Text: Hyman Pollock Rosenbach, “Reminiscences of Edgar A. Poe,” American (Philadelphia, PA), vol. XIII, whole no. 342, February 26, 1897, 13:296


[page 296, column 1, continued:]


IN THE AMERICAN for September 11, 1886, in an article on “Tom Moore’s Cottage,” I quoted Mr. Horace Wemyss Smith as speaking of a supper party at the house of his father, Richard Penn Smith, about 1837, the entertainment being given by the latter to Edgar A. Poe, “who had been introduced into Philadelphia society by the well-known comedian, William E. Burton, who had lately employed him as assistant editor upon his magazine, — the Gentleman’s, afterwards Graham’s.” Mr. Smith has kindly communicated to me his reminiscences of Poe, which I here record.

“At this supper party were present Louis A. Godey, then owner and editor of Godey’s Magazine, which had been started above five years previously; Robert M. Bird; Robert T. Conrad, editor of the Daily Intelligencer; Joseph R. Chandler, editor of the United States Gazette; Joseph C. Neal; Morton McMichael, then an alderman in Spring Garden; Adam Waldie, publisher of Waldie’s Circulating Library, and a few others. Owing to the engagements of Mr. Burton at the Chestnut Street Theatre, the supper was not placed upon the table until midnight, at which time Mr. Burton, Mr. Wemyss, Mr. Wood and Mr. John R. Scott made their appearance. Edwin Forrest — who had but lately returned from England with his wife — was also present.

“My father’s house was on Sixth above Willow Street. The guests who had first assembled were entertained on the first floor, where they awaited the coming of the theatrical people, before ascending to the dining-room on the second floor. When the time came to go up, Poe had so often visited the side-board placed in the lower room that it was with great difficulty he was assisted up stairs, and when he was seated was in no condition either to entertain or be entertained.

“When I returned from school in the following year I renewed my acquaintance with Poe and became his companion. I had been placed in the office of the Board of Education by my father, who was then its secretary, which situation threw me daily in contact with his friends, who were then the literary coterie of Philadelphia. My family at that time furnished me with all the money I required, and as I had not the restraint of living at home — being a boarder at the Washington House, on Chestnut street, then kept by a man named Hartwell — I was much about town, and frequently fell in with Poe, who seemed to cultivate my acquaintance. He was still in the employ of Burton, and as the latter was giving his attention, at that time, to the magazine, making his theatrical engagements only for Philadelphia and cities within very easy reach, Poe had much leisure time, which he spent for the most part in a drinking place on Dock below Pear Street. His companions were Henry B. Hirst, Andy Scott and myself. Our evenings were generally spent about the lobbies of the theatres, from whence we would adjourn to Parker’s restaurant or Davy Gibbs’s eating-saloon.

“The break between Burton and Poe was caused in the following way: Burton had been called upon to play an engagement of two or three weeks duration in the Park Theatre, in New York, under Pratt and Simpson, and left directions for Poe to bring out the number of his magazine, which instruction Poe ignored or forgot. After the termination of Burton’s engagement he returned to Philadelphia on a Sunday, and on going to his office found that nothing had been done tending to the production of the magazine. Burton immediately sought my father at his house, and it was about midnight when he found him. He came in a carriage with a large bundle of manuscript, from which they made some selections. They worked until morning, when they sent me with copy to the printer, Charles Alexander, in Franklin Place, Chestnut Street. Alexander hunted up some extra compositors, and by dint of hard work and hurried proof-reading the Gentleman’s Magazine appeared as usual. Poe was discharged for his negligence.”

