Coffin placed in the Poe Shrine, Richmond on the anniversary of Poe's funeral
Edgar Allan Poe is so famous he shows up almost everywhere. Whether it’s a Beatles album cover, an episode of South Park, or on the side of Raven Beer bottle; his face is so familiar, many people likely think they know him. Especially around this time of year, students across the country are learning about Poe’s life and work. So how is it that we still know so little about someone this famous? Maybe it began with his death.
This October 7 marked the 165th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe. After all these years scholars are still debating what caused his untimely demise at the age of forty. In fact, there are dozens of published theories, and the number continues to grow. Why the mystery? In today’s age of modern medicine, it is difficult to understand how little doctors in Poe’s time knew about internal medicine. Many diseases that medicine has since controlled were still unidentified or misunderstood. Poe died in Washington College Hospital where his attending physician John Moran paid close attention to the author’s condition, but Poe still died after four days in his care. According to the below record of 1849 Baltimore deaths, Poe’s cause of death is listed as “Phrenitis.” On this list, the date, name, and age are correct, but Poe’s occupation is incorrectly listed as “Physician” by whoever transcribed the information. (We are grateful to Sabrina Ricketts for finding and providing the Poe Museum a scan of this document.)
Phrenitis is an archaic medical term that means inflammation of the brain. The term was later replaced with the word delirium, and the symptoms are now most commonly associated with meningitis or encephalitis. The cause of these conditions may be attributable to a variety of different viral and bacterial sources. This means scholars are still not much closer to unraveling the mystery of Poe’s death.
Knowing what happened to Poe in the days immediately preceding his admission to the hospital might help determine the cause of his condition, but that information is also missing. We know that Poe had survived a bout of cholera in the summer of 1849 and that he was ill during his time in Richmond between July and September. On September 26, he visited his fiancée Elmira Shelton who later recalled, “He was very sad, and complained of being quite sick; I felt his pulse, and found he had considerable fever, and did not think it probable that he would be able to start the next morning, (Thursday) as he anticipated.”
Poe left Richmond on the morning of September 27 on a trip to Philadelphia, but his whereabouts are unknown until he was found in a Baltimore polling place on October 3. He was already very ill and was asked if he knew anyone who could help him, so he called for magazine editor Joseph Snodgrass.
Poe was delirious and unable to tell what had happened to him or why he seemed to be dressed in someone else’s clothes. That’s right–he appeared to be dressed in ill-fitting clothes that looked nothing like his usual mode of dress, so some people speculated he may have been beaten and robbed of his clothing. When he entered the bar-room of the tavern in which the voting was taking place, Snodgrass recounted he “instantly recognized the face of one whom I had often seen and knew well, although it wore an aspect of vacant stupidity which made me shudder…But perhaps I would not have so readily recognized him had I not been notified of his apparel. His hat — or rather the hat of somebody else, for he had evidently been robbed of his clothing, or cheated in exchange — was a cheap palm leaf one, without a band, and soiled; his coat, of commonest alpaca, and evidently “second hand”; and his pants of gray-mixed cassimere, dingy and badly fitting. He wore neither vest nor neckcloth, if I remember aright, while his shirt was badly crumpled and soiled. He was so utterly stupefied with liquor that I thought it best not to seek recognition or conversation…So insensible was he, that we had to carry him to the carriage as if a corpse. The muscles of articulation seemed paralyzed to speechlessness, and mere incoherent mutterings were all that were heard.”
After Poe’s death, Snodgrass clipped the small lock of Poe’s hair now in the collection of the Poe Museum. Snodgrass also wrote lectures and articles about Poe’s death to promote his agenda to ban alcohol in America.
At the same time, Poe’s attending physician wrote articles and a book contradicting Snodgrass’s account. If Snodgrass’s retellings were distorted in order to portray Poe as a hopeless drunk, Moran’s were skewed in order to show the poet as a perfect saint.
Both versions grew more colorful with each retelling. As just one example, we can cite Moran’s recollection of Poe’s last words. In a November 1849 letter, Moran said they were “Lord, help my poor soul.” In an 1875 article, Moran said they were “Self-murderer, there is a gulf beyond the stream Where is the buoy, lifeboat, ship of fire, sea of brass. Test, shore no more!” In his 1885 book, A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe, Moran recorded them as, “He who arched the heavens and upholds the universe, has His decrees legibly written upon the frontlet of every human being, and upon demons incarnate.”
If these accounts did not do enough to spread confusion about Poe’s death, Poe’s rival Rufus Griswold attempted to defame Poe’s character in a scathing obituary and memoir of the author. Griswold’s obituary begins, “…This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.” His memoir of Poe became the first widely distributed biography of Poe but was so riddled with distortions and fabrications that some of those who had known Poe felt the need to come to the poet’s defense. Among these were John Moran and Poe’s fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman.
