Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. James H. Whitty), “Poe in Scotland,” The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1911, pp. 201-209


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[page 201, continued:]

VI

POE IN SCOTLAND(1)

The visits of Poe to Scotland must have left vivid marks of remembrance upon his memory of that classic region of which so many scenes and incidents are sketched with truth and beauty. Poe arrived at Liverpool with the Allan [page 202:] family in the latter part of the year 1815, and proceeded at once to Scotland, to visit the Allan relatives. While the visit was partly one of pleasure, Allan was about to establish a branch of his business in London with tobacco as a main staple. He had important trade connections to make in Scotland, besides the pleasure of meeting again with his kinsfolk and wandering about the scenes of his youth.

The first journey was to Irvine, Ayrshire, the birthplace of John Allan, where Poe and the Allan family stopped with a spinster sister of Allan’s named Mary Allan. There lived at Irvine at that time other near relatives of Allan’s named “Galt.” Among them was James Galt, then under fifteen years of age, who afterwards came to America with the Allan family when they returned home in 1820. Young Galt was a relative of William Galt of Richmond, an uncle to John Allan, who assisted the Ellis & Allan firm financially, and from whom Allan later obtained a large legacy. The uncle, as is shown by his letters among the Ellis-Allan papers, was not in accord with Allan’s conduct in London, and it looks as if James Galt was about the London business establishment to keep him fully informed of Allan’s doings. After James Galt’s arrival in Richmond, this uncle took good care for his future. He finally settled on the James River above Richmond, in Virginia, and was the progenitor of the well-known family of Goldsboroughs of Maryland.

He lived to a ripe old age, and a son named after Allan, Major John Allan Galt, left interesting reminiscences of his father, which throw important new lights upon Poe’s early career.

Irvine is a seaport twenty-three miles from Glasgow, and at the time of Poe’s visit differed somewhat from the present day. There is an illustration showing the town about 1780, and in it is to be seen the dwelling where John Allan was born, [page 203:] while opposite is a house where Henry Eckford, the con structor of the American Navy of 1812, also first saw the light.

At the head of the old Kirkgate was the ancient grammar school where Allan was educated, it is said, with his relative John Galt the novelist, and Henry Eckford. The school was a continuation of the Pre-Reformation school in connection with the church. The old school building was taken down in 1816, and a new academy erected. There is a possibility that Poe had the old Irvine school building in his mind while writing his description of the ancient school in his tale of “William Wilson,” or at least made a composite picture of it with his recollections of the school at Stoke Newington, England, better known as “Bransby’s.”

It was John Allan’s early intention to have Poe remain at this school while abroad for his education, but his w,ife demurred and Poe was also opposed to being left so far away from his foster-mother.

In the same square with the Allan house in Irvine, was “Templeton’s” book-shop, where Burns the poet delighted to browse among old sheets of song. It was in the year 1781 that Burns went to Irvine to learn flax dressing, and the old shop stands within a stone’s throw of where John Allan was born. The well-known incidents in John Galt’s “Annals of the Parish “ are taken from the old town of Irvine. The Ir vine burial-ground is situated on a rise of a bank of the river Irvine, and alongside the parish church. There all the Allan ancestors are buried. The Allan section adjoins that of “Dainty Davie,” the friend of Burns. Here Poe could have acquired much of his early impressions of a grave-yard, since the death of his own mother. The first grave-yard he probably ever entered was the historic St. John’s at Richmond, Virginia, where Patrick Henry delivered his patriotic [page 204:] address, and where it is now definitely ascertained Poe’s mother is buried. The Irvine church-yard was the second, and the third, “Shockoe Cemetery,” at Richmond, Virginia, where pleasant legends relate that he kept vigils with the spirit of his first departed “Helen.” It is certain that Poe was fond of visiting this latter grave-yard, and that he was not only about the grave of Mrs. Stanard, his “Helen,” but also that of Mrs. Allan, his foster-mother, who in reality may have been the original of Poe’s “Helen.”

“Of all melancholy topics,” Poe once asked himself, “what according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” “Death!” was the obvious reply.

