Text: Hervey Allen and Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Chapter 05,” Poe's Brother: The Poems of William Henry Leonard Poe (1926), pp. 75-87


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[page 75:]

The North American, in which appeared the poems and prose items of William Henry Poe that are here reproduced, was published in Baltimore, in 1827. The name and the location of its publisher are given frequently throughout its various issues, as in the following notice:

PRINTED AND PUBLISHED by SAMUEL SANDS, at the North East Corner of Gay and Water Sts. opposite the Exchange, Baltimore, at FOUR DOLLARS PER ANNUM, payable at the expiration of six months.

☞ BOOK and JOB PRINTING, of every description, executed in the neatest manner and on the most liberal terms, at the office of the North American. — MERCHANTS and MAGISTRATES’ BLANKS constantly on hand for sale.

This obscure sheet, typical of many will-o’-the-wisp magazines of the early 19th century in America, was, as the prospectus states, published every Saturday, as a quarto (of eight pages, three columns to the page) on fine super-royal paper, with new brevier type. It succeeded a former venture of Sands — The Saturday Herald, a weekly literary paper — a folio of four pages to the issue, of which but two single issues are now preserved, despite the three years of the paper’s [page 76:] existence, so that little can be said of it save that it printed much verse, and perhaps some of Henry Poe’s. The publisher also printed a journal called the Commercial Record, and was at different times connected with many other Baltimore papers. The full title of the North American (which, of course, should not be confused with the North American Review of contemporary date, then published from Washington Street, Boston), was the North American — Or, Weekly Journal of Politics, Science and Literature, a caption which sufficiently indicates the nature of its contents.

The notice reproduced on page 77, taken from page six of the magazine (which is paged continuously from 1 to 224) announced the advent of the paper.

The magazine, the contents of which were largely clipped, after a custom then well-nigh universal, from foreign and domestic journals of the time, ran for a little more than six months, from Volume I, number 1, of May 19, 1827, to Volume I, number. 28, of November 24, 1827. In the twenty-seventh number, Sands, perhaps finding many subscriptions advertised as “payable at the end of six months” uncollectable, offered the paper for sale. And in the next number, he explained that not having been able to dispose of the paper, and being unable, owing to a new undertaking, to continue it, he was resolved to bring the North American to a close. The new undertaking, we know, was the semi-weekly political newspaper, called The Marylander, which was established in December, by Baltimore supporters of President John [page 78:] Quincy Adams. Its editor was the brilliant Edward C. Pinkney,(1) who published in it no original verses, save his own! Henry Poe probably lost no money, but considerable pleasure, when the North American ceased publication. If few mourned it, fewer preserved it, and only three or four files are known.

The chief interest in this old periodical now consists in the fact that there undoubtedly appear in it items from both the pens of William Henry Leonard Poe and Edgar Allan Poe. These generally appear under the caption “original,” and show that they were given directly to the North American by Henry Poe and not copied from some other source. The reason for knowing that these items were contributed by Henry Poe lies in the evidence that they appear for the most part under the initials “ W. H. P.” (William Henry Poe) and that they refer to events in the life of Edgar Allan Poe, notably his love affair with Miss Sarah Elmira Royster of Richmond, Virginia, his flight from Richmond under an assumed name in March 1827, and his publication of Tamerlane a few months later in Boston.

It will be perfectly evident to Poe students, from much surrounding evidence in the publication of these poems in Baltimore in 1827, that they are from the pen of William Henry Poe. What definitely fixes the matter beyond all doubt, however, is that on page 144 of the North American appears over Henry’s initials, “W. H. P.”, a variant of the stanzas entitled “The Happiest day — the Happiest hour,” which Edgar published [page 79:] about the same time in Tamerlane at Boston. Page 144 of the magazine falls in the issue of Saturday, September 15, 1827. Edgar Poe was in Boston, Massachusetts, from some time in April 1827 to October 30, 1827. During that time Tamerlane appeared, probably in May or June. There would, therefore, have been plenty of time for Edgar to have sent his brother Henry a copy of the book, and for Henry to have inserted the stanzas as they now appear over his initials.

The order of the appearance of Henry’s work in the North American shows that certainly after the issue of July 28, 1827, Henry Poe was a fairly regular contributor. It is apparent that his poetry and prose frequently dealt with episodes in the life of his romantic younger brother and in two cases he actually reproduced some of the stanzas from Edgar Poe’s first book.

