Text: William Doyle Hull II, “Part I, Chapter I,” A Canon of the Critical Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1941), pp. 39-66


[page 39:]


Reminiscing in his Diary about Poe, John P. Kennedy wrote:

It is many years ago, I think perhaps as early as 1833 or ’34, that I found him in Baltimore in a state of starvation. I gave him clothing, free access to my table and the use of a horse for exercise whenever he chose; in fact I brought him up from the very verge of despair. I then got him employment with Mr. White, in one department of the editorship of the Southern Literary Messenger newspaper (sic) at Richmond. His talents made that periodical quite brilliant while he was connected with it. But he was irregular, eccentric, and querulous, and soon gave up his place for other employments of the same character in Philadelphia and New York.(1)

It was in October, 1833, on the occasion of winning the Baltimore Saturday Visitor prize, that Poe first met Kennedy. In November, 1834, the young man wrote the older, asking for aid in securing an advance from Carey & Lea;(2) in March, 1835, for recommendation to a teaching position.(3) Following this request came Kennedy’s invitation to dinner and the pathetic, but not abject, response of Poe.(4) Probably it was at Kennedy’s suggestion that Poe became a contributor to the Messenger. His first article, a review of Bird’s Calavar, appeared in February, 1835; the second, “Berenice,” in March. A Kennedy-White letter, of April 13, 1835, is revealing in many respects: [page 40:]

Poe did right in referring to me. He is very clever with his pen — classical and scholar-like. He wants experience and direction, but I have no doubt he can be made very useful to you. And, poor fellow, he is very poor. I told him to write something for every number of your magazine, and that you might find it to your advantage to give him some permanent employ ... and I have no doubt you and he will find your account in each other.(1)

In May, 1834, Thomas Willis White, printer, publisher, and self-made man, sent out a prospectus for a new literary magazine, to be established in Richmond. Announced for June 15, the first issue did not appear until August 15. It had thirty-two royal octavo pages, two columns on a page. In November, with the change from a bi-monthly to a monthly, the number of pages was increased to sixty-four.

On the first page appeared only the name “T. W. White, Printer and Proprietor.” A White-Tucker letter, however, reveals: “The particular friends who assist me in my work, and to whom I submit all essays designed for my paper, are James E. Heath, Conway Robinson.”(2) It was the former who performed the real editorial duties. Auditor of Virginia, first recording secretary of the Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society (always closely associated with the Messenger), author of Edge Hill and a play, Whigs and Democrats,(3) Heath had no experience in or gift for journalism. In the “Publisher’s Notice,” May, 1835, announcing the retirement of Heath from an active role in the conduct of the Messenger, White wrote: [page 41:]

The efforts of that gentleman are the more prized, because they were made at a considerable sacrifice of ease and leisure, in the midst too of avocations sufficiently arduous to occupy the entire attention of most men, — and because they were rendered without hope or expectation of reward.(1)

Heath had tired of his time-consuming job before this. Trying to make things easier for him, White sought help from other sources. As early as November 4, 1834, he wrote Beverley Tucker(2) for contributions.(3) On January 22 he acknowledged receipt of advice,(4) and four days later sent him three books to be reviewed.(5) An examination of the White-Tucker correspondence from November, 1834, on will reveal how much assistance White obtained from the lawyer during the entire course of his proprietorship.

This aid, however, did little to relieve Heath of his burden. On February 17, 1835, White wrote Lucian Minor, a lawyer practicing in Louisa County:

My devoted friend Heath cannot find the leisure to do me half that service which he wishes; and continually importunes me to procure the assistance of a competent editor, — and no other name assails me than yours — ‘Get Lucian Minor.’ — ‘Get Lucian Minor’ — Nor am I less anxious than either H. or R. (Rogers of the William and Mary faculty). I therefore earnestly again(6) invite you to my editorial chair, — for which services I will hand you a compensation of $800 per annun.(7)

Letters of February 26, 1835, and March 2 continue the urging. By March 14 Minor definitely declined;(8) he became, however, an [page 42:] adviser and contributor.

Not until the services of Edward Vernon Sparhawk were secured could Heath retire. The new editor, announced in the May issue,(1) had published in 1820, at the age of twenty-two, a book of poems, Hours of Childhood and Other Poems; from 1827-1829 he had been a reporter on the New York American. After leaving the Messenger he edited the Petersburg Intelligencer. Despite the acquisition of a new editor, White still sought outside help. To Tucker, May 25, 1835:

.... run your eye over it [a contribution] and the printed one [one the same subject], and tell me whether you would, if you were in my place, insert my correspondent’s.(2)

Poe could scarcely have chosen a more opportune time to attract White’s attention. That worthy man, on February 5, 1835, wrote Tucker: “I am really so hard drove (sic) for good matter, that I frequently give up to melancholy the most distressing.”(3) And this condition prevailed throughout the spring. In suit with Kennedy’s suggestion, Poe labored assiduously to ingratiate himself with White, to do him every possible service, to impress on him his abilities. From May 30 on, one finds the young aspirant giving advice. Baltimore, May 30, 1835:

I have often wondered at your preferring to insert such notices in the Republican. It is a paper by no means in the hands of the first people here. Would not the American suit as well? Its columns are equally at your service. Did you notice the [page 43:] alteration I made in the name of the author of the lines to Mr. Wilde? They were written by Mrs. Dr. Buckler of this city —— not Buckley.(1)

On June 12:

I will send you on the American & Republican as soon as the critiques come out. What I can do farther to aid the circulation of your Magazine I will gladly do — but I must insist on your not sending me any remuneration for services of this nature. They are a pleasure to me & no trouble whatever.

