Text: John H. Ingram, “Chapter 18,” Edgar Allan Poe: Life, Letters, and Opinions (1880), pp. 129-159


[page 129:]



WITH the new year (1848) Edgar Poe’s literary activity recommenced. In the first instance, he circulated as widely as possible the prospectus of his projected magazine, the Stylus, sending copies to all his friends and acquaintances in various parts of the States, and, generally, with an explanatory letter, This prospectus, which slightly varied, from time to time, at every reprint, is extremely interesting, as showing what were the poet’s real views with respect to his life-long project, and what ideas he had formed as to the beau ideal of a journal. The prospectus reads: —


A Monthly Journal of Literature Proper, the Fine Arts, and the Drama.

To be Edited by


To the Public. — Since resigning the conduct of the Southern Literary Messenger at the beginning of its third [page 130:] year, and more especially since retiring from the Editorship of Graham’s Mazagine soon after the commencement of its second, I have had always in view the establishment of a monthly journal which should retain one or two of the chief features of the work first mentioned, abandoning or greatly modifying its general character; — but not until now have I felt at liberty to attempt the execution of this design.

“I shall be pardoned for speaking more directly of the two magazines in question. Having in neither of them any proprietary right; the objects of their worthy owners, too, being at variance with my own; I found it not only impossible to effect anything, on the score of taste, for their mechanical appearance, but difficult to stamp upon them internally that individuality which I believed essential to their success. In regard to the permanent influence of such publications, it appears to me that continuity and a marked certainty of purpose are requisites of vital importance; but attainable only where one mind alone has at least the general control. Experience, to be brief, has shown me that in founding a journal of my own, lies my sole chance of carrying out to completion whatever peculiar intentions I may have entertained.

“These intentions are now as heretofore. It shall be the chief purpose of the magazine proposed, to become known as one wherein may be found at all times, on all topics within its legitimate reach, a sincere and a fearless opinion. It shall be a leading object to assert in precept and to maintain in practice the rights, while in effect it demonstrates the advantages, of an absolutely independent criticism: a criticism self-sustained; guiding itself only by intelligible laws of art; analysing these laws as it applies them; holding itself [page 131:] aloof from all personal bias, and acknowledging no fear save that of the Right.

“In the first number of the Stylus the Editor will commence the publication of a work on which he has been employed unremittingly for the last two years. It will be called I Literary America,’ and will endeavour to present, much in detail, that great desideratum, a faithful account of the literary productions, literary people, and literary affairs of the United States.

“There is no design, however, to make the journal a critical one solely, or even very especially. It will aim. at something more than the usual magazine variety, and at affording a fair field for the true talent of the land, without reference to the mere prestige of name or the advantages of worldly position. But since the efficiency of the work must in great measure depend upon its defanitiveness, the STYLUS will limit itself to Literature Proper, the Fine Arts, and the Drama.

“In regard to what is going on, within the limits assigned, throughout the civilised world, it will be a principal object of the magazine to keep its readers really au courant. For this end, accurate arrangements have been made at London, Paris, Rome and Vienna. The most distinguished of American scholars has agreed to superintend the department of classical letters.* At all points the moat effective aid is secured.”

The remainder of the prospectus is devoted to the more technical portion of the project, being chiefly concerned with the matters of the journal’s mechanical [page 132:] execution — which was promised to be far superior to the ordinary magazine style — with the quality of the paper, the rate of subscription, and so forth. Engravings, it may be noted, were promised not only to be of the highest art, but to be “only in obvious illustration of the text,” which was in contradiction of the custom then pretty prevalent in America, of “cooking up” some kind of text, or the other, to illustrate the illustration. Altogether, if this prospectus — dated “New York City, January 1848,” and signed by the poet — promised much, it only propounded a feasible scheme that, an more practical and more worldly-wise hands, should have and must have succeeded, when backed by so renowned and fascinating a reputation as was Poe’s.

At this period the poet was so sa amume of the success of his project, that his conversation and correspondence both were filled with the subject. He wrote to all his friends to assist him, forwarding them — the prospectus and endeavouring to galvanise them into enthusiasm. From a letter to an old and long-neglected correspondent he wrote on the 4th of January in these terms: —

“GOOD FRIEND: — Your last, dated July 26th, ends with — ‘Write, will you not?’ I have been living ever since in a constant state of intention to write, and finally concluded not to write at all, until I could say something definite [page 133:] about the Stylus and other matters. You perceive that I now send you a Prospectus. But before I speak farther on this topic, let me succinctly reply to various points in your letter.

“1. ‘Hawthorne’ is out. How do you like it?

