The population of New York City was 515,547 at the beginning of 1849. When a cholera epidemic broke out that spring, about 100,000 people fled the city. Of those who remained, 5,071 succumbed to the disease. The July 8 issue of The Christian Intelligencer reported that 358 New Yorkers died of cholera in the week of June 30 through July 7. Also on July 7, Edgar Allan Poe wrote his mother-in-law, “I have been so ill — have had the cholera, or spasms quiet as bad, and can now hardly hold the pen…The very instant you get this, come to me. The joy of seeing you will almost compensate for our sorrows. We can but die together. It is no use to reason with me now; I must die…For your sake it would be sweet to live, but we must die together.” Poe wrote “New York” at the top of the page, but he probably wrote it in nearby Philadelphia, which was also suffering from a cholera epidemic. Twelve days later, he wrote his friend E.H.N. Patterson that he had “barely escaped with my life” from the cholera epidemic.
On August 7, Poe wrote Patterson that he had “suffered worse than death — not so much from the Cholera as from its long-continued consequences in debility and congestion of the brain — the latter, possibly, attributable to the calomel taken.” Calomel was a medicine derived from toxic mercury. One of many potentially dangerous “remedies” doctors of the time often prescribed to those suffering from a variety of maladies.
At a time before the acceptance of germ theory, doctors had little understanding of the causes of diseases and virtually no comprehension of how to cure them. Various quack remedies for cholera included prescribing opium, mercury pills, and oil of turpentine. If these failed to produce results, the doctor might perform tobacco smoke enemas or administer beeswax plugs to stop the diarrhea associated with the disease. The following article from the New York lists a few other proposed “cures.”
Unknown to North America before 1832, cholera tore a path of destruction across the continent that year as part of a worldwide pandemic that had begun in India and swept westward through Europe before crossing the Atlantic. In an April 9, 1832 letter, the German poet Henirich Heine described the arrival of cholera in Paris.
On March 29th, the night of mi-careme, a masked ball was in progress, the chabut in full swing. Suddenly, the gayest of the harlequins collapsed, cold in the limbs, and, underneath his mask, “violet-blue” in the face. Laughter died out, dancing ceased, and in a short while carriage-loads of people were hurried from the redoute to the Hotel Dieu to die, and to prevent a panic among the patients, were thrust into rude graves in their dominoes. Soon the public halls were filled with dead bodies, sewed in sacks for want of coffins. Long lines of hearses stood en queue outside Pere Lachaise. Everybody wore flannel bandages. The rich gathered up their belongings and fled the town. Over 120,000 passports were issued at the Hotel de Ville.
Out of a population of 650,000 Paris lost 20,000 of its citizens to cholera during the 1832 epidemic. In London, another 6,536 died. Cholera claimed 100,000 in France; 55,000 in the United Kingdom; 130,000 in Egypt; 100,000 in Hungary; and even more elsewhere during that pandemic. In New York City, which had a population of about 250,000 at the time, 3,000 people died, and an estimated 100,000 fled the city.
Poe was in Baltimore in 1832 and would have seen the panic brought about by the arrival of the disease. He also lost one of his closest friends Ebenezer Burling, who succumbed to cholera in Richmond. The best doctors of the time were unable to arrest the progress of the disease. It would be years before they would realize it was carried in the water. Unsuspecting victims contracted the germs from drinking water. Once they displayed symptoms, sufferers could expect about a fifty percent mortality rate.
Without a proper understanding of the causes of cholera, residents could do little to prepare for it. Writing twenty years later, Dr. George B. Wood seemed dumbfounded about how to stop it when he wrote, “No barriers are sufficient to obstruct its progress. It crosses mountains, deserts, and oceans. Opposing winds do not check it. All classes of persons, male and female, young and old, the robust and the feeble, are exposed to its assault; and even those whom it has once visited are not always subsequently exempt.”
Former New York mayor Phillip Horne was among many who thought they knew the real cause of the disease—the Irish. These immigrants, “filthy, intemperate, unused to the comforts of life and regardless of its proprieties…flock to the populous towns of the great West, with disease contracted on shipboard, and increased by bad habits on shore,” he wrote in his diary.
By the end of the 1849 epidemic, cholera had claimed 150,000 American lives. While this disease struck terror wherever it visited, cholera was not unique among the deadly pandemics that threatened Poe’s world. Yellow fever epidemics broke out multiple times in the early nineteenth century, forcing Poe’s mother to flee from an outbreak in New York and overtaking his grandmother in Charleston. His cousin George William Poe succumbed to yellow fever in Baltimore. Virginia experienced thirteen yellow fever epidemics in the 1800s. The worst of these took place in Norfolk in 1855, six years after Poe’s death. Of the city’s population of 16,000, about 6,000 fled the area, and 2,000 died.
Tuberculosis also claimed thousands of lives each year. Among those he knew, Poe’s mother, foster mother, brother, wife, and literary executor died from the extremely widespread and very contagious killer. He likely carried a latent form of the disease.
His first published short story “Metzengerstein” reflects the age’s tendency to romanticize the wasting disease, then called “consumption.” In the tale, the narrator says, “The beautiful Lady Mary! — how could she die? — and of consumption! But it is a path I have prayed to follow. I would wish all I love to perish of that gentle disease. How glorious! to depart in the hey-day of the young blood — the heart of all passion — the imagination all fire — amid the remembrances of happier days — in the fall of the year, and so be buried up forever in the gorgeous, autumnal leaves.”
