Text: John Ward Ostrom, “Poe's Literary Labors and Rewards,” ­Myths and Reality­, Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1987, pp. 37-47


­[page 37:]  


John Ward Ostrom


I appreciate the opportunity to be here, and to consider with you Poe’s financial life, about which little has been said in detail; his bouts with alcohol, about which too much has been misunderstood and misrepresented, and finally his use of drugs which has been egregiously misinterpreted.

In 1940 I was an arrogant, easy-finger-pointing accuser of Poe’s neglect of his wife; his whining about money to his foster-father, friends, and later epistolary acquaintances; his too frequent elbow-bending at taverns in town; his attempt to run from life by ingesting laudanum in Boston. Now I am older. I see times of inordinate stress that would bow and grind to pulp almost any other man; I now see how faithful Poe was to his wife and marriage; I better understand how he came to drink, what he drank, and the subsequent periods of excessive depression culminating in extended periods of sickness — such as most of us never even approach; his single suicidal experience with laudanum — a Slough of Despond. Now, I may not like the man any better than I did years ago, but I would be a fool not to understand the reasons for his problems, not to sympathize with him for his suffocating disappointments, his fears and struggle with life — with little going for him but much determined to defeat him. I have come to recognize that because of adversities he produced much writing, some of it unparalleled; that he faced obstacles enough for two or three persons, and, despite all, gave his name ineluctably to literature. For an attempt to bring us closer to Edgar Allan we must begin with his financial struggles — only once was he over the poverty level of 1983.


Edgar Allan Poe’s financial life was perpetually precarious. His salary on the Southern Literary Messenger, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Graham’s Magazine, and the Broadway Journal as editor or as assistant editor has been stated, not always correctly, but his total annual income and current expenses have scarcely been treated at all. Throughout his professional life, especially July 1835 - October 1849, his annual income was below the equivalent of our 1983 poverty level every year except during his association with Graham, February 1841 - April 1842 (remember that, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, the dollar in 1840 was worth at least nine times ­[page 38:] today’s dollar. Still, Poe’s income was vastly inadequate). For tales and articles Godey paid Poe $5 a printed page, Graham, $4, and Burton $3, the Broadway Journal, $2, the Messenger, $1.60.

In October 1833 “MS. Found in a Bottle” won first prize of $50 in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter contest. Beginning with March 1835 Poe sold four tales to the Messenger. In July Thomas W. White invited him to join him in editing the Messenger. Poe has given varying amounts as the salary, but $624 a year is reasonable. Poe edited the magazine for eighteen months, July 1835 - January 1837, for $936. He also received $387 for additional contributions of reviews and articles, new and reprinted tales and poems including “The City in the Sea,” “Israfel,” and “To Helen.” All were written before he was twenty-two, all are now included among his best. Better-known poets commanded more than the $22 Poe received. Poe’s total eighteen-month income was $1323, in his day only a fair amount (Longfellow drew $3000 for a similar period).

From July 1835 - September 1835, Poe received for editing and contributions $175. His own room and board was $4 weekly, which left him $123 for all other expenses. Mrs. Clemm and Virginia joined him in October. Poe now had three mouths to feed. In the October-December quarter he received $192, he paid $117 for room and board, and he had left for all expenses for three only $75 - $60 if they moved to a “sweet little house . . . on Church Hill” for $5 a month. Poe, desperate for money, asked the Poe relatives in Georgia for financial help; they sent $150, which increased Edgar’s limited fund by $3 a week through 1836.

