Text: Edgar Allan Poe to William E. Burton — June 1, 1840 (LTR-093)


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Sir:

I find myself at leisure this Monday morning, June 1, to notice your very singular letter of Saturday. >>I sent George home yesterday without a reply to your letter for I felt somewhat too angry to make one. I have followed the example of Victorine and slept upon the matter<<. & you shall now hear what I have to say. In the first place — your attempts to bully me excite in my mind >>nothing<< scarcely any other sentiment than mirth. When you address me again preserve if you can, the dignity of a gentleman. If by accident you have taken it into your head >>by any sad accident<< that I am to be insulted with impunity I can only assume that you are an ass. This one point being distinctly understood <we shall be the better able to enter into some arrangement and in regard to myself individually> I shall feel myself more at liberty to be explicit. As for the rest, you do me gross injustice; and you know it. As usual you have wrought yourself into a passion with me on account of some imaginary wrong; for no real injury, or attempt at injury, have you ever received at my hands. As I live, I am utterly unable to say why you are angry, or what true grounds of complaint you have against me. You are a man of >>high passions<< impulses; have made yourself, in consequence, some enemies; have been in many respects ill treated by those whom you had looked upon as friends — and these things have rendered you suspicious. You once wrote in your magazine [a sharp critique] upon a book of mine — a [very silly book — Pym. Had I written a simi]lar critici[sm] upon a book of yours, you feel that you would [have been] my enemy for life, and you therefore ima[gine in my] bosom a latent hostility towards yourself. This has been a mainspring in your whole conduct towards me since our first acquaintance. It has acted to prevent all cordiality. In a general view of human nature your idea is just — but you will find yourself puzzled in judging me by ordinary motives. Your criticism was essentially correct and therefore, although severe, it did not occasion in me one solitary emotion either of anger or dislike. But even while I write these words, I am sure you will not believe them. Did I not still think you, in spite of the exceeding littleness of some of your hurried actions, a man of many honorable impulses, I should not now take the trouble to send you this letter. I cannot permit myself to suppose that you would say to me in cool blood what you said in your letter of yesterday. You are, of course, only mistaken, in asserting that I owe you a hundred dollars, and you will rectify the mistake at once when you come to look at your accounts. Soon after I joined you, you made me an offer of money, and I accepted $20. Upon another occasion, at my request, you sent me enclosed in a letter $30. Of this 30, I repaid 20 within the next fortnight (drawing no salary for that period.) I was thus still in your debt $30, when not long ago I again asked a loan of $30, which you promptly handed to me at your own house. Within the last 3 weeks, 3$ each week have been retained from my salary, an indignity which I have felt deeply but did not resent. You state the sum retained as $8, but this I believe is through a mistake of Mr Morrell. My postage bill at a guess, might be 9 or 10 $ — and I therefore am indebted to you, upon the whole, in the amount of about $60. More than this sum I shall not pay. 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. During my year with you I have writ[ten — ]

     July —      5 pp
     August      9
     Sept      16
     Octo      4
     Nov.      5
     Dec.      12
     Jan      9
     Feb      12
     April      17 +
     May      14 + S copied - -Miss McMichael, M.S.
     June      9 + 3 Chandlers.
               —— —
                132

Dividing this sum by 12 we have an average of 11 pp per month — not 2 or 3. And this estimate leaves out of question everything in the way of extract or compilation. Nothing is counted but bona fiede composition. II pp. at $3 per p. would be $33, at the usual Magazine prices. Deduct this from $‘o, my monthly salary, and we have left 17$ 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 compilation 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. That I did not do 4 times as much as I did for the Magazine, was your own fault. At first I wrote long articles which you deemed inadmissable, & never did I suggest any to >>you<< which you had not some immediate and decided objection. Of course I grew discouraged & could feel no interest in the Journal. I am at a loss to know why you call me selfish. If you mean that I borrowed money of you — you know that you offered it — >>If<< and you know that I am poor. In what instance has anyone ever found me selfish? Was there selfishness in the affront I offered Benjamin (whom I respect, and who spoke well of me) because I deemed it a duty not to receive from any one commendation at your expense? I had no hesitation in making him my enemy (which he now must be) through a sense of my obligations as your coadjutor. >>No man can call me selfish & not he<< I have said that I could not tell why you were angry. Place yourself in my situation & see whether you would not have acted as I have done. You first “enforced”, as you say, a deduction of salary: giving me to understand thereby that you thought of parting company — You next spoke disrespectfully of me behind my back — this as an habitual thing — to chose whom you supposed your friends, and who punctually retailed me, as a matter of course, every ill-natured word which you uttered. Lastly you advertised your magazine for sale without saying a word to me about it. I felt no anger at what you did — none in the world. Had I not firmly believed it your design to give up your Journal, with a view of attending to the Theatre, I should >>never<< have dreamed of attempting one of my own. The opportunity of doing something for myself seemed a good one — (I was about to be thrown out of business) — and I embraced it. Now I ask you as a man of honor and as a man of sense — what is there wrong in all this? What have I done at which you have any right to take offense? I can give you no definitive answer (respecting the continuation [of] Rodman’s Journal,) until I hear from you again. The charge of 100 $ I shall not admit for an instant. If you persist in it our intercourse is at an end, and >>I shall refer you to an attorney, But I cannot bring myself to believe that you will.<< We can each adopt our own measures

In the meantime, I am
Yr Obt St.
Edgar A Poe

Wm E. Burton Esqr.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to W. E. Burton (LTR093/RCL235)