Text: Arthur Hobson Quinn, “Chapter 06,” Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941), pp. 118-137


[page 118:]

Tamerlane and the Army

Edgar Poe arrived at the city of his birth in April, 1827.(1) It was his first independent venture, taken on impulse, and probably prompted by Boston’s reputation as a literary and publishing center. How he lived during the next two months is uncertain. T. H. Ellis, in his manuscript,(2) says, “The story of his going to St. Petersburg, etc., was all an invention. The occasional letters which he wrote home are dated ‘St. Petersburg,’ but were written while he was on the stage in Boston, or an enlisted soldier in the army.” It would be a delightful task to speculate on Edgar Poe’s theatrical career, but, of course, Ellis’s testimony, unchecked, cannot be taken as sufficient evidence. However, since he was right in his statement concerning the Army, he may have been correct concerning Poe’s attempt to go upon the stage. With the record of his parents’ career, and his own amateur efforts in Richmond, it would have been a likely thing for Poe to attempt. Unfortunately, a careful scrutiny of the newspapers of Boston for the period reveals only one possible bit of evidence. On April 24, 1827, appeared the advertisement of the Foundling of the Forest, “the part of Bertrand by a young gentleman of Boston, his first appearance on any stage, who [page 119:] has politely proffered his services on the occasion.”(3) The fact that it was “a young gentleman of Boston” would dismiss the matter from consideration if we did not remember that Poe was to publish his first book shortly as “By a Bostonian,” and was evidently, at that time, making the most of his fragile connections with his birthplace. Unfortunately, playbills of that date for Boston are exceedingly rare, and those examined give no evidence.

If Poe did make this attempt to follow his parents’ stage career, it was not a success. It must have been an unhappy boy who enlisted in the United States Army as a private soldier on May 26, 1827. That he was not entering upon this career from any liking for a soldier’s life is clear from the fact that he gave his name as Edgar A. Perry, born in Boston, and his age as twenty-two.(4) Since this last statement was a gratuitous misrepresentation, for minors were at that time accepted, it is evident that Poe intended to disappear.(5) Poe gave his occupation as a clerk, and he may indeed have secured such employment for a time.(6) He was assigned to Battery H of the First Artillery in Fort Independence, Boston Harbor.

­ ­

Front cover of Tamerlane and Other Poems [thumbnail] Title page of Tamerlane and Other Poems [thumbnail]

[Illustrations on pages 120-121]
Front cover and title page of Tamerlane and Other Poems

The enlistment was an interruption to Poe’s career, but shortly after came the beginning of the great business of his life, in the publication of his first volume of poems. Tamerlane and Other Poems, By a Bostonian was published, probably in the early summer of 1827, by a printer, Calvin F. S. Thomas, at 70 Washington Street. Little is known of the circumstances of the publication, and while Thomas had, later, [page 122:] quite a career as a printer and editor,(7) he seems not to have made any mention of Poe.

“Tamerlane,” the title poem, in its first form contained four hundred and six lines. In the edition of 1845, which represents Poe’s final revision, it included only two hundred and thirty-four. The most striking differences, however, occur between this first edition of 1827 and the second, published in 1829. The latter is almost identical with the final version, since the additions and deletions in the 1831 edition were practically all discarded, and Poe returned to the 1829 version in his final revision. In addition to these published versions there is a manuscript in the Pierpont Morgan Library which seems to be a form intermediate between those of 1827 and 1829. It is in an immature hand, and is marked by scribbled suggestions for revision.(8)

“Tamerlane” in all three forms is, therefore, distinctly a poem of Poe’s youth, and they must be considered critically together. The poem already represents several of his poetic principles, and many of his metrical methods. Since the version of 1829 is markedly superior to that of 1827, it reveals early in his career that capacity for self-criticism and the striving for perfection which are two of the traits that have won him the esteem of all competent judges of poetry.

The note first struck in “Tamerlane” is that of independence. The “holy friar,” who is simply a device through which Poe can express his hero’s emotions, is at once repudiated as an inspiration of hope. Hope is not a gift which one soul can give to another. “It falls from an eternal shrine,” a rather effective line, amplified in 1829.

The next theme, that of pride, strikes at once a note of conflict with earlier happiness and is coupled with regret. In his Introduction, Poe states that “in Tamerlane, he has endeavored to expose the folly of even risking the best feelings of the heart at the shrine of ambition.” Yet even in such stanzas as the third, beginning with its obvious influence of Byron,

“I have not always been as now,” [page 123:]

there is a distinction between the worldly ambition that destroys happiness and the

“heritage of a kingly mind

And a proud spirit which hath striven

Triumphantly with human kind.”

