Text: John H. Ingram, “Poe and His English Schoolmaster,” Athenæum, October 26, 1878, p. 531, cols. 2-3


­[page 531, column 2, continued:]


It is in my power to add a few explanatory data to Mr. W. E. Hunter’s letter on the above subject, in the Athenaeum of October the 19th. I will deal seriatim with the various pointgs of his communication: —

1. The “somewhat grotesque illustration purporting to be the portrait of the ‘Rev. John Bransby, M. A., Poe’s English Schoolmaster, circa 1820,’” which is given in the so-called ‘Works of Edgar Allan Poe,’ and in ‘Gill’s Life,’ both published by Messrs. Chatto & Windus, is declared by Mr. Hunter to be “utterly unlike Dr. Bransby,” and he regards it as “a portrait of an old English divine flourishing certainly not later than the eighteenth century.” He is quite right both as regards the assertion and the surmise. It is not a portrait of Dr. Bransby, butg is a wretched copy of a portrait of William Cook, D. D., obiit 1797, that appears in Robinson’s ‘History and Antiquities of Stoke Newington’ — a somewhat scarce work, published in 1820 — whence, apparently, the publishers also derived “the ancient gateway.” Why the portrait is held forth as Dr. Bransby’s is not for me to explain.

2. The identification of the house in Stoke Newington with the place where Poe went to school is claimed both by Mr. Hotten and Mr. Curwen.* The “Elizabethan gables” fathered on Poe by Mr. Hotten I am unable to discover in any version of ‘William Wilson’ known to me.

3. In explanation of the assertion that Poe did really describe his English schoolhouse in the story of ‘William Wilson’ it should be stated that that story, as now printed, differs considerably from what it was when originally published, and that it is to the earliest — the more autobiographic though less artistic — versions that readers must go for corroborative evidence of the poet’s veracity. In the very scarce 1840 edition of ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque’ (my own copy taken from Poe’s portmanteau at his death), vol. ii. p. 29, “William Wilson” describes his English schoolhouse as “a large, rambling, cottage built, and somewhat decayed building”; and, again, p. 30, as “old, irregular, and cottage built.” These words faithfully describe that residence wherein the future poet passed the third lustrum of his life; but the transformation of the place into “a large, rambling, Elizabethan house” entirely destroyed the fidelity of the picture, however much it may have increased its romantic air. The house, it must be remembered, has been greatly altered since Poe’s time. Baudelaire must not be held responsible for any assertions pro or and con having had Griswold only to rely upon.

4. In the early edition of ‘Tales’ above referred to it is worthy notice that the date of the birth of “William Wilson” and his alter ego is stated as Jan. 19th, 1809 (the poet’s true birthday), whilst in later versions Jan. 19th, 1813, is given.

It is not beside the points at issue to remark that friends of Poe deem the thing prefixed to Mr. Hotten’s soi-disant ‘Works,’ and which the publisher in his “Preliminary” says “is considered by those who remember the poet an excellent representation of him when living,” as gross a caricature as is that of Dr. Bransby.

Mr. Hunter’s interesting communication, it is to be hoped, will call forth further reminiscences of the quondam “Edgar Allan.”



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page column 2:]

*  Vide ’Sorrow and Song,’ vol. ii, p. 97.



The present clipping survives as item #748 in the Ingram Collection.

Ingram is correct in identifying the false portrait of Dr. Bransby.


[S:0 - ATH, 1878] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Poe and His English Schoolmaster (J. H. Ingram, 1878)