Gentlemen Interview a Mummy. Image from https://i.ytimg.com
Poe’s tale, “Some Words with a Mummy” (1845) provides one of his most informative views about the value of nineteenth-century science. Although the narrator of this short story does not go anywhere special, Poe’s imagined mummy travels from ancient Egypt to the nineteenth century to reflect on the relative values of ancient and the technologies of Poe’s lifetime. This literary device allows the mummy to provide a view of nineteenth-century science that was significantly different from the one that was widely understood by professional nineteenth-century scientists. Mabbott notes that the public, at that time, was fascinated with “Modern Egyptology.” The 1799 discovery of the Rosetta Stone revealed much previously unknown information about Egyptian civilizations and several major museums offered exhibits of Egyptian artifacts and entombed mummies (1175).
The un-named narrator invites nineteenth-century “gentlemen” friends to his house to “unwrap” and examine a mummy that they have borrowed from the “Directors of the City Museum” in New York (1178). They invigorate “Count Allamistakeo” with a voltaic shock. His name is both ironic and satiric because he begins to count many of the mistakes of nineteenth-century science and civilization. As soon as he wakes up, the gentlemen boast about nineteenth-century advances in phrenology, mesmerism, transportation, steam engines, and metaphysics. After listening to their claims, the mummy is unconvinced that there has been much scientific advancement in the nineteenth century in comparison to the innovations of Egyptian civilizations. He informs the “gentlemen” that ancient Egyptians lived for thousands of years and could exist in a state of hibernation for as long as they wished. He boasts that his civilization practiced an extremely advanced system of Phrenology. He suggests that the “gentlemen” look at Egyptian architecture and notice that it is far superior to the best building examples of the nineteenth century (1192). The railroads, he adds, are “rather ill-conceived” in comparison to the “grooved causeways” built by the Egyptians. The Count argues that the Egyptians determined that what the nineteenth-century gentlemen referred to as “Progress,” was “quite a nuisance” (1193). He discounts the high value placed by the scientists regarding the developments of the nineteenth century and western civilization. In his criticisms, he is suggesting that culture and the quality of life are more important than scientific progress when attempting to determine whether civilization is advanced.
It is ironic that the only triumph of the nineteenth century that the mummy concedes to the “gentlemen” is its development of blood-purifying laxatives and cough lozenges. These remedies demonstrate that Poe lacked faith that science could cure the ailments of humanity, and that he wanted to get as far away from the assumptions of the nineteenth century as he could imagine. The narrator is profoundly congested by the mummy’s revelations. He comments: “The truth is I am heartily sick of this life and the nineteenth century in general. I am convinced that everything is going wrong.” He states at the end of the story that he would like to “get embalmed for a couple of hundred years” (1195). Perhaps he also wished that he could also hibernate for two thousand years and wake up to enjoy the glorious future he imagined. We can only wonder if Poe would have been equally or even more dismayed about the progress of twenty-first-century science if he woke up today.
*The commentary above is an excerpt from Murray Ellison’s Virginia Commonwealth University Master of Arts in Literature Thesis on Poe and Nineteenth-Century Science, © 2015.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales and Sketches, 1831-1849. Ed. Thomas O. Mabbott. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1978.
Poe in 1848 wearing his West Point Great Coat
John Limon argues that Poe was one of the first American writers who was important both to the fields of literature and science because he engaged in literary mediation, or “negotiation with science.” Limon notes that Poe’s works provide abundant examples that he anticipated forecasted several future developments in technology, e.g., exploration of the Poles, astronomy, physics, space travel, photography, electronic communications, and the forensic sciences. He wrote about these technical subjects in imaginative ways that captured the public’s interest and concludes that lay writers like Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, or those who wrote “without “letters,” also struggled with the professional class to establish their authority to speak on emerging scientific issues “(19).
Poe had not received any formal training as a scientist. However, he had considerable exposure to scientific ideas in his education, in his training, and in his investigations of science. He believed that an interested, observant, and skilled writer did not need credentials from any official accreditation organization before he was qualified to write about scientific topics. Therefore, in the present column, I will discuss Poe’s early technical preparation, activities, and some of his experiences that likely inspired his interest in writing about science as a poet, journalist, fiction, and non-fiction writer.
Poe’s early schooling and military training inspired and shaped his interest in science. According to Kenneth Silverman, Poe’s secondary education started after his foster parents moved from England to Richmond. In 1821, “Edgar attended the private academy of Joseph H. Clarke,” which served to prepare young gentlemen to obtain “an honorable entrance in any University in the United States.” One of his classmates wrote a testimonial that Poe was one of the top students in the class (23). Thomas and Jackson list the classes that students typically enrolled in while at that school. They included English, Languages (French, Latin, and Greek), Arithmetic, Geometry, Trigonometry, Navigation (using celestial observations), Gunnery and Projectiles, Optics, Geography, Maps and Charts, and Astronomy (41, 48). Continuing a description of Poe’s education and experiences, Silverman writes that in February 1826, Edgar Allan Poe was among the first group of students enrolled at the University of Virginia. School records there indicate that he was a bright and dedicated student. Despite not being able to afford to pay for his college textbooks, he was one of the top students in several of his classes. However, hefty financial and gambling debts to the University and to his classmates left him hopelessly in debt. When his foster father refused to continue paying for Poe’s college expenses, he was forced to drop out near the end of his first term (Silverman 29-34).