The struggle to preserve spiritual integrity, which we shall have constantly to study in Poe’s poetry and prose, is a consequence of a proper pride, and is here emphasized in his first poem of importance.

The themes of beauty and of love are naturally introduced together, in verses whose harmony clothes a figure of speech veracious and striking:

“I have no words — alas! — to tell

The loveliness of loving well!

Nor would I now attempt to trace

The more than beauty of a face

Whose lineaments, upon my mind,

Are — shadows on th’ unstable wind:

Thus I remember having dwelt

Some page of early lore upon,

With loitering eye, till I have felt

The letters — with their meaning — melt

To fantasies — with none.”

The love that has come to him

“was such as angel minds above might envy.”

It is interesting that in “Annabel Lee” they loved

“With a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven

Coveted her and me.”

Thus in his first and in his last poem he thought in terms of a spiritual passion that transcended human limits.

Any criticism of “Tamerlane” from the point of view of historical accuracy would be futile. Poe describes Tamerlane as

“A cottager, I marked a throne

Of half the world as all my own

And murmured at such lowly lot.”

The real Tamerlane was the son of Teragai, head of his tribe, and was descended from the chief minister of the son of Jenghiz Khan. Poe knew of his relation to Jenghiz Khan, as his notes prove, but he [page 124:] probably felt that the rise of his hero was more dramatic if he was “the son of a shepherd.” It was from no love of democracy, however, that Poe thus altered facts. Tamerlane is the symbol of the innate patrician. He believes that

“Among the rabble-men

Lion ambition is chain’d down

And crouches to a keeper’s hand —

Not so in deserts where the grand

The wild — the terrible conspire

With their own breath to fan his fire.”

This attitude is, of course, not to be taken too seriously. Perhaps the line from Byron’s “Giaour”

“In crowds a slave, in deserts free”

lingered in Poe’s memory. Perhaps it was the dramatized loneliness of boyhood. It was in Poe’s case sincere, but it partook of that artificial appreciation of the “wide open spaces” that is so often the characteristic of those who have grown up in cities.

With geography, as well as history, Poe took the license of a poet. If there were any real inspiration for the scenery of “Tamerlane,” it probably lay in the hills around Charlottesville. But already Poe was avoiding the concrete in his poetry. In the version of 1827 Tamerlane speaks of himself as “Alexis” and of his love as “Ada.” But in the 1829 version and, indeed, already in the manuscript (if it is an intermediate stage), these proper names and a long account of his actual desertion are omitted; to the great improvement of the poem. “Ada” is restored, temporarily, in 1831.

The final theme, death, approaches as the conqueror of love, of beauty, and of pride. Tamerlane has returned to find his love dead, and the ending in the earliest version, with its lines, imitative of Childe Harold,

“The sound of revelry by night

Comes o’er me”

gives place to a vastly superior climax in 1829:

“Father, I firmly do believe —  

I know — for Death who comes for me

From regions of the blest afar,

Where there is nothing to deceive,

Hath left his iron gate ajar, [page 125:]

And rays of truth you cannot see

Are flashing thro’ Eternity —

I do believe that Eblis hath

A snare in ev’ry human path —

Else how, when in the holy grove

I wandered of the idol, Love,

Who daily scents his snowy wings

With incense of burnt offerings

From the most unpolluted things,

Whose pleasant bowers are yet so riven

Above with trelliced rays from Heaven

No mote may shun — no tiniest fly —

The light’ning of his eagle eye —

How was it that Ambition crept,

Unseen, amid the revels there,

Till growing bold, he laughed and leapt

In the tangles of Love’s very hair?”

Throughout his career, Poe was to develop in many forms the four themes of pride, love, beauty, and death. They are all in his first poem,(9) and to any student of his life, they are natural selections. He was a worshipper of beauty, his capacity for love was unusual, his pride, as we will see, was intense, and his preoccupation with death was constant. It is easy to point to similarities both verbal and in conception of character and incident with Byron, especially with “Manfred.” But in reality Poe read Byron because his own feeling was attuned to that form of romanticism of which Byron and Moore were the British representatives. Poe may have received the suggestion of his hero from Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, from Rowe’s Tamerlane, or “Monk” Lewis’s play, but there is no evidence of any definite influence. In one of the prose interludes in Thomas Moore’s Lalla Rookh, Fadladeen speaks of Aurungszebe as “the wisest and best of the descendants of Timur.” That Poe was reading Moore at this period, or earlier, is clear, but any influence upon “Tamerlane” is of the most general kind.

