Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (and R. Poe), “Appendix V (Part II: Poems by Rosalie Mackenzie Poe),” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 520-522 (This material is protected by copyright)


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­[page 520, continued:]

II. POE’S SISTER

Rosalie Poe was born at Norfolk in 1810, possibly on December 20 in a boarding house run by Andrew Martin at 16 Brewer Street — a house sometimes called “the Forrest Home.”(1) Her paternity has been questioned, but since it was never questioned in court this is mere gossip and she must be presumed legitimate under the laws of Virginia.(2) Very soon after the death of her mother in December 1811 the blue-eyed baby girl was taken into the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Mackenzie, close friends of the Allans. The child was very ill during August 1812, but on September 3, 1812, “Rosalie . . . was christened . . . and had Mackenzie added to her name.”(3)

As a child Rosalie was sent to the fashionable school of Miss Jane Mackenzie, the sister of William, in Richmond. She was not thought to show much talent, and it is said that, after an illness when about twelve years of age, she showed no efforts to excel, except in penmanship. Of that she later became a teacher in the school. Many of Poe’s biographers, however, have been misled in supposing her of subnormal mentality. Her letters are rare now, but several, including one rather long specimen, are known. These show her to have been a person of refinement, and respectably educated. She could play the piano nicely.

Edgar sometimes visited Rosalie and her schoolmates and read his satires and perhaps other poems to them. A copy of his verses about young Mr. Pitts (“Oh Tempora! Oh Mores!”) was preserved by Rosalie.

Rosalie naturally saw something of her brother during his residence in Richmond from 1835 to 1837. It is clear that she and Mrs. Clemm disliked each other heartily. But Rosalie visited the family in Philadelphia in 1841, ­[page 521:] and at Fordham in 1846. During his last summer in Richmond in 1849, Poe saw a good deal of his sister. She attended his lectures and at times embarrassed him because of her complete disregard of fashion in dress, but regarded her brother as “far above her,” and seems to have been fond of him. She carried to Susan Archer Talley the very last letter Poe ever wrote. Mrs. Weiss says enough about her friend to make it clear that Rosalie was something of a bore.(4)

Rosalie was certainly Poe’s sole heiress at law, since Edgar died intestate. But she did not take out the letters of administration required by law in Virginia. Mrs. Clemm’s lawyer, Sylvanus D. Lewis, raised technical claims.(5) Ultimately some kind of agreement was made; and I believe the publishers arranged to compensate Rosalie by the free gift of as many sets of Poe’s Works as she could dispose of by private sale.

The Mackenzies suffered badly from the Civil War, and Rosalie was largely dependent, in Baltimore and Washington, on charity.(6) The only thing she wrote for publication is a letter of February 4, 1873, to the editors of the Newark Advertiser, who published it two days later, under the heading “A Case for Charity.”(7)

Sometime about 1870 Rosalie was admitted to Epiphany Church Home (Episcopalian) in Washington, D.C. There she died suddenly (“of debility”) on June 14, 1874. Mrs. Weiss believed she was holding an unopened letter containing a check from the Philadelphia philanthropist, George W. Childs. She was buried next day in Rock Creek Cemetery; the funeral was conducted by the Reverend N. R. Boss. Her tombstone is inscribed merely “Rosalie Mackenzie Poe / 1812-1874,” the first date taken apparently from the date of her christening.(8)

POEMS BY ROSALIE POE

Two poems from the pen of Poe’s sister are known. J. H. Whitty, according to Phillips, II, 1618, had “facsimiles” of them, by which I think he meant transcripts. In October 1927 he published them in the Chicago Step Ladder, ­[page 522:] an obscure journal, without revealing his source, and giving a date of “1827,” which may be a guess.

