Text: Mukhtar Ali Isani, “Reminiscences of Poe By an Employee of the Broadway Journal,” Poe Studies, December 1973, Vol. VI, No. 2, 6:33-34


[page 33:]

Reminiscences of Poe
By an Employee of the Broadway Journal

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

On July 13, 1902, the Omaha Sunday World Herald (p. 24) published an interview with the aged Alexander Crane, once the office boy for Poe’s Broadway Journal. A summary of the interview in the London Academy (63 [September 1902], 280) is the only notice I find of the existence of this article. In the following rendering, a few errors have been silently corrected. Crane’s memory of his employer spans only eighteen months, but his reminiscences throw interesting light on the human side of Edgar Allan Poe.


In the 73rd year of his age, but still hale and vigorous mentally and physically, lives in Harrison county, Iowa, upon a farm, a man who, having served Edgar Allan Poe eighteen months in an humble capacity, came to look upon the unfortunate poet as a demi-god, in which light he still regards him.

The old gentleman’s name is Alexander T. Crane, and his face lights up and his eyes flash and sparkle as though he were a youth of 20 when he speaks of his

”. . . unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore —

Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore

Of ‘Never-nevermore.’

“He was the gentlest, truest, tenderest and knightliest man I ever knew,” said Mr. Crane, his voice vibrant with the deep feeling for Poe that remains to him after the lapse of half a century. “He was one of the finest men God ever put breath into, and, with his face as gentle as [column 2:] a lady’s, his neat, small hands and feet, his fine skin and dark eye, he was my boyish idol, just as his memory is the pride and glory of my declining years.”

Mr. Crane tells an interesting story of the most consummate master of English prose and poetry that America has yet produced, and whom he knew at what was probably the steadiest and happiest era of his tempest-swept career — during the years 1845-46.

“Until I was 18 years old,” says Mr. Crane, “I had been clerking around in different places in New York, doing such work as a boy can find to do. Finally I secured a place as office boy and mailing clerk of the Broadway Journal, a weekly literary publication of which Poe was editor. The Journal had a total circulation of less than 1,000, of which about half was on the mailing lists. It failed after an eighteen months’ struggle with its competitor, the Evening Mirror, which was edited by N. P. Willis and George P. Morris — who wrote, ‘Woodman, Spare That Tree.’

“Poe was a quiet man about the office, but was uniformly kind and courteous to everyone, and, with congenial company, he would grow cheerful and even playful. I saw him every day, for, as you may imagine, our office rooms did not consist of a great many compartments, and office boy and editor were pretty close together. He came to the office every day about 9 o’clock and worked until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and he worked steadily and methodically, too.

Administered to Him.

“Not a great while after I had gone to work on the paper, on a hot August afternoon while wrapping and addressing Journals, I was overcome with the heat and fainted dead away. Poe was writing at his desk. When I recovered consciousness I was stretched out on the long table at which I had been at work and Poe was bending over me bathing my wrists and temples in cold water. He ministered to me until I was able to stand up, and then he sent me home in a carriage.

“This act of kindness, coupled with his uniform gentle greetings, when he entered the office of a morning, together with frequent personal inquiries and words of encouragement, made me love and trust my editor. And so, one morning, I was emboldened to submit for his inspection a little bit of verse I had written, for I wanted to be a poet, too. I remember the verse as plainly as though I had written it only yesterday. It ran:

“Cold water so bright, cold water so free,

of all other liquids cold water for me. [page 34:]

It is heard in the torrent with thundering roar,

In low murmuring music it springs at your door.

“In the broad fields of ocean it is seen in its might

When the clouds lower above it with darkness of night;

When the tempest sweeps o’er it in fury it raves,

Converting its depths to an ocean of graves.

“In the day when oppressed by the summer sun’s heat,

When the pulse throbs within us with languishing beat,

When all nature seems drooping away in despair,

’Tis then the cool shower gives a proof of God’s care.”

“The article ‘a,’ in the last line,” says Mr. Crane, “is there at Poe’s suggestion. He said it should be inserted for the sake of the metre, and that it would not change the sense. Ah! he had a great ear for metre, had Edgar Poe,” and the old man sighed profoundly and gazed out on the pouring rain. Arousing himself, at length, he went on:

“Poe told me that was very nice verse. He not only read it through, and scanned it for me, though up to his elbows in work, but he told me to take it to Myron Finch, editor of the Youth’s Cabinet, at that time the only Sunday school paper in New York, and he would publish it. I took it to Finch, and he did publish it. Then I loved Poe better than ever.”

