Text: John H. Ingram, “Edgar Allan Poe,” Temple Bar (London), vol. XLI, no. 3, June 1874, pp. 375-387


[page 375:]

Edgar Poe.


UNTIL the present moment Dr. Griswold’s ‘Memoir’ of Edgar Poe has been accepted, almost unquestioned, in Europe: in America its correctness has been frequently and authoritatively impugned. Baudelaire in France, and Mr. Moy Thomas in England,* it is true, have ventured to question the truth of the reverend gentleman’s account of Poe’s life, but, twenty-four years after the poet’s decease, we still find ourselves the first in this country to appear before the public with any proofs of the thorough untrustworthiness of the said ‘Memoir.’ The present is not an occasion for a full and critical examination of the biography by Dr. Griswold, but we confidently believe that enough evidence can be adduced here to prove that when Mr. Graham styled it “the fancy sketch of a jaundiced vision,” he was but giving utterance to the truth. Writers in search of a sensational subject are prone to resort to Poe’s life for a point to their moral; but we must content ourselves with the barest and most unsophisticated narration of his career, as gathered from fresh evidence, merely pointing out on our course his biographer’s more palpable deviations from the fact.

Edgar Poe could boast of gentle lineage; a fact, probably, of little value, save that it explains to some extent the delicacy of his feelings and fancies. Descended from the old Norman family of the Le Poers, the race would appear to have retained its position in society until our hero’s father forsook jurisprudence to elope with an actress. After having “donned the sock” himself for a few years, David Poe died, and within a few weeks of his youthful bride, leaving three children, Henry, Edgar, and Rosalie, utterly destitute. Mr. John Allan, a wealthy merchant, and a friend of the family, having no children of his own, following a common American custom, adopted the boy Edgar and his sister Rosalie. Of this girl we learn no more, save that she is still alive and in a state of utter destitution.

Edgar Poe was born in Baltimore, but when is still doubtful. Griswold, and other biographers copying him, say in January, 1811, and this date is alleged to have been taken from a letter of the poet’s, but those who have investigated the ‘Memoir’ will probably be inclined [page 376:] to question its correctness. Poe, in his wonderful story of ‘William Wilson,’ speaks of passing the third lustrum of his life at Dr. Bransby’s, and if that might be accepted as a fact it would, by antedating his birth some few years, get rid of several singular anomalies in his biography. Griswold frequently overlooks the necessity of being accurate in his dates. On the very first page of his ‘Memoir,’ in order to avail himself of a ridiculous anecdote communicated to him by “an eminent and estimable gentleman,” of Poe’s conduct at a school in Richmond, Virginia, when he “was only six or seven years of age,” he disregards the fact that, according to his own account, his hero was then and had been for two years past in England.

Accepting the date recorded by all his biographers, his adopted parents brought Poe to England in 1816, and placed him at the Manor House School, Church Street, Stoke Newington. The school was then kept by the Rev. Dr. Bransby, and would appear to have been situated in grounds of considerable extent, although now sadly shorn of their proportions. The poet’s description of the place must be taken cum grano salis, and the oft quoted recollections of ‘William Wilson’ may well be referred to the usually exaggerated dimensions of childhood’s reminiscences. In 1822, after a residence of five years in England, he returned to the United States, and, says Griswold, “after passing a few months at an academy in Richmond, entered the University at Charlottesville, Virginia, where he led a very dissipated life. The manners which then prevailed there were extremely dissolute, and he was known as the wildest and most reckless student of his class; but his unusual opportunities, and the remarkable ease with which he mastered the most difficult studies, kept him all the while in the first rank for scholarship.” The “gambling, intemperance, and other vices,” which “induced,” says this biographer, “his expulsion from the university,” must have been the result of extraordinary precocity, because, if this authority is reliable in his dates, Poe was now in the eleventh or twelfth year of his age!

