Text: Eugene L. Didier, “Life of Edgar A. Poe,” New York: W. J. Widdleton, 1877, pp. 19-129


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Life of Edgar A. Poe.




THE life of a poet, however distinguished, seldom offers that agreeable variety which makes the lives of heroes so interesting. But the life of the author of “The Raven” furnishes an acknowledged exception to this general rule. The story of the beautiful and gifted boy, who, reared in luxury and taught to expect a fortune, was thrown upon the world, poor and friendless, at the early age of twenty; who, by the force of supreme genius, placed his name among the highest in the highest ranks of fame; whose glory has brightened as the years rolled along,

“Till now his genius fills a throne,

And nations marvel at his feet” —

such a story must command the attention of all who ­[page 20:] admire gifts so exalted, and feel sympathy for sorrows so overwhelming as were the gifts and sorrows of Edgar A. Poe.

For one hundred years the Poe family have occupied a prominent position in the city of Baltimore, and have been conspicuously identified with its business, literary, professional, and educational interests. David Poe, the elder (by courtesy called General Poe), the grandfather of the poet, was born in Londonderry, Ireland, in 1743. His father was John Poe; his mother, the sister of Admiral MacBride.* About the middle of the last century, the family emigrated to America, and settled in Pennsylvania, where David grew to manhood, and married the beautiful Miss Cairnes, of that State. In the memorable year 1776, he took up his permanent residence in Baltimore, where he was soon recognized as one of the leading citizens. He took an immediate and active interest in the struggle for independence. We find, in Force’s “American Archives” (5th Series, Vol. III., p. 1147), that on the 10th of December, 1776, David Poe bore a prominent part in the expulsion of Robert Christie, the Royal Sheriff of Baltimore; and in the Maryland ­[page 21:] Journal, of March 25, 1777, mention is made of an attack upon Mr. William Goddard by David Poe and other members of the Whig Club. Goddard was the editor of The Journal, and had made himself obnoxious to the patriotic people of Baltimore by publishing unfavorable criticisms of Washington. Hence this attack upon him by the Whig Club, which was composed of the best citizens. Mr. Poe was a zealous member of the club until its dissolution about a year later.

On the 17th of September, 1779, David Poe was appointed, by the Governor and Council of Maryland, Assistant Deputy-Quartermaster for Baltimore. In this position he was very energetic, and frequently, when the State funds were exhausted, he made advances from his personal means, and rendered very valuable service to the cause of the patriots.* His official position required him to correspond with General Smallwood, Governor Lee, General Gist, and other distinguished officers of the Old Maryland Line. Some of his letters may be found in the Maryland papers of the ’76 Society: these letters breathe the most ardent patriotism, and might be read with benefit at the present day. In Purviance’s “Baltimore During the Revolution,” page 106, we find the following estimate of David Poe: “He was a faithful officer, ­[page 22:] and was held in great estimation by all who had business to transact with him. Such was his devotion to his country, that it was almost proverbial, and so unabating was it long after peace was proclaimed that, by the public sentiment, he became a brevet-general, and in his later days was better known as General Poe than by any other name.”

At the close of the war, David Poe engaged in the drygoods business in Baltimore. He was a member of the First Branch of the City Council in 1799-1800. This was the only public position he held after the Revolutionary War. When Baltimore was threatened by the British, in September, 1814, General Poe volunteered in the defense of the city, and, although then seventy-one years old, he took an active part in the battle of North Point, where the enemy were ignominiously defeated by the brave militia of Maryland.

General Poe died on the 17th of October, 1816, in the seventy-fourth year of his age. The Baltimore papers, in announcing the death of the noble old patriot, paid glowing tribute to his many good qualities. He died, as he lived, a zealous republican, regretted by an extensive circle of relatives and friends. General Poe’s enthusiastic devotion to the American cause won for him the friendship of Washington, Lafayette, and the other leading men of that time. At the reception given to General Lafayette, by the surviving officers and sailors of the Revolution, at ­[page 23:] Baltimore, October 23, 1824, he said: “I have not seen among these my friendly and patriotic commissary, Mr. David Poe, who resided in Baltimore when I was here in 1781, and, out of his very limited means, supplied me with five hundred dollars to aid in clothing my troops, and whose wife, with her own hands, cut out five hundred pairs of pantaloons, and superintended the making of them for the use of my men.” Lafayette was informed that Mr. Poe was dead, but that his wife was still living. He expressed an anxious wish to see her. The next day he entered a coach, and, escorted by a troop of horse, paid his respects to the venerable lady. He spoke to her in grateful terms of the friendly assistance he had received from her and her husband. “Your husband,” said Lafayette, pressing his hand on his breast, “was my friend, and the aid I received from you both was greatly beneficial to my troops.”

General Poe had six children, of whom the eldest was David Poe, Jr., the father of Edgar. He was a handsome, dashing, clever young fellow, and after receiving as finished an education as the schools of Baltimore then furnished, he commenced the study of the law in the office of William Gwynn, Esq., an eminent member of the Baltimore bar, and editor of The Federal Gazette. Young Poe and several of his gay companions formed an association called the Thespian Club, for the promotion of a taste for the drama. They met in a large room ­[page 24:] in a house belonging to General Poe, on Baltimore Street, near Charles Street, then a fashionable locality for private residences. Here, at their weekly meetings, they recited passages from the old dramatists, and performed the popular plays of the day, for the entertainment of themselves and their friends.

David Poe became so infatuated with the stage that he secretly left his home in Baltimore and went to Charleston, where he was announced to make his “first appearance on any stage.” One of his uncles (William Poe),* who lived in Augusta, Georgia, saw the announcement in the newspapers; he went to Charleston, took David off the stage, and put him in the law office of the Hon. John Forsyth, of Augusta. He had always been fond of the society of actors, and was more at home in the green-room than in the court-room. Before he ran away from home, he had met Mrs. Hopkins, an actress, whose maiden name was Elizabeth Arnold. The grace, vivacity, and beauty of the piquant little actress fired the susceptible heart of the young law student; he was willing and anxious to abandon home, position, profession, and everything, to live only for his love. But there existed a slight impediment to his desires in the person of Mr. Hopkins, who played the important rôle of husband to ­[page 25:] his lady love. While David Poe was still “yawning over Chitty,” the obliging Mr. Hopkins died, and within six months the long-separated lovers were married. Their marriage took place in the spring of 1806, and an immediate estrangement between General Poe and his son was the result. The young husband, thus left to his own resources, adopted his wife’s profession. On the 8th of July, 1806, the Vauxhall Garden Theater was inaugurated in New York, with a company of which both Mr. and Mrs. Poe were members. David Poe here made his first appearance as Frank, in “Fortune’s Frolic,” while Mrs. Poe played Priscilla, the Tom Boy. Ireland, in his “Records of the New York Stage,” says: “The lady was young and pretty, and evinced talent both as a singer and actress; but the gentleman was literally nothing.” On September 6, 1806, the Park Theater, New York, opened with the “Castle Specter.” Mr. and Mrs. Poe made their first appearance at this establishment as Hassan and Angela. They played until the close of the season, July 4, 1810. In the winter of 1811, Mr. and Mrs. Poe were performing at the Richmond Theater. On the night of the 26th of December, the theater was destroyed by fire; among the seventy persons who perished in this awful calmity were David Poe and his wife. He had escapted from the burning building, but, in the confusion, his wife became separated from him; returning to look for her, he was caught by the falling timbers, ­[page 26:] and died in a vain effort to save his wife, whom he loved better than life.

By the tragical death of Mr. and Mrs. Poe, their three little children were left homeless among strangers. The sympathy of the kind people of Richmond was deeply moved by the condition of the poor orphans. Mr. John Allan, a wealthy merchant of the city, adopted Edgar, and Mrs. McKenzie, of Henrico County, Virginia, adopted Rosalie, who was the youngest of the children. Henry, the eldest, was taken to Baltimore and educated by his godfather, Mr. Henry Didier, whose counting-room he subsequently entered. He was very clever, but wild and erratic. Having quarreled with his patron, Henry Poe determined to go to Greece, and fight for the cause to which the death of Byron had attracted the attention of the world. Young Poe arrived in time to participate in the last battles of the war. On the 14th of September, 1829, the Sultan acknowledged the independence of Greece, an event which was brought about by the combined armies of England, France, and Russia. Poe accompanied the Russian troops to St. Petersburg, where he soon got into trouble and into prison. He was released by the interposition of the Honorable Arthur Middleton, the American Minister, who had him sent to the port of Riga, and placed on a vessel bound for Baltimore. Six months after returning home, Henry Poe died, at the early age of twenty-six, leaving behind him the reputation of great but wasted talents.

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EDGAR POE, the second son of David Poe, Jr., was born in Boston on the 19th of January, 1809, while his parents were filling a theatrical engagement in that city. When he was five weeks old, they returned to their home in Baltimore at General Poe’s, who had long before been reconciled to his son. Mr. and Mrs. Poe always carried their children with them in their professional visits through the country, and much of Edgar’s infancy was passed in the green-room. His beauty and brightness made him the pet of the actors and of all who saw him. The death of his parents, and his adoption by the Allans, wrought a complete change in the circumstances of little Edgar’s existence. From a life of poverty he passed to a home of luxury. In Mrs. ­[page 28:] Allan, he found the love of a mother; in Mr. Allan, the indulgence, if not the affection, of a father. The former petted and caressed the beautiful boy; the latter spoiled him by showing him off to strangers, by gratifying his every whim, by pampering his childish desires, and by encouraging his proud, imperious spirit.

Mr. Allan was accustomed to spend the summer at the White Sulphur Springs. It was even then the fashionable resort of all that was best and brightest in the fair land of the South. Summer after summer, the gayety and fascination of Southern life and Southern manners were transferred to the magnificent mountains of Virginia; thither went the planter from South Carolina, Mississippi, and Louisiana; the business and professional man from New Orleans, Charleston, and Richmond, and gentlemen of fortune from the whole South, taking with them their charming wives and daughters. Edgar accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Allan to the White Sulphur in the summers of 1812, ’13, ’14, and ’15. There are several persons now living in Richmond, who remember seeing him there in those years. They describe him as a lovely little fellow, with dark curls and brilliant eyes, dressed like a young prince, and charming every one by his childish grace, vivacity, and cleverness. His disposition was frank, affectionate, and generous, and he was very popular with his young companions.

In the summer of 1816, Mr. and Mrs. Allan visited ­[page 29:] their early home in Scotland, taking Edgar with them. He was left with a maiden sister of Mrs. Allan’s, who lived in that country, while they passed two years in England and on the continent. It was in Scotland that Edgar Poe’s education began, and during those two years he mastered the elementary branches of English, and learned the rudiments of Latin. Even in those childish days, he possessed a remarkable memory, a memory which, like Byron’s, was “wax to receive and marble to retain.”

In the year 1818, the Allans returned to their home in Richmond, accompanied by Edgar, who was now a rosy-faced boy in his ninth year. A few weeks after their return, Mr. Allan placed Edgar Poe in the Academy of Professor Joseph H. Clarke, of Trinity College, Dublin, who kept an English and classical school in Richmond from 1816 to 1823. Professor Clarke, who is now living in Baltimore, at the venerable age of eighty-six, has furnished me with the following highly interesting account of Poe’s school-days:

“In September, 1818, Mr. John Allan, a wealthy Scotch merchant, residing in Richmond, brought to my school a little boy between eight and nine years old, a handsome lad with bright eyes and a face full of expression. Mr. Allan seemed proud of him, and said, “This is my adopted son, Edgar Poe; he has recently returned from a residence of two years in Scotland, where he has been studying English and Latin. I wish to place him under ­[page 30:] your instruction.’ I asked Edgar about his Latin. He said he had studied the grammar as far as the regular verbs. He declined penna, domus, fructus, and res. I then asked him whether he could decline the adjective bonus. I was struck by the way in which he did it: he said bonus, a good man; bona, a good woman; bonum, a good thing. Edgar Poe was five years in my school. During that time he read Ovid, Cæsar, Virgil, Cicero, and Horace in Latin, and Xenophon and Homer in Greek. He showed a much stronger taste for classic poetry than he did for classic prose. He had no love for mathematics, but his poetical compositions were universally admitted to be the best in the school. While the other boys wrote mere mechanical verses, Poe wrote genuine poetry: the boy was a born poet. As a scholar, he was ambitious to excel, and although not conspicuously studious, he always acquitted himself well in his classes. He was remarkable for self-respect, without haughtiness. In his demeanor toward his playmates, he was strictly just and correct, which made him a general favorite, even with those who were older than he was. His natural and predominant passion seemed to me to be an enthusiastic ardor in everything he undertook. In any difference of opinion which occurred between him and his fellow students, he was very tenacious in maintaining his own views, and would not yield until his judgment was convinced. He had a sensitive and tender heart, and would do anything ­[page 31:] to serve a friend. His nature was entirely free from selfishness, the predominant quality of boyhood.

“Even in those early years, Edgar Poe displayed the germs of that wonderfully rich and splendid imagination, which has placed him in the front rank of the purely imaginative poets of the world. His school-boy verses were written con amore, and not as mere tasks. When he was ten years old, Mr. Allan came to me one day with a manuscript volume of verses, which he said Edgar had written, and which the little fellow wanted to have published. He asked my advice upon the subject. I told him that Edgar was of a very excitable temperament, that he possessed a great deal of self-esteem, and that it would be very injurious to the boy to allow him to be flattered and talked about as the author of a printed book at his age. That was the first and last I heard of it. The verses, I remember, consisted chiefly of pieces addressed to the different little girls in Richmond, who had from time to time engaged his youthful affections. [Some of these juvenile productions may have been incorporated in Poe’s first volume of poems, which was published at Boston, in 1824 [[1827]], called, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. By a Virginian [[Tamerlane and Other Poems. Bu a Bostonian]].” The lines “To Helen,” written at the early age of thirteen, first appeared in this volume. The classic beauty of this piece placed it among the most extraordinary juvenile poems in all literature.]

“To the best of my recollection, the names of his ­[page 32:] classmates were Robert Mayo, now a conspicuous lawyer in Virginia; Channing Moore (son of Bishop Moore, of Virginia), now an Episcopal clergyman in New York; Peter V. Daniel, Jr.; John Forbes; Nathaniel and William Howard; John Brokenborough, son of Judge B.; and Colonel John S. L. Preston, of the Virginia Military Institute.”

Colonel Preston furnishes the following additional particulars of Poe’s school-days in Richmond: “As a scholar, Poe was distinguished specially in Latin and French. In the former he was equaled, but not surpassed, by Nathaniel Howard, his friend and rival; but in poetical composition, Poe was facile princeps. I was the boy confidant of the boy poet, whose verses excited my enthusiastic admiration. While his many accomplishments captivated my young heart, he also took a fancy to me, and submitted his juvenile poems to me, and condescended to ask my critical opinion of them, although he was several years my senior. Poe was the swiftest runner, the best boxer, and the most daring swimmer at Clarke’s school. Indeed, his swimming feats at the Great Falls of the James River were not surpassed by the more celebrated feat of Byron in swimming from Sestos to Abydos. Edgar Poe was a generous, free-hearted boy, kind to his companions, and always ready to assist them with his hand and head; but fierce in his resentments, and eager for distinction.” The Nathaniel Howard alluded to by Colonel Preston was afterward one of the ripest scholars and most profound lawyer ­[page 33:] of Virginia. He was killed at the fall of the Capitol in Richmond, April, 1870.

