Text: Robert C. Hiden, Richmond Times (Richmond, VA), vol. 18, no. 310, March 10, 1895, p. 8, col. 1, reprinted from Illustrated Kentuckian


[page 8, top of column 1:]





He Was Initiated Several Months Before His Death — History of His Connection With the Organization.


That many lovers of real poetry should shrug their shoulders with a world of meaning and speak of America’s greatest poet as “a drunken madman” when Edgar Allan Poe’s name is mentioned in literary circles, but in the same breath refer to two of Great Britain’s most famous poets as “poor Burns” and “unhappy Byron,” are facts as notable as they are inconsistent, when it is remembered that the English aristocrat and Scotch peasant have left on record careers synonymous with all that is immoral and corrupt. Despite the efforts of Griswold and others, there is more than one man now living in Richmond who cherishes the memory of his personal associations with Poe with that degree of pride which bubbles up to the surface whenever the strange poet is suggested.

Not alone a keen appreciation of literary genius, but rather the influence of the poet’s personal magnetism is revealed to a newspaper man of the modern school who applies to one of Poe’s old acquaintances for a reminiscence. The eye dimmed with age, brightens in a moment, the wrinkled countenance is all animation, again the mind fits back over a half a century, and the old man proudly relates an incident, perhaps trivial in its nature, were it not identified with him who wrote “The Raven.” What an impression he must have made upon all those associates who skim over his faults in a breath and dwell upon some flash of humor, some outburst of genius, some quaint saying, which could have originated with none other than Edgar Allan Poe.

They who were personally acquainted with the great poet are rapidly passing away. In a few years none will be left to defend him whose name will go singing down the generations as that of a master of music and diction, and posterity can only judge between half a dozen conflicting biographies, one or two at least of which are as unjust as they are inaccurate.

It is a well known fact that Poe made a number of verbal pledges to abstain from the use of intoxicating drink, and it is equally well known that he violated these pledged. It is not, however, generally known that, strange as it may seem, he was a regularly initiated member of a well know temperance organization in Richmond who have collected a great deal of information about the poet’s life in that city tell me that they never knew of Poe’s connection with any organized temperance movement. Whether Poe ever violated the pledge to which he subscribed when he became a member of Shockoe Hill Division, No. 54, Sons of Temperance, in Richmond, it is not my purpose to discuss in this limited space, though a few points which would certainly indicate that he was true to his pledge may be worth recording.

There are, so far as can be learned, only two surviving members of Shockoe Hill Division whose names were on the roll-book when Poe was initiated in the summer of 1849. The organization has been practically defunct since the war, and there have been no formal meetings for years. The only member I have been able to find is William J. Glenn, who can be seen at the corner of Eighth and Grace streets in Richmond, and who at the time of Poe’s initiation held the office of Worthy Patriarch of the Council. Mr. Glenn is still a strong advocate of temperance, and an untiring worker for the advancement of the cause. He is about seventy-six years of age. On the night of Poe’s initiation he administered the oath, which the poet took with unusual firmness, and to which, stepping up to the desk resolutely, he attached his signature as though impatient for such an opportunity.

In speaking of the exercises Mr. Glenn says they were of a peculiarly solemn character, and seemed to have a powerful impression upon the great poet. Nearly all of the members of the Council were present, as it was known that Poe would be received that night. There was cause for genuine gratification among the membership upon the enrollment of Poe’s name. He was at theat time the literary lion of the South, and it was generally known that he was addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors.

Some of the most skeptical members, whose observation had been, perhaps, more scrutinous than that of the others, in talking with Mr. Glenn on the morning after the initiation, were inclined to doubt whether Poe would “hold out.” they had seen the poet under the influence of liquor, and it was understood that he had made resolutions only to break them. So far as was known, however, Poe had not attached his signature to an oath formerly administered up to that time. Mr. Glenn states that the question became one of more than ordinary interest to the members of the Council, several of whom put themselves to the trouble of ascertaining whether or not the poet violated his pledge. They constituted themselves a sort of vigilance committee to keep an eye on the poet, who was at that time in Richmond, presumably for the purpose of marrying a widow who resided on Church Hill. It was believed by some of those who were watching Poe’s movements that his approaching marriage produced a favorable effect upon him.

The exact date of Poe’s initiation into Shockoe Council, Sons of Temperance, is unknown so far as I have been able to ascertain. The records of the organization, including an application for membership in Poe’s handwriting, and the minutes of the meeting on the night he was received, were for many years in the possession of Mr. Glenn. After a careful search he failed to find them. He thinks they have been destroyed. According to his recollection, the initiation took place early in the summer of 1849, he thinks between June 1st and June 6th. On the day the poet left Richmond for the last time, Mr. Glenn saw Poe, who informed him that he was going to Philadelphia. Poe was dressed in a neat suit of dark material, which had just been purchased, and looked the picture of sobriety. Mr. Glenn is firmly of the opinion that he had abstained from drinking from the time of his initiation up to that day.

A day or two afterwards a report reached the members of the Council that Poe had died in Baltimore as the result of a drunken spree. Several of the members of the Council went to Baltimore to make inquires into the circumstances of the poet’s death. After a careful investigation they were satisfied that he had not been drinking. His new coat had been substituted by an old, much worn garment, and several valuables which he had with him were missing. According to the theory of those who made the investigation, he had been drugged and robbed before he was taken to the hospital where he died. Dr. Moran, who was then in charge of the hospital, has left a written record in which he states that the poet was not under the influence of intoxicating drink when brought to the hospital, and gives as his opinion that Poe died of a brain disease, brought on by nervous temperment [[temperament]] and continued mental strain.

I have talked with half a dozen or more of Poe’s associates in Richmond. They all agree that the poet frequently allowed himself to become intoxicated by the too free use of liquor, but no one of them can remember having seen him take a drink between the time he became a member of Shockoe Council and the time of this death, a short time before he refused stimulants offered him by the attending physician. That he was a drinking man no one will deny. That he died under the influence of liquor, as has been stated by several of his biographers, cannot be satisfactorily established. That he refrained from the use of intoxicating liquors from the night he was received into the membership of the Sons of Temperance until his death seems to be more than likely. All the facts gathered by members of that organization point to such a conclusion. Had the poet broken his pledge some of those, including several of the associates who were watching his care, would almost certainly have ascertained the fact. So far as I have been able to learn from those acquainted with Poe and his life in Richmond, the poet was true to the pledge he signed when he joined the temperance organization. — Robert G. Hiden in Illustrated Kentuckian.



A clipping of this article was sent to J. H. Ingram by E. V. Valentine and is item 888. The same article is reprinted in the Semi-Weekly Messenger (Wilmington, NC), September 5, 1895.


[S:0 - RT, 1895] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Poe and His Pledge (R. G. Hiden, 1895)