Text: John Ward Ostrom, “Foreword,” The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: 1824-1845 (1966), pp. a-d (This material is protected by copyright)


[page a:]



The present edition of The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe reprints the original two-volume edition 1948), page for page, and includes an extensive Supplement that brings the work up to date. The Supplement not only contains important emendations and additions to the texts and notes as first printed, but also supplies texts and notes for forty-two letters, thirty of which were not in the 1948 edition. It is still true that not all letters written by Poe have come to light, but the number is rapidly decreasing. In the past ten years very few have been listed in the annual records of auction sales, and I am advised that no letters by or to Poe are likely to appear in the 1964-1965 volume of American Book Prices Current, and that no letters by Poe are listed in the sales catalogues covering the period from September, 1965, through May, 1966. Of course, manuscript letters have changed hands privately among individual collectors, but certainly most, if not all, of these have already been printed.

The editorial procedure for letters in the Supplement follows that of the original edition (see the Preface to Volume I); for the corrections and additions to the original notes, see the headnote to the Supplement. The Supplement contains 42 letters: 7 are published for the first time; 23 have been printed in various publications since the 1948 edition; and 12 that were printed in the earlier edition from copies are now reprinted from manuscript. In fact, unless a transcript or copy was the only extant or available source, all letters in the Supplement are printed from original manuscripts. Letter 79, for example, is printed from its only extant form, which was released for publication especially for this edition.

The Supplement also identifies the present location of manuscripts of letters printed herein and of letters known to have changed hands since 1948. In this connection it is important to note that two very valuable and extensive private collections have been transferred to institutions, one by gift, the other by purchase. Since 1957 the collection of Mr. J. K. Lilly, Jr., of Indianapolis, has been in the Lilly Library, Indiana University, The library of Mr. William H. Koester, of Baltimore, was sold in [page b:] 1966 and has become associated with the Miriam Lutcher Stark Library, University of Texas. The new locations are cited in the Supplement for all manuscript letters in the Lilly collection and for all manuscript letters known to have been acquired by Mr. Koester since 1948; furthermore, all manuscript letters attributed to Mr. Koester in the Notes and Check List of the earlier edition should now be reassigned to the Stark Library.

The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe now includes 369 letters by Poe. The whole Poe correspondence presently numbers 878 items: 837 in The Letters of 1948 (this number including the secondary entries in the Check List, such as items 602a and 602b, etc.), 30 new letters by Poe, printed in the Supplement, 3 new cited but unlocated letters by Poe, and 8 new cited or implied letters to Poe. About 100 letters known to have been written by Poe still remain unlocated, but most of these must be presumed lost, since they were written in his capacity as editor or as covering letters for his own contributions to various periodicals. Also many letters written to Poe by women of his acquaintance were destroyed after his death, according to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm.

With original Poe letters becoming scarcer each year, the question is often asked, “What is a Poe letter worth?” In many instances, the asked price cannot be taken as the actual selling price, but records of sales through the years give a representative picture. In 1896 one letter brought only $20; in 1929 it sold for $1200. A Poe to Cooke letter sold in 1901 for $210; the same letter in 1929 brought a reported $19,500, a record price for an American literary letter. In 1931 two letters were purchased privately by the same collector for $4400 and $5500 respectively. In the early 1930’s two very short letters, significant primarily because they carried Poe’s full signature, sold together for about $200. In 1949 a Paris dealer offered them to a private collector for $10,000, which was refused. Eight years later a New York dealer went to Paris, bought them, and subsequently advertised them in the New York Times for $5000. They were ultimately sold to the same collector who had turned down the Paris offer. Very recently a Poe to Irving letter brought a reported price of £2000 in England. On the basis of a representative selection of letters sold during the past seventy years at prominent auction galleries (excluding a few single, high-priced items), an average price before 1900 seems to have been about $50; between 1900-1930, about $250; between 1930-1940, about $400; between 1940-1950, about $600; and since 1950, with fewer letters available, nearly $2500. [page c:]

Other than the famous letters of Poe to Sarah Helen Whitman, purchased with other memorabilia in the early 1930’s for $50,000, probably the most important group of letters is composed of Poe’s letters to Mrs. Annie L. Richmond. Of the 10 (possibly 11) extant, only 2 (possibly 3) are known to exist in manuscript; the remaining manuscripts are probably lost. Perhaps the most prized item in the whole Poe correspondence would be the manuscript of Poe’s letter to his wife Virginia, June 12, 1846. It exists only in printed form. The manuscript has never come to light since Ingram used it (if, indeed, he actually had the original instead of a copy) for his biography of Poe nearly a century ago. In addition to one sentence directed to Virginia before they were married and included in Letter 48 addressed to Mrs. Clemm, Poe is said to have written her many notes, but none are extant either in manuscript or print.

