Text: Thomas Dunn English, “Two Open Letters From Dr. English to Mr. Ingram [Letter I],” Independent (New York, NY), vol. XXXVIII, whole no. 1950, April 15, 1886, p. 3, cols. 1-3


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Sir: — About two years since I learned from a New York journalist that you, in a so-called “Life of Edgar A. Poe,” had reprinted some of Poe’s falsehoods about me, and added abuse of your own. I paid no attention to that. Some time after that I saw a number of copies of your book exposed for sale on a street book-stall, and bought one for a trifle. The two volumes remained for a long while uncut and unopened upon my bookshelf. More recently a writer who proposed to prepare another life of Poe applied to me for data. As I, incorrectly it appears, supposed he was merely, anxious to join the band who have been engaged in perverting history, and — so far as Poe was concerned — elevating lying to the dignity of a fine art, I evaded his request. But your performance was thus recalled to mind, and I took down your volumes, and read them carefully. I see that you make, from your vantage point three thousand miles away, an attack upon me. The animus of that is so evident, and your statement is such a mass of absurdities and contradictions, that I could well afford to let the matter rest. But you assail others unjustly — dead, all of them; and, among the rest, a pure and estimable gentlewoman is made the object of your slander. Not content with this, you incidentally sustain Griswold’s charges, while pretending to confute them, expose many faults and weaknesses of Poe unnecessarily, and endeavor to undermine and destroy his literary reputation. Having, to-day, a few hours of leisure, I propose, besides exposing the untruth of Poe’s and your assertions concerning myself, to demonstrate the absurdity and untruth of your libel upon the late Mrs. Ellet. I shall then make an effort to defend Poe against your attempt to belittle his literary work, and relieve him from at least one of your malignant accusations.

As the matter of least Interest to myself and others, I first take up your perversion and misstatement of the controversy between Poe and myself. Previously to doing this I call attention to your lack of precision in minor things. You gravely state that I “obtained the use of the Evening Mirror from its new proprietors, Fuller & Company, and inserted therein a grossly personal attack upon the poet, who thereupon instituted a libel suit against the paper, and received heavy damages for defamation of character.” Had you taken the trouble to inquire, and chosen to tell the truth after having obtained it, you could never have uttered such an inexact statement; for my reply to Poe’s attack on me, which you style an attack on him, was published in a morning daily journal, the Telegraph, edited by S. De Witt Bloodgood; and Fuller, who hated Poe a very little more than he did me, copied it of his own will. Had you reflected a little, you would scarcely have called the amount of damages “heavy.” Even on your side of the water, where money is of more purchasing-Power than here, when a man brings suit for £2,000 and is awarded £45, the amount would scarcely be considered “heavy”; nor would the plaintiff feel very jubilant over the result. Had you looked over the papers in the suit, you would have discovered that Poe did not base his action on the main allegations of my reply, omitting and thus admitting them, but spread forth his grievance that I had (incidentally) mentioned the fact of his not having returned some borrowed money; and this minor point he sustained only by a sharp device. You also state that Poe’s rejoinder appeared in the Saturday Gazette. It is possible that such a paper may have been published somewhere at that time, but the rejoinder first appeared in a penny daily, called The Spirit of the Times, in Philadelphia, the New York journals having refused to insert it on account of its scurrilous nature. That last fact you suppress. Nor do you Make an allusion to my brief replication to Poe’s rejoinder, leaving your readers to infer that I was quite overwhelmed by Poe’s epithets. That omission may have been through ignorance, as in the case of N. P. Willis; who, you say, edited the Dollar Newspaper, which he never edited at all. [column 2:]

And now to the main matter. You make four points; and these I propose to show are untrue, and that you knew and know their untruth.

1.  In speaking of Poe’s original attack upon me, you call it a dissection of my “literary shortcomings,” and say, “as it was purely directed against the literary weakness of ‘English,’ the personalities of the ‘Reply’ were utterly uncalled for.” Here is an evident intent to make your readers believe that Poe printed a legitimate criticism of my work as an author, and that I retorted by abuse. You knew otherwise. Poe’s attack began by asserting that my real name was Brown, and that my proper name was assumed; endeavored to show that I was so ignorant as not to know the uses of the objective case; that I had not received even a common-school education (having obtained my first doctor’s degree by grace, apparently); called my father “a ferryman,” whatever he might mean by it; said that he did not know me person. ally, which was as silly as disingenuous; and applied to me two unseemly epithets, only used by the low and vulgar. It is not crediting you with too much brains to say that you knew such a lampoon to be no dissection of literary weakness, but an assault which admitted properly of a sharp reply, if replied to at all.

2.  You assert that my reply was so indecent that you cannot print it in extenso; and thus you suppress material portions, leaving the reader to infer that Poe’s rejoinder was a piece of dignified literary work, opposed to an assault, utterly coarse. Nevertheless, the reader will not infer so, even from your garbled quotation; for, though you do not print all of Poe’s paper, you do give a part; and from that let me cull a few of the dignified words and phrases which you have apparently overlooked:

“A blackguard of the lowest order” — “poor, miserable fool” — “a silly truism if not unpardonable flattery to term him a coward or a liar” — “the animal with moustaches for antennal” [sic, probably misprint for antennae] — “brandy-nose of Mr. — “ — “the family resemblance between the whole visage of Mr. English, and that of the best looking and most unprincipled of Mr. Barnum’s baboons” — “Thomas Done Brown” — “brass” — “blatherskite” — “he lies” — “an owl or an English” — “malignant a villain” — “hound” — “wretch.”

