Text: George Lippard, “Edgar A. Poe,” Dodge’s Literary Museum (Boston), vol. 9, no. 20, October 21, 1854, pp. 315-316


­[page 315, column 4:]





ON a hot summer day, when the cholera was in the city, there came up four stairways into a printing-office, a slender man, poorly clad, and with but one shoe. It’s funny, I know; but he had but one shoe. There may have been genius written on his broad forehead, and the large love of a pure but neglected intellect in his clear eyes — but he was poorly clad, and had but one shoe to his feet. He came stealthily up stairs, as if conscious that the world had forsaken him, and that he was an intruder anywhere. He sat quietly down, near a table where a young man — an author — was writing. Then the poet — for the man shabbily clad was a poet — spoke to the author, and told him how he had no bread to eat, no place to sleep, not one friend in God’s world. He besought the author not to forsake him.

“You are my last hope. If you fail me, I can do nothing but die.”

You may be sure that the words which he spoke, and the voice in which he spoke them, went straight home to the author’s heart. He had not seen the poet for some time. But he remembered how that poet had once a quiet home, lightened by the smile of a wife — how he, the author, had often sat by him, and listened to him, as he poured out, free and unrestrained, the full thought of his heart. And the heart of the author sickened within him, to see a man like this in want of bread — in want of a bed to sleep upon.

But the fun of the thing was, the author had just paid his last quarter’s rent, and was without a penny in the world. He must therefore go forth, on that dreary summer’s day, and endeavor to gain a few pence for the poet, from among the class who grew rich upon the labors of those beggarly devils — authors and poets.

“Tell them that I am sick. That I have not a bed to sleep upon. That I only want enough to get me out of Philadelphia. Tell them plainly. For God’s sake, don’t fail me. You’re my last hope.”

The author went out. Sick himself, and poor, he went from door to door, but everybody was out of town. It was a wretched day; cholera bulletins upon every newspaper door, and a hot sun pouring down over half-deserted streets. The author was taken sick, and had just strength enough to get to his own house.

Next morning, just after daybreak, he hurried down to the printing-office, and found the poet there, sitting at the table in one corner, his head between his hands.

“I thought you had deserted me,” he said, and tears came into his eyes.

This was strange, for he was not the man for that kind of thing. Then he told him how he had waited there the day before — how he had paced those streets of Philadelphia, which to the poor are as full of hope as the hottest and dreariest piece of sand in Sahara — how the very heart was broke within him.

He also told how, before he came to see the author, the day previous, he had waited upon more than one person, whose eminence in literature was owing to his criticisms, and how these eminent persons had suffered him to wait in ante-rooms and offices, while their very lackeys amused themselves by saying,

“There’s ———. He’s drunk again.”

“And now you’re my last hope. Get me out of Philadelphia. For God’s sake, do it. ­[page 316, column 1:] I’m heart-sick for Virginia. I’m freer there than in any other place. If I can only feel my boot upon Virginia soil, I’ll be a new man.”

The author heard words like these from the lips of the poet, and went out, and after some searching, found five men in Philadelphia, who agreed to give a small sum in behalf of the poet. Three of these men were Magazine publishers. They acted like men. One was a clerk — he gave all he had — a dollar. Another was a man, who not only gave, but came to the printing-office, and invited the poet to his home.

You should have seen the poet’s face, when the author came back to the printing-office, and told him of the success of his labors. There was a grasp of the hand, and a look of the face, which said much more than words. There was a tremor of the poet’s lip, when the author told him of a certain publisher who had refused to give one dollar.

“Not a dollar!” said the publisher, when he was asked; “not a dollar.”

The man who was with the author (we need not tell his name,) took the poet home, and the three spent the day together. That night those friends accompanied him to the cars, and saw him depart, after hearing his last words. They never saw him again.

But they never forgot that saddest of all sights — a great man whose genius had enriched publishers, begging his bread in Philadelphia, on a hot summer’s day.

One day, news came that the poet was dead. All at once the world found out his greatness. Literary hucksters who had lied about him, booksellers who had left him to starve, gentlemen of literature, who had seen him walk the hot streets of Philadelphia without food or shelter — these all opened their floodgates of eulogy, and slavered with panegyric the man whom living they would have seen die in the next ditch without one effort to save him.

This is the joke of the thing.

One day the poet sits in a printing-office, up four pair of stairs, one shoe to his feet, his only friend a miserable devil of an author, who is not only poor, but also an infidel; the next day the poet is dead, and from Maine to the Rio Grande the critics tune their pipes, and all the booksellers, the hucksters who make books for booksellers, the critics who live in perfumes, and write with gold ink on gilt-edged paper, all burst out into one long loud ejaculation,

“Great is the poet who is dead! Allah il Allah! Allah bismallah!” — Philadelphia Sunday Mercury.





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