Text: James A. Harrison, “Appendix,” Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (1903), Vol. II, pp. 443-464


[page 443:]





“THE YANKEE; AND BOSTON LITERARY GAZETTE New Series . . . No. 1; July, 1829,” was the title of a literary monthly edited by John Neal. In some way Poe’s attention was drawn to it after the issue of his Boston “Tamerlane.” Neal alludes to him in his notices “To Correspondents,” September, 1829; and also in November. In an article on “Unpublished Poetry,” December, of the same year, he prints the following: —

The following passages are from the manuscript-works of a young author, about to be published in Baltimore. He is entirely a stranger to us, but with all their faults, if the remainder of Al Aaraaf and Tamerlane are as good as the body of the extracts here given — to say nothing of the more extraordinary parts, he will deserve to stand high — very high — in the estimation of the shining brotherhood. Whether he will do so however, must depend, not so much upon his worth now in mere poetry, as upon his worth hereafter in something yet loftier and more generous — we allude to the stronger properties of the mind, to the magnanimous determination that enables a youth to endure the present, whatever the present may be, in the hope, or rather in the belief, the fixed, unwavering belief, that in the future he will find his reward. [page 444:]

“ ‘I am young,’ he says in a letter to one who has laid it on our table for a good purpose, ‘I am young — not yet twenty — am a poet — if deep worship of all beauty can make me one — and wish to be so in the more common meaning of the word. I would give the world to embody one half the ideas afloat in my imagination. (By the way, do you remember — or did you ever read the exclamation of Shelley about Shakspeare? — “What a number of ideas must have been afloat before such an author could arise!“) I appeal to you as a man that loves the same beauty which I adore — the beauty of the natural blue sky and the sunshiny earth — there can be no tie more strong than that of brother for brother — it is not so much that they love one another, as that they both love the same parent — their affections are always running in the same direction — the same channel — and cannot help mingling.

“ ‘I am and have been from my childhood, an idler. It cannot therefore be said that

“I left a calling for this idle trade,

A duty broke — a father disobeyed” —

for I have no father — nor mother.

“ ‘I am about to publish a volume of “Poems,” the greater part written before I was fifteen. Speaking about “Heaven,”(1) the editor of the “Yankee” says, “He might write a beautiful, if not a magnificent poem” — (the very first words of encouragement I ever remember to have heard). I am very certain that as yet I have not written either — but that I can, I will take oath — if they will give me time.

“ ‘The poems to be published are “Al Aaraaf” — “Tamerlane” — one about four and the other about three hundred lines, with smaller pieces. “Al Aaraaf” [page 445:] has some good poetry, and much extravagance which I have not had time to throw away.(1)

“ ‘ “Al Aaraaf” is a tale of another world — the star discovered by Tycho Brahe, which appeared and disappeared so suddenly — or rather, it is no tale at all. I will insert an extract, about the palace of its presiding Deity, in which you will see that I have supposed many of the lost sculptures of our world to have flown (in spirit) to the star “Al Aaraaf” — a delicate place, more suited to their divinity.

Uprear’d upon such height arose a pile

Of gorgeous columns on th’ unburthened air —

(2)Flashing, from Parian marble, that twin-smile

Far down upon the wave that sparkled there,

And nursled the young mountain in its lair

Of molten stars their pavement — such as fall

Thro’ the ebon air — besilvering the pall

Of their own dissolution while they die —

Adorning, then, the dwellings of the sky;

A dome by linked light(3) from Heaven let down,

Sat gently on these columns as a crown;

A window of one circular diamond there

Looked out above into the purple air,

And rays from God shot down that meteor chain

And hallow‘d all the beauty twice again,

Save when, between th’ Empyrean, and that ring,

Some eager spirit flapp‘d a dusky wing

But, on the pillars, seraph eyes have seen

The dimness of this world: that grayish green

That nature loves the best for beauty’s grave,

Lurked in each cornice — round each architrave — [page 446:]

And every sculptur’d cherub thereabout

That from his marble dwelling ventured(1) out,

Seemed earthly in the shadow of his niche —

Archaian [?] statues in a world so rich?