If the ‘William Wilson’ theory may be accepted, and the statement of Mr. Powell, in his sketches of ‘The Authors of America,’ that Poe went to “various academies” previous to entering the Charlottesville University, be borne in mind, the poet’s age would be from fifteen to twenty during his collegiate career. Notwithstanding his alleged dissoluteness, this precocious boy, according to his more reliable biographers, actually found means to obtain the first honours of his college, and at the conclusion of his university career, instead of being expelled, as Griswold asserts, left alma mater with the intention of aiding the Greeks in their struggles for independence. A mere boy, Poe would appear to have joined in the various pastimes of his fellow students, but that he made himself notorious by “his gambling, intemperance, and other vices,” would appear to be in direct contradiction [page 377:] to all unprejudiced evidence now obtainable. Griswold admits that at this period Poe was noted for feats of hardihood, strength and activity, and that “on one occasion, in a hot day of June, he swam from Richmond to Warwick, seven miles and a half, against a tide running probably from two to three miles an hour.” Certainly a wonderful performance for a dissolute youth, and one that if not vouched for on good authority, might well have been relegated to the depths of the Doctor’s imagination. Apart from his athletic feats, Poe’s great abilities enabled him to maintain a respectable position in the eyes of the professors. “His time,” remarks Powell, “was divided between lectures, debating societies, rambles in the Blue Ridge mountains, and in making caricatures of his tutors and the heads of the colleges.” He was a clever draughtsman, and is stated to have had the habit of covering the walls of his dormitory with rough charcoal sketches. “Rousing himself,” adds Powell, “from this desultory course of life, he took the first honours of the college, and returned home.”

Poe left the Charlottesville University with the intention of emulating Byron in his efforts on behalf of the Greeks. In conjunction with an acquaintance, Ebenezer Burling, the future poet purposed proceeding to Greece to take part in the struggle against the Turks, but his companion’s heart failing him, Poe had to undertake the perilous journey alone. This act of chivalry on the part of the youthful adventurer was undertaken in 1827, when, according to his biographers, he had attained the prematurely mature age of sixteen! The would-be warrior got no further than St. Petersburg, where he was arrested in consequence of an irregularity in his passport, and was only saved from further difficulty through the exertions of the American consul, by whose friendly assistance he was, moreover, enabled to return to his native land, the recognition of Greece by the allied powers rendering his aid no longer necessary. It should be noted that Griswold states his young countryman’s troubles at St. Petersburg arose “from penalties incurred in a drunken debauch;” but this allegation was denied directly it appeared in print; its author never attempted to support it by evidence of any description, and every other native biographer gives the story as we have told it.

On his return home poor Poe found a sad change. Mrs. Allan, who seems to have acted a mother’s part to him, and whom he would appear to have regarded with deep affection, was dead. He was too late even to take a last farewell of his only friend, her funeral having taken place the day before he reached Richmond. Mrs. Allan died on the 27th of February, 1829, and from that day his biographers very justly date all his misfortunes. Mr. Allan, who does not appear to have manifested much pleasure at his adopted son’s return, when Poe declared his resolution of devoting himself to a military life seems to have assisted him in obtaining an appointment in West Point [page 378:] Military Academy. “Here he entered upon his new studies and duties,” remarks Powell, “with characteristic energy, and an honourable career was opened to him; but the fates willed it that Mr. Allan should marry a girl young enough to be her husband’s granddaughter;” and this event, Poe was soon made to feel as a deathblow to his hopes of succeeding to his adopted father’s property, in accordance with that person’s oft-expressed intention. Here again it is necessary to revert to Dr. Griswold’s ‘Memoir’ to contradict his emphatic statement that Mr. Allan, on his second marriage, so far from being sixty-five years of age, as “stated by all Poe’s biographers . . . was in his forty-eighth year.” He seems to have re-married in a twelvemonth after his first wife’s death, and yet the careless recorder of the event, forgetting on the very next page his declaration of the “forty-eighth year,”allows him to die in the spring of 1834, or barely four years later, at fifty-four instead of fifty-two years of age.* The point is hardly worth quibbling over save that it is another specimen of Griswold’s want of accuracy. Common sense would show that a man who had been so long married and so hopeless of offspring as to have adopted two non-related children in 1814-15 was more likely to be nearer sixty-five than forty-eight in 1830.

