Text: Hervey Allen, “Chapter 20,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1934), pp. 386-416


[page 386:]


MR. GRAHAM had not overlooked Burton’s final admonition not to forget his young editor, and, by the middle of January, 1841, Mr. Poe was up and about again, for on the eighteenth of that month he had an interview with the proprietor of the two newly merged magazines, at which a satisfactory arrangement was made. The agreement with Mr. Graham promised to be the most liberal engagement with any magazine owner, which Poe had so far contracted. He had evidently learned something from his twin experiences with both Mr. White and Burton, and was now, from the first, frank about his desire to start a magazine of his own and to have a large part in shaping the policies of Graham’s, should he undertake its editorial chair. An arrangement that bore some of the features of a compromise was therefore put in force.

The idea of the Penn was not to be abandoned, but was to be held in abeyance. If Poe proved himself capable, Mr. Graham, it appears, would either back him in the new adventure or give him an interest in the magazine, as circumstances might dictate. In the meantime Poe was to have a large, if not a directing share, in the policies of Graham’s; to supply stories, articles, poetry, and criticism; and above all, to induce the best known literary characters of the time to lend the luster of their names and the drawing power of their contributions to its pages.(567)

It is certain that this arrangement had been thoroughly discussed between them prior to January, 1841, for, to the last number of Burton’s, in December, 1840, Poe, as we have seen, had contributed the story of The Man of the Crowd, when the expiring Gentleman’s had been under the management of its new editor. Poe’s illness had delayed his assuming complete charge of the first number of Graham’s which appeared in January, 1841, in all the triumph of fresh format and lavish illustration.

Soon after, the jocular Mr. Burton, who had completely withdrawn from the magazine field, having bought out a bankrupt theatrical manager in Baltimore, opened up in Philadelphia with a blaze of glory in [page 387:] the New National Theater with The Rivals and A Roland for an Oliver, as the first bill on August 31, 1840. Mr. Burton’s new theater was the finest in America; its scenery, its curtain, and its chandelier were “the marvels of the age.” All of this, however, did not prevent its failure. The desire of the Englishman was to repopularize the stock company method which had undergone a serious decline in America, due to the then new “star system,” and the exploitation of a new style of hectic publicity. Alter long vicissitudes, he finally succeeded in New, York, With the beginning of 1841, except for a few acid references in his former editor’s correspondence, he passes out of the life of Poe.

George Rex Graham (1813-1894), who now became a new and important factor in Poe’s career, was a remarkable and, on the whole, an able man. He was the son of a Philadelphia merchant who had tost his fortune in erne of the then f requmt panics. At an early age he had learned the trade of cabinet-maker. Later on, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1839. About that time, he became one of the editors of the Saturday Evening Post, and the owner of the Casket. He also dabbled a good deal in the purchase of shares and merging of magazines, his final merger of the Casket and Burton’s having involved Poe. With the launching of Graham’s in 1841, he entered upon the most prosperous and important period of his career. He was the first to undertake successfully a great national magazine in the United States with an audience which numbered many thousands. In short, Graham’s may be regarded as the forerunner of the large modern American magazines. In this venture, the experience, the theories, and the abilities of Mr. Poe were attractive to Mr. Graham, who was skilled in his choice of subordinates. These abilities, we may be sure, and not Mr. Burton’s advice, were the deciding factors in the choice of an editor.

Mr. Graham announced that “he sought to find a mean between the uninteresting and severe literature that only Tories read and the namby-pambyism which was the ruling note of the age.” In addition to this, he inaugurated the policy of paying his authors liberally. Mr. Longfellow received $50, and often more, for a poem. The song writer, George P. Morris, received that much in advance for any song he chose to write, no matter how bad it might be. Fenimore Cooper was paid $1800 for The Islets of the Gulf (Jack Tier), which Graham himself admitted did not bring him a single new subscriber, and others were well paid in proportion. Engravings sometimes cost from $100 to $200 a plate, and with printing and fancy paper ran well up to $500. In short, Mr. Graham was lavish in his outlay, and it paid. Unfortunately there was one exception to this policy of generosity. The young editor of Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine — “embracing [page 388:] every department of literature, embellished with engravings, fashions, and music arranged for a piano-forte, harp and guitar” — received a salary which can only be described as meager. It was $800 a year.

For the articles and poems, that he contributed in addition to his regular work, Poe was doled a small rate per page that made the remuneration of Longfellow, and others, look princely. Perhaps this private fact was not without its bearing upon Poe’s attitude towards some of the more fortunate New Englanders, the luster of whose names was, at least in this respect, more golden. There can be no doubt that he had been prevailed upon to suspend the Penn only by the promise from Mr. Graham of a substantial increase of salary at the end of six months, and the prospect of a partial ownership in his magazine at the end of a year. Mr. Graham began with 5,000 subscribers; in about a year and a half he had nearly 40,000. Whatever part the proprietor’s business judgment may have played in this then phenomenal success, it must be admitted that most of it was due to Poe, who, from February, 1841, to April, 1842, practically reigned supreme.

Yet, tragically enough, it was this very success that made Mr. Graham reluctant to share it with his editor, or to take part with him in his darling free-lance venture. Poe, however, continued to cling to the idea of his own magazine to the last. His experience with George Rex Graham was only a repetition, on a larger and more affable scale, of his associations with White and Burton. Again the fatal “irregularities” played their part, this time more seriously, and again the ghost of being his own manager haunted the scene and kept him from giving himself wholly to his position.

Small as was the remuneration which Poe received from Mr. Graham in comparison with that of other contributors,(568) it constituted the best offer which he had ever received, one which, in his desperate circumstances, he could not think of disregarding. The Penn project was therefore temporarily allowed to lapse, and on February 20, 1841, the Saturday Evening Post announced that the Penn was “suspended,” because of the extreme financial stringency of the times, from which magazines were the first to suffer. Nor was this an unlikely excuse. The Bank of the United States had closed its doors after borrowing some $13,000,000 from other Philadelphia banks, many of which immediately succumbed. Poe was paid a considerable compliment in the notice, and it was announced that this “stern, just, and competent critic would now assume the editorial chair at Graham’s.” Many of Poe’s [page 389:] friends, especially at the South, were greatly disappointed by the announcement. John Tomlin wrote him from Jackson, Tennessee, “Have you indefinitely postponed the publication of the Penn Magazine? If so, your friends here are grievously disappointed . . . .” and F. W. Thomas, from Washington where he had lately gone to obtain a government position:

Washington City, March 7, 1841

MY DEAR POE, — Your humble servant hafls for the present from this land of excitement and rascality. I am here scribblmg about matters and things. I have been in Washington this week past, Dow, whom I see frequently, told me that you had given up the idea of the Penn and was engaged with Graham. I regret that you have been prevented from carrying out that glorious enterprise at present, but you’ll do it yet. . . . .

I hope, my dear Poe, that you are well and doing well; before long, that is, in a month or so, I hope to take you by the hand. My respects to your mother and lady. Dow is well — and I hope in spite of his Locofocoism will retain his office. Write me if you please, as soon as convenient, as I must answer the proposition I have spoken of above.

P. S. Please direct to me to Washington and not St. Louis.

“The proposition” was a proposal by Thomas to write a serial novel for Graham’s Magazine, to which end the good offices of Poe might be expected. Nor was Thomas’s removal from St. Louis to the capital, and his reference to politics, without a particular bearing upon Poe. Thomas, as we have seen, had been a hearty supporter of Harrison, who had been inaugurated only nine days before this letter was written. Harrison had known Thomas’s father very well, and soon found a government position for the son. It was the purpose of Thomas to obtain a government clerkship for Poe, which he would very likely have done, had not the death of the old Whig hero on May 4, 1841, upset not only the plans of his friends, but the entire policy of his party. Tyler succeeded, to whom Thomas was less well known, and the effect was adverse to Poe as we shall see.

The offices of Graham’s Magazine were located at Third and Chestnut Streets, on the top floor of the old Philadelphia Ledger Building, the Dollar Newspaper, in which Poe afterward published The Gold Bug, being on the floor immediately underneath. Here Poe came regularly almost every day, from the house on Coates Street, clear on the other side of town. It was from this chair in Graham’s office that he now began to turn off the reviews and the stories which, for the next year and a half, continued to thrill the readers of the magazine and to add so much to his own reputation. Some of his best work was done here between periods of opening the mail, sorting the manuscripts, and preparing the copy for new issues — an editorial function, which, with his knowledge and interest in printing, and the methods of illustration then in vogue — he was able to perform peculiarly well. [page 390:]

In the mornings, it was the custom of Mr. Graham and his wife, who now lived in considerable style, to drive up in their carriage; climb up the three flights to the office; and scissor the piles of morning mail, taking out the bank-notes and bills that now rolled in with increasing regularity, but leaving the answering of the correspondence to Mr. Poe and his assistants. Graham and his spouse then departed with the roll of money to change it as rapidly as possible, and to the greatest advantage, at the shops of the money-changers along the street just below. This regular matutinal pilfering undoubtedly disgusted the young editor upon whose shoulders most of the burden fell, and played its part in his leaving the paper soon after. The morning harvest for the next two years was always large, but in it he had little share. By July, 1841, the subscription list had arisen to 20,000, which promised a gross harvest of about $60,000 to Mr. Graham for the first six months of his venture, and brought a profit to him of about $15,000 at the end of a year.

