Text: Hervey Allen, “Chapter 07,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1926), volume 1, pp. 110-131


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[page 110, unnumbered:]

 

CHAPTER VII
Israfel Salutes the Marquis

 

OVER a third of the span of the days allotted Israfel had already flashed their way through the kaleidoscope of their seasons, before “Helen” was borne to her final refuge. The fiery, sensitive young boy was fast ‘budding into the even more sensitive man, a process which seems to have taken place rather precociously in Poe, for all accounts agree that, both mentally and physically, the young poet developed “beyond his years.” That his heredity and temperament completed themselves in an accelerated, but accentuated, and rather brief period, the history of his parents and the evidence about him seems to indicate. He was a lamp which burned intensely in response to the current of a life which was so strong, and which alternated so violently between hope and despair, that the filament was soon burnt out. In the course of the next few years, from 1823 on, he was to experience a nervous tension and undergo trials, the nerve racking effect of which undoubtedly left him unstrung, and followed him through the remaining lustra of his life. To a finely organized body and intellect, the trials of adolescence are often sufficient in themselves to dictate the future motions of the man; add to this the body-blows of death, an unhappy and harassed love affair, a complete change in the methods of living of one’s family, with all the adjustments of environment involved, accompanied by an agony of domestic dissensions, and it does not require the prophetic offices of a psychologist to predict the result.(155) Through such an experience the young Poe was about to pass. For several reasons, then, the year 1823 may be said to definitely mark the end of his childhood.

One of the minor changes, but, nevertheless to a youth, an important [page 113:] one, was the resignation of Master Joseph Clarke as the headmaster of the school which Poe attended, the somewhat flamboyant regime of the Irishman giving way to that of the new incumbent, Master William Burke, a man of sounder learning and more rigid discipline, the rod being by no means a stranger to his strong right hand. In the Fall of 1823, Edgar Allan Poe was the star pupil in the ceremony attendant upon the change of school administrations, and addressed his retiring master in an English ode, written by himself for the occasion.(156) The delighted old Irishman never forgot this, and, years later in Baltimore, recalled of his famous pupil that “Edgar had a very sweet disposition, he was always cheerful, brimful of mirth and a very great favorite with his schoolmates. I never had occasion to speak a harsh word to him, much less to make him do penance. He had a great ambition to excell.” Master Clarke also remembered that during the vacation of 1822 two of his pupils, Edgar Poe and Nat Howard, had each written him a complimentary letter in Latin and that Edgar’s had been in verse. That before he was sixteen, Poe could manage Latin verses, and compose and deliver in English a school ode for an audience of his schoolmates and parents, may be minor exhibits, but they are at least tell-tale straws on the current of his literary progress.(157)

With the advent of Master Burke, a less happy period of every-day and school life seems to have fallen upon Poe. Not that the new schoolmaster was responsible, indeed, it was noted by Edgar’s schoolmates that Poe was almost alone among them in escaping condign attentions, but the young scholar seems to have developed an aloofness and moodiness, a tendency to withdraw himself more than ever from the generally all-absorbing activities of school life, so engrossing to the average boy, which was the cause of remark and distinctly remembered by his fellows.(158) Looking backward, it is not hard to understand what must have been a mystery to his schoolmates. [page 114:]

Mrs. Stanard was going insane and dying. About this time the visits to her house must have had to cease, and we can imagine Edgar’s anxious inquiries morning after morning of little Robert before school, the mournful replies of his little friend, and the vision of a loved face, seen through a haze of secret tears, glimmering vaguely upon the pages of Latin texts. Decidedly, this would not be understood by the boys on the benches about him, nor was it a subject which he desired to have discussed. The repression and depression of secret sorrow had already begun to erect its barrier between him and the bright juvenile world about. There were also, in all probability, other reasons for sullen irritation and disquiet, reasons the most profound.

About this time the health of Poe’s foster-mother again becomes the subject of anxious remarks in the annals of the family correspondence,(159) and it seems probable that Frances Allan began about now to pass into the state of ill health and decline which in the space of three or four years was to stretch her not far from Mrs. Stanard in Shockoe Cemetery.

