Text: Edgar Allan Poe to John Tomlin — August 28, 1843 (LTR-162)


Phila., August 28, 1843.

My dear Sir,

I have just recd your letter, enclosing one in hieroglyphical writing from Mr. Meek, and hasten to reply, since you desire it; although, some months ago, I was obliged to make a vow that I would engage in the solution of no more cryptographs. The reason of my making this vow will be readily understood. Much curiosity was excited throughout the country by my solutions of these cyphers, and a great number of persons felt a desire to test my powers individually — so that I was at one time absolutely overwhelmed; and this placed me in a dilemma; for I had either to devote my whole time to the solutions, or the correspondents would suppose me a mere boaster, incapable of fulfilling my promises. I had no alternative but to solve all; but to each correspondent I made known my intentions to solve no more. You will hardly believe me when I tell you that I have lost, in time, which to me is money, more than a thousand dollars, in solving ciphers, with no other object in view than that just mentioned. A really difficult cipher requires vast labor and the most patient thought in its solution. Mr. Meek's letter is very simple indeed, and merely shows that he misapprehends the whole matter. It runs thus: —

[[. . . . .]]

[[Woodberry notes: “Here follows the solution” without giving it himself]]

This is the whole of Mr. Meek's letter — but he is mistaken in supposing that I “pride myself” upon my solutions of ciphers. I feel little pride about anything.

It is very true, as he says, that cypher writing is “no great difficulty if the signs represent invariably the same letters and are divided into separate words.” But the fact is, that most of the criptographs sent to me (Dr. Frailey's for instance) were not divided into words, and moreover, the signs never represented the same letter twice.

But here is an infallible mode of showing Mr. Meek that he knows nothing about the matter. He says cipher writing “is no great difficulty if the signs represent invariably the same letters and are divided into separate words.” This is true; and yet, little as this difficulty is, he cannot surmount it. Send him, as if from yourself, these few words, in which the conditions stated by him are rigidly preserved. I will answer for it, he cannot decipher them for his life. They are taken at random from a well-known work now lying beside me: —

[[. . . .]]

[[Woodberry notes: “Here follows Poe's crytograph” without giving it himself]]

And now, my dear friend, have you forgotten that I asked you, some time since, to render me an important favor? You can surely have no scruples in a case of this kind. I have reason to believe that I have been maligned by some envious scoundrel in this city, who has written you a letter respecting myself. I believe I know the villain's name. It is Wilmer. In Philadelphia no one speaks to him. He is avoided by all as a reprobate of the lowest class. Feeling a deep pity for him, I endeavoured to befriend him, and you remember that I rendered myself liable to some censure by writing a review of his filthy pamphlet called the “Quacks of Helicon.” He has returned my good offices by slander behind my back. All here are anxious to have him convicted — for there is scarcely a gentleman in Phila. whom he has not libelled, through the gross malignity of his nature. Now, I ask you, as a friend and as a man of noble feelings, to send me his letter to you. It is your duty to do this — and I am sure, upon reflection, you will so regard it.

I await your answer impatiently.

Your friend,
E. A. Poe.





[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to J. Tomlin (LTR162/RCL448)