Graham’s, indeed, rapidly came to be the most important and busiest magazine office in the United States. Situated in the great publishing center of the country, about it gathered a bevy of interesting personalities — writers, artists, printers, and engravers — and if nothing else, the worldly importance which the chair at its editorial desk temporarily conferred upon Poe was grateful to a soul which hungered and thirsted for admiration and recognition.

In the same room with Poe, but at another desk, sat Charles J. Peterson, aa able assistant editor. He was of Swedish descent, and one of a family of Philadelphia magazine dabblers and printers. His brothers, Theophilus Beasely Peterson and George Thomas Peterson, were much in and out, being minor editors and publishers themselves. A little later they set up shop at 306 Chestnut Street, and began to issue cheap stereotyped books of popufer authors at twenty-five cents a copy aaci less, an unheard-of feat at that time. All the latest publishing and printing ideas Were in the air, and were discussed diligently by the black-stocked and gentlemen who dropped in to listen to George Graham’s spritely and pleasant conversation, in hopes, perhaps, of an invitation to his famous dinner table.

There were also artists: Thomas Sully, occasionally, who did much work for Graham; a host of minor but clever illustrators; Barley, and the Englishman John Sartain, one of the foremost engravers of the time, whom Sully had prevailed upon to come to America, where he throve at his art and made enough money to enter the magazine field later on, to his own undoing, with Sartain’s Union Magazine. It was Sartain to whom Poe afterward offered the final manuscript of The Raven, and it was he who published posthumously the last draft of [page 391:] The Bells. Thomas Dunn English was much about the place, as was Captain Mayne Reid, a rather charming novelist who looked like Napoleon in, and was the author of a novel called Afloat in the Forest, a tale of a white family adrift on a huge log down the Amazon, that appeared serially in Our Young Folks, and intrigued a generation of breathless little boys. He and English frequently walked home with Poe to Coates Street, and later on to the Spring Garden house. Charles Alexander, Burton’s printer, had been retained. He was a good friend of Poe. Nor was there any lack of more distinguished visitors.

These made it a point when in the “Quaker City” to call upon Mr. Graham and the much feared Mr. Poe to peddle their wares to the highest bidder then in the field; and always to take dinner With Mr. and Mrs. Graham, who spent much of their new wealth on a lavish table and house, bidding all the live spirits of their world in to dine on the best the land afforded. These parties were brilliant, and were long remembered.

Mr. and Mrs. George Rex Graham had provided themselves with a rather handsome house on Arch Street, whence Mrs. Graham drove out daily behind a fine team of greys that attracted attention even in Philadelphia, a city that went in for smart turnouts. It was her custom at times to call for Virginia, when the pair would drive back down Chestnut Street shopping at the smart Philadelphia stores, after the manner of womankind. To be sure, Mrs. Graham did all of the shopping, although this was the most prosperous time that Virginia and Mrs. Clemm were ever to know. Poe had provided Virginia with a harp, a little pianoforte, and a few luxuries of prettiness in dress in which she and her mother reveled.(569) Sometimes the trip may have ended, as many such a trip did terminate, at Eugene Roussel’s store at 114 Chestnut Street, with the black bear in the window, where one of the earliest soda-water fountains in the country was installed. Such trips would be rare, however, and long remembered. The year 1841 was the last in which Virginia was really able to go about much. Speaking of Poe’s manner of life at this time, Graham afterward remarked:

I shall never forget how solicitous of the happiness of his wife and mother-in-law he was, whilst one of the editors of Graham’s Magazine, his whole efforts seemed to be to procure the comfort and welfare of his home. Except for their happiness and the natural ambition of having a magazine of his own, I never heard him deplore the want of wealth. The truth is he cared little for money, and knew less of its value, for he seemed to have no personal expenses! What [page 392:] he received from me in regular monthly installments went directly into the hands of his mother-in-law for family comforts; and twice only I remember his purchasing some rather expensive luxuries for his house, and then he was nervous to the degree of misery until he had, by extra articles, covered what he considered an imprudent indebtedness. His love for his wife was a sort of rapturous worship of the spirit of beauty which he felt was fading before his eyes. I have seen him hovering around her when she was ill, with all the fond fear and tender anxiety of a mother for her first born — her slightest cough causing in him a shudder, a breast chill that was visible. . . .(570)

It seems certain that the year 1841 was one of the times when Poe was most free from his besetting troubles, poverty, and the depressed physical state which led to the use of stimulants. It was probably at this time that Mrs. Clemm began to gather about her a few household articles, the straight-backed flower painted chairs, the brown china with the Chinese river scenes on it,(571) the four-poster beds, curtains, a tea set, and deep-grained, red carpets in which Poe so delighted. All of these were lost a few years later in the desperate poverty that overtook her before the move to New York.

The warning of the breakdown at the end of 1840 had not been without its lesson, and for the next nine months or so, during the first part of his reign at Graham’s, Poe braced up, as the importance of his new position demanded. Then the old troubles returned and be began to be “irregular.” This period marks a peak, perhaps the crest, of his creative faculties.(572) As it was, even then life was not without its temptations. There were those suppers and dinners at Mr. Graham’s on Arch Street.

To facilitate hospitality, Mr. Graham had a door broken through the party wall between his own house and that of Elijah Van Sychel, a wine merchant on Second Street, and the best of vintages flowed, from an inexhaustible supply, through this private way onto the great oval table in Graham’s dining-room beneath a chandelier of bubble crystals purchased from a defunct theater. Here, about a table set under the crystal-twinkling candles, in a room full of mirrors, Poe’s especial abomination, Mr. Graham gathered about him the writing and artistic fraternity of the city: the artists Thomas [page 393:] Sully, Darley, Robert Bud, and Sartain; N. P. Willis, when he was in Philadelphia; Judge Conrad, Thomas Dunn English, Louis A. Godey, Mrs. Hale, the Petersons, T. C. Clarke, Rufus Griswold, and the “sweet lady writer,” Grace Greenwood. Even Henry Clay came there once to dine, and to toast the delightful Mrs. Graham, who presided over the Philadelphia prodigality of her table with a happy and memorable charm.(573) Poe was often seen at the board, coming with a sleeveless mantle thrown over one shoulder; in the inevitable suit of raven black, hoping to be seated next to Thomas Sully, to whom he could talk of Robert and of old Richmond days, and hear of his friends. Here it was, too, that he often, and for a while pleasantly, found himself face to face with his future biographer, Griswold, while story and anecdote followed the bowl, and the bottles appeared mysteriously through the so convenient private door. The candles frequently burned low before they rose. It was delightful, and it was hard to withstand.

But there was a reverse to this convivial and social medal which was not so bright. Mrs. Clemm, it appears, was much worried by these dinners at Graham’s and would wait late in the kitchen to take Poe home. Characteristically enough, she also brought a basket, and fragments of the feast accompanied her home with Eddie, who otherwise was given to dropping in for a few brandies with Henry B, Hirst, or absinthe with Sartain — then almost anything might happen. It might be Front Street or Lower Dock, and another spell in bed. For a while, though, all went well — Mr. Poe was regularly and hard at work.

Besides the usual routine involved in the editing and makeup of a large magazine, Poe proved himself of great value to his proprietor by his ability to secure for the columns of his periodical the magnet of well-known names. A considerable portion of his time through the Spring of 1841 was taken up in writing to various American authors asking them to contribute. This correspondence frequently took the form of circular letters, only slightly altered to suit the individual case. He was quite skilful in drafting these, and the response was often cordial. Poe had followed the same scheme successfully with both White and Burton, but in Graham’s case he had the added bait of high pay to sweeten the lure, and the pages of a really important publication to open to his correspondents.

In the Spring and Summer of 1841, he wrote to Washington [page 394:] Irving, Fenimore Cooper, Fitz-Greene Halleck, N. P. Willis, and several others, asking their cooperation. These letters were peculiar, however, in that they were not only a plea in disguised form for Graham’s, but also show that Poe had taken seriously Mr. Graham’s promise to aid in the establishing of the new magazine in which Poe was to have a proprietary interest. In short, Poe could not drop the darling idea of the Penn or a similar periodical, as this letter to Longfellow typical of many others, plainly shows:

Philadelphia, June 22, 1841

DEAR SIR, — Your letter of the igth May was received. I regret to find my anticipations confirmed, and that you cannot make it convenient to accept Mr. Graham’s proposition. Will you now pardon me for making another?