While Poe was to advance just as steadily in his rhythmical skill as in his creative power, he showed in “Tamerlane” some of the traits [page 126:] which mark him out from the majority of metrical artists. His verse form in “Tamerlane” is his favorite four-stress measure. He did not know, of course, of Dr. Holmes’ later experiments,(10) which proved that the four-stress line coincides in time interval with human breathing, and that since there are four heart beats to each breath, it is the natural line. But Poe unerringly selected it for the effects he wished to produce. The unity of the line being secured by its fundamental physiological nature, Poe developed variety by subtle modifications of the preconceived verse scheme. In immediate succession appear lines like

“You call it hope — that fire of fire!

It is but agony of desire.”

In the first line the accented syllables have almost exactly the same amount of stress, and they occur at almost exactly the same time interval. In other words, the feet are equivalent. In the second line, the accented syllables have different amounts of stress, and no time interval between them is the same. The contrast is immediate and effective. Another striking passage introduces a planet he was often to use:

‘What tho’ the moon —  the white moon —

Shed all the splendor of her noon,

Her smile is chilly — and her beam,

In that time of dreariness, will seem

(So like you gather in your breath)

A portrait taken after death.”

The same element of variety is secured, for no one of the verses is exactly like the others in metrical strucure. Another element of variety is secured in the first line by an apparent violation of the old-fashioned metrical rules, which were still believed in during Poe’s day. In the 1827 form, the line reads:

“What though the moon — the silvery moon.”

The substitution of “white” for “silvery” brings an additional stress on “white” and a consequent pause which aids in the emphasis.

In other words, Poe was following a basic law of English versification, which poets have always followed, while writers on versification have cluttered up the subject with academic rules, to which the poets have paid no attention. This basic law bids poets make their metrical form a servant to their thought, and never permit their metrical [page 127:] scheme to limit the free play of their ideas. Poe rejected, also, the limitation that springs from uniformity of end rime or of stanzaic structure. He rimes as the thought demands, in couplet, or quatrain form, in alternate or enclosed rimes. There are really no stanzas; the sections of the poem are uneven in length, and end simply when the thought is completed. In the early versions the sections are numbered, but even this indication of stanzaic structure is abandoned in the revision of 1845.

Of the remaining poems published with “Tamerlane” in 1827, “To ———,” beginning with

“I saw thee on thy bridal day;

When a burning blush came o’er thee”

may be based on Poe’s broken engagement to Elmira Royster, but it has the usual lack of merit which self-pity gives to verse.

In “Visit of the Dead,” there is a powerful conception of the relation of the soul, lonely so far as earthly ties are concerned, but not lonely in the larger reality of death, for

“The spirits of the dead, who stood

In life before thee, are again

In death around thee, and their will

Shall then o’ershadow thee — be still.”

“The Lake” is an early picture of pleasure in loneliness and the terror that

“was not fright

But a tremulous delight.”

While these poems must be credited definitely to this early period, “Imitation” belongs because of its many changes to a later period when it became “A Dream Within A Dream.” Poe did not reprint “Evening Star,” which is only of interest because it is the first appearance of the contrast between Astarté and the Moon, to culminate in “Ulalume.” He also discarded those untitled verses which conclude with the striking lines,

“That high tone of the spirit which hath striv’n,

Tho’ not with Faith — with godliness — whose throne

With desp’rate energy ‘t hath beaten down;

Wearing its own deep feeling as a crown.” [page 128:]

It seems strange that he did not recognize how well these words applied to himself — as did that other vivid flash in “Dreams,”

“to him whose heart must be

And hath been still, upon the lovely earth,

A chaos of deep passion, from his birth.”(11)

In this first volume the love of dreaming is noteworthy, partly day dreaming, as in “Dreams” partly the mystical union of life and death. The perfection which marked Poe’s greatest lyrics was, of course, not yet present. But the promise was there.

Tamerlane and Other Poems made practically no impression upon the critical or popular reader. It was noticed by two magazines, but without critical comment.(12) In a three-volume anthology, Specimens of American Poetry, edited by Samuel Kettell in 1829, it is listed,(13) but no selections were made from it. That it was listed at all was due probably to the fact that the publisher, S. G. Goodrich, was also “A Bostonian.” It is not surprising that Tamerlane failed to challenge Kettell’s approval. His anthology was a praiseworthy attempt to call attention to native poets, but an examination of the selections will reveal no poetry of the type Poe had written. They are mainly of the reflective or narrative varieties, and even those writers like Fitz-Greene Halleck, or John Neal, who also reflected the influence of Byron, did so in a different way.

