Museum News


Poe and Leap-Year


Today is February 29th, a leap day, which marks the bicentennial of the first leap-year Edgar Allan Poe ever experienced during his lifetime.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase “leap-year” has been used since 1387, and is probably of older formation than that. Thus, the phrase “leap-year” would have been around during Poe’s lifetime. Still, Poe might have been more likely to associate the word “leap” with a favorite childhood game of his, leap-frog.

As an energetic young child, Poe would often play leap-frog with the Mackenzies, the family that raised Poe’s sister Rosalie. However, these childhood experiences were not Poe’s only involvements with the game. In his adult life, while living in Fordham, New York, Poe played a game of leap-frog in the woods with friends and admirers. The game ended when he landed with such force that his shoes were torn.

Poe would later go on to write “Hop-Frog”, a horror story about a crippled dwarf court jester who exacts revenge upon the king he serves. “Hop-Frog”, the name of titular character in the story, is a term synonymous with “leap-frog”, the very game that Poe enjoyed at various points in his life.

Hop Frog
above: illustration of “Hop-Frog”

Over the course of his forty years, Edgar Allan Poe lived through ten leap days. The last February 29th of his lifetime occurred in 1848, on which date he wrote two similar letters to George W. Eveleth and George E. Isbell. The George Eveleth letter is as follows:

My Dear Sir,

I mean to start for Richmond on the 10th March. Every thing has gone as I wished it, and my final success is certain, or I abandon all claims to the title of Vates. The only contretemps of any moment, lately, has been Willis’s somewhat premature announcement of my project: — but this will only force me into action a little sooner than I had proposed. Let me now answer the points of your last letter.

Colton acted pretty much as all mere men of the world act. I think very little the worse of him for his endeavor to succeed with you at my expense. I always liked him and I believe he liked me. His intellect was o. His “I understand the matter perfectly,” amuses me. Certainly, then, it was the only matter he dil understand. “The Rationale of Verse” will appear in “Graham” after all: — I will stop in Phil: to see the proofs. As for Godey, he is a good little man and means as well as he knows how. The editor of the “Weekly Universe” speaks kindly and I find no fault with his representing my habits as “shockingly irregular”. He could not have had the “personal acquaintance” with me of which he writes; but has fallen into a very natural error. The fact is thus: — My habits are rigorously abstemious and I omit nothing of the natural regimen requisite for health: — i.e — I rise early, eat moderately, drink nothing but water, and take abundant and regular exercise in the open air. But this is my private life — my studious and literary life — and of course escapes the eye of the world. The desire for society comes upon me only when I have become excited by drink. Then only I go — that is, at these times only I have been in the practice of going among my friends: who seldom, or in fact never, having seen me unless excited, take it for granted that I am always so. Those who really know me, know better. In the meantime I shall turn the general error to account. But enough of this: the causes which maddened-me to the drinking point are no more, and I am done drinking, forever. — I do not know the “editors & contributors” of the “Weekly Universe” and was not aware of the existence of such a paper. Who are they? or is it a secret? The “most distinguished of American scholars” is Prof. Chas. Anthon, author of the “Classical Dictionary”.

I presume you have seen some newspaper notices of my late lecture on [page 2:] the Universe. You could have gleaned, however, no idea of what the lecture was, from what the papers said it was. All praised it — as far as I have yet seen — and all absurdly misrepresented it. The only report of it which approaches the truth, is the one I enclose — from the “Express” — written by E. A. Hopkins — a gentleman of much scientific acquirement — son of Bishop Hopkins of Vermont — but he conveys only my general idea, and his digest is full of inaccuracies. I enclose also a slip from the “Courier & Enquirer”: — please return them. To eke out a chance of your understanding what I really dil say, I add a loose summary of my propositions & results:

The General Proposition is this: — Because Nothing was, therefore All Things are.

1 — An inspection of the universality of Gravitation — i.e, of the fact that each particle tends, not to any one common point, but to every other particle — suggests perfect totality, or absolute unity, as the source of the phaenomenon.

2 — Gravity is but the mode in which is manifested the tendency of all things to return into their original unity; is but the reaction of the first Divine Act.

3 — The law regulating the return — i.e, the law of Gravitation — is but a necessary result of the necessary & sole possible mode of equable irradiation of matter through space: — this equable irradiation is necessary as a basis for the Nebular Theory of Laplace.

4 — The Universe of Stars (contradistinguished from the Universe of Space) is limited.

