Text: George E. Woodberry, ed., “Lowell's Letters to Poe,” Scribner's Magazine (New York, NY), vol. XVI, no. 2, August 1894, pp. 170-176


[page 170, unnumbered:]


Edited by George E. Woodberry

THE correspondence between Poe and Lowell is of considerable interest as an illustration of the character of the former, who was Lowell's senior by ten years, and it affords much biographical matter in details. The letters of Poe, with the exception of one which had passed out of Lowell's possession, were published in the biography of Poe which appeared some years ago in the “American Men of Letters” series. The letters of Lowell were among the papers which came into the hands of Dr. R. W. Griswold, as Poe's literary executor, and remained, after Griswold's death, in the possession of the gentleman who then took charge of his effects; they have recently come by inheritance, together with the other papers of Griswold, to the latter's son, Mr. William M. Griswold, of Cambridge, Mass., from whose copies they are now made public. While the interest of the Lowell side of the correspondence is considerably slighter than that written by Poe, the story of a notable literary connection is made complete by the aid of these documents, and the letters themselves are of equal value with others belonging to Lowell's early years. They require but little comment except what is furnished by Poe's replies. Lowell had undertaken to edit, in conjunction with Mr. Robert Carter, then living near him in Cambridge, the magazine called The Pioneer. The venture was unfortunate, and after the third issue the magazine was discontinued. Poe's first letter was written to offer contributions to it, and in each of its three numbers there was something from his pen. Lowell's first letter is in reply to Poe's application.


“BOSTON, Nov 19, 1842.

No 4 Court St.


“Your letter has given me great pleasure in two ways; — first, as it assures [column 2:] me of the friendship and approbation of almost the only fearless American critic, and second (to be Irish) since it contains your acquiescence to a request which I had already many times mentally preferred to you. Had you not written you would soon have heard from me. I give you carte blanche for prose or verse as may best please you — with one exception — namely I do not wish an article like that of yours on [Rufus] Dawes, who, although I think with you that he is a bad poet, has yet I doubt not tender feelings as a man which I should be chary of wounding. I think that I shall be hardest pushed for good stories (imaginative ones) & if you are inspired to anything of the kind I should be glad to get it.

“I thank you for your kind consideration as to terms of payment, seeing that herein my ability does not come near my exuberant will. But I can offer you $10. for every article at first with the understanding that, as soon as I am able I shall pay you more according to my opinion of your deserts. If the magazine fail, I shall consider myself personally responsible to all my contributors. Let me hear from you at your earliest convenience & believe me always your friend


“E. A. POE, Esq.

“I am already (I mean my magazine) in the press — but anything sent ‘right away’ will be in season for the first number, in which I should like to have you appear.”


“BOSTON Decr 17. 1842.

“No. 4 Court St.


“I ought to have written to you before, but I have had so much to distract me, & so much to make me sick of pen & ink I could not. Your story of ‘The Telltale Heart’ will appear in my first number. Mr. [Henry Theodore] Tuckerman (perhaps your chapter on Autographs [page 171:] is to blame) would not print in the [Boston] Miscellany, & I was very glad to get it for myself. It may argue presumptuousness in me to dissent from his verdict. I should be glad to hear from you soon. You must send me another article, as my second number will soon go to press.

“Wishing you all happiness I remain your true friend — torn to pieces with little businesses —”

[Signature cut out. |

The Pioneer failed in March, 1848. The contract bound Lowell and Carter to furnish the publishers five thousand copies on the twentieth of each month under a penalty of five hundred dollars in case of failure and the publishers to take that number at a certain price. The March number was eight days late, and the publishers, in the face of what was probably seen to be an unfortunate speculation, claimed the forfeit, but offered to waive it if the contract should be altered so as to require them to take only so many copies as they could sell. The result was that the editors were obliged to stop printing from a lack of credit, and were left with a large indebtedness for manufacture as well as to contributors. It appears from Poe's letters that he was paid his small claim a year later.


“BOSTON March 24 1843.


“I have neglected writing to you too long already, in the hope of being able to remit the money I owe you. When I shall have stated the facts, I think that you will excuse my want of punctuality. The magazine was started on my own responsibility, & I relied on the payments I should receive from my publishers to keep me even with my creditors until the Magazine should be firmly established. You may conceive my distress when the very first note given me by my publishers has been protested for nonpayment, & the magazine ruined. For I was unable to go on any farther, having already incurred a debt of $1800. or more.

