Text: John Carl Miller, “Chapter 8,” Building Poe Biography (1977), pp. 235-244 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 235, unnumbered:]


John Henry Ingram Prepares to Write His Biography of Edgar Allan Poe

IN THE SHORT SPACE of one year John Ingram, working alone in London, had become a major figure in Poe scholarship. His memoir and his four-volume edition of Poe’s works were before the public, and it mattered little whether the American critics and biographers were pleased or angry: they could not now ignore his work. Ingram’s first important magazine publication in 1875 was a twenty-seven page abridgment of his memoir published in the International Review and designed to reach readers in the United States, since copyright laws kept his edition of Poe’s works from being published in this country until 1876.(1)

The first signal public recognition of Ingram’s work on Poe came from the United States, and appropriately enough, from the University of Virginia, when in 1875 he was invited to attend a semi-centennial celebration of the university’s founding. Enormously pleased by this accolade, Ingram saw to it that this honor was known to the English press, even though he had to answer with sincere regrets that his duties in England made it impossible for him to accept the university’s invitation.

In a review of Henry Curwen’s two volumes, Sorrow and Song: Studies of Literary Struggle (London: H. S. King & Co., 1875), Ingram devoted nearly half of the four columns allowed him to pointing out to the public and the author the errors made in Curwen’s account of Edgar Poe, one of the six Grub Street authors Curwen had chosen as subjects. Ingram’s tone in this review, printed in the Academy for March 13, 1875,(2) is that of a kind and patient mentor coaching a backward pupil, [page 236:] but he used this review to place two new and startling facts about Poe affairs on the record. He wrote that Curwen had quoted excerpts from Poe’s letter “which we do not hesitate to call forgeries.” This was the first time Ingram had used the word “forgery,” in connection with Griswold’s manipulation of some of Poe’s letters, and it caused enough excitement to start the investigation in America which, in the end, proved Ingram justified in using the term. And Ingram started still another controversy in this review which, though it still cannot be either proved or disproved, has certainly become part of Poe biography: using N. H. Morison’s letter to himself, November 27, 1874,(3) he quoted Neilson Poe as saying that Edgar and Virginia were first married in Christ’s Church, Baltimore, by the Reverend John Johns in 1834, but they did not live together for more than a year, Virginia continuing to reside with her mother until 1835, when Edgar and Virginia were again married in Richmond.

There was never anything very subtle about John Ingram, but this review showed that a change had taken place in his attitude. Gone, for the moment anyway, were his anger, his frequent use of epithets, his almost hysterical desire to convince his readers of Griswold’s perfidy. In their place was an almost condescending manner bespeaking a new maturity and a sense of confidence.

By mid-summer of 1875 Ingram had sufficiently placated Stella Lewis for her to make him a present of Poe’s manuscript of his unfinished drama, “Politian,” of which only portions had been published, in the Southern Literary Messenger in December, 1835, and reprinted in The Raven and Other Poems in 1845. Using this newly acquired treasure, Ingram brought the year 1875 to a triumphant close by publishing the whole fragment, including at least four unpublished scenes, in the London Magazine. William Hand Browne gladly reprinted this article in the Southern Magazine in Baltimore for November, 1875. Ingram had achieved a real coup.

In his eagerness to put his memoir of Poe before the American public as quickly as possible, even before copyright laws permitted his full edition to be printed in the United States, Ingram had started a chain of events that was to culminate in an explosion of bitterness and hatred between and among English and American biographers of Poe, dividing them into hostile camps from which they issued accusations and counter [page 237:] accusations of bad faith, double-dealing, and outright theft of each other’s materials.

Immediately after Ingram’s memoir was published in late 1874, Ingram suggested to a New York publisher, W. J. Widdleton, that he use it gratis, should he bring out another American edition of Poe’s writings. When Widdleton announced in the spring of 1875 that he was issuing a memorial edition of Poe’s poems, Ingram repeated his offer. Widdleton replied that he had been asked by William F. Gill not to use Ingram’s memoir, as it covered materials taken from his own paper in a volume called Lotus Leaves.

