Text: Dwight R. Thomas, “Preface,” Poe in Philadelphia, 1838-1844 (1978), pp. vi-xi


­ [page vi:]


On March 30, 1844, one week before he left Philadelphia, where he had lived for some six years, to move to New York City, Edgar Allan Poe wrote his friend James Russell Lowell: “My Life is not yet written, and I am at a sad loss for a Biographer . . . . .” If he were alive today, Poe could make a similar complaint. In 1971 Professor Jay B. Hubbell, writing in the revised edition of Eight American Authors, made the following observation: “No scholar has as yet undertaken the laborious task of preparing a [Poe] biography on the scale of Leon Edel’s Henry James.” Professor Hubbell specifically regretted that so little was known about the years Poe spent in Philadelphia: “The Raven and the Whale gave us an illuminating picture of P[oe]’s New York, but there is no comparable book for Philadelphia . . . . . For the Philadelphia period we need to understand better P[oe]’s relations with [William E.] Burton, [George R.] Graham, [Louis A.] Godey, [Rufus W.] Griswold, and [Frederick William] Thomas. These figures are all too dimly seen in the standard biographies.” (1)

Although this study is not an imaginative narrative like Perry Miller’s The Raven and the Whale (1956), it provides a much fuller picture of the Philadelphia period of Poe’s career than has hitherto been available. It is ­[page vii:] a comprehensive compilation of documents, studiously arranged and annotated. Many of these documents have long been available, but a surprising number are previously unrecorded or unpublished. This study is intended as a kaleidoscopic chronicle for the reader as well as an encyclopedic reference tool for the scholar. It is divided into two sections; the first is a CHRONOLOGY (or chronicle) which records the activities of Edgar Allan Poe from January 3, 1837 (the day he was dismissed from his position as editor of the Southern Literary Messenger) , until April 6, 1844 (the day he left Philadelphia to move to New York). Since the biography of any one man is ineluctably and inseparably interwoven with the biographies of many other men, the chronology contains as well a reasonably detailed account of the activities of his Philadelphia associates: William E. Burton, Thomas C. Clarke, Jesse E. Dow, John S. Du Solle, Thomas Dunn English, George R. Graham, Rufus W. Griswold, Henry B. Hirst, George Lippard, Charles J. Peterson, Frederick William Thomas, Lambert A. Wilmer, and others.

The chronology is constructed almost entirely from three types of documents. The most important documents are the letters of Poe and his contemporaries. I have cited every letter Poe wrote during the Philadelphia period whose location was known at the time of John Ward Ostrom’s “Fourth Supplement.” (2) I have not attempted to improve upon the texts established by Professor Ostrom in his reliable edition,(3) but neither have I duplicated his work. Professor ­[page viii:] Ostrom provided scholars with complete transcripts of Poe’s letters; I provide instead summaries or abridgments. Moreover, I have often been able to supplement the annotations in the Ostrom edition. My chronology also cites every letter written to Poe during the Philadelphia period. In the case of a letter which has been published in a reliable source available in most libraries, my practice has been, as with Poe’s letters, to provide a summary or abridgment. Many of the letters sent to Poe either have remained unpublished or have been published in sources which are generally inaccessible. I have treated these items with especial care: I have always included at least a significant quotation from the letter, and I have reproduced a number of the more noteworthy letters in their entirety. In addition to the letters written by Poe or sent to him, I have entered in the chronology many other letters which contain some mention of him, or which shed light on his associates. It contains, for example, excerpts from fifteen letters which Charles J. Peterson, one of the editors of Graham’s Magazine, wrote to James Russell Lowell between 1841 and 1844; these reveal much about the internal operations of this periodical and about Poe’s duties on its staff. Several letters of Lambert A. Wilmer, a close Poe associate, are excerpted. The correspondence of Rufus W. Griswold is frequently quoted.

