Text: Lambert A. Wilmer (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “Appendix,” Merlin: Together with Recollections of Edgar A. Poe (1941), pp. 25-38 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 25:]

APPENDIX

(a) WILMER’S EDGAR A. POE AND HIS CALUMNIATORS, 1849(?)

[The first appearance has not been found, but must date between October 9, 1849, when Griswold’s “Ludwig” article appeared in the N. Y. Tribune, and the time he acknowledged its authorship. Our text is from page 385 of Wilmer’s Our Press Gang, 186o, which I believe to be complete.]

Several years ago I published the following article in a Philadelphia weekly paper:

EDGAR A. POE AND HIS CALUMNIATORS. — There is a spurious biography of Edgar A. Poe which has been extensively published in newspapers and magazines. It is a hypocritical canting document, expressing much commiseration for the follies and “crimes” of that “poor outcast”; the writer being evidently just such an one as the Pharisee who thanked God that he was a better fellow than the publican. But we can tell the slanderous and malicious miscreant who composed the aforesaid biography (we know not and care not who he is,) that Edgar A. Poe was infinitely his superior, both in the moral and in the intellectual scale. The writer of this article speaks from his own knowledge when he says that Poe was not the man described by this anonymous scribbler. Some circumstances mentioned by the slanderous hypocrite we know to be false, and we have no doubt in the world that nearly all of his statements intended to throw odium and discredit on the character of the deceased are scandalous inventions.

We have much more to say on this subject, and we pledge ourselves to show that the article we speak of is false and defamatory, when the skulking author of it becomes magnanimous [page 26:] enough to take the responsibility by fixing his name to his malignant publication.

I do not know that this vindication was copied by a single paper; whereas the whole press of the country seemed desirous of giving circulation and authenticity to the slanders.

(b) REFERENCES TO POE IN OUR PRESS GANG, 1860

[The following are from pages 35, 39, and 284 of Wilmer’s book. The direct quotation is from Hamlet, III, ii, 78. The first paragraph seems to concern 1835, the second late 1836, but Wilmer may place the plan to begin a magazine with Poe too early. The reference to Poe as eccentric is amusing, for a family tradition of descendants of the publishers of the Visiter records that Wilmer himself never tied his shoelaces, and ate pie from a particular corner.]

Rejoicing to find myself once more at liberty, I left my rural location with the hope of . . . making another attempt to establish a literary newspaper or magazine in Baltimore. With reference to this design, Edgar A. Poe and I had had some correspondence. He proposed to join with me in the publication of a monthly magazine of a superior intellectual character, and he had written a prospectus, which he transmitted to me for examination. While this project was under consideration, Poe was invited to assume the editorial duties of the Southern Literary Messenger; and, . . . he immediately obeyed this call, [etc.]

A short time before I determined to . . . [leave Baltimore], I received a letter from my eccentric friend Edgar A. Poe, — who was then officiating as the editor and critic of the Southern Literary Messenger, published at Richmond, Va. In his epistle, Poe gave me to understand that he was preparing to leave Richmond, and he advised me to come thither without delay, — as [page 27:] he was quite sure that I could obtain the situation he was about to vacate. . . . It was wholly out of my power to act in accordance with Mr. Poe’s suggestion — for I could not raise money enough.. . .

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DEFAMATION OF THE DEAD. The late Edgar A. Poe has been represented by the American newspapers in general as a reckless libertine and a confirmed inebriate. I do not recognize him by this description, though I was intimately acquainted with the man, and had every opportunity to study his character. I have been in company with him every day for many months together; and, within a period of twelve years, I did not see him inebriated; no, not in a single instance. I do not believe that he was ever habitually intemperate until he was made so by grief and many disappointments. And, with respect to the charge of libertinism, I have similar testimony to offer. Of all men that ever I knew, he was the most passionless; and I appeal to his writings for a confirmation of this report. Poets of ardent temperament, such as Anacreon, Ovid, Byron, and Tom Moore, will always display their constitutional peculiarity in their literary compositions; but Edgar A. Poe never wrote a line that gives expression to a libidinous thought. The female creations of his fancy are all either statues or angels. His conversation, at all times, was as chaste as that of a vestal, and his conduct, while I knew him, was correspondingly blameless.