Fifteen years later, Poe would watch his wife waste away from tuberculosis over the course of five agonizing years.
“King Pest” illustration by Harry Clarke
In the face of all these real-life terrors, Poe turned to his writing. The cholera pandemic of 1832 inspired his short stories “King Pest” and “The Masque of the Red Death” and provided a setting for his tale “The Sphinx.” The beautiful young women who succumb to wasting deaths in so many of his stories might be suffering from the same consumption that had claimed many of his loved ones.
Poe’s brother William Henry Leonard Poe, also wrote about yellow fever, setting his story “The Pirate” during an outbreak. Virginia Poe, Edgar’s wife, also wrote, in her only surviving poem, about the consumption that ravaged her lungs and how she wanted to move to a cottage in the country to “heal my weakened lungs.”
It was not until well after Poe’s death that doctors were finally able to effectively combat these illnesses. With greater understanding of the causes and cures of these diseases, the public gradually became less prone to live in fear of the next plague or to panic at the first sight of disease. That is why it is sometimes difficult to understand just how terrifying a story like “The Masque of the Red Death” might have been to the author’s contemporaries or to comprehend how deeply offensive Robert Louis Stevenson found Poe’s plague comedy “King Pest,” written just three years after the 1832 cholera pandemic. (Stevenson went so far as to write that the author of that story had “ceased to be a human being.”) This is why from June 23 through August 21, the Poe Museum will host the special exhibit Pandemics and Poe exploring the ways deadly diseases like yellow fever, cholera, and tuberculosis touched Edgar Allan Poe’s life and inspired some of his greatest work. The exhibit features rare first printings and original documents, including a Poe family bible, that trace the impact of disease and death on Poe’s world.
“The Masque of the Red Death” illustrated by Harry Clarke
British Broadsheet warning about Cholera
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Broadsheet warning about Indian cholera symptons and recommending remedies, issued in Clerkenwell, London, by Thos. Key and Geo. Tindall: Church wardens. London, 1831.
1831 Published: –
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
First, I am going to propose what a researcher might have to do to conduct a comprehensive study of Poe’s 1848 book, Eureka: A Prose Poem. Then, I am going to explain why I decided not to fall into the trap of attempting to evaluate Poe’s final work. As I noted in my previous Poe and Science Blogs, in 2012 and 2013 , I attempted to design a Prospectus on Eureka for my M.A. Thesis in English Literature at the Virginia Commonwealth University. To that end, I worked with Chris Semtner at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond and several professors at VCU putting together a few draft versions on a proposal to evaluate Eureka. I spent hours in libraries reviewing articles and even books that scholars had written about Eureka. I transcribed Moon-Notes, a scientific manuscript that Poe had written to assist him with several works he was writing. And finally, I took a trip to New York, to the noted collector, Susan Jaffe Tane’s home, to examine Poe’s personal copy of Eureka. This book is now the most valuable first-edition since it contains hand-edited notes by Poe indicating that he had intended to revise and expand his work in a later edition. It is hard to determine conclusively why Poe decided to attempt to write and publish this comprehensive poetic, historical, scientific, and metaphysical treatise after having established a highly recognizable career as a poet and fiction writer, but there are some clues.
In 1847, after recovering from a serious illness, the death of his wife, and facing the prospects of his own mortality, Poe decided to conduct research on astronomy and cosmology. Perhaps he hoped he might be able to unify the differing theories about the universe that were being advanced by competing disciplines and to publish his conclusions in a single book. By that period, astronomers had developed more powerful telescopes than had been available at any previous time. These instruments could discern details of celestial bodies which were at the far edges of the Solar System and beyond. Undoubtedly, Poe was attempting to gain a greater understanding of the most credible theories about the origins and operational details of the Universe. He was seeking answers to the mysteries surrounding the greater meaning of life and existence. As if those questions weren’t comprehensive and mysterious enough, he also decided to address what happens to humans after they died, a topic which he had often explored in great detail in his previous poetry and science fiction writing.
After he finally published Eureka: A Prose Poem in 1848, he suggested that his book should not be evaluated until after he died (Preface of Eureka). Prior to its publication, he informed his publisher, George P. Putnam, that Eureka would one day found to be “of greater importance than Newton’s discovery of gravitation.” He considered it the culmination of his life’s work” (Broussard 52). Once Eureka was published, Poe resumed a lecture tour and promoted his book until his death in 1849. In the Preface, he suggested that though his book is “True,” it should only be read for the “Beauty that abounds in Truth.”