I need not call your attention to the signs of the times in respect to magazine literature. You will admit the tendency of the age lies in this way — so far at least as regards the lighter letters. The brief, the terse, the condensed, and the easily circulated, will take the place of the diffuse, the ponderous, and the inaccessible. Even our reviews, (lucus a non lucendo) are found too massive for the taste of the day. I do not mean for the taste of the tasteless, but for that of the few. In the meantime the finest minds of Europe are beginning to lend their spirit to magazines. In this country, unhappily, we have not any journal of the class which either can afford to offer pecuniary inducement to the highest talent, or which would be, in all respects, a fitting vehicle for its thoughts. In the supply of this deficiency there would be a point gained; and in the hope of at least partially supplying it, Mr. Graham and myself propose to establish a Magazine. . . .

Poe then continues with a description of the format which he regards ideal, the hope of gaining noted contributors, and a request to Longfellow to furnish one paper each month — “prose or poetry, absolute, or serial.”

This letter, and its several copies despatched to others, is remarkable for bringing out the strong and weak points of Poe’s judgment. His literary analysis of the time is excellent. Indeed, many of his remarks about the reviews “read and not read” apply today, but his lack of foresight and a knowledge of human nature in supposing that Mr. Graham would give up the then so profitable magazine he already owned, to embark on a totally new venture, merely to carry out the pet literary theories of his assistant editor, is almost childish. Nor is it likely that Graham relished the implied criticism of the magazine which Poe was then editing for him in such letters as these. News of such correspondence as this must inevitably have come to his ears, as it had come to Burton’s, and have made the ensuing parting with Poe less hard to bear. Poe had also written John P. Kennedy a somewhat similar note in June, in which [page 395:] he also asked for a novel. Mr. Kennedy had been elected to Congress, however, and did not comply.(574)

Through the Summer and Fall of 1841, Poe also continued his quite intimate correspondence with Dr. Snodgrass of Baltimore, who contributed several items to Graham’s, one of which Poe says the “proof reader” spoiled. At the same time, its author was appearing in Godey’s. A contract to write exclusively for Godey’s prevented N. P. Willis from contributing to Graham’s.(575) The first correspondence between him and Poe bears the date of November 30, 1841, but there had evidently been considerable previous intercourse. Mr. Willis was later on to play an important role in the affairs of Poe. Poe had evidently been using a little “diplomacy” to get around the contract difficulty with Godey, and Mr. Willis’s letter appears to be a little surprised in tone.

That Poe regarded even the important post on Graham’s as only a temporary makeshift, and that he chafed under his poverty, is plainly brought out as early as May 20, 1841, when the first definite suggestion of a federal office, which for the next two years continued to agitate them both, was made by his friend, F. W. Thomas, himself on the national payroll at Washington. Mr. Thomas’s account of the duties implied, and the leisure left over for literary-minded gentlemen is alluring:


. . . How would you like to be an office holder here at $1500 per year payable monthly by Uncle Sam, who, however slack he may be to his general creditors, pays his officials with due punctuality. How would you like it? You stroll to your office a little after nine in the morning leisurely, and you stroll from it a little after two in the afternoon homeward to dinner and return no more that day. If, during office hours, you have anything to do, it is an agreeable relaxation from the monotonous laziness of the day. You have on your desk everything in the writing line in apple-pie order, and if you choose to lucubrate in a literary way, why you can lucubrate. . . .

We can be sure that Mr. Poe would have liked this very well indeed. The young man who had found time to compose poems on the counter at Ellis & Allan, some years before, would have known well how to take advantage of the strolling leisure and the writing materials in “apple-pie order.” Mr. Thomas was already “lucubrating” considerably himself while drawing down $1,000 a year, Poe [page 396:] replied on June 26, 1841, congratulating Thomas, and suddenly discovering that he himself was an ardent Whig, — one who had “battled with right good-will for Harrison, when opportunity offered.” Alas! that good man was dead! “With Mr. Tyler I have some slight personal influence, although it is a matter which he has possibly forgotten,” Poe adds — but, “I am a Virginian — at least I call myself one” — and it is not to be forgotten that President Tyler had been born in old Charles City County, the oldest part of the Old Dominion.

A few days later Thomas writes again, urging Poe to come to Washington, and suggesting that his old friend John P. Kennedy might be induced to help with his newly acquired congressional influence.(574) Poe would like to have gone and replied:

I wish to God I could visit Washington, but — the old story you know — I have no money; not enough to take me there, to say nothing of getting back. It is hard to be poor, but as I am kept so by an honest motive I dare not complain. . . . I would be glad to get almost any appointment, even a $500.00 one, so that I have something independent of letters for a subsistence. To coin one’s brain into silver, at the nod of a master, is, to my thinking, the hardest task in the world. . . .

Here in a nutshell we have Poe’s own objection to magazine work, and here the matter rested for some time. Thomas saw Kennedy, who promised to help, and drew the attention of the President’s sons to Poe’s articles. Poe on his part began to find great merits in Robert Tyler’s poetry — the matter dragged on.(576)

The Spring of 1842 had been productive of many interviews and meetings which initiated some of the most important friendships and acquaintances of Poe’s life. Perhaps the most far-reaching of these was his encounter with Rufus Wilmot Griswold.

The Reverend Mr. Griswold, for such was the gentleman’s rightful title, had been born at Benson, Vermont, in 1815, and in his early days had traveled both abroad and in the United States. He had been a kind of printer-publisher’s apprentice for some time, but had later on taken up the study of theology and become a Baptist clergyman. He left that, even then, unlucrative profession, to become an editor, a compiler, and perhaps, on the whole, the most competent hack writer about personalities in the United States. There were no authors, then of any note or even glimmering obscurity in the United States, whom Mr. Griswold did not in a sketchy way know all about. His editing of various works of sundry kinds, and his connections with various periodicals had given him a cannily clever [page 397:] insight into the lives, tendencies, and ambitions of his contemporaries. In addition to this he possessed a too shrewd natural insight. Had he not been so shrewd about personalities he might have been more literary. The Reverend Doctor’s attack on Poe after the latter’s death, and a certain flair tor petty treachery, combined with his subtle methods of invigoMtiag truth with a speclotis dose of pmbable lies, has induced a large number of his biographers, and especially the protagonists of Poe, to surmise that Rufus Griswold was provided with a dash of canine blood on his mother’s side, Lowell, who was not given to invective, once remarked that “the Reverend Mr. Griswold is an ass, and, what’s more, a knave.” This was going it a bit too far, however. The truth seems to be that his knavery was very careful and his asininity somewhat encyclopaedias Perhaps the most serious charge against him is that he was the first “great” American anthologist.

Poe met Griswold in Philadelphia sometime in the early Spring of 1841, when the Doctor was engaged in preparing and publishing his Poets and Poetry of America, a book that appeared the following year and subsequently went through some twenty-nine editions. Poe had not been writing poetry for some time. Prose, and the press of much journalistic business had forbidden. He had not forgotten, however, his first literary love. The three early volumes had been constantly called upon for revised republication here and there, and Griswold’s anthology was an opportunity not to be missed. Griswold, on his part, was anxious to do a favor for the rising young editor of Graham’s; and in March, 1841, some correspondence and talk evidently passed between them, with the result that several of Poe’s poems and a sketch of his life — very sketchy and misleading, indeed — were included in the new anthology with a modest meed of praise by Griswold.(577) The most memorable poem of Poe’s which was accepted was The Haunted Palace, which Poe claimed, but mistakenly, that Longfellow had plagiarized in his Beleaguered City. Significantly enough, Poe remarks to Griswold that, “by the ‘Haunted [page 398:] Palace’ I meant to imply a mind haunted by phantoms — a disordered brain.” For the time being, all was pleasant between these two young men, whose association was so mutually disastrous to both.

The first feeling of jealousy arose between them because Griswold, above all things, hoped to be a poet himself, but his performance in the creative field was lamentable, and Poe took no care to disguise his contempt. On the other hand, no praise which Griswold could have bestowed on Poe would have been sufficient to the poet’s praise-hungry ears. The modest draught which he did receive, he felt to be an insult. In short, he was classed as an equal of many and the inferior of a few. It was a critical estimate which he never forgave. Shortly afterward, Griswold appeared as an editorial rival for Poe’s own chair; Poe made fun of the anthology in a public lecture; and the foundations for a hatred that has followed both beyond the grave were thus satisfactorily laid. These petty causes seem out of all proportion to the dire results. Yet no one could be more biting than Poe when he chose to be. Speaking of the North American Review and its coterie, which he especially loathed, he once closed an acid paragraph with an extract from Sterne’s Letter from France: “As we rode along the valley we saw a herd of asses on the top of one of the mountains — how they viewed and reviewed us!”

About midsummer Poe again addressed Lea & Blanchard on the subject of getting out another edition of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, in which were to be included his new stories of The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Descent into the Maelström, lately brought out in Graham’s. “The new pieces will be eight in number, making the entire collection thirty-three, which will occupy two thick novel volumes.” Once again, he was forced to propose that all the profits should go to the publishers, his only reward to be twenty copies for himself. Even this, however, was not attractive to Lea & Blanchard, who replied immediately:

August 16, 1841


. . . In answer we very much regret to say that the state of affairs is such as to ghre little encouragement to undertakings. As yet we have not got through the edition of the other work, and up to this time it has not returned us the expense of the publication . . . etc.

