Text: Hervey Allen, “Chapter 16,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1934), pp. 278-301


[page 278:]


VERY scanty was the success that had met any of Poe’s efforts, thus far, to obtain either sale or fame for the work of his pen. Here and there, one of his poems warmed someone capable of feeling the divine fire, and his immediate acquaintances spoke and thought of him as a poet. Beyond that, the three little books seemed to have dropped into a void. Belles lettres, it was only too painfully evident, would have led to the garret of Chatterton if it had not been for the garret of Mrs. Clemm. Poe, as we have seen, had therefore turned his efforts in a more marketable direction. The journalism of his time now commenced to claim his attention seriously, and he began to study the contemporary prints, both newspapers and magazines, especially the latter. The result was two-fold: he now earnestly began to write prose — during 1832, five of his tales, the first of his published short stories were published in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier where he had competed unsuccessfully for a prize, — the other facet of his immediate interest was the beginning of his theories about American magazines and literary criticism. In the meanwhile, the muse did not entirely languish, The Coliseum, at least, was underway and even an attempt at drama, Politian. What he lacked was some point of publishing contact. So far, he had not been able to accomplish that in Baltimore.(438) The stories, and the first three books of poems, together with the cruder attempts at short stories which Poe is said to have written at the University of Virginia and to have destroyed there, represented the results of the longings of his youth, and the later and riper harvest of his first creative urge. But for awhile, especially in the Winter of 1833, it looked as if the stories were to die as unnoted and as unlamented as the poems.

It was remarkable that Poe had been able to complete this considerable volume of literary output during the harassed years between 1827 and 1833. It was more than remarkable, and speaks plainly for his overmastering desire to create, that he had been able to do anything at all. The Winter of 1833, in particular, must have been a starving time. There are many indications that the period of collapse and illness in New York was indicative of the too heavy drafts upon his physical [page 279:] capital. A disintegration seems to have followed, partly perhaps upon the lines which heredity dictated. A weak heart, which sometimes completely prostrated him, shattered nerves, and the beginnings of the conditions which afterward led to disturbed mental conditions, all played their several parts from now on. For, from the time of his escape from West Point, it is safe to say that he was never a completely well man.(439) There were, from now on, periods of vigor and creation; but there were also recurring and accentuated periods of collapse. Starvation, anxiety, disappointment, and dissipation all contributed to the final tragic result, only sixteen years later, in the same city where he had first found shelter with Mrs. Clemm.

During the Winter of 1833, Poe must have been much about the streets of Baltimore trying to pick up odd jobs. The newspapers, despite the efforts of Neilson Poe, had failed to take him on.

In all this year, there is only one letter to break the silence, and it speaks in the tones of despair. On April 12, 1833, Poe wrote his last letter to John Allan.(440) He says in it that Mr. Allan has not assisted him for over two years, nor “spoken” (written) to him for three, and that, although he has little hope of any answer, he cannot refrain from attempting to make one more attempt to interest his guardian. Poe says that he is utterly without friends and therefore without the means of obtaining employment, and that he is perishing, literally perishing for want of help. Yet, he adds pathetically, he is not idle, nor addicted to any vice, nor has he offended society in any way which should bring the fate of starvation upon him. “For God’s sake pity me, and save me from destruction,” was the last line that he ever wrote to his guardian. It reveals a soul in a waking nightmare and it received no reply.

John Allan, indeed, was on the verge of a country where no postman could follow him. His dropsy was fast gaining upon him. During the Winter and Spring of 1833, he was, from time to time, engaged in writing various codicils in his will, the nature of which were so intimate that he employed his own handwriting in order to avoid the necessity of witnesses. In March, one of the illegitimate twins had died(441) which [page 280:] required further alteration in his will, but the removal of this claim on “charity” did not induce him to extend it to another claimant in Baltimore who had at least a moral hold on his interest.

Towards the end of July, Mr. and Mrs. Allan, Miss Valentine, two baby boys, two nurses, two drivers, five horses, and two carriages, all set out for Virginia Hot Springs in considerable style. One of the babies, Willie Galt, was teething; and Mr. Allan himself was almost helpless from dropsy, yet not too weak to take a considerable pleasure in the important figure which he cut. “ In fact,” said he, “we made quite a little cavalcade.”(442) He had attained all that the world could give him, wives, concubines, children, slaves, horses and the envy of his neighbors.(443) The note of satisfaction is strong, but the cavalcade was nearing the end of the journey. In the meantime, a young man in Baltimore, who had refused at a great price to become an appendage of the caravan had definitely started on the career which has caused the little domestic procession over the Virginia hills to be remembered.

In July, 1833, the Baltimore Saturday Visitor, an ephemeral weekly newspaper then edited by a Mr. L. A. Wilmer with considerable local success, offered a prize of $50 for the best short story and $25 for the best poem to be submitted within a given time.(444) The judges appointed by the editor were John P. Kennedy, Dr. James H. Miller, and J. H. B. Latrobe, who has left us the story of what happened:

We met one pleasant afternoon in the back porch of my house on Mulberry Street, and seated round a table garnished with some old wine and good cigars, commenced our critical labors. As I happened to be the youngest of the three, I was required to open the packages of prose and poetry, respectively, and read the contents. Alongside of me was a basket to hold what we might reject.

I remember well that the first production taken from the top of the prose pile was in a woman’s hand, written very distinctly, as indeed, were all the articles submitted, and so neatly that it seemed a pity not to award it a prize.(445) [page 281:]

It was ruthlessly criticized, however, for it was ridiculously bad namby-pamby in the extreme and of the school known as the Laura Matilda school. . . . Of the remaining productions I have no recollection. Some were condemned after a few sentences had been read. Some were laid aside for consideration — not many. These last failed to pass consideration afterwards, and the committee had about made up their minds that there was nothing before them to which they would award a prize, when I noticed a small quarto-bound book that had until then accidentally escaped attention, possibly because so unlike, externally, the bundles of manuscript that it had to compete with. Opening it, an envelope with a motto corresponding with one in the book appeared, and we found that our prose examination was still incomplete. Instead of the common cursive manuscript, the writing was in Roman characters — an imitation of printing.

I remember that while reading the first page to myself, Mr. Kennedy and the Doctor had filled their glasses and lit their cigars, and when I said that we seemed at last to have a prospect of awarding the prize, they laughed as though they doubted it, and settled themselves in their comfortable chairs as I began to read. I had not proceeded far before my colleagues became as much interested as myself. The first tale finished I went to the second, then to the next and did not stop till I had gone through the volume, interrupted only by such exclamations as ‘Capital!’ ‘Excellent!’ and the like from my companions. There was genius in everything they listened to; there was no uncertain grammar, no feeble phraseology, no ill-placed punctuation, no worn truisms, no strong thought elaborated into weakness. Logic and imagination were combined in rare consistency. . . . There was an analysis of complicated facts — an unravelling of circumstantial evidence that won the lawyer judges — an amount of accurate scientific knowledge that charmed . . . a pure classic diction that delighted all three.

When the reading was completed there was a difficulty of choice. Portions of the tales were read again, and finally the committee selected A Ms. Found in a Bottle. One of the series was called A Descent into the Maelström, and this was at one time preferred . . . all the circumstances of the selection ultimately made have been so often since referred to in conversation that my memory has been kept fresh, and I see my fellow judges over their wine and cigars, in their easy chairs both genial, hearty men, in pleasant mood, as distinctly now as though I were describing an event of yesterday. . . .

