Many may be familiar with the recent Drunk History episode featuring Edgar Allan Poe and a “Mr. Griswold.” But how many actually know who Griswold is? Yes, Drunk History, the popular Comedy Central show, portrayed him, but was he accurately portrayed?
It is true that many of the popular misconceptions about Poe derive directly from Griswold, the “defamer” of the poet. This editor and enemy of Poe was the source of many fallacies about Edgar’s alcohol and drug addictions, among other things. But why did Griswold go to such great lengths to destroy Edgar’s reputation? Who was this man and what did he have against Poe?
Rufus W. Griswold
Born February 13, 1815, in Benson, Vermont, Rufus Wilmot Griswold was one of the youngest siblings of fourteen children, son of Deborah Griswold and Rufus Griswold. After briefly moving out at the age of fifteen, and then at seventeen once more, he left for Syracuse, where he started The Porcupine, a newspaper. Under the pseudonym Toby Trinculo, he attacked the local citizenry. He then left for New York City in 1836, where he met, and later married in 1837, his first wife Caroline. Later that year, Griswold became a reverend.
Griswold and Caroline had three children, but he lost Caroline just three days after the death of their third child, a son, in the fall of 1842. Widowed at twenty-seven, the heartbroken Griswold occupied his time by creating numerous anthologies. He eventually married Charlotte Meyers but divorced her and remarried a woman named Harriet McCrillis.
It was in 1839, before the death of his beloved Caroline, that he first crossed paths with Edgar Poe. One of the first—if not the first—time Griswold mentioned Poe was when he ridiculed him in his July 19 issue of The Tattler, which stated,
Edgar A. Poe, Esq., Editor of the Baltimore Chronicle, and Brantz Mayer, Esq., of the same city, have been for several days exhibiting premonitory symptoms of blood-letting. The friends of the parties have brought about a settlement, however, and both gentlemen have concluded to live as long as the Lord will let them (Bayless 30).
It is said, however, that Griswold and Park Benjamin, who was coeditor of the paper with Griswold, should have aimed their attack at Neilson Poe, and the statement was corrected (30). Not too long after, Poe, who was working as an editor for Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine in Philadelphia, heard of Griswold when an announcement was made that Griswold was working on publishing an anthology of poetry by American writers. The budding poet, Poe, was interested and requested to see Griswold. The two men met and spoke for several hours discussing literature. It is said the “interview was mutually agreeable,” and Poe, shortly after, sent several poems and a memoir for Rufus’ book (35-36).
On April 18, 1842, the anthology, The Poets and Poetry of America, was published—Edgar was not pleased. Rufus had only included three of Poe’s poems, with comments that were described as “lukewarm praise of his poetry,” and an inaccurate memorandum (45). This was the first strike between Griswold and Poe.
Earlier that month, on the first, Poe had resigned from his position as Graham’s Magazine’s editor, and was replaced by the twenty-seven year old Rufus Griswold by the middle of May. This was the second strike (49-50). Not only was Griswold now being paid more than Edgar was paid, with his $800 yearly salary, but according to Joy Bayless,
There was a softness, a suavity, in the manner of the new editor which would ingratiate him with the writers whom Graham wanted to enlist. There was a pronounced contrast between this helper [Griswold] and the proud, scornful Edgar Poe, who had contributed the products of his creative mind to the magazine but who had been unable and unwilling to bend the knee to popular contributors. Griswold would be a better henchman. He was not obsessed with literary ideals; he was able to make friends easily; and he was eager to widen his acquaintance with writers (55).
Despite the warm regards first given to the exciting new editor, Griswold eventually burned important bridges, which would bite him in the end. By 1843, his mistakes included talking about Graham’s assistant, Ann Stephens, who already held great disdain for Rufus. It is said, “Years later when she had an opportunity to avenge herself of the real or fancied injury she took full advantage of it” (69).
Having been hurt by Griswold, Poe resented the editor and in June circulated the following after asking Dr. J. Evans Snodgrass, “Have you seen Griswold’s Book of Poetry? It is a most outrageous humbug, and I sincerely wish you would ‘use it up’” (69). It is said Poe hid his resentment for Griswold behind a friendly façade (70)
During the summer of 1842, Poe was paid to write a review of Griswold’s anthology. Despite his anger against Griswold, he wrote a rather complimentary review, regarding the book as, “…the most important addition which our literature has for many years received” (71). However, he objected to about two-dozen authors included in the anthology. Both men were at a standstill.
By the end of June, the two men were on friendly terms again, and Poe wrote to Griswold,
Dear Griswold: –Can you not send me $5. I am sick, and Virginia is almost gone. Come and see me. Peterson says you suspect me of a curious anonymous letter. I did not write it, but bring it along with you when you make the visit you promised to Mrs. Clemm. I will try to fix that matter soon. Could you do anything with my note? (74).
