Text: John C. Miller, ed., “Entry 093: John H. Ingram to Sarah Helen Whitman, Apr. 22, 1875,” Poe's Helen Remembers (1979), pp. 275-281 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 275, continued:]

93. John H. Ingram to Sarah Helen Whitman

22 April 1875

My dear Mrs. Whitman,

I am going to try & scribble you off a few irregular jottings. In the first place let me say that I am, as usual, very poorly — more so than I tell my people. I have never got up my strength since my rheumatic attack last year — but there! I am just doing what I did not mean to, talking of self, when I have things of importance to communicate.

The parcel of books belonging to Mr. Harris has now reached the [page 276:] binders, but I have not had time yet — despite my anxiety — to call there again. Did I say that Mrs. Houghton, of whom much hereafter, had sent me the 1845 edition of the Poems & Tales & that I have had a fine written facsimile of the 1829 ed. of poems sent from Baltimore?

You will have long since received the Civil Service Review of Stoddard & the poetic sequel by A Reader. I sent a tremendous reply to the Nation which I think they will publish & criticise. I hope there will not be anything in it to annoy you. They had better publish my reply & let the matter drop, or they my find me rather too strong for them.

Do you know what Stoddard is like? A man who was, or pretended to be, lame, drove to Mrs. Houghton's, gave the name of “Jones,” & asked if she had any poems or letters of Poe's she would sell to a publisher!! How they found her out must have been thus — Mrs. Nichols could not tell her address so I sent my letter to Davidson, & he sent it, naturally, to her husband, Rev. Dr. Houghton. They are separated. He, I presume, read it & sent it on, but must have spoken of my letter to publishing, or literary acquaintances. Hence the appearance of “Jones” on the scene. But he had gone to the wrong place that time, & was dismissed at once.

If Mrs. Houghton had only preserved her relics of Poe she might have told us nearly all we want to know. I look forward to each successive long letter of hers with ever increasing anxiety, so valuable are they. I can not understand how it has been that you never knew her. She was so good to Poe & his wife & is so unworldly that — although, apparently, of not great educational qualifications — I feel I love her only second to you, my first dear friend and assistant in this matter.

Whilst I think of it — have you not thought it shameful that your other vols. have not arrived. I told you how they had been delayed for a long time. I am now going to send you a set bound in half morocco, crimson — they will, be the Fates willing, leave London next week &, I fear must go by Post. I will pack them as carefully as possible, & register them.

Mrs. E. O. Smith has sent me some voluminous letters — mostly about “Lizzie” White, but, I fancy, there is nothing in them I can make use of. I have not had the portrait from Mrs. Lewis yet, but Blacks kept a photo of it for future use. I told you, I think, it was too late for Vol. iv. I cannot hear from Davidson. I hope he is not ill — he is generally so punctual — and I sent him money remittance 18th last month & no reply yet. Mrs. Nichols has not yet sent me her recollections. I fancy, entre nous, they will be somewhat imaginative. You would hear from me more frequently had I not so many correspondents to stir up in this affair. I am obliged to write very long letters to Mrs. Houghton — do not [page 277:] honour me by being jealous — arising out of her valuable information. I have recently written to Mrs. Shelton, to John P. Poe, Neilson Poe's son, to John Neal, to E. V. Valentine, Dr. Hand Browne, &c., &c. The last has recently sent me some interesting particulars from Col. Scharf's Chronicles of Baltimore respecting the Poe family & the friendship of Lafayette, &c.(1) Also a copy of a short note by Poe to John Neal.

But I want to let you know what I can of Mrs. Houghton's information. How to compress it! Some you will see is private. The poem “To M.L.S.” I think I explained I placed among juvenile poems because Griswold had it there. Mrs. Houghton has sent it to me — it and one other, to be returned, of course, but the original draft of “The Bells” & 3 letters to be kept! The two valentine poems are the most exquisitely written MSS. you ever beheld — I forgot that yours may have been written as beautifully. Have you ever told me the exact date of “To Helen”? “To Mrs. M.L.S.” is dated — February 14, 1847. The other poem “To Marie Louise” is the poem beginning “Not long ago, the writer of these lines,” &c.!! But Griswold presumedly, has omitted several lines, left out the Christian names & inserted “Italian.” I shall have a facsimile made of it. One of the letters sent is to “H. D. Chapin, Esq.” (now deceased) & is nearly identical in terms with that sent to Willis in 1848 respecting his (Poe's) idea of starting a magazine of his own.(2) One I have already sent you a copy of (to Mrs. Shew) & the other is a short note asking why Mrs. Shew has not been & so forth. If you wish you shall have copy next time. Mrs. Houghton has also sent me extracts from two of his letters to her — one upbraiding her for giving him up — I extract some of it that must interest you. It is written in June 1849, was his last to Mrs. Houghton & betrays evidence, in my opinion, of unsettled reason — “sweet bells harshly jangled.” After asserting that he knows it is her last visit although she has not said so, he says (this is private):

Oh, Louise, how many sorrows are before you, your ingenuous and sympathetic nature will be constantly wounded in 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? ... & in humanity?

