Text: William F. Gill, “Chapter 07”, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1877, pp. 180-242


[page 180:]




Removal to Fordham — Reminiscences of Fordham and its Inmates by a Contemporary of the Poet — Sickness and. Poverty — A Public Appeal — Griswold’s Malevolent Animus — Sympathy of Willis — Reply of the Poet — Death of Virginia — Fordham in 1847 — “Ulalume” — The Poet’s Psychal Atmosphere — Lecture on “The Universe” — Letter to Willis — “Eureka” — Theory of Deity — Visit to Lowell — “The Bells“ — Alteration from the Original MSS. — Some Suggestive Recollections — First Meeting with Mrs. Whitman — An Important Letter — An Ideal Home — Breaking of the Engagement — Griswold’s Gross Misrepresentation — Reply of W. J. Pabodie — Letter from Mrs. Whitman — The Poet Leaves Fordham — A Last Effort to Establish “The Stylus” — At Richmond Again — Return to the “Literary Messenger” — Anecdote of Annabel Lee, by J. P. [[R.]] Thompson — Last Visit to Philadelphia — Engagement with Mrs. Shelton — The Unfortunate Trip North — The Misfortunes in Baltimore — Death at Baltimore — A Retrospective Glance.

IN the late spring of 1846, Poe removed to the picturesque locality of Fordham in Westchester County, New York. The excitement incident to a residence in the metropolis had proved injurious to the rapidly failing strength of his stricken wife, and it was thought that the pure, free air of the country [page 181:] home would prove beneficial to the delicate Virginia.

Some charming descriptions of the poet’s home at Fordham have been given by his contemporaries.

One of these, writing of his first visit there, says of the place and its inmates, —

“We found him and his wife and his wife’s mother, who was his aunt, living in a little cottage at the top of a hill.

“There was an acre or two of greensward fenced in about the house, as smooth as velvet and as clean as the best kept carpet. There were some grand old cherry trees in the yard, that threw a massive shade around them.

“Poe had somehow caught a full-grown bobolink. He had put him in a cage, which he had hung on a nail driven into the trunk of a cherry tree. The poor bird was as unfit to live in a cage as his captor was to live in the world. He was as restless as his jailer, and sprang continually, in a fierce, frightened way, from one side of the cage to the other. I pitied him; but Poe was bent on training him. There he stood, with his arms crossed, before the tormented bird, his [page 182:] sublime trust In attaining the impossible, apparent in his whole self. So handsome, so impassive in his wonderful intellectual beauty so proud and reserved, and jet so confidentially communicative, so entirely a gentleman, upon all occasions that I ever saw him, so tasteful, so good a talker, was Poe, that he impressed himself and his wishes, almost without words, upon those with whom he spoke.

“On this occasion I was introduced to the young wife of the poet, and to the mother, then more than sixty years of age. She was a tall, dignified old lady, with a most lady-like manner, and her black dress, old and much worn, looked really elegant on her. She seemed hale and strong, and appeared to be a sort of universal Providence for her strange children.

“Mrs. Poe looked very young; she had large black eyes and a pearly whiteness of complexion which was a perfect pallor. Her pale face, her brilliant eyes and her raven hair gave her an unearthly look.

[[image of Maria Clemm here]]

“One felt that she was almost a dissolved spirit; and when she coughed, it was made certain that she was rapidly passing away. [page 183:]

“The cottage had an air of taste and gentility that must have been lent to it by the presence of its inmates.

“So neat, so poor, so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I never saw. The sitting-room was laid with check matting; four chairs, a light-stand and a hanging book-shelf completed its furniture.

“There were pretty presentation copies of books on the little shelves, and the Brownings had a post of honor on the stand. With quiet exultation Poe drew from his side-pocket a letter that he had recently received from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He read it to us. It was very flattering. . . .

“He was at this time greatly depressed. Their extreme poverty, the sickness of his wife, and his own inability to write, sufficiently accounted for this. We strolled away into the woods, and had a very cheerful time, till some one proposed a game at leaping; I think it must have been Poe, as he was expert in the exercise. Two or three gentlemen agreed to leap with him, and though one of them was tall, and had been a hunter in times past, Poe still distanced them all. But, [[sic]] [page 184:] in contrast to this specimen of the poet’s rugged manliness, is the statement of a near friend of the poet, who writes that Poe was so effeminately sensitive as to be seriously disturbed by the rustle of a silk dress, and would plead with his lady friends to wear stuff that would hang in graceful drapery and make no noise.

Of a later visit, the author from whom we have previously quoted writes: “The autumn came, and Mrs. Poe sank rapidly in consumption, and I saw her in her bed-chamber. The weather was cold, and the sick lady had the dreadful chills that accompany the hectic fever of consumption.

“She lay on the straw bed, wrapped in her husband’s great coat, with a large tortoise-shell cat in her bosom. The wonderful cat seemed conscious of her great usefulness. The coat and the cat were the sufferer’s only means of warmth, except as her husband held her hands and her mother her feet.

“Mrs. Clemm was passionately fond of her daughter, and her distress on account of her illness and poverty and misery was dreadful to see.

“As soon as I was made aware of these painful [page 185:] fill facts, I came to New York and enlisted the sympathies and services of a lady whose heart and hand were ever open to the poor and the miserable.

“The lady headed a subscription, and carried them sixty dollars the next week. From the day this kind lady* first saw the suffering family of the poet she watched over them as a mother.

“She saw them often, and ministered to the comfort of the dying and the living. Poe,” this writer adds, in concluding his impressions and reminiscences, “has been called a bad man. He was his own enemy, it is true, but he was a gentleman and a scholar. If the scribblers who have snapped like curs at his remains had seen him, as his friends saw him, in his dire necessity and his great temptation, they would have been worse than they deem him, to have written as they have concerning a man of whom they really knew next to nothing.”

Griswold, with ferocious cruelty, states that “his habits of frequent intoxication, and his inattention to the means of support, had reduced him [page 186:] to much more than common destitution;” when he must have known, or could have readily ascertained from Mrs. Clemm, that his health had been broken by his incessant watching with his sick wife, and he had been unable to get opportunity to make new literary engagements.

The writer from whose reminiscences we have quoted, took the well-meant liberty of making Poe’s necessities public without, of course, the poet’s knowledge. This mistaken kindness called forth many sympathetic words, however, which showed, Griswold to the contrary, that Poe was not without true friends.

The following paragraph announcing Poe’s distress appeared originally in “The New York Express:” —

“We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe and his wife are both dangerously ill with the consumption, and that the hand of misfortune lies heavy upon their temporal affairs. We are sorry to mention the fact that they are so far reduced as to be barely able to obtain the necessaries of life. This is indeed a hard lot, and we hope that the friends and admirers of Mr. Poe will come promptly to his assistance in his bitterest hour of need.” [page 187:]

Mr. Willis, anticipating Mr. Edwin Forrest’s plan of a home for disabled members of the dramatic profession, wrote an article favoring the establishment of a home or hospital where educated persons of reduced circumstances might be received and cared for. In it, he says, apropos of Poe’s calamities:

“The feeling we have long entertained on this subject has been freshened by a recent paragraph in “The Express,” announcing that Mr. Edgar A. Poe and his wife were both dangerously ill, and suffering for want of the common necessaries of life. Here is one of the finest scholars, one of the most original men of genius, and one of the most industrious of the literary profession of our country, whose temporary suspension of labor, from bodily illness, drops him immediately to a level with the common objects of public charity. There was no intermediate stopping-place — no respectful shelter where, with the delicacy due to genius and culture, he might secure aid, unadvertised, till, with returning health, he could resume his labors and his unmortified sense of independence. He must either apply to individual friends — (a resource to which death is sometimes [page 188:] almost preferable) — or suffer down to the level where Charity receives claimants, but where Rags and Humiliation are the only recognized Ushers to her presence. Is this right? Should there not be, in all highly civilized communities, an Institution designed expressly for educated and refined objects of charity — a hospital, a retreat, a home of seclusion and comfort, the sufficient claims to which would be such susceptibilities as are violated by the above-mentioned appeal in a daily newspaper?”

