Text: Kent Ljungquist and Cameron Nickles, “Elizabeth Oakes Smith on Poe: A Chapter in the Recovery of his Nineteenth-Century Reputation,” Poe and His Times: The Artist and His Milieu, Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1990, pp. 235-246 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 235, unnumbered:]



New York literary society of the 1840s enjoyed soirdes at which those in attendance listened to occasional poetic recitations, exchanged polite valentines, and heard the most recent gossip. These gatherings provided not only a convenient forum for literary small-talk but also a foundation for subsequent reminiscences about the major and minor literati of the time. A frequenter of these affairs was Elizabeth Oakes Smith, wife of the new England humorist Seba Smith, author of The Jack Downing Letters. This period in New York furthered her literary career as she was gaining a wider poetic reputation and solidifying her feminist principles, which would reach full expression in Woman and Her Needs (1852). Smith also recorded impressions of the famous literati with whom she came into personal contact, absorbing anecdotal material that would become part of personal reminiscences and a full autobiographical memoir. Among such literary figures was Rufus Griswold, who basked in the attention of women writers as he edited their works. Smith also became acquainted with Sarah Helen Whitman, Frances Sargent Osgood, and Anne Lynch; moreover, her contacts reached outside the realm of women’s poetry and New York society in general to include Ralph Waldo Emerson and Charles Fenno Hoffman. Another entrant to this literary mise en scène was Edgar Allan Poe, whose critical reputation was later almost permanently damaged because of Griswold’s stinging memoir. A tradition in defense of Poe also emerged at this time, partially because of women who knew him in the 1840s and who felt compelled to answer Griswold’s careless rebuke. Beginning in 1858, Elizabeth Oakes Smith launched an opening salvo in what would be a sustained campaign to counter Griswold’s attack. Focussing [[Focusing]] more on the person than the writer, she made one of the earliest attempts to disentangle the legend created by Griswold from Poe’s career.

Smith’s earliest published commentary on Poe anticipated by two years Sarah Helen Whitman’s Edgar Poe and His Critics (1860), which stimulated a wholesale revaluation of his critical reputation. As the correspondence between Whitman and Poe’s British biographer John Henry Ingram indicates,(1) a painstaking attempt to correct Griswold’s gross inaccuracies proceeded while vilifications like those of R. H. Stoddard continued. Smith’s unique perspective on Poe has received scant attention, perhaps because her even-handed comments echo neither his most famous champions nor his most infamous detractors. [page 236:]

Nevertheless, her series of periodical articles between 1858 and 1876 provides some of the amplest portraiture of Poe by any of his contemporaries: “Mrs. Oakes Smith’s articles on Poe are illuminating productions and perhaps the most unprejudiced of descriptions by his contemporaries. She is alone in preserving C. F. Hoffman’s remarks on ‘The Raven,’ the finest I have met in reading about Poe.”(2) Rivaling neither Ingram’s pioneering contributions for biographical accuracy nor Whitman’s important volume for penetrating insight,(3) her comments will interest students of Poe and his times on several scores. These articles mark a sometimes critical, generally balanced evaluation of Poe, explicitly counter to Griswold’s baneful legacy. Unpublished comments in Smith’s “Autobiography,” moreover, enhance her sympathetic portrait of Poe in the light of tensions in her life and career. Finally and most interestingly for students of the nineteenth-century literary subculture dubbed the Poe Cult, Smith illuminates her contentious relationships with Whitman and Ingram, each vying for attention in efforts to remove the stain from Poe’s reputation. In sum, if we connect Smith’s articles, unpublished reminiscences, and letters on Poe with the Ingram-Whitman relationship, we can learn more about the respective motives of Ingram, the antiquarian scholar of Poe, and Whitman, the poet’s most ardent nineteenth-century defender.

Poe’s exposure to the poetry of Elizabeth Oakes Smith, known initially to him only as the wife of Jack Downing’s creator, preceded their meeting. He reviewed differing editions of The Poetical Writings of Elizabeth Oakes Smith, his first essay appearing in the 23 August 1845 Broadway Journal and the second in the December 1845 Godey’s Lady’s Book (H12: 228-233); 13: 78-93). His initial response was lukewarm. The first review denigrates the “somewhat forced conception” of Smith’s most famous poem “The Sinless Child,” a piece she would perceive as having affinities with Poe’s Eureka.(4) Poe turns the remainder of the review to charging Longfellow with plagiarism from Smith’s poem “The Water.” A similar skepticism appears in Godey’s. Citing “The Sinless Child” as “one of the most original of American poems” (H13: 79), Poe claimed that its “conception is much better than its execution”; it possesses an “indeterminate air” with only “traces of high poetic capacity.”