“The state of affairs” obviously refers to the chronic condition of financial panic and publishing difficulties at the time, from which Poe suffered in several ways. It is safe to say that the same tales have, in various editions and publications, been reprinted thousands of times in many languages. To their author they brought nothing [page 399:] but a few complimentary copies, and the small price paid for them by magazines. Fame has been his only reward.

Poe, like all the other American authors of his time, suffered from a publishing and printing situation in the United States, purely legal and economic in its nature, which for many decades, from 1815 to the early ‘90s of the last century, exercised a controlling influence on American literature. The erudite and abstract minds which, for the most part, in critical and academic circles manufacture the literary comment and authoritative judgments upon the literature of the past, seem wholly ignorant of or oblivious to the fact that, in order to have any voice in the choir of his era, an author must first get himself printed and then widely published, i.e., distributed. In this mechanical and economic process, his artistic or purely literary merit is, during his lifetime, only too often a negligible factor. No matter what the literary merit of a work may be, unless it be embodied in a book it can never be known. This patent and obvious fact, and the purely practical factors which govern it, are scarcely even commented upon by those who deal, afterward, with the content of literature from a detached and artistic standpoint.

That the clauses of a nation’s copyright laws may very largely determine the forms of its literature and dictate inevitably the whole trend of a literary epoch, is too obvious a consideration to intrigue the minds of critics intent upon nice abstractions. A study of the correspondence of American publishing houses during the last century largely explains, upon this practical basis, the whole trend and condition of American literature. As one turns the faded leaves of the copy books of, say, Harpers, Carey & Lea, Longman & Company, etc., it soon becomes patent that the popularity of foreign authors in the United States, and the permanence of their reputation, were more the result of the conditions of copyright law, than of their own inherent merit. In all this, the advance in the art of printing, the skill and the wages of the printer and binder, and the morals of the book trade played an inevitable part.

The result of the law of copyright in the United States during the Nineteenth Century, and the publishing conditions it evoked, was to create for all American novelists, poets, and authors of any books whatsoever, a tremendous handicap in the race for fame in America, particularly with English writers. In the final analysis it was a wall which no single American author of the early Nineteenth Century was ever fully able to surmount during his lifetime.(578) [page 400:]

Stated briefly and baldly, the situation of American publishing, and therefore of American letters, from the close of the War of 1812, and for many decades thereafter, was conditioned by the fact that the financial survival of American printers and publishers was wholly dependent upon the number and the rapidity with which they could pirate the editions of English and other current foreign books. Up until 1812 the processes of printing and the means of transportation were so slow and precarious that, although there was a considerable reprinting and importation of English classics through ordinary channels, there was no thought or opportunity of exploiting such a trade, any more than a publisher might now be said to be “exploiting” Byron by offering a new edition of his works. With the new generation after the War of 1812, however, both the taste for reading, and the facilities for printing and importation had entirely altered. Letters from even such then remote places as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Augusta, Georgia, show that cheap English novels were all the rage. To publish an American novel or any native book, implied the purchase of copyright from the author, or at least a royalty, followed by the laborious printing of it from handwritten manuscript. On the other hand to bring out an English novel, or an English translation of a French or German book, required no payments to the author whatever. All that was necessary was a single copy of the book. The main point of success was to be first in the field. Thus the publishing house that first obtained a copy of a new foreign book skimmed the cream off the sales. To obtain such copies even a few hours in advance, there were no lengths to which publishers were not prepared to go.

Large publishing houses had their English scouts, sometimes an employee of an English firm, or the firm itself. These agents forwarded the proof or the advance copies of a first edition by “the first and swiftest sailing vessel.” Swift schooners and sloops were employed to meet these vessels at sea, or at the outer anchorage, where the books were transferred and brought in a few hours or a day in advance, thus insuring a gain in time, which was the deciding factor. Travelers were importuned, and their books bought at preposterous prices. Many an English gentleman found that the novels he had laid in, to while away the tedious hours of a voyage, constituted an unexpected and handsome investment. The volume having once been obtained, its binding was torn off; the leaves distributed among a gang of swift compositors, and, without even the trouble of calculating the page make-up, by evening the work was in frames; the presses went all night, and, by evening of the next day, a new American edition of Scott, Byron, Miss Porter, Miss Edgeworth, [page 401:] Moore, Burney, Lady Morgan, Leigh Hunt or someone else was on its way to booksellers all over the country. If necessary, all the seats in the outgoing stages would be hired to carry the books. For instance, one publisher writes:

MR. JOHN MILLER, June 17, 1823,

We have rec’d Quentin Durward most handsomely and have the Game completely in our own hands this time. In 28 hours after receiving it, we had 1500 copies sent off or ready to go, and the whole Edition is now nearly distributed. In two days we shall publish it here and in New York and the Pirates may print it as soon as they please. The opposition Edition will be out in 48 hours after they have one of our copies but we shall have complete and entire possession of every market in the Country for a short time. Independently of profit, it is in the highest degree gratifying to be able to manage the matter in our own way without fear of interference . . . etc.(578)

This was publishing with a vengeance! A whole volume might be devoted to the elaboration and proof of the strange conditions of bookselling and publishing in early Nineteenth Century America. Even a glimpse is illuminating. The opinion, so generally held, that the intellectual and social background of America was incapable, for a long period, of producing any considerable number of able writers, rests on a conclusion which has been arrived at for the most part without a knowledge of the controlling facts. Under the existing copyright laws, the only salvation for American authors lay in the limited output of English books. Unfortunately for Americans, the English were prolific.

When Scott appeared, one immensely popular novel followed another in quick succession. The American public after devouring the latest, looked for the next. Hardly had Scott ceased to produce when Dickens, ably seconded by Marryat, began a series equally popular; and, when Marryat fell out, Benjamin Disraeli was ready to fill the gap. From Waverley in 1814, to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1870, the year that did not produce at least one highly popular British novel was a barren one. Against this continuous stream the American novelist was compelled to wage a bitter struggle.(578)

The struggle, from the standpoint of the creation of a native literature in the United States, was largely in vain. America was annually flooded with English books; the prestige of wide and international fame went to foreigners; and the native writer had to combat, not only the vast difficulty of getting published at all, but along with it, the suspicion that he was a provincial tyro. “Who reads an American book?” asked a famous English critic. Who, indeed! When six books out of ten that got printed even in the United States were English.

Against this condition and the reading prejudices which it evoked, Poe with others waged a ceaseless and a futile battle. That his [page 402:] collected tales did not sell even 750 copies in a single year was no comment on their literary quality; the miracle was that they had been published at all. “The state of affairs is such,” say Lea & Blanchard — and it certainly was. Only by waiving his royalty could Poe appear at all. The price of American books was always higher than that of English, as the royalty was necessarily included in a native production. Cooper went through a series of failures. Carey & Lea lost $2,600 on one of Cooper’s novels alone. Washington Irving, by the 1840’s, found difficulty in getting his work published with even a decent royalty, and was thwarted in obtaining an edition of over 2,500. His hopes for fine editions and an adequate format were regarded as the dreams of eccentric luxury. In March, 1842, he is offered “the . . . present arrangement for two years at one thousand dollars per annum and include the right to publish Astoria, Miscellany, etc., in it. Or if you wish to publish Mohamet this spring and the two volumes of tales mentioned in your letter . . .” and this represented the ne plus ultra to the “prince of American authors.” Dorr’s Rebellion in Rhode Island, the failure of the United States Bank, the suspension of interest, even on state deposits, by banks in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and the disastrous disorganization of the currency, completed the scene of gloom in which Poe had appeared with his Grotesques and Arabesques. Poe was only one of many. He was in fact typical of all:

J. FENIMORE COOPER Esq., Nov. 13, 1834

We wish to remark that we have been compelled to sell Books cheaper than we did formerly. When your early works were published English novels retailed for $1.50 and American could be sold at $2. Now the other retails at $i, and the other at about $1.50 less. . . .(578)

William Gilmore Simms labored under similar difficulties and could get his books set up only slowly, chapter by chapter in small editions, while his publishers were using as many as ten or twelve printing firms at a time to rush through an English novel. This discouraging process is shown in the following letter to Robert Carey, the publisher in Philadelphia:

Woodland, 5th May


I sent you some time since seven Chapters of B. B. — To Mr. Beite. I have just transmitted the conclusion of Vol. 1 together with a portion 64 pages — of Vol. 2 inc. I trust you receive (them) safely . . . . etc.(579)

The result of all these exasperating delays, small royalties and failures, lack of prestige, and ceaseless competition was to discourage any but the most determined American writers from writing [page 403:] novels or works that required the dignity of book form. Hence innumerable magazines flourished, and the short story became the favored medium and fast developed form. Poe wrote short stories, not because he regarded them as a great art form, but because no other form would pay. American novels were almost driven out of existence, verse was confined to magazines, and the cheap pamphleted English plays flooded the market. The only recourse for an American writer was to write for the magazine, or even newspaper field; or to become one of a group such as the transcendentalists, who manufactured their own audience, In the sparsely settled South, plantation distances made such groups impossible. Coteries were therefore confined to New England, or to one or two cities where a few American authors asserted themselves like Kennedy, Bayard Taylor, or the Knickerbockers. New England was the most self-conscious and best organized native audience, and there a few American books actually sold. Elsewhere the foreign flood washed clear over literary heads. Philadelphia was the great American publishing center, but it published English books. The cause had been enacted by the Congress into a federal statute for the encouragement and protection of authors.

