Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 27,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 179-183


[page 179:]



When Poe came to Richmond on this visit, he went first to Duncan Lodge, but afterward, for sake of the convenience of being in the city, took board at the old Swan Tavern, on Broad street, once a fashionable hostelry, but at this time little more than a cheap, though respectable, boarding-house for business men. Broad street — so named from its unusual width — extended several miles in a straight line from Chimberazo Heights and Church Hill on the east, where Mrs. Shelton had her residence, to the western suburbs, where Duncan Lodge and our own home of “Talavera” were situated. This was the route which Poe traversed in his visits to Mrs. Shelton. There were no street cars in those days, hacks were expensive, and the walk from “the Swan” to Church Hill was long and fatiguing. Poe would break his journey by stopping to rest at the office of Dr. John Carter, a young physician [page 180:] who had recently hung out his sign, about half-way between those two points.

During the three months of his stay in Richmond we saw a good deal of Poe. He appeared at first to be in not very good health or spirits, but soon brightened up and was invariably cheerful, seeming to be enjoying himself. I do not know to what it was to be attributed, unless to his increased fame as a poet, but certainly his reception in Richmond at this time was very different from what it had been two years previously. He became the fashion; and was fêted in society and discussed in the papers. His friend, Mrs. Julia Mayo Cabell — a first cousin of Mrs. Allan — inaugurated the evening entertainments to which people were invited “to meet Mr. Poe.” It was generally expected that at these gatherings he would recite The Raven, and this he was often obliging enough to do, though we knew that it was to him an unwelcome task. In our own home, no matter who were the visitors, we would never allow this request to be made of him after he had on one occasion gratified us by a recital. I remember on this occasion being disappointed in his manner of delivery. I had expected some little graceful and expressive [page 181:] action, but he sat motionless as a statue except that at the line,

Prophet! cried I, thing of evil!

he slightly erected his head; and again, in repeating:

“Get thee back into the tempest and the night’s plutonian shore!”

he turned his face suddenly though slightly toward the outer darkness of the open window near which he sat, each time raising his voice. He explained his own idea to be that any action served to attract the attention of the audience from the poem to the speaker, thus detracting from the effect of the former. I was told how, at one of these entertainments, Poe was embarrassed by the persistent attentions of a moth or beetle, until a sympathetic old lady took a seat beside him and, with wild wavings of a huge fan, kept the troublesome insect at a distance. This mingling of the comic with the tragic element rather spoiled the effect of the latter, and though Poe preserved his dignity, he was perceptibly annoyed.

I never saw Mr. Poe in a large company, [page 182:] but was told that on such occasions he invariably assumed his mask of cold and proud reserve, not untouched by an expression of sadness, which was natural to his features when in repose. It was then that he “looked every inch a poet.” In general companies he disliked any attempt to draw him out, never expressing himself freely, and at times manifesting a shyness amounting almost to an appearance of diffidence, which was very noticeable.

A marked peculiarity was that he never, while in Richmond, either in society or elsewhere, made any advance to acquaintance, or sought an introduction, even to a lady. Aware of the estimation in which his character was held by some persons, he stood aloof, in proud independence, though responding with ready courtesy to any advance from others. Ladies who desired Mr. Poe’s acquaintance would be compelled to privately seek an introduction from some friend, since he himself never requested it, and it was observed that he preferred the society of mature women to that of the youthful belles, who were enthusiastic over the author of Lenore and The Raven.

Mr. Poe spent his mornings in town, but in the evenings would generally drive out to Duncan [page 183:] Lodge with some of the Mackenzies. He liked the half-country neighborhood, and would sometimes join us in our sunset rambles in the romantic old Hermitage grounds. Those were pleasant evenings at Duncan Lodge and Talavera, with no lack of company at either place.






[S:0 - HLFP, 1907] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Home Life of Poe (S. A. Weiss) (Chapter 27)