Text: James A. Harrison, “Chapter 01,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. XVII: Letters (1902), 17:1-24


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[page 1, unnumbered:]

POE AND HIS FRIENDS.

——————

CHAPTER I.

1829-1835.

RICHMOND. WEST POINT: BALTIMORE: CONTRIBUTOR TO THE “SOUTHERN LITERARY MESSENGER.”

——————

I.

—————

POE’S EARLIEST KNOWN LETTER.

1829.

Poe wrote to John Neal, editor of “The Yankee,” in the latter part of 1829. For Neal’s account of this letter, see Appendix, p. 443.

POE TO COLONELS THAYER.

March 10, 1831.

This letter and the subjoined — “Letter to B” are the only epistolary record of Poe’s West Point career. See Appendix, p. 449

“LETTER TO B ——.”

1831.

Printed as a Preface to the Poems of 1831. See Appendix, p. 450.

POE TO WILLIAM GWYNN.

May 6, 1831.

Upon May 6, 1831, Poe wrote to William Gwynn, an editor of Baltimore, that he hesitated to ask anything [page 2:] of him because of his own unfortunate action at a former time. — However, he wished to go to Baltimore to live, now that Mr. Allan had married and Richmond was no longer his home. — Mr. Allan had agreed with his wishes, and he wanted to have Mr. Gwynn’s aid in obtaining some employment in which salary would not be a first point considered. — Possibly Mr. Gwynn might be able to give him some sort of work in his office. — If he should Poe would exert himself to the utmost to meet the award. — He would have called upon Mr. Gwynn in person, but was housed by a sprain in the knee.

POE TO KENNEDY.

[Griswold Collection.]

DR SIR, — Your kind invitation to dinner today has wounded me to the quick. I cannot come — and for reasons of the most humiliating nature — my personal appearance. You may conceive my deep mortification in making this disclosure to you — but it was necessary. If you will be my friend so far as to loan me $20, I will call on you to-morrow — otherwise it will be impossible, and I must submit to my fate.

Sincerely  
Yours,  
E. A. POE.

J. P. KENNEDY Esq.,

Sunday 15th [1833].

POE TO KENNEDY.

November, 1834.

See Vol. I., page 1. [page 3:]

KENNEDY TO POE.

[Griswold Collection.]

DEAR SIR, — I have recd your note, and should have apprised you of what I had done, but that Carry’s letter only reached me a few days ago as I was stepping into a carriage to go to Annapolis, whence I returned only a day or two since.

I requested Carey immediately upon the receipt of your first letter to do something for you as speedily as he might find an opportunity and to make some advance on your book. His answer let me know that he would go on to publish, but the expectation of any profit from the undertaking he considered doubtful, — not from want of merit in the production but because small books of detached tales however well written seldom yield a sum sufficient to enable the bookseller to purchase a copyright. He recommended however that I should allow him to sell some of the tales to the publishers of the annuals. My reply was that I thought you would not object to this if the right to publish the same tale was reserved for the volume. He has accordingly sold one of the tales to Miss Leslie for the Souvenir at a dollar a page, I think, with the reservation above mentioned, — and has remitted me a draft for fifteen dollars, which I will hand over to you as soon as you call upon me, which I hope you will do as soon as you can make it convenient. If the other tales can be sold in the same way you will get more for the work than by an exclusive publication.

Yours truly  
JOHN P. KENNEDY.

BALT. Dec. 22, 1834.

EDGAR A. POE, Esq. [page 4:]

POE TO KENNEDY.

[Griswold Collection.]

SUNDAY, 15th March, 1835.

DR SIR. — In the paper which will be handed you with this note is an advertisement to which I most anxiously solicit your attention. It relates to the appointment of a teacher in a Public School, and I have marked it with a cross that you may readily perceive it. In my present circumstances such a situation would be most desirable, and if your interest could obtain it for me, I would always remember your kindness with the deepest gratitude. Have I any hope? Your reply to this would greatly oblige. The 18th is fixed on for the decision of the commissioners, and the advertisement has only this moment caught my eye. This will excuse my obtruding the matter on your attention today.

Very respr  
E. A. POE.

POE TO WHITE.

[Griswold Collection.]

BALTIMORE, May 30, 1835.

MR. T. W. WHITE.

