Text: Hervey Allen, “Chapter 23,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1926), volume 2, pp. 669-729


[page 669, unnumbered:]


The Literati and the Fordham Pastoral


EDGAR POE was living in a time between times. There were a great many ideas in the air — a great many things were happening — but in America, at least, nothing had yet solidified politically, socially, or intellectually. Literature, as a consequence, was equally chaotic. There was a restless drift to the free lands of the West, Individuals found the answer to individual problems toy abandoning the environment and atmosphere which produced them. The East was thus relieved of the pressure of solving what could happily be left to future and more crowded generations.

“The period from 1846 to 1860 was our period of comparative free trade. . . . It was a period of very great and very solid prosperity . . . the manufacturers did not perish, (nor did they) gain sudden and exorbitant profits. They made steady and genuine progress.”(734) The bows of Yankee clipper-ships clove the most distant seas, from which the seaboard cities from Boston to New Orleans reaped a noble harvest. They were the homes of a stable merchant class, influenced to a considerable degree by European culture and Oriental importations. Already the Parthenon was beginning to mate with the pagoda. Hospitality was lavish. There was a supporting stream of immigration, and plenty of room for all. Consequently life still moved fairly leisurely, and with a self-assurance, and a certainty of abundance, that it has seldom attained elsewhere.

In New York, which was then verging on the half million mark in population, the literary and social problems of the day were eagerly and constantly discussed in the various “parlours” of those who were benefiting by a prosperous order of things; but discussed with a perfunctory ardor, and a sentimental perfervidness [page 670:] possible only to people who, as yet, failed to understand the aesthetic and social implications of questions which they restlessly agitated without feeling a compelling necessity to solve. Three great movements were already well initiated: abolition, prohibition, and woman suffrage. Thus matters went on in the colorless administration of James K. Polk, and the days of the Wilmot Proviso.

Could we now be suddenly introduced into one of the numerous salons of the time in Manhattan, after the shock of the costumes of the time had passed, we would then notice, as the chief difference thrust upon our attention, the accent and mannerisms of the vigorous speech of the time.(735) The spoken language was still largely that of the provincial English of the Eighteenth or even of the Seventeenth Century, inherited from colonial ancestors, and, as yet, undenatured by the debilitating and “refining” toil of three generations of sure but mistaken school “marms.” “Calm” and “clam” were still pronounced alike, as they were meant to be. The Lord and lard were still confounded in sound, after the manner of Pope, and the grand vigorous “r” still rolled in “thunder,” undenounced as yet by such expatriates as Henry James, and Rhodes scholars accustomed to the English curate’s “Swahd of the Lahd and Gideon” affectations. “Umbrellers” were invariably carried in New England where the drive against the “r” began.(736) In the South where babies were nursed, and often suckled by “mammies” and “dahs” not long from the Congo or its tributaries, the Ethiopian accent was already fixed, and a matter of pride. The hard dry nasal twang pressed westward with the frontier. It was a difficult country in which to write [page 671:] classical English poetry. There were few who made capital of the condition as Poe did.

As the days of 1846 began to flap back on the calendar, the nation began to drift with a complacent, imperial, and largely slave owner’s optimism into war with Mexico. In July, 1845, Texas had accepted a Congressional proposal of annexation. In May, the President had sent a message to Congress “announcing a state of war.” The Mexicans, he said, had invaded our territory and shed the blood of fellow citizens on our own soil! A vast new territory was ruthlessly annexed, and the problem of slavery or free soil became more explicit. Henceforth politics, literature, and journalism began more and more to be given over to slavery vs. abolition, federal vs. state’s rights. In such an atmosphere, the purely artistic products of poetical imaginations were less and less thought about or valued, Whittier’s innumerable stanzas on “bondsman and proud Sothrons,” and the atmosphere for Uncle Tom’s Cabin were soon to be created.(737) In 1846, such literature was getting under way.

Underneath all of this, there was a blind political and social optimism difficult to understand.(738) To the spread of American political institutions, there was practically no effective resistance in North America. It was a vast field, and the inference was easily arrived at, that the wings of the eagle were rapidly to overshadow the world. The statements of statesmen, politicians, and journalists of the time, make the outbreak of imperialism in the 1890’s seem like the maiden dreams of a child. “At no remote date the American continent will rejoice under the beneficent shadow of our free institutions destined to spread their blessings upon all from pole to pole.”(739) It is impossible to exaggerate the ridiculous bombast that rolled in rhetorical periods from rostrums, [page 672:] stumps, and editorial sanctums. “Our destiny is bounded only by the world!”

The enormous impetus given to “progress”(740) by the suddenly acquired power conferred by mechanical inventions, and the application of machinery, led naturally to the expectation that the fields of psychology and art would be as rapidly exploited. The world was credulously prepared for the announcement of any new wonders. To an age which seemed to be, and actually was, swiftly acquiring a mastery over natural forces at an unprecedented speed, it seemed only natural that the realm of the supernatural might soon be annexed, explored, and exploited as a kind of spiritual Texas. In a few years, spiritualism, “psychic phenomena,” and new religions were in full swing. Mormonism was already prospering alarmingly. The America of the 1840s and 1850s added new comments and offshoots to the Christianity of the era, the most powerful and, in numbers, th£ most far-reaching which had agitated men since the Reformation. A transatlantic Protestantism long cut off from its source, under new conditions, was following out its “natural destiny” of splitting up again and again into an infinite variety of mutually antagonistic sects. The same Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper which had conferred the $100 prize on Poe’s Gold Bug was filled with the pictures and doings of Prophet Joseph Smith and his adherents. The vast unsettled lands of the great American desert revived and excused the institution of polygamy. In a few years, thousands of Americans were to dress themselves in white and calmly await upon housetops the second coming of Christ. Almost anything might happen, for almost everything had. In 1849, Eldorado was actually found.(741)

Such were some of the movements and cross-currents which [page 673:] agitated the more simple members of the new republican community. Even the more cultured and refined were leavened by the general ferment. The control of the conservatism of the New England, and the plantation communities was fast passing away. In the fourth generation, the sense of their being homogeneous communities with distinct European ideals was being absorbed, and weakened by the general continental mass. Puritanism, Quakerism, and Calvinism, all alike were in process of disintegration, and felt keenly the infringement upon them of the ideas and ideals of the new industrial democracy, against which, in self-protection, the “cavaliers” two decades later appeared in arms. Literature, as a reflection of all this, was no exception. It was starred by strange, and, to us, vague and naive currents.

About Boston and Concord, the Puritan elements, still holding to some of their old tenets, were embarked upon the adventure of transcendentalism in religion and philosophy, or the social experiments of Brook Farm and Fruitlands. The whole northeastern seaboard from Maine to Virginia was stirred by the beginnings of spiritualism. New York was a hotbed. All classes, from the hard-headed Horace Greeley to the grandsons of patroons, attended lectures on mesmerism, the possibilities of galvanic resuscitation, and phrenology. Trance poets, phrenological professors, and psychically sensitive ladies were going about lecturing and writing for magazines. The society which had conquered nature by the machine, now felt itself to be on the verge of solving the mysteries of the intellect and of the spiritual world

In western Pennsylvania the colonies of “Economists” and their like,(742) the last of the Eighteenth Century social experiments akin to the “Pantosocracy” of the Lake School, were going out of business from natural causes. In eastern Pennsylvania, Quakerism, Dunkerism, and the Mennonites still held firm. The Philadelphia Wistar Parties were continued among the aristocratically elect, and intellectually impotent Brahmins.(743) The brief light [page 674:] which the Tusculum group had shed in Baltimore in the ‘20s had proved a will-o’-the-wisp. That locality was absorbed in commercial enterprise, and the profitable planting of the Eastern Shore; Washington was conducting a war, and preparing for the duel between Calhoun and Webster; Richmond was given over to tobacco, politics, genealogy, and entertaining. The Southern Literary Messenger already pointed with pride to the days of Poe, and grew querulous over abolition. In South Carolina, Simms and Paul Hamilton Hayne suffered between literary admiration and social contempt, while the Charlestonians planted rice and engaged in their horse racing and gardening. In Georgia, one solitary and pathetic man strove in vain against his environment, inventing new metres, and silk-spinning machines. Chivers was troubled with the visions of transcendentalism, and wrote to Poe about the nature of God and “how do you pronounce ‘Melpomene?’” He published volumes of poems composed of stanzas of pure inspiration followed by other stanzas of unutterable bathos. It was a new, a strange, a pregnant, and a baffling world to understand.

It is all very well now to patronize and belittle it through the easily reversed lenses of hind-sight, but it was all very real and we may be sure very confusing to those who were swimming in the contemporary whirlpool, unable to get their heads above the level of its troubled waters to see the grand rapids ahead. Not to have some understanding of it, is to continue in an ignorantly patronizing attitude, and to throw an unnecessary cloak of mystery about such a man as Poe.(744) In one sense he was inevitably a part and parcel of it all. His stories of scientific mystery, Von Kempelen and His Discovery, Mesmeric Revelation, or The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, must be read as the products of their time, m exploitation of its great expectations for physical and psychic science.

Of course I shall not pretend to consider it any matter for wonder, that the extraordinary case of M. Valdemar has excited discussion. . . . [page 675:]

Says Poe — under the circumstances of time and place, of course, not! It did so. The world was ready for it Such facts were taken seriously by many on both sides of the water —

SIR, — As a believer in Mesmerism I respectfully take the liberty of addressing you to know, if a pamphlet lately published in London (by Short & Co., Bloomsbury) under the authority of your name and entitled Mesmerism, in Articulo-Mortis is genuine.(745)

That was from a druggist in Stonehaven, Scotland.

Boston, December 16, 1845

DEAR SIR, — Your account of M. Valdemar’s case has been universally copied in this city, and has created a very great sensation. It requires from me no apology in stating, that I have not the least doubt of the possibility of such a phenomenon, for I did actually restore to active animation a person who died from excessive drinking of ardent spirits. He was placed in his coffin ready for interment.(746)

And in old England Mrs. Browning was greatly interested. No doubt her own interest extended to her group.

That these stories are so well constructed that their manner is still convincing and interesting, is simply to say that Poe exploited, successfully, certain of the thought currents of his time in the realm of imaginative art. That he was greatly impressed, but by no means wholly taken in by the pseudo-science, and secondary philosophies of the time, was due to his reliance upon reason, his scorn of mob emotion, and his egotistic certainty in his own powers of analysis. It must be remembered that his seeming and, sometimes, actual technical familiarity with many of the sciences and pseudo-sciences was due to the special material which he elaborated with special pleading to develop his themes. It was the power of his imagination which gave to this material a peculiar life. Hundreds of similar attempts to use it now lie forgotten in the unread pages of Middle American magazines and dusty volumes.(744)

In the Winter of 1845, and through the Spring of 1846, Poe was, for the fest time since early Richmond days, certainly for [page 676:] the first time during his mature manhood, made welcome to the drawing-rooms, and to the circles of a contemporary American society that had some claim to consider itself of importance, and actually did at that time make an audible noise in the world.(747)

In Baltimore, his poverty and youth had made such association impossible. The return to Richmond, as we have seen, had found many doors closed to him for family reasons; in Philadelphia, the tradition of exclusiveness had made it impossible. New York was already more cosmopolitan, and with the fame that bad accrued to him since the publication of The Raven, in certain circles, Mr. Poe found himself not only able to appear, but actually much sought after. If the “parlours,” and in some cases the salons, which he now found thrown open to him were not the most exclusive, they were certainly the most active in a literary way, and the most interesting in New York. That Poe was anxious for social recognition, that the old sting of his repulse in Richmond now found some balm in another Gilead, and that his appearance in drawing-rooms of both fashion and pretension, was part of the reward of fame, and sweet to one who had had to stomach much that was bitter, there can be no doubt at all. “This is a world of sweets and sours —” he had written years before. Most of his experience had been with the sours. The effect upon him of the sweets was somewhat peculiar. The records of it are to be found in the history of his flirtations and the papers of the Literati.

After the demise of the Broadway Journal, Poe was now to be found more frequently than before at the houses of such literati, and dispensers of hospitality and conversation, as Miss Anna C. Lynch, Mrs. Fannie Osgood, the Reverend Orville Dewey, Mrs. Seba (Elizabeth Oakes) Smith, Margaret Fuller, Marcus Spring, James Lawson, and Dr. Manly. In Brooklyn, [page 677:] then and later, Poe was seen frequently at the home of Sarah Anna Lewis, a poetess of immense sentimental capacities. About these people, and in their parlors, gathered the literary, journalistic, and the outer fringe of the social life of the city. There, were to be found the many women then actively interested in writing but more so, in their own literary reputations, so aptly called “The starry sisterhood.” The journalists and anthologists upon whom they battened and were battened upon were also present, and certain poets, minor authors, and artists. Occasionally, but not frequently, their busy system was disturbed by the transit through its midst of some larger, and less nebulous star. The galaxy of New York had satellites, and was in communication with solar systems to the north, chiefly with Boston, Concord, and Providence.

The queen regnant of the literati, whose parlor was the most eagerly thronged, and whfch approached more nearly to the dignity of a genuine salon than any other, was Miss Anna C. Lynch (afterward, in 1855), the wife of Professor Vincenzo Botta). Miss Lynch entertained frequently in the evening at her house on Waverley Place. She was an occasional contributor to the contemporary magazines, newspapers, and parlor annuals, and was even ambitious enough to have attempted, with some success, A Handbook of Universal Literature. Miss Lynch is described as having been very pretty with a flair for repartee, with the tact of a Frenchwoman, and as generally quite charming. She had also a reputation for social exclusiveness which enhanced the value of her invitations. In the Spring of 1846 her hospitality was frequently extended to Edgar Allan Poe. According to Poe, her talent as a poetess, which he sardonically characterized as “unusual,” rested upon her Bones in the Desert, and her Farewell toOle Bull.”(748) [page 678:]

Visitors to Miss Lynch’s salon were admitted by a trim twelve-year-old maid, and ushered upstairs to two parlors, warmed at either end of a vista of “corded and machicolated draperies by opposite coal fires.” In front of one of these, neatly framed by a black mantel, it was the custom of Miss Lynch to receive her guests — “In person she is rather above the usual height, somewhat slender with dark hair and eyes.” Beside her stood her elderly mother, and her sister, Mrs. Charles Congden, who had the rather fearsome reputation of being a lady humorist. Thither came the ladies of the literati in hoopskirts, and ostrich plumes, head-dresses, hair parted in the middle with thick water curls, or with heavy looped and taffy-like coiffures.

