Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 11,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1886), pp. 124-145


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LATE in 1838 Poe removed to Philadelphia. The reason of his removal is uncertain, but it has been suggested that regular literary employment was proffered him in the Quaker city, wherefore, as the independence he had sought to earn by his pen was not obtainable in New York, he migrated thither with his lares et penates. That, or the constitutional restlessness, which like a fiend goaded him hither and thither, may have been the motive power. The whole burden of the household now falling upon his shoulders, for Mrs. Clemm relinquished the New York house and accompanied the Poes to Philadelphia, the poet sought engagements in various quarters. Among other magazines for which he agreed to write was the American Museum, a new publication projected and edited by Dr. N. C. Brooks of Baltimore. Requested by the proprietor to furnish a critique on Washington Irving, Poe replied in the following terms: —

“PHILADELPHIA, September 4, 1838.

“MY DEAR SIR, — I duly received your favour with the $ro. Touching the review, I am forced to decline it just now. I should be most unwilling not to execute such a task well, and

this I could not do at so short notice, at least now. I have two other engagements which it would be ruinous to defer. Besides this, I am just leaving Arch Street for a small house, and, of course, am somewhat in confusion.

“My main reason, however, for declining is what I first [page 125:] alleged, viz.: I could not do the review well at short notice. The truth is, I can hardly say that I am conversant with Irving’s writings, having read nothing of his since I was a boy, save his ‘Granada.’ It would be necessary to give his entire works a reperusal. You see, therefore, the difficulty at once. It is a theme upon which I would like very much to write, for there is a vast deal to be said upon it. Irving is much overrated, and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious and adventitious reputation — between what is due to the pioneer solely, and what to the writer.

“The merit, too, of his tame propriety and faultlessness of style should be candidly weighed. He should be compared with Addison, something being hinted about imitation, and Sir Roger de Coverley should be brought up in judgment. A bold and a priori investigation of Irving’s claims would strike home, take my word for it. The American literary world never saw anything of the kind yet. Seeing, therefore, the opportunity of making a fine hit, I am unwilling to hazard your fame by a failure, and a failure would assuredly be the event were I to undertake the task at present.

“The difficulty with you is nothing — for I fancy you are conversant with Irving’s works, old and new, and would not have to read for the task. Had you spoken decidedly when I first saw you, I would have adventured If you can delay the review until the second number I would be most happy to do my best. But this, I presume, is impossible.

“I have gotten nearly out of my late embarrassments. — would not aid me, being much pushed himself. He would, no doubt, have aided me, if possible. Present my respects if you see him. — Very truly yours,


“Suppose you send me proofs of my articles; it might be as well — that is, if you have time. I look anxiously for the first number, from which I date the dawn of a fine literary day in Baltimore.

“After the 15th, I shall be more at leisure, and will be happy to do you any literary service in my power. You have but to hint. “E. A. P.” [page 126:]

Whether Dr. Brooks made use of the suggestions thrown out, and attempted something that would make ” a fine hit,” matters little, but it is consolatory to think that he had not “spoken decidedly when” the poet first saw him, otherwise the world might have had a not too charitable critique on the “surreptitious and adventitious reputation” of Washington Irving, in lieu of the weird story of “Ligeia,” which was Poe’s contribution to the initial number of the periodical.

“Ligeia,” the poet’s favourite tale, was suggested, he says,* by a dream — a dream in which the eyes of the heroine produced the intense effect described in the fourth paragraph of the work. “Ligeia,” heralded by one of those splendid passages which begem Joseph Glanvill’s “Essays,” assumes for its motto, “Man doth not yield himself to the angels, nor unto death utterly, save only through the weakness of his feeble will.” A theme more congenial to the dream-haunted brain of Poe could scarcely be devised; and in his exposition of the thoughts suggested by its application he has been more than usually successful. The failure of Death to annihilate Will was, indeed, a suggestion that the poet-dreadingly, despairingly, familiar as he was with charnel secrets — could not fail to grasp at with the energy of hope, and adorn with the funereal flowers of his grave-nourished fantasy. In Poe’s gradual and unnoted steps towards proving the impossible possible, his reader’s reason is fettered, and his mind is blinded to the impassible limits of nature with such careful art, that he loses all hold on fact, and is ready and willing for the nonce to credit the reality of any mental chimera the wizard chooses [page 127:] to conjure up. At the dénouement of such a tale, one feels as if awakening from a nightmare: the knowledge that it is fiction is still for a while overclouded with the horrible thought that it might be true.

