Text: Michael J. Deas, “The ‘Daly’ Daguerreotype,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 32-35 (This material is protected by copyright)


­[page 32, continued:]

The “Daly” Daguerreotype

Although this splendidly detailed daguerreotype is, without question, among the finest likenesses of Poe known to exist, surprisingly little documentation has been found concerning its exact origin. Its verifiable history begins in 1878, when it was reproduced in the form of a carte-de-visite copy photograph by the well-known New York cameraman Napoleon Sarony (fig. 12). Twenty-two years later the original daguerreotype surfaced again, coming to light at an auction of the estate of Augustin Daly (1838-1899), a prominent New York playwright and theatrical producer. How and where Daly acquired the daguerreotype are unknown, but the plate is said to have been in his collection for many years.(51) In March 1900 the daguerreotype, accompanied by a letter of authentication written by an unidentified hand, was purchased at the Daly sale by a New York antiques collector named Peter Gilsey. When Gilsey died abruptly two years later, the daguerreotype was consigned for auction at New York's Anderson Galleries, where it was sold on March 18, 1903, to an absentee bid of $110.(52) The identity of the buyer on this occasion is unknown, and the subsequent whereabouts of the original plate remain a mystery. The image itself survives in the form of several carte-de-visite photographs, preserved in collections at the Fogg Art Museum, the Maryland Historical Society, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Daly Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 12)
The Daly Daguerreotype
[Illustration on page 33]

While nothing is definitely known of the daguerreotype's early history, a comparison of the likeness with other images of Poe, as well as several firsthand descriptions of the poet, makes it seem probable that the picture was taken sometime between 1844 and 1847, while Poe was living in New York. There are two documented portraits of Poe dating from this period for which there are no known corresponding images — the “Daly” daguerreotype may be one of these. The earlier of the two was originally owned by Poe's wife, Virginia, who in 1847 bequeathed it to her nurse, Marie Louise Shew. ­[page 34:] The history of this portrait is shadowy: no descriptions of the image have come to light, and the original was apparently stolen from Mrs. Shew's residence in New York City sometime before 1875. The little that is known of the portrait is discussed more fully in Chapter III of this volume, “Lost Portraits.” The second likeness, which is discussed below, was a daguerreotype taken in New York City at the request of a young schoolgirl, Mary Elizabeth Bronson, six months after Virginia Poe's death on January 30, 1847.

Virginia's illness had, in Poe's words, been “pitilessly thrust before the public” with a notice published in the New York Morning Express of December 15, 1846: “ILLNESS OF EDGAR A. POE. — We regret to learn that this gentleman and his wife are both dangerously ill with the consumption, and that the hand of misfortune lies heavy on their temporal affairs. We are sorry to mention the fact that they are so far reduced as to be barely able to obtain the necessaries of life. That is, indeed, a hard lot, and we do hope that the friends and admirers of Mr. Poe will come promptly to his assistance in his bitterest hour of need.”(53)

This announcement and others like it prompted various friends and acquaintances to call at Poe's cottage, situated thirteen miles north of New York City in rural Fordham. Among the callers was the Rev. Cotesworth P. Bronson, an Episcopalian minister and elocutionist who first visited Poe about June 1847, several months after Virginia had died.(54) Bronson was accompanied on this occasion by his young daughter, Mary Elizabeth. In a charming reminiscence published thirteen years later in the New York Home Journal, the former Miss Bronson (then Mrs. William G. LeDuc) described her first meeting with Edgar Allan Poe:

It was quite early in the forenoon when we reached the [Fordham] depot, from which we walked up a pleasant winding road with branching trees on either side, to Mr. Poe's cottage. I silently recalled “The Raven” ... being about to enter the presence of a grave and melancholy poet, as I imagined Mr. Poe to be.

We saw Mr. Poe walking in his yard, and most agreeably was I surprised to see a very handsome and elegant appearing gentleman, who welcomed us with a quiet, cordial, and graceful politeness that ill accorded with my imaginary sombre poet. I dare say I looked the surprise I felt, for I saw an amused look on his face as I raised my eyes a second time ... his were the handsomest hazel eyes I ever saw. The expression of his mouth was not so pleasing; his voice, however, was agreeable.(55)

Poe proved an engaging host, at one point joking that several earlier visitors to the cottage had been disappointed to find he did not keep a pet raven perched above his doorway. He evidently grew fond of the Bronsons, and shortly after their visit called on them in New York City, accompanied by his mother-in-law, Maria Clemm. Mrs. LeDuc, writing in the Home Journal in 1860, recalled that during this visit a daguerreotype of Poe was taken: “[While] speaking of engravings, and the unsatisfactory idea usually obtained of authors from their portraits, as usually prefixed to their works, it occurred to me that I might make a small collection of daguerreotypes, and Mr. Poe good-naturedly consented to make the beginning of my collection. He went with my father at once to the daguerrian's, and on their return brought me the likeness ... remarking that it was ‘the most natural-looking he had ever seen of himself.’ Mrs. Clemm added, ‘It is perfect.’ ” Regrettably, Mrs. LeDuc's reminiscence does not specify the name of the daguerreotypist, nor does it contain a description of the image presented to her that day. Mrs. LeDuc's only other located mention of the picture is a manuscript ­[page 35:] note dated Hastings, Minnesota, November 1888; now preserved at the University of Texas at Austin, the note states simply that the original daguerreotype was still in her possession forty-one years after the sitting.(56)