Poe, during his life-time, was feared and hated by many newspaper editors and other literary animalcules, some of whom, or their friends, had been the subjects of his scorching critiques; and others disliked him, naturally enough, because he was a man of superior intellect. While he lived, these resentful gentlemen were discreetly silent, but they nursed their wrath to keep it warm, and the first intelligence of his death was the signal for a general onslaught. The primal slander against the deceased bard was published in a leading journal of Philadelphia, the “literary editor” of which had formerly received not only a critical rebuke, but something like a personal chastisement also, from the hands of the departed poet.

Since that time, by continued and well-directed efforts, the newspapers of our country have succeeded in giving Poe a character [page 28:] “as black as Vulcan’s stithy,” and in this hideous drapery, woven by demoniac malice, the unrivalled poet of America is now presented to the world.

(c) WILMER’S RECOLLECTIONS OF EDGAR A. POE

[This we reprint from a photostat of the original publication in the Baltimore Daily Commercial, May 23, 1866 (Vol. 1, no. 200, p. 1, col. 5), of which there is a copy in the Library of Congress. It is preceded by a brief editorial note to the effect it had not been printed before. Some of the material, in particular the description of Poe’s happy relations with Virginia, seems to have been neglected by biographers.

Wilmer seems to be reliable for all material he gives as of personal knowledge. Poe was never in St. Petersburg, but he told the story often, and allowed it to be printed himself. It also is clear that Poe drank only occasionally until about 1842 or 1843; the reference to his moderate use of liquor on one occasion shows he was not always intoxicated by one glass of wine. One wishes Wilmer had been more specific about the date when Poe studied lithography: 1838, 1839, 1840, or 1842. But Wilmer was usually vague about dates. J. H. Whitty thought Poe and Virginia served as models for a fashion plate in Graham’s Magazine for July 1841.

Poe may have inveighed against the faults of Shakespeare and Milton, but many references in his works show he admired them for all that. His interest in the younger D’Israeli was of course in Vivian Grey; on at least one occasion Poe used the name E. S. T. Grey himself, and the early tales show the influence of the novel.

Wilmer gives little clue to the sources of the vilifications of Poe he quotes to refute. That in the third paragraph is in Griswold’s Ludwig article and in the infamous Memoir alike. The rest are from echoes of Griswold, not traced. The quotation in the eighth paragraph is from Pope’s Moral Epistles, II, 2.] [page 29:]

RECOLLECTIONS OF EDGAR A. POE

BY L. A. WILMER,

Author of “The Life of Ferdinand De Soto.”

The character and habits of Edgar A. Poe have been fully and freely discussed in English and American periodicals, and the public is supposed to be well “posted up” in relation to the subject; nevertheless there is good reason to believe that some considerable mistakes have found their way into the account. With the hope of doing some justice to the memory of that unfortunate man, I propose to give the result of my own observations, made at a time when my opportunities for becoming familiar with the good and bad qualities of a poet were extremely favorable.

My acquaintance with Poe commenced in Baltimore, soon after his return from St. Petersburg, “covered with debt and infamy, and confirmed in habits of dissipation,” as one of his biographers represents. I can most conscientiously declare, however, that at the time referred to, and a long time afterwards, I heard nothing of his debts and infamy, and saw nothing of his dissipated habits. His time appeared to be constantly occupied by his literary labors; he had already published a volume of poems, and written several of those minor romances which afterwards appeared in the collection called “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.” He lived in a very retired way with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, and his moral deportment, as far as my observation extended, was altogether correct. “Intemperance,” says the biographer quoted above, “was his master passion.” How then did it happen, that during an intimate acquaintance with him, which continued for more than twelve years, I never saw him intoxicated in a single instance.

His personal appearance and equipments at the time I speak of, have been thus described: “He was thin and pale even to ghostliness; his whole appearance indicated sickness, and the utmost destitution. A well-worn frock coat concealed the absence of a shirt, and imperfect boots discovered the want of hose.” This description is wholly incorrect. In his youthful days, Poe’s personal appearance was delicate and effeminate, but never sickly or ghastly, and I never saw him in any dress which was [page 30:] not fashionably neat with some approximation to elegance. Indeed, I often wondered how he could contrive to equip himself so handsomely, considering that his pecuniary resources were generally scanty and precarious enough.