While we may not believe that Poe was truthful in claiming, as he [page 129:] does in his introduction to Tamerlane, that he had written the poems when he was only in his fourteenth year, the publication was still strikingly early for those days. Bryant was the only one of the American poets of first rank who had issued a volume. Emerson, who was Poe’s senior by six years, did not publish a volume of verse until 1841; Whittier, who was two years older than Poe, waited until 1831; Longfellow, born in 1807, who had published verse as early as 1820, issued Voices of the Night, his first volume, in 1839; and Holmes, who was born during the same year as Poe, sent forth his first collection of poems, nine years later, in 1836. The early appearance of Tamerlane is only one illustration of Poe’s quiet confidence that he had something original and authentic to offer. That he was right is now apparent. Of the eighteen other volumes of verse recorded by Kettell as being published in 1827, only one, Halleck’s Alnwick Castle, is read even by the special student. But in Tamerlane and Other Poems there was a lyric fervor that had not appeared before in American poetry. By a grim and ironic justice, the book, which sold for twelve and one-half cents, is now one of the most sought and the most valuable of rare Americana.

Poe’s battery of artillery was ordered to Fort Moultrie, on Sullivan’s Island, Charleston Harbor, on October 31, 1827. He did not embark, however, until November 8th, on the brig Waltham, and he arrived November 18th. Here he remained until December 11, 1828, when his battery set sail on the ship Harriet for Fortress Monroe in Virginia,(14) where they landed on December 15, 1828. While he is not mentioned, the names of the officers identify the battery.

As a private or non-commissioned officer, Poe’s social life in Charleston would have been limited. According to family tradition, however, he made warm friends with Colonel William Drayton, to whom he dedicated later the Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque and with whom he continued a friendship when Colonel Drayton moved to Philadelphia.(15)

If he made any effort to trace his parents’ theatrical history in these cities, we do not know it. The region, however, surrounding Charleston made a lasting impression upon Poe. Most definite, of course, was [page 130:] the inspiration which led later to the writing of “The Gold Bug.” As usual, Poe made use of certain local characteristics, but changed scenery and other elements to suit his story. The description of Sullivan’s Island with which “The Gold Bug” opens is on the whole correct. The picturesque ruins of Fort Moultrie, as it stood in Poe’s day, remain, but the new fort and the many houses clustering around it present quite a different picture from that which he knew. The myrtles, especially on the eastern end, are still there, but they never were the European variety which Poe describes, but only a local plant. To his hero, Legrand, Poe attributes, as usual, some of his own traits and habits. Legrand saunters “along the beach and through the myrtles in quest of shells or entomological specimens.” Poe’s acceptance in 1839 of the task of rewriting Wyatt’s textbook on conchology shows his interest in shells, which may date from this period. In 1826 there lived on Sullivan’s Island Dr. Edmund Ravenel, a conchologist of distinction, and it seems most probable that Poe talked with him, and may have received from him his inspiration.

The story stems from the discovery of the gold bug by Legrand, and the mistake by which the teller of the tale returns to Legrand not the side of the parchment on which the bug has been sketched, but the cryptogram which tells the location of the treasure, is a clever device. The conversation of Jupiter, the colored servant of Legrand, leads up skillfully to the description of the bug.

The gold bug itself is at first glance entirely imaginary, for no such beetle exists. But it has been suggested(16) that Poe combined the characteristics of two beetles existing in the locality to make a new one suitable to his purpose. The Callichroma splendidum has a head of gleaming gold color, its wings are satiny green, and its abdomen is dull gold. This beetle is an inch and a half long by about one-half inch wide, and the antennæ are three inches long. The jaws are powerful and can inflict a real pinch. Jupiter’s objection to it and his description of the beetle, “de bug is a goole bug, solid inside and all, sep him wing,” are realistic. But this beetle has no black spots and its shape is wrong. There is, however, a fairly common insect known as the “Click Beetle,” the Alaus oculatus, which has a ground color of black thickly spotted with white. On its large and prominent prothorax are two large, rounded, black eyelike spots, edged with white, giving, according to Professor Smyth, the appearance of a death’s head. There is, [page 131:] however, no long black mark at the bottom, which Poe inserted to make the resemblance to the death’s head more striking.(17) The fact that the Callichroma splendidum is not a “Scarabæus,” but belongs to the family Cerambycidae, did not bother Poe, nor does it disturb any one else. There were common varieties of beetle in the neighborhood which did belong to this family, and the name Scarabæus is familiar to most readers. Indeed, this synthetic bug is probably, through the story, the best known of all beetles, even if, like the “sea coast of Bohemia,” it never existed. Poe at times had almost an impish delight in the inaccuracy of unessentials. The parchment cryptogram is signed with the figure of a “kid” — though Captain Kidd did not enter Charleston harbor. There were many pirates who did, however, and “Blackbeard” and Bonnet would have provided possibilities for less obvious puns.