Poe quit the Messenger on 3 January 1837. In three weeks the family moved to New York City, and by February they were settled in at a boarding house on Sixth Street and Waverley Place. Later they moved to 113 1/2 Carmine Street, where Mrs. Clemm kept a boarding table. The next eighteen months must have seemed endless to the Poe family. Edgar failed to establish himself as a writer. His income for the period was only $52. By 19 July 1838 the Poes went to Philadelphia and boarded with Mrs. C. Jones, 202 Mulberry (Arch) Street, but after 4 September they moved to the “small house” mentioned in Poe’s correspondence. Here they remained for four years. Mrs. Clemm may have run a boarding table, or done some sewing, or begged money from acquaintances. Their last residence in Philadelphia was 234 North Seventh Street, above Spring Garden. During summer 1838 Poe sold “Ligeia” for $10 to his friend Nathan C. Brooks of Baltimore, for his new magazine the American Museum (little enough for a masterpiece). Brooks also bought “The Haunted Palace” ($5) for his April number. Without a steady job for two-and-one-half years, Poe apparently earned a total of $143.50, or 16¢ a day.

On 1 June 1839 Poe joined Burton’s in Philadelphia. His salary as an assistant to William E. Burton, editor and publisher, was $10 a week — after twenty-six weeks, $50 a month. Poe stayed with Burton only one year. For his ninety-five printed pages of reviews and articles he received only salary, ­[page 39:] but he did earn $24 extra for “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which included a reprint of “The Haunted Palace.” Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque appeared in autumn 1839, but Poe’s only pay was a few copies. He also sold “William Wilson,” one of his best tales, for $50 to the 1840 Gift, an annual, and then reprinted it in Burton’s for $24.

From June 1839 - June 1840 Poe’s total income was $821. In a letter, June 1840, to Burton Poe commented: “You state that you can no longer afford to pay $50 per month for 2 or 3 pp. of M.S. Your error here can be shown by reference to the Magazine.” Poe then lists a total of 132 pages for his year’s work. “Nothing is counted,” he added, “but bona-fiede composition. Eleven pages at $3 per page would be $33, at the usual Magazine prices. Deduct this from $50, my monthly salary, and we have left $17 per month, or $4 25/100 per week, for the services of proof-reading; general superintendence at the printing-office; reading, alteration, & preparation of M.S.S., with compilation of various articles, such as Plate articles, Field Sports &c. Neither has anything been said of my name upon your title page, a small item you will say — but still something as you know Snowden pays his editresses $2 per week each for their names solely. Upon the whole I am not willing to admit that you have greatly overpaid me” (Ostrom 129-133). William Burton and Poe were incompatible. The employee worked hard; his employer belittled his work. Poe wrote a friend: “I retired from his office in uncontrolable disgust at his chicanery, arrogance, ignorance, brutality” (Ostrom 156).

Jobless again, Poe resumed efforts to float his own magazine, believing that “20,000 subscribers would be an annual fortune of 70 or 80,000 dollars.” Burton sold out to George Graham in October, and in February 1841 Poe joined him as book review editor; he never was the editor. Poe’s annual salary was $800, with supplemental pay for contributions. For the April Graham’s Magazine he wrote “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” ($56) probably his best-known tale today. For the May 1842 number he wrote “The Masque of the Red Death” ($12), one of his greatest. He reviewed Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge for February 1842, from which he probably got his idea for “The Raven”; he also reviewed Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales for the May number, defining the short story as a unified, coherent tale in which every word contributes to singleness of purpose.

By late fall of 1841 Poe must have been further motivated to establish his own magazine, for he saw Graham’s grow from about 5000 subscribers in October 1840 to an estimated 50,000 a year later. Poe must have envied Graham’s wealth. On 1 April 1842 he left Graham in the midst of his own good fortune. He told a friend his reason for quitting was its “namby-pamby character.” While employed by Graham his salary was $899; but counting also his pay for contributions his total for the 13 1/2 months was $1177. Poe must have been humiliated by his pay of $4 a printed page when some others were receiving $12. ­[page 40:]

It was two years and eleven months after Poe quit Graham’s before he became an associate editor of the Broadway Journal in New York. In the interim he sold “The Pit and the Pendulum” ($38) to the Gift for 1843. His total income for the rest of 1842 was $121.25. In 1843 he sold three of his best tales: “The Tell-Tale Heart” ($10), “The Black Cat” ($20), and “The Gold-Bug,” which won the Dollar Newspaper short-story contest for $100. Poe noted: “It obtained the premium and made a great noise” (Ostrom 356-357). It was reprinted and sold over 300,000 copies; then it was adapted as a play in Philadelphia, 8 August 1843. Total income from the story was only the $100 prize.