Evening ball dresses are very pretty when each skirt is bordered with triple embroidery, such as those of gauze, and colored silk and gold upon a white background, and others in tulle, upon which are placed flowers formed of dots of lace, each being encircled with a light silver thread, producing an effect somewhat resembling that of silver lace, and which is really beautiful when worn over a skirt of pale pink and blue. Those of the tarlatan muslin retain favor; they are generally embroidered in a stripe or wreath, embroidered in silk to imitate gold. The corsage green, and open single skirt, also à la grecque.(749)

The gentlemen arrived in stove-pipe hats, black cloaks, and shawls. All except Horace Greeley.

The guests to be met at Miss Lynch’s were certainly interesting. There was Miss Bogart, the spinster, who wrote solemn lyrics, the authoress of He Came Too Late; Mrs. Fannie Osgood — “she sparkled, exhaled and went to Heaven”; Mr. W. W. Gillespie, a mathematical genius who stuttered; and Dr. J. W. Francis, a florid, and delightfully good-humored, and wise old man with long white flowing locks. It was he who sometimes treated Poe. Thither also came the silent and somewhat Olympian William Cullen Bryant and his chatty wife, Fitz-Greene Halleck, now a little cynical, and G. P. Morris of Woodman Spare That Tree. . . Mrs. Oakes Smith, somewhat feared for her radical woman’s rights proclivities, was frequently present, accompanied by her [page 679:] two young sons in roundabouts — Mr. Poe had just used up Powhatan and Mr. Seba Smith, its author, preferred to remain at home.(750) But there were also Dr. Griswold, and Ann Stephens, the dangerous, gossipy Mrs. Ellet, Mrs. Embury, Mrs. Hewitt, and many others.

In the plainly furnished room at one corner stands Miss Lynch with her round cherry face, and Mrs. Ellet, decorous and lady-like, who had ceased her conversation when Poe broke into his lecture. On the sofa in the side of the room I (T. D. English) sit with Miss Fuller, afterward the Countess Ossoli, on my right side, and Mrs. Elizabeth Oakes Smith on my left. At my feet little Mrs. Osgood, doing the infantile act, is seated on a footstool, her face upturned to Poe, as it had been previously to Miss Fuller and myself. In the centre stands Poe, giviiig his opinions in a judicial tone and occasionally reciting passages with telling effect. . . .

I had been talking with Catherine Sedgwick, (says Mrs. Oakes Smith) who was admired through a long life for her literary achievements, and Mr. Poe joined us. Mr. Poe, I thought, had not much praised me in a critique upon ‘autographs,’ but this did not disturb me so much as the injustice which he had done my husband. The conversation became animated, and I soon saw that . . . The Raven was really Mr. Poe: that he did not from another mental phase produce Lenore, or any other poem, but the idiosyncrasy of the author’s mind was continued in each like his dream within a dream. Then I laid aside my bit of personal pique and recognized the weird poet for such as he was.

‘I am afraid my critique upon you did not please you,’ he said, with his large eyes anxiously fixed upon me; I was half inclined to take him seriously to task, and now I wish I had done so, but I only replied:

‘I have no right to complain. I suppose you wrote as you thought.’

‘I meant great praise,’ he replied . . .

Poe was an adroit and elegant flatterer for the time being, his imagination being struck by some fine woman. His language was refined, and abounded in the finer shades of poetry, praising a woman’s eyes, he likened them to ‘the brown leaf which had fallen by still waters.’ Asked to define grace, he gave the name of a woman who had passing touched his fancy. He was always deferential; he paid a compliment to a woman’s understanding no less than to her personal charms. He [page 680:] had an exquisite perception of all the graces of manner and shades of expression, was an admiring listener, and an unobtrusive observer. . . . His manners were refined, and the scope of his conversation that of the gentleman and the scholar. His wife, being an invalid, dared not encounter the night air, but he spoke of her tenderly and often.

Richard Henry Stoddard, the youth whom Poe had so offended some months before, also came to Miss Lynch’s — “I was introduced into her salon either by Dr. Rufus Wilmot Griswold or by Mr. Bayard Tayler.”

I know that the night was a cold one, in November, I fancy, and that, chilled through and through, in spite of a thick cloak, which I wore, I stooped and chafed my hands before her glowing coal fire. Many a day passed before I heard the last story about my blundering gaucherie on that woeful night.(751) The Willises were there, the poet who wrote Scripture Sketches in his youth and . . . letters from all quarters of the world — his second wife and his daughter, Imogen. But before those I see Miss Lynch, tall, gracious, kindly. . . . Present also, were two of the swarming sisterhood of American singers, one elderly Spinster Miss Bogart , . . etc. On a later occasion, early the following spring I met another singer of tender memories . . . thirty eight summers had touched her lightly, she was in a decline, reminding her friends, after her soul had taken its flight of Young’s Narcissa . . . Mrs. Osgood was a paragon. For, loved of all men who knew her, she was hated by no woman who ever felt the charm of her presence. Poe was enamored of her, felt or fancied that he was which with him was the same thing.(752)

Here we must leave the romantic young Stoddard sheepishly warming his hands before Miss Lynch’s coal fire to visit Mrs. Seba Smith, at home in Greenwich Street.

We were somewhere near the old mansion of Bishop Moore, which at that time was a fine, picturesque dwelling, the grounds walled up and several feet higher than the street. Near Thirty-Third Street was the Asylum for the Blind, and all in this vicinity was pasture land, rocks, and wild flowers, and now and then a cow or a few sheep grazing. I was very homesick for a long time after my arrival in New York and used to take long walks with my children in the outskirts of the city in the hope of dissipating my discontent, for it must be remembered [page 681:] that above the present Thirtieth Street was a wilderness of rocks, bushes, and thistles with here and there a farm house.(753)

I had my well-attended salon like Dr. Dewey and many others. Conversation was certainly more of a fine art in those days than it now is,(754) and art, humor, and enthusiasm won a more respectful and appreciative response. Society was smoldering over the existence of slavery at the South and there was now and then a scintillating gleam of the national passionateness that culminated in the great Civil War, People everywhere, even in social circles, were intensely in earnest. I was talking in my rooms upon Woman Suffrage, and I think did not quite relish much of the light badinage that came to the surface by the wits of the period. . . . .

Perhaps no one received any more marked attention than Edgar A. Poe. His slender form, intellectual face and weird expression of eye never failed to arrest the attention of even the least observant. He did not affect the society of men, rather that of highly intellectual women with whom he liked to fall in to a sort of eloquent monologue, half dream, half poetry. Men were intolerant of all this, but women fell under his fascination and listened in silence. . . .

Mrs. Smith’s gatherings were held fortnightly, on Sunday nights, and it is at her house, probably in the Winter of 1846, that we hear of Virginia’s appearing in public for the last time. She was dressed in a homemade gown of some red stuff, trimmed with, rather quaint homemade yellow lace, and sat silently, pale but smiling by the fire, while her husband recited The Raven to an applauding little company. One never hears of Mrs. Clemm’s being at any of these parties, but it is known that she capitalized “Eddie’s friendship,” and borrowed money from Poe’s lady friends, which put hfm in great embarrassment, and sometimes obligated him for favorable reviews or revisions of their poetry. There was no other way to pay back such favors. On the other hand, Mrs. Clemm, no doubt, found that there was no other way to live. A good many of the “starry sisterhood,” it seems, called from time to time at 15 Amity Street, and later on at Fordham. There was now a great deal of curiosity about Poe. His domestic tragedy was interesting, and his association with Mrs. Osgood the theme of much gossip. [page 682:]

I meet Mr. Poe very often at the receptions (says a correspondent of Mrs. Whitman in a letter dated January 7, 1846). He is the observed of all observers. His stories are thought wonderful and to hear him repeat The Raven which he does very quietly, is an event in one’s life. People seem to think there is something uncanny about him, and the strangest stories are told, and, what is more, believed, about his mesmeric experiences, at the mention of which he always smiles. His smile is captivating. . . . Everybody wants to know him; but only a few people seem to get well acquainted with him.

The legend of “Israfel,” “The Raven” and all the rest, was already well under way. The story about Mrs. Osgood and Poe, and how Virginia was ill, and Mrs. Clemm was forced to borrow money, and that Dr. Griswold was in love with Mrs. Osgood, etc., etc., went around and about the town, as such stories do. “But Poe had a rival in her affections in Dr. Griswold, whom she transformed for the moment into an impassioned poet,” says Stoddard. The remark is not without significance in view of the Doctor’s obituary style after Poe’s death. Mrs. Osgood, after a while, gave up seeing the “Raven.” The exact time of her decision is somewhat obscure. In the meantime there were doubtless a good many who remembered the lines addressed To F —— , and cherished a clipping from the Broadway Journal

Beloved, amid the earnest woes

That crowd around my earthly path

(Dear path, alas! where grows

Not e’en one thornless rose) —

My soul at last a solace hath

In dreams of thee — and therein knows

An Eden of calm repose.


And thus thy memory is to me

Like some enchanted far-off isle

In some tumultuous sea,

Some ocean throbbing far and free

With storms — but where meanwhile

Severest skies continually

Just o’er that one bright island smile.(755) [page 683:]

Rufus Wilmot Griswold came frequently to Mrs. Oakes Smith’s soirées, and at other times. She describes him:

In person, Mr. Griswold was tall and slender with slight stoop of the shoulders and unbecoming to him; his head was picturesque, and his eyes large, soft, and beautiful. A general sensuousness rather than intellectuality was observable in his makeup. He was capable of a caustic satire in conversation, mingled with a playful wit, which made him always attractive to a circle, for the absence of any marked positivity in his character made his humors not only to be tolerated but admired, and even those who might have suffered from his strictures, were more likely to laugh than reprehend. . . . Under an appearance of almost indolent ease, he covered untiring, indefatigable industry, and the matter-of-fact industry conflicting with the intimations of his own genius, gave him that half-humorous, half-pathetic cast of mind and character, which rendered him attractive to the friends who best knew him. . . . that he was capricious and allowed his personal predilections and prejudices to sway him is most true, for he had the whims of a woman coupled with a certain spleen which he took no pains to conceal yet he was weakly placable. . . . Mr. Griswold was in the habit of going about with bits of criticism in his pocket and scraps of poetry which he had picked up, these he would read and comment upon. He had the laugh of a child and was strangely unable to see the world as an arena for forms, ceremonies and proprieties.

Despite the accusation of a certain canine strain by another acquaintance, the strong feline characteristics of the Reverend Doctor Griswold are here plainly manifest. The same lady noticed that, like Poe, Dr. Griswold had “a lonely soul.” It was not one that could forgive criticism, or forget jealousy. Griswold also knew that Poe was preparing an anthology. This afterward seems to have fallen into his hands, and it doubtless contained reversals of his own judgments, and criticisms which were perhaps hard to stomach. Griswold could neither like, nor forgive Poe his superior gifts and airs. There is something cat-like in his playing and flattering while Poe lived and was to be feared, and something equally feline in the swift pounce upon him as soon as he died. For a time the daws remained hidden in the soft, swift paws.

Through all this busy self-important life of the literati, one catches intriguing little glimpses of a defunct but, withal, fascinating [page 684:] enough time. Willis, bearded like a pard, and extremely youthful, is seen entertaining lavishly, far too lavishly, at the Astor House, with the fairy-like little Imogen by his side. Poe and Mrs. Osgood meet there. Horace Greeley comes tramping in, trousers half tucked into his boots, a dingy white coat, and affectedly uncouth manners. For some years he had been a vegetarian, but the hasty pudding and milk that his wife, who “abhorred dress and fashion,” set before him at breakfast, had caused him to return to flesh to supply the tremendous energy which he poured out into the columns of the Tribune. His conversation always dealt with timely isms that might further his political hopes. “His stock in trade was truth, honesty, and human equality.” Greeley was kindly enough to sign notes for Poe, and too hard-headed ever to forget their having gone to protest. Margaret Fuller, who was the literary critic of the Tribune from 1842 to 1845, lived with the Greeleys, and was one of the best critics of her day.

Parties are also to be glimpsed at Marcus Spring’s, a New York merchant of literary proclivities. There Poe saw Lydia Maria Child, a New England novelist, one of Spring’s protegees. There were other affairs at the residence of James Lawson, a Scotch merchant with whom Poe was anxious to be on good terms, for the prosperous Scotchman was fond of the society of authors, and knew many booksellers. Thomas Dunn English, Hart, the sculptor, Mary Gove Nichols, Mrs. Embury, and Mary Hewitt were all much about in the evenings and afternoons from house to house. It was not such a large town then, and intimacies were bound to be intimate. Mr. Poe, in some quarters, began to find it very intimate indeed. Across the town is to be traced the invisible web of correspondence, which the letters, that Griswold afterward allowed to be destroyed, began to weave about Poe, — letters to Mrs. Osgood, Mrs. Ellet, Margaret Fuller, and a half dozen others — and their replies. These accumulated in the rooms at Amity, Street, and they were read by Mrs. Clemm, as it will appear later.

Virginia’s health was bad, much worse! Eddie was consequently despondent, much shaken and agitated by society, provided [page 685:] with no regular employment, and yet writing and corresponding frantically. It is a rather vivacious picture of Poe that one gets in the drawing-rooms of the literati, but once out in the darkness, tramping the streets, his face seems to have fallen back into the old lines as his brain and feet traveled again and again the familiar, ever-present grooves of despair.

The last time that I remember to have seen him (says Stoddard) was in the afternoon of a dreary autumn day. A heavy shower had come up suddenly, and he was standing under an awning. I had an umbrella, and my impulse was to share it with him on his way home; but something — certainly, not unkindness — withheld me. I went on and left him there in the rain, pale, shivering, miserable, the embodiment of his own

Unhappy master,

Whom unmerciful disaster

Followed fast, and followed faster.

The recollection seems to apply about this time, i.e., shortly after the Broadway Journal had failed, perhaps in the Fall of 1846.(756)

Poe’s social experiences among the writers of New York in 1845-46, his knowledge of the opinions in which they were held by their own contemporaries, through his personal contacts, and in conversations among them, were now turned to professional use in a series of papers that began to appear in Godey’s Lady’s Book in Philadelphia with the Spring of 1846.

Since November, 1845, Godey’s Lady’s Book must have been the main source of his livelihood. He had contributed criticism to every number since the month mentioned, in which Bryant, W. G. Simms, Mrs. Osgood, Mrs. Hewitt, Mrs. Seba Smith, and Mathews had been commented upon. In addition to this, Graham’s had carried some of the Marginalia in March, 1846, and The Philosophy of Composition in April. This last contained the so-called analysis of how Poe wrote The Raven.(757) The series in Godey’s, which had already appeared, was now followed by [page 686:] another series of papers dealing with thirty-eight writers, men and women, then resident in New York, and known to Poe.

