Text: John H. Ingram, “Edgar Allan Poe: A Biographical Sketch,” Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume, Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1877, pp. 1-36


[page 1:]


A Biographical Sketch.


Edgar Allan Poe

HERO-WORSHIP is as rampant in the United States as in any other of the so-called civilised countries; and even the Chinese custom of ennobling the ancestors, dead and buried though they may be, of a man who has done anything notable, is not unknown to the Americans. It is not strange, therefore, to learn that a gentle lineage has been found for Edgar Allan Poe, and that the daring deeds and reckless bravery of his ancestry [page 2:] have been unearthed and re-chronicled, to prove that his virtues and vices came by right of birth. “Good wine needs no bush,” and a man needs no coat-of-arms to ratify his right of entering the Temple of Fame. For our part, we are contented to begin Edgar Poe’s story with his birth, which occurred at Boston on the 19th of January, 1809. In 1815 his youthful parents both died within a few weeks of each other, of consumption, leaving Edgar and two other children utterly destitute. Although only six years old at this time, the boy is stated to have been already noted for his precocity and beauty, and would seem to have gained the admiration, if he did not win the affection, of his godfather, Mr. Allan, a wealthy and intimate acquaintance of his deceased parents. Mr. Allan adopted him; and although little that is authentic can be learned of his early days, it may be worth record that a tenacious memory and a musical ear are said to have enabled him to learn by rote, and declaim with great effect, the finest passages of English poetry to the evening visitors at his godfather’s house. Scarcely, however, had the little orphan time to get accustomed to his new home, when he was taken away to Europe by the Allans, and in his seventh year left at a school in Stoke Newington, then a distinct town, but now a portion of London. Poe seems to have looked back upon his sojourn in England with anything but ungrateful reminiscences. That he declared the description of the school and school-life in his tale of “William Wilson” a faithful reproduction of his own residence in the Stoke Newington Manor House School, is probably correct; while much, doubtless, of the gloom and glamor of his writings had their origin in the strangeness and friendlessness he must have experienced during his stay in that foreign and “excessively ancient house.” The dreamy walks and mouldering dwellings that abounded in the neighborhood, could not fail to exert a strong influence upon a mind so morbidly sensitive as Poe’s; nor can it be doubted that at the same time, in the lustrum of his life spent in England, he acquired a [page 3:] portion of that curious and outré classic lore which in after-years became one of the chief ornaments of his weird and wonderful works.

In 1821 the lad was recalled to America, and placed by his adopted father at an academy in Richmond, Virginia. Mr. Allan seems to have been really proud of his handsome and precocious godson, and to have indulged him in all that money could purchase; but neither alternate pettings and punishings, nor the state of domestic affairs at home, were well adapted to draw out the proud, yet affectionate, boy’s better feelings. Through life Poe was sensitively acute to kindness; and when he was, or believed himself repulsed by human beings, his intense longing for sympathy drove him to seek for companionship in the society of dumb creatures. “There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute,” he remarked, “which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere man.” In the best and most consistent work on Poe which has yet appeared,* a very characteristic and well verified anecdote is related of him, referring to the time when he was a student in the Richmond Academy. While it strikingly illustrates his tenderness of feeling and the constancy of his attachments, it but too clearly demonstrates how little affection or sympathy the young orphan found at his adopted home.

“He one day,” says Mrs. Whitman, “accompanied a schoolmate to his home, where he saw for the first time Mrs. Helen S —— , the mother of his young friend. This lady on entering the room took his hand and spoke some gentle and gracious words of welcome, which so penetrated the sensitive heart of the orphan boy as to deprive him of the power of speech, and for a time almost of consciousness itself. He returned home in a dream, with but one thought, one hope in life — to hear again the sweet and gracious words that had made the desolate world so beautiful to him, and filled his lonely heart with the oppression of a new joy. This lady afterward became the confidante of all his boyish sorrows, and hers was the one redeeming influence that saved and guided him in the earlier days of his turbulent and passionate youth.” [page 4:]

Haplessly for the poor lad, the lady was herself overwhelmed with fearful and peculiar sorrows, and at the time when her guiding voice was most needed, died. But her poor boyish admirer could not endure the thought of her lying lovely and forsaken in the chilly grave, and for months after her decease he would nightly visit the neighboring cemetery in which she was entombed, to sob out his sorrow over the last resting-place of his first and never forgotten friend. When the nights were very dreary and cold, when the autumnal rains fell and the winds wailed mournfully over the graves, he lingered longer and came away most regretfully.

For many years, if not for life, the memory of this unfortunate lady tinged all his fancies and filled his mind with melancholy things. Within a twelvemonth of his death, writing to a friend, the truest friend, in all probability, of his “lonesome latter years,” Poe broke through his usual reticence as to his early life, and confessed that his exquisite stanzas beginning, “Helen, thy beauty is to me,” were inspired by the memory of this lady — “the one idolatrous and purely ideal love” of his tempest-tossed boyhood. In the early versions of his juvenile poems the name of Helen frequently recurs, and it was undoubtedly to this lady that he inscribed “The Pæan,” a boyish piece, which he subsequently greatly improved both in rhythm and expression, and republished under the musical name of Lenore. In this little-known incident of Poe’s life, Mrs. Whitman is undoubtedly justified in believing may be found “a key to much that seems strange and abnormal in the poet’s after-life.” In those solitary churchyard vigils, with all their associated memories, should doubtless be sought the clew to the psychological phenomena of Poe’s strange existence; and that mind, as he himself remarked, which should strive to reduce his “phantasm to the common-place,” must know and even study this phase of his being. The imagination which could so steadfastly trace, step by step, the terrible stages of sentience in death, as Edgar Poe’s does in his weird “Colloquy of Monos and Una,” [page 5:] must indeed have been that of one who had oft and o’er sought to wrest its earthy secrets from the charnel-house.

Returning to the more common-place records of the future poet’s story, he is found described at this period of his life, as remarkable for general ability and feats of activity, for his wayward temper, extreme personal beauty, power of extemporaneous tale-telling, and his precocious knowledge of languages, mathematics, and different branches of the natural sciences. Truly a long list of accomplishments, and one that if not vouched for by something more substantial than the ipse dixit of an admirer, might well be discredited. Thoroughly well-grounded, apparently, in these various studies, he was sent by his adopted father to the University of Virginia, at Charlottesville, in further pursuit of learning. Poe signed the matriculation book of the Institution, on the 14th of February, 1826, and remained in good standing until the termination of the session in the following December. Short as was his university career, he left sufficient traces behind him to make alma mater not only able but willing to refute the aspersions cast upon her distinguished child by Griswold and his followers.

“He entered the schools of Ancient and Modern Languages,” says his classmate, Mr. Wertenbaker, now Secretary to the Faculty, “attending the lectures on Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian. I was myself a member of the last three classes, and can testify that he was tolerably regular in his attendence, and a successful student, having obtained distinction at the Final Examinations in Latin and French; and this was at that time the highest honor a student could obtain, the present regulations in regard to degrees having not then been adopted. Under existing regulations he would have graduated in the two languages above named, and have been entitled to diplomas.”