Whether the truth lies with all the other biographers or with the Doctor, as regards this circumstance, matters little; it suffices to say that Poe but too speedily discovered, after Mr. Allan’s second marriage, that affairs had altered to his detriment at home. The birth of a son to his adopted father was made the means of completely alienating that man from his hitherto reputed heir, and poor Edgar found all his pecuniary prospects suddenly blighted. The unfortunate cadet’s allowance being entirely withdrawn he was compelled to leave West Point, and resolved to proceed to Poland, to aid the patriots of that nation in their struggle to shake off the Russian yoke. Here again it is requisite to refer to a statement of Griswold’s, to the effect that Poe parted in anger from Mr. Allan, who refused in any way to assist him further, because, “according to Poe’s own statement, he ridiculed the marriage of his ‘patron with Miss Paterson and had a quarrel with her; but a different story, scarcely suitable for repetition here, was told by the friends of the other party.” The different story is then referred to in a note as hinted at by the writer of an ‘Eulogium’ upon the life and genius of Mr. Poe, in the ‘Southern Literary Messenger,’ for March, 1850. To this ‘Eulogium’ and its author, we shall again refer, merely contenting ourselves now with stating that this tale can only be spoken of as unsupported by a tittle of evidence. [page 379:]

On the 6th of September, 1831, the unequal conflict in Poland was ended by the fall of Warsaw. The news reached the chivalric poet in time to prevent his departure, but left him once more aimless, and almost resourceless. In 1827, in happier times, Poe had published a small volume of poems, which ran through three editions — a fact Dr. Griswold forgets to mention — and which appears to have received the warm commendations of local critics. Griswold asserts that it included ‘Al Aaraaf’ and ‘Tamerlane,’ pieces since republished in the collected edition; but this would not appear to have been the case; and the poet’s own reference to those poems being “reprinted verbatim from the original edition” — as if to refute his biographer’s suggestion that they had been constantly revised — applies to the volume of 1830-31. Of the former work the only poem preserved would appear to be the sweet little lyric ‘To Helen,’ embalmed by Lowell in his sympathetic sketch of its author. Encouraged by this illusory success, Poe started for Baltimore, where he turned to literature as a means of subsistence. He quickly found that the waters of Helicon were anything but Pactolian; and although some of his finest stories were written at this time, and accepted by the magazines, they were scarcely ever paid for, and at last the unfortunate man was absolutely and literally starving.

At this period of the terrible tale, as frightful as the most dramatic of his own stories, Poe, according to Griswold, enlisted as a private soldier, was recognised by some officers who had known him at West Point, and who made efforts, with prospects of success, to obtain a commission for him, when it was discovered by his friends that he had deserted. About the whole of this story there is that air of improbability which the reverend doctor is so fond of. Of the many lives of the poet, by friends and foes, published in America, Griswold alone mentions the circumstance, and as his ‘Memoir’ has been authoritatively stigmatised by Mrs. Sarah Whitman, and others, for containing anecdotes which “are utterly fabulous,” it must be regarded with grave suspicion. There is one fact which renders it very improbable: Poe went to Baltimore in 1830, and was in that city in 1833. Griswold places the affair between those dates, stating, “how long he remained in the service I have not been able to ascertain.” Is it likely that a man so well known as Poe was would have enlisted, deserted, and yet have remained in a place where he was so generally known? or that his friends would not have encouraged him to remain in the army to wait the result of their exertions?