Major William F. Hecker, the author of Private Perry and Mister Poe, writes that Poe enlisted in the United States Army on May 26, 1827, under the alias of Private Poe. He spent three years as an artilleryman stationed for the longest period at Fort Moultrie, in a coastal area outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Poe spent much of his Army service learning cannon drill and maintenance. This task needed to be performed by a soldier who had extraordinary expertise and skill in the areas of measurement, logistical planning, and design. Army records indicate that Poe “was the most technically competent artillerist in his battery.” He was assigned to “oversee the ammunition supply of the battery.” He was quickly advanced to an artificer, a technical job concerning the “weights and measures of iron and chemicals” (xxxiv). According to Army records, “Poe was the army’s expert bomb artisan, carefully designing, preparing and constructing inter-connected systems of iron and chemicals with the ultimate goal of explosively destroying his creation” (xxxv-xxix). It was extraordinary for that time that Poe was promoted to a Sergeant Major in less than two years after he enlisted (xxix), and then enrolled in the United States Army Officer’s School at West Point. At the military academy, he took some classes in French, astronomy, math and navigation, but decided to get himself expelled in 1831 so he could pursue his interests in being a writer. Once again, lacking the necessary financial support from his foster father, Poe wrote: “The army does not suit a poor man—so I left abruptly,” and “threw myself upon literature as a resource” (Poe).
Hecker concludes that Poe’s four years in the Army did not detract in the least from his future career as a writer. On the contrary, it exposed him to many disparate subjects to write about, such as Cryptography, Geography, Oceanography, and Astronomy (xii). Also, he was able to incorporate many of his experiences relating to science into the themes of his poetry, journalism, fiction and non-fiction works. In the next column, I will explore Poe’s earliest published writing on science, a poem entitled, “Sonnet—To Science.”
Poe, Edgar Allan. “Memorandum in Poe Manuscript, May 29, 1841. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. www.eapoe.org/works/misc/poeautobiogrpahy.
Hecker, William F. Private Perry and Mister Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.
Limon, John. The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar Allan Poe: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.
Thomas, Dwight and David Jackson, Ed. The Poe Log- A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849. Boston: G.B. Hall and Company, 1987.
Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education at Temple University (1973), a Master’s of Arts in English Literature at VCU (2015), and a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. He is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine.”He also serves as a board member, volunteer, tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Poe Museum in Richmond. See picture blow:
Which story does Poe scholar Thomas Ollive Mabbott deem as one of Poe’s “great stories, although not one of the most popular?” There may be many obscure stories coming to mind; however, this particular story falls under the category of Horror and may give us insight into the development of the psychological thriller sub-genre, as well as allow us to further study the psychology of Poe’s mind, if even briefly.
“Imp” as it appeared in Graham’s Magazine.
In July of 1845, Poe’s horrific tale, “The Imp of the Perverse,” was published in Graham’s Magazine. According to American critic Benjamin De Casseres, “We’ve all got that ‘imp’ in us…What or who is this Imp of the Perverse? Poe doesn’t tell us for he cannot…Why should Nature, which does everything to cause us to fight for self-survival, put a voice-or an imp-in our soul that deliberately advises us to destroy ourselves?…You-and I-know that imp” (Mabbott 1217).
If we draw context from Poe’s story, the imp represents a lingering conscious of doubt and guilt, which ultimately brings the narrator to his psychological demise. The imp also represents contradiction, which Mabbott compares with an inscription in Poe’s early album of verses for “Elizabeth,” stating, “he wrote of his ‘innate love of contradiction'” (1217). Not only was this an early primary source representing this contradiction and the rearing of Poe’s own imp’s head; but there are examples in “The Black Cat” that represent the psychological stress the narrator carries, showing how he contradicts his actions and ultimately indirectly leads the police to the spot of his own crime. This is also comparable to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which also consequently ends with the narrator revealing his crimes.
According to Christopher Benfey in his article, “Poe and the Unreadable: ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, “‘The Tell-Tale Heart,’ ‘The Black Cat,’ and ‘The Imp’ all record a confession-a perverse confession since the crimes would otherwise have been undetected…These killers need to confess to the perverse act of having confessed. The fear of the criminals is not the fear of being caught, it is the fear of being cut off, of being misunderstood” (Silverman 37). This is further exemplified by a passage in “Imp”: “Had I not been thus prolix, you might either have misunderstood me altogether, or, with the rabble, have fancied me mad.”
