Text: David K. Jackson, “Chapter 01,” Poe and The Southern Literary Messenger (1934), pp. 1-15 (This material is protected by copyright)


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EDGAR ALLAN POE, October 12, 1833-January 3, 1837

On October 12, 1833, an announcement was made in The Baltimore Saturday Visiter that a prize of fifty dollars had been awarded to Edgar Allan Poe for his story, “MS. Found in a Bottle.”(1) This anonuncement [[announcement]],(2) which antedates Poe’s connection with The Southern Literary Messenger, was accompanied by the highly laudatory comment of the judges, who — representing the Baltimore weekly, then edited by Lambert A. Wilmer — were John Pendleton Kennedy, J. H. B. Latrobe, and James H. Miller. On the day following the announcement Charles F. Cloud, the publisher of The Baltimore Saturday Visiter, called on Kennedy, then a prominent lawyer and well-known novelist, and gave him such an account of Poe that his curiosity and sympathy were immediately aroused, and an introduction followed the next day — October 14, 1833.

Poe’s meeting with Kennedy was a turning point in his career. His efforts to secure employment had all proved fruitless, although he now and then, perhaps, had done hack work for the Baltimore and Philadelphia newspapers. On earlier occasions he had sought employment from William Gwynn, the editor of The Federal Gazette and Baltimore Daily Advertiser, and from Nathan C. Brooks, who had opened a school at [page 2:] Reisterstown, Maryland. The desperate state in which Poe found himself is shown in a passage from Kennedy’s diary:

It is many years ago, I think perhaps as early as 1833 or ‘34, that I found him in Baltimore in a state of starvation. I gave him clothing, free access to my table and the use of a horse for exercise whenever he chose; in fact brought him up from the very verge of despair. I then got him employment with Mr. White, in one department of the editorship of the Southern Literary Messenger newspaper [sic] at Richmond. His talents made that periodical quite brilliant while he was connected with it. But he was irregular, eccentric, and querulous, and soon gave up his place for other employments of the same character in Philadelphia and New York.(3)

“The Visionary,” one of the six tales offered by Poe for the Saturday Visiter prize, was published in Godey’s Lady’s Book for January, 1834, as a result of Kennedy’s general advice and patronage. Further proof of Poe’s friendship for, and great debt to, Kennedy is furnished by a letter of Poe’s written years later, in which he wrote, “Mr. Kennedy has been at all times a true friend to me — he was the first true friend I ever had — I am indebted to him for life itself.”(4)

During these troublesome years Poe was living with his father’s widowed sister, Mrs. Maria Clemm, and her single surviving daughter Virginia at Number Three Amity Street. Also residing in Baltimore were the [page 3:] families of two cousins, Neilson Poe, who had married Mrs. Clemm’s step-daughter, and Miss Herring, in whose album Poe wrote some verses.(5) His attentions to both Virginia and Miss Herring were frowned upon and discouraged, perhaps on account of his drinking, by Neilson Poe and Mr. Herring.

In 1832 Poe had ventured on a visit to Richmond, in the hope of a reconciliation with John Allan, his foster-father, but nothing came of his visit. On March 27, 1834, John Allan died of the dropsy, and Poe was not named in his will. Allan’s widow remained, as ever, unfriendly to him.

In Baltimore there were two literary clubs, and no doubt Poe was acquainted with most of the members of the two groups.(6) To the “Tusculum” Club belonged Kennedy and Gwynn, and to the other set, T. S. Arthur, N. C. Brooks, Rufus Dawes, John H. Hewitt, and J. N. McJilton. Many of the latter group later became contributors to The Southern Literary Messenger during Poe’s editorship.

