Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. James H. Whitty), “The Ellis-Allan Papers,” The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911, pp. 186-201


[page 186:]


New light is thrown upon the life of Edgar Allan Poe by letters and documents; also original manuscripts in the hand writing of the poet, to be found among the Ellis- Allan papers, deposited in the Library of Congress at Washington. The collection consists of some four hundred and forty-two portfolios, and volumes of office books and letters of an old Richmond, Virginia, firm. John Allan, Poe’s foster-father, was a member of the firm until near the time of his death in 1834. His executor, James Galt, has left the statement through his son, Major John Allan Galt, that John Allan, previous to taking into his home a second wife, packed all his first wife’s personal letters and papers, as well as his own, into a trunk and stowed it away in the establishment of Ellis & Allan. James Galt afterwards removed this trunk and contents to his home in Fluvanna County, Virginia, where the younger Galt had gone over them. From his recollections there were more unpublished letters of Poe’s than are now deposited with the Valentine Museum at Richmond, Virginia. The second Mrs. Allan had later access to these papers and took away mainly all the Poe letters, upon the margins of which her husband had written caustic com ments, in answer to Poe’s own arguments, as well as other Allan family letters, in some of which there were references to Poe’s early trip to Scotland. The Poe letters taken away were recalled, as touching largely about financial assistance given to, and sought after by Poe. The letters in the Valentine [page 187:] Museum are thought to number about thirty, if they have all the t were taken by Mrs. Allan, while nearly a dozen more were left in the trunk. A few of those left were ad dressed to the first Mrs. Allan, and couched in the most passionate terms of an affectionate son. The Ellis-Allan papers were long in the possession of Colonel Thomas H. Ellis, a son of a member of the old firm. He furnished abstracts from them to Professor G. E. Woodberry, who made the first reference to them in his revised Life of Poe. After the death of Colonel Ellis the papers were offered for sale. I purchased books, newspapers and other effects belonging to the old firm, but the bulk of the material went to the Library of Congress as economic papers. There still remain in private hands, however, important personal papers of a similar nature to some of those already discovered about Poe in the Ellis-Allan papers at Washington, and having reference to the poet’s earlier career. I have talked with one most familiar with these letters and papers, and know their present whereabouts, but the owner does not feel that the tune has yet arrived to allow an examination of them. A letter written by Poe to the Mills Nursery of Philadelphia, mentioned in the memoir to this volume, and returned to John Allan, as well as letters from Poe to Allan, bitterly denouncing his foster-father for bad treatment, are all missing from the collection of the papers in Washington. While Colonel Ellis has stated that he destroyed some of the papers — probably from a kind feeling for the Allan family — yet there is a possibility that some part of them still exist, and may come to light later, with other Poe matters.

Poe in his youth spent much of his time about the Ellis & Allan place of business, which is shown in an illustration elsewhere in this volume. The building, as well as that of the Southern Literary Messenger adjoining, were condemned [page 188:] in the fall of the year 1916, and have both been taken down. The material, however, was saved and much of it utilized in various ways at the Richmond, Virginia, Poe memorial, known as The Edgar Allan Poe Shrine, a “Poe Pergola” being made entirely from Messenger building material.

Poe was employed at the Ellis & Allan concern just after his return from college early in the year 1827. James Galt in his recollections of Poe now gives the first and only contemporaneous account of Poe for this period as follows: “Poe was employed in the Ellis & Allan establishment as a clerk in charge of dry goods. He never had much heart in his work, and John Allan frequently had occasion to find fault, and censure him for inattention to business. During the early years of the firm they handled popular London periodicals, as well as sheet music. In 1827 while that branch of the business was being gradually curtailed, because other competing houses had begun to make more of a specialty in that line, still the firm carried a considerable assortment of leading periodicals and songs. Poe’s fondness for the upper floor of the building where these literary matters were kept was remarked upon long before he left Richmond for college, and it was there that he spent most of his time when he returned, whenever the vigilant eyes of John Allan were not upon him. Poe was fond of music, having both a musical and cultivated voice, and in the earlier years sang frequently; but after his return from college showed less vivacity, and sang fewer of his favorite songs. It was generally known among his associates that Poe had poetry he expected to have published in a book, and that some pieces had already appeared in newspapers. He was shy about reciting, or discussing his own poetry, but was familiar with the verse of the popular poets, and occasionally would recite some favorite poem to those about the Ellis & Allan store.” [page 189:]

