Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 17,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1880), pp. 98-128


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[page 98:]

CHAPTER XVII.

MARIE LOUISE SHEW.

THE facts of Poe’s poverty, illness, and inability to write soon became public property. One consequence of these circumstances being published was the outbreak in the papers of an epidemic of literary and personal abuse of the unprotected poet. In another instance, an implacable woman, still smarting under a hastily-uttered and bitterly-repented remark of Poe’s,* actually tortured his dying wife by sending her some of the scurrilous attacks on her unfortunate husband, and by so doing, so the poet firmly believed, shortened her life. But there was a bright side to this too gloomy picture. Commenting upon a paragraph in the columns of a daily contemporary that, without Poe’s knowledge or connivance, had brought the poor proud poet’s unhappy circumstances before the world, N. P. Willis made an appeal to the public on his friend’s behalf. In this article, which appeared in the Home Journal, he took the opportunity of suggesting [page 99:] that the poet’s case was a strong argument in favour of founding an hospital for well-educated persons in reduced circumstances. Some of Willis’s remarks are worth repetition, although it is to be believed that, at the time, they had Little other effect than making Poe’s misery still more notorious. He said: —

“The feeling we have long entertained on this subject has been freshened by a recent paragraph in the Express, announcing that Mr. Edgar Allan Poe and his wife were both dangerously ill, and suffering for want of the common necessaries of life. Here is one of the finest scholars, one of the most original men of genius, and one of the most industrious of the literary profession of our country, whose temporary suspension of labour, from bodily illness, drops him immediately to a level with the common objects of public charity. There is no intermediate stopping-place — no respectful shelter where, with the delicacy due to genius and culture, he might secure aid, unadvertised, till, with returning health, he could resume his labours and his unmortified sense of independence. He must either apply to individual friends — (a resource to which death is sometimes almost preferable) — or suffer down to the level where Charity receives claimants, but where Rags and Humiliation are the only recognised Ushers to her presence. Is this right I Should there not be, in all highly-civilised communities, an institution designed expressly for educated and refined objects of charity — a hospital, a retreat, a home of seclusion and comfort, the sufficient claims to which would be such susceptibilities as are violated by the above-mentioned appeal in a daily paper?” [page 100:]

This suggestive article of Willis speedily reached Poe’s hands. He was intensely horrified at having his private matters thus thrust before the public, and immediately sent the following letter to the editor of the Home Journal, in which publication it appeared, within a week after the article that had called it forth: —

“MY DEAR WILLIS, — The paragraph which has been put in circulation respecting my wife’s illness, my own, my poverty, &c., is now lying before, me; together with the beautiful lines by Mrs. Locke and those by Mrs. ——, to which the paragraph has given rise, as well as your kind and manly comments in the Home Journal.

“The motive of the paragraph I leave to the conscience of him or her who wrote it or suggested it. Since the thing is done, however, and since the concerns of my family are thus pitilessly thrust before the public, I perceive no mode of escape from a public statement of what is true and what is erroneous in the report alluded to.

“That my wife is ill, then, is true; and you may imagine with what feelings I add that this illness, hopeless from the first, has been heightened and precipitated by the reception, at two different periods, of anonymous letters — one enclosing the paragraph now in question; the other, those published calumnies of Messrs. —— , for which I yet hope to find redress in a court of justice.*

“Of the facts, that I myself have been long and dangerously [page 101:] ill, and that my illness has been a well understood thing among my brethren of the press, the best evidence is afforded by the innumerable paragraphs of personal and cf literary abuse with which I have been latterly assailed. This matter, however, will remedy itself. At the very first blush of my new prosperity, the gentlemen who toadied me in the old will recollect themselves and toady me again. You, who know me, will comprehend that I speak of these things only as having served, in a measure, to lighten the gloom of unhappiness, by a gentle and not unpleasant sentiment of mingled pity, merriment, and contempt.

“That, as the inevitable consequence of so long an illness, I have. been in want of money, it would be folly in me to deny but that I have ever materially suffered from privation, beyond the extent of my capacity for suffering, is not altogether true. That I am ‘without friends’ is a gross calumny, which I am sure you never could have believed, and which a thousand noble-hearted men would have good right never to forgive me for permitting to pass unnoticed and undenied. Even in the city of New York I could have no difficulty in naming a hundred persons, to each of whom — when the hour for speaking had arrived — I could and would have applied for aid and with unbounded confidence, and with absolutely no sense of humiliation.

