Text: Edward Spencer, “The Memory of Poe,” New York Herald (New York, NY), whole no. 16,288, March 27, 1881, p. 8, cols. 1-4


[page 8, column 1:]



Unpublished Letters of the Poet to Dr. Snodgrass.




Was Poe “Cooped” by the Baltimore Plugs? — The Irony of Fate.




Curious Glimpses of His Busy Brainwork — Not Yet Understood.


BALTIMORE, March 25, 1881.

The “unmerciful disasters” of an unremediable life seem to follow Edgar Allan Poe as far beyond the grave as ever poet was pursued by the furies. His eulogists have done Poe's memory more harm than his detractors. No one seems capable of writing about this son of genius in a lucid and dispassionate way. He has always been the subject of controversy. His name and memory have been tossed in the air a thousand times by half baked adventurers eager to point a moral or adorn a tale, and in the meanwhile the controlling and significant facts in his life have been lost sight of or treated as if of not much consequence.


Poe's first literary work — if we except his juvenile volume of poems, “El [[Al]] Aaraaf” — was done for the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, the editor of which, Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, was his intimate friend, so far as Poe had intimates. Poe corresponded with Snodgrass during a good part of his career, and in the sequel of his last fatal misadventure in Baltimore, when it was necessary to ask him if he had friends in the city, the name of Snodgrass seems to have been the only one which passed his lips, though he had blood cousins on the spot. Yet even this warm and trusted friend must needs “make a case” out of Poe's history and death, and has failed to report correctly even the facts which came under his own observation. Of course this was a case in which, as often happens, prepossession overpowers memory, and Dr. Snodgrass was totally unconscious of misrepresenting his friend. No one who was ever acquainted with this somewhat erratic and not very well balanced, but entirely honest and entirely amiable, journalist, would ever have suspected him of intentional misrepresentation of any sort, much less malicious misrepresentation.


Dr. Snodgrass died last spring at a little farm of his near Berkeley Springs, Va. (he was a native of that part of Virginia), and among his papers was found a very dilapidated set of letters, written by Edgar A. Poe to him. This correspondence runs from September, 1839, to September, 1841, and covers a period in which Poe did a great amount of work of the very best sort. In connection with these letters, which the writer has seen and examined in the original, and of which he possesses authentic copies, he has been enabled to recover the original letter from the printer, Walker, to Snodgrass, announcing Poe's last fatal illness and summoning him to the poet's relief.


In illustration of how Poe has been treated by his friends and admirers it will be useful to compare the text of this letter with the version of it given by Dr. Snodgrass in an article written by him called “The Facts of Poe's Death and Burial,” which was published in Beadle's Monthly in 1867. In this paper of Snodgrass', which was meant to be kindly, he says: — “The facts of the case are simply these: — On Tuesday, November 1, 1849, a wet and chilly day, I received a note bearing a signature which I recognized as that of a printer named Walker, who had set type for the Baltimore Saturday Visiter while I was editing it, and thus became aware of my deep interest in Mr. Poe. It stated that a man claiming Poe's name, and to be acquainted with me, was at Cooth & Sergeant's tavern, near High street (Baltimore), in a state of beastly intoxication and evident destitution, and that he had been heard to utter my name as that of an acquaintance.” It is instructive to compare the actual letter with the above version of it, and those who will carefully do so will no doubt be able to understand where Griswold got the materials out of which he manufactured his infamous and scoundrelly memoir. The letter is as follows: —

BALTIMORE CITY, Oct. 3, 1849.