DR SIR, — I duly recd, through Mr. Kennedy your favour of the 20th enclosing $5; and an order for $4.94. I assure you it was very welcome. Miscarriages of double letters are by no means unfrequent just now, but yours, at least, came safely to hand. Had I reflected a moment I should have acknowledged the rect before. I suppose you have heard about —— [page 5:] of this place, late Editor of the Gazette. He was detected in purloining letters from the office to which the Clerks were in the habit of admitting him familiarly. He acknowledged the theft of more than $2000 in this way at different times. He probably took even more than that, and I am quite sure that on the part of the Clerks themselves advantage was taken of his arrest to embezzle double that sum. I have been a loser myself to a small amount.

I have not seen Mr. Kennedy for some days, having been too unwell to go abroad. When I saw him last he assured me his book would reach Rich! in time for your next number, and under this assurance, I thought it useless to make such extracts from the book as I wished — thinking you could please your self in this matter. I cannot imagine what delays its publication, for it has been for some time ready for issue. In regard to my critique I seriously feel ashamed of what I have written. I fully intended to have given the work a thorough review, and examine it in detail. Ill health alone prevented me from so doing. At the time I wrote the hasty sketch I sent you I was so ill as to be hardly able to see the paper on which I wrote, and finished in a state of complete exhaustion. I have therefore, not done anything like justice to the hook, and I am vexed about the matter, for Mr. K. has proved himself a kind friend to me in every respect, and I am sincerely grateful to him for many acts of generosity and attention.

I read the article in the Compiler relating to the “Confessions of a Poet” but there is no necessity of giving it a reply. The book is silly enough of itself, without the aid of any controversy concerning [page 6:] it. In your private ear however I may say a word or two. The writer “I” founds his opinion that I have not read the book simply upon one fact — that I disagree with him concerning it. I have looked over his article two or three times attentively and can see no other reason adduced by him. If this is a good reason, one way, it is equally good another — ergo — He has not read the book because he disagrees with me. Neither of us having read it then, it is better to say no more about it.

But seriously — I have read it from beginning to end and was very much amused at it. My opinion concerning it is pretty much the opinion of the press at large. I have heard no person offer one serious word in its defence.

My notice of your Messenger in the Republican was I am afraid too brief for your views. But I could com mand no greater space in its editorial columns. I have often wondered at your preferring to insert such notices in the Republican. It is a paper by no means in the hands of the first people here. Would not the American suit as well? Its columns are equally at your service. Did you notice the alteration I made in the name of the authority of the lines to Mr. Wilde? They were written by Mrs. Dr. Buckler of this city — not Buckley.

You ask me if I am perfectly satisfied with your course. I reply that I am — entirely. My poor services are not worth what you give me for them.

The high compliment of Judge Tucker is rendered doubly flattering to me by my knowledge of his literary character.

Very sincerely yours  
EDGAR A. POE. [page 7:]

POE TO WHITE.

[Griswold Collection.]

BAL: June 12th, 1835.

MR. T. W. WHITE.

MY DEAR SIR, — I take the opportunity of sending this M. S. by private hand. Your letter of June 8th I recd yesterday morning together with the Magazines. In reply to your kind enquiries after my health I am glad to say that I have entirely recovered — although Dr. Buckler, no longer than 3 weeks ago, assured me that nothing but a sea-voyage would save me. I will do my best to please you in relation to Marshall’s Washington if you will send it on. By what time would you wish the M. S. of the Review?

I suppose you have recd Mr. Calvert’s communication. He will prove a valuable correspondent. I will send you on The American & Republican as soon as the critiques come out. What I can do farther to aid the circulation of your Magazine I will gladly do — but I must insist on your not sending me any remuneration for services of this; nature. They are a pleasure to me & no trouble whatever.

Very sincerely  
EDGAR A. POE.

I congratulate you upon obtaining the services of Mr. S. He has a high reputation for talent. [page 8:]

POE TO WHITE.

[Griswold Collection.]

BALT: June 22d 1935.

