Every object in the Poe Museum tells a story. Each artifact or piece of ephemera helps us interpret the story of Edgar Allan Poe’s life and influence. The July Object of the Month is no exception. The Cornwell Daguerreotype is a distinctly arresting image of Poe taken at a low point in the author’s life, four days after a suicide attempt. His fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman, who owned the original, which she named the “Ultima Thule” Daguerreotype, pronounced it “wonderful” and told Poe’s biographer John H. Ingram that it had been taken “after a wild distracted night . . . and all the stormy grandeur of that via Dolorosa had left its sullen shadow on his brow.” One of four copies made directly from the original plate, this tiny daguerreotype (an early type of photograph made on a light-sensitive silver-plated piece of copper) has long been one of the most important artifacts in the museum’s collection. The image serves as an especially poignant document of Poe’s brief and troubled life. (Click here to learn more about the circumstances under which it was taken.) But this is only the beginning of the daguerreotype’s story. If it had not been for one woman’s determination, the piece might never have entered the collection.
Our account begins in 1933, when the world was still mired in the Great Depression. Early that year, the United States unemployment rate peaked at 25%, a drought plagued the heartland, over 5,000 banks had failed, and hundreds of thousands of Americans were homeless, struggling for survival in makeshift shanty towns. The Poe Museum (then known as the Poe Shrine) was not immune to this global crisis. To conserve energy, the Museum closed all but one of its four buildings and turned off its oil burner. Instead it heated one room in the Old Stone House with a wood stove. Before a December board meeting, the Poe Shrine’s secretary Mary Gavin Traylor wrote the museum’s president, Richmond News Leader Editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. Douglas Southall Freeman, for permission to at least use the oil burner during the meeting. If not, she added, “we will rock along with the fourth of a cord of oak and pine blocks and the small load of kindling donated to us…”
To save money, Dr. Freeman instructed the museum’s hostesses to take off one month for every three months of work. His note ended “If things are not better in spring, we will have to reduce the force by one.”
A notation in the financial records reads, “Personnel has been reduced to one lady for five hours in the morning and one lady for five hours in the afternoon at very small wage but positively all that could be paid…There was a loss in the ‘nest egg’ for the endowment at the time of the bank failures. Have not had heat or a phone since the depression…”
In early 1933, just when the museum’s situation was at its bleakest, Christine Smith Rawson of Bradford, New Hampshire contacted Ms. Traylor at the Poe Museum. Rawson was in need of money and owned a rare daguerreotype she knew would be of interest to the museum. Though she admitted she had no idea how much the piece was worth, she offered it to the museum for $500. This is the equivalent of $8,895 in today’s dollars. At a time of bank failures and staggering unemployment, this seemed like an impossible sum, but Traylor believed the Poe Museum needed this artifact. Before she attempted to acquire it, however, she would need to learn more about the piece. In order to learn something about the provenance (or history) of the piece, she quizzed Rawson about what she knew of the plate’s origin. Rawson had received it from her uncle John Clarke Turner, who had been given it by a Dr. Cornwell of New London, Connecticut. More research revealed that Dr. Cornwell had been a poet who had published a number of poems in the Poet’s Corner of the New London Telegram, and that Turner was editor of the Poet’s Corner. Through this connection, the two writers became friends, so, shortly before his death, Cornwell gave his cherished daguerreotype to his friend.
That the daguerreotype had once been owned by Cornwell was also recorded by Edmund C. Stedman, who had borrowed it from him in 1880 to have it reproduced as a wood engraving by Timothy Cole. The engraving appeared as an illustration for an article about Poe in the May 20, 1880 issue of Scribner’s Monthly. A footnote in the article notes,
The frontispiece-portrait in the present number of SCRIBNER is reproduced, on an enlarged scale, from what is thought to be the last daguerreotype obtained of the poet. The editor is indebted to the kindness of Dr. H. S. Cornwell, of New London, for the use of this picture, and for the facts establishing its authenticity. It was taken by the late Mr. Masury, of Providence, R. I., and Mr. Cornwell makes it probable that Poe sat for it within a year or two of his death in 1849. The lines of the neck and chin are not so heavy as in the Bendann daguerreotype, but my comments on the latter otherwise apply to this picture. The unusual development of Poe’s forehead in the regions where the analytic and imaginative faculties are thought to hold their seat, is here shown as in no other likeness of the poet. Mr. Cornwell writes of it:
“The aspect is one of mental misery, bordering on wildness, disdain of human sympathy, and scornful intellectual superiority. There is also in it, I think, dread of imminent calamity, coupled with despair and defiance, as of a hunted soul at bay.”
Timothy Cole’s woodcut reproduction of the daguerreotype can be seen below.
During Traylor’s investigation, she learned that a biography of Cornwell, John Sylvester Cornwell, A Memoir by Ellen Morgan Frisbie, had been published in 1906. She was able to find a copy in the Library of Congress and took notes on any information relevant to her search. She found that Cornwell was born in 1831 and died on 1886. A passage on page two reads, “Our poet numbered among his friends, Sarah Helen Whitman, the brilliant woman who at one time was the fiancée of Poe and they frequently exchanged poems in the course of their correspondence.”
Sarah Helen Whitman
On page sixteen, she learned, “From 1873 to 1880, The New London Telegram enjoyed a reputation for printing very good poetry. The Poet’s Corner was under the supervision of John C. Turner and was frequently graced by Dr. Cornwell’s compositions.”
On the same page, she found another passage: “One of the Doctor’s most cherished possessions was an old daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe whom he so much admired. It is now the property of Mr. Turner, to whom it was presented by the poet some little time previous to his death.”