From the same official source we learn that Prof. Blatteman [[Blaettermann]] having, on one occasion, desired his Italian class to render a portion of Tasso’s poem into English verse, not as a class exercise, but as a beneficial method of study, Poe was the only student who responded to the suggestion, and for his performance was highly [page 6:] complimented by the Professor. Such conduct, it is not surprising to learn, obtained him a good reputation among the Professors, while his uniformly sober, quiet, and orderly demeanor gained him an equally favorable character among the officers of the university; the records of which “attest that at no time during the session did he fall under the censure of the Faculty.” It will sound strange to those who did not know him, to find that not only was Poe liked by the governing powers, but also that he was a great favorite among his classmates. Besides his naturally pleasing manner, he was great at athletic feats, a thing which always gains the admiration of young men, especially of students. One of his deeds of hardihood, and one which, if not proved by good authority, might have been relegated to the depths of that limbo where so many of the wonders told of Poe should be consigned, was the swimming from Ludlam’s wharf to Warwick, on the James River, a distance of six miles, against a strong tide. When the truth of this story was questioned, Poe, who hated contradiction, obtained a certificate of the fact from several witnesses. This document declared, moreover, that “Mr. Poe did not seem at all fatigued, and walked back to Richmond immediately after the feat, which was undertaken for a wager.” Such confidence had the poet, indeed, in his swimming powers, that he asserted his belief that on a favorable day he could swim across the English Channel, from Dover to Calais. In addition to all these occupations, he is stated to have attended debating societies, taken long rambles in the Blue Ridge mountains, and, as he was a clever draughtsman, to have had the habit of covering the walls of his dormitory with rough charcoal sketches. A very interesting and suggestive memento of his residence at Charlottesville is a copy from the register, of a list of books which Poe borrowed from the library while he was a student: Rollin’s “Histoire Ancienne,” “Histoire Romaine,” Robertson’s “America,” Marshall’s “Washington,” Voltaire’s “Histoire Particulière,” and Dufief’s “Nature Displayed.” Those who have studied his works know what good use he made of this selection. [page 7:]

But this wonderful catalogue of accomplishments must not be accepted as entirely without alloy. Poe was not superhuman in his virtues. His morbid sensibility and proud self-reliance, both separately and conjointly, often led him into mischief. It has been told that his venturesome swimming feat was undertaken for a wager: in that he was successful; but success could not always attend his deeds of daring. A love of cards led him into extravagance, and he himself is averred, in conversation with a classmate, to have regretted his waste of money, confessing to a total indebtedness of $2000; certainly no very large sum for the heir of a wealthy man, but enough, apparently, to excite the anger of his adopted father, if unproved statements may be accepted as facts. Poe returned home; but the following year, 1827, roused by the efforts the Greeks were making to emancipate themselves from the Turkish yoke; uncomfortable, undoubtedly, at home; and probably emulous of Byron, whose example had excited the chivalric boys of both continents, he and an acquaintance, Ebenezer Berling [[Burling]], determined to start for Greece and offer their aid to the insurgents. Why, is not stated, but Mr. Berling [[Burling]] did not go, while the embryo poet did; at least so it is declared, although what became of him — where he went and what his adventures were — is still unknown. Poe seems to have been very reticent upon the subject of his year’s absence, and to have left uncontradicted the various stories invented, and even published during his life-time, to account for the interregnum in his history. The legend of his having gone to St. Petersburg and got involved in difficulties that necessitated ministerial aid for his extrication, must be abandoned, as must also the suggestion made by the anonymous author of a scurrilous paper, that Poe came to London and formed the acquaintance of Leigh Hunt and Theodore Hook, and lived “as that class of men — dragging out a precarious existence in garrets, doing drudgery work, writing for the great presses and for the reviews, whose world-wide celebrity has been the fruit of such men’s labor.” The ignorance [page 8:] displayed by these words of English men and letters, needs no comment.

Poe does not reappear upon the scene until the beginning of March, 1829, reaching Richmond, Virginia, too late to take a last farewell of his adopted mother, she having been interred the very day before his return home. Mrs. Allan seems to have exercised a conciliatory power in the household, where, it is said, it was frequently needed; and the poor lad, who in after-life invariably spoke well of this lady, doubtless soon felt the effects of her loss. Mr. Allan does not appear to have received his adopted son very cordially; but when Poe expressed his willingness to devote himself to the military profession, he exerted his influence and obtained a nomination to a scholarship in the West Point Military Academy. As each cadet at this institution was allowed twenty-eight dollars monthly, the poet, for such he now was, was, to some extent, rendered independent of his godfather’s support. Poe’s first generally known essay in literature, a little volume of poems, entitled “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems,” was published this year in Baltimore. An earlier volume of verse, entitled “Tamerlane and Other Poems,” had been published in Boston in 1827, but was suppressed through circumstances of a private nature, and copies of it are exceedingly rare. The West Point records prove that Poe was admitted as a cadet on the 1st of July, 1830. He is declared to have entered upon his new mode of living with customary energy, but speedily discovered how totally unsuited to him now were the strict discipline and monotonous training of the Military Academy. The wayward and erratic course of existence to which he had long been accustomed, together with the fact of his having been so long a time sole master of his own actions, rendered it impossible for him to submit to the galling restraints of this institution. A fellow cadet with him at the Academy speaks of “ his utter inefficiency and state of abstractedness at that place. He could not, or would not,” he remarks, “follow its mathematical requirements. His [page 9:] mind was off from the matter-of-fact routine of the drill, which, in such a case as his, seemed practical joking, on some ethereal, visionary expedition. He was marked,” adds the writer, “for an early grave.” The place, indeed, was utterly unsuited to one of Poe’s age, temperament and experience; it was but another edition of Pegasus at the plough, and the climax was, as would not have been difficult to foresee, that on the 7th of January, 1831, he was tried by a general court-martial “for various neglects of duty and disobedience of orders,” which, however, consisted solely in absence from various drills. He was found guilty, and on the subsequent 6th of March was dismissed the service of the United States.

While still a cadet, and all unawed by the impending sentence, he published an enlarged edition of his boyish rhymes, as “Poems by Edgar A. Poe.” This volume was for private circulation, and was dedicated to “The United States Corps of Cadets.” This dedication appears to have drawn upon its unfortunate author the ridicule of his fellow-cadets, and one of them, alluding to the contents of the little volume, says: “These verses were the source of great merriment with us boys, who considered the author cracked, and the verses ridiculous doggerel.” Happily for literature, the opinion of “us boys” did not carry much weight, and Poe continued to write “verses,” all regardless of West Point and its judgments. This little, forgotten book — it contained only 124 pages — is very interesting, not only on account of its cleverly written prefatory letter of seventeen pages, but also from the fact that it contains a large quantity of verse suppressed in subsequent editions of Poe’s works. The omissions are as happy as have been the additions to these boyish poems, and notably mark the progress of their author’s genius. No regard for the relics of his youth withheld Edgar A. Poe in after-life from pruning away the excrescenees of his juvenile verse: with unswerving hand the critic clipped and molded his material into artistic unity.

