Text: James A. Harrison, “Chapter 05,” Complete Works of E. A. Poe , Vol. 01: Biography (1902), 1:96-119


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[page 96:]

CHAPTER V.

1831-1836.

THE DARK YEARS. THE BALTIMORE “VISITER” AND LATROBE’S REMINISCENCES. MARRIAGE.

IT is at this point — from March, 1831 to the summer of 1833 — that Poe’s biography slips within the penumbra of almost total obscurity.(1) Now, if at all, occurred those wanderings of the new Odysseus of which Burwell, Mrs. Shelton, Mr. Ingram, even Mrs. Allan (in her letter to Colonel T. H. Ellis) speak — the Russian journey, the French adventure, etc., the former of which Poe left uncontradicted in Hirst’s biography of him, the latter he is reported to have related to Mrs. Marie Louise Shew in a supposed death bed confession. A hiatus of two years and a half occurred during which the only glimmering of light is afforded by a letter from Poe to William Gwynn, a Baltimore editor, dated May 6th, 1831, referring to Mr. Allan’s second marriage, and to Poe’s own foolish conduct on a former occasion, and asking for employment of some kind, “salary a minor consideration.” None seems to have been forthcoming, nor could Mr. N. C. Brooks (afterwards well known as an editor and littérateur) procure him even an usher’s place in his school.

Another glimmer proceeds from a paper in “Harper’s” for March, 1889, entitled “Poe’s Mary,” by Augustus van Cleef, according to which Poe spent [page 97:] the year immediately following his dismissal from West Point, with his aunt Mrs. Clemm, in Baltimore. If one can credit the statements of this paper, which purport to be the story of Poe’s love for a Baltimore girl of that time, the poet had just returned from the Academy, was a handsome, fascinating young man who “wrote poetry.” “Any young girl would have fallen in love with him” — and “Poe’s Mary” did. “Mr. Poe,” Mary continues, “was about five feet eight inches tall, and had dark, almost black hair, which he wore long and brushed back in student style over his ears. It was as fine as silk. His eyes were large and full, gray and piercing. He was then, I think, entirely, clean shaven. His nose was long and straight, and his features finely cut. The expression about his mouth was beautiful. He was pale and had, no color. His skin was of a clear, beautiful olive. He had a sad, melancholy look. He was very slender when I first knew him, but had a fine figure, an erect, military carriage, and a quick step. But it was his manner that most charmed. It was elegant. When he looked at you it seemed as if he could read your very thoughts. His voice was pleasant and musical, but not deep.” Colonel T. W. Higginson, many years later, hearing Poe read “Ligeia,” bore testimony to the beauty of his voice.

The confession of “Mary” bears internal evidence of being true. She describes his dress, his originality, his affectionate, even passionate manner in his ad. dresses, his hauteur, aristocratic manners, and reserve. Excitable, jealous, intense, tender, the sensitive youth appears before us in these pages just as he must have been. Little Virginia Clemm carried the notes that passed to and fro between the lovers, — a lovely, violet-eyed [page 98:] school-girl of ten who even then loved her cousin to distraction. He proposed marriage to “Mary,” but his penniless condition stood in the way of the match.

Finally, the inevitable lovers’ quarrel took place, brought on by jealousy of a supposed rival and by chance indulgence with some West Point cadets in a glass of wine. “A glass made him tipsy. As to his being a habitual drunkard, he never was as long as I knew him” [and this lady sat beside Virginia’s deathbed in 1847].

All intercourse was then broken off by the inamorata, who left his letters unanswered or returned them. Poe then wrote her satirical notelets and published a poem “To Mary ——” in a Baltimore paper, dealing severely with her fickleness and inconstancy. This brought about a personal difficulty between Poe and the lady’s uncle, during which Poe drew a cowhide and chastised the old gentleman; afterwards pulling the cowhide out of his sleeve, and throwing it passionately to the feet of his beloved, exclaiming: “There, I make you a present of that!”

The lady afterwards married another, lived in Philadelphia and New York, visited the Poes at Fordham and in Amity Street, and died in the West in 1847.

The article is rambling and erroneous in some of its statements, but is evidently inspired by a real acquaintance with Poe in his earlier years. A search in the contemporary Baltimore papers for the poem might throw additional light on its authenticity.