These papers, known as The Literati, began to come out in Godey’s Lady’s Book in May, 1846, and continued through the November issue. As we have already seen, Poe was preparing an anthology, The American Parnassus, that was to have rivaled and superseded Griswold’s. He is known to have been busily engaged upon it as late as December, 1846, and later.”(758) The papers, which now began to appear in Godey’s, probably represented what would now be called the advance magazine publication of that section of the projected anthology dealing with New York authors. Combined with this was some material included and incorporated from former book reviews.

In considering these sketches, it must be remembered that they were not the critical judgments of Poe himself, but for the most part merely his obiter dicta, and his record of the current impression of an author’s importance at the time. The critical judgments, which creep in, will be found for the most part to have been taken from his previous book reviews, where a more formal evaluation of the writer’s work had been attempted. These papers on the literati, because of the contemporary stir which they provoked, have been only too often confounded with the more serious part of Poe’s criticism, and quoted against him. The truth is, they were hastily done, frankly journalistic sketches meant for contemporary consumption, and to make a noise. They were to fill the author’s purse, and the pages of an anthology. This book was to sell by force of the personal interest of the writers included, and their friends, like other anthologies.

The series, from the standpoint of contemporary discussion and excitement, was an immense success. Poe treated the subjects of his sketches with an alarming degree of candor, and a personal knowledge that, in some cases, was felt to amount to a betrayal confidences. Naturally enough, the interest leaver heat. There was no telling who might be the next to the elevated or gridironed, or what remarks made to Mr. Poe [page 687:] by somebody about anybody might not appear cunningly incorporated in the next number of Godey’s, with consequent necessity for explanations or denials. Hence the series was an immense hit from the standpoint of the circulation manager, while the author was automatically elevated to the throne of judgment — with no appeal. For there was no other critic whose pen marched with so great authority and reputation for savage candor. There was a great flutter in all the hen roosts of the coteries.

For the most part, Poe’s judgments, such as they were, have been sustained. Such songsters as Willis, Halleck, Margaret Fuller, and Mrs. Embury were justly evaluated, and their now forgotten reputations discussed as they deserved. The too-current idea that these papers constituted a general and jealously caustic attack on his fellow writers, is entirely unjust to Poe. A great deal ol praise is generally wisely distributed, as any critic must do when considering living authors from a contemporary standpoint. On the other hand, the clipping of wings amid the Plymouth Rocks and bantams, who essayed the eagle’s flight, was salutary. Unfortunately, particularly for Poe, there were several exceptions in which the spleen of his personal grudges was allowed full sway. Briggs, against whom Poe certainly had no just complaint, but whose attitude during the episode of the Broadway Journal was anathema to Poe, came in for a tremendous doing-up, as did Lewis Gaylord Clark, the editor of the Knickerbocker. This magazine, not being hospitable to Poe, was therefore included by him with the North American Review as in a category beyond the pale. Clark was now repaid in full with compound interest.

Mr. Clark once did me the honor to review my poems — I forgive him . . . . As the editor has no precise character, the magazine, as a matter: of course can have none. When I say ‘no precise character.’ I mean that Mr. C., as a literary man, has about him no determinateness, no distinctiveness, no point — ; — an apple, in fact, or a pumpkin has more angles. He is as smooth as oil or a sermon from Dr. Hawkes; he is noticeable for nothing in the world except for the markedness by which he is noticeable for nothing. [page 688:]

This was not so pleasant as it might have been, but one can recover from being compared to an apple or a pumpkin. With the article on “Thomas Done Brown,” there were no vegetable comparisons. The animal kingdom, in the person of a long-eared equine, was drawn upon, and Mr. English’s personal appearance held up to ridicule:

Mr. Brown had, for the motto on his magazine cover, the words of Richelieu —

. . . Men call me cruel,

I am not: — I am just.

Here the two monosyllables “an ass” should have been appended. . . . I do not personally know him. About his personal appearance there is nothing remarkable — except that he exists in a perpetual state of vacillation between mustachio and goatee. In character a windbeutel.(759)

In addition to this, English was held up to the world as an ignoramus who could neither spell, nor write grammatically. Poe as a matter of fact, as we have seen, knew him well, too well in fact to feel comfortable. English knew a great deal about Poe’s life in Philadelphia. Lane, who lived with English, and had assisted in getting out the last number of the Broadway Journal, says that when the poet was inebriated, English drove Poe frantic, probably by making fun at him. In Philadelphia, English had quarreled with a number of people and, on several occasions, been worsted in encounters, notably by Henry Beck Hirst (sic). It seems, he had taken some of the castigations rather tamely. Hence Poe dubbed him “Thomas Done Brown,” and wrote him up in a manner vindictive, remembering his own humiliations when he was helpless. No man, who was not dead-alive, could have refrained from replying.

The truth is, English was a bit of a cad. In descending to meet him on his own ground, Poe had done himself a great wrong, and forgot that Thomas was not done so brown but that he might give Mr. Poe’s goose a hot turn on the spit. He soon did so — and with telling affect — of which more hereafter.

The upshot of The Literati was that, in one way or another, Poe was one of the most talked of men among literary circles in [page 689:] the United States. Unfortunately, all this kind of thing had nothing to do with what real fame rests upon, i.e., contributions to imaginative literature. The Raven had made Poe famous; The Literati had rendered him notorious. Mr. Godey felt called upon to issue a card in which he refused to bow to blandishments or threats. But the editor of the Lady’s Book did not, we may be sure, care very much for the rôle of the fearless editor which had, thus gratuitously, been thrust upon him. In the meantime Poe existed, and did little more than that, on the proceeds of his articles.

Behind all of this apparently facile social and literary activity, went on the private and momentous physical and imaginative. life of the man. There was a growing melancholy, and a good cause for it. The curious cast of his temperament, which thrust upon him a growing and ever more overshadowing conviction of impending disaster, was now forced to behold its darkest forbodings being rapidly fulfilled in the ever hastening dissolution of Virginia. Her health during the last months of 1845, and the Winter of 1846, gave somber symptoms of the rapid approach of her death. Moving feebly through the rooms, or sitting weakly coughing in a chair by the man who so glibly characterized the literati in Lady’s Book paragraphs, was the dying girl-wife, suffering, gasping, sweating, and bleeding.

The little rooms at 85 Amity Street, where Mrs. Clemm and Virginia lived, and the curious literati came to call, and then went away to gossip, were rapidly becoming intolerable. To Poe, there was something almost morbidly sequestered about his home. To admit strangers into the precincts, was to reveal to them, and to prying feline eyes, the rapt secrets of his inmost life. Poe could not bear it Mrs. Clemm. loved nothing better than her own house — and Virginia needed the bracing help of country breezes, and the soothing quiet of country air. Remembering the blessed solitude of the summer at Bloomingdale, where he had written The Raven, Poe once more made arrangements with the Brennans to take Mrs. Clemm and Virginia to the farm for a few weeks.

Sometime in April, 1846, Poe made a trip to Baltimore, the events of which are obscure. There was probably another lecture there, after which, upon his return, the family went to the country. [page 690:] There they remained until sometime later in the Spring, before removing to the vicinity of Turtle Bay. It was a good five-mile walk to the Brennans’, or a long ride. Bus or steamboat fare was not always forthcoming, and it sometimes happened that Poe was unable to return at night to his fast sinking little wife. This seems to have been the great drawback to the sojourn on the farm, and at Fordham later on. Of Poe’s consequently somewhat lonely life about New York during the Spring of 1846, only a few glimpses can be recaptured.

There seem to have been a good many calls upon Mrs. Osgood. Mrs. Mary Louise Shew was also resorted to, then, or later on, for hospitality, and sympathy. Mrs. Shew, who had great sympathy for Poe, had been a nurse for many years with hospital experience. She, more than anyone else, seems to have realized his true physical condition, She became the Poes’ good angel at Fordham, and, in town, made her house a haven of refuge and rest. She was well known to able physicians, Dr. Mott, and John Wakefield Francis, M.D., whom Poe had commemorated in an article, on account of the Doctor’s contributions to medical magazines. Dr. Francis was later called in to attend Poe, and frequently met him at the different salons of the literati. He was genial and liberal in his tendencies, and included, in his life of wide interests, an enthusiasm for literature, and the conversation of authors. Poe was helped by him at times of need, and has left a rather intimate and exceedingly cordial sketch of him in the papers of The Literati:

. . . His person and manner was richly peculiar. He is short and stout, probably five feet eight in height, limbs of great muscularity and strength, the whole frame indicating prodigious vitality and energy — the latter is, in fact, the leading trait in his character. His head is large, massive — the features in keeping; complexion dark florid; eyes piercingly bright; mouth exceedingly mobile and expressive; hair gray, and worn in matted locks about the neck and shoulders — eyebrows to correspond, jagged and ponderous. His age is about fifty-eight. His general appearance is such as to arrest attention.

His address is the most genial that can be conceived, its bonhommie irresistible. He stands habitually, with his head thrown back and his chest out; never waits for an introduction to anybody; slaps a perfect [page 691:] stranger on the back and calls him ‘Doctor’ or ‘Learned Theban’; pats every lady on the head, and (if she is pretty and petite) designates her by some such title as ‘My Pocket Edition of the lives of the Saints.’ His conversation proper is a sort of Roman punch made up of tragedy, comedy, and the broadest of all possible farce. He has a natural, felicitous flow of talk, always overswelling its boundaries and sweeping everything before it right and left. He is very’ earnest, intense, emphatic; thumps the table with his fists; shocks the nerves of the ladies. His forte, after all, is humor, the richest conceivable — a compound of Swift, Rabelais, and the clown in the pantomime. . . .

It is quite possible that this genial and wise old doctor, “whose professional duties and purse are always at the command of the needy,” was called upon to give advice and help in the hopeless case of Virginia Poe. It is certain he did so in the case of her husband.(760)

Poe, now much talked about, because of the papers on the literati, and unfortunately, too, on account of his sick wife and Mrs. Osgood, was also to be found occasionally at Frank’s Place “on Barclay Street where a convivial company gathered.” In the early Winter of 1846, we hear of a dinner at the old United States Hotel on Fulton Street attended by Henry Ward Beecher, Dr. Francis Lister Hawkes — whose sermons Poe was now at some pains to proclaim boresome — and others.

February brought the last Valentine Day which Virginia was to know. At 15 Amity Street she received an envelope addressed in a well-known hand.(761)

Poe was now getting farther into the clutches of Mrs. “Estelle” Lewis of Brooklyn, who decorated her studio with a bust of Pallas presided over by a stuffed raven. She was known as “Stella.” Her husband was a fairly prosperous lawyer, who indulged his wife in the funds necessary to purchase fame, and to run a salon in Brooklyn.(762) [page 692:]

Sometime in the early Spring of 1846 — the second stay at Bloomingdale was a short one — Poe again moved his wife and Mrs. Clemm to another secluded boarding place, then situated in a country district at the foot of Forty-seventh Street on the East River, in a section known as Turtle Bay.(763)

This change again brought Virginia and Mrs. Clemm nearer to town, and, at the same time, enabled Poe to walk conveniently to the city for what calls he had to pay, or the slack business he had to transact. Poverty, a dire pennilessness, was now once more oppressively bearing down upon him. The papers in Godey’s could have done little more than pay the board. What the Poes contrived to live upon, how Mrs. Clemm provided medicines and the necessary dainties for Virginia, is a mystery of which only she knew the ramifications.

With Turtle Bay began that period of sickness, calamity, delirium, and desire for sequestration from the world, which lasted from the Summer of 1846 through the Fordham episode, up into the Winter of 1848. It would seem as if Poe had withdrawn as much as possible from gratuitous human contact in order to spend the last days with Virginia, to see her through the inevitable last agony, to nurse his own jangled nerves, and to ponder upon the primordial nature of the universe! Such was the strange mélange of the experiences and events about to follow. Yet he was by no means able to suffer, recuperate, and ponder undisturbed. The period of hermitage at Turtle Bay and Fordham was intruded upon by some of the most lamentable and belittling episodes of the poet’s life.

He was, indeed, helplessly in the clutch of psychic and worldly circumstances, half crazed at the thought of losing Virginia. Nevertheless, the inevitable immediate presence of the shadow on his threshold warned him of the release to come, and of the implications which must follow. In a short while, she, who had at once his despair and consolation, would be no more. The [page 693:] writing in all its glowing and shadowed characters was even now being traced on the wall. He was greatly attracted by Mrs. Osgood. Of that there can be no doubt. Yet Mrs. Osgood was married. With the passing of Virginia, he would be released only to confront a new problem. One to which, no matter who the person was that embodied it, there seemed to be no solution. Then, too, he craved comfort, rest, and sympathy, the peculiar spiritual comradeship and understanding which he found only in women.

It is not hard to understand why this ma.n, tinder all of these strange pressures and long continued stresses, — the slowly stretching wires of inmost being that were tightened and tightened as the years went on, that every turn of the screw made more vibrant and brought a little nearer the breaking point, — it is not hard to understand why he sometimes felt himself to be going mad. Indeed, it is more difficult to understand why he did not go entirely insane. That, from time to time, he attempted to relieve the stress on the now nearly snapping cords and harp strings, by reverting to drugs and alcohol, seems now, if it ever could be, to have been excusable. Never was there a more delicate or more tormented being that had cried out so long, and so unsuccessfully for surcease, that had longed for companionship and found none.

The Summer of 1846 was one of the hottest that had ever been known. As the sweltering May and June days settled down upon Turtle Bay, and over the steepled town about the lower end of Manhattan, — the dusty roads, baking brick side-walks, awnings, and the sleepy rumble of clumsy busses that was then New York, — the literati began to withdraw to their several summer pagodas. Mr. Poe was left more and more alone with his agonies and cogitations, while the heat lightning flashed, and the distant thunder rolled.

The Poes, at Turtle Bay, boarded near to the farm of a Mr. John L, Miller, a large, shaded farmhouse, and its environs of several acres planted with orchards that stretched along the shores of the East River. Here in the Spring days, Mrs. Clemm, impeccable as ever, neat, but sad, desirous of sharing her troubles with sympathetic gossips, came to sit in the parlor, or upon the [page 694:] verandah, to watch the Sound steamers go by, and to tell her troubles, very real ones, to Mrs. Miller. Poe sometimes came with her. Virginia was generally too feeble to go out. Sarah, Mrs. Miller’s little girl, remembered.(764)

When I was a little girl we lived in a house facing Turtle Bay, on the East River, near the present 47th Street. Among our nearest neighbors was a charming family . . . consisting of Mr. Poe, his wife Virginia, and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm. Poor Virginia, was very ill, at the time and I never saw her leave home. Poe and Mrs. Clemm would frequently call on us. He would also run over every little while to ask my father to lend him our row-boat, and then he would enjoy himself pulling at the oars over to the little islands just south of Blackwell’s Island, for his afternoon swim.