Whatever may have been Mr. Allan’s ideas as to the expulsion [page 10:] of his adopted son from the Military Academy, he received the prodigal, and apparently on the old footing. Poe had not been back long in Richmond before he became attached to a Miss Royster, and ultimately, it is believed, engaged to her. The lady’s father seems to have been opposed to the match, and the engagement — if there was an engagement — was broken off. A violent quarrel took place between the old man and his godson, and the result was that they parted, never to meet again. Poe is stated to have now started off with the intention of proceeding to Poland to assist the Poles in their struggle against Russia, but does not appear to have left the American shores, probably restrained by the intelligence of the fall of Warsaw, an event which took place on the 6th of September, 1831. At this time, as if to complete the estrangement between the chivalric young poet and his godfather, Mr. Allan took unto himself a young wife, “the beautiful Miss Paterson,” and, as if to give the death-blow to all hope, Miss Royster married Mr. Shelton, a man of fortune. Aimless and resourceless, Poe’s position was indeed a sad one. Whither he went and what he did is a mystery not yet unravelled, but that he tried to support himself by literature is pretty evident. It is allegvd that during the dreary interregnum of the next two years some of his finest tales were written; but, be that as it may, he had to prove that the waters of Helicon were anything but Pactolian. In 1833, the proprietor of the Baltimore “Saturday Visitor [[Visiter]]” offered money prizes for the best prose story and the best poem. Poe, who was in that city, selected and sent in six of his stories, under the title of “Tales of the Folio Club,” and his poem of “The Coliseum.” The well-known literary men who adjudicated upon this occasion, unanimously decided that the author of “The Folio Club” tales, who was of course unknown to them, was entitled to both the premiums. With his usual recklessness, Griswold writes the story of the award thus:

“Such matters are usually disposed of in a very off-hand way. Committees [page 11:] to award literary prizes drink to the payer’s health in good wines, over unexamined manuscripts, 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 calligraphy, 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 manuscript was unfolded. Immediately the ‘confidential envelope’ was opened, and the successful competitor was found to bear the scarcely known name of Poe.”

A very slight examination of this story, apart from the direct evidence obtained against it, might have convinced any impartial reasoner that in this, as in most of his unremitting efforts to underrate Poe’s ability, Griswold has overshot the mark. It may not have occurred to him that honorable men, with reputations to maintain, could not be got to act in the way he describes; but his own knowledge of publishing might have taught him that “the publisher’s advantage” would be promoted better by careful examination of the submitted manuscripts than by leaving them unfolded. That Poe’s name was entirely unknown, and not scarcely known to the adjudicators, need hardly be pointed out. It is gratifying to know that not only was Griswold’s assertion emphatically denied by Messrs. Kennedy and Latrobe, the two surviving adjudicators, but that the printed award itself contains evidence contradicting it. “Among the prose articles were many of various and distinguished merit,” runs the statement, “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,” etc., etc., which demonstrates two things: that there had been some doubt in the poem department, and that Poe was entirely unknown to the awarders of the prize. So much for the value of Griswold’s testimony, circumstantial as it seems.

Mr. Kennedy, the well-known author of “Horse-shoe Robinson” [page 12:] and other popular works, was so interested in the unknown competitor that he invited him home, and Poe’s response, written in his usual clear and exquisite calligraphy, proves to what a depth of misery he had sunk. “Your invitation to dinner has wounded me to the quick,” he pathetically declares. “I can not come for reasons of the most humiliating nature — my personal appearance. You may imagine my mortification in making this disclosure to you, but it is necessary.” Urged by the noblest feelings, the popular author at once sought out the unfortunate youth, and found him, as he declares, almost starving. Recognising his worth, Mr. Kennedy at once became his friend, and it is interesting to know that nothing was ever done by Poe to forfeit this friendship, as indeed Mr. Kennedy, when informed of the poet’s decease, declared. It seems impossible to credit any of Griswold’s stories of Poe’s ungrateful behavior, when we find so many persons testifying to his goodness of heart. Mr. Kennedy, so far from contenting himself with mere courtesies, assisted his young protégé to re-establish himself in the outward garb of respectability, and treated him more like a dear relative than a chance acquaintance. In his diary of this date he records: “I gave him clothing, free access to my table, and the use of a horse for exercise whenever he chose; in fact, brought him up from the verge of despair.”

During this era in his life, his godfather’s second wife having presented her husband with a son, Poe’s prospects of inheritance were destroyed; indeed, when Mr. Allan died, in the spring of 1834, all expectations of receiving any portion of his wealth were put an end to by a will is which he was not mentioned. Assisted by Mr. Kennedy and other literary men, however, by constant drudgery he contrived to earn a livelihood. In August of this year a Mr. White, an energetic and accomplished man, projected the “Southern Literary Messenger.” At the suggestion of Mr. Kennedy, Poe sent some of his stories to the new magazine, and in March 1835 Mr. White published, with some flattering comments, [page 13:] “Berenice.” Mr. Kennedy had now had eighteen months’ experience of Poe without finding anything to alter his opinion of him, and in April wrote the following letter with reference to him to Mr. White: —

“DEAR SIR — Poe did right in referring to me. He is very clever with his pen — classical and scholarlike. He wants experience and direction, but I have no doubt he can be made very useful to you. And, poor fellow! he is very poor. I told him to write something for every number of your magazine, and that you might find it to your advantage to give him some permanent employ. He has a volume of very bizarre tales in the hands of ——— , in Philadelphia, who for a year past has been promising to publish them. This young fellow is highly imaginative, and a little given to the terrific. He is at work on a tragedy, but I have turned him to drudging upon whatever may make money, and I have no doubt you and he will find your account in each other”

Mr. White did, undoubtedly, find his “account” in his new contributor; and after the publication in the June number of the “Messenger,” of “Haas Pfaall,” — three weeks previous to the appearance is the “New York Sun” of Mr. Locke’s famous “Moon Hoax,” be it noted — found Poe’s reputation increasing so rapidly, that he was only too glad to act upon Mr. Kennedy’s suggestion of permanent employment, and offered to engage him to assist in the editorial duties of his magazine at a salary of five hundred and twenty dollars per annum. The young author willingly accepted the appointment, and removed, in September 1835, from Baltimore to Richmond, Virginia, where the “Messenger” was published. The following letter, written to his friend Kennedy, to acquaint him with the fact of his appointment, affords a sad picture of the terrible melancholia under which the poet then, and so frequently, suffered. This affliction, with which all who would know Poe thoroughly should be acquainted, was not merely the result of privation and grief, but undoubtedly to some extent hereditary.

“RICHMOND, September 11, 1835.

“DEAR SIR — I received a letter from Dr. Miller, in which he tells me you [page 14:] are in town. I hasten, then, to write you, and express by letter what I have always found it impossible to express orally — my deep sense of gratitude for your frequent and ineffectual assistance and kindness. Through your influence Mr. White has been induced to employ me in assisting him with the editorial duties of his magazine, at a salary of five hundred and twenty dollars per annum. The situation is agreeable to me for many reasons; but, alas! it appears to me that nothing can give me pleasure or the slightest gratification. Excuse me, my dear sir, if in this letter you find much incoherency. My feelings at this moment are pitiable indeed. I am suffering under a depression of spirits, such as I have never felt before. I have struggled in vain against the influence of this melancholy; you will believe me, when I say that I am still miserable, in spite of the great improvement in my circumstances. I say you will believe me, and for this simple reason, that a man who is writing for effect does not write thus. My heart is open before you; if it be worth reading, read it. I am wretched and know not why. Console me — for you can. But let it be quickly, or it will be too late. Write me immediately; convince me that it is worth one’s while — that it is at all necessary to live, and you will prove yourself indeed my friend. Persuade me to do what is right. I do mean this. I do not mean that you should consider what I now write you a jest. Oh! pity me! for I feel that my words are incoherent; but I will recover myself. You will not fail to see that I am suffering under a depression of spirits which will ruin me should it be long-continued. Write me then, and quickly; urge me to do what is right. Your words will have more weight with me than the words of others, for you were my friend when no one else was. Fail not, as you value your peace of mind hereafter.