“2. ‘The Rationale of Verse’ was found to come down too heavily (as I forewarned you it did) upon some of poor Colton’s friends in Frogpondium — the ‘pundits,’ you know; so I gave him ‘a song’ for it and took it back. The song was ‘Ulalume — a Ballad,’ published in the December number of the American Review. I enclose it, as copied by the Home Journal (Willis’s paper, with the editor’s remarks. Please let me know how you like ‘Ulaume.’ As for the ‘Rat. of Verse,’ I sold it to ‘Graham’ at a round advance on Colton’s price, and in Graham’s hands it is still but not to remain even there; for I paean to get it back, revise or rewrite it (since ‘Evangeline’ has been published), and deliver it as a lecture when I go South and West on my Magazine expedition.

“3. I have been ’so still’ on account of preparation for the Magazine campaign; also, have been working at my book — nevertheless I have written some trifles not yet published — same which have been.

“4. My heath is better — best. I have never been so well.

“6. The ‘common friend’ alluded to is Mrs. Frances S. Osgood, the poetess.

“7. I agree with you only in part, as regards Miss Fuller.* She has some general, but no particular, critical powers. She belongs to a school of criticism — the Göthean, [page 134:] aesthetic, eulogistic. The creed of this school is that, in criticising an author, you must imitate hire, ape him, out Herod - Herod. . . . For example, she abuses Lowell (the best of our poets, perhaps) on account of a personal quarrel . with him. She has omitted all mention of me, for the same reason — although, a short time before the issue of her book, she praised me highly in the Tribune. I enclose you her criticism, that you may judge for yourself. She praised ‘Witchcraft,’ because Mathews . . . wrote it. In a word, she is an ill-tempered and very inconsistent Old Maid — avoid her.

“And now, having replied to all your queries, let me refer to the Stylus. I am resolved to be my own publisher. To be controlled is to be ruined. My ambition is great. If I succeed, I put myself (within two years) in possession of a fortune and infinitely more. My plan is to go through the South and West, and endeavor to interest my friends so as to commence with a list of at least five hundred subscribers. With this list, I can take the matter into my own hands. There are some of my friends who have sufficient confidence in me to advance their subscription — but, at all events, succeed I will. Can you or will you help me? I have room to say no more. Truly yours, E. A. POE.”

If the poet expected his many acquaintances, and still more numerous admirers, to send him’ their dollars in advance, he speedily discovered his mistake, and saw that some other means must be adopted towards raising the amount requisite to defray his preliminary expenses. In order, therefore, to obtain sufficient capital to start him upon his tour in search [page 135:] of subscribers, he determined to deliver a series of lectures, and, in the subjoined letter to Mr. H. D. Chapin, thus expresses his ideas on the subject, and the helplessness of his position: —

“FORDHAMJan 17 — 48.

“MY DEAR SIR, — Mrs. Shew intimated to me, not long ago, that you would, perhaps, lend me your aid in my endeavour to re-establish myself in the literary world; and I now venture to ask your assistance. When I last spoke with you, I mentioned my design of going to see Mr. Neal at Portland, and there, with his influence, deliver a Lecture — the proceeds of which might enable me to take the first steps towards my proposed Magazine: — that is to say, put, perhaps, $100 in my pocket; which would give me the necessary outfit and start me on my tour. But, since our conversation, I have been thinking that a better course would be to make interest among my friends here — in N. Y. city — and deliver a Lecture, in the first instance, at the ’Society Library. With this object in view, may I beg of you so far to assist me as to procure for me the use of the Lecture Room? The difficulty with me is that payment for the Room is demanded in advance and I have no money. I believe the price is $15. I think that, without being too sanguine, I may count upon an audience of some 3 or 4 hundreds — and if even goo are present, I shall be enabled to proceed with my plans.

“Should you be so kind as to grant me the aid I request, I should like to engage the Room for the first Thursday in February. — Gratefully yours, EDGAR A. POE.

“I am deeply obliged to you for your note of introduction [page 136:] to Col Webb. As yet I have not found an opportunity of presenting it — thinking it best to do so when I speak to him about the Lecture.”

Mr. Chapin, or some other friend, apparently smoothed down all difficulties, for Poe made his definite arrangement for delivering the initial lecture of his campaign. Matters being thus far arranged, it became necessary to make the affair as public as possible, and in pursuance of this plan the aid of friendly editors had to be enlisted. N. P. Willis was, of course, applied to, and in these terms: —

“FORDHAM, January 22, 1848.

“MY DEAR MR. WILLIS, — 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 called 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 3rd 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.’ [page 137:]

“Having thus given you the facts of the case, I leave all the rest to the suggestions of your own tact and generosity. — Gratefully, most gratefully, your friend always, —


Upon receipt of this communication, or rather upon a reminder that he had not alluded to Poe’s intimation, Willis announced in the Home Journal that he had “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 3rd, 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. . . . The severe afflictions with which Mr. Poe has been visited within [page 138:] the last years 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 that most complete attention which alone can make such an enterprise successful.”

