Text: William F. Gill, “Chapter 05”, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1878, pp. 88-127


[page 88:]




Removal to Philadelphia — Engagement as Editor of the “Gentleman’s Magazine” — “Ligeia” — Inspiration of Visions — The Fall of the House of Usher — The Haunted Palace — Griswold’s Charges of Plagiarism — The Manual of Chonchology [[Conchology]] — Professor Wyatt’s Refutation — First Collection of Tales — An Audacious Griswold Invention — C. Alexander’s Letter — The “Gentleman’s” Merged in “Graham’s” — Brighter Days — Pen Pictures of the Poet’s Home — Virginia’s Simplicity — A Pleasing Incident — The Murders in the Rue Morgue — First Introduction to the French Public — An Absurd Controversy — Baudelaire on Griswold — The Barnaby Rudge Analysis — The Mystery of Marie Roget — The Purloined Letter — Notable Papers on Autograpy and Cryptology — Withdrawal from “Graham’s” — Griswold’s Confession of Facts, and its Cause — George R. Graham’s Statement — A Pertinent Anecdote — The Dream of Poe’s Life — The “Stylus” — First Appearance on the Rostrum, at Baltimore — First Lecture in Philadelphia.

POE remained in New York but a year. The metropolis was not then the Mecca of magazinists and critics that it has come to be now, and Philadelphia seemed then to offer superior advantages to the poet-critic for regular employment. [page 89:]

Near the end of the year 1838, Poe removed to Philadelphia. There Wm. E. Burton, the famous comedian, had established the “Gentleman’s Magazine.” The poet joined its corps of contributors, and in less than six months his brilliant experience with the” Messenger” was repeated, and the editor’s chair was assigned to him. In this position he worked two hours a day, at a salary of ten dollars per week. This engagement gave him ample time for other literary duties, and he wrote for other journals, among which was the “Literary Examiner,” of Pittsburgh, Pa. Some of his best prose tales were done at this time, when the yoke of privation sat but lightly upon his shoulders.

“Ligeia,” his favorite tale, written at this time, was inspired by a dream, although none but his charmed circle of intimates were permitted to know of the inner life which gave it birth. To these he often spoke, writes Mrs. Whitman,“of the imageries and incidents of his inner life, as more vivid and veritable than those of his outer experience.”

On a manuscript copy of one of his later poems, he refers, in a pencilled note, to the vision that inspired “Ligeia:” [page 90:]

“All that I have here expressed was actually present to me- Remember the mental condition which gave rise to ‘Ligeia,’ — recall the passage of which I spoke, and observe the coincidence.”

“I regard these visions,” he says, “even as they arise, with an awe which, in some measure, moderates or tranquillizes the ecstasy. I so regard them through a conviction that this ecstasy, in itself, is of a character supernal to nature, — is a glimpse of the spirit’s inner world.” “He had,” writes Mrs. Whitman, “that constitutional determination to reverie which, according to De Quincey, alone enables man to dream magnificently, and which, as we have said, made his dreams realities, and his life a dream.

“His mind was, indeed, a Haunted. Palace, echoing to the footfalls of angels and demons.”

“No man,” said Poe, “has recorded, no man has dared to record, the wonders of his inner life.”

“The Fall of the House of Usher” also appeared at this time. Even Griswold was moved to accord to these tales “the unquestionable stamp of genius.” [page 91:]

He writes of them, “The analyses of the growth of madness in one, and the thrilling revelations of the existence of a first wife in the person of a second, in the other, are made with consummate skill; and the strange and solemn and fascinating beauty which informs the style and invests the circumstances of both, drugs the mind, and makes us forget the improbabilities of their general design.”

“The Fall of the House of Usher” incorporated the poem of “The Haunted Palace,” which Griswold ventured to mention as a specimen of Poe’s so-called plagiarisms “scarcely paralleled for their audacity in all literary history.”

Poe, it is known, wrote one of his scathing criticisms, animadverting upon Mr. Longfellow’s originality; but he undoubtedly felt that he had done our representative American poet grave injustice, for he shortly afterwards, in reviewing Griswold”s Poets and Poetry of America, wrote most generously of Mr. Longfellow.(e) The resemblance between the poems was, unquestionably, a not unprecedented coincidence.

The same imperturbable authority which presumes placidly to state that Poe was not remarkably [page 92:] original in invention, owing to these sundry plagiarisms, classes his story of “The Pit and the Pendulum” under the same head. This, he says, was borrowed from a story, entitled “Vivenzio” or” Italian Vengeance,” by the author of “The First and Last Dinner,” in “Blackwood’s Magazine.” These stories have been carefully compared (not by Dr. Griswold), and their only similarity is in the fact that both stories are founded upon the idea of a collapsing room, for which authenticated historical record, and not the creative power of the writers, is to be credited. In plot or construction, there is not the slightest resemblance between these stories.

