Text: Edgar Allan Poe to Nathaniel P. Willis — December 30, 1846 (LTR-246a)


MR. POE. — We have received the following letter from this gentleman.  It speaks for itself.  What was the under-current of feeling in his mind while it was written, can be easily understood by the few;  but it carries enough on its surface to be sufficiently understood.  In another column, we give a communication respecting his literary position, kindly furnished by one of the best of our scholars and gentlemen.

MY DEAR WILLIS: — The paragraph which has been put in circulation respecting my wife's illness, my own, my poverty etc., is now lying before me; together with the beautiful lines by Mrs. Locke and those by Mrs. ——, to which the paragraph has given rise, as well as your kind and manly comments in “THE HOME JOURNAL.”

The motive of the paragraph I leave to the conscience of him or her who wrote it or suggested it. Since the thing is done, however, and since the concerns of my family are thus pitilessly thrust before the public, I perceive no mode of escape from a public statement of what is true and what erroneous in the report alluded to.

That my wife is ill, then, is true; and you may imagine with what feeling I add that this illness, hopeless from the first, has been heightened and precipitated by her reception, at two different periods, of anonymous letters — one enclosing the paragraph now in question; the other, those published calumnies of Messrs ———, for which I yet hope to find redress in a court of justice.

Of the facts, that I myself have been long and dangerously ill, and that my illness has been a well understood thing among my brethren of the press, the best evidence is afforded by the innumerable paragraphs of personal and literary abuse with which I have been latterly assailed. This matter, however, will remedy itself. At the very first blush of my new prosperity, the gentlemen who toadied me in the old, will recollect themselves and toady me again. You, who know me, will comprehend that I speak of these things only as having served, in a measure, to lighten the gloom of unhappiness, by a gentle and not unpleasant sentiment of mingled pity, merriment and contempt.

That, as the inevitable consequence of so long an illness, I have been in want of money, it would be folly in me to deny — but that I have ever materially suffered from privation, beyond the extent of my capacity for suffering, is not altogether true. That I am “without friends” is a gross calumny, which I am sure you never could have believed, and which a thousand noble-hearted men would have good right never to forgive me for permitting to pass unnoticed and undenied. Even in the city of New York I could have no difficulty in naming a hundred persons, to each of whom — when the hour for speaking had arrived — I could and would have applied for aid and with unbounded confidence, and with absolutely no sense of humiliation.

I do not think, my dear Willis, that there is any need of my saying more. I am getting better, and may add — if it be any comfort to my enemies — that I have little fear of getting worse. The truth is, I have a great deal to do; and I have made up my mind not to die till it is done. Sincerely yours,


     December 30th, 1846.



This letter was first printed in the Home Journal, January 9, 1847, page 2, column 4. Ostrom comments on the rarity of this issue and was forced to use the undated clipping of the article in the Ingram Collection at the University of Virginia.

The “paragraph which has been put in circulation,” referred to in the first line of Poe's letter, is from the New York Morning Express:

ILLNESS OF EDGAR A. POE. — We regret to learn that this gentleman and his wife are both dangerously ill with the consumption, and that the hand of misfortune lies heavy upon their temporal affairs.  We are sorry to mention the fact that they are so far reduced as to be barely able to obtain the necessaries of life.  That is, indeed, a hard lot, and we do hope that the friends and admirers of Mr. Poe will come promptly to his assistance in his bitterest hour of need.  Mr. Poe is the author of several tales and poems, of which Messrs. Wiley & Putnam are the publishers, and, as it is believed, the profitable publishers.  At least, his friends say that the publishers ought to start a movement in his behalf. (New York Morning Express, December 15, 1846, p. 2, col. 1)

On December 26, the Morning Express included another comment about Poe: “The Home Journal of this week contains an article about Mr. Poe, suggested by the paragraph in our paper, and to which we would call the attention of the public. It would appear from the article in question, that what we said of Mr. Poe's condition was strictly true; and it also appears that Mr. Willis has received certain monies for his benefit, and that he is willing to act as agent in receiving more. We trust that the admirers of genius will remeber the unfortunate but gifted author.” (New York Morning Express, December 26, 1846, reprinted in The Poe Log, p. 675.)

The Morning Express article was reprinted in the New York Daily Tribune, with the additional comment: “We are glad to be able to state that the distressing accounts regarding Mr. POE , if they have not been from the first greatly exaggerated, are no longer applicable to his situation.  He is steadily, though slowly, recovering his health, and is engaged at his usual literary avocations.” (New York Daily Tribune, December 29, 1846, reprinted in The Poe Log, p. 676.).

The “communication” given “in another column,” referred to in Willis's introductory comments, is an article by Evert A. Duyckinick titled “An Author in Europe and America.”


[S:0 - MS, 18xx] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Letters - Poe to N. P. Willis (LTR246a/RCL666)