Early in 1843 Poe attempted two projects, but both failed. One of his proposed pamphlet series (and the only one printed) contained “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Man That was Used Up.” It sold for 12 1/2¢; today it is worth at least $50,000. During the winter Poe gave a series of six lectures in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. They were highly praised by the press, one critic calling them “superior to all lectures ever delivered before the Wirt Institute.” Generous attendance at all six lectures may have paid Poe a total of $100. A fair estimate of his income for 1843 would be $252 from writings and half the conjectured lecture fees (We may hope that the December lecture brought some Christmas joy to the “small house” on North Seventh Street).

On 6 April 1844 Poe and Virginia, temporarily leaving Mrs. Clemm behind, headed for New York again. They found a third-floor-back on Greenwich Street for $7 a week, and the first breakfast must have really opened their eyes: “We had excellent-flavored coffee, hot and strong . . . veal cutlets, elegant ham & eggs . . . Tomorrow I am going to try & borrow 3$ — so that I may have a fortnight to go upon” (Ostrom 251-252). During 1844 articles, lectures, and tales — one of which was his famous “The Purloined Letter” ($12), brought his total income to $424. The inadequacy of this sum for a year’s work may explain why Poe sought nepenthe in drink.

By 8 March 1845 Poe become one of the editors of the Broadway Journal. His most famous poem, “The Raven,” published in January, may have paid him $9. Of “The Raven” and “The Gold-Bug,” Poe wrote: “The bird beat the bug, though, all hollow” (Ostrom 287). In July Wiley and Putnam published his Tales. Poe received 8¢ each as royalty, a good rate. Within five months 1500 copies were sold — royalty for Poe, $120, but he got nothing because he had already borrowed $135 as an advance. His lectures were not financially very successful. For the year he made $549 less his indebtedness to the publishers and to the friends who later lent him money — perhaps $150 or more — to buy the Journal; these debts probably never were repaid. On 25 October 1845 Poe walked into his office at the Broadway Journal, 304 Broadway and Duane Street, and surveyed his very own domain at last. On 3 January 1846 Poe left his office and locked the door. The Broadway Journal was dead. ­[page 41:]

Poe faced 1846 without a job — in fact he would never again have one. Besides a series of articles, “The Literati” for Godey ($172), Graham bought “The Philosophy of Composition” ($8); Godey published one of Poe’s most famous tales, “The Cask of Amontillado” ($15). Poe’s total income for 1846 was $307. In summer of 1846 the Poes moved, for the last time, to West Farms, Fordham (now the Poe Cottage), rented for $100 a year. It was near the Harlem Railroad, fourteen miles from New York; trains ran every four hours. The small cottage had five rooms: one very small, a parlor, and a kitchen, on the ground floor; two rooms upstairs for Mrs. Clemm’s bedroom and Poe’s study, which had a fireplace, the only upstairs source of heat. The move was made for bettering Virginia’s health; but she died 30 January 1847.

Little is known about Poe in 1847, clearly a very difficult year. He wrote only seventeen letters, a few suggesting a protracted illness. He won libel suit he had filed the previous year against The Mirror for $225. He sold “Ulalume,” (maybe $20), one of his most significant poems. Poe’s total income for 1847 was possibly $287. This sum seems grossly inadequate when one considers his expenses: lawyer’s fee, $4.33 monthly rent, railroad fare to and from New York, and the cost of firewood, food, and all necessities. The expenses of Virginia’s funeral seem to have been paid largely by friends.

