Text: John Ward Ostrom, “Edgar A. Poe: His Income as Literary Entrepreneur ,” Poe Studies, June 1982, Vol. XV, No. 1, 15:1-7


[page 1:]

Edgar A. Poe: His Income as
Literary Entrepreneur

Wittenberg university, Emeritus

Edgar Allan Poe’s financial life was perpetually precarious. His salary on the Southern Literary Messenger, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine, and the Broadway Journal as editor or assistant editor has been stated, not always correctly, but his total annual income and possible expenses have been treated scarcely at all. Throughout his professional life, especially from July 1835 to October 1849, he was above the equivalent of our 1981 national poverty level only once — during his association with Graham’s Magazine. The present study of Poe’s financial condition during his working years has depended on information from his correspondence, from relevant secondary books and articles, from firsthand examination of primary materials where possible, and from examination of edited reprintings where not. Its purpose is really two-fold: (1) to give from available materials an overview of the struggles by Poe, his wife, and his aunt to earn enough money to maintain life, and (2) to provide a reasonable base from which others with access to better and more extensive primary sources may work to provide a more complete and detailed picture of the author’s finances.

In the following discussion, special care has been taken to be consistent in the use of data relative to the calculations being made (the reader should keep in mind that, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, the dollar in 1840 was worth nine times today’s dollar). In his correspondence Poe sometimes notes what an editor pays for a specific contribution. More frequently we learn the rate the author receives from a journal for a page of printed copy. For instance, he writes a friend that he is paid “$4 a Graham-page”; that is, if his manuscript takes ten pages of print in Graham’s Magazine, he is paid $40. Poe sometimes uses the same phrase to indicate the value of a manuscript to another editor or publisher: thus Godey’s Lady’s Book paid $5 for a “Graham-page.” From the correspondence we also know, for example, that the Southern Literary Messenger paid Poe 80¢ a column, two to a page; Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, $3 a page; the Broadway Journal, $1 a column, two to a page. Such figures should not be [column 2:] compared directly, because the size of the page varies from publication to publication. For instance, The Gift paid $2 a page, a good rate because the page was small — thus “Eleanora” covered nine pages in The Gift and paid $18, but in the Broadway Journal it ran three pages and paid only $6.

In calculating payments for particular texts from such page-rates, of course, it is always best to have in hand the original source (or microfilm of it) to determine the number of whole and partial pages for which Poe was paid. When the original was not available, I have used an alternate procedure. Standard guides such as the bibliography in Arthur Hobson Quinn and Edward H. O‘Neill’s Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe identify and give inclusive pagination for Poe’s first and subsequent printings of poems, reviews, and short stories in books, magazines, newspapers, and various collections. Such information provides a means of determining ratios for translating the number of pages a specific text occupies in Harrison’s Complete Works into the number of pages for which Poe was paid by a given publication (four pages in Harrison, for example, are equivalent to one “Grahampage”). Calculations based on such ratios, or even on page-counts of original sources, must, of course, remain estimates in most cases; the reader is therefore cautioned to treat the figures in the following outline as reasonable approximations, even in cases where they are given to the exact cent.

After publishing three books of poetry that died a-borning, Edgar Allan Poe leaped four-square into the literary world of the Philadelphia Saturday Courier, entered five stories in its 1831 contest, won no prize, but had all five printed in 1832. He was now a published author, albeit without pay. A year later he submitted one poem and six tales in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter contest. His poem lost but “Ms. Found in a Bottle” won first prize of $50 and was published October 19, 1833. He promptly sold his story “The Visionary” to Godey’s Lady’s Book in January 1834 for $20, and by year’s end had received another $15 for “Ms. Found in a Bottle” when it was selected for The Gift of 1835.

Poe was now a professional writer. Beginning with March 1835 he sold four tales to successive issues of the Southern Literary Messenger of Richmond, Virginia ($40). His ability prompted Thomas W. White, its editor, to invite him to help edit the magazine. Poe joined him in July and in time became known as the editor and in his correspondence claimed that title. Poe gives varying amounts for his annual salary, but $624 is a reasonable figure. [page 2:] White paid him extra for contributing book reviews, articles, tales, and poems at the rate of 80¢ a Messenger (SLM) column, two columns to the page. Poe edited the magazine for eighteen months (July 1835 to January 1837) for $936; he contributed 164 SLM-pages of reviews and critical articles ($263); seven new and seven reprinted tales ($102.40), including his prize tale in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter and The Gift and his tale in Goday’s, though he had already been paid for both. He also published six new poems and reprinted eight, including “The City in the Sea,” “Israfel,” and “To Helen.” All were written before he was 22, all were destined to be among his greatest, and all three paid him perhaps $22.40. Better known poets commanded more, unknown poets nothing at all.