Although Poe had given Willis “the facts of the case,” he neither wished nor expected that his quondam associate should make them all public be wished the lecture to be announced, but not the cause of the lecture being given. However, he had now to make the best of it, and exert himself to the utmost to face the public. Whatever curiosity there may have been to see the poet after his lengthy seclusion, and the distressing causes of it, certain it is that far too few persons attended the lecture to have rendered it a success, at least from a pecuniary point of view. The address was delivered in the library of the New York Historical Society, and was on the Cosmoaony of the Universe, being, with some variation, a précis of his subsequently published “Eureka.”

But few journals had drawn attention to the forthcoming lecture, and its delivery, it is recorded, took place on a stormy night: these reasons may, perhaps, account for the smallness of the audience. “There were not more than sixty persons in the room,” says Mr. M. B. Field, who was present. “The lecture was a rhapsody of the most intense brilliancy. Poe appeared [page 139:] inspired, and his inspiration affected the scant audience almost painfully. His eyes seemed to glow like those of his own ‘Raven,’ and he kept us entranced for two hours and a half.”

Such scant audiences, despite the enthusiasm of the lecturer, or the lectured, could not give much material aid toward the furtherance of the poet’s project. But, although poor and, for a time, baffled, he never for an instant gave up his hope, indeed, his certainty, of succeeding ultimately in starting his proposed periodical. For a time he had to return to his lonely Fordham home, to contemplate anew the complex problems of creation; or to discuss with stray, and often heedless, visitors, with an intensity of feeling and steadfastness of belief never surpassed, his unriddling of the secret of the Universe.

Writing to a correspondent on the 29th of February, he thus hopefully lays down his future plan of proceeding: —

“I mean to start for Richmond on the 10th March. Everything has gone as I wished it, and my final success is certain, or I abandon all claims to the title of Vates. The only contretemps of any moment, lately, has been Willis’s somewhat premature announcement of my project: — but this will only force me into action a little sooner than I had proposed. Let me now answer the points of your last letter.

“C—— acted pretty much as all mere men of the world act. I think vary little the worse of him for his endeavor [page 140:] to succeed with you at my expense. I always liked him, and I believe he liked me. His ‘I understand the matter perfectly’ amuses ms. Certainly, then, it was the only matter he did understand. His intellect was 0.

“ ‘The Rationale of Verse’ will appear in Graham, after all.* I will stop in Philadelphia to see the proofs.

“As for Godey, he is a good little man, and means as well as he knows how. . . .

“The ‘most distinguished of American scholars is Professor Charles Anthon, author of the ‘Classical Dictionary.’

“I presume you have seen some newspaper notices of my late lecture on the Universe. You could have gleaned, however, no idea of what the lecture was, from what the papers said it was. All praised it — as far as I have yet seen — and all absurdly misrepresented it. The only report of it which approaches the truth is the one I enclose — from the Express — written by E. A. Hopkins, a gentleman of much scientific acquirement, son of Bishop Hopkins, of Vermont; but he conveys only my general idea, and his digest is full of inaccuracies. I enclose also a slip from the Courier and Enquirer. Please return them. To eke out a chance of your understanding what I really did say, I add a loose summary of my propositions and results: —

“The General Proposition is this — Because Nothing was, therefore All Things are.

“1. An inspection of the universality of Gravitation — i.e., of the fact that each particle tends, not to any one common point, but to every other particle — suggests perfect totality, or absolute unity, as the source of the phenomenon.

“2. Gravity is but the mode in which is manifested the [page 141:] tendency of all things to return into their original unity — is but the reaction of the first Divine Act.

“3. The law regulating the return — i. e., the law of Gravitation — is but a necessary result of the necessary and sole possible mode of equable irradiation of matter through space: this equable irradiation is necessary as a basis for the Nebular Theory of Laplace.

“4. The Universe of Stars (contradistinguished from the Universe of Space) is limited.

“5. Mind is cognisant of Matter only through its two properties, attraction and repulsion: therefore Matter is only attraction and repulsion: a finally consolidated globe — of globes, being but one particle, would be without attraction — i.e., gravitation: the existence of such a globe presupposes the expulsion of the separative ether which we know to exist between the particles as at present diffused: thus the final globe would be matter without attraction and repulsion: but these are matter: then the final globe would be matter without matter — i. e., no matter at all: it must disappear. Thus Unity is Nothingness.

“6. Matter, springing from Unity, sprang from Nothingness — i.e., was created.

“7. All will return to Nothingness, in returning to Unity.

“Read these items after the Report. As to the Lecture, I am very quiet about it — but, if you have ever dealt with such topics, you will recognise the novelty and moment of my views. What I have propounded will (in good time) revolutionise the world of Physical and Metaphysical Science. I say this calmly — but I say it.

