Text: Burton R. Pollin, “January 1837 (Headnote),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeVol. V: SLM (1997), pp. 323-326 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 323:]

January - February 1837

[column 1:]

With the first number of Volume 3, Poe’s career on the Messenger came to a jolting end. On January 3 White fired him, though publicly he was to be allowed to “retire.” Clearly Poe knew of White’s dissatisfaction with his occasional drinking bouts and the lost time needed for recuperation, but he appears to have felt that cajolery and promises of better behavior would continue to allay his employer’s threats. He may have thought, too, that he had become too important to the magazine for White to risk dismissing him irrevocably. If so, he was deluding himself. A distraught White had at last had enough. The September issue had been delayed because of his and Poe’s announced “illness”; a “press of business” had resulted in a truncated critical department in November; and there had been no December issue at all. In addition, White’s wife was ill, he was having labor difficulties with his pressmen, he was in debt, and the Newbern Spectator was continuing to snap at his editor and his magazine. By December 27 he was ready to act — at least to end the “injury,” as he would later call it, which Poe’s editorship had brought on the journal. To Beverley Tucker he wrote an emotional letter, imploring his support in the crisis that was now upon him. It is the clearest evidence of the deteriorating state of the White-Poe relationship:

Highly as I really think of Mr. Poe’s talents, I shall be forced to give him notice, in a week or so at farthest, that I can no longer recognize him as editor of my Messenger. Three months ago I felt it my duty to give him a similar notice, — and was afterwards overpersuaded to restore him to his situation [column 2:] on certain conditions — which conditions he has again forfeited.

Added to all this, I am cramped by him in the exercise of my own judgment, as to what articles I shall or shall not admit into my work. It is true that I neither have his sagacity, nor his learning — but I do believe I know a handspike from a saw. Be that as it may, however, — and let me even be a jackass, as I dare say I am in his estimation, I will again throw myself on my own resources — and trust my little bark to the care of those friends who stood by me in my earlier, if not darker days.

You, my friend, are my helmsman. And I again beg you to stand by the rudder. ...

May I further beg you to urge Professors Dew, Millington and Saunders to come to my aid, — without however saying that I mean to dispense with Mr. Poe as my editor: This fact I wish to rest with yourself, until you see my announcement of the fact either in the Messenger or some of the papers.

If he chooses to write as a contributor, I will pay him well.

In my next No., which will again be retarded till the 22d Jan. he will have quite a lengthy review of George Balcomb [sic] — and quite a favorable one too. He guesses you to be its author, — and possibly he guesses right. (Full text in Jackson, Poe and the SLM, pp. 109-10.)

As White outlines them, his reasons for firing Poe were both personal and professional: Poe’s breaking a promise of sobriety (almost certainly what is meant by “certain conditions”), his air of intellectual superiority, and his cramping of White’s own judgments in his editorial decisions. Another and even stronger reason is suggested in a letter to Tucker of January 24, as [page 324:] press time neared: “[T]he Messenger is safe. It shall live-and it shall outlive all the injury it has sustained from Mr. Poe’s management ... ” (Poe Log, p. 241). Clearly the “injury” was the editorial assaults on the SLM engendered by Poe’s caustic reviews. Poe, with an eye to his own future, had welcomed such controversy for the public attention it brought him; he was trying — as White realized — to reshape the editorial department into his own bench of judgment. But White was a conservative man in a conservative region. Controversy that involved name — calling was not respectable, and White could not risk losing either his good name or his subscribers because his editor wanted to take on the press at large. The Newbern Spectator made the point for him: “We have been endeavouring for twelve months to convince the Editor of the Messenger that his course was erroneous, discreditable to the South, promotive of bad taste, and ruinous to Mr. WHITE’S laudable enterprise ... ” (Poe Log, p. 236).

Six days after his discharge, Poe was still appearing to act for the SLM. On January 9 he wrote to Allan B. Magruder, a West Point classmate, that his submitted essay “shall certainly appear, entire, in the February number ... ” (Letters 1: 239). But White overruled him, and the piece, though already set in type, was canceled. On January 17 White wrote to Poe about this decision, and, replying to Poe’s pleas for assistance, added:

You are certainly as well aware as I am that the last $20 I advanced to you was in consideration of what you were to write for me by the piece.

I also made you a promise on Saturday that I would do something more for you today, — and I never make even a promise without intending to perform it, — and [column 2:] though it is entirely out of my power to send you up any thing this morning, yet I will do something more for you before night, or early to-morrow, — if I have to borrow it from my friends (Poe Log, p. 239).

Poe was slow to accept the reality of his plight, but by January 19 White was able to report to Tucker that he “feels his situation at last-I see but little of him-but I hear a great deal about him and from him” (Poe Log, p. 240). Five days later he advised Tucker that the magazine was “safe”:

At present help (original) is coming in more rapid than at any time since I have started the Messenger — all too since the fact has eked out [sic] that Poe is not to act as Judge or Judge Advocate — A great deal of it is good matter — and all far better than his Gordon Pym for which I apparently pay him now — $3 per page, but which in reality has and still costs me $20 per page. But him I shall soon be clear off [of]. His every movement shows me that he will be off in a short time ... (Poe Log, p. 241).

That “short time” extended to at least a week. On January 31 White complained to Tucker:

Poe pesters me no little — he is trying every manoeuvre to foist himself on some one at the North — at least I believe so. He is continually after me for money. I am as sick of his writings, as I am of him, — and am rather more than half inclined to send him up another dozen dollars in the morning, and along with it all his unpublished manuscripts (Poe Log, p. 242).