We will probably never know the exact cause of Poe’s death, but scholars will continue to try to solve Poe’s last mystery. If you would like to propose your own theory, you can read more about Poe’s death and submit your ideas here.
Join author Clay McLeod Chapman on Wednesday, October 15 at 6P.M. at the Poe Museum for an evening of reading and performance from a variety of his works. After the reading, he will be signing copies of his books. This event is part of the Virginia Literary Festival. Click here to learn more about the festival and its schedule of events.
More about the Author:
“Like a demonic angel on a skateboard, like a resurrected Artaud on methadrine, like a tattletale psychiatrist turned rodeo clown, Clay McLeod Chapman races back and forth along the serrated edges of everyday American madness, objectively recording each whimper of anguish, each whisper of skewed desire. This is strong stuff, intense stuff, sometimes disturbing stuff, but I think the many who admire Chuck Palahniuk will admire Chapman as well.” —Tom Robbins, author, Still Life with Woodpecker
Clay McLeod Chapman is the author of rest area, a collection of short stories, and miss corpus, a novel. Miss corpus was recognized in part of The New Yorker’s “Reading Glasses” series. Currently, he is writing the middlegrade adventure series The Tribe (Disney/Hyperion)—book one, Homeroom Headhunters, is out now and book two, Camp Cannibal, hits the shelves in April 2014. He also writes for his geek-gods Marvel Comics (Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures, Spider-Man 2099 and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) and Fangoria Magazine.
Chapman’s story the battle of belle isle was featured in Akashic Books’ regional-noir anthology Richmond Noir. He was a contributing author on “The Rolling Darkness Revue,” a roaming reading-series of horror writers created by Glen Hirshberg and Pete Atkins, culminating in the anthology At The Sign of the Snowman’s Skull. He was a contributing author to One Ring Zero’s As Smart As We Are album, featuring such writers as Paul Auster and Jonathan Lethem.
Chapman’s story late bloomer was adapted into film by director Craig Macneill. An official selection at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the short won the audience award for Best Short at the Lake Placid Film Festival and the Brown Jenkins Award at the 12th Annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Their most recent collaboration, Henley, a short film based on the chapter “The Henley Road Motel” from his novel miss corpus, was an official selection at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It was awarded Best Short Film at the 2011 Gen Art Film Festival and the 2011 Carmel Arts and Film Festival.
Upcoming feature films include The Boy, a full length version of Henley, produced by The Woodshed (Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah, and Josh C. Waller) and the sci-fried feature White Space.
Chapman is the creator of the rigorous storytelling session The Pumpkin Pie Show. In its ten-plus years of existence, it has performed internationally at the Romanian Theatre Festival of Sibiu, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the New York International Fringe Festival, the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, the Edmonton Fringe Festival, the Minnesota Fringe Festival, the Dublin-based thisisnotashop art space, IGNITE Festival, the Women Center Stage Festival and the Impact Theatre Festival. The Pumpkin Pie Show continues to perform in New York City annually with long-time scene-stealer Hanna Cheek.
Chapman has written the book for the musical Hostage Song with music and lyrics by Obie-winning Kyle Jarrow. He also wrote the book for SCKBSTD, a new musical with Grammy-winner Bruce Hornsby. He is the author of such plays as commencement, teaser cow, Julian, bar flies, lee’s miserables, No Exitway, duct-tape to family-time, redbird, jewish mothers, junta high, nested doll, the interstate and on, the cardiac shadow and volume of smoke. Stage versions of his short stories birdfeeder and undertow were selected for publication in The Best American Short Plays: 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 anthologies.
Chapman was educated at the North Carolina School of the Arts for Drama, the Burren College of Art, and Sarah Lawrence College. He currently teaches writing at The Actors Studio MFA Program at Pace University. Visit him at www.claymcleodchapman.com
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is excited to launch the historic reunion of iconic author Edgar Allan Poe and legendary horror actor Vincent Price over Halloween weekend, October 31, 2014 and November 1, 2014. This not-to-be-missed weekend kicks off with the family-friendly Poe Goes to the Movies on Halloween night, and culminates with a wine tasting experience like no other on Saturday, November 1 with The Author’s Appetite. Both events will be held at the Poe Museum located at 1914-16 East Main St. Richmond, VA 23223. Proceeds benefit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum’s educational programming.
