850, in N. P. Willis’ essay on Poe, which followed James Russell Lowell’s, prefacing Volume I of Griswold’s edition of Poe’s works. With so much authority behind this statement, it has become one of those myths in Poe biography that can never be proved or disproved; it simply is in every one of them, in one form or another.

Letter 16. Maria Clemm, Alexandria, Va., to Neilson Poe, Baltimore. Copied by N. H. Morison and forwarded to Ingram on November 27, 1874. First complete printing. [Item 93]

Aug. 19, 1860

Dear Sir,

I wrote you nearly two weeks ago, and, as I have not heard from you, I conclude that you are waiting to hear from me again relative to some information about my dear Eddie. He was born in Boston, Mass. on the 19th of January 1811. When [page 47:] he was 5 weeks old he was taken to Baltimore by his parents, and remained there for 6 months. They then went to Richmond, Va. His mother died there when Eddie was 2 years old. At that time Mr. Allan adopted him. He went to school until he was 7 in Richmond. Mr. & Mrs. Allan then went with him to England, and resided there in Russell Square, London. Eddie went to school 5 miles from London, to Dr. Brandeth, returning every Friday to his adopted parents, remaining with them until the following Monday. If you have read the story of William Wilson contained in his works, you will find a description of his school days. They returned to Va. when he was 14. He soon after went to college at the University of Virginia. After leaving there he went to West Point. He left West Point voluntarily, and was not dismissed as some of his biographers assert. He found the discipline too severe. If you will take the trouble to write to the President of Charlottesville College you will find my statement correct. He never went to Russia as has been stated in the different memoirs written about him. I can account for every hour of his life since his return to America. He was domestic in all his habits, seldom leaving home for one hour unless his darling Virginia or myself were with him. He was truly an affectionate, kind husband, and a devoted son to me. He was impulsive, generous, affectionate, and noble. His tastes were very simple, and his admiration for all that was good and beautiful very great. We lived for 5 years at Fordham, in the sweetest little cottage imaginable. It was there our precious Virginia left us to go dwell with the angels. I then wished to die too, but had to live to take care of our poor disconsolate Eddie. This I know I did do, and, if I had been with him in Baltimore, he would not have died and left me alone in this heartless world. Oh! how supremely happy we were in our dear cottage home! We three lived only for each other. Eddie rarely left his beautiful home. I attended to his literary business, for he, poor fellow, knew nothing about money transactions. How should he, brought up in luxury and extravagance! He passed the greater part of the morning in his study, &, after he had finished his task for the day, he worked in our beautiful flower garden, or read and recited poetry to us. Every one who knew [page 48:] him intimately loved him. Judges pronounced him the best conversationist [sic] living. We had very little society except among the literati, but this was exceedingly pleasant. Eddie finished Virginia’s education himself, and, I assure you, she was highly cultivated. She was an excellent linguist, and a perfect musician, and she was so very beautiful. How often has Eddie said: I see no one so dignified and so beautiful as my sweet little wife. And oh! how pure and beautiful she was even to the last. But I would not recall them. In a short time I trust I shall go to them. A lady called on me a short time ago from Baltimore. She said she had visited my darling Eddie’s grave. She said it was in the basement of the church, covered with rubbish and coal. Is this true? Please let me know. I am certain both he and I have still friends left to rescue his loved remains from degradation.

Respectfully, Maria Clemm

N. H. Morison appended the following commentary to Ingram:

The above is her entire letter underscoring & all except one private sentence bearing no relation to Edgar Poe.

The University of Virginia is at Charlottesville, Albermarle County, Virginia. There is no truth in the report about the remains lying under heaps of rubbish beneath a church. They lie in the open yard in the family ground. Mr. Nelson’‘ Poe, an own cousin (their fathers having been brothers) married a half-sister of Edgar Poe’s wife. Who (N’s wife) was also his own cousin & the cousin of Edgar. Mrs. Clemm was therefore Mrs. Nelson Poe’s step-mother. Mr. Nelson Poe took care of Edgar in his last sickness, provided every comfort for him, including a nurse, and was with him a short time before he died. He had him suitably buried in the family burying lot, and ordered a simple marble slab with a suitable inscription to be erected as a head stone, to mark the grave. But the same fatality which seemed to pursue him in life balked the kind intention of his friend. The slab was completed and placed against the wall in front of the stone cutter’s shop ready for removal to the grounds. A railroad [page 49:] runs along the street in front of the shop. A car ran off the track, passed over the stone, and broke it into a hundred pieces — almost grinding it up. Mr. N, Poe is a man of very moderate means, and he did not order another. I understand that the money has been raised by the teachers of the public schools, a monument has been ordered, & will be erected in a few months over his remains.