From a letter to Willis, which we quote, the effect produced upon the proud, sensitive nature of the poet by the wholesale publication of his distress will be evident:


The paragraph which has been put in circulation respecting my wife’s illness, my own, my poverty, etc., is now lying before me, together with the beautiful lines by Mrs. Locke, and those by Mrs. ——, to which the paragraph has given rise, as well as your kind and manly comments in “The Home Journal.” The motive of the paragraph I leave to the conscience of him or her who wrote it or suggested it. Since the thing is done, however, and since the concerns of my family are thus pitilessly thrust before the public, I perceive no mode of escape from a public statement of what is true and what is erroneous in the report alluded to. That my wife is ill, then, [page 189:] is true; and you may imagine with what feelings I add that this illness, hopeless from the first, has been heightened and precipitated by her reception, at two different periods, of anonymous letters — one enclosing the paragraph now in question, the other those published calumnies of Messrs. —— for which I yet hope to find redress in a court of justice.

Of the facts that I myself have been long and dangerously ill, and that my illness has been a well understood thing among my brethren of the press, the best evidence is afforded by the innumerable paragraphs of personal and of literary abuse with which I have been latterly assailed. This matter, however, will remedy itself. At the very first blush of my new prosperity, the gentlemen who toadied me in the old will recollect themselves and toady me again. That I am without friends is a gross calumny, which I am sure you never could have believed, and which a thousand noble-hearted men would have good right never to forgive for permitting to pass unnoticed and undenied. I do not think, my dear Willis, that there is any need of my saying more. I am getting better, and may add, if it be any comfort to my enemies, that I have little fear of getting worse. The truth is, I have a great deal to do; and I have made up my mind not to die till it is done.

Sincerely yours,  

December 30, 1846.

This letter, Griswold charges, was written for effect. Poe, he declares, had not been ill a great while, nor dangerously ill at all; that there was no literary or personal abuse of him in the journals, and that his friends in turn had been applied [page 190:] to for money until their patience was nearly exhausted. It is needless to say that these statements are, like others by the writer, parts of the patchwork of falsehood with which the narrative facts of his memoir of the poet are covered. That malicious slanders of Poe were published, the fact of his recovery of heavy damages from “The Mirror” at a subsequent time, sufficiently proves; and that he was ill, we have Willis own statement, which no one would presume to gainsay, as proof.

Within a month after the writing of the letter to Willis, Poe’s child-wife died. Although not now a child, in appearance she was actually girlish, and a portrait which we have seen, taken after death, while robed for the grave, depicts her face as one of singular sweetness and purity. Although her disease was a lingering one, the face is not wasted nor marked by any lines of suffering. It seems the face of a child sweetly sleeping; and, after looking upon it, one does not wonder at the devoted affection which its living presence inspired.

No other picture of Virginia is known to be in existence; and it is to be hoped that at some future [page 191:] day the owner of the picture, a sister of the deceased, will waive her present scruples to having the portrait copied, for there is nothing ghastly or deathlike about it. Its atmosphere is that of peace, not of grim death.

Deprived of the companionship and sympathy of his child-wife, the poet suffered what was to him the exquisite agony of utter loneliness.

Night after night he would arise from his sleepless pillow, and, dressing himself, wander to the grave of his lost one, and throwing himself down upon the cold ground, weep bitterly for hours at a time.

The. same haunting dread which we have ventured to ascribe to him at the time of his writing “The Raven,” possessed him now, and to such a degree that he found it impossible to sleep without the presence of some friend by his bedside when he sought slumber. Mrs. Clemm, his ever-devoted friend and comforter, more frequently fulfilled the office of watcher. The poet, after retiring, would summon her, and while she stroked his broad brow he would indulge his wild flights of fancy to the Aidenn of his dreams. He never spoke nor moved in these moments, [page 192:] unless the hand was withdrawn from his forehead; then he would say, with childish naïveté “No, no, not yet!’ ‘ — while he lay with half-closed eyes.

The mother, or friend, would stay by him until he was fairly asleep, then gently leave him. He rarely awoke from troubled sleep when his slumbers were thus preluded as he desired; but if, through accident or necessity, he was obliged to seek sleep with no sweet soothings, save the weird conjurings of his own strange fancies, he was invariably distraught and wretchedly uncomfortable.

He continued to reside at Fordham, and the memory of his cherished mate was sacredly preserved in his devoted care of the quaint and pretty little villa with its surroundings of fruit trees and flowerbeds, and its family of home pets, which to him were, from their associations with his Virginia, as dear as if they had been his children.

Poe had many visitors during his isolated residence at this charming place. An English writer who visited Fordham in the early autumn of 1847, thus described it to Mrs. Whitman: — [page 193:]

“It was at the time bordered by a flower garden, whose clumps of rare dahlias and brilliant beds of fall flowers showed, in the careful culture bestowed upon them, the fine floral taste of the inmates.”

An American writer who visted [[visited]] the cottage during the summer of the same year, described it as “half-buried in fruit trees, and as having a thick grove of pines in its immediate neighborhood. Round an old cherry tree, near the door, was a broad bank of greenest turf. The neighboring beds of mignonette and heliotrope, and the pleasant shade above, made this a favorite seat.” “Rising at four o‘clock in the morning,” writes Mrs. Whitman, “for a walk to the magnificent Aqueduct bridge over Harlem River, our informant found the poet, with his mother, standing on the turf beneath the cherry tree, eagerly watching the movements of two beautiful birds that seemed contemplating a settlement in its branches. He had some rare tropical birds in cages, which he cherished and petted with assiduous care. Our English friend described him us giving to his birds and his flowers a delighted attention that seemed quite inconsistent with the [page 194:] gloomy and grotesque character of his writings. A favorite cat, too, enjoyed his friendly patronage, and often when he was engaged in composition, it seated itself on his shoulder, purring in complacent approval of the work proceeding under its supervision.

“During Mr. Poe’s residence at Fordham, a walk to High Bridge was one of his favorite, and” habitual recreations. The water of the aqueduct is conveyed across the river on a range of lofty granite arches which rise to the height of a hundred and forty-five feet above high-water level. On the top a turfed and grassy road, used only by foot passengers, and flanked on either side by a low parapet of granite, makes one of the finest promenades imaginable. The winding river and the high rocky shores at the western extremity of the bridge are seen to great advantage from this lofty avenue. In the last melancholy years of his life — ‘the lonesome latter years’ — Poe was accustomed to walk there at all times of the day and night, often pacing the then solitary pathway for hours without meeting a human being. A little to the east of the cottage rises a ledge of rocky ground, partly covered with pines and [page 195:] cedars, commanding a fine view of the surrounding country and of the picturesque college of St. John’s, which had, at that time, in its neighborhood an avenue of venerable old trees. This rocky ledge was also one of the poet’s favorite resorts. Here, through long summer days and through solitary star-lit nights, he loved to sit, dreaming his gorgeous waking dreams, or pondering the deep problems of ‘The Universe,’ that grand ‘prose poem’ to which he devoted the last and maturest energies of his wonderful intellect.”

The proximity of the railroad, and the great increase of population in the village, have since wrought great changes, and the place would be scarcely recognizable from this description now.

It was during the period of solitariness at Fordham that Poe wrote the mystic “Ulalume;” and, taking into consideration the distraught condition of the poet at this time, it is not singular that, when subjected to Mrs. Whitman’s clear-cut analysis, it should be found to be “the most original and weirdly suggestive of all his poems.” “It resembles at first sight,” says this writer, “some of Turner’s landscapes, being apparently ‘without form and void, and having darkness on the [page 196:] face of it.’ It is, nevertheless, in its basis, although not in the precise correspondence of time, simply historical.”

Such was the poet’s lonely midnight walk; such, amid the desolate memories and sceneries of the hour, was the new-born hope enkindled within his heart at sight of the morning star —

“Astarte’s bediamonded crescent ——

coming up as the beautiful harbinger of love and happiness yet awaiting him in the untried future; and such the sudden transition of feeling, the boding dread, that supervened on discovering that which at first had been unnoted, that it shone, as if in mockery or in warning, directly over the sepulchre of the lost “Ulalume.”