DEAR SIR — There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's Fourth ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress. He says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you he is in need of immediate assistance. Yours, in haste,



This compositor (Walker) was well known among the early printers upon the Baltimore Sun. He was afterward drowned while swimming in the Spring Gardens. The tavern to which reference is made was in East Lombard street, a door or two east of High Street. Dr. Snodgrass himself lived on High street at that time, within a block or two of the tavern, and it was probably his immediate proximity as much as anything else, which prompted Walker to send for him. Poe was manifestly very ill, though he did not die until the following Sunday morning (this note was written on Wednesday night), and the circumstances attending his illness will be spoken of still further. It will be noticed that, in spite of the fact that Snodgrass had the original of this note in his possession, he preferred to quote it from memory, and in so doing utterly perverted its contents. He gave the wrong day of the month, the wrong day of the week, the wrong name for the tavern and an absolutely false and illusory statement of the printer's representation as to Poe's condition. “A gentleman rather the worse for wear,” who “appears in great distress,” and is in evident “need of immediate assistance,” is put down as being “in a state of beastly intoxication and evident destitution.” Walker speaks of a gentleman and stranger, who is so ill as to excite his sympathy and cause alarm; Snodgrass makes him speak of a drunken an penniless loafer. Griswold, of course, makes worse out of Snodgrass’ bad enough. He assigns Thursday, October 4, as the day, speaks of a “night of exposure and insanity,” &c., “resolutions and duties forgotten,” and all the rest of an infamous rigmarole.


What are the actual facts in regard to Edgar A. Poe's death? The Baltimore Sun of October 8, 1849, has only this announcement: —

We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe, Esq., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of four or five days. This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius and have sympathy for the frailties too often attending it. Mr. Poe, we believe, was a native of this State, though reared by a foster father at Richmond, Va., where he lately spent some time on a visit. He was in the thirty-eighth year of his age.

It was during this visit to Richmond that the late Mr. John R. Thompson met him. In his account of that interview he speaks of Poe as having consumed a great quantity of brandy in the morning before breakfast and upon an empty stomach. Let us suppose that Poe arrived in Baltimore on Wednesday, October 3, 1849, not entirely free from the effects of bad hours in the capital of Virginia. He must have reached the city in the forenoon, and, whether he came by rail or by steamboat, he would have naturally and almost instinctively gone to the United States Hotel (the present Maltby House), opposite which, at that time, was the depot of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Poe was a whig in politics. There was an election going on that day, a very wet and disagreeable one, for members of Congress and members of the State Legislature. If Poe had been drinking at [column 2:] all, and it is altogether likely that he had, he would talk, and on election day all men talk politics.


Eight blocks east of the hotel where he was was High street, and in the rear of an engine house in this vicinity the “Fourth Ward Club,” a notorious whig organization, had their “coop.” There was no registry of voters at this time in Baltimore, and almost any one could vote who was willing to face the ordeal of a “challenge” and the oath administered by a judge of elections. Hence, personal voting “material” was valuable, and the roughs of the period, instead of operating as rounders themselves, used to capture and “coop” innocent strangers and foreigners, drug them with bad whiskey and opiates, and send them around to the different voting places under custody of one or two of their party to “help their cause.” The system of “cooping” probably culminated in this year, 1849, and, if the writer's memory does not play him a trick, the “coop” of the democrats on Lexington street, near Eutaw, in the rear of the “New Market” engine house, had 75 prisoners, while that of the whigs on High street had 130 to 140 — the equivalent of 600 votes.


The prisoners in these “coops,” chiefly foreigners, strangers, countrymen, fated wretchedly. They were often, at the outstart, and in the most unsuspected was drugged with opiates or such other delirifaciants as would be most likely to keep them from being troublesome and prevent them from resenting their outrageous treatment. They were thrust into cellars and back yards, and kept under lock and key, without light, without beds, without provisions for decency, without food. Only one thing they were supplied with, and that was a sufficient deluge of whiskey to keep their brains all the time sodden and prevent them from imparting intelligibility to their complaints.


