Text: James A. Harrison, “Chapter 07,” Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (1903), pp. 153-186


[page 153:]




IN 1840 the great Republic rejoiced in a population of more than 17,000,000, among whom were a vast number of travelled and cultured persons profoundly interested in reading and in things of the spirit. A wave of idealism had passed over New England, woven of the study of German mysticism, the worship of Carlyle and Goethe, and a healthy reaction against the overwhelming materialism of the age.

As far back as 1824, 1825, and 1827, indeed when Carlyle unsealed the deep fountains of German ideology, romance, and poetry with his translations of Wilhelm Meister, his “German Romance,” and his biography of Schiller, — fortified by the works of Sir Walter Scott as a translator, and the immense influence of Coleridge, — the subtle spirit of German philosophy, metaphysics, and mediævalism had begun to spread like an invisible oil, — tenuous, expansive, all-pervading, — over the English and American mind, aided by the numerous translations of Tieck, La Motte Fouque, Chamisso, the Schlegels, Schiller, Schelling, Heine, and Uhland that began to pour [page 154:] from the press, opening up a wonder-world of picturesque “Germanism” that had before been inaccessible.

Where or how, precisely, Poe became first inoculated with this spirit of occult Germany: whether it was bred in him and born with him, naturally, as put of his constitutional heritage from a mixed and high-strung ancestry; or whether he drank it in with his Morellas and Eleanoras and Ligeias as he read and studied with them in the enchanted castles of his fancy, is not clear: Poe nowhere reduces his beliefs — “Eureka ” alone excepted — to a system, and he revels in occultism, in mesmerism, in the miraculous revelations of science merely for the intellectual delight of the moment. That somehow — somewhere — he became saturated with the doctrines of Schefing and founded some of his finest tales and “dialogues of the dead” (“Monos and Una” and “Eiros and Charmion,” for example) on their poetic mysticism, there can be no doubt.

Poe indeed was constitutionally disposed to “the Right into the land of the supernatural and the miraculous;” — a wilder‘d being from his birth,” he never ceased to see visions and dream dreams; along with all the great poets that have ever lived — Homer, Virgil, Dante, Caedmon, Chaucer, Langland, Tennyson — his dreams were his most vivid realities, and he was of the dreaming race — the Germanic — . — the race of Novalis and Schelling, his masters across the German sea.

With the publication of — The Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque ” in 1840, Poe found himself in to environment of unexampled richness, not only for what it had already accomplished, but also for [page 155:] what it promised. Lowell, Hawthorne, Motley, Emerson, Holmes, Whittier, Longfellow, Bryant, Irving, were his immediate contemporaries and brethren in art; all about him the glades — the magazines — were vocal with the male and female songsters to whom he was now to turn a biting or a mattering pen; literary animalcules thirsting for recognition swarmed in every hedge-row and flooded the press with their pipings.

Among these Poe soon towered as a giant; even the lordly Irving, who had so long figured as the supreme pontiff of American letters, acknowledged his genius — Irving, who was to America, in the forties, what Goethe had been to Germany and Voltaire had been to France. Possessed of a fearless and independent mind, of extensive knowledge, and of a definite, individual, and sententious system of criticism, Poe lived in an exceedingly trying age — certainly that part of it which extended from 1840 to 1849 — when circumstances forced him to turn his attention — critically — to his contemporaries. He believed himself to be a great critic; and he spoke from his judicial throne with a “cock-sure” Macaulayan infallibility that was exceedingly irritating to the mob; as surprising, indeed, as his belief in his own infallible powers of solving puzzles and enigmas, of the cryptographic kind which he now began contributing to Alexander’s “Weekly Messenger;” asserting that “human ingenuity cannot construct any cryptograph human ingenuity cannot decipher.”

Our preceding chapter contained a brief notice of Burton and his “Gentleman’s Magazine,” with an account of its ultimate purchase by George R. Graham and its absorption, with “The Casket,” into “Graham’s Magazine.” [page 156:]

The partnership of Poe and Burton — never amicable — appears in their joint names in the title-page of the: “Gentleman’s Magazine,”(1) for 1840. He had been appointed editor of this in July, 1839, and to the September number he contributed one of the most thrilling and artistic of his tales, — The Fall of the House of Usher,” incidentally, in the portrait of Roderick Usher, painting the following portrait of himself:

The character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity: these features, with an inordinate expansion of the temple [see the Cole portrait of Poe] made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten.”

The Israfel motif appears in the couplet from Béranger, which introduces this spectral sonata in words:

“Son coeur est un luth suspendu;

Sitot qu‘on le touche il resonne.”

During the remainder of 1839 Poe reprinted in the “Gentleman’s” “William Wilson” and “Morella,” some of his short poems, short reviews of books, and in the December number, an original contribution, “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion,” a dialogue [page 157:] intensely dramatic in its word-painting, carrying to a rare point of perfection a literary form in which he indulged but three times, though each time masterfully: “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion,” and “The Power of Words.” In “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” one sees the calm Platonic dialogue, surcharged with a frightful meaning and working up to its acme by means of terrific supernatural machinery undreamt of in the days and in the dreams of Plato: certainly no more plausible theory — vision — one may truly call it — of the ultimate destruction of the globe was ever imagined or conjured up in words.