In considering the desperate and sometimes ignoble and petty lengths to which Poe, Longfellow, Lowell, and others went to obtain publication and an adequate hearing, the conditions of the time must be borne in mind. Had even the best of authors not so, the ranks of the mute and inglorious Miltons would have augmented, and posterity have been none the wiser. The end, in this case, justified the means. It was a case of survival and existence; right and meet so to do. The protests of two generations of thwarted and impoverished American authors were inaudible at Washington. At last, the publishers, and the printers’ union took a hand in the matter, the copyright law was changed, and the professors and critics began to proclaim a new era in American literature. The cause was so close under their noses that they had overlooked it entirely. Only the publishers knew, and with them it was a trade secret.

Despite the failure of Poe’s friends to obtain a government sinecure for him by political influence, and the refusal of his publishers to bring out a new edition of his tales, there was never a time in his life when there were so few clouds visible on the horizon; when his prospects appeared so bright as in the Summer and Autumn of 1841. He was, apparently for him, fairly well; and, for the time being, he braced himself to-meet the responsibilities of the new position by letting stimulants alone. He was the respected and feared editor and critic of an important, if not the most important, magazine in [page 404:] the country. Although comparatively poor, his home was comfortable and even pretty. Virginia’s health had not yet broken fatally, and she was still able to accompany him on Sunday rambles or picnics’ up the Wissahickon. Above all he was growing in fame, and, for the time being, seemed surrounded by friends old and new. These delighted to gather at the Coates Street house, kept spotless by Mrs. Clemm, who managed Poe’s bank account carefully.(570) She and Virginia added all they could by taking in sewing. Virginia was now eighteen, but a friend who knew her then says, “She hardly looked more than fourteen.” One can see her in a poke bonnet with “her round full face and figure, pouting lips, a forehead too high and broad for beauty, and bright black eyes and ravenblack hair, contrasting almost startlingly with a white colorless complexion,”(580) dressed in some simple white dress, and leaning upon Edgar’s arm as he wandered with her on Sunday afternoons through the fashionable shades of Laurel Hill Cemetery, among the cypress and weeping willow trees. Other gentlemen with tall beaver hats, with other drooping ladies, also leaning upon black broadclothed arms, passed them solemnly. The birds sang and flashed from tomb to tomb. “It is a theme,” says the editress of Godey’s Lady’s Book, “upon the beauties of which we could expatiate for hours” — and she did.(581)

Summer afternoons, the gentlemen exercised their tandems about Brown’s Chinese Pagoda, or there were walks to be taken over the old, arched, covered bridge (which looked like a long, badly bent canal boat with Grecian ambitions) to the Fairmount Water Works, where the white Ionic pillars were mirrored in the river and the reservoirs. Poe must have gone swimming in the river when it was hot. Virginia loved to watch him, as she did later on in New York. And there were boat trips, perhaps with the Detwilers. The family appears never to have gone to church. On “First Day” mornings (for Philadelphia kept Quaker Sabbath rather than Sunday) Poe would sometimes rise early and scull up to the then remote and rural valley of the Wissahickon to dream beside some quiet meadow bank. Of one such adventure, perhaps of many, he has left us a delightful record in —


by Edgar A. Poe

It was not until Fanny Kemble, in her droll book about the United States, pointed out to the Philadelphians the rare loveliness of a stream which lay at [page 405:] their own doors, that this loveliness was more than suspected by a few adventurous pedestrians of the vicinity. But, the Journal having opened all eyes, the Wissahiccon, to a certain extent, rolled at once into notoriety. I say ‘to a certain extent’ for, in fact, the true beauty of the stream lies far above the route of the Philadelphian picturesque-hunters, who rarely proceed farther than a mile or two above the mouth of the riverlet — for the very excellent reason that here the carriage-road stops. I would advise the adventurer who would behold its finest points to take the Ridge Road, running westwardly from the city, and, having reached the second lane beyond the sixth mile-stone, to follow this lane to its termination. He will thus strike the Wissahiccon, at one of its best reaches, and, in a skiff, or by ctenbering along its banks, he can go up or down the stream, as best suits his fancy, and in either direction will meet his reward.

I have already said, or should have said, that the brook is narrow. Its banks are generally, indeed, almost universally, precipitous, and consist of high hills, clothed with noble shrubbery near the water, and crowned at a greater elevation with some of the most magnificent forest trees of America . . . that define the moss covered bank, against which the pellucid water lolls its gentle flow, as the blue waves of the Mediterranean upon the steps of her palaces of marble. Occasionally in front of the cliffs, extends a small definite plateau of richly herbaged land, affording the most picturesque position for a cottage and garden which the richest imagination could conceive. The windings of the stream are many and abrupt, as is usually the case where banks are precipitous, and thus the impression conveyed to the voyager’s eye, as he proceeds, is that of an endless succession of infinitely varied small lakes, or more properly speaking tarns. . . .

Not long ago I visited the stream by the route described, and spent the better part of a sultry day in floating in a skiff upon its bosom. The heat gradually overcame me, and resigning myself to the influence of the scenes and of the weather, and of the gently moving current, I sank into a half slumber, during which my imagination revelled in visions of the Wissachiccon of ancient days — of the ‘ good old days’ when the Demon of the Engine was not, when picnics were undreamed of, where ‘water privileges’ were neither bought nor sold, and when the red man trod alone, with the elk, upon the ridges that now towered above. And, while gradually these conceits took possession of my mind, the lazy brook had borne me, inch by inch, around one promontory and within full view of another that bounded the prospect at the distance of fifty yards. It was a steep rocky cliff, abutting far into the stream, and presenting much more of the Salvator character than any portion of the shore hitherto passed. What I saw upon this cliff, although surely an object of very extraordinary nature, the place and season considered, at first neither startled nor amazed me — so thoroughly and appropriately did it chime in with the half-slumberous fancies that enwrapped me. I saw, or dreamed that I saw, standing upon the extreme verge of the precipice, with neck outstretched, with ears erect, and the whole attitude indicative of profound and melancholy inquisitiveness, one of the oldest and boldest of those identical elk which had been coupled with the red men of my vision.

I say that, for a few moments, this apparition neither startled nor amazed me. During this interval my whole soul was bound up in intense sympathy alone. I fancied the elk repining, not less than wondering, at the manifest alterations for the worse, wrought upon the brook and its vicinage, even within the last few years, by the stern hand of the utilitarian. But a slight movement of the animal’s head at once dispelled the dreaminess which wrested me, and aroused me to a full sense of the novelty of the adventure. I arose upon one knee within [page 406:] the skiff, and while I hesitated whether to stop my career, or let myself float nearer to the object of my wonder, I heard the words £ hist! hist! ‘ ejaculated quickly but cautiously, from the shrubbery overhead. In an instant afterward a negro emerged from the thicket, putting aside the bushes with care, and treading stealthily. He bore in one hand a quantity of salt, and, holding it towards the elk, gently yet steadily approached. The noble animal, although a little fluttered, made no attempt to escape. The negro advanced; offered the salt; and spoke a few words of encouragement or conciliation. Presently, the elk bowed and stamped, and then lay quietly down and was secured with a halter.

Thus ended my romance of the elk. It was a pet of great age and very domestic hotels, and belonged to an English family occupying a villa in the vicinity.

This obscure and little-known sketch of Poe’s shows him in the midst of his dreams in the kind of landscape that evoked them. How great was the influence of the artists and engravers of the time upon their own generation, and more particularly upon the landscapes, descriptions of which reappear in Poe’s stories, can only be understood by becoming familiar with the publications of the day. It is not an exaggeration to affirm that, through the medium of romantic art, they beheld a different world from ours; that their eyes were altered. It was the evoking of the dreams of his time in their perfect melancholy types, both in prose and poetry, which partly explains Poe’s place in literature. The perfection of the dreams of any age is always interesting. But there is another element that enters here. The complaint about the devastating hand of the utilitarian is typical. In the march of industrialism, Poe beheld the hand that was ruining the pastoral world into which he had been born, and still loved. Chimneys were already blowing their black clouds across his valley of the many-colored grass. He was one of the first to understand their implication and to complain. Where the elk stood, is to-day a landscape that is humanly intolerable, and “progress” is still at work.

“Never sing the Three [[Nine]] so well as when penniless,” remarked Poe in a review, but his whole life was a refutation of the theory that the poet is nourished by starved muses. Comfort and prosperity, marks on the whole lie most active creative period of his life.(572) Poe contributed largely to every number of Graham’s Magazine during that time, conducted an active correspondence, and overflowed into other public prints. In the two years mentioned he turned off no less than fifty-one reviews, nine new stories, and fifteen essays; reprinted two revised poems, and published two new ones. Besides all this, there may be some still untraced items, and there are definite indications that he was at work at home on some material which followed later.