The facts behind this request, which Ingram was unaware of at this time, were that before Mrs. Whitman had begun her correspondence with him in early 1874, she had lent to Gill some of her Poe materials, including excerpts from several of Poe’s letters and a few newsclippings, for an article Gill had told her he was preparing for publication in Lotus Leaves. Having heard nothing from Gill for a very long time, Mrs. Whitman wrote to him and asked for the return of her materials. Gill did, in fact, return to her copies of some of them and he asked her not to help Ingram, for he thought the English writer would “take the wind out of his sails” in an article he wanted to publish in a companion volume to Lotus Leaves, to be called Laurel Leaves. Mrs. Whitman was by now of the opinion that Gill already “had too much wind in his sails for the amount of ballast on board,” and she replied sharply, for her, that she would do as she saw fit with her materials about Poe.

The Widdleton memorial edition of Poems and Essays was out just after Christmas of 1875.(4) But at the close of of the prefatory note in the Introduction, an utterly false statement had been inserted:

It should be stated that a considerable portion of Mr. Ingram’s Memoir is gathered from material previously used by Mr. William F. Gill in his lecture, “The Romance of Edgar A. Poe,” written in September, 1873, which formed the first complete vindication of Poe from the calumnies of Rufus W. Griswold. Mr. Gill has kindly permitted the use of the material derived from this source, in order that, Mr. Ingram’s Memoir might appear in its original form.

Ingram’s composure and air of superiority vanished. Wild with rage, he composed and published in the Athenaeum, January 15, 1876, a long, bitter “Disclaimer,” in which he castigated Gill as a person [page 238:] and a writer, called him a liar, and dared him to produce a shred of evidence to back up his claim to have “permitted the use of his materials in Mr. Ingram’s Memoir”; and he saw to it that this “Disclaimer,” bitter and ugly as it was, was widely circulated in American magazines and newspapers.

After a few short, angry exchanges in Notes and Queries with an unknown writer who signed himself “Uneda” and with J. Brander Matthews, both of whom had made erroneous and derogatory remarks about Poe’s career in Notes and Queries, Ingram routed them from the field and turned his attention to his next new and important discovery in Poe affairs and the article that was to announce it to the world.

The existence of an 1827 volume of Poe’s poems had long been debated among his biographers: Poe had said that in his 1829 and 1831 volumes he had included poems that were copied verbatim from the 1827 volume. Griswold at one time seemed to believe there had been such a volume, but later denied that it was so. R. H. Stoddard had openly written that it was “mendacious” of Poe to say that he had printed this early book of poems, when he had not.

John Ingram put an end to these discussions forever — and immeasurably increased his reputation as a Poe scholar and researcher — when he published in the Belgravia Magazine for June, 1876, an article called “The Suppressed Poetry of Poe,” containing nearly the whole of Poe’s 1827 volume of poems named Tamerlane and Other Poems (Boston: Calvin F. S. Thomas, Printer, 1827).

This was indeed a bold stroke. The article added five new poems to the Poe canon, aroused considerable interest through reprints in England, France, and America, and allowed Ingram once more to belabor in print the dead Griswold and the living Stoddard for having doubted Poe’s word.

Ingram had discovered this first copy of Tamerlane in the British Museum Library and had recognized it as Poe’s 1827 volume, even though the front and the back covers had been torn off. This copy had been sent, probably in 1863, to the British Museum Library by an American bookseller, with many other pamphlets, and had been priced to the library at one shilling.

With this volume in hand, as well as the 1829 and 1831 volumes sent to him on loan by C. F. Harris, Mrs. Whitman’s neighbor and a collector of early American poetry, and with the 1845 volume of Poe’s The Raven and Other Poems still easily available in bookstalls, Ingram [page 239:] was able to prepare and publish very quickly — the month after his important article on Poe’s suppressed poetry had appeared in the Belgravia — the first description and critical bibliography of all four of the volumes of poetry Poe had published in his lifetime.(5)

Meanwhile, with these triumphs on the record, Ingram felt that he could turn to his work on the great biography of Poe he had long planned; but, in America, another publishing venture was underway that was to tear him emotionally and put a strain on the relations between him and his gracious “Providence,” Mrs. Whitman.