He alludes to something I am not to mention but of no interest but that he calls himself therein “the madman Poe.” He then speaks of their last interview, &c., &c. and of the respect & esteem he has for her, adding,

I place you in my esteem in all solemnity beside the friend of my boyhood, [page 278:] the mother of my schoolfellow, of whom I told you, and as I have repeated in the poem, “The Beloved Physician,” as the truest, tenderest, of this world's most womanly souls, and an angel to my forlorn and darkened nature, ... and in life or death, I am ever yours gratefully and devotedly,

Edgar A. Poe

June 1849

Not a word of “the Beloved Physician,” please. I believe I told you Mrs. H[oughton] had paid Poe for it. This long poem — & to think that in her troubles she has lost or mislaid it!! But is now searching everywhere & hopes to recover it. One of her sons, who knew a part of it by heart, may have it. It is to be hoped it will be recovered & prove a masterpiece.(3) You shall know at once, if it be found. You see he alludes to Mrs. Stanard.

The other letter is very pretty:

Sunday night

May 1848

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. ... 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. During my first call at your house after my Virginia's death, 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, and 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

Now, my dear Mrs. Whitman, kindly note that I copy from a copy, & that copy not too legible, so that, probably, a word or two may not be verbatim. You must also remember that this charming little view of an interior was painted after, by years, the “Philosophy of Furniture” was indited & Poe himself had a carte blanche to furnish the room — so far as I understand — with what gold could procure — “with the baubles that it may.”(4) I hope I am not wearying you with my small scribble, but I know — from my own feelings — that you will be interested in every little detail that I can send you. But Mrs. Houghton's budget is very voluminous — and not always so clear as could be wished. She seems a [page 279:] regular child of nature — ingenuous, unsophisticated, and (like yourself) too trusting for the human world. I must defer much of her correspondence for a future letter, but want now to tell you what she recounts of Edgar's mother — of whom Virginia liked to talk apparently. I begin to think Poe must have inherited his genius from his mother — all great men did. It seems she painted very prettily, & one sketch of hers of Boston Harbour was much admired — says Mrs. Houghton. Reverting to my (?) portrait of Poe, [she writes]:

I hope you will forgive me if I say that your picture is not as good as the one in Griswold's. I never saw it before that I remember. It may look as he did the last year (for he was very thin & worn when he went away) but Mr. Poe had curling hair: he wetted {it} often to straighten it, and probably did so before this sitting (of your photo) but his hair would curl as soon as dry, around his ears. He had fine dark curling hair, blue eyes with dark lashes, or bluish gray, his mouth was small, which was his only defect, showing weakness. He was like his mother, who wore her curls low on her forehead, to conceal her broad intellectual forehead, or brain {Mrs. Houghton, of course, never saw Mrs. Poe.} which was poor Edgar's inheritance. He had a bundle of his mother's letters written in a round hand very like his own, and two sketches of hers, one in pencil, or indelible ink, the other in water colours, representing Boston Harbour. On the back of this picture was a neatly written description which ended in these words, which I copy from my journal {Unhappily, most of this journal has been destroyed}, “For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston, the place of his birth and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends.

Mrs. Houghton, at Virginia's request, had these pictures neatly framed, & after Edgar's death hung in Mrs. Clemm's room, who, however, did not value them & must have given them away despite her promise to give them to Mrs. H[oughton] “if they left the family.” Perhaps the Poes in Baltimore have them? “Boston Harbour morning 1808” was the water colour.

I understand Mrs. H[oughton] to say that she is sending me a portrait of Edgar's mother, & hopes to find & send me one of him — but her possessions are greatly scattered just now through troubles. She is also sending some lines in Poe's writing but which she (Mrs. H[oughton] ) thinks were composed by Mrs. Nichols.