My intercourse with Poe was almost continuous for weeks together. Almost every day we took long walks in the rural Is-tricts near Baltimore, and had long conversations on a great variety of subjects. And however dry might be the subject of our discourse, and however dusty the road we traveled, we never stopped at any hotel for liquid refreshment, and I new observed any disposition on the part of my companion to avail himself of the liberal supplies of alcoholic beverage which were always to be had in the vicinity of Baltimore. In short, his general habits at that time were strictly temperate; and but for one or two incidents, I might have supposed him to be a member of the cold water army. On one occasion, when I visited him at his lodgings, he produced a decanter of Jamaica spirits, in conformity with a practice which was very common in those days, especially in the Southern and Middle States, where one gentleman could scarcely visit another without being invited to drink. On the occasion just referred to, Poe made a moderate use of the liquor; and this is the only time that ever I saw him drink ardent spirits. On another occasion I was present, when his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, scolded him with some severity for coming home intoxicated on the preceding evening. He excused himself by saying that he had met with some friends, who had persuaded him to take dinner with them at a tavern, where the whole party had become inebriated — a circumstance for which many a poetical gentleman’s experience might furnish a parallel. I judged from the conversation between Mrs. Clemm and Poe, that the fault for which she reproved him was of rare occurrence, and I never afterwards heard him charged with a repetition of the offence.

The purpose of these statements is merely to contradict the assertion that Poe was, at every period of his life, an habitual drunkard.

In conversation Poe was fluent, but not eloquent. He was seldom enthusiastic on any subject. He had none of the conversational fervor of Coleridge. He did not monopolize the discourse, but seemed to be quite as willing to listen as to talk. Though he [page 31:] seldom said anything very startling, his remarks were generally shrewd. On literary subjects Poe held some singularly heterodox opinions. As for Milton, Shakspeare, and the whole array of illustrious British poets, he professed to hold them in great contempt. I never knew him to speak in warm terms of admiration of any poetical writer, except Alfred Tennyson. Among prose authors, Ben. D’Israeli was his model.

Poe was an amiable colloquist. When his favorite opinions were assailed or even ridiculed, he showed uneasiness, but no resentment. I never knew him to exhibit any ill-temper in conversation. In the most exciting controversy he never became impatient or discourteous. In short, no person ever conducted a conversation with more strict attention to the rules of good breeding.

Nevertheless, he had faults, and very conspicuous ones too; — but strangely enough, his real faults have been overlooked by his censorious biographers in their anxiety to paint him blacker than he was. He was singularly effeminate in mind and person. His defects of character were such as Pope attributes to the female sex in general, when he makes the singular statement that “most women have no characters at all.” The conduct of Poe was often controlled by whims and impulses, and it was not easy to conjecture how he would act in any given case. He had no steadfast principles, for there was not substantially enough in his mental frame-work to support them, yet under the influence of correct feelings and a sense of propriety, his moral conduct was generally good.

I have seen an article in a British review in which a comparison was made between Poe and Swift, Savage, De Quincey, Coleridge and other celebrated delinquents of English literature. All the latter were admitted to have had some “redeeming qualities,” but Poe, said the reviewer, had none, he had no human sympathies, no amiable weaknesses, no vices of a specially human consistency, “in short, he was a demon and not a man.”

A trifling incident, which just now occurs to my remembrance, may properly be placed in juxtaposition with this Englishman’s Phillipic. One day, Poe, his cousin Virginia, who afterwards became his wife, and I were walking in the neighborhood of Baltimore when we happened to approach a graveyard, [page 32:] where a funeral was then in progress. Curiosity attracted us to the side of the grave, where we stood among a crowd of spectators who had accompanied the corpse to the place of interment. I do not remember that there was anything particularly touching in these obsequies, but Virginia became affected and shed more tears than the chief mourner. Her emotion communicated itself to Poe; and if an English reviewer could have seen him at that moment, weeping at the grave of a stranger, he might have given him credit for some “human sympathy.”