In 1833, the proprietor of the ‘Baltimore Saturday Visitor’ offered premiums for the best prose story and the best poem, and to adjudicate upon the mass of papers sent in three well known men were obtained. The committee included the Honourable John P. Kennedy, author of the well known fiction, ‘Horse-Shoe Kobinson.’ “The [page 380:] umpires,” remarks Powell, “were men of taste and ability, and after a careful consideration of the productions, they decided that Poe was undoubtedly entitled to both prizes. As Poe was entirely unknown to them, this was a genuine tribute to his superior merit.” The poem sent was ‘The Coliseum,’ and it was accompanied by six stories for selection; “not content with awarding the premium, they” (i.e. the committee) “declared that the worst of the six tales referred to was better than the best of the other competitors.” Griswold, enlarging upon the ‘Eulogium’ already referred to, tells the story of the award in the following manner. We leave our reader to judge the value of Dr. Griswold’s ‘Memoir’ by this fact alone, if he will compare the extract we now give with the official report given below:

“Such matters are usually disposed of in a very off-hand way. Committees to award literary prizes drink to the payer’s health in good wines, over unexamined MSS., which they submit to the discretion of publishers, with permission to use their names in such a way as to promote the publisher’s advantage. So, perhaps, it would have been in this case, but that one of the committee, taking up a little book remarkably beautiful and distinct in caligraphy, was tempted to read several pages; and becoming interested, he summoned the attention of the company to the half-dozen compositions it contained. It was unanimously decided that the prizes should be paid to ‘the first of geniuses who had written legibly.’ Not another MS. was unfolded. Immediately the ‘confidential envelope’ was opened, and the successful competitor was found to bear the scarcely known name of Poe.”

Thus runs the printed report of the committee, published with the award on the 12th of October, 1833, and republished in the ‘Southern Literary Messenger,’ previous to Poe’s assuming the editorial management of that magazine:

“Amongst the prose articles were many of various and distinguished merit, but the singular force and beauty of those sent by the author of ‘The Tales of the Folio Club,’ leave us no room for hesitation in that department. We have accordingly awarded the premium to a tale entitled the ‘MS. found in a Bottle.’ It would hardly be doing justice to the writer of this collection to say that the tale we have chosen is the best of the six offered by him. We cannot refrain from saying that the author owes it to his own reputation as well as to the gratification of the community, to publish the entire volume (‘Tales of the Folio Club’). These tales are eminently distinguished by a wild, vigorous, and poetical imagination, a rich style, a fertile invention, and varied and curious learning.

(Signed) “John P. Kennedy,

“J. H. B. Latrobe, and

“James H. Miller.”

Comment on this is needless.

From this time Poe’s affairs mended, and his writings were not only sought after but paid for by the publishers. In the spring of the year following (1834) Mr. Allan died, and of his property, to quote the elegant words of Griswold, “ not a mill was bequeathed to [page 381:] Poe,” and, it is alleged, the widow of his adopted father “even refused him his own books.” Early in 1835, the poet began to contribute poems, tales and reviews to the ‘Southern Literary Messenger,’ a newly-established monthly magazine. Mr. Kennedy, after a year and a half’s friendship with Poe, had advised him to forward a paper to Mr. White, the proprietor of the above publication. He did so; became a regular contributor, and in May, 1835, he was made editor, at a salary of five hundred dollars per annum. The accession of the new editor worked wonders in the’ Southern Literary Messenger,’ in a short time raising its circulation from four hundred to three thousand. Its success was partially due to the originality and fascination of Poe’s stories, and partially owing to the fearlessness of his trenchant critiques. He was no respecter of persons, and already began to rouse the small fry of bookmakers by his crucial dissection of their mediocrities. “He had a scorn,” says Powell, “of the respectable level trash which has too long brooded over American literature. Poe did not like tamely to submit to the dethronement of genius. . . . What gods and men abhor, according to Horace, a certain class of critics and readers in America adore.” Amongst the best of his productions at this period was the ‘Adventure of Hans Pfaal,’ which appeared in the ‘Literary Messenger’ three weeks previous to the appearance of Mr. Richard Lock’s ‘Moon Story,’ which indeed it probably suggested, although, from the way in which Griswold alludes to ‘Hans Pfaal’ being “in some respects very similar to Mr. Lock’s” story, one is led to believe our poet the copier instead of the copied.