“I do not think, my dear Willis, that there is any need of my saying more. I am getting better, and may add — if it be any comfort to my enemies — that I have little fear of getting worse. The truth is, I have a great deal to do; and I have made up my mind not to die till it is done. — Sincerely yours,

“EDGAR A. POE.

December 30th, 1846.”

Whilst the paragraph which invoked this protest [page 102:] from the proud, unfortunate, poet, was running the usual newspaper rounds during all those dreadful days whilst his wife’s life was ebbing so rapidly — Poe himself was ill, and utterly unable to write anything but the most urgent and imperative letters, such as the above. The few papers of his which were published during this sad interval, as, for instance, the “Marginalia,” had been completed and sold several months before publication to the respective magazines, as, indeed, appears to have been the fate pretty generally of all his later articles. The last of the “Literati” was issued in the October number of the Lady’s Book, and “The Cask of Amontillado,” a tale of deep-studied, implacable revenge, was the poet’s contribution for November to that magazine.

It was Poe’s intention — an intention he never lived to carry out — to republish the critical sketches from the Lady’s Book, but greatly revised, in book form, as: —

THE LITERATI:

Some honest opinions about

AUTORIAL MERITS AND DEMERITS,

with

OCCASIONAL WORDS OF PERSONALITY.

Together with

MARGINALIA, SUGGESTIONS, AND ESSAYS,

by

EDGAR A. POE. [page 103:]

“If I have in any point receded from what is commonly received, it hath been for the purpose of proceeding melius and not in aliud.” — Lord Bacon.

“Truth, peradventure, by force, may for a time be trodden down, but never, by any means, whatsoever, can it be trodden out.” — Lord Coke.

In an extremely interesting letter which Poe wrote on the 15 th of December, to a rare and valued correspondent, he thus, amongst other matters, alludes to some of these literary projects: —

“MY DEAR ——, — By way of beginning this letter, let me say a word or two of apology for not having sooner replied to your letters of June 9th and October 13th. For more than six months I have been ill-for the greater part of that time, dangerously so, and quite unable to write even an ordinary letter. My magazine papers appearing in this interval were all in the publisher’s hands before I was taken sick. Since getting better, I have been, as a matter of course, overwhelmed with the business accumulating during my illness.

“It always gives me true pleasure to hear from you, and I wish you could spare time to write me more frequently. I am gratified by your good opinion of my writings, because what you say evinces the keenest discrimination. Ten times the praise you bestow on me would not please me half so much, were it not for the intermingled scraps of censure, or of objection, which show me that you well know what you are talking about. . . .

“Let me now advert to the points of your two last letters: — [page 104:]

“The criticism on Rogers is not mine — although, when it appeared, I observed a similarity to my ordinary manner. “The — notice of Lowell’s ‘Brittany’ is mine. You will see that it was merely a preparatory notice — I had designed repeating it in full, but something prevented me.

“The criticism on Shelley is not mine; is the work of Parke Godwin. I never saw it.

“The critic alluded to by Willis as connected with the Mirror, and as having found a parallel between Hood and Aldrich, is myself. See my reply to ‘Outis,’ in the early numbers of the Broadway Journal.

“My reference to L. G. Clark, in spirit but not in letter, is what you suppose. He abused me in his criticism — but so feebly — with such a parade of intention and effort, but with so little effect or power, that I — forgave him: — that is to say, I had little difficulty in pardoning him. His strong point was that I ought to write well, because I had asserted that others wrote ill; and that I didn‘t write well, because, although there had been a great deal of fuss made about me, I had written so little — only a small volume of a hundred pages. Why, he had written more himself!

“You will see that I have discontinued the ‘Literati’ in Godey’s Mag.* I was forced to do so, because I found that people insisted on considering them elaborate criticisms, when I had no other design than critical gossip. The unexpected circulation of the series, also, suggested to me that I might make a hit and some profit, as well as proper fame, by extending the plan into that of a book on American Letters generally, and keeping the publication in my own hands. I am now at this — body and soul.† I intend to be thorough — as far as I can — to examine analytically, without reference to [page 105:] previous opinions by anybody — all the salient points of Literature in general — e.g., Poetry, The Drama, Criticism, Historical Writing, Versification, &c. &c. You may get an idea of the manner in which I propose to write the whole book, by reading the notice of Hawthorne which will appear in the January ‘Godey,‘* as well as the article on ‘The Rationale of Verse,’ which will be out in the March or April No. of Colton’s American Magazine or Review.†

“Do not trust, in making up your library, to the ‘opinions’ in the Godey series. I meant ‘honest’ — but my meaning is not so fully made out as I could wish. I thought too little of the series myself to guard sufficiently against haste, inaccuracy, or prejudice. The book will be true — according to the best of my abilities.