Griswold’s “natural generosity” allowed him to accept Poe’s invitation to visit his house, and Griswold called on him. Mrs. Clemm brought the two enemies together as friends in summer of 1843, and Griswold wrote about Poe later,
It was while he resided in Philadelphia that I became acquainted with him. His manner, except during his fits of intoxication, was very quiet and gentlemanly; he was usually dressed with simplicity and elegance; and 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 of his home. It was in a small house, in one of the pleasant and silent neighborhoods far from the centre [sic] 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 (75).
That fall, however, Edgar would scorn Griswold once more during a lecture tour of America in which he openly attacked the renewed enemy. Griswold retaliated and resigned from Graham’s Magazine in October 1843. He continued to assist Graham, however, and contributed to the magazine as late as 1848 (76).
In the fall of 1845, Poe had written a complimentary piece about Griswold in the Broadway Journal, which prompted Griswold to reconcile with the older poet. The following January marked a renewal of friendship, which would last for several months (96-97). In fact, Griswold even loaned Poe twenty-five dollars, in answer to Poe’s request for fifty dollars to support the Broadway Journal that he had taken over temporarily (99). Things seemed to be going well for the two. In the Prose Writers of America, Griswold exhibited his well-mannered feelings and had only positive things to say about Poe (120).
October 7, 1849 marked a shocking day for Griswold, when word reached him in New York that Edgar Poe was dead. Almost immediately, he started to write Poe’s obituary for the next morning’s Tribune, and signed it with his pen name, “Ludwig.” Horace Greeley, a fellow editor, admittedly would not have let the obituary run in the Tribune if he had known the trouble it would bring Edgar in the end (161).
By this time, Griswold, it is said, respected Poe’s literary genius, but the poet had scorned the editor, and Griswold would not forgive him—it was time to take revenge. Griswold’s memoir, which you can read here, is full of fabricated lies, and was largely pieced together using his previously written memoirs and a passage taken from Bulwer’s, The Caxtons, which he used because, “Francis Vivian [the character]…[seemed] to resemble Poe so closely that instead of spending time himself to characterize Poe he took Bulwer’s descriptions of his fictional character and used them in the sketch” (162-163).
Not too long after, Edgar’s mother-in-law and aunt, Maria Clemm, approached Griswold asking him to produce an edition of Poe’s works. It is unclear whether Clemm knew Griswold had written the infamous “Ludwig” obituary, but regardless, six days after Poe’s death, she had chosen him for the job. The works, which included memoirs written by N.P. Willis and James Russell Lowell, was, according to an announcement for the book printed in The New York Tribune on October 17, “among the last requests of Mr. Poe that Dr. Griswold should be his Editor…” (166). There is no evidence that proves whether or not this is the case, and the editor even went back and forth between stating he was indeed chosen by Poe for the job and that he took the opportunity only because of his revengeful plans.
In Griswold’s production of the books, N.P. Willis’ memoir opposes Griswold’s view, including Willis ultimately drawing the conclusion that Edgar actually had goodness in him. Henry Hirst, a friend of Poe, refuted Griswold in the Saturday Courier on October 20, saying that Poe did have many friends, in response to Griswold’s statement that Poe did not.
Griswold even confessed in a letter written to Sarah Helen Whitman, Poe’s ex-fiancée and a Rhode Island poetess, “I wrote—as you suppose—the notice of P. [Poe] in the Tribune—but very hastily. I was not his friend, nor was he mine, as I remember to have told you; but I endeavored always to do him justice; and though the sketch has deemed harsh, I did not mean that it should be so” (173). Whether this was truly the case, we do not know. Interestingly enough, Griswold also admitted he had seen little of Poe during the last years of Poe’s life; therefore it is debatable whether Griswold should have let the matter go and spare Poe’s reputation (173).
The first volumes of Poe’s writings were published about January 10, 1850, according to Joy Bayless, and contained many memoirs, articles about Poe, and a majority of Poe’s short stories and poems (175-176) You can view the editions here. Griswold soon published a third volume in September, 1850 (180).
After the third volume was published, Griswold made plans for a fourth volume, which was published in 1856. During the process of collecting information for this fourth book, however, Charles Godfrey Leland, a close friend of Griswold’s, threw out all of Griswold’s original material “to Poe’s discredit,” and then scolded the Reverend. According to Joy Bayless, Griswold then lost interest in Poe until his fourth book release. By 1858, the book had become the standard anthology of Poe’s works and had undergone seventeen editions (196-197). Griswold admitted, according to Bayless, that he “…attempted to prepare several volumes which would attract buyers and do justice to Poe’s reputation” (197).
The last criticism Griswold gave regarding Poe was in the sixteenth edition of The Poets and Poetry of America, which states,
Unquestionably he was a man of genius, and those who are familiar with his melancholy history will not doubt that his genius was in a singular degree wasted or misapplied. His rank as a poet is with the first class of his times. “The Raven,” “Ulalume,” “The Bells,” and several of his other pieces, will be remembered as among the finest monuments of the capacities of the English language (200).
With Poe deceased and after successfully defaming the poet (or so he thought), Griswold continued to work on anthologies until his death by tuberculosis on August 27, 1857.