Eureka remains for us as Poe’s most enigmatic work. Even the most ardent Poe experts are baffled when trying to read or understand the book. To this date, no one has been able to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of Poe’s most enigmatic work. Literary critic, Charles Baxter, in Burning Down The House, writes about a literary device that has often been employed by fiction writers, called defamiliarization. In this technique, everyday scenes take place in unexpected settings; or unfamiliar scenes takes place in everyday settings (21). Avid readers of Poe are very familiar with his writing style and literary themes but are often unfamiliar with the subject matter of Poe’s culminating poetic-science treatise. Some critics have noted that Eureka is too scientific for literature and too literary for science. Scientists who have considered Poe’s book have generally not considered him sufficiently qualified to write on complex scientific subjects and literary scholars are often too baffled to attempt to apply the tools of literary criticism on Poe’s science book. Prominent nineteenth-century scientist, Alexander von Humboldt (to whom Poe dedicated Eureka) wrote that “he enjoyed Poe’s latest satire on science” (Levine 118). Henry Lee (Hal) Poe a descendant of E.A. Poe’s cousin (William Poe) and a prominent E.A. Poe researcher stated that until the last quarter century many researchers were quick to dismiss Eureka as being too difficult to understand. As evidence to that assumption, they concluded that, in Eureka, Poe had “gone around the bend.” Hal Poe contends that the easiest course, both for Poe enthusiasts and detractors, has been to dismiss the work in its entirety. However, during the modern era, there has also been another growing group of literary, historical, and science researchers who have been willing to take a fresh look at the work (H.L. Poe, ix).
After more than a year of Eureka research, I concluded that to gain a fuller understanding of Poe’s culminating book, I would first need to determine whether Poe’s interest in science in Eureka was an anomaly or a continuation of his previous interest in that topic. Therefore, I shifted my research priority to trace the development of Poe’s science-based themes throughout his pre-Eureka, poetic, non-fiction, and fictional writing. I wondered if an understanding of Poe’s previous works might help me to better understand Eureka. Although I was still enthusiastic about conducting research on Poe and Science, I did not believe that I was ready or able to accept Poe’s challenge of evaluating Eureka almost 170 years after Poe published his book. Several previous researchers had attempted to use traditional methods of critiquing literary or scientific research with Eureka but had produced inconclusive results. Using the pitfalls of these previous research studies as cautionary guidelines, I decided, instead, to construct some questions that other scholars might need to consider before attempting to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of Eureka. I delineated these questions in 2013 both at the William & Mary Literature and History Conference and the Positively Poe Conference at the University of Virginia.
Research Questions about Eureka
- What are the major scientific themes embedded in Poe’s poetry, non-fiction, and fictional writing?
- Were Poe’s previous science themes continued in Eureka or was his book an anomalous work?
- Would an understanding the historical, cultural, and scientific contexts of the nineteenth-century to help modern researchers to better understand Eureka?
- How does Eureka help modern scholars to understand how the nineteenth-century public received and interpreted news about science and technology?
- What are the major scientific theories that informed Poe as he was writing Eureka?
- How did critics respond to Eureka in and after Poe’s lifetime, and what is the validity of their responses?
- What are the literary techniques Poe used in writing Eureka and does he follow his own standards?
- What are the theories and conclusions that Poe reached in his treatise?
- What is the significance of Eureka in Poe’s Canon, in English Literature, and in science history?
Re-Assessment of Eureka Needed?
The conclusion I reached after considering these research questions is that for me to complete a comprehensive evaluation of Eureka, I would need to conduct a multi-perspective study, requiring a combination of literary analysis, historical, and scientific research. I concluded that I would not be able to complete such a study within the time that I had left in my M.A. program. Anyone conducting such a study would need to employ the ingenious inductive, deductive, and ratiocinative methods of Poe’s Detective C. Auguste Dupin to unravel the many seemingly unsolvable puzzles of Eureka. Poe defines ratiocination as the process of reasoning or forming accurate conclusions from known and observed premises as a method of solving complex and seemingly irresolvable mysteries. Ratiocination combines the use of considerable intellect, intuition, and creative imagination. Poe’s previous detective writing and columns on cryptography demonstrate that he was interested in posing and resolving complex problems. He created Dupin as a literary figure to solve the most complex enigmas and conundrums by using the highest form of human discovery available to the human mind. It is possible, then, that Poe wrote Eureka as a puzzle, and left obscure clues for his readers to solve like he done in his earlier cryptography newspaper columns. However, solutions to the puzzles and mysteries Poe posed in Eureka have evaded researchers and readers for almost one hundred and seventy years. In my next Poe and Science column, I will explain why I decided not to focus my M.A. Thesis research on evaluating Eureka but, instead, on the general topic of Poe and Science.
Baxter, Charles. Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2008.
Broussard, Louis. The Measure of Poe. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.
Daniels, George. American Science in the Age of Jackson. NY: Columbia UP, 1968.
Levine, Stuart and Susan F. Levine. Eureka. Eds. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.
Ostram, John, Ed. The Notes of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Guardian Press, 1966.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Eureka A Prose Poem. New York: George P. Putnam, 1848.
____ “Moon Notes,” Scanned copy of eight un-numbered and unordered pages handwritten by Edgar Allan Poe Museum, Richmond, VA: MS (Museum Catalogue # 2012.2.44). Manuscript
Poe, Henry Lee. Evermore: Edgar Allan Poe and the Mystery of the Universe. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2012.
Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: A Biography. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
Thomas, Dwight and David Jackson. Eds. The Poe Log- A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe 1809 – 1849. Boston: G.B. Hall and Company, 1987.
Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education at Temple University (1973), a Master’s of Arts in English Literature at VCU (2015), and a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write to Murray by leaving a Comment or at [email protected]
Murray at the Richmond Poe Museum
May 11 marks the 112th birthday of one of the twentieth century’s most important artists, Salvador Dalí. What does the great Spanish Surrealist painter Dalí have to do with Edgar Allan Poe? More than you might think.
Dalí mentions Poe at the beginning and the end of his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. In the first anecdote, Dalí describes the cultural climate in Paris in the 1930s and how everyone was reading Poe and Marie Bonaparte’s new psychoanalytical take of Poe’s work. Bonaparte’s search for hidden Freudian meanings in Poe’s work appealed to Dalí and the Surrealists, who were trying to tap into the powers of the subconscious.
Dali painting in Virginia
At the end of Dalí’s autobiography, he describes the process of writing the book. By that time he has fled the war in Europe and is living with friends in Virginia, about an hour north of Richmond. While there, he began Daddy Long Legs of Evening—Hope! (1940), his first picture painted entirely in America, and Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940).
During his stay, newspaper accounts say Dalí visited Richmond movie theaters and museums. One of his housemates, the author Henry Miller, signed the Poe Museum’s guest book. Dalí likely also visited the Poe Museum at that time, but his signature has not been located in the guest book. After either hearing Miller’s description of the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden or after seeing it for himself, Dalí decorated the garden at the house at which he was staying and entitled his work “The Enchanted Garden.”
Dali’s Enchanted Garden in Bowling Green, Virginia
Whether or not Poe influenced Dalí’s landscaping, he apparently inspired the painter’s writing. In fact, Dalí claimed Poe helped him write his autobiography. According to Dalí, “on certain nights the spectre of Edgar Allan Poe would come from Richmond to see me, in a very pretty convertible car all spattered with ink. One night he made me a present of a black telephone truffled with black pieces of black noses of black dogs, inside which he had fastened with black strings a dead black rat and a black sock, the whole soaked in India ink.”
After leaving Virginia, Dalí took America by storm, producing some of his best paintings, painting celebrity portraits, and collaborating with Hollywood directors Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney. Click here to read more about Dalí’s stay in Virginia.
Dali’s painting Soft Construction in Boiled Beans (1936)
Mystery, madness, and flowers?
While most might associate Edgar Allan Poe with horror and mysteries, the nineteenth century author loved and wrote about gardens. In fact, the centerpiece of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond is an Enchanted Garden based on his poem “To One in Paradise.” The garden, in turn, has inspired the Poe Museum to invite artists to sketch, paint, or photograph the site for its upcoming exhibit Painting the Enchanted Garden 3, which will run from May 26 until July 24, 2016. Artists from Atlanta to Richmond have accepted the challenge to visit the Poe Museum’s garden over the past few months to begin their work, which must be complete in time for the May 26 opening of this popular annual show. The exhibit opening will take place at the May 26 Unhappy Hour which features live music by Margot MacDonald, performances, and refreshments provided by The Luncheonette.
Participating artists include Lisa Mistry, Taylor Wilson, Chris Ludke, Amelia Blair Langford, Anne Argenzio, Hanna Bechtle, Mary Pedini, Mary Beth Johnson, David Bromley, Julie Burleigh, Mike Steele, Jan Priddy, Kenner Fortner, Agnes Grochulska, Renee Gleason, Alyson Parsons, Susie Melton, and Dwight Paulett.
Artwork by Chris Ludke
Editor Nathaniel Parker Willis once burned a manuscript of Poe’s “Fairy-Land.” That seems like pretty harsh treatment from a literary editor; and we wonder why such atmospheric lines as “Dim vales-and shadowy floods- / And cloudy-looking woods” might receive such severe critical feedback? The answer lies in comparing the poem we commonly know with its alternative publishing in Poe’s anthology of poems in 1831.
It was no secret that Poe was always at work altering lines and switching words-“Fairy-Land” was no exception.
Our readers may be familiar with the classic verse, which reads,
Dim vales—and shadowy floods—
And cloudy-looking woods,
Whose forms we can’t discover
For the tears that drip all over:
Huge moons there wax and wane—
Every moment of the night—
Forever changing places—
And they put out the star-light
With the breath from their pale faces.
About twelve by the moon-dial,
One more filmy than the rest
(A kind which, upon trial,
They have found to be the best)
Comes down—still down—and down
With its centre on the crown
Of a mountain’s eminence,
While its wide circumference
In easy drapery falls
Over hamlets, over halls,
Wherever they may be—
O’er the strange woods—o’er the sea—
Over spirits on the wing—
Over every drowsy thing—
And buries them up quite
In a labyrinth of light—
And then, how, deep! —O, deep,
Is the passion of their sleep.
In the morning they arise,
And their moony covering
Is soaring in the skies,
With the tempests as they toss,
Like—almost any thing—
Or a yellow Albatross.
They use that moon no more
For the same end as before,
Videlicet, a tent—
Which I think extravagant:
Its atomies, however,
Into a shower dissever,
Of which those butterflies
Of Earth, who seek the skies,
And so come down again
Have brought a specimen
Upon their quivering wings.