All his life Poe pursued the will o’ the wisp idea of establishing a literary journal that should be fearless, independent, critical, and classical in style and spirit; the last journey of his restless and fevered life being undertaken with this object. In Philadelphia the demon pursued him while he was in the employ of Burton and Graham; it pursued him in New York; and his correspondence is full of it. The Philadelphia “Saturday Chronicle” for June 13, 1840, contained the announcement that “The Penn Monthly,” edited by Edgar A. Poe, would appear January 1, 1841, and prospectuses were widely distributed. It is supposed that a quarrel arose between Poe and Burton on account of the new magazine; Poe was accused of stealing Burton’s subscription list and of neglecting his office duties on “The Gentleman’s,” and a rupture ensued. That he neglected these duties is emphatically denied by Mr. C. W. Alexander, publisher of the magazine, who in October, 1850 (Gill, p. 97) , wrote:

“The absence of the principal editor [Burton] on professional duties left the matters frequently in the [page 158:] 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.”

This candid and clear statement is ingeniously twisted by one of Poe’s biographers into a confirmation of the poet’s intemperance and into a refutation of the following admirable letter to his old friend Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, in which he describes his habits at Richmond and Philadelphia:

PHILADELPHIA, April 1, 1841.

MY DEAR SNODGRASS, — I fear you have been thinking it was not my design to answer your kind letter at all. It is now April Fool’s Day, and yours is dated March 8th; but believe me, although, for good reason, I may occasionally postpone my reply to your favors, I am never in danger of forgetting them.

  · · · · · ·  

In regard to Burton. I feel indebted to you for the kind interest you express; but scarcely know how to reply. My situation is embarrassing. It is impossible, as you say, to notice a buffoon and a felon, as one gentleman would notice another. The law, then, is my only resource. Now, if the truth of a scandal could be admitted in justification — I mean of what the law terms a scandal — I would have matters all my own way. I would institute a suit, forthwith, for his personal defamation of myself. He would be unable to prove the truth of his allegations. I could [page 159:] prove their falsity and their malicious intent by witnesses who, seeing me at all hours of every day, would have the best right to speak — I mean Burton’s own clerk, Morrell, and the compositors of the printing office. In fact, I could prove the scandal almost by acclamation. I should obtain damages. But, on the other hand, I have never been scrupulous in regard to what I have said of him. I have always told him to his face, and everybody else, that I looked upon him as blackguard and a villain. This is notorious. He would meet me with a cross-action. The truth of the allegation — which I could [as] easily prove as he would find it difficult to prove t e truth of his own respecting me — would not avail me. The law will not admit, as justification of my calling Billy Burton a scoundrel, that Billy Burton is really such. What then can I do? If I sue, he sues: you see how it is.

At the same time — as I may, after further reflection, be induced to sue, I would take it as an act of kindness — not to say justice — on your part, if you would see the gentleman of whom you spoke, and ascertain with accuracy all that may legally avail me; that is to say, what and when were the words used, and whether your friend would be willing for your sake, for my sake, and for the sake of truth, to give evidence if called upon. Will you do this for me?

So far for the matter inasmuch as it concerns Burton. I have now to thank you for your defence of myself, as stated. You are a physician, and I presume no physician can have difficulty in detecting the drunkard at a glance. You are, moreover, a literary man, well read in morals.

You will never be brought to believe that I could write what I daily write, as I write it, were I as this [page 160:] villain would induce those who know me not, to believe. In fine, I pledge you, before God, the solemn word of a gentleman, that I am temperate even to rigor. From the hour in which I first saw this basest of calumniators to the hour in which I retired from his office in uncontrollable disgust at his chicanery, arrogance, ignorance and brutality, nothing stronger than water ever passed my lips.

It is, however, due to candor that I inform you upon what foundation he his erected his slanders. At no period of my life was I ever what men call intemperate. I never was in the habit of intoxication. I never drank drams, &c. But, for a period, while I resided in Richmond, and edited the “Messenger,” I certainly did give way, at long intervals, to the temptation held out on all sides by the spirit of Southern conviviality. My sensitive temperament could not stand an excitement which was an every-day matter to my companions. In short, it sometimes happened that I was completely intoxicated. For some days after each excess I was invariably confined to bed. But it is now quite four years since I have abandoned every kind of alcoholic drink — four years, with the exception of a single deviation, which occurred shortly after my leaving Burton, and when I was induced to resort to the occasional use of cider, with the hope of relieving a nervous attack.

You will thus see, frankly stated, the whole amount of my sin. You will also see the blackness of that heart which could revive slander of this nature. Neither can you fail to perceive how desperate the malignity of the slanderer must be — how resolute he must be to slander, and how slight the grounds upon which he would build up a defamation — since he can [page 161:] find nothing better with which to charge me than an accusation which can be disproved by each and every man with whom I am in the habit of daily intercourse.

I have now only to repeat to you, in general, my solemn assurance that my habits are as far removed from intemperance as the day from the night. My sole drink is water.

Will you do me the kindness to repeat this assurance to such of your own friends as happen to speak of me in your hearing?

I feel that nothing more is requisite, and you will agree with me upon reflection.

Hoping soon to hear from you, I am,

Yours most cordially,  


It is thus seen that it was the occasional convivial glass, not the habitual slip, that was the bane of the poet’s existence — a view confirmed by his friend Tucker’s testimony when they were boys at the University of Virginia, and reasserted all through his litter life by those nearest to him. Mrs. Clemm asserted positively, — For years I know he did not taste even a glass of wine,” the period embraced being that between 1837 and 1841; testimony confirmed by L. A. Wilmer (“Our Press-Gang,” p. 284), by William Gowans, “the eccentric book-miser of Nassau Street, who bought so many volumes, and sold so few, that both cellar and attic of his place of business were found, at his death, packed with forgotten purchases;”(2) and by many others.