The most flagrant plagiarism alleged against Poe by Dr. Griswold was that of the publishing of the “Manual of Conchology,” which, it is charged, was a copy, nearly verbatim, of “The Text-book of Conchology,” by Captain Thomas Brown, printed in Glasgow in 1833. He writes, “Mr. Poe actually took out a copyright for the American edition of Captain Brown’s work, and, omitting all mention of the English original, pretended, in the preface, to have been under great obligations to several scientific gentlemen of this city.” [page 93:]

Although this story could have, at the time of the original publication of Griswold’s memoir, been easily disproved, no one of Poe’s friends took the trouble to investigate this charge; and his rivals and enemies were only well pleased to accept the statement of Griswold as truthful. Most of them had been pretty roughly handled — pilloried by the poet’s merciless pen; and although they may have deserved his strictures, which, however severe, never stooped to deliberate falsification, they were, nevertheless, goaded to the bitterest enmity by his scathing exposé of their shortcomings.

Therefore, it is to be presumed, this story of the wholesale appropriation of the English author’s book was as a toothsome morsel in their cup of bitterness.

But some ten years after this falsehood had gone on record, it was most authoritatively disproved in the columns of the “Home Journal,” New York, by Professor Wyatt, a Scotch scientist who, it is understood, was not in the country at the time the charge against Poe was orignally [[originally]] published.

This gentleman had, it seems, become acquainted [page 94:] with Poe while the poet was connected with the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” at the period of which we are now writing, and had engaged him to assist in the compilation of several works on natural history. According to the statement of Prof. Wyatt, a comparison of Brown’s “Textbook” with Poe and Wyatt’s “ Manual “ evidences that they bear some resemblance, both being founded on the system of Lamarck; but it would be as absurd to charge that the American book is plagiarized from the English, as it would be to term “Hooker’s School Physiology” a plagiarism from Olmsted’s, because both treat of certain subjects in common.

As musical composers frequently vie with each other in setting their scores to the same subject, so authors may be permitted to evolve from a given subject, even if previously appropriated, the new creations moulded by the emanations of their own peculiar creative powers; and, by matter-of-fact minds, incapable of sensing delicate distinctions, poets from Shakspeare down to Aldrich have been, and will continue to be, adjudged guilty of arrant plagiarisms.

In the autumn of 1839, published his first [page 95:] collection of tales in two volumes under the title, “Tales of the Arabesque and Grotesque.” This issue included “Ligeia,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” with others of his notable imaginative compositions. These stories were, at the time, caviare to the general reading public to which they were addressed; but they won favor with the very limited circle of literary people, whose favor was worth the while, although the poet probably reaped no significant pecuniary reward from their publication.

Dr. Griswold’s account of Poe’s alleged secession from the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” which he states occurred in 1840, wilfully misrepresents the facts, after the manner of this vindictive villifier.

After mentioning a personal correspondence between Burton and Poe, in which the views of the latter, whatever they may have been, are carefully suppressed. Dr. Griswold romances as follows: “He [Burton] was absent nearly a fortnight, and on returning he found that his printers had not received a line of copy, but that Poe had prepared the prospectus of a new monthly, and obtained transcripts of his subscription and account books, to be used in a scheme [page 96:] for supplanting him. He encountered his associate late in the evening, at one of his accustomed haunts, and said, ‘Mr. Poe, I am astonished. Give me my manuscripts, so that I can attend to the duties which you have so shamefully neglected, and when you are sober we will settle.’ Poe interrupted him with, ‘Who are you that presume to address me in this manner? Burton, I am the editor of the “Penn Magazine,” and you are — hiccup — a fool!’ Of course, this ended his relations with the ‘Gentleman’s.’ ” That this alleged conversation, so plausibly narrated as to pass current, nem. con. were it not for the existence of more reliable documentary evidence, is an audacious invention, will be apparent from the written testimony given of a gentleman connected with the “Gentleman’s Magazine” at this time as publisher, Charles W. Alexander, Esq., the founder of the “Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post.”

In a letter to T. W. Clarke, Esq.,’ proprietor of the “Museum,” published at that time in Philadelphia, Mr. Alexander writes as follows: —

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 20th, 1850.

My dear Sir, — I very cheerfully reply to your request made in reference to our friend Edgar Allan Poe. [page 97:]

I well remember his connection with the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” of which Mr. Burton was editor, and myself the publisher, at the period referred to in connection with Mr. Poe.

The absence of the principal editor on professional duties left the matter frequently in the hands of Mr. Poe, whose unfortunate failing may have occasioned some disappointment in the preparation of a particular article expected from him but never interfering with the regular publication of the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” as its monthly issue was never interrupted upon any occasion, either from Mr. Poe’s deficiency, or from any other cause, during my publication of it, embracing the whole time of Mr. Poe’s connection with it. That Mr. Poe had faults seriously detrimental to his own interests, none, of course, will deny. They were, unfortunately, too well known in the literary circles of Philadelphia, were there any disposition to conceal them. But he alone was the sufferer, and not those who received the benefit of his pre-eminent talents, however irregular his habits or uncertain his contributions may occasionally have been.

