Text: John C. Miller, ed., “Entry 096: Sarah Helen Whitman to John H. Ingram, May 7, 1875,” Poe's Helen Remembers (1979), pp. 285-288 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 285, continued:]

96. Sarah Helen Whitman to John H. Ingram. Item 223

May 7, 1875

My dear Mr. Ingram,

I have just received your interesting letter of April 22. I have time [page 286:] only for a few words in reply. In relation to your correspondents, I wish I could talk with you unreservedly. You say you have a long communication from Mrs. E. Oakes Smith about “Lizzie White.” Probably all that she told you about her she told me. But I have reason to think that the story was without foundation, from my knowledge of her relations with the family up to the date of their removal from Fordham, or at least to the time of 1848 — I mean Miss White's relations.

You seem surprised that I did not know of Mrs. Shew's intimacy with the family of Mrs. Clemm & her kindness to them. This I could only have known from Mrs. Clemm, & she was probably estranged from her soon after Poe's death. I had no knowledge of the lady until you told me that she was the M.L.S. about whom I had been so curious (as you had been informed by Mrs. Nichols). Soon after you wrote me this I inquired of my friend Mrs. Paulina Davis (wife of the Hon. Thomas Davis of this city) if she knew or had ever known a lady of whom Mrs. Nichols had spoken to you as a friend of the Poes & one who would be likely to give you information about them, i.e., if she knew Mrs. Houghton, formerly Mrs. Shew. She told me that she knew much of her from reputation and had once seen her & been very kindly treated by her at her water cure establishment in the upper part of New York. Mrs. Shew was not then living with Dr. Shew, but in a house opposite, a very admirably appointed & luxurious establishment where she received patients. She was afterwards legally divorced from him & subsequently married Rev. Dr. Houghton, with whom Mrs. Davis supposed she was still living, though it was many years since she had heard anything in relation to her. Mrs. Davis's visit to Mrs. Shew was about the time of Poe's death, I think. Mrs. Davis spoke of her as a lady of fine appearance & attractive manners.

Will you think it unkind or officious in me if I ask you to receive with careful consideration what you have copied for me from her copies of Poe's letters. They seem to me to be utterly wanting in Poe's characteristic style & if published by you — incorporated into your book — might throw doubts on what is true. You know it has been said that “style is the man.” Now, Poe's style is emphatically his own, & the style of the letters copied by you is not his own, though the substance may be. The letters may have been copied from imperfect recollection of lost originals. It is not the import of the letters that I question. The reference to Mrs. Stanard seems to me especially open to criticism in expression & allusion, “unless some true & tender & pure womanly love” etc., etc., to the very close. These expressions are feminine, diffuse, & utterly unlike the terse compact phrases of E.A.P. Whereas the note which you copied for me in a former letter expressing his [page 287:] gratitude & longing for her presence was so unmistakably his own, that I felt his spirit in every word.

I dislike to make this criticism, but you know you have asked me to tell you just what I think about everything connected with your work, & after all, this weakness of style may have depended upon failing health & strength, for they were apparently written near the close of his life.

Remember, I do not doubt Mrs. Houghton's great kindness to Poe nor his grateful love towards her. It is only the literal rendering of his letters that I question.

You say M.L.H. does not like the portrait in your book so well as the one in Griswold's collection. That was a mezzotint copy of Osgood's portrait. The same that was contained in the German translation of “The Raven” that I sent you. I cannot understand how anyone could like that better than this.

But there is no curl to the hair in either of these pictures. The picture in Stoddard's “Memoir” was taken, as I understand Mr. Davidson to say, about ten days before Poe's death, in Richmond, and in that the hair does curl. I cannot understand this. Certainly his hair had no inclination to curl when I saw him; it had a free & graceful wave over the forehead, but nothing approaching a curl.

I feel very anxious to know the result of your attack on the Nation. I can’t help feeling a little nervous lest you should have called down an avalanche on our heads. But keep up a good heart & all will end well and the truth prevail. If your pecuniary success was only secured, I should have no fear about the success of your literary undertaking.

I wish you had some powerful friend to do battle for you on this side the Atlantic with the envious & the timeserving critics who, dressed in a little brief authority, attempt to control the press.

But goodbye, & believe me, with heartfelt blessings, ever your friend,

S. H. Whitman

P.S. I am suffering from a torturing headache which never leaves me, but to make a demonstration in the region of the heart.

Once more, let me urge you not to do anything without deliberation & due caution. Much that is spurious will doubtless be published about Poe and many things will be offered by correspondents which should be duly weighed by you.

What has become of the Southern lady? Are there any further developments in that direction? Have you written to Miss Blackwell? Have you heard from Mrs. Shelton?

A young friend of mine in New York wrote me that she met Mr. [page 288:] Davidson in the horse cars & feared from his pallor that he was far from well. I have not heard from him for months.

After re-reading this hurried scrawl I fancy it won’t do for me to say much about “style.” If “style is the woman,” wo for your friend,

S. H.W.





[S:0 - PHR, 1979] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Poe's Helen Remembers (J. C. Miller) (Entry 096)