Mr. Appleton Morgan, president of the New York [page 162:]

Shakspeare Society, which interested itself successfully in getting the New York legislature to pass a bill establishing Poe Paris and removing to it the Fordham cottage where Virginia died, writes:(1)

“From those who claim to have been Poe’s neighbors at Fordham (1845-49), or who said that their parents had been, there came curiously contradictory statements as to the poet’s character and habits. I heard it asserted that he was a shiftless, careless, unhappy man, with a kind word for nobody — a drunkard who was pointed out to strangers as he reeled home at night. On the other hand, people who knew him personally, or whose fathers and mothers have so testified to them, have assured me that Poe never drank liquor simply because his stomach was so delicate that a single glass of wine was poison to him, and that he could not, even by a physical effort, swallow, much less retain, a drop of ardent spirits.

“I have been assured by this latter group of witnesses, that Edgar Poe was a sweet and lovable gentleman, with a smile and a courteous word or gesture for every one who met him; that he dressed with scrupulous care, and that, however threadbare his garments, he was always precise and dainty, even dapper, in his neatness and in his gait; that, far from pointing him out with scorn and reproach, his neighbors loved to see him, spoke highly of him, sympathized with his misfortunes, and, had they dared, would have openly offered him the assistance which they did, as often as possible, clandestinely render him.”

Dr. J. J. Moran, who attended him in his dying hours, asserted solemnly that there was no smell of liquor on his breath, and that he recoiled with horror [page 163:]

From the offer to take what the physician thought was a necessary stimulant; and the attention of the reader is called to the statement of the official who administered the oath of temperance to Poe when he joined the society just before his death.

Another most interesting letter from Poe to Burton, dated June 1, reveals clearly Poe’s lack of vanity as to his writings, his precision and punctiliousness in money matters, the large amount of work he contributed to the “Gentleman’s Magazine” during his twelve months’ connection with it, and his exculpation of himself from the charge of underhanded dealing in “The Penn Monthly” affair. Though the total number of pages he contributed is inaccurately added up, the correct number of pages being 123 (not “132“) still this leaves Poe an average of ten pages per month, not eleven, as he sums it up, for his usual monthly contribution to the magazine. The letter, whatever be its temper, is an epistolary masterpiece, clear, eloquent, and convincing. That Burton was really a good fellow, — that Poe was not justified in denouncing him to Snodgrass as “a buffoon and a felon” — is plain from what we printed in a previous chapter where, when Graham is about to purchase the “Gentleman’s Magazine” and combine it with “The Casket,” Burton makes a special condition that his “young editor [Poe] is to be taken care of.” Poe wrote to Burton as follows:

SIR, — I find myself at leisure this Monday morning, June 1, to notice your very singular letter of Saturday. . . I have followed the example of Victorine and slept upon the matter, and you shall now hear what I have to say. In the first place, your attempts to bully me excite in my mind scarcely any [page 164:] other sentiment than mirth. When you address me again, preserve, if you can, the dignity of a gentleman. . . . I shall feel myself more at liberty to be explicit. As for the rest, you do me gross injustice; and you know it. As usual, you have wrought yourself into a passion with me on account of some imaginary wrong; for no real injury, or attempt at injury, have you ever received at my hands. As I live, I am utterly unable to say why you are angry, or what true grounds of complaint you have against me. You are a man of impulses; have made yourself, in consequence, some enemies; have been in many respects ill-treated by those whom you had looked upon as friends — and these things have rendered you suspicious. You once wrote in your magazine a sharp critique upon a book of mine — a very silly book — Pym. Had I written a similar criticism upon a book of yours, you feel that you would have been my enemy for life, and you therefore imagine in my bosom a latent hostility towards yourself. This has been a mainspring in your whole conduct towards me since our first acquaintance. It has acted to prevent all cordiality. In a general view of human nature your idea is just — but you will find yourself puzzled in judging me by ordinary motives. Your criticism was essentially correct, and therefore, although severe, it did not occasion in me one solitary emotion either of anger or dislike. But even while I write these words, I am sure you will not believe them. Did I not still think you, in spite of the exceeding littleness of some of your hurried actions, a man of many honorable impulses, I would not now take the trouble to send you this letter. I cannot permit myself to suppose that you would say to me in cool blood what you said in your letter of yesterday. [page 165:] You are, of course, only mistaken, in asserting that I owe you a hundred dollars, and you will rectify the mistake at once when you come to look at your accounts.

Soon After I joined you, you made me an offer of money, and I accepted S zo. Upon another occasion, at my request, you sent me enclosed in a letter $30. Of this $30, I repaid $20 within the next fortnight (drawing no salary for that period). I was thus still in your debt $30, when not long ago I again asked a loan of $30, which you promptly handed to me at your own home. Within the last three weeks, three dollars each week have been retained from my salary, an indignity which I have felt deeply but did not resent. You state the sum retained as $8, but this I believe is through a mistake of Mr. Morrell. My postage bill, at a guess, might be $9 or $10 — and I therefore am indebted to you, upon the whole, in the amount of about $50. More than this sum I shall not pay. You state that you can no longer afford to pay $50 per month for 2 or 3 pages of MS. Your error here can be shown by reference to the magazine. During my year with you I have written — in July, 5 pp.; in August, 9 pp.; in Sept., 16 pp.; in Oct., 4 pp.; in Nov., 5 pp.; in Dec., 12 pp.; in Jan., 9 pp.; in Feb. 12 pp.; in March, 11 pp.; in April, 17 pp.; in May, 14 pp., plus 5 copied — Miss Mc Michael’s MS.; in June, 9 pp., plus 3 copied — Chandler’s. Total, 132 pp. [sic]

Dividing this sum by 12, we have an average of 11pp. per month — not 2 or 3. And this estimate leaves out of question everything in the way of extract or compilation. Nothing is counted but bonâ fide composition. Eleven pages, at $3 per page, would be [page 166:] $33, at the usual magazine prices. Deduct this from $50, my monthly salary, and we have left $17 per month, or $4.25 per week, for the services of proof reading; general superintendence at the printing office; reading, alteration and preparation of MSS., with compilation of various articles, such as plate articles, field sports, &c. Neither has anything been said of my name upon your title-page, a small item — you will say — but still something, its you know. Snowden pays his editresses $2 per week each for their names solely. Upon the whole, I am not willing to admit that you have greatly overpaid me. That I did not do four times as much as I did for the magazine was your own fault. At first I wrote long articles, which you deemed inadmissible, and never did I suggest any to which you had not some immediate and decided objection. Of course I grew discouraged, and could feel no interest in the journal.