Like most of Poe’s other tales, “Ligeia” was frequently revised and altered, and did not originally contain, as it does now, that most weird and most original of all his poems, “The Conqueror Worm.”

The two other literary engagements to which the poet alluded in his letter to Dr. Brooks were with the Pittsburgh Literary Examiner and the Philadelphia Gentleman’s Magazine. The latter was the property of Mr. W. E. Burton, an Englishman, who obtained some reputation in his days as a comedian, and then attempted to add to it as a littérateur, an attempt in which he was scarcely so successful. Poe appears to have contributed some odds and ends to the Gentleman’s Magazine almost from his first arrival in Philadelphia, but it was not until July of the following year, when he was appointed editor, that he published anything of note in its pages. In the last month of 1838, he contributed to the Museum “The Signora Zenobia,” and its pendant “The Scythe of Time,” afterwards respectively renamed “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” and “A Predicament.”

In The Gift for 1839 appeared “William Wilson,” one of the poet’s finest tales, and one in many parts confessedly autobiographical. In an eulogistic but discriminative review of Hawthorne, published in Graham’s Magazine, Poe drew attention to certain incidents in “Howe’s Masquerade” that might be deemed to resemble plagiarism from ” William Wilson,” and “might be a very flattering coincidence of thought” by his [page 128:] countryman; but the strangest thing about it is, that Poe’s own tale is most closely paralleled in plot by a rare drama, attributed to Calderon, called “El Encapotado,” which Washington Irving had called attention to. The hero of the Spanish story, like ” William Wilson,” is throughout life thwarted in all his schemes for the acquisition of wealth, pleasure, or love, by a mysterious stranger, and when he ultimately forces the unknown, at the point of the sword, to unmask, his “Fetch” or double is beheld.* To accuse Poe of plagiarism in this case would be unjust, for the idea of the dual man permeates all civilised literatures, but it is a severe commentary upon some of his own ill-considered critiques — which, however, have been most bitterly avenged.

The portions of “William Wilson” referring to the hero’s school-days in England have already been transferred to these pages, but there are other passages — evidently intended to be included in the writer’s confessions — of interest here. Is it not Poe himself who says, “I long for the sympathy — I had nearly said for the pity — of my fellow-men. I would fain have them believe that I have been, in some measure, the slave of circumstances beyond human control. I would wish them to seek out for me some little oasis of fatality amid a wilderness of error. I would have them allow — what they cannot refrain from allowing — that although temptation may have erewhile existed as great, man was never thus, at least, tempted before?” The usual exaggerations of boyhood’s reminiscences — those days all deem they remember so distinctly, yet as a rule describe so indefinitely — are well [page 129:] marked in the portrayal of the old Stoke Newington house and its accessories; but it is in the shadowy suggestiveness of the two “William Wilsons’ ” similarity that the author’s power is displayed. The “singular whisper” of the one boy which grew to be “the very echo“of his namesake’s; the coincidence of birthdays and of names; the non-observance of the resemblance by the other pupils; the gradually increasing aversion for the wise monitions proffered by his alter ego, and the terrible signification of the one “William Wilson” being asleep, when his bedside was visited by the other, on the last night of his stay in the Academy, are all strokes of a master’s hand — of a master who stands alone and incomparable in the realm he has himself constructed.

To the Museum for January and February Poe contributed “Literary Small Talk,” and to the April number his much-admired lyric, “The Haunted Palace.” With respect to this latter arose a controversy similar to that suggested by “Howe’s Masquerade:” as with that, so with this, Poe, it is alleged, deemed he had been copied, and that Longfellow’s “Beleaguered City” was a plagiarism of his idea, and is stated to have referred I the undeniable fact that his poem appeared first, Longfellow’s not being published until November 1839, when it appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger. Of all men literati should be the first to recognise the fact that human invention is not infinite, and that similar ideas frequently occur almost simultaneously to different persons, it is, therefore, both rational and just to assume the resemblance between the poems of Poe and Longfellow to have been accidental. At all events, a similar fantasy to theirs had [page 130:] been embodied in Tennyson’s “Deserted House,” published as early as 1830.