To this saddening wail of despair, Mr. Kennedy responded —

“I am sorry to see you in such plight as your letter shows you in. It is strange that just at this time, when everybody is praising you, and when fortune is beginning to smile upon your hitherto wretched circumstances, you should be invaded by these blue-devils. It belongs, however, to your age and temper to be thus buffeted — but be assured, it only wants a little resolution to master the adversary forever. You will doubtless do well henceforth is literature, and add to your comforts, as well as your reputation, which it gives me great pleasure to assure you is everywhere rising in popular esteem.”

“These blue-devils” notwithstanding, the new editor worked wonders with the “Messenger.” “His talents made that periodical quite brilliant, while he was connected with it,” records Mr. Kennedy, and, indeed, in a little more than a twelvemonth, Poe [page 15:] raised its circulation from seven hundred to nearly five thousand. This success was partially due to the originality and fascination of Poe’s stories, and partially owing to the fearlessness of his trenchant critiques. He could not be made, either by flattery or abuse, a respecter of persons. In the December number of the “Messenger” he began that system of literary scarification — that crucial dissection of bookmaking mediocrities, which, while it created throughout the length and breadth of the States a terror of his powerful pen, at the same time raised up against him a host of, although unknown, implacable enemies, who, hereafter, were only too glad to seize upon and repeat any story — never mind how improbable — to his discredit. Far better would it have been for his future welfare, if, instead of affording contemporary nonentities a chance of literary immortality, by impaling there upon his pen’s sharp point, he had devoted his whole time to the production of his wonderful stories, or still more wonderful poems. Why could he not have left the task of crushing the works of his Liliputian contemporaries to the ordinary “disappointed authors”?

During 1836, Poe devoted the whole of his time to the “Messenger,” producing tales, poems, and reviews, in profusion; indeed, at Mr. White’s suggestion, apparently, frittering away his genius over these latter. Early in the year, a gleam of hope seemed to break in upon his hapless career. In Richmond, where he was among his own kindred, he met, loved, and married his cousin Virginia, the daughter of his fathers sister. Miss Clemm was but a girl in years, and was not unsuspected of inheriting symptoms of the family complaint, consumption; but, undeterred by this, or by his slender income, the poor poet was married to his kinswoman, and, it must be confessed, in happier circumstances, a better or more suitable helpmate could scarcely have been found for him, while marriage had the further advantage of bringing him under the motherly rare of his aunt, Mrs. Clemm. In January 1837, Poe resigned the editorial management of the “Southern Literary [page 16:] Messenger,” to accept the more lucrative employment offered him in New York. Mr. White parted from Poe very reluctantly, and in the number of the “Messenger” containing the announcement of his resignation, issued a note to the subscribers, wherein, after alluding to the ability with which the retiring editor had conducted the magazine, he remarked, “Mr. Poe, however, will continue to furnish its columns from time to time, with the effusions of his vigorous and popular pen.” This incident is mentioned, and attention drawn to the fact, more than once acknowledged by Mr. White, that Poe resigned for other employment, because. Griswold declares that he was dismissed for drunkenness.

From Richmond, Poe removed to New York, where he and his household took up their residence in Carmine street. Mr. Powell says, that in his writing for the “New York Quarterly Review,” the poet “came down pretty freely with his critical axe, and made many enemies.” An interesting sketch of Poe’s ménage at this period of his history has been left us by the late Mr. William Gowans, the wealthy and respected, but eccentric New York bibliopolist. Alluding to the untruthfulness of the prevalent idea of Poe’s character, the shrewd old man remarks:

“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 that 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 eyes could match those 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. . . . Poe had a remarkably pleasing and prepossessing countenance; what the ladies would call decidedly handsome.” [page 17:]

In addition to this testimony, Mr. Gowans, in conversation with Mr. Thomas C. Latto of New York, stated that he was a boarder in the house of Mrs. Clemm, and that Poe and his young wife, who was described as fragile in constitution, also boarded in the same building.

“He only left when the household was broken up. Of course Mr. Gowans had the best opportunity of seeing what kind of life the poet led. His testimony is that he (Poe) was uniformly quiet, reticent, gentlemanly in demeanor, and during the whole period he lived there, not the slightest trace of intoxication or dissipation was discernible in the illustrious inmate, who was at that time engaged in the composition of ‘Arthur Gordon Pym.’ Poe kept good hours, and all his little wants were seen to both by Mrs. Clemm and her daughter, who watched him as studiously as if he had been a child. Mr. Gowans,” remarks Mr. Latto, “is himself a man of intelligence, and, being a Scotchman, is by no means averse to ‘a twa-handed crack,’ but he felt himself kept at a distance somewhat, by Poe’s aristocratic reserve.”

During January and February of this year (1837), Poe contributed the first portions of “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” to the “Messenger,” and encouraged by the interest it excited, he determined to complete it. It was not published in book form, however, until July of the following year. Griswold declares that it “received little attention” is America, and adds, copies of the work being sent to England, “and it 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.” The fact is, that in a short interval the story was several times reprinted in England, and did attract considerable notice; the “air of truth” which Griswold suggested was only in the attempt, having excited much interest.

In the fall of 1838 Poe removed to Philadelphia, and entered into as arrangement to write for the “Gentleman’s Magazine” of that city. His talents soon produced brilliant effects upon this publication, and in May, 1839, he was appointed to the editorial management, “devoting to it,” says Griswold, “for ten dollars a [page 18:] week, two hours every day, which left him abundant time for more important labors.” What leisure his editorial duties may have left is unknown, but he certainly contrived to write for some other publications, and as several of his finest stories and most pungent critiques first made their appearance at this time, it is to be presumed that he contrived to earn a fair livelihood. In the fall of 1839 he made a collection of his best stories, and published them in two volumes as “Tales of the Grotesque and the Arabesque.” This collection contained some of his most imaginative writings, and greatly increased his reputation. It included “The Fall of the House of Usher,” a story containing his characteristic poem of “The Haunted Palace.” Griswold avers that Poe was indebted to Longfellow’s “Beleaguered City” for the idea of this exquisite poem, but that Poe asserted Longfellow owed the idea to him. As a rule, plagiarism is a charge easy to make, but hard to prove; and as some, if not all, of the letters ascribed by Griswold to Poe are evidently fabrications, his evidence will go for very little. It may, however, be pointed out that Poe’s poem had been published long before Longfellow’s, and not “a few weeks,” as stated by Griswold, and in two different publications. The resemblance was probably accidental, but at all events Tennyson had worked out the same idea in “The Deserted House,” published in 1830. In the same collection appeared Poe’s favorite tale of “Ligeia.” On a copy of this weird story, in my possession, is an indorsement by the poet to the effect that “ Ligeia was also suggested by a dream” — the “also” referring to a poem sent to Mrs. Whitman, and which, he wrote to her, “contained all the events of a dream.”