In September, 1835, Poe, who had hitherto performed his editorial duties at a distance, found it necessary to leave Baltimore for Richmond, where the ‘Messenger’ was published. Again amongst his kindred, he met his cousin Virginia Clemm, a girl in years, and already manifesting signs of consumption; but undeterred by this or by their poverty, the poor poet was wedded to his kinswoman. He continued the direction of the ‘Messenger’ until January, 1837, when he left it for the more lucrative employment of assisting Professors Anthon, Hawkes, and Henry, in the management of the ‘New York Quarterly Review.’ Griswold, it is true, states that he was dismissed from the ‘Messenger’ on account of his irregularities, and he quotes a goody letter from its deceased proprietor, upbraiding him for getting drunk, but promising to allow him to “again become an assistant in my office” on condition that he forswore the bottle. Unsupported by other evidence, we should doubt the truth of this extract. Undated, addressed to a gentleman who has raised his publication to a profitable and famous circulation, and who would appear at this time to have been married, is it probable that Poe would have been termed “an assistant in my office,” and offered “quarters in my house,” by Mr. White, who, like all the authorities referred to by this [page 382:] biographer in corroboration of his allegations, save the writer of the aforementioned ‘Eulogium,’ unfortunately dies before the charge is brought?

In 1837 Poe wrote some of his slashing critiques for the ‘New York Review,’ and by them, says Powell, “made many enemies.” In July of the same year, he also completed and published his wonderful narrative of ‘Arthur Gordon Pym.’ Griswold displays his usual animus by stating that “it received little attention,” and that in England, “being mistaken at first for a narrative of real experiences, it was advertised to be reprinted, but a discovery of its character, I believe, prevented such a result.” In truth, it was in a short interval twice reprinted in England, and did obtain considerable notice, “the air of truth” which, it is suggested, was only in the attempt, having excited much interest in the book.

The heavy ‘Review’ work was not in Poe’s line, and at the end of a year he left New York for Philadelphia, where he was engaged on the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine,’ since merged into ‘Graham’s.’ In May 1839 he was appointed editor of this publication, and, as usual, “came down pretty freely with his critical axe.” At the same time he contributed tales and papers to various other magazines, so that, although obliged to labour severely, he began to get a fair livelihood. In the autumn of this year he published a collection of his best stories, in two volumes, under the title of ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.’

Poe edited the ‘Gentleman’s’ until June, 1840, when it changed hands, and became known as ‘Graham’s Magazine.’ Griswold states that Mr. Burton, the former proprietor of the publication, found the poet so unreliable, that he “was never sure when he left the city that his business would be cared for,” and sometimes had to perform the editorial duties himself. Wonderful to relate, however, Poe was retained in his post until the last moment, when the following scene is alleged to have occurred: (somebody, of course, had taken shorthand notes of the conversation). Mr. Burton is supposed to have been absent for a fortnight, and, on his return, to have learned that his editor has not only not furnished the printers with any copy for the forthcoming number of the Magazine, but has availed himself of the time to prepare the prospectus of a new monthly, to supplant that he is now editing. Burton meets “his associate late in the evening at one of his accustomed haunts,” and says, “ ‘Mr. Poe, I am astonished! — Give me my manuscripts, so that I can attend to the duties you have so shamefully neglected, and when you are sober we will settle.’ Poe interrupted him with ‘Who are you that presume to address me in this manner? Burton — I am — the editor — of the ‘Penn Magazine’ — and you are — hiccup — a fool.’” Such absurd anecdotes are not worthy refutation, but an almost certain proof of their incredibility [page 383:] is furnished by the fact that not only did Mr. George R. Graham engage Poe to continue the editorial duties of the said magazine, but he was also the first to denounce Griswold’s ‘Memoir’ of the poet, as “the fancy sketch of a jaundiced vision,” and as “an immortal infamy.”