At the close of the summer session of 1823, Professor Clarke removed from Richmond. Upon this occasion, young Howard wrote a Latin ode, after the style of the “O jam Satis” of Horace; while Edgar Poe addressed the retiring professor in English verse, expressing his feelings in the true language of poetry.

After the departure of Professor Clarke from Richmond, Mr. William Burke took his school and most of his scholars, and among them Edgar Poe. Mr. Andrew Johnston, in a letter dated Richmond, April 29, 1876, gives the following particulars of Poe at that school:

“I went to school at Mr. Burke’s on the 1st of October, 1823, and found Edgar A. Poe there. I knew him before, but not well, there being two, if not three, years difference in our ages. We went to school together all through 1824 and the early part of 1825. Some time in the latter year (I cannot recollect at what time exactly) he left the school. For a considerable part of the time, Poe was in the same class with Colonel Joseph Selden, Dr. William H. Howard (I give their subsequent titles), Mr. Miles C. Selden, and myself. Poe was a much more advanced scholar than any of us; but there was no other class for him — that being the highest — and he had nothing to do, or but little, to keep his headship of the class. I dare say he liked it well, for he was fond of ­[page 34:] desultory reading, and even then wrote verses, very clever for a boy of his years, and sometimes satirical. We all recognized and admired his great and varied talents, and were proud of him as the most distinguished school-boy of the town. At that time, Poe was slight in person and figure, but well made, active, sinewy, and graceful. In athletic exercises he was foremost: especially, he was the best, the most daring, and most enduring swimmer that I ever saw in the water. When about sixteen years old, he performed his well-known feat of swimming from Richmond to Warwick, a distance of five or six miles. He was accompanied by two boats, and it took him several hours to accomplish the task, the tide changing during the time. In dress he was neat but not foppish. His disposition was amiable, and his manners pleasant and courteous.”

After leaving Burke’s school, in March, 1825, Mr. Allan placed Edgar Poe under the best private tutors, in order to prepare him for college. He devoted himself almost exclusively to the classics, modern languages, and belles-lettres. He also carefully read the best English authors in prose and poetry. Richmond, fifty years since, was celebrated for its polished society. In this society, Edgar Poe was early welcome — boy in years, but a man in mind and manners. The refined grace and courtesy toward women that ever distinguished him may have been thus acquired in the best society of the polite little capital of Virginia.

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MR. ALLAN certainly gave Edgar Poe the advantages of a first-rate education. The petted and precocious boy was now an accomplished youth of seventeen, fully prepared to enter college. The University of Virginia — which, with the Declaration of Independence, stand as enduring monuments of the genius and patriotism of Thomas Jefferson — was opened for the reception of students in the spring of 1825. The new seat of learning soon became the favorite resort of the most distinguished young men of Virginia, Maryland, and other Southern States. Mr. Allan determined to send Edgar to the University of Virginia. William Wertenbaker, Esq., the Librarian of the University (to which position he was appointed by Mr. Jefferson, in 1825), has ­[page 36:] furnished me with an interesting account of Poe’s college career, from which I make the following extracts:

“Edgar A. Poe entered the University of Virginia, February 1st, 1826, and remained until the 15th of December of the same year. He entered the schools of ancient and modern languages, attending the lectures on Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian. I was myself a member of the last three classes, and can testify that he was regular in attendance, and a very successful student, having obtained distinction at the final examination in Latin and French. This was at that time the highest honor a student could obtain, the present regulations in regard to degrees not having been then adopted. Under existing regulations, Mr. Poe would have graduated in the two languages above mentioned, and have been entitled to diplomas.

“As Librarian, I had frequent official intercourse with Mr. Poe. The following are the names of some of the books which he borrowed from the college library: ‘Histoire Ancienne,’ par Rollin; ‘Histoire Romaine;’ Robertson’s ‘America;’ Marshall’s ‘Life of Washington;’ ‘Histoire Particulière”[[’]] de Voltaire; Dufief’s ‘Nature Displayed.’ It will gratify the many admirers of Poe to know that his works are more in demand and more read than those of any other author, American or foreign, now in the library.

“Mr. Poe was certainly not habitually intemperate ­[page 37:] during the time he was at the university. I often saw him in the lecture-room and in the library, but never in the slightest degree under the influence of intoxicating liquors. Among the professors he had the reputation of being a sober, quiet, and orderly young man. To them and to the officers, his deportment was universally that of an intelligent and polished gentleman. The records of the university, of which I was then, and am still, the custodian, attest that, at no time during the session, did he fall under the censure of the Faculty.

“I remember spending a pleasant hour in Mr. Poe’s room one cold night in December, a short time before he left the university. On this occasion, he spoke with regret of the large amount of money he had wasted, and of the debts he had contracted during the session. If my memory is not at fault, he estimated his indebtedness at two thousand dollars, and though they were gaming debts, he was earnest and emphatic in the declaration that he was bound by honor to pay, at the earliest opportunity, every cent of them.”

The room-mate and most intimate friend of Poe at the university was the late Judge Thomas S. Gholson, of Petersburg, Va. Among his other classmates were the Hon. R. M. T. Hunter, formerly United States Senator, and now Treasurer of Virginia; General George Mason Graham, of King George County, Va.; Judge William Loving, of Louisville, Ky; Dr. Orlando Fairfax, of Richmond, ­[page 38:] Va.; William M. Burwell, of New Orleans; George H. Hoffman, Esq., of Philadelphia; Philip St. George Ambler, Esq., of Amherst County, Va.; General John S. Preston, of South Carolina; Judge Henry Shackleford, of Culpepper County, Va.; Ex-Governor Thomas Swann, of Maryland; the late Judge Z. Collins Lee, of Baltimore; Dr. William A[[.]] Spotswood, of Virginia, and a score of others still living.

Poe was liberally supplied with money while at the university, but he had never been taught its value, and, consequently, he spent it recklessly and extravagantly. Goldsmith, whose heart was “open as day to melting charity,” said of himself that he had been taught to give away thousands before he had learned to earn hundreds. Poe had been allowed — almost encouraged — to throw away thousands before he was eighteen. When a mere boy, his little purse was filled with gold dollars, while the other boys were glad to have silver quarters.

In the winter of 1826-7, Poe returned to Richmond from the university, bringing with him the reputation of great scholarship and great extravagance. The latter reputation was brilliantly maintained, for we hear of champagne suppers, and elegant suits of clothes in abundance. Edgar Poe was, at this time, the gayest, handsomest, and most dashing young man in Richmond; the peer and companion of the Mayos, Randolphs, Prestons, and other aristocratic young men of Virginia. His ­[page 39:] distinguished talents, fascinating conversation, polished manners, and presumptive wealth (for Mr. Allan’s fortune had been recently increased by the death of a wealthy uncle, and Edgar Poe was to be the heir of his adopted father), made him a welcome visitor in the best society of Richmond.

But Poe’s time was not wholly passed in the gay pleasures of fashionable life. He was ambitious, and looked to something higher, nobler, than mere social distinction. He studied much and read more; nor was he satisfied with being only an admirer of the writings of others. He determined to be himself a writer — a poet; to place his name in the literature of his country — in the literature of the world. Early in 1829 we find Poe in Baltimore, with a manuscript volume of verses, which in a few months was published in a thin octavo, bound in boards, crimson sprinkled, with yellow linen back. The title of the book was, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. By Edgar A. Poe. Baltimore: Hatch & Dunning. 1829.”* The Peabody Library of Baltimore has a copy of this rare volume, which I have carefully examined. It numbers seventy-one pages. On the sixth page is the Dedication: “Who drinks the deepest? Here’s to him.” “Al Aaraaf” is printed the same as now, except eight unimportant ­[page 40:] verbal changes. “Tamerlane,” which is dedicated to John Neal, is preceded by an advertisement, as follows:

“This poem was printed for publication in Boston, in the year 1827, but suppressed through circumstances of a private nature.” There is only one word changed in the whole poem. After, “Tamerlane” follow nine miscellaneous poems, all of which, with the exception of the first and part of the eighth, are in the last edition of Poe’s works. The first of these miscellaneous poems consists of four stanzas, and is headed “To ——.” It has never been reprinted in full, but the third stanza contains the germ of “A Dream within a Dream.”

I have failed to discover that this volume attracted any attention either in Baltimore or elsewhere, although it will scarcely be questioned that it contained thoughts and sentiments and verses which are far superior to anything in Byron’s early poems. Indeed, the delicate, airy grace and musical rhythm of a portion of “Al Aaraaf” give a bright promise of that wonderful metrical sweetness which pre-eminently distinguishes Poe’s poetry.

But if Edgar Poe made neither money nor fame by this little volume, it resulted in an acquaintance, a friendship, and a love, which contributed more to his happiness than either money or fame could have done. It was during this visit to Baltimore that he saw, for the first time since his infancy, his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm, who was to be his devoted friend through life, and his most enthusiastic ­[page 41:] defender after his death. Mrs. Clemm — the daughter of General Poe, who had spent his fortune in the cause of American Independence, and the wife of William Clemm, who had bravely fought for his city, State, and country — was compelled to earn a living by teaching school. It was at this time, also, that Edgar Poe first saw his cousin, Virginia Clemm, a lovely, delicate girl of seven; “the fair and gentle young Eulalie, who became his blushing bride” — his Ligeia, his beautiful one — his Annabel Lee, “whom he loved with a love that was more than love” — his lost Lenore!

It is not to be presumed that Edgar Poe had any intention of adopting the life of a professional author when he published “Al Aaraaf.” He was, at that time, the heir presumptive of Mr. Allan’s fortune — thirty thousand dollars a year — with every present want gratified, and his future apparently secure. But, even while on this visit to Baltimore, the beginning of the end of all his fair prospects was approaching. Toward the end of February he was summoned back to Richmond, by the alarming illness of Mrs. Allan. He hastened to obey the sad summons, for he loved his adopted mother with all the warmth of his affectionate nature. But, alas! he was never again to see that kind, motherly face; never again to hear that sweet, gentle voice. Communication, in those days, between Baltimore and Richmond was slow, and before he arrived, Mrs. Allan was dead and buried. Edgar felt keenly the loss of ­[page 42:] his earliest friend. He mourned her long and sorrowfully.

The death of Mrs. Allan caused no immediate change in Poe’s life; Mr. Allan continued his friend, so far as food, clothing, and shelter went, But he missed that tender solicitude, that affectionate interest, which Mrs. Allan was ever ready to bestow.

When Edgar Poe had reached his twenty-first year, Mr. Allan — who very properly thought that a young man, however great his expectations might be, should adopt a profession — had a serious talk with him upon this important subject. Poe expressed a distaste both for the dry drudgery of the law, and for the laborious life of a physician. The gay, dashing, daring life of a soldier seemed to possess a peculiar fascination for the high-spirited, chivalrous youth, and he told Mr. Allan that, of all the professions, he preferred the army. Mr. Allan was delighted at his choice, and immediately went to work to secure his appointment to West Point. Recommended by Chief Justice Marshall, John Randolph, General Scott, and other influential friends, the appointment was easily obtained. A handsome outfit was furnished by Mr. Allan, and on the 1st of July, 1830, Edgar A. Poe entered West Point as a cadet. He was perhaps the most brilliant and gifted, but the least creditable cadet that ever entered the Military Academy. He was in the very first bloom of that remarkable beauty of face and form, which neither study, ­[page 43:] nor trouble, nor poverty, nor sorrow ever destroyed. Dark, hyacinthine hair fell in graceful curls over his magnificent forehead, beneath which shone the most beautiful, the most glorious of mortal eyes. His figure was slight, but elegantly proportioned; his bearing was proud and fearless.

The young cadet soon discovered that the life of a soldier was not all so couleur de rose as his bright fancy had pictured it. The severe studies, the severe discipline, the morning drill, the evening parade, the guard duty, were each and all distasteful to the young poet, whose heart was glowing with high hopes, whose soul was full of a noble ambition. He turned with delight from military tactics to peruse the tuneful pages of Virgil; he neglected mathematics for the fascinating essays of Macaulay, which were just then beginning to charm the world; he escaped from the evening parade to wander along the romantic banks of the Hudson, meditating his musical “Israfel,” and, perhaps, planning “Ligeia;[[”]] or, the [[“]]Fall of the House of Usher.”

The result of his study and meditation appeared in the winter of 1831, when he published, under the title of “Poems, by Edgar A. Poe,” seven new poems together with “Al Aaraaf,” and “Tamerlane,” from the edition of 1829, omitting all the others. These seven new poems consisted of the exquisite lines “To Helen,” “Israfel,” “The Doomed City” (afterward improved, and called ­[page 44:] “The City in the Sea”), “Fairyland” (which retains its name only), “Irene” (afterward remodeled into “The Sleeper”), “A Pæan” (four verses of which were incorporated in “Lenore”), and “The Valley of Nis” (“The Valley of Unrest”). The book was dedicated to the United States Corps of Cadets, an honor which the cadets did not deserve, for they “considered the verses ridiculous doggerel.” The world has pronounced a different verdict.

After Poe had been at West Point six months, the rigid rules became so intolerable that he asked permission of Mr. Allan to resign. This was peremptorily refused. Within a year after the death of his first wife, Mr. Allan married Louise Gabrielle Patterson, of New Jersey, and, a son being born,* Edgar Poe was no longer the heir of the five thousand acres of land in Goochland County, Virginia, of hundreds of slaves, of real estate in Richmond, of bank and State stock, the whole amounting to five hundred thousand dollars. In money matters, Mr. Allan ­[page 45:] had always treated his adopted son with the utmost generosity. But he had now other claimants to his fortune, and he wished to give Edgar Poe an honorable profession, which would afford him a regular support for life. Hence his refusal to allow him to leave West Point — consent of father or guardian being required before a cadet could resign. But Poe was determined to get away from West Point, with or without Mr. Allan’s consent. So he commenced a deliberate and systematic neglect of duty and disobedience of rules: he cut his classes, shirked the drill, and refused to do guard duty. The desired result followed; on the 7th of January, 1831, Edgar A. Poe was brought before a general court-martial, under the charge of “gross neglect of all duty, and disobedience of orders.” The accused promptly pleaded “Guilty,” and, to his great delight, was sentenced “to be dismissed the service of the United States.” The sentence was duly approved at the War Department, and carried into effect March 6, 1831.

