The Museum Collection

Washington Irving Letter to John Randolph of Roanoke

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Creator: Washington Irving
Date: June 5, 1822
Format: Letter
Source: Gift of Fayetta H. and Alberta W. Laighton
Collection: Poe Foundation, Inc.
Place of Publication:
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Washington Irving (1783-1859) wrote this letter to the Virginia senator, diplomat, and orator John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833) while the two were in London in 1822. Irving was among the first American authors to enjoy popularity in Europe. He best known for his story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Although Irving would offer him encouragement and words of praise for his writing, Edgar Poe wrote in 1838, "Irving is much over-rated and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious and adventitious reputation--between what is due to the pioneer solely, and what to the writer."

Randolph served in both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. He was also appointed US Minister to Russia. A young Edgar Poe likely saw Randolph in Richmond and would later describe the character M. Valdemar in "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" as "particularly noticeable for the extreme spareness of his person --- his lower limbs much resembling those of John Randolph..." Randolph's appearance, as Poe's readers would have known, was considered unusual because his legs were underdeveloped. His voice was also noteworthy for being unusually high-pitched.

Washington Irving, in a June 11, 1822 letter to Henry Brevoort, also calls attention to Randolph's unusual appearance and manners: "John Randolph is here, and has attracted much attention. He is sought after by people of the first distinction. I have met him repeatedly in company, and his eccentricity of appearance and manner makes him the more current and interesting; for in high life here, they are always eager for anything strange and peculiar. There is a vast deal, too, of the old school in Randolph?s manner, the turn of his thoughts, and the style of his conversation, which seems to please very much."

The Poe Museum's letter to John Randolph was written six days before the above letter. In the June 5 letter, Irving invites Randolph to attend a dinner party. The letter was collected by Partick Henry's granddaughter, Lucy Dorothea Henry Laighton, and was pasted into her autograph album. Laighton's daughters gave the album, which also included some Edgar Allan Poe manuscripts in addition to the autographs of over 250 other celebrities, to the Poe Museum in 1928.