Eugene L. Didier of Baltimore, having calmly watched the wranglings among Gill, Stoddard, and Ingram, announced his intentions of presenting to the world an accurate memoir of Poe, not simply a denial of Griswold’s, but one that should be the accepted “biography of ‘The Raven.”’ He, of course, applied to Mrs. Whitman for help. Remembering all too well the Ingram-Gill controversy, in which she had not been blameless, Mrs. Whitman very carefully asked Ingram’s opinion in the matter. He replied diffidently enough, but seemed to encourage her participation, although he said he expected nothing important to come of the publication. Accordingly, Mrs. Whitman began a short note to Didier, which grew into a very long letter which Didier actually used as an introduction to his book and which Widdleton announced as the preface of the “Household Edition” of Poe’s poems to be published in 1877.(6)

A few weeks later Ingram wrote Mrs. Whitman that he had lent her book to a “friend,” who had reviewed it in London Athenaeum for February 10, 1877, and he suggested she read it in the Athenaeum Library in Providence; when she did not reply to his suggestion, he repeated it once more.

When Mrs. Whitman finally did look up a copy of that issue of the Athenaeum and read the long review, to her great surprise and unwilling belief she found it a brutally sarcastic attack on Didier, the book, and, remarkably enough, herself and her belief in spiritualism and prenatal influences! It was not signed, but she knew Ingram’s writing and style too well not to be positive that he had written it, even though he continued to avow that he had “lent” her book to a friend who had [page 240:] actually written the review.(7) Mrs. Whitman had known for many years that Poe himself had employed this device and excuse to have a devastating review written of one of Griswold’s anthologies, and had thereby incurred Griswold’s undying enmity. Even if Ingram had indeed lent her copy of the book to a “friend,” he had himself called her attention to the article twice. The time had come for a break with him, and she made it.

Within just a few months, still another American biography of Poe was to be published which would arouse even greater wrath in Ingram, William F. Gill’s long-announced, many-times-delayed The Life of Edgar Allan Poe appeared in the summer of 1877, and in the Preface Gill suggested that his book “may also serve to answer the complaint of an English writer that no trustworthy biography of Poe has yet appeared in his own country.”(8) Perhaps thinking this too gentle a reprimand, Gill wrote an estimate of Ingram’s work in an appendix that could not but strike fire:

Mr. J. H. Ingram, of London, possessing both enterprise and determination, has written and published a memoir of Poe, which, considering the disadvantage of collecting literary material at the distance of three thousand miles from the poet’s birthplace, is a creditable work, although, in some essential points, it is unreliable.(9) [page 241:]

If Gill really wanted to arouse Ingram, he succeeded admirably. The London Athenaeum for October 6, 1877, printed a long, blistering review of Gill’s book, as did the Boston Herald on October 28, 1877 — the copy doubtlessly forwarded by Ingram, urging the reprint. Although the review is unsigned, it is beyond question that John Ingram wrote it, and he identifies himself as the same person who had written the scathing review of Didier’s book. This, after having written to Mrs. Whitman, “I here declare that the words are not mine.”

Even though active correspondence between Mrs. Whitman and Ingram had stopped, Ingram was to deliver a final, fell blow. He released it in Appleton’s Journal, for May, 1878, in an article called “Unpublished Correspondence by Edgar A. Poe.” Among the letters here first published were Poe’s letters to Annie Richmond, in which he wrote slightingly of his engagement to Mrs. Whitman and announced his satisfaction at having at last been freed of his engagement to marry her. Ingram also printed here as authentic copies of Poe’s letters to Mrs. Shew, copies which Mrs. Whitman had seen and had pronounced as doubtful, at best; and here Ingram had called Poe’s relationship with Mrs. Shelton “as romantic as that ever penned by poet,” and he styled that lady herself as “Poe’s first and last love.”

For thirty years Mrs. Whitman had cherished Poe’s memory and had worked indefatigably with a number of persons to help clear Poe’s name and to restore his good reputation. And she had believed for nearly thirty years that, after Virginia Poe’s death, she was Edgar’s only real love. Now Ingram had printed dated letters which told the world that Poe had been writing passionate personal love letters to another man’s wife, while he had been writing, at the same time, passionate literary love letters to her.

Mrs. Whitman died in Providence on June 27, 1878, and Ingram, of course, wrote an appropriate obituary for her and published it in the Athenaeum for July 20, 1878,

During the distressing months that followed his final break with Mrs. Whitman, and before he published Poe’s correspondence in Appleton’s Journal, Ingram had made an extremely important discovery that was to add an important tale to the Poe canon. Mining the volumes of American magazines in the British Museum Library, he had found that the leading feature of the 1840 volume of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine was the beginning of a lengthy romance called “The Journal of Julius Rodman,” with further installments there promised. This volume bore Burton’s and Poe’s names as joint editors, but the romance was not [page 242:] signed, nor had any of Poe’s editors or biographers ever assigned it to Poe’s pen. But Ingram knew that it was, for he had in his files a copy of a letter from Poe to Burton, dated June 1, 1840, which established the fact that Poe had written “Julius Rodman”; for Poe had written in that letter, “I can give you no definitive answer (respecting the continuation of Rodman’s Journal) until I hear from you again.”