Mrs. Clemm and my mother soon became the best of friends, and she found mother a most sympathetic listener to all her sad tales of poverty and want. I would often see her shedding tears as they talked. As I recall her she always seemed so wonderfully neat and orderly, and invariably wore a full white collar around her neck. . . .

This personification of placidity and domestic order, this epitome of dameliness and respectability, from which the burdens of Promethean sorrows wrung reluctant tears, is one of the enormous contrasts, one of those almost ghostly enigmas which fate seems to have thrust, in a spirit of sardonic mischief or ironical sympathy, into the life cycle of Edgar Allan Poe. During his youth, he had been impossibly linked with the strongest guardian that ever a poet had; in later life Maria Clemm had, as if in compensation, been mercifully provided. She remained the only constant factor of all the years of Poe’s manhood. Despised, deprecated, and sometimes ridiculed, a poor, boresome, tet saintly old woman, she continued her devotion of a lifetime by her domestic epilogue and eulogy when he died.

All who saw Mrs. Clemm during Poe’s lifetime, men, women and children, were impressed by an orderliness, an intense cleanliness, a preternatural neatness in her appearance, which, as the record is assembled and grows, becomes spiritual rather than in its implications. It was she who introduced into the [page 695:] career of this man, whose life had been a chaos of passion since his birth, that essential quality of orderly continuity, and cleanly comfort without which he must soon have perished miserably, or existed more pathetically than Lazarus himself. When the imagination and toil of genius were insufficient to wring from obstinate hands and pockets even the paltry coppers that fall willingly to the blind man’s whine, Maria Clemm went forth with her basket and returned sadly but triumphantly to place the proceeds of her noble beggary before her fainting son and dying daughter.

It is impossible to exaggerate the majestic, because invisible, abnegations and ministrations of Mrs. Clemm. At evening the fields have seen her, armed with a spade, digging in the twilight among the turnips which fanners had planted to feed to cows in the winter-time, filling her basket with humble, earthy loot to make soup for her wonderful Eddie and her poor Virginia. At Fordham, even this resource failed, and she was seen in the very early mornings by the neighbors, walking down secret country lanes, culling the yellow dandelions to make a salad, or a mess of “greens” for Edgar Allan Poe.

In the immense and catholic scheme of things, which requires and insists upon the widest possible variations in the scale of human character, Edgar Poe and Maria Clemm, although spiritual hemispheres apart, were brought together, yoked as it were, by Virginia, into an effectual, though astonishing team. Under the occasional lyric ecstasies and majestic dirges that her son-inlaw caught up, from time to time, in poetry or prose, behind the harmony that he wrung magnificently out of conflict and chaos, is the inaudible but fundamental monotone of “this woman’s cherishing affection.

Yet she must not be regarded as some simple saint, blindly devoted to the devastating ideal of unintelligent self-sacrifice. She was always, it seems, doing the most comnon-sense thing under the circumstances, or finding the only way that there was out of a difficulty. In the Spring of 1846, both the condition of Virginia’s health and Israfel’s difficulties and misfortunes made some removal to a more remote scene desirable, Mrs. Clemm must have longed for a place where her daughter could die in [page 696:] peace, and her son might live with some dignity — where their poverty would not be spied upon, and their tragedies be made the theme of idle gossip. In all this Poe would have heartily concurred. Sometime, about the end of May, 1846, they moved to the Fordham cottage. Little Sarah Miller remembered the Poes leaving Turtle Bay, and her visit to Fordham soon afterward. The cherry trees were in bloom —

In the midst of their friendship they came and told us they were going to move to a distant place called Fordham, where they had rented a little cottage, feeling sure the pure country air would do Mrs. Poe a world of good. Very soon a cordial invitation arrived for us all to come and take luncheon, which was very daintily served on the first floor. As I remember, the front door led directly into the apartment. I recall most clearly their bringing me a small wooden box to sit on at the table, instead of a chair. Always kind and smiling and very fond of children, Poe’s handsome and attractive appearance always impressed me. He would come up to me and patting me on the shoulder, tell me I was a nice little girl. One of the most prized treasures is a small Chinese puzzle of carved ivory given to me by Poe himself.(764)

This dinner with the Turtle Bay Millers, — little Sarah, wide-eyed and smiling on a box — is one of the first glimpses to be had of the Poes at Fordham. One cannot help wondering what Poe thought, looking at the child sitting at the table where there had never been any necessity to provide high-chairs for children. The cat was there; we hear of her shortly afterward, lying upon Virginia’s hollow bosom. Some puzzles cannot be given away. Poverty, for instance! A bed had been left behind at Turtle Bay in lieu of board. And one wonders, too, just how they did furnish the cottage.(765)

It was a very pleasant, a humble, but a beautiful little place. It would have been an ideal setting for a pastoral. There was the rose-embowered, the blossom-showered cottage of a poet; chimes [page 699:] from a neighboring monastery sounding across the fields; cloudy woods and distant, sun-flashing waterways; the lulling sound of cowbells nearing home at twilight.

The stage setting for the great American tragedy was enormously, almost cosmically ironical. The corpse-like Virginia, and the pale brow of madness were about to be wreathed in honeysuckle and roses. Through the months of her gasping, and above the busy noise of her husband’s occasional delirium, sounded the soothing boom of greedy bees. The contrast of the psychic drama and the physical scenery could only have been conceived by that exquisite lord of tragedy, Reality.

Shortly after the removal to Fordham, Poe departed on a business trip which ended in bitter disappointment. Then the fitness of the bucolic scenery was completely complemented by the arrival from Richmond, on a family visit, of the eccentric and slightly childish sister, Rosalie. Rosalie was a great trial to Mrs. Clemm. She was childish, and wilful, and yet possessed of a certain shrewdness, so often conferred upon such children of the moon, as if by way of compensation. She observed, she talked; and Mrs. Clemm feared her tongue. Rosalie, on her part, did not care very much for “Aunty Clemm.” She preferred to sit chattering idly by the bedside or near the chair of Virginia(766) while Poe was in town.

Of some unsuccessful business interview and of the high hopes aroused in vain, this, the only letter known to have been sent by Poe to Virginia, is a memorial:

June 12, 1846,

MY DEAR HEART — MY DEAR VIRGINIA, — Our mother will explain to you why I stay away from you this night. I trust the interview I am promised will result in some substantial good for me — for your dear [page 700:] sake and hers — keep up your heart in all hopefulness and trust yet a little longer. On my last great disappointment I should have lost my courage but for you — my little darling wife. You are my greatest and only stimulus now, to battle with this uncongenial, unsatisfactory, and ungrateful life.

I shall be with you to-morrow . . . P.M., and be assured until I see you I will keep in loving remembrance your last words, and your fervent prayer!

Sleep well, and may God grant you a peaceful summer with your devoted Edgar.(767)

The attempt to show that this letter was written just prior to an interview with Mrs. Osgood is not borne out by the order of events that followed. The reference, in the letter itself, to “substantial good” is palpably one of financial import.(768) The real interpretation is the obvious one. It is one of grief, anxiety and affectionate solicitude in ink.

Mrs. Clemm had to send money to Poe for his return. He was scolded, says Rosalie, and then put to bed for a night of delirium. He was in a terrible way; he cried out, and demanded morphine. One catches other glimpses of him about New York, trying to place articles, or writing again about the Stylus — always unsuccessfully.

Yet, that Poe forecasted and ever dramatized the departure of Virginia, there can be little doubt, for it was at the time of this early Summer visit, in 1846, that we hear from Rosalie of Annabel Lee. She definitely remembered having heard it read. After Poe’s death there were a host of lady candidates, each claiming in a long, tedious, angry, and jealous correspondence with Poe’s English biographer, Ingram, to be the only genuine and original “Annabel.” In so far as any of Poe’s vague heroines can be traced to any definite personality of the world of reality, it may be said, in passing, that his wife Virginia is more closely shadowed forth in the poem than anyone else. “I was a child, and she was a child,” and “our love — it was stronger by far [page 701:] than the love of those who were older than we — of many far wiser than we” — seems to refer beyond cavil to the strange incidents of his marriage to a child, and the opposition of relatives. In this poem is the long dirge of the waves of Sullivan’s Island during the years he walked its beaches alone, and the death of Virginia at Fordham. In the Summer of 1846, all of this was in his past, or in the near future by inevitable implication. It was a magnificent, and lyrical rendering, a dirgelike expression of his own and Virginia’s tragedy.

Sixteen miles from the city was no barrier at all to the visitations of curiosity. There were trains on the Harlem Railroad, stages, and various of the starry sisterhood possessed well-to-do husbands and carriages. Callers were not infrequent. Many ware desirous of favorable reviews or criticism from Mr. Poe. From some of these women, Mrs. Clemm had borrowed money, so little favors from “Eddie” were now in order.(769) One could also appear gracefully by bringing a basket for that poor darling, Mrs. Poe — and Mrs. Clemm, who was lonely, did like to gossip. Great trouble for Poe ensued.

Mrs. Gove was an occasional visitor. Mrs. “Estelle” Lewis of the Brooklyn salon was frequently to be found seated in Mrs. Clemm’s Fordham kitchen.(770) Her husband had given Poe “$100” to revise his wife’s verses — the critical remarks which followed were, also expected, to be tempered by so salubrious a wind. All of this was exasperating. Mrs. Oakes Smith, it seems, had also used the lever of her hospitality, and probable favors to Mrs. Clemm, to extract an article from the “Raven” in which the two hundred verses of her poem on The Sinless Child were vaguely eulogized through a veil of gauzy irony.

The execution of the Sinless Child is as we have already said inferior to its conception. [page 702:]

The quotations, when removed from the context, were excellent. Mrs. Smith was, we learn, a child of nature. Birds lit upon her fingers. Her poem contained a sinless type of passion which intrigued Poe, who, between the millstones of his gratitude and specialized admiration, contrived to grind out of chaff the meal of praise, mixed with the broken glass of irony.

One day in June, Mrs. Clemm — Poe it appears was absent — was visited by an authoress, and poetess, a certain Mrs. Elizabeth Frieze Lummis Ellet. Mrs. Ellet had learned her gossip’s trade in the most talented school for scandal on the continent. Her talk with Mrs. Clemm was evidently most pumping, alarming, and consoling, and Mrs. Clemm soon made the mistake of reading to her some of the sugar-and-spice letters of Mrs. Osgood. In New York, sixteen miles away, there was an explosion in the literary tea pot.

Mrs. Osgood became greatly alarmed, more alarmed than ever. She had, it seems, already ceased to see Poe, through fear of gossip, and the new outbreak was doubly unwelcome. A committee of the literati, headed by Mrs. Elizabeth Frieze Lummis Ellet, was commissioned by Mrs. Osgood, “about the time the cherry trees bloomed,” to call upon Poe and to demand her letters. Many of the starry ones, who had also written letters, must have been somewhat disturbed to learn that they were being read aloud to the sisterhood by Mrs. Clemm.

Mr. Poe was considerably nettled. He was not glad to see the commission of Mrs. Ellet, Margaret Fuller, and Miss Lynch, and evidently said so, hinting that Mrs. Ellet might be equally solicitous about her own correspondence. She was. The bundle of Mrs. Osgood’s letters was returned instantly, and the committee withdrew bearing them back to New York. The talk went on, however.

After the irate committee left, Poe, who was sorry that his anger had led him to make an unchivalric remark to Mrs. Ellet, took her letters and left them at her door. There is no doubt that in in all this affair there was little else than gossip, and a genuine malignity on the part of Mrs. Ellet, who soon afterward denied that she had received her letters. [page 703:]

Mr. Lummis, Mrs. Ellet’s brother, next appeared, demanding his sister’s letters from Poe. He doubted, or did not know that they had been returned. Mrs. Ellet naturally remained reticent. Poe’s sacred word was doubted, and many hard things said about Mrs. Osgood. Mr. Lummis was soon said to be going about New York, with his coat-tail full of pistols, looking for Poe. A duel, then not at all unusual in literary and political circles, was in order. Mr. Poe called upon Mr. Thomas Dunn English at his and T. H. Lane’s apartment at 304 Broadway, in a very excited state, to ask Mr. English to be his second in the quarrel.

Poe was probably in debt to English for sums due upon the demise of the Broadway Journal, and English had also been held up to ridicule by Poe in Godey’s in the sketches of the literati.(771)

In January, 1846, Poe, while intoxicated, had had a row with English, probably over the death of the Journal, in which violence had been resorted to. Lane says that English was entirely exasperating to Poe when the latter was in his cups. It was upon Mr. English whom Poe now called to do him the good offices of a friend! Strangely enough, John H. Tyler, who must have heard of similar singular scenes in Washington upon Poe’s visit there, was present when Poe arrived. Mr. English’s account follows.(772)

Mr. Poe having been guilty of some most ungentlemanly conduct, while in a state of intoxication, I was obliged to treat him, with discourtesy. Sometime after this, he came to my chambers, in my absence in search of me. He found there, a nephew of one of our expresidents. To that gentleman he stated, that he desired to see me in order to apologize to me for his conduct I entered shortly after, when he tendered me an apology and his hand. The former I accepted, the latter I refused. He told me that he came to beg my pardon, because he wished me to do him a favor. Amused at this novel reason for an apology, I replied that I would do the favor, with pleasure, if possible, but net on the score of friendship. He said that though his friendship was of little service his enmity might be dangerous. To this I rejoined that I shunned Ms friendship and despised his enmity. He beseeched a private so abjectly, that, finally, moved by his humble entreaty, [page 704:] I accorded it. Then he told me that he had villified a certain well known and esteemed authoress, of the South, (Mrs. Ellet) then on a visit to New York, that he had accused her of having written letters to him which compromised her reputation; and that her brother (her husband being absent) had threatened his life unless he produced the letters named. He begged me for God’s sake to stand his friend, as he expected to be challenged. I refused, because I was not willing to mix myself in his affairs, and because having once before done so, I had found him at the critical moment, to be an abject poltroon. These reasons I told him. He then begged the loan of a pistol to defend himself against an attack. This request I refused, saying that his surest defence was a retraction of unfounded charges. He at last grew exasperated and using offensive language, was expelled from the room. . . .

