Text: Thomas Dunn English, “Reminiscences of Poe [Part 01],” Independent (New York), October 15, 1896, vol. XLVIII (whole no. 2498), pp. 1381-1382


[page 1381, unnumbered, column 3:]

Reminiscences of Poe.


[EXTRACTED from a manuscript work entitled “Memories of Men and Things during over Sixty Years of Active Life.”]

I have been asked again and again to give my memories of the late Edgar Allen [[Allan]] Poe and his doings during our intimacy of nearly seven years, for publication. With the exception of two open letters to John H. Ingram, in reply to his unwarranted attack upon me, which letters were published in the New York INDEPENDENT in 1886, I have hitherto refrained from complying with this request; but recent events force me, against my inclination, to give the public much of what I know about the man, tho even then I shall suppress all that which, in my judgment, should not see the light. The disposition among those who knew Poe is to keep silent; but they are sometimes forced, by two classes of men, to speak out. One of these is made up of those who like to expose the darkest part of personal history to public view; the other of the injudicious admirers of the dead poet who try to prove that he was a saint, and think they aid their object by abusing every one with whom he ever had a quarrel. Recently, in a Washington paper, there was a bogus interview published purporting to be had with me in the lobby of the House of Representatives on the night Congress adjourned. I happened to be unwell that evening and was in my chamber and not in the House at the time. This [page 1382, column 1:] spurious interview made me say, among other things, that Poe borrowed jewelry of women and pawned it, and that he was a dandy. I never said anything of the kind, for I had never heard Poe accused of the former offense, and would not have credited it; all I said about his dress at any time to any one has been that he was neat in his person, unless when occasionally — for he was not an habitual drunkard when I knew him — overtaken by liquor. I sent a prompt denial of these statements to the press. Recently another bogus interview appeared in a reputable New York daily, embodying the same statements, and that I also denied in a printed card. I remember that a young man called on me at that time and represented himself as being attached to a New York journal. I declined to be interviewed on Poe, and gave as a reason the incorrect statement placed in my mouth on a former occasion. And then the conversation became a general one. It may be possible that this party constructed his report by mingling denial with assertion. I should have let the matter drop there but for recent circumstances.

Within a few months a letter has been printed in the Home Journal, signed by William H. [[F.]] Gill, in which he announces that:

“A Poe propaganda, which will reform all the injustice that has been done to the immortal author of ‘The Raven,’ is to illumine the closing hours of the waning century.”

This means a conspiracy to whiten one reputation and blacken a dozen others. As Mr. Gill prefaces his promise with such phrases as “pedagog vampire,” “curs,” “filthy scaffolding of malevolent falsehoods,” “gorging guttersnipes,” etc., ad nauseam, it requires no further comment than the wish that Mr. Gill’s digestion would be so improved as to give him a chaster tone and better temper.

But the last drop in the cup has filled it to overflowing. Eight years since, a Mr. Woodberry wrote a life of Poe. I had never read the book, but the other day sent for a copy. My eyesight is dim, so I am forced to rely upon a reader and amanuensis. The book was read carefully to me, and then I discovered that the author had gone out of his way to make a libelous attack upon me with what, to put a mild phrase upon it, may be termed studied discurtesy [[discourtesy]]. He speaks of me as “this individual,” accuses me of being doctor, lawyer, poet and novelist, and taunts me with the fact that I was at the time only twenty-seven years old. To the latter I plead in extenuation that I had no control over the date of my birth; in fact I was but twenty-six. He also adds that I at the time lounged in the office of The Broadway Journal and went on errands. As during most of the year I held a lucrative official position which kept one busily employed all day, and as during the rest of the year I was engaged in editing and publishing a magazine with the limited capital of a few thousand dollars, and which failed in consequence, the lounging and errand running must have been performed during the hours of night. But I pardon this slip of Mr. Woodberry because of the recklessness of statement which has evidently come from contact with the subject, and which seems to infect every one who attempts a biography of Poe. His other misstatements I propose to take up and deal with before I say anything in regard to Poe’s career during the term of our acquaintanceship.

