Text: Anonymous, “Edgar Allan Poe: Some Personal Reminiscences of the Dead Poet,” Bristol News (Bristol, VA), vol. XI, no. 17, December 21, 1875, p. 1. cols. 3-4


[page 1, column 3, continued:]



Some Personal Reminiscences of the Dead Poet.

The following memoranda relating to Poe, which have been furnished by Rufus. E. Shipley [[Shapley]], Esq., of Philadelphia, will be found particularly interesting at this time.

I met Mrs. Maria Clemm, the mother-in-law of Edgar Allan Poe, in Alexandria, Va., in February of 1861, and had a length conversation with her about the poet, the following notes of which I made at the time and preserved. His father and mother died when he was only two years old, and he was adopted by Mr. Allan, of Richmond, Va. His adopted parents took him at the age of five years with them to London, where they resided for some years and placed him in a school in the neighborhood of that city. This school he has described in his sketch called “William Wilson.” On their return to Richmond, Poe attended a Mr. Clarke’s school in that city until he entered the University of Virginia. He remained at the University about three years, during which time he spent something like, $7,000, and contracted heavy debts. His adopted father supplied him with money very liberally, and Poe spent it on his friends with equal liberality.

Upon the death of Mrs. Allan, to whom he was devotedly attached, Poe left Mr. Allan, and went to live with Mrs. Clemm, who was his father’s sister, and whose daughter he afterwards married. Subsequently, through the influence of Mr. Allan, he received an appointment to West Point, but the discipline was too strict for him, and after remaining in that institution for but a short time, he either left voluntarily, or was dismissed. The account given by Rufus W. Griswold in the memoir published in Reidfields [[Redfield’s]] edition of Poe’s work of the Quixotic expedition to aid the Greeks of the adventure of Russia are sheer fabrications. At the time of these occurrences are suposed [[supposed]] to have taken place, Poe was living with Mrs. Clemm in this country. The stories of his appearance before Mr. Kennedy without a shirt, and of his wandering about at night in the rain, beating his breast and muttering prayers and curses, Mrs. Clemm pronounced equally without foundation. “The most striking peculiarity about him as a boy and a man,” she said, “was his fastidiousness about his dress and complexion. He detested rainy weather, and never went out in the sun or wind without gloves and a broad-brimmed hat.” Griswold’s acquaintance with Poe was very slight, and after the “Memoir” was published he apologized to Mrs. Clemm for the tone in which it was written, saying that he “wanted to make the book sell.”

Poe was married at the age of twenty-four to Mrs. Clemm’s daughter, Virginia, his first cousin, who was only fourteen, very beautiful, and a good musician and linguist. They

— loved with a love which was more than love

He and his Annabel Lee.

She was buried in a vault near Ford ham [[Fordham]] (their home,) and Mrs. Clemm said she had to watch him every night for months. “Three times,” said she, “I had to follow him at midnight, through snow a foot deep, and found him lying in the snow by the vault, sobbing and moaning in his great grief. He had stolen out of the house in his stocking feet, so that I might not hear him.”

“Annabel Lee” was written some time after his wife’s death. “How well I remember the night,” said she. Miss White, the daughter of the proprietor of the Southern Constitution [[Literary]] Messenger, was staying with us. We heard him walking his room nearly all night, talking aloud. I went to him about one o’clock, and he read it [column 4:] to me, and oh! how he cried!

“He never liked to be alone, and I used,” she said, “to sit up with him often until four o’clock in the morning, he at his desk, writing, and I dozing in my chair. When he was composing ‘Eureka’ we used to walk up and down the garden his arm around me, mine around him, until I was so tired I could not walk. He would stop every few minutes and explain his idea to me, and ask if I understood him. I always sat up with him when he was writing, and gave him a cup of coffee every hour or two. At home he was simple and affectionate as a child, and during all the years he lived with me I do not remember a single night he failed to come and kiss his ‘mother,’ as he always called me before going to bed.”

Among strangers he was quiet and dignified, seldom conversing, but when he did it was with an earnestness and eloquence that was fascinating. “He was not only not a drunkard,” said Mrs. Clemm,” hew as not intemperate. For years I know, he did not taste even a glass of wine. A cup of strong coffee would frequently stimulate him so much that he seemed like one under the influence of liquor, and a glass of wine would make him crazy. People often took advantage of his weakness to get him to talk.”

The portrait engraved by Sartian [[Sartain]] and published in Redfield’s edition of his works does not much resemble him. In his later years he wore only a moustache. His head was remarksably [[remarkably]] large and his eyes were beautiful. Dr. Francis, of New York, once said to Mrs. Clemm: “Take this young philosopher home, away from the excitement of this city, and when you get him home, bore a hole in the top of his head and take out about a pound of brains.” He wrote and published in one of the magazines he edited a beautiful essay on music, but no copy of it can be found. He read remarkably well. He was to have been married on the 17th of October, 1849, but died on the 3rd of the same month.



The Poe Society is indebted to Ton Fafianie for discovering this article, and for clearing up some of the confusion about Shipley and Shapley.

This article is interesting mostly as a record of what was available to biographers at the time. As is so often the case, it is a mixture of good and bad information, mixed with a lot of likely romancing. Nothing that is not independently verifiable should be accepted. Among other problems, Poe was not sent to the University of Virginia with lavish funds. Instead, it appears that he was sent with what was known to have been inadequate money, and the impractical advice to be frugal (in circumstances where he could hardly negotiate fees or charges). It does appear that Poe was engaged to be married to Elmira Royster Shelton at the time of his death, although her family did not approve, and details are complicated. A wedding date of October 17, 1849 would be possible, although he died in Baltimore on October 7, 1849 rather than October 3.

Although the article states its source as Rufus E. Shipley, the gentleman’s name actually appears to have been Rufus Edmonds Shapley, a prominent attorney in Philadelphia. George Woodberry appears to have been the first Poe biographer to make use of the information, in 1885 (p. 301) and again in 1909 (2:236), noting the source as R. E. Shapley of Philadelphia and a newspaper article, although not specifying the newspaper or date of publication.


[S:0 - BN, 1875] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe: Some Personal Reminiscences of the Dead Poet (Anonymous, 1875)