Text: Eugene L. Didier (???), “Ingram's Life of Poe,” Literary World (Boston, MA), vol. XI, no. 21, October 9, 1880, pp. 341-342


[page 341, column 3, continued:]


TEN years after Edgar A. Poe's death, a reaction in his favor set in, beginning with Mrs. Whitman's graceful little book, Edgar Poe and his Critics. This reaction has culminated in the biography now under consideration. Like Mr. William F. Gill, and others we could name, Mr. Ingram became fascinated by the strange and romantic career of the author of “The Raven.” Fascination soon became infatuation; and for nearly ten years he devoted money, time, and labor to collecting material for a biography, which should have the same effect upon the other biographies of Poe as Aaron's rod had upon the rods of the Egyptians.

In his preface, Mr. Ingram makes the sweeping charge that all the biographies of Poe that have appeared since his vindicatory memoir in 1874 — except one “based upon Griswold's sketch” — have “reproduced the whole of his (Ingram's) material, and with scarcely an additional item of interest or value.” Yet, notwithstanding this, he quotes many interesting passages from biographies of Poe which have appeared since [page 342:] 1874; in some instances giving credit, in others not. In common justice he should have given credit to the biographer who discovered and rescued Poe's remarkable letter about the “tame propriety” of Washington Irving's style, which Mr. Ingram copies in full on p. 154, Vol. I, of his work.

Poe required no ancestors. His genius has thrown distinction upon a name which, otherwise, would long ere this have passed into oblivion. It was not necessary, therefore, for Mr. Ingrain to claim that the grandfather of the poet “greatly distinguished himself during the War of Independence.” Even were such the fact, it would add nothing to Edgar Poe's reputation. But such was not the fact. The grandfather of Edgar Poe, called by courtesy Gen. Poe, was simply deputy quartermaster of the Maryland Line during the American Revolution. He performed his duty well and faithfully, but it was not a position which gave him an opportunity to “distinguish” himself.

The admirers of Poe will read with interest and pleasure Mr. Ingram's story of the romantic love affair between Mrs. Whitman and the poet. It is the fullest and most satisfactory account of what has hitherto been a mysterious episode in Poe's career. His letters to his “promised bride “ during the period of their brief engagement are replete with expressions of the most exalted passion and the most enthusiastic devotion. The breaking off of the engagement is thus told by Mr. Ingram

He arrived in Providence full of the most sanguine hopes; he had proposed to himself a career of literary success, dwelling with enkindling enthusiasm upon his lung-cherished scheme of establishing a magazine that should give him supreme control of intellectual society in America. is dreams of love and triumph were rapidly destroyed. In a few days he was to be married; he had advised his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, to expect his and his bride's arrival in New York early the following week, when information was given to Mrs. Whitman and to her relatives that he had violated the solemn pledge of abstinence so recently given. Whether this information was true, no one living, perchance, can say. When he arrived at the dwelling of Mrs. Whitman, “no token of the infringement of his promise was visible in his appearance or manner,” said that lady, “but I was at last convinced that it would be in vain longer to hope against hope. I knew that he had irrevocably lost the power of self-recovery. ... Gathering together some papers which he had entrusted to my keeping, I placed them in his hands, without a word of explanation or reproach, and, utterly worn out and exhausted by the mental conflicts and anxieties and responsibilities of the last few dais, I drenched my hand. kerchief with ether and threw myself on a sofa, hoping to lose myself in utter unconsciousness. Sinking on his knees beside me, he entreated me to speak to him — to speak our word, but one word. At last I responded almost inaudibly,’What can I say?’ ‘Say that you love me, Helen.’ ‘I love you.’ These were the last words I ever spoke to him.”

This scene is certainly highly dramatic. and is a fit termination of so wild and romantic a love affair. Poe never knew the real cause of the rupture of the engagement, and, “up to the time of his death does not appear to have alluded to Mrs, Whitman [column 2:] again, save in the most conventional manner, but the lady always cherished, with unfaded affection, the memory of her connection with the poet; and invariably contrived to bring more prominently forward the brighter traits of her hero's character than has been accomplished by any other person.”

We admire Mr. Ingram's industry in getting the hitherto unpublished letters of Poe; some of them throw light on the complex character of this strange being, who, as was said of John Randolph of Roanoke, “lived and died a mystery to those who knew him best.” We must, however, question the taste and propriety of resurrecting the unsavory controversy between Poe and English. The whole affair was disgraceful, and reflected credit on neither. A biographer should know what to blot. The work of even the greatest writer is not all interesting. We have no doubt that Shakespeare's writing-desk, if he had one, contained much that was consigned to well-merited oblivion. When we read of Poe taking credit to himself for “running his pen through certain sentences referring to the brandy nose of Mr. Briggs (since Mr. Briggs is only one-third described when this nose is omitted), and to the family resemblance between the noble visage of Mr. English and that of the best looking but most unprincipled of Mr. Barnum's baboons,” we feel that Poe has done himself infinitely more harm than he has done either Mr. Briggs or Mr. English by indulging in language that should be confined to Billingsgate, where they “sell the best fish and speak the worst English.”

We will not stop to point out several unimportant errors made by Mr. Ingram, but we have to condemn the ungenerous spirit that prompted him to omit all mention of Mr. Gill from the work. The latter has done very worthy, if Quixotic, service in the Poe cause. We are afraid that Mr. Ingram is a little bit jealous of what others have done in this matter; that, like the Turk, he wishes to reign alone, and will not permit any one else to share his self-assumed throne.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 341, column 3:]

* Edgar Allan Poe. His Life, Letters and Opinions, by John H. Ingram. Two volumes. London: John Hogg. New York: Cassel, Petter, Galpin & Co. $6.00.



The article is unsigned, but the most likely author is Eugene L. Didier.


[S:0 - LW, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Ingram's Life of Poe (E. L. Didier, 1880)