Text: Penn Junior (Lambert A. Wilmer), “Edgar A. Poe,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, OH), December 1859, vol. 70, no. 312, p. 1, cols. 5-6


[page 1, column 5, continued:]



Edgar A. Poe in Philadelphia — Some items of his history which are now published for the first time — His humble dwelling-place — His miserable condition — Slanderous stories refuted — Poe’s industry and sobriety — His bad success as an author — He attempts to learn a new trade — He becomes editor of Graham’s Magazine — His quarrel with C. J. Peterson — Misuse of an ink-stand — “The Gold Bug” — Poe’s engagement with the Gentleman’s Magazine — His disagreement with Burton, the Comedian — Misrepresentations thereof — Poe’s wife — The cause of her death — Her sufferings — Poe’s unpopularity among the publishers — They doom him to starvation — He leaves Philadelphia — How he came to be an inebriate.


PHILADELPHIA, December 1859.

While passing through a somewhat obscure neighborhood, in a southern section of this city, a few days ago, I observed that a small white house, which I have often regarded with melancholy interest, had recently been damaged by fire. Laborers were engaged in pulling down what remained of it, and I could have exclaimed, after the fashion of General Morris:

“Workmen, spare that house,

Touch not a single plank,”

for the thoughtless, whistling, merry-hearted rascals were obliterating the mementoes of one of America’s most renowned poets. That ruined tenement was once the dwelling-place of Edgar A. Poe, author of “The Raven.” It was a very humble mansion, indeed — even in its palmiest days — a wooden tenement, containing but two rooms (one of which was the attic), covered with a shed roof, the eaves of which could almost be reached from the ground. The gable end was presented to the street, and the taller side of the building rested against a larger house, to which Poe’s dwelling was, in fact, a mere appendage, and it might, at some former time, have answered the purpose of a kitchen! The boards which constituted the fascade [[facade]], however, were painted a very pure white; and, as the house was situated within an enclosure, which contained trees, flowers and shrubbery, it was not, on the whole, an pleasant dwelling-place, for one whose desires were philosophically moderate. Poe, it is certain, would have preferred a more magnificent abode, if his fortunes had allowed him to follow the bent of his own inclinations. The location of the house, or hut, to which I refer, was near the junction of Christian street and Jefferson Avenue, formerly called the Moyamensing Road.

It was my chance to be on very intimate terms with Edgar A. Poe, during the whole time of his residence in Philadelphia. I often visited him at the house which I have attempted to describe, and there I witnessed some of his hardest struggles, and some of his severest afflictions. He was one of those who may be said to be “wedded to misfortune,” but it has been said that he invited the alliance by his own misconduct. Prosperous and happy people are very apt to speak thus with reference to those who are less fortunate than themselves. Certain I am that the character and habits of Edgar A. Poe have been very much misrepresented. He was not an idle and intemperate man at the time to which I now refer. As often as I visited him — and that was very often indeed — I found him employed at his desk, and I can conscientiously add that he was always in a state of perfect sobriety. Indeed, I have seldom known an author who was more industrious and more sober.

Poe wrote a great deal, and he would have written much more, if he could have found a market for his productions. But, while he lived in this city, he generally found it very difficult to dispose of his intellectual. merchandise. He offered some of his best tales to the weekly and monthly publications of Philadelphia, but they were almost invariably rejected.

“Your articles may be well enough,” said the publisher of a fashion-plate magazine, to whom Poe made one of his offerings, “Your articles may be well enough, but I can’t understand them; and I can’t expect my readers to understand anything which is beyond my own comprehension.” It must be confessed that this excuse for not purchasing Poe’s commodities was unanswerable.

I believe that Poe and his family were often in great distress. He told me, at one time, that he would gladly accept a situation in a store, or any other employment which would afford him the means of subsistence. He endeavored, as a final resort, to acquire the art of lithography under the instructions of Mr. Duvall, an eminent lithographer of this city. I saw several of Poe’s experimental drawings on stone, and they appeared to me to be very well executed. There is good reason to believe that his wife (the amiable and accomplished Virginia) and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm, were obliged, about this time, to sew for the clothing stores, and the family was supported probably by the scanty proceeds of their killing employment.

White Poe was in this extremity, it was my good fortune to hear of a literary job, which I thought might suit him. It was the translation of a scientific work from the French, and though the compensation offered was not very liberal, the despairing poet accepted the task with the liveliest demonstrations of joy. He worked at the translation with great energy, and performed the labor in a manner which was quite satisfactory to the person who employed him.

Not long after this, Poe became assistant editor of Graham’s Magazine, the circulation and intellectual character of which were much improved by his efforts. A certain Mr. C. J. Peterson was then associated with George R. Graham, in the management of that periodical. This Mr. Peterson made some pretensions to authorship, but in his literary tastes, in the amount of his abilities, and in some other particulars, he differed widely from Mr. Poe; and I assure you that this remark is not intended to flatter Mr. Peterson. Poe and Peterson had many disputes, one of which was carried to such an extent that Poe was provoked to throw a pewter inkstand at the head of Peterson. I do not know that much damage was done either to the head or to the inkstand, when they came in collision, but this incident caused Poe to be dismissed from the office, and the affair was generally related in such a way as to make it seem that he was the only offender. I judge, however, that the provocation which Poe received must have been very trying to the “eagle spirit of a child of song.” To me, Edgar A. Poe always appeared to be a man of particularly quiet and inoffensive disposition, and I must believe that nothing short of a very gross insult could have provoked him to commit an act of violence.