Whether Poe went to Richmond during this dark period or received any help from the Allans is altogether problematical. A vivid gleam of light, however, is thrown upon his career by the famous competition of [page 99:] the summer of 1833, when “The Baltimore Visiter” announced that it would give two prizes, one, of a hundred dollars, for the best story, another, of fifty, dollars, for the best poem to be published in its columns by a given date. The committee of award was composed of three distinguished Baltimore gentlemen: John P. Kennedy, J. H. B. Latrobe, and Dr. James H. Miller; and the contest was so interesting that it is worth while giving an account of it in Mr. Latrobe’s own words, many years afterwards, on the occasion of the unveiling of the Poe Monument in Baltimore, in 1875.

“The Saturday Visiter” was a weekly paper whose origin has been entertainingly described by L. A. Wilmer in “Our Press Gang, or The Crimes of the American Newspapers: 1859.” This new literary weekly had been established by Mr. C. F. Cloud (not by Wilmer, as asserted by Professor Woodberry), who placed the editorial management in Mr. Wilmer’s charge and afterwards associated Mr. W. P. Pouder, his brother-in-law, and Mr. Hewitt, a musician and poet, with the enterprise. The weekly throve beyond all expectations and would, doubtless, have proved a decided success had not the editors fallen out, dissolved partnership, and lampooned each other. It then passed into the hands of T. S. Arthur, who subsequently transferred it to Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, Poe’s physician-friend. Shortly afterwards it expired.

Wilmer, in this curious book, bears the following testimony to Poe’s character:

“The late Edgar A. Poe has been represented by the American newspapers in general as a reckless libertine and a confirmed inebriate. I do not recognize him by this description, though I was intimately acquainted [page 100:] with the man, and had every opportunity to study his character. I have been in company with him every day for many months together; and, within a period of twelve years, I did not see him inebriated; no, not in a single instance. I do not believe that he was ever habitually intemperate until he was made so by grief and many bitter disappointments. And, with respect to the charge of libertinism, I have similar testimony to offer. Of all men that I ever knew, he was the most passionless; and I appeal to his writings for a confirmation of this report. Poets of ardent temperament, such as Anacreon, Ovid, Byron, and Tom Moore, will always display their constitutional peculiarity in their literary compositions; but Edgar A. Poe never wrote a line that gave expression to a libidinous thought. The female creations of his fancy are all either statues or angels. His conversation, at all times, was as chaste as that of a vestal, and his conduct, while I knew him, was correspondingly blameless.

“Poe, during his lifetime, was feared and hated by many newspaper editors and other literary animalcules, some of whom, or their friends, had been the subject of his searching critiques; and others disliked him, naturally enough, because he was a man of superior intellect. While he lived, these resentful gentlemen were discreetly silent, but they nursed their wrath to keep it warm, and the first intelligence of his death was the signal for a general onslaught. The primal slander against the deceased bard was published in a leading journal of Philadelphia, the ‘literary editor’ of which had formerly received not only a critical rebuke, but something like personal chastisement also from the hands of the departed poet.”(1) [page 101:]

In spite of the large circulation of “The Baltimore Visiter,” not a single file of it is known to exist. The attention of rare-book hunters might well be called to the value of the unique number (October 12) in which the “MS. Found in a Bottle” appeared, as well as to that of the other numbers to which, for six months, Poe is said to have contributed.

The announcement of his winning of the prize at once surrounded Poe with a blaze of publicity, in which, afterwards, he never ceased to live. He had emerged out of the penumbra into the full light of day, a vexatious apocalypse which enabled the critics to turn their microscopes upon him and subject his every thought, attitude, and gesture to minute investigation. The vivisection has gone on for three-quarters of a century, while the “subject” lies in a haunted sleep, and mutters anathemas against the anatomists!

The “Visiter” of October 12, 1833, contained the following notice:

“Amongst the prose articles [submitted for the prize] were many of various and istinguished merit, but the singular force and beauty of those sent by the author of , The Tales of the Folio Club’ leave us no room for hesitation in that department. We have accordingly awarded the premium to a tale entitled ‘The MS. Found in a Bottle.’ It would hardly be doing justice to the writer of this collection to say that the tale we have chosen is the best of the six offered by him. We cannot refrain from saying that the author owes it to his own reputation, as well as to the gratification of the community, to publish the entire volume [‘Tales of the Folio Club‘]. These tales are eminently distinguished by a wild, vigorous, and poetical [page 102:] imagination, a rich style, a fertile invention, and varied and curious learning.

