General James Grant Wilson, “Memorials of Edgar Allan Poe,” the Independent (New York, NY), vol. LIII, whole No. 2734, April 25, 1901, pp. 940-942


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[page 940:]

Memorials of Edgar Allan Poe.

By Gen. James Grant Wilson.

AN interesting document has just been discovered in the office of the clerk of the Hustings Court of Richmond, Va., which dispels many errors and uncertainties contained in the numerous biographies in regard to the marriage of Edgar A. Poe and Virginia E. Clemm, the “Annabel Lee” of his exquisite poem. It is a marriage bond, with Thomas Cleland as surety, permitting the poet to marry Miss Clemm, a Virginia statute, repealed in 1860, requiring a bond before the issuance of a license. A curious feature of the document is the affidavit of Thomas Cleland, whoever he may have been, that the lady is twenty-one, while it is well known that she was but fourteen years of age. Many of the biographies represent the marriage ceremony as having been performed in Baltimore in 1835, by the Rev. John Johns, afterward Bishop of Virginia, whereas it appears by the following notice, found in the Richmond Inquirer of May 26, 1836, that they were married in the latter city by the Rev. Amasa Converse, a Presbyterian clergyman:

Married — On Monday, May 16th, by the Rev. Mr. Converse, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, to Miss Virginia Eliza Clemm.

A few weeks later the poet, as assistant editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, sends the following unpublished note to Dr. Robert M. Bird, the novelist:

RICHMOND, VA., June 7, 1836.

DEAR SIR: I take the liberty of again addressing you and of calling your attention to what was not precisely a promise on your part, but a kind of demi-promise made some months ago — in relation to an article for our Southern Literary Messenger. It would be, indeed, a matter of sincere congratulation with us if by any means, within our power, we could so far interest you in our behalf as to obtain something from the author of “Calavar.” We have, just at this moment, a conspiracy on foot, and we would be most happy to engage you in our plans. We wish, if possible, to take the public opinion by storm, in a single number of the Messenger which shall contain a series of articles from all the first pens in the land. Can you not aid us — with a single page, if no more? I will trust to the chivalric spirit of him who wrote the “Infidel “ for a reply. With the highest respect,

Your obedient servant,

EDGAR A. POE.

[column 2:]

The following communication was addressed to an eccentric Southern writer then residing in Connecticut, who was the author of seven now forgotten and rare volumes of poems:

PHILADELPHIA, July 6, 1842.

MY DEAR SIR: I fear you will have accused me of disrespect in not replying to either of your three last letters; but, if so, you will have wronged me. Among all my correspondents there is not one whose good opinion I am more anxious to retain than your own. A world of perplexing business has led me to postpone from day to day a duty which it is always a pleasure to perform.

Your two last letters I have now before me. In the first you spoke of my notice of yourself in the autograph article. The paper had scarcely gone to press before I saw and acknowledged to myself the injustice I had done you — an injustice which it is my full purpose to repair at the first opportunity. What I said of your grammatical errors * arose from some imperfect recollections of one or two poems sent to the first volume of the Southern Literary Messenger. But in more important respects I now deeply feel that I have wronged you by a hasty opinion. You will not suppose me insincere in saying that I look upon some of your late pieces as the finest I have ever read. I allude especially to your poem about Shelley, and the one of which the refrain is, “She came from Heaven to tell me she was blest.” Upon reading these compositions I felt the necessity of our being friends. Will you accept my proffer of friendship?

Your last favor is dated June 11, and, in writing it, you were doubtless unaware of my having resigned the editorial charge of Graham’s Magazine. What disposition shall I make of the “Invocation to Spring?” The other pieces are in the hands of my successor, Mr. Griswold.

It is my intention now to resume the project of the Penn Magazine. I had made every preparation for the issue of the first number [page 941:] in January, 1841, but relinquished the design never ceased for Bayard Taylor, who in at Mr Graham’s representation of joining me his in July, provided I would edit his magazine in the meantime. In July he put me off until January, and in January until July again. He now finally declines, and I am resolved to push forward for myself. I believe I have many warm friends, especially in the South and West, and were the journal fairly before the public I have no doubt of ultimate success. Is it possible that you could afford me any aid, in the way of subscribers, among your friends in Middletown?

As I have no money myself, it will be absolutely necessary that I procure a partner who has some pecuniary means. I mention this to you, for it is not impossible that you yourself may have both the will and the ability to join me. The first number will not appear until January, so that I shall have time to look about me.

With sincere respect and esteem, yours,

EDGAR A. POE.