On the basis of the above figures, Poe’s total income for eighteen months was $1323.80, in his day a fair amount (Professor Longfellow drew $3000 for a similar period) .

But consider Poe’s expenses during this period. From July to October 1835 he boarded at Mrs. James Yarrington’s, corner of Twelfth and Bank Streets, opposite Capitol Square, Richmond. His income for the thirteen-week period was $156 salary for editing, $19.60 for writing — 5 tales, 4 reviews and articles, 4 poems — totaling $175.60. His room and board was $4 a week, leaving $123.60 for all other expenses. Early in October Mrs. Clemm and Virginia joined him. Now the room and board of all three was $9 weekly or $117 for the thirteen-week quarter. The Messenger was not published in October and November, but contemporary correspondence suggests that Poe was at work serving as amanuensis for White and preparing copy for the December number, which reveals that he wrote seventeen SLM-pages of reviews and articles. For the second quarter he received $156 salary and $36 for writings — totaling $192, leaving a balance of $75. However, if Poe rented a “sweet little house . . . on Church Street Hill . . . with a garden” for $5 a month, he had only $60 over. Desperate for additional funds Poe wrote to his cousins, George and William Poe, in Georgia, to aid their aunt, Mrs. Clemm. They sent $150, which increased the limited fund by $3 a week through 1836.

Poe left the Messenger January 3, 1837, but remained in Richmond until after January 19, after which date the family moved to New York City and by February 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 following eighteen months must have seemed endless to the Poe family. Poe failed to establish himself as a writer, though he did sell two tales: “don Jung” ($12) to the June 1837 New York American Monthly and “Slope” ($14) to the Christmas and New Year’s number of the Baltimore Book (1837). He also placed a review of Stephens’ Incidents of Travel ($26) with the October number of the New York Review. Meanwhile he finished Arthur Gordon Pym, a long narrative that Harpers copyrighted in June 1837 but did not publish until a year later. He received no royalty, but perhaps a few copies, for the book did not sell.

After a year and a half, Poe took his family to Philadelphia, [column 2:] arriving there before July 19, 1838 (one wonders where he got the fare). At first they boarded with Mrs. C. Jones, 202 Mulberry (Arch) Street, but after September 4 moved to the “small house” Poe refers to in his correspondence. Here they remained four years. Mrs. Clemm may have run a boarding table, done some sewing, or begged money from acquaintances. Details of Poe’s family expenses for much of this period are not available, but it is known that their last residence in Philadelphia was 234 North Seventh Street above Spring Garden.

During the summer of 1838 Poe completed “Ligeia” and sold it to his friend, Nathan C. Brooks of Baltimore, for his new magazine, the American Museum. It appeared in September, and Poe received $10, about fifty cents a page. Many critics, even Poe, called it his best tale. Ten dollars is little enough for a masterpiece! Brooks bought two other stories for his November number: “Psyche Zenobia” ($5) and “The Scythe of Time” ($4), then for his January-February number some “Literary Small Talk” ($5), an essay on selected classical and nineteenth-century writers. For the April number Brooks took “The Haunted Palace” ($5), one of Poe’s great poems, both allegorical and symbolic. The Philadelphia Saturday Chronicle printed his tale, “The Devil in the Belfry” ($10), for its May 18 number. Unfortunately the American Museum ceased publication in May 1839. Poe sold a poem, “Sonnet — Silence,” to the Saturday Chronicle ($5), which had published without pay his first five tales. In late 1838 and early 1839, Poe wrote an introduction to Thomas Wyatt’s Conchologist’s First Book, published in 1839 by Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell of Philadelphia. For his work and name on the title page, Poe received a consideration of $50. Without a steady job for two and one-half years, he apparently earned a total of only $143.50 or 16¢ a day.