5 — Mind is cognizant of Matter only through its two properties, attraction and repulsion: therefore Matter is only attraction & repulsion: a finally consolidated globe of globes, being but one particle, would be without attraction, i e, gravitation; the existence of such a globe presupposes the expulsion of the separative ether which we know to exist between the particles as at present diffused: — thus the final globe would be matter without attraction & repulsion: — but these are matter: — then the final globe would be matter without matter: — i,e, no matter at all: — it must disappear. Thus Unity is Nothingness.

6. Matter, springing from Unity, sprang from Nothingness: — i,e, was created.

7. All will return to Nothingness, in returning to Unity.

Read these items after the Report. As to the Lecture, I am very quiet about it — but, if you have ever dealt with such topics, you will recognize the novelty & moment of my views. What I have propounded will (in good time) revolutionize the world of Physical & Metaphysical Science. I say this calmly — but I say it.

I shall not go till I hear from you.

Truly Yours,
E A Poe

Compared to the George Isbell letter:

Dear Sir,

A press of business has hitherto prevented me from replying to your letter of the 10th.

“The Vestiges of Creation” I have not yet seen; and it is always unsafe and unwise to form opinions of books from reviews of them. The extracts of the work which have fallen in my way, abound in inaccuracies of fact: — still these may not materially affect the general argument. One thing is certain; that the objections of merely scientific men — men, I mean, who cultivate the physical sciences to the exclusion, in a greater or less degree, of the mathematics, of metaphysics and of logic — are generally invalid except in respect to scientific details. Of all persons in the world, they are at the same time the most bigoted and the least capable of using, generalizing, or deciding upon the facts which they bring to light in the course of their experiments. And these are the men who chiefly write the criticisms against all efforts at generalization — denouncing these efforts as “speculative” and “theoretical”.

The notice of my Lecture, which appeared in the “New-World”, was written by some one grossly incompetent to the task which he undertook. No idea of what I said can [page 2:] be gleaned from either that or any other of the newspaper notices — with the exception, perhaps, of the “Express” — where the critique was written by a gentleman of much scientific acquirement — Mr E. A. Hopkins, of Vermont. I enclose you his Report — which, however, is inaccurate in numerous particulars. He gives my general conception so, at least, as not to caricature it.

I have not yet published the “Lecture[”], but, when I do so, will have the pleasure of mailing you a copy. In the meantime, permit me to state, succinctly, my principal results.

GENERAL PROPOSITION. Because Nothing was, therefore All Things are.

1 — An inspection of the universality of Gravitation — of the fact that each particle tends not to any one common point — but to every other particle — suggests perfect totality, or absolute unity, as the source of the [p]haenomenon.

2. Gravity is but the mode in which is manifested the tendency of all things to return into their original unity.

3. I show that the law of the return — i.e the law of gravity — is but a necessary result of the necessary and sole possible mode of equable irradiation of matter through a limiter space.

4. Were the Universe of stars — (contradistinguished from the universe of space) unlimited, no worlds could exist.

5. I show that Unity is Nothingness.

6. All matter, springing from Unity, sprang from Nothingness. i e, was created.

7. All will return to Unity; i e — to Nothingness. I would be obliged to you if you would let me know how far these ideas are coincident with those of the “Vestiges”.

Very Respy Yr. Ob. st
Edgar A Poe

Happy leap-day everyone, and “hop” on over to the Poe Museum sometime soon, lest you share the fate of Hop-Frog’s King!




Early Spring in the Enchanted Garden


It is still February, but in the Enchanted Garden spring is definitely springing with quite a bit of gusto.

Check out these photos taken yesterday:

Daffodils blooming at the Poe Museum

“A host of blooming daffodils” (to quote from another famous poet)

Camellia blossom at the Poe Museum

Pretty camellias with the Old Stone House in the background

Daffodils blooming at the Poe Museum

Why not come and pay us a visit while the garden is in full bloom? We have lots of exciting events coming up this spring if you need an excuse!




Histories of the Old Stone House


Ca. 1900 photograph of the Old Stone House

By the time the Poe Museum opened in 1922, its first building, the Old Stone House, was already a Richmond landmark. Over the years, the Poe Museum has received a number of articles related to the history of the building. A great deal has been written about the modest little house, and some of it might actually be true. The house was certainly never Washington’s Headquarters, as the booklet below relates; and Patrick Henry never used it as his office. Powhatan never lived here, either. We do, however, own a photograph of the Wheelbarrow Man (mentioned in the 1894 article below), but we can neither confirm nor deny that he kept a pet bear on the premises. (There was actually a live raven on display here at one point during the Poe Museum’s history.) Here are some interesting articles about the Old Stone House from the century before it became part of the Poe Museum. Just remember not to believe everything you read.