The poetical writings of “Chivers of Georgia” possessed a fascination that [column 2:] never ceased for Bayard Taylor, who in his gayer hours delighted to repeat his lines. Two of Taylor s favorite quotations were the following from “Rosalie Lee” and “The Poet’s Vacation,” with which he delighted Thackeray, as well as less distinguished friends:

Marriage Bond of E. A. and Virginia Poe [thumbnail]

Fac-simile of Edgar Allan Poe’s Marriage Bond

“Many mellow Cydonian suckets,

Sweet apples, anthosmial, divine,

From the ruby-rimmed beryline buckets,

Star-gemmed, lily-shaped, hyaline:

Like the sweet golden goblet found growing

On the wild emerald cucumber-tree,

Rich, brilliant, like chrysoprase glowing,

Was my beautiful Rosalie Lee.”

Taylor’s other quotation is the refrain of the second poem mentioned above:

“In the music of the morns,

Blown through the Conchimarian horns,

Down the dark vistas of the rebonantic Norns,

To the genius of Eternity,

Crying, ‘Come to me! Come to me!’ ” [page 942:]

To Dr. Chivers, Poe’s cousin and mother-in-law writes the following note:

MILFORD, January 26, 1853.

DEAR SIR: I most sincerely hope you will not think me importunate when I ask you to loan me fifteen or twenty dollars for a short time. I have accidentally heard to-day that a friend who owes me more money than I can afford to lose is now in New York. I hope, if I can go there and see her, I can get part of it. As she borrowed the money from me nearly a year ago, I think she may return it, if I can see her. This, and other reasons, makes me desirous to go, but I have not the means. I will return it to you as soon as possible. I have hoped every day to receive the copy of your book.

Can you tell me where Fitz-Greene Halleck lives, and will you reply to this at your earliest convenience?

Yours sincerely,

MARIA CLEMM.

Less than two months later Mrs. Clemm addressed the following note to Mr. Halleck, who had then retired from the office of Mr. Astor in New York, and returned to his native place in Connecticut to spend his remaining years. As the edition of Poe’s works mentioned in Mrs. Clemm’s note was included in Halleck’s Guilford library, he doubtless responded to her appeal, as he did to many received from her unfortunate son-in-law, Poe:

MILFORD, March 18, 1853.

DEAR SIR: I am induced by the recollection of a former kindness to intrude upon your time and patience. The publisher of my late [column 2:] son’s (Edgar A. Poe) works only allows me for the present as many copies as I choose to dispose of. But owing to precarious health and great delicacy of feeling I can only avail myself of the privilege through the kindness of others. Will you have the goodness to purchase of me a copy, consisting of three volumes, at $375? When I tell you that I am a poor widow, childless, and this my only dependence, I hope this appeal will not be in vain. Please direct to me care of William Strong, Milford, Conn.

Very respectfully,

MARIA CLEMM.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Poe is generally esteemed by European critics as the greatest of American poets, and perhaps the only one, with the possible exception of Longfellow, whose writings in prose and verse can be read in seven Continental languages. A letter received from a prominent English author during the present month of March places Poe first on the list of ten New World poets, the others being named in the following order: Second, Ralph Waldo Emerson; third, William Cullen Bryant; fourth, James Russell Lowell; fifth, Henry W. Longfellow; sixth, John G. Whittier; seventh, Oliver Wendell Holmes; eighth, Fitz-Greene Halleck; ninth, Walt Whitman; tenth, Bayard Taylor. As writers of prose, he considers Cooper as the chief, naming Irving, Motley, Parkman and Prescott as next in the order named.

NEW YORK CITY.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 940, col. 2:]

*On the above letter, addressed to Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers. Middletown, Conn, with the initials E. A. P., Dr. Chivers makes the accompanying comments: The ‘grammatical errors’ to which Poe alludes here is the want of s in a verse in the poem entitled ‘ Song to Isa Singing,’ as follows: ‘The song which none can know,’ etc Song ought to have been written songs, evidently a mistake in the copying. The poem was published in the Broadway Journal. In the original it’s ‘Sweet songs.’” The following is the stanza in which the word appears:

Over thy lips now flow

Out of thy heart for me

Sweet songs, which none can know

But him who hopes to be

Forever more with thee.

In regard to this Mr. Chivers says: “In the letter inclosing these poems I made some critical remarks on the ‘wishy-washy’ verses published by Mr. Griswold in Graham’s Magazine, which greatly offended him, and for which, I have reason to believe, he never forgave me, altho what was therein written was intended for the eyes only of Mr. Poe.”


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Notes:

General James Grant Wilson (1832-1914) had been a colonel in the Civil War, later achieving the rank of a brevet brigadier general. After retiring, he served as the president of the Society of American Authors and later of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. He is chiefly remembered for co-editing, with John Fiske, the 6-volume Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography (1887-1889). The present article is his own substantial contribution to Poe studies. Unless there was a newspaper printing that appeared before this article, it marks the first time the document was reproduced and presented to the public.

Although the marriage document clearly shows that there was a marriage ceremony held in Virginia, it does not necessarily negate the tradition of an earlier ceremony in Baltimore.

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[S:0 - INDP, 1901] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Memorials of Edgar Allan Poe (Gen. J. G. Wilson, 1901)