According to Benfey, “Poe’s fascination with the idea of a crime without a clear motive has proved to be one of his richest bequests to later writers,” including Fyodor Dostoevsky with his novel, Crime and Punishment. Benfey concludes his article with a prominent statement, “Poe’s narratives can be read as cautionary tales…These fears are always with us-the fear of love and the fear of isolation. Taken to extremes, they both lead to disaster…To declare oneself safe-as the imp of the perverse tempts us to do-is to be lost” (43).
Perhaps when Poe was writing this “cautionary tale,” he was cautioning not only the reader, but also himself. Drawing perspective from his life in 1845, his career was starting to look up with the success of his poem, “The Raven”; he was attending prominent literary salons; he was described by James Russell Lowell as being “…at once the most discriminating, philosophical, and fearless critic upon imaginative works who has written in America”; and Poe joined the editorial staff of Charles Briggs’ The Broadway Journal (The Poe Log, Thomas, Jackson, 490, 505). This half of the year did not lack hardships for Poe, however, with harsh critics and satirists cracking down on and mocking “The Raven,” Poe’s direct involvement with the infamous Poe/Longfellow/”Outis” scandal; and, without doubt, Virginia’s unsteady health affected Poe psychologically. Although Poe may not have had an “imp” on his shoulder or a “voice” in his head, to our knowledge, the contradicting thoughts he may have had, such as seeing his arguably greatest work be both praised and slandered, as well as seeing the rise and fall of his wife’s health, may have thrown Edgar psychologically off-balance; thus presenting to the public examples of the contradictions he referred to even a decade or so prior with “Elizabeth.”
Over all, what is unique about “The Imp of the Perverse” is the seeming lack of acknowledgment of the story, despite being published just three years after “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The themes of guilt and contradiction appearing in the story were undoubtedly carried over from “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” thus showing the evolvement of Poe’s psychological approach between the inner voice and conscious breaking down a wrongful character, consuming the character with contradiction, and ultimately driving the character to unwillingly reveal their torturous actions to a higher authority. Based on evaluating Poe’s psychological approach in “Imp”, we may thus be able to evaluate Poe’s mind, as we discussed earlier regarding his personal life. These significant evaluations of the story and linking it to Poe, as well as the fact that the literary devices Poe used in his story influenced later writers, again, such as Dostoevsky, makes “The Imp of the Perverse” a significant short story in the Poe canon.
He had just made the greatest discovery in his long career of Poe collecting. This was the kind of find that could change the face of Poe studies and instantly transform the popular image of Edgar Allan Poe. By the end of the nineteenth century, Richmond historian Robert Lee Traylor (1864-1907) had been fortunate enough to acquire some truly important artifacts for his collection. Among these was the very last photograph ever taken of the author, a priceless daguerreotype once owned by none other than Poe’s last fiancée Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton. But Traylor’s latest discovery topped even that. In 1905, he announced to George E. Woodberry that he was now the owner of “the earliest known portrait of Poe,” a long-lost miniature on ivory mentioned as a “lost portrait” of a young Poe in Woodberry’s recent edition of Poe’s works.
Traylor’s Miniature of Poe
Even more than a century ago, Poe’s face was best known through the few daguerreotypes taken in the last two years of his life when he was frequently in ill-health, struggling against poverty, and close to despair. The most popular of these photographs shows the haggard poet just four days after a suicide attempt. Such portraits seemed to support the public’s caricatured image of Poe as a melancholy, haunted artist. But those who met him describe Poe as a handsome, elegant gentleman who was both a gifted athlete and a witty, amusing companion. Surely, scholars hoped, the author must have sat for his portrait before his final illness and the death of his beloved wife. Such a picture would show the young, healthy Poe—the promising young editor in the prime of his life. Locating this missing artifact would represent a major addition to Poe studies. Biographers would include it in their books. Students would analyze it. The public would finally have a chance to see Poe as his friends knew him.
That is exactly what happened with Traylor’s new portrait. Within a few years, it appeared in Benjamin Blake Minor’s book History of the Southern Literary Messenger, and James Harrison reproduced it in Last Letters of Edgar Allan Poe to Sarah Helen Whitman. Harrison declared the miniature “the earliest known portrait of [Poe].” The Valentine Museum included the portrait in it 1949 exhibit and catalog Richmond Portraits in an Exhibition of Makers of Richmond 1737-1860. In the 1926 booklet Facts About Poe: Portraits & Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe with a Sketch of the Life of Poe, Amanda Pogue Schulte writes that the miniature “represents the poet at twenty-six years of age and is evidently the earliest known portrait of him.”