MY DEAR SIR, — I recd your letter of the 18th yesterday, and this morning your reprint of the Messenger No. 3. While I entirely agree with you, and with many of your correspondents, in your opinion of this number (it being in fact one of the very best issued) I cannot help entertaining a doubt whether it would be of any advantage to you to have the public attention called to this its second appearance by any detailed notice in the papers. There would be an air of irregularity about it — as the first edition was issued so long ago — which might even have

a prejudicial effect. For indeed the veriest triflesthe mere semblance of anything unusual or outré — will frequently have a pernicious influence in cases similar to this; and you must be aware that of all the delicate things in the world the character of a young Periodical is the most easily injured. Besides it is undeniable that the public will not think of judging you by the appearance, or the merit of your Magazine in November. Its present character, whether that be good or bad, is all that will influence them. I would therefore look zealously to the future, letting the past take care of itself. Adopting this view of the case, I thought it best to delay doing anything until I should hear further from you — being fully assured that a little reflection will enable you to see the matter in the same light as myself. One important objection to what you proposed is the insuperable dislike entertained by the Daily Editors to notice any but most recent publications. [page 9:] And although I dare say that I could, if you insist upon it, overcome this aversion in the present case, still it would be trifling to no purpose with your interest in that quarter. If however you disagree with me in these opinions I will undoubtedly (upon hearing from you) do as you desire. Of course the remarks I now make will equally apply to any other of the back numbers.

Many of the contributors to No. 3 are familiarly known to me — most of them I have seen occasionally. Charles B. Shaw the author of the Alleghany Levels is an old acquaintance, and a most estimable and talented man. I cannot say with truth that I had any knowledge of your son. I read the Lines to his memory in No. 9, and was much struck with an air of tenderness and unaffected simplicity which pervades them. The verses immediately following, and from the same pen, give evidence of fine poetic feeling in the writer.

I will pay special attention to what you suggested in relation to the punctuation &c. of my future M.S.S. You ask me if I would be willing to come on to Richmond if you should have occasion for my services during the coming winter. I reply that nothing would give me greater pleasure. I have been desirous, for some time past, of paying a visit to Richmond, and would be glad of any reasonable excuse for so doing. Indeed I am anxious to settle myself in that city, and if, by any chance, you hear of a situation likely to suit me, I would gladly accept it, were the salary even the merest trifle. I should indeed feel myself greatly indebted to you, if through your means, I could accomplish this object. What you say, in the conclusion of your letter, in relation to the supervision of proofsheets, gives me reason to hope that possibly you [page 10:] might find something for me to do in your office. If so I should be very glad — for at present a very small portion of my time is employed.

Immediately after putting my last letter to you in the P. G. I called upon Mr. Wood [or Woods?] as you desired — but the Magazine was then completed.

Very sincerely yours,  
EDGAR A. POE.

I have heard it suggested that a lighter-faced type in the headings of your various articles would improve the appearance of the Messenger. Do you not think so likewise? Who is the author of the Doom?

POE TO WHITE.

[W. M. Griswold MSS.]

BALTIMORE, July 20, 1835.

MY DEAR SIR, — I duly recd both your letters (July 14th and 16th) together with the $20. I am indeed grieved to hear that your health has not been improved by your trip — I agree with you in thinking that too close attention to business has been instrumental in causing your sickness.

I saw the Martinsburg Gazette by accident at Mr. Kennedy’s — but he is now out of town, and will not be back till the fail, and I know not where to procure a copy of the paper. It merely spoke of the Messenger in general terms of commendation. Have you seen the “Young Men’s Paper” — and the N. Y, Evening Star?

As might be supposed I am highly gratified with Mr. Pleasants’ notice and especially with Paulding’s. [page 11:] What Mr. Pleasants says in relation to the commencement of Hans Phaal is judicious. That part of the Tale is faulty indeed — so much so that I had often thought of remodelling it entirely. I will take care & have the Letter inserted in all the Baltimore papers.

Herewith I send you a Baltimore Visiter of October 12th, 1833. It contains a highly complimentary letter from Mr Kennedy, Mr Latrobe, and Dr Miller of Baltimore in relation to myself. The Tales of the Folio Club have only been partially published as yet. Lionizing was one of them. If you would in any manner contrive to have this letter copied into any of the Richmond Papers it would greatly advance a particular object which I have in view. If you could find an excuse for printing it in the Messenger it would be still better. You might observe that as many contradictory opinions had been formed in relation to my Tales & especially to Lionizing, you took the liberty of copying the Letter of the Baltimore Committee. One fact I would wish particularly noticed: the Visiter offered two Premiums, one for the best Tale and one for the best Poem — both of which were awarded to me. The award was, however, altered, and the Premium for Poetry awarded to the second best in consideration of my having obtained the higher Prize, This MT Kennedy and W Latrobe told me themselves. I know you will do me this favour if you can — the manner of doing it I leave altogether to yourself.