Poe loved Frances Allan with one of the greatest loves of his life,(160) the ties of gratitude and natural affection which bound him to her were as great as can exist. In addition, she possessed that quality of physical beauty which he worshiped, and by this time he must have long known that it was to her and her sister, to his “dear Ma, and Aunt Nancy” that he owed his preservation and his continued cherishing in the house of John Allan. What were the physical causes of Mrs. Allan’s continued illness, and whether they were connected with her childlessness, is a question which by its inevitable and proper privacy precludes both the material for and the desire to discuss it. That Poe pondered it, however, in his heart seems hardly problematical He was now a man, possessed of the mature knowledge and feelings which often come early to Southern youths, and he lived in an [page 115:] age and place where the frankness and outspoken habits of the late Eighteenth Century still lingered strongly. What he knew, or thought about this problem which affected him and his family circle so vitally, we can never know, but it is possible that results of his speculations may have strongly affected him in his attitude towards his foster-father. They were facing each other now in the same house as man to man. It was no longer, as in England, “little Edgar” and “Pa,” but Edgar Allan Poe, poet, looking searchingly into the eyes of John Allan, merchant. Upon occasions it must have been a type of scrutiny which even John Allan found somewhat disconcerting.

In 1823-1824 Richmond, Virginia, was a small town according to modern standards, of whose inhabitants a large proportion were slaves. The conventions of society were strict, and the confines of the white community in the city were numerically narrow. The wireless was yet to be invented, but news of a certain character undoubtedly radiated rapidly, and, from the nature of the conditions existing in the Allan household from about this time until the death and the filing of the will of John Allan, which confirmed certain rumors, it seems warrantable to infer that Frances Allan was by now aware of the fact that she had not ‘been the sole object of her husband’s affections.(161)

That the intelligence would be disturbing to her, and to the little circle over whose destinies she had watched with tender love and solicitude, it seems fatuous to remark. Whether she confided immediately in Edgar no one can know. It seems unlikely. Her loyalty to her husband, and her regard for the tender feelings of the sensitive schoolboy would probably forbid, but Poe would be quick to sense the electricity in the atmosphere of trouble, and in the inevitable family alignment which was to follow, [page 116:] he could not have helped but take the side to which sympathy, and, a little later, full knowledge of the facts impelled him. It was, of course, that of his “mother.”

During the period of financial embarrassment leading up to the mortgaging and assignment of his property(162) after the return from England, John Allan’s temper could not have been of the best, and this too would have added to the stresses in the household. Two years later, on March 26, 1825, however, Mr. Allan was relieved of the shadow on this side of his affairs by the death of his uncle, William Galt, who left him the bulk of a great fortune, the Allans, Galts, and other relatives in both America and Scotland coming in for minor shares. It was an event which had been anticipated with various feelings by a large number of those who expected to benefit. Poe afterwards stated that the fortune .amounted in all to $750,000, whether that is substantially correct or not, it is difficult at this date to ascertain.(163) Suffice it to say, that John Allan found himself the recipient of a fortune in cash, merchandise, slaves, securities and real estate, which would in modern times entitle him to be described as a millionaire. The readjustments involved in his life, status and social ambitions, and the effect of these upon his immediate family were various and not altogether restful, nor entirely happy.

As one of the richest men in Virginia, he would inevitably become the object of considerable attention and remark, a condition which, owing to certain aspects of his private affairs, was not altogether to be relished. Envy was, as always, present to drop a little vitriol into the Falernian. John Allan was troubled with a lame foot and raised his cane high when he walked — “So Galt has left all his money to old swell-foot Allan” — was the remark made by a Richmond acquaintance in a letter to a friend [page 117:] when he heard the news.(164) Perhaps the feeling of such an attitude in the background, brought the cane down a little more firmly, and gave a firmness and breadth to certain plans for the future in which a grand family mansion played a part; plans that might otherwise have been conceived upon a somewhat less impressive scale. There was trouble in Scotland over the administration of the will, too, and threats to appeal to the law. In the eyes of certain relatives the shares which they received appeared attenuated,(165) and the brisk correspondence which ensued reeked with Caledonian frankness, to which the replies were carefully pondered.

All this was not conducive to the peace of mind of John Allan or Edgar Allan Poe. The world about was troubled by many things, its vistas were suddenly strangely widened, the prime affections upon which it hung were becoming frayed, and in the background She of the agate lamp was awfully dying. Of these days, Creed Thomas, Poe’s schoolmate, says(166) — “It was a noticeable fact that he never asked any of his schoolmates to go home with him after school. The boys would frequently on Fridays take dinner or spend the night with each other at their homes, but Poe was never known to enter into this social intercourse. After he left the school ground we saw no more of him until next day.” Where was the merry and popular Edgar Poe of other days? The shadows, it would seem, had already begun to fall.