“As regards Dana, it is more than possible that I may be doing him wrong. I have not read him since I was a boy, and must read him carefully again. The Frogpondians have badgered me so much that I fear I am apt to fall into prejudices about them. I have used some of their Pundits up, at all events, in ‘The Rationale of Verse.’ I will mail. you the number as soon as it appears — for I really wish you to tell me what you think of it.

“As regards ‘The Stylus’ — that is the grand purpose of my life, from which I have never swerved for a moment. But I cannot afford to risk anything by precipitancy — and I can afford to wait — at least, until. I finish the book.‡ When [page 106:] that is out, I will start the Mag. — and then I will pay you a visit. . . . In the meantime, let me thank you heartily for your name as a subscriber. . . . Truly, your friend,

“EDGAR A. POE”

The over sanguine ideas of the poet, as to the speedy publication of his accepted articles, were rarely realised when he had not the editorial charge of a magazine; and many of his troubles arose from having, often unavoidably, to rely upon such fragile expectations. All literary and pecuniary difficulties, however, were now, for the time, disregarded in the imminent nearness of his life’s crowning sorrow. The long-dreaded, oft-postponed, final parting with his weary heart’s treasure was nigh at hand. The sympathy of many, the more than sisterly affection of one, soothed and sustained Virginia’s last days, but her approaching dissolution could not be deferred by any amount of skill or tenderness. Mrs. Shew was the guardian angel who watched over the hapless household,. and the deep gratitude with which she inspired Poe, and his dear ones, may be gleaned best from this little note: —

KINDEST — DEAREST FRIEND, — My poor Virginia still lives, although failing fast and now suffering much pain. May God grant her life until she sees you and thanks you once again! Her bosom is full to overflowing — like my own — with a boundless — inexpressible gratitude to you. Lest she [page 109:] may never see you more — she bids me say that she sends you her sweetest kiss of love and will die blessing you. But come — oh come to-morrow! Yes, I will be calm — everything you so nobly wish to see me. My mother sends you, also, her ‘warmest love and thanks.’ She begs me to ask you, if possible, to make arrangements at home so that you may stay with us tomorrow night. I enclose the order to the Postmaster.

“Heaven bless you and farewell.

“EDGAR A. POE.

“FORDHAM, Jan. 29. 47.”

The very day these lines were written Mrs. Shew called at the cottage, but soon afterwards left it, in order to see after certain comforts for the sick wife. When bidding Mrs. Shew good-bye, the invalid took from her pillow a portrait of her husband and presented it to her kind friend,* together with a little jewel-case that had belonged to the poet’s mother, and which he had preserved religiously through all his troubles. She also asked Mrs. Shew to read an old worn letter, and the fragment of another, from the second wife of Poe’s adoptive father, Mr. Allan, which she, Virginia, had carefully preserved, as the means of exonerating her husband from the responsibility of having caused dissension in his godfather’s home.

Another day, and the poet was wifeless. . . .

For the dear sake of her who was no more — for the [page 110:] sake of “the one he loved so dearly” the poor heartbroken man kept his promise, and bore up bravely until after his youthful bride had been borne to her sepulchre.

The last days of the poet’s wife had been soothed by Mrs. Show, and the final care of the dead lady’s remains was undertaken by that same friend.

“Mrs. Shew was so good to her,” said Mrs. Clemm. “She tended her while she lived, as if she had been her dear sister, and when she was dead she dressed her for the grave in beautiful linen. If it had not been for her, my darling Virginia would have been laid in her grave in cotton. I can never tell my gratitude that my darling was entombed in lovely linen.”

“It seemed to soothe the mother’s sorrow in a wonderful way,” remarks Mrs. Gove-Nichols, “that her daughter had been buried in fine linen. How this delicate raiment could add so much to her happiness, I was not able to see, but so it was.”