Poe retained the editorship of ‘Graham’s Magazine’ for about two years, during which period some of his finest analytical tales were produced. In 1843, not 1848, as stated by his inaccurate biographer, he obtained the one hundred dollar prize for his story of’ The Gold Bug’; a story written in connection with his theory that human ingenuity could not construct any cryptograph which human ingenuity could not decipher. Tested by several correspondents with difficult samples of their skill, the poet took the trouble to examine and solve them in triumphant proof of his theory.

In the autumn of 1844, Poe removed to New York, where, in literary circles, his fame had already preceded him. He speedily found employment on the ‘New York Mirror,’ and Willis, who was one of the proprietors of that paper, has left us a highly interesting portraiture of the poet at this epoch of his life.

“Apropos of the disparaging portion of Dr. Griswold’s sketch, which appeared at Poe’s death,” he remarks, “let us truthfully say, some four or five years since Mr. Poe was employed by us for several months as critic and sub-editor. He resided with his wife and mother at Fordham, a few miles out of town, but was at his desk in the office from nine in the morning till the evening paper went to press. With the highest admiration for his genius, and a willingness to let it atone for more than ordinary irregularity, we were led by common report to expect a very capricious attention to his duties. Time went on, however, and he was invariably punctual and industrious. With his pale, beautiful, and intellectual face, as a reminder of what genius was in him, it was impossible, of course, not to treat him always with deferential courtesy. . . . With a prospect of taking the lead in another periodical, he, at last, voluntarily gave up his employment with us, and, through all this considerable period, we had seen but one presentment of the man — a quiet, patient, industrious, and most gentlemanly person, commanding the utmost respect and good feeling by his unvarying deportment and ability.

“Residing as he did in the country, we never met Mr. Poe in hours of leisure; but he frequently called on us afterwards at our place of business, and we met him often in the street — invariably the same sad-mannered, winning and refined gentleman, such as we had always known him. It was by rumour only, up to the day of his death, that we knew of any other development of manner of character. . . . Such only he has invariably seemed to us in all we have happened personally to know of him through a friendship of five or six years. And so much easier is it to believe what we have seen and known, than what we hear of only, that we remember him but with admiration and respect.”

Poe left the ‘Mirror’ in order to take part in the ‘Broadway Journal,’ and in October, 1845, he was enabled to buy his partner out, and to obtain the entire possession of this periodical. Under his [page 384:] control it became, probably, the best work of the kind ever issued, but, from the very nature of its contents, must have appealed to too small though select a class to make it remunerative. Accordingly the poor poet had to relinquish its publication, and on the 3rd of January, 1846, the last number was issued. What he did for the next few months heaven only knows; but in the May number of the ‘Lady’s Book’ he commenced a series of articles on the ‘The Literati of New York City,’ in which, “he professed,” remarks Griswold, with the wonted sneer, “to give some honest opinions at random respecting their autorial merits, with occasional words of personality.” The papers seem to have made the literary quacks of New York shake in their shoes. One unfortunate who came under the lash, unable to bear his castigation quietly, retorted in no measured terms; in fact, instead of waiting, as Griswold did, for Poe’s death — when every ass could have its kick at the dead lion — this Dr. Dunn Brown, or Dunn English, for both names are given, in a personal newspaper article, referred to the alleged infirmities of the poet. The communication being inserted in the ‘Evening Mirror,’ on the 23rd of June, 1843, Poe instituted a libel suit, and recovered several hundred dollars for defamation of character. Let anyone who has the slightest belief in Griswold’s impartiality now turn to his garbled account of this dispute. He never mentions the suit for libel or its results; indeed, his suppressio veri is as iniquitous as his suggestio falsi.

