Text: Francis Gerry Fairfield, “Poe an Epileptic,” New York Daily Tribune (New York, NY), vol. XXXV, whole no. 10,805, November 17, 1875, p. 5, col. 2


[page 5, column 2, continued:]



To the Editor of The Tribune.

SIR: Thanking you for the courtesy extended to me in to-day’s TRIBUNE. I hope, particularly as F. R. M. designates himself a physician, that you will permit me to occupy a little space in replying to him. I shall limit myself to a single point, since it is not worth the while to trouble either myself with writing or the constituency of a great daily newspaper with reading rejoinders in quotations from medical text-books. The article to which, as a physician, your correspondent objects was submitted before acceptance by Scribner’s Monthly to one of our leading experts in this field — a master in psychological medicine, as well known in literature as he is in the medical profession — and was accepted on his verdict. As to the question whether the writings of Poe are tinctured with epileptic influences, I shall say, in direct opposition to your correspondent’s view, that the whole literature of fiction and poetry presents not a single instance in which the intellectual, emotional, and psychical traits associated with epilepsy are more strangely marked; and I have no doubt that the majority of medical men who have had opportunities for real observation in this department will assent to the justice of such a position. I will also add that since the publication of the article facts bearing on the issue have been furnished me by persons who knew Poe personally, that leave little margin for doubt that he was actually subject to epileptic attacks. Such facts I shall presently lay before the reading pubic, always with this reservation that there are only two ways of verifying the existence of epilepsy beyond a question — the one by actual observation of the symptoms and the other by post-mortem examination, and that neither can be applied in this instance. I have other work on hand than suggesting to medical correspondents to study Dumesnil and other masters before hazarding opinions on epilepsy, and must conclude by saying that so far as I am concerned ths discussion is ended.


New-York, Oct. 18, 1875.




Edouard Jean-Baptiste Dumesnil (1813-1884) was Chief Physician of the Lunatic Asylum of Saint-Yon, who wrote, among other studies, Les Aliénés et les enquêtes médico-légales, a book published in 1858-1859. He is also mentioned by Fairfield in Ten Years with Spiritual Mediums (New York: D. Appleton and Company,1875), where a portion of the work just mentioned is quoted in English. Fairfield probably picked up the reference from “Violence and Unconscious State of Epileptics in Relation to Medical Jurisprudence” by M. G. Echevebria, M. D. in the American Journal of Insanity (April 1873, p. 519), where the same quotation, in the same translation, is given and Dumesnil is also mentioned only by his last name. By his tone, and asserting evidence that he is unwilling to share, Fairfield is pretty clearly making claims well beyond any expertise he actually had.


[S:0 - NYDT, November 17, 1875] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Poe an Epileptic (Francis Gerry Fairfield, 1875)