Mrs. Richmond had sent Ingram this copy of Poe’s letter to Burton by May 27, 1877. She almost certainly had received it from Mrs. Clemm, who had at one time promised to give to Mrs. Richmond all of her papers and letters. The original of Poe’s letter to Burton has disappeared; this copy made upon Mrs. Richmond’s request for Ingram by her friend William Rouse, to whom she had given it as a souvenir, is the sole authority for the text.

Ingram inexplicably chose to present his important discovery in a long, anonymous article, “‘The Journal of Julius Rodman,’ a NewlyDiscovered Work by the Late Edgar A. Poe,” printed in the London Mirror of Literature on November 3, 1877.(10) Of course, John Ingram was named in the article as the discoverer on this unknown work of Poe’s, and no matter how loath American newspaper and Poe writers were to grant that the story was either a “romance,” that it was “unknown,” and that it was really nothing but a “fragment,” this discovery by Ingram of the 25,000 word fragment, “The Journal of Julius Rodman,” is regarded by one of the best of all Poe scholars, Professor Killis Campbell, as a major contribution to Poe scholarship.(11)

Poe’s eye-catching, fun-inspired “Chapter on Autographs” had so fascinated Ingram when he discovered it while collecting materials for his 1874175 edition of Poe’s works, that now and then he prepared and published a similar series of sketches of the then reigning English and American literati, under the pseudonym of Don Felix de Salamanca.(12) The idea was still good and Ingram’s articles excited enough interest and amusement for him to turn to producing a whole volume of them in late 1879, when his biography of Poe was apparently nearly ready for the press. [page 243:]

The Philosophy of Handwriting, by Don Felix de Salamanca, was brought out by Chatto and Windus, London, October, 1879. It contained 135 facsimile autographs of persons of several nations who were distinguished in various professions. As a rule, the autographs were those of living persons, male and female, who were considered distinguished in their time, but Ingram did include a few of both sexes who had recently died.

Ingram’s inclusion of autographs belonging to persons other than those of the literati is the only original feature of this volume, which was, of course, inspired by Poe and directly imitative of his style and manner. However, the differences between the two writers are clear: Ingram’s imagination was earthbound by his ingrained habit and necessity of appealing to well-known authorities to justify what he says; hobbled by quotations, how could this book be expected to soar and glitter, as did Poe’s? Ingram used satire and wit as a peasant uses his broadax; Poe had used them as a Cavalier used his rapier.

As the decade of the 1870s closed, Ingram could look back over it with real satisfaction over his important additions to the Poe canon and the position he had gained in Poe scholarship. When he had published the full account of and the unpublished scenes from “Politian,” when he had discovered the first copy of Tamerlane, had written the first full bibliographical account of all four of Poe’s volumes of poems, and when he had revealed the intimate letters Poe had written in the last years of his life, he had undeniably added more to the world’s knowledge of Poe and his writings than had all of Poe’s biographers combined, up to that time. Ingram’s discoveries of such additional writings as “Julius Rodman,” for instance, had appeared to some to be phenomenal luck, but actually he was able to accomplish so much because his researcher’s keen instinct was wonderfully accompanied by unflagging zeal and ferocious energy. As both author and scholar, during this decade of the 1870s, Ingram could well be, and he was, proud of his accomplishments.

The six active, frantic years had taken a toll of him, however, and there were some painful and regrettable memories to plague him. He was certainly battle scarred by his quarrels with other Poe biographers, especially the American ones, and even though these public disputes had brought a certain prominence if not notoriety to him, their vehemence had cost him much in the time lost and the nervous strain he endured carrying them on. The snares and subterfuges he had encountered in his dealing with the ladies who had known Poe, and [page 244:] some who claimed they had, and on whom he was so completely dependent for source material, had kept him walking nervously, as on a knife edge, and had at times driven him quite close to that insanity which he daily feared. He could be ruthless with his correspondents when he had gotten from them all that he thought he could use in his work, but even he had not become so calloused or so completely obsessed with his work on Poe that he could see his long and intimate literary friendships with Mrs. Whitman and Mrs. Richmond come to their painful ends without feeling real compunction and regret.