The first meeting of Smith and Poe thus took place in an atmosphere of tension and defensiveness, since she may have felt compelled to defend her husband’s writings against Poe’s animadversions.(5) Poe’s comments about her poetry,(6) harsher than his somewhat uncritical response to that of other female authors, also may have made her ill-disposed to meet him. Nevertheless, as reported in her first memoir, “Edgar A. Poe,” in the United States Magazine in [page 237:] 1858 (1: 262-268), she tried to show no malice when they met at the literary soirées of Anne Lynch sometime in 1845. Largely on the basis of these conversations at the homes of Lynch and other New York literati, Smith drafted her memoirs of Poe. These meetings occurred when both were on cordial terms with Griswold, whom Smith continued grudgingly to respect despite what she regarded as his inhuman treatment of Poe.(7) Without naming Griswold in the first installment of her developing portrait, Smith charges that Poe was victimized by “great injustice . . . both to the character and the man.” In sum, her initial essay marks an attempt to correct biographical inaccuracies, to give a moral estimation, and to comment on his literary output. Acknowledging that Poe was given to excesses, especially from an infirm moral education during his youth, she claims that he “had no appetite for the life of the debauchee.” She balances censorious comments, altogether excised from subsequent essays, with corrections of Griswold’s charges: “That Edgar A. Poe has been sinned against by the press at large and biographers in particular, is not a subject of doubt . . . . “ Charging Poe with a “profound selfism, and reckless disregard for all interests,” she nonetheless says: “His character and genius are, perhaps, more remarkable than any which have appeared among us for the same opportunity afforded for analytical investigation.” Opposing the slander of Griswold to the claims of those who would prefer to canonize Poe, Smith’s comments on “character” mark the first step in what she would later see as a “mental analysis”(8) of Poe, a phrase suggesting phrenological claptrap but indicating Smith’s dedicated concern to uncover Poe’s idiosyncrasies.

Having developed an estimation of Poe the man, Smith devotes the remainder of her essay to a knowledgeable, if somewhat idiosyncratic, assessment of his writings. Unwilling to place Poe “in the higher ranks” of the poets, she grasps his rejection of passion as an unsuitable subject for poetry and his poetic thrust for high, unearthly beauty. She acknowledges his “weird startling vocabulary,” which alerts the reader “to the high, cold realms of the imagination, where we yield instinctively as to a wizard spell.” According to Smith, Poe’s verse is replete with images of sleep, mystery, and dreams. Subsequently, she would impute Poe’s fascination with a transcendent world to his temperamental desire to be “living in dreams” and to be “bedeviled by the real.”(9) For the purposes of her 1858 essay she quickly designates the quintessence of his poetic output as “The Raven,” then just as abruptly dismisses its explained origin. Not naming Charles Fenno Hoffman, she quotes his penetrating summation of the meaning in that poem: “It is the image of despair brooding above all earthly wisdom.” Endorsing neither Poe’s poetic subject matter nor his versification, [page 238:] Smith acknowledges their seductive appeal, the expressive, “dirge-like quality of his muse.”

Just as Smith tempers her enthusiasm for Poe’s poetry, she admits reservations about his fiction. As in her response to his verse, though, she acknowledges the visceral attraction of the tales: “We have no sympathy with his characters or their surroundings, but he holds us, nevertheless, as the ancient mariner held his victim; we read on with ghastly interest, we hurry on to the close, we cannot escape; we are not pleased but fascinated, and that is his power, a sort of serpent — holding that we cannot resist. He was a truly demonized man — a man possessed — in other words a man of genius.” In this tribute to Poe’s genius, Smith harks back to the ancient concept of the “daemon,” the classical connotations of which linked possession with skill, knowledge, and artistic inspiration.(10)

Smith’s initial responses to Poe’s critical powers are ambivalent. Calling him “bold, startling, pretentious, but utterly unreliable,” she adds: “He was totally dishonest as a critic, not always knowingly so, it may be not at all knowingly.” She subsequently laments that no contemporary critic musters comparable trenchancy or courage — echoing the nineteenth-century sentiments about Poe’s “tomahawking” style as a critic, a characterization that had wide distribution during the “Longfellow War.”