The rest of the remarks of Mr. Woodberry are meant to lead to the impression that Poe merely made, in his “New York Literati,” a critical estimate of my abilities as a writer, and that I had retorted with abuse approaching scurrility. If the reader will turn to Poe’s papers in question they will find that Poe does nothing of the kind but makes on me a personal attack. Hs [[He]] opens by stating that my real name is Brown, that the name I bear, and which has gone in my family for seven generations, and over two hundred years in this country, is pseudomyn, that I am the son of a ferryman, and that he was not personally acquainted with me, and much more of the same tenor, closing his article with an offensive epithet. It will there be seen that it was Poe’s attack on me was scurrilous, and that I merely replied to him. I have not a copy of that reply by me, nor have I Poe’s rejoinder, but Mr. John H. Ingram in his entertaining romance entitled “The Life of Edgar A. Poe,” makes quotations from these productions; and as I presume his citations are authentic I submit them to the research of the reader, who can judge for himself as to their relative decency. I may remark, however, that whatever I wrote, which was literally true, if not quiet in tone and temper, gained [column 2:] its character from Poe’s own attack, which is a striking illustration of the old proverb that “evil communications corrupt good manners.” I was angry at the time, and indulged in an asperity of language which I regret now even under the provocation.

Poe’s rejoinder to my reply showed extreme irritation and an unrivaled command of billingsgate. It is too long to insert as a whole, but the curious reader may find most of it in Ingram’s volume. I merely quote from it some words and phrases which will show these “gems of purest rays serene,” freed from their setting and revealing their entire brilliancy: “blackguard of the lowest order,” “coward,” “liar,” “the animalcula with mustaches for antennae,” “brandy nose,” “one of Mr. Barnum’s baboons,” “poor miserable fool,” “blatherskite,” “malignant villain,” “wretch.”

My sur-rejoinder to this was brief. I merely quoted the choice words and phrases as I have done now, said that to such wit and wisdom I had no reply to make, and added that if either of the gentlemen whose names he had used to my disadvantage would confirm his statements I would take notice of it. Neither of these did, however. One of them, Mr. Hirst, offered to write a contradiction; but I did not think the game worth the candle.

Mr. Woodberry makes another serious misstatement when he says:

“English secured forthwith the columns of The Mirror, and poured on Poe (June 23d) such a flood of scurrility, besides a plentiful supply of billingsgate and the easy charge of intoxication. There was, in particular, a specific accusation of obtaining money under false pretenses and of downright forgery.”

If the reader will turn back and look at Ingram’s volume, he will find that it was another and not I who charged Poe with forgery. He is as conspicuously inexact in his statements about the publication of my open letter. It was printed originally in the Daily Telegraph, published by S. De Witt Bloodgood. Fuller, who hated Poe almost as much as he did me, republished it of his own motion in The Mirror. Poe’s reply was hawked about New York by him, but no journal in that city would publish it. He sent it to Philadelphia. The Gazette, The Inquirer, and other journals there declined its publication on account of its scurrility; but the publisher of the Ladies’ Book finally had it inserted in the Sprit of the Times, published by John S. Du Solle, a virulent personal enemy of mine. It may have appeared after or before in The Saturday Gazette, which I never saw. Mr. Woodberry further says, of The Broadway Journal:

“One more number is said to have been issued, January 3d, under the editorship of Thomas Dunn English, with which the journal expired.”

This is a rehash of Poe’s statement that after he withdrew the journal passed into the hands of another publisher under my editorial control, and that I made it an interminable pean of my praises.