The following is what N. P. Willis had to say about this version of the poem:
It is quite exciting to lean over eagerly as the flame eats in upon the letters, and make out the imperfect sentences and trace the faint strokes in the tinder as it trembles in the ascending air of the chimney. There, for instance, goes a gilt-edged sheet which we remember was covered with some sickly rhymes on Fairy-land….Now it [the flame] flashes up in a broad blaze, and now it reaches a marked verse-let us see-the fire devours as we read:
“They use that moon no more,
For the same end as before-
Videlicet, a tent,
Which I think extravagant.”
Burn on, good fire! (From The Editor’s Table’ of the American Monthly for November, here found in The Poe Log, 99).
Critic Nathaniel Parker Willis
Whether Willis truly burned the manuscript the twenty-year-old Poe poured his heart into, or whether he figuratively made this claim to prove a striking point, we may infer that the notice may have burned Poe so severely that it caused him to turn the memorable piece into a less than memorable one. Here is the following revised version found in his 1831, Poems, just two years after Willis’ scathing review,
Sit down beside me, Isabel,
Here, dearest, where the moonbeam fell
Just now so fairy-like and well.
Now thou art dress’d for paradise!
I am star-stricken with thine eyes!
My soul is lolling on thy sighs!
Thy hair is lifted by the moon
Like flowers by the low breath of June!
Sit down, sit down — how came we here?
Or is it all but a dream, my dear?
You know that most enormous flower —
That rose — that what d’ye call it — that hung
Up like a dog-star in this bower —
To-day (the wind blew, and) it swung
So impudently in my face,
So like a thing alive you know,
I tore it from its pride of place
And shook it into pieces — so
Be all ingratitude requited.
The winds ran off with it delighted,
And, thro’ the opening left, as soon
As she threw off her cloak, yon moon
Has sent a ray down with a tune.
And this ray is a fairy ray —
Did you not say so, Isabel?
How fantastically it fell
With a spiral twist and a swell,
And over the wet grass rippled away
With a tinkling like a bell!
In my own country all the way
We can discover a moon ray
Which thro’ some tatter’d curtain pries
Into the darkness of a room,
Is by (the very source of gloom)
The motes, and dust, and flies,
On which it trembles and lies
Like joy upon sorrow!
O, when will come the morrow?
Isabel! do you not fear
The night and the wonders here?
Dim vales! and shadowy floods!
And cloudy-looking woods
Whose forms we can’t discover
For the tears that drip all over!
Huge moons — see! wax and wane
Again — again — again —
Every moment of the night —
Forever changing places!
How they put out the starlight
With the breath from their pale faces!
Lo! one is coming down
With its centre on the crown
Of a mountain’s eminence!
Down — still down — and down —
Now deep shall be — O deep!
The passion of our sleep!
For that wide circumference
In easy drapery falls
Drowsily over halls —
Over ruin’d walls —
O’re the strange woods — o’er the sea —
Alas! over the sea! (Taken from here).
We question Poe’s motives in changing the poem, causing it to become so lengthy and awkward; even a fellow Poe enthusiast was left shaking their head in confusion, stating, “I don’t even recognize that poem. Isabel-?!” Perhaps this alternate “Fairy Land” is truly that-an alternate “Fairy Land.” Thus, shouldn’t it be treated as its own poem and published, perhaps, alongside our final version of “Fairy-Land?” It is noted in Mabbott’s Complete Poems that Poe never republished “Fairy Land” (which is noted here as “Fairy Land [II]”). He may have been ashamed of his lengthy alternative and thus stuck with his original, scathed “Fairy-Land,” pushing its popularity and thus allowing it to be the one contemporary audiences may be more familiar with. This is not to say that both poems have not been published side-by-side, in some cases, since; however, the author of this post would like to point out that two of her own Poe volumes do not contain “Fairy Land” from 1831 Poems.
What do you think about the alternate piece? Do you think both versions should be, or continue to be, published in future Poe anthologies? Which version do you prefer?
As m Blog on Poe and Science advance, I will be documenting the process I undertook and my findings on Poe and Science, which led to my Master’s Thesis in English Literature in December 2015, at Virginia Commonwealth University. After regular visits to the Poe Museum in early 2013 to conduct research on Eureka: A Prose Poem, the final work that the Poe published under his own supervision, I started reading what other scholars had to say about Eureka: A Prose Poem. I will be discussing their conclusions in detail in a future blog. As my reading advanced, I conceived of the idea of writing a thesis which would propose to evaluate Poe’s scientific treatise, even though Poe had warned critics not to try to evaluate his book in his lifetime. I wondered why he would issue such a disclaimer. Perhaps, he thought that if he warned critics not to evaluate it, they would take it as a challenge and pay closer attention to his book than they might have done otherwise.
