Text: Arthur Hobson Quinn, “Chapter 20,” Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941), pp. 642-695


[page 642:]

The Recoil of Fate

It was on the cold raw afternoon of October 9, 1849, that the little funeral brought to the Presbyterian Cemetery at Fayette and Green Streets, where now stands the Westminster Church, the body of Edgar Poe. Of the four men who paid him this last tribute, Neilson Poe and Henry Herring were relatives by blood or inter-marriage, Dr. Snodgrass had been his friend and fellow craftsman and Z. Collins Lee showed by his presence the strength of the boyhood ties made at the University of Virginia. The Reverend W. T. D. Clemm, of the Caroline Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, read the funeral service.

Poe was laid in a grave near his grandfather, to lie there until 1875 when his coffin was removed to the southeastern corner of the cemetery. There his monument now stands, and beneath it Virginia and Mrs. Clemm are once more united to him.

On the day of Poe’s funeral, Mrs. Clemm, frantic with anxiety, wrote to Neilson Poe for news. She had evidently read a notice of Edgar’s death. Neilson Poe replied at once:

October 11, 1849.

My dear Madam:

I would to God I could console you with the information that your dear Son, Edgar A. Poe is still among the living. The newspapers, in announcing his death, have only told a truth, which we may weep over & deplore, but cannot change. He died on Sunday morning, about 5 o’clock, at the Washington Medical College, where he had been since the Wednesday preceding. At what time he arrived in this city, where he spent the time he was here, or under what circumstances, I have been unable to ascertain. It appears that, on Wednesday, he was seen & recognised at one of the places of election in old town, and that his condition was such as to render it necessary to send him to the college, where he was tenderly nursed until the time of his death. As soon as I heard that he was at the college, I went over, but his physicians [page 643:] did not think it advisable that I should see him, as he was very excitable — The next day I called & sent him changes of linen &c. And was gratified to learn that he was much better, & I was never so much shocked, in my life, as when, on Sunday morning, notice was sent to me that he was dead. Mr. Herring & myself immediately took the necessary steps for his funeral, which took place on Monday afternoon at four o’clock. He lies alongside his ancestors in the Presbyterian burying ground on Green Street —

I assure you, My dear Madam, that, if I had known where a letter would reach you, I would have communicated the melancholy tidings in time to enable you to attend his funeral — but I was wholly ignorant how to address you — The body was followed to the grave by Mr. Herring, Dr. Snodgrass, Mr. Z. Collins Lee, (an old classmate) and myself. The service was performed by the Rev. Wm. T. D. Clemm, a son of James L. Clemm. Mr. Herring & myself have sought, in vain, for the trunk & clothes of Edgar. There is reason to believe that he was robbed of them, whilst in such a condition as to render him insensible of his loss —

I shall not attempt the useless task of consoling you under such a bereavement — Edgar had seen so much of sorrow — had so little reason to be satisfied with life — that, to him, the change can scarcely be said to be a misfortune — If it leaves you lonely in this world of trouble, may I be allowed the friendly privilege of expressing the hope that, in the contemplation of the world to which he has gone & to which we are all hastening, — you will find consolations enduring & all sufficient — I shall be glad, at all times, to hear from you, & to alleviate, in every way in my power, the sorrows to which this dispensation may expose you — I only wish my ability was equal to my disposition.

My wife unites with me in expressions of sympathy.

truly your friend & servant


This letter, which contains the best evidence concerning the funeral, indicates clearly how little credence can be placed on the many later accounts of the last days of Poe. If Neilson Poe could not find out from Dr. Snodgrass, who went with him to the cemetery, what had really occurred, much of the latter’s later romantic pictures may be discounted. Neilson Poe ordered a tombstone for his cousin, but the fatality, which always accompanied Edgar Poe’s living actions, followed him after death and the tombstone was broken before it could be erected. [page 644:]

Poe’s death attracted little attention in Baltimore. The Sun printed this hotice:

Death of Edgar A. Poe. We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe, Esq., the distinguished American poet, scholar and critic, died in this city yesterday morning, after an illness of four or five days. This announcement coming so sudden [sic] and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius, and have sympathy for the frailties too often attending it. Mr. Poe, we believe, was a native of this State, though reared by a foster-father at Richmond, Va., where he lately spent some time on a visit. He was in the 38th year of his age.(2)

Even more brief was the reference in the Clipper,

Died: —

On the 8th instant of congestion of the brain, Edgar A. Poe, Esq. aged 38 years. Mr. Poe was well known as a writer of great ability.(3)

Both papers gave Poe’s age incorrectly, but for that error he was responsible. There was not a word in the Baltimore American, the Patriot or the National Intelligencer, even in the official death notices.(4)

In Philadelphia, the notice in the Baltimore Sun was copied in the Public Ledger,(5) and the Pennsylvanian,(6) and still briefer notices appeared in the Pennsylvania Freeman,(7) and McMakin’s Model American Courier.(8)

The impression made in Richmond by Poe’s last visit may be judged by the fact the newspapers there did not confine themselves to a few words, even in their immediate notices. The Richmond Whig reported his death on October 9th, with many laudatory remarks. “But the other day he was delighting our citizens with a lecture — he was walking our streets in the vigor of manhood, mingling with his acquaintances.” The Enquirer in an editorial on October 12th, spoke of “his wonderful and [page 645:] touching ‘Raven,’ which in his admirable and fascinating lectures in this city he recited with great beauty, pathos and effect.”

On October 9th the New York Journal of Commerce commented in its Editorial Columns:

Edgar A. Poe — Our readers will observe, under our telegraphic head, the announcement of the death of this well known author. For some years past he has been more or less ill, and the announcement of his death is not unexpected, though none the less melancholy on that account.

Few men were his equals. He stands in a position among our poets and prose writers which has made him the envy of many and the admiration of all. His life has been an eventful and stormy one, and if any one shall be found to write its history, we venture to say that its simple truths will be of more thrilling interest than most romances.

During the early part of his life he wandered around the world, wasting the energies of a noble mind. Subsequently he returned to his native country, but his heart seemed to have become embittered by the experiences of life, and his hand to be against every man. Hence he was better known as a severe critic than otherwise; yet Mr. Poe had a warm and noble heart, as those who best knew him can testify. He had been sadly disappointed in his early years. Brilliant prospects had been dashed away from before him, and he wandered over the world in search of a substitute for them. During the latter part of his life it has seemed as if his really high heart had been weighed down under a heavy load, and his own words best express the emotions of his soul:

“Alas, alas for me,

Ambition — all is o’er!

No more, no more, no more,

(Such language hath the solemn sea

To the sands upon the shore,)

Shall bloom the thunder blasted tree.

The stricken eagle soar.”

It will not be denied, even by his enemies, that Mr. Poe was a man of great ability, — and all other recollections of him will be lost now, and buried with him in the grave. We hope he has found rest, for he needed it.

But the friendly and sensible wish of the Editor was not be be fulfilled. Almost at the very minute when the sods were falling on Poe’s coffin, the fingers of slander were reaching for his fame. The Reverend [page 646:] Rufus W. Griswold, who had accepted the responsibility of becoming Poe’s literary executor, published in the Evening Edition of the New York Tribune of October 9th, a notice of his death and his career beginning:

Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it. The poet was known, personally or by reputation, in all this country; he had readers in England, and in several of the states of Continental Europe; but he had few or no friends; and the regrets for his death will be suggested principally by the consideration that in him literary art has lost one of its most brilliant but erratic stars.

Then followed an account of Poe’s life. For some of the errors of fact Griswold was not responsible since he derived them from Poe’s own autobiographical sketch. But he lost no opportunity of dwelling upon Poe’s poverty. According to Griswold, when Poe called upon Kennedy, “a tattered frock-coat concealed the absence of a shirt, and the ruins of boots disclosed more than the want of stockings.” Griswold dwelt, apparently with relish, on Poe’s destitution in 1847. With that cleverness that marked the entire course of his attack on Poe he proceeded to win the reader’s belief in his fairness by praising highly Poe’s imaginative power and then altered the picture by charging that Poe “himself dissolved the spell, and brought his hearers back to common and base existence, by vulgar fancies or exhibitions of the ignoble passions.”

When Griswold proceeded to a more definite analysis of Poe’s character his own powers of destructive criticism evidently for the moment failed him. He claimed later that he wrote a few paragraphs “hastily” for the Tribune,(9) but he took the time to look up Bulwer’s The Caxtons and make use of the description of Francis Vivian.(10) He began by a statement of his own that Poe’s “harsh experience had deprived him of all faith, in man or woman.” Next he paraphrased Bulwer for a few sentences and then after a reference to The Caxtons, gave Bulwer’s language almost verbatim. In quoting this passage I am printing in italics the sentences in which he reproduced The Caxtons, without change:

He had made up his mind upon the numberless complexities of the social world, and the whole system with him was an imposture. [page 647:] This conviction gave a direction to his shrewd and naturally unamiable character. Still, though he regarded society as composed altogether of villains, the sharpness of his intellect was not of that kind which enabled him to cope with villainy, while it continually caused him by overshots to fail of the success of honesty. He was in many respects like Francis Vivian in Bulwer’s novel of the “Caxtons.” “Passion, in him, comprehended many of the worst emotions which militate against human happiness. You could not contradict him, but you raised quick choler; you could not speak of wealth, but his(11) cheek paled with gnawing envy. The astonishing natural advantages of this poor boy — his beauty, his readiness, the daring spirit that breathed around him like a fiery atmosphere — had raised his constitutional self-confidence into an arrogance that turned his very claims to admiration into prejudices against him. Irascible, envious(12) — bad enough, but not the worst, for these salient angles were all varnished over with a cold repellent cynicism, his passions vented themselves in sneers. There seemed to(13) him no moral susceptibility; and, what was more remarkable in a proud nature, little or nothing of the true point of honor. He had, to a morbid excess, that desire to rise which is vulgarly called ambition, but no wish for the esteem or the love of his species; only the hard wish to succeed — not shine, not serve — succeed, that he might have the right to despise a world which galled his self-conceit.”

Griswold enclosed this passage in quotation marks in the Tribune article, but omitted them when he afterwards reprinted it in his “Memoir” of Poe. The veracity of a portrait so derived, it is hardly necessary to challenge. Yet it was extensively quoted as Griswold’s own opinion, and it did much greater harm than if it had been recognized as a mere quotation. Griswold signed the article with the name of “Ludwig.”

The damage this article did to Poe’s reputation is incalculable. Printed in Horace Greeley’s paper and republished in the Weekly Tribune on October 20th, it was accepted as authoritative, and it was copied, even in journals friendly to Poe. It appeared, for example, in the Richmond Enquirer on October 13th and it created that first impression, so hard to efface.

Meanwhile the women who had loved Poe were pouring out their sympathy to Mrs. Clemm. On October 10th Mrs. Richmond, with her [page 648:] usual emotional emphasis, begged her “darling mother” to come to her. “Oh, if I could only have laid down my life for his, that he might have been spared to you,” Annie went on — “pardon me, if I add one pang to your grief, dear mother, but my own heart is breaking.” Mrs. Richmond was, in the midst of her sorrow, practical in her sympathy. “Mr. R[ichmond] begs that you will come on here, soon as you can, and stay with us as long as you please.” And on October 14th, she added another warm hearted invitation, coupled with a request to bring any writings of Poe. “Everything he has written is so dear to me,” Annie continued: “Oh mother, darling, darling mother, is it possible, that he will never, never write to me again? I have waited so long, and now, to know it never can be, oh mother, is it wrong, I cannot bear it calmly.” Mrs. Richmond added a postscript “If you have any letters of Mrs. Locke’s, do not destroy them, but be sure and bring them with you, for a very particular reason.”(14) Perhaps Annie was anticipating an attack on her dead friend!

On October 11th, Mrs. Shelton wrote from Richmond:

Oh! how shall I address you, my dear, and deeply afflicted friend under such heart-rending circumstances? I have no doubt, ere this, you have heard of the death of our dear Edgar! yes, he was the dearest object on earth to me; and, well assured am I, that he was the pride of your heart. I have not been able to get any of the particulars of his sickness & death, except an extract from the Baltimore Sun, which said that he died on Sunday, the 7th of this month, with congestion of the brain, after an illness of 7 days.

Then, after telling of his last visit to her,(15) Elmira continued:

He expected, certainly, to have been with his “dear Muddy” on the Sunday following, when he promised to write to me; and after the expiration of a week, and no letter, I became very uneasy, and continued in an agonizing state of mind, fearing he was ill, but never dreamed of his death, untill [[sic]] it met my eye, in glancing casually over a Richmond paper of last Tuesday. Oh! my dearest friend! I cannot begin to tell you what my feelings were, as the horrible truth forced itself upon me! It was the most severe trial I have ever had; and God alone knows how I can bear it!(16) [page 649:]

Mrs. Clemm accepted Annie’s invitation promptly, and was soon at Lowell. Here Mrs. Whitman wrote her, in a more restrained tone than Annie or Elmira:

My dear Mrs. Clemm

Every day since I recieved the heart-rending intelligence of Edgar’s death I have been wishing to address you — Not knowing whether a letter directed to you at Fordham would reach you, I, this morning, commenced a letter to Mr. Griswold requesting him to assure you of my sympathy in your deep sorrow and of my unalterable affection for one whose memory is still most dear to me. I had not finished my long letter to him when I recieved [[sic]] your note —

Its contents greatly surprised me because I have written to no one since your son’s death, nor have I forwarded or recieved [sic] any communication of the kind to which you allude. I cannot but think there has been some misapprehension in relation to this affair — If I am well enough to write you again while you remain at Lowell I will do so. If not my letter to Mr. Griswold will inform you of much that I have been long wishing to communicate to you — in the mean time believe me dear madam

respectfully & affectionately
Your friend


Saturday evening
October 28th(17)

Mrs. Whitman did not send her “long letter” to Griswold until December 12th.(18) It was written while she still believed Griswold to be Poe’s friend, one to whom she could explain her refusal to answer Poe’s letter of January 25, 1849, in the hope that Griswold would explain in turn to Mrs. Clemm, of whose address Mrs. Whitman seemed to be unaware:

The tone of his letter was sad & reproachful — Yet he requested me to write to him immediately & to authorise him to say that our marriage was simply “postponed” on account of my ill health. — I would not have hesitated for a moment to have complied with his request had I not have [sic] feared that by so doing we might [page 650:] both be involved in a recurrence of the unhappy scenes which had preceeded [sic] & attended our seperation [sic.] — Scenes, “when our happiness suddenly faded into horror & the most beautiful became the most fearful, as Hinnon became Ge-Henna” — With a heavy heart, & after the most dispassionate reflection, I resolved, for his sake rather than my own, not to reply to this letter, but to defer all painful reminiscences & explanations to a future day.