“The House of Usher,” another of the poet’s chefs d’œuvre, illustrative of belief-a belief shared by many of the good and great — in the sentience of all matter, was published in the September number of the Gentleman’s Magazine, to which publication, as already remarked, Poe had been appointed editor. Mr. White, of the Literary Messenger, alluding in his October issue to the tale and its author, remarks“We are pleased to find that our old assistant, Edgar A. Poe, is connected with Burton in the editorial management of the Gentleman’s Magazine. Mr. Poe is favourably known to the readers of the Messenger as a gentleman of fine endowment; possessing a taste classical and refined. . . We always predicted that Mr. Poe would reach a high grade in American literature;” only, adds his former employer, ” we wish Mr. Poe would stick to the department of criticism; there, he is an able professor.” It was this ” sticking to criticism,” to oblige publishers, instead of following the true bent of his genius, that ruined Poe’s personal reputation, and lost the world many a priceless poem and wondrous tale.

In the “Fall of the House of Usher,” is developed one of its author’s favourite methods of riveting his reader’s attention. As in so many of his stories, instead of soliciting sympathy for himself as the hero, he the rather would appear to repel it, by assuming the rôle, in his person of narrator, of a somewhat matter-of-fact, even commonplace, practical character, in no way en rapport with the eccentric or visionary friend who is the real hero. He, Poe, pretends to come [page 131:] before the stage, or to remain on it only in the minor character of “Chorus,” and thus casts a further air of reality on the personages he introduces, by deluding his readers into the belief that they are but fellow spectators with him. Nevertheless, in the character of “Roderick Usher” — a character upon which the poet lavished his most consummate art, and upon whose surroundings he bestowed the wealth of his own desires — is sought to be depictured what Poe wished the world to believe he resembled, as Byron did with his “Corsairs” and “Laras.” The opium-eating hypochondriac, the Fear-fearing monomaniac, is less unlike the veritable author of “Ulalume” than is the friend of “Usher;” the mesmeriser of “Valdemar;” the associate of “Legrand” of “the Gold Bug;” the cool man of the world, who only represents the conventional half — the side turned to the public.

Poe’s other contributions to the Gentleman’s Magazine, during the remainder of 1839, were not of an important character, consisting chiefly of short book notices, slight sketches to accompany engravings, and reprints of his shorter poems. “William Wilson” and “Morello” were also republished in its pages, and in the December number appeared “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion.” This tale, in some respects resembling one entitled ” The Comet,” which had appeared in The Token for 1839, describes the history of this earth’s destruction by a comet, and is supposed to be told in Aidenn by Eiros to Charmion. The final catastrophe is assumed to take place through the total extraction of the nitrogen from our atmosphere, and the consequent immediate and omnipresent [page 132:] combustion of the world. The whole story is most weirdly suggestive, and the climax startling in the extreme.

Under the title of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, Poe now published a collection of his stories, in two volumes. These tales were copyrighted in 1839, but the title-page is dated 1840, and bears upon it motto from Goethe: —

“Seltsamen Tochter Jovis,

Seinem Schosskinde, der Phantasie.”

