Text: George E. Woodberry, “Chapter V,” Edgar Allan Poe (1885), pp. 104-200


[page 104, unnumbered:]


ON leaving Richmond Poe made his way with his family by slow stages through Baltimore and Philadelphia to New York, where he took up his residence at 113 Carmine Street. If he had gone there with the expectation of obtaining literary employment from the editor of the “New York Review,” he was soon undeceived. The first number of that magazine had appeared in March, but the financial panic that then swept over the country made the enterprise more difficult and hazardous, and the second issue was delayed until October. In this was a notice by Poe of Stephens “Travels in Arabia Petrsea,” prepared at an earlier time and now rewritten. The article, which was attributed to Secretary Cass, is a skillful compilation, by open extract and secret paraphrase, from the book under review and Keith’s lately published work on Prophecy; it is written in a very orthodox vein, but its main point is a criticism of that doctor’s interpretation of a few verses in Isaiah and Ezekiel respecting Idumæa, and turns on a rendering from the Hebrew about which Poe could have had no [page 105:] original knowledge. Of this passage, probably the most learned in appearance that he ever wrote, Poe was proud, and he reprinted it at every favorable opportunity throughout his life. The scholarship, whoever furnished it, was sound, and in later editions of Keith the objectional paragraphs are omitted. So far as is known Poe did not again con tribute to the theological quarterly.

He gave his attention during this winter principally to the “Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,“(1) which was announced by the Harpers in May, 1838, and was published at the end of July. Tales of the sea, under the influence of Cooper and Marryatt, were then at the height of their popularity, and many grew up and withered in a day. In selecting his subject, however, Poe was not merely adopting the literary fashion, but with the business adroitness of the born magazinist he was trading on the momentary curiosity of the public, which was highly interested in Antarctic explorations in consequence [page 106:] of the expedition then fitting out under the auspices of the government. Poe, who was acquainted with the chief projector, J. N. Reynolds, had found some attraction in the scheme from the first. He had reviewed the Congressional report on the matter and twice written editorially about it while still editor of the “Messenger.” In this way his attention was originally drawn to the subject, and in course of time the new book of travels was published, apparently on the recommendation of Mr. Paulding.(1)

The narrative is circumstantial and might well seem plausible to the unreflecting and credulous, although there are a few tell-tale slips, as where in the fifth chapter Augustus, who died on the voyage, is said to have revealed some matters to Arthur only in later years. Its credibility, however, is not so strange, nor the realistic art so ingenious, as might be thought, since portions of it are either suggested from other lately printed books, such as Irving’s “Astoria,” or directly compiled (the detailed account of the South Seas is taken almost textually from Morell’s “Voyages“(2)) by the easy process of close paraphrase. What is peculiar to the book is its accumulation of blood-curdling incidents. All the horrors of the deep are brought in [page 107:] and huddled up together; the entombment of Arthur in the hold, where he suffers everything possible to his situation, from starvation to an attack by a mad dog, the butchery of the mutineers, the sickening riot, the desperate fight between the two factions on board, poison, shipwreck, cannibalism among friends, make the staple of the first part of Pym’s adventures; some portions, such as the disguise of Pym as a putrescent corpse, the ship of carrion men with the feeding gull, or the details of Augustus’s death, are so revoltingly horrible, so merely physically disgusting, that one can hardly understand how even Poe could endure to suggest or develop them. Death in every fearful form is the constant theme; even after the ship reaches the Southern regions the author diversifies his geographical and botanical extracts only by the apprehension of living inhumation, or the analysis of the sensation of falling down a precipice, or wholesale murder. Poe’s touch is noticeable here and there throughout, it is true, but he does not show the distinctive subtlety, force, and fire of his genius until the very end, and then only in a way to discredit the plausibility he had previously aimed at. When the finely imagined isle of Tsalal comes in view, the real tale in its original part begins, and from that point the keeping and gradation of the narrative is exquisite, while a wonderful interest is afforded by the slight intimation and gradual revelation of the white country to the South. The caverns [page 108:] of the hieroglyphs are suggested by the Sinaitic written mountains; but after the voyagers leave the island and are drawn on toward the pole, the start ling scenery, by which expectation is raised to the highest pitch without loss of vagueness, forms one of his most original and powerful landscapes.

The volume was noticed by the press, but had little success in this country, and the author, of course, derived no profit from its reprint by Putnam in England, where the country public are said to have been hoaxed by it. The only income of the family at this time seems to have been derived from Mrs. Clemm’s keeping boarders, one of whom, Mr. William Gowans, a bookseller, declares that for the eight months or more during which he lived with the family he never saw Poe other wise than sober, courteous, and gentlemanly.(1) Mrs, Clemm’s earnings seem to have been no more than sufficient, since Poe, when in the summer he decided to remove to Philadelphia, was. forced to bor row money.

Thither he went in midsummer, but apparently not without encouragement, since in a letter of September 4, to his old acquaintance, Brooks, he declines to write an article upon Irving on the ground that he has “two engagements which it would be ruinous to neglect.“(2) This correspondence was probably begun by Poe on hearing that [page 109:] Brooks had bought Fairfield’s review, “The North American Quarterly Magazine” of Baltimore, and was to continue it as a monthly under the name of the “American Museum of Literature and the Arts.” To these he had already contributed “Ligeia,” composed probably in the past summer, which appeared in the first number, in September, and was followed by the satirical extravaganza “The Signora Psyche Zenobia — The Scythe of Time” (“How to write a Blackwood Article” and “A Predicament”) in December, two pages of “Literary Small Talk” in January, as much more in February, and the poem “The Haunted Palace” in April; in the fall he had also sent for the “Baltimore Book,” an annual edited by Carpenter and Arthur, “Siope” (“Silence”), a fine piece of imaginative prose which was saved from the waste basket by the intercession of Brooks. For these he received very little pay, — not more than five or ten dollars an article, if anything at all.

The mention which Poe made of engagements at Philadelphia refers probably to his text-book of Conchology, upon which he was employed during the winter. This volume(1) has given rise to so [page 110:] much discussion that it must receive more notice than it would otherwise deserve. It was charged in his lifetime that the work was a simple reprint of an English book, Captain Thomas Brown’s “Conchology,” which Poe had the effrontery to copyright in this country as his own. He indignantly denied the accusation, and said: —

“I wrote the Preface and Introduction, and translated from Cuvier the accounts of the animals, &c. All school-books are necessarily made in a similar way.“(1)

What Poe’s understanding was of the manner in which authors of school-books use their authorities may be seen from his own words: —

“It is the practice of quacks to paraphrase page after page, rearranging the order of paragraphs, making a slight alteration in point of fact here and there, but preserving the spirit of the whole, its information, erudition, etc., etc., while everything is so completely rewritten as to leave no room for a direct charge of plagiarism; and this is considered and lauded as originality. Now, he who, in availing himself of the labors of his predecessors (and it is clear that all scholars must avail themselves of such labors) — he who shall copy verbatim the passages to be desired, without attempt at palming off their spirit as original with himself, is certainly no plagiarist, even if he fail to make direct acknowledgment of indebtedness, [page 111:] — is unquestionably less of the plagiarist than the disingenuous and contemptible quack who wriggles him self, as above explained, into a reputation for originality, a reputation quite out of place in a case of this kind — the public, of course, never caring a straw whether he be original or not.“(1)

In this passage Poe wrote from experience; for in the parts of the “Conchologist’s First Book” which he claims as his own both methods are pursued. The first is illustrated by the “Introduction,” (pp. 3-8), which is a close paraphrase from Brown’s(2) volume, the thoughts being identical in both, their sequence similar, and the authorities quoted the same. The second is illustrated by the plates, which are copied from Brown, and by the “Explanation of the Parts of Shells” (pp. 9-20), which is verbatim from the same source, and the “classification,” which is reprinted from “Wyatt’s Conchology;“(3) a large and expensive volume published the preceding year, to which Poe acknowledges his obligations in his preface. In the body of the work, [page 112:] the order, the nomenclature, and the descriptions of the shells are a paraphrase of Wyatt, at first close, but as the writer grew more deft at the phraseology more free; and the description of the animals is, as Poe stated, translated from Cuvier. The volume concludes with an original glossary and an index from Wyatt.

These being the facts as they are shown by a direct comparison of all the books involved, there can be no doubt that the real state of the case is given by Professor John Gr. Anthony, of Harvard College, who received his information from Wyatt. The latter said that as his work of the previous year proved too expensive for the public, and as the Harpers refused to bring it out in a cheaper form, it was determined to publish a new book which should be sufficiently different from the former to escape any suit for the infringement of copyright; and Poe was selected to father it.(1) This is supported by the fact that Wyatt, who went about lecturing on the subject, carried the volume with him for sale. It was copyrighted in Poe’s name, and appeared about April, 1839, when it was favorably noticed by the press.(2) The most that can be said for Poe is that he shared the responsibility with others, unless, indeed, some one should be [page 113:] found with sufficient hardihood to maintain that Poe was ignorant of the true character of the book to which he put his name. He has been credited, too, with a translation and digest of Lemmonnier’s “Natural History,” which was published the same spring under Wyatt’s name; but there is no indication that he had any hand in this work except his own statement, in reviewing it, that he spoke “from personal knowledge, and the closest inspection and collation.“(1)

While this volume was in preparation Poe had begun to establish some connection with the city press, perhaps by the assistance of Wilmer, who was now pursuing his checkered journalistic career in Philadelphia, and on May 8 he published the grotesque sketch of “The Devil in the Belfry,” in the “Saturday Evening Chronicle.” In one way and another he made his name known at least locally, and found work to do, however humble and ill paid. One E. Burke Fisher, an old contributor to the “Messenger,” who in May of this year had ventured with another sanguine man, Mr. W. Whitney, to start a magazine, “The Literary Examiner and Western Monthly Review,” at Pittsburg, then at the extreme confines of the American literary world, made him an offer of four dollars a page for critical reviews; but as Fisher published the single article which he received editorially, and with emendations of his own, it led only to Poe’s [page 114:] declaring that “no greater scamp ever lived,“(1) and congratulating himself that the magazine died the next month without circulating its fourth number. He took the insult probably with a more cheerful if not a higher spirit because he had already obtained permanent employment and a fresh opportunity to distinguish himself as an editor.

In July, 1837, William Evans Burton, an English comedian who was ambitious of winning literary as well as histrionic fame in his adopted country, had launched “The Gentleman’s Magazine” in the very darkest period of the financial depression, and with singular felicity he had succeeded in his venture. At first this periodical, which he both owned and edited, was characterized by the lightest of stories and the most sluggish of poems; it was padded with clippings, translations, and the usual et cætera of its kind, including the scrappy reviews, made principally by the scissors, that then went under the name of criticism; but Burton devoted himself to developing local talent, and the Philadelphia editors, novelists, and poetasters, male and female, stood by their patron. The fourth volume began, in 1839, with golden promises of better printing, elegant engravings, and contributions from a long list of writers, in which, beside the names of Leigh Hunt, Douglas Jerrold, and James Montgomery, whose wares were presumably stolen, figured the patronymics of thirty-two native authors, [page 115:] for the most part of Philadelphia!! or South ern extraction, now all alike impartially forgotten. Poe’s friends, Wilmer and Brooks, were among them, but he himself was not mentioned. Once indeed, in the previous September, he had come under the notice of the magazine, but only anonymously as the author of “Arthur Gordon Pym,” in which capacity he had been flippantly treated. There is no evidence, and not the least likelihood, that he wrote anything for Burton until July, when his name was printed in conjunction with the for mer’s as associate editor of the periodical whose variable title was then “Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and American Monthly Review.”

The paucity of Poe’s early contributions goes to confirm this view. In the first number he printed nothing of his own except some old poems and a few brief book notices; and at the close of the year the only original work done by him exclusively for “Burton’s,” besides numerous but entirely perfunctory reviews, consisted of one sonnet, conjecturally his, though never afterwards acknowledged, and three tales, “The Man that was Used Up,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion.” “William Wilson” was reprinted from “The Gift” for 1840, and “Morella” from the “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,“(1) published at the end of the year. [page 116:]

This collection of Poe’s stories was in two volumes, and included all those thus far mentioned, and in addition the grotesque “Von Jung” and “Why the Little Frenchman wears his Hand in a Sling,” making twenty-five in all. The publishers, Lea & Blanchard, with whom he had previously had some slight correspondence in 1836 in regard to some rejected manuscripts, engaged, September 28, 1839, to print an edition of 750 copies, on condition that Poe should have the copyright and a few copies (afterwards limited to twenty) for distribution among his friends, and they should have the profits. When the volume was nearly ready Poe endeavored to obtain better terms, and in re ply received the following letter, which may account for his professed indifference at a later time regard ing the fate of the tales: —

November 20, 1839.

EDGAR A. POE, — We have your note of to-day. The copyright of the Tales would be of no value to us; when we undertook their publication, it was solely [page 117:] to oblige you and not with any view to profit, and on this ground it was urged by you. We should not there fore be now called upon or expected to purchase the copyright when we have no expectation of realizing the Capital placed in the volumes. If the offer to publish was now before us we should certainly decline it, and would feel obliged if you knew and would urge some one to relieve us from the publication at cost, or even at a small abatement.(1)

The volumes appeared early in December, and were widely and favorably noticed by the city press and in New York. The sale, however, was not large, and after Poe’s own copies were dispatched he broke off intercourse with the firm for some time.

Three of these reprinted stories deserve some further notice. Two of them, “Ligeia” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” mark the highest reach of the romantic element in Poe’s genius, and for the first time exhibit his artistic powers in full development and under easy command. He had matured in the six years since he penned his first story (he was now thirty), but his growth had been within singularly well-defined limits; his mind pursued the strong attraction that fascinated him in that haunted borderland upon the verge but not beyond the sphere of credibility, as the magnet obeys the pole; but this absorption of his imagination in the preternatural was not more extraordinary than the monotony of the themes that exercised [page 118:] it. In plot “Ligeia” is the same as “Morella,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” the same as “Berenice;” in each a single dramatic event had gathered about it in Poe’s mind rich accretions of fancy, thought, and suggestiveness, but practically there was no change except in treatment, — in the art by which the effect originally sought was secured more finely, and in an intenser and more elemental form. In all his best work, however, Poe not only told a story, he also developed an idea, and his later renderings of early conceptions are markedly characterized by an increase in this suggested, or, as he designated it, mystic, meaning. In “Ligeia,” which he regarded as his finest tale, he re-wrote “Morella,” but for much of its peculiar power he went back to the sources of his youngest inspiration. In “Al Aaraaf” he had framed out of the breath of the night- wind and the idea of the harmony of universal nature a fairy creature, —

“Ligeia, Ligeia, my beautiful one!”