The whig “coop” in the Fourth ward, on High street, was within two squares of the place where Poe was “found.” It is altogether possible, as has been shown before, that Poe was “cooped” and that his outlaw custodians, discovering too late the disastrous effects of their infamous decoctions upon the delicate tissues and convolutions of his finely organized brain, sought to repair some of the damage they had done, and caused inquiry to be made for the friends of the man they had murdered. Two late! Poe was taken that night to the hospital, which is now called the “Church Home” (on North Broadway), suffering from a violent brain fever of a congestive character. He never recovered consciousness, he made no dying speeches and remarks, and his little candle, which now shines so far, went out very briefly about daybreak on Sunday morning, October 7.


So much by the way of introduction to Poe's letters. These epistles, in their original shape, are almost worn out, having seemingly been exposed to the action of water. They are written upon foolscap, folded, sealed with wafers and have their address upon the back, the envelope not having come into vogue at that time. Poe's handwriting is very plain and uncharacteristic, and he forms every letter in a way which would make him a treasure in any newspaper office in the country and would induce city editors to condone a thousand minor offences on his part; but neither the text nor the signature has any of that flourish which appears in Poe's articles in Godey's Lady's Book, in one part of which, in a seemingly incidental way, he altogether demolishes Snodgrass by superimposing his own signature to the doctor's. The one is so small, mean and ineffective; the other so big, bold, round and manly, that Poe made the contrast stronger in this way between him and Snodgrass than if he had written a volume on the subject. There is none of this, however, in the correspondence, which is business-like throughout.


The value of these letters seems to consist in the fact that they disclose Poe's honesty of character in the most undeniable light. The poorest of our authors and journalists, he is constantly striving to become the proprietor of a magazine. Not for his own emolument, however, or with the idea of increasing his income, but always and with the single idea of divorcing his work of criticism from all and every sordid consideration. He wants to be free, not to put money in his pocket, but in order to make criticism free. He wants to have opinions of his own to express and not those of his publishers. This trait alone in Edgar Allan Poe's character should entitle him to a monument in Central Park.


The first letter, dated September 11, 1839, and written from Philadelphia during the period when Poe was editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, was in acknowledgment of an article in the St. Louis Bulletin which Snodgrass had sent to the editor. He says in regard to this: —

“I was the more gratified, as the reception of the paper convinced me that you, of whom I have long thought highly, had no share in the feelings of ill will toward me, which are somewhat prevalent (God only knows why) in Baltimore.”

After something more of this sort, which it does not seem needful to quote, Poe goes on in a way which appears to reveal his exigent honesty: —

“I have now,” he writes, “a great favor to ask, and think that I may depend upon your friendship. It is to write a notice (such as you think rigidly just, no more) of the September number of the Gentleman's Magazine, embodying in your article the passage concerning myself from the St Louis Bulletin in any manner which your good taste may suggest. * * * If you will do me this great favor depend upon any similar good office from me ‘upon demand.’”

In this letter and in others of the series Poe discloses the worst — the suspicious, mistrustful and invidious — side of his character, in the manner in which he speaks of his cousin Mr. Neilson Poe, at that time editor of a Baltimore daily paper, and now Chief Judge of the Orphan's Court. It seems to have been Poe's rule of conduct to interpret everything which was not active and energetic friendship on his behalf as being prompted by envy and jealousy. The article in the Missouri paper to which Poe refers speaks of the general tone and character of the Southern Literary Messenger as imparting lustre to our periodical literature. It says: —

“Let it never be forgotten, however, that the first impetus to the favor of literary men which it received was given by the glowing pen of Edgar A. Poe, now assistant editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, and although since he has left it has well maintained its claims to respectability, yet there are few writers in this country — take Neal, Irving and Willis away and we would say none — who can compete successfully in many respects with Poe. With an acuteness of observation, a vigorous and effective style, and an independence that defies control, he unites a fervid fancy and a most beautiful enthusiasm. His is a high destiny.”


