Text: Hervey Allen and Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Chapter 01,” Poe's Brother: The Poems of William Henry Leonard Poe (1926), pp. 19-36


[page 19:]





The Poems of



WILLIAM HENRY LEONARD POE, the elder brother by two years of Edgar Allan Poe, was born in Boston in 1807 while his parents, David Poe and Elizabeth Arnold Poe, were filling an engagement at the Federal Street Theatre in that city. The child seems to have first seen the light sometime between January 12, and February 22, 1807, as the unusual interruptions in the appearances of his mother, who was then playing in Shakespearian parts, Ophelia, Cordelia, and Blanche, indicate. The parents of the Poe boys were both poor and seem to have been unable to care for their first child, for on a visit to Baltimore during the theatrical vacation, sometime between May 25, and September 14, 1807, the boy was left with his paternal grandfather, “General” David Poe, who then resided at No. 19 Camden Street, Baltimore.(1) It was thus in the family of his grandparents that he was “ adopted” and brought up.

David and Elizabeth Poe returned to play in Boston where on January 19, 1809, Mrs. Poe gave birth to her afterward famous son Edgar. Her husband David [page 20:] died or deserted her in New York in July 181), after which Mrs. Poe went South, playing in Richmond, Norfolk, Charleston, S. C., and other places in the Southern circuit. About December 1o, 1810 (the date is not certain), she gave birth to her third child Rosalie in Norfolk, Virginia. These three children, William, Edgar, and Rosalie, constituted therefore the family of David and Elizabeth Poe. In December 1811, Mrs. Poe died in Richmond, Virginia, in the house of a milliner, in circumstances of great poverty and extreme tragedy. Edgar was “ adopted”, or taken into the house of John and Frances Allan; while Rosalie, or Rose, was taken home and cared for by a Mrs. William Mackenzie, both Mr. Allan and Mr. Mackenzie being Scotch merchants in comfortable circumstances. In the meantime William Henry Leonard Poe, the eldest born, had remained with his grandparents in Baltimore.

The first mention of “Henry,” as he was called, occurs in a letter written on February 8, 1813, from Baltimore by Eliza Poe (afterwards Mrs. Herring), the aunt of Henry and Edgar, to Mrs. John Allan in Richmond. The letter deals for the most part with Edgar whom the Poes were anxious to care for, but goes on to say:

... Henry frequently speaks of his little brother and expressed a great desire to see him, tell him he sends his best love to him and is greatly pleased to hear that he is so good as also so pretty a boy as Mr. Douglas represented him to be. ... (1) Mr. Douglas was a Baltimore gentleman who had seen young Edgar, then only four years old, in company with his foster parents, the Allans, at the Virginia Hot Springs. [page 21:]

Edgar's foster-mother seems to have been afraid that the Baltimore relatives might claim her little “son,” and there was consequently little contact between the two orphan brothers. After the return of the Allans from England in 1820, some correspondence between the two boys seems to have taken place, for in November 1824 John Allan writes to Henry Poe, then seventeen years of age, a letter in which he complains bitterly of Edgar, attacks the legitimacy of Rosalie, and apparently attempts to estrange the two young men. In this letter there is reference to a correspondence between the two brothers as follows:(1)

Richmond Nov. 1824


I have just seen your letter of the 25th ult. to Edgar and am much afflicted he has not written you. He has had little else to do, for me he does nothing and seems quite miserable and sulky and ill tempered to all the Family. How we have acted to produce this is beyond my conception, why I have put up so long with his conduct is little less wonderful. The boy professes not a spark of affection for us, not a particle of affection for all my care and kindness towards him. I have given [him] a much superior Education than ever I received myself. If Rosalie has to relie on any affection from him God in his mercy preserve her — I fear his associates have led him to adopt a course [?] of thinking and acting very contrary to what he professed when in [page 22:] England. I feel proudly the difference between your principles and his and hence my desire to stand as I ought to do in your Estimation. Had I done my duty as faithfully to my God as I have to Edgar, then had Death, come when he will have no terrors for me but I must end this with a devout wish that God may yet bless him and you and that success may crown all your endeavors and between you, your poor Sister Rosalie may not suffer. At least she is half your sister and God forbid my dear Henry that we should visit upon the living the errors of the dead. Believe me Dear Henry we take an affectionate interest in your destinies and our United Prayers will be that the God of Heaven will bless and protect you. Rely on him my Brave and excellent Boy who is ready to save to the uttermost. May he keep you in Danger, preserve you always is the prayer of your