I had long and familiar intercourse with him, and very cheerfully embrace the opportunity which you now offer of bearing testimony to the uniform gentleness of disposition and kindness of heart which distinguished Mr. Poe in all my intercourse with him. With all his faults, he was a gentleman; which is more than can be said of some who have undertaken the ungracious task of blacking the reputation which Mr. Poe, of all others, esteemed “the precious jewel of his soul.”

Yours truly,  

To Mr. T. C. CLARKE. [page 98:]

According to Mr. Clarke, the “Penn Magazine ” had not been projected at that time, nor indeed mentioned as in prospect until several years later.

There is no reputable evidence that Poe ever quitted his position on the staff of the “Gentleman’s “at all; certain it is, that when, in the latter part of the year 1840, Mr. George R. Graham, proprietor of “The Casket,” purchased ‘the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” and merged the two into one under the title of “Graham’s Magazine,” Poe was retained as editor. With less restraint upon his pen, and a more liberal business management, the new magazine speedily gained in popularity, its subscription list, according to some accounts, being increased to tenfold of that of its predecessors, which it combined. These were, perhaps, the brightest days of the poet’s literary career. Mr. Graham was a congenial companion, sympathetic with Poe’s tastes and aspirations, and, in no small degree, was able to minister to the material comforts of his gifted co-laborer. Poe was then in such demand that, although poorly paid, his industry secured him a good living; and but for the illness of his [page 99:] child-wife, upon whom the wasting ravages of her malady had begun to do their work, he would have been happy and comfortable. Griswold has the decency to speak of Poe’s home, which he visited at this time, in terms that seem unaccountable coming from this source- He does not neglect a fling at the poet’s acknowledged misfortune, but for a Griswoldism the allusion deserves to be admitted here by way of contrast:

“It was while he resided in Philadelphia that I became acquainted with him.

“His manner, except during his fits of intoxication, was very quiet and gentlemanly. He was usually dressed ‘with simplicity and elegance, and when once he sent for me to visit him, during a period of illness caused by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife, I was impressed by the singular neatness and the air of refinement in his home.

“It was in a small house in one of the pleasant and silent neighborhoods far from the centre of the town, and though slightly and cheaply furnished, everything in it was so tasteful and so fitly disposed that it seemed altogether suitable for a man of genius.” [page 100:]

The residence described was a small brick tenement in North Seventh street, in that part of the city then known as Spring Garden.

The house was on the rear portion of the lot, leaving a large vacant space in front, affording Poe and his gentle invalid wife opportunity for indulging their penchant for plants and flowers.

Mr. T. C. Clarke, nearly associated with Poe at this time, writes, “Their little garden in summer, and the house in winter, were overflowing with luxuriant grape and other vines, and liberally ornamented with choice flowers of the poet’s selection. Poe was a pattern of social and domestic worth. It was our happiness to participate with them in the occasional enjoyment of the beauty of the flowers, and to watch the enthusiasm with which the fondly attached pair exhibited their floral taste. Here, too, we were wont to participate in the hospitality which always rendered Poe’s home the home of his friends. We call to mind some incidents in the pleasantly remembered intercourse that existed between the ladies of our families, especially in the hours of sickness, which rendered so much of Virginia’s life a source of painful anxiety to [page 101:] all who had the pleasure of knowing her, and of witnessing the gradual wasting away of her fragile frame.

“But she was an exquisite picture of patient loveliness, always wearing upon her beautiful countenance the smile of resignation, and the warm, even cheerful, look with which she ever greeted her friends.

“How devotedly her husband loved the gentle being, whose life was bound up in his own, is touchingly illustrated in the Griswold description of his visit which I have italicized. ‘He sent for me to visit him during a period of illness caused by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife.’

“This, coming from the malignant Griswold, is an eloquent tribute to the kindly and tender spirit of Poe, whose devotion no adversity, not even the fiend that haunted him in the fatal cup, could warp or lessen, and this attachment, intense as it was on the part of the poet, was equally strong and enduring in the soul of his ‘Annabel Lee,’ his gentle mate, whose affection that poem so touchingly and sadly commemorates. [page 102:]

‘And this maiden, she loved with no other thought

Than to love and be loved by me.’

“ ‘She was a child,’ sings the poem; and indeed Poe himself was little else in the every-day perplexities and responsibilities of life. Of Virginia’s playful, child-like buoyancy of spirit, I may mention an incident which, though trifling in itself, shows the keen zest with which she enjoyed little trifles which others might have regarded as annoying or impertinent.

“Our little daughter, passing the day with her favorite friend, enlivened the hours with her childish songs.

“There was one which she hinted knowledge of, but positively refused to sing, and it was not until after repeated solicitations from Virginia that the child ventured upon

‘I never would be married and be called Mistress Poe, Goody Poe, &c.

“‘Mistress Poe’ received the song with peal upon peal of laughter, and insisted, in her exuberance of spirits, on having the homely melody repeated.