This letter of Poe's has two postscripts, one of which is in reference to newspaper praises of his “Fall of the House of Usher.” In the other he writes: — “I have made a profitable engagement with Blackwood's Magazine, and my forthcoming tales are promised a very commendatory review in that journal from the pen of Professor Wilson. Keep this a secret, if you please, for the present.” This profitable engagement with Blackwood's will be found explained further in this correspondence, and it does not seem altogether likely that even so enthusiastic an editor as Professor Wilson would pledge Blackwood's to a highly commendatory notice in advance of a volume which he had not seen.


Poe's next letter to Snodgrass is dated October 7, 1839, and is also written from Philadelphia. In this his enmity for Mr. Neilson Poe crops out in epithets such as, it must be said to his credit, our poet very seldom indulges. It is not worth while to repeat the language, of which the injustice is transparent. At the same time Poe is profuse in his acknowledgment of some friendly acts toward him on the part of Snodgrass. “I sincerely thank you,” he writes, “for the interest you have taken in my well-doing. The friendship of a man of talent, who is at the same time a man of honorable feeling, is especially valuable in these days of double dealing. I hope I shall always deserve your good opinion.” “My book,” Poe adds, “will be out in the beg'. of Nov.” This was the volume of tales published by Lea & Blanchard, “Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque,” which, while it secured a succès d'estime, put no money in the pockets of either author or publisher.


The third letter, which is headed “Philadelphia, 12, 39” and directed to “Dr. J. Evans Snodgrass,” bears the postmark of December 13. It accompanied a copy of Poe's volume, apparently just out. “In the same package,” writes poor Poe, “is a copy for Mr. Carey, of the American, which I must beg you to deliver to him, with my respects. I have not the pleasure of knowing him personally; but entertain a high opinion of his talents. Please write his full name in his copy ‘with the author's respects.’ I forget his prænomen.” Was Grub street ever more forcibly illustrated since Goldsmith wore his “peach blossom velvet coat” out at elbows?


“My dear Snodgrass,” says Poe in the next letter (Phildelphia, December 19, 1839), and later mentioning again the fact that he had recently sent on two copies of the “Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque,” he enters into some explanations in regard to premiums advertised by Burton for matter for his magazine. Poe's reasons for leaving this magazine have been grossly and infamously perverted by Griswold. The present letter enables this writer to show that the reason for Poe's leaving originated in his disgust at Burton's “prize list” and the freedom with which he expressed his dislike for that sort of “humbug.” “Touching the Premiums.” says Poe in this letter, “the advertisement respecting them was written by Mr. Burton, and is not, I think as explicit as might be.” [This letter, by the way, is the worst preserved and the most defective of the entires series.] The object of Poe's letter seems to be, while preserving his loyalty to his publisher, to save Snodgrass from the labor of writing articles in competition for prejudiced prizes. “The truth is,” he says to Snodgrass, “I object, in toto, to the whole scheme, but merely follow the B. J. make-up upon all such matters of business.”


Apparently Dr. Snodgrass had been sending some rather extensive instalments of poetry to Mr. Poe — at any rate he explains that “if you look over our columns you will see that we only put in poetry in the odds and ends of our pages; that is, to fill out a vacancy left at the foot of a prose article, so that the length of a poem often determines its insertion. Yours could not be brôt to fit in, and was obliged to be left out.” Poe seems to be anxious in this letter to find out what the Baltimore papers have to say of his book. As to the Philadelphia papers, their encomiums suit him exactly. “They have given me,” he writes to Dr. Snodgrass, “the very highest possible praise. I c’d desire nothing farther.” * * * In Alexander's Messenger, says Poe, “Is a notice by Professor [column 3:] Frost, which I forward you to-day, with this. * * * The Star and the Evening Post have both capital notices. There is also a promise of one in the New World — Benjamin's paper — which I am anxious to see, for, praise or blame, I have a high opinion of that man's ability.” This is the evidence that, in spite of the large quantity of it which he himself furnished, Poe understood criticism, was vulnerable to it, and was at anxious about what just and competent critics should say of his performances.