Now by a finer touch he incarnated the motions of the breeze and the musical voices of nature in the form of a woman: but the Lady Ligeia has still no human quality; her aspirations, her thoughts and capabilities, are those of a spirit; the very beam and glitter and silence of her ineffable eyes belong to the visionary world. She is, in fact, the maiden of Poe’s dream, the Eidolon he served, the air-woven divinity in which he believed; for he had the true myth-making faculty, the power to make [page 119:] his senses aver what his imagination perceived. In revealing through “Ligeia” the awful might of the soul in the victory of its will over death and in the eternity of its love, Poe worked in the very element of his reverie, in the liberty of a world as as [[sic]] he would have it. Upon this story he lavished all his poetic, inventive, and literary skill, and at last perfected an exquisitely conceived work, and made it, within its own laws, as faultless as humanity can fashion. He did not once lapse into the crude or repulsive; he blended the material elements of the legend, the mere circumstance and decoration of the scene, like married notes of a sensuous accompaniment, and modulated them with minute and delicate care to chime with the weird suggestions of the things above nature, until all unites and vanishes in an impression on the spirit, — in an intimation of the dark possibilities that lie hidden in the eternal secret, adumbrated in the startling event when the raven hair of Ligeia streams down beneath the serpentine flames of the writhing censer, and her eyes open full on her lost lover, as they stand embosomed within the windswayed golden hangings whereon the ghastly and sable phantasmagoria keeps up its antic and cease less dance. Without striving to unwind the mazes of the spell that confuses the reader into momentary belief in the incredible, one cannot but note the marvelous certainty with which Poe passes from vaguely suggestive and slightly unusual mutations [page 120:] of the senses, and advances by imperceptible gradations to accustom the mind to increasingly strange and complex changes, incessant and seemingly law less variations, until one is fairly bewildered into accepting the final impossible transformation of the immortal into mortality as merely the final phase of the restless movement in all, and after wards, on returning to the solid world, can scarcely tell where he overstepped the boundaries of reality.

As in “Ligeia” the idea of change is elaborated, so in “The Fall of the House of Usher” the intellectual theme is fear. For the purposes of this story Poe used again the plot of “Berenice,” but so purified and developed (in its accidents as to be hardly recognizable. Not a few would rank this tale more high than “Ligeia;” for, if that be more distinguished by ideality, this is more excel lent in the second virtue in Poe’s scale, unity of design. In artistic construction, it does not come short of absolute perfection. The adaptation of the related parts and their union in the total effect are a triumph of literary craft; the intricate details, as it were mellowing and reflecting one ground tone, have the definiteness and precision of inlaid mosaic, or, like premonitions and echoes of the theme in music, they are so exactly calculated as to secure their end with the certainty of harmonic law itself. The sombre landscape whose hues Poe alone knew the secret of; the subtle yet not overwrought sympathy between the mansion and the race that had [page 120:] reared it; the looks, traits, and pursuits of Usher, its representative; and the at first scarce-felt presence of Madeline, his worn sister, — all is like a narrowing and ever-intensifying force drawing in to some unknown point; and when this is reached, in the bright copper-sheathed vault in which Madeline is entombed, and the mind, after that midnight scene, expands and breathes freer air, a hundred obscure intimations, each slight in itself, startle and en chain it, until, slowly as obscurity takes shape in a glimmer of light, Usher’s dread discloses itself in its concrete and fearful fulfillment, and at once, by the brief and sudden stroke of death, house, race, and all sink into the black tarn where its glassy image had so long built a shadowy reality.

Where every syllable tells, it is folly to attempt an analysis of the workmanship. By way of illustration, however, it may be well to remark on the mode in which the mind is prepared for the coming of Madeline, and made almost to share Usher’s diseased acuteness of hearing, by the legendary tale, with its powerful and exclusive appeal to the senses; or to observe such a slight touch as the small picture painted by Usher, — the interior of a long rectangular tunnel, deep in the earth, with low, smooth walls, closed and without a torch, yet flooded with intense rays, — so clearly prophetic of Madeline’s vault, gleaming with metallic lustre, of which, too, some reminiscence still survives in the mind when the same unnatural luminous exhalation [page 122:] glows from the under-surface of the storm clouds that press upon the turrets of the trembling house before its fall. Never has the impression of total destruction, of absolute and irremediable ruin, been more strongly given; had the mansion remained, it would seem as if the extinction of Usher had been incomplete. Doom rests upon all things within the shadow of those walls; it is felt to be impending; and therefore, Poe, identifying himself with his reader, places the sure seal of truth on the illusion as he exclaims, “From that chamber and from that mansion I fled aghast.” The mind is already upon the recoil as it turns to view the accomplished fatality.

These two tales deserve more attention in that they are in Poe’s prose what “The Raven” and “Ulalume” are in his poetry, the richest of his imaginative work. On them he expended his spirit. There had been no such art before in America; but, like Hawthorne, he had to wait for any adequate recognition of his genius. His work in this kind was done; it could be left, safe as the diamond.

In “William Wilson” he opened a new vein. It is the first of his studies of the springs of terror in conscience. The idea itself which is developed in the story, the conception of a double dogging one’s steps and thwarting one’s evil designs, is an old fancy(1) of men that has taken many shapes [page 123:] since Zoroaster saw his phantom in the garden. The psychological element in it is less insisted on than is usual in Poe’s finest work, and it consequently lacks the intensity and spiritual power of his later sketches on similar subjects. It has a peculiar interest as containing an autobiographical account of his school-days in England, but in his own life there was little to serve as a basis for other portions of the narrative.

Poe had already formed the habit, which no author ever practiced so flagrantly, of republishing old material slightly if at all revised. With the exception of the fine sonnet entitled “Silence,” all his poetic contributions to “Burton’s” were of this sort; the 1829 edition of his poems afforded “Spirits of the Dead,“(1) “Fairyland,“(2) and “To the River —— ,“(2) and the “Messenger” yielded “To Ianthe in Heaven” and “To —— ,“(1) the stanzas originally addressed to Eliza White. At the be ginning of the New Year he applied the same convenient [page 124:] aid to the department of criticism, which had hitherto been very feebly conducted, although he had found opportunity to reproach Longfellow for using so crudely, in “Hyperion,” material capable of being highly wrought by art, and had praised Fouqué’s “Undine” with delightful appreciation. In the January issue Moore’s “Alciphron” drew from him one of those partial reviews that seem to invalidate the usefulness of any criticism of contemporaries, and in piecing it out he availed himself of his former remarks on Drake and Marvell in the “Messenger,” but openly under the form of self-quotation. In a mediocre notice of Bryant, somewhat later, he again had recourse to the old files, and in other insignificant criticisms he is found airing the bastard Hebrew learning of his article in the “New York Review,” and even enumerating once more the storehouses of literary odds and ends, including the mythical memoirs of “Suard and André.” The most noticeable article is that review of Longfellow’s “Voices of the Night,” in which he first urged against the New England poet the charge of plagiarism. He instanced in particular Tennyson’s “The Death of the Old Year” as the source of “The Midnight Mass for the Dying Year.” This he characterized as belonging “to the most barbarous class of literary robbery; that class in which, while the words of the wronged author are avoided, his most intangible, and therefore his least defensible and least [page 125:] reclaimable property, is purloined.“(1) In other ways than such book-reviewing as this Poe’s mind was also unprofitably employed. A satirical sketch, “Peter Pendulum, the Business Man,” and the first of his articles respecting decoration, “The Philosophy of Furniture,” were his only signed contributions, for the mere plate or sporting articles may be neglected.

In each number, however, from January to June appeared an installment of his anonymous work, “The Journal of Julius Rodman, Being an Ac count of the First Passage across the Rocky Mountains of North America ever achieved by Civilized Man.” This narrative is constructed, like that of “Arthur Gordon Pym,” so as to win credence by circumstantial detail and an affected air of plainness, and Poe would probably have concluded it similarly with weird marvels of nature. Julius Rodman was the son of an Englishman who had settled in Kentucky. Being left alone by his father’s death, he started in his twenty-sixth year professedly on a trapping expedition up the Missouri River, and pushing on for mere adventure crossed the Rocky Mountains in northern regions in 1792, but on returning to Virginia, after three years absence, never conversed respecting his journey, and took great pains to secrete his diary. Unfortunately, although the characters of the exploring party are much more carefully selected than was the case in [page 126:] “Arthur Gordon Pym,” Poe conducted the travelers only to the head waters of the Missouri. The description of the trip, in which he followed very closely the obvious authorities, such as Sir Alexander Mackenzie, Lewis and Clarke, Pike, and Irving, is enlivened only by an attack on the Sioux, the sight of a beaver dam, and a hand-to-hand conflict with a bear. As before, too, he was led to his subject by the public interest which was now especially directed to the exploration of the West. The work as a whole bears no relation to his genius, except in a single passage which contains a faint suggestion of the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass in “Eleonora.”

With the June installment of the “Journal” Poe’s contributions to the magazine ceased, and at the same time his engagement with Burton abruptly terminated. There was evidently a serious quarrel between the two editors, but the exact truth regarding it can only be inferred. Poe asserted that Burton had acted dishonorably in advertising prizes for contributions which he never intended to pay, and that this was the ground of his own resignation; Burton, on his side, circulated scandalous reports in regard to Poe’s habits and actions, and described these as the cause of the trouble. It will be best to confine attention to the documentary evidence, an important part of which is contained in Poe’s letters to Dr. J. E. Snodgrass, of Baltimore, who had been Brooks’s associate on the “Museum,” [page 127:] and was afterwards known as an early abolitionist in that city. This correspondence, which began in 1839 with a request from Poe that his friend would see that a puff of himself in a St. Louis paper was reprinted and the last numbers of “Burton’s” noticed by the Baltimore press, extends over three years, and relates mainly to the minor literary affairs of the two, but incidentally some light is thrown on more important matters, and among them on this disagreement between Poe and Bur ton. In reply to a question regarding the prizes offered by Burton, Poe writes, December 19, 1839, as follows: —

“Touching the Premiums. The Advertisement respecting them was written by Mr. Burton, and is not I think as explicit as might [be]. I can give you no in formation about their desig[nation furth]er than is shown in the advertisement itself. The tr[uth is,] I object, in toto, to the whole scheme — but merely follow[ed in] Mr. B.’s wake upon such matters of business.“(1)

Dr. Snodgrass sent on a contribution, but had difficulty in recovering possession of it. Just after the quarrel, Poe wrote to him again, in answer to what seems to have been a pressing letter, as follows: — [page 128:]

“Touching your Essay, Burton not only lies, but deliberately and wilfully lies; for the last time but one that I saw him I called his attention to the MS. which was then at the top of a pile of other MSS. sent for premiums, in a drawer of the office desk. The last day I was in the office I saw the Essay in the same position, and am perfectly sure it is there still. You know it is a peculiar looking MS. and I could not mistake it. In saying it was not in his possession his sole design was to vex you, and through you myself. Were I in your place I would take some summary method of dealing with the scoundrel, whose infamous line of conduct in regard to this whole Premium scheme merits, and shall receive exposure. I am firmly convinced that it was never his intention to pay one dollar of the money offered; and indeed his plain intimations to that effect, made to me personally and directly, were the immediate reason of my cutting the connexion so abruptly as I did. If you could, in any way, spare the time to come on to Philadelphia, I think I could put you in the way of detecting this villain in his rascality. I would go down with you to the office, open the drawer in his presence, and take the MS. from beneath his very nose. I think this would be a good deed done, and would act as a caution to such literary swindlers in future. What think you of this plan? Will you come on? Write immediately — in reply.“(1)

In support of Burton’s charge of Poe’s habits of drinking at this time, nothing has been brought forward except an undated letter from himself to Poe: [page 129:]

“I am sorry you have thought it necessary to send me such a letter. Your troubles have given a morbid tone to your feelings which it is your duty to discourage. I myself have been as severely handled by the world as you can possibly have been, but my sufferings have not tinged my mind with melancholy, nor jaundiced my views of society. You must rouse your energies, and if care assail you, conquer it. I will gladly overlook the past. I hope you will as easily fulfill your pledges for the future. We shall agree very well, though I cannot permit the magazine to be made a vehicle for that sort of severity which you think ’so successful with the mob. I am truly much less anxious about making a monthly sensation than I am upon the point of fairness. You must, my dear sir, get rid of your avowed ill-feelings toward your brother authors. You see I speak plainly; I cannot do otherwise upon such a subject. You say the people love havoc. I think they love justice. I think you yourself would not have written the article on Dawes, in a more healthy state of mind. I am not trammelled by any vulgar consideration of expediency; I would rather lose money than by such undue severity wound the feelings of a kind-hearted and honorable man. And I am satisfied that Dawes has something of the true fire in him. I regretted your word-catching spirit. But I wander from my design. I accept your proposition to recommence your interrupted avocations upon the Maga. Let us meet as if we had not exchanged letters. Use more exercise, write when feelings prompt, and be assured of my friendship. You will soon regain a healthy activity of mind, and laugh at your past vagaries.“(1) [page 130:]

There is in this letter no statement nor even any implication that the cause of Poe’s temporary resignation, of which we know only from this source, was drunkenness. All that is said would be more obviously and naturally explained, both in substance and tone, on the supposition that when Burton re fused to print the censorious criticism on Rufus Dawes Poe gave way to his anger, perhaps used high words, and in a moment of pique left his situation; on returning to himself, and under the strong pressure of poverty at home, it is not unlikely that he surprised Burton by one of his self-humiliating and bitter letters, and that Burton wrote to him the foregoing kindly reply. This sup position explains everything that is said, whereas the assumption that Poe had been on a drunken spree is not required by any phrase or sentence, and would fail to explain why the entire letter deals with the subject of Poe’s criticism and the temperament out of which it sprang.

Independently of this letter, however, it is plain that Burton did charge Poe with the vicious habit which he would find most difficulty in denying. Dr. Snodgrass heard the story at second hand, and nearly nine months later wrote about it to Poe, who was then editor of “Graham’s.” The reply is at length and explicit: —

PHILADELPHIA, April 1, 1841.

MY DEAR SNODGRASS: — I fear you have been thinking it was not my design to answer your kind letter at [page 131:] all. It is now April Fool’s Day, and yours is dated March 8th; but believe me, although, for good reason, I may occasionally postpone my reply to your favors, I am never in danger of forgetting them.

. . . . . . . . .