Nor was Henry alone interested in treating the story of Poe and Elmira Royster. This romantic episode, which provided all the machinery of a stock love-plot of the period, was probably much discussed about the office of the North American, where Henry was doubtless familiar with the staff and contributors. Among these contributors was L. A. Wilmer, afterwards known as an intimate friend of Edgar’s, and the author of The Quacks of Helicon. Wilmer evidently became familiar with the unfortunate events of Edgar’s love affair with Elmira in Richmond, and as Henry had treated it with romantic license in The Pirate, Wilmer in a more fantastic version had already [page 80:] used it as the plot of Merlin, a poetic drama in three acts, which he contributed to the pages of the North American for three consecutive numbers, beginning August 18. In Merlin, Elmira is retained as the heroine of the piece, and one “Marcus” who plays the part of the constant friend, adjures “Elmira” to remain faithful to her absent lover “Alphonso”. “Elmira’s” habitation is removed from the banks of the James to those of the Hudson. That Wilmer was the author of Merlin is revealed by Poe in the Southern Literary Messenger, February 1836, in reviewing that worthy’s Confessions of Emilia Harrington. There Poe is at some pains to call attention to the fact that Wilmer is the author of “the touching lines To Mira” (reprinted in December 1835 in the Messenger from the North American, where they had been called To Mary) and “Merlin, a drama — some portions of which are full of the truest poetic fire.” Wilmer had possession before 1829 of a manuscript copy of Tamerlane; he had used the story in his play, and he changed the title of a poem, perhaps because he thought his friend still mourned his lost love. The little tragedy had found three settings — in Tamerlane, in The Pirate, and in Merlin — clear proof how quickly Poe had seized the imaginations of those with whom he came in contact — how readily he became the Byronic hero of his friends, as was the darling desire of his own heart.

Hence the relation between the two Poe brothers was essentially romantic. They were both orphans of the [page 81:] same doubtlessly much idolized but little-known-to-them actress mother. Henry had been raised in Baltimore and Edgar in Richmond, then a long journey apart. Consequently, they had seen little of each other, and their touch must largely have been through what we may be sure was an adolescently romantic correspondence. By 1824 some real romance and tragedy was injected into this. An attack was made on the legitimacy of the boys’ sister, and consequently on the reputation of their mother, by Edgar’s guardian in Richmond. “God forbid, my dear Henry, that we should visit upon the living the errors of the dead” . . . etc., etc., in a most curious letter. It is almost certain that the hints of Mr. Allan were unjustified. This undoubtedly brought the two boys closer together. In 1825 Henry visits Edgar in Richmond. Edgar was living in “a great mansion” just acquired through money inherited by his guardian, and he must have seemed to Henry to be leading a sort of magic existence. During this visit both the brothers call on the beautiful and juvenile Miss Royster, who seems also to have made a vivid impression on Henry. Soon after Henry learns that that lucky dog Edgar is engaged to the young lady, and also attending the University of Virginia. Then suddenly, in 1827, all the brilliant career of the adopted son “of the richest man in Virginia,” presumptive heir to the Galt-Allan thousands, the princely lover of Elmira, is blighted! Edgar has found love’s first sweet dream a delusion. The fair one has been ravished from her lover’s arms and [page 82:] made to consent to marry a rich suitor favored by her parents. Yet more — Edgar, that star-crossed youth, has fled the mansion of his rich, but obstinate guardian —

“Another brow may e’en inherit

The venom thou hast pour’d on me” —

fled to Boston, published a volume of poems bewailing his lot, and joined the army ready for any adventure. And it was all true! Could any one, any two brothers under such circumstances, even now, have failed to appreciate the romantic values of the situation — especially two poetical, melancholic brothers — and this was in 1827! The plot of the story, which had actually happened, reads like the epitome of an ideal novel or play of the time.

It is known that Edgar sent out several copies of Tamerlane from Boston. Henry, we may be sure, got one. And probably it spurred him to greater effort, for there would have been some rivalry as well as a comradeship between the boys over their poetry. Indeed one almost can suspect Henry was “influenced” in one poem, “I’ve Loved Thee,” by Edgar’s early verse.

Finally, there is the problem of how much collaboration there was between the two brothers. Did Henry contribute to the Tamerlane volume, did he revise the poems he reprinted thence; did Edgar write The Pirate, or any of the verses ascribed to Henry alone?

That the poetry was not the product of collaboration is argued by the superior merit of Edgar’s pieces. [page 84:] The prose is less easy to decide on, but The Pirate is the product of two lives, of two brains — who shall say how many pens were used?

At the time Edgar published Tamerlane and Henry contributed to the North American, neither could write great poetry. They were, however, most interesting, most romantic, and rather strange young men, alive in an even stranger America that lies buried beneath the skyscrapers. It was a unique and most fascinating country, not nearly so familiar to Americans nowadays as ancient Athens — or — shall we say Troy?

[page 87:]

Reproduction, somewhat reduced, of the first two pages of the first number of the North American containing material dealing with the Automaton Chess Player copies from the Franklin Journal of Philadelphia. This article perhaps had some share in the genesis of Edgar Poe’s article Maelzel’s Chess Player in the Southern Literary Messenger for April 1836, though Poe was indebted to other sources. It is possible that this North American article, though clearly not Poe’s, gave rise to the rumor alluded to by Woodberry of a previous Baltimore publication of Poe’s essay.

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[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 78:]

1.  The interested reader is referred to the Life and Works of Pinkney for full account of this journal.



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Notes:

None.

 

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[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 05)