Text: Burton R. Pollin, “August 1835 (Headnote),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeVol. V: SLM (1997), pp. 27-28 (This material is protected by copyright)


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August 1835

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The motives behind Poe’s move to Richmond in early August 1835 were several, but all were linked by one overwhelming resolve: to obtain regular work and to free himself, his aunt Maria Clemm, and her daughter Virginia from the squalid poverty in which they had been living in Baltimore. Poe’s first hope was of obtaining a position as a teacher of English at the Richmond Academy. The post was advertised in several newspapers on July 24; Poe at once applied, perhaps believing that his acquaintanceship with several of the Academy trustees (among them T. W. White’s friend James E. Heath) and his recent widely praised contributions to the Messenger would weigh in his favor (Poe Log, pp. 163, 165). His dream was soon shattered; as he wrote to Maria Clemm on August 29: “The situation has this morning been conferred on another. ... ” But he immediately added: “White has engaged to make my salary $60 a month” (Letters 1: 70).

It is obvious that Poe had been talking with White even before the matter of the teaching position had been settled. On August 20, in a letter to a distant relative, William Poe, he claimed: “I have lately obtained the Editorship of the Southern Messenger, and may probably yet do well” (Letters 1, 68). By September 4 he was writing from the SLM office to John Neal, in Boston: “Herewith I send you a number of the Southern Literary Messenger, a Magazine of which I have lately obtained the Editorship. Do you think you could send me regularly in exchange, The Galaxy or any other paper of wh: [sic] [column 2:] you have the control?” (Letters 1: 72). Poe was wildly overstating his position. White, in his letter to Lucian Minor of August 18, announcing the departure of Sparhawk, had said only that Poe “tarries one month-and will aid me all that lies in his power.” On September 8, again to Minor, White added: “Poe is now in my employ — not as Editor. He is unfortunately rather dissipated, — and therefore I can place very little reliance upon him. His disposition is quite amiable. He will be some assistance to me in proof-reading — at least I hope so” (Poe Log, p. 167). White’s caveat about the word “Editor” was no mere quibble. As a self-made man, jealously proud of his journal and highly conscious of the emphasis placed in the South on social standing, he wished his editor to be mature and highly respectable. But Poe was now a mere twenty-six, the orphaned offspring of actors, and a man who had been raised in the home of a Richmond merchant who had disowned him. For all his literary talent and apparent erudition, which White acknowledged, Poe had flaws of character that made him a definite risk.

Meanwhile, a domestic crisis had been developing in Poe’s immediate family that led him to send Maria Clemm a wildly incoherent and contradictory letter on August 29. Whatever her personal motivation wasand whether or not she was telling the whole truth-Mrs. Clemm had informed Poe that Virginia’s cousin, Neilson Poe, had proposed taking the thirteen-year-old Virginia into his home and educating her. Poe’s response [page 28:] is painful to read. In it he professes that he loves Virginia passionately but that he fears that “both you & she will prefer to go with N. Poe; I do sincerely believe that your comforts will for the present be secured — I cannot speak as regards your peace-your happiness. You both have tender hearts — and you will always have the reflection that my agony is more than I can bear-that you have driven me to the grave — for love like mine can never be gotten over. It is useless to disguise the truth that when Virginia goes with N. P. that I shall never behold her again-that is absolutely sure. ... I have no one now to fly to — I am among strangers, and my wretchedness is more than I can bear. ... ” The letter continues in this self-pitying vein, though he does suggest that the three of them could live in Richmond on the money he is now receiving from White. He even argues that Virginia “will have far — very far better opportunities of entering into society here than with N. P. Every one here receives me with open arms.” There follows a postscript in which he directly addresses Virginia as “My love, my own sweetest Sissy, my darling little wifey ... ” (Letters 1: 69-71).

Despite his despondency of tone, Poe was moved to action by Maria Clemm’s news. Before September 21 he returned to Baltimore and, while there, received a license to marry Virginia (Poe Log, pp. 170-71). Mrs. Clemm’s role in this engagement has been debated. T. O. Mabbott (1: 545) thought that she wished to “save” Poe from a relationship with Eliza White, [column 2:] his employer’s daughter. But she was clearly motivated by self-interest. Poe now had his first paying job, and she was relying on him for support for herself.

The August issue of the Messenger had appeared about ten days before Poe’s sudden (and, as it turned out, temporary) flight from Richmond. Put together largely, as White told Minor, from “my wits,” it contained another section of Robert Greenhow’s “Sketches of the History and Present Condition of Tripoli,” the second (and the last) installment of Sparhawk’s “My First Night in a Watchhouse,” and an assortment of short articles, fiction, and verse. Poe’s assistance in this crisis following upon the dismissal of Sparhawk was undoubtedly welcomed by White; in addition to a reprint of his poem “The Coliseum” (text and notes in Mabbott 1: 226-31) and the tale “Bon-Bon” (texts and notes in Mabbott 2: 96-117), he was responsible for supplying two fillers and nearly three pages of editorial comment. (In a letter to Lucian Minor on September 8, White commented: “All the Critical & Literary Notices, by Mr. Poe.” See Poe Log, p. 167.). The two fillers, “The Unities” and “By what bizzarrerie [sic] ... ,” are printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 424-45. The editorial matter consists of two items, reproduced and discussed below. Much of the first one, “Critical Notices and Literary Intelligence,” appears to have been hastily put together from materials sent to the Messenger office. The second, “To Readers and Correspondents,” represents Poe’s first appearance as the de facto editor of the Messenger.






[S:0 - BRP5S, 1997] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (August 1835 (Headnote))