During his life, Griswold published numerous poems and anthologies, as well as provided sermons and editorial pieces. Some of his most notable works include The Poets and Poetry of America, The Poets and Poetry of England, and an important poem, “Five Days,” which can be viewed here, written for his first wife, Caroline, after her death.
It is ironic that Griswold made such great attempts to defame Poe, because his attacking memoirs and obituary only brought Edgar more fame and recognition, making him a notable literary figure for all time; whereas Griswold now is often forgotten or unknown. Perhaps if Griswold had not defamed the poet after his death, Griswold would now have a greater legacy in the literary world.
Today the Poe Museum owns several of Poe’s letters and manuscripts once owned by Griswold and given to the Museum by his grandchildren. The Museum also owns two letters written by Griswold, which you can see here and here.
The portrait of Mary Allan, which currently hangs in the Old Stone House, is a significant work of art purchased by the Poe Museum in 1928. The following recounts the history of this portrait, as well as its subject and the artist.
Mary Allan was the older sister of Edgar Poe’s foster father, John Allan, and the eldest daughter of William and Elizabeth Galt Allan. Mary lived in the Allan Bridgegate home until her death in 1850 (Phillips 99).
Although Mary’s childhood and adulthood remain mysteries, we do have an interesting correspondence between a descendent of hers and the Poe Museum. On October 12, 1927, the museum was approached by a relative of the Allan family, who mentioned that her distant cousin was interested in selling a portrait of Mary Allan. This cousin was Sophie E. D. (whose name is not fully disclosed to protect her prvacy), of Fertshire, Scotland. Mary Allan, who Miss D. referred to as “Aunt Mary,” was Miss D’s great aunt. Upon contacting the museum, Sophie and the Poe Museum began what would be a year long process of organizing the painting’s shipment, payment, and display.
According to the April 26, 1928, “Board of Directors Minutes of the Annual Meeting”, there was a statement explaining that the same artist who painted John Allan’s portrait, also painted Mary’s, which hung on the wall of the Allan home in Ayrshire when the young Poe visited there.
This painter was James Tannock, a native of Kilmarnock. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Tannock was a distinguished artist who had success at Glasgow and Greenock as a painter of portraits and miniatures. He then moved to London and is notable for contributing forty-four portraits to the Royal Academy exhibitions between 1813 and 1841 (Armstrong). Tannock’s rich oil painting style can be seen in the Mary Allan painting.
On June 2, 1928, the portrait was purchased for seventy-five pounds, stirling [sic]. At that time, this would have been equal to $125.98. Today, the purchase price is estimated to be $1,755.93. On August 2, the portrait of Mary arrived. Martha R. Ford, the secretary of the Poe Museum at the time, stated in an August 10 letter,
I think she is lovely [Aunt Mary]. She must have been a very interesting person to know. She is very like her brother in feature; but oh so different in expression! I am no artist, and my opinion as to the merits of the portrait form an artistic point of view would be worthless. But from my plain human standpoint, I find the picture beautiful and interesting. Everybody who has seen it seems much pleased.
According to a September 14 letter, the Museum buildings were being renovated and “Aunt Mary” was waiting to be hung. Martha R. Ford relates, “’Aunt Mary’ is to come into the new building as soon as the workmen shall have provided for her adequate support.” The next day, everything was in place, and the sale was official. The Consular Invoice was produced, the official charge papers were found to be in order, the transaction was duly closed, and “Aunt Mary” was warmly welcomed into her new home.
Now, thanks to the Poe Museum’s past employees and the gracious willingness of Sophie D. to sell her “Aunt Mary” to the museum, you can view the lovely painting, which gives insight into John Allan’s Scottish family, and, ultimately, into Poe’s world in Scotland.
To view the painting, please visit the following link: https://www.poemuseum.org/collection-details.php?id=105
Not only does the Edgar Poe’s family history contain an abundance of interesting details and accounts, but also does his foster father’s family, the Allan family. A family history enriched with a Scottish background, John Allan and family influenced young Edgar, as well as the Poe Museum, in many ways. In the following post, we will follow accounts of Edgar Poe and his foster family in Europe, visiting with Allan’s Scottish family members, learn about an uncovered Allan family gravestone in Scotland found in the late 1990s, and learn about the family’s descendants’ correspondences with the Poe Museum in the early twentieth century (in part two, soon to follow).
Edgar Poe traveled to many places during his life, between Baltimore, Philadelphia, Richmond, New York, and Boston. However, in his childhood, he lived in Europe for about five years. This is the account of the Allan family’s move to England and their life there with a brief biographical account of their time in Europe, and a year-by-year, nearly month-by-month account of their stay.
John Allan, born in Ayrshire in 1780, would not see his native land until two decades after leaving Scotland when he was fifteen years old.