In the autumn of this year Poe was residing in a little cottage at Eordham, near New York. The household comprised the poet, his wife, a confirmed invalid, and her devoted and never-to-be-forgotten mother, Mrs. Clemm, whose name will ever be linked with that of her unfortunate son-in-law. His wife was dying of a long, lingering decline, and the poet himself was ill, and, paralysed by poverty, scarcely able to labour. “Mr. Poe wrote,” says Willis, “with fastidious difficulty, and in a style too much above the popular level to be well paid. He was always in pecuniary difficulties, and, with his sick wife, frequently in want of the merest necessaries of life.” A most interesting description of the poet’s menage at this bitter period of his existence is afforded by a paper which appeared in a London periodical,* as ‘Reminiscences of Edgar Poe.’ The writer gives a circumstantial account of the homely abode and its occupants, and his description of the family’s poverty-stricken condition is heartrending.

“The autumn came,” says the writer, detailing his second visit, “and Mrs. Poe sank rapidly in consumption, and I saw her in her bed-chamber. Everything here was so neat, so purely clean, so scant and poverty-stricken, that I saw the sufferer with such a heartache as the poor feel for the poor. There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but a snow white [page 385:] spread and sheets. The weather was cold, and the sick lady had the dreadful chills that accompany the hectic fever of consumption. She lay on the straw bed, wrapped in her husband’s great-coat, with a large cat in her bosom. . . . The coat and the cat were the sufferer’s only means of warmth, except as her husband held her hands and her mother her feet.”

These circumstances being made known by the writer of the above, a paragraph appeared in the ‘New York Express,’ to the effect that “Edgar Poe and his wife are both dangerously ill with consumption, and that the hand of misfortune lies heavy upon their temporal affairs. We are sorry to mention the fact that they are so far reduced as to be barely able to obtain the necessaries of life. This is, indeed, a hard lot, and we hope that the friends and admirers of Mr. Poe will come promptly to his assistance in his bitterest hour of need.” This appeal was followed by an article from Willis in the ‘Home Journal,’ adverting to the dangerous illness of the poet and his wife, and their consequent sufferings for want of the commonest necessaries of life, and evidencing their case as a proof of a hospital being required for educated and refined objects of charity. “Here,” he urges, “is one of the finest scholars, one of the most original men of genius, and one of the most industrious of the literary men of our country, whose temporary suspension of labour, from bodily illness, drops him immediately to a level with the common objects of public charity.”

The effect of this appeal was to bring instant aid to the poor suffering family; Poe’s many friends reading it in a different spirit to that of his biographer, who avers that the article by Willis was only “an ingenious apology for Mr. Poe’s infirmities,” and that the manly letter to its author from Poe, announcing his own gradual recovery from a long and dangerous illness, but his wife’s hopeless condition, “was written for effect. He had not been ill a great while,” continued his ruthless assailant, “nor dangerously at all. There was no literary or personal abuse of him in the journals,” he adds, alluding to a paragraph in the poet’s sad letter to Willis, to the effect that his wife’s sufferings had been heightened by the receipt of an anonymous letter containing “those published calumnies of Messrs. ——, for which,” says Poe, “I yet hope to find redress in a court of justice.”

This letter, which, according to Griswold, “ was written for effect,” is dated 30th of December, 1846, and was followed in a few weeks by his wife’s death. Mrs. Poe’s last moments were soothed and her wants administered to, we believe, by the poet’s good and noble friend, Mrs. Lewis, in whose hospitable home, when the poet himself died, Mrs. Clemm is said to have found a shelter. It is needless to follow the adventures of the poet through all the labyrinth of errors in which his biographer has enveloped them. On the 9th of February, 1848, he delivered a lecture in New York on the Cosmogony of the Universe. [page 386:] This was the substance of his greatest work, and which was subsequently published under the title of ‘Eureka, a Prose Poem.’ It has never been reprinted in England.