James Galt recalled Poe as a lad of uncommon good appearance, who attracted general attention wherever he went; that his manners were always cheerful and gay, and al though at times reserved, nothing of a morose character was observed in him, until after his return from college. He was known to drink wine and toddies at home, but no excessive appetite for liquor was noticed. Like John Allan, James Galt did not censure Poe’s faults at college so much for drinking, as he did gambling, and what he further regarded as a lack of proper respect and obedience on Poe’s part for his patron John Allan. It was his impression that Poe was of an impatient disposition from his infancy, being always fond of a change of scene and excitement. He believed that Poe was fully imbued in his early youth with an idea that he would one day become a great writer, and was im patient to have his writings published, for a try to become famous. It was James Galt’s opinion that in order to seek his fortune, and reach London or some great literary centre, Poe had run away from his home in the year 1827.

The name of Poe has not been found on any pay roll of the Ellis & Allan firm, which is taken as a further proof of the parsimony shown by Allan towards Poe, who doubtless received his sole pay in board and lodgings. An early reference to Poe in the Ellis-Allan papers is a letter from his aunt Eliza Poe, dated Baltimore (Md.), February 8, 1813, about two years after Poe had been taken into the Allan family. It is addressed to Mrs. Allan, and asks about the welfare of little Edgar. A previous letter from her had met with no response and it would seem that up to that date there had been no intercourse between the two families. Eliza Poe, the writer of this letter, afterwards married Henry Herring. It was her daughter, and Poe’s cousin Elizabeth Herring, to whom Poe made love and wrote verses in her album about the year 1832. [page 190:]

A letter from John Allan to Charles Ellis of May 14, 1813, contains the information that “Edgar has caught the whooping caugh.” There are small tailor bills during the year 1813-14, for cutting suits for Edgar. A charge of $2, on May 3, 1815, is for making a suit of clothes for Edgar. There is a letter from a Richmond schoolmaster named William Ewing, to John Allan, from which it might be surmised that Poe was a pupil with him during the years 1814-15. In Poe’s tale of “The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym” he says: “He sent me at six years of age to the school of old Mr. Ricketts, a gentleman with only one arm, and of eccentric manners. . . . I staid at his school until I was sixteen when I left for Mr. E. Ronald’s academy on the hill.” This in a measure tallies with the location of Poe’s schools in Richmond and the matter of locality is further clinched by the reference to “on the hill” — a typical Richmond expression in Poe’s day for one part of the city. I find that there was a one-armed Richmond school-teacher in Poe’s day named “Ricketts,” and the poet may possibly have gone to his school, or substituted the name for “Ewing.”

A copy of a letter written by John Allan to William Henry Poe, brother of the poet, is dated November 1, 1824. At that date Poe was fifteen years old, a member of the Junior Morgan Riflemen, and very likely knew something of the town, as well as the confessed fault of his foster-father John Allan, whom he stated in after years “treated him with as much kindness as his gross nature admitted.” This letter of Allan’s to Poe’s brother reads: “I have just seen your letter of the 25th ult. to Edgar and am much afflicted, that he has not written you. He has had little else to do; for me he does nothing & seems quite miserable, sulky & 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 [page 191:] conduct is less wonderful. The boy possesses not a Spark of affection for us, not a particle of gratitude 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 line of thinking & acting very contrary to what he possessed in Eng land. I feel proudly the difference between your principles & his, & hence my desire to Stand as I aught 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, had no terrors for me, but I must end this with a devout wish that God may yet bless him & you & that success may crown all your endeavors & between you your poor sister Rosalie may not suffer. At least she is half your Sister & God for bid dear Henry that we should visit upon the living the Errors and frailties 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 & protect you, rely on him my Brave & excellent Boy, who is willing & ready to save to the uttermost. May he keep you in Danger, preserve you always, is the prayer of your Friend & Servant.”

