Text: William Fearing Gill, “Edgar A. Poe’s Biographers: A Reply from William F. Gill to J. H. Ingram,” American Bookseller (New York, NY), vol. I, No. 4, February 1876, pp. 130-131


[page 130:]





To the Editor of The American Bookseller:

Dear Sir — In the London Athenaeum of January 15th, and in several American journals, appears a circular signed by J. H. Ingram, relating to some matters connected with his biography of Edgar A. Poe. The American publisher of the memorial edition of Poe’s works prefaces Mr. Ingram’s memoir with the following statement: “It should be stated that a considerable portion of Mr. Ingram’s memoir is gathered from material previously used by Mr. William F. Gill in his lecture, The Romance of Edgar A. Poe, written in September, 1873, which forms the first complete vindication of Poe from the calumnies of Rufus W. Griswold. Mr. Gill has kindly permitted the use of the material derived from this source, in order that Mr. Ingrain’s memoir might appear in its original form.” Mr. Ingram chooses to deny that .my portion of his memoir was gathered from material first utilized by me, and ventures to charge that I copied portions of his article on Poe in my paper printed in Lotos Leaves, which he states was not published until January, 1875.

It is quite true that Lotos Leaves did not appear in England until the time mentioned, but it was published in this country six or eight weeks in advance of its appearance in London, and was in type here some two months in advance of its issue in a bound volume. Mr. Ingram states that his sketch was issued in October, 1874, which was fully one year after the material in question was utilized in my lecture on Poe, and three months after the same material, in the form of an essay, had been submitted to Mr. Howells, editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and returned by him with certain suggestions, that were adopted almost immediately thereafter, in Lotos Leaves. In corroboration of this statement, I append a copy of a letter received today from Mr. Howells in answer to a note of inquiry from me regarding this matter:

CAMBRIDGE, MASS., Feb. 4, 1876. }

My Dear Mr. Gill: — I very well remember seeing your paper on Poe in MS., and suggesting some modifications, with a view to its use by us. So many MSS. have passed through my hands since that I can’t recall just when I read yours, but I am pretty sure it was in the summer of 1874.

Yours truly,  
(Signed)   W. D. HOWELLS.

As a matter of fact, the first announcements of my lecture were made in the Boston Daily Advertiser and other Boston papers as early as June, 1873. The full descriptive advertisement of the same will be found in the circular issued by the American Literary Bureau in August, 1873, and ample documentary evidence is at hand to substantiate Mr. Widdleton’s statement that a considerable portion of Mr. Ingrain’s memoir is gathered from material previously used by me in this lecture. How it happens that Mr. Ingram gathered his facts from unpublished material will appear. Early in the month of January, 1874, I received letters from the owner of original papers and MSS. pertaining to Edgar A. Poe, stating that applications had been made by an English gendeman for copies of the letters then in my hands, and incorporated in my lecture, and the return ol these, with other material that had been placed in my hands, was requested. The following extract from one of these utters will explain the nature of the request:

Will you lend me for a few days the extract which I gave you from the literary recollections of Mr. Gowans, the New York bookseller. I have recently received a letter from an English gentleman, who has written an article on Griswold’s memoir, which he tells me will shortly appear in an English monthly. He asks my aid as to certain points in his history, and it is in furtherance of his request that I wish to send him the favorable testimony of the “truthful and uncompromising [column 2:] Scotch bookseller.” I will return the copy in a few days. I have seen many pleasant and complimentary articles about you in the Boston papers this winter, and am always glad to hear of your success. If you have at hand ———’s letter to me regarding Poe, written in the autumn of 1849, I should like to have you send them. I think you said you had left them with other papers at your summer residence when you wrote last.

Very truly your friend,  
——— ———

In another letter the same writer especially mentions Mr. Ingram, us follows:

I should like to see your lecture or such parts of it as may refer to matters connected with my communications to you. It you do not object, perhaps you will allow me to copy the letter of Mr. Poe’s friend. I have promised Mr. Ingram to ask you for a copy.