The volumes are inscribed to “Colonel William Drayton, of Philadelphia, with every sentiment of respect, gratitude, and esteem,” and contain this Preface: — “The epithets ‘Grotesque ’ and ‘Arabesque’ will be found to indicate, with sufficient precision, the prevalent tenor of the tales here published. But from the fact that, during a period of some two or three years, I have written five-and-twenty short stories, whose general character may be so briefly defined, it cannot be fairly inferred — at all events it is not truly inferred — that I have for this species of writing any inordinate, or indeed any peculiar, taste or prepossession. I may have written with an eye to this republication in volume form, and may, therefore, have desired to preserve, as far as a certain point, a certain unity of design. This is, indeed, the fact; and it may even happen that, in this manner, I shall never compose anything again. I speak of these things here, because I am led to think it is the prevalence of the ‘Arabesque’ in my serious tales, which has induced one or two critics to tax me, in all friendliness, with what they have been pleased to term ’ Germanism’ and [page 133:] gloom. The charge is in bad taste, and the grounds of the accusation have not been sufficiently considered. Let us admit, for the moment, that the ‘phantasy-pieces’ now given are Germanic, or what not. Then ‘Germanism’ is the vein for the time being. Tomorrow I may be anything but German, as yesterday I was everything else. These many pieces are yet one book. My friends would be quite as wise in taxing an astronomer with too much astronomy, or an ethical author with treating too largely of morals. But the truth is that, with a single exception, there is no one of these stories in which the scholar should recognise the distinctive features of that species of pseudo-horror which we are taught to call Germanic, for no better reason than some of the secondary names of German literature have become identified with its folly. If in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul, — that I have deduced this terror only from its legitimate sources, and urged it only to its legitimate results.

“There are one or two of the articles here [conceived and executed in the purest spirit of extravaganza], to which I expect no serious attention, and of which I shall speak no farther. But for the rest I cannot conscientiously claim indulgence on the score of hasty effort. I think it best becomes me to say, therefore, that if I have sinned, I have deliberately sinned. These brief compositions are, in chief past, the results of matured purpose and very careful elaboration.”

Besides the tales already referred to in these pages, this two volume collection contains the inferior humoristic pieces, “The man that was used up,” “The [page 134:] Devil in the Belfry,” “Von Jung” — now known as “Mystification” — and “Why the little Frenchman wears his hand in a sling.” This collection does not appear to have received much notice from the press, or to have made any impression upon the public: the edition, which was probably very small, disappeared, and copies of it are of the most extreme rarity.

Among the various publications Poe was now writing for may be mentioned Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, in which he was airing his theory respecting cryptology, to the effect that human ingenuity could not construct any cryptograph human ingenuity could not decipher. Tested by several correspondents with specimens of their skill in the art of secret writing, the poet actually took the trouble to examine and solve them in triumphant proof, apparently, of the truth of his theory. Another, and scarcely more literary, labour in which he engaged at this time, in the ceaseless effort ” to keep the wolf from the door,” was the production of a conchological manual for the use of schools. Anent this work slander and malice have said their worst; an enemy, evidently he whose calumnies, under the guise of “a Memoir,” have overclouded the poet’s memory ever since his death, spoke these words in the columns of the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post: — ‘One of the most remarkable plagiarisms was perpetrated by Mr. Poe. . . . This gentleman, a few years ago, in Philadelphia, published a work on Conchology as original, when in reality it was a copy, nearly verbatim, of ‘The Text-Book of Conchology,’ by Captain Thomas Brown, printed in Glasgow in 1833, a duplicate of which we have in our library. Mr. Poe actually took out a copyright [page 135:] for the American edition of Captain Brown’s work, and, omitting all mention of the English original, pretended, in the preface, to have been under great obligations to several scientific gentlemen of this city. It is but justice to add, that in the second edition of this book, published lately in Philadelphia, the name of Mr. Poe is withdrawn from the title-page, and his initials only affixed to the preface. But the affair is one of the most curious on record.”

Having allowed the slanderer his say, the poet’s own response, not included in the above-mentioned “Memoir,” shall be given; but it may be stated that Poe’s work is not a plagiarism of Captain Brown’s; that he alluded to obligations to two persons only, one at least of whom, Professor Wyatt, a Scotchman — unaware that the calumny had ever reached Poe’s eyes, and not hearing of it himself until ten years after the poet’s death — gave an independent, but similar explanatory denial of the accusation in the Home Journal; that Poe’s name was not withdrawn from the title-page of the second edition, which was called for immediately after the publication of the first, and not after an interval of several years as suggested by the paragraphist.

The poet’s letter reads thus: —

“NEW YORK, Feb.16, ‘47.