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 13)
Steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer
[Illustration on page 35]

The whereabouts of Mrs. LeDuc's daguerreotype after 1888 are unknown. If the daguerreotype that entered the Daly collection before 1899 is indeed the one owned originally by Mrs. LeDuc, then the image reproduced here as figure 12 takes on tremendous biographical significance. It would depict Poe approximately six months after the loss of his wife and just weeks before he began composing “Ulalume,” the mournful ballad that many consider to be his finest poetic work. Although Poe's expression in the daguerreotype seems slightly careworn, his overall appearance remains surprisingly youthful and slender. The style of dress, particularly the shirt collar and cravat, is uncannily similar to that found in the watercolor portrait painted by A. C. Smith about 1843 (fig. 6), and calls to mind a comment made by Poe's friend Lambert A. Wilmer: “Poe's personal appearance was delicate and effeminate, but never sickly or ghastly, and I never saw him in any dress which was not fashionably neat with some approximation to elegance”(57)

The earliest recorded derivative of the “Daly” daguerreotype is a tiny steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer (fig. 13) completed about 1900, probably for inclusion in Hollyer's Gallery of Poets and Authors, a portfolio of engraved portraits. In 1926 a carte-de-visite copy photograph of the daguerreotype was used as a frontispiece to Hervey Allen's Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe; there it was reproduced with the erroneous caption “From a daguerreotype, probably taken in Baltimore in the early 1840's.” A vignetted and heavily retouched version of the daguerreotype also appeared in Mary E. Phillips's Edgar Allan Poe: The Man, where it was incorrectly described as having been taken sometime before 1840.(58)



Recently discovered documentation confirms that the image discussed here as the “Daly” daguerreotype was indeed taken at a sitting in New York City in June 1847, held at the behest of the 18-year-old Mary E. Bronson (later Mrs. William Gates LeDuc). As such, the plate might be more aptly named the “Bronson” daguerreotype. These newly-discovered documents, located at the Minnesota Historical Society, include a floor plan of the LeDuc home in Hastings, Minnesota, showing the precise location in the household where the daguerreotype was displayed; other documents include a cyanotype enlargement of the image, as well as a salt paper copy photograph, retouched by hand with a pen & ink wash (fig. 12b).

Salt paper copy of Daly Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 12a)
Retouched salt paper copy photograph
[Additional illustration]

Taken just six months after Virginia Poe's death, Poe's appearance in fig. 12 seems strikingly handsome and trim, particularly when compared to the haggard, haunted visage encountered in daguerreotypes taken a scant two years later (e.g., fig. 14 and fig. 20). Here his features seem slightly careworn, but his youthful thinness and erect, military-like bearing — often commented upon by his contemporaries — are plainly in evidence. Poe's somewhat threadbare frock coat reminds us of John H. B. Latrobe's words: “On most men his clothes would have looked shabby and seedy, but there was something about this man that prevented one from criticizing his garments. [ ... ] Gentleman was written all over him.” Poe's physical appearance here, coupled with Miss Bronson's wholesome description of his demeanor, suggest that by the Summer of 1847 Poe was enjoying a period of comparatively good health after the emotional collapse occasioned by Virginia Poe's death the previous January.

The original daguerreotype remained in Mary Bronson's possession for over forty years, as attested by her letter of authentication written in 1888 (see note 56). After marrying William LeDuc in 1851, Mary LeDuc moved to the Minnesota Territory, evidently taking with her the daguerreotype of Poe. In the mid-1860s the couple built a small limestone mansion in the Gothic Revival style, still standing today, south of St. Paul. The daguerreotype of Poe (or at least a copy thereof) hung on the west wall of the family library, beside a bay window. What eventually prompted Mary to part with the daguerreotype after four decades of ownership is unknown, although in 1888 — the same year Mary's letter of authentication was written — her daughter Alice began an embroidery business in the family home, suggesting a financial hardship of some kind. Whatever the case, the daguerreotype, accompanied by Mary's letter of authentication, were in the collection of the playwright Augustin Daly by 1899, if not earlier. How and where Daly acquired them is unknown.

The relatively high price commanded by the daguerreotype at the Gilsey sale of 1903 ($110, compared to the meager $21 fetched by the “McKee” daguerreotype at auction in 1905), plus the apparently fine condition of the plate, give rise to the hope that the original daguerreotype may still exist, undiscovered in a public or private collection — and that this, perhaps the single most representative likeness of Poe in existence, may yet come to light. — MJD (04/28/2011)






[S:1 - PDEAP, 1989] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (M. J. Deas) (The 'Daly' Daguerreotype)