Many may be familiar with the recent Drunk History episode featuring Edgar Allan Poe and a “Mr. Griswold.” But how many actually know who Griswold is? Yes, Drunk History, the popular Comedy Central show, portrayed him, but was he accurately portrayed?
It is true that many of the popular misconceptions about Poe derive directly from Griswold, the “defamer” of the poet. This editor and enemy of Poe was the source of many fallacies about Edgar’s alcohol and drug addictions, among other things. But why did Griswold go to such great lengths to destroy Edgar’s reputation? Who was this man and what did he have against Poe?
Rufus W. Griswold
Born February 13, 1815, in Benson, Vermont, Rufus Wilmot Griswold was one of the youngest siblings of fourteen children, son of Deborah Griswold and Rufus Griswold. After briefly moving out at the age of fifteen, and then at seventeen once more, he left for Syracuse, where he started The Porcupine, a newspaper. Under the pseudonym Toby Trinculo, he attacked the local citizenry. He then left for New York City in 1836, where he met, and later married in 1837, his first wife Caroline. Later that year, Griswold became a reverend.
Griswold and Caroline had three children, but he lost Caroline just three days after the death of their third child, a son, in the fall of 1842. Widowed at twenty-seven, the heartbroken Griswold occupied his time by creating numerous anthologies. He eventually married Charlotte Meyers but divorced her and remarried a woman named Harriet McCrillis.
It was in 1839, before the death of his beloved Caroline, that he first crossed paths with Edgar Poe. One of the first—if not the first—time Griswold mentioned Poe was when he ridiculed him in his July 19 issue of The Tattler, which stated,
Edgar A. Poe, Esq., Editor of the Baltimore Chronicle, and Brantz Mayer, Esq., of the same city, have been for several days exhibiting premonitory symptoms of blood-letting. The friends of the parties have brought about a settlement, however, and both gentlemen have concluded to live as long as the Lord will let them (Bayless 30).
It is said, however, that Griswold and Park Benjamin, who was coeditor of the paper with Griswold, should have aimed their attack at Neilson Poe, and the statement was corrected (30). Not too long after, Poe, who was working as an editor for Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine in Philadelphia, heard of Griswold when an announcement was made that Griswold was working on publishing an anthology of poetry by American writers. The budding poet, Poe, was interested and requested to see Griswold. The two men met and spoke for several hours discussing literature. It is said the “interview was mutually agreeable,” and Poe, shortly after, sent several poems and a memoir for Rufus’ book (35-36).
On April 18, 1842, the anthology, The Poets and Poetry of America, was published—Edgar was not pleased. Rufus had only included three of Poe’s poems, with comments that were described as “lukewarm praise of his poetry,” and an inaccurate memorandum (45). This was the first strike between Griswold and Poe.
Earlier that month, on the first, Poe had resigned from his position as Graham’s Magazine’s editor, and was replaced by the twenty-seven year old Rufus Griswold by the middle of May. This was the second strike (49-50). Not only was Griswold now being paid more than Edgar was paid, with his $800 yearly salary, but according to Joy Bayless,
There was a softness, a suavity, in the manner of the new editor which would ingratiate him with the writers whom Graham wanted to enlist. There was a pronounced contrast between this helper [Griswold] and the proud, scornful Edgar Poe, who had contributed the products of his creative mind to the magazine but who had been unable and unwilling to bend the knee to popular contributors. Griswold would be a better henchman. He was not obsessed with literary ideals; he was able to make friends easily; and he was eager to widen his acquaintance with writers (55).
Despite the warm regards first given to the exciting new editor, Griswold eventually burned important bridges, which would bite him in the end. By 1843, his mistakes included talking about Graham’s assistant, Ann Stephens, who already held great disdain for Rufus. It is said, “Years later when she had an opportunity to avenge herself of the real or fancied injury she took full advantage of it” (69).
Having been hurt by Griswold, Poe resented the editor and in June circulated the following after asking Dr. J. Evans Snodgrass, “Have you seen Griswold’s Book of Poetry? It is a most outrageous humbug, and I sincerely wish you would ‘use it up’” (69). It is said Poe hid his resentment for Griswold behind a friendly façade (70)
During the summer of 1842, Poe was paid to write a review of Griswold’s anthology. Despite his anger against Griswold, he wrote a rather complimentary review, regarding the book as, “…the most important addition which our literature has for many years received” (71). However, he objected to about two-dozen authors included in the anthology. Both men were at a standstill.
By the end of June, the two men were on friendly terms again, and Poe wrote to Griswold,
Dear Griswold: –Can you not send me $5. I am sick, and Virginia is almost gone. Come and see me. Peterson says you suspect me of a curious anonymous letter. I did not write it, but bring it along with you when you make the visit you promised to Mrs. Clemm. I will try to fix that matter soon. Could you do anything with my note? (74).*
Griswold’s “natural generosity” allowed him to accept Poe’s invitation to visit his house, and Griswold called on him. Mrs. Clemm brought the two enemies together as friends in summer of 1843, and Griswold wrote about Poe later,
It was while he resided in Philadelphia that I became acquainted with him. His manner, except during his fits of intoxication, was very quiet and gentlemanly; he was usually dressed with simplicity and elegance; and when once he sent for me to visit him, during a period of illness caused by protracted and anxious watching at the side of his sick wife, I was impressed by the singular neatness and the air of refinement of his home. It was in a small house, in one of the pleasant and silent neighborhoods far from the centre [sic] of the town, and though slightly and cheaply furnished, everything in it was so tasteful and so fitly disposed that it seemed altogether suitable for a man of genius. For this and for most of the comforts he enjoyed in his brightest as in his darkest years, he was chiefly indebted to his mother-in-law, who loved him with more than maternal devotion and constancy (75).
