Text: Henry Beck Hirst, “Edgar Allan Poe,” Saturday Museum (Philadelphia), February 25, 1843


[page 1, column 1:]






The Portraits engraved, and the Biographies written, expressly for the Philada. Saturday Museum.


Edgar Allan Poe.

For the materials of the present biography, we are indebted, partly to information derived from the late Thomas W. White, Proprietor of the “Southern Literary Messenger,” but, principally, to memoranda furnished us by the well known author of “Clinton Bradshaw,” — Frederic[[k]] W. Thomas, Esq. — who has enjoyed a better opportunity of intimate acquaintance with the subject of our sketch, than, perhaps, any man in America.

EDGAR ALLAN POE is descended from one of the oldest and most respectable families in Baltimore. His grandfather [[great-grandfather]], John Poe, married, in England, Jane, a daughter of the British Admiral McBride, and through her, the family claim connexion with many of the noblest in England. — His paternal grandfather, General David Poe, of Baltimore, was Quartermaster General in the “Maryland Line,” during the Revolution. General Poe, was, in the true sense of the word, a patriot. To furnish provisions, forage and clothing for the destitute Government troops, he stripped himself of his entire patrimony. For this he never instituted a claim, nor for services rendered to the United States as an officer; but for actual money loaned, he claimed $40,000. Owing to technical informalities in the vouchers, (which consisted principally of letters from WASHINGTON and LA FAYETTE,) he received no portion of the sum. The Maryland Legislature, however, subsequently allowed his widow a pension, and, in the preamble of the act, expressed their satisfaction of the equity of the claim, while they deplored the legal insufficiency of the proofs to support it. General Poe was one of the most intimate friends of La Fayette, who, during his memorable visit to America, called upon the widow, publicly acknowledged the obligations of the country to her husband, expressed his astonishment at finding her in comparative indigence, and his strong indignation at the narrow-minded policy of the Government. We gather a few particulars of this interview from the late “Baltimore Gazette,” and other papers of the time. “[[sic]] General La Fayette affectionately embraced Mrs. Poe, exclaiming at the same time, in tears, “the last time I embraced you madame, you were younger and more blooming than now.” He visited, with his staff, the grave of Gen. Poe, in “the First Presbyterian Church-yard,” and, kneeling on the ground, kissed the sod above him, and, weeping, exclaimed, “Ici repose un cœur noble!” — here lies a noble heart! — a just tribute to the memory of a good, if not, a great man.

Edgar A. Poe - woodcut [thumbnail]

[Portrait of Poe at the top of columns 2 and 3]

Mr. Poe’s father was David Poe, Jr., the fourth son of the General. He studied law for several years in the office of William Gwyn [[Gwynn]], the quondam proprietor of the ‘Baltimore Gazette.’ When very young, he became enamored of Miss Elizabeth Arnold, a lady of great beauty, and extraordinary talents and accomplishments,* who had made the stage her profession for some time previous. The attachment resulted in an elopement and marriage, to the very great displeasure of his father’s family, who, afterwards, however, became reconciled. By this lady, Mr. David Poe had three children, Henry, Edgar and Rosalie. Both parents died of consumption within a few weeks of each other, while on a visit to Richmond, Va. This circumstance excited much interest, and the youngest children (Edgar and Rosalie) were adopted, the one by Mr. John Allan, a very wealthy gentleman of Richmond, and the other by Mr. William McKenzie of the same city.

Mr. Allan’s principal recommendation was his wealth. His income was large, some $20 or $30,000 per annum. He treated his young protégé with as much kindness as his gross nature admitted, and, as he had no children, made a point of informing every one that he intended to make him his sole heir. He took a species of pride in the precocious talents envinced by his adopted son, and gave him an expensive education.

In 1816 or 17, Edgar accompanied Mr. Allan and his wife to England, of which, and of Scotland, they made the tour. He remained in England five years, during which time he went to school, chiefly to Reverend Dr. Bransby, at Stoke-Newington. A faithful description of this school and its principal, is introduced in Mr. Poe’s tale of “William Wilson,” which forms a part of the collection entitled, “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.” Upon his return to America, he went to various academies, and finally to the University of Virginia, (Jefferson’s) at Charlottesville. The manners of the Institution, at that time, were exceedingly dissolute, and he fell in with the general course. He managed, however, to maintain a position with the Professors. He attended lectures at random, and spent his time partly in the debating societies, where he soon grew noted as a debater, partly in solitary rambles among the mountains of the Blue Ridge, and partly in covering the walls of his dormitory with crayon drawings, caricaturing the Faculty. This dissipated course of life brought with it, however, a natural disgust, and, towards the close of his university career, arousing himself to better things, he took the first honors of the college, without any difficulty, and returned home.

His good resolutions, however, had come somewhat too late, for he had already become involved in difficulties, which resulted in his leaving home. With a young friend, Ebenezer Burling, he endeavored to make his way, with scarcely a dollar in his pocket, to Greece, with the wild design of aiding in the Revolution then taking place. Burling soon repented his folly, and gave up the design when he had scarcely entered on the expedition: Mr. Poe persevered, but did not succeed in reaching the scene of action; he proceeded, however, to St. Petersburgh, where, through deficiency of passport, he became involved in serious difficulties, from which he was finally extricated by the American Consul. He returned to America, only in time to learn [[of]] the severe illness of Mrs. Allan, who, in character, was the reverse of her husband, and whom he sincerely loved. He reached Richmond on the night after her burial.

Mr. Allan’s house now became doubly displeasing to him; deprived of her who had, in all cases, endeavored to make it a happy home. Mr. Allan’s manners, however, had become somewhat softened, and he professed, if he did not feel, an entire reconciliation. Mr. Poe now resolved to enter the West Point Academy, and, as his application was backed by Chief Justice Marshall, Andrew Stevenson, Gen. Scott, and many other gentlemen of the highest distinction, to say nothing of Mr. Allan, he found no difficulty in obtaining a letter of appointment. At West Point his stay was brief. At first he was delighted with every thing, busied himself in study, and “headed” every class; but after the lapse of some ten months, he heard of Mr. Allan’s marriage with Miss Patterson, of Richmond, a lady young enough to be his granddaughter. She was a relative of Gen. Scott’s, and lived at Belleville, the residence of Mrs. Mayo, the General’s mother-in-law. Upon the birth of the first child, Mr. Poe made up his mind that the heirship was at an end, and as he considered the army no place for a poor man, he determined to resign. At West Point it is necessary, in order to achieve such a step, to obtain permission from the parent or guardian. For this permission he wrote to Mr. Allan, who flatly refused it; this refusal Mr. Poe represented to Col. Thayer, the Superintendent of the post, who declined interfering with the rules, or to accept the resignation. It was about this period that Poland made the desperate and unfortunate struggle for independence, against the combined powers of Russia, Austria and Prussia, which terminated in the capitulation of Warsaw, and the annihilation of the kingdom. — All our cadet’s former chivalric ardor had now returned, and with tenfold vigor. He burned to be a participant in the affray. But to do this, it was doubly necessary to leave West Point. There was one resource yet left him: he positively refused to do duty of any kind, disobeyed all orders, and, keeping closely to his quarters, amused himself with his old tricks — caricaturing, and Pasquinading [column 2:] the Professors. There was a gentleman named Joseph Locke, who had made himself especially obnoxious, through his pertinacity in reporting the pranks of the cadets. At West Point, a “report” is no every day matter, but a very serious thing. Each “report” counts a certain number against the offender — is charged to his account — and, when the whole exceeds a stated sum, he is liable to dismissal. Mr. Poe, it appears, wrote a long lampoon against this Mr. Locke, of which the following are the only stanzas preserved:

As for Locke, he is all in my eye[[,]]

May the d—l right soon for his soul call.