I could mention several striking examples of Poe’s sensibility if my limits would permit. He was unquestionably of an affectionate disposition; of which he gave the best kind of proof when he labored cheerfully for the maintenance of his aunt and cousin, before his marriage with the latter. While he was editor of the Southern Literary Messenger he devoted a large part of his salary to Virginia’s education, and she was instructed in every elegant accomplishment at his expense. He himself became her tutor at another time, when his income was not sufficient to provide for a more regular course of instruction. I remember once finding him engaged, on a certain Sunday, in giving Virginia lessons in Algebra.

One of his severe chroniclers says: “It is believed by some that he really loved his wife; if he did, he had a strange way of showing his affection.” Now it appears to me that he showed his affection in the right way, by endeavoring to make his companion happy. According to the opportunities he possessed, he supplied her with the comforts and luxuries of life. He kept a piano to gratify her taste for music, at a time when his income could scarcely afford such an indulgence. I never knew him to give her an unkind word, and doubt if they ever had any disagreement. That Virginia loved him, I am quite certain, for she was by far too artless to assume the appearance of an affection which she did not feel.

From the biographies we gather that Poe had many generous friends and patrons who were always willing to take him by the hand, to “lift him out of the gutter, &c., if his own gross and brutal conduct had not constantly expelled the kindness that was offered him.” It is never hinted that Poe could have found any difficulty in maintaining himself by his pen, if he had made a proper use of his opportunities. Now the truth is, that [page 33:] Poe’s writings during his lifetime, were not “marketable.” I was often surprised at the difficulty he met with in disposing of some of his best productions. Publishers generally declined them on the ground that they were not calculated to please readers in general.

At one time he informed me that he could not possibly live by literary labor, and that he would have to betake himself to some other pursuit. At length he actually endeavored to acquire the art of lithography under the tuition of Mr. Duval of Philadelphia. He labored long and painfully to make himself practically acquainted with this business. Confinement in a stooping position affected his health; decided symptoms of consumption made their appearance, and his wife and mother-in-law persuaded him to abandon an occupation which was hurrying him to the grave.

I have been giving an abstract of the history of many years, commencing in Baltimore and continuing in Philadelphia. During all this time I can most conscientiously declare that Poe was no drunkard. He appeared to me to be one of the most hardworking men in the world. I called to see him at all hours, and always found him employed.

Poe’s opportunities never were great. It is remarkable that the salaries he received for literary labor were generally less than others obtain for similar services. The only glimpses of prosperity that ever he experienced were when he was engaged in the editorial management of The Southern Literary Messenger and Burton’s and Graham’s Magazines. While he held these situations the circumstances of the family were quite comfortable. How he lost these situations is a curious subject of inquiry. It should be remembered that Poe had few literary friends and many enemies; the general severity of his criticisms led to these results. There were many influences brought to bear against him when he held the position/of magazine critic. Efforts were made to put him down, to oust him from a position in which he had it in his power to annoy that class of literati whom he did not admire.

Nevertheless, as I am disposed to deal fairly in this matter, I will admit that Poe’s loss of employment was in some measure the result of his own delinquency. From what has been said, the reader must be satisfied that he was not an habitual drunkard. [page 34:]

It appears, however, that on some rare occasions, he was led astray by jovial companions and induced to join in their revels; and from the best information I can obtain, I judge that the use of intoxicating liquor had a maddening effect on him, inciting him to the most terrific acts of frenzy. Whoever could succeed in leading Poe into a drinking frolic, was certainly his evil genius, making him the instrument of his own ruin. It was one of his unfortunate tricks, when intoxicated, to insult his employer; or rather to make a statement of his grievances, which the employer was apt to think insulting. All of his employments were lost in this manner; a terribly calamitous affair for him; and yet, when the truth comes to be understood, it may be judged that less than half a dozen drunken frolics led to all these disasters. Perhaps he did not transgress in this way more than four times within fifteen years, and yet those incidents furnish the material for a large part of his life, being amplified and displayed to the best advantage, while his years of patient toil and heroic effort are passed over without the slightest notice.

After Poe’s removal from Philadelphia to New York, I lost sight of him and do not know what changes may have taken place in his habits. The loss of his wife, about this time, was an overwhelming calamity, and his intellect was crushed under the blow. During the remainder of his life, his mind appears to have been in a state of lunacy, with a few lucid intervals.

