Text: Michael J. Deas, “Timothy Cole,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 99-101 (This material is protected by copyright)


­[page 99:]

Engraving by Timothy Cole

This famous wood engraving (fig. 46) was originally published as the frontispiece to the May 1880 issue of Scribner's Monthly, where it accompanied an essay entitled “Edgar Allan Poe” by E. C. Stedman. Both the engraving and the essay have been frequently reprinted.

The artist, Timothy Cole, was one of the most talented and successful wood engravers of the late nineteenth century. Born in London in 1852, Cole came to the United States at the age of five, and at sixteen was apprenticed to the Chicago engraving firm of Bond & Chandler. Two years later he abandoned engraving to pursue a career as a violinist and composer, but his musical aspirations came to an abrupt halt when he and his family were left homeless by the Chicago fire of 1871. In search of employment, Cole moved to New York, where he soon found work as a technical engraver for periodicals such as Scientific American. In 1875 he joined the staff of Scribner's Monthly (later the Century Magazine), and continued to work for that periodical for the next three decades. His technical virtuosity made him immensely popular with readers, and he became one of the few commercial engravers readily able to find employment well into the twentieth century, long after the craft of hand-engraved illustration had become obsolete. Described as a gentle and unassuming man, Cole died in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1931.(76)

Engraving of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 46)
Wood engraving by Timothy Cole
[Illustration on page 101]

The engraving of Poe, completed when Cole was barely twenty-eight, remains one of the artist's best-known works. Using the simple tools of his trade, the burin and woodblock, Cole managed to convey nuances of texture, tonality, and form with flawless precision. Cole himself seems to have been pleased with the portrait, commenting, “I was particularly struck while doing the Poe with ... the contrast between the upper half of the head with the lower: the beautiful forehead and profound melancholy of the eyes — so very touching — against the cynicism of the mouth and almost contemptible sneer of the nostril. His is a startling instance of the truth of the physiognomy as summing up the character of the man.”(77)

The likeness, a meticulously rendered version of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype (fig. 14), was specifically commissioned to illustrate E. C. Stedman's 1880 essay on Poe. In August 1914 the Cole engraving was reprinted in the Century Magazine, and a short time later the artist received a letter from Poe biographer Mary E. Phillips, asking the whereabouts of the daguerreotype from which he had worked the likeness. Although Cole was unable to recall the source of the daguerreotype, he did provide Phillips with a vivid, if unprintable, account of how the engraving was begun:

I am sorry that I cannot give you the whereabouts of the small daguerreotype from which I made the enlarged engraving for The Century Mag. It was under Mr. [A. W.] Drake's supervision that it was done. ... I remember that Drake [art director of the Century] took me to see Clarence Stedman (who knew Poe) just previous to my taking the block in hand. Stedman was writing something in the Century's office, and he looked up from his desk and wheeled around to tell us he didn’t care a d—— for Poe, and proceeded to pour out a torrent of abuse concerning him, said Poe wanted to fight him at one time. We were so taken back by his foul language that we were left in utter dismay, and his last parting words to me, were, “You can make up your mind that you’re going to cut the head of a G—— d—— son of a b——.”(78) ­[page 100:]

Since Edmund Clarence Stedman was only sixteen when Poe died in 1849, it is likely that Cole's memory was at fault when he wrote Mary Phillips. Cole may have been confusing Stedman with either Thomas Dunn English or Richard Henry Stoddard, both of whom had known and disliked Poe, and who were still contributing articles to various New York-based periodicals about the time Cole began his engraving of Poe. As for the source of the daguerreotype, at least five identical versions of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype are known to exist, and almost all have, at one time or another, been described as “the daguerreotype from which Timothy Cole made his famous engraving.”(79) A note appended to Stedman's essay in Scribner's, however, states that the daguerreotype used by Cole had been lent by Henry S. Cornwell, a New London physician. That plate (fig. 67) is now owned by the Poe Museum in Richmond.






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