by Edgar Allan Poe
EDGAR ALLAN POE was the grandson of David Poe, a patriot of the Revolution, who established the family name in Maryland, and distinguished it by life-long service to his country. His eldest son, who bore his name, disappointed him by adopting the profession of an actor, and married a fellow-member of the Virginia players, -- Mrs. Hopkins, whose husband, a comedian of the same company, had recently died. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Arnold. Her mother, Mrs. Arnold, was an English actress who had emigrated to America and made her first appearance here at Boston, Feb. 12, 1796; but she remarried, and, after a brief interval, passed into an obscurity which concealed her fate. The daughter, whose education had been in the theatre, remained with the players; and she was now, at the time of her second marriage, in 1805, accomplished and attractive in her art. David Poe was not less than twenty-five years old, and she was, perhaps, somewhat younger. In the fall of 1806, they joined the company of the Federal Street Theatre, in Boston, where she had sung her first song in public with her mother ten years before, and for the three following years they made their home in that city. There, on Jan. 19, 1809, was born their second child, Edgar, the subject of this memoir; an elder son, William, and a younger daughter, Rosalie, were the other offspring of this marriage. The career of the parents was brief and, perhaps, unhappy. They were, at least, poor, and were sometimes in want. The father, though with a natural inclination for the stage, had no success as an actor, and the burden consequently fell upon the mother. She became the leading actress at the Federal Street Theatre; and, as she was commended for her industry and good sense, as well as for her ability, and seems to have sustained with credit her tragic parts and to have been especially attractive in lighter impersonations, it may be concluded that she made the most of her native talents and her opportunities. She was also praised for her moral qualities and domestic virtues. But success did not companion merit in her case; and in the summer after Edgar's birth the family left the city, with grateful memories on her part, as is shown by the lines of her writing in which she bade her son
love Boston, the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends. It is not known when her husband died. Mrs. Poe joined her old friends of the Southern circuit, and after the birth of her third child, Rosalie, she fell into a decline. Early in the winter, in 1811, at Richmond, the family became objects of charity; the actors played twice for their benefit, addressing their card of advertisement
To the Humane; and, on December 8, the mother died, leaving the three young children destitute. William was sent to his father's kindred in Baltimore; Rosalie was received into the family of Mrs. MacKenzie, and Edgar into that of Mrs. Allan, both of Richmond.
The change of life and prospect thus secured for Edgar was so great that it might seem worthy of some good fairy. The child of the poor players, before whom, notwithstanding his mother's devotion, there could have been for his youthful years only the necessary circumstances of a continual struggle with poverty in the midst of a wandering life, was given a place privileged with fortune, education, and social breeding, where he should grow to manhood. Mrs. Allan, who was a woman of twenty-five years, showed him, while she lived, true affection; and his precocity and beauty as a child won upon the unwilling heart of her husband so that he soon took pride in the boy to whom he had given his name. Mr. John Allan was by birth a Scotchman, and by trade a tobacco merchant, and had already acquired wealth and social position in Richmond. He was, it would appear, of a somewhat hard nature, even cold, perhaps, in affection; but he was not unjust or sparing, in his treatment of the adopted child. Edgar was brought up as a son of the house. He was early sent to a private school, kept by an old-fashioned dame. When six years old, he could read, draw, and dance; he had a talent for declamation, and is remembered standing between the doors of some Richmond drawing-room and reciting from the
Lay of the Last Minstrel to a large company, in a sweet voice and with clear enunciation. It is related also that Mr. Allan taught the boy to stand up in a chair at dessert, and pledge the health of the company, which he did with roguish grace. He wore dark curls, and had brilliant eyes; and those who remembered him in Richmond or at the White Sulphur Springs, where the family passed the summers, spoke of the pretty figure he made, with his pony and dogs and his vivacious ways.
In the summer of 1815, Mr. Allan took his family abroad for a long stay; and he placed Edgar at the Manor House School, at Stoke Newington, near London, under Dr. Bransby; but the homelessness of such a life was relieved by weekly Sunday visits which the child made to the Allans, who lived at no great distance, and by the vacations, which he spent with them in travelling, thus seeing, according to his own statement, nearly all parts of the United Kingdom. These five years of English, school-days have left little record of themselves, though in later life he sketched the outward aspects of the house and grounds, and drew a portrait of the head-master. He was inducted into the manly sports, as a matter of course, and began to be athletic; he learned to speak French and construe easy Latin, and obtained a knowledge of history and literature said to have been beyond his years; and he showed the scholarly spirit which is noticeable in every account of his youth. Dr. Bransby appears to have remembered most clearly the extravagant amount of his pocket-money.
I liked the boy, he said;
poor fellow, his parents spoiled him. English school-life, in early years, always seems a kind of orphanage; but such as it was, the boy had, perhaps, less to complain of than others. In August, 1820, the Allans returned to Richmond, where they resided during Poe's later schooldays in North Fifth Street till their removal in 1825 to the estate on the corner of Fifth and Main streets. Here Poe could have lived but a few months, and the place first mentioned must be regarded as his Richmond home.
He was immediately put to school again with Master Joseph H. Clarke, an Irishman from Trinity College, Dublin. He continued his French and classical studies, and acquired proficiency in capping Latin verses and composing English rhymes. He had already shown his poetic instinct, and the master recalled a manuscript volume of verses, addressed to the little girls of Richmond, which Mr. Allan submitted to his judgment with a view to publication; but it is not unlikely that the description of the contents is inaccurate. The lad was a leader of the school in debates, verse-contests, and athletic games, and made an impression upon his mates both by his character and attainments. At the age of fifteen, he began his military career as lieutenant of the Richmond Junior Volunteers, -- as appears from communications, signed with his name and rank, from that youthful body of soldiers to the Governor and Council, which still exist in the Executive Archives of Virginia. It was just before this incident that Master Clarke gave way to Master William Burk, and was addressed, on his leave -- taking, by the young poet in an English ode.
A younger member of the school, Mr. Andrew Johnston, describes the traits of Poe, in these school days, more distinctly: --
Poe was a much more advanced scholar than any of us; but there was no other class for him -- that being the highest -- and he had nothing to do, or but little, to keep his headship of the class. I dare say he liked it well, for he was fond of desultory reading, and even then wrote verses, very clever for a boy of his years, and sometimes satirical. We all recognized and admired his great and varied talents, and were proud of him as the most distinguished schoolboy of the town. At that time, Poe was slight in person and figure, but well made, active, sinewy, and graceful. In athletic exercises he was foremost: especially he was the best, the most daring, and most enduring swimmer that I ever saw in the water. When about sixteen years old, he performed his well known feat of swimming from Richmond to Warwick, a distance of five or six miles. He was accompanied by two boats, and it took him several hours to accomplish the task, the tide changing during the time. In dress he was neat but not foppish. His disposition was amiable, and his manners pleasant and courteous.
Colonel John Preston, also a younger schoolfellow, adds that, notwithstanding, Poe was not the master spirit or favorite among the boys, partly because he was
self-willed, capricious, inclined to be imperious, and, though of generous impulses, not steadily kind or even amiable, and partly because his mates remembered that he was born of the players and dependent on Mr. Allan's bounty. In these reminiscences, his ardent temperament, which in anger was furious, and the habitual reserve of his nature, together with his ambitious talent and its intellectual and poetic bent, are most prominent. He stood somewhat aloof from all, fond of admiration, but jealous of his place; if he loved any, it was Sully, a nephew of the artist, and also with a touch of the sensibilities of genius. No one seemed to be intimate with him. Impetuous, self-willed, defiant, proud of his powers, and fond of their successful display, he does not appear to have been unamiable or morose, though he was resentful and probably lonely.
A single romantic episode of the time, which, however, should not be allowed to cast too heavy a shadow upon his home, where he received probably more affectionate care than he was aware of, is related by Mrs. Whitman, to whom he told it: --
While at the academy in Richmond, he one day accompanied a schoolmate to his home, where he saw for the first time Mrs. H____ S______ , the mother of his young friend. This lady, on entering the room, took his hand and spoke some gentle and gracious words of welcome, which so penetrated the sensitive heart of the orphan boy as to deprive him of the power of speech, and for a time almost of consciousness itself. He returned home in a dream, with but one thought, one hope in life -- to hear again the sweet and gracious words that had made the desolate world so beautiful to him, and filled his lonely heart with the oppression of a new joy. This lady afterwards became the confidant of all his boyish sorrows, and hers was the one redeeming influence that saved and guided him in the earlier days of his turbulent and passionate youth. After the visitation of strange and peculiar sorrows she died, and for months after her decease it was his habit to visit nightly the cemetery where the object of his boyish idolatry lay entombed. The thought of her -- sleeping there in her loneliness -- filled his heart with a profound, incommunicable sorrow. When the nights were very dreary and cold, when the autumnal rains fell and the winds wailed mournfully over the graves, he lingered longest and came away most regretfully.
This is the earliest of the Lenore legends. The lady, Mrs. Jane Stith Stanard, died April 28, 1824, at the age of thirty-one years. It was, perhaps, in this experience of death, when the boy was fifteen years of age, that the spirit of brooding over the grave first fell upon him. The peculiar melancholy of Poe, in presence of the death of woman, cannot be traced further to an original motive; and it is reasonable to believe that something, embalmed in this romantic memory, occurred in his heart and life, and vitally awakened his imagination.
This event belongs in the last year of his school life. He studied another year under excellent tutors, and on Feb. 14, 1826, he matriculated at the University of Virginia, entering the schools of ancient and modern languages. He remained until December 15, when the session closed; and he obtained distinction in his final examinations in Latin and French. He had also attended classes in Greek, Spanish, and Italian, and his scholarship was well spoken of by his teachers. In his relations with the University authorities he had a clear record. His private life was that of a student with a careless reputation. He joined with others in the amusements natural to the time. He was more inclined to gambling than drinking, but exhibited in both diversions a peculiar recklessness, indicative of an excitable temperament rather than of pleasure in his cups or the cards.
Poe's passion for strong drink, says one of his fellow students,
was as marked and as peculiar as that for cards. It was not the taste of the beverage that influenced him; without a sip or smack of the mouth he would seize a full glass, without sugar or water, and send it home at a single gulp. This frequently used him up; but, if not, he rarely returned to the charge. He is said to have lost caste with the more aristocratic of his mates by his card-playing. One student remembered hearing him express regret for his extravagance and waste of money during the session, just as he was about to leave for Richmond. He was known to all, however, for other tastes. He had decorated his room, No. 13 West Range, with large charcoal sketches copied from an illustrated edition of Byron, and here he would relate to his companions some tale, or declaim some poem, of his invention. He remained solitary and reserved, and found pleasure in tramping amid the wild scenes of the neighboring country. His spirit had declared itself, both in character and talent; and when Mr. Allan came down to inquire into affairs, toward the close of the session, he found the youth of seventeen with a mind and resolution of his own, and with qualities so blended in him that his right guardianship might have taxed a far wiser hand and a more delicate and tender touch. Mr. Allan flatly refused to honor the youth's gambling debts, amounting to twenty-five hundred dollars; and, on his return to Richmond, placed him in the counting-room, doubtless meaning that he should follow a commercial career. It was, perhaps, only an added irritation to find that the young lady, Miss Sarah Elmira Royster, who was the first mistress of his affections, and had been the object of his sketches, letters, and verse, was married to another.
Poe resolved on flight and an adventurous course. Whatever his original plan may have been, he is next found in Boston, where he enlisted as a private in the army of the United States, May 26, 1827, under the name of Edgar A. Perry. He was eighteen, but he gave his age as twenty-two; he stated that he was by occupation a clerk; and the record adds that he had gray eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion, and was five feet eight inches in height. He was assigned to Battery H, of the First Artillery, then on duty in the harbor at Fort Independence, and there he spent the summer. He had also made a venture in literature, and published towards August his first work,
Tamerlane and other Poems, by a Bostonian, -- a small thin pamphlet, issued from the press by Calvin F. S. Thomas, a poor youth of nineteen, who had just set up a job printing-office, and who seems to have begun and ended his career as a publisher with this then insignificant but now famous little book. The edition was obscure, and was noticed only by advertisements of its receipt in two leading magazines. There were nine short poems, besides
Tamerlane, in the pamphlet, but they were too crude to make any impression. The author probably conducted the affair under an assumed name, as the printer seems never to have identified him as the poet of later years. In the fall, Poe was transferred with the Battery to Fort Moultrie, Charleston, S. C., and a year afterwards to Fortress Monroe, Va. He was company clerk and assistant in the commissariat department, and on Jan. 1, 1829, was promoted for merit to be Sergeant Major. Official reports show that he discharged his duties satisfactorily, and won the regard of his superiors, who, when the occasion arose, interested themselves to aid him in regaining his proper position in life.
At what time and in what way he made his situation known to the Allans has not been told; but, at the beginning of the year 1829, Mrs. Allan was lying on her death-bed, and she is said to have asked to see him. Leave of absence was granted him, but he did not arrive in Richmond until after her death, which occurred on February 28. He succeeded in effecting a reconciliation with Mr. Allan, to the extent of the latter's engaging to provide a substitute for him in the army, and to place him, if possible, in West Point.
On April 15, Poe was thus discharged, on the recommendation of his colonel, and with letters from his officers in which his good character and conduct are vouched for, and his freedom from habits of intoxication is specially mentioned. Mr. Allan wasted little time in following up the plan agreed upon, and secured additional letters from the Speaker of the House, the Representative of the Congressional district, and Major John Campbell, while he himself, under date of May 6, also addressed the Secretary of War, asking for the appointment of Poe as a cadet at West Point. One passage of this letter shows plainly how different was Mr. Allan's attitude from that of a man who had received a son back into his home and meant to make him heir, as Poe evidently hoped he would do; it is, moreover, characteristic of the man.
Frankly, Sir, he says,
do I declare that he is no relation to me whatever; that I have many [in] whom I have taken an active interest to promote theirs; with no other feeling than that, every man is my care, if he be in distress. For myself I ask nothing, but I do request your kindness to aid this youth in the promotion of his future prospects. All these letters Poe presented to the Secretary in person, at Washington.