“Upon parting, Virginia gave the child a keepsake, which the recipient, no longer a child, [page 103:] now cherishes in memory of the fair and gentle donor.

“On leaving Philadelphia for New York, when breaking up their simple, fairy-like home, we were favored with some of their pet flowers, which, preserved and framed, remain in our household to this day as interesting relics of those happy days with Edgar and Virginia.”

During his engagement on “Graham’s,” which lasted about fifteen months, Poe wrote most of his best stories and many critiques, reviews and essays, fully establishing his reputation as a writer, spite of the fact that most of his writing was far in advance of the age in which he lived, and above the comprehension of the mass of the literary public of that time.

In “Graham’s” for April, 1841, appeared “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the first of those wonderful analytic ‘tales in the conception and evolving of which Poe has never been equalled, although persistently imitated, especially by modern French romancers. This story, indeed, served to introduce the poet to the French public, in a manner that amply justified the author in his frequent charges of plagiarism against his contemporaries. [page 104:]

The anecdote is not new, but it is good enough to bear a repetition in this place.

The author’s grotesque conception, as is well known to those who have read the tale, fixes the murder upon a fugitive orang-outang, who had been detected by his master in the act of .shaving himself, and escaped with the razor in hand.

One of the Parisian journals, “La Commerce,” “cribs” and translates the istpry from “Graham’s” without credit, and it, in turn, is served up as a novelty by a writer in La Siuotidienne under the appropriate title, “L‘Orang-Otang;” a third party incautiously charges “La Quotidienne” of a plagiarism from “La Commerce” and in the course of the examination it comes out, that to the American writer only belongs the honor of the composition of the story. “L‘Entr’ Acte,” another Parisian journal, in its issue of the 20th of October, 1846, gave an exceedingly amusing account of the absurd contretemps between its contemporaries, complimenting Poe, of whom it speaks as “un gaillard bien fin et bien spirituel.”

This controversy naturally resulted in bringing Poe’s name prominently before the French [page 105:] reading world, and commendatory critiques were at this time published in the “Revue des Deux Mondes,” and other leading journals, while Madame Isabelle Meunier translated others of his stories for the periodicals. It was reserved for Charles Baudelaire, however, to first discover the poet’s genius, and to immortalize it in France by his exquisitely sympathetic and faithful translations. It was Baudelaire, too, who among foreign writers first denounced the mendacities of Griswold, and held him up to the gaze of the French admirers of Poe in his true colors. Speaking of the biographers of Poe, Baudelaire writes, “Some, uniting the dullest unintelligence of his genius to the ferocity of the hypocritical trading class, have insulted him to the uppermost, after his untimely end, rudely hectoring his poor speechless corpse, particularly Mr. Rufus W. Griswold, the pedagogue vampire who has defamed his friend at full length, in an enormous article, wearisome and crammed with hatred, which was prefixed to the posthumous editions of Poe’s works. Are there then no regulations in America to keep the curs out of the cemeteries?” [page 106:]

In May, 1841, appeared in the “Saturday Evening Post,” of Philadelphia, Poe’s celebrated prophetic analysis of Dickens’ “Barnaby Rudge.” From the initial chapters of the story, Poe deduced the entire plot and predicted the actual dénouement.

Dickens, in his first visit to America, took occasion admiringly to confirm the etitire accuracy of the poet’s analysis.

Early in 1842 appeared the now famous “Descent into the Maelstrom.” In November of the same year “The Mystery of Marie Roget “was published in “Graham’s.”

The story was another triumph for Poe’s analytic power.

This story was founded upon the incident of the murder of a young girl, which took place while Poe was residing in New York. Her death, the poet tells us, occasioned a long-continued excitement, and the mystery attending it had remained unsolved at the period when the story was written and published.

In his note, appended to the edition of his tales published during his lifetime, Poe writes, “‘The Mystery of Marie Roget ’ was composed at a [page 107:] distance from the scene of the atrocity, and with no other means of investigation than the newspapers afforded.

“Thus, much escaped the writer, of which he could have availed himself had he been upon the spot and visited the localities. It may not be improper to record, nevertheless, that the confession of two persons (one of them the Madame Delue of the narrative), made at different periods, long subsequent to the publication, confirmed in full, not only the general conclusion, but absolutely all the chief hypothetical details by which that conclusion was attained.”

Although less satisfactory, as a story, from the fact that the following-out of the clue was for prudential reasons omitted, the ? Mystery of Marie Roget,” as a representative study of the poet’s method, a method flawless in its way, and altogether sui generis, it affords a most satisfactory example.

“The Purloined Letter,” a sequence to “Marie Roget,” and constructed in the same vein, was published shortly afterwards, and “The Premature Burial” appeared at this time.

It was during Poe’s connection with “Graham’s, [page 108:] too, that he wrote the papers on “Autography,” with their prophetic analyses, after the method of Lavater, as well as his papers on “Cryptology,” in which he claimed that no cryptograph could be constructed by human ingenuity which human ingenuity could not unravel.