At this date Dr. Snodgrass appears to have been editor of a Baltimore weekly. He seems to have suggested to Poe that in a spirit of reciprocity he would like a notice. Unfortunately, however, Dr. Nathan C. Brooks, who is now president of a female college in our city and is one of our oddest surviving literary gentlemen, was publishing the Amaranth or something of a similar sort, and Poe writes: — “I am obliged to decline saying anything of the Museum in the Gent's Mag. However, I feel anxious to oblige yourself, and to express my own views, you will understand me when I say that I have no proprietary interest in the Magazine and that Mr. Burton is a warm friend of Brooks — verb. sat. sap.


“I have heard,” writes Poe in this letter, “that an attempt is to be made by some one of capital in Baltimore to get up a magazine. Have you heard anything of it? If you hear will you be kind enough to let me know all about it by return of mail, if you can spare the time to oblige me? I am particularly desirous of understanding how the matter stands — who are the parties, &c.” It is evident from this letter that Poe was already anxious to sever his connection with Burton. It is also apparent that, while fully loyal to his employer, he wished to indicate to his friend Snodgrass that he would waste his time in preparing articles for competition for premiums which were not actually and bona fide to be paid.


The letter succeeding this is dated June 17. In it Poe says: —

“MY DEAR SNODGRASS — Yours of the 12th was duly received, but I have found it impossible to answer it before, owing to an unusual press of business which has positively not left me a moment to myself. Touching your essay, Burton not only lies, but deliberately and wilfully lies; for the last time but one that I saw him I called his attention to the MS., which was then at the top of a pile of other MSS. sent for premiums, in a drawer of the office desk. I saw the essay in the same position, and I am perfectly sure it is there still. You know it is a peculiar looking MS., and I could not mistake it. In saying it was not in his possession his sole design was to vex you, and through you myself. Were I in your place I would take some summary method of dealing with the scoundrel, whose infamous conduct in regard to this whole premium scheme merits and shall receive exposure. I am firmly convinced that it was never his intention to pay $1 of the money offered, and, indeed, his plain intimations to that effect, made to me personally and directly, were the immediate reason of my cutting the connection as abruptly as I did. [Every reader, whether he credits this absolutely or not, should compare it with Griswold's account of this supposed transaction.] If you could in any way spare the time to come on to Philadelphia, I think I could put you in the way of detecting this villain in his rascality. I would go down with you to the office, open the drawer in his presence, and take the MS. from beneath his very nose. I think this would be a good deed done, and would act as a caution to such literary swindlers in future. Will you come on? Write immediately in reply.”

Poe adds in this letter, which was written after he had severed his connection with Mr. Burton and his magazine, that

“Mr. Carey's book on slavery was received by me not very long ago, and in last month's number I wrote at some length a criticism upon it, in which I endeavored to do justice to the author, whose talents I highly admire. But this critique, as well as some six or seven others, were refused admittance into the Magazine by Mr. Burton upon his receiving my letter of resignation.

Says the poet in concluding this letter: —

“Herewith you have my prospectus. You will see that I have given myself sufficient time for preparation. I have every hope of success. As yet I have one [[done]] nothing more than send a few prospectuses to the Philadelphia editors, as it is rather early to strike — six months in anticipation. My object at present is merely to call attention to the contemplated design. In the meantime be assured that I am not idle, and that if there is any impossibility about the matter it is the impossibility of not succeeding. The world is fond of novelty, and, in being absolutely honest, I shall be utterly novel. If you would show the prospectus to Mr. Carey or any other editorial friend when you have done with it I would be obliged to you.”

Snodgrass seems to have asked Poe in regard to the fortunes of his volume, “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” published during the previous winter. Says Poe in reply: —

“Touching my Tales you will scarcely believe me when I tell you that I am ignorant of their fate and have never spoken to the publishers concerning them since the day of their issue. I have cause to think, however, that the edition was exhausted almost immediately. It was only six weeks since that I had the opportunity I wished of sending a copy to Professor Wilson, so as to be sure of its reaching him directly. Of course I must wait some time yet for a notice — if any there is to be. Yours most truly, E. A. Poe.”

