Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (and E. A. Poe), “An Enigma [Sarah Anna Lewis],” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 424-426 (This material is protected by copyright)


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­[page 424:]

AN ENIGMA
[Sarah Anna Lewis]

Sarah Anna Blanche Robinson Lewis, a Baltimorean who in signing her verses preferred “Estelle” or “Stella” to her given name, was the wife of Sylvanus D. Lewis, a Brooklyn lawyer who had met Poe in 1845. Particularly in the difficult period after the death of Virginia Poe in 1847, the Lewises befriended Poe and Mrs. Clemm, and Mrs. Lewis or her husband gave Poe (or more probably Mrs. Clemm) a hundred dollars for Poe’s services as her press agent. He puffed her far from brilliant verses in various magazines, and revised at least one of her poems, “The Prisoner of Perotè” (see Collaborations, below). She permitted him to address her as “sister Anna,” and this Vergilian nickname led Mrs. Clemm to tell her she was “Annabel Lee.”

There is no doubt that she often bored Poe, who sometimes slipped out of the Fordham cottage when he saw her coming (see Mrs. Houghton’s letter of April 3, 1875, described in the Ingram List, no. 213, and other references in the Ingram List). But Poe and Mrs. Clemm spent a good deal of time at the Lewis home at 125 Dean Street in Brooklyn. Mrs. Clemm took up her chief residence there after Poe’s death and lived there until late in 1858, when the Lewises were divorced.

The reminiscences of Sylvanus Lewis are in Edgar Allan Poe: A Memorial Volume (1877), edited by Sara Sigourney Rice, pp. 86-87. Whatever the Lewises quarreled about, they agreed completely in their admiration of the poet.

“Estelle” assisted Griswold in compiling the two volumes of Poe’s Works (1850), and she later supplied Ingram with information. She died in 1880, and Ingram contributed an obituary to the London Athenaeum of December 4. Mrs. Lewis gave her portrait by Charles Loring Elliott to the New-York Historical Society, presumably so that it would be with Poe’s. It was painted shortly before she and Poe met, and shows what Poe calls “a poetical face” and her chestnut hair in ringlets.

On November 27, 1847, Poe wrote to Mrs. Lewis thanking ­[page 425:] her for her “repeated kindness” and enclosing a sonnet “too light in tone,” embodying “a riddle.” (As in “A Valentine” the first letter of the first line, the second of the second, and so on spell out the name of the recipient.) This he said he had sent “a day or two ago” to one of the magazines. Griswold was in close touch with Mrs. Lewis while preparing the second volume of the Works, and we need not doubt that Griswold’s text in the Works (1850) followed the manuscript sent to Mrs. Lewis.

 

TEXTS

(A) Union Magazine of Literature and Art for March 1848 (2:130); (B) Works (1850), II, 26.

Griswold’s text (B) is followed.

 


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VARIANTS

Title:  Sonnet (A)

10  tuckermanities / Petrarchanities (A)

 


[page 425, continued:]

NOTES

1  Solomon Don Dunce must be our poet himself, as one who said wise things but was stupid enough to write sonnets — a form Poe deprecated. In ­[page 426:] Burton’s Magazine for September 1839, he reviewed a book, Solomon Seesaw, by J. P. Robertson, and in Eureka (1848), he wrote of “as simple a thing as a sonnet by Mr. Solomon Seesaw.” Some personal joke understood by Poe and the Lewises may have been intended.

4  By a “Naples bonnet,” Poe means a “net à la Napolitaine,” which encased the back hair and was made of strings of pearls finished with fringe and tassels. To this Mrs. Gertrude W. Markell of the staff of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts has found references from about 1855 to 1860. Bonnets were sometimes made of “gros de Naples,” but this was a “most durable silken tissue,” and Leghorn bonnets, though well known, were of straw; one could not see through either.

5  In his tale “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob” Poe has the phrase “trash of trash.”

10  The reading adopted in the Works, “tuckermanites,” is typically Poesque, from Henry Theodore Tuckerman. In his “Rationale of Verse” Poe used a similar word, “hudsonizing,” derived from the name of Henry Norman Hudson, the lecturer on Shakespeare. Poe often referred to Tuckerman’s work as dull, even as early as 1841 in “A Chapter on Autography,” and Campbell points out (Poems, pp. 276-277) that Tuckerman contributed sonnets to the Democratic Review about 1845, and wrote for the American Review of May 1845 an article on Petrarch. Poe and Tuckerman seem to have liked each other personally, and Poe wisely used “Petrarchanities” in the version he sent to the Union Magazine. His opinion of Petrarch was not a high one, as is evident in his review in Graham’s for September 1841 of Thomas Campbell’s biography of the Italian poet.

 


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Notes:

For information on the first meeting between Poe and H. T. Tuckerman, see footnote 2 for “To Miss Olivia Hunter.”


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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) (An Enigma [Sarah Anna Lewis])