After about two decades of his poetry, newspaper reporting, essays, fictional works, and journalistic hoaxes, most people who were paying attention to Poe could not even begin to anticipate what he might do next or understand his ulterior motives. After Eureka was released in 1848, he proved, again, that he was correct. Responses to his book came in from many major newspapers and literary journals in the United States and Europe. Early reviews, before most critics had a chance to study the book in full, were mostly positive. After Eureka had been out for several months, critics were all over the map with their opinions. I will also discuss these reviews in a future blog. Suffice it to say that some critics thought it was brilliant and others ridiculed both Poe and his scientific treatise. During my spring, 2013 Semester as a Master’s student at VCU, I began to formulate some proposals on what type of research on Poe and Science to conduct. Within the next two semesters, I had put some of my ideas and gave workshops at the VCU Graduate Writers Workshop, The William and Mary Humanities, History, and Literature Symposium, the Positively Poe Society Workshop in Charlottesville, and the Young Poe Writers Workshop. The last major workshop I delivered was to the members of the International History of Science in Society (HSS) Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. It was fully funded by the VCU English Department and HSS. I feel very appreciative that VCU professors Karen Rader (History and Science) and Joshua Eckhardt (English Literature) made the funding support possible. I felt excited that Poe was finally being recognized as an important figure in the early history of science in the United States. I was even more encouraged by the enthusiastic report that I received after I delivered my talk. One history professor from Oklahoma showed me positive remarks and comments he had posted on Twitter during my talk. Also, Bernard Lightman, one of the top authorities in the history of science during the Victorian Era, was in my audience. It is a good thing that I did not know this or it would have made me extremely nervous. When he came up to me after my presentation and gave me affirming feedback, I was thrilled. I asked him if I had quoted and interpreted his writing properly. He said, “Absolutely!” I talked again to the Oklahoma professor (I wish I could remember his name) and Bernard Lightman several times during the conference. Both agreed that Edgar Allan Poe needed to be given more credit for being an important early contributor to the History of Science in the Nineteenth Century. The conclusion I reached after my preliminary studies is that we can learn more about the history of nineteenth-century science and about how people received science information from Poe than we can from professional science writers who wrote during that period. This idea is also supported by newer writing that has been coming out in the field of the history of science, which offers four major conclusions about early to mid-nineteenth-century science:
- Science was branching off into many new and highly specialized fields.
- There was much disagreement among scientists about which fields were and were not legitimate.
- The public was amazed at the emerging nineteenth-century technologies but often couldn’t differentiate between the legitimate sciences and the mysterious pseudo-sciences.
- “Popularizers,” like Poe, wrote about how science affected people in ways that the public understood.
My research after the first year and my experiences giving presentations at the above conferences influenced my decision to shift the focus of my thesis away from evaluating Eureka (which I had determined was an almost impossible task) and towards studying how the public’s interest in science influenced Poe’s decision to concentrate on writing about this topic. Conversely, I also decided that, as Poe got more popular, his decision to incorporate scientific topics in his writings further inspired the public’s interest in science. In my next Poe and Science Blogs, I will discuss the conclusions I presented at the Positively Poe Conference about why evaluating Eureka has been, and will continue to be such a difficult challenge.
Levine, Stuart and Susan F. Edgar Allan Poe: Eureka. Eds. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2004.
Limon, John. The Place of Fiction in the Time of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Lightman, Bernard. Victorian Science in Context. Ed. University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Thomas, Dwight and David Jackson, Ed. The Poe Log- A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849. Boston: G.B. Hall and Company, 1987.
Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education (1973) and in English Literature (2015). He earned a Doctorate in Education in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member and occasional volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write to Murray by leaving a Comment on this Blog, or at [email protected]. You can also receive automatic postings from www.Litchatte.com by submitting your email in the tab to the right of this blog.
Murray at the Richmond Poe Museum
April is National Poetry Month and the perfect time to celebrate all the poetry in the world around us. Whether we read it in a book or listen to it on the radio, we enjoy poetry in countless forms. In Edgar Allan Poe’s time, when poetry was far more popular than it is today, people experienced poetry in a number of different ways. Much like today, poets gave public readings for their work or published it in books or magazines. Poe and his contemporaries also wrote their poems in ladies’ albums.
Ladies’ albums were popular gifts for girls throughout much of the nineteenth century. The owner would send her album to her friends and relatives who would fill them with poetry and drawings in much the same way today’s high school students sign each other’s yearbooks. In the nineteenth century, however, people put a lot more effort into signing their friends’ albums. Here are three good examples from the collection of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
The first belonged to Lucy Dorothea Henry (1822-1898), the granddaughter of Revolutionary War orator Patrick Henry. In spite of living on a rural Virginia plantation, she befriended some of the leading authors of her day by writing them to request their autographs for her collection. In the process, she befriended New York editor and autograph collector John Keese who gave her this album.
This is Keese’s inscription.
This page contains a poem by American poet Charles Fenno Hoffman.
Here is poem by Elizabeth Oakes Smith that shows off the poet’s beautiful handwriting.
Henry’s daughters donated both her autograph collection and her album to the Poe Museum in 1928.
The next album belonged to Louisa Anna Lynch (1825-1891), who grew up in Petersburg, Virginia. When she was a girl, Edgar Allan Poe gave her a copy of a book and autographed it for her. Read all about it here. When her descendants donated that book to the Poe Museum, they also donated her autograph album, which is full of poems dating to the early 1840s.
Somebody wrote these unsigned captions for the book’s few illustrations. The captions are quotes from various books and periodicals.
The anonymous writer of this Shakespeare quote has given Louisa the nickname Annie.
One suitor thought he could impress Louisa by writing this essay on friendship in her album.
Here are the closing lines of a poem signed “CMF” and the opening verses of a poem signed “Amicus.”