Despite effusive praise for Poe’s genius and an attempt at “mental analysis” of “character,” the 1858 memoir contains several inaccuracies. Smith announces Poe’s birth date as 1811, also mistakenly identifying the location as Baltimore. She alludes to the legend that Elizabeth Arnold Poe was somehow related to the traitor Benedict Arnold. Such errors are ironic because her expressed desire in writing to Ingram in the 1870s was to provide accurate information for the biography that would lay to rest erroneous legends. Though Ingram desired information about his subject from any source, he suspected biographical speculations provided by Smith, who overemphasized the alleged amorous connection between Poe and Lizzie White, daughter of the proprietor of the Southern Literary Messenger. All the more ironic are Smith’s explicit wishes for biographical accuracy about her own life, a concern for truth that would approach personal obsession when she drafted her own autobiography.(11) Her most egregious factual error, one that she would unfortunately repeat, concerns an assault by a stranger before Poe’s death in Baltimore. The discussion stimulating the greatest controversy, one that raised the ire of Whitman and Ingram, focussed [[focused]] on Poe’s notorious relationships with women. Springing to his defense, Smith contends that Poe was never treacherous to women. She cites his attraction to a “lady of rare genius and deep spiritualism,” without mentioning Whitman by name. She quotes Poe to the effect that a [page 239:] woman of pure spirit would have helped him surmount his personal problems after the death of Virginia. Smith may have intended here a fairly innocuous comment on the “angel-mission of woman,” a hallmark of her brand of nineteenth-century feminism; her mentioning the “myriad little loves which make up the experience of the world,” however, minimized the importance of Whitman in Poe’s life when Smith was publicly revealing Poe’s late amour, which the knowledgeable literati immediately recognized as his attachment to Whitman.(12) Thus, while supporting a poet who had been traduced by Griswold, “Edgar A. Poe” also brought Smith center stage in the cause for biographical accuracy, soon to become a bitter fray involving Whitman and Ingram.

Whitman’s response to Smith, which contributed to her ultimate rift with Ingram, appeared in a subsequent issue of the United States Magazine.(13) Calling Smith’s estimate of Poe “most kind and tolerant,” one serving to remove “some undeserved imputations,” Whitman questioned the allegation about Poe’s dishonesty. In private dealings and in literary expression, Whitman found Poe thoroughly genuine, but she tendered a comment that she would regret when correspondence with Ingram began. She called Poe “vindictive, revengeful, and unscrupulous in the use of expedients to attain his ends.”

Much of the material in Smith’s “Edgar A. Poe” was reprinted in a subsequent paper retitled “Autobiographic Notes,” published in 1867.(14) The differences between Smith’s “Edgar A. Poe” and “Autobiographic Notes” lie less in their respective commentaries on Poe than in their relationship to divergent genres. “Edgar A. Poe” is a character sketch cum literary analysis, combining factual data and conventional interpretation. In contrast “Autobiographic Notes” constitutes one of the set-pieces that Smith envisioned for her “Autobiography.” As such, her piece on Poe, one of a series of autobiographical memoirs prepared for Beadle’s Monthly in the 1860s, is uncharacteristic of the “Autobiography” overall, most of which she composed in the 1880s. Large portions of the “Autobiography” deal with personal traumas and tensions, reflecting her incapacity to reconcile the puritanical and freethinking strains in her family heritage.(15) Her 1867 piece on Poe, one of the more public sections of the “Autobiography,” represents her desire to play personal problems against public personae. Nevertheless, Smith filters her impressions of the “public Poe” through the consciousness of an autobiographical narrator.

