Text: Dwight R. Thomas, “Chapter 01: 1837,” Poe in Philadelphia, 1838-1844 (1978), pp. 3-12


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­ [page 3:]

CHAPTER I: 1837


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JANUARY 3: Thomas Willis White, the proprietor of the Southern Literary Messenger, dismisses Edgar Allan Poe from the editorship of this magazine.

NOTE: This date is given in a notice published in the Messenger, 3 (January, 1837), p. 72, and in White’s January 23, 1837, letter to William Scott. Poe’s excessive drinking seems to have been one of the reasons for his dismissal. White had been disturbed by his young employee’s intemperance from the beginning of their association. On September 8, 1835, the proprietor of the Messenger wrote his friend Lucian Minor: “Poe is now in my employ — not as Editor. He is unfortunately rather dissipated, — and therefore I can place very little reliance upon him. His disposition is quite amiable. He will be some assistance to me in proof-reading — at least I hope so.” Two weeks later, on September 21, 1835, White sent a second letter to Minor: “Poe has flew [sic ] the track already. His habits were not good. — He is in addition the victim of melancholy. I should not be at all astonished to hear that he had been guilty of suicide.” The Messenger’s proprietor added: “I am now alone.” White’s letters to Minor are printed by David K. Jackson, Poe and The Southern Literary Messenger (1934; rpt. New York: Haskell House, 1970), pp. 98-100. White ­[page 4:] apparently dismissed Poe from the staff of the Messenger sometime between September 8 and September 21, 1835; he soon relented and agreed to rehire his assistant. White’s conditions for continued employment on the Messenger were unequivocally stated in his September 29, 1835, letter to Poe, who had since returned to Baltimore:

That you are sincere in all your promises, I firmly believe. But, Edgar, when you once again tread these streets, I have my fears that your resolves would fall through, — and that you would again sip the juice, even till it stole away your senses. Rely on your own strength, and you are gone! Look to your Maker for help, and you are safe!

How much I regretted parting with you, is unknown to anyone on this earth, except myself. I was attached to you — and am still, — and willingly would I say return, if I did not dread the hour of separation very shortly again.

If you could make yourself contented to take up your quarters in my family, or in any other private family where liquor is not used, I should think there were hopes of you. — But, if you go to a tavern, or to any other place where it is used at table, you are not safe. I speak from experience.

You have fine talents, Edgar, — and you ought to have them respected, as well as yourself. Learn to respect yourself, and you will very soon find that you are respected. Separate yourself from the bottle, and bottle companions, for ever!

Tell me if you can and will do so — and let me hear that it is your fixed purpose never to yield to temptation.

If you should come to Richmond again, and again should be an assistant in my office, it must be expressly understood by us that all engagements on my part would be dissolved, the moment you get drunk. No man is safe who drinks before breakfast! No man can do so, and attend to business properly.

This letter is printed by James A. Harrison in his edition of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1902; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), XVII, 20-21. Reasonably conclusive evidence that White eventually decided to dismiss his editor is provided by his December 27, 1836, letter to ­[page 5:] Beverley Tucker: “Highly as I really think of Mr. Poe’s talents, I shall be forced to give him notice, in a week or so at farthest, that I can no longer recognize him as editor of my Messenger. Three months ago I felt it my duty to give him a similar notice, — and was afterwards overpersuaded to restore him to his situation on certain conditions — which conditions he has again forfeited.” This letter is printed by Jackson, Poe and The Messenger, pp. 109-10.

POST JANUARY 3 [?]: Dr. Francis Lister Hawks, who is later to edit the New York Review, writes Poe, offering him a position on this forthcoming magazine: “I wish you to fall in with your broad-axe amidst this miserable literary trash which surrounds us. I believe you have the will, and I know well you have the ability.”

NOTE: These two sentences are quoted in the Saturday Museum, March 4, 1843, p. 1, col. 2; no manuscript is known. Neither the letter nor its dating can be verified. According to the Museum sketch, Poe was “induced to abandon ‘The Messenger’ . . . . and remove the New York” by this “flattering invitation” from the “proprietors” of the New York Review. The first number of the Review, a theological quarterly, was dated March, 1837; the last, April, 1842. There is no indisputable evidence that Poe became one of the magazine’s editors.

POST JANUARY 3: Poe writes his friend Lambert A. Wilmer, then in Baltimore.

