Text: Arthur Hobson Quinn, “Preface,” Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941), pp. vii-xii


[page vii:]


A biography of Edgar Allan Poe becomes at once an exercise in discrimination. Around his name has accumulated a mass of rumor, conjecture, psycho-analysis, and interpretation based upon imagination rather than fact. To picture Poe as he really was, it is necessary for a biographer to examine all these speculations but it is not necessary to trouble the reader with them.

I have tried to tell the story of Poe the American, not the exotic as he has so often been pictured, especially by European critics. He is best understood in contrast but not in conflict with his environment. His great achievement needs no reflected glory from the mirror of an America depicted as a barren waste of spiritual vacancy. In order to establish his place as one of the pioneers of the sterling group of American writers who dignified our literature during the period before the Civil War, it is necessary to clarify his relations not only with these authors but also with the critics, editors, and publishers who determined the conditions under which a creative artist of that time must live. Only in this way may we understand how vitally Edgar Poe was a part of that life. How keen was his desire to present the best literature America was producing, in the pages of a magazine edited and owned by himself, how he might have succeeded if he had been given the necessary capital, how undaunted he was by failure, will be apparent, I trust, in this biography. If this hope of his was only a dream, it was at least a noble dream.

There is a mass of evidence, based upon contemporary personal knowledge of Poe or later scholarly research, which must be weighed carefully before it is accepted or rejected. In these cases it is obvious that final conclusions must be supported by first-hand documentation. I have usually placed this documentation in footnotes or appendices, in order that the flow of narrative shall not be impeded. I have not, however, been a slave to uniformity, and I have been guided as to my inclusion in the text of original evidence by its importance rather than by its form. [page viii:]

In accepting evidence, I have followed no mere chronological formulae. Even the earliest biographers have still something to contribute. My sole test is that of credibility — and their own ability to judge evidence that has now disappeared. A modern biography would be a much easier task if it were possible to classify sharply witnesses who knew Edgar Poe, as either reliable or unreliable. But some of our most interesting descriptions of him come from writers like Susan Talley Weiss, who is quite competent when she is treating of his personal character and equally incompetent when she is transmitting tradition which she received at second hand.

Poe’s own letters are so interesting and reveal his nature so clearly that it seems to me impertinent to paraphrase them, or to present mere abstracts except in those cases where they are concerned with matters of transitory interest. It is my good fortune to be able to present some of the most significant of these letters either for the first time, or, what is often quite as important, for the first time as Poe wrote them.

It is the obvious duty of a biographer to spare no pains to reproduce Poe’s letters only from their originals, where this is possible. Indeed it would seem unnecessary even to mention such a matter, but in the case of Poe, there are especial reasons for this care. It has been known that Rufus W. Griswold tampered with the correspondence entrusted to him, but the reader of this volume will, I believe, be amazed at the revelation of the forgeries in which Poe’s first editor indulged, not only in the letters written by Poe but also in those written to him. For the first time some of the most persistent slanders are thus stripped of their foundations. Under these circumstances, I have felt it necessary to give the present location of the autograph material in all cases where it is known to me.

I trust that I have avoided an infection which has attacked in singular measure the investigators of Poe’s career, and which breaks out in the form of an acute desire to expose the inaccuracies or omissions of their predecessors. Many of mine worked before the days of photostats or other devices which now make accuracy of transcription easy as well as obligatory. Only in those cases where unwarranted interpretations of evidence have become widespread, as in that of the supposed “secret marriage” of Poe and Virginia, has it been absolutely necessary to refer to the statements of earlier biographers, in order to disprove their validity.

So much generous help has been given to me and so much new material has been placed at my disposal that even the record of my [page ix:] gratitude becomes a roll-call of scholars, collectors, and libraries associated with Poe. Dean James Southall Wilson, Edgar Allan Poe Professor of American Literature at the University of Virginia, has generously given me permission to print in complete form for the first time certain letters of Poe to “Annie,” which he has been preserving for his biography of Mrs. Richmond. His constant advice and that of his colleague, Mr. John Cook Wyllie, have helped me in many ways. Dr. Thomas O. Mabbott has not only read the proofs, but has also given me valuable information in advance of the much needed critical edition of Poe’s works, which I trust will soon appear under his editorial care. Dr. John C. French, Dr. Milton Ellis, Dr. J. B. Hubbell, Dr. R. A. Law, and Dr. Stanley T. Williams have been helpful in giving me counsel drawn from their special knowledge of Poe.

