Stairs to Poe’s Childhood Home in Richmond-now located in the Poe Museum
On a cold, but sunny day in February 2013, Poe Museum Curator, Chris Semtner, took down the golden fabric rope from its old and long railing. Chris said that the staff of the museum moved the stairs and incorporated them into present building many years ago. The Memorial Building, where they now stand, commemorates Poe’s outstanding contributions to literature. The conference room and repository at the top of these stairs stores many of his rare manuscripts and books, and materials. I looked up and down the old hardwood stairs and experienced a momentary chill. At the front of the steps, I saw a Raven banner (see my photo above), acknowledging his most famous poem. I felt like the illustrious bird was cheering me on to walk up the stairs and enter the game of studying Poe-like I was a football player on the famous Baltimore football team. I felt very privileged to be allowed to walk up these stairs with Chris because I was transitioning from being a retired person to a literary researcher. A month before this visit, I had enrolled in a Master’s program of Literature Studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University(VCU), which is only a few miles west of the museum. In my first class, English Scholarship, Professor, Joshua Eckhardt, assigned his students to find a rare book and to prepare a research term paper related to its publication history and contents. I decided to try to meet this class requirement at the Poe Museum because of a memorable guided tour I had taken a few years ago. I, then, researched the resources available at the museum on the internet. Like many avid readers, I had a working knowledge of many of Poe’s more notable poems and short stories. However, I had never heard of, what I thought, was the most interesting listing in the catalog, a book called, Eureka: A Prose Poem.
The catalog noted that Eureka was the last work that Poe wrote under his own supervision. It described the book as a poetic, metaphysical, and scientific treatise on the Universe. This text appeared completely different from anything else that Poe had ever written. Or was it? That question turned out to be one of the main focuses of my inquiry for the next four years, as I worked on my Master’s thesis on Poe and Science.When I asked Chris about Eureka, he said he would have one or more copies first edition copies of that book available for my examination during a research visit that he later scheduled for me.
A week later, I arrived at the museum and started my journey up Poe’s Stairway, and into his research room. I looked around and saw that there were piles of boxes on a large oval-shaped hardwood table, containing books and folders that the Registrar, Jennifer Camp, was cataloging. She worked in an adjacent room that served as a heavily locked and secure storage room for the files and rare first edition books Some of these books were estimated to be worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars! Jennifer came out to meet me and then went right back to work. On the walls, there were some paintings of Poe and busts of him and of Pallas-the Greek statue that the Raven landed on. On a corner of the table, I saw three copies of Eureka. Chris informed me that the museum generally kept one first edition copy of Eureka on display in a locked case and two others stored at the Virginia Library. He had checked two of these books out of the State Library for my inspection. I looked at all three of these books with a reserved excitement, like they were fossils from a distant time and place.
Rare first Edition Versions of Eureka: A Prose Poem, Published in 1848
Based on my experiences at the VCU Special Archives Library, I thought I would have to wear gloves to examine these precious books. Instead, Chris said that I would only need to wash my hands and handle the pages carefully. He noted that only 500 copies of the book were printed and less than 50 are still accountable. According to Stuart and Susan Levine’s annotated version of Eureka (2004), other known first editions of Eureka are stored at the following locations:
Library of Congress, Washington, DC
New York City Public Library
Henry Huntington Library (San Marino, CA
Yale University Library, New Haven, CT
Boston Public Library
Chapin’s Library- Williams College, Williamstown, MASS
New York State Library
William K. Keister
Peabody Institute, Baltimore, MD
University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA
Owen D. Young, NY
K. Lilly, Jr., Indianapolis, IND
Howe Estate, Cincinnati, OH
Carroll A. Wilson, NY
University of Chicago
University of Texas, Austin, TX
Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
Viscount Esher, England
New York University Library, NYC
H. Rindfleisch, Richmond, VA
Gabriel Wells (several copies with manuscript annotations throughout by Po
I know that this list is not complete since I found one first edition copy of Poe’s last book at the VCU Library. I went back to Dr. Eckhardt and got his approval to prepare my term report on Eureka. When I told him that I made connections with the Poe Museum, and was scheduled to go there once per week to conduct my study, he was very pleased. On my next visit to the museum, Chris said that Jennifer would be available to secure the materials that I needed and to answer my questions. During the Spring 2012 semester and the subsequent summer, I conducted research at the Poe Museum and at VCU on Eureka.
On one of my subsequent visits, Chris informed me that the museum was in possession of rare facsimile of a Manuscript that Poe wrote in his own handwriting. These notes likely helped him to prepare research on Eureka and some of his other science fiction tales. Chris called the manuscript the “Moon Notes” because they discussed the moon and the planets orbits around the Sun. The original manuscript, he said, were donated to the Poe Museum in 1942 by the family of Rufus Griswold, the literary executor of the Poe Estate. In 1948, the Poe Museum (then called the Poe Shrine) gave the originals to the Harvard University Houghton Library in Boston, which also houses a Eureka first edition. The “Moon-Notes” consists of eight un-ordered and, we thought, previously un-transcribed pages. They start and end in the middle of sentences, indicating that there were other pages; however, no others have been found. Chris thought that it would be a good project for me to try to transcribe the document to see if Poe made some direct or indirect references to Eureka. Jennifer scanned a sample page for me to start my project. I worked on this projects a few hours per week during my first semester at VCU, and also for about half of the summer. I attempted to faithfully transcribe Poe’s writing without attempting to explain the seemingly obvious abbreviations or informal writing. Although Poe’s handwriting was fairly clear and consistent, I needed to have several difficult words cross-checked by Ms. Camp.