In November, 1834, Poe failed in his efforts to induce Carey and Lea to publish a volume of his tales, and Kennedy was only able to send him a draft of fifteen dollars for one of the tales which had been sold to Miss Leslie for The Souvenir. Undaunted by this lack of success and sanguine in his plans for a new literary magazine, Poe sent a prospectus of the proposed journal to Lambert A. Wilmer, now superseded [page 4:] by John H. Hewitt as editor of the Saturday Visiter.(7) Wilmer, however, was penniless, and was forced to leave Baltimore. Thus Poe’s first scheme for a magazine failed..

In March, 1835, Kennedy’s invitation to a dinner brought forth the following reply from Poe:

Your kind invitation to dinner today has wounded me to the quick. I cannot come — and for reasons of the most humiliating nature — my personal appearance. You may conceive my deep mortification in making this disclosure to you — but it was necessary. If you will be my friend so far as to loan me $20, I will call on you to-morrow — otherwise it will be impossible, and I must submit to my fate.(8)

Realizing Poe’s desperate circumstances, Kennedy introduced Poe to Thomas Willis White, the publisher of The Southern Literary Messenger, a journal recently founded in Richmond. To White Poe happily sent some of his tales, and “Berenice,” the first known tale to be accepted, appeared in the Messenger for March, 1835.(9) Writing to White almost a month later, Kennedy stated:

Poe did right in referring to me. He is very clever with his pen — classical and scholar-like. He wants experience and direction, but I have no doubt he can be made very useful to you. And, poor fellow, he is very poor. I told him to write something for every number of your magazine, and that you might find it to your advantage to give him some permanent employ. . . . The young fellow is highly imaginative and a little terrific. He is at [page 5:] work upon a tragedy [Politian], but I have turned him to drudging upon whatever may make money. . .(10)

Poe graciously accepted Kennedy’s advice by sending something each month to White for the Messenger.

In spite of a serious illness in May, 1835, Poe was busy with his pen. Not only was he a contributor to the Messenger, but he was also a friendly adviser. Without remuneration he published critiques of the issues of the Messenger in the Baltimore newspapers.(11) In reply to one of White’s letters concerning a vacancy on the editorial staff of the Messenger, Poe answered that “nothing would give me greater pleasure. I have been desirous, for some time past, of paying a visit to Richmond, and would be glad of any reasonable excuse for so doing. Indeed I am anxious to settle myself in that city, and if, by any chance, you hear of a situation likely to suit me, I would gladly accept it, were the salary even the merest trifle.”(12)

As a result of this correspondence with White, Poe appeared on the streets of Richmond, in the early days of August, 1835, leaving behind in Baltimore for the present Mrs. Clemm and Virginia. It was truly a home-coming for Poe, for here were his old friends Jack Mackenzie, Bob Cabell, Bob Stanard, the Galts, and “Aunt Nancy” Valentine, his foster-mother’s sister. After probably a short stay with the Mackenzies, with [page 6:] whom his feeble-minded sister Rosalie was living, he took up lodgings with Mrs. Poore on Bank Street, Capitol Square.

His visit to Richmond was for only a month, and his dissipations did not recommend themselves to White. By September he had returned to Baltimore, where he received the following advice from White:

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

That you are sincere in all your promises, I firmly believe. But, Edgar, when you once again tread these streets, I have my fears that your resolves would fall through, — and that you would again sip the juice, even till it stole away your senses. Rely on your own strength, and you are gone! Look to your Maker for help, and you are safe!(13)

On September 22 he took out a license for his marriage with his cousin Virginia Clemm. Her mother has said that the ceremony was performed by the Reverend John Johns, at Old Christ Church; however, no complete legal proof of the marriage has yet been discovered.