In thus preparing for a military career, Poe had not forgotten his literary hopes. He now began that course of appeal to distinguished men to recognize and advise him, which he continued through life. On the day when Mr. Allan was penning the words which classed Poe as an object of his common charity, William Wirt was also writing a letter in which he advised the young poet to seek some less old-fashioned critic than himself to comment on the poem that had been sent for his perusal. This poem was probably
Al Aaraaf, the manuscript of which Poe also showed to William Gwynn, a Baltimore editor, who said it was
indicative of a tendency to anything but the business of matter-of-fact life. Poe had stopped at Baltimore, and resided there for some months, making the acquaintance of his blood relations and awaiting his appointment. He apparently had some undefined business relations with Mr. Gwynn, in whose office his relative, Neilson Poe, was employed. In September, John Neal's paper,
The Yankee, published at Boston, contained a reply to
E. A. P. of Baltimore, which shows that Poe had also sought that editor's poetical advice; and in December the same paper published a letter from Poe in which he takes what had been said to him with good grace, and appeals youthfully but sincerely for recognition as a brother-poet. He states that he is about to publish a volume, and at the close of the year it was issued at Baltimore. This was
Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, and bore the author's name. It contained a revised form of
an appointment for his son, and the boy having died the father had substituted himself in his place.
The impressions he made on his classmates were various. One, who roomed with him, remembered his restless spirit and the harshness of his literary criticism; others knew him best by the satirical squibs he made upon the officers of the Academy; but, though his consumption of brandy and his share in the slight escapades of the barracks are mentioned, he incurred no grave censure until the very end. His life at the University and in the army had taken him out of the school-boy world; and while it would have been convenient to seem younger, he was really older than his years, and was becoming mature in mind through his literary genius. The description of him at this time, by another classmate, General Magruder, is the most complete and truthful: --
He was very shy and reserved in his intercourse with his fellow-cadets -- his associates being confined almost exclusively to Virginians. He was an accomplished French scholar, and had a wonderful aptitude for mathematics, so that he had no difficulty in preparing his recitations in his class and in obtaining the highest marks in these departments. He was a devourer of books, but his great fault was his neglect of, and apparent contempt for, military duties. His wayward and capricious temper made him at times utterly oblivious or indifferent to the ordinary routine of roll-call, drills, and guard duties. These habits subjected him often to arrest and punishment, and effectually prevented his learning or discharging the duties of a soldier.
Poe soon made up his mind to leave the service. Mr. Allan had been married, Oct. 5, 1830, to Miss Paterson, a lady of thirty; and the dis-adopted son realized the difference that this made in his prospects, if indeed he really continued to expect anything in that quarter. At all events, his desire for a military career, if it was ever genuine, had died out; probably it had been only a ground of compromise with Mr. Allan, and now he was tired of barrack-life again, and ready to risk his chances once more. Poe took his measures accordingly. Pending an adjourned court martial which would meet on Jan. 28, 1831, he neglected all duties for the two weeks preceding, and was cited to appear on that day to answer charges specifying his remissness and also direct disobedience, on two occasions, to the orders of the officer of the day. He pleaded guilty, except to the charge of absence from parade, roll-call, and guard duty, which was one easily determined from the record; and he was adjudged guilty and sentenced to dismissal, the execution being deferred until March 6, in order that his pay might meet his debts to the Academy; and, on March 7, the sentence having been duly approved by the Secretary of War, he left the Academy, having twelve cents to his credit. He had already arranged to publish, with the subscriptions of the cadets, a new edition of his poems, and he may have occupied himself with this business for a short time in New York. The book, entitled simply " Poems," with the author's name and dated 1831, duly appeared in that city, with a dedication to the cadets and a list of contents disappointing to those who had anticipated seeing a collection of his local squibs. It was made up of revised versions of old, together with some new poems. This was the last incident connected with his military life, and he now again struck out for himself.
He settled at Baltimore, and sought employment of Mr. Gwynn, the editor, and, later, as a school-teacher, but without success. Whether the annuity which he had received from Mr. Allan was now continued is uncertain; but the birth of a son, who would inherit the Allan name, and with it the fortune to which Poe had looked forward as his own, must have made his position serious in his own eyes. He lived in a solitary way with his father's widowed sister, Mrs. Clemm, and her only surviving child, Virginia; and such reminiscences as remain of the years that elapsed till Mr. Allan's death show that his circumstances were those of poverty and his associates few. Among the latter was one who has given an account of a flirtation with herself and an offer of marriage, which ended in the lover's throwing at her feet a cowhide with which he had chastised her uncle, who opposed the match and had written him a disagreeable letter. She relates that for the period of a year, during which she saw him constantly, he was sober except on one occasion, and it was his conduct on that occasion which terminated the courtship. His life, with these diversions, was one of waiting for better times.
The first turn in Poe's fortunes took place on Oct. 12, 1833, when "The Saturday Visiter" -- a weekly literary paper of the city -- announced that a prize of one hundred dollars, which had been offered for the best tale sent in to it, had been awarded to him. The judges in this contest were Dr. James H. Miller, J. H. B. Latrobe, and John P. Kennedy, and the successful tale was the
MS. Found in a Bottle. It was not written for the occasion, but was one of several, entitled
Tales of the Folio Club, bound in a small quarto volume, and written in the beautiful chirography of all Poe's manuscripts, but with especial care. A second prize, for the best poem, would also have been awarded to him, for
The Coliseum, had he not gained the first. This incident secured him the attention of these gentlemen; and of them, Kennedy in particular took interest in the writer and served him with such kindness that Poe declared he was
indebted to him for life itself. Meanwhile, the editor of the paper, L. A. Wilmer, became Poe's companion in walks and conversation, and saw few signs of bad habits in him; but this acquaintance was soon broken off by Wilmer's departure from the city, and no permanent improvement seems to have been made in Poe's circumstances.
The expression of deep gratitude to Kennedy, quoted above, probably refers to events just subsequent to the death of Mr. Allan, which occurred March 27, 1834. Poe was aware of his illness, and went to Richmond to seek a last interview, and perhaps to make a last appeal. He was not recognized by Mrs. Allan; and, on being told that her husband was forbidden to see any one, he pushed by her and went directly to Mr. Allan's chamber. On his entrance, Mr, Allan raised the cane which he used to walk with, and, threatening to strike him if he came within reach, ordered him out. Poe obeyed the command. Upon what grounds Mr. Allan's conduct rested for justification, other than such as have been stated, remains undivulged. Poe must have learned without surprise that nothing was left him by will. Six months later, he wrote to Kennedy with regard to the
Tales of the Folio Club, which he had sent to Carey and Lea of Philadelphia, and the tone indicates that this was the first time that he had directly mentioned his poverty:
I have a favor to beg of you which I thought it better to ask in writing, because, sincerely, I had not courage to ask it in person. I am indeed too well aware that I have no claim whatever to your attention, and that even the manner of my introduction to your notice was at the best equivocal. Since the day you first saw me, my situation in life has altered materially. At that time I looked forward to the inheritance of a large fortune, and, in the mean time, was in receipt of an annuity for my support. This was allowed me by a gentleman of Virginia (Mr. John Allan) who adopted me at the age of two years (both my parents being dead), and who, until lately, always treated me with the affection of a father. But a second marriage on his part, and I dare say many follies on my own, at length ended in a quarrel between us. He is now dead, and has left me nothing. I am thrown entirely upon my own resources, with no profession and very few friends. Worse than all this, I am at length penniless. Indeed, no circumstances less urgent would have induced me to risk your friendship by troubling you with my distresses. But I could not help thinking that if my situation was stated -- as you could state it -- to Carey and Lea, they might be led to aid me with a small sum in consideration of my manuscript now in their hands. This would relieve my immediate wants, and I could then look forward more confidently to better days. At all events receive the assurance of my gratitude for what you have already done.
In consequence of Kennedy's kind offices, the Philadelphia publishers arranged to print one of the tales in an annual, edited by Miss Leslie, and sent fifteen dollars to be given to Poe. A few months later in March, 1835, he reached the lowest point of his fortunes, and, humiliated by being obliged to decline an invitation from Kennedy to dine with him, because of his
personal appearance, he asked for a loan of twenty dollars, with which to make himself presentable. On this, Kennedy took up his cause still more warmly, gave him what he needed, and treated him as a personal friend, while at the same time he advised him to seek employment of T. W. White, who had just established
The Southern Literary Messenger, and himself cordially recommended him. From this time his affairs began to mend.
Poe soon made himself useful to Mr. White, and showed great and intelligent interest in the new magazine. He sent reviews and tales, and also advice. In May, he had a severe attack of illness, and was somewhat incapacitated, but recovered, and worked to such good purpose that Mr. White invited him to come to Richmond and assist him in the office. He accepted the offer with expressions of gratitude for the opportunity of employment, however humble and little it might be; and in the summer he returned to the city, which had so long been his home, to reside.
While still at Baltimore, Poe had become deeply attached to Mrs. Clemm, who had taken motherly care of him, and to her daughter, Virginia, who was even now hardly more than a child. The three wished to remain together and continue to make one home; and it was arranged that Mrs. Clemm and Virginia should follow him to Richmond, with the understanding that he should marry Virginia. She was only thirteen years old, and he was twenty-six; and, on the engagement being made known to their relatives, Neilson Poe, who stood in the same degree of cousinhood to both parties, offered to take Virginia into his home and care for her until she should be eighteen, when, if she wished, she should be free to marry her cousin Edgar. He violently remonstrated, and returning to Baltimore, took out a marriage license, September 22, and is said to have been then married to her at Old Christ Church by the Rev. John Johns, and to have returned at once to Richmond. This is alleged on the authority of Mrs. Clemm; and though in the absence of any entry in the church records, which were badly kept, and of the return of the officiating clergyman to the civil authorities, there is room for doubt, it is improbable that Mrs. Clemm was mistaken in her recollection. Some collateral circumstances must, however, be taken into the account.
By this time, whatever may have been the cause, Poe had contracted a habit of intoxication, which rendered him incapable during its indulgence, and left him, on his return to soberness, a wretched penitent. It was this which principally threatened his prosperity, after joining with Mr. White in the management of the magazine, -- a business for which he had great aptitude, and to which he was through life devoted. Whether Mr. White was warned by Kennedy, who probably knew the facts, or was left to his own experience, within a few weeks after Poe came to Richmond he learned all there was to know in respect to this defect in his assistant. The first outbreak was, perhaps, induced by anxiety in regard to the promised marriage; and it may have been only this latter trouble which occasioned the extraordinary appeal to Kennedy, which, in view of Poe's brightened circumstances, seems so inexplicable, and has always had a significant place in his memoir. This letter was dated Sept. 1, 1835, and is as follows: --
I received a letter yesterday from Dr. Miller, in which he tells me you are in town. I hasten, therefore, to write you, and express by letter what I have always found it impossible to express orally -- my deep sense of gratitude for your frequent and ineffectual assistance and kindness. Through your influence Mr. White has been induced to employ me in assisting him with the editorial duties of his magazine at a salary of five hundred and twenty dollars per annum. The situation is agreeable to me for many reasons, -- but alas! it appears to me that nothing can now give me pleasure or the slightest gratification. Excuse me, my dear sir, if in this letter you find much incoherency. My feelings at this moment are pitiable, indeed. I am suffering under a depression of spirits, such as I have never felt before. I have struggled in vain against the influence of this melancholy; you will believe me, when I say that I am still miserable in spite of the great improvement in my circumstances. I say you will believe me, and for this simple reason, that a man who is writing for effect does not write thus. My heart is open before you -- if it be worth reading, read it. I am wretched, and know not why. Console me, -- for you can. But let it be quickly, or it will be too late. Write me immediately. Convince me that it is worth one's while -- that it is at all necessary to live, and you will prove yourself indeed my friend. Persuade me to do what is right. I do mean this. I do not mean that you should consider what I now write you a jest. Oh, pity me! for I feel that my words are incoherent; but I will recover myself. You will not fail to see that I am suffering under a depression of spirits which will ruin me should it be long continued. Write me then, and quickly urge me to do what is right. Your words will have more weight with me than the words of others, for you were my friend when no one else was. Fail not as you value your peace of mind hereafter.
A postscript to this letter gives some messages from Mr. White, in the ordinary style, and contains the information that he is willing to print the
Tales of the Folio Club for Poe, if the Philadelphia firm, Carey and Lea, will permit the use of their name as publishers. Mr. Kennedy replied on September 19, as follows:
I am sorry to see you in such plight as your letter shows you in. It is strange that just at this time, when everybody is praising you, and when fortune is beginning to smile upon your hitherto wretched circumstances, you should be invaded by these blue devils. It belongs, however, to your age and temper to be thus buffeted -- but be assured it only wants a little resolution to master the adversary forever. You will doubtless do well henceforth in literature, and add to your comforts, as well as to your reputation, which it gives me great pleasure to assure you is everywhere rising in popular esteem.
He added some suggestions for literary work, charged himself with the correspondence in respect to the
Tales, and ended with a request that Poe would write to him frequently.
Three days later, as has been seen, Poe was in Baltimore, and took out the marriage license. He did not, however, return at once to Richmond, as, one week later, Mr. White addressed him the following letter from that city under date of September 29:
Would that it were in my power to unbosom myself to you in language such as I could on the present occasion wish myself master of. I cannot do it -- and therefore must be content to speak to you in my plain way. That you are sincere in all your promises I firmly believe. But, Edgar, when you once again tread these streets, I have my fears that your resolve would fall through, and that you would again sip the juice. even till it stole away your senses. Rely on your own strength, and you are gone! Look to your Maker for help, and you are safe! How much I regretted parting with you is unknown to any one on this earth except myself. I was attached to you -- and am still -- and willingly would I say return, if I did not dread the hour of separation very shortly again.