“I hope soon to make such arrangements [column 2:] as will enable me to borrow this sum — pay all my debts & leave [me] free to go [to] work & apply my earnings to getting the load off my shoulders. The loss of my eyes at this juncture (for I am as yet unable to use them to any extent) adds to my distress. I shall remit to you before long — meanwhile do write me on receipt of this & tell me that you forgive me for what truly is more my misfortune than my fault — & that you still regard me as ever

“Your friend in all ways


“P.S. I hear you have become an Editor [of the never realized Stylus] Is it true? I hope so; if it were only to keep our criticism in a little better trim.”


“BOSTON April 17, 1843.


“Hawthorne writes me that he shall be able to send an article [for “The Stylus”] in the course of a week or two. His terms are $5. a page, but probably, as your pages will “eat up” Copy with a less anacondalike appetite than the fine print magazines, your best plan would be to pay him so much by the article. His wife will make a drawing of his head or he will have a Daguerreotype taken, so that you can have a likeness of him.

“As to my own effigies. [Published with a sketch of lis life in Graham's.] Page has painted a head of me which is called very fine, & which is now Exhibiting (I believe) at the National Academy in New York. This might be Daguerreotyped — or I might have one taken from my head as it is now — namely in a more civilized condition — the portrait by Page having very long hair, not to mention a beard and some symptoms of moustache, & looking altogether, perhaps, too antique to be palateable to the gentle public. But you shall use your own judgement about that.

“I write now in considerable confusion, being just on the eve of quitting the office which I occupy as “attorney & Counsellor at Law”. [have given up that interesting profession, & mean to devote myself wholly to letters. I shall [page 172:] live with my father at Cambridge in the house where I was born. I shall write again soon & send you a poem and some data for a biographical sketch. Take my best love in exchange for your ready sympathy & use me always as you may have occasion as your affectionate friend.

“J. R. L.

“My address will be ‘Cambridge Mass’ in future. I do hope & trust that your magazine will succeed. Be very watchful of your publishers & agents. They must be driven as men drive swine, — take your eyes off them for an instant & they bolt between your legs & leave you in the mire.

“J. R. L.


“CAMBRIDGE May 8, 1843.


“I have been delaying to write to you from day to day in the expectation that I should have received an article from Hawthorne to send with my letter. I am now domiciled in the country & have been doing nothing but ramble about, gardening, farming, tending an increasing flock of poultry & in short, being out of doors & in active exercise as much as possible in order to restore my eyes effectually.

“I have got the idea of Hawthorne's article so fixed in my mind that I forgot that I did not send you a poem in my last. I have such a reluctance to go into the city that though [ have been here nearly three weeks I have not even brought out my Mss. yet. But I mean to do it in a day or two & shall then send you something which I hope will be to your liking. You must forgive my dilatoriness, My dear friend, the natural strength of which is increased by the pressure of my debts — a source of constantly annoying thought which prevents my doing almost anything as yet.

“With regard to a sketch of my own life my friend [ Robert] Carter thinks that he can give it better than I — and perhaps he will send you one. Meanwhile I give a few dates. I was born Feby 22 1819 in this house at Cambridge — entered Harvard College in 1834 & took [column 2:] my degree as Bachelor of Arts in regular course in 1838 — my master's degree in 1841. While in college I was one of the editors elected to edit the periodical [Harvardiana] then published by the undergraduates, & also to deliver the Class poem — a yearly performance which requires a poet every year who is created as easily by the class vote as a baronet or peer of the realm is in England. I was in the Law School under Judge Story for two years & upwards took a degree of Bachelor of Laws by force of having my name on the books as a student — & published a volume of rather crude productions (in which there is more of everybody else than of myself) in Jany, 1841. On the Mother's side I am of Scotch descent.

“I forgot to thank you for the biographical sketch of your own eventful life which you sent me. Your early poems display a maturity which astonished me & I recollect no individual (& I believe I have all the poetry that was ever written) whose early poems were anything like as good. Shelley is nearest, perhaps.

