Text: James A. Harrison, “Editor’s Preface [Chapter 11],” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Vol. XVII: Letters (1902), 17:287-325


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[page 287:]

CHAPTER XI.

1848.

EUREKA; “MARIE LOUISE;” SARAH HELEN WHITMAN; “ANNIE.”

——————

POE TO ——— [[G. W. Eveleth.]]

[Ingram.]

Jan. 4th, 1848.

You say, “Can you hint to me what was the ‘terrible evil’ which caused the ‘irregularities’ so profoundly lamented?”(1) Yes, I can do more than hint. This “evil” was the greatest which can be fall a man. Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever laved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever, and underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially, and I again hoped. At the end of a year, the vessel broke again. I went through precisely the same scene. . . . Then again — again — and even once again, at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death — and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive — nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness, [page 288:] I drank — God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink, rather than the drink to the insanity. I had, indeed, nearly abandoned all hope of a permanent cure, when I found one in the death of my wife. This I can and do endure as becomes a man. It was the horrible never-ending oscillation between hope and despair which I could not longer have endured, without total loss of reason. In the death of what was my life, then, I receive a new, but — Oh God! — how melancholy an existence.

[Signature missing.]

POE TO ———. [[G. W. Eveleth]]

[Ingram.]

4th of January, 1848.

GOOD FRIEND, — Your last, dated July 26th, ends with — “Write, will you not?” I have been living ever since in a constant state of intention to write, and finally concluded not to write at all, until I could say something definite about the Stylus and other matters. You perceive that I now send you a Prospectus. But before I speak farther on this topic, let me succinctly reply to various points in your letter.

1. “Hawthorne” is out. How do you like it?

2. “The Rationale of Verse” was found to come down too heavily (as I forewarned you it did) upon some of poor Colton’s friends in Frogpondium — the — “pundits,” you know; so I gave him, a song” for it and took it back. The song was “Ulalume — a Ballad,” published in the December number of the [page 289:] American Review. I enclose it, as copied by the Home Journal (Willis’s paper), with the editor’s remarks. Please let me know how you like “Ulalume.” As for the “Rat. of Verse,” I sold it to “Graham” at a round advance on Colton’s price, and in Graham’s hands it is still — but not to remain even there; for I mean to get it back, revise or rewrite it (since “Evangeline” has been published), and deliver it as a lecture when I go South and West on my Magazine expedition.

3. I have been “so still‘’ on account of preparation for the Magazine campaign; also, have been working at my book — nevertheless I have written some trifles not yet published — — some which have been.

4. My health is better — best. I have never been so well.

  · · · · · · · · ·  

6. The “common friend “alluded to is Mrs. Frances S. Osgood, the poetess.

7. I agree with you only in part, as regards Miss Fuller.(1) She has some general, but no particular, critical powers. She belongs to a school of criticism — the Gothean, aesthetic, eulogistic. The creed of this school is that, in criticising an author, you must imitate him, ape him, out Herod Herod. . . . For example, she abuses Lowell (the best of our poets, perhaps) on account of a personal quarrel with him. She has omitted all mention of me, far the same reason — although, a short time before the issue of her book, she praised me highly in the Tribune. I enclose you her criticism, that you may judge for yourself. She praised “Witchcraft,” because Mathews . . . wrote [page 290:] it. In a word, she is an ill-tempered and very inconsistent Old Maid — avoid her. . . .

And now, having replied to all your queries, let me refer to the Stylus. I am resolved to be my own publisher. To be controlled is to be ruined. My ambition is great. If I succeed, I put myself (within two years) in possession of a fortune and infinitely more. My plan is to go through the South and West, and endeavor to interest my friends so as to commence with a list of at least five hundred subscribers. With this list, I can take the matter into my own hands. There are some of my friends who have sufficient confidence in me to advance their subscription — but, at all events, succeed I will. Can you or will you help me? I have room to say no more.

Truly yours,  
E. A. POE.

POE TO H. D. CHAPIN.

[Ingram.]

FORDHAM — Jan. 17 —— 48.

MY DEAR SIR, — Mrs. Shew intimated to me, not long ago, that you would, perhaps, lend me your aid in my endeavour to re-establish myself in the literary world; and I now venture to ask your assistance. When I last spoke with you, I mentioned my design of going to see Mr. Neal at Portland, and there, with his influence, deliver a Lecture — the proceeds of which might enable me to take the first steps towards my proposed Magazine: — that is to say, put, perhaps, poo in my pocket; which would give me the necessary outfit and start me on my tour. But, since our conversation, I have been thinking that a better [page 291:] course would be to make interest among my friends here — in N. Y. city — and deliver a Lecture, in the first instance, at the Society Library. With this object in view, may I beg of you so far to assist me as to procure for me the use of the Lecture Room? The difficulty with me is that payment for the Room is demanded in advance and I have no money. I believe the price is $15,. I think that, without being too sanguine, I may count upon an audience of some 3 or 4 hundreds — and if even 300 are present, I shall be enabled to proceed with my plans.

Should you be so kind as to grant me the aid I request, I should like to engage the Room for the first Thursday in February.

Gratefully yours,  
EDGAR A. POE.

I am deeply obliged to you for your note of introduction to Col. Webb. As yet I have not found an opportunity of presenting it — thinking it best to do so when I speak to him about the Lecture,

POE TO WILLIS.

[Ingram.]

FORDHAM, January 22, 1848.

MY DEAR MR. WILLIS, — I am about to make an effort at re-establishing myself in the literary world, and feel that I may depend upon your aid.

My general aim is to start a Magazine, to be called the Stylus; but it would be useless to me, even when established, if not entirely out of the control of a publisher. I mean, therefore, to get up a journal which shall be my own, at all points. With this end in view, [page 292:] I must get a list of, at least, five hundred subscribers to begin with; — nearly two hundred I have already. I propose, however, to go South and West, among my personal and literary friends — old College and West Point acquaintances — and see what I can do. In order to get the means of taking the first step, I propose to lecture at the Society Library, on Thursday, the 3rd of February — - and, that there may be no cause of squabbling, my subject shall not be literary at all. I have chosen a broad text — “The Universe.” Having thus given you the facts of the case, I leave all the rest to the suggestions of your own tact and generosity.

