Text: George E. Woodberry, “Chapter VII,” Edgar Allan Poe (1885), pp. 278-350


[page 278:]


POE became very ill after this event; and al though in the middle of March he seems to have partially recovered under the nursing of Mrs. Shew and his mother-in-law, he again sank, and his life was believed to be endangered. It was necessary to raise fresh funds for his relief, and by the interest of various friends one hundred dollars were collected at once, and afterwards other sums were contributed. Mrs. Shew, who, as has been said, had received a medical education, decided that Poe “in his best health had lesion of one side of the brain;” and she adds in her diary, “As he could not bear stimulants or tonics, without producing insanity, I did not feel much hope that he could be raised up from brain fever, brought on by extreme suffering of mind and body, — actual want and hunger and cold having been borne by this heroic husband in order to supply food, medicine, and comforts to his dying wife, until exhaustion and lifelessness were so near at every reaction of the fever that even sedatives had to be administered with extreme caution.“(1) It was at this time that [page 279:] he dictated, in half-delirious states of mind, the romantic and unfounded story, which he obliged Mrs. Shew to write down, of his voyage to France, his duel, and his French novel, which has been accepted as sober truth.

On recovering from this prolonged illness sufficiently to resume work in some degree, he confined himself to his home. He rose early, ate moderately, drank only water, and took abundance of exercise in the open air. From time to time he visited Mrs. Shew in the city, and she in turn called upon him, and would frequently advise him to contract marriage, with the warning that he could be saved from sudden death only by a prudent, calm life with a woman who had sufficient strength and affection to manage his affairs for him. On his part, he re strained his reply to remarks, which she termed ironical, regarding her ignorance of the world’s evil. In this summer and autumn he entertained more than one acquaintance who carried away bright recollections of his home. He had still the caged birds to pet, and now in addition he amused his leisure with cultivating a flower garden, in which were beds of mignonnette, heliotrope, and dahlias. Frequently he would walk some miles to the westward, along uneven country roads lined with orchards, to the High Bridge, on whose lofty granite arches, a hundred and forty-five feet above high-water, the great aqueduct crosses Harlem River; and there on the elevated grassy causeway, used only by foot-passengers, [page 280:] he would pace by day or night, or would lean on the low parapet, alone, musing on his own life, or speculating on the constitution of the universe, or merely enjoying the beauty of the picturesque scenes up and down the river. The ledge, too, back of his house, with its pines and the wide prospect, was one of his haunts, and thither he would retreat to escape literary callers, or to dream out the metaphysical rhapsody over which he was brooding; for it was in such solitary places that he planned “Eureka.”

This year, particularly in its earlier part, was necessarily one of comparative inactivity, yet Poe’s name did not pass out of the public notice. Willis, who remained his faithful literary friend, took pains to copy his poems, advertise his plans, and commend his genius whenever opportunity offered; and Poe on his part kept him informed in regard to his doings. In the “Home Journal,” March 13, appeared the lines “To M. L. S —— ,” addressed to Mrs. Shew, of inferior poetic merit, and characterized by the peculiar and sometimes dissonant cadences of the later unrhymed poems. A week later the same paper announced as soon to be published “The Authors of America, in Prose and Verse, by Edgar A. Poe,” but the work did not appear, though the review of Hawthorne in the November “Godey’s,” in which Poe decides that Hawthorne is not original, after all, but only peculiar, may be regarded as an extract from it. In December [page 281:] the ballad “Ulalume,” having been rejected by the “Union Magazine,” was published in the “Whig,” and reprinted by Willis in accordance with the following request from Poe, which may serve as an example of several such letters: —

FORDHAM, Dec. 8.

MY DEAR MR. WILLIS, — Many thanks for the kind expressions in your note of three or four weeks ago.

I send you an “American Review” the number just issued in which is a ballad by myself, but published anonymously. It is called “Ulalume” — the page is turned down. I do not care to be known as its author just now; but I would take it as a great favor if you would copy it in the H. J., with a word of inquiry as to who wrote it: — provided always that you think the poem worth the room it would occupy in your paper — a matter about which I am by no means sure.

Always yours gratefully, EDGAR A. POE.(1)

Willis prefaced his reprint with the desired inquiry as to the authorship of “Ulalume,” and described it, in words that may not have seemed to Poe indicative of sympathetic insight, as an “exquisitely piquant and skillful exercise of rarity and niceness of language,” and “a curiosity in philologic flavor.” Since this extraordinarily inane characterization, the best opinion has differed widely in regard to this ballad, and still most men of poetic sensibility would say no more in its favor than did Willis. It is built out of the refrain, the [page 282:] most difficult mode of construction, and consequently it requires in the reader not only a willing ness to accept monotony as a means of expression, but a content with it; the thought moves so slowly, with such slight advances from its initial stage, with such difficult increments of meaning and in distinguishable deepening of tone, that, like the workings of an expiring mind, it only just keeps wearily in action; its allegorizing, moreover, is further from nature than is usual even with Poe, and implies by its very simplicity that long familiarity with its imagery that Poe possessed. For these and other reasons, the sympathetic mood, without which no such poem is comprehended, must be of rare occurrence in this case; but if ever that mood comes, — that physical exhaustion and mental gloom and dreaming upon the dark, in which the modes of expression in this poem are identical with those of nature, — then, in spite of jarring discords, cockney rhymes, and coarse types of mystery and horror, this poem may well seem the language of a spirit sunk in blank and moaning despair, and at every move beaten back helplessly upon itself. It was written at the period of Poe’s lowest physical exhaustion and probably of most poignant self-reproach. During these months he was not far from insanity. The criticism that finds in the ballad he thus wrote merely a whimsical experiment in words has little to go on; it is more likely that, taking into consideration, too, the lack of finish in conjunction [page 283:] with the justness of touch in its essential structure, we have, in this poem, the most spontaneous, the most unmistakably genuine utterance of Poe, the most clearly self -portray ing work of his hand. That, to most readers, it is unintelligible, and is suggestive of humor rather than of pathos, only marks how far Poe was now removed, through one and another influence, from normal humanity.

Before the publication of “Ulalume,” which thus marks the extreme development of Poe’s original genius, occurred the first sign that he was to be widely recognized in foreign lands, unless the theft of some of his writings by English magazines may be regarded as an indication of fame. In the “Revue des Deux Mondes,” October 15, 1846, was a lengthy and appreciative review of the last edition of his tales, and attention having been already called to him in Paris by the legal proceedings between some of the city journals that had stolen, either from the original or from each other, “The Murders of the Rue Morgue,” Madame Isabelle Meunier translated his best stories.

But while, unknown to himself, his reputation was thus growing in France, where it was destined to be wide-spread and enduring, he was engaged in thinking out what he thought would prove his best title to the remembrance of posterity, “Eureka.” As the winter advanced he applied himself wholly to this speculation; night after night in the coldest weather he would wrap himself in his great military; [page 284:] cloak, and pace the little veranda of the cottage (through long hours of solitary meditation, elaborating thought by thought his theory of the eternal secret. At the opening of the new year, 1848, he had practically completed the work, and he now set himself with new vigor to the old task of establishing the “Stylus,” with the hope that “Eureka” would furnish him with the necessary funds. He sent out the old prospectus, with its well-worn announcements that the management was to bear the mark of individuality, the contributions to be selected solely on the ground of merit, the criticism to be independent, sincere, and fearless; all that five years had added to the advertisement was the promise of “Literary America,” by the editor, being “a faithful account of the literary productions, literary people, and literary affairs of the United States,” to be begun in the first number. Poe’s plan was to make a personal canvass through the country, as had been so successfully done by his friend Mr. Freeman Hunt in launching his “Merchants Magazine” a few years previous. With the view of raising the money for this journey he advertised a lecture in the Society Library, on the “Cosmogony of the Universe,” and at his request Willis besought public favor for it in his paper, the “Home Journal,” and added a good word for the projected “Stylus,” the founding of which was said to be the ultimate object of the lecture. On February 3, in response to these [page 285:] notices, about sixty persons assembled, the night unfortunately being stormy, and, it is said, were held entranced for two hours and a half by an abstract of “Eureka,” although the charm must have been exercised by the personality of the poet rather than the substance of what he uttered; and indeed Poe seems to have been an eloquent and impressive speaker, as he had good right to be both by inheritance and by the natural endowments of his voice and person.

The lecture was imperfectly reported by a few of the city papers, but made no impression. Financially it had failed of its purpose, and therefore Poe, seeing no better means of obtaining funds, deter mined to publish the entire work, and at once offered it to Mr. Putnam, who many years afterward wrote an account(1) of the interview which, though doubtless essentially true, seems to be colored. He says that Poe was in a tremor of excitement and declared with intense earnestness and solemnity that the issue of the book was of momentous interest, that the truths disclosed in it were of more consequence than the discovery of gravitation, and that an edition of 50,000 copies would be but a beginning. Mr. Putnam confesses that he was im pressed, and two days later accepted the manuscript. An edition of 500 copies was printed with out delay and published early in the summer, in good form, under the title “Eureka; A Prose [page 286:] Poem,“(1) and introduced by the well-known preface: —

“To the few who love me and whom I love — to those who feel rather than to those who think — to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities — I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To them I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: — let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.

What I here propound is true: — therefore it can not die: — or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will rise again to the Life Everlasting / Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.”

It is obviously impossible to grant Poe’s request. He has written a physical explanation of the universe and based it on metaphysical principles; he has declared it a true account, and he must stand by his words. Moreover, the speculative activity of Poe’s mind grew out of its analytical activity; the metaphysical essays virtually begin when the ratiocinative tales end, in 1845, and thus in the history of Poe’s mental development, “Eureka,” the principal work of his last years, necessarily occupies an important place. The earliest indication that such topics occupied his mind occurs in the review [page 287:] of Macaulay’s Essays: “That we know no more today of the nature of Deity — of its purposes — and thus of man himself — than we did even a dozen years ago — is a proposition disgracefully absurd; and of this any astronomer could assure Mr. Macaulay. Indeed, to our own mind, the only irrefutable argument in support of the soul’s immortality — or, rather, the only conclusive proof of man’s alternate dissolution and rejuvenescence ad infinitum — is to be found in analogies deduced from the modern established theory of the nebular cosmogony.“(1) Shortly after this utterance the metaphysical tales begin, but the speculations of Poe were not fully developed until the publication of “Eureka.” In the following criticism, which necessarily partakes somewhat of the abstract nature of its subject, only what is peculiar to Poe will be dwelt on; and it may as well be premised that the end in view is not the determination of abstract truth, but simply the illustration alike of Poe’s genius and character by the light of his speculations.