It will be instructive to compare what Poe says in the last sentence of this letter with what he said on the subject of Blackwood's Magazine in the postscript to the first letter of this series, quoted above.


The letter succeeding this one is dated January 17, 1841. Poe's first sentence is worth quoting on account of its revelation of character. “Your letters are always welcome,” he writes to Snodgrass, “albeit ‘few and far between’ (What an infamous tautology is that, by the bye, for visits that are few must be far between.) And your last letter was especially so.”

“You write,” continues Poe, “to know my prospects with the Penn.” [This was the Penn Monthly [[Magazine]], which Poe cherished the idea of for some time, and he was certainly a good “projector.”] “They are glorious, notwithstanding the world of difficulty under which I labored and labor. My illness (from which I have now entirely recovered) has been, for various reasons, a benefit to my scheme rather than a disadvantage, and, upon the whole, if I do not eminently succeed in this enterprise the fault will be altogether my own. Still, I am using every exertion to insure success, and, among other manœuvres, I have cut down the bridges behind me. I must now do or die — I mean in a literary sense.”


Dr. Snodgrass seems to have been liberal in his tenders of literary aid to Poe and to the Penn Monthly. Poe's way of “toning down” his contributors without giving them offence is not only diplomatic in the highest degree, but illustrates an amiable and genteel character. He writes to Snodgrass: —

“I shall be delighted to receive any prose article from your pen. As for poetry I am overstocked with it. I am particularly anxious for a paper on the ‘International Copyright Laws,’ or on the subject of the laws of libel in regard to literary publications. I believe these topics are altogether in your line,” writes Poe. “Your friend, David Hoffman, Esq. [a neglected Baltimore author, by the way, who was author of the ‘Memoirs of Kartaphiles, the Wandering Jew.’ otherwise know to German writers as ‘Ahasuerus’] has been so kind as to promise me his aid, and perhaps he would not be unwilling to send me something on one or the other of the heads in question. Will you oblige me [this is underscored in the original] by speaking to him upon this subject? Above all things,” he adds, ”it is necessary that whatever be done ‘if done, be done quickly,’ for I am about to put the first sheet to press immediately and the others will follow in rapid succession.[[”]]


“In regard to my plans, &c., the prospectus will inform you in some measure. I am resolved upon a good outward appearance — clear type, fine paper &c. — double columns, I think, and brevier, with the poetry running across the page in a single column; no steel engravings, but now and then a superior woodcut in illustration of the text. Thick covers. In the literary way, I shall endeavor, gradually, if I cannot effect the purpose at once, to give the magazine a reputation for the having no articles but from the best pens — a somewhat negative merit, you will say. In criticism I will be bold, and sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me. I shall aim at originality in the body of the work more than at any other especial quality. I have one or two articles of my own in statu pupillari that would make you stare, at least, on account of the utter oddity of their conception. To carry out the conception is a difficulty which — may be overcome.”


This sentence, almost the only one in which he speaks of his method of working, would seem to deserve to be treasured. Poe's brain teemed with projects and “conceptions.” The difficulty of carrying them out was something which he never dreamed of asking any one to share with him. “Eureka” was possibly one of these “conceptions.” Was not “Dr. Tar and Professor Fether” another?


“I have not seen the January (Southern Literary) Messenger,” he says, “but ‘Quotidiana’ is a very good title. ‘Quod Libetica’ is also good and even more inclusive than the other. I am fond of such articles as these, and in good hands they may be made very interesting.


“Mr. Burton,” says Poe, returning abruptly from these literary recreations to business, “that illustrious ‘graduate of St John's College, Cambridge,’ is going to the devil with the worst grace in the world, but with a velocity truly astounding. The press here, in a body, have given him the cut direct. So be it. Suum cuique. We have said enough about this genius.