Eureka: A Prose Poem was published in June 1848 by George P. Putnam, who gave Poe an advance of $14, which is probably all he was ever paid for it, besides a few copies. Poe wrote in the preface: “It is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.” “The Bells” was printed in full after his death. He had received about $45 for the three versions sold over a two-year period. He had three lectures in 1848 in New York, Lowell, and Providence. Total income for 1848 was possibly $166.

The opening days of 1849 were prelude to Poe’s last year of hope, struggle, despair, and final dissolution. He sold “Hop Frog,” a horror tale of sadistic culmination; perhaps implicit in the terrifying conclusion is a hint of Poe’s own catastrophe. In May he wrote Mrs. Richmond that he had composed “Annabel Lee.” He sold it for $10; it appeared after his death. In the summer he lectured in Richmond and Norfolk ($75). Income for his last year was perhaps $274.

If Poe had lived a little longer he just might have doubled the annual income of his year with Graham’s Magazine, or edited the poems of Mrs. Loud of Philadelphia for $100. The next lecture in Richmond might has drawn twice the audience and twice the money. If Patterson of Oquawka, Illinois, had financed the bright-starred Stylus, he might have become rich like Graham and Godey. If he had urged Elmira Royster Shelton of Richmond, she might actually have married him. Yes, he might even . . . . But as it was he died essentially penniless.

Poe’s total earnings as professional author, poet, editor, and lecture were about $6200. Let’s see how much that really was:

Today’s poverty level for a family of three is $7700. Over a fourteen-year period it would total $108,000. ­[page 42:]

During his fourteen years as head of a family of three, Poe earned $6200. With the dollar of his day worth nine times its value today, Poe’s income of $6200 would be worth today about $56,000.

Thus Poe’s total lifetime earnings amounted to one-half the present 1983 poverty level. Even if Poe’s dollar was worth 17 times the dollar today, his total income value still would be about half today’s level.

As Poe wrote Burton when assessing his worth to the magazine: “Upon the whole I am not willing to admit that you have greatly overpaid me.”

Edgar Allan Poe, one of the world’s great writers, struggled through fourteen years of adversity and affliction to establish a home with security and love. His sole means of payment were less than half the poverty level today.

Not greatly overpaid, indeed!


No man of Poe’s quality, seen so far in his struggles against poverty and failure to achieve self-determined goals, should have had to carry the additional burden of illness caused by alcohol and even dementia. For Poe did drink, often to excess, and fought it, as probably his best friend said, “as hard as ever Coleridge fought against” opium. But what should really be said when one is asked, “Did Poe drink?” The answer must be “yes,” but he deserves more. Much more! And I hope that some defense will be suggested by the following comments.

I could serve up the castigations and defamations — a few will do — in addition to the brazen lies told by Rufus W. Griswold, Poe’s self-appointed literary executor. But his villainies have long been judged for what they really were. There is Thomas Dunn English, a physician and writer who, long after Poe’s death, wrote that on his way home one rainy evening he paused to lift a drunken man out of the gutter. He was amazed to find that the man was Edgar Poe. Burton apparently spewed abroad accusations of Poe’s incessant drinking. James Russell Lowell joins the “hit and run” judges of Poe’s derelictions with “I found him a little soggy with drink — not tipsy — but as if he had been holding his head under a pump to cool it” (Mrs. Clemm’s rejoinder was “My darling Eddie . . . was not himself”). Lambert Wilmer, journalist, poet and early friend of Poe, wrote that Edgar “is not a teetotaller by any means, and I fear he is going to destruction, moral, physical, and intellectual.”