“I shall not go till I hear from you. — Cordially —

“E. A. POE.

[page 142:]

“By the by, lest you infer that my views, in detail, are the same with. those advanced in the Nebular Hypothesis,* I venture to offer’ a few addenda, the substance of which was penned, though never printed, several years ago, under the head of — ‘A Prediction.’ ”

These addenda would occupy a dozen or so panes and are, therefore, clearly unsuitable for our citation; besides, Poe’s theory is much better explained in “Eureka” — a work available for all. His unconscionably lengthy epistle concludes .with the jocular remark, “How will that do for a postscript?”

During the early part of 1848 the poet continued to exchange visits with a few of his friends, including. Mrs. Shew, who still occasionally befriended him, and his “more than mother,” Mrs. Clemm. It was at this time that his gratitude to the noble-hearted woman for her kindness to him, and to her who had been “dearer to his soul than its own soul-life,” again, for the second time, vented itself in melodious verse. He indited some fresh lines “To Marie Louise,” a portion only of which were ever published, and then without a title. The following letter to the same lady refers to the project alluded to in the last-cited epistle, that is to say, his intention of delivering a series of lectures in the various chief cities of the States, beginning with, Richmond, Virginia: — [page 143:]

“ ‘Thursday, March 30.

“DEAREST LOUISE, — You see that I am not yet off to Richmond as I proposed. I have been detained by some very unexpected and very important matters which I will explain to you when I see you. What is the reason that you have not been out? I believe the only reason is that you suspect I am really anxious to see you.

“When you see Mr. H—— wish you would say to him that I would take it as an especial favor if he would pay me a visit at Fordham next Sunday. I have something to communicate to him of the highest importance, and about which I need his advice. Won’t you get him to come — and come with him to show him the way? — Sincerely yours,


As desired, the Mr. H——, referred to above, called upon the poet and. found that his advice was wanted with respect to the proposed publication of “Eureka” in book form. “I had heard his brilliant lecture on the occasion of its first delivery, and was much interested in it,” says this gentleman. “I did all I could to persuade him to omit the bold declaration of Pantheism at the close, which was not necessary to the completeness or beauty of the lecture. But I soon found that that was the dearest part of the whole to him; and we got into quite a discussion on the subject of Pantheism. For some time his tone and manner were very quiet, though slowly changing as we went on, until. at last a look of scornful pride, worthy of Milton’s Satan, flashed over his pale delicate [page 144:] face and broad brow, and a strange thrill nerved and dilated for an instant his slight figure, as he exclaimed, ‘My whole nature utterly revolts at the idea that there is any Being in the Universe superior to myself!’ I knew then that there was no use in further argument. The subject was dropped, and there was nothing further in the interview that I can now recall. But that sentence, and the mode of its utterance, made an indelible impression. . . . There is one other incident that I recall concerning that visit. . . . He was speaking of his near neighbours, the Jesuit Fathers at Fordham College, and praised them warmly: ‘They were highly-cultivated gentlemen and scholars,’ he said,, smoked, drank, and played cards like gentlemen, and never — said a word about religion.’ ”

Having made his final revisions of the “Eureka,” and, probably, hoping to derive sufficient for the copyright of a first edition to start him upon his lecturing tour, the poet went to town and saw Mr. George Putnam, the publisher, with a view of arranging for the publication of his work. Mr. Putnam’s own account of the interview and its result is, doubtless, a somewhat imaginative one, but is interesting as affording renewed evidence of the intense belief which Poe had in the truth of his own theory. The publisher’s account runs that a gentleman one day entered the office, and in a nervous and excited manner, requested [page 145:] his attention to a matter of the greatest importance: —

“Seated at my desk, and looking at me a full minute with his “glittering eye,’ he at length said, I I am Mr. Poe.’ I was ‘all ear,’ of course, and sincerely interested. It was the author of ‘The Raven’ and of ‘The Gold Bug!’* ‘I hardly know,’ said the poet, after a pause, ‘how to begin what I have to say. It is a matter of profound importance.’ After another pause, the poet seeming to be in a tremor of excitement, he at length went on to say that the publication he had to propose was of momentous interest. Newton’s discovery of gravitation was a mere incident compared with the discoveries revealed in this book. It would at once command such unusual and intense interest that the publisher might give up all other enterprises, and make this one book the business of his lifetime. An edition of fifty thousand copies might be sufficient to begin with, but it would be but a small beginning. No other scientific event in the history of the world approached in importance the original developments of the book. All this and more, not in irony or jest, but in intense earnest — for he held me with his eye, like the Ancient Mariner. I was really impressed, but not overcome. Promising a decision on Monday (it was late Saturday), the poet had to rest so long in uncertainty, upon the extent of the edition, partly reconciled by a small loan meanwhile. We did venture, not upon fifty thousand, but five hundred.” [page 146:]

Accordingly, in the course of a few weeks, the work upon which Poe had spent so many months, and, indeed, in some respects, years of thought, was published in a handsomely-printed volume of 144 pages, as “Eureka: A Prose Poem; by Edgar A., Poe.” The work was dedicated, “with very profound respect,” to Alexander von Humboldt, and was heralded by this Preface: —

“To the few who love me and whom I love — to those who feel rather than to those who think — to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities — I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in ita Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: — let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim., as a Poem.