Several of Poe’s cotemporaries at West Point afterward distinguished themselves. Among others, Colonel Henry Clay, Jr., who fell, gallantly fighting, at Buena Vista; Major-General A. A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers, U. S. A.; Major-General William H. Emory, of Maryland; General Randolph B. Marcy, of Massachusetts; General Francis H. Smith, President of the Virginia Military Institute; General Humphrey Marshall, ­[page 46:] of Kentucky; Major-General John G. Barnard, of Massachusetts; the late General Tench Tilghman, President of the Maryland Society of the Cincinnati; Colonel Lucius Bellinger Northrop, of South Carolina, Commissary General of the late Confederate Army; Colonel Bliss, afterward private secretary of President Taylor; Colonel George B. Crittenden, of Kentucky; Colonel George H, Ringgold, of Maryland; Major Philip M. Barbour, of Kentucky, killed at the battle of Monterey, and several others.

­ [page 47:]




MR. ALLAN received Edgar Poe very coldly when he returned to Richmond from West Point. He was disappointed and disgusted that the young man’s military career had terminated so unfortunately; he was exasperated that the wayward youth had thrown away so fine an opportunity of establishing himself for life. So no feast was prepared, no fatted calf was killed, no friends were gathered to welcome the prodigal home. Mr. Allan gave him a home, indeed; but it was no longer the home of his infancy — no longer the home of his happy boyhood, and of his brilliant youth. He was tolerated, that is all. No longer the petted child, whose word was law; no longer the presumptive heir of half a million; but an unwelcome guest, whose presence was deemed an intrusion. The haughty spirit of Edgar ­[page 48:] Poe felt keenly the great change; to be scarcely tolerated in the house where he had once reigned supreme was agony to his proud, sensitive nature. This was the beginning of that “intolerable sorrow,” which crushed, conquered, and finally broke his brave, noble heart. This was the commencement of that “unmerciful disaster”’ which “followed fast and followed faster,” until “ Melancholy marked him for her own,” and the “dirges of his Hope” sang forever the sad refrain of “never more.”

The Allan family have never vouchsafed any explanation of the cause of the final sepatation between Mr. Allan and Edgar Poe. If the latter had been in fault, is it not reasonable to suppose that such a fact would have been long since published to the world? For nearly twenty years Edgar had been the idolized child of the house; caressed by Mrs. Allan, indulged by Mr. Allan. Mrs. Allan dies, Edgar goes to West Point; he returns, and finds all things changed in the old Fifth Street house. Another Mrs. Allan is there. We all know the influence of a second wife upon a fond, doting old husband. In this case the influence of the beautiful young wife was immediate and permanent. It began with the marriage, and ended only with the death of Mr. Allan. Edgar Poe felt its effects more than any one else. His extravagance at the university was forgiven, but his escapade at West Point was not to be tolerated. Why? Because the ­[page 49:] first Mrs. Allan was his friend, and the second Mrs. Allan was not. She, very naturally, wanted the Allan money for the Allan children, who now began to make their annual appearance. Mrs. Susan Archer von Weiss, in a letter before me, dated Richmond, Virginia, June 6th, 1876, after saying she was a “confidant of Mr. Poe’s,” states that the cause of the quarrel between Allan and Poe was “very simple and very natural under the circumstances — human nature considered — and completely exonerates Mr. Poe from ingratitude to his adopted father.”

Whatever was the cause, the result was that, a few months after his return from West Point, Edgar Poe left Mr. Allan’s house forever. Writing long years after to one who possessed his entire confidence, he said: “By the God who reigns in heaven, I swear to you that my soul is incapable of dishonor. I can call to mind no act of my life which would bring a blush to my cheek or to yours. If I have erred at all, in this regard, it has been on the side of what the world would call a Quixotic sense of the honorable — of the chivalrous. The indulgence of this sense has been the true voluptuousness of my life. It was for this species of luxury that in early youth I deliberately threw away from me a large fortune, rather than endure a trivial wrong.”

Like Adam, when expelled from Paradise, Edgar Poe (though his late home had been for some time anything but a Paradise to him) had now all the world before him ­[page 50:] where to choose his place of rest. Remembering the affectionate interest which his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, had manifested toward him when he met her in 1829, Edgar went to Baltimore, and sought out this, his nearest relative. Mrs. Clemm was poor, but poor as she was, she gave her “Eddie” (as she always called him) a home — a home humble, indeed, in a worldly sense, but rich in love. Soon after his removal to Baltimore, in the early summer of 1831, Poe, not wishing to be dependent upon his aunt, sought diligently for some employment by which he could earn a living. Dr. N. C. Brooks (who was, in 1838-9, editor of the Baltimore Museum, a magazine in which appeared some of Poe’s best tales) informed me that about this time (1831), Edgar Poe applied for a position in his school, then recently started at Reisterstown, in Baltimore County. Dr. Brooks regretted there was no vacancy, for he knew that Poe was an accomplished scholar.

In 1831-2, Mrs. Clemm lived on Cove (now Fremont) Street. An intimate friend of Poe’s* has furnished an interesting description of his life and studies at this time; his dress, personal appearance, habits, conversation, are all minutely given. This gentleman was in the habit of seeing Poe daily, for weeks at a time. They took long and frequent walks together in the beautiful, undulating country ­[page 51:] around Baltimore. Their conversation was generally upon literary topics, and Poe expressed his opinion freely and forcibly upon all writers, from Shakespeare down to the last aspirant for poetical fame. He never could be made to bow to the world’s opinion. The very fact that an author possessed the world’s good opinion was sufficient for him to condemn that author. He knew that a few self-appointed critics formed what is called the world’s opinion. He knew that these would-be critics praised Wordsworth and ridiculed Keats. Poe frankly confessed that he had “no faith in Wordsworth;” he spoke with “reverence of Coleridge’s towering intellect and gigantic power;” pronounced Byron’s “English Bards and Scotch Reviewers” a “failure;” called Dr. Johnson “scurrilous,” and was one of the earliest admirers of Tennyson, at the time when the English reviewers were neglecting him and praising the Rev. George Croly.

At this time, Edgar Poe was slender, but graceful in person; his hands and feet were as beautiful as a woman’s. His dress was faultlessly neat; fashionable, but not foppish. His disposition was affectionate, and he was tenderly devoted to his aunt and cousin. Virginia Clemm was now an exquisitely beautiful girl ten years old, the pupil, companion, and pet of her cousin Edgar. One day, Edgar, Virginia, and Mr. Wilmer were walking in the neighborhood of Baltimore, when they happened to approach a grave-yard, where a funeral was in progress. ­[page 52:] Curiosity attracted them to the side of the grave, where they stood among those who had accompanied the body to the cemetery. Virginia’s sensitive heart was so touched by the grief of the stricken mourners, that she mingled her tears with theirs. Her emotion communicated itself to Edgar, and if his cruel defamers had seen him, at that moment, weeping by a stranger’s grave, they would not have said of him that “he had no touch of human feeling or of human pity,” that “he had no heart,” that “he loved no one but himself,” etc.

Poe was at this period constantly occupied in literary work, either writing or studying. His favorite reading was metaphysics, travels, and poetry. Disraeli was his model as a novelist, Campbell his favorite poet, and Victor Cousin’s “True, Beautiful, and Good,” his favorite work on metaphysics.

So, as early as 1832, Edgar Poe, with that noble confidence which genius inspires, had adopted the literary profession. He was the right man in the wrong place. Baltimore, pre-eminently distinguished for the refined tastes and polished manners of its people, has never been a literary city. The names of the genial novelist, Kennedy, the exquisite lyrist, Pinkney, and the accomplished essayist, Calvert, filled the measure of Baltimore’s literary fame, until the name of Poe crowned it with immortal glory.

During 1832-3, Poe was writing the “Tales of the ­[page 53:] Folio Club,” comprising “The Descent into the Maelstrom,” “A Manuscript found in a Bottle,” “Adventure of Hans Pfaall,” “A Tale of the Ragged Mountain[[s]],” “Berenice,” and “Lionizing.” These were written with the utmost care, pruned and re-pruned, polished and repolished, over and over again, until, when they left the author’s hands, they were as perfect as the gems that come from the hands of a Roman lapidary. Difficult as had been the writing of these tales, more difficult would have been their publication, had not one of those opportunities occurred which seems to come to every person once in a lifetime.

In the summer of 1833, the Baltimore Saturday Visitor [[Visiter]] — a weekly literary journal, which had been started in 1832, under the editorial charge of L. A. Wilmer — offered one hundred dollars for the best prose story, and fifty dollars for the best poem. Poe submitted his “Tales of the Folio Club,” and his poem, “The Coliseum,” in competition for the prizes. The committee appointed to award the prizes were the late Hon. John P. Kennedy (author of “Horse-shoe Robinson,” etc.), and two other professional gentlemen (a doctor and a lawyer), who possessed only a local repute. The “Tales of the Folio Club” were so immeasurably superior to all the other stories submitted, that the hundred-dollar prize was unanimously given to Edgar A. Poe, and the “ Manuscript found in a Bottle” was selected as the one to which the ­[page 54:] premium should be awarded. The poem sent in by Poe has been admired by all readers as a magnificent tribute to the grandeur and glory of the Coliseum. It was as superior to the other “poems” as the “Manuscript found in a Bottle” was superior to the other stories; but, having awarded the hundred-dollar prize to Poe, it was deemed expedient to bestow the fifty-dollar prize upon one of the other competitors. So, having selected from the mass of rubbish a “poem”’ a shade better than the rest, which was written by an unknown local genius, the smaller prize was awarded to him.

­ [page 55:]




EDGAR POE was now upon the first step of the ladder which leads ad astra. Like Goldsmith, Shelley, Byron, Burns, and Keats, his literary career was brief, and like theirs, his fame will be enduring. He did not, like Lord Byron, “awake one morning, and find himself famous.” He had to fight his way to recognition, through toil, poverty, and suffering.

John P. Kennedy was neither a great lawyer, great novelist, nor great statesman; but his kindness to Poe will embalm his name forever in the memory of all lovers of genius. Of the three gentlemen composing the committee, he alone extended a helping hand to the poor young poet; he alone interested himself in the career of the ambitious young author. He invited Poe to his house, made him welcome at his table, and furnished him with a saddle-horse, that he might take exercise whenever he pleased. ­[page 56:] He did more: he introduced his protégé to the proprietor of The Southern Literary Messenger, then recently started at Richmond, and recommended him as being “very clever with his pen, classical, and scholar-like.” Mr. F. [[T.]] W. White, the proprietor of The Messenger, invited Poe to send in a contribution. He was delighted to comply with the request. In the number for March, 1835, appeared his strangely beautiful story, “Berenice,” which attracted immediate attention. From that time Poe became a regular monthly contributor to The Messenger, furnishing tales, poems, and criticisms with marvelous rapidity, when we consider their exquisite finish.

It is pleasant to quote, from one of Edgar Poe’s letters, written to Mr. White at this time, two passages, which show that he possessed, in a remarkable degree, the very two virtues which have been denied him, viz., gratitude and humility. He had written a critique of John P. Kennedy’s novel, “Horse-shoe Robinson,” and, apologizing for the hasty sketch he sent, instead of the thorough review which he intended, he says: “At the time, I was so ill as to be hardly able to see the paper on which I wrote, and I finished it in a state of complete exhaustion. I have not, therefore, done anything like justice to the book, and I am vexed about the matter, for Mr. Kennedy has proved himself a kind friend to me in every respect, and I am sincerely grateful to him for many acts of generosity and attention.” In the same letter. in answer to Mr. White’s ­[page 57:] query, whether he was satisfied with the pay he was receiving for his work on The Messenger, Poe wrote: “I reply that I am, entirely. My poor services are not worth what you give me for them.”

For four years Edgar Poe had been engaged in the most delightful of occupations — the instruction of a beautiful girl, singularly interesting and truly loved. For four years, Virginia — his starry-eyed young cousin — had been his pupil. Never had teacher so lovely a pupil, never had pupil so tender a teacher. They were both young; she was a child.

“But our love it was stronger by far than the love

Of those who were older than we.”

Under the name of Eleonora, Edgar tells the story of their love in the Valley of the Many-colored Grass. He describes the “sweet recesses of the vale;” the “deep and narrow river, brighter than all, save the eyes of Eleonora;” the “soft, green grass, besprinkled with the yellow buttercup, the white daisy, the purple violet, and the ruby-red asphodel’’ —— all so beautiful that it “spoke to our hearts of the love and glory of God.” Here they “lived all alone, knowing nothing of the world without the valley — I, and my cousin, and her mother.” “The loveliness of Eleonora was that of the seraphim, and she was a maiden artless and innocent as the brief life she had led among the flowers. No guile disguised the fervor of love which animated her heart,” etc. ­[page 58:]

As soon as his prospects began to brighten, and his regular employment on The Messenger gave him a fixed income, Edgar, with the enthusiastic ardor of his race, wanted to marry his cousin Virginia, although she was only in her fourteenth year. Late in the summer of 1835, he was offered the position of assistant editor of The Messenger, at a salary of five hundred dollars per annum. He gladly accepted the offer, and prepared to remove to Richmond immediately. Before leaving Baltimore, he persuaded Mrs. Clemm to allow him to marry Virginia, and on the 2d [[22nd]] of September, 1835, they were married, at old Christ Church, by the Rev. John Johns, D. D., afterward the Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Virginia. The next day he went to Richmond, and did not see his darling little wife for a year, when she and her mother joined him in that city.

Poe felt most painfully the separation from “her he loved so dearly.” For years Virginia had been his daily, his hourly companion and confidant. Like Abelard and Heloise, they had one home and one heart. He had watched her young mind’s development; he had seen her grow each year more lovely, more winning, more interesting. And now, when his most cherished wish was realized, by the sweet girl becoming his wife, he was two hundred miles away from her. In the first days of this separation, he wrote Mr. Kennedy a letter (dated Richmond, September 11, 1835), in which, after expressing ­[page 59:] a deep sense of gratitude for frequent kindness and assistance, he says:

“I am suffering under a depression of spirits such as I have never felt before. I have struggled in vain against the influence of this melancholy; you will believe me when I say that I am still miserable, in spite of the great improvement in my circumstances. My heart is open before you; if it be worth reading, read it. Write me immediately; convince me that it is worth one’s while — that it is at all necessary — to live, and you will prove yourself indeed my friend. Persuade me to do what is right. I do mean this. Write me, then, and quickly. Your words will have more weight with me than the words of others, for you were my friend when no one else was.”

In December, 1835, Poe was made editor of The Messenger. Under his editorial management, the work soon became well known everywhere. Perhaps no similar enterprise ever prospered so largely in its commencement, and none, in the same length of time — not even Blackwood, in the brilliant days of Dr. Maginn, ever published so many dazzling articles from the same pen. Strange stories of the German school, akin to the most fanciful legend of the Rhine, fascinating and astonishing the reader with the verisimilitude of their improbability, appeared in the same number with lyrics plaintive and wondrous sweet, the earliest vibration of those chords which have ­[page 60:] since sounded through the world. But it was in the editorial department of The Messenger that Poe’s great powers were most conspicuously displayed. He was the most consummate critic that ever lived. Woe to the unlucky author who offended by a dull book. His powerful pen was as much feared by the poetasters and literary dunces of forty years ago, as Pope’s brilliant wit had been feared a century before by Theobald and the other heroes of the “Dunciad.”