“I have greater hopes of your ‘Stylus’ than I had of my own magazine, for I think you understand editing vastly better than I shall for many years yet — & you have more of that quality — which is the Siamese twin brother of genius — industry — than I.

“I shall write again shortly meanwhile

“I am your affectionate & obliged

“friend J. R. L.”


[No date. Postmark, Boston, May 16.]


“I send you this little poem with some fears that you will be disappointed therein. But it is on the whole the most likely to please of any that I could lay my hands on — my Mss. being trusted to fortune like the Sybils leaves, & perhaps, like her's, rising in value to my mind as they decrease in number. You must tell me frankly how you like what I sent & what you should like better. Will you give me your address more particularly so that in case I have [page 173:] a package to send you I can forward it by express?

“With all truth & love

“I remain your friend

“J. R. L.

The following letter is from Robert Carter, then Lowell's intimate associate, and belongs in this place:



“June 19, 1843.


“I send you with this letter a copy of the Boston Notion, April 29, containing an abridgement which I made of the sketch of your life and writings which appeared in the Phila. Sat. Museum. I was absent from the city when it was printed and did not see the proof; consequently it is full of atrocious errors. What has become of the Stylus? I trust that it has not been found prudent to relinquish the enterprise though I fear that such is the ease. It would give the friends of pure and elevated literature in this region great pleasure to learn that it is only temporarily delayed.

“Mr. Lowell is in excellent health and his eyes have nearly recovered their usual strength. He has entirely abandoned his profession and is living at his father's house in the vicinity of this village. About a fortnight since he began to scribble vigorously and has within that period written about a thousand lines. You will see in the next Democratic Review, or at least in the August no., his longest and [piece of top cut off] blank verse and is entitled Prometheus. It contains nearly four hundred lines I think, and was written in seven or eight hours. At least, I left him one day at 11 A. M. and he had concluded to begin it immediately and when I saw him again at about 8 1/2 P. M. the same day he read to me upwards of two hundred and fifty lines and he had written besides before he began some stanzas of a long poem in ottava rima which has occupied him chiefly for the last two weeks. Graham has also a poem from him and there will be one in the next New Mirror. [column 2:]

“Within a week I have read for the first time, Pym's Narrative. I lent it to a friend who lives in the house with me, and who is a lawyer, a graduate of Harvard, and a brother of Dr. O. W. Holmes, yet is so completely deceived by the minute accuracy of some of the details, the remarks about the statements of the press, the names of people at New Bedford &c. that, though an intelligent and shrewd man he will not be persuaded that it is a fictitious work, by any arguments drawn from the book itself, though [piece of top cut off] the latter part of the narrative. I dislike to tell him that I know it to be fictitious, for to test its truthfulness I gave it to him without remark and he has so committed himself by grave criticisms on its details that I dread to undeceive him. He has crossed the Atlantic twice and commented on an inaccuracy in the description of Pym's midnight voyage with his drunken friend. I have not the book in the house and knowing nothing of the sea, did not clearly comprehend the objection, but [ think it was upon setting a ‘jib’ or some such thing upon a dismasted sloop — I know that the words ‘jib’ — ‘sloop’ & ‘only one mast’ occurred in his remarks.

“To return to a safer subject — I am extremely desirous of knowing the name of your novel in two volumes alluded to in the ‘Museum’ [this alleged novel was never named by Poe] and if it be not a secret, or one that can be confided to a stranger would be obliged by its communication. And while I am in an inquisitive mood, let me beg of you to tell me whether the name of the author of Stanley is Walter or Wm Landor and whether he has recently or will soon publish anything. Also who is the author of ‘Zoe’ and the ‘Aristocrat?’

“My address is still ‘Boston, care of Rev. Dr. Lowell.’

“Truly & respectfully

“Your friend”


“ELMWOOD, CAMBRIDGE, March 6, 1844.


“When I received your last letter I was very busily employed upon a job [page 174:] article on a subject in which I have no manner of interest. As I had nothing to say, it took me a great while to say it.

