Text: John Hill Hewitt, “Edgar Allan Poe,” Presbyterian Observer (Baltimore, MD), October or November 1883


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[For The Presbyterian Observer.]




About the time of the dedication of the memorial stone in the grave yard of Westminster Presbyterian church, Baltimore, there appeared in the papers of the day a number of sketches of the life and character of Edgar Allan Poe. Some were unbecomingly bitter and others fulsome in their tone. In order to show the readers of your OBSERVER of the week before last what reliance is to be placed in the statement of R. H. Stoddard, I will merely make an extract from an article, written by myself at the request of the editor of the Baltimorean, which appeared in the columns of that paper at the time alluded to:

“The ignis fatuus prosperity of the Saturday Visitor (published by Messrs. Cloud & Pouder, and edited by myself), induced the proprietors to offer two premiums for two of the best literary productions by Baltimoreans — a tale, for which $100 were offered, and a poem, the value of which was fixed at $50. Some fifty of sixty productions, in both prose and poetry, were sent in — the names of the writers, according to the arrangement, being in separate envelopes. The committee (appointed by Messrs. Cloud & Pouder,) John H. B. Latrobe, Esq., Hon. John P. Kennedy, and Dr. James H. Miller, after detaining the MSS. several days, reported the result of their labors. The first premium was awarded to Edgar Allan Poe, for a wild story entitled, “A Manuscript Found in a Bottle,” the second to a poem bearing the title of “The Song of the Winds,” by John H. Hewitt. The report of the gentlemen composing the committee, stated that the contest for the second premium was narrowed down to a poem by Poe called the “Colliseum [[Coliseum]]” and another entitled the “Song of the Winds,” by Hewitt. In consideration of the former having received the first award, they thought it nothing more than right that the latter should receive the [column ?:] second, when the contest was so close. Poe received his money with many thanks. I preferred a silver goblet which is now in the possession of my family.

The glory of the achievement was merely ephemeral, for, with the public the affair was soon forgotten. Not so with my testy competitor. He had found a mare’s nest, and was determined to abstract the egg therefrom. A week or two after the awards were made, I met the irritable poet at the corner of Gay and Baltimore streets, immediately in front of the Visitor office. This meeting was anything but pleasant to both of us.

He had taken it into his head that I, being the known editor of the journal, therefore, should not have become a competetor [[competitor]] for either of the prizes. I did not deny holding that position, but I denied using any underhanded means to bias a committee of gentlemen so well-known to the public as men of honor and integrity. The committee did not know me as editor of the Visitor — they did not know who was the author of the poem until they had consulted the sealed envelope; when they did this they found the name of Henry Wilton, a name which I had used instead of my own; and when Mr. Latrobe asked me who Henry Wilton was, I told him that I represented that obscure personage.

Some years subsequently I met Poe on Pennsylvania avenue, Washington. His appearance was woe-begone, his features haggard and his expressive eye had lost its lustre. I thought, on the instant, of four lines in his poem of “Al Aaraaf.”

“Beyond that death no immortality —

But sleep that pondereth and is not ‘to be’ —

And there — oh, may my weary spirit dwell —

Apart from Heaven’s eternity — and yet how far from Hell!”

He offered me his hand, and asked if I would “let by-gones be by-gonse?” Of course I did not turn my back on him — but relieved his wants to the best of my ability. I never saw him after that.

Mr. Stoddard has made several glaring mistakes in his sketch of Poe. Instead of the prizes being offered to the “aspiring literati of America,” the contest was limited to writers of Baltimore alone. The elegance of Poe’s penmanship drew the attention of one of the committee and he called the notice of the others to the beauty of the book, and “they decided to read no more of the manuscripts, but to give the prize to the first of geniuses who had written legibly.” This reads like a left-handed compliment to the distinguished committee: — they judged the merits of the composition by the style of the writer’s penmanship! The writer’s description of Poe’s outward man when he “rushed at once before the publisher of the Saturday Visitor” is mere fancy’s sketch; Poe was remarkably neat in his dress. As I have stated above, I was not “the publisher of the Visitor.”

I thank you, for your kindly notice of me, and at the same time, though cherishing a strong Southern feeling, I claim New York City as my birth-place. You are also in error when you place Dr. Robinson on the committee.


Baltimore, October, 1883.




The present text is taken from a clipping that was kept by J. H. Hewitt in a scrapbook. No copies of the Presbyterian Observer for 1883 have been located. Similarly, no copies of the Baltimorean for 1875 have been located. The recollections are essentially the same as given by Hewitt on other occasions, including his book Shadows on the Wall (Baltimore: Trunbull Bros., 1877), pp. 154-157.

The article to which Hewitt was replying was also saved as a clipping in the scrapbook:

R. H. STODDARD, in his sketch of Poe, 1875, wrote:

“It is the summer, or early autumn of 1833, and the proprietors of the Saturday Visitor have offered two prizes to the aspiring literati of America — one for the best tale that may be sent them, the other for the best poem. Among those who competed was Poe, who submitted a poem and six prose sketches. The elegance of his penmanship tempted one of the committee who was to make the award to read several pages of the MS. volume in which these sketches were written. He was interested in them, as were also the others, so much so that they decided to read no more of the manuscripts, but to give the prizes to “the first of geniuses who had written legibly.” When the confidential envelope was opened, it was found that the writer’s name was Poe, and Mr. Poe was accordingly notified by advertisement of his success. He waited at once upon the publisher of the Saturday Visitor, who was moved by his appearance. This gentleman described Poe to one of the committee, Mr. John P. Kennedy, author of “Swallow Barn” and “Horse Shoe Robinson,” whose sympathies were excited in his behalf, and who desired that he should call upon him. He came just as he was (the prize money not having been paid him), thin, pale, with the marks of sickness and destitution in his face. His seedy coat, buttoned up tight to the chin, concealed the absence of a shirt. Less successful were his boots, through whose crevices his lack of hose was seen. Out at elbows as he was, the gentleman was apparent in his bearing, and the man of genius in his conversation.

Half a century has passed since then. The Saturday Visitor exists only as a thing of the past, — the brilliant Poe, as well as the gifted Kennedy, have long since passed from earth, but elsewhere, from a lover of the poet, will be found a tribute to the then publisher of the Visitor, Prof. Hewitt, a well-preserved specimen of a courtly Southern gentleman of the olden time. J. H. B. Latrobe, who with Kennedy and Dr. Robinson formed the committee to award the offered prizes, still lives — one of Baltimore’s most distinguished citizens, distinguished for his scientific knowledge, and as one of the few surviving members of the American Colonization Society.



[S:1 - CM, 1883] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe (S. A. T. Weiss, 1883)