Gratefully, most gratefully, your friend always,

EDGAR A. POE.

POE TO GEO. E. ISBELL.

[Feb. 29, 1848.]

See pp. 277, 278, Biography.

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

[Ingram.]

[Undated.] [[Oct. 1, 1848]]

I have already told you that some few casual words spoken of you by —— —— , were the first in which I had ever heard your name mentioned. She alluded to what she called your “eccentricities,” and hinted at your sorrows. Her description of the farmer strangely arrested — her allusion to the latter enchained and rivetted my attention.

She had referred to thoughts, sentiments, traits, moods, which I knew to be my own, but which, [page 293:] until that moment. I had believed to be my own solely — unshared by any human being. A profound sympathy took immediate possession of my soul. I cannot better explain to you what I felt than by saying that your unknown heart seemed to pass into my bosom — there to dwell for ever — while mine, I thought, was translated into your own.

From that hour I loved you. Since that period I have never seen nor heard your name without a shiver, half of delight, half of anxiety. — The impression left upon my mind was that you were still a wife, and it is only within the last few months that I have been undeceived in this respect.

For this reason I shunned your presence and even the city in which you lived. You may remember that once when I passed through Providence with Mrs. Osgood I positively refused to accompany her to your house, and even provoked her into a quarrel by the obstinacy and seeming unreasonableness of my refusal.

I dared neither go nor say why I could not. I dared not speak of you — much less see you. For years your name never passed my lips, while my soul drank in, with a delirious thirst, all that was uttered in my presence respecting you.

The merest whisper that concerned you awoke in me a shuddering sixth sense, vaguely compounded of fear, ecstatic happiness and a wild inexplicable sentiment that resembled nothing so nearly as a consciousness of guilt.

Judge, then, with what wondering, unbelieving joy, I received, in your well-known MS., the Valentine which first gave me to see that you knew me to exist.

The idea of what men call Fate lost then in my [page 294:] eyes its character of futility. I felt that nothing hereafter was to be doubted, and lost myself for many weeks in one continuous, delicious dream, where all was a vivid, yet indistinct bliss. —

Immediately after reading the Valentine, I wished to contrive some mode of acknowledging — without wounding you by seeming directly to acknowledge my sense — oh, my keen — my exulting — my ecstatic sense of the honour you had conferred on me. To accomplish as I wished it, precisely what I wished, seemed impossible, however; and I was on the point of abandoning the idea, when my eyes fell upon a volume of my own poems; and then the lines I had written, in my passionate boyhood, to the first purely ideal love of my soul — to the Helen Stannard of whom I told you — flashed upon my recollection. I turned to them. They expressed all — all that I would have said to you — so fully — so accurately and so exclusively, that a thrill of intense superstition ran at once through my frame. Read the verses and then take into consideration the peculiar need I had, at the moment, for just so seemingly an unattainable mode of communication with you as they afforded. Think of the absolute appositeness with which they fulfilled that need — expressing not only all that I would have said of your person, but all that of which I most wished to assure you, in the lines commencing —

“On desperate seas long wont to roam.”

Think of the rare agreement of name, and you will no longer wonder that to one accustomed as I am to the Calculus of Probabilities, they wore an air of positive miracle. . . . I yielded at once to an overwhelming sense of Fatality. From that hour I have never been [page 295:] able to shake from my soul the belief that my Destiny, for good or for evil, either here or hereafter, is in some measure interwoven with your own.

Of course I did not expect, on your part, any acknowledgment of the printed lines “To Helen;” and yet, without confessing it even to myself, I experienced an indefinable sense of sorrow in your silence. At length, when I thought you had time fully to forget me (if, indeed, you had ever really remembered) I sent you the anonymous lines in MS. I wrote, first, through a pining, burning desire to communicate with you in some way — even if you remained in ignorance of your correspondent. The mere thought that your dear fingers would press — your sweet eyes dwell upon characters which I had penned — characters which had welled out upon the paper from the depths of so devout a love. — filled my soul with a rapture, which seemed, then, all sufficient for my human nature. It then appeared to me that merely this one thought involved so much of bliss that here on earth I could have no right ever to repine — no room for discontent. If ever, then, I dared to picture for myself a richer happiness, it was always connected with your image in Heaven. But there was yet another idea which impelled me to send you those lines — I said to myself the sentiment — the holy passion which glows in my bosom for her, is of Heaven, heavenly, and has no taint of the earth. Thus then must lie in the recesses of her own pure bosom, at least the germ of a reciprocal love, and if this be indeed so, she will need no earthly clue — she will instinctively feel who is her correspondent — In this case, then, I may hope for some faint token at least, giving me to understand that the source of the poem [page 296:] is known and its sentiment comprehended even if disapproved.

O God! — how long — how long I waited in vain — hoping against hope — until, at length, I became possessed with a spirit far sterner — far more reckless than despair — I explained to you — but without detailing the vital influences they wrought upon my fortune — the singular additional, yet seemingly trivial fatality by which you happened to address your anonymous stanzas to Fordham instead of New York — by which my aunt happened to get notice of their being in the West Farm post-office. But I have not yet told you that your lines reached me in Richmond on the very day in which I was about to enter on a course which would have borne me far, far away from you, sweet, sweet Helen, and from this divine dream of your love.

[Signature missing.]

POE TO ———. [[Anna Blackwell]]

[Ingram.]

June 10th, 1849

Do you know Mrs. Whitman? I feel deep interest in her poetry and character. I have never seen her — never but once., however, told me many things about the romance of her character which singularly interested me and excited my curiosity. Her poetry is beyond question poetry — instinct with genius. Can you not tell me something about her — anything — everything you know — and keep my secret — that is to say, let no one know that I have asked you to do so? May I trust you? I can and will. — Believe me truly your friend,

EDGAR A. POE.

[page 297:]

POE TO MRS. SHEW.

[Griswold Collection.]

Sunday Night.