Poe’s hypothesis is as follows: The mind knows intuitively — by inductive or deductive processes which escape consciousness, elude reason, or defy expression — that the creative act of Deity must have been the simplest possible; or, to expand and define this statement, it must have consisted in willing into being a primordial particle, the germ of all things, existing without relations to aught, or, [page 288:] in the technical phrase, unconditioned. This particle, by virtue of the divine volition, radiated into space uniformly in all directions a shower of atoms of diverse form, irregularly arranged among themselves, but all, generally speaking, equally dis tant from their source; this operation was repeated at intervals, but with decreased energy in each new instance, so that the atoms were impelled less far. On the exhaustion of the radiating force, the universe was thus made up of a series of concentric hollow spheres, like a nest of boxes, the crusts of the several spheres being constituted of the atoms of the several discharges. The radiating force at each of its manifestations is measured by the number of atoms then thrown off; or, since the number of atoms in any particular case must have been directly proportional with the surface of the particular sphere they occupied, and since the surfaces of a series of concentric spheres are directly proportional with the squares of their distances from the centre, the radiating force in the several dis charges was directly proportional with the squares of the distances to which the several atomic showers were driven.

On the consummation of this secondary creative act, as the diffusion may be called, there occurred, says Poe, a recoil, a striving of the atoms each to each in order to regain their primitive condition; and this tendency, which is now being satisfied, is expressed in gravitation, the mutual [page 289:] attraction of atoms with a force inversely proportional with the squares of the distances. In other words, the law of gravitation is found to be the converse of the law of radiation, as would be the case if the former energy were the reaction of the latter as is claimed; furthermore, the distribution of the atoms in space is seen to be such as would result from the mode of diffusion described. The return of the atoms into their source, however, would take place too rapidly, adds Poe, and with out accomplishing the Deity’s design of developing out of the original homogeneous particle the utmost heterogeneity, were it not that God, in this case a true Deus ex machina, has interposed by introducing a repelling force which began to be generated at the very inception of the universal reaction, and ever becomes greater as the latter proceeds. Poe names this force electricity, while at the same time he suggests that light, heat, and magnetism are among its phases, and ascribes to it all vital and mental phenomena; but of the principle itself he makes a mystery, since he is intuitively convinced that it belongs to that spiritual essence which lies beyond the limits of human inquiry. In the grand reaction, then, the universe is through attraction be coming more condensed, and through repulsion more heterogeneous. Attraction and repulsion taken together constitute our notion of matter; the former is the physical element, the Body, the latter is the spiritual element, the Soul. Incidentally it should [page 290:] be remarked that since in a divine design, being perfect, no one part exists for the sake of others more than the others for its sake, it is indifferent whether repulsion be considered, as hitherto, an expedient to retard the attractive force, or, on the other hand, the attractive force as an expedient to develop repulsion; in other words, it is indifferent whether the physical be regarded as subordinate to the spiritual element, or vice versa. To return to the main thread, Poe affirms that repulsion will not increase indefinitely as the condensation of the mass proceeds, but when in the process of time it has fulfilled its purpose — the evolution of heterogeneity — it will cease, and the attractive force, being unresisted, will draw the atoms back into the primordial particle in which, as it has no parts, attraction will also cease; now, attraction and repulsion constituting our notion of matter, the cessation of these two forces is the same thing with the annihilation of matter, or in other words, the universe, at the end of the reaction which has been mentally followed out, will sink into the nihility out of which it arose. In conclusion Poe makes one last affirmation, to wit, that the diffusion and ingathering of the universe is the diffusion and ingathering of Deity itself, which has no existence apart from the constitution of things.

It is difficult to treat this hypothesis, taken as a metaphysical speculation, with respect. To examine it for the purpose of demolition would be a tedious, [page 291:] though an easy task; but fortunately there is no need to do more than point out a few of its confusions in order to illustrate the worthlessness of Poe’s thought in this field, and to indicate the depth of the delusion under which he labored in believing himself a discoverer of new truth. For this purpose it will be best to take the most rudimentary metaphysical ideas involved. The primordial particle is declared to be unconditioned — “my particle proper is absolute Irrelation,” — or in other words it is the Absolute; but this is incompatible with its being willed into being by Deity, to which it would then necessarily stand related as an effect to its cause; on the contrary, it must itself, being the Absolute, be Deity with which Poe at last identifies it. In other words, when Poe has reached the conception of the primordial particle as first defined by him, he is just where he started, that is, at the conception of Deity, and at that point, as has been seen, he had to end. The difficulty which bars inquiry — the inconceivability of creation — remains as insuperable as ever, although Poe may have cheated him self into believing it overcome by the legerdemain of a phrase from physics; in the attempt to de scribe the generation of the phenomenal universe out of the unknowable, he has been foiled by the old obstacles — the impossibility of making an equation between nothing and something, of effecting a transformation of the absolute into the conditioned. If the primordial particle be material, it is only [page 292:] the scientific equivalent of the old turtle of the Hindoos, on which the elephant stands to support the globe; if it be immaterial, it is the void beneath.

Such a criticism as the above belongs to the primer of thought in this science; but objections as obvious, brief, and fatal may be urged against every main point of the argument. Without entering on such a discussion it is sufficient to observe, as characteristic illustrations of the density of Poe’s ignorance in this department of knowledge, that he regards space not as created but as given, explains the condensation of the universe as being a physical reaction upon the immaterial will of God (for the original radiating force cannot be discriminated from and is expressly identified with the divine volition, just as the primordial particle cannot be discriminated from and is expressly identified with the divine essence), and lastly so confuses such simple notions as final and efficient causes that he contra distinguishes the force of repulsion from that of at traction as arising and disappearing in obedience to the former instead of the later sort. In a word, Poe’s theory belongs to the infancy of speculation, to the period before physics was separated from ontology; in this sense, and in no other, Kennedy’s remark that Poe wrote like “an old Greek philosopher,” was just.

What Poe himself most prized in this hypothesis was its pantheistic portion. The sentence of Baron Bielfeld, — “nous ne connaissons rien de [page 293:] la nature ou de l‘essence de Dieu; — pour savoir ce qu il est, il faut etre Dieu même,” — had made a deep impression on his mind early in life; it is one of the half-dozen French quotations that he introduces at every opportunity into his compositions; in “Eureka” he translates it, “We know absolutely nothing of the nature or essence of God; in order to comprehend what he is, we should have to be God ourselves,” — and he immediately adds, “I nevertheless venture to demand if this our present ignorance of the Deity is an ignorance to which the soul is everlastingly condemned.“(1) Now after reflection he boldly took the only road to such knowledge that was left open by the apothegm, and affirmed that he was God, being persuaded thereto by his memories of an ante-natal and his aspiration for an immortal existence, and in particular by his pride. “My whole nature utterly revolts,” he exclaimed, “at the idea that there is any Being in the Universe superior to myself!“(2) On reading so violent an expression of belief one involuntarily examines the matter more closely and pushes home the question whether Poe did actually so fool him self to the top of his bent; and after some little investigation one finds that, if he was his own dupe, the reason is not far to seek. It is necessary here to summarize the speculations which were put forth elsewhere by Poe, especially in the metaphysical tales, and either led up to or supplemented the views of “Eureka.” [page 294:]

According to these other statements, the Uni verse is made up of gross matter sensibly perceived and of fine matter so minutely divided that the atoms coalesce (this is, of course, a contradiction in terms) and form an unparticled substance which permeates and impels all things. This unparticled substance or imperceptible coalescent matter is the universal mind (into such unintelligible phraseology is the keen analyst forced); its being is Deity; its motion, regarded on the material or energetic side, is the divine volition, or, regarded on the mental or conscious side, is the creative thought. Deity and its activity, being such in its universal existence, is individualized, by means of gross mat ter made for that end, into particular creatures, among which are men; the human being, in other words, is a specialization of the universal, or is God incarnate, as is every other creature whatsoever. It is superfluous to follow Poe in his fantastic conception of the universe as the abode of countless rudimentary incarnations of the Deity, each a divine thought and therefore irrevocable; the peculiar form of his pantheism would not be more de fined thereby. At the first glance one sees that his theory is built out of Cartesian notions, crudely apprehended, and rendered ridiculous by the effort to yoke them with thoroughly materialistic ideas. In fact, Poe’s scraps of speculative philosophy came from such opposite quarters that when his mind began to work on such contradictory information [page 295:] he could not well help falling into inextricable confusion. On the one hand he had derived, early in life, from obscure disciples of the French philosophes, the first truth that a materialist ever learns, — the origin of all knowledge in experience, and the consequent limitation of the mind to phenomena; on the other hand he had at a later period gleaned some of the conceptions of transcendentalism from Coleridge, Schlegel, and other secondary sources; from the union of such principles the issue was naturally monstrous, two-natured, like the Centaur. Essentially Poe was a materialist; whether, by gradually refining and subdividing matter, he reaches the unparticled substance, or by reversing the evolution of nature he arrives at the fiery mist and the primordial particle, he seeks to find out God by searching matter; and even in adopting the radically spiritual idea of pantheism, he is continually endeavoring to give it a materialistic form. He persuaded himself, as it is easy for ignorance to do; subtle as his mind was, well furnished for metaphysical thought both by his powers of abstraction and of reasoning, he wrote the jargon that belongs to the babbling days of philosophy because he did not take the pains to know the results of past inquiry and to train himself in modern methods. By his quick perception and adroit use of analogies, and especially by his tireless imagination, he gave his confused dogmatism the semblance of a reasoned system; but in fact his metaphysics [page 296:] exhibit only the shallowness of his scholarship and the degrading self-delusion of an arrogant and fatuous mind.

It is probable that few readers of “Eureka” ever seriously tried to understand its metaphysics. Its power — other than the fascination which some readers feel in whatever makes of their countenances “a foolish face of wonder” — lies in its exposition of Laplace’s nebular theory and its vivid and popular presentation of astronomical phenomena. In this physical portion of the essay it has been fancied that Poe anticipated some of the results of later science; but this view cannot be sustained with candor. His own position that mat ter came from nihility and consisted of centres of force had been put forth as a scientific theory by Boscovich in 1758-59, had been widely discussed, and had found its way into American text-books. The same theory in a modified form had just been revived and brought to the notice of scientists by Faraday in his lecture in 1844. It has not, how ever, occupied the attention of first-class scientific men since that time. There may be, in the claim that “the recent progress of scientific thought runs in Poe’s lines,” some reference to Sir William Thomson’s vortex theory of the constitution of atoms, but its resemblance to Poe’s theory of vortices is only superficial, for what he puts forth was merely a revival of one of the earliest attempts to explain the Newtonian law, long since abandoned [page 297:] by science. It is true that in several particulars, such as the doctrine of the evolution of the universe from the simple to the complex, Poe’s line of thought has now been followed out in detail; these suggestions, however, were not at the time peculiar to Poe, were not originated or developed by him, but on the contrary were common scientific property, for he appropriated ideas, just as he paraphrased statements of fact, from the books he read. He was no more a forerunner of Spencer, Faraday, and Dar win than scores of others, and he did nothing to make their investigations easier.