“Mr. Graham is a very gentlemanly personage. I will see him to-morrow and speak to him in regard to your essay, although, to prevent detection Burton may have destroyed it.


“And now, my dear Snodgrass, will you do me a favor? I have heard some mention of a new magazine to be established in Baltimore by a Virginian and a practical printer. I am anxious to know all the details of the project. Can you procure and send me (by return of mail) a prospectus. [[?]] If you cannot get one, will you write me all about it — the gentleman's name &c &c &c. [[?]] I have underscored the word ‘anxious’ because I really mean what I say, and because about a fortnight ago I made to the Hon. W. [[N.]] C. Brooks A. M., a request just such as I now make to yourself. He did not reply, and I, expecting of course the treatment which one gentleman naturally expects from another, have been put to the greatest inconvenience by the daily but fruitless expectation. Very truly and respectfully yours,




Rather singularly this letter of Poe, in which he shows so much anxiety to know about the contemplated magazine in Baltimore and so much needless umbrage at Professor Brooks' dilatoriness in giving him the facts about the enterprise, is not only full of details about his projected Penn Monthly, but is actually backed by a printed “prospectus” of [column 4:] that poet's dream. It does not appear that any relationship has actually been established between Mr. Edgar Allan Poe and Mr. Wilkins Micawber, but the family resemblance would not be hard to trace. It reads: —


of the Penn Magazine, a monthly literary journal to be edited and published in the city of Philadelphia



“Since resigning the conduct of the Southern Literary Messenger, at the commencement of its third year, I have had always in view the establishment of a magazine which should retain some of the chief features of that journal, abandoning or greatly modifying the rest. Delay, however, has been occasioned by a variety of causes, and not until now have I found myself at liberty to attempt the execution of the design.

“I will be pardoned for speaking more directly of the Messenger. Having in it no proprietary right, my objects, too, being at variance in many respects with those of its very worthy owner, I found difficulty in stamping upon its pages that individuality which I believe essential to the success of all similar publications. In regard to their permanent influences, it appears to me that a continuous definite character, and a marked certainty of purpose are requisites of vital importance; and I cannot help believing that these requisites are only attainable when one mind alone shall have the general direction of the undertaking.”

This is flagrantly antagonistic to the prevalent opinion in favor of “impersonal journalism,” and interesting anyhow so far forth, in addition to the illustrations it furnishes of the direction of thought of Poe's certainly well cultivated intellect. The prospectus continues: —

“Experience has rendered obvious — what might indeed have been demonstrated a priori — that in founding a magazine of my own lies my sole chance of carrying out to completion whatever peculiar intentions I may have entertained.

“To those who remember the early days of the Southern periodical in question it will be scarcely necessary to say that its main feature was a somewhat overdone causticity in its department of critical notices of new books. The Penn Magazine will retain this trait of severity insomuch only as the calmest yet sternest sense of justice will permit. Some years since elapsed have mellowed down the petulance without interfering with the vigor of the critic. Most surely they have not yet taught him to read through the medium of a publisher's will nor convinced him that the interests of letters are unallied with the interests of truth. It shall be the first and chief purpose of the magazine now proposed to become known as one where may be found at all times and upon all subjects an honest and a fearless opinion. It shall be a leading object to assert in precept and to maintain in practice the rights, while in effect it demonstrates the advantages, of an absolutely independent criticism — a criticism self-sustained, guiding itself only by the purest rules of art, analyzing and urging these rules as it applies them, holding itself aloof from all personal bias, acknowledging no fear save that of outraging the right, yielding no point either to the vanity of the author or to the assumptions of antique prejudice or to the involute and anonymous cant of the quarterlies, or to the arrogance of those organized cliques which, hanging like nightmares upon American literature, manufacture, at the nod of our principal booksellers, a pseudo public opinion by wholesale. These are objects of which no man need be ashamed. They are purposes, moreover, whose novelty at least will give them interest. For assurance that I will fulfil them in the best spirit and to the very letter, I appeal with confidence to those friends, and especially to those Southern friends, who sustained me in the Messenger, where I had but a very partial opportunity of completing my own plans.”