In regard to Burton. I feel indebted to you for the kind interest you express; but scarcely know how to re ply. My situation is embarrassing. It is impossible, as you say, to notice a buffoon and a felon, as one gentle man would notice another. The law, then, is my only resource. Now, if the truth of a scandal could be admitted in justification — I mean of what the law terms a scandal — I would have matters all my own way. I would institute a suit, forthwith, for his personal defamation of myself. He would be unable to prove the truth of his allegations. I could prove their falsity and their malicious intent by witnesses who, seeing me at all hours of every day, would have the best right to speak — I mean Burton’s own clerk, Morrell, and the compositors of the printing office. In fact, I could prove the scan dal almost by acclamation. I should obtain damages. But, on the other hand, I have never been scrupulous in regard to what I have said of him. I have always told him to his face, and everybody else, that I looked upon him as a blackguard and a villain. This is notorious. He would meet me with a cross action. The truth of the allegation — which I could [as] easily prove as he would find it difficult to prove the truth of his own respecting me would not avail me. The law will not admit, as justification of my calling Billy Burton a scoundrel, that Billy Burton is really such. What then can I do? If I sue, he sues: you see how it is. [page 132:]

At the same time — as I may, after further reflection, be induced to sue, I would take it as an act of kindness — not to say justice — on your part, if you would see the gentleman of whom you spoke, and ascertain with accuracy all that may legally avail .me; that is to say, what and when were the words used, and whether your friend would be willing for your sake, for my sake, and for the sake of truth, to give evidence if called upon. Will you do this for me?

So far for the matter inasmuch as it concerns Burton. I have now to thank you for your defence of myself, as stated. You are a physician, and I presume no physi cian can have difficulty in detecting the drunkard at a glance. You are, moreover, a literary man, well read in morals. You will never be brought to believe that I could write what I daily write, as I write it, were I as this villain would induce those who know me not, to be lieve. In fine, I pledge you, before God, th e solemn word of a gentleman, that I am temperate even to rigor. From the hour in which I first saw this basest of calumniators to the hour in which I retired from his office in uncontrollable disgust at his chicanery, arrogance, ignorance and brutality, nothing stronger than water ever passed my lips.

It is, however, due to candor that I inform you upon what foundation he has erected his slanders. At no period of my life was I ever what men call intemperate. I never was in the habit of intoxication. I never drunk drams, &c. But, for a brief period, while I resided in Richmond, and edited the Messenger I certainly did give way, at long intervals, to the temptation held out on all sides by the spirit of Southern conviviality. My sensitive temperament could not stand an excitement [page 133:] which was an every day matter to my companions. In short, it sometimes happened that I was completely intoxicated. For some days after each excess I was in variably confined to bed. But it is now quite four years since I have abandoned every kind of alcoholic drink four years, with the exception of a single deviation, which occurred shortly after my leaving Burton, and when I was induced to resort to the occasional use of cider, with the hope of relieving a nervous attack.

You will thus see, frankly stated, the whole amount of my sin. You will also see the blackness of that heart which could revive a slander of this nature. Neither can you fail to perceive how desperate the malignity of the slanderer must be — how resolute he must be to slander, and how slight the grounds upon which he would build up a defamation — since he can find nothing better with which to charge me than an accusation which can be disproved by each and every man with whom I am in the habit of daily intercourse.

I have now only to repeat to you, in general, my solemn assurance that my habits are as far removed from intemperance as the day from the night. My sole drink is water.

Will you do me the kindness to repeat this assurance to such of your own friends as happen to speak of me in your hearing?

I feel that nothing more is requisite, and you will agree with me upon reflection.

Hoping soon to hear from you, I am,

Yours most cordially,


DR. J. E. SNODGRASS. [page 134:]

Unfortunately, this disclaimer is traversed by a letter from Mr. C. W. Alexander, the publisher of the magazine, to Mr. T. C. Clarke, of Philadelphia. In answer to the question whether Poe’s alleged irregularities at that time were such as to interfere with his work, Mr. Alexander writes: —

“The absence of the principal editor on professional duties left the matter frequently in the hands of Mr. Poe, whose unfortunate failing may have occasioned some disappointment in the preparation of a particular article expected from him, but never interfering with the regular publication of the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” as its monthly issue was never interrupted upon any occasion, either from Mr. Poe’s deficiency, or from any other cause, during my publication of it, embracing the whole time of Mr. Poe’s connection with it. That Mr. Poe had faults seriously detrimental to his own interests, none, of course, will deny. They were, unfortunately, too well known in the literary circles of Philadelphia, were there any disposition to conceal them. But he alone was the sufferer, and not those who received the benefit of his preeminent talents, however irregular his habits or uncertain his contributions may occasionally have been.“(1)

It is possible that Mr. Alexander, writing ten years after the event, may have confused his recollections and antedated the intemperance of Poe, which became frequent and notorious during the next year. Were it not for this letter there would [page 135:] be no direct evidence that Poe was not, as he claimed to be, a sober man from the time he left Richmond to that of his wife’s illness in 1841, and this would agree with Gowan’s account of him in New York and with Mrs. Clemm’s statement, re ported by Mr. R. E. Shapley, of Philadelphia, — “For years I know he did not taste even a glass of wine.” To no other period of his mature life are these words applicable. It should be noted, too, that Wilmer, who sometimes met him in Philadelphia, says that during their acquaintance he “did not see him inebriated; no, not in a single instance;“(1) but in his “Recollections” he asserts unqualifiedly that this fault was the cause of all of Poe’s differences with his employers. Probably the true cause of the trouble was less Poe’s habits than his acts; it was of a business nature, and in the affair each party seems to have had matter for complaint. Burton, who it will be remembered was a comic actor, had got into quarrels with the managers, and he determined to have a theatre of his own; to obtain this he needed funds, and by way of raising them he advertised his magazine for sale without mentioning his intention to Poe. The latter, on his part, arranged to issue a prospectus of a new and rival monthly, “The Penn Magazine,” without advising Burton. He had long had a strong ambition to have a magazine of his own. In fact, he was always waiting to find some [page 136:] one with capital to embark in the enterprise, and while still on Burton’s was constantly uneasy through the indulgence of this hope. In a letter to Snodgrass, written six months before, there occurs a characteristic passage: —

“I have heard, indirectly, that an attempt is to be made by some one of capital in Baltimore, to get up a Magazine. Have you heard anything of it? If you have, will you be kind enough to let me know all about it by return of mail — if you can spend the time to oblige me — I am particularly desirous of understanding how the matter stands — who are the parties, &c.“(1)

He was now preparing his prospectus, and no doubt hoped that Burton’s going out of the trade would help his own prospects. He might fairly expect that in the changes about to take place some of the subscribers to the “Gentleman’s” would remain with him, who, as its real editor, had won position and respect, especially with the press of the city, and that they would form a nucleus for the circulation of the “Penn.” Whether in fact he did, as was charged by Griswold, obtain transcripts of Burton’s subscription-list and other valuable papers, for his own use, remains in doubt. It was an obvious thing for him to do; he was out of humor with Burton, and as he believed that the latter would soon sell he may not have regarded it as a dishonorable proceeding. Undoubtedly Bur ton looked on Poe’s action in advertising his new [page 137:] enterprise at that moment as likely to diminish the selling value of his property; if in addition Poe at tempted to secure his subscribers in an underhand way, he would have had cause to be offended, and if he remonstrated Poe may have told him that he “looked upon him as a blackguard and a villain,” in the phrases of his letter to Snodgrass. That there is no explicit mention of the charge in the following letter, in which Poe makes his explanation to his employer, counts for nothing in view of the points that mark omissions; but the letter, as edited, proves with sufficient certainty that the “Penn Magazine” was the apple of discord, and it has, besides, interesting bearings as an indication of Poe’s daily habits of business, his demeanor and temper.

SIR: — I find myself at leisure this Monday morning, June 1, to notice your very singular letter of Saturday. . . . I have followed the example of Victorine and slept upon the matter, and you shall now hear what I have to say. In the first place, your attempts to bully me excite in my mind scarcely any other sentiment than mirth. When you address me again, preserve, if you can, the dignity of a gentleman. . . . I shall feel my self more at liberty to be explicit. As for the rest, you do me gross injustice; and you know it. As usual, you have wrought yourself into a passion with me on account of some imaginary wrong; for no real injury, or attempt at injury, have you ever received at my hands. As I live, I am utterly unable to say why you are angry, or what true grounds of complaint you have against [page 138:] me. You are a man of impulses; have made yourself, in consequence, some enemies; have been in many respects ill-treated by those whom you had looked upon as friends — and these things have rendered you suspicious. You once wrote in your magazine a sharp critique upon a book of mine — a very silly book — Pym. Had I written a similar criticism upon a book of yours, you feel that you would have been my enemy for life, and you therefore imagine in my bosom a latent hostility to wards yourself. This has been a mainspring in your whole conduct towards me since our first acquaintance. It has acted to prevent all cordiality. In a general view of human nature your idea is just — but you will find yourself puzzled in judging me by ordinary motives. Your criticism was essentially correct, and therefore, although severe, it did not occasion in me one solitary emotion either of anger or dislike. But even while I write these words, I am sure you will not believe them. Did I not still think you, in spite of the exceeding littleness of some of your hurried actions, a man of many honorable impulses, I should not now take the trouble to send you this letter. I cannot permit myself to suppose that you would say to me in cool blood what you said in your letter of yesterday. You are, of course, only mis taken, in asserting that I owe you a hundred dollars, and you will rectify the mistake at once when you come to look at your accounts.

Soon after I joined you, you made me an offer of money, and I accepted $20. Upon another occasion, at my request, you sent me enclosed in a letter $30. Of this 30, I repaid 20 within the next fortnight (drawing no salary for that period). I was thus still in your debt [page 139:] $30, when not long ago I again asked a loan of $30, which you promptly handed to me at your own home. Within the last three weeks, three dollars each week have been retained from my salary, an indignity which I have felt deeply but did not resent. You state the sum retained as $8, but this I believe is through a mis take of Mr. Morrell. My postage bill, at a guess, might be $9 or $10 — and I therefore am indebted to you, upon the whole, in the amount of about $60. More than this sum I shall not pay. You state that you can no longer afford to pay $50 per month for 2 or 3 pp. of MS. Your error here can be shown by reference to the Magazine. During my year with you I have written —

In July 5 pp

“August 9”

“Sept. 16”

“Oct. 4”

“Nov. 5”

“Dec. 12”

“Jan. 9”

Feb. 12

“March 11”

April 17

“May 14” + 5 copied Miss McMichael’s MS.

“June 9” + 3 “Chandlers.

132 [sic]

Dividing this sum by 12, we have an average of 11 pp. per month — not 2 or 3. And this estimate leaves out of question everything in the way of extract or compilation. Nothing is counted but bonâ fide composition. 11 pp. at $3 per p. would be $33, at the usual Magazine [page 140:] prices. Deduct this from $50, my monthly salary, and we have left $17 per month, or $4 25/100 per week, for the services of proof-reading; general superintendence at the printing office; reading, alteration and preparation of MSS., with compilation of various articles, such as Plate articles, Field sports, &c. Neither has anything been said of my name upon your title page, a small item — you will say — but still something, as you know. Snowden pays his editresses $2 per week each for their names solely. Upon the whole, I am not willing to admit that you have greatly overpaid me. That I did not do four times as much as I did for the Magazine was your own fault. At first I wrote long articles, which you deemed inadmissible, and never did I suggest any to which you had not some immediate and decided objection. Of course I grew discouraged, and could feel no interest in the journal.

I am at a loss to know why you call me selfish. If you mean that I borrowed money of you — you know that you offered it, and you know that I am poor. In what instance has any one ever found me selfish? Was there selfishness in the affront I offered Benjamin (whom I respect, and who spoke well of me) because I deemed it a duty not to receive from any one commendation at your expense? . . . I have said that I could not tell why you were angry. Place yourself in my situation and see whether you would not have acted as I have done. You first “enforced,” as you say, a deduction of salary: giving me to understand thereby that you thought of parting company. You next spoke disrespectfully of me behind my back this as an habitual thing — to those whom you supposed your friends, and who punctually [page 141:] retailed me, as a matter of course, every ill-natured word which you uttered. Lastly, you advertised your magazine for sale without saying a word to me about it. I felt no anger at what you did none in the world. Had I not firmly believed it your design to give up your journal, with a view of attending to the Theatre, I should never have dreamed of attempting one of my own. The opportunity of doing something for myself seemed a good one — (and I was about to be thrown out of business) — and I embraced it. Now I ask you, as a man of honor and as a man of sense — what is there wrong in all this? What have I done at which you have any right to take offence? I can give you no definitive answer (respecting the continuation of Rodman’s Journal) until I hear from you again. The charge of $100 I shall not admit for an instant. If you persist in it our intercourse is at an end, and we can each adopt our own measures.

In the meantime, I am,

Yr. Obt. St.,


This letter seems meant to be conciliatory, but if the savageness of Poe’s characterization of his old chief, already given, is any sign, it failed of its purpose. Burton suppressed six or seven criticisms still on hand, and wrote and spoke hard words about his former associate. Nor did Poe lag much behind in returning ill-will. Six months later he wrote to Snodgrass: — [page 142:]

“Mr. Burton, that illustrious graduate of St. John’s College, Cambridge, is going to the devil with the worst grace in the world, but with a velocity truly astounding. The press here in a body, have given him the cut direct. So be it — suum cuique. We have said quite enough about this genius.“(1)

On the whole, the natural inference from all these papers is that the two editors quarreled over some incident connected with the “Penn Magazine,” and afterwards, being angry, told their friends all the grievances they had against each other, as their justification.

Burton’s road, wherever it lay, did not again cross Poe’s . Within two weeks after the rupture, “The Penn Magazine” was publicly(2) announced to appear January 1, 1841, and prospectuses were sent to the press and to private friends. Previous to his quarrel with Burton, Poe contributed to “Alexander’s Weekly Messenger,” published by the same firm as the “Gentleman’s,” a series of articles on cryptography, in which he challenged his readers to invent ciphers which he could not interpret. According to his own statement, out of the hundred sent in he read all but one, and that he proved to be an imposture. He probably now wrote further for the same, and possibly for other papers, as he had done on first coming to Philadelphia, and perhaps it was now that he contributed [page 143:] to the “United States Military Magazine,“(1) in which at one time he had articles of consider able length; but no work of his has been traced until the December “Gentleman’s,” in which he published one of the most striking of the tales of conscience, “The Man of the Crowd.” With this number the magazine passed under the control of George R. Graham, editor of a feeble monthly, the “Casket,” who had bought out Burton in October, and now merged the two under the name, soon to become famous, of “Graham’s Magazine.” He was also one of the proprietors of “The Saturday Evening Post,” a weekly, in which Poe had been praised with increasing warmth and frequency for the past year. By such means, apparently, Poe and Graham came to a better acquaintance in the fall of 1840. As the winter came on Poe was attacked by an illness of undefined character, but presumably similar to those which continued to occur with increasing frequency until his death. In consequence of this the issue of the “Penn,” which was to have taken place January 1, was postponed until March 1. The state of his affairs, as they seemed to himself on recovering his health, is displayed in his correspondence with Snodgrass. He writes, January 17: — [page 144:]

“You write to know my prospects with the Penn. They are glorious, notwithstanding the world of difficulties under which I labored and labor. My illness (from which I have now entirely recovered), has been, for various reasons, a benefit to my scheme rather than a disadvantage; and, upon the whole, if I do not eminently succeed in this enterprise the fault will be al together mine own. Still, I am using every exertion to insure success, and, among other manoeuvres, I have cut down the bridges behind me. I must now do or die — I mean in a literary sense.