Notwithstanding the reputation which his tales brought him, he was frequently forced, by the res angusta domi, to forsake his legitimate province in literature, and turn his pen to any project that proffered a certain remuneration. There is a story told of him by Griswold, on the authority, he asserts, of a Philadelphia [page 19:] paper, to support his denunciation of Poe as a wholesale plagiarist. Poe, so runs the legend, reprinted a popular work on Conchology, written by the well-known naturalist, Captain Thomas Brown, as by himself, “and actually took out a copyright 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.” For ten years after Poe’s death this utterly improbable story circulated wherever the poet’s biography was told; and although many persons must have known its untruth, no one ventured to explain the facts, till ultimately it came under the notice of Prof. Wyatt, the person of all others best able to disprove the tale, which he did through the “Home Journal.” A man of considerable erudition and scientific attainments, Prof. Wyatt was publishing a series of works on Natural History, and among them was a “Manual of Conchology”; to this Poe, whose scientific knowledge was most comprehensive and exact, contributed so largely that the publisher was fully justified in putting his popular name on the title-page, although he only received a share of the profits. As both Brown’s “Text Book” and Poe’s “Manual” are founded on the system laid down by Lamarck, they necessarily resemble each other; but the absurd charge that one is plagiarised from the other, can only have arisen from gross ignorance or falsehood. About this same time Poe also published, as a sequence to such studies, a translation and digest of Lemmonnier’s “ Natural History,” and other works of a similar character.

Toward the close of 1840, Mr. George R. Graham, owner of the “Casket,” acquired possession of the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” and merging the two publications, began a new series as “Graham’s Magazine.” Mr. Graham was only too willing to retain the services of the brilliant editor, and he found his reward is so doing. Edgar Poe, assisted by the proprietor’s liberality to his contributors, in little more than two years raised the number of subscribers to [page 20:] the magazine from five to fifty-two thousand. His daring critiques, his analytic essays, and his weird stories, following one another in rapid succession, startled the public into a knowledge of his power. He created new enemies, however, by the dauntless intrepidity with which he assailed the fragile reputations of the small bookmakers, especially by the publication of his “Autography” papers. He also excited much criticism by the challenge contained in his papers on “Cryptography,” wherein he promulgated the 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 actually took the trouble to examine and solve them, in triumphant proof of the truth of his proposition.

In April, 1841, appeared “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the first of a series illustrating another analytic phase of Poe’s many-sided mind. This story was the first to introduce his name to the French public, and, having caused a lawsuit not altogether conducive to a high estimate of the literary morality of France, gave an impetus to his reputation is that country, which culminated in the faithfully vraisemblant translations of Baudelaire, to whose efforts and genius are chiefly due the fact that Poe’s tales have become standard classic works in the French language. Edgar Poe is, it should be pointed out, the only American writer really well known and popular in France; while in Spain his tales early acquired fame, and have now become thoroughly nationalised; they, with the exception of those on Spanish subjects by Irving, Prescott, and Motley, being the only American works known in that country. In Germany, Poe’s poems and tales have been frequently translated; but owing to their characteristics having been mistaken, it is only quite recently that they have attained any widely diffused celebrity amongst the native Germans.

In 1842 appeared “The Descent into the Maelström,” a tale that in many respects may be deemed one of his most marvellous [page 21:] and idiosyncratic. It is one of those tales which, like “The Gold Bug,” demonstrates the untenability of the theory first promulgated by Griswold, and since so frequently echoed by his copyists, that Poe’s ingenuity in unriddling a mystery was only ingenious in appearance, as he himself had woven the webs he so dexterously unweaves. The tales above cited, however, prove Griswold’s systematic depreciation of Poe’s genius. They are the secrets of nature which he unveils, and are not the riddles of art; he did not invent the natural truth that a cylindrical body, swimming in a vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and was drawn in with greater difficulty, than bodies of any other form of equal bulk, any more than he invented the mathematical ratio in which certain letters of the English language recur in all documents of any length. He did not invent “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” but he tore away the mysteriousness and laid bare the truth in that strange story of real life. He did not invent, but he was the first to describe, if not to perceive, those peculiar idiosyncrasies of the human mind so wonderfully but so clearly portrayed in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Imp of the Perverse,” and other wonderful examples of his mastery over the mental chords and wheels of our being.

It was during his brilliant editorship, it is believed, of “Graham’s Magazine,” that Poe discovered and first introduced to the American public the genius of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and it was greatly due to him that her fame in America was coeval with, if it did not precede, that won by her in her native land. In May, 1841, he contributed to the Philadelphia “Saturday Evening Post” — a paper belonging to Mr. Graham — that prospective notice of the newly commenced story of “Barnaby Rudge,” which drew from Dickens a letter of admiring acknowledgment. In this said notice the poet, with mathematical precision, explained and foretold the exact plot of the as yet unpublished story.

At the close of 1842, Poe resigned this post of joint editor and [page 22:] reviewer of “Graham’s Magazine”; why or wherefore is not clearly known, but that it was not through drunkenness, as alleged by Griswold, his successor in the editorial duties, Mr. Graham’s own testimony conclusively proves. Poe’s cherished idea was to start a magazine of his own, but his resignation may perhaps be justly ascribed to that constitutional restlessness which from time to time overpowered him, and drove him from place to place in a vain search after the El Dorado of his hopes. The truth as to his severance from “Graham’s,” like so many of the details that enshroud and confuse his life’s story, was probably purposely mystified by Poe, who had even a greater love than had Byron of mystifying the impertinent busybodies who wearied him for biographical information. It was shortly previous to this epoch in his life that he had the misfortune to make the acquaintance of Rufus Griswold, a man who, although several years Poe’s junior in age, had by many years “knocking about the world,” gained an experience of its shifts and subterfuges that made him far more than a match for the poet’s unworldly nature. According to Griswold, his acquaintance with Poe began in the spring of 1841, by the poet calling at his hotel and leaving two letters of introduction, and he follows up his account of the interview with the quotation of several letters purporting to have been written by Poe. The enmity of Griswold for Poe — “the long, intense, and implacable enmity” — spoken of by John Neal and Mr. Graham, is so palpable to readers of the soi-distant “Memoir,” that it needed not the outside evidence which has been so abundantly furnished to prove it, and the wonder is, not so much that the biographer’s audacious charges should have obtained credit abroad, but that no American should yet have produced so complete a refutation of them as could and should have been given years ago.

In the spring of 1843, the one hundred dollar prize offered by “The Dollar Newspaper,” was obtained by Poe for his tale of “The Gold Bug,” a tale illustrative of and originating in his [page 23:] theory of ciphers. As usual, Griswold, in alluding to it, can not refrain from displaying the cloven hoof, and knowing it to be the most popular of Poe’s stories in America, refers to it “as one of the most remarkable illustrations of his ingenuity of construction and apparent subtlety of reasoning.” In 1844 the poet removed to New York, whither his daily increasing fame had already preceded him. “For the first time,” remarks Griswold, completely ignoring the talent of all other American cities, “for the first time he was received into circles capable of both the appreciation and the production of literature.” It has generally been assumed that the first publication Poe wrote for in New York was the “Mirror,” but the author of a sketch of Willis and his contemporaries, contributed to the Newark “Northern Monthly” in 1868, referring to Poe as

“One who has been more shamefully maligned and slandered than any other writer that can be named,” remarks: “I say this from personal knowledge of Mr. Poe, who was associated with myself in the editorial conduct of my own paper before his introduction into the office of Messrs. Willis and Morris”; adding, “for Mr. Willis’s manly vindication of the unfortunate, I honor him.”