A writer in “The London Critic” says, quoting the opening lines of “Ulalume,” —

“These to many will appear only words; but what wondrous words! What a spell they wield! What a weird unity is in them!The instant they are uttered, a misty picture, with a tarn, dark as a murderer’s eye, below, and the thin yellow leaves of October fluttering above, exponents of [page 197:] a misery which scorns the name of sorrow, is hung up in the chambers of your soul forever.”

Of the psychal atmosphere of Poe when saturated with the supematurally imaginative condition, under the spell of which “Ulalume,” “The Raven “and “Eureka “were inspired, the author of “Poe and his Critics” writes, “Nothing so solitary, nothing so hopeless, nothing so desolate, as his spirit in its darker moods, has been instanced in the literary history of the nineteenth century.”

The poet’s extraordinary conceptions of the future were first revealed in the form of a lecture suggestively entitled, “The Universe,” delivered before the Society Library of New York city. This was the first of a series of lectures from the proceeds of which Poe expected to realize his long-cherished idea of a monthly magazine of his own, as the following letter to Willis will show: —

FORDHAM, January 22, 1848.


I am about to make an effort at re-establishing myself in the literary world, and feel that I may depend upon your aid.

My general aim is to start a magazine, to be called “The Stylus;” but it would be useless to me, even when established, [page 198:] if not entirely out of the control of a publisher. I mean, therefore, to get up a journal which shall be my own at all points. With this end in view, I must get a list of at least five hundred subscribers to begin with, nearly two hundred I have already. I propose, however, to go South and West, among my personal and literacy friends — old college and West Point acquaintances — and see what I can do. In order to get the means of taking the first step, I propose to lecture at the Society Library on Thursday, 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.”

Having thus given you the facts of the case, I leave all the rest to the suggestions of your own tact and generosity. Gratefully, most gratefully, your friend always,


The subject was sufficiently ponderous to forbid a large attendance, and the sanguine enthusiast was obliged to possess his soul with patience, until opportunity offered for realizing upon his effort from the publication of the completed work, which was published not long after by Mr. G. P. Putnam. The preliminary business negotiation incident to its publication has been graphically described by Mr. Putnam. It is worth recalling in this place.

“I was in his office in Broadway,” he states, “when a gentleman entered, and with a somewhat [page 199:] what nervous and excited manner claimed attention on a subject which he said was of the highest importance. Seated at my desk, and looking at me a full minute with his ‘glittering eye,’ he at length said, ‘I am Mr. Poe.’ I was ‘all ear,’ of course, and sincerely interested. It was the author of ‘The Raven,’ and of ‘The Gold Bug!’ ‘I hardly know,’ said the poet, after a pause, ‘how to begin what I have to say. It is a matter of profound importance.’ After another pause, the poet seeming to be in a tremor of excitement, he at length went on to say that the publication he had to propose was of momentous interest. Newton’s discovery of gravitation was a mere incident compared with the discoveries revealed in this book. It would at once command such universal and intense interest that the publisher might give up all other enterprises, and make this one book the business of his lifetime. An edition of fifty thousand copies might be sufficient to begin with; but it would be a small beginning. No other scientific event in the history of the world approached in importance the original developments of this book. All this and more, not in irony or in jest, but in intense [page 200:] earnest — for he held me with his eye like the Ancient Mariner. I was really impressed, but not overcome. Promising a decision on Monday (it was late Saturday p.m.), the poet had to rest so long in uncertainty upon the extent of the edition — partly reconciled, by a small loan, meanwhile. We did venture, not upon fifty thousand but five hundred.”

Although the poet’s works are filled, perhaps unconsciously, with a deep sense of the power and majesty of Deity, his theory, as expressed in “Eureka,” which he regarded as the crowning work of his life, of the universal diffusion of Deity in and through all things, has been regarded as identical with the Brahminical faith as expressed in the “Bagvat Gita.” But the closer criticism of Mrs. Whitman reveals that in the vast reaches of his thought he arrived at a form of unbelief that assumes that the central, creative soul is alternately, not diffused only, but merged and lost in the universe, and the universe in it.

“No thinking man lives,” he says, “who, at some luminous point of his life, has not felt himself lost amid the surges of futile efforts at understanding or believing that anything exists [page 201:] greater than his own soul. The intense, over-whelming dissatisfaction and rebellion at the thought, together with the omniprevalent aspirations at perfection, are but the spiritual, coincident with the material, struggle towards the original unity. The material and spiritual God now exists solely in the diffused matter and spirit of the universe; and the regathering of the diffused matter and spirit will be but the reconstitution of the purely spiritual and individual God.”

The following ingenious and characteristic note was found in a copy of the original edition of “Eureka,” purchased at a sale of Dr. Griswold’s library. The note, inscribed on the half-blank page at end of the volume, is in the handwriting of the author:

“NOTE. — The pain of the consideration that we shall lose our individual identity ceases at once when we further reflect that the process as above described is neither more nor less than that of the absorption by each individual intelligence of all other intelligences (that is, of the universe into its own. That God may be all in all, each must become God.”

The publication of “Eureka” naturally aroused [page 202:] controversy, at a time when sectarian dogmatism and Puritanical narrowness were less tolerant of heretical theories than at the present. A flippant critique of “Eureka” in “The Literary World” drew forth from Poe the following characteristic letter, addressed to the editor, Mr. C. T. Hoffman, that indicated that his many privations had in no way tempered the severity of his powers of criticism when once they were thoroughly aroused: —

Dear sir, — In your paper of July 29, I find some comments on “Eureka,” a late book of my own; and I know 70a too well to suppose for a moment that you will refuse me the privilege of a few words in reply. I feel even that I might safely claim from Mr. Hoffman the right which every author has of replying to his critic, tone for tone, that is to say, of answering your correspondent’s flippancy by flippancy, and sneer by sneer; but, in the first place, I do not wish to disgrace the “World,” and in the second, I feel that I should never be done sneering in the present instance were I once to begin. Lamartine blames Voltaire for the use which he made of misrepresentations (ruses) in his attacks on the priesthood; but our young students of theology do not seem to be aware that in defence, or what they fancy to be defence, of Christianity, there is anything wrong in such gentlemanly peccadilloes as the deliberate perversion of an author’s text, to say nothing of the minor indecora of reviewing a book without reading it and without having the faintest suspicion of what it is about. [page 203:]

You will understand that it is merely the misrepresentations of the critique in question to which I claim the privilege of reply; the mere opinions of the writer can be of no consequence to me, — and I should imagine of very little to himself — that is to say, if he knows himself personally as well as I have the honor of knowing him. The first misrepresentation is contained in this sentence: “This letter is a keen burlesque on the Aristotelian or Baconian methods of ascertaining Truth, both of which the writer ridicules and despises, and pours forth his rhapsodical ecstasies in a glorification of a third mode — the noble art of guessing.” What I really say is this: “That there is no absolute certainty either in the Aristotelian or Baconian process; that for this reason neither philosophy is so profound as it fancies itself, and that neither has a right to sneer at that seemingly imaginative process called Intuition (by which the great Kepler attained his laws), since ‘Intuition,’ after all, is but the conviction arising from those deductions, or inductions, of which the processes are so shadowy as to escape our consciousness, elude our reason, or defy our capacity of expression.” The second misrepresentation runs thus: “The developments of electricity and the formation of stars and suns, luminous and non-luminous, moons and planets, with their rings, etc., is deduced, very much, according to the nebular theory of Laplace, from the principle propounded above.” Now, the impression intended to be made here upon the reader’s mind by the “student of theology “is, evidently, that my theory may be all very well in its way, but that it is nothing but Laplace over again, with some modifications that he (the student of theology) cannot regard as at all important. I have only to say that no gentleman can accuse me of the disingenuousness here implied; [page 204:] inasmuch at, having proceeded with my theory to that point at which Laplace’s theory meets it, I then give Laplace’s theory in full, with the expression of my firm conviction of its absolute truth at all points. The ground covered by my theory, as a bubble compares with the ocean on which it floats; nor has he the slightest allusion to “the principle propounded above; “the principle of unity being the source of all things, the principle of gravity being merely the re-action of the Divine act which irradiated all things from unit. In fact, no point of my theory has been even so much as alluded to by Laplace. I have not considered it necessary here to speak of the astronomical knowledge displayed in the “stars and suns” of the student of theology, nor to hint that it would be better grammar to say that “development and formation” are than that development and formation is. The third misrepresentation lies in afoot-note, where the critic says, “Further than this, Mr. Poe’s claim that he can account for the existence of all organized beings, man included, merely from those principles on which the origin and present appearance of suns and worlds are explained, must be set down as mere bold assertion, without a particle of evidence. In other words, we should term it arrant fudge.” The perversion of this point, is involved in a wilful misapplication of the word “principles.” I say “wilful,” because at page 63 I am particularly careful to distinguish between the principles proper, attraction and repulsion, and those merely resultant sub-principles which control the universe in detail. To these sub-principles, swayed by the immediate spiritual influence of Deity, I leave, without examination, all that which the student of theology so roundly asserts I account for on the principles which account for the constitution of suns, etc. . . . [page 205:]