“In the literary way I shall endeavor, gradually, (if I cannot effect the purpose at once) to give the Magazine a reputation for the having no articles but from the best pens a somewhat negative merit, you will say. In criticism I will be bold and sternly, absolutely just, with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me. I shall aim at originality in the body of the work, more than at any other especial quality. I have one or two articles of my own in statu pupillari that would make you stare, at least, on account of the utter oddity of their conception. To carry out the conception is a difficulty which — may be overcome.”

That the lack of capital was still a principal ob stacle, however, appears from the conclusion of the letter: —

“And now, my dear Snodgrass, will you do me a favor? I have heard some mention of a new magazine to be started in Baltimore by a Virginian & a practical printer. I am anxious to know all the details of the [page 145:] project. Can you procure and send me (by return of mail) a Prospectus? If you cannot get one, will you write me all about it — the gentleman’s name, &c., &c., &c.?

“I have underscored the word anxious because I really mean what I say, and because, about a fortnight ago, I made to the Hon. N. C. Brooks, A. M. a request just such as I now make to yourself. He did not reply; and I, expecting of course the treatment which one gentleman naturally expects from another, have been put to the greatest inconvenience by the daily but fruitless expectation.“(1)

On the back of this letter was printed the prospectus of “The Penn Magazine,” which forms the basis of Poe’s many subsequent notices of a similar kind, and explains the aims and purposes that he continued to cherish as peculiarly his own. It read as follows: —





To be edited and published in the city of Philadelphia, By EDGAR A. POE.

TO THE PUBLIC. — Since resigning the conduct of the Southern Literary Messenger, at the commencement of its third year, I have always had in view the establishment of a Magazine which should retain some of the chief features of that journal, abandoning or greatly modifying the rest. Delay, however, has been occasioned by a variety of causes, and not until now have I [page 146:] found myself at liberty to attempt the execution of the design.

I will be pardoned for speaking more directly of the Messenger. Having in it 110 proprietary right, my objects too being at variance in many respects with those of its very worthy owner, I found difficulty in stamping upon its pages that individuality which I believe essential to the full success of all similar publications. In regard to their permanent influence, it appears to me that a continuous definite character, and a marked certainty of purpose, are requisites of vital importance; and I cannot help believing that these requisites are only attainable when one mind alone has the general direction of the undertaking. Experience has rendered obvious — what might indeed have been demonstrated a priori — that in founding a Magazine of my own lies my sole chance of carrying out to completion whatever peculiar intentions I may have entertained.

To those who remember the early days of the Southern periodical in question, it will be scarcely necessary to say that its main feature was a somewhat overdone causticity in its department of Critical Notices of new books. The Penn Magazine will retain this trait of severity insomuch only as the calmest yet sternest sense of justice will permit. Some years since elapsed may have mellowed down the petulance without interfering with the sight (?) of the critic. Most surely they have not yet taught him to read through the medium of a publisher’s will, nor convinced him that the interests of letters are unallied with the interests of truth. It shall be the first and chief purpose of the Magazine now proposed to become known as one where may be found at all times, and upon all subjects, [page 147:] an honest and a fearless opinion. It shall be a leading object to assert in precept, and to maintain in practice, the rights, while in effect it demonstrates the advantages, of an absolutely independent criticism; — a criticism self-sustained; guiding itself only by the purest rules of Art; analyzing and urging these rules as it ap plies them; holding itself aloof from all personal bias; acknowledging no fear save that of outraging the right; yielding no point either to the vanity of the author, or to the assumptions of antique prejudice, or to the involute and anonymous cant of the Quarterlies, or to the arrogance of those organized cliques which, hanging on like nightmares upon American literature, manufacture, at the nod of our principal book-sellers, a pseudo-public-opinion by wholesale. These are objects of which no man need be ashamed. They are purposes, moreover, whose novelty at least will give them interest. For assurance that I will fulfill them in the best spirit and to the very letter, I appeal with confidence to those friends, and especially to those Southern friends, who sustained me in the Messenger, where I had but a very partial opportunity of completing my own plans.

In respect to the other characteristics of the Penn Magazine a few words here will suffice.

It will endeavor to support the general interests of the republic of letters, without reference to particular regions — regarding the world at large as the true audience of the author. Beyond the precincts of literature, properly so called, it will leave in better hands the task of instruction upon all matters of very grave moment. Its aim chiefly shall be to please — and this through means of versatility, originality, and pungency. It may be as [page 148:] well here to observe that nothing said in this Prospectus should be construed into a design of sullying the Magazine with any tincture of the buffoonery, scurrility, or profanity, which are the blemish of some of the most vigorous of the European prints. In all branches of the literary department, the best aid, from the highest and purest sources, is secured.

To the mechanical execution of the work the greatest attention will be given which such a matter can require. In this respect it is proposed to surpass, by very much, the ordinary Magazine style. The form will somewhat resemble that of The Knickerbocker; the paper will be equal to that of The North American Review; pictorial embellishments are promised only in the necessary illustration of the text.

The Penn Magazine will be published in Philadelphia, on the first of each month: and will form, half-yearly, a volume of about 500 pages. The price will be $5 per annum, payable in advance, or upon the receipt of the first number, which will be issued on the first of March, 1841. Letters addressed to the Editor and Proprietor,


PHILADELPHIA, January 1, 1841.

These purposes and the sanguine hopes of Poe were balked by the coincidence of a good offer from Graham and a financial depression through the country. The “Saturday Evening Post,” February 20, 1841, announced that the scheme of the “Penn Magazine” had been suspended, owing to the disturbance in monetary affairs, in which periodicals were always the first to suffer; it was added [page 149:] that its editor had the finest prospects of success, the press, and particularly the South and West, being warm in his cause, and an excellent list of subscribers having been already secured; this “stern, just, and competent critic,” it concluded, would now take the editorial chair of “Graham’s.”

Poe’s hand may be clearly seen in the critical department of “Graham’s” as early as February, but his responsibility as editor in charge did not begin until the April issue. From that time until June of the next year he contributed to every number, much of what he wrote being of his best work. This period of his authorship is especially distinguished by a remarkable quickening of his powers of analytical reasoning, by virtue of which he struck out a new vein of fiction. The first notable sign of this mental development is in the articles contributed to “Alexander’s Weekly Messenger,” about January, 1840, while he was still engaged on Burton’s magazine, on the subject of cryptography, to which reference has already been made. In July, 1841, he returned to the subject, in “Graham’s,” and again received and translated several intricate cryptographs. On the first of May previous, when Graham’s weekly, the “Saturday Evening Post,” appeared in an enlarged and improved form, he gave distinction to the number by an analogous exercise of his analytical powers, — his successful exposure of the plot of “Barnaby Rudge” from the material afforded by the introductory [page 150:] chapters. Dickens is said to have been so surprised as to ask Poe if he were the devil. It was in April, however, in the very first number of his editing, that “Graham’s” contained his earliest story in which this interest, the employment of method in disentangling a plot by mere ratiocination, is principally involved. It was “The Murders of the Rue Morgue,” perhaps the most famous of his tales. It has been objected that really there is no analysis in unraveling a web woven for that purpose; and, in a sense, this is true. Acute as Poe’s penetrative powers were, the ratiocinative tales (with the possible exception of “The Mystery of Marie Roget”) do not illustrate them. The primary gift employed in these ingenious narratives is constructiveness; they differ from their predecessors, from “The Fall of the House of Usher” for example, not in the intellectual faculties exercised, but in their aim and conduct. In the earlier group Poe gradually worked up to the dénoúment of a highly complicated series of facts and emotions; in the later one, stating only the dénoúment of a similar series, he gradually worked back to its origins; in both cases he first constructed the story, but in telling it he reversed in one the method used in the other. The main difference is that in the old process the emotional element counts for more, while in the new one the incidents are necessarily the important part; indeed, they almost absorb attention. That the ratiocinative tales are on a [page 151:] lower level than the imaginative ones hardly needs to be said, since it is so conclusively indicated by the fact that later writers have far surpassed Poe in the complexity of this sort of mechanism, and therefore in the apparent miracle of the solution. They come short of Poe only in the original invention of the plot; that is to say, they fail by defects of imagination in the selection, and of artistic power in the grouping, of their facts, for it would be a mistake to suppose that the interest in “The Murders of the Rue Morgue” is simply the puzzle of detection.

The other tales that appeared during this period are, in the “Post,” the insignificant “A Succession of Sundays” (“Three Sundays in a Week”), and in “Graham’s” “The Descent into the Maelstrom,” which is to be classed with the “MS. Found in a Bottle,” and is the best of its kind; “The Island of the Fay,” the earliest of the simple land scape pieces, and a study, as it proved, for “Eleonora;” an arabesque in his old manner, “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” noticeable as the first open expression of dissatisfaction with modern institutions; the two inferior sketches, “Never Bet the Devil your Head,” a satire on tales. with a moral, and “Life in Death” (“The Oval Portrait”), a variation of an old theme; and, lastly, the fine color study, “The Masque of the Red Death,” in which the plot is managed almost exclusively by merely decorative effects. [page 152:]

In nearly all these tales, and particularly in this last one, the constructive genius of their author is most distinctively exercised; they are thus admira ble illustrations of his theory as he developed it in his critical writings of this period, and fully reach the high standard of literary art by which he measured the works of others. Poe preferred the form of the short story to that of the novel, for the same reason that he thought brevity an essential in purely poetic composition, because length is in consistent with a single effect, or, as he termed it, with the unity or totality of interest. Both his aim and his method in narrative prose are succinctly described in his own words: —

“A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents — he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the out-bringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one preestablished design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. The idea of the tale has been presented un blemished, because undisturbed; and this is an end un attainable by the novel.“(1) [page 153:]

In Poe’s best tales it is this ideal absolutely realized that has made them immortal.

Of his old poetry he contributed to the “Post” “The Coliseum” and “The Bridal Ballad,” and to “Graham’s,” “To Helen,” “Israfel,” and “To One Departed,” the last two much revised. The bulk of his writing, however, was critical, and consisted of notices of new books. In the course of the fif teen months he passed in review, at greater or less length, and with various degrees of care, works by Bulwer, Dickens, Macaulay, Marryatt, Lever, and James, and, of American authors, Longfellow and Hawthorne, besides others of only local notoriety, such as Brainard, the Davidson Sisters, Seba Smith, Wilmer, and Cornelius Mathews. There were shorter notices of many others, both at home and abroad, contemporary and classic; and in particular there was a concise view of over a hundred native writers in three papers, entitled “Autography,” an expansion of similar articles in the “Messenger” for 1836. Without entering in this place on the question of Poe’s powers and influence as a critic (and throughout his life, it must always be kept in mind, he was far more distinguished in America as a critic than as either a romancer or a poet), his attitude toward his contemporaries can not be even momentarily neglected at any stage of his career.

This attitude had not changed since he was editor of the “Messenger.” He still remembered his [page 154:] review of “Norman Leslie” as inaugurating the new age in American criticism, and Theodore S. Fay continued to be his favorite example of the bepuffed literary impostor. His general view of our literary affairs at this time was expressed in a review of the scurrilous and filthy satire by his friend Wilmer, “The Quacks of Helicon,” in which he had incorporated his article written two years before and revamped by the editor of the “Pittsburg Examiner” in that short-lived periodical: —

“We repeat it: — it is the truth which he has spoken; and who shall contradict us? He has said unscrupulously what every reasonable man among us has long known to be as true as the Pentateuch — that, as a literary people, we are one vast perambulating humbug. He has asserted that we are clique-ridden; and who does not smile at the obvious truism of that assertion? He maintains that chicanery is, with us, a far surer road than talent to distinction in letters. Who gainsays this? The corrupt nature of our ordinary criticism has become notorious. Its powers have been prostrated by its own arm. The intercourse between critic and publisher, as it now almost universally stands, is comprised either in the paying and pocketing of blackmail, as the price of a simple forbearance, or in a direct system of petty and contemptible bribery, properly so-called — a system even more injurious than the former to the true interests of the public, and more degrading to the buyers and sellers of good opinion, on account of the more positive character of the service here rendered for the consideration [page 155:] received. We laugh at the idea of any denial of our assertions upon this topic; they are infamously true. . . . “We may even arrive, in time, at that desirable point from which a distinct view of our men of letters may be obtained, and their respective pretensions adjusted, by the standard of rigorous and self-sustaining criticism alone. That their several positions are as yet properly settled; that the posts which a vast number of them now hold are maintained by any better tenure than that of the chicanery upon which we have commented, will be asserted by none but the ignorant, or the parties who have best right to feel an interest in the good old condition of things. No two matters can be more radically different than the reputation of some of our prominent littérateurs, as gathered from the mouths of the people, (who glean it from the paragraphs of the papers), and the same reputation as deduced from the private estimate of intelligent and educated men. We do not advance this fact as a new discovery. Its truth, on the contrary, is the subject, and has long been so, of every day witticism and mirth.

