Text: John H. Ingram, “Appendix B,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1880), pp. 253-255


[page 253:]



INCIDENTS as romantic and contradictory as those related of his illustrious brother are told of William Henry Leonard Poe. The facts known of his life are few: he was the earliest born child of David Poe, junior, and Elizabeth his wife. The date of his birth is uncertain, but Mrs. Clemm states that he was the first grandchild born to her parents, and that it was for his sake that they became reconciled to his father, their eldest son, with whom they had quarrelled on account of his imprudent marriage and theatrical proclivities. It is very probable that the boy’s grandparents adopted the child from its earliest infancy, as is stated by Mrs. Clemm and some of the poet’s biographers; but Mr. E. L. Didier, in his “Life of Edgar A. Poe,” says, when “Henry’s” parents died, he “was taken to Baltimore, and educated by his godfather, Mr. Henry Didier, whose counting-room he subsequently entered.”*

“William,” writes Mr. John P. Poe, his cousin, “died early. He was a man of taste and genius, and wrote many fugitive verses, which have been lost, but which are said to have exhibited poetical power of a high order.” And again, “The verses of William Poe are said to have had [page 254:] great merit, but we fear there is no prospect of recovering any of them. He died very early.”*

Mr. R. H. Stoddard, in a sketch of Edgar Poe’s life, states that William Henry Leonard, “is described by those who knew him as possessing great personal beauty, and as much genius as Edgar!” (The italics are ours.) “He wrote verses,” continues Mr. S., “which were printed in the Minerva, a small weekly paper published in Baltimore; he was a clerk in a lottery office in that city; and he was not averse to the flowing bowl. This last circumstance, joined to his rejection as a lover, was probably the cause of his going to sea, and his subsequent ‘sailor’s scrape’ at St. Petersburg — for it was no more — out of which the dangerous and desperate adventure of his famous brother was manufactured.” This last allusion is to a story told by Griswold, and his copyists, of Edgar Poe having to be rescued by the American Minister to Russia, “from penalties incurred in a drunken debauch” at St. Petersburg. The entire legend is a fair sample of those fabricated about the famous poet: he never was in Russia, nor, in all probability, was his brother William. Mr. Eugene Schuyler, the well-known author, and formerly Secretary to the American Legation at St. Petersburg, kindly undertook to have the books and papers of the Legation and Consulate in the Russian capital, referring to the only possible period in which the incident could have occurred, searched for us, and reports, with reference to the alleged [page 255:] ministerial intervention, “I find no record whatever of that circumstance.”

But William Poe was in the navy, and might, therefore, have been to Russia, so it is fairly safe to transfer the anecdote to his shoulders, accordingly, Mr. Didier says of him, “He was very clever, but wild and erratic. Having quarrelled with his patron, Henry (sic) Poe determined to go to Greece, and fight for the cause to which the death of Byron had attracted the attention of the world. Young Poe arrived in time to participate in the last battles of the war. On the 24th of September 1829, the Sultan acknowledged the independence of Greece. . . . Poe accompanied the Russian troops to St. Petersburg, where he soon got into trouble and into prison. He was released by the interposition of the Hon. A. Middleton, the American Minister, who had him sent to the port of Riga, and placed on a vessel bound for Baltimore. Six months after returning home, Henry Poe died, at the early age of twenty-six,* leaving behind him the reputation of great but wasted talents.”



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 253:]

*  Henry was his second Christian name; he was, apparently, named William, after his father’s brother. — J. H. I.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 254:]

*  Letters of May 2st and October 2nd, 1875 — J. H I.

  From 1820 to 30. During the time that Mr. Middleton was minister. — E. Schuyler.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 255:]

*  Mr. Didier avers that Poe’s parents were not married until. “the spring of 1806,” and within six months after the decease of a former husband of the lady. If such were the case, William Henry Leonard Poe must have been born from two to three years before his putative parents’ marriage, and could scarcely have had David Poe as his father: it would appear not improbable that Mr. Didier has mistaken some other scion of the family for William H. L. Poe, the poet’s brother. — J. H. I. [[E. L. Didier. “Life of Edgar A. Poe,” p. 24.]]






[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Appendix B)