At this time Poe wrote to White repentantly, and the owner of the Messenger with unusual kindness and sympathy warned Poe that “If you should come to Richmond again, and again should be an assistant in my office, it must be expressly understood by us that all engagements on my part would be dissolved, the moment you get drunk.”(14) Before Poe’s leaving Richmond [page 7:] in September, White had written to Lucian Minor, whom he had often tried to employ as editor of the Messenger,’ that “Poe is now in my employ — not as Editor. He is unfortunately rather dissipated, — and therefore I can place very little reliance upon him. His disposition is quite amiable. He will be some assistance to me in proof-reading. . . .”(16) A little later he had informed Minor that “Poe has flew the track already.”(17)

In October Poe returned to Richmond with Mrs. Clemm and Virginia, and they boarded together at Mrs. James Yarrington’s boarding house in the neighborhood of Mrs. Poore’s. In a letter dated October 20, 1835, White wrote Lucian Minor that “Poe, who is with me again, read it [your address] over by copy with great care. He is very much pleased with it . . . and intends noticing it under the head of Reviews.” Four days later White suggested that Minor send a modest paragraph noting the Messenger as under his (White’s) own editorial management, assisted by several gentlemen of distinguished literary attainments, and introducing Poe’s name as one engaged to contribute to its columns, “taking care not to say as editor.”(19) “This I am sure,” he continued, “you can manage for me, if you can possibly spare the time, now that [Edward Vernon] Sparhawk has taken the field against me. I will speak [page 8:] to you on this head when I next see you. . . . I am in no little trouble. — My wife(20) is very sick now, and has been for m days. . . . (21)

On becoming once again a member of the editorial staff of the Messenger, Poe looked with hope into the future. White, no doubt, was also happy that Poe had returned, for he was constantly worried by his wife’s illness and by the dwindling list of subscribers to his magazine. Poe was now very busy, for review copies of the latest books were piled high on his desk in the little office over Archer’s shoe-shop on the corner of Main and Fifteenth Streets. As he walked up the staircase to the Messenger establishment, he perhaps thought of the pleasant days spent next door in the office of the firm of Ellis and Allan. At the stairhead he was greeted by White, “a stocky, good-natured man with a florid face,”(22) and there also were the printers John W. Fergusson and William MacFarland.(23) To Poe perhaps fell the task of answering protests, for as early as June 22, 1835, one of the contributors to the magazine, James M. Garnett of Essex, Virginia, had complained to White that Poe “will rather injure than benefit your Paper.”(24) Poe probably smiled at the wincing of his puny literary critics and sharpened his weapons, for, as Hervey Allen writes:

It was in the pages of the Messenger that Poe first appeared [page 9:] in the American arena as the greatest literary gladiator of his time. American critics up until that era had formerly conducted their mock combats with blunt or, at best, lead weapons. Poe now appeared in their midst with a bright sword that bit deep and drew blood. He began to be feared, hated, and admired.(25)

In the spring of 1836 Poe conducted a delightful correspondence with Nathaniel Beverley Tucker of Williamsburg, Virginia, a writer himself and a man of sympathy and understanding.(26) In December Tucker had promised some “rude lines” for the Messenger,(27) and the following January he wrote to White:

Last night I received a letter from Mr. P. by which I learn that you may not feel as much confidence in his capacity for the duties of his station as is necessary for your mutual comfort. This doubt he attributes in part to what must have been a misconstruction by you on one of my letters. That I have not admired all Mr. P.’s productions, as much as some others, and that his writings are not so much to my taste as they would be were I (as would to God I were) as young as he, I do not deny.(28)

In April Poe politely apologized for the omission of some of Tucker’s verses in the April, 1836, number of the journal, stating that a lack of space prohibited the running of his two poems together in one issue,(29) and [page 10:] he also stated his reason for the alterations in Tucker’s article on slavery.(30)

That Poe was not giving away to Southern convivialities in the latter part of 1835 is evident from a statement of White’s to Lucian Minor: “All the Critical Notices are from the pen of Poe — who I rejoice to tell you, still keeps from the Bottle,”(31) and by Poe’s letter dated January 22, 1836, to Kennedy, in which he gave his pleasant prospects:

. . . without your timely aid I should have sunk under my trials. Mr. White is very liberal, and besides my salary of $520 pays me liberally for extra work, so that I have nearly $800. Next year . . . I am to get $1000. . . . I receive, from publishers, nearly all new publications. My friends in Richmond have received me with open arms, and my reputation is extending — especially in the South.(32)