Again, referring to this vindication of Poe from Griswold’s accusation, he says:

“Mr. Willis’s testimony is freely confirmed by other publishers. On this subject I have some singular revelations which throw a strong light on the causes that darkened the life, and made most unhappy the death of one of the most remarkable of all our literary men, as an English reviewer once said, ‘the most brilliant genius of his country.’ ”

In the fall of 1844, Poe was engaged as sub-editor and critic on the “Mirror,” a daily paper belonging to N. P. Willis and General George Morris. Willis writing from Idlewild, in October 1859, to his fellow-poet and former partner, recalls to his memory that

“Poe came to us quite incidentally, neither of us having been personally [page 24:] acquainted with him till that time. . . . As he was a man who never smiled, and never said a propitiatory or deprecating word, we were not likely to have been seized with any sudden partiality or wayward caprice in his favor. . . . You remember how absolutely and how good-humoredly ready he was for any suggestion; how punctually and industriously reliable in the following out of the wish once expressed; how cheerful and present-minded at his work, when he might excusably have been so listless and abstracted.”

During the whole six months or so that Poe was engaged on the “Mirror,” Willis asserts that “he was invariably punctual and industrious,” and was daily “at his desk from nine in the morning till the evening paper went to press.” At this period some of the most remarkable productions of his genius, including his poetic chef-d’œuvre “The Raven,” were given to the world. This unique and most original of poems first appeared in Colton’s “American Review” for February, 1845, as by “Quarles.” It was at once reprinted in the “Evening Mirror” with the author’s name attached, and in a few weeks was known over the whole of the United States. It carried its author’s name and fame from shore to shore; called into existence parodies and imitations innumerable; drew warm eulogies from some of the first of foreign poets, and finally made him the lion of the season. And for this masterpiece of genius — for this poem which has probably done more for the renown of American letters than any single work — it is alleged that Poe, then at the height of his renown, received the sum of ten dollars! Mrs. Browning, in a letter written soon after the republication of “The Raven” in England, says:

“This vivid writing — this power which is felt — has produced a sensation here in England. Some of my friends are taken by the fear of it, and some by the music. I hear of persons who are haunted by the ‘Nevermore,’ and an acquaintance of mine, who has the misfortune of possessing a bust of Pallas, can not bear to look at it in the twilight.”

And then referring to Poe’s “Mesmeric Revelations,” which some journals accepted as a record of facts, the poetess resumes: [page 25:]

“Then there is a tale going the rounds of the newspapers about mesmerism, which is throwing us all into ‘most admired disorder’ — dreadful doubts as to whether it can be true, as the children say of ghost stories. The certain thing about it is the power of the writer.”

The “Broadway Journal” was started by two journalists at the beginning of 1845, and in March, Poe was associated with them in its management. He had occasionally written for it from the first, but had nothing to do with the editorial arrangements until the tenth number. One of the most noticeable of his contributions was a critique on the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, to whom he shortly afterwards dedicated, in most admiring terms, a selection of his poems, published by Messrs. Wiley & Putnam. In July of this year, the sole supervision of the “Broadway Journal” devolved upon Poe, but it was not until the following October that he became proprietor as well as editor of this publication. His predecessors do not appear to have invested much money or talent in the undertaking, and when they retired and left the poet in entire possession of the publication, its acquisition would not appear to have added much to his worldly goods. In March, he gave a lecture in the library of the New York Historical Society, on the American Poets, and attracted much attention, not only by the originality and courage of his remarks, but by the fascination of his presence, his eloquence, and his personal beauty. The furor which his lecture created caused him to be asked to Boston, and in the autumn he accepted an invitation to recite a poem in the Lyceum of that city.

“When he accepted the invitation,” avers Griswold — who assumes to have known Poe’s innermost thoughts — “he intended to write an original poem upon a subject which he said had haunted his imagination for years, but cares, anxieties, and feebleness of will prevented, and a week before the appointed night, he wrote to a friend imploring assistance. ‘You compose with such astonishing facility,’ he urged in his letter, ‘that you can easily furnish one quite soon enough, a poem that shall be equal to my reputation.’. . . At last, instead of pleading illness, as he had previously done on a simllar occasion, he determined to read his poem of ‘Al Aaraaf.’ ” [page 26:]

It is difficult to say how much, if any, of this story is true; but as the lady died before the “Memoir” was published, Griswold, who was known to have been her confidant, was safe in telling the tale. One who was present on the occasion of the said recitation, states that the lecture course of the Boston Lyceum was waning in popularity, and that Poe’s fame being at its zenith, he was invited to deliver a poem at the opening of the winter session.

“I remember him well,” he remarks, “as he came on the platform. He was the best realisation of a poet in feature, air, and manner, that I have ever seen, and the unusual paleness of his face added to its aspect of melancholy interest. He delivered a poem that no one understood, but at its conclusion gave the audience a treat which almost redeemed their disappointment. This was the recitation of his own ‘Raven,’ which he repeated with thrilling effect. It was something well worth treasuring in memory. Poe,” he adds, “after he returned to New York, was much incensed at Boston criticism on his poem.”

The poet was not probably “incensed” to any very great extent, but doubtless found it a profitable hit for his journal to, as he styled it, “kick up a bobbery.” A week after the lecture, therefore, he began to comment, in a tone of playful badinage, upon the remarks made with respect to it by the newspapers, especially the “Bostonian.” Griswold reprinted nearly the whole of Poe’s good-natured bantering in the “Memoir,” and appears to have fancied something terrible was hidden in the jokes about the Bostonians and their “Frog Pond,” and deems “it scarcely necessary to suggest that this must have been written before he had quite recovered from the long intoxication which maddened him at the time to which it refers.” As, “the time to which it refers” was evidently that of the lecture, and as it was written upward of a week after that event, and as Poe continued the discussion in the same tone three weeks later, as, indeed, the biographer notices, “the long intoxication” must, indeed, have been a “lengthy” one. Although these hurried newspaper jottings were, as Griswold himself admits, written when Poe was suffering from “cares, [page 27:] anxieties, and feebleness of will,” and when, as he shows, the poor persecuted poet was in pecuniary difficulties, and, not being able to pay for assistance, was obliged somehow to write nearly all the “Journal” himself, yet, under all such conflicting ills, these few jocular, but overstrained jottings are unearthed and adduced as evidence of Poe’s irretrievably bad nature.

During his possession of the “Broadway Journal,” the labors of Edgar Poe must have been terrible: not only did his poverty compel him to contribute papers to other magazines, but week after week he wrote the larger portion of the “Journal’s” folio pages himself, besides performing the many duties of an editorial proprietor. The “much friendly assistance,” which Griswold — who said also that he was friendless — asserts he received in his management of the journal, being chiefly confined to the contribution of a few verses. He was only able to comply with this great strain upon his mental and physical strength by reprinting many of his published tales and poems in the columns of his paper, and even these were submitted to a close scrutiny, and innumerable alterations and corrections made in them. A journal of his own in which he could give vent to his own untrammelled opinions, unchecked by the mercantile and, undoubtedly, more prudential views of publishers, had long been one of Poe’s most earnest desires, and he attained his wish in the possession of the “Broadway Journal”; but poverty, ill-health, want of worldly knowledge, and a sick, a dying wife, to distract him, all combined to overpower his efforts. What could the unfortunate poet do? During the three months that he had complete control of the moribund journal, he made it, considering when it was published, and how, as good a cheap literary paper as was ever produced. All his efforts, however, were insufficient to keep it alive, so, on the 3d of January, 1846, he was obliged to resign his favorite hobby of a paper of his own. It may be pointed out that while in possession of the “Broadway,” he availed himself of the opportunity of displaying [page 28:] his almost Quixotic feelings of gratitude toward those who had formerly befriended him, and not only to the living, whose aid might continue, but toward those who had already entered into the “hollow vale.” His generous tributes to departed worth are truer proofs of his nobility of heart, than any disproof that malignity could invent.