In April, 1824, occurred the death of Mrs. Stanard. It is not known definitely whether her unhappy young admirer was present at her burial or not. He was a close friend of little Rob, and well liked by the family, but the chances are against it, as the [page 118:] nature of “Helen’s” taking off had been so peculiarly tragic that even the presence of dear “strangers” would have been painful to the family. If Poe haunted her grave at night as tradition asserts, the nature of his experiences in a dark cemetery with the sound of the night wind through the funereal gratings and tall grave grasses must have been searing to the soul of one who was scarcely more than a boy. Nor could a reckless abandonment to even so extreme and natural a grief have failed to give a morbid cast to his thoughts, and have tried his already taut nervous system. The truth is that Poe’s weeping by night at the grave of “Helen” is one of the episodes in his life which probably can never be reduced to a certainty. The main evidence for it rests upon his own account given years later to Mrs. Helen Whitman, when he was under every inducement to render as romantic as possible every association which hung about the name of “Helen,” past and present. The story is almost too dramatically pat, and episodically fortunate, to be taken as wholly true. It agrees too well with the legend which he built up about himself later, and with the lugubrious sentimentality of the time. It is what he would like to have happened, and that, only too often, was sufficient for Poe to “make it so.” That he was afraid of the dark and a prey to terrifying visions, is against the probability of his watching by a new made grave at night, nor was the cemetery in those days of medical license without proper caretakers. It is also true that other sad associations of the place were later added to burden his memory.(167) A visit to the spot with the facts in mind will best enable one to decide. That his grief was a great one, and lasting, no one can ever doubt.

About this time Poe seems to have first been haunted by nightmares, of which John Mackenzie heard him say afterward, “that the most horrible thing he (Poe) could imagine as a boy was to feel an ice-cold hand laid upon his face in a pitch dark room when alone at night; or to awaken in semi-darkness and see an [page 119:] evil face gazing close into his own; and that these fancies had so haunted him that he would often keep his head under the bedcovering until nearly suffocated.” Here at least is something to make the psychologist ponder and the philosopher start. What may be the significance of cold, dead hands laid at midnight upon the brow of a shuddering boy must be left to them. The dead, however, at this time were by no means the entire preoccupation of young Poe.

In the Autumn of 1824 not only the City of Richmond but the entire State of Virginia was looking forward feverishly and preparing dramatically for the approaching visit of the Marquis de La Fayette.(168) It was the greatest national event of a personal nature since the death of Washington, and it occurred at a period when there was nothing of much importance to occupy the mind of the public politically or internationally. By the end of the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century La Fayette had outlived nearly all of his great revolutionary contemporaries, and he personified to the new generations, and to the already awakening giant of the young Western Republic, the ideals which in theory at least were held most dear. No doubt had as yet been entertained as to their efficacy to bring about the millennium, and in the romantic, affable, and intriguingly hawk-like little Frenchman, the sons and daughters of the generation of the Revolution beheld the foe of tyrants, the friend of Washington, a great soldier, and the symbol of the triumph of the doctrines of Jefferson, and the philosophy of Rousseau. Here was a perfect hero in fact and body, and the reception tendered him throughout the Union took on all the guise of a patriotic triumph. Nor was it without justification. It was received on the part of the honor guest with a tact and grace, the memory of which played its part in one of the side shows of the World War a century later. In the life of Poe, it provided the first opportunity for the young poet to participate in the affairs of this world in the rôle of a man. What he learned while La Fayette was in Richmond, and the effect of his active [page 120:] part in the military pomp and ceremonial display of the occasion, bore fruit in the future actions and movements of the man. It was his confirmation into the affairs of adult life.

Virginia was under peculiar debt to La Fayette, his campaign against Arnold and his gallantry at Yorktown were remembered as a part of her history, and the Old Dominion determined to surpass herself in the tradition of open-handed hospitality. Letters began to pour in to Governor Pleasants from all over the State.

Frederickburg, Oct. 6th, 1824

JAMES PLEASANTS, Esqr.

DEAR SIR:

Under the impression that Genl La Fayette on his route to York will pass through this town the citizens are making preparations to receive him.

Connected with these arrangements, it is wished to know the views of the Executive of the State on this subject after the example of other States, is it intended that you meet him at the State line in person or by deputation, and what mode of conveyance is intended for him? I am requested by our Committee of arrangements here to ask your reply to the above.

Should you pass through this town to meet him on the Potomac, our citizens will be pleased of the opportunity of testifying the respect which they entertain towards you.

Respectfully,  
GARRETT MINER(169)

To a great soldier the chief honors were, of course, to be military, and in addition to the letters from patriotic citizens, there were many from the commanding officers of the State Militia asking to be provided with arms for the occasion from the State Arsenals. The helpless state of the militia, indeed, is not without its alarming and amusing sides.(170)

In Richmond the excitement and anticipation were intense, and in no circles more so than among the young gentlemen of Burke’s [page 121:] Academy and other well-born youths of the town. A military company, called the “Richmond Junior Volunteers” or “Morgan Legion” was organized and provided with a uniform of the fringed hunting shirts of the frontier. Of this proud little company John Lyle was elected Captain, and Edgar Allan Poe Lieutenant, a distinct tribute to Poe, for the offices were doubtless much coveted. The next thing on the tapis was to provide the organization with arms, the details of which transaction seem to have been managed by the two young officers.