He never was known to lie —

In bed at a reveillé roll-call.”


John Locke was a notable name;

Joe Locke is a greater: in short,

The former was well known to fame,

But the latter’s well known “to report.”

The result of all this was just what he intended. For some time Colonel Thayer, to whose good offices the young cadet had been personally recommended by General Scott, overlooked these misdemeanors. But at length, the matter becoming too serious, charges were instituted against him for “Neglect of duty, and disobedience of orders;” (nothing was said about the lampoons) and he was tried by a Court Martial. There were specifications innumerable, to all which, by way of saving time, he pleaded “guilty,” although some of them were monstrously absurd. In a word he was cashiered nem. con. and went on his way rejoicing.

But not to Poland. The capitulation had been effected, and that unfortunate country was no more. He repaired to Baltimore, where, shortly afterwards, he learned the death of Mr. Allan, who had left him nothing. His widow even refused him possession of his private library — a valuable one. To be sure, he never treated this lady with a whit more respect than that to which he thought her, as a woman, entitled.

A circumstance now occurred of great moment as regards Mr. Poe’s subsequent literary career. “The Baltimore Visiter,” a weekly paper, edited by a Mr. John Hewitt, or Hewlett, offered a premium for the best prose tale; also one for the best poem. This system of premium-offering was not then as now. The Committee, in this case, were men of the highest literary, as well as social respectability, if not of profound talents — John P. Kennedy, author of “Horse[[-]]Shoe Robinson,” J. H. B. Latrobe, and Dr. James H. Miller. To neither of these gentlemen was Mr. P. at that time, personally or by reputation known. He offered a poem (“The Coliseum,” published in Mr. Griswold’s book) and six tales. These articles, with Mr. P’s name prefixed, were written in a remarkably neat and peculiar manuscript, bearing a close resemblance to brevier type, and, the name being entirely new to the committee, it was thought that some person who could merely write and punctuate well, had been attempting an imposition — in short that the articles were copies from some of the foreign magazines — so little did their spirit resemble the usual character of American compositions. Nevertheless, both premiums were awarded to the unknown writer, (although, among the competitors* were many of the most celebrated names in our literature,) and the committee took occasion to pay him some extraordinary compliments, over their own signatures, in the “Visiter.” They said, among other things, that all the tales offered by him, were far better than the best offered by others, adding that they “thought it a duty to call public attention to them in that marked manner, since they possessed a singular force and beauty, and were eminently distinguished by a wild, vigorous and poetical imagination, a rich style, a fertile invention, and varied and curious learning.”

Shortly after this, Mr. Poe was invited by Mr. White to edit the “Southern Literary Messenger” which was then in its seventh month, with about four hundred subscribers. He remained with this journal until the end of its second year, by which time its circulation had increased to between three and four thousand; which latter number, it is believed, the Magazine never afterwards exceeded — if it did not immediately and permanently decrease upon Mr. P’s secession. The success of the “Messenger” has been on all hands justly attributed to his exertions in its behalf, but, especially, to the skill, honesty and audacity of the criticism under the editorial head. The review of “Norman Leslie” may be said to have introduced a new era in our critical literature. The article afforded even a ludicrous contrast, to the mere glorifications which had heralded and attended that miserable abortion. It was followed up, continuously, by others of the same force and character. Of the review of “Drake and Halleck” Mr. J. K. Paulding says, in a letter now upon our table, “I think it one of the finest pieces of criticism ever published in this country.” None of these articles, however, were comparable, either in severity, or analytical ability, to many of those which subsequently established, (during Mr. Poe’s brief connection with that journal) the character of “Graham’s Magazine.”

About this period was commenced “The New York Quarterly Review,” by Professors Anthon and Henry, with Dr. Hawks. Receiving a flattering invitation from its proprietors, Mr. P. was induced to abandon “The Messenger,” (in which he had no pecuniary interest) and remove to New York. Dr. Hawks says: — “I wish you to fall in with your broad-axe amidst this miserable literary trash which surrounds us. I believe you have the will, and I know well you have the ability.” This Review, however, has since deceased: perhaps the old adage about “too many cooks” had something to do with its decline. There was assuredly no lack of talent or learning, whatever there might have been of independence, in its conductors. The long article on “Stephens’ Travels in Arabia Petrea,” which attracted so much attention in the “New York Review,” some years ago, and in which the traveller’s misconceptions of the biblical prophecies were exposed, as well as some important mistranslations in Ezekiel and Isaiah, was the composition of Mr. Poe.

At the end of a year, the subject of our memoir removed to Philadelphia, where he has since constantly resided. He here formed an association, not altogether satisfactory to himself, with the proprietor of the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” the journal which was subsequently merged in “Graham’s.” With Mr. Graham, (with whom he has always maintained the most friendly relations,) he [column 3:] remained as critical editor, for a period of some fourteen or fifteen months; but is not to be considered responsible, (as some have held him) either for the external appearance, or the general internal character of that periodical.

It has often been a subject for wonder that with the prëeminent success which has attended his editorial efforts, M. [[Mr.]] Poe has never established a magazine, in which he should have more than a collateral interest, and we are now happy to learn that such is, at length, his intention. By reference to another page of our paper, it will be seen that he has issued the Prospectus of a Monthly, to be entitled “THE STYLUS,” for which, it is needless to say, we predict the most unequivocal success. In so saying, we but endorse the opinion of every literary man in the country, and fully agree with Fitz[[-]]Greene Halleck, that, however eminent may be the contributors engaged, it is, after all, “on his own fine taste, sound judgment, and great general ability for the task, that the public will place the firmest reliance.”

We have already spoken of Mr. Poe as a critic, and, on this head, it is unnecessary to say more. His analytical reputation is universal.

“As a critic,” says the St. Louis Bulletin, [and so say we] “notwithstanding the dignity of the two Quarterlies, we have ranked him first.* If various and general powers on almost every subject, combined with an acumen that seems intuitive, and which shrinks from no responsibility, deserve success, then will he be successful.” But as imagination is a loftier faculty than mere taste or judgment, so it is upon his tales, perhaps, that, in the end, his reputation will mainly depend. In 1840, Messrs. Lea & Blanchard published his “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” a work which elicited encomiums of the most extraordinary character, from the greatest variety of the highest sources. Indeed, to append here only a few of these commendations, will be the best comment we can possibly make, upon the merits and reputation of the author. We glean some of them from late magazines and papers now lying before us, and some from the Publisher’s appendix affixed, by Messrs, [[sic]] Lea & Blanchard, to the volumes themselves. It will be seen that our extracts are totally distinct from the common newspaper puff, and are of such nature that Mr. Poe’s bitterest enemy, (if he have one in the world) will find it impossible to question or gainsay them — since they embody the already published personal, and not merely editorial or anonymous opinions, of almost every noted literary man in America.

