Museum News


Love Is in the Air


Poe was known for being quite the ladies’ man in his day. Women including Sarah Helen Whitman, Frances Sargent Osgood, Sarah Elmira Royster, Mary Starr, and especially his wife, were known for having romantic feelings for the writer. He did not woo only these women, however. Continue reading to find out who else Poe left swooning, as well as letters displaying their adoration, if not infatuation, with him.

If you recall a previous blog post, Elizabeth Ellet was notorious for revealing Osgood and Poe’s correspondence, causing a publicity scandal and the end of their friendship (at least, in the public eye). Ellet did not do this because her character was vindictive, however; she may have had romantic feelings for Poe.

Elizabeth Ellet

Elizabeth Ellet

According to World of Poe online, “There are hints from Charles F. Briggs, Elizabeth Oakes Smith, and Poe himself that the attractive young Mrs. Ellet had made some sort of unreciprocated amorous advances towards him. ” However, according to Undine, the author of the blog, we do not know whether this was the case or not. Undine explains that Sarah Helen Whitman is the only source stating that Poe exclaimed that Ellet “…had better look out for her own correspondences.”  Charles Briggs described Poe as displaying Ellet’s letters in his novel, The Trippings of Tom Pepper. According to Undine, “Elizabeth Oakes Smith wrote Whitman a letter in the mid-1870s saying nothing about immodest correspondence, but suggesting that certain ladies who had greatly admired Poe fell into a jealous feud as a result.” A familiar scene includes Ellet discovering Osgood and Virginia laughing at her letters, rousing her into anger. She retrieves her brother and threatens a duel, which ultimately does not occur.

But what became of those letters? According to Undine, it is a bit of a he said/she said situation. Ellet claimed that her letters never existed, where Poe claims that he did, and did not, keep them. What became of these letters is unknown; however, we do have evidence from a few other letters, which display words of affection.

The first letter from Ellet, from around December 15, 1845, according to EAPoe online, ends with a portion of the letter in German, which translates as, “I have a letter for you. Will you not most kindly pick it up or have it sent for after seven o’clock this evening. / O, what a rent you have made in my heart / The senses are still in your bonds / Though the bleeding soul has freed itself.”

This letter is followed by one dated December 16, 1845, which states, “Do not use in any way the memorandum about the So. Ca. College. Excuse the repeated injunction – but as you would not decipher my German manuscript – I am fearful of some other mistake” (EAPoe). Could Ellet have been making her feelings known and then covering it up as a “mistake” afterwards? Their reciprocated or unreciprocated relationship remains unknown.

Another woman whose heart was stolen by the dashing Poe was Mary Elizabeth Hewitt. According to Library Company online, Hewitt was a writer, composing such works as The Songs of Our Land, and Other Poems and The Gem of the Western World. She was notable for editing a memorial of her close friend, Frances Sargent Osgood, after Osgood’s death.

Mary Elizabeth Hewitt

Mary Elizabeth Hewitt

Hewitt and Poe’s acquaintance with one another wasn’t made until 1845, when she wrote a letter to Poe in regard to his poem, “The Raven.” Below are extracts from the letter showing her respect for Poe:

“Dear Sir,

Mr Gillespie tells me that he has mentioned to you the singular coincidence that I related to him, of the simultaneous appearance of your admirable poem, ‘The Raven’, and the receipt of a letter by myself, from a very dear brother resident in Manilla, containing a marvelous history of a ‘white bird’, the which, although the very opposite of the ‘raven,’ struck me as being so singularly like it in ground work as to constitute a ‘remarkable coincidence’.

Mr Gillespie tells me that you would like to see the paraphrase which I have endeavoured to frame out of my subject…”

“…Pray pardon the liberty I have taken in addressing you thus uncerimoniously [sic], and oblige me by returning the letter to my address.

Very respectfully
And truly yours
M. E. Hewitt” (EAPoe).

The letter, which was written March 15, 1845, was replied to promptly by Poe, who responded with the following full text:

“Dear Madam,

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your little package and note.

The coincidence to which you call my attention is certainly remarkable, and the story as narrated by your brother is full of rich interest, no particle of which, most assuredly, is lost in your truly admirable paraphrase. I fear, indeed, that my enthusiasm for all that I feel to be poetry, has hurried me into some indiscretion touching the “Tale of Luzon”. Immediately upon reading it, I took it to the printer, and it is now in type for the “Broadway Journal” of this week. As I re-peruse your note, however, (before depositing it among my most valued autographs) I find no positive warrant for the act — I am by no means sure that you designed the poem for our paper. If I have erred, then, I have to beg that you will point out the penance.