Again, in February, Poe’s reply to a letter of Kennedy’s was:

I find no difficulty in keeping pace with the demands of the Magazine. In the February number, which is now in the binder’s hands, are no less than 40 pages of Editorial — perhaps this is a little de trop. There was no November number issued — Mr. W. having got so far behind in regard to time, as to render it expedient to date the number which should have been the November number — December. I am rejoiced that you will attend to the matters I spoke of in my last. Mr W. has increased my salary, since I wrote, $104., for the present year — This is being liberal beyond my expectations. He is exceedingly kind in every respect.(33) [page 11:]

On May 16, 1836, Thomas W. Cleland, a pressman and the son-in-law of Mrs. Poore, swore before the Deputy Clerk Charles Howard that “Virginia E. Clemm is of full age of twenty-one years, and a resident of said city,”(34) of Richmond, when she was actually only thirteen. Three days later, at Mrs. Yarrington’s boarding house, the marriage ceremony of Virginia Clemm and Edgar Allan Poe was performed by the Reverend Amasa Converse, a Presbyterian minister and the editor of The Southern Religious Telegraph, a denominational journal published in Richmond. Those who were present for the wedding celebration included Mrs. Yarrington’s boarders, the poet’s friends, Mrs. Jane Stocking, Thomas W. White, his daughters Eliza and Mrs. Peter D. Bernard, and others.(35) After the wedding ceremony Edgar and Virginia left on their honeymoon, to visit friends in Petersburg, Virginia. The following note taken from The Norfolk (Va.) Herald appeared in the Messenger for July, 1836: “The critical notices are very good for the most part; but then we could hardly expect Mr. Poe to be sour ere the honeymoon be past.”(36) In Petersburg the bride and groom were guests at the home of Hiram G. Haines, the proprietor of The Petersburg (Va.) Constellation, and later at the home of Dr. W. M. Robinson, one of the contributors to the Messenger.(37)

After Virginia and Edgar had returned home, Mrs. Clemm agreed to rent a house, for which White paid [page 12:] $10,000, and to board the White family and her own. The plan was agreeable to both White, whose wife was an invalid, and to Poe, who was left with scarcely any money after paying Mrs. Yarrington $9 a week for his family’s board.(38) When White looked at his house, he found it large enough for only one family. On June 7, 1836, Poe asked Kennedy for a loan of $100 for six months, and to show his good faith, he stated that his salary was $15 a week and that in the following November he expected to get $20 a week.(39) Poe also solicited Sioo from William and Robert Poe and George, Mrs. Clemm’s nephew. They complied with his request, but White’s poor judgment in buying a house unseen proved the undoing of both him and Poe, and Edgar and Virginia with Mrs. Clemm moved to a cheap tenement on Seventh Street.(40)

Beginning in September, White was experiencing difficulties with the Messenger, for his and Poe’s illness delayed the publication of the September issue of the journal.(41) In November a press of business caused the critical department of the magazine to be more brief than usual,(42) and the December issue failed to appear. [page 13:] On page seventy-two of the January, 1837, issue was printed the following notice:

Mr. Poe’s attention being called in another direction, he will decline, with the present number, the Editorial duties of the Messenger. His Critical Notices for this month end with Professor Anthon’s Cicero — what follows is from another hand. With the best wishes to the Magazine, and to its few foes as well as many friends, he is now desirous of bidding all parties a peaceable farewell.(43)

There were probably many reasons for Poe’s leaving the Messenger. In the first place, Poe was ambitious, and his writing and editorial work for the Messenger had increased his desire to edit a magazine of his own. “Before quitting the ‘Messenger’,” he once wrote his friend Charles Anthon, “I saw . . . through a long and dim vista, the brilliant field for ambition which a Magazine of bold and noble aims presented to him who should successfully establish it in America.”(44) Like the other editors of the journal, he had been hampered in its conduct by its very jealous owner Thomas W. White, who on December 27, 1836, in a letter marked “Private,” had informed Judge Beverley Tucker of Poe’s approaching dismissa1.(45) White felt ((cramped by him in the exercise of” his own judgment and at that time called on Tucker “to stand by the rudder.”(46) In another letter White wrote: [page 14:]