Of “William Wilson,” Mr. WASHINGTON IRVING says: — “It is managed in a highly picturesque style, and its singular and mysterious interest is ably sustained throughout. In point of mere style, it is, perhaps, even superior to ‘The House of Usher.’ It is simpler. In the latter composition, he seems to have been distrustful of his effects, or, rather, too solicitous of bringing them forth fully to the eye, and thus, perhaps, has laid on too much coloring. He has erred, however, on the safe side, that of exuberance, and the evil might easily be remedied, by relieving the style of some of its epithets” [since done.] “There would be no fear of injuring the graphic effect, which is powerful.” The Italics are Mr. Irving’s own.

Judge BEVERLY TUCKER, author of “George Balcombe,” says: — “Mr. Poe possesses an extraordinary faculty. He paints the ‘palpable obscure’ with strange power; throwing over his pictures a sombre gloom which is appalling. The images are dim, but distinct — shadowy, but well defined. The outline, indeed, is all we see; but there they stand, shrouded in darkness, and fright us with the mystery which defies farther scrutiny.  . . . Original thoughts come to him thronging unbidden; crowding themselves upon him in such numbers, as to require the rod of his own Master of Ceremonies, Criticism, to keep them in order. . . . His genius and history remind me of Coleridge.”

Mr. JAMES E. HEATH, the original editor of the “Messenger,” says: — “There can be but one opinion in regard to the force and beauty of his style. . . . . A gentleman of fine endowments, possessing a taste classical and refined, an imagination affluent and splendid, and withal a singular capacity for minute and mathematical detail. . . . Morella will unquestionably prove that he has great powers of imagination, and a command of language never surpassed. We doubt if anything in the same style can be cited, which contains more terrific beauty than this tale.”

Professor H. W. LONGFELLOW says: — “All that I have seen from his pen inspires me with a high idea of his power, and I think him destined to stand among the first of romance writers — if such, indeed, be his aim.”

Mr. NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, author of “Twice-Told Tales,” says: — “Mr. Poe gained ready admission [into the Hall of Fantasy] on account of his imagination, but was threatened with ejection as belonging to the obnoxious class of critics.”

Mr. N. P. WILLIS says: — “Mr. Poe’s contribution, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is very wild and very readable, and is the only thing in the number which most people would read and remember. —. . . . In ‘Ligeia’ there is a fine march of description which has a touch of the D’Israeli quality.”

The opinion of Mr. FITZ-GREENE HALLECK, we have already quoted, and that of Mr. JOHN NEAL we will quote elsewhere.

Mr. JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL says: — “This species of physical remorse is strikingly depicted in Mr. Thomas Hood’s ‘Dream of Eugene Aram,’ and with no less strength by the powerful imagination of Mr. Poe, in his story of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’ ”

“Mr. L. F. TASISTRO says: — “There is not one of the Tales published in the volumes before us, in which we do not find the development of great intellectual capacity, with a power for vivid description, an opulence of imagination, a fecundity of invention, and a command over the elegances of diction, which have seldom been displayed, even by writers who have acquired the greatest distinction in the Republic of Letters. . . . . A succession of richly colored pictures in the magic lantern of invention.” [column 4:]

Mr. FREDERICK W. THOMAS, author of “Clinton Bradshaw,” says: — “I think ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ the most ingenious thing of the kind on record. It is managed with a tact, ability, and subtlety that are absolutely marvellous. I do not know what to make of his intellectuals.”

Mr. PARK BENJAMIN says: — “We have always been admirers of Mr. Poe’s talents. Under his supervision the ‘Southern Literary Messenger’ acquired its high character. His productions display great power and originality, and bear the stamp of a thoroughly educated mind. In a recent number of this Magazine (Graham’s) there appeared a narrative which we intend to copy, on account of its philosophical spirit, and extraordinary interest, entitled ‘The Murders of [[in]] the Rue Morgue.’. . . We regard this gentleman as one of the best writers of the English language now living. His style is singularly pure and idiomatic. He never condescends to affectations but writes with a nervous clearness that inspires the reader with a perpetual confidence in his powers.”

Mr. M. M. NOAH says: — “ ‘Bon-Bon,’ by Edgar A. Poe, is equal to anything Theodore Hook ever wrote. . . . . ‘The House of Usher’ would have been considered a chef-d’-œuvre, even if it had appeared in the pages of Blackwood.”

Mrs. SIGOURNEY says: — “That powerful pen whose brilliant and versatile creations I have so often admired.”

Mr. EPES SARGENT, author of “Velasco,” says: — “I have always been an ardent admirer of his varied and surpassing talents.”

Mr. W. G. SIMMS has paid him some very high compliments in “The Magnolia,” which we are now unable to obtain.

Mr. JOHN P. KENNEDY, author of “Horse-Shoe Robinson,” says: — “These tales are eminently distinguished by a wild, vigorous, and poetical imagination, a fertile invention, a rich style, and varied and curious learning.”

Mr. JOHN L. CAREY, of the “Baltimore American,” says: — “The impress of genius is stamped upon them all. . . . Without particularising others, we will observe, of the story called ‘William Wilson,’ that it embodies a profounder meaning than will be gathered from regarding it as a purely fanciful invention.”

Mr. G. G. FOSTER, of the “St. Louis Bulletin,” says: — “He is one of the very few writers who blend philosophy, common sense, humor, and poetry smoothly together. He places his hands upon the wild steeds of his imagination, and they plunge furiously through storm and tempest, or, at his bidding, glide noiselessly along the quiet and dreamy lake, or among the whispering bowers of thought and feeling. . . . With an acuteness of observation, a vigorous and effective style, and an independence that defies control, he unites a fervid fancy, and a most beautiful enthusiasm. His is a high destiny.”

The “BALTIMORE METHODIST” says: — “Mr. Poe is a gentleman of the finest abilities. For freshness of thought, vigor of imagination, and force of description, he stands alone among the Magazine writers of the age. This is saying a great deal for him, but it is no more than all are willing to award.”

The “N. Y. TIMES AND STAR” says: — “Mr. Poe, in our opinion, is the most truly original writer we have in America.”

The “NORFOLK HERALD” says: — “The author of the ‘Lunar Hoax,’ is indebted to the ‘Hans Pfaall’ of Mr. Poe, for the conception, and, in a great measure, for the execution of his discoveries.”

Mr. GEORGE H. CALVERT, of the “Baltimore American,” says: — “ ‘The Duc de L’Omelette,’ by Edgar A. Poe, is one of those light, spirited, and fantastic inventions, of which we have had specimens before in the ‘Messenger,’ betokening a fertility of imagination, and power of execution, that would, under sustained effort, produce creations of enduring character.”

The “N. Y. COURIER AND ENQUIRER” says: — “Mr. Poe is one of those original philosophical writers, of whom we have so few in America, and his abilities [[articles]] always produce a deep and thrilling interest.”

