Text: James H. Whitty, “Foreword,” Poe and The Southern Literary Messenger (1934), pp. v-ix (This material is protected by copyright)


[page v:]


Much of Edgar Allan Poe’s picturesque personality, as well as his literary career, is inseparably associated with The Southern Literary Messenger. And without material from that magazine adequate treatment of the life and literature of the old South would seem almost impossible.

Poe’s return to Richmond in the year 1835, and his connection with the Messenger, was a fortunate circumstance. To be with his old friends again, and among so many scenes of reminiscences connected with his boyhood, must have aroused within him those subtle influences which had become a part of him: that were bred in him when a child at Richmond.

Little wonder, then, to find him writing in the January, 1836, Messenger: “How fondly do we recur, in memory, to those enchanted days of our boyhood when we first learned to grow serious over Robinson Crusoe! — when we first found the spirit of wild adventure enkindling within us, as, by the dim firelight, we labored out, line by line, the marvellous import of those pages, and hung breathless and trembling with eagerness over their absorbing — over their enchaining interest! Alas! the days of desolate islands are no more!”

It was in a small room I have often wandered through, in the old Ellis and Allan general store building, originally standing alongside the Messenger office on Fifteenth Street that Poe showed early traits of his scholastic habit, and his unconscious education in the [page vi:] critical line from the mere love of it. It was there, after his Robinson Crusoe readings, that was begun a part of his self-education, in the study and readings of popular periodicals, and songs of the day. In that room Poe wrote his earliest criticism on “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” reading in part: “The poet — the Patriot and the man of feeling breathes thro’ the whole, and a strain of originality gives zest to this little piece, which is seldom felt on the perusal of others of the same kind.” This original manuscript with others was described by the present writer in the New York Sun of November 21, 1915.

Poe’s genius had rapidly developed, and besides he was man-grown when he entered upon his active literary career with the Messenger. He had been much about the newspaper offices and had associated with literary men at Baltimore. His keen insight which led him to detect the great possibilities for success in the magazine field of literature had already taken root, and his first prospectus for a magazine of his own was written at Baltimore — briefly, but in form not unlike his later plans for his proposed Penn and Stylus.

At the start, on the Messenger, he proved a willing worker and an apt student. The practical working apparatus of a printing, publishing, and magazine establishment was somewhat new to him, but he vigorously and earnestly grasped the details — read proof, wrote the bulk of the correspondence, attended to the payroll, and did a large part of the mailing-room duties — working both in and out of season. A great deal of his editorial and other writing for the magazine [page vii:] was done after regular hours at his boarding house. All in all, however, Poe undoubtedly gained an experience at this time with the magazine that served him well in after life.

The publication in this volume of the complete letters of T. W. ‘White to Lucian Minor, as well as letters to Beverley Tucker from White, is an important addition to the “Poe-Messenger” record. They especially throw new light upon the unsatisfactory conditions under which Poe worked at that period. Both Poe and White apparently fenced awhile for a last word before the final parting, while White believed that he could, at least, hold Poe as a contributor; but failed. Besides the other difficulties on the magazine for ultimate success Poe must have seen, and felt the financial strain under which White had rather suddenly fallen. This financial embarrassment was shown in later letters from White to R. W. Griswold, but not hitherto generally believed to have existed during Poe’s connection with the magazine. Another series of letters from T. W. White to Lucian Minor exist, but they make no mention of Poe.

A footnote to page 126 of J. M. Robertson’s New Essays towards a Critical Method, New York and London, 1897, directs attention to an article, “The Recent Movement in Southern Literature,” by Charles W. Coleman, Jr., in Harper’s Magazine for May 1887, where reference is made to an existing series of letters from Poe’s employer on the Messenger. This series of letters mentioned are those herein published from White to Tucker. [page viii:]

The bulk of the Messenger correspondence and papers under White’s ownership passed into the hands of a son-in-law and seem to have been destroyed. Several direct descendants of the family of White with whom I have conversed and corresponded had no knowledge of the existence of any papers. The only papers known are those left in Poe’s desk used at the Messenger office: letters from O. W. Holmes and R. H. Dana, correspondents’ letters, some manuscripts, and Poe matters, all of which are still preserved at Richmond. I understood the late Mr. Charles M. Wallace of Richmond to tell me that the Lucian Minor letters from T. W. White, printed herein, came to him originally from Mr. Charles Barham Barney, who was an early Richmond collector of manuscripts, and who also had an acquaintance with Poe’s early, and later fiancĂ©e, Mrs. Elmira Royster Shelton.

Complete files of the Messenger are comparatively few, especially outside of Richmond, while incomplete sets and scattering numbers do not appear uncommon. The Virginia State Library has two complete sets of the Messenger, originally bound up with covers. There are some half a dozen or more complete sets in Richmond with as many more scattered about the State of Virginia. A most interesting file of the magazine in Virginia is that once owned by John Esten Cooke, with copious annotations in his autograph. I have letters from his niece in Virginia who had preserved this file. A complete set, with covers, was made up and largely extra illustrated by the late Robert Lee Parrish of Virginia. This is now in the library of a well-known [page ix:] Pittsburgh railway attorney, a native of Virginia, who has one of the largest collections of Virginia books in existence. The most interesting Poe association file of the magazine is in the Poe collection of a Western collector. This has practically all the earlier separate numbers with covers addressed in Poe’s autograph.

Poe never seems to have kept a file of any magazine he edited. When he needed the Messenger to make some of the text for his tales of 1840, he borrowed four of the first volumes, while he lived in Philadelphia, from William Duane, a former Secretary of the Treasury, and who had previously written for the magazine.

While the first bound volume of the Messenger frequently shows up, for some unknown cause, in many instances, the first number for August 1834 is usually missing. The bound volume two is rarer. The Poe numbers are most sought after, and separate issues with covers are the most difficult to find. The volume thirteen for the year 1847 is the rarest, thought due to a small issue, while volumes for the years 1851-2 follow. These latter volumes contained Little’s History of Richmond, clippings of which were cut out of the volumes for preservation. The Civil War numbers of the magazine are also scarce.

The present volume is the first and only extended separate attempt for a fuller study of Poe’s connection with the Messenger. All devotees of Poe must extend to Mr. Jackson their deepest gratitude for so fair and admirable a presentation of all the facts.


Richmond, Va., July 25, 1931.







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