On June 1, 1839, Poe joined Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in Philadelphia. His salary as an assistant to William Burton, editor and publisher, was $10 a week for the first twenty-six weeks, after that $50 a month. Poe’s stay with Burton lasted only one year. For his 95 Burton-pages of reviews and articles he received only salary, but he did earn $3 a page extra for short stories, one of which was his outstanding “Fall of the House of Usher” ($24), embodying a reprint of “The Haunted Palace.” His tales, after years of effort, finally appeared in collected form in the fall of 1839 as Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, but his only payment was a few copies of the volumes. He also sold “William Wilson” ($50) to the 1840 Gift and then reprinted it in Burton’s ($24). For three other tales totaling ten pages he was paid $30, and $5 each for seven reprinted poems. He also sold an article to the Pittsburgh Literary Examiner ($4). In the January 1840 number of Burton’s Poe began a serial entitled “The Journal of Julius Rodman,” which ran monthly through June, paid $69, and was left uncompleted when Burton fired him June 1, 1840. In the spring of 1840, Poe contributed an article on “Cryptography” to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, and in subsequent numbers solutions (some his own) to “secret writing” submitted to the magazine. It is difficult to suggest what pay Poe received for his work in the Messenger, but perhaps $25 would be a fair estimate. For the [page 3:] whole year from June 1839 to June 1840, Poe’s total income was roughly $821.

In his letter to Burton of June 1, 1840, 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 [Magaz]ine.” Poe then lists a total of 132 pages for his year’s work. “Nothing is counted,” he added, “but bona-fiede composition. 11 pp. at 63 per p. 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 proofreading; general superintendence at the printing-office; reading, alteration, & preparation of M.S.S., with cornpilation 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 .”

William Burton and Poe were incompatible. Poe worked hard; Burton belittled his work. Poe wrote a friend, “I retired from his office in uncontrollable disgust at his chicanery, arrogance, ignorance, brutality.”

Poe, now jobless and footloose, was again free to resume efforts to establish his own magazine. In a later letter to E. H. N. Patterson, a prospective partner, Poe touched on its basic characteristics: “We must aim high . . . and put the work at $5: — giving about 112 pp. . . . Such a Mag. would begin to pay after 1000 subscribers; and with 5000 would be a fortune . . . 20,000 copies . . . would give a clear income of 70 or 80,000 dollars.” On October 20, 1840 George R. Graham of Philadelphia, owner and editor of the Casket, bought Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine for $3500, probably giving one dollar for each subscriber. Its first number as Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine appeared in December with a list of 5000 and sold for $3. Poe contributed “The Man of the Crowd” ($16), his first sale of a short story in ten months. By January 1841 Poe had printed a prospectus of his Penn Magazine. But, he wrote Snodgrass, “Mr. Graham [of Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine] has made me a liberal offer, which I had pleasure in accepting.” Then he added: “The Penn . . . is only ’scotched, not killed.‘”

Poe joined Graham’s in February as book review editor at a salary of $800 a year with supplemental pay for contributions. He had no duties in other departments of the magazine; he was not editor-in-chief. The April issue, on the stands March 1, 1841, announced that his services began with that number, and carried “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (356), probably his best known rale today. A year later, for the May 1842 number, he wrote “The Masque of the Red Death” ($12), in which the created mood of terror is heightened by the symbolism of color — one of his greatest tales. In between came five other stories ($80). With the April 1841 issue, Poe also began contributing reviews and articles. He wrote three chapters on “Secret Writing” for July, August, and December ($36) and challenged anyone to submit a cryptogram that he could not solve (only one stumped him; he claimed it was unsolvable). In November he began a series on “Autography, running through January 1842 ($86). [column 2:] Following the signature of his subject, as he had done in the Southern Literary Messenger, he added comments on the literary or personal characteristics. The series became popular, even though or perhaps because some comments were derogatory. Among his reviews in this period was that of Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge in February 1842 and of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in the May 1842 number. In the latter he defined the short story as a unified, coherent unit in which every word contributes to singleness of purpose. As book review editor, Poe wrote about fifty-six Graham-pages, as a contributing editor of general articles, some thirty pages ($122).

By the late fall of 1841 Poe was riding high in his journalistic and literary career. The Magazine flourished. He wrote a friend that Graham’s success was “astonishing — we shall print 20,000 copies shortly. When he bought Burton’s, the joint circulation was only 5000.” A year later the list numbered 50,000, Poe claimed, and Graham was a wealthy man. On April 1, 1842, Poe left Graham’s in the midst of good fortune. The May number was just out. “I shall continue to contribute,” he said. “My reason for resigning was disgust with the namby-pamby character of the Magazine . . . the contemptible pictures, fashion-plates, music, and love tales.’ Later Graham asked him to return, but he did not.