What I here propound it true: — therefore it cannot die: — or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will ‘rise again to the Life Everlasting’

“Nevertheless, it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead. E. A, P.”

It was in a style perfectly in accordance with the magnitude and magnificence of the theme he had undertaken to dilate upon, that the poet commenced the opus magnum of his life: he begins thus —

‘‘It is with humility really unassumed — it is with a sentiment even of awe — that I pen the opening sentence of this work: for of all conceivable subjects I approach the reader with the most solemn — the most comprehensive — the most difficult — the most august. [page 147:]

“What terms shall I find sufficiently simple in their sublimity — sufficiently sublime in their simplicity — for the mere enunciation of my theme?

“I design to speak of the Physical, Metaphysical and Mathematical of the Material and Spiritual Universe: — of its Essence, its Origin, its Creation, its Present Condition and its Destiny. I shall be so rash, moreover, as to challenge the conclusions, and thus, in effect, to question the sagacity, of many of the greatest and most justly reverenced of men.

“In the beginning, let me as distinctly as possible announce — not the theorem which I hope to demonstrate — for, whatever the mathematicians may assert, there is, in this world at least, no such thing as demonstration but the ruling idea which, throughout this volume, I shall be continually endeavouring to suggest.

“My general proposition, then, is this: — In the Original Unity of the Fast Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation.”

No comprehending reader can deny the grandeur and fascination of this work, although if — after the mind has had time to recover from the spell which has hurried it along through the all-absorbing theme to the last startling climax — we begin to question and to doubt, Poe’s analysis of creation will, probably, be found to be no more convincing than its thousand-and-one predecessors. Yet a spell there is about it due to something more than mere witchery of words; due to the fact that startling theories bearing all the semblance of truths — truths hitherto untold, or dimly [page 148:] guessed at — are frequently enunciated and demonstrated as nearly as verbal. demonstration is capable of. The only critical examination of the technical merits of this work, with which we are acquainted, is contained in a very remarkable article by Dr. William Hand Browse, in the New Eclectic Magazine, on “Poe’s ‘Eureka’ and Recent Scientific Speculations,” wherein is shown how the various theories advanced by the poet have been singularly paralleled by those of the most recent and distinguished scientists and. corroborated by their discoveries.

A great hindrance to the acceptance of this work by scientific inquirers is the absurd, and utterly-out-of-place attempt at humour, displayed in the tirade against the Aristotelian and Baconian schools of philosophy, at the commencement of the essay. This, and the fact that the author is well known as a writer of fiction and poetry, have combined to impede the influence of “Eureka” in the sphere where its value could beat be gauged.

Poe himself was a staunch believer in the truth of his theory of creation, and was wont to discuss the knotty points in “Eureka” with an eloquence that temporarily persuaded, even if it did not permanently convince, his hearers. He could not submit to hear the merits of his work discussed by unsympathetic and incompetent critics, and after it was published [page 149:] in book form, and thus become public property, addressed this thoroughly characteristic letter to Mr. Charles Fenno Hoffmann, then editing the New York Literary World, respecting a flippant critique of the book which had appeared in the columns of that periodical: —

“DEAR SIR, — In your paper of July 29, I find some comments on ‘Eureka,’ a late book of my own; and I know you too well to suppose, for a moment, that you will refuse me the privilege of a few words in reply. I feel, even, that I might safely claim, from Mr. Hoffman, the right, which every author has, of replying to his critic tone for tone — that is to say, of answering your correspondent, flippancy by flippancy and sneer by sneer — but, in the first place, I do not wish to disgrace the ‘World‘; and, in the second, I feel that I should never be done sneering, in the present instance, were I once to begin. Lamartine blames Voltaire for the use which he made of (ruse) misrepresentations, in his attacks on the priesthood; but our young students of Theology do not seem to be aware that in defence, or what they fancy to be defence, of Christianity, there is anything wrong in such gentlemanly peccadillos as the deliberate perversion of an author’s text — to say nothing of the minor indecora of reviewing a book without reading it and without having the faintest suspicion of what it is about.

