Text: Thomas Dunn English, “A Card: Mr. English’s Reply to Mr. Poe,” Evening Mirror, vol. IV, no. 65, June 23, 1846


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THE WAR OF THE LITERATI. — We publish the following terrific rejoinder of one of Mr. Poe’s abused literati, with a twinge of pity for the object of its severity. But as Mr. Godey, ‘for a consideration,’ lends the use of his battery for an attack on the one side, it is but fair that we allow our friends an opportunity to exercise a little’self-defence’ on the other.



As I have not, of late, replied to attacks made upon me through the public press, I can easily afford to make an exception, and still keep my rule a general one. A Mr. Edgar A. Poe has been engaged for some time past in giving to the public, through the medium of the Lady’s Book, sketches of what he facetiously calls the ‘literati of New York city. These he names by way of distinction, I presume, from his ordinary writings, ‘honest opinions.’ He honors me by including me in the very numerous and remarkably august body he affects to describe. Others have converted the paper on which his sketches are printed to its legitimate use — like to like — but as he seems to covet a notice from me, he shall be gratified.

Mr. Poe states in his article, ‘I do not personally know Mr. English. That he does not know me is not a matter of wonder. The severe treatment he received at my hands for brutal and dastardly conduct, rendered it necessary for him, if possible, to forget my existence. Unfortunately, I know him; and by the blessing of God, and the assistance of a grey-goose quill, my design is to make the public know him also.

I know Mr. Poe by a succession of his acts — one of which is rather costly. I hold Mr. Poe’s acknowledgement for a sum of money which he obtained of me under false pretences. As I stand in need of it at this time, I am content he should forget to know me, provided he acquits himself of the money he owes me. I ask no interest, in lieu of which I am willing to credit him with the sound cuffing I gave him when I last saw him.

Another act of his gave me some knowledge of him. A merchant of this city had accused him of committing forgery. He consulted me on the mode of punishing his accuser, and as he was afraid to challenge him to the field, or chastise him personally, I suggested a legal prosecution as his sole remedy. At his request, I obtained a counsellor who was willing, as a compliment to me, to conduct his suit without the customary retaining fee. But, though so eager at first to commence proceedings, he dropped the matter altogether, when the time came for him to act — thus virtually admitting the truth of the charge.

Some time before this, if I mistake not, Mr. Poe accepted an invitation to deliver a poem before a society of the New York University. About a week before the time when this poem was to be pronounced, he called on me, appearing to be much troubled — said he could not write the poem, and begged me to help him out with some idea of the course to pursue. I suggested that he had better write a note to the society, and frankly state his inability to compose a poem on a stated subject. He did not do this, but — as he always does when troubled — drank until intoxicated; and remained in a state of intoxication during the week. When the night of exhibition came, it was gravely announced that Mr. Poe could not deliver his poem, on account of severe indisposition!

His next affair of a similar kind, was still more discreditable. Unmindful of his former act, he accepted an invitation to deliver a poem before a Boston institution — the Lyceum, I think. When I remonstrated with him on undertaking a task he could not perform, he alleged that he was in want of the money they would pay him, and would contrive to ‘cook up something.’ Want of ability prevented him from performing his intention, and he insulted his audience, and rendered himself a laughing-stock, by reciting a mass of ridiculous stuff, written by some one, and printed under his name when he was about 18 years of age. It had a peculiar effect on his audience, who dispersed under its infliction; and when he was rebuked for his fraud, he asserted that he had intended a hoax. Whether he did or not is little matter, when we reflect that he took the money offered for his performance — thus committing an act unworthy of a gentleman, though in strict keeping with Mr. Poe’s previous acts.

But a series of events occurred in January last, which, while they led to my complete knowledge of Mr. Poe, has excited his wrath against me, and provoked the exhibition of impotent malice now under my notice.