Friezes from Tadmor and Persepolis

From Balbec and the chilly, clear abyss

Of beautiful Gomorrah! — oh! the wave

Is now upon thee — but too late to save

Far down within the crystal of the lake

Thy swollen pillars tremble — and so quake

The hearts of many wanderers who look in

Thy luridness of beauty — and of sin.

“ ‘Another —

— Silence is the voice of God —

Ours is a world of words: quiet we call

“Silence” — which is the merest word of all.

Here Nature speaks — and ev‘n ideal things

Flap shadowy sounds from visionary wings

But ah! not so, when in the realms on high,

The eternal voice of God is moving by,

And the red winds are withering in the sky!

“ ‘From Tamerlane —

The fever‘d diadem on my brow

I claimed and won usurpingly

Hath not the same fierce heirdom given Rome to the Cæsar — this to me?

The heritage of a kingly mind

And a proud spirit, which hash striven

Triumphantly with humans-kind.

. . . . . .

On mountain soil I first drew life,

The mists of the Taglay have shed

Nightly their dews upon my head;

And, I believe, the winged strife

And tumult of the headlong air

Hath nestled in my very, hair. [page 447:]

So late from Heaven, that dew, it fell,

Mid dreams of one unholy night,

Upon me with the touch of Hell —

While the red flashing of the light

From clouds that hung, like banners, o‘er,

Seem‘d then to my half-closing eye

The pageantry of monarchy;

And the deep trumpet-thunder’s roar

Came hurriedly upon me telling

Of human battle (near me swelling).

. . . . . .

The rain came down upon my head

Unshelter d, and the heavy wind

Was giantlike — so thou, my, mind!

It was but man, I thought, who shed

Laurels upon me — and the rush —

The torrent of the chilly air

Gurgled within my car the crush

Of empires — with the captive’s prayer;

The hum of suitors, and the tone

Of flattery sound a sovereign-throne.

. . . . . .

Young Love’s first lesson is the heart

For mid that sunshine and those smiles,

When, from our little cares apart,

And laughing at her girlish wiles,

I ‘d throw me on her throbbing breast,

And pour my spirit out in tears,

There was no need to speak the rest

No need to quiet any fears

Of her — who ask’ d no reason why,

But turned on me her quiet eye.

“ ‘Tamerlane dying —

Father! I Firmly do believe —

I know — for Death, who comes for me

From regions of the blest afar,

(Where there is nothing to deceive

Hath left his iron gate ajar;

And rays of truth you cannot see

Are flashing through Eternity — [page 448:]

I do believe that Eblis hath

A snare in every human path;

Else how when in the holy grove

I wandered of the idol, Love,

Who daily scents his snowy wings

With incense of burnt offerings

From the most undefiled things —

Whose pleasant bowers are yet so riven

Above with trelliced rays from Heaven

No mote may shun — no tiniest fly

The lightning of his eagle eye.

How was it that Ambition crept

Unseen, amid the revels them,

Till, growing bold, he laugh‘d and leapt

In the tangles of Love’s brilliant hair?

“ ‘Passage from the minor poems.

If my peace hath flown away

In a night — or in a day —

In a vision — or in none —

Is it therefore the less gone?

I am standing mid the roar

Of a weatherbeaten shore,

And I hold within my hand

Some particles of sand —

How few? and how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep!

My early hopes? — No — they

Went gloriously away,

Like lightning from the sky

At once — and so will I.

“Having allowed our youthful writer to be heard in his own behalf, — what more can we do for the lovers of genuine poetry? Nothing. They who are judges will not need more; and they who are not — why waste words upon them? We shall not.” [page 449:]


MARCH 10, 1831.