The “Moon Notes were ritten by Poe, likely to research Eureka and other science-fiction tales
The supposition of D. de Mairan is that the hemisphere of the moon next to the earth is more dense than the opposite one, + hence the same face w necessarily be kept toward the earth.
Juno is free from nebulosity in appearance yet, according to Schroeter, it has an atmosphere more dense than that of any of the old planets of this system-variable atmosphere.
Vesta no nebulosity.
A telescope wh: magnifies only 1000 times will show a spot on the moon’s surface 122 yds diameter.
Prof. Fraunhofer of Munich recently announced that he had discovered a lunar edifice, resembling a fortified cabin, together with several lines of roads.
Schroeter conjectures the existence of a great city on the east side of the Moon, a little north of the equator an extensive canal, in another place, and fields of vegetation in another. Herschel found since shown this to be false.
It may be demonstrated from the laws of optics that there exists no physical impossibility of the introduction of instruments sufficiently powerful to settle the question of the moon’s being inhabited. The difficulty which prevented the great telescope of Herschel from revealing this secret is not so much the x want of power in the lens, as of light in the tube under objects distinct under such an exposure of the visual rays.”
On the sample transcribed page shown above, Poe writes on theories from several scientists who lived slightly before his time. These notes are scribbled, sometimes in a shorthand style, that is much like the way that modern scholars might take notes on a topic of investigation. Poe writes on the density of the of the moon, the capabilities of modern telescopes, speculation and rejection of the discovery of possible life on the Moon. The following scientists and asteroids are discussed on the single page of “Moon Notes” transcribed by the present researcher:
Jean di Ortous Marian (1678 to 1771) was a French astronomer. In 1719 he discussed the varying obliquity of light. In 1731 he observed nebulosity around a star near the Orion Nebulae (Westfall). Johann Heteronymous Schroter (1745-1816) was an aspiring astronomer, and friend of the Herschel family (Sheehan and Baum 171). Scientists became more interested in distant planets and stars after Wallaston Franenhofer (1787-1826) discovered a powerful telescope with a focal length of thirteen feet and an aperture of nine feet. This telescope made possible the analysis of invisible gasses in the universe such as helium, neon, krypton and argon (Kantor).
Juno’s formal designation is now known as 3 Juno. It was the third asteroid discovered. It is now thought to be about the tenth largest in size (Coffey). Vesta is still considered as one of the largest asteroids in the Solar System, and named after Vesta, the virgin goddess of home and health in Roman Mythology. Sir William Hershel (1738-1822 was “the founder of modern stellar astronomy.” His discovery of Uranus in 1781 was the first identification of a planet in modern times. He developed the theory of nebula’s and described details about the evolution of stars. He cataloged many binary stars and made important modifications to the reflecting telescope. William Herschel also demonstrated that the solar system and the stars move through space, and he discovered infrared radiation, which detected this movement” (Millman 134,141).
It seems clear from my study of this page that Poe was preparing research on scientific principles which could have been used to prepare for his Eureka lecture and/or book tour. It also appeared, after I looked at a summary of Poe’s theories in Eureka, that the topics presented on this single page may have been both relevant and important to his book. Whether he did or didn’t refer to these documents when he wrote Eureka, they certainly confirm that Poe studied the theories of important scientists who made significant discoveries in astronomy. Additionally, from this single page of transcription, I concluded that it would be useful to also transcribe the other seven known pages of the “Moon-Notes.”
When I completed transcribing all eight pages of the “Moon-Notes,” Chris suggested that I send a photocopy of my work to Jeff Savoye, the Director of the International Poe Society in Baltimore, the official repository of the most complete electronic collection of Poe materials in the world. You can access these materials at www.eapoe.org. It did not take very long for Jeff to write me back stating that my transcription was fairly accurate but that it had been transcribed in 1902, and included in the Appendix of the Eureka section, in James A. Harrison’s, the Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume XVI. Though I was disappointed that I would not be able to claim that I had made an original transcription, I was delighted that Savoy had connected the “Moon-Notes” to Eureka. In my next Poe and Science Blog, I will discuss the preliminary information and questions I discovered about Eureka and the difficulties that previous researchers have had in conducting evaluations of Poe’s final, and most enigmatic work. I plan to write at least one future Blog per month on my MA Thesis on Poe in Science.
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 him at [email protected]
We are familiar with Poe’s ties to Scotland through his (unofficially) adoptive father, John Allan; but, did you know that Poe officially carried Celtic roots in his blood?
There is one thing that Maria Clemm Poe, David Poe Jr., and Edgar all have in common, being that they come from Irish roots. Muddy, Poe’s mother-in-law and aunt, was born March 17, 1790 to Irish father David Poe Sr., whereas David Poe Jr., Poe’s biological father, was born July 18, 1784. (We might point out that Maria Clemm’s birthday coincidentally falls on St. Patrick’s Day.)
Both descended from their great-grandfather David Poe, who, according to Quinn, is “of Dring, Cavan Co., Ireland” (16-17). Thus, Edgar, the son of David Jr. and son-in-law/nephew of Maria Clemm, descended from Irish ancestors. If we fully look at the genealogy chart provided by Quinn, as well as other sources, we see that David Poe married Sarah Poe (née Clifford), who, we assume, was of full Irish blood. Sarah bore John Poe, who married Jane McBride. According to this source, Jane was born in Bailymena, County Antrim, Ireland-thus, both John and Jane were of Irish blood. She bore David Poe Sr., of Ireland, who married Elizabeth Cairnes of Philadelphia. Elizabeth bore David Jr., who married Elizabeth Arnold, who bore Edgar. Thus, we can assume that this potentially would make Edgar 1/4 Irish.