This letter shows that the strife between John Allan and Poe, which was to end in the latter leaving home a few years later, had now surely started. When Poe’s mother died in Richmond John Allan took charge of the few effects she left, including a packet of old letters. Some of these letters are said to have let out a skeleton in the Poe family closet. Poe was known to have had these letters, and at his death they passed to Mrs. Clemm, his aunt and mother-in-law. She hinted of dark family troubles that had worried “Eddie,” as she called Poe, but believed that in destroying the letters [page 192:] before she died, all knowledge of the matters had been blotted out.

It is to be noted that Allan was careful to keep a copy of his letter, possibly to show Poe, fearing that he was telling tales in Baltimore, like at home. With Poe’s knowledge of Allan’s fault it is an impression that Allan held over him his own family secret in order to keep him quiet. This charge of Allan’s, if true, might have been the cause for the alleged desertion of Poe’s father from the family. The matter alluded to in Allan’s letter seems to have been known and talked about by others intimate in the Allan household, and William MacKenzie, a patron of Rosalie Poe, wrongfully accused.

A number of entries and notes among the papers have reference to John Allan’s departure on the ship “Lothair” for Europe June 22, 1815, accompanied by his wife, her sis ter Miss Ann M.-. Valentine and Edgar. Among the entries is shown the purchase of one “Olive Branch,” one “Mur ray’s Reader,” and two “Murray’s Spellers,” all likely in tended for Edgar’s use on the voyage.

A letter brought back by the pilot boat to Norfolk showed that the water trip had already proved a severe trial to the women folks, but it added, “Ned cares but little about it, poor fellow.” Another Allan letter is dated Liverpool, July 29, 1815, giving an account of the trip across the Atlantic, and states that “ Edgar was a little sick, but had recovered.” A letter of Allan’s dated Greenock, September 21, 1815, has in it, “Edgar says, Pa: Say something for me; say I was not afraid coming across the sea.” Allan in another letter dated Blake’s Hotel, London, October 10, 1815, announces the arrival of the family there on the yth, by way of Glasgow, Newcastle and Sheffield, also mentioning the attractions of the Scotland trip as “high in all respects.” [page 193:]

In a letter written by Allan, dated October 15, 1815, from his residence in Southampton Row, London, the family are represented as “seated before a snug fire in a nice little sitting parlour with Edgar reading a little story book.” A pathetic reminder of Poe’s earliest childish romance is a message in a letter from his first little sweetheart, Catherine Poitiaux, the god-child of the first Mrs. Allan, mentioned in the memoir to this volume. She said: “Give my love to Edgar and tell him I want to see him very much. I expect Edgar does not know what to make of such a large city as London. Tell him Josephine [Miss Poitiaux’s younger sister] and all the children want to see him.” In the Philadelphia Saturday Museum sketch of Poe’s life he had it stated that only a portion of his five years’ stay in London was spent at the school of the Rev. Dr. John Bransby. There remain documents to substantiate this. He also attended the boarding school of the Misses Dubourg at 146 Sloan Street, Chelsea, London. In his tale of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Poe has a character named Pauline Dubourg. The documents show that he was a pupil there from about April, 1816, until probably early in December, 1817. He was at Bransby ‘s school from the autumn of 1817 until the sum mer of 1820 when he returned to America, as is also shown by documents. This leaves a hiatus of some months in his school history. The references of Poe to Rev. Dr. John Bransby have been questioned, as no degree of doctor has yet been found. It is presumed that if there was no academical degree for the title, it was erroneously used during Poe’s day, and that it was Poe’s belief that Bransby was entitled to be called doctor. There are a number of references to “Edgar “ and his schooling abroad in Allan’s letters, and one dated June 22, 1818, says: “Edgar is both able and willing to receive instructions,” which might infer that [page 194:] Poe’s earlier dispositions in these respects were not so amiable. The papers show that Poe with the family arrived at New York on July 21, 1820, after a passage of thirty-six days, and reached Richmond, Virginia, on the ad of August following.

There are bills for Edgar’s schooling at Richmond to both Masters Joseph H. Clarke and William Burke during the years 1821-24. The few charges for money given to Poe in his youth warrant the belief that Allan’s allowances were always restricted. There are entries for less than a dozen small amounts for postage charged against both Poe and his sister Rosalie. In January, 1825, $8.50 is charged for “Edgar’s clothes.”