Poe’s purely scientific speculations are mainly contained in the unpublished addenda to a report of his lecture on “The Universe” sent to a correspondent, and consist either of mathematical explanations of Kepler’s first and third laws; or of statements, “that the sun was condensed at once (not gradually according to the supposition of Laplace) into his smallest size,” and afterwards “sent into space his substance in the form of a vapor” from which Neptune was made; or of similar theories. They exhibit once more Poe’s tenacity of mind, the sleuth-hound persistence of his intellectual pursuit; but, like his metaphysics, they represent a waste of power. They are, moreover, characterized by extraordinary errors. Some of the, data are quite imaginary, it being impossible to determine what are the facts; some of them are quite wrong. The density of Jupiter, for example, in a long and important [page 298:] calculation, is constantly reckoned as two and one half, whereas it is only something more than one fifth, and the densities of the planets are described as being inversely as their rotary periods, whereas in any table of the elements of the solar system some wide departures from this rule are observable. Again, it is stated that Kepler’s first and third laws “cannot be explained upon the principle of Newton’s theory;” but, in fact, they follow by mathematical deduction from it. Poe’s own explanation of them is merely a play upon figures. A striking instance of fundamental ignorance of astronomical science is his statement at various places that the planets rotate (on their own axes) in elliptical orbits, and the reference he frequently makes to the breadth of their orbits (the breadth of their paths through space) agreeably to this supposition. Such a theory is incompatible with the Newtonian law of gravitation, according to which any revolution in an elliptical orbit implies a source of attraction at the focus of the ellipse. Examples of bodies which have breadth of orbit in Poe’s sense are found in the satellites of all the planets, each of which, however, has its primary as a source of attraction to keep it in its elliptical orbit; the primary by its revolution round the sun gives then the satellite a breadth of orbit. But to make the proper rotation of the planets themselves take place about a focus, which would be merely a point moving in an elliptical orbit about the sun, [page 299:] would be to give them an arbitrary motion with no force to produce it.

So far was Poe from being a seer of science, that he was fundamentally in error with regard to the generalizations which were of prime importance to his speculations. The one grand assumption of his whole speculation is the universality of the law of inverse squares as applied to attraction and repulsion, whereas it has been known since the beginning of study regarding them that that law does not explain all the forces involved, as, for example, molecular forces; and for this Boscovich himself had provided. Again, to illustrate his scientific foresight, he reproaches Herschel for his reluctance to doubt the stability of the universe, and himself boldly affirms, consistently with his theory, that it is in a state of ever swifter collapse; than this nothing could be more at variance with the great law of the conservation of energy. Undoubtedly Poe had talents for scientific investigation, had he been willing to devote himself to such work; but, so far as appears from this essay, he had not advanced farther in science that the elements of physics, mathematics, and astronomy, as he had learned them at school or from popular works, such as Dr. Nichol’s” Architecture of the Heavens,” or from generalizations, such as the less technical chapters of Auguste Comte’s “La Philosophic Positif.” Out of such a limited stock of knowledge Poe could not by mere reflection [page 300:] generate any Newtonian truth; that he thought he had done so, measures his folly. In a word, for this criticism must be brought to a close, “Eureka” affords one of the most striking in stances in literature of a naturally strong intellect tempted by overweening pride to an Icarian flight and betrayed, notwithstanding its merely specious knowledge, into an ignoble exposure of its own presumption and ignorance. The facts are not to be obscured by the smooth profession of Poe that he wished this work to be looked on only as a poem; for, though he perceived that his argument was too fragmentary and involved to receive credence, he was himself profoundly convinced that he had revealed the secret of eternity. Nor, were “Eureka” to be judged as a poem, that is to say, as a fictitious cosmogony, would the decision be more favorable; even then so far as it is obscure to the reader it must be pronounced defective, so far as it is understood, involving as it does in its primary conceptions incessant contradictions of the necessary laws of thought, it must be pronounced meaningless. Poe believed himself to be that extinct being, a universal genius of the highest order; and he wrote this essay to prove his powers in philosophy and in science. To the correspondent to whom he sent the addenda he declared, “As to the lecture, I am very quiet about it — but if you have ever dealt with such topics, you will recognize the novelty and moment of my views. What I have propounded [page 301:] will (in good time) revolutionize the world of Physical and Metaphysical science. I say this calmly, but I say it.“(1) Poe succeeded only in showing how egregiously genius may mistake its realm.

Besides “Eureka,” Poe’s publications for the first half year were of the slightest, consisting only of “Marginalia,” in January and February, and “Fifty Suggestions,” in May and June (a paper of the same character), in “Graham’s,” and “An Enigma,” an anagrammatic poem to Sarah Ann Lewis, commonly called “Estelle,” in the “Union,” in March.

A glimpse of his life at home is afforded by an affectionate reminiscence of Mrs. Clemm’s , which was reported by Mr. R. E. Shapley, of Philadelphia, in a newspaper, and has by chance been preserved; in the main parts it seems to apply to the whole period of his widowerhood: —

“He never liked to be alone, and I used to sit up with him, often until four o clock in the morning, he at his desk, writing, and I dozing in my chair. When he was composing ‘Eureka,’ we used to walk up and down the garden, his arm around me, mine around him, until I was so tired I could not walk. He would stop every few minutes and explain his ideas to me, and ask if I understood him. I always sat up with him when he was writing, and gave him a cup of hot coffee every hour or two. At home he was simple and affectionate as a [page 302:] child, and during all the years he lived with me I do not remember a single night that he failed to come and kiss his mother, as he called me, before going to bed.”

The principal event of his private life, when “Eureka” was being published, was the termination of his social intercourse with Mrs. Shew. Since the death of Virginia, this lady had maintained her intimacy with the family, and had actively befriended him in his literary projects. In the earlier part of the year she had asked him to furnish the music room and library of a new house which she was to occupy, and she made him at home when he visited her. One such visit is especially of interest, since to it has been ascribed the first suggestion of Poe’s second great popular poem, “The Bells.” It was early in the summer that he one day called and complained that he had to write a poem, but felt no inspiration. Mrs. Shew persuaded him to drink some tea in a conservatory whose open windows admitted the sound of church-bells, and gave him some paper, which he declined, saying, “I so dislike the noise of bells to-night, I cannot write. I have no subject — I am exhausted.” Mrs. Shew then wrote, “The Bells, by E. A. Poe,” and added, “The bells, the little silver bells;” on the poet’s finishing the stanza thus suggested, she again wrote, “The heavy iron bells,” and this idea also Poe elaborated, and then copying off the two stanzas, headed it, “By Mrs. M. L. Shew,” and called it her poem. [page 303:]

Such, nearly in Mr. Ingram’s own words, is the story which he derived from Mrs. Shew’s diary. But although the incident is, without doubt, truly related, it may be questioned whether this was the original genesis of the poem. It will be remembered that Poe derived several suggestions from Chateaubriand at the very beginning of his career. The parallelism that exists between the completed poem of “The Bells” and a brief chapter of the “Genie du Christianisme” is at least worth noticing, and it is not likely to be a fortuitous coincidence. The following extract will sufficiently illustrate the matter.

“II nous semble que si nous étions poëte, nous ne dédaignerions point cette cloche agitée par les fantómes dans la vieille chapelle de la forêt, ni celle qu une religieuse frayeur balançoit dans nos campagnes pour ecarter le tonnerre, ni celle qu on sonnoit la nuit, dans certains ports de mer, pour diriger le pilote à travers les écueils. Les carillons des cloches, au milieu de nos fêtes, sembloient augmenter l‘allégresse publique; dans des calamites, au contraire, ces memes bruits devenoient terribles. Les cheveux dressent encore sur la tête au souvenir de ces jours de meurtre et de feu, retentissant des clameurs du tocsin. Qui de nous a perdu la mémoire de ces hurlements, de ces cris aigus, entrecoupés de silences, durant lesquels on distinguoit de rares coups de fusil, quelque voix lamentable et solitaire, et surtout le bourdonnement de la cloche d‘alarme, ou le son de l‘horologe qui frappoit tranquillement l‘heure écoulée?“(1) [page 304:]

In view of Poe’s known habits of composition, it is most likely that this poetic suggestion in a work to which he was in early years under considerable obligations, was one of the ideas that haunted him for years, and this is sustained by his frequent reference to the magical sounds of bells throughout his literary life. It may well be that this is the poem referred to in Griswold’s memoir as the subject on which he meant to write for the Boston Lyceum — “a subject which he said had haunted his imagination for years.“(1) If there be any plausibility in this inference, the likelihood is that Mrs. Shew, who pleads guilty to Poe’s reproach that she never read his tales or poems, merely recalled to him thoughts and words which she already knew had been running in his mind.

The events immediately subsequent to this incident also deserve mention. Word was sent to Mrs. Clemm that Poe would remain in the city, and, going to his room, he slept twelve hours, after which he only faintly remembered what he had done. “This showed,” says the diary, “that his mind was injured, nearly gone out for want of food and from disappointment. He had not been drinking, and had only been a few hours from home. Evidently his vitality was low and he was nearly insane. While he slept we studied his pulse, and found the same symptoms which I had so often noticed before. I called in Dr. Francis (the old man [page 305:] was odd, but very skillful), who was one of our neighbors. His words were, He has heart disease and will die early in life.‘“(1) On the next day he was taken home by his friend, but did not seem to understand that he was ill.

It must have been very soon after this that Mrs. Shew, finding that her protégé was too irresponsible and too romantic to be allowed such freedom with her as he had been accustomed to, broke off the acquaintance. Poe who was never very sensible of the social realities of life, seems in these last years to have been unable to observe the limits set by the world to even the most genuine and pure devotion in such a case. The consequence which, although he had foreseen it, must, in his state of health, have been hard to endure, was the sudden and complete cessation of intercourse between the families. In June Mrs. Shew wrote an explanatory letter to him, and he replied as follows, but they never afterwards met on the old terms:

“Can it be true, Louise, that you have the idea fixed in your mind to desert your unhappy and unfortunate friend and patient? You did not say so, I know, but for months I have known you were deserting me, not willingly, but none the less surely — my destiny —

Disaster, following fast and following faster, till his song one burden bore —

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

Of “Never nevermore.” [page 306:]