However, the authenticity of one poem can now be fully confirmed by a long letter of June 7 [1873], from Rosalie to a Mrs. Jordan, of Washington, whose guest she had been. In this letter she gives the second stanza of the first piece as her own. I have preferred the manuscript reading of this, as the Step Ladder text shows a misprint. The letter, signed “Rosalie M. Poe” and docketed “Rosie M. Poe’s letter,” came to me from a colonel in the Army to whom descendants of the recipient gave it. It is surely authentic and I gave it to the Henry E. Huntington Library. I see no reason to doubt the second poem, and print both below. Neither has a title.

I

 

Fare thee well, may peace attend thee,

Hope each cheering influence lend thee,

May heaven from every ill defend thee

And bless the home that holds my friend.

 

Though we may never meet again

Thy image I will long retain

And whilst thy goodness I commend

My heart with pride shall call thee Friend.

 

II

 

Yon rose that wears the blush of morn

Which glittering drops of dew adorn

Of various hue,

Whilst its chaste beauties I survey

Its fragrance sip as Zephyrs play

I think of you.

 

Yon violet too, that gives delight

Presenting to the enraptured sight

A matchless blue,

Whilst gazing mute it often brings

Upon my view on fancy’s wings

The form of you.

 

When each fair flower I behold

Which to mine eyes its charms unfold

In shining dew,

Or wafted on the gentle gale

Its odors o’er the air prevail

I think of you.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 520:]

1  See Quinn, p. 40: the exact date comes only from J. H. Whitty, who cited a “Mackenzie family bible” that cannot be verified, but no other day has been suggested, and Whitty sometimes did not reveal his true sources for things he really knew.

2  In Virginia, court decisions in favor of presumptive legitimacy are particularly clear. I am informed of this fact by Robert R. Parrish Esq., a prominent attorney of Richmond. For some of the gossip see Quinn, pp. 89-90, and the Ingram List, no. 236. Frances Winwar, in The Haunted Palace (1959), p. 66, remarks that Rosalie looked very much like John Howard Payne, whose leading lady Mrs. Poe had been. Mrs. Clemm professed to believe that Rosalie was really the child of the nurse who had charge of her in infancy (see a letter from Helen Whitman, described in the Ingram List, no. 156) — but “Muddie” had reason to wish that Rosalie was no relative of “Eddie” at all, since his sister was his presumptive heiress.

3  See Quinn, p. 58; Poe’s sister was often called both Rosie and Rose by her friends.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 521:]

4  See her “Last Days of Edgar A. Poe” in Scribner’s Monthly for March 1878, pp. 713f.; and her Home Life of Poe, passim.

5  See Joy Bayless, Rufus Wilmot Griswold (1943), pp. 169-180, and Rosalie’s letter to Griswold of August 20, 1850, described in the Yale List, no. 131.

6  Mrs. Weiss (Home Life, p. 215) reproduces the text of a letter of 1868 to her from Rosalie. See also Phillips, II, 1594f., for record of a hundred dollars from Arthur Corning Clark, and other details, including a photograph of Rosalie in her later years. Some of her letters on her needs survive; two to R. H. Stoddard, of May 9 and of uncertain date, 1873, which show he gave her something. Letters to Ingram, April 19 and June 9, 1874, say she knew little of Edgar Poe to tell him. My list of her letters is incomplete; the only long one I recall seeing is discussed below.

7  The editors of the New Jersey paper were William B. and Thomas T. Kinney; the former was Edmund Clarence Stedman’s stepfather. I reprinted the text in London Notes & Queries, December 28, 1935.

8  I am indebted to Richard E. Shands, Esq., a trustee, for a search of the records; and to Mr. Thurlow Field Collier, who visited the grave in 1961.

 


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Notes:

Errata:

p. 520 - in Philadelphia in 1841 / in Philadelphia in 1843 (The cause of Mabbott’s error is uncertain. The earlier date is confirmed by Poe’s April 1, 1841 letter to Thomas Wyatt, which mentions that: “We have had Rose (my sister) on to spend a week with us, since I saw you. John Mc. K. came with her, and left her with us while he went to Boston.” Mabbott probably had not seen this letter, which was first published a few years after his death.


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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) (Appendix V - Part II: Poems by Rosalie Mackenzie Poe)