Article about the Old Stone House from the 1896 book Richmond- Virginia- Colonial- Revolutionary- Confederate and the Present

History of the Stone House from book published before 1864. Sent to us by Robert A. Buerlein.

Here is an 1894 booklet once sold from the Old Stone House when it was the Washington’s Headquarters Antiquarium. Not much of this information is factual, but it is amusing. The book was sent to us last week by Joe Valentine.

HistoryofStoneHouse




Dozens of Poe Letters and Manuscripts to be Exhibited


Poe Letter to John Bisco

The Poe Museum’s new exhibit From Poe’s Quill: The Letters and Manuscripts of Edgar Allan Poe, which will run from April 26 until July 11, 2012, promises viewers the closest thing to standing over Poe’s shoulder while he writes his famous tales. Visitors will have the rare opportunity to study Poe’s unique handwriting and follow his thought process by exploring dozens of original documents culled from a number of public and private collections. Some of these pieces have never been publicly displayed. Others have only recently been discovered. The Poe Museum will celebrate the exhibit opening with an Unhappy Hour on Thursday, April 26 from 6-9 P.M.

The exhibit will include Poe’s handwritten letters, short stories, poetry, essays, and notes. Among the highlights of the exhibit are a letter written by Poe to American author Washington Irving (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”), Poe’s autobiography, the earliest Poe manuscript in private hands, Poe’s last letter, and the only complete manuscript for a Poe tale in a private collection. The exhibit will also reunite fragments of manuscripts that have long been separated and owned by different collectors. An especially unusual piece will be poem supposedly written by Poe’s spirit (with the help of a medium) a decade after Poe’s death. This manuscript once belonged to Poe fan and collector Vincent Price.

The Poe Museum’s Curator Christopher Semtner says of the exhibit, “The Poe Museum will be celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, and we want to have an exhibit worthy of the occasion. Poe’s manuscripts are the most sought after manuscripts in American literature. Because he died young and because his works were not always appreciated during his lifetime, Poe’s letters and manuscripts are now relatively rare.”

When the exhibit opens on April 26, Poe Museum visitors will be able to see it an another “once-in-a-lifetime” exhibit Stormier, Wilder, and More Weird: James Carling and “The Raven,” which features, for the first time since 1975, the complete set of English artist James Carling’s circa 1883 drawings for Poe’s most famous poem. The Raven exhibit, which opened January 14, continues through May 1, 2012.

Samples from the upcoming exhibit are below.

The Spirits of the Dead

First Page of Manuscript for Epimanes

The Streets of Baltimore

Among the lenders to this exhibit are Susan Jaffe Tane, the Museum of the Macabre, and Anonymous Private Collectors.




Charles Dickens Meets Edgar Allan Poe


Poe (left) and Dickens (right)

Charles Dickens turned 200 today. Many readers know the novels of Dickens, but few may know that he and Poe were personally acquainted. Edgar Allan Poe was an admirer of Dickens’s works since “strongly recommending” Dickens’s works to American readers in a June 1836 review from the Southern Literary Messenger. In an 1839 issue of Burton’s Magazine, Poe wrote, “Charles Dickens is no ordinary man, and his writings must unquestionably live.”

Three years later, during Dickens’s 1842 tour of the United States, he met Poe in Philadelphia. Though we do not know exactly what was said during their conversation, we can assume Dickens agreed to help Poe find publishers for his work in England. There is no evidence Dickens told Poe about the death of his pet raven Grip, but, by the time of their meeting, Poe had already read Dickens’s novel Barnaby Rudge, which features a talking raven.

Today, three letters from Dickens to Poe survive as evidence of the meeting of Poe and Dickens. The texts are printed below.