There was much about the old Scotch kirk-yard at Irvine to inspire Poe with awe, and with his love for the odd, the rhyming tombstones, and the “dregy,” or lengthy funeral services must have left lasting impressions on his mind. The epitaphs on the tombstones there are most original and in the olden time the grammar school scholars are said to have been required to write some of them out for their examinations. In Irvine near the printing office of the erratic Maxwell Dick, was a house where Dr. Robinson, the poet preacher, lodged. Here one day the well-known writer De Quincey came from Glasgow to visit him, but unfortunately the genial doctor was out. The canny Scot’s landlady took De Quincey, with a suspicious looking volume under his arm, to be a book-canvasser, and would not permit him to come in and await the doctor’s return. De Quincey in high dud geon returned to the station, and went back to Glasgow. On his way to and from the station De Quincey had to pass the house where Poe stopped.

In this connection it might be recalled that Poe later on proved an admirer of De Quincey, whose declamatory interpolations may be detected in his writings, especially in the [page 205:] tale of “William Wilson.” While at Irvine Poe lived at the Bridgegate house. It was a two-story tenement dwelling owned by the Allan family, and taken down about thirty years ago to make room for a street improvement. After leaving Irvine, Poe with the Allans went to Kilmarnock, about seven miles distant from Irvine. He remained there about two weeks and stopped with another of Allan’s sisters named Agnes, but called Nancy, who married a nurseryman named Allan Fowlds. The site of the old nursery is now Fowlds, Clark and Prince Streets. The house in which Poe lodged was a small affair and stood on the present site of the building occupied by the Kilmarnock Standard. A house opposite was occupied by a family named Gregory, who perfectly remembered the visit of John Allan and his family, with little Edgar Poe. In the rear of the Fowlds house ran the grounds of “Kilmarnock House,” the residence of Lord Kilmarnock, executed for his share in the ‘45 Rebellion. There stood nearby a large grove of trees and a beautiful walkway where the lord’s widow passed much of her time after his death. Here is also what was once called the “ Ghost walk,” and there the lord’s widow might be seen after sun down in her pensive perambulations, alone, and sometimes in company with her murdered husband. No doubt Poe had heard of this incident, and perchance looked himself for what they called the “allagrugous bawsy-broon,” or the ghastly, grim hobgoblin.

Nelson Street extended by a crooked lane to the cross of Kilmarnock, in the croon of which was the shop where Burns’ first edition of his poems was issued. The town exhibits relics of Burns, and was formerly noted for its manufacture of “Kilmarnock cowles.”

One end of Nelson Street led to the old Irvine road, and a number of visits to and from Irvine were made by Allan during [page 206:] his stay, on which occasions Poe invariably accompanied him. The old red riding carts then abounded about Irvine and Kilmarnock, with their creaking wheels, and are said to have had a special attraction for Poe. He was most con tented in one of them, sitting alongside the driver, usually attired in coarse woolen cloth “green duffle apron,” and thick nap “red kilmarnock cap.” Close to the Fowlds house in Kilmarnock lived William Anderson, an intimate neighbor of the family. His son James Anderson died December 26, 1887, aged 84 years. In early life he was an accountant in the Union Bank and for a long period audi tor for the corporation of Kilmarnock, as well as chairman of the Bellfield Trust. He had vivid recollections of Poe’s visit to Kilmarnock, and spoke with pride of having played in the streets of the town with Poe. He recalled Poe as “much petted by the Allans, and a ‘carmudgeon,’ or for ward, quick-witted boy, but very self-willed.”

Poe went from Kilmarnock with the Allans to Greenock, situated on the Clyde. From there he went to Glasgow, thence to Edinburgh, and also stopped at Newcastle and Sheffield, landing with the Allans at London October 7, 1815.