If you could make yourself contented to take up your quarters in my family or in any other private family where liquor is not used, I should think there were hopes of you. But if you go to a tavern, or to any other place where it is used at table, you are not safe. I speak from experience.
You have fine talents, Edgar -- and you ought to have them respected as well as yourself. Learn to respect yourself, and you will very soon find that you are respected. Separate yourself from the bottle, and bottle-companions, forever! Tell me if you can and will do so, and let me hear that it is your fixed purpose never to yield to temptation. If you should come to Richmond again, and again should be an assistant in my office, it must be especially understood by us that all engagements on my part would be dissolved, the moment you get drunk. No man is safe that drinks before breakfast. No man can do so and attend to business properly.
Such are the circumstances which surrounded the first marriage of Poe to his young cousin, if it in fact then took place. In a few weeks Mrs. Clemm and Virginia arrived in Richmond, and the little family was again united. It was proposed that Mrs. Clemm should keep a boarding-house, and Poe endeavored with some success to borrow from their relatives to make up the necessary capital. He was married to his cousin publicly on May 16, 1836, at the house where they all lived, by the Rev. Amasa Converse, a Presbyterian minister. The oath taken by Poe's surety, Thomas Cleland, was that
Virginia E. Clemm is of the full age of twenty-one years. Her mother was present, and gave her consent freely. The bride was, in fact, just under fourteen. It was now proposed that Mrs. Clemm should rent a house from Mr. White, and board his family as well as her own, but the scheme was abandoned. These plans, however, had occasioned considerable expense, and in June Poe applied to Mr. Kennedy for a loan of one hundred dollars to meet a note, which he said was his only debt.
Poe's worldly situation was now satisfactory to himself, and his letters were bright with the hopes inspired by his success. As early as January 22 of this year, he had written to Kennedy with much gratitude as follows: --
Although I have never yet acknowledged the receipt of your letter of advice some months ago, it was not without great influence upon me. I have since then fought the enemy manfully, and am now in every respect comfortable and happy. I know you will be pleased to hear this. My health is better than for years past, my mind is fully occupied, my pecuniary difficulties have vanished. I have a fair prospect of future success -- in a word, all is right. I shall never forget to whom all this happiness is, in a great degree, to be attributed. I know that without your timely aid I should have sunk under my trials. Mr. White is very liberal, and besides my salary of five hundred and twenty dollars pays me liberally for extra work, so that I receive nearly eight hundred dollars. Next year, that is, at the commencement of the second volume, I am to get one thousand dollars. Besides this, I receive from publishers nearly all new publications. My friends in Richmond have received me with open arms, and my reputation is extending -- especially in the South. Contrast all this with those circumstances of absolute despair in which you found me, and you will see how great reason I have to be grateful to God -- and to yourself.
To this Kennedy replied with his usual kindly cordiality:--
Your letter assures me that you have entirely conquered your late despondency. I am rejoiced at this. You have a pleasant and prosperous career before you, if you subdue this brooding and boding inclination of your mind. Be cheerful; rise early, work methodically -- I mean at appointed hours. Take regular recreation every day. Frequent the best company only. Be rigidly temperate both in body and mind -- and I will insure you at a moderate premium all the success and comfort you want.
Poe had every reason to regard his future with confident eyes. He had made a striking editorial success. His tales won him repute as an imaginative and bizarre writer; and his criticisms, vigorous, pointed, and downright, woke the echo, north and south, wherever books and magazines made their way in the reading of the land. He became popular as a story-writer and hated as a critic, and was at least known in all quarters. The magazine rapidly increased its circulation; and friends, such as Beverly Tucker of Virginia, and James K. Paulding of New York, were ready with praise and also with wise counsel for the young newcomer, who was so free with his lance. His reputation as a fearless critic overshadowed his merit as a story writer and poet, and yet, except upon occasions, he was not so savage as he was thought. Sometimes his contempt was shown by the very lightness of his stroke. He was, too, in these first days, just, according to his canons, if at times insolently just. There can be no doubt that he meant what he said, and had neither fear nor favor, though naturally desirous to make the most of the authors of the South in their competition with their countrymen of the more fortunate parallels to the northward. He was exposed to some retaliation in interested New York journals, and the Harpers declined, as Carey and Lea had done, to publish his tales, which Paulding had sent to them on his behalf; but such incidents were not reverses, hardly even delays, in themselves: he might well wait and feel secure, since he had made the country listen, had carried his magazine on a flood-tide, and was full of new inventions; and then, all at once, he failed.
In the first number of the
Messenger for 1837, it was announced that Poe's connection with the magazine would cease with that issue. The explanation was truly given by Kennedy, his best friend, --
he was irregular, eccentric, and querulous, and soon gave up his place. The words are transparent. The extant correspondence shows that Mr. White felt justified in his course, and followed it with as much kindness as the circumstances permitted. Poe, who had begun the
Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,, left it unfinished, and went to New York, where he is said to have been invited to contribute to the
New York Review, for which he did write one article with some assistance from Dr. Charles Anthon, of Columbia College. He arrived in the city at some time before June, 1837, and settled at 113 Carmine Street. Of his life in the city little is known beyond the fact that Mrs. Clemm kept boarders, one of whom, William Gowans, has borne testimony to Poe's soberness and courtesy during eight months of association with him. In midsummer of 1838, the
Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was published by the Harpers, and achieved the honors of piracy in England. Immediately on its issue, Poe removed to Philadelphia, where he continued to reside for nearly six years.
He was now a hack writer for the booksellers, magazines, and annuals; but the ambition to own a magazine was his dominant motive from this time to the end of his life. He contributed one of his most famous tales,
Ligeia, and, later, one of his best poems,
The Haunted Palace, to the
American Museum of Baltimore. He also wrote for the
Baltimore Book, an annual, the
Pittsburgh Examiner, a short-lived publication, and the
United States Military Magazine, a subscription publication. His first comparatively important work was
The Conchologist's First Book, issued in 1839, which drew upon him the charge of plagiarism. The fact appears to be that Poe was selected to father a cheaper form of Wyatt's
Conchology, which the Harpers, who were Wyatt's publishers, had declined to have made, sufficiently altered to escape a suit under the copyright laws, and which Wyatt himself offered for sale after his lectures. The
Introduction is a paraphrase of Brown's
Text-Book on the same subject, unless both Brown and Poe were indebted to one textual source, a most unnecessary hypothesis; and the remainder is openly from Wyatt and Cuvier. The affair appears, therefore, to have been in the main a case of collusion between Wyatt and Poe to outwit the Harpers. It was possibly this incident, and not anything connected directly with the publication of
Arthur Gordon Pym, to which the Harpers referred at a later time, when they declined to publish Poe's collected tales on the ground of some difficulty they had experienced with the author. Poe was also accredited with a share in a similar book, a translation and digest of Le Monnier's
Natural History, published under Wyatt's name; in noticing it, he said he spoke
from personal knowledge and the closest inspection and collation, but further than that his part in it is unknown. In 1839, also, he established relations with the newspaper press of Philadelphia, in which he printed some light tales. In these ways he made himself acquainted in the city, and seems to have soon become a familiar figure to its writers and editors.
In the spring of 1839, he made some offer to William E. Burton, the comedian, who was also editor and owner of the
Gentleman's Magazine, now in its second year. On May 10, Burton replied: --
I have given your proposal a fair consideration. I wish to form some such engagement as that which you have proposed, and know of no one more likely to suit my views than yourself. The expenses of the magazine are already woefully heavy; more so than my circulation warrants. I am certain that my expenditure exceeds that of any publication now extant, including the monthlies which are double in price. Competition is high -- new claimants are daily rising. I am therefore compelled to give expensive plates, thicker paper, and better printing than my antagonists, or allow them to win the goal. My contributors cost me something handsome, and the losses upon credit, exchange, etc., are becoming frequent and serious. I mention this list of difficulties as some slight reason why I do not close with your offer, which is indubitably liberal, without any delay.
Shall we say ten dollars per week for the remaining portion of this year? Should we remain together, which I see no reason to negative, your proposition shall be in force for 1840. A month's notice to be given on either side previous to a separation. Two hours a day, except occasionally, will, I believe, be sufficient for all required, except in the production of any article of your own. At all events you could easily find time for any other light avocation -- supposing that you did not exercise your talents in behalf of any publication interfering with the prospects of the 'Gentleman's Magazine.' I shall dine at home to-day at three. If you will cut your mutton with me, good. If not, write or see me at your leisure.
This arrangement was accepted, and in July Poe's name appeared as associate editor of that periodical. During the remainder of the year, the work done by him exclusively for Burton, except numerous reviews of light weight, was but little, but a considerable amount of his other writings was reprinted. Of the original compositions, the only piece that need be mentioned was
William Wilson had appeared in the
Gift for 1840, and all of his stories, now twenty-five in number, were included in "Tales of the Arabesque and Grotesque," issued in two volumes by Lea and Blanchard at the close of the year, under date of 1840, and widely and favorably noticed. In the first half of the next year, his criticism in the magazine showed greater strength, and he contributed to it anonymously
Some difficulty arose between the editors, of a nature that must be gathered from the following letter of Burton --
I am sorry you have thought it necessary to send me such a letter. Your troubles have given a morbid tone to your feelings which it is your duty to discourage. I myself have been as severely handled by the world as you can possibly have been, but my sufferings have not tinged my mind with melancholy, nor jaundiced my views of society. You must rouse your energies, and if care assail you, conquer it. I will gladly overlook the past. I hope you will as easily fulfill your pledges for the future. We shall agree very well, though I cannot permit the magazine to be made a vehicle for the sort of severity which you think 'so successful with the mob.' I am truly much less anxious about making a monthly 'sensation' than I am upon the point of fairness. You must, my dear sir, get rid of your avowed ill-feelings toward your brother authors. You see I speak plainly; I cannot do otherwise upon such a subject. You say the people love havoc. I think they love justice. I think you yourself would not have written the article on Dawes, in a more healthy state of mind. I am not trammelled by any vulgar consideration of expediency; I would rather lose money than by such undue severity wound the feelings of a kind-hearted and honorable man. And I am satisfied that Dawes has something of the true fire in him. I regretted your word-catching spirit. But I wander from my design. I accept your proposition to re-commence your interrupted avocations upon the magazine. Let us meet as if we had not exchanged letters. Use more exercise, write when feelings prompt, and be assured of my friendship. You will soon regain a healthy activity of mind, and laugh at your past vagaries.
In June, 1840, the engagement with Burton came to a sudden end.' The immediate occasion is assigned by Mr. Rosenbach, a companion of Poe. He says that Burton, having an engagement to play in New York, left the magazine in the associate editor's hands, and on returning found that nothing had been done, and he continues: --
Burton immediately sought my father at his house, and it was about midnight when he found him. He came in a carriage with a large bundle of manuscripts, from which they made some selection. They worked until morning, when they sent me with copy to the printer, Charles Alexander, in Franklin Place, Chestnut Street. Alexander hunted up some extra compositors, and by dint of hard work and hurried proof-reading, the 'Gentleman's Magazine' appeared as usual. Poe was discharged for his negligence.
But there is no reason to believe that Poe ever cared very much to serve Burton faithfully. His mind was filled with the project of a magazine of his own, and the present engagement was a mere stopgap. He wrote to Philip Pendleton Cooke, nearly nine months before, on Sept. 21, 1839,
As soon as Fate allows, I will have a magazine of my own, and will endeavor to kick up a dust. The idea was never absent from his mind, and as he knew that Burton was seeking a purchaser, he may have felt fewer scruples. He always spoke of Burton with contempt. On the other hand, Burton referred publicly, in print, to "the infirmities " of his colleague, which had caused him
much annoyance. The testimony of Mr. Alexander, the printer, in a letter to T. C. Clarke, Oct. 20, 1850, is explicit, but it avoids the point, while not concealing the situation: --
The absence of the principal editor on professional duties left the matter frequently in the hands of Mr. Poe, whose unfortunate failing may have occasioned some disappointment in the preparation of a particular article expected from him, but never interfering with the regular publication of the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' as its monthly issue was never interrupted upon any occasion, either from Mr. Poe's deficiency, or from any other cause, during my publication of it, embracing the whole time of Mr. Poe's connection with it. That Mr. Poe had faults seriously detrimental to his own interests, none, of course, will deny. They were, unfortunately, too well known in the literary circles of Philadelphia, were there any disposition to conceal them. But he alone was the sufferer, and not those who received the benefit of his preeminent talents, however irregular his habits or uncertain his contributions may occasionally have been.
Poe gave his own account of the matter in a letter to Dr. Snodgrass, of Baltimore, April 1, 1841: --
You are a physician, and I presume no physician can have difficulty in detecting the drunkard at a glance. You are, moreover, a literary man, well read in morals. You will never be brought to believe that I could write what I daily write, as I write it, were I as this villain would induce those who know me not, to believe. In fine, I pledge you, before God, the solemn word of a gentleman, that I am temperate even to rigor. From the hour in which I first saw this basest of calumniators to the hour in which I retired from his office in uncontrollable disgust at his chicanery, arrogance, ignorance, and brutality, nothing stronger than water ever passed my lips.
It is, however, due to candor that I inform you upon what foundation he has erected his slanders. At no period of my life was I ever what men call intemperate. I never was in the habit of intoxication. I never drunk drams, etc. But, for a brief period, while I resided in Richmond, and edited the 'Messenger,' I certainly did give way, at long intervals, to the temptation held out on all sides by the spirit of Southern conviviality. My sensitive temperament could not stand an excitement which was an every-day matter to my companions. In short, it sometimes happened that I was completely intoxicated. For some days after each excess I was invariably confined to bed. But it is now quite four years since I have abandoned every kind of alcoholic drink -- four years, with the exception of a single deviation, which occurred shortly after my leaving Burton, and when I was induced to resort to the occasional use of cider with the hope of relieving a nervous attack.