“You will understand that it is merely the misrepresentations of the critique in question to which I claim the privilege of reply: — the mere opinions of the writer can be of no consequence to me — and I should imagine of very [page 150:] little to himself — that is to say if he knows himself, personally, so well as I have the honour of knowing him. The first misrepresentation is contained in this sentence: — ‘This letter is a keen burlesque on the Aristotelian or Baconian methods of ascertaining Truth, both of which the writer ridicules and despises, and pours forth his rhapsodical ecstasies in a glorification of a third mode — the noble at of guessing.’ What I really say is this: — ‘That there is no absolute certainty either in the Aristotelian or Baconian process — that, for this reason, neither Philosophy is so pro found as it fancies itself — and that neither has a right to sneer at that seemingly imaginative process called Intuition (by which the great Kepler attained his laws); since ‘Intuition,’ after all, is but the conviction arising from those inductions or deductions of which the processes are so shadowy as to escape our consciousness, elude our reason, or defy our capacity of expression.’ The second misrepresentation runs thus: — ‘The development of electricity and the formation of stars and suns, luminous and non luminous, moons and planets, with their rings, &c., is deduced, very much according to the nebular theory of Laplace, from the principle propounded above.’ Now the impression intended to be made here upon the reader‘a mind, by the ’Student of Theology,’ is, evidently, that my theory may be all very well in its way, but that it is nothing but Laplace over again, with some modifications that he (the Student of Theology) cannot regard as at all important. I have only to say that no gentleman can accuse me of the disingenuousness here implied; inasmuch as, having proceeded with my theory to that point at which Laplace’s theory meets it, I then give Laplace’s theory in full, with the expression of my, firm conviction of its absolute truth at all points. The ground [page 151:] covered by the great French astronomer compares with that covered by my theory, as a bubble compares with the ocean on which it floats; nor has he the slightest allusion to ‘the principle propounded above,’ the principle of Unity being the source of all things — the principle of Gravity being. merely the Reaction of the Divine Act which irradiated all things from Unity. In fact, no point of my theory has been even so much as alluded to by Laplace. I have not considered it necessary, here, to speak of the astronomical knowledge displayed in the ’stars and suns’ of the Student of Theology, nor to hint that it would be better grammar to say that I development and formation’ are, than that development and formation is. The third misrepresentation lies in a footnote, where the critic says, I Further than this, Mr. Poe’s claim that he can account for the existence of all organised beings, man included., merely, from those principles on which the origin and present appearance of suns and worlds are explained, must be set down. as mere bald assertion, without a particle of evidence. In other words, we should term it arrant fudge.’ The perversion at this point is involved in a wilful misapplication of the word I principles.’ I say I wilful,’ because, at page 63, I am particularly careful to distinguish between the principles proper, Attraction and Repulsion, and those merely resultant sub-principles which control the universe in detail. To theme sub-principles, swayed by the immediate spiritual influence of Deity, I leave, without examination, all that which the Student of Theology so roundly asserts I account for on the principles which account for the constitution of suns, &c. . . . .

“Were these ‘misrepresentations’ (is that the name for them?) made for any less serious a purpose than that of branding my book as I impious,’ and myself as a I pantheist,’ [page 152:] a ‘polytheist,’ a Pagan, or a God knows what (and indeed I care very little so it be not a; Student of Theology’), I would have permitted their dishonesty to pass unnoticed, through pure contempt for the boyishness — for the turn-down-shirt-collarness of their tone: but, as it is, you will pardon me, Mr. Editor, that I have been compelled to expose a ‘critic,’ who, courageously preserving his own anonymosity, takes advantage of my absence from the city to misrepresent, and thus vilify me, by name.


“FORDHAM, September 20, 1848.”

Some small pecuniary recompense, probably, accrued to Poe from the publication of “Eureka,” for directly after that event, and some months previous to the writing of the above letter, he started on his long-projected tour, the object of which was to raise the means, by lectures and obtaining subscribers’ names, to start the Stylus. He is first heard of at Richmond, Virginia, where he renewed several old, and made some new, acquaintanceships. Among the latter was Mr. John R. Thompson’s, who had become proprietor of the Southern Literary Messenger, the periodical upon which Poe’s editorial career had commenced, and to the pages of which he now agreed to resume contributing. As they became more intimate, Mr. Thompson became much attached to the poet, — as, indeed, did all who were personally acquainted with him — and recorded some pleasing reminiscences of their intercourse.

“It was not until within two years of his death,” [page 153:] he remarks, “that I ever met Mr. Poe, but during that time” (the two years) “I saw him very often. When in Richmond he made the office of the Messenger a place of frequent resort. His conversation was always attractive, and at times very brilliant. Among modern author his favourite was Tennyson, and he delighted to recite from the ‘Princess’ the song, ‘Tears, idle tears’ — a fragment of which —

“ ‘When unto dying eyes

The casement slowly grows a glimmering square’ —

he pronounced unsurpassed by any image expressed in writing.”