In a sketch of Poe’s life and character written by Mr. G. R. Graham, that gentleman appears to be willing to make it appear that he was one of Poe’s patrons. Similar credit is assumed by Mr. N. P. Willis, in a sketch written by him. The truth is, Poe was under no obligations to either of those gentlemen. Graham paid him a very moderate salary, and received more than an equivalent in Poe’s services. If I am not very much mistaken, Mr. Graham afterwards paid Rufus W. Griswold a larger sum for performing the same duties which had been assigned to Mr. Poe: and yet Griswold did not possess a tythe of Poe’s abilities.

For some time after Poe’s dismissal from the office of Graham’s magazine, his condition in life was deplorable enough. About this time, however, he obtained from the publishers of the Ledger and Dollar newspaper a premium of two hundred dollars for his tale, entitled “The Gold Bug.” The late Judge Conrad, who was noticed in my last letter, was one of the committee of examination which awarded this premium, and it was by means of his influence, as I am told, that Poe’s tale was selected for the prize. The other examiner would have given the preference to a soft, sickly, sentimental affair written by a certain young lady authoress. If my memory does not deceive me, it was about this time that Poe made a short engagement with the Gentleman’s Magazine, published by Mr. W. E. Burton, the popular comedian. Poe and Burton did not agree long together, as might have been expected of persons so essentially different in character. Burton is a humorist of the practical class, and Poe had a dislike for all that lacked ideality. Various accounts are given of the causes which led to their disagreement. Common report says that Poe, while intoxicated, insulted Burton at B.’s own table — the poet having been invited to make one of a convivial party composed chiefly of theatrical people. On such an occasion, it is possible that Poe might have been induced to swallow wine enough to drown his discretion; but if he had been an habitual toper he would have been more likely to fall quietly under the table than to give offence to the company by his frantic behavior. I never heard any authentic and reliable account of that affair, but Burton himself gave me to understand that the dispute between him and Poe originated in some difference of opinion respecting the management of the Magazine.

With respect to Poe’s “habit of intoxication” so much talked off [[of]], I am constrained to remark that I never was sharp enough to discover it, though few of his acquaintenances saw him oftener than I did. Before the death of his wife, I scarcely ever saw him intoxicated in the slightest degree. That sad event, in conjunction with other misfortunes, appears to have made a change in his character and habits, and I am disposed to believe that his reason was affected by his complicated afflictions.

Poe married his cousin, Miss Virginia Clemm, in Richmond, Virginia, at the time when Poe was critic and editor of the Southern Literary Messenger [column 6:] Their mutual attachment appears to have been very strong. Virginia had a fine voice, and while she was exercising it one evening, by singing for the entertainment of some and visitors, she broke a blood vessel in the lungs, and nearly bled to death on the spot. She never recovered from the effects of this accident, though she survived it for several years.

During his wife’s last illness, Poe felt the severest pressure of want, and while he saw her sinking to the grave, he was unable to provide such means of alleviation as money might have afforded to the gentle and uncomplaining sufferer. He made the most strenuous exertion to obtain employment, but without success. He might, with some reason, have supposed that, by general agreement, the newspaper and magazine publishers of Philadelphia had resolved that he and the object of his tender solicitude, should perish for want of the common necessaries of life. He was, on some account which may not be easily explained, an object of general prejudice and dislike. He had offended some of the publishers; others acted on the supposition that a man of genius is not qualfied [[qualified]] to be a useful drudge in a printing office; some envied his abilities, and hated him as a matter of course; and some would have nothing to do with him, because they believed the atrocious slanders which were industriously circulated by his enemies.

Since the death of Poe, it has beep pretended that he met with liberal treatment in Philadelphia; but the falsity of that pretense can be easily demonstrated. If Poe was appreciated and encouraged in this city, how did it happen that, for the greater part of the time of his residence here, he had no better dwelling place than a hovel? Let the Philadelphia publishers show, if they can, that he was ever able to live comfortably in their quadrangular city. Let them prove, if they can, that he was improvident, idle, extravagant or dissipated, or that his own evil habits were, in any measure, the cause of his destitution and misery. I have asserted in this letter, and I emphatically repeat, that he was one of the most industrious and indefatigable of authors. — When employed as an editor, he was strictly attentive to business — his tact and ability in that department of literature were indisputable, and his moral habits were better, by many degrees, than those of several editorial gentlemen of very ordinary talents, who have for many years, found constant employment in this city. The Philadelphians must not be allowed to excuse themselves for their harsh and unjust treatment of this child of genius by cruelly aspersing the character of their victim.

Poe began to be an inebriate just before he left this city. He was driven by persecution and despair to the habit of intoxication; and, although his worldly prospects brightened somewhat after his removal to New York — the evil habit which he acquired here remained with him to the end of his life and probably hurried him to his grave.




The Poe Society is indebted to Ton Fafianie who first discovered this article through several contemporaray reprints, making it possible to track down the original printing, and for identifying “Penn Junior” as a pseudonym for Lambert A. Wilmer. Thanks are also due to Dan Boudreau, of the American Antiquarian Society, for locating the specific issue of the original article in their file of the periodical.

Much of the present article was recycled by Wilmer in another article, posthumously printed in 1866. (Among the details are the recollection that Poe attempted to learn the art of lithography from Peter S. Duval.) Although Wilmer certainly knew Poe well while he lived in Philadelphia, many of his details are clearly wrong. For example, Poe worked for Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine before Graham’s Magazine, G. R. Graham having bought out Burton’s and merging it with Atkinson’s Casket at the end of 1840.

The reference to George Pope Morris (1802-1864) concerns his most famous poem “Woodman! Spare that Tree!” The poem was first printed in the New York Mirror for January 17, 1837 and quickly became a popular song.


[S:0 - CDG, 1859] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar A. Poe in Philadelphia (L. A. Wilmer, 1859)