Text: Hervey Allen, “Appendix 09,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1934), pp. 719-721


[page 719:]



THE brief glimpse of Poe and John Neal, in the letters printed below, gives a rather amusing sidelight on both “Quarles” and “Jehu O’Cataract,” i.e., Poe and John Neal. Neal gave Poe his first public notice in the Yankee in 1829 in the squib about Al Aaraaf, which, although helpful, was pedantically patronizing in its corrections of Poe’s verbiage and metrics. Neal had lately been residing in Baltimore, knew the Poes, and looked upon Edgar as a little poetaster to be helped for old friends’ sake, but also to be patted on the shoulder with the admonitary air of a great editor. Young Poe, on his part, already regarded himself as a poet and a critic, and had his own opinion about Mr. John Neal. On July 28, 1829 he writes to Carey, Lea & Carey from Baltimore:

. . . notwithstanding the assertions of Mr. John Neal to the contrary, who now and then hitting thro’ sheer impudence upon a correct judgement in matters of authorship, is most unenviably rediculous whenever he touches the fine arts —

Thus Poe had the first word, only meant for the private eye of Mr. Lea. Poe cannot be accused of ungratitude to Neal who, not until two months later, was patting him on the back and then giving him a little kick. See page 168 of the September, 1829, Yankee, followed in December by four pages more (295-298) in which the patting was more pronounced, and the kicks reduced to three minor ones from footnotes.

Eleven years later the following letters were exchanged, disclosing both still at the same game, i.e., Poe striving to further his own reputation; John Neal correcting Poe’s grammar with all the patronizing attitude of the New Englander, “alarmed at a style that is beginning to prevail at the South.”

Poe was attempting to get the Penn (magazine) launched in Philadelphia, and wrote to Neal asking his influence.

Philadelphia, June 4th, 1840

MY DEAR SIR: As you gave me the first jog in my literary career, you are in a measure bound to protect me and keep me rolling. I therefore now ask you to aid me with your influence in whatever manner your experience shall suggest.

It strikes me that I never write you except to ask a favor. But my friend Thomas will assure you that I bear you always in mind, holding you in the highest respect and esteem.

Most truly yours,  

To which he received this characteristic reply, collect postage:

Portland, June 8, ’40

MY DEAR SIR: Yours of June 4, directed to New York, reached me but yesterday. I am glad to hear of your new enterprise and hope it may be all that you desire; but I cannot help you. I have done with the newspapers — have abandoned the journals — and have involved so many of my friends of late by becoming editor, or associate editor of so many different things for a few months at a time — and always against my will — that I haven’t the face to ask any person to subscribe for anything on earth. [page 720:]

But, as I have said before, I wish you success, and to prove it, allow me to caution you against a style, which I observe, to my great alarm, is beginning to prevail at the South. You say ‘I will be pardoned’ for ‘I shall be pardoned.’ For assurance that ‘I will fulfill,’ &c., for ‘shall,’ &c. Are you Irish — the well-educated Irish I mean? They always make this mistake, and the Scotch, too, sometimes; and you, I am persuaded, are either connected by blood or habits with the Irish of the South. Forgive me this liberty, I pray you, and take it for granted that I should not complain of these two little errors if I could find anything else to complain of.

Yours truly,  

These letters were published in the New York Times Book Review for June 17, 1917, under the title of Poe and John Neal by Edwin B. Hill. The Poe letter is to be found on page 256 of Neal’s Wandering Recollections of a Somewhat Busy Life. The letter is incomplete.

Neal’s letter to Poe (folded sheet) is addressed to “Mr. Edgar A. Poe, Philadelphia, Pa.,” and in Poe’s hand is the filing endorsement, “John Neal, June 8, 1840.” In 1917 it was in the possession of Mr. E. B. Hill.

(Courtesy of the New York Times, Inc.)

The following reprint abridged from a review of Poe’s tragedy of Politian, edited by Thomas Ollive Mabbott, and first published in 1923, Richmond, The Edgar Allan Poe Shrine, is here given as showing how Poe used contemporary material in his work. The review by H. I. Brock appeared in the New York Times’ Book Review for November n3 1923

. . . Notes in Mr. Mabbott’s edition serve to recall enough of the details of a story which in 1825 — ten years before Poe made literary use of it — set the tongues of the country wagging as eagerly as more recently they wagged over the murder case of Mrs. Hall Newspapers were not what they are now, but the story enjoyed a considerable publicity in print. And Poe whose first published poem, Tamerlane, saw the light in 1827, had ready to his pen a rich scenario.

Briefly, a certain Colonel Solomon P, Sharp had done grievous injury to a lady of good family, Miss Ann Cook, In her shamed seclusion she was wooed by another Kentuckian, Jereboam O. Beauchamp, a young lawyer. The lady consented to marry this new and ardent admirer only upon condition that before the wedding day he should kill the man who had wronged her.

The enamored Beauchamp agreed and promptly, after the approved manner of the time and country, challenged Sharp to fight a duel Both were buried in one grave at Bloomfield, Ky.

Such is the story, grim and bloodstained enough to satisfy even Poe’s insatiate fancy for the sombre. Tricked out with Italian names, titles, scenery, accessories of princely state, the story of Potitian is the same. A Duke’s son betrays the lady Lalage, his father’s lovely ward, and by his ducal father is betrothed to a highborn lady, his kinswoman. The forsaken one despairs and vows vengeance on a dagger, Then comes to Rome from far-away Britain, Politian, Earl of Leicester, and falls a victim to those so lately despised charms. He woos lorn Lalage in a moonlit garden — which is familiar Poe enough. ‘A deed is to be [page 721:] done,’ she says, and the Earl goes forth to slay the Count — Count Castiglione, The Count enacts the part of Colonel Sharp of Kentucky to the life and the letter. Politian, balked, borrows procrastination and irresolution from Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The last written act of the play shows him soliloquizing in the Coliseum — Poe made a separate poem of that soliloquy which is very well known indeed. The lady Lalage comes to him there, and on her reminder that her seducer stands at that moment with his bride on the very steps of the altar, Politian departs with evident bloody intent.

Only so far Poe got. Of exactly how he would have concluded the play there is, so far as Mr. Mabbott’s careful inquiries show, no record. . . .






[S:0 - HVA34, 1934] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Appendix 09)