Museum News

Sonnet-to Science: Poe’s Early Ambivalence About 19th-Century Technologies

By the time that Poe started writing professionally, the Industrial Revolution had already introduced many dramatic advancements that affected the lifestyles and culture of the nineteenth-century public. For example, the literacy rate had steadily increased in the United States, and many people were able to understand most articles written in the newspaper. They could also travel to many distant parts of the country by rail and communicate to almost anyone almost instantly via the telegraph. Through the development of the Daguerreotype (an early prototype of photography), family members could obtain realistic and long lasting images of their loved ones to remember for generations. The introduction of a new class of highly powerful telescopes demonstrated that the Universe is much larger than anyone had previously imagined. Even the most avid modern readers of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories may overlook that many of his works provide an informative account of many of these technological changes and how those events affected the public.

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During this period, there was a need for a new class of writers who could write about emerging scientific information in a way the new consumers of science information could understand. The newly emerging professional scientists in the United States was neither equipped nor interested in communicating about science with the public. Lightman refers to those who did attempt to communicate to the public as the “popularizers of science,” and suggests that “Their success was partially due to their ability to present the huge mass of scientific fact in the form of compelling stories” (188). He contends that it is essential for our current understanding of nineteenth-century culture to explore writers like Edgar Allan Poe, who skillfully and prolifically commented on many of the significant popular scientific trends of his lifetime.  Similarly, John Limon writes that Poe engaged in literary “negotiation with science,” asserting that his works both foreshadowed and critiqued several emerging scientific developments and trends of the future (19). Paul Faytor argues that “there was a two-way traffic between science and science writers in the nineteenth century. He notes that many of the inventions of professional scientists helped to shape science fiction and that many ideas imagined by science fiction writers found their way into actual inventions. (256). Many scholars (Gewirtz, Hoffman, Willis, and Tresch) acknowledge that Poe was one of the most important leaders in developing both the genres of science fiction and detective fiction. His works in those areas provide abundant examples that he anticipated forecasted future developments in technical areas such as exploration of the Poles, astronomy, physics, space travel, photography, electronic communications, and the forensic sciences. Limon argues that lay writers like Poe and Hawthorne, or those without “letters” who were interested in writing about science, struggled with professional scientists to establish their authority to speak about emerging scientific issues (19). Poe had not received much formal training as a scientist but had considerable exposure to scientific ideas in his education, technical experiences in the military, and in his exposure to science news as a journalist. He believed that an observant and skilled writer did not need professional science training or to be sanctioned by any official science accreditation organizations before he could write about science.

“Sonnet—To Science”

The issues discussed so far are best brought together in one of Poe’s earliest poems, “Sonnet—To Science, “in which he first demonstrates that he is interested in science, i.e., he is fascinated, but also cautious  but the potential dangers of science.  The poem was first included, but not titled, in a limited run volume of poems Poe wrote entitled Tamerlane (1829), which first “appeared in the Saturday Evening Post” on September 11, 1830 (Thomas and Jackson 1). “Sonnet” uses literary themes from ancient Greek literature. Such figures were also later utilized by several of the Romantic poets of the eighteenth century. Drawing an example from these discussions, William Wordsworth’s poem, “The Tables Turned” (1798) cautions that scientists ruin the value of nature when they tried to over-analyze it. The speaker suggests that we should reject traditional science and learn to experience and appreciate nature through our senses:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:–

We murder to dissect.

 Poe, like the Romantics, expressed opposition to seventeenth and eighteenth century Enlightenment Age philosophers and scientists, like Sir Francis Bacon, who held to a strong belief in the rational and empirical methods of science, and denigrated the value of emotion, imagination, and belief (Gewirtz 14).  Literary critic Daniel Hoffman compares “Sonnet” to the Romantic poem, “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which notes that all inventions and creations built by men are impermanent. Hoffman views “Poe’s lone sonnet as an outcry against the antipoetic materialism of the modern scientific age…” (47).  However, an alternative reading also considers that there are some verses in “Sonnet” indicating that Poe may have also believed that science could offer new inspiration and writing topics to the writers of the Industrial Age. In the opening quatrain of the sonnet, Poe personifies and addresses his question about Science as follows:

Science! True daughter of Old Time thou art!

           Who alterest all things with thy peering heart

Why pryest thou thus upon the poet’s heart?

           Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?   (1-4 )

The poet reminisces that “Science” was, at one time, valued by the ancient thinkers as the “True Daughter of Old Time.” Perhaps, in this case, the “True daughter” represents that science was once able to provide a source of inspiration and wisdom to artists and philosophers. In lines two and three, Poe laments the intrusion of scientific research (“peering heart”) “upon the poet’s heart.” He uses the “Vulture” as a metaphor, in line four, to represent the dark and destructive power of science. He believes that the vulture of Industrial Age science has caused the poet to take flight from his bright dreams and forced him to replace them with the dull realities of mundane existence.