Refreshed by this most unexpected change in the character of the contributions, the committee refilled their glasses and relit their cigars, and the reader began upon the poetry. This, although better in the main than the prose, was bad enough, and, when we had gone more or less thoroughly over the pile of manuscript, two pieces only were deemed worthy of consideration. The title of one was The Coliseum, the written printing of which told that it was Poe’s. The title of the other I have forgotten, but upon opening the accompanying envelope, we found that the author was Mr. John H. Hewitt.(446) I am not prepared to say that the committee may not have been biased in awarding the (poetry) prize to Mr. Hewitt by the fact that they had already given the (prose) . . . prize to Mr. Poe. I recollect, however, that we agreed that, under the circumstances, the excellence of Mr. Hewitt’s poem deserved a reward, and we gave the smaller prize to him with clear consciences. I believe that up to this time not one of the committee had ever seen Mr. Poe. . . . [page 282:]

Not long afterward the Saturday Visitor for October 12, 1833, appeared with the following notice that must have come to Poe’s eye with almost the relief of a reprieve.

. . . Amongst the prose articles were many of various and distinguished merit, but the singular force and beauty of those sent by the author of The Tales of the Folio Club leave us no room for hesitation in that department. We have accordingly awarded the premium to a tale entitled The Ms. Found in a Bottle. We cannot refrain from saying that the author owes it to his reputation, as well as to the gratification of the community to publish the entire volume. These tales are eminently distinguished by a wild, vigorous, and poetical imagination, a rich style, a fertile invention, and varied and curious learning.


In the same number in which this notice appeared, the prize story was published.

At a time when prizes for literary effort are so many and various as to have almost ceased to attract attention, the significance of this award can scarcely be appreciated. Not only was the cash itself supremely grateful, but, for the first time, the attention of a fairly large public was now focused upon Poe, for the news of the award was not confined to the pages of The Visitor. Poe had at last emerged from the shadow of the wings. The limelight had been definitely focused upon him, and, from this time on, his various entrances and exits on the literary stage, although they were not always accompanied by applause, were nevertheless followed by the magic glare. Perhaps of more immediate importance was the fact that he had gained some influential friends. Among the most important and constant of these was a benevolent and wise gentleman, then a well-known Baltimore author, John P. Kennedy, Esquire.(447)

The Monday after the announcement of the award in the Saturday Visitor was used by Poe to call upon all the members of the committee in order to thank them. Mr. C. F. Cloud,(448) the owner and publisher of the paper, had, it seems, already called on Mr. Kennedy on Sunday morning and given him such an account of the young author that the good gentleman’s curiosity and sympathy were both thoroughly awakened. When Poe was introduced next day, he was cordially received, and the interesting reports about him fully confirmed by his conversation and appearance. He was invited to return to the house, then [page 283:] one of the most important from a literary as well as a social point of view in Baltimore — in short, in a limited but very definite and helpful way, Mr. Kennedy became Poe’s patron. Never was a young poet more in need of one.

An hour or so after the call upon Mr. Kennedy, Poe introduced himself to Mr. Latrobe, another one of the judges, in his office.(449) From him comes a full and interesting account of the interview:

I was seated at my desk on the Monday following the publication of the tale, when a gentleman entered and introduced himself as the writer, saying that he came to thank me as one of the committee, for the award in his favor. Of this interview, the only one I ever had with Mr. Poe, my recollection is very distinct, indeed, — He was if anything, below the middle size, and yet could not be described as a small man. His figure was remarkably good, and he carried himself erect and well, as one who had been trained to it. He was dressed in black, and his frock coat was buttoned to the throat, where it met the black stock, then almost universally worn. Not a particle of white was visible. Coat, hat, boots, and gloves had evidently seen their best days, but so far as mending and brushing go, everything had been done apparently, to make them presentable.(450) On most men his clothes would have looked shabby and seedy, but there was something about this man that prevented one from criticising his garments, and the details I have mentioned were only recalled afterwards. The impression made, however, was that the award in Mr. Poe’s favor was not inopportune. Gentleman was written all over him. His manner was easy and quiet, and although he came to return thanks for what he regarded as deserving them, there was nothing obsequious in what he said or did. His features I am unable to describe in detail. His forehead was high, and remarkable for the great development at the temple. This was the characteristic of his head, which you noticed at once, and which I have never forgotten.(451) The expression of his face was grave, almost sad, except when he became engaged in conversation, when it became animated and changeable. His voice I remember was very pleasing in its tone and well modulated, almost rhythmical, and his words were well chosen and unhesitating. . . . I asked him whether he was then occupied with any literary labor. He replied that he was then engaged on A Voyage to the Moon, and at once went into a somewhat learned disquisition upon the laws of gravity, the height of the earth’s atmosphere, and capacities of balloons, warming in his speech as he proceeded.(452) Presently speaking in the first person, he began the voyage . . . leaving the earth, and becoming more and more animated, he described his sensation as he ascended higher and higher . . . where the moon’s attraction overcame that of the earth, there was a sudden bouleversement of the car and great confusion among its tenants. By this time the speaker had become so excited, spoke so rapidly, gesticulating much, that when the turn upside-down took place, and he clapped his hands and stamped with his foot by way of emphasis, I was carried along with him. . . . When he had finished his description he apologized for his excitability, which he laughed at himself. The conversation then turned upon other subjects, and soon afterward he took his leave. . . . [page 284:]

In his calls on the judges, Poe did not forget Dr. James Miller with whom he also struck up an acquaintance that later led to some letters between them. The friendship with Lambert Wilmer, the editor of the Visitor was kept up for some time. He and Poe discussed together the founding of a magazine in Baltimore and were evidently fairly intimate. It was the first of the many magazine projects which from this time on became a preoccupation with Poe and absorbed much of his thought and energy. Two items were always lacking in these schemes to found the great American periodical; i.e., capital, and stability in the character of the proposed managing editor.

Wilmer describes Poe as the “most passionless” of men that he ever knew. His opinion seems to have been based for the most part on Poe’s writing and an innate delicacy in his friend which he mistook for lack of vigor. As he must have known of the horsewhipping incident, which raised not a little dust in the neighborhood, his statement cannot have the force which the words alone would imply. Wilmer was doubtless soon sorry enough that the poetry prize had been given to Hewitt, for that young gentleman soon worked himself into the good graces of the owner of the paper, Mr. C. F. Cloud, and usurped the editor’s chair. Wilmer was forced to leave Baltimore in 1834, penniless and on foot. The prospectus with which Poe provided him, outlining the plan for a magazine to be published in Baltimore, fell by the wayside.(468) The “bouleversements” of the fly-by-night journalism of the time were generally sudden and often merciless and tragic, as Poe himself was to find out later. Even the modicum of humanity, usually embodied in the ethics of an organized profession was still lacking.