“MY DEAR SIR, — Some weeks ago I mailed you two newspapers which, from what you say in your last letter, I see you have not received. I now enclose some slips which will save me the necessity of writing on painful topics. By and by I will write you more at length.

Please reinclose the slips when read.

“What you tell me about the accusation of plagiarism made by the Phil. Sat. Ev. Post surprises me. It is the [page 136:] first I heard of it — with the exception of a hint in one of your previous letters-but which I did not then comprehend Please let me know as many particulars as you can remember — for I must see into the charge. Who edits the paper? who publishes it? &c. &c. &c. About what time was the accusation made ? I assure you that it is totally false. In 1840 I published a book with thus title — ‘The Conchologist’s First Book: A system of Testacious Malacology, arranged especially for the use of Schools, in which the animals, according to Cuvier, are given with the shells, a great number of new species added, and the whole brought up, as accurately as possible, to the present condition of the science. By Edgar A. Poe. With illustrations of a 15 shells, presenting a correct type of each genus.’

“This, I presume, is the work referred to. I wrote it in conjunction with Professor Thomas Wyatt, and Professor McMurtrie, of Philadelphia — my name being put to the work, as best known and most likely to aid its circulation. I wrote the Preface and Introduction, and translated from Cuvier the accounts of the animals, &c. All school-books are necessarily made in a similar way. The very title-page acknowledges that the animals are given ‘according to Cuvier.’ This charge is infamous, and I shall prosecute for it, as soon as I settle my accounts with ‘The Mirror.”* — Truly your friend, E. A. POE.”

The poet’s letter having given the title-page minus only the words, “Published for the Author by Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell,” and “Second Edition” added to the title of second issue, it need not be repeated, but the “Prefaces” to the first and second editions are worth recapitulation. The first is: —

“The term ‘Malacology,’ an abbreviation of ‘Malacology,’ from the greek μαλαχος, soft, ζωον, an animal, and λογος, a discourse, was first employed by the French naturalist, De

Blainville, to designate an important division of Natural [page 137:] History, in which the leading feature of the animals discussed was the softness of the flesh, or, to speak with greater accuracy, of the general envelope. This division comprehends not only the Mollusca, but also the Testacea of Aristotle and of Pliny, and of course, had reference to molluscous animals in general, — of which the greater portion have shells.

“A treatise concerning the shells, exclusively, of this greater portion, is termed, in accordance with general usage, a treatise upon Conchology or Conchyliology; although the word is somewhat improperly applied, as the Greek conchylion, from which it is derived, embraces in its signification both the animal and the shell. Ostracology would have been more definite.

“The common works upon this subject, however, will appear to every person of science very essentially defective, inasmuch as the relation of the animal and shell, with their dependence upon each other, is a radically important consideration in the examination of either. Neither in the attempt to obviate this difficulty is a work upon Malacology at large necessarily included. Shells, it is true, form, and, for many obvious reasons, will continue to form, the subject of chief interest, whether with regard to the school or the cabinet; still there is no good reason why a book upon Conchology (using the common term) may not be malacological as far as it proceeds.

“In this view of the subject, the present little work is offered to the public. Beyond the ruling feature — that of giving an anatomical account of each animal, together with a description of the shell which it inhabits, — I have aimed at little more than accuracy and simplicity, as far as the latter quality can be thought consistent with the rigid exactions of science.

“No attention has been given to the more History of the subject; it is conceived that any disquisition on this head would more properly appertain to works of ultimate research, than to one whose sole intention is to make the pupil acquainted, in as tangible a form as possible, with results. To afford, at a cheap rate, a concise, yet a sufficiently comprehensive, and especially a well illustrated school-book, has been the principal design.

“In conclusion, I have only to acknowledge my great indebtedness to the valuable public labours, as well as private [page 138:] assistance, of Mr. Isaac Lea, of Philadelphia. To Mr. Thomas Wyatt, and his excellent Manual of Conchology, I am also under many obligations. No better work, perhaps, could be put into the hands of the student as a secondary text-book. Its beautiful and perfectly well-coloured illustrations afford an aid in the collection of a cabinet scarcely to be met with elsewhere. E. A. P.”

