Text: Richard Henry Stoddard, review of Edgar Allan Poe (by G. E. Woodberry), Independent (New York), February 12, 1885, vol. XXXVII (whole number 1889), pp. 10-11


­[page 10, column 3:]





MR. WOODBERRY has done more than any earlier biographer to clear up certain mythical points in the career of Poe; but he has not done so much as he might, and, no doubt, would have done, if he had known which of the authorities that he relied on were to be trusted, and which were to be received with extreme caution. The space allotted to each volume in the series for which his monograph was written may also have had something to do with his apparent want of knowledge in a few particulars hereinafter to be noted. It was my misfortune to be an early worker in the field which has yielded him such an abundant harvest, and I was at least eight years in reaping the obloquy that grew out of that good-natured action. My garners were heaped with forage which was hardly fit for army horses in times of famine. My first cause of offense was an article on Poe in the September number of Harper’s Magazine for 1872. My second cause was an enlargement of this article for an English edition of Poe, of which Messrs. George Routledge & Sons were the publishers. My third cause was a restatement of all that I had learned or collected at a later period for a Household Edition of Poe, of which Mr. W. J. Widdleton was, in 1880, the publisher.

“The very head and front of my offending

Hath this extent, no more.”

But my misfortune dates further back than the time I have indicated — dates back to the volume of Poe’s Works that contained Griswold’s Memoir, (Volume I., 1850) and that embraced a portion of some lines of mine that appeared in the New York Tribune within a few days after the death of Poe, and were rather foolishly praised in the memoir by Mrs. Osgood, who was so soon to follow the poet whom she admired. Mr. James Hannay, a warm-hearted Scotchman, edited an edition of Poe’s Poetical Works, in 1852, in which he demolished me as a pious scribbler, and by asking whether there was no law in America similar to that that obtains at the gates of Turkish cemeteries — Dogs not admitted here? When I sat down to write the article that I have mentioned for Harper’s Magazine, I relied in the main upon the facts and fancies which Griswold had embalmed in his much-abused memoir. It was the most accurate (with all its inaccuracies) that had appeared down to that time. But I did not rely upon that alone; for in the Spring of 1871, I placed myself, through a common friend, in communication with Poe’s cousin, Mr. Neilson Poe, of Baltimore, and embodied the substance of the information received from him, through this common friend, in the paper I proposed to write. Not having the Harper’s paper within reach, I copy a few lines from the note upon which a portion of it was based. It bears the date of Baltimore, April 26th, 1871: “Neilson found Edgar in a state of insensibility on Thursday, the 4th of October, 1849 — the day after a hotly-contested election. He carried him to a Hospital, now the ‘Church Home,’ on Broadway, north of Baltimore Street, on Loudenslager’s Hill, east of the city. Here he was attended by Dr. Moran. He was insensible from intoxication, or possible drugging. (There was a horrible suspicion that some political ‘ward managers’ had voted him over the city the day before; he was found in the back room of a ‘Headquarters,’ and had probably been ‘cooped’.) He remained insensible until Sunday morning, October 7th. The Doctor and a nurse were with him when he first showed consciousness. He asked: ‘Where am I?’ Dr. Moran answered: ‘You are cared for by your best friends.’ Poe replied, after a pause, in which he appears to have recalled events, and realized his situation: ‘My best friend would be the man who would [column 4:] blow out my brains.’ Within ten minutes he was dead.” Mr. John H. Ingram followed the line laid down in this personal letter to me in 1871, in the earliest of his publications after September 1872, and he has never since quitted it. It is possible that he discovered it for himself, but I beg leave to doubt it. For in Edgar Allan Poe, His Life, Letters, and Opinions, which was passing through a London printing-house while my insignificant memoir was passing through a New York printing-house, and which did not reach this city until I had finished reading the proof of my memoirlet — for in his two volumes, I say, he merely repeats my original statement. Concerning this painful, final episode in the career of Poe, Mr. Woodberry quotes a letter from a printer to Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, in which a gentleman rather the worse for wear, and going under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, is mentioned as being in great distress, at Ryan’s Fourth Ward Polls, and as in need of immediate assistance; and he adds, on his own account, the following brief paragraph: “Dr. Snodgrass called at Ryan’s, and had Poe taken to the Washington Hospital, where he was admitted, unconscious, at 5 P. M.; his relatives in the city were notified of his condition, and gave him such attention as was possible. He remained, except for a brief interval, in an alarming delirium, and on Sunday, about five o’clock, he died.”