So I have had premonitions of this for months. I re peat, my good spirit, my loyal heart! must this follow as a sequel to all the benefits and blessings you have so generously bestowed? Are you to vanish like all I love, or desire, from my darkened and lost soul? I have read over your letter again and again, and cannot make it possible, with any degree of certainty, that you wrote it in your right mind. (I know you did not without tears of anguish and regret.) Is it possible your influence is lost to me? Such tender and true natures are ever loyal until death; but you are not dead, you are full of life and beauty! Louise, you came in, . . . in your floating white robe — ‘Good morning, Edgar.’ There was a touch of conventional coldness in your hurried manner, and your attitude as you opened the kitchen door to find Muddie, is my last remembrance of you. There was love, hope, and sorrow in your smile, instead of love, hope, and courage, as ever before. O Louise, how many sorrows are before you! Your ingenuous and sympathetic nature will be constantly wounded in its contact with the hollow, heartless world; and for me, alas! unless some true and tender, and pure womanly love saves me, I shall hardly last a year longer alive! A few short months will tell how far my strength (physical and moral) will carry me in life here. How can I believe in Providence when you look coldly upon me? Was it not you who renewed my hopes and faith in God? . . . and in humanity? Louise, I heard your voice as you passed out of my sight leaving me . . .; but I still listened to your voice. I heard you say with a sob, Dear Muddie. I heard you greet my Catarina, but it was only as a memory . . . nothing escaped my ear, [page 307:] and I was convinced it was not your generous self . . . repeating words so foreign to your nature — to your , tender heart! I heard you sob out your sense of duty to my mother, and I heard her reply, Yes, Loui . . . yes. . . . Why turn your soul from its true work for the desolate to the thankless and miserly world? . . . I felt my heart stop, and I was sure I was then to die before your eyes. Louise, it is well — it is fortunate — you looked up with a tear in your dear eyes, and raised the window, and talked of the guava you had brought for my sore throat. Your instincts are better than a strong man’s reason for me — I trust they may be for your self. Louise, I feel I shall not prevail — a shadow has already fallen upon your soul, and is reflected in your eyes. It is too late — you are floating away with the cruel tide . . . it is not a common trial — it is a fearful one to me. Such rare souls as yours so beautify this earth! so relieve it of all that is repulsive and sordid. So brighten its toils and cares, it is hard to lose sight of them even for a short time . . . but you must know and be assured of my regret and sorrow if aught I have ever written has hurt you. My heart never wronged you. I place you in my esteem — in all solemnity — beside the friend of my boyhood — the mother of my school-fellow, of whom I told you, and as I have repeated in the poem . . . as the truest, tenderest of this world’s most womanly souls, and an angel to my forlorn and darkened nature. I will not say lost soul again, for your sake. I will try to overcome my grief for the sake of your unselfish care of me in the past, and in life or death, I am ever yours gratefully and devotedly,

“EDGAR A. POE.“(1) [page 308:]

Poe was not to remain long in this forlorn condition. He had indulged for some years one of his silent ideal adorations for Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman, a poetess of Providence, Rhode Island, to whom he had been attracted by a verbal description of her eccentricities and sorrows. Of this ideal passion no words except his own can convey an adequate idea, although it must be premised that the following passages were not written until after he had met the lady.

“She [his informant] had referred to thoughts, sentiments, traits, moods, which I knew to be my own, but which, until that moment, I had believed to be my own solely unshared by any human being. A profound sympathy took immediate possession of my soul. I can not better explain to you what I felt than by saying that your unknown heart seemed to pass into my bosom — there to dwell forever — while mine, I thought, was translated into your own. From that hour I loved you. Since that period I have never seen nor heard your name without a shiver, half of delight, half of anxiety. — The impression left upon my mind was that you were still a wife, and it is only within the last few months that I have been undeceived in this respect. For this reason I shunned your presence and even the city in which you lived. You may remember that once when I passed through Providence with Mrs. Osgood I positively re fused to accompany her to your house, and even provoked her into a quarrel by the obstinacy and seeming unreasonableness of my refusal. I dared neither go nor say why I could not. I dared not speak of you — [page 309:] much less see you. For years your name never passed my lips, while my soul drank in, with a delirious thirst, all that was uttered in my presence respecting you. The merest whisper that concerned you awoke in me a shuddering sixth sense, vaguely compounded of fear, ecstatic happiness, and a wild inexplicable sentiment that resembled nothing so nearly as a consciousness of guilt.“(1)

Mrs. Whitman, on her part, had been informed of frequent commendatory allusions to herself made by Poe, and was prevailed upon to address some verses to him for the entertainment of what was termed a valentine party given by some literary friends in New York. The two did not meet on this occasion; but the verses, published in the “Home Journal,” March 18 (now entitled “The Raven,” in Mrs. Whitman’s “Poems”) were sent to Poe. He says, in the continuation of the let ter just quoted, that he was thrown into a state of ecstasy by this proof of her regard, and, as he could not express his emotion in spontaneous lines, took down a volume of his old poems and read “To Helen,” with the result that the identity of name and the aptness of the sentiment, which to one accustomed to the Calculus of Probabilities wore an air of positive miracle, overwhelmed him with the belief that their destinies were conjoined. He was, at least, aroused to the point of composition, and replied to her valentine with the lines “To —— ,” afterwards elaborated into the beautiful, if not impassioned poem “To Helen,” which is supposed to [page 310:] commemorate his first sight of this lady when, on his way back from his first visit to Boston, in the summer of 1845, he had observed her among the roses of her garden in the moonlight. Whether this legend be true or not — and there is no reason to doubt — it the scene of the lines is clearly a mere elaboration of that suggested in the seventh stanza of Mrs. Whitman’s “The Raven,” in connection with the vista obviously repeated from his lines of the previous year to Mrs. Shew. This poem was afterwards printed in the “Union Magazine” for November; but as at this time it drew no acknowledgment from its object, to whom, although he had not as yet been introduced, he sent a written copy still without his name, he soon after June 10, applied to his visitor of the previous autumn, Miss Anna Blackwell, who was then at Providence, and begged her to write him some thing about Mrs. Whitman, and added “keep my secret — that is to say, let no one know I have asked you to do so.“(1) This lady did not answer his note; on the contrary, hearing Miss Maria McIntosh, another literary woman, tell Mrs. Whitman that one evening at Fordham a month previously Poe had talked only of her, Miss Blackwell gave the letter at once to Mrs. Whitman herself, who continued to observe an obstinate silence towards her admirer.(2) [page 311:]

In the following month Poe went to Lowell, Mass., the residence of his old correspondent, Mrs. Locke, and lectured on “The Poetic Principle.” There he made acquaintance with a family who became his devoted friends. Immediately upon his return to New York, being furnished with funds for his long-delayed journey in behalf of the “Stylus,” derived possibly from this lecture or the two advances made on “Eureka,” he started for Richmond. In that city he made the acquaintance of Mr. John R. Thompson, editor of the “Southern Literary Messenger,” of whose office he made a re sort, and among his old friends he met his boyish flame, Miss Royster, now the widow Shelton, well supplied with worldly goods and well disposed toward himself. He was on the point of taking up the youthful romance and proposing marriage to her, when he received from Mrs. Whitman, who had begun to question the propriety of her neglect, two stanzas of her poem, “A Night in August,” unsigned, and sent, she says, after a lapse of more than two months, in “playful acknowledgment“of his own anonymous lines. In the letter already quoted, Poe represents his state of mind during her silence as a hoping against hope culminating in a spirit far more reckless than despair; and he concludes, referring to his intention of offering his hand to Mrs. Shelton at this stage, “your lines reached me in Richmond on the very day in which I was about to enter on a course which would have [page 312:] borne me far, far away, from you, sweet, sweet Helen, and from the divine dream of your love.” He left with Mr. Thompson for publication in “The Messenger,” a criticism of Mrs. Lewis’s poems, printed in the September number, and “The Rationale of Verse,” printed in the October and November numbers, and immediately returned to Fordham. There he found time to write an open letter, September 20, to Mr. C. F. Hoffman, of “The Literary World,” in reply to a criticism on “Eureka” which had appeared during his absence, and in which he observes that the ground covered by Laplace compares with that covered by his own theory as a bubble with the ocean on which it floats; and, on the next day, if Mrs. Whitman’s date be correct, having obtained a letter of introduction from Miss McIntosh, he presented himself to his poetical correspondent, passed two evenings in her company, and with a characteristic choice of place, asked her, as they were walking in the cemetery, to marry him. Mrs. Whitman, who had delayed her reply, wrote to him a letter in which, as may be gathered from Poe’s indignant protest against confounding so spiritual a love as his with merely mortal matters, she referred to her age — she was forty-five and had been widowed for the past fifteen years — her personal appearance, and her illness; but such objections could not withstand the high style of Poe’s vein, and she was forced to acknowledge, though rather by suggestion than confession, [page 313:] the real ground of her refusal, which was the representations of her friends in regard to Poe’s character. To this he replied, October 18, with a protestation that “with the exception of occasional follies and excesses which I bitterly lament but to which I have been driven by intolerable sorrow, and which are hourly committed by others without attracting any notice whatever — I can call to mind no act of my life which would bring a blush to my cheek — or to yours.“(1) He reminded her of the enemies he had made by his published criticisms, of the result of his libel case, and of her distance from his friends, and concluded with a sketch of the secluded Eden he had fancied for their abode (out of “Landor’s Cottage” which he was then writing), and expressions of his sorrow that his dream was not to be realized, of his deep devotion to herself, his utter hopelessness and the agony of his determination to abandon his fruitless wooing.

Soon after dispatching this letter, however, being on his way to Lowell to deliver a new lecture, he stopped at Providence, and, calling upon Mrs. Whitman, he again urged her to accept his hand and realize the last and brightest hope that remained to him in life. She promised still to enter tain his proposal, and to write to him at Lowell the decision at which she should arrive. Thither he went, and though he did not deliver his lecture, [page 314:] cemented his acquaintance with his new friends and spent some days at the village of Westford, where he rested, waited, strolled off to look at the hills, and enjoyed the society of “Annie,” whom he had taken into his confidence, and of her sister. The latter, who was then a school-girl, in her reminiscences of Poe, draws the familiar portrait of him, self-possessed, serious, deferential to all women, distinguished by the large, deep eyes and low baritone voice that charmed so many of them; but she adds nothing of novel interest except a quiet indoor scene, curiously illustrative of the speed with which he established a habit of intimacy with married women.

“My memory photographs him, sitting before an open wood fire, in the early autumn evening, gazing intently into the glowing coal, holding the hand of a dear friend — ‘Annie’ — while for a long tune no one spoke, and the only sound was the ticking of the tall old clock in the corner of the room.“(1)

About the second of November, having received an indecisive letter from Mrs. Whitman, who seems to have been always struggling between her inclination and her prudence, and having replied that he would call at her house on Saturday, November 4, he left this pleasant home.