THIS important letter, recently discovered, may not settle definitely the vexed question as to Poe’s whereabouts during the year or two after he left West Point; but it does throw light on his intentions at that time, and it is highly valuable as being the only direct letter from the poet during his military career. It is directed to the Superintendent of the Military Academy. It was first printed in the New York “Sun” of October 30, 1902, with the statement that it had been found by Captain Gilbert of the Artillery Corps, U. S. A., in an examination of the manuscripts left to the Association of Graduates by the late General Cullum. The “Sun” version of the letter is as follows: —

NEW YORK, March 20, 1831

SIR: Having no longer any ties which can bind me to my native country — no prospects — nor any friends — I intend by the first opportunity to proceed to Paris with the view of obtaining thro’ the interest of the Marquis de La Fayette an appointment (if possible) in the Polish Army.

In the event of the interference of France in behalf of Poland this may easily be effected — at all events it will be my only feasible plan of procedure.

The object of this letter is respectfully to request that you will give me such assistance as may lie in your power in furtherance of my views.

A certificate of “standing” in my class is all that I have any right to expect.

Anything farther — a letter to a friend in Paris — or to the Marquis — would be a kindness which I should never forget.

Most respectfully, Yr. obt, s’t,  

COL. S. THAYER, Supt. U. S. M. A. [page 450:]



THIS letter is really an introduction, inasmuch as “B——— ” is probably a fictitious personage. Originally it was prefixed to the Poems of 1831, but later Poe revised and corrected it slightly, and printed it in the Southern Literary Messenger (July, 1836), which text is here given.

The Messenger version is accompanied by a note from Poe, as follows: “These detached passages form part of the preface to a small volume printed some years ago for private circulation. They have vigor and much originality — but of course we shall not be called upon to endorse all the writer’s opinions.” The “letter” reads: —

“It has been said that a good critique on a poem may be written by one who is no poet himself This, according to your idea and mine of poetry, I feel to be false — the less poetical the critic, the less just the critique, and the converse. On this account, and because there are but few B——’s in the world, I would be as much ashamed of the world’s good opinion as proud of your own. Another than yourself might here observe, Shakespeare is in possession of the world’s good opinion, and yet Shakespeare is the greatest of poets. It appears then that the world judge correctly, why should you be ashamed of their favorable judgment? The difficulty lies in the interpretation of the word ‘judgment’ or ‘opinion.’ The opinion is the world’s, truly, but it may be called theirs as a man would call a book his, having bought it; he did not write the book, but it is his; they did not originate the opinion, but it is theirs. A fool, for example, thinks Shakespeare a great poet — [page 451:] yet the fool has never read Shakespeare. But the fool’s neighbor, who is a step higher on the Andes of the mind, whose head (that is to say, his more exalted thought) is too far above the fool to be seen or understood, but whose feet (by which I mean his every-day actions) are sufficiently near to be discerned, and by means of which that superiority is ascertained, which but for them would never have been discovered — this neighbor asserts that Shakespeare is a great poet — the fool believes him, and it is henceforward his opinion. This neighbor’s opinion has, in like manner, been adopted from one above him, and so, ascendingly, to a few gifted individuals who kneel around the summit, beholding, face to face, the master spirit who stands upon the pinnacle. . . .

“You are aware of the great barrier in the path of an American Writer. He is read, if at all, in preference to the combined and established wit of the world. I say established; for it is with literature as with law or empire — in established name is an estate in tenure, or a throne in possession. Besides, one might suppose that books, like their authors, improve by travel — their having crossed the sea is, with us, so great a distinction. Our antiquaries abandon time for distance; our very fops glance from the binding to the bottom of the title-page, where the mystic characters which spell London, Paris, or Genoa, are precisely so many letters of recommendation. . . .

“I mentioned just now a vulgar error as regards criticism. I think the notion that no poet can form a correct estimate of his own writings is another. I remarked before, that in proportion to the poetical talent, would be the justice of a critique upon poetry. Therefore, a bad poet would, I grant, make a false critique, and his self love would infallibly bias his little judgment in his favor; but a poet, who is indeed a poet, could not, I think, fail of making a just critique. Whatever should be deducted on the score of self-love, might be replaced on account of his intimate acquaintance with the subject; in short, [page 452:] we have more instances of false criticism than of just, where one’s own writings are the test, simply because we have more bad poets than good. There are of course many objections to what I say: Milton is a great example of the contrary; but his opinion with respect to the Paradise Regained, is by no means fairly ascertained. By what trivial circumstances men are often led to assert what they do not really believe? Perhaps an inadvertent word has descended to posterity. But, in fact, the Paradise Regained is little, if at all, inferior to the Paradise Lost, and is only supposed so to be, because men do not like epics, whatever they may say to the contrary, and reading those of Milton in their natural order, are too much wearied with the first to derive any pleasure from the second.