Artwork by Abigail Larson
Poe Goes to the Movies takes place on Halloween night, Friday, October 31 from 6:00pm-10:00pm and includes a variety of fun and frightening activities including an appearance by Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria Price who will introduce the film Tales of Terror starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. A special slate of guests will join Price as jurors for the Poe “look-a-like” contest and costume contests. Guests will also have the opportunity to experience the opening of the museum’s newest gallery, The Raven Room that will showcase the ca. 1882 illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” created by artist James Carling. This will be the first opportunity that the public will get to experience these one-of-a-kind drawings since they were designated one of “Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts” in Virginia in 2013, and it will be the first opportunity to see the new book about the illustrations by Poe Museum curator Christopher P. Semtner. Cash bar sponsored by Richmond’s Triple Crossing Brewery. Tickets to the Halloween night event are $20 per person ($5 for children under 12) and can be purchased at the museum or through the Poe Museum Online Store by clicking here.
The Author’s Appetite follows on Saturday, November 1 from 6:00pm-10:00pm and will provide an unforgettable evening for wine and literary lovers alike. Highlighting Vincent Price’s love of Richmond and its cuisine this culinary adventure will be the first opportunity to sample the Vincent Price Signature Wine Collection with labels by artists Abigail Larson and Gris Grimly. Complimenting this unique wine experience will be hors d’oeuvre by Chef Ken Wall of the Dining Room at the Berkeley Hotel along with desserts by pastry chef Cornelia Moriconi of Can Can Brasserie, both of which are inspired by recipes from Vincent Price’s now renowned cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes. Throughout the event, Victoria Price will share memories of her famous father and sign copies of her recent memoir Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography. Guests will also be treated to the exotic live music of Richmond favorites, the Tim Harding Quartet, as well as a silent auction, private talk with the curator of the Poe Museum’s new exhibition The Raven Room, and performances of Poe’s works by historical interpreter Anne Williams. Tickets are $50 per person and can be purchased at the museum or at through the Poe Museum online store by clicking here.
Additional programs highlighting Vincent Price at the Poe Museum Weekend include a guided walking tour at 10:00am on Saturday, November 1, featuring the graves of Edgar Allan Poe’s many friends and relatives buried at Shockoe Hill Cemetery, which is located at 4th and Hospital Streets in Richmond. There will also be a guided walking tour of Poe sites in Historic Shockoe Bottom at 2:00pm on Sunday, November 2. Please meet at the Poe Museum. Make Richmond a destination over Halloween Weekend at Richmond’s historic Linden Row Inn, which has partnered with the Poe Museum to create a fabulous weekend package including two nights’ accommodations and tickets to all of the weekend’s events. Visit www.lindenrowinn.com or click here for details about this special offer. If you would like a combined admission rate for the events without the hotel room, click here.
About Vincent Price:
Actor, writer, and gourmet, Vincent Leonard Price, Jr. was born in St Louis, Missouri. He traveled through Europe, studied at Yale and became an actor. He made his screen debut in 1938, and after many minor roles, he began to perform in low-budget horror movies such as House of Wax (1953), achieving his first major success with the House of Usher (1960). Known for his distinctive, low-pitched, creaky, atmospheric voice and his quizzical, mock-serious facial expressions, he went on to star in a series of acclaimed Gothic horror movies, such as Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971). He abandoned films in the mid-1970s, going on to present cooking programs for television and writing “A Treasury of Great Recipes” (1965) with his second wife, Mary Grant. He also recorded many Gothic horror short stories for the spoken-word label Caedmon Records. Vincent Price died at age 82 of lung cancer and emphysema on October 25, 1993. (Source: IMDB MINI BIOGRAPHY BY LESTER A. DINERSTEIN)
About Edgar Allan Poe:
Edgar Allan Poe is the internationally influential author of such tales of “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Black Cat.” He is credited with inventing the mystery genre as well as with pioneering both the modern horror story and science fiction. Poe died under mysterious circumstances at the age of forty. Although much of his life is known through contemporary documents, some areas of his life remain shrouded in mystery.
About Victoria Price:
Following in her father’s footsteps, Victoria has become a popular public speaker on topics ranging from the life of her famous father Vincent Price to interior/industrial design, as well as topics in the realm of the visual arts such as the role of the art collector in society and learning how to see. In 2012, she was delighted to be invited to be a TedX speaker at TedX Acequia Madre. Over the past fifteen years, Victoria has spoken around the world to audiences who have enjoyed her ease and erudition in sharing her enthusiasm for a joy-filled life in the arts. The 2014 edition of her book Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography was released in August 2014.