Hewitt’s complication with Wilmer did not, however, prevent Poe from becoming close friends with the former. The two poets were in a sense rivals, Hewitt had once been on the staff of the Minerva and Emerald which had handed Al Aaraaf so nonchalantly, but their mutual interest in poetry seems to have brought them together frequently. There were long rambles in the country about Baltimore during which literature was the topic of conversation, and Hewitt has left us a picture of Poe in Byron collars and a black stock, one who “looked the poet all over.” Yet all this did not prevent Poe, when the occasion offered, from explaining just how it was that Hewitt had received the prize. After Wilmer left, the columns of The Visitor do not seem to have been so hospitable to Poe. That paper fell later into the hands of T. S. Arthur,(454) who in turn yielded to Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, the physician who was Poe’s friend to the last. It was thus peculiarly linked with Poe’s name, and with all of those connected with it he was for long, [page 285:] then and afterward, more or less associated. Lambert Wilmer remembered Poe particularly well:

. . . His time appeared to be constantly occupied by literary labors; . . . he lived in a very retired way with his aunt Mrs. Clemm, and his moral deportment as far as my observations extended was altogether correct. . . . In his youthful days Poe’s personal appearance was delicate and effeminate, but never sickly or ghastly, and I never saw him in any dress which was not fashionably neat with some approximation to elegance. Indeed, I often wondered how he could continue to equip himself so handsomely, considering his pecuniary resources were generally scanty and precarious enough. My intercourse with Poe was almost continuous for weeks together. . . . His general habits at that time were strictly temperate, and but for one or two incidents I might have supposed him to be a member of the cold-water army. . . .

“The one or two incidents” were the occasion of the cadets’ supper at the Barnum Hotel and a singular instance when Poe took Wilmer home and offered him some Jamaica rum after the universal custom of the time. Aside from these, there is no authentic, indeed not any attempt, to indicate drinking episodes during the entire period of the poet’s residence in Baltimore. He was, as a matter of fact, unusually abstemious for a young man of the time much about a convivial Southern town.

During the time of Poe’s stay in Baltimore, from 1831 to 1835, there were two distinct literary groups in the city. The first of these gathered about John P. Kennedy, William Gwynn, and others of the old “Tusculum” Club. These were more literary than journalistic. The second group consisted of men, then only beginning to be known as writers, such as Arthur, Brooks, Dawes, Carpenter, Hewitt and MacJilton. These represented rather ably the various tendencies in cheap verse, magazine stories, and the more “popular” writing of the time. Their names are to be found frequently associated with that of Poe in the newspapers and magazines of the period, and the decades to follow, and they were, at least during his lifetime, in some sense his rivals. It was from the first group that Poe, for the most part, received his inspiration and his aid, principally from John P. Kennedy. The inference cannot reasonably be avoided that it was Mr. Kennedy who really smoothed the path, not only by advice and influence, but by actual physical help. He was one of the few friends that Poe kept to the very end, one to whom he was permanently grateful.

The suggestion that the remaining Tales of the Folio Club should be published, was not lost upon Poe, and towards the end of 1833 he seems to have gone personally to Philadelphia, to try to prevail on his old acquaintance Carey & Lea to bring out the collection of tales to which others, it appears, were later added. Mr. Kennedy’s help was probably largely instrumental. In addition to this, Godey’s Lady’s Book was induced to accept one of the series, The Visionary, which appeared in the issue of that magazine for January, 1834. [page 286:]

Nevertheless, the last months of 1833, and the greater part of 1834, was a starving time for Poe in the little two-story brick house with a dormer window and double chimneys on Amity Street. Mrs. Clemm’s basket must have frequently made the rounds for requisitions, her needle could not be busy enough. At one time she is said to have tried to eke things out by teaching school. With nothing but prospects in view, the Winter of 1833 came to an end for the Poe-Clemm household in Baltimore. It had been a memorable year, the path ahead was smoother and brighter. It was the question of continuing to exist, until the editorial barriers were passed, that was now most perplexing. In the meanwhile, Virginia was entering upon womanhood, propinquity was at work, and a cousinly affection was ripening into something more definite. With the opening of the new year the rumor of an approaching event, in which Poe could not help but be vitally interested, claimed his presence at Richmond. John Allan was dying.

Sometime during the latter part of the Winter of 1833, probably in February, Poe, therefore, again found himself before the familiar mansion in Richmond with the firm intention of having an interview with “Pa.” His object must have been to plead his “rights,” and to make plain his necessities; perhaps, once and for all to explain away all differences and, in the forgiving mood which he might expect to find at a death-bed, to be received again as a son who could hope to share in the benefits of affection. Evidently he had been reliably warned that the end was near, and there was a chance, even in the remote possibility of a reconciliation, which he could not afford to neglect. All the memories of a lifetime, and the vital element of self-interest combined to make a motive powerful enough to cause him to try to force his way into the house where his last reception could leave no doubt as to the nature of his welcome as a member of the family.

After the visit of the Spring before, the servants had doubtless been instructed by both their master and their mistress how to receive “Marse Eddie.” But prophetic foresight here seems to have been of little avail. Poe arrived, is said to have thrust himself past the butler, and to have run upstairs to the big front room overlooking the lawn. Mr. Allan was seated, with his cane beside him, propped up with pillows, and reading a newspaper. He was helpless from dropsy. The lines of youthful and amused irony that had once given him an almost sweet expression about the mouth, had long ago faded, and the hawk face and black eyebrows lowered menacingly at the lines of the daily news. Suddenly the small piercing eyes looked over the edge of the Richmond Whig, and beheld in the doorway an apparition from the past. The young foster-son was standing there as if the years had rolled back, gazing appealingly at his “father,” and, as always in that presence, looking ill at ease. For a moment they must have stared thus at each other, these [page 287:] two strongly opposed spirits, for the last time. Then Poe tried to make some advances to the older man, probably pitiful enough, — he tried to come into the room. As if he were being attacked, John Allan seized the cane by his armchair and flourished it in the air. A torrent of imprecations and reproaches rolled from his lips. He threatened to beat Poe if he approached him, rising up in his invalid’s chair like a dying eagle, dangerous, implacable, and able to strike till the last. His cries brought his startled wife and the servants to the room, and Poe was ignominiously thrust by the slaves from the door. One can imagine the invalid trembling and exclaiming, and the young poet returning to Baltimore, sorrowful and shaken, even to the roots of his ego, by the spectacle and the strange fact, of someone who hated him to the last. Had either of them cared less, the last infernal scene would have been impossible. Devastating demonstrations are not manifested by indifference.

It is now time to relate the passing of the man whose shadow of influence lies across the life of Poe from first to last. Edgar’s visit to Richmond may well have hastened the end. That the intimations of his departure had lain heavily upon John Allan for almost two years, the dates, and the nature of his will, show clearly. In December, 1833, he was busy winding up the affairs of Ellis & Allan with his old partner, Charles Ellis. Poe’s visit to Richmond followed a few weeks later, after which time Mr. Allan failed rapidly. On March 19, Miss Valentine stopped in at Ellis & Allan to tell the clerks that Mr. Allan “was a very sick man.” About a week later the end came. At eleven o’clock on the morning of March 27, 1834, Mrs. Allan was in her husband’s chamber attending to some of the duties of the sickroom, when a terrified scream from her brought the family and the servants hurrying in. John Allan had died suddenly in his easy-chair. The jaw had dropped. Up until the very last instant of life it had remained absolutely firm. There was only one thing that he could not overcome.