I am at a loss to know why you call me selfish. If you mean that I borrowed money of you — you know that you offered it, and you know that I am poor. In what instance has any one ever found me selfish? Was there selfishness in the affront I offend. Benjamin (whom I respect, and who spoke well of me) because I deemed it a duty not to receive from any one commendation at your expense? . . . I have said that I could not tell why you were angry. Place yourself in my situation and see whether you would not have acted as I have done. You first “enforced,” as you say, a deduction of salary; giving me to understand thereby that you thought of parting company. You next spoke disrespectfully of me behind my back — this as an habitual thing — to those whom you supposed your friends, and who punctually retailed me, [page 167:] as a matter of course, every ill-natured word which you uttered. Lastly, you advertised your magazine for sale without saying a word to me about it. I felt no anger at what you did — none in the world.

Had I not firmly believed it your design to give up your journal, with a view of attending to the Theatre, I should never have dreamed of attempting one of my own. The opportunity of doing something for myself seemed a good one — (and I was about to be thrown out of business)-and I embraced it. Now I ask you, as a man of honor and as a man of sense — what is there wrong in all this? What have I done at which you have any right to take offence? I can give you no definitive answer (respecting the continuation of Rodman’s Journal) until I hear from you again. The charge of $100 I shall not admit for an instant. If you persist in it our intercourse is at an end, and we can each adopt our own measures.

In the meantime, I am,  
Yr. Obt. St.,  


In a previous chapter we have recounted from Graham’s own lips the story of the origination of “Graham’s Magazine,” which was destined for the next ten years to exercise an almost preponderating influence on American letters. No one can look over the files of the magazine for these years without being struck with the wealth and distinction of remarkable names which embellish its pages and with the immediate success which from February, 1841, began to attend Poe’s critical and, finally, editorial responsibility for its contents. In his “Chapter on Autography,” Poe expressed himself thus of Mr. Graham: [page 168:]

“Mr. Graham is known to the literary world as the editor and proprietor of ‘Graham’s Magazine’ the most popular periodical in America, and also of the ’Saturday Evening Post’ of Philadelphia. For both of these journals he has written much and well. His MS. generally, is very bad, or at least very illegible. At times it is sufficiently distinct, and has force and picturesqueness, speaking plainly of the energy which particularly distinguishes him as a man.

“Energy” indeed was Graham’s characteristic, reinforced by exceptional good nature and a kindliness of feeling for his “young editor” which made him come out after Poe’s death in an eloquent defence of him.

Of Burton he good-naturedly wrote in the same “Autography”:

“Mr. Burton is better known as a comedian than as a literary man, but he has written many short prose articles of merit, and his quondam editorship of the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ would, at all events, entitle him to a place in this collection. He has, moreover, published one or two books. An annual issued by Carey and Hart in 1840 consisted entirely of prose contributions from himself, with poetical ones from Charles West Thompson, Esq. In this work many of the tales were good.”

“The Penn Monthly” scheme went up in the usual smoke to which illness, indigence, and financial panic — chronic in those times — so often reduced the journalistic dreams of the poet. Its ambitious prospectus — Prospectus of “The Penn Magazine,” a monthly literary journal, to be edited and published in the city of Philadelphia by Edgar A. Poe — was [page 169:] all that ever appeared of it. It was a Poe journal that Poe craved; a journal that would give free play to his own individuality such as he had not been allowed to show in the “Messenger;” a journal that would deal out critical justice in a calm yet stern and fearless manner, guided by the purest rules of Art, impersonal in its judgments, avoiding the “involute and anonymous cant of the Quarterlies” and the arrogance of the cliques and Mutual Admiration Societies; versatility, originality, pungency would enable it to please; there should be “no tincture of the buffoonery, scurrility, or profanity, which are the blemish of some of the most vigorous of the European prints.”

It was, however, perhaps just as well that Poe’s time should not have been taken up at this moment with the harassing responsibilities of an independent journal; otherwise he might never have made the striking record or produced the profound impression on contemporary literature which his contributions to “Graham’s” up to 1842 began to show. To the last number of the “Gentleman’s” before it became “Graham’s” he had contributed “The Man of the Crowd,” a Hugoësque sketch filled with the power, the terrors, the shadows of unknown and unconjecturable crime; the cipher papers in Alexander’s “Weekly Messenger” had at this time created a great sensation, ninety-nine of the cryptographs (he says) sent in by his correspondents being solved by him; and there were contributions (untraced as yet) to the — United States Military Magazine.”