MY DEAR FRIEND LOUIS, — Nothing for months has given me so much real pleasure as your note of last night. I have been engaged all day on some promised work, otherwise I should have replied immediately, as my heart inclined. I sincerely hope you may not drift out of my sight before I can thank you. How kind of you to let me do even this small service for you, in return for the great debt I owe you! Louise! my brightest, most unselfish of all who ever loved me! . . . I shall have so much pleasure in thinking of you and yours in that music-room and library. Louise, I give you great credit for taste in these things, and I know I can please you in the purchases. During my first call at your house after my Virginia’s death, I noticed with so much pleasure the large painting over the piano, which is a masterpiece indeed; and I noticed the size of all your paintings, the scrolls instead of set figures of the drawing-room carpet, the soft effect of the window shades, also the crimson and gold. . . . I was charmed to see the harp and piano uncovered. The pictures of Raphael and the “The Cavalier” I shall never forget — their softness and beauty! The guitar with the blue ribbon, music-stand and antique jars! I wondered that a little country maiden like you had developed so classic a taste and atmosphere. Please present my kind regards to your uncle, and say that I am at his service any or every day this week; and ask him, please, to specify time and place.

Yours sincerely,  
EDGAR A. POE.

[page 298:]

POE TO MRS. SHEW.

[Ingram.]

[June, 1848.]

Can it be true, Louise, that you have the idea fixed in your mind to desert your unhappy and unfortunate friend and patient? You did not say so, I know, but for months I have known you were deserting me, not willingly, but none the less surely — my destiny —

“Disaster, following fast and following faster, till his song one burden bore —

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore —

Of ‘Never — nevermore.’ ”

So I have had premonitions of this for months. I repeat, my good spirit, my loyal heart! must this follow as a sequel to all the benefits and blessings you have so generously bestowed? Are you to vanish like all I love, or desire, from my darkened and “lost soul “? I have read over your letter again and again, and cannot make it possible, with any degree of certainty, that you wrote it in your right mind. (I know you did not without tears of anguish and regret.) Is it possible your influence is lost to me? Such tender avid true natures are ever loyal until death; but you are not dead, you are full of life and beauty! Louise, you came in . . . in your floating white robe — “Good morning, Edgar.” There was a touch of conventional coldness in your hurried manner, and your attitude as you opened the kitchen-door to find Muddie,(1) is my last remembrance of you. There was love, hope, and sorrow in your smile, instead of love, hope, and courage, as ever before. O Louise, how [page 299:] many sorrows are before you! Your ingenuous and sympathetic nature will be constantly wounded in its contact with the hollow, heartless world; and for me, alas! unless some true and tender, and pure womanly love saves me, I shall hardly last a year longer alive! A few short months will tell how far my strength (physical and moral) will carry me in life here. How can I believe in Providence when you look coldly upon me? Was it not you who renewed my hopes and faith in God? . . . and in humanity? Louise, I heard your voice as you passed out of my sight leaving me . . . ; but I still listened to your voice. I heard you say with a sob, “Dear Muddie.” I heard you greet my Catarina, but it was only as a memory . . . nothing escaped my ear, and I was convinced it was not your generous self. . . . repeating words so foreign to your nature — to your tender heart! I heard you sob out your sense of duty to my mother, and I heard her reply “Yes, Loui . . . Yes.” “. . . Why turn your soul from its true work for the desolate to the thankless and miserly world? . . . I felt my heart stop, and I was sure I was then to die before your eyes. Louise, it is well — it is fortunate — you looked up with a tear in your dear eyes, and raised the window, and talked of the guava you had brought for my sore throat. Your instincts are better than a strong man’s reason for me — I trust they may be for yourself. Louise, I feel I shall not prevail — a shadow has already fallen upon your soul, and is reflected in your eyes. It is too late — you are floating away with the cruel tide . . . it is not a common trial — it is a fearful one to me. Such rare souls as yours so beautify this earth! so relieve it of all that is repulsive and sordid. So brighten its [page 300:] toils and cares, it is hard to lose sight of them even for a short time . . . but you must know and be assured of my regret and my sorrow if aught I have ever written has hurt you. My heart never wronged you. I place you in my esteem — in all solemnity — beside the friend of my boyhood — the mother of my schoolfellow, of whom I told you, and as I have repeated in the poem . . . as the truest, tenderest of this world’s most womanly souls, and an angel to my forlorn and darkened nature. I will not say “lost soul” again, for your sake. I will try to overcome my grief for the sake of your unselfish care of me in the past, and in life or death, I am ever yours gratefully and devotedly,

EDGAR A. POE.

POE TO CHARLES FENNO HOFFMAN.

[Ingram.]

DEAR SIR, — In your paper of July 29, I find some comments on “Eureka,” a late book of my own; and I know you too well to suppose, for a moment, that you will refuse me the privilege of a few words in reply. I feel, even, that I might safely claim, from Mr. Hoffman, the right, which every author has, of replying to his critic tone for tone — that is to say, of answering your correspondent, flippancy by flippancy and sneer by sneer — but, in the first place, I do not wish to disgrace the “World”; and, in the second, I feel that I should never be done sneering, in the present instance, were I once to begin. Lamartine blames Voltaire for the use which he made of (ruse) misrepresentations, in his attacks on the priesthood; but our young students of Theology do not seem to be [page 301:] aware that in defence, or what they fancy to be defence, of Christianity, there is anything wrong in such gentlemanly peccadillos as the deliberate perversion of an author’s text — to say nothing of the minor indecora of reviewing a book without reading it and without having the faintest suspicion of what it is about.