That fall, however, Edgar would scorn Griswold once more during a lecture tour of America in which he openly attacked the renewed enemy. Griswold retaliated and resigned from Graham’s Magazine in October 1843. He continued to assist Graham, however, and contributed to the magazine as late as 1848 (76).
In the fall of 1845, Poe had written a complimentary piece about Griswold in the Broadway Journal, which prompted Griswold to reconcile with the older poet. The following January marked a renewal of friendship, which would last for several months (96-97). In fact, Griswold even loaned Poe twenty-five dollars, in answer to Poe’s request for fifty dollars to support the Broadway Journal that he had taken over temporarily (99). Things seemed to be going well for the two. In the Prose Writers of America, Griswold exhibited his well-mannered feelings and had only positive things to say about Poe (120).
October 7, 1849 marked a shocking day for Griswold, when word reached him in New York that Edgar Poe was dead. Almost immediately, he started to write Poe’s obituary for the next morning’s Tribune, and signed it with his pen name, “Ludwig.” Horace Greeley, a fellow editor, admittedly would not have let the obituary run in the Tribune if he had known the trouble it would bring Edgar in the end (161).
By this time, Griswold, it is said, respected Poe’s literary genius, but the poet had scorned the editor, and Griswold would not forgive him—it was time to take revenge. Griswold’s memoir, which you can read here, is full of fabricated lies, and was largely pieced together using his previously written memoirs and a passage taken from Bulwer’s, The Caxtons, which he used because, “Francis Vivian [the character]…[seemed] to resemble Poe so closely that instead of spending time himself to characterize Poe he took Bulwer’s descriptions of his fictional character and used them in the sketch” (162-163).
Not too long after, Edgar’s mother-in-law and aunt, Maria Clemm, approached Griswold asking him to produce an edition of Poe’s works. It is unclear whether Clemm knew Griswold had written the infamous “Ludwig” obituary, but regardless, six days after Poe’s death, she had chosen him for the job. The works, which included memoirs written by N.P. Willis and James Russell Lowell, was, according to an announcement for the book printed in The New York Tribune on October 17, “among the last requests of Mr. Poe that Dr. Griswold should be his Editor…” (166). There is no evidence that proves whether or not this is the case, and the editor even went back and forth between stating he was indeed chosen by Poe for the job and that he took the opportunity only because of his revengeful plans.
In Griswold’s production of the books, N.P. Willis’ memoir opposes Griswold’s view, including Willis ultimately drawing the conclusion that Edgar actually had goodness in him. Henry Hirst, a friend of Poe, refuted Griswold in the Saturday Courier on October 20, saying that Poe did have many friends, in response to Griswold’s statement that Poe did not.
Griswold even confessed in a letter written to Sarah Helen Whitman, Poe’s ex-fiancée and a Rhode Island poetess, “I wrote—as you suppose—the notice of P. [Poe] in the Tribune—but very hastily. I was not his friend, nor was he mine, as I remember to have told you; but I endeavored always to do him justice; and though the sketch has deemed harsh, I did not mean that it should be so” (173). Whether this was truly the case, we do not know. Interestingly enough, Griswold also admitted he had seen little of Poe during the last years of Poe’s life; therefore it is debatable whether Griswold should have let the matter go and spare Poe’s reputation (173).
The first volumes of Poe’s writings were published about January 10, 1850, according to Joy Bayless, and contained many memoirs, articles about Poe, and a majority of Poe’s short stories and poems (175-176) You can view the editions here. Griswold soon published a third volume in September, 1850 (180).
After the third volume was published, Griswold made plans for a fourth volume, which was published in 1856. During the process of collecting information for this fourth book, however, Charles Godfrey Leland, a close friend of Griswold’s, threw out all of Griswold’s original material “to Poe’s discredit,” and then scolded the Reverend. According to Joy Bayless, Griswold then lost interest in Poe until his fourth book release. By 1858, the book had become the standard anthology of Poe’s works and had undergone seventeen editions (196-197). Griswold admitted, according to Bayless, that he “…attempted to prepare several volumes which would attract buyers and do justice to Poe’s reputation” (197).
The last criticism Griswold gave regarding Poe was in the sixteenth edition of The Poets and Poetry of America, which states,
Unquestionably he was a man of genius, and those who are familiar with his melancholy history will not doubt that his genius was in a singular degree wasted or misapplied. His rank as a poet is with the first class of his times. “The Raven,” “Ulalume,” “The Bells,” and several of his other pieces, will be remembered as among the finest monuments of the capacities of the English language (200).