The Preface to the second edition is: —

“In issuing a second edition of this ‘Conchology,’ in so very brief a period since the publication of the first large impression, the author has little more to do than to express the high pleasure with which he has seen his labours well received. The success of the work has been decided; and the entire design has been accomplished in its general introduction into schools.

“Many important alterations and additions are now made; errors of the press carefully corrected; and the work, upon the whole, is rendered more worthy of the public approbation. E. A. P.”

For the novice, Captain Brown’s ” Text Book ” may bear some resemblance to Poe’s “First Book,” from the simple fact that both treatises are founded upon one and the same system; but the absurd charge, that ohe is, therefore, a plagiarism of the other, can only have been made through gross ignorance or wilful falsehood. As a sequence of these scientific studies, Poe published a translation and digest of Lemonnier’s “Natural History,” and some other kindred writings.

On the title-page of the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1840 appear the names of Burton and Poe as jointeditors, although the duties of the former were merely nominal, all the editorial labour devolving upon the poet. For the new volume Poe agreed to write a romance, to be published in serial form, and the first instalment of this story appeared in the [page 139:] January number. ” The Journal of Julius Rodman being an Account of the First Passage across the rocky Mountains of North America ever achieved by Civilised Man.” The projected work was never completed in Burton’s Magazine, for reasons that will be seen further on, and its authorship was never hinted at by the various journalists who have published “Memoirs of Poe,” until the happy discovery of a letter from the poet to Burton first gave us the clue to its existence. The publication of “Rodman’s Journal” in the complete form in which, there is some reason for believing, Poe left the story, would certainly sustain, if it could not increase, its author’s reputation. It is written in the realistic manner of ” Arthur Gordon Pym,” and although the fragment at present published breaks off at the moment when the “Journal” first begins to brow exciting, there is every probability that the remainder of the work was calculated to prove of absorbing interest. The non-publication in a complete form of the tale was, doubtless, due to the subsidence of public interest in exploration of the district to which the “Journal” refers. The tale was carried on through the six first numbers of the Gentleman’s for 1840, and even in its present fragmentary state, is well worthy perusal on account of the idiosyncrastic manner in which its author identifies himself with his hero — a hero who suffers from “hereditary hypochondria;” “was possessed with a burning love of nature; and worshipped her, perhaps, more in her dreary and savage aspects, than in her manifestations of placidity and joy.” It is unnecessary to furnish an analysis of the work, but some comments upon it by Mr. William [page 140:] Sawyer,* one of Poe’s staunchest admirers and a poet himself, are apposite here: “Without being one of Poe’s most striking, this is certainly one of his most remarkable works,” he observes. ” It displays singular learning of a varied and exhaustive nature, and is a peculiar example of his unique power of giving his fancies the air of reality. Julius Rodman is placed before us as a real flesh-and-blood adventurer, and the early part of the narrative is occupied with details of the preparations for the journey, told to the minutest particular, as if seen to, and set down at the moment by one engaged in making them. The companions of the expedition are all described in detail, so that we seem to live among the persons with whom we are setting out; and after we are once on the journey the incidents, big and little, are recorded day by day as in a log, without literary effort, so that the vraisemblance is perfect. . . . The narrative is left unfinished. The Rocky Mountains are not crossed so far as we are permitted to accompany the party, and it is doubtful whether the hand which worked so deftly so far, ever added another line to what would, if carried to completion, have been a work of the type of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ — a fictitious personal narrative, with the stamp of reality set upon it by the creative power of genius, aided by exceptional capacity for observation and knowledge.”

Poe’s only other contribution to the Gentleman’s for January calling for notice, is a review of Moore’s “Alciphron.” In the course of this critique he advanced the proposition — not a very novel one, perhaps — that the mind of man can imagine nothing [page 141:] which has not really existed. Granting, ” we can imagine a griffin, and that a griffin does not exist,” he says in summing up, “not the griffin certainly, but its component parts. It is a mere compendium of known limbs and features — of known qualities. Thus with all that seems to be new — which appears to be a creation of intellect — it is resolvable into the old. The wildest and most vigorous effort of mind cannot stand the test of this analysis.” This same critique also contains Poe’s views, in opposition to those of Coleridge, on the suggested difference between Fancy and Imagination, he citing, as example of the merely fanciful, some lines from “The Culprit Fay“a then popular American piece — and, as of the loftiest imagination, a piece from Shelley’s ” Queen Mab.”