“I made an expedition to Boston to learn what I could about our lectures there, & found that the lectures for the season are now over. I mean the Society lectures. There are different gentlemen employed dilligently in lecturing upon ‘physical sciences’ & ‘the lungs’ &c &c. admission ninepence, children halfprice, but all the lectures of a more literary class are over. I spoke to the secretary of the Boston Lyceum about the probability of your success if you came experimentally, & he shook his head. It is not a matter in which I feel myself competent to judge — my bump of hope being quite too large. I asked him about engaging you for next year & he seemed very much pleased with the plan & said that the Society would be glad to do it. This course of lectures has (I think) the highest rank here.

“To speak for myself I should be delighted both to see & hear you. I like your subject too.

“The Boston people want a little independent criticism vastly. I know that we should not agree exactly, but we should at least sympathize. You occasionally state a critical proposition from which I dissent, but I am always satisfied. I care not a straw what a man says, if I that he has his grounds for it, & knows thoroughly what he is talking about. You might cut me up as much as you pleased & I should read what you said with respect, & with a great deal more of satisfaction, than most of the praise I get, affords me. It is these halfpenny ‘critics’ — these men who appeal to our democratic sympathies by exhibiting as their only credentials the fact that they are ‘practical printers’ & what not, that are ruining our literature — men who never doubt that they have a full right to pronounce upon the music of Apollo's lute, because they can criticise fitly the filing of a handsaw, & who, making a point of blundering, will commend Hercules (if they commend at all) for his skill at Omphale's distaff.

“It will please you to hear that my volume will soon reach a third edition. The editions are of five hundred each, [column 2:] but ‘run over,’ as printers say, a little so that I suppose about eleven hundred have been sold. I shall write to you again soon, giving you a sketch of my life. Outwardly it has been simple enough, but inwardly every man's life must be more or less of a curiosity. Goethe made a good distinction when he divided his own autobiography into poetry & fact.

“When will Graham give us your portrait? I hope you will have it done well when it is done, & quickly too. Writing to him a short time ago I congratulated him upon having engaged you as editor again. I recognized your hand in some of the editorial matter (critical) & missed it in the rest. 3ut I thought it would do no harm to assume the fact, as it would at least give him a hint. He tells me I am mistaken & I am sorry for it. Why could not you write an article now and then for the North American Review? I know the editor a little, & should like to get you introduced there. I think he would be glad to get an article. On the modern French School of novels for example. How should you like it? The Review does not pay a great deal ($2 a page, I believe) but the pages do not eat up copy very fast.

“I am sorry I did not know of your plan to lecture in Boston earlier. I might have done something about it. The Lyceum pays from fifty to a hundred dollars, as their purse is full or empty. I will put matters in train for next year, however

“Affectionately your friend. [Signature cut out.]

“P.S. You must not make any autobiographical deductions from my handwriting, as my hand is numb with cold. Winter has come back upon us.”

A letter, in which Lowell offered to write a sketch of Poe for Graham's, is here missing.


“ELMWOOD June 27, 1844.


“I have been stealing a kind of vacation from the pen during the last month, [page 175:] & I hope that my lying fallow for a time will increase my future crops, though I cannot bring myself to use the farmer's phrase & wish them to be ‘heavier.’ Now I ought by this time to have finished the article to accompany your head in Graham, but I have been unable to write anything. I have fits of this kind too often owing to a Constitutional indolence which was not counteracted by proper training in my childhood. You may be sure I am not one of those who follow a fashion which is hardly yet extinct, & call upon the good, easy world to accept my faults in proof of my genius. I can only mention it to ask forgiveness for my dilatoriness which springs from no want of interest but from sheer indolence — a fault — which your acquaintance with Life & Biography must have convinced you is one of the most incurable. However, I am resolved to set about it now in good earnest — I have one or two preliminary requests to make. I wish you would (if you can) write me a letter giving me in some sort a spiritual autobiography of yourself. The newspaper [The Saturday Museum containing Hirst's life of Poe] you sent me will give me enough outward facts — but I want your own estimate of your life. Of course you need not write it as if for my use merely in the writing of this article — but as to a friend. I believe that the opinion a man has of himself (if he be accustomed to self analysis) is of more worth than that of all the rest of the world. If you have a copy of your first volume (of poems) will you send it to me by Harnden, directing it to be kept till called for & writing me a line by mail to warn me of its being on the way. I will return it to you by the same conveyance — as it must be valuable to you & as you have not probably more than one copy. I never saw it, nor can I get it. If you would send at the same time any other of your writings which I could not readily get you will oblige me very much & they shall be safely returned to you.