From Richmond, Poe appears to have returned home to Fordham, and there to have laboured industriously for the magazines. He left home but rarely, and then only by special arrangement. A very characteristic letter to his constant friend, Mrs. Shew, is referable to this epoch; it reads thus: —

Sunday Night.

“MY DEAR FRIEND LOUISE — Nothing for months has given me so much real pleasure as your note of last night. I have been engaged all day on some promised work, otherwise I should have replied immediately — as my heart inclined. I sincerely hope you may not drift out of my sight before I can thank you. How kind of you to let me do even this small service for you, in return for the great debt I owe you! Louise! — my brightest, most unselfish of all who ever loved me! . . . [page 154:] I shall have so much pleasure in thinking of you and yours in that music room and library. Louise — I give you great credit for taste in these things, and I know I can please you in the purchases. During my first call at your house after my Virginia’s death, I noticed with so much pleasure the large painting over the piano, which is a masterpiece, indeed; and I noticed the size of all your paintings — the scrolls instead of set figures of the drawing room carpet — the soft effect of the window shades — also the crimson and gold. . . . I was charmed to see the harp and piano uncovered. The pictures of Raphael and ‘The Cavalier’ I shall never forget — their softness and beauty! The guitar with the blue ribbon, music stand, and antique jars. I wondered that a little country maiden like you had developed so classic a taste and atmosphere. Please present my kind regards to your uncle, and say that I am at his service any — or every — day this week; and ask him, please, to specify time and place. — Yours sincerely, EDGAR A. POE.”

In explanation of this communication, it should be stated that Mrs. Shew had requested the poet to assist her uncle in selecting furniture for a new house she had taken. “I gave him carte blanche,” she remarks, “to furnish the music-room and library as he pleased. I had hung the pictures myself, . . . placing over the piano a large painting by Albano. Mr. Poe admired it for hours, and never seemed tired of gazing upon it. . . . Mr. Poe was much pleased at my request, and my uncle said he had never seen him so cheerful and natural — ‘quite like other people.’ ” [page 155:]

It was shortly after this, during the summer,* that Poe wrote the first rough draft of “The Bells,” and at Mrs. Shew’s residence. “One day he came in,” she records, and said, “I Marie Louise, I have to write a poem; I have no feeling, no sentiment, no inspiration.” His hostess persuaded him to have some tea. It was served in the conservatory, the windows of which were open, and admitted the sound of neighbouring church bells. Mrs. Shew said, playfully, “Here is paper;” but the poet, declining it, declared, “I so dislike the noise of bells to-night, I cannot write. I have no subject. — I am exhausted.” The lady then took up the pen, and, pretending to mimic his style, wrote, “The Bells, by E. A. Poe; “and then, in pure sportiveness, “The Bells, the little silver Bells,” Poe finishing off the stanza. She then suggested for the next verse, “The heavy iron Bells;” and this Poe also expanded into a stanza. He next copied out the complete poem, and beaded it, “By Mrs. M. L. Shew,” remarking that it was her poem; as she had suggested and composed so much of it. Mrs. Shew continues, “My brother came in, and I sent him to Mrs.. Clemm to tell her that I her boy would stay in town, and was well.’ My brother took Mr. Poe to his own room, where he slept twelve hours, [page 156:] and could hardly recall the evening’s work. This showed his mind was injured,” comments the lady, “nearly gone out for want of food, and from disappointment. He had not been drinking, and had only been a few hours from home. Evidently his vitality was low, and he was nearly insane. While he slept we studied his pulse, and found the same symptoms which I had so often noticed before. I called in Dr. Francis* (the old man was odd, but very skilful), who was one of our neighbours. His words were, ‘He has heart disease, and will die early in life.’ We did not waken him, but let him sleep.” The day following, records Mrs. Shew, “After he had breakfasted, I went down town with him, and drove him home to Fordham in my carriage. He did not seem to realise that he had been ill, and wondered why ‘Madame Louise’ had been so good as to bring him home.”

This incident not only depicts the almost boyish simplicity of the poet in many matters, but also shows to what a debilitated and critical state his health had now been reduced. His contempt for the ordinary conventionalities of life rendered it difficult, at times, for his friends to maintain their relations with him. Mrs. Shew long continued to befriend hire and his aunt, but, ultimately, his continually increasing eccentricities compelled her to define more closely the [page 157:] limits of their intercourse. Poe took umbrage at this, and in June of this year indited his last letter to her. With respect to some of the passages in this epistle Mrs. Shew makes these remarks: — “I believe I am the only correspondent of Mr. Poe to whom he called himself ‘a lost soul.’ He did not believe his soul was lost — it was only a sarcasm he liked to repeat to express his sufferings and despair. I never saw a quotation from ‘The Raven’ in any letter of his but this. . . . Mr. Poe’s cat always left her cushion to rub my hand, and I had always to speak to it before it would retire to its place of rest again. He called her ‘Catarina’ — she seemed possessed. I was nervous and almost afraid of his wonderful cat. Mr. Poe would get up in the night to let her in or out of the house or room, and it would not eat when he was away.”