During the four years which, at the date of this letter, had elapsed since Poe left Richmond, he made an effort to refrain from intoxication, and he wrote to several friends that he had succeeded. James E. Heath, referring to some suspicions that Poe entertained of his old employer, Mr. White, had written from Richmond, Sept. 12, 1839, congratulating him on this change, and giving him encouragement of a kind he never really lacked in his literary work: --
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 feeling 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. He is not aware of having spoken or written anything with a design to injure you, or anything more in censure or disparagement than what he has said to you in person, when you resided here. I am inclined to think that you entirely mistake the man if you suppose that a particle of malignity lurks in his composition. My long acquaintance with him justifies me in saying that I have known few men more disposed to cherish kindly and benevolent feelings towards their fellowmen than himself. He informs me that he will with pleasure admit a notice of the 'Gentleman's Magazine' in the 'Messenger,' and if possible in the October number . . .
It gives me sincere pleasure to understand that your own good sense and the influence of high and noble motives have enabled you to overcome a seductive and dangerous besetment, which too often prostrates the wisest and best by its fatal grasp. The cultivation of such high intellectual powers as you possess cannot fail to earn for you a solid reputation in the literary world. In the department of criticism especially, I know few who can claim to be your superior in this country. Your dissecting-knife if vigorously employed would serve to rid us of much of that silly trash and sickly sentimentality with which puerile and conceited authors and gain-seeking booksellers are continually poisoning our intellectual food. I hope in relation to all such you will continue to wield your mace without 'fear, favor, or affection.'
At the time of this letter, however, and eighteen months before the declaration to Dr. Snodgrass, Poe had begun to fall back into old ways. Unfortunately, as Mr. Alexander says, his faults were too well known. The testimony to them is abundant; and it is plain that there was no time, after the first year of his residence in Philadelphia, when he had not the reputation among those who profess to have been his boon companions, of frequenting drinking-places and becoming intoxicated in all companies. The habit may have been strengthened by his continued disappointments, and it became marked as years went on; but the evidence to its existence and character from the time of his association with Burton is continuous. Poe afterwards assigned his failure to the year 1842, and it may not have seemed to himself that he was in any danger until that time. The illness of his wife, he said, drove him to despair.
He first gave this explanation in a letter to George W. Eveleth, Jan. 4, 1848, who had asked him to hint at "the terrible event," to which he had already publicly referred in a New York paper, as the cause of his excesses. Mr. Eveleth published the passage in a Portland paper soon after Poe's death: --
Yes, I can do more than hint. This 'evil' was the greatest which can befall a man. Six years ago, a wife, whom I loved as no man ever loved before, ruptured a blood-vessel in singing. Her life was despaired of. I took leave of her forever, and underwent all the agonies of her death. She recovered partially, and I again hoped. At the end of a year, the vessel broke again. I went through precisely the same scene. . . . Then again -- again -- and even once again, at varying intervals. Each time I felt all the agonies of her death -- and at each accession of the disorder I loved her more dearly and clung to her life with more desperate pertinacity. But I am constitutionally sensitive -- nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness I drank -- God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink rather than the drink to the insanity.
The particular cause of the extraordinary effect of these excesses was the fact that Poe was also addicted to the use of opium. At this time, however, 1840, the whole trouble was in its early stages.
On leaving Burton, Poe at once gave his attention to his own project, " The Penn Magazine," which was announced to appear on Jan. I, 1841, and prospectuses were sent to his friends, and advertisements solicited. Meanwhile, he began his articles upon "Cryptography," which were a sensation of the hour, in Alexander's "Weekly Messenger;" and when, in October, Burton sold out to George R. Graham, who now founded " Graham's Magazine," Poe maintained terms with the new proprietor, and being obliged, for several reasons, to postpone his own project, he took the editorship of the new periodical, as was publicly announced, Feb. 20, 1841. His first success in this position was the tale of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," which appeared in the number for April, 184I, the first of his editing. He had been led to this new ratiocinative vein, perhaps, by his studies in cryptography, which he had kept up; and he continued to work it, becoming thereby the father of the modern detective novel. He contributed criticism and verse, new and old, to the magazine, and helped to make it the successful venture that it rapidly became. It rose to a circulation of forty thousand, but its conduct was never satisfactory to Poe.
He had by no means abandoned his own plan.
The 'Penn,' I hope, is only 'scotched, not killed,' he wrote to Dr. Snodgrass in April, and added that it
would unquestionably be resumed hereafter. He was hopeful of persuading Graham to join him in the enterprise. In the early summer, he wrote to Longfellow, Cooper, Kennedy, and others, inviting their co-operation. He continually disapproved Graham's methods, and this discontent with his situation was a constant element in his correspondence. He had made a new and faithful friend in Frederick May Thomas, a forgotten author who held a position under the Government, at Washington; and through him he now endeavored to obtain an appointment in the Custom House at Philadelphia, by means of Robert Tyler, the son of the President. Thomas gave him all the assistance in his power, and his old friend Kennedy was also interested in the plan, but nothing was accomplished. His connection with "Graham's" ceased on April 1, 1842, and he was succeeded within a month by Rufus W. Griswold. There was no breach between him and his employer. " I shall continue," he wrote to Thomas, May 25, "to contribute occasionally. My reason for resigning was disgust with the namby-pamby character of the magazine, -- a character which it was impossible to eradicate. I allude to the contemptible pictures, fashion-plates, music, and love-tales. The salary, moreover, did not pay me for the labor which I was forced to bestow. With Graham, who is really very gentlemanly, although an exceedingly weak man, I had no misunderstanding." To another correspondent, Daniel Bryan, he wrote, July 6, " I have no quarrel with either Mr. Graham or Mr. Griswold, although I hold neither in especial respect. I have much aversion to communicate with them in any way." The only account given by Graham is that Poe, coming back to the office after an unusual absence, found Griswold in his chair, and at once left, and showed no disposition to return. The latter portion of the letter to Mr. Bryan, referred to above, contains a sufficiently clear explanation of the situation: --
I am making earnest, although secret exertions to resume my project of the 'Penn Magazine,' and have every confidence that I shall succeed in issuing the first number on the first of January. You may remember that it was my original design to issue it on the first of January, 1841. I was induced to abandon the project at that period by the representations of Mr. Graham. He said that if I would join him as a salaried editor, giving up for the time my own scheme, he himself would unite with me at the expiration of six months, or certainly at the end of a year. As Mr. Graham was a man of capital and I had no money, I thought it most prudent to fall in with his views. The result has proved his want of faith and my own folly. In fact I was continually laboring against myself. Every exertion made by myself for the benefit of 'Graham's,' by rendering that magazine a greater source of profit, rendered its owner at the same time less willing to keep his word with me. At the time of our bargain (a verbal one) he had six thousand subscribers; when I left him, he had more than forty thousand. It is no wonder that he has been tempted to leave me in the lurch.
I had nearly one thousand subscribers with which to have started the 'Penn,' and, with these as a beginning, it would have been my own fault, had I failed. There may be still three or four hundred who will stand by me of the old list, and in the interval between this period and the first of January, I will use every endeavor to procure others. I feel that now is the time to strike. The delay, after all, will do me no injury. My conduct of 'Graham's' has rendered me better and (I hope) more favorably known than before. I am anxious above all things to render the journal one in which the true, in contradistinction to the merely factitious genius of the country, shall be represented. I shall yield nothing to great names, nor to the circumstances of position. I shall make war to the knife against the New England assumption of 'all the decency and all the talent' which has been so disgustingly manifested in the Rev. Rufus W. Griswold's 'Poets and Poetry of America.'
In accordance with the views here described, it was publicly announced in the New York " Mirror," on July 30, 1842, that Poe would revive the projected " Penn;" and he wrote to various correspondents that he hoped to issue the first number the following January.
During the remainder of the year, he contributed to " Graham's " and Snowden's " Lady's Companion," sent a story to the " Boston Miscellany," from which Lowell recovered it for his own " Pioneer," and sought more vigorously the place in the Custom House only to his own vexation and disappointment. His experience, which he related to Thomas, is characteristic:
Your letter of the 14th gave me new hope -- only to be dashed to the ground. On the day of its receipt, some of the papers announced four removals and appointments. Among the latter I observed the name -- 'Pogue.' Upon inquiry among those behind the curtain, I soon found that no such person as -- 'Pogue' had any expectation of an appointment, and that the name was a misprint or rather a misunderstanding of the reporters, who had heard my own name spoken of at the Custom House. I waited two days, without calling on Mr. Smith, as he had twice told me that 'he would send for me, when he wished to swear me in.' To-day, however, hearing nothing from him, I called. I asked him if he had no good news for me yet. He replied, 'No, I am instructed to make no more removals.' At this, being much astonished, I mentioned that I had heard, through a friend, from Mr. Rob Tyler, that he was requested to appoint me. At these words he said roughly -- 'From whom did you say?' I replied, from Mr. Robert Tyler. I wish you could have seen the scoundrel, -- for scoundrel, my dear Thomas, in your private ear, he is, -- 'From Robert Tyler!' says he -- Hem! I have received orders from President Tyler to make no more appointments, and shall make none.' Immediately afterward, he acknowledged that he had made one appointment since these instructions.
Mr. Smith has excited the thorough disgust of every Tyler man here. He is a whig of the worst stamp, and will appoint none but whigs if he can possibly avoid it. People here laugh at the idea of his being a Tyler man. He is notoriously not such. As for me, he has treated me most shamefully. In my case, there was no need of any political shuffling or lying. I proffered my willingness to postpone my claims to those of political claimants, but he told me, upon my first interview after the election, that if I would call on the fourth day he would swear me in. I called and he was not at home. On the next day I called again and saw him, when he told me that he would send a messenger for me when ready: this without even inquiring my place of residence, showing that he had, from the first, no design of appointing me. Well, I waited nearly a month, when, finding nearly all the appointments made, I again called. He did not even ask me to be seated -- scarcely spoke -- muttered the words 'I will send for you, Mr. Poe' -- and that was all. My next and last interview was to-day-as I have just described. The whole manner of the man, from the first, convinced me that he would not appoint me if he could help it. Hence the uneasiness I expressed to you when here. Now, my dear Thomas, this insult is not to me, so much as to your friend Mr. Robert Tyler, who was so kind as to promise, and who requested, my appointment.
It seems to me that the only way to serve me now is to lay the matter once again before Mr. Tyler, and, if possible through him, to procure a few lines from the President, directing Mr. Smith to give me the place. With these credentials he would scarcely again refuse. But I leave all to your better judgment.
You can have no idea of the low ruffians and boobies -- men, too, without a shadow of political influence or caste -- who have received office over my head. If Smith had the feelings of a gentleman, he would have perceived that, from the very character of my claim, -- by which I mean my want of claim, -- he should have made my appointment an early one. It was a gratuitous favor intended me by Mr. Rob Tyler, and he (Smith) has done his best to deprive this favor of all its grace by delay. I could have forgiven all but the innumerable and altogether unnecessary falsehoods with which he insulted my common sense day after day.
I would write more, my dear Thomas, but my heart is too heavy. You have felt the misery of hope deferred, and will feel for me.
Early in 1843 he had secured a partner, Thomas C. Clarke, owner of the "Saturday Museum," who undertook to join with him in the venture of the new magazine, which, however, was to be known as the "Stylus." The terms of the agreement are given in a letter of Poe to Thomas, Feb. 25, 1843: --
I have managed at last to secure, I think, the great object -- a partner possessing ample capital, and, at the same time, so little self-esteem as to allow me entire control of the editorial conduct. He gives me, also, a half interest, and is to furnish funds for all the business operations -- I agreeing to supply, for the first year, the literary matter. This will puzzle me no little, but I must do my best -- write as much as possible myself, under my own name and pseudonyms, and hope for the casual aid of my friends, until the first stage of infancy is surpassed. The articles of copartnership have been signed and sealed for some weeks, and I should have written you before, informing you of my good luck, but that I was in hope of sending you, at the same time, a specimen sheet. Some little delay has occurred in getting it out on account of paper. In the mean time, all arrangements are progressing with spirit.
With this letter Poe also sent an advance copy of the "Saturday Museum," for March 4, which contained the prospectus, and also a life of Poe by H. W. Hirst, one of his Philadelphia acquaintances, which professed to be based on information derived from Mr. White, of the old "Messenger," and Thomas, but in fact furnished by Poe. It was a tissue of misstatement and untruth, and concluded with a reprint of nearly all his poems, except the juvenile pieces, and a publication of extracts from private letters in which he had received the praise of literary men, and in some instances the passages were garbled. In furtherance both of the magazine and of Poe's application for office under the Government, he went early in March to Washington; and the visit became a spree, in consequence of which he lost whatever chance he may have had for an appointment, and feared lest his partner, who was hastily informed of his illness, should take some alarm. On his return, he found Clarke undisturbed, and he wrote to Richmond offering to buy the list of the old " Messenger," if it was for sale. By June, however, the "Stylus" was abandoned, with Poe's usual complaints of "the imbecility or rather idiocy of my partner." Clarke stated that he had no quarrel with Poe, and that, the money advanced by him having been expended, Poe left with him a story as security for the amount.
In the summer Poe published " The Gold-Bug," in the "Dollar Newspaper," winning thereby a prize of one hundred dollars. He also contributed to newspapers and annuals as well as to "Graham's." In the fall one number of an edition of his "Tales," in parts, was issued. On November 25, he lectured in Philadelphia on "The Poets and Poetry of America;" but he is said to have made an earlier appearance on the platform, in Baltimore, during the summer. In this lecture he openly attacked Griswold, in that kind of criticism which he so well understood, and which he had anonymously practiced on the same person earlier in the year in the columns of the "Saturday Museum." He was already on record in the "Boston Miscellany" in a favorable notice of the collection made by Griswold, which he had offered to write, and had been paid for by him. Griswold had just retired from "Graham's," and it is possible that Poe's connection with that magazine became closer, inasmuch as many of the reviews of the winter of 1843 are from his hand. In March, 1844, he published a very laudatory notice of Home's " Orion," and by this means secured a European connection. During the visit of Dickens to this country in 1842, Poe had made his acquaintance, having arrested his attention by an earlier review in which he foretold the plot of "Barnaby Rudge," and had charged him with the office of securing a publisher for his tales in London; but Dickens was unsuccessful in the efforts he made to that end. Horne now became a similar intermediary; but he, too, was unable to get what Poe sent him -- "The Spectacles" -- into any magazine in England. The correspondence, however, continued in a friendly spirit, and was a means of introduction to Mrs. Browning, then Miss Barrett and a friend of Home.