Was Always a Gentleman.

The old gentleman’s indignation grows unbounded when he brings himself to speak of the hostile biographers and literary detractors and defamers of his living idol and dead master. “They are ghouls,” he declares. “It is true I only knew Edgar Poe for eighteen months and that, when the Journal failed. I never saw him again. But during those eighteen months he was a gentleman in every sense of a word that is much abused. He was honest, generous, kind and true. It is true, also, that he was very delicate and very sensitive, with nerves that throbbed with pain at the slightest contact, and it may be that, in the misfortunes of after years, these qualities drove him to seek surcease from sorrow in the cup — and even to seek it as DeQuincey sought it. But through it all he could never have been anything but a gentle, tender, lovable man, a thousand times to be pitied, but never to be condemned.”

Mr. Crane admits that once, during the never-to-be-forgotten eighteen months, he saw Poe drunk. “It was the result of a keen disappointment,” he says, and gives this narration of the circumstance:

“Poe had given a lecture in Society library in New York on ‘The Poets and Poetry of America.’ The lecture had proved a great success and he was finally induced to consent to repeat it. The night set for the second lecture was a very bad one. It stormed incessantly, with mingled rain and hail and sleet. In consequence there were scarcely a dozen persons present when Poe came upon the platform and announced that, under the circumstances, the lecture could not be given, and those in the audience would receive their money back at the door. I was one of those present, as Poe had given me a complimentary ticket to the lecture, and badly as I was disappointed, I could see [column 2:] upon his face that my master was much more so. It was a little thing, it is true, but he was a man easily upset by little things. The next morning he came to the office, leaning on the arm of a friend, intoxicated with wine.”

The full weight of the old gentleman’s wrath descends when his attention is called to the fugitive stories, that were a long time current and are not yet entirely dispelled, of Poe’s selling his masterpiece, “The Raven,” for $10 to purchase food and medicine for his girl-wife, who was dying of consumption.

“About five years ago,” he says, “I read such a story in a Kansas City paper. It told, in ghastly detail, how Poe’s wife lay dying on the floor with his coat over her for covering, and how, coatless, he rushed to a publisher on a bitter cold winter’s day to sell the manuscript of the immortal poem for $10 to save his wife from starvation. It was a miserable lie, and I wrote the editor the true story of the publication of ‘The Raven,’ but he never used it. So I stopped his paper.” Here the venerable defender of a great man’s memory snorted with mingled satisfaction and anger.

When the Poem Was Written.

“Poe wrote ‘The Raven’ while editor of the Broadway Journal,” the old man went on, “and that was the most prosperous portion of an admittedly poverty stricken life. While he was not making a great deal of money he was, at least, earning a comfortable and assured living.

“I don’t know whether he sold the poem for $10, or whether he sold it at all. My distinct impression is that he did not, biographers to the contrary notwithstanding. And I’ll tell you why I think so:

“It was one cold day in winter, when everybody in the Literary Journal office, from myself on up, was busily at work, that Poe came into the office, accompanied by the great actor named Murdock. They went to Poe’s desk, and Mr. Poe summoned the entire force, including myself, about him. There were less than a dozen of us, and I was the only boy.

“When we were all together Poe drew the manuscript of ‘The Raven’ from his Pocket and handed it to Murdock. He had called us to hear the great elocutionist read his newly written poem. Murdock read, and what with the combined art of two masters, I was entranced. It is the most cherished memory of my life that I heard the immortal poem read by one whose voice was like a chime of silver bells, and I think I am the only man living today who can say that he heard ‘The Raven’ read before it was published. In the next issue of the Literary Journal ‘The Raven’ appeared in the place of honor. That is what makes me think the poem was not sold at all.”

Here Mr. Crane’s theory is somewhat at variance with the unanimous statement of Poe’s biographers, hostiles and friendlies, who agree that the poem was first printed in the Evening Mirror, in advance of publication in the American Review. If the Literary Journal published ‘The Raven’ at all, and here Mr. Crane’s word should not be doubted, it must have done so by the same sort of an arrangement as the Evening Mirror had. H.E.N.


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[S:0 - PS, 1973]