But Poe knew that the main interest in “The Gold Bug” lies in Legrand’s solution of the pirate’s cryptogram by which the treasure is discovered. He therefore takes liberties with the real country through which Legrand had searched for the “Bishop’s Castle” from which he was to see the death’s head on the tree under whose dead limb they were to dig. The low alluvial soil of the Isle of Palms, then known as Long Island, which they would have crossed before they reached the mainland, becomes the “country excessively wild and desolate” where “no trace of a human footstep was to be seen.” The mainland, too, is low and marshy in places. But Poe had to find a lofty seat from which Legrand was to see the tall tulip tree on which the skull had been nailed. So he naturally invented the “narrow ledge” on the eastern face of the rock.(18) To one unfamiliar with the mainland north of Sullivan’s Island it would seem incredible that a skull would have remained visible after the years that had elapsed since the pirate deposited the treasure there. But the few tulip trees that still remain after another lapse of time reveal, through their scanty foliage on many of their limbs, that Poe was not straying beyond the limits of [page 132:] possibility. And it is to be remembered, also, that it was a “dead limb” on which the skull was found.

It must be remembered, too, that while Poe invented rocks and cliffs where they have never been, the region through which Legrand and his companions made their way does partake even yet of a certain desolate quality. Houses are few today, and they must have been much fewer in 1828. The forests of the mainland and the barren sands of Sullivan’s Island may well have seemed desolate to a young poet who was sick of soldiering. According to Colonel Gage, the genial commandant of Fort Moultrie when I first saw it, Poe would have had sufficient leisure in the “old army” days to take long walks on the mainland. The filmy drapery of “Spanish moss” falling over the thick growth of oaks, pines, and cypress — who can doubt that the moon “more filmy than the rest” whose “wide circumference”

“In easy drapery falls

.   .   .   .   .   .   .

O’er the strange woods — o’er the sea”

passed from the forests of South Carolina into “Fairyland,” first printed in the volume of 1829. Even today when one comes upon the two columns of stately oaks lining the approach to the estate of “Oakland” in Christ Church Parish, the fine climax of Poe’s first published story, “Metzengerstein,” flashes at once into remembrance. “Up the long avenue of aged oaks which led from the forest to the main entrance of the Palace Metzengerstein, a steed, bearing an unbonneted and disordered rider, was seen leaping with an impetuosity which outstripped the very Demon of the Tempest.” Here Poe was, as usual, combining a memory of a native background with the romantic convention that placed the scene in a distant land.

Sullivan’s Island remained a vivid memory in Poe’s mind. The travellers across the ocean in “The Balloon-Hoax” land on the beach “(The tide being out and the sand hard, smooth, and admirably adapted for a descent).” In “The Oblong Box” Charleston is simply a place from which to depart. But it was not the city of Charleston, it was rather the surroundings of Fort Moultrie and the shadows of the dense woods of South Carolina that stamped their impress upon Poe.

Poe had already decided that he was wasting his time in the Army. On December 1st, while they were under orders to sail from Fort Moultrie, he wrote to John Allan in the tone of a repentant son, asking his consent to withdrawing from the service. Evidently there had been previous correspondence, and Poe could hardly have been more [page 133:] solicitous for Mr. Allan’s recovery from an “indisposition,” if there had never been a dispute between them. His experience in the service had not made him less confident of success, and one sentence, “The period of an Enlistment is five years — the prime of my life would be wasted — I shall be driven to more decided measures, if you refuse to assist me,” reveals Poe in his combination of appeal for help and vague threats if the help is not given, which forms one of his least attractive moods. He sends his “dearest love to Ma,” and hopes “she will not let my wayward disposition wear away the love she used to have for me.”(19)

Allan did not answer this letter, and shortly after Poe’s arrival at Fortress Monroe he wrote again, recapitulating his earlier letter, addressing Allan as his “father,” and signing himself, “Your affectionate son.”(20) This also remained unanswered. Poe had served as an artificer from May 1, 1828, until January 1, 1829, when he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major, the highest non-commissioned grade in the Army, a promotion which establishes the ability with which he had conducted his duties. On February 4th he humbled his pride to ask Mr. Allan to use his interest in obtaining for him an appointment as a cadet to West Point. He refers to his “infamous conduct” at the University of Virginia, but excuses himself on the ground of youth .(21)

In this letter he sends his love to his foster-mother for the last time. On February 28, 1829, Frances Allan died, and since Poe arrived at Richmond, on leave, the day after the funeral, John Allan must have relented sufficiently to send him some money and join in his request for a furlough. The death of the woman who was the chief bond between them must have resulted in some form of reconciliation, for Allan gave him the following order:

Mr. Ellis,

Please to furnish Edgar A. Poe with a suit of black clothes — 3 pair socks or Half Hose — Mc Cr [erey?] will make them — also a pr. suspenders and Hat & Knife, pair of Gloves.