About the Edgar Allan Poe Museum:
Opened in 1922, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond hosts the world’s finest collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia. The five-building complex features permanent exhibits of Poe’s manuscripts, personal items, and a lock of the author’s hair. The Poe Museum’s mission is to interpret the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for the education and enjoyment of a global audience. Poe is America’s first internationally influential author, the inventor of the detective story, and the forerunner of science fiction; but he primarily considered himself a poet. His poems “The Raven”, “Annabel Lee”, and “The Bells” are considered classics of world literature. The Edgar Allan Poe Museum was recently recognized by TIME Magazine as Virginia’s “Most Authentic American Experience,” by Publishers Weekly as one of the “2013 Top Ten Literary Landmarks of the South,” and the “2013 Top Ten Things To Do in Richmond” on the Huffington Post.
Do you love a good book? Do you want to help a new generation of readers share your love of literature? Here’s something you can do about it:
For the next day and a half the Poe Museum will be competing in the Amazing Raise, a 36-hour challenge in which Central Virginia non-profits try to see how many donations they can collect between 6 A.M. on September 17 and 6 P.M. on September 18. And you can help. Your donation of $50 or more helps the Poe Museum compete for thousands of dollars in bonus prizes, so even a small gift can make a big difference.
Why support the Poe Museum? Your donation will help the Poe Museum foster a love or reading and writing in future generations. For over ninety years the Poe Museum has been an invaluable resource to teachers and students around the globe. Through our educational programs, website, and educator information packets, we support teachers in their efforts to both educate and inspire their students.
What will we do with your gift? Fifty dollars pays for enough tour guides to give a guided tour for one hundred students. One hundred dollars buys the latest books for our ever expanding reference library. Five hundred dollars pays for plaster repair for one of our exhibit galleries. One thousand dollars helps conserve a small painting. Five thousand dollars buys a new heat pump for one of our buildings. Eight thousand dollars pays the expenses associated with our annual Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference.
If you believe in the work the Poe Museum is doing, please consider making a donation today using this form. If you are reaching this page after the competition has ended, you can still contribute to the Poe Museum here.
There are many popular Poe quotes circulating the Internet, quotes that are even printed on merchandise. Unfortunately, a majority of Poe quotes are falsely attributed to the literary genius. Some quotes are so bad Poe would be rolling in his grave! Take a look at our list and see which quotes you recognize as being falsely attributed to Poe.
1) “I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat.” This is, frustratingly, one of the most misattributed quotes. If you look at the context, the grammar, the style of the quote, it most definitely is not “Poe-esque.”
2) “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” This quote is a Poe quote, just not as he stated it. Found in his short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,” in the November 1845 issue of Graham’s Magazine, the statement is, “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.” It is surprising the quote needed to be simplified to the form it is in today, when it was already quite simple to begin with. One definitely should pay attention to what Poe is saying. And it is probably best when reading supposed “Poe” quotes, to believe only half of what you see.
3) “Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants. The way it stops and starts.” This came from a song written by the singer Poe. Confusing, yes; however, they are two distinctly different people. You can hear the song here.
4) “Sleep, those little slices of death—how I loathe them.” I have not been able to trace the origin of this quote, however the quote was attributed to Poe in Nightmare On Elm Street III. Another resource, the World of Poe, suggests it may have been derived from a line from the 1959 film, “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which states, “I don’t sleep. I hate those little slices of death.” Regardless of where it came from, this most definitely is not a Poe quote.
5) “All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry.” According to the World of Poe, this quote derived from a Poe biographer, John Alexander Joyce, who also came up with such fallacies as “The Raven” being a copied work of an 1809 poem, “The Parrot.”
6) “The best things in life make you sweaty.” I found this little gem on Goodreads, while scanning through the list of misattributed quotes. I am not sure what to say about this, except that it quite obviously is not a Poe statement. You can see an article regarding why this isn’t here.
7) “I do not suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.” After heavy research, I sourced this quote to a few books—first making its debut in 1996. This quote is often attributed to Poe, however I could only source this quote to the following books:
Leon Schuster’s Lekker, Thick South African Joke Book
He’s gonna toot and I’m gonna scoot: waiting for Gabriel’s horn
Uncle John’s Big Great Big Bathroom Reader
Crackers for Your Soup!
Toward Healthy Living: A Wellness Journal
More Modems for Dummies
There is no evidence of its appearing before the later half of the twentieth century.
8 ) “The past is a pebble in my shoe.” According to the World of Poe blog, this quote derives from one of the singer Poe’s songs, “Today.”
9) “I remained too much inside my head and ended up losing my mind.” There is not sufficient evidence to say Poe did not say this, however there is not sufficient evidence to say he did.
10) For some reason, the words in the “Come Little Children” song from Hocus Pocus have been attributed to Poe. The words do not match his style, and the lyrics are simplistic compared to his writing. The lyrics were written for the 1993 Halloween film, Hocus Pocus, by Brock Walsh, with James Horner composing the music. Sarah Jessica Parker, a star of the film, only wishes she were singing Poe’s words!