After a discussion of her unsuccessful attempt to find out from Mrs. Osgood news of Poe’s health and welfare, Mrs. Whitman continued:

From the numerous efforts which have been made both before & since his death to prejudice me against him I cannot but infer that similar agencies have been employed to convince him that I had ceased to regard him with interest —

I trust Mrs. Clemm will believe the statement which I here make to you, that I have never spoken of him but in words of extenuation & kindness — never thought of him but with feelings of unutterable sympathy compassion & admiration. I am the more anxious that she should know this because I have reason to believe that others have sought to impress her with a contrary opinion — I also wish her to know that our seperation [sic] was not the result of any deliberate act of my own, far less of any change in my feelings towards him — I knew from the first that our engagement was a most imprudent one — I clearly foresaw all the perils & penalties to which it would expose us — but having consented to it (under circumstances which seemed to make life or death, happiness or misery alike indifferent to me) I resolved not to retract my promise — Nor would I have done so — The union to which I was so rashly urged, & to which I so rashly consented, was in the end prevented by circumstances over which I had no control — by a fatality which no act of mine could have averted. — And I can only account for the reproachful tone of Mr Poe’s last letter by supposing (as he indeed therein suggested) that “some person equally his enemy & mine” had sought by the most false & groundless assertions to make him believe that my friendship for him was changed into disgust & abhorrence — Perhaps Mrs Clemm can tell me from whence these reports originated — but it is a matter of little moment now, for I trust that he now sees my heart & knows that I have never wronged him in thought word or deed.

Mrs. Whitman asked Griswold, “Can you tell me what has become of my letters to Mr. Poe?” But she asked in vain. After another denial of rumors sent abroad by a lady who had quoted Mrs. Whitman as [page 651:] her authority that Poe was “an intemperate and dissolute man,” Mrs. Whitman continued:

I was much interested by your eloquent sketch of his life published in the Tribune — I cannot doubt the justice of your remarks, although my personal experience would lead me to think his disposition more gentle and more gracious than you esteem it to be.

Griswold’s reply of December 17, 1849, told Mrs. Whitman definitely that “I was not his friend, nor was he mine, as I remember to have told you.” He then added more spice to the epistle:

I do not wish, of course, to involve myself in any such private feuds as a knowledge that I so write to you would occasion, but I cannot refrain from begging you to be very careful what you say to, or write to, Mrs. Clemm, who is not your friend, nor anybody’s friend, and who has no element of goodness or kindness in her nature — but whose whole heart and understanding are full of malice and wickedness. I confide in you these sentences, for your own sake only — for Mrs. C. appears to be a very warm friend to me. Pray destroy this note, and, at least, act cautiously, till I may justify it in a conversation with you.(19)

Griswold’s first attack did not pass unchallenged. In the Richmond Republican of October 15th, an anonymous article, probably written by Susan Archer Talley,(20) begins:

The recent death of Edgar A. Poe has already called forth numerous notices from the press. Among these we regret to observe several that, purporting to give an account of the poet’s character, have, either from ignorance or prejudice against him, represented it in so unjust and distorted a view as to be almost unrecognizable to those who best knew him. . .

The article continues:

He ever felt the impulse and desire of good within him, even while yielding to evil, and it was to him a source of constant anguish and remorse. It rendered him discontented and miserable. In his own words, spoken only a short time before his death, he [page 652:] “felt as if his good angel had been grieved away, and a demon usurped its place.” . . .

With regard to Mr. Poe’s real disposition, the writer can, from personal knowledge, speak confidently. His nature was more than usually warm and affectionate . . . If quick to resent an injury, no one was ever more easily won by kindness . . . and it seemed one of his greatest pleasures to do anything in his power for those whom he considered as his friends.

On October 13th Willis published in the Home Journal a brief note, “Edgar Poe is no more. He died at Baltimore on Sunday last, in the fortieth year of his age. He was a man of genius and a poet of remarkable power. Peace to his manes.” In the next issue, on October 20th, Willis printed his “Death of Edgar A. Poe.” After stating that his own impressions of the nature of Poe differed from that generally conveyed in the death notices, Willis reprinted what he called “a graphic and highly finished portraiture from the pen of Dr. Griswold.” But Willis continued: “Apropos of the disparaging portion of the above well written sketch, let us truthfully say” — and then he began his masterly defence of Poe. First came his picture of Poe as his patient, industrious and gentlemanly associate on the Mirror, already given in the discussion of Poe’s relations with that journal.(21) Willis next spoke of the charges that Poe was “arrogant and bad hearted,” and stated that “in this reversed character it was never our chance to see him.” Then he concluded, with that delicate understanding and chivalric devotion to a fellow craftsman that should keep Willis’s fame secure, to paint Poe’s portrait in the warm light of the love the dead poet had inspired:

But there is another, more touching and far more forcible evidence that there was goodness in Edgar Poe. To reveal it, we are obliged to venture upon the lifting of the veil which sacredly covers grief and refinement in poverty — but we think it may be excused if, so, we can brighten the memory of the poet, even were there not a more needed and immediate service which it may render to the nearest link broken by his death.

Our first knowledge of Mr. Poe’s removal to this city was by a call which we received from a lady who introduced herself to us as the mother of his wife. She was in search of employment for him, and she excused her errand by mentioning that he was ill, that her daughter was a confirmed invalid, and that their circumstances were such as compelled her taking it upon herself. The countenance of this lady, made beautiful and saintly with an [page 653:] evidently complete giving up of her life to privation and sorrowful tenderness, her gentle and mournful voice urging its plea, her long-forgotten but habitually and unconsciously refined manners, and her appealing and yet appreciative mention of the claims and abilities of her son, disclosed at once the presence of one of those angels upon earth that women in adversity can be. It was a hard fate that she was watching over. Mr. Poe wrote with fastidious difficulty, and in a style too much above the popular level to be well paid. He was always in pecuniary difficulty, and, with his sick wife, frequently in want of the merest necessaries of life. Winter after winter, for years, the most touching sight to us, in this whole city, has been that tireless minister to genius, thinly and insufficiently clad, going from office to office with a poem, or an article on some literary subject, to sell — sometimes simply pleading in a broken voice that he was ill, and begging for him — mentioning nothing but that “he was ill,” whatever might be the reason for his writing nothing — and never, amid all her tears and recitals of distress, suffering one syllable to escape her lips that could convey a doubt of him, or a complaint, or a lessening of pride in his genius and good intentions. Her daughter died, a year and a half since, but she did not desert him. She continued his ministering angel — living with him — caring for him — guarding him against exposure, and, when he was carried away by temptation, amid grief and the loneliness of feelings unreplied to, and awoke from his self-abandonment prostrated in destitution and suffering, begging for him still. If woman’s devotion, born with a first love and fed with human passion, hallow its object, as it is allowed to do, what does not a devotion like this — pure, disinterested and holy as the watch of an invisible spirit — say for him who inspired it?(22)

On the same day, October 20th, Henry B. Hirst spoke for Philadelphia, in McMakin’s Model American Courier:(23)

Edgar A. Poe is no more. We knew him well, perhaps better than any other man living, and loved him, despite his infirmities. He was a man of great and original genius, but the sublime afflatus which lifted him above his fellows, made him a shining mark for the covert as well as open attacks of literary rivals, and, alas! that it should be so, eventually proved his ruin.

After giving the best of the immediate post-mortem accounts of Poe’s [page 654:] life, derived probably from Hirst’s own biographical sketch in the Saturday Museum in 1843, he proceeded:

Poe had his faults — who has not his errors? We are none of us infallible; but had his opportunities equalled his genius and his ambition, he would have died an universally esteemed great man. As it is, the world of authors and author-lovers, with some few pitiful exceptions, will mourn a departed brother. His name, under any circumstances, cannot be forgotten. His tales are without existing equals in English literature, and his “Raven,” the personification of his own despair at the loss of his wife, has made him immortal.

Poor Poe! Hour by hour have we listened to his delightful abstractions, poured forth in a voice so remarkable in the peculiarity of its intonation as to incline to the extraordinary in tone. He was unfortunate in every sense of the word. When miserable authors of still more miserable love stories and puling love poems, were winning gold from the Magazines of the day, he was rarely able to “sell an article,” and was always suffering in the iron grasp of penury, and that, too, when the brilliant corruscations of his genius were eagerly sought for by the public in vain. . .. We saw him twice and thrice a day, for two years. We sat night by night, a welcome guest at his often meagre, but, when fortune smiled on him, his well-filled board. In all that time, in all our acquaintance, we never heard him express one single word of personal ill-feeling against any man, not even in his blackest hours of poverty.

Hirst’s account was not a reply to Griswold’s attack, for it was received, according to the editor, before Griswold’s article appeared.

Lambert Wilmer, under the caption “Edgar A. Poe and his Calumniators,” denounced the writer of the Ludwig article:

EDGAR A. POE AND HIS CALUMNIATORS. — There is a spurious biography of Edgar A. Poe which has been extensively published in newspapers and magazines. It is a hypocritical canting document, expressing much commiseration for the follies and “crimes” of that “poor outcast”; the writer being evidently just such an one as the Pharisee who thanked God that he was a better fellow than the publican. But we can tell the slanderous and malicious miscreant who composed the aforesaid biography (we know not and care not who he is,) that Edgar A. Poe was infinitely his superior, both in the moral and in the intellectual scale. The writer of this article speaks from his own knowledge when he says that Poe was not the man described by this anonymous [page 655:] scribbler. Some circumstances mentioned by the slanderous hypocrite we know to be false, and we have no doubt in the world that nearly all of his statements intended to throw odium and discredit on the character of the deceased are scandalous inventions.

We have much more to say on this subject, and we pledge ourselves to show that the article we speak of is false and defamatory, when the skulking author of it becomes magnanimous enough to take the responsibility by fixing his name to his malignant publication.(24)

In the November, 1849, issue of the Southern Literary Messenger John R. Thompson presented an appreciation of Poe’s poetry and criticism, and assuming his infirmities as established, remarked that he would throw over them “in charity the mantle of forgetfulness.” Thompson’s article is of especial interest because he included in it a paragraph from a letter which Longfellow had written him in October:(25)

“What a melancholy death,” says Mr. Longfellow, “is that of Mr. Poe — a man so richly endowed with genius! I never knew him personally, but have always entertained a high appreciation of his powers as a prose-writer and a poet. His prose is remarkably vigorous, direct and yet affluent; and his verse has a particular charm of melody, an atmosphere of true poetry about it, which is very winning. The harshness of his criticisms, I have never attributed to anything but the irritation of a sensitive nature, chafed by some indefinite sense of wrong.”

The nobility of the last sentence of this letter is as striking as its penetration into the complex nature of Poe. It provides, also, a temptation to speculation. Longfellow evidently had Poe in his mind, after he heard of his tragic death. On September 22nd he had finished “The Building of the Ship.” We know how carefully he revised his poems. [page 656:] Is it not possible that the death of Poe suggested as an addition the lines —

“And in the wreck of noble lives,

Something immortal still survives.”

In any case, they provide a striking description of his great rival, which reads now like a prophecy.

In the meantime, Griswold lost no time in preparing to edit Poe’s works. On October 15th, less than a week after Poe’s death, he secured from Mrs. Clemm a power of attorney to make a contract with a publisher, for the editing and publishing of the writings of Poe, which she had placed in his hands.(26)

Griswold wrote to Thompson on October 25, 1849, asking for help in the preparation of the volumes. In the letter he said, “I heard of the death of Poe one evening at 7 [or 9] o’clock and wrote hastily for the next day’s Tribune a notice of him.” He added: “Mrs. Clemm has given me his MSS. &c. with full power of attorney, to act in her behalf, and she is to have all the profits that do not go to the booksellers. . . . Poe’s trunk has not been recovered. Mr. Neilson Poe of Baltimore writes that from something said by Poe it was believed that he gave it into the hands of a porter at Baltimore to carry to the Philadelphia depot. Can you give any clue to it? It contained some important letters, and his lectures and I am very anxious to obtain the last, to print.”(27)

Considering the mutual dislike of Mrs. Clemm and Rosalie, there must have been a vivid scene when Griswold brought to the former a letter to him from John R. Thompson, written November 3, 1849.(28)  Acting as Rosalie’s attorney, Thompson politely but firmly demanded for her as “the sister and sole heir of the deceased,” the proceeds of the sale of the Collected Edition of Poe’s works. Thompson concluded: “I have written to Mr. Neilson Poe, as Miss Poe’s attorney, directing the trunk of the deceased to be forwarded to me. If it should come, I will be careful to secure for you the Ms. Lectures and whatever other literary contents may be found in it.”(29) [page 657:]

Griswold’s reply of November 7th is known through Thompson’s letter of November 11, 1849:

My dear Sir,

The mail of to-night brings me your letter of the 7th, together with a letter from Mr. S. D. Lewis, Mrs. Clemm’s Solicitor, on the subject of the Poe publication.

Of course the sale of the Copy-right of “Tales and Poems” by the author himself to Wiley & Putnam puts an end to the claim of Miss Rosalie. . . .

With regard to “Annabel Lee” I did not by any means attribute your publication of it to inconsideration or improper motives. The fact is simply this — Poe sold it to both of us, and for a high price too, and neither of us obtained anything by the transaction. I lost nearly as much by his death as yourself, as I paid him for a prose article to be written, and he owed me something at that time. . . . By the way, I have a lien on a copy of his “Tales & Poems,” which contained full marginal notes & corrections in his own hand-writing. He was to give it to me, after a new edition had been published. If it has come into your hands, you will oblige me by sending it to me, after your labors are concluded. Pray recollect this.”(30)

Thompson’s reference to the copyright was based, of course, on Griswold’s misrepresentation of the situation. Any sale of the copyright by Poe would have wiped out Mrs. Clemm’s claims even more thoroughly than Rosalie’s. As Poe’s aunt, she came after his sister in her legal status and as his mother-in-law she had no standing. Her claim was based upon her care of Poe, and she had possession of the manuscripts!