With Poe deceased and after successfully defaming the poet (or so he thought), Griswold continued to work on anthologies until his death by tuberculosis on August 27, 1857.
During his life, Griswold published numerous poems and anthologies, as well as provided sermons and editorial pieces. Some of his most notable works include The Poets and Poetry of America, The Poets and Poetry of England, and an important poem, “Five Days,” which can be viewed here, written for his first wife, Caroline, after her death.
It is ironic that Griswold made such great attempts to defame Poe, because his attacking memoirs and obituary only brought Edgar more fame and recognition, making him a notable literary figure for all time; whereas Griswold now is often forgotten or unknown. Perhaps if Griswold had not defamed the poet after his death, Griswold would now have a greater legacy in the literary world.
Today the Poe Museum owns several of Poe’s letters and manuscripts once owned by Griswold and given to the Museum by his grandchildren. The Museum also owns two letters written by Griswold, which you can see here and here.
*There is speculation as to whether this was actually written by Poe. Griswold was notorious for forging letters after Poe’s death, and this particular piece was challenged by John Ward Ostrom in his book, The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe – Vol. II: 1846-1849, which you can view here.
On September 11, 2014 from 6:30-9:00P.M., the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will host a talk and signing by artist/author James O’Barr, creator of the comic book series The Crow. O’Barr will speak about influence and inspiration Poe’s works provided for his own. After the talk, O’Barr will introduce a screening of the 1994 film The Crow starring Brandon Lee.
Admission to the event is $5. Proceeds benefit the Poe Museum’s educational programs.
Mathew Brady was perhaps the leading American photographer of the nineteenth century. Among the prominent figures who sat for his studio are eighteen United States Presidents including Abraham Lincoln. It has long been known that the Mathew Brady Studio sold copies of a “Brady Photo” of Poe in the early 1860s, but now a previously unpublished Brady photo of Poe’s mother-in-law Maria Clemm has been found and will soon be on public display for the first time.
From September 25 until November 30, 2014, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will exhibit a newly discovered photograph of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother-in-law from the studio of famed nineteenth century photographer Mathew Brady (1822-1896), best known for his iconic photographs of Abraham Lincoln and his documentation of Civil War battlefields. This is only the third image of Poe’s aunt/mother-in-law Maria Poe Clemm to come to light. Although Edgar Allan Poe’s face is well-known through photographs and paintings made during his lifetime, there are very few surviving images of the two people closest to him—his wife and mother-in-law. Maria Clemm helped support Poe by helping sell his poems and by taking on sewing work for extra money. Poe paid tribute to her in his poem “To My Mother.” After Poe’s death, Clemm depended upon the charity of Poe’s many admirers. Charles Dickens is among those who contributed to her care.
Newly Discovered Image
Stephen Montgomery, the owner of the photograph, an albumen print carte de visite, found the previously unpublished image in an album of nineteenth century photographs and contacted the Poe Museum to help him verify the discovery. The logo of the Mathew Brady studio is printed on the back of the photo with the words “Maria Clemm/ Edgar Allen [sic] Poe Aunt” written in pencil above it. Although the image was previously unknown to scholars, it bears a remarkable resemblance to the two other known photographs of Maria Clemm, one of which is in the collection of the Poe Museum. The newly identified image will be displayed alongside the Poe Museum’s fully authenticated photograph for comparison.
Authentic Images of Maria Clemm and the Newly Discovered Image
Face of 1868 Photo Superimposed Over Face of Montgomery Photo
For this exhibition, Montgomery has also loaned the Poe Museum two other photographs—Matthew Brady’s photograph of Poe (a retouched version of an 1848 photograph taken by another photographer sold from Brady’s studio in the early 1860s) and an albumen print photograph of the daguerreotype taken of Poe in Richmond a few weeks before his death.
Brady Photo of Poe
The portrait of Mary Allan, which currently hangs in the Old Stone House, is a significant work of art purchased by the Poe Museum in 1928. The following recounts the history of this portrait, as well as its subject and the artist.
Mary Allan was the older sister of Edgar Poe’s foster father, John Allan, and the eldest daughter of William and Elizabeth Galt Allan. Mary lived in the Allan Bridgegate home until her death in 1850 (Phillips 99).
Although Mary’s childhood and adulthood remain mysteries, we do have an interesting correspondence between a descendent of hers and the Poe Museum. On October 12, 1927, the museum was approached by a relative of the Allan family, who mentioned that her distant cousin was interested in selling a portrait of Mary Allan. This cousin was Sophie E. D. (whose name is not fully disclosed to protect her prvacy), of Fertshire, Scotland. Mary Allan, who Miss D. referred to as “Aunt Mary,” was Miss D’s great aunt. Upon contacting the museum, Sophie and the Poe Museum began what would be a year long process of organizing the painting’s shipment, payment, and display.
According to the April 26, 1928, “Board of Directors Minutes of the Annual Meeting”, there was a statement explaining that the same artist who painted John Allan’s portrait, also painted Mary’s, which hung on the wall of the Allan home in Ayrshire when the young Poe visited there.