A second source of documentary evidence on Poe’s career is represented by the newspapers of such cities as New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Very often these journals furnish unique information. For example, on November 21, 1843, Poe delivered in Philadelphia the first of a series of six lectures on “American Poetry.” These lectures are mentioned only briefly in his letters; but from advertisements and reports carried by newspapers, the scholar can ­[page ix:] determine the poets and poems he discussed, the audiences he attracted, and even the admission fees charged. Newspapers also provide information on Poe’s friends and enemies. There are apparently no surviving letters which would enable his biographers to reconstruct the careers of Thomas Dunn English and Henry B. Hirst, two young Philadelphia poets who were frequently in his company. Fortunately, the city’s newspapers gave ample coverage to these minor literati. A number of Poe’s associates — Thomas C. Clarke, Jesse E. Dow, John S. Du Solle, and Joseph Evans Snodgrass — were well-known journalists in the 1830’s and 1840’s, but are presently so obscure that the scholar must exercise his ingenuity to discover biographical information about them. At least partial files of the newspapers these men edited have survived, and from these files it is possible to ascertain much about their histories.

The most valuable use of newspapers is as an indicator of Poe’s standing among his contemporaries. Of the many myths which have surrounded his career, none has been more pervasive than the myth that he was a genius unrecognized in his own time. As recently as 1974, Professor Russel Blaine Nye, an eminent scholar of American literature and history, was able to write that “Edgar Allan Poe . . . . never received sufficient attention from the critical journals to establish a major reputation.” (4) The truth is that although Poe’s contemporaries gave him few financial rewards for his writings, they accorded him substantial recognition. The indisputable evidence of his widespread reputation is preserved in daily and weekly newspapers which were widely circulated in the 1830’s and 1840’s, but which are not ­[page x:] presently accessible in most libraries. During his editorship of the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe gained a national reputation as a fearless, though censorious, literary critic. During the Philadelphia period — with the publication of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and, most importantly, “The Gold-Bug” — he became known as an author of prose fiction. In 1845, with the appearance of “The Raven,” he gained national recognition as a poet; and he became a popular celebrity. In my chronology I have reproduced enough newspaper commentaries on Poe to reveal a major reputation in the making.

A third type of document is represented by the magazines of Philadelphia and other cities. I have given especial attention to two periodicals which are remembered largely because Poe was associated with them in an editorial capacity: Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and Graham’s Magazine. I have listed the noteworthy poems, stories, and criticisms he published in these Philadelphia monthlies, and I have as well reproduced editorial notices and advertisements carried by these magazines which shed new light on their characters and on the philosophies of their proprietors, William E. Burton and George R. Graham.

The second section of this study is a DIRECTORY which lists Poe’s Philadelphia associates, acquaintances, and correspondents. In the directory I have briefly identified each individual, described his relationship with Poe, and provided bibliographical references to guide the reader to additional information. I have taken especial care to designate those individuals who left reminiscences of Poe during the Philadelphia period, and to provide an accurate bibliographical reference for every known reminiscence. I have reprinted a number of reminiscences published in ­[page xi:] magazines or newspapers which are generally inaccessible. The directory contains, for example, the account of Poe’s “rose-covered cottage on the outskirts of Philadelphia” which Amanda B. Harris contributed to Hearth and Home in 1875, and Mayne Reid’s account of Poe’s Spring Garden home, which appeared in Onward in 1869. The reminiscence of J. W. Johnston, the printer’s apprentice who rescued the manuscript of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” from a wastebasket, is reproduced, as are no fewer than three reminiscences in which Thomas Wyatt claimed that he, not Poe, wrote The Conchologist’s First Book. The directory contains an entry for each of the one hundred and thirty-two American literati whom Poe evaluated in his popular “Autography” articles. To my knowledge no previous scholar has identified all the literati who appear in “Autography”; I felt my directory could serve this purpose since I needed to discuss most of these writers for other reasons.


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

(1)  “Edgar Allan Poe,” in Eight American Authors, ed. James Woodress (New York: Norton, 1971), pp. 10, 36.

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

(2)  “Fourth Supplement to the Letters of Poe,” American Literature, 45 (1974), 513-36.

(3)  The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (1948; rpt. with a supplement, New York: Gordian Press, 1966).

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

(4)  Society and Culture in America, 1830-1860 (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 119.





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