Text: William Wertenbaker, “Edgar A. Poe,” Virginia University Magazine, November-December 1868, vol. VII, nos. 2-3, pp. 114-117


[page 114:]

Edgar A. Poe.

THE works of Edgar A. Poe are likely to be handed down to the latest posterity; it is therefore important that all facts relating to the life of a man of his acknowledged genius, should be correctly stated. All his Biographers are more or less mistaken as to the facts touching his career while a student at the University of Virginia.

Mr. Poe was a student during the second session which commenced February 1st, and terminated December 15th, 1826. He signed the Matriculation book on the 14th of February, and remained in good standing as a student till the session closed. He was born on the 19th day of January, 1809, being a little over 17 when he Matriculated. He entered the Schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, attending the Lectures on Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian. I was myself a member of the last three classes, and can testify that he was tolerably regular in his attendance, and a successful student, having obtained distinction at the Final Examination in Latin and French, and this was at that time the highest honor a student could obtain. The present regulations in regard to degrees had not then been adopted. Under existing regulations he would have graduated in the two languages above named, and have been entitled to diplomas. [page 115:]

On one occasion Professor Blaetterman requested his Italian class to render into English Verse a portion of the lesson in Tasso, which he had assigned them for the next lecture. He did not require this of them as a regular class exercise, but recommended it as one from which he thought the student would derive benefit. At the next lecture on Italian, the Professor stated from his chair that Mr. Poe was the only member of the class who had responded to his suggestion, and paid a very high compliment to his performance.

As Librarian I had frequent official entercourse [[intercourse]] with Mr. Poe, but it was at or near the close of the Session before I met him in the social circle. After spending an evening together at a private house, he invited me, on our return, to his room. It was a cold night in December, and his fire having gone pretty nearly out, by the aid of some tallow candles, and the fragments of a small table which he broke up for the purpose, he soon rekindled it, and by its comfortable blaze I spent a very pleasant hour with him. On this occasion he spoke with regret of the large amount of money he had wasted and of the debts he had contracted during the Session. If my memory is not at fault, he estimated his indebtedness at $2000, and though they were gaming debts, he was earnest and emphatic in the declaration, that he was bound by honor to pay at the earliest opportunity, every cent of them. He certainly was not habitually intemperate, but he may occasionally have entered into a frolick. I often saw him in the Lecture room and is the Library, but never in the slightest degree under the influence of intoxicating liquors. Among the Professors he had the reputation of being a sober, quiet and orderly young man, and to them and the officers, his deportment was unformly [[uniformly]] that of an intelligent and polished gentleman. Although his practice of gaming did escape detection, the hardihood, intemperance and reckless wildness imputed to him by his Biographers, had he been guilty of them, must inevitably have come to [page 116:] the knowledge of the Faculty and met with merited punishment. The records, of which I was then, and am still, the custodian, attest that at no time during the session, did he fall under the censure of the Faculty.

At no period during the past history of the University, were the Faculty more violent in ferretting out offenders, and more severe in punishing them, than during the Session of 1826.

The Session of 1825 (being the first) was commenced without any discipline at all, and without an effort on the part of the Faculty to enforce obedience to the laws. They were expecting and waiting for the students to inaugurate Mr. Jefferson’s system of self-government, but this they resolutely refused to do. Neither the entreaties of Mr. Jefferson nor the persuasion of the Professors could induce a single student to accept the office of Censor.

The plan was, that a Board of Censors consisting of six of the most discreet students should inquire into the facts in all cases of minor offences, and name the punishment which they thought proportioned to the offence. Under this state of affairs and for several months, insubordination, lawlessness and riot ruled the institution, and became so intolerable to the Professors, that they suspended operations and tendered their resignations to the Board of Visitors. The Board met immediately, abandoned the plan of self-government, enacted new laws, ordered a course of rigid discipline to be pursued, and invested the Faculty with full authority to rule and govern the institution.

In exercising the power now granted them, the Faculty (as under the circumstances it was quite natural for them to do) perhaps erred in going to the opposite extreme of punishing offenders with too great severity.

After many years’ experience, the Faculty have gradually drifted into a different plan of dealing with the students. With firmness in enforcing the laws, is combined parental kindness, and when necessity requires it, proper but gentle [page 117:] admonition. The student is regarded as a gentleman, and in his intercourse with the Professors in the class room or elsewhere, is treated as such. The student who is a gentleman abstains from immoral or licentious habits, and uses due diligence in the prosecution of his studies, needs no laws for his governance, and is never conscious of their existence.

Mr. Poe’s connection with the University was dissolved by the termination of the Session on the 15th of December, 1826. He then wanted a little over a month of having attained to the age of 18 — the date of his birth was plainly entered in his own handwriting on the matriculation book. Were he now living, his age on the 19th of this month, (January, 1869) would be 60. He never returned to the University, and I think it probable that the night I visited him was the last he spent here. I draw this inference not from memory, but from the fact, that having no further use for his candles and table, he made fuel of them.

Mr. Poe’s works are more in demand and more read than those of any other author, American or foreign, now in the Library.

To gratify curiosity, I copy from the Register a list of the books which Mr. Poe borrowed from the Library while he was a student:

Rollin — Histoire Ancienne; Histoire Romaine; Robertson’s America; Marshall’s Washington; Voltaire — Histoire Particuliere; Dufief’s Nature Displayed.


University of Virginia, January 8th, 1869.



It must be assumed, based on the date appearing at the end of this article, that, although intended to cover the period of Nov.-Dec. 1868, the issue was actually printed in January 1869.

The present article is the first time that Poe’s correct birthdate appears in print. There would still be some difficulties in more prominent biographies of Poe for nearly another decade.


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