Text: William Gowans, “[Reminiscences of Edgar A. Poe],” Catalogue of American Books, No. 28, 1870, p. 11


­ [page 11, continued:]

PYM, ARTHUR GORDON, Narrative of, of Nantucket, N. A. Comprising the details of a mutiny, famine, and shipwreck, during a voyage to the South Seas, resulting in various Extraordinary Adventures and Discoveries in the 84th Parallel of South Latitude. By Edgar A. Poe. 12mo, cloth, $1.50.

London, 1838

“We must go back to the days of the early dramatists — of Marlowe, Dekker, Ford, Massinger, and Otway, before we shall find in the history of Literature any parallel to the wild and morbid genius, and the reckless and miserable life and death of Edgar Allen [[Allan]] Poe. Never was there a sadder story than that of his wayward and infatuated youth, his wasted opportunities, his estranged friends, his poverty stricken manhood, his drunken degradation, his despairing efforts to reform, his gradual sinking into lower and lower depths of profligacy and misery, till at last he died of delirium tremens in an hospital, at the age of thirty-eight. And his poetical genius, his extraordinary analytic power, his imagination that revelled in the realm of the awful, the weird, and the horrible; his utter lack of truth and honor, his inveterate selfishness, his inordinate vanity and insane folly, all go to make a picture so strange and sad that it cannot easily be forgotten. We believe that this extraordinary man is but little known in this country; and we think our readers may be interested by a few pages given to some account of his life and works.” . . FRASERS MAGAZINE.

The foregoing may, and doubtless has a certain amount of truth in it; but I apprehend if it was stripped of its exuberant trimmings, and melted down into solidity, it would very much resemble a certain old woman’s story, who with staring eyes and uplifted hands, told her credulous neighbors, that she that morning saw not less than fifty foxes cross the bridge in one herd. When it is known that this little animal is not gregarious, but a solitary wanderer in the lonely retreats, the story sounded incredible. Very shortly afterwards a skeptical neighbor not giving full credit to the marvelous, nor having the fear of God before his eyes touching in the belief in the said old woman’s narrative, concluded to sift the story to the bottom. The result revealed that not fifty foxes crossed the bridge, but one, pursued by a dog, and witnessed by a large tom cat who sat upon the bulwark. The characters drawn of Poe by his various biographers and critics may with safety be pronounced an excess of exaggeration, but this is not to be much wondered at, when it is taken into consideration that these men were rivals either as poets or prose writers, and it is well that such are generally as jealous of each other as are the ladies who are handsome, or those who desire to be considered possessed of the coveted quality. It is an old truism and as true as it is old, “that in the midst of counsel there is safety.” I therefore will also show you my opinion of this gifted but unfortunate genius. It may be estimated as worth little, but it has this merit; it comes from an eye and ear witness, and this, it must be remembered is the very highest of legal evidence. For eight months, or more, “one house contained us, us one table fed.” During that time I saw much of him, and had an opportunity of conversing with him often, and I must say I never saw him the least affected with liquor, nor even descend to any known vice, while he was one of the most courteous, gentlemanly, and intelligent companions I have met with during my journeyings and haltings through divers divisions of the globe; besides, he had an extra inducement to be a good man as well as a good husband, for he had a wife of matchless beauty and loveliness, her eye could match that of any houri, and her face defy the genius of a Canova to imitate; a temper and disposition of surpassing sweetness; besides, she seemed as much devoted to him and his every interest as a young mother is to her first born.* During this time he wrote his longest prose romance, entitled the Adventures of Arthur Gordon Pym. This was the most unsuccessful of all his writings, although published by the influential house of Harper & Brothers, who have the means of distributing a single edition of any book in one week, still it did not sell. Poe had a remarkably pleasing and prepossessing countenance, what the ladies would call decidedly handsome. The most authentic portrait of him accompanies the edition of his Tales published by J. S. Redfield, 2 vols.; New York, 1850. All other attempts at giving his likeness appear to be caricatures even to the London issue. He died after a brief and fitful career at Baltimore, October, 1849, where his remains lie interred in an obscure burying-ground.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 11:]

*  He thus writes of his wife in one of his most plaintive and beautiful poems:

“But our love it was stronger by far than the love

Of those who were older than we,

Of many far wiser than we.

And neither the angels in heaven above,

Nor the demons down under the sea,

[[Can]] Ever dissever my soul from the soul

Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.[[”]]



The quotations “one house contained us” and “one table fed us” both appear to have been adapted from The Illiad, by Homer, although depending on the translation they occur in different phrasing and proximity. In an 1796 translation by Alexander Pope, line 105 of the twenty-third book (often called, in more modern editions, “Funeral Games in Honor of Patroclus”) reads: “One house received us, and one table fed.”

A scan of this item, from the very scarce original edition of the catalog, was graciously provided to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore by Bruce McKinney, of Americana Exchange. Another copy of the isolated page appears as item #514 in the Ingram Collection, where it is improperly dated only as “post 1850.” A number of references in the catalog of the Ingram Collection also refer to the item by Gowans as having appeared in a catalog of Western Memorabilia, which was actually the pen name Gowans often used for his notes. In this case, however, the note is not signed.

The most significant portions of these reminiscences have been frequently quoted, but the full text and context of the information has not been reprinted since it was originally published in 1870.


[S:1 - GCAB, 1870] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Reminiscences of Edgar Allan Poe (W. Gowans, 1870)