The February and March issues of the magazine contained little of value by Poe beyond “Rodman’s Journal;” there was his sketch, in the former, of “The Business Man“-then headed “Peter Pendulum;” — various odds and ends, and a portion — some being by another hand — of the book notices. These latter included a review of Longfellow’s “Voices of the Night,” in which, whilst awarding his countryman very high praise as a poet, he charged him with plagiarising the conception of “The Midnight Mass for the Dying Year” from Tennyson’s ” Death of the Old Year.” Beyond instalments of “Rodman’s Journal,” the April and May numbers did not contain much noticeable writing by Poe, but the former included “Silence: a sonnet,” with the burden of “No more” — the germ of a refrain to be so famous hereafter — and the latter a critique on Bryant, and an essay on “The Philosophy of Furniture.” The last sketch [page 142:] was subsequently revised and enlarged, but even then portrayed its author’s artistic love of the luxurious and beautiful. With the June number the Gentleman’s Magazine passed from Mr. Burton’s hands into the possession of Mr. George R. Graham, and, at the same time, Edgar Poe’s editorial duties came to an end. The following letter from the poet to Mr. Burton will throw some light upon the affair: —

“SIR, — I find myself at leisure this Monday morning, June r, to notice your very singular letter of Saturday. . . . I have followed the example of Victorine and slept upon the matter, and you shall now hear what I have to say. In the first place, your attempts to bully me excite in my mind scarcely any other sentiment than mirth. When you address me again preserve, if you can, the dignity of a gentleman . . . I shall feel myself more at liberty to be explicit. As for the rest, you do me gross injustice; and you know it. As usual, you have wrought yourself into a passion with me on account of some imaginary wrong; for no real injury, or attempt at injury, have you ever received at my hands. As I live, I am utterly unable to say why you are angry, or what true grounds of complaint you have against me. You are a man of impulses; have made yourself, in consequence, some enemies; have been in many respects ill-treated by those whom you had looked upon as friends — and these things have rendered you suspicious. You once wrote in your magazine a sharp critique upon a book of mine — a very silly book — Pym. Had I written a similar criticism upon a book of yours, you feel that you would have been my enemy for life, and you therefore imagine in my bosom a latent hostility towards yourself. This has been a mainspring in your whole conduct towards me since our first acquaintance. It has acted to pre vent all cordiality. In a general view of human nature your idea is just-but you will find yourself puzzled in judging me by ordinary motives. Your criticism was essentially correct, and therefore, although severe, it did not occasion in me one solitary emotion either of anger or dislike. But even while I write these words, I am sure you will not believe [page 143:] them. Did I not still think you, in spite of the exceeding littleness of some of your hurried actions, a man of many honorable impulses, I should not now take the trouble to send you this letter. I cannot permit myself to suppose that you would say to me in cool blood what you said in your letter of yesterday. You are, of course, only mistaken, in asserting that I owe you a hundred dollars, and you will rectify the mistake at once when you come to look at your accounts.

Soon after I joined you, you made me an offer of money, and I accepted $20. Upon another occasion, at my request, you sent me enclosed in a letter $30. Of this 30,1 repaid 20 within the next fortnight (drawing no salary for that period). I was thus still in your debt $30, when not long ago I again asked a loan of $30, which you promptly handed to me at your own house. Within the last three weeks, three dollars each week have been retained from my salary, an indignity which I have felt deeply but did not resent. You state the sum retained as $8, but this I believe is through a mistake of Mr. Morrell. My postage bill, at a guess, might be $9 or $10 — and I therefore am indebted to you, upon the whole, in the amount of about $6o, More than this sum I shall not pay. You state that you can no longer afford to pay $50 per month for 2 or 3 Pp. Of MS.

can be shown by reference to the year with you I have written

Your error here Magazine.

