Text: Burton R. Pollin, “The Later Years (Headnote),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeVol. V: SLM (1997), pp. 365-368 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 365:]

The Later Years

[column 1:]

As White had predicted, the Messenger outlived what he had come to see as “all the injury it has sustained from Mr. Poe’s management” (Poe Log, p. 241). Despite ill health and financial woes, he and his supporters kept it afloat until his death in January 1843. Thereafter, it was controlled by a series of editors who later shifted its editorial policy from a proud regionalism to what became a paranoid ethnocentricity. Trumpeting the linked doctrines of states’ rights, the divinely sanctioned institution of slavery, and Southern “Cavalier” superiority over Northern “Saxons,” it soldiered on until July 1864, when the Southern nation was, inevitably, collapsing around its home.

Poe, of course, continued his career in magazine work in Philadelphia and New York, notably on Burton’s, Graham’s, Godey’s, and the Broadway Journal (of which he became part owner). But his obsessive ambition to found and edit a journal of his own was never to be fulfilled. The project, announced as the Penn Magazine in 1840 and then renamed The Stylus, foundered because of Poe’s lack of success in obtaining sufficient financial backing.

In later years Poe several times referred pridefully — and usually deceitfully — to his months on the SLM. In September 1839 he sent James E. Heath, who was again assisting White, a copy of the current Burton’s, asking hopefully, in view of his relationship with White, for both a notice and a reprinting of “The Fall of the House of Usher” (Poe Log, 268-69). Heath assured Poe that White harbored no resentment [column 2:] against him: “I have had a conversation with White since the receipt of your letter and took the liberty to hint to him your convictions of an unfriendly spirit manifested on his part towards you. I am happy to inform you that he disclaims the existence of any unkind feeling, on the contrary professes that your prosperity and happiness would yield him pleasure.” White will admit a notice of Burton’s, but he declines to reprint the tale because “the subject matter is not such as would be acceptable to a large majority of his readers” (Harrison 17: 47-48).

Not long after White’s death, Poe expressed an interest in the fate of the SLM. Writing to Peter D. Bernard, White’s son-in-law, on March 24, 1843, he inquired if the magazine’s subscription list was to be sold, for “We [Poe and Thomas C. Clarke] are anxious to purchase the list and unite it with that of ‘The Stylus“’ (Letters 1: 230-31). Despite follow-up letters to others, Poe never received a reply. To one friend in Richmond, he suggested a motive, completely ignoring the facts of his dismissal: “there may be some prejudice, on the part of the heirs, against me individually, on account of my quitting White ... ” (Letters 2: 702). The SLM was sold to Benjamin B. Minor in July 1843, and he edited it until October 1847.

In publicly reviewing the accomplishments of his editorial career, including his reputation as a caustic reviewer, Poe made several claims that require examination. The notoriously [page 366:] inaccurate and self-serving Saturday Museum sketch of February 25 and March 4, 1843 presented this summation of the SLM period:

Mr. Poe was invited by Mr. White to edit the “Southern Literary Messenger” which was then in its seventh month, with about four hundred subscribers. He remained with this journal until the end of its second year, by which time its circulation had increased to between three and four thousand; which latter number, it is believed, the Magazine never afterwards exceeded — if it did not immediately and permanently decrease upon Mr. P.’s secession. The success of the “Messenger” has been on all hands justly attributed to his exertions in its behalf, but, especially, to the skill, honesty, and audacity of the criticism under the editorial head.

When the sketch appeared, White was safely dead, and Poe must have felt that no one else would bother to challenge his statistics. By the next year he was ready to make a bolder claim. Writing to enlist Professor Charles Anthon’s support for The Stylus in the fall of 1844, he gave a new set of figures:

I joined the “Messenger” as you know which was then in its 2d year with 700 subscribers & the general outcry was that because a Magazine had never succeeded South of the Potomac therefore a Magazine ne[ver] c[oul]d succeed. Yet in despite of all this & in despite of the wretched taste of its proprietor which hampered & controlled me at all points I ... increased the circulation in 15 months to 5,500 subscribers. ... This number was never exceeded by the journal which rapidly went down & may now be said to be extinct ... (Letters 1: 269; canceled matter not reproduced).

The Broadway Journal of March 22, 1845, sets out yet another reworking of the record: [column 2:]

[White], by dint of much personal exertion, obtained, in the first six months, about six or seven hundred subscribers. ... [B]y systematic exertion on the part of both publisher and editor the circulation was increased by the end of the subsequent year to nearly five thousand — a success quite unparalleled in the history of our five dollar Magazines. After the secession of Mr. Poe, Mr. White took the editorial conduct upon his own shoulders and sustained it remarkably well. ... (text in Pollin 3: 54).

In the March 29 issue the figure was set at “seven hundred to nearly five thousand,” and a similar claim was now added for the period of Poe’s service on Graham’s (text in Pollin 3: 59). In the last year of his life Poe was still circulating what had now become a sort of “official” figure, commenting to E. H. N. Patterson in April 1849: “I presume you know that during the second year of its existence, the ’S. L. Messenger’ rose from less than 1000 to 5000 subs.” (Letters 2: 440).

Poe’s biographers from John Henry Ingram down to the present have repeated either the lower or the higher set of figures, rarely indicating that their only evidence is what Poe himself states with apparent authority. On the face of it, however, Poe’s boast of an astonishing increase in circulation during his editorship is absurd. When he left the SLM in January 1837, White was struggling merely to keep his magazine alive. Moreover, it may be doubted that his plant was capable of producing a press run of 5000. But the matter may now be laid safely to rest. Recently, Terence Whalen, in his Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America, has established hard data. It is his finding that, if one counts late payments made up to one year after the period of the volume, [page 367:] circulation went from 1301 for Volume 1 to 1732 for Volume 2 — a rise of only 431. (These figures are cited here with his permission.)