There are many persons now living in Irvine who have had the statement handed down to them from their ancestors that Edgar Allan Poe attended the old Irvine grammar school. This is now confirmed by the reminiscences of James Galt, although the stay of Poe there must have been brief. It was Allan’s intention to leave Poe at the school when he visited the town, but the women members of the family as well as Poe objected and a compromise was effected by allowing Poe to finish out the Scotland pleasure trip, with an understanding that he was later to accompany James Galt back from London, to the Irvine school.

The exact time of this second trip is not mentioned, but [page 207:] there are several gaps in Poe’s school record. It is presumed that the visit must have been towards the close of the year 1815. James Galt said that there were pleadings from the women folks as well as Poe, of “not to go,” when the time came to depart for Scotland. It was the opinion, however, that Poe would be better satisfied after settling down there and out of the sight of the home folks. The start on the part of Poe was unwilling, and Galt said he kept up “an unceasing fuss all the way over.” His aunt Mary, as he called Miss Allan, sent him to the school, but there he sulked, and no manner of coaxing or threats could induce him to attempt any studies.

At Miss Allan’s home he talked boldly about returning back to England alone. She feared that he might try to carry out this threat and had young Galt remain at her home on guard over Poe. He slept in the same room with Poe in the Bridgegate house at Irvine; was impressed with Poe’s old-fashioned talk for one so young, and like Miss Allan he believed that if Poe had not been restrained he would have attempted the trip back to England alone. Galt said Poe’s self-reliance and total absence of fear impressed him then, and up to the time he left John Allan’s home.

Poe showed no inclinations to become satisfied with his surroundings at Irvine, and in many ways made it unpleasant for aunt Mary Allan; so much so that she finally packed up his “duds,” as Galt said, and sent him back to London.

This Scotland and other school episodes in Poe’s life possibly account for his own statements of unhappy school boy days.

When Poe published his tale, the “M. Valdemar Case,” a druggist at Stonehaven, Scotland, named A. Ramsay, to make sure the story was true wrote a letter to Poe. This letter of Ramsay’s to Poe has been published, but no reply [page 208:] of Poe’s has appeared in book form, until now, although a mention and its date was made in the first edition of this volume. A nephew of Ramsay’s still occupies the old Stonehaven warehouse. He had many of his relative’s letters, but none from Poe. The search, however, was continued among other relatives, and Poe’s letter finally brought to light. It is interesting in connection with the story of Poe’s visits to Scotland. The letter reads: —

NEW YORK, December 30, ‘46.

DEAR SIR:

Hoax is precisely the word suited to M. Valdemar Case. The story appeared originally in the “American Review,” a monthly magazine published in this city. The London papers, commencing with the “Morning Post” and the “Popular Record of Science,” took up the theme. The article was generally copied in England and is now circulating in France. Some few persons believe it — but I don’t — and don’t you.

Very Resp’y, yr. Ob St.

EDGAR A. POE

P.S. I have some relatives, I think, in Stonehaven, of the name of Allan, who again are connected with the Allan’s and Galt’s of Kilrnarnock. My name is Edgar Allan Poe. Do you know any of them? If so, and it would not put you to too much trouble, I would like it as a favor if you could give me some account of the family.

The postscript to this letter written at so late a date reads a bit odd. It is said, however, that Poe felt bitterly to the end that Allan should have brought him up and educated him as an only child, until he had reached the advanced age of fifteen years, and then turn suddenly against him and make him feel as a menial instead of a member of the family. The [page 209:] relatives of Allan in Scotland have stated that Allan, while on his visit to them, made the statement that after providing for his wife and Edgar it was his intention to leave the remainder of his estate to relatives in Scotland. Poe in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum sketch of the year 1843 had it stated that Allan made it a practice in the early days to tell every one that he intended to make him his heir. In a letter to Poe’s brother Allan mentioned doing “his duty towards Edgar,” but near his death he is said to have had doubts in the matter.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 201:]

1 Acknowledgment is due R. M. Hogg, Esq., of Irvine, Scotland, for valuable assistance in obtaining many facts connected with Poe’s trip into Scotland. Some portions of this account of Poe’s visits into Scotland by the writer were published in the September, 1916, New York Bookman.

 


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Notes:

None.

 

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