During my

In July 5 pp. „ AllguSt 9

„ Sept. 16 „ Oct. 4

+ 5 copied-Miss McMichael’s MS. + 3 Chandlers.

„ Nov. 5 „ Dec. 12 „ Jan.

„ Feb. „ March „ April „ May „ June

9 12 1f 17 14 9

132 (sic)

“Dividing this sum by 12, we have an average of 11 pp. per month — not 2 or 3. And this estimate leaves out of [page 144:] question everything in the way of extract or compilation. Nothing is counted but bonâ fide composition. 11 pp. at $3 per p. would be $33, at the usual Magazine prices. Deduct this from $50, my monthly salary, and we have left $17 per month, or $4 25/100 per week, for the services of proof-reading; general superintendence at the printing office; reading, alteration, and preparation of MSS,, with compilation of various articles, such as Plate articles, Field Sports, &c. Neither has anything been said of my name upon your title-page, a small item, you will say — but still something, as you know. Snowden pays his editresses $2 per week each for their names solely. Upon the whole, I am not willing to admit

that you have greatly overpaid me. That I did not do four times as much as I did for the Magazine was your own fault. At first I wrote long articles, which you deemed inadmissible, and never did I suggest any to which you had not some im mediate and decided objection. Of course I grew discouraged, and could feel no interest in the journal.

“I am at a loss to know why you call me selfish. If you mean that I borrowed money of you — you know that you offered it, and you know that I am poor. In what instance has any one ever found me selfish? Was there selfishness in the affront I offered Benjamin (whom I respect, and who spoke well of me) because I deemed it a duty not to receive from any one commendation at your expense? . . . I have said that I could not tell why you were angry. Place yourself in my situation, and see whether you would not have acted as I have done. You first ‘enforced,’ as you say, a deduction of salary: giving me to understand thereby that you thought of parting company. You nest spoke disrespectfully of me behind my back — thus as an habitual thing to those whom you supposed your friends, and who punctually retailed me, as a matter of course, every ill-natured word which you uttered. Lastly, you advertised your magazine for sale without saying a word to me about it. I felt no anger at what you did none in the world. Had I not firmly believed it your design to give up your journal, with a view of attending to the Theatre, I should never have dreamed of attempting one of my own. The opportunity of doing something for myself seemed a good one — (and I was about to be thrown out of business) — and I embraced it. Now I ask you, as a man of [page 145:] honor and as a man of sense — what is there wrong in all this? What have I done at which you have any right to take offence? I can give you no definitive answer (respecting the continuation of Rodman’s Journal) until I hear from you again. The charge of $100 I shall not admit for an instant. If you persist in it our intercourse is at an end, and we can each adopt our own measures.

“In the meantime,

I am,


“Yr. Obt. St.,

“WM. E. BURTON, — Esq.”

Whatever soreness there may have been at this time between the co-editors, it appears to have ultimately worn away, for Poe spoke in friendly terms of Burton in his subsequent papers on “Autography,” and Burton wrote defending the poet when, upon his decease, his character was assailed. Doubtless an amicable arrangement was subsequently arrived at, and, in all probability, Poe repaid his indebtedness — set forth in this letter with all his habitual carefulness — by a certain amount of “copy” to be used, and which was used, apparently, in the magazine after it passed out of the possession of its founder into the hands of Mr. Graham.

After his severance from the Gentleman’s, Poe endeavoured to found a new monthly journal of his own, to be called the Penn Magazine, but the project fell through after the prospectus had been circulated among the members of the publishing world. The chief wording of this prospectus was subsequently adopted for the basis of a later project, to be adverted to hereafter, and need not, therefore, be cited from. Want of the necessary funds, and inability to secure a sufficient number of subscribers doubtless caused the failure of the poet’s scheme.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 126:]

*  In a MS. note, on a revised copy of the tale in my possession. — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 128:]

*  Vide Medwin’s Life of Shelley, vol. II, pp. 300, 301.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 136:]

*  Vide Account of “Action for Libel, Poe v. Evening Mirror,” vol. ii., p. 113.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 140:]

*  In the London Mirror for November 3rd, 1877.





[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1886] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Chapter 11)