Once she had traced the ownership of the plate to Dr. Cornwell, she could only speculate on how he had acquired it. The fact that he had corresponded with Sarah Helen Whitman was an important clue because she had been the owner of the original plate from which this copy had been made. From Stedman’s footnote, she knew that Cornwell had acquired his daguerreotype in Providence, the city in which Whitman lived. It had even been made in the same studio that had taken the original. Because daguerreotypes were made directly on a light-sensitive plate without the use of a negative, copies were made by carefully photographing the original. Since Mrs. Whitman owned the original, she probably authorized the making of this copy. She is thought to have made the copy in the Pierpont Morgan library for her friend Caleb Fiske Harris and that she had the copy now in the Fales Library for one of her correspondents Sarah E. Robbins.
Given the exceptional quality and clarity of the image in Lawson’s daguerreotype, it was believed the plate was the original, but this was easily dismissed by comparing it with the other copies. Aside from the Robbins daguerreotype, they all have Poe’s part on the same side. At the time of production of the plate, the images in daguerreotypes were reversed. If Lawson’s plate had been the original, it would be a mirror image of the other copies.
Later investigations revealed that the pattern on the daguerreotype case was produced in limited quantities around 1853. If the case is original to the plate, this would support the plate being dated to before 1860, the year Sarah Helen Whitman’s daguerreotype, from which it was copied, disappeared from her home.
Having established the provenance of the piece as well as she could, Traylor decided to find out if $500 was a reasonable price to pay for it. She wrote to Brown University, the Pierpont Morgan Library, and other owners of Poe daguerreotypes to ask what they had paid for their pieces. When these institutions were unable to provide any useful information, she wrote University of Virginia professor and Poe authority Dr. James Southall Wilson for his opinion. He answered, “I would not pay more than three hundred dollars for the picture offered you and…I believe…such an offer would be accepted.”
Armed with this information, Traylor brought the matter to the Poe Museum’s board but was told that the museum simply did not have any money for the purchase. Seeing how passionate she was about not letting the institution miss the chance to acquire what she believed to be the most important of the very few daguerreotypes made of Poe, the board eventually authorized her to try to raise the $500 on her own.
Traylor started contacting her wealthy friends for donations. One of her typical fundraising letters expresses her passion about acquiring the plate:
Some time ago, a rare find was brought to the Shrine in the hope that we would buy it, the Board met and regretfully had to say “no fund,” much as they felt it was a splendid thing for us to acquire. I was so filled with the realization of its importance and determined that it should not escape the Shrine that I asked permission to try to get a number of subscribers to a fund, so that they as a group might present it to the Shrine…”
Within a few months, Traylor was able to get commitments totaling $290. Among the twenty donors were Granville Valentine with $25, John Stewart Bryan with $25, Ambassador Alexander Weddell with $50, Dr. Douglas Freeman with $15, and James Rindfleisch with $50. Among the many who found themselves unable to contribute was novelist Ellen Glasgow, who wrote, “It would be splendid if the Poe Shrine could buy this daguerreotype, and I regret that I am unable to contribute toward the purchase.”
When she wrote back to Lawson that she could not possibly pay more than $300 for the daguerreotype. Lawson responded by suggesting Traylor pay $300 up front and the final $200 in one year.
On May 15, 1933, Traylor answered,
The Shrine cannot, for the board on such things, distinctly said, as much as they would like to have it, they could not with financial circumstances such as they are, purchase it. The financial circumstances are worse than they were, for as I told you we lost heavily in the American Bank not opening its doors. The Shrine cannot take on any obligation. Then there is no one left to make you a note but me, and the Heavens in their high sky are not further away than such a possibility is far from me. Who could make a note, the group of people I have approached, have contributed $5 and $10 dollars each, each doing in doing that, all that he or she could feel able to do, there would be no chance of asking them to make a note. No one of them, at a time, when to eat and live is of so much more importance than a Poe Daguerreotype, would dream of being responsible for any $200 that might be collected, no individual is taking on responsibilities at this date either. To have a note made out to you is utterly out of the question. To carry on here at the Shrine with what we have is much more important, vital necessity and not in any manner to endanger that, is more important than to endanger that, is more important than to enhance the collection at this moment with no matter how interesting a Poe item, be it a manuscript, daguerreotype or piece of furniture. This is the situation as it exists today. Everybody has marveled that I have been able to get the promise of $300 to be given me…
After pointing out that the daguerreotype is a copy and, therefore, not as valuable as an original, Traylor continues,
I am anxious to have it, you should be able to readily see that. But $300 cash is the extent of my ability…You will not be able to get more elsewhere…Do please just let the group have it for the $300 I have the promise of and let it be presented to the Shrine. I feel you will never regret it, dear Mrs. Rawson…
On May 26, Rawson replied,
I have succumbed to your pleadings and enthusiasm and your unbounded interest in the Poe Shrine. I am going to let you have the picture for $300…Feeling happy that the picture is going to the Poe Shrine and thanking you for your great interest and help…
Now Traylor found herself faced with the task of collecting all the money that had been pledged. She rushed to collect the donation from Ambassador Weddell, who was about the leave the country. His donation alone amounted to one sixth of the total, so missing him before he left would have been the end of her effort. With Weddell and most of the other donors still able to fulfill their pledges, Traylor was able to purchase the plate in time it to go on display at the Poe Museum on October 7, the anniversary of Poe’s death. Thanks to Traylor’s vision and determination, the museum’s guests still able to see this important artifact at the Poe Museum.