I have taken much pains to procure you the Ink. Only one person in Baltimore had it — and he not for sale. As a great favour I obtained a pound at the price of $1.50. It is mixed with Linseed oil prepared [page 12:] after a particular fashion which renders it expensive. I shall go clown to the Steamboat as soon as I finish this letter, and if I get an opportunity of sending it I will do so.

It gives me the greatest pain to hear that my Review will not appear in no II. I cannot imagine what circumstances you allude to as preventing you from publishing. The Death of the Chief Justice,(1) so far from rendering the Review useless, was the very thing to attract public notice to the Article. I really wish you would consider this matter more maturely and if possible insert it in No II.

Look over Hans Phaal, and the Literary Notices by me in No 10. and see if you have not miscalculated the sum due me. There are 34 columns in all. Hans Phaal cost me nearly a fortnight’s hard labour and was written especially for the Messenger. I will not however sin so egregiously again in sending you a long article. I will confine myself to 3 or 4 pages.

Very sincerely yours,  
EDGAR A. POE.

[SEAL]

3d p. blank.

4th p. folded to form end and addressed as follows:

To)

THOS W. WHITE EsqR  
Southern Messenger  
Richmond  
Va:

[SEAL]

20 July 1835

EDGAR A. POE

[page 13:]

POE TO WM. POE.(1)

RICHMOND, Aug: 20, 1835.

DEAR SIR. — I received your very kind and complimentary letter only a few minutes ago, and hasten to reply.

I have been long aware that a connexion existed between us — without knowing precisely in what manner. Your letter however has satisfied me that we are second cousins. I will briefly relate to you what little I have been able to ascertain, or rather to remember, in relation to our families. That I know but little on this head will not appear so singular to you when I relate the circumstances connected with my own particular history. But to return. My paternal grandfather was Gen: David Poe of Baltimore — originally of Ireland. I know that he had brothers — two

I believe. But my knowledge extends only to one, Mr. George Poe. My grandfather married, when very young, a Miss Elizabeth Carnes of Lancaster, Pa., by whom he had 5 sons — viz: George (who died while an infant), John, William, David, and Samuel; also two daughters, Maria and Eliza. Of the sons none married with the exception of David. He married a Mrs. Elizabeth Hopkins, an English lady, by whom he had 3 children, Henry, myself, and Rosalie. Henry died about 4 years ago — Rosalie and myself remain. The daughters of Gen. David Poe, Maria and Eliza, both married young. Maria married Mr. Wm. Clemm, a gentleman of [page 14:] high standing and some property in Baltimore. He was a widower with 5 children — and had after his marriage to Maria Poe 3 others — viz: 2 girls and a boy, of which a girl Virginia, and a boy Henry are still living. Mr. Clemm died about 9 years ago without any property whatever, leaving his widow desolate, and unprotected, and little likely to receive protection or assistance from the relatives of her husband — most of whom were opposed to the marriage in the first instance — and whose opposition was no doubt aggravated by the petty quarrels frequently occurring between Maria’s children, and Mr. C’s children by his former wife. This Maria is the one of whom you speak, and to whom I will allude again presently. Eliza the second daughter of the General, married a Mr. Henry Herring of Baltimore, . . . by whom she had several children. She is now dead, and Mr. Herring, having married again ceased communication with the family of his wife’s sister. Mrs. Poe the widow of General D. Poe, and the mother of Maria, died only [illegible] ago, at the age of 79. She had for the last 8 years of her life been confined entirely to bed — never, in any instance, leaving it during that time. She had been paralyzed and suffered from many other complaints — her daughter Maria attending her during her long & tedious illness with a Christian and martyr-like fortitude, and with a constancy of attention, and unremitting affection, which must exalt her character in the eyes of all who know her. Maria is now the only survivor of my grandfather’s family.

In relation to my grandfather’s brother George, I know but little. Jacob Poe of Fredericktown, Maryland, is his son — also George Poe of Mobile — and I presume your father Wm. Poe. Jacob Poe has [page 15:] two sons, Neilson and George — also one daughter Amelia.

