Text: Hervey Allen, “Chapter 17,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1934), pp. 302-328


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[page 302:]

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
 
THE VALLEY OF THE MANY-COLORED GRASS

ABOUT the person of the young man, who reappeared in Richmond in the early August days of 1835, there was, beyond per adventure, something distinguished: a certain knack of tying the black stock; a precise and studied nonchalance about the buttoning of the tight, double-breasted waistcoat over the impeccable linen — carefully mended by “Muddie” — that was somehow arresting. The large beaver hat, then universally worn by all who pretended to the name of gentleman, sat a little to the side, tilted a bit backward, accentuating an already prominent brow, and curling in an arch way over a delicate ear. Under the flare of its small brim, drooped a tangle of black-brown hair blanching an olive, oval face from which looked, unforgettably, two large and haunted grey-blue eyes. The mouth was small, a little weak, and slightly twisted by pain. The lips and chin were clean shaven, and there was the faintest suggestion about them of a whimsical and ironical smile out of a wisp of side-burns. It was the countenance of one who regarded his world as a dream within a dream.

The erect figure of the man dressed in a raven-black and meticulously brushed flare-tail coat, with the roll collar left open, contrived to be impressive by just avoiding being dapper. The shoulders were thrown back, showing too narrow a chest, and vest buttons that gleamed like medals over the stomach. The metal tassel of a long, knit, ring-fastened purse dangled from the slant vest pocket, anchored there by nothing more than a Mexican half dollar of a few “levys,” and a nervous brisk gait was accentuated by the ripple in an ample pair of Nankeen, diapered pantaloons, strapped under the boots. Such was Mr. White’s brilliant young editor, going calling in Richmond some weeks after the last purple blooms had disappeared from the paulownia trees. Those who passed him in the street felt they had encountered a presence, and both men and women remarked and remembered, “There goes Edgar Poe.”

For the first few days he probably stopped at Duncan Lodge with the Mackenzies. Rosalie was there, happy, unshadowed by any future, a fully grown child. Mr. and Mrs. Mackenzie never failed to make him welcome, and there was always Jack — bluff and hearty. Perhaps “Aunt Nancy” dropped over quietly from the Allan house to tell him about Pa’s last hours, and whisper about the will. She, at least, was secure in $300 a year and her board and washing. Her revelations could not have been much of a surprise to Poe, who would certainly ascertain for [page 303:] himself the exact provisions of a certain document.(470) But it must have been strange to pass the big house with its drawn curtains; to hear the shouts of John Allan’s eldest boy in the old garden; to be stopped in the streets by the affectionate greeting of the old house-servants, and yet to know, beyond doubt, that in all that he was never, nevermore, to have any part. How curious, too, when passing the store at Ellis & Allan to look in at the door! The very shadows and odors were familiar(471) — John Allan’s desk was there in the office, and a trunk with letters — but “Pa” was inevitably gone.

The past was not forgotten, however. The strange record of it lay there in the old trunk, and in the hearts of those who now occupied the big house. Poe’s arrival, although she took no notice of it, was undoubtedly a source of anxiety to Mrs. Allan. Already she was in trouble about the will. Poe knew too much, if he had cared to say anything. It would pay to be careful, above all to avoid any more scenes. So the big door never swung open to him again, and other doors in certain other places were quietly and mysteriously closed. Sub rosa, in certain circles the word went around. In the end it made a difference, especially when the Allan children grew up. At that time they were only cutting their teeth.(472)

For the most part, though, the old friends remained true, Jack Mackenzie, of course, and Bob Cabell, Rob Stanard especially, and the Galts. Poe was welcome at many homes, for himself alone. Many knew enough to take the talk of ingratitude to John Allan with the proper grain of salt; card playing at the University had been heard of before. It was not a sin which debarred one from dances. Even old I. O. U.’s could be overlooked when a charming young man in the way of fame was to be forgiven, and invited in to add to the conversation. On the whole it was at first rather a triumphant return. There were a few discreet smiles, no doubt, at the expense of a certain proud lady, not a Virginian, who kept a large house. But Frances Valentine’s foster-son was not overlooked. After Baltimore and poverty it seemed brilliant. There was wine at every table, music, pretty girls, and a certain deference [page 304:] to “literature.” On some occasions all this seems to have gone to the head.

After a short stay at the Mackenzies’, Poe took up -lodgings with Mrs. Poore, who kept one of those peculiarly genteel Southern boarding houses on Bank Street, Capitol Square. The weather was fine, Mr. White was more than cordial, and Eliza, his daughter, could recite Shakespeare “elegantly.” She had “remarkable eyes.” Elmira was near and not forgotten. A little after the arrival of the young poet in Richmond, the Southern Literary Messenger found its columns embellished with the following lines contributed by “Sylvio.”

TO SARAH

. . . The silvery streamlet gurgling on,

The mock-bird chirping in the thorn,

Remind me, love, of thee.

They seem to whisper thoughts of love,

As thou didst when the stars above

Witnessed thy vows to me; —

 

The gentle zephyr floating by,

In chorus to my pensive sigh,

Recalls the hours of bliss,

When from thy ruby lips I drew

Fragrance as sweet as Hermia’s dew,

And left the first fond kiss. . . .

As Mrs. A. Barrett Shelton suddenly ran across these yearning rhymes in the Messenger, her eyes may possibly have become too dimmed to note the exact expression on the face of her husband comfortably seated at his breakfast coffee. Many must have known who the poet on the Messenger was, “Sylvio” could not have been an impenetrable disguise. If so, the enlightening Miss Winfree was Elmira’s bosom friend. In the meantime Edgar went every morning to his desk at the Messenger office, sometimes, too often per haps, taking a bracer from the decanter on Mrs. Poore’s sideboard, which made him superbly confident — a superbness that did not altogether recommend itself to Mr. White.(473) Otherwise they got along famously.

The offices of the Southern Literary Messenger were situated at the corner of Main and Fifteenth Streets, in a substantial three-story brick building with a steeply-pitched slate roof topped by a squat brick chimney. Underneath was Archer’s shoe shop, the Messenger being on the second floor. Poe reached his sanctum by an outside stairway from Fifteenth Street and held forth in the rear room. It was a neighborhood with which he was uncannily familiar, for right next door (one could hear the clerks shouting through the walls) were the store and l [page 305:] ofts of Ellis & Allan. Poe had gone to work that way before! The very slight rise in the brick pavement starting up Fifteenth from Main was familiar. Even now the click of a cane upon it, and the ring of a boot must have made him start.

In the same office with Poe, sat Mr. White,(474) a stocky, good-natured natured man with a florid face. Visitors, local literary lights and authors, dropped in frequently for a chat or to solicit a favor. In front could be heard the Scotch-tinged conversation of the foreman, William McFarland, and John Fergusson as they clapped the frames on the round, black-faced presses or fluttered their hands magically over the square cases of type. Proofs hung upon rusty hooks; the mail was heavy, and piled up mainly upon Poe’s desk. Copies of books for review kept coming in, so the young editor was very busy.

The office was left very much alone to Poe, as Mr. White, once the literary capacity of his assistant became apparent, went about the state and the neighboring towns soliciting subscriptions. There were only 700 subscribers when Poe came. With the combined efforts of the young man’s brilliant pen and Mr. White’s junketings, they now mounted with a bound. So there was no time left to dream. In the little office, where the light filtered blankly through the square, dusty panes, someone was always holding forth and squirting tobacco about. There were volumes to review; McFarland was howling for copy; or the latest edition was to be bundled up, addressed by hand, and sent out. Whale-oil lamps and printer’s ink scented the air. Only on the way home in the evening, as the strong sugary smell of Virginia tobacco surged out at him from the door of Ellis & Allan, the past, all the lost past, rolled down upon Poe overpoweringly in a cloud of sweet odor, for he was peculiarly sensitive to perfume. To his dying day the scent of orris root made Frances Allan live again, standing as she used to in her bedroom, looking into her glass before an open bureau drawer.(476) Then he went “home” to dine at Mrs. Poore’s in Capitol Square.