Griswold’s account of the last days and hours of Poe, albeit somewhat inaccurate, is to the same general effect. Taking up the thread of his final journey at Baltimore, he says: “Here he met acquaintances who invited him to drink; all his resolutions and duties were soon forgotten; in a few hours he was in such a state as is commonly induced only by long-continued intoxication; after a night of insanity and exposure, he was carried to a hospital; and there, on the evening of Sunday, the seventh of October, he died, at the age of thirty-eight years.” All the biographers of Poe agreed substantially in regard to the facts of his death; wherein they did not agree, until after the publication of the memoir in the Routledge edition of his poems, was in regard to the place of his birth, which had hitherto been declared to be Baltimore, but which was then stated to be Boston — a fact which no one has since disputed. I contrived while writing the Harper paper, to gather a few particulars about the theatrical antecedents of Poe’s parents; writing at a later period, Mr. Ingram contrived to gather a few more; and writing last, Mr. Woodberry has contrived to gather all, or nearly all, that remained to be known about the parentage of Poe’s mother and father; about their antecedents before they met, about their early married life, the places they visited, the parts they played, their vicissitudes, the birth of their children, and, last scene of all in this strange, eventful history, the death in poverty of the wife and mother, and the adoption of her three little orphans. This melancholy story never need be re-told, so thoroughly has it been told by Mr. Woodberry. He has ransacked old newspapers, periodicals, and theatrical records, and left very little unexamined. Whether the game was worth the candle his readers will determine for themselves. He knows less, or probably cares less, than I do about Poe’s elder brother, William Henry Leonard, or his sister Rosalie. Of the former I wrote in the Harper paper (on the authority of Mr. Neilson Poe) that he was a man of singular personal beauty, who died about ten years before his brother Edgar; and that he was a man of genius who had left in the hands of some one unpublished effusions, said to be indicative of a genius equal to Edgar’s. I learned at a later period, May 24th, 1873 (still on the authority of Mr. Neilson Poe), that he poetized in the Minerva, a small weekly paper published in Baltimore; that he was a clerk in a lottery office, handsome, attractive and intemperate; that he was engaged to be married for some years, and at last discarded, and finally that he went to sea, and got into some sailor’s scrape, out of which probably grew the story of his brother Edgar’s adventure in St. Petersburg. Mr. Ingram pronounces this last allusion an entire legend, and declares it to be a fair sample ­[page 11, column 1:] of the fabrications about Poe with which Griswold and his copyists were chargeable; and Mr. Woodberry, if I remember rightly, ignores William Henry Leonard altogether. Nor does Rosalie Poe fare much better at the hands of the latter, who merely mentions her name thrice. Mr. lngram claimed to know something about this poor lady, and did; but the substance of his knowledge was conveyed boldly from the memoir in the Routledge edition of Poe. It was sent to me in a letter from Richmond under the date of October 9th, 1872, and verbally was as follows: “The name of the gentleman who adopted Rosalie was McKenzie, a native of Scotland, and