How do you think Edgar would have celebrated his heritage? Would he have done a quick jig between breaks at the office, or perhaps indulged in a sweet Irish drink now and then? How do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? If you are Irish or Scottish, is there a special tradition you and your family do each year?
For the third year in a row, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia is inviting artists to paint, sketch, or photograph the museum’s legendary Enchanted Garden for its exhibit Painting the Enchanted Garden 3, which opens May 26 and runs until July 17. The great quality and variety of the artists in the first two Painting the Enchanted Garden exhibits has encouraged the Poe Museum to bring back the popular show.
Art by Dwight Paulette
The rules of entering the exhibit are simple. Interested artists sign up by April 1 by emailing the Poe Museum’s curator Chris Semtner at [email protected] Then the artists can visit the museum to sketch, photograph, or paint the museum’s garden. Artists interested in working in a group painting session can join Semtner on April 24 from 2 to 5 p.m. The finished artwork should be delivered ready to hang between May 17 through 22 during regular business hours. A portion of the proceeds from the artwork will benefit the Poe Museum. Click here for the complete prospectus. Click here to see the consignment agreement.
About the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden:
Landscaped in 1921 and opened in April 1922, the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden is Virginia’s first monument to a writer. The layout of the garden was inspired by Poe’s poem “To One in Paradise,” and the building materials were salvaged from different structures in which Poe lived or worked. The Garden Club of Virginia is in the process of restoring the Enchanted Garden to its original beauty, ensuring that the museum’s visitors continue to see the garden very much as it would have appeared in the 1920s. Click here to read more about the Enchanted Garden.
TIME TRAVELERS: A FREE WEEKEND OF RICHMOND HISTORY FEATURING 13 HISTORIC HOUSES OF GREATER RICHMOND
Richmond’s most renowned historic homes and museums offer visitors a “passport” to time-travel during a special admission-free weekend on Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13. Tourists and locals alike are invited to discover the City’s treasures, spanning 400 years of fascinating history and including the homes of John Marshall, Jefferson Davis, John Wickham, Major James Dooley and other important Virginians. Thirteen participating sites – Agecroft Hall, The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, Chesterfield County Historical Society, Chimborazo Medical Museum, Dabbs House Museum, The John Marshall House, Maymont, Meadow Farm Museum, Museum & White House of the Confederacy, Poe Museum, The 1812 Wickham House, The Valentine First Freedom Center and Wilton House Museum – will offer complimentary admission to visitors who show a Time Travelers Passport, available via download by clicking here. This special offer equates to savings of more than $65 per person. (Some restrictions may apply.)
Agecroft Hall, home to Richmond’s Tudor house, was first built in England in the 1500s, then transported across the ocean and rebuilt in Richmond in the 1920s. Today it is a museum furnished with art and artifacts from 17th century England. Located just west of Carytown at 4305 Sulgrave Road, visitors are encouraged to take a guided tour, stroll the manicured gardens overlooking the James River, explore the architectural exhibit, and shop in our museum store. Open Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 12:30 to 5 p.m. For more information, click here or call (804)353-4241.
The Branch House (The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design) Imagine a design museum housed in an architectural masterpiece. Designed in 1916 by John Russell Pope as the private residence of the Branch family, this Tudor Revival structure was built to serve as a social and cultural destination for the community. Located at 2501 Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia’s historic Fan District, the 27,000 sq. ft. house is listed on the national register of historic places. As a museum, the mission of The Branch is to reveal the inherent beauty of the created form and space, igniting a passion for design. The Branch will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tours are available. Learn more here.
Chimborazo Medical Museum (Richmond National Battlefield Park) Chimborazo became one of the Civil War’s largest military hospitals. When completed it contained more than 100 wards, a bakery and even a brewery. Although the hospital no longer exists, a museum on the same grounds contains original medical instruments and personal artifacts. Other displays include a scale model of the hospital and a short film on medical and surgical practices and the caregivers that comforted the sick and wounded. The site is located at 3215 East Broad Street in Richmond, Virginia, is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is free. For more information, click here or call (804) 226-1981.
Dabbs House Museum
The Dabbs House, built in rural eastern Henrico in 1820, gained attention as Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s field headquarters during the summer of 1862. The museum provides a place to learn about the history of the house from its use as a residence for the Dabbs family to its tenure as Henrico’s police headquarters from 1941 to 2005. Visitors can tour the 1862 field headquarters, browse the exhibit galleries, and view a video on the history of the house. On September 17, 2010, Henrico County opened its first Tourist Information Center, which is located inside the Dabbs House Museum and provides visitors with resources on many other Richmond area attractions. This facility is owned by the County of Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks. Dabbs House Museum will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and is located at 3812 Nine Mile Road in eastern Henrico. For more information, click here or call (804) 652-3406.
The John Marshall House
The John Marshall House, built in 1790 in the fashionable Court End neighborhood of Richmond was the home of the “Great Chief Justice” for forty-five years. Listed on the National and Virginia historic registers, the John Marshall House has undergone remarkably few changes since Marshall’s lifetime. The property remained in the Marshall family until 1911. It is currently owned and operated by Preservation Virginia. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the house, stroll the garden, and visit the Museum Shop. The John Marshall House will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is located at 818 East Marshall Street in Richmond. For more information, click here or call (804) 648-7998.