“I dare say Milton preferred Comus to either — if so — justly. . . .

“As I am speaking of poetry, it will not be amiss to touch slightly upon the most singular heresy in its modern history — the heresy of what is called very foolishly, the Lake School. Some years. ago I might have been induced, by an occasion like the present, to attempt a formal refutation of their doctrine; at present it would be a work of supererogation. The wise must boor to the wisdom of such men as Coleridge and Southey, but being wise, have laughed at poetical theories so prosaically exemplified.

“Aristotle, with singular assurance, has declared poetry the most philosophical of all writings(1) — but it required a Wordsworth to pronounce it the most metaphysical. He seems to think that the end of poetry is, or should be, instruction — yet it is a truism that the end of our existence is happiness; if so, the end of every separate part of our existence — every thing connected with our existence should be still happiness. Therefore the end of instruction should be happiness; and happiness is another [page 453:] name for pleasure; — therefore the end of instruction should be pleasure: yet we see the above mentioned opinion implies precisely the reverse.

“To proceed: ceteris paribus, he who pleases is of more importance to his fellow men than he who instructs, since utility is happiness, and pleasure is the end already obtained which instruction is merely the means of obtaining.

“I see no reason, then, why our metaphysical poets should plume themselves so much on the utility of their works, unless indeed they refer to instruction with eternity in view; in which case, sincere respect for their piety would not allow me to express my contempt for their judgment; contempt which it would be difficult to conceal, since their writings are professedly to be understood by the few, and it is the many who stand in need of salvation. In such case I should no doubt be tempted to think of the devil in Melmoth, who labors indefatigably through three octavo volumes, to accomplish the destruction of one or two souls, while any common devil would have demolished one or two thousand. . . .

“Against the subtleties which would make poetry a study — not a passion — it becomes the metaphysician to reason — but the poet to protest. Yet Wordsworth and Coleridge are men in years; the one imbued in contemplation from his childhood, the other a giant in intellect and learning. The diffidence, then, with which I venture to dispute their authority, would be overwhelming, did I not feel, from the bottom of my heart, that learning has little to do with the imagination — intellect with the passions — or age with poetry. . . .

“ ‘Trifles, like straws, upon the surface flow,

He who would search for pearls must dive below,’

are lines which have done much mischief. As regards the greater truths, men oftener err by seeking them at the bottom than at the top; the depth lies in the huge abysses where wisdom is sought — not in the palpable [page 454:] places where she is found. The ancients were not always right in hiding the goddess in a well: witness the light which Bacon has thrown upon philosophy; witness the principles of our divine faith — that moral mechanism by which the simplicity of a child may overbalance the wisdom of a man.

“We see an instance of Coleridge’s liability to err, in his Biographia Literaria — professedly his literary life and opinions, but, in fact, a treatise de omni scibili et quiburdam aliis. He goes wrong by reason of his very profundity, and of his error we have a natural type in the contemplation of a star. He who regards it directly and intensely sees, it is true, the star, but it is the star without a ray — while he who surveys it less inquisitively is conscious of all for which the star is useful to us below — its brilliancy and its beauty. . . .

“As to Wordsworth, I have no faith in him. That he had, in youth, the feelings of a poet I believe — for there are glimpses of extreme delicacy in his writings — (and delicacy is the poet’s own kingdom — his El Dorado). — but they have the appearance of a better day recollected; and glimpses, at best, are little evidence of present poetic fire — we know that a few straggling flowers spring up daily in the crevices of the glacier.