a merchant who was ruined by the sudden peace after the battle of Waterloo. His maiden sister, a most accomplished lady, opened a school in Richmond, which met with great success. All the young ladies of my day (myself included) finished their education under her charge, and here Rosalie had the same advantages, but she was always so hopelessly dull that she could never attain proficiency in anything but writing, this being purely mechanical.” Mr. Ingram reproduced this in 1880, no doubt by inspiration. He was not inspired, however, to reproduce a passage from the same letter bearing upon the conduct of Poe after his return to the house of Mr. Allan from the University of Virginia “When he returned home from the University under a cloud, my sister-in-law was at Mrs. Allan’s one day, when Mrs. A. remarked to a friend: ‘Mr. Gilliet, what do you think of Edgar? His father (so she spoke of Mr. Allan) has just paid an enormous sum for his debts in Charlotteville, and now here is a bill for quantities of champagne and seventeen broadcloth coats which he has gambled away!’ ‘Yes,’ (said Edgar,) ‘I went to college to see how much of the old man’s money I could spend, and I have done it.’ My sister heard the whole conversation.” Of this little episode in the early life of Poe, Mr. Woodberry says nothing. Neither does Mr. Woodberry (nor for that matter Mr. Ingram) say anything about an earlier episode of Edgar’s school days, which was first related by Griswold, and of the truth of which the late Mr. John R. Thompson, who was a man of strict veracity, and not in the least credulous, had satisfied himself. “An eminent and most estimable gentleman of Richmond has written to me,” Griswold wrote in 1850, “that when Poe was only six or seven years of age he went to a school kept by a widow of excellent character, to whom was committed the instruction of the children of some of the principal families in the city. A portion of the grounds was used for the cultivation of vegetables, and its invasion by her pupils strictly forbidden. A trespasser, if discovered, was commonly made to wear, during school hours, a turnip, or carrot, or something of the sort, attached to his neck as a sign of disgrace. On one occasion Poe, having violated the rules, was decorated with the promised badge, which he wore in sullenness until the dismissal of the boys, when, that the full extent of his wrong might be understood by his patron, of whose sympathy he was confident, he eluded the notice of the school-mistress, who would have relieved him of his esculent, and made the best of his way home, with it dangling at his neck. Mr. Allan’s anger was aroused, and he proceeded instantly to the school-room, and after lecturing the astonished dame upon the enormity of such an insult to his son and to himself, demanded his account, determined that the child should not again be subjected to such tyranny. Who can estimate the effect of this puerile triumph upon the growth of that morbid self-esteem which characterized the author in after-life:” I do not admire this minute way of writing biography; but it is the fashion now, and if we do not like the fashion the best way to abolish it is to cultivate it to excess, and so make it ridiculous. I have read several such trifling anecdotes about young Master Henry Wadsworth since the death of Longfellow, and one or two of the like order will be found, I think, in Mr. Lathrop’s Study of Hawthorne. If the child be the father of the man, we must look for the man in the child.