Even about the semblance of the man who sat there propped up amid the pillows, there must have been something tremendous. The hands which had, at last, relaxed had never relented, and even after death they reached out strongly into time. By every worldly standard John Allan was a success. He had begun with nothing, but he died in full possession of ample monies, a handsome mansion, broad fertile acres, — the arbiter, and absolute master of over half a hundred human souls.(455) Two ladies of considerable force, beauty, and attainments had been his wives; at least two other women had shared his favors; he was the father of seven children(456) for his second wife had presented him with three. [page 288:] Of all those upon whom the dominant shadow of his personality had so heavily fallen, Edgar Allan Poe, was the only one that had completely eluded him. That John Allan is remembered by the one and only item that he. failed to completely possess, is a comment which a generation that ignored irony failed to understand. The influence which finally relaxed the grasp of the Scotch merchant on the twenty-seventh of March, 1834, was a powerful one. It is no wonder that Mrs. Allan screamed.

The will, in which there was not even an allusion to Poe, was a curious human and quasi-legal document containing clauses which throw a new light on the troubles that had long disturbed the Allan household, troubles in which the foster-son had played such an important part. There were, it now appears, a disconcerting number of children to provide for, and a domestic situation already so perplexing that the testator might well overlook a mere foster-child (who had merely been raised as the son of his bosom) in favor of those who were of his own blood. But, even of that motive, no one can be certain. If the intentions of the testator were benign, they were also unfortunately obscure, for both the grammatical and legal phraseology of the will were so faulty(457) as to arouse the justifiable suspicion that it was meant to protect the posthumous reputation of the testator rather than to confer benefits upon the legatees. Whatever the motives or the intentions, they were not carried out. The widow refused to abide by the will itself, and, in a long and scandalous litigation, carried her case to the State Supreme Court, where she successfully established her intestate rights. To the proud and firm minded relict, who buried her husband in Shockoe Cemetery at noon, sharp, on Saturday the twenty-ninth of March, 1834, the sorrow of his taking off was somewhat mitigated by certain considerations to which the world at large was not then privy. The nature of these was revealed in his will:(458)

In the name of God, Amen: I John Allan, of the City of Richmond, being of sound mind and disposing memory, do make and ordain this my last will and testament, revoking all other wills by me heretofore made. (Then follow items, and a provision constituting his beloved wife, Louisa Gabriella Allan, James Galt, and Corbin Warwick, executrix and executors. This part of the will is dated April 17, 1832, and is witnessed by Th. Nelson, M. Clark, and Robert L. Cabell. On December 31, 1832, in a second section of the will without witnesses, the intent of the first part of it was reiterated with some curious additions:)

Mrs. Louisa Gabriella Allan, wife of

John Allan, child and 1 enseignt

(. . . . . . . . . . . . . . )

1st pay all my debts.

2nd. My whole estate to be kept under the management of my exors, hereinafter [page 289:] mentioned until my eldest child becomes of age, the house and all the ground contiguous and attached to the same, I hereby authorize and empower my executors, or such of them as may act, to sell if they shall think it advisable after the expiration of 5 years from this date, also lot at intersection of F and 2nd Street, opposite Mr. Ellis’s . . . 1/3 of the net annual income of my whole estate to be paid to my beloved L. G. A. during her natural life or until my eldest child becomes of age. At the division of my estate I desire that my wife shall have one-third of my estate for life. . . .

To Miss Ann Moore Valentine $300 per annum and her board lodging and washing to be paid and found her out of my estate during her natural life, and this provision is to be in lieu of $2000 which I hold of her money, and of which my estate is to be discharged if she accepts this bequest.(459) To each of my sisters Nancy Fowlds, Jane Johnston, Elizabeth Miller £300 Sterling, and to my sister Mary Allan £100 Sterling, all residing in Scotland.(460) I devise the whole of my estate among my children which may be alive at the time of my death and of such as my wife may at that time prove to ensignt, in case they should be all boys I then desire that the estate may be equally divided among them in case of the birth of a daughter or daughters then I desire that my son or sons as the case may be shall be entitled to double what my daughters may have, my children to take the part of such of them as may die under age. In case of the death of all my children without being married or arriving at the age of 21 years I then give and devise to my relations Wm. Galt & Jas. Galt and to Corbin Warwick and to their heirs, exors, and administrators all the estate given to my children . . . the remaining 1/8 part I wish disposed of in such manner as I may hereafter appoint by codicil. I desire that my executors shall out of my estate provided give to ———— a good english education for two boys sons of Mrs. Elizabeth Wills, which she says are mine, I do not know their names, but the remaining fifth, four parts of which I have disposed of must go in equal shares to them of (or) the survivor of them but should they be dead before they attain the age of 21 years their share to go to my sister’s Fowlds children in equal proportions with the exception of three thousand dollars, which must go to Mrs. Wills and her daughter in perpetuity.

JOHN ALLAN, Dec. 31st, 1832

This memo, in my handwriting is to be taken as a codicil and can easily be proven by any of my friends.

The notes preceding are in the handwriting of my friend, Jno. G. Williams.

The twins were born sometime about the 1st of July 1830. 1 was married the 3rd October 1830 in New York, my fault therefore happened before I ever saw my present wife and I did not hide it from her. In case therefore these twins should reach the age of twenty-one years and from reasons they cannot get their share of the fifth reserved for them, they are to have $4000 each out of my whole estate to enable them to prosecute some honest pursuit, profession or calling.

March 15th, 1833, I understand one of Mrs. Wills’ twin sons died some weeks ago, there is therefore one only to provide for. (With this happy natural simplification of so plwal a difficulty, the testator then delicately adds): My wife is to have all my furniture, books, bedding, linen, plate, wines, spirits, etc., etc., Glass and China ware.


[page 290:]

Even the “wines, spirits, etc., etc.,” however, do not seem to have had the desired cordial effect.

At a Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery held for Henrico County at the Capital in the City of Richmond, the 8th day of May 1834. . . . Louisa G. Allan, widow and relict of the said John Allan, deceased . . . appeared in Court and renounced the Executorship, and also declared that she will not take or accept the provision of any part thereof. . . .

The second Mrs. Allan survived her husband by almost half a century, during a considerable portion of that time, several gentlemen practicing before the Richmond bar were able to join in the refrain of an old English song:

God bless the testator who draws his own will

discreetly, but with substantial reasons for appreciation of the professional sentiment.

There can be little doubt that even the hope of a legacy in Richmond had kept the young poet in Baltimore restless. John Allan could be, and we know often was, prevailed upon to help from time to time, so that the feeling of there being a final refuge, someone to depend upon in time of desperate need, had never been entirely absent in his former ward. The rôle of the cast-off rich man’s son, even of the prodigal who might be forgiven at the last, was also a pleasant and interesting background which Poe never entirely abandoned. He was delighted to refer to it from time to time in letters, and we have already seen how frequently it cropped up in his conversation. Mr. Allan’s death had now put an end to this as far as the reality went. The last ties of self-interest and lingering sentiment with the past were now demonstrably dissolved. “Dear Pa” was now beyond the appeal of even the most needy “man of genius”; and the will, silent about Poe, had been probated. The doubtless disappointed young man in Baltimore could no longer deceive even himself about the past. In grim earnest he must now look to the future for the tying of any ties that might bind. Those of his youth were now only the figments of memory.