Within a year after Poe assumed control of The Messenger, its circulation had increased from seven hundred to five thousand, and, from a mere provincial magazine in 1835, it had become in 1836 a magazine of national reputation, occupying a commanding position in American literature.

Edgar Poe had left Richmond less than five years before, “a youth to fortune and to fame unknown.” He returned, and, assuming the editorship of The Messenger, the leading periodical of the South, by his original and brilliant contributions, he made his name known in all the land as an exquisitely delicate poet, a fearless critic, and an accomplished literary artist. Slander had been whispered, nay, proclaimed aloud against him; abuse had been heaped upon him; malice had invented lies to blacken his name. He was too proud to defend himself from such attacks. He was too true a gentleman to exonerate himself at the expense of a lady, although that ­[page 61:] lady had been the primary cause of his separation from Mr. Allan, and, consequently, of his loss of fortune.

His domestic life in Richmond, after Mrs. Clemm and Virginia joined him, was sweet and pure and true. He was devoted to his beautiful child-wife, and she idolized her gifted husband. To gratify her taste for music, he had her taught by the best masters, although his salary could scarcely afford the expense. But he cheerfully denied himself many little personal comforts for her sake. Mrs. Clemm was the Martha of the little household, providing the food, and sometimes cooking it; keeping everything neat and tidy and inviting. Their home fully illustrated Goethe’s saying that beauty is cheap where taste is the purchaser.

While conducting The Messenger, Poe’s time was so fully occupied that he seldom went into general society. Indeed, from this time forward, he mingled little in what is called the gay world. The society of cultivated women was always attractive to him. That he now enjoyed at the Mackenzies, Daniels, Macfarlands, Fairfaxes, Haxalls, Amblers, and two or three other houses, that formed a delightful literary coterie in Richmond forty years ago.

­ [page 62:]




PERHAPS the happiest period of Edgar Poe’s life was the last year that he was the editor of The Southern Literary Messenger. At the early age of twenty-six, he had made a brilliant reputation; he was married to the sweet girl Virginia; he was young and hopeful; his life was full of bright promise; his noble brow — as white as a girl’s, and as beautiful as a god’s — had not been clouded by suffering and sorrow; his “sweet, imperious mouth” had not caught the expression of lofty scorn which contact with a false and hollow world made habitual in his later years.

In January, 1837, Poe was offered the position of associate editor of the New York Quarterly Review. As the ­[page 63:] salary was larger than he received on The Messenger, and New York was a far wider field for a professional littérateur than the provincial little city of Richmond, he accepted the offer. Mr. White, the proprieter of The Messenger, parted with him with much regret, and, in the number of the magazine which had the announcement of Poe’s retirement, promised that he would “continue to furnish its columns from time to time with the effusions of his vigorous and powerful pen.” He never relinquished his early interest in The Messenger, but wrote occasionally for it as long as he lived. As some of his earliest, so some of his latest writings were first published in that magazine.

In the winter of 1837, Poe and his little family removed to New York. Mrs. Clemm endeavored to add to their small income by taking boarders. Among the latter was the late William Gowans, the well-known second-hand bookseller, who has furnished a brief but interesting account of Poe’s life at this time. He says:

“For eight months or more one house contained us, and one table fed us. I saw much of Mr. Poe during that time, and had an opportunity of conversing with him often. He was one of the most courteous, gentlemanly, and intelligent companions I ever met. I never saw him in the least affected by liquor, or descend to any known vice. He kept good hours, and all his little wants were attended to by Mrs. Clemm and her daughter, who ­[page 64:] watched him as carefully as if he had been a child. Mrs. Poe was a lady of matchless beauty and loveliness; her eyes could match those of any houri, and her face defy the genius of any Canova to imitate; her temper and disposition were of a surpassing sweetness, and she seemed as much devoted to him and his every interest as a young mother is to her first born.”

Poe’s contributions to the New York Quarterly Review were chiefly critiques of current literature. They displayed his extraordinary force as a critic, his elegant scholarship, and his immense reading. As they were very unsparing in exposing the literary pretenders of the day, Poe made many enemies by his criticisms, enemies who nursed their wrath and kept it warm until he was cold in his grave; then safely poured and continue to pour their venomous slander upon his memory.

In The Southern Literary Messenger, for January and February, 1837, appeared the first portions of “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.” It attracted much attention while running through The Messenger, and it was afterward published in book form, both in this country and in England, where it went through three editions in a very short time. It is not considered, however, one of Poe’s most successful productions, and is not now read with half the interest that “William Wilson,” “Ligeia,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” are read. These wonderful tales — ­[page 65:] more artistic than Hoffmann’s, more circumstantial than DeFoe’s — display a richness of imagination, and a beauty of style which have made Edgar Poe peerless in that peculiar department of fictitious literature.

Our poet’s first residence in New York lasted from early in the winter of 1837 to late in the summer of 1838, when he removed to Philadelphia. Soon after his arrival in the latter city he was requested, by his old friend, Dr. N. C. Brooks, to write the leading article for the first number of The American Museum, a monthly magazine, about to be started by Dr. Brooks, in Baltimore. The subject suggested was “Washington Irving.” Dr. Brooks received the following reply:

“PHILADELPHIA, September 4, 1838.


“I duly received your favor, with the ten dollars. Touching the review, I am forced to decline it just now. I should be most unwilling not to execute such a task well, and this I could not do at so short a notice, at least now. I have two other engagements which it would be ruinous to defer. Besides this, I am just leaving Arch Street for a small house, and, of course, am somewhat in confusion.

“My main reason, however, for declining is what I first alleged, viz., I could not do the review well at short notice. It is a theme upon which I would like very much to write, ­[page 66:] for there is a vast deal to be said upon it. Irving is much overrated, and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just, and surreptitious, and adventitious reputation; between what is due to the pioneer solely, and what to the writer.

“The merit, too, of this tame propriety and faultlessness of style should be candidly weighed. He should be compared with Addison, something being hinted about imitation, and Sir Roger De Coverley should be brought up in judgment. A bold and a-priori investigation of Irving’s claims would strike home, take my word for it. The American literary world never saw anything of the kind yet. Seeing, therefore, the opportunity of making a fine hit, I am unwilling to risk your fame by a failure; and a failure would certainly be the event were I to undertake the task at present.

“Suppose you send me the proof of my article. I look anxiously for the first number of The Museum, from which I date the dawn of a fine literary day in Baltimore.

“After the 15th, I shall be more at leisure, and will be happy to do you any literary service in my power. You have but to hint.

“Very truly yours,


The article, of which Poe desired the “proof,” was “Ligeia.” It was published in the first number of The ­[page 67:] Museum, September, 1838. In this magazine, Poe also published his clever satirical sketch, “The Signora Psyche Zenobia,” “Literary Small Talk,” and the dainty, airy “Haunted Palace.”

Poe resided most of the time, while in Philadelphia, at Spring Garden, a suburb of the city. Captain Mayne Reid, who became acquainted with him at this time, wrote a most delightful description of his home and family. The house was small, but furnished with much taste; flowers bloomed around the porch, and the singing of birds was heard. It seemed, indeed, the very home for a poet. “In this humble domicile,” says Mayne Reid, “I have spent some of the pleasantest hours of my life — certainly, some of the most intellectual. They were passed in the company of the poet himself and his wife — a lady angelically beautiful in person, and not less beautiful in spirit. No one who remembers that dark-eyed, dark-haired daughter of the South; her face so exquisitely lovely; her gentle, graceful demeanor; no one who has ever spent an hour in her society, but will indorse what I have said of this lady, who was the most delicate realization of the poet’s rarest ideal. But the bloom upon her cheek was too pure, too bright for earth. It was consumption’s color — that sadly beautiful light that beckons to an early grave.

“With the poet and his wife there Iived another person — Mrs. Clemm. She was the mother of Mrs. Poe — and one ­[page 68:] of those grand American mothers. She was the ever-vigilant guardian of the house, watching over the comfort of her two children, keeping everything neat and clean, so as to please the fastidious eyes of the poet; going to market, and bringing home the little delicacies that their limited means would allow; going to publishers with a poem, a critique, or a story, and often returning without the much-needed money.” This is a very pleasing glimpse at the home life of our poet, and all the more valuable, coming, as it does, spontaneously from a foreigner. Such scenes show more truly a man’s real character than volumes of human analysis.

Perhaps it will be as well to give just here a few personal particulars which Mrs. Clemm furnished me, and which I took down in short-hand at the time: “Eddie had no idea of the value of money. I had to attend to all his pecuniary affairs. I even bought his clothes for him; he never bought a pair of gloves or a cravat for himself; he never would calculate; he was very charitable, and would empty his pockets to a beggar. He loved Virginia with a tenderness and a devotion which no words can express, and he was the most affectionate of sons to me.”

­ [page 69:]




SOON after his removal to Philadelphia, Poe was engaged as a contributor upon The Gentleman’s Magazine, which was owned by William E. Burton, the comedian. He drew immediate attention to the magazine by his powerful criticisms, and strange, fascinating tales. Among the latter was “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which is considered by most readers Poe’s masterpiece in imaginative fiction; but he gave that preference to “Ligeia.” “Both have the unquestionable stamp of genius. The analysis of the growth of madness in one, and the thrilling revelations of the existence ­[page 70:] of a first wife in the person of a second, in the other, are made with consummate skill; and the strange and solemn and fascinating beauty, which informs the style and invests the circumstances of both, drugs the mind, and makes us forget the improbabilities of their general design.” In 1839 these and other romantic creations of his peerless imagination were published in two volumes, under the title of “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” by Lee [[Lea]] & Blanchard, of Philadelphia. Henceforth, in this department of imaginative composition, Poe was “alone and unapproachable.”

Burton was so well satisfied with Poe’s contributions to The Gentleman’s Magazine that in May, 1839, he appointed him its editor-in-chief. For two hours’ work every day, the editor received ten dollars a week — very paltry pay for a man of Poe’s reputation and genius; there are scores of editors in this country to-day, who, not possessing half of his reputation, or any of his genius, are twice as well paid. But American writers, thirty and forty years ago, were not paid so well as American scribblers are now paid. Poe’s duties upon The Gentleman’s Magazine left him plenty of time for other literary work. He was always a most industrious writer; never idle, never lounging; when not engaged upon a critique, he was writing a tale or a poem.

In the autumn of 1840, Mr. Burton sold The Gentleman’s Magazine to George R. Graham, owner of The ­[page 71:] Casket; the two periodicals were merged into one, and published under the name of Graham’s Magazine. Poe was retained as the editor of the new magazine. Under his management it soon reached an extensive circulation; in fact, the circulation, which was five thousand when he took charge of it in November, 1840, was more than fifty thousand when he retired in November, 1842. In Graham’s Magazine he continued his merciless exposure of the dunces, which he had so savagely begun five years before in The Southern Literary Messenger. The small poetasters fell before his powerful pen as surely and as completely as the summer grass before the scythe of the mower. They fell to rise no more. Commonplace people — and they are the vast majority of mankind — think (if they are capable of thinking upon any subject) that Edgar Poe took a savage delight in impaling these would-be poets upon the point of his critical pen; whereas the truth is, that there was no personal feeling at all in the matter. But his love of the beautiful was so exquisite that a false meter, an inelegant phrase, or an imperfect image was perfect torture to him; hence his severe criticisms. His taste was fastidious — faultless; his judgment unerring; his decision final. He was among the first to proclaim the genius of Mrs. Browning (then Miss Barrett) to the world; and when he collected his poems into a volume, the book was dedicated to her, as “To the noblest of her sex, with the most enthusiastic admiration, and with the most ­[page 72:] sincere esteem.” His estimate of Hawthorne, of Willis, of Halleck, was eminently just. He placed Longfellow, in 1846, the first among American poets; the place which, in 1876, Poe himself holds, in the opinion of the leading scholars of England, France, and Germany. He was the first to introduce to American readers the then unknown poet, Tennyson, and boldly declared him to be “the noblest poet that ever lived,” at a time when the English critics had failed to discover the genius of the future Poet Laureate.

Poe’s reputation was much increased by the publication, in the April (1841) number of Graham’s Magazine, of the extraordinary, analytical story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which introduced him for the first time to French readers, and, also, made his name conspicuous in the French courts. The tale was dressed up to suit the French palate by a Paris Bohemian, and published in “Le Commerce, [[sic]] as an original story, under the name of “L’Orang Otang.” Not long afterward, another French journal, La Quotidienne, published a translation of the story under another name. Thereupon Le Siècle charged La Quotidienne with having stolen the said feuilleton from one previously published in Le Commerce. This led to a war of words between the editors of La Quotidienne and Le Siècle. The quarrel became so warm that it was carried to the law courts for settlement, where the aforesaid Bohemian proved that he had stolen the story from Monsieur ­[page 73:] Edgar A. Poe, an American writer. It was proved, also, that the writer in La Quotidienne was himself an impudent plagiarist, for he had taken Monsieur Poe’s story without a word of acknowledgment; whilst the editor of Le Siècle was forced to admit that not only had he never read any of Poe’s works, but had not even heard of him. The public attention having been thus directed to Poe, his best tales were translated by Madame Isabelle Mennier, and published in several French magazines. The leading French journals united in bestowing upon our author the highest praise for the extraordinary power and ingenuity displayed in these tales. Later, Charles Baudelaire, having, by years of studious application, thoroughly imbued his mind with the spirit of Edgar Poe’s prose writings, his translation of them was published in 1864-5, in five 12mo volumes, by Michel Levy et Frères, of Paris. Poe is among the very few, perhaps it may be said, that he is the only American author who is really popular in France. That he has become a standard and classic writer there is, in a great measure, owing to the patient industry of Baudelaire.

Poe followed the “Murders in the Rue Morgue” by the “Mystery of Marie Roget,” in which the scene of the mysterious murder of a cigar girl, named Mary Rogers, in the vicinity of New York, was transferred to Paris, and, by a wonderful train of analytical reasoning, the mystery that surrounded the affair was completely disentangled. ­[page 74:] These, and a succeeding story, “The Purloined Letter,” are the most ingenious tales of ratiocination in the English language. It may be an interesting piece of information that Monsieur G——, the Prefect of the Parisian Police, who is mentioned in these stories, was Monsieur Grisquet, for many years Chief of the Paris Police; who died in the month of February, 1866.

But perhaps the most successful and most skillful of Poe’s efforts at ratiocination was that in which he pointed out what must be the plot of Dickens’s celebrated novel, “Barnaby Rudge,” when only the beginning of the story had been published. In the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post, of May 1, 1841, Poe printed what he called a “prospective notice” of the novel, in which he used the following words:

“That Barnaby is the son of the murderer may not appear evident to our readers; but we will explain: The person murdered is Mr. Reuben Haredale. His steward (Mr. Rudge, Senior) and his gardener are missing. At first both are suspected. ‘Some months afterward,’ in the language of the story, ‘the steward’s body, scarcely to be recognized but by his clothes and the watch and ring he wore, was found at the bottom of a piece of water in the grounds, with a deep gash in the breast, where he had been stabbed by a knife,’ etc., etc.