In the carefully fostered legend of the faithfulness and contentment of the slaves under the ancient regime in the old South, it has been conveniently forgotten that one of the ever present fears under which a slave-holding community lived was the nightmare of a rebellion of the blacks. Nor was it an idle dream. There had been in Virginia already several alarming, though abortive, attempts on the part of the negroes which, however futile, had sufficed to raise the “goose flesh” of the planters and the inhabitants of towns. In Richmond a regiment of the State Guards was kept ready for emergencies at all times, and a portion known as “the guard,” was always under arms at the penitentiary where the barracks were. The officers were required to appear upon all occasions in uniform. In order to welcome La Fayette it was proposed to march the 19th, Richmond, Regiment out of the city. As it would never do to leave the town entirely unguarded, an arrangement was made to distribute arms to volunteer militia which this letter records.

SIR

Dr. Adams the Mayor of the City of Richmond has suggested the propriety on my part as the Col. of the ipth Regiment of applying to the Executive for a number of arms to be used by the militia during the absence of the many persons who are about to leave the City for York, which can be returned after the particular necessity for them ceases. In furtherance of his views I have thought it proper to make the application and would be pleased jtf the Executive would communicate their determination to the Mayor.

I am Sir, etc.  
L. B. DARVIE(169)  
Col. 19th Regt., Va. Inf.

[page 122:]

The permission was granted and among those applying for arms was the Company of Junior Morgan Riflemen, the application being signed by John Lyle, Captain, and Edgar A. Poe, Lieutenant. The matter-of-fact indorsement on the outside

Richmond Oct. 13, 1824

TO THE GOVENOR AND COUNCIL

GENTLEMEN:

The subscribers to the inclosed list having associated for the purpose of forming a patrol, for the protection of the City during the absence of the Volunteer Companies, respectfully ask through me that they may be furnished with the necessary Arms and Acoutrements.

Respectfully  
INMAN BAKER, JR.(169)

can scarcely convey the pride and sense of rapture which must have filled the hearts of the Richmond Junior Volunteers, who were included in the list, as they put real guns over their shoulders, or of Lieutenant Edgar Poe as he girt a sword on his thigh and sallied forth to meet La Fayette.

La Fayette,(171) clad in a cocked hat and short trousers, a style then almost extinct, arrived on a steamer from Norfolk. “Along with John C. Calhoun and two members of the visiting committee, he was drawn in a carriage by four horses while the Fayette Guard marched in front, and young George Washington La Fayette followed in similar state behind. This procession of carriages, filled with officers and worthies of the Revolution, passed to a double arch of evergreens, in front of the Union Hotel, at the corners of which were four beautiful young ladies posed as living statues.” Here the Marquis was greeted by forty officers of the Revolution, his comrades in arms of as many years before. Not the least moving sight of the procession which followed, and certainly the proudest of all, was the company of “pretty boys” called the “Richmond Junior Volunteers,” which headed by Captain John Lyle and Lieutenant Edgar Poe, with their swords at salute, now passed in review. [page 123:]

The boys of this company, as representing some of the best families of Richmond, seem to have acted as a bodyguard for the old patriot, and there is a well-founded tradition of their escorting him to the Memorial Church with Chief Justice Marshall, where Captain Lyle and Lieutenant Poe accompanied him up the aisle to the Marshall pew.

Poe would have been doubly proud, for he must have been noticed and have become personally known to La Fayette as the grandson of “General” David Poe of Baltimore, On his visit there La Fayette is said to have gone especially to the grave of the old Revolutionary hero and exclaimed, “Ici repose un coeur noble”(172) The knowledge of this fact, which could scarcely have been unknown to Poe who was in correspondence with his brother William Henry,(173) and other relatives in Baltimore, must have quickened his sense of family pride on his paternal side, and have drawn his attention to a military career. At any rate, less than three years later we find him joining the Army.

The effect of a boys’ cadet company upon the psychology of its members is more lasting and goes deeper than most casually minded parents realize. The pride of gold lace and brass buttons, the fine feathers of the young warrior, their affect upon the young ladies of his acquaintance, and the gang spirit engendered by the organization which develops the chief virtue of youth, loyalty, is often character-fixing in its effect. Poe, as an officer, had exercised authority, its taste was sweet, beyond doubt, and his pride and self reliance had been aroused. That the “Richmond Junior Volunteers” were a great success is evident from the fact that they [page 124:] did not disband, and, a month after La Fayette’s visit, they are to be found still drilling and petitioning for the permanent possession of their arms.

