Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 23,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 145-147


[page 145:]



With the death of his wife a great horror and gloom fell upon Poe. The blow which he had for years dreaded had at length fallen. That which he had feared and loathed above all things — the monster, Death — had entered his home and made it desolate. As a poet, he could delight in writing about the death of the young and lovely, but from the dread reality he shrank with an almost superstitious horror and loathing. It was said, on Mrs. Clemm’s authority, that he refused to look upon the face of his dead wife. He desired to have no remembrance of the features touched by the transforming fingers of death.

Mrs. Shew still kindly ministered to him, endeavoring also to arouse him from his gloom and encourage him to renewed effort. But it seemed at first useless. He had no hope or cheering beyond the grave, and it was at this [page 146:] time that he might appropriately have written:

“A voice from out of the future cries

‘On! on!’ but o’er the past —

Dim gulf — my spirit hovering lies,

Mute, motionless, aghast.”

Mrs. Shew, a thoroughly practical woman of sound, good sense and judgment, and with so little of the æsthetic that she confessed to Poe that she had never read his poems, nevertheless took a friendly interest in him and felt for him in his loneliness. To afford him the benefit of a change, she took him as her patient to her own home and commissioned him to furnish her dining-room and library according to his own taste. She also encouraged him to write, placing pen and paper before him and bidding him to try; and in this way, it is claimed by one account, “The Bells” came to be written, or at least begun. Under the influence of cheerful society, comfort and good cheer, Poe’s health and spirits improved, and on his return home he again commenced writing. Soon, however, a relapse occurred, and his kind friend and physician found it necessary to resume her visits to Fordham. For [page 147:] all this Poe was grateful, but, unfortunately, he was more; and at length on a certain day he so far betrayed his feelings that Mrs. Shew then and there informed him that her visits to him must cease. On the day following she wrote a farewell letter, in which she gave him advice and directions in regard to his health, warning him of its precarious state, and of the necessity of his abandoning the habits which were making a wreck of him mentally and physically. She advised him as the only thing that could save him to marry some good woman possessed of sufficient means to support him in comfort, and who would love him well enough to spare him the necessity of mental overwork, for which he was not now fitted.

It may be here remarked that of all the women that we know of to whom Poe offered his platonic devotion, Mrs. Shew was the only one by whom it was promptly and decidedly rejected.






[S:0 - HLFP, 1907] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Home Life of Poe (S. A. Weiss) (Chapter 23)