The temper of Poe’s criticism in Graham’s had not changed essentially from that contributed to the Southern Literary Messenger some years before. It was, to be sure, a little more urbane and a little more [page 407:] worldly wise — and in this more kindly attitude he was warranted — for the books which now came to his hand for review happened to be on the whole rather better than those of the previous decade. The poetry was not qwte so saccharine, and the prose at least pretended, at times, to deal with the actual world. A review of Moore’s Alciphron in January, 1840, showed that Poe was under the spell of the age himself and still admired one of his first masters in poetry, for he hailed it as a masterpiece.(583) Longfellow came in for praise, and condemnation as a mere copyist, while Tennyson drew forth Poe’s whole admiration as the “greatest” of all English poets. It was probably more Tennyson’s skill in language than his philosophy which brought forth the praise. The prose reviews ranged from Seba Smith’s Powhatan to Macaulay’s Critical and Miscellaneous Essays. The total impression after turning over these now faded reviewer’s columns dealing with for the most part forgotten books, is that a brilliant critical mind, steeped in the maxims of Coleridge, and provided with curious insight and a clever dialectic, has been compelled to waste itself upon small fry.

When the occasion offered, there was never lacking something succinct and glittering to say. Unfortunately the occasional blast of a cannon meant for battle is lost amid the Sometimes petty, and often pedantic, crackle of firecrackers in which a Seba Smith goes down to a cricket’s Waterloo. Poe has been blamed for descending to correct the grammar or criticize the rhetoric of those he reviewed. At the time, this was one of the most valuable and practical services which an American critic could perform for his minor contemporaries. Macaulay used it in his reviews when necessary (that of the Reverend Robert Montgomery’s poems, for instance), and evinced the same anger at the vicious puffing which could project illiterate balderdash onto the library shelves of gentlemen. It was no small gain at the time to have it noised abroad that there was a critic on Graham’s whose sense of humor and sound technique delighted in exposing the ridiculous in grammar, logic, and imagery. A study of these, and the rest of Poe’s reviews, shows that from them may be culled expressions and dicta which shadow forth a critical philosophy, one of the most far ranging of its time and place. Above all they escaped the taint of being provincial, and were a genuine contribution to the body of American critical letters.

It was at this time, too, that Poe developed fully the tale of ratiocination and wrote The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, and A Descent into the Maelström. These stories present [page 408:] us with the last and most original prose hero he was to perfect, that of the Perfect Logician. In them the logical processes are stressed to the last degree.

Poe must have been considerably disturbed mentally by the kind of imagery and incident which he had found forced upon himself, by the dictates of his own nature, in the Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. He could not help but recognize that many of the implications of these stories were distinctly abnormal, particularly those which reveled in the horrible rendings of human flesh, blood, and the strange sex or sexless relations of the heroes and heroines. He now began to struggle against this — in 1841 — when for a while the stimulants seemed temporarily to have been let alone. Most alarming of all, perhaps, had been the fact that what he had so far written seemed inevitably to be thrust upon him. Now he determined to construct logically, to pick, and to choose deliberately.

Hence, the next dream-self or literary hero, who appears, is supposedly endowed with almost superhuman reason. He is the detective by logical method, the enemy of crime. The heroes of the stories no longer indulge in cannibal feasts themselves, or the rendings of bodies, but are the hunters down and the putative preventers of such things. Indeed, says Poe to himself, in effect, such things are not done by men — and he introduces a horrible ape to perform the abominations which his consciousness still insisted upon presenting.

The body was quite warm. Upon examining(584) it, many excoriations were perceived, no doubt occasioned by the violence with which it had been thrust up (the chimney). Upon the face were many severe scratches, and, upon the throat dark bruises, and deep indentations, of finger nails as if the deceased had been throttled to death. . . . The party made its way into a small paved yard in the rear of the building, where lay the corpse of the old lady, with her throat so entirely cut that, upon an attempt to raise her, the head fell off. The body as well as tie head, was fearfully mutilated — the former so much so as scarcely to retain any semblance of humanity. . . .

So in a vicious circle the “expert reasoner” came around again in spite of himself to the very thing he was trying to escape — dead women, their bodies horribly mutilated. There was no way out. Yet how desperately he tried. In the quiet Coates Street house, with Virginia or Mrs. Clemm sewing before the fire, visions of scenes so terrible as to sear the minds of generations thronged through the bulging head of the young man, who inscribed them carefully, in wonderful, sonorous English on rolls of blue paper meticulously pasted together.

The bedraggled corpse of Marie Rogêt lay before him on the banks of the Seine; or an enormous ape stuffed the naked body of a young [page 409:] girl, bitten and excoriated, up a lethal chimney. The tell-tale heart, his own diseased and palpitating organ, beat till it almost set its unhappy owner crazy; and he could feel it in imagination, throbbing there, a complete and horrible entity below the floor. Of all these things “Muddie,” poor simple “Muddie,” never complained. Her needle went on, and little Sis went upstairs coughing, to go to bed with Catarina the cat.

It was certainly one of the strangest households in the world. While Mrs. Clemm peeled potatoes, an ape plucked the hair off its victims. There is no use in detailing the fact that years before Poe may have read of an escaped ourang-outang in the files of an obscure Pennsylvania newspaper; or that a contemporary murder in New York filled the papers with the usual sickening details.(585) These may have pulled the trigger inside the head with the strange brain, but they do not account for the tremendous explosion which followed.

But, for the time being, the young editor at Graham’s continued to insist that he was the most reasonable of men. There was no cryptogram so subtle but that he could solve it. The magnificent (though imaginary) triumph of Poe in the “challenge to the world” issued some time before in Alexander’s Weekly was now recalled, to a larger “world.” In August, 1841, Poe solved in Graham’s a cryptogram sent him by Thomas from Washington, who replied that Poe’s articles on cryptography had there attracted much attention and had even been brought to the notice of the President’s sons. This, of course, with the federal job in view. (A system for the solution of puzzles might well interest the politicians!)

As a matter of fact, Poe did solve a number of cryptograms rather cleverly, and was forced to enter into an extensive correspondence with a number of people on the subject. By a wrong guess as to the author, he returned one to his friend Tomlin in Tennessee about this time and complains of the work involved. All of this was the same kind of thing that soon after entered into the exhibition of cipher solving in The Gold Bug. It was a mysterious realm in which he [page 410:] could seem to reign triumphant and alone, and so comparatively easily convince himself, and the world (for that was necessary before he could have faith in his own powers), that here was a very great reasoner indeed. There is some legend of his visiting the Harvard Library about this time to obtain texts on cryptography, but although the sources from which he drew his information are apparent, no such trip can be accounted for by time and his known whereabouts.(586)

The Perfect Reasoner began very early to manifest himself on the critical side also. In February, 1841, Poe wrote a review of Barnaby Rudge for Graham’s in which he undertook to predict the plot of the story which was appearing serially. In this he was successful and, it is said, caused Dickens to explain that “the man must be the devil” (sic). At any rate it was in Barnaby Rudge that Poe first met the raven which he soon afterward made his own — of the bird in Barnaby Rudge he says:

The raven, too, intensely amusing as it is, might have been made, more than we now see it, a portion of the conception of the fantastic Barnaby. Its croakings might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama. Its character might have performed in regard to that of the idiot, much the same part as does, in music, the accompaniment in respect to the air. Each might have been distinct. Each might have differed remarkably from the other. Yet between them there might have been wrought an analogical resemblance, and although each might have existed apart they might have formed together a whole which would have been imperfect in the absence of either.(587)

This is undoubtedly the germ of thought and the artistic philosophy out of which fluttered Poe’s own “raven.” Lowell noticed it in his Fable for Critics.(588) The Raven, indeed, is more logically constructed and approaches nearer to Poe’s ideal of the artistic faculty in control of the logical than many of his critics are prepared to admit. Its genesis, at least, lay in an able criticism of a great book.

There is another type of writing embodied in some of the essays and colloquies that Poe produced during the Philadelphia period, which at that time was almost peculiar to him. It is so customary to regard him as a romanticist and a lyric poet that, for the most part, his interesting speculations upon, and projections of the future; his awareness of the changes being wrought in society by medical and mechanical advance; and his dissent from the prevailing political and economic philosophy of his era, have been overlooked or forgotten. It is true that the literary [page 411:] form in which he chose to embody these is much less memorable than his other work, but in the study of the man they cannot be overlooked. Here, for instance, is a comment on the architecture of American cities that goes home even to-day. It is from an article entitled The Business Man.

. . . Whenever a rich old hunks or prodigal heir or bankrupt corporation gets into the notion of putting up a palace, there is no such thing in the world as stopping either of them, and this every intelligent person knows. The fact in question is indeed the basis of the Eye Sore trade. As soon therefore, as a building project is fairly afoot by one of these parties, we merchants secure a nice corner of the lot in contemplation, or a prime little situation just adjoining, or right in front. This done we wait until the palace is half-way up, and then we pay some tasty architect to run us up an ornamental mud hovel, right against it; or a Down-East or Dutch pagoda, or a pig sty, or an ingenious little bit of fancy work, either Esquinieau, Kickapoo, or Hottentot.