You will understand that it is merely the misrepresentations of the critique in question to which I claim the privilege of reply: — the mere opinions of the writer can be of no consequence to me — and I should imagine of very little to himself — that is to say if he knows himself, personally, so well as 1 have the honour of knowing him. The first misrepresentation is contained in this sentence; — — This letter is a keen burlesque on the Aristotelian or Baconian methods of ascertaining Truth, both of which the writer ridicules and despises, and pours forth his rhapsodical ecstasies in a glorification of a third mode — the noble art of guessing.” What I really say is this: — “That there is no absolute certainty either in the Aristotelian or Baconian process — that, for this reason, neither Philosophy is so profound as it fancies itself — and that neither has a right to sneer at that seemingly imaginative process called Intuition (by which the great Kepler attained his laws); since ‘Intuition,’ after all, is but the conviction arising from those inductions or deductions of which the processes are so shadowy as to escape our consciousness, elude our reason, or defy our capacity of expression,” The second misrepresentation runs thus: — “The development of electricity and the formation of stars and suns, luminous and nonluminous, moons and planets, with their rings, &c., is deduced, very much according to the nebular theory [page 302:] of Laplace, from the principle propounded above.” Now the impression intended to be made here upon the reader’s mind, by the “Student of Theology,” is, evidently, that my theory may be all very well in its way, but that it is nothing but Laplace over again, with some modifications that he (the Student of Theology) cannot regard as at all important. I have only to say that no gentleman can accuse me of the disingenuousness here implied; inasmuch as, having proceeded with my theory to that point at which Laplace’s theory meets it, I then give Laplace’s theory in full, with the expression of my firm conviction of its absolute truth at all points. The ground covered by the great French astronomer compares with that covered by my theory, as a bubble compares with the ocean on which it floats; nor has he the slightest allusion to “the principle propounded above,” the principle of Unity being the source of all things — the principle of Gravity being merely the Reaction of the Divine Act which irradiated all things from Unity. In fact, no point of my theory has been even so much as alluded to by Laplace. I have not considered it necessary, here, to speak of the astronomical knowledge displayed in the “stars and suns” of the Student of Theology, nor to hint that it would be better grammar to say that “development and formation” are, than that development and formation is. The third misrepresentation lies in a footnote, where the critic says, “Further than this, Mr. Poe’s claim that he can account for the existence of all organised beings, man included, merely from those principles on which the origin and present appearance of suns and worlds are explained, must be set down as mere bald assertion, without a particle of evidence. In other words, we should term it arrant [page 303:] fudge.” The perversion at this point is involved in a wilful misapplication of the word “principles.” I say “wilful,” because, at page 63, I am particularly careful to distinguish between the principles proper, Attraction and Repulsion, and those merely resultant sub-principles which control the universe in detail. To these sub-principles, swayed by the immediate spiritual influence of Deity, I leave, without examination, all that which the Student of Theology so roundly asserts I account for on the principles which account for the constitution of suns, &c. . . .

Were these “misrepresentations” (is that the name for them?) made for any less serious a purpose than that of branding my book as “impious,” and myself as a “pantheist,” a “polytheist,” a Pagan, or a God knows what (and indeed I care very little so it be not a “Student of Theology”), I would have permitted their dishonesty to pass unnoticed, through pure contempt for the boyishness — for the turn-down-shirt-collarness of their tone: — but, as it is, you will pardon me, Mr. Editor, that I have been compelled to expose a “critic,” who, courageously preserving his own anonymosity, takes advantage of my absence from the city to misrepresent, and thus vilify me, by name.

EDGAR A. POE.

FORDHAM, September 20, 1848. [page 304:]

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

[Ingram.]

[Undated.]

I have pressed your letter again and again to my lips, sweetest Helen(1) — bathing it in tears of joy, or of a “divine despair.” But I — who so lately, in your presence, vaunted the “power of words” — of what avail are mere words to me now? Could I believe in the efficiency of prayer to the God of Heaven, I would indeed kneel — humbly kneel — at this the most earnest epoch of my life — kneel in entreaty for words — but for words that should disclose to you — that might enable me to lay bare to you my whole heart. All thoughts — all passions seem now merged in that one consuming desire — the mere wish to make you comprehend — to make you see that for which there is no human voice — the unutterable fervour of my love for you: — for so well do I know your poet nature, that I feel sure if you could but look down now into the depths of my soul with your pure spiritual eyes you could not refuse to speak to me what, alas! you still resolutely leave unspoken — you would love me if only for the greatness of my love. Is it not something in this cold, dreary world to he loved? Oh, if I could but burn into your spirit the deep — the true meaning which I attach to those three syllables underlined but, alas! the effort is all in vain and I, I live and die unheard.” . . .

Could I but have held you close to my heart and whispered to you the strange secrets of its passionate history, then indeed you would have seen that it was [page 305:] not and never could have been in the power of any other than yourself to move me as I am now moved — to oppress me with this ineffable emotion — to surround and bathe me in this electric light, illumining and enkindling my whole nature — filling my soul with glory, with wonder, and with awe. During our walk in the cemetery I said to you, while the bitter, bitter tears sprang into my eyes,,Helen, I love now — now — for the first and only time.” I said this, I repeat, in no hope that you could believe me, but because I could not help feeling how unequal were the heart riches we might offer each to each: — I, for the first time, giving my all at once and for ever, even while the words of your poem were yet ringing in my ears.

Ah, Helen, why did you show them to me? There seemed, too, so very especial a purpose in what you did. Their very beauty was cruelty to me. . . .

And now, in the most simple words I can command, let me paint to you the impression made upon me by your personal presence. As you entered the room, pale, hesitating, and evidently oppressed at heart; as your eyes rested for one brief moment upon mine, I felt, for the first time in my life, and tremblingly acknowledged, the existence of spiritual influences altogether out of the reach of the reason. I saw that you were Helenmy Helen — the Helen of a thousand dreams. . . . She whom the great Giver of all good had preordained to be mine — mine only — if not now, alas! then hereafter and for ever in the Heavens. — You spoke falteringly and seemed scarcely conscious of what you said. I heard no words — only the soft voice more familiar to me than my own. . . .

Your hand rested within mine and my whole soul [page 306:] shook with a tremulous ecstacy: and then, but for the fear of grieving or wounding you, I would have fallen at your feet in as pure — in as real a worship as was ever offered to Idol or to God.

And when, afterwards, on those two successive evenings of all-heavenly delight, you passed to and fro about the room — now sitting by my side, now far away, now standing with your hand resting on the back of my chair, while the preternatural thrill of your touch vibrated even through the senseless wood into my heart — while you moved thus restlessly about the room — as if a deep sorrow or a most pronounced joy haunted your bosom — my brain reeled beneath the intoxicating spell of your presence, and it was with no merely human senses that I either saw or heard you. It was my soul only that distinguished you there. . . .