Mr. Woodberry also says, in a recent life of Poe, that Poe’s card of withdrawal appeared in the last number but one of The Broadway Journal. That is a misstatement, and apparently wilful. There was no number issued without Mr. Poe’s name at the head as editor. The facts are simply these:

In the latter part of November Poe found the Journal fast decreasing in circulation, and was forced to admit to himself that he had no money and no business capacity, and that it was necessary to have the assistance of both. He came to my chambers, at 304 Broadway, as he was in the habit of frequently doing, and laid the case before me, asking for my advice and assistance. Mr. Thomas H. Lane was at that time in the Custom House, and, being thrifty, had some little capital at command. I advised him to go in with Poe, because I thought if the latter could be kept sober the venture might yet succeed. Lane finally consented, and on the third of December an agreement was drawn up by Poe himself, in his own handwriting, and witnessed by George H. Colton and George Sweet. It transferred one-half of The Broadway Journal to Lane, and conditioned that Poe should devote himself to its editorial management. The number for December 6th was nearly made up, but there was room found to announce that the publication office was removed to 104 Broadway, corner of Duane Street. This was a misprint for 304, which was corrected in the following nunnber. Mr. Lane’s room adjoined mine; there was an open door between the rooms which was rarely closed, as we lodged there and had one servant in common. [column 3:]

On December 13th, the paper contains a card announcing that Mr. Lane was the only person besides Poe who was authorized to collect moneys and transact business for The Broadway Journal. But Lane soon found that Poe did not attend to his portion of the contract, and that the latter, after the issue of the next number, December 20th, went off on one of his fits of drunkenness, leaving the material for number 25 partly finished. There was about a column or a column and a half of matter lacking. After vain attempts for several days to get Poe into sobriety, and failing in them, Mr. Lane determined to close the publication entirely with the next number. He at length obtained from Poe a card of withdrawal, and then applied to me to furnish copy to fill the gap. I hurriedly wrote two articles, one of which, by the by, Ingram says — laboring under the impression that it was written by Poe — “contains some noteworthy remarks.” In which judgment I do not concur. This number 26, was not issued until January 3d, leaving a break of two weeks. This was the last that ever was printed. It was not edited by me. Its editorship was made up of the combined efforts of Mr. Poe, previous to his aberration, and afterward those of the foreman of the printing office, and Mr. Lane. This is the number which Poe says, and which Mr. Woodberry confirms under the guise of “it is said,” contained an interminable pean of my praises. An inspection of the number will show that there is in it no praises of mine either directly or indirectly, and that the statement otherwise is without the slightest foundation in fact. Mr. Woodbury [[Woodberry]] is supposed to have consulted the number in question. If so, his statement must have been willful and deliberate as well as malicious; and if he did not see it, why did he make a charge without any basis? For the accuracy of my statement, I can refer to Mr. Lane himself, who still lives in the city of Elizabeth, N. J., and has in his possession the contract to which I have referred.

A reference to Mr. Woodberry’s book will show that its author, blowing hot and cold in the same breath, admits that the article on the Literati of New York was filled with “carping criticisms,” and then goes on to denounce Poe in a manner strongly approaching the brutal.

As to the language in other places used about me by Mr. Woodberry, I have no reply to make. It does me no harm, but shows that the author did not bring to his task the requisite amount of conscientiousness and dignity necessary in a proper biography. What he has said will have no effect upon candid and honorable men who will not consider unsupported assertion as proof, and will not accept abusive epithets as argument.

Mr. Woodberry charges boldly that Poe was an opium eater, and Mr. Ingram makes the same statement, but more obscurely. Of Poe’s doings after 1846 I know nothing personally; previously to that time, however, I know a great deal. Had Poe the opium habit when I knew him, I should, both as a physician and a man of observation, have discovered it. during his frequent visits to my rooms, my visits at his house and our meetings elsewhere. I saw no signs of it, and believe the charge to have been a baseless slander.




English’s “Two Open Letters: From Dr. English to Mr. Ingram” appeared in the Independent for April 15 and 22, 1886. (Neither item is specified in the index to the volume.) The substance of those articles is included in the 1896 series of reminiscences.

The page numbers reflect the numbering within the volume, and are given within parentheses. Page numbers are also given within the issue, making page 1381 equivalent to page 1, and 1382 to page 2.


[S:1 - IND, 1896] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Reminiscences of Poe [Part 01] (T. D. English, 1896)