11) “If you run out of ideas follow the road; you’ll get there.” A search for this only brought me to Goodreads and Flickr. Either it is not well sourced, or he did not say it. Hint: He did not say it.
12) “Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain —
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away;
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.”
Although this poem, “Lines on Ale,” has been attributed to Poe for a long, long while, recently it has been debated whether it actually is his or not. You can follow this link for the controversy.
13) “No one should brave the underworld alone.” This line is from the singer Poe’s song, “Hello.”
14) “Every poem should remind the reader they are going to die.” I found this quote on Goodreads, which is the only website/source where I have been able to properly find it. I am going to have a hunch and say Poe did not make this statement.
15) “Art is to look at not criticize.” The only place I have found this quote is in online links back to Goodreads. I am going to guess this, like the former, is not a Poe quote.
16) “If you are ever drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations.” Once again, while Goodreads proves to be a fantastic source of information regarding book titles, suggestions, and endless lists of quotes, sometimes quotes such as this one slip past the editors and are falsely attributed. Edit: According to an outside source, this is a paraphrased quote of, “Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations — they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet,” as seen in Poe’s “How to Write a Blackwood Article.”
17) “The idea of God, infinity, or spirit stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception.” According to the World of Poe, this is a paraphrased quote from a passage out of Poe’s “Eureka.” Better watch out for those paraphrases.
18) “The pioneers and missionaries of religion have been the real cause of more trouble and war than all other classes of mankind.” According to World of Poe, this is another fabricated quote attributed to Poe by John Alexander Joyce.
21) “I don’t believe in ghosts but they have been chasing me my whole life.” This was only sourced back to a Wikipedia article, which even questioned the authenticity of it.
22) “If a poem hasn’t ripped apart your soul, you haven’t experienced poetry.” Just because it appears on popular media sites like Tumblr and Pinterest doesn’t mean it is an authentic quote. I am firmly putting my foot down when I say Poe did not say this.
And there you have it. By the way, while we’re at it, “Allan” is not spelled with an “e.”
After reading through these, which falsely attributed Poe quote is your favorite? Which correctly attributed Poe quote is your favorite? Personally, my favorite Poe quote is, “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all,” from Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”
If you have any questions whether a quote is truly a Poe quote, feel free to comment and I will try my best to prove, correct or debunk it.
Illustration courtesy of an M.S Office Royalty Free Clip
Perhaps Edgar Allan Poe’s most overlooked contribution to English literature is that he is one of the earliest American writers who commented on many of the ways that the emerging technological trends of the nineteenth-century effected everyday citizens. Poe’s science writing reveals the relationships between a writer who was looking for an audience interested in expressing his attitudes about science writing, and an audience that was looking for a writer who could explain the emerging developments of nineteenth-century science to them. Thus, there was an important relationship between Poe’s science writing and the public: The topics that Poe chose to write about were often influenced by the public’s interests in science, and his writing inspired their continued interest in science. His works, then, not only reflect the range of scientific topics that the public was most enthusiastic about, but they also document their concerns about the ways that technology was changing their lifestyles. Although Poe’s science narratives show that he was excited about many of the new developments of nineteenth-century science, they also express an uncertain attitude about the value he placed in technology. He was also warned readers about the ways that some writers misrepresented the ‘facts of science.’ Interestingly, later in his career he became known as the king of scientific hoax writing. Despite his concerns and ambivalent attitudes, Poe became a significant nineteenth-century professional journalist who had immediate access to the most popular science news stories of the day, and wrote about science in each of his major writing styles, i.e., poetry, non-fiction, and fiction. Despite the existence of these factors, Poe’s importance as a nineteenth-century science writers has not been acknowledged even by his present-day followers, or by many scholars of literature or science history. Therefore, the present blog will examine the themes and attitudes of Poe’s science narratives in each of his major styles of writing. My hope is that this series will provide both interested readers and scholars of Poe’s work, a clearer understanding of the complex ways that technology effected the lifestyles and culture of the nineteenth-century public.