The “some one at the North” may have been Francis L. Hawks, the cleric whose church history Poe had reviewed in March 1836. According to the much later Philadelphia Saturday Museum sketch of Poe, the proprietors of the New-York Review, a forthcoming quarterly with an emphasis on religion, [page 325:] sent him a “flattering invitation” in early January 1837. Hawks, one of them, is quoted as saying: “I wish you to fall in with your broad-axe amidst this miserable literary trash which surrounds us. I believe you have the will, and I know well you have the ability” (see Pollin 1: 24). Hawks probably did write to Poe and may even have encouraged him. But this quotation, as given, is suspect. The Saturday Museum sketch, published in the February 25, 1843, issue and reprinted on March 4, was credited by Poe to Henry B. Hirst, but it has long been known that its biographical material was supplied by Poe and that it was filled with his own fabrications about his life and career. The evidence for the judgment that it was entirely Poe’s work is given at length by Pollin in “Poe’s Authorship of Three Long Critical and Autobiographical Articles of 1843 Now Authenticated,” American Renaissance Literary Report 7 (1993): 139-71.

In the last week of the month the January issue of the SLM finally appeared, after much labor by both White and Tucker. It carried, on the last page, an announcement by White addressed to the “Patrons” of the SLM:

In issuing the present number of the Messenger (the first of a new volume), I deem it proper to inform my subscribers, and the public generally, that Mr. POE, who has filled the editorial department for the last twelve months, with so much ability, retired from that station on the 3d inst.; and the entire management of the work again devolves on myself alone. Mr. P. however, will continued to furnish its columns, from time to time, with the effusions of his vigorous and popular pen, — and my old contributors, among which I am proud to number some of the best writers in our state and country, will [column 2:] doubtless continue to favor me with their valuable contributions. ...

It is perhaps due to Mr. POE to state, that he is not responsible for any of the articles which appear in the present number, except the Reviews of Bryant’s Poems, George Balcombe, Irving’s Astoria, Reynolds’s Address on the South Sea Expedition, Anthon’s Cicero, — the first number of Arthur Gordon Pym, a sea story, — and two Poetical effusions, to which his name is prefixed. ... (p. 96).

Poe offered his own farewell at the end of his reviews:

Mr. Poe’s attention being called in another direction, he will decline, with the present number, the Editorial duties of the Messenger. His Critical Notices for this month will end with Professor Anthon’s Cicero — what follows is from another hand. With best wishes to the Magazine, and to its few foes as well as many friends, he is now desirous of bidding all parties a peaceable farewell. (p. 72)

Poe’s final contributions to the SLM were these:

1. Two poems: “Ballad” (“Bridal Ballad”) (p. 5) and “To Zante” (p. 32) (texts and notes in Mabbott 1: 304-12).

2. “Arthur Gordon Pym. No. 1” (pp. 13-16). This installment and the second, which appeared in February, constitute the first version of the text of Poe’s novel through what, in the book as published in 1838, is paragraph three of Chapter 4. The February text was broken off without editorial explanation to readers. Presumably White was using up what he had already paid for. For details, see the critical apparatus to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym in Pollin 1.

3. Five reviews (pp. 41-72). These are printed and discussed below. There were also two other notices: Judge Abel [page 326:] P. Upshur reviewed at length Tucker’s The Partisan Leader (published under a pseudonym); Tucker, at White’s request, reviewed Bulwer’s play The Duchess de la Vallière.

By early February Poe and his wife and aunt had settled in New York City for what was to prove a bleak sojourn, since no regular job with the NewYork Review or any other journal eventuated during this period.

There is no convincing evidence that Poe contributed anything further to the SLM until December 1844. (Hull, pp. 170-86, provides details about attempts, including his own, to assign further reviews in the 1837 volume to Poe.) White remained curious about Poe’s doings, writing to William Scott in New York: “Tell me, when you write what Poe is driving at — that is, if you know — but do not put yourself out to gratify perhaps an idle curiosity. I have not heard from him since he left here” (Poe Log, p. 244). But his bitterness had not yet abated; soliciting a review from Tucker on April 26, he could not refrain from this outburst: I am very sure that you will give a just [column 2:] criticism of Paulding. ... If he would have been proud of praise from Poe, it would have been because he really admired the fellow’s talents. — Like myself he was completely gulled. The truth is, Poe seldom or ever done what he knew was just to any book. He read few through — unless it were some trashy novels, — and his only object in reading even these, was to ridicule their authors. Read his eulogistic review of Balcombe — which he penned only because he believed you were its author. He has scarcely selected a passage out of the two volumes which warrants the praise he has lavished on it. But enough of this — this mortifying subject. (Jackson, Poe and the SLM, p. 115)

Poe’s departure was duly noted in the press. The Newbern Spectator of February 3 expressed its satisfaction: “We are glad to find that Mr. WHITE has resumed the sole management, as the unnecessary severity of the late Editor, Mr. Poe, had no doubt alienated from the work many who sincerely wished it success.” In a more magnanimous mood, it added: “Mr. POE is unquestionably a man of talents, and when these shall have been restricted by experience and moderation, there is no doubt that he will shine as a writer ... ” (Poe Log, p. 243).






[S:0 - BRP5S, 1997] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (January 1837 (Headnote))