Text: Susan Archer Weiss, “Chapter 16,” Home Life of Poe (1907), pp. 90-93


[page 90:]



As regards the nature of Poe’s affection for his wife, I have often recalled an expression of Mr. John Mackenzie when, after the poet’s death, a group of his friends were familiarly discussing his character. One doubted whether Poe had ever really loved his wife; to which Mr. Mackenzie replied: “I believe that Edgar loved his wife, but not that he was ever in love with her — which accounts for his constancy.”

I have heard other men say that it was impossible that Poe, at the age of twenty-seven, could have felt for the child of twelve, with whom he had played and romped in the familiar association of home life and the free intercourse of brother and sister, aught of the absorbing and idealizing passion of love. At most, said they, there could have been but the tender and protective affection of an elder brother or cousin; which, as Mr. Mackenzie [page 91:] remarked, was in one of Poe’s temperament the best guarantee for its continuance.

Apart from the disparity of age, there was no congeniality of mind or character to draw these two into sympathy. Virginia was not mentally gifted, and Poe once, after her death, remarked to Mrs. Mackenzie that she had never read half of his poems. When writing, he would go to Mrs. Clemm to explain his ideas or to ask her opinion, but never to Virginia. She was his pet, his plaything, his little “Sissy,” whose sunny temper and affectionate disposition brightened and cheered his home.

“She was always a child,” said a lady who knew her well. “Even in person smaller and younger looking than her real age, she retained to the last the shy sweetness and simplicity of childhood.”

It would certainly appear that Poe’s child-wife never attained to the full completeness of the nature and affections of a mature woman. She was never known to manifest jealousy of the women whom he so notoriously admired; neither did scandals disturb nor his neglect estrange her. Mrs. Clemm would sometimes, as in duty bound, take him to task for his irregularities, but no word of reproach ever escaped Virginia. She regarded him with [page 92:] the most implicit and childlike trust; and certainly it seems that Poe, of all men, knew how, by endearing epithets and eloquent protestations, to win a woman’s confidence — as will presently appear.

But, naturally, this was not the kind of affection to satisfy one of Poe’s impassioned and poetic nature. He craved a woman’s love, and the sympathetic appreciation of talented women, in whose companionship, as Mrs. Whitman assures us, he delighted. What he did not find in Virginia he sought elsewhere. In special he missed in her that understanding and appreciation of his genius which he found in some other women. She loved and admired her handsome and fascinating husband, but never appeared to take pride in his genius or his fame as a poet.

The accounts of Virginia’s beauty, say those who knew her personally, have been greatly exaggerated by Poe’s biographers, who, taking their impressions from the description of Mr. Gowans already mentioned, have painted the poet’s child-wife in the most glowing colors. The general idea of her is like that which Mr. Woodbury expresses: “A sylph-like creature, of such delicate and ethereal beauty that [page 93:] we almost expect to see it vanish away, like one of Poe’s own creations.”

But the real Virginia was neither delicate nor ethereal. She is described by those who knew her at the age of twenty-two as looking more like a girl of fifteen than a woman grown, with, notwithstanding her frail health, a round, full face and figure, full, pouting lips, a forehead too high and broad for beauty, and bright black eyes and raven-black hair, contrasting almost startlingly with a white and colorless complexion. Her manner and expression were soft and shy, with something childlike and appealing. “She was liked by every one,” says Mr. Graham. A decided lisp added to her child-likeness.






[S:0 - HLFP, 1907] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Home Life of Poe (S. A. Weiss) (Chapter 16)