From this time to the day of his death Poe steadily worked with his pen and as a lecturer, to obtain a livelihood. And he succeeded. But consumption had long been sapping his system, and enfeebled as it was by long suffering, constant and harassing literary labour, and, more than all, want, it was ready to succumb; and on the evening of Sunday, the 7th of October, 1849, he died, if the correct date of his birth is given, in the thirty-eighth year of his age.

The present opportunity does not admit of a complete analysis of the ‘Memoir’ by Griswold — the memoir on which every English life of Edgar Poe has been founded; but it is believed that enough has been said to prove the biographer’s animus. Mrs. Whitman, in her clever little brochure of’Poe and his Critics,’ states that “some of the most injurious of these anecdotes” (i.e. in the ‘Memoir’) “were disproved, during the life of Dr. Griswold, in the New York ‘Tribune’ and other leading journals, without eliciting from him any public statement or apology.” Quite recently we have had, through the columns of the ‘Home Journal,’ the refutation of another calumnious story, which for ten years has been going the round of the English and American periodicals. “Moreover,” adds Mrs. Whitman, “we have authority for stating that many of the disgraceful anecdotes, so industriously collected by Dr. Griswold, are utterly fabulous, while others are perversions of the truth, more injurious in their effects than unmitigated fiction.”

When Edgar Poe died a long account of his life and writings appeared in the New York ‘Tribune,’ signed “ Ludwig.” Dr. Rufus Griswold was subsequently obliged to acknowledge himself the author of it. It is the well-known paper beginning “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it . . . he had few or no friends.” In November following the poet’s death, a kindly notice of him and his writings was furnished to the ‘Southern Literary Messenger’ by Mr. John R. Thompson, his successor in the editorship of that magazine. It did not contain an unkind or disparaging word. A month or two later appeared a collection of Poe’s works in two volumes, and it was most depreciatingly reviewed in the ‘Tribune’ by a writer whose style is easily recognisable, and who signed himself “R.” — (Rufus). In March, 1850, appeared an extremely lengthy review of this same collection in the ‘Literary Messenger;’ it is the so-called, by Griswold, ‘Eulogium,’ and beginning: “These half-told tales and broken poems are the only records of a wild, hard life Among all his poems there are only two or three which are not execrably bad.” It then proceeds to vilify Willis and Lowell for their tributes to the memory [page 387:] of Poe, the latter of the two, it avers, belonging to that “minute species of literary insect which is plentifully produced by the soil and climate of Boston.” The writer then administers a gentle reprimand to Griswold, and forthwith proceeds to detail a life of Edgar Poe. Now comes the strange part of the story. Nearly the whole of this very lengthy life and critique was subsequently embodied in the ‘Memoir’ by Griswold as original matter, without any acknowledgment or inverted commas, save for the paragraph relating to the poet’s quarrel with Mr. Allan’s second wife; we have, therefore, this conclusion before us: either Dr. Griswold openly plagiarised wholesale from the recently published but anonymous article, or he himself was the author of the paper in question.


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 375:]

*  ‘The Train Magazine,’ No. 16, vol. iii. pp. 193, &c.

  Rosalie, Edgar Poe’s sister and only surviving relative, is stated to be now living at Hicks’ Landing, in Virginia, in the most necessitous circumstances.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 378:]

*  In his account of Poe’s death, Griswold himself stated Mr. Allan to have been sixty-five.

  The italics are ours.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 384:]

*  ‘The Sixpenny Magazine,’ No. xx. February 1863.



The full title for the magazine was Temple Bar: A London Magazine for Town and Country Readers.

The phrase “donned the sock” is a shortened form of “donned the sock and buskin,” which is an now-archaic phrase for joining the theater. The sock and buskin are traditional symbols of comedy and tragedy, with comedians wearing the low soled sock and tragedians wearing the high laced buskin.


[S:0 - EPING, 1874] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Edgar Poe (J. H. Ingram, 1874)