Wiley and Putnam, who had published the Tales and the Poems, did not enter into the picture, unless they had sold their rights to Redfield, of which there is no record. In any case, their copyright of the Tales covered only twelve of the sixty-eight stories. If Thompson lost any money on “Annabel Lee,” he amply made up for it later when he made a considerable sum out of his lecture on “The Genius and [page 658:] Character of Edgar Allan Poe”! It is unlikely that Griswold had paid Poe anything — Griswold did not buy poetry. Since he published the poem in his “Ludwig” article, he was paid for it, indirectly. If the missing postscript in the “last letter” from Poe to Griswold ever existed, he was acting as Poe’s agent in the matter of “Annabel Lee.” If it is a forgery, Poe had presented the poem to him for a later edition of Griswold’s anthology.

That Griswold really did not consider Mrs. Clemm as the heiress to Poe’s rights, except for his own purposes, is indicated by his suggestion to Thompson later(31) that the latter secure the “Poetic Principle,” print it and pay Rosalie for it! Griswold also states that Neilson Poe had not yet sent him any manuscripts.

If Griswold made any contract with Redfield, who published Poe’s works, it has disappeared. Griswold stated several times that he had no remuneration for his editorial services, and that he accepted the task for Mrs. Clemm’s benefit.(32) On her part she also stated positively that Redfield would pay her nothing until the expenses were all secured by the sale of the volumes. She was, however, given some sets of the books to sell, and she was still trying to dispose of them several years later.(33) Where this situation leaves Redfield is not clear.

Griswold wrote to Lowell two letters, one dated vaguely “Thursday Morning,”(34) asking him to revise his sketch of Poe, printed first in Graham’s in 1845, for the forthcoming volumes. In this note Griswold said:

Poe was not my friend — I was not his — and he had no right to devolve upon me this duty of editing his works. He did do so, however, and under the circumstances I could not well refuse compliance with the wishes of his friends here. From his constant habit of repeating himself, and from his habits of appropriation, [page 659:] particularly in the Marginalia, it is a difficult task; but I shall execute it as well as I can, in the short time that is allowed to me — that is, in three weeks.

On October 31st, Griswold wrote again, repeating his request, and telling Lowell that Willis would “rewrite, or make into one article, all that he has published in regard to Poe,” Griswold contenting himself with the editing but “giving notice perhaps of an intention to prepare his life and correspondence hereafter.” Griswold added “There are now six persons employed in setting up the copy, and I understand four others will be added next week — so that I shall probably need your Ms. the week after the next.(35) Someone was surely in a hurry to make money out of Poe’s writings, now that he was dead. The publishers had expressed no such haste while he was alive.

Unfortunately we do not have Lowell’s replies to these letters, for when the volumes appeared, his article was quite materially altered from its original form in Graham’s. More than one-third was omitted, including his praise of Poe as “the most discriminating, philosophical and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America.” The last quarter of the sketch which contained “The Haunted Palace,” with Lowell’s enthusiastic comments, was omitted, together with the conclusion, “It is not for us to assign him his definite rank among contemporary authors, but we may be allowed to say that we know of none who has displayed more varied and striking abilities.” In the place of these, three paragraphs were added of quite a different nature. While Poe’s skill in employing the strange fascination of mystery and terror is acknowledged, this is stated to be not the province of “the great masters of imagination.”(36) The high praise of Poe as a critic in Graham’s becomes:

As a critic, Mr. Poe was aesthetically deficient. Unerring in his analysis of dictions, metres, and plots, he seemed wanting in the faculty of perceiving the profounder ethics of art. His criticisms, are, however, distinguished for scientific precision and coherence of logic. They have the exactness and, at the same time, the coldness of mathematical demonstrations. Yet they stand in strikingly refreshing contrast with the vague generalisms and sharp personalities of the day. If deficient in warmth, they are also without the heat of partisanship. They are especially valuable as [page 660:] illustrating the great truth, too generally overlooked, that analytic power is a subordinate quality of the critic.

The essay then concludes with a mild statement:

On the whole, it may be considered certain that Mr. Poe has attained an individual eminence in our literature, which he will keep. He has given proof of power and originality. He has done that which could only be done once with success or safety, and the imitation or repetition of which would produce weariness.

Did Lowell cut down his sketch and write these concluding paragraphs, or did Griswold forge them, as he did the letters? In a letter to Thompson, on February 19, 1850, Griswold said, “Willis promised a new introduction, but did not give it; Lowell, a Memoir, but sent me only those old paragraphs.”(37)

This statement apparently convicts Griswold out of his own mouth. The added paragraphs seem to be hastily written, and have not the finish of Lowell’s original article. Griswold could imitate Lowell’s style, as a comparison of his Introduction to Poe’s stories in the Prose Writers of America with Lowell’s original article on Poe easily establishes. But since Lowell never republished his article on Poe in his collected works, and did not protest publicly against the revision as it appeared in Griswold’s edition, the matter can not be settled. Certainly the revised sketch was much less favorable in its estimate of Poe’s work.

In January, 1850, Griswold’s first two volumes appeared. Volume One contained the sketches by Willis and Lowell, and thirty-one of the short stories. The second volume was made up of the poems, omitting the greater “To Helen,” and also included “The Rationale of Verse,” “The Philosophy of Composition,” and twenty-four more of the tales.

Poe’s friends and enemies seized the opportunity in reviews of these two volumes, to pay tributes or to level attacks. Lewis Gaylord Clark in the Knickerbocker­(38) for February, 1850, while acknowledging that “few of our American authors have possessed more of the creative energy or the constructive faculty,” claimed that Poe was “destitute of moral or religious principle,” charged him with plagiarism, and dismissed his criticisms as “worthless.” [page 661:]

The best of the early repudiations of Griswold came from Philadelphia, from George Graham, in his own magazine for March, 1850. It is so convincing, so clearly written from first-hand knowledge, that it becomes one of the most important of all Poe documents:

My DEAR WILLIS, — In an article of yours, which accompanies the two beautiful volumes of the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, you have spoken with so much truth and delicacy of the deceased, and with the magical touch of genius have called so warmly up before me the memory of our lost friend, as you and I both seem to have known him, that I feel warranted in addressing to you the few plain words I have to say in defense of his character, as set down by Dr. Rufus W. Griswold. Although the article, it seems appeared originally in the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, it met my eye for the first time in the volumes before me. I now purpose to take exception to it in the most public manner. I knew Mr. Poe well — far better than Mr. Griswold; and by the memory of old times, when he was an editor of “Graham,” I pronounce this exceedingly ill-timed and unappreciative estimate of the character of our lost friend unfair and untrue. It must have been made in a moment of spleen, written out and laid aside, and handed to the printer, when his death was announced, with a sort of chuckle. It is Mr. Poe, as seen by the writer while laboring under a fit of the nightmare; but so dark a picture has no resemblance to the living man. Accompanying these beautiful volumes, it is an immortal infamy — the death’s head over the entrance to the garden of beauty — a horror that clings to the brow of morning, whispering of murder. It haunts the memory through every page of his writings, leaving upon the heart a sensation of utter gloom, a feeling almost of terror. The only relief we feel, is in knowing that it is not true — that it is a fancy sketch of a perverted, jaundiced vision. The man who could deliberately say of Edgar Allan Poe, in a notice of his life and writings, prefacing the volumes which were to become a priceless souvenir to all who loved him — that his death might startle many, “but that few would be grieved by it” —   and blast the whole fame of the man by such a paragraph as follows, is a judge dishonored. He is not Mr. Poe’s peer, and I challenge him before the country, even as a juror in the case.

Graham then quoted the passage which Griswold had copied from The Caxtons­(39) and proceeded:

Now, this is dastardly, and, what is worse, it is false. It is very adroitly done, with phrases very well turned, and with gleams of [page 662:] truth shining out from a setting so dusky as to look devilish. Mr. Griswold does not feel the worth of the man he has undervalued — he had no sympathies in common with him, and has allowed old prejudices and old enmities to steal, insensibly perhaps, into the coloring of his picture. They were for years totally uncongenial, if not enemies, and during that period Mr. Poe, in a scathing lecture upon The Poets of America, gave Mr. Griswold some raps over the knuckles of force sufficient to be remembered. He had, too, in the exercise of his functions as critic, put to death, summarily, the literary reputation of some of Mr. Griswold’s best friends; and their ghosts cried in vain for him to avenge them during Poe’s life-time — and it almost seems, as if the present hacking at the cold remains of him who struck them down, is a sort of compensation for duty long delayed — for reprisal long desired but deferred. But without this — the opportunities afforded Mr. Griswold to estimate the character of Poe occurred, in the main, after his stability had been wrecked, his whole nature in a degree changed and with all his prejudices aroused and active. Nor do I consider Mr. Griswold competent — with all the opportunities he may have cultivated or acquired — to act as his judge — to dissect that subtle and singularly fine intellect — to probe the motives and weigh the actions of that proud heart. His whole nature — that distinctive presence of the departed which now stands impalpable, yet in strong outline before me, as I knew him and felt him to be — eludes the rude grasp of a mind so warped and uncongenial as Mr. Griswold’s.

But it may be said, my dear Willis, that Mr. Poe himself deputed him to act as his literary executor, and that he must have felt some confidence in his ability at least — if not in his integrity — to perform the functions imposed with discretion and honor. I do not purpose, now, to enter into any examination of the appointment of Mr. Griswold — nor of the wisdom of his appointment to the solemn trust of handing the fair fame of the deceased unimpaired to that posterity to which the dying poet bequeathed his legacy — but simply to question its faithful performance. Among the true friends of Poe in this city — and he had some such here — there are those I am sure that he did not class among villains; nor do they feel easy when they see their old friend dressed out, in his grave, in the habiliments of a scoundrel. There is something to them in this mode of procedure on the part of the literary Executor, that does not chime in with their notions of “the true point of honor.” It looks so much like a breach of trust, that, to their plain understandings, it is a proceeding that may very fairly be questioned. They may, perhaps, being plain business [page 663:] men, be somewhat unschooled in legacies, and obligations of this sort, but it shocks all their notions of fair dealing. They had been led to suppose, that thus to fritter away an estate was, to say the least of it, not of that high kind of integrity which courts of justice alone recognize in a settlement in ordinary affairs. As heirs, in part, to the inheritance left by their lost friend, they find the fairest part of the domain ravaged, and the strong castle battered down; and do not think because the hedges have been a little trimmed up, and the gateway set in fashion, that the property has been improved — on the contrary, they think the estate is ruined. They had all of them looked upon our departed friend as singularly indifferent to wealth for its own sake, but as very positive in his opinions that the scale of social merit was not of the highest — that MIND, somehow, was apt to be left out of the estimate altogether — and, partaking somewhat of his free way of thinking, his friends are startled to find they have entertained very unamiable convictions. As to his “quick choler” when he was contradicted, it depended a good deal upon the party denying, as well as upon the subject discussed. He was quick, it is true, to perceive mere quacks in literature, and somewhat apt to be hasty when pestered with them; but upon most other questions his natural amiability was not easily disturbed. Upon a subject that he understood thoroughly, he felt some right to be positive, if not arrogant, when addressing pretenders. His “astonishing natural advantages” had been very assiduously cultivated — his “daring spirit” was the anointed of genius — his self confidence the proud conviction of both — and it was with something of a lofty scorn that he attacked, as well as repelled, a crammed scholar of the hour, who attempted to palm upon him his ill-digested learning. Literature with him was religion; and he, its high-priest, with a whip of scorpions scourged the money-changers from the temple. In all else he had the docility and kind-heartedness of a child. No man was more quickly touched by a kindness — none more prompt to atone for an injury.

Graham then paid his tribute to Poe’s honesty in money matters, already printed in connection with his editorship of the magazine,(40) painted a picture of Poe’s devotion to Virginia and concluded:

It is true that later in life Poe had much of those morbid feelings which a life of poverty and disappointment is so apt to engender in the heart of man — the sense of having been ill-used, misunderstood, and put aside by men of far less ability, and of none, which preys upon the heart and clouds the brain of many a [page 664:] child of song: A consciousness of the inequalities of life, and of the abundant power of mere wealth allied even to vulgarity, to over-ride all distinctions, and to thrust itself bedaubed with dirt and glittering with tinsel, into the high places of society, and the chief seats of the synagogue; whilst he, a worshiper of the beautiful and true, who listened to the voices of angels, and held delighted companionship with them as the cold throng swept disdainfully by him, was often in danger of being thrust out, houseless, homeless, beggared upon the world, with all his fine feelings strung to a tension of agony when he thought of his beautiful and delicate wife dying hourly before his eyes. What wonder, that he then poured out the vials of a long-treasured bitterness upon the injustice and hollowness of all society around him.

The very natural question — “Why did he not work and thrive?” is easily answered. It will not be asked by the many who know the precarious tenure by which literary men hold a mere living in this country. The avenues through which they can profitably reach the country are few, and crowded with aspirants for bread as well as fame. The unfortunate tendency to cheapen every literary work to the lowest point of beggarly flimsiness in price and profit, prevents even the well-disposed from extending anything like an adequate support to even a part of the great throng which genius, talent, education, and even misfortune, force into the struggle. The character of Poe’s mind was of such an order, as not to be very widely in demand. The class of educated mind which he could readily and profitably address, was small — the channels through which he could do so at all, were few — and publishers all, or nearly all, contented with such pens as were already engaged, hesitated to incur the expense of his to an extent which would sufficiently remunerate him; hence, when he was fairly at sea, connected permanently with no publication, he suffered all the horrors of prospective destitution, with scarcely the ability of providing for immediate necessities; and at such moments, alas! the tempter often came, and, as you have truly said, “one glass” of wine, made him a madman. Let the moralist who stands upon tufted carpet, and surveys his smoking board, the fruits of his individual toil or mercantile adventure, pause before he lets the anathema, trembling upon his lips, fall upon a man like Poe! who, wandering from publisher to publisher, with his fine, print-like manuscript, scrupulously clean and neatly rolled, finds no market for his brain — with despair at heart, misery ahead for himself and his loved ones, and gaunt famine dogging at his heels, thus sinks by the wayside, before the demon that watches his steps and whispers, OBLIVION. Of all the miseries [page 665:] which God, or his own vices inflict upon man, none are so terrible as that of having the strong and willing arm struck down to a child-like inefficiency, while the Heart and Will, have the purpose and force of a giant’s out-doing. We must remember, too, that the very organization of such a mind as that of Poe — the very tension and tone of his exquisitely strung nerves — the passionate yearnings of his soul for the beautiful and true, utterly unfitted him for the rude jostlings and fierce competitorship of trade. The only drafts of his that could be honored, were those upon his brain. The unpeopled air — the caverns of ocean — the decay and mystery that hang around old castles — the thunder of wind through the forest aisles — the spirits that rode the blast, by all but him unseen — and the deep metaphysical creations which floated through the chambers of his soul, were his only wealth, the High Change where only his signature was valid for rubies.