After working for his uncle for five years while living in the States, Allan started a firm, Ellis & Allan, which dealt mainly in tobacco that was immensely profitable and grew increasingly popular (Celtic Life). In 1815, the Allan family embarked for Europe potentially to better help John Allan and Charles Ellis’ business. Arriving in Irvine, Scotland, where, according to Ayrshire Roots Online, most of the Allan relatives lived, including the Galts, Allans, and Fowlds. The family was spread throughout Irvine, Kilmarnock, and other nearby areas around Ayrshire. John and his family traveled to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Greenock, and London later that Fall of 1815. Young Edgar attended school in Irvine, at the Kailyard Grammar School at Kirkgatehead. He did not remain there very long, however, because the school was closed and replaced by a new academy that next July.
While in Irvine, young Edgar stayed with John’s sister, Mary, in a two-story house owned by the Allan Family. It is said Edgar shared a room with James Galt, a cousin, who also attended the Grammar School. James, approximately nine years older than Edgar, was said to have watched over Edgar because he had made threats to run back to America. Edgar, however, was back in London with his foster-family in 1816.
John Allan, his foster father, was trying to build a branch of his Richmond firm there, trading tobacco and other general merchandise. Young Edgar was sent to a boarding school, where he remained until the summer of 1817. This school, at 146 Sloane Street, in Chelsea was ran by the Misses Dubourgs. In the fall of 1817, Edgar was admitted to the Manor House School of the Rev. Mr. John Bransby, at Stoke Newington. He remained there until his withdrawal and then departure back to the United States in the spring of 1820 (Ayrshire Roots). The family returned to Richmond due to the fall of Ellis & Allan’s business, to which Allan was required to pay back debt and loans he had accumulated.
Let it be noted that just beside the river of Irvine remains the parish church and graveyard, in which the Allan ancestors are buried. According to The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2000), p. 80, Mark Strachan, Senior Museum Assistant at the North Ayrshire Museum in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland, in August 1999, added the Poe-Allan headstone, originally from the church parish grounds-turned-museum, to their collection. The headstone reads as follows, copied from the article exactly as formatted:
In memory of
David Poe late Carrier in Saltcoats
Who died 21st Augt 1799 aged 47 years
And of Ann Allan his wife
Who died 18th July 1828 aged 72 years
And of James their son
Who died abroad in the year 1800
Aged 18 years
And also of three of their children
Who died in infancy
Mary Poe died May 25th 1853
Aged 63 years
And of Janet Poe who died 27th May 1861
Aged 62 years
(And on the reverse-)
In memory of his daughter
Who died on the 24th Feby 1846 aged 15 years
Ann & Thomas
Who died in infancy
And his wife
Who died on the 30th Octr 1854 aged 65 years
The above David Poe
Died on the 7th Decr 1878 aged 91 years
1815 marks the year of the Allan family’s plan to move, and their official move to Scotland. On June 15, they left for Norfolk, Virginia, where they “[would] board the Lothair, bound for Liverpool, under Captain Stone, ‘to sail next week.’” They sold a large majority, if not all, of their possessions before the move, and then set sail on the Atlantic Ocean on June 23 (Thomas 24-25). Captain Stone was described as being “penurious,” and John Allan further complained “that his wife and sister-in-law [Ann Valentine, Frances’ sister] [were] ‘denied the privileges of Fire to broil a slice of Bacon’.” John Allan also slept on the floor of the ship, and it was said Frances had terrible seasickness. Despite the rough journey, the family, comprising of Edgar, John Allan, Frances Allan, and Ann Valentine, successfully disembarked on July 28 in Liverpool. The next day, John Allan wrote to Charles Ellis, his business partner from Richmond, “I am now on English ground after an absence of more than 20 years. After a pssage [sic] of 34 days all [is] well—Frances and Nancey very [sic] sick but are now perfectly Hearty. Edgar was a little sick but soon recovered. Capt. good seaman but too close….We got here yesterday at 5 P.M. I took our abode at Mr. Lillymans Hotel today” (Thomas 25).
Presumably, after days of settling down in the new land, the family visited John Allan’s sisters, Mary Allan and Jane Johnston, in Irvine, Scotland on August 11. According to Dwight Thomas of the Poe Log, “Perhaps for a few days Poe attends the Old Grammar School. Here Poe probably sees archers shooting the popinjay on the cathedral. Poe’s playmates are James Anderson and a lad named Gregory.” (Please note that Poe referred to the popinjay in “Romance” and “The Bargain Lost.”) Before August 22, the family also visited John Allan’s younger sister, Mrs. Allan Fowlds (née Agnes Nancy Allan) on Nelson street (25). On the 21st of September, from Greenock, Scotland, John Allan wrote to Charles Ellis,
I arrived here about a half an hour ago . . . finding some American Vessels on the eve of sailing I avail myself of the chance to write a few lines, though I cannot say much about our business. . . . I flatter myself from the small quantity [of tobacco?] in London & the Posture of affairs on the Continent that our sales will be profitable. It would appear that France and the Allies have concluded a Treaty but it has not been promulgated — the Allies will hold the strong posts for a while until the refractory spirit of some of the old adherents of Bonaparte has subsided. . . . Frances says she would like the Land o cakes better if it was warmer and less rain, she bids me say she will write Margaret [Ellis] as soon as she is settled but at present she is so bewildered with wonders that she canna write. Her best Love to Margaret & a thousand kisses to Thos [Ellis]. Nancy says give my love to them all — Edgar says Pa say something for me, say I was not afraid coming across the Sea. Kiss Thos. for him We all unite in best Love to my Uncle Galt & all our old Friends. Edgars love to Rosa & Mrs. Mackenzie (26).