In “Graham’s Magazine” for July, 1841, he speaks in an entertaining way about his cryptographic studies and challenge:

“In the discussion of an analogous subject, in one [page 170:] of the weekly papers [Alexander’s “Weekly Messenger“] of this city [Philadelphia], about eighteen months ago, the writer of this article had occasion to speak of the application of a vigorous method in all forms of thought, of its advantages, of its extension, of its use even to what is considered the operation of pure fancy — and thus, subsequently, of the solution of cipher. He even ventured to assert that no cipher, of the character above specified, could be sent to the address of the paper which he would not be able to resolve. This challenge excited, most unexpectedly, a very lively interest among the numerous readers of the journal. Letters were poured in upon the editor from all parts of the country; and many of the writers of these epistles were so convinced of the impenetrability of their mysteries as to be at great pains to draw him into wagers on the subject. At the sane time, they were not always scrupulous about sticking to the point. The cryptographs were, in numerous instances, altogether beyond the limits defined in the beginning. Foreign languages were employed. Words and sentences were run together without interval. Several alphabets were used in the same cipher. One gentleman, but moderately endowed with conscientiousness, inditing us a puzzle composed of pot-hooks and hangers to which the wildest typography of the office could afford nothing similar, went even so far as to jumble together no less than seven distinct alphabets without intervals between the letters or between the lines. Many of the cryptographs were dated in Philadelphia, and several of those which urged the subject of a bet were written by gentlemen of this city. Out of, perhaps, one thousand ciphers altogether received, there was only one which we did not immediately [page 171:] succeed in resolving. This was one we demonstrated to be an imposition — that is to say, we fully proved it a jargon of random characters, having no meaning whatever. In respect to the epistle of the seven alphabets, we had the pleasure of completely nonplussing its inditer by a prompt and satisfactory translation.

“The weekly paler mentioned was, for a period of some months, greatly occupied with the hieroglyphic and cabalistic-looking solutions of the cryptographs sent us from all quarters. Yet, with the exception of the writers of the ciphers, we do not believe that any individuals could have been found among the readers of the journal who regarded the matter in any other light than in that of a desperate humbug. One party averred that the mysterious figures were only inserted to give a queer air to the paper, for the purpose of attracting attention. Another thought it more probable that we not only solved the ciphers, but put them together ourselves for solution. This having been the state of affairs at the period when it was thought expedient to decline further dealings in necromancy, the writer of this article avails himself of the present opportunity to maintain the truth of the journal in question, to repel the charges of rigmarole by which it was assailed, and to declare, in his own name, that the ciphers were all written in good faith, and solved in the same spirit.” (Article on “Cryptography,” “Graham’s,” July, 1841.)

But up to his abrupt departure from Philadelphia for New York in the spring of 1844, Poe wrote almost as assiduously for Graham and “Graham’s” as he had written in 1834, ‘35, ‘36, and ‘37 for White and the “Messenger.” Tales, poems, [page 172:] critiques flowed from his ever-facile pen, which copied also and reprinted — we can see nothing “flagrant” about the action — some of his already printed poems. Poe rarely printed a poem without improving it; but for this reprinting and embellishing process we should miss the final and exquisite forms of “Lenore,” “To Helen,” “The Raven ” “Israfel,” “The Bells,” and a number of other beautiful things. What Poe reprinted was not old trumpery it was the new and dainty coinage of a mind ruminating in its maturity over immature juvenilia and retouching them with a magician’s wand.

The overflow of Poe’s genius, — what did not appear in “Graham’s” — appeared in “The Saturday Evening Post ” (owned by Graham), Snowden’s “Lady’s Companion,” the “Saturday Museum,” Lowell’s “Pioneer,” Miss Leslie’s “Gift,” “The Dollar Newspaper,” “The United States Saturday Post” (a new form of the old “Saturday Post“), and Willis’s “Opal,” besides lectures delivered once in Baltimore and once in Philadelphia on “The Poets and Poetry of America.”

These fruitful years developed in Poe — probably as a corollary from his cryptographic studies, in which his faculty of concentrated reasoning grew almost visibly — the power of writing the ratiocinative tale, a genre in which he has never been excelled. An exhibition of this power startled Charles Dickens when, in the “Saturday Evening Post ” for May, 1841, he predicted the plot of “Barnaby Rudge” from data furnished by the book itself. Poe’s power, hitherto, had been descriptive, mystic, emotional; he had revelled in the senses and in sense-products — rhythm, landscape, psychologic phenomena of a dim [page 173:] and terrible yet sensualistic character, borderlands betwixt life and death, flashes of the subliminal consciousness whence well up mysterious telepathic communications between the Seen and the Unseen, fateful and funereal scenes of ruin, desolation, and decay draped in the utmost pomp and magic of style.

Now his mind developed a strange and lucid power of analytical reasoning, like a sixth sense suddenly superadded to a brain already abnormally developed. The absurd statement that the poet left West Point because he could not learn mathematics, or the technique of mathematics, would be refuted, if refutation it required, by the mathematically clear reasoning of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Gold-Bug,” belonging to this period.

During the wonderfully productive period of his stay in Philadelphia, Poe wrote or published the following items:

“Siope — a Fable [Silence],” “Ligeia,” “How to Write a Blackwood Article [“The Signora Zenobia],” “A Predicament [The Scythe of Time],” “The Devil in the Belfry,” “The Man that was Used Up,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “William Wilson,” “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion,” “Mystification [Von Jung],” “Why the Little Frenchman Wears his Hand in a Sling,” “The Business Man [Peter Pendulum],” “The Man of the Crowd,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” “The Island of the Fay;” “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” “Never Bet the Devil your Head,” “Three Sundays in a Week [A Succession of Sundays],” “Eleonora,” “The Oval Portrait [Life in Death],” [page 174:] “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Landscape Garden [part of “The Domain of Arnheim“],” “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Gold- Bug,” “The Black Cat,” “The Elk [Morning on the Wissahiccon].”