Mr. Woodberry may claim the credit of [column 2:] entirely clearing up one myth in the life of Poe, and of completing the work begun by Mr. Ingram in clearing up another. When Poe collected his Poetical Writings in 1845, he included in the little volume that contained them what he called “Poems Written in Youth,” which he professed to reprint verbatim, without alteration from the original edition. That they were not so reprinted has long been known. There were two original editions of these poems, if the bull may be allowed, the first being “Tamerlane and Other Poems;” by a Bostonian (Boston: Calvin F. S. Thomas, 1827); the second, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Other Poems,” by Edgar A. Poe (Baltimore; Hatch & Dunning, 1829). Prefixed to “Tamerlane,” in the second of these pamphlets, there was an advertisement which informed the reader that it was printed in Boston two years before; but suppressed through circumstances of a private nature. That such was the case — that there was really an earlier Boston edition of “Tamerlane and Other Poems,” no one believed previous to the publication of a paper on “The Unknown Poetry of Poe,” by Mr. Ingram, in Belgravia for June 1876. He described this booklet, quoted from it, and declared that it was suppressed, as Poe pretended. Mr. Woodberry now comes forward and proves that it was not suppressed; but, on the contrary, advertised by the acknowledgment of its receipt in two leading periodicals — the United States Review and Literary Gazette, for Angust, 1827, and the North American Review, for October, 1827, and was sufficiently known two years later to be mentioned in Kettell’s “Specimens of American Poetry.” What was Poe doing in Boston in the Summer of 1827? Mr. Woodberry says that he was placed by Mr. Allan in his counting-room after his return to Richmond from the University of Virginia, in December, 1826, and that he soon broke from this confinement, and, going out to seek his fortune in the world, made his way towards Boston, where, in the following Spring, he tried to make a start by publishing his youthful verses. He persuaded Calvin F. S. Thomas, a poor youth of nineteen, who had just set up a shop in Washington Street, to undertake the job. It is not likely, Mr. Woodberry thinks, that young Thomas knew the name of the customer who patronized him, and not at all likely, I think, that he ever saw the color of his customer’s money. He removed shortly afterward to New York. “Neither in his stay in that city nor during his later life in Buffalo, N. Y., and Springfield, Mo., did Thomas, who lived until 1876, ever mention to his own family or, so far as is known, to his friends or associates, that his first venture in the booktrade was Poe’s verses. In view of this fact, in connection with the general publication of reminiscences by all who were ever well acquainted with Poe, and the special interest of this obscure portion of his life, it may be safely inferred that Thomas never identified the first author he knew with the famous poet who wrote ‘The Raven.’ The obvious conclusion is that Poe lived in Boston under an assumed name.” The next episode in the life of Poe, which was first referred to by Griswold on what he believed to be good authority, and which has ever since been regarded as a myth, is proved by Mr. Woodberry to be a substantial verity. Griswold’s only error was in regard to the date, not in regard to the fact. He traced the career of Poe down to the publication of his second volume of verse in Baltimore, in 1829, and his supposititious attempts to earn money by writing for the newspapers, and of added: “His contributions to the journals attracted little attention, and his hopes of gaining a living in this way being disappointed, he enlisted in the army as a private soldier. How long he remained in the service, I have not been able to ascertain. He was recognized by officers who had know him at West Point, and efforts were made, privately, but with prospects of success, to obtain for him a commission, when it was discovered by his friends that he had deserted.” Griswold’s inaccuracy was in thinking that this episode occurred after and not before Poe went to West Point, and that it ended in desertion. What were the facts as discovered by Mr. Woodberry? They were that Master Edgar Allan Poe had exhausted every resource in [column 3:] the Spring of 1828, and was without means of support. “In this extremity he took the readiest way out of his difficulties, and on May 26th enlisted at Boston in the army of the United States as a private soldier, under the name of Edgar A. Perry. He stated that he was born at Boston, and was by occupation a clerk; and, although minors were then accepted into the service, he gave his age at twenty-two years. He had, says the record, gray eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion, and was five feet eight inches in hight [[height]]. He was at once assigned to Battery H, of the First Artillery, then serving in the harbor at Fort Independence; on October 31st, the battery was ordered to Fort Moultrie, Charleston, S. C., and exactly one year later was again transferred to Fortress Monroe, Va. The character of Poe’s life during this period can now be but imperfectly made out, since the officers under whom he served are. dead; but from papers presently to be given, it appears that he discharged his duties as company clerk and assistant in the commissariat department so as to win the good will of his superiors, and was in all respects a faithful and efficient soldier. On January 1st, 1829, he was appointed Sergeant-Major, a promotion which, by the invariable custom of the army, was made only for merit.” Mr. Woodberry then proceeds to give the papers to which he alludes, which were written at different times, by different officers at Fortress Monroe, and which resulted in the discharge, by substitute, on April 15th, 1829, of Sergeant-Major Edgar A. Perry. I shall not quote them, as I am not writing the life of that young person, and I refer to them only to express my admiration of the skill by which they were unearthed in the archives of the War Department, where they had lain moldering for more than half a century. They bridge over nearly a year which has hitherto remained a blank, and they indicate the circumstances under which Poe was probably sent to West Point. There was a curious resemblance between his enlistment in his nineteenth year and the enlistment of Coleridge in his twenty-second year; and it was doubtless the recollection of this resemblance which gave Mr. Woodberry the clew, whereby he discovered the missing Bostonian. Both enlisted under fictitious names, in which the initials of their real names were retained — Samuel Taylor Coleridge becoming Silas Tompkins Comberbach and Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar A. Perry.