The third album belonged to Amelia Poe, the twin sister of Neilson Poe, the husband of Josephine Emily Clemm Poe Poe, half-sister of Edgar Poe’s wife Virginia Clemm Poe, who was also Edgar’s first cousin. (If that is confusing, you can read about the Poe family genealogy here.) This album is a treasure trove of poetry, artworks, and pressed flowers.
The person who wrote this poem also decorated the page with drawings.
Here is another elaborate decoration.
When writing in a lady’s album, one could either compose an original poem or quote an appropriate poem by a popular author. In the sample below, someone has quoted a couple verses of Scottish poet Thomas Campbell’s 1799 poem “The Pleasure of Hope” and signed it with a dotted line. If you look very closely, someone wrote some initials in pencil on that dotted line. They appear to be “EAP.”
In either 1829 or 1832-1836, Edgar Allan Poe wrote the first stanza of his poem “To Helen” in the album. Today this is thought to be the only surviving copy of that poem in Poe’s handwriting.
Amelia Poe’s granddaughter donated this album and other Poe family items to the Poe Museum in 1930.
This has been only a small sample of the many poems written throughout each of these albums. At a time when writing in cursive is a dying art and when writing poetry in albums has long-since gone out of fashion, we can read through the poetry in the Poe Museum’s albums to get a sense of the role poetry played in people’s daily lives back in Poe’s time.
I recently came across a curious poem in a Poe anthology entitled “To Isadore.” I was not familiar with it, but it certainly sounded like Poe’s voice throughout the stanzas, at least so I thought. The publishers sure fooled me, for lo’ and behold, it was deemed as being misattributed to Poe and it had been confirmed that it was not a Poe poem (Mabbott 509). What concerned me most about this situation was that there remain to be slipups even among our popular publishers today. The anthology I found this poem in will go unnamed; however, this post is meant to bring awareness to a few commonly misattributed “Poe poems.”
Going off of the “To Isadore” poem, Mabbott explains in his Complete Poems that an A. M. Ide was thought to be Poe, especially since this Ide had published four poems in The Broadway Journal of 1845, the same journal Poe briefly worked for. Mabbott explains, however, that this young writer was Abijah M. Ide (509). In fact, Ide and Poe had corresponded in a few letters, thus further proving that Poe was not Mr. Ide, and thus marking off the following poems from Poe’s “potential poems” list: “To Isadore,” “The Village Street,” “The Forest Reverie,” and “Annette,” all written by Ide.
“To Isadore” was not the first time I had been fooled by believing I had found a new Poe poem to read. A close second that seems to fool many, including private sellers on various auction websites, is “The Fire-Fiend – A Nightmare,” which can be found in the Saturday Press of November 19, 1859. According to Mabbott, this poem was a hoax by Charles D. Gadette, who later explained in his own pamphlet the truth behind the poem and that it was his own. This did not stop the prestigious Southern Literary Messenger from publishing it again, however, in their July 1863 issue (calling it “The Fire Legend”). Finally, this piece continued to fool audiences, even up until 1901, where James A. Harrison, who published it in a Complete Works of Poe, had discussed the poem with W. F. Gill, who called it “The Demon of Fire” (Mabbott 512).
Thomas Dunn English
A third poem to discuss is “The Lady Hubbard,” which can be found in Godey’s Lady’s Book of 1849. What is striking about this piece is that it has been hypothesized to have been written by Thomas Dunn English, rather than Poe, although scholars, including Ruth E. Finley in The Lady of Godey’s, adamantly attribute it to Poe. We might point out that this has not been the first time English and Poe have been mixed up regarding their writing technique; and English has been so convincing of parodying Poe’s writing that other authors blindly accepted prose sent in by English mimicking and claiming to be Poe. This includes “The Ghost of a Grey Tadpole, by Edgar A. Poe,” published in The Irish Citizen of January, 1844. According to Dwight Thomas in The Poe Log, this was a “clever burlesque of Poe’s fiction by Thomas Dunn English” (450). Later that month, George Lippard, a contemporary of Poe’s, republished the story in the Citizen Soldier, “without comment and presumably without recognizing it as a hoax by English,” according to Thomas (451). We cannot blame Lippard for his mistake, however, as English, who had editorial authority of the Irish Citizen took his own liberties to publish the false piece. Only Poe and English would know better about that story. Another poem that English wrote, mimicking Poe’s style was “The Mammoth Squash,” which also remains to be a confusing selling point for many rare booksellers. Unfortunately, again, Poe did not write this poem, and we would frankly be embarrassed if he had. Originally found in the Aristidean of October 1845, the poem caused Poe himself to rise and refute the poem as being his own in an article in the Broadway Journal of 1845. Rather, Poe directed the poem towards the editor of the Aristidean, Thomas Dunn English. This shows that Poe was even dealing with misattributions during his lifetime.
Our fourth piece is one that Mabbott deemed to be “trash,” a harsh word to use in a scholarly book. Charles Bromback assigned this poem, “First of May,” to Poe in 1917; it was originally found in the Atlantic Souvenir. According to Mabbott, the poem ends by exclaiming, “Then how can I be gay / On this merry first of May? / Ah no! I am sad, I am sad” (505). Mabbott ends his short description regarding this poem with a quip, “It is to its unknown author’s credit that no signature was affixed to this trash.” We will have to agree with Mabbott on this one.