. . .” Is there any man of good feeling and of ordinary understanding — is there one single individual among all our readers — who does not feel a thrill of bitter indignation, apart from any sentiment of mirth, as he calls to mind instance after instance of the purest, of the most unadulterated quackery in letters, which has risen to a high post in the apparent popular estimation, and which still maintains it, by the sole means of a blustering arrogance, or of a busy wriggling conceit, or of the most bare-faced plagiarism, or even through the simple immensity of its assumptions — assumptions [page 156:] not only unopposed by the press at large, but absolutely supported in proportion to the vociferous clamor with which they are made in exact accordance with their utter baselessness and untenability? We should have no trouble in pointing out to-day, some twenty or thirty so-called literary personages, who, if not idiots, as we half think them, or if not hardened to all sense of shame by a long course of disingenuousness, will now blush, in the perusal of these words, through consciousness of the shadowy nature of that purchased pedestal on which they stand — will now tremble in thinking of the feebleness of the breath which will be adequate to the blowing it from beneath their feet. With the help of a hearty good will, even we may yet tumble them down.“(1)

From this general condemnation Poe excepted an editor or two, and he reminded Wilmer, in deprecating indiscriminate abuse, that there were a few poets among us: —

“Mr. Bryant is not all a fool. Mr. Willis is not quite an ass. Mr. Longfellow will steal, but, perhaps, he cannot help it (for we have heard of such things,) and then it must not be denied that nil tetigit quod non ornavit.“(2)

In his own glance at the literary republic, in the “Autography,” he had dispensed praise very freely, nine tenths of the verdicts being favorable and many flattering. The principal exceptions were among the New England writers, especially those whom [page 157:] he believed to belong to the clique of the “North American Review;” Emerson, in particular, as being, moreover, a transcendentalist, he treated contemptuously, and Longfellow, whom he generously declares “entitled to the first place among the poets of America,” but adds, on jealous reflection, “certainly to the first place among those who have put themselves prominently forth as poets,” he strikes at with the old cut, as being guilty of the sin of imitation, — “an imitation sometimes verging upon down-right theft.“(1)

In more detailed criticisms of current books, Poe, as was to be expected, merely made specifications of his general strictures regarding the low character of our literature. Whether he dealt with poetry or prose, with the dunces or the geniuses, his estimate, after he had first asked the absorbing question, “Was the writer a literary thief?” was that of a craftsman, and had almost exclusive reference to the workmanship. It consisted, as he would have said, in the application of principles of composition, in minute detail, instead of in the enunciation of them. Consequently, the criticism is, as a rule, so bound up with the work to which it relates as to have no value by itself, and has now no vitality. He spoke the truth in describing his reviews as neither wholly laudatory nor wholly defamatory even in the most exasperating cases of stupidity. To the reader it will not infrequently [page 158:] seem that he used a giant’s force to crush a fly, or in too many passages was guilty of the worst taste, or even now and then became scurrilous, blustering, and vituperative, or, especially when he attempted humor, very flat. The traits of his style were always the same, whether he was pricking a reputation or confining himself to mere criticism; he at tended to one, or another, or all, of certain points, the chief being originality in idea, handling, construction, keeping, rhetorical and grammatical rules; and he exemplified by citation whatever defects or merits he found. Very seldom he felt able to give unstinted praise, as to Hawthorne, whose tales he said belonged “to the highest region of Art — an Art subservient to genius of a very lofty order,” and whose mind he declared “original in all points;“(1) but even this notice, in which his insight and his justice are both conspicuous, he could not forbear to blot with the suggested charge that in “Howe’s Masquerade” the New Englander had stolen directly from some passages in his own “William Wilson.”

In none of these articles does Poe develop any principles except in that on Longfellow’s “Ballads and other Poems.” He barely touched the old offense of plagiarism, but made his attack in a new quarter by attempting to show that Longfellow’s “conception of the aims of poesy is all wrong” for the reason that “didacticism is the prevalent tone [page 159:] of his song.” In his proof Poe restated his poetic theory, which had become freed from its meta physics since five years before, and in the course of his argument he struck out the happy phrase that remained his pet definition of poetry ever after: —

“Its [Poetry's] first element is the thirst for supernal BEAUTY — a beauty which is not afforded the soul by any existing collocation of earth’s forms a beauty which, perhaps, no possible combination of these forms — would fully produce. Its second element is the attempt to satisfy this thirst by novel combinations among those forms of beauty which already exist, — or by novel combinations of those combinations which our predecessors, toiling in chase of the same phantom, have already set in order. We thus clearly deduce the novelty, the originality, the invention, the imagination, or lastly, the creation of BEAUTY (for the terms as here employed are synonymous) as the essence of all Poesy.“(1)

With a slight change (which summed up in one word a succeeding paragraph, embodying his view that music was a necessary constituent), this definition of poetry as being “the rhythmical creation of beauty” became the first principle of his poetic criticism, as indeed, however obscurely made out, it had always been. His former doctrine that a poem should have complete unity within itself he reiterated by reprinting unchanged the passage already quoted from the “Messenger” of 1836. In accordance with these canons, Longfellow, whom under all [page 160:] circumstances Poe ranked at the head of our poets, was judged to fail by making truth either a primary end or one secondary to mere beauty, and to succeed by confining his poems each to one idea.

Whether these piquant criticisms and powerful tales made “Graham’s” popular, or whether its suc cess was due to the shrewd business sagacity and generous advertisement of its owners, the magazine had at once a brilliant run. It had opened with a circulation of eight thousand in January, 1841; in July it had risen to seventeen thousand; in December (at which time the names of Mrs. Emma C. Embury and Mrs. Ann S. Stephens were added to those of George R. Graham, C. J. Peterson, and Edgar A. Poe, as editors) it was twenty-five thousand, and in March forty thousand, — in each case according to the public announcement in the magazine itself. Poe was the working editor during this time, and is fairly entitled to a considerable, if not the main, share in the success of the undertaking. At the same time he seems never to have been con tented with his position, and especially he continued to cherish the plan of starting the “Penn Magazine.” Shortly after assuming the editorship he wrote to Snodgrass, “The Penn, I hope, is only “scotched, not killed,” and added that the project would “unquestionably be resumed here after;“(1) and a few months later he addressed his [page 161:] old friend, Kennedy, then in Congress, on the same subject, as appears from a letter to Mr. F. W. Thomas, a Baltimore friend, poet and novelist, dated July 4, 1841: “I wrote to Mr. K. about ten days ago on the subject of a magazine, a project of mine in connection with Graham.“(1) Poe doubt less referred to the same scheme when he wrote to Snodgrass, on September 19, what, in view of the success of “Graham’s,” seems a strange passage: —

“It is not impossible that Graham will join me in the ‘Penn.’ He has money. By the way is it impossible to start a first-class mag. in Baltimore? Is there no publisher or gentleman of moderate capital who would join me in this scheme? — publishing the work in the City of Monuments?“(2)

A more conclusive indication of restless dissatisfaction with his seeming good fortune as editor of the leading American magazine occurs in an earlier letter to Thomas, dated June 26, 1841: —

“I have just heard through Graham, who obtained his information from Ingraham, that you have stepped into an office at Washington, salary $1,000. From the bottom of my heart I wish you joy. You can now lucubrate at your ease, and will infallibly do something worthy yourself.

“For my own part, notwithstanding Graham’s unceasing civility and real kindness, I feel more and more disgusted [page 162:] with my situation. Would to God I could do as you have done. Do you seriously think that an application on my part to Tyler would have a good result? My claims, to be sure, are few. I am a Virginian — at least I call myself one, for I have resided all my life, until within the last few years, in Richmond. My political principles have always been, as nearly as may be, with the existing administration, and I battled with right good will for Harrison, when opportunity offered. With Mr. Tyler I have some slight personal acquaintance, although it is a matter which he has possibly forgotten. For the rest I am a literary man, and I see a disposition in Government to cherish letters. Have I any chance? I would be greatly indebted to you if you would reply to this as soon as you can, and tell if it would, in your opinion, be worth my while to make an effort; and, if so, put me on the right track. This could not be better done than by detailing to me your own mode of proceeding.“(1)

On July 4, Poe followed this up by another more urgent request: —

“I received yours of the 1st, this morning, and have again to thank you for the interest you take in my welfare. I wish to God I could visit Washington, but — the old story, you know — I have no money; not enough to take me there, saying nothing of getting back. It is a hard thing to be poor; but as I am kept so by an honest motive I dare not complain.

“Your suggestion about Mr. Kennedy is well-timed, and here, Thomas, you can do me a true service. Call [page 163:] upon Kennedy — you know him, I believe; if not, introduce yourself — he is a perfect gentleman, and will give you cordial welcome. Speak to him of my wishes, and urge him to see the Secretary of War in my behalf, or one of the other Secretaries, or President Tyler. I mention in particular the Secretary of War, because I have been to W. Point, and this may stand me in some stead. I would be glad to get almost any appointment, even a $500 one, so that I have something independent of letters for a subsistence. To coin one’s brain into silver, at the nod of a master, is, to my thinking, the hardest task in the world. Mr. Kennedy has been, at all times, a true friend to me he was the first true friend I ever had — I am indebted to him for life itself. He will be willing to help me now, but needs urging, for he is always head and ears in business.“(1)

Besides indulging in these plans Poe now remembered his old publishers, Lea & Blanchard, and entertained the hope that they would undertake a new edition of his “Tales,” including the best of those written since 1839. A few weeks after their first publication, he had written to Snodgrass, “I am happy to say that the edition is already very nearly exhausted.“(2) On June 17, 1840, he amplified this statement by saying, “Touching my Tales you will scarcely believe me when I tell you that I am ignorant of their fate, and have never spoken to the publishers concerning them since the day of their [page 164:] issue. I have cause to think, however, that the edition was exhausted almost immediately.“(1)

Perhaps it was still with this impression that he addressed the following letter: —



GENTLEMEN: I wish to publish a new collection of my prose Tales with some such title as this: —

The Prose Tales of Edgar A. Poe, includingThe Murders in the Rue MorguetheDescent into the Maelströmand all his later pieces, with a second edition of theTales of the Grotesque Arabesque.“’

The later pieces will be eight in number, making the entire collection thirty-three, which would occupy two thick novel volumes.

I am anxious that your firm should continue to be my publishers, and, if you would be willing to bring out the book, I should be glad to accept the terms which you allowed me before, that is, you receive all profits, and allow me twenty copies for distribution to friends.

Will you be kind enough to give me an early reply to this letter, and believe me

Yours, very respectfully,

EDGAR A. POE.(2) PHILADELPHIA, Office Graham’s Magazine, August 13, 41.

Whatever doubt he had regarding the matter was dissipated by the reply of the firm: — [page 165:]

Aug. 16, 1841.


We have yrs of 15th inst in which you are kind enough to offer us a “new collection of prose Tales.”

In answer we very much regret to say that the state of affairs is such as to give little encouragement to new undertakings. As yet we have not got through the edition of the other work and up to this time it has not re turned to us the expense of its publication. We assure you that we regret this on your account as well as on our own — as it would give us great pleasure to promote your views in relation to publication.(1)


But if Poe could not start his own magazine, nor get a public office, nor publish a new volume of “Tales,” his lot was to all outward appearance fortunate; his prospects were brilliant, his reputation steadily growing, his associates friendly, and, especially, his home was in a condition of greater comfort than ever before. Whatever practical difficulties it was his lot to encounter, no shadow had crossed the threshold of the little cottage where he lived with his wife and her mother in a close privacy of watchful love and domestic happiness. Mrs. Clemm, a vigorous woman of about fifty years, who is said to have had the face, size, and figure of a man, was the head of the household, received and expended Poe’s wages, and kept things in order. The few acquaintances who called on the family sometimes wondered, as did Mayne Reid, [page 166:] how this masculine matron should have been the mother of the fragile girl, still under twenty-one, whose feminine beauty and charm was of so delicate an order that she seems nearly as sylph-like as one of Poe’s imaginary creations. “She hardly looked more than fourteen,” writes Mr. A. B. Harris, who knew her at this time, “fair, soft, and graceful and girlish. Every one who saw her was won by her. Poe was very proud and very fond of her, and used to delight in the round, child-like face and plump little finger [sic. Q. figure?], which he contrasted with himself, so thin and half-melancholy looking, and she in turn idolized him. She had a voice of wonderful sweetness, and was an exquisite singer, and in some of their more prosperous days, when they were living in a pretty little rose-covered cottage on the outskirts of Philadelphia, she had her harp and piano.“(1) The third member of this strangely-consorted group, Poe him self, was the same reserved, isolated, dreamy man, of high-strung nerves, proud spirit, and fantastic moods, that he had been in youth. With senses excessively acute and a mind easily accessible to motives of dread, if he was not the monomaniac of fear he knew in Roderick Usher, he was always haunted by suggestions of evil to come; nor was he quite free from the vague apprehension that be longs to children’s minds. He did not like to go out in the dark, and with such jocularity as he was [page 167:] capable of said that he believed evil demons had power then. In his home alone he found happiness, affection, and a refuge from contact with the world.

One evening when Virginia was singing she ruptured a blood-vessel; her life was despaired of, and although she partially recovered it was only to sink again and again. The sick-bed was now the centre of the secluded home. “She could not bear the slightest exposure,” writes Mr. Harris, “and needed the utmost care; and all those conveniences as to apartment and surroundings which are so important in the case of an invalid were almost matters of life and death to her. And yet the room where she lay for weeks, hardly able to breathe, except as she was fanned, was a little place with the ceiling so low over the narrow bed that her head almost touched it. But no one dared to speak, Mr. Poe was so sensitive and irritable; quick as steel and flint, said one who knew him in those days. And he would not allow a word about the danger of her dying; the mention of it drove him wild.“(1) Mr. Graham also tells how he saw Poe hovering around the couch with fond fear and tender anxiety, shuddering visibly at her slightest cough; and he continues, “I rode out one summer evening with them, and the remembrance of his watchful eyes, eagerly bent upon the slightest change of hue in that loved face, haunts me yet as the memory of a sad strain.“(2) [page 168:] This was the beginning of the long suspense of years, with their racking alternations of hope and despair, which Poe called his worst misfortune.

But the subtle influence which preserves a poet’s heart from the wounds of life touched him, and raised the transitory elements of his common story and transformed them, and made them a part of the world’s tradition of love and loss. In “Eleonora,” which was published in the “Gift” for 1842, his absorbing sorrow turned thought and affliction to favor and to prettiness. In this alone of all his tales is there any sign of the warmth, the vital sense of human love. The myth — for such it is — is pictorial, like a mediaeval legend: the child-lovers are set in one of those preternatural landscapes which his genius built in the void; but on this sequestered Paradise there fell no shadow save that of loveliness curtaining in innocent peace, be hind thick forests and innumerable flowers, the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass, through which the River of Silence flowed noiselessly, and watered the slender, white-barked trees that leaned toward the light, and mirrored the scented lawns besprinkled with lilies and a thousand bright blossoms. Here love came to the boy and girl, beneath the fantastic trees suddenly bursting into bloom with bright star-shaped flowers, and they wander, like a new Aucassin and Nicolette, along the river that now murmurs musically, and over the ruby-red asphodels that spring up ten by ten in the place [page 169:] of the fallen white lilies; and the valley is filled with marvelous light and life and joy, as if glory and sweetness were imprisoned within its vaporous limits. Symbolism has seldom been more simple and pure, more imaginative, childlike, and direct, more absolute master of the things of sense for the things of the spirit, than in this unreal scene. Burne Jones might paint it, for it is the very spirit that sang of the Romaunt of the Rose. Rossetti might have sung its sad conclusion; for now the lady died: —

“The star-shaped flowers shrank into the stems of the trees, and appeared no more. The tints of the green carpet faded; and, one by one, the ruby-red asphodels withered away; and there sprang up, in place of them, ten by ten, dark, eye-like violets, that writhed uneasily and were ever encumbered with dew. And Life departed from our paths; for the tall flamingo flaunted no more his scarlet plumage before us, but flew sadly from the vale into the hills, with all the gay glowing birds that had arrived in his company. And the golden and silver fish swam down through the gorge at the lower end of our domain and bedecked the sweet river never again. And the lulling melody that had been softer than the wind harp of Æolus, and more divine than all save the voice of Eleonora, it died little by little away, in murmurs growing lower and lower, until the stream returned, at length, utterly, into the solemnity of its original silence. And then, lastly, the voluminous cloud uprose, and, abandoning the tops of the mountains to the dimness of old, fell back into the regions of Hesper, and took away all [page 170:] its manifold golden and gorgeous glories from the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass.“(1)

Poe’s life was full of glaring contrasts, just such as there is between this exquisite foreboding of his widowhood in symbols and the hard reality. To this experience of the fragility of his hold on happiness, and to this first perception of it toward the fall of 1841, he attributed the worst of his failures, the loss of all power to resist the temptation to drink.