Four notices of the Messenger in Baltimore newspapers have been traced to Poe.(3) He advised White against the public reaction which would attend advertisement of a reprint of a back number; and in the same letter a postscript:

I have heard it suggested that a light-faced type in the headings of your various articles would improve the appearance of the Messenger. Do you not think so likewise.(4)

On March 2, 1835, White had written Minor:

... inasmuch as I design changing my type with the 2d vol. to a new type, exactly two sizes larger than that which I now use for the editorial.(5)

It is possible that White was also contemplating the change Poe suggested; the context of the letter would have made the adding of that detail an irrelevance.

From February to the end of Sparhawk’s editorship Poe contributed regularly to the Messenger. Of the Poe-White letters of this period, only two mention money received, and from these it is difficult to determine how much Poe got per column. On May 30: “I duly recd. through Mr. Kennedy your favor of the 20th. enclosing [page 45:] $5: and an order for $4.95;”(1) and on July 20:

I duly recd. both your letters (July14 and 16)(2) together with the $20 ... Look over Hans Phaal and the Literary Notices by me in No. 10 and see if you have not miscalculated the sum due me. There are 34 columns in all ...(3)

The second makes it clear that Poe was paid for his reviews; in conjunction with the letters of June 12 and June 22,(4) it shows that May 30 was about the time when White would be paying for contributions for number nine, the May issue. Apparently every number during the spring and summer came out late. It is improbable that the $9.94 was not a complete settlement for the May number; there is no likely reason why White could not make out an order for any owed sum. It is impossible, without further evidence, to ascertain whether or not the rate for tales and articles was equal to that for critical writing. One may assume that it was. If this be true, White paid his contributors,(5) at this time, eighty cents a column; for in May, not counting the copious quotations in the review of Fanny Butler’s Journal, Poe had twelve and three sevenths columns. It is more likely, however, that White was paying a dollar and fifty cents a page, seventy five cents a column. In this case, twelve and three sevenths columns would pay nine dollars and thirty-three cents. White may not have counted accurately the “Journal,” half of which consists of quotations. The extra sixty-four cents could be explained away on several counts. If the rate was eighty cents a column, White [page 45:] owed Poe on the June issue seven dollars and twenty cents; if it was seventy-five cents, five dollars and fifty-cents. The letter of May 30 gives support to the low rate assumption:

You ask me if I am perfectly satisfied with your course. I reply that I am — entirely, My poor services are not worth what you give me for them.(1)

On June 22, 1835, Poe wrote White from Baltimore:

You ask me if I would be willing to come on to Richmond if you should have occasion for my services during the coming winter. I reply that nothing would give me greater pleasure ... Indeed I am anxious to settle myself in that city, and if, by any chance, you hear of a situation likely to suit me, I would gladly accept it, were the salary even the merest trifle. I should indeed feel myself greatly indebted to you, if through your means, I could accomplish this object. What you say, in the conclusion of your letter, in relation to the supervision of proof-sheets, gives me reason to hope that possibly you might find something for me to do in your office. If so I should be very glad — for at present a very small portion of my time is employed.(2)

The letter which must have prompted this tactfully calculated reply suggests that after scarecly more than a month White had found Sparhawk unsatisfactory. The fact is that White was so jealous of his paper that he could tolerate no one who threatened to supersede him in the guidance of it, no one who had an idea about it which did not spring, or seem to spring, from his own brain. In the letter to Poe he evidently made a point of “supervision of proof sheets.” The starved young writer in Baltimore must have seemed proper material of which to make a true mechanical subordinate. Alas, poor White! [page 46:]

He wrote Minor on August 18, 1835:

I have, my dear Sir, been compelled to part with Mr. Sparhawk, as regular editor — I have run too fast. He will however continue to assist me.

Mr. Poe is here also — He tarries one month — and will aid me all that lies in his power.

I stand in need of your pen just now.(1)

The implication of this passage, of “I have run too fast” and “He tarries one month” seems to be that after rashly making Sparhawk my editor, my next trial shall be temporary until I know and have proved my man.(2) Poe, however, apparently accepted the job as permanent; to William Poe he wrote on August 20: “I have lately obtained the Editorship of the Southern Messenger, and may probably yet do well.”(3) A White-Minor letter of September 8 reveals that White has not yet accepted his assistant without reserve:

I am now as it were my own editor — No, 12 (August) is made out of my wits. When we meet, I will tell you why I was obliged to part with Sparhawk. Poe is now in my employ — not as Editor. He is unfortunately rather dissipated, — and therefore I can place very little reliance upon him. His disposition is quite amiable. He will be some assistance to me in proof-reading — at least I hope so.(4)

Poe seems still to have thought the arrangement a permanent one: to John Neal, September 4, 1835: [page 47:]

Herewith I send a number of the Southern Literary Messenger, a Magazine of which I have lately obtained the Editorship;(1)

to Kennedy, September 11:

Through your influence Mr. White has been induced to employ me in assisting him with the Editorial duties of his Magazine — at a salary of $520 per annum.(2)

The middle section of this letter to Kennedy reveals in its author a mental state of severe stress, of emotional chaos. A rumor of his secret engagement to Virginia had reached Neilson Poe; opposed to the marriage, he was trying to persuade Mrs. Clemm to let him take care of Virginia until she reached the age of eighteen. Woodberry says that Poe wrote Mrs. Clemm on August 29, imploring her not to consent to separate him from Virginia.(3) Apparently Poe was drinking too much.