As this inquiry continues, the narrator generates additional questions and insights he has gained by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of science:

How should he love thee? Or deem thee wise,

Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering

To seek for treasure in the jeweled skies?

        Albiet he soared with an undaunted wing(5 – 8).

 “Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering/To seek for treasure in the jeweled skies” could be interpreted in more than one way. Poe asks an important but ambiguously stated rhetorical question in these passages, but leaves it up to the reader to provide the answer. From the negative side, he could be pondering whether science will abandon the wandering and lost poet and relegate him to a life of isolation and extinction. On the positive side, he could be proposing that the artist in the new age of technology could reconcile with science and allow him to soar “with an undaunted wing.” During and before the nineteenth century, astronomers with powerful telescopes were learning important new facts about the solar system which greatly expanded conventional views of the known world. Perhaps Poe was paying respect to the astronomer Tycho Brahe, who significantly improved the power and the accuracy of the telescope in the sixteenth century. These advancements made it possible for him to discover a shining star in the constellation Cassiopeia that briefly appeared in 1574, but was never seen again (Thoren). Consequently, Poe may have been considering that nineteenth-century inventions might offer some new possibilities for discovering truths and “treasure in the jeweled skies,” and give him some new topics to write about. However, if Poe is alluding to Brahe’s fleeting planetary discovery in “Sonnet,” he may also be cautioning his readers, like Percy Bysshe Shelley did, about the uncertainties and impermanent nature of new inventions and discoveries. Poe addresses several significant questions about science:

Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?

And driven Hamadryad from the wood

To seek shelter in some happier star?   (9-11).

Lines nine and ten ask if the worldly vulture has disturbed the serenity and the creativity of the ancient mythological Greek goddess Diana and the wood nymph Hamadryad. The implied answer, of course is—yes. In verse eleven, he asks if these figures have been driven to seek “shelter in some happier star.” This line could be read as an indication that since their serenity has been disturbed, then they can no longer be creative. However, on the more positive side, these lines might also indicate that Poe believes that science could provide a shelter and some new opportunities for the nineteenth-century writer.

In final tercet, Poe returns to his original question about science: “Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood?” This idea advances a somewhat softer and more positive tone about science than Poe offered in the previous verses.  It could be viewed as positive that science has rescued a water goodness from a flood. However, Poe does not address this question in the poem. By the end verses, Poe personally injects himself into the discussion by lamenting that science has snatched away “the summer dream beneath the tamarind tree” from “me.” Since the tamarind is the large pod of a tropical tree which also contains the juiciest pulp of the tree, Poe may be lamenting that science has deprived him of the inspirational juice needed for his writing.   Poe’s earliest poem about science, “Sonnet” illustrates that he wrestled with some of the same opposing positions as Romantic writers. Shelley and Wordsworth viewed literature as a struggle between those who wrote about the world from an artistic or a scientific point of view. However, rather than staking a one-sided position against science, as many of the Romantic poets, Poe’s early poem shows that his attitudes about science were somewhat ambivalent, and still being formed at the beginning of his writing career.

Works Cited

Faytor, Paul. “Strange New Worlds of Space and Time: Late Victorian Science and Science Fiction.” Victorian Science in Context. Ed. Barnard A. Lightman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Gewirtz, Isaac. Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul, Ed. New York: New York Public Library, 2013.

Hoffman, Daniel. Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe. New York: Paragon House, 1972.

Limon, John. The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Lightman, Bernard. Victorian Science in Context. Ed. University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Poe, Edgar Allan.  The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe Volume VII: Poetry. Ed. Harrison, James A. New York: T. Crowell, 1902.

Tresch, John. The Romantic Machine. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

Willis, Martin. Mesmerists, Monsters, and Machines: Science Fiction and the Cultures of Science in the Nineteenth Century. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2006


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, He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry, soon to be published written by Indian mystic, Shambhuvasanda. 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. He will be teaching literature classes at the Osher Program at the University of Richmond in the beginning of 2017.  You can write to Murray here or at [email protected]

Murray Ellison at the Richmond Poe Museum



Poe Museum Announces Loser of Its Latest Poll

The votes are in, and the loser is…Daniel Payne.


During the Poe Museum’s recent exhibit CSI: Poe, we asked our guests to help solve the murder of Mary Rogers. Back in 1841, the case stumped the authorities, so Edgar Allan Poe tried his hand at solving it. Here is a little background on the case:

Mary Rogers

Mary Rogers

The Victim
Mary Cecelia Rogers

The lovely Mary Rogers made waves in New York when she took a job in Anderson’s Cigar Emporium. At a time when proper ladies did not work in public, Rogers became a public figure renowned for her beauty, and men from across the city came to visit Anderson’s store to flirt with her.