“Now, be it observed, it is not the author himself who asserts that the steward’s body was found; he has put the ­[page 75:] words in the mouth of one of his characters. His design is to make it appear in the dénouement that the steward, Rudge, first murdered the gardener, then went to his master’s chamber, murdered him, was interrupted by his (Rudge’s) wife, whom he seized and held by the wrist, to prevent her giving the alarm; that he then, after possessing himself of the booty desired, returned to the gardener’s room, exchanged clothes with him, put upon the corpse his own watch and ring, and secreted it where it was afterward discovered at so late a period that the features could not be identified.”

Readers who are familiar with the plot of “Barnaby Rudge” will perceive that the differences between Poe’s preconceived ideas and the actual facts of the story are very immaterial. Dickens expressed his admiring appreciation of this analysis of “Barnaby Rudge.” He would not have expressed the same appreciation of Poe’s opinion of him, when reviewing the completed novel. At the time when Charles Dickens was the most popular writer in the world, Edgar Poe (who could never be made to bow his supreme intellect to any idol) boldly declared that he “failed peculiarly in pure narrative,” pointing out, at the same time, several grammatical mistakes of the great Boz. He also showed that Dickens “occasionally lapsed into a gross imitation of what itself is a gross imitation — the manner of Lamb — a manner based in the Latin construction. Poe further showed that Dickens’s great success as a ­[page 76:] novelist consisted in the delineation of character, and that those characters were grossly exaggerated caricatures — all of which is now generally admitted; but it required considerable courage to proclaim such an opinion at the time when Poe proclaimed it.

While Poe was editor of Graham’s Magazine, his restless spirit grew tired of the “endless toil” of editorial life, and he endeavored to secure more certain and more remunerative employment. His intimate friend and lifelong correspondent, William F. Thomas [[Frederick William Thomas]], of Baltimore, author of “Clinton Bradshaw,”and other novels of some note forty years ago, had obtained a Government clerkship at Washington. In the year 1842, Poe wrote to Mr. Thomas, expressing a wish to get a similar position, saying that he “would be glad to get almost any appointment — even a five hundred dollar clerkship — so that I have something independent of letters for a subsistence. To coin one’s brain into silver, at the nod of a master, is, I am thinking, the hardest task in the world.” At the conclusion of the letter he says he hopes some day to have a “beautiful little cottage, completely buried in vines and flowers.” How fortunate for the world that Edgar Poe failed to secure “even a five hundred dollar clerkship”! Had he settled down to the dull routine of official life, he would probably not have written “The Raven,” “Eureka,” “Ulalume,” “The Literati of New York,” and other works which adorn American literature.

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VIRGINIA POE’s health, which had always been delicate, became still more precarious toward the autumn of 1842. Friends and foes alike agree in testifying to Edgar Poe’s tender devotion to his darling wife, “in sickness and in health.” The most unrelenting of his enemies alludes to the fact of having been sent for to visit him “during a period of illness, caused by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife.” Mr. George R. Graham, in a generous defense of the dead poet, said, “I shall never forget how solicitous of the happiness of his wife and mother-in-law he was, whilst editor of Graham’s Magazine. His whole efforts seemed to be to procure the comfort and welfare of his home. . . . His love for his wife was a sort ­[page 78:] of rapturous worship of the spirit of beauty which he felt was fading before his eyes. I have seen him hovering around her, when she was ill, with all the fond fear and tender anxiety of a mother for her first-born; her slightest cough causing in him a shudder, a heart-chill that was visible. I rode out one summer evening with them, and remembrance of his watchful eyes, eagerly bent upon the slightest change of hue in that loved face, haunts me yet as the memory of a sad strain. It was this hourly anticipation of her loss that made him a sad and thoughtful man, and lent a mournful melody to his undying song.” Similar language is used by all who were acquainted with the poet and his family.

In November, 1842, Poe retired from Graham’s Magazine. His reputation as the most brilliant editor in America; his fame, as a poet and writer of purely imaginative fiction, extending to England and over the continent, made him feel the very natural ambition of having a magazine of his own — a magazine in which he would be perfectly untrammeled; in which he could “let loose the dogs of war” upon literary pretenders even more fiercely than he had hitherto been allowed to do. With this view, early in 1843 he projected a magazine, to be called The Stylus. The prospectus was written, printed, and circulated; contracts were made for contributions and illustrations; the day was fixed for the appearance of the first number. Failing to secure in advance a sufficient ­[page 79:] number of subscribers to put the magazine upon a paying footing, the enterprise was temporarily abandoned, to be taken up again and again until the close of Poe’s life. The prospectus of The Stylus announced the intention of affording a fair and honorable field for the true intellect of the land, without reference to the mere prestige of celebrated names. It further declared that the chief purpose of The Stylus was to become known as a journal wherein might be found at all times a sincere and a fearless opinion, preserving always an absolutely independent criticism, acknowledging no fear save that of outraging right. Such a magazine, with Edgar A. Poe for its editor, would have been the most brilliant specimen of periodical literature that this country has ever seen. But it was never to be. Poe was destined to disappointment through life. His was the too common lot of genius: to work for the pecuniary benefit of others during life, and to be rewarded by an immortality of glory after death.

Every production of Poe’s pen was now welcomed with eager expectation by all cultivated readers. There was a vigor, a brilliancy, an originality about his writings in delightful contrast with the dreary platitude of most of the writers of the time. No tales, weak as a third cup of boarding-house tea — no verses, diluted echoes of Keats and Byron — no critiques, full of meaningless praise — came from his powerful pen.

In the spring of 1843, Poe obtained the hundred-dollar ­[page 80:] prize offered by The Dollar Magazine [[Dollar Newspaper]], of Philadelphia, for the best prose story. “The Gold Bug” was the tale that won the prize. This tale, which relates to the discovery of Captain Kyd’s long-buried treasure, displays a remarkably skillful illustration of Poe’s celebrated theory, that human ingenuity can construct no enigma which human ingenuity cannot, by proper application, resolve. The chief interest centers upon the solution of an abstruse cryptogram.

In the autumn of 1844, Edgar Poe removed with his family to New York. Soon after establishing himself in the metropolis, he was employed by Messrs. Morris & Willis as the literary critic and assistant editor of The Mirror, a daily newspaper. Fortunately the late N. P. Willis, one of the owners and editors of the paper, wrote an account of Poe in this connection, which affords a very attractive glimpse at our poet. Mr. Willis says that “he [Poe] was at his desk in the morning from nine o’clock until the evening paper went to press. He was invariably punctual, and industrious, and good humoredly ready for any suggestion. We loved the man for the entireness of the fidelity with which he served us. With his pale, beautiful, and intellectual face, as a reminder of what genius was in him, it was impossible not to treat him always with deferential courtesy. To our occasional request that he would not probe too deep in a criticism, or that he would erase a passage too highly ­[page 81:] colored with his resentments against society and mankind, he readily and courteously assented — far more yielding than most men, we thought, on points so excusably sensitive. With a prospect of taking the lead in another periodical, he gave up his employment with us; and, through all this considerable period (five or six months), we had seen but one presentment of the man — a quiet, patient, industrious, and most gentlemanly person, commanding the utmost respect and good feeling by his unvarying deportment and ability.”

The other periodical, in which he was to take the lead, was The Broadway Journal, a weekly paper which had been started in New York early in January, 1845. In March of that year Poe became associate editor of the journal, and one-third owner. From its start, The Broadway was a dying concern, and when Poe became its sole editor in July, it was in the last stage of journalistic decay. His vigorous contributions, however, kept it alive for six months longer. Upon looking over the volumes of the journal, I was astonished to find so many and such elaborate articles from Poe’s pen, at the very time, too, when his adored wife was sick, almost dying, and when he himself was in ill health, poor, and harassed by cares and troubles of all kinds.

Poe’s brilliant literary reputation admitted him to the most cultured society of New York, where his fascinating conversation, his distinguished appearance, and elegant ­[page 82:] manners delighted every one who made his acquaintance. In the winter of 1845-6, he was frequently present among the artists and men of letters, who assembled weekly at the residence of Miss Anna C. Lynch, in Waverley Place. An accomplished woman, who met him at this time, says: “His manners at these reunions were refined and pleasing, and his style and scope of conversation that of a gentleman and a scholar. He delighted in the society of superior women, and had an exquisite perception of all graces of manner and shades of expression. He was an admiring listener, and an unobtrusive observer. We all recollect the interest felt at the time in everything emanating from his pen; the relief it was from the dullness of ordinary, writers; the certainty of something fresh and suggestive. His critiques were read with avidity; people felt their ability and courage. Right or wrong, he was terribly in earnest.” Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman, whose name I mention with the most enthusiastic admiration, in that noble defense of her dead friend, “Edgar Poe and his Critics,” says: “Sometimes his fair young wife was seen with him at these weekly assemblages in Waverley Place. She seldom took part in the conversation; but the memory of her sweet and girlish face, always animated and vivacious, repels the assertion, afterward so cruelly and recklessly made, that she died a victim to the neglect and unkindness of her husband, “who,” as it has been said, “deliberately sought her death, that he might embalm her memory in immortal dirges.”

­ [page 83:]




WE have now reached that period in the life of Edgar A. Poe when his genius culminated in the production of “The Raven,” which stands alone in poetry, as the Venus in sculpture and the Transfiguration in painting.

“The Raven” was originally published in The American Review — a New York Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science — in the number for February, 1845. It is rather remarkable that this poem, the masterpiece of Poe, should be the only composition of his published under a nom de plume. It was headed, “The Raven,” by Quarles, and introduced as follows: “The following lines from a correspondent — besides the deep, quaint strain of the sentiment, and the curious introduction of some ludicrous touches amidst the serious and impressive, as ­[page 84:] was doubtless intended by the author — appear to us one of the most felicitous specimens of unique rhyming which has for some time met our eye. The resources for English rhythm for varieties of melody, measure, and sound, producing corresponding diversities of effect, have been thoroughly studied, much more perceived, by very few poets in the language. While the classic tongues, especially the Greek, possess, by power of accent, several advantages for versification over our own, chiefly through greater abundance of spondaic feet, we have other and very great advantages of sound by the modern usage of rhyme. Alliteration is nearly the only effect of that kind which the ancients had in common with us. It will be seen that much of the melody of ‘The Raven’ arises from alliteration, and the studious use of similar sounds in unusual places. In regard to its measure, it may be noted that, if all the verses were like the second, they might properly be placed merely in short lines, producing a not uncommon form; but the presence in all the others of one line — mostly the second in the verse — which flows continuously, with only an aspirate pause in the middle, like that before the short line in the Sapphic Adonis, while the fifth has at the middle pause no similarity of sound with any part beside, gives the versification an entirely different effect.”

This exquisite specimen of hypercritical criticism, made up of words of “learned length and thundering sound,” ­[page 85:] is given as one of the curiosities of American literature. The writer, no doubt, thought he was paying a high compliment to “The Raven,” when he kindly pronounced it a “felicitous specimen of rhyming.” Then his brilliant suggestion in reference to placing the verses in “short lines,” reminds us irresistibly that the writer could not have been long out of his short clothes. But the simple fact that Edgar A. Poe was paid only ten dollars for a poem that has brought more honor upon American literature than all the rest of American poetry combined, a poem that has been proclaimed a masterpiece of genius by the scholars of the world, is sufficient of itself to show how incapable the editor of The American Review was of appreciating the genius of “The Raven.” For the recently discovered early poem of Poe’s, “Alone,” Scribner’s Magazine paid twice as much as Poe received for his masterpiece.

It has been truly said that the first perusal of “The Raven” leaves no distinct understanding, but fascinates the reader with a strange and thrilling interest. It produces upon the mind and heart a vague impression of fate, of mystery, of hopeless sorrow. It sounds like the utterance of a full heart, poured out — not for the sake of telling its sad story to a sympathizing ear — but because he is mastered by his emotions, and cannot help giving vent to them. It more resembles the soliloquies of Hamlet, in which he betrays his struggling thoughts and feelings, ­[page 86:] and in which he reveals the workings of his soul, stirred to its utmost depth by his terrible forebodings.

An American scholar* has furnished the most admirable critique of “The Raven” that has yet been given to the world. After assigning to Poe a place in that illustrious procession of classical poets which includes the names of Milton, Ben Jonson, Herrick, Shelley, and Keats, he says of “The Raven”: “No poem in our language presents a more graceful grouping of metrical appliances and devices. The power of peculiar letters is evolved with a magnificent touch; the thrill of the liquids is a characteristic feature, not only of the refrain, but throughout the compass of the poem; their “linked sweetness, long drawn out,” falls with a mellow cadence, revealing the poet’s mastery of those mysterious harmonies which lie at the basis of human speech. The continuity of the rhythm, illustrating Milton’s ideal of true musical delight, in which the sense is variously drawn out from one verse into another; the alliteration of the Norse-minstrel and the Saxon bard; the graphic delineation and the sustained interest, are some of the features which place ‘The Raven’ foremost among the creations of a poetic art in our age and clime.”

Edgar Poe was not one of those poets, like Addison, “born to write and live with ease;” but modern readers ­[page 87:] find Addison’s “easy writing, hard reading.” The truth is that the affectation of easy writing is no longer in fashion. It is now universally admitted that in poetry, as in all other human pursuits, what is rare and valuable is seldom obtainable without patient labor. “Genius is patience,” says the great Chateaubriand. There never was a more patient genius than Edgar A. Poe. He bestowed both time and pains upon his work. After he had planned “The Raven,” a poem which few minds beside his own could have conceived, he clothed it in a style and language whose force and affluence have seldom, if ever, been surpassed. Professor Shepherd, the American scholar already quoted in this chapter, alludes with classic beauty and grace to this subject of patience, when he says: “The Athenian sculptor, in the palmiest days of Grecian art, wrought out his loveliest conceptions by the painful processes of unflagging diligence. The angel was not evolved from the block by a sudden inspiration, or a brilliant flash of unpremeditated art. No finer illustration of conscious art has been produced in our century than ‘The Raven.’ ”

Poe’s own account of the composition of his masterpiece is one of the strangest revelations that any author has ever given to the world; indeed, it would be incredible if told by any other person than the poet himself. Setting out with the intention of composing a poem that should suit at once the popular and the critical ­[page 88:] taste, and keeping originality always in view, the work proceeded, says Poe, step by step to its completion, with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem. One of Poe’s peculiar theories being that a long poem does not and cannot exist, he limited his poem to one hundred and eight lines. He next considered the impression, or effect, to be produced, and he declares that he kept steadily in view the design of rendering the work universally appreciable. Regarding beauty as the only legitimate province of the poem, and sadness as the highest manifestation of its tone, he selected the idea of a lover lamenting the death of his beautiful beloved as the groundwork of the poem. He then bethought himself of some key-note, some pivot, upon which the whole structure might turn, and decided upon the refrain; determining to produce continuously novel effects by the variation of the application of the refrain, the refrain itself remaining, for the most part, unvaried. The next thing in order was to select a word which would be in the fullest possible keeping with the melancholy tone of the poem. The word “nevermore” was the very first that presented itself. Then it was necessary to have some pretext for the repetition of the one word “nevermore.” The poet says he saw at once that it would not do to put the monotonous word in the mouth of a human being. Immediately the idea arose of a non-reasoning creature capable of speech, and very naturally a parrot, in the ­[page 89:] first instance, suggested itself; but was superseded forthwith by a raven, as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended melancholy tone.