On September 21, 1835, White wrote Minor:

Poe has flew (sic) the track already. His habits were not good, — He is in addition the victim of melancholy. I should not be at all astonished to hear that he had been guilty of suicide. I am now alone.(4)

Poe took out a license in Baltimore on September 22 to marry Virginia Clemm.(5) In the meantime White turned to Minor for aid. [page 48:]

White wrote Poe a letter on September 29 quite in contrast with the near callousness of that of the 21st:

Dear Edgar,

.... How much I regretted parting with you, is unknown to any one on this earth, except myself. I was attached to you — and am still — ... If you should come to Richmond again, and again should be an assistant in my office, it must be expressly understood by us that all engagements on my part would be dissolved, the moment you got drunk.

No man is safe who drinks before breakfast!(1)

Quite probably White sincerely liked Poe, then at least. The fact remains, however, that he needed a competent editor — and that he knew no one capable whom he could secure for the salary he paid Poe. He had already tried Lucian Minor. On October 20, 1835, he wrote that gentleman casually enough: “Mr. Poe, who is with me again, read it(2) over by copy with great care.”(3) Virginia and Mrs. Clemm came with Poe.

From the time of his return in October and the appearance, about November 26, of the December, 1835 issue, number one of volume two, Poe has been considered the Editor of the Messenger. Mr. T. W. White had a quite different point of view. To Lucian Minor, October 24:

Suppose you send me a modest paragraph — mentioning that the gentleman announced as my assistant in the 9th No, [May, 1835](4) of the Messenger retired from its editorship with the 11th No. [July, 1835] — and that the paper is now under my own editorial management assisted by several gentlemen of distinguished literary attainments. —— [page 49:]

You may introduce Mr. Poe’s name as amongst those engaged to contribute for its columns — taking care not to say as editor. All this I wish you to manage with great care for me. Let it come in a separate letter to me — directed to T. W. White.(1)

As printed, the notice reads “assisted by a gentleman of distinguished literary talents.”(2)

On December 27, 1836, White wrote Tucker a letter, marked “Private: ”

Highly as I really think of Mr. Poe’s talents,(5) I shall be forced to give him notice, in a week or so at farthest, that I can no longer recognize him as editor of my Messenger. Three months ago I felt it my duty to give him a similar notice — and was afterwards over-persuaded to restore him to his situation on certain conditions — which conditions he has again forfeited.

Added to all this, I am cramped by him in the exercise of my own judgment, as to what articles I shall or shall not admit into my work. It is true that I neither have his sagacity, nor his learning — but I do believe I know a handspike from a saw. Be that as it may, however, and let me be even a jackass, as I dare say I am in his estimation, I will again throw myself on my own resources — and trust my little bark to the care of those friends who stood by me in my earlier, if not darker days.(3)

As is ordinarily true, here the secondary cause, the “added to all this,” is the motivating element; the primary is but a match to set off the fire, an excuse.

The crisis of three months ago may be illuminated by a letter of May 20, 1875, from R. M. T. Hunter, then president of the Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society, to Henry Tutwiler:

... When he was assistant editor of the Literary Messenger published by T. (?)(4) White in Richmond. Here his habits were bad and as White did not appreciate his literary [page 50:] excellences I had hard work to save him from dismissal before it actually occurred. During a part of the time I was in Richmond a member of the Legislature and frequently volunteered to correct the press when pieces were being published with classical quotations. Poe was the only man on White’s staff capable of doing this and when occasionally drinking (the habit was not constant)(1) he was incapacitated for the work. On such occasions I have done the work more than once to prevent a rupture between his employer and himself. He was reckless about money and subject to intoxication, but I was not aware of any other bad habit which he had.(2)

The break came at the turn of the year. As with Sparhawk, White planned to retain Poe as a contributor.(3) In the January number are two notices of the change. One from Poe:

Mr. Poe’s attention being called in another direction, he will decline, with the present number, the Editorial duties of the Messenger...(4)

The other from White;

Mr. Poe, who has filled the editorial department for the last twelve months, with so much ability, retired from the station on the 3rd inst.; and the entire management of the work devolves on myself alone ....(5)

Perhaps not even the last two clauses could overweigh the unhappiness it must have cost White to write the first. The very fact that he felt obliged to write the “who” clause is significant [page 51:] in explaining the background of Poe’s dismissal. It is already, I think, fairly clear.

For a few months after Poe’s return in September, 1835, everything seems to have gone well. In November, 1835, White wrote Minor:

Contributors to the Messenger are falling off. — I know not what I should do without occasional help from you.(1)

The relief attending a rise in circulation must have been great. And it was not until a few months later that Poe and the Messenger began to be attacked by injured souls for the slashing tone of the reviews, a tone engendered by a deep desire to save public taste from vitiation by affectation, triteness, and trash. From the White-Tucker and the White-Minor correspondence, it is clear that White expected any of his contributors who got him in trouble with any person or clique to extricate him from the difficulty. In this respect one may be sure Mr. Poe was not tractable. In December, however, White still seems quite cheerful: “Poe .... I rejoice to tell you, still keeps from the Bottle.”(2)

The young editor, likewise, for a while seems to have been content. To Kennedy, January 22, 1836:

Mr. White is very liberal, and besides my salary of $520 pays me liberally for extra work, so that I receive nearly $800. Next year, that is at the commencement of the second (sic) volume, I am to get $1000. Besides this, I receive, from publishers nearly all new publications.(3) [page 52:]

On February 11, 1836:

I find no difficulty in keeping pace with the demands of the Magazine ... Mr. W. has increased my salary, since I wrote [January 22], $104, for the present year. — This is being liberal beyond my expectations. He is exceedingly kind in every respect.(1)

On June 7:

Our Messenger is thriving beyond all expectation, and I myself have every prospect of success.(2)