This painter was James Tannock, a native of Kilmarnock. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Tannock was a distinguished artist who had success at Glasgow and Greenock as a painter of portraits and miniatures. He then moved to London and is notable for contributing forty-four portraits to the Royal Academy exhibitions between 1813 and 1841 (Armstrong). Tannock’s rich oil painting style can be seen in the Mary Allan painting.
On June 2, 1928, the portrait was purchased for seventy-five pounds, stirling [sic]. At that time, this would have been equal to $125.98. Today, the purchase price is estimated to be $1,755.93. On August 2, the portrait of Mary arrived. Martha R. Ford, the secretary of the Poe Museum at the time, stated in an August 10 letter,
I think she is lovely [Aunt Mary]. She must have been a very interesting person to know. She is very like her brother in feature; but oh so different in expression! I am no artist, and my opinion as to the merits of the portrait form an artistic point of view would be worthless. But from my plain human standpoint, I find the picture beautiful and interesting. Everybody who has seen it seems much pleased.
According to a September 14 letter, the Museum buildings were being renovated and “Aunt Mary” was waiting to be hung. Martha R. Ford relates, “’Aunt Mary’ is to come into the new building as soon as the workmen shall have provided for her adequate support.” The next day, everything was in place, and the sale was official. The Consular Invoice was produced, the official charge papers were found to be in order, the transaction was duly closed, and “Aunt Mary” was warmly welcomed into her new home.
Now, thanks to the Poe Museum’s past employees and the gracious willingness of Sophie D. to sell her “Aunt Mary” to the museum, you can view the lovely painting, which gives insight into John Allan’s Scottish family, and, ultimately, into Poe’s world in Scotland.
To view the painting, please visit the following link: https://www.poemuseum.org/collection-details.php?id=105
Now one of the most valuable books in American literature, this humble volume could have easily ended up in a trash heap or floating down the Hudson River along with several other copies. Ben Hardin, Jr. (1784-1852), the first owner of this first edition of Poe’s third book Poems, scrawled abusive language on the end pages. Ben Hardin, Jr. was a Kentucky lawyer who had likely received the book from his son John Pendleton Hardin (1810-1842, Class of 1832, resigned 1832), one of Poe’s fellow cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. John Hardin would have been one of the 131 out of the 232 cadets who contributed $1.25 toward the work’s publication in April 1831. Fewer than 1,000 copies were printed, and, judging by the cadets’ response to the book, it is not surprising that only about twenty survive. (Some of those cadets are said to have thrown their copies into the river in disgust.)
Dedication Page of Poems
One of the cadets, Allan B. Magruder, later recalled, “[The book] was a miserable production mechanically, bound in green boards and printed on inferior paper, evidently gotten up on the cheapest scale. The subscription was not fully paid until the book was delivered, and I remember a general expression of indignation at the inferior quality and condition of the book.”
Another cadet, Thomas W. Gibson, added, “The book was received with a general expression of disgust. It was a puny volume, of about fifty pages, bound in boards and badly printed on coarse paper, and worse than all, it contained not one of the squibs and satires upon which his reputation at the Academy had been built up.”
Ben Hardin, Jr., the owner of the Poe Museum’s copy, wrote on the front page, “This book is a damn cheat. All that fills 124 pages could have been compiled in 36.” Beneath this, someone wrote “lie.” Below that is written, “Calliope [the Greek muse of epic poetry] is a cheat/ any how–.”
What little critical notice the book attracted was not overwhelmingly favorable, either. In the May 7, 1831 issue of the New-York Mirror, the reviewer (probably George P. Morris), complains that Poe’s poetry is incomprehensible:
The poetry of this little volume has a plausible air of imagination, inconsistent with the general indefinitiveness of the ideas. Every think in the language betokens poetic inspiration, but it rather resembles the leaves of the sybil when scattered by the wind. The annexed lines, which close a short poem, entitled the “Doomed City,” are less incomprehensible than most in the book, although the meaning is by no means perfectly clear…It sometimes happens that poetry, at first sight unintelligible, is discovered, upon a repeated and more careful examination, to be fraught with the treasure of thought and fancy. The “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” belongs to this class; but we cannot flatter Mr. Poe with any similar hopes respecting his own composition, although it occasionally sparkles with a true poetic expression, and sometimes a conflict of ¬beauty and nonsense takes place, in which the latter seems to have the best of it. It is indeed encumbered by numerous obscurities, which we should be pleased to see either very much brightened or entirely expunged. What is the meaning of this?
In anticipation that the meaning of his poetry would confound some critics, Poe wrote in the volume’s introduction,
Poetry, above all things, is a beautiful painting whose tints, to minute inspection, are confusion worse confounded, but start boldly out to the cursory glance of the connoisseur…A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained; romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential, since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very definitiveness.
By the time Poems was released in April 1831, Poe was living in New York after having been expelled from West Point in February. Even though Poe was no longer at the academy, he remained the subject of the cadets’ scorn and ridicule for some time after his departure. As Gibson recalled, “For months afterward quotations from Poe formed the standing material for jests in the corps, and his reputation for genius went down at once to zero. I doubt if even the ‘Raven’ of his after-years ever entirely effaced from the minds of his class the impression received from that volume.”
