Text: Charles W. Kent, “An Episode in the Early Life of Poe,” Century Magazine, Vol. 62, no. 6, October 1901, pp. 955-956


[page 955, continued:]

An Episode in the Early Life of Poe.

[column 1:]

I HAVE before me a copy of an old letter from Richmond, Virginia, written on August 10,1800. It is addressed to Mr. Allan Fowlds, Jr., Kilmarnock, North Britain, and is signed by William Galt. The letter congratulates Mr. Fowlds on his marriage to Nancy, Mr. Galt’s niece, and is filled with sound counsel and good wishes. In the postscript Mr. Galt adds that “John Allan has wrote you a day or two ago per the Jeanie, Capt. Cowan.”

To the student of Poe’s early life these names and their association with each other are of interest, for it was this John Allan here mentioned who adopted Edgar Allan Poe. It i’s known and noted by all biographers of Poe that, when a mere lad, he was taken abroad and placed in school at Stoke Newington; but when he was taken abroad, when he was put to school, and how long he remained at Stoke Newington, what he did with his vacations, and when he was brought back to America, are questions answered by no two of his biographers alike.

Woodberry, in his painstaking and valuable “Life of Poe,” states, on the authority of the late Colonel Thomas H. Ellis, that the date of departure from Richmond was about June 17, 1815, and that the Allans returned to Richmond about August 2, 1820. Mr. Powhatan Ellis, the brother of the late Colonel Ellis, is certain that the Allans, with Poe, were, during the year 1819, guests of his father, Charles Ellis, the business partner of Mr. Allan. Poe’s sojourn abroad, then, falls between the summer of 1815 and the beginning of 1819, and lasted, therefore, not five years, but about three years and a half. [column 2:]

John Allan was the son “of a sea-captain of Irvine, and was brought to America by his uncle or great-uncle William Gait, who laid the foundations of the Gait and Allan fortunes in Virginia. Nancy, the wife of Mr. Allan Fowlds, was probably the sister of John Allan, for one of Allan’s sisters was the wife of a seedsman named Fowlds, who lived in-Kilmarnock, from which place, by the way, William Gait is reported to have come to America. When Mr. Allan and his wife (nee Valentine of Richmond, Virginia) went abroad it was entirely natural that they should seek out Mr. Allan’s old home, Irvine, and Kilmarnock, the birthplace of his benefactor and the home of his sister. So it came about that in 1815 or 1816, when Poe was seven or eight years old, the Allans were in Kilmarnock with Edgar Poe, spending several weeks in the home of Mrs, Fowlds. This home no longer stands, the site being now occupied by the Kilmarnock Standard Building. Until very recently the Gregorys and others were living who remembered vividly seeing Poe playing in the streets of Kilmarnock, and one old gentleman, who died several years ago, told my correspondent that he recollected having played with Poe, “who was quick-witted and precocious, and much made of by his friends.”

From Kilmarnock the Allans went to the Continent, and took Poe with them. This latter fact, that Poe went with them, is not attested by any written evidence, but, on the other hand, it is not merely conjectural. It is traditional, but in Kilmarnock the tradition is undisputed and even unquestioned. Here, then, is the Continental tour that all the biographers of Poe have desired to discover and some have not hesitated to invent. Such a trip seems necessary, not, indeed, to explain [page 956:] the local coloring of his tales, for that is so indistinct as not to demand any first-hand acquaintance with the places mentioned, but to explain the suggested hints for the tales and their location, at all, in Continental cities. Just such suggestions would be found in the boyhood memories of the active, alert, and sensitive Poe, upon whom, though only seven or eight years old, such novel and interesting experiences would leave lasting impressions. Three points, then, in this brief note are worthy of attention. First, either immediately upon his arrival in Great Britain, or possibly in a later summer, Poe was in Kilmarnock, where Burns’s epoch-making volume of poems was printed. Second, during his stay abroad he was, in all probability, on the Continent for an extended tour with Mr. and Mrs. Allan. Third, he was not in Europe more than three years and a half, and probably at Stoke Newington not more than two of these years.


Charles W. Kent.





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