This long list does not include literary hack-work like “The Conchologist’s First Book,” or ” Arthur Gordon Pym” (in book form), “The Journal of Julius Rodman,” (first unearthed by Mr. J. H. Ingram in Burton’s) and the very numerous and brilliant critiques and poems in ,The Gentleman’s,” “Graham’s,” “The Pioneer,” and other periodicals; nor “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” “The Spectacles,” “Diddling Considered as one of the Exact Sciences,” “The Balloon-Hoax,” “Mesmeric Revelation,” “The Premature Burial,” “The Oblong Box,” “Thou art the Man,” and the “Literary Life of Thingum-Bob”: all of which were probably composed in Philadelphia but came out in 1844, after Poe left the town.

There are here enumerated thirty-six pied, all highly original, six or eight standing among the most celebrated of Poe’s masterpieces. Ordinary brains impelled to this extent must needs have felt the “fag” which follows inevitably upon overworked mental processes; — his daring critiques, his analytic essays, and his weird stories, following one another in quick succession, startled the public and compelled it to an acknowledgment of his powers;” but Poe — at least for a time — seemed to possess a mind bathed in perpetual vigor and rejuvenation. With admirable good humor he worked through the quires of puzzles, ciphers, enigmas and cryptographs that poured down upon him [page 175:] after his famous challenge; for fifteen or eighteen months he reigned as the absolute sovereign of “Graham’s,” dispensing critical justice to Longfellow, Hawthorne, Dickens, Bulwer, Bolingbroke, “The Quacks of Helicon,” — L. E. L.,” the Davidson Sisters, Campbell’s “Petrarch,” — “The Vicar of Wakefield,” Heber, Walpole, Christopher North, Brainard, Lever, Brougham, Howitt, and others; and his creative powers as a storyteller revelled in the long list of works we have enumerated.

He made three contributions to Lowell’s “Pioneer,” a Boston monthly, which unsuccessfully aspired to the calm, courageous place dreamed of by Poe. It was unsuccessful in that it lived through only three numbers.

Lowell, like Poe, was thus pursued by the vision of an impossible magazine which should altruistically — at $3 per annum — substitute for the “namby-pamby love-tales and sketches poured forth” on the long suffering public, a “healthy and manly Periodical Literature,” such as it could digest.

But the well-deserving enterprise failed, and Lowell was to reserve his strength for the “Atlantic Monthly,” some fourteen years later.

Nothing in Poe’s career is more creditable to him than his letters to and his true courtesy toward Lowell on the falling through of the unfortunate undertaking, creditable alike to head and heart and purse, when we know how sorely pressed Poe was at this time — and at all times — for his daily bread. W hen Lowell, overwhelmed with debt and suffering from ophthalmic, gave up “The Pioneer,” Poe wrote, March 27, 1843: [page 176:]

“MY DEAR FRIEND, — I have just received yours of the 24th and am deeply grieved that you should have been so unfortunate, and, secondly, that you should have thought it necessary to offer me any apology for your misfortunes. As for the few dollars you owe me [it was $30 or $40] give yourself not one moment’s concern about them. I am poor, but must be very much poorer, indeed, when I even think of demanding them.

“But I sincerely hope all is not so bad as you suppose it, and that, when you come back to look about you, you will be able to continue ‘The Pioneer.’ Its decease, just now, would be a most severe blow to the good cause — the cause of Pure Taste. I have looked upon your magazine, from its outset, as the best in America, and have lost no opportunity of expressing the opinion.”(1)

In April he ceased to be editor of “Graham’s.” Why he resigned is not circumstantially known, but the following quotation from Gill (pp. 109, 110) is suggestive:

“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, ff It is known that the personal ill-will on both sides was such that for some four or five years not [page 177:] a line by Poe was purchased for ‘Graham’s Magazine.’ The italics are Dr. Griswold’s. . . .

“Mr. Graham, from whom the magazine was named, is now [1878] 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 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.”

Griswold himself, according to Gill (p. 112), was shortly afterwards dismissed by Mr. Graham from the editorship of the magazine for writing a scurrilous anonymous attack on Mr. Charles J. Peterson, a gentleman prominently connected with many American magazines, who was associated with Griswold in the same office, apparently on the friendliest terms. [page 178:]

Though out of immediate editorial work, Poe continued to write with fiercest energy, and naturally recurred to his hope of establishing an independent “Poe” magazine. The following unpublished letter, kindly copied by Dr. B. W. Green for us from a MS. in the State Library, Richmond, is one of many explaining the projected enterprise:

PHILADELPHIA, March 24, 1843.

MY DEAR SIR, — With this letter I mail to your address a number of the “Philadelphia Saturday Museum,” containing a Prospectus of “The Stylus,” a Magazine which I design to commence on the first of July next, in connection with Mr. Thomas C. Clarke of this city.

My object in addressing you is to ascertain if the list of “The South: Lit: Messenger” is to be disposed of, and, if so, upon what terms. We are anxious to purchase the list and unite it with that of “The Stylus,” provided a suitable arrangement could be made. I should be happy to hear from you on the subject.

I hear of you occasionally, and most sincerely hope that you are doing well. Mrs. Clemm & Virginia desire to be remembered to all our old acquaintances. Believe me,

Yours truly,  


Poe was never famous for his tact, and it is doubtful whether a review announced with such a battailous flourish of trumpets — so denunciatory in its character, especially of the “dull” and “dishonest” Quarterlies — so fierce, stern, uncompromising, and ideal in its aims as the new-born “Stylus” was to be — could [page 179:] ever have succeeded — with Poe as manager. It did succeed admirably, afterwards, in the seventies as “The New York Nation,” but a wider, wiser, and more enlightened public opinion had taken the place of the acrimonious cliques and silly little “corners in literature” that then disfigured Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond.