I will consider a science narrative to be a work of Poe’s poetry, non-fiction, or fiction in which Poe provides an account of scientific inventions or issues, or where he tells a story that highlights popular scientific themes which he presented in journals or newspapers. For example, in his earliest published work of fiction, “MS Found in a Bottle,” Poe recounts a narrator’s experiences during a sea expedition. His vessel is dramatically propelled to the then unexplored waters of Antarctica and the South Pole. He records the scientific details of this story in the realistic style of a technical journalist assigned to the voyage, and at the same time explores issues of the uncertainties of this voyage and of the unexplored spaces between reality and imagination. Poe also added a touch of suspense and Gothic-style horror in his story, which likely helped help to generate additional strong public interest in this already popular topic. “M.S. Found in a Bottle” was first published in 1833 by the Baltimore Saturday Visitor Newspaper. This story first thrust Poe into national notoriety after it won the paper’s first place prize for fiction writing. This recognition undoubtedly encouraged him to write many other science narratives in each of his major styles of writing. In this Blog, I will explore Poe’s themes and attitudes about science as he expressed them in each of these styles, i.e., poetry, non-fiction, and fictional works. In addition, I plan explore: Poe’s educational background; his little-known experiences in the United States Army related to science; the scientific and literary contexts which were in place at the beginning of his writing career; his experiences as a journalist in Richmond, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston; and the extraordinary culminating and enigmatic science book he wrote at the end of his career and life—entitled, Eureka A Prose Poem. Poe believed that Eureka was the most important work of his career, and considered it “the culmination of his life’s work” (Broussard 52). He boasted that “Newton’s discovery of gravity was a mere incident compared to the discoveries revealed in this book” (Thomas and Jackson 731). He also wrote a letter to his aunt and mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, on July 7, 1848 stating, “I have no desire to live. Since I have done Eureka, I could accomplish nothing more” (Ostram 820). Ironically, Eureka also turned out to be the last work he published under his own supervision. There have been several attempts to evaluate the complex language and puzzles posed in Eureka, but most have come up short because the work is written in a complex, and almost cryptic language. When I get around to discussing Eureka, I plan to use some of the “code-keys” provided in several of Poe’s other writings to help unravel some of its mysteries. Please send comments and suggestions to me about this blog through email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Broussard, Louis. The Measure of Poe. Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.
Poe, Edgar A. The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. John Ward Ostram. Cambridge: Harvard University, 1948.
Thomas, Dwight, and David Jackson, Eds. The Poe Log- A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849. Boston: G.B. Hall and Company, 1987.
Mathew Brady was perhaps the leading American photographer of the nineteenth century. Among the prominent figures who sat for his studio are eighteen United States Presidents including Abraham Lincoln. It has long been known that the Mathew Brady Studio sold copies of a “Brady Photo” of Poe in the early 1860s, but now a previously unpublished Brady photo of Poe’s mother-in-law Maria Clemm has been found and will soon be on public display for the first time.
From September 25 until November 30, 2014, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will exhibit a newly discovered photograph of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother-in-law from the studio of famed nineteenth century photographer Mathew Brady (1822-1896), best known for his iconic photographs of Abraham Lincoln and his documentation of Civil War battlefields. This is only the third image of Poe’s aunt/mother-in-law Maria Poe Clemm to come to light. Although Edgar Allan Poe’s face is well-known through photographs and paintings made during his lifetime, there are very few surviving images of the two people closest to him—his wife and mother-in-law. Maria Clemm helped support Poe by helping sell his poems and by taking on sewing work for extra money. Poe paid tribute to her in his poem “To My Mother.” After Poe’s death, Clemm depended upon the charity of Poe’s many admirers. Charles Dickens is among those who contributed to her care.
Newly Discovered Image
Stephen Montgomery, the owner of the photograph, an albumen print carte de visite, found the previously unpublished image in an album of nineteenth century photographs and contacted the Poe Museum to help him verify the discovery. The logo of the Mathew Brady studio is printed on the back of the photo with the words “Maria Clemm/ Edgar Allen [sic] Poe Aunt” written in pencil above it. Although the image was previously unknown to scholars, it bears a remarkable resemblance to the two other known photographs of Maria Clemm, one of which is in the collection of the Poe Museum. The newly identified image will be displayed alongside the Poe Museum’s fully authenticated photograph for comparison.
Authentic Images of Maria Clemm and the Newly Discovered Image
Face of 1868 Photo Superimposed Over Face of Montgomery Photo
For this exhibition, Montgomery has also loaned the Poe Museum two other photographs—Matthew Brady’s photograph of Poe (a retouched version of an 1848 photograph taken by another photographer sold from Brady’s studio in the early 1860s) and an albumen print photograph of the daguerreotype taken of Poe in Richmond a few weeks before his death.
Brady Photo of Poe
Now one of the most valuable books in American literature, this humble volume could have easily ended up in a trash heap or floating down the Hudson River along with several other copies. Ben Hardin, Jr. (1784-1852), the first owner of this first edition of Poe’s third book Poems, scrawled abusive language on the end pages. Ben Hardin, Jr. was a Kentucky lawyer who had likely received the book from his son John Pendleton Hardin (1810-1842, Class of 1832, resigned 1832), one of Poe’s fellow cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. John Hardin would have been one of the 131 out of the 232 cadets who contributed $1.25 toward the work’s publication in April 1831. Fewer than 1,000 copies were printed, and, judging by the cadets’ response to the book, it is not surprising that only about twenty survive. (Some of those cadets are said to have thrown their copies into the river in disgust.)