Timeline of Events

Seventeen-year-old Mary Cecilia Rogers and her widowed mother Phoebe Rogers moved to New York City where Mary made waves by taking a job in Anderson’s Cigar Emporium. At a time when “proper ladies” did not work in public, Rogers became a public figure renowned for her beauty, and men from across the city came to visit Anderson’s store to flirt with her. One of these gentlemen said he spent an entire afternoon in the store just to exchange glances with her, and another dedicated a poem to her.

October 4, 1838
Mary Rogers disappeared, leaving a suicide note. Her fame as the “Beautiful Cigar Girl” at Anderson’s Cigar Emporium caused the New York papers to report the event. Then, just as mysteriously as she departed, she returned the next day. The New York Sun reported that her supposed disappearance had merely been a hoax. Later that year, Mary quit working at Anderson’s Cigar Emporium and went to help her mother, who had purchased a boarding house.

Mary Rogers’s Engagement
In June 1841, Mary Rogers engaged herself to the cork-cutter Daniel Payne. Alfred Crommelin, a rejected suitor who was living in Phoebe Rogers’s boardinghouse, quickly moved out of the house, telling Mary that she could contact him if she were ever in danger.

July 25
Early on Sunday morning, Daniel Payne walked his fiancée Mary Rogers to the omnibus. She told him she intended to ride across town to see relatives and would return later that day. Payne was to have met her at that time to walk her home. A summer storm drove him into a bar in which he spent the afternoon, missing his appointment.


July 28
The Discovery of the Body
When Mary did not return home, Alfred Crommelin led a search for her. After looking for her in Manhattan, he crossed the Hudson River to Hoboken, a popular resort town for New Yorkers escaping the heat of the crowded city. Shortly after his arrival in Hoboken on July 28, three men in a rowboat found a woman’s body floating offshore near Sybil’s Cave. They carried the body to the shore, where it lay decomposing in the hot sun for an hour before the magistrate arrived. The coroner performed a cursory examination of the body and determined that the victim had been strangled with a cord that was still tied around her throat.

Some newspaper reporters doubted that the badly decomposed corpse found in Hoboken was even Mary Rogers. After all, her face was unrecognizable by the time she was pulled from the river. They speculated that Mary had simply eloped and settled in some other part of the country. Her former suitor Alfred Crommelin had identified her by her arm hair and by her clothing.


The Investigation

At the time of Mary’s murder, New York City Police Department did not yet exist. Instead, the city of over 300,000 was protected by a system of a hundred city marshals, about thirty constables, and a volunteer night watch responsible for patrolling the city in order to prevent crime. Once a crime had been committed, the best available investigative technique consisted of interrogating as many suspects as necessary until a confession could be obtained. Since Mary was reported missing in New York while her body was found in Hoboken, both city’s magistrates fought over who had jurisdiction in the case. After the New Jersey coroner performed an autopsy and buried the remains in Hoboken, the New York coroner had her badly decomposed disinterred and carried across the Hudson for a second autopsy days later. Four years later, dogged both by its failure to identify Mary’s killer and by its inability to control increasingly rowdy Christmas celebrations, New York City replaced its volunteer patrol with a police force of 1,200 salaried officers.


About a month after the discovery of Mary’s body, two boys claimed to find some of her clothing in a nearby thicket. A sketch of the thicket appeared in the New York Tribune. The boys were later identified as the sons of Frederica Loss, the operator of a Hoboken roadhouse where vacationers came for drinks during their visit to the river-side resort. Although many believed the thicket to be the site of the murder, Poe thought the scene might have been staged. Suspicion fell of the Loss boys when it was discovered that it was in Mrs. Loss’s roadhouse that Mary was last seen alive.

October 7
Suicide of Daniel Payne
About three months after Mary’s death, her fiancé Daniel Payne visited Hoboken and committed suicide on the spot at which he believed Mary had been murdered. He left a note saying, “To the World – here I am on the very spot. May God forgive me for my misspent life.”


June 1842
Poe Tries to Find a Publisher for His Theory
While living in Philadelphia, Poe followed the Mary Rogers case in the newspapers and became increasingly frustrated with the magistrates’ inability to capture the killer. By June 1842, he had written his own solution in the form of the short story “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” in which he believed he had “indicated the assassin in a manner which will give renewed impetus to [the] investigation.” As he wrote editor Joseph Snodgrass, Poe envisioned his story would instruct police forces in the science of solving crimes by demonstrating “an analysis of the true principles which should direct inquiry in similar cases.” Magazines in Baltimore and Boston rejected the story before Poe finally found a publisher.

Weehawken, where the body was found

Weehawken, where the body was found

November 1842
Poe publishes the first installment of “The Mystery of Marie Roget”
William Snowden, editor of the New York-based Ladies’ Companion, had contributed to a reward to be offered to anyone who could identify Mary’s murderer. It was likely his personal interest in the case that led Snowden to publish Poe’s story “The Mystery of Marie Roget” to (in Poe’s words) “give renewed impetus to [the] investigation.”