There were, however, occasional undercurrents — quiet, but boding no good. A passage in a White-Tucker letter may mean more than it says:

My right-hand man Poe thinks it [January number] superior [to the others] — This is natural.... I shall on some suitable occasion, tell you a great deal about my young friend and editor. — It will be for your private ear.(3)

On December 1, 1835, Poe wrote Tucker:

At present, having no time upon my hands, from my editorial duties, I can write nothing worth reading.(4)

In June, 1836, Poe wrote Kennedy, asking for a loan of $100 for six months: “I am now receiving $15 per week, and am to receive $20 after November.”(5) This was a raise of $3 a week over the [page 53:] exceedingly “liberal” salary of February; yet it does not seem to have been sufficient. In October Mrs. Clemm wrote William Poe: “We are boarding & it takes nearly all he can make to answer that demand ....,”(1) Poe had meanwhile, on May 26, 1836, publicly married his cousin. As circulation increased, and increase it did, enormously,(2) Poe, feeling directly responsible for the gain, thought he should have a more proportionate share of the income, his reward was scarcely a tenth.

It is impossible without much more evidence to determine exactly Poe’s income during this period. In January, 1836, his salary was $520; in February; $624; in June, $780; after November it was to be $1040. In January, however, he wrote that for “extra work” he got nearly $280 a year.(3) “Extra work” must mean material outside of critical notices, editorial comments, etc. It seems that it would include, besides tales and poetry, feature articles, such as “Maelzel’s Chess-Player,” “Pinikidia,” and “Autography.” As Poe’s figure is itself a supposition, it is needless to try to settle the rate per column. White, apparently, paid from seventy-five cents to a dollar and a half [page 54:] per column. On January 24, 1837, he wrote Tucker that Pym was supposed to cost him three dollars a page.(1) In another letter of the same date, he wrote that a Robert Walsh, Jr. was writing for him at three dollars a page.(2) Yet, in 1838 he wrote Minor:

I do not really think, under the circumstances .... that it would be prudent in me to allow one fair friend more than $1.50 per page.(3)

And it is fairly clear that in the summer of 1835 Poe was getting no more than a dollar sixty a page, more probably a dollar fifty.(4) Had Poe asked for a larger salary, White could scarcely have granted it, whatever his inclinations: in January, 1837, he was eighteen hundred dollars in debt.(5)

There is a collection of twelve White letters in the Abernathy Library of Middlebury College which throw light on White’s financial condition. The first two of these are addressed to B. Badger, editor of the New York Weekly Messenger and a friend of White from his Boston days. The other ten are addressed to William Scott, proprietor of the Magazine, Badger having become insane. On May 27, 1836, White wrote Badger:

Eighteen months ago I hit upon the establishment of a Southern Literary Periodical, which I have prosecuted up to the present time with an ardour or zeal almost as unprecedented, as it has been quixotic. It is even now [page 55:] with the greatest difficulty that I can keep up the attraction — the interest. If, however, I can enter upon the 3d Volume with 12 or 1300 paying subscribers all will be well — otherwise my loss will be very great, for up to the present time my expenses in rearing it to what it is, have greatly run ahead of my actual receipts. (l)

To Scott he wrote on August 25:

There is one thing, however, I might as well wisper [[sic]] in your private ear: I have, at present more individuals writing for pay, than I am really able to pay.(2)

Some idea of what White expected from his editor may be derived from two letters written to Minor in 1835:

To be sure, the salary is not an enormous one, — nor yet are the services which I should expect from you enormous ... I should occasionally have to consult and advise with you, —— but half a dozen hours per week, would consume all I would have to pour in your ear. — And, I am equally sure, that 24 more hours in the week, would be amply sufficient for you to nourish my Messenger.(3)

This was an over-modest estimate. He expected also from fifteen to twenty pages of original matter a month.(4)

On the subject of contributions, &c. I should of course continue to preside over the department — so far at least as regards correspondence, pay, &c. &c. — I should however feel myself bound to consult with yourself touching acceptances, — unless when coming from sources that would require no consultation. Even if I had put any in type, and you saw cause why they should not appear in the Messenger, I should throw them aside without a murmur. All publications for Reviews, I should continue to purchase at my own expense, — and when done with should make such use of the works as I might think proper.(5) [page 56:] [[...]] for the first three hundred new subscribers [[...]] I will hand you $200 for the second three hundred, two hundred dollars, but no more.(1)

In a retrospective view of his position on the Messenger, Poe is not, I think, exaggerating. To William Poe, Philadelphia, August 15, 1840:

I believe you know that my connexion with the Southern Messenger was merely that of editor. I had no propritory [[proprietory]] interest in it, and, my movements were therefore much impeded. The situation was disagreeable to me in every respect. The drudgery was excessive, the salary was contemptible. In fact, I soon found that whatever reputation I might personally gain, this reputation would be all. I stood no chance of bettering my pecuniary condition, while my best energies were wasted in the service of an illiterate and vulgar, although well-meaning man, who had neither the capacity to appreciate my labors, nor the will to reward them.(2)

This and the letter to Tucker of December 1, 1835(3) lend weight to Mr. Whitty’s statement:

... (he) read proof, wrote the bulk of the correspondence, attended to the payroll, and did a large part of the mailing room duties — working both in and out of season. A great deal of his editorial and other writing for the magazine was done after the regular hours at his boarding-house.(5)

At any rate, White expected more work, at least of a mechanical sort, from Poe than he would have from Lucian Minor,

Two White-Scott letters have two passages which indicate the amount of power Poe had as editor. On August 25 White wrote: [page 57:]