If the reader of this hasty sketch will look at the brief passage which I have quoted from Mr. Woodberry, he cannot fail, I think, to note one fact — a fact which runs through everything that Poe ever said or wrote, or assisted others to say or write, about himself — mendacity. It peeps out in the little notes which he wrote to Griswold when he was desirous of misinforming him, and which may still be read in the Preface to Griswold’s Memoir; in the note dated New York, January 10th, 1845, in which he said that he was born in 1811, and, in a later note, without date, but certainly written at Fordham in the last year of his life, in which he wrote: “It is a point of no great importance; but in one of your editions, you have given my sister’s age instead of mine. I was born in December, 1813; my sister, January, 1811.” It was hidden in his declaration to the officer under whom he recruited, and to whom he stated his age as twenty-two, when it was not twenty, “although minors were then accepted into the service.” It was carefully concealed when he went to West Point. “Poe’s attainment of his majority was not regarded as an insuperable obstacle. It was as easy to grow two years younger now as it had been to grow four years older when he enlisted, and he had already made up his mind to this rejuvenation some months before, when he wrote to John Neal that he was ‘not yet twenty.’ ”

A stronger instance of his unveracity, and the unveracity of others under his influence, has been recovered by Mr. Woodberry. It concerned his second and public marriage to his cousin Virginia Eliza, who had nearly attained the matronly age of fourteen, he having already passed his twenty-seventh birthday. “On May 16th, 1836, having secured one Thomas W. Cleland as his surety, he gave a marriage [column 4:] bond as the law required; and Cleland was further obliging enough to take oath before the deputy clerk, Charles Howard, that ‘Virginia E. Clemm is of the full age of twenty-one years; and a resident of the said city.’ The ceremony was performed on the evening of the same day at the boarding-house of the family, by the Rev. Amassa Converse, a Presbyterian Minister, then editor of the Southern Religious Telegraph. Mrs. Clemm, whom the minister remembered as ‘being polished, dignified, and agreeable in her bearing,’ was present, and gave her consent freely; the bride, too, had a pleasing manner, but seemed to him very young. Virginia was in fact slightly under fourteen. Poe was twenty-seven.” It was not the calumnious Griswold who wrote that paragraph in 1850, nor the still more calumnious Stoddard, in the Summer of 1880, but the careful, the painstaking Woodberrry, in the Summer of 1884. It is not my cue to defend Griswold, between whom and Poe no love was lost; but he had his good points, nevertheless, as my old friend Derby has noted, in his “Fifty Years Among Authors, Books, and Publishers,” where, writing about Mrs. J. S. Redfield, he remarks: “It was also through Dr. Griswold that he was induced to undertake the publication of Poe’s works, now one of the most popular authors of the day. Dr. Griswold had offered the works to nearly all the leading publishers, who declined to undertake the publication. He finally persuaded Mr. Redfield to try the experiment of issuing two volumes first, which were published and had as fair sale — then the third, and finally the fourth volume were added to complete the works, The sale reached about fifteen hundred sets each year.” (There is a slip of the pen in the next sentence; but it corrects itself.) “The copyright was paid at first to Mr. Poe (sic), and after his death to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm, who received the copyright on several editions.” So far Mr. Derby, who adds, in a later passage, this extract from a letter recently received by him from Mr. Redfield: “Griswold never received a cent for his labors. “

The want of truth which attached to Poe has since attached to nearly every human being who ever came in contact with him, or with those who knew him, or who ever talked or wrote about him or his. If I make any exception to this rule, of late years, it is on behalf of Mr. Woodberry and myself. Let me state here, and finally, a particular in regard to the (supposed) literary remains of Poe, apropos to those in his lost trunk, which Mrs. Clemm is alleged to have received. My Baltimore correspondent, representing Mr. Neilson Poe, on May 24th, 1873, wrote as follows: “Mr. Poe has them; has gone through them, expecting, but disappointed. He says they are singularly wanting in anything of interest is relation to Edgar A. He will, however, go over them a second time, and whatever may show itself shall be at your disposal.” Per contra. Dr. J. J. Moran wrote to Mr. Manton Marble, editor of the World, under the date of Falls Church, Fairfax County, Va., January 17th, 1875: “I have ten single pages already of facts in detail, as committed to me by the dying Poe; his mother-in-law’s letters after his death. I had his trunk, with his papers and manuscripts, in my possession.” Did you, indeed, Dr. Moran? And what became of the trunks and the papers? Did you try to sell them to Griswold, or Neal, or Hannay, or Briggs, or English, or Stoddard, or Ingram, or Woodberry? Failing with the World, you sold them to the Herald.

Mr. Woodberry has easily beaten the rest of us, from Griswold down; yet, he has merely produced a memoir pour servir.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 10, column 3:]

­ * EDGAR ALLAN POE. By GEORGE WOODBERRY. (“American Men of Letters.”) Pp. 335. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1885. (Copyright, 1885, by R. H. Stoddard.)



The French phrase memoir pour servir means, literally, “memoir to serve.” A more idiomatic translation might be “a serviceable memoir.”

Typical of Stoddard’s articles on Poe, there are repeated attempts to cast Griswold’s memoir of Poe in something other than the unfavorable light it justly deserves. In stating, for example, that Griswold’s only error in regard to Poe’s military service was about the dates, and “not the fact,” Stoddard is pulling a bit of slight-of-hand. When Stoddard later provides an excerpt from Woddberry’s biography of Poe, and notes that Griswold was wrong about the order of service and of there having been a desertion at all, Stoddard neglects to observe that he has just effectively discarded nearly all of Griswold’s account, leaving only the fact that Poe did have a military career.


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