Although he let everyone know his story was based on a true crime, Poe was certain to change the names and locations to protect the innocent—and possibly to protect himself from a libel suit. Here is a guide to which character in the story represents each person in the case:

Reality Fiction
Mary Rogers = Marie Roget
Phoebe Rogers = Madame Roget
Mr. Anderson = Monsieur Le Blanc
Alfred Crommelin = Monsieur Beauvais
Daniel Payne = Monsieur Jacques St. Eustache
Frederica Loss = Madame Deluc

The tale was so long that Snowden decided to publish it in three installments. The same month the first installment appeared Frederica Loss died, supposedly telling a magistrate that Mary had died during a botched abortion. The new evidence caused Poe to rewrite the second and third installments to avoid being proven wrong.

February 1843
Poe Publishes Final Installment of “The Mystery of Marie Roget”
Just as readers reached the final paragraphs of the last installment of “The Mystery of Marie Roget” in the February 1843 issue of Snowden’s Ladies’ Companion, expecting the revelation of the murderer’s identity, they instead saw the narrative interrupted by a note from the editor explaining why the killer’s name could not be printed. The note reads, “For reasons which we shall not specify but which to many readers will appear obvious, we have taken the liberty of here omitting, from the MSS. placed in our hands, such portion as details the following up of the apparently slight clew obtained by Dupin. We feel it advisable only to state, in brief, that the result desired was brought to pass; and that an individual assassin was convicted, upon his own confession, of the murder of Marie Rogêt, and that the Prefect fulfilled punctually, although with reluctance, the terms of his compact with the Chevalier. Mr. Poe’s article concludes with the following words. — Eds.” The suggestion was that the name was being suppressed either to avoid a libel suit or to protect someone of influence.

Literary scholars, however, believe Poe wrote this fake note himself in order to allow him to claim he had solved the mystery without actually having to solve it. Five years later, Poe supposedly told his fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman that the killer was a Naval officer named Spencer.

The Suspects

Daniel Payne
Payne was a heavy drinking, violent cork cutter. Although Mary’s mother did not approve of him (or because of it), Mary accepted his marriage proposal. Daniel admitted that he went to a bar instead of walking Mary home after her visit to relatives, and police accepted his alibi. One month after her death, he visited Hoboken and committed suicide on the spot at which he believed Mary had been murdered.

Alfred Crommelin
Crommelin, who listed his profession as “gentleman,” was a tenant in Phoebe Rogers’s boardinghouse when he became infatuated with Mary. Although he stormed out of the house after seeing Mary and Daniel engaged in indiscreet behavior, he later told Mary she should contact him if she ever felt she was in danger. The week she disappeared, Mary left a rose in Crommelin’s office. He was out of his office when she left her gift, and he did not understand what it meant.

John Anderson
John Anderson owned a successful New York City cigar store, which eventually employed Mary Rogers. His bold decision to flaunt respectability by hiring a beautiful woman may have been controversial, but it was great for business. After the death of Mary Rogers, critics blamed him for exposing her to the temptations that led to her death, but police ruled him out as a suspect. Some critics theorized that Poe, who knew Anderson, wrote “The Mystery of Marie Roget” to protect Anderson from implication in the murder.

Later in life, Anderson achieved enormous wealth by selling chewing tobacco wrapped in tinfoil for freshness to prospectors on their way to California. When asked to run for mayor of New York, he declined because he thought his association with the Mary Rogers case would prevent him from being elected. Later in life, Anderson became a Spiritualist and believed Mary’s ghost followed him, acting as an advisor. He is said to have cried out to her from his deathbed.

A Gang of Hoodlums
The sons of Frederica Loss reported they had seen a gang of hoodlums in their mother’s roadhouse on the night of Mary’s visit. The boys also claimed to hear a woman’s scream coming from a nearby thicket later that evening. Lacking any other solid leads, the magistrate blamed her death on an unspecified gang of Irish immigrants, and this became the accepted explanation. This became the accepted theory of her death for over a year, but Poe ruled out the theory, instead speculating that a lone killer was responsible.

In 1842, the boys later accidentally shot their mother, who on her deathbed, is said to have blamed Mary’s death on a botched abortion that may have taken place in her house. The police, however, dismissed this “confession” as a hoax.

Madame Restell
When newspapers reported that the widow Loss, on her deathbed, implicated an abortionist in Mary’s death, the well-known New York City abortionist Madame Restell was blamed. She was arrested multiple times for performing illegal abortions but always paid her fines and was released. At one point, an angry mob surrounded her house shouting, “What happened to Mary Rogers?” It was later revealed that she was not even home because an informant on the police force had warned her in advance to flee. Despite public opinion, Restell was never really a suspect, and the magistrate to whom the Widow Loss had supposedly confessed later stated the confession had been a cruel hoax. In 1878, Restell returned home one afternoon, drew a bath, and slit her wrists.