It is recorded that the day of the funeral was a desolate, dreary day — “the skies they were ashen and sober” — and the bereaved husband was forced to assume his old military cloak, which Mrs. Show had been at pains to hide out of sight, fearing the memories it must arouse, it having, erstwhile, and in the days of their greatest tribulation, served as a covering for Virginia’s bed. The deceased lady was entombed in the [page 111:] old family vault of the Valentines,* in the Reformed church at Fordham, by permission of the owner. Everyone who knew the poet’s wife describes her as charming in both manners and features. A portrait of her is in the possession of her half-sister, Mrs. Nelson Poe, and is said to be a good likeness. ‘ From it it is clear that she was very beautiful.“†

After all was over, and the hapless poet left to face the world once more, exhausted nature gave way, and he fell ill again; in fact, for some days he sank into an apathetic stupor, unconscious of all around him. In faithful pursuance of her promise to his dying wife, Mrs. Shew still continued to befriend Poe. The following letter to her from Mrs. Clemm — who continued her watchful care of her unfortunate nephew — showed how much her aid was still depended upon: —

Friday Evening.

“MY DEAR SWEET FRIEND, — I write to say that the medicines arrived the next train after you left today, and a kind friend brought them up to us that same hour. The cooling application was very grateful to my poor Eddie’s head, and the flowers were lovely — not ‘frozen,’ as you feared they would be. I very much fear this illness is to be a serious one. The fever came on at the same time today (as you said it would), and I am giving the sedative mixture. [page 112:] He did not rouse up to talk to Mr. C —— , as he would naturally do to so kind a friend. . . . Eddie made me promise to write you a note about the wine (which I neglected to tell you about this morning). He desires me to return the last box of wine you sent my sweet Virginia (there being some left of the first package, which I will put away for any emergency). The wine was a great blessing to us while she needed it, and by its cheering and tonic influence we were enabled to keep her a few days longer with us. The little darling always took it smiling, even when difficult to get it down. But for your timely aid, my dear Mrs. S., we should have had no last words — no loving messages no sweet farewells, for she ceased to speak (from weakness) but with her beautiful eyes! . . . Eddie has quite set his heart upon the wine going back to you, thinking and hoping you may find it useful for the sick artist you mentioned ‘as convalescent and in need of delicacies.’ God bless you, my sweet child, and come soon to your sorrowing and desolate friend,

“MARIA CLEMM.

“P. S. — We look for you in an early train to-morrow, and hope you will stay as long as possible. What we should do without you now is fearful to think of Eddie says you promised Virginia to come every other day for a long time, or until he was able to go to work again. I hope and believe you will not fail him; and I pray that every blessing may be yours, and may follow you in life, as your angelic tenderness and compassion deserve.

“Mr. C —— will tell you of our condition, as he is going to call for this note in an hour’s time; and, until we see you, farewell.” [page 113:]

For a few days, Edgar Poe, under the careful nursing which he received, appeared to recover, and during this short period of temporary convalescence indited the lines “To M —— L —— S —— ” (Marie Louise Shew). In this overflowing of an intense gratitude to her to whom he owed

“The resurrection of deep-buried faith

In Truth — in Virtue — in Humanity,”

the poet poured forth his thanks with all the vehemence of his impassioned nature, and all untrammelled by the ordinary conventionalities of that everyday life which he so hated and so despised.

The poet’s convalescence was of ’short duration, and was terminated by a vain attempt to grapple with the difficulties of his position. He endeavoured to resume his correspondence, which involved him in all kinds of worries and distressing themes. On the 16th of February he replied to a correspondent who had informed him of a gross charge of plagiarism, which had been set afloat during his disabled condition. On the 17th of the same month, his suit against the Mirror for the publication of the Dunn-English libel terminated in the poet’s favour, the jury awarding Poe $225 for defamation of his character, and this, notwithstanding the intemperate reply he had published. [page 114:] Of the award it appears probable that he never received a single dollar, the amount, if ever paid, apparently finding its way into the pockets of those who carried on the case for him.

