Text: John Carl Miller, “Preface,” Building Poe Biography (1977), pp. xv-xix (This material is protected by copyright)


[page xv, unnumbered:]


POE BIOGRAPHY, as it has been known, was built almost single-handedly by the Englishman John Henry Ingram. Even though he was never able to visit the United States, Ingram worked in En gland, collecting and publishing materials about Poe’s life, character, and literary career, from the late 1860s until 1916, the year he died. His efforts and publications not only laid the foundations for Poe biography but they also erected most of the superstructure, for every biographical account of Poe that has been published from 1874 to this date owes most of its contents to Ingram’s discoveries and publications about Poe.

Ingram’s devotion to the memory of Poe and to his work on Poe biography is literally without parallel in the annals of biography. At times he worked carefully and painstakingly; at other times he behaved ferociously even to many of the persons who were sending him almost daily new materials about Poe. By nature Ingram was both irascible and volatile, and he often worked under strong emotional pressures. Moreover, he was badly handicapped by his strong predetermined notions of what Poe had really been like and what his biographer should reveal and what he should keep hidden; therefore, if materials reached Ingram which did not fit his preconceived ideas about Poe, he was perfectly capable of slanting them to fit, or of disregarding them altogether.

John Ingram’s collection of Poe materials in the University of Virginia Library contains more than one thousand letters, manuscripts, documents, photographs, and newsclippings — primary source materials sent to Ingram by various persons in response to his persistent inquiries and widespread, fervent appeals for help in writing his biographies of Poe. The wealth in these materials is by no means depleted, for most of [page xvi:] the letters and manuscripts reproduced here are published for the first time. Those partially published by Ingram were usually so garbled by him that succeeding biographers were misled, since Ingram never allowed anyone to see his materials in toto. Most of his materials had been gathered by 1878 and they remained in his keeping until his death in 1916, after which they were purchased by the University of Virginia in 1921, where, after a while, only a very few carefully selected students and Poe biographers were permitted access to them until they were put on microfilm in 1967.

The purpose of this volume is to present with editorial commentary these letters which are among the more important primary source materials Ingram used to build his biographies of Poe. Because Ingram seldom reproduced a letter or document or manuscript exactly as he received it, this provides that the many persons interested in Poe scholarship, especially future biographers, have available the foundation stones Ingram used, as he received them from persons who had been very close to Poe: his aunt and mother-in-law, Maria Poe Clemm; his sister Rosalie; Mrs. Marie Louise Shew Houghton;* and Annie Richmond.* William Hand Browne* of Johns Hopkins University and George W. Eveleth,* whose correspondence with Ingram is presented here, are among the few represented who did not know Poe personally. At the end of this volume there are bibliographies of Ingram’s many books and magazine and newspaper articles about Poe and other subjects. This is the first time anyone has ever compiled bibliographies of the almost incredible number of books and articles written by this energetic Englishman.

Volumes Two and Three are expected to follow, containing the large unpublished correspondence that passed between Ingram and Sarah Helen Whitman of Providence, Rhode Island, beginning in 1873 and ending at her death in 1878, as well as important articles about Poe and his works that Ingram wrote and published during the 1870s in magazines that are now almost inaccessible. Volume Four will pick up with Ingram’s struggles, achievements, and defeats, from 1880 through 1916, when he attempted to claim and hold an indefensible position as the sole arbiter of all things concerning Poe. Many of these situations were brought about, ironically, because Ingram had succeeded in amassing the largest and most valuable collection of primary source materials for Poe biography that anyone had ever owned.

As readers watch Poe biography slowly taking shape in these pages [page xvii:] that follow, it is important that they keep in mind that I have faithfully reproduced the contents of the holographs or copies exactly as they were sent to or made for Ingram, not as he quoted from them, directly or indirectly, in his many publications. When ellipses marks indicate omissions, they are either Ingram’s or his correspondents’, unless they are enclosed in brackets. Editorial comment within the letters is contained in single brackets, except in the notable case of the copies of letters sent by George W. Eveleth, who enclosed his own comments in brackets; in these letters alone editorial comment is enclosed in double brackets.