The tiny painting on an ivory oval shows a youthful, clean-shaven Poe with the faintest hint of a smile. He is dressed in a grey coat with a black vest and cravat. Although the portrait is finely detailed, the expression appears slightly vacant. The piece is unsigned, and there is no indication of when or where it was painted. What is obvious from the portrait’s resemblance to authentic portraits of the author is that the subject was intended to be Poe, but it is not known whether this is truly a portrait painted of the author while he sat in a room with the artist or later copy or forgery.
James H. Whitty
It did not take long for doubts to arise about the portrait’s authenticity. In 1914, Poe collector James H. Whitty wrote Poe biographer Mary Phillips, “I was well acquainted with Mr. Traylor, and often met him during his lifetime. One day he showed me a miniature of Poe enclosed in an old time case. He told me that he had obtained it from a lady in Baltimore . . . that she was a friend of the Poe family and that the miniature had been owned by Poe himself. It was unsigned, had an unusual new appearance to me and looked like it might have been made up from two portraits of Poe I knew.”
Whitty thought Traylor’s account of the piece’s history sounded a little too good to be true, so he conducted his own investigation. One of his first discoveries was that Traylor had bought an antique case after purchasing the picture, suggesting the piece could have been installed in an old case to make it look older than it really was. Whitty later told Phillips, “I first wrote and asked Mr. Traylor for the history of the miniature in writing and have his response declining to do so.”
Traylor died just two years after announcing the discovery, so Whitty would have to continue his investigation with his help. Whitty’s account continues,
I discovered that the bare miniature was offered for sale here by an art salesman from Baltimore to Mr. English of Bell Book & Staty. Co. Mr. English told me that he knew Traylor was interested in Poe and showed him the painting and afterwards purchased it for him for $50. The art establishment wrote me that they sold the miniature but knew nothing of its history. The salesman was not then with them, but in Europe. I have a letter from the salesman in which he states that the painting came from Annapolis, Md., but that was all he knew.
The same J. T. English of the Bell Book and Stationery Company wrote, in a slightly different account, that “a Mr. W.E. Jones, representing Bendan Brothers of Baltimore, Md. Came to Bell Book and Stationery Company…making his annual visit…Mr. Jones showed the writer a medallion portrait of Poe that he wished to sell, stating that the Bendan Brothers bought it of a person said to be a representative or connection of the Poe family.”
It is unknown which Poe relative (or friend of the Poe family) in either Baltimore or Annapolis might have once owned this portrait, and there is no evidence that Edgar Allan Poe ever did. In fact, there is a good possibility that it did not even exist during Poe’s lifetime since the portrait bears a striking resemblance to a mezzotint engraving of Poe published a year after his death. This print, produced by Poe’s friend John Sartain, is based on an 1846 oil painting of Poe by Samuel Osgood. As early as the 1920s, James Southall Wilson deemed the Traylor miniature a “synthetic” portrait rather than an authentic one made from a live sitter. In The Portraits and Daguerreotypes of Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Deas points out that, although the facial hair has been removed and the clothing has been changed in the Traylor miniature, the shadow under the nose and the curl of hair on the forehead are identical to those in the Sartain print. Having been dismissed as a forgery, the Traylor miniature gradually declined in popularity.
Detail of John Sartain’s 1850 mezzotint of Poe
Detail of John Sartain’s 1885 mezzotint of Poe showing strong resemblance to Traylor’s miniature
Meanwhile, James Whitty, who had been one of the first and most vocal critics of the Traylor portrait’s authenticity, announced in 1909 his own discovery of “the earliest authentic portrait” of Poe, which he believed had once belonged to Poe’s sister Rosalie Mackenzie Poe. Anticipating the high demand for reproductions of the piece, Whitty quickly copyrighted the image that same year. He then published it in an edition of Poe’s poems that he edited. When the Poe Museum opened, he made a copy of his important image for the new institution to display with the caption, “This crayon portrait of Poe is from a miniature in oil painted by the Virginia artist Hubard, about 1836. It was in the possession of Rosalie Poe, the poet’s sister and copied by Davies, the old-time Richmond photographer. This picture was reproduced from Davies original negative, owned by J. H. Whitty of Richmond.”
Whitty’s Portrait of Poe
Whitty’s portrait, however, turned out to be an even more blatant forgery than Traylor’s had been. The Whitty portrait, it seems, is merely a copy of a wood engraving of Poe made about six years after the author’s death. Once of Whitty’s acquaintances, Thomas Ollive Mabbott, later wrote that he was not certain Whitty had had ever seen anything more than a photographic negative of the portrait before (or after) authenticating it.
1855 wood engraving of Poe on which Whitty’s portrait was based
This would not be the last forged Poe portrait to appear over the past century. Scores of silhouettes, watercolors, pencil sketches, and daguerreotypes have fooled some of the best Poe scholars. Today only two watercolors, one oil painting, and eight photographs of Poe are widely accepted as genuine; and the original plates of five of those daguerreotypes are missing. While it is possible there are more portraits of Poe in existence, we never when one of them might resurface. Collectors occasionally show the Poe Museum portraits and daguerreotypes they have inherited and wish to have examined, and a few of these long lost images prove very interesting. About a year ago, a lady appeared at the museum with a hand-painted photograph of Poe that had been missing for decades. Believing such an important piece should be shared with the public for the benefit of this and future generations, she said she might consider donating it to the museum but would need to consult her children on the matter. Later this week it will sell at a major auction house for far more than the museum can hope to pay.
