Text: Rufus Wilmot Griswold, “Preface [to the Memoir of the Author],” The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (1850), 3:v-vii


[page v, unnumbered:]




HITHERTO I have not written or published a syllable upon the subject of Mr. POE’s life, character, or genius, since I was informed, some ten days after his death, of my appointment to be his literary executor. I did not suppose I was bebarred from the expression of any feelings or opinions in the case by the acceptance of this office, the duties of which I regarded as simply the collection of his works, and their publication, for the benefit of the rightful inheritors of his property, in a form and manner that would probably have been most agreeable to his own wishes. I would gladly have declined a trust imposing so much labor, for I had been compelled by ill health to solicit the indulgence of my publishers, who had many thousand dollars invested in an unfinished work under my direction; but when I was told by several of Mr. POE’s most intimate friends — among others by the family of S.D. LEWIS, Esq., to whom in his last years he was under greater obligations than to any or to all others — that he had long been in the habit of expressing a desire that in the event of his death I should be his editor, I yielded to the apparent necessity, and proceeded immediately with the preparation of the two volumes which have heretofore been published. But I had, at the request of the Editor of “The Tribune,” written hastily a few paragraphs about Mr. POE, which appeared in that paper with the telegraphic communication of his death; and two or three of these paragraphs having been quoted by Mr. N.P. WILLIS, in his Notice of Mr. POE, were as a part of that Notice unavoidably reprinted in the volume of the deceased author’s Tales. And my unconsidered and imperfect, but as every one who knew the subject readily perceived, very kind article, was now vehemently attacked. A writer under the signature of “GEORGE R. GRAHAM,” in a sophomorical and trashy but widely circulated Letter, denounced, it as “the fancy sketch of a jaundiced vision,” “an immortal infamy,” and its composition as a “breach of trust.” And to excuse his five months’ silence, and to induce a belief that he did not KNOW that what I had written was already published before I COULD have been advised that I was to be Mr. POE’s executor, (a condition upon which all the possible force of his Letter depends,) this silly and ambitious person, while represented as entertaining a friendship really passionate in its tenderness for the poor author, (of whom in four years of his extremest poverty he had not purchased for his magazine a single line,) is made to say that in half a year he had not seen so noticeable an article, — though within a week after Mr. POE’s death it appeared in “The Tribune,” in “The Home Journal,” in three of the daily papers of his own city, and in “The Saturday Evening Post,” of which he was or had been himself one of the chief proprietors and editors! And Mr. JOHN NEAL, too, who had never had even the slightest personal acquaintance with POE in his life, rushes from a sleep which the public had trusted was eternal, to declare that my characterization of POE (which he is pleased to describe as “poetry, exhalted poetry, poetry of astonishing and original strength”) is false and malicious, and that I am a “calumniator,” a “Rhadamanthus,” etc. Both these writers — JOHN NEAL following the author of the Letter signed “GEORGE R. GRAHAM” — not only assume what I have shown to be false, (that the remarks on Poe’s character were written by me as his executor, ) but that there was a long, intense, and implacable emnity betwixt Poe and myself, which disqualified me for the office of his biographer. This scarcely needs an answer after the poet’s dying request that I should be his editor; but the manner in which it has been urged, will, I trust, be a sufficient excuse for the following demonstration of its absurdity.

My acquaintance with Mr. POE commenced in the spring of 1841. He called at my hotel, and not finding me at home, left two letters of introduction. The next morning I visited him, and we had a long conversation about literature and literary men, pertinent to the subject of a book, “The Poets and Poetry of America,” which I was then preparing for the press. The following letter was sent to me a few days afterwards:


R.W. Griswold, Esq.: My Dear Sir: — On the other leaf I send such poems as I think my best, from which you can select any which please your fancy. I should be proud to see one or two of them in your book. The one called “The Haunted Palace” is that of Professor Longfellow’s plagiarism. I first published the “H.P.’’ in Brooks’s “Museum,” monthly journal at Baltimore, now dead. Afterwards, I embodied it in a tale called “The House of Usher,” in Burton’s magazine. Here it was, I suppose, that Professor Longfellow saw it; for about six weeks afterwards, there appeared in the “Southern Literary Messenger” a poem by him called “The Beleaguered City,” which may now be found in his volume. The identity in title is striking; for by “The Haunted Palace” I mean to imply a mind haunted by phantoms — a disordered brain — and by the “Beleaguered City” Prof. L. means just the same. But the whole tournure of the poem is based upon mine as you will see at once. Its allegorical conduct, the style of its versification and expression — all are mine. As I understood you to say that you meant to preface each set of poems by some biographical notice, I have ventured to send you the above memoranda the particulars of which (in a case where an author is so little known as myself) might not be easily obtained elsewhere. “The Coliseum” was the prize poem alluded to.

With high respect and esteem, I am your obedient servant, EDGAR A. POE.