“I agree with you that the article on Griswold's book in the Foreign Quarterly Review was fair enough as far as the Conclusions the author came to [column 2:] were concerned — though at the same time I think him as ignorant in political matters as a man can well be — in short ignorant to the full to be a Reviewer — But you are mistaken as to the authorship of it. It was not (I am quite sure) written by Dickens, but by a friend of his named Forster (or Foster) — the author of a book named ‘Statesmen of the time of Cromwell.’ Dickens may have given him hints. ...

“I shall send you my sketch of course before it is printed, so that you can make any suggestions you like or suppress it altogether. I wish it to please you rather than the public.

“Affectionately your friend

“J. R. L.


“ELMWOOD Dec 12. 1844


“You will forgive me for not writing sooner & for writing so little now, when I tell you that I have been for some time keeping a printing office agoing at the rate of from eight to twenty pages a day. I am printing a volume of prose (in conversation form) about poets and everything else, [“Conversations on Some of the Old Poets”] & not having prepared my copy, am obliged to write & print at once. You will like some parts of the book and dislike others.

“My object in writing this is to introduce you to my friend Charles F. Briggs, who is about to start a literary weekly paper [The Broadway Journal] in New York & desires your aid. He was here a month or two since, & I took the liberty of reading to him what I had written about you & to day I received a letter from him announcing his plan & asking your address. Not knowing it, & not having time to write him I thought that the shortest way would be to introduce you to him. He will pay & I thought from something you said in your last letter that pay would be useful to you. I also took the liberty of praising you to a Mr. Colton, who has written ‘Tecumseh’ ... & whom I suspect, from some wry faces he made on first hearing your name, you have cut up. He is publishing [page 176:] a magazine & I think I convinced him that it would be for his interest to engage you permanently. But I know nothing whatever of his ability to pay.

‘Tam not to be married till I have been delivered of my book; which will probably be before Christmas, & I shall spend the winter in Philadelphia. I shall only stop one night in New York on my way on. Returning I shall make a longer stay & shall of course see you. You will like Briggs & he will edit an excellent paper. Opposite, I write a note to him.

“Yr. affectionate friend


“P.S. You must excuse me if I have blundered in recommending you to Colton. I know nothing of your circumstances save what I gleaned from your last letter, &, of course, said nothing to him which I might not say as an entire stranger to you. It is never safe to let an editor (as editors go) know that an author wants his pay.

“I was in hopes that I should have been able to revise my sketch of you before it appeared. It was written under adverse circumstances & was incomplete. If you do not like this method of getting acquainted, send Briggs your address. His is No 1 Nassau St. I never wrote an introductory letter before & do not own a complete letter writer — so you must excuse any greenness about it.” [column 2:]

The acquaintance which the foregoing letters illustrate was not destined to good fortune. There had been mutual good-will and respect, with kindly oftices, on both sides. The connection of Poe with Briggs in the editorial conduct of The Broadway Journal was the occasion of an exchange of views and facts between Briggs and Lowell which left Poe's reputation very much impaired in Lowell's judgment. Poe's admiration for “the author of ‘ Rosaline,” on the other hand, did not survive the lines in “The Fable for Critics,” in which his own portrait was not inaptly drawn; after Briggs ceased to be his co-editor Poe attacked Lowell as a plagiarist, and the latter expressed his resentment at length in a passage to be found in his published ‘ Letters.’ Lowell, too, had lately met Poe just recovering from a spree, and the impression then received was sufficient of itself to terminate their relations. A short time after, in October, 1845, occurred the public scandal of Poe's visit to Boston to read a poem before the Boston Lyceum, which confirmed him in his lifelong dislike of the Bostonians. Later, in an unpublished letter to Mr. F. W. Thomas, early in 1849, Poe denounced Lowell with some contempt, and made a public disclosure of his changed attitude by an unfavorable review of “The Fable for Critics,” in the Southern Literary Messenger, in February of that year.






[S:0 - SM, August 1894] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Lowell's Letters to Poe (George E. Woodberry, 1894)