Behind it all there was, already, a vast melancholy. If “Muddie” and “Sis” could only come to Richmond! Perhaps a little later? Just now his “salary” was only $10 a week.

One day Poe received an invitation to attend a party at a big house “across the river.” He went early.(476) Elmira, he heard, was going to be there. The stairs, in this mansion of a memorable meeting, curved in a double arc to a landing with a bay window from which opened a [page 306:] spacious drawing-room. At the end of this, in a window niche, Poe took his stand and waited. The gentlemen left their hats in the hall; the ladies left their wraps in an anteroom off the stairs. Presently Elmira appeared. She was coming up the stairway alone and still beautiful. The September sunshine caught, with a well-known glint, in her auburn hair. Poe watched it while she took off her hat. Then she turned to enter the room, but she did not do so. Something stopped her at the threshold more powerful than a restraining hand. It was an unforgettable and devouring pair of eyes.

Mrs. Shelton said, years later, that it seemed to her as if there were nothing else in the room.(476) It seemed as if they shed darkness in the place, the shadows of longing and reproach. For a moment they stood and exchanged glances, then her husband came. He took in the situation at a glance; almost carried his wife away; put on her cloak himself as he led her to the door, and drove off furiously down the road.

Poe had, indeed, lost his “Lenore.” He did not see her again for more than ten years. Both the Sheltons and Roysters were much alarmed. Elmira was, after this, both recalcitrant and ill, and her husband intimated that if Poe tried to meet her again, there would be a violent reckoning. Nor was this an idle threat, for, along the James and farther South,(477) the code duello was at that date, and for years to come, by no means a dead letter, as many another editor had good cause to know.

Poe was greatly depressed and, about that time, news came from Baltimore that threw him into despair. The Neilson Poes, it appears, had taken advantage of his absence to break off the affair with Virginia and were bringing pressure upon Mrs. Clemm to let the young girl come and live with them. It seemed as if once more his hopes of a home were to be dashed to the ground — or at least intolerably deferred. There was something peculiarly repulsive to Poe about a boarding house table. The purely accidental association of insufferable personalities who sought to gorge their appetites and curiosity about the same board, the landlady introducing “our poet,” the suspicion which followed one who desired privacy, the five-year-old conversation, and the ignorant gossip, were enough to drive him mad. How could the gods afflict him with great dreams and the love of “all the beauty that we worship in a star,” while seating him at a board where any remark above an inanity made all the heavy feasters choke or stare? It was a divine jest! Worse than the army mess, for there was no escape whatever. So Poe kept longing for the refuge of a home. As early as August 20 he remembered that he had well-to-do cousins in Georgia, and wrote to William [page 307:] Poe of Augusta giving a detailed account of the family and his life history, and soliciting aid for Mrs. Clemm:

. . . In conclusion I beg leave to assure you that whatever aid you may have it in your power to bestow upon Mrs. Clemm will be given to one who well deserves every kindness and attention. Would to God that I could at this moment aid her. She is now, while I write, struggling without friends, without money, and without health to support herself and two children. I sincerely pray God that the words which I am writing may be the means of inducing you to unite with your brothers and friends, and send her that immediate relief which it is utterly out of my power to give her just now, and which, unless it reach her soon will, I am afraid, reach her too late. Entreating your attention to this subject, I remain

Yours very truly & affectionately  
EDGAR A. POE

The taking over of a new position or a decided change in one’s mode of life and residence is, like New Year’s, very often the occasion for trying to put good resolutions into effect. Upon assuming the new position in Richmond, Poe evidently undertook to shake off his dependence on stimulants of any kind, while, at the same time, he forced himself at the new work. The combined effect was more than he could support; he had evidently tried to bolster himself up by drinking, and the result was a collapse. The letter which he now wrote to Mr. Kennedy is the expression of one who finds the terrible drabness of the real world intolerable as he struggles to abandon a habit. What the real reason is, Poe carefully conceals:

Richmond, Sept. 11, 1835

DR. SIR, — I received a letter yesterday from Dr. Miller(478) in which he tells me you are in town (Baltimore). I hasten therefore, to write you, — and express by letter what I have always found impossible to express orally — my deep sense of gratitude for your frequent and effectual assistance and kindness. Through your influence Mr. White has been induced to employ me in assisting him with the Editorial duties of his Magazine — at a salary of $520 per annum. The situation is agreeable to me for many reasons — but alas! it appears to me that nothing can now give me pleasure — or the slightest gratification. Excuse me, my Dear Sir, if in this letter you find much incoherency. My feelings at this moment are pitiable indeed. I am suffering under a depression of spirits such as I have never felt before. I have struggled in vain against the influence of this melancholy — you will believe me when I say that I am still miserable in spite of the great improvement in my circumstances. I say you will believe me, and for this simple reason, that a man who is writing for effect does not write thus. My heart is open before you — if it be worth reading, read it. I am wretched, and know not why. Console me — for you can. But let it be quickly — or it will be too late. Write me immediately. Convince me that it is worth one’s while, that it is necessary to live, and you will prove yourself my friend. Persuade me to do what is right. I do not mean this — I do not mean that you should consider what I now write you a jest — oh pity me! for I feel that my words are incoherent [page 308:] — but I will recover myself. You will not fail to see that I am suffering under a depression of spirits which will ruin me should it be long continued. Write me then, and quickly. Urge me to do what is right. Your words will have more weight with me than the words of others — for you were my friend when no one else was. Fail not — as you value your peace of mind hereafter,

E. A. POE

This terrible letter was evidently written in the access of remorse which followed an application to the bottle, and in a state of physical and mental collapse. Poe was, for the first time, completely in a vicious circle. Trying to escape from his troubles he had delivered himself to another torment. The angel of oblivion, which he sought to invoke, now first revealed itself as a demon from which he could not escape. The thought was maddening. Had all the slavery in time of starvation, the escape from John Allan, the dreams of ambition been in vain? Elmira was gone. Virginia, it appeared, and with her the strength of Mrs. Clemm upon which he leaned, were about to be snatched from him, too. At Mrs. Poore’s for the first time, Poe heard unmistakably the faint tapping at the window pane of the inexorable beak of the bird of despair that later invaded his chamber to perch triumphant over the personification of knowledge and art. It was the hand of a drowning man who had gone down for the first time, and felt the water close over him, that Mr. Kennedy was asked to take. There was a postscript almost as long as the letter in which Poe discusses the fate of his tales with Carey & Lea and rails against a fellow author for stealing (sic) some of his ideas from Hans Pfaall. It seems almost at if the man had developed two minds, a personal and an editorial self. The manifestations of the dual nature and the occasional visits of the demon were to continue. A few days later Mr. Kennedy replied:

Baltimore, Sept. 19, 1835

MY DEAR POE, — I am sorry to see you in such a plight as your letter shows you in. — It is strange that just at the time when everybody is praising you and when Fortune has begun to smile upon your hitherto wretched circumstances you should be invaded by these villainous blue devils. It belongs, however, to your age and temper to be thus buffeted, — but be assured it only wants a little resolution to master the adversary forever, — Rise early, live generously, and make cheerful acquaintances and I have no doubt you will send these misgivings to the Devil. — You will doubtless do well henceforth in literature and add to your comforts as well as to your reputation which, it gives me great pleasure to tell you, is everywhere rising in popular esteem. Can’t you write some farces after the manner of the French Vaudevilles? If you can — (and I think you can — ) you may turn them to excellent account by selling them to the managers in New York. I wish you would give your thoughts to this suggestion. . . .

An excellent suggestion, too — a few light farces to take his mind out of the strange ghoul-haunted hinterland where it too often wandered, and the first hint of New York. Mr. Kennedy understood suggestion [page 309:] better than he knew. But the “adversary” was not such a simple one as he imagined. It was much “stranger” than he knew and had delivered a knockout in the first round. It is doubtful if Poe received Mr. Kennedy’s letter in Richmond. He had parted with Mr. White and had gone back to Baltimore. Matters there had evidently come to a crisis with the Poes, Mrs. Clemm and Virginia, and on September 22, 1835,(479) he was secretly married in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to his little cousin. Mrs. Clemm was the only witness present and the minister, possibly at the solicitation of Poe himself, who was anxious to keep the matter from coming to the ears of his cousin Neilson, did not even make an entry in the parish register. Only the record of the city license and Mrs. Clemm’s word remain. There can be little doubt, however, that the clandestine marriage took place.