Let me quote to you a passage from your letter: — . . . “Although my reverence for your intellect and my admiration for your genius make me feel like a child in your presence you are not perhaps aware that I am many years older than yourself.” . . . But grant that what you urge were even true. Do you not feel in your inmost heart of hearts that the — “Soul love” of which the world speaks so often and so idly is, in this instance, at least, but the eeriest- the most absolute of realities? Do you not — I ask it of your reason, darling, not less than of your heart — do you not perceive that it is my diviner nature — my spiritual being which burns and pants to commingle with your own? Has the soul age, Helen? Can Immortality regard Time? Can that which began never and shall never end consider a few wretched years of its incarnate life? Ah, I could almost be angry with [page 307:] you for the unwarranted wrong you offer to the sacred reality of my affection.

And how am I to answer what you say of your personal appearance? Have I not seen you, Helen? Have I not heard the more than melody of your voice? Has not my heart ceased to throb beneath the magic of your smile? Have I not held your hand in mine and looked steadily into your soul through the crystal Heaven of your eyes? Have I done all these things — Or do I dream? — Or am I mad?

Were you indeed all that your fancy, enfeebled and perverted by illness, tempts you to suppose you are, still, life of my life! I would but love you — but worship you the more. But as it is what can I — what am I to say? Who ever spoke of you without emotion — without praise? Who ever saw you and did not love?

But now a deadly terror oppresses me; for I too clearly see that these objections, so groundless — so futile. . . . I tremble lest they but serve to mask others more real, and which you hesitate — perhaps in pity — to confide to me.

Alas! I too distinctly perceive, also, that in no instance you have ever permitted yourself to say that you loved me. You are aware, sweet Helen, that on my part there are insuperable reasons forbidding me to urge upon you my love. Were I not poor — had not my late errors and reckless excesses justly lowered me in the esteem of the good — were I wealthy, or could I offer you worldly honours — ah then — then — how proud would I be to persevere — to plead with you for your love. . . .

Ah, Helen! my soul! — what is it that I have been saying to you? — to what madness have I been urging [page 308:] you? — I, who am nothing to you — you who have a dear mother and sister to be blessed by your life and love. But ah, darling! if I seem selfish, yet believe that I truly, truly love you, and that it is the most spiritual love that I speak, even if I speak it from the depths of the most passionate of hearts. Think — oh, think for me, Helen, and for yourself. . . .

I would comfort you — soothe you — tranquillize you. You would rest from care — from all worldly perturbation. You would get better and finally well. And if not, Helen — if you died — then, at least, I would clasp your dear hands in death, and willingly — oh, joyfullyjoyfully go down with you into the night of the grave.

Write soon — soon — oh soon! — but not much. Do not weary or agitate yourself for my sake. Say to me those coveted words that would turn Earth into Heaven.

[Signature missing.]

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

18th October, 1848.

You do not love me, or you would have felt too thorough a sympathy with the sensitiveness of my nature, to have so wounded me as you have done with this terrible passage of your letter: —

How often I have heard it said of you, I He has great intellectual power, but no principle — no moral sense.‘”

Is it possible that such expressions as these could have been repeated to me — to me — by one whom I loved — ah, whom I love! . . .

By the God who reigns in Heaven, I swear to you that my soul is incapable of dishonor — that, with the [page 309:] exception of occasional follies and excesses which I bitterly lament but to which I have been driven by intolerable sorrow, and which are hourly committed by others without attracting any notice whatever — I can call to mind no act of my life which would bring a blush to my cheek — or to yours. If I have erred at all in this regard, it has been on the side of what the world would call a Quixotic sense of the honorable — of the chivalrous. The indulgence of this sense has been the true voluptuousness of my life. It was for this species of luxury that in early youth I deliberately threw away from me a large fortune rather than endure a trivial wrong. Ah, how profound is my love for you, since it forces me into these egotisms, for which you will inevitably despise me! . . .

For nearly three years I have been ill, poor, living out of the world; and thus, as I now painfully see, have afforded opportunity to my enemies to slander me in private society without my knowledge, and thus with impunity. Although much, however, may (and, I now see, must) have been said to my discredit, during my retirement, those few who, knowing me well, have been steadfastly my friends, permitted nothing to reach my ears — unless in one instance of such a character that I could appeal to a court of justice for redress.

I replied to the charge fully in a public newspaper — afterwards suing the Mirror (in which the scandal appeared), obtaining a verdict and recovering such an amount of damages as, for the time, completely to break up that journal. And you ask me why men so misjudge me — why I have enemies. If your knowledge of my character and of my career does not afford you an answer to the query, at least it does not become [page 310:] me to suggest the answer. Let it suffice that I have had the audacity to remain poor that I might preserve my independence — that, nevertheless, in letters, to a certain extent and in certain regards, I have been “successful‘’ — that I have been a critic — an unscrupulously honest and no doubt in many cases a bitter one — that I have uniformly attacked — where I attacked at all — those who stood highest in power and influence — and that — whether in literature or society, I have seldom refrained from expressing, either directly or indirectly, the pure contempt with which the pretensions of ignorance, arrogance, or imbecility inspire me. And you who know all this — you ask me why I have enemies. Ah, I have a hundred friends for every individual enemy, but has it ever occurred to you that you do not live among my friends?

Had you read my criticisms generally, you would see why all those whom you know best know me least and are my enemies. Do you not remember with how deep a sigh I said to you . . . “My heart is heavy, for I see that your friends are not my own“?..

But the cruel sentence in your letter would not — could not so deeply have wounded me, had my soul been first strengthened by those assurances of your love which I so wildly — so vainly — and, I new feel, so presumptuously entreated. That our souls are one, every line which you have ever written asserts — but our hearts do not beat in unison.

That many persons, in your presence, have declared me wanting in honor appeals irresistibly to an instinct of my nature — an instinct which I feel to be honor, let the dishonorable say what they may, and forbids [page 311:] me, under such circumstances, to insult you with my, love. . . .

Forgive me, best and only-beloved Helen, if there be bitterness in my tone. Towards you there is no room in my soul for any other sentiment than devotion. It is Fate only which I accuse. It is my own unhappy nature. . . .