Mar. 4, 1828.(22)

Poe’s letter, existing only in a fragment, which he wrote to Allan on [page 134:] March 10, 1829, from Fortress Monroe(23) begins, “My dear Pa,” and concludes, “Yours affectionately.” The tone once more is that of the early letters from the University of Virginia, that of a confiding son to his father who is preparing to help him obtain a discharge from the service and an appointment to West Point. Two sentences are especially interesting: “If it were not for the late occurrences, should feel much happier than I have for a long time, I have had a fearful warning & have hardly ever known before what distress was.” These words can refer only to the death of Mrs. Allan, and while the Army records show that he was present at Fortress Monroe on the day of her death, and could, therefore, not have seen her, perhaps some last message stung him with remorse. Whatever John Allan’s treatment of him may have been, a sensitive and impressionable young man like Poe would naturally accuse himself of neglect of his foster-mother during the two years of his Army service. How often he may have written we do not know, but there is no mention of letters from him to Mrs. Allan in his correspondence with Allan.

With Allan’s consent the proceedings necessary to a discharge proceeded normally. The letter of Poe’s colonel is of interest because the jumble of fact and fiction represents information given to him both by Poe and by John Allan:

Fortress Monroe, March 30, ‘29.

GENERAL, — I request your permission to discharge from the service Edgar A. Perry, at present the Sergeant-Major of the 1st Reg’t of Artillery, on his procuring a substitute.

The said Perry is one of a family of orphans whose unfortunate parents were the victims of the conflagration of the Richmond theatre, in 1809. The subject of this letter was taken under the protection of a Mr. Allen, [sic] a gentleman of wealth and respectability, of that city, who, as I understand, adopted his protégé as his son and heir; — with the intention of giving him a liberal education, he had placed him at the University of Virginia from which, after considerable progress in his studies, in a moment of youthful indiscretion he absconded, — and was not heard from by his Patron for several years; in the mean time, he became reduced to the necessity of enlisting into the service, and accordingly entered as a soldier in my Regiment, at Fort Independence, in 1827. — Since the arrival of his company at this place, he has made his situation known to his Patron, at whose request, the young man has been permitted to visit him; the result is, an entire reconciliation on the part of Mr. Allen, who reinstates him into his family and favor, — [page 135:] and who in a letter I have received from him requests that his son may be discharged on procuring a substitute; — an experienced soldier and approved sergeant, is ready to take the place of Perry so soon as his discharge can be obtained. The good of the service, therefore, cannot be materially injured by the exchange.(24)

I have the honor to be,

With great respect, your obedient servant,

JAS. HOUSE, Col. 1st Art’y.

To the General Commanding the E. Dept. U. S. A. New York.

Under a Special Order No. 28, dated April 4, 1829, Sergeant Major “Edgar A. Perry” was discharged on April 15th. According to the records of the War Department, Sergeant Samuel Graves of Company H is shown to have enlisted April 17, 1829, and to have “re-enlisted substitute for Sgt. Major Perry.”(25) Poe’s usual bad luck followed him in this substitution. Poe explained to John Allan later, when his conduct had been called in question, that the officer commanding a company could, if he desired, enlist the first recruit who offered, and muster him in as a substitute for a retiring soldier, paying only the normal bounty of $12. But as Colonel House and Lieutenant Howard were both absent, this arrangement could not be carried out. Then Poe made one of those mistakes which are best described in his own words: “As I had told you it would only cost me $12 — I did not wish to make you think me imposing upon you — so upon a substitute offering for $75 — I gave him $25 — & gave him my note of hand for the balance — when you remitted me $100 — thinking I had more than I should want, I thought it my best opportunity of taking up my note — which I did.”(26)

To a man like Allan, so exact in his accounts that he kept every scrap of paper connected with his business, this concealment amounted almost to a crime. But he apparently knew nothing of it when Poe arrived at Richmond, which he still looked upon as his home.

Before he left the post, Poe collected the following testimonials from his officers, to use in connection with his application to West Point:

Fortress Monroe, Va., 20th Apl. 1829

Edgar Poe late Serg’t-Major in the 1st Arty served under my command in H. company 1st Reg’t of Artillery, from June, 1827, [page 136:] to January, 1829, during which time his conduct was unexceptionable. — He at once performed the duties of company clerk and assistant in the Subsistent Department, both of which duties were promptly and faithfully done. His habits are good and intirely [sic] free from drinking.

Lieut. 1st Artillery.

In addition to the above, I have to say that Edgar Poe was appointed Sergeant-Major of the 1st Art’y: on the 1st of Jan’y, 1829, and up to this date, has been exemplary in his deportment, prompt and faithful in the discharge of his duties — and is highly worthy of confidence.