Our final poem is one that is fairly commonly known within the Poe community, “Lines on Ale.” This drinking poem managed to confuse Poe scholars aplenty, and many still attribute it to Poe. He was “an alcoholic” after all, so why wouldn’t he write a few verses in honor of the drink? Unfortunately, this poem has been rejected and is not a Poe poem.
George Arnold, author of “Drinking Wine”
Mabbott had mistakenly claimed it as a Poe poem, stating, “Absolutely complete authentication is not possible, but the piece comes in an unsuspicious way, and I regard it as authentic…” (449). The legend claims that Poe may have written the lines at the Washington Tavern in Lowell, Massachusetts and that the manuscript of this poem hung on the wall of the tavern until around 1920. Even a firsthand account given by Jerry Murphy, a source for Mabbott, claimed to have seen it. However, doubts began to seriously arise in 2013 when, according to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, claims were sent in pointing out strong similarities between Poe’s lines and another poet’s lines. George Arnold’s version, beginning with “Pour the mingled cream and amber,” was first published in 1867, whereas Poe’s version, “Fill with mingled cream and amber,” was supposedly written anytime between 1848-1892 (although it would have had to have been written in 1848 or 1849, considering Poe’s death in 1849, assuming Poe had written it) (EAPoe). Another argument in 2014 explained that perhaps Arnold had plagiarized Poe; however, there is no evidence that proves this either way.
Mabbot’s argument using Murphy’s potentially word-of-mouth claims is not sufficient evidence that Poe would have written this poem, nor is there strictly strong evidence proving that Arnold was the original, and only, author of the poem. If the manuscript still survived, then we might completely know the truth. For now, this poem has been rejected by the Poe community.
Over all, there seem to be many numerous misattributed poems out there, many parodying “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee,” while others claim to have been inspired from Poe’s own voice from the dead. Were you familiar with any of these poems? Were there any that did not make our list? For a complete list, you can visit the following link.
Above: Edgar’s sister Rosalie Mackenzie Poe
In spite of being reared by a frugal businessman who discouraged his writing, Edgar Allan Poe became one of the world’s greatest authors. Why did a boy who grew up in such a home decide to devote himself to a life in the arts? Was Poe born gifted, or was his genius the result of his upbringing? Maybe we can find some of the answers by learning about the family from which Poe was separated when he was orphaned at the age of two.
Above: Handkerchief Case Painted by Rosalie Mackenzie Poe
Talent runs in Edgar Allan Poe’s family. Not only was Edgar a talented writer, but so was his brother William Henry Leonard Poe. His sister was a gifted musician and an art teacher. His mother was a popular actress and singer. In order to shed some light on these forgotten members of Edgar Allan Poe’s family, the Poe Museum in Richmond will host a new exhibit The Unknown Poes: Edgar Allan Poe’s talented Family from April 28 until June 19, 2016. The display will feature a number of Poe family artifacts including clothing, documents, and a Poe family bible. The highlight of the exhibit will be a piece of original artwork painted by Poe’s sister Rosalie. The exhibit will place Poe’s talent in the context of a gifted family of artists, writers, and performers.
Above: Negative review of a performance by Poe’s father from 1806
The exhibit will open on April 28 from 6-9 p.m. with a special Unhappy Hour in the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden featuring live music by The Folly.
Above: Bridget Poe’s Dancing Shoes from 1805
Above: Chest of drawers given by Poe’s uncle Henry Herring to his daughter
Above: Poe family bible opened to a page containing a diagram of a Poe burial plot
On Thursday, April 28 from 6-9 p.m. the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia will celebrate its 94th Birthday with an Unhappy Hour featuring live music by The Folly, the opening of the new exhibit The Unknown Poes: Edgar Allan Poe’s Talented Family, poetry readings, games, and a cash bar. Admission for the evening is just $5. Every Unhappy Hour has a special theme, so this month’s will be “A Dream Within a Dream.” For more information, call the Poe Museum at 804-648-5523 or write [email protected].
The event will kick off the 2016 Unhappy Hour season. Each Unhappy Hour features live music, games, a new exhibit, and a cash bar. This year’s Unhappy Hour lineup will continue as follows:
May 26 Unhappy Hour
Theme: The Oval Portrait
The Poe Museum’s new exhibit Painting the Enchanted Garden 3 featuring the works of twenty local artists will open this evening.
June 23 Unhappy Hour
Theme: Masque of the Red Death
The plague visits the Poe Museum with the opening of our new exhibit Pandemics and Poe.
July 28 Unhappy Hour
In celebration of the opening of the Poe Museum’s new exhibit Fakes and Forgeries, the Unhappy Hour will feature a scavenger hunt.
August 25 Unhappy Hour
Theme: The Murders in the Rue Morgue
In conjunction with the opening of the Poe Museum’s exhibit CSI POE: Crime Scene Investigation in Poe’s Time, we will have a murder mystery for our guests to solve.
September 22 Unhappy Hour
Theme: Poe Goes Hollywood
Kick off the Poe Film Festival with a Holly-meets-Poe evening at the Poe Museum.
October 27 Unhappy Hour
Theme: Some Words with a Mummy
America in Poe’s day was obsessed with Ancient Egypt, so we will open a new exhibit about Poe’s short story “Some Words with a Mummy” about a mummy who comes back to life.