Text: Michael J. Deas, “The Robins Daguerreotype,” The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (1989), pp. 152-153 (This material is protected by copyright)


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The “Robins” Daguerreotype

Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe [thumbnail]

(fig. 69)
The Robins Daguerreotype
[Illustration on page 153]

This recently discovered version of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype (fig. 69) once belonged to Sarah (“Sallie”) E. Robins, the gifted, tragic young poet who went insane while writing a vindication of Poe’s life and works. The daughter of a well-to-do family residing in Putnam, Ohio, Miss Robins began her work on Poe about 1860, when she was twenty-four. Apparently inspired by a reading of Edgar Poe and His Critics, she opened a correspondence with Sarah Helen Whitman, and in 1861 invited Maria Clemm to become her houseguest in Putnam, where she could serve as a source of information for Miss Robins’s proposed book. The impoverished Mrs. Clemm accepted the offer, but soon after her arrival in Ohio her benefactress collapsed and was confined to a nearby asylum “with little hope of permanent recovery.”(11) About 1862 Miss Robins entered the Spingler Institute, a seminary for young women in New York; in the mid-1860s she was living in a convent in Ontario, Canada. She returned to Putnam in 1868, where she died the following year, aged thirty-two.

How Sallie Robins acquired the daguerreotype of Poe is not completely certain, but there is some indication that she received it as a gift from Sarah Helen Whitman.(12) After her death the plate passed to her niece, the versatile and talented Elizabeth Robins (1862-1952), who in 1890 settled in Great Britain and there achieved recognition not only as a leading stage actress but as a prominent essayist and author. In November 1964 Elizabeth’s vast collection of diaries, correspondence, and family memorabilia was purchased by the Fales Library of New York University. Owing to the enormity of the collection, however, the daguerreotype of Poe remained in storage, unnoticed, for the next twenty years. In 1985, during a comprehensive cataloguing of the Robins family papers, the plate was discovered by special collections curator Frank Walker; accompanying the picture were two previously unpublished letters from Poe, both addressed to Maria Clemm.

Unlike the four copies of the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype discussed previously, the “Robins” daguerreotype depicts Poe in reverse. While this characteristic would normally distinguish the picture as an original daguerreotype — one taken from life — the comparative flatness of the photographic image suggests that it is a copy daguerreotype. The likeness itself is in a fine state of preservation, mounted in a plain brass matte similar to the one which frames the “Barrett” daguerreotype (fig. 66).






[S:1 - PDEAP, 1989] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe (M. J. Deas) (The Robins Daguerreotype)