Mr. Poe having been guilty o£ some most ungentlemanly conduct, while in a state of intoxication, I was obliged to treat him with discourtesy. Some time after this, he came to my chambers, in my absence, in search of me. He found there, a nephew of one of our ex-presidents. To that gentleman he stated, that he desired to see me in order to apologise to me for his conduct. I entered shortly after, when he tendered me an apology and his hand. The former I accepted, the latter I refused. He told me that he came to beg my pardon, because he wished me to do him a favor. Amused at this novel reason for an apology, I replied that I would do the favor, with pleasure, if possible, but not on the score of friendship. He said that though his friendship was of little service his enmity might be dangerous. To this I rejoined that I shunned his friendship and despised his enmity. He beseeched a private conversation, so abjectly, that, finally, moved by his humble entreaty, I accorded it. Then he told me that he had villified a certain well known and esteemed authoress, of the South, then on a visit to New York; that he had accused her of having written letters to him which compromised her reputation; and that her brother (her husband being absent) had threatened his life unless he produced the letters he named. He begged me for God’s sake to stand his friend, as he expected to be challenged. I refused, because I was not willing to mix myself in his affairs, and because having once before done so, I had found him at the critical moment, to be an abject poltroon. These reasons I told him. He then begged the loan of a pistol to defend himself against attack. This request I refused, saying that his surest defence was a retraction of unfounded charges. He, at last, grew exasperated, and using offensive language, was expelled from the room. In a day or so, afterwards, being confined to his bed from the effect of fright and the blows he had received from me, he sent a letter to the brother of the lady he had so vilely slandered, denying all recollection of having made any charges of the kind alleged, and stating that, if he had made them, he was laboring under a fit of insanity to which he was periodically subject. The physician who bore it said that Mr. Poe was then suffering under great fear, and the consequences might be serious to the mind of his patient, if the injured party did not declare himself satisfied. — The letter being a full retraction of the falsehood, he, to whom it was addressed, stopped further proceedings, and the next day Mr. Poe hastily fled from town.

I can, if necessary, give some facts connected with the last mentioned circumstances, which show Mr Poe’s conduct in a still baser view. And I can detail the history of my assailant’s deeds in Philadelphia and New York. I have not room here, but, if Mr. Poe desires it, he can be accommodated at any future time.

I am not alone in my knowledge of Mr. Poe. The kennels of Philadelphia streets, from which I once kindly raised him, have frequently had the pleasure of his acquaintance; the ‘Tombs,’ of New York, has probably a dim remembrance of his person; and if certain very eminent and able authors and publishers, in this city, do not know him as I do, I am much mistaken — and so are they.

His review of my style and manner is only amusing when contrasted with his former laudation, almost to sycophancy, of my works. Whether he lied then or now, is a matter of little moment. His lamentation over my lack of common English education is heart-rending to hear. I will acknowledge my deficiencies with pleasure. It is a great pity he is not equally candid. He professes to know every language and to be a proficient in every art and science under the sun-when, except that half Choctaw, half-Winebago he habitually uses, and the art and science of ‘Jeremy-Diddling,’ he is ignorant of all. If he really understands the English language, the sooner he translates his notices of the New York literati, into it, the better for his readers.

Mr. Poe has announced his determination to hunt me down. I am very much obliged to him, and really wish he would hurry to begin. That he has a fifty fish-woman-power of Billingsgate, I admit; and that he has issued his bull, from his garret of a Vatican, up some six pair of stairs, excommunicating me from the church literary, is evident. But he overrates his own powers. He really does not possess one tithe of that greatness which he seems to regard as an uncomfortable burthen. He mistakes coarse abuse for polished invective, and vulgar insinuation for sly satire. He is not alone thoroughly unprincipled, [next column:] base and depraved, but silly, vain and ignorant — not alone an assassin in morals, but a quack in literature. His frequent quotations from languages of which he is entirely ignorant, and his consequent blunders expose him to ridicule; while his cool plagiarisms from known or forgotten writers, excite the public amazement. He is a complete evidence of his own assertion, that ‘no spectacle can be more pitiable than that of a man without the commonest school education, busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind on topics of polite literature. If he deserves credit for any thing, it is for his frankness in acknowledging a fact, which his writings so triumphantly demonstrate.





A clipping of the original article may be found in the Mabbott Collection, University of Iowa. The article was originally printed in the New York Morning Transcript for June 23, 1846.

This article was reprinted in the Weekly Mirror on June 27, 1846.

Poe printed a Reply in the Spirit of the Times, July 10, 1846



[S:0 - NYM, 1846 (TOMUI] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - A Card: Mr. English’s Reply to Mr. Poe, (Thomas Dunn English, 1846)