“(Signed) JOHN P. KENNEDY,   
J. H. B. LATROBE,   
JAMES H. MILLER.”

How this tale came to be selected may be seen from the(1) Reminiscences of Poe by John H. B. Latrobe

“About the year 1833 there was a newspaper in Baltimore called ‘The Saturday Visiter’ — an ephemeral publication, that aimed at amusing its readers with light literary productions rather than the news of the day. One of its efforts was to procure original tales, and to this end it offered on this occasion two prizes, one for the best story and the other for the best short poem — one hundred dollars for the first and fifty for the last. The judges appointed by the editor of the ‘Visiter’ were the late John P. Kennedy, Dr. James H. Miller (now deceased), and myself, and accordingly we met, one pleasant afternoon, in the back parlor of my house, on Mulberry Street, and seated round a table garnished with some old wine and some good cigars, commenced our critical labors. As I happened then to be the youngest of the three, I was required to open the packages of prose and poetry, respectively, and read the contents. Alongside of me was a basket to hold what we might reject.

“I remember well that the first production taken from the top of the prose pile was in a woman’s hand, written very distinctly, as, indeed, were all the articles submitted, and so neatly that it seemed a pity not to [page 103:] award to it a prize. It was ruthlessly criticised, however, for it was ridiculously bad — namby-pamby in the extreme — full of sentiment and of the school known as the Laura Madlda school. The first page would have consigned it to the basket as our critical guillotine beheaded it. Gallantry, however, caused it to be read through, when in it went along with the envelope containing the name of the writer, which, of course, remained unknown. The next piece I have no recollection of, except that a dozen lines consigned it to the basket. I remember that the third, perhaps the fourth, production was recognized as a translation from the French, with a terrific dénouement. It was a poor translation too; for, falling into literal accuracy, the writer had, in many places, followed the French idioms. The story was not without merit, but the Sir Fretful Plagiary of a translator deserved the charge of Sheridan in the ‘Critic,’ of being tike a beggar who had stolen another man’s child and clothed it in his own rags. Of the remaining productions I have no recollection. Some were condemned after a few sentences had been read. Some were laid aside for reconsideration — not many. These last failed to pass muster afterwards, and the committee had about made up their minds that there was nothing before them to which they would award a prize, when I noticed a small quarto-bound book that had until then accidentally escaped attention, possibly because so unlike, externally, the bundles of manuscript that it had to compete with. Opening it, an envelope with a motto corresponding with one in the book appeared, and we found that our prose examination was still incomplete. Instead of the common cursive manuscript, the writing was in Roman characters — an imitation of printing. [page 104:] I remember that while reading the first page to myself, Mr. Kennedy and the Doctor had filled their glasses and lit their cigars, and when I said that we seemed at last to have a prospect of awarding the prize, they laughed as though they doubted it, and settled themselves in their comfortable chairs as I began to read. I had not proceeded far before my colleagues became as much interested as myself. The first tale finished, I went to the second, then to the next, and did not stop until I had gone through the volume, interrupted only by such exclamations as I capital! ‘I excellent!’ ‘how odd!’ and the like, from my companions. There was genius in everything they listened to; there was no uncertain grammar, no feeble phraseology, no ill-placed punctuation, no worn-out truisms, no strong thought elaborated into weakness. Logic and imagination were combined in rare consistency. Sometimes the writer created in his mind a world of his own and then described it — a world so weird, so strange —

“ ‘Far down by the dim lake of Auber,

In the misty mid-region of Wier;

Far down by the dank tarn of Auber,

In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir;’

and withal so fascinating, so wonderfully graphic, that it seemed for the moment to have all the truth of a reality. There was an analysis of complicated facts — an unravelling of circumstantial evidence that won the lawyer judges — an amount of accurate scientific knowledge that charmed their accomplished colleague — a pure classic diction that delighted all three.