Could he have stepped down and chronicled small beer, made himself the shifting toady of the hour, and with bow and cringe, hung upon the steps of greatness, sounding the glory of third-rate ability with a penny trumpet, he would have been feted alive, and, perhaps, been praised when dead. But no! his views of the duties of the critic were stern, and he felt that in praising an unworthy writer, he committed dishonor. . .. Yet no man with more readiness would soften a harsh expression at the request of a friend, or if he himself felt that he had infused too great a degree of bitterness into his article, none would more readily soften it down, after it was in type — though still maintaining the justness of his critical views. I do not believe that he wrote to give pain; but in combating what he conceived to be error, he used the strongest word that presented itself, even in conversation. He labored, not so much to reform, as to exterminate error, and thought the shortest process was to pull it up by the roots. . . .

But my object in throwing together a few thoughts upon the character of Edgar Allan Poe, was not to attempt an elaborate criticism, but to say what might palliate grave faults that have been attributed to him, and to meet by facts, unjust accusation — in a word, to give a mere outline of the man as he lived before me. I think I am warranted in saying to Mr. Griswold, that he must review his decision. It will not stand the calm scrutiny of his own judgment, or of time, while it must be regarded by all the friends of Mr. Poe as an ill-judged and misplaced calumny upon that gifted Son of Genius.

One of the best appreciations of Poe came from George W. Peck, in the American Whig Review,(41) for March, 1850. Peck was a critic of [page 666:] music, as well as a poet, and a man of wide culture. He considered Poe, “not as a phenomenon, as an organic human being,” and dismissed all his imperfections, since “it is only as a writer, born with a peculiar spirit, that the world has any concern with him.”

It is most refreshing to see a critic in 1850, speaking of Poe as a man “who held his face upward while here, through much oppression and depression,” who was “a pure-minded gentleman,” and who “in the wildest of his extravagancies does not forget his native dignity.” With a singular sympathy, Peck noticed that Poe found refuge from the weight of his emotions “in following out chains of thought in harmony with the gloom that enshrouded him. Instead of avoiding the shadow, he would boldly walk into it and analyze it.” Peck recognized that the repetition in Poe’s poetry was natural to him because it is the natural expression of intense feeling, and his valuable analysis of the relations of Poe’s verse to music anticipate much that has been written upon that theme. Peck was evidently replying to the Knickerbocker attack, upon Poe’s supposed lack of moral principle, and he prophesies that the world will agree with him, as it has done.

In sharp contrast with Peck’s article is the long tirade against Abolitionists and things in general, which J. M. Daniel wrote for the Southern Literary Messenger in the same month of March, 1850.(42)  Many of the errors of Griswold were perpetuated and Daniel hinted at a scandal too dark to be described, which is a cowardly way to attack a dead man. If he referred to the rumor concerning Poe’s relations with the second Mrs. Allan, as he seems to do, he was simply spreading gossip without foundation. It is true that Daniel praised the work of Poe and predicted that “While the people of this day run after such authors as Prescott and Willis, speak with reverence of the Channings and Adamses and Irvings, their children, in referring back to our time in literary history, will say, ‘this was the time of Poe.’ ”But Daniel left Poe’s personal character sullied by an account written by a man who knew him, and who lived in Poe’s own country. His quarrel with Poe in 1848, while obscure in its cause, discounts his testimony.(43)

Willis, meanwhile, was doing his best in the Home Journal to protect his dead friend. In the issue of March 16, 1850, he reprinted the [page 667:] portions of Graham’s article which dealt with Poe’s love for Virginia, and his industry and the difficulties of his situation. On March 30 he printed a reply to Daniel’s article in the Southern Literary Messenger, signed “Richmond” and written by someone who had known Poe both as a boy and a man. This correspondent denounced Daniel’s picture of Poe as “a frightful caricature,” in which Poe’s moral character was blackened, and continued:

The indictment (for it deserves no other name) is not true. It is full of cruel misrepresentations. It deepens the shadows into unnatural darkness, and shuts out the rays of sunshine that ought to relieve them. I do not deny that there were shadows. The wayward disposition and the checkered life, which are too often the heritage of genius, did indeed fall to the lot of this gifted man. But it is not true that he lived and died the wretch that he is painted; nor is it true that the unhappy results were those of character alone. Those who remember the admiration and flattery which sounded in his boyish ears — the mistaken fondness which indulged him in every caprice, and nourished his pride and wilfulness into a pernicious growth — cannot but know that education and circumstances had much to do with his career. And with the evidence before us of the devotion to him displayed by his wife’s mother, and the fact that, even to the last, the hearts of his nearest kindred and friends still beat warmly for him, it is impossible to believe him so bad as he is here represented.(44)

John Neal, in his usual enthusiastic, if rambling manner, filled three columns of the Portland Advertiser of April 26, 1850, with a defence of Poe against Griswold’s attack. Neal said that he had not known Poe personally, but added “I believe, too, that he was by nature, of a just and generous temper, thwarted, baffled, and self-harnessed by his own wilfulness to the most unbecoming drudgery. . . . The biographical notices are just and wise, and excellent, so far as they go, with one single exception, that of the Rev. R. W. Griswold; a book-wright and compiler by the cart-load, to whom the dying poet bequeathed his papers, and his character, to be hashed over, and served up, little by little, with a sauce piquante, resembling the turbid water, in which very poor eggs have been boiled to death.”

Neal very shrewdly suggested that the most eloquent portions of Griswold’s “Memoir” were probably paraphrased from Poe — but he did not select the right ones. By reprinting his earlier notices of Poe’s [page 668:] “Al Aaraaf,” with Poe’s letters to him at that time and later, he proved that Poe could take criticism, however unfavorable, in the right spirit, and could remember favors done him. He concluded: “But enough, the Poet is no more! yet his character is safe, notwithstanding the eulogy of his Executor.”

Stung especially by the replies of Graham and Neal to his Ludwig article, Griswold prepared his defence, which, according to the rules of strategy, he made a further attack. First he collected, as was his proper duty, whatever manuscripts were available. Mrs. Clemm protested sharply to Griswold against any share of Poe’s effects going to Rosalie:

Lowell April 29th. 1850

Dear Sir

On the receipt of your last letter, (in which you mentioned if I had my poor Eddies Lectures you could dispose of them for me,) I wrote again to Dr. Moran to make another application to Mr. Neilson relative to my dear sons trunk, in which I supposed the lectures were. I have received an answer, in which he states, that the trunk has been sent to you at your request, and for Miss Poe. I cannot understand this and wish you to let me know if there is any truth in it. Will you so much oblige me by so doing at your earliest convenience? Will you be so good as to enclose me a copy of the manuscript I left with Mrs. Lewis. I mean the “Literary [sic] of New York.” A couple of sheets will be sufficient for my purpose. You know they have been all published in Godey you can if you need them refer to that magazine!

Yours respectfully,


Griswold published in the third volume “The Poetic Principle,” “The Literati,” the “Marginalia,” and other critical articles by Poe.

In a “Preface,” dated September 2, 1850, to his “Memoir” of Poe, he began by declaring that he had not written or published a syllable on Poe’s life, since he knew that he was to be his literary executor. He also insisted that the task was not to his liking. He then denounced Graham for his “sophomorical and trashy but widely circulated letter,” and accused him of hypocrisy “in his tenderness for the poor author (of whom in four years of his extremest poverty he had not purchased for his magazine a single line).” This was, of course, a rank falsehood, for Graham published something by Poe in every year [page 669:] from 1840 to 1849, except 1847. Griswold then reviewed his acquaintance with Poe, largely by means of letters from Poe to himself. There are eleven of these, only six of which have been preserved. I have already called attention to forgeries by Griswold in the letters of February 24, 1845, and April 19, 1845. (These forgeries have been known for many years, as well as Griswold’s more subtle forgery of his own letter of January 14, 1845, which made Poe’s reply of January 16 have quite a different meaning.(46) But it has not been realized that these forgeries throw doubt on the authenticity of Poe’s supposed letter of January 10, 1845, which is non-extant.

The striking thing about these proved forgeries is that the portions interpolated by Griswold either praise his work highly, or express Poe’s regret and even apology, for his unfavorable criticism of Griswold. Is it not logical to refuse to believe the statements or accept the tone of the letters, which Griswold quotes but which apparently do not exist? In the first, given as “undated,” Griswold’s Poets and Poetry of America is spoken of by Poe as “a better book than any other man in the United States could have made of the materials.” The letter of “June 11, 1843,” begs for a loan of five dollars and refers to an anonymous letter, of which Griswold suspects Poe to be the author. Poe’s letter of October 26, 1845, asking for a loan of fifty dollars to keep the Broadway Journal alive, is extant and is practically correct in the “Preface.” But the letter of November 1, thanking Griswold for twenty-five dollars, is not extant, and it promises Griswold to prepare “an article about you for the B. J., in which I do you justice — which is all you can ask of anyone.”

The last non-extant letter is a long one, which Griswold says “is undated but appears to have been written early in 1849.” It is primarily concerned with a request to give Mrs. Lewis more favorable notice, in Griswold’s Female Poets of America. Now there is a letter(47) from Poe to Griswold dated June 28, 1849, which makes a similar request for Mrs. L—— , but is quite different in tone. Griswold did not print this letter of June 28 in his “Preface,” though he must have possessed it, for it is among the Griswold Mss. Is it not then reasonable to assume that this long letter, which gives Poe’s list of his writings concerning Griswold, including a “Review in Pioneer,” which Poe did not write, is again a forgery? In it Poe is made to say “I have never [page 670:] hazarded my own reputation by a disrespectful word of you,” and the cringing tone of the epistle is not like Poe at all.

The last letter Griswold prints in the “Preface” contains, I believe, another forgery. It differs from the original autograph manuscript, now in the Wrenn Library at the University of Texas, by two clauses(48) of no great importance, and by the omission of the clause at the end of the letter — “but I fear I am asking too much.” These are of interest only in proving that Griswold was tampering with the letter. But in his printed version there is an important postscript which is not in the manuscript.

“P. S. — Considering my indebtedness to you, can you not sell to Graham or to Godey (with whom, you know, I cannot with the least self respect again have anything to do directly) — can you not sell to one of these men, ‘Annabel Lee,’ say for $50, and credit me that sum?  Either of them could print it before you will need it for your book. Mem. The Eveleth you ask about is a Yankee impertinent, who, knowing my extreme poverty, has for years pestered me with unpaid letters; but I believe almost every literary man of any note has suffered in the same way. I am surprised that you have escaped.”(49)

Griswold evidently thought, by making Poe speak in an unfriendly manner of Graham and Godey, that he would discourage any further effort on Graham’s part to defend Poe, and prevent Godey from coming to Poe’s defence.(50) Poe could have had no motive in attacking Graham or Godey in the spring or summer of 1849, when the letter [page 671:] was probably written. Graham published his “Fifty Suggestions” in May and June. Godey helped him in the black days of June 1849. Nor could he have had any reason for slurring Eveleth. Poe asked the latter not to pay the postage.(51) But the postmarks on Eveleth’s letters almost invariably show that he prepaid them.(52) There is something especially dastardly in attempting by a forgery to deprive a dead man of his friends.

Griswold evidently believed that he had, through this “Preface,” established himself in the eyes of a reader as the friend, and even as the patron, of Poe. He then proceeded with his main “Memoir,” in which the deliberate altering of facts, and inventions or repetitions of slander, are many. These it is possible to disprove. But harder to combat without tediousness is the constant interpretation of rumor to Poe’s discredit. For example, a petty story of John Allan’s unreasoning support of Poe in the school room concludes, “Who can estimate the effect of this puerile triumph upon the growth of that morbid self-esteem which characterized the author in after life?”

Every dissipation of Poe’s is overstressed. At Virginia “he was known as the wildest and most reckless student of his class,”. . . until “his gambling, intemperance and other vices, induced his expulsion from the university,” which we have seen to be a slander. The dark secret, concerning Poe’s relation to the second Mrs. Allan, is repeated.  The army service is placed after West Point, and Griswold states that Poe deserted, another falsehood.

When Griswold proceeds with the period of the Southern Literary Messenger, he cannot resist his favorite pastime of forgery. The letter from T. W. White to Poe, on September 29, 1835,(53) is much changed from its original form, with the effect of emphasizing Poe’s derelictions. The break with White is laid entirely to Poe’s irregularities, instead of to the combination of circumstances I have already discussed. Prompted either by a desire to appear fair to Poe, or by his own recognition of Poe’s genius, Griswold interlarded his attacks on Poe’s character with praise of his writings. His stories in 1838 belong to “a department of imaginative composition in which he was henceforth alone and unapproachable.” [page 672:]

Griswold’s power to invent slanders seemed to grow as he progressed, for the account of Poe’s connection with Burton represents him as “so unsteady of purpose and so unreliable that the actor was never sure when he left the city that his business would be cared for.” Griswold’s prize forgery, of Burton’s letter to Poe, has been dealt with in detail.(54) Notwithstanding Graham’s definite statements concerning Poe’s real reason for severing his connection with Graham’s Magazine, Griswold insisted that the sole cause was Poe’s “infirmities.”

Griswold did not hesitate to make use of the powers of expression of the man he was defiling. His analysis of Poe’s tales of ratiocination at first glance seems acute until we recognize that he is repeating verbatim Poe’s own description of his tales in his letter to P. P. Cooke, of August 9, 1846.