Magnolia Grange, Chesterfield County Museum and 1892 Historic Jail
Built in 1822 by William Winfree, Magnolia Grange is a handsome Federal-style plantation house named for the circle of magnolia trees that once graced its front lawn. Noted for its distinctive architecture, the mansion contains elaborate ceiling medallions, as well as sophisticated carvings on mantels, doorways and window frames. The house has been carefully restored to its 1820s look and feel. The Chesterfield Museum is a reproduction of the colonial courthouse of 1750. Its collections tell the history of Chesterfield County from prehistoric times through the 20th century. Exhibits include early Indian culture, artifacts from the first iron and coal mines in America, which were in Chesterfield County, early household and farming tools and a country store of the late 19th century. The Old Jail, built in 1892, houses historical exhibits from the county’s Police department that are displayed downstairs. Upstairs, visitors may view cells as they were when they housed their last prisoners in 1962. Magnolia Grange, the County Museum and Historic Jail will be open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Magnolia Grange is located at 10020 Iron Bridge Road; the County Museum and Jail are located nearby at 6813 Mimms Loop in Chesterfield. For more information, click here or call (804) 796-1479.
Maymont, a 100-acre American estate, was the home of New South business leader James Dooley and his wife Sallie from 1893 through 1925 and an extraordinary gift to the city of Richmond. Marvel at the 21 restored rooms that offer an unusually complete depiction of upstairs-downstairs life in the Gilded Age. The opulent upstairs interiors are adorned with Tiffany stained glass, frescoed ceilings and other sumptuous detailing and filled with original furnishings and artwork. Downstairs service rooms tell the story of household tasks and technology and the challenges of working in domestic service during the Jim Crow era. The surrounding landscape features Italian and Japanese gardens, magnificent trees, and a carriage display as well as Virginia wildlife exhibits, a Children’s Farm and the Robins Nature & Visitor Center. Maymont Mansion will be open 12 to 5 p.m on Saturday and Sunday and is located at 1700 Hampton Street in the heart of Richmond. (Grounds are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) For more information, click here or call (804) 358-7166, ext. 310.
Meadow Farm Museum at Crump Park Meadow Farm, one of the last remaining 19th century farms in Henrico County, is now an 1860 living historical farm focusing on middle-class rural life just before the upheaval of the Civil War. Costumed interpreters provide insights into the lives of Dr. John Mosby Sheppard, the owner of Meadow Farm, and his family. Daily and seasonal activities are portrayed in the farmhouse, barn, doctor’s office, blacksmith’s forge, kitchen, fields and pastures. The Museum also offers a schedule of special events, living history programs, and volunteer opportunities throughout the year. The Meadow Farm Museum Orientation Center features a reception area for visitors, two exhibit galleries and a gift shop. This facility is owned and operated by the County of Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks. Meadow Farm Museum will be open 12 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and is located at 3400 Mountain Road in old Glen Allen. (Grounds are open from dawn to dusk.) For more information, click here or call (804) 501-2130.
Poe Museum Opened in 1922, Virginia’s only literary museum, the Poe Museum in Richmond, boasts the world’s finest collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s manuscripts, letters, first editions, memorabilia and personal belongings. The Poe Museum provides a retreat into early nineteenth century Richmond where the author of “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” lived and worked. The museum explores Poe’s life and career by documenting his accomplishments with pictures, relics, and verse, and focusing on his many years in Richmond. One of the structures in the museum’s four-building complex is the ca.1754 Old Stone House, the oldest residential structure in the original city limits of Richmond. The Poe Museum will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is located at 1914 East Main Street in Richmond. For more information, click here or call (804) 648-5523.
White House of the Confederacy (Museum of the Confederacy) The house was home to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, and his family from August 1861 until the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865. It served as the political and social epicenter of wartime Richmond. The White House currently holds a large number of furnishings and artifacts that were in the house with the Davis family. All of the remaining items are original to the period, except for the textiles which are reproductions based on original fabrics or period patterns. All tours are guided. The White House of the Confederacy will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 1201 East Clay Street in Richmond. For more information, click here or call (855) 649-1861. Please note: Time Travelers Passport Holders will only receive free admission to the house tour. The Museum of the Confederacy entrance fee is $10 and will not be free for the promotional weekend.
The 1812 Wickham House (The Valentine) The Wickham House, built in 1812, is a spectacular example of 19th-century Federal architecture and displays some of the country’s finest examples of interior decorative painting. Listed as a National Historic Landmark, the Wickham House, built by John and Elizabeth Wickham, illustrates the lives of one of Richmond’s most prominent families. The Wickham House was purchased by Mann Valentine, Jr., and in 1898 became the first home of the Valentine Museum. It is managed and operated by the Valentine. The 1812 Wickham House will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. on Sunday and is located at 1015 East Clay Street in Richmond. Guided tours of the home are given every 45 minutes. For more information, click here or call (804) 649-0711.
The Valentine First Freedom Center
The Valentine First Freedom Center houses 2,200 square feet of exhibits that delve into America’s experience of religious liberty from its European antecedents through today. It is located on the site where Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom was enacted into law by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786. Outside, a 27-foot spire, a limestone wall etched with the enacting paragraph of the Statute, and a 34-foot banner of a seminal Jefferson quote imprint the importance of the “first freedom” on all who come upon that busy corner. The Valentine First Freedom Center is located on the corner of South 14th & Cary Streets and will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Parking is available on the street or in public pay lots. For more information, click here or call (804) 649-0711.