After the commercial failure of Poems, Poe still considered himself primarily a poet and continued to write poetry, but he would not publish another volume of his poetry for fourteen years when he issued The Raven and Other Poems in 1845.
Listing from Chamberlain Catalog
The Poe Museum’s copy of Poems eventually entered the collection of scientist Jacob Chester Chamberlain (1860-1905) who worked in Thomas Edison’s laboratory during the early 1880s and contributed to Edison’s pioneering work with electric lighting. The book was #706 in the auction of Chamberlain’s collection on February 16, 1909 at the Anderson Auction Company in New York when the formerly $1.25 book sold for $315. The piece next entered the library of book collector Walter Thomas Wallace of South Orange, New Jersey. He sold his collection at auction on March 22-24, 1920 at the American Art Galleries in New York. This time, the book sold for only $140. The next owner was the California psychologist John Wooster Robertson, whose special interest in Poe led him to compile a bibliography of Poe first printings and to write the book Edgar A. Poe: A Psychopathic Study. Robertson donated Poems, along with the rest of his large collection of Poe first editions, to the Poe Museum in 1927.
Listing from Wallace Catalog
Although some readers in the author’s time could not appreciate it, Poems is now considered one of Poe’s most important collections. Among the soon-to-be classic poems first printed in this volume are early versions of Poe’s classics “To Helen,” “Lenore” (under its original title “A Paean”) and “Israfel.” Poe’s biographer Arthur Hobson Quinn summed up the significance of the book as follows:
If the volume of 1829 [Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems] contained poetry unlike any that had as yet appeared in the United States, the volume of 1831 gave us in “To Helen,” “Israfel,” “The Doomed City,” “The Valley Nis” and “Irene,” poetry of a kind that had not yet been written in the English language.
The Poe Museum is fortunate Ben Hardin, Jr. decided not to discard his copy of Poems. Thanks to collectors like Robertson, Wallace, and Chamberlain, the book has been preserved for future generations to study and enjoy. That is why this first edition of Poems is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month.
Walter Wallace Bookplate in Poems
During “Vincent Price at the Poe Museum,” legendary horror actor Vincent Price and iconic author Edgar Allan Poe reunite this Halloween Weekend (October 31-November 1, 2014) at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.
The weekend kicks off Halloween night, October 31, from 6-10 P.M. with Poe Goes to the Movies
, a costume contest and film screening hosted by Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria Price
. Ms. Price and a panel of special guests will help judge the costume contest and Poe Look-Alike Contest. Then Victoria Price will introduce the movie Tales of Terror starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. The evening will also include the opening of the Poe Museum’s newest gallery, The Raven Room, featuring James Carling’s original ca.1882 illustrations for Poe’s poem “The Raven.” Poe Goes to the Movies will be a fun, frightening evening with games, tricks, and treats for the whole family. Admission for the evening is $20, and proceeds benefit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum’s education programming.
The following evening, November 1 from 6-10 P.M., the Poe Museum will host The Author’s Appetite, featuring the new Vincent Price Signature Collection wines in addition to Vincent Price’s foods prepared from recipes in his own cookbook. Victoria Price will share some her memories of her famous father. The evening will also feature performances of Poe’s works by Anne Williams, a book signing by Victoria Price, curator talks in the new Raven Room. Admission for the evening is $50 and will benefit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum’s educational programming.
For more information, contact the Poe Museum at 804-648-5523.
Edgar Allan Poe lived at the perfect time in history to be able to observe and to write about many of the most dramatic technological changes that had taken place in world history. Scientist Sir Alfred Russell Wallace called the nineteenth century “The Wonderful Century” because of its “marvelous inventions and discoveries,” which he regarded as immensely superior to anything which had been developed up until that time by “our comparatively ignorant forefathers”(1). Suddenly, within the span of a few decades, the introduction of new Industrial Age technologies such as electricity, telegraphic communications, cross-country railroads, photography, astronomy, and high- speed printing presses dramatically altered the culture and lifestyle of the American public in ways in which few people who lived at the time could ever have expected. In 1903, Sir Norman Lockyer, the then President of the British Association echoed Wallace’s remarks, stating that, “The nineteenth century will ever be known as the one which the influence of science was first fully realized in western countries; the scientific progress was so gigantic that it seems rash to predict that any of its successors can be more important in the life of a nation” (Nature). By the time that Poe started writing professionally (in the early 1830s), the literacy rate was higher than it had previously ever been in America, and the average person could read and understand most articles written in the newspaper. A person could travel to distant parts of the country by rail, and communicate almost instantly via the telegraph to almost anyone in the United States. Through the development of the daguerreotype (an early prototype of photography), people could obtain realistic and long lasting images of their family members to remember for generations. Many of those taken at that time may still be clearly visible today. The introduction of a new class of highly powerful telescopes and microscopes also demonstrated that the Universe of space and the unseen space within objects are much more expansive than anyone had previously imagined.
Peter Swirski argues that it is essential for our present understanding of nineteenth century culture to explore popular writers like Edgar Allan Poe because his “writing may be a suitable barometer of the role that science and philosophy had on nineteenth century society. Poe’s science narratives are perhaps most important because he was the first American authors who was able to distill the important information and ideas that were developed by professional scientists and publish them to a national and international audience in the form imaginative poems, non-fiction essays and journalistic stories, fiction, and science fiction stories.