The fact of the destruction of the stone I have from Nelson Poe, who, by the way, was born in the same year as his cousin & brother in law.

Mrs. Clemm was always emphatic in asserting that Edgar was born in Boston, during an engagement of his mother, who was an actress, at a theatre in that city, but she afterwards wavered a little, as she grew older, between the years 1811 & 1809, as the proper date.

The story of Edgar Poe’s death has never been told. Nelson Poe has all the facts, but I am afraid may not be willing to tell them. I do not see why. The actual facts are less discreditable than the common reports published. Poe came to the city in the midst of an election, and that election was the cause of his death.

Ingram used portions of this letter from Mrs. Clemm as well as parts of Morison’s appended note, following his usual custom of breaking them up into paragraphs or sentences to use here and there as he told the story of Poe’s life. (See Life, I, 146, for an ordinary example of his method.)

Mrs. Clemm’s self-proclaimed accuracy as to dates and times and facts, causing Edgar to depend on her, suffers badly enough in this single letter to cause one to doubt or at least question anything else she said: Poe was born in 1809 not 1811; he was almost three years old (lacking a month and a day) when his mother died in Richmond. The John Allans never adopted Poe legally; he was simply taken into their home on a thought-to-be-temporary basis. He was six and a half years old when he went to England with the Allans, eleven and a half when he returned with them to Richmond, in June, 1820. He enrolled in the University of Virginia on February 14, 1826, when he was barely seventeen. He did not leave West Point voluntarily; he was court-martialed and dismissed early in January, 1831, actually leaving in March, 183 1.

The Poe family, including Mrs. Clemm of course, moved to Fordham in the summer of 1846 and lived there until Poe’s death in 1849, making the span three years and several months residence, instead of Mrs. Clemm’s reported five. [page 50:]

Letter 17. Maria Clemm, Alexandria, Va., to Neilson Poe, Baltimore. Copy made by N. H. Morison and forwarded to Ingram on November 27, 1874. First complete printing. [Item 94]

Aug. 26th,1860

Dear Sir,

I received yours yesterday, and I think it best to answer it while I can. I am strictly forbidden to use my eyes in any way, I am under the hands of a physician in Washington. If they get better, I will endeavor to give you the information relative to Eddie. Now I could not do so. This far I will tell you. He never was in Greece or Russia. I know Griswold said so during Eddie’s life time. Why he asserted this I never could imagine. Eddie used to laugh heartily when he would hear it, but did not think it worth the trouble of contradiction. There never was any correspondence between Eddie and Virginia, for he was always with her — she often with him on a journey for a few days. It is utterly false — the report of his being faithless or unkind to her. He was devoted to her until the last hour of her death as all our friends can testify. After Eddie’s death, I burned every letter except those relating to literature. I destroyed hundreds that were written by literary ladies. I know so well that Eddie wished me to do so. Virginia and I were cognizant of all letters he received, for he made it an invariable rule to give us to read all letters he received. [N. H. Morison inserted here these previously withheld sentences: “I was offered by that base, base man, Griswold, $500 for a certain literary lady’s correspondence with Eddie. This was the reason I destroyed them, for fear I might by poverty be induced to do anything so dishonorable.”] The other letters I confided to Griswold, to make extracts from them. He never would return them to me, and I cannot get them from his executors. They were all from the most celebrated men living. Eddie’s letters to me were many, but I have given so many away to those friends whom I know loved & appreciated him, I have not a fragment of his writing — so many have applied to me for anything that was once his. Mr. H. W. Longfellow [page 51:] wrote to me a few weeks ago for two of his autographs. They were the last I had. I could not refuse Mr. Longfellow, for he is one of my best friends, and constantly writes to me. I spent some time at his home in Cambridge. I enclose you two of Eddie’s letters, one written at the time you generously offered to take my darling Virginia. I wrote to Eddie asking his advice, and this is his answer. Does the affection there expressed look as if he could ever cease to love her? and he never did. (private matters)

Respectfully, M. Clemm

P. S. If there is any other information I can give you I will do so with pleasure. Painful as the subject is to me, I will sacrifice my own feelings if I can say one word to redeem his character. Will you get a little book written by S. Helen Whitman called Edgar Poe and his critics. She knew him well, and contradicts the assertion made by Griswold relative to herself. Will you have the goodness to write to me? I expect to be in Baltimore sometime next winter to superintend a monument for my dear Eddie and Virginia.