“When the reading was completed there was a difficulty of choice. Portions of the tales were read again, [page 105:] and finally the committee selected “A MS. Found in a Bottle.” One of the series was called “A Descent into the Maelström,” and this was at one time preferred.(1) I cannot now recall the names of all the tales — there must have been six or eight — but all the circumstances of the selection ultimately made have been so often since referred to in conversation that my memory has been kept fresh, and I see my fellow-judges over their wine and cigars, in their easy-chairs — both genial, hearty men, in pleasant mood, as distinctly now as though I were describing an event of yesterday.

“Having made the selection and awarded the one hundred dollar prize, not, as has been said, most unjustly and ill-naturedly, because the manuscript was legible, but because of the unquestionable genius and great originality of the writer, we were at liberty to open the envelope that identified him, and there we found in the note, whose motto corresponded with that of the little volume, the name, which I see you anticipate, of Edgar Allan Poe.

“The statement in Dr. Griswold’s life prefixed to the common edition of Poe’s works, that ‘It was unanimously decided by the committee that the prize should be given to the first genius who had written legibly; not another MS. was unfolded,’ is absolutely untrue.

“Refreshed by this most unexpected change in the character of the contributions, the committee refilled their glasses and refit their cigars, and the reader began upon the poetry. This, although better in the main [page 106:] than the prose, was bad enough, and, when we had gone more or less thoroughly over the pile of manuscript, two pieces only were deemed worthy of consideration. The title of one was ‘The Coliseum,’ the written printing of which told that it was Poe’s. The title of the other I have forgotten, but, upon opening the accompanying envelope, we found that the author was Mr. John H. Hewitt, still living in Baltimore, and well known, I believe, in the musical world, both as a poet and composer. I am not prepared to say that the committee may not have been biased in awarding the fifty dollar prize to Mr. Hewitt by the fact that they had already given the one hundred dollar prize to Mr. Poe. I recollect, however, that we agreed that, under the circumstances, the excellence of Mr. Hewitt’s poem deserved a reward, and we gave the smaller prize to him with clear consciences.

“I believe that up to this time not one of the committee had ever seen Mr. Poe, and it is my impression that I was the only one that ever heard of him. When his name was read I remembered that on one occasion Mr. William Gwynn, a prominent member of the bar of Baltimore, had shown me the very neat manuscript of a poem called ‘Al Aaraaf,’ which he spoke of as indicative of a tendency to anything but the business of matter-of-fact life. Those of my hearers who are familiar with the poet’s works will recollect it as one of his earlier productions. Although Mr, Gwynn, being an admirable lawyer, was noted as the author of wise and witty epigrams in verse, ‘Al Aaraaf’ was not in his vein, and what he said of the writer had not prepared me for the productions before the committee. His name, I am sure, was not at the time a familiar one. [page 107:]