Who do you think murdered Mary Rogers? Payne? Crommelin? Spencer? Somebody else? We asked visitors to the exhibit to cast their votes, and they decided that Daniel Payne was the winner (or loser). Here are the results:

Daniel Payne 31%
Alfred Crommelin 30%
A Gang of Hoodlums 9%
Madame Restell 9%
A Botched Abortion 6%
Fredericka Loss’s Sons 6%
John Anderson 4%
It wasn’t Mary’s body! 4%
Poe Museum Curator Chris Semtner 1%

The Mysterious Disappearing Poe Bust

1909 photograph of Edmond Quinn's bust of Poe

1909 photograph of Edmond Quinn’s bust of Poe

One crisp Sunday afternoon in October 1987, tour guide Tom Rowe led a group of students across the Poe Museum’s garden to show them the treasure sitting on the pedestal in the Poe Shrine. Pointing toward the shadow recesses of the brick pergola, he announced, “And here’s the bust of Poe made by Edmond T. Quinn.”

Only after a couple kids asked, “What bust?” did Tom take a second look at the empty pedestal. The Poe Museum’s priceless sculpture was missing.

Quinn Bust in the Poe Shrine

Quinn Bust in the Poe Shrine

Sculpted in 1908 by Edmond Thomas Quinn (1868-1929), the white plaster bust was the original model for a bronze copy unveiled in New York on Poe’s 100th birthday, January 19, 1909 and commissioned by the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences. Quinn was a perfect choice for the commission. He had studied at the nation’s most prestigious art school the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts under one of the nation’s most important artists, Thomas Eakins who believed only the close scrutiny of the live model as well as the dissection of cadavers could properly prepare artists to depict the subtle nuances of human faces and anatomy in their paintings. After Eakins was fired for corrupting his female students by having them paint nude male models, Quinn followed his teacher from the Academy to continue his studies at the newly formed Art Students League of Philadelphia, where he served as curator.

Unveiling Quinn's bronze Poe bust on January 19, 1909

Unveiling Quinn’s bronze Poe bust on January 19, 1909

The training he received under Eakins instilled in Quinn such a devotion to creating such realistic portraits that a New York Times art critic in a 1919 marveled at his mastery of “recording subtleties of expression that play like rippling water over the rock structure of the human head.” Quinn excelled at both painting and sculpture, exhibiting several works in both media at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Over the course of a distinguished career, he produced portraits of playwright Eugene O’Neill, poet Edwin Markham, and many other leading cultural figures of his day. His best known work is a full-length statue of the actor Edwin Booth in Gramercy Park in New York.

The Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences hired Quinn to sculpt its Poe bust and organized a grand unveiling across the street from Poe’s former cottage in Poe Park in The Bronx that would mark the occasion of the author’s centennial. About two hundred people stood in the snow to witness the ceremony in the snow. The Society also decorated the Poe Cottage with flags and built a platform next to the bust’s marble pedestal. After the firing of a salute by the Second Battery Field Artillery, the presenters pulled the cover off the bust and presented it to the city of New York. Afterwards, the celebrants moved the event indoors at New York University where Poe biographer George E. Woodberry presided over the day’s presentations and readings of Poe’s best-known poems. In a photo taken at this ceremony, what would one day be the Poe Museum’s plaster bust can be seen on a flag-draped pedestal on the edge of the stage.

Quinn's plaster bust of Poe takes the stage at the unveiling ceremony

Quinn’s plaster bust of Poe takes the stage at the unveiling ceremony

Shortly after the excitement of the formal unveiling and dedication died down, someone vandalized the bronze bust, which was moved into the Poe Cottage for its protection. Edmond Quinn went on to achieve his greatest success with commissions for more public sculptures over the next two decades. Then, in May 1929, he swallowed poison in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Four months later, he drowned himself off Governor’s Island in New York.

Quinn's bronze Poe bust on display in Poe Park in 1909

Quinn’s bronze Poe bust on display in Poe Park in 1909

Quinn's bronze Poe bust in its present location in the Poe Cottage

Quinn’s bronze Poe bust in its present location in the Poe Cottage

Two years later, the Bronx Society of Arts and Sciences donated the plaster version of Quinn’s bust to the new Poe Museum in Richmond. Over the next half-century, the bust moved from one part of the museum to another before it finally found a more permanent home in the Poe Shrine at the north end of the museum’s garden. Although it was protected from rain, the water soluble plaster was not well suited for display outdoors, so humid Virginia summers and air pollution gradually eroded the bust’s surface.