In the winter of 1845-6, Edgar Poe was occasionally to be met with in the literary reunions of New York, and sometimes, says Mrs. Whitman, his fair young wife was seen with him. “She seldom took part is the conversation, but the memory of her sweet and girlish face, always animated and vivacious, repels the assertion, afterwards so cruelly and recklessly made, that she died a victim to the neglect and unkindness of her husband, who, it has been said, ‘deliberately sought her death that he might embalm her memory in immortal dirges’.” Gilfillan* declares that Poe caused the death of his wife that he might have a fitting theme for “The Raven”; but unfortunately for the truth of that gentleman’s theory, the poem was published more than two years previous to the event he so ingeniously assumed it to commemorate. Friend and foe alike, who knew anything of Poe, bear testimony to the unvarying kindness and affection of the poet for his young wife. “His love for his wife,” says Mr. Graham, “was a sort of rapturous worship. I have seen him hovering around her when she was ill, with all the fond fear and tender anxiety of a mother for her firstborn — her slightest cough causing in him a shudder, a heart-chill that was visible. . . It was this hourly anticipation of her loss that made him a sad and thoughtful man, and lent a mournful melody to his undying song.” Mrs. Whitman remarks, that it was for his dear wife’s sake, “and for the recovery of that peace which had been so fatally imperilled amid the irritations and anxieties of his New York life, that Poe left the city and removed to the little Dutch cottage in Fordham, where he passed the three remaining years of his life.” [page 29:]

In May, 1846, Poe began to contribute to “Godey’s Lady’s Book” a series of critiques on the “Literati of New York.” These essays were immensely successful, but the caustic style of some of them produced terrible commotion in the ranks of mediocrity, as may be seen from Mr. Godey’s notice to his readers respecting the anonymous and other letters he received concerning them. A Dunn-English, or Dunn-Brown, for be is doubly named, dissatisfied with the manner in which his literary shortcomings had been reviewed by Poe, instead of waiting, as others did, for the poet’s death, when every ass could have its kick at the lion’s carcass, “retaliated in a personal newspaper article,” remarks Duyckinck, in his invaluable “Encyclopedia,” “and the communication was reprinted in the ‘Evening Mirror’ in New York, whereupon Poe instituted a libel suit against that journal, and recovered several hundred dollars.” Griswold’s account of the affair is that “Dunn English chose to evince his resentment of the critic’s unfairness by the publication of a card, in which he painted strongly the infirmities of Poe’s life and character.” “Poe’s article,” he continues, “was entirely false in what purported to be the facts,” and, to support this audacious misrepresentation, he, in reprinting the said article, inserted a number of personalities, the whole of which are absent from the real critique published in the “Lady’s Book”! It is thoroughly characteristic of Griswold’s utter recklessness that he declares Mr. Godey’s refusal to print Poe’s rejoinder to English in the “Lady’s Book,” sent on the 27th of June, led “to a disgraceful quarrel,” and to the “premature conclusion” of the “Literati”; and that Poe “ceased to write for the ‘Lady’s Book’ in consequence of Mr. Godey’s justifiable refusal to print in that miscellany his ‘Reply to Dr. English.’ ” Poe’s review of English appeared in the second or June number of the “Literati,” and when Griswold’s habitual recklessness is known, one is not surprised to find, upon reference to the magazine, that the sketches ran their stipulated course until the following October, and that after that date, and until within a short time of [page 30:] his decease, Poe continued to contribute to the “Lady’s Book”; nor is one surprised to find Mr. Godey writing to the “Knickerbocker” in defence and praise of the poet’s “honorable and blameless conduct.” In January, 1847, the poet’s darling wife died, and in an autographic letter now before us, Poe positively reiterates the accusation that she, — “My poor Virginia, was continually tortured (although not deceived) by anonymous letters, and on her deathbed declared that her life had been shortened by their writer,” a writer whose infamy can only remain concealed through obscurity. The loss of his wife threw the poet into a melancholy stupor which lasted for several weeks; but nature reasserting her powers, he gradually resumed his wonted avocations. During the whole of the year Poe lived a quiet, secluded life with his mother-in-law, receiving occasional visits from his friends and admirers, and thinking out the great and crowning work of his life — “Eureka” — “that grand [[‘]]prose poem’ to which he devoted the last and most matured energies of his wonderful intellect.” Toward the close of this most immemorial year,” this year in which he had lost his cousin-bride, he wrote his weird monody of “Ulalume.” Like so many of his poems it was autobiographical, and the poet declared it was in its basis, although not in the precise correspondence of time, simply historical. The poem originally possessed an additional verse, but, at the suggestion of Mrs. Whitman, this was subsequently omitted, and the effect of the whole thereby greatly strengthened.

Early in 1848, Poe announced his intention of delivering a series of lectures, with a view to raise a sufficient sum to enable him to start a magazine of his own; the magazine to be called “The Stylus,” and to be “entirely out of the control of a publisher.” To get the requisite number of subscribers he purposed, he wrote to Willis.

“To go South and West, among my personal and literary friends, old college and West Point acquaintances, and see what I can do. In order to get the [page 31:] means of taking the first step, I propose to lecture at the Society Library, on the 3d of February, and, that there may be no cause of squabbling, my subject shall not be literary at all. I have chosen a broad text — ‘The Universe.’ ”

The lecture was delivered in the library of the Historical Society; it was upon the cosmogony of the universe, and formed the substance of the work he afterward published as “Eureka, a Prose Poem.” Mr. M. B. Field, who was present, says:

“It was a stormy night, and there were not more than sixty persons present to the lecture-room. . . His lecture was a rhapsody of the most intense brilliancy. He appeared inspired, and his inspiration affected the scant audience almost painfully. His eyes seemed to glow like those of his own ‘Raven[[’]], and he kept us entranced for two hours and a half.”

Such small audiences, despite the enthusiasm of the lecturer, or the lectured, could not give much material aid toward the poet’s purpose. Poor and baffled, he had to return to his lonely home at Fordham to contemplate anew the problems of creation; or to discuss with stray visitors, with an intensity of feeling and steadfastness of belief never surpassed, his attempted unriddling of the secret of the universe.

Notwithstanding his many admirers, and the friendly co-operation of Mr. Thomas C. Clarke, of Philadelphia, who was to have been the publisher, Poe was unable to get the minimum number of subscribers necessary to start the magazine upon a sound basis; nor did his first lecture, as is palpable, render much assistance toward “the means of taking the first step.” In the early summer of the same year, Poe lectured at Lowell, on the “Female Poets of America,” and in the lecture paid some very high compliments to the “pre-eminence in refinement of art, enthusiasm, imagination, and genius” of Mrs. Whitman, certainly the finest female poet New England has yet produced. Griswold says Mrs. Whitman had first been seen by Poe.

“On his way from Boston, when he visited that city to deliver a poem before [page 32:] the Lyceum there. Restless, near midnight, he wandered from his hotel near where she lived, until he saw her walking in a garden. He related the incident afterward in one of his most exquisite poems, worthy of himself, of her, and of the most exalted passion.”