The next time you visit the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden you might come upon this small plaque placed in memory of Mary Gavin Traylor.
Last Thursday, the Poe Museum unveiled its most recent major acquisition, the plaster model for Virginia’s first life-sized statue of Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Rudy’s sculpture now on display at the Virginia Capitol.
Retired Philadelphia physician Dr. George Edward Barksdale commissioned this statue for the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond in 1956 because the Commonwealth of Virginia did not have any life-sized statues honoring the author. From this plaster model, a bronze cast was made at a cost of $9,500. After Dr. Barksdale donated the statue to the Commonwealth of Virginia, it was sent to a warehouse until the General Assembly approved a location for it on Capitol Square. In January 1958, the approved an appropriation of $2,500 for the installation, and the sculpture was finally installed on January 30, 1959 and dedicated on the 110th anniversary of Poe’s death—October 7, 1959.
The sculptor, Charles Rudy, studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before traveling to Europe to continue his training. Among his many public commissions are the bas relief portraits of Benjamin Franklin on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the war memorial outside Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania. He also created the monumental sculptures of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson on the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia.
The original base for the statue was found in a landfill in the 1970s and is now on display in front of the Poe Museum. The Poe Museum’s new statue is a gift from the James A. Michener Art Museum in Honor of Lorraine Rudy.
Rudy’s plaster statue debuted at the Poe Museum as part of the new exhibit Poe 3D, which features the works of other celebrated sculptors including George Julian Zolnay and Edmund T. Quinn. The exhibit continues until October 19.
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum has recently acquired a life-sized statue of Edgar Allan Poe produced in 1957 by the artist Charles Rudy. The sculpture, which depicts a seated Poe holding a pen and paper, is Rudy’s plaster model for the bronze statue now in the Virginia State Capitol Square. This is the first full-length sculpture to enter the Poe Museum. The piece is a gift from the James A. Michener Art Museum in Honor of Lorraine Rudy.
According to Poe Museum Curator Chris Semtner, “This is a major addition to the Museum’s collection not only because it is one of a few full-length life-sized statues of Poe available but also because it is the model for the first public statue of Poe in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Poe Museum’s founders attempted to fund the creation of a Poe statue in Richmond, Virginia in 1906, but it was not until Philadelphia physician George Edward Barksdale commissioned this statue in 1957 that Richmond received its own Poe statue. Now visitors to the city will be able to see both the finished bronze and the plaster model.”
The Poe Museum is currently conserving the statue (which arrived in thirteen pieces) in preparation for its first public exhibition in the exhibit Poe 3-D, which will run from June 26 to October 19, 2014. The exhibit will also feature busts of Poe by George Julian Zolnay, Edmund Quinn, and others.
The exhibit will open on June 26 from 6 to 9 P.M. during the Poe Museum’s monthly Unhappy Hour, which features live music by Lost Dreads, performances, and refreshments.
Painting by Chris Ludke
If you have visited the Poe Museum in Richmond recently, you might have noticed artists busily working at their easels throughout the garden. Over the course of the past month, these artists have been painting, sketching, and photographing the Poe Museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden for the a new exhibit and fundraiser opening next week on May 22 at the Museum. Painting the Enchanted Garden will feature new artwork by artists including Brenda Bickerstaff-Stanley, Randall Graham, Linda Hollett-Bazouzi, Julia Lesnichy, Chris Ludke, Jean Miller, Mac Paulett, Mary Pedini, Jamie Phillips, Carol Mathews Ray, Christaphora Robeers, and Mike Steele.
Since the paintings are still being produced for inclusion in the show, we have only been able to share with the public photographs of the artists at work in our garden. Now, however, we are beginning to receive the finished works. The above painting by Chris Ludke features a view of the garden as seen between the Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building and the garden wall. The below watercolor and collage by Carol Mathews Ray capture the effect of mid-day sunlight in the Enchanted Garden. If you look closely at the collage, you will also see that the artist has included a clipping of the verses of Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise” that inspired the garden plan.
While I was writing this post, Mary Pedini dropped off her painting pictured below, which she entitled “The Fountain.”
Below are more photographs of works in progress. You can be among the first to see and purchase the finished works at the May Unhappy Hour on May 22 from 6-9 P.M. The event will feature live music by Lost Boys, games, a cash bar, and a talk by Morwenna Rae, the Curator of Dr. Johnson’s House in London.
In honor of the Garden Club of Virginia’s upcoming restoration of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden, the Poe Museum has invited artists to paint, photograph, and sketch the garden for an upcoming exhibit Painting the Enchanted Garden, which will open on Thursday, May 22 and continue until July 20. While countless artists have illustrated Poe’s melancholy poetry and tales of terror, few have represented Poe’s works celebrating the beauty of landscape gardens, and this will be the first exhibit focusing on the living garden designed in 1921 as a recreation of the gardens described in Poe’s stories and poems. The exhibit will feature new artwork by Brenda Bickerstaff-Stanley, Randall Graham, Linda Hollett-Bazouzi, Julia Lesnichy, Chris Ludke, Jean Miller, Mac Paulett, Mary Pedini, Jamie Phillips, Christaphora Robeers, and Mike Steele.
About the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden
Master of the Macabre. Inventor of the Detective Story. Gardener? Yes, Edgar Allan Poe loved gardens and wrote about them in both poetry and prose. The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia modeled its garden after those Poe described in his works and even went so far as to plant most of the flowers Poe mentions in his works. Many of the bricks in the garden paths and walls were salvaged from the buildings in which Poe lived and worked. This year, the Garden Club of Virginia is restoring the Museum’s 93-year-old Enchanted Garden to its original beauty, and you can witness the transformation.