Having, then, decided upon the rhythm of the poem, the next point to be considered was the mode of bringing together the lover and the raven. The poet determined to place the lover in the chamber rendered sacred by memories of her who had frequented it. The bird was next to be introduced. The night was made tempestuous, to account for the raven’s seeking admission, and also for the effect of contrast with the physical serenity within the chamber. The bird was made to alight on the bust of Pallas, also for the effect of contrast between the marble and the plumage, the bust of Pallas being chosen as most in keeping with the scholarship of the lover.

The poem then proceeds, in mournful but melodious numbers, to the dénouement, when we are told the soul of the unhappy poet, from out the shadow of the raven, that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted nevermore.

This is a mere outline of Poe’s masterly analysis of his most extraordinary poem. The world should be grateful to our poet for his “confidential disclosures” in regard to “The Raven.” With what delight would not the world ‘have welcomed Shakespeare’s own account of the conception and composition of “Lear,” of “Macbeth,” of “Hamlet”!

It is a remarkable fact that “The Raven,” the longest ­[page 90:] and most elaborate of all Poe’s poems, is the only one that was never changed or altered by the author. Several editions were published during Poe’s lifetime, but not a stanza, not a line, not a word was changed; as it was first printed in The American Review, so it has ever been printed. The author was satisfied with his work.

“The Raven” established Poe’s fame as the most original poet of America, and placed him in the front rank of the poets of the world. The Edinburgh Review, in a very harsh article, says: “ ‘The Raven’ has taken rank all over the world as the very first poem yet produced on the American Continent.” This poem has been translated into most of the modern and several of the ancient languages. Stephane Mallarmé, who has quite recently translated and published a superbly illustrated edition of “The Raven” in Paris, sent Mrs. Whitman a copy of the volume, and a highly appreciative letter, from which I have been permitted to make the following extracts:

“Whatever is done to honor the memory of a genius the most truly divine the world has seen, ought it not first to obtain your sanction? Such of Poe’s works as our great Baudelaire has left untranslated, this is to say, the poems, and many of the critical fragments, I hope to make known to France, and my first attempt (‘The Raven’) is intended to attract attention to a future work, now nearly completed. . . . Fascinated with the works of Poe from my infancy, it is already a very long time ­[page 91:] since your name became associated with his in my earliest and most intimate sympathies.” In a letter addressed to one of his relations in Baltimore, a few months after the appearance of “The Raven,” Edgar Poe alludes with just pride to the renown which his poetical reputation had conferred upon the family name. A writer in The Southern Literary Messenger declared, with equal truth and beauty, that on the dusky wings of “The Raven,” Edgar A. Poe will sail securely over the gulf of oblivion to the eternal shore.

­ [page 92:]




IN the winter of 1845-6, the literary reputation of Edgar A. Poe had attained its greatest brilliancy. During that time, he resided at 85 Amity Street, New York. A cousin of the poet, who visited him that winter, has told me that Edgar, Virginia, and Mrs. Clemm formed the happiest little family he had ever seen. Edgar was sick at the time of this visit, and the visitor was invited to his chamber. The poet was reclining on a lounge, with Virginia and Mrs. Clemin in devoted attendance upon him. A small table by his side held a bouquet of sweet flowers, two or three books, and some delicacies. Mrs. Osgood, Miss Anna Lynch, and Mrs. Lewis called. Edgar Poe lying sick upon his lounge was the center of attraction. The conversation, in such company, naturally took a literary turn. The invalid poet ­[page 93:] directed it, and all listened, enchanted by his low, musical voice, and the brilliant play of his imagination.

Poe’s acquaintance with Mrs. Frances Sargent Osgood commenced soon after the publication of “The Raven.” That accomplished woman, a few weeks before her early death, wrote an account of their first meeting and subsequent intimacy. She says: “My first meeting with the poet was at the Astor House. A few days previous, Mr. Willis had handed me, at the table d’hôte, that strange and thrilling poem, ‘The Raven.’ Its effect upon me was so singular, so like that of weird, unearthly music, that it was with a feeling almost of dread I heard he desired an introduction. I shall never forget the morning when I was summoned to the drawing-room, by Mr. Willis, to receive him. With his proud and beautiful head erect, his dark eyes flashing with the electric light of feeling and thought, a peculiar and inimitable blending of sweetness and hauteur in his expression and manner, he greeted me calmly, gravely, almost coldly, yet with so sweet an earnestness that I could not help being deeply impressed by it. From that moment until his death we were friends. Of the charming love and confidence that existed between his wife and himself I cannot speak too earnestly, too warmly. It was in his own simple yet poetical home that, to me, the character of Edgar Poe appeared in its most beautiful light. Playful, affectionate, witty; alternately docile and wayward as a petted child; for his ­[page 94:] young, gentle, and idolized wife, and for all who came, he had, even in the midst of the most harassing literary duties, a kind word, a pleasant smile, a graceful and courteous attention. At his desk, beneath the romantic picture of his loved Lenore, he would sit, hour after hour, patient, assiduous, and uncomplaining, tracing in an exquisitely clear chirography, and with almost superhuman swiftness, the lightning thoughts, the ‘rare and radiant’ fancies, as they flashed through his wonderful and ever-wakeful brain. I recollect one morning, toward the close of his residence in New York, when he seemed unusually gay and light-hearted. Virginia, his sweet wife, had written me a pressing invitation to come to them; and I, who never could resist her affectionate summons, and who enjoyed his society far more in his own home than elsewhere, hastened to Amity Street. I found him just completing his series of papers entitled ‘The Literati of New York.’ ‘See,’ said he, displaying in laughing triumph several little rolls of narrow paper (he always wrote thus for the press); ‘I am going to show you, by the difference of length in these, the different degrees of estimation in which I hold all you literary people. In each of these one of you is rolled up and fully discussed. Come, Virginia, help me.’ One by one they unfolded them. At last they came to one which seemed interminable. Virginia laughingly ran to one corner of the room with one end, and her husband to ­[page 95:] the other. ‘And whose lengthened sweetness long drawn out is that?’ said I. ‘Hear her!’ he cried, ‘just as if her vain little heart didn’t tell her it’s herself!’ ”

In May, 1845, while still conducting The Broadway Journal, Poe began his celebrated critical papers, “The Literati of New York,” in Godey’s Lady’s Book, of Philadelphia. The series commenced with George Bush, and terminated with Richard Adams Locke, making thirty-eight in all. The majority of these “literati” have long since passed into merited oblivion. An immense impetus was given to the Lady’s Book by the publication of these papers. People read it who had never read it before. Poe caused as much terror among the literary pigmies as Gulliver caused among the Lilliputian pigmies. As a natural result of such unsparing criticism he made a “host of enemies among persons toward whom he entertained no personal ill-will.” “It was his sensitiveness to artistic imperfections rather than any malignity of feeling that made him so severe a critic.” It has been suggested that an appropriate escutcheon for Edgar Poe would have been the crest of Brian de Bois Gilbert — a raven in full flight, holding in its claws a skull, and bearing the motto, “Gare le Corbeau.”

As the spring of 1846 advanced, the health of Mrs. Poe continued to decline, and fearing the effects of the prostrating summer heat of the city upon the feeble health of the lovely and loved invalid, it was determined to remove ­[page 96:] to the country. The pretty little village of Fordham was chosen for the home of the delicate wife. A tiny Dutch cottage was rented. It was on the top of a picturesque hill, a pretty, romantic spot; the antiquated little house was half buried in fruit trees. This new home was small enough, only boasting four rooms, two below and two above; but it was cool, quiet, and away from the noise and vexations of New York. The parlor was used by Poe as a study. Here he wrote “Ulalume,” “Eureka,” and other productions of his “lonesome latter years.” This room was furnished with exquisite neatness and simplicity. The floor was laid with red and white matting; four cane-seat chairs, a light table, a set of hanging bookshelves, and two or three fine engravings, completed the furniture.

A gentleman who visited Poe at Fordham, in 1846, says: “The cottage had an air of taste and gentility that must have been lent to it by the presence of its inmates. So neat, so poor, so unfurnished, and yet so charming a dwelling I never saw. There was an acre or two of greensward fenced in about the house, as smooth as velvet, and as clean as the best kept carpet. Mr. Poe was so handsome, so impassive in his wonderful, intellectual beauty, so proud and reserved, so entirely a gentleman upon all occasions — so good a talker was he that he impressed himself and his wishes even without words upon those with whom he spoke. His voice was melody itself. He ­[page 97:] always spoke low, even in a violent discussion, compelling his hearers to listen if they would know his opinion, his facts, fancies, or philosophy. Mrs. Poe looked very young; she had large black eyes, and a pearly whiteness of complexion, which was a perfect pallor. Her pale face, her brilliant eyes, and her raven hair, gave her an unearthly look. One felt that she was almost a disrobed spirit, and when she coughed it was made certain that she was rapidly passing away.”

As the winter of 1846-7 approached, the affairs of the little Fordham household grew desperate. The sickness of his wife and his own ill health at this time incapacitated Poe from literary work, his only source of revenue, and, consequently, the family were reduced to the last extremity, wanting even the barest necessaries of life — at a time, too, when Mrs. Poe required the little delicacies so grateful to the sick. It was at this time that N. P. Willis made, in The Home Journal, his generous appeal in behalf of his friend and brother poet. In the course of his article Mr. Willis said: “Here is one of the finest scholars, one of the most original men of genius, and one of the most industrious of the literary profession of our country; whose temporary suspension of labor, from bodily illness, drops him immediately to a level with the common objects of public charity. There is no intermediate stopping-place, no respectful shelter, where, with the delicacy due to genius and culture, he might secure aid, ­[page 98:] till, with returning health, he could resume his labors, and his unmortified sense of independence.” This article was gratefully acknowledged by Poe, in a letter dated December 30, 1846, in which, after alluding to Willis’s “kind and manly comments in The Home Journal,” he says “That my wife is ill is true, and you may imagine with what feeling I add that this illness, hopeless from the first, has been heightened and precipitated by her reception, at two different periods, of anonymous letters. That I myself have been long and dangerously ill, and that my illness has been a well-understood thing among my brethren of the press, the best evidence is afforded by the innumerable paragraphs of personal and literary abuse with which I have been lately assailed. This matter, however, will remedy itself. At the very blush of my new prosperity the gentlemen who toadied me in the old will recollect themselves and toady me again. That I am ‘without friends,’ is a gross calumny, which I am sure you never could have believed, and which a thousand noble-hearted men would have good right never to forgive, for permitting to pass unnoticed and undenied. I am getting better, and may add, if it is any comfort to my enemies, that I have little fear of getting worse. The truth is, I have a great deal to do, and I have made up my mind not to die till it is done.”

Exactly one month from the date of this letter, that is, on the 30th of January, 1847, the loved wife died. Her death-bed was the witness of a scene as sad and pathetic ­[page 99:] as ever told by poet or romance writer. The weather was cold, and Mrs. Poe suffered also from the chills that follow the hectic fever of consumption. The bed was of straw, and was covered only with a spread and sheets, no blanket. Here the dying lady lay, wrapped in her husband’s overcoat, with a large tortoise-shell cat in her bosom. The coat and the cat afforded the only warmth to the sufferer, except that imparted by her mother chafing her feet and her husband her hands. And thus died, at the early age of twenty-five, the wife of America’s greatest genius.

This loss, though long expected, was not the less crushing when it came at last. To a lady of Massachusetts, who had sent him expressions of sympathy, Edgar Poe wrote, a few weeks after the death of his wife “I was overwhelmed by a sorrow so poignant as to deprive me, for several weeks, of all power of thought or action.” Mrs. Clemm told me that “Eddie” often wandered to his wife’s grave at midnight, in the snow and rain, and threw himself upon the mound of earth, calling upon her in words of devoted love, and invoking her gentle spirit to watch over him.

­ [page 100:]




FOR weeks and months after his wife’s death, Edgar Poe was buried in an agony of grief, from which nothing could arouse him. His books, his studies were abandoned; his pen was thrown aside; his usual occupation was neglected. He wandered aimlessly about the country by day, and at night kept long and solitary vigil at the grave of his “lost Lenore.” He seemed to anticipate the death of his wife in that line of “The Raven” where he says, “My soul from out that shadow shall be lifted nevermore.” It never was lifted. After the loss of his wife, Poe was a changed man. He, who never laughed and rarely smiled before, might now almost be said to have “never smiled again.” But the most melancholy effect of this crushing grief was the resort to stimulants, hoping to drown his sorrows in the waters of Lethe. Fatal delusion! Lethe proved, indeed, a river of hell to the unhappy poet. It was not ­[page 101:] for pleasure that he thus sank his noble intellect. “I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge,” he wrote within a year of his death. “It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been in the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness, and a dread of some strange, impending doom.”

But it must not be supposed that this “mad indulgence” was habitual. It was only sometimes, only when driven to despair by “intolerable sorrow,” that he was guilty of follies and excesses, “which,” as he very naturally complained, “are hourly committed by others without attracting any notice whatever.” It is very easy for people who sit down to a sumptuous dinner every day to abuse our poor, lonely, unhappy poet. It is very easy for people who are surrounded by all the luxuries of life to condemn Edgar Poe as a drunkard; whereas, if the truth were known, he was not drunk so often as they have been — they for sensual gratification, he driven to it by misery and despair.

Poe was conscious that he possessed genius; how could the possessor of so grand a genius be ignorant of it? He had adorned his country’s literature with works which the world has pronounced immortal. Yet, in spite of his wealth of genius, perhaps on account of it, he was so poor that he could not comfort his sick and dying wife ­[page 102:] with the most trifling delicacy. It is all very well for people who daily enjoy the best wines to condemn Poe for being bitter and morbid, when he could not afford a glass of wine to warm the chill body of his idolized darling. Poverty, disappointment, and sorrow wrought their worst upon him. He experienced to the utmost “the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” But the death of his wife was the crowning sorrow of his life, the crushing blow from which he never entirely recovered.

In the autumn of the year in which he lost his wife, Poe wrote that strange, fascinating poem, “Ulalume.” It first appeared in The American Review for December, 1847. Willis copied it in The Home Journal, January 1, 1848, with the following notice: “We do not know how many readers we have who will enjoy as we do this exquisitely piquant and skillful exercise of variety and niceness of language. It is a poem full of beauty — a curiosity (and a delicious one, we think) in philologic flavor.” When Willis wrote this notice, he did not know that Poe was the author of the poem. An enthusiastic writer describes “Ulalume” as a piece of perfect witchery produced by words: the conjuror poet waves the wand of his enchantment, and, by the mystic charm of those few verses, solemn, lantern-like phantasmagoria, effects of light and shade; dreamy pictures; intoxication, as if from a charmed chalice; something luxurious, we know not what, form a spell, which works as the “Arabian Nights” ­[page 103:] on the brain of a child; indeed, a whole world is created. Is not this the great art of the poet? He keeps hidden the means; the effect only is understood.