With grateful acknowledgments,  
Your friend, ——— ———

The Gowans paper and all others asked of me on Mr. Ingram’s account were, with a single exception, which by an oversight was not copied, duly forwarded and must have reached Mr. Ingram, as the major pan of the papers were private, and could have come from no other source. This correspondence appears in his memoir, and as I was subjected to very considerable trouble in having it copied in order to return the originals or the copies which the owner transmitted to him, it would seem evident that Mr. Ingram is somewhat indebted to me for the privilege of using them. The coincidence that he mentions of an erroneous date appearing in my paper, in Lotos Leaves, which was also made by him in his magazine article, is due to the fact that our information came from the one source mentioned, and must have been coincident. The error in question was pointed out to me by the owner of the original papers from whom the information was elicited, and duly corrected by me. As regards Mr. Ingram’s quotations from my private correspondence to him, they are substantially correct. The gentleman had expressed especial solicitude in obtaining the life of Poe, written by T. C. Clarke, Esq., of Philadelphia. This memoir I had, with more zeal than discretion, purchased from Mr Clarke, early in September, 1873, at a considerable price, in the hope of getting some new points for my lecture. then nearly completed. I found that Mr. Clarke’s memoir could not be made available without completely rewriting the lecture, and I set it aside for the time being. When, therefore, Mr. Ingram’s letter was received, making especial inquiries for Mr. Clarke and his memoir, I was open to a possible negotiation. I felt convinced, from Mr. Ingram’s next letter, that he would not be willing to reimburse me for my outlay, and replied in the words quoted in his circular. It is true, again, that I had not at that time completed a life of Poe. Indeed I felt convinced that there was not sufficient material then attainable to justify a new life of the poet- Since then my researches have developed new mines, and my views have been modified accordingly. In a letter dated July 6, 1874, Mr. Ingram writes me as follows: “I do not wish, moreover, to interfere with your projected memoir; there is plenty of scope for a new American life, towards which my work would assist.” Notwithstanding this and other similar assurances, Mr. Ingram has taken every available means of putting his memoir before the American public, knowing that much of his material was identical with that in my hands. When warned by Mr. Widdleton that I had raised objections to the reprinting of his memoir in America, the professional etiquette which should govern all authors, and does govern most authors, should have induced him to desist from any further overtures to the American publishers. Mr. Widdleton answered his unwarrantable charge as to my copying from him, according to his light at the time. Later, when a personal interview with me enabled me to present all the facts, accompanied by full documentary evidence, he offered that deference to my prior claims that justice and courtesy demanded. Knowing that Mr. Ingram’s biography was, with the exception of the material previously assigned to me, scarcely more than a compilation of familiar facts from familiar [page 131:] magazines, I had not thought it incumbent upon me to offer more than a personal protest against the issue of his innocuous sketch here. My only regret is that I did not absolutely insist upon the rights which the copyright law of this country gives to an author to his manuscript, rights which I could have incontestably proved. In conclusion, I wish to state distinctly, that not a line or a word printed over my name has ever been copied from any of Mr. Ingram’s writings; that I do not charge that he has copied from any printed article of mine. I claim simply that a considerable portion of the material which he used in 1874 in his memoir had previously been used in a manuscript lecture written by me in 1873, a year previous, and that he had been made aware that the material had been so used by me before he had printed a line of the portion in question. My claim will not, I venture to think, be regarded as unprecedented or unreasonable. Thanks to the courtesy that usually prevails among authors, it is of a kind that would seldom be called in question. Asking your indulgence for this trespass upon your patience and that of your readers, and trusting that the nature of the explanation demanded will excuse this incursion upon your valuable space, I am,

Yours very truly,  







[S:0 - AB, 1876] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar A. Poe's Biographers (J. H. Ingram, 1876)