“I am a business man. I am a methodical man. Method is the thing, after all” — begins this article.

As we have seen, he was peculiarly obsessed with, and convinced of, the possibility of human flight. The dirigible balloon was much on his mind. He even foresaw the skyscraper and speaks of the “twenty story” buildings in Manhattan. In predicting many changes in the physical aspect of civilization he was often most happy in his guesses, sometimes coming startlingly close to present facts, but unlike nearly everyone else at that time he did not believe in the inevitable benefits of “progress,” and saw the opening and raw seams in a society which was built purely upon material welfare. “Comfort” he did not regard as the final ideal. The absence of an aristocracy as a guide to taste he lamented — in The Philosophy of Furniture he says:

We have no aristocracy of blood, and having therefore as a natural, and indeed as an inevitable thing, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of dollars, the display of wealth has here to take the place and perform the office of the heraldic display in monarchial countries. By a transition readily understood, and which might have been as readily foreseen, we have been brought to merge in simple show our notions of taste itself.

More remarkable still is the fact that Poe was practically the only American writer of his age who foresaw some of the inevitable weaknesses inherent in the democratic theory and boldly commented upon them. Up until the Civil War, the doctrines of the Revolution were practically unquestioned. In Mellonta Tauta, a conversation supposed to take place in A.D. 2848, Poe makes the following observations on democracy in the United States: [page 412:]

. . . They started with the queerest idea conceivable, viz: that all men are born free and equal — this in the very teeth of the laws of gradation so visibly impressed upon all things both in the moral and physical universe. Every man ‘voted’ as they called it — that is to say meddled with public affairs — until, at length, it was discovered that what is everybody’s business is nobody’s, and that the ‘Republic’ (so the absurd thing was called) was without a government at all. It is related, however, that the first circumstance which disturbed, the selfcompla,cency of the philosophers who constructed this ‘Republic’ was the startling discovery that universal suffrage gave opportunity for fraudulent schemes, by means of which any desired number of votes might at any time be polled, without the possibility of prevention or even detection, by any party which should be merely villainous enough not to be afraid of the fraud. A little reflection upon this discovery suffered to render evident the consequences, which were that rascality must predominate — in a word, that republican government could never be anything but a rascally one. While the philosophers, however, were busied in blushing at their stupidity in not having foreseen these inevitable evils, and intent upon the invention of new theories, the matter was put to an abrupt issue by a fellow of the name of Mob, who took everything into his own hands and set up a despotism, in comparison with which those of the fabulous Zeros and Hellofagabaluses were respectable and delectable. This Mob (a foreigner, bythe-by) is said to have been the most odious of all men that ever encumbered the earth. He was a giant in stature — insolent, rapacious, filthy; had the gall of a bullock with the heart of an hyena and the brains of a peacock. He died, at length, by dint of his own energies, which exhausted him. . . .

by which it is plain to be seen that the magic of the ballot box had little attraction for Poe.

Although Poe has been accused of “dabbling in science,” his interest and speculations about it were at least a half century in advance of his time:

Last night had a fine view of Alpha Lyrae, whose disk, through our captain’s spy glass, subtends an angle of half a degree (Poe supposes the drift of the solar system toward this star produced this result) looking very much as our sun does to the naked eye on a misty day. Alpha Lyrae although so very much larger than our sun, by-the-by, resembles him closely as regards its spots, its atmosphere, and in many other particulars. It is only within the last centuiy, Pundit tells me, that the binary relation existing between these two orbs began to be suspect. . . .(589)

That in the 1840’s Poe should suggest in a popular magazine that the sun spot periods and atmosphere of the stars might serve to relate them to our own sun, is little short of startling. It was a theory which [page 413:] even astronomers had only begun to discuss.(590) Although not original with him, he was quick to grasp its immense significance, when few, very few indeed, knew what he was talking about. In other words, Poe was one of the first of our literary men really to have his imagination stirred by science. He predicts the trans-oceanic telegraph and wandered strangely in the realms of galvanic resuscitation. For him, almost alone as a writer, electricity was in the air.

Of the poetry of the Philadelphia period, there is not much to say. To Helen and Israfel, the latter again improved, were both again republished. The Island of the Fay is obviously a study for The Landscape Garden. The Raven, either in mind or on paper, was already under way. It probably first began to take on a vague form at the Coates Street house. Otherwise there was small time to dabble in verse, his most loved form of expression.

One of the peculiar features of this period was Poe’s return to his youth for source material. Pauline Dubourg, the washerwoman in The Murders of the Rue Morgue, was the name of a former schoolteacher in London.(115) The Man of the Crowd reveals impressions of the visit to London with the Allans, as does Why the Little Frenchman Wears his Hand in a Sling.”(557) The Gold Bug was soon to revive with startling detail the army experience cm Sullivan’s Island in 1827-28, and The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq., is in part Richmond and Ellis & Allan bought to life. William Wilson was, of course, an “allegory” of English school days and the self-conflict in Poe’s dual nature, in some places literally delineated.(122) Besides this, there were numerous other lapses of the pen into the man’s past. The distinct trace of opium in the confusion of the senses (taste and smell) meets us startlingly in Monos and Una.(591) There is direct evidence by Poe’s cousin, Miss Herring, that, soon after he wrote this, August, 1841, he was using opium to excess.

But there was still another important characteristic present in his writings, which provides a convenient loophole to the man’s soul — it is what made him laugh. Edgar Allan Poe, like most essentially egotistic people, had a private sense of humor. He seemed to regard the world from an [page 414:] immense pinnacle, on an assumed basis of superiority necessary to his own comfort, from which the race of men resembled some grotesque inhabitants of a planet about which he was curious, but not sympathetic. From time to time he descended amongst this race of flies, who had stung him, and broke their bones, or otherwise hurt them. This was partly abnormal, and partly in revenge for his own troubles.(592)

There are, also, those stories in which Poe takes a delight in mystifying and cheating his fellow men. Diddling considered as one of the Exact Sciences is a case in point. Such imaginings helped his sense of inferiority and allowed him a laugh all by himself. In perusing those pages, others find it hard to join in the mirth because the writer seems to take an unholy joy in the weakness and the ignorance of his fellow men. There is too sardonic a . gusto about it all A large part of Poe’s satire is directed against the literary and journalistic sentimentality of his time. This would be well enough, but there is no aesthetic moral involved in his viewpoint. “Look at these poor fools,” says Poe in effect — “and despise them” The tongue in the cheek forever precludes a smile, and we are simply wearied.

Poe’s humor generally falls flat and constitutes one of his great failures. Part of this failure, at the present time, is due to the fact that the conventions of wit have largely changed since his day. Wit, like other things, goes in fashion, and the wit of Poe’s day is not that of ours. He laughed in the convention of Southern wit, which in a literary form has nearly always congealed in the bandyings of “jokes” that rest upon puerile pedantries in which only the classically learned are supposed to be initiates. Often it was based upon a comedy of manner that no longer exists. The semi-classical names, strangely compounded, assumed by literati; an enormous delight in the absurdities of bombastic verbosity, were its distinguishing marks. There are, about the mossy cloisters of some Southern universities, a few professors who still indulge in this convention in their communications and mimic battles with the great unknown wits of their section. To modern ears the jargon is unintelligible. It is the thin snickering of ghosts.

Yet Poe himself satirized this type of humor in the opening of The Tales of the Folio Club, which cleverly enough took off the proceedings of certain gentlemen in Baltimore who met at the “Tusculum” and invited Lord Byron to become an honorary member of their pompous [page 415:] circle, without receiving a reply. The gentlemen were too steeped in their own gravy to detect its musty aroma.

But there was something more than this. To Poe, all the world was grotesque. He viewed it from an immense distance and all the actions of all its funny little ephemera were alike mechanical to him. To the normal man, such a view is horrible, and there laughter ends. But to Poe it was funny. It fed his sense of importance. Everything grinned at him and gesticulated in a distorted glass at the end of the enormous perspective of a telescope reversed — and he laughed. His sorrow and pity were peculiarly pjivate as well as his humor. In short he could only be sorry for himself. In the fate of humanity he saw his own predicament, but it was over his own, and not theirs which he lyrically mourned. In Philadelphia this culminated in The Masque of the Red Death, and later on, in the vision of the world as a cemetery where the corpses writhed in their tombs (Premature Burial). Yet about it all there was an ecstasy, a satisfaction in the triumph of death and the feast which follows, that has lent these compositions the reality of the horrors they depict. The ruthlessness of nature has been dramatically and successfully evoked. The curious thing is, that Poe could be ecstatic about it, and so endow it with poetic life. That he both entices and repulses is the peculiar quality of his own horror, humor, pity — and genius.