Meanwhile, Poe suffered a relapse, and for some time his life was in danger. Mrs. Shew, however, did not forget her promise to his dead wife, and still con tinued her friendly exertions on the poet’s behalf Naturally, this kind lady could not provide for all the poet’s requirements, she wrote, therefore, to a friend in the New York Union Club on the subject, and he brought the matter under the notice of some of the members, many of whom were personally acquainted with Poe. General Scott, who was present at the time, gave his five dollars, saying, “I wish I could make it five hundred,” adding, that he believed “Poe to be much belied; that he had noble and generous traits, which belonged to the old and better school,” concluding what was quite a speech for the old, hero, that “true-hearted Americans ought to take care of her poets as well as her soldiers.” General Scott, it should be pointed out, was uncle to the second wife of Mr. Allan, Poe’s adoptive father; had known the poet from his childhood, and had obtained him his nomination to the West Point Military Academy. A private collection of about one hundred dollars was made, and with this, and certain amounts sent by “Stella” (Mrs. [page 115:] Lewis), and other literary friends, old debts were paid of, and all urgent necessities provided for.

During the height of this last attack Mrs. Shew, who was a doctor’s only daughter, and had received a medical education, nursed the invalid herself, alternating her nights at the bedside with Mrs. Clemm. The diary which she kept at that time she generously placed at our disposal, so far as it related to Poe, and from it the following interesting particulars are extracted: — “I made my diagnosis, and went to the great Dr. Mott with it; I told him that at best, when Mr. Poe was well, his pulse beat only, ten regular beats, after which it suspended, or intermitted (as doctors say). I decided that in his best health he had lesion of one side of the brain, and 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. . . . From the time the fever came on until I could reduce his pulse to eighty beats, he talked to me incessantly of the past, which was all new to none, and often begged me to [page 116:] write his fancies for him, for he said he had promised so many greedy publishers his next efforts, that they would not only say that he did not keep his word, but would also revenge themselves by saying all sorts of evil of him if he should die.”

The jottings taken down by Mrs. Shew at that time refer chiefly to Poe’s early life, and have already been made use of in a former portion of this narrative.

As soon as the poet was enabled to get about again — for nature gradually reasserted her influence — he began to resume his wonted avocations. As yet, he was still unable to execute any continuous literary work, but, as a beginning, he attempted to pay off his epistolary debts. Upon the 10th of March he wrote to Mrs. Locks, of Lowell, Massachusetts, who, upon the publication of the newspaper paragraphs referring to his illness and poverty, had sent him some verses,* and a sympathetic letter proffering to assist him: —

“In answering your kind letter permit me in the very first place to absolve myself from a suspicion which, under the circumstances, you could scarcely have failed to entertain a suspicion of discourtesy towards yourself, in not having more promptly replied to you. . . . I could not help fearing that should you see my letter to Mr. Willis — in which a natural pride, which I feel you could not blame, impelled me to shrink from public charity, even at the cost of truth, in [page 117:] denying those necessities which were but too real — I could not help fearing that, should you see this letter, you would yourself feel pained at having caused me pain — at having been the means of giving further publicity to an unfounded report — at all events to the report of a wretchedness which I had thought it prudent (since the world regards wretchedness as a crime) so publicly to disavow. In a word, venturing to judge your noble nature by my own, I felt grieved lest my published denial might cause you to regret what you had done; and my first impulse was to write you, and assure you, even at the risk of doing so too warmly, of the sweet emotion, made up of respect and gratitude alone, with which my heart was filled to overflowing. While I was hesitating, however, in regard to the propriety of this step, I was overwhelmed by a sorrow so poignant as to deprive me for several weeks of all power of thought or action. Your letter, now lying before me, tells me that I had not been mistaken in your nature, and that I should not have hesitated to have addressed you; but believe me, my dear Mrs. Locke, that I am already ceasing to regard those difficulties or misfortunes which have led me to even this partial correspondence with yourself.”

The New England lady was only too delighted to have elicited a response from the famous poet, and such a confidential one too — for Poe, like Byron, Burns, and other brother bards, was ready to bare the secrets of his heart of hearts to the veriest stranger — and at once drew him into a correspondence that grew into personal acquaintance, and, eventually, entangled him in one of the most troublesome imbroglios of his life. [page 118:]

On the day following that on which the letter cited from above was written, the poet sent this little note to the representatives of the “Philosophical Society” of Wittenberg College, Springfield, Ohio, in acknowledgment of their letter informing him of his election, on the preceding 9th of February, to the honorary membership of that institution: —

“NEW YORK, March 11, 1847.