Griswold’s bitter hostility is revealed in his treatment of Poe’s manly acknowledgment of his lapses from sobriety, given in his reply to English.(55) Griswold prints it as “interesting” and then denies that Dr. Francis ever gave any such testimony, implying that Poe was lying. After charging Poe with blackmailing “a distinguished literary woman of South Carolina,” from whom Poe had borrowed fifty dollars, Griswold quotes the notice in the New York Express concerning Poe’s necessities, Willis’s appeal for him, and Poe’s reply. Anyone who knew the heartbreaking hardships which Poe was undergoing in 1846 to 1847, might have refrained from casting slurs upon his sincerity. But Griswold commented that Poe’s article was written for effect, and that he had not been seriously ill. Griswold did at least acknowledge that Virginia was dead.

Griswold praised Eureka with discrimination, and then plunged into the episode with Mrs. Whitman. Seldom has anyone packed into brief form as many false statements as the following:

They were not married, and the breaking of the engagement affords a striking illustration of his character. He said to an acquaintance in New York, who congratulated with him upon the prospect of his union with a person of so much genius and so many virtues — “It is a mistake: I am not going to be married.” “Why, Mr. Poe, I understand that the banns have been published.” “I cannot help what you have heard, my dear Madam: but mark me, I shall not marry her.” He left town the same evening, and the next day was reeling through the streets of the city [page 673:] which was the lady’s home, and in the evening — that should have been the evening before the bridal — in his drunkenness he committed at her house such outrages as made necessary a summons of the police. Here was no insanity leading to indulgence: he went from New York with a determination thus to induce an ending of the engagement; and he succeeded.

Poe’s last days Griswold treated briefly. His death Griswold attributed to a drunken debauch in Baltimore and he gave as authentic, details which are imaginary, but which readers naturally took as correct, when given by an authorized biographer.

When Griswold turned to the summing up of Poe’s character, it is easy to visualize the evangelical moralist who quotes, only to reject it, the advice to speak nothing but good of the dead. This would be impossible, he said, owing to the “notoriety of Mr. Poe’s faults,” and a career so “full of instruction and warning” cannot be neglected. Poe, he continued, “exhibits scarcely any virtue in either his life or his writings.” Among other lacks is that of conscience — this with regard to the author of “William Wilson”!

Next it occurred to Griswold that to quote Poe as saying something unpleasant about Evert Duyckinck would remove any danger to Griswold from him. He returned, therefore, to the letter from Poe to P. P. Cooke which he had already used for the purpose of plagiarism. In printing it,(56) Griswold deftly inserted a phrase of which Poe was innocent. “The last selection of my tales was made from about seventy by [one of our great little cliquists and claquers] Wiley and Putnam’s reader, Duyckinck.” This insertion probably had its result, for Duyckinck retaliated, as we will see, on the man whom he had befriended. Griswold, unfortunately for himself, made the following accusation of bad faith concerning Poe’s relation with Longfellow:

I remember having been shown by Mr. Longfellow, several years ago, a series of papers which constitute a demonstration that Mr. Poe was indebted to him for the idea of “The Haunted Palace,” one of the most admirable of his poems, which he so pertinaciously asserted had been used by Mr. Longfellow in the production of his “Beleaguered City.” Mr. Longfellow’s poem was written two or three years before the first publication of that by Poe, and it was during a portion of this time in Poe’s possession; but it was not printed, I believe, until a few weeks after the appearance of “The Haunted Palace.” “It would be absurd,” as Poe himself said many times, “to believe the similarity of these [page 674:] pieces entirely accidental.” This was the first cause of all that malignant criticism which for so many years he carried on against Mr. Longfellow,

Longfellow hated discussions, but this was too much for him, and he promptly called Griswold to account:

Cambridge, Sept. 28, 1850.

Sir, — I think you must be mistaken in saying that I “showed you a series of papers” in reference to “The Haunted Palace,” and “The Beleaguered City”; for I do not remember that I ever had any such papers in my possession, nor that Mr. Poe ever accused me of taking my poem from his.

I do remember showing you two letters from him to me, (dated May & June 1841) proving the different tone he assumed towards me in private and in public. Nothing is said in these letters about the point now at issue; and these are the only ones I ever received from him.

With regard to “The Beleaguered City,” it was written on the nineteenth of September, 1839. I marked the date down at the time. It was first published in the “Southern Literary Messenger,” November, 1839. I sent it to Mr. White, the Editor of that work, who had solicited a contribution from me. I do not believe Mr. Poe ever saw it till it was published; for he was not then, I think, connected with the Messenger, and could not have had this manuscript in his hands, for Mr. White did not, probably, receive it before the first of October; and it is the first article in the November No. of the Messenger.(57)

Griswold proceeded to attack Poe’s honesty as a critic. We need not discuss his charges concerning Poe’s changes in his estimates of contemporary writers. Poe may reasonably have altered his opinion in consequence of their later work. Griswold was on more tenable ground in his charge that Poe used private letters of Irving and Longfellow in his own account of his work, published in the Saturday Museum in 1843. Poe did change the comments from the first to the third persons, thus implying that Irving and Longfellow had published them. But here once more Griswold invented the worst elements in the situation. According to him, Irving had expressly prohibited Poe from using his letters publicly. There is nothing in Irving’s second letter concerning “William Wilson” which either prohibits or permits its use, and he possibly did not care about the matter. The first letter, concerning the “House of Usher,” has apparently disappeared. [page 675:] Poe, in his letter to Snodgrass, November 11, 1839, states definitely that “Irving desires me to make the passages public.” The permission may have come in the first letter. In choosing between the accuracy of Poe and Griswold, there is little difficulty in making a selection.

Griswold’s description of the relations between Poe, Graham and Godey, are so obviously incorrect that it is not worth the time to dispute them. He quotes Daniel’s article in the Southern Literary Messenger as a “Defence of Mr. Poe,” which it is not, either in title or substance, thereby giving the reader the impression that such sentences as “he believed in nobody, and cared for nobody,” had been written by a friend.

In dealing with Poe’s social qualities, Griswold played a clever trick. He published Mrs. Osgood’s charming picture of Poe, from which I have already quoted, but he prefaced it by making Mrs. Osgood accept Griswold’s own view of Poe’s relations with men. Notice how adroitly he proceeds:

Speaking of him one day soon after his death, with the late Mrs. Osgood, the beauty of whose character had made upon Poe’s mind that impression which it never failed to produce upon minds capable of the apprehension of the finest traits in human nature, she said she did not doubt that my view of Mr. Poe, which she knew indeed to be the common view, was perfectly just, as it regarded him in his relations with men; but to women he was different, and she would write for me some recollections of him to be placed beside my harsher judgments in any notice of his life that the acceptance of the appointment to be his literary executor might render it necessary for me to give to the world. She was an invalid — dying of that consumption by which in a few weeks she was removed to heaven, and calling for pillows to support her while she wrote, she drew this sketch:

“You ask me, my friend, to write for you my reminiscences of Edgar Poe. For you, who knew and understood my affectionate interest in him, and my frank acknowledgment of that interest to all who had a claim upon my confidence, for you, I will willingly do so. I think no one could know him — no one has known him personally — certainly no woman — without feeling the same interest. I can sincerely say, that although I have frequently heard of aberrations on his part from ‘the straight and narrow path,’ I have never seen him otherwise than gentle, generous, well-bred, and fastidiously refined. To a sensitive and delicately-nurtured woman, there was a peculiar and irresistible charm in the chivalric, [page 676:] graceful, and almost tender reverence with which he invariably approached all women who won his respect. It was this which first commanded and always retained my regard for him.

“I have been told that when his sorrows and pecuniary embarrassments had driven him to the use of stimulants, which a less delicate organization might have borne without injury, he was in the habit of speaking disrespectfully of the ladies of his acquaintance. It is difficult for me to believe this; for to me, to whom he came during the year of our acquaintance for counsel and kindness in all his many anxieties and griefs, he never spoke irreverently of any woman save one, and then only in my defence, and though I rebuked him for his momentary forgetfulness of the respect due to himself and to me, I could not but forgive the offence for the sake of the generous impulse which prompted it. Yet even were these sad rumors true of him, the wise and well-informed knew how to regard, as they would the impetuous anger of a spoiled infant, balked of its capricious will, the equally harmless and unmeaning phrenzy of that stray child of Poetry and Passion. For the few unwomanly and slander-loving gossips who have injured him and themselves only by repeating his ravings, when in such moods they have accepted his society, I have only to vouchsafe my wonder and my pity. They cannot surely harm the true and pure, who, reverencing his genius and pitying his misfortune and his errors, endeavored, by their timely kindness and sympathy, to soothe his sad career.”(58)

By printing this tribute from Mrs. Osgood, Griswold convinced many readers that he was a generous biographer, who had spared Poe many unfavorable facts. Fearing, however, to leave such a good taste in the mouths of those who had swallowed his tissue of falsehoods, he returned to his “Ludwig” article, and reprinted verbatim, its conclusion, the passages from The Caxtons included, which I have recently quoted.(59) The final view of Poe which the “Memoir” presented was that of a cynic “without faith in man or woman,” and destitute of honor.

Griswold’s treachery in blasting the reputation of the man whose work he was editing, was promptly criticized by an anonymous writer, in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post for September 21, 1850. If it was Henry Peterson, the editor, he certainly had no exalted opinion of Poe’s nature, but his sense of fairness revolted at Griswold’s action: [page 677:]

Now, this biography may be considered in two lights — first, as the production of a “literary executor,” to be attached to the works of a deceased friend; secondly, as a simple biography. Considering it in the first light, we must say that a more cold-blooded and ungenerous composition has seldom come under our notice. Nothing so condemnatory of Mr. Poe, so absolutely blasting to his character, has ever appeared in print, as this work of his “literary executor.” It is absolutely horrible (considering the circumstances under which Mr. Griswold writes) with what cool deliberateness he charges upon Mr. Poe the basest and most dishonorable actions. Writing as the “literary executor” of the deceased poet, we should have thought it would have suggested itself to any generous mind, that his part was that of a friendly counsel, rather than of a prosecuting attorney, or even of the judge sworn to do exact justice, to the extent of pronouncing the sentence of death. We have no desire to be uncharitable to Mr. Griswold, but really we are not able to find any excuse for him. He either knew that he was doing a most flagrantly ungenerous act, or else he did not know it — we think one horn of the dilemma quite as sharp as the other.

Unfortunately, in order to show how Griswold had “executed” Poe, the editor quoted some of the worst slanders, and while he characterized them as they deserved, he brought forward no evidence against them and probably hurt Poe as well as Griswold.

The malice of the “Memoir” soon began to bear fruit. Duyckinck in the Literary World for September 21, 1850, nettled probably by the forged sentence describing him as a “cliquist,” spoke of Poe as “a literary attorney, who pleaded according to his fee.” Yet Duyckinck asked pertinently why Griswold selected Poe’s early unfortunate review of Cornelius Mathews, which Poe had repudiated, instead of later and more friendly ones, and why the third volume was carefully purged of any unhandsome references to Dr. Griswold.(60)

L. G. Clark, in the Knickerbocker, seized upon the worst slanders in the “Memoir,” twisted them out of focus by omitting everything of a favorable nature, and by constantly referring to the “Memoir” as the work of Poe’s own appointed biographer, showed how potent it was to be in the defamation of his character.(61)

Even those who desired to treat Poe fairly were handicapped. John [page 678:] Savage, in the Democratic Review,(62) found it impossible to disregard Griswold’s account and took refuge in a consideration of Poe’s writings, which, after all, he said, were of more significance.

The first important defence of Poe, after the “Memoir” was published, came from his friend, C. Chauncey Burr, who had helped him in the black days in Philadelphia in 1849. In his own quarterly, the Nineteenth Century, Burr painted a striking analysis of one phase of Poe’s character:

I know that an attempt has been made by the enemies of Poe, to show that he was “without heart;” and even a contemporary whom we must acquit of any malice in the charge, has sung:

“But the heart somehow seems all squeezed out by the mind.”(63)

Poe was undoubtedly the greatest artist among modern authors; and it is his consummate skill as an artist, that has led to these mistakes about the properties of his own heart. That perfection of horror which abounds in his writings, has been unjustly attributed to some moral defect in the man. But I perceive not why the competent critic should fall into this error. Of all authors, ancient or modern, Poe has given us the least of himself in his works. He wrote as an artist. He intuitively saw what Schiller has so well expressed, that it is an universal phenomenon of our nature that the mournful, the fearful, even the horrible, allures with irresistible enchantment. He probed this general psychological law, in its subtle windings through the mystic chambers of our being, as it was never probed before, until he stood in the very abyss of its center, the sole master of its effects.(64)

In presenting the letters from Poe to Mrs. Clemm, already printed, Burr apologized for laying bare “the agonies of a heart overflowing with kindness, gratitude and faith, yet cruelly dispossessed of every means of the blessing it would bestow.”

The three volumes soon began to be noticed in England. In the Westminster Review for January, 1852, Poe heads the list of contemporary American authors. The review is brief and emphasizes his artistic powers, but dwells upon his moral deficiencies. The reviewer, who had been deceived into thinking “Mesmeric Revelation” and “The [page 679:] Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” were the accounts of real occurrences, praised the power of Poe to throw “an air of reality over his most imaginative productions.” He quoted the scandal concerning Poe’s deliberate breaking of the engagement with Mrs. Whitman, but also gave space to Mrs. Osgood’s tribute. It is a fair treatment, so far as the critic was informed, but the result was, as usual, to depict Poe as Griswold had drawn him.(65)

The damage Griswold did is even better illustrated by the review in Tait’s Magazine.(66) Vizetelly had published in London a selection of Poe’s stories,(67) price one shilling. The “Memoir” was reprinted as an introduction, and was again accepted as correct. Although the reviewer tried in general to be fair, he dwelt on Poe’s drinking, “for months he was regardless of anything but a morbid and insatiable appetite for the means of intoxication.” The reviewer was evidently puzzled by the contradiction between Griswold’s account and that of Willis, and acknowledged that “there must have been something noble in such a man.” But he repeated the scandals about the scene at Mrs. Whitman’s house and concluded:

But without going further, we may as well return at once to the observations we made at starting; for the closest investigation of this man’s character and abilities will only lead us to wonder and regret that so much intellectual power may coexist with so much moral weakness. In his character there existed at once strongest commonsense and wretchedest folly; it was steeped at once in depravity and poetry. For though to allow any literary excellence to our American brethren is considered a tolerably good proof of a low standard of taste, we yet venture to say that a half-dozen such poems as “The Raven” would have placed Edgar Poe in the foremost ranks of modern poetry. We hope to be forgiven if we have spoken too harshly of a dead man.