Were these “misrepresentations” (is that the name of them?) made for any less serious a purpose than that of branding my book as “impious,” and myself as a “pantheist,” a “polytheist,” a Pagan, or a God knows what (and, indeed I care very little, so it be not a “student of theology”), I would have permitted their dishonesty to pass unnoticed, through pure contempt for the boyishness, for the trun-down-shirt-collarness [[turn-down-shirt-collarness]] of their tone; but as it is, you will pardon me, Mr. Editor, that I have been compelled to expose a “critic” who, courageously preserving his own anonymosity takes advantage of my absence from the city to misrepresent, and thus villify me, by name.


Fordham, September 20, 1848.

In July, 1848, Poe visited Lowell, Massachusetts, and there delivered his lecture on Poetry. Another visit to this city, in the spring of 1849, was eventful in that, during the time he remained there, at the house of a dear friend, he composed and finished his greatest descriptive poem, “The Bells,” a study of which he had previously made and sent to “Sartain’s Magazine.”

Commenting on the wonderful contrast presented between the study and the finished masterpiece, the editor of “Sartain’s” gives the following, including a copy of “The Bells,” as originally composed: — [page 206:]

“The singular poem of Mr. Poe’s, called ‘The Bells’ which we published in our last number has been very extensively copied. There is a curious piece of literary history connected with this poem, which we may as well give now as at any other time. It illustrates the gradual development of an idea in the mind of a man of original genius. This poem came into our possession about a year since. It then consisted of eighteen lines! They were as follows: —


The bells! — hear the bells!

The merry wedding bells!

The little silver bells!

How fairy-like a melody there swells

From the silver tinkling cells

Of the bells, bells, bells!

Of the bells!


The bells! — ah, the bells!

The heavy iron bells!

Hear the tolling of the bells!

Hear the knells!

How horrible a monody there floats

From their throats —

From their deep-toned throats!

How I shudder at the notes

From the melancholy throats

Of the bells, bells, bells I

Of the bells! [page 207:]

“About six months after this, we received the poem enlarged and altered nearly to its present size and form; and about three months since, the author sent another alteration and enlargement, in which condition the poem was left at the time of his death.”

The original MSS. [[MS.]] of “The Bells,” in its enlarged form, from which the draft sent to “Sartain’s” was made, is in our possession at this time. The interlinings and revisions are peculiarly interesting as showing the author’s extraordinary care in fine points of versification.

In the twelfth line of the first stanza of the original draft, the word “bells” was repeated five times, instead of four, as Poe printed it, and but twice in the next line. In changing and obviously improving the effect, he has drawn his pen through the fifth repetition, and added another, underlined to the two of the next line.

The same change is made in the corresponding lines in the next stanza.

In the sixth line of the third stanza, the word “much” is placed before “too,” with the usual mark indicating the transposition which he made in printing it, and as originally written the word [page 208:] “anger,” in the fifth line from the last in this stanza, was written “clamor,” while anger” was placed in the last line. By the transposition of these, he gained the euphonious alliterative effect in the last line which would otherwise have been wanting.

In the sixth line of the fourth stanza, the word meaning “was first used in lieu of the more impressive “menace,” to which it gave place. The eighth line of this stanza was first written, “From out their ghostly throats;” and the eleventh line was changed twice, reading first, Who live up in the steeple,” then “They that sleep “was substituted for “who live,” and finally “dwell” was printed instead of “sleep.”

After the eighteenth line, a line was added that was elided entirely in the poem as printed. It read, —

“But are pestilential carcasses departed from their souls.”

The ideality of the poem is immeasurably improved by the elision of this repulsive thought. In making the change, omitting this line, he simply substituted,“They are ghouls,” in the next line, in pencil. [page 209:]

A fac simile of a portion of this fourth stanza, which we give, showing some of the important alterations, is, perhaps, the most interesting specimen of the poet’s hand that has been printed.

Some informal but quite suggestive recollections of the poet have been given us by a lady now living, at that time a school-girl in her teens. According to this lady’s statement, — and she is certainly disinterested, — the poet does not seem to have been the moral wreck that some of his biographers have sought to make him appear.

“I have in my mind’s eye a figure somewhat below medium height, perhaps, but so perfectly proportioned, and crowned with such a noble head, so regally carried, that to my girlish apprehension he gave the impression of commanding stature. Those clear, sad eyes seemed to look from an eminence rather than from the ordinary level of humanity, while his conversational tone was so low and deep that one could easily fancy it borne to the ear from some distant height.

“I saw him first in Lowell, and there heard him give a lecture on Poetry, illustrated by readings. His manner of rendering some of the selections [page 210:] constitutes my only remembrance of the evening which so fascinated me. Everything was rendered with pure intonation and perfect enunciation, marked attention being paid to the rhythm. He almost sang the more musical versifications. I recall more perfectly than anything else the undulations of his smooth baritone voice as he recited the opening lines of Byron’s ‘Bride of Abydos,’ —

‘Know ye the land where the cypress and myrtle

Are emblems of deeds that are done in their clime,’ —

measuring the dactylic movement perfectly as if he were scanning it. The effect was very pleasing.

“He insisted strongly upon an even, metrical flow in versification, and said that hard, unequally stepping poetry had better be done into prose. I think he made no selections of a humorous character, either in his public or parlor readings. Indeed, anything of that kind seems entirely incompatible with his personality. He smiled but seldom, and never laughed, or said anything to excite mirth in others. His manner was quiet and grave. John Brown of Edinboro’ might have characterized it as “lonely.” In thinking [page 211:] of Mr. Poe in later years I have often applied to him the line of Wordsworth’s Sonnet, —

‘Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart.’

“I did not hear the conversation at Mrs. Richmond’s after the lecture, when a few persons came in to meet him; but I remember that my brother spoke with enthusiasm of the elegance of Mr. Poe’s demeanor and the grace of his conversation. In alluding to it he always says, ‘I have never seen it equalled.’ A lady in the company differed from Mr. Poe, and expressed her opinions very strongly. His deference in listening was perfect, and his replies were models of respectful politeness. Of his great satirical power his pen was generally the medium. If he used the polished weapon in conversation, it was so delicately and skilfully handled that only a quick eye would detect the gleam. Obtuseness was always perfectly safe in his presence.

“A few months later than this, Mr. Poe came out to our home in Westford. My recollections of that visit are fragmentary, but vivid.

“During the day he strolled off by himself ‘to look at the hills,’ he said. I remember standing [page 212:] in the low porch with my sister as we saw him returning; and as soon as he stepped from the dusty street on to the greensward which sloped from our door, he removed his hat and came to us with uncovered head, his eyes seeming larger and more luminous than ever with the exhilaration of his walk. I recall his patiently wh winding from a nail a piece of twine that had been carelessly twisted and. knotted around it, and then, hanging it back again over the nail in long, straight loops. It was a half-unconscious by-play of that ingenious mind which deciphered cryptographs, solved enigmas of all kinds, and wrote ‘The Gold Bug’ and ‘The Balloon Hoax.’ My memory photographs him again sitting before an open wood fire in the early autumn evening, gazing intently into the glowing coals, holding the hand of a dear friend, while for a long time no one spoke, and the only sound was the ticking of the tall clock in the corner. I wish I knew what he was dreaming about during that rapt silence.