Get inspired this spring at the Poe Museum as we celebrate the arts. From painting and sculpture to music and gardening, the Museum will highlight the ways Poe continues to inspire a variety of art forms. Here are some of the highlights, and you can see a complete schedule here.
Restoration of the Enchanted Garden
Witness the historic restoration of the Poe Museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden by the Garden Club of Virginia. Many of the varieties of plants originally planted here in the 1920s will be highlighted.
Exhibit: Into that Darkness Peering
April 24-June 202, Exhibits Building First Floor
Ten of today’s leading artists have taken up the challenge of interpreting Poe’s works in paint. Learn more about it here.
April Unhappy Hour: “To One in Paradise”
April 24, 6-9 P.M.
Join us in the Enchanted Garden for an evening of poetry, film, an exhibit opening, and live music by Hotel X. The theme of the evening is the poem which inspired the design of the Poe Museum’s garden.
Painting Workshop in the Enchanted Garden with Charles Philip Brooks
April 27, 2-6 P.M.
Join landscape painter Charles Philip Brooks for an afternoon of painting in the Enchanted Garden.
Admission $90 Click here to register.
A Tea Party in the Enchanted Garden
May 3, 2-5 P.M.
Meet Will Rieley, the restorer of the Enchanted Garden, and Sally Guy Brown, Chair of the Restoration Committee for the Garden Club of Virginia, for a tea party and lecture about the garden’s history and the variety of unusual plants to be found there.
Admission $15 ($12 for Poe Museum members)
Painting Workshop in the Enchanted Garden with Chris Semtner
May 11, 2-5 P.M.
Sketch and paint in the Enchanted Garden with internationally exhibited artist Chris Semtner.
Admission $50 Click here to register.
Lecture about Poe’s Richmond with Dr. Richard Kopley
May 18, 2-4 P.M.
Discover newly rediscovered stories of Poe’s early years at this lecture by renowned Poe scholar Dr. Richard Kopley.
Included with Poe Museum Admission
Exhibit: Painting the Enchanted Garden
May 22-July 18, Exhibit Building
In celebration of the Garden Club of Virginia’s restoration of the Enchanted Garden, artists will be painting and drawing the Garden this spring for inclusion in this beautiful art exhibit. Learn more about this exhibit here.
May Unhappy Hour: “Hans Phaall”
May 22, 6-9 P.M.
Get carried away by this event inspired by Poe’s tale of a balloon trip to the moon. Live music will be provided by The Lost Boys. At 8 P.M. there will be a talk by special guest Morwenna Rae, the Curator of Dr. Johnson’s House in London.
Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers’ Conference
If you are a high school student who loves writing, this week-long residential writing experience is for you. The deadline to apply is April 15. Click here for more information.
Exhibit: Poe 3-D
June 26-October 19
Exhibits Building First Floor
Stand face-to-face with Edgar Allan Poe in the Poe Museum’s first exhibit devoted to sculptures of the author. The highlight of the exhibit will be the Poe Museum’s recent acquisition, the plaster model for Charles Rudy’s statue of Poe designed for the Virginia State Capitol Square.
June Unhappy Hour: “The Conqueror Worm”
June 26, 6-9 P.M.
Celebrate the opening of the Poe Museum’s latest exhibit with an evening of live music and performance in the Enchanted Garden.
July 13, 2-3:30
In conjunction with its new exhibit Poe 3D, the Poe Museum will host an afternoon of family friendly fun in which kids will make artwork inspired by Poe’s stories.
Author Talk with Brian Keene and Mary Sangiovanni
July 27, 2-5 P.M.
Meet Bram Stoker Award winner and 2014 International Horror Grandmaster Brian Keene and Bram Stoker nominee Mary Sangiovanni speak about their work and Poe’s influence on the modern horror genre.
Included with Poe Museum general admission.
Click here to see our complete schedule.
For the Poe Museum’s April 2014 Object of the Month, we have selected these candelabra which once belonged to the subject of three of Poe’s poems, “To M.L.S.,” “To Marie Louise,” and “The Beloved Physician.” In A June 1848 letter, Poe described her as “the ‘Beloved Physician,’… the truest, tenderest, of this world’s most womanly souls, and an angel to my forlorn and darkened nature.”
Marie Louise Shew
Born in 1821 in Henderson, New York, Marie Louise Barney was the daughter of a country doctor. By the time she was twelve, she started accompanying her father on medical rounds. At about age sixteen, she married Dr. Joel Shew. Mrs. Shew would study at the Jefferson County Institute before she and her husband opened a water cure clinic in their home in 1843. The following year she wrote the book Water-Cure for Ladies: A Popular Work on the Health, Diet, and Regimen of Females and Children, and the Prevention and Cure of Diseases; with a Full Account of the Processes of Water-Cure. In the years ahead, she would promote women’s health through exercise, good diet, fresh air, and abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.