There remain letters and bills to substantiate the charge made that Allan’s allowances to Poe at college were inadequate for his needs. There are also other bills besides “debts of honor “ Allan refused to pay, among them a bill from S. Leitch, Jr., for haberdashery amounting to $68.46. Two letters from G. W. Spotswood dated in April and May, 1827, are addressed to Allan, urging settlement of a bill for servant attendance to Poe’s room at the University of Virginia; another letter from E. G. Crump of March 25, 1827, relates to money matters not a debt of honor. It is addressed to Poe and was evidently received by Allan after Poe had left Richmond on his ocean trip towards Europe. The letter is endorsed on the back, presumably by Allan, “To E. A. Poe, alias Henri Le Rennet.” This is thought to have been the name Poe used on his first trip from Richmond in the year 1827. It should seem that Allan about the time of the receipt of this letter had in some manner learned of Poe’s whereabouts, or had seen one of his first letters written to Mrs. Allan. In a copy of a letter from Allan to his sister in Scot land dated March 27th, he wrote: “I am thinking Edgar has [page 195:] gone to sea to seek his fortune.” There is a signed order in the handwriting of John Allan dated March 4, 1828, as fol lows: “Mr. Ellis. Please to furnish Edgar A. Poe with a suit of clothes, 3 pair socks, or thread Hose. McCrery will make them, also a pair of suspenders, and Hat & knife, pair of gloves.” An entry in the Ellis Journal under date of March 3, 1829, is against John Allan. Pr. order to “E.A.P.” for just about what the preceding order called for, or the palpable error in the date of Allan’s order might make it appear as if Poe had been in Richmond during the year 1828. In the Journal entry it is also further shown that the clothes were eventually made by McCrery. Allan was no doubt disturbed by the death of his wife and wrote the year date of 1828 by mistake. It has been stated that Poe arrived in Richmond after the funeral of his foster-mother, Mrs. Allan, who died February 28, 1829. It is mentioned in an official army letter that Poe was granted a leave of absence about this period, but the rec ord has not been found. The testimony of James Galt, how ever, now clears up this matter, and what he tells is borne out by the burial records of Mrs. Allan. James Galt stated that “Poe was at the funeral, and that the final burial was delayed until his arrival in Richmond. It was the dying wish of Mrs. Allan that she take Poe once again in her arms before she died, and that in the event she passed away before his arrival, that she would not be buried until he saw her.” The scene of Poe’s arrival at the house is depicted as most harrowing, as well as great sorrow shown afterwards by Poe at his foster-mother’s grave in Shockoe Cemetery.