Two weeks later he wrote to his friend at Lowell, referring to what happened after he bade her farewell, as follows: — [page 315:]

“I remember nothing distinctly from that moment until I found myself in Providence. I went to bed and wept through a long, long, hideous night of Despair When the day broke, I arose and endeavored to quiet my mind by a rapid walk in the cold, keen air — but all would not do — the Demon tormented me still. Finally, I procured two ounces of laudanum, and without returning to my hotel, took the cars back to Boston. When I arrived I wrote you a letter, in which I opened my whole heart to you to you. . . . I told you how my struggles were more than I could bear. . . . I then reminded you of that holy promise which was the last I exacted from you in parting — the promise that, under all circumstances, you would come to me on my bed of death. I implored you to come then, mentioning the place where I should be found in Boston. Having written this letter, I swallowed about half the laudanum, and hurried to the Post Office, intending not to take the rest until I saw you — for, I did not doubt for one moment, that Annie would keep her sacred promise. But I had not calculated on the strength of the laudanum, for, before I reached the Post Office my reason was entirely gone, and the letter was never put in. Let me pass over — my darling sister — the awful horrors that succeeded. A friend was at hand, who aided, and (if it can be called saving) saved me, but it is only within the last three days that I have been able to remember what occurred in that dreary interval. It appears that, after the laudanum was rejected from the stomach, I became calm, and to a casual observer, sane — so that I was suffered to go back to Providence.“(1) [page 316:]

On Tuesday morning, November 7, Poe called at Mrs. Whitman’s ; but she, having been alarmed, it is said, by his failure to keep his engagement the previous Saturday, which she distinctly ascribes to his having become intoxicated in Boston, refused to see him until noon, despite all the messages that he could invent. In the afternoon he again called, by appointment, and once more implored her to marry him at once and return with him to New York. He excused his excesses in Boston on the ground of his anxiety in respect to her decision, and on that and the following day continued to plead his cause with all his eloquent abandonment of language and manner. The details of the termination of this interview and of its consequences have been narrated by Mrs. Whitman herself with slight variations. The earliest account, so far as is known, is contained in a private letter of March, 1860. In this, after mentioning that Poe “had vehemently urged me to an immediate marriage,” she continues as follows: —

“As an additional reason for delaying a marriage which, under any circumstances, seemed to all my friends full of evil portents, I read to him some passages from a letter which I had recently received from one of his New York associates. He seemed deeply pained and wounded by the result of our interview, and left me abruptly, saying that if we met again it would be as strangers. He passed the evening in the bar-room of his hotel, and after a night of delirious frenzy, returned the [page 317:] next day to my mother’s house in a state of great mental excitement and suffering, declaring that his welfare for time and eternity depended on me. A physician, Dr. O. H. Oakie, was sent for by my mother, who, perceiving indications of brain fever, advised his removal to the house of his friend W. J. Pabodie, of this city, where he was kindly cared for until his recovery.“(1)

Later and possibly more accurate accounts change r some of these details and amplify others. In the interview of November 8, according to these, Mrs. Whitman showed Poe several letters, one of which especially moved him; on reading it, further confidential conversation being prevented by visitors, he took leave at once with a look of strange excitement, and made no reply to her invitation, “We shall see you this evening?” He did not, however, return, but sent a note of renunciation. On the next day when Poe called, he was so uncontrollable that his passionate appeals rang through the house. “Never have I heard anything so awful,” records Mrs. Whitman, “awful even to sublimity. It was long before I could nerve myself to see him. My mother was with him more than two hours before I entered the room. He hailed me as an angel sent to save him from perdition. . . . In the afternoon he grew more composed, and my mother sent for Dr. Oakie.“(2)

In consequence of this pitiable exhibition of [page 318:] Poe’s state, and with the hope of helping him in what seemed to be a last struggle for life itself, Mrs. Whitman consented within a few days to a conditional engagement. Forced to be content with this, Poe, having on his side repeated the promise of reform that he had given to every woman whom he had known intimately, returned to New York on November 14, and on the same evening wrote to assure his fiancée that he had not dared to break his pledge.

In spite, however, of his success in so difficult and indeed desperate a wooing, he felt little of the happiness of an accepted lover. He arrived at Fordham safely, but so changed in outward appearance by the wear of the last fortnight that Mrs. Clemm declares, in a letter to “Annie,” written two days later, he was hardly recognizable. All the previous night, according to the same authority, he had raved about this last lady, and the same day, November 16, he also wrote to her a letter which is inexplicable on the theory that he put any faith in the happy issue of his betrothal, since after giving the account, already quoted, of his suicidal attempt at Boston, he proposes to take a cottage for his mother and himself at Westford, where he might see her family every day and her self often, and concludes with a passionate appeal that she would come on to Fordham at once, if only for a week, saying, “I am so ill — so terribly, hopelessly ill in body and mind, that I feel I cannot [page 319:] live.“(1) In his next letter, however, written four days later, to Edward Valentine, the brother of the first Mrs. Allan, and containing merely a request for the loan of 1200 to start the “Stylus,” he expresses a strong hope of surmounting his difficulties. On November 21, 22, and 24, and presumably on other dates, he wrote to Mrs. Whit man, warning her against his slanderers, particularly the women, begging her to be true to him, as his sole hope was in her love, and drawing golden anticipations of their worldly triumph. Mean while, on November 23, he had written to “Annie’s” sister, already mentioned, in hardly less affectionate terms than to herself or Mrs. Whitman, protesting his love for “Annie” and imploring an answer to his former letter to the latter with a fervor amply indicated by a single line: “Her silence fills my whole soul with terror.“(2)

With such conflicting and exhausting emotions, which happily have not been further disclosed by his confidants, Poe passed another fortnight. On December 20 he left Fordham to give the fifth lecture before the Franklin Lyceum of Providence. At the New York station he met a lady, who said to him, “Mr. Poe, are you going to Providence to be married?” “I am going,” he replied, “to deliver a lecture on Poetry.” Then he added, after a moment, “That marriage may never take place.” His friend, Mr. Pabodie, in describing [page 320:] this interview, states that “circumstances existed which threatened to postpone the marriage indefinitely, if not altogether to prevent it.“(1) To these, which have not been divulged, Poe presumably referred. On reaching Providence he delivered the lecture, “The Poetic Principle,” the same evening, December 20, to a large audience. He remained in the city, and still pleaded with Mrs. Whitman to be married and to return with him to Fordham. He was stopping at the Earl House, and there occasion ally drank at the bar with some young men of the city. On Friday evening, December 22, he called at Mrs. Whitman’s , partially intoxicated; but, says Mr. Pabodie, who was present, he was quiet and said little. The next morning he was full of contrition and profuse of promises for the future, and he persuaded Mrs. Whitman to appoint Mon day evening for the ceremony. He then wrote to Dr. Crocker, engaging him to officiate, and to Mrs. Clemm, advising her to expect himself and his wife on Tuesday at Fordham. In the afternoon, however, Mrs. Whitman received a note from a friend, informing her that Poe had that morning again drunk at the bar of his hotel, and she therefore finally decided to break off the match. When Poe called, says Mrs. Whitman, “no token of the infringement of his promise was visible in his appearance or manner.“(2) This [page 321:] circumstance, however, she disregarded, and carried out her predetermined plan. “Gathering together some papers,” she says, “which he had intrusted to my keeping, I placed them in his hands without a word of explanation or reproach, and, utterly worn out and exhausted by the mental conflicts and anxieties and responsibilities of the last few days, I drenched my handkerchief with ether and threw myself on a sofa, hoping to lose myself in utter un consciousness. Sinking on his knees beside me, he entreated me to speak to him, — to speak one word, but one word. At last I responded, almost inaudibly, What can I say? Say that you love me, Helen. ‘I love you.’ These were the last words I ever spoke to him.“(1) Mr. Pabodie, who had accompanied Poe on this visit, went with him to the train, in which he left at once for Fordham. About three weeks later he addressed a last letter to Mrs. Whitman, in respect to some slanderous misrepresentations of his conduct in this affair, which had been put in circulation; but to this, which he had first sent unsealed to “Annie,” Mrs. Whitman made no reply, except, weeks afterward, indirectly by some “Stanzas for Music,” published in “The Metropolitan” for February, and now included, in a revised version, in her “Poems” as “The Island of Dreams.”

This episode has been narrated in minute detail because gross perversions of the facts were once [page 322:] common, and are not yet entirely suppressed; and in the relation it has not been possible to ignore, as one would desire to do, the letters written by Poe, during this period, to Mrs. Whitman, “Annie,” and her sister. If Poe’s correspondence “with other women — with Mrs. Osgood, for example, who terms his letters “divinely beautiful” — bore any resemblance to that of the last year of his life, fortune has been more than usually kind in destroying it. Not one word from these letters ought ever to have been published, but now it is too late to exclude them from the record. From this and other evidence it is plain that Poe, worn out by the ruin wrought on a romantic temperament by his unavailing struggle with poverty, insane indulgence, and secret disease, realizing now the hopelessness of his situation and oppressed by its loneliness, felt himself under an overpowering necessity of receiving human help, and sought “for it with an ardor undisciplined by years, in whatever quarter there was any promise. He had made up is mind, moreover, to adopt Mrs. Shew’s advice, and to try to save himself in what she had declared the only possible way, — marriage. A trivial incident — the anonymous exchange of a copy of verses — resulted in some slight relations between himself and a woman whose genius he had idealized, and he at once threw himself on her mercy. By his own declaration to Mrs. Whitman, hardly more than a week earlier he had been on the point of asking [page 323:] another woman to be his wife. Mrs. Whitman herself, notwithstanding her many virtues and admirable qualities of heart, so finely exercised in her lifelong devotion to Poe’s memory, was eccentric, susceptible to romantic fancies and mystical moods. She was in particular a believer in occult spiritual influences, and by this approach to her weakness Poe made his persuasive appeal. Both in his letters to her and in the recorded fragments of their conversation, he rhapsodized about their affinities, as if that were the sure chord to respond to his touch. Poe may have believed in what he professed, but amid all his transcendental raptures, as well as in his vindication of his character and his absurd anticipations of their worldly triumph, as he called it, although his helplessness and real suffering are plain to see, it is futile to look for any unmistakable expression of the love man bears to woman, any passage that rings true with genuine .devotion as does the single brief note written to his wife, Virginia. In all this correspondence there is a total. and absolute absorption of his mind in his own affairs, — his injuries, distresses, and hopes; indeed, to one familiar with his modes of expression, it seems almost an accident that these letters were addressed to -Mrs. Whitman. The language, confidential and studded with terms of endearment, is such as he habitually used both in written and spoken words to other women who he thought understood him. Clearly, so far as his need of sympathy, [page 324:] pity, consolation, was concerned, he put more trust in “Annie’s” heart, just as he wrote to her with more freedom and besought her aid with more simplicity. He had selected Mrs. Whitman as the object of his marital determination out of admiration for her poems, had asked her hand at the first interview, and, finding himself opposed by private defamation, had urged his suit with eager ness and force; but he apparently never believed he would succeed, and in this fear he pressed for a conclusion. In fact Poe seems less absorbed in a woman than infatuated with an idea, — an idea which, originating in fancy, fostered by his idealizing faculty, made practicable by accident, and acted on from impulse, was now supported by the strongest worldly motives, since his reputation, ambition, and fortune were highly interested in the issue.