The articles in the Westminster Review and in Tait’s Magazine called forth a restrained but effective protest from W. J. Pabodie, in the New York Tribune for June 2, 1852. He declared that there existed “not the shadow of foundation” for the scandals concerning Poe’s [page 680:] rupture of his engagement with Mrs. Whitman. Pabodie then, in speaking of Poe’s intemperance, continued:

With the single exception of this fault, which he has so fearfully expiated, his conduct, during the period of my acquaintance with him, was invariably that of a man of honor and a gentleman; and I know that, in the hearts of all who knew him best among us, he is remembered with feelings of melancholy interest and generous sympathy.

We understand that Dr. Griswold has expressed his sincere regret that these unfounded reports should have been sanctioned by his authority; and we doubt not, if he possesses that fairness of character and uprightness of intention which we have ascribed to him, that he will do what lies in his power to remove an undeserved stigma from the memory of the departed.

Pabodie’s dextrous attempt to force Griswold into a retraction drew from that gentleman a violent epistle in which he demanded that Pabodie “explain his letter, in another, also in the Tribune,” threatening unless he did so, to publish “such documents as will be infinitely painful to Mrs. Whitman and all those concerned.” “For Mrs. Whitman,” he continued, “I have great respect and sympathy. On this subject, however, if not on some others, she is insane.”

The kind of mind Griswold possessed is shown by his next paragraph, which I print only because it proves his bitter feeling toward Poe:

As to Poe’s general conduct toward women, it is illustrated in the fact that he wrote to his Mother in Law (with whom it is commonly understood and believed, in neighborhoods where they lived, that he had criminal relations), that if he married the woman to whom he was engaged, in Richmond, for her money, he must still manage to live so near a creature whom he loved in Lowell, as to have intercourse with her as his mistress. Possessed of such letters, you may imagine how carefully and delicately I treated this whole subject, in my memoir. I suppressed everything that could be suppressed without the sacrifice of all truth in general effect.(68)

There were, of course, no such letters. Griswold may have been twisting a sentence in Poe’s letter to Mrs. Clemm of September [4], [page 681:] 1849, “I must be somewhere where I can see Annie.” It is hardly necessary to say that the scandal concerning Mrs. Clemm and Poe arose from the fumes of Griswold’s imagination. But if he put such foul trash on paper, what must he have been saying to his acquaintances in New York!

Mr. Pabodie was not the person to be bluffed by Griswold. In a long letter, which I have already used in describing Poe’s last visit to Mrs. Whitman, he politely but firmly refused to modify anything he had published. “These are the facts,” he wrote Griswold, “which I am ready to make oath to, if necessary.” Apparently Griswold did not dare to carry out his threat to publish the “infinitely painful” documents in the Tribune, and left Pabodie in possession of the field.

In 1853, Richard Henry Stoddard published the first of the many articles he wrote on Poe.(69) He accepted Griswold’s “Memoir” and while he praised Poe’s poetry highly, he contributed no significant criticism. He concluded with an original poem on Poe. Curiously enough, Stoddard gave none of the stories he afterward told concerning his meetings with Poe. Why Stoddard wrote so often can only be explained by his desire to make some money, for he did not like Poe, nor did he appreciate his work.

Until 1854 the British critics had usually drawn on the “Memoir.” But in that year, George Gilfillan, in the London Critic, added some savage denunciations of his own. According to him, “Poe was no more a gentleman than he was a saint, and of all the poetic fraternity, Poe was the most worthless and wicked.” He was “a cool calculating deliberate blackguard” who broke his wife’s heart. He was among other things, “a Yankee Yahoo,” licentious and a habitual drunkard, without a conscience. In the midst of this tirade, the critic acknowledged that Poe’s writing was “pure,” “He has never save by his example (so far as we know his works) sought to shake faith, or sap morality.” Gilfillan paid a high tribute to Poe’s power of analysis, to his invention and to his imagination, but his picture of Poe’s character is appalling. This article was reprinted in the Southern Literary Messenger (70) and in Littell’s Living Age.(71)

Graham, meanwhile, had not rested content with his first defence of Poe. In February, 1854, he published in his own magazine his “Genius [page 682:] and Characteristics of the Late Edgar Allan Poe.”(72) After his lengthy disquisition on the nature of genius, with which the essay begins, Graham says:

To these remarks we have been irresistibly led by a consideration of the various reviews of the life and writings of Edgar A. Poe, all of them, in our opinion, incomplete, and in some sort inapt, and many unjust, unkind, ungenerous and cruel. No sooner in fact had this brilliant but eccentric spirit passed away and been swallowed up in darkness, than the hand of almost everyone was raised against him, every foible of his unhappy and ill-regulated life was hunted out and paraded before the censorious eyes of a world ever prone to lend a credulous ear to ill reports of those who stand eminent above the rest, it matters not for what, and eager, as it would seem, to take vengeance on them for their superiority in one respect by dwelling triumphantly on their inferiority in others.

Graham then proceeds logically:

For mentioning his vices at all, except in the slightest and most casual manner, much less for dwelling on them pertinaciously and almost malignantly, there can be no earthly apology or justification; for they were in no wise reflected in or connected with his writings; neither were they in any respect seductive, amusing or fascinating vices, likely to court imitation, or lead astray a single individual from the path of sobriety or honor.

Graham very properly observes that in the cases of other poets who drank too much, like Sheridan and Burns, their fault has been condoned. But Poe’s lapses have been held up to scorn. Graham put his finger on the reason. Poe was a critic and those he attacked while living, took their revenge when he was dead. Graham’s analysis of Poe’s nature is much too detailed for adequate quotation here, yet it is among the most sympathetic and penetrating that has been written.

He recognized Poe’s constant struggles against temptation, and how his sensitive temperament reacted violently to injustice that a more phlegmatic nature would have disregarded. Of special significance was Graham’s explanation of Poe’s poverty:

The sufferings caused by poverty to the sensitive, proud, educated gentleman are agonies indescribable, temptations irresistible; and Poe’s poverty was at times excessive, extending to the want of the mere necessaries of life. Nor was this, we conscientiously [page 683:] believe, in any considerable degree Poe’s fault, for his genius, though of a very fine and high order, was not such as to command a ready or lucrative market. Pride, self-reproach, want, weariness, drove him to seek excitement, perhaps forgetfulness, in wine; and the least drop of wine, to most men a moderate stimulus, was to him literally the cup of frenzy.

Graham’s estimate of Poe’s criticism is valuable because of his association with Poe at a time when he was doing some of his best work. He rightly disliked Poe’s obsession with plagiarism, or his treatment of Longfellow, and the following judgment is especially pertinent:

We consider it a strong argument against the attribution of his sarcastic and cynical criticisms to personal jealousy or pique, and a preconceived determination to pull down reputations, that, with the exception of Mr. Longfellow, all those whom he has most cause to regard with envy, as possessing equal or higher reputations, are those whom he criticises most favorably and most fairly; while many of those on whom he uncorks the phials of his indignation, with a fury wholly disproportioned to the value of the offenders or the weight of the offenses, are often persons of so small consideration as to make one marvel at the amount of good vituperation wasted.

Graham’s appraisement of Poe’s writings is sound. He rightly judged that “it is on his tales, and on his poems yet more decidedly, that the reputation of Mr. Poe must stand.” His classification of the stories into those of grotesque fancy, of ratiocination and of imagination, is still the best; and while his treatment of the poetry is not profound, it is sympathetic.

Quite different from the British portraits of Poe were those which Charles Baudelaire gave to France. Baudelaire had been, in 1848, one of the first to translate Poe,(73) but even before that he had haunted cafés where English was spoken, had sought the acquaintance of Americans, or anyone else who could give him information concerning Poe. He also purchased collected editions of Poe and periodicals containing his work.

In March and April of 1852, he published in the Revue de Paris, articles concerning Poe’s life and work, which were republished, much changed, as the introductions to Baudelaire’s translations of Poe’s stories, the Histoires Extraordinaires of 1856 and the Nouvelles Histoires Extraordinaires, of 1857. The first of these he dedicated to Mrs. [page 684:] Clemm, with a translation of the sonnet “To My Mother.”(74) Even Baudelaire depended to a certain extent upon Griswold’s “Memoir” for his account of Poe’s life, and accepted the expulsion from the University of Virginia and other errors which he had no means of checking. But his deep sympathy with Poe’s nature, based on his close study of his writing, and the innate affinity between them, led Baudelaire to reject the worst of the slanders.

For Griswold’s treatment of Poe’s character, Baudelaire had some vigorous phrases — “Does there not exist in America an ordinance which forbids to curs an entrance to the cemeteries?” Griswold, the most detestable of these animals, has committed “une immortelle infamie”; he is a “pedagogue vampire” who has defamed his friend.(75)

Baudelaire disposes of the irregularities of Poe by blaming them upon his American environment. His drinking was an escape from the “bourgeoisie” who surrounded him. An aristocrat by inheritance and breeding, Poe scorned the mob, who retaliated and drove him to solitude, poverty, and ruin. It is not necessary to retail all of Baudelaire’s denunciations of the United States. He knew little about the country, and while he was quite correct in his belief that Poe was no democrat, he took many of Poe’s satirical remarks, like those in “Some Words with a Mummy” as deadly serious, when, of course, Poe meant them as humorous — with a sting.

Baudelaire’s picture of Poe living in a vast cage of mediocrity, a “Hop Frog” who amused his sovereign, the mob, while taking vengeance upon it, was not very helpful in establishing Poe’s position as an artist in France. But Baudelaire’s translations of Poe’s works, made with a skill which places them among the great translations of the world’s literature, accomplished that end in a large measure. The story of that influence does not belong, however, to this biography.(76)

In 1856, the most powerful and influential of the New England journals, The North American Review, made the publication of the fourth volume of Poe’s works the occasion for an extended review of his life and writings. On the personal side, Griswold was followed, [page 685:] all the slanders being repeated. Griswold’s forgery of Burton’s letter of May 30, 1839, led to charges against Poe of “sensationalism” and of spreading “havoc” among literary men! The critic went out of his way to conjure up a list of those who would support Griswold in his charges — “Mr. Allan, the Faculty of Maryland University [sic]; the President of the Academy at West Point; the officers of the regiment from which he deserted; the publishers, White, Burton, Graham and Godey, whose business he had injured or neglected.” This after Graham had published his “Defence”! The critic, although praising his work in special cases, shows his animus in the concluding paragraphs when he prays for some “potent chemistry to blot out from our brain — roll forever, beyond the power of future resurrection, the greater part of what has been inscribed upon it by the ghastly and charnel-hued pen of Edgar Allan Poe. Rather than remember all, we would choose to forget all that he has written.”(77)

Such falsification of facts was sufficiently unfortunate, but even more unpardonable was the misquoting of those critics who defended him. Fraser’s Magazine­(78) remarked “We are told by Mr. Willis that the slightest indulgence in intoxicating liquor was sufficient to convert Poe into a thorough blackguard,” which of course Willis had not said. This critic, like other British writers, had to depend upon Griswold, and the power for evil which the “Memoir” possessed is shown clearly in this extract:

There is nothing of the lues Boswelliana about Mr. Griswold. He states with the greatest frankness the sins and scandals of the man who entrusted to him the vindication of a memory which sorely needed vindicating, if it were possible. It is curious, indeed, how little pains the biographer takes to conceal the shortcomings of his hero. He appears to have felt that any attempt to have done so would have been vain.

The British critic naturally was puzzled by the choice of Griswold, evidenced by Mrs. Clemm’s foreword. Well he might be, for such a tragic happening as the selection of a man’s bitterest enemy to be his authorized biographer had never occurred, and was never to occur again. But the critic added a few choice exaggerations, such as [page 686:] “Through his whole life there never was a time when, for more than two or three weeks, he promised to become anything better. . . . His envy of those more favored than himself by fortune amounted to raging ferocity.”

Among the British reviews, that in the Edinburgh Review for April, 1858(79) reached the climax of detraction. “Edgar Allan Poe,” the critic began, “was incontestibly one of the most worthless persons of whom we have any record in the world of letters. . .. He outraged his benefactor, he deceived his friends, he sacrificed his love, he became a beggar, a vagabond, the slanderer of a woman, the delirious drunken pauper of a common hospital, hated by some, despised by others, and avoided by all respectable men.” This was reprinted in the Living Age, and in the Ladies’ Repository, and the mountain of slander rose, in this country and in England.

Today it seems hard to understand why the very over-statements of Poe’s supposed crimes did not defeat themselves. The reason is given in one of the best of the articles on Poe, written by James Wood Davidson, the South Carolina teacher and writer, in Russell’s Magazine:­(80)

We are prepared by such an individuality, manifesting itself in such conditions, to see how it would and must produce such positive but antipodal opinions of the individual. His character was positive, intensely demonstrative, and the impression he created was therefore always unmistakable. He is said to have had “a fatal facility of making enemies.” He secured more and more bitter enemies than any other American author has ever done, because he told more wholesome truths than any other author has dared to tell. And, if there is any one thing the exposition of which a man will not forgive, that thing is — the truth. A slandered man may find repose beneath the shade of his real or imaginary injuries, but the stern truth leaves no covert to flee to, save vengeance against the utterer. Poe allowed to quackery and stupidity no mercy; and now, his victims and their adherents, though they shrank to silence during his lifetime, have rallied like cowards to blurt their bravado over his too-early — but to them how timely! — grave. They have apparently exhausted even their [page 687:] vast vocabularies of villifying epithets upon his name. They have beset him in every possible form and through every available medium, restrained by neither decency, truth, nor honor. . . .

On the other hand, Poe’s brilliancy of mind, his independence, his princely poetical genius, his sensibility and suffering, his contempt of convention and manners, his instinctive appreciation of woman — these have secured him admirers, and have won him hearts whose tributes of affection are a world of proof in his favor. . . .