Wilton House Museum
Overlooking a placid stretch of the James River, Wilton House has been welcoming guests since constructed in the 1750s as the centerpiece of a sprawling tobacco plantation by the prominent Randolph Family of Virginia. Here, friends, relations, and weary travelers such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette were welcomed. An impressive example of 18th-century Georgian Style architecture, Wilton House boasts its original and richly detailed paneling and an exquisite collection of fine and decorative arts from the Colonial and early Federal eras. When development threatened Wilton House in the 1930s, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased and restored the property. Wilton House Museum will be open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and 1 to 4:30 p.m. pm on Sunday and is located at 215 South Wilton Road in Richmond. For more information, click here or call (804) 282-5936.
March 7th, 2016 by Kelly
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Poe as America’s Unabashed Critic
Poe was notorious for being a harsh critic-he was nicknamed the “Tomahawk Man,” after all. But are you familiar with these particular criticisms?
Check these out:
1) Poe once told a guy to shoot himself. According to Poe scholar Chris Semtner in his book Edgar Allan Poe’s Richmond, Poe wrote a review of author Langston Osbourne’s book, Confessions of a Poet in an 1835 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger. First off, let us explain that the author had included a couple of sentences in his preface explaining that he’d had a gun on standby so he could shoot himself upon the book’s completion. Poe, knowing this, stated,
The author avers upon his word of honor that in commencing this work he loads a pistol, and places it upon the table. He farther states that, upon coming to a conclusion, it is his intention to blow out what he supposes to be his brains. Now this is excellent. But, even with so rapid a writer as the poet must undoubtedly be, there would be some little difficulty in completing the book under thirty days or thereabouts. The best of powder is apt to sustain injury by lying so long “in the load.” We sincerely hope the gentleman took the precaution to examine his priming before attempting the rash act. A flash in the pan — and in such a case — were a thing to be lamented. Indeed there would be no answering for the consequences. Wemight even have a second series of the Confessions.
2) In an introductory article for The Lady’s Book, entitled “The Literati: Of Criticism-Public and Private,” Poe proceeded to explain the premise of a series of articles he would be releasing. He then commenced, giving us a glimpse to prepare us for the potentially scathing reviews to follow:
Again, of Mr. Longfellow, who, although a little quacky per se, has, through his social and literary position as a man of property and a professor at Harvard, a whole legion of active quacks at his control-of him what is the apparent popular opinion? Of course, that he is a poetical phenomenon, as entirely without fault, as is the luxurious paper upon which his poems are invariably borne to the public eye (40-41).
Not only does Poe call Longfellow a “quack,” a pretty bold move to make, but he also sarcastically implies that Longfellow does entirely have faults, is not a poetical phenomenon, and he mocks the “luxurious paper upon which [Longfellow’s] poems are” written on. Keep in mind that this wasn’t the beginning, nor was it the end, of the “Poe-Longfellow War.” We will allude to this again later in this post.
3) Aside from literary critiques, Poe also went the mile and decided to critique include physical appearances and attributes at the end of some articles. Here’s one of our favorites regarding Margaret Fuller’s appearance in Poe’s eyes:
She is of the medium height; nothing remarkable about the figure; a profusion of lustrous light hair; eyes a bluish gray, full of fire; capacious forehead; the mouth when in repose indicates profound sensibility…but the upper lip, as if impelled by the action of involuntary muscles, habitually uplifts itself, conveying the impression of a sneer” (122).
4) Charles Fenno Hoffman was a common name back in Poe’s time. Hoffman was especially, personally known to Poe through a harsh published review of “Eureka” in The Literary World, for which Hoffman was the editor. Although it may have seemed to Poe that Hoffman was unfair to publish this review of Poe’s allegedly great masterpiece, we feel he had every right to his actions as editor, especially considering what Poe wrote regarding one of Hoffman’s own works, Greyslaer,
“Greyslaer” followed, a romance based on the well known murder of Sharp, the Solicitor-General of Kentucky, by Beauchampe[sic]. W[illam] Gilmore Simms, (who has far more power, more passion, more movement, more skill than Mr. Hoffman) has treated the same subject more effectively in his novel “Beauchampe,” but the fact is that both gentlemen have positively failed, as might have been expected (173)
Poe has effectively disrespected both Hoffman and Simms in a few short lines, making this a double-whammy critique. And, apparently Poe felt the need to mention in a review about Hoffman that even though Hoffman and Simms failed to provide a good novel, Hoffman failed harder than Simms. We say this statement was completely uncalled for.
5) In our same book of Poe criticisms, we found a curious man by the name of William W. Lord. Poe didn’t know who he was either, as his article opens by explaining, “Of Mr. Lord we known nothing-although we believe that he is a student at Princeton College-or perhaps a graduate, or perhaps a Professor of that institution.” (256). This anonymity seems to pull the worst out in Poe, perhaps because if he isn’t acquainted with them, he’ll never see the victim.
A curious passage arises in this critique, as he quotes the following lines from a poem of Lord’s, “And the aged beldames napping,/ Dreamed of gently rapping, rapping, / With a hammer gently tapping, / Tapping on an infant’s skull” (266). Poe goes on to imply that this is a theft of his “The Raven,” as he provides the following stanza for example, “While I pondered nearly napping, / Suddenly there came a rapping, / As of someone gently tapping, / Tapping at my chamber door” (266). He then attacks,
But it is folly to pursue these thefts. As to any property of our own, Mr. Lord is very cordially welcome to whatever use he can make of it. But others may not be so pacifically disposed, and the book before us might be very materially thinned and reduced in cost, by discarding from it all that belongs to Miss Barrett, Tennyson, Keats, Shelley, Proctor, Longfellow and Lowell-the very class of poets, by the way, whom Mr. William W. Lord, in his ‘New Castalia’ the most especially affects to satirize and to contemn (266).