At a later time, in answer to the question whether he could hint the “terrible evil” which was the cause of his “irregularities,” he wrote: —

“Yes, I can do more than hint. This evil was the greatest which can befall a man. Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever, and underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially, and I again hoped. At the end of a year, the vessel broke again. I went through precisely the same scene. . . . Then again — again — and even once again, at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive — nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness I drank — God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies [page 171:] referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity.“(1)

Whether this self-abandonment to temptation was sudden or gradual is not stated; it may be that Poe’s troubles merely occasioned an increase in those irregularities which were said to be matter of common fame before this time. A cousin, who was intimate with the family at the time of Virginia’s seizure, says that he then frequently refused wine in her presence, and adds the too significant words that at that time his fits of intoxication were due to the excessive use of opium.(2)

In the next spring (1842) he lost the editorship of “Graham’s.” The only explanation vouchsafed by the proprietor is that one day, on returning from an unusual absence from his duties, Poe found Mr. Rufus Wilmot Griswold in his chair, and at once turned and left the office never to return.(3) This could hardly have been more than an incident in the truth. A man even so impulsive as Poe does not thus surrender through pique his main source of support, especially when he has a sick wife and is poor; nor, on the other hand, would a business man like Graham allow an editor, who had placed his magazine easily at the head of all competitors and made it a paying property, to depart for any such trivial display of temper. Without making [page 172:] an assertion, it may fairly be inferred that, to use Mr. Kennedy’s words in regard to Poe’s failure on the “Messenger,” his nature was too “eccentric, irregular, and querulous” for him to hold the position; furthermore, as has become clear enough, his heart was not in the work: he had been chafing as restlessly in this position as when on “Burton’s,” and had continually sought other modes of support. Mr. Graham had engaged Griswold temporarily, and the “Saturday Evening Post,” May 14, 1842, now announced that he had become an associate editor of that paper and of “Graham’s.” In the magazine itself it was stated that his duties, as Poe’s successor, would begin with the July number. Unfortunately, Griswold was to inherit Poe’s desk once more as a biographer, and therefore some closer notice must be taken of him.

Rufus Wilmot Griswold, when he was thus publicly announced as the new editor of “Graham’s” in May, 1842, was a young man of twenty-seven years, who had some time before left the Baptist ministry for the more attractive walks of literature. He had published both sermons and songs, and had served on several newspapers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia; latterly he had been engaged in compiling his popular volume, “The Poets and Poetry of America,” — that Hic Jacet of American mediocrities of the first generation. An unsupported statement by Griswold respecting Poe is liable to suspicion, but there is no improbability in [page 173:] his account of the beginning of the most unfortunate acquaintance of his life. Poe was the editor of “Graham’s” when he heard of Griswold’s intention to set in order the “American Parnassus;” but he was not widely known as a poet, — in fact, he had practically abandoned poetry in late years. He was, however, fond of his early verses, and he was never known to omit any opportunity of advertising him self. It was natural, therefore, that shortly after the announcement of Griswold’s venture he should call on him for the purpose of securing admission among Apollo’s candidates, and it is consistent with all that is known of his habits that he should furnish(1) in March, 1841, a selection from his own verses and material for a biography. When, a year later, tho unexpected meeting in Graham’s office took place, the incident caused no rupture in the friendly relations of the two men. In April Griswold’s long-expected volume had been issued, and Poe offered to review it for him. The transaction which then occurred should be given in Poe’s words. September 12, 1842, he wrote to his friend, Mr. F. W. Thomas, as follows: —

“Graham has made me a good offer to return. He is not especially pleased with Griswold, nor is any one else, [page 174:] with the exception of the Rev. gentleman himself, who has gotten himself into quite a hornet’s nest by his Poets and Poetry. It appears you gave him personal offence by delay in replying to his demand for information touching Mrs. Welby, I believe, or somebody else. Hence his omission of you in the body of the book; for he had prepared quite a long article from my MS., and had selected several pages for quotation. He is a pretty fellow to set himself up for an honest judge, or even as a capable one. About two months since, we were talking of the book, when I said that I thought of reviewing it in full for the Democratic Review, but found my design anticipated by an article from that ass O Sullivan, and that I knew no other work in which a notice would be readily admissible. Griswold said, in reply: ‘You need not trouble yourself about the publication of the review, should you decide on writing it, for I will attend to all that. I will get it in some reputable work, and look to it for the usual pay, in the meantime handing you what ever your charge would be. This, you see, was an ingenious insinuation of a bribe to puff his book. I accepted his offer forthwith, and wrote the review, handed it to him, and received from him the compensation; he never daring to look over the MS. in my presence, and taking it for granted that all was right. But that review has not yet appeared, and I am doubtful if it ever will. I wrote it precisely as I would have written under ordinary circumstances, and be sure there was no predominance of praise.“(1)

This does not read very consistently with another [page 175:] letter,(1) belonging clearly to a later time, in which he informs Griswold that he has made use of his name with the publishers for a copy, and contemplates noticing it in Lowell’s “Pioneer.”

While these changes were going on, Poe had not relaxed his efforts to obtain an office under government, and in the letter to Thomas, just quoted, he expresses high hopes of success and great gratitude to his friend for his efforts in the matter. At the same time he was considering Graham’s offer to return, and a proposal vaguely entertained by Foster, editor of the “Aurora,” to start a magazine in New York under Poe’s charge. None of these plans came to anything; and, as always when every thing else failed, Poe returned to his scheme for starting a magazine of his own. He had at once advertised the “Penn” on leaving “Graham’s,“(2) and addressed his friends and acquaintances through a new Prospectus, and besought them to obtain subscriptions, of which he needed five hundred. As before, “The Penn Magazine” was to be original, fearless, and independent, and would in particular open its columns to merit instead of mushroom reputations, and would be distinguished by criticism instead of puffery. To Washington Poe, the [page 176:] head of his Augusta relatives, he wrote in August that he would issue the first number in the next January, with the hope that he might serve truth and advance American literature, and that fortune and fame would now come to him hand in hand.(1) He succeeded in interesting Mr. Thomas C. Clarke, the owner of the “Saturday Museum,” a weekly paper, in his plan, and the two entered into a partnership for the publication of the new periodical, which it was thought best to call “The Stylus.”

The literary work of Poe during the last half of this year was slight. In October he contributed to “Graham’s” his long-delayed article on “Rufus Dawes,” in which at last he took satirical vengeance on that poetaster. A weaker and less prominent magazine, “Snowden’s Lady’s Companion,” was his principal resource; in it he published in October “The Landscape Garden,” and in November, December, and February “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” in parts. In this fall, too, he addressed for the first time Mr. J. R. Lowell, who had several times been praised by him incidentally, and who was about to issue a new periodical in Boston. As the correspondence thus begun is the most in teresting series of letters by Poe, and as it throws considerable light upon both his affairs and his character, it will be given in full: —


Learning your design of commencing a Magazine, in [page 177:] Boston, upon the first of January next, I take the liberty of asking whether some arrangement might not be made, by which I should become a regular contributor.

I should be glad to furnish a short article each month — of such character as might be suggested by yourself — and upon such terms as you could afford “in the beginning.”

That your success will be marked and permanent I will not doubt. At all events, I most sincerely wish you well; for no man in America has excited in me so much admiration — and, therefore, none so much of respect and esteem — as the author of “Rosaline.”

May I hope to hear from you at your leisure? In the meantime, believe me

Most Cordially Yours,



PHILADELPHIA Novem: 16, 1842.

The offer was gladly accepted, and articles were sent by Poe, as suggested, for each number. The two following letters continue the story of the acquaintance: —

[not dated — mailed December 25, 1842.]


I send you a brief poem for No 2, with my very best wishes.

I duly received yours of the 19th and thank you for reversing the judgment of Mr. Tuckerman the author of the “Spirit of Poesy,” — which, by the way, is some what of a misnomer — since no spirit appears. [page 178:]

Touching the “Miscellany” — had I known of Mr. T.’s accession, I should not have ventured to send an article. Should he, at any time, accept an effusion of mine, I should ask myself what twattle I had been perpetrating, so flat as to come within the scope of his approbation. He writes, through his publishers, — “if Mr. Poe would condescend to furnish more quiet articles he would be a most desirable correspondent.” All I have to say is that if Mr. T. Persists in his quietude, he will put a quietus on the Magazine of which Mess. Bradbury and Soden have been so stupid as to give him control.

I am all anxiety to see your first number. In the meantime believe me, 1

[Signature torn off.]

PHILADELPHIA February 4, 1843.


For some weeks I have been daily proposing to write and congratulate you upon the triumphant debut of the “Pioneer,” but have been prevented by a crowd of more worldly concerns.

Thank you for the compliment in the foot-note. Thank you, also, for your attention in forwarding the Magazine.

As far as a $3 Magazine can please me at all, I am delighted with yours. I am especially gratified with what seems to me a certain coincidence of opinion and of taste, between yourself and your humble servant, in the minor arrangements, as well as in the more important details of the journal, for example — the poetry [page 179:] in the same type as the prose — the designs from Flaxman — &c. As regards the contributors our thoughts are one. Do you know that when, some time since, I dreamed of establishing a Magazine of my own, I said to myself — “If I can but succeed in engaging, as permanent contributors, Mr. Hawthorne, Mr. Neal, and two others, with a certain young poet of Boston, who shall be nameless, I will engage to produce the best journal in America.” At the same time, while I thought, and still think highly of Mr. Bryant, Mr. Cooper, and others, I said nothing of them.

You have many warm friends in this city — but the reforms you propose require time in their development, and it may be even a year before “The Pioneer” will make due impression among the Quakers. In the mean time, persevere.

I forwarded you, about a fortnight ago I believe, by Hamden’s Express, an article called “Notes upon English Verse.” A thought has struck me, that it may prove too long, or perhaps too dull, for your Magazine — in either case, use no ceremony, but return it in the same mode (thro Hamden) and I will, forthwith, send some thing in its place.

I duly received from Mr. Graham, $10 on your account, for which I am obliged. I would prefer, how ever, that you would remit directly to myself through the P. Office.

I saw, not long ago, at Graham’s, a poem without the author’s name — but which for many reasons I take to be yours — the chief being that it was very beautiful. Its title I forget but it slightly veiled a lovely Allegory — in which “Religion” was typified, and the whole painted [page 180:] the voyage of some wanderers and mourners in search of some far-off isle. Is it yours?

Truly your friend E. A. POE.(1)

Within a few weeks of the date of this letter, the Prospectus of “The Stylus” was first issued through the columns of the “Saturday Museum,” which called attention to it in an editorial puff of Poe. The Prospectus is shorter than that of the “Penn Magazine,” but the identity of the two is avowed, and in the important parts describing the aims of the editors the same sentences formerly used are incorporated. The “chief purpose” is still declared to be to found a journal distinguished by “a sincere and fearless opinion,” and it is announced as earnest of this intention that “an important feature of the work, and one which will be introduced in the opening number, will be a series of Critical and Biographical Sketches of American Writers.” “The Stylus” was to be illustrated also, like the “Penn,” and an agreement, signed January 31, 1843, was entered into between Clarke and Poe on one side and F. O. C. Darley on the other, in accordance with which the latter was to furnish not less than three original designs per month to Clarke and Poe, at seven dollars each, until July 1, 1844, and was not to contribute similar designs for use in any other magazine during that period. The subjects were to be given by the editors, and the first work put into the artist’s [page 181:] hands for this purpose was “The Gold Bug,” for which he made and delivered some designs. Poe himself took the story to Mr. Darley, with whom he held pleasant relations. “He impressed me,” writes the latter, “as a refined and very gentle manly man; exceedingly neat in his person; interesting always, from the intellectual character of his mind, which appeared to me to be tinged with sadness. His manner was quiet and reserved; he rarely smiled. I remember his reading his Gold Bug and Black Cat to me before they were published. The form of his manuscript was peculiar: he wrote on half sheets of note paper, which he pasted together at the ends, making one continuous piece, which he rolled up tightly. As he read he dropped it upon the floor. It was very neatly written, and without corrections, apparently.“(1) Several of these small rolls still exist.

In aid of the new venture Poe’s life and portrait were printed in the “Saturday Museum,” of which it was announced that he was editor. The life was written by a young Philadelphia poet, H. B. Hirst, from materials furnished by T. W. White, of the “Messenger,” and Thomas; and the portrait, which was said to be a mere caricature, was lithographed from a miniature.

Poe himself was shortly after sent to Washing ton to obtain subscriptions among his political friends, and, if possible, those of the President [page 182:] and Cabinet through his old acquaintance, Rob Tyler. He apparently also meant to lecture, and to look after his prospects of becoming an office holder, the particular post in view being an Inspectorship. The visit was unfortunate. On the evening of his arrival he began to drink, and his host’s “rummy coffee” following port wine made the beginning of a spree. On the next day, March 11, he so far lost his head as to write a contradictory and untrue letter,(1) plainly the composition of an intoxicated man, to his partner; and a day later, Mr. J. E. Dow, who was taking care of him, also dispatched a letter to Mr. Clarke, advising him to come on and take charge of his friend, as Mr. Thomas was too ill to do so, and he himself too much engaged, while they both felt afraid to send him off to Philadelphia alone, lest he should be led to stop at Baltimore, and there meet with some harm. “Mrs. Poe,” says the writer pitifully, “is in a bad state of health, and I charge you, as you have a soul to be saved, to say not one word to her about him until he arrives with you.“(2) Poe, how ever, was sent home by himself, and arrived at Philadelphia March 15, where he was met at the station by Mrs. Clemm. After going home he called on Clarke, who was greatly surprised to see him, but received him “cordially and made light of the matter;” at least, so Poe wrote to his two [page 183:] friends, Thomas and Dow, the next day, in a long epistle,(1) in which, although treating the affair jocosely, and alarmed for its possible effects on Clarke’s mind, he expresses his regret and sends his apologies, with many words of gratitude for the attention shown him. He remarks incidentally, “I would be glad, too, if you would take an opportunity of saying to Mr. Rob Tyler that if he can look over matters and give me the Inspectorship, I will join the Washingtonians forthwith;” but he seems to have made up his mind that his hopes of office were vain.