There has seldom, if ever, been in the annals of English literature so contradictory a nature as Poe’s. If he dreamed terrible things, he also dreamed surpassingly beautiful ones; and he blent both horror and beauty so that, by the strange chemistry of his nature, they became one. This is his great triumph, the strange aspect of beauty that he constantly insists upon. There are few, however, who can successfully appropriate this Baconian formula. It is only similar natures that can mix them with like result.

By the end of 1841, it had become amply evident to Poe that Mr. Graham was not going to support him in starting a new magazine and abandon an already successful enterprise. Nor would he allow Poe a proprietary share in a harvest which had proved so unexpectedly rich. Mr. Graham was of a nature so easy and affable that there was no excuse for even Poe to quarrel with him, and Graham was above many of the petty devices for annoyance by which Mr. Burton had moved his former assistant’s contempt. Nevertheless, the refusal to back Poe in a new venture, or to give him a share in the magazine which he had so largely built up, constituted, at least in the mind of the young editor, a violation of the fundamental part of their agreement.

It is altogether likely that Graham was loath to part with a man who was able to increase his subscription list at the rate of several thousand [page 416:] a month, yet Poe on his part was dissatisfied, and was, no doubt, at times his usual overbearing self. The acid in his criticism always worried those for whom he wrote as well as those at whom he wrote.

Then, during the early months of the new year, an event transpired in the bosom of Poe’s home circle which once again induced him to relapse into those irregularities the causes of which were so complex. The comparative good health and abstinence of a year were now about to end, and the beginning of the final descent into the maelstrom was soon under way. The immediate and tragic cause of the disasters which followed must now be related.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 386:]

567.  The nature of Poe’s “interest” with Mr. Graham is plainly to be pieced together from Graham’s statement in his own magazine in 1850 in reply to Griswold’s Poe obituary article. More specifically, the terms are plain in Poe’s own correspondence after his withdrawal from Graham’s. See Poe to Daniel Bryan July 6, 1842, etc.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 388:]

568.  The salary agreed upon is said to have been $1,500 a year with promise of increase. There is considerable conflict about this item which ranges from $1,400 to $2,000 in various accounts, Poe received a salary of $800!

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 391:]

569.  Mr. Graham himself tells of Poe’s buying some luxuries, and his uneasiness until they were paid for. Both Graham and his wife were much at the Poes’ house, and he specifically mentions taking both Poe and Virginia out to drive. This was certainly not a solitary instance. Roussel’s was a well known rendezvous in the ‘40s.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 392:]

570.  G. R. Graham’s Defense of Poe, Graham’s, 1850.

571.  The description of these articles is literal. Some of the chairs are still to Philadelphia. The second landlord of the Spring Garden house also remembered articles left behind in 1844, in lieu of rent. Mr. William Owens, the present tenant (1926) at 530 North Seventh Street, has a unique relic of the Poe china. Also see reminiscences of T. C. Clarke, Sartain, Graham, and Poe in Philadelphia by Alexander Harvey, the Press, Philadelphia, June 19, 1892.

572.  The “peak” does not imply that the best or most perfect items of his creative faculty were turned off while Poe was editor of Graham’s, but that during that period both as a critic and an artist he functioned importantly, consistently, and for a considerable time during which his contact with various important personalities was especially significant.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 393:]

573.  When Mr. Graham was ending his days poor and infirm at Orange, New Jersey, in the early 1890’s, the lavish dinners of his prosperous days were recalled by the few who remembered a discarded but once important figure in American Journalism. John Sartain, T. C. Clarke, N. P. Willis, and others have left accounts of Graham in his heyday.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 395:]

574.  Poe’s faith in Mr. Kennedy’s kindness must have been at times a little onerous to his early patron, A little later he appeals to him again for political influence; another appeal, still later, is made for money. Cash loans Mr. Kennedy refused, perhaps with good reason. In all else he helped when he could. See also Chapter XVIII, note 507.

575.  The items mentioned here are to be found in the correspondence with the persons mentioned about this date, September and November, 1841.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 396:]

576.  Robert Tyler, the President’s older son, was a frequent contributor to magazines and newspapers in both prose and verse. He had married Prisilla Cooper, a daughter of Thomas Cooper. She was then mistress of the White House, the President being a widower.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 397:]

577.  These autobiographical sketches, the data for which were furnished by Poe to Griswold, Hirst, Thomas, Lowell, etc., etc., from time to time are not to be taken seriously as evidence against Poe’s veracity. Almost any author of any note can recall furnishing A Sketch of My Life, on the sudden demand of a publisher or correspondent, that was sufficient unto the hour and was never expected to stand up under careful scrutiny. There is no intent to deceive in this type of “biography,” but simply a desire to please. Poe substituted an interesting trip abroad, which he meant to take, for a boresome year in the army, and moved up his birthday a precocious notch or two. Such fibs are the common stock in trade of innumerable writers. The President of the United States must be born in a log cabin, and every American poet must live, at least for a while, in London or Paris. This is simply the orange juice that enables the public to swallow the man. The creation of a personal legend is the necessity of genius. The gods live by myths.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 399:]

578.  An excellent, and one of the few available texts on this important aspect of American letters is Mathew Carey, A Study in American Literature, Earl L. Bradsher, the Columbia University Press, 1912, to which the following brief discussion is frankly in great debt. Thanks are due to Dr. Bradsher for permission to quote from the correspondence of Carey & Lea embodied in his text, and from his own text.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 402:]

579.  From a letter of William Gilmore Simms belonging to the author.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 404:]

580.  For this, and several other remarks upon Poe’s marriage and Virginia’s appearance, see Mrs. Susan Archer Weiss’ Home Life of Poe.

581.  Godey’s Lady’s Book, March, 1844, page 107.

582.  From the Opal for 1844, an annual published by N. P. Willis. This little pseudo-pastoral of Poe’s is little known in comparison with many of his popular stories.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 407:]

583.  In this review Poe admired Moore’s skill and “ingenuity” in the construction of a long narrative poem.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 408:]

584.  From The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 409:]

585.  In August, 1841, an unfortunate woman named Mary Cecilia Rogers, who lived at 114 Liberty Street, New York, was murdered under atrocious circumstances by her lover, who then committed suicide. The newspapers of the day made it their usual game. Poe’s Mystery of Marie Rogêt was based on this crime. See Poe to Roberts, Philadelphia, June 4, 1842:

“. . . I, in reality enter into a very long and rigorous analysis of the New York tragedy. No point is omitted. I examine, each by each, the opinions and arguments of the press upon the subject, and show that this subject has been, hitherto, unapproached. In fact I believe not only that I have demonstrated the fallacy of the general idea — that the girl was the victim of a gang of ruffians — but have indicated the assassin in a manner which will give renewed impetus to

investigation. . . . It has occurred to me that you would be willing to purchase it for the forthcoming Mammoth Notion. . . .”! This is all enormously characteristic of the time and the man.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 410:]

586.  Howard Paul in Munsey’s Magazine, September, 1892. Paul tells of a visit of Poe to the Harvard Library to read “Trithemus, Vignere, and Niceron” on cipher writing and says Poe had only one response sent in to his challenge to solve cryptograms. The first statement is unsupported, and the last demonstrably fails to convince, because of contradictory letters in Poe’s correspondence: Thomas, Tomlin, Snodgrass, etc.

587.  Poe’s review of Barnaby Rudge, one of the most able of his criticisms.

588.  See Chapter XVII, page 323, and Chapter XXII, page 487.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 412:]

589.  During the year 1840-41 occurred the longest sun spot in the annals of astronomy. This lasted eighteen months. About the same time Schwabe was conducting his inquiry into the periodicity of sun spots. In 1843 he announced his discovery of the average period of 11.13 years. Discussion was therefore going on in scientific publications about sun spots in the early ’40s.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 413:]

590.  “The sun-spot curve (period) . . . resembles the light curve of the average variable, star of long period . . . from the researches of Abbot . . . the total radiation of the sun varies, in amount, and as a consequence the sun must be regarded as a variable star of long period.” Eclipses of the Sun, S. A. Mitchell, pages 119-120.

591.  From the Colloquy of Monos and Una:

“. . . Volition had not departed but was powerless. The senses were unusually active, although eccentrically so, assuming often each other’s functions at random. The taste and smell were inextricably confounded, and became one sentiment, abnormal and intense. . . .” The rest of the description amounts to a delineation of the symptoms of a drug addict. Compare this description of Poe’s with Baudelaire’s descriptions of opium dreams. See especially Baudelaire, A Study, Arthur Syxnons; also Les Paradis Artificiels Opium et Hashchisch by Charles Baudelaire, Paris, 1864.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 414:]

592.  “And he (Poe) remains still a kind of enigma; . . . yes, enigmatical in various points: as to his not giving even the breath of life to the few ghosts of women who cross his pages; of never diving very deeply into any heart but his own. Are not most of his men malign, perverse, atrocious, abnormal, never quite normal, evocations of himself? From Dupin to Fortunate, from the Man of the Crowd to the Man in the Pit, from Prince Prospero to Usher, are not these revenants, in the French sense?” Arthur Symons, Baudelaire, A Study, pages 42-43.






[S:0 - HVA34, 1934] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Chapter 20)