Poe arrived in Baltimore somewhere about the twentieth in a highly agitated state. He had been dismissed by Mr. White and he thought he was going to lose Virginia. The house at Amity Street no doubt echoed with his pleadings and explanations. Once the clandestine marriage was suggested, Mrs. Clemm saw the way out of an immediate imbroglio with her relatives, and doubtless acquiesced willingly in an arrangement which she undoubtedly had much at heart. Virginia must have been at once terrified by the state that Edgar was in, and excited by the thought of being married, a step to adult dignity and an event in which, for the first time, she found herself indispensable and of genuine importance. But her disappointment at having no one but her mother present must have been extreme. The entire setting of a ceremony so dear to the feminine heart was entirely lacking. Not even a veil! One can imagine “some natural tears were shed.” Yet worst of all, no one was to know afterward. It was a matter that later on had to be remedied by an ingenious device. In the meantime Edgar was calmed. His hints of suicide made in Mr. Kennedy’s letter were probably renewed before Virginia and Mrs. Clemm.(480) What could they do? The women would be terrified. So it happened that the momentous step was taken. Edgar Allan Poe was provided with a home; whether he had also gotten a wife in the full sense of the word has been doubted. No one will ever surely know. In striving to understand the man, however, the speculation is not entirely idle.

A few days after the very quiet and more than obscure ceremony, Poe must have written to Mr. White asking him to take him back on [page 310:] the Messenger and promising to behave, for Mr. White replied in a letter which reveals him as a kindly and wise friend whose patience had evidently been tried. A full understanding of the situation can best be arrived at by allowing White to speak for himself:

Richmond Sept. 29, 1835

DEAR EDGAR, — Would that it were in my power to unbosom myself to you in language such as I could on the present occasion, wish myself master of. I cannot do it — and therefore must be content to speak to you in my plain way.

That you are sincere in all your promises, I firmly believe. But Edgar, when you once again tread these streets, I have my fears that your resolves would fall through, — and that you would sip the juice, even till it stole away your senses. Rely on your own strength and you are gone! Look to your Maker for help, and you are safe.

How much I regretted parting with you, is unknown to anyone on this earth, except myself. I was attached to you — and am still, and willingly would I say return, if I did not dread the hour of separation very shortly again.

If you could make yourself contented to take up your quarters in my family, or any other private family, where liquor is not used, I should think there were hopes of you. — But, if you go to a tavern, or to any other place where it is used at table, you are not safe. I speak from experience.

You have fine talents, Edgar, — and you ought to have them respected as well as yourself. Learn to respect yourself, and you will very soon find that you are respected. Separate yourself from the bottle, and bottle companions, forever!

Tell me if you can and will do so — and let me hear that it is your fixed purpose never to yield to temptation.

If you should come to Richmond again, and again be an assistant in my office, it must be expressly understood by us that all engagements on my part would be dissolved, the moment you get drunk.

No man is safe who drinks before breakfast! No man can do so, and attend to business properly. . . .

I am your true Friend  
T. W. WHITE

E. A. Poe, Esq.

In the face of this letter, attempts to sweeten the reason for the first parting between Poe and White can scarcely be regarded as a contribution to biography, however kindly in motive. Mr. White addresses Poe almost in the tone of a father. Evidently the sight of the vacant chair in the office in Richmond caused the good man to yearn over the brilliant and wild young figure that had lately occupied it. What the real cause for Poe’s “sipping” was, Mr. White could have had no idea. That his loss by Poe’s absence was financial as well as personal is not sufficient to account for a ring in the lines that is not metallic. Poe must have made the promise, for in a few days he returned to Richmond. Mrs. Clemm made arrangements to follow speedily. Her protection, as she knew, was urgently needed. The house in Amity Street was broken up in October, 1835, and the ghosts of poor Henry and Grandmother Poe left to twitter there alone. [page 311:]

Upon his return to Richmond, Poe was welcomed back by Mr. White, who was doubtless reassured by hearing that his aunt and cousin were about to come from Baltimore to provide the domestic influence which the good man had so strongly advised. Mrs. Clemm and Virginia followed a short time afterward, and the newly married couple and mother-in-law took up their abode at a Mrs. Yarrington’s boarding house, also overlooking Capitol Square, in the same neighborhood as Mrs. Poore’s.

Mrs. Yarrington’s was on the southeast corner of Bank and Eleventh Streets, a two-story brick house with large green shutters of a type then common in Richmond. The Poes occupied a front room above the parlor, the windows of which gave a pleasant view of the garden-like Capitol Grounds. The exact nature of the domestic arrangements is not known. Nothing was said about the marriage at all. Poe’s friends were simply informed that his aunt and little cousin, who were dependent upon him, had come to live with him, Virginia did not impress those who saw her as being a woman. Her actions were rather those of a merry schoolgirl, which, after all, was no more than could be expected of a child of thirteen. She was rather small for her age, “plump, pretty, but not especially so, with sweet and gentle manners and the simplicity of a child.”

Rosalie, or “Rose Poe,” as she was more generally known, was now twenty-five years old, but only about Virginia’s age mentally. She was, it appears, somewhat of an annoyance to Edgar, who was then called “Buddie” by his family circle. Rose would follow him about with a patient, lamb-like admiration that was, at times, embarrassing. The games of childhood still occupied her attention, and she and Virginia played like two little girls together at the Mackenzies’, screaming in a swing under the trees at the Hermitage or skipping rope together in the yard. A brief glimpse at this kindergarten eclogue of Poe’s early married life has been preserved by Mrs. William Mackenzie, who remembered that one afternoon “Buddie” came up to the Hermitage to fetch home Virginia who met him with such “abandon” that Mrs. Mackenzie’s Victorian sensibilities were shocked.

The sad truth seems to be that Virginia very closely resembled Rosalie. She, too, never fully developed. When she was twenty-six it was noticed by competent persons(481) that she did not appear to be over fifteen. Her mind developed more normally than her cousin’s, but her body was never wholly mature. It was the reverse in the case of Rose.

In Richmond, even in 1835, it was remarked that the otherwise childish prettiness of Virginia was marred by a chalky-white complexion, [page 312:] a pastiness that later became waxen. Such a detail would be unimportant if it were not for the fact that she developed tuberculosis a few years later, and finally died of it. Virginia had been raised in the same house where Henry Poe died of the disease; a certain strain in the Poe family seems to have been predisposed to it, and the frequent short commons at Mrs. Clemm’s was certainly a contributing factor. The affliction, the appearance, and some of the more ethereal and abnormal characteristics of the little child-wife have been transferred into literature.

For Poe the “delicacy” which the advancing stages of the dread, but then fashionable and romantic, disease, conferred on his wife — the strange, chalky pallor tinged with a faint febrile rouge, the large, haunted liquid eyes — gradually acquired a peculiar fascination. From the wide and later on terror-stricken depths of those eyes, looked forth the spirit of one who had been robbed of life, a mind which had outgrown its body, simple, and yet wise enough to sense its own tragedy. Her whole being slowly became morbidly ethereal. The plumpness remained to the last,(482) yet somehow it suffered a subtle earth-change as if Death himself were amorous. To the man who was irretrievably linked to her, she became part and parcel of his own tragedy. His capacity for love, perhaps even his potentiality for sensuousness, was metamorphosed into a patient and tragic sympathy — the truly magnificent and loyal sorrow of one who beheld in his bed, in his garden, and at his table a constant and pathetic reminder of the omnipotence of the conqueror worm. On the whole, aside from his great art, his abiding tenderness for Virginia must remain as his greatest claim for a hold on the average human heart. She was the key that completely unlocked for him the house of shadows. She is the prototype of his heroines.

Virginia became his “Ligeia,” his “Eulalie,” “Eleonora,” the sister in the House of Usher, perhaps even his “Annabel Lee,” “Berenice,” for instance.

