Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Thomas Paine,” Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, vol. 4, no. 9, February 26, 1840, p. 2, col. 3


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[page 2, column 3:]

THOMAS PAINE.

Wm. Carver, or “old Billy Carver,” as he was familiarly termed, a companion and friend of Tom Paine, died in New York on Saturday last, in his 85th year. He was an Englishman by birth, and veterinary surgeon by profession. He was an eccentric man in his habits. Among his other freaks of fancy, which he some years since carried into effect, was to have his coffin made, for which the measure of his body was taken. This piece of furniture he kept for some time at his lodgings. It was subsequently taken to an undertaker’s shop in Pearl street, where, with the plate and other appurtenances, in readiness for use, it has since remained. At the latter period of his life he was supported by the society of Free Inquirers. — Phil. Ledger.

It seems to us that there is something wrong about the coffin story here, and that, in some manner, the freaks of Paine himself have become mixed up with those of “old Billy Carver.” During the better days of Jarvis, the noted portrait painter and sayer of droll things, we have more than once heard him narrate, of Paine, the anecdote now told of his friend. Paine resided at the time in Norfolk, Va., and Jarvis, although young, was in habits of close intimacy with him. He described the author of the “Age of Reason” as bereft of all reason in his later days, and as living on earth the life of the damned. Of the coffin Jarvis spoke frequently, and never in his usual merry way. Indeed an allusion to his residence with Paine was always sure to throw a damp upon the excessive spirits of the painter. In regard to Carver, it may be that he kept a coffin too, and did so by way of following his leader’s example.

 


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Notes:

This item was first attributed to Poe by Clarence S. Brigham in Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, 1943, pp. 40-42. The piece was considered questionable by C. S. Brigham, and ultimately rejected by Mabbott.

 

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[S:1 - AWM, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc. - Thomas Paine