Among other books at one time with the Ellis-Allan effects, now in my possession, is a large day-book containing the transactions of Pumfrey & Fitzwhylsown, old-time sta tioners and bookbinders of Richmond, Virginia, dating from April, 1804, to August, 1805. This contains interesting early [page 196:] items, among them one, dated April 12, 1804: “John W. Green (Comedian) To half binding a book of playbills, 4/6”; another of June 27, same year, is “Mr. Hopkins, (Comedian) , To Black lead pencil, / 1 .” These entries as well as the fact of the volume being among the Ellis- Allan effects, led me to believe that the book must have been the property of Poe. It looked like an effort on the part of Poe, mentioned by him later to Judge R. W. Hughes, to trace his own early history. That like his brother, William Henry Poe, he knew little concerning the career or final end of his father, David Poe, Jr., seems evident, for while he had possession of his mother’s letters and papers, he had not so much as an autograph of his father’s. This is shown by an unpublished manuscript letter written by Poe to Joseph H. Hedges, dated Philadelphia, November 16, 1843, as follows: “I presume the request you make, in your note of the i4th, has reference to my grandfather Gen. David Poe, and not to my father David Poe, Jr. I regret to say, however, that, owing to peculiar circumstances, I have in my possession no auto graph of either.” The entries about the “Green Players” in the old day-book seemed to be an index to the early career of Poe’s father, and further investigation verified this conclusion. It has hitherto been the impression of all Poe’s biographers that David Poe, Jr., played upon the Charleston (S.C.) stage about December, 1803, and that he began his theatrical engagement with the “Green Players,” including Mrs. Hopkins, his future wife, at Petersburg, Virginia, in November, 1804. The old day-book showed, at least, that the “Green Players” were in Richmond during the year 1804, and from that data I was able to lighten up the dark period in the life of David Poe, Jr., from the spring of 1804 until the following November. It should appear that Poe’s father left Charleston at the end of the spring season there, [page 197:] if not earlier, and at once joined the company ol the “Green Players.” The Virginia Gazette of June 30, 1804, has David Poe, Jr., with this company in the cast of “Speed the Plow,” as “Hewey,” and the same paper of July 25 following gives him in the play of the “Heir at Law” in the character of “Henry Moreland.” So it is conclusive that not only the “Green Players,” including Mrs. Hopkins, Poe’s mother, but his father David Poe, Jr., performed upon the Richmond stage during the year 1804. This is the earliest found record of Poe’s father in Richmond. The theatrical company left Richmond and are on record at Petersburg, November 3-20, 1804. The company were at Norfolk, March 19-June 12 following, and the Virginia Gazette of August 28, 1805, states that “Mrs. Hopkins and other members of the Charleston theatre made a one night stop over at Richmond, on the way to the Federal city.” There is a recent hint of David Poe, Jr., in Scotland, where it is said that he ran away to America with a pretty blonde married woman named Wilson. The story shows Edgar Allan Poe as, later on, meeting in school at Irvine, Scotland, with a son of this Mrs. Wilson; one of those “wise children who know their own father,” and named after the injured husband, William Wilson. This boy is presumed to have been the hero of Poe’s later well-known tale called “William Wilson.” Mr. R. M. Hogg, of Irvine, Scotland, vouches for the facts, as told to him by the descendants of the Wilson family. I heard previous hints of a runaway escapade of Poe’s father, but the woman’s name was mentioned as Thomas. A reference to this matter will be found in G. E. Woodberry’s revised Life of Poe, vol. i, p. 368. An entry in the Ellis-Allan papers under date of January 8, and another of May 12, 1830, show that Allan rendered assistance to Poe. The later entry was for blankets, probably for Poe’s use at the West Point Academy. [page 198:]

Most important among the Ellis-Allan papers are a num ber of manuscripts in Poe’s own hand. As he wrote F. W. Thomas later in life, that nothing could seduce him from the noble profession of literature, these also indicate that his mind at the time was strongly bent towards a career in the world of letters. The documents are browned by age and written upon paper similar to that used by the firm of Ellis & Allan about the year 1827.

A manuscript entirely in Poe’s autograph called “Hope,” is copied from Goldsmith’s “Song from the Oratorio of the Captivity.” This should show the trend of Poe’s thought at the time it was written, and its influence upon his later writings. Another manuscript is a copy of an early song called “Ally Croaker.” In this song Poe may have gained some of his later conceptions of the repetend in his poetry. The idea in these lines of a pawned coat losing a lady love, with some gambling and drinking episodes, show a parody on Poe’s own self about the time they were copied. In them he also shows an early fondness for reconstructing verse to suit his own taste, having made alterations from the original construction of the song. The original song Poe copied from was probably found by him among the early collection, then in the possession of the firm of Ellis & Allan.

On a strip of paper, much in his usual later manner, and in a handwriting closely approximating his well-known later day autograph, Poe copied verses on “The Burial of Sir John Moore” and “Extract from Byron’s Dream.” As if he had intended to send the copy of “The Burial of Sir John Moore” to some periodical, Poe headed his paper, “The Soldier’s Burial,” and wrote the following lines which remain as Poe’s first known criticism: “These verses have been often and justly admired as the only original essay on so hackney ‘d a subject as a Burial which has appeared for a long time [page 199:] — They are on the burial of Sir John Moore — Much dispute has arisen concerning the writer of this really elegant & original production, Moore, Campbell, Scott & Byron have all been mentioned as the supposed writers. It has since been pretty well ascertained to be Byron — As for the piece it self it is inimitable. The poet — the Patriot, and the man of feeling breathes thro’ the whole, and a strain of originality gives zest to this little piece, which is seldom felt on the perusal of others of the same kind.”