Berenice and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my paternal halls. Yet differently we grew, I, ill of health and buried in gloom, she, agile, graceful, and overflowing with energy. . . . Oh, gorgeous yet fantastic beauty! Oh sylph amid the shrubberies of Arnheim. . . . And then then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which should not be told. Disease a fatal disease, fell like the simoon upon her frame; and even while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of her person. . . .

So they all were, always subtly different from Virginia, and yet always the same; dying, corpse-like ladies usually related to their lovers, [page 313:] with the pale suggestion of incest just around the corner of the family tomb. It was a page, many pages, from his own experience.

It seems strange that this should have been so, but it must be remembered that Virginia Clemm in her actual appearance and life history approached the ideal of the desired feminine type of the time. Delicate, consumptive, given to fainting, and languidly lying upon invalid couches; saying incredibly refined and sentimental things, and listening to denatured artificial rhapsodies, — they wasted away in their wailing lovers’ arms, leaving them stricken with sorrow or touched by madness to haunt the lonely grave, forever inconsolable.

Poe, as it happened, had married a little girl who, as time passed, approximated the fashionable ideal of the romantic Victorian heroine more nearly than any other whom he might have chosen. The real story of her tragedy is like an excerpt from a novel of the day. That Poe etherealized and enormously improved it, there can be no doubt. His particular etherealizations were not sentimental mockeries, because behind them lay the grim spiritual reality of a human tragedy that was horribly, pitiably true. That he sometimes sought to escape from it into die more robust world of reality, only proves that he was human after all.

In Richmond, Poe began in leisure hours to teach Virginia to chatter a little French and to play the harp. She sang in a sweet, high, girlish voice, trilling, as the fashion then was, like a bird. Mrs. Clemm did the work. But with the unwonted plenty and comparative peace at Mrs. Yarrington’s she began to recover her health. The basket for a few months was temporarily forgotten, nor was she by any means oblivious, then or later, to tie necessity of providing a background of respectability for Edgar. Now for a little time, however, she was able to sit in the parlor with the stuffed birds, rocking, in her white cap, her white starched cuffs, and her widow’s weeds, while she sewed for the two over whom her grandly simple heart yearned maternally — chatting with the other boarders, or Mrs. Mackenzie — supported like a real lady by a professional man, and entirely, impeccably genteel. On Sundays, Poe read by the parlor lamp while she sat opposite him, her hands unwontedly idle.

Through the week, Poe on his part was busy — for the time being completely absorbed by his work at his desk in the office of the Southern Literary Messenger. The young man was actually becoming a force, if not a figure, in contemporary national journalism and literature. During the year 1835 he published in the Southern Literary Messenger thirty-seven reviews of American and foreign books and periodicals, nine tales, four poems, and excerpts from his drama of Politian.(483) In [page 314:] addition to this there were critical notes and notices, a general editorial supervision of the contents of the magazine, and an active correspondence.

His work had already fallen inevitably into the two main categories in which it continued, from then on, to manifest itself; i.e., the critical, and the creative. For the time being, due to the fact that his editorial duties gave him no leisure time, the creative faculty slumbered. Most of the tales and several of the poems were drawn from the reservoir of manuscript which Baltimore and the past had provided. The poems were minor affairs such as To Sarah, To Mary, The Hymn (from Morella) or excerpts from Politian. One or two new stories of minor importance were produced, but, for the most part, they were drawn from the already prepared Tales of the Folio Club. The bulk of the work, however, was critical. It was in the pages of the Messenger that Poe first appeared in the American arena as the greatest literary gladiator of his time. American critics up until that era had formerly conducted their mock combats with blunt or, at best, lead weapons. Poe now appeared in their midst with a bright sword that bit deep and drew blood. He began to be feared, hated, and admired. He was, despite peculiar personal reservations, a Humanist.

The texts which the young man in Richmond reviewed in 1835-36 the world has for the most part comfortably contrived “to forget, a fact which has pulled the same damp blanket of oblivion over the work of their only able critic. Yet this fact, naturally enough, did not then detract from its contemporary importance. The books, periodicals, speeches, and poems which Poe passed upon in the 18303, constituted his education in the current literature of the day and a soft bone on which to cut his eye-teeth. For the most part, with the single exception of Carlyle, time has confirmed his judgments.

His aptitude for the work was deeply rooted in the intricate folds of his nature. In the first place, he had a genuine respect for real literature that endowed him at times with a sixth sense as to the acid effect of time. His background, from a constant and early reading of foreign periodicals,(484) was genuinely cosmopolitan instead of local. Great critics of the English reviews, particularly Macaulay, were his models. His artistic idealism and his materialistic philosophy gave him a hatred of cant; and his youthful experience with a provincial aristocracy in a small Southern town made him dislike snobs — even from New England. Poe had a genuine love for literature; it was his great passion; he was in earnest about it. He could not therefore abide dilettantes, and it was insufferable to him that the prize for which he had starved and worked should be dropped even ephemerally into the hands [page 315:] of those whose sole art consisted in the clever manipulation of little feeble “puffing.” The sappy sentimentalism of the time, although it did not fail to leave its mark on him, was nevertheless, the great god Sham against which he mainly tilted. As a great lyricist in prose and poetry he could not abide a mock emotion, and he was unerring in smelling it out. Mixed with all this was a tendency to the pedantic that became more marked, as the necessity for confirming the belief in his own logical mental processes began to require a secret assurance, and above, and finally dominating all, was an ego that felt itself exalted because it was able to abase. It was an almost insane desire for fame, the last infirmity of noble minds.

Out of such an exalted head the critic on the Messenger was suddenly born. Mr. White received protests. From time to time he and others remonstrated. Libel suits might follow — enemies would be, in fact, were made — even New York began to take notice. But the subscription list bounded from three, well up into four figures; esteemed contemporaries watched and reprinted. The audience became large, very large. The salary if it did not leap, at least wriggled to $15 a week and a few extras, While Virginia and Rose skipped rope at the Hermitage, the pen at the Messenger went back again and again into the ink and the acid. At last, it was making an immediate and an effective noise.

For some time after his return from Baltimore, Poe must have kept his promise to Mr. White. Years later, J. W. Fergusson, one of the printers, remarked, “There never was a more perfect gentleman than Mr. Poe when he was sober,” (but at other times,) “he would just as soon lie down in the gutter as anywhere else.” The “other times” must have come later, and perhaps cast some light on the reasons for Poe’s finally parting with Mr. White. Through the Winter of 1835-36, indeed till some time late in 1836, there could not have been many lapses, if any at all. The proof lies in the crowded columns of the Messenger.

Poe found most of his social relaxation with the Mackenzies at the Hermitage, at the Sullys’, and with Dr. Robert G. Cabell. His boyhood friend, Bob Stanard, “Helen’s” son, he regarded with a peculiar affection which was heartily returned. But there were some rents in the social pavilion which let in a stinging rain. Two of his old schoolmates refused to attend with him a party given by the mother-in-law of General Scott,(485) and some of the old hostility from the University and from friends of the Allans troubled him. Troubled him more, perhaps, than will ever be known. Part of his spare time was spent at Sanxey’s bookstore or with Eliza White, who was rather a beauty and bookishly inclined. She was the daughter of his employer, so both inclination and interest dictated that he should be attentive. A great deal of nonsense [page 316:] was afterward talked about this, based largely on the fact that the lady was never married. Poe was undoubtedly intimate with her, and she was present, years later, as an old friend, at the death-bed of Virginia at Fordham. The effort to throw a romantic atmosphere about every woman with whom the poet came in contact on an intimate basis is, of course, nonsense.

Of the house and the domestic circle at Mrs. Yarrington’s, we know very little. Certain it is, though, that both Poe and Mrs. Clemm longed for their own home and continued to work for it. One of the cousins, George Poe, of Mobile, Alabama, was now in turn appealed to about the beginning of the new year. The glimpse is rather intimate:

DEAR SIR, — I take the liberty of addressing you in behalf of a mutual relative, Mrs. William Clemm, late of Baltimore — and at her earnest solicitation. . . .