The author and women’s health reformer Mary Gove Nichols (1810-1884) introduced Mrs. Shew to Edgar Allan Poe, whose wife was suffering from tuberculosis. According to Nichols’s account in the February 1863 issue of Sixpenny Magazine, “The autumn came, and Mrs. Poe sank rapidly in consumption…There was no clothing on the bed, which was only straw, but had a snow-white counterpane and sheets. The weather was cold, and the sick lady had the dreadful chills that accompanied the hectic fever of consumption. she lay on the straw bed, wrapped in her husband’s great coat, with a large tortoise-shell cat in her bosom…The coat and the cat were the sufferer’s only means of warmth, except as her husband held her hands and her mother her feet…As soon as I was made aware of these painful facts, I came to New York and enlisted the sympathies and services of a lady whose heart and hand were ever open to the poor and miserable. A feather bed and abundance of bed clothing and other comforts were the first fruits of my labor of love. The lady headed a private subscription, and carried them sixty dollars the next week. From the first day this kind lady saw the suffering family of the poet, she watched over them as a mother watches over her babe. She saw them often and ministered to the comfort of the dying and the living.”
The extent to which the Poes appreciated Mrs. Shew’s assistance is evident in Edgar Allan Poe’s letters to her. He wrote her on January 29, 1847, “Kindest–dearest friend–My poor Virginia still lives, although failing fast and now suffering much pain. May God grant her life until she sees you and thanks you once again! Her bosom is full to overflowing–like my own–with a boundless–inexpressible gratitude to you. Lest she may never see you more–she bids me say that she sends you her sweetest kiss of love and will die blessing you[.] But come–oh come to-morrow! Yes, I will be calm–everything you so nobly wish to see me. My mother sends you, also, her ‘warmest love and thanks.’”
Virginia Poe would succumb to tuberculosis the following day. According to Mrs. Shew’s account in a March 28, 1875 letter to John H. Ingram, “The day before Mrs. Poe died I left to make some arrangements for her comfort. She called me to her bedside, took a picture of her husband from under her pillow kissed it and gave it to me. She opened her work box and gave me the little jewel case I mentioned to you.”
After Mrs. Poe’s death, a portrait of her was painted while she still lay in bed. Some believe Mrs. Shew, an amateur artist, may have painted it because she is the only person present at the time of Mrs. Poe’s death who is known to have had any artistic training. Whether or not Mrs. Shew painted this important image is unknown, and the fact that she is not known to have mentioned the portrait in her many surviving accounts of Poe makes it unlikely.
A couple weeks after Virginia Poe’s death, on Valentine’s Day, Edgar Poe wrote the poem “To M.L.S.,” which would appear in the March 13, 1847 issue of the Home Journal.
OF all who hail thy presence as the morning —
Of all to whom thine absence is the night —
The blotting utterly from out high heaven
The sacred sun — of all who, weeping, bless thee
Hourly for hope — for life — ah! above all,
For the resurrection of deep-buried faith
In Truth — in Virtue — in Humanity —
Of all who, on Despair’s unhallowed bed
Lying down to die, have suddenly arisen
At thy soft-murmured words, “Let there be light!”
At the soft-murmured words that were fulfilled
In the seraphic glancing of thine eyes —
Of all who owe thee most — whose gratitude
Nearest resembles worship — oh, remember
The truest — the most fervently devoted,
And think that these weak lines are written by him —
By him who, as he pens them, thrills to think
His spirit is communing with an angel’s.
Poe’s health declined dramatically after his wife’s death. In her letters, Shew claims to have “saved Mr. Poe’s life” by tending to him during this time. She continues, “I made my diagnosis & went to the great Dr. Mott with it. I told him that at best when he was well, Mr Poe’s pulse beat was only 10 regular beats after which it suspended or intermitted (as doctors say). I decided that in his best health, he had lesion on one side of the brain, and as he could not bear stimulants or tonics, without producing insanity, I did not feel much hope that he could be raised up from brain fever…”
In the poem, “Beloved Physician,” written in April of that year, Poe refers to Shew’s diagnosis. Although Poe was offered $20 for the poem, Mrs. Shew recalled that she “asked him to wait a little, and I gave him a check for $25, as everybody would know who it was about, and it was so very personal & complimentary, I dreaded the ordeal, as I was about to be married to a man who had old fashioned notions of woman & her sphere – (a foolish idea of mine born of my great love for this man -but which proved my great loss for I never amounted to anything afterwards, having lost all my individuality from that hour).” Unfortunately, the poem is lost, and the fragments that remain were recalled by Mrs. Shew years later.
The pulse beats ten and intermits;
God nerve the soul that ne’er forgets
In calm or storm, by night or day,
Its steady toil, its loyalty.
[. . . ]
[. . . ]
The pulse beats ten and intermits;
God shield the soul that ne’er forgets.
[. . . ]
[. . . ]
The pulse beats ten and intermits;
God guide the soul that ne’er forgets.
[. . . ]
[. . . ] so tired, so weary,
The soft head bows, the sweet eyes close,
The faithful heart yields to repose.
Later that year, Poe would write the poem “To Marie Louise,” which would appear in the March 1848 issue of Columbian Magazine.
NOT long ago, the writer of these lines,
In the mad pride of intellectuality,
Maintained “the power of words” — denied that ever
A thought arose within the human brain
Beyond the utterance of the human tongue;
And now, as if in mockery of that boast,
Two words — two foreign soft dissyllables —
Italian tones made only to be murmured
By angels dreaming in the moonlit “dew
That hangs like chains of pearl on Hermon hill” —
Have stirred from out the abysses of his heart,
Unthought-like thoughts that are the souls of thought,
Richer, far wilder, far diviner visions
Than even the seraph harper, Israfel,
Who has “the sweetest voice of all God’s creatures,”
Could hope to utter. And I ! my spells are broken.
The pen falls powerless from my shivering hand.
With thy dear name as text, though bidden by thee,
I cannot write — I cannot speak or think,
Alas! I cannot feel; for ’tis not feeling,
This standing motionless upon the golden
Threshold of the wide-open gate of dreams,
Gazing, entranced, adown the gorgeous vista,
And thrilling as I see upon the right,
Upon the left, and all the way along
Amid empurpled vapors, far away
To where the prospect terminates — thee only.