While employed by Graham as book review editor he received a salary of $899 for the thirteen and one-half months he was there. He contributed seven tales at $4 a page ($148), in addition to the tale in the first issue, December 1840. He also reprinted four poems, including two of his best: “Israfel” and “To Helen.” He may have received $40 for all. (Graham paid $5 to $50 for a poem depending on its length and author. Lowell got $10 to $20, Longfellow $50 “for almost anything.”) In addition, Poe sold to other periodicals: a tale, “Eleanora” ($18), to The Gift; another to the Saturday Evening Post ($20). Poe’s total income from Graham and other sources during these thirteen and one-half months was $ 1177. Still, he must have been humiliated whenever he thought of Graham paying him only $4 a page for contributions and some other writers as much as $12.

After Poe left Graham’s on April 1, 1842, two years eleven months passed before he joined the Broadway Jonrnal in New York as an associate editor. Meanwhile, he had a family to feed. During the rest of 1842 he sold “The Pit and the Pendulum” ($38) to The Gift for 1843, and two other tales ($66); he also placed an article with Graham’s and another with the Boston Miscellany, both for $17.25. His total income for this period was $121.25.

1843 brought sales of five tales, six reviews and articles, and one poem. Three tales are among his most famous: “The Tell-Tale Heart” ($10), “The Black Cat” ($20), “The Gold-Bug” ($100 first prize); the other tales ($20). Four of his six articles went to Graham’s ($63); “Notes on English Verse” ($10) to The Pioneer, and “Poets and Poetry of America” ($24)) to the Philadelphia Saturday Museum, which may have suggested to Poe the title for a lecture. Graham also bought his poem, “The Conqueror Worm” ($5). His most successful composition besides “The Raven” was “The Gold-Bug.” He had originally sold it to Graham for $52 but withdrew it and entered it in [page 4:] the Dollar Newspaper short story contest, June 1, 1843. Poe wrote, “It obtained the premium and made a great noise.” It was reprinted in several publications, sold over 300,000 copies, and was adapted as a play that opened in Philadelphia, August 8, 1843.

Early in 1843 Poe attempted two publishing projects; the Philadelphia Saturday Museum printed on February 25 a portrait and biography of Poe with the announcement that his literary magazine The Stylus (formerly The Penn), would be published by Thomas C. Clarke and Poe in June. To solicit subscriptions for it he went to Washington, where he also hoped through his friend Frederick Thomas to get an appointment to the custom house in the Tyler administration. The interview was set up, but problems with drinking rendered Poe unable to appear. The other project also failed. He wanted to bring out a new collection of his tales in two volumes to be titled Phantasy Pieces. William H. Graham, a Philadelphia publisher, agreed to print in 1843 a series of pamphlets, the initial one containing “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Man That Was Used Up.” The first number, the only one printed, has become probably one of the two most valuable of Poe’s works. In 1843 it cost 12u/2 cents; now over $50,000.

By June 20, 1843, the Poes moved into their fourth residence, a “small house” on North Seventh Street, above Spring Garden, numbered 530 North Seventh, now maintained as a memorial to Poe. Beginning in the fall he gave six lectures on “American Poetry”: November 21 (Philadelphia), November 28 (Wilmington, Delaware), December 23 (Newark, N. J.), January 10, 1844 (Philadelphia), January 31 (Odd Fellows Hall, Baltimore), and March 12 (Reading, Pennsylvania). Local newspapers preceding and following the lectures praised Poe as lecturer, poet, and tale writer. The Delaware State lonrnal commented that “Edgar A. Poe . . . is favorably known in the literary world as a poet and magazine writer of high standing”; another paper reported that Poe was received with “applause . . . superior to all lectures ever delivered before the Wirt Institute.” In Philadelphia the United States Gazette concluded, “It was one of the largest and most fashionable audiences of the season . . . hundreds were unable to get in.” Poe must have been elated! It is, however, difficult to determine how much he received for a lecture. The Philadelphia Public Ledger announced that tickets for the series or course of eight lectures and two debates “to admit a Gentleman and two Ladies, $1; single Evening Tickets, to admit one person, 12 1/2 cents.” Poe’s fees could have been proportional to the audience. Generous attendance at each lecture might have paid Poe a total of $100 or less.

A fair estimate of his income during 1843 would be $252 from his writings and perhaps half of his conjectured lecture fee or $50 (the other half to go with his 1844 income). We may hope that the December lecture brought some Christmas joy to the three Poes in the “small house” on North Seventh Street.