Having lately established myself in Richmond, and undertaken the Editorship of the Southern Literary Messenger, and my circumstances having thus become better than formerly, I have ventured to offer my Aunt a home. She is now therefore in Richmond, with her daughter Virginia, and is, for the present boarding at the house of a Mrs. Yarrington. My salary is only, at present, about $800 per ann: and the charge per week for our board (Mrs. Clemm’s, her daughter’s and my own), is $9. 1 am thus particular in stating my precise situation that you may be the better enabled to judge in regard to the propriety of granting the request I am now about to make for Mrs. Clemm.

It is now ascertained that if Mrs. Clemm could obtain the means of opening, herself, a boarding-house in this city, she could support herself and daughter comfortably with something to spare. But a small capital would be necessary for an undertaking of this nature, and many of the widows of our first people are engaged in it and find it profitable. I am willing to advance, for my own part, $100, and I believe that William and R. Poe will advance $100. If then you would so far aid her in her design as to loan her, yourself, $100, she will have sufficient to commence with. I will be responsible for the repayment of the sum, in a year from this date, if you can make it convenient to comply with her request. . . . I feel deeply for the distresses of Mrs. Clemm, and I am sure you will feel interested in relieving them.

(Signature cut off)

P. S. I am the son of David Poe, Jr., Mrs. Clemm’s brother.

On the receipt of such letters as these several of the relatives did respond the reason for keeping the first marriage secret now becomes clear. Once married, Poe would be appealing on behalf of himself. With the marriage a secret he could, with good grace, as a relative supporting his aunt and cousin out of the kindness of his heart, ask the rest of the family to chip in. It was, perhaps, a justifiable subterfuge. Mrs. Clemm certainly needed help.

That she and Poe connived, there can be no doubt. Things on the whole were looking up for Edgar. A few days after the letter to George Poe he wrote to Kennedy: [page 317:]

Richmond, Jan. 22, 1836

DEAR SIR, — Although I have never yet acknowledged the receipt of your letter of advice some months ago, it was not without great influence on me. I have since then, fought the enemy manfully, and am now, in every respect, comfortable and happy. I know you will be pleased to hear this. My health is better than for years past, my mind is fully occupied, my pecuniary difficulties have vanished. I have a fair prospect of success in a word all is right. I shall never forget to whom all this hapiness is in a great degree to be attributed. I know that without your timely aid I should have sunk under my trials. Mr. White is very liberal and beside my salary of $520, pays me liberally for extra work, so that I have nearly $800. Next year that is at the commencement of the second volume, I am to get $1000. Besides this, I receive from publishers, nearly all new publications. My friends in Richmond have received me with open arms, and my reputation is extending especially in the South. Contrast all this with those circumstances of absolute despair in which you found me, and you will see how great reason I have to be grateful to God and to yourself. . .

Yours very truly  
EDGAR A. POE

J. P. Kennedy

During the Spring of 1836 Poe conducted, among others, a heavy correspondence with Beverley Tucker of Williamsburg, Virginia, a critic who admired his work but was careful in his praise. Some comments which Tucker made to White in a letter about Poe, caused the young author some uneasiness as to the effect they might have on his employer. Poe consequently wrote explaining the situation to Tucker who immediately responded by writing White a reassuring letter containing some additional good advice meant for Poe. The manuscript of The Tales of the Folio Club which still remained with Carey & Lea in Philadelphia had not been published by them. In February, 1836, the manuscript was returned by them to Poe with one story missing. Most of those stories had appeared in the Messenger.

Poe now wrote to J. K. Paulding in New York City, asking him to submit the volume to Harpers, which he did. The book was refused, and on March 3, 1836, Mr. Paulding wrote to White:

. . . I regret this decision of the Harpers, though I have not opposed it, because I do not wish to lead them into any measure that might be accompanied by a loss, and felt as I would feel for myself in a similar case. . . .

Exactly two weeks later Paulding wrote to Poe saying he was returning the manuscript in a box of books that Haynes was sending for review. Poe, it appears, had requested Paulding to submit it to another publisher but he was unable to do so. In this letter, he suggests to Poe, “I think it would be worth your while, if other engagements permit, to undertake a Tale in a couple of volumes, for that is the magical number.” Out of this suggestion grew Arthur Gordon Pym, which shortly afterward began to appear serially in the Messenger. It was the only [page 318:] notable piece of creative writing which occupied Poe in Richmond. An effort was now made to get the Tales published in England through Sanders & Ortley of New York. Poe’s friend, Edward W. Johnson of the College of South Carolina performed the good offices of a go-between, and the New York publishers were ready to send the book to England in the Fall of 1836, when Poe asked to have it returned for further revision. He was not satisfied to let it go to England as it stood. Nothing further came of the matter. In the meanwhile, Poe was married a second time to Virginia. This time the ceremony was public. It took place at Mrs. Yarrington’s house, in Richmond, on May 16, 1836.

The reasons for a second ceremony, although complex, are not at all mysterious. As we have seen, the chief reason for the clandestine marriage in September, 1835, had been the opposition to it on the part of the Poe connection. Since then Poe and Mrs. Clemm had been receiving contributions “to help Mrs. Clemm,” Edgar acting as the nephew who had charitably assumed the chief responsibility of maintaining his Aunt Maria and Cousin Virginia. No mention was made of her being his wife. The cousin Poes would by no means have contributed toward setting up a house for a young man already on his own salary so that he could live with a full cousin who was in their judgment too young to marry. It would never do now suddenly to throw off the mask and reveal the fact that the relatives had simply been fooled. Family complications would follow, when it was important to keep on good terms. The easiest solution, therefore, was simply to have a new ceremony. By the removal from Baltimore the influence of Neilson Poe had been dodged, and Poe now had the argument that he was already supporting his aunt and cousin. In addition to this, the revelation in Richmond that he was already married to a little girl when she was only thirteen would have been extremely uncomfortable, and the statement might have been met with doubt. There is also the very likely possibility that Poe and Virginia had not been living together as man and wife, but that there had been an understanding at the time of the first marriage that he was to wait till Virginia was mature. Both Virginia and Mrs. Clemm undoubtedly desired the social distinction of even a simple public ceremony. The other affair without ring, cake, or guests could scarcely have seemed a marriage to them at all. Now, with Edgar’s unexpected “affluence,” a regular marriage was possible. By a second marriage all of these difficulties were solved and an endless round of explanations avoided. But the extreme youth of the bride was still a source of embarrassment and was carefully concealed.

The marriage bond, which was signed in the Hustings Court of the City of Richmond on May 16, 1836, shows that oath was made before Charles Howard, the Clerk of Court, by Thomas W. Cleland as witness [page 319:] that “Virginia E. Clemm is of the full age of twenty-one years.” She was, as a matter of fact, thirteen years, nine months and one day old.(486) The discrepancy is glaring. Cleland, who was a friend and fellow boarder of Poe, is known to have been a pious Presbyterian and he would scarcely have taken oath to what he did not believe to be true. Despite the extremely youthful appearance of the bride, he must have been assured of her age by Poe, Mrs. Clemm, and, of course, Virginia. She, poor child, was probably eager enough for a “real wedding” to say anything “Muddie” and “Buddy” suggested.