“GENTLEMEN, — Very serious illness has hitherto prevented me from replying to your most flattering letter of the 24th ult.

“May I now beg you to express to your Society my grateful acceptance and appreciation of the honour they have conferred on me? — With respect da esteem, I am, gentlemen,

Yo. Mo. ob. St, EDGAR A. POE.”

This fair specimen of autograph hunters’ success in “drawing out” a distinguished contemporary having been disposed of, the poet is also found writing on the same date to an esteemed correspondent, on various topics already referred to, such as the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post’s charge of plagiarising Captain Brown’s book on Conchology; the result of the suit against the Mirror; the projected Stylus magazine; the “Valdemar Case,” and other matters. He remarks, “I am still quite sick, and overwhelmed with business — but snatch a few moments to reply to yours of the 21st ult. . . . I cannot tell why the review of Hawthorne [page 119:] does not appear — but I presume we shall have it by and by. He (Mr. Godey) paid me for it, when I sent it — so I have no business to ask about it.”

During the remainder of 1847 the poet led a secluded life with his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm, receiving occasional visits from his friends and admirers, but rarely forsaking the precincts of his sorrow-hallowed cottage. Mrs. Shew continued to visit Fordham at such intervals as her active life allowed, and on certain yet unfrequent occasions her patient went to New York. In her diary of this year Mrs. Shew has the following interesting reminiscence: —

“Mr. Poe came to town to go to a midnight service with a lady friend and myself. He went with us and followed the service like a churchman, looking directly towards the chancel, and holding one side of my prayer-book; sang the psalms with us, and to my astonishment struck up a tenor to our soprano; and got along nicely during the first part of the service, which was on the subject of the sympathies of our soul with our wants. The passage being often repeated, ‘He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,’ he begged me to remain quiet, and saying he would wait for us outside, he rushed out, too excited to stay. I knew he would not leave us to return home alone (although my friend thought it doubtful), and so, after the sermon, as I began to feel anxious — as we were in a strange church — I looked back and saw his pale face. As the congregation rose to sing the hymn, ‘Jesus, Saviour of my soul,’ he appeared at my side, and sang the hymn without looking at the book, in a fine, [page 120:] clear tenor. He looked inspired. . . I did not dare to ask him why he left, but he mentioned after we got home that the subject ‘was marvellously handled.‘”

Poe rarely forsook Fordham, however, during the year following his lost Lenore’s death, but spent his time in mourning over her memory, and in thinking out the plan of the great and crowning work of his life — his great philosophical “prose-poem” “Eureka.” Whilst engaged upon this work, records Mrs. Shew, he was quite certain of success. She endeavoured to curb his over sanguine expectations, for, she remarks, “I did not expect him to live long; I knew that organic disease had been gaining upon his physical frame through the many trials and privations of his eventful life. I told him in all candour that nothing could or would save him from sudden death but a prudent life of calm, with a woman fond enough and strong enough to manage his affairs for him. I was often subjected to his irony for my lectures, coming, as they dial, from a woman so little skilled in worldly troubles or cares as I was then. . . . He said I had never troubled myself to read his works, or poems; which was true, for my heart found so much sorrow to sympathise with in the griefs of those I came in contact with, that there was — no need of resorting to ideal woe; . . . but ‘I was a rest for his spirit,’ for this very reason”

The quiet and studious life Poe lived at Fordham, [page 121:] meanwhile, was very different to that ascribed to him by the paragraph-mongers of the press, and the scarified victims of his pen. Many interesting recollections have been given by his visitors of the calm and solitary way in which he spent his time, during his residence at the quaint little Dutch cottage, but none more valuable than these autobiographic glimpses afforded by one of his unpublished letters: —

“The editor of the Weekly Universe speaks kindly, and I find no fault with his representing my habits as ’shockingly irregular.’ He could not have had the ‘personal acquaintance’ with me, of which he writes, but has fallen into a very natural error. The fact is thus: — My habits are rigorously abstemious, and I omit nothing of the natural regimen requisite for health — i.e., I rise early, eat moderately, drink nothing but water, and take abundant and regular exercise in the open air. But this is my private life — my studious and literary life — and of course escapes the eye of the world. The desire for society comes upon me only when I have become excited by drink. Then only I go — that is, at these times only I have been in the practice of going among my friends; who seldom, or in fact never, having seen me unless excited, take it for granted that I am always so. Those who really know me, know better. In the meantime I shall turn the general error to account. But enough of this — the causes which maddened me to the drinking point are no more, and I am done with drinking for ever. I do not know the editors and contributors of the Universe, and was not aware of the existence of such a paper. Who are they? or is it a secret?” [page 122:]