But the lady was unconscious of the fierce flame she had aroused in the poet’s heart, although, about the time of the above-named lecture, the first intimation reached her, in the shape of the exquisite lines “To Helen,” alluded to by Griswold, commencing, “I saw thee once — once only — years ago.” The poem was unsigned, but the lady had already seen Edgar Poe’s exquisite handwriting, and knew, therefore, whence it came. In September, the poet, having obtained a letter of introduction from a lady friend, sought and obtained an interview with Mrs. Whitman. The result of this and several subsequent meetings was the betrothal of the two poets, but in the following December their engagement came to an end. The real cause of the rupture between Poe and his fiancée has never been published, but there is direct evidence of the utter falsity of the diabolical story repeated in nearly every memoir of the poet. On the evening before what should have been the bridal morn, says Griswold, Poe committed such drunken outrages at the house of his affianced bride, as rendered it necessary to summon the police to eject him, which, he remarks, of course ended the engagement. This misstatement being brought under the notice of the parties concerned, Mr. William I. [[J.]] Pabodie, of Providence, Rhode Island, wrote a direct and specific denial of it, which appeared in the “New York Tribune,” on the 7th of June 1852. “I am authorised to say,” remarks Mr. Pabodie, who, it is scarcely necessary to mention, was a lawyer, as well as a man of considerable literary ability, “not only from my personal knowledge, but also from the statement of ALL who were conversant with the affair, that there exists not a shadow of foundation for the story above alluded to.” The same letter goes on to state that its writer knew Poe well, and at the time alluded to was with him daily. “I was [page 33:] acquainted with the circumstances of his engagement, and with the causes which led to its dissolution,” continues Mr. Pabodie; and he concludes his letter with an earnest appeal to Griswold to do all that now lies in his power “to remove an undeserved stigma from the memory of the departed.” Griswold should have acknowledged that he had been misinformed, and should have done his best to obviate the consequences of his accusation. Not so: he wrote a savage letter to Mr. Pabodie, threatening terrible things if he did not withdraw his statement. Mr. Pabodie did not withdraw, but in a second letter brought forward incontrovertible proofs of other falsifications indulged in by the author of the “Memoir,” who remained, henceforward, discreetly silent.

During the larger portion of 1848, Poe continued his studies, which at this period were chiefly philosophical, at his home in Fordham. Beyond a few reviews and “Marginalia,” he would appear to have given his whole time to the completion of “Eureka,” the various knotty points of which last and grandest effort of his genius he was wont to descant upon with an eloquence that electrified his hearers into belief. He could not submit to hear the claims of his work coolly discussed by unsympathetic and incompetent critics, and after it was published in book form, and thus made public property, he addressed a stinging letter to the “Literary World,” in reply to a flippant critique of the work which had appeared in the columns of that paper. The winter of 1848 and 1849, and the spring of the latter year, Poe passed at Fordham, and during this time he is alleged to have written a book entitled “Phases of American Literature”; and Mr. M. A. Daly states that he saw the complete work, but the manuscript would seem to have disappeared. After Poe’s death the larger portion of his papers passed through Griswold’s hands, and this will doubtless account for all deficiencies. In the summer, Poe revisited Richmond, and spent between two and three months there, during which time he delivered two lectures, in the Exchange Concert Room, on “The Poetic Principle.” [page 34:]

“When in Richmond,” says Mr. Thompson, “he made the office of the ‘Messenger’ a plane of frequent resort. His conversation was always attractive, and at times very brilliant. Among modern authors his favorite was Tennyson, and he delighted to recite from ‘The Princess’ the song ‘Tears, idle tears’ — and a fragment of which,

“When unto dying eyes

The casement slowly grows a glimmering square,”

he pronounced unsurpassed by any image expressed in writing.”

For Mr. Thompson, whom he inspired with an affection similar to that with which he inspired all with whom he had personal dealings, he wrote much of his sparkling and vivid “Marginalia,” as well as reviews of “Stella” (Mrs. Lewis), and of Mrs. Osgood. To his probity and general worth Mr. Thompson, who saw so much of him in his latter days, bears feeling testimony. In 1853, writing to Mr. James Wood Davidson, the talented author of “Living Writers of the South,” Mr. Thompson remarks:

“Two years ago, I had a long conversation in Florence, with Mr. Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, concerning Poe. The two poets, like yourself, had formed an ardent and just admiration of the author of ‘The Raven,’ and feel a strong desire to see his memory vindicated from moral aspersion.”

Unfortunately, the vindication has been slower than the aspersion to make its way in the world.

Edgar Poe had not been long in Richmond on this occasion of his final visit, before it was rumored that he was engaged to the love of his youth, Mrs. Shelton (née Royster), who was now a widow; but he never alluded in any way to such an engagement to his friend Thompson, intimate as he was with him. On the 4th of October he left Richmond by train, with the intention, it is supposed, of going to Fordham to fetch Mrs. Clemm. Before his departure he complained to a friend of indisposition, of chilliness, and of exhaustion, but nevertheless determined to undertake the journey. He left the cars at Baltimore, and several hours later was discovered in the streets insensible. How he was taken ill no [page 35:] one really knows, and most of the absurd reports circulated about his last moments must necessarily be absolute inventions. The most trustworthy account is that the unfortunate man was seized by a gang of ruffians, “cooped,” stupefied with liquor, dragged to the polls, and having “voted the ticket placed in his hands,” was then left in the street to die. When found he was in a dying state, and being unknown, was taken to the Washington University Hospital, where he died on Sunday the 7th of October, 1849, of inflammation of the brain. The following day his remains were buried in the burial-ground of Westminster church, close by the grave of his grandfather, General David Poe.

In telling the true story of Edgar Poe’s life, it is impossible to utterly ignore the fact — a fact of which his enemies have made so much — that toward the close of his melancholy career, sorrow and pecuniary embarrassment drove him to the use of stimulants, as affording the only procurable nepenthe for his troubles. “A less delicate organisation than his,” remarks one of his acquaintances, “might have borne without injury, what to him was maddening.” “I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge,” he wrote, some months before his death, to a dear friend who had tried to hold forth a saving hope. “ It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have perilled life and reputation and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories — memories of wrong and injustice and imputed dishonor — from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending gloom.” There is no necessity for us to touch heavily upon this terrible trait in the character of Edgar Poe — this sad, sickening infirmity of his “lonesome latter years”; his error, if such it may be styled — the impulse which blindly impelled him to his destruction — injured no one but himself; but certainly no one before or since has suffered so severely in character as a consequence of such a fault. Other children of genius have erred far worse than Poe ever did, inasmuch [page 36:] as their derelictions have injured others; but with them the world has dealt leniently, accepting their genius as a compensation. But for poor Edgar Poe, who wronged no one but himself, the world, misled greatly, it is true, as to his real character, has hitherto had no mercy. The true story of his life has now been told; henceforth let him be judged justly; henceforth let his errors be forgotten, and to his name be assigned that place which is due to it in the glory-roll of fame.




[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 3:]

*  “Edgar Poe and his Critics.” By S. H. Whitman.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 28:]

*  Mr. Gilfillan has since retracted this monstrous and absurd charge[[.]]





[S:1 - EAPMV, 1877] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume [A Biographical Sketch] (J. H. Ingram, 1877)