In Richmond, Mr. Granville Valentine not only gave me permission to quote freely from the published correspondence of Poe and John Allan (now known as the “Valentine Letters”) but also gave me free access to the unpublished manuscripts in his possession. To the skill in research and the unfailing courtesy of Mrs. Ralph T. Catterall, Honorary Curator of Prints and Manuscripts of the Valentine Museum, I owe the accounts of T. H. Ellis, of Charles Ellis, and of Mrs. Shelton, recorded by Edward V. Valentine, which not only establish dates of vital importance in the lives of Poe and John Allan in Richmond, but correct much that has been published concerning their English and Scottish days. Miss Mary Gavin Traylor, Secretary of the Poe Shrine in Richmond, has spared no pains to aid me in the solution of special problems. Dr. Joseph Wheeler and Mr. Richard H. Hart of the Pratt Library in Baltimore have made it possible for me to print the letters from the Amelia Poe Collection which alter completely our knowledge of the relations of Poe and Virginia. Mr. Louis H. Dielman, Secretary of the Peabody Institute, has been of invaluable service in tracing Poe’s life in Baltimore, and in searching the original church records of the Poe and Clemm families. Miss May G. Evans has also sent me the results of her researches in Baltimore.

I am under special obligation to Major General E. S. Adams, of the War Department, and Dr. P. M. Hamer, Chief of the Division of Reference in the National Archives in Washington, who enabled me to publish the complete army record of Poe, for the first time. Dr. St. George L. Siousatt, Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, aided invaluably in my study of the Ellis-Allan Manuscripts, and to Mr. Alanson Houghton and Miss Alice Lerch of the Rare Book Collection I owe the unusual opportunity of obtaining a [page x:] complete photostat of the Prose Romances of 1843. For permission to use as a frontispiece the Osgood painting of Poe, I am indebted to the New York Historical Society.

Private collectors of Poe material have literally overwhelmed me by their courtesies. Mr. Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., of Indianapolis, has sent me photostat copies of the original letters from Poe to Mrs. Whitman, and of correspondence between Mrs. Whitman and many others, which enable me to depict her relations with Poe fairly and without sentimentality. Mr. William H. Koester, of Baltimore, has not only welcomed my visits to his Poe Collection, which now includes the collection of the late J. H. Whitty, but has also sent me photographs of every item I needed. To Mr. H. Bradley Martin of New York I owe the opportunity of examining some of the rarest of all Poe items, including the unique copy of the Phantasy Pieces, a facsimile of which I owe to the generosity of the late George Blumenthal. Mr. H. M. Lydenberg has not only placed the reources of the New York Public Library at my disposal but has secured through Dr. Victor H. Paltsits invaluable judgments upon the forgeries which make Poe study a series of pitfalls. Dr. Zoltán Haraszti and Miss Elizabeth L. Adams of the Boston Public Library have welcomed my researches among the Griswold Manuscripts and have given me valuable expert advice in connection with my discoveries of the forgeries of Griswold. Dr. Max Farrand, Captain Reginald B. Haselden, and Mr. H. C. Schulz, of the Huntington Library, have been as always helpful in my examination and reproduction of their Poe material. Director K. D. Metcalf, Mr. R. H. Haynes, and Mrs. Lillian Hall of the Harvard College Library, Mrs. Belle da Costa Greene of the Pierpont Morgan Library, Mr. Clarence Brigham of the American Antiquarian Society, Miss Viola C. White of the Middlebury College Library, Mr. Lyman B. Stowe of the Authors’ Club in New York, have not only permitted the printing of the manuscript material in their possession but have spared no efforts to aid me with authentic information. Among the collateral relatives of Poe, I am under special obligations to Mrs. Josephine Poe January, Miss Margaret Cheston Carey, and Mr. Harry T. Poe, Jr. For valuable help in tracing Poe’s background in Charleston, I am indebted to Miss Laura Bragg and to Miss Helen MacCormack, and for information concerning Poe’s relations to his friends at Lowell, Massachusetts, to Mr. F. W. Coburn. Mr. Arthur G. Learned has generously permitted the reproduction of his charming sketches, and Dr. Mary Bennett, of Columbia University, has been of great service in searching newspaper files in New York City. [page xi:]