Very respectfully and admiringly

Yours,
Edgar A Poe” (EAPoe).

Edgar’s reply to Mary seems charming and warm. Whether it is admiration, which she shows for him, or flirtation, she has caught Edgar’s attention, regardless, and is reciprocated with this attention.

He went on to take more notice of her works and, in 1848, for example, he reviewed and critiqued her writing in Literary America (EAPoe). Another example includes a manuscript in which he begins by stating, “I am not aware that Mrs. Hewitt has written any prose; but her poems have been many, and occasionally excellent.” He states that a collection of her poems, “…evince poetic fervor, classicism, and keen appreciation of both moral and physical beauty.” Although he goes on to state that they, “…lack unity, totality [and] ultimate effect,” he praises her sonnets. At the end of his critique, he states,

In character, she is sincere, fervent, benevolent — sensitive to praise and to blame; in temperament melancholy; in manner subdued; converses earnestly yet quietly.  In person she is tall and slender, with black hair and large gray eyes; complexion dark; general expression of the countenance singularly interesting and agreeable (EAPoe).

An alternative and very similar form of this same compliment, as written by Poe, according to Library Company, found in the 1846 edition of Godey’s Lady’s Book, states,

In character she is sincere, fervent, benevolent, with a heart full of the truest charity— sensitive to praise and to blame; in temperament, melancholy (although this is not precisely the term); in manner, subdued, gentle, yet with grace and dignity; converses impressively, earnestly, yet quietly and in a low tone. In person she is tall and slender, with black hair and large gray eyes; complexion also dark; the general expression of the countenance singularly interesting and agreeable.

According to Netherlands Poe scholar, Ton Fafianie, “Poe thought Mary a very attractive woman, and she was a nice and talented lady, but she took advantage of him in an effort to promote her poems while he was connected to the Broadway Journal.” In my conversation with him, he continued to explain, “He [Poe] was patient with her as a poetess, and there was one famous woman in educated society who noticed this: Margaret Fuller. Hewitt helped Poe and his family during the dreadful winter of 1846-47. They entertained a spiritual connection but were not ‘in love.’”

Was their connection spiritual, or was there more blossoming between the two?

Finally, another woman made such an impression on Poe, he wrote a poem just for her titled, “For Annie.” But just who was Poe’s “Annie”?

Nancy "Annie" Locke Heywood Richmond

Nancy "Annie" Locke Heywood Richmond

According to World of Poe’s Undine, Nancy Locke Heywood Richmond was the wife of Charles Richmond. She and Poe first met July 1848, and then met again in October of that year and in the spring of the next. According to Undine, however, “…intimates believed the two were no more than friendly acquaintances.” Letters written by her brother indicate no romantic interest between the two, however, Richmond told John H. Ingram, a Poe biographer, that Poe had been deeply in love with her, Undine goes on to explain. The only evidence of this is through copies of letters Poe allegedly had written her.

According to Undine,

These strange, hysterical, poorly-written letters depict Poe as consumed by an unbalanced, obsessive passion for the woman he, for reasons unknown, rechristened “Annie.” This passion, according to the letters, persisted throughout his brief, ill-fated 1848 relationship with Sarah Helen Whitman–who was simultaneously receiving similar letters expressing Poe’s undying love for her. “Annie” apparently was either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that by revealing these letters, she was making Poe look not just like a horribly untalented letter-writer, but an insincere, disloyal human being.

According to the Poe Museum website, Richmond legally changed her name from Nancy to Annie, after the death of her husband in 1873.

Below is the poem, “For Annie,” which portrays Poe’s romantic feelings for her.

Thank Heaven! the crisis,

The danger, is past,

And the lingering illness

Is over at last—

And the fever called “Living”

Is conquered at last.

Sadly, I know

I am shorn of my strength,

And no muscle I move

As I lie at full length—

But no matter!—I feel

I am better at length.

And I rest so composedly,

Now, in my bed,

That any beholder

Might fancy me dead—

Might start at beholding me,

Thinking me dead.

The moaning and groaning,

The sighing and sobbing,

Are quieted now,

With that horrible throbbing

At heart:—ah, that horrible,

Horrible throbbing!

The sickness—the nausea—

The pitiless pain—

Have ceased, with the fever

That maddened my brain—

With the fever called “Living”

That burned in my brain.