Besides these considerations, it must be remembered how plain and frequent in both Poe’s acts and words at this period are the signs of a mind unstrung. To give but one additional instance, in judging the following passage to Mrs. Whitman, the only choice lies between Poe’s insincerity or his practical insanity: —

“Was I right, dearest Helen, in my first impression of you? — you know I have implicit faith in first impressions — was I right in the impression that you are ambitious? If so, and if you will have faith in me, I can and will satisfy your wildest desires. It would be a [page 325:] glorious triumph, Helen, for us — for you and me. I dare not trust my schemes to a letter — nor indeed have I time even to hint at them here. When I see you I will explain all — as far, at least, as I dare explain all my hopes even to you. Would it not be glorious, darling, to establish in America, the sole unquestionable aristocracy — that of intellect — to secure its supremacy to lead and to control it? All this I can do, Helen, and will — if you bid me — and aid me.“(1)

This, in the case of a man of Poe’s years and powers, is either chicanery or irresponsible maundering. Pie merely let his pen run, as in nearly all these letters, which, to characterize them plainly, record the confusion and weakness of a mind abandoned to an emotional mood, and occupied only by self-pity, intellectual pride, or despair. That he has been thus revealed to the world in his weakest moments and most wretched abasement is the fault of his friends; but keeping in view his state of mind and body, the origin and course of his wooing, and the surrounding circumstances, one finds it least difficult to believe that if Poe was sincere in his professions he was self-deceived, and to agree with Mrs. Osgood, who, having herself been the object of similar sentiments from him, declared of his dead wife, “I believe she was the only woman whom he ever truly loved.“(2) [page 326:]

On reaching Fordham Poe found Mrs. Clemm, who had never favored the match, overjoyed to see him unaccompanied by a wife, and, were it possible, more devoted to himself. He set to work, and wrote several hours each day; but, in consonance with the view that has been taken, although doubt less bitterly aggrieved, he exhibited no regret at the event which he had always considered likely, and no fidelity to the woman whose loyalty to his memory in after years was almost ideal. On January 11, 1849, he wrote to “Annie” as follows: —

“In spite of so many worldly sorrows — in spite of all the trouble and misrepresentation (so hard to bear) that Poverty has entailed on me for so long a time in spite of all this — I am so, so happy. . . . I need not tell you how great a burden is taken off my heart by my rupture with Mrs. W.; for I have fully made up my mind to break the engagement. . . . Nothing would have deterred me from the match but what I tell you.“(3)

Two weeks later he inclosed to the same correspondent a last letter to Mrs. Whitman, in which, after referring to the evil reports of him originating at Providence, he declared, “No amount of provocation shall induce me to speak ill of you [Mrs. Whitman], even in my own defense,“(2) — with directions to read it, seal it with wax, and mail it in Boston; and to this singularly indelicate act, which is excused only by the circumstance that [page 327:] “Annie’s” confidence in him had been shaken by these same slanders, he added the dishonor of a hasty expression of his pique in words too violently in contrast with the line just quoted to escape notice.

“Of one thing rest assured, from this day forth I shun the pestilential society of literary women. They are a heartless, unnatural, venomous, dishonorable set, with no guiding principle but inordinate self-esteem. Mrs. Osgood is the only exception I know.“(1)

Having thus freed himself of the affair, — for it is said that Mrs. Whitman’s name never afterwards passed his lips, — Poe busied himself with literature, which, he wrote to Thomas, there was no seducing him from; and he adds, “Nor would I abandon the hopes that still lead me on for all the gold in California.“(2) In the “Southern Literary Messenger” for February he published an unfavorable review of Lowell’s “A Fable for Critics,” and in “Godey’s” of the same month “Mellonta Tauta,” a revision of the introduction to “Eureka.” He sent, but fruitlessly, “Landor’s Cottage” to the “Metropolitan,” whose short career was distinguished by some lines addressed to him by Mrs. Osgood, and also by Mrs. Whitman in indirect acknowledgment of his last letter; and with like ill success fifty pages of “Marginalia” (possibly the editor had discovered their second-hand character) [page 328:] to the “Messenger,” and “Critics and Criticism” to the “Whig.” Poe was elated with his immediate prospects; and he had good reason, if there was no exaggeration in his statement that he had made permanent engagements with every magazine in America (except Peterson’s “National”), including a Cincinnati magazine called the “Gentlemen’s,” at a minimum price of five dollars per Graham page. On February 6 he finished “The Bells,” presumably the second draft, and the next day “Hop-Frog,” a tale of grotesque humor out of Berner’s Froissart, published in April in the “Flag of our Union,” a Boston weekly. His only other publications that have been traced were the ghoulish lines “To [[For]] Annie” (reprinted by Willis) and the sonnet “To my Mother,” both in the same cheap Boston weekly, and, as it would seem, in April; and lastly, in “Sartain’s Magazine” for March, “A Valentine,” the anagrammatic poem to Mrs. Osgood. Perhaps “El Dorado,” the only poem of which the first publication is unknown, belongs to this same period.

These various writings probably represent Poe’s literary activity for some time before this spring, and this is certainly the case with the only noticeable pieces among them, “The Domain of Arnheim” and “Landor’s Cottage,” called its pendant. The latter closed the series of the landscape studies, which make as distinct a group in Poe’s imaginative work as the tales of mystery, ratiocination, or conscience, [page 329:] since in these the sensuous element, which was primary in his genius, found its simplest and most unrestrained expression. The series had culminated, however, in “The Domain of Arnheim,” in which the brilliancy and flood and glow of pure color are a mere reveling of the aesthetic sense; and so gorgeous is the vision and thrown out in so broad an expanse that, although only a description, the piece is as unique among works of imagination as is “The Black Cat” or “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The landscape that the mention of the latter recalls, and much more the spectral wood land and tarn of “Ulalume,” serve to measure by momentary contrast with the scenes of faery in “Arnheim” the range of Poe’s fantasy, and at the same time to bring out strongly the extent to which his work is dependent for its effect directly on the senses, however abnormally excited. In fact the impression made in the present case is solely spectacular. The landscape sketches, too, which belong to the dark period of Poe’s career, afford some pleasant relief to the paltrinesses, the miseries, and debasements of his ordinary life. The idyllic sweet ness of “Eleonora,” the quiet beauty of “The Island of the Fay” and “Morning on the Wissahiccon,” opened round Poe, as he was seen in his Philadelphia days, the only prospect beyond the mean walls of the newspaper office and the tenement house. Now in his yet more wretched years he was not deprived of his poet’s birthright in the inheritance [page 330:] of nature; rather, as in this mythical “Arnheim,” he indulged most purely his delight in the contemplation of loveliness for its own sake; and as he imagined the charming cottage of Landor just at the time when his letters exhibit him in his lowest spirits, it would seem that his country rambles still gave him an outlook on the things of beauty, of light and calm and joy. No life can continue in darkness and turmoil such as these past months would have been, had they been filled only with the incidents and passions of the written story. Of the bursts of sunshine and pauses of calm that checkered this portion of Poe’s days, of the afternoons and frequent nights of summer whose beauty he drank in with senses dulled only by the lotus-flower, these landscape studies are the open secret.

While Poe was thus engaged a second female foe had arisen in the home of his Lowell friends in the person of a woman who had helped to relieve his necessities in 1847. She busied herself so successfully with disseminating the current slanders respecting him as to disturb the minds of the family, and to alienate, at least partially, the good will of the head of the house. Poe, on being in formed of this new misfortune, accounted for the gossip’s hostility by saying that he had left her abruptly in consequence of her disparagement of “Annie,” and added that he thought it hard that such a quarrel should prejudice him in the latter’s mind. He was so far moved by the attitude [page 331:] assumed by her husband that he gave up a pro posed visit to his house and the plan of settling near these new friends permanently, and he even professed to think it necessary that the correspondence should cease. He wrote, “I cannot and will not have it on my conscience that I have interfered with the domestic happiness of the only being in the whole world, whom I have loved at the same time with truth and with purity.“(1)

Such an abrupt termination to one of the happiest friendships of his life was fortunately avoided. Poe was able to sustain his story, and after a few weeks the tale bearer, whose connection with his family seems to have been unbroken, wrote to him that she was about to publish a novel recording their relations in detail in such a way as to make his own character appear noble and generous, and that she would come on to Fordham at once to avail herself of any suggestions from him. What became of this novel, or what reception the lady’s proposals met with, is un known; but as in the sequel, even after Poe’s death, she still busied herself in scandal, it is likely that there was no reconciliation.

In literary matters the spring had brought disappointment. The “Columbia” and “Union” failed; the “Whig” and “Democratic” stopped payment; the “Messenger,” which was in Poe’s debt, remained in arrears; another publication, with which he had engaged for ten dollars weekly, [page 332:] was forced to decline contributions; with “Godey’s” he had quarreled: and so, in his own words, he was “reduced to Sartain and Graham, both very precarious.” His many engagements, on which he had built so hopefully a few months before, had dwindled away; and to add to his misfortunes he had again been seriously ill. “I thought,” wrote Mrs. Clemm to “Annie,” “he would die several times. God knows I wish we were both in our graves. It would, I am sure, be far better.“(1) A deep gloom settled over his mind. He himself wrote to the same lady, in denying that this arose from his literary disappointments, — “My sadness is unaccountable, and this makes me the more sad. I am full of dark forebodings. Nothing cheers or comforts me. My life seems wasted — the future looks a dreary blank; but I will struggle on and hope against hope.‘“(2) After this he visited his friends at Lowell, apparently in May and there wrote the third draft of “The Bells;” he soon re turned to New York, with the expectation of going the old scheme, — the establishment of the “Stylus,” for “Winch he was now arranging a partnership with a Mr. Patterson, in accordance with which it would be published simultaneously in New York and St. Louis on January 1, I860. He was delayed for some weeks, during which his despondency was marked and habitual. Before leaving Fordham, apparently led by [page 333:] the palpable signs of his danger, he wrote requests that Griswold would superintend the collection of his works, and that Willis would write such a biographical notice as should be deemed necessary. On June 29, having completed his arrangements for his journey, he went to New York in company with Mrs. Clemm, to pass the night at the house of Mrs. Lewis, the poetess, whose works he had lately reviewed, and with whom during the past year an intimacy of the old kind had sprung up. “He seemed very sad,” wrote this lady, “and retired early. On leaving the next morning he took my hand in his, and, looking in my face, said, Dear Stella, my much beloved friend. You truly under stand and appreciate me — I have a presentiment that I shall never see you again. I must leave to day for Richmond. If I never return, write my life. You can and will do me justice.‘“(1) Mrs. Clemm accompanied him to the steamboat, and on parting he said to her, “God bless you, my own darling mother. Do not fear for Eddy! See how good I will be while I am away from you, and will [sic] come back to love and comfort you.“(2)

