Text: Thomas Dunn English, “Reminiscences of Poe [Part 02],” Independent (New York), October 22, 1896, vol. XLVIII (whole no. 2499), pp. 1415-1416


[page 1415, column 2:]

Reminiscences of Poe.



IN 1839 I was a contributor to Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, as I had been previously when it was published by Alexander. I was in the office one day when Burton introduced me to Poe, and the two new acquaintances began to talk with each other. I was impressed favorably with the appearance and manner of the author. He was clad in a plain and rather worn suit of black which was carefully brushed, and his linen was especially notable for its cleanliness. His eyes at that time were large, bright and piercing, his manner easy and refined, and his tone and conversation winning. In a short while we went out of the office together and remained in conversation as we walked along the street. We parted in Chestnut Street some few blocks above Third, apparently well pleased with each other. There was no bond of sympathy between Poe and me, except the admiration I had for his undoubted genius; but our intimacy increased as months wore on, and I became a frequent visitor to his family. Mrs. Poe was a delicate gentlewoman, with an air of refinement and good breeding, and Mrs. Clemm had more of the mother than the mother-in-law about her. It was some time before I discovered anything about Poe’s habits that was not proper. But an incident occurred during the very time in which he declares “before God,” in a letter to Snodgrass, that he was temperate, which opened my eyes to a new phase in his character. I was passing along the street one night on my way homeward, when I saw some one struggling in a vain attempt to raise himself from the gutter. Supposing the person had tripped and fallen, I bent forward and assisted him to arise. To my utter astonishment I found it was Poe. He recognized me, and was very effusive in his recognition. I volunteered to see him home, but had some difficulty to prevent his apparent desire to survey the sidewalk by a series of triangles. I managed to get him through the front gate of his yard to the front door. The house stood back, and was only a part of a house. They had a habit at that time in Philadelphia of building houses so that there was a stairway between dining room and kitchen back, and the parlor in front. The owner of this house had only built the rear portion, and the ground where the front was to stand in future had been turned into a grassplot, with a flower border against the adjoining brick wall. I knocked at the door, and Mrs. Clemm opened it. Raising her voice, she cried: “You make Eddie drunk, and then you bring him home.” As I was turning away Poe grasped me by the shoulder and said: “Never mind the old ——; come in.”

I shook myself from his clutch and, merely telling Mrs. Clemm that if I found Eddie in the gutter again I’d leave him there, went on my way.

Three days after when I saw Poe — for if I remember rightly the next two days he was not at the office — he was heartily ashamed of the matter, and said that it was an unusual thing with him, and would never occur again.

For some weeks I saw Poe occasionally at the office and elsewhere, industrious as a beaver. I think it was several weeks before I observed any other aberration. Then I heard through two or three persons that Poe had been found gloriously drunk in the street after nightfall, and had been helped home. I did not see him, however, in that condition; for it was some time before I called at the office of the magazine, and then found Poe clothed and in his right mind.

In the meantime Poe had shown me the prospectus of a new magazine, and explained to me at great length his views as to its conduct. He said he had given it its name because he intended to write his criticisms with an iron pen, and that he would make criticism a marked feature. Afterward he changed the name to the Penn Magazine, and got out a new prospectus, differing, if I remember, but little from the old one. He told me that he intended to print a [column 3:] number of these, and send them by post to Burton’s subscribers; he excused himself by saying that most of these people would as soon take two magazines as one.

It was not long, however, before there was trouble in the office. Burton went off to play somewhere as a star, and left Poe in full charge. On his return some time afterward, close to the day of monthly publication, he found Poe absent and that in the interim he had furnished no copy to the printer, leaving everything at a standstill. When Poe came in, Burton rated him roundly for his neglect, and Poe became abusive in return, and, if his own statement may be believed, called his employer a blackguard and a scoundrel. Burton’s version of his language made the expressions worse in their nature. I was not present, but heard the statements of both parties later on. I also heard the statement of Mr. George R. Graham, who was present, and repeated that in one of my open letters to Mr. Ingram, published ten years since, from which I quote. Graham said to me in the presence of Mr. Joseph Atkinson, the managing editor of the Newark Journal, and in the office of that paper, that the language of Poe was most foul and abusive on the occasion referred to. He described it rather minutely and, when he had done, I said to him: “You have told me before how disgraceful were the causes which severed your connection with Poe, and how, with that and this, can you defend the man?” Graham’s answer was: “Oh, that’s all right; but I hate Griswold.”

This like the previous question in Congress cut off all debate, and the matter dropped. It may be proper to add that Burton, assisted by Alexander, and by keeping a force of printers employed night and day, managed to get the number out very little after the right time. It was not long after when Burton, finding he would have to abandon his profitable starring trips or the magazine, wisely chose the latter, and sold the publication to George R. Graham, who had bought the old Casket, and was trying to make something of it. He united the two under the name of Graham’s Magazine.