Poe’s health gradually recovered, and he was able to visit Shew at her home in Greenwich Village. According to Shew, Poe told her during such a visit, “I have to write a poem; I have no feeling, no sentiment, no inspiration.” After hearing some nearby church bells, Poe commented, “I so dislike the noise of bells to-night, I cannot write. I have no subject — I am exhausted.”
By Shew’s account, she “took up the pen, and, pretending to mimic his style, wrote, ‘The Bells, by E. A. Poe’; and then . . . ‘The Bells, the little silver Bells,’ Poe finishing off the stanza. She then suggested for the next verse, ‘The heavy iron ¬Bells’; and this Poe also expanded into a stanza. He next copied out the complete poem, and headed it, ‘By Mrs. M. L. Shew,’ remarking that it was her poem; as she had suggested and composed so much of it.” On the manuscript for the poem in the Harry Ransom Center in Texas, Poe has written Shew’s name as the author.
In a March 1929 letter in the Poe Museum’s files, Shew’s youngest sister, Elva P. Barney writes, “My sister also said to me Poe came to my home one Sunday evening seeming despondent saying he had nothing to write about, no subject, and while he sat there the various church bells were sending forth their tones she suggested–the Bells for a topic which he did.” The finished poem reads:
Hear the sledges with the bells —
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the Heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.
Hear the mellow wedding bells —
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight! —
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells,
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the future! — how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!
Hear the loud alarum bells —
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of Night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavour
Now — now to sit, or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear, it fully knows,
By the twanging
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yes, the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells —
Of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!
Hear the tolling of the bells —
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people — ah, the people —
They that dwell up in the steeple,
And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone —
They are neither man nor woman —
They are neither brute nor human —
They are Ghouls: —
And their king it is who tolls: —
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A Pæan from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the Pæan of the bells!
And he dances and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the Pæan of the bells —
Of the bells: —
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells —
To the sobbing of the bells: —
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells: —
To the tolling of the bells —
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.
About the time Poe wrote, “The Bells,” Shew was gradually withdrawing from him. By June she would write him to say she could not see him again. She explained her decision in a February 16, 1875 letter to Ingram. “Mr. Hopkins [a theological student and close friend of Mrs. Shew’s] was a great admirer of Mr. Poe, and often met him at my house, but when the question of pantheism came up, you see he thought him either insane or a hopeless infadel [sic], and . . . he would tell the story of that dreadful night when they took him home to Fordham, Mr. Poe reciting, ‘some unheard of jargon with glorious pathos — or deadly hate’ . . . . Of course I felt he was lost, either way.”
A couple weeks before Shew cut off contact with Poe, her confidant Hopkins read the manuscript for Poe’s book Eureka and wrote the author to voice his objections over the closing paragraphs. In a May 15, 1848 letter to Poe, he writes, “But this is not all. You know well that the great body of Christians regard pantheism as a damnable heresy, if not worse. Such a brand would be a blight upon your book, which not even your genius could efface, and your great discovery would at once be ranked by the majority among the vain dreams of skepticism and the empty chimaeras of infidelity. If published as it now stands, I should myself be compelled to attack that part of it, for I could not in conscience do otherwise.”
Poe answered Shew’s letter, “Can it be true Louise that you have the idea fixed in your mind to desert your unhappy and unfortunate friend and patient. . . . I have read over your letter again, and again, and can not make it possible with any degree of certainty, that you wrote it in your right mind (I know you did not without tears of anguish and regret) . . . . Oh Louise how many sorrows are before you, your ingenuous and sympathetic nature, will be constantly wounded in contact with the hollow heartless world, and for me alas! unless some true and tender and pure womanly love saves me, I shall hardly last a year longer, alone!”
Recalling a recent visit by Shew and Hopkins, Poe continues, “I heard your voice as you passed out of my sight leaving me with the Parson, ‘The man of God, The servant of the most High.’ He stood smiling and bowing at the madman Poe! But, that I had invited him to my house, I would have rushed out into Gods light and freedom!”
Poe died the following year, at the age of forty, on October 7, 1849. His mother-in-law Maria Clemm sold the household items before leaving the cottage in which she, Poe, and his wife had lived. According to the Watertown Daily’s Old Houses of the North Country series, Mrs. Shew assisted Mrs. Clemm by buying some of this furniture and other items and moving them to her father’s home, the Barney homestead in Henderson Township.
In 1850, Shew and her husband divorced, and she married Dr. Roland Houghton. In the 1870s, she corresponded with Poe’s English biographer, John Henry Ingram, providing him much information about Poe’s final years and his wife’s death. She died in 1877 at the age of fifty-five. Her young daughter Mary Houghton Overton, moved to the Barney home in Henderson, taking with her much of the artwork and furniture from Shew’s New York home. Here she lived with Shew’s father and youngest sister Elva Barney.
Still living in the Barney home in 1929, Ms. Barney was a member of Richmond’s Edgar Allan Poe Museum. Among the treasures in the home were a Duncan Phyfe sofa used by Poe when he visited Shew’s Greenwich Village home, autographed biographies of Poe, and the “Poe candelabra.” Barney would soon sell the latter to the Poe Museum for $200.
