Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (and E. A. Poe), “The Beloved Physician,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 401-404 (This material is protected by copyright)


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THE BELOVED PHYSICIAN

This is another poem written for Marie Louise Shew. We know it only through fragments. The following extract is from a long letter (Ingram List, no. 197), begun on January 23, 1875, from the former Mrs. Shew (who had married the Reverend Roland S. Houghton) to John H. Ingram, then collecting materials for his biography of Poe.

I came up a country doctor’s only daughter, with a taste for painting and a heart for loving all the world. I saved Mr. Poe’s life at this time, having been educated medically . . . I made my diagnosis, and went to the great Dr. [Valentine] Mott with it. I told him that at best, when he was well Mr. Poe’s pulse beat only ten regular beats, after which it suspended or intermitted (as Doctors say) . . . He [Poe] talked to me incessantly, of the past, which was all new to me, and often he begged me to write for him his fancies for he said he had promised so many greedy publishers his next efforts that they would not only say he did not keep his word but they would revenge themselves by writing “all sort of evil of him” if he should die. I have a great many pages of these . . . somewhere, part of them have been published, I think. One poem of touching pathos “The Beloved Physician” he revised and prepared for publication . . . As he said he had been offered twenty dollars for it, I gave him twenty-five, and asked him to wait as every body ­[page 402:] would know who it was, and it was so very personal and complimentary I dreaded the ordeal . . .

The Poem was written in a singular strain, a verse describing the Doctor, watching the pulse, etc. etc. and ending the refrain of two lines describing the Nurse. It was very curious as it was a picture of a highly wrought brain in an over-excited state.

There was in every verse a line “The Pulse beats ten and intermits” and in the refrain of the last verse (where he describes me holding my watch and counting

“so tired, so weary”

and after I find that I have brought the pulse to the desired eighty beats — as low as I dare give sedatives — I rested and he did also, trying his best to sleep for my sake) in the refrain, as I said before, he adds

“The soft head bows, the sweet eyes close

“The large heart (or faithful heart) yields to sweet repose.” You can imagine it was a perfect thing as he revised it afterwards.

The date of the original composition was, according to another letter to Ingram (Ingram List, no. 215), “two months or more after Virginia’s death,” perhaps April 1847.

On June 7, 1875, Mrs. Houghton wrote (Ingram List, no. 232) that her son, the Reverend Henry Houghton, said that both the manuscript of the poem and a letter in which Poe referred to it were in a desk at Pierrepont Manor, three hundred miles away from Whitestone, Long Island, where the lady then was. Mr. Houghton added that Poe had cut the poem to nine stanzas when he prepared it for publication.

Poe’s letter is presumably that of about June 1848. He said:

I place you in my esteem in all solemnity beside the friend of my boyhood, the mother of my schoolfellow [Mrs. Stanard] of whom I told you, and as I have repeated in the poem the “Beloved Physician,” as the truest, tenderest of the world’s most womanly souls, and an angel to my forlorn and darkened nature . . .

Although Mrs. Houghton quoted portions of this poem to Ingram in 1875, he did not publish the fragments until 1909. He must have had some further information from her, for he gives lines not found in the correspondence preserved at Charlottesville. Perhaps the lines were given in letters (now missing) from the lady to Ingram in 1876 and 1877.

Happily for us, the title is mentioned in Poe’s letter of June 1848 to Mrs. Shew, quoted above, for Ingram chose to call it ­[page 403:] “The Beautiful Physician,” a title sometimes used by Mrs. Houghton in her letters to him. Whitty expressed the opinion that the name might be “The Great Physician.” Mrs. Houghton was uncertain about the last line; I follow Ingram in giving the best reading to be extracted from what she wrote. There were nine stanzas in the final version, but we do not know their length; the opening and conclusion seem to survive.

Nothing has been known of the manuscript since 1875, and diligent search by the family in later years was in vain, I was assured by relatives of Mrs. Houghton. She cared little for poetry, and I have an intuitive suspicion that her Victorian delicacy led her to suppress the poem effectively by destroying it — something far easier to do than to admit having done.

 

TEXTS

(A) Manuscript, about April 1847, now lost; (B) manuscript letter of Mrs. Houghton, January 23, 1875 (Ingram List, no. 197); (C) New York Bookman, January 1909 (28:452-454); (D) Selected Poems . . . , edited by T. O. Mabbott (1928), p. 105.

Ingram’s text (C) is my source.

 


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NOTES

Title:  An echo of Colossians 4:14, where St. Paul says, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.”

1  Physicians inform me that an intermittent pulse is somewhat terrifying and might be connected with Poe’s drinking.

9  The last stanza related to the heroine’s taking the patient’s pulse with a watch after sedation.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (The Beloved Physician)