Quinn's plaster Poe bust in the Poe Museum's Raven Room in 1937

Quinn’s plaster Poe bust in the Poe Museum’s Raven Room in 1937

In the 1970s, the Poe Museum the eccentric former physicist (who supposedly worked on the Manhattan Project) Dr. Bruce English took over as the museum’s director and president. For the more than twenty years he ran the museum Dr. English oversaw a renovation of the museum’s Old Stone House, acquired adjacent property to make a parking lot, and reinterpreted a room of the Old Stone House as a Colonial Era exhibit. This period also saw the acquisition of several important artifacts, including two daguerreotypes of Poe’s last fiancée Elmira Royster Shelton.

Bruce and Virginia English in the 1970s

Bruce and Virginia English in the 1970s

By October 1987, the museum was flooded with groups of visiting students from area middle schools. Dr. English discouraged the celebration of Halloween because he feared any association with the horror genre would distract from Poe’s contributions to other literary genres like detective fiction and science fiction, but teachers loved sharing Poe’s horror stories with their classes during the Halloween season. That is why, just as today, October was the busiest month for student group tours at the museum. It was during one such tour that Tom discovered the theft of the Quinn bust.

Apparently, no one had ever considered the possibility that someone might actually take the eighty pound, twenty-two inch bust over the garden’s tall brick walls, which were topped with shards of broken glass embedded in the mortar. At the very least, the thief would have needed an accomplice, if not a crane, to get it out of the garden. “They had to carry it over an eight foot wall,” English told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “They had to carry it back over an eight-foot wall. It had to be somebody very strong.”

The staff told the police that they last recalled seeing the bust on Saturday morning, October 18, around 10:40 a.m. but that nobody had noticed it was missing until 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 19. One can only imagine how many times over the weekend the guides had pointed out the empty pedestal on their hourly museum tours while the tourists played along, not bothering to point out the mistake.

By Monday, October 20, Dr. English alerted the media and announced that he would ask no questions if the culprit would simply return the bust undamaged. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “This is a major crime in the art world. I’m very disturbed.”

Around midnight on Tuesday he was awakened by a telephone call. The anonymous caller claimed to know the bust’s location but would only reveal it if English read him Poe’s poem “The Spirits of the Dead.” When English had looked up the early verse in a volume of Poe’s poetry and complied with the caller’s request, voice said, “It’s at the Raven Inn” and hung up the phone.

Meanwhile, across the James River in Chesterfield County, a man in a cowboy hat arrived at a biker joint called the Raven Inn and carried the sculpture up to the bar, ordering a mixed drink for himself and a beer for Poe. By the time the police arrived, the stranger was gone. Poe was sitting on the bar with his beer and a paper bag on which was written the poem “The Spirits of the Dead.”

Quinn's plaster Poe on display in the Raven Room around 2005

Quinn’s plaster Poe on display in the Raven Room around 2005

Quinn’s bust returned to the museum, but, for its safety, English kept it indoors and displayed a replica in the Poe Shrine where it remains securely bolted to its pedestal. On occasion, visitors leave the replica notes and gifts. Some admirers place flowers, and others kiss it on the cheek. Many more pose next to it for photos.

Replica bust in the Poe Shrine in 2016

Replica bust in the Poe Shrine in 2016

In 2008, the Poe Museum authorized the creation of more plaster copies of the bust. These soon sold, and one is even on display at the Poe House and Museum in Baltimore. More recently, in 2016, Dr. Bernard Means of the Virginia Commonwealth University Virtual Curation Laboratory brought his class to the museum to scan the bust in order to make a reduced-size 3-D print of it.

Striking a pose with the Poe bust in the Poe Shrine

Striking a pose with the Poe bust in the Poe Shrine

Now that his days of traveling to local bars are over, the original plaster bust is currently on display in the museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building with no plans for future travel. After he retired from teaching Tom returned for a couple years to his old tour guide job the Poe Museum where he enjoyed telling the story of how he discovered the purloined Poe bust. No arrest was ever made in the case, and nobody every confessed to the crime. Earlier this year, a man taking a tour of the museum admitted he had known the thief and that his motivation had been the protection of the bust from further deterioration caused by its display outdoors. The Raven Inn has long since closed and was replaced by a used car dealership. When the bartender on duty that night back in 1987 passed away several years ago, his friends asked the Poe Museum it would send the bust to attend his funeral.

Replica bust in the Poe Shrine

Replica bust in the Poe Shrine

In honor of the twenty-ninth anniversary its trip to the Raven Inn, the Poe Museum has named Edmond Quinn’s plaster bust of Poe its Object of the Month. Click here to learn about other Objects of the Month.