Richmond, Nov. 17, 1824

TO THE GOVERNOR:

At the request of the members of the Richmond Junior Volunteers, we beg leave to solicit your permission for them to retain the arms which they lately were permitted to draw from the Armorey. We are authorized to say that each individual will not only pledge himself to take proper care of them, but we ourselves will promise to attend strictly to the order in which they are kept by the company.

We are, etc.  
JOHN LYLE  
EDGAR A. POE(174)

As to Governor Pleasants’ reply, the records are silent, but for Poe the end of his military juvenilia was not yet.

During his association with the members of other military organizations and various persons with whom this new freedom of experience brought him in contact, young Poe seems for the first time to have ranged the city rather freely, and to have been treated as a man. It cannot be positively stated, but it seems highly probable, that the effect of this experience at a time of open house and mardi gras while La Fayette was being fêted, was to bring him in contact with new acquaintances of a type who regaled his ears in no uncertain terms with the details and circumstances of his foster-father’s indiscretions; so that he gathered from a portion of the community, with which he had not heretofore been familiar, a more precise idea of the estimation in which, in some quarters, his guardian was held.

Be this as it may, at any rate there is direct evidence of the fact that about this time his moodiness and general attitude began ‘to give his guardian considerable alarm. Inference seems to warrant the assumption that the severe visitations of John Allan’s discipline could not Have been received at this time by Edgar with the purely regretful protests of childhood. As the rod fell on shoulders which had just worn epaulets, or upon that humbler [page 125:] locality where the rods of parents are wont to descend, it is highly probable that the hurt pride of “Lieutenant Poe,” lately attached to the Marquis de La Fayette, replied to the reproaches of his guardian in a truthful but disrespectful manner; or that he sulked like a young bear and indicated that there were good reasons why. John Allan was not only displeased, he was alarmed; and shortly after the departure of the Marquis we find him justifying himself to the Almighty and fortifying himself in the regard of Edgar’s brother in Baltimore in a rather interesting style. The letter is to William Henry Leonard Poe then seventeen years old.

Richmond Nov. 1824

DEAR HENRY:

I have just seen your letter of the 2Sth ult. to Edgar and am much afflicted he has not written you. He has had little else to do, for me he does nothing and seems quite miserable and sulky and ill tempered to all the Family. How we have acted to produce this is beyond my conception, why I have put up so long with his conduct is little less wonderful. The boy professes not a spark of affection for us, not a particle of affection for all my care and kindness towards him. I have given (him) a much superior Education than ever I received myself. If Rosalie has to relie on any affection from him God in his mercy perserve her — I fear his associates have led him to adopt a course (?) of thinking and acting very contrary to what he professed when in England. I feel proudly the difference between your principles and his and hence my desire to stand as I ought to do in your Estimation. Had I done my duty as faithfully to my God as I ought to Edgar, then had Death, come when he will have no terrors for me, but I must end this with a devout wish that God may yet bless him and you and that success may crown all your endeavors and between you, your poor Sister Rosalie(175) may not suffer. At least she is half your sister and God forbid my dear Henry that we should visit upon the living the errors of the dead. Believe me Dear Henry we take an affectionate interest in your destinies and our United Prayers will be that the God of Heaven will bless and protect you. Rely on him my Brave and excellent Boy who is ready to save to the uttermost. May he keep you in Danger, preserve you always is the prayer of your

Friend & Servant
(JOHN ALLAN) [page 126:]

On the back of the copy of this note, there is characteristically enough, a calculation for compound interest of a certain sum at six per cent in the same pious hand.(176)

Perhaps the cold palm which Edgar had felt upon his brow was not altogether a dream. To be able in the same breath to defend oneself, by endeavoring to cause dissension between brothers, while casting a slur on the mother of the same youth on whose head the divine blessing is invoked — and to calmly turn over the same sheet of paper and calculate the amount of compound interest due, is to proclaim oneself in the possession of qualities which, if not human, are certainly not divine. Such was evidently the spirit of the man who devoutly consigned the future of the Poe orphans to the mercy of God.

Keeping the spiritual vista thus opened to us by John Allan’s own pen in mind, his more mundane proceedings can now be chronicled. The old house at the corner of Fourteenth Street and Tobacco Alley once more comes into view. It had been left John Allan as part of the Galt estate, and to it the family now moved once again for a while, but not for long. It is this house, still standing, with which the most intimate and earliest memories of Poe must be associated when thinking of his boyhood in Richmond. Strangely enough it has been almost overlooked, doubtless eclipsed by the traditions of Edgar Poe which gathered about a grander and more impressive mansion to which the family next removed.