Poe stopped at Philadelphia, where he suffered a severe attack of delirium tremens, during which he was taken care of by Mr. John Sartain, the proprietor of Sartain’s Magazine, who still remembers the visions about which he raved and the persistence with which he besought him for laudanum, [page 334:] Poe recovering he proceeded to Richmond and there remained through July, August, and September, /delivered his lecture on “The Poetic Principle,” in Richmond and Norfolk, canvassed for the “Stylus,” / and enjoyed the society of his old and new friends. I He stayed at the Madison Tavern, a once fashionable but then decayed hotel, and he visited much among his acquaintances, by whom he was well received, and, indeed, lionized. At Duncan’s Lodge, especially, the residence of the Mackenzies, who had adopted his sister Rosalie, he was made at home; and at Robert Sully’s, the artist whom he had befriended in his early schooldays, and at Mrs. Talley s, he passed many of those hours which he said were the happiest he had known for years. To Miss Susan Archer Talley, now Mrs. Weiss, who then looked on Poe with the romantic interest of a young poetess as well as with a woman’s sympathy with sadness so confessed as his, is due the most life-like and detailed portrait of him that exists. Erect in stature, cold, impassive, almost haughty in manner, soberly and fastidiously clad in black, to a stranger’s eye he wore a look of distinction rather than beauty; on nearer approach one was more struck by the strongly marked head, with the broad brow, the black curly hair brushed back, the pallid, careworn, and in repose the somewhat haggard features, while beneath the concealment of a short black moustache one saw the slight habitual contraction of the mouth and occasionally the quick, [page 335:] almost imperceptible curl of the upper lip in scorn — a sneer, it is said, that was easily excited; but the physical fascination of the man was felt, at last, to lie in his eyes, large, jet-black, with a steel-gray iris, clear as crystal, restless, ever expanding and contracting as, responsive with intelligence and emotion, they bent their full, open, steady, unshrinking gaze from under the long black lashes that shaded them. On meeting his friends Poe’s face would brighten with pleasure, his features lost the worn look and his reserve its coldness; to men he was cordial, to women he showed a deference that seems always to have suggested a reminiscence of chivalry; and in society with the young he forgot his melancholy, listened with amusement, or joined in their repartees with evident pleasure, though he would soon leave them for a seat in the portico, or a walk in the grounds with a single friend. To the eyes of his young girlish friend he seemed invariably cheer ful, and often even playful in mood. Once only was he noticeably cast down; it was when visiting the old deserted Mayo place, called The Hermitage, where he used to go frequently in his youth, and the scene was so picturesque that it is worth giving at length: —

“On reaching the place our party separated, and Poe and myself strolled slowly about the grounds. I observed that he was unusually silent and preoccupied, and, attributing it to the influence of memories associated with the place, forbore to interrupt him. He passed slowly [page 336:] by the mossy bench called the ‘lovers’ seat, beneath two aged trees, and remarked, as we turned toward the garden, ‘There used to be white violets here.’ Searching amid the tangled wilderness of shrubs, we found a few late blossoms, some of which he placed carefully between the leaves of a note-book. Entering the deserted house, he passed from room to room with a grave, abstracted look, and removed his hat, as if involuntarily, on enter ing the saloon, where in old times many a brilliant company had assembled. Seated in one of the deep windows, over which now grew masses of ivy, his memory must have borne him back to former scenes, for he repeated the familiar lines of Moore: —

‘I feel like one

Who treads alone

Some banquet hall deserted,’

and paused, with the first expression of real sadness that I had ever seen on his face. The light of the setting sun shone through the drooping ivy-boughs into the ghostly room, and the tattered and mildewed paper-hangings, with their faded tracery of rose-garlands, waved fitfully in the autumn breeze. An inexpressibly eerie feeling came over me, which I can even now recall, and as I stood there, my old childish idea of the poet as a spirit of mingled light and darkness recurred strongly to my imagination.“(1)

Poe talked with his young friend about his plans and hopes; about the restrictions on criticism which are imposed by personal friendship and editorial prepossessions, and from which even he could not wholly [page 337:] free himself; about his New York friends, the misconstructions his nature suffered under even among those who knew him, and other confidential topics that the charm of his listener and his own readiness to indulge in quick intimacies, beguiled him into. In particular it should be noticed that he showed her a letter from Griswold, accepting his commission to edit his works in case of his sudden death.

These reminiscences of quiet mornings in the grounds of Duncan’s Lodge and of social evenings at the houses of various friends do not contain the whole story of this summer. Twice during this visit, it is said, Poe again suffered severe illness in consequence of intemperance, and though he recovered under kind and skillful care, he was told by his physician, Dr. Carter, that another such indulgence would probably prove fatal; and in the course of a long conversation in which Poe was moved to tears he convinced this gentleman of his earnest desire to overcome his temptations and of his unavailing struggle against them, though he had still, it seems, courage to keep up hope for the last trial.

During these months, too, he renewed his attentions to Mrs. Shelton and asked her hand in marriage. There is no room to doubt that in this act he obeyed worldly motives; for though there had been romantic passages between them in schooldays, there is no likelihood that these would have prevailed on Poe to unite himself with a woman who is described as of plain manners, older than himself, [page 338:] and with no attraction except wealth. It cannot have escaped attention that Poe uniformly attributed his ill-success in the world solely to his poverty; in later years especially this had become so settled a conviction in his mind that in his letters to “Annie,” “I must get rich, get rich,” is a refrain so constant as to seem the purpose he had most at heart; he needed money to secure his shattered health against the necessities of hard labor for a support precarious at best, and especially to establish the “Stylus,” the scheme he pursued as a phantom. Mrs. Clemm believed that his motive was to provide a home and friends for herself. To her Mrs. Whitman wrote, “I think I can under stand all the motives that influenced Edgar in those last days and can see how the desire to provide a home and friends for you, swayed him in all.“(1) His engagement to Mrs. Shelton was commonly talked of, and is said to have been mentioned in the papers, greatly to his displeasure; and although Mrs. Shelton has denied that a formal agreement existed, and acknowledges only a partial understanding, she began a correspondence with Mrs. Clemm the first letter(2) of which is not to be explained on any other theory than that she meant to marry Poe. The most authentic indication of the actual state of affairs is Poe’s letter to Mrs. Clemm, September [page 339:] 18, 1849, in which, it will be noticed, his peculiar secretiveness is markedly illustrated by his directing her to address him under a fictitious name in Philadelphia.


TUESDAY, September 18, 49.


On arriving here last night from Norfolk I received both your letters, including Mrs. Lewis’s. I cannot tell you the joy they gave me to learn at least that you are well and hopeful. May God forever bless you, my dear dear Muddy. — Elmira has just got home from the country. I spent last evening with her. I think she loves me more devotedly than any one I ever knew and I cannot help loving her in return. Nothing is as yet definitely settled — ] and it will not do to hurry matters. I lectured at Norfolk on Monday and cleared enough to settle my bill here at the Madison House with $2 over. I had a highly fashionable audience, but Norfolk is a small place and there were two exhibitions the same night. Next Monday I lecture again here and expect to have a large audience. On Tuesday I start for Philadelphia to attend to Mrs. Loud’s poems — and possibly on Thursday I may start for New York. If p do I will go straight over to Mrs. Lewis’s and send for you. It will be better for me not to go to Fordham — don‘t you think so? Write immediately in reply and direct to Philadelphia. For fear I should not get the letter sign no name and address it to E. S. T. Grey Esqre. If possible I will get married before I start, but there is no telling. Give my dearest love to Mrs. L. My poor poor Muddy I am still unable to send you even one [page 340:] dollar, — but keep [up heart I hope that our troubles are nearly over. I saw John Beatty in Norfolk.

God bless and protect you, my own darling Muddy. I showed your letter to Elmira, and she says “it is such a darling precious letter that she loves you for it already.”

Your own Eddy.

Don‘t forget to write immediately to Philadelphia so that your letter will be there when I arrive.

The papers here are praising me to death — and I have been received everywhere with enthusiasm. Be sure and preserve all the printed scraps I have] sent you and keep up my file of the Literary World.(1)

It has been stated that a disagreement arose between Poe and Mrs. Shelton in consequence of her expressed intention of keeping control of her property, and that he refused to give up her letters to him unless she would first surrender his; and this circumstance is alleged to be the basis of the scandalous story still circulated respecting Poe’s levying blackmail on a woman and being beaten by her brother. Of the truth of this at any time in his life, there is no indication. Neither is there any evidence that any difference arose between the two at all. Poe is said to have himself written to Mrs. Clemm that the ceremony was fixed for October 17.(2) On any other supposition than that a practical engagement still existed, it is inexplicable that after Poe’s death Mrs. Shelton should have gone [page 341:] into mourning, as she did, or have written a letter of condolence to Mrs. Clemm, with whom she had no acquaintance, of such a character that the latter should have written to “Annie” regarding it, “I have received a letter from poor Elmira; oh, how you will pity her when you read it!“(1) Moreover, Poe’s statement to his mother-in-law agrees with his promise to his friends at Richmond that he would return within two weeks, and with his ex pressed intention to reside thereafter in that city, although this would necessarily involve the abandonment of his plan in respect to the “Stylus,” which his present partner in the enterprise, Mr. E. H. N. Patterson, in a letter dated August 21, proposed to issue, according to the plan, simultaneously in New York and St. Louis, on July 1, 1850.

In order to wind up his affairs in New York and to bring Mrs. Clemm to Richmond, as preliminaries of this marriage, Poe decided to go North. On the day before leaving, probably Saturday, September 29, he passed the evening at Mrs. Talley’s, where he had a long conversation with her daughter, in which he spoke of his future, “seeming to anticipate it with eager delight, like that of youth,” and, Mrs. Weiss adds, “he declared that the last few weeks in the society of his old and new friends had been the happiest that he had known for many years, and that when he again left New York he [page 342:] should there leave behind all the trouble and vexation of his past life.“(1) That night he spent with his friends at Duncan’s Lodge, and sat late at his window, smoking and silent. The next day he passed in the city with some male friends, and late in the evening left Dr. Carter’s office to take supper across the street, at Sadler’s restaurant. There he met some acquaintances, who kept company with him until very late and then accompanied him to the boat, where they left him sober and cheerful. If, as seems probable, this was on Sunday night, he would have arrived in Baltimore late on Monday or early Tuesday. All that is known of his movements is that he called at Dr. N. C. Brooks’s on an afternoon, partially intoxicated, and, not finding his friend, went away. It is reported, too, that he took the train to Philadelphia, but, being in the wrong car, was brought back from Havre de Grace in a state of stupor. On what foundation this story rests cannot now be deter mined. It is also said that he dined with some old military friends, became intoxicated, and while in that state was captured by politicians, who kept him stupefied, and made him vote at several places on Wednesday, election day. The basis of this tradition, too, is now lost. The only certain event after his call on Brooks, which, according to the hypoth esis here made, was on Tuesday, is that on Wednes day, at some time after noon, he was recognized at [page 343:] one of the rum-shops used for voting, Kyan’s Fourth “Ward Polls, by a printer, who wrote the following note: —

BALTIMORE CITY, Oct. 3, 1849.

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s Fourth Ward Polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress. He says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you he is in need of immediate assistance.



Dr. Snodgrass called at Ryan’s and had Poe taken to the Washington Hospital, where he was. admitted, unconscious, at 5 p. M.; his relatives in the city were notified of his condition, and gave him such attention as was possible. He remained, except for a brief interval, in an alarming delirium, and on Sunday, about five o clock, he died. The story of these last days, the catastrophe of “the motley drama,” taken from contemporary documents, is as follows: —


November 15, 49.



I take the earliest opportunity of respond ing to yours of the 9th inst., which came to hand by yesterday’s mail. [page 344:]

But now for the required intelligence. Presuming you are already aware of the malady of which Mr. Poe died, I need only state concisely the particulars of his circumstances from his entrance until his decease.