NOTE: Wilmer was a journalist and poet who had been intimate with Poe during his residence in Baltimore in the early 1830’s. He discussed this letter in Our Press Gang (1859; rpt. [New York]: Arno & The New York Times, 1970), pp. 39-40: ­[page 6:] “I received a letter from my eccentric friend Edgar A. Poe, — who was then officiating as the editor and critic of the Southern Literary Messenger, published at Richmond, Va. In his epistle, Poe gave me to understand that he was preparing to leave Richmond, and he advised me to come thither without delay, — as he was quite sure that I could obtain the situation which he was about to vacate.”

JANUARY 9: Poe, in Richmond, writes Allan B. Magruder, a contributor to the Southern Literary Messenger, stating that his correspondent’s essay will appear in the February number of the magazine.

NOTE: This letter is printed by John Ward Ostrom in his edition of The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (1948; rpt. with a supplement, New York: Gordian Press, 1966), II, 680-81.

JANUARY 17: Thomas Willis White writes Poe, discussing the articles which will appear in the January number of the Southern Literary Messenger. White repeats his promise to give financial assistance to his correspondent: “I also made you a promise on Saturday that I would do something more for you to-day, — and I never make even a promise without intending to perform it, — and though it is entirely out of my power to send you up any thing this morning, yet I will do something more for you before night, or early to-morrow, — if I have to borrow it from my friends.”

NOTE: Works, XVII, 41-42. Poe may have needed money for his passage to New York City.

JANUARY 19: Thomas Willis White writes his friend Beverley Tucker, mentioning his former editor, who is, evidently, still in Richmond: “Poe feels his situation at ­[page 7:] last — I see but little of him — but I hear a great deal about him and from him.”

NOTE: Jackson, Poe and The Messenger, p. 112. January 19, 1837, was the date of Poe’s twenty-eighth birthday.

JANUARY 23: Thomas Willis White writes William Scott, a contributor to the Southern Literary Messenger: “Previous to writing you I had submitted your manuscript to Mr. Poe, who handed it back to me as being suitable for the Messenger. After I had it put in type, I sent a corrected proof of it to him. He returned it as you will see, making several corrections — and amongst other things, striking out your first paragraph, or exordium. He also struck out your two concluding paragraphs, but I thought them worth preserving-and therefore took upon myself the responsibility of retaining them. . . . . Mr. Poe retired from the editorship of my work on the 3d inst. I am once more at the head of affairs.”

NOTE: This letter is quoted by Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941; rpt. New York: Cooper Square, 1969), p. 260.


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ANTE FEBRUARY 28: Poe arrives in New York City.

FEBRUARY 28: Poe, in New York, writes William H. Carpenter, J. S. Norris, and James Brown, who plan to issue a “Baltimore Book.” He is willing to forward a contribution by April 1; because of “other engagements” he cannot send it earlier. ­[page 8:]

NOTE: Letters, I, 111. Poe’s “Siope — A Fable” first appeared in The Baltimore Book for 1838; the story’s title was later changed to “Silence, A Fable.”


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MARCH 30: Poe is one of the several hundred authors, publishers, and booksellers attending the Booksellers Dinner, sponsored by the Harpers and other New York publishers, and held at the City Hotel. This gathering as for its objectives the promotion of American publishing and the encouragement of American literature. Although many speeches are delivered by the literati in attendance, spontaneous toasts are even more numerous. Poe makes the following toast: “The Monthlies of Gotham — Their distinguished Editors, and their vigorous Collaborateurs.” Among the literati whom Poe sees and hears on this occasion are Washington Irving, James Kirke Paulding, Fitz-Greene Halleck, William Cullen Bryant, William Leete Stone, Mordecai Manuel Noah, Richard Adams Locke, Lewis Gaylord Clark, George P. Morris, Grenville Mellen, Count Louis Fitzgerald Tasistro, and Henry William Herbert. Among the publishers whom he has the opportunity to meet are Fletcher and James Harper, George P. Putnam, and William A. Blanchard. Two prominent Philadelphians whom Poe will know during his residence in their city are also present: Joseph R. Chandler and Dr. Henry McMurtrie.

NOTE: The most detailed description of the Booksellers Dinner is the eight-column account published by the New York American on April 3, 1837; this was reprinted in the bi-weekly New York American (For the Country), April 7, ­[page 9] 1837, p.3, cols. 5-7; p. 4, cols. 1-5. Poe’s toast is reproduced from the American (For the Country) , April 7, p. 4, col. 4. The word “collaborators” was sometimes used for “contributors.”