[Signature missing.]

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

[Ingram.]

[Undated.]

DEAREST HELEN, — I have no engagement, but am very ill — so much so that I must go home if possible — . but if you say “Stay,” I will try and do so. If you cannot see me — write me one word to say that you do love me and that, under all circumstances, you will be mine.

Remember that these coveted words you have never yet spoken — and, nevertheless, I have not reproached you. If you can see me, even for a few moments, do so — but if not, write or send some message which will comfort me.

[Signature missing.]

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

[Ingram.]

November 14, 1848.

MY OWN DEAREST HELEN, — So kind, so true, so generous — so unmoved by all that would have moved one who had been less than angel: — beloved of my heart, of my imagination, of my intellect — life of my life — soul of my soul — dear, dearest Helen, how shall I ever thank you as I ought. [page 312:]

I am calm and tranquil, and but for a strange shadow of coming evil which haunts me I should be happy. That I am not supremely happy, even when I feel your dear love at my heart, terrifies me. What can this mean?

Perhaps, however, it is only the necessary reaction after such terrible excitements.

It is five o‘clock, and the boat is just being made fast to the wharf. I shall start in the train that leaves New York at 7 for Fordham. I write this to show you that I have not dared to break my promise to you. And now dear, dearest Helen, be true to me. . . .

[Signature missing.]

POE TO “ANNIE.”(1)

[Griswold Collection?]

FORDHAM, November 16, 1849.

Oh, Annie, Annie! what cruel thoughts . . . must have been torturing your heart during the last terrible fortnight in which you have heard nothing from me — not even one little word to say that I still lived. . . . But, Annie, I know that you felt too deeply the nature of my love for you to doubt that, even for one moment, and this thought has comforted me in my bitter sorrow. I could bear that you should imagine every other evil except that one — that my soul had been untrue to yours. Why am I not with you now, that I might press your dear hand in mine, and look deep into the clear heaven of your eyes; so that the words which I now can only write might [page 313:] sink into your heart, and make you comprehend what it is that I would say. . . . But, oh, my own sweet sister Annie, my pure beautiful angel . . . how shall I explain to you the bitter, bitter anguish which has tortured me since I left you? You saw, you felt the agony of grief with which I bade you farewell — you remember my expression of gloom — of a dreadful, horrible foreboding of Ill. Indeed — indeed it seemed to me that Death approached me even then, and that I was involved in the shadow which went before him. . . . I said to myself — “it is for the last time, until we meet in Heaven.” I remember nothing distinctly from that moment until I found myself in Providence. I went to bed and wept through a long, long, hideous night of Despair — when the day broke, I arose and endeavored to quiet my mind by a rapid walk in the cold, keen air — but all would not do — the Demon tormented me still. Finally, I procured two ounces of laudanum, and, without returning to my hotel, took the cars back to Boston. When I arrived I wrote you a letter, in which I opened my whole heart to you — to you. . . . I told you how my struggles were more than I could bear. . . . I then reminded you of that holy promise which was the last I exacted from you in parting — the promise that, under all circumstances, you would come to me on my bed of death. I implored you to come then, mentioning the place where I should be found in Boston. Having written this letter, I swallowed about half the laudanum, and hurried to the Post Office — intending not to take the rest until I saw you — for, I did not doubt for one moment, that Annie would keep her sacred promise. But I had not calculated on the strength of the laudanum, for, before. [page 314:] I reached the Post Office my reason was entirety gone, and the letter was never put in. Let me pass over — my darling sister — the awful horrors which succeeded. A friend was at hand, who aided and (if it can be called saving) saved me, but it is only within the last three days that I have been able to remember what occurred in that dreary interval. It appears that, after the laudanum was rejected from the stomach, I became calm, and — to a casual observer, sane — so that I was suffered to go back to Providence. . . . It is not much that I ask, sweet sister Annie — my mother and myself would take a small cottage at oh, so small — so very humble — I should be far away from the tumult of the world — from the ambition which I loathe — I would labor day and night, and with industry, I could accomplish so much. Annie! it would be a Paradise beyond my wildest hopes — I could see some of your beloved family every day, and you often. . . . Do not these pictures touch your inmost heart? . . . I am at home now with my dear mother who is endeavoring to comfort me — but the sole words which soothe me are those in which she speaks of Annie — she tells me that she has written you, begging you to come on to Fordham. Ah, Annie, is it not possible? I am so ill — so terribly, hopelessly ill in body and mind, that I CANNOT live, unless I can feel your sweet, gentle, loving hand pressed upon my forehead — ah, my pure, virtuous, generous, beautiful sister Annie! Is it not POSSIBLE for you to come — if only for one little week? Until I subdue this fearful agitation, which, if continued, will either destroy my life or drive me hopelessly mad.

Farewell — here and hereafterforever your own

EDDY.

[page 315:]

POE TO VALENTINE.

[From MS. belonging to Rev. E. Valentine Jones.]

NEW YORK, Nov. 20 — 1848.

DEAR SIR, — After a long and bitter struggle with sickness, poverty and the thousand evils which attend them, I find myself at length in a position to establish myself permanently, and to triumph over all difficulties, if I could but obtain from some friend a very little pecuniary aid.

In looking around me for such a friend, I can think of no one, with the exception of yourself, whom I see the least prospect of interesting in my behalf — and even, as regards yourself, I confess that my hope is feeble.

In fact, I have been so long depressed that it will be a most difficult thing for me to rise — and rise I never can without such aid as I now entreat at your hand s.

I call to mind, however, that, during my childhood, you were very kind to me, and, I believe, very fond of me. For this reason and because I really do not know where else to turn for the assistance I so much need at this moment, I venture to throw myself upon your generosity and ask you to lend me $200.

With this sum I should be able to take the first steps in an enterprise where there can be no doubt of my success, and which, if successful, would, in one or two years ensure me fortune and very great influence. I refer to the establishment of a Magazine, for which I have already a good list of subscribers, and of which I send you a Prospectus. [page 316:]

If for the sake of “auld lang sync” you will advance me the sum needed, there are no words which can express my gratitude.

Most sincerely yours,  
EDGAR A. POE.