There was a certain side of Poe’s nature which made him admire and lean upon those who were capable of overcoming the difficulties of a physical world. He was, in a large sense, incapable of doing so himself, like so many other artists who find the ultimate reality in dreams, yet he instinctively felt the need and the worth of practical capacity. It was for that reason that he had never been entirely able to shake himself clear of John Allan, even in his own mind. He was not entirely selfish in this, it was merely the necessity of self-protection, a means by which he tried to vicariously complement an accidental lack in his own character. Yet strangely enough he was never willing to admit that [page 291:] dependence implied possession. It was always at that point that the break inevitably came, and a new pillar was sought to lean upon, or another breast upon which to rest “a proud but weary head.” The situation, in various disguises, occurred again and again in the future, as it had in the past, for instance:

Once having freed himself from John Allan, starvation forced Poe to depend upon another guardian, the Army; finding that intolerable, he went through exactly the same motions with precisely the same persons at West Point; free of that, with John Allan beyond recall, he sheltered himself upon the wide and willing breast of his Aunt Maria Clemm. It seemed providential to both of them, and psychologically it was so. On the return from the visit to Richmond in the early Winter of 1834, Poe must have realized in his inmost being that the little house on Amity Street, and not the great mansion in Richmond, was “home.”

Consequently, it was natural enough that it should occur to both Poe and Mrs. Clemm, if it had not been in their thoughts even earlier, that the arrangement, already in force at Amity Street, might be made permanent by a marriage with Virginia. She was still young, very young, only in her twelfth year in fact, but she was budding into womanhood, and marriage at that time, especially in the South, often took place very early. Many a girl was the mother of a family at sixteen. Edgar’s affairs with other girls must have alarmed Mrs. Clemm. She could see herself left alone if Poe married, or making room for a young bride in her household, to the numbers of which, death only had brought relief. In addition she loved Poe, there can be no doubt of that. He was of her own blood, and she regarded herself now as his mother. It would be an excellent family arrangement, and some sort of an understanding was certainly arrived at by the young people. Henry Clemm had gone away, and his mother was anxious to have the protection and the support which Edgar’s presence promised. Much has been made of this “romance.” In sober reality it can scarcely be regarded as more than an acknowledgment of general convenience. Virginia was still too young for an immediate ceremony and there was grave objection to an immediate marriage on the part of the Neilson Poes.

Poe, on his part, was troubled in his heart by the fact that Virginia was his full cousin, and by her extreme youth. He was troubled and yet attracted. The truth seems to be that he was a type which was so hypersensitive as to be somewhat revolted by the fully developed womanly form, and some of its more hearty implications. The infantile, and very youthful, bore a strange attraction for him that satisfied a craving for the abnormal manifest in other directions. Baudelaire describes it well. Poe was at once excited and repulsed. The relations with Virginia lie very close to the core of his inner mystery; they explain many of his heroines. It was not the charming and simple affair [page 292:] that those in love with convention would have us believe. About it was the haunted grey twilight of near incest that troubled his deepest dreams. He was twenty-five and she was about thirteen. The neurologist’s eye is needed to probe deeper. One feels very near here to the secret of a strange soul. What were the real incidents of the wooing, no one will know. The kind Poe cousins were evidently alarmed, and are known to have remonstrated with Mrs. Clemm.(461) Thus matters remained for about a year.

During the latter part of 1834 despite the brighter prospects opened up by the Saturday Visitor prize and a certain amount of “fame” which went with it, Poe’s condition was more than usually desperate. No word had come from Carey & Lea, in Philadelphia, about the volume of short stories, and there seems to have been no remunerative work of any kind. Mrs. Clemm’s entire attention must have been taken up by ministering to the old grandmother who was fast approaching her end. Edgar himself was in ill health, approaching one of those periods of utter depression, due to nerve strain and a weak heart. The neurasthenic hero of the stories written during the Baltimore period shadow forth his own condition. The Visitor had published his poem, The Coliseum, earlier in the year. But even its columns were now less hospitable, as his friend Wilmer had been forced out of the editorship into circumstances of great poverty and his place taken by Hewitt, who was a competitor of Poe and probably could not forget that Poe had approached him once asking him to allow the facts of the poetry award to become known. Finances for the little family on Amity Street were now at their lowest ebb, and in November, 1834, alarmed and dismayed by hearing no word from Philadelphia, Poe wrote the following letter to his friend Mr. Kennedy:

Baltimore Nov. 1834(462)

DR. SIR, — I have a favor to beg of you which I thought it better to ask in writing, because, sincerely, I had not the courage to ask it in person. I am indeed well aware that I have no claim whatever to your attention, and that even the manner of my introduction to your notice was, at best equivocal. Since the day you first saw me my situation in life has altered materially. At that time I looked forward to the inheritance of a large fortune, and in the meantime was in receipt of an annuity sufficient for my support. This was allowed to me by a gentleman of Virginia (Mr. Jno. Allan) who adopted me at the age of two years (both my parents being dead) and who, until lately always treated me with the affection of a father. 463 But a second marriage on his part, and I dare say many follies on my own at length ended in a quarrel between us. He is now dead and [page 293:] has left me nothing. I am thrown entirely upon my own resources with no profession, and very few friends. Worse than all this, I am at length penniless. Indeed no circumstances less urgent would have induced me to risk your friendship by troubling you with my distresses. But I could not help thinking that if my situation was stated — as you could state it — to Carey and Lea, they might be led to aid me with a small sum in consideration of my Ms. now in their hands. This would relieve my immediate wants, and I could then look forward more confidently to better days. At all events receive the assurance of my gratitude for what you have already done.

Most respy, yr, obt. st.,  

Mr. Kennedy was just stepping into a carriage to go to Annapolis when he received Poe’s note. He remained there for some time and did not reply to Poe until December 22, 1834, in part as follows:

. . . I requested Carey immediately upon the receipt of your first letter to do something for you as speedily as he might find an opportunity, and to make some advance on your book. His answer let me know that he would go on to publish, but the expectation of any profit from the undertaking he considered doubtful not from want of merit in the production, but because small books of detached tales, however well written, seldom yield a sum sufficient to enable the bookseller to purchase a copyright. He recommends, however, that I should allow him to sell some of the tales to the publishers of the annuals. My reply was that I thought you would not object to this if the right to publish the same tale was reserved for the volume. He has accordingly sold one of the tales to Miss Leslie for the Souvenir, at a dollar a page, I think with the reservation above mentioned and has remitted me a draft of fifteen dollars which I will hand over to you as soon as you call upon me, which I hope you will do as soon as you can make it convenient, If the other tales can be sold in the same way, you will get more for the work than by an exclusive publication.

Yours truly,   JOHN P. KENNEDY

This little snatch of correspondence lowers us like a diving bell into the depths, where for a little space we can look around us in the darkness of a young poet’s despair. Both letters are characteristic of their writers. Poe’s one of restrained desperation, with the characteristically garbled autobiographical statements, altered to suit the occasion; Mr. Kennedy’s kindly, wise, and supremely tactful — “My reply was I thought you would not object to this” — and the “draft of fifteen dollars which I will hand over to you as soon as you call upon me which I hope you will do as soon as you can make it convenient” — how soon, and how convenient it was, we may be sure that Mr. Kennedy knew only too well.