Touching the article by Mr, Hildrett, it is impossible for me to say whether it would suit or not, unless I could be furnished with it for perusal first. Courtesy to Mr. Poe, whom I employ to edit my paper, makes it a matter of etiquette with me to submit all articles intended for the Messenger to his judgment, — and I abide by his dicta. What he might decide on in the case of Mr. H., it is impossible for me to say.(1)

And on January 23, 1837:

Previous to writing you I had submitted your manuscript to Mr. Poe, who handed it back to me as being suitable for the Messenger. After I had it put in type, I sent a corrected proof of it to him. He returned it, as you will see, making several corrections — and amongst other things, striking out your first paragraph or exordium. He also struck out your two concluding paragraphs — but I thought them worth preserving — and therefore took upon myself the ‘responsibility’ of retaining them, I have no doubt whatever, that Mr. Poe done what he has done for the best. I hope, moreover, that you will think so also. Be that as it may, I assure you there was not the slightest intention on my part (nor do I believe there was on that of Mr. Poe’s) to mar you [[your]] production. I hope this rapid satisfaction will be satisfactory to my friend.(2)

It seems, however, that White did not always passively accept Poe’s “dicta.” He was the owner, the founder of the magazine; and Poe was his employed editor.

It is quite unlikely that he was as amiable with Poe, as he would have been with Minor, when their opinions differed on the virtues of various manuscripts; nor would he have taken well brilliant arguments of Poe which he could answer only by tenaciously holding to his own opinion. This sort of trouble must have been back of much of the bitterness in the December 7, 1836, [page 58:] letter to Tucker.(1) On March 3, 1836, Poe wrote John Collins McCabe, returning a poem;

I know you will reply, and with some appearance of justice, that much worse verses have appeared in the Messenger since my Editorship, and are still appearing; but these are peoms [[poems]] which have long been on hand, and to the publication of which Mr. W. had bound himself by promise to their respective authors, before my time. Such difficulties shall not occur again.(2)

This last sentence is a sure sign of trouble. There is an interesting passage on the same subject in the White-Poe letter of January 17, 1837. White first makes a hit at something Poe had inserted in the current number, then defends something of his own choosing:

If I had read even 10 lines of Magruder’s manuscript, it would have saved me the expense of putting it in type. — It is all words — bombast. He will have to live a little longer in this world before he can write well enough to please the readers of the M.

Touching Carey’s piece, gratitude to him for pecuniary assistance, obliges me to insert it.(3)

Poe was determined to wield authority in this department whether he was granted it or not. And his taste was not White’s.

The extent to which Poe was circumscribed in actual reviewing can only be inferred. White was in the habit of letting Minor and Tucker know whether or not he wanted a book reviewed favorably;(4) however, with them he goes no farther than: “If they will not admit of a favorable notice, it will be best to let them sleep.”(5) It [page 59:] would have been utterly untypical for him to have given Poe a free hand in this respect. The number of local and near local addresses, memoirs, etc., many of them printed by White, reviewed in equivocal commendation, in conventional language, is suggestive enough. White would probably have insisted on favorable reviews of all works by friends, patrons, or men in position to do him weal or woe. From the tone of many notices, it seems that Poe acquiesced when the issue was of little enough importance — that is, when the work was of little enough importance to admit being passed over. He was too sincerely concerned with the true purpose and power of criticism to yield, except in the case of small fish. White must have remonstrated time and again about those royal enemy-making reviews — when the enemy was capable of doing the Messenger harm. When Tucker, however, in May and September of 1837, adopted the same tactics to “Use up” Dickens, White was delighted.(1) In April, 1837, he wrote Tucker his estimation of Poe as a reviewer:

If he (Paulding) would have been proud of praise from Poe, it would have been because he really admired the fellow’s talents. — Like myself he was completely gulled. The truth is, Poe seldom or ever, done (sic) what he knew was just to any book. He read few through — unless it were some trashy novels, — and his only object in reading even these, was to ridicule their authors. Read his eulogistic review of Balcombe(2) — which he penned only because he believed you were its author. He has scarcely selected a passage out of the two volumes which warrants the praise he has lavished on it. But enough of this mortifying subject.(3) [page 60:]

Consciously or not, White in this last sentence reveals the real nature of his bitterness toward Poe. This attitude was developing as early as January, 1836. At Poe’s request Tucker wrote White:

Last night I received a letter from Mr. P. by which I learn that you may not feel as much confidence in his capacities for the duties of his station as is necessary for your mutual comfort. This doubt he attributes in part to what must have been a misconstruction by you of one of my letters.... I only mention this to say that Mr. P.’s review of a leash of these ladies, in your last number,(1) is a specimen of criticism which, for niceness of discrimination, delicacy of expression, and all that shows familiarity with the art, may well compare with any I have ever seen..... .(2)

Mr. Tucker seems to have admired Poe, in most things at least.

Poe’s point of view toward the whole situation will be made sufficiently clear with the quoting of two more passages. In the prospectus for his dream-love-object, the Penn Magazine:

Having in it [Messenger] no proprietary rights, my objects, too being at variance in many respects with those of its very worthy owner, I found difficulty in stamping upon its pages that individuality which I believe essential to the full success of all similar publications.(3)

To Anthon, June, 1844:

... . in despite of the wretched taste of its proprietor, which hampered and controlled me at all points ....(4)

Poe was intuitively a journalist — in the sense Defoe was — in the modern meaning of the word. His success with the Messenger [page 61:] gave him full confidence in his abilities. He was filled with ideas —— ideas of which White disapproved, which he distrusted, of which he was afraid, and, perhaps, jealous. Behind this — mechanical drudgery, long hours, disproportionate salary, too small for actual needs. But above all, lack of freedom — freedom to act the part of Editor.