In March 1844, Poe placed two tales and two reviews with old friends: Godey, Graham, and the Dollar Newspaper [column 2:] all for 3100. By the fifth of April Poe must have decided suddenly to return to New York. Strangely, in a letter to Lowell of March 30, he said nothing about leaving Philadelphia. But on April 6 Poe and Virginia, temporarily leaving Mrs. Clemm behind, boarded the cars and headed for New York — again. When they arrived at the Wharf, Poe set out in the rain to find a boarding house. Going up Greenwich Street he came to one run by Mrs. Morrison and rented the back room, third floor, for $7 a week with board. After breakfast the next morning he wrote Mrs. Clemm: “We had excellent-flavored coffee, hot & strong . . . veal cutlets, elegant ham & eggs. . . . Tomorrow I am going to try & borrow 3 $ — so that I may have a fortnight to go upon.”

The “Balloon Hoax” (350), Poe’s first New York sale, shocked the readers of the New York Sun on April 13. It was published as a broadside and aroused almost as much furor as did Orson Welles’ dramatization of “The War of the Worlds” on radio, October 1938. The Sun was besieged by hundreds of frantic people impatient for the next bulletin. Copies sold at fifty cents. Beginning in July, Poe made sales each month during the balance of the year, distributed among seven different magazines, including Godey’s and Columbian. His great tale of ratiocination, “The Purloined Letter” (312), appeared in The Gift by September 1844. In it Poe continued the technique of his famous detective, C. Auguste Dupin, first developed in the “Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Dupin resolves the mystery by eliminating the human factor and then by analysis reaches the only possible solution. In the tale the most conspicuous place “hides” the object sought.

From May 14 through June 24, 1844, Poe contributed seven articles to the Columbia Spy, published by Bowen and Gossler. What he was paid is not known, but a letter from Poe to Eli Bowen of June 4, 1844, asked for a “X” ($10), possibly to cover four articles already sold to him. The remaining three “Doings of Gotham,” at the same rate, could have brought him $7.50. Also during 1844 he placed six reviews or articles ($98), ten tales ($224), one poem ($10), and gave three lectures ($75) for a total income of $424.50. The inadequacy of this sum may explain in part why he was forever asking for advances on salary, prospective royalties, even on work planned but not begun. Many loans by default became part of income.

Poe began an affiliation with the Broadway Journal in 1845, first as contributor, then in February as editorial associate, and on March 8 as one of three editors. He was to allow his name to be used with the paper, to furnish at least one page of original copy each week, and “to give faithful superintendence to the general conduct of the weekly paper.” For such services he was to receive one-third of the profits and for contributions $1 a column, two columns to the page, and be paid each four weeks. “I have taken a 3d pecuniary interest in the ‘Broadway Journal,‘” he wrote a friend, “and for every thing I have written for it have been, of course, so much out of pocket.”

In the January 4 and 11 issues, Poe reviewed Drama of Exile and Other Poems by Elizabeth Barrett (later Mrs. Robert Browning) ($13). “The Raven,” his most successful poem, was sold to Colton’s American Review, but was [page 5:] first published in advance by the New York Evening Mirror for January 29. Its editor, N. P. Willis, called the poem, “the most effective single example of fugitive poetry ever published in this country.” An instant success, it brought Poe his greatest acclaim. The poem was undoubtedly influenced by Dickens’ “Grip” in Barnaby Rudge, which he had reviewed in February 1842. Poe had offered the poem to Graham a year earlier but had been declined. From the American Review he probably received about 39 for it. Of “The Gold-Bug” and “The Raven,” his most successful compositions, he wrote, “The bird beat the bug, though, all hollow.” Elmira Shelton of Richmond, whom Poe later planned to marry, reported that “When Edgar read ‘The Raven’ he became so wildly excited that he frightened me — when I remonstrated he replied he could not help it, for it set his brain on fire.”

By May Poe began reprinting some of his poems and tales in the Broadway Journal, including “Israfel,” “City in the Sea,” “Lenore,” “The Raven,” “Ligeia,” “William Wilson,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” For these reprints he received no payment. But “Eulalie,” his only new poem besides “The Raven,” was bought by the American Review for July (55).