Concerning this theory, Griswold sneers “a not very dangerous proposition, since it implied no capacity in himself to discover every riddle of this kind that should be invented.”

Griswold admits, however, that he succeeded with several difficult cryptographs that were sent to him.”

He does not add that Poe never failed to solve any cryptograph of the enormous number sent to him; but such is the fact, — a fact which does not excuse the deplorable waste of time and talents upon such a fancy.

But Poe’s critical animus frequently carried him beyond the boundaries of reason. He was, unquestionably, lacking in the balance and concentration that would have repressed such profitless deflections, the effect of which is exhibited in the uneven quality of his verse, of which Oliver Wendell Holmes says, that in the works [page 109:] of no other poet is there exhibited such a difference in quality, as exists between the best and the worst of Poe’s poems.

To Poe belongs the honor of discovering and first introducing to the American public the genius of Elizabeth Barrett Browning; and it was at this time, while conducting “Graham’s,” that many of this author’s verses were contributed to its pages.

Shortly after the publication of ‘The Purloined Letter,” in 1842, Poe withdrew from “Graham’s” under circumstances which indicate that Griswold’s statement that the most friendly relations existed between him and Poe is false, and that the letters published by Griswold as written to him by Poe were fabrications.

Speaking of the severing of Poe’s connection with “Graham’s Magazine, “Dr. Griswold writes, “The infirmities which induced his separation from Mr. White and Mr. Burton at length compelled Mr. Graham to find another editor;” and also in the same connection, “It is known that the personal ill-will on both sides was such that for some four or five years not a line by Poe was purchased for ‘Graham’s Magazine.‘” The italics are Dr. Griswold’s. He evidently believes [page 110:] with Chrysos, the art-patron in W. S. Gilberts play of “Pygmalion, and Galatea,” that when a person tells a lie (f) he “should tell it well.”

Mr. Graham, from whom the magazine was named, is now living, and when we last saw him, December, 1873, he was in excellent health. We were then, of course, intent upon securing data in regard to the life of Poe; and in a conversation with Mr. Graham, some peculiarly significant facts touching Griswold’s veracity in particular were elicited.

Mr. Graham states that Poe never quarrelled with him; never was discharged from “Graham’s Magazine; “and that during the” four or five years “italicized by Dr. Griswold as indicating the personal ill-will between Mr. Poe and Mr. Graham, over fifty articles by Poe were accepted by Mr. Graham.

The facts of Mr. Poe’s secession from “Graham’s” were as follows: —

Mr. Poe was, from illness or other causes, absent for a short time from his post on the magazine. Mr. Graham had, meanwhile, made a temporary arrangement with Dr. Griswold to act as Poe’s substitute until his return. Poe came [page 111:] back unexpectedly, and, seeing Griswold in his chair, turned on his heel without a word, and left the office, nor could he be persuaded to enter it again, although, as stated, he sent frequent contributions thereafter to the pages of the magazine.

The following pertinent anecdote, related to us by Mr. Graham, well illustrates the character of Poe’s biographer. Dr. Griswold’s associate in his editorial duties on “Graham’s” was Mr. Charles J. Peterson, a gentleman long and favorably known in connection with prominent American magazines. Jealous of his abilities, and unable to visit his vindictiveness upon him in profria persona, Dr. Griswold conceived the noble design of stabbing him in the back, writing under a nom de plume in another journal, the “New York Review. “In the columns of the “Review” there appeared a most scurrilous attack upon Mr. Peterson, at the very time in the daily interchange of friendly courtesies with his treacherous associate. Unluckily for Dr. Griswold, Mr. Graham saw this article, and, immediately inferring, from its tone, that Griswold was the undoubted author, went to him with the article in his hand, saying, [page 112:] “Dr. Griswold, I am very sorry to say I have detected you in what I call a piece of rascality.” Griswold turned all colors upon seeing the article, but stoutly denied the imputation, saying, “I‘ll go before an alderman and swear that I never wrote it.” It was fortunate that he was not compelled to add perjury to his meanness, for Mr. Graham said no more about the matter at that time, waiting his opportunity for authoritative confirmation of the truth of his surmises. He soon found his conjectures confirmed to the letter. Being well acquainted with the editor of the “Review,” he took occasion to call upon him shortly afterwards when in New York. Asking as a special favor to see the manuscript of the article in question, it was handed to him. The writing was in Griswold’s hand.

Returning to Philadelphia, Mr. Graham called Griswold to him, told him the facts, paid him a month’s salary in advance, and dismissed him from his post, on the spot.

So it becomes evident that the memory of Poe’s biographer, confused upon the point of his discharge from “Graham’s,” has saddled Poe with [page 113:] the humiliation and disgrace that alone belonged to him.