By the way, you will see that Poe & Mrs. H[oughton] were only dear friends & that they never had any other feelings. She befriended Virginia and then nursed him through illness. How can I squeeze all into compass of a letter? Oh! for a chat. There is a long account from the journal of a long novel Poe wrote when a young man & an account of how he came to tell Mrs. H[oughton] of it — she being, apparently, of anything but an inquiring mind. Hence his confidence, probably. I cannot tell you all about this novel now, but Mrs. H[oughton] says: [page 280:]

The story, he said, was too much of the yellow covered novel {French?}style for him to be proud of, and besides there were scenes and pictures so personal that it would have made him many enemies among his kindred who hated him for his vanity and pride already, and in some respects justly — the fault of his early education. These are his own words.

As all our letters are strictly entre nous I may let you know that Mrs. Houghton had let Poe furnish the Library & Music room, after his own fancy. The large painting over the piano was by Albani, & is now at the Theological Seminary, New York, for sale, price $1000. Poe seems to have furnished the rooms after “The Philosophy of Furniture” pattern — carpet, red Bohemian glass, &c.

But now let me answer your dear letter of the 30th Ultimo. That Mrs. Clemm never mentioned Mrs. M.L.S. to you was, doubtless, because of the ungrateful way — so it seems to me — in which she (Mrs. C[lemm]) had treated M.L.S. Mrs. Houghton did anticipate, apparently, Griswold's malignity & tried to pay for the suppression of the “Memoir,” but G[riswold] had too many reasons for publishing it to accept her price — he said that Mrs. Clemm was “reconciled” to it. Mrs. C[lemm] evidently received a small income from it for life. Don’t mention this as Mrs. Nichols & Mrs. Houghton both wish well to Mrs. C[lemm]'s memory — especially the former & we are much indebted to them for “more light.” Poe dictated the events of his life to Mrs. H[oughton] when he was suffering from the illness through which Mrs. H[oughton] befriended him, but I cannot tell just now without a long search whether it was in 1847-8.

I am trying to get all my fresh information into reference shape. I do so fear less [sic] I should die with this biography unaccomplished, for I fear no one will ever take it up as I have done.

Moncure Conway is a cousin of Mr. Daniel — of whom I have heard queer tales. I do not suppose Conway ever did read your book. Your friend who calls it a “poem” is right — it is a beautiful sustained poem. I have not met Conway personally, which is my fault; he is the Supplementary Envoy, or rather voluntary representative of the U. States here — all Americans go to see him.

The Nation's “revived interest” would be ludicrous were it not so shamelessly impertinent. I have sent the Nation a “stinger.” I believe Stoddard wrote the review himself. I never said the words attributed to me about Mrs. Osgood & the other quotations are vilely garbled, as a rule, as you can see. I was glad to see the copy of Poe's letter to Miss Blackwell — why the remarks about S.H.W. are most interesting. You see Stoddard's attack appeared before the C.S. Review, but “Don Felix” is ready for the fray & has but one flaw in his armour — he cannot & will not appeal to this best & most loved guardian spirits — Mrs. W[hitman] & Mrs. H[oughton]. [page 281:]

Am just going to dine with “Lord Dunduary” & some literary & dramatic people in honour of the Bard of Avon's birthday. For ’tis the 24th now. Ever thine, my dear friend,

John H. Ingram

1. Col. John Thomas Scharf (1843-1898), historian of Maryland, published Chronicles of Baltimore in 1874 (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers) and, at William Hand Browne's request, forwarded a copy to Ingram.

2. H. D. Chapin was a close friend of Mrs. Marie Louise Shew Houghton's. For Poe's letter to Chapin, see Ostrom, II, 357-58.

3. The manuscript of this poem was never found. Mrs. Houghton clearly said it was entitled “The Beloved Physician” when she wrote out for Ingram such lines of it as she could remember in 1875. Ingram held back these lines until's Poe's centenary was being celebrated in England and America and from them and Mrs. Houghton's letters he put together an article which he called “Edgar Allan Poe's Lost Poem ‘The Beautiful Physician”’ and published it in the New York Bookman, 28 Jan. 1909, 452-54.

4. All of this information about Poe in this letter and much that followed, equally apocryphal, in Mrs. Houghton's letters, made its way into Poe biography in Ingram's 1880 two-volume Life of Poe. He had no qualms whatever about omitting portions of her letters, changing the sequences of paragraphs, or quoting simply parts of sentences as whole ones in instances which, had he quoted exactly, Poe would have appeared in a bad or even doubtful light, in his opinion. All of Mrs. Houghton's letters now in the Ingram Poe Collection have been reproduced in Building Poe Biography, but it is obvious and is so stated in that book that she wrote many more letters to Ingram that are so far unlocated.





[S:0 - PHR, 1979] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Poe's Helen Remembers (J. C. Miller) (Entry 093)