The intensity of White’s jealously for his Messenger, his pride in his accomplishment, are made understandable by a passage from a letter to Lucian Minor:

Did not every friend I had, importune, by letter and otherwise, that I should desist — did they not say I was a madman — that I would be ruined forever. In spite of all these remonstrances, I rushed on. What has been the consequence. My sacrifices — my unparalleled exertions are like to be crowned with success.(1)

The author of this could tolerate no one who could claim to share with him his “sacrifices — his unparalleled exertions.” This, I think, is the primal element in White’s desire to get rid of Poe, this and a real fear that Poe’s policies would ruin the Messenger. On January 24, 1837, he wrote Tucker:

It [Messenger] shall live — and it shall outlive all the injury it has sustained from Mr. Poe’s management, — unless Almighty God deprives me of health or of life.(2)

When, after many irritating squabbles, Poe began to take no pains to conceal his contempt for Mr. White and his literary ability, all the good will which this kind little man really bore Poe vanished, to be replaced by resentment and distrust. And another factor [page 62:] must be considered.. Poe wrote Snodgrass, April 1, 1841:

But for a brief 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 everyday 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.(1)

From this general survey of the conditions leading up to the break, we must turn again to the White-Scott letters for suggestions of details necessary for completing the picture. On August 5, 1836, White wrote:

I have had a great deal of sickness in my office, among my best hands, and since the 4th of July. This has thrown me all in the back ground again — and will prevent me from bringing out the Aug. No. earlier that the 20th. Nevertheless I will on next Thursday, send you as many loose sheets of it as I may then have ready.....(2)

On August 25:

Owing to sickness among my most material hands, I shall not be able to bring out the next No. earlier than the 22d Sept.... I thank you most sincerely for the interest you take in my welfare and in that of the unpretending Periodical of which I am the still more humble Captain.(3)

On September 23:

Indisposition forces me to be brief — I forward you all the sheets of my Sept. No. I cannot issue it till Thursday next ... I shall say nothing about our agent till I see you in New York — which will be in a fortnight.(4) [page 63:]

About the middle of October, then, White went to New York. On November 24 he wrote Scott:

When I reached home I found my wipe very ill in bed, and all my office affairs in great confusion. This will, I hope, be a sufficient apology for your not hearing from me before.(1)

Apparently on his return home he found that Poe had gone on a spree and had neglected his duties. As a result of this disturbance no Messenger appeared for December, and the November number was not printed until about December 7.(2) On December 15 White wrote:

Money is very scarce here — Times very hard — and, what is still worse, I have a very sick wife, — and ‘to mend the matter’ my Printing is nearly suspended, in consequence of as serious as foolish strike of the young men Printers, — a strike that will in all probability prevent my issuing the 1st No. of my 3d Volume earlier than the 1st February.(3)

And On January 23:

Betwixt my office and my domicile, my whole time has been consumed — I.E. ever since my return to Richmond ... My hands are once more at work, but their ’strike’ has been a serious drawback as well as a great injury to me in a pecuniary point of view — one that will cost me months of hard labor to recover from. By to-morrow night’s mail I will send you rough sheets of my Jan. No. in which you will find your article on the ‘Riehts (sic) of Authors,’ though not in the part of the Messenger I promised you it should be placed. This was, however, intended, I assure you, in no ways as a mark of disrespect. But its getting where it now stands, was unavoidable, in consequence of arrangements which had been previously made by others — as well by the fact of my attention being called from my office when it was made up. This, I hope, will be an [page 64:] ample apology on my part ... Mr. Poe retired from the editorship of my work on the 3d inst. I am once more at the head of my affairs. Nevertheless I have private friends to whom I submit all articles — and I have consented to abide by their judgment.(1)

It is difficult to determine whether Poe was fired or whether he left of his own accord. In either case both principals were content to have it so. It seems more likely that Poe resigned — White’s phrase is “retired“. Apparently he had another position in prospect — hopes for a place on the New York Review. There is a legend, to which B.B. Minor, writing years later, gives credence — that Poe sought reinstatement as editor, but that Mr. White in terms firm yet kindly, refused to do so.”(2) White has a postscript to a letter to Tucker of January 19, two weeks after Poe’s retirement:

Poe feels his situation at last — I see but little of him — but I hear a great deal about and from him.(3)

It is possible that, finding himself financially destitute with the New York Review situation promising little, Poe asked for his old position back. More likely, however, he was merely trying to sell White articles. Two letters support this view. On January 17 White wrote Poe in reference to Arthur Gordon Pym:

If it be possible without breaking in on my previous arrangements, I will get more than the 1st portion of Pym in — tho’ I much fear that will be impossible ... You are certainly as well aware as I am that the last $20 [page 65:] I advanced to you was in consideration of what you were to write for me by the piece. I also made you a promise on Saturday that I would do something more for you today, —— and I never make a promise without intending to perform it, — and though it is entirely out of my power to send you up anything this morning, yet I will do something more for [you] before night, or early to-morrow, — if I have to borrow it from my friends.(1)

Two letters to Tucker have pregnant comments:

At present help (original)(2) is comings in more rapid [sic] than at any time since I have started the Messenger — all too since the fact has eked out that Poe is not to act as Judge or Judge Advocate. — A great deal of it is good matter — and all far better than his Gordon Pym for which I apparently pay him now only $3 per page, but which in reality has and still costs me $20 per page. But him I shall soon be clear off [sic]. His every movement sows [[shows]] me he will be off in a short time.(3)

Another letter to Tucker of the same date has:

Except Walsh, Rights of Authors and Poe’s articles, no one would accept of cash for their articles.(4)