Wiley and Putnam published Tales by Edgar A. Poe in July 1845. Strangely omitted were “Ligeia,” “William Wilson,” and “Masque,” but Evert Duyckinck, reader for the publisher, made the choice. The volume sold for fifty cents, and Poe was to receive eight cents a copy, a good royalty. Within five months 1500 copies were sold; Poe’s royalty was $120. An English reviewer must have pleased him, for he called Poe a “genius.” Moderate sales of the Tales encouraged the publisher to bring out The Raven and Other Poems in November. The book, though priced at thirty-one cents, had but modest sales, and Poe’s return was a few copies.

He gave two lectures in 1845. The first, held in the New York Society Library on February 28, was “Poets and Poetry of America,” attended, according to Poe, “by the most intellectual & refined portion of the city.” The second, given before the Boston Lyceum on October 16, was a reading of “Al Aaraaf” to a large and distinguished audience, but the poem was over their heads. Each lecture may have brought him $25, or in Boston even $50, for Lowell had written him, “The fee depends on how much is in the till.” Poe’s vitriolic papers in the Journal alienated many peers and acquaintances, and unrepaid loans later cost him dearly when he sought to borrow money to save the Broadway lournal for himself. As noted above, on March 8 he became one of the three editors but neglected his contractual duties with the paper. In the next thirty-five weeks, he contributed articles to twenty-one issues, none to the rest. He was most derelict in May and June.

Throughout 1845 besides general activities for the Journal, Poe earned $130 from contributions to it, he also wrote for other magazines: Goday’s bought one tale and four articles; the Democratic Review one tale; Colton’s American Review, two tales, two articles, and one poem; Graham’s a short story — in all $ 197. For the year he apparently made $549. But because he had borrowed $135 from Wiley and Putnam against royalties on his Tales of [column 2:] 1845, he actually owed his publisher $15. This kind of indebtedness was typical, as were his attempts to borrow even more on the same royalties and on a projected title (Literary America) that was never completed. It seems only proper to add here that some people like Fitz-Green Halleck, a New York writer who loaned Poe money, really never expected to be repaid.

October 24, 1845, was probably the greatest moment in Poe’s professional life as a journalist. He came at last to have controlling ownership of the Broadway Journaluhis long dreamed of magazine that would make him wealthier than Godey and Graham. That is, if he could raise $50 for John Bisco, publisher of the Journal, to bind the transfer contract. Of course, there was the matter of a note at three months to cover all debts due the paper, and to assume responsibilities to subscribers and advertisers. Somehow he paid Bisco and mailed letters to friends and acquaintances asking, even begging, for loans of $50 to $ 100. About $150 came in and eventually became part of his known total income for 1845, namely, $699. On October 25, 1845, Poe walked into the office of the Journal at 304 Broadway and Duane Street and surveyed his very own domain at last. It had a reasonable subscription list of about 1000, adequate advertisers for the moment, and promise of good days ahead. This was his kingdom. He never doubted friends would help him financially. But too few did. On January 3, 1846, Poe left his office, locking the door. The Broadway Journal was dead.

Poe faced 1846 without a job; in fact, he would never have one again. But he sold seventeen manuscripts: a tale to Arthur’s Ladies’ Magazine ($20), some “Marginalia” to the Democratic R,eview ($10), and material to Graham’s ($26.18) and Goday’s ($251.25) for a total of $307.43. For the year printed material from his manuscripts came to 69 1/2 pages: 3 1/2 for January, 1 for February, 7 1/2 for March, 9 1/2 for April, an average of 7 from May through October, then 3 each in November and December.

Graham bought “The Philosophy of Composition” ($8), certainly a tongue-in-cheek critical analysis of how he wrote “The Raven.” (Poe’s only new poem in 1846, “A Valentine,” was published in the Evening Mirror on February 21, containing the hidden name of Mrs. Frances Osgood, wife of a prominent painter, but Poe may have neither known of its publication nor received pay for it.) Godey published not only one of Poe’s great tales, “The Cask of Amontillado” ($ 15), but also “The Literati” ($172), a series of very popular and controversial articles that ran for six chapters, May through October, and gave “honest opinions at random” about the merits of writers. Godey had to announce that “the May edition was exhausted before the first of May, and we have had requests for hundreds from Boston and New York, which we could not supply.” By December Poe wrote, “You will see that I have discontinued the ‘Literati’ in Godey’s Mag. I was forced to do so, because I found that people insisted on considering them elaborate criticisms when I had no other design than critical gossip.”