And oh! of all tortures

That torture the worst

Has abated—the terrible

Torture of thirst

For the naphthaline river

Of Passion accurst:—

I have drank of a water

That quenches all thirst:—

Of a water that flows,

With a lullaby sound,

From a spring but a very few

Feet under ground—

From a cavern not very far

Down under ground.

And ah! let it never

Be foolishly said

That my room it is gloomy

And narrow my bed;

For man never slept

In a different bed—

And, to sleep, you must slumber

In just such a bed.

My tantalized spirit

Here blandly reposes,

Forgetting, or never

Regretting, its roses—

Its old agitations

Of myrtles and roses:

For now, while so quietly

Lying, it fancies

A holier odor

About it, of pansies—

A rosemary odor,

Commingled with pansies—

With rue and the beautiful

Puritan pansies.

And so it lies happily,

Bathing in many

A dream of the truth

And the beauty of Annie—

Drowned in a bath

Of the tresses of Annie.

She tenderly kissed me,

She fondly caressed,

And then I fell gently

To sleep on her breast—

Deeply to sleep

From the heaven of her breast.

When the light was extinguished,

She covered me warm,

And she prayed to the angels

To keep me from harm—

To the queen of the angels

To shield me from harm.

And I lie so composedly,

Now, in my bed,

(Knowing her love)

That you fancy me dead—

And I rest so contentedly,

Now in my bed

(With her love at my breast).

That you fancy me dead—

That you shudder to look at me,

Thinking me dead:—

But my heart it is brighter

Than all of the many

Stars in the sky,

For it sparkles with Annie—

It glows with the light

Of the love of my Annie—

With the thought of the light

Of the eyes of my Annie.

(Source: Poetry Foundation.)

Ultimately, what do you think? Were Poe’s feelings sincere for these three distinctive women, or were their feelings sincere towards him?

Feel free to comment below and share your ideas!




Edgar Allan Poe on Valentine’s Day


It’s Valentine’s Day, a holiday Americans celebrated even back in Edgar Allan Poe’s time. In fact, one of his friends, Anna Charlotte Lynch, hosted an annual St. Valentine’s Day party at her home in New York.

Poe in 1845

Throughout 1845, Poe was a favorite guest at Lynch’s weekly literary soirees. In her words, “During the time that [Poe] habitually visited me, a period of two or three years, I saw him almost always on my reception evenings, when many other guests were present. . . . In society, so far as my observation went, Poe had always the bearing and manners of a gentleman — interesting in conversation, but not monopolizing; polite and engaging, and never, when I saw him, abstracted or dreamy. He was always elegant in his toilet, quiet and unaffected, unpretentious, in his manner; and he would not have attracted any particular attention from a stranger, except from his strikingly intellectual head and features, which bore the unmistakable character of genius…”

Anna Charlotte Lynch

Over the course of his visits to Lynch’s soirees, Poe befriended many of New York’s leading writers. At the same time, he became the recipient of attention from a few of the female attendees. One of them, Frances S. Osgood, was one of the nation’s most popular poets. She and Poe published flirtatious love poems to each other in the magazines of the day. In a letter to one of Poe’s other admirers, Sarah Helen Whitman, Osgood wrote, “I meet Mr. Poe very often at the receptions. He is the observed of all observers. His stories are thought wonderful, and to hear him repeat the Raven, which he does very quietly, is an event in one’s life. People seem to think there is something uncanny about him, and the strangest stories are told, and, what is more, believed, about his mesmeric experiences, at the mention of which he always smiles. His smile is captivating! . . . . Everybody wants to know him; but only a very few people seem to get well acquainted with him”

Frances Osgood

Another of the attendees taking an interest in Poe was Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet. Although Poe spurned her advances, she continued to send him love letters. She may be the one Elizabeth Oakes Smith was referring to in this account: “A certain lady . . . . fell in love with Poe and wrote a love-letter to him. Every letter he received he showed to his little wife. This lady went to his house one day; she heard Fanny Osgood and Mrs. Poe having a hearty laugh, they were fairly shouting, as they read over a letter. The lady listened, and found it was hers, when she walked into the room and snatched it from their hands”

Elizabeth Ellet

Whether or not that account refers to Ellet, it is known that, in late January 1846, she reported having seen an “indiscreet” letter from Osgood to Poe lying on a table in his house. Nobody bothered to ask Ellet why she was reading other people’s mail, but Lynch and her friend Margaret Fuller soon showed up at Poe’s house to demand Poe return all the letters Osgood had ever sent him. He responded that Mrs. Ellet should worry more about her own letters to him.