He is continually after me for money. I am sick of his writings as I am of him, and I am inclined to send him up another dozen dollars and with them all his MS., most of which are denominated “stuff.” For “A. Gordon Pym” he demanded three dollars a page.(47)

Perhaps White was also disappointed that Poe had not kept from the bottle, for years later Poe in a letter to his friend Dr. J. E. Snodgrass admitted:

. . . I certainly did give way, at long intervals, to the temptation held out on all sides by the spirit of Southern conviviality. My sensitive temperament could not stand an excitement which was an every-day matter to my companions. In short, it sometimes happened that I was completely intoxicated. For some days after each excess I was invariably confined to bed.(48)

Other explanations for Poe’s resignation are perhaps less valid : a rumored flirtation with Eliza White,(49) to whom Poe had addressed his “Lines Written in an Album”;(50) the Elmira Royster affair;(51) and the enmity of the Allan family. None of these matters seems to have affected Poe at this time.

Poe probably willingly left the Messenger, for the large publishing centers — New York and Philadelphia — were in the North, where perhaps he could get his tales published. Then, too, he had received letters from Dr. Francis L. Hawks, who had suggested that an opening might be found for him on The New York Review. The future looked uncertain in Richmond; in [page 15:] New York there was perhaps an opportunity for which he had been looking. With the Messenger he was doing a great deal of ordinary work of various sorts; with the Review he might secure employment without the drudgery of correcting proof, mailing magazines, and answering the silly requests of correspondents.(52)

With reluctance White parted with Poe, and it is more than possible that Poe often wished to be back on the editorial staff of The Southern Literary Messenger.(53) He was never quite able to realize his ambitions for a magazine of his own.



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1:]

1.  Reprinted in The Southern Literary Messenger, II, 33-37 (Dec., 1835). Hereinafter The Southern Literary Messenger will be cited as S. L. M.

2.  Reprinted in part in S. L. M., I, 716 (Aug., 1835).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 2:]

3.  Henry T. Tuckerman, The Life of John Pendleton Kennedy (New York, 1871), pp. 376-377. For an extended account of Poe’s relations with Kennedy, see J. P. Kennedy, Swallow Barn, ed. Jay B. Hubbell. American Authors Series (New York, 5929), pp. xvi-xxii.

4.  James A. Harrison (ed.), The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Va. Edition (New York, 1902), XVII, 94. Hereinafter this will be cited cited as Va. Poe.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 4:]

5.  J. H. Whitty (ed.), The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Boston and New York, 1955 and 1917), p. xxxvi.

6.  Hervey Allen, Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe. 2 vols. (New York, 1927), I, 353-354.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 4:]

7.  In the Saturday Visiter contest Hewitt had been the successful competitor for the prize poem.

8.  Va. Poe, XVII, 2.

9.  I, 333-336 (March, 1835).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 5:]

10.  Allen, op. cit., I, 366.

11.  See Killis Campbell, “Gleanings in the Bibliography of Poe,” Modern Language Notes, XXXII, 269 (May, 1917), T. O. Mabbott, “A Few Notes on Poe,” ibid., XXXV, 374 (June, 1920), and the present writer’s “Four of Poe’s Critiques in the Baltimore Newspapers,” to be published in Modern Language Notes.

12.  Va. Poe, XVII, 9.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 6:]

13.  Va. Poe, XVII, an.

14.  Va. Poe, XVII, 21.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 7:]

15.  Mary E. Phillips, Edgar Allan Poe: The Man. 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1926), I, 491. See also Appendix B, pp. 93-94.