M.C.

N. H. Morison comments to Ingram on Mrs. Clemm’s letter:

The rest of the postscript merely private matter.

The report of Poe’s visit to Greece and Russia undoubtedly arose from the fact that his brother Wm. (represented by Nelson as even more of a genius than Edgar) went to both of those countries, and was sent home from Russia by the American Minister, Mr. Middleton of South Carolina. Mrs. Clemm is emphatic about Edgar’s faithfulness to his wife, and I learn from Nelson that she was equally emphatic in denying the story told of his attempt to seduce the young wife of his benefactor, Mr. Allan. She asserted that he left Allan’s immediately either after or before the marriage, and never saw Mrs. Allan but once again. Yet it is a fact that Mrs. Allan, [page 52:] still living in Richmond, retains a bitter feeling towards him. Mr. N. Poe thinks the trouble arose from the fact, that Edgar looked upon the young wife as an intruder into the family, who was pushing him out, & that he made his feelings known very distinctly as we might expect from his impulsive nature. This conduct on his part was deeply resented, & probably never forgiven, by both Mr. and Mrs. Allan.

I have left out at the request of Mr. N. Poe two sentences which contain a serious charge against Griswold, with reference to his attempt to get possession of some of the letters afterwards burnt. [These sentences were reincorporated above, as Morison explained in his prefatory letter.]

Edgar Poe married his cousin when she was about 14. I have no doubt that exact dates can be procured. To prevent so premature a marriage, Nelson Poe offered to take the young lady, his half-sister-in-law, into his own family, educate her, & take care of her-with the understanding that, if, after a few years, the two young people should feel the same towards each other, they should be married. One of the two letters of E.P. sent by Mrs. Clemm to Mr. N. Poe, mentioned in the last letter, is an earnest, passionate protest against this arrangement, and Mr. N. Poe’s offer was declined in consequence & the marriage took place in Christ’s Church in this city, the ceremony being performed by Rev. now Bp. John Johns. The parties did not live together for more than a year, when they were again married in Richmond where they were to reside. This second marriage, the bride 15, took place to save all comments, because the first one had been so private. These facts are from N. Poe. Mr. N. Poe did not know why this offer had been declined till Mrs. Clemm sent him Edgar’s letter in 1860, which letter he now has. He also has five or six other letters from Mrs. Clemm, most of them expressing her affection for Edgar and Virginia, but containing, I think, no facts of any importance. Mr. N. Poe, at that time, 1860, intended writing a Memoir of his cousin, made some collection of facts, but never wrote anything. He belongs, so his friends say, to the class of dilatory men, who plan and never do. I offered to copy the letters I send, lest he should omit to do so, and he had no objection. He talks very freely about his [page 53:] cousin. I have not found him reticent; but I do not think the Poes fully appreciate the genius of Edgar.

Poe’s romantic bent probably accounts for his laughter over biographical accounts of himself having traveled in Greece, Russia, and France. Had he troubled to contradict them he could have saved his future biographers much acrimony. John Ingram accepted as true, for instance, Marie Louise Shew’s transcribed notes, dictated by Poe, stating that he had traveled in France, been wounded in a duel, written two poems and a short story which were later credited to other writers, and so on. When Ingram published this story, none of which was true, he muddied Poe biography very much indeed.

There was indeed some correspondence between Poe and his wife: Mrs. Houghton sent Ingram Poe’s autograph letter to Virginia dated June 12, 1846, and Ingram printed it in Appleton’s Journal, May, 1878. Mrs. Houghton also told Ingram that Poe wrote numerous notes to Virginia.