On the day of the marriage, Jane Foster,(487) a friend of Mrs. Yarrington, who lived outside of Richmond, came to visit her friends in town. She found Mrs. Yarrington and Mrs. Clemm busy baking a wedding cake and was informed that a marriage was to be performed at the house that day. Jane watched the cake while the two older women concerned themselves about the other simple preparations. Late in the afternoon, the Virginia “evening,” the guests began to arrive. Mr. White and his daughter Eliza, Mr. and Mrs. Cleland, William McFarland and John Fergusson, the printers on the Messenger, Mrs. Yarrington, Mrs. Clemm, and Jane Foster constituted the little party. The marriage was performed in the boarding house parlor by the Reverend Amasa Converse, a Presbyterian divine, at that time the editor of the Southern Religious Telegraph. Virginia was dressed in a traveling dress and a white hat with a veil, Poe was, as usual, in a black suit and the omnipresent black stock. Jane Foster, who was herself scarcely more than a child, remembered the very youthful appearance of Virginia. The nupital scene was reflected in a looking glass on the parlor wall, and little Miss Foster was surprised to note that the mirror did not show Virginia to be any older when she passed out than when she walked in. Marriage, she was sure in her naive way, would magically remedy the contrast between the little bride and the mature bridegroom, for Poe was twenty-seven. The Reverend Amasa Converse remarked that the bride had a pleasing air, but did seem young. Mrs. Clemm he noted as “being polished, dignified, and agreeable in her bearing” and that she gave Virginia away “freely.” In the parlor after the ceremony Mrs. Clemm was in her element when her fellow boarders were called in while the happy event was announced, and wine and cake were served. It [page 320:] was doubtless then that the Reverend Amasa noted that the widow was “agreeable in her bearing.”

After the humble felicitations, a hack was called to the door, and Virginia and Edgar drove off together on their honeymoon. One catches a glimpse of the waving hands of the boarders, the fat stack of the little, wood-burning locomotive throwing sparks on Virginia’s traveling dress on the short journey to Petersburg, and a round of entertainments at various friends’ houses in the quiet little town basking in the sunlight and perfume of a Virginia May. The pautownia trees were in bloom.

The Poes spent their honeymoon at the house of Mr. Hiram H. Haines of the Petersburg, Virginia, Constellation, Democratic in its journalistic policy, we solemnly learn. There were also visits to the house of Edwin V. Sparhawk, another journalistic friend, and Dr. William M. Robinson entertained them at a party and noted that Poe’s conversation was brilliant. Poe no doubt noticed, although he enjoyed it, that the conversation of the others was somewhat bucolic. He was already longing for more cultivated fields in which to converse largely.

Before the end of May, the young editor and his child wife returned to Richmond. The Stanards, the Sullys, and young Dr, Ambler called, the latter, doubtless recalling two little boys who once swam together in Shockoe Creek twenty years before. Mr. White promised the young husband a raise in salary. He was to receive “$20 after November.”

It was now Summer, and the hot valley of the James took on the glittering green of June woodlands and the pied hues of many-colored grass. The calmest hours that Poe was ever to know in manhood were swiftly passing, a brief respite between poverties and tragedies, the memory of this time he has preserved in the tropical idyl of Eleonora:

She whom I loved in youth, and of whom I now pen calmly and distinctly these remembrances, was the sole daughter of the only sister of my mother long departed. Eleonora was the name of my cousin. We had always dwelled together, beneath a tropical sun, in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. No unguided footstep ever came upon that vale; for it lay far away among a range of giant hills. . . . Thus it was that we lived all alone, knowing nothing of the world without the valley, I, and my cousin, and her mother.

“Knowing nothing of the world . . .” unfortunately it was true. Now they were married, Poe was making every effort to have his own home where the illusion of the secluded valley might be continued. Only a few weeks after the return from the honeymoon he wrote Kennedy, again unfolding his domestic and financial circumstances to the faithful friend in Baltimore.

Richmond, Va., Jan. 7, 1836

DEAR SIR, — Having got into a little temporary difficulty I venture to ask you, once more, for aid, rather than apply to any of my new friends in Richmond. [page 321:] Mr. White, having purchased a new house at $10,000., made propositions to my aunt to rent it to her (sic), and to board himself and family with her. This plan was highly advantageous to us, and, having accepted it, all arrangements were made and I obtained credit for some furniture, etc., to the amount of $200, above what little money I had. But upon examination of the premises purchased, it appears that the house will barely be large enough for one family, and the scheme is laid aside, leaving me now in debt, (to a small amount), without those means of discharging it upon which I had depended.

In this dilemma I would be greatly indebted to you for the loan of $100. for six months. . . .

But upon examination of the premises purchased” — one cannot help but smile a little, and yet want to cry too with Mrs. Clemm and Virginia over the disappointment about the “premises” so carefully examined after the purchase had been made! One wonders — Mr. White would scarcely buy a house before he had looked at it. “This plan,” says Poe, “was highly advantageous to us.” Then he continues to Kennedy:

. . . Have you heard anything farther in relation to Mrs. Clemm’s estate?

Our Messenger is thriving beyond all expectations, and I myself have every prospect of success. It is our design to issue, as soon as possible, a number of the Magazine consisting entirely of articles from our most distinguished literati. . . . Could you not do me so great a favor as to send me a scrap, however small, from your portfolio? Your name is of the greatest influence in that region where we direct our greatest efforts — in the South.

Any little reminiscence, tale, jeu d’esprit, historical anecdote, — anything, in short, with your name, will answer all our purposes. I presume you have heard of my marriage.

With sincere respect & esteem  
Yours truly,  
EDGAR A. POE

“Our Messenger” may have been thriving, but Mrs. Clemm and Virginia shared only in the glory. The grand scheme of the $10,000 boarding house having been abandoned, perforce, the little family moved from Mrs. Yarrington’s on Capitol Square to “a cheap tenement on Seventh Street,”(488) where they sublet rooms. Mrs. Clemm went back to her dressmaking; there were generally a few boarders at the table. Virginia was a little more silent now, the honeymoon was over, some of the patches of many-colored grass were probably becoming a little parched, even for her, life had a few surprises. She was trying as hard as she could to grow up —

Nearly twenty years after this time there were persons living on Main Street who remembered almost daily to have seen about the Old Market, in business hours, a tall, dignified looking woman, with a market basket on one arm, while on the other hung a little girl with a round ever-smiling face, who was addressed as “Mrs. Poe!” She, too, carried a basket.(488) [page 322:]

Mrs. Yarrington’s parlor mirror had been right after all. The marriage had worked no magic for Virginia.

Poe was now seldom to be found at home. “Graceful, and with dark, curling hair and magnificent eyes, wearing a Byron collar and looking every inch a ‘poet’” he preferred the recitations of Eliza White doing “Lady Macbeth” in the house that was too small for two families, the lurid remarks of journalistic brethren at the office, the excitement of a correspondence with J. Q. Adams or Mrs. Sigourney, supper at the Sullys’, or an evening at the Court House Tavern. There were many places he could go, and every place he went he was offered wine. Sometimes he took it. Then he was very ill and went home, to spend several days in bed. “Dear Eddie’s health was so bad, no, he could not get down to the office to-day,” was Mrs. Clemm’s version. And she loved him so much that at last she came to believe it, although she knew it was not true.

Towards the end of 1836 the days in bed became more frequent. Mr. White it appears became annoyed and then alarmed. Yet he was loath to force a parting. His young editor had become invaluable. There was a good deal of idle gossip about it all, — about Poe, the Allans, Elmira, Eliza White, Virginia, and Mrs. Clemm. “There was a general prejudice against her on account of her having made or consented to the match between her little daughter and a man of Poe’s age and dissipated habits.”(488)

As usual, the gossips with the unerring instinct of their race, had aimed the barb for the heart. For back of it all, then and forever afterward, remaining even after Israfel was removed from the scene, was the grand simple heart, the strong arms, and the maternal bosom of Maria Clemm. If there be anything at all in the tradition of the test of sacrifice and abnegation, she loved him better than all the other women who crossed his path. She it was who never doubted or faltered in her belief in the immortal part of the man; who, after the mortal had been removed, continued nobly to cherish the memory of his genius. She washed for him, worked for him, begged for him, nursed him and comforted him. Before her simple “Eddie, Oh God, my dear Eddie!” — all the mud of Mrs. Ellet, the vitriol of Griswold, and the sugar of Helen Whitman is dried up and blown away while Mrs. Clemm’s cry remains to keen in our ears. Small persons, who called upon her later when smug society and the legacy of fame had driven her half crazy, saw nothing in her but an old bereaved woman with a broad face, roughened hands, and an ignorant manner of speech.(489) Pharisees like [page 323:] Stoddard departed making long the fringes of their phylacteries — laughing, and thanking God they were not like that. Thackeray, who knew nothing at all of one Virginian, drew large genteel audiences in Richmond, and exchanged aristocratic repartee with ladies in Charleston — and departed. Charles Dickens returned to the States on his second tour. In a certain obscure Episcopal Church Home in Baltimore, erected on the same spot where a great poet had died only a few years before, the author of Bleak House called on a tearful old woman whose last days were being prolonged by Christian charity. It was “Muddie,” whose reward for exorcising the demons down under the sea, was the contempt of mankind and a saintlike face. Mr. Dickens left behind a present of money pressed into a rheumatic old hand. Only he and Lowell were fully aware who it was that had made the croaks of the raven in Barnaby Rudge audible to the entire world.