Later in the evening he recited, before a little reading club, several of his own poems, one of Willis’, commencing, ‘The shadows lay along [page 213:] Broadway,’ which, he said, was a special favorite with him; and one or two of Byron’s shorter pieces. I thought everything was perfect; but others said that much more effect might be given to his own unique poems. I suppose his voice and manner expressed the ‘Runic rhyme’ better than the ‘tintinnabulation’ or the ‘turbulency’ of the ‘bells, bells, bells.’ That poem was then fresh from the author’s brain, and we had the privilege of hearing it before it was given to the world.

“The next morning I was to go to school; and before I returned he would be gone. I went to say good-bye to him, when, with that gracious, ample courtesy of his, which included even the rustic school-girl, he said, ‘I will walk with you.’ He accompanied me nearly all the way, taking leave of me at last in such a gentle, kindly manner that the thought of it brings tears now to the eyes that then looked their last upon that finished scholar, and winning, refined gentleman.”

In 1845, Poe had visited Providence on his way to deliver his poem before the Boston Lyceum; and there, while wandering through a retired street, he saw, walking in her garden, [page 214:] Mrs. S. H. Whitman, to whom, in “his lecture on Poetry, he had awarded “a preeminence in refinement of art, enthusiasm, imagination and genius.” The romantic incident of his meeting with Mrs. Whitman has, as is generally known, been exquisitely described by him in the poem “To Helen.”

Dr. Griswold’s citation of the lines in connection with one of his most scandalous anecdotes, has given them a celebrity which even their sumptuous beauty might not otherwise have insured to them.

Early in September, 1848, the poet, having obtained a letter of introduction to Mrs. Whitman, again visited Providence, and made her acquaintance. Notwithstanding some opposition from the relatives of the lady, they were subsequently, engaged.

The lack of all moral sense has been so universally imputed to Poe by his biographers, that the following passages from a letter by the poet, one of a series addressed to his fiancée in which he speaks for himself upon this subject, may be worthy of consideration in this place:


. . . Of what avail to me in my deadly grief are your enthusiastic words of mere admiration! you do not love me, [page 215:] or you would have felt too thorough a sympathy with the sensitiveness of my nature to have so wounded me, as you have done, with this terrible passage of your letter: “How often I have heard men and even women say of you, ‘He has great intellectual power, but no principle, no moral sense.’ ” Is it possible that such expressions as these could have been repeated to me — to me — by one whom I loved — ah, whom I love! And you ask me why such opinions exist. You will feel remorse for the question, when I say to you that until the moment when those horrible words first met my eye, I would not have believed it possible that any such opinions could have existed at all; but that they do exist, breaks my heart in separating us forever. I love you too truly ever to have offered you my hand, ever to have sought your love, had I known my name to be so stained as your expressions imply. . . . It is altogether in vain that I tax my memory or my conscience. There is no oath which seems to me so sacred as that sworn by the all-divine love I bear you. By this, love, then, and by the God who reigns in heaven, I swear to you that my soul is incapable of dishonor; that with the exception of occasional follies and excesses, which I bitterly lament, but to which I have been driven, and which are hourly committed by others without attracting any notice whatever, I can call to mind no act of my life which would bring a blush to my cheek or to yours. If I have erred at all in this regard, it has been on the side of what the world would call a Quixotic sense of the honorable, of the chivalrous. The indulgence of this sense has been the true voluptuousness of my life. It was for this species of luxury that in early youth I deliberately threw away a large fortune rather than endure a trivial wrong. . . . Ah, how profound is my love for you, since it [page 216:] forces me into these egotisms, for which you will inevitably despite me!

But grant that what you urge were even true, do you not feel in your inmost heart of hearts that the soul-lore of which the world speaks so often, and so idly, is, in this instance at least, but the veriest, the most absolute of realities?

Ah, I could weep, I could almost be angry with you, for the unwarranted wrong you offer to the purity, to the sacred reality, of my affection.

Referring to another passage in the letter quoted above, the poet writes: —

“May God forever shield you from the agony which these words occasion me!”

You will never know, you can never picture to yourself the hopeless, rayless despair with which I now trace thee words. . . .

Nevertheless, I must now speak to you the truth or nothing. . . . But alas I for nearly three years I have been ill, poor, living out of the world, and thus, as I now painfully see, have afforded opportunity to my enemies to slander me in private society, without my knowledge, and thus with impunity.

Although much may, however (and I now sec must), have been said to my discredit during my retirement, those few who, knowing me well, have been steadfastly my friends, permitted nothing to reach my ears, unless in the instance, where the accusation was of such character that I could appeal to a court of justice for redress.

I replied to the charge fully in a public newspaper, suing “The Mirror” (in which the scandal appeared), obtaining a verdict and recovering such an amount of damages as for the [page 217:] time to completely break up that journal. And you ask why men so misjudge me, why I have enemies!

If your knowledge of my character, and of my career, does not afford you an answer to the query, at least it does not become me to suggest the answer. Let it suffice that I have had the audacity to remain poor that I might preserve my independence; that, nevertheless, in letters, to a certain extent arid in certain regards, I have been successful; that I have been a critic, an unscrupulously honest, and no doubt in many cases, a bitter one.

That I have uniformly attacked, where I attacked at all, those who stood highest in power and influence, and that, whether in literature or in society, I have seldom refrained from expressing, either directly or indirectly, the pure contempt with which the pretensions of ignorance, arrogance or imbecility inspire me. And you who know all this, you ask me why I have enemies. Ah, I have a hundred friends for every individual enemy; but has it ever occurred to you that you do not live among my friends?

Had you read my criticisms generally you would see why all those whom you know best know me least and are my enemies. Do you not remember with how deep a sigh I said to you in ——, “My heart is heavy, for I see that your friends are not my own!”. . . Forgive me, best and beloved — if there is bitterness in my tone. Towards you there is no room in my soul for any other sentiment than devotion. It is fate only which I accuse. — It is my own unhappy nature.

Further on in this letter, the poet draws this picture of his ideal home: —

“I suffered my imagination to stray with you, and with the [page 218:] few who love us both, to die banks of some quiet river in some lovely valley of our land. Here, not too far secluded from the world, we exercised a taste controlled by no conventionalities, but the sworn slave of a Natural Art, in the building for ourselves a cottage which no human being could ever pass without an ejaculation of wonder at its strange, weird and incomprehensible, yet simple, beauty. Oh, the sweet and gorgeous, but not often rare, flowers in which we half-buried it — the grandeur of the magnolias aud tulip-trees which stood guarding it — the luxurious velvet of its lawn — the lustre of the rivulet that ran by its very door — the tasteful yet quiet comfort of its interior — the music — the books — the unostentatious pictures — and, above all, the love, the love that threw an unfading glory over the whole! — Alas! all is now a dream.”

This letter of eloquent protest and appeal bears [[the]] date October 18, 1848. No engagement at the time subsisted between the parties.

Shortly after its date an incident occurred which has been widely chronicled as “an outrage on the eve of an appointed marriage.”

Mrs. Whitman has permitted us to publish her own clear and authentic statement of the facts which underlie this scandal, thereby placing the story in its true light, and imparting a profound interest to the fragment of a letter to which she alludes, and of which we present [page 219:]

a fac-simile copy. Later, a conditional engagement was made. The poet was not able to adhere to the conditions, and the lady was, in duty and honor to her family, bound to give up the alliance.

But it was not broken under any such circumstances as those fabricated by Dr. Griswold in his narration of the affair in his memoir. As this misstatement of Griswold is probably the most malicious of all his published mendacities, we have taken special pains to gather the evidence of its falsity; evidence that Griswold deliberately suppressed, although most of it was published previous to his issue, of his memior [[memoir]] of Poe in a permanent form. The correspondence which we quote, principally comprises letters from Wm. J. Pabodie, Esq., a prominent lawyer of Providence, very intimately acquainted both with Poe arid with Mrs. Whitman, at the time of their engagement.