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MAY: The Knickerbocker Magazine (Vol. 9, p. 529) lists the “Narrative of ARTHUR GORDON PYM, of Nantucket” as one of the works which the firm of Harper & Brothers have “nearly ready for publication.”

NOTE: The Knickerbocker Magazine was an influential New York monthly; its report suggests that the Harpers had agreed to publish Poe’s novel shortly after his arrival in New York and that they intended to place it in circulation before the end of 1837. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was not issued until around July 31, 1838; its publication was presumably delayed because of the economic uncertainty which followed the suspension of specie payments on May 10, 1837.

MAY 10: The New York City banks suspend specie payments, precipitating the “Panic of 1837”; within days banks throughout the nation close their doors. This date marks the beginning of one of the worst depressions in American history; a complete recovery does not occur until 1843. The publishing industry will be especially depressed.

NOTE: Frederick Jackson Turner discusses the Panic in The United States, 1830-1850 (1935; rpt. New York: Norton, 1965), pp. 453-87. Its effects on American authors and publishers are discussed by Eugene Exman, The Brothers ­[page 10:] Harper (New York: Harper, 1965), pp. 92-100, and by William Charvat in his Literary Publishing in America, 1750-1850 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959) pp- 42-43, and his Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870 (Columbus, 0.: Ohio State University Press, 1968), pp. 49-67.

MAY 27: Poe writes Charles Anthon, Professor of Greek and Latin at Columbia University, and the nation’s foremost classical scholar. Poe has been reading John L. Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land; and he believes that certain Biblical quotations found in this work are inaccurate. He asks Anthon to translate several Hebrew phrases from the Old Testament.

NOTE: The contents of this letter are surmised from Anthon’s June 1 reply and from Poe’s review of Arabia Petraea in the October, 1837, number of the New York Review. According to Exman, Brothers Harper, p. 95, Stephens’ Arabia Petraea was being set in type by the Harpers in May, 1837. It is not known whether Poe undertook to review Arabia Petraea at the suggestion of the Harpers, or of the editors of the Review, or of both.


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JUNE: The American Monthly Magazine, a New York City periodical owned by Park Benjamin and Charles Fenno Hoffman, Publishes Poe’s story “Von Jung, the Mystic.”

NOTE: Poe later changed the story’s title to “Mystification.”

JUNE 1: Charles Anthon replies to Poe: “I owe you an apology for not having answered your letter of the 27th ­[page 11:] sooner, but I was occupied at the time with matters that admitted of no delay, and was compelled therefore to lay your communication on the table for a day or two. I hope you will find what is written below satisfactory. Do not wait to pay me a formal visit, but call and introduce yourself.” Anthon discusses variant interpretations of several Hebrew verses in the Old Testament.

NOTE: Works, XVII, 42-43. Poe incorporated Anthon’s translations in his review of Stephens’ Arabia Petraea, but he probably did not accept the latter’s invitation to call. When he wrote Anthon again, sometime in the autumn of 1844, he mentioned that he could not claim “personal acquaintance” (see the Letters, II, 266-72).

JUNE 10: The Harpers take out a copyright on Poe’s novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket.

NOTE: Exman, Brothers Harper, p. 96.


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JULY: Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine commences publication in Philadelphia.

NOTE: This monthly magazine was originally edited by William E. Burton, an English actor who had emigrated to the United States in 1834, and published by Charles W. Alexander, a Philadelphia publisher who also issued Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, a newspaper. The December, 1838, number of the Gentleman’s Magazine contained an announcement that Burton had become the sole proprietor. ­[page 12:]


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OCTOBER: Poe’s lengthy review of John L. Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land appears in the New York Review.

NOTE: This critique is Poe’s only known contribution to the New York Review.


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NOVEMBER: Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine publishes two poems by Thomas Dunn English —”Infancy: A Fragment” and “The Ruins of the Parthenon.”

NOTE: English, then a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania, was to be a close associate of Poe during the Philadelphia period. These two poems apparently represent his first contributions to Burton’s; he was subsequently a frequent contributor. Although he was only eighteen years old, he had previously published poetry in the Saturday Courier, a Philadelphia weekly newspaper, and in The Casket, a Philadelphia monthly periodical. A bibliography of his writings is given by William Henry Gravely, Jr., “The Early Political and Literary Career of Thomas Dunn English,” Diss. Virginia 1953, pp. 775-81.


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - PIP, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Poe in Philadelphia, 1838-1844 (D. R. Thomas) (Chapter 01)