Nor did the kind offices of the older man end here. The $15 must have been eked out to the last penny, but in the middle of March, 1835, Poe again wrote Mr. Kennedy asking his influence with the Public School Commissioners to enable him to obtain a position as a school teacher, “. . . Have I any hope? . . . the 18th is fixed for the decision [page 294:] of the commissioners, and the advertisement has only this moment caught my eye.” Mr. Kennedy’s reply written the same day, Sunday, March 15, 1835(464) was famous invitation to dinner. In reply to this Poe dispatched the following pathetic note, perhaps the wide-eyed little Virginia carried it, as she had carried notes of a different kind before:

DR. SIR, — Your kind invitation to dinner today has wounded me to the quick. I cannot come and for reasons of the most humiliating nature in my personal appearance. You may conceive my deep mortification in making this disclosure to you but it was necessary. If you will be my friend so far as to loan me $20, 1 will call on you tomorrow — otherwise it will be impossible, and I must submit to my fate.

Sincerely yours,  

Sunday 15th

The little note was the turning point in Poe’s literary career. Poe must, indeed, have been desperate before his pride, his governing motive, could have surrendered so far. Mr. Kennedy was touched to the quick. He now fully realized the situation that the letter revealed. The curtains in the windows of a proud little home had been drawn back for an instant and revealed the illy clad family who dwelt there sitting about an empty table. The good man bestirred himself, as he would doubtless have done before had he known. Poe was provided with clothes, invited to the Kennedy house, made much of at the generous board, — doubtless Mrs. Clemm’s basket profited, too — and Edgar was even loaned Mr. Kennedy’s horse “for exercise.” The last was indeed the refinement of courtesy to a Virginian. Once on horseback, Edgar Poe felt himself to be a gentleman again. Nor will the sneers of Griswold a quarter of a century later, at all these items, suffice to convince the world that it was merely a beggar who went riding.

But the greatest service of all was Mr. Kennedy’s introduction of the young author to the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, to whom, upon the advice and recommendation of his patron, Poe submitted some of his tales. Berenice was accepted, and appeared in the March, 1835, number of the Messenger with a highly laudatory editorial notice. The editor was much impressed and followed up Poe’s reference to Mr. Kennedy with a letter of inquiry. Mr. Kennedy replied to Mr. White:

Baltimore, Apr. 13, 1835

DEAR SIR, — Poe did right in referring to me. He is very clever with his pen — classical and scholar-like. He wants experience and direction, but I have no doubt he can be made very useful to you. And, poor fellow, he is very poor. I [page 296:] told him to write something for every number of your magazine, and that you might find it to your advantage to give him some permanent employ. . . . The young fellow is highly imaginative and a little terrific. He is at work upon a tragedy, but I have turned him to drudging upon whatever may make money. . . .

The hint from Mr. Kennedy went home. Berenice was the entering wedge, and every number of the Messenger for sometime afterward contained a story and some criticism or reviews by Poe. John P. Kennedy had not only saved him; he had “made” him. Poe never forgot this as long as he lived and, many years later, remarked to Thomas Stoddard with an undimmed sense of gratitude, “Mr. Kennedy has been, at all times, a true friend to me — he was the first true friend I ever had — I am indebted to him for life itself.”

Thomas Wylkes White, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, was a native of Virginia,(465) and a member of the numerous tribe of itinerant printer-publishers who, in the 1830’s, were filling the ephemeral editorial chairs of various will-o’-the-wisp magazines that glowed faintly here and there all over the United States, and for the most part died away painlessly, after giving off a faint gaseous light. Mr. White was more able than most, however, and a happy combination of circumstances and personalities permitted him to continue the Southern Literary Messenger with unusual success. In 1834, he went to Richmond — where nine numbers of the Messenger had already appeared under the editorship of Mr. James Heath, author of Edge Hill.(466) There White became a sort of combined printer-business-manager-and-editor of the sheet, Mr. Heath continuing for some time to act in an unpaid advisory capacity. White was a good business man, with a pleasant personality, although shrewd, but he lacked the background, the literary qualities, and the editorial vision to make the magazine a complete success. In 1834, there were only a few hundred subscribers. In Poe, Mr. White soon recognized the very type of man which his paper most needed, and the correspondence, stories, reviews and articles, which Poe contributed through the Spring of 1835, led up to a suggestion of permanent employment on the staff. On June 2, 1835, Poe wrote White a long letter on various topics concerning the magazine, in which he says:

. . . You ask me if I would be willing to come to Richmond if you should have occasion for my services during the coming winter. I reply that nothing would give me greater pleasure. I have been desirous for some time past of paying a visit to Richmond, and would be glad of any reasonable excuse of so doing. . . .

Aside from the fact that Richmond was always home to Poe, there was a particular, and peculiar personal reason, over and above the opportunity [page 296:] offered by White, why he “would be glad of any reasonable excuse of paying a visit to Richmond.” The reason belonged to the realm of the romantic.(467)

Miss Mary Winfree of Chesterfield, Virginia, a young lady who had formerly enjoyed Poe’s passing attentions, and who had never forgotten him, had come to visit in Baltimore some time before Poe’s marriage with Virginia. She was, perhaps, the first of the several Marys to whom Poe had confided the touching fact that she bore his favorite name. At any rate, her interest was sufficient to cause her to seek him out. She did not, of course, know that Poe was thinking of marrying Virginia, and it is not likely that he enlightened her. Miss Winfree was a close friend of Elmira Royster (Mrs. Shelton), and, in discussing the past with Poe, the interesting and disturbing information came to light that Elmira was not altogether happy with her husband, and that she had never ceased to love Poe. The deception which her parents had practiced upon her had, as we have seen, come to light through the finding of one of Poe’s letters to her from the University, and her first romantic attachment flamed up anew. Miss Winfree brought with her a little book called the Bijou, one of the ubiquitous parlor annuals of the time, to whose pages Mrs. Shelton had contributed a story signed with her initials, in which, to those who knew her past, the meaning was clear. She was, it appears, languishing for a glimpse of her true love, and the pain could not be assuaged. Despite the fact that “Hymen (in a double sense) and Time and Destiny were now stalking between” him and her — Poe seems to have determined to see her at least once again, to let her know that he still loved her, and to justify the past. How far he intended to go, it is impossible to say. Circumstances would doubtless dictate that, as they did. It was a sentimental and dangerous situation that appealed to his romantic heart. Once in Richmond, time would provide the opportunity. What was Virginia’s status in the triangle it is hard to say.

For a time, however, the move to Richmond had to be deferred. Mr. White was not yet ready, and old Mrs. Poe was dying. A few checks now and then for $5 and $10 amounts from the Messenger served to back the wolf off the front stoop, at least, while the pen in the little room on Amity Street went forward. . . . The mail was robbed by one William Jones and Poe found himself the loser “to a small amount.” Poe purchased some especially fine printer’s ink for Mr. White and took it to the steamboat himself. John Marshall, the great Chief Justice, died, Poe remembered him well from the old family pew in the Monumental Church. He, too, was now added to the names of the past recorded in [page 297:] Shockoe Cemetery, and a little paragraph from the hand of the boy who had known him appeared in the Messenger soon after:

. . . Our great and lamented countryman, fellow-townsman, neighbor and friend for by all these names did a fortuitous conjunction of circumstances, including his own kind and prideless heart, entitle us to call him. . . .(468)

On May 30, 1835, Poe wrote to Mr. White in Richmond alluding to a serious breakdown about that time:

I have not seen Mr. Kennedy for some days, having been too unwell to go abroad . . . at the time I wrote the hasty sketch I sent you I was so ill as to be hardly able to see the paper on which I wrote, and finished in a state of complete exhaustion. . . .