To the editors of the “New York Tribune,” Mr. Pabodie writes, after the misstatements of Griswold had been published and repeatedly copied by various perodicals [[periodicals]]:

“In an article on American Literature in the ‘Westminster [page 220:] Review for April, and in one on Edgar A. Poe, in ‘Tait’s Magazine’ for the same month, we find a repetition of certain incorrect and injurious statements in regard to the deceased author, which should not longer be a suffered to pass unnoticed. These statements have circulated through half a dozen foreign and domestic periodicals, and are presented with an ingenious variety of detail. As a specimen, we take a passage from Tait, who quotes as his authority Griswold’s memoir of the poet:

“ ‘Poe’s life, in fact, during the three years that yet remained to him, was simply a repetition of his previous existence, not withstanding which, his reputation still increased, and he made many friends. He was, indeed, at one time, engaged to many a lady who is termed “one of the most brilliant women in New England.” He, however, suddenly changed his determination; and after declaring his intention to break the match, he crossed, the same day, into the city where the lady dwelt, and, on the evening that should have been the evening before the bridal, “committed in drunkenness such outrages at her house as made necessary a summons of the police.” ’ [[’ ”]]

“The subject is one which cannot well be approached without invading the sanctities of private life; and the improbabilities of the story may, to those acquainted with the parties, be deemed an all-sufficient refutation. But in view of the rapidly increasing circulation which this story has obtained, and the severity of comment which it hast elicited, the friends of the late Edgar A. Poe deem it an imperative duty to free his memory from this unjust reproach, and to oppose to it their unqualified denial. Such a denial is due, not only to the memory of the departed, but also to the lady whose home is supposed to have been desecrated by these disgraceful outrages. [page 221:]

“Mr. Poe was frequently my guest during his stay in Providence. In his several visits to the city I was with him daily. I was acquainted with the circumstances of his engagement and with the causes which led to its dissolution. I am authorized to say, not only from my personal knowledge, but also from the statements of all who were conversant with the affair, that there exists not a shadow of foundation for the stories above alluded to.

“Mr. Poe’s friends have no desire to palliate his faults, nor to conceal the fact of his intemperance — a vice which, though never habitual to him, seems, according to Dr. Griswold’s published statements, to have repeatedly assailed him at the most momentous epochs of his life. With the single exception of this fault, which he has so fearfully expiated, his conduct, during the period of my acquaintance with him, was invariably that of a man of honor and a gentleman; and I know that, in the hearts of all who knew him best among us, he is remembered with feelings of melancholy interest and generous sympathy.

“We understand that Dr. Griswold has expressed his sincere regret that these unfounded reports should have been sanctioned by his authority; and we doubt not, if he possesses that fairness of character and uprightness of intention which we have ascribed to him, that he will do what lies in his power to remove an undeserved stigma from the memory of the departed.


“Providence, June 2, 1852.”

In answer to this, we find Dr. Griswold, in the rˆle of a bully, impudently attempting to put [page 222:] down Mr. Pabodie’s dignified statement vi et armis. He writes to Mr. Pabodie a private letter, as follows: —

New York, June 8, 1852.

Dear Sir, — I think you have done wrong in publishing your communication in yesterday’s “Tribune” without ascertaining how it must be met. I have never expressed any such regrets as you write of, and I cannot permit any statement in my memoir of Poe to be contradicted by a reputable person, unless it is shown to be wrong. The statement in question I can easily prove, on the most unquestionable authority, to be true; and unless you explain your letter to “The Tribune” in another for publication there, you will compel me to place before the public such documents as will be infinitely painful to Mrs. Whitman and all others concerned. The person to whom he disclosed “his intention to break off the match was Mrs. H——t. He was already engaged to another party. I am sorry for the publication of your letter. Why you did not permit me to see it before it appeared, and disclose in advance these consequences, I cannot conceive. I would willingly drop the subject, but for the controversies hitherto in regard to it, with which you are acquainted. Before writing to “The Tribune “I will await your opportunity to acknowledge this note, and to give such explanations of your letter as will render any public statement on my part unnecessary.

In haste, yours respectfully,  


To this insolent and impotent letter, which was [page 223:] tesselated with scandalous and irrelevant stories respecting Mr. Poe’s relations with some of his esteemed and valued friends, Mr. Pabodie replied by calmly reiterating his published statement in “The New York Tribune,” and by adducing further proof of Griswold’s audacious fabrications. The tone of this letter is in striking contrast to that of Griswold’s virulent and threatening note. Its forbearing mildness, indeed, renders it open to criticism on this ground.

June 11, 1852.


Dear Sir, — In reply to your note, I would say that I have simply testified to what I know to be true, namely, that no such incident as that so extensively circulated in regard to certain alleged outrages at the house of Mrs. Whitman, and the calling of the police, ever took place. The assertion that Mr. Poe came to Providence the last time with the intention of breaking off the engagement, you will find equally unfounded, when I have stated to you the facts as I know them. In remarking that you had expressed regret at the fact of their admission into your memior [[memoir]], I had reference to a passage in a letter written by Mrs. H. to Mrs. W., which was «cad to me by the latter some time since. I stated in all truthfulness the impression which that letter had left upon my mind. I enclose an extract from the letter, that you may judge for yourself:

“Having heard that Mr. Poe was engaged to a lady of [page 224:] Providence I said to him, on hearing that he was going to that city, ‘Mr. Poe, are you going to Providence to he married?’ — ‘I am going to deliver a lecture on Poetry’ he replied. Then, after a pause, and with a look of great reserve, he added, ‘That marriage may never take place.’ ”*

I know that from the commencement of Poe’s acquaintance with Mrs. W. he repeatedly urged her to an immediate marriage. At the time of his interview with Mrs. H., circumstances existed which threatened to postpone the marriage indefinitely, if not altogether to prevent it. It was, undoubtedly, with reference to these circumstances that his remark to Mrs. H. was made; certainly not to the breaking-off the engagement, as his subsequent conduct will prove. He left New York for Providence on the afternoon of his interview with Mrs. H., not with any view to the proposed union, but at the solicitation of the Providence Lyceum; and on the evening of his arrival, delivered his lecture on American Poetry, before an audience of some two thousand persons. During his stay he again succeeded in renewing his engagement, and in obtaining Mrs. W.’s consent to an immediate marriage.

He stopped at the Earl house, where he became acquainted with a set of somewhat dissolute young men, who often invited him to drink with them. We all know that he sometimes yielded to such temptations, and on the third or fourth evening after his lecture, he came up to Mrs. Whitman’s in a state of partial intoxication. I was myself present nearly the [page 225:] whole evening, and do most solemnly affirm that there was no noise, no disturbance, no “outrage,” neither was there any “call for the police.” Mr. Poe said but little. This was undoubtedly the evening referred to in your memoir, for it was the only evening in which he was intoxicated during his last visit to this city; but it was not “the evening that should have been before the bridal,” for they were not then published, and the law in our State required that they should be published at least three times, on as many different occasions, before they could be legally married.

The next morning Mr. Poe manifested and expressed the most profound contrition and regret, and was profuse in his promises of amendment. He was still urgently anxious that the marriage should take place before he left the city.

That very morning he wrote a note to Dr. Crocker, requesting him to publish the intended marriage at the earliest opportunity, and entrusted this note to rte, with the request that I should deliver it in person. You will perceive, therefore, that I did not write unadvisedly in the statement published in “The Tribune.”

For yourself, Mr. Griswold, I entertain none other than the kindest feelings. I was not surprised that you should have believed those rumors in regard to Poe and his engagement; and although, from a regard for the feelings of the lady, I do not think that a belief in their truth could possibly justify their publication, yet I was not disposed to impute to you any writing motive in presenting them to the public. I supposed rather that, in the hurry of publication and in the multiplicity of your avocations, you had not given each statement that precise consideration which less haste and more leisure would have permitted, I was thus easily led to believe, from Mrs. [page 226:] H.’s letter, that upon being assured of their incorrectness, and upon learning how exceedingly painful they were to the feelings of the surviving party, you sincerely regretted their publication. I would fain hope so still.

In my article in “The Tribune,” I endeavored to palliate their publication on your part, and to say everything in your extenuation that was consistent with the demands of truth and justice to the parties concerned. I would add, in regard to Poe’s intoxication on the evening above alluded to, that to all appearances it was as purely accidental and unpremeditated as any similar act of his life. By what species of logic any one should infer that, in this particular instance, it was the result of a malicious purpose and deliberate design, I have never been able to conceive. The facts of the case, and his subsequent conduct, prove beyond a doubt that he had no such design.

