Text: James Albert Harrison, “New Glimpses of Poe (II)”, The Independent, September 13, 1900, vol. LII, No. 2702, pp. 2201-2202


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­[page 2201:]

New Glimpses of Poe.

By James A. Harrison,

PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH AND ROMANCE LANGUAGES IN THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

II.

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POE AS A STUDENT.

THE following recollections of Mr. William Wertenbaker, appointed Library of the University of Virginia by Jefferson himself, were drawn up in 1869, when the aged Librarian was still living, but have never had an adequate presentation to the public. They appeared eighteen years ago in the University Magazine (a local publication), and have been utilized to a slight degree by Poe’s biographers (among others by Mr. Woodberry in his admirable Life). A close inspection has revealed numerous and important errors in the Wertenbaker account of Poe’s university career, the detection of which is due to the researches of Mr. S. Poitevent, a recent student of the university. Mr. Wertenbaker says:

“Mr. Poe was a student during the second session, which commenced February 1st and terminated December 15th, 1826. He signed the matriculation book on the 14th of February, and remained in good standing until the session closed. He was born on the 19th day of January, 1809, being a little over 17 when he matriculated. He entered the schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, attending the lectures in Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian.

“I was myself a member of the last three classes, and can testify that he was tolerably regular in his attendance, and a successful student, having obtained distinction at the Final Examination in Latin and French; and this was at that time the highest honor a student could obtain. The present regulations in regard to degrees had not then been adopted. Under existing regulations he would have graduated in the two languages above named, and have been entitled to diplomas. On one occasion Professor Blaettermann requested his Italian class to render into English verse a portion of the lesson in Tasso, which he had assigned them for the next lecture. He did not require this of them as a regular class exercise, but recommended it as one from which he thought the students would derive benefit. At the next lecture on Italian the Professor stated from his chair that Mr. Poe was the only member of the class who had responded to his suggestion, and paid a very high compliment to his performance. As Librarian I had [column 2:] frequent official intercourse with Mr. Poe, but it was at or near the close of the session before I met him in the social circle. After spending an evening together at a private house, he invited me in on our return to his room. It was a cold night in December, and his fire having gone pretty nearly out, by the aid of some tallow candles and the fragments of a small table which he broke up for the purpose, he soon rekindled it, and by its comfortable blaze I spent a very pleasant hour with him. On this occasion he spoke with regret of the large amount of money he had wasted and of the debts he had contracted during the session. If my memory is not at fault, he estimated his indebtedness at $2,000, and, tho they were gaming debts, he was earnest and emphatic in the declaration that he was bound by honor to pay, at the earliest opportunity, every cent of them. He certainly was not habitually intemperate, but he may occasionally have entered into a frolic. I often saw him in the lecture room and in the library, but never in the slightest degree under the influence of intoxicating liquors. Among the professors he had the reputation of being a sober, quiet and orderly young man, and to them and the officers his deportment was uniformly that of an intelligent and polished gentleman. Altho his practice of gaming did escape detection, the hardihood, intemperance and reckless wildness imputed to him by his biographers, had he been guilty of them, must inevitably have come to the knowledge of the faculty and met with merited punishment. The records of which I was then, and am still, the custodian, attest that at no time during the session did he fall under the censure of the faculty. Mr. Poe’s connection with the university was dissolved by the termination of the session on the 15th of December, 1826. He then wanted little over a month of having attained to the age of 18; the date of his birth was plainly entered in his own handwriting on the matriculation book. Were he now living his age on the 19th of this month (January, 1869) would be 60. He never returned to the university, and I think it probable that the night I visited him was the last he spent here. I draw this inference not from memory, but from the fact, that having no further use for his candles and table he made fuel of them.

“Mr. Poe’s works are more in demand and more read than those of any other author, American or foreign, now in the library. To gratify curiosity, I copy from the register a list of the books which Mr. Poe borrowed from the library while he was a student: Rollin — ‘Histoire Ancienne,’ ‘Histoire Romaine;’ Robertson’s — ‘America;’ Marshall’s — ‘Washington;’ ­[page 2202:] Voltaire’s — ‘Histoire Particulière;’ Dufief’s — ‘Nature Displayed.’

“UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, January, 1869.”

Mr. Poitevent’s étude analyzes the Wertenbaker memoir carefully, and corrects it in some important particulars. Among these are the facts that he did not sign the matriculation in his own handwriting, and there is no faculty record of his attending any classes but the Senior Latin and the Senior French, in which he is said to have “excelled” (Faculty Minutes, December 15th, 1826, Vol. II, p. 3). When summoned before the faculty with eight of his fellow students to testify whether or not certain university hotel-keepers had been in the habit of playing at games of chance with the students in their dormitories, Poe simply says:

“Edgar Poe never heard until now of any HOTEL KEEPERS playing cards or drinking with students.”  (Faculty Minutes, Vol. II, p. 15.) [column 2:]

There is no record of rustication, expulsion or punishment of any kind inflicted in the official books of the university. Mr. Poitevent continues:

He was the one hundred and thirty-sixth student who matriculated. He entered February 14th, 1826; gave his name as Edgar A. Poe; date of birth, “19th of January, 1809;” parent or guardian, “John Allen;” the e afterward having been changed in lead pencil to a; — place of residence, “Richmond;” professors attended, “Long” [Professor of Greek and Latin] and “Blaettermann” [Professor of French, German, Italian, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon]. Under the head, of “Remarks” there is a blank opposite his name. The custom then prevailing was for the Proctor to write under this head the final disposition of each student; thus if one withdrew, or was suspended, or was expelled before the end of the session, the fact was duly registered; otherwise the blank remained. And, therefore, the conclusion may he drawn that he was neither expelled, as Dr. Griswold asserts, nor suspended, according to Mr. Lowell. Hence from the Proctor’s point of view, his record is clean of all college dishonor.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.


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Notes:

Blaettermann was the first professor of Modern Languages in the University of Virginia.

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[S:1 - IND, 1900] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - New Glimpses of Poe (II) (J. A. Harrison, 1900)