By December, 1836, Richmond and the South no longer offered a broad enough field for a rising young author and editor who desired to try sinking his plowshare into more fertile literary soil. During the year, Poe’s tremendous critical fertility had continued.

No less than eighty-three reviews, six poems, four essays, and three stories had appeared in the Messenger,(483) besides there was correspondence which its editorial duties necessitated and the writing of the narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym that Poe hoped to sell to Harpers after publishing it in the Messenger in serial form. The reviews ranged through almost the entire gamut of contemporary literature from Recollections of S. T. Coleridge(490) to Mrs. Sigourney’s Letters to Young Ladies. The poems were mostly old ones revived, some of them changed into masterpieces. To Helen had appeared in March, Irene, or The Sleeper in May, and Israfel now wonderfully perfected in August. Besides this, there had been the lovely sonnet, Zante, and some additional scenes from Politian. Poe’s study of poetical criticism was having a memorable effect upon his own early work. His poems were now pruned and grafted to last through the winter of time. The stories, Metzengerstein, The Homo-Camelopard and the like, were still drawn from the old reserve supply, but the essays were new. Chief of these was Maelzell’s Chess-Player in which he exposed the method by which a dummy chessman, that had gone the rounds of American cities winning games with living opponents, was operated. It is possible that Poe’s interest in this automaton was early aroused by an article in the Baltimore North American to which Henry Poe had contributed in [page 324:] 1827. Many persons had been more mystified than amused by the maneuvers of the automatic man, and the exposé, although only partly correct, created quite a little furor. It was the first of Poe’s work in which he emerged as the unerring, abstract reasoner, and foreshadowed the method he followed later in his detective stories such as the Murders in the Rue Morgue, a method which has been embalmed in the triumphs of “Sherlock Holmes.”

Pinakidia, another type of contribution, were selections from the author’s notebook, selections which throw an interesting sidelight on his literary and journalistic pilferings, nearly always from secondary sources. By a mistake, obviously made in the composing room, they were printed in the Messenger as “original” instead of the opposite.

Like so many other literary and curious persons of his epoch, Poe kept a commonplace book. Into it went from time to time cullings from a thousand books, magazines and newspapers, copies of which came under his editorial eye. Nor was he by any means blind to the dusty shelves and remote alcoves of libraries public and private. He made the most of, and he improved such opportunities for browsing as Pinakidia and the later Marginalia show. These grains of gold sifted out of dust and refuse were not so valuable in themselves, but they provided an inexhaustible source upon which he drew for items of curious knowledge, for a parade of learning, and for quotations that temporarily lulled or alarmed even the learned. Above all, here was the store of ammunition for charges of plagiarism which he loved to ram home. From his careful gleaning over wide fields, there was scarcely any figure in poetry, or any idea, which Poe could not show had been used before. Often the charge was true; always it was plausible. In the great shallow lakes of American crudity, the well of erudition of the young Richmond critic seemed deep — even profound.

But there was something more to it than that. This habit of clipping and noting exercised a valuable curiosity. Out of a dead book or a banal news-sheet, Poe developed the habit of culling the one living incident, the pertinent fact, or the picturesque scene. He remembered it, and when the time came the shot was there, carefully greased and labelled, in the right locker. It was later always delivered with telling effect, and in a direction that associated it with the living thought of his time. That the French of obscure titles, the original sources, or the precise wording of quotations were sometimes garbled, is of importance only in the cemetery of the scholastic mind, for, by the living use of such matter, Poe frequently conferred upon it the only gleam of vitality which it ever possessed. Even in 1836, he stood out boldly and alone as the only arresting critic of contemporary literature in the United States. [page 325:]

His rise to that position had been meteoric. It was the Southern Literary Messenger which had conferred upon him the opportunity to claim the title. In less than two years that obscure magazine claimed the attention of the nation on an equal footing with The New Englander and the Knickerbocker, and was even beginning to disturb the complacent local religion of the North American Review, to which, heretofore, nothing south of the Delaware had been audible.

In the late Fall of the previous year (1835), Theodore S. Fay, a young author who had many friends in the literary circles of New York and among the editors of the Knickerbocker journals, published a novel called Norman Leslie. It was greeted by a howl of metropolitan acclaim that found the usual servile echo in the provinces. The book was unusually poor, and the reverberations in the canyon of criticism were more than usually grand. In December, 1835, Poe reviewed Norman Leslie in the columns of the Messenger. Both the book, and, by implication, the author, were reduced to the light powder of which they were actually composed, but in a manner so trenchant, so vividly interesting and unanswerable, that the public in general be came interested, subscribed in numbers, and eagerly hoped for more.

The New York papers, at first, maintained a discreet and dignified silence, but the cat was out of the bag and scratching so hard that the pose of dignified silence became too painful to maintain. On April 9, 1836, the New York Mirror with a display of no less than four scornfully pointing, printed hands drew attention to a column on another page in which Poe was satirized in his own style for his methods of criticism, his minute analyses, and his accusations of plagiarism. The notice itself accused him of striving for notoriety “by the loudness of abuse,” hinting that he was actuated by jealousy because he “knows by experience what it is to write a successless novel.” This doubtless referred to some rumor of the collected tales which Harpers had refused.

In the April number of the Messenger Poe replied. The statement about “a successless novel” not being true, was easily refuted, and the young editor took the occasion to make his views on the necessity for a broad attitude in criticism clear:

. . . We are becoming boisterous and arrogant in the pride of a too speedily assumed literary freedom. We throw off with the most presumptuous and unmeaning hauteur all deference whatever to foreign opinion we forgot, in the puerile inflation of vanity, that the world is the true theatre of the biblical histrio we get up a hue and cry about the necessity of encouraging native writers of merit we blindly fancy that we can accomplish this by indiscriminate puffing of good, bad, and indifferent, without taking the trouble to consider that what we choose to denominate encouragement is thus, by. its general application, precisely the reverse. In a word, so far from being ashamed of the many disgraceful literary failures to which our own inordinate vanities and misapplied patriotism have lately given birth, and so far from deeply lamenting that these daily [page 326:] puerilities are of home manufacture, we adhere pertinaciously to our original blindly conceived idea, and thus often find ourselves in the gross paradox of liking a stupid book the better because sure enough, its stupidity is American.

Poe’s view that the world, by which he unconsciously meant the world of European culture, was the only background which provided the correct perspective in which to judge one’s own work or that of others, was, of course, by no means new. It has been consciously or unconsciously adopted by many of the greatest writers of other periods, and it jibed with the private opinions of many readers at the time. But in some quarters it was essentially uncomfortable. In such a “world vista” as Poe proposed what would become of America’s literary Holy Land, New England? Besides this, the new prophet had arisen on the wrong side of Jordan. In certain quarters the stone heaps were prepared. The New York Commercial Advertiser pronounced him anathema. W. G. Clark of the Philadelphia Gazette pounced on him and the war was even carried south of the James. For the most part, though, the South rallied around him. For it, the position of the Jordan was reversed. But Poe understood that, and how little it meant. He had raised the view halloo under the palace windows and he longed to follow the quarry whither it fled northward.

Once dip your pen in acid and it becomes difficult to convince even a friend that a compliment is not meant for an innuendo. Poe’s reputation for critical savageness has been over-strained. A letter by Poe to a complaining contemporary in September, 1836,(491) provides an answer to those who complain of his severity which an examination of the columns of the Messenger also refutes. For the most part, indeed almost without exception, time has confirmed the justness of his criticism. Sartor Resartus alone survives. Nor would it be reasonable to expect Edgar Allan Poe to be in sympathy with the style of Thomas Carlyle. It is doubtful if Poe ever descended into those turgid and strangely agitated depths. Yet here was the only “world book” that met his view.