Faulty spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other grammatical errors, as well as paragraph structure, have been allowed to stand when in my opinion they were integral to the reader’s comprehension of the writers’ levels of education, emotional states, or personalities. When they grew monotonous or bordered on caricature after many repetitions, I silently corrected them, but at no time did I make any substantive changes in the texts; for I believe the contents of these letters and documents to be more important to Poe students and scholars than their individual writers’ slips in composition. Handwritten documents are perforce subject to interpretation, but every effort has been made to transcribe these as closely as possible, with allowance for conceding the writers the benefit of the doubt. In any cases where reproduced errors might mislead readers or be attributed to editorial carelessness, they have been indicated by sic. I have not attempted to reproduce in any of these letters the varieties of spacings used in the headings, salutations, and paragraph indentions, but in many cases spacing had to be used as a sort of punctuation, following the word spacing of the manuscripts.

Letters are grouped and numbered in sequence. Following the number of each letter the names of the writer and addressee are given, with addresses. After the names, I give the form in which Ingram re ceived some letters, if they were copied for him and by whom, or if he copied excerpts and returned the holograph to its owner; otherwise, readers can assume that all letters and documents are reproduced by me from the originals. Then I state whether I know or believe the letter to be unpublished or published only in part. The numbers in brackets that follow refer to the number of the item in the Ingram Poe Collection in the University of Virginia Library and in my book Ingram’s Poe Collection, published by the University of Virginia Press in 1960.

After each letter, the first paragraph of editorial commentary deals [page xviii:] with the relation the letter has to Poe biography, the use Ingram made of it in his volumes and/or articles, or whether he chose to ignore it. The second paragraph of editorial commentary identifies the persons, places, and situations mentioned. In order to avoid repetition, many of these names are identified in the Appendix, as indicated by asterisks following the first mention.

My gratitude for being able to work with the Ingram Poe Collection actually begins with librarian John S. Patton, who was partially responsible for bringing Ingram’s papers to the Alderman Library, and it continues down the list of his successors: the courtly Harry Clemons, the learned Jack Dalton, the brilliant John Cook Wyllie, and the present librarian, Ray W. Frantz, Jr. The unfailing courtesies of the curators of rare books and manuscripts, Messrs. William Runge, Francis L. Berkeley, Jr., Edmund Berkeley, Jr., and Miss Anne Freudenberg, and the ever-efficient help of their staffs, especially Messrs. Michael Plunkett and Gregory Johnson, are deeply appreciated.

I acknowledge with pleasure, too, the invaluable help given me in preparing this manuscript for the press by Mitchell Summerlin, graduate student in English at Old Dominion University, and by Dean Wadsworth, both my former students.

The gentle shade of James Southall Wilson has brooded over me and this work for a very long time, as has the seemingly acrimonious one of Armistead Churchill Gordon, Jr. Whatever the errors here, I cannot feel that these professor-mentors and friends would withhold all approval.

Acknowledgments and appreciations are due and extended to the Research Councils of Bridgewater College and the University of South Alabama for grants-in-aid which made summer traveling and research possible. Most especially am I indebted to the Research and Publications Committee and to the Research Foundation of Old Dominion University for the summer grant that freed me to complete this book.

All of the materials reproduced in this book are from the Ingram Poe Collection in the University of Virginia library except two of Maria Clemm’s letters, the originals of which are in the Poe Collection at the Josiah K. Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, and are so acknowledged in their headings. I am very grateful indeed to Saundra Taylor, curator of manuscripts, for allowing me to print these revealing letters.

Rosalie Poe’s letters and some of the material in Chapter III herein [page xix:] appeared first in my article “Poe’s Sister Rosalie,” printed in Tennessee Studies in Literature, VIII, 1963, 107-117, edited by Richard Beale Davis, and are here reprinted by permission of the University of Tennessee Press, copyright © 1963 by the University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

John C. Miller

Old Dominion University
November, 1976



John Carl Miller was born in 1916, and died in October 1979. At the time of his death, he had published the first three volumes of the proposed series, with volumes 2 and 3 combined into a single volume as Poe’s Helen Remembers (1979). His collection of research materials and notes were deposited in the special collections of the University of Virginia (Accession Number 5218-g).

In the original printing, there is a large gap of white space between the title and first line of text in this section. This spacing has only been slightly imitated in the current presentation.


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