On January 12, he again writes White:

I am glad to say that I have entirely recovered — although Dr. Buckler, no longer than three weeks ago, assured me that nothing but a sea-voyage would save me. . . .

Evidently this was no ordinary indisposition. Dr. Buckler would not have ordered a sea-voyage to a poverty-stricken young poet unless he had good cause for alarm. He thought it was the only thing that would save his patient. And this illness was only a repetition of several that had preceded it in the previous four years. Poe had specifically mentioned his ill health in letters to John Allan as we have seen.

An understanding and some explanation of Poe’s physical and mental condition is, from now on, fundamental even to a partial understanding of his character. A completely satisfactory understanding of a matter, necessarily nebulous and of a character so strangely contradictory and complex, must perhaps forever elude our grasp. There are, however, certain indications inherent in the symptoms of his condition, and the work which he produced, that tend to throw a light upon some of the darker phases of his nature. Any study of the man, which obstinately refuses to recognize the unpleasant and unfortunate aspects of his nature, or to explain his tragedy by assuming and asserting that his misfortunes were due merely to persecution, an unappreciative world, and a preverse fate, must disregard, ignorantly or deliberately, some of the outstanding and most incontestable facts of his career. Poe’s human misfortunes cannot be laid in the main upon the shoulders of the epoch and the world in which he moved; they were, for the most part, caused by the early break-up of his physical health, due to his unhappy youth and heredity and the stimulants which he used to counteract their effects. [page 298:] Paradoxically enough, out of the mental state evolved from ill health and one of the stimulants he resorted to, flowed much of the creative work of the artist which insured his literary success. That there was, in addition to this, a third factor, the unique humanity of the man himself, goes without saying. Every human being is different from all others. The exact and unique flavor of a personality can never be completely caught in any literary reconstruction. The hint of the peculiar genius of a man, can only be partly reflected in the glass of his actions. These are being detailed here, and, from them, the reader must largely be left to make his own reconstruction. The more physical aspects, however, bear analysis, and it is necessary now to attempt some evaluation of them in the interplay of ill health and the effects of nostrums. Combining the last two with the reflection of the man’s self in his actions, at least, a credible ghost may be invoked.

Poe was afflicted with a weak heart. There is, later on, direct medical evidence of a doctor and a professional nurse of long experience to that effect. In addition to this, the long tragedy of his youth had, as we have seen, exhausted him nervously. The affect of these two conditions was to subject him to a general feeling of depression due to subnormal vitality, culminating frequently in periods of more or less complete prostration or threatened collapse. A specious, and apparently easy “remedy” for this feeling of debility, induced by a weak heart and exhausted nerves, was the use of stimulants or sedatives. It seems transparently evident that, when a period of collapse overtook him, Poe resorted to one of two drugs, either alcohol or opium. There is direct evidence, as we have seen, of his use of alcohol in 1826 at Charlottesville and in 1830 at West Point, Even a very little was, to him, peculiarly disastrous. With the advent of the Baltimore period, there are powerful reasons to lead one to believe that, from that date on, Poe now resorted, from time to time, to the use of opiates.

In the first place, it must be remembered that in his condition, if he were to continue to work, perhaps at times even to survive, drugs were in order. He had tried alcohol and found it more or less disastrous. Opium, for Poe, involved a peculiarly seductive temptation. It removed him completely from the world of reality which he largely disliked; it enormously increased the bounds of his imagination; and it coincidentally vastly stimulated his creative faculty while soothing his nerves. At the same time its effects were so subtle as to escape immediate observation and comment, while, at least at first, it did not produce the violent reactions and periods of mania which followed his resort to drink. For the time being, it seemed to solve all difficulties and to provide a sovereign panacea.

During the stay in Baltimore from 1831 to 1834, there can be no moral doubt that Poe was using opium, at least from time to time. The [page 299:] indubitable evidence of the fact, lies in the work which he produced. The Tales of the Folio Club are replete with opiate dreams, and when they fell into the hands of Baudelaire, some years later, caused him to shed tears of joy as he recognized the very features of his own reveries as it were endowed with life. Such stories as Ligeia and Berenice illustrate this directly, especially the latter. They provide not only direct references to the drug, but the imagery, the irrational associations, and the very use of words is characteristic. To those who have no knowledge or familiarity with the effects of opium, and they are, of course, the majority, the evidence may seem insufficient; to those who have, the turning of these pages tells an irrefutable tale. There is evidence by witnesses that Poe took opium in Philadelphia. In 1847, he tried to commit suicide with laudanum. The inference is that he had tried the use of opiates before. Rosalie Poe, his sister, says that in 1848, at Fordham, he “begged for morphine.” In June, 1884, Dr. John Carter of Baltimore who had considerable knowledge of Poe from his brother, another physician who had treated the poet in Richmond in 1849, wrote to Professor Woodberry that, while he had no direct personal evidence, “I may state, in a matter of so leading importance, that I incline to the view that Poe began the use of drugs in Baltimore, that his periods of abstinence from liquor were periods of at least moderate indulgence in opium, . . .” etc.

During the Baltimore period, Poe is known to have abstained almost totally from liquor. Although he was ill and in the greatest poverty, as his own letters at that time abundantly attest, he nevertheless contrived to produce a large mass of creative work. That when so ill, and under such difficult living conditions, he could produce at an hitherto unexampled rate, indicates an unusual cause. But when the work itself produced under such conditions is examined and found to contain, not only direct references to the use of opium, but to be of a type produced by a consciousness laboring under the effects of the drug, the chain seems complete. Besides this, there were also secondary manifestations of a decided change in his character through the Baltimore years which tend to confirm the suspicion.

In the first place, from 1831 to 1834, Poe remained almost unknown. The records of his existence for part of that time are amazingly obscure, and, for a considerable portion of the period, obsolutely lapse. This means, if anything, that he was largely confined to the garret of Mrs. Clemm. Ill health, poverty, and pen-driving will not entirely explain the fact that a young soldier and a fairly athletic young man of a few years before had suddenly become a complete recluse. He was not ill all the time, but at periods, yet he obtained no steady employment for a period of almost five years in the prime of youth. Thousands of the young men in Baltimore at the same time, despite the severe financial [page 300:] stricture, were successfully employed. What was Poe doing? Dreaming in Mrs. Clemm’s attic, and the records of those dreams are strongly tinged with opium. Alcohol he did not take because he did not need it. Mrs. Clemm’s influence is of course to be reckoned with here.

Another startling change also overtook him now. From 1832 to 1847, Mary Devereaux is the only record of a really normally passionate love affair that Poe was engaged in. Up until that time, all through his youth, his interest in girls and women had been varied and constant. These now suddenly cease. Now, one of the notorious effects of opium, is the eventual weakening of sexual desire. This condition now suddenly seems to present itself. At the end of the period in 1835, he had deviated so far from the normal as to be able to marry, apparently both willingly and apathetically, a thirteen-year-old child. That there were other and more profound sexual disturbances in Poe’s nature, the Sadistic trend of a considerable body of his work indicates. The lessening of desire, and the strange conditions of his marriage, are the principal matters, however, to be reckoned with. During the latter half of his life, his trend from the normal was marked. What had produced such an effect upon one who, in boyhood, appears to have been somewhat precocious, may well cause one to ponder. In the understanding of Poe’s character during the latter half of his life, the problem is a central one. He was now entering upon a new phase.