Poe’s real friends defend. George R. Graham, for whom he served as an editor of Graham’s, was one of Poe’s staunchest supporters, who understood his weaknesses and struggles. He wrote [[that]], when Poe was without a job: “He suffered all the horrors of prospective destitution, with scarcely the ability of providing for immediate necessities; and at such moments . . . the tempter often came and . . . one glass of wine made him a madman.” Jesse E. ­[page 43:] Dow, a Washington friend, remarked on Poe’s trip to the capital to solicit of President Tyler a position in the customs office: “On the first evening he seemed somewhat excited, having been over-persuaded to take some port wine.” As usual, Poe became ill and returned to Philadelphia without having the expected interview. Poe’s cousin William Poe cautioned him against “the enemy” of the family — “A too free use of the bottle” that had been practiced by Edgar’s father and brother. Even Mrs. Frances S. Osgood wrote: “Poe’s sorrow and pecuniary embarrassments drove him to use stimulants” (Quinn 378, 664 and 676).

Over the years well-intentioned but quite superficial comments contributed to the obscure and contradictory data on Poe. Too many calumniators have execrated him on the basis of hasty generalizations and second-hand information. Even the weird photographs taken of him during his last years have contributed to the murky legend. Suppose, for example, you had looked over Poe’s shoulder for many years as he wrote letter to patrons, editors, and friends. You heard him beg money with which to feed and clothe his family, to build up a subscription list for his dream magazies, first The Penn, and then The Stylus. You heard his frantic cries of despair when he feared to lose Virginia — first, as his sweetheart, to the protection of her Baltimore relatives, and later, as his wife, to death itself. You watched him pen encomiums on the inane works of the literati in order to scratch up bread money, although he was elsewhere a rigorous and perceptive critic. You saw him wound himself, often without cause, in the battles over plagiarism. You sat beside him as he wrote long love letters after his wife’s death — to one woman in particular, with whom he sought a haven but against whom, paradoxically, his heart rebelled. On occasion you trailed him into wastelands of mental and physical illnesses from which he struggled back, scarred and half mad. You were with him in Richmond during those last frantic days and nights when he cried out that he was sick in his soul with an “unaccountable sadness” (but you knew that his illness really resulted from a longing that had mastered him since Virginia’s death). If these had been your experiences, would you not be ready to say that somewhere within their periphery lay the answers to many problems that have arisen concerning Edgar Allan Poe?

One question without a satisfactory answer has to do with Poe and alcohol. It is not enough to say that he drank. He deserves an explanation. Poe knew that for him even the most moderate indulgence in alcohol was a great deal too much. He had absolutely no resistance, in the physical sense, to the effects of alcohol, and only a precarious defense against that first drink. When he did succumb, it was not to hard liquor. He took only wine, beer, champagne, or cider — and these in limited quantities except when over-persuaded and made the “sport of senseless creatures who, like oysters, keep sober, and gape and swallow everything.” He confessed that he never loved dissipation, and he and close friends blamed “socialability” for his indiscretions. He early learned that alcohol invariably made him ill, often for ­[page 44:] long periods, and that if he continued he subsequently suffered the physical and mental torments usually reserved for confirmed drunkards.

One price of genius often seems to be hypersensitivity in emotion and intellect. More profoundly than most others, Poe was greatly depressed by reversal of fortune, separation from loved ones, insecurity, and what to him was the frightful enigma of death. We must therefore recognize that his reluctant submission to alcohol coincided with emotional stress fraught with desperation, and all too often abetted by casual companions. After a spotty career in Boston, in the army, and at West Point, he settled with his aunt Maria Clemm and her family in Baltimore. It is difficult to understand the deep affection that developed in Poe for his young cousin Virginia Clemm during his stay there. She was almost nine when they met; he was twenty-two. But the recognition of his obsessive love for her becomes essential to any understanding of his abberrations with alcohol. Poe was undergoing just such stress in September 1835 when Thomas White, publisher of the Messenger, for whom he was working, told him that “No man is safe who drinks before breakfast . . . Separate yourself from the bottle and bottle companions forever” (Quinn 229). Poe had recently received a letter from Mrs. Clemm that cousin Virginia had been invited to live with her half-sister and her husband, Neilson Poe, in Baltimore. Sensing their disapproval of his feeling for Virginia, now thirteen, Edgar feared he would never see his Sissy again. In desperation Poe wrote his aunt and Virginia to join him in Richmond. To Virginia he added: “My love, my own sweetest Sissy, my darling little wifey, think well before you break the heart of your cousin.” He signed it “Eddy” (Ostrom 69-71). Here cries a soul from the “misty mid-regions of Weir,” Poe’s private Hell. Here you and I must suspend our disbelief in the legitimacy of Poe’s affection and tenderness for Virginia. For here is strong evidence to help us understand Poe’s psychological reaction to Virginia’s going to the Neilson Poes, to her ultimate death from consumption, and to his subconscious sense of her spiritual presence as expressed in his poems and in his life from then to his own tortured death two years later.