Later on October 7, the family arrived in London, however only three days later Frances felt ill with a bad cold and sore throat. John Allan wrote to Charles Ellis from the Blake’s Hotel they were staying at, “I arrived here on the evening of the 7th, from Kilmarnock by way of Greenock, Glasgow, Edinburg, New Castle [and] Sheffield…” (26). October 30, He wrote,
. . . by a snug fire in a nice little sitting parlour in No. 47 Southampton Row, Russell Square where I have procured Lodgings for the present with Frances and Nancy Sewing and Edgar reading a little Story Book. I feel quite in a comfortable mood for writing. I have no acquaintances that call upon me and none whom as yet I call on. 6 Guineas a week furnished lodgings is what I have agreed to for 6 months until I can find a more convenient and cheaper situation. I have no compting room yet of course. I cannot copy the Letters which I am obliged to write — everything is high it alarms Frances she has become a complete economist and has a most lively appetite. I begin to think London will agree with her (26-27).
That November, John Allan once more wrote that he and his family were sick with colds. These persistent illnesses would occur periodically throughout their five year stay, with Frances being the sickest of all. It is implied by many letters written by John Allan that Frances was quite possibly a hypochondriac. She was ill multiple times; for instance, in 1819, as the family was preparing to return to the States, Frances pleaded not to go back as she thought she would never be able to cross the Atlantic (41).
By November 20, however, Allan decided he and his family would stay two more years than the planned three. He thought this would profit his business with Ellis (27). The next year, in 1816, the family continued to have a miserable time. John Allan’s Aunt, his father’s sister, Jeannie Bone died, and in early April, young Edgar was sent to the boarding school of the Misses Dubourg (29).
A charming account of John Allan’s correspondence with his family includes giving advice to young William Galt, Jr., before his anticipated departure for America,
Now my good Boy you will soon be ushered into the World where your own exertions and good Sense will be put to the test, never fail to do your Duty to your Creator first, to your Employer next & by all means keep clear of bad company. Mixing with improper characters tends only to make you the slave of vicious Habits which you will avoid as you shun the coiled Serpent (31).
In 1817, John Allan’s business seemingly was thriving. He wrote to William Galt that their property assets would be worth $140,000. Midsummer in London, he rented No. 39 Southampton Row, but did not take possession of the house until September or October. During this time, young Edgar was in school (33-34). That August, John Allan explained to George Dubourg how Frances desired a parrot. According to the Poe Log, as presented on EAPoe online, Frances’ parrot, which was lodged with the Dubourgs, spoke French and,
Whitty (1935), pp. 188-90, thought the following lines from “Romance” were autobiographical: “To me a painted paroquet / Hath been — a most familiar bird — / Taught me my alphabet to say — / To lisp my very earliest word.” Mabbott (1969), 1:128-29, linked “Romance” with the popinjay in Scotland and also called attention to the paroquet in “The Bargain Lost.” In his “Philosophy of Composition” Poe stated that in planning “The Raven” he first considered a parrot, then an owl, and settled for a raven (33-34).
The next year, 1818, proved to be an impressionable year for young Edgar. He was reading Latin pretty well, according to John Allan in late June. According to EAPoe online’s transcription of The Poe Log,
In “William Wilson” (1839), Poe’s fictional account of his experiences at the Manor House School, the schoolmaster was part Bransby and part George Gaskin, rector of St. Mary’s Church. Poe perhaps knew three men named William Wilson: two conducted business with John Allan and a third taught school in Richmond (see Jackson, 1983, p. 13). “I [William Elijah Hunter] spoke to Dr. Bransby about him [Poe] two or three times during my school days. . . . Dr. Bransby seemed rather to shun the topic, I suppose from some feeling with regard to his name being used distastefully in the story of ‘William Wilson.’ In answer to my questions on one occasion, he said, ‘Edgar Allan’ (the name he was known by at school) ‘was a quick and clever boy and would have been a very good boy if he had not been spoilt by his parents,’ meaning the Allans; ‘but they spoilt him, and allowed him an extravagant amount of pocket-money, which enabled him to get into all manner of mischief — still I liked the boy — poor fellow, his parents spoilt him!’ ” (Hunter, p. 497) (36).
Manor House School, Stoke Newington
Mid-August, John Allan planned a trip to Isle of Wight to see if the sea air would help poor Frances’ health. She visited Devonshire not too long after this (37-38). Later that October, Frances visited Tydemouth with, it is believed, Jane Gault, and then rejoined her family in London on, or before, November 28 (39-40).