You cannot quote similar words or phrases from any part of my reply. What you have given of it contains none; what you have suppressed contains none; and your misstatement is undoubtedly willful.

3.  You say that with the latest number of the Broadway Journal, “the editorial management passed into the hands of a certain Thomas Dunn English.’ “ At first sight, one might think you were led into the gross untruth by your belief in Poe, who had asserted the same thing before; but, as I shall show, you must have known differently. On page 376, Volume II, of the Broadway Journal, may be seen the announcement that Thomas H. Lane is the only person besides Mr. Poe who is authorized to sign receipts for the Journal; and in Poe’s valedictory in the last number of the paper ever published, he says: “Thomas H. Lane is authorized to collect all money due the Journal.” Mr. Lane, who is living, or was not long since, at Somers, Westchester County, in the State of New York, had aided Poe with means to publish the later numbers of the Journal, but, either because the latter had neglected — to put It mildly — his editorial duties, or because the circulation had so run down that success had grown impossible, or for some other reason, was determined its publication should cease with the final number of the volume. Poe had furnished some of the selections, and some editorial, but was not on hand when the rest of the copy was required. There was a small space to fill; compositors were waiting for copy: and Mr. Lane asked me not to edit the paper, but to furnish him something to eke out. I gave him two stanzas of rhyme, wrote a notice of Carlyle’s “ Life of Cromwell,” and another on Faber’s ‘’ Automaton,” and furnished a doggerel couplet to fill Out a column. But I had nothing to do with editing that number of the Journal, nor any other previous; there was none after; and [column 3:] so, doubtless, Mr. Lane, if asked, would say. But that you never thought I did, is shown by the fact that, in your book, you attribute those very articles on Cromwell and Faber, which you say “contained some noteworthy remarks,” to Poe. You believed, apparently, that Poe edited that number; and so he did — all the editing there was. You knew it was the last issued; there never was another issued, nor proposed 0 be; and the publication was never “turned over to another publisher,” under my management, or the management of any one else.

4.  But your crowning misstatement, and done with a deliberately untruthful intention, is where you indorse the assertion of Mr. Poe, that the last number of the Journal, falsely said to be under my control, was “one interminable pæan of his [my] praises.” You had the number before you; have it yet, probably; you speak of its contents, and you very well know that it contains no such pæen of praises at all.

Take the number up. My name occurs in two places. In one it is signed to two stanzas, on which there is no comment. The next is among the “Critical Notices,” and I quote the passage verbatim:

“THE ARISTIDEAN for November.

“THE ARISTIDEAN. for December, by Thomas Dunn English, and numerous collaborators.

“These two numbers have been lying on our table for some time, and we have not been able to give them a proper notice. The November number contains some especially bold and racy articles — among the rest a stirring tale called ‘Ferrando the Avenger.’ The poetry is not so good as usual, which is a pity, as the ‘Aristidean ‘ has hitherto held an unquestionable pre-eminence in that way. There is a queer paper, ‘The Dearborn Papers.’ which contains some piquant satire. The article on ‘American Poetry’ is very biting, but unfortunately very true. There is a very able and dignified article on ‘The Penalty of Death.’ The book notices are spirited and independent, and the remaining articles are above the mass of magazine papers in quality. One of these we extract below. We believe it to be from the pen of Herrman S. Saroni. It is, unquestionably, very original, both in conception and execution.”

Then follows Mr. Saroni’s odd story, “The Self-Performers,” in full. Let us analyze the notice. “Ferrando the Avenger” was written by Thomas M. Reid, better known as Captain Mayne Reid, who made a sensation by claiming the Jackson snuff-box as the bravest man in, the Mexican War, and who was the author of a number of clever books of imaginary travels. Who wrote “The Dearborn Papers,” I am not able to say. If my memory serve me right, they were merely parodies, or imitations of American verse-writers. “American Poetry “ was by Edgar A. Poe, and was principally an attack upon Longfellow. It contained citations to prove Mr. Longfellow to be an habitual plagiarist. These Poe had assured me were correct; but I discovered afterward that most of them were forgeries. “The Death Penalty” was mine. The book notices were by different hands; and a part of the poetry, which is so depreciated, was by me.

Now you well know that the editorial of the last number, no matter who wrote it, was not “one interminable pecan of my praises.” You know that Poe’s assertion was baseless, quite as much so as his saying that I had been “thrashed” by two persons with whom I never had a difficulty of the kind, and whom he appears to have pitched on because they were notoriously harmless and inoffensive little gentlemen, who never had a personal tight with any out; and yet you indorse all that stuff, and reprint it without a word of dissent, and with an evident endeavor to create a belief in its truth. I apply no epithets; but I think a cool reader might find one to fit you among the gems of Poe’s rejoinder, which I have already quoted.

So much to get rid of my own affair. In the next letter I shall consider one of your (and Poe’s) libels on the dead, and one of your efforts to be-little the genius of Poe.







[S:0 - IND, 1886] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Two Open Letters [Letter 01] (T. D. English, 1886)