Poe's plans for a magazine, it remains to say in passing, still remain to be executed, and will probably continue to be inchoate until the millenium or the Greek kalends. This “Prospectus,” of which there is a good deal more, all written in the same pure and vigorous style, is dated “Philadelphia, January 1, 1841.”


His next letter to Snodgrass was written on July 2, 1841, and says: —

“MY DEAR SNODGRASS — I have this moment received yours of the 10th, and am really glad to find that you have not quite given me up. A letter from you now is a novelty indeed.”

After some business and technical explanations (Snodgrass had another article in Poe's hands), Poe says of the “strange liberties” occasionally taken by “our proof reader” — all of us have been put in peril of our souls by this sort of fiendishness — that “in our forthcoming number he has substituted (I see) a small for a capital R in Rozinate.” He adds: —

“You say some of your monumental writers ‘feel small.’ It is not that, for them, a natural feeling? I never had much opinion of Arthur. What little merit he has is negative. McJilton I like much better. He has written one or two very good things. As a man also I like him better. Do you know, by the bye, that W. G. Clark [Willis Gaylord Clark, founder of the Knickerbocker Magazine] reproved me in his Gazette, for speaking too favorably of McJilton? * * *


“You flatter me about the ‘Maelstrom.’ It was finished in a hurry, and therefore its conclusion is imperfect. Upon the whole, it is neither as good, nor has it been half so popular as ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue.’ I have a paper in the August number which will please you. Among the reviews for August I have one which will at least surprise you. It is a long notice of a satire by a quondam Baltimorean D. [[L.]] A. Wilmer. You must get this satire and read it. It is really good — good in the old fashioned Dryden style. It blazes away, too, to the right and left, sparing not. I have made it the text from which to preach a fire and fury sermon upon critical independence and the general literary humbuggery of the day. I have introduced in this sermon some portion of a review formerly written by me for the Pittsburg Examiner, a monthly journal, which died in the first throes of its existence. It was edited by E. Burke Fisher — than whom a greater scamp never walked. He wrote to me offering $4 per page for criticism, promising to put them in as contributions, not editorially. The first thing I saw was one of my articles under the editorial head, so altered that I hardly recognized it, and interlarded with all manner of bad English and ridiculous opinions of his own. I believe, however, that the number in which it appeared, being the last kick of the nag. [[maga:]] was never circulated.”


The next letter, and the last of this collection, is headed “Philadelphia, September 19, 1841.” In this letter Poe gives himself some trouble to explain to “My dear Snodgrass” that a misadventure of one of the latter's articles was fully understood by him. Then he goes on to say: — “You are mistaken about The Dial. I have no quarrel in the world with that illustrious journal, nor it with me. I am not aware that it ever mentioned my name or alluded to me either directly or indirectly. My slaps at it were only ‘in a general way.’ ” The remainder of the letter is devoted to contemporary literary news, in the course of which Poe mentions that Mr. George R. Graham may possibly join him in the Penn Monthly. He also returns to his dream of a magazine in Baltimore, edited by himself and published by some capitalist. Here this interesting correspondence ends.



Although the article is dated as March 25, 1881, it appeared in the issue for March 27, 1881. While unsigned, the author was identified by William Hand Browne in a letter of October 16, 1880 to John Henry Ingram. It may be interesting to note that Spencer had the Snodgrass material for several months before publication. Presumably he was searching for further information about the “coop.”

An editorial note from the same issue: “A LETTER FROM BALTIMORE, elsewhere printed, dispels some of the aspersions which the thoughtless friends and the malignant foes of Edgar Allan Poe have between them cast upon his character. The extract from a portion of his correspondence which now for the first time appears in print will be read with curious interest.”


[S:0 - NYH, 1881] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf -The Memory of Poe (E. Spencer, 1881)