Smith’s revisions give a clearer chronological overview of Poe’s career than her treatment in the United States Magazine. She excises mention of Griswold’s charges, largely because she casts herself in the [page 240:] role of a more exacting autobiographical and biographical reporter. She expands her literary analysis, comparing Poe favorably with Byron and Shelley. Perhaps heeding the criticism she received from Whitman, she deletes the section on Poe’s dishonesty as a critic. More appropriate in an autobiographical memoir, her treatment becomes anecdotal with personal matters intruding upon public pronouncements: she alludes to her husband’s sensitivity about Poe’s criticism of the Downing Letters, to Emerson’s indifference to “The Raven,” and to Hoffman’s (identified by name) praise for the same poem. Discussion of the salutary contributions of women to society increases. Smith asks: “‘Will not women be thus installed as teachers — ay, even as protectors, in the true, ideal development of society?”’ Such comments bear relevance to her discussion because Maria Clemm in particular assumed a stabilizing role in Poe’s life. As Smith notes, adopting a personal perspective: “I do not know how it would have fared with him had he not found one true, patient, devoted friend in the person of his wife’s mother, Mrs. Clem [sic]. She never wearied in her love and thoughtfulness for him.” Such comments reflect Smith’s growing feminism in the 1850s and 1860s, a cause which would invite controversy as many of the contemporary literati, including Poe’s British biographer Ingram, would ultimately turn against her. No less significant than the support of Maria Clemm was that of Sarah Helen Whitman; Smith quotes Poe as follows: “a true woman, with superior intellect and deep spiritualism . . . would have transformed my life into something better.” Smith completes her 1867 reminiscence by dubbing Poe a “Hamlet-like man,” a brooding dreamer of high genius.

For all the differences between “Edgar A. Poe” and “Autobiographic Notes,” Smith intended these pieces as progressive contributions to the recovery of Poe’s reputation. In the second, she acknowledged the intrinsic value of autobiography in correcting errors of malicious biographers. Just as she hoped her own “Autobiography” would provide a personal, but truthful portrait of an aspiring woman writer in an unsympathetic milieu, she strove to portray Poe in the manner in which he might have presented himself:

I must and will speak of this man, not as he manifested himself to the world, but by the measure of his intimations, by his own estimate of himself, which is a truer mode of judgment than the world knows. Yes, this man knew what was in himself, and this it was that sustained him through all the perplexities and disheartments of poverty, and all the abuse heaped upon him by the cruelty and malice of his enemies; and it is this faith in himself which enabled him to command the respect even of those critical in judgment and austere in practice, [page 241:] and which sustained him to the last, and is now fast redeeming his memory.

Her defense of the autobiographical mode could as easily derive from concern about her own diminished reputation in the 1860s as from her support of Poe. Ironically, Poe’s most relentless nineteenth-century biographer, Ingram — a man who perhaps earned the characterization “critical in judgment and austere in practice” — heaped abuse on Smith’s well-intentioned ventures for their common subject. She sent a copy of her United States Magazine memoir to him, already progressing on his life-consuming labors to establish Poe’s rightful place in the literary pantheon and eager to receive information from any source. Ingram’s response lacked warmth, however, as reflected in correspondence of the 1870s when Smith circulated her essays to what she hoped would be a sympathetic audience.

Ingram’s devotion to a more respectable image for Poe is overshadowed by a clear pattern of ambitious competitiveness evident in his correspondence with Whitman and in his responses to Smith’s well meaning contributions. Having found Whitman a better source of information because of her more intimate connections with Poe, he played one woman against another in his attempt to build a storehouse of knowledge. Whitman anguished over Smith’s reproduction of “apocryphal conversations which Poe is said to have held” (PHR, p. 234) concerning the influence of women on his career. By the 1870s, the cause of recovering Poe’s reputation was subsumed in squabbling over which surviving woman most or least influenced Poe. The relationship among Smith, Whitman, and Ingram became a triangular battle of wits: Whitman assumed the role of the wronged woman of probity and gentility whose discrete amour with Poe, she felt, had been tastelessly revealed; Smith was seen by Whitman, and by Ingram in particular, as a bumbling culprit who spread misinformation about Poe; and Ingram, adopting the pose of a self-satisfied voyeur, received letters from both and sorted the wealth of data that entered his 1880 biography. He scorned the inaccuracy of Smith’s biographical information, but he maintained her as a steady correspondent despite his revelation to Whitman: “Mrs. E. O. Smith is no good & I am in hope that I shall be free from her in a friendly manner” (PHR, p. 306). Moreover, he used Whitman’s words against her in 1875 by quoting her characterization of Poe as “vindictive, revengeful, and unscrupulous,” adjectives she used to reply to Smith’s 1858 paper in the United States Magazine and reprinted in Beadle’s in 1867. Ingram’s upbraiding of Whitman for Smith’s article, which he must have known about for some time — for he had written to Smith before Whitman had recommended her to him-seems disingenuous at best. The tension [page 242:] between Ingram and Whitman intensified because of this characterization, one he advanced judgmentally in an 1876 letter to test Whitman’s devotion to Poe. He challenged Whitman to reproduce the letter to Smith in which she purportedly used the words “vindictive, revengeful, and unscrupulous”:

You did not enclose the letter of Mrs. Oakes Smith as stated as, I dare say, you have since discovered. What makes you say about her not thinking ill of him [Poe]? She always writes as if a great admirer of him; her most unpleasant allusions were those purporting to be an extract from a letter of yours — by the way, you never denied authorship of that letter. (PHR, p. 386)

Whitman attempted to defend herself, acknowledging that she had no copy of the Beadle paper before her (PHR, p. 391). If she had not portrayed Poe as a paragon, if he were indeed “revengeful,” this trait, in her view, recalled Hamlet’s righteous indignation. Ironically her defense echoes Smith’s characterization of Poe as a “Hamlet-like man.”

Despite John C. Miller’s glorification of him as Poe’s nineteenth-century champion, Ingram’s response to Whitman and Smith suggests calculation and duplicity. He perhaps tipped his hand about his attitude toward “literary ladies” in an 1875 letter to Whitman, during a more amicable period in their relationship: “Were it not so terrible I should often laugh at my American lady correspondents. Half their time & space is devoted to slandering each other — swearing that Poe cared only for them, & that everybody else who lays claim to his friendship is an imposter! . . . In fact they all look upon Poe’s fame as a convenient peg upon which to hang their mediocrities where the world may see!” (PHR, p. 306) By 15 April 1876, he could comment about Smith to Whitman: “We can drop her; she is played out” (PHR, p. 411). Smith had by this time published two additional articles on Poe — one in Baldwin’s Monthly in 1874(16) and another in The Home Journal in 1876(17) — but these pieces essentially rehashed her previous reminiscences, and as such, were less useful to Ingram. As Smith had “played herself out” in Ingram’s eyes, Whitman, too, would eventually fall from his graces, as John Carl Miller’s edition of their correspondence indicates.

Nevertheless, in the 1870s Smith continued to expound upon Poe’s virtues and explicitly called Griswold’s “Life” a “libel, as are many other sketches of him.” Her composite portrait of Poe — derived from essays, letters, and her “Autobiography” — underestimated his concrete involvement in the literary matters of his time: his satirical attacks, his deductive tours de force, and his editorial achievements. To her Poe [page 243:] remained “more spectral than human. Impassioned was he in a high, weird sense, an unearthly Promethean sense, in a tragic, Shelley — like sense that suggested awe and mystery, if not dread.” If she overemphasized the Romantic visionary, she respected his uncompromising dedication to artistic and intellectual pursuits, calling him one of America’s foremost writers. An indicated by such comments, her reminiscences fulfill Mabbott’s characterization of them as impartial and substantial contributions from a knowledgeable contemporary. Within the context of Ingram’s and Whitman’s audacious, sometimes strident, attempts to portray Poe definitively, Smith’s memoirs provide convenient introduction to the cult of Poe’s supporters that constitutes a part of the century’s literary subculture.