It was the “world view,” however, that moved Poe northward in 1837. Ten years before, he had written from Fortress Monroe to John Allan, “Richmond and the United States were too narrow a sphere and the world shall be my theater.”(492) This fine ambition had never died. Poe knew the South too well to put any value on its acclaim. He was not deceived because three, or even five thousand persons(493) there had [page 327:] subscribed to the Messenger. That was mainly because out of an honest literary opinion he had happened to criticize the North. There were probably not five hundred souls all told, anywhere, who knew what he was really talking about. South of the Potomac, literature was “cherished” as the decent avocation of a gentleman who might otherwise have to work with his hands. Haynes and Simms met the same situation in South Carolina a little later — and lost. What could one do in a section which gave its praise easily and so took it with a private grain of salt, — where every crowing plantation Chanticleer or twittering Jenny Wren was acclaimed as a poet; a province that talked of “Southern Literature” and preferred foreign books, a locality whose estimate of style was theatrically forensic?(246) One could live there comfortably and become, possibly, an obscurely honored local bard, the schoolboy’s aversion and the old maid’s pride. Horrible thought! Every day that he had spent in England, every page of the foreign reviews in the loft of Ellis & Allan, every contact with the great, wide, oblivious world cried out against it. “The world shall be my theater!” and the world won. In January, 1837, the following notice appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger:

Mr. Poe’s attention being called in another direction, he will decline, with the present number, the Editorial duties on the Messenger. His Editorial Notices for this month end with Professor Anthon’s Cicero — (494) what follows is from another hand. With the best wishes to the Magazine, and to its few foes as well as many friends, he is now desirous of bidding all parties a peaceable farewell.

Mr. Poe’s urge for exit, however, was not purely literary. Encounters with the glass toward the end of 1836 had evidently been at least occasional, consequently his health was again “bad.” Despite his increased salary, now over $1000 a year, he had, it seems, involved himself in debt, Mrs. Clemm’s boarding house venture was evidently not a paying one. Increasing fame had also added a certain arrogance that even his friends deprecated. Mr. White had been patient, but probably annoyed by irregularities; and no one enjoys being patronized. They parted friends, however. The young editor’s copy on hand was to be exhausted rapidly, as the pages of the Messenger show, but Poe was to continue some contributions. He was particularly anxious to finish the serials of Arthur Gordon Pym.

About the middle of January, 1857, we find Poe in bed winding up his correspondence and making his last acceptances for the Messenger, articles which did not please Mr. White.(495) There is a tradition that Poe asked to be reinstated but it is a doubtful one that would naturally [page 328:] be cherished by a magazine. During his regime it had increased its circulation from 500 to 3500 copies,(493) Poe had developed, by valuable experience, some well-defined ideas about the possibilities of a truly national publication. He was the first journalist to conceive of a magazine on a huge modern scale. That was the great idea he hoped to put into operation. He saw clearly, even then, that it would have to be done from Philadelphia or New York.

What little furniture they had was probably sold. “Muddie” and Virginia accompanied him. The little wife had matured considerably. There is a brief silence, and then we find them in New York. In Richmond he left behind him a few virulent enemies and a large number of friends. The great experiment had begun.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 303:]

470.  Poe would almost certainly acquaint himself with the nature of John Allan’s will probated in public court. He would take no chances.

471.  After the death of the first Mrs. Allan, John Allan removed a trunk containing his first wife’s correspondence and probably other data to Ellis & Allan. In this he put Poe’s letters from 1824 on. The trunk fell into the hands of James Galt as John Allan’s executor and was by him removed to Fluvanna Plantation. There the second Mrs. Allan had access to it and removed from it some of Poe’s letters now in the Valentine Museum Collection. She appears to have destroyed others. Only one letter in Frances Allan’s handwriting is known to exist. James Galt said there were “other letters” that remained in the trunk. Whose, it is not known.

472.  John Allan’s last child, a posthumous daughter, survived her two brothers, who died young men.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 304:]

473.  Mr. White, it will be remembered, specifically warned Poe against morning drinking. See White to Poe, Richmond, September 29, 1835, printed on page 310.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 305:]

474.  The author is in possession of abundant material for a literal description of the Southern Literary Messenger offices, the vicinity and the personnel. The building was removed in 1908, much of the material in it being taken over for the Poe Shrine. The description of T. W. White is from a portrait.

475.  Poe spoke of this memory-odor as late as 1849.

476.  Mrs. Shelton herself authenticated this incident.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 306:]

477.  Duelling lingered in Virginia and the Carolinas long after it went out of fashion in the North. A notorious case occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, just before the Civil War, in which an editor was killed.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 307:]

478.  Kennedy Manuscripts.

[The following footnotesappear at the bottom of page 309:]

479.  Prof. J. A. Harrison gives the date as September 22, 1834, but Prof. Woodberry, 1835. The latter is correct as I have been at some pains to ascertain. The correspondence in the appendix from St. Paul’s Parish shows no records of the marriage. Mrs. Clemm was afterward much “upset” when she was questioned about it.

480.  The reader will recall that Poe frequently threatened suicide in letters to John Allan) indirectly at least.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 311:]

481.  Elizabeth Oakes Smith and others of the literati in New York in the late ‘40s. When hi Philadelphia, in 1842, a friend took her to be only fourteen.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 312:]

482.  See the picture of Virginia made after her death at Fordham in 1847, page 581.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 313:]

483.  The bibliography is taken from Harrison, and is probably incomplete.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 314:]

484.  This familiarity extended back at least as far as 1824.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 315:]

485.  A Mrs. Mayo with some pretense to “literary” fame.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 319:]

486  For a discussion of Virginia’s date of birth see Woodberry, 1909, vol. I, page 137.

487.  Afterward Mrs. Stocking. The account of the wedding given here is taken from various documentary sources and from an account given personally to the author in Richmond in July, 1925, by a niece of Mrs. Jane Stocking (Miss Foster) who was fond of relating the details of the occasion to members of her family. Mrs. Stocking was a close friend of Mrs. Yarrington, who was a planter’s daughter and risked the anger of her family by “marrying beneath her.” In order to help her husband “to get along faster” she had started a boarding house.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 321:]

488.  Mrs. Susan Archer Weiss, Home Life of Poe. A few facts regarding Richmond occurrences of which Mrs. Weiss was reliably informed are culled here from an otherwise inaccurate biography.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 322:]

489.  See R. H. Stoddard’s account of Mrs. Clemm, after Poe’s death. Lippincott’s Magazine, January, 1889, page 112. One of the most self-complacent articles ever written.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 323:]

490.  Letters, Conversation, and Recollections of S. T. Coleridge, New York, published by Harper & Brothers, No. 28 Cliff Street, 1856. Another Harper book reviewed by Poe who was anxious to publish Arthur Gordon Pym through Harpers. Poe was much in debt to this book for many ideas he later developed. Poe’s critical debt to Coleridge cannot be too strongly stressed.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 326:]

491.  Poe to the Richmond Courier and Daily Compiler, Richmond, September a, 1836, . . . “But this charge of indiscriminate ‘cutting and slashing’ has never been adduced — except in four instances, while the rigid justice and impartiality of our Journal had been lauded even ad nauseam . . .” etc. The letter is detailed and convincing.

492.  Valentine Museum Collection, letter No. 7, Poe to John Allan, December 22, 1828.

493.  Prof. J. A. Harrison, Life and Letters, vol. I, p. 125, gives the increase of subscribers on the Messenger as from seven hundred to five thousand. Prof. Woodberry is more conservative and puts the last figure at thirty-five hundred. The last is correct. Poe gave the larger.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 327:]

494.  Poe was expecting to go to New York, where Prof. Anthon lived, and had therefore probably picked his book for favorable notice.

495.  See the correspondence between White and Poe in January, 1837.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - HVA34, 1934] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Chapter 17)