Text: Margaret E. Wilmer, “Another View of Edgar A. Poe,” Beadle’s Monthly, April 1867, pp. 385-386


[page 385, column 2, continued:]


WE have read with much interest an article upon Poe, the poet, by Mrs. E. Oakes Smith, recently published, in BEADLES’S MONTHLY; and also another communication, upon the same subject; by Dr. Snodgrass. Of these, five will only remark that Mrs. Smith’s article, even if mistaken in some of its representations, evidently was inspired by a generous feeling toward a dead man, whose memory has been very hardly dealt with; and that the statement of Dr. Snodgrass, though doubtless a correct one, evinced in its details a greater regard for historical accuracy than tenderness for the frailties of an unfortunate friend. We have, also, an essay on Poe, in a book by George Gilfillan, entitled “A Third Gallery of Portraits,” and in this there may be said to have been summed up all that has ever been said against one of the “best abused” of men. According to Gilfillan, “Poe was no more a gentleman than he was a saint. His heart was as rotten as his conduct was infamous. He knew not what the terms ‘honor’ and ‘honorable’ meant. He had absolutely no virtue or good quality, unless you call remorse a virtue and despair a grace.” * * * “He was, in short, a combination, in almost equal proportions, of the fiend, the brute, and the genius. One might call him one of the Gadarene swine, filled with a devil, and hurrying, down a steep place to perish in the wave.” * * * “Poe had Satan substituted for soul.”

On reading whole pages of raving abuse like this, we stand amazed to think that a man who plainly claims to be a Christian, and expects to be judged by divine justice even as he judges his fellow man, should use such language about a person of whose real history he actually knew next to nothing. But we are able to speak understandingly on the subject.

The writer’s father, Lambert A. Wilmer was a man who made the study of human [page 386:] nature his constant pursuit, and he was one of the last persons to be imposed upon by any false appearances. At the same time, he was distinguished by a strictness of morals that, to some, appeared like austerity. We make these remarks by way of introduction to the statement that, for more than twelve years, Mr. Wilmer was the most intimate friend and valued associate of Edgar A. Poe. Both belonged to the literary profession, and there was but a slight difference in their ages. Their friendship commenced at the period when Mr. Poe had just made his regular entrance upon the profession of authorship. Mr. Wilmer has often and solemnly averred, and has left a written statement to the effect that, during this period of twelve years, he never knew Poe to be intoxicated, or to be guilty of any immorality of conduct. In fact his behavior was remarkably precise, and his conversation singularly pure and correct in its nature. It is certain that, whatever Mr. Poe may have become in his last years, his natural character, and that which he manifested during the longest portion of his life, had, in it nothing beastly or degraded.

We have seen and heard it asserted that Mr. Poe “broke his wife’s heart,” and, in this statement, there is not a shadow of truth. Virginia Poe was of a very delicate constitution; and once, while singing to entertain some visitors, she ruptured a blood-vessel. This did not immediately prove fatal, but her health declined thenceforth, until, at length, she died of consumption. Her husband watched over her with devoted solicitude, and neglected no means which affection could suggest, to restore her health or to promote her comfort. All of Mr. Poe’s biographers agree that his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clem [[Clemm]]; never ceased to regard him with affection; but would this excellent woman have been thus devoted to a man who had broken the heart of her only and idolized daughter?

It seems to be considered as a trifling merit that there is no taint of immorality in any of the writings of Edgar A. Poe, but we can not so regard it. The private character, even of a literary man, must, of course, be of the most importance, to his own prosperity and his soul’s salvation; but it is with his writings that the world has to do, and, according to the nature of what he has written, shall his influence upon posterity be good or evil.

What appears most singular to us is, that, people should consider the character and fate of Poe as being so extraordinary. Others, as [column 2:] well as Gilfillan, can make of him nothing but a “moral monster” — “a demoniac, ‘exceeding fierce, and dwelling among tombs’ “ — “an awful soul, touched by the torch of the Furies,” and soon. He is described as a sort of terrific, supernatural being, striding over the, earth, and casting “the blackness of his own vast shadow” upon its trembling, and bewildered inhabitants. What does all this mean? Deprived of his idolized wife, finding his gifts of mind all unappreciated by his contemporaries, bound down to poverty and toil, uncheered and unsupported by a practical religion, is it so strange that, thus, a weak-hearted man of genius should sink into dissipation, that we must call upon the heavens to be astonished and the earth to quake at it?

Most people, on reading the wild, awe-inspiring, gloom-diffusing productions of Poe, seem to think that the man must be just like his writings, though, everyone who has read the lives of authors ought to know that this is very far from being the rule. Instead of writing “in a frenzy,” Mr. Poe “built up” (as he himself said) his compositions in a remarkably deliberate and methodical manner. But, if there are people who can not understand how a poet may write in a wildly imaginative vein, and yet not be a lunatic or a demoniac, we do not undertake to make the  matter clear to their comprehension. Those who talk or write of what they do not understand, often work their bewildered imaginations up to such a pitch that “vaulting ambition overleaps itself” and the subject, too. Thus, many writers upon Shakspearean character have put into the minds of Hamlet and Macbeth a host of reflections, and purposes, and secrets, that the illustrious bard himself never thought of; and as critics may be said to have created a new Shakspeare, so biographers have truly made up a new Edgar Allan Poe.

And now, as we have seen that Poe’s early, career has been so grossly misrepresented, is it not a thousand to one that there is great exaggeration in most accounts of those faults and follies, which marked his later years? Clearly, he was one whose fate it was,

“In life and death, to be the mark where wrong 

Aimed with her poisoned arrows;”

and every honorable soul will shrink from a complicity in the hideous baseness of slandering the helpless dead, or heaping wanton indignity upon the already too much “injured shade” of Edgar Allan Poe.

Margaret E. Wilmer.



Lambert A. Wilmer was a staunch friend of Poe, until he expressed to a mutal friend concern about recent rumors of Poe’s drinking. Poe heard of this speaking about him behind his back, and took great offense. So ended a friendship rather needlessly. Wilmer, to his credit, continued to defend Poe long after Poe’s death.


[S:0 - BDLM, 1867] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe (M. E. Wilmer, 1867)