Poe's literary reputation was now fairly established, notwithstanding his failure to maintain himself by his pen, or to place himself in a secure editorial position. His poetic genius only was not recognized; but he had not published a volume of poems since he came to maturity, and the collection appended to Hirst's life of him could naturally have little effect. As a critic, he had more than held his own, and easily outranked any other writer of reviews, in the opinion both of his fellow-authors and of the public. His favor was courted and his judgment valued, though he was known to err both in severity and commendation when personal feeling entered into his writing, as it often did. As a writer of stories, he could cite the words of many of the leading men of his craft in his favor. Tucker, Kennedy, Paulding, Heath, Irving, Willis, Lowell, Hawthorne, Longfellow, and a host of minor writers in the press, make up the list of well-wishers and appreciative readers; and although his collection of tales, made in 1839, had not succeeded, it had been well noticed at the time, and now the vogue of "The Gold-Bug," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and other later stories had spread his name and given him true popularity. As an editor, the ease with which he obtained positions and made new engagements, and the success of the two magazines he had been most closely connected with, -- the "Messenger" and "Graham's," -- spoke for his ability; and the conduct of such enterprises he looked on as his special vocation and ambition. He cultivated his reputation, too, by seeking public notice in every part of the country, through his numerous correspondents, and by serving them in return for their good offices. He had made a practice of sending his best work to literary men of eminence, from the beginning, and he was always ready to take pains to make himself known favorably, and to use all methods of affecting public opinion and curiosity. He had succeeded by his genius, and been helped by his own management of his reputation; he met on all sides with the kindest reception, and never had to complain of a lack of appreciation; and several of the elder writers had added to this recognition, which he deserved, their friendship and counsel in private life, seeking to strengthen him in his efforts to retrieve the past and secure the future. It was not on the literary side that he failed in Philadelphia, nor was it from lack of good-will among authors or lukewarmness among friends; material and moral support, as well as literary recognition, had been given to him freely; but notwithstanding he was soon to find it necessary to leave the city.
The external events of Poe's troubled career in Philadelphia, from 1838 to 1844, are covered by what has been related. In person, he is described uniformly as quiet and gentlemanly in manner when he was sober. Mr. Alexander speaks of the " uniform gentleness of disposition and kindness of heart," which distinguished him; Clarke characterizes him as "a genial, generous friend, invariably kind and gentlemanly to all; " Graham, also, bears testimony to this phase of his nature. F. O. C. Darley, the artist, who was engaged to illustrate the "Stylus" in 1843, draws a more definite picture: --
He impressed me as a refined and very gentlemanly man; exceedingly neat in his person; interesting always, from the intellectual character of his mind, which appeared to me to be tinged with sadness. His manner was quiet and reserved; he rarely smiled. I remember his reading his 'Gold-Bug' and 'Black Cat' to me before they were published. The form of his manuscript was peculiar; he wrote on half-sheets of note-paper, which he pasted together at the ends, making one continuous piece, which he rolled up tightly. As he read, he dropped it upon the floor. It was very neatly written, and without corrections, apparently.
On the other hand, during this period, Poe had publicly exposed himself to those reports to which his old acquaintance, Wilmer, referred, when he wrote to Mr. Tomlin, in words which Poe violently resented:
Poor fellow, he is not a teetotaler by any means, and I fear he is going headlong to destruction, moral, physical, and intellectual. His appearance and actions, when he was not sober, gave occasion for that different impression of his personality, which it has been hard to reconcile with the recollections of his more considerate associates. In 1841, while he was still with Burton, Mr. Rosenbach says that Poe then spent much leisure time with Hirst, Scott, and himself in a certain drinking-place, and at evening in the lobbies of the theatres, from which they adjourned to restaurants. In 1843, Mr. Rosenbach returned to Philadelphia after an absence, and noticed "signs of continued dissipation," and in 1844 the state of affairs had grown worse. It is not unnatural that this phase of Poe's reputation should have been more notorious and lasting than that which those who were most humane in their judgment have recalled. Poe's use of opium, it is to be remembered, aggravated the case, and the spells of illness, to which he was subject, were severe; but, throughout, however he may have been known publicly to those who were only friends by chance, he had, at least, a home in which he was fondly and patiently cared for; and of this home some glimpses remain.
Mrs. Clemm, a vigorous woman of fifty, was the head of the family, and took care of its affairs. The house, No. 234 North Seventh Street, above Spring Garden, was a cottage surrounded by vines and ornamented in winter with flowers. Mayne Reid speaks of it as "a lean-to, of three rooms (there may have been a garret with a closet) of painted-plank construction, supported against the gable of the more pretentious dwelling." It is not certain that his abode was unchanged, but it was always the same sort of humble home, which, when not boarding, he usually occupied. In 1842, Virginia, who had remained a delicate and child-like wife, ruptured a blood-vessel, as has been already incidentally stated, and from that time her health was always the cause of great anxiety, aggravated by the poverty and misfortunes of their life. The reminiscences of her given by A. B. Harris are most vivid: --
She hardly looked more than fourteen, fair, soft, and graceful and girlish. Every one who saw her was won by her. Poe was very proud and very fond of her, and used to delight in the round, child-like face and plump little figure, which he contrasted with himself, so thin and half-melancholy looking, and she in turn idolized him. She had a voice of wonderful sweetness, and was an exquisite singer, and in some of their more prosperous days, when they were living in a pretty little rose-covered cottage on the outskirts of Philadelphia, she had her harp and piano . . . . She could not bear the slightest exposure, and needed the utmost care; and all those conveniences as to apartment and surroundings which are so important in the case of an invalid were almost matters of life and death to her. And yet the room where she lay for weeks, hardly able to breathe, except as she was fanned, was a little place with the ceiling so low over the narrow bed that her head almost touched it. But no one dared to speak, Mr. Poe was so sensitive and irritable; 'quick as steel and flint,' said one who knew him in those days. And he would not allow a word about the danger of her dying; the mention of it drove him wild.
Griswold describes the home from his own observation: --
When once he sent for me to visit him, during a period of illness caused by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife, I was impressed by the singular neatness and the air of refinement in his home. It was in a small house, in one of the pleasant and silent neighborhoods far from the centre of the town, and though slightly and cheaply furnished everything in it was so tasteful and so fitly disposed that it seemed altogether suitable for a man of genius. For this and for most of the comforts he enjoyed, in his brightest as in his darkest years, he was chiefly indebted to his mother-in-law, who loved him with more than maternal devotion and constancy.
Mayne Reid completes the picture with a characterization of Mrs. Clemm: --
She was the ever-vigilant guardian of the home, watching it against the silent but continuous sap of necessity, that appeared every day to be approaching closer and nearer. She was the sole servant, keeping everything clean; the sole messenger, doing the errands, making pilgrimages between the poet and his publishers, frequently bringing back such chilling responses as 'The article not accepted,' or 'The check not to be given until such and such a day,' -- often too late for his necessities. And she was also the messenger to the market; from it bringing back not 'the delicacies of the season,' but only such commodities as were called for by the dire exigencies of hunger.
It was evidently a house of poverty, and in it Poe was cared for with complete devotion. His material circumstances, which brightened from time to time, continually gave way to periods of want, small borrowings, and even destitution; more than once the family had been relieved by the charity of friends; and now there was less and less hope of change, -- it was plain that Poe had come to the end in this city. He had run himself out.
The decision to remove to New York was taken in the spring of 1844. Poe went on, with his wife, and sent back a letter to Mrs. Clemm on April 7, which discloses with painful distinctness the customary straits of the household: --
MY DEAR MUDDIE, -- We have just this minute done breakfast, and I now sit down to write you about everything. I can't pay for the letter, because the post-office won't be open to-day. In the first place we arrived safe at Walnut Street wharf. The driver wanted to make me pay a dollar, but I wouldn't. Then I had to pay a boy a levy to put the trunk in the baggage-car. In the mean time I took Sis [Virginia] in the Depot Hotel. It was only a quarter past six and we had to wait till seven. We saw the 'Ledger' and 'Times' -- nothing in either -- a few words of no account in the 'Chronicle.' We started in good spirits, but did not get here until nearly three o'clock. We went in the cars to Amboy, about forty miles from New York, and then took the steamboat the rest of the way. Sissy coughed none at all. When we got to the wharf it was raining hard. I left her on board the boat, after putting the trunks in the ladies' cabin, and set off to buy an umbrella and look for a boarding-house. I met a man selling umbrellas, and bought one for twenty-five cents. Then I went up Greenwich Street, and soon found a boarding-house. It is just before you get to Cedar Street, on the west side going up -- the left-hand side. It has brown stone steps, with a porch with brown pillars. 'Morrison' is the name on the door. I made a bargain in a few minutes and then got a hack and went for Sis. I was not gone more than half an hour, and she was quite astonished to see me back so soon. She didn't expect me for an hour. There were two other ladies waiting on board -- so she wasn't very lonely. When we got to the house we had to wait about half an hour before the room was ready. The house is old and looks buggy. [The letter is cut here for the signature on the other side.] The cheapest board I ever knew, taking into consideration the central situation and the living. I wish Kate [Catterina, the cat] could see it -- she would faint. Last night, for supper, we had the nicest tea you ever drank, strong and hot -- wheat bread and rye bread -- cheese -- tea-cakes (elegant), a great dish (two dishes) of elegant ham, and two of cold veal, piled up like a mountain and large slices -- three dishes of the cakes and everything in the greatest profusion. No fear of starving here. The landlady seemed as if she couldn't press us enough, and we were at home directly. Her husband is living with her -- a fat, good-natured old soul. There are eight or ten boarders -- two or three of them ladies -- two servants. For breakfast we had excellent-flavored coffee, hot and strong -- not very clear and no great deal of cream -- veal cutlets, elegant ham and eggs and nice bread and butter. I never sat down to a more plentiful or a nicer breakfast. I wish you could have seen the eggs -- and the great dishes of meat. I ate the first hearty breakfast I have eaten since I left our little home. Sis is delighted, and we are both in excellent spirits. She has coughed hardly any and had no night sweat. She is now busy mending my pants which I tore against a nail. I went out last night and bought a skein of silk, a skein of thread, two buttons, a pair of slippers, and a tin pan for the stove. The fire kept in all night. We have now got four dollars and a half left. To-morrow I am going to try and borrow three dollars, so that I may have a fortnight to go upon. I feel in excellent spirits, and haven't drank a drop -- so that I hope soon to get out of trouble. The very instant I scrape together enough money I will send it on. You can't imagine how much we both do miss you. Sissy had a hearty cry last night, because you and Catterina weren't here. We are resolved to get two rooms the first moment we can. In the mean time it is impossible we could be more comfortable or more at home than we are. It looks as if it were going to clear up now. Be sure and go to the post-office and have my letters forwarded. As soon as I write Lowell's article, I will send it to you, and get you to get the money from Graham. Give our best love to C_____.
Poe first signalized his presence in the city by publishing the '" Balloon Hoax" in the " Sun" on April 13. He applied to Dr. Anthon, who had previously befriended him, to use his influence with the Harpers to induce them to publish his collected tales, which he had revised and prepared for the press, and at the same time he gave new expression to his great ambition to found a magazine of his own; he said that he regarded the publication of his tales as incidental to this other ultimate purpose and a means of assisting its realization. The nature of his ambition and its grounds, which was always a common subject in his correspondence, is here best expressed, and the passage serves in lieu of all his prospectuses, of which the number was many.
Before quitting the 'Messenger' I saw, or fancied I saw, through a long and dim vista, the brilliant field for ambition which a magazine of bold and noble aims presented to him who should successfully establish it in America. I perceived that the country, from its very constitution, could not fail of affording in a few years a larger proportionate amount of readers than any upon the earth. I perceived that the whole energetic, busy spirit of the age tended wholly to magazine literature -- to the curt, the terse, the well-timed, and the readily diffused, in preference to the old forms of the verbose and ponderous and the inaccessible. I knew from personal experience that lying perdu among the innumerable plantations in our vast Southern and Western countries were a host of well-educated men peculiarly devoid of prejudice, who would gladly lend their influence to a really vigorous journal, provided the right means were taken of bringing it fairly within the very limited scope of their observation.
Now, I knew, it is true, that some scores of journals had failed (for, indeed, I looked upon the best success of the best of them as failure), but then I easily traced the causes of their failure in the impotency of their conductors, who made no scruple of basing their rules of action altogether upon what had been customarily done instead of what was now before them to do, in the greatly changed and constantly changing condition of things.
In short, I could see no real reason why a magazine, if worthy the name, could not be made to circulate among twenty thousand subscribers, embracing the best intellect and education of the land. This was a thought which stimulated my fancy and my ambition. The influence of such a journal would be vast indeed, and I dreamed of honestly employing that influence in the sacred cause of the beautiful, the just, and the true.
Even in a pecuniary view, the object was a magnificent one. The journal I proposed would be a large octavo of one hundred and twenty-eight pages, printed with bold type, single column, on the finest paper; and disdaining everything of what is termed 'embellishment' with the exception of an occasional portrait of a literary man, or some well-engraved wood-design in obvious illustration of the text. Of such a journal I had cautiously estimated the expenses. Could I circulate twenty thousand copies at five dollars, the cost would be about thirty thousand dollars, estimating all contingencies at the highest rate. There would be a balance of seventy thousand dollars per annum.