My father David died when I was in the second year of my age, and when my sister Rosalie was an infant in arms. Our mother died a few weeks before him. Thus we were left orphans at an age when the hand of a parent is so peculiarly requisite. At this period my grandfather’s circumstances were at a low ebb, he from great wealth having been reduced to poverty. It was therefore in his power to do little for us. My brother Henry he took however under his charge, while myself and Rosalie were adopted by gentlemen in Richmond, where we were at the period of our parents’ death. I was adopted by Mr. ]no. Allan of Richmond, Va., and she by Mr. Wm. McKenzie of the same place. Rosalie is still living at Mr. McK! still unmarried, and is treated as one of the family, being a favorite with all. I accompanied Mr. Allan to England in my 7th year, and remained there at school years, since which I resided with Mr. A. until a few years ago. The first Mrs. A. having died, and Mr. A. having married again I found my situation not so comfortable as before, and obtained a Cadet’s appointment at W. Point. During my stay there Mr. A. died suddenly, and left me — nothing. No will was found among his papers. I have accordingly been thrown entirely upon my own resources. Brought up to no profession, and educated in the expectation of an immense fortune (Mr. A. having been worth $750,000) the blow has been a heavy one, and I had nearly succumbed to its influence, and yielded to despair. But by the exertion of much resolution I am now beginning to look upon the matter in a less serious light, and although struggling still with many embarrassments, am enabled [page 16:] to keep up my spirits. I have lately obtained the Editorship of the Southern Messenger, and may probably yet do well.

Mrs. Thompson, your Aunt, is still living in Baltimore. George Poe of Baltimore allows her a small income.

In conclusion, I beg leave to assure you that whatever aid you may have it in your power to bestow upon Mrs. Clemm will be given to one who well de serves every kindness and attention. Would to God that I could at this moment aid her. She is now, while I write, struggling without friends, without money; and without health to support herself and z children. I sincerely pray God that the words which I am writing may be the means of inducing you to unite with your brothers and friends, and send her that immediate relief which is utterly out of my power to give her just now, and which, unless it reach her soon will, I am afraid, reach her too late. Entreating your attention to this subject I remain,

Yours very truly & affectionately,  
EDGAR A. POE.

It would give me greatest pleasure to hear from you in reply.

To MR. WM. POE.

POE TO KENNEDY.

[Griswold Collection.]

RICHMOND, Sep: 11th, 1835.

DR SIR, — I received a letter yesterday from Dr Miller in which he tells me you are in town. I hasten, therefore, [page 17:] to write you, — and express by letter what I have always found it impossible to express orally — my deep sense of gratitude for your frequent and effectual assistance and kindness. Through your influence M; White has been induced to employ me in assisting him with the Editorial duties of his Magazine — at a salary of $520 per annum. The situation is agreeable to me for many reasons — but alas! it appears to me that nothing can now give me pleasure — or the slightest gratification. Excuse me, my Dear Sir, if in this letter you find much incoherency. My feelings at this moment are pitiable indeed. 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 say you will believe me, and for this simple reason, that a man who is writing for effect does not write thus. My heart is open before you — if it be worth reading, read it. I am wretched, and know not why. Console me — for you can. But let it be quickly — or it will be too late. Write me immediately. Convince me that it is worth one’s while, that it is at all necessary to live, and you will prove yourself indeed my friend. Persuade me to do what is right. I do not mean this — I do not mean that you should consider what I now write you a jest — oh pity me! for I feel that my words are incoherent — but I will recover myself. You will not fail to see that I am suffering under a depression of spirits which will ruin me should it be long continued. Write me then, and quickly. Urge me to do what is right. Your words will have more weight with me than the words of others — for you were my friend [page 18:] when no one else was. Fail not — as you value your peace of mind hereafter.

E. A. POE.

Mr. White desires me to say that if you could send him any contribution for the Messenger, it would serve him most effectually. I would consider it a personal favour if you could do so without incommoding yourself. I will write you more fully hereafter. I see “The Gift” is out. They have published the M. S. found in a Bottle (the prize that you will remember) although I not only told Mr. Carey myself that it had been published, but wrote him to that effect after my return to Baltimore, and sent him another tale in place of it (Epimanes). I cannot understand why they have published it — or why they have not published rather “Siope” or “Epimanes.”

Mr. White is willing to publish my Tales of the Folio Club — that is to print them. Would you oblige me by ascertaining from Carey & Lea, whether they would, in that case, appear nominally as the publishers, the books when printed, being sent on to them, as in the case of H. S. Robinson?(1) Have you seen the “Discoveries in the Moon“? Do you not think it altogether suggested by Hans Phaal? It is very singular but when I first purposed writing a Tale concerning the Moon, the idea of Telescopic discoveries suggested itself to me — but I afterwards abandoned it. I had however spoken of it freely, & from many little incidents & apparently trivial remarks in those Discoveries, I am convinced the idea was stolen from myself.