EDWARD VALENTINE, Esq.

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

[Ingram.]

[Undated.]

Without well understanding why, I had been led to fancy you ambitious. . . . It was then only — then when I thought of you — that I dwelt exultingly upon what I felt that I could accomplish in Letters and in Literary influence — in the widest and noblest field of human ambition. . . . When I saw you, however — when I touched your gentle hand — when I heard your soft voice, and perceived how greatly I had misinterpreted your womanly nature — these triumphant visions melted sweetly away in the sunshine of a love ineffable, and I suffered my imagination to stray with you, and with the few who love us both, to the banks of some quiet river, in some lovely valley of our land.

Here, not too far secluded from the world, we exercised a taste controlled by no conventionalities, but the sworn slave of a natural art, to the building for ourselves of a cottage which no human being could ever pass without an ejaculation of wonder at its strange, weird, and incomprehensible yet most simple beauty. Oh, the sweet and gorgeous, but not often rare flowers in which we half buried it! the grandeur of the magnolias and tulip-trees which stood guarding [page 317:] it — the luxurious velvet of its lawn — the lustre of the rivulet that ran by the very door — the tasteful yet quiet comfort of the interior — the music — the books — the unostentatious pictures, and above all, the love — the love that threw an unfading glory over the whole! . . . Alas! all is now a dream.

[Signature missing.]

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

[Ingram.]

22d [[26d]] of November, 1848.

I wrote you yesterday, sweet Helen, but through fear of being too late for the mail omitted some things I wished to say. I fear, too, that my letter must have seemed cold — perhaps even harsh or selfish — for I spoke nearly altogether of my own griefs. Pardon me, my Helen, if not for the love I bear you, at least for the sorrows I have endured — more I believe than have often fallen to the lot of man. How much have they been aggravated by my consciousness that, in too many instances, they have arisen from my own culpable weakness or childish folly! My sole hope now is in you, Helen. As you are true to me or fail me, so do I live or die. . . .

Was I right, dearest Helen, in my first impression of you? — you know I have implicit faith in first impressions — was I right in the impression that you are ambitious? If so, and if you will have faith in me, I can and will satisfy your wildest desires. It would be a glorious triumph, Helen, for us — for you and me.

I dare not trust my schemes to a letter — nor indeed have I time to hint at them here. When I see [page 318:] you I will explain all — as far, at least, as I dare explain all my hopes even to you.

Would it not be “glorious,” darling, to establish, in America, the sole unquestionable aristocracy — that of intellect — to secure its supremacy — to lead and to control it? All this I can do, Helen, and will — if you bid me — and aid me.

[Signature missing.]

POE TO “ANNIE.”

[Griswold Collection?]

[Undated.]

. . . ANNIE . . . It seems to me so long since I have written you that I feel condemned, and almost tremble lest you should have evil thoughts of . . . Eddie. . . . But no, you will never doubt me under any circumstances — will you. . . ? . . . It seems to me that Fate is against our meeting again soon — but oh, we will not let distance diminish our affection, and by-and-by all will go right. Oh, Annie, in spite of so many worldly sorrows — in spite of all the trouble and misrepresentation (so hard to bear) that Poverty has entailed on me for so long a time — in spite of all this I am so — so happy to think that you really love me. If you had lived as long as I, you would understand fully what I mean. Indeed, indeed, Annie, there is nothing in this world worth living for except love — love not such as I once thought I felt for Mrs., but such as burns in my very soul for you — so pure — so unworldly — a love which would make all sacrifices for your sake . . . Could I have accomplished what I wished, no sacrifice would [page 319:] have seemed to me too great, I felt so burning, so intensely passionate a longing to show you that I loved you. . . . Write to me . . . whenever you can spare time, if it be only a line. . . . I am beginning to do very well about money as my spirits improve, and soon — very soon, I hope, I shall be quite out of difficulty. You can’t think how industrious I am. I am resolved to get rich — to triumph — for your sweet sake. . . . Kiss dear Sarah for me — tell her I will write to her soon — we talk so much about her. When you write tell me something about B ——. Has he gone to Richmond? or what is he doing? Oh, if I could only be of service to him in any way! Remember me to all — to your father and mother and dear little Caddy, and Mr. R —— and Mr. C ——. And now good-by, my own dear sister Annie!

[Signature missing.]

POE TO “SARAH.”(1)

[Griswold Collection?]

FORDHAM, November 23, 1848.

DEAR SARAH, — My own dear sister Sarah. If there is any pity in your heart, reply immediately to this, and let me know why it is I do not hear from Annie. If I do not hear from her soon, I shall surely die. I fancy everything evil: sometimes I even think that I have offended her, and that she no longer . . . cares for me. I wrote her a long letter eight days ago, enclosing one from my mother, who wrote again on the 19th. Not one word has reached us in reply. Oh, Sarah, if I did not love your sister with the purest [page 320:] and most unexacting love, I would not dare confide in you — but you do know how truly, how purely I love her, and . . . you know also how impossible it is to see and not to love her. In my wildest dreams I have never fancied any being so totally lovely — so goodso trueso nobleso pureso virtuous — her silence fills my whole soul with terror. Can she have received my letter? If she is angry with me, dear Sarah, say to her, that on my knees I beseech her to pardon me — tell her that I am her slave in all things — that whatever she bids me do, I will do — if even she says I must never see her again, or write to her. Let me but hear from her once more, and I can bear whatever happens. Oh, Sarah, you would pity me, if you knew the agony of my heart, as I write these words. Do not fail to answer me at once.

God bless you, my sweet sister —  
EDGAR.

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

[Ingram.]

Nov. 25, 1848.

In little more than a fortnight, dearest Helen, I shall once again clasp you to my heart: — until then I forbear to agitate you by speaking of my wishes — of my hopes, and especially of my fears. You say that all depends on my own firmness. If this be so, all is safe — for the terrible agony which I have so lately endured — an agony known only to my God and to myself — seems to have passed my soul through fire and purified it from all that is weak. Henceforward I am strong: — this those who love me shaft see — as well as those who have so relentlessly endeavoured to [page 321:] ruin me. It needed only some such trials as I have just undergone, to make me what I was born to be, by making me conscious of my own strength. — But all does not depend, dear Helen, upon my firmness — all depends upon the sincerity of your love.