Luckily, the Traylor miniature did not suffer the same fate. After Robert Traylor’s death in 1907, his daguerreotype of Poe (long-since ruined during a cleaning attempt) disappeared, and ownership of his miniature of Poe passed to his daughter Anne Traylor Larus, wife of Lewis G. Larus, vice-president of a tobacco manufacturing company that also founded WRVA, a radio station still serving Richmond to this day. The Laruses lived in beautiful estate called Stony Point, situated outside Richmond on a bluff so high they could supposedly see the Blue Ridge Mountains from their bedroom window.
Anne Larus’s sister Mary Gavin Traylor was a Richmond newspaper columnist as well as the secretary, curator, librarian, hostess, and tour guide at the Poe Museum during the 1930s. Mary G. Traylor devoted her time and energy to keeping the museum in business during the darkest days of the Great Depression while still making major acquisitions for the institution including a rare daguerreotype of Poe and a complete set of original illustrations for Poe’s poem “The Raven” drawn by James Carling. She must have had little difficulty convincing her sister to donate the Traylor miniature (authentic or not) to the Poe Museum, where it remains today. By the time of its acquisition, the portrait was no longer considered a life portrait of the author, but it has never been determined whether it was a forgery intended to deceive a potential buyer or if it was simply painted as a later tribute to Poe to be sold to someone who knew it had been produced after the subject’s death. It was not uncommon for portraitists well into the twentieth century to produce hand-painted replicas of earlier portraits to sell to those who cannot acquire the originals. Through no fault of the artist, such a portrait might later be mistaken for an original long after the artist and the person who commissioned the artwork have died. It is also fairly common for artists to paint pictures of Poe–like ones available today in the Poe Museum’s gift shop.
A 2016 portrait of Poe that a century from now might be mistaken for a much older picture.
Although the museum cannot claim the Traylor miniature is an authentic life portrait, it is still on display in the Model Building—not as a historical artifact from Poe’s lifetime but as an approximate illustration of Poe’s appearance as a young man. It is also an artifact related to the turn-of-the-century surge in Poe collecting and the competition to make the next great discovery at a time when the supposed missing portrait of a young Poe was the Poe researcher’s “Holy Grail.”
Since Poe is most often remembered as the caricature of the melancholy poet depicted in the museum’s late daguerreotype (above), it is important to show a more complete view of Poe’s personality by also showing the Traylor miniature as a representation of how Poe many have looked for most of his life—before that final, difficult year leading up to his early death. One might wonder if the people who knew Poe best would choose the Traylor miniature or the below daguerreotype as the best representation of how they remember the poet.
Thanks to Traylor’s devotion to collecting and researching Poe, to Mary Gavin Traylor’s dedication to building the Poe Museum’s collection, and to Anne Traylor Larus’s generosity, this stunning Poe portrait will be preserved and displayed for all to see. That is why it is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month. Click here to read about more Objects of the Month.
The Poe Museum in Richmond is proud to announce the opening of its latest art exhibit, “A POE-tic Tribute,” featuring an international roster of contemporary artists paying tribute to Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. A. Nancy Cintron, owner of Ohio’s Good Goat Gallery, challenged a select group of artists to make art inspired by Poe’s poetry and short stories. The results will be on display in the Poe Museum’s Exhibit Building until January 8, 2017.
If you would like to purchase one of the artworks in the exhibit, please contact the Poe Museum gift shop at 804-648-5523. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the works will benefit the Poe Museum’s educational programming. Although there is no substitute for seeing these exquisite pieces in person, we have included photographs of the artwork below.
Alexandra Soury (France)
mixed media clay, acrylic, fabric
The Island of Fay
Alexandra Soury (France)
mixed media photography acrylic
A. Nancy Cintron (Ohio, USA)
oil on wood board
A. Nancy Cintron (Ohio, USA)
graphite and oil paint on wood
Virginia’s Black Wedding
Ana Luisa Sanchez (Mexico/USA)
mixed media clay
Morella (like mother like daughter)
Ann Lim (California, USA)
gouache on gesso board
Cat the Cat (France)
Masque of the Red Death
Domenico Scalisi of Nobu Happy Spooky (Italy)
mixed media clay, acrylic fabric
Enzo Marra (United Kingdon)
oil paint on wood
Enzo Marra (United Kingdom)
oil paint on wood
Kylie Dexter of Dolldrums (Australia)
felt art doll
Sum of One
Lisa Snellings of Poppet Planet World (Oregon, USA)
The Only Me
Lisa Snellings of Poppet Planet World (Oregon, USA)
Mike Bell (New Jersey, USA)
mixed media ink
Edgar and Lenore
Samantha Meyers of Forlorn Dolls Studio (Ohio, USA)
mixed media clay, acrylic, wool, feathers vintage fabric
$250 each or for $400 for set
Deep Beneath the Earth
Scott Radke (Ohio, USA)
mixed media clay acrylic
Spirits of the Dead
Dream within a Dream
mixed media carved basswood, clay, fabric, acrylic
“I stand amid the roar of a surf-tormented shore,
and I hold within my hand
grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
through my fingers to the deep,
while I weep- while I weep!”
