Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Swimming,” Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, vol. 4, no. 7, February 12, 1840, p. 2, col. 4


[page 2, column 4:]


Mathew Vipond, the celebrated swimmer, died recently at Liverpool, aged 48. In July, 1827, Mr. V. swam, on the river Mersey, from Rock Point to Runcorn, a distance of 22 miles, in 5 hours and a half — a feat probably unequalled and unapproached by any swimmer, when all the circumstances are taken into account, in ancient or modern times. — Phil Ledger.

The comparative difficulty of swimming feats can only be estimated by the practical swimmer, and the writer of the paragraph above was evidently not a practical swimmer. From the place in which the feat here recorded took place and from the time in which it was performed, it is clear that the swim was with the current of the Mersey. It was thus no great thing to boast of. Even admitting it to have been swum in still water, it was, nevertheless, no very extraordinary performance. As for its being the greatest feat of the kind on record, we say at once — no; for a far more extraordinary one is within our own knowledge, and within that of almost every resident of Richmond, in Virginia. Mr. Poe, now of the Gentleman’s Magazine, swam from a point in James’ River, called Ludlam’s wharf, to a wharf at Warwick — a distance of seven miles and a half, in a hot June sun, and against a tide of three miles per hour. He was then but 15 years of age. The difficulty of swimming with a current is absolutely nothing; that of swimming in perfectly still water is, to a really able swimmer, but little greater than the difficulty of walking — merely requiring patience. But to swim against a strong current — hic labor, hoc opus est. There can be no interval for rest by floating, as in the two other cases; and this makes all the difference. There is no properly authenticated fact on record equal to that of Mr. Poe, and at the time of its performance, this fact was conceded by almost every journal in the United States.




This notice was first attributed to Poe by Clarence S. Brigham in Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, 1943, pp. 35-36.

Poe is generally granted his claim of having made the swim described, based in part on eye-witness recollections by Thomas Ellis and Mr. William Burke. The degree of recognition for the event, however, is usually attributed to exaggeration, especially the claim that it was “conceded by almost every journal in the United States.” Indeed, no contemporary printing of any comment about it has ever been found. The first mention appears to be in the Southern Literary Messenger for January of 1835.


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