Naturally enough the inheritance received from William Galt in 1825 changed the social outlook and the mode of life of John Allan and his family. Coincident with the turn for the better in their circumstances there had been, despite Mrs. Allan’s precarious health, an increase in the round of social gaieties, and the old house at Fourteenth Street, so convenient from a business standpoint, was found inadequate for their different needs.(177) [page 127:]

On June 28, 1825, only three months after the probating of his uncle’s will 7 Mr. Allan bought at auction a large house on the southeast corner of Main and Fifth Streets for the sum of $14,950.(178) It was a good bargain as the former owner had paid $19,100 for it, but died before he completed payments. The house had been built by David Meade Randolph, but was afterward purchased and much improved by Señor Joseph Gallego, a rich Andalusian merchant of Richmond, who had indulged his Spanish fancy for landscaping by planting a double garden below the house; that on the east being for vegetables, while the slope of the hill on the south, which the house overlooked, was green with abundantly bearing grape-vines, fig trees, and raspberry bushes; nor were flowers, vines, and shrubs lacking with bloom and sweet scent. Here was a garden, indeed, for a certain young poet who loved flowers, and was doubtless not averse to figs.

In this house, since torn down, occurred the most momentous passages of Poe’s early life; it is forever connected with his name and that of John Allan in Richmond; some of its furnishings have achieved a permanent place in our literature, and to it, in his thoughts, Israfel forever returned “home.” In view of this, a description of it, as a background for the life he led there, will assume more than an antiquarian interest.

From its windows there was a magnificent sweep of scenery to be seen, a view of the valley of the James stretching away into Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, and of Manchester, on the south bank, then a delightful little village. This with its bridges, its islands, its river, falls, meadows, woods and hamlets was the country of Poe’s boyhood. The generous doorway of the mansion opened into a spacious hall, on the right of which was the morning reception and tea room. Just across the hall from the front room was the dining room, octagon in shape, and beautifully lighted. On the second floor was the large octagon parlor or ball room, famous for many a brilliant affair, while John Allan’s own chamber was immediately over the front door, with windows that overlooked the drive and front yard. On the same floor were three [page 128:] other bedrooms, one occupied by Miss Valentine, another spare room for guests, and a third which was Edgar’s.

Poe’s room was at the end of a hall that ended in a wedge-shaped alcove just beyond a rather dark twist in the stairs.(179) In this recess, so that it protruded somewhat beyond the door, was a table upon which stood an agate lamp, always kept burning at night, because of the dark stairs and hall. On this table it was Poe’s habit to throw his coat as he entered the room. The chamber had two windows, one fronting north, and one east with an extensive view, for at that time there were no other buildings upon Mr. Allan’s square. There was in addition to the usual bedroom furniture, a comfortable lounge where Poe loved to lie and read; a table for his books; and a wardrobe well furnished — we hear of occasions upon which young visitors to the house were supplied with extra clothing from Edgar’s store. This, especially, must have been grateful to Poe, who was at this time by way of being a bit of a dandy, — neat and careful of his rather distinguished person at all times, except when in the clutches of poverty later on, or during one of his sprees. In short, his appearance was always a barometer of his mental and financial condition. By inclination and training he was orderly in his living and punctilious about his dress.

We are told by one who had often been there, that against the walls of Poe’s bedroom in the Allan house was a modest shelf of books, and at this time there would certainly have been more in his father’s library. In view of the fact that many of these books must have been instrumental in shaping the man’s imagination, it is interesting to speculate what volumes may have been there. Nor is this a mere guess, books were infinitely less numerous then than they are now, literary taste was more fixed, and the sources of the boy’s lines in his first volume of poetry, most of which goes back to Richmond or University days, are often quite obvious. [page 129:]

On the shelves and table of his room where he studied there were, of course, his text books, among them some of the classics, Homer, Virgil, Caesar, Cicero, and Horace. There would have been old grammars, dog-eared spellers, readers, and French readers, — some of them perhaps brought back from England, — English and American histories, some of the Gothic Romances, and probably a manual or two on military tactics. Byron, Moore and Wordsworth we may be sure were present, with Coleridge and Keats, and more doubtfully Shelley, certainly some of the old Eighteenth Century poets with which the libraries of Southern gentlemen were so liberally stocked. Don Quixote, Gil Bias and Joe Miller we hear of later in a letter. Milton was there, the boy knew him, Burns, of course — Mr. Allan was a Scotchman. Campbell and Kirke White can be added to the list and perhaps E. C. Pinkney.(180)

Of novelists, Poe would by this time have come across Scott, Cooper, Charles Brockden Brown, and some of the earlier things of Irving, and he would have made the acquaintance of Macaulay and other English essayists and reviewers in the pages of the Edinburgh Review, and Blackwood’s which were largely subscribed to in Richmond. Certainly he must have read the poetical effusions of local and contemporary, but now long forgotten, “bards” and “bardesses” in both the American and British periodicals and newspapers of the day.

