The Museum Collection
Poems of 1831
Description:The first owner of this book, Ben B. Harden, inscribed it with a note voicing his dissatisfaction with Poe's poetry contained within. Although it is dedicated to "The U.S. Corps of Cadets," more than a few of Poe's fellow West Point cadets, who had paid for the volume's publication, were apparently angered by the book's poor quality and by the fact that, instead of containing witty verses, it featured somber poems like "Irene," "The Doomed City," and "The Valley Nis." One of the cadets, Allan B. Magruder, recounted the book was "a miserable production mechanically, bound in green boards and printed on inferior paper."
Published in 1831, when he was twenty-two, Poems of Edgar A. Poe was Poe's third book, and his second to be distributed. At the time of its writing, Poe was a virtually unknown cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where one cadet, David Emerson Hale, described him as "a fellow of talent" but "too mad a poet to like Mathematics." A little "too mad" for the life of a cadet, Poe had already been expelled from West Point by the time the book was printed.
One hundred thirty-one of the 232 cadets paid $1.25 per book. Fewer than 1,000 were printed, and only about twenty survive. The cadet who purchased this copy was John Pendleton Hardin (1810-1842, Class of 1832, reigned 1832) of Bardstown, Kentucky. He gave it to his father, Ben Hardin, Jr. (1784-1852) a lawyer from Kentucky. Ben Hardin, Jr. wrote his name and an inscription which includes the phrase "This book is a damn cheat..." Someone else wrote the word "lie" twice under the inscription.
This copy was one of several first editions of Poe's works given to the Poe Museum in 1927 by the California psychiatrist Dr. John W. Robertson. In addition to collecting the first printings of most of Poe's stories and poems, Robertson compiled a bibliography of the first printings of Poe's works and wrote the book Poe: A Psychopathic Study, in which he theorized that Poe wrote while in an altered state.
Among the poems first printed in this collection is "To Helen," which Thomas Ollive Mabbott considered "the finest of Poe's lyrics." Biographer Arthur Hobson Quinn wrote that Poems of Edgar A. Poe contained "poetry of a kind that had not yet been written in the English language." The first printings of Poe's poems are of interest to scholars because he frequently revised his compositions several times over the course of his career. By reading the different versions of Poe's works, scholars can learn more about his thought process by charting the changes he made to his compositions. Handwritten notes or inscriptions, like the one in this copy, teach us about the kinds of people who read Poe's works in his time and how these readers responded to them.