Text: Joseph Evans Snodgrass, “American Biography: Edgar Allan Poe,” Baltimore Saturday Visiter, July 29, 1843, p. 1, cols. 3-6


[page 1, column 3, continued:]





The extraordinary “run” which the “Gold Bug” has enjoyed, has naturally attracted general attention to its author, and caused many to desire to learn something of his parentage, character, and career — as well as personal appearance. Inasmuch as we have, for years, enjoyed the acquaintance of the subject of this sketch, we might speak of our own knowledge; but finding the facts to our hands, in the “Philadelphia Saturday Museum,” we merely assume to the office of an editor on the present occasion — not having room nor leisure for enlarging upon his unquestioned abilities and characteristics as a writer of pure fiction, and as a critic — in which latter capacity he is unequalled in this country, be his faults what they may.

EDGAR ALLAN POE is descended from one of the oldest and most respectable families in Baltimore. His 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 parental 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 to the destitute Government troops, he stripped himself of his entire patrimony. For this he never instituted a claim, not 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 LAFAYETTE,) 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 obligagionts 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. “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 coeur noble! — here lies a noble heart! — a just tribute to the memory of a good, if not, a great man.

Mr. Poe’s father was David Poe, Jr., the fourth son of the General. He studies law for several years in the office of the venerable Willam Gwyn [[William Gwynn]]. 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. This 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 [column 4:] and Rosalie) were adopted, the one by Mr. John Allan, a very wealthy gentleman of Richmond, and the other by Mr. William McKenzie [[Mackenzie]] 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 protege with as much kindness as his gross nature admitted, and, as he had no children, made a pint of informing every one that he intended to make him his sole heir. He took a species of pride in the precocious talents evinced 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 the Rev. Dr. Bransby, at Stock-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, 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 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 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 grand-daughter. 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 cadets 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 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 [[devil]] right soon for his soul call.

He never was known to lie —

In bed at a reveille roll-call.”


John Locke was a notable name;

Joe Locke is 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 office 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 [column 5:] 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.

A circumstance now occurred of great moment as regards Mr. Poe’s subsequent literary career, and of peculiar interest at the present time, as indicating his early developed power and tact in triumphantly bearing off “prizes” — as recently on the wings of a “Gold-bug.”

The Visiter offered a premium for the best prose tale; also one for the best poem. The Committe, in this case, were men of high literary, as well as social, respectability — John P. Kennedy, author of “Horse Shoe Robinson,” J. H. B. Labrobe, 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 some celebrated in our literature. Among them was T. S. Arthur, so well known to our readers, becoming, as he did subsequently to the date under notice, the editor of the paper offering the premiums. The committee took occasion to pay Mr. P. 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 learnings.”

Shortly after this, Mr. Poe was invited by Mr. White to edit the “Southern Literary Messenger” which was then in its eleventh 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 “Normal 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. Hawk 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,” &c. 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 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 pre-eminent success which has attended his editorial efforts, 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, has issued the Prospectus of a Monthly, to be entitled [column 6:] “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 an essayist he has been equally successful. His most noted compositions, in this way, are a treatise on Maelzel’s Automaton, published in the “Southern Literary Messenger,” in which, by an ingenious train of reasoning a 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.”

Besides the works mentioned, he is the author of “Arthur Gordon Pyum [[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 papers in a British periodical, and several, also anonymous, in an American Quarterly.

He is now about thirty-one years of age. In person, he is somewhat slender, about five feet, eight inches in height, and well proportioned; his complexion rather fair; his hair black and partially curling, his eyes grey and restless, exhibiting a marked nervousness, while the mouth indicates great decision of character; his forehead extremely broad, displaying prominently the organs of Ideality, Causalty, Form, Constructiveness, and Comparison, with small Eventuality and Individuality.

In 1836, Mr. Poe married Virginia, youngest daughter of Mr. William Clemm, of our city, and through her, is closely connected with many of the best families in Maryland. He is now a resident of Philadelphia where we are glad to find his abilities appreciated by our brethren of the periodical press.

J. E. S.




A large portion of this article is directly taken from the similar article appearing in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum. As with that article, it is full of erroneous and misleading details, serving more as a marketing ploy than a biography. Among various other statements, the claim that Poe wrote several anonymous items — including a two-volume work of fiction — none of these specifically identified, is intriguing, but probably an exaggeration at best.



[S:0 - BSV, 1843] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe (J. E. Snodgrass, 1843)