The “SOUTHERN LITERARY MESSENGER,” says: — “The production of a talented and powerful writer. . . . . The possession of high powers of invention and imagination — of genius — is undoubtedly his. His compositions are, many of them, in Literature, like Martin’s in the Fine Arts. His serious sketches all bear the marks of bold, fertile genius. There is the dark cloud hanging over all — there are the dim, misty, undefined shapes in the back-ground. But, amid all these, arise huge and magnificent columns, flashing lamps, rich banquetting vessels, gleaming tiaras, and sweet, expressive faces. But the writings of Mr. Poe are well known to the readers of the Messenger.”

Mr. H. HAINES, of the “Petersburg Constellation,” says: — “Of the diamonds which sparkle beside the more sombre gems, commend us, thou Spirit of Eccentricity, forever and a day, to the ‘Duc de L’Omelette,’ the best things of the kind we have ever read, or ever expect to read.”

Mr. HORACE GREELEY, of the “N. Y. Tribune,” says of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” — “Mr. Poe contributes a strong and skilful, but in our minds, overstrained and repulsive analysis of the feelings and promptings of an insane homicide. The painting of the terror of the victim, while he sat upright in his bed, feeling that death was near him, is most powerful and fearfully vivid.”

Coming to our own city, Mr. JOSEPH C. NEAL says: — “A writer who adds to the most extensive acquirements, a remarkable vigor and originality of mind. . . These ‘grotesque and arabesque’ delineations are full of variety — now irresistibly quaint and droll, and again marked with all the deep and painful interest of the German school. In every page the reader will note matter unlike the production of any other writer. He follows in nobody’s track. His imagination seems to have a domain of its own to revel in.”

Mr. MORTON McMICHAEL says: — “Mr. Poe is a writer of rare and various abilities. He possesses a fine perception of the ludicrous, and his humorous stories are instinct with the principle of mirth. He possesses, also, a mind of unusual grasp, a vigorous power of analysis, and an acuteness of perception which have given him high celebrity as a critic. These same faculties, moreover, aided by an unusually active imagination, and directed by familiar study of metaphysical writings, have led him to produce some of the most vivid scenes of the wild and wonderful which can be found in English literature.”

Professor JOHN FROST says: — “ [[‘]]William Wilson,[[’]] by Mr. Poe, reminds us of Godwin and Brockden Brown. . . . We must say that we derive no small enjoyment from a delineation like this. We like to see the evidences of study and thought, as well as of inspiration, in the design, and of careful and elaborate handling in the execution, not less than of grand and striking effect in the tout ensemble. ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is what we denominate a stern and sombre, but at the same time, a noble and imposing picture, such as could be drawn only by a master-hand. — Such things are not produced by your slip-shod amateurs in composition.” And again:

“To say we have read these tales attentively, is not enough. We have studied them. They are, in every way, worthy of such distinction, and whoever shall give them a careful study and a philosophical analysis, will find in them the evidences of an original, vigorous and independent mind, stored with rich and various learning, and capable of successful application to a great variety of subjects. As a writer of fiction, Mr. Poe passes ‘from grave to gay, from lively to severe,’ with an ease and buoyancy not less wonderful than the unfailing vigor of his style, and the prodigious extent of his resources for illustration and embellishment. He is capable of great things, and beautiful and interesting as the Tales before us are, we deem them much less remarkable as actual performances, than as evidences of ability for more serious and sustained efforts. They seem to us the playful effusions of a remarkable — of a powerful intellect. He has placed himself in the foremost rank of American writers.”

Mr. P. P. COOKE, author of “Florence Vane,” and one of the best critics in America, says: — “In the first place I must say, what I firmly believe, that his mere style is the very best among the first of the living writers; and I regard style as something more than the mere manner of communicating ideas. ‘Words are used by the wise as counters, by the foolish as coin,’ is the aphorism of a person who never appreciated Jeremy Taylor or Sir Thomas Browne. . . . He does not, to be sure, use his words, as those fine old glowing rhetoricians did, as tints of the pencil — as colors of a picture — but he moulds them into an exquisitely artful excellence; bestowing a care which is pleasantly perceptible, and accomplishing an effect which I can only characterize as the visible [column 5:] presentation, instead of the mere expression, of his ideas. . . . . I consider the skill of one portion of ‘Eiros and Charmion’ unapproachable. ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque’ expresses admirably the character of his wild stories, and as tales of the grotesque and arabesque, they have certainly never been equalled.”

In conclusion, (for it is absolutely necessary to bring these extracts to a close,) Mr. JAMES K. PAULDING says: — “ ‘Lionizing,’ by Edgar A. Poe, is the happiest travestie of the coxcomical egotism of travelling scribblers, I have ever seen. . . . Mr. Poe is decidedly the best of all our young writers, and I don’t know but that I may say of all our old ones.”

To which Professor CHARLES ANTHON pointedly adds: — “facile princeps.”

We have only to remark here, that all the best* of Mr. Poe’s Prose Tales have been published since the issue of the volumes which elicited these extraordinary comments, and a thousand of similar character from men of less note, or purely editorial. A complete collection of his Tales is a desideratum in our literature.

But notwithstanding his success as a prose writer, it is as a poet we now wish chiefly to consider him. He wrote verses as soon as he could write at all. His first poetical publication, however, was “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. By a Virginian.” Of this, the first edition was published (in pamphlet form) in Boston, before he had completed his fifteenth year. Some of his best pieces, among others the subjoined lines to Helen, were composed two years previously.


Helen, thy beauty is to me

Like those Nicéan barks of yore,

That, gently, o’er a perfumed sea,

The weary, way-worn wanderer bore

To his own native shore.


On desperate seas long wont to roam,

Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,

Thy Naiad airs have brought me home

To the glory that was Greece

And the grandeur that was Rome.


Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche

How statue-like I see thee stand!

The agate lamp within thy hand,

Ah! Psyche, from the regions which

Are Holy-Land!” [[sic]]

These lines, by a boy of fourteen, will compare favorably with any written, at any age, by any poet whatsoever.

A second edition of the volume was published in Baltimore, by Hatch and Dunning, we believe in 1827 [[1829]]; a third during the author’s cadetship at West Point. Of these editions, the two first attracted but little attention, on account of their slovenly printing and their modes of publication — John Neal, however, whose judgment will not be disputed, said of them that “they put him in mind of no less a poet than Shelley.” The critic quoted from “Al Aaraaf,” in support of his opinion, the following:


Spirit! that dwellest where,

In the deep sky,

The terrible and fair

In beauty vie!

Beyond the line of blue,

The boundary of the star,

That turneth in the view

Of thy barrier and thy bar —

Of the barrier overgone

By the comets, who were cast

From their pride and from their throne

To be drudges till the last —

To be carrier of fire,

(The red fire of their heart,)

With speed that may not tire,

And with pain that shall not part —

Who livest — that we know —

In Eternity — we feel —

But the shadow of whose brow

What spirit shall reveal.


And again:

’Neath blue-bell, or streamer,

Or tufted wild spray

That keeps from the dreamer

The moonbeam away —

Bright beings! that ponder,

With half-closing eyes,

On the stars which your wonder

Hath drawn from the skies,

Till they glance thro’ the shade,

And come down to your brow,

Like — eyes of the maiden

Who calls on you now —

Arise! from your dreaming

In violet bowers,

To duty beseeming

These star-litten hours!