At the same time, feeling more or less keenly the desperateness of his situation, he fell into eager correspondence with his friend F. W. Thomas, a Baltimorean of literary proclivities who was an office-holder at Washington under President Tyler, as to the possibility of procuring some small government place as a support for Virginia, Mrs. Clemm, and himself. Thomas was an amiable man, deeply interested in his friend’s welfare; but his efforts to secure Poe even the humblest place, though his early friend Kennedy was then a high-placed official in Washington, were unavailing. Burns got into the excise, Lamb into the India House, Haw. thorne into a consulship, but official patronage was not for Poe. The unfortunate man journeyed to the cap. ital nevertheless and returned in terrible plight, men tally and physically unbalanced. His “Imp of the Perverse,” so graphically pictured in “The Black Cat,” had made him present himself in Washington in the most unfavorable light and shatter such opportunities or outlook as there may have been for him by an access of wild conduct.

What was really the matter with Poe during a part of this tragic period may be gathered from a heartrending letter dated six years after the occurrence.(1)

“In this letter to an old and esteemed correspondent, dated January 4, 1848, Poe thus unbosoms himself [page 180:] of his secret — a secret as gruesome as any told in the most terrible of his tales:

“You say, Can you hint to me what was the “terrible evil” which caused the “irregularities,” so profoundly lamented? Yes, I can do more than hint. This “evil” was the greatest that can befall a man. Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever, and underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially, and I again hoped. At the end of a year, the vessel broke again. I went through precisely the same scene. . . . Then again — again — and even once again, at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death — and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive — nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, I drank — God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity. I had, indeed, nearly abandoned all hope of a permanent cure, when I found one in the death of my wife. This I can and do endure [Virginia died January 30, 1847] as becomes a man. It was the horrible, never-ending oscillation between hope and despair which I could not longer have endured, without total loss of reason. In the death of what was my life, then, I received a new but — Oh God! — how melancholy an existence.’ ”

This, then, was the worm that gnawed relentlessly at Poe’s heart for six years, and well-nigh drove him [page 181:] mad — did madden him, if we read between the lines of this letter. As a writer in “Scribner’s Monthly,” reviewing Gill’s “Life of Poe,” puts it:

“It is now well ascertained that Poe’s intoxication was a thing caused by even the smallest quantity of wine, and tools the form of terrible despondency or of strange and highly intellectual but deranged orations on abstruse subjects, and that he was a kind husband, gentle-mannered in his associations with many persons, and exceedingly industrious about his writing. Still, that he was subject to intoxication, and was at times intensely irritable, are facts sufficiently attested. The excessive susceptibility to liquor is to be charged probably to his father, who was a drinker; and Poe’s descent from an old line of Italian nobles who went to Normandy and thence to Ireland, mixing their peculiar traits with the ardor, the simplicity, the powerful affections of the Irish character, may account for his keen sensitiveness, as well as for some of his metrical predilections. When we reflect that, in addition, he was bred in our high-tempered South, we have another factor in the difficult problem of his life.”

The critic then goes on to show that the other writers of note of the time or a little later had extraneous help in their literary struggles: Longfellow and Lowell became professors; Trying and Prescott, Motley and Bancroft, Bayard Taylor and G. P. Marsh rose to be ministers plenipotentiary; Bryant and Whittier were successful journalists; Hawthorne was snugly ensconced in government positions at Salem and Liverpool; and Holmes practised medicine. “But Poe had not the business talents requisite to gain even their transient and harassed ascendancy. It is not difficult for any one who knows the literary life, to [page 182:] conceive how great was the strain, therefore, to which Poe was subjected. With his delicate and emotional organization it would hardly have been wonderful had he sunk into the depths where Griswold’s unsympathetic report placed him. All things considered, then, it must be admitted that he made a brave fight, but was overborne by a legacy of drink, by an overweight of genius naturally morbid, and by the asperity of circumstances.”

Poe himself wrote passionately to Mrs. Whitman: “I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have perilled life and reputation and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories.”

In “Graham’s Magazine” for March, 1850, Mr. Graham himself wrote of him at this period:

“I shall never forget how solicitous of the happiness of his wife and mother-in-law he was, whilst one of the editors of ‘Graham’s Magazine;’ his whole efforts seemed to be to procure the comfort and welfare of his home. Except for their happiness, and the natural ambition of having a magazine of his own, I never heard him deplore the want of wealth. The truth is, he cared little for money, and knew less of its value, for he seemed to have no personal expenses. What he received from me in regular monthly instalments went directly into the hands of his mother-in-law for family comforts; and twice only I remember his purchasing some rather expensive luxuries for his house, and then he was nervous to the degree of misery until he had, by extra articles, covered what he considered an imprudent indebtedness. His love for his wife was a sort of rapturous worship of the [page 183:] spirit of beauty, which he felt was fading before his eyes. I have seen him hovering around her when she was ill, with all the fond fear and tender anxiety of a mother for her first-born — her slightest cough causing in him a shudder, a breast chill, that was visible. I rode out one summer evening with them, and the remembrance of his watchful eyes, eagerly bent upon the slightest change of hue in that loved face, haunts me yet as the memory of a sad strain. It was this hourly anticipation of her loss that made him a sad and thoughtful man, and lent a mournful melody to his undying song.”

The worship of Woman indeed — das ewig Weibliche — was an absorbing feature of the domestic as well as of the literary life of Edgar Poe. Women are the most eager and impassioned defenders of his bedraggled memory; women were the idols and the guardian angels of his household; women are the themes of his most exquisite poems; women have erected, in Baltimore, the most costly monument to his memory. No writer has described, analyzed, viewed Poe more sympathetically, with deeper insight, than Mrs. Whitman, Mrs. Osgood, Mrs. Weiss, “Stella,” Mrs. Shelton, or Mrs. Shew, four of them at least women of genius capable of describing and analyzing what they saw.