Valency Elise Genis (New Mexico, USA)
mixed media clay, wood, acrylic
acrylic on wood panel
acrylic on wood panel
acrylic on wood panel
Please contact the Poe Museum Gift Shop at 804-648-5523 or [email protected] to purchase any of these items.
The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is proud to announce that the Virginia Association of Museums has named the museum’s newly acquired portraits of Rufus and Caroline Griswold to 20i6’s list of Virginia’s Top Ten Endangered Artifacts. The program is designed to create awareness of the conservation needs of artifacts in the care of collecting institutions such as museums, historical societies, libraries, and archives throughout Virginia.
The Poe Museum recently purchased these important portraits of Edgar Allan Poe’s enemy and biographer Rufus Griswold and Griswold’s first wife Caroline with the help of a Gofundme campaign. Thirty-seven donors from across the country contributed to the fund because they believed these artifacts and the set of related letters that came with them will contribute greatly to the public’s understanding of Poe’s life. It was Griswold who wrote Poe’s first biography and fabricated many of the accounts of Poe’s addiction and madness that have since become widely accepted as facts. Only by identifying and discrediting the source of these fabrications can the Poe Museum hope to uncover the truth about Poe’s life and literary contributions. Click here to learn more about these artifacts.
Rufus Griswold portrait before conservation
The designation of the portraits as Virginia’s Top Ten Most Endangered Artifacts acknowledges both the historical significance of the objects and their critical need for conservation. Since the portraits arrived at the museum in July 2016, they have been examined by conservators who assessed their condition and recommended plans for treatment. Click here to learn more about the condition of these portraits. Click here to see detail photographs of the portraits’ condition. The portrait of Rufus Griswold is now on display in the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building until October 16 when it will undergo a months-long conservation treatment.
Detail of damage to Caroline Griswold portrait as seen under raking light
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts is a project of the Virginia Association of Museums. This public outreach campaign for collections care was launched in 2011 with support from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts program is in its fifth year of building awareness for the important role that museums and cultural organization play in caring for our historic and cultural treasures. It has inspired numerous positive outcomes such as pairing donors with artifacts in need of conservation support, helping participating museums learn more about the provenance of their artifacts, and supporting successful grant applications for conservation care.
While the results of public voting was a factor in the final decision, the “Top 10” honorees were selected by an independent review panel of collections and conservation experts from the Library of Virginia, Preservation Virginia, Virginia Conservation Association, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, as well as an independent conservator. The panel gives particular weight to the historical or cultural significance of the item, its conservation needs, whether it has been assessed, as well as future plans and continued preservation.
Damage to Rufus Griswold portrait as seen under UV illumination
THANKS TO GRISWOLD FUND DONORS
To raise the money for the acquisition of the Griswold portraits, the museum launched a Gofundme campaign which quickly raised the money thanks to generous gifts from Susan Jaffe Tane, Stephan Loewentheil, Abbe Ancell, Michael Brazda, Teresa Carter, Christine Clements, Christopher Davalos, Escape Room Live DC, Katrina Fontenla, Mary Lee Haase, Sarah Huffman, Magdalena Karol, L. L. Leland, Aimée Mahathy, Lizzie O., Neca Rocco, Robert Rosen, Jennifer and Joe Rougeau, Justin and Elizabeth Schauer, Ernst Schnell, John Spitzer, Wayne and Pat Stith, Kurt Strom, Amy H. Sturgis, Sara Tantlinger, Patrick Tsao, Ashleigh Williams, and Seven Anonymous Donors.