And shake from your tresses,

Encumbered with dew,

The breath of those kisses

That cumber them, too —

(Oh! how without you, Love,

Could angels be blest?)

Those kisses of true love

That lulled you to rest.

Up! shake from your wings

All hindering things!

The dew of the night —

It will weigh down your flight,

And true love caresses

Oh, leave them apart;

They are light on the tresses,

But lead on the heart.


Ligeia! Ligeia!

My beautiful one,

Whose harshest idea

Will to melody run,

Say, is it thy will

On the breezes to toss,

Or, capriciously still,

Like the lone albatross,

Incumbent on night,

As she on the air,

To keep watch with delight

On the harmony there?

LIGEIA, wherever

Thine image shall be,

No magic shall sever

Thy music from thee.

Thou hast bound many eyes

In a deep dreamy sleep,

But the strains still arise

Which thy vigilance keep.

The sound of the rain

That leaps down to the flower,

And dances again

In the rhythm of the shower

The murmur that springs

From the growing of grass,

Are the music of things,

But are modelled, alas!

Away then, my dearest,

Oh! hie thee away

To springs that lie clearest

Beneath the moon-ray,

To lone lake that smiles,

In its dream of deep rest,

At the myriad star-isles

That enjewel its breast.

This we conceive to be a truly wonderful poem to have emanated from the pen of a boy of fourteen. Ligeia, (a Greek word signifying canorous, or high-sounding,) is intended as a personification of Music, and the picture, which we have italicised, of the Spirit soaring, is surpassed by no American poet. From “Al Aaraaf” we select only three more passages; and they might be quoted as gems even from Keats.

Ours is a world of words. Quiet we call

Silence, which is the veriest word of all.

Here Nature speaks, and even ideal things

Flap shadowy sound from visionary wings.


A dome, by linkéd light from Heaven let down,

Sat gently on these columns as a crown,

And rays from God shot down that meteor chain,

And hallow’d all the Beauty twice again,

Save, when between th’ Empyrean and that ring,

Some eager spirit flapp’d his dusky wing.

Within the centre of this hall, to breathe,

She paused and panted, Zanthe! all beneath

The brilliant light that kissed her golden hair,

And long’d to rest, yet could but sparkle there!

From the wild energy of wanton haste,

Her cheek was flushing, and her lips apart,

And zone, that clung about her gentle waist,

Had burst beneath the heaving of her heart. [column 6:]

Nyctanthes, too, as sacred as the light

She fears to perfume, perfuming the night;

And that aspiring flower that sprang on earth,

And died ere scarce exalted into birth,

Bursting its odorous heart, in spirit to wing

Its way to heaven from garden of a king;

And Valisnerian lotus thither flown,

From struggling with the waters of the Rhone;

And thy most lovely purple perfume, Zante,

Isola d’oro! Fior di Levante!

And the Nelumbo bud that floats forever

With Indian Cupid down the Holy River.

From the “Minor Poems” we quote a


Science! true daughter of Old time thou art,

Who alterest all thing with thy peering eyes.

Why prey’st thou thus upon the poet’s heart,

Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?

How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,

Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering

To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies,

Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?

Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?

And driven the Hamadryad from the wood

To seek a shelter in some happier star?

Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,

The Elfin from the green grass, and from me

The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree.

In speaking of this sonnet and the preceding extracts, John Neal says: “And again the old-fashioned truth and strength of the following! — Of a truth, we ought to overlook much in one capable of so much simplicity and power.” Elsewhere, in the same review, he says: “If the young author now before us should fulfil his destiny, as they would say on the other side of the water, he will be foremost in the rank of real poets.” [The italics are Mr. Neal’s.] Speaking of “Tamerlane,” from which we have foreborne to quote, he says: “As a whole, it is much the best; for there is breadth and depth in it, a certainty of purpose, and a loftiness of look, throughout, which are wanting in ‘Al Aaraaf,’ wonderful as some of the passages of the latter are.” Again, “But the grandest and sweetest of all is the following,” which we quote, with his own Italics.


who loves to nod and sing,

With drowsy head and folded wing,

Among the green-leaves, as they shake

Far down within some shadowy lake,

To me a painted paroquet

Hath been — a most familiar bird —

Taught me my alphabet to say —

To lisp my very earliest word,

While in the wild-wood I did lie,

A child — with a most knowing eye.

Of late, eternal Condor years

So shake the very Heaven on high

With tumult as they thunder by,

I scarcely have had time for cares

Through gazing on the unquiet sky!

And when an hour with calmer wings

Its down upon my spirit flings

That little hour, with lyre and rhyme,

To while away (forbidden things!)

My heart would feel to be a crime,

Unless it trembled with the strings.

In closing this review, Mr. Neal makes this remarkable prophecy: — “Our author, if he be just to his peculiar gift, (for it is a gift here,) will be distinguished among the most distinguished.”

The last which we shall quote of the “Minor Poems,” is one in which the skill of the composition, when the age of the writer is considered, is by no means its least remarkable feature.


Fair river! in thy bright clear flow

Of crystal wandering water,

Thou art an emblem of the glow

Of Beauty — the unhidden heart —

The playful mazines of art

In old Alberto’s daughter.


But when within thy wave she looks,

Which glistens, then, and trembles,

Why then the prettiest of brooks

Her worshipper resembles;

For in his heart, as in thy stream,

Her image deeply lies —

His heart which trembles at the beam

Of her soul-searching eyes.

In leaving these to note the poems of his maturer years, we are wonder-struck not more at the genius of the poet, than at his disregard of his poetical reputation. We can only say that, in our opinion, and in every one’s, he has fulfilled his destiny, and Mr. Neal’s prediction. With the true intellect of the land, Mr. Poe stands among the first — if not the first. As a critic, and a tale-writer,* he is certainly unequalled in America. As a poet, the following poems (which he has not even taken the trouble to collect) exhibit him second to none; not even excepting Mr. Longfellow.


Lo! ’tis a gala night

Within the lonesome latter years!

A mystic throng, bewing’d, bedight

In veils, and drown’d in tears,

Sit in a theatre, to see

A play of hopes and fears,

While the orchestra breathes fitfully

The music of the spheres.


Mimes, in the form of God on high,

Mutter and mumble low,

And hither and thither fly —

Mere puppets they, who come and go

At bidding of vast formless things

That shift the scenery to and fro,

Flapping from out their Condor wings

Invisible Wo!


That motley drama! — oh, be sure

It shall not be forgot!

With its phantom [[Phamtom]] chas’d forevermore,

By a crowd that seize it not

Through a circle that ever returneth in

To the self-same spot,

And much of Madness, and more of Sin,

And Horror the soul of the plot.


But see, amid the mimic rout,

A crawling shape intrude!

A blood-red thing that writhes from out

The scenic solitude!

It writhes! — it writhes! — with mortal pangs

The mimes become its food,

And the angels sob at vermin fangs

In human gore imbued.


Out — out are the lights — out all!

And, over each quivering form,

The curtain, a funeral pall,

Comes down with the rush of a storm,

And the angels, all pallid and wan,

Uprising, unveiling, affirm

That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”

Its hero the Conqueror Worm.