You allude to your having been tortured by reports which have all since been explained to your entire satisfaction.” On this point my mind is fully made up. I will rest neither by night nor by day until I bring those who have slandered me into the light of day — until I expose them, and their motives to the public eye. I have the means and I will ruthlessly employ them. On one point let me caution you, dear Helen. No sooner will Mrs. E —— hear of my proposals to yourself, than she will set in operation every conceivable chicanery to frustrate me: — and, if you are not prepared for her arts, she will infallibly succeed — for her whole study, throughout life, has been the gratification of her malignity by such means as any other human being would die rather than adopt. You will be sure to receive anonymous letters so skilfully contrived as to deceive the most sagacious. You will be called on, possibly, by persons whom you never heard of, but whom she has instigated to call and vilify me — without even their being aware of the influence she has exercised. I do not know any one with a more acute intellect about such matters than Mrs. Osgood — yet even she was for a long time completely blinded by the arts of this fiend, and simply because her generous heart could not conceive how any woman could stoop to machinations at which the most degraded of the fiends would shudder. I will give you here but one instance of her baseness, and I feel that it will suffice. . . . [page 322:]

If you value your happiness, Helen, beware of this woman! She did not cease her persecutions here. My poor Virginia was continually tortured (although not deceived) by her anonymous letters, and on her deathbed declared that Mrs. E —— had been her murderer. Have I not a right to hate this fiend and to caution you against her? You will now comprehend what I mean in saying that the only thing for which I found it impossible to forgive Mrs. Osgood was her reception of Mrs. E.

Be careful of your health, dearest Helen, and perhaps all will yet go well. Forgive me that I let these wrongs prey upon me — I did not so bitterly feel them until they threatened to deprive me of you . . . but for your dear sake I will endeavor to be calm.

Your lines “To Arcturus” are truly beautiful.

[Signature missing.]

POE TO “ANNIE.”

[Ingram.]

Thursday Morning 28.

ANNIE, — My own dear Mother will explain to you how it is that I cannot write to you in full — but I must write only a few words to let you see that I am well, lest you suspect me to be ill. All is right! . . . I hope that I distinguished myself at the Lecture — I tried to do so, for your sake. There were 1800 people present, and such applause! I did so much better than I did at Lowell. If you had only been there. . . . Give my dearest love to all —

EDDY.

[page 323:]

POE TO MRS. WHITMAN.

[Ingram.]

[Undated.]

No amount of provocation shall induce me to speak ill of you, even in my own defence. If to shield myself from calumny, however undeserved, or however unendurable, I find a need of resorting to explanations that might condemn or pain you, most solemnly do I assure you that I will patiently endure such calumny, rather than avail myself of any such means of refuting it. You will see, then, that so far I am at your mercy — but in making you such assurances, have I not a right to ask of you some forbearance in return? . . . That you have in any way countenanced this pitiable falsehood, I do not and cannot believe — same person, equally your enemy and mine, has been its author — but what I beg of you is, to write me at once a few lines in explanation — you know, of course, that by reference either to Mr. Pabodie or . . . I can disprove the facts stated in the most satisfactory manner — but there can be no need of disproving what I feel confident was never asserted by you — your simple disavowal is all that I wish — You will, of course, write me immediately on receipt of this. . . . Heaven knows that I would shrink from wounding or grieving you! . . . May Heaven shield you from all ill! . . . Let my letters and acts speak for themselves. It has been my intention to say simply that our marriage was postponed simply on account of your ill-health. Have you really said or done anything which can preclude our placing the rupture on such footing? If not, I shall persist in the statement and thus this unhappy matter will die quietly away.

[Signature missing.]

[page 324:]

MISS TALLEY TO POE.

[Griswold Collection.]

Miss Talley(1) will take pleasure in complying with Mr. Poe’s request so far as she is herself concerned & cannot but feel gratified at the trust reposed in her by one whose genius she has ever regarded with so profound an admiration. Mr. Valentine will be in Richmond in the course of a week or two, & Miss Talley prefers waiting till then, to forwarding Mr. Poe’s letter immediately; but lest this delay should cause Mr. Poe some apprehension as to his letters being miscarried or neglected, Miss Talley writes to assure him of the contrary. She has little doubt of the success of his application, & need not assure Mr. Poe that his communication will be made known to Mr. Valentine only. Miss Talley hopes that she may be permitted to express the interest with which she regards Mr. Poe’s enterprise, wishing him all possible success therein.

RICHMOND. Nov. 29. — 48.

POE TO WILLIS.

Dec. 8, 1848.

Under date of Dec. 8th, Poe wrote to Willis thanking him for his kind words of the previous month and sending him an “American Review“’ in which was his ballad Ulalume, published without [page 325:] his name. Poe did not at that time wish to be known as its author, but would be indebted to Willis if he would copy it into his paper, the “Home Journal,” asking who wrote it — all this of course being dependent upon Willis’s thinking the verses worth the reproduction, a thing of which Poe was not sure.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 287:]

1.  Vide the Reply to Thomas Dunn English, p. 239.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 289:]

1.  Margaret Fuller, afterwards Countess D’ Ossoli. — NOTE BY INGRAM.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 298:]

1.  Mrs. Clemm’s pet name at home.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 304:]

1.  See poem “To Helen.” — ED.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 312:]

1.  “Annie” was Mrs. Richmond, a lady with whom Mrs. Clemm lived near Lowell, Mass., some time after Poe’s death. See the poem “For Annie.” — ED.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 319:]

1.  “Annie’s” sister.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 324:]

1.  The poetess, who later, as Mrs. Susan Archer Talley Weiss, wrote the interesting “Last Days of Edgar Allan Poe” for “the Century Magazine,” March, 1878. She is still living.

The letter referred to is the one addressed to Edward Valentine, printed on a previous page — so the editor was informed by Mrs. Weiss.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


Notes:

None.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

[S:0 - CWEAP, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Complete Works of E. A. Poe (Vol. 17 - Letters) (J. A. Harrison) (Chapter 11)