Poe’s final period of association with the SLM coincided with the last years of his life. In the April 1845 issue Benjamin B. Minor published this editorial announcement: “Under the present multiplication of books, it needs an Argus to watch and guard the press. To enable the Messenger to discharge its part, we have engaged the services of Mr. Poe; who will contribute monthly a critique raisonnée of the most important forthcoming works in this Country and in Europe” (10: 256). But Poe, then editing the Broadway Journal, apparently had promised more than he could supply, for Minor in his much later memoir noted: “Of course, such announcement would never have been made without due authority; but it was never in the least part fulfilled by Mr. Poe” (Minor, p. 100).

Poe did, however, send in over the next five years, a number of editorial contributions. The printed items that may be assigned to him are listed immediately below. As the Notes sections of this edition have pointed out, the final recycling of some of the earlier (1835-37) SLM material appeared in Volumes 3 and 4 of the Griswold edition. The source of these texts, which sometimes shortened or combined the original articles, has been a puzzle. In 1902 Killis Campbell, in a review of the Harrison edition, was the first to suggest that Griswold had some authority from Poe himself in what he published in “his” edition. Succeeding years of scholarly investigation have established Maria Clemm’s role in the selection of Griswold as editorial executor [column 2:] and in the likelihood that she supplied copy which Poe had already prepared. For a survey of the complexities of this issue, see the summation in Pollin 2: xviii-xx and his “Maria Clemm, Poe’s Aunt: His Boon or His Bane?” in Mississippi Quarterly 48 (1995): 211-24.

The following were the last editorial articles by Poe to appear in the SLM:

MAY 1845

1. Review of Charles Anthon’s edition of William Smith’s A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. (SLM 11: 326). This notice incorporates a review of the same work in the Broadway Journal of April 12, 1845 (text in Pollin 3: 81; notes in Pollin 4: 60-61). It is printed and discussed below.

2. Review of Francis Fauval-Gouraud, Phreno-Mnemotechny. (SLM 11: 32628). It incorporates Poe’s notices in the Broadway Journal for April 12, 1845 (text in Pollin 3: 83) and March 19, 1845 (Pollin 3: 101; notes in Pollin 4: 77). Printed and discussed below.


“Excerpta” (SLM 14: 96). Printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 444-48 as “Supplementary Pinakidia” 29-34.

APRIL 1848

[Untitled] (SLM 14: 228). Printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 448 as “Supplementary Pinakidia” 35.

MAY 1848

[Untitled] (SLM 14: 319). Printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 319 as “Supplementary Pinakidia” 36.

JUNE 1848

[Untitled] and “Ranz des Vaches” (SLM 14: 376). Printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 448-49 as “Supplementary Pinakidia” 37-38. [page 368:]


Review of Sarah Anna Lewis’s The Child of the Sea (SLM 14: 569-71). Signed by Poe. Printed and discussed below.

JUNE 1849

“Marginalia” (SLM 15:336-38). Thirty-four items printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 376-94 as “Marginalia” 223-56.


“The Rationale of Verse” (SLM 14:578-85). First installment of this major Poe essay. To be published in another volume of this edition of the Collected Writings.


1. “Epigram” (SLM 14: 654) a untitled short pieces (SLM 14:,69tand 698). Printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 449-452 as “Supplementary Pinakidia” 39-43.

2. “The Rationale of Verse” (SLM 14: 673-82). Second installment of this essay.


Three untitled short pieces (SLM 14: 726, 752, 760). Printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 452-53 as “Supplementary Pinakidia” 44-46.


Review of Rufus W. Griswold’s The Female Poets of America (SLM 15:126-27). Printed and discussed below.

MARCH 1849

Review of James Russell Lowell’s A Fable for Critics. (SLM 15: 189-91). Claimed by Poe in a letter to Frederick W. Thomas (Letters 2: 427). Printed and discussed below.

APRIL 1849

“Marginalia” (SLM 15:217-22). Twelve items printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 335-56 as “Marginalia” 201-212.

MAY 1849

“Marginalia” (SLM 15: 292-96). Ten items printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 357-75 as “Marginalia” 213-22. [column 2:]

JULY 1849

“Marginalia” (SLM 15:414-16): Thirty-three items printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 395-423 as “Marginalia” 257-89.


“Frances Sargent Osgood.” (SLM 15: 509-15). Signed by Poe. Printed and discussed below.


“Marginalia” (SLM 15: 600-01). Two items printed and discussed in Pollin 2: 417-23 as “Marginalia” 290-91.


“Poe on Headley and Channing” (SLM 16: 608-12). The editor of the SLM, John R. Thompson, supplied this preface: “From advance sheets of ‘The Literati,’ a work in press, by the late Edgar A. Poe, we take the following sketches of [Joel T.] Headley and [William Ellery] Channing-as good specimens of that tomahawk-style of criticism of which the author was so great a master. In the present instances the satire is well-deserved. Neither of these sketches we believe have [sic] been in print before” (15: 608). The “advance sheets” were from Volume 3 of the Griswold edition. The review of Channing first appeared in the August 1843 Graham’s. The SLM considerably shortened Poe’s text; Griswold has it in full. It was not submitted by Poe and is not printed here.]






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