Ah, broken is the golden bowl!

The spirit flown forever!

Let the bell toll!

A saintly soul!

Floats on the Stygian river!

And let the burial rite be read! —

The funeral song be sung —

A dirge for the most lovely dead

That ever died so young!

And, Guy De Vere,

Hast thou no tear?

Weep now or nevermore!

See! on yon drear

And rigid bier

Low lies thy love, Lenore!


“Yon heir, whose cheeks of pallid hue

With tears are streaming wet,

Sees only, through

Their crocodile dew,

A vacant coronet —

False friends! ye lov’d her for her wealth,

And hated her for her pride,

And, when she fell in feeble health,

Ye bless’d her — that she died.

How shall the ritual, then, be read?

The requiem how be sung

For her, most wrong’d of all the dead

That ever died so young?”



But rave not thus!

And let the solemn song

Go up to God so mournfully that she

may feel no wrong!

The sweet Lenore

Hath “gone before”

With young Hope at her side, [column 7:]

And thou art wild

For the dear child

That should have been thy bride —

For her, the fair

And debonair,

That now so lowly lies —

The life still there,

Upon her hair,

The death upon her eyes.


“Avaunt — to-night

My heart is light —

No dirge will I upraise,

But waft the angel on her flight

With a Pæan of old days!

Let no bell toll!

Lest her sweet soul,

Amid its hallow’d mirth

Should catch the note,

As it doth float

Up from the damnéd earth.

To friends above, from fiends below, th’

indignant ghost is riven —

From grief and moan

To a gold throne

Beside the King of Heaven![[”]]



Fair isle, that, from the fairest of all flowers,

Thy gentlest of all gentle names dost take!

How many mem’ries of what radiant hours

At sight of thee and thine at once awake!

How many scenes of what departed bliss!

How many thoughts of what entombéd hopes:

How many visions of a maiden that is

No more — no more upon thy verdant slopes!

No more! alas that magical sad sound

Transforming all! Thy charms shall please no more

Thy memory no more! Accursed ground

Henceforth I hold thy flower-enamell’d shore,

O hyacinthine isle! O purple Zante!

“Isola d’oro! Fior di Levante!”



At midnight, in the month of June,

I stand beneath the mystic moon.

An opiate vapor, dewy, dim,

Exhales from out her golden rim,

And, softly dripping, drop by drop,

Upon the quiet mountain top,

Steals drowsily and musically

Into the universal valley.

The rosemary nods upon the grave;

The lily lolls upon the wave;

Wrapping the fog about its breast,

The ruin moulders into rest;

Looking like Lethé, see! the lake

A conscious slumber seems to take,

And would not, for the world, awake.

All Beauty sleeps! — and lo! where lies

(Her casement open to the skies)

Irené with her Destinies!

O, lady bright!

Can it be right —

This lattice open to the night?

The bodiless airs, a wizard rout,

Flit through thy chamber in and out,

And wave the curtain canopy

So fitfully — so fearfully —

Above the clos’d and fringéd lid

’Neath which thy slumb’ring soul lies hid,

That, o’er the floor and down the wall,

Like ghosts the shadows rise and fall!

O, lady dear,

Hast thou no fear?

Why and what art thou dreaming here?


Sure thou art come o’er far-off seas

A wonder to these garden trees!

Strange is thy pallor! strange thy dress!

Strange above all, thy length of tress,

And this all solemn silentness!


The lady sleeps. O, may her sleep,

Which is enduring, so be deep!

Heaven have her in its sacred keep!

This chamber chang’d for one more holy,

This bed for one more melancholy,

I pray to God that she may lie

Forever with unopen’d eye,

While the dim sheeted ghosts go by!


My love, she sleeps. Oh, may her sleep,

As it is lasting, so be deep!

Soft may the worms about her creep!

Far in the forest, dim and old,

For her may some tall vault unfold —

Some vault that oft hath flung its black

And wingéd pannels fluttering back,

Triumphant, o’er the crested palls

Of her grand family funerals —

Some sepulchre, remote, alone,

Against whose portal she hath thrown,

In childhood, many an idle stone —

Some tomb from out whose sounding door

She ne’er shall force an echo more,

Thrilling to think, poor child of sin!

It was the dead who groaned within.



Thou wast that all to me, love,

For which my soul did pine —

A green isle in the sea, love, —

A fountain and a shrine

All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers

And all the flowers were mine.


Ah, dream too bright to last; [[!]]

Oh, starry Hope! that didst arise

But to be overcast!

A voice from out the Future cries

“On! on!” — but o’er the Past

(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies

Mute, motionless, aghast!


For, alas! alas! with me

The light of Life is o’er!

No more — no more — no more

(Such language holds the solemn sea

To the sands upon the shore)

Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,

Or the stricken eagle soar!


And all my days are trances,

And all my nightly dreams

Are where thy dark eye glances,

And where thy footstep gleams —

In what ethereal dances

By what eternal streams.



There are some qualities — some incorporate things —

That have a double life, which thus is made

A type of that twin entity which springs

From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade.

There is a two-fold Silence — sea and shore —

Body and soul. One dwells in lonely places,

Newly with grass o’ergrown; some solemn graces,

Some human memories and tearful lore

Render him terrorless; his name’s “No More.”

He is the corporate Silence; dread him not!

No power hath he of evil in himself;

But should some urgent fate (untimely lot!)

Bring thee to meet his Shadow, (nameless elf,

That haunteth the lone regions where hath trod

No foot of man,) commend thyself to God!



In Heaven a spirit doth dwell

“Whose heart-strings are a lute;”

None sing so wildly well

As the angel Israfel,

And the giddy stars (so legends tell)

Ceasing their hymns, attend the spell

Of his voice, all mute.


Tottering above,

In her highest noon,

The enamour’d moon

Blushes with love,

While, to listen, the red levin

(With the rapid Pleiads, even,

Which were seven,)

Pauses in Heaven.


And they say (the starry choir

And the other listening things)

That Israfeli’s fire

Is owing to that lyre

By which he sits and sings —

The trembling living wire

Of those unusual strings.


But the skies that angel trod,

Where deep thoughts are a duty,

And Love’s a grown-up God,

And the Houri glances are

Imbued with all the beauty

Which we worship in a star. [column 8:]


Thou art not, therefore, wrong,

Israfeli, who despisest

An unimpassion’d song.

To thee the laurels belong,

Best bard, because the wisest.

Merrily live, and long!

The ecstacies above

With thy burning measures suit —

Thy grief, thy joy, thy hate, thy love,

With the fervor of thy lute —

Well may the stars be mute!


Yes, Heaven is thine; but this

Is a world of sweets and sours;

Our flowers are merely — flowers,

And the shadow of thy perfect bliss

Is the sunshine of ours.


If I could dwell

Where Israfel

Hath dwelt, and he where I,

He might not sing so wildly well

A mortal melody,

While a bolder note than this might swell

From my lyre within the sky.



Seraph! thy memory is to me

Like some enchanted far-off isle,

In some tumultuous sea —

Some ocean vexed as it may be

With storms, but where, meanwhile,

Serenest skies continually

Just o’er that one bright island smile.