The next entry of the “Poe and Science” blog will discuss how a studying the stories of the non-professional science writer helps us to have a better understanding of nineteenth-century society. Please send comments or questions to [email protected] or [email protected]
Lockyer, Sir Norman. “Inaugural Address as President of the British Association.” Nature. 10 September 1903: 439.
Swirski, Peter. Between Literature and Science: Poe, Lem, and Explorations in Aesthetics, Cognitive Science, and Literary Knowledge. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2000.
Wallace, Alfred Russell. The Wonderful Century: Its Successes and Failures. Toronto: George N. Morang, 1898 (digital reproduction).
Not only does the Edgar Poe’s family history contain an abundance of interesting details and accounts, but also does his foster father’s family, the Allan family. A family history enriched with a Scottish background, John Allan and family influenced young Edgar, as well as the Poe Museum, in many ways. In the following post, we will follow accounts of Edgar Poe and his foster family in Europe, visiting with Allan’s Scottish family members, learn about an uncovered Allan family gravestone in Scotland found in the late 1990s, and learn about the family’s descendants’ correspondences with the Poe Museum in the early twentieth century (in part two, soon to follow).
Edgar Poe traveled to many places during his life, between Baltimore, Philadelphia, Richmond, New York, and Boston. However, in his childhood, he lived in Europe for about five years. This is the account of the Allan family’s move to England and their life there with a brief biographical account of their time in Europe, and a year-by-year, nearly month-by-month account of their stay.
John Allan, born in Ayrshire in 1780, would not see his native land until two decades after leaving Scotland when he was fifteen years old.
After working for his uncle for five years while living in the States, Allan started a firm, Ellis & Allan, which dealt mainly in tobacco that was immensely profitable and grew increasingly popular (Celtic Life). In 1815, the Allan family embarked for Europe potentially to better help John Allan and Charles Ellis’ business. Arriving in Irvine, Scotland, where, according to Ayrshire Roots Online, most of the Allan relatives lived, including the Galts, Allans, and Fowlds. The family was spread throughout Irvine, Kilmarnock, and other nearby areas around Ayrshire. John and his family traveled to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Greenock, and London later that Fall of 1815. Young Edgar attended school in Irvine, at the Kailyard Grammar School at Kirkgatehead. He did not remain there very long, however, because the school was closed and replaced by a new academy that next July.
While in Irvine, young Edgar stayed with John’s sister, Mary, in a two-story house owned by the Allan Family. It is said Edgar shared a room with James Galt, a cousin, who also attended the Grammar School. James, approximately nine years older than Edgar, was said to have watched over Edgar because he had made threats to run back to America. Edgar, however, was back in London with his foster-family in 1816.
John Allan, his foster father, was trying to build a branch of his Richmond firm there, trading tobacco and other general merchandise. Young Edgar was sent to a boarding school, where he remained until the summer of 1817. This school, at 146 Sloane Street, in Chelsea was ran by the Misses Dubourgs. In the fall of 1817, Edgar was admitted to the Manor House School of the Rev. Mr. John Bransby, at Stoke Newington. He remained there until his withdrawal and then departure back to the United States in the spring of 1820 (Ayrshire Roots). The family returned to Richmond due to the fall of Ellis & Allan’s business, to which Allan was required to pay back debt and loans he had accumulated.
Let it be noted that just beside the river of Irvine remains the parish church and graveyard, in which the Allan ancestors are buried. According to The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2000), p. 80, Mark Strachan, Senior Museum Assistant at the North Ayrshire Museum in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, Scotland, in August 1999, added the Poe-Allan headstone, originally from the church parish grounds-turned-museum, to their collection. The headstone reads as follows, copied from the article exactly as formatted:
In memory of
David Poe late Carrier in Saltcoats
Who died 21st Augt 1799 aged 47 years
And of Ann Allan his wife
Who died 18th July 1828 aged 72 years
And of James their son
Who died abroad in the year 1800
Aged 18 years
And also of three of their children
Who died in infancy
Mary Poe died May 25th 1853
Aged 63 years
And of Janet Poe who died 27th May 1861
Aged 62 years
(And on the reverse-)
In memory of his daughter
Who died on the 24th Feby 1846 aged 15 years
Ann & Thomas
Who died in infancy
And his wife
Who died on the 30th Octr 1854 aged 65 years
The above David Poe
Died on the 7th Decr 1878 aged 91 years
1815 marks the year of the Allan family’s plan to move, and their official move to Scotland. On June 15, they left for Norfolk, Virginia, where they “[would] board the Lothair, bound for Liverpool, under Captain Stone, ‘to sail next week.’” They sold a large majority, if not all, of their possessions before the move, and then set sail on the Atlantic Ocean on June 23 (Thomas 24-25). Captain Stone was described as being “penurious,” and John Allan further complained “that his wife and sister-in-law [Ann Valentine, Frances’ sister] [were] ‘denied the privileges of Fire to broil a slice of Bacon’.” John Allan also slept on the floor of the ship, and it was said Frances had terrible seasickness. Despite the rough journey, the family, comprising of Edgar, John Allan, Frances Allan, and Ann Valentine, successfully disembarked on July 28 in Liverpool. The next day, John Allan wrote to Charles Ellis, his business partner from Richmond, “I am now on English ground after an absence of more than 20 years. After a pssage [sic] of 34 days all [is] well—Frances and Nancey very [sic] sick but are now perfectly Hearty. Edgar was a little sick but soon recovered. Capt. good seaman but too close….We got here yesterday at 5 P.M. I took our abode at Mr. Lillymans Hotel today” (Thomas 25).