With great respect.  
Your obedient servant,  


It will be seen by this correspondence that the attempt of Dr. Griswold to browbeat Mr. Pabodie was courteously but firmly and unanswerably met. Dr. Griswold never paid the slightest attention to this letter, contenting himself with leaving on record the outrageous scandal that has since obtained an almost unprecedented circulation in the numerous memoirs of Poe, based upon Dr. Griswold’s malicious invention, that have [page 227:] been published. The introduction of the story of the banns would seem to come under the head of what lawyers call “an accessory after the fact.” Dr. Griswold had probably heard that the banns were written, if not published, and took advantage of this information to adroitly garnish his story with them. To set this question at rest forever, we have obtained permission to quote the following passages of a letter received from Mrs. Whitman in August, 1873:

“No such scene as that described by Dr. Griswold ever transpired in my presence. No one, certainly no woman, who had the slightest acquaintance with Edgar Poe, could have credited the story for an instant. He was essentially and instinctively a gentleman, utterly incapable, even in moments of excitement and delirium, of such an outrage as Dr. Griswold has ascribed to him. No authentic anecdote of coarse indulgence in vulgar orgies or bestial riot has ever been recorded of him. During the last years of his unhappy life, whenever he yielded to the temptation that was drawing him into its fathomless abyss, as with the resistless swirl of the maelstrom, he always lost himself in sublime rhapsodies on the evolution of the universe, speaking as from some imaginary platform to vast audiences of rapt and attentive listeners. During one of his visits to this city, in the autumn of 1848, I once saw him after one of those nights of wild excitement, before reason had fully recovered its throne. Yet even then, in those frenzied moments when the doors of the mind’s [page 228:] “Haunted Palace” were left all unguarded, his words were the words of a princely intellect overwrought, and of a heart only too sensitive and too finely strung. I repeat that no one acquainted with Edgar Poe could have given Dr. Griswold’s scandalous anecdote a moment’s credence

“Yours, etc.,  

Apropos of Mr. Griswold’s professed friendship for Poe, which he endeavors to demonstrate in copies of a correspondence which I cannot refrain from thinking was extensively “doctored “by the doctor to suit his purpose, we are able to present, perhaps not inappropriately in this place, an extract from an autograph letter of Dr. Griswold, written to Mrs. Whitman in 1849.

The object of this was evidently to cool Mrs. Whitman’s friendship for Mrs. Clemm, thus preventing their further intimacy. This was desirable to Dr. Griswold for evident reasons.

NEW YORK, December 17, 1849.


I have been two or three weeks in Philadelphia, attending to the remains which a recent fire left of my library and furniture, and so did not receive your interesting letter in regard to our departed acquaintance until to-day. I wrote, as you suppose the notice of Poe in “The Tribune,” but very hastily. [page 229:] I was not his friend, nor was he mine, as I remember to have told you. I undertook to edit his writings to oblige Mrs. Clemm, and they will soon be published in two thick volumes, of which a copy shall be sent to you. I saw very little of Poe in his last years. . . . I cannot refrain from begging you to be very careful what you say or write to Mrs. Clemm, who is not your friend, nor anybody’s friend, and who has no element of goodness or kindness in her nature, but whose heart and understanding are full of malice and wickedness. I confide in you these sentences for your own sake only, for Mrs. C. appears to be a very warm friend to me. Pray destroy this note, and at least act cautiously, till I may justify it in a conversation with you.

I am yours very sincerely,  
Rufus W. Griswold.

This brief note affords a tolerably good specimen of the utter duplicity of the man. In his printed memoir of Poe, he quotes a correspondence indicating professed friendship; in private, he unequivocally owns that no friendship ever existed between Poe and himself.

He writes that Mrs. Clemm is a friend to no one, and stigmatizes her character; and in the same breath speaks of her warm friendship for him.

Had Griswold lived in Othello’s time, no one could have disputed with him the position of mine ancient, “honest Iago.” [page 230:]

While living at Fordham, at this time, Poe is said to have written a book entitled “Phases of American Literature.”

Mr. M. A. Daly has stated that he saw the complete book; but as nothing is known as to the fate of the manuscript, it is to be inferred that Dr. Griswold, who, of course, had charge of all of Poe’s literary papers, found it desirable, to escape further scarifying, to destroy it.

In the summer of 1849, the poet quitted Fordham, and returned to Richmond, partly for the purpose of delivering his lectures, and pardy to accept an engagement on The Southern Literary Messenger,” to which the whirligig of time thus brought him back, to end the work he had begun twelve years before. For “The Messenger,” at this time, he wrote his sharp paragraphic papers, “Marginalia,” a few poems and several reviews, among which were reviews of Mrs. Osgood and Mrs. Lewis (Stella). With the exception of a brief visit to Philadelphia, he remained in and about Richmond for several months, making his headquarters at the office of “The Messenger.”

The editor of “The Messenger”at that time. [page 231:] the late J. P. [[R.]] Thompson, has related not a few anecdotes of his acquaintance with Poe during his latter days

One of these we recall in connection with one of his truest and most beautiful poems.

Poe had completed his engagement with “The Messenger,” and had called to take leave of Mr Thompson. He was about to take a trip North for Mrs. Clemm, to bring her South. He was needy, and had asked Mr. Thompson for a loan of five dollars to help out his travelling expenses.

As he was about to go, he turned to Mr. Thompson, saying, “By the way, you have been very kind to me, — here is a little trifle that may be worth something to you;” and he handed Mr. Thompson a small roll of paper, upon which was written the exquisite lines of “Annabel Lee.”

During this same season, Poe had apparently had better luck than had been his fortune in former times, in obtaining material guarantees for starting “The Stylus,” and as late as August in this year, had formed definite plans with Mr. E. H. N. Patterson, for issuing the magazine in July of the following year. [page 232:]

The following letter from Mr. Patterson indicates that definite plans had been formed. It is interesting as being the last allusion anywhere to be found of this fated enterprise of the sanguine but unfortunate poet:

OQUAWKA, Ill., Aug. 21, 1849.


My Dear Sir, — Yours of the 7th inst was received last night, and I hasten to reply. I am truly glad to hear that you are recovering your health, and trust it will soon be fully restored. You cannot enter into the joint publication of a $3 Mag. with “your heart in the work.” Well, what say you to this? —

In publishing a $5 magazine, of 96 pp., monthly, — page same size as “Graham’s,” — in bourgeois or brevier (instead of long primer and brevier, as first proposed), it would be necessary for mc to make an outlay of at least $1100 (this amount including a supply of paper for three months for 2000 copies). Now, if you are sure that, as you before thought, loco subscribers can be obtained who will pay upon receipt of the first number, then you may consider me pledged to be with you in the undertaking.

If this proposition meets your approval, you may immediately commence your journey to St. Louis — making easy stages through the South, and operating on your way — so as to reach that city by the middle of October (say the 15th), keeping me advised of your progress, as you proceed, by letter, say every two weeks, I will meet you at St. Louis, by the time mentioned, at which time I shall be more at leisure [page 233:] than before, and can then settle on arrangements. You may associate my name with your own in the matter, the same as if I had met you in person.

Adopt your own title. I leave this matter to you, as belonging peculiarly to your department. (Remember, however, published simultaneously at New York and St. Louis.) The first number can be issued in July — it is now too late to do it in January, and it would not be advisable to commence at any time other than the beginning or the middle of the year. I will try to be at St. Louis on the 15th of October, if your answer to this be favorable; until which time I bid you Godspeed, and beg leave to sign myself,

Most truly yours,  

P.S. — I send this via St. Louis and Vincennes, and will make a duplicate via Chicago to-morrow.

E.H.N. P.

One of the saddest pictures of Poe’s later days, when the dark mantle of a blighting sorrow was enshrouding him, is afforded in an account, which is gathered from an old-time associate of the poet, of his last visit to Philadelphia, which took place at this time. The picture is none the less sad in that some of the poet’s happiest hours had been passed in his cosy little home in that city, years before, with his charming and devoted child-wife, Virginia.