The next is without date:

My dear Sir: — I made use of your name with Carey & Hart, for a copy of your book, and am writing a review of it which I shall send to Lowell for “The Pioneer.” I like it decidedly.It is of immense importance, as a guide to what we have done; but you have permitted your good nature to influence you to a degree: I would have omitted at least a dozen whom you have quoted, and can think of five or six that should have been in. But with all its faults — you see I am perfectly frank with you — it is a better book than any other man in the United States could have made of the materials. This I will say.

With high respect, I am your obedient servant, EDGAR A. POE.

The next refers to some pecuniary matters:

PHILADELPHIA, June 11, 1843.

Dear Griswold: — Can you not send me $5? I am sick, and Virginia is almost gone. Come and see me. Peterson says you suspect me of a curious anonymous letter. I did not write it, but bring it along with you when you make the visit you promised to Mrs. Clemm. I will try to fix that matter soon. Could you do anything with my note?

Yours truly, E.A.P.

We had no further correspondence for more than a year. In this period he delivered a lecture upon “The Poets and Poetry of America,” in which my book under that title was, I believe, very sharply reviewed. In [page vi:] the meantime advertisement was made of my intention to publish “The Prose Writers of America,” and I received, one day, just as I was leaving Philadelphia for New-York, the following letter:

NEW-YORK, Jan. 10, 1845.

Rev. Rufus W. Griswold: Sir — I perceive by a paragraph in the papers, that your “Prose Writers of America” is in press. Unless your opinions of my literary character are entirely changedÔÇ× you will, I think, like something of mine, and you are welcome to whatever best pleases you, if you will permit me to furnish a corrected copy; but with your present feelings you can hardly do me justice in any criticism, and I shall be glad if you will simply say after my name: “Born 1811; published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque in 1839; has resided latterly in New-York.”

Your obedient servant, EDGAR A. POE.

I find my answer to this among his papers:

Sir: — Although I have some cause of quarrel with you, as you seem to remember, I do not under any circumstances permit, as you have repeatedly charged, my personal relations to influence the expression of my opinions as a critic. By the inclosed proof-sheets of what I had written before the reception of your note, you will see that I think quite as well of your works as I did when I had the pleasure of being Your friend,


This was not mailed until the next morning; I however left Philadelphia the same evening, and in the course of the following day Poe and myself met in the office of “The Tribune,” but without any recognition. Soon after he received my note, he sent the following to my hotel:

NEW-YORK, Jan. 16,

Dear Griswold — If you will permit me to call you so — your letter occasioned me fist pain and then pleasure: — pain, because it gave me to see that I had lost, through my own folly, an honorable friend: — pleasure, because I saw in it a hope of reconciliation. I have been aware, for several weeks, that my reasons for speaking of your book as I did, (of yourself I have always spoken kindly,) were based in the malignant slanders of a mischief-maker by profession. Still, as I supposed you irreparably offended, I could make no advances when we met at the “Tribune” office, although I longed to do so. I know of nothing which would give me more sincere pleasure than your accepting these apologies, and meeting me as a friend. If you can do this, and forget the past, let me know where I shall call on you — or come and see me at the “Mirror” office, any morning about ten. We can then talk over the other matters, which, to me at least, are far less important than your good will.

Yours very truly, EDGAR A. POE.

His next letter is dated February 24, 1845:

My dear Griswold: — A thousand thanks for your kindness in the matter of those books, which I could not afford to buy, and had so much need of. Soon after seeing you, I sent you, through Zieber, all my poems worth re-publishing, and I presume they reached you. I was sincerely delighted with what you said of them, and if you will write your criticism in the form of a preface, I shall be greatly obliged to you. I say this not because you praised me: everybody praises me now: but because you so perfectly understand me, or what I have aimed at, in all my poems: I did not think you had so much delicacy of appreciation joined with your strong sense; I can say truly that no man’s approbation gives me so much pleasure. I send you with this another package, also through Zieber, by Burgess & Stringer. It contains, in the way of essay, “Mesmeric Revelation,” which I would like to have got in, even if you have to omit the “House of Usher.” I send also corrected copies of (in the way of funny criticism, but you don’t like this) “Flaccus,” which conveys a tolerable idea of my style; and of my serious manner “Barnaby Rudge” is a good specimen. In the tale line, ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Gold Bug,” and the “Man that was Used Up,” — far more than enough, but you can select to suit yourself. I prefer the “G.B.” to the “M. in the R.M.” I have taken a third interest in the “Broadway Journal,” and will be glad if you could send me anything for it. Why not let me anticipate the book publication of your splendid essay on Milton?

Yours truly, POE.