In the “Poetic Principle,” after quoting Byron’s

“Though the day of my destiny’s o‘er,”

Poe adds: “No nobler theme ever engaged the pen of poet. It is the soul-elevating idea, that no man can consider himself entitled to complain of Fate while, in his adversity, he still retains the unwavering love of woman.” And later, in the same lecture, he continues: [page 184:]

“He feels it true Poetry] in the beauty of woman, in the grace of er step, in the lustre of her eye, in the melody of her voice, in her soft laughter, in her sigh, in the harmony of the rustling of her robes. He deeply feels it in her winning endearments, in her burning enthusiasms, in her gentle charities, in her meek and devotional endurances; but above all — ah! far above all — he kneels to it, he worships it in the faith, in the purity, in the strength, in the altogether divine majesty of her love.”

It is this love which Mrs. Frances S. Osgood so beautifully depicts in the following words:(1)

“I believe she [Virginia] was the only woman whom he aver truly loved; and this is evidenced by the exquisite pathos of the little poem, lately written, called ‘Annabel Lee,’ of which she was the subject, and which is by far the most natural, simple, tender, and touchingly beautiful of all his songs. I have heard it said that it was intended to illustrate a late love affair of the author; but they who believe this have, in their dulness, evidently misunderstood or missed the beautiful meaning latent in the most lovely of all its verses, where he says;

“ ‘A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling

My beautiful Annabel Lee,

So that her highborn kinsmen came

And bore her away from me.’

“There seems a strange and almost profane disregard of the sacred purity and spiritual tenderness of this delicious ballad, in thus overlooking the allusion to the kindred angels and the heavenly Father of the lost and loved and unforgotten wife.”

And surely no loveless son-in-law could ever have [page 185:] addressed to his mother-in-law such a sonnet as Poe addressed to Mrs. Clemm — his “more than mother — who was

“— dearer than the mother I knew

By that infinity with which my wife

Was dearer to my soul than its soul-life.”

Poets do not usually celebrate their mothers-in-law in strains like these.

“It was during their stay there” [in Spring Garden, Philadelphia], relates Mr. A. B. Harris in “Hearth and Home,” 1870, “that Mrs. Poe, while singing one evening, ruptured a blood-vessel, and after that she suffered a hundred deaths. She could not bear the slightest exposure, and needed the utmost care; and all those conveniences as to apartment and surroundings which are so important in the case of an invalid were almost matters of life and death to her. And yet the room where she lay for weeks, hardly able to breathe, except as she was fanned, was a little place with the ceiling so low over the narrow bed that her head almost touched it. But no one dared to speak, Mr. Poe was so sensitive and irritable; I quick as steel and flint,’ said one who knew him in those days. And he would not allow a word about the danger of her dying; the mention of it drove him wild.”

And yet, wrung in heart and soul as he was during these melancholy Philadelphia years (1842-44), he continued to pour forth a rich volume of work in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt,” “The Purloined Letter,” “The Gold-Bug,” “The Oblong Box,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and many reviews of Horne, Channing, Halleck, Cooper, Griswold’s “Poets,” etc., the poem “Dreamland,” “The Balloon-Hoax,” etc., etc. [page 186:]

In 1843 an attempted edition in parts, of “The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe ” fell through, only “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Man that was Used Up,” appearing in paper covers.

Poets Parthian dart — his fatal offence — before leaving Philadelphia, was flung at Griswold in the shape of a lecture on “The Poets and Poetry of America,” delivered in November, 1843: a caustic excoriation of the compiler who yet had done much admirable work in his self-imposed function of Old Mortality to — the unknown.

In April, 1844, Poe found himself again in New York whither he seemed inevitably to drift. The seven years from 1837, when he gave up the editorship of the “Southern Literary Messenger,” to April, 1844, during which he had successfully edited — and abandoned — Burton’s “Gentleman’s Magazine” and “Graham’s,” had been the most fruitful of his career. This period was the high-water mark period of the publication of the “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” and of the editorship of the chief literary journal of the country: a period of many friendships and many enmities, of constant struggle, of varied and continuous authorship, of rapid and remarkable intellectual advance. The health of the family had suffered terribly in Philadelphia; Virginia had entered on the course of lingering illness which was to terminate fatally in 1847 when she was hardly more than a girl; and Poe, unstrung by her alarming hemorrhages, by over-work, and by semi-starvation, gave up to the fearful temptation which assaulted him at times with irresistible force and made him seek oblivion in drugs and drink. Philadelphia had become a disenchanted place: the family moved to New York.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 156:]

1.  The author is much indebted to Mr. John Thomson, Librarian of the Free Library, Philadelphia, for the loan of files of this magazine and of Graham’s: 1839-1849.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 161:]

1.  Poe to Snodgrass, Baltimore American, April, 1881.

2.  Appleton Morgan, Munsey’s Magazine, July, 1897, p. 519.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 162:]

1.  Appleton Morgan, Munsey’s Magazine, July, 1897, p. 529.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 176:]

1.  Dr. E. E. Hale’s “James Russell Lowell and his Friends,” 1898, contains an interesting account of “The Pioneer,” as does also Vol. 5 of the “New England Magazine” (new series).

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of 178:]

1.  This Mr. Bernard was the husband of one of Mr. T. W. White’s daughters, the brother-in-law of the “Eliza ” to whom Poe addressed a poem. He was a prominent printer, publisher, and author connected with “The Messenger.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 179:]

1.  Ingram, I., p. 215.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 184:]

1.  see vol. II.



In the version of this book printed with the 17-volume edition, this footnote directs the reader to vol. XVII rather than vol. II.


[S:0 - LLEAP, 1903] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Chapter 07)