One can only shudder at Mrs. Clemm’s revelation of having burned “hundreds of letters” written by literary ladies to Poe. The “certain literary lady’s correspondence” for which Griswold offered Mrs. Clemm $500 was almost certainly that of Mrs. Frances Sargent Osgood. Griswold was much attracted to her and was angrily jealous of her flirtation with Poe. Poe autographs were much in demand when this letter was written, and while it is not clear what Mrs. Clemm means when she says she sent her last two to Longfellow, it is likely that she cut Poe’s signatures from his letters and forwarded them, a practice of which even Sarah Helen Whitman was guilty. It is not known when Mrs. Clemm visited Longfellow’s home in Cambridge. Poe’s letter begging Mrs. Clemm not to allow Virginia to be taken into Neilson Poe’s home was dated August 29, 1835, and was first published in Edgar Allan Poe: Letters and Documents, edited by Arthur H. Quinn and Richard Hart in 1941 (Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, New York, pages 9-11). The second letter enclosed by Mrs. Clemm to Neilson Poe, written “a short time” before Poe’s death, was dated from Richmond on September 18, 1849, and it too was first published by Quinn and Hart, 24-25.

Nothing in the verses left by Poe’s brother, William Henry Leonard, supports Neilson Poe’s assertion that he was “more of a genius” than Edgar; nor has it been established that W. H. L. Poe ever visited Greece and Russia.

The story of Edgar’s attempt to seduce Louisa G. Allan* made the rounds for years. Elizabeth Oakes Smith, wife of Seba Smith, the American humorist, and herself a prolific writer, repeated it again in her letter to Ingram, dated April 7, 1875.(4)

Thorough examinations of all church records in Baltimore have failed to yield any evidence to support Neilson Poe’s reported story that Edgar and [page 54:] Virginia were first married in Baltimore. The “glass of wine” myth, the genius of W. H. L. Poe, and the supposed marriage of Edgar and Virginia all remain in Poe biography and are still highly controversial.

Letter 18. Maria Clemm, Putnam, Ohio, to Annie Richmond, Lowell. Fragment sent to Ingram by Mrs. Richmond ca. 1876. First printing. [Item 95]

June 29th [18]61

My dear Annie

This day eleven years I looked upon my dear Eddie for the last time. O how sad I. . . . from her this morning, and as she did not mention your visit I presume you did not see her. And Mr. Cudworth has gone as Chaplin to the army? If he does. . . .

At this writing, Mrs. Clemm was living in the home of Sallie E. Robins,* Putnam, Ohio, supposedly as a permanent guest. Miss Robins, masquerading in print as S. E. R., thereby hoping to be taken as a male writer, had announced her intentions of “reversing public judgment concerning Poe,” and had invited Mrs. Clemm to live in her home and be a constant source of information about Poe and his friends. Miss Robins further promised Mrs. Clemm a trip to Europe, with all expenses paid, as well as a home with her for the rest of her life. Since Mrs. Clemm had worn out her welcome in many homes on the Atlantic seaboard, she embraced both invitations.

Concluding that she would not live to return to America, and being engrossed by the subject of death anyway, Mrs. Clemm wrote another series of farewell letters to her friends, with some justification one must admit, for she was seventy years old at this time. Unfortunately, the European trip never materialized and the “permanent home” proved to be fairly short-timed. Nor did Sallie Robins finish her biography of Poe; for in 1861 she was carried, hopelessly mad, to an asylum. Mrs. Clemm was left stranded in a household on whose members she had not the slightest claim. The ensuing time was indeed long and dreary for her, for the weather was very bad and the approaching civil war made travel hazardous at best. Sallie Robins’ mother kept to her room, and her brother’s wife ran off with his best friend, leaving him to care for their only son. With her unable to return to the Baltimore area for a long time, Mrs. Clemm’s letters at this period show her weighted down with the awkwardness of her position, the dreariness of the weather, and the sins of this world. [page 55:]

Ingram has corrected in pencil Mrs. Clemm’s “eleven,” showing that it was twelve years since she had seen Poe; for Mrs. Clemm had said goodbye to Edgar aboard the steamboat on June 29, 1849. “Mr. Cudworth” was the Reverend Warren H. Cudworth of East Boston, a good friend and former pastor of Mrs. Richmond.

Letter 19. Maria Clemm, Baltimore, to Neilson Poe, Baltimore. Quoted in a letter dated March 27, 1912, from Miss Amelia Poe, Baltimore, to John Ingram, London. First printing. [Item 453]

Sept. 27, 1870

“You have been a dear kind son to me. I wish you, when God calls me, to see to my burial.”