“He was to blame in wearing away his youth in contemplation with the end of poetizing in his manhood. With the increase of his judgment the light which should make it apparent has faded away. His judgment consequently is too correct. This may not be understood, — but the old Goths of Germany would have understood it, who used to debate matters of importance to their State twice, once when drunk, and once when sober — sober that they might not be deficient in formality — drunk lest they should be destitute of vigor.

“The long wordy discussions by which he tries to reason us into admiration of his poetry, speak very little in his favor. they are full of such assertions as this — (I have opened one of his volumes at random) ‘of genius [page 455:] the only proof is the act of doing well what is worthy to be done, and what was never done before’ — indeed! then it follows that in doing what is unworthy to be done, or what has been done before, no genius can be evinced; yet the picking of pockets is an unworthy act, pockets have been picked time immemorial, and Barrington, the pick-pocket, in point of genius, would have thought hard of a comparison with William Wordsworth, the poet.

“Again — in estimating the merit of certain poems, whether they be Ossian’s or M’ Pherson’s, can surely be of little consequence, yet, in order to prove their worthlessness, Mr. W. has expended many pages in the controversy. Tantæne animis? Can great minds descend to such absurdity? But worse still: that he may bear down every argument in favor of these poems, he triumphantly drags forward a passage, in his abomination of which he expects the reader to sympathize. It is the beginning of the epic poem ‘Temora.’ ‘The blue waves of Ullin roll in light; the green hills are covered with day; trees shake their dusky heads in the breeze.’ And this — this gorgeous, yet simple imagery, where all is alive and panting with immortality — this, William Wordsworth, the author of ‘Peter Bell,’ has selected for his contempt. We shall see what better he, in his own person, has to offer. Imprimis:

“ ‘And now she’s at the pony’s head,

And now she’s at the pony’s tail,

On that side now, and now on this,

And almost stifled her with blisa —

A few sad tears does Betty shed,

She pats the pony where or when

She knows not: happy Betty Foy!

O, Johnny! never mind the Doctor!’


“ ‘The dew was falling fast, the — stars began to blink,

I heard a voice; it said — drink, pretty creature, drink;

And, looking o’ er the hedge, be — fore me I espied

A snow-white mountain lamb, with a — maiden at its aide.

No other sheep were near, the lamb was all alone,

And by a slender cord was — tether’ d to a stone.’ [page 456:]

“Now, we have no doubt this is all true; we will believe it, indeed, we will, Mr. W. Is it sympathy for the sheep you wish to excite? I love a sheep from the bottom of my heart. . . .

“But there are occasions, dear B—— , there are occasions when even Wordsworth is reasonable. Even Stamboul, it is said, shall have an end, and the most unlucky blunders must come to a conclusion. Here is an extract from his preface —

“Those who have been accustomed to the phraseology of modern writers, if they persist in reading this book to a conclusion (impossible!) will, no doubt, have to struggle with feelings of awkwardness; (ha! ha! ha!) they will look round for poetry (ha! ha! ha! ha!) and will be induced to inquire by what species of courtesy these attempts have been permitted to assume that title.’ Ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!

“Yet let not Mr. W. despair; he has given immortality to a wagon, and the bee Sophocles has transmitted to eternity a sore toe, and dignified a tragedy with a chorus of turkeys. . . .

“Of Coleridge I cannot speak but with reverence. His towering intellect! his gigantic power! He is one more evidence of the fact ‘que la plupart des sectes ont raison dans une bonne partie de ce qu’ elles avancent, mais non pas en ce qu‘elles nient.’ He has imprisoned his own conceptions by the barrier he has erected against those of others. It is lamentable to think that such a mind should be buried in metaphysics, and, like the Nyctanthes, waste its perfume upon the night alone. In reading his poetry, I tremble, like one who stands upon a volcano, conscious, from the very darkness bursting from the crater, of the fire and the light that are weltering below.

. . . . . . . .