That next year, 1819, the Allan & Ellis firm began suffering financial difficulties. John Allan began considering returning home. In June of that year, the family attended the wedding of his sister Elizabeth to John Miller in Irvine, Scotland. Edgar was left in Irvine until September (41). Although the family had been planning to return to the States for a while, the family was unable to return to America until they had enough money. Along with the alleged hypochondriac Frances, lack of finances posed problems in returning home. Frances was assuaged, however, because John Allan wrote that December to Ellis that Frances has, “the greatest aversion to the sea and nothing but dire necessity and the prospect of a reunion with her old and dear Friends could induce her to attempt it. Ann [Frances’ sister] submits her wonted good nature and patience” (42).
In the final year of their stay, February was a hard month for the family. Frances appeared to be in a terrible state, and the assassination of Duke Charles Ferdinand of Berry, on February 13, appeared to have an impact on John Allan because he wrote about the troubling incident (43). After making one last trip to Irvine, Scotland to visit his sisters in June, the family departed and arrived in New York on July 21. They returned to Richmond August 2 (44-46).
Despite the hardships that had occurred during their five-year stay, and the crash of Allan and Ellis’ firm, the trip to Europe appeared to have a great impact on Edgar and later influenced his stories. The boarding school experiences inspired certain aspects of later short stories, and it is said, had he stayed in Scotland, he would have made a fine addition to Europe.
Now that we have learned about Poe’s journey in Europe, and the influence of the Scottish Allan family on Edgar, what is the story behind this portrait? Find out here!
Many know Edgar Allan Poe, the esteemed poet and writer of horror and mystery fiction. Many are unaware; however, that Poe had an older brother, Henry, “The Pirate”. Nicknamed for his sailing expeditions, William Henry Leonard Poe (who went by Henry) was a sailor and a poet. Born January 30, 1807 in Boston, his parents were actors, David and Elizabeth Arnold Poe (Poe Forward’s Poe Blog). [Let it be noted that it is thought he was born between January 12 and February 22 based on Eliza and David Poe’s brief vacation from the stage during this time (Timoney).] After Henry’s birth, Eliza and David took a trip to Baltimore where they left Henry with his grandparents, Elizabeth Cairnes and General David Poe. Henry stayed with them during the rest of his parents’ brief careers and after their deaths, when he was four (Timoney). Henry did remain at his mother’s bedside as she was dying, however. He, according to Kenneth Silverman in Edgar A. Poe: A Biography, Mournful And Never-Ending Remembrance, recalled his mother saying a “long…last farewell”. Henry then received a lock of his mother’s hair (8).
Not a lot is known about Henry’s childhood, except for a few references from Henry’s Aunt Eliza, including a letter dated February 8, 1813 in which she states Henry “frequently speaks of his little brother [Edgar] and expressed a great desire to see him” (Timoney). This was written when Henry was only six years old. Because Edgar Poe’s foster family, the Allan family, was not interested in staying in contact with Henry and the Poe family, the brothers did not see a lot of each other, despite efforts made by the Poe family to maintain contact.
In 1816, General David Poe died and Henry, who was nine, was sent to live with his father’s friend, Henry Didier. Didier was a law student with David Poe Jr. before David took up acting (Timoney). According to Thomas Mabbott in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Poems, Henry Didier was, in fact, Henry’s godfather (515).
Before the age of 20, in 1827, Henry became a sailor and travelled the world. He served aboard the Frigate USS Macedonian in South America, the Mediterranean, Europe, the West Indies, the near East and possibly Russia. He namely visited Montevideo, South America, which he wrote an account of in February of 1827 and published in the North American. He also published in the Saturday Evening Post and the Baltimore Minerva and Emerald on returning to Baltimore, where he moved in with his aunt, grandmother, and cousin—the Clemm family. In 1829, he took up a job with Didier (Timoney).
It is said Henry was writing poetry as early as 1826. During this time, he fell in love with a woman named Rosa Durham. Not much is known about their love affair, except that, based on few poems, their engagement did not end well (Mabbott 516). These poems include “I’ve lov’d thee” and “To R.” (Allen 47, 48).
Regardless of the unfortunate end to their relationship, Henry remained preoccupied with writing. It should be noted that, when publishing in local newspapers, he would include Edgar’s poems and reprint them under his name (World of Poe).
Henry did not stop thinking of his brother during the time between his childhood and his arrival back in the States, and he soon was able to see his brother on multiple occasions. In 1825, Edgar took Henry to visit Sarah Elmira Royster. Elmira recalled Henry “as having been in the Navy or Merchant Marine because he ‘was dressed in a uniform that seemed to be that of a midshipman’” (Timoney). It is believed Henry’s short story “The Pirate” was based on Edgar and Elmira’s tryst and broken engagement (World of Poe).
Henry and Edgar continued to see one another in 1827, 1829 and 1831 (Mabbott 516). After being released from the army in 1831, Edgar moved in with Henry and the Clemm family.
