Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (and V. C. Poe), “Appendix V (Part III: Poems by Virginia Clemm Poe),” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 522-525 (This material is protected by copyright)


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­[page 522, continued:]

III. POE’S WIFE

Edgar Poe’s future wife, Virginia Eliza Clemm, was the third child of William Clemm, Jr., and his second wife, the poet’s aunt, Maria Poe Clemm. ­[page 523:] Virginia was born in Baltimore on August 16, 1822, and baptized on November 15, the day her elder sister, Virginia Maria (or Sarah), was buried. As a child she called herself “Diddie”; later Poe called her “Sissie” or “Sis.” We do not know when she first met her cousin Edgar; he was living at her mother’s home in 1833, when she was ten or eleven. She adored him, carried notes from him to “Mary of Baltimore,” and went on walks with him in the neighboring countryside, sometimes accompanied by Lambert A. Wilmer. Wilmer says that on one occasion they came to a churchyard where a funeral was in progress, the tender-hearted girl began to weep, and the poet joined in her tears although they were total strangers to the deceased.(1) She was never sent to school, but was taught at home partly by her cousin Eddie. Virginia played the piano and sang well. In later years there was talk of getting her a harp. However, she was not intellectual, although we hear of her husband trying to teach her algebra “to improve her mind” — the only unkindness he ever showed her.

When Poe went off to work in Richmond, Virginia’s cousin, Neilson Poe, offered to take her into his home and educate her. This suited neither “Muddie” Clemm nor “Sissie,” and Mrs. Clemm arranged for her daughter’s marriage. Virginia and Edgar Poe were married publicly in Richmond in 1836.(2)

Poe told his best friend in Richmond, John Mackenzie (Rosalie Poe’s foster brother), that the marriage had not been congenial. And he told at least two people that he and his young wife lived as brother and sister for two years after their wedding.(3)

Virginia cared little for poetry — her husband said she had never read half of his; but she knew one of his pieces well enough to write it out (and sign it as if it were her own) in the album of her cousin Mary E. Herring about 1841, the poem called in the present edition “To Frances S. Osgood.” Poe never addressed any poetry to his wife while she was alive, although the poem “Eulalie” may concern her, as do the tales of “Eleonora” and “Three Sundays in a Week.” Virginia was certainly tolerant toward Poe’s affection for Mrs. Osgood, but she could be fretful and refuse to eat when Poe was away from home; this is mentioned in a letter from the poet of July 7, 1842, to Mrs. Elizabeth Tutt.(4)

Virginia’s “ethereal beauty” has been described by the romantic pens of the bookseller William Gowans, Captain Mayne Reid, and others. Mrs. Weiss, however, says the real Virginia was described by those who knew her at the age of twenty-two as looking more like a girl of fifteen than a woman grown, with, notwithstanding her frail health, a round, full face and figure, full pouting lips, a forehead too high and broad for beauty, bright black eyes, ­[page 524:] and colorless complexion. Her manner and expression were soft and shy, with something childlike and appealing. “She was liked by everyone,” said George R. Graham. A decided lisp added to her childlikeness.

Virginia seems to have been in fair health until January 1842, when she burst a blood vessel in singing. After that she was always more or less an invalid, although she occasionally went out socially with her husband in New York in 1845. Poe treated her with great kindness, as friends and foes alike testify, and undoubtedly suffered terribly from his knowledge that she could not live long. At Fordham she grew weaker and weaker and there she died on January 30, 1847. Her husband, it is believed, never looked at her in death. She was first entombed at Fordham, but since 1885 her body has rested beside her beloved Eddie and “Muddie” in Baltimore. One can echo R. H. Stoddard’s comment on it all — “Poor child!”(5)

A lady who knew Poe has remarked that Virginia and Edgar had affection for each other of a kind they could have had merely as cousins. She was neither a helpmeet nor an intellectual companion. R. D. Unger, who met Poe in Baltimore in 1846, says in his still unpublished reminiscences that the poet said to him that marriage “has its joys, but its sorrows overbalance them.” And yet Unger adds: “The loss of his wife was a sad blow” to Poe; and “He did not seem to care, after she was gone, whether he lived an hour, a day, a week or a year.”

A VALENTINE BY VIRGINIA ELIZA CLEMM POE

The only known composition by Virginia Poe is the following acrostic in verse written as her husband’s valentine less than a year before her death:

Ever with thee I wish to roam —

Dearest my life is thine.

Give me a cottage for my home

And a rich old cypress vine,

Removed from the world with its sin and care

And the tattling of many tongues.

Love alone shall guide us when we are there —

Love shall heal my weakened lungs;

And Oh, the tranquil hours we’ll spend,

Never wishing that others may see!

Perfect ease we’ll enjoy, without thinking to lend

Ourselves to the world and its glee —

Ever peaceful and blissful we’ll be. ­[page 525:]

This is dated “Saturday, February 14, 1846,” and addressed outside “Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, 85 Amity St. New York.” The verses have no title but the first letters of the verses spell out Poe’s full name. References to the hoped-for retreat at Fordham and to gossip about Mrs. Osgood are clear enough.

Virginia’s poem was published in facsimile by a distant cousin, Josephine Poe January, in the Century Magazine for October 1909 (78:893).

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 523:]

1  See my edition of Wilmer’s Merlin (1941), pp. 30ff.

2  See Annals for 1835 and 1836.

3  For the statement of Elizabeth Oakes Smith, see her letter of January 18, 1875, described in the Ingram List, no. 196; for the reminiscence of Amos Bardwell Heywood (brother-in-law of Mrs. “Annie” Richmond), who saw Poe in 1848 or 1849, see the New England Quarterly, September 1943.

4  See Catalogue of the Anderson Galleries, January 18, 1922; the extract there given has as yet been only incompletely reprinted. [[text of letter]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 524:]

5  The foregoing account differs a good deal from popular notions about Poe’s marriage. It is based on my reading of all the sources accessible to me, but I have preferred to follow what comes from people close to the poet rather than the remarks of obviously romantic writers who hardly met or never saw him or his wife. Susan Archer Talley Weiss, in her “Last Days of Poe” (Scribner’s Monthly, March 1878) and in her Home Life of Poe (1907), seems to me (despite occasional minor errors) a highly reliable witness. Woodberry (Life, 1909, II, 440) also records the Richmond traditional view, together with an admission from Mrs. Clemm that ­[page 525:] she made the match, and that Virginia was “frail and consumptive.” Cothburn O’Neal’s novel, The Very Young Mrs. Poe (1956), is fiction, and the author does not pretend to avoid a very free treatment of the factual sources.

 


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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) (Appendix V - Part III: Poems by Virginia Clemm Poe)