16.  Appendix B, p. 98.

17.  Ibid., p. 100.

18.  Ibid., pp. 102-103.

19.  Ibid., p. 104.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 8:]

20.  Margaret Ann White, who died in Richmond on Dec. II, 1837.

21.  Appendix B, p. 104.

22.  Allen, op. cit., I, 378-379. A portrait of White, discovered by Mr. J. H. Whitty, may be found in the Poe Shrine, Richmond, Va.

23.  B. B. Minor, The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864 (New York and Washington, 1905), p. 14.

24.  Va. Poe, I, 125.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 9:]

25.  Allen, op. cit., I, 390.

26.  JamesSouthall Wilson, “Unpublished Letters of Edgar Allan Poe,” The Century Magazine, CVII, 652-656 (March, 1924) ; Maude Howlett Woodfin, “Nathaniel Beverley Tucker: His Writings and Political Theories; With a Sketch of His Life,” Richmond College Historical Papers, II, 9-42 (June, 1917).

27.  Va. Poe, XVII, 24.

28.  George E. Woodberry, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, Personal and Literary, with his Chief Correspondence with Men of Letters. 2 vols. (Boston, 1909), I, 554.

29.  Wilson, op. cit., p. 655.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 10:]

30.  Ibid., pp. 655-656.

31.  See Appendix B, p. 107.

32.  Va. Poe, XVII, 27.

33.  Va. Poe, XVII, 30-31.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 11:]

34.  Phillips, op. cit., I, 529.

35.  Ibid., I, 531.

36.  II, 524. (July, 1836).

37.  Appendix B, p. 107.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 12:]

38.  Va. Poe, XVII, 25-26.

39.  Va. Poe, XVII, 36.

40.  Allen, op. cit., I, 400.

41.  II, 668 (Sept., 1836). Poe’s letter dated Oct. 20, 1837, to Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, belongs to this period, and is apparently misdated. He explained to Mrs. Hale that he had been ill, that he had one article in a crude and unfinished state, and that William Gilmore Simms was not the editor of the Messenger. See Killis Campbell, “Poe and the ‘Southern Literary Messenger’ in 1837,” The Nation, LXXXIX, 9-10 (July 1, 1909) and Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe and Other Studies (Cambridge, Mass., 1933), p. 219.

42.  II, 788 (Nov., 1836).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 13:]

43.  III, 72 (Jan., 1837). See also White’s notice, “To the Patrons of the Southern Literary Messenger,” S. L. M., III, 96 (Jan., 1837). The second instalment of Poe’s “Arthur Gordon Pym” was published in the following February (S. L. M., III, 109-116).

44.  Va. Poe, XVII, 176.

45.  Wilson, op. cit., p. 656. See also Appendix C, pp. 109-110.

46.  Ibid., p.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 14:]

47.  Phillips, op. cit., I, 547.

48.  Va. Poe, I, 160.

49.  J. H. Whitty, in op. cit., p. xxxix, discredits this rumor.

50.  S. L. M., I, 748 (Sept., 1835).

51.  See Whitty, op. cit., pp. xxiv and xxvii-xxviii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 15:]

52.  See Appendix B, p. 98.

53.  After a lapse of several years Poe’s name as a contributor reappeared in the Messenger. His most important contributions in later issues of the journal were: “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq., Late Editor of ‘Goosetherumfoodle.’ By Himself” (X, 719-727), a reprint of “The Raven” (XI, 186-188), a review entitled “Mrs. Lewis’ Poems” (XIV, 569-570, “The Rationale of Verse” (XIV, 577-585 and 673-682), a review of Lowell’s Fable for Critics (XV, 189-191), “Marginalia” (XV, 217-222, 292-296, 336- 338, 414-416, and 600-601), “Frances Sargent Osgood” (XV, 509-515), and “Poe on Headley and Channing” (XVI, 605-612).







[S:0 - PSM, 1934] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Poe and The Southern Literary Messenger (D. K. Jackson) (Chapter 01)