But not to trust too implicitly to a priori reasonings, and at the same time to make myself thoroughly master of all details which might avail me concerning the mere business of publication, I entered a few steps into the field of experiment. I joined the 'Messenger,' as you know, which was then in its second year with seven hundred subscribers, and the general outcry was that because a magazine had never succeeded south of the Potomac, therefore a magazine never could succeed. Yet, in spite of this, and in despite of the wretched taste of its proprietor, which hampered and controlled me at all points, I increased the circulation in fifteen months to five thousand five hundred subscribers paying an annual profit of ten thousand dollars when I left it. This number was never exceeded by the journal, which rapidly went down, and may now be said to be extinct. Of 'Graham's Magazine' you have no doubt heard. It had been in existence under the name of the 'Casket' for eight years when I became its editor, with a subscription list of about five thousand. In about eighteen months afterward, its circulation amounted to no less than fifty thousand -- astonishing as this may appear. At this period I left it. It is now two years since, and the number of subscribers is now not more than twenty-five thousand -- but possibly very much less. In three years it will be extinct. The nature of this journal, however, was such that even its fifty thousand subscribers could not make it very profitable to its proprietor. Its price was three dollars, but not only were its expenses immense owing to the employment of absurd steel plates and other extravagances, which tell not at all, but recourse was had to innumerable agents, who received it at a discount of no less than fifty per cent, and whose frequent dishonesty occasioned enormous loss. But if fifty thousand can be obtained for a three-dollar magazine among a class of readers who really read little, why may not fifty thousand be procured for a five-dollar journal among the true and permanent-readers of the land?
Holding steadily in view my ultimate purpose, -- to found a magazine of my own, or in which at least I might have a proprietary right, -- it has been my constant endeavor in the mean time, not so much to establish a reputation great in itself as one of that particular character which should best further my special objects, and draw attention to my exertions as editor of a magazine. Thus I have written no books, and have been so far essentially a magazinist [illegible] bearing, not only willingly but cheerfully, sad poverty and the thousand consequent contumelies and other ills which the condition of the mere magazinist entails upon him in America, where, more than in any other region upon the face of the globe, to be poor is to be despised.
The one great difficulty resulting from this course is, unless the journalist collects his various articles he is liable to be grossly misconceived and misjudged by men of whose good opinion he would be proud, but who see, perhaps, only a paper here and there, by accident -- often only one of his mere extravaganzas, written to supply a particular demand. He loses, too, whatever merit may be his due on the score of versatility -- a point which can only be estimated by collection of his various articles in volume form and all together. This is indeed a serious difficulty -- to seek a remedy for which is my object in writing you this letter.
Setting aside, for the present, my criticisms, poems, and miscellanies (sufficiently numerous), my tales, a great number of which might be termed fantasy pieces, are in number sixty-six. They would make, perhaps, five of the ordinary novel-volumes. I have them prepared in every respect for the press; but, alas, I have no money, nor that influence which would enable me to get a publisher -- although I seek no pecuniary remuneration. My sole immediate object is the furtherance of my ultimate one. I believe that if I could get my tales fairly before the public, and thus have an opportunity of eliciting foreign as well as native opinion respecting them, I should by their means be in a far more advantageous position than at present in regard to the establishment of a magazine. In a word, I believe that the publication of the work would lead forthwith either directly through my own exertion, or indirectly with the aid of a publisher, to the establishment of the journal I hold in view.
It is very true that I have no claims upon your attention, not even that of personal acquaintance. But I have reached a crisis of my life in which I sadly stand in need of aid, and without being able to say why, -- unless it is that I so earnestly desire your friendship, -- I have always felt a half-hope that, if I appealed to you, you would prove my friend. I know that you have unbounded influence with the Harpers, and I know that if you would exert it in my behalf you could procure me the publication I desire.
Dr. Anthon used his good offices, but without effect, owing to some
complaints which the Harpers had against Poe in their previous experience of him.
Meanwhile, Lowell having undertaken to write Poe's biography for
Graham's, the correspondence which grew out of this continued the friendly relations which had begun with the issue of the short-lived
Pioneer. Poe now proposed to Lowell a cooperative author's association to float his projected magazine, but the scheme was too wild for consideration. In another letter, July 2, 1844, he described his temperament:
I am excessively slothful and wonderfully industrious -- by fits. There are epochs when any kind of mental exercise is torture, and when nothing yields me pleasure but solitary communion with the 'mountains and the woods,' -- the 'altars' of Byron. I have thus rambled and dreamed away whole months, and awake, at last, to a sort of mania for composition. Then I scribble all day, and read all night, so long as the disease endures....
I am not ambitious -- unless negatively. I now and then feel stirred up to excel a fool, merely because I hate to let a fool imagine that he may excel me. Beyond this I feel nothing of ambition. I really perceive that vanity about which most men merely prate, -- the vanity of the human or temporal life. I live continually in a revery of the future. I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity . . . .
You speak of 'an estimate of my life,' -- and, from what I have already said, you will see that I have none to give. I have been too deeply conscious of the mutability and evanescence of temporal things to give any continuous effort to anything -- to be consistent in anything. My life has been whim -- impulse -- passion -- a longing for solitude -- a scorn of all things present in an earnest desire for the future.
Poe was now poor, but well, and had recovered resolution enough to maintain him, in his new surroundings, against his principal weakness.
Thank God! he wrote to Thomas, on Sept. 8, 1844,
Richard (whom you know) is himself again. Tell Dow so; but he won't believe it. I am working at a variety of things (all of which you shall behold in the end) -- and with an ardor of which I did not believe myself capable. Among the new plans were a
Critical History of American Literature, and, doubtless, his studies in mesmerism and materialistic metaphysics, which were the ground of some later tales, as well as of
In the fall Mrs. Clemm made an application on his behalf to N. P. Willis, then editor of the " Mirror," and he was given a place as assistant in the office. Early in October, his hand can be easily traced in the critical department. He contributed also to
Democratic Review, and his old magazine, the
Southern Literary Messenger; and he appears to have at least begun some newspaper correspondence. On Jan. 29, 845, the
Mirror published, by anticipation, from the February
American Review, and with a commendatory notice by Willis,
Graham's. It would seem that Poe again had a clear prospect of success; and, as his tales now became known in Paris and London, and the recognition of foreigners was added to the praise which from the first he had received in his own land, contemporary fame was secure. In the course of the year a selection of his tales, edited by Duyckinck, was published by Wiley and Putnam, and soon after his collected poems by the same firm; and the notices of these books were as favorable as an author could desire.
He had, however, still to lead his own life from day to day. He lectured in New York, on February 28, upon American Poetry, very acceptably, for he had elocutionary skill and an interesting personality to enlist the curiosity and sympathy of his audience. Willis sketches him, on this occasion, characteristically:
He becomes a desk, -- his beautiful head showing like a statuary embodiment of Discrimination; his accent drops like a knife through water, and his style is so much purer and clearer than the pulpit commonly gets or requires that the effect of what he says, besides other things, pampers the ear.
He was now contributing to the
Broadway Journal, -- a weekly just launched by Charles F. Briggs, to whom he was introduced by a letter from Lowell; and in March, 1845, he became a co-editor with a third of the profits for his salary. He had left the
Mirror, and what was known as the
Longfellow War -- an attack on Longfellow for alleged plagiarism -- was carried over from its columns to those of the new "Journal," which he utilized also to reprint a considerable portion of his tales and poems. His name was now in all the magazines, probably because they took the opportunity of his sudden notoriety to empty their pigeon-holes of what articles by him they had on hand, and, besides, were willing to take what more he could provide from his own.
Briggs had been favorably impressed by Poe, and wrote to Lowell warning him not to believe too implicitly what was reported of Poe by enemies, of whom there were possibly many, besides Griswold, who was named. Briggs, however, changed his views. At the end of the half-year, there was trouble between him and his publisher, Mr. Bisco, of whom he meant to buy the "Journal," and at the same time leave Poe out. " I shall haul down Poe's name," he wrote; "he has latterly got into his old habits, and I fear will injure himself irretrievably." Briggs failed in this negotiation. " Poe," he says, "got into a drunken spree and conceived an idea that I had not treated him well, for which he had no other grounds than my having loaned him money, and persuaded Bisco to carry on the 'Journal' himself." It appears that after a period of sobriety, lasting from the time of his coming to New York to the publication of the "Raven" and his leaving the " Mirror," Poe had, in fact, again fallen into his former ways; and his actions when intoxicated were of such a character that they could not escape notoriety. He now spoke of Briggs in the contemptuous way which he was accustomed to use toward those with whom, after a period of friendliness, he had broken; and Briggs, on his part, drew his colleague's character in unsparing lines. Poe's conversation is clearly reflected in the following, addressed to Lowell:
You have formed a correct estimate of Poe's characterless character. I have never met a person so utterly deficient of high motive. He cannot conceive of anybody's doing anything, except for his own personal advantage; and he says, with perfect sincerity, and entire unconsciousness of the exposition which it makes of his own mind and heart, that he looks upon all reformers as madmen; and it is for this reason that he is so great an egoist. He cannot conceive why the world should not feel an interest in whatever interests him, because he feels no interest himself in what does not personally concern him. Therefore, he attributes all the favor which Longfellow, yourself, or anybody else receives from the world as an evidence of the ignorance of the world, and the lack of that favor in himself he attributes to the world's malignity. It is too absurd for belief, but he really thinks that Longfellow owes his fame mainly to the ideas which he has borrowed from his (Poe's) writings in the 'Southern Literary Messenger.' His presumption is beyond the liveliest imagination. He has no reverence for Homer, Shakespeare, or Milton, but thinks that 'Orion' is the greatest poem in the language. He has too much prudence to put his opinions into print, -- or, rather, he can find nobody impudent enough to print them, -- but he shows himself in his private converse. The Bible, he says, is all rigmarole.
Poe's failure, however, was, as before, a progressive one. He had been very industrious in the preceding winter, and he kept up his labors, apparently, well into the summer. But with all this, he made no money. If Briggs found himself a creditor without hope of repayment, it was what all of Poe's associates had experienced. A letter to Thomas shows the continued poverty of the family, and illustrates incidentally the minor point. It is dated May 4, 1845: --
The fact is, that being seized of late with a fit of industry, I put so many irons in the fire all at once that I have been quite unable to get them out. For the last three or four months I have been working fourteen or fifteen hours a day, -- hard at it all the time, -- and so, whenever I took pen in hand to write, I found that I was neglecting something that would be attended to. I never knew what it was to be a slave before.
And yet, Thomas, I have made no money. I am as poor now as ever I was in my life -- except in hope, which is by no means bankable. I have taken a third pecuniary interest in the 'Broadway Journal,' and for everything I have written for it have been, of course, so much out of pocket. In the end, however, it will pay me well -- at least the prospects are good. Say to Dow for me that there never has been a chance for my repaying him, without putting myself to greater inconvenience than he himself would have wished to subject me to, had he known the state of the case. Nor am I able to pay him now. The Devil himself was never so poor. Say to Dow, also, that I am sorry he has taken to dunning in his old age -- it is a diabolical practice, altogether unworthy 'a gentleman and a scholar' -- to say nothing of the editor of the 'Madisonian.' I wonder how he would like me to write him a series of letters, -- say one a week, -- giving him the literary gossip of New York, or something of more general character. I would furnish him such a series for whatever he could afford to give me. If he agrees to this arrangement, ask him to state the length and character of the letters -- how often -- and how much he can give me. Remember me kindly to him, and tell him I believe that dunning is his one sin -- although at the same time, I do think it is the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost spoken of in the Scriptures.
Broadway Journal remained in Poe's hands as sole editor, until October. He then bought the paper of Bisco for a note of fifty dollars, endorsed by Horace Greeley, which, on becoming due, was paid by the endorser. He also endeavored to raise loans of the same amount from Griswold, with whom he was reconciled, his cousin, George Poe, and his old friend Kennedy, and must have exhausted all his resources for borrowing in the effort to retain control and keep the
Journal in existence. Meanwhile, in October, he went to Boston and read a poem before the Lyceum, following Caleb Cushing, who made an address. It was his youthful production, "Al Aaraaf." The incident occasioned much unfavorable comment, and Poe declared in his " Journal" that he did not think it necessary to give an original poem for the price paid, and had meant to play a trick on "an audience of transcendentalists; " and he added," Over a bottle of champagne that night, we confessed to Messrs. Cushing, Whipple, Hudson, Field, and a few other natives who swear not altogether by the frog-pond -- we confessed, we say, the soft impeachment of the hoax." The fact was that he had nothing else to read. In New York he continued to fill the columns of the "Journal" with his old productions; and, the end of the year approaching and the financial resources being altogether exhausted, the paper died, the last number being published Jan. 3, 1846; but Poe's valedictory was contained in the previous issue. Poe's literary work for the next year consisted of a few papers in " Graham's," and of critical contributions to
Godey's, which began in November, 1845, and finally took the shape of
The Literati, under which title they continued from May to November, 1846.