An English writer, after quoting the opening stanzas of “Ulalume,” says: “These to many will appear only words, but what wondrous words! What a spell they wield! What a weird unity there is in them! The instant they are uttered, a misty picture, with a tarn, dark as a murderer’s eye, below, and the thin, yellow leaves of October fluttering above, exponents of a misery which scorns the name of sorrow, is hung up in the chambers of your soul forever.” Mrs. Whitman, in speaking of the strange threnody of “Ulalume,” says: “This poem, perhaps the most original and weirdly suggestive of all his poems, resembles, at first sight, some of Turner’s landscapes, being apparently ‘without form and void, and having darkness on the face of it.’ ” It is, nevertheless, in its basis, although not in the precise correspondence of time, simply historical. Such was the poet’s lonely midnight walk; such, amid the desolate memories and sceneries of the hour, was the new-born hope enkindled within his heart at sight of the morning star —

“Astarte’s be-diamond crescent” —

looming up as the beautiful harbinger of love and happiness, yet awaiting him in the untried future; and such the sudden transition of feeling, the boding dread, that ­[page 104:] supervened, on discovering what had at first been unnoted, that it shone, as if in mockery or in warning, directly over the sepulcher of the lost “Ulalume.”

“Ulalume” was the only piece published by Poe in the year 1847, his “most immemorial year.” During almost this entire period he remained at his quiet cottage home in Fordham. Mrs. Clemm, who shared his grief for their household darling, devoted herself thenceforth exclusively to him. He testified to the kindness of his “dear Muddie,” as he affectionately called her, in a beautiful sonnet, in which he says she had been “more than mother” to him.

But, although Poe published only one piece in 1847, it must not be supposed that his busy brain was idle. It was during the autumn and early winter of that year that “Eureka” was planned, thought out, and, in part, written. To the composition of this work Poe brought the matured powers of his marvelous intellect; all the enthusiasm, all the earnestness of his passionately intellectual nature was thrown into it. Mrs. Clemm told me that while engaged upon this extraordinary prose poem, he would walk up and down the porch in front of the cottage, in the coldest nights of December, with an overcoat thrown over his shoulders, contemplating the stars, and “pondering the deep problems” of the universe, until long after midnight.

By the middle of January, 1848, the work had progressed ­[page 105:] so far that Poe announced his intention of delivering a series of lectures, commencing February 3d, with “Eureka,” or “The Universe,” as it was first called. His aim and object will be found in the following letter addressed to N. P. Willis:

“FORDHAM, January 22, 1848.


“I am about to make an effort at re-establishing myself in the literary world, and feel that I may depend upon your aid.

“My general aim is to start a magazine, to be railed The Stylus; but it would be useless to me, even when established, if not entirely out of the control of a publisher. I mean, therefore, to get up a journal which shall be my own, at all points. With this end in view, I must get a list of at least five hundred subscribers to begin with — nearly two hundred I have already. I propose, however, to go South and West among my personal and literary friends — old college and West Point acquaintances — and see what I can do. In order to get the means of taking the first step, I propose to lecture at the Society Library, on Thursday, the 3d of February, and, that there may be no cause of squabbling, my subject shall not be literary at all. I have chosen a broad text, The Universe.

“Having thus given you the facts of the case, I leave ­[page 106:] all the rest to the suggestions of your own tact and generosity. Gratefully, most gratefully,

“Your friend always,


In response to this letter, Willis published, in The Home Journal, the following generous and appreciative article. “We by accident omitted to mention, in our last week’s paper, that our friend and former editorial associate, Mr. Poe, was to deliver a lecture, on Thursday evening, February 3d, at the Society Library. The subject is rather a broad one, ‘The Universe;’ but, from a mind so original, no text could furnish any clue to what would probably be the sermon. There is but one thing certain about it: that it will be compact of thought, most fresh, startling, and suggestive. Delivered under the warrant of our friend’s purely intellectual features and expression, such a lecture as he must write would doubtless be, to the listeners, a mental treat of a very unusual relish and point.

“We understand that the purpose of Mr. Poe’s lecture is to raise the necessary capital for the establishment of a magazine, which he proposes to call The Stylus. They who like literature without trammels, and criticism without gloves, should send in their names forthwith as subscribers. If there be in the world a born anatomist of thought, it is Mr. Poe. He takes genius and its imitators to pieces with a skill wholly unequaled on either side of the ­[page 107:] water; and neither in criticism nor in his own most singular works of imagination, does he write a sentence that is not vivid and suggestive. The severe afflictions with which Mr. Poe has been visited within the last year have left him in a position to devote himself, self-sacrificingly, to his new task; and, with energies that need the exercise, he will doubtless give it that most complete attention which alone can make such an enterprise successful.”

As announced, the lecture was delivered on Thursday evening, February 3d, 1848. The night was stormy, but there was present a “select but highly appreciative audience, that remained attentive and interested for nearly three hours, under the lecturer’s powerful, able, and profound analytical exposition of his peculiar theory on the origin, creation, and final destiny of the universe. Mr. Poe’s delivery is pure, finished, and chaste in style; his power of reasoning is acute, and his analytical perceptions keen. The lecturer appeared inspired; his eyes seemed to glow like those of his own ‘Raven.’ ”

The pecuniary result of this lecture did not materially advance the prospects of The Stylus. Mrs. Clemm once showed me a book in which were entered the names of the subscribers to The Stylus. This book, with several letters and other interesting Poe papers, mysteriously disappeared after Mrs. Clemm’s death, which took place in Baltimore, February 16th, 1871. The prospectus of The Stylus which was published in 1848 did not differ, in ­[page 108:] any essential particulars, from the prospectus which was published in 1843. Now, as then, the chief purpose of the proposed magazine was to maintain a “sincere and fearless opinion,” an “absolutely independent criticism,” guided by the “intelligible laws of art.”

­ [page 109:]




POE’s lecture upon “The Universe” having failed to draw an audience of more than seventy-five persons, he determined to reach a larger audience by the publication of his lecture in book form. With this view, he carefully revised and enlarged it, and late in the spring of 1848, it was published, under the name of “Eureka.” The book was generally noticed in the papers, magazines, and reviews. “Eureka “ was the most ambitious literary work Edgar Poe ever wrote, and the least successful. He expected much from it in reputation. He got little from it but abuse. “Pagan,” “Pantheist,” “Polytheist,” were among the epithets flung at him by the shallow scribblers of the day.

In the summer of this year Poe visited Richmond, and having formed the acquaintance of John R. Thompson, the editor of The Southern Literary Messenger, engaged to ­[page 110:] furnish contributions to the magazine in which his earliest laurels were won. In the September number of The Messenger appeared his elaborate review of Mrs. Estelle Anna Lewis’s poems. The October number of The Messenger contained Poe’s celebrated article on “The Rationale of Verse,” in the opening of which he alludes, rather strongly, to the inaccuracy, confusion, misconception, and downright ignorance generally prevailing upon a subject which he pronounces exceedingly simple, and “within the limits of the commonest common sense.” He certainly treats the subject with much analytical acumen; but, as it has been truly said, a reference to the carefully finished, free, and original style of “The Raven” will furnish a practical illustration of Poe’s theory. The admirable variety, pause, and cadence of the versification of that poem could only have emanated from a mind well acquainted with the art. A rule must govern the use of words, in order to produce perfect unity and harmony, as necessarily as a rule must be applied to the notes of music, in order to produce the same effect. Nearly as much scientific research is required for the attainment of the one as of the other. Toward the conclusion of this article, Poe devoted two or three paragraphs to showing that what are called “English hexameters” would make much better respectable prose; that, in fact, the English language cannot be turned or twisted into the Greek hexameters. ­[page 111:]

Early in the spring of 1845, Poe was returning to New York from Boston, where he had been invited to deliver a poem, and stopped at Providence. Late at night, he was strolling through the moonlit streets of the city, and saw a lady walking in a beautiful garden. The time, the scene, the circumstances, all made an indelible impression upon the mind of the poet. Three years passed, during which time he did not see again the lady. In the summer of 1848, he addressed to her the exquisite poem, commencing,

“I saw thee once — once only — years ago.”

The lady who had so profoundly interested the poetical soul of Edgar Poe was one of the most brilliant women of New England, the gifted poetess, Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman, of Providence, R. I. Up to this time they had never met, though they had many friends in common. This poem, “To Helen,” conveyed to her the first intelligence of the fact that she had awakened a feeling of interest in the poet’s heart. It was not until early in the autumn of 1848 that Edgar Poe and Mrs. Whitman became personally acquainted. She had long admired the extraordinary genius of the poet. She soon learned to value the generous, enthusiastic, chivalrous heart of the man. In spite of the opposition of Mrs. Whitman’s relations, in spite of the warnings of her friends, she became engaged to Edgar Poe in October of ­[page 112:] this same year, 1848. This engagement was the silver lining to the dark cloud that overspread the latter years of our poet’s life. It opened a prospect of happiness for him — even for him, the desolate and despairing. Like the gleam of light that cheered Sinbad in the Cave of Death and restored him to life, did this engagement hold out a saving hope to the soul of the unhappy master of “The Raven,” and promise to restore him once again to love.

Mrs. Osgood said that, in his letters, far more than in his published writings, the genius of Edgar Poe was most gloriously revealed; they were divinely beautiful. His letters to Mrs. Whitman at this time are the most passionately eloquent that we have ever read. But they are, for the most part, strictly personal, and we can only give here a few brief extracts from them. Listen to his proud protest against the charge of indifference to moral obligations so often and so recklessly urged against him

“FORDHAM, October 18, 1848.

. . . . “Of what avail to me in my deadly grief are your enthusiastic words of mere admiration? You do not love me, or you would have felt too thorough a sympathy with the sensitiveness of my nature to have so wounded me as you have done with this terrible passage of your letter: ‘How often have I heard men and even women say of you, “He has great intellectual power, but no principle, no moral sense.’ ” Is it possible that such ­[page 113:] expressions as these could have been repeated to me — to me — by one whom I love; ah, whom I love?

“For nearly three years I have been ill, poor, living out of the world; and thus, as I now painfully see, have afforded opportunity to my enemies to slander me in private society without my knowledge, and, thus, with impunity. Although much, however, may (and, I now see, must) have been said to my discredit during my retirement, those few who, knowing me well, have been steadfastly my friends, permitted nothing to reach my ears — unless in one instance of such a character that I could appeal to a court of justice for redress. I replied to the charge fully, in a public newspaper, suing The Mirror (in which the scandal appeared), obtaining a verdict, and recovering such an amount of damages as, for the time, to completely break up that journal.

“And you ask me why men so misjudge me — why I have enemies? If your knowledge of my character and of my career does not afford you an answer to the query, at least it does not become me to suggest the answer. Let it suffice that I have had the audacity to remain poor, that I might preserve my independence; that, nevertheless, in letters, to a certain extent, and in some regards, I have been successful; that I have been a critic — an unscrupulously honest, and, no doubt, in many cases, a bitter one; that I have uniformly attacked — where I attacked at all — those who stood highest in power and influence; ­[page 114:] and that, whether in literature or in society, I have seldom refrained from expressing, either directly or indirectly, the pure contempt with which the pretensions of ignorance, arrogance, or imbecility inspire me.

“And you, who know all this, you ask me why I have enemies. Ah! I have a hundred friends for every individual enemy; but has it ever occurred to you that you do not live among my friends? Had you read my criticisms generally, you would see why all those whom you know best know me least, and are my enemies. Do you not remember with how deep a sigh I said to you, ‘My heart is heavy, for I see that your friends are not my own’? Forgive me, best and beloved Helen, if there is bitterness in my tone. Toward you there is no room in my soul for any other sentiment than devotion. It is fate only which I accuse. It is my own unhappy nature.”

No truly generous person can read without a feeling of sympathy this eloquent remonstrance against the base injustice of men who stabbed the character of Poe in the dark; waiting until he was “ill, and poor, and living out of the world.”

In a letter to Mrs. Whitman, dated November 24, 1848, occurs this powerful passage: “The agony which I have so lately endured — an agony known only to my God and to myself — seems to have passed my soul through fire, and purified it from all that is weak. Henceforward, ­[page 115:] I am strong; this, those who love me shall see, as well as those who have so relentlessly endeavored to ruin me. It needed only some such trials as I have just undergone to make me what I was born to be, by making me conscious of my own strength.”

In six weeks from the time when they first became engaged the affair had reached so near a point, that Poe wrote to his friend, W. J. Pabodie, at Providence, requesting him to get the Rev. Dr. Crocker to publish the intended marriage at his earliest convenience. Yet, in a few weeks, the engagement was broken off. Why, still remains a mystery; but, certainly, Poe was not blamable in the matter, for Mrs. Whitman always remained his friend; has always defended him, both in private and in public; and, in “Edgar Poe, and his Critics,” furnished the ablest and most eloquent defense of her dead friend that has yet been given to the world. Read the concluding stanzas of her beautiful and touching monody entitled “The Portrait of Poe,” and then judge whether any woman could thus write of the man who had grossly insulted (as has been alleged) the dearest and most sensitive feelings of her nature:

“Sweet, mournful eyes, long closed upon earth’s sorrow,

Sleep restfully after life’s fevered dream!

Sleep, wayward heart, till, on some bright cool morrow,

Thy soul, refreshed, shall bathe in morning’s beam. ­[page 116:]


“Though cloud and shadow rest upon thy story,

And rude hands lift the drapery of thy pall,

Time, as a birthright, shall restore thy glory,

And Heaven rekindle all the stars that fall.”

Were more proof required that Edgar Poe’s conduct in this affair was that of an honorable, high-souled gentleman, it will be found in the fact that Mrs. Whitman addressed six sonnets to his memory; sonnets breathing the most passionate admiration; sonnets which exhibit, with noble eloquence, the real nobility and fascination and power of her poet-lover. The first of these sonnets thus concludes:

Thou wert my destiny — thy song, thy fame,

The wild enchantments clustering round thy name

Were my soul’s heritage — its regal dower:

Its glory, and its kingdom, and its power.”

The last of the six sonnets is full of the most sublime sorrow for the lost lover, and ends with an intense longing for a never-ending reunion:

“Oh, yet, believe, that, to that ‘hollow vale,’

Where thy soul lingers, waiting to attain

So much of Heaven’s sweet grace as shall avail

To lift its burden of remorseful pain,

My soul shall meet thee, and its Heaven forego,

Till God’s great love on both one hope, one Heaven bestow.” ­[page 117:]

When the engagement was on the point of being severed, the poet, in a letter to Mrs. Whitman, drew the following exquisite picture of his ideal home:

“I suffered my imagination to stray with you, and with the few who love us both, to the banks of some quiet river in some lovely valley of our land. Here, not too far secluded from the world, we exercised a taste controlled by no conventionalities, but the sworn slaves of a natural art in the building for ourselves a cottage, which no human being could ever pass without an ejaculation of wonder at its strange, weird, and incomprehensible yet simple beauty. Oh! the sweet and gorgeous, but not often rare flowers in which we half buried it, the grandeur of the magnolias and tulip trees which stood guarding it, the luxurious velvet of its lawn, the luster of the rivulet that ran by its very door, the tasteful yet quiet comfort of its interior, the music, the books, the unostentatious pictures, and above all the love, the love that threw an unfading glory over the whole! Alas! all is now a dream.”