This is how he ends his critique of Mr. Lord,
Invariably Mr. Lord writes didst did’st; couldst could’st, &c. The fact is he is absurdly ignorant of the commonest principles of grammar-and the only excuse we can make to our readers for annoying them with specifications in this respect is that, without the specifications we should never have been believed.
But enough of this folly. We are heartily tired of the book, and thoroughly disgusted with the impudence of the parties who have been aiding and abetting in thrusting it before the public. To the poet himself we have only to say-from any farther specimens of your stupidity, good Lord deliver us! (269).
As for Mr. Lord, whether he was a student or professor, we can guess he did not come out to see the light of day again after reading Poe’s article about him.
6) In regard to Rufus Griswold’s anthology, The Poets and Poetry of America, (you know, the man who attempted to destroy Poe’s reputation), Poe had this to say:
He has omitted from the body of his book, some one or two whom we should have been tempted to introduce. On the other hand, he has scarcely made us amends by introducing some one or two dozen whom we should have treated with contempt. We might complain too of a prepossession, evidently unperceived by himself, for the writers of New England. We might hint also, that in two or three cases, he has rendered himself liable to the charge of personal partiality…(103).
Perhaps he is referring to Charles Hoffman in this case, who had had 45 of his poems featured in the anthology. Poe even points this out in a separate, but relevant criticism and article about Hoffman,
Whatever may be the merits of Mr. Hoffman as a poet, it may be easily seen that these merits have been put in the worst possible light by the indiscriminate and lavish approbation bestowed on them by Dr. Griswold in his ‘Poets and Poetry of America.’ The editor can find no blemish in Mr. H., agrees with everything and copies everything said in his praise-worse than all, gives him more space in the book than any two, or perhaps three, of our poets combined (175).
In Griswold’s anthology, Poe only had three poems featured. Perhaps he was harboring ill feelings?
7) Lewis Gaylord Clark was known for being the editor of The Knickerbocker for many years, as well as another victim held under Poe’s scrutiny-we might also mention that Poe and Clark had quite a rocky relationship. Sometimes Edgar could be downright harsh to those he critiqued, and Gaylord wasn’t an exception, as seen in the following example, “Mr. Clark once did me the honor to review my poems, and-I forgive him…He is noticeable for nothing in the world except for the markedness by which he is noticeable for nothing” (Quinn 502). All we can say is that this critique didn’t go unnoticed by us in the least.
8) Many men did not go unobserved by Poe, and Charles F. Briggs was no exception. Briggs was Poe’s coworker at the Broadway Journal; in fact, Briggs was its founder. However, Poe remained merciless in his installment of “The Literati of New York City,” when he proclaimed that Briggs “has never composed in his life three consecutive sentences of grammatical English. He is grossly uneducated” (EAPoe).
9) Our ninth author sacrificed under the mercilessness of Poe is Joel T. Headley. This reverend, historian, and author was torn apart from first sentence to last under Poe’s evaluation. For example, Poe writes about Headley’s “Sacred Mountains,” stating,
We say that a book is a “funny” book, and nothing else, when it spreads over two hundred pages an amount of matter which could be conveniently presented in twenty of a magazine…that a book is a”funny” book, and nothing but a funny book, whenever it happens to be penned by Mr. Headley (47).
Sufficed it to say that Headley wasn’t going for a comical bent in his “Sacred Mountains.” We might also note that in this same editorial, Poe calls Headley a “quack”-does this sound familiar? (The author of this post would also like to note that she read the book that Poe grossly attacked and can say that she disagrees with Poe’s claims.)
10) Finally, Longfellow was, once more, analyzed under Poe’s seething Tomahawk gaze in an article titled “Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists: A Discussion With ‘Outis’.” As you might recall, an intern at the museum wrote an article last summer about the Poe-Longfellow War, which you can check out here. That being said, we will not go too in depth into the ordeal. However, in this last section of our list, we will discuss this mysterious Outis mentioned in the title.
Have any of our readers heard of this mysterious Outis? Where did he come from, and what were his intentions? Whomever took the title of Outis was most likely trying to play a trick on Longfellow and other readers, we surmise, as it has even been speculated that this Outis was Poe himself.
Outis is Greek for “Nobody” or “No One,” which seems befitting if one were to take on a pseudonym. But why might Poe be this mysterious Outis? We will explain in a blog post soon to come. Meanwhile, we are left with the “Mr. Longfellow…” critique, which is more or less a battle against Longfellow and other plagiarists (just as the title suggests), as well as Poe’s battle against this other mysterious writer who took it upon himself to publish a letter in Longfellow’s defense, all the while mocking Poe. He or she even compares a poem, “The Bird of the Dream” (which, we cannot currently find any records of this ever having existed) to “The Raven.” The point is daft, regardless, as the two poems aren’t even comparable.
“Sweet bird from realms of light, oh! come again to-night, / Come to my window-perch upon my chair- / Come give me back again that deep impassioned strain
/ That tells me thou hast seen and loved my CLARE,” the last stanza quotes, as provided in Outis’ article (EAPoe). However, Outis continues by explaining that he dares not to charge Poe with plagiarism, but proceeds to provide fifteen points explaining what “identities” make this poem comparable to “The Bird of the Dream.”