This criticism tends to show Poe at that period a close reader of the periodical literature of the day, and that he knew this poem had been ascribed to Moore, Campbell and Scott, and finally believed to be Byron’s. That he was not aware at the moment that it was written by the Rev. Charles Wolfe is not to be wondered at, for Medwin in his delightful Journal of the Conversations of Lord Byron tells of Byron’s praise of this gem, and how he himself had thought that it was Byron’s own verse. It was only in a later edition of his book that Medwin told of his discovery of the name of the real author.

There has hitherto been much guessing at the sources for Poe’s extraordinary learning, which was not only varied, but thorough. In his “Marginalia” notes may be noted the thoughtful man of letters, and in them is also to be detected signs of Poe’s own education. It had been supposed that Poe discovered his critical capacity for the first time while engaged on the Southern Literary Messenger. The criticism on “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” however, shows a knowledge and indications of earlier handling of some necessary critical apparatus in literature. Poe’s studies among the periodicals and songs at the Ellis & Allan establishment go far towards establishing conclusive proof, not only of the beginning of his scholastic habit, but his unconscious [page 200:] education in the critical line, from the mere love of it.

There is to be found in the Ellis & Allan firm record among the periodicals kept by them, and such as Poe likely consulted, the London Critical Review or Annals of Literature, for the years 1791 to 1803, bound in thirty-nine volumes, and the Ladies Magazine, London, for that period, bound in thirty volumes.

On the same strip of paper with the criticism of “The Burial of Sir John Moore,” Poe continued the Byron lines. He wrote the caption, “Lord Byron’s Last Poem,” which he afterwards ran his pen through, and substituted, “Extract from Byron’s Dream.” He commenced his lines from “Byron’s Dream” at the beginning of Canto VI. and followed the text along closely into Canto VII. where it reads,

A change came over the spirit of his dream.

The lady of his love — oh, she was changed

As by the sickness of

Poe stopped right there. It was eighteen years afterwards when Poe in a magazine article on “Byron and Mary Chaworth,” wrote the following: “‘The Dream,’ in which the incident of his parting with her when about to travel, and said to be delineated or at least paralleled, has never been excelled (certainly never excelled by him) in the blended fervor, delicacy, truthfulness and ethereality which sublime and adorn it.”

It is the supposition that in writing the early copy of the “Dream” verses Poe likened his own sad love affairs at that time to Byron’s, and on a sudden impulse stopped, as ap pears above, and improvised and wrote on another sheet of paper the original verses, “The Vital Stream,” which have now been first collected into his poems in this volume. It is to be lamented that the original manuscript of this poem [page 201:] has disappeared from among the Ellis-Allan papers at the Library of Congress. It is thought that the wind carried it into a waste-paper basket at the library, and that it was destroyed. There is, however, slight hope that it may yet come to light in the collection.

That Poe’s poem “An Enigma “ appeared anonymously in the Philadelphia Casket for May, 1827, bears out the statement of James Galt that Poe’s poetry found publication at that period. It should also seem Poe’s habit from that year to send out his writings anonymously. As is mentioned in the memoir to this volume, Poe was writing for the Philadelphia newspapers about the year 1832.

There appears without name in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier for the year 1832, the following well-known tales by Poe: “Metzengerstein,” January 14; “Duc de l’Omelette,” March 3; “A Tale of Jerusalem,” June 9; “Loss of Breath,” entitled “A Decided Loss,” November 10, and “Bon-Bon,” called “The Bargain Lost,” December 1. There also appears in this same paper for October 14, 1843, “Raising the Wind, or Diddling considered as one of the Exact Sciences.”



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 186:]

1 Acknowledgments are due Miss Mary E. Phillips, Mr. Gaillard Hunt and Mr. J. C. Fitzpatrick for research assistance among the Ellis-Allan papers in the Library of Congress. Extracts from these papers by the writer were published in the New York Nation, July 18, 1912, and January 27, 1916.







[S:0 - JHW11, 1911] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - The Ellis-Allan Papers (ed. J. H. Whitty, 1911)