If some of her comments overemphasize Poe the dreamer, a man who could “be judged from the standpoint of the Ideal alone,”(18) she also contributes to the myth of Poe, the literary bohemian. But as with her comments on the problems of biography and autobiography, her analysis contains self-revelation. Poe symbolizes a side of the obsessive Puritan-bohemian tension in her own life, a conflict arising from memories of her free thinking Universalist grandfather on one side of the family and the traditional piety of her grandfather on the other. Toward the end of the “Autobiography” (AMS, p. 549), as she pondered her influence in the struggle for women’s rights — specifically some “poetic tributes” she received for it — she wrote: “I was reaping the benefit of stepping outside of my Puritanic bondage. Brought up as I had been, I had so much to renounce, and so much to do, that I almost danced over my freedom.” Suggesting a daughter of the Puritans dancing on the graves of her forefathers, this passage parallels another in which Poe emerges as a figure of “bohemian” artistic freedom in a world of puritanical constraints. In a section, entitled “Myself,” she comments, “It may be that the Puritanic mind is not well adapted to purely artistic pursuits.” In contrast to puerile obligations imposed by stern, puritan disciplines, “Poe instinctively accepted progressive ideas, and had admiration for those that labor in their behalf, but he would not have toiled, denied himself, and suffered martyrdom for them. His intensity, and he had it greatly, expended itself in a dreamy, beautiful idealism, half sensuous, half intellectual . . . . Poe was Bohemian in every fiber of his body. . .” (AMS, pp. 579-580). Smith advanced the myth of Poe the dreamy-eyed bohemian, but she thereby committed the simple offense of seeing through the lens of her unique vision, a temptation tellingly acknowledged: “There must have been in him a champion-like temperament, by which he assimilated to those with whom he associated, and thus each analyzer of Poe gives us a glimpse of his own idiosyncrasies rather than a revelation of this unique, wonderful creation.”(19)

[page 244:]


1.  Poe’s Helen Remembers, ed. John Carl Miller (Charlottesville, 1980). Subsequent quotation from this volume will be noted in the text by PHR and page number. Although the correspondence is meticulously edited, Millers reticence prevents him from commenting on friction and competitiveness among Ingram, Whitman, and others like Smith who tried to set the record straight about Poe. For the possibility that the “facts” of the Ingram-Whitman relationship may match the fiction of James’s The Aspern Papers, see Joel Porte’s review of Poe’s Helen Remembers, AL, 53(1980), 124-127. Porte’s hypothesis was foreshadowed by J. Gerald Kennedy, “Jeffrey Aspern and Edgar Allan Poe: A Speculation,” PoeS, 6(1973), 17-18. For a brief comment on Smith in regard to Ingram and Whitman, see Kent Ljungquist’s review, “J. H. Ingram and Mrs. Whitman,” The Poe Messenger, 10(1980), 2-3.

2.  The remarks are those of the late doyen of Poe scholars, Thomas Ollive Mabbott, as cited in Mary Alice Wyman, ed., Selections from the Autobiography of Elizabeth Oakes Smith (Lewiston, Me., 1924), p. 116.

3.  Edgar Poe and His Critics, Introduction by Oral S. Coad (1949; rpr. Staten Island, 1980).

4.  Wyman, ed., Selections, p. 124 and “Autobiography,” AMS, p. 540. Smith’s autobiography is a 600-page manuscript in the New York Public Library. She wrote most of it in the 1880s, but many set pieces in it — reminiscences for the most part, such as some of those of Poe — appeared in periodicals in the 1860s and ‘70s. In Beadle’s Monthly in the 1860s these pieces appeared as a series titled “Autobiographic Notes.” The complete manuscript she prepared was not published in her lifetime, but about half of it appeared as Selections, edited by Wyman. Wyman also wrote a biography of Elizabeth and Seba Smith — Two American Pioneers (New York, 1927) — and the entries about them in the Dictionary of American Biography. Wyman’s works have been the standard source of information about Oakes Smith, although the entry about her written by Alice Felt Tyler for Notable American Women, 1607-1950 is an informative one based upon a fresh assessment of the manuscript autobiography and other sources. Information about Oakes Smith also appears in Patricia and Milton Rickels Seba Smith (Boston, 1977). Further references to the autobiography here will be taken from consecutively numbered leaves of the manuscript version and are used with the permission of the New York Public Library.

5.  Poe launched his admittedly “scurrilous” attack on Seba Smith’s poem, Powhatan: A Metrical Romance, in Graham’s [page 245:] Magazine (1841) [1110:160-165]. For Poe’s possible borrowing from Smith’s poem “The Life-Preserving Coffin,” see William T. Bandy, “A Source of Poe’s ‘The Premature Burial,’” AL, 19(1947), 167-168. Bandy refers to Mrs. Seba Smith.

6.  An informative general discussion of Smith’s poetry appears in Emily Stipes Watts, The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945 (Austin, Tx., 1977), pp. 97-105.