Yours most sincerely  
EDGAR A. POE.

[page 19:]

KENNEDY TO POE.

[Griswold Collection.]

MY DEAR POE, — I am sorry to see you in such plight as your letter shows you in. — It is strange that just at the time when every body is praising you and when Fortune has begun to smile upon your hitherto wretched circumstances you should be invaded by these villainous blue devils. — It belongs, however, to your age and temper to be thus buffeted, — but be assured it only wants a little resolution to master the adversary forever. — Rise early, live generously, and make cheerful acquaintances and I have no doubt you will send these misgivings of the heart all to the Devil. — You will doubtless do well henceforth in literature and add to your comforts as well as to your reputation which, it gives me great pleasure to tell you, is every where rising in popular esteem. Can‘t you write some farces after the manner of the French Vaudevilles? if you can — (and I think you can —.) you may turn them to excellent account by selling then) to the managers in New York. — I wish you would give your thoughts to this suggestion.

More than yourself have remarked the coincidence between Hans Phaal & the Lunar Discoveries and I perceive that in New York they are republishing Hans for the sake of comparison.

Say to White that I am over head in business and can promise never a line to living man. — I wish he would send me the Richmond Whig containing the reply to the Defence of Capt Read. Tell him so.

I will write to Carey & Lea to know if they will allow you to publish The Tales of the Folio Club in their name. Of course, you will understand that if they do not print them they will not be required to be at the risk of the printing expenses. I suppose you mean that White shall take that risk upon himself and look for his indemnity [page 20:] to the sale. My own opinion is that White could publish them as advantageously as Carey.

Write to me frequently, and believe me very truly

Yours  
JOHN P. KENNEDY.

BALT. Sept. 19, 1835

WHITE TO POE.

[Griswold Collection.]

RICHMOND, Sept. 29, 1835.

DEAR EDGAR, — Would that it were in my power to unbosom myself to you, in language such as I could on the present occasion, wish myself master of. I cannot do it — and therefore must be content to speak to you in my plain way.

That you are sincere in all your promises, I firmly believe. But, Edgar, when you once again tread these streets, I have my fears that your resolves would fall through, — and that you would again sip the juice, even till it stole away your senses. Rely on your own strength, and you are gone! Look to your Maker for help, and you are safe!

How much I regretted parting with you, is unknown to anyone on this earth, except myself. I was attached to you — and am still, — and willingly would I say return, if I did not dread the hour of separation very shortly again.

If you could snake yourself contented to take up your quarters in my family, or in any other private family where liquor is not used, I should think there were hopes of you. — But, if you go to a tavern, or to any other place where it is used at table, you are not safe. I speak from experience.

You have fine talents, Edgar, — and you ought to have them respected as well as yourself. Learn to respect [page 21:] yourself, and you will very soon find that you are respected. Separate yourself from the bottle, and bottle companions, for ever!

Tell me if you can and will do so — and let me hear that it is your fixed purpose never to yield to temptation. If you should come to Richmond again, and again should be an assistant in my office, it must be expressly understood by us that all engagements on my part would be dissolved, the moment you get drunk.

No man is safe who drinks before breakfast! No man can do so, and attend to business properly.

I have thought over the matter seriously about the Autograph article, and have come to the conclusion that it will be best to omit it in its present dress. I should not be at all surprised, were I to send it out, to hear that Cooper had sued me for a libel.

The form containing it has been ready for press three days — and I have been just as many days deciding the question.

I am your true Friend,  
T. W. WHITE.

E. A. POE, Esq.

TUCKER TO POE.

[Griswold Collection.]

WILLIAMSBURG, December 5, 1835.

TO MR. POE.

DR Sir, — Your letter has been just received, and deserves my thanks. So far from needing apology, it has been taken as a favour, and I have been congratulating myself on the success of my attempt to draw you into correspondence.