So much for Mr. English’s statement of the case in the New York Mirror. Unfortunately for that gentleman, although justly exasperated, his statement was mixed with an alloy which lightens considerably the pure gold of truth. From other passages in his career, it is known that he was an insufferable cock on his own dung hill; that he enjoyed the vituperation of controversy, and shunned the incidents of a fair fight. He had long been friends with, Poe, who had helped to get out English’s paper in Philadelphia when the latter was himself on a spree, and his statement of Poe’s having been a poltroon was the exact reverse of the fact.

He might, therefore, have overlooked the episode in January. An old acquaintance shattered in nerves, hounded and pursued over a quarrel initiated by gossips, came to his house humbling his pride in his extremity, and holding out his hand. Mr. English accepted the apology but would not take the hand, and boasted of it in print. Poe was no doubt greatly shaken, and overrated Mr. Lummis; English would not involve himself where a real encounter threatened. He even refused, as a careful lawyer, to loan Poe a pistol.(773) In the quarrel which followed, he did not merely put Poe out of the door, but beat him up first, after having his own face pummeled in the encounter. Poe was led out by Professor Ackerman, and was in bed for some days afterward, in the usual state of collapse to which any kind of excitement, love, [page 705:] stimulants, or auger reduced him. He was, in fact, a complete nervous wreck. Dr. Francis, realizing his condition, carried a letter to Lummis, who by this time must have found out that his sister after all had her letters.

Mrs. Osgood went to Albany, and the affair was hushed up. “Poe,” says English, “fled the city.” This meant that Poe returned to Fordham, where he lived. Mr. English remained, only to make a necessary temporary exit later. He had received a very sharp and unmannerly peck from the beak of the “Raven” in Godey’s, and now discovered, in his own replies, some of the qualities of the bill of the vulture. On May 30,1846, the New York Mirror had carried T. D. English’s reply to the Literati paper in which he used the knowledge acquired during his intimate contact with Poe to sneer, not without considerable force, at Poe’s own affectations of learning.

Mr. Poe’s articles were to have still greater currency given them by uniting the Godey’s Book with Arthur’s Magazine and publishing them with the latest Paris fashions, Americanized and expressed from Paris. A still greater impetus was to be given to Mr. Poe’s opinions; they were even to be accompanied with autographs of the New York Literati. It is said that all Division Street was put in an uproar by this tremendous announcement, and two milliner’s apprentices never slept a wink one whole night, for thinking about it. Some of the students in Dr. Arthur’s grammar school made a pilgrimage to Bloomingdale to gaze upon the asylum where Mr. Poe was reported to be confined, in consequence of his immense mental efforts having turned his brain . . . . (and so on through several columns) —

To conclude, after the fashion of our Thersitical Magazinist, Mr. Poe is about 39. He may be more or less. If neither more nor less, we should say he was decidedly 39. But of this we are not certain. In height he is about 5 feet 1 or two inches, perhaps 2 inches and a half. His face is pale and rather thin; eyes gray, watery, and always dull; nose rather prominent, pointed and sharp; nostrils wide; hair thin and cropped short; mouth not very well chiselled, nor very sweet, his tongue shows itself unpleasantly when he speaks earnestly, and seems too large for his mouth; teeth indifferent; forehead rather broad, and in the region of ideality decidedly large, but low, and in that part where phrenology places conscientiousness and the group of moral sentiments it is quite flat; chin narrow and pointed, which gives his head, upon the whole, a balloonish appearance, which may account for his supposed [page 706:] light-headedness; he generally carries his head upright like a fugleman on drill, but sometimes it droops considerably. His address is gentlemanly and agreeable at first, but it soon wears off and leaves a different impression after becoming acquainted with him; his walk is quick and jerking, sometimes waving, describing that peculiar figure in geometry denominated by Euclid, we think, but it may be Professor Farrar of Cambridge, Virginia fence. In dress he affects the tailor at times, and at times the cobbler, being in fact excessively nice or excessively something else. His hands are singularly small, resembling birds claws; his person slender; weight about no or 115 pounds, perhaps the latter; his study has not many of the Magliabechian characteristics, the shelves being filled mainly with ladies magazines; he is supposed to be a contributor to the Knickerbocker, but of this nothing certain is known; he is the author of Politian, a drama, to which Prof. Longfellow is largely indebted, it is said by Mr. Poe, for many of his ideas. Mr. Poe goes much into society, but what society we cannot positively say; he formerly lived at West Point; his present place of residence is unknown. He is married.(772)

Through the stifling days of June and July, while the heat lightning continued to flicker, the stage thunder of the controversy rolled on. On June 23, in reply to some further proddings, the following appeared as a paid card in the New York Mirror:










The War of the Literati — We publish the following terrific rejoinder of one of Mr. Poe’s abused literati, with a twinge of pity for the object of its severity. But as Mr. Godey, ‘for a consideration,’ lends the use of his battery for an attack on the one side, it is but fair that we allow our friends an opportunity to exercise a little ‘self-defence’ on the other

(A CARD) [page 707:]


As I have not, of late replied to attacks made upon me through the public press, I can easily afford to make an exception, and still keep my rule a general one. A Mr. Edgar A. Poe, has been engaged for some time past in giving to the public, through the medium of the Lady’s Book, sketches of what he facetiously calk The Literati of New York City. These he names by way of distinction, I presume, from his ordinary writings, ‘honest opinions.’ He honors me by including me in the very numerous and remarkably august body he affects to describe. Others have converted the paper on which his sketches are printed to its legitimate use — like to like — but as he seems to covet a notice from me, he shall be gratified.

Mr. Poe states in his article, ‘I do not personally know Mr. English.’ That he does not know me is not a matter of wonder. The severe treatment he received at my hands for brutal and dastardly conduct, rendered it necessary for him if possible, to forget iny existence. Unfortunately, I know him; and by the blessing of God, and the assistance of a grey-goose qmB, my design is to make the public know him also.

I know Mr. Poe by a succession of his acts — one of which is rather costly. I hold Mr. Poe’s acknowledgement for a sum of money which he obtained of me under false pretences. As I stand in need of it at this time, I ain content he should forget to know me, provided he acquits himself of the money he owes me. I ask no interest, in lieu of which I am willing to credit him with the sound cuffing I gave him when I last saw him.

Another act of his gave me some knowledge of him. A merchant of this city had accused him of committing forgery. He consulted me on the mode of punishing his accuser, and as he was afraid to challenge him to the field, or chastise him personally, I suggested a legal prosecution as his sole remedy. At his request, I obtained a counsellor who was willing, as a compliment to me, to conduct his suit without the customary retaining fee. But, though so eager at first to commence proceedings, he dropped the matter altogether, when the time came for him to act — thus virtually admitting the truth of the charge.

As the matter contained in the last paragraph quoted above was libelous, the publisher, Fuller, tried to guard himself, by the introductory notice, a precaution which was futile. Poe replied in the Philadelphia Spirit of the Times on July 10, 1846:

TO THE PUBLIC. — A long and serious illness of such character as to render quiet and perfect seclusion in the country of vital importance, has hitherto prevented me from seeing an article headed The War of the Literati. . . . [page 708:]

Full justice was done to the occasion in Poe’s characteristic style. He was unable to defend himself fully against English’s story of his conduct when intoxicated, but contributed enough biographical material about English to sufficiently demonstrate his character. Of his own weakness he remarks:

The errors and frailties which I deplore, it cannot at least be asserted that I have been the coward to deny. Never, even, have I made attempt at extenuating a weakness which is (or by the blessing of God, was) a calamity, although those who did not know me intimately had little reason to regard it as other than a crime. For, indeed, had my pride, or that of my family permitted, there was much — very much — there was everything to be offered in extenuation.

The charge of forgery was completely denied. Park Benjamin had quoted the alleged remark of a New York merchant, Edward J. Thomas of Broad Street, to English who had rashly rushed into print. Poe dispatched a letter to Thomas who replied:

New York, July 5, 1845.

E. A. POE, Esq., New York

DEAR SIR, — I had hoped ere t£is to have seen you, but as you have not called, and as I may soon be out of the city, I desire to say to you that, after repeated effort, I saw the person on Friday evening last, from whom the report originated to which you referred in your call at my office. (The contemptuous silence in respect to the communication sent through Mr. E. will be observed). He denies it in toto — says he does not know it and never said so — and it undoubtedly arose from the misunderstanding of some word used. It gives me pleasure thus to trace it, and still more to find it destitute of foundation in truth, as I thought would be the case. I have told Mr. Benjamin the result of my inquiries, and shall do so to —— (the lady referred to as the common friend) by a very early opportunity — the only two persons who know anything of the matter, as far as I know.

I, am Sir, very truly  
Your friend and obed’t. St.  
(Signed) EDWARD J. THOMAS(774)

“These are the facts which, in a court of justice, I propose to demonstrate,” says Poe — and he did so. The New York Mirror was sued, for libel. The case came to trial February 22, 1847, [page 709:] before Justice Samuel Jones of the Superior (State) Court. English did not appear for the Mirror, and the verdict went to Poe who received $225 damages and costs. The total sum amounted to $326.48. Out of this, E. L. Fancher, Poe’s attorney, received, it is said, a good fat fee. This was after the death of Virginia at Fordham.

The most unfortunate part of the whole miserable affair was, that largely due to unnecessary attacks on English in Godey’s, the weaknesses of “Israfel” had been advertised to the world. It was the English controversy, more than any other, which tarnished Poe’s good name. Had it not been for that, we should now hear very much less about “Poe’s drinking.” The weaknesses of many another literary man, kept private, have been forgotten. The failings of Poe were trumpeted, and reprinted in a chain of little newspapers and magazines whose editors dealt out the vindictive journalistic personalities of an era when neighborhood gossip was news. It is hard now to get a perspective on the havoc which this kind of thing wrought upon so sensitive, and so easily irritated a nature as Poe’s.

There was not a single day in (the) year that he did not receive, through the post anonymous letters from cowardly villains which so harrowed up his feelings that he at length, was driven to the firm belief that the whole world of Humanity was nothing less than the veritable devil himself tormenting him here on earth for nothing.(775)

One can easily trace, in this, the germs of a conviction of persecution as this went on from year to year.

Were I now called upon from the bottom of my heart, to give a faithful exhibition of this man’s real nature, I would say that he was the Incarnation of the Greek Prometheus chained to the Mount Caucasus of demi-civilized Humanity, with the black Vulture of Envy, feeding on his self-replenished heart; while upon his trembling lips sat enthroned the most eloquent persuasion alternating with the bitterest, triumphant and God-like scorn. . . .(775)

This estimate was made by Thomas Holley Chivers who knew Poe well, and who had visited him on July 8, 1845, at 195 Broadway. [page 709:] From Fordham, on July 22, 1846, Poe wrote Chivers a significant letter, only a small part of which is here given.

I am living out of town about 13 miles, at a village called Fordham, on the railroad leading north. We are in a snug little cottage, keeping house, and would be very comfortable but that I have been for a long time dreadfully ill. I am getting better, however, altho slowly, and shall get well. In the meantime the flocks of little birds of prey that always take the opportunity to peck at a sick fowl of larger dimensions, have been endeavoring with all their power given them to effect my ruin. My dreadful poverty, also has given them every advantage. In fact, my dear friend, I have been driven to the very gates of despair more dreadful than death, and I had not even one friend, out (side) of my family, with whom to advise. What would I have not given for the kind pressure of your hand. . . .

Let not anything in this letter impress you with the belief that I despair even of worldly prosperity. On the contrary although I feel ill, and ground into the very dust with poverty, there is a sweet hope in the bottom of my soul. . . .(776)

We also learn, in this letter, that Poe had not been contributing to the magazines since February, 1846, and that the money received from Godey had long ago been exhausted.(765)

Of the life led by Poe and his family about Fordham, of the contemporary conditions of the neighborhood, and of its appearance and the location of the cottage itself, many carefully authenticated documents, and much testimony remains.(777)

Fordham was a sleepy little village, in the 1840s, strung out [page 711:] along the Kingsbridge Road, the old stage line northward. The place dated from a New York manor, created in 1676. When the Poes moved there, it was just beginning to feel the influx of families from New York. The Lorillards and others already had summer homes in the neighborhood, and the Roman Catholic College of St. John had been built nearby on Rose Hill. A station had recently been constructed to take care of the two trains daily on the Harlem Railroad at Williamsbridge, a mile and a half to the north. There was not even a post office. Poe had to walk for his mail about a mile, to West Farms.

The cottage occupied a triangular plot of ground of about an acre where the Kingsbridge Road began to turn east up to Fordham, at present marked by the line of East One Hundred Ninety-second Street. It was not a “Dutch Cottage” as it has so often been described, but a simple, frame, workman’s dwelling built when the colonial influence still prevailed, some time after the Revolution, as the hand-cut laths, and nails, and the mud plaster employed in its construction show. It seems to have been erected a little previous to 1816. The property in 1846 was owned by a neighboring farmer, a member of the Fordham Dutch Reformed Church, who, in the Spring of 1846, leased it to Poe.

The little house had broad paneled doors and small-paned windows. There were four rooms, two on each floor, a kitchen with an open fireplace, added soon after the building was erected, and a cow-shed lean-to.

In front, there was a small porch. Poe himself describes “the pillars of the piazza, enwreathed in jasmine, and sweet honeysuckle — the numerous pots of gorgeous flowers, the vivid green of the tulip tree leaves that partially overshadowed the cottage . . . the large, flat, irregular slabs of granite . . . imbedded in turf not nicely adapted, but with velvety sod filling frequent between the stones (leading) hither and thither from the house.” In the poet’s day the entire dwelling seems to have been covered with the broad, dark-pine shingles, then common.

The main room on the ground floor was the parlor where Poe wrote. “The more substantial furniture consisted of a round [page 712:] table, a few chairs (including a large rocking chair) and a sofa or rather settee . . . its material was plain maple painted a creamy white slightly understriped with green.” Poe also speaks in Landor’s Cottage, evidently from life, of a vase of blooming flowers on the parlor table and “the fireplace nearly filled with a vase of brilliant geraniums.” There were more flowers, vases on the shelves and mantel, and clustered violets about the windows. Such was the room in which he wrote in the summer days. The family evidently ate, after the manner of rural dwellers, in the kitchen.

Next to the parlor was a cubby-hole of a bedroom which Mrs. Clemm at first occupied, but into which Virginia was brought to be nursed later. Here she died. The two garret rooms were evidently Poe’s and Virginia’s. The east attic room was, at first, occupied by Virginia before the cold weather came, as her bedstead now shows the knobs cut off on one side, in order to allow it to fit under the low eaves. Poe’s own room was next to Virginia’s in the garret, “a low, cramped chamber, lighted by little square windows like portholes.”(778) The furnishings were poverty stricken, but, as always, Mrs. Clemm was able to make the place gleaming and spotless. The walls were not papered, but covered with a lime wash. A little winding staircase led to the rooms above, and there were broad, plain, scoured, plank floors.

The surroundings were in keeping. The house itself stood facing west, close to the road, with a little dooryard filled with lilac bushes, and a large cherry tree. A few blue flagstones led from the gate to the porch. There was a wood, and an apple orchard just north — across what is now Poe Park. The hill doped away to the south, almost from the verge of the porch, dipping down into Mill Creek Valley. To the south, down a slope of lawn, there were wide, sweeping views over the farms of the Bronx. The most living, contemporary description has been given by Mrs. Gove Nichols:

On this occasion (probably a visit in the Summer of 1846) I was introduced to the young wife of the poet, and to the mother, then more than sixty years of age. She was a tall, dignified old lady, with a most [page 713:] lady-like manner, and her black dress, though old and much worn, looked really elegant on her. She wore a widow’s cap, of the genuine pattern, and it suited her exquisitely with her snow-white hair. Her features were large, and corresponded with her stature, and it seemed strange how such a stalwart and queenly woman could be the mother of her petite daughter. Mrs. Poe looked very young; she had large black eyes, and a pearly whiteness of complexion which was a perfect pallor. Her pale face, her brilliant eyes, and her raven hair gave her an unearthly look. One felt that she was almost a disrobed spirit, and when she coughed, it was made certain that she was rapidly passing away.

The mother seemed hale and strong, and appeared to be a sort of universal Providence to her strange children.

The cottage had an air of gentility that must have been lent to it by the presence of its inmates. So neat, so poor, so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I never saw. The floor of the kitchen was white as wheaten flour. A table, a chair, and a little stove it contained seemed to furnish it completely. The sitting room was laid with check matting; four chairs, a light stand, and a hanging bookshelf completed its furniture. There were pretty presentation copies of books on the little shelves, and the Brownings had posts of honor on the stand. With quiet exultation Poe drew from his inside pocket a letter he had recently received from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. He read it to us. It was very flattering. . . . On the bookshelf there lay a volume of Poe’s poems. He took it down, wrote my name in it and gave it to me. I think he did this from a feeling of sympathy, for I could not be of advantage to him, as my two companions could. . . . He was at this time greatly depressed. Their extreme poverty, the sickness of his wife, and his own inability to write sufficiently accounted for this. We spent half an hour in the house, when some more company came, which included ladies, and then we all went to walk.

We strolled away into the woods, and had a very cheerful time, till someone proposed a game at leaping. I think it must have been Poe, as he was expert in the exercise. Two or three gentlemen agreed to leap with him, and though one of them was tall and had been a hunter in times past, Poe still distanced them all. But alas! his gaiters, long worn and carefully kept, were both burst in the grand leap that made him victor. . . . I was certain he had no other shoes, boots, or gaiters. Who amongst us could offer him money to buy a new pair? . . . When we reached the cottage, I think all felt that we must not go in, to see the shoeless unfortunate sitting or standing in our midst. I had an errand, however — and I entered the house to get it. The poor old mother looked at his feet with a dismay that I shall never forget. ‘Oh, Eddie!’ said she, ‘how did you burst your gaiters?’ Poe seemed to [page 714:] have come into a semi-torpid state as soon as he saw his mother. ‘ Do answer Muddie’, now said she coaxingly — I related the cause of the mishap, and she drew me into the kitchen.

‘Will you speak to Mr. ——— ,’ she said, ‘about Eddie’s last poem?’ Mr. ——— was the reviewer. ‘If he will only take the poem, Eddie can have a pair of shoes. He has it — I carried it last week, and Eddie says it is his best. You will speak to him about it, won’t you?’

We had already read the poem in conclave, and Heaven forgive us, we could not make head or tail of it.(783) It might as well have been in any of the lost languages, for any meaning we could extract from its melodious numbers. I remember saying that I believed it was only a hoax that Poe was passing off for poetry, to see how far his name would go in imposing upon people. But here was a situation. The reviewer had been actively instrumental in the demolition of the gaiters.

‘Of course, they will publish the poem,’ said I, ‘and I will ask C —— to be quick about it.’

The poem was paid for at once, and published soon after. I presume it is regarded as genuine poetry in the collected poems of its author, but then it bought the poet a pair of gaiters, and twelve shillings over.


At my next visit Poe grew very confidential with me.

‘I write,’ said he, ‘from a mental necessity — to satisfy my taste and my love of art. Fame forms no motive power with me. What can I care for the judgment of a multitude, every individual of which I despise? ‘

’But, Mr. Poe,’ said I, ‘there are individuals whose judgment you respect.’

‘Certainly.’ and I would choose to have their esteem unmixed with the mean adulation of the mob.’

‘But the multitude may be honestly and legitimately pleased,’ said I.

‘That may be possible,’ said Poe, musingly, ‘because they may have an honest leader, and not a poor man who has been paid a hundred dollars to manufacture opinions of them and fame for an author.’

‘Do reviewers sell their literary conscience thus unconscionably?’ said I.

‘A literary critic must be loath, to violate his taste, his sense of the fit and the beautiful. To sin against these, and praise an unworthy author, is to him an unpardonable sin. But if he were placed on the rock, or if, one he loved better than his own life were writhing there, I can conceive of his forging a note against the Bank of Fame, in favour of some would-be poetess, who is able and willing to buy his poems and opinions.’ [page 715:]

He turned almost fiercely upon me, his fine eyes piercing me, ‘Would you blame a man for not allowing his sick wife to starve?’ said he. I changed the subject. . . .


At my next visit, Poe said, as we walked along the brow of the hill, ‘I can’t look out on this loveliness till I have made a confession to you. I said to you when you were here last, that I despised fame.’

‘I remember,’ said I.

‘It is false,’ said he. ‘I love fame — I dote on it — I idolize it — I would drink to the very dregs the glorious intoxication. I would have incense ascend in my honour from every hill and hamlet, from every town and city on this earth. Fame! Glory! — they are life-giving breath, and living blood. No man lives, unless he is famous! How bitterly I belied my nature, and my aspirations, when I said I did not desire fame, and that I despised it.’

One must remember that fame was the only reward that he could expect, in compensation for a life that had been spent in toil and devoid of any apparent reward. Yet this outburst shows to what an exalted point the ego had attained. It was only a year before Eureka was written, when the climax of self exaltation was achieved.

This outburst from the hidden depths of the man’s nature, reveals a more than rational ambition. Fame had become the craving, the morbid thirst of a soul condemned to solitary confinement. To be universally upon all lips, even after death, would somehow, he felt, identify him with men and bring them closer. Life had been a dream. His children were only dreams. To make them live, was to survive, in part, himself. “No man lives unless he is famous!” — glory would be his only immortality. One wonders — Mrs. Gove’s recollections were published in the Six Penny Magazine!(777)

The presence of so marked a character as Mr. Poe did not pass unnoticed in the annals of so quiet a neighborhood. The visitors from town, the suffering of his wife, and the various shifts to which hew as put by his obvious poverty were, no doubt, the of much rural gossip. Mrs. Clemm was forced occasionally to borrow a shilling from some of the neighbors to get Eddie’s mail when he was unable to walk to the West Farms Post [page 716:] Office, and the priests and students at St. Johns College remembered meeting Poe, from time to time, walking along the lanes, often at nightfall, muttering, lost in his dreams, a lonely and mysterious figure.

He occasionally walked out the Kingsbridge road to visit the Macombs, or down to the village of Tremont, where he had struck up an acquaintance with the resident physician at a home for incurables. The Valentines were also good and kind neighbors; their name recalled boyhood memories to Poe, a fact which would have been of considerable import to him, for he was almost superstitious about such associations. It was probably the deciding reason for his having rented the cottage from them! Virginia and Mrs. Clemm were especially good friends with the neighbors on the Van Cott farm nearby, and, from a Miss Susan Cromwell, another neighbor, comes a particularly tragic anecdote.(778)

Miss Cromwell lived a little beyond the Poes. In the Spring of 1846, as she was passing by the cottage up the Kingsbridge Road, she noticed Poe up in the cherry tree gathering the red, ripe fruit, and tossing it to Virginia, who caught it in her lap, laughing and calling back, as she sat dressed in white on a green sod bank beneath. Poe was standing on a branch above her, about to toss another bunch of cherries into the bright red pile already gathered in Virginia’s apron, when white and crimson suddenly became one in the tide which leaped from her lips. Poe sprang from the branches, clasped Virginia in his arms, and vanished with her fainting in his arms, through the door of the little cottage. “They were,” said the literal Miss Cromwell, “awful poor.”

Through all the years, Poe had retained his West Point cloak or overcoat, for during the Fordham episode, we hear of it several times. It was stolen from him once, after he had left it in a tavern near the Harlem Railroad Station, but seems to have been recovered through a warrant issued by his friend Justice Lorillard. So marked a garment, in so small a neighborhood, was not hard to trace down. It was this same cape or coat which played such a tragic rôle in the Winter that followed.

From a family by the name of Bushby nearby, comes the information that, while at Fordham, Poe was sponsor at the baptism [page 717:] of a child named for him. Significantly enough, he did not desire the boy to bear his middle name, and the namesake was baptized “Edgar Albert.”(779) It was also noted that the Rector of the Episcopal Church at West Farms paid some visits to the cottage, and that Poe became friends with one of the priests in the seminary nearby.

Far from being a restful, and a quiet retirement, Fordham, in 1846, was to Poe a place of confusion. There was, of course, Virginia. He was torn between his pride, and the trammelings of poverty. His health and unstrung nervous condition precluded any work, except intermittently, perhaps upon a few poems. The ideas of Eureka must, in spite of everything, have already been taking shape. These dreams had been disturbed by his domestic tragedy, the henpecks of the literati, and the annoying affair with English. Rosalie had returned to Richmond in July.

During all this time, the usual active correspondence of a prominent literary man had been underway.(780) It was, under the circumstances of his health, a considerable tax at that time upon him. The most intimate, and sympathetic letter of 1846, belongs to the correspondence with Thomas Holley Chivers. In July, Poe received a whole bundle of his letters, which the landlady at his former lodging, 195 Broadway, had neglected to forward. He hastened to reply. The intercourse of the two was most illuminating and intimate, Chivers afterward prepared a life of Poe.(781) At the beginning of the year, and continued throughout, there was an interchange of letters between Duyckinck, and Poe. The former was now acting as Poe’s literary agent, having published his poems and tales. Poe was anxious to get out another collection [page 718:] of his tales giving a fuller selection, and in January, 1846, he had sent the proposed collection to Duyckinck, proposing that Mr. Wiley advance him $50 for the copyright. About the same time he wrote to Griswold asking him to further the plan. He was dissatisfied with the narrow range of his stories in the published edition.

Wiley, and Putnam’s reader has what he thinks a taste for ratiocination . . . and has accordingly made up the book mostly of analytic stories. . . .

Neither Dr. Griswold nor Mr. Duyckinck agreed, and nothing further came of the matter. In April, Poe received the letter from Elizabeth Barrett which so pleased him. With Duyckinck there was also, in April, further correspondence about the anthology upon which Poe seems to have worked spasmodically at Fordham, and in June a short note concerning the reply to English, and a review of Poe’s Tales to be written up at the suggestion of Martin Farquhar in the Literary Gazette.

In April, Poe had been chosen by a concurrent vote of the literary societies of the University of Vermont, as the poet for an anniversary celebration in August. He was unable, on account of ill-health and poverty, to go, but he wrote to Duyckinck asking to have the invitation given publicity. He also offered to sell that part of his correspondence containing the autographs of “statesmen,” to Wiley & Putnam. Much of the correspondence of the Summer deals with the miserable English controversy.

There were letters to Willis, Godey, Duyckinck and William Gilmore Simms. Simms’ reply — he was then in New York — on July 30, 1846, is one of the best advised that Poe received. Poe had asked Simms to aid him in the English controversy.

I note with regret the very desponding character of your last letter. I surely need not tell you how deeply and sincerely I deplore the misfortunes which attend you, — the more so as I see no prospect for your relief and extrication but such as must result from your own decision and resolve. No friend can help you in the struggle which is before you. Money, no doubt, can be procured; but this is not altogether what you require. Sympathy may soothe the hurts of Self Esteem, and make a man temporarily forgetful of his assailants; — but in what degree will [page 719:] this avail, and for how long, in the protracted warfare of twenty or thirty years?

You are still a very young man, and one too largely and too variously endowed, not to entertain the conviction — as your friends entertain it — of a long and manful struggle with, and a final victory over, fortune. But this warfare, the world requires you to carry on with your own unassisted powers. It is only in your manly resolution to use these powers, after a legitimate fashion, that it will countenance your claims to its regards and sympathy; and I need not tell you how rigid and exacting it has been in the case of the poetical genius, or, indeed, the genius of any order.

Suffer me to tell you frankly, taking the privilege of a true friend, that you are now perhaps in the most perilous period of your career — just in that position — just at that time of life — when a false step becomes a capital error — when a single leading mistake is fatal in its consequences. You are no longer a boy. ‘At thirty wise or never!’ You must subdue your impulses; etc., in particular let me exhort you to discard all associations with men, whatever their talents, whom you cannot esteem as men.

Pardon me for presuming thus to counsel one whose great natural and acquired resources should make him rather the teacher of others. But I obey a law of my own nature, and it is because of my sympathies that I speak. Do not suppose yourself abandoned by the worthy and honorable among your friends. They will be glad to give you welcome if you will suffer them. They will rejoice — I know their feelings and hear their language — to countenance your return to that community — that moral province in society — of which, let me say to you, respectfully and regretfully, — you have been, according to as reports bid; too heedlessly, and, perhaps, too scornfully indifferent.

Remain in obscurity for awhile. You have a young wife — I am told a suffering & an interesting one, — let me entreat you to cherish her, and to cast away those pleasures which are not worthy of your mind, and to trample those temptations under foot, which degrade your person, and make it familiar to the mouth of vulgar jest.

You may do all this, by a little circumspection. It is still within your power. Your resources from literature are probably much greater than sore they are just as great. You can increase them, so that they shall for all your legitimate desires; but you must learn of prudence; — a lesson, let me add, which the too frequently & unwisely disparaged. It may seem to you very impertinent, — in most cases it is impertinent — that he who gives nothing else should presume to give counsel. But one gives that which lie can most spare, and you must not esteem me indifferent to a condition which I can in up other way assist [page 720:]

I have never been regardless of your genius, even when I knew nothing of your person. It is some years since I counselled Mr. Godey to obtain the contributions of your pen. He will tell you this. I hear that you reproach him. But how can you expect a magazine proprietor to encourage contributions which embroil him with all his neighbors? These broils do you no good — vex your temper, destroy your peace of mind, and hurt your reputation. You have abundant resources upon which to draw even were there no Grub Street in Gotham. Change your tactics and begin a new series of papers with your publisher.

The printed matter which I send you, might be quoted by Godey, and might be ascribed to me. But, surely, I need not say to you that, to a Southern man, the annoyance of being mixed up in a squabble with persons whom he does not know, and does not care to know — and from whom no Alexandrine process of cutting loose, would be permitted by society, would be an intolerable grievance. I submit to frequent injuries and misrepresentations, content though annoyed by the slaves (sic), that the viper should amuse himself upon the file at, at the expense of his own teeth.

As a man, as a writer, I shall always be solicitous of your reputation & success. You have but to resolve on taking and asserting your position, equally in the social and the literary world, and your way is clear, your path is easy, and you will find true friends enough to sympathize in your triumphs.

Very sincerely though sorrowfully, Yr. obdt, Servt.  

— all of which was most excellent advice. Amid the pot pourri of Poe’s correspondence, against the emotional confusion of his nature, and his growing egotism, such letters availed little. What he more desired was admiration and sympathy. This was liberally supplied to him, in the letters from Philip Pendleton Cooke, another poet, whose nature, judging from the passages in the works of Poe which he most admired, was in peculiar sympathy with Poe’s. Miss Lynch continued her kindly interest in the family at Fordham, and, despite Poe’s despairing letters to her, wrote, cheering him, and was of great charitable assistance. Poe was hardly in town at all at this period. One of the few references to his appearances in New York is contained in an undated letter [page 721:] from Miss Lynch (Mrs. Botta) in which his reciting a poem, perhaps Ulalume, at a Tuesday evening party is mentioned.(788)

Poe did little literary work at Fordham in 1846. In a letter to Chivers, in July, he notices the fact, and, on December 15, he writes:

For more than six months I have been ill — for the greater part of that time, dangerously so, and quite unable to mite even an ordinary letter. My magazine papers appearing in this interval were all in the publishers hands before I was taken sick. Since getting better, I have been, as a matter, of course, overwhelmed with the business accumulating during my illness.(776)

Part of this business was loose ends, left over from the Broadway Journal. Some of the correspondence of the period was with G. W. Eveleth, a Maine man, who read Poe’s work with admiration, took a keen interest in him personally, and has left some excellent contemporary criticisms of Poe.(784) June had brought a letter from Nathaniel Hawthorne, then at Salem, about Mosses from an Old Manse written on the seventeenth. He says:

. . . I have read your occasional notices of my productions with great interest — not so much because your judgment was, upon the whole favourable, as because it seemed to be given in earnest. I care for nothing but the truth. I confess, however, that I admire you (more) as a writer of tales than as a critic upon them, I might often — and often do — dissent from your opinions in the latter capacity, but would never fail to recognize your force and originality in the former.(786)

During the Summer and Autumn, by hook or crook, the inmates of the cottage at Fordham had managed to exist As the Winter closed down upon them exceptionally cold (as the Summer had been unusually hot), poverty dire and inescapable, hunger and lack of clothing were now made doubly intolerable by extreme cold, There was a little stove in the kitchen, and an open [page 722:] fireplace in the parlor. The only cheerful recollections of the entire Winter came from the Catholic priest, who dropped in sometimes of evenings to spend a few hours before the fire with Poe, and engaged him in metaphysical conversation. As the Winter advanced, fuel was scarce. It became impossible to heat the little garret upstairs, and Virginia was moved down into the tiny bedroom next to the parlor. She was now unable to leave bed often, the end was so near. The Bathhursts, some kindly neighbors, sent food and fuel. In the snow-drifts the visits of the literati had ceased, and Poe and Mrs. Clemm were left alone to listen to the wolf howling at the door, and the whines of the winter wind that swirled the snow down the Kingsbridge Road. Mrs. Clemm alone ventured out, to “borrow” a few eggs or potatoes.

Virginia lay on a straw mattress, wrapped in Poe’s cloak, for there were no blankets, hugging the cat to keep warm. In the little bedroom Poe could see her faint breath, as he bent over her holding her hands or feet to keep them from aching with cold. There must have been days, when even the spring was frozen solid, and fuel was low; dark, winter afternoons and long, terrifying nights as Virginia fluttered down into the abyss, when it seemed as if all three must inevitably perish. Through it all persisted Mrs. Clemm’s unceasing nursing of her two children, and the pride of “Israfel” and “Lucifer.” Only the neighbors knew, pitied, and mercifully helped.

By what seems to have been a special dispensation, Mrs. Gove Nichols was impelled to make a visit to Fordham, apparently early in December, 1846. Poe and Mrs. Clemm were battling to keep Virginia alive.

I saw her in her bed-chamber. Everything here was so neat, so purely dean, so scant and poverty stricken, that I saw the poor sufferer with such a heartache as the poor feel for the poor.

There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but a snow-white counterpane and sheets. The weather was cold, and the sick lady had the dreadful chills that accompany the hectic fever of consumption. She lay in the straw bed, wrapped in her husband’s great coat, with a large tortoiseshell cat in her bosom. The wonderful cat seemed conscious of her great usefulness. The coat and the cat were the sufferer’s [page 723:] only means of warmth, except as her husband held her hands, and her mother her feet. Mrs. Clemm was passionately fond of her daughter, and her distress on account of her illness and poverty was dreadful to see.

As soon as I was made aware of these painful facts, I came to New York and enlisted the sympathies and services of a lady, whose heart and hand were ever open to the poor and miserable. . . (777)

Mrs. Shew, for it was to her that Mrs. Gove Nichols had appealed, sent “a feather bed and an abundance of bed-clothing and other comforts.” She also headed a subscription among friends, and brought Mrs. Clemm $60 the next week, after which her visits and ministrations were untiring. The whole affair started a great deal of talk among the literati and in journalistic circles, now to a more humane and admirable tune. Indeed, in this matter, all the natural kindliness of the good but foolish women who had surrounded Poe, and of the editors, and his social friends, comes out with a clear and merciful light. All the bigotries of literary cliques were temporarily forgotten, and natural human kindness came to the fore.

Mrs. Osgood received a letter from Mrs. Hewitt, written December 20, which informed her of Poe’s bitter plight.

The Poes are in the same state of physical and pecuniary suffering — indeed worse than they were last summer for now the cold weather is added to their accumulation of ills. I went to inquire of Mr. Post about them. He confirmed all that I had previously heard of their condition. Although he says Mrs. Clemm has never told him they were in want, yet she borrows a shilling often, to get a letter from the office . . . etc.

Mrs. Osgood was touched, and undoubtedly helped materially. Site also spread the news, and wrote to her sister-in-law, Mrs. Locke, at Lowell, Massachusetts. Mrs. Locke sent Poe some verses mid More substantial help. Mrs; Hewitt had undertaken to get up a subscription for the Poes among editors, so the matter got into print. “I fear it will hurt Poe’s pride to have his affairs made so public.” Soon afterward, greatly to Poe’s own chagrin, this paragraph appeared in the New York Express: [page 724:]

We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe and his wife are both dangerously ill with the consumption, and that the hand of misfortune lies heavy upon their temporal affairs. We are sorry to mention the fact that they are so far reduced as to be barely able to obtain the necessaries of life. This is indeed a hard lot, and we hope the friends and admirers of Mr. Poe will come promptly to his assistance in his bitterest hour of need.

N. P. Willis was much moved by this notice, and with his characteristic kindness, gentleness, and tact, published in the Home Journal, which he was then editing, an appeal and a touching eulogy of Poe. In this, under the guise of an appeal for his former editor, he advocated a house of refuge for authors. This was enclosed to Poe with a kindly note. Poe was shocked that his affairs had thus been noised abroad, and replied, thankfully, but guardedly, saying that he had many private friends to whom he could have appealed, but that he deprecated public charity. The upshot of the whole matter was, that largely through the efforts of Mary Louise Shew, the Poe household was saved, and Virginia enabled to die at home surrounded by a few primary comforts.

Behind it all is the ghost of this poor little sufferer, seeming to revive at times, for her natural temperament was childishly merry, when little gifts were brought her, and she was surrounded for a while by the voices and kindly faces of friends. She had been married as a child to the loneliest and most ambitious man in the world. She seems to have dung to him pathetically, knowing him as no one else could. All attempts to present her real character must be forever baffled. What she was to others, she remains to us, an immature, sweet, and trusting, but scarcely visible girl-‘ wife and invalided woman, caught by fate in the net of a tragedy, the strength of whose meshes she could no more glimpse than a fish seized upon by the trawler in dayless submarine valleys. Alxmt her there was, it must ever be remembered, the strange dignity of suffering and unfulfillment that requires, and yet mocks at tears.

Even at this desperate pass, we catch a glimpse of Poe at work in the little “parlor” at Fordham, the day before Christmas: [page 725:]

New York, Dec. 24, ‘46.

WM. D. TICKNOR, Esq. (Ticknor of Ticknor & Fields, Pub.).


I am engaged on a book which I will probably call Literary America, and in which I propose to make a general survey of our Letters. I wish, of course, to speak of Oliver Wendell Holmes, and as I can say nothing of him to which, you as his publisher, could object, I venture to ask you for a copy of his Poems, and any memoranda, literary or personal, which may serve my purpose, and which you may have it in your power to supply. If you could procure me his autograph, also, I would be greatly obliged to you.

You will of course understand that I should not feel justified in asking these favors, unless I thought, as all men do, very highly of Holmes. Please send anything for me, to the care of Freeman Hunt, Esq., Merchants’ Magazine Office, N. York.

Very truly and respectfully yours —  

Christmas Day, 1846, was passed with Virginia hovering upon the verge. During the last days of the year, Poe seems to have been working on the pages of his anthology while Mrs. Clemm, between intervals of nursing Virginia and receiving Mrs. Shew and others, went to get the mail, and scanned the papers eagerly for any mention of Eddie. The many reports about the family, and the echoes of the English controversy had no doubt sharpened her eyes. The last hours of Virginia had been made more miserable by anonymous letters which were sent her, enclosing various reports circulated about the family’s misery, and English’s attack. Among the worst of these persecutors was the inveterate and ingenious Mrs. Ellet. Poe said that Virginia’s end was hastened by Mrs.Ellet’s pen.

Israfel was now somewhat cheered to learn from Mrs. Clemm’s gleanings from the public prints that his work was being republished, and attracting attention in England, Scotland and France. The sight of Poe writing and corresponding, while Mrs. [page 726:] Clemm used her shears on the newspapers before the fire in the living-room, with Virginia dying in the little room scarcely twenty feet away, is a curious but yet natural one. The wife’s illness had became the familiar condition of the household for many years. Catarina walked about the cottage, her tail in the air, sometimes perching upon Poe’s shoulder, or lying upon Virginia’s bed. Mrs. Shew or Mrs. Gove Nichols dropped in, bringing dainties and comforts from the town.

On December 30, Poe wrote his guarded and carefully calculated reply to Willis, and another letter to Duyckinck enclosing the news of his French republication, and the letter from Stonehaven, Scotland. The clock ticked on, and 1846 glided into 1847.

New Year’s brought the shadow to the door. By the close of January it had reached to Virginia’s bedside, and the end was at hand. On the twenty-ninth of January, 1847, the relatives and friends had begun to gather at Fordham. Among those who arrived on that day was Poe’s “Mary,” his old Baltimore sweetheart, to whom Virginia had carried notes as a little girl. To her surprise she found Virginia sitting up.

The day before Virginia died I found her in the parlor.’ I said to her, ‘Do you feel any better to day? ‘ and sat down by the big armchair in which she was placed. Mr. Poe sat on the other side of her. I had my hand in hers, and she took it and placed it in Mr. Poe’s, saying, ‘Mary, be a friend to Eddie, and don’t forsake him; he always loved you — didn’t you, Eddie?’ We three were alone, Mrs. Clemm being in the kitchen.(422)

One can see the poor, little, wasted body with the still plump face sitting propped up in the chair, gazing into the fire, with Poe and Mary on either side, thinking not of herself , but of what the future was to bring to her husband. She felt he needed friends. Mary went back that afternoon to New York, and Mrs. Smith (Miss Herring), the Poes’ and Clemms’ . Baltimore cousin, arrived.(593 and 614) Towards evening, Virginia evidently began to sink rapidly, for Poe wrote to Mrs. Shew a letter that must have been delivered by a friend.

KINDEST — DEAREST FRIEND, — My poor Virginia still lives, although failing fast and now suffering much pain. May God grant her [page 727:] life until she sees you and thanks you once again! Her bosom is full to overflowing — like my own — with a boundless — inexpressible gratitude to you. Lest she may never see you more — she bids me say that she sends you her sweetest kiss of love and will die blessing you. But come — oh, come to-morrow! Yes, I will be calm — everything you so nobly wish to see me. My mother sends you, also, her ‘warmest love and thanks.’ She begs me to ask you, if possible, to make arrangements at home so that you may stay with us To-morrow night. I enclose the order to the Postmaster. Heaven bless you and farewell!


Fordham, January 28, ’47.

Mrs. Shew came out the nest morning. On the way to Fordham on the stage, she met “Poe’s Mary” also bound for the cottage, and as they drove along through the bitter cold, they talked about Virginia.

Virginia was now lying again in her little cubby hole of a bedroom on the ground floor. During the afternoon, she was still rational, and there was a final gleam. Mrs. Shew and Mrs. Smith were sitting by her bedside when Virginia took from beneath her pillow a picture of Poe, and the jewel case which had belonged to Mrs. Poe, the poet’s mother, and gave them to Mrs. Shew. She also asked for two letters from Mrs. Allan which she had read to Mrs. Shew.(40) These, it appears, had been written to him after his running away from Richmond in 1827, were couched in affectionate terms, and begged him to return. They exonerated Poe from blame for the troubles in the Allan household. The letters, then or later, fell into the hands of Poe’s cousin, Mrs. Smith. Eliza White also remembered having seen these letters. Could they be found, they might constitute an important piece of evidence in the story of Poe.(787) [page 728:]

Mrs. Shew said that Poe had denied himself many necessaries, and had suffered both cold and hunger to provide food and medicines for Virginia. At the time of her death, he was very ill. Virginia’s passing must have had, for him, all the imaginative attributes of the mystic horror with which he regarded death, and her tiny bedroom have become the chamber where “Ligeia” strove fearfully to enter the corpse of “Rowena.” Nothing was spared him. After nightfall apparently, Virginia smothered to death.

About all the tragedies that dogged the career of Israfel there was a complete, an ironically artistic, and certainly a Poesqueness that made them inimitable. After the death of Virginia, it was remembered that there was no picture of her which the family possessed. Accordingly, while she still lay dead, propped up in her bed, a water color sketch of her was hastily made by one of the ladies present, showing her after she had succumbed, with her eyes closed. The sketch was apparently afterward retouched in its reproductions, and the eyes of the dead woman opened. It is this picture of Virginia with which the public has become familiar, through infinite reduplication. About it, is all the air of tragedy and mortality, a certain creepiness which is associated with the popular legend of Poe.

Mrs. Shew provided a beautiful linen dress in which to bury Virginia, and she and Mrs. Clemm were assisted in their last ministrations by Mary, the adopted daughter of John Valentine, the owner of the little cottage.

On the day of the funeral, Virginia’s coffin lay on the writing table before the windows in the little parlor. Some of the neighbors, the Valentines, and others came in. N. P. Willis, solicitous, and kindly to the last, came out from the city with G. P. Morris, his partner. It was very cold. Mary remained at the house. Poe, wrapping himself in the cloak which had but lately been used to keep Virginia warm, followed her to the grave. Mrs. Shew had hidden it but he had nothing adequate to wear, and the day was cold and grey. Virginia was borne down an alley of funereal trees, and left in the burial vault of the Valentine family in the graveyard of life Fordham Dutch Reformed Church, in the presence [page 729:] of her husband, Mrs. Clemm, Mrs. Shew, Mrs. Ann S. Stephens, and a few others.(788) Poe returned to the house where he was in a state of numbed collapse for some weeks afterward. Mrs. Clemm, in the desperation of poverty, tried to sell Virginia’s gold thimble to Mary Devereaux before she left. Mary was too poor to buy it. Thus ended a long and haggard chapter of suffering. The tragedy of Israfel was about to enter upon its final phase.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 669:]

734.  Sumner, page 54.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 670:]

735.  It must be remembered that the written speech of the time was the reverse face of the situation, the attempt to be refined and genteel. Americans were greatly troubled by the criticisms of English travelers and authors of the time, who laughed at the accent and use of words which were inherited from English grandfathers. North American English early began to go its own way, in vocabulary, spelling, and syntax. See the remarks of Noah Webster in his early dictionaries. Also The American Language, Mencken, and Professor Krapp’s and Lounsberry’s comments in their various articles and books. The effect of the hardy Scotch and Scotch-Irish immigrants, and of the Irish and German immigrants upon the language spoken in the United States, has seldom been given full credit for its virile and enriching contributions.

736.  In rhyming Poe occasionally was inconsistent with the terminal “r.” In John Allan’s household it would have been rolled; in Virginia neglected.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 671:]

737.  The anti-slavery propaganda content of New England’s literature was largely the cause of its contemporary popularity in the North, and its present eclipse.

738.  Americans in the 1840s had a blind faith in the form of their own government as the “best” for all peoples.

739.  By turning to the Congressional Record of 1845-49 any number of similar bombastic manifestos may be enjoyed ad lib. Many of the speeches by contemporary Congressmen would now lead to an interchange of notes, and the withdrawal of ambassadors, especially by South American countries.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 672:]

740.  “This disconcerted us so greatly that we thought it advisable to vary the attack to Metaphysics. We sent for a copy of a book called the ‘Dial’ and read out of it a chapter or two about something which is not very clear, but which the Bostonians call the ‘great Movement Of Progress.’ (The Dial is now published in New York.) The Count merely said that Great Movements were awfully common things in his day, as for Progress, it was at one time quite a nuisance,” Poe in Some Words with a Mummy. Italics supplied.

741.  See Poe’s poem on his own idea of “Eldorado” written at the time of the Gold Rush, Chapter XXVI, page 801.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 673:]

742.  At “Economy” on the Ohio River below Pittsburgh. These people being celibates, strange doings ensued. This and similar colonies are an interesting paragraph in American history.

743.  See Chapter XIX, page 429.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 674:]

744.  Myriad attempts in the literature of the day to be mysterious, and mystical can be found. They lacked the essential element of imagination.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 675:]

745.  Arch Ramsay, Stonehaven, Scotland, to Poe, November 30, 1846. Poe replied “explaining,” and asking news of his Allan “relatives” in Ayreshire. Ramsay could not locate them.

746.  Collyer to Poe, Boston, date given.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 676:]

747.  Poe never entered the magic realm of the then 400 in New York. This centered about Coventry Waddell’s Gothic Villa! — at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-eighth Street. The contribution of this group to “American civilization “was the invention of policemen’s uniforms by James G. Gerard at a fancy dress ball at the Villa where he appeared in “fun uniform.” The tattered “rattle watch” was forthwith a thing of the past Mr. Poe was denied the privilege of association with such intellectual giants, a fact which has recently been lamented in the public prints.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 677:]

748.  The sources for the descriptions of the salons and personalities of the literati are all taken from contemporary sources, — letters, diaries, magazines, prefaces to “works,” and old prints. Some of the most important are, Poe, Stoddard, N. P. Willis, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, Godey’s Lady’s Book, the Home Journal, and files of contemporary newspapers. In order to avoid a senseless profusion of notes, the curious reader is referred generally to the grotesque literature of the time available at a public library — especially Poe’s own papers on the literati in Godey’s Lady’s Book.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 678:]

749.  ☞“It is useless for others to pretend to give fashions, for Godey’s Lady’s Book is the standard that governs the female dress of this republic.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 679:]

750.  Powhatan; a metrical romance in seven cantos, by Seba Smith (husband of Mrs. Smith), New York: Harper and Brothers, 1846. Poe remarked of this author, “We doubt whether he could distinctly state the difference between an epic and an epigram.” — Literati.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 680:]

751.  Stoddard had warmed his hands before shaking hands with his hostess!

752.  Italics supplied — one of many such remarks by persons who knew Poe.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 681:]

753.  This description is a little earlier than 1846, but holds substantially true for Poe’s time in New York.

754.  In the late 1860’s that is.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 682:]

755.  Broadway Journal, I, 17. One of Poe’s poems frequently republished since July, 1835, with some eight or nine revisions, “going the rounds of the press.” There were a number of other items published for Mrs. Osgood by Poe in the Broadway Journal.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 685:]

756.  R. H. Stoddard Memoir, 1874, page 81. A most untrustworthy compilation, except in regard to the author’s own personal recollections of Poe.

757.  See Chapter XXII, page 612.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 686:]

758.  See Poe to Ticknor, December 34,1846, — from Fordham, text reproduced, page 725.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 688:]

759.  “Thomas Done Brown”; Poe’s article on English in The Literati. English was a doctor, lawyer, editor, poet, controversialist, and finally — a Congressman.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 691:]

760.  Poe, in his reply to English, speaks of Dr. Francis as having intimate knowledge of the reasons for his (Poe’s) drinking, and by Inference, of Virginia’s illness.

761.  Century Magazine — October, 1909.

762.  “Estell’s” real name was Sarah Anna. She scorned this baptismal handicap in the literary race for fame, and even persuaded her husband to pay Griswold to make the alteration in a complimentary article. An acrostic written by Poe to “Sarah Anna” did not produce tie desired effect upon “Stella.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 692:]

763.  The Brennans at Bloomingdale seem to have had something to do with recommending the Poes to former friends, both at Turtle Bay and Fordham, Mrs. Brennan and her daughter Martha drove Mrs. Clemm about the country a good deal.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 694:]

764.  Bulletin of the North side (Bronx) Board of Trade for January, 1909, — Poe Memorial Issue.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 696:]

765.  Kindly attempts by biographers to furnish the Fordham cottage in May, 1846, with funds received from the libel suit settled in February, 1847, are hardly ingenious, to say the least. The opinion of the author is, that the cottage was not in any sense “furnished,” until Mrs. Shew gave the Poes the articles contributed by charity, in December, 1846, and after. See Mrs. Weiss for the description of articles pawned by Mrs. Clemm.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 699:]

766.  The character of Rosalie Poe has been greatly misunderstood by several biographers, who have fastened upon her the names of “idiot,” “imbecile,” and so forth. Rosalie was a little eccentric — undeveloped. This was later made worse by misfortunes sufficient to turn the head of many a normal old woman. She wrote a fair letter, taught writing in a school in Richmond, and understood, far too well, what was going on at Fordham, to please Mrs. Clemm, In 1846, Rose was still living with the Mackenzies in Richmond. Mrs. Clemm put her to sewing while she stayed at the cottage. See Mrs. Clemn’s letters to Rosalie, also Mrs. Weiss, Home Life of Poe.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 700:]

767.  Ingram, — from the Griswold Collection, also published by Woodberry and Harrison.

768.  See Mrs. Weiss, Home Life of Poe, for a doubtful interpretation of this letter.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 701:]

769.  It must be remembered that Mrs. Clemm was haunted by the horror of going to the poor-house, a fate which she escaped by going to a church home. She mentions the poor-house in letters to Rosalie, in 1846.

770.  From later correspondence between Mrs. Houghton and Mrs. Whitman, it is quite evident that “Stella” got hold of Poe through Mrs. Clemm, and that he, at first, detested her. Poe also spoke bitterly to Mrs. Gove of the reviews wrung from him by lucre, and his terrible misery.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 703:]

771.  Poe denied his being in debt to English in the reply in the Philadelphia Spirit of the Times, July 10, 1846.

772.  The text of the original articles in the New York Mirror is here used by the courtesy of John T. Snyder, Esq., who supplied the author with the originals in his possession.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 704:]

773.  See also English writing October 29, 1906 [[1896]], in the Independent. “One word led to another and he (Poe) rushed toward me in a menacing manner.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 708:]

774.  Printed in Poe’s reply to English in the Spirit of the Times.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 709:]

775.  Thomas Holley Chivers, quoted by Prof. Woodberry in the Century Magazine, February, 1903.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 710:]

776.  Prof. Woodberry publishes the whole letter in the Century Magazine for February, 1903.

777.  Descriptions of the cottage and the life led at Fordham by Poe and his family come from Transactions of the Bronx Society of Arts, Sciences and History, vol. I, part V; The Poe Cottage at Fordham, R. G. Bolton; reminiscences attributed (correctly) to Mrs. Gove Nichols, the Sixpenny Magazine, February, 1863; Items: New York Sun, October 3, 1915; Church Records of Fordham and West Farms. “Poe’s Mary,” see note No, 422; pamphlets and material available at the Poe cottage at Fordham; Boston Herald, January 20, 1009; Appleton’s Journal, July 18, 1874; the Book Buyer for January, 1903; maps, street plans, and several clippings and letters loaned the author by collectors, not available for reference; bill for the widening of the Kingsbridge Road, New York State Archives; Petition of the Poe Memorial Association to the Legislature and Governor of New York, April 8, 1896, etc., etc. Also obviously autobiographical descriptions in Landor’s Cottage, and other stories by Poe. Also letters of Mrs. Shew in the Ingram Correspondence at the University of Virginia. Personal visits to the Poe cottage.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 712:]

778.  Prof. Woodberry [[, 1909, vol. II, page 213]].

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 717:]

779.  Poe is known to have signed his name Edgar Allan Poe, only twice. (News of a letter said to belong to the early Baltimore period (sic) so signed, has recently been rumored to be in a collector’s hands in Berlin.) Griswold was responsible for using the full name habitually. Poe evidently desired to suppress it. Poe, in his works, frequently refers in a disguised way to his middle name, and the reason for it. See Three Sundays in a Week, The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq., etc., notes 191 to 197.

780.  Griswold, Miss Barrett, Eveleth, Duyckinck, Godey, Miss Lynch, Cooke, Ramsay, Willis, and a half dozen or so others engaged Poe’s time in letters and replies in 1846.

781.  For an account of this Life of Poe by Chivers see Prof. Woodberry’s article in the Century Magazine for February, 1003, reference note 775 above.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 720:]

782.  Postscript omitted — Simms was in New York, and too busy with a book on the press to visit Poe at Fordham, for which he apologizes. Letter frequently reprinted The paragraphing has been supplied here. Letter in Griswold Collection, reprinted by Prof. Harrison and Prof. Woodberry.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 721:]

783.  This seems to be the same recitation referred to by Mrs. Gove Nichols. See page 714.

784.  For the Poe-Eveleth correspondence see the Bulletin of the New York Public Library, edited by Dr. Thomas Ollive Mabbott. Also Prof. James Southall Wilson’s Poe-Eveleth Pamphlet.

785.  See, for a full discussion, Poe’s Criticism of Hawthorne. Copy in the New York Public Library. This is not a book by Poe.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 725:]

786.  Letter in the Justice Holmes Collection in the Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. Courtesy of the Librarian of Congress, and the Honorable Justice Holmes.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 727:]

787.  This incident constitutes an important link in the Poe-Allan mystery. Though Mrs. Shew is also traced the miniature of Mrs. David Poe (see note 40), also Mrs. Poe’s jewel box, given to Rosalie in 1811. Rosalie may have brought this with her to Fordham on the visit in 1846. It shows, at least, that Mrs. Poe’s momentoes and, by inference, her letters (see note 41) were also still preserved. For a discussion of Mrs. Allan’s letters see Complete Poems, by J. H. Whitty, Memoir, large edition, pages xxx and xxxi, Mrs. Shew says in her diary that the letters she heard read were from the second Mrs. Allan. This is an obvious mistake. It is impossible that the second Mrs. Allan should have written to Poe. It is known that she did not All authorities agree on this. The letters were from the first Mrs. Allan, Poe’s foster-mother.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 729:]

788.  In 1875, owing to the destruction of the cemetery in which Virginia had been buried, the contents of the graves and vaults at Fordham were removed, or scattered. Virginia’s remains were rescued by Gill, Poe’s biographer, put in a box under his bed, etc., — and, after exciting considerable gruesome and nauseous curiosity as the “bones of Annabel Lee,” were finally taken to Baltimore and buried beside Poe, where they now rest. Thus fate was gruesomely consistent to the last.






[S:0 - HVA26, 1926] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Chapter 23)