Freed from his responsibilities upon “Graham’s,” Poe seems to have bent his energies upon realizing the dream of his life, the establishment of an independent monthly magazine. His plans found favor with influential parties, and a circular was issued and .partially distributed, inviting the attention of the public to the new enterprise, the title of which was to be the “Penn Magazine;” but Poe, spite of his extraordinary analytical powers, was an inefficient business man, and the new venture proved but “a flash in the pan,” and the “Penn Magazine” never came to be. The idea, however, was still rife in the poet’s mind, and, under different auspices, he again essayed its realization.

“To have a magazine of his own,” writes Hannay, “which he could manage as he pleased, was always the great ambition of his life. It was the chimera which he nursed, the castle in the air which he longed for, the rainbow of his cloudy hopes.”

Poe invented a new title, selected a motto and designed a heading, — a copy of which, engraved [page 114:] from the original drawing by the poet, is given on the next page.

The first public announcement of this new venture, which was to be called “The Stylus,” was made in the columns of the “Museum” of Mr. Clarke, Poe’s co-partner in the enterprise. We make the following extract, preluding the prospectus of the magazine, which, as embodying the poet’s original theories of his ideal magazine, is of sufficient interest to warrant the reproduction here in its entirety: —

“It has often been a subject for wonder that with the pre-eminent success which has attended his editorial efforts, Mr. Poe has never established a magazine, in which he should have more than a collateral interest; and we are now happy to learn that such is, at length, his intention. By reference to another page of our paper, it will be seen that he has issued the Prospectus of a Monthly, to be entitled “THE STYLUS,” for which, it is needless to say, we predict the most unequivocal success. In so saying, we but endorse the opinion of every literary man in the country, and fully agree with Fitz Greene Halleck, that, however eminent may be the contributors engaged, [page 115:] it is, after all, on his own fine taste, sound judgment and great general ability for the task, that the public will place the firmest reliance.”




—— unbending that all men

Of thy firm Truth may say — “Lo! this is writ

With the antique iron pen.”

Launcelot Canning.

To the Public. — The Prospectus of a Monthly Journal, to have been called “THE PENN MAGAZINE,” has already been partially circulated. Circumstances in which the public have no interest, induced a suspension of the project, which is now, under the best auspices, resumed, with no other modification than that of the title. “The Penn Magazine,” it has been thought, was a name somewhat too local in its suggestions, and “THE STYLUS” has been finally adopted.

It has become obvious, indeed, to even the most unthinking, [page 116:] that the period has at length arrived when a journal of the character here proposed, is demanded and will be sustained. The late movements on the great question of International Copyright are but an index of the universal disgust excited by what is quaintly termed the cheap literature of the day, — as if that which is utterly worthless in itself can be cheap at any price under the sun.

“The Stylus” will include about one hundred royal-octavo pages, in single column, per month, forming two thick volumes per year. In its mechanical appearance — in its typography, paper and binding — it will far surpass all American journals of its kind. Engravings, when used, will be in the highest style of art, but are promised only in obvious illustration of the text, and in strict keeping with the Magazine character. Upon application to the proprietors, by any agent of repute who may desire the work, or by any other individual who may feel interested, a specimen sheet will be forwarded. As, for many reasons, it is inexpedient to commence a journal of this kind at any other period than the beginning or middle of the year, the first number of“The Stylus” will not be regularly issued until the first of July, 1843.

The necessity for any very rigid definition of the literary character or aims of “The Stylus” is, in some measure, obviated by the general knowledge, on the part of the public, of the editor’s connection, formerly, with the two most successful periodicals in the country — “The Southern Literary Messenger” and “Graham’s Magazine.” Having no proprietary right, however, in either of these journals, his objects, too, being in many respects at variance with those of their very worthy owners, he found it not only impossible to effect anything, on the score of taste, for the mechanical appearance [page 117:] of the works, but exceedingly difficult, also, to stamp upon their internal character that individuality which he believes essential to the full success of all similar publications. In regard to their extensive and permanent influence, it appears to him that continuity, definitiveness, and a marked certainty of purpose are requisites of vital importance; and he cannot help thinking that these requisites are attainable only where a single mind has at least the general direction of the enterprise. Experience, in a word, has distinctly shown him — what, indeed, might have been demonstrated à priori — that in founding a Magazine wherein his interest should be not merely editorial, lies his sole chance of carrying out to completion whatever peculiar intentions he may have entertained. In many important points, then, the new journal will differ widely from either of those named. It will endeavor to be, at the same time, more varied and more unique, — more vigorous, more pungent, more original, more individual, and more independent. It will discuss not only the Belles-Lettres, but, very thoroughly the Fine Arts, with the Drama; and, more in brief, will give each month a Retrospect of our Political History. It will enlist the loftiest talent, but employ it not always in the loftiest — at least, not always in the most pompous or Puritanical — way. It will aim at affording a fair and not dishonorable field for the true intellect of the land, without reference to the mere prestige of celebrated names. It will support the general interests of the Republic of Letters, and insist upon regarding the world at large as the sole proper audience for the author. It will resist the dictation of Foreign Reviews. It will eschew the stilted dulness of our own Quarterlies, and while it may if necessary, be no less learned, will deem it wiser to be less anonymous, and difficult to be more dishonest, than they. [page 118:]

An important feature of the work, and one which will be introduced in the opening number, will be a series of Critical and Biographical Sketches of American Writers. These Sketches will be accompanied with full-length and characteristic portraits; will include every person of literary note in America; and will investigate carefully, and with rigorous impartiality, the individual claims of each.