There is direct evidence of an abundance of these. Richmond and his father were in close touch with England through foreign trade and family relations, and one of the obliging side issues of the firm of Ellis & Allan was to act as agents for subscriptions to newspapers and other publications. During part of the firm’s history it handled popular London periodicals and even sheet music. These were kept upon the second floor of the Ellis & Allan establishment, and Poe’s fondness for the spot was a matter of note. Although the boy was rather shy, it was remembered that upon occasions he would recite some favorite poem to those about the place. Among the periodicals which Poe is known to have [page 130:] seen there beyond all peradventure, were the London Critical Review of Annals of Literature from 1791 to 1803 in thirty-nine bound volumes, and the London Ladies’ Magazine for the same period bound in thirty volumes. Moore, Byron and Goldsmith seem to have greatly interested him,(181) Along with the rest of the world he must have been familiar with Scott. This together with the books in the libraries and upon the tables of his friends, his formal instruction at school, but, above all, the stock of volumes and periodicals over the offices of his “father’s” firm, seems to have constituted for the most part the literary background of Edgar Allan Poe. For that time, at least, it was by no means a scant one. He was an accurate and omniverous reader.

Frances Allan furnished the new house lavishly but in good taste. There were many rich hangings and some busts by Canova of Dante and Mary Magdeline, both of which seemed to have remained in Poe’s mind. The furniture was in a graceful late Empire style with gilt brass inlay. Poe seems to have had a desk in his room, or at least a table, upon which was a handsome brass inkstand and sand-caster, purchased by his foster-father and marked “John Allan ‘13.”(182) These Poe afterward took with him among the few things which he carried from John Allan’s home, and kept them by him for a long time.

The most delightful feature of the new dwelling, however, was the long portico extending the full depth of the house. The reception and dining room opened out upon it on the first floor, and Mr. Allan’s room and the parlor upstairs. Here through the long Virginia Spring, Summer, and Fall the family spent most of their time together with their constant guests. There was “a splendid swing” on the upstairs porch, and a telescope through which the young folks, particularly, loved to peep at the stars and the country across the James. Through its lenses the eyes of young [page 131:] Israfel first became familiar with those stars and constellations, the lovely names of which are strewn through his poetry, and, while his passion for astronomical and cosmic speculations was being aroused, through the same glass he became familiar with the quaint face and the dead mystery of the moon.(183), (761)

But not all of Poe’s time during the Spring and Summer of 1825 was spent reading in his room or at Ellis & Allan, swinging on the porch, or peering through telescopes. There was other and more serious game afoot.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 112:]

155.  The evidence of the growing tension from this time on in the Allan household rests upon such a variety of indications that, to present all the proof, would turn this chapter into an exhibition of stray phrases and hints from documents. A few of the more important will be presented.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 113:]

156.  Woodberry, 1909 edition, vol. I, page 25, and others.

157.  Recollections of Joseph Clarke, Poe’s schoolmaster, when interviewed by a Baltimore reporter.

158.  Recollections of John Mackenzie and Dr. Creed Thomas of Richmond, Poe’s schoolmates.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 114:]

159.  See Ellis & Allan Papers, Washington, D. C., in the letters between John Allan and his sisters about the Galt will this subject is incidentally mentioned,

160.  The letters of Poe to his foster-mother a few years later were said to have been couched in terms of passionate endearment.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 115:]

161.  Just when, or how, Frances Allan came to suspect this cannot, of course, be shown. From all indications, the life of the family while in England had been very happy. Between 1820 and 1824 something occurred to change this. Mrs. Allan’s health began seriously to fail, we find John Allan and Poe at serious odds, and Edgar very gloomy. From later correspondence it is known that Poe took his foster-mother’s part in the family dissensions. Miss Valentine’s sympathy was naturally with her sister. It appears that about this time Edwin Collier or one of the other illegitimate sons of Allan was taken from Richmond and sent to school in Washington, D. C.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 116:]

162.  The year 1823 had been one of extreme financial depression amounting to panic. William Galt’s death later, came in the nick of time to save John Allan.

163.  Letter from Poe to William Poe dated, Richmond, August 20th, 1835, “Brought up to no profession, and educated in the expectation of an immense fortune (Mr. A. having been worth $750,000) the blow has been a heavy one. . . .” etc. See Harrison, vol. II, page 15. See also the will of William Galt, Appendix.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 117:]

164.  The author does not fed at liberty to quote the source. See also a letter concerning William Galt printed, Appendix.