­ [page 118:]




WE have reached the last year of Edgar Poe’s life — that life so full of sorrow, so full of suffering, but so full of literary glory. This last year did not yield much fruit, but the fruit that it yielded was precious as the golden apples of the Hesperides.

Edgar Poe passed the winter and spring of 1849 at his secluded home in Fordham. The only variety to relieve the monotony of his quiet life was the occasional visit of a friend, or a visit of a few days, by him and Mrs. Clemm, to their friend, Mrs. Estelle Anna Lewis, in Brooklyn. “Annabel Lee” and “The Bells” were the rich results of this winter’s work.

On the 30th of June, Poe departed on his last trip to the South. The months of July, August, and September were spent in Richmond. During this time he boarded either at the old Swan Hotel, or resided in the family of Mrs. John H. McKenzie, at Duncan Lodge, in ­[page 119:] the suburbs of the city. She was the lady who adopted Rosalie Poe at the time that Mr. Allan adopted Edgar. The latter, from his childhood, had been upon the most intimate terms with the McKenzie family, and was always a most welcome visitor at their house; in fact it was his home whenever he visited Richmond. It was during this last visit to Richmond that Poe delivered his beautiful lecture upon “The Poetical Principle,” before one of the most cultivated audiences that had ever been brought together at the Exchange Concert-room.

Mrs. Elmira Shelton, the Miss Royster to whom Edgar Poe had been engaged eighteen years before, was now a widow. He renewed his former intimate acquaintance with her, visited her frequently, and in September they became engaged. About the middle of that month he wrote to Mrs. Clemm that his marriage was appointed for the 17th of October. This letter, although announcing the “happy event,” was very sad, as if the writer was oppressed by a sense of impending doom. On Tuesday, the 2d of October, Poe left Richmond by boat for Baltimore, where he arrived the next morning. His intention was to go to Fordham, and bring Mrs. Clemm to Richmond for his wedding. He had written her to be ready to return with him on the 10th — that he had determined to pass the rest of his life amid the scenes of his happy youth.

What became of Poe, after he arrived in Baltimore on that October morning, will probably never be known. ­[page 120:] It was an election day. His cousin, Mr. Neilsen Poe told me that on the evening of that day he was informed that a gentleman named Poe was in a back room of the Fourth Ward polls, on Lombard Street, between High and Exeter Streets. Mr. Poe went there, and found Edgar A. Poe in a state of stupefaction. He had been “cooped,” and voted all over the city. A carriage was called, and the dying poet was conveyed to the Washington College Hospital, on Broadway, north of Baltimore Street. There, on the following Sunday, October 7th, he died, remaining insensible to the last. Had he lived until the 19th of January, 1850, he would have been forty-one years old. At four o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, October 9th, the body of Edgar A. Poe was buried in the midst of his ancestors, in the cemetery attached to the Westminster Church, southeast corner of Fayette and Greene Streets. It was a dull, cold, autumn day — just such a day as he had described in “Ulalume”:

“The skies they were ashen and sober,

The leaves they were crisped and sere.”

Only eight persons attended the funeral of the author of “The Raven.”

Both “The Bells” and “Annabel Lee” were published in Sartain’s Magazine, of Philadelphia, after Poe’s death. The former, consisting at first of only two short stanzas, was left with the editor of The Magazine in July, 1849, ­[page 121:] when the poet stopped in Philadelphia on his way to the South. The poem was accepted and put in type, but before its appearance the author greatly enlarged it, and before its actual publication he sent to the editor the complete version of the poem in the form in which it finally appeared in the November number of The Magazine for 1849. “Annabel Lee” was published in Sartain’s Magazine in January, 1850. A writer in The British Quarterly Review pronounces “Annabel Lee” one of the most graceful effusions in all literature.

For more than a quarter of a century the grave of Edgar A. Poe possessed no stone to tell the passing visitor that America’s greatest genius there reposed. Strangers from distant lands visited Baltimore, and sought the grave of Poe as a pilgrim’s shrine. Great was their astonishment when, after much inquiry and diligent search, they at last found the poet’s grave — a forlorn, forsaken spot in an obscure corner of an obscure church-yard. Rank weeds covered the neglected mound, but none of the violets and roses and pansies which the poet loved.

Such for twenty-six years was the resting-place of the author of “The Raven.” Such is no longer the condition of our poet’s grave. On the 17th of November, 1875, a beautiful monument was dedicated to the honor of Edgar A. Poe, in the presence of an immense assemblage, comprising the wealth, taste, and culture of Baltimore. Poetry, music, and eloquence, each contributed to the ­[page 122:] interesting occasion. What a contrast was offered by this splendid demonstration to the scant ceremony and scantier attendance on that dreary autumn afternoon twenty-six years before, when the body of the poet was privately buried! Then, eight persons followed him to the grave, while more than a thousand persons were present at the dedication of the Poe Monument.

­ [page 123:]



THERE are many persons — intelligent and cultivated persons — who believe, and always will believe, that Edgar Poe was a drunken vagabond, whose whole life was one long fit of intoxication. It never seems to occur to these worthy people that a drunkard’s intellect could not have produced the literary work which stands an immortal monument of Poe’s genius; that the painful process of reasoning, and the wonderful analytical power in his writings display the clearest, the most brilliant mind. Besides the ancient and modern languages, his works show a familiarity with natural history, mineralogy, philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, etc. Habitual drunkards do not, generally speaking, spend their time in accumulating vast stores of learning.

It does seem very suspicious that only one of Poe’s ­[page 124:] acquaintances knew of his “frequent fits of intoxication.” N. P. Willis, who was in daily intercourse with him for months, saw nothing of his dissipated habits; L. A. Wilmer, during an intimate friendship of twelve years, saw nothing of it; George R. Graham, who was associated with him daily for two years, saw nothing of it; S. D. Lewis, who lived in the closest intimacy with him, never saw him drink a glass of wine, beer, or liquor of any kind. The fact is, that it was only at rare intervals, and more especially after the loss of his adored wife, that he indulged in stimulants at all. Upon those occasions, the lines in Dermody’s “Enthusiast” might be applied to Poe:

“He who such polished lines so well could form,

Was Passion’s slave, Intoxication’s child;

Now earth-enamored, a groveling worm,

Now seraph-plumed, the wonderful, the wild.”

Poe was a most laborious, painstaking, industrious writer. Mrs. Clemm told me that it was a regular habit of his, when editor of Graham’s Magazine, to sit down to his desk after breakfast, and write five pages of print before going to bed. He never sat down to write until he had completely arranged the plot, the characters, and even the language. His habit was to walk up and down while thinking out his work.

Neilson Poe says Edgar was one of the best-hearted men that ever lived. People who only met him in society, ­[page 125:] where his manner was often cold and repelling, could not believe him otherwise than proud and cynical. It was in the bosom of his own little family, and among the intimate friends whom he loved and trusted, the “few who loved him, and whom he loved,” that his tender and affectionate nature manifested itself in all its sweetness.

Every person who came in personal contact with Edgar Poe speaks of his elegant appearance, the stately grace of his manners, and his fascinating conversation. “His manners were winning in the extreme,” says an accomplished lady, “his voice a marvel of melody.” “His conversation was bright, earnest, and fascinating,” says another.”[[sic]] “He impressed me as a man inspired by noble and exalted sentiments,” says Dr. N. C. Brooks, who was his friend from first to last. “I do not think it possible to overstate the gentlemanly reticence and amenity of his habitual manner,” says Mrs. Whitman, in a letter lying before me.

Edgar Poe was five feet six inches high; in his person there was a perfect blending of grace with strength; his shoulders were broad, his chest full, his waist small, his limbs symmetrical, his feet and hands as beautiful and shapely as a girl’s. He had the firm step, erect form, and military bearing observable in all West-Pointers. His eyes were dark gray, with a sad but fascinating expression: ­[page 126:]

“Those melancholy eyes that seemed

To look beyond all time, or, turned

On eyes they loved, so softly beamed —

How few their mystic language learned.


“How few could read their depths, or know

The proud, high heart that dwelt alone

In gorgeous palaces of woe,

Like Eblis on his burning throne.”

Over his broad, white forehead fell the rich, dark hair, almost as black as the wings of his own “Raven.” The “sweet, imperious mouth,” when opened by one of the poet’s rare but beautiful smiles, disclosed the most brilliant teeth in the world. His complexion was pale, but it was a clear, “translucent pallor,” not the sickly hue of ill health.

Poe always dressed with extreme elegance and in perfect taste; he generally wore gray clothes, a loose black cravat, and turn-down collar.

Edgar A. Poe was a genuine American writer. He was one of the first American authors who dared to have a literary opinion different from that of England. He did not wait for a transatlantic verdict upon a poet, novelist, or historian before he delivered his opinion, and he maintained it with irresistible force. He was perfectly free from that spirit of literary Anglo-mania, which was so generally prevalent in this country thirty or forty years ago. He did more to establish a native American literature ­[page 127:] than all the writers that preceded him. Let it never be forgotten that Edgar A. Poe has conferred upon our country the glory of having produced the most original poet of the century.

A man, whose early death saved him from the penitentiary for the crime of bigamy, was the first to start the charge that Poe was utterly void of conscience, that he “exhibited scarcely any virtue in either his life or his writings.” We gladly admit that Edgar Poe did not exhibit any of the peculiar “virtues” of this libeler “in his life or his writings.” We confidently point to the present memoir as a triumphant answer to this base and gratuitous charge as to the life of Poe. As to his writings, there is not a sentence, a line, a word in all the four closely-printed volumes that could bring a blush to the most delicate maiden’s cheek, and, as Hannay, the English critic, says, “His poetry is all as pure as wild flowers.” Again: “With all his passion for the beautiful, no poet was ever less voluptuous. He never profaned his genius.” No; his love of beauty was not the gross love of the sensualist; it was rather the spiritualized, ethereal, heavenly adoration of the seraph.

It is a matter of surprise that any American writer, who really has at heart the honor of American literature, should endeavor to cast reproach and dishonor upon Edgar A. Poe, who has done more for our country’s literary reputation ­[page 128:] than any other author. It is hard to stop a falsehood once started. So, every month or two, some hungry penny-a-liner takes up the, old, worn-out stories against Poe, dresses them up in new clothes, and palms them upon a credulous and unsuspecting world. The malignancy of these literary vermin is only exceeded by their ignorance.

Poe and Byron have often been compared. They were alike only in the divine gift of genius. But how different their earthly lot! Byron, at an early age, became the lord of Newstead Abbey, a magnificent inheritance. Poe, at an early age, was cast upon the world homeless and friendless. Byron was descended from a long and distinguished line of nobles; he was prouder of being a descendant of the Norman gentleman who came over with the Conqueror, and whose name was inscribed in Doomsday Book, than he was of having written “Childe Harold,” or “Manfred.” Poe, though of a good family, was the son of a poor player. Byron, at twenty-four, was the most famous poet of his age, the idol of the aristocratic society of England, and the most beautiful women in the world were striving for his smile. Poe, at twenty-four, was living in poverty and obscurity. Byron, after a literary career unexampled for success and brilliancy, died in the glorious struggle for Grecian independence. Poe, after a literary career crowded with suffering and sorrow, died miserably in a public hospital. Poe suffered, but he ­[page 129:] drew no man down with him; he did not attempt to shake any man’s religion; he seduced no one from the path of virtue by the voluptuous enchantment of his writings. Byron did this, and more than this: to the evil influence of his writings he added the evil example of his life.

Edgar Poe was, perhaps, the most scholarly writer our country has ever produced. His acquaintance with classical literature was thorough. His familiarity with modern literature, especially French and Italian, was extensive, while, of English literature, it can be truly said he knew it from the very source — from Chaucer, the first poet-laureate, in the fourteenth century, to Tennyson, the last poet-laureate, in the nineteenth century. Even the most insignificant of his writings show scholarship. In the language of Mr. Kennedy, “His taste was replete with classical flavor, and he wrote in the spirit of an old Greek philosopher.”

Dying so young, and accomplishing so much, we may confidently conjecture what the author of “The Raven” might have done had he reached the number of years allotted to man. But the fame of Edgar A. Poe is secure; it can never die.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 20:]

*  Admiral MacBride ways a distinguished officer of the British Navy, and took a conspicuous part in the engagement off Copenhagen, in March, 1801, under Lord Nelson. Admiral MacBride was a member of Parliament for several years. Mrs. John Poe, the mother of General Poe, died in Baltimore, at the age of one hundred and six, and was buried in Westminster Church-yard.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 21:]

*  Among other things, General Poe furnished two brass cannons, which were used at Yorktown. His patriotism ruined him pecuniarily, and he died quite poor.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 24:]

*   William Poe, a younger brother of General Poe, removed to Georgia shortly after the Revolution, and settled in Augusta. He married the sister of the Hon. John Forsyth. His son, Hon. Washington Poe, was a member of Congress from Georgia.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 39:]

*  It was printed by Matchett & Woods, who have printed the Baltimore City Directory for nearly half a century. Hatch & Dunning were two young men from New York who started in Baltimore with a small capital. After a year or two they disappeared.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 44:]

*  Mr. Allan had three children by his second wife: John, the eldest, married Henrietta Hoffman, the only child of William Henry Hoffman, Esq., of Baltimore. At the commencement of the late civil war, John Allan entered the Confederate Army, and was killed at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863, while commanding a Virginia regiment. The second son, William, married his brother’s widow; he died in 1868, and his wife died in 1870. Mrs. Henrietta Allan had two children by her first husband, Hoffman and Louise Gabrielle. They are living with their grandmother in Richmond. Patterson Allan, the third son, married a lady of Cincinnati, who was banished from Richmond, by Jefferson Davis, as a Union spy.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 50:]

*  L. A. Wilmer, author of “The Quacks of Helicon,” etc.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 86:]

*  Professor Henry E. Shepherd, of Baltimore.



The “Revised Edition” of 1879 contains only a few small changes from the earlier text, chiefly in the first chapter, pp. 25-26 (where Didier enhances the myth that Poe’s parents died in the Richmond Theatre fire). A minor phrase is slightly altered on p. 33. On p. 117, a paragraph about the death of Mrs. Whitman in 1877 was added.

As with most of the early biographies, this article is full of problems. Among one of the most curious of these problems is the statement on page 90 that Poe never altered “The Raven.” In fact, Poe revised the poem many times, often rather notably. Indeed, he made his first revisions before the poem even appeared in the American Review. Poe was, it would appear, not quite satisfied with the poem, certainly not the initial versions. It is also far from the longest of Poe’s poems, taking a distant third place in this regard in comparison to “Tamerlane” and “Al Aaraaf.”


[S:0 - WEAP, 1877] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Life of Edgar A. Poe (E. L. Didier, 1877)