“The neat number of the’Saturday Visiter’ contained the ‘MS. Found in a Bottle,’ and announced the author. My office, in these days, was in the building still occupied by the Mechanics’ Bank, and I was seated at my desk on the Monday following the publication of the tale, when a gentleman entered and introduced himself as the writer, saying that he came to thank me, as one of the committee, for the award in his favor. Of this interview, the only one I ever had with Mr. Poe, my recollection is very distinct indeed, and it requires but a small effort of imagination to place him before me now, as plainly almost as I see any one of my audience. He was, if anything, below the middle size, and yet could not be described as a small man. His figure was remarkably good, and he carried himself erect and well, as one who had been trained to it. He was dressed in black, and his frock-coat was buttoned to the throat, where it met the black stock, then almost universally worn. Not a particle of white was visible. Coat, hat, boots, and gloves had very evidently seen their best days, but so far as mending and brushing go, everything had been done, apparently, to make them presentable. On most men his clothes would have looked shabby and seedy, but there was something about this man that prevented one from criticising his garments, and the details I have mentioned were only recalled afterwards. The impression made, however, was that the award in Mr. Poe’s favor was not inopportune. Gentleman was written all over him. His manner was easy and quiet, and although he came to return thanks for what he regarded as deserving them, there was nothing obsequious in what he said or did. His features I am unable to describe in detail. His forehead was high, [page 108:] and remarkable for the great development at the temple. This was the characteristic of his head, which you noticed at once, and which I have never forgotten. The expression of his face was grave, almost sad, except when he was engaged in conversation, when it became animated and changeable. His voice, I remember, was very pleasing in its tone and well modulated, almost rhythmical, and his words were well chosen and unhesitating. Taking a seat, we conversed a while on ordinary topics, and he informed me that Mr. Kennedy, my colleague in the committee, on whom he had already called, had either given, or promised to give him, a letter to the’Southern Literary Messenger,’ which he hoped would procure him employment.(1) I asked him whether he was then occupied with any literary labor. He replied that he was engaged on a voyage to the moon, and at once went into a somewhat learned disquisition upon the laws of gravity, the height of the earth’s atmosphere, and the capacities of balloons, warming in his speech as he proceeded. Presently, speaking in the first person, he began the voyage: after describing the preliminary arrangements, as you will find them set forth in one of his tales, called ‘The Adventure of One Hans Pfaall,’ and leaving the earth, and becoming more and more animated, he described his sensation, as he ascended higher and higher, until, at last, he reached the point in space where the moon’s attraction overcame that of the earth, when there was a sudden bouleversement of the car and a great confusion among its tenants. By this time the speaker had become so [page 109:] excited, spoke so rapidly, gesticulating much, that when the turn up-side-down took place, and he clapped his hands and stamped with his foot by way of emphasis, I was carried along with him, and, for aught to the contrary that I now remember, may have fancied myself the companion of his aerial journey. The climax of the tale was the reversal I have mentioned. When he had finished his description he apologized for his excitability, which he laughed at himself. The conversation then turned upon other subjects, and soon afterward he took his leave. I never saw him more. Dr. Griswold’s statement ‘that Mr. Kennedy accompanied him (Poe) to a clothing store and purchased for him a respectable suit, with a change of linen, and sent him to a bath,’ is a sheer fabrication.

“That I heard of him again and again, and year after year, in common with all English-speaking people, more and more, it is unnecessary to say — heard of him in terms of praise sometimes, sometimes in terms of censure, as we all have done, until now, that he has passed away, leaving his fame behind him, to last while our language lasts, I have grown to thinly of him only as the author who gave to the world the ‘Raven’ and the ‘Bells,’ and many a gem beside of noble verse; who illustrated that power of the English tongue in prose composition not less logical than imaginative; and I forget the abuse, whether with or without foundation, that ignorance, prejudice, or envy has heaped upon his memory. Unfortunately in the first biography following his death, where the author, with a temper difficult to understand, actually seemed to enjoy the depreciation of the poet’s life, Edgar Allan Poe was seen by a malignant eye, and [page 110:] his story was told by an unkindly tongue; and the efforts since made by friends to do him justice are slowly succeeding in demonstrating that there was in him an amount of good which, in all fairness, should be set off against that which we must regret while we attempt to palliate.

“To Poe, there well may be applied the verse of one of the most gifted of our poetesses, addressed to a great name in a very different sphere:

“ ‘The moss upon thy memory, no!

Not while one note is sung

Of those divine, immortal lays

Milton and Shakspeare sung;

Not till the gloom of night enshroud

The Anglo-Saxon tongue.’ ”

Poe of course became the talk of the town. Mr. Kennedy (author of “Swallow Barn,” recently published, and, later, of “Horse-Shoe Robinson,” and other works) immediately interested himself in the forlorn young genius, invited him to dinner, gave him clothing and free access to his house and table, and “brought him up,” as he records in his diary, “from the very verge of despair.”

In a letter often quoted, but which never loses its intense pathos, Poe wrote to Kennedy at this time:

“Your invitation to dinner has wounded me to the quick. I cannot come for reasons of the most humiliating nature — my personal appearance. You may imagine my mortification in making this disclosure to you, but it is necessary.”

The other judges also, Messrs. Latrobe and Miller, were kind to him, and he sustained himself precariously [page 111:] by “jobs” for the “Visiter,” and for Mr. Kennedy. Wilmer was his frequent companion in walks and talks about the suburbs, and testifies, as we have noted, to his good conduct. He was living with his aunt Mrs. Clemm, who had married a widower, William Clemm, with a son and a daughter. The lady is said to have supported herself by teaching and dressmaking, and to have resided first in Wilkes Street and then at No. 3 Amity Street, Baltimore. There is no reason to doubt Poe’s statement that the “MS. Found in a Bottle” was written and “Politian” already begun, in 1831.