165.  Letter from John Allan to one of his sisters, even some years later, from Richmond, March 27, 1827. “. . . Perhaps the four first Legatees named in my Uncle’s Will do not attach sufficient importance to Capt. and Jane Walsh’s lawyer’s letter, you are out of the scrape, unless indeed Capt. Walsh can prove as he has written that there can be no doubt but Jane is entitled to the whole residue. I think this rather too absurd, but will scuffle for her third in place of a Seventh. . . .” etc., for three long pages. Ellis & Allan Papers, Washington, D. C.

166.  Dr. Creed Thomas, afterward a well-known Richmond physician.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 118:]

167.  The author ventures it as his opinion here that Poe’s terrible grief upon returning from the army in 1829 and finding Frances Allan dead, and his well authenticated despair at her grave after the funeral, was later on confused in his own mind, and in the recollections of others, with a more romantic legend about Mrs. Stanard. The reader is left to his own inferences.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 119:]

168.  If the reader should think that the incident is given undue prominence here, let him turn to the newspapers and letters of the time. The importance of La Fayette’s visit as a turning point in Poe’s experience has never been made dear.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 120:]

169.  This and the letters immediately following are from the archives of the Virginia State Library.

170.  See a characteristic letter from Yorktown, Virginia, dated 25 September, 1824, to George Pleasants requesting arms for the local militia unit, signed John B. Christian, Capt, — Virginia State Library Archives.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 122:]

171.  For a complete and excellent description, of La Fayette’s visit to Richmond see Richmond, Its People and Its Story, by Mary Newton Stanard, chapter XVI.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 123:]

172.  Here, indeed, rested a noble heart — David Poe, Assistant Deputy Quartermaster for Baltimore during the Revolutionary War, had been one of the foremost of the young patriots who had cleared the British out of Maryland. Notable among his deeds was the leading of a mob that drove out the Royal Sheriff and made one William Goddard, editor of a Tory sheet which had attacked Washington, feel the weight of patriotic wrath. “General” Poe, as he was called, not only fought for his country but, out of his own scant savings, advanced certain sums to the cause which were never repaid. In 1814, at the age of seventy-one, he again volunteered and saw active fighting against the British in the Battle of North Point. Many years after his death in Baltimore, his widow, then in greatly reduced circumstances, received a pittance from the Republic.

173.  Edgar had received a letter from Henry Poe in Baltimore while La Fayette was in Richmond — See John Allan’s letter to Henry Poe page 125.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 124:]

174.  Calendar of Virginia State Papers, X, 518, (1892). The original letter has been lost.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 125:]

175.  In the Ellis & Allan Papers, from which this letter is taken, are found about this time nine charges by John Allan against both Edgar and Rosalie for small amounts of postage.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 126:]

176.  Photostat of this letter in the possession of the author. The letter was a copy kept in the Ellis & Allan Files, the original, of course, having gone to Henry Poe. No doubt the copy was retained to show to Edgar. The copy is unsigned, but is in John Allan’s own hand.

177.  William Galt’s will was signed March 25, 1825 and probated March 29, 1825. The house at Tobacco Alley and Fourteenth Street was a bequest to John Allan. See appendix III.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 127:]

178.  Letter of Col. Thomas Ellis to George E. Woodberry dated Baltimore, May 28, 1884.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 128:]

179.  For some of the details as to Poe’s room In the Allan house I am indebted to a Richmond antiquary, to the recollections of Thomas Boiling, a visitor to Poe’s room, and to articles still preserved at the Poe Shrine in Richmond and elsewhere, and to the letter of Col. Thomas Ellis to Prof. Woodberry — see note 173.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 129:]

180.  For the last three names I am indebted to Dr. Thomas Ollive Mabbott.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 130:]

181.  Prof. Killis Campbell is to be credited with extracting many of these facts from the Ellis & Allan Papers. I am also in possession of book and newspaper lists ordered by the firm. J. H. Whitty, Complete Poems, large edition, page 200, also notes.

182.  Now in possession of the Bucks County Historical Society at Doylcstown, Pennsylvania, with an interesting record of their history. The style of the furniture shows that the house was furnished by Frances Allan about 1825.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 131:]

183.  See the Adventure of Hans Pfaall, The Balloon Hoax. In the latter story Poe’s knowledge of astronomical perspective is mathematically correct. The mathematics of the stars interested him as well as their poetical names. Poe certainly knew sufficient mathematics to navigate.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - HVA26, 1926] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Chapter 07)