This self revelation, even if to be accepted cum granˆ salis, must be regarded as a most important contribution towards a thorough comprehension of the apparently complex and dual nature of Poe’s existence. Further side-lights are flung upon his story, so far as this period of it is concerned, by the reminiscences of his various visitors at Fordham. An author who visited the poet’s cottage during the summer of 1847, “described it as half buried in fruit-trees, and as having a thick grove of pines in its immediate neighbourhood.” “The proximity of the railroad,” says Mrs. Whitman, “and the increasing population of the little village, have since wrought great changes in the place. Round an old cherry-tree, near the door, was a broad bank of greenest turf. The neighbouring beds of I mignonette and heliotrope, and the pleasant shade above, made this a favourite seat. Rising at four o‘clock — in the morning, for a walk to the magnificent aqueduct bridge over Harlem river, our informant found the poet, with his mother (Mrs. Clemm), standing on the turf beneath the cherry-tree, eagerly watching the movements of two beautiful birds that seemed contemplating a settlement in its branches. He had some rare tropical birds in cages, which he cherished and petted with assiduous care.”

An English lady, as Mrs. Whitman further records, “passed several weeks at the little cottage in Fordham, [page 123:] in the early autumn of 1847, and described to us, with a truly English appreciativeness, its unrivalled neatness, and the quaint simplicity of its interior and surroundings. It was at the time bordered by a flower-garden, whose clumps of rare dahlias and brilliant beds of autumnal flowers showed, in the careful culture bestowed upon them, the fine floral taste of the inmates.” “Our English friend described the poet,” resumes Mrs. Whitman, ” as giving to his birds and his flowers a delighted attention that seemed quite inconsistent with the gloomy and grotesque character of his writings. A favourite cat, too, enjoyed his friendly patronage, and often when he was engaged in composition it seated itself on his shoulder, purring as if in complacent approval of the work proceeding under its supervision.”

“During Poe’s residence at Fordham a walk to High Bridge,” continues our authority, ” was one of his favourite and habitual recreations. The water of the aqueduct is conveyed across the river on a range of lofty granite arches, which rise to the height of a hundred and forty-five feet above high-water level. On the top a turfed and grassy road, used only by foot-passengers, and flanked on either side by a low parapet of granite, makes one of the finest promenades imaginable.

“The winding river and the high rocky shores at [page 124:] the western extremity of the bridge are seen to great advantage from this lofty avenue. In the last melancholy years of his life — ‘the lonesome latter years’ — Poe was accustomed to walk there at all times of the day and night; often pacing the then solitary pathway for hours without meeting a human being. A little to the east of the cottage ‘rises a ledge of rocky ground, partly covered with pines and cedars, commanding a fine view of the surrounding country and of the picturesque College of St. John’s, which had at that time in its neighbourhood an avenue of venerable old trees. This rocky ledge was also one of the poet’s favourite resorts. Here, through long summer days, and through solitary, star-lit nights, he loved to sit, dreaming his gorgeous waking dreams, or pondering the deep problems of the Universe, — that grand ‘prose-poem’ to which he devoted the last and maturest energies of his wonderful intellect.”

In this way the poet lived — “in a world of things ideal” — spending his time in musing over the unforgotten past, and in devising schemes for a famous future. At times his solitude was broken in upon not only by his ever-welcome friends, but, also, by those most malignant pests of literary society, female bores, who wanted to make the renowned poet’s acquaintance and engage his pen on their behalf in [page 125:] friendly criticism. Mrs. Shew records that she often found such persons ” sitting in Mrs. Clemm’s little room, waiting to see the man of genius who bad rushed out, to escape to the fields or forest, or to the grounds of the Catholic school in the vicinity. I remember,” she relates, ” Mrs. Clemm one day sending me after him in great secrecy, and I found him sitting on a favourite rock muttering his desire to die, and get rid of literary bores. He liked me for my ignorance and indifference, no doubt, to worldly honours, and lamented, in sincere sorrow, when I grew like the rest of the world by my duties and position.”