What was true the brilliant intellect of Edgar Poe never failed to perceive. What was beautiful his soul recognized at first blush, and loved for its kinship. Guided by these, his conscience was rarely in fault upon points of right. An instinctive self-respect, over which he had no control, forbade his ever seeking the lenient judgment of the many by explaining circumstances or appearances, which, unexplained, he knew must be construed against him. The world has little charity for any; for one who spurns its sympathy, none; and he who contemns its tribunal invariably receives the extreme visitations of its vengeance. As no judgment can be more erroneous, so none is more dictatorially given, or, when given, more persistently ultimate. Poe spurned that sympathy and received therefor the minimum of its meagre charity and the maximum of its profuse condemnation. A morbid sensibility impelled him to seek rather than avoid such occasions. He enjoyed the luxury of being misunderstood.

During the decade with which we must conclude this survey of the contemporary opinions of Poe, one of the women who loved him was preparing his defence in a more permanent form than that of the magazine articles of Graham and Hirst, of Burr and Davidson. Mrs. Whitman gathered from Mrs. Clemm details of his life and prepared first an article and later a small volume, Edgar Poe and his Critics, completed late in 1859 and published in 1860. During this decade she had fought off several attempts to shake her belief in her dead friend. Her own innate nobility is revealed in her letter to Mrs. Clemm, November 24 [1851]. Mrs. Locke had been pestering her with statements that Poe had spoken disrespectfully of Mrs. Whitman to her friends in Lowell.

“She then came to Providence,” Mrs. Whitman wrote, “and passed a night with me. On her attempting to introduce the subject which she had so often touched upon in her letters, I interrupted her by saying that I did not wish to listen to any charges against one whose memory [page 688:] was dear and sacred to me — That if false they could not be refuted — If true I could understand and forgive them.”(81)

Mrs. Whitman’s article was offered to Lowell for the Atlantic Monthly, but after detaining it for three months, he rejected it without explanation.(82) Mrs. Whitman began her little book with this Preface:

Dr. Griswold’s Memoir of Edgar Poe has been extensively read and circulated; its perverted facts and baseless assumptions have been adopted into every subsequent memoir and notice of the poet, and have been translated into many languages. For ten years this great wrong to the dead has passed unchallenged and unrebuked.

It has been assumed by a recent English critic, that “Edgar Poe had no friends.” As an index to a more equitable and intelligible theory of the idiosyncrasies of his life, and as an earnest protest against the spirit of Dr. Griswold’s unjust memoir, these pages are submitted to his more candid readers and critics by

One of his Friends.

While the volume is, therefore, a refutation of Griswold’s “remorseless violations of the trust confided in him,” Mrs. Whitman did not reply to his charges by detailed examination of them. She proceeded, instead, to paint a portrait of Poe with the brush of spiritual insight, drawn in true perspective through her intimate knowledge of the man, and made vivid by the colors of sympathy of which only a poet-critic could know the values. When she had finished, Edgar Poe in his real nature was there for the eyes of those who wish a true picture, and to such as these, the scandals and half-truths drop, helpless to blind or to confuse.

Mrs. Whitman put her finger at once on the puzzling differences between the various portraits of Poe. They “are valueless as a portrait,” she says, “to those who remember the unmatched glory of his face when roused from its habitually introverted and abstracted look by some favorite theme, or profound emotion.” This inner light, noted [page 689:] by Willis, Susan Talley, and others, shines for us only in his characters, in the lover of Eleanora, of Ulalume, of Annabel Lee.

Mrs. Whitman’s tribute to Virginia, and to Poe’s devotion to his wife, culminated in her sentence, often paraphrased, “It was to this quiet haven in the beautiful spring of 1846, when the fruit trees were all in bloom and the grass in its freshest verdure, that he brought his Virginia to die.” Next comes the sympathetic interpretation of “Ulalume,” which identifies the memory that challenges “Astarte’s bediamonded crescent” with the spirit of Virginia.

Poe could not have asked for a better interpretation of his poems than Mrs. Whitman offered. Rejecting the criticism, not yet entirely hushed, that his creations were the results of mere artistic skill, and not genuine outgrowths of the inward life of a poet, she said:

It is not to be questioned that Poe was a consummate master of language — that he had sounded all the secrets of rhythm — that he understood and availed himself of all its resources; the balance and poise of syllables — the alternations of emphasis and cadence — of vowel-sounds and consonants — and all the metrical sweetness of “phrase and metaphrase.” Yet this consummate art was in him united with a rare simplicity. He was the most genuine of enthusiasts, as we think we shall presently show. His genius would follow no leadings but those of his own imperial intellect. With all his vast mental resources he could never write an occasional poem, or adapt himself to the taste of a popular audience. His graver narratives and fantasies are often related with an earnest simplicity, solemnity, and apparent fidelity, attributable, not so much to a deliberate artistic purpose, as to that power of vivid and intense conception that made his dreams realities, and his life a dream.

What other woman of that time could have given us this picture of Poe’s personal powers:

As a conversationist we do not remember his equal. We have heard the veteran Landor (called by high authority the best talker in England) discuss with scathing sarcasm the popular writers of the day, convey his political animosities by fierce invectives on the “pretentious coxcomb, Albert,” and “the cunning knave, Napoleon,” or describe, in words of strange depth and tenderness, the peerless charm of goodness and the naive social graces in the beautiful mistress of Gore House, “the most gorgeous Lady Blessington.” We have heard the Howadji talk of the gardens of Damascus till the air seemed purpled and perfumed [page 690:] with its roses. We have listened to the trenchant and vivid talk of the Autocrat; to the brilliant and exhaustless colloquial resources of John Neal, and Margaret Fuller. We have heard the racy talk of Orestes Brownson in the old days of his freedom and power, have listened to the serene wisdom of Alcott, and treasured up memorable sentences from the golden lips of Emerson. Unlike the conversational power evinced by any of these was the earnest, opulent, unpremeditated speech of Edgar Poe.

Like his writings it presented a combination of qualities rarely met with in the same person; a cool, decisive judgment, a wholly unconventional courtesy and sincere grace of manner, and an imperious enthusiasm which brought all hearers within the circle of its influence.

In several of her critical interpretations, it seems as though the author of “Eleonora” himself were speaking:

It can hardly have escaped the notice of the most careless reader that certain ideas exercised over him the power of fascination. They return, again and again, in his stories and poems and seem like the utterances of a mind possessed with thoughts, emotions, and images of which the will and the understanding take little cognizance. In the delineation of these, his language often acquires a power and pregnancy eluding all attempts at analysis. It is then that by a few miraculous words he evokes emotional states or commands pictorial effects which live forever in the memory and form a part of its eternal inheritance. No analysis can dissect — no criticism can disenchant them.

She reprinted the greater “To Helen,” which Griswold had omitted, with singular stupidity, from his edition, and analyzed many of his poems with a judgment that still repays the student of Poe. A flash of inspiration, for example, concludes her study of his use of terror as a motive:

Yet, as out of mighty and terrific discords noblest harmonies are sometimes evolved, so through the purgatorial ministries of awe and terror, and through the haunting Nemesis of doubt, Poe’s restless and unappeased soul was urged on to the fulfilment of its appointed work — groping out blindly towards the light, and marking the approach of great spiritual truths by the very depth of the shadow it projected against them.

Mrs. Whitman, like a true critic, is not always in agreement with Poe’s own beliefs. A masterly analysis of the growth of scepticism in English and American literature, gives Poe as its climax. It is too elaborate [page 691:] for quotation, and she goes too far in her statement that “the unrest and faithlessness of the age culminated in him.” But this survey leads to a brilliant interpretation of the climax of Eureka, which was evidently not too much of a puzzle for her. The temptation to quote Mrs. Whitman must constantly be resisted, but who has better understood Poe’s spiritual domain than the writer of these lines:

Edgar Poe’s dreams were assuredly often presageful and significant, and while he but dimly apprehended through the higher reason the truths which they foreshadowed, he riveted public attention upon them by the strange fascination of his style, the fine analytical temper of his intellect, and, above all, by the weird splendors of his imagination, compelling men to read and to accredit as possible truths his most marvellous conceptions. He often spoke of the imageries and incidents of his inner life as more vivid and veritable than those of his outer experience. We find in some pencilled notes appended to a manuscript copy of one of his later poems the words, “all that I have here expressed was actually present to me. Remember the mental condition which gave rise to Ligeia’ — recall the passage of which I spoke, and observe the coincidence.” With all the fine alchymy of his subtle intellect he sought to analyze the character and conditions of this introverted life. “I regard these visions,” he says, “even as they arise, with an awe which in some measure moderates or tranquillizes the ecstacy — I so regard them through a conviction that this ecstacy, in itself, is of a character supernal to the human nature — is a glimpse of the spirit’s outer world.”

With such an able defence of Poe in existence, how was it that the myths concerning his character persisted? Unfortunately, the circulation of Mrs. Whitman’s volume was limited, although it was reprinted in 1885, and her method of defence, while admirable, did not meet categorically the slanders of Griswold. With nearly every set of Poe’s works, went Griswold’s “Memoir,” while the magazine articles of Graham and others were after a time forgotten.

There has been an attempt in recent years to find some excuse for Griswold, and the very enormity of his offence has been urged by one school of critics as an argument for its incredibility. To meet this reaction in his favor, I have given in detail the forgeries, especially those I have newly discovered, because such accusations must be proved circumstantially. Forgery of this kind makes its perpetrator untrustworthy in every respect, and yet it is strangely persistent.(83) [page 692:]

It has also been suggested that Griswold lacked sufficient motive for such actions. But Charles Godfrey Leland, who knew him well and liked him, admitted that he was one of the most vindictive of men when he had been attacked. Leland found in Griswold’s desk, some years later, a mass of material to the discredit of Poe and of others, which Griswold evidently intended to publish. Fortunately, Leland burnt it all.(84) There is another possible explanation which Griswold’s own words supply, in a letter to Carey and Hart:


I received a letter from you on Thursday and shall immediately proceed to the shipping of the “Poets and Poetry.” I went at once to Harpers’, and obtained the letter respecting the proposition to print Mrs. Osgood’s Poems, and seeing from the first lines that the proposition was accepted, I read no farther, but started for Brooklyn, to exhibit it to Mrs. Osgood. In crossing the ferry, however, that letter, and a bundle of MSS. were lost, by my falling from the boat in a fit. The good people assisted me out of the water, after I had sunk twice; but were in too great a hurry to attend to their own business, to row about for the floating letters, or to dive after the pencil, knife, and small change that had escaped me.

  · · · · · · · · · · ·  

Yours very truly,

Rufus W. Griswold.

New York, March 17, 1849(85)

Griswold was evidently not in normal health, either physically or mentally. It is perhaps idle to speculate on the effect of his disease upon his capacity for revenge, but it certainly invalidates his testimony or his judgments.

The Reverend Mr. Griswold was also, in a sense, a representative of his time. The forties and fifties saw a great wave of moralistic effort sweep over America. Reform movements were rampant. Advocates of temperance, of abolition, of slavery, of Graham bread, of spiritualism, of woman’s rights, of the community life, were militant. To such a public, Poe’s life as portrayed by Griswold, was a horrible but delicious bit of source material. Here was a great writer, who had insisted on living as he thought best, and the result was a tragedy. [page 693:] That his dissipation had really been infrequent mattered little. Goodness, like happiness, has no history that is interesting to the reforming spirit.

The duality of Poe’s nature will be apparent to anyone who has closely studied his life. It is reflected most concretely in his countenance. Take a full face daguerreotype of Poe, lay a card upon it, so that first one side and then the other will be concealed. On one side you will see a high forehead, an eye large and full, a firm mouth and a well shaped chin. On the other will appear a lower brow, a less lustrous eye, a mouth painfully drawn, and a chin less certain. That is why an artist like Sully chose to paint Poe’s three-quarter face.

This duality accounts for the radically different opinions concerning his real nature. At times, under the influence of liquor, he undoubtedly said and did things to which his enemies could point without the possibility of contradiction. These incidents, magnified in that isolation which makes facts sometimes the most terrible of untruths, gave color to Griswold’s slanders. But these actions were pitiable rather than dishonorable, and the bitter things he said concerning his enemies were often true, and therefore hurt the more.

That this weaker side of Poe was only the occasional aspect, has been established without the shadow of a doubt. He has given his own explanation for his use of liquor in words which defy any paraphrase.(86) These explanations were in private letters. In his reply to English,(87) he publicly hinted at family reasons which prevented him from being even more explicit, in connection with his drinking. The letter of David Poe, Jr., now first printed in a biography, explains indirectly but clearly, how Edgar Poe had inherited from his father a tendency to instability, due to liquor, which was a family failing.(88)

The testimony of unimpeachable quality has been given already to show that for long periods Poe was absolutely sober. His hard fight against a temptation, stronger to him than to normal people, and his remorse when he yielded, for the reasons he has given and for another which I have suggested,(89) leave much on the credit side to Poe.

Poe was not a drug addict. On this point we have direct testimony. Dr. English, who disliked him, gave his definite medical opinion to that effect.(90) Thomas H. Lane, who knew him for several years, while [page 694:] acknowledging that “a drink or two” changed Poe from a mild man “in every way a gentleman” to a quarrelsome inebriate, insisted that Poe did not take drugs.(91) Indeed, the best negative argument lies in the fact that Poe was so little acquainted with the effect of laudanum that he either took or said he took at least an ounce of the drug in Boston in 1848,(92) which his stomach immediately rejected. “I had not calculated on the strength of the laudanum,” are not the words of a drug addict. Those were days when opium was frequently given in small doses for pain, and Poe may well have taken it in that form.

There were failings of Edgar Poe, of course, which cannot be laid to drink. These I have made no attempt to conceal.

When his weaknesses have been catalogued, however, there rises above them the real Edgar Poe, the industrious, honorable gentleman whom Graham and Willis knew, the warm friend and courteous host whom Hirst, Mayne Reid and many others remembered. There was the brilliant thinker — whose charm came from that inner radiance that shone upon Helen Whitman and Susan Talley. Those who knew him best, loved him best. His wife and his mother adored the self-sacrificing, devoted husband and son. His friendships with Frances Osgood, Helen Whitman, Annie Richmond, Louise Shew, and Elmira Shelton, met the supreme test of separation under high emotional tension or even the embittered tongues of slander. Yet every one of them treasured the memory of his utter refinement and unfailing chivalry to her.