On glancing over the record of Poe’s life, we find that the principal offences with which he is chargeable, are acts of phrenzy, committed sometimes under the temporary delirium of intoxication, and sometimes from more deeply-seated mania — but always characterized by the absence of any rational purpose. When this fact shall obtain the consideration it deserves, the attempt to represent Poe to the world as a “moral monster,” will justly be regarded as an absurdity.

(d) WILMER’S LETTERS

[Texts of only five of Wilmer’s letters are available, as described in footnote 12. It seems well to print them in full. They are almost altogether self-explanatory, or at least to be easily understood by readers of this book. The Guardian referred to is [page 35:] apparently a newspaper of Jackson, Tennessee, the home of John Tomlin. The Peterson mentioned is Charles J. Peterson, sub-editor of Graham’s Magazine, and later the publisher of Peterson’s Magazine. The members of the Philadelphia clique need no comment, but it may be worth recalling that Fairfield was an unfortunate poet of some talent, whose Last Night of Pompeii probably had some influence on Bulwer.]

(1-3) To John Tomlin

Philadelphia, March 9, ‘42.

Dear Sir, your letter of the 18th ult. I did not receive till yesterday evening, and I incline to think one of mine has met with similar delay. I wrote to you several weeks ago to thank you most sincerely for your design of vindicating my poem against an editorial attack. I would not wish to entrust my defence to better hands and I hope it may at some time be in my power to reciprocate the kindness you have been pleased to show me.

As for my intended magazine, the prospectus has not yet been distributed; for as the July number will be the first issue, — I thought it would be as well to delay the circulation of the prospectus until two or three months before the publication commences; — but I am now beginning to scatter my papers abroad; — one is already mailed for yourself.

To those gentlemen who oblige me by becoming agents, I offer the following terms: — 33 1/3 per cent on all money collected for subscriptions and a copy of the Magazine, as some compensation for their trouble.

I do not wish any money remitted until the Magazine is actually in operation and the first No. issued.

Two dollars in advance may be received from a subscriber in full payment for one years subscription; and those subscribers who commence with the first No. that is the July No. for 1842, may subscribe for 6 months at the same rate. Afterwards, the price for 6 months’ subscription will be $1.25.

Let me hear from you on all convenient occasions.

Truly and Respectfully yours    
L. A. WILMER

Jno. Tomlin Esq.

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Philadelphia, Oct. 5, 1842.

My Dear Sir, — I snatch a few minutes from the hurry of business to reply to your two last kind letters, which were received simultaneously; but for what reason I know not, they came to hand nearly a month after date. Your beautiful and truly poetic verses were in type in less than two hours after their reception, and were published in the next issue of our paper, a [page 36:] copy of which I caused to be mailed to your address. Mr. Andrews, the publisher of the Express, requests me to add his thanks to mine for the contribution.

I believe the tightness of the times and the uncertain state of the currency have prevented Poe’s Magazine enterprise and my own, — at least for the present.

I have never been able to get a sight of your critique on the Q. of H. in the Guardian. The copy you sent fell into the hands of Poe, who lost or mislaid it before I could set eyes on it. I was vexed at this circumstance, as I intended to have the article copied into some of our city papers. I would have applied to the agents of the Guardian in this city, but I could not ascertain their location.

Since I wrote you last, I have completed a new poem of some 250 lines, called “Recantation,” being an ironical retraction of the opinions set forth in the Quacks of Helicon. As a testimony of my esteem and friendship, I would dedicate this new effort to yourself, if I thought the compliment would be acceptable. You will remember that the “Quacks of Helicon” is addressed to Dr. Olney, who is a particular friend of mine. If you like the idea, please let me know. If you think it might excite enmity towards yourself; by having your name in any manner connected with a satirical effusion of the kind, it may be better for me to take some other opportunity for giving you such a demonstration of good feeling as I would wish. Do not hesitate to write candidly to me on this subject. Meanwhile the new poem is ready for the press, and though considerably shorter than its predecessor. I have no doubt that it will make some sensation when it comes out.