Dedication Page of Poems
One of the cadets, Allan B. Magruder, later recalled, “[The book] was a miserable production mechanically, bound in green boards and printed on inferior paper, evidently gotten up on the cheapest scale. The subscription was not fully paid until the book was delivered, and I remember a general expression of indignation at the inferior quality and condition of the book.”
Another cadet, Thomas W. Gibson, added, “The book was received with a general expression of disgust. It was a puny volume, of about fifty pages, bound in boards and badly printed on coarse paper, and worse than all, it contained not one of the squibs and satires upon which his reputation at the Academy had been built up.”
Ben Hardin, Jr., the owner of the Poe Museum’s copy, wrote on the front page, “This book is a damn cheat. All that fills 124 pages could have been compiled in 36.” Beneath this, someone wrote “lie.” Below that is written, “Calliope [the Greek muse of epic poetry] is a cheat/ any how–.”
What little critical notice the book attracted was not overwhelmingly favorable, either. In the May 7, 1831 issue of the New-York Mirror, the reviewer (probably George P. Morris), complains that Poe’s poetry is incomprehensible:
The poetry of this little volume has a plausible air of imagination, inconsistent with the general indefinitiveness of the ideas. Every think in the language betokens poetic inspiration, but it rather resembles the leaves of the sybil when scattered by the wind. The annexed lines, which close a short poem, entitled the “Doomed City,” are less incomprehensible than most in the book, although the meaning is by no means perfectly clear…It sometimes happens that poetry, at first sight unintelligible, is discovered, upon a repeated and more careful examination, to be fraught with the treasure of thought and fancy. The “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” belongs to this class; but we cannot flatter Mr. Poe with any similar hopes respecting his own composition, although it occasionally sparkles with a true poetic expression, and sometimes a conflict of ¬beauty and nonsense takes place, in which the latter seems to have the best of it. It is indeed encumbered by numerous obscurities, which we should be pleased to see either very much brightened or entirely expunged. What is the meaning of this?
In anticipation that the meaning of his poetry would confound some critics, Poe wrote in the volume’s introduction,
Poetry, above all things, is a beautiful painting whose tints, to minute inspection, are confusion worse confounded, but start boldly out to the cursory glance of the connoisseur…A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained; romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very definitiveness.
By the time Poems was released in April 1831, Poe was living in New York after having been expelled from West Point in February. Even though Poe was no longer at the academy, he remained the subject of the cadets’ scorn and ridicule for some time after his departure. As Gibson recalled, “For months afterward quotations from Poe formed the standing material for jests in the corps, and his reputation for genius went down at once to zero. I doubt if even the ‘Raven’ of his after-years ever entirely effaced from the minds of his class the impression received from that volume.”
After the commercial failure of Poems, Poe still considered himself primarily a poet and continued to write poetry, but he would not publish another volume of his poetry for fourteen years when he issued The Raven and Other Poems in 1845.
Listing from Chamberlain Catalog
The Poe Museum’s copy of Poems eventually entered the collection of scientist Jacob Chester Chamberlain (1860-1905) who worked in Thomas Edison’s laboratory during the early 1880s and contributed to Edison’s pioneering work with electric lighting. The book was #706 in the auction of Chamberlain’s collection on February 16, 1909 at the Anderson Auction Company in New York when the formerly $1.25 book sold for $315. The piece next entered the library of book collector Walter Thomas Wallace of South Orange, New Jersey. He sold his collection at auction on March 22-24 at the American Art Galleries in New York. This time, the book sold for only $140. The next owner was the California psychologist John Wooster Robertson, whose special interest in Poe led him to compile a bibliography of Poe first printings and to write the book Edgar A. Poe: A Psychopathic Study. Robertson donated Poems, along with the rest of his large collection of Poe first editions, to the Poe Museum in 1927.
Listing from Wallace Catalog
Although some readers in Poe’s time could not appreciate it, Poems is now considered one of Poe’s most important collections. Among the soon-to-be classic poems first printed in this volume are early versions of Poe’s classics “To Helen,” “Lenore” (under its original title “A Paean”) and “Israfel.” Poe’s biographer Arthur Hobson Quinn summed up the significance of the book as follows:
If the volume of 1829 [Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems] contained poetry unlike any that had as yet appeared in the United States, the volume of 1831 gave us in “To Helen,” “Israfel,” “The Doomed City,” “The Valley Nis” and “Irene,” poetry of a kind that had not yet been written in the English language.