Sometime in the spring of 1863 Mrs. Clemm made her way from Ohio back to Baltimore, where she immediately began soliciting her old friends for the $150 admittance fee to the Baltimore Widows’ Home. Unsuccessful in this, she did gain entrance to the Episcopal Church Home, which had been the Washington Medical College Hospital on Broadway Street, where Poe had died. Apparently she was supported there until her own death eight years later, when she was buried beside Poe in the Presbyterian churchyard cemetery. It was not until 1885 that Virginia’s bones were brought from Fordham — after having remained for some time in a small box in William F. Gill’s possession. Gill said he had rescued the bones in the nick of time to save them from being destroyed, when the Fordham cemetery was razed in 1883, and he brought them to Baltimore where they were reburied on Poe’s left.(5)

This letter of Mrs. Clemm’s to Neilson Poe, dated September 27, 1870, was the only one in Ingram’s collection he received too late to use, had he chosen, in his 1880 biography. Her last note to Neilson Poe was dated January 9, 1871, in the Church Home.

All of these eighteen letters written by Mrs. Clemm, with two long explanatory notes added to two of her letters by N. H. Morison, were at [page 56:] Ingram’s hand when he began writing his articles and his biography of Poe. The following facts were now in his possession to use in combating Griswold’s Memoir:

Poe did have friends — close, personal ones — and that he was highly regarded by such eminent personages as General Morris, Evert Duyckinck, and George R. Graham.

Poe could and did have some real regard for many of his fellow men.

Poe could be temperate, even unselfish, in the matter of wine sent to his house for use during his wife’s last sickness.

Poe had actually taken and signed a temperance pledge in Richmond.

George R. Graham, Poe’s former employer, had written and published a strong attack on the spirit and veracity of Griswold’s Memoir, and he had written and published an equally strong defense of Poe’s personal and professional character.

From these letters Ingram had added many facts and stories that most certainly colored his opinions of many persons closely associated with Poe and which were inevitably reflected in his writings about them. These things he had not known before receiving the letters:

That Mrs. Clemm was always deeply concerned, deeply fearful, about Poe’s drinking.

That Annie Richmond’s feelings about Mrs. Clemm had changed from love and pity to distrust and suspicion.

That, even before Poe came to live with her, Mrs. Clemm was a mistress in the art of writing begging letters, and that she could be, when she chose, both vindictive and capable of making threats.

That Mrs. Stella Lewis’ word, oral or written, was not to be trusted.

That Poe’s trunk had indeed been sent from Richmond after his death to Mrs. Clemm in Lowell, Massachusetts.

That Poe’s boyhood sweetheart in Richmond had been Sarah Elmira Royster, later Mrs. Shelton.

That Poe was devoted to the memory of Mrs. Jane Stith Stanard, mother of his boyhood chum, Robert Stanard.

That Neilson Poe believed “a single glass of wine” would destroy Edgar’s mental and physical equilibrium.

That the first headstone prepared for Poe’s grave had been destroyed by an unfortunate railroad accident. [page 57:]

Finally, from the copies of Mrs. Clemm’s letters made by Morison, with Neilson Poe’s permission, Ingram learned much about Edgar Poe’s early life, some of these facts reliable, some otherwise; he learned too that Edgar never had been to Greece or Russia; and he learned more about Virginia Poe and of Edgar’s expressed and especial love for her.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 20:]

1.  Possibly from gallantry, no Poe biographer except Ingram has ever dealt truthfully with the extent of Mrs. Clemm’s undeniably strong influence on Poe, in matters goad and bad.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 22:]

2.  This letter was later printed in the Maryland Historical Magazine, VI (March, 1911), 44, as having been addressed to “a former member of the Judiciary.” Item 436 in the Ingram Poe Collection, University of Virginia. Materials in that collection are hereafter referred to simply by the item numbers enclosed in brackets.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 33:]

3.  See William J. Glenn’s letter to E. V. Valentine, June 29, 1899, now in the Valentine Museum in Richmond. The Richmond Times reprinted portions of it in an article, “Poe and His Pledge,” by Robert C. Hiden, March 10, 1895. [Item 888]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 53:]

4.  [Item 214]

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

5.  See my article “The Exhumations and Reburials of Edgar and Virginia Poe and Mrs. Clemm,” Poe Studies, VII (December, 1974), 46-47.

 


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Notes:

None.


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