During this period of mental incubation the poet published little, and that little had been chiefly written previous to 1847. “Eureka” greatly engaged his mind, but, so he frequently alleged, its publication was only to be regarded as the stepping-stone to the furtherance of starting a magazine of his own, on a safe and certain basis. This life-long dream gradually began to assume a more definite shape than it had hitherto worn; the name of the Stylus was permanently adopted for the projected publication, and a well-arranged plan devised for setting it afloat. Besides his “prose-poem,” few literary compositions were attempted, and of these, the weird monody of “Ulalume” was the only one important. It was towards the close of this ,most immemorial year ” — [page 126:] this year in which he had lost his cousin-bride, — that this “most musical, most melancholy” dirge was written. Like so much of his poetry, it was autobiographical, and, on his own authority we have it, was in its basis, although not in the precise correspondence of time, simply historical. “Such was the poet’s lonely midnight walk,” says Mrs. Whitman; “such, amid the desolate memories and sceneries of the hour, was the new-barn hope enkindled within his heart at sight of the morning star —

‘Astarte’s bediamonded crescent’ —

coming up as the beautiful harbinger of love and happiness yet awaiting him in the untried future, and such the sudden transition. of feeling, the boding dread, that supervened on discovering that which had at first been unnoted, that it shone, as if in mockery or in warning, directly over the sepulchre of the lost ‘Ulalume.‘”

This marvellously melodious poem first appeared anonymously, in Colton’s American Review for December 1847, as “Ulalume: a Ballad,” and, being reprinted in the Home Journal, was, by an absurd mistake, on a subsequent republication, ascribed to the then editor, N. P. Willis. The poem originally possessed an additional stanza which, at the suggestion of Mrs. Whitman, Poe eventually omitted, and, [page 121:] thereby, greatly strengthened the effect. In after years, however, the lady regretted the suppression of these final lines, deeming them essential to the comprehension of the entire poem. Few persons will be likely to share this regret on reading the excluded verses, which read thus: —

“Said we then — the two, then — ’ Ah, can it

Have been that the woodlandish ghouls —

The pitiful, the merciful ghouls —

To bar up our path and to ban it

From the secret that lies in these wolds —

Had drawn up the spectre of a planet

From the limbo of lunacy souls —

This sinfully scintillant planet

From the Hell of the planetary souls?‘”

Another poetical essay belonging to this year was the fanciful little piece entitled “An Enigma,” written for “Stella” (Mrs. Estelle Anna Lewis), a lady already alluded to as having among others assisted Poe in the hour of his extreme need. This little effusion of gratitude did not appear in public until its issue in March 1848, in the Union Magazine, although it had been sent off several months before, as the following notelet shows: —

November 27, 1847.

DEAR MRS. LEWIS — A thousand thanks for your repeated kindness, and, above all, for the — comforting and cheering words of your note. Your advice I feel as a command which [page 128:] neither my heart nor my Lemon would venture to disobey. May Heaven for ever bless you and yours!

“A day or two ago I sent to one of the Magazines the sonnet enclosed. Its tone is somewhat too light; but it embodies a riddle which I wish to put you to the trouble of expounding. Will you try?

“My best regards, with those of Mrs. Clemm, to Mr. Lewis, and believe me, with all the affection of a brother. —

Yours always, EDGAR A. POE.”


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 98:]

* Vide, p. 69, vol. ii.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 100:]

* The libel suit against the Evening Mirror had not yet commenced. — J. H. I.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 104:]

* The Lady’s Book.

Vide title-page, p. 102.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 105:]

* Did not appear until June 1847, and then as “Tale-Writing Hawthorne.” — J. H. I.

† Appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger, October and November 1848. — J. H. I.

‡ The MS. of this work disappeared after Poe’s death; all his papers, that bad been left in charge of Mrs. Clemm, gassed into the possession of Mr. Griswold. — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 109:]

* Subsequently stolen from Mrs. Shew. — J. H. I.

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

* Probably a branch of the Virginian Valentines, of which family the first Mrs. Allan was a member. — J H. I.

† Letter from John P. Poe, Esq. — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 113:]

* Vide pp. 167,168, vol i., concerning the Conchology story. — J. H. I.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 116:]

* Now in my possession — J. H. I.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Chapter 17)