How does Poe respond? “What I admire in this letter is the gentlemanly grace of its manner, and the chivalry which has prompted its composition. What I do not admire is all the rest. In especial, I do not admire the desperation of the effort to make out a case” (EAPoe).
Why did we choose this article for our last choice? Considering the potential that Outis might be Poe himself, it is comical. We are presented not only with Outis’ criticism of Poe’s works, but also Poe’s rebuttal to Outis. Essentially, Poe is rebuking himself! Perhaps Poe wanted an opponent worthy of himself, so he took up the challenge? Or, perhaps he invented Outis in the hopes that Longfellow would respond to his accusations? There is no denying that it takes someone with great confidence and a sense of humor to critique themselves.
Which was your favorite selection? Were there any critiques that didn’t make it in our list? Feel free to comment below!
March 3rd, 2016 by Kelly
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Poe the “Punny” Poet
It was recently brought to my attention that Poe was once a comedian.
I recall first hearing this statement claimed a few years ago-after all, he has written more satire and humorous stories combined than horror-but who would believe that this “miserable” and “melancholy” writer was once a comedian?
If you still remain skeptical, do not worry-so do I. Upon reading Poe’s satires, including “Lionizing” and “The Devil in the Belfry,” one can see jabs at humor here and there, especially jabs which mock the social life of nineteenth century America; unfortunately, it is just that point that leaves readers scratching their heads. Poe’s humor was catered to his time and is not catered to our contemporary readers. In fact, Poe still leaves me desperately searching for an annotated edition so that I may understand what his Latin sentences mean, what his made up words are equivalent to, and even what the statements that are assumedly supposed to be funny mean.
In fact, the editor of the Emporia Gazette in 1911 commented:
If there is anything in the world more gloomy and heartrending than Poe’s tragic tales, it is Poe’s humorous work. He hadn’t the first qualification of a humorist. There was nothing buoyant or effervescent in his make-up. His “humorous” stories are such labored things as to make the reader weep. The fact that he constantly uses italics to identify and emphasize his alleged jests is enough for any reasonable man (EAPoe).
Not only did Poe write satire and make an attempt to make his readers laugh, but he also liked to throw out the occasional pun. Let us not forget the gentleman whom Poe chastised for using a pun in the writer’s “Best Conundrum Yet”:
With this heading we find the following in the New York Signal: — “Why may Prince Albert be considered a saving and frugal personage?” [[“]]Answer — because he lays by a sovereign every night.” Mr. [Park?] Benjamin, we have a very high respect for you, but not for your opinion about your own puns. Do you seriously think that conundrum a good one — we don’t. To be good, a double entendre should be at least good English when viewed on either side. Now we may lay by a piece of money — but we lie by a wife (EAPoe). (Note, this was attributed to Poe in 1943 by Clarence Brigham.)
In short, Poe was a tad hypocritical when it came between his own writing and critiquing others works. But we digress.
The Poe enthusiast who spurred this post reached out to me with an article from EAPoe’s website. This article, full of Poe’s puns, is both a joy and also upsetting-what was Poe thinking when he wrote these jokes?
We will provide a few examples of our favorites below:
“I have a table needing repairs; why must the cabinet-maker who comes for it be in good circumstances?
Because he is comfortable. — come for table.” We think Poe should reflect on the previous criticism regarding Mr. Benjamin’s pun. Poe’s grammar is just as, if not more, poor here than Benjamin’s.
“Why is his last new novel sleep itself?
Because it’s so poor. — sopor.”
“Why is a chain like the feline race?
Because it’s a catenation. — a catty nation.”
“When you called the dock a wharf, why was it a deed of writing? Because it was a dock you meant. — a document.”
“Why does a lady in tight corsets never need comfort?”
“Because she’s already so laced. — solaced.”
Lastly, we cannot forget the pun where Poe mentions himself,
“Why ought the author of the ‘Grotesque and Arabesque’ to be a good writer of verses?
Because he’s a poet to a t. Add t to Poe makes it Poet.”
We will point out that these puns were so bad, Poe had to even write out the answers himself.
Although we may snicker and sneer at Poe’s jokes, or lack thereof, it must be noted that he was aware of his bad humor. In fact, he made this statement in regard to justifying his bad puns,
“Why is a bad wife better than a good one? — Because bad is the best.” This somewhat ungallant old query, with its horrible answer, is an embodiment of the true genius of the whole race to which it belongs — the race of the conundrums. Bad is the best. There is nothing better settled in the minds of people who know any thing at all, than the plain truth that if a conundrum is decent it wo’nt do — that if it is fit for anything it is not worth twopence — in a word that its real value is in exact proportion to the extent of its demerit, and that it is only positively good when it is outrageously and scandalously absurd. In this clear view of the case we offer the annexed. They have at least the merit of originality — a merit apart from that of which we have just spoken. At all events if they are not ours, we have just made them, and they ought to be (EAPoe).
If Poe was self-aware, then why did he proceed to torture his readers?
Do you think you would go to Poe’s show if he were hosting at a comedy club? Would you cheer him on or jeer and throw tomatoes at the poor man? If we were able to give him advice during the time he wrote these puns, we would advise he not quit his day job.
However, to support and enlighten Edgar’s comedic voice, we will end this with another of his own:
“Why are these conundrums like a song for one voice?
“Because they’re so low.”[solo]-Just like Poe’s puns.