Of even more significance than Poe the man is Poe the artist. To bring to Virginia the few comforts she needed, he might harness his critical pen to drive a poetess, who could pay him, into temporary fame. But even the spectre of want could not force him into the prostitution of his genius as a poet and a writer of romance. Had he chosen to fill his pages with the sentimental twaddle then so popular, or to sully his creations of the beautiful with the suggestiveness that sells, he would have made a better living, and would now be forgotten. But he had his own lofty standards, and he lived up to them. For money he cared little, except as it provided for the wants of others. For fame he did care, but he was one of those souls who can see a prize, artistic, social, or financial, almost within their grasp, and, caring for something higher still, of which that prize is the price, can [page 695:] resolutely put it by. We can imagine him saying with Browning’s Duke,

“That would have taken some stooping — and I choose

Never to stoop.”

It is for this great refusal, for his willingness to lay all things upon the altar of his art, that Poe is most to be respected. He could hardly have done otherwise. A patrician to the fingertips, the carefulness of his dress, even in his poverty, was but an index to his devotion to those fields of effort in which he knew he was a master. After creating the detective story, he left it to others, who could not write the Arabesques of which he alone knew the secret. Limited as his field in poetry seems at first glance to be, it deals with great universal motives, with love, beauty, pride and death, and he carried those themes into lyric heights untouched before his time in America.

In his fiction, as well as his poetry, the pioneering spirit of the America of his day showed clearly in that restlessness which led him to dream “dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before,” to test the outer limits of the human soul, and to attack even the citadel of the spirit’s integrity, and the relations of God and His Universe.

His fame is now secure. The America in which he could find no adequate reward treasures every word he wrote, and in every city in which he lived, except the city of his birth, stands a lasting memorial to him. He has become a world artist and through the translations of his writings he speaks today to every civilized country. He has won this wide recognition by no persistent clamor of a cult, but by the royal right of preeminence. For today, nearly a hundred years since his death, he remains not only the one American, but also the one writer in the English language, who was at once foremost in criticism, supreme in fiction, and in poetry destined to be immortal.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 643:]

(1)  Original Autograph Ms., [[Enoch]] Pratt Library.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 644:]

(2)  The Sun (Baltimore), Monday, October 8, 1849, p. 2, col. 1.

(3)  Baltimore Clipper, October 9, 1849, p. 2, col. 7.

(4)  Mr. Louis A. [[H.]] Dielman, Executive Secretary and Librarian of the Peabody Institute of Baltimore, made for me a search of the newspapers from October 1st to 20th, with the above results.

(5)  Vol. XXVIII (October 9th), p. 2, col. 1.

(6)  Vol. XXXIII (October 9th), p. 2, col. 7.

(7)  New Series, VI (October 11th), p. 3, col. 4.

(8)  Vol. XIX (October 13th), p. 2, col. 2.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 646:]

(9)  See his Preface to his Memoir.

(10)  Part Eighth, Chapter III.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 647:]

(11)  “the” in The Caxtons.

(12)  “arrogant” appears here in The Caxtons.

(13)  “in” in The Caxtons.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 648:]

(14)  Quotations are from original autograph Ms. in [[Enoch]] Pratt Library.

(15)  See p. 636.

(16)  Woodberry, “The Poe-Chivers Papers,” Century Magazine, N. S., XLIII (February, 1903), 551-552.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 649:]

(17)  Original Autograph Ms., Pratt Library. October 28th was not Saturday in 1849 — the letter was probably written on the 27th.

(18)  Original Autograph Ms., Historical Society of Pennsylvania. For complete letter see Howard P. Vincent, American Literature, XIII (May, 1941), 162-167.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 651:]

(19)  Original Autograph Ms., Lilly Collection.

(20)  At the bottom of the clipping from the Republican, now in the Valentine Museum, there is a note in pencil, “Written by Miss Susan Talley — Oct. 10.” The handwriting is apparently that of Mann S. Valentine, a close friend of Miss Talley. The article does not mention Griswold’s attack by name.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 652:]

(21)  See Chapter XIV, pp. 434-435.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 653:]

(22)  Home Journal, October 20, 1849, Editorial Page, Col. [[col.]] 4.

(23)  Vol. XIX (Saturday, October 20, 1849), No. 33, p. 2. Signed “H. B. H.” — and Hirst is given as the author in the editorial preface to the account.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 655:]

(24)  Wilmer republished this letter in his Our Press Gang (1860), p. 385. He does not give the name of the “Philadelphia weekly paper” in which he printed it and the paper has not been found. His defence must have been written between October 9, 1849, when the Ludwig article appeared and the time when Griswold acknowledged the “Ludwig” article. The letter of Wilmer is reprinted by Dr. Mabbott in his Merlin (1941), pp. 25-26.

(25)  The letter is not dated in Thompson’s article. In the Life of Longfellow by Samuel Longfellow, II, 150, it is dated vaguely “October, 1849. But since it was printed in the November issue, it was probably received early in October.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 656:]

(26)  See Appendix [[X]], p. 754, for the complete document.

(27)  Original Autograph Ms., Lilly Collection.

(28)  Original Autograph Ms., Gratz Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 656, continuing to the bottom of page 657:]

(29)  The actual transit of the trunk is still a matter of dispute. If Thompson sent it to Neilson Poe by November 1st (Woodberry, II, 451) why did Thompson write to him on November 3rd demanding it? The trunk is now at the Poe Shrine in Richmond, transferred to the Shrine by Mrs. Jane [page 657:] MacKenzie Miller, granddaughter of Mrs. Jane Scott MacKenzie, who took Rosalie Poe into her home. Rosalie gave the trunk to Mrs. Miller, when she left the latter’s home, so that she evidently had it in her possession. See Valentine Letters, p. 179, Mrs. Stanard’s account there being checked by a written statement by Mrs. Miller, October 15, 1926, also in the Poe Shrine. [[For more information about Poe’ trunk, see Savoye, “Two Biographical Digressions: Poe’s Wandering Trunk and Doctor Carter’s Mysterious Sword Cane,” E. A. Poe Review, Fall 2005, 5:15-42.]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 657:]

(30)  Original Autograph Ms., Gratz Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 658:]

(31)  Griswold to Thompson, February 19, 1850, printed in Genius and Character of Edgar A. Poe, pp. 54-55.

(32)  Letter to Lowell, October 31, 1849; to Thompson, October 25, 1849, etc.

(33)  J. C. Derby, Fifty Years Among Authors and Publishers (New York, 1884), pp. 586-588, states that the sale reached about fifteen hundred sets a year. Derby adds, “The copyright was paid at first to Mr. Poe [!], and after his death to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm, who received the copy-right on several editions.” In view of this remarkable statement, Derby’s quotation from Redfield, defending Griswold’s “Memoir,” can hardly be considered good evidence.

(34)  October 18 or 25, 1849. Original Autograph Ms., Harvard University Library.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 659:]

(35)  Original Autograph Ms., Harvard University Library.

(36)  But see passage from the original article in Graham’s, Chap. XIV, p. 433.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 660:]

(37)  Original letter is quoted in Appendix to The Genius and Character of Edgar Allan Poe, by J. R. Thompson, ed. by Whitty and Rindfleisch, p. 54.

(38)  XXXV (February, 1850), 163-164.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 661:]

(39)  See p. 647.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 663:]

(40)  See pp. 342-343, Chapter XII.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 665:]

(41)  N. S., V. 301-315.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 666:]

(42)  XVI, 172-187.

(43)  The Editor of the Messenger apologized in a note, p. 192 of the March issue, for the tone of the article — claiming it had been printed in his absence. His apology, however, was for the attacks on Willis and Griswold, as editors, rather than for the slanders upon Poe.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 667:]

(44)  Estimates of Edgar A. Poe,” Home Journal (Saturday, March 30, 1850), Editorial Page, Col. [[col.]] 7.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 668:]

(45)  Original Autograph Ms., Griswold Collection, Boston Public Library. Mrs. Clemm referred, of course, to the “Literati.”

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 669:]

(46)  See pp. 443-450, for the letters printed in parallel columns comparing Griswold’s forgeries with the originals.

(47)  Autograph Ms., Boston Public Library. See p. 612 for the letter.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 670:]

(48)  The insertion of “in your new edition” at the end of the first sentence, and “as here written” at the end of the second sentence instead of “thus.”

(49)  Killis Campbell spoke of this letter as “unhappily incomplete” (Mind of Poe, p. 88). The photostat, sent me through the courtesy of Dr. R. A. Law, Dr. R. H. Griffith, and Miss Fannie Ratchford, of the University of Texas, who carefully examined the framed letter, shows no indication of a postscript. Dr. Griffith thinks the letter was cut for framing both at the top and bottom, but it is inconceivable that a postscript of this importance should have been destroyed for such a purpose. The letter was folded three times, the first fold being 13/16 in. from the top; the second 3 1/16 from the top and the third, 5 4/16 in. from the top — the letter being 7 4/16 in. overall. These figures indicate that any cutting would have been at the top, where indeed, the date is omitted. The name of the person addressed might have been cut out at the bottom. Of course, there may have been a postscript concerning “Annabel Lee” in which Griswold inserted the sentences concerning Graham, Godey and Eveleth. Griswold did have a copy of “Annabel Lee” at Poe’s death.

(50)  See Griswold’s forgery of a similar reflection upon Duyckinck, in Poe’s letter to P. P. Cooke, p. 514.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 671:]

(51)  Poe to Eveleth, December 15, 1846. Original Autograph Ms., Berg Collection, New York Public Library. Poe paid the postage on this letter, but did not pay it on his letter of February 16, 1847.

(52)  See the Letters of Eveleth to Poe, edited by T. O. Mabbott.

(53)  See pp. 228-229. Compare with Griswold’s form, “Memoir,” p. xiv, 1850 Ed.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 672:]

(54)  P. 280.

(55)  See p. 49.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 673:]

(56)  See p. 514.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 674:]

(57)  Original Autograph Ms., Boston Public Library.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 676:]

(58)  “Memoir,” The Literati, p. xxxvi.

(59)  Pp. 646-647.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 677:]

(60)  Literary World, VII (September 21, 1850), 228.

(61)  Knickerbocker Magazine, XXXVI (October, 1850), 370-372.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 678:]

(62)  United States Magazine and Democratic Review, XXVII (December, 1850), 542-544; XXVIII (January and February, 1851) 66-69; 162-172.

(63)  Lowell, Fable for Critics.

(64)  The Nineteenth Century, V (February, 1852), 23 -24.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 679:]

(65)  Westminster Review, LVII (January, 1852), 162-164. American Edition, XXXIV, No. 1.

(66)  “Edgar Poe,” April, 1852. Reprinted in Littell’s Living Age, XXXIII (May, 1852), 422-424.

(67)  Readable Books, Vol. I, Tales of Mystery, Imagination and Humor, By Edgar A. Poe (London, Vizetelly, 1852).

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 680:]

(68)  This letter was published first by Gill, Life, p. 222, who omitted the paragraphs referring to Mrs. Whitman’s “insanity” and to Poe’s relations with Mrs. Clemm and Annie. The complete original Ms. is in the Lilly Collection.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 681:]

(69)  National Magazine, II (March, 1853), 193-200. The article is unsigned.

(70)  XX (April, 1854), pp. 249-253.

(71)  XLI (April 22, 1854), 166-171.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 682:]

(72)  Graham’s Magazine, XLIV (February, 1854), 216-225.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 683:]

(73)  See p. 519.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 684:]

(74)  This dedication, together with the translations, appeared first in the columns of Le Pays, from July 25, 1854, to April, 1855. See Cambiare, pp. 33-37.

(75)  Histoires Extraordinaires, Traduit d’Edgar Poe (Paris, 1891 ed.), p. 6.

(76)  See pp. 514-520 for references to Poe’s influence in France. The best analysis of Baudelaire’s interpretation of Poe’s character is found in Léon Lemonnier, Edgar Poe et la Critique Française de 1845 à 1875 (Paris, 1928).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 685:]

(77)  North American Review, LXXXIII (October, 1856), 427-455. This article called forth rejoinders, in the Cosmopolitan Art Journal of New York, I (March and June, 1857), 83, and 112. In this magazine occurred probably the first agitation for a statue to Poe.

(78)  Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, LV (June, 1857), 686-690.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 686:]

(79)  Edinburgh Review, CVII (April, 1858), 420-421. Reprinted in Living Age, June 12, 1858, and in Genius and Character of Edgar Allan Poe, pp. 51-52.

(80)  II (November, 1857), 161-173. The article is not signed, but Mrs. Whitman speaks of him as the author.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 688:]

(81)  Original Autograph Ms., [[Enoch]] Pratt Library. The year in which this letter was written is not certain, but was probably 1851, since in it Mrs. Whitman spoke of receiving two years before a letter from Griswold concerning her letters to Poe. This was probably the letter of December 17, 1849.

(82)  Mrs. Whitman to Mrs. Clemm, April [?], [1859]. Original Autograph Ms., Pratt Library. This letter is dated April 5th, but is evidently a reply to Mrs. Clemm’s letter from Alexandria, of April 22nd. in the Lilly Collection.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 691:]

(83)  In a collection of the world’s great letters, published in the year 1940, two of the worst slanders are repeated.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 692:]

(84)  See C. G. Leland, Memoirs (New York, 1893), pp. 201-202.

(85)  Original Autograph Ms., Gratz Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. To my knowledge, it is unpublished.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 693:]

(86)  See pp. 347-348.

(87)  See p. 49.

(88)  See also letter of William Poe to Edgar Poe, June 15, 1843[[.]]

(89)  See pp. 226-227.

(90)  See p. 350.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 694:]

(91)  Letter of Dallet Fuguet to the present writer, October 20, 1927, containing memoranda of Lane, Fuguet’s cousin.

(92)  See letter to “Annie,” November 16, 1848, pp. 589-590.



In the final paragraph on page 679, Quinn prints only the first part of the name of Tait’s Magazine in italics. It is properly italicized elsewhere, and has been thus corrected in the text above.


[S:1 - EAP:ACB, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: A Critical Biography (A. H. Quinn) (Chapter 20)