Quinn's 1908 plaster Poe bust on display at the Poe Museum

Quinn’s 1908 plaster Poe bust on display at the Poe Museum

Animation of Edmond Quinn's bust of Poe courtesy of VCU Virtual Curation Laboratory

Animation of Edmond Quinn’s bust of Poe courtesy of VCU Virtual Curation Laboratory

Madwomen in Nineteenth-Century Literature

Nineteenth-Century Gothic Literature has often used themes of women held back or locked up in rooms and attics while attempting to make valiant stands and statements in support of their rights to artistic and intellectual expression, and social equality. These ideas are thoroughly supported and explored in Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s book, The Madwoman in the Attic (Yale University P, 1979), as well as in many other literary discussions of fictional works written during this period. Mary Shelly’s, Frankenstein, was one of the first examples in literature expressing this theme. In 1818, she published her first book anonymously because she believed that society would not accept the idea that women could be important authors. It was widely assumed that her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelly, wrote the novel. It was first published under the real author’s name in 1823. In the novel, Viktor Frankenstein creates a monster in his laboratory but has no control over the terror it unleashes in the surrounding villages. In one interpretation of Frankenstein, the monster was the author’s representation of how society was threatened by the idea of a successful women writer.

Madeline Kills Her Brother in “The Fall of the House of Usher: Photo credit by

Edgar Allan Poe’s 1829 short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” takes Frankenstein to the next level. Roderick Usher keeps his sister Madeline confined to a dark room upstairs where he reports that she is suffering from a strange mental illness. The sister’s name strongly suggests to readers that she is mad about something. The brother paints and plays music to his pleasure but the sister is not permitted to have the same privileges of self-expression. The brother is certain that restraining his sister in her best interest .The brother, who is afraid of sunlight and nature, won’t go outside the house and won’t allow his sister to go out or have any meaningful interaction or dialogue with the unnamed narrator, a friend who visits the house. During his stay as a house guest, the visitor views Madeline roaming through the house as if she is a ghostly spirit. In one way of looking at Madeline, her mental illness could be caused by her forced confinement and by being restricted artistically and socially by her brother. As Madeline’s madness gets more and more out of control, Roderick attempts to bury his sister while she is still alive, believing this is necessary to save her soul. Poe’s unnamed narrator graphically describes her terrifying screams and the rumblings of the House of Usher. As Madeline escapes from her premature burial, she kills her brother in an act of defiant anger and revenge. The narrator flees, saving his life as the ancient house crumbles to the ground. It can be argued that this story supports the view that Poe was sympathetic to the cause of lifting the artistic limitations imposed by society on women.

In Jane Eyre, the narrator as a ten-year-old orphan girl is taken in, but not loved by the Reed family. She is denied the right to read a book by her teenage cousin. When she questions him about this denial, he punishes her by throwing the hard bound book at her and bloodied her head. When Aunt Reed, her caretaker, hears the commotion, she takes her son’s side and admonishes Jane for talking back to her son. When Jane, also questions her Aunt for always siding with her son and for not caring about her, she is locked upstairs in the Red Room. That room was last used as the dying setting for Jane’s uncle and Aunt Reed’s husband. The aunt justifies locking Jane up because she believes she is mad. However, Jane’s uncle’s dying wish, which Aunt Reed had said she would agree to, was that Jane would be adopted and loved in the Reed household. The uncle’s wish is never granted because the Aunt never loves or accepts her niece as part of her family. Instead, she and her children give Jane steady doses of cruelty and neglect. As if the spirit and anger of the dead are being channeled through her uncle, Jane becomes outraged by her confinement and maltreatment. In an uncontrollable fit, she informs her aunt that the spirits of the dead are planning to seek revenge on her for breaking her promise to her dying husband. The Aunt banishes Jane from her home, disowns her, and sends her to an orphan school for girls (see earlier discussion). After Jane matures to a young woman, she is summoned by Aunt Reed to her deathbed. Although she informs her Aunt that she has forgiven her, Mrs. Reed dies in anger, saying she has never forgiven Jane for her impertinence.