You may rely upon it that Peterson is a most odious and contemptible character, and I have lately put him on the rack in such a way as made him a whining supplicant for mercy. I now consider him beneath my resentment.

Write me whenever you can find leisure, and believe me

Most sincerely yours  
L. A. WILMER

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Philadelphia, May 20, 1843.

Dear Sir, I have not heard from you for several weeks. I sent, on in various packages, a dozen copies of Recantation which I hope came to hand. Any number of that, or the “Quacks” always at your service.

Literary affairs are at a very low ebb in this city at present. Sumner Lincoln Fairfield, who once ranked high among the writers of our country, has become a common loafer about the streets. It is distressing to view such a change.

Edgar A. Poe, (you know him by character no doubt, if not personally,) [page 37:] has become one of the strangest of our literati. He and I are old friends, — have known each other from boyhood and it gives me inexpressible pain to notice the vagaries to which he has lately become subject. Poor fellow! — he is not a teetotaller by any means and I fear he is going headlong to destruction, moral, physical, and intellectual.

T. S. Arthur, another old friend of mine, has acquired great popularity by a certain kind of writing, and is getting along prosperously.

The “Philadelphia Clique” as it is called, composed of Robt. C. Conrad, R. Morris, J. C. Neale and several others has seen its palmiest days and is falling into disrepute; — their association to hold each other up will not avail them. Jos. C. Neale nevertheless is a man of splendid talents and Conrad has some excellent points, but the political unpopularity of the latter affects his literary reputation. Neale is indolent.

My next publication will be “Preferment,” a political satire, not partizan, or very slightly so. Much of it is already written, and I expect to bring it out sometime within the present year.

Favor me with a few lines whenever you have time to waste.

Your obliged and sincere friend  
L. A. WILMER

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(4-5) To the Editors of the Philadelphia Press

Philadelphia, Jan. 28, ’[59].

Editors of the Press.

Gentlemen, In the New York Evening Post of the 24th inst. is published “A Card from a Washington Lady,” which contains some matters that may be interesting to yourselves.

This Washington lady affirms that a certain “Mr. M.” (who appears to be an occasional correspondent of several newspapers and yours among the number,) has given a false account of conversation which, according to his report, — he held with the lady aforesaid in Washington. The subject of the conversation referred to was Lloyd’s petition to Congress, asking that honorable body to purchase 10,000 copies of the “Life, Travels and Adventures of Ferdinand De Soto.”

I understand the Washington Lady to say that no such conversation as that reported by “Mr. M.” ever took place.

I have not the slightest acquaintance with the lady who writes this letter and do not even know her name, but as she appears to be exerting herself to extend the circulation of a book of which I am the author, I am naturally desirous that she should meet with fair treatment from the newspaper press. This feeling prompts me to call your attention to her letter and to ask you if the republication of it in the “Press” would not be simply an act of justice. The letter of Mr. M. which gave offence to this lady was published by you about a week ago. [page 38:]

Lest you should misconceive my motives for making this suggestion, I beg leave to assure you that I have nothing to do with Mr. Lloyd’s petition to Congress and never heard of it until I saw it spitefully mentioned in the Ledger.

Very truly yours  
L. A. WILMER

No. 1169 S. Eleventh St.

————

Philad.a Jan. 31, ’59.

Editors of the Press.

Gentlemen, Several days ago I called your attention to the enclosed letter “from a Washington Lady” which was published in the N. York Post and Express, the editors of which seemed to consider themselves bound in honor and justice to give the writer an opportunity to answer the charges brought against her by one of their Washington correspondents.

The “Press” published the same charges against this lady, which charges evidently came from the same person who communicated them to the N. Y. Post and Express and to six or eight other public journals(!) in circumstances which prove to my satisfaction that this “Mr. M.” is more anxious to produce effect than a disinterested newspaper correspondent ought to be in such circumstances.

As I mentioned in my preceding letter to you I have not the slightest acquaintance with this Washington lady, — but I think circumstances will justify me in asking you, as a matter of justice, to give her letter an insertion in the “Press.”

Very respectfully yours,  
L. A. WILMER.

————

FINIS

 


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Notes:

None.

 

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[S:0 - LAW41, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Merlin: Together with Recollections of Edgar A. Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Appendix)