Bt. Capt. and Adjt. 1st Art’y.

I have known and had an opportunity of observing the conduct of the above-mentioned Serg’t-Majr. Poe some three months, during which his deportment has been highly praiseworthy and deserving of confidence. His education is of a very high order and he appears to be free from bad habits, in fact the testimony of Lt. Howard and Adjt. Griswold is full to that point. Understanding he is, thro’ his friends, an applicant for cadet’s warrant, I unhesitatingly recommend him as promising to aquit himself of the obligations of that station studiously and faithfully.

W. J. WORTH,   
Lt. Col. Comd’g Fortress Monroe.

These credentials Poe took with him to Washington early in May to present to Major John Eaton, the Secretary of War. John Allan also wrote a letter of introduction, and the coldness of his tone is in marked contrast to that of Poe’s officers:

Richmond, May 6, 1829

Dr. Sir, — The youth who presents this, is the same alluded to by Lt. Howard, Capt. Griswold, Colo. Worth, our representative and the speaker, the Hon’ble Andrew Stevenson, and my friend Major Jno. Campbell.

He left me in consequence of some gambling at the University at Charlottesville, because (I presume) I refused to sanction a rule that the shopkeepers and others had adopted there, making Debts of Honour of all indiscretions. I have much pleasure in asserting that he stood his examination at the close of the year with great credit to himself. His history is short. He is the grandson of Quartermaster-General Poe, of Maryland, whose widow as [page 137:] I understand still receives a pension for the services or disabilities of her husband. Frankly, Sir, do I declare that he is no relation to me whatever; that I have many [in] whom I have taken an active interest to promote theirs; with no other feeling than that, every man is my care, if he be in distress. For myself I ask nothing, but I do request your kindness to aid this youth in the promotion of his future prospects. And it will afford me great pleasure to reciprocate any kindness you can show him. Pardon my frankness; but I address a soldier.

Your ob’d’t se’v’t,


The Hon’ble John H. Eaton,
   Sec’y of War, Washington City.

It was also quite different from the strong letter from James P. Preston, who represented Allan’s district in the House of Representatives, and who was the father of Poe’s schoolmate. He and other friends wrote directly to the Secretary of War. Allan’s letter of May 18th(27) to Poe, advising him how to proceed, is not uncordial, and it reveals, incidentally, how Poe was remembered by those who had seen him as a child. The Hon. John T. Barber, for example, who had not met Edgar Poe since they were both at “the Springs in 1812,” did what he could to forward his application. John Allan, to do him justice, gave Poe fifty dollars, sent him one hundred more, and honored his draft for an additional fifty. (28) Perhaps it was the price he was willing to pay to have Poe out of Richmond.


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 118:]

(1)  Mrs. Stanard in the Valentine Letters, p. 52, quotes a correspondent to the effect that “the only vessel directly from Richmond which reached Boston during this period was the Carrier, Captain Gill. The Carrier cast anchor April 7.” My search of files of the Boston Commercial Gazette and the Boston Centinel reveals no such boat arriving in Boston, and as Dr. Mabbott has shown, the Carrier cleared for Richmond on April 7th, from Boston. The Richmond Enquirer and the Constitutional Whig, of Richmond, make no mention of this or any other boat leaving Richmond for Boston at this time. The Boston papers record the arrival, however, of the Only Son, Captain Hicks, on April 3rd, and the President, Captain Ames, both from Richmond. Poe may have come on either, but in the absence of passenger lists, the whole matter is one of conjecture. Poe may have stopped in Baltimore, en route. See T. O. Mabbott, Introduction to his edition of Tamerlane (New York, 1941).

(2)  Valentine Collection.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 119:]

(3)  Boston Courier, April 24, 1827, advertising the play for April 25th.

(4)  The exact statement of the War Department Records as given to me, December 15, 1939, reads: “At the date of enlistment Perry gave his age as twenty-two years; birthplace, Boston, Massachusetts; occupation, clerk; height, five feet, eight inches; eyes, grey; hair, brown; and complexion, fair.”

(5)  Information concerning Poe’s career in the Army has heretofore been based on the search of the records of the War Department made by Adjutant General Drum, for George E. Woodberry, who published the results in the Atlantic Monthly, December, 1884, and later in his Edgar Allan Poe (1885). His information was correctly given, so far as it went. Through the courtesy of Major General E. S. Adams, Adjutant General, a complete copy of Poe’s army record has been furnished to me, and is given in the Appendix or in its appropriate places.