The September 21, 1929 issue of The Times carried an article by Margaret Blakely about the Barney Homestead in Henderson where Barney and Overton were living. “Not long ago, a visitor to the Henderson farmhouse would have noticed immediately upon entering the home, a painting of ‘M.L.S.’ hanging over the fireplace, a pair of graceful Sheffield plate candelabra standing at either side of the portrait. These candelabra were long known in the family as the ‘Poe candelabra,’ and it is believed Mrs. Shew purchased them at the time of Virginia Clemm’s illness in order to assist the poverty-stricken family. Now these candelabra are gone for they were recently sold to the Edgar Allen [sic] Poe shrine of Richmond of which Mrs. Overton is a member…”
Based on their style, these candelabra probably date to the first decade of the nineteenth century. Just how they came into Shew’s possession is not known for certain. The accounts quoted above mention that Shew could have bought them from Poe to assist him financially during his wife’s illness or that Shew bought them from Poe’s mother-in-law after his death. It is also possible that neither of these accounts is accurate. Another legend relates that Poe wrote his poem “The Bells” under their light, but, like most of the stories told about Poe, this is difficult to verify. Given what seem to be exaggerations in some of her accounts of the author’s life, Poe biographers tend to classify Shew as a less than completely reliable source. What is known for certain about her is that she played an important role in Poe’s life before and after his wife’s death.
Today, the two candelabra are on display in the Poe Museum’s Elizabeth Arnold Poe Memorial Building where their gleaming silver recalls the opulence of Shew’s home as Poe would have known it. They also help tell the story of Poe’s relationship with Marie Louise Shew, the composition of a classic poem “The Bells,” and the controversy surrounding his last book Eureka.
You can be a part of the Poe Museum’s upcoming exhibit Painting the Enchanted Garden. If you are an artist, your pictures of the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden could be displayed this May 22-July 20 at the Poe Museum. Click here to read more about this historic garden. Read below for more information about the exhibition opportunity.
Painting by S. Shelton, 1924
This year, the Garden Club of Virginia will restore the Poe Museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden to its original 1920s beauty. In honor of this historic restoration, the Poe Museum invites artists of all skill levels to paint, draw, or photograph the Enchanted Garden for inclusion in its new exhibit Painting the Enchanted Garden, opening May 22 and continuing through July 20. Beginning April 27, artists may bring their easels, drawing pads, or tripods to the Poe Museum to make pieces for inclusion in the show.
Because the garden is often used for special events, interested artists should contact the Museum’s curator Chris Semtner at 804-648-5523 or [email protected] to schedule their visits. Artists must confirm their participation with Chris Semtner at the Poe Museum by May 1 in order to participate in the exhibit, but they will have until May 18 to deliver their work to the Museum. Paint must be dry by the time of delivery, and all works must be professionally presented/framed with picture wire for hanging. The Poe Museum retains the right not to display any work that is deemed inappropriate for the exhibit or is not properly presented. Works may be for sale, and the Poe Museum will retain a 40% commission from these sales to help support the Museum’s educational mission.
Those interested in more formal painting sessions may attend a plein air (outdoors) painting workshop with landscape painter Charles Philip Brooks on April 27 from 2 to 6 P.M. at a cost of $90 or a guided painting session with painter Chris Semtner on May 11 from 2 to 6 P.M. at a cost of $25. You can reserve a spot at Brooks’s workshop by clicking here. You can reserve a spot at Semtner’s workshop by clicking here. Artists participating in the exhibit are not required to attend one of these workshops, but they must confirm their participation with the Poe Museum by May 1 in order to participate in the exhibit.
For more information and a prospectus, contact Chris the Poe Museum at 804-648-5523 or [email protected]
Sketch by W.J. Moll, 1922
You never know who you will meet at the Poe Museum. Since it opened in 1922, it has welcomed some of the world’s leading authors, artists, and actors. Thirty-nine years ago, in February 1975, the actor Vincent Price visited the Museum, where he was treated to a lunch in his honor. A horror film legend, Price starred in several adaptations of Poe’s works, including “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “Tales of Terror.”
The February 11, 1975 issue of the Richmond News Leader reported that, in addition to visiting the Poe Museum, Price gave a lecture and dramatic reading at the Women’s Club where he drew “loud applause for his readings of such Poe classics as ‘The Raven.’”
The reporter Joy Propert describes Price during his visit as “conservatively dressed in a dark suit, light blue shirt and a red and blue paisley tie.” Of his appearance, Propert adds, “Price has carefully waved gray hair and a small mustache that seem appropriate for a voice that can change instantly from dulcet to sinister tones.” Price is quoted as telling the Women’s Club, “I love playing the villain…It’s boring playing good men.”
When asked about Poe, Price tells the reporter, “He was born with a demon called genius, and his poems show an inner despair in much the same way as some contemporary art.”
The raven that appears in the above photo with Price is still at the Poe Museum.
In honor of Price’s 100th birthday in 2011, the Poe Museum hosted a special exhibit in honor of the man who introduced generations of audiences to Poe’s works through the medium of film.
Vincent Price Life Mask
Above is a life mask of Vincent Price from the Poe Museum’s collection. The Museum also holds several posters for Vincent Price’s Poe movies and related items like this Vincent Price figurine.
From April 24 until June 22, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will host a special exhibit of Poe-inspired artwork by ten of the world’s leading painters including Richard Thomas Scott, Melinda Borysevicz, Jeff Markowsky, Brian Busch, Chris Semtner, Charles Philip Brooks, Anelecia Hannah, Christine Sajecki, Jude Harzer, Thony Aiuppy, and Adrienne Stein. The artists live in different parts of the country and have studied in different parts of the world, but they are all united by a commitment to the craft of painting. Each artist in this diverse group of painters has taken up the challenge of interpreting Poe’s works through their unique artistic visions. The title of the exhibit, Into that Darkness Peering, is the passage from Poe’s immortal poem, “The Raven,” which reads, “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before…”
The exhibit will open on April 24 from 6 to 9 P.M. during the Poe Museum’s monthly Unhappy Hour, which features live music, performances, and refreshments.