For ’mid the earnest cares and woes

That crowd around my earthly path,

(Sad path, alas! where grows

Not ev’n one lonely rose,)

My soul at least solace hath

In dreams of thee, and therein knows

An Eden of bland repose.



Type of the antique Rome! Rich reliquary

Of lofty contemplation left to Time

By buried centuries of pomp and power!

At length — at length — after so many days

Of weary pilgrimage and burning thirst,

(Thirst for the springs of lore that in thee lie,)

I kneel, an alter’d and an humble man,

Amid thy shadows, and so drink within

My very soul thy grandeur, gloom and glory!


Vastness! and Age! and Memories of Eld!

Silence! and Desolation! and dim Night!

I feel ye now — I feel ye in your strength —

O spells more sure than e’er Judæn king

Taught in the gardens of Gethsemane!

O charms more potent than the rapt Chaldee

Ever drew down from out the quiet stars!


Here, where a hero fell, a column falls!

Here, where the mimic eagle glared in gold,

A midnight vigil holds the swarthy bat!

Here, where the dames of Rome their gilded hair

Waved to the wind, now wave the reed and thistle!


Here, where on golden throne the monarch loll’d,

Glides, spectre-like, unto his marble home,

Lit by the wan light of the hornéd moon,

The swift and silent lizard of the stones!


But stay! these walls — these ivy-clad arcades —

These mould’ring plinths — those sad and blacken’d shafts —

These vague entablatures — this crumbling frieze —

These shatter’d cornices — this wreck — this ruin —

These stones — alas! these gray stones — are they all —

All of the fam’d, and the colossal left

By the corrosive Hours, to Fate and me?


“Not all” — the Echoes answer me — “not all;

“Prophetic sounds, and loud, arise forever

“From us, and from all Ruin, unto the wise,

“As melody from Memmon to the Sun.

“We rule the hearts of mightiest men — we rule

“With a despotic sway all giant minds.

“We are not impotent — we pallid stones.

“Not all our power is gone — not all our fame —

“Not all the magic of our high renown —

“Not all the wonder that encircles us —

“Not all the mysteries that in us lie —

“Not all the memories that hang upon

“And cling around about us as a garment,

“Clothing us in a robe of more than glory.”



In the greenest of our valleys

By good angles tenanted,

Once a fair and stately palace —

Radiant palace — rear’d its head.

In the monarch Thought’s dominion —

It stood there!

Never seraph spread a pinion

Over fabric half so fair!


Banners yellow, glorious, golden,

On its roof did float and flow,

(This — all this — was in the olden

Time long ago,)

And every gentle air that dallied,

In that sweet day,

Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,

A wingéd odour went away.


Wanderers in that happy valley,

Through two luminous windows, saw

Spirits moving musically,

To a lute’s well tunéd law,

Round about a throne where, sitting


In state his glory well befitting,

The ruler of the realm was seen.


And all with pearl and ruby glowing

Was the fair palace door,

Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,

And sparkling evermore,

A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty

Was but to sing,

In voices of surpassing beauty,

The wit and wisdom of their king.


But evil things, in robes of sorrow,

Assail’d the monarch’s high estate.

(Ah, let us mourn! — for never sorrow

Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)

And round about his home the glory

That blush’d and bloom’d,

Is but a dim remember’d story

of the old time entomb’d.


And travellers, now, within that valley,

Through the red-litten windows see

Vast forms, that move fantastically

To a discordant melody,

While, like a ghastly rapid river,

Through the pale door

A hideous throng rush out forever

And laugh — but smile no more.


As an essayist, Mr. Poe has been equally successful. His most noted compositions, in this way, are a treatise on Mælzel’s Automaton, published in the “Southern Literary Messenger,” in which, by an ingenious train of reasoning à priori, he proves it not a pure machine; the “Philosophy of Furniture;” “A New Theory of English Versification;” several most remarkable papers on “Secret Writing;” and the celebrated “Chapters on Autography,” published in the “Messenger” and in “Graham’s.”

The circumstances connected with the papers on secret writing, are of too extraordinary a nature, and have too obvious a bearing upon Mr. Poe’s reputation for analysis, to be omitted in a biography like this. In a work entitled “Sketches of conspicuous living characters of France,” by Mr. Robert Walsh, Jr., M. Berryer, the French minister, is said to have displayed the highest ingenuity in the solution of a cipher addressed by the Duchesse de Berri, to the legitimists of Paris, but of which she had neglected to furnish the key. Berryer discovered this key to be the phrase — “Le Gouvernement Provisoire,” and the work in question extolled the acumen of the decipherer. — In a review of the book, Mr. Poe maintained not only that he could unriddle any similar secret, but that “human ingenuity could construct no secret writing which human ingenuity could not resolve.” The challenge elicited a flood of cryptographs which were promptly and without exception deciphered — of course to the profound astonishment of the writers — not one of whom, perhaps, would have hesitated to staking his existence that his secret was absolutely insoluble without the key.

For many months the pages of “Graham” contained these cryptographs, with the editor’s solutions. In order to convey an intelligible idea of the task undertaken, we append one of the least difficult of the ciphers solved, with the correspondence with accompanied it. “F.W. Thomas” is the author of the “Clinton Bradshaw,” and the cryptograph in question was solved by return of mail.

MY DEAR SIR: — The enclosed cryptograph is from a friend of mine (Dr. Frailey,) who thinks he [column 9:] can puzzle you. If you decipher it, then are you a magician, for he has used, as I think, the greatest art in making it.

Your friend,


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WASHINGTON, July 6th, 1841.


This morning I received yours of yesterday, deciphering the “cryptograph” of my friend, Doctor Frailey. You request that I would obtain the Dr’s. acknowledgment of your solution. I have just received the enclosed from him.

Doctor Frailey had heard me speak of your having deciphered a letter which our mutual friend, Dow, wrote upon a challenge from you last year, at my lodgings in your city, when Aaron Burr’s correspondence in cipher was the subject of our conversation. You laughed at what you termed Burr’s shallow artifice, and said you could decipher any such cryptography easily. To test you on the spot, Dow withdrew to the corner of the room, and wrote a letter in cipher, which you solved in a much shorter time than it took him to indite it.

As Doctor Frailey seemed to doubt your skill to the extent of my belief in it, when your article on “Secret Writing” appeared in the last number of your Magazine, I showed it to him. After reading it, he remarked that he thought he could puzzle you, and the next day he handed me the cryptograph which I transmitted to you. He did not tell me the key. The uncommon nature of his article, of which I gave you not the slightest hint, made me express to you my strong doubts of your ability to read it. I confess that your solution, so speedily and correctly made, surprised me. I congratulate myself that I do not live in an age when the black art is believed in, for, innocent as I am of all knowledge of cryptography, I should be arrested as an accessary before the fact, and though I escaped, it is certain that you would have to die the death, and, alas! I fear upon my testimony.

Your friend,


Edgar A. Poe, Esq.

WASHINGTON, July 6, 1841.

Dear Sir,

It gives me pleasure to state, that the reading by Mr. Poe, of the cryptograph which I gave you a few days since for transmission to him is correct.