The next is without date:

Dear Griswold: — I return the proofs with many thanks for your attentions. The poems look quite as well in the short metres as in the long ones, and I am quite content as it is. In “The Sleeper” you have “Forever with unclosed eye” for “Forever with unopen’d eye.” Is it possible to make the correction? I presume you understand that in the repetition of my Lecture on the Poets, (in N.Y.) I left out all that was offensive to yourself. I am ashamed of myself that I ever said anything of you that was so unfriendly or so unjust; but what I did say I am confident has been misrepresented to you. See my notice of C.F. Hoffman’s (?) sketch of you.

Very sincerely yours, POE.

On the twenty-sixth of October, 1845, he wrote:

My dear Griswold:Will you aid me at a pinch — at one of the greatest pinches conceivable? If you will, I will be indebted to you for life. After a prodigious deal of manoevering, I have succeeded in getting the “Broadway Journal, entirely within my own control. It will be a fortune to me if I can hold it — and I can do it easily with a very trifling aid from my friends. May I count on you as one? Lend me $50, and you shall never have cause to regret it.

Truly yours, EDGAR A. POE.

And on the first of November:

My dear Griswold: — Thank you for the $25. And since you will to draw upon you for the other half of what I asked, if be needed at the end of the month, I am just as grateful as if it were all in hand, — for my friends have acted generously by me. Don’t have any more doubts of my success. I am, by the way, preparing an article about you for the B.J., in which I do you justice — which is all you can ask of any one.

Ever truly yours, EDGAR A. POE.

The next is without date, but appears to have been written early in 1849:

Dear Griswold: — Your uniform kindness leads me to hope that you will attend to this little matter of Mrs. L , to whom I truly think you have done less than justice. I am ashamed to ask favors of you, to whom I am so much indebted, but I have promised Mrs. L — this. They lied to you, (if you told what he says you told him,) upon the subject of my forgotten Lecture on the American Poets, and I take this opportunity to say that what I have always held in conversations about you, and what I believe to be entirely true, as far as it goes, is contained in my notice of your “Female Poets of America,” in the forthcoming “Southern Literary Messenger.” By glancing at what I have published about you, (Aut. in Graham, 1841; Review in Pioneer, 1843; notice in B. Journal, 1845; Letter in Int., 1847; and the Review of your Female Poets,) you will see that I have never hazarded my own reputation by a disrespectful word of you, though there were, as I long ago explained, in consequence of’s false imputation of that beastly article to you, some absurd jokes at your expense in the Lecture in Philadelphia. Come up and see me: the cars pass within a few rods of the New-York Hotel, where I have called two or three times without finding you in.

Yours truly, POE.

I soon visited him at Fordham, and passed two or three hours with him. The only letter he afterward sent me — at least the only one now in my possession — follows:

Dear Griswold: — I inclose perfect copies of the lines “For Annie” and “Annabel Lee,” in hopes that you may make room for them in your new edition. As regards “Lenore,” (which you were kind enough to say you would insert,) I would prefer the concluding stanza to run as here written . . . . It is a point of no great importance, but in one of your editions you have given my sister’s age instead of mine. I was born in Dec. 1813; my sister, Jan. 1811. [The date of his birth to which he refers was printed from his statement in the memoranda referred to in the first letters here printed. — R.W.G] Willis, whose good opinion I value highly, and of whose good word I have a right to be proud, has done me the honor to speak very pointedly in praise of “The [page vii:] Raven.” I inclose what he said, and if you could contrive to introduce it, you would render me an essential favor, and greatly further my literary interests, at a point where I am most anxious they should be advanced.

Truly yours, E.A. POE.

P.S. — Considering my indebtedness to you, can you not sell to Graham or to Godey (with whom, you know, I cannot with the least self-respect again have anything to do directly) — can you not sell to one of these men, “Annabel Lee,” say for $50, and credit me that sum? Either of them could print it before you will need it for your book. Mem. The Eveleth you ask about is a Yankee impertinent, who, knowing my extreme poverty, has for years pestered me with unpaid letters; but I believe almost every literary man of any note has suffered in the same way. I am surprised that you have escaped.


These are all the letters (unless I have given away some notes of his to autograph collectors) ever received by me from Mr. Poe. They are a sufficient answer to the article by John Neal, and to that under the signature of “George R. Graham,” which have induced their publication. I did not undertake to dispose of the poem “Annabel Lee,” but upon the death of the author quoted it in the notice of him in “The Tribune,” and I was sorry to learn soon after that it had been purchased and paid for by the proprietors of both “Sartain’s Magazine,” and “The Southern Literary Messenger.”


NEW-YORK, September 2, 1850.




The letters printed by Griswold include a number of forgeries, created to make his case against Poe. Like the memoir itself, nothing Griswold states that cannot be verified by other sources is to be trusted.. The Preface is dated as September 2, 1850, and signed with Griswold’s initials.



[S:0 - WORKS, 1850] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Preface [to the Memoir of the Author] (R. W. Griswold, 1850)