7.  In her memoir “Autobiographic Notes” on Griswold, Beadle’s Monthly, 3(1867), 438, Smith ironically connects Poe and Griswold as “exceptional men,” “Demonized creations of the laws of whose being the Procrustean outside world knows but little, and upon whom the cacklings and parrot-talk of society are all lost.”

8.  In a June 1875 letter to J. H. Ingram, Smith announces that her written impressions of Poe constitute a “mental analysis,” a task she sees fit to undertake since she understood Poe’s “idiosyncrasies” — Item 196, John Henry Ingram’s Poe Collection at the University of Virginia, Microfilm complied by John Carl Miller (Charlottesville, 1960), p. 77.

9.  The quotation is from an April 1875 letter to Ingram, Item 214 Ingram Collection, Microfilm, p. 89.

10.  For a discussion of the classical daemon and its appeal to American Romantics and to Poe in particular, see Ljungquist, “Uses of the Daemon in Selected Works of Edgar Allan Poe,” Interpretations, 12(1980), 31-39.

11.  In a 17 April 1875 letter to Ingram, she writes of how posterity might treat her: “Indeed when I shake off this mortal coil, I should be glad to find as disinterested, independent, and sturdy a biographer, capable of seeing within the laws of my own being,” Item 214 Ingram Collection, Microfilm, p. 89. In an 8 June 1875 letter to Ingram, she laments: “How like a tragedy life becomes when we have looked behind the scenes! How few can ever be written! I am filled with joy over your labor of love for the unhappy poet, and already I think it begins to tell upon the public mind.” — Item 233 Ingram Collection, Microfilm, p. 100.

12.  Whitman’s early exposure to the United States Magazine piece is insured by her quotation from it (p. 264) in Edgar Poe and His Critics. She quotes loosely from a woman of the “finest genius” (pp. 39-40) and adds a sentence, not Smith’s, about Poe’s delighting in the society of “superior women.”

13.  Also entitled “Edgar A. Poe,” United States Magazine, 1(1858), 633-734.

14.  Beadle’s Monthly, 3(1867), 147-156. Quotations in the next paragraph are from this essay. [page 246:]

15.  Concerning the Puritan-bohemian tension in her own life, there is surely something akin to it in her own family, her grandparents. In a chapter titled “Household of the Liberal Thinker,” she describes her maternal grandfather, a Universalist, “at a time when to be one was to be ostracised by his pious neighbors,” AMS, p. 18. The following chapter describes the paternal grandfather or Pilgrim side of the family, the Princes. “There had been a feud of several years standing between these Yankee Capulets and Montagues,” a feud that the marriage of EOS’s mother and father did nothing to end. “As a child,” she writes, “I was sorely puzzled between these two Grandparents, and could not fail to hear critiques upon them, which often distressed me, but my immature judgement inclined to the Pilgrim side of the family, as more in accordance with my turn of mind, though certainly the smart, handsome tone about the Huguenot ancestor quite captivated my taste,” AMS, p. 18.

16.  “Reminiscences,” Baldwin’s Monthly, 9(1874), 1.

17.  “Recollections of Poe,” The Home Journal, 15 May 1876, pp. 1-2. Other materials by Smith touch on Poe: her “Autobiographic Notes” on Griswold, Beadle’s Monthly, 3(1867), 437-441 in which she opines that Griswold had not “felt him human,” referring to Poe; her “Sarah Helen Whitman,” Baldwin’s Monthly, 19(1879), 2-3; comments in AMS, pp. 540, 579-580; and her “Reply to Mrs. Whitman” in the John Hay Collection at Brown University.

18.  April 7, 1875 letter to Ingram, Ingram Collection, Item 214, p. 89.

19.  Quoted from “Poe and Rachel,” Phrenological Journal (1879), in the Elizabeth Oakes Smith Collection at the University of Virginia. In this piece, Smith refers to Poe’s “chamelion-like temperament,” a phrase foreshadowed in a February 1875 letter to Ingram, Item 203, Ingram Collection, Microfilm, p. 83. The “Rachel” referred to is a contemporary actress eulogized in “The Death of Rachel,” Baldwin’s Monthly, 21(1880), 2-3.





[S:0 - PHT, 1990] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Lectures - Poe and His Times - Elizabeth Oakes Smith on Poe: A Chapter in the Recovery of his Nineteenth-Century Reputation (Kent Ljungquist and Cameron Nickles, 1990)