When brought to the Hospital he was unconscious of his condition — who brought him or with whom he had been associating. He remained in this condition from five o‘clock in the afternoon — the hour of his admission — until three next morning. This was on the 3d October.

To this state succeeded tremor of the limbs, and at first a busy but not violent or active delirium — constant talking — and vacant converse with spectral and imaginary objects on the walls. His face was pale and his whole person drenched in perspiration. We were unable to induce tranquillity before the second day after his admission.

Having left orders with the nurses to that effect, I was summoned to his bedside so soon as consciousness supervened, and questioned him in reference, to his family, place of residence, relatives, etc. But his answers were incoherent and unsatisfactory. He told me however, he had a wife in Richmond (which I have since learned was not the fact), that he did not know when he left that city or what had become of his trunk of clothing. Wishing to rally and sustain his now fast sinking hopes, I told him I hoped that in a few days he would be able to enjoy the society of his friends here and I would be most happy to contribute in every possible way to his ease and comfort. At this he broke out with much energy, and said the best thing his best friend could do would be to blow out his brains with a pistol [page 345:] — that when he beheld his degradation he was ready to sink into the earth,” etc. Shortly after giving expression to these words Mr. Poe seemed to doze, and I left him for a short time. When I returned I found him in a violent delirium, resisting the efforts of two nurses to keep him in bed. This state continued until Saturday evening (he was admitted on Wednesday), when he commenced calling for one u Reynolds,” which he did through the night until three on Sunday morning. At this time a very decided change began to affect him. Having become enfeebled from exertion he became quiet and seemed to rest for a short time; then gently moving his head, he said, “Lord help my poor soul,” and expired!

This, Madam, is as faithful an account as I am able to furnish from the Record of his case.

His remains were visited by some of the first individuals of the city, many of them anxious to have a lock of his hair.

Respectfully yours,

J. J. MORAN, Res. Phys.(1)

The undistinguished funeral took place on Monday, October 8, and three days later Neilson Poe wrote an account of it to Mrs. Clemm: — [page 346:]

BALTIMORE, October 11, 1849.


He died on Sunday morning, about five o clock, at the Washington Medical College, where he had been since the Wednesday preceding. At what time he arrived in this city, where he spent the time he was here, or under what circumstances, I have been unable to ascertain. It appears that on Wednesday he was seen and recognized at one of the places of election in old town, and that his condition was such as to render it necessary to send him to the College, where he was tenderly nursed until the time of his death. As soon as I heard that he was at the College I went over; but his physician did not think it advisable that I should see him, as he was very excitable. The next day I called, and sent him changes of linen etc., and was gratified to learn that he was much better, and I was never so much shocked, in my life , as when, on Sunday morning, notice was sent me that he was dead. Mr. Herring and myself immediately took the necessary steps for his funeral, which took place on Monday afternoon at four o‘clock. . . . The body was followed to the grave by Mr. Herring, Dr. Snodgrass, Mr. Z. Collins Lee (an old classmate) and myself. The service was performed by the Rev. William T. D. Clemm, a son of James S. Clemm. Mr. Herring and myself have sought, in vain, for the trunk and clothes of Edgar — there is reason to believe that he was robbed of them, whilst in such a condition as to render him insensible of his loss. . . .

Truly your friend and servant, NEILSON POE.

MRS. MARIA CLEMM(1) [page 347:]

Shortly after Poe’s death his remaining Writings were published by the editors or friends who had copies. To mention only the first issue in each case, “Annabel Lee,” the simplest and sweetest of his ballads, appeared in the New York “Tribune,” “The Bells,” that wonderful onomatopoetic experiment, in “Sartain’s” for November, an essay “On Critics and Criticism” in “Graham’s” for January, 1850, and in October following, “The Poetic Principle” in “Sartain’s.” The press had few notices of his loss; and, had it not been for the intense energy of Griswold’s delineation of him in the “Tribune,” a piece of writing that has the power of genius and cannot be forgotten while his memory lives, there would have been little to mark his death in contemporary papers. In consequence of this attack, however, Willis made a kind defense of his friend in the “Home Journal.” Notwithstanding this incidental proof of Griswold’s temper and predisposition toward Poe, the latter’s papers, which contained ample materials for a biography, were put into his hands. After having edited two volumes of Poe’s Works, Griswold prefixed his notorious memoir to the third volume, and at a later time published the fourth and last volume. The editing was poorly done, and in consequence there is at present no accurate or complete edition of Poe’s works, since later editors have taken Griswold’s work as a basis. The memoir aroused a stormy discussion; the poet’s friends, Wilmer, Neal, [page 348:] and Graham, had already come to his defense; and since then many others of his acquaintances have come forward from time to time to tell whatever good they knew of him, so that there is at present no fund of personal reminiscence about any other American man of letters that can compare in full ness, detail, and variety with that regarding Poe.

The story that has now been told, in which has been substantially incorporated whatever knowledge of Poe was accessible, has shown, it is hoped, the folly of any summary view of his character. Where the fault lay those who are bold to take the scales of justice may determine; the simple fact is that Poe, being highly endowed, well-bred, and educated better than his fellows, had more than once fair opportunities, brilliant prospects, and groups of benevolent, considerate, and active friends, and repeatedly forfeited prosperity and even the homely honor of an honest name. He ate opium and drank liquor; whatever was the cause, these were instruments of his ruin, and before half his years were run they had done their work with terrible thoroughness — he was a broken man. He died un der circumstances of exceptional ugliness, misery, and pity, but not accidentally, for the end and the manner of it were clearly near and inevitable. He left a fame destined to long memory, and about it has grown up an idealized legend, the elements of which are not far to seek; but in the first lines of the literary history of a young nation, the [page 349:] truth is better than a lie, however gilded, and in the case of genius, that so easily gathers romantic power over the heart and wins its devotion, candor is a social virtue. On the roll of our literature Poe’s name is inscribed with the few foremost, and in the world at large his genius is established as valid among: all men. Much as he derived nurture from other sources he was the son of Coleridge by the weird touch in his imagination, by the principles of his analytic criticism, and the speculative bent of his mind. An artist primarily, whose skill, helped by the finest sensitive and perceptive powers in himself, was developed by thought, patience, and endless self-correction into a subtle deftness of hand unsurpassed in its own work, he be longed to the men of culture instead of those of originally perfect power; but being gifted with the dreaming instinct, the myth-making faculty, the allegorizing power, and with no other poetic element of high genius, he exercised his art in a region of vague feeling, symbolic ideas, and fantastic imagery, and wrought his spell largely through sensuous effects of color, sound, and gloom, heightened by lurking but unshaped suggestions of mysterious meanings. Now and then gleams of light and stretches of lovely landscape shine out, but for the most part his mastery was over dismal, superstitious, and waste places. In imagination, as in action, his was an evil genius; and in its realms of revery he dwelt alone. Except the wife who idolized [page 350:] him and the mother who cared for him, no one touched his heart in the years of his manhood, and at no time was love so strong in him as to rule his life; as he was self-indulgent, he was self-absorbed, and outside of his family no kind act, no noble affection, no generous sacrifice is recorded of him. Many men, it is true, held him in kind regard, and many women, subjected by his romantic sentiment, remained loyal to his memory; but these winning attractions never overcame the subtle power within that made him unable to establish a natural human relation, to keep continuously on living terms with any one, except the inmates of his family. Solitary as he was, proud and selfish, how could he kindle his works with the vital interest of humanity? Other interests they have, but not this crowning one which is the supreme excellence of the works of men. Thus ever more remote from mankind ran the currents of his life and genius, interminably commingling, until their twin streams, glassing at last the desolation they had so often prophetically imaged, choked and stagnant in midway of their course, sank into the waste. The pitiful justice of Poe’s fate, the dark immortality of his fame, were accomplished.


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 278:]

1. Ingram, ii. 115.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 281:]

1. Poe to Willis. MS.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 285:]

1. Putnam’s Magazine, iv. 471. N. S. (October, 1869.)

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 286:]

1. Eureka: A Prose Poem. By Edgar A. Poe. New York: Geo. P. Putnam. 1848: pp. 143.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 287:]

1. Works, ii. 447.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 293:]

1. Works, i. 132.

2. Ingram, ii. 144.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 301:]

1. Poe to ——. Ingram, ii. 141.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 303:]

1. Génie du Christianisme. Par M. le Vicomte de Châteaubriand. Paris, P. Pourrat Frères, 1836: tome ii., 261.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 304:]

1. Griswold, xxxviii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 305:]

1. Ingram, ii. 156.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 307:]

1. Ingram, ii. 157-159.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 309:]

1. Poe to Mrs. Whitman, no date. Ingram, ii. 161, 162.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 310:]

1. Ingram, ii. 165.

2. Cf. Mrs. Whitman to R. H. Stoddard, September 30, 1872. Stoddard, cxxxiv. - cxxxix.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 313:]

1. Ingram, ii. 171.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 314:]

1. Ingram, ii. 190.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 315:]

1. Poe to “Annie,” November 16, 1848. Ingram, ii. 193, 194.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 317:]

1. Mrs. Whitman to ——. MS.

2. Ingram, ii. 176.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 319:]

1. Ingram, ii. 194.

2. Ingram, ii. 196.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 320:]

1. Pabodie to Griswold, June 11, 1852. Gill, 224.

2. Ingram, ii. 184, 185.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 321:]

1. Ingram, ii. 184, 185.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 325:]

1. Poe to Mrs. Whitman, November 22, 1848. Ingram, ii. 180, 181.

2. Griswold, liii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 326:]

1. Ingram, ii. 202.

2. Ingram, ii. 185.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 327:]

1. Ingram, ii. 205.

2. Poe to Thomas, February 14, 1849. MS. copy.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 331:]

1. Poe to “Annie,” February 19, 1849. Ingram, ii. 208.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 332:]

1. Ingram, ii. 215.

2. Ingram, ii. 214.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 333:]

1. Ingram, ii. 220.

2. Ingram, ii. 221.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 336:]

1. Scribner’s Magazine, xv. 5, p. 712 (March, 1878).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 338:]

1. Mrs. Whitman to Mrs. Clemm, April 17, 1859. MS.

2. This letter, of which the author has a copy, is too private for publication.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 340:]

1. Poe to Mrs. Clemm, MS.; where bracketed, MS. copy.

2. Didier, 110.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 341:]

1. Mrs. Clemm to “Annie,” October 17, 1849. Ingram, ii. 241.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 342:]

1. Scribner’s Magazine, xv. 5, p. 713 (March, 1878).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 343:]

1. N. Y. Herald, March 27, 1881.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 345:]

1. Moran to Mrs. Clemm, MS. The omitted portions are of no interest. The different dates and additional circumstances given many years afterward by Dr. Moran, must give way to the statements here made when the event was fresh in his memory.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 346:]

1. Neilson Poe to Mrs. Clemm. MS. The omitted portions are of no interest.





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