“What is Poetry? — Poetry! that Proteus-like idea, with as many appellations as the nine-titled Corcyra! Give me, I demanded of a scholar some time ago, give me a definition of poetry. I Très-volontiers,’ and he [page 457:] proceeded to his library, brought me a Dr. Johnson, and overwhelmed me with a definition. Shade of the immortal Shakespeare! I imagine to myself the scowl of your spiritual eye upon the profanity of that scurrilous Ursa Major. Think of poetry, dear B —— , think of poetry, and then think of —— Dr. Samuel Johnson! Think of all that is airy and fairy-like, and then of all that is hideous and unwieldy; think of his huge bulk, the Elephant! and then — and then think of the Tempest — the Midsummer Night’s Dream — Prospero — Oberon — and Titania!. . .

“A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object, is attained; romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very definitiveness.

“What was meant by the invective against him who had no music in his soul?. . .

“To sum up this long rigmarole, I have, dear B——, what you no doubt perceive, for the metaphysical poets, as poets, the most sovereign contempt. That they have followers proves nothing —

“The [[No]] Indian prince has to his palace

More followers than a thief to the gallows.” [page 458:]


SEPTEMBER 2, 1836.

WHILE Poe was editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, he wrote a letter to the Richmond Courier and Daily Compiler, which may be regarded as a general answer to his critics. It is valuable also as furnishing insight into Poe’s methods, and furnishing definite data in regard to the work done by him on the Messenger. The letter is as follows: —

Sept. 2, 1836.

To the Editor of the Compiler:

DEAR SIR: In a late paragraph respecting the Southern Literary Messenger, you did injustice to that Magazine, and perhaps your words, if unanswered, may even do it an injury. As any such wrong is far from your thoughts you will, of course, allow the Editor of the Messenger the privilege of reply. The reputation of a young Journal, occupying a conspicuous post in the eye of the public, should be watched, by those who preside over its interest, with a jealous attention, and those interests defended when necessary and when possible. But it is not often possible. Custom debars a Magazine from answering in its own pages (except in rare cases) contemporary misrepresentations and attacks. Against these it has seldom, therefore, any means of defence — the best of reasons why it should avail itself of the few, which, through courtesy, fall to its lot. I mean this as an apology for troubling you to-day.

(a) Your notice of the Messenger would generally be regarded as complimentary, especially as to myself. I would, however, prefer justice to compliment, and the good name of the Magazine to any personal consideration. [page 452:] The concluding sentence of your paragraph runs thus: “The criticisms are pithy and often highly judicious, but the editor’s must remember that it is almost as injurious to obtain a character for regular cutting and slashing as for indiscriminate laudation.” The italics are my own. I had supposed you aware of the fact that the Messenger had but one editor — it is not right that others should be saddled with demerits which belong only to myself.

(b) But this is not the point to which I especially object. You assume that the Messenger has obtained a character for regular “cutting and slashing,” or if you do not mean to assume this every one will suppose that you do-which, in effect, is the same. Were the assumption joist I would be silent and set immediately about amending my editorial course. You are not sufficiently decided, I think, in saying that a career of “regular cutting and slashing is almost as bad as one of indiscriminate laudation.” It is infinitely worse. It is horrible. The laudation may proceed from — philanthropy, if you please, but the “indiscriminate cutting and slashing,” only from the vilest passions of our nature. But I wish briefly to examine two points — First, is the charge of “indiscriminate cutting and slashing” just, granting it adduced against the Messenger, and second, is such charge adduced at all? Since the commencement of my editorship in December last ninety-four books have been reviewed. In seventy-nine of these cases the commendation has so largely predominated over the few sentences of censure that every reader would pronounce the notices highly laudatory. In seven instances, viz., in those of The Hawks of Hawk-Hollow, The Old World and the New, Spain Revisited, The Poems of Mrs. Sigourney, of Miss Gould, of Mrs. Ellet and of Halleck, praise slightly prevails. In five, viz., in those of Clinton Bradshaw, The Partisan, Elkswatawa, Lafitte, and the Poems of Drake, censure is greatly predominant; while the only reviews decidedly and harshly condemnatory are those of [page 460:] Norman Leslie, Paul Ulric, and Ups and Downs. The “Ups and Downs” alone is unexceptionably condemned. Of these facts you may satisfy yourself at any moment by reference. In such case the difficulty you will find, in classing these notices, as I have here done, according to the predominance of censure, or commendation, will afford you sufficient evidence that it cannot justly be called “indiscriminate.”

