Text: Laughton Osborn to Edgar Allan Poe — August 16, 1845


219, Eighth Avenue,
Saturday Morng [[morning]] Aug 16, ‘45

My Dear Sir,

This very instant I have rec’d & read yr. Letter, and if you knew with what delight I sit down, on the very impulse of the moment, to reply to it, without waiting to weigh its contents & read it a second time, as is usual with me before answering a letter, you would see that you could not be half so ready to proffer your friendship as I to accept it. Yet you are far more generous than I; for you have hundreds of friends, some of whom certainly must not only love you but be well worthy of being loved, while I, as I have told you, am absolutely alone. To me therefore yr. friendsp. [[friendship]] would be all in all, while to you mine could only be the overflowing of a cup already full to the brim . — But it must be my endeavor to make this superfluity so acceptable, that you will not feel it to be such.

I need not repeat the assurance that I did not suppose for one moment that you were the author of that flippant sentence; for if so I could not have felt sorrow but disgust, recollecting the flattering opinions you had in person been so amiable as to express to me; but it is a great relief to know that you did not even sanction the insertion of anything so offensive. And here you must allow me, by the way, in justice to myself, to explain the sort of offense which such an attack gave me for the moment. Had I read in the Journal a long & able review of yours, in your severest manner, showing the inequality & occasional weakness (the critic’s “water”) of the vision, & urging that the author had carried rather too far the license of satire, seeming to prefer the rude scurrility of the old comedy to the more polished yet not less deadly sarcasms of a better, at least a more civil time, I should never have objected: “erat quod tollere velles”: who knows that better than I? But to accuse me in one little sentence not only of want of nerve (not certainly my commonest fault) & of borrowing from or imitating the Dunciad (the most ignorant & the most reckless of charges) but also of vulgarity or blackguardism in letters — for such it is, indelicacy & even indecency being a very different thing; the latter I may have fallen into, & my yet, — those who pretend to the humorous in writing  have sometimes very great difficulty to keep out of the indiscretion; but the former loathsome fault — vice, I hold it to be absolutely impossible for me ever, under any circumstances, to descend to, & the poet Wordsworth himself shall do it sooner (indeed he has come very near it?) than simple & obscure Laughton Osborn. As my first effort in painting was the heads of Homer’s heroes, & not a hog or a kitchen; as the beautiful is with me & ever has been not merely a passion, but a necessity, the food of my better being; so do I hold it to be utterly impossible that I should ever be that in poetry (however unworthy or little, otherwise) which the Chatham-St lawyer is in real life;  and to accuse me of this was to touch me in my tenderest point — or to level at my most vital part. With these feelings, & this self-opinion, you will readily see, my dear sir, why, supposing that you had given yr. high sanction to such an outrage, I should have been obliged to deny myself the solace, the happiness, the honor of yr. friendship.

I have ventured this explanation, because I could not bear to have you of all men think my soul to be one of the kind that may be “extinguished by an article.”

And now let me have the satisfact. [[satisfaction]] of reading your letter again & deliberately, — though I fear it may deprive us of the chance of this day’s post.

Passing yr. honor-giving compliments on the Confessions though I assure you, that you are or were quite out in yr. notion of my “experiences”; my life has been too busy, Heaven knows, to allow me to be wicked, even if I had the inclination, and I am of “too malleable stuff” to be revengeful) passing this, let me copy for you, that you may have it in your own hands, to keep by you, the prettiest as well as completest thing of its kind that I know of.

“I cannot,” you say to me “I cannot understand how you can fail to perceive, intuitively, that I should appreciate your works. I did not doubt, for an instant, that you would place a proper estimate upon mine.” — In all my experience in letters, and I dare to say in all yours (which has been much more extensive,) there is recorded, as occurring between two authors, no passage that can equal that, which it seems to me, nay, which I know, the noblest Greek might be proud to have written. If I had never seen you, — never read one other line of your writing, but had only heard that you had written & had written well, I could have sworn to you a friendship for that alone. I cannot even conceive how, for the occasion, the moral sublime could ever rise higher, nor how a nobler sentiment could be more nobly expressed.

You are right; I did not fail to appreciate yours; & when yesterday I finished your book of “Tales”, it was only to feel new regret for the thought that I could not be allowed to associate with one, whose every page that I read convinced me, more & more, that I had more congeniality of thought & feeling with than any other writer whom I as yet have read. I will quote you but one instance out of many; you say; “It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful, & the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.” The sentiment of this last clause I have never met anywhere else, but my mind instantly responded to its truth as to a thought the germ of which had long lain planted in my own head & had suddenly, touched by one ray of sunlight, burst into the maturity of form & expression. (The clock strikes two; I am too late already for the post; the more to be regretted that this day is Saturday, & you live from me so far that I cannot send my letter to you by any other conveyance.)

As I cannot promise myself any longer any advantage from hurrying, I will add more legibly, if a very bad pen will let me, that yr. criticism on Longfellow (which I began this morning — the reply to Outis I mean, which I have only hitherto had a chance to read in parts) I shall now read with tenfold satisfaction; you know we think alike of that certainly over-estimated however estimable poet. And by the by, as my set (in the nos. lately purchased for the sake of Page’s Essay) lacks two parts of the Series, I shall endeavor if possible to get down as far as Clinton Hall this afternoon; in which case I will leave there the letter with a mind to have it forwarded directly to you, as of importance. I do not want you for one moment, my dear Sir, to remain in any doubt of how truly I am yours,

Laughton Osborn

Edgar A. Poe, Esq.



This letter is listed in Bangs Sale Catalogue, April 11, 1896, item 75. The text is provided here from a transcript made by T. O. Mabbott when he owned the letter.


[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Misc - Letters - L. Osborn to Poe (RCL561)