It shall, in fact, be the chief purpose of “The Stylus” to become known as a journal wherein may be found, at all times, upon all subjects within its legitimate reach, a sincere and fearless opinion. It shall be a leading object to assert in precept, and to maintain in practice, the rights, while in effect it demonstrates the advantages, of an absolutely independent criticism; — a criticism self-sustained; guiding itself only by the purest rules of Art; analyzing and urging these rules as it applies them; holding itself aloof from all personal bias; and acknowledging no fear save that of outraging the Right. CLARKE & POE.

In furtherance of the new enterprise, Poe unfortunately visited Washington. Furnished with the necessary funds, he supposed that his personal intimacy with the sons of the President, if not his own talents, would enable him to secure the names of the members of the Cabinet and those of other prominent personages in the Capital, with which to place the new literary project more prominently before the public. But sad disappointment awaited his cherished hopes.

[[fac-Simile of Poe and Darley contract]]

[page 119:]

What harshness or unsympathetic reception attended his sanguine expectations was never definitely known, even by his co-laborer, Mr. Clarke. That he did not receive the welcome at the hands of President Tyler that he had reasonably anticipated, is certain, and there is little reason to doubt that his failure to secure the influential support so essential to his material success was mainly due to the jealous, unappreciative atmosphere of the politicians among whom he vainly worked. The spheres of literature and politics were at that era more antagonistic even than in the present time; and his delicate, sensitive nature was called upon to receive rebuffs which only the homy hide of the hack politician is fitted to bear with equanimity.

In his endeavor to stem the tide of conflicting circumstances, the poet, forced in Rome to be a Roman, committed his characteristically fatal mistake in trusting to a strength which he did not possess, with the inevitable result, as the following letters to Mr. Clarke only too clearly evidence.

The first is from the poet himself, and its conflicting statements and unsteady penmanship (a fac-simile of which we give), in which the writer’s [page 120:] characteristically clean-cut chirography is totally unrecognizable, plainly tell the story of the unfortunate condition of the author.

WASHINGTON, March 11, 1843.

My Dear Sir, — I write merely to inform you of my well-doing, for, so far, I have done nothing.

My friend Thomas, upon whom I depended, is sick. I suppose he will be well in a few days. In the mean time I shall have to do the best I can.

I have not seen the President jet.

My expenses were more than I thought they would be, although I have economized in every respect, and this delay (Thomas being sick) puts me out sadly. However, all is going right I have got the subscriptions of all the departments. President, &c I believe that I am making a sensation which will tend to the benefit of the magazine.

Day after to-morrow I am to lecture. Rob. Tyler is to give me an article, also Upsher. Send me $10 by mail as soon as YOU get this. I am grieved to ask you for money in this way, but you will find jour account in it twice over.

Very truly yours,  


This was followed, on the succeeding day, by a letter from Mr. J. E. Dow, at that time editor of the” Daily Madisonian,” a Tyler organ:” —

WASHINGTON, March 12, 1843.

Dear Sir, — I deem it to be my bounden duty to write jou this hurried letter in relation to our mutual friend E.A.P. [page 121:]

He arrived here a few days since. On the first evening he seemed somewhat excited, having been over-persuaded to take some Port wine.

On the second day he kept pretty steady, but since then he has been, at intervals, quite unreliable.

He exposes himself here to those who may injure him very much with the President, and thus prevents us from doing for him what we wish to do and what we can do‘’ if he is himself again in Philadelphia. He does not understand the ways of politicians, nor the manner of dealing with them to advantage. How should he ?

Mr. Thomas is not well and cannot go home with Mr. P. My business and the health of my family will prevent me from so doing.

Under all the circumstances of the case, I think it advisable for you to come on and see him safely back to his home. Mrs. Poe is in a bad state of health, and I charge you, as you have a soul to be saved, to say not one word to her about him until he arrives with you. I shall expect you or an answer to this letter by return of mail.

Should you not come, we will see him on board the cars bound to Phila., but we fear he might be detained in Baltimore and not be out of harm’s way.

I do this under a solemn responsibility. Mr. Poe has the highest order of intellect, and I cannot bear that he should be the sport of senseless creatures who, like oysters, keep sober, and gape and swallow everything.

I think your good judgment will tell you what course you ought to pursue in this matter, and I cannot think it will be necessary to let him know that I have written you this letter; [page 122:] but I cannot suffer him to injure himself here without giving you this warning.

Yours respectfully,  
J. E. DOW.

  Philadelphia, Pa.