Friend & Servant  

It is now known that this letter was an ignoble gesture of self-defense on the part of John Allan, who hoped, by threatening to disclose a scandal involving Mrs. David Poe, to seal the lips of Edgar in regard to domestic scandals then agitating the Allan household. That Edgar's guardian was partly successful in casting a doubt upon the legitimacy of Rosalie Poe, generally spoken of as “Rose” or “Rosa”, Henry's lines In a pocketbook would seem to indicate.(1) Thus Mr. Allan appears to have had his own private reasons for wishing to estrange the two brothers, but in this he was not successful, for sometime during the summer of 1825 William Henry Leonard Poe paid a visit to his brother Edgar Allan Poe, then living at the corner of Main and Fifth Streets in Richmond, with his [page 23:] foster-parents the Allans. Edgar was at that time paying attention to and undoubtedly very much in love with a little girl who lived near by, Sarah Elmira Royster, and Miss Royster has left a recollection of a call at her home by the two Poe brothers in company with a friend of Edgar by the name of Ebenezer Burling.

Henry was at this time either in the Navy or the Merchant Marine, as Miss Royster remembered his appearing in a nautical uniform, seemingly that of a midshipman. As no record of Henry Poe can be found in the Navy lists, it would seem that he might have been attached to a merchantman. Yet in his Montevideo letter he seems to indicate that he was there in 1827 aboard the U.S.S. Macedonian, a frigate captured from the British in the War of 1812, and evidently in commission at the time Henry writes. From this one would judge that he had some rating in the regular establishment, perhaps that of midshipman, by Captain's warrant. The difficulties in the Allan household about 1825 were serious; Edgar was already alienated from his foster-father, and the visit of his blood brother at such a time must have cemented the already natural affection between the boys.

From the early poetry left by both Edgar and Henry Poe, it plainly appears that both brothers were of a similar poetically-inclined and somewhat melancholy temperament. Both inherited the same traits and predilections, and it would seem also the same weaknesses, for Henry, even earlier than Edgar, went [page 24:] into ill health. He was said to have been a delicate, sensitive, and willowy youth, and it is known that he died early of tuberculosis.

Of Henry Poe's life about Baltimore of the twenties and early thirties of the last century very little is known. From a great variety of sources, hints in correspondence, and obscure recollections, it has been possible to piece together the following:

Henry Poe remained with his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. David Poe, Sr., up until the time of the death of the grandfather, October 19, 1816, when the family seems to have been living at Park Lane [now Roborg Street] in the Western precincts, according to the old directories. Henry Poe seems also to have been helped and cared for by a Mr. Henry Didier, who had been a law student with David Poe, Jr., before the latter went on the stage. The widowed grandmother was left in poor circumstances, dependent on a small pension. Soon after the death of her husband she became paralyzed and went to live with her daughter, Mrs. Maria Clemm, afterwards Poe's mother-in-law, whither Henry also accompanied her.

In the meantime, however, probably about the time of the break-up of his grandparents’ household, Henry went to sea. From various incidents which Edgar Poe afterwards “incorporated” into his own biography, it seems likely that Henry visited the Mediterranean, the near East, and possibly Russia. It is probable that he made one or two general European voyages and at least one to the West Indies and [page 25:] South America, as he indicates himself in his work. His adventures at least furnished forth a chapter of life which was afterward appropriated and perhaps enlarged upon by his younger brother for trade purposes. It now appears, indeed, that many of the “standard” biographies of E. A. Poe are in reality partly a synthesis of Henry's and Edgar's, especially in regard to the years 1827-1829.

About the time that Edgar went to the University of Virginia in 1826, Henry Poe seems to have completed his experience at sea, for from that time on there is a fairly consecutive running reference to him as being in Baltimore. F. W. Thomas, afterwards Edgar's close friend, says of Henry about 1826:

Your brother and I were then intimate — and rather rivals in a love affair.”(1)

Thomas was then living in Baltimore and much about town with a rather gay young literary, social, and political set to which Henry Poe must also have belonged.