In my home city I owe to Dr. Marie H. Law, of the Drexel Institute, permission to publish for the first time Poe’s early letter to Isaac Lea, explaining the meaning of “Al Aaraaf.” To Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach and Mr. Percy Lawler, Dr. A. K. Gray of the Library Company, Mr. Franklin Price of the Free Library, Dr. William Reitzel of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Mr. Joseph Jackson and Mr. Guido Bruno, I owe many courtesies. Mr. Richard Gimbel and his curator, Mr. Anthony Frayne, have been helpful in loaning me Poe material now in the Poe House. I regret that owing to Mr. Gimbel’s long absence from Philadelphia I have been unable to see all his autograph material.

It is with special pleasure that I record the assistance of my associates at the University of Pennsylvania. To President Thomas S. Gates and Provost George W. McClelland, who arranged a year’s leave of absence, without which I am afraid the book might never have been completed, and to the Faculty Research Committee, which provided funds to aid me in travel and investigation, I am greatly indebted. Mr. Edward H. O’Neill and Mr. E. B. Heg have generously read the proofs, and other colleagues in the Department of English, especially Dr. Paul Musser, Dr. A. C. Baugh, Dr. E. S. Bradley, Dr. R. D. James, Dr. W. J. Phillips, and Mr. D. P. Dow have helped me in many ways. Dr. Albert Gegenheimer spared the time from his own researches to bring me photographs of scenes in England and Scotland associated with Poe and to search records for the careers of his English ancestry. If I were to mention everyone of the force of the University Library who has assisted me, I would simply be reprinting that part of the University Catalogue. Mr. Seymour Thompson and his associates have been untiring in their efforts to build up an adequate Poe Collection and to make it available to me.

I beg to acknowledge the following courtesies from publishers. To D. Appleton-Century Company for permission to reprint letters of Poe, edited for the Century Magazine by G. E. Woodberry, in 1894 and again in 1903, in those instances in which I was unable to find the original manuscripts. Similar acknowledgments are due to the Thomas Y. Crowell Company, publishers of the Virginia Edition of Poe; to Houghton Mifflin Company, publishers of Woodberry’s Life of Poe and of the Letters of James Russell Lowell; to J. B. Lippincott Company, publishers of the Valentine Letters; to Charles Scribner’s Sons, publishers of the Stedman-Woodberry Edition of Poe’s Works; to Harper and Brothers, publishers of New Letters of James Russell Lowell; to Jacob E. Spannuth, publisher of the Doings of Gotham; [page xii:] and to the Editors of the Yale Review, for permission to quote from the material controlled by them.

My wife and children have criticized with patience the work as it progressed and have helped me as always. To my daughter Kathleen, who made the Index, with the assistance of our colleague, Mrs. John P. Jones, I am under special obligation.


University of Pennsylvania



The dedication page, on page 5, reads:








All of these appear to be Quinn’s children and other immediate relatives. The two most easily identified are his daughter, Kathleen C. Quinn, and his son, Arthur Hobson Quinn, Jr.

As should certainly be considered reasonable in a biography written more than half a century ago, a number of of Dr. Quinn’s acknowledgements are somewhat out of date. Much of the material he examined, and for which he documents the then-current location, has new owners. (The collection of H. Bradley Martin, for example, was sold at auction on January 30-31, 1990, and dispersed into a number of other collections. At least some of these items have subsequently changed hands more than once. The collection of William H. Koester is now owned by the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at Austin, and the J. K. Lilly collection is part of the special collections of the Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Mabbott’s proposed comprehensive collection of Poe’s writings never fully materialized, as Dr. Mabbott died suddenly in 1968. Fortunately, he was able to see the first volume, of the Poems (published in 1969), through the press, and his widow, Maureen C. Mabbott was able to finalize the two-volumes he had prepared of the Tales and Sketches (published in 1978). The series was continued under the direction of Burton R. Pollin, but the series now spans more than 40 years since the first volume appeared, under multiple publishers, and several volumes still remain to be completed.


[S:1 - EAP:ACB, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: A Critical Biography (A. H. Quinn) (Preface)