Presumably, after days of settling down in the new land, the family visited John Allan’s sisters, Mary Allan and Jane Johnston, in Irvine, Scotland on August 11. According to Dwight Thomas of the Poe Log, “Perhaps for a few days Poe attends the Old Grammar School. Here Poe probably sees archers shooting the popinjay on the cathedral. Poe’s playmates are James Anderson and a lad named Gregory.” (Please note that Poe referred to the popinjay in “Romance” and “The Bargain Lost.”) Before August 22, the family also visited John Allan’s younger sister, Mrs. Allan Fowlds (née Agnes Nancy Allan) on Nelson street (25). On the 21st of September, from Greenock, Scotland, John Allan wrote to Charles Ellis,
I arrived here about a half an hour ago . . . finding some American Vessels on the eve of sailing I avail myself of the chance to write a few lines, though I cannot say much about our business. . . . I flatter myself from the small quantity [of tobacco?] in London & the Posture of affairs on the Continent that our sales will be profitable. It would appear that France and the Allies have concluded a Treaty but it has not been promulgated — the Allies will hold the strong posts for a while until the refractory spirit of some of the old adherents of Bonaparte has subsided. . . . Frances says she would like the Land o cakes better if it was warmer and less rain, she bids me say she will write Margaret [Ellis] as soon as she is settled but at present she is so bewildered with wonders that she canna write. Her best Love to Margaret & a thousand kisses to Thos [Ellis]. Nancy says give my love to them all — Edgar says Pa say something for me, say I was not afraid coming across the Sea. Kiss Thos. for him We all unite in best Love to my Uncle Galt & all our old Friends. Edgars love to Rosa & Mrs. Mackenzie (26).
Later on October 7, the family arrived in London, however only three days later Frances felt ill with a bad cold and sore throat. John Allan wrote to Charles Ellis from the Blake’s Hotel they were staying at, “I arrived here on the evening of the 7th, from Kilmarnock by way of Greenock, Glasgow, Edinburg, New Castle [and] Sheffield…” (26). October 30, He wrote,
. . . by a snug fire in a nice little sitting parlour in No. 47 Southampton Row, Russell Square where I have procured Lodgings for the present with Frances and Nancy Sewing and Edgar reading a little Story Book. I feel quite in a comfortable mood for writing. I have no acquaintances that call upon me and none whom as yet I call on. 6 Guineas a week furnished lodgings is what I have agreed to for 6 months until I can find a more convenient and cheaper situation. I have no compting room yet of course. I cannot copy the Letters which I am obliged to write — everything is high it alarms Frances she has become a complete economist and has a most lively appetite. I begin to think London will agree with her (26-27).
That November, John Allan once more wrote that he and his family were sick with colds. These persistent illnesses would occur periodically throughout their five year stay, with Frances being the sickest of all. It is implied by many letters written by John Allan that Frances was quite possibly a hypochondriac. She was ill multiple times; for instance, in 1819, as the family was preparing to return to the States, Frances pleaded not to go back as she thought she would never be able to cross the Atlantic (41).
By November 20, however, Allan decided he and his family would stay two more years than the planned three. He thought this would profit his business with Ellis (27). The next year, in 1816, the family continued to have a miserable time. John Allan’s Aunt, his father’s sister, Jeannie Bone died, and in early April, young Edgar was sent to the boarding school of the Misses Dubourg (29).
A charming account of John Allan’s correspondence with his family includes giving advice to young William Galt, Jr., before his anticipated departure for America,
Now my good Boy you will soon be ushered into the World where your own exertions and good Sense will be put to the test, never fail to do your Duty to your Creator first, to your Employer next & by all means keep clear of bad company. Mixing with improper characters tends only to make you the slave of vicious Habits which you will avoid as you shun the coiled Serpent (31).
In 1817, John Allan’s business seemingly was thriving. He wrote to William Galt that their property assets would be worth $140,000. Midsummer in London, he rented No. 39 Southampton Row, but did not take possession of the house until September or October. During this time, young Edgar was in school (33-34). That August, John Allan explained to George Dubourg how Frances desired a parrot. According to the Poe Log, as presented on EAPoe online, Frances’ parrot, which was lodged with the Dubourgs, spoke French and,
Whitty (1935), pp. 188-90, thought the following lines from “Romance” were autobiographical: “To me a painted paroquet / Hath been — a most familiar bird — / Taught me my alphabet to say — / To lisp my very earliest word.” Mabbott (1969), 1:128-29, linked “Romance” with the popinjay in Scotland and also called attention to the paroquet in “The Bargain Lost.” In his “Philosophy of Composition” Poe stated that in planning “The Raven” he first considered a parrot, then an owl, and settled for a raven (33-34).