For the Baltimore period and the home on Amity Street was about to close. One cannot help but wonder about the life that went on in the little house with the single dormer window and the end chimney. Mrs. Clemm was preoccupied night and day with the duties of the household and the dying grandmother, she and Edgar gathered about the little dining-room table with the always snowy cloth and the spotless china, listening to the childish talk of the childish cousin, whose great eyes looked at Edgar only half comprehendingly. — What did Poe think of it all? — the ambitious young man with the soaring mind. And what of the more intimate and tender episodes? There was something strange about that, something infantile with the quality of a day-dream come true. Strange and yet alluring. An inscrutable experience was having its subtle way. “Ligeia” had become a reality. She was beginning to dominate his dreams, and yet was she? There was still Elmira.

On July 7, 1835, Mrs. David Poe died at Amity Street. She was seventy-eight years old. Her death could, in the nature of things, have been nothing but a relief. Mrs. Clemm could now turn all her attention to Edgar and Virginia. The household was reduced to the final number to which there was never any natural addition — and Poe was free to follow his star.

Under the beat of the steamer’s paddles, Baltimore faded for the time being into a dream. Richmond was calling with all the force of [page 301:] the past and a brighter future. The dream of Poe’s life was coming true — he was going “home” with foreign laurels. They were not bright yet, but they were visible, and they became him well. Mrs. Clemm remained behind in the house on Amity Street, awaiting the outcome of a long litigation over her husband’s will,(469) and to watch over Virginia. It was about midsummer of the year 1835. Only fourteen years later the curtain fell.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 278:]

438.  It is said that he had published verses in Baltimore newspapers, but the evidence is doubtful.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 279:]

439.  Prof. George E. Woodberry also dates the failure of Poe’s health from about this time. See his Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1909, vol. I, pages 122-123: “He had begun normal, healthy and well; at twenty-five he was no longer so, nor was he ever to regain sound health,” etc.

440.  One of the most remarkable coincidences in the annals of literary correspondence is connected with this letter. On the very same day that Poe wrote this letter in Baltimore, April 12, 1833, perhaps at the same hour, John Allan in Richmond was endorsing on the back of another letter of Poe’s, written from New York, February 21, 1831, the following: “April 12, 1833, it is now upwards of two years since I received the above precious relict of the Blackest Heart and deepest ingratitude, alike destitute of honor and principle every day” . . . etc., etc. The reader should compare letter No. 25 with letter No. 31 of the Valentine Museum Letters, a comparison that provides a strangely intimate glimpse into the past.

441.  See the statements in the will of John Allan, Appendix, or page 289 this chapter.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 280:]

442.  Information gleaned from various items and letters in the Ellis & Allan Papers.

443.  Despite the “swank” attached to “The Springs,” an English traveler a year later, 1834, informs us that “The Springs” were incredibly crude and uncomfortable. A Mr. Fry and his son, both great dancers kept the place. The food was disgusting, the meat was carved by Mr. Fry himself, dressed in a dirty blue smock, who made a point of dropping the knife to escort ladies to their seats on his arm. There were not enough “servants,” i.e., slaves, and guests were awakened early in the morning by throat-clearing, shouts for hot water, and the sound of slops being poured from the windows. The beds did not permit a night’s undisturbed rest. Sanitary conditions were those of the frontier. Only Virginia chivalry could survive the roads. A plague of flies added the last delightful touch.

444.  The statement of the amount of the prize has often been wrongly given heretofore as $100. It was, as a matter of fact, $50 for a story, and half that for a poem; Mr. Latrobe himself, one of the judges, afterwards misstated the amount which biographers have followed.

445.  In his egregious sketch of Poe, Dr. Rufus W. Griswold afterward tried to rob Poe of all credit in this matter by stating that the prize was awarded to the best written manuscript in point of penmanship. This was a sneer at Poe’s beautiful Roman holograph of the Folio Club Tales.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 281:]

446.  Mr. Hewitt’s poem was entitled The Song of the Winds under a pen-name “Henry Wilton.”

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 282:]

447.  Swallow Barn was Mr. Kennedy’s magnum opus. His kindness to Poe is his only genuine claim to literary remembrance. His work was like its author, urbane and impeccable. He commanded at one time a considerable and highly respectable public, especially in Baltimore. He is also “remembered” for Horseshoe Robinson.

448.  Descendants of Mr. Cloud in Catonsville, Maryland, have the only complete file of the Baltimore Saturday Visitor extant, I am informed by a Baltimore collector.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 283:]

449.  The Mechanics Bank Building — later.

450.  So much for Mrs. Clemm!

451.  Phrenology was then taken in all seriousness.

452.  See Chapter VII, page 108.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 284:]

453.  When Wilmer left Baltimore, Poe sent him a prospectus for a Baltimore magazine. It was the first of many similar schemes.

454.  See the portrait included in this volume.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 287:]

455.  Slaves, immediate family, and a host of relatives in Scotland. See his own, and the will of William Galt, Appendix III.

456.  Edwin Collier, twin sons and a daughter by Mrs. W., two sons by his second wife, and a posthumous daughter. Mr. Allan never “acknowledged” the daughter by Mrs. W., but left her and her mother jointly $3000. See the will.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 288:]

457.  For a legal analysis of the will, see Appendix III.

458.  The part of John Allan’s will given here and the complete text given in the appendix are from a certified copy supplied the author by Mr. Charles O. Saville, Clerk of the Chancery Court of the City of Richmond, Virginia.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 289:]

459.  This money had been left to Miss Valentine by William Galt in 1825. See his will, Appendix III,

460.  See Chapter III, and Chapter V, for other mention of these relatives.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 292:]

461.  Neilson Poe, who had a large place just outside of Baltimore, a little later offered to take Virginia and keep her as one of his family until she was eighteen. The objection was not to Virginia’s marrying Poe, but on account of her extreme youth. The fact is significant. See Woodberry, 1904, vol. I, pages 137 and 144.

462.  A letter in the Kennedy Manuscripts.

463.  This is all “poetic license” on Poe’s part, of course.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 294:]

464.  This note has been correctly dated as of 1835 by Prof. Woodberry, and not 1833 as given by Prof. Harrison.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 295:]

465.  The statement that Mr. White was a Northerner, born in Yorktown, Pennsylvania, etc., etc., is incorrect.

466.  Edge Hill, a novel then rather widely read, by James Heath.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 296:]

467.  I am indebted to a Richmond acquaintance who desires to remain anonymous for part of the information dealing with this little known episode. This acquaintance has the copy of the Bijou.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 297:]

468.  Chief Justice Marshall had been injured in a stage coach accident in the Spring of 1835. He went to Philadelphia for medical treatment where he died on July 6. Poe was at work on a review of the second edition of Marshall’s Life of Washington, in two volumes, 1832. Marshall’s death had an important bearing on the trend of national events, see note 500, Chapter XVIII, page 331.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 301:]

469.  This “litigation” if it can be termed that, had to do with Mrs. Clemm’s and her children’s share in the property of Mrs. Catherine Clemm of Mount Prospect, Maryland. She was, it seems, entitled to one-third — the children of the first wife of William Clemm made trouble. Poe was exceedingly anxious to obtain this legacy, a small amount, to help set up his own house with Mrs. Clemm. See Poe to Kennedy, Richmond, January 22, 1836, etc. The matter later called Poe to Baltimore from Philadelphia.






[S:0 - HVA34, 1934] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Chapter 16)