Edgar nursed Henry during the last days of Henry’s life, and it is believed Henry passed away, if not in the same room as Edgar, but perhaps in the same bed as Edgar (Timoney). Henry died August 1 in 1831 at the age of 24 (Poe Forward’s Poe Blog). His cause of death is thought to have been from tuberculosis, however, cholera and alcohol have been taken into account. Alcoholism certainly may have been a major factor because Henry was a hard drinker the last two years of his life (Poe Forward’s Poe Blog).
Henry is buried in the churchyard of Westminster Hall and Burying Ground of the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, in the same family plot as his grandfather, General David Poe (Poe Forward Poe’s Blog). Interestingly, in the announcement of his death in a Baltimore newspaper, his surname was incorrectly given as “Pope” (World of Poe).
Grave of David Poe Sr.
Except for a few accounts, not much is known of Henry except for a few accounts. According to Frederick S. Frank and Anthony Magistrale of The Poe Encyclopedia, “There are temperamental resemblances between the brothers. Henry was ‘a thin, dark eyed young man who…shared Edgar’s dreamy Romanticism, morbid melancholy, wild streak and weakness for liquor’ but lacked his brother’s ‘compelling genius’” (281). It was reported in The Poe Log by Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson, that Frederick William Thomas, a novelist, journalist, lawyer and friend of Henry’s in 1828, stated upon meeting Henry,
I was intimate with Poe’s brother in Baltimore during the year 1828. He was a slim, feeble young man, with dark inexpressive eyes, and his forehead had nothing like the expansion of his brother’s. His manners were fastidious. We visited lady acquaintances together, and he wrote Byron poetry in albums, which had little originality. He recited in private and was proud of his oratorical powers. He often deplored the early death of his mother, but pretended not to know what had become of his father. I was told by a lawyer intimate with the family that his father had deserted his mother in New York. Both his parents had visited Baltimore when he was a child, and they sent money from Boston to pay for his support. (Pgs 87-88, 295)
Thomas, in another account, stated he and Henry had been “rather rivals in a love affair” (Mabbott 515). In yet another account, Richard Henry Stoddard, a critic and poet of the nineteenth century, said “he was handsome and talented, but of irregular habits because of which his fiancée (Durham) dismissed him” (Mabbott 516). Finally, a Mrs. Jane Miller of the Mackenzie family (Rosalie Poe’s adopted family) had these statements to make about Henry:
All that I know about him is that he came to Duncan Lodge to visit when he was a young man. My grandmother told me that until he came there, Aunt Rose scarcely knew she was an adopted child. She had grown right up with my mother and the other children. At the time Henry Poe visited Duncan Lodge my grandmother was getting Aunt Mary ready to go away to school–to New York. And Henry talked to Aunt Rose about it and told her they were doing more for Aunt Mary because she was their real daughter and that Aunt Rose must look out for her rights–she must see to it that they gave her as many advantages as they gave their own children–they had adopted her. Henry Poe’s visit embittered Aunt Rose.
Amongst these recollections of Henry is evidence he and Edgar shared traits which would hint at more of Henry’s character as well. According to Janel Timoney,
Henry and Edgar seem to have shared many similar personality traits. They are described as being of a ‘similar poetically-inclined and somewhat melancholy temperament.’ Their health is also similar. Henry, even earlier than Edgar, shows a predilection for poor health (Allen 24). Their father, who died a death ‘hastened by a taint of alcoholism hereditary in the family,’ seems to have passed the alcoholism along to his sons. Henry was described as the ‘wayward’ son and not long before his death, Edgar wrote of his brother to John Allan saying that Henry was ‘entirely given up to drink and unable to help himself’ (Thomas xxxviii). Edgar would later develop alcohol problems of his own.
Henry continued to affect Edgar after his death, and his death is said to have played a major role in contributing to Edgar’s melancholy nature and his writing. An alias Edgar Poe used was Henri Le Rennet, a French version of Henry’s name. It is said Henry most likely inspired August Barnard in, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. It is even theorized he was the main personage of Lenore in Poe’s poems (Poe Forward’s Poe Blog).
Although Henry did not have an extensive past to draw information from, nor did he live a long life, he still remains a curious subject for Poe scholars and fans alike. And who knows? Henry may have gone on to be a famous poet and writer just like his younger brother.
You can visit the following link to view a piece in our collection here at the Poe Museum:
Rosalie Mackenzie Poe, née Rosalie Poe, was the estranged sister of Edgar Allan Poe. Rosalie, born approximately December 1810 in Norfolk, Virginia, was the last of Elizabeth Arnold Poe’s children (Mabbott 520). There is debate who her father is, because David Poe, Eliza’s husband, had abandoned the family around the time Rosalie would have been conceived. There is speculation that John Howard Payne, a prominent fellow actor of the time, was Rosalie’s father; however these rumors remain as such—merely rumors. There is evidence that Eliza and Payne were both acting on the same stage around this time (Bloomfield). There is even compromising evidence which fell into the hands of John Allan, Edgar Poe’s “foster” father, who then wrote to Henry Poe, Edgar and Rosalie’s older brother, in a November 1824 letter explaining Rosalie only being a half sister to the Poe brothers:
God may yet bless him [i.e. young Edgar] & you & that Success may crown all your endeavors & between you your poor Sister Rosalie may not suffer. At least She is half your Sister & God forbid my dear Henry that We should visit upon the living the Errors & frailties of the dead (Velella).