Carl Laemmle, Jr. needed a monster. The twenty-three year old president of Universal Pictures had produced a string of successful features since inheriting the company as his twenty-first birthday present. It was the depths of the Great Depression. Thousands were unemployed. More than ever, Americans needed an escape, and it came in the form of movies. This was an age of screwball comedies, lavish musicals, and westerns. It was also the time when Universal Pictures introduced its classic monsters — Dracula, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster. These monsters starred in the horror films that saved Universal and made stars of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. In its quest for the next great monster, Universal searched the works of Edgar Allan Poe and found Erik. If you’ve never heard of Erik that is because it is the name they gave the previously unnamed orangutan from Poe’s mystery “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” In the process of converting Poe’s detective story into one of Universal’s gothic monster movies, the producers transformed the orangutan into a classic movie monster and threw in a mad scientist for good measure.
Filming on Murders in the Rue Morgue (the studio dropped the first “The” from the title.) wrapped on December 23, 1931 at the cost of $190,099.45, far less than it had spend the previous year on Dracula. In January 1932, Universal Pictures’ publicist P. L. Hickey visited Richmond’s Poe Museum, where the Museum’s Acting Secretary Catherine Campbell led him on a guided tour of the complex. In addition to working for Universal, Hickey wrote fiction, true stories, and poetry for the pulp magazines True Detective Magazine and Weird Tales. Even though the Poe Museum had closed two of its buildings to conserve energy during the Depression, Hickey was sufficiently impressed with his visit that he told Universal’s Head of Exploitation Joe Weil.
Weil specialized in finding unique ways to promote Universal’s films. For the premiere of Dracula, Weil plastered New York City with cryptic messages like “Beware! Friday the 13th—Dracula,” “I’ll be on your neck Friday the 13th—Dracula,” and “Good to the last gasp! Dracula.” He wrote advertising copy and leaked a fake telegram in which the film’s director supposedly begged the studio not to release the movie on Friday the 13th because he was superstitious. Weil also worked with local businesses, convincing department stores have special Dracula-themed displays in their windows. Some studios of the era went so far as to station ambulances outside theaters just in case Universal’s movies frightened anyone to death.
For Murders in the Rue Morgue, Weil probably thought the Poe Museum was a natural fit to help him promote the Poe-inspired film. On January 23, 1932, he wrote Campbell, telling her how much Hickey had enjoyed his visit and promising to send her publicity stills from the film “with the compliments of Mr. Laemmle.” He also promised to send her 1,000 rotogravure heralds to distribute on the film’s behalf. Campbell wrote Weil on February 9, thanking him for the “very interesting pictures of The Murders in the Rue Morgue which your President was kind enough to send us.”
She assured him she would “certainly see the picture if it ever comes to Richmond and will try and have some of [his] pictures in a conspicuous place.” While there is no record of the stills having ever been displayed in the Poe Museum, they have remained in the museum’s collection for the past eighty-four years.
The first thing one might notice when scanning these photos is that the star of the film, the legendary horror film star Bela Lugosi does not appear in any of them. The second is that a lesser known actress named Sidney Fox appears in every one. The average fan of classic horror films might be shocked to discover that, in the film’s opening credits, Fox’s name appears before Lugosi’s—even though she was still a relative newcomer while he was at the height of a long and distinguished career. The rumor at the time attributed her sudden rise to fame to her having an affair with studio boss Carl Laemmle (or even his sixty-four year old father). The truth might be that she was seen as a promising young Hollywood star after having garnered praise on Broadway and beating out Bette Davis for the coveted role of the bad sister in 1931’s Bad Sister.
Also in 1931, Bela Lugosi’s title role in the film Dracula saved Universal from financial ruin and launched the studio’s cycle of horror films. This was the film in which Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi introduced the tuxedo- and cape-wearing interpretation of a suave Count Dracula to the silver screen. Having starred for decades at the Hungarian Royal National Theater and on Broadway, Lugosi believed he would inevitably become a leading man in Hollywood, but his thick accent and inability to master the English language doomed him to be typecast as a foreign villain.
Shortly after he starred in Dracula, Lugosi was offered the role of the monster in Universal’s upcoming adaptation of Frankenstein. Worried that the monster makeup required for the role would obscure his handsome face and that the monster did not have any dialog to showcase his acting, Lugosi declined the offer.
Meanwhile, French Expressionist Robert Florey expected to direct Frankenstein, but Universal awarded the job to British director James Whale. Without Lugosi, the studio was in need of a new monster, and Whale found him, in the form of forty-one year old British actor Boris Karloff.
With the release of Frankenstein on November 21, 1931, Karloff was a star, Whale was a respected director, Lugosi was regretting his decision, and Florey still needed a showcase for his talents. Universal followed up on the success of Frankenstein with The Old Dark House (directed by James Whale and starring Boris Karloff) and The Mummy (also starring Boris Karloff).
While Karloff was claiming the spotlight, Lugosi appeared in minor roles in a series of long-since forgotten B-movies like 50 Million Frenchmen, Women of all Nations, The Black Camel, and Broadminded. By 1932, both Lugosi and Florey needed a chance to shine, and Universal gave it to them with Murders in the Rue Morgue.
Murders in the Rue Morgue premiered on February 21, 1932. Although it made a profit, the film helped launch the careers of many of those involved. The director Florey left Universal for Paramount and Warner Brothers where he specialized in B-movies, making about fifty of them before his death in 1979. His best-known film is probably the Marx Brothers comedