Text: Hervey Allen, “Chapter 14,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1934), pp. 244-257


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


[page 244:]

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
 
THE WEARY, WAYWORN WANDERER

POE arrived in New York about February 20, 1831, and seems to have remained there until the end of March of that year. During this sojourn, his movements and doings are exceedingly obscure. The young man who took up lodgings somewhere close to Madison Square can best be described in his own words as “a weary, wayworn wanderer.” He was literally penniless, and thinly clad. There was no Ellis & Allan to draw upon for even a mourning suit now; he was just out of West Point and without sufficient civilian clothes. His scheme seems to have been to obtain literary work of some sort, probably with the newspapers, while the forthcoming volume held out some hopes of a small return. But in the meantime he must eat, and he was also very ill.

In the last letter from West Point, Poe had assured John Allan that he would never trouble him again. Faced by starvation and the prospect of a serious illness, however, he was once more forced to eat humble pie, lacking anything more substantial. Two days after leaving the Military Academy he writes in his New York lodging from what he feels is probably his death-bed, asking his “father” to send him enough to keep from starving.

The break at West Point and the severance of all home ties, with the consequent necessity of making an immediate about face in his plans and order of life, had undoubtedly entailed a fierce mental and spiritual struggle. He was, in fact, in one of those nervous emotional crises which make or mar a career.(384) This was reflected in his physical condition. He left West Point in a depleted and fatigued state. The trip down, we are told, was bitterly cold, and he had no adequate clothing, — “no cloak” — he says, although it is known that he brought with him from the Military Academy his cadet’s overcoat and wore it years later even at Fordham.(385) However that may be, he contracted an almost fatal “cold,” complicated by ear trouble. The result seems to have been one of those periods of complete nervous and psychic exhaustion that occasionally overtook him from now on, in which a weak heart played [page 245:] an important part.(384) In the midst of this he wrote the despairing letter to Richmond.(384)

In this letter, in addition to his desperate appeals for help, which even the disordered and blotted writing stamps as genuine, Poe attempts to defend himself for his course of procedure; lays the blame for being “dismissed” on his guardian’s refusal to give him permission to resign; and expatiates on his excellent standing in class, and the sympathy of his superiors and classmates. This sympathy, he says, he possessed; adding that sickness was the real cause of his dropping out, — and everybody at “The Point” knew it. In the meantime he is writing from his “death-bed,” and a little help during his last hours would be grateful.

The letter is undoubtedly exaggerated in its self-pity, but it was written during a time of great pain from a discharging ear, with the horror of starvation near, alone in a strange city, and by a terrified and delicately sensitive young man. Where else could he appeal but to “Dear Pa” and “home.” “Do not tell my sister,” he pleads — “I shall send to the post office every day.” But he sent in vain. That home which he addressed was his no longer. The letter was smugly filed away to receive over two years later a coldly furious endorsement from a stern hand.

Somehow, doubtless to his own surprise, Poe recovered in a week or so and found himself able to read proofs at the office of Elam Bliss at in Broadway, where “the second edition” of Poems was underway. Mr. Bliss, who was a kindly man, may also have taken pity on the young poet and have invited him to dine with him at his home at 28 Dey Street, where we may be sure the hospitality was, to the guest at least, no empty formality.

One of the few reminiscences of Poe at this time comes from Peter Pindar Pease, an erstwhile clerk at a Charlottesville store, who says he had met Poe in Boston when in similar desperate circumstances and who now ran across him again in New York.(386) From him it seems that it was Poe’s custom to walk under the elm trees in Madison Square, and, that upon one occasion, Poe dined with Peter Pindar Pease and informed him that he had at last “struck it hard”; meaning that he was in good luck, and probably referring to the new book. The statement is, characteristic. Nothing could tame the young poet’s pride; the possibility of fame from the book must have filled his mind. Despite the indications of poverty which Pease noted, he found Poe in a confident and boastful mood. Who paid for the dinner, we do not learn.

At this period Inman, the artist, had his studio at 48 Vesey Street, and it was now, if at any time, that he painted the portrait of Poe with [page 246:] which he has been credited. It is doubtful if he really did so, however, as the picture does not resemble the other known authentic likenesses of Poe in later life. All that can be said is that it shows a well-dressed, rather slight, sensitive featured, and delicately bred young man in his early twenties, and that it might be Poe. If so, it is the earliest picture of the poet known. Mr. Bliss may have arranged for it on the strength of the forthcoming book, but it is extremely unlikely. Poe was penniless and unknown, and there is no indication that Inman was his close friend. The picture may be any young dandy in the costume of the time.

It was a hard time financially, too, Jackson’s fast and loose fiscal policy was already beginning to make money tight, and the times were distinctly close ones for the inhabitants of the avenues as well as Grubb Street.(387) Evidently the bulk of the money for the new book was not forthcoming until it was delivered at West Point. Perhaps a few advances saved the day. So it was hard sledding at best. Poe wrote to his brother Henry, for whom he had already gone into debt, but his brother was now dying in Baltimore and could not aid him. By the beginning of March it was evident that New York would not afford a living to an unknown pen, and we find the young poet writing to Colonel Thayer, the Superintendent at West Point, whose favor he seems to have over-estimated. Colonel Thayer had probably been “kind,” but he doubtless, for all that, had his reservations about young gentlemen who were dismissed for not attending church, even when directed to do so by the officer of the day! Temporarily, Poe seems to have considered becoming a soldier of fortune.

The letter read:

New York, March 10, 1831.

SIR; — Having no longer any ties which can bind me to my native country — no projects — nor any friends — I intend by the first opportunity to proceed to Paris with the view of obtaining through the interest of the Marquis de La Fayette an appointment (if possible) in the Polish Army.

In the event of the interference of France in behalf of Poland this may easily be effected — (388) at all events it will be my only feasible plan of procedure.

The object of this letter is respectfully to request that you will give me such assistance as may be in your power in furtherance of my views.

A certificate of ‘standing’ in my class is all that I have any right to expect. [page 247:]

Anything further — a letter to a friend in Paris — or to the Marquis — would be a kindness which I should never forget. Most respectfully,

Yr. obt. s’t.,  
EDGAR A. POE

Col. S. Thayer, Supt. U. S. M. A.(389)

What an impression La Fayette had made on Poe, and how much he counted on the influence of his grandfather’s friend is plainly shadowed forth in this letter. Colonel Thayer did not reply, it seems, and the young writer evidently soon gave up all thought of following a military career any longer. It was the last gesture in that direction, and a desperate one at that, but it is interesting to note that, even at this date, Poe felt it might be well for him to go abroad. Perhaps he felt instinctively that his talents might be appreciated where he, indeed, first received the greatest recognition. There was evidently no place for him in New York. Assured of this, he began once more to turn his thoughts toward Baltimore. Richmond offered nothing. In Baltimore, at least there were family relations, and, through them, he might hope to gain friends. If nothing else, Mrs. Clemm’s house offered maternal affection and a roof. In the meantime the poems had appeared, and Poland had capitulated. In that, the letter to Colonel Thayer had received a conclusive answer.

Sometime about the end of March, 1831, Elam Bliss seems to have completed Poems by Edgar A. Poe, “second edition,” and the cadets at West Point were pondering and grumbling over the incomprehensible lines of Israfel, To Helen, Lenore, The Sleeper, and The Valley of Unrest. Nor did the inscription

TO THE U. S. CORPS OF CADETS

THIS VOLUME

IS

RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED

tend to ease the sting of having been gulled. No one, of course, suspected that it was the most enduring compliment that a certain “corps” could receive. For a few minutes, the dark figure that had been a stranger among them was recalled. Then the busy bugles blew again drowning out the disgruntled laughter. It seemed as if for a third time the young poet’s assault upon oblivion had called forth nothing but derision, and a few, a very few coins. On these he remained some days longer in New York, and on the remainder, a very scant remainder, set out wayworn and weary shortly afterward for Baltimore. It was at least a move towards his own native shore. The loadstone of “home,” [page 248:] however, still fluttered the directing needle because, for Poe, Richmond never lost the peculiar quality of a magnet. Elmira was still there, and all the other invisible lines of magnetism were set strong.

Poe’s third book, Poems (second edition) New York, published by Elam Bliss, 1831, was a duodecimo volume of 124 pages bound in pale green boards, and rather poorly printed on ordinary rag paper. The exact number of the edition is not known, but it certainly did not exceed five hundred.(390) The title page bore the line from La Chausee,(391) “Tout le monde a Raison,” this sentiment being a sort of plea for a liberal attitude toward the contents of the book and for the critical theories which it advocated in the preface entitled, “Letter to Mr. —— ——.” This anonymous person is addressed as “Dear B,” and may have been Elam Bliss himself. The poems were here reprinted in revised form from the earlier Baltimore edition of 1829. In that sense only the 1831 Poems was a second edition.

The “Letter to Mr. B” is somewhat rambling, and was evidently written in off-hours at West Point, whence it is dated. In this preface, Poe informs us, amid a rather youthful parade of erudition resounding with the names of Shakespeare and Milton, that in his revisions of earlier work he has learned the lesson of the shears, and that these poems now appear with “the trash taken away from them in which they were embedded.” The most interesting thing in the epistle to “Mr. B,” however, is the appearance here for the first time of Poe’s theory of poetic criticism. Literary reputation, he says, percolates the social pyramid from “a few gifted individuals who kneel around the summit, beholding, face to face, the master spirit who stands upon the pinnacle.” After a brief comment on the difficulty of an American author being taken seriously he continues:

You are aware of the great barrier in the path of an American writer. He is read, if at all, in preference to the combined and established wit of the world. — Our antiquaries abandon time for distance, our very fops glance from the binding to the bottom of the title page, where the mystic characters which spell London, Paris, or Geneva, are precisely so many letters of recommendation. . . .

After this brief beginning of what was later to develop into one of the favorite themes of his acrid criticism, Poe leaps rapidly past Aristotle, taking the opportunity to shy a brick at didactic poetry, which leads him to Wordsworth whom he handles roughly. Coleridge he mentions next with reverence. To him indeed, he owed most of his theory [page 249:] of poetry with which he ends this rather remarkable but nevertheless jejune preface:

A poem, is in my opinion,(392) opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure not truth: to romance by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained: romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry, music, without the idea, is simply music: the idea without the music, is prose from its very definiteness.

This was the germ of the famous lecture of years later on The Poetic Principle, and the source, having its roots, in the discussions of Coleridge, from which he developed and elaborated his own canons for both writing and criticizing verse. Like nearly all poetic criticism by poets, it was, in its final analysis, a special and ingenious plea for the kind of poetry he himself wrote. Despite the leaven of considerable truth, it remains as an interesting example of “rationalization.”

The body of the book contained eleven poems, notably: To Helen, Israfel, and The Doomed City, the first version of the later a much improved City in the Sea. To Helen has, in its revised form, taken its place as one of the great lyrics of the language, while Israfel is undoubtedly the first, wildly clear burst of song of the “bitter, bright, cold morning” of a winter day that was to end, like all winter days, in early night. No more golden notes of prideful promise have ever been uttered as a prelude. As usual the sources of the poems betray a strange mixture of autobiography, with real and imaginary landscapes.

I could not love have except where Death

Was mingling his with Beauty’s breath, —

Or Hymen, Time and Destiny

Were stalking between her and me. —

strongly recalls the experiences of the past decade with the tragic death of Mrs. Stanard and Frances Allan, the unfortunate outcome of the affair with Elmira Royster, and the troubles at home. The figure of the “Lost Beloved” now first comes strongly into its own. “Helen” is probably a combination and imaginative synthesis of Jane Stith Stanard and Frances Allan with the abstract longing for the perfect Beloved common to all young men. Lenore seems to be more definitely applicable to Elmira. As for Israfel it is undoubtedly about Poe himself. The City in the Sea, and the Valley of Unrest combine the peculiar effects of browsings in Oriental literature, and the memories of Scotland and the Carolina Low Country fused with a mystical magic. Some of the lines, [page 250:] and even whole poems, approach perilously near the banal, but they are nearly always saved by a certain distinction. Many of the selections, notably, Irene, later called The Sleeper, owed their fame to the revisions of later years. But despite all this, there are many great lines in the book, and it can safely be said that it constitutes an important addition to American poetry. Al Aaraaf again appeared together with Tamerlane, now, for the second time, considerably revised. Israfel itself still waited the sure and final touches of the now rapidly maturing hand. For the first time Poe had written poems which in conception, music, and content were wholly and peculiarly his own.

For the time being, however, the inward knowledge of this accomplishment had to be its own reward. The only concrete evidence of public approbation was a few dollars left over from the subscription, which Mr. Bliss paid to the poet, several author’s copies, and the following obscure notice whose very source has been forgotten.

The poetry of this little volume has a plausible air of imagination, inconsistent with the general indefiniteness of the ideas. Everything in the language betokens poetic inspiration, but it rather resembles the leaves of the sybil when scattered by the winds. . . .(393)

Packing a few copies of his poems and his pitiably scant “wardrobe” in what must have been a very cheap or secondhand carpet-bag, Poe took the few dollars that remained to him, after Mr. Elam Bliss and the printers were satisfied, and made his way to Baltimore, probably immediately after his writing the letter to Colonel Thayer. That seems to have been a final gesture of sheer desperation.(394)

A guidebook of the time,(365) evidently written for prudent and conservative travelers, informs the wary voyager that in New York “it is best to go to the steam boat ten or fifteen minutes before the time of departure to avoid the crowd which always collects at the dock. Caution, if luggage is sent by a porter, ask him for his number, so that if he is negligent or dishonest, he may be reported at the police office.” This caution we may be sure Poe did not have to observe upon the blustering March day in 1831, when he set out for Baltimore via Philadelphia. If the iron-bound trunk largely filled with Poems, second edition, accompanied him, it must have done so upon a wheelbarrow, side by side with the faded flowers upon a carpet-bag, and the “crowd” at the docks just above the Battery, doubtless looked somewhat askance at the starved and Spanish-looking young gentleman attired in a cadet’s overcoat and a beaver hat. A pair of clumsy army boots disguised what would otherwise have been a rather neat and delicate foot. [page 251:]

There were at that time four steamboat lines connecting with Philadelphia, the first stage of the journey taking the traveler as far as Perth Amboy or New Brunswick. The boats left from “downtown” docks, and, as they pulled out for the Jersey side of the Hudson, the little city of New York lay spread before one. It was a delightful old town. A dash of green along the Battery” — on summer evenings the place is supplied with music, and often fireworks . . . and Castle Garden has a fine promenade. . . . Broadway, the most fashionable promenade in the city, is most crowded with passengers between one and three o’clock, or in hot weather, after dinner.” There were forty-two fire engines, besides two hook and ladder companies! — Eight (8) large brick schoolhouses, “averaging nearly forty-two by eighty-five feet in size” where no less than five thousand children enjoyed the maps, globes, and libraries, and the uniform system of the Lancasterian Plan at $1.25 a quarter, although two of them were “given over” to Africans.(365) The mass of low-roofed, white framed and brick houses topped by a few flat steeples, extended in a solid mass as far north as Washington Street. “The village of Hoboken is seen a mile or more up the river and the hills of Weehauken, but on the eastern shore of the river opposite the Palisades . . . the soil is inferior; and the woodland encroaches too much upon the fields and orchards.” Here, in the middle distance, glimmered the spire and the farmhouses of Greenwich Village. “The Lunatic Asylum, about seven miles from the city, is a large building of hewn stone, occupying a commanding position.”

The world across which the young Poe moved from New York to Baltimore wore, as yet, an ancient face. It was the world which had remained largely stationary from Julius Caesar to Napoleon. Its rhythms were those of the coach horse and the water mill, and its thoughts were secondary reflections on the sages and poets of Palestine, Greece and Rome. Only here and there a subtle change was beginning to come across it. Now and then white sails were prophetically veiled by steamer smoke, here and there a factory chimney disputed the eminence of the church steeple; the prisms of canals cut across the landscape, or groups of surveyors began to whisper through the yet colonial countryside the strange syllables of “railroad.” Groups of farmers would shortly be gathering to toss up their hats as their first iron-horse roared by. The quiet of the landscape was, however, deceptive, for, in the towns, the giant of an industrial democracy had already begun to stretch himself. The unexpected surplus in the Federal Treasury was being divided among the states for “national improvements.” Under the eager demands of the Western voters who had left the stains of their muddy boots on John Quincy Adams’ aristocratic furniture, as Andrew Jackson entered the White House with a whoop, — canals were already stretching their arms across the mountains, and railway routes were [page 252:] following fast. The making, the carrying, and the marketing of things as an end in itself, was about to become the be-all and the end-all here. It was the last comprehensive glimpse at the undisturbed world into which he had been born that Israfel was to have. In a few years a gigantic change was to sweep across the landscape, altering the very aspect of things, disturbing that subtle balance and blend of objects, the eternal fitness of one thing with another, which only nature can produce on a grand scale, and which men have called “beauty.” Nor was this process, which went on so rapidly and, in its first crude essays, under the eyes of Poe, unseen by him or uncommented upon. The young poet who had already written:

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!

Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.

Why preyest thou thus upon the poet’s heart,

Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?

was thoroughly aware of the secrets which the “peering eyes” had found, secrets that were being applied to “dull realities” to “alter all things, to drive

. . . the Hamadryad from the wood

To seek a shelter in some happier star. . . .”

He too sought a shelter in a happier star. It was the sphere of his dreams, made up largely of the visions of the early more integrated world of his childhood and the reveries extracted from the literature of other epochs. This was the world for which he longed, and looked back upon with a heart-uneasy homesickness, that strange longing which lends a romantic retrospect, and a mystic delight, to the many hermitages which he evoked with words; such as, The Valley of Grass, The Landscape Garden, and the Domain of Arnheim. Along with this desire “to return,” so impossible of fulfillment, as he grew older, was the ever-widening angle between himself and the world of reality around him, a progressive and cumulative advance of nervous and psychic incompatibility that made him less and less capable of coping with an environment which grew more and more out of harmony with his desires. From now on, this divergence must be reckoned with as we watch Israfel tossed from horn to horn of an impossible dilemma; that of a personality without a neighborhood. The refuges, and anodynes, the seductive subterfuges to which he resorted were often more fatal than the trouble itself. Indeed, the very medicines which their victim prescribed, were, in a large sense, the symptoms of the progressive disease which he sought to allay. It was a strange acceleration of blended cause and effect that fused into one tremendous cause, destined to finally hurl him out of a world which he found intolerable, a cumulative tragedy, [page 253:] that ended in a smash resounding through time. Fortunately, for us, the spectators, both the victim and the rapidly shifting world across which he moved were strangely, almost grotesquely, interesting.

Poe had been born into the easy-going, sedate, and in many ways self-sufficient world of the early Republic, its conventions were those of a primarily agricultural society. Its methods and means of life had culminated in attitudes which were the result of generations of experience, and its taste was reflected in the semi-classical costume, architecture, and furniture of the day. That, in short, was its objective comment upon life. It was a world of gentlemen and ladies, who regarded themselves in the half-English, half-Roman Republic that they founded, as the natural directors and patrons of the society which they were born to administer. Across this quiet picture the hand of “progress” suddenly moved an erasive sponge dipped in a solvent of the new ideas and forces released by mechanical science, and the drab wash of a frontier democracy without tradition. For a few decades all the colors in the social picture, ran and blended; outlines and perspective were lost in the total effect of a crude smear. It was through these decades that Poe lived; at the end of the incredible forties, when he died. He disliked the strong solution on the sponge, and he doubted the direction of the hand which employed it. From this disturbed picture of running colors in the stage of solution, the domains which he perfected in literature were his escape. Like other men he could not climb completely out of his own time, but the physical means which he employed to escape out of its rococo frame, constitute the story of his own undoing.

In 1831, the first daubs of the sponge were just beginning to be apparent. The Republic was ended and the Democracy had begun. Andrew Jackson had introduced the spoils system.(395) It was a political idea that had many social ramifications.

Poe had seen the port of New York in 1820, upon his return from England. It was then scarcely more than an enlarged and hustling colonial town enmeshed in a mass of yards and rigging of the sail-borne argosies of the world. In 1831, a new note was upon the water and the landscape. Here and there a factory chimney raised its dark plumed head amid the steeples, and against the snow banks of sails crossed the nervous spider web of walking-beams driving over half a hundred side-wheel steamers that, even at that date, threaded the harbor and rivers of Manhattan. Their paddles ate steadily into the problem of distance with an astonishing and prophetic speed. Characteristically enough, the passengers did not care very much where they were going; all that they knew was that they were going faster. For them, and for [page 254:] their descendants, it has been enough. The age of marvels had begun.

The “Philadelphia Steam Boat Line” at that time ended at New Brunswick in New Jersey where travelers took up the second lap of the journey on the “Forenoon Line” of stages, after staying at the hotel all night. We are assured by good contemporary authority(365) that “the view is pretty from the hill . . . whence public buildings appear to good advantage, particularly the Theological Seminary, which is under the synod of the Dutch Reformed Church — thence the route led to Princeton, covered behind laboring post horses, with dinner at the stage-house just opposite Nassau Hall in the center of the town. Just across the street was the large college yard, the heavy shade trees, and the “fashionable burying ground,” where “sober” travelers could walk off the fumes of poker-heated toddy by perusing the edifying epitaphs of Aaron Burr, Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davis, Samuel Finley, John Witherspoon, and even Samuel S. Smith. Then it was only ten miles by way of Lamberton and the State Prison to Trenton, over a bridge on the Delaware, “a handsome structure with five arches” that gave approach to “a town of considerable size, with a great number of stores and the aspect of business.” Doubtless Poe took it all in from the less comfortable but cheaper and more “aspect-informing” top of the “Forenoon Line.”

At Trenton, the Union Line Steamers left for Philadelphia, “except when the water is low,” paddling by Coal Haven — a little cove on the west side of the river where “arks” laden with coal from the Lehigh mines waited to be towed to Philadelphia(396) — and thence past Bordentown on a steep sandbank through which a road cut down to the dock. Just north of the village stood the long white house of Joseph Bonaparte, the Count de Survilliers — and one time King of Spain — with the two low square towers at the end, and a great shot tower near it on the river. Bristol was passed next, “where a number of gentlemen’s seats adorned the river banks with much admired flower gardens along the verge lington with a row of fine residences facing the river. Before it ornamented with fine weeping willows.” A little beyond, lay Burran a wide, grassy street with a beautiful sloping embankment. Below Burlington, the banks of the Delaware widen and flatten out into a low and marshy country on the eighteen mile run to Philadelphia. It is, says the Northern Traveler, “quite unfriendly to the picturesque” — but it was then the haunt of reed birds, and wild, crimson-breasted ducks who fed sedately upon the edible cresses of the salt marsh, riding the [page 255:] waves of the passing steamers so confidently that they became the temptation of traveling sportsmen, who shot at them from the decks of steamboats, tilting their beaver hats back and discommoding their stocks to draw a bead along the elegantly chased barrels of English fowling pieces belching forth a deal of white smoke and a loud “bang.”(397)

About here supper was ready. The captain sat at the head of the long, white table set with a profusion of side dishes and thick, ruddy glasses, while overhead the chain chandeliers jangled musically at every down stroke of the simple engine; the whistle wailed away over the marshes; the alternate jets of steam darted upward, now to port, and now to starboard from the stand-pipes, and the smoke rolled backward from the trim smoke-stacks topped with the prim lace of pointed iron-cuffs.

Over this placid fertile Delaware valley, which had been the home of Mark Woolston, Cooper’s hero of the Rancocus and The Peak — stories that were familiar to Poe — young Israfel gazed from the hurricane deck of the Union Line Steamer on a March day in the early thirties, when around a great bend in the river a distant steeple and a high shot tower overtopping the low roofs of the Quaker City came into sight.

Three glass-houses near the water, with white walls and black roofs, next engaged the attention of the curious traveler, with the shipyards behind; then the boat house in the Navy Yard rising over a little island in the river loomed up, and the steamer swung into the Market and Arch Street wharves. There was a tangle of the spars of square-riggers along the waterfront, gilded figure-heads leaping out from the arch bows of fast clippers loading for London, China, and the wide world; a rumble of drays along the cobbled quays — and the crowd of gentlemen with high hats and gold-knobbed canes, ladies in rustling silk skirts with bustles, poke bonnets, absurd little cloth slippers peeping in and out under their dresses, and little girls with lace frilled pantalettes rushed out of the dock-houses to climb high busses with eagles and landscapes painted on their sides, or to be bustled, valises, leather trunks and all, into high-backed carriages that rumbled and swayed homeward over the joggling flagstones of the narrow streets, lit dimly here and there by a chained whale-oil lamp.

The sanded floor of some waterfront tavern where candles burned dimly in the small square-paned windows probably extended its humble hospitality to Poe. Like Franklin, a century before, he had arrived in Philadelphia with only a few pennies in his pockets. There was, of course, the United States Hotel on Chestnut Street opposite the Great Bank, or the Mansion House on South Third, or, for the more domestically [page 256:] inclined, Mrs. Sword’s on Walnut Street, whose scrapple and sausage breakfasts were famous, or Mrs. Allen’s on Sixth Street near the State House, who went in for “sparrow-grass” and reed birds smothered in butter — but all of these implied the possession of bank notes. Besides, New York money was at a discount in Pennsylvania. We may be sure that a certain young man, the author of three books of poems, lately dismissed from West Point, dried his army overcoat before a far less pretentious fire somewhere near the Market.

About the same time a poor youth by the name of Horace Greeley arrived in New York with all his worldly goods bundled in a handkerchief.

Whether Poe called on his friend, Mr. Lea, at Carey & Lea, the publishers, or on the editor of the Philadelphia Casket during this sojourn of a few hours in the Quaker City is not known. He seldom missed an opportunity to cultivate an editor, but this time he was provided with neither the clothes nor the mood to make an impression, and it is not probable that he was advertising the fact in influential quarters that he had been dismissed from West Point. The state of his purse also admitted of no delay, and the day after his arrival probably saw him on the way to Baltimore on the steamboat line by which he had made the trip two years before.

Baltimore was then the third city in the United States. Owing to the development of ship canals between it and Philadelphia, and the building of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, it was like many other American towns of the time, just entering upon a period of surprising enterprise. Along with this, there was a considerable publishing business of newspapers and more or less intermittent periodicals sponsored by various literary groups. “The harbor in the Patapsco River has a narrow entrance and is well protected by high ground. On the side opposite the city is an abrupt elevation of considerable size, where is a fort, and whence a commanding view is enjoyed.” The city itself consisted of broad streets with a number of public monuments and imposing public buildings whose architecture was largely confined to their facades. Above the low, black roofs, projected the dome of the cathedral, the turreted Washington Monument, the steeple of St. Paul’s Church, and the strange round cylinder of a high shot tower. The river front itself was a mass of red brick warehouses bordering long slips which gave the harbor somewhat the appearance of the keys of a piano. Along these lay steamers with the rakish lines of Aladdin’s slippers, and crescent paddle boxes blazoned with their names; also schooners, lumber and produce rafts, and the rake-masted Baltimore clippers.(398) [page 257:] Fells Point, about a mile below the more fashionable higher levels, was the business section where most of the stores and shipping interests were situated. It was in this district, in Mechanic’s Row on Milk Street (now Eastern Avenue), where Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, still resided.

Here it was that sometime about the end of March, 1831, Poe came home. One can imagine the ecstatic welcome of Virginia (“Siss” was now grown to be quite a fair sized girl) as Cousin Eddie came into the upstairs room with his wonderful soldier coat on, and Mrs. Clemm dropping her sewing to welcome home the wanderer with a somewhat perplexed but nevertheless hearty hug from her strong motherly arms. There was also a feeble but well-meant handshake from the pale and hollow-cheeked Henry, and a wan smile from paralytic Grandmother Poe, now completely bed-ridden. That night “Muddie” set another place at the table, and put another cup of water in the soup, while Eddie unpacked his few clothes and disposed his books and papers on the third floor. He was back in the attic room with Henry again. Thanks to Mrs. Clemm, there was a roof over them both, and something to eat. For Edgar it was a permanent arrangement. Henry was dying.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 244:]

384.  New light upon Poe’s condition, and the date of his arrival in New York, has been thrown on this period by the Valentine Museum Letters, letter No. 25, New York, February 21, 1831.

385.  This coat, and various other items of military attire, evidently relics of West Point days, are mentioned by several persons who knew Poe from this time on.

[The following footnote appearsat the bottom of page 245:]

386.  From an untraced clipping from an article. “P. P. Pease” is alluded to elsewhere as an early prohibitionist and anti-saloon man. Dr. Mabbott suggests The Outlook. I have been unable to verify this as the source.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 246:]

387.  Andrew Jackson was attacking the charter of the Bank of the United States, and the period of financial chaos, state banks, and “wild cat” money was being ushered in. While Poe was in New York in February, 1831, the attack was going on in Congress. (Benton, View, I. 187-325 ; Deb., XI. 143-61.) The effect was alarming.

388.  In 1830-31 the Poles rebelled against the tyranny of Tsar Nicholas I. Patriotic secret societies drove the Russians out of Warsaw November 29, 1830. On January 2$, 1831, the independence of Poland was proclaimed; the help of France was hoped for. A few months later the rebellion was suppressed with frightful cruelty on both sides. By September, 1831, it was over. Poe evidently watched these events carefully.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 247:]

389.  Printed in the New York Sun for October 30, 1902, from manuscripts left to the Association of West Point Graduates by General Cullum.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 248:]

390.  This is a liberal estimate and allows for the number distributed at West Point, and about two hundred fifty for general distribution — half and half — a not improbable arrangement.

391.  Dr. Thomas Oliive Mabbott finds that this line, heretofore attributed to Rochefoucauld, is from La Chausee, the whole quotation meaning, “When all the world is wrong, all the world is right.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 249:]

392.  With the exception of the words “in my opinion,” this theory is lifted verbatim from Coleridge’s Biographic Literaria, chapter XIV. I am indebted to Mr. Joseph Wood Krutch for this reference showing the early effect of Coleridge on Poe.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 250:]

393.  Woodberry prints this from some anonymous press clippings.

394.  The letter to Colonel Thayer was written from New York on March 10, 1831; on May 6, 1831, he wrote in Baltimore to William Gwynn.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 253:]

395.  During the first year of Jackson’s presidency about 690 officers were removed. The subordinates removed by these swelled the number of those who lost their positions to about 2000. The total number of removals by all former Presidents was 74.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 254:]

396.  “At Philadelphia is located the Bank of the United States, an institution, which, while it has signally failed in its prime object of producing a stable national currency, is heated by a furnace centrally located and fructified twice daily by Lehigh coals.” Extract from a notice evidently written by a Jackson man, in a contemporary (1831) guide book. This sentence is peculiarly explanatory of the times.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 255:]

397.  The habit of shooting at game from public conveyances was an American custom upon which foreign travelers of the time comment with disgust.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 256:]

398.  The description of Baltimore, which provided the scene in which Poe was to move for the next few years, has been taken from old prints and letters of the day.

 


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


Notes:

None.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

[S:0 - HVA34, 1934] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Chapter 14)