The family’s removal from 85 Amity Street to the country (known as Turtle Bay) and by July 15, 1846, to West Farms, Fordham, was prompted by a desire to improve living conditions for Virginia. Poe rented a [page 6:] cottage and grounds from the Valentine family for $100 a year. It was near the Harlem Railroad, fourteen miles from New York, and trains ran every four hours. The first floor of the “Fordham Cottage” had two rooms, one very small, and a kitchen; upstairs were two rooms, Poe’s study and Mrs. Clemm’s bedroom. The study had a fireplace, the only source of heat upstairs. Virginia grew steadily worse and died January 30, 1847.

Little is known about Poe in 1847, clearly a very difficult year for the author. He wrote only seventeen letters, a few suggesting a protracted illness. In July of the previous summer Poe had filed a declaration of grievances against Hiram Fuller and Augustus Clason, Jr., owners of the Mirror, on two accounts of libel against him by Thomas Dunn English. Poe won. As he wrote his friend Eveleth on March 11, 1847, “My suit against ‘The Mirror’ has terminated, by a verdict [February 17, 1847] of $225, in my favor.” He wrote two new poems, a tale, and a review. The poem to Mrs. Marie Louise Shew was a tribute to a friend’s devotion to the family while Virginia was near death from consumption. It was published in the Home Journal, March 13 ($10). The tale was “The Domain of Arnheim” ($14), in the Columbian, a reworking of “The Landscape Garden” of 1842. His review of Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse ($18.75) was in Godey’s for November. The American Review for December published one of Poe’s most important poems, “Ulalume.” His reputation and the merit of the poem may have influenced Colton to give him $20 for it.

Poe’s total income for 1847 was possibly $287.75. This sum seems grossly inadequate when one considers that from it he presumably paid his lawyer’s fees as well as $8.33 a month for rent, railroad fares to and from New York, and the cost of firewood, food, and all other necessities. The expenses of Virginia’s final illness and death and of Poe’s necessities and comforts, as one might expect, seem largely to have been paid by friends.

In 1848 he renewed his efforts to establish his own magazine, using the back of the prospectus to carry his letter. Eureka: A Prose Poem was being published in June by George Putnam, formerly of Wiley and Putnam. Poe said of it, “It is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.” As usual he asked the publisher for an advance on royalties. Putnam gave him $14, which is probably all he got besides a few copies, for the book was nor a financial success. The first form of his famous poem “The Bells,” only seventeen lines, was sold to Sartain’s Magazine for $15 but was not published. He placed three other poems: one to the Columbian ($5) and two to the Union Magazine ($10). Graham bought two segments of “Marginalia” for January and February ($14). The Southern Literary Messenger took “The Rationale of Verse” ($23) for October and November and a review of Child of the Sea and Other Poems ($5.50). Poe had three lectures in 1848. On February 3, he spoke on “The Universe” (the original form of Eureka) at the New York Society Library, but the bad weather limited the audience ($10). [column 2:] In July he lectured in Lowell, Massachusetts, on “Poets and Poetry of America.” Here he was among friends and probably fared better ($20). In December he repeated the lecture to a large audience of 1800 in Providence, Rhode Island, and was enthusiastically received ($50).

Poe’s total known income for 1848, including the $14 for Eureka, probably adds up to only $166.50.

The opening days of 1849 were prelude to Poe’s last year of hope, struggle, despair, and final dissolution. He produced five tales, the best a horror story of sadistic culmination. Perhaps implicit in the terrifying conclusion of “Hop-Frog” is a hint of Poe’s own catastrophe. “Hop-Frog” went to The Flag of Our Union ($17.50). “Landor’s Cottage,” also to The Flag ($21.25), delineates the quiet haven his body and soul yearned for but could not possess. Of the remaining three stories, one went to Godey’s ($30) and two to The Flag ($22.50). During the year he also published six poems, the first four sold to The Flag ($10 each): “A Valentine” was for Mrs. Osgood; “For Annie,” really Mrs. Annie Richmond, suggests how essential she is to him; “Eldorado” concerns the quest of a distant goal; “To My Mother” reflects, as do his last letters to her, how much he needs and depends on Mrs. Clemm. In May he wrote to Mrs. Richmond that he had composed “Annabel Lee.” He sold it to the New York Tribune ($10), which published it October 9, two days after his death. The sixth poem was an onomatopoetic masterpiece, “The Bells,” sold to Sartain’s Magazine ($30) but not published until November 1849.