“The Lake” by Cat the Cat (France)
For over a century, Edgar Allan Poe’s literary works have inspired great visual art from around the globe, the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia wants to promote Poe’s legacy of inspiration in all the arts. That is why, in conjunction with the Poe Film Festival (a tribute to Poe’s influence on cinema), the Poe Museum of Richmond and the Good Goat Gallery of Ohio have collaborated on “A Poe-tic Tribute,” an exhibit of contemporary Poe-inspired art by a group of international artists opening on September 22 with a special Unhappy Hour at the Poe Museum. Each artist was challenged to make a work of visual art inspired by one of Poe’s poems. The participants include:
Alexandra Soury (France)
Valency Elise Genis (New Mexico)
Ann Lim (California)
Lisa Snellings (Oregon)
Enzo Marra (England)
Sean Kelly (Ohio)
Cat the Cat (France)
Tom Haney (Georgia)
Domenico Scalisi (Italy)
Scott Radke (Ohio)
Chris Semtner (from Parts Unknown)
A. Nancy Cintron (Ohio)
Lindsay Stanley (Ohio)
Forlorn Dolls (aka Samantha Meyers of Ohio)
Ana Luisa Sanchez (Ohio)
Mike Bell (New Jersey)
“Deep in Earth” by Scott Radke (USA)
The exhibit continues until January 8 and is included in the price of Poe Museum general admission. All works will be for sale with the proceeds benefiting the Poe Museum and a special art scholarship program started by Victoria Price, daughter of screen legend Vincent Price.
“The Conqueror Worm” by Valency Genis (USA)
“The Sleeper” by Enzo Marra (UK)
Was Poe Searching for Gold in Eureka: A Prose Poem?
In my last column, I discussed the reasons that I decided not to focus my entire Master’s Thesis research on Poe’s Eureka: A Prose Poem. That conclusion became obvious to me after I examined all of the clues that were available to me at the beginning of my investigation. First of all, I found that Eureka was extremely technical and too difficult to interpret. It appeared that when Poe was warning critics not to evaluate it during his lifetime, he was also sending out a cautionary note to me that I should not take on such a big project before I was ready. Poe’s culminating work is extremely challenging because it spans several genres and,thus, cannot be compared to any other poetic, literary, historic, scientific, or metaphysical works; however, it is a combination of all of the aforementioned genres. I was left with the impression, that was also concluded by other researchers, that it is too literary to be considered a scientific work and too scientific to be considered a literary work. However, Poe described his book as a scientific treatise on the origins and future of the Universe. In Eureka, he writes extensively on the history of science, integrates much of what was already known about science in the nineteenth century, and proposed several original scientific and metaphysical theories. Therefore, I decided to focus my research inquiry on Poe and Science, even though the book also spans several other genres.
At the 2013 Positively Poe Conference at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Virginia (see my last Poe and Science Blog), I explained that when miners found gold in the nineteenth century, they needed to assay it against a known gold standard to determine its value. I noted that, perhaps, Poe was inspired to name his book after the exclamation that the miners in his lifetime shouted after they struck gold. Their joyous exclamation, “Eureka” means, “I have found it!” He wrote that his book was the most profound work about science “since Newton’s discovery of gravity.” Poe may have believed that he had would become rich and even more famous as a renown science writer after he published his book. Unfortunately, there were few other critics in his lifetime who agreed with him, since there weren’t any established standards to determine the value of his work. Unfortunately, the book is no easier to evaluate today than it was when Poe wrote it 1848. It has been speculated, though, that Poe was defying critics to attempt to write an evaluation of a book that could not be compared to anything else.
Consequently rather than attempting to deal with the challenges of evaluating Eureka directly, I believed that a more manageable project would be to determine the extent to which Poe’s final work might have been influenced by the literary, historical, philosophic, and scientific contexts of the nineteenth century. I was also curious to find out if Poe’s interest in science was first initiated in Eureka, or whether he expressed an interest in other scientific topics in his earlier works of poetry, journalism, and fiction.
I concluded that my project would focus on Poe and Science. I would start with examining his poetry and technical training, and then how he wrote about the science as a journalist and a writer of science-based fiction. It was my hypothesis that if I attempted to examine what Poe wrote about related to science prior to Eureka, it might help me to understand what he was trying to express in Eureka: A Prose Poem. Ultimately, looking at the ways that Poe wrote about science in each of his writing styles, and then discussing the ideas that he was attempting to express about science became the way I organized and reported my research. It also helped me to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of Eureka then I had after my initial reading of Poe’s most enigmatic book. In my future columns on Poe and Science, I will reveal what I discovered about Poe and Eureka. I hope you will join me and share your reactions about this topic.
Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education at Temple University (1973), a Master’s of Arts in English Literature at VCU (2015), and a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write to Murray by leaving a Comment or at [email protected]
What in the world happened to Caroline Griswold’s face? Rest assured, she still looks the same as she did last week. We just photographed her under different lighting conditions. By lighting the portrait from an angle, the conservator is better able to see the surface cracks that need to be repaired. Below is the portrait under normal illumination. The cracks are not quite as easy to see this time.
Now look at this photograph taken under ultraviolet illumination.
This lighting causes organic substances to fluoresce while inorganic substances absorb the light and look black. The organic resin varnish added as a protective layer over the finished painting is fluorescing, but there are also dark splotches that show the presence of paint applied on top of the varnish. This is the result of restorers covering up areas of missing or damaged paint with matching paint. The only problem is that, because they didn’t clean the painting before adding the patches, the patches match the color of the dirty paint. These means that, when the painting is cleaned, the patches will no longer match the painting. Figuring out which parts of the painting are original and which are not helps our conservator get a better understanding of how the painting originally appeared. This provides him a kind of road map to follow during the conservation process.