That Clarke was not implacably offended by this episode, which Poe accounted for as an attack of illness which had unduly alarmed Dow, appears from the following letter to Lowell, in which the project of the “Stylus” is announced to him. The “Pioneer” had already met its fate, and Lowell was himself ill with ophthalmia.

PHILADELPHIA, March 27, 43.


I have just received yours of the 24th and am deeply grieved, first that you should have been so unfortunate, and, secondly, that you should have thought it necessary to offer me any apology for your misfortunes. As for the few dollars you owe me — give yourself not one moment’s concern about them. I am poor, but must be very much poorer, indeed, when I even think of demanding them. [page 184:]

But I sincerely hope all is not so bad as you suppose it, and that, when you come to look about you, you will be able to continue “The Pioneer.” Its decease, just now, would be a most severe blow to the good cause — the cause of a Pure Taste. I have looked upon your Magazine, from its outset, as the best in America, and have lost no opportunity of expressing the opinion. Herewith I send a paper, “The Phil. Sat. Museum,” in which I have said a few words on the topic.

I am not editing this paper, although an announcement was prematurely made to that effect; but have the privilege of inserting what I please editorially. On the first of July next I hope to issue the first number of “The Stylus,” a new monthly, with some novel features. I send you, also, a paper containing the Prospectus. In a few weeks I hope to forward you a specimen sheet. I am anxious to get a poem from yourself for the opening number, but, until you recover your health, I fear that I should be wrong in making the request.

Believe me, my dear friend, that I sympathize with you truly in your affliction. When I heard that you had returned to Boston, I hoped you were entirely well, and your letter disappoints and grieves me.

When you find yourself in condition to write, I would be indebted to you if you could put me in the way of procuring a brief article (also for my opening number) from Mr. Hawthorne — whom I believe you know personally. Whatever you gave him, we should be happy to give. A part of my design is to illustrate, whatever is fairly susceptible of illustration, with finely executed wood-engravings — after the fashion of Gigoux’s “Gil Bias” or “Grandville’s Gulliver” — and I wish to get [page 185:] a tale from Mr. Hawthorne as early as possible (if I am so fortunate as to get one at all), that I may put the illustration in the hands of the artist.

You will see by the Prospectus that we intend to give a series of portraits of the American literati, with critical sketches. I would be glad if I could so arrange matters as to have you first, provided you yourself have no serious objection. Instead of the “full-length portraits” promised in the Prospectus (which will be modified in the specimen sheet), we shall have medallions about three inches in diameter. Could you put me in possession of any likeness of yourself? — or would you do me the same favor in regard to Mr. Hawthorne? — You perceive I proceed upon the ground that you are intimate with Mr. H., and that making these inquiries would not subject you to trouble or inconvenience.

I confess that I am by no means so conversant with your own compositions (especially in prose), as I should be. Could you furnish me with some biographical and critical data, and tell me when or how I could be put in possession of your writings generally? — but I fear I am asking altogether too much.

If the 4th number of “The Pioneer” is printed, I would be obliged if you would send me an early copy through the P. O.

Please remember me to Mr. Carter, and believe me Most sincerely your friend,


Before the “Pioneer” was discontinued, after its third number, Poe had contributed to it “The Tell-Tale [page 186:] Heart,” the third of the tales of conscience; “Lenore,” a greatly revised version of his old “Pæan;” and “Notes upon English Verse,” a purely metrical discussion, which he afterwards remoulded into the “Rationale of Verse.” During the same time he published in Miss Leslie’s annual, “The Gift,” for 1843, “The Pit and the Pendulum,” a tale of no striking originality; and in “Graham’s” the fine poem entitled “The Conqueror Worm,” and “Flaccus” (the second of the series called “Our Amateur Poets”), a satirical review of one Thomas Ward, which he himself regarded as in his best manner.

Meanwhile the “Stylus” had been abandoned, and when the first of July came it found Poe sick and poor. On June 11 he wrote to Griswold a characteristic note: —

DEAR GRISWOLD: — Can you not send me $5? I am sick and Virginia is almost gone. Come and see me. Peterson says you suspect me of a curious anonymous letter. I did not write it, but bring it along with you when you make the visit you promised to Mrs. Clemm. I will try to fix that matter soon. Could you do any thing with my note? Yours truly,

E. A. P.(1)

It was probably in response to this letter that Griswold called upon him at his home, No. 7 Spring Garden, of which he gave a description: —

“When once he sent for me to visit him, during a [page 187:] period of illness caused by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife, I was impressed by the singular neatness and the air of refinement in his home. It was in a small house, in one of the pleasant and silent neighborhoods far from the centre of the town, and though slightly and cheaply furnished everything in it was so tasteful and so fitly disposed that it seemed altogether suitable for a man of genius. For this and for most of the comforts he enjoyed, in his brightest as in his darkest years, he was chiefly indebted to his mother-in-law, who loved him with more than maternal devotion and constancy.“(1)

To this same period of unusual poverty and suffering Mayne Reid’s characterization of Mrs. Clemm probably belongs: —

“She was the ever-vigilant guardian of the home, watching it against the silent but continuous sap of necessity, that appeared every day to be approaching closer and nearer. She was the sole servant, keeping every thing clean; the sole messenger, doing the errands, making pilgrimages between the poet and his publishers, frequently bringing back such chilling responses as ‘The article not accepted,’ or ‘The check not to be given until such and such a day,’ — often too late for his necessities. And she was also the messenger to the market; from it bringing back not the delicacies of the season, but only such commodities as were called for by the dire exigencies of hunger.“(2)

He remembered the house as “a lean-to of three [page 188:] rooms (there may have been a garret with a closet), of painted plank construction, supported against the gable of the more pretentious dwelling,” the latter being a four story red-brick mansion of a wealthy Quaker. But Mr. T. C. Clarke, whose family visited the Poes more or less frequently, describes it as a cottage set back from the street amid luxuriant grape and other vines, and ornamented in winter with flowers. There he especially remembered the childish wife, slowly wasting away in consumption, but “wearing on her beautiful countenance the smile of resignation, and the warm, even cheerful look with which she ever greeted her friends.“(1) The appearance of the house, however, and the simple hospitality which he and Mayne Reid and others enjoyed in it, must have varied materially with the rapacity of the pawnbroker; and it is said that the family now became the object of charity.

The principal income during these trying months was the one-hundred-dollar prize received by Poe from “The Dollar Newspaper,” edited by Joseph Sailer, for the story of “The Gold Bug,” which he had recovered from Graham by exchanging a critical article for it, and had sent in to the judges. This, the most widely circulated of his tales, was published in two parts: the first June 21, 1843, and the second (together with the first, which was re printed) a week later. On July 12 it was published [page 189:] again with two other prize tales in a supplement. A charge that it was plagiarized from Miss Sherburne’s “Imogene, or The Pirate’s Treasure,” was made in “The Spirit of the Times,” and was widely circulated, but a refutation was quickly at tempted in “The Dollar Newspaper,” July 19. The only other stories of Poe’s published during this year were the fearful tale of “The Black Cat” in the “United States Saturday Post” (as the old “Saturday Evening Post” was now called), August 19, and “Morning on the Wissahiccon,” a quiet landscape sketch of the environs of Philadelphia (evidently “The Elk,” mentioned hereafter), contributed to Willis’s annual, “The Opal,” for 1844. In criticism he published three reviews, all in “Graham’s:” one, perhaps the most contemptuous he ever wrote, on William Ellery Channing, the transcendentalist poet, being the third of the series “Our Amateur Poets; “one on Fitz-Greene Halleck, being No. viii. of “Our Contributors,” a series of which the plan seems to have been taken from that projected by Poe for the “Stylus;” and one of a perfunctory kind on Cooper’s “Wyandotte.” In the fall an edition of his “Tales,” in parts, was undertaken, but only one issue, containing “The Murders of the Rue Morgue” and “The Man who was Used Up,” is known.(1)

Poe’s till interested himself from time to time in the solution of cryptographs, an occupation which [page 190:] the following letter, with its side-lights upon other topics, sufficiently illustrates: —

PHILA., Aug. 28, 1843.

MY DEAR SIR, — I have just recd your letter, en closing one in hieroglyphical writing from Mr. Meek, and hasten to reply, since you desire it; although, some months ago, I was obliged to make a vow that I would engage in the solution of no more cryptographs. The reason of my making this vow will be readily understood. Much curiosity was excited throughout the country by my solutions of these cyphers, and a great number of persons felt a desire to test my powers individually so that I was at one time absolutely overwhelmed; and this placed me in a dilemma; for I had either to devote my whole time to the solutions, or the correspondents would suppose me a mere boaster, incapable of fulfilling my promises. I had no alternative but to solve all; but to each correspondent I made known my intentions to solve no more. You will hardly believe me when I tell you that I have lost, in time, which to me is money, more than a thousand dollars, in solving ciphers, with no other object in view than that just mentioned. A really difficult cipher requires vast labor and the most patient thought in its solution. Mr. Meek’s letter is very simple indeed, and merely shows that he misapprehends the whole matter. It runs thus: —

[Here follows the solution.]

This is the whole of Mr. Meek’s letter — but he is mistaken in supposing that I “pride myself” upon my solutions of ciphers. I feel little pride about anything.

It is very true, as he says, that cypher writing is “no [page 191:] great difficulty if the signs represent invariably the same letters and are divided into separate words.” But the fact is, that most of the criptographs sent to me (Dr. Frailey’s for instance) were not divided into words, and moreover, the signs never represented the same letter twice.

But here is an infallible mode of showing Mr. Meek that he knows nothing about the matter. He says cipher, writing “is no great difficulty if the signs represent invariably the same letters and are divided into separate words.” This is true; and yet, little as this difficulty is, he cannot surmount it. Send him, as if from yourself these few words, in which the conditions stated by him are rigidly preserved. I will answer for it, he cannot decipher them for his life. They are taken at random from a well-known work now lying beside me: —

[Here follows Poe’s cryptograph.]

And now, my dear friend, have you forgotten that I asked you, some time since, to render me an important favor? You can surely have no scruples in a case of this(1) kind. I have reason to believe that I have been maligned by some envious scoundrel in this city, who has written you a letter respecting myself. I believe I know the villain’s name. It is Wilmer. In Philadelphia no one speaks to him. He is avoided by all as a reprobate of the lowest class. Feeling a deep pity for him, I endeavoured to befriend him, and you remember that I rendered myself liable to some censure by writing a review of his filthy pamphlet called the “Quacks of Helicon.” He has returned my good offices by slander behind my back. All here are anxious to have him convicted — for there is scarcely a gentleman in Phila a whom he has not libelled, [page 192:] through the gross malignity of his nature. Now, I ask you, as a friend and as a man of noble feelings, to send me his letter to you. It is your duty to do this — and I am sure, upon reflection, you will so regard it. I await your answer impatiently.

Your friend, E. A. POE.(1)

Wilmer probably ill deserved this tirade, since, after Poe’s death, he was one of his most faithful defenders. Scandal, however, was busy with Poe’s name, and found its way into print in one of the city papers, in an article of which Poe suspected Griswold to be the author. There is some evidence, as will be seen later on, that he visited Saratoga this summer; but the illness of himself and his wife, and the poverty of the family, together with his seemingly uninterrupted employment in Philadelphia, go to discredit the story.

After the fall came, the only information concern ing him at this obscure period “is derived from his letters to Lowell: —

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 19, 1843.


I was upon the point of fulfilling a long neglected duty and replying to Mr. Carter’s letter, enclosing $5, when I received yours of the 13th, remitting $5 more. Believe me I am sincerely grateful to you both for your uniform kindness and consideration.

You say nothing of your health — but Mr. C. speaks of its perfect restoration, and I see, by your very MS., that you are well again, body and mind. I need not say that(1) Poe to John Tomlin, Esq. MS. [page 193:]

I am rejoiced at this — for you must know and feel that I am. “When I thought of the possible loss of your eye sight, I grieved as if some dreadful misfortune were about happening to myself.

I shall look with much anxiety for your promised volume. Will it include your “Year’s Life,” and other poems already published? I hope that it may; for these have not yet been fairly placed before the eye of the world. I am seeking an opportunity to do you justice in a review, and may find it in “Graham,” when your book appears. No poet in America has done so much. I have maintained this upon all occasions. Mr. Longfellow has genius, but by no means equals you in the true spirit. He is moreover so prone to imitation that I know not how to understand him at times. I am in doubt whether he should not be termed an arrant plagiarist. You have read his “Spanish Student“? I have written quite a long notice of it for Graham’s December number. The play is a poor composition, with some fine poetical passages. His “Hymn to the Night,” with some strange blemishes, is glorious. — How much I should like to interchange opinions with you upon poems and poets in general! I fancy that we should agree, usually, in results, while differing, frequently, about principles. The day may come when we can discuss everything at leisure, in person.

You say that your long poem has taught you a useful lesson, — “that you are unfit to write narrative unless in a dramatic form.” It is not you that are unfit for the task but the task for you — for any poet. Poetry must eschew narrative — except, as you say, dramatically. I mean to say that the true poetry — the highest [page 194:] poetry — must eschew it. The Iliad is not the highest. The connecting links of a narrative — the frequent pas sages which have to serve the purpose of binding together the parts of the story, are necessarily prose, from their very explanatory nature. To color them — to gloss over their prosaic nature — (for this is the most which can be done) requires great skill. Thus Byron, who was no artist, is always driven, in his narrative, to fragmentary passages, eked out with asterisks. Moore succeeds better than any one. His “Alciphron” is wonderful in the force, grace, and nature of its purely narrative passages: — but pardon me for prosing.

I send you the paper with my life and portrait. The former is true in general — the latter particularly false. It does not convey the faintest idea of my person. No one of my family recognized it. But this is a point of little importance. You will see, upon the back of the biography, an announcement that I was to assume the editorship of the “Museum.” This was unauthorized. I never did edit it. The review of “Graham’s Magazine” was written by H. B. Hirst — a young poet of this city. Who is to write your life for “Graham?” It is a pity that so many of these biographies were entrusted to Mr. Griswold. He certainly lacks independence, or judgment, or both.

I have tried in vain to get a copy of your “Year’s Life” in Philadelphia. If you have one, and could spare it, I would be much obliged.