After Lynch’s departure, Poe unceremoniously dumped all of Ellet’s letters to him on her doorstep. Soon thereafter, Ellet and her brother arrived at Poe’s house to demand the same letters, which he no longer had. After Ellet’s brother threatened him, Poe went to another friend, Thomas Dunn English, for a pistol with which he could defend himself. English not only refused but also accused Poe of lying about ever having received any letters from Ellet in the first place, so a fist fight broke out.

Although Poe would later send Ellet a letter of apology, Lynch removed him from her guest list, and Ellet began spreading rumors that he was insane. This was only a couple weeks before Lynch’s annual Valentine’s Day party. Despite not being allowed to attend that gathering, Poe sent Lynch the following Valentine’s poem, which he intended to have read at the party. It is addressed to Frances Osgood, one of the women at the center of the previous month’s scandal. You can find her name spelled in lines of the poem if you write down the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, and so forth.

For her these lines are penned, whose luminous eyes,
Brightly expressive as the twins of Læda,
Shall find her own sweet name that, nestling, lies
Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly this rhyme, which holds a treasure
Divine — a talisman — an amulet
That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure;
The words — the letters themselves. Do not forget
The trivialest point, or you may lose your labor.
And yet there is in this no Gordian knot
Which one might not undo without a sabre
If one could merely understand the plot.
Enwritten upon this page whereon are peering
Such eager eyes, there lies, I say, perdu,
A well-known name, oft uttered in the hearing
Of poets, by poets; as the name is a poet’s, too.
Its letters, although naturally lying —
Like the knight Pinto (Mendez Ferdinando) —
Still form a synonym for truth. Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle though you do the best you can do.

The same day Poe addressed the above poem to Frances Osgood, his wife Virginia wrote him this poem. Poe’s name is spelled out in the first letter of each line.

Ever with thee I wish to roam —
Dearest my life is thine.
Give me a cottage for my home
And a rich old cypress vine,
Removed from the world with its sin and care
And the tattling of many tongues.
Love alone shall guide us when we are there —
Love shall heal my weakened lungs;
And Oh, the tranquil hours we’ll spend,
Never wishing that others may see!
Perfect ease we’ll enjoy, without thinking to lend
Ourselves to the world and its glee —
Ever peaceful and blissful we’ll be.
Saturday February 14. 1846.

Poe's Wife Virginia Poe

After Valentine’s Day 1846, Poe never spoke to Osgood again. In accordance with his wife’s wishes, as expressed in the above poem, Poe and his wife soon moved out of the city to a cottage in the countryside, far from “the tattling of many tongues.” Unfortunately, their love was not enough to heal her “weakened lungs.” Tuberculosis claimed her less than a year later.

The following year, for Lynch’s 1848 Valentine’s Day party, Poe’s long-distance admirer, Sarah Helen Whitman, sent Lynch a Valentine’s poem for Poe. Lynch read Whitman’s poem at the party but did not immediately publish it. She explained in a letter to Whitman, “The [poem] to Poe I admired exceedingly & would like to have published with your consent with the others, but he is in such bad odour with most persons who visit me that if I were to receive him, I should lose the company of many whom I value more. [Name obliterated] will not go where he visits &several others have an inveterate prejudice against him.” The name that was removed from the letter was likely Mrs. Ellet’s.

Sarah Helen Whitman

Whitman’s Valentine poem to Poe appears below.

If thy sad heart, pining for human love,
In its earth solitude grew dark with fear,
Lest the high Sun of Heaven itself should prove
Powerless to save from that phantasmal sphere
Wherein thy spirit wandered, — if the flowers
That pressed around thy feet, seemed but to bloom
In lone Gethsemanes, through starless hours,
When all who loved had left thee to thy doom,–
Oh, yet believe that in that hollow vale
Where thy soul lingers, waiting to attain
So much of Heaven’s sweet grace as shall avail
To lift its burden of remorseful pain,
My soul shall meet thee, and its Heaven forego
Till God’s great love, on both, one hope, one Heaven bestow.

Later in 1848, Whitman and Poe would meet, become engaged, and break off that engagement after only a month.

Visit the Poe Museum this Valentine’s Day to learn more about Edgar and Virginia Poe, Anna Charlotte Lynch, and Sarah Helen Whitman. A lovely portrait of Lynch is now hanging in the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building. You can read the Poe Museum’s letter from Lynch to Poe here.