The Poe Museum is fortunate Ben Hardin, Jr. decide not to discard his copy of Poems. Thanks to collectors like Robertson, Wallace, and Chamberlain, the book has been preserved for future generations to study and enjoy. That is why this first edition of Poems is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month.
Walter Wallace Bookplate in Poems
Edgar Allan Poe lived at the perfect time in history to be able to observe and to write about many of the most dramatic technological changes that had taken place in world history. Scientist Sir Alfred Russell Wallace called the nineteenth century “The Wonderful Century” because of its “marvelous inventions and discoveries,” which he regarded as immensely superior to anything which had been developed up until that time by “our comparatively ignorant forefathers”(1). Suddenly, within the span of a few decades, the introduction of new Industrial Age technologies such as electricity, telegraphic communications, cross-country railroads, photography, astronomy, and high- speed printing presses dramatically altered the culture and lifestyle of the American public in ways in which few people who lived at the time could ever have expected. In 1903, Sir Norman Lockyer, the then President of the British Association echoed Wallace’s remarks, stating that, “The nineteenth century will ever be known as the one which the influence of science was first fully realized in western countries; the scientific progress was so gigantic that it seems rash to predict that any of its successors can be more important in the life of a nation” (Nature). By the time that Poe started writing professionally (in the early 1830s), the literacy rate was higher than it had previously ever been in America, and the average person could read and understand most articles written in the newspaper. A person could travel to distant parts of the country by rail, and communicate almost instantly via the telegraph to almost anyone in the United States. Through the development of the daguerreotype (an early prototype of photography), people could obtain realistic and long lasting images of their family members to remember for generations. Many of those taken at that time may still be clearly visible today. The introduction of a new class of highly powerful telescopes and microscopes also demonstrated that the Universe of space and the unseen space within objects are much more expansive than anyone had previously imagined.
Peter Swirski argues that it is essential for our present understanding of nineteenth century culture to explore popular writers like Edgar Allan Poe because his “writing may be a suitable barometer of the role that science and philosophy had on nineteenth century society. Poe’s science narratives are perhaps most important because he was the first American authors who was able to distill the important information and ideas that were developed by professional scientists and publish them to a national and international audience in the form imaginative poems, non-fiction essays and journalistic stories, fiction, and science fiction stories.
The next entry of the “Poe and Science” blog will discuss how a studying the stories of the non-professional science writer helps us to have a better understanding of nineteenth-century society. Please send comments or questions to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lockyer, Sir Norman. “Inaugural Address as President of the British Association.” Nature. 10 September 1903: 439.
Swirski, Peter. Between Literature and Science: Poe, Lem, and Explorations in Aesthetics, Cognitive Science, and Literary Knowledge. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2000.
Wallace, Alfred Russell. The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Failures. Toronto: George N. Morang, 1898 (digital reproduction).
Last Sunday, the Poe Museum was proud to host a talk by award-winning authors Mary SanGiovanni and Brian Keene. Guests came from as far away as Pennsylvania and Illinois to meet the authors and hear their insights into the continuing relevance of Poe’s fiction.
Since the Poe Museum’s mission is to “interpret the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for the education and enjoyment” of the public, Keene and SanGiovanni helped support this mission by speaking about Poe’s influence on today’s writers. SanGiovanni began by discussing the impact of Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death” on horror fiction. She provided a fascinating overview of the themes and imagery of the story and drew parallels between these and the recurrent themes found in modern psychological horror and cosmic horror.
After SanGiovanni’s talk, Keene spoke about Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, its inspiration for his own writing, and its influence on later writers. He traced the influence of this novel on Herman Melville, Jules Verne (who wrote a sequel to it), and H.P. Lovecraft (whose novel At the Mountains of Madness borrows from it). Keene continued by describing how At the Mountains of Madness helped inspire John W. Campbell’s novel Who Goes There which has been adapted into three films, the second of which is John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing, which Keene considers the most important horror film of the 1980s. The Thing topped Boston Globe’s list of the Fifty Scariest Movies of All Time and was ranked #2 on Moving Arts Film Journal’s list of the Twenty-Five Greatest Horror Films. The film, in turn, was a great inspiration to Keene himself.
The talks were followed by a question-and-answer period in which the authors discussed their own work as well as the international significance of Poe’s literary contributions. A sizeable crowd gathered afterwards to have the authors sign copies of their books. Keene and SanGiovanni also donated some copies of their books to the museum’s gift shop to help support the museum’s educational mission. The Poe Museum would like to thank SanGiovanni and Keene for sharing their insights with our audience.
Our next author talk will take place on October 15 at 6 P.M. when the Virginia Literary Festival Presents: An Evening with Clay McLeod Chapman. Click here for a complete list of upcoming events.
Clay McLeod Chapman, our October speaker