However, the most important question and tension of the Jane Eyre novel is: Who is the woman being confined in the attic in Master Rochester’s House? Jane is first hired by Rochester as a governess to instruct his “charge.” During Jane’s employment at Thornfield, a mysterious woman, living in the attic, roams the house at night to look in on, and frighten Jane, and later to try to set Mr. Rochester’s room on fire and kill him. As the story develops, Rochester is willing to break through socio-economic and caste restrictions and marry Jane. But, before the wedding vows are exchanged, Mr. Mason, the brother of the mysterious women in the attic, reveals that there can’t be a marriage that day because Rochester is already married to that woman— his sister Bertha. Rochester tries to justify his deception by explaining that his wife appeared sane when they were first married in Jamaica, but gradually deteriorated when Rochester brought her back to England. After she had started going mad, he explains that he confined her to an attic room and hired a servant, Grace Poole, to be her caretaker. He then takes the clergymAN, wedding witnesses, and Jane up to the attic to see the madwoman. As soon as Bertha sees her husband, she tries to attack him violently. Her behavior and the descriptions by the narrator seem to support the idea that she is a mad woman. However, there are questions about whether Bertha has always been mad or whether she has become mad because she couldn’t be controlled by her husband. These unresolvable mysteries become even clearer after Rochester explains how Bertha defied his expectations and seemed so different from him after their marriage. However, readers are only told that Bertha is mad by Mr. Rochester and, perhaps, we are not entirely convinced that he is a reliable narrator. We are never able to hear Bertha’s point of view about why she has become so angry and vindictive. Could she have been justified to reacting so strongly against such confinement and for losing her rights as a wife? We may think back to Jane’s anger about her involuntary confinement in the Red Room and for wishing to stand up for her rights of intellectual pursuits and free expression. If we can accept the idea that Jane was falsely accused of being mad, perhaps, we can also consider Bertha’s point of view. Bertha had just as much reason to be angry and vindictive toward her husband as Jane had toward Aunt Reed. Since Rochester could not marry Jane while Bertha was still alive, he proposes that Jane overlook society’s requirement of marriage and become his mistress. She rejects this suggestion because it goes against her moral compass (see first Litchatte, Jane Eyre discussion) and because she is concerned that she might end up as another  victim in Rochester’s attic.

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” the female narrator, like Bertha Mason and Madeline Usher in Poe’s story, is confined to stay in an upstairs room, because her husband is a medical doctor,  and believes she is suffering from a temporary mental disorder. She, instead, is convinced that she needs to write to relieve her anxieties. However, her husband rejects such thinking. He prescribes a treatment of complete rest for her. As a doctor, he thinks he is prescribing the most proper treatment for her. But she is confused by the conflicting roles he plays between being a medical authority and a caring husband; consequently, she attempts to obey him. The woman, not having any other creative task to occupy her mind, identifies with the crawling woman. She perceives that the women she perceives is trying to escape from the restrictions of being confined in the wallpaper and of not being allowed to express herself. Her confinement causes her to become obsessed with what seems to be a woman living and moving about in patterns of the yellow wallpaper. In her mind, the patterns of the wallpaper and the woman she sees soothe her, and free her from the feeling of confinement. But when her husband returns from work, he observes his wife crawling madly around the room and trying to peel the wallpaper off. No doubt, he considers his wife as incurable at that point. However, she rebels against him, locks the door, and refuses to leave the room. Nineteenth-century readers often interpreted these stories of women going insane as unhealthy representations of their reactions against the expectations of society. However, many modern readers understand them as demonstrating that women, in that era, were just beginning their struggle for the freedom of artistic and intellectual expression.


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, He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry, soon to be published written by Indian mystic, Shambhuvasanda. 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. He will be teaching literature classes at the Osher Program at the University of Richmond in the beginning of 2017.  You can write to Murray here or at [email protected]

Murray Ellison at the Richmond Poe Museum

Some Words About Poe’s Tale About a Mummy*

Gentlemen Interview a Mummy. Image from

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.

Source Quoted:

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales and Sketches, 1831-1849. Ed. Thomas O. Mabbott. Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1978.



Private Perry is Mr. Poe

Poe in 1848 wearing his West Point Great Coat

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.

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, 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:

Murray Ellison at the Richmond Poe Museum


The Imp of the Poeverse

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.

Unique Portrait Reveals Young Edgar Allan Poe


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

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

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 1850 mezzotint of Poe

Detail of John Sartain's 1885 mezzotint of Poe showing strong resemblance to Traylor's miniature

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 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

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.

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.

Visual Artists Pay Tribute to Poe’s Poetry


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


Annabel Lee
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


The Lake
Cat the Cat (France)


Masque of the Red Death
Domenico Scalisi of Nobu Happy Spooky (Italy)
mixed media clay, acrylic fabric


The Sleeper
Enzo Marra (United Kingdon)
oil paint on wood


The Bells
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)
mixed media


The Only Me
Lisa Snellings of Poppet Planet World (Oregon, USA)
mixed media


Poe Match
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


An Enigma
Sean Kelly
mixed media


Spirits of the Dead
Sean Kelly
mixed media


Dream within a Dream
Tom Haney
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!”


Conquerer Worm
Valency Elise Genis (New Mexico, USA)
mixed media clay, wood, acrylic


Chris Semtner
acrylic on wood panel


Chris Semtner
acrylic on wood panel


Chris Semtner
acrylic on wood panel


Please contact the Poe Museum Gift Shop at 804-648-5523 or [email protected] to purchase any of these items.


Poe Museum’s Artifacts Honored


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

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

Detail of damage to Caroline Griswold portrait as seen under raking light

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

Damage to Rufus Griswold portrait as seen under UV illumination

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.