Another White letter to Tucker seems entirely to disqualify the theory of Poe’s seeking re-employment:

Poe pesters me no little — he is trying every manouvre (sic) to foist himself on some one at the North — at least I believe so. —— He is continually after me for money ... Tell me candidly what you think of his Pym Maryatt’s (sic) style I suppose and his Poetry. Treat all of this as private, which you think ought to be private. Let all be private about Poe.(5) [page 66:]

Poe left for New York sometime in February; certainly he was gone by the middle of March. On April 5 White wrote Scott:

Tell me when you write what Poe is driving at — that is, if you know; — but do not put yourself out to gratify perhaps an idle curiosty [[curiosity]]. I have not heard from him since he left here.(1)

All bitterness soon left White. He seem to have been incapable of bearing long a grudge. Heath wrote Poe on September 12, 1839:

I am happy to inform you that he [White] disclaims the existence of any unkind feeling, on the contrary professes that your prosperity and happiness would yield him pessure [[pleasure]]. He is not aware of having spoken or written any thing with a design to injure you or any thing more in censure or disparagement than what he has said to you in person when you resided here. I am inclined to think that you entirely mistake the man if you suppose that an particle of malignity lurks in his composition.(2)

For the sake of convenience Poe’s later relations with the Messenger will be treated in the proper place in the following chapter.


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 39:]

1.  PSLM, 2.

2.  Poe-Kennedy, Baltimore, November, 1834. Gr. MSS. in Phot. in UVL.

3.  Poe-Kennedy, Baltimore, March 15, 1835. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

4.  Poe-Kennedy, Baltimore, March 21, 1835. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 40:]

1.  Kennedy-White, Baltimore, April 13, 1835. George E. Woodberry, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, I, 109-110.

2.  White-Tucker, Richmond, November 11, 1834. Copy in UVL.

3.  PSLM, 19.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 41:]

1.  SLM, I, 461.

2.  All references to Tucker in this study are to Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, Professor of Law at William and Mary.

3.  White-Tucker, Richmond, November 4, 1834. Copy in UVL.

4.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 22, 1835. Copy in UVL.

5.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 26, 1835. Copy in UVL.

6.  The context makes it clear that the “again” refers to an earlier letter.

7.  White-Minor, Richmond, February 17, 1835. PSLM, 93-94.

8.  See TQHGM, XVII, 225-229.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 42:]

1.  SLM, I, 146.

2.  White-Tucker, Richmond, May 25, 1835. Copy in UVL.

3.  White-Tucker, Richmond, February 5, 1835. Copy in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 43:]

1.  Poe-White, Baltimore, May 30, 1835, H, XVII, 6.

2.  Poe-White, Baltimore, June 12, 1835. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

3.  See D. K. Jackson, “Four of Poe’s Critiques in the Baltimore Newspapers,” MLN, L, 251-256.

4.  Poe-White, Baltimore, June 22, 1835. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

5.  White-Minor, Richmond, March 2, 1835. TQHGM, XVII, 227.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 44:]

1.  Poe-White, Baltimore, May 30, 1835. H, XVII, 4.

2.  These letters are not known. The parentheses are Poe’s.

3.  Poe-White, Baltimore, July 20, 1835. H, XVII, 10-11.

4.  Poe-White, Baltimore, June 12 and 22, 1835. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

5.  Some of them, of course, contributed gratis.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 45:]

1.  Poe-White, Baltimore, May 30, 1835. H, XVII, 6.

2.  Poe-White, Baltimore, June 22, 1835. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 46:]

1.  White-Minor, Richmond, August 18, 1835. PSLM, 98.

2.  It is possible, also, that White had had to pay Sparhawk a larger salary than he could afford.

3.  Poe-William Poe, Richmond, August 20, 1835, H, XVII, 16.

4.  White-Minor, Richmond, September 8, 1835. PSLM, 98.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 47:]

1.  Poe-Neal, Richmond, September 4, 1835. This sentence printed in American Book-Prices Current, XLII (1935-1936), 681.

2.  Poe-Kennedy, Richmond, September 11, 1835, H, XVII, 17. The “$520 per annum” may be Poe’s own phrase; Woodberry, giving no source, says Poe began in August at $10 a week Woodberry, op. cit., I, 136). If my interpretation is correct, White would not have said “per annum.”*

3.  Woodberry, op.cit., I, 137.

4.  White-Minor, Richmond, September 21, 1835. PSLM, 100.

5.  Woodberry, op. cit., I, 137.

*  White said “800 per annum” in his offer to Minor, quoted on p. 41, note 7, supr. — ACG

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 48:]

1.  White-Poe, Richmond, September 29, 1835, Gr. MSS, Phot. in UVL.

2.  An address of Minor’s, printed in the December, 1835, Messenger.

3.  White-Minor, Richmond, October 20, 1835. PSLM, 102.

4.  SLM, I, 461.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 49:]

1.  White-Minor, Richmond, October 24, 1835. PSLM, 104.

2.  SLM, II, 1. See 4. for second footnote.

3.  White-Tucker, Richmond, December 27, 1836. PSLM, 110.

4.  The parentheses are his.

5.  Cf. White-Tucker, Richmond, April 26, 1837. PSLM, 115.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 50:]

1.  The parentheses are his.

2.  Hunter-Tutwiler, May 20, 1875. MS. in UVL.

3.  See White-Tucker, Richmond, December 27, 1836. PSLM, 110.

4.  SLM, III, 72.

5.  SLM, III, 96. The phrase, “for the last twelve months,” suggests that with the commencement of the second volume Poe’s position was made a more responsible one. This number, dated December, 1835, was issued in the last week of November; the promotion, if such it was, would have occurred, then, on Poe’s return or soon after.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 51:]

1.  White-Minor, Richmond, November 19,1835. TQHGM, XVII, 238.

2.  White-Minor, Richmond, December 25, 1835. PSLM, 107.

3.  Poe-Kennedy, Richmond, January 22, 1836. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 52:]

1.  Poe-Kennedy, Richmond, February 11, 1836. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

2.  Poe-Kennedy, Richmond, June 7, 1836. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

3.  White-Tucker, Richmond, February 6, 1836. Copy in UVL.

4.  Poe-Tucker, Richmond, December 1, 1835. J. S. Wilson, “Unpublished Letters of Edgar Allan Poe,” Century Magazine, March, 1924, 654.