Upon receiving Poe’s invitation to meet, Dickens wrote Poe:

United States Hotel, March 6, 1842.
My Dear Sir, — I shall be very glad to see you whenever you will do me the favor to call. I think I am more likely to be in the way between half-past eleven and twelve, than at any other time. I have glanced over the books you have been so kind as to send me, and more particularly at the papers to which you called my attention. I have the greater pleasure in expressing my desire to see you on this account. Apropos of the “construction” of “Caleb Williams,” do you know that Godwin wrote it backwards, — the last volume first, — and that when he had produced the hunting down of Caleb, and the catastrophe, he waited for months, casting about for a means of accounting for what he had done?
Faithfully yours always,
Charles Dickens.

After returning to London, Dickens wrote Poe:

London, 1 Devonshire Terrace, York Gate, Regent’s Park,
November 27, 1842.
Dear Sir, — by some strange accident (I presume it must have been through some mistake on the part of Mr. Putnam in the great quantity of business he had to arrange for me), I have never been able to find among my papers, since I came to England, the letter you wrote to me at New York. But I read it there, and think I am correct in believing that it charged me with no other mission than that which you had already entrusted to me by word of mouth. Believe me that it never, for a moment, escaped my recollection; and that I have done all in my power to bring it to a successful issue — I regret to say, in vain.
I should have forwarded you the accompanying letter from Mr. Moxon before now, but that I have delayed doing so in the hope that some other channel for the publication of our book on this side of the water would present itself to me. I am, however, unable to report any success. I have mentioned it to publishers with whom I have influence, but they have, one and all, declined the venture. And the only consolation I can give you is that I do not believe any collection of detached pieces by an unknown writer, even though he were an Englishman, would be at all likely to find a publisher in this metropolis just now.
Do not for a moment suppose that I have ever thought of you but with a pleasant recollection; and that I am not at all times prepared to forward your views in this country, if I can.
Faithfully yours,
Charles Dickens.

Almost four years later, Dickens wrote Poe:

1 Devonshire Terrace, London. Nineteenth March 1846.
Dear Sir,
Although I have not received your volume, I avail myself of a leisure moment to thank you for the gift of it.
In reference to your proposal as regards the Daily News, I beg to assure you that I am not in any way connected with the Editorship or current Management of that Paper. I have an interest in it, and write such papers for it as I attach my name to. This is the whole amount of my connection with the Journal.
Any such proposition as yours, therefore, must be addressed to the Editor. I do not know, for certain, how that gentleman might regard it; but I should say that he probably has as many corespondents in America and elsewhere, as the Paper can afford space to.
I am Dear Sir
Faithfully Yours
Charles Dickens
Edgar A. Poe Esquire




Weird Richmond – Deathbed Portraiture


Welcome to the first installment of the Poe Museum blog’s new monthly feature entitled Weird Richmond. Every month you will find here a new and bizarre tale to satisfy your craving for all things weird. This is history off of the beaten path, full of strange tales of Poe, the times he lived in, and this city that he called home.

"Goethe Deathbed Portrait" Friedrich Preller (1832)

We open Weird Richmond with deathbed portraiture. A deathbed portrait is exactly what it sounds like: a post-mortem image of a deceased person. What we see today as morbid was actually practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries as a means of capturing a final image of the dead for memorial purposes. In fact, many famous individuals have had deathbed portraits made of them, including Martin Luther, Goethe, and Victor Hugo, just to name a few.

Prior to the invention of the daguerreotype method of photography in 1839, deathbed portraits were either sketched or painted by artists. When photography became readily available in the mid-1800s, the deathbed portrait experienced a resurgence of popularity due to the camera’s ability to capture the departed exactly as they would have been upon their deathbed. During this time tuberculosis was running rampant across Europe and the United States, and many deathbed portraits from this time depict victims of what they termed “consumption.”

Virginia Poe 1847.jpg

Virginia Clemm Poe - Deathbed Portrait (1847)

Here at the Poe Museum we have a print of the deathbed portrait of Virginia Clemm Poe, wife and cousin of Edgar Allan Poe. Her portrait was completed mere hours after her death at the age of 24 from tuberculosis, and for many years this was regarded as the only indisputable image of Virginia in existence (since then, another portrait has been validated). Virginia’s portrait is rendered in watercolor, and except for the odd angle that her head rests at, she could pass for still being amongst the living. While it was more common to have the deceased to be shown on their deathbed, some families posed their loved ones in chairs to make it look as if they still lived.

There are a few more modern cases of deathbed portraiture from the past century, most notably images of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie after being assassinated by Serbian nationalists in 1914. Even more recently, British artist Daphne Todd won the BP Portrait Award in 2010 for her deathbed portrait of her mother.