These critical articles upon his contemporaries in the same city did him no service, and were ill-advised. They were weak on both sides, both in friendship and in enmity. The censorious spirit had grown upon him, and his reluctance to admit excellences in any but the mediocre, with a few exceptions, was marked. The papers showed an unamiable character, and fell in only too readily with his depreciation of Longfellow and others, to make for him a reputation for ill-nature. In fact, personal feeling entered into his critical writing, in the later time, to a degree that makes it a part of the autobiography of the man. The inexpediency of these articles, however, was pointed out to him, and other advice given, by Simms, in a letter, July 30, 1846, which again illustrates the attitude of the literary men of his country toward him: --
I note with regret the very desponding character of your last letter. I surely need not tell you how deeply and sincerely I deplore the misfortunes which attend you -- the more so as I see no process for your relief and extrication, but such as must result from your own decision and resolve. No friend can well help you in the struggle which is before you. Money, no doubt, can be procured; but this is not altogether what you require. Sympathy may soothe the hurts of self-esteem, and make a man temporarily forgetful of his assailants; but in what degree will this avail, and for how long, in the protracted warfare of twenty or thirty years? You are still a very young man, and one too largely and too variously endowed not to entertain the conviction as your friends entertain it -- of a long and manful struggle with, and a final victory over, fortune. But this warfare the world requires you to carry on with your own unassisted powers. It is only in your manly resolution to use these powers, after a legitimate fashion, that it will countenance your claims to its regards and sympathy; and I needn't tell you how rigid and exacting it has ever been in the case of the poetical genius, or indeed, the genius of any order. Suffer me to tell you frankly, taking the privileges of a true friend, that you are now perhaps in the most perilous period of your career -- just in that position -- just at that time of life -- when a false step becomes a capital error -- when a single leading mistake is fatal in its consequences. You are no longer a boy. 'At thirty wise or never.' You must subdue your impulses; and, in particular, let me exhort you to discard all associations with men, whatever their talents, whom you cannot esteem as men. Pardon me for presuming thus to counsel one whose great natural and acquired resources should make him rather the teacher of others. But I obey a law of my own nature, and it is because of my sympathies that I speak. Do not suppose yourself abandoned by the worthy and honorable among your friends. They will be glad to give you welcome if you will suffer them. They will rejoice -- I know their feelings and hear their language -- to countenance your return to that community -- that moral province in society -- of which, let me say to you respectfully and regretfully, you have been, according to all reports, but too heedlessly, and perhaps too scornfully, indifferent. Remain in obscurity for a while. You have a young wife, -- I am told a suffering and an interesting one, -- let me entreat you to cherish her, and to cast away those pleasures which are not worthy of your mind, and to trample those temptations under foot which degrade your person, and make it familiar to the mouth of vulgar jest. You may [do] all this by a little circumspection. It is still within your power. Your resources from literature are probably much greater than mine. I am sure they are quite as great. You can increase them so that they shall be ample for all your legitimate desires; but you must learn the worldling's lesson of prudence -- a lesson, let me add, which the literary world has but too frequently and unwisely disparaged. It may seem to you very impertinent -- in most cases it is impertinent -- that he who gives nothing else should presume to give counsel. But one gives that which he can most spare, and you must not esteem me indifferent to a condition which I can in no other way assist. I have never been regardless of your genius, even when I knew nothing of your person. It is some years since I counseled Mr. Godey to obtain the contributions of your pen. He will tell you this. I hear that you reproach him. But how can you expect a magazine proprietor to encourage contributions which embroil him with all his neighbors. These broils do you no good -- vex your temper, destroy your peace of mind, and hurt your reputation. You have abundant resources upon which to draw, even were there no Grub Street in Gotham. Change your tactics, and begin a new series of papers with your publisher. The printed matter which I send you might be quoted by Godey, and might be ascribed to me. But, surely, I need not say to you that, to a Southern man, the annoyance of being mixed up in a squabble with persons whom he does not know, and does not care to know, -- and from whom no Alexandrine process of cutting loose would be permitted by society, -- would be an intolerable grievance. I submit to frequent injuries and misrepresentations, content -- though annoyed by the [illegible] that the viper should amuse himself upon the file, at the expense of his own teeth. As a man, as a writer, I shall always be solicitous of your reputation and success. You have but to resolve on taking and asserting your position, equally in the social and the literary world, and your way is clear, your path is easy, and you will find true friends enough to sympathize in your triumphs.
The Literati continued to appear until November, and Poe did no other work. He was still thinking of the
Stylus; and he had persuaded Philip Pendleton Cooke, who had continued one of the most appreciative of his readers, to undertake a new life of him of the sort that Lowell had done three years before, but perhaps on a different scale. It does not appear that anything resulted from the plan.
A new phase of Poe's biography emerges in the period of which the other incidents have now been detailed, -- his relations with the literary women of the New York coterie. He attended, occasionally with his wife, the receptions of Dr. Dewey, James Lawson, and Mrs. Botta, then Miss Lynch, and was a noticeable, though usually silent figure. He formed intimate relations, in particular, with Mrs. Osgood, -- a poetess of the time, to whom he had requested an introduction from Willis, making a desire to hear her judgment of
I shall never forget the morning when I was summoned to the drawing-room by Mr. Willis to receive him. With his proud and beautiful head erect, his dark eyes flashing with the electric light of feeling and of thought, a peculiar, an inimitable blending of sweetness and hauteur in his expression and manner, he greeted me, calmly, gravely, almost coldly, yet with so marked an earnestness that I could not help being deeply impressed by it. From that moment until his death we were friends; although we met only during the first year of our acquaintance.
They exchanged verses, Poe having recourse to some earlier lines addressed to a much younger favorite of ten years before; and Mrs. Osgood soon became intimate at 85 Amity Street, where the Poes then lived. She gives the picture of this home: --
It was in his own simple yet poetical home that to me the character of Edgar Poe appeared in its most beautiful light. Playful, affectionate, witty, alternately docile and wayward as a petted child, for his young, gentle, and idolized wife, and for all who came, he had, even in the midst of his most harassing literary duties, a kind word, a pleasant smile, a graceful and courteous attention. At his desk beneath the romantic picture of his loved and lost Lenore, he would sit, hour after hour, patient, assiduous, and uncomplaining, tracing, in an exquisitely clear chirography and with almost superhuman swiftness, the lightning thoughts -- the 'rare and radiant fancies' -- as they flashed through his wonderful and ever-wakeful brain. I recollect, one morning, toward the close of his residence in this city, when he seemed unusually gay and light-hearted. Virginia, his sweet wife, had written me a pressing invitation to come to them; and I, who never could resist her affectionate summons, and who enjoyed his society far more in his own home than elsewhere, hastened to Amity Street. I found him just completing his series of papers entitled 'The Literati of New York.' 'See,' said he, displaying in laughing triumph several little rolls of narrow paper (he always wrote thus for the press), 'I am going to show you by the difference of length in these the different degrees of estimation in which I hold all you literary people. In each of these one of you is rolled up and fully discussed. Come, Virginia, help me!' And one by one they unfolded them. At last they came to one which seemed interminable. Virginia laughingly ran to one corner of the room with one end, and her husband to the opposite with the other. 'And whose lengthened sweetness long drawn out is that?' said I. 'Hear her!' he cried. 'Just as if her little vain heart didn't tell her it's herself!'
This friendship continued, she says, with "many little poetical episodes in which the impassioned romance of his temperament impelled him to indulge," but much to the pleasure of Mrs. Poe, who thought Mrs. Osgood's influence over him good, and he did promise her not to use stimulants. At Virginia's request, a correspondence between Poe and Mrs. Osgood sprang up; and, unfortunately, one letter having been seen by Mrs. Ellet, also a poetess, it was decided that all ought to be demanded back by Mrs. Osgood. She sent a delegation headed by Margaret Fuller to recover them, and they were at once surrendered by Poe, who used some language in regard to Mrs. Ellet which involved him in gossip and scandal and trouble. The incident was one of the most unpleasant, and is more fully unfolded in unpublished letters of the women concerned. Mrs. Osgood did not see him after this episode. She complained bitterly to Griswold of the affair, and said that after her first introduction she had gone
to Albany and Providence to avoid him; and she continues,
he followed me to each of those places and wrote to me, imploring me to love him, many a letter which I did not reply to, until his wife added her entreaties to his, and said that I might save him from infamy and her from death by showing an affectionate interest in him. Such is her account of the course of this friendship, which has been told more in detail by her brother-in-law; but, notwithstanding, she wrote on her death-bed defending Poe's memory:
I have never seen him otherwise than gentle, generous, well bred, and fastidiously refined. To a sensitive and delicately nurtured woman, there was a peculiar and irresistible charm in the chivalric, graceful, and almost tender reverence with which he invariably approached all women who won his respect. It was this which first commanded and always retained my regard for him.
The next unfortunate episode of this time arose from the publication of
The Literati in
Godey's. The paper devoted to Thomas Dunn English was savage in the extreme; and the victim replied by publishing in the
Mirror of June 23, 1846, which had passed out of the hands of Willis, an attack of equal virulence on Poe, but it touched his life, not his books. Poe was furious, and responded in a
Reply which Godey declined for the magazine, but got published in the Philadelphia
Spirit of the Times, July 10, thereby bringing on himself a bad-tempered letter from the author. Poe brought a suit for libel, and won it, being adjudged damages in the sum of two hundred and twenty-five dollars, with costs to the defendant, Feb. 17, 1847. No witnesses appeared to justify the charges.
Before this affair was brought to its conclusion, the bitterest period of Poe's life had begun. In the spring of 1846, he had moved out to Fordham, a little village in the environs of the city, and rented there a small cottage. The house was pleasantly situated, with cherry-trees about it, but was of the humblest description, and contained in all but three small rooms and a kind of closet. It was furnished with only the necessary articles, and a few keepsakes, among them presentation copies of the works of Mrs. Browning, to whom Poe had dedicated his poems, and from whom he had received the kindest acknowledgments. Here, early in 1846, he fell ill, and from this time his health was fairly broken. His habits were the cause of this overthrow of an originally strong constitution. His wife, too, who was even now but twenty-five years old, was plainly doomed to an early death. As the year grew old, affairs became worse, and finally in the winter it came to destitution. Mrs. Gove, hearing of this, visited the family, and found the dying wife with only sheets and a coverlet on the bed, and wrapped in her husband's coat. She applied to Mrs. Maria Louise Shew, who immediately relieved the necessities of the family, and raised a subscription of sixty dollars. Poe roused his faculties, and accomplished some little work, and the magazines again printed his name.
In December, a public appeal was made in the
We regret to learn that Edgar A. Poe and his wife are both dangerously ill with the consumption, and that the hand of misfortune lies heavy upon their temporal affairs. We are sorry to mention the fact that they are so far reduced as to be barely able to obtain the necessaries of life. This is indeed a hard lot, and we hope that the friends and admirers of Mr. Poe will come promptly to his assistance in his bitterest hour of need.
Willis also made an appeal in his own paper, the
Home Journal, and he added to it his impression of both Poe's good and evil genius: --
Mr. Poe lives out of the city, and we cannot ascertain before this goes to press how far this report of his extreme necessity is true. We received yesterday a letter from an anonymous hand, mentioning the paragraph in question, expressing high admiration for Poe's genius, and enclosing a sum of money with a request that we would forward it to him. We think it very possible that this and other aid may be timely and welcome, though we know that on Mr. Poe's recovery from former illnesses, he has been deeply mortified and distressed by the discovery that his friends had been called upon for assistance . . . . In connection with this public mention of Mr. Poe's personal matters, perhaps it will not be thought inopportune, if we put on its proper footing a public impression which does him injustice. We have not seen nor corresponded with Mr. Poe for two years, and we hazard this delicate service without his leave, of course, and simply because we have seen him suffer from the lack of such vindication, when his name has been brought injuriously before the public, and have then wished for some such occasion to speak for him. We refer to conduct and language charged against him, which, were he at the time in sane mind, were an undeniable forfeiture of character and good feeling. To blame, in some degree, still, perhaps he is. But let charity for the failings of human nature judge of the degree. Mr. Poe was engaged with us in the editorship of a daily paper, we think, for about six months. A more considerate, quiet, talented, and gentlemanlike associate than he was for the whole of that time, we could not have wished. Not liking the unstudent-like necessity of coming every day into the city, however, he left us, by his own wish alone, and it was one day soon after that we first saw him in the state to which we refer. He came into our office with his usual gait and manner, and, with no symptom of ordinary intoxication, he talked like a man insane. Perfectly self-possessed in all other respects, his brain and tongue were evidently beyond his control. We learned afterwards that the least stimulus -- a single glass of wine -- would produce this effect upon Mr. Poe, and that rarely as these instances of easy aberration of caution and mind occurred, he was liable to them, and while under their influence, voluble and personally self-possessed, but neither sane nor responsible. Now Mr. Poe very possibly may not be willing to consent to even this admission of any infirmity. He has little or no memory of them afterwards, we understand. But public opinion unqualifiedly holds him blamable for what he has said and done under such excitements; and while a call is made in a public paper for aid, it looks like doing him a timely service to, at least, partially exonerate him.
Willis sent this in a note to Poe, Dec. 21, 1846: --
The enclosed speaks for itself -- the letter, that is to say. Have I done right or wrong in the enclosed editorial? It was a kind of thing I could only do without asking you, and you may express anger about it if you like in print. It will have a good bearing, I think, on your law case. Please write me whether you are suffering or not, and, if so, let us do something systematically for you.
Poe in reply wrote an open letter to Willis, December 30: --
MY DEAR WILLIS, -- The paragraph which has been put in circulation respecting my wife's illness, my own, my poverty, etc., is now lying before me; together with the beautiful lines by Mrs. Locke and those by Mrs. _____ , to which the paragraph has given rise, as well as your kind and manly comments in the 'Home Journal.'
The motive of the paragraph I leave to the conscience of him or her who wrote it or suggested it. Since the thing is done, however, and since the concerns of my family are thus pitilessly thrust before the public, I perceive no mode of escape from a public statement of what is true and what is erroneous in the report alluded to.
That my wife is ill, then, is true; and you may imagine with what feelings I add that this illness, hopeless from the first, has been heightened and precipitated by the reception, at two different periods, of anonymous letters -- one enclosing the paragraph now in question; the other, those published calumnies of Messrs. _____, for which I yet hope to find redress in a court of justice.
Of the facts, that I myself have been long and dangerously ill, and that my illness has been a well understood thing among my brethren of the press, the best evidence is afforded by the innumerable paragraphs of personal and of literary abuse with which I have been latterly assailed. This matter, however, will remedy itself. At the very first blush of my new prosperity, the gentlemen who toadied me in the old will recollect themselves and toady me again. You, who know me, will comprehend that I speak of these things only as having served, in a measure, to lighten the gloom of unhappiness, by a gentle and not unpleasant sentiment of mingled pity, merriment, and contempt.
That, as the inevitable consequence of so long an illness, I have been in want of money, it would be folly in me to deny -- but that I have ever materially suffered from privation, beyond the extent of my capacity for suffering, is not altogether true. That I am 'without friends' is a gross calumny, which I am sure you never could have believed, and which a thousand noble-hearted men would have good right never to forgive me for permitting to pass unnoticed and undenied. Even in the city of New York I could have no difficulty in naming a hundred persons, to each of whom -- when the hour for speaking had arrived -- I could and would have applied for aid, and with unbounded confidence, and with absolutely no sense of humiliation.