I am the more astonished at this, since for various words of two, three and four letters, a distinct character was used for each, in order to prevent the discovery of some of those words, by their repetition in a cryptograph of any length and applying them to other words. I also used a distinct character for the terminations tion and sion, and substituted in every word where it was possible, some of the characters above alluded to. Where the same word of two of those letters occurred frequently, the letters of the key phrase and the characters were alternately used, to increase the difficulty.

As ever, yours, &c.



The key phrase employed by Dr. Frailey in the construction of this cipher, was — “But find this out and I give it up.” Under this the alphabet was written, letter beneath letter. In this way, it will be found that many of the secret characters represent not one, but several of the natural alphabet. For example, u, in the cipher, stands either for b or m, or y, and the decipherer is left to guess when it means the one and when the other. The question is, how could he ever ascertain that it meant either? Again, t stands for either c, h, n, or x, while i represents e, j, t, r, and w. When we consider these difficulties, with the other embarrassments mentioned in the letter (arbitrary marks used for whole words!) and when we consider, also, the nonsensical nature of the meaning concealed, which we give below, we can regard the solution (by return of mail, too!) as little less than miraculous.

In one of those peripatetic circumrotations I obviated a rustic whom I subjected to catechetical interrogation respecting the nosocomical characteristics of the edifice to which I was approximate. — With a volubility uncongealed by the frigorific powers of villatic bashfulness, he ejaculated a voluminous replication from the universal tenor of whose contents I deduce the subsequent amalgamation of heterogeneous facts. Without dubiety incipient pretension is apt to terminate in final vulgarity, as parturient mountains have been fabulated to produce muscupular abortions. The institution the subject of my remarks, has not been without cause the theme of the ephemeral columns of quotidian journals, and enthusiastic encomiations in conversational intercourse.

Before the publication of Mr. P’s solution, a reward was offered for the deciphering of the riddle. It stood in the Magazine for several months, and met the eyes of more than 100,000 readers — but was solved by none.

This cryptograph, however, was simplicity itself, in comparison with others resolved by the subject of our memoir.

Besides these and other works [[the works mentioned]], he is the author of “Arthur Gordon Pym,” published anonymously by the Harpers — a book which ran through many English editions; — a System of Conchology, very successful, with his own name; — a large and expensively illustrated work on Natural History, in part a translation, and in part a re-arrangement of the French system of Milne Edouarde, and Achille Lecompte; — also, a work of fiction, in two volumes, under a nom-de-plume, never acknowledged; — also, two papers, on American topics, for a Parisian critical journal — with one or two anonymous articles in a British periodical, and several, also anonymous, in an American Quarterly.

In his youth, Mr. Poe was noted for gymnastic feats, to an extent almost beyond the credible; and it is believed, that, to this day, he remembers such achievements with greater pride, than any subsequent mental triumphs. At one period he was known to leap the distance of twenty-one feet, six inches, on a dead level, with a run of twenty yards. A most remarkable swim of his, is, also, on record in the columns of the “Richmond Enquirer,” and other Richmond papers. It took place in his fifteenth year. He swam, on a hot July day, against a three-knot tide, from Ludlam’s wharf, on James River, to Warwick — a distance of seven miles and a half — fully equal to thirty miles in still water. The impossibility of resting, even for a moment, by floating, in a task such as this, renders it Herculean, and the feat has never been equalled by any one, properly authenticated. Byron’s paddle across the Hellespont, was mere child’s play in comparison, and, indeed, would never have been thought worthy of mention, by any true swimmer, or by any other than a lord and a dandy.

He is now but little more than thirty years of age; in person, he is somewhat slender, about five feet, eight inches in height, and well[[-]]proportioned; his complexion is rather fair; his eyes are grey and restless, exhibiting a marked nervousness; while the mouth indicates great decision of character; his forehead is extremely broad, displaying prominently the organs of Ideality, Causalty, Form, Constructiveness, and Comparison, with small Eventuality and Individuality. His hair is nearly black, and partially curling. Our portrait conveys a tolerably correct idea of the man.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of column 1:]

*  Judge Beverley [[Beverly]] Tucker, of Virginia, in a letter now lying before us, addressed to Mr. Thomas W. White, says: — “Without a tithe of his genius, I am old enough to be his grandfather; for, if I mistake not his filiation, I knew his most beautiful and most accomplished mother when a girl.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of column 2:]

*  Among the competitors, at present of this city, was Mr. T. S. Arthur, since so well known by his “Six Nights with the Washingtonians.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of column 3:]

*  Perhaps the finest compliment ever paid Mr. Poe’s critical abilities, was by Mr. Cornelius Matthews, the editor of “Arcturus,” and author of “Wakondah.” This Poem was slashingly condemned in “Graham’s Magazine,” while Mr. P. edited it, and in a subsequent number of “Arcturus,” Mr. Matthews spoke of the critic in the highest terms, and instanced his review of “Barnaby Rudge” as a master-piece of ingenuity.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of column 5:]

*  Since the publication of the “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” he has written “A Descent into the Maelstroom [[Maelström]];” “The Colloquy of Monos and Una;” “The Pit and the Pendulum;” “The Business-Man;” “Never Bet your [[Your]] Head;” “The Island of the Fay;” “The Mask of the Red Death;” “Eleonora;” “Three Sundays in a Week;” “The Man of the Crowd;” “Life in Death;” “The Landscape-Garden;” “The Tell-Tale Heart;” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue;” and “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of column 6:]

*  As a tale writer, Mr. Hawthorne, to be sure, stands deservedly high, and, in his line of writing, is unsurpassed by any one; but it must be remembered that he has only one vein, while the subject of our sketch has a thousand, and is equally good in all.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of column 7:]

*  And the angel Israfel whose heart-strings are a lute, and who has the sweetest voice of all God’s creatures. — Sale’s Koran.



Poe attributes this unsigned biographical sketch to Henry Beck Hirst (see Poe’s letter to F. W. Thomas), although Poe himself is clearly the source for a good deal of the information — and misinformation — in the article. As a biography, the article is highly unreliable. A slightly revised version was printed in the issue for March 4, 1843.

Copies of the original article are scarce, with only two or three of the March 4, 1843 printing known to exist, and all as badly damaged. The text above was created by reading the best example of each section from these copies, as well as from photocopies made of these prior to some of the damage. For the February 25, 1843 text, no full copy of the issue survives, but a pasteup of clippings for the article on Poe was once in the collection of J. H. Rindfleisch. Although this somewhat controversial item is currently unlocated, a very good photocopy was sent to Arthur Hobson Quinn and is retained among his papers at the University of Pennsylvania.

The original text is printed in narrow newspaper columns, with 9 columns appearing across the full width of the large-sized page. No attempt has been made in the text above to reproduce the formatting imposed by such constraints for that presentation. Where the original used a smaller font to imply block quotation, we have instead taken advantage of the wider size of the text area and used indented text. As one might imagine, setting the text of Dr. Fraily’s cryptograph in XHTML/CSS is a particularly difficult task. It was necessary to resort to unicode in a few instances, such as for the inverted “c” and the right-pointing hands. A thin space has also been added between each character to allow for reasonable line wrapping.


[S:0 - PSM, 1843] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Edgar Allan Poe (H. B. Hirst, 1843)