In the summer of 1849 Poe arrived in Richmond en route through the South and West to generate renewed interest in and financial contributions to his Stylus. On August 17 he lectured on “The Poetic Principle.” Since admission was twenty-five cents, he must have received a small honorarium. The lecture was repeated in Norfolk and September 24 in Richmond. From these three appearances he may have drawn $75. Poe concluded his literary life very much as he began it with contributions to the Southern Literary Messenger. Its editor bought five segments of “Marginalia,” a review of Lowell’s “A Fable for Critics,” and an article on Mrs. Frances Osgood ($38.50).

One of Poe’s last three letters, all dated September 18, 1849, was to Mrs. M. St. Leon Loud, a Philadelphia poetess whose husband had engaged him to edit her poems, a job Poe accepted but did not live to perform. Before leaving Richmond he wrote Mrs. Clemm that on Thursday, September 27, he would leave Philadelphia for home. Instead all became confusion. One fact is clear: he was found in a gutter near a polling place in Baltimore, sick, drunk or doped, disheveled, dazed. He was taken to Washington College Hospital late Wednesday afternoon, October 3. Early Sunday morning, October 7, Edgar Allan Poe died. In the last year of his life, the writer probably earned $274.75.

If Poe had lived, he might have doubled his 1849 income. If he had edited Mrs. Loud’s poems, he would have earned $100. The next lecture in Richmond might [page 7:] have drawn twice the audience, twice the money. If Patterson of Oquawka financed the bright-starred Stylus, he might have become rich, like Godey and Graham. If he pressed Elmira Shelton again, she might have married him at last. Yes, he might even. . . . But as it was, he died essentially penniless. His lifetime earnings as a professional author, editor, and lecturer — about $6200.

List of Publications and Their Pay for Contributions

American Monthly — about $2 a page.

American Museum (Baltimore) — 80¢ a column.

American Review (Colton’s) — $3 a page.

Arthur’s Lady’s Magazine — perhaps $10 a page.

Broadway Journal — $1 a column, two to the page.

Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine — $3 a page.

Columbian Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine — about $2 a page.

Democratic Review — $2 a page.

Dollar Newspaper — one page about equal to four Graham’s pages, $16 a page.

Flag of Our Union — about $7 a “Graham-page”; $5 for a sonnet.

Gift — four pages about equal to one SLM page, $2 a page.

Godey’s Lady’s Book — $5 a “Graham-page.”

Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine — $4 a page; also $2-$12 for tales, $5-$50 for a poem.

New York Review — about $2 a Harrison page.

New York Sun — $50 (probably exceptional) for whole article. Opal — 50¢ a page.

Philadelphia Saturday Courier — one page about equal to four Graham’s pages.

Philadelphia Saturday Museum — $4 a page.

Pioneer — $10 for whole contribution.

Saturday Evening Post — $20 a large page.

Snowden’s Ladies’ Companion — “usual magazine price,” $4 a page?

Southern Literary Messenger — 80¢ a column, two to the page; later $2 a page.

Souvenir — $1 a column, two to the page.

Spirit of the Times — $10 for whole contribution.


Brigham, Clarence S. “Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 52 (1942).

Falk, Doris V. “Thomas Low Nichols. Poe, and the ‘Balloon Hoax,‘” Poe Studies, 5 (December 1972), 48-49.

Harrison, James A., ed. The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York Thomas Y. Crowell and Co., 1902).

Mabbott, Thomas O., ed. Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume I-III (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1969-1978).

Mabbott, Thomas O., ed. Doings of Gotham in a Series of Letters 6y Edgar Allan Poe as Described to the Editor of the Columbia Spy; Together with Various Editorial Comments and Criticisms by Poe, now first collected by Jacob E. Spannuth, with preface, introduction and comments by Mabbott (Pottsville, Pa.: J. E. Spannuth, 1929).

Moss, Sidney P. Poe’s Major Crisis (Durham, N. C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1970).

Ostrom, John Ward, ed. The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols. rev. ed. (New York: Gordian Press, 1966).

Phillips, Mary E. Edgar Allan Poe, the Man, 2 vols. (Chicago: John C. Winston Co., 1926).

Quinn, A. H Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Appleton-Century Co. 1941).

Quinn, A. H. and E. H. O‘Neill. Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946).

Thomas, D. R. Poe in Philadelphia, 1838-1844, 2 vols. (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1979).

United States Department of the Treasury (Washington, D.C., 1982).

Woodberry, George E. The Life of Edgar Allan Poe. 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1909).


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