The next year, 1818, proved to be an impressionable year for young Edgar. He was reading Latin pretty well, according to John Allan in late June. According to EAPoe online’s transcription of The Poe Log,
In “William Wilson” (1839), Poe’s fictional account of his experiences at the Manor House School, the schoolmaster was part Bransby and part George Gaskin, rector of St. Mary’s Church. Poe perhaps knew three men named William Wilson: two conducted business with John Allan and a third taught school in Richmond (see Jackson, 1983, p. 13). “I [William Elijah Hunter] spoke to Dr. Bransby about him [Poe] two or three times during my school days. . . . Dr. Bransby seemed rather to shun the topic, I suppose from some feeling with regard to his name being used distastefully in the story of ‘William Wilson.’ In answer to my questions on one occasion, he said, ‘Edgar Allan’ (the name he was known by at school) ‘was a quick and clever boy and would have been a very good boy if he had not been spoilt by his parents,’ meaning the Allans; ‘but they spoilt him, and allowed him an extravagant amount of pocket-money, which enabled him to get into all manner of mischief — still I liked the boy — poor fellow, his parents spoilt him!’ ” (Hunter, p. 497) (36).
Manor House School, Stoke Newington
Mid-August, John Allan planned a trip to Isle of Wight to see if the sea air would help poor Frances’ health. She visited Devonshire not too long after this (37-38). Later that October, Frances visited Tydemouth with, it is believed, Jane Gault, and then rejoined her family in London on, or before, November 28 (39-40).
That next year, 1819, the Allan & Ellis firm began suffering financial difficulties. John Allan began considering returning home. In June of that year, the family attended the wedding of his sister Elizabeth to John Miller in Irvine, Scotland. Edgar was left in Irvine until September (41). Although the family had been planning to return to the States for a while, the family was unable to return to America until they had enough money. Along with the alleged hypochondriac Frances, lack of finances posed problems in returning home. Frances was assuaged, however, because John Allan wrote that December to Ellis that Frances has, “the greatest aversion to the sea and nothing but dire necessity and the prospect of a reunion with her old and dear Friends could induce her to attempt it. Ann [Frances’ sister] submits her wonted good nature and patience” (42).
In the final year of their stay, February was a hard month for the family. Frances appeared to be in a terrible state, and the assassination of Duke Charles Ferdinand of Berry, on February 13, appeared to have an impact on John Allan because he wrote about the troubling incident (43). After making one last trip to Irvine, Scotland to visit his sisters in June, the family departed and arrived in New York on July 21. They returned to Richmond August 2 (44-46).
Despite the hardships that had occurred during their five-year stay, and the crash of Allan and Ellis’ firm, the trip to Europe appeared to have a great impact on Edgar and later influenced his stories. The boarding school experiences inspired certain aspects of later short stories, and it is said, had he stayed in Scotland, he would have made a fine addition to Europe.
Now that we have learned about Poe’s journey in Europe, and the influence of the Scottish Allan family on Edgar, what is the story behind this portrait? Find out here!
Last Sunday, the Poe Museum was proud to host a talk by award-winning authors Mary SanGiovanni and Brian Keene. Guests came from as far away as Pennsylvania and Illinois to meet the authors and hear their insights into the continuing relevance of Poe’s fiction.
Since the Poe Museum’s mission is to “interpret the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for the education and enjoyment” of the public, Keene and SanGiovanni helped support this mission by speaking about Poe’s influence on today’s writers. SanGiovanni began by discussing the impact of Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death” on horror fiction. She provided a fascinating overview of the themes and imagery of the story and drew parallels between these and the recurrent themes found in modern psychological horror and cosmic horror.
After SanGiovanni’s talk, Keene spoke about Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, its inspiration for his own writing, and its influence on later writers. He traced the influence of this novel on Herman Melville, Jules Verne (who wrote a sequel to it), and H.P. Lovecraft (whose novel At the Mountains of Madness borrows from it). Keene continued by describing how At the Mountains of Madness helped inspire John W. Campbell’s novel Who Goes There which has been adapted into three films, the second of which is John Carpenter’s 1982 movie The Thing, which Keene considers the most important horror film of the 1980s. The Thing topped Boston Globe’s list of the Fifty Scariest Movies of All Time and was ranked #2 on Moving Arts Film Journal’s list of the Twenty-Five Greatest Horror Films. The film, in turn, was a great inspiration to Keene himself.
The talks were followed by a question-and-answer period in which the authors discussed their own work as well as the international significance of Poe’s literary contributions. A sizeable crowd gathered afterwards to have the authors sign copies of their books. Keene and SanGiovanni also donated some copies of their books to the museum’s gift shop to help support the museum’s educational mission. The Poe Museum would like to thank SanGiovanni and Keene for sharing their insights with our audience.
Our next author talk will take place on October 15 at 6 P.M. when the Virginia Literary Festival Presents: An Evening with Clay McLeod Chapman. Click here for a complete list of upcoming events.
Clay McLeod Chapman, our October speaker