We now approach one of the most vexed and obscure controversies of Poe’s vexed existence — his rupture with the Allans. We are fortunately enabled for the first time to give an authentic statement of the events from a member of the Allan family, giving the Allan version of the affair.

Mr. Allan died of dropsy March 27, 1834. Three children had been born to him by the second marriage, and the birth of these children had of course been a death-blow to Poe’s hopes of becoming Mr. Allan’s heir. Still some lingering expectation of one kind or another must have haunted the poet’s brain, for while Mr. Allan was ill he appeared in Richmond and went to the house, having been there previously only once in four years. In justice to Mrs. Allan, who was a most estimable woman, and who apparently had never seen Poe but once, we print — perhaps indiscreetly — the following letter from her niece as giving her side of the unfortunate occurrence, premising that in certain Virginia circles the view prevails to this day that Poe was utterly bad, that on his return from the University he gambled with Mr. Allan’s servants, and that when [page 112:] he demanded money of one of the Allan ladies, he stoned the house and smashed the windows on being refused; adding, however, that the same accusation of forgery was brought against Poe, later, in Philadelphia, was tried in a court of justice, and triumphantly refuted, heavy damages being awarded the poet

“I am afraid I can give you very little assistance about Edgar Allan Poe, for he has been so often written up, and there are none of his contemporaries now living that I know of, and all that I could write you would be family tradition, and that, you know, is not always authentic. Mr. John Allan had no children during his first marriage, and after he adopted Poe he became as devoted to him and as proud of his talents as if he were his own son, sparing no expense on his education, dress, and living. Poe, expecting to be his heir, began at the University a wild and reckless career, and was guilty of conduct so unbecoming a gentleman that it offended Mr. Allan seriously. That, however, did not break the ties that had so long existed, and Mr. Allan tried in every way to reform him. Poe, however, continued the same dissolute life, breaking good resolutions and promises often and over, and ended by forging Mr. Allan’s name. The money was paid, but then it was that Poe was discarded and forbidden the house of his benefactor, and all intercourse was refused. Mr. Allan married, secondly, my aunt, Miss Patterson of New Jersey, and she told me that Poe had never been to their house but twice, and she only saw him once. It was when her eldest son was three weeks old. He came upstairs to her bedroom, and began in an abusive manner to rail at herself and baby. She asked her nurse to ring the bell. It was answered by the butler, and [page 113:] she said: ‘James, put this drunken man out of the house,’ which he did. The next time he visited the house must have been about four years afterwards, for it was during the last illness of Mr. Allan. He was sitting in a large chair trying to read a newspaper when the door opened, and Poe came in. Mr. Allan became very much excited, shook his cane at him, and ordered him out of the house, using very strong language, for he had never forgiven him, and whether he came to plead for forgiveness, or to upbraid, no one knew, for the old gentleman did not give him a chance to say a word. My aunt always felt it bitterly that the public so often blamed her for the estrangement when she had nothing to do with it, and rarely spoke of him. Of course these things happened long before my day.”

The palliation for such conduct could only be the unfortunate manner in which the orphan waif had been reared. Bitter indeed must have been the anguish and despair of such a spirit as Poe’s on finding himself thus publicly cut off without even a mention in the will, the laughing-stock of the town where he had lived nearly all his life. In a moment of supreme agitation he was doubtless misled to commit acts which in cold blood would have been atrocious, and this must be his excuse.

Thrown upon his own resources, Poe despairingly turned to a Philadelphia publishing house (Corey & Lea), and sent them the ,Tales of the Folio Club,” following his friend Kennedy’s advice; and, consulting with Wilmer, he and the young editor of the “Visiter” determined to issue the prospectus of a first-class literary journal, of the usual “fearless, independent, and sternly just” kind, an ideal about which [page 114:] Poe at least was really in earnest, and which he cherished up to his dying breath.

Virginia Clemm, meanwhile, — the poet’s cousin, — had developed into a beautiful girl of twelve or thirteen, whose charms, intelligence, and refinement had captivated the heart of Edgar, thirteen years older. A proposition of marriage followed, which was strenuously opposed by Neilson Poe, a third cousin, who had married Virginia’s step-sister, and who offered to care for Virginia until she was of a suitable age to marry. This Poe vigorously opposed, and, with Mrs. Clemm’s consent, they were licensed to marry, according to the Marriage Records of the City of Baltimore, September 22, 1834. The records of St. Paul’s Church Parish, Baltimore, show that Virginia Clemm was born August 22, 1822.