I do not think, my dear Willis, that there is any need of my saying more. I am getting better, and may add -- if it be any comfort to my enemies -- that I have little fear of getting worse. The truth is, I have a great deal to do; and I have made up my mind not to die till it is done.
Poe acknowledged later in a letter to Mrs. Locke, who sent him the verses referred to, that in composing this letter,
a natural pride impelled him to shrink from public charity even at the cost of truth in denying those necessities which were but too real. They were real, but they were relieved. The worst was to come. On January 29, he wrote to Mrs. Shew, imploring her to come and see his wife for the last time. On the next day, Virginia died.
Poe continued to be ill; and money was again raised by subscription in New York to provide for him. Mrs. Shew saw him frequently, and for somewhat more than a year charged herself with his welfare, attending to the health of both his mind and body. In March, he addressed some lines to her in the
Home Journal, and in December,
Ulalume was published in the
American Review. In the intervening months, Poe appears to have done no literary work except
Eureka. He lived in great retirement, at the Fordham Cottage, with Mrs. Clemm, and spent much time in solitary rambling and brooding; but at the end of the year he returned to the world. The " Stylus," which he had never abandoned, was again put in train by means of a new prospectus; and, with a view to obtaining funds to start the magazine, he lectured in the rooms of the Society Library, Feb. 3, 1847, upon the
Cosmogony of the Universe. Willis assisted him by an advertisement, and he had an audience of about sixty persons, to whom he spoke for two hours and a half. The lecture consisted of an abstract of
Eureka, and was noticed by the press with favor. He at once published the book, through Putnam, who remembered the excitement of Poe in offering it, his intense earnestness in declaring its importance, and his prophecy that an edition of fifty thousand copies would only be a beginning. In this earlier part of the year, he seems to have composed
The Bells. In June, Mrs. Shew decided to break off her acquaintance with him, finding that it was impracticable to maintain it on familiar terms; and in a characteristic letter he accepted the fact, while expressing gratitude and devotion to her.
In her place, three other women now entered into his life. Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman, a poetess of Providence, forty-five years of age and a widow, had for some time been, like Mrs. Osgood, an object of his admiration, but he had never met her. Some lines, addressed to him and originally written by her for a valentine party in New York, had been published in March in the
Home Journal, and to these he replied by the lines
To Helen published in November in the
Union Magazine. He had sent a copy of them, without his name, to her as early as June; and, on receiving no acknowledgment, he wrote a letter to a mutual acquaintance, a lady then in Providence, to obtain some information about her, and the correspondent gave the letter to Mrs. Whitman, who still made no sign. She was well aware that her praise was a marked topic of Poe's conversation in quarters where she would be likely to hear of this admiration. In July he lectured in Lowell, Massachusetts, and there met the second of the three women who were now influential in his life, a married lady, known in his poems and biography as
Annie. On returning to New York, he went to Richmond, in pursuit of his plan to obtain subscribers for the
Stylus, and raise money by lecturing. There he met the third woman, Mrs. Shelton, who, under her maiden name, Sarah Elmira Royster, had been the object of his first youthful attentions, as has been related, and was now a widow. He was on the point of proposing marriage to her when he received from Mrs. Whitman two stanzas of a poem,
A Night in August, unsigned, and sent, she says, in
playful acknowledgment of his own anonymous verses. He returned to New York, and then went to Providence, bearing a letter of introduction, and presented himself to Mrs. Whitman, passed two evenings with her, and asked her to marry him. She was deterred from accepting the offer by what she had heard of his character; and a correspondence now sprang up between them, consisting on his part of contrition for excesses which he could not deny, and of appeals to her in his hopelessness, while he also warned her against placing confidence in all that his enemies said of him. Late in October he again called on her, as he was passing through Providence on his way to Lowell, and urged his suit. He spent some days with his new friend,
Annie, at Westford, near Lowell, making rapid progress in his devotion to her, and, on receiving an indecisive reply from Mrs. Whitman, wrote, engaging to call upon the latter on November 4. Poe's account of subsequent events, as told in a letter to
Annie November 16, is that he had no memory of what took place after leaving Lowell until he reached Providence; that he was in a state of despair and tormented by the
Demon all the night, and that the next morning he procured two ounces of laudanum, went back to Boston, wrote a letter to her telling where to find him and imploring her to come and see him on his death-bed, as she had promised, took half the laudanum, lost his reason before he could post the letter, and was
saved by a friend, who, as Poe appeared sane after rejecting the laudanum, allowed him to return to Providence. He had left Lowell on November 2, and he appeared in Providence at Mrs. Whitman's on the morning of November 7, but she refused to see him on account of his having broken his engagement to call three days before, in consequence of his intoxication in Boston; but, after a while, she consented to receive him in the afternoon. He spent that and the following day in pleading, in answer to which she showed him one or more letters which she had received in regard to him, and he went away abruptly saying that they would meet, if at all, as strangers. He spent the night in intoxication, and returned in a delirious condition the next day, was received by her mother, who spent two hours with him while his
appeals rang through the house, and finally by herself, whom he "hailed as an angel sent to save him from perdition," and at last, growing more composed, was given in charge of Dr. Oakie and Mr. Pabodie, who cared for him until he recovered. She now consented to a conditional engagement; and, after giving her a pledge of abstinence, he departed for New York, and reached home November 14, in a state, says Mrs. Clemm,
hardly recognizable. Two days later, he wrote the letter to
Annie, describing his experience after leaving her house, and proposed to take a cottage for himself and Mrs. Clemm near her, at Westford, and meanwhile begged her to come on to Fordham and visit him. He had not, however, forgotten the
Stylus, and also wrote to a brother of the first Mrs. Allan in Richmond, asking a loan of two hundred dollars to assist him in this old project.
On December 20, Poe left Fordham to lecture in Providence. On the way to the station he called on Mrs. Hewitt, another of the New York coterie of poetesses. She related the incident in a letter to Mrs. Whitman, Oct. 2, 1850: --
As Mr. Poe arose to leave, he said, 'I am going to Providence this afternoon.' 'I hear you are about to be married,' I replied. He stood with the knob of the parlor door in his hand, and, as I said this, drew himself up, with a look of great reserve, and replied, 'That marriage will never take place!' 'But,' I persisted, 'it is said you are already published. 'Still standing like a statue with a rigid face, he repeated, 'It will never take place.' These were his words, and this was all.
He lectured in Providence the same evening, and remained in the city, urging his suit. He was drinking at the bar of the hotel during his stay, and on the second day called on Mrs. Whitman in a state of partial intoxication, for which the next day he apologized. This was on Saturday. The ceremony was appointed for Monday. On the morning of that day, he again drank at the bar, and Mrs. Whitman, being informed of it, broke off the engagement. He called, with no sign of intoxication, and was received by her in silence. She put some papers, intrusted to her by him, into his hands, drenched her handkerchief with ether, and threw herself on a sofa, hoping for unconsciousness. He knelt beside her, begging but
What can I say?
Say that you love me, Helen.
I love you. These were her last words to him, and he went away. Such is her own account. He wrote to
Annie, Jan. 11, 1849, that a great burden was taken off his heart, and that he had fully made up his mind to break the engagement; two weeks later he enclosed his last letter to Mrs. Whitman in one to
Annie, and bade her read, and then seal it with wax, and post it from Boston.
He had, in the midst of these affairs, resumed his connection with the magazines; and
Sartain's, and the
Flag of our Union, a Boston paper, received his contributions. He was again seriously ill in the spring of the year, and wrote despairing letters to
Annie, in whose sympathy he found most consolation. He visited her again in May, and on returning to New York, determined to go South, to lecture and obtain support for the
Stylus, concerning which he was now negotiating with Mr. Patterson of St. Louis. He was aware of the state of his health, and requested Griswold, with whom he had maintained friendly relations for some years, and whose capacity for the work in hand he knew, to collect his works, and he charged Willis with the duty of writing his biography. He also asked Mrs. Lewis, another poetess of New York, with whom he had a relation of the sort already sufficiently illustrated, to write his life. He had interested himself of late warmly in obtaining notice of her poems, and wrote to Griswold, June 28, that if the latter would introduce what he had himself written of her in the new edition of the
Female Poets of America, he would reciprocate the favor
when, where, and as you please. It is but just to add that Mrs. Lewis, at whose house he spent the next day, was not aware of these intentions. On June 30, he bade good-by to Mrs. Clemm, who went with him to the steamboat. He stopped at Philadelphia, where he had an attack of delirium, and on his recovery went to Richmond, where he spent the summer. He was well received by his friends, lectured with great success, and was generally in good spirits. Twice he suffered his usual severe illness, and was warned by the attendant physician, Dr. Carter, that a third indulgence would probably prove fatal; and he received the remonstrance with tears and contrition, and renewed resolution.
The narrative of these last days has already been condensed by the present writer in a passage that may, perhaps, best be reprinted: --
"He stayed at the Madison Tavern, a once fashionable but then decayed hotel, and he visited much among his acquaintances, by whom he was well received, and, indeed, lionized. At Duncan's Lodge, especially, the residence of the Mackenzies, who had adopted his sister Rosalie, he was made at home; and at Robert Sully's, the artist whom he had befriended in his early schooldays, and at Mrs. Talley's, he passed many of those hours which he said were the happiest he had known for years. To Miss Susan Archer Talley, now Mrs. Weiss, who then looked on Poe with the romantic interest of a young poetess as well as with a woman's sympathy with sadness so confessed as his, is due the most life-like and detailed portrait of him that exists. Erect in stature, cold, impassive, almost haughty in manner, soberly and fastidiously clad in black, to a stranger's eye he wore a look of distinction rather than beauty; on nearer approach one was more struck by the strongly marked head, with the broad brow, the black curly hair brushed back, the pallid, careworn, and in repose the somewhat haggard features, while beneath the concealment of a short black mustache one saw the slight habitual contraction of the mouth and occasionally the quick, almost imperceptible curl of the upper lip in scorn -- a sneer, it is said, that was easily excited; but the physical fascination of the man was felt, at last, to lie in his eyes, large, jet-black, with a steel-gray iris, clear as crystal, restless, ever expanding and contracting as, responsive with intelligence and emotion, they bent their full, open, steady, unshrinking gaze from under the long black lashes that shaded them. On meeting his friends Poe's face would brighten with pleasure, his features lost the worn look and his reserve its coldness; to men he was cordial, to women he showed a deference that seems always to have suggested a reminiscence of chivalry; and in society with the young he forgot his melancholy, listened with amusement, or joined in their repartees with evident pleasure, though he would soon leave them for a seat in the portico, or a walk in the grounds with a single friend. To the eyes of his young girlish friend he seemed invariably cheerful, and often even playful in mood. Once only was he noticeably cast down; it was when visiting the old deserted Mayo place, called The Hermitage, where he used to go frequently in his youth, and the scene was so picturesque that it is worth giving at length: --
"On reaching the place our party separated, and Poe and myself strolled slowly about the grounds. I observed that he was unusually silent and preoccupied, and, attributing it to the influence of memories associated with the place, forbore to interrupt him. He passed slowly by the mossy bench called the
lovers' seat, beneath two aged trees, and remarked, as we turned toward the garden,
There used to be white violets here. Searching amid the tangled wilderness of shrubs, we found a few late blossoms, some of which he placed carefully between the leaves of a note book. Entering the deserted house, he passed from room to room with a grave, abstracted look, and removed his hat, as if involuntarily, on entering the saloon, where in old times many a brilliant company had assembled. Seated in one of the deep windows, over which now grew masses of ivy, his memory must have borne him back to former scenes, for he repeated the familiar lines of Moore:
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet hall deserted,
Oft In The Stilly Night by Thomas Moore
and paused, with the first expression of real sadness that I had ever seen on his face. The light of the setting sun shone through the drooping ivy-boughs into the ghostly room; and the tattered and mildewed paper-hangings, with their faded tracery of rose garlands, waved fitfully in the autumn breeze. An inexpressibly eerie feeling came over me, which I can even now recall, and as I stood there, my old childish idea of the poet as a spirit of mingled light and darkness recurred strongly to my imagination."
He spent much of his time with Mrs. Shelton, and finally asked her to marry him, and was, it must be believed from the correspondence, accepted. She was older than he, a plain woman, and wealthy. Poe got the wedding ring, and after his death she wore mourning for him. At the last moment, he still wavered when he thought of
Annie, who was evidently the nearest to him of all, except Mrs. Clemm, but that was impossible. He was in doubt whether to have Mrs. Clemm come on to Richmond, or to go himself and bring her. He decided on the latter course, and on Sunday, as is conjectured, September 30, or else on the following day, he left his friends in Richmond, and went on the boat sober and cheerful. After reaching Baltimore, it is said that he took the train to Philadelphia, but was brought back, being in the wrong car, from Havre de Grace in a state of stupor. It is also said that he dined with some old military friends, became intoxicated, and was captured by politicians, who kept him stupefied, and made him vote at several booths on Wednesday, election day. All that is known is that, being then partially intoxicated, he called upon his friend, Dr. Brooks, on an afternoon, and, not finding him, went away; and that on Wednesday, October 3, about noon, he was recognized at a rum shop used as a voting-place, -- Ryan's Fourth Ward Polls, -- and on his saying that he was acquainted with Dr. Snodgrass, word was sent to that gentleman, who had him taken to the Washington Hospital. He was admitted at five o'clock, and word was sent to his relatives, who attended to his needs. He remained, except for a brief interval, in delirium; and on Sunday, Oct. 7, 1849, at about five o'clock in the morning, he died. The funeral was taken charge of by his relatives, and took place the next day. Five persons, including the officiating minister, followed his body to the grave.
George Edward Woodberry
Source:The Works Of Edgar Allan Poe
Volume 1: Tales Of The Grotesque And Arabesque
Stone & Kimball, Chicago