5.  Poe-Kennedy, Richmond, June 7, 1836, H, XVII, 36.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 53:]

1.  Mrs. Clemm-William Poe, Richmond, October 7, 1836. H, XVII, 379.

2.  In after years Poe referred frequently to this growth under his editorship. See Poe-Anthon (Philadelphia, June, 1844. H, XVII, 178), BJ (March 29, 1845. H, XII, 85), “Literati” (GLB, May, 1846, H, XV, 8), and Poe-Patterson (New York, April, 1849. H, XVII, 350). The figures vary slightly. The majority say an increase from 700 to 5,000, with the result that the Messenger was paying, said Poe, “an annual profit of $10,000 when I left it” (Poe-Anthon, Philadelphia, June, 1844. H, XVII, 178).

3.  Poe-Kennedy, Richmond, January 22, 1836. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 54:]

1.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 24, 1837. Copy in UVL.

2.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 24, 1837. Copy in UVL.

3.  White-Minor, Richmond, February 22, 1838. TQHGM, XVIII, 34.

4.  See pages, 44-5.

5.  See White-Tucker, Richmond, January 24, 1837. Copy in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 55:]

1.  White-Badger, Richmond, May 27, 1836. Typescript.

2.  White-Scott, Richmond, August 25, 1836. Typescript.

3.  White-Minor, Richmond, February 17, 1835. PSLM, 94.

4.  White-Minor, Richmond, February 26, 1835. TQHGM, XVII, 226.

5.  White-Minor, Richmond, March 2, 1835. TQHGM, XVII, 227-228.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 56:]

1.  White-Minor, Richmond, March 2, 1835, TQHGM, XVII, 228.

2.  Poe-William Poe, Philadelphia, August 15, 1840. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

3.  See page 52.

4.  Copies of the Messenger exist addressed in Poe’s autography.

5.  “Foreword,” PSLM, vi-vii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 57:]

1.  White-Scott, Richmond, August 25, 1836. Typescript.

2.  White-Scott, Richmond, January 23, 1837. Typescript.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 58:]

1.  See page 49.

2.  Poe-McCabe, Richmond, March 3, 1836. PSLM, 64.

3.  White-Poe, Richmond, January 12, 1837. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

4.  See White-Minor (Richmond, June 23, 1838. TQHGM, XVII, 43, et passim) and White-Tucker (Richmond, January 27 and May 25, 1835, et passim. Copies in UVL).

5.  White-Tucker, Richmond, May 25, 1835. Copy in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 59:]

1.  See White-Tucker, Richmond, June 13, 1837. Copy in UVL.

2.  This review of Tucker’s novel appeared in January, 1837 (SLM, III, 49-58).

3.  White-Tucker, Richmond, April 26, 1837. PSLM, 115.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 60:]

1.  The review of Mrs. Sigourney, Miss Gould, and Mrs. Ellet, January, 1836 (SLM, II, 112-117).

2.  Tucker-White, Williamsburg, January 26,1836. Woodberry, op.cit., I, 154-5.

3.  “Prospectus of the Penn Magazine.” H, XVII, 58.

4.  Poe-Anthon, June, 1844. Gr. MSS. Phot. In UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 61:]

1.  White-Minor, Richmond, February 26, 1835. TQHGM, XVII, 225.

2.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 24, 1837. Copy in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 63:]

1.  Poe-Snodgrass, Philadelphia, April 1, 1841. Ostrom, J. W., “A Poe Correspondence Re-edited,” American, XXXIV, p. 29.

2.  White-Scott, Richmond, August 5, 1836. Typescript.

3.  White-Scott, Richmond, August 25, 1836. Typescript.

4.  White-Scott, Richmond, September 23, 1836. Typescript.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 63:]

1.  White-Scott, Richmond, November 24, 1836. Typescript.

2.  See White-Scott, Richmond, December 7, 1836. Typescript: “I shall forward to you by this evening’s mail the sheets of my 12th No. It will be issued on Saturday morning”).

3.  White-Scott, Richmond, December 15, 1836. Typescript.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 64:]

1.  White-Scott, Richmond, January 23, 1837. Typescript.

2.  Minor, B.B., Southern Literary Messenger, p. 64.

3.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 19, 1837. PSLM, 112.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 65:]

1.  White-Poe, Richmond, January 17, 1837. Gr. MSS. Phot. in UVL.

2.  The parenthesis [[parentheses]] are White’s.

3.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 24, 1837. Copy in UVL.

4.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 24, 1836. Copy in UVL.

5.  White-Tucker, Richmond, January 31, 1837. Copy in UVL.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 66:]

1.  White-Scott, Richmond, April 5, 1837. Typescript.

2.  Heath-Poe, Richmond, September 12, 1839. H, XVII, 47.


[S:1 - CCWEAP, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - A Canon of the Critical Works of EAP (W. D. Hull) (Part I, Chapter I)