Interesting, too, is the name Poe used in signing his letters. His customary signature is Edgar A. Poe, often with a paraph or flourish. He uses Edgar thirteen times, Edgar Allan Poe eleven, Eddy seven, and Eddie only once. He never signs himself Edgar Poe.

It is often said that one never gets very close to Poe through a reading of his letters. Many of them, to be sure, are quite pedestrian; few are literary gems. But, on the whole, especially to one who sits close to them, they speak of love and hate, hope and despair, frustrations without end, of the joy of friendship and the pain of attack, of an unrelenting nemesis, the desperate need, ever present, of providing for his little family and maintaining a home as a haven to return to. Finally, one grows increasingly aware, explain it as he will, of the leitmotif of the letters-the inescapable influence of Virginia Clemm Poe on Edgar Poe’s life. We become more knowledgeable about Poe through the biographies and critical works, but, in the final analysis, it is the diapason of the letters that haunts us all.


Again, I wish to express grateful help in editing the Supplement. Without full cooperation from private collectors, editors, and librarians and staff members this edition could not have been completed. To the following people, therefore, goes my sincere appreciation:

Mr. Charles J. Biddle of Philadelphia, Dr. O. O. Fisher of Detroit, [page d:] Col. Richard Gimbel of Yale University, the late Mr. William H. Koester of Baltimore, and Mr. Henry Bradley Martin of New York — all of whom shared with me letters from their private collections.

The editors of the Duke University Press for permission to use material from my two supplements in American Literature, XXIV, No. 3, November, 1952, pp. 358-366, and XXIX, No. 1, March, 1957, pp. 79-86.

Edward Lazare, editor of American Book-Prices Current; Mr. John Alden, Keeper of Rare Books, and Mr. Francis O. Mattson, Assistant in the Department of Rare Books, Boston Public Library; Mrs. Nan Sumner, Assistant to the Curator, Annmary Brown Memorial, Brown University; Mr. Jerome F. Jacob, Head, Language, Literature, and Fine Arts Department, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo; Mr. Lawrence Clark Powell, Director, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, University of California, Los Angeles; Mr. Kenneth A. Lohf, Assistant Librarian, Butler Library, Columbia University; Mr. Kenneth W. Cameron, Editor, Emerson Society Quarterly, Hartford, Connecticut; Mr. Richard Hart, Head, Literature Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore; The Faculty Research Committee, Wittenberg University; Mr. W. H. Bond, Librarian, and Miss Donna Ferguson, Department of Manuscripts, Houghton Library, Harvard University; Mr. David Randall, Librarian, The Lilly Library, Indiana University; Mr. Robert F. Clayton, Librarian, Dawes Memorial Library, Marietta College; Mr. William S. Dix, Librarian, and Mr. Alexander P. Clark, Curator of Manuscripts, Princeton University; Mrs. Clara Sitter, Acting Librarian, Miriam Lutcher Stark Library, University of Texas; Miss Anne Freudenberg, Acting Curator of Manuscripts, and Mr. William G. Ray, Assistant in Manuscripts, University of Virginia Library; Mr. Randolph W. Church, Librarian, Virginia State Library; Mr. Bob Lee Mowery, Librarian, Mrs. Luella Eutsler, Reference Librarian, Miss Ilo Fisher, Chief of Technical Service, and Mrs. Margaret Price, Library Staff, Thomas Library, Wittenberg University.

John Ostrom

Wittenberg University

Springfield, Ohio

May, 1966




In the original priting, none of these pages are numbered. Because they were added before the Preface, which retained the pagination of the older edition, it was not possible to use roman numerals for this new material, which would be the usual choice. Instead, alphabetical pagination has been used in the current presentation.


[S:0 - OLT66, 1966] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Foreword)