Notice that some of the patches are lighter than others. These are likely older patches painted by a previous restorer. The light spots on the painting appear to be another organic residue, maybe splattered food or mold.
This detail of the lower edge of the portrait shows the presence of organic residue that dripped down the paint surface.
Now let’s take a look at some of the conservator’s photos of the Rufus Griswold portrait. This is a photograph under normal illumination. Under this light, one can already see how dirty the painting is, but looking at it with different lighting will show us even more.
Here is one taken with raking light to show the cracks. Especially evident is a bulge on the lower edge of the canvas caused by the accumulation of dust and debris between the back of the canvas and the stretcher. This will have to be repaired by removing the canvas from the stretcher and flattening it before restretching it.
Here is one taken under ultraviolet illumination. (Notice the varnish on the easel is also fluorescing.) You can see some large areas where missing paint was restored.
A detail of the lower left corner of the portrait taken under raking light shows the bulge, a vertical crack with missing paint, and a major hole in the canvas.
The same area shown under ultraviolet illumination reveals extensive repairs made by a past restorer.
By taking multiple photographs using different kinds of light, our conservator will determine which parts of the painting are original and which are not as well as which parts should be cleaned and which should be removed. This guided him when he performed a test cleaning on Rufus Griswold’s face.
These kinds of tests will help the conservator get a better idea of how the portraits underneath 176 years of grime and dirty varnish should look after a successful cleaning. Only after careful study, planning, and testing, will the conservator be able to begin the treatment process, which may take months to complete.
Since the portraits of Rufus and Caroline Griswold arrived at the Poe Museum a couple months ago, we have had several visitors ask about them. If you would like to see the portrait of Rufus Griswold in its current state, please visit the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building where it is hanging above Edgar Allan Poe’s trunk.
If you are interested in helping out with the conservation process, please vote for the Rufus Griswold portrait to be Virginia’s Most Endangered Artifact for 2016. Just click here to vote.
HP Lovecraft by Semtner
Last Saturday, August 20, would have been the 126th birthday of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), author of such influential horror, science fiction, and fantasy tales as The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, and At the Mountains of Madness (which was inspired by Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym). Lovecraft’s influence on both horror fiction and popular culture has been vast. Several of his works have been adapted to film, music, and even games. In his tales of cosmic horror he created a shared fictional universe known as the Cthulhu Mythos, which continues to live on in the works of legions of later authors.
Lovecraft was also a great admirer of Poe’s works and devoted an entire chapter of his 1935 book Supernatural Horror in Literature to him. In that chapter, Lovecraft writes,
Before Poe the bulk of weird writers had worked largely in the dark; without an understanding of the psychological basis of the horror appeal, and hampered by more or legs of conformity to certain empty literary conventions such as the happy ending, virtue rewarded, and in general a hollow moral didacticism, acceptance of popular standards and values, and striving of the author to obtrude his own emotions into the story and take sides with the partisans of the majority’s artificial ideas. Poe, on the other hand, perceived the essential impersonality of the real artist; and knew that the function of creative fiction is merely to express and interpret events and sensations as they are, regardless of how they tend or what they prove — good or evil, attractive or repulsive, stimulating or depressing, with the author always acting as a vivid and detached chronicler rather than as a teacher, sympathizer, or vendor of opinion. He saw clearly that all phases of life and thought are equally eligible as a subject matter for the artist, and being inclined by temperament to strangeness and gloom, decided to be the interpreter of those powerful feelings and frequent happenings which attend pain rather than pleasure, decay rather than growth, terror rather than tranquility, and which are fundamentally either adverse or indifferent to the tastes and traditional outward sentiments of mankind, and to the health, sanity, and normal expansive welfare of the species.
Never a terribly famous writer during his lifetime, Lovecraft would likely not have been recognized by the staff when he visited the Poe Museum in Richmond in May 1929. On May 4, he wrote Elizabeth Toldridge, “In Richmond the chief object of interest for me is the Poe Shrine—an old stone house with two adjoining houses connected as wings & used as a storehouse of Poe reliques. Here I have spent much time examining the objects associated with my supreme literary favourite—to say nothing of the marvelous model of Richmond in 1820, housed in one of the wings.”
The Poe Museum’s Old Stone House, Enchanted Garden, and model of Richmond remain much as they were in 1929, so today’s guests can still feel much of the atmosphere that must have inspired Lovecraft during his visit. The following photographs date to about that time.
The Poe Museum in June 1929.
The Enchanted Garden in early spring of 1929.
Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building in about 1928
Lovecraft was not the only famous cultural figure to make a trip to the Poe Museum. Vincent Price, Salvador Dali, and Gertrude Stein also visited. Click their names to read about their Poe Museum experiences.