I here interrupt Mr. Smith’s narrative to give some other evidences of Poe’s habits at this time. In a letter from him to Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, dated Philadelphia, April 1st, 1841: “You are a physician [column 2:] and I presume no physician can have difficulty in detecting the drunkard at a glance. You are moreover a literary man, well read in morals. You could never be brought to believe that I could write what I daily write as I write it were I as this villain [meaning Burton] would induce those who know me not to believe. In fine, I pledge you, before God, the solemn word of a gentleman that I am temperate even to rigor. From the hour in which I first saw this basest of calumniators to the hour in which I retired from his office in uncontrollable disgust at his chicanery, arrogance, ignorance and brutality, nothing stronger than water ever passed my lips. It is, however, due to candor that I inform you upon what foundation he has erected his slanders. At no period of my life was I ever what men call intemperate. I never was in the habit of intoxication. I never drank drams, etc. But for a period, while I resided in Richmond and edited the Messenger, I certainly did give way at long intervals to the temptation held out on all sides by the spirit of Southern conviviality. My sensitive temperament could not stand an excitement which was an every day matter to my companions. In short, it sometimes happened that I was completely intoxicated. For some days after each excess I was invariably confined to bed. But it is now quite four years since I have abandoned every kind of alcoholic drink — four years, with the exception of a single deviation which occurred shortly after my leaving Burton, and when I was induced to resort to the occasional use of cider with the hope of relieving a nervous attack.”

To return to Mr. Smith’s relation: “Poe was very fond of visiting my grandmother, Mrs. William Moore Smith, at her place at the Falls of Schuylkill. His favorite seat was in the doorway of the family mausoleum — since removed — where he read such books as Lewis’ ‘Tales of Terror,’ Mary Wolstone Craft’s ‘Frankenstein,’ and ‘Five Nights at Saint Albans,’ some of which works no doubt affected his mental constitution. After Poe left Burton, I went South and did not see him until 1843, when he already showed signs of his continued dissipation.

“I read the ‘Raven’ long before it was published, and was in Mr. George R. Graham’s office when the poem was offered to him. Poe said that his wife and Mrs. Clemm were starving, and that he was in very pressing need of the money. I carried him fifteen dollars, contributed by Mr. Graham, Mr. Godey, Mr. McMichael and others, who condemned the poem, but gave the money as a charity. An hour afterward he was found in a state of intoxication in Decatur street, where now is the alley running from the rear of Charles Joly’s, No. 9 South Seventh Street, then occupied as a tavern and kept by a man named Dicky Harbut, an Irish shoemaker. Shortly after this Poe left Philadelphia, and our communication was broken off.”

In reference to the “Raven,” I shall here quote from Mr. Woodberry: “In the Evening Mirror, January 29th, 1845, ‘The Raven’ was published, with a highly commendatory card from Willis, and a few days later The American Whig Review, for February, from the advance sheets of which this poem had been copied, was the centre of literary interest and the prey of editorial scissors throughout the length and breadth of the country. In the magazine the author was masked under the pseudonym of ‘Quarles,’ but in this journal he had been named as E. A. Poe.” A footnote to this paragraph reads: “The author is indebted to an unpublished paper by Professor W. E. Griffis for the earliest mention of ‘The Raven,’ which, on evidence satisfactory to Professor Griffis, was in the course of composition in the summers of 1842 and 1843. The legend, however, involves the assertion that Poe, at the time of his greatest poverty in Philadelphia, was visiting a pleasure resort near Saratoga Springs. Of this, there is no documentary proof and in the author’s opinion it is highly improbable; the story is therefore not included in the text.”

In conclusion I will recount an anecdote on the origin of a very popular summer beverage, for which Mr. Smith is responsible. Mr. William E. Burton on a very hot and sweltering day came into this same Dicky Harbut’s saloon and asked him to make him some kind of cooling draught. Harbut squeezed a lemon into a large glass, adding to it various other fruits, and was about pouring in ice-water, when Burton stopped him, telling him to use something stronger. Harbut then filled it with sherry. The next time Burton was in the place he called for a “Cobbler’s Sherry,” and from this has come the familiar “Sherry Cobbler.”




This article was reprinted by Edwin Wolf 2nd, Library Chronicle of the University of Pennsylvania, vol. XVII, Summer 1951, pp. 90-103.


[S:1 - AM, 1897] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Reminiscences of Edgar A. Poe (H. P. Rosenbach, 1897)