It is also speculated Joseph Gallego of Richmond was Rosalie’s father, or at least had a deep connection with her, as he bequeathed her $2000 in his will, the remaining $8000 going to the Mackenzie family (World of Poe).
John Hamilton Mackenzie
After Eliza Poe’s death in 1811, the Poe children were separated and Rosalie was taken into the care of William Mackenzie and his wife of Richmond. She was not formally adopted, and it is speculated whether the family accepted her warmly or treated her poorly. Growing up, Rosalie was described as being degenerative, dull, backwards, and never progressing beyond the developmental age of twelve:
Edgar developed into a brilliant youth, as much noted for physical beauty, strength and activity, as for intellect and genius. Rosalie, as though some mysterious blight had fallen upon her, gradually drooped and faded into a languid, dull and uninteresting girlhood — apathetic in disposition and weak in body and mind…Her figure, naturally delicate and well-formed, drooped as lacking strength for its own support, her hands generally hanging listlessly at her side. Her eyes, dark gray, like those wonderful spiritual ones of her brother, were weak, dull and expressive only of utter vacuity. She was accustomed to sit for long intervals gazing upon vacancy, and when aroused, would answer to an inquiry: ‘ I wasn’t thinking at all; I was asleep with my eyes open.’…She looked indeed as she often said that she felt, “but half alive…” (Weiss).
A much younger looking Rosalie Poe. Previously shown at the Poe House in Baltimore, MD.
She, despite these reported developmental hindrances, earned a living by teaching writing for nine years (Sova). It should be noted that the Poe children’s nurse, at the time of Eliza’s failing health, explained she would dip bread soaked in gin and give it to the children, as well as occasionally give them other liquors. Although this was not uncommon at the time, because alcohol was used as a method for quieting upset children, it may explain Rosalie’s stunted developmental process and intellectual growth. It is rumored that Laudanum also was given to the young children (Weiss).
As the youngest sibling of the three Poe children, Rosalie looked up to her older brother Edgar, greatly admiring him and often boasting about his works and his talent, despite the two not being close. she attended her brother’s readings and lectures, and it is said she was disruptive and even sat upon his lap while he gave a reading of “The Raven”:
Once, when he was reciting ‘The Raven’ by popular demand at a gathering, Rosalie came up and sat on his lap at a point in the poem that pretty much equated her presence there with the birds above the ‘chamber door.’ The guests loved it. Poe was tolerant and quipped that he’d take her along next time to act out the part of the raven (Bloomfield).
According to Thomas Ollive Mabbott in Complete Poems, allegedly she dressed in an unfashionable manner and embarrassed the older Poe (521). If there were any similarities between the two, it was their shared fondness of flowers (Weiss).
John Hamilton Mackenzie in his older years.
After the Civil War and her brother Edgar’s death, the effects were devastating on the Mackenzie family and caused them to split, leaving Rosalie to fend for herself. Rosalie’s “foster” mother had passed in 1865, and John Hamilton Mackenzie, Rosalie’s “foster” brother, had lost Rosalie’s $2000 inheritance (Semtner 112). In the last years of her life, Rosalie wandered the streets and often forged her brother’s signature for autographs which she attempted to sell. She also attempted to sell furniture, claiming the pieces were “Poe artifacts” (World of Poe). Rosalie thrived solely on the charity of others, having been rejected by her cousin Neilson in Baltimore (Weiss). She had been unable to provide the money required to take out letters of administration to receive her brother Edgar’s inheritance, so she did not received what was supposed to be left to her (Mabbott 571). She was admitted to Epiphany Church Home in Washington D.C. and died there July 21st, 1874; she was 68. It is said she died due to inflammation of the stomach (World of Poe). It is also speculated she passed from “debility,” or physical weakness (Mabbott 520). Something notable about her death is that her tombstone marks her year of birth as 1812, one year after her mother’s death (World of Poe). This date was allegedly taken from the date of her christening, which would imply she was christened in 1812 (Mabbott 520).
The tragic story of Rosalie Poe is one to note when embarking on Poe studies. It must be mentioned she once stated the following in regard to writing, “I often feel as if I could write poetry. I have it all in my head, but somehow can’t get it clear enough to write down” (Weiss). There is certainly a possibility Rosalie might have been a successful writer, much like her brother Edgar, and certainly like their older brother Henry who, too, possessed the creative talent. Had she been given greater fortune in life, Rosalie’s strange, sad, and upsetting story may have turned out differently. It seems, however, each Poe child was touched with the curse of poverty and despair.
You can view historical objects and artifacts pertaining to Rosalie Poe and the Mackenzie family at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, as well as in the Manuscripts Collection: Edgar Allan Poe collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Home of William Mackenzie