(6)  There is an account of Poe’s supposed meetings at Virginia, in Boston, and elsewhere with a certain Peter Pindar Pease, published by Theodore Pease Stearns in The Outlook, September 1, 1920, under the title, “A Prohibitionist Shakes Dice with Poe.” It is at third hand, and seems to me untrustworthy as evidence. It does, however, support Poe’s own statement that he was a clerk in Boston.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 122:]

(7)  He was born in New York City, August 5, 1808. About 1830 he left Boston for New York City, and from 1835 to 1868 he lived in Buffalo, where he published the Western Literary Messenger and the Buffalo Medical Journal. He died in Buffalo September 19, 1876. For an extended account of Thomas, see Oscar Wegelin, Bulletin New York Historical Society, January, 1940, and Mabbott’s Introduction to Tamerlane.

(8)  Certain corrections of obvious mistakes indicate that the manuscript is later than the 1827 version. Cf. line 75 in “Tamerlane” (1827): “My soul in mystery to sleep,” with the Ms., “My soul in mystery to steep”; or in line 90, “Tamerlane,” “lovliness” which becomes “loveliness” in the Ms.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 125:]

(9)  “Lines to Louisa,” attributed to Poe as an earlier poem than “Tamerlane,” came from a novel, George Barnwell (1798) by Thomas Skinner Surr. See Sylvia T. Warner, New Statesman and Nation, N. S. VIII (November 17, 1934), 730. T. O. Mabbott in his Introduction to Tamerlane (1941) pp. xlix — lii, gives a synopsis of our shadowy information about Poe’s possible writings before Tamerlane.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 126:]

(10)  See O. W. Holmes, “The Physiology of Versification.”

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 128:]

(11)  “Dreams” and “The Happiest Day, the Happiest Hour” were not reprinted by Poe in any of his volumes of verse. They appeared, however, in The North American, a weekly paper of Baltimore in 1827, over the signature of “W. H. P.,” probably the initials of William Henry Poe. There are slight changes in “Dreams,” usually improvements, and the two final stanzas of “The Happiest Day” have been omitted, while a new one of distinctly lower quality has been added. Whether Poe was a party to this reprinting is an open question, but the fact that he had published Tamerlane without revealing his own identity makes it at least possible. His omission of the poems from his later volumes indicates that he placed little value upon them. They could hardly have been dropped because of any joint authorship between Edgar and Henry Poe, for the other examples of the latter’s writing have none of his brother’s quality. They are to be found in a file of the North American, in the New York Public Library, or perhaps more conveniently in Poe’s Brother, by Hervey Allen and Thomas Ollive Mabbott (New York, 1926).

(12)  The United States Review and Literary Gazette, II (August, 1827), 399, and The North American Review, XXV (October, 1827), 47.

(13)  Vol. III, p. 405.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 129:]

(14)  Dates given by the War Department are those on which the official orders were issued. The actual dates of sailing and arrival have been ascertained from the Charleston Courier and the City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser by Dr. William S. Hoole. See “Poe in Charleston,” American Literature, VI (March, 1934), 78-80.

(15)  Letter of Dr. William Drayton, Jr. to the writer, October 29, 1940.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 130:]

(16)  Ellison A. Smyth, Jr., “Poe’s Gold Bug from the Standpoint of an Entomologist,” Sewanee Review, XVIII (January, 1910), 67-72.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 131:]

(17)  Carroll Laverty suggests that Poe, who describes a “death’s head moth” in his story of “The Sphinx” (1846), may have seen one in the Saturday Magazine of August 25, 1832, where a picture of the moth is given. It is possible. See “The Death’s Head on the Gold Bug,” American Literature, XII (March, 1940), 88-91.

(18)  Miss Laura Bragg, former Director of the Charleston Museum, has called my attention to a lime kiln on the eastern side of the Isle of Palms, which might have suggested to Poe the “rocky seat.” These lime kilns have been in the locality for many years, and the supposition is at least an interesting one.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 133:]

(19)  Valentine Letters, pp. 80-82.

(20)  Valentine Letters, p. 94.

(21)  Valentine Letters, pp. 103-106.

(22)  Ellis-Allan Papers, L. of C., Poe Volume. I believe this date an error for March 4, 1829, since Killis Campbell found a similar entry in the “Office Books” of Ellis and Allan dated March 3, 1829.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 134:]

(23)  Valentine Letters, pp. 116-117.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 135:]

(24)  War Department Records.

(25)  Letter from Adjutant General Adams, December 15, 1989. See Appendix VI.

(26)  Valentine Letters of June 25 and July 26, 1829, pp. 151 and 163.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 137:]

(27)  Valentine Letters, p. 123.

(28)  Valentine Letters, p. 126.





[S:1 - EAP:ACB, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: A Critical Biography (A. H. Quinn) (Chapter 06)