Mrs. Clemm and Virginia came to Richmond in October 1835; eight months later Poe and Sissy were married. With his mind at ease and a steady job at the Messenger, Poe became a capable editor and an astute critic; in time he wrote great tales like “Ligeia,” William Wilson,” [[and]] “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Between January 1837 and June 1839 the Poes tried New York, then Philadelphia, but existed without a steady income until June 1839, when Poe became an editor of Burton’s. Then, in one year, he was foot-loose again. His attempt to establish his own periodical The Penn failed; somehow the family existed until February 1841 when Poe joined the staff of Graham’s. A year later, as if Fate begrudged Poe a brief respite with peace of mind, Virginia burst a blood vessel in her throat while singing. In time tuberculosis developed, leading to her almost total invalidism. Now Poe faced a premonition of losing Sissy altogether.

Poe left Graham’s in April 1842 “with the May number.” He resumed fruitless attempts to establish his own magazine, now called the Stylus. In ­[page 45:] June 1843 he won $100 for “The Gold-Bug,” but published The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe without financial success. Desperate, Poe through friends tried for a government position in the Philadelphia Customs House. An Interview was set up with a representative of President Tyler. Poe went to Washington in March 1843, but before the interview could be held he drank too much to allay his excitement over the prospect of steady employment, became very sick, and returned to Philadelphia without meeting his appointment.

The next day he wrote his friend Frederick W. Thomas, apologizing for his “spreeing.” Thomas noted on the back of the envelope, not intended for anyone to read, what is perhaps the most sympathtic, accurate, and revealing single testimonial of Poe’s problem with alcohol: “Poor fellow, a place had been promised his friends for him, and in that state of suspense . . . he presented himself in Washington not in a way to advance his interests. I have seen a great deal of Poe, and it was his excessive and at times marked sensibility which forced him into his ‘frolics’, rather than any mere appetite for drink, but if he took but one glass of weak wine or beer or cider, the Rubicoon of the cup was passed with him, and it almost always ended in excess and sickness” (Ostrom 228-230).

If ever there was a man on whom the Fates worked a malevolent design, that man was Edgar Allan Poe. No sooner had he moved to New York in 1844, there to reaffirm his genius by writing outstanding short stories, fearless criticisms, and the phenomenally successful poem “The Raven,” than domestic affliction and fear of serious personal illness beset him. Though he published his Tales and The Raven and Other Poems in 1845, they brought him little or no financial return; though he gained full control of The Broadway Journal, it died within three months for lack of financial support. In 1845 and 1846 as well, poverty and misery inevitably tightened their relentless grip on the almost helpless Poe family, forcing Edgar further into labyrinthine despair.

Virginia’s fatal illness only compounded her husband’s unrelieved agonies of flesh and mind. Except for damages received from his libel suit, Poe earned only $62.75 in 1847, misfortune sufficient to drive him to the very edge of insanity — and to spirits for relief. He and his friends knew that the drinking was the result of insanity. When melancholy possessed him, he drank to escape the agony of the nightmarish catalog of frustration and grief that was the chronicle of his life. The escape, however, was more harrowing than the evil that induced it. Poe was denied even anesthesia. Virginia died 30 January 1847. In that tragedy the climax of Poe’s life was reached. During the next twenty months the vein ran out. Frequent illness, probably caused by drinking, continued poverty, disappointments, and a new insuperable loneliness hounded Poe to the end. Virginia had been the anchor for his life; in her death he lost the mooring his fragile craft needed. Mrs. Clemm became his only real comfort; he clung to her as does a child to its mother’s dress. Away from her, he was still that child, often terrified that she would die before returned home. ­[page 46:]