Do write me again when you have leisure, and believe me, Your most sincere friend,


J. R. LOWELL, ESQRE. [page 195:]

At some time during the summer Poe is said to have made his début as a lecturer in the “Egyptian Hall,” Baltimore. He appeared in Philadelphia in the same rôle, November 25, and made a favorable impression. His subject was “The Poets and Poetry of America,” and, while the lecture was largely compiled from his former book-reviews, it was especially distinguished by an attack, which seems to have been unusually severe, on Griswold’s volume. At some time before this date, and probably at the very beginning of the year, there had appeared in the “Saturday Museum” an anonymous review of the third edition of Griswold’s work, in which that reverend gentleman was held up to public ridicule in the most scoffing and bitter style, and contrasted with Poe by name, much to the latter’s praise and to his own degradation. This mingled expression of pique, wrath, and scorn, with its flaunting self-commendation, is indubitably Poe’s own work, but as it was unacknowledged Griswold had no plain ground for a personal quarrel. About the utterances of the lecture, however, he could have no doubt, and the flagellation he received in it, which does not seem to have displeased his literary associates, caused an open breach between himself and Poe that was not closed, even in appearance, until a year and a half had elapsed. It is worthy of note that Griswold had left his place on “Graham’s” about two months before the delivery of the address. [page 196:]

The receipts from the new profession of lecturing could not have been large, and for one cause or an other the editors who were accustomed to publish Poe’s work either would not buy it, or else delayed to print it. After Griswold’s retirement from “Graham’s,” Poe seems to have held during the winter the post of assistant to Graham, by far the larger part of the reviews being from his hand. In March, 1844, appeared his only signed article for several months past, a lengthy review of the drama, “Orion,” by Richard Hengist Home, recently published in England. Of this work, which appealed strongly to Poe’s delight in pictorial fancy and subdued mystical suggestion, he declared, “It is our deliberate opinion that in all that regards the loftiest and holiest attributes of the true Poetry, ‘Orion’ has never been excelled. Indeed, we feel strongly inclined to say that it has never been equaled.” After comparing one passage of it with Milton’s description of hell, the latter being “altogether inferior in graphic effect, in originality, in expression, in the true imagination,” he concludes more calmly that “‘Orion’ will be admitted, by every man of genius, to be one of the noblest, if not the very noblest poetical work of the age.“(1)

Whether or not Poe had been taken back by Graham to be his unacknowledged assistant, he had now formed a new scheme, which is as fine a piece of literary visionariness as was ever elaborated [page 197:] by a penniless author. He unfolds it in the following letter to Lowell, which also contains other matter of contemporary interest.

PHILADELPHIA, March 30, 1844.


Graham has been speaking to me, lately, about your Biography, and I am anxious to write it at once, always provided you have no objection. Could you forward me the materials within a day or two? I am just now quite disengaged — in fact positively idle.

I presume you have read the Memoir of Willis, in the April number of G. It is written by a Mr. Landor — but I think it full of hyperbole. Willis is no genius — a graceful trifler — no more. He wants force and sincerity. He is very frequently far-fetched. In me, at least, he never excites an emotion. Perhaps the best poem he has written is a little piece called “Unseen Spirits,” beginning “The Shadows lay — Along Broadway.”

You inquire about my own portrait. It has been done for some time — but is better as an engraving, than as a portrait. It scarcely resembles me at all. When it will appear I cannot say. Conrad and Mrs. Stephens will certainly come before me — perhaps Gen. Morris. My Life is not yet written, and I am at a sad loss for a Biographer — for Graham insists upon leaving the matter to myself.

I sincerely rejoice to hear of the success of your volume. To sell eleven hundred copies of a bound book of American poetry, is to do wonders. I hope every thing from your future endeavors. Have you read “Orion?” Have you seen the article on “American [page 198:] Poetry” in the “London Foreign Quarterly?” It has been denied that Dickens wrote it — but, to me, the article affords so strong internal evidence of his hand that I would as soon think of doubting my existence. He tells much truth — although he evinces much ignorance and more spleen. Among other points he accuses myself of “metrical imitation” of Tennyson, citing, by way of instance, passages from poems which were written and published by me long before Tennyson was heard of: — but I have at no time made any poetical pretention. I am greatly indebted for the trouble you have taken about the lectures, and shall be very glad to avail myself, next season, of any invitation from the “Boston Lyceum.” Thank you, also, for the hint about the North American Review; — I will bear it in mind. I mail you, herewith, a “Dollar Newspaper,” containing a somewhat extravagant tale of my own. I fear it will prove little to your taste.

How dreadful is the present condition of our Literature! To what are things tending? We want two things, certainly: — an International Copy-Right Law, and a well-founded Monthly Journal, of sufficient ability, circulation, and character, to control and so give tone to, our Letters. It should be, externally, a specimen of high, but not too refined Taste: — I mean, it should be boldly printed, on excellent paper, in single column, and be illustrated, not merely embellished, by spirited wood designs in the style of Grandville. Its chief aims should be Independence, Truth, Originality. It should be a journal of some 120 pp, and furnished at $5. It should have nothing to do with Agents or Agencies. Such a Magazine might be made to exercise a prodigious influence, [page 199:] and would be a source of vast wealth to its proprietors. There can be no reason why 100,000 copies might not, in one or two *years, be circulated; but the means of bringing it into circulation should be radically different from those usually employed.

Such a journal might, perhaps, be set on foot by a coalition, and, thus set on foot, with proper understand ing, would be irresistible. Suppose, for example, that the elite of our men of letters should combine secretly. Many of them control papers, &c. Let each subscribe, say $200, for the commencement of the undertaking; furnishing other means, as required from time to time, until the work be established. The articles to be sup plied by the members solely, and upon a concerted plan of action. A nominal editor to be elected from among the number. How could such a journal fail? I would like very much to hear your opinion upon this matter. Could not the “ball be set in motion? “If we do not defend ourselves by some such coalition, we shall be devoured, without mercy, by the Godeys, the Snowdens, et id genus omne.

Most truly your friend,


The next week after writing this letter Poe put in execution what seems a very sudden determination to leave Philadelphia. Possibly the discontinuance of his undefined connection with “Graham’s,” which now took place, finally discouraged him; but whatever was the immediate occasion of his decision, looking back over the five years of his [page 200:] life in that city, with its delusively brilliant openings and sharp reverses of fortune, he must have felt that he obeyed the dictates of worldly prudence in deserting a scene where his repeated failures and their causes were well known to the whole literary fraternity. He seems to have broken up his home at the cottage before this time, and he had not much more than ten dollars in his pocket when he left. Mrs. Clemm remained behind to sell his books and settle up affairs, and with Virginia he went to New York, apparently with no more definite a view than to make a new start in a new community.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 105:]

1. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket: comprising the Details of a Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery on board the American Brig Grampus, on her Way to the South Seas with an Account of the Recapture of the Vessel by the Survivors; their Shipwreck, and subsequent Horrible Sufferings from Famine; their Deliverance by means of the British Schooner Jane Gray [[Guy]]; the brief Cruise of this latter Vessel in the Antarctic Ocean; her Capture, and the Massacre of her Crew among a Group of Islands in the 84th parallel of Southern latitude; together with the in credible Adventures and Discoveries still further South, to which that distressing Calamity gave rise. 12mo, pp.198. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1838.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 106:]

1. Hirst.

2. Narrative of Four Voyages to the South Seas and Pacific, 1822-1831. By Benjamin Morell. New York, 1832. Pp. 183 et seq.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 108:]

1. Gowan’s Sale Catalogue, No. 28, 1870, p. 11.

2. Poe to Brooks, Didier, p. 65.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 109, running to the bottom of page 110:]

1. The Conchologist’s First Book: or, a /System of Testaceous Malacology, arranged expressly for the use of schools, in which the animals, according to Cuvier, are given with the shells, a great number of new species added, and the whole brought up, as accurately as possible, to the present condition of the science. By Edgar A. Poe. With illustrations of two hundred and fifteen shells, presenting a correct type of each genus. Philadelphia: published [page 110:] for the author, by Haswell, Barrington & Haswell,, and for sale by the principal booksellers in the United States. 1839. 12mo, pp. 156.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 110:]

1. Poe to , Ingram, i. 168.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 111:]

1. Works, ii. 46.

2. The Conchologist’s Text-Book. Embracing the arrangements of Lamarck and Linnæus, with a glossary of technical terms. By Captain Thomas Brown, Fellow, etc., etc. Illustrated by 19 engravings on steel. Fourth edition. Glasgow: Archibald Fullerton & Co. 1837.

3. A Manual of Conchology according to the System laid down by Lamarck, with the Late Improvements of De Blainville. Exemplified and arranged for the Use of Students. By Thomas Wyatt, M. A. Illustrated by 36 plates, etc., etc. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1838.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 112:]

1. Professor John G. Anthony to John Parker, June 22, 1875. MS.

2. Saturday Evening Chronicle and Mirror of the Times, Philadelphia, April 27, 1839.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 113:]

1. Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, v. 62 (July, 1839).

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 114:]

1. Poe to J. E. Snodgrass, July 12, 1841. MS. copy.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 115, running to the bottom of page 116:]

1. Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. By Edgar A. Poe. In two volumes. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard. 1840. 16mo. [page 116:] The work was copyrighted in 1839, and was dedicated to Colonel William Dray ton. Vol. i. (pp. 243) contained a preface and four teen tales, that is, Morella, Lionizing, William Wilson, The Man that was Used Up, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Due De L Omelette, MS. Found in a Bottle, Bon-Bon, Shadow, The Devil in the Belfry, Ligeia, King Pest, The Signora Zenobia (How to write a Blackwood Article), The Scythe of Time (A Predica ment). Vol. ii. (pp. 228) contained Epimanes, Siope, Hans Pfaall, A Tale of Jerusalem, Von Jung, Loss of Breath, Metzengerstein, Berenice, Why the Little Frenchman wears his Hand in a Sling, The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion. Appendix.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 119:]

1. Letter-Book of Lea & Blanchard.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 122, running to the bottom of page 123:]

1. It has been suggested (Ingram and Stoddard) that this tale [page 123:] was from a rare drama by Calderon, El Embozado or El Capotado, mentioned by Medwin to Irving, and vainly sought for by the latter in Spanish libraries. (Irving’s Life and Letters, ii. 232; iv. 70-72.) Medwin undoubtedly had the plot from Shelley. The reference is plainly to El Purgatorio de San Patricia, a favorite of Shelley’s (from which he took a passage of The Cenci), in which Un Hombre Embozado is a character. Poe read Medwin’s Shelley; but it is extremely unlikely that he ever saw the drama in question, nor is there any reason to seek so far for his knowledge of a superstitious idea common to literature. [page 124:]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 123:]

1. Unsigned.

2. Signed “P.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 125:]

1. Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, vi. 102-103 (February, 1840).

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 127:]

1. Poe to Snodgrass, December 19, 1839. This, and all subsequent quotations from the Snodgrass correspondence (partly published in the New York Herald March 27, 1881) not otherwise credited, is from a very careful MS. copy of the originals, made some years since by Dr. William Hand Browne of Baltimore, who annotates on this passage, “MS. burnt and broken. Restorations in brackets.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 128:]

1. Poe to Snodgrass, June 17, 1840. MS. copy.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 129:]

1. Griswold, xxxii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 133:]

1. Poe to Snodgrass, Baltimore American, April, 1881.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 134:]

1. Alexander to Clarke, October 20, 1850, Gill, p. 97.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 135:]

1. Our Press Gang, p. 284.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 136:]

1. Poe to Snodgrass, January 21, 1840. MS. copy.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 141:]

1. Poe to Burton, Ingram, i. 175-179.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 142:]

1. Poe to Snodgrass, January 17, 1841. MS. copy.

2. Philadelphia Saturday Chronicle, June 13, 1840.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 143:]

1. P. S. Duval to the author, August 4, 1884. This magazine was printed in Duval’s lithographing establishment, in which Wilmer, in his Recollections, says Poe at one time, despairing of literature as a means of support, undertook to learn lithography. Mr. Duval writes that there is no truth whatever in this statement.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 145:]

1. Poe to Snodgrass. MS. copy.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 152:]

1. Works, ii. 197, 198.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 156:]

1. Works, iv. 542-547.

2. Ibid. iv. 549.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 157:]

1. Works, ii. xviii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 158:]

1. Works, ii. 199.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 159:]

1. Works, ii. 366.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 160:]

1. Poe to Snodgrass, April 1, 1841, Baltimore American, April, 1881.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 161:]

1. Poe to Thomas, Stoddard, xcv.

2. Poe to Suodgrass, MS. copy.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 162:]

1. Poe to Thomas, Stoddard, xciii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 163:]

1. Poe to Thomas, Stoddard, xciv., xcv.

2. Poe to Snodgrass, December 19, 1839. MS. copy.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 164:]

1. Poe to Snodgrass, MS. copy.

2. The Library of George W. Childs, described by F. W. Robinson. Philadelphia, 1882: pp. 13, 14.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 165:]

1. Letter-book of Lea and Blanchard.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 166:]

1. Hearth and Home. Quoted in Ingram, i. 221.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 167:]

1. Hearth and Home. Quoted by Ingram, i. 223, 224.

2. Works, i, xcvii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 170:]

1. Works, iii. 450.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 171:]

1. Poe to —— , January 4, 1848. Ingram, i. 215, 216.

2. Miss A. F. Poe to the author, September 13, 1884.

3. Gill, pp. 110, 111.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 173:]

1. Poe to Griswold, March 29, 1841. Griswold, xxi. The genuineness of these letters as printed has been doubted, but the author believes that they are unquestionably Poe’s compositions, and in all probability exact copies of the originals. The grounds of this opinion involve too many minutiæ to be recounted.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 174:]

1. Poe to Thomas, Stoddard, xcvii., xcviii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 175:]

1. Poe to Griswold. Griswold, xxi. Cf. letter circa January, 1849, ibid, xxii., in which Poe’s peaks of the review in the Pioneer as having actually appeared in 1843, but it is not to be found there. Possibly Poe contributed it, and the sudden suspension of the Pioneer prevented its publication.

2. The New York Mirror, July 30, 1842.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 176:]

1. Poe to Washington Poe, August 15, 1842. Gill, p. 114.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 177:]

1. Poe to Lowell, MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 178:]

1. Poe to Lowell, MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 180:]

1. Poe to Lowell, MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 181:]

1. Darley to the author, February 26, 1884.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 182:]

1. Poe to Clarke. Gill, p. 120

2. Dow to Clarke. Gill, p. 121.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 183:]

1. Poe to Thomas and Dow, March 16, 1843. MS. copy.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 185:]

1. Poe to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 186:]

1. Griswold, xx.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 187:]

1. Griswold, xxxiv.

2. Onward, quoted in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 30, 1869.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 188:]

1. Gill, p. 101.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 189:]

1. The New Mirror, September, 1843.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 194:]

1. Poe to Lowell. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 196:]

1. Works, ii. 437-444.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 199:]

1. Poe to Lowell. MS.





[S:0 - EAP, 1885] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Edgar Allan Poe (G. E. Woodberry) (Chapter V)