The enterprise languished from this time, and, like its predecessor in the same path, died ere it was yet born. But whatever may have been the disappointment and chagrin of Poe and his colaborer Clarke, there was no “quarrel,‘’ as stated by Griswold, and reiterated by the poet’s London biographer.

Mr. Clarke continued in intimate and friendly relations with the poet.

Apropos of the alleged quarrel, Mr. Clarke writes in a manuscript letter before us, “With Poe I had no quarrel, and I make this statement here because the London editor of his poems, under the influence of Griswold’s text, says, ‘As a matter of course, he quarrelled and then went to New York.’ All this is unjust and ungenerous, and it is painful to see that really magnificent edition of the poems thus disfigured.

“Poor Poe, however harsh he may have been in his vocation of critic, for he was made wretched [page 123:] by any imperfection of art, personally quarrelled with no one, but was a genial, generous friend, invariably kind and gentlemanly to all. How utterly inexcusable in the London editor is the picturing of Poe as deficient in the sense of moral rectitude, and then, after deploring faults that exist only in the editor’s imagination and Griswold’s mendacities, to attempt, from the poet’s writings, to reason us into the belief that all these fancied crimes were the * legitimate results of an inborn, innate depravity.’

This goes a step beyond the suggestion of the poet’s New York biographer (Griswold) that Poe was ‘naturally of an unamiable disposition;’ but, as if exulting in the clearness of his own perceptions, the ill-informed critic very complacently concludes that with this key to the character of the poet, there is no difficulty in fully comprehending the strange inconsistencies, the baseness and nobleness which his wayward life exhibits. It is deeply to be regretted that any American memoir of the poet should ever have gone forth to the world capable of creating the false estimate, the unjust, because erroneous, impressions which have so prejudiced not only this, [page 124:] but every foreign writer who has undertaken the review of Mr. Poe.”

This testimony of one of the few contemporaries of Poe, best calculated by intimate and long-continued association with him to judge, not only of his true character, but of the reliability of the published memoirs of the poet, has a significance that entitles it to an important place in our transcript of the history of Poe’s life.

During Poe’s connection with Mr. Clarke, he completed an important prose work — a story which was to have been published serially in “The Stylus.”

Having expended the money advanced by Mr. Clarke for necessary preliminary expenses, he, upon the failure of the enterprise, left it with his co-partner in the magazine, as security for the amount used until he should be able to reclaim it for subsequent use in his chimerical monthly magazine, the idea of which, upon his part, he had by no means abandoned, as will be evident in later pages of our memoir. Circumstances, however, combined to prevent its reclamation by the author, and Mr. Clarke, after Poe’s death, retained the MSS. of the story, [page 125:] designing to append it to the memoir of the poet, which he began but never completed.

Following the failure of “The Stylus,” Poe, in the summer of the same year, 1843, visited Baltimore, and there made his first appearance in the rostrum, and on the 25th of the following November, having returned to Philadelphia for the same purpose, he came out there in the rˆle of lecturer for the first time. Of this performance Mr Clarke writes in “The Museum,” —

“Quite a large, and certainly highly intelligent audience, attended the lecture on American Poetry, delivered by Edgar A. Poe, Esq., on Tuesday evening, before the William Wirt Literary Institute. We have not leisure this week to give even a brief outline of the lecture, the character of which may be inferred from the reputation which Mr. Poe has so extensively enjoyed as a severe and impartial critic. Added to this important qualification the fact of the lecturer himself possessing talents as a poet of a high order, and therefore capable of more truly appreciating his subject, with great analytical power, and that command of language and strength of voice which enables a speaker to give full expression [page 126:] to whatever he may desire to say, it will readily be perceived that the lecturer on. Tuesday evening combined qualities which are rarely associated in a public speaker. With the exception of some occasional severity, which, however merited, may have appeared somewhat too personal, the lecture gave general satisfaction, especially the portions in which the eloquent sonnets of Judge Conrad, on the Lord’s Prayer, were introduced. The judicious reading of these created a marked sensation.

“We hear it suggested that an attempt will be made to prevail on Mr. Poe to re-deliver this lecture in a more central place in the city. With some modification, it would bear repetition, and we dare say, the press will unite in forwarding these views, notwithstanding the cool manner in which Mr. P. laid bare its system of almost universal and indiscriminate eulogy, bestowed alike upon anything and everything — ‘from the most elaborate quarto of Noah Webster, down to a penny edition of Tom Thumb.’ ”

During this year (1843) “The Dollar Magazine “offered a prize of one hundred dollars for a prose story, for which Poe was the successful competitor, [page 127:] offering his ingenious “cipher” tale, “The Gold Bug,” which is now probably the most popular of the author’s stories in his native country. He also wrote for “Lowell’s Pioneer” and other journals.




Gill alters a few paragraphs on pp. 91 and 94, and changes the phrasing of one sentence on p. 108.


[S:0 - WFG, 1878] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - The Life of Edgar Allan Poe [Chapter 05] (W. F. Gill, 1878)