Whether the marriage was actually performed by a minister, after the license was obtained, cannot be positively ascertained. An unfounded tradition affirms that Rev. John Johns (afterwards Bishop of Virginia) performed the ceremony; but the writer has taken the trouble to make careful inquiries of the Johns family, as well as of the registrar of St. Paul’s Church, with the following result:

Bishop Johns’s son writes:

WASHINGTON, D. C., Nov. 2, 1900.

MY DEAR SIR, — Replying to your favor of Nov. 1st, let me say that the records of marriages performed by Rev. Dr. Johns, in Balto., are, I presume, to be found at Christ Church, Balto., Rev. Dr. Niver, rector. . . . We have no traditions or other information.

Very truly,  
A. S. JOHNS. [page 115:]

CHRIST CHURCH, Nov. 9th, 1900.

DEAR SIR, — There is no record of Poe’s marriage in the books of Christ’s Church in the years 1834, 5, or 6. I would suggest that you write to Dr. Hodges at St. Paul’s Church. They may have it recorded there, as Christ’s Church is a daughter of St. Paul’s Church.

ROBERT B. NELSON, Assistant.

BALTIMORE, Nov. 25, 1900.

MY DEAR SIR, — Your letter of the 12th inst. to Rev. Dr. Hodges, rector of St. Paul’s Parish, has been handed to me, as Registrar of the Parish, for reply in reference to the marriage of Edgar Allan Poe and Virginia Clemm.

In reply I would say that as long ago as Sept., 1884, I made a careful examination of the Records of St. Paul’s Parish for Mr. Geo. E. Woodberry, who was about to publish a life of E. A. Poe, and then told him that no record of Poe’s marriage appeared in our books, though there were several records of the Clemm family. I forget now the year of the marriage, but think it was prior to 1828 [an error: 1834 was the year. — En.], for in that year Christ Church was set off from St. Paul’s Parish, and any marriage after that time should appear in Christ Church Records, and not in ours. . . .

Yours truly,  
CHAS. HANDFIELD WYATT.

There is no complete legal proof that the marriage took place, because there is no return of the minister officiating. This is doubtless the reason why, some months later, May 16, 1836, as seen in the marriage bond, a second license was secured, and the ceremony was performed in Richmond, Va., by the Rev. Amasa Converse, a Presbyterian minister who edited cc The Southern Religious Telegraph.” [page 116:]

The cause of the removal to Richmond at this time was the establishment of the famous “Southern Literary Messenger,” and Poe’s engagement, first as a casual contributor to the magazine, and then as its literary editor.

This engagement had been brought about by the kind offices of his good friend Kennedy, to whom T. W. White, editor and proprietor of the “Messenger,” had written for a contribution, and who recommended Poe as a very remarkable young man.

Poe sent White some of his “Tales of the Folio Club,” one of which — “Berenice” (not, however, one of those named below) — appeared in the number for March, 1835, attracting wide attention. The stories known to have been among “The Tales of the Folio Club” were the “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “Lionizing,” “The Visionary (“Assignation”),” “Siope,” “Epimanes,” and “A Descent into the Maelström” (the latter on the authority of Mr. J. H. B. Latrobe, in Miss Rice’s Baltimore Memorial Volume, p. 59)- Poe seems to have had ten other — “Tales of the Folio Club” ready, which he did not use in the competition: “Berenice” (above mentioned), “Morello,” “Hans Phaall” (so spelled in the “Messenger” for June, 1835, though repeatedly, in his correspondence, with one 1 only), “Bon-Bon,” “Shadow,” “Loss of Breath,” “King Pest,” “Metzengerstein,” “Duc de 1’Omelette,” and “A Tale of Jerusalem.”

These tales must have been those described by Mr. J. P. Kennedy in his note to Poe’s letter of November, 1834, as then in the hands of Carey & Lea, of Philadelphia, for consideration: “being two series submitted for the prize, for which one was chosen, [page 117:] and two others at my suggestion sent to Carey & Lea.”