But this charge of “indiscriminate cutting and slashing” has never been adduced — except in four instances, while the rigid justice and impartiality of our journal has been lauded even red nauseam, in more than four times four hundred. You should not, therefore, have assumed that the Messenger had obtained a reputation for this “cutting and slashing” — for the asserting a thing to be famous is a well known method of rendering it so. The four instances to which I allude are the Newbern Spectator, to which thing I replied in July, the Commercial Advertiser, of Colonel Stone, whose Ups and Downs I had occasion (pardon me) to “use up,” the New York Mirror, whose Editor’s Norman Leslie did not please me, and the Philadelphia Gazette, which, being conducted by one of the sub-editors of the Knickerbocker, thinks it is its duty to abuse all rival magazines.

(c) I have only to add that the inaccuracy of your expression in the words. “The August number of the Southern Literary Messenger has been well received by most of the editorial corps who have noticed it,” is of a mischievous tendency in regard to the Messenger. You have seen, I presume, no notices which have not been seen by myself — and you must be aware that there is not one, so far, which has not spoken in the highest terms of the August number. I cannot, however, bring myself to doubt that your remarks upon the whole were meant to do the Messenger a service and that you regard it with the most friendly feelings in the world.

The Editor of the Messenger. [page 461:]


JULY 6, 1841.

THE following letter from F. W. Thomas to Poe was called forth by Poe’s article on “Secret Writing” in Graham’s Magazine (1841): —

WASHINGTON, July 6th, 1841.


This morning I received yours of yesterday, deciphering the “cryptograph” which I sent you last week, from my friend, Doctor Frailey. You request that I would obtain the Doctor’s acknowledgment of your solution. I have just received the enclosed from him.

Doctor Frailey had heard me speak of your having deciphered a letter which our mutual friend, Dow, wrote upon a challenge from you last year, at my lodgings in your city, when Aaron Burr’s correspondence in cipher was the subject of our conversation. You laughed at what you termed Burr’s shallow artifice, and said you could decipher any such cryptography easily. To test you on the spot, Dow withdrew to the corner of the room, and wrote a letter in cipher, which you solved in a much shorter time than it took him to indite it.

As Doctor Frailey seemed to doubt your skill to the extent of my belief in it, when your article on ”Secret Writing” appeared in the last number of your Magazine, I showed it to him. After reading it, he remarked that he thought he could puzzle you, and the next day he handed me the cryptograph which I transmitted to you. He did not tell me the key.

The uncommon nature of this article, of which I gave you not the slightest hint, made me express to you my strong doubts of your ability to make the solution. I confess that your solution, so speedily and correctly made, surprised me. I congratulate myself that I do not live in [page 462:] an age when the black art is believed in, for, innocent as I am of all knowledge of cryptography, I should be arrested as an accessory before the fact, and, though I escaped, it is certain that you would have to die the death, and alas! I fear upon my testimony.

Your friend,  




JULY 6, 1842.

The Critic of April 16, 1892, prints the subjoined letter with this comment: “Mr. Charles Aldrich of Webster City, Iowa, sends us a copy of the following interesting letter from Poe, the original of which has been presented to him for the Aldrich Collection in the Iowa State Library by the Hon. John A. Kasson, to whom it was given some thirty years ago by a relative of Mr. Bryan. So far as we know, it has never before been seen in print”: —

PHILADELPHIA, July 6, 1842.

MY DEAR SIR: — Upon my return from a brief visit to New York a day or two since, I found your kind and welcome letter of June 27.