In the six years between 1874 and 1880, Ingram had, in a real sense, presided over the dissolution of the “Poe Circle.” He had met many of these friends and associates of Poe’s personally or through correspondence, and he had established varying degrees of intimacy, sometimes bordering on proprietorship, over many of them just before they slipped away to their graves. By 1880, Mrs. Whitman, Mrs. Houghton, and “brave old” John Neal were gone; Stella Lewis was soon to follow; and Ingram was sorry they had not been able to stay to see his work on Poe finished. There was the other side, too, at these passings, at which the scholar-researcher part of his personality exulted openly: now that they were dead the whole stories of their associations of Poe could be told; he alone knew these stories, and he fully intended to tell them.

In the latter part of the decade, as Poe materials continued to pour into his hands daily, Ingram sorted, sifted, rejected, and accepted, with a canniness born of sometimes terrible and bitter experiences. At last, in the beginning of 1880, he turned over to the press manuscript and photographs enough to fill out a two-volume biography, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life, Letters, and Opinions. With Portraits of Poe and His Mother. The books were brought out by John Hogg, London, Paternoster Row, and they were off the press by mid-May, 1880.

Ingram was convinced that his volumes had the facts of Poe’s life so buttressed with proofs, that they were so comprehensive and that they contained so much fresh materials on Poe that they would unquestionably provide the world with the long-needed authoritative account of the poet’s life. He felt with equal sincerity that these two volumes would silence all of Poe’s detractors, as well as his own, and would remove the necessity for anyone else ever to publish another biography of Poe.


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 235:]

1.  W. J. Widdleton, a New York publisher, brought it out.

2.  See the Academy, March 13, 1875, pp. 262-63.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 236:]

3.  [Item 184]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 237:]

4.  Widdleton brought the book out but dated it 1876.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 239:]

5.  “The Bibliography of Edgar Poe,” Athenaeum, July 29, 1876, pp. 145-46.

6.   E. L. Didier, The Life and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: W. J. Widdleton, 1877).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 240:]

7.  This copy of Didier’s book is now in the Rare Book Collection of the University of Virginia Library. Inscribed, “This copy given to me by Mrs. Whitman, JHI,” it is copiously and angrily annotated by Ingram and contains as well some of Mrs. Whitman’s penciled marginal notes. Some one, presumably Ingram, gleefully clipped from a newspaper and pasted the following six lines of doggerel at the end of the Preface:

Dear D——, in your biography of Poe,

The real cause for rue is,

That what is true was published years ago,

And what is new not true is;

And the new poems that you tell about

Upon the title page, are all left out.

Francis Gerry Fairfield

Ingram could not have afforded to return to Mrs. Whitman this copy of Didier’s book which she had but lent to him; therefore, he told her that he had lent it to a “friend,” who had used it to write the review. Saying that he could not get it back, he offered to buy her a new one in its place. Mrs. Whitman’s sharp eyes were aging, but they would have detected Ingram’s derisive marginal comments and notes. Internal evidence shows that the article as it appeared in the Athenaeum expresses Ingram’s basic animosities; it is sprinkled with his favorite French phrases (one of the many writing habits Ingram tried to adopt in imitation of Poe’s writing); and the whole thing, style and tone included, points to Ingram as the author of most of the sarcastic article, if indeed not the whole of it.

8.  William F. Gill, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: C. T. Dillingham; Boston: W. F. Gill Company, 1877), 5.

9.  Ibid., 266.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 242:]

10.  [Item 716] Four columms [[columns]] clipped from the Mirror of Literature.

11.  Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe and Other Studies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933), 189.

12.  Ingram’s use of a pseudonym is interesting here, but it is entirely in keeping with his efforts to do at one time or another everything that Poe had done. After he sent the first of these articles in proof to Mrs. Whitman for “approval,” she playfully and affectionately addressed him as “Dear Don Felix” and attempted to analyze his own handwriting, but Ingram discouraged these things in her as tartly and abruptly as he did her beginning attempts to convert him to spiritualism.






[S:0 - JCMBPB, 1977] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Building Poe Biography (J. C. Miller) (Chapter 8)