During this visit, which was made only a [page 234:] short time previous to his death in Baltimore, Poe was an inmate of the hospitable mansion of the artist and publisher, Mr. J. Sartain, widely known as the proprietor of “Sartain’s Magazine,” whose kindness the poet had frequently shared. Fortunate, indeed, would it. have been for Poe had he met with this staunch friend on first reaching the city at this time. Had he fallen into his protecting hands earlier, instead of meeting with reckless associates, ready as in old times to tempt him to the indulgence inevitably fatal to him, how different might have been his fate I But it was ordained otherwise. When he finally reached the residence of his kind friend, Poe was in a highly excited condition, almost distracted indeed. His mind seemed bewildered and oppressed with the dread of some fearful conspiracy against his life; nor could the arguments or entreaties of his friend convince him that some deadly foe was not, at that very moment, in pursuit of him. He begged for a razor for the purpose of removing the mustache from his lip, in order, as he suggested, that he might disguise his appearance, and thus baffle his pursuers. But, unwilling to place such an instrument [page 235:] in his hands, he was prevailed upon to allow his host to effect the desired change upon which he imagined his safety depended. The condition of Poe’s mind was such, that Mr. Sartain, after persuading him to lie down, remained watching with him through the night with anxious solicitude, unwilling to lose sight of the unfortunate sufferer for a moment. The following night, Poe insisted upon going out. He turned his steps towards the River Schuylkill, accompanied, however, by his devoted friend, whose apprehension was strengthened by the vehemence with which, without cessation, he poured forth, in the rich, musical tones for which he was distinguished, the fervid imageries of his brilliant but over-excited imagination. The all-absorbing theme which still retained possession of his mind, was the fearful conspiracy that threatened his destruction. Vainly his friend endeavored to re-assure and persuade him. He rushed on with unwearied steps, threading different streets, his companion striving to lead him homeward, but still in vain.

Towards midnight, they reached Fairmount, and ascended the steps leading to the summit, [page 236:] Poe all the while giving free scope to the conversational powers for which he was always remarkable, insisting upon the imminence of his peril, and pleading with touching eloquence for protection.

In the darkness of the night, the solemn stillness only broken by the even faBl of the water below, in peaceful contrast with the wild disorder of the unhappy poet’s brain, he seemed a personification of the subject of his own Raven,” —

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming,

Dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

He did not recover from this intense excitement until, subsequently escaping from the house, he wandered out into the neighborhood of the city, and, throwing himself down in the open air in a pleasant field, his shattered nerves found a comfortless but sorely needed repose.

He awoke refreshed; but, like Cassio, “remembered a mass of things, but nothing distinctly.”

All that he could recall to mind were the entreaties and persuasions of some “guardian angel,” [page 237:] who had sought to dissuade him from a frightful purpose. He recalled the kind remonstrances, but nothing more, — not even the identity of the friend to whose kind offices he had been indebted. The next day, his friend parted with him, and, as fate ordained, forever.

While in Richmond, Poe had renewed his acquaintance with Mrs. Shelton, to whom he had paid attentions in his youth, and before he left “The Messenger,” they had become engaged.

When he left Richmond, it was with the intention of going North to bring Mrs. Clemm from Lowell, to attend his marriage with Mrs. Shelton.

At Baltimore, he had the misfortune to meet a friend at the depot who persuaded him to drink. He accepted, with the usual result — actual mental derangement, to a degree that at Havre de Grace, the conductor of the train, finding him in a jstate of delirium, and knowing that he had friends and relatives in Baltimore, brought him back to that city. He arrived at night. It was the eve of a municipal election, and as he was still partially deranged, wandering through the streets, he was seized by the ruffianly agents of one of the political clubs, and locked up for the night for use at the polls in the morning. [page 238:]

The next day he ‘was taken out, still in a state of delirum, drugged, and made to repeat votes at eleven different wards.

The following day he was found in the back room of one of the political headquarters, and removed to the Washington University Hospital, situated on Broadway, north of Baltimore street.

What wonder that an organization as sensitive as his, should have succumbed to the terrible exposure and humiliation which had been his lot at the hands of the brutal wretches among whom he had unwittingly fallen. The exposure, combined with the effects of liquor and drugs, had brought on an inflammation of the brain, and shortly after midnight of the 7th of October, 1849, the unfortunate man breathed his last, surrounded by the few friends and relatives whom it had been possible to notify during the day.

Mr. Neilson Poe, his cousin, his nearest living male relative, was with him in his last moments, and took charge of his papers after his death.

J. J. Moran, M.D., attended the poet at the hospital. During the conversation that passed between the physician and his patient, Dr. Moran asked, wishing to ascertain whether he would be [page 239:] inclined to take liquor, “Will you take some wine?” “He opened wide his large eyes,” writes Dr. Moran, “and fixed them so steadily Upon me, and with such anguish in them, that I looked from him to the wall beyond the bed, while he said, ’Sir, if its potency would transport me to the Elysian bowers of the undiscovered spirit world, I would not taste it, — I would not taste it. Of its horrors who can tell?’ ” His last coherent words, as recalled by Dr. Moran, were, “It’s all over; write ‘Eddie is no more.’ ”* He had previously directed that letters be written to Mrs. Shelton, at Norfolk, Virginia, and to Mrs. Clemm, at Lowell, Mass., acquainting them with his illness.

He was buried on the 8th of October, in the burial ground of the Westminster Church, near the comer of Fayette and Greene streets, Baltimore.

For months previous to his untimely deaths Poe had been carefully abstemious, up to the last week, during which his misfortunes in Philadelphia and Baltimore occurred; and the sudden and fearful change, from the most careful and tender [page 240:] nursing, to the most reckless exposure to the damp and cold of an out-of-doors bed, produced immediate effects, planting the insidious seeds that flowered into deadly bloom, with the aid of his later unfortunate exposure when in the hands of the Baltimore roughs.

We are prone to accept the most obvious explanation of an event as the true explanation or cause of that event. The lesson of experience teaches us that the most obvious analyses are, as a rule, the most deceptive. It is commonly believed, for instance, that Edgar Poe died from the effects of dissipation, which, gradually from long continuance, undermined his constitution. Wc are convinced that his death is not to be assigned to any such positive and debasing cause. For many years of his lifetime, spite of all accounts to the contrary, he lived happy and comfortable, in a charming home, with a companion that realized his delicate and refined ideal. The shadow of the destroying angel’s hand that first cast its blight upon this companion, was the one great, unlooked-for sorrow that he could not, would not, accept unrepiningly.

From the moment of his wife’s death, he waged an unequal battle with a relentless fate. Well [page 241:] knowing his need — the balance and support afforded by the interchange of spiritual sympathy with a congenial mind — he was deprived even of the possible gratification of this want by the peculiar construction of his mental organism.

The Upas of his morbid imagination, no longer controlled by the healthful restraints of the pure, simplicity of the atmosphere that his child-wife had thrown around him, twined like a poisonous blight about him, enervating his nobler energies, and, spite of his reason, blasting the healthier aspirations of his genius.

Poe may be regarded as a man who lived and died never entirely understood, — one who, sensitive to a degree altogether incomprehensible to practical minds, yet was so unfortunate as to live among the practical-minded only, and at a time when temperament, as such, was essentially omitted in society’s estimate of a man. It was Poe’s misfortune that his temperament was totally at variance with the spirit of the age in which he lived.

In a certain sphere of thought, his ideas were altogether in advance of those of the people with whom he was associated. The world at large was never responsive to him in any significant degree. [page 242:] It could admire or despise him. It could not sympathize with him, or appreciate him

The nineteenth century, generous as it has been in the production of geniuses, has been none too prolific in these rare creations. Many of them, alas, now live only in memory and in their works.

It behooves us then to preserve their memories free from baleful calumny. The veil of calumny has heavily clouded the memory of Edgar Allan Poe.

May we be permitted to hope that, from the facts and impressions which our researches, which claim not to be adequate or complete, have enabled us to give, some rays of light may find their way through the repelling gloom that has, in the past, shut out from view much of the fairer side of the poet’s life.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 185:]

*  Mrs. Estelle Lewis.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 224:]

*  In another letter Mrs. H. writes, referring to this conversation, indignant at the use which Dr. Griswold had made of these innocent words, more than a year after she had reported them, “These were Mr. Poe’s words, and these were all.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 239:]

*  “Eddie” was the name Mrs. Clemm called him by.





[S:0 - WFG, 1877] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - The Life of Edgar Allan Poe [Chapter 07] (W. F. Gill, 1877)