In time three women entered his life, two from New England. He would have married either one. But Annie Richmond was already married; Helen Whitman, a widow, broke a possible engagement because Poe was seen drinking in public at a hotel bar (I really think that Poe was glad when the engagement was broken). A third, a widow in Richmond, with whom Poe may have had a youthful attachment, was possibly engaged to him when he died.

Very early in November 1848 mental and emotional stress resulted in Poe’s buying two ounces of laudanum and going to Boston on 8 November, where he swallowed half of it.* The dose was massive and its effect was to make him violently ill. This is the single occasion on which Poe is definitely known to have taken drugs. In all probability he took modified drugs prescribed by a doctor, as many people have always done, and still do.

Pursued by the ever-present harpies of poverty, insecurity, sickness, and an “unaccountable sadness,” Poe struggled into the spring of 1849. Up and down, up and down, he was like a man on a carrousel riding in and out of the fog. The sun shone intermittently: He received praise for lectures, comfortable welcomes from friends in Lowell, Philadelphia, and Richmond; promises from E. H. N. Patterson to help finance The Stylus. But constantly there were fears that Mrs. Clemm would die before she reached him; the shame of being arrested in Philadelphia, if indeed he was, for being drunk; and the intolerable longing for Sissy.

All was futility. Late in September Poe set out for Philadelphia to edit a lady’s poems. Not long after his departure, however, he was found in Baltimore in very serious condition. Since it was election day, had he possibly been drugged or made drunk and forced to vote in several polling places? Had nostalgia for the happiness he had once experienced in Maria Clemm’s home, the joy of being with a family again, the affection he had shared with the lovely Virginia — had these drawn him back to Mechanics Row, Wilkes Street? Whatever the answer, he was removed to Washington College Hospital. Poe’s struggles with life were finally over. He died on 7 October with a prayer on his lips: “Lord help my poor soul.” It is ironic that his last breath invoked a blessing from a neglected God.


I would like to leave you with some food for thought. Note the following characteristics of an ailment that may have been Poe’s problem. ­[page 47:] Unaware of it he may have increased its pernicious effects on his system which brought him finally to a coma in the street and to death in the hospital:

Unregulated sugar in the blood
Damaged beta cells in the body
Improper foods to keep blood level down
Severe emotional stress
Too much alcohol, especially sweet wines
Acidosis leading to coma and even death

You may recognize these symptoms of diabetes, which was not always identified nor properly treated in Poe’s day. But, a diabetic untreated was most likely to die. Of course, you cannot very well prove it now. But on cold winter nights while you are trying to get warm, you might ponder the possibility of proving that Poe did not really die of drink. At least, diabetic would be a lesser condemnation of Poe’s physical infirmity than drunken sot.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 46:]

* Laudanum is a tincture of opium. One ounce equals two tablespoons. 1/16 of one tablespoon is a proper dose. Poe drank one ounce or two tablespoons.



This publication is based on lectures delivered at the rededication of the Sir Moses Ezekiel statue of Poe at the Univeristy of Baltimore in 1983.

Some minor typographical errors in the original printing of this lecture have here been silently corrected.

© 1987 and 1998, by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.

The comment about oysters is taken from a letter written by J. E. Dow to T. C. Clarke, March 12, 1843 (see Quinn, p. 378).

In the original printing, the reference in the middle of page 39 to “(Ostrom 156)” appeared as “(Ibid 156),” but has been changed here for the sake of modern readers who are not familiar with the use of such latin terms.


[S:1 - MAR, 1987] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Lectures - Myths and Reality - Poe's Literary Labors and Rewards (J. W. Ostrom, 1987)