This appeal to his kind-hearted friend ran thus: —

“Can it be true, Louise, that you have the idea fixed in your mind to desert your unhappy and unfortunate friend and patient? You did not say so, I know, but for months I have known you were deserting me, not willingly, but none the less surely — my destiny —

‘Disaster, following fast and following faster, till his song one burden bore —

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore —

Of “Never — nevermore.’ ”

So I have had premonitions of this for months. I repeat, my [page 158:] good spirit, my loyal heart! must this follow as a sequel to all the benefits and blessings you have so generously bestowed? Are you to vanish like all I love, or desire, from my darkened and ‘lost soul V I have read over your letter again and again, and cannot make it possible, with any degree of certainty, that you wrote it in your right mind. (I know you did not without tears of anguish and regret.) Is it possible your influence is lost to me I Such tender and true natures are ever loyal until death; but you are not dead, you are full of life and beauty! Louise, you came in . . . in your floating white robe — ‘Good morning, Edgar.’ There was a touch of conventional coldness in your hurried manner, and your attitude as you opened the kitchen-door to find Muddie,* is my last remembrance of you. There was love, hope, and sorrow in your smile, instead of love, hope, and courage, as ever before. O Louise, how many sorrows are before you! Your ingenuous and sympathetic nature will be constantly wounded in its contact with the. hollow, heartless world; and for me, alas! unless some true and tender, and pure womanly love saves me, I shall hardly last a year longer alive! A few short months will tell how far my strength (physical and moral) will carry me in life here. How can I believe in Providence when you look coldly upon me? Was it not you who renewed my hopes and faith in God! . . . and in humanity? Louise, I heard your voice as you passed out of my sight leaving me . . .; but I still listened to your voice. I heard you say with a sob, ‘Dear Muddie.’ I heard you greet my Catarina, but it was only as a memory . . . nothing escaped my ear, and I was convinced it was not your. generous self. . . repeating words so foreign to your nature — to your tender heart! I heard you sob out your [page 159:] sense of duty to my mother, and I heard her reply ‘Yes, Loui . . . yes.‘. . . why tuna your soul from its true work for the desolate to the thankless and miserly world I . . . I felt my heart stop, and I was sure I was then to die before your eyes. Louise, it is well — it is fortunate — you looked up with a tear in your dear eyes, and raised the window, and talked of the guava you had brought for my sore throat. Your instincts are better than a strong man’s reason for me — I trust they may be for yourself. Louise, I feel I shall not prevail — a shadow has already fallen upon your soul, and is reflected in your eyes. It is too late — you are floating away with the cruel tide . . . it is not a common trial — it is a fearful one to me. Such rare souls as yours so beautify this earth! so relieve it of all that is repulsive and sordid. So brighten its toils and cares, it is hard to lose sight of them even for a short time . . . but you must know and be assured of my regret and my sorrow if aught I have ever written has hurt you. My heart never wronged you. I place you in my esteem — in all solemnity — beside the friend of my boyhood — the mother of my schoolfellow, of whom I told you, and as I have repeated in the poem . . . as the truest, tenderest of this world’s most womanly souls, and an angel to my forlorn and darkened nature. I will not say ‘lost soul’ again, for your sake. I will try to overcome my grief for the sake of your unselfish care of me in the past, and in life or death, I am ever yours gratefully and devotedly,


With this characteristic communication the poet’s correspondence with his disinterested and generous friend came to an end. They never met again.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 131:]

* Professor Charles Anthon, vide p. 140. — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 133:]

* Margaret Fuller, afterwards Countess D’Ossoli — J. H. I.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 140:]

* It did not though, vide p. 105, vol ii. — J. H. I.

Vide prospectus of the Stylus, p. 131, vol. ii. — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 142:]

* Of Laplace. — J. H. I.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 145:]

* It appears singular that Mr. Putnam did not know the poet at once, seeing that he had already, as representative of the firm of Wiley & Putnam, published two books by Poe. — J. H. I.

Putnam’s Magazine, second series, vol. iv. p. 471

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 155:]

* Not autumn, as has been incorrectly published. — J. H. I.

This manuscript is now in my possession. — J. H. I.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 156:]

* Vide Poe’s Works, vol. iv. pp. 419-421. Edinburgh, 1874-5.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 158:]

* Mrs. Clemm’s pet name at home. — J. H. I.







[S:0 - EAP:HLLO, 1880] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: His Life, Letters and Opinions (J. H. Ingram) (Chapter 18)