It is more creditable to your candour than to my criticism, that you have taken it so kindly. You are doubtless right in thinking that a mere flow of mellifluous lines is not the thing called for by the laws of metrical harmony. [page 22:] I was perfectly aware that the lines I lately sent you were faulty in this respect. Faulty, because, as you say, they are faultless. But I could not help it. Not that I could not have made them rugged, but because I did not think myself master of that sort of “grace beyond the reach of art,” which so few can snatch. I have seen something analogous to it in the features and in the carriage of persons who were the handsomer for not being perfectly handsome, and the more graceful for a little awkwardness. But these are the things in which poetry, eloquence and grace may be said, like beauty, to be born with us. When we attempt to assume them, we do but attempt to imitate what is inimitable, because unimitated. I do not know to what to liken those occasional departures from regular metre which are so fascinating. They are more to my ear like that marvellous performance — “clapping Juba,” than any thing else. The beat is capriciously irregular; there is no attempt to keep time to all the notes, but then it comes so pat & so distinct that the cadence is never lost. The art of Moore, which enables him to throw out a syllable, or to throw in a couple of them, without interrupting his rhythm is the great charm of his versification. But such irregularities are like rests and grace notes. They must be so managed as neither to hasten or retard the beat. The time of the bar must be the same, no matter how many notes are in it. Do not think therefore I counted your feet. I did not. I was aware what you would be at, and was pleased with your frequent success. I require no more than to be able to utter the line in its due time, neither more nor less, and when this can be done with only nine, or with eleven syllables, or even twelve, the variety is an agreeable relief from the mawkish sweetness which by continuance becomes nauseous. This I take to be the limit which neither Pope nor Moore, nor even Byron ever transcended. It is the spell which sound imposes on all our members, disposing them to keep time to its cadence. Now in the “fragment” there are lines that cannot by [page 23:] any reading be forced into time. Take Baldazzar’s speech at the bottom of the first column of p. 35.

In saying all this, I may be proving to you, that I have not capacity to understand what I am talking about. It may be so. I only vouch for the accuracy of my ear. The correctness of my taste is another affair. But as I rather deprecate such a conclusion let me add that the rules I am speaking of are, like other laws, but cobwebs for flies. Great thoughts sometimes display themselves best in breaking through them. You will never find me cavilling at their dress.

I did not mean to deny the efficacy of a certain style of criticism in demolishing scribblers. I merely said it was not judicial. It may make the critic as formidable to the rabble of literary offenders, as Jack Dalgliesh (sic) or lack Portious himself, but it makes him odious too, and adds nothing to his authority in the estimation of those whose approbation for his sentence cuts off the sufferer from the poor privilege of complaining, and the poor consolation of sympathy. Jeffrey’s nearest approach to it was in his review of Byron’s first publication. I am old enough to remember that it provoked a reaction highly favourable to Byron. Nothing else could have given such triumphant success to the English Bards &c. As to Blackwood; I admire Wilson, but he is an offence unto me by the brutal arrogance of his style of criticism. I have no doubt he demolished the poor Tailor. But “who breaks a butter fly upon the wheel?” Supported by the powerful party whose organ he is, he may never feel that he injures himself by such things; but he does. His criticisms will have the less weight with the impartial.

I do not think we differ about the Ποίησις. I have seen much sweet poetry in which there was nothing new but the application or combination of old thoughts. But this is one mode of creation. I do not think you will go beyond this. I am glad you do not know who your dreamer is. He will keep his secret, and take care not to complain. [page 24:]

Mr. White writes me that he is labouring under a woful lack of matter. Like poor Tom “I have no food for him.” I will try to write out from memory a few rude lines, composed long syne, which I have neither art nor leisure nor in truth will to polish. I send them on one condition. You are to judge them candidly, and reject them if they do not come up to either my standard or yours. Let me know which.

I will thank you to ask Mr. White to procure me a copy of Burke’s works as published in 1834, by Dearborn of New York, in three volumes. I wish him to have them lettered on the back near the bottom with the word Ardmore. I will send him the money for them and the new copy of the Messenger at once.

Respectfully, & with the best wishes

Your obedt Servt.  
[BEVERLEY TUCKER.]

[Signature missing]

Here are the lines. I think you will find them rugged enough.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 12:]

1.  Marshall. — ED.

[The following footnote appears on the bottom of page 13:]

1.  Mrs. W. Y. Dill, granddaughter of the William Poe of Georgia, has kindly given the use of this letter.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 18:]

1.  “Horse Shoe Robinson.”


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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. 17 - Letters) (J. A. Harrison) (Chapter 01)