One of these tales was sold to Miss Leslie, for the “Souvenir,” at $15. Letters dated December, 1834, and March, May, June, and July, 1835, show the author in lively correspondence with Kennedy and White on matters largely pertaining to his new connection with the “Messenger” as critical reviewer. In one of these letters to White he writes: “I must insist on your not sending me any remuneration for services of this nature [aiding the circulation of the “Messenger” by notices in the Baltimore “Republican,” “American,” etc.]. They are a pleasure to me, and no trouble whatever.”

Occasional sums from White of $5 or $20 reached Poe through the mails, and were welcome additions to his purse. Number 10 of the “Messenger” contained thirty-four columns by the new contributor, including “Hans Pfaall” (which, he asserts, “was written especially for the Messenger’ ”).

In September, 1835, his correspondence shows that he was already in Richmond, probably at Mrs. Yarrington’s boarding-house, and, a little later, was receiving a salary of $520 a year as editor of the “Messenger,” increased to $800 by Mr. White’s liberality for extra work. This was to be still further increased to $1,000 the next year. He writes exultantly that “his friends had received him with open arms,” asks Kennedy’s advice as to his course in the “Messenger,” and finds that his reputation is increasing in the South.

Already, however, a note of warning sounds from White in September, 1835, “No man is safe that drinks before breakfast. No man can do so and attend to business properly.” Poe was beginning to complain [page 118:] of “ill-health,” and had contracted this unfortunate habit of morning potations, either from the delicacy of his constitution or from the hereditary “blue devils” from which he suffered. just after his arrival in Richmond, indeed, when everything seemed bright, and he had been employed by White at something more than $40 a month, he fell into low spirits, and wrote Kennedy a despairing letter in which he says

“I am suffering under a depression of spirits, such as I have never felt before. I have struggled in vain against the influence of this melancholy; you will believe me, when I say that I am still miserable, in spite of the great improvement in my circumstances. . . . I am wretched, and know not why. Console me, — for you can. But let it be quickly, or it will be too late. . . . Persuade me to do what is right. . . . Urge me to do what is right. . . . Fail not, as you value your peace of mind hereafter.”

Kennedy replied in consoling words and lulled the rasped spirit of the poet as well as he could, fearing that the constitutional hypochondria might drive him to desperation. In later life Poe affirmed that to Kennedy he owed life itself, possibly referring to the admirable conduct of the Baltimore novelist in lending him money at critical periods of his existence and giving him the sound advice which he so much needed.

The bibliography of Poe’s writings will show the variety and multiplicity of his work during the eighteen months he resided in Richmond, two whole volumes alone of the present edition being devoted to the uncollected reviews and essays in the “Messenger.” He showed himself a most industrious and indefatigable editor, author, and critic, pouring forth a tide of reviews, critiques, poems (revised or original), stories, [page 119:] satires, and romances such as hardly any two men could have been expected to supply. These are treated more fully in the following chapter and show the epoch-making characters of Poe’s works as an imaginative writer and scientific critic.

In the early stage of the Richmond period, after the marriage, the Poes seem to have kept house and taken boarders, borrowing money from Kennedy and the Poe family to establish themselves. The evil habit of borrowing began to grow on Poe in spite of the abundant support his “Messenger” connection gave him. One is loath, however, to believe that there was any sharp practice connected with it. That Poe abundantly understood the humourous side and the practices of the “dead beat” is plain from his “Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences.”

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 96:]

1.  See Appendix to Letters, for a recently discovered letter of Poe on this subject.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 100:]

1.  Our Press Gang, pp. 243-5.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 102:]

1.  Edgar Allan Poe Memorial Volume. By Sara Sigourney Rice. Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers; 1877.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 105:]

1.  This at once establishes the Fact that “A Descent into the Maelström” was one of the sixteen “Tales of the Folio Club,” and enables us to correct Professor Woodberry’s statement (Poe’s Works, IV., p. 283) that the “sixteenth Tale is unidentified.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 108:]

1.  There is some confusion of dates here: the Messenger was not established until August, 1834, nearly ten months after this interview. — ED.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - CWEAP, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Complete Works of E. A. Poe (Vol. 01 - Biography) (J. A. Harrison) (Chapter 05)