About the Artists:
Richard T. Scott is an American figurative painter working in New York and Paris, France.His contributions as a writer and aesthetic theorist have also been noted in realist circles, where he has participated in discussion panels with Donald Kuspit, and Vincent Desiderio. Scott is a proponent of an alternative philosophical superstructure for figurative painting, separate from that of the contemporary art world. Along with Odd Nerdrum, Helene Knoop, and Jan-Ove Tuv, Scott is one of the most vocal members of the Kitsch Movement. A one-time painter for Jeff Koons’s New York studio, Scott also worked and studied with the Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum.
Christine Sajecki is an artist living between Savannah, Georgia and Baltimore, Maryland, and a native of Connecticut. Sajecki’s encaustic paintings are dreamy and sometimes allegorical explorations of her surroundings, and informed by history and storytelling, social engagement, urban foot paths, and the body and behavior of the materials she uses. Her paintings have been included in many juried and solo exhibitions throughout the United States and Europe. She has been a guest lecturer, teacher, or resident artist at several institutions and community centers, including the American Visionary Art Museum, Armstrong Atlantic State University, Clayton State University, the Creative Alliance at the Patterson, The Providence Center for Adults with Disabilities, Maryland Institute College of Art, Savannah College of Art and Design, and School 33 Baltimore.
Melinda Borysevicz was born on Long Island in New York to a father who built things, fixed things, fermented things (sauerkraut and choke-cherry wine, for example), and gave slide shows about his time in the Peace Corps; and a mother who grew things, canned things, baked things, let no one go to bed angry, and made play-dough from scratch. Melinda spent the better part of her TV-less childhood in a small town near the ocean, climbing trees, building forts, bossing her two younger brothers around (until they outgrew her), weeding the garden, exploring various woods and marshes, catching salamanders, writing poems, reading, drawing, painting and (intermittently) playing viola.
Thony Aiuppy received a BFA in Painting/Drawing at the University of North Florida in 2010 and an MFA degree in Painting at Savannah College of Art and Design in the Fall of 2013. His current body of work consists of thickly handled paintings produced with rich oil pigment that focus on the human form. The figures that employ these works become the focus within the confines of fictionalized situations with the intention to provoke the human understanding of identity by transposing time, culture, and ideology. Through the creation of such oil paintings, the artist merges socio-economic and -political themes with personal experiences of living with the residue of a racially divided American South to offer a new perspective on the pressing issues that face his contemporary landscape. Mr. Aiuppy is an art educator, a contributing writer for the blog Metro Jacksonville, and has a painting studio at CoRK Arts District. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
Brian Busch studied at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago and the Rhode Island School of Design before continuing his studies with Irving Shapiro and Bill Parks at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Working solely from the live model at the Academy, Brian fell in love with the emotion and drama that can be expressed with the human form. Brian finds inspiration in the ordinary things around us, whether it be still life, landscape or farm animal. He makes no attempt to glorify his subjects, but to treat them with honesty and respect. Brian currently resides with his wife, Kathie in West Chicago, IL.
Anelecia Hannah currently lives and paints in a converted cotton mill in Columbus, Georgia and in the grey light of the Pacific Northwest. She attained a Bachelor of Arts in Seattle Pacific University and continued her studies in the Florence Academy of Fine Art in Florence, Italy in addition to private studies with acclaimed artist Bo Bartlett.
Chris Semtner is an artist, author, and curator living in Bon Air, Virginia. In recent years, he has displayed his work at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and Viktor Wynd Fine Art in London; and his paintings have entered a number of public and private collections. He has curated several exhibits, and the New York Times called the show he curated for the Library of Virginia, Poe: Man, Myth, or Monster, “provocative” and “a playful, robust exhibit.” He has served as author, co-author, or editor of eight books and his currently writing a book about the nineteenth century artist James Carling.
Born in North Carolina, Charles Philip Brooks studied painting in New England in the studio of highly respected Boston School authority Paul Ingbretson and with the renowned American Barbizon painter Dennis Sheehan. He is widely known for his evocative Tonalist landscapes. His recent works include paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures reflecting a highly emotive and personal approach, informed by a deep reverence for the history of art.
Jude Harzer is an award winning nationally renowned artist whose figurative paintings are inspired by childhood, memories and the power of thought to define lives and overcome circumstances. Using oil paint as her preferred medium, she creates psychologically provocative visual narratives featuring adolescents as observers and guardians of inter generational mythologies. Born in 1963, Jude is the third of six children, raised by a single visually impaired mother. Earning a full academic scholarship, the artist received her Bachelors degree in 1987 from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA. In 2001, Jude earned a K-12 Visual Arts teaching certification and completed her Masters of Fine Art in Painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2013. Jude has participated in solo and group exhibitions that include venues such as The Misciagna Family Center Gallery, Penn State, The George Segal Gallery, NJ, Pen and Brush, Salamagundi Art Center, ACA Gallery and Prince Street Gallery, NYC. Jude’s paintings belong to both national and international private collections. She is the recipient of both the Dana and Geraldine R. Dodge fellowships and continues to paint, teach and prepare for upcoming exhibitions and art residencies. Jude lives and works in Ocean County, New Jersey.