What you say in respect to “verses” enclosed to myself has occasioned me some surprise. I have certainly received none. My connection with Graham’s Magazine ceased with the May number, which was completed by the 1st of April — since which period the editorial conduct of the journal has rested with Mr. Griswold. You observe that the poem was sent about three weeks since. [page 463:] Can it be possible that the present editors have thought it proper to open letters addressed to myself, because addressed to myself as “Editor of Graham’s Magazine? I know not how to escape from this conclusion; and now distinctly remember that, although in the habit of receiving many letters daily before quitting the office, I have not received more than half a dozen during the whole period since elapsed; and none of those received were addressed to me as “Editor of G.’s Magazine.” What to say or do in a case like this I really do not know. I have no quarrel with either Mr. Graham or Mr. Griswold — although I hold neither in especial respect. I have much aversion to communicate with them in any way, and, perhaps, it would be best that you should address them yourself, demanding the MS.

Many thanks for your kind wishes. I hope the time is not far distant when they may be realized. I am making earnest although secret exertions to resume my project of the Penn Magazine, and have every confidence that I shall succeed in issuing the first number on the first of January. You may remember that it was my original design to issue it on the first of January, 1841. I was induced to abandon the project at that period by the representations of Mr. Graham. He said that if I would join him as a salaried editor, giving up, for the time, my own scheme, he himself would unite with me at the expiration of six months, or certainly at the end of a year. As Mr. G. was a man of capital and I had no money, I thought it most prudent to fall in with his views. The result has proved his want of faith and my own folly. In fact, I was continually laboring against myself. Every exertion made by myself for the benefit of Graham, by rendering that Mag. a greater source of profit, rendered its owner at the same time less willing to keep his word with me. At the time of our bargain (a verbal one) he had 6000 subscribers — when I left him he had more than 40,000. It is no wonder that he has been tempted to leave me in the lurch. [page 464:]

I had nearly 1000 subscribers with which to have started the Penn, and, with these as a beginning, it would have been my own fault had I failed. There may be still three or four hundred who will stand by me, of the old list, and, in the interval between this period and the first of January, I will use every effort to procure others. You are aware that, in my circumstances, a single name, in advance, is worth ten after the issue of the book; for it is upon my fist of subscribers that I must depend for the bargain to be made with a partner possessing capital, or with a publisher. If, therefore, you can aid me in Alexandria, with even a single name, I shall feel deeply indebted to your friendship.

I feel that now is the time to strike. The delay, after all, will do me no injury. My conduct of Graham has rendered me better and (I hope) more favorably known than before. I am anxious, above all things, to render the journal one in which the true, in contradistinction from the merely factitious, genius of the country shall be rep resented. I shall yield nothing to great names — nor to the circumstances of position. I shall make war to the knife against the New England assumption of “All the decency and all the talent” which has been so disgustingly manifested in the Rev. Rufus W. Griswold’s “Poets and Poetry of America.” But I am boring you with my egotism. May I hope to hear from you in reply t I am, with sincere respect and esteem, your ob’t Servt.,


  Alexandria, D. C.

P. S. — I have not seen the “attack” to which you have reference. Could it have been in a Philadelphia paper?



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 444:]

1.  A poem by the author of “Al Aaraaf,” mentioned in No. III. 168. — [Neal.]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 445:]

1.  This will remind the reader of the following anecdote. Your sermon was too long, sir — why did n’t you make it shorter? I had n’t time. — [Neal.]

2.  Alluding to a prior part.

3.  The idea of linked light is beautiful; but the moment you read it aloud, the beauty is gone. To say link-ed light would he queer enough, notwithstanding Moore’s “wreath-ed shell;” but to say link’d-light would spoil the rhythm. — [Neal.]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 446:]

1.  The word in the original was peered: we have changed it for the reason stated above. — [Neal]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 452:]

1.  Spoudaiotaton kai philosophikotaton genos.



Notes: The appendix is comprised of letters that came to the attention of the editor after the publication of The Letters as volume 17 of the Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe in 1902. It also includes the “Letter to B——,” which in the collected edition appeared, more appropriately, in the volume of essays. Because volume 2 of the Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe essentially reproduces volume 17 of the earlier edition, the addition of an appendix for new material obviated the need to interrupt the pagination or rework material as originally set in type.


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