Graham believed Poe to be a very valuable assistant, and engaged him as editor nominally, but really to write book notices; for Graham never allowed any article to appear in the magazine until after he had given it careful consideration. No matter who he had as ostensible conductor, the real editing was done by himself. I know that from personal experience. I wrote several poems for the magazine while both Poe and Griswold were connected with it, but always dealt directly with Graham himself, who accepted what I wrote and paid me for the manuscript without consulting any one.

Poe’s criticisms, from their acrimonious tone, attracted much attention. They did not meet with general approval, however, not only because of their ill-nature, but because the people in Philadelphia at that time did not like anything so censorious and unjust as Poe’s articles generally were. But Poe was sometimes appreciative in these reviews, notably in the case of “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship,” by Miss Barrett. He admired that production greatly and it took possession of his mind completely, as is shown by the fact that in adopting its rhythm in his poem of “The Raven,” he unconsciously borrowed some of the phrases. I put this down in our controversy as part of the charge of plagiarism which I made against him, but on reflection I am satisfied that in this I did him an injustice. He would have scarcely ventured on a theft so easily exposed, and it was a treacherous memory by which he was beguiled.

During his connection with Graham, however, his breaks in the way of indulgence in stimulants were not uncommon. Graham bore with this, but finally the two parted. Poe was very angry at Graham, and, told me that he intended to write him down. Shortly afterward he brought to me a manuscript entitled, I think, “The Life of Thingum Bob, late Literary Editor of the Goosetherumfoodle.” This he assured me was a transcript of Graham’s personal history. He read it to me, and tho it was rather amusing, I could see that it was wholly imaginative slander, and gave none of Graham’s history at all. It was afterward published, I believe, somewhere. Graham never resented this attack which he considered foolish, and seemed rather to feel kindly than otherwise toward his ex-critic, tho he told me a deal about Poe’s habits and acts, which as it was second hand I shall not repeat here. When after Poe’s death, Graham joined in the cabal to whiten Poe and blacken Griswold, I could not [page 1416, column 1:] understand his action, until I had obtained the cause, as I have previously stated, from Graham himself.

Poe’s after career in Philadelphia was marked by the same occurrence at intervals of his violations of sobriety, and the town became full of scandalous stories about his conduct in other respects. In 1844 he left Philadelphia suddenly with his wife, sending for Mrs. Clemm afterward. Woodberry and others are at a loss to account for his sudden departure. I happen to know why, and there were several others who knew all about it. They are all, I believe, dead. I am the sole possessor of the scandalous secret, and as its recital would do no good to any one, the whole affair shall be buried with me.

I resided in New York when Poe came there, being engaged in managing a daily journal for a specific purpose. Poe soon sought me out and became my frequent visitor. He seemed all right in his habits, but very dejected and with apparent forebodings as to his future. N. P. Willis, who was a very kindhearted man, gave him employment in the office of The Evening Mirror. Then he was industrious and attentive to business, tho twice when I happened to be in the office, and not seeing Poe inquired after him, I was told that he was sick. I understood at once what this meant, and this brings me to the failing of Poe most damaging to himself.

It has been said time and again that Poe was an habitual drunkard. This is not true. His offenses against sobriety were committed at irregular intervals. He had not that physical constitution which would permit him to be a regular drinker. A very slight amount of liquor would upset his reason. John R. Thompson, for a long time editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, tells how, on one occasion, Poe drank a tumblerful of brandy which had on him apparently no effect. Mr. Thompson was a gentleman of the highest reputation for truth and honor, and I cannot doubt his word; but Poe must have been laboring under some strong excitement which counteracted the force of the stimulant. I know, so far as observation on two occasions went, that one glass of liquor would affect him visibly, and the second or third produce intoxication. He was always sick after these excesses — a sickness lasting from one to several days. He was then repentant and full of promises to abandon stimulants entirely in the future. He was not even a frequent drunkard when I knew him. What he became afterward I cannot say, but presume that his departure in that way grew upon him. In 1845 Poe went, along with Charles F. Briggs and Henry C. Watson, into the publication of The Broadway Journal, a small weekly sheet, very neatly printed. It did not achieve success; and Poe, who had frequently given me glowing prophecies as to its future circulation, told me one day that its comparative failure was owing to the fact that he had it not all in his own hands. “Give me,” said he, “the entire control, and it will be the great literary journal of the future.” During this time he reiterated this expression of discontent on his visits to my rooms; for I rarely met him anywhere else at that time, being kept busy all day with my official duties; for I had then closed the newspaper and accepted a post attached to the Custom House.




The page numbers reflect the numbering within the volume, and are given within parentheses. Page numbers are also given within the issue, making page 1415 equivalent to page 3, and 1416 to page 4.


[S:1 - IND, 1896] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Reminiscences of Poe [Part 02] (T. D. English, 1896)