It was a strange society — wherein literary men were respected, though their conduct was often far from respectable, and the gifts of the Muses are said to have been an “open sesame” to the houses of cultured people. The members of the Delphian Club drank deep and told facetious stories over bowls of punch. Gentlemen were proud to write poetry — and of not being paid for it. The author of The-Star Spangled Banner was a man of affairs, nor was he the only [page 26:] prominent citizen who filled the Albums of young ladies with sentimental verse. John Neal had recently gone from Baltimore to England to tell our British cousins with delightful sangfroid and inaccuracy what was what in American literature. And among them moved the tragic and gallant figure of Edward Coote Pinkney, the author of “I raise this cup to one made up of loveliness alone” — and two or three other lyrics, which are the finest before Edgar Poe's, in America. One wishes one could picture Henry Poe in his company — both had been to sea. But Pinkney was the son of an Attorney-General of the United States. He was a reserved and punctilious man, and Thomas admits he knew him but slightly — perhaps a few meetings at Coale's bookstore were the extent of his acquaintance — before Pinkney died at less than twenty-six, the victim of a tropical disease. Yet Henry must have seen him often, since he edited a paper which was printed by Samuel Sands, who had run the North American. And we can guess that Henry Poe and Thomas were often enough in company with Lambert A. Wilmer at Mistress Foy's Tavern where Hewitt and Rufus Dawes might drop in for talk and song and punch.

Henry is known to have been rather wild, to have early developed a fondness for drink, to have been fond of female society — and to have died young. That he must also have possessed a considerable charm, not a little latent talent, a somewhat precocious development, and a vivid imagination, — what [page 28:] little we have from his immature pen seems clearly to indicate. In appearance he was said to have resembled his brother Edgar, but to have been somewhat taller. From 1826 on, Henry's whereabouts and what scanty information we have about his doings must be traced mainly through those of his brother Edgar.

Edgar Poe matriculated at the University of Virginia February 14, 1826. Before leaving Richmond he had obtained the promise of Sarah Elmira Royster to marry him, and upon departure had presented her with a purse engraved with initials in which the engraver had made an error. It is also known that he sent back a letter to his sweetheart by James Hill, the Allans’ darky coachman and slave, who drove Poe and his foster-mother to the University. This was probably the last letter which Elmira, or “Myra” as he called her, received from Poe until a year or so before his death (1849), when he again became engaged to her. Owing to Mr. Allan's undoubtedly calculated parsimony Poe was in debt upon his arrival at the University from shortage of funds, and the young Edgar engaged in the game of Loo at which he was unfortunate. Having no cash, he exploited his credit with Charlottesville merchants and ran up a considerable debt in order to pay his classmates. Poe had plunged deeper than he realized, and when Mr. Allan was presented with the bills, he took the opportunity of removing Poe from the University at the end of the year. In the meantime Mr. and Mrs. Royster had [page 30:] intercepted all of Edgar's letters to Elmira, and had persuaded their daughter to become engaged to a Mr. A. Barret Shelton, a young gentleman of considerable means and some social status. The Roysters had at one time loaned Mr. Allan considerable sums and were well enough known to him to be assured that Poe's prospects for an inheritance, although he had been brought up as a foster-son, were nil. Otherwise it is not likely that they would have opposed his suit.

Thus upon returning to Richmond, Poe found that his sweetheart, who doubtless supposed him indifferent, had been removed and was engaged to his rival. The blow was a telling one. Edgar was heart-broken, pursued by warrants for debt, and in disgrace with his “father,” who desired him to be a lawyer. He quarreled with Mr. Allan and left home, going to Boston under the assumed name of Henri Le Rennet. Here, probably on a little money furnished him by Mrs. Allan and his “Aunt”, Miss Anne Valentine, he rub-fished his first volume of poems called Tamerlane and other Poems, printed by a tyro printer named Calvin F. S. Thomas. The title poem dealt with Edgar's love affair with Elmira Royster.

It now seems, from poetry published by Henry Poe in Baltimore in 1827 in the North American, here reproduced (see pages 43 and so) that Poe sent a copy of this book to his elder brother who inserted certain selections from it in the magazine mentioned, over his own initials. Edgar seems also to have written the full particulars of his tragic little love affair to [page 31:] William Henry Poe in Baltimore, after arriving at Boston or Fort Moultrie, S. C.

It was in the late summer and autumn of 1827 that Edgar communicated with his brother Henry. The result of these communications may be read in The Pirate, here printed for the first time since it appeared almost a century ago in Baltimore. Whether the story is by E. A. Poe or a romantic rendering of Edgar's letters by William Henry Poe, is hard to tell, but the latter is more probable. There is some indication in the story, as the careful reader will see, that Henry Poe may have called in a ship on the way to or from the West Indies at Charleston and there had an interview with young Edgar at Fort Moultrie. Edgar is described in the person of the pirate who cares for the narrator while the latter was ill with yellow fever. Charleston was haunted with yellow fever which lends some “local color” to the probability. This is doubtful, however. Although he seems anxious to disclaim full credit for the tale in his curious introductory note, we may notice that the story Recollections, in which Edgar figures, is clearly by Henry alone.

In February 1827, Henry was in Montevideo — a little later in the year we find him in Baltimore and writing constantly for the North American. Perhaps after 1827 he went no more to sea. In 1829 Henry Poe was known to have been employed in the office of Henry Didier, and to have been living with Mrs. Maria Clemm, his aunt, in Mechanics Row, Milk Street, Baltimore. He must also have been entering [page 32:] now upon his period of decline, for in 1829 there is record of his illness and despairing drinking. A short time later he died of tuberculosis at Mrs. Clemm's.

The probabilities are, therefore, that the material that appeared in the North American in 1827 was his own, and the poems by Edgar copied from Tamerlane. Henry perceived that his brother's love affair with Elmira Royster was exactly the tragic-romantic type of star-crossed lover plot which most tickled the sentimental-lugubrious palate of the period and appealed especially to romantic youth. That Edgar had lost his sweetheart and run away on an adventurous career was an opportunity which Henry could not neglect. Hence, The Pirate. That this story refers to the Elmira incident there cannot be the shadow of doubt. Henry had been taken to call upon her; Edgar had written him the later particulars. It was enough. In the story we find Edgar's appearance as the “young pirate” aptly described, his assumed age carefully given, the name of “Rose”, the Poes’ sister, substituted for Elmira, and Edgar and Edgar-Leonard, the names of the two Poe brothers, intertwined. The incident of the lover's return, when he finds his sweetheart about to be married to another, is almost literally Edgar's experience after coming back from the University in 1826. The rest is an easy piece of romance. Pirates in the West Indies, the Floridas and Carolinas were then not uncommon, and William Henry Leonard Poe had been to sea. It is all very characteristic of both youths, and of the era. [page 33:]

The strong family affection that existed between all the Poes is strikingly illustrated in the little poem on the locks of the father's, mother's, and sweetheart's hair mingled, In a Pocketbook. While it is possible that Henry really had a sweetheart named Rosa, it is more probable that the verses originally referred to the sister, but were published by Henry under the belief that the ordinary reader would interpret the family poem romantically.

There is no doubt that the bringing to light of these stanzas and prose offerings by Henry Poe raises a great many questions over which critics may wrangle; and suggests, in fact proves, a much closer and more significant and affectionate contact between the two young brothers than has ever been suspected heretofore. Perhaps the most interesting point of all is the proof of the existence of a talent in Henry similar though hardly equal to what Edgar had exhibited at that early date, and of a similarity of temperament in the two brothers that may throw a helpful light on their heredity, mental and physical. There can be little doubt that Henry was determined to be a poet. We know that Edgar was. There are lines of hitherto unknown poetry by Edgar Poe written certainly as early as 1824 when the boy was only fourteen years of age. This tends to confirm Edgar Poe's statements in his preface to Tamerlane.

It is now in order to detail what is known of the rest of Henry Poe's short life. In 1829 Poe returned to Richmond, left the army, visited Washington, and [page 34:] then went to live for a while in Baltimore during the summer and winter of 1829. At that time he lived, certainly for a while, with Henry, his Aunt Mrs. Clemm, and the little girl Virginia whom he afterward married. On May 20, 1829, Edgar Poe writes to John Allan from Baltimore, “I have succeeded in finding Grandmother and my relatives.”(1) On August 10, 1829 Edgar Poe, still in Baltimore, again writes to John Allan, “My Grandmother is extremely poor and ill (paralytic). My Aunt Maria [Mrs. Clemm] if possible still worse and Henry entirely given over to drink and unable to help himself, much less me”’ — a statement that sufficiently indicates Henry's condition at the time. In July 183o Edgar entered West Point and we again hear of Henry through him in another letter to John Allan, June 28, (1830), “I take the first opportunity since arriving here of acknowledging the receipt of your letter of 21st May inclosing a U. S. note for $20 I received it three days ago — it has been lying some time in the W. P. post office where it was forwarded from Baltimore, by Henry.’ On his way to West Point from Richmond Edgar had again visited his brother Henry in Baltimore in May and June 1830.

Edgar Poe left West Point about February 18, 1831, after being dismissed by court martial. He stayed a short time in New York and evidently arrived in Baltimore about the end of March 1831 when he went to live with his Aunt Maria Clemm at Mechanics [page 35:] Row, Milk [[Wilk]] Street, in the Fells Point district. There were then in the household, Mrs. Clemm, Virginia Clemm, old Mrs. David Poe, the grandmother, Henry Poe, Henry Clemm, and to them was now added Edgar. Henry Poe was very ill; was dying, in fact. Edgar must have spent much of his time nursing his elder brother for whom he had gone into debt. On August 2, 1831, the following notice appeared in the Baltimore American:

“Died last evening W. H. Poe aged 24 years. His friends and acquaintances are invited to attend his funeral this morning at 9 from the dwelling of Mrs. Clemm in Milk Street.”

William Henry Leonard Poe was buried in the graveyard of the old First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore where his immortal brother now lies. Edgar Allan Poe survived him by eighteen years. The sorrow of following to the grave this beloved elder brother, cut off in his early manhood, is one of the many tragedies of Edgar Poe's own youth which his biographers have for the most part overlooked. For Edgar there was what threatened to be a very tragic aftermath.

Nov. 18, 1831

My dear Pa (To John Allan)

I am in great distress and have no other friend on earth to apply to except yourself if you refuse to help me I know not what I shall do. I was arrested eleven days ago for a debt which I never expected to have to pay and which was incurred as much on H[enr]y's account as on my own about two years ago ... (1) [page 36:]

In 1829 it seems probable that Poe had endorsed a note for his brother Henry. With his elder brother's death the payment fell on Edgar and threatened him with prison. One senses behind all this the youthful hopes, the passionate and romantic attachment of the two orphaned brothers, hours of intimate talk, the two heads bent over the lines of their first poetry — poverty, sickness, the last agony, and despair.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 19:]

1.  The “adoption” of Henry Poe by his grandparents has hitherto been given as two years later. “Adoption” in the cases of the Poe children must not be understood in its legal sense, but merely in the meaning of “fostering.” [[letter text]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 20:]

1.  From the Ellis & Allan correspondence in the Library of Congress.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 21:]

1.  From the Ellis & Allan papers in The Library of Congress — MS copy in John Allan's hand. This was first discovered by Prof. Killis Campbell, but not fully printed until later.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 22:]

1.  See Henry Poe's poem on page 41.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 25:]

1.  F. W. Thomas to E. A. Poe, Washington, 3 [[30]] August, 1841. [[letter text]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 34:]

1.  Edgar Allan Poe Letters in the Valentine Museum, courtesy of the Valentine Museum, Richmond, Va.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 35:]

1.  Edgar Allan Poe Letters in the Valentine Museum, Courtesy [[courtesy]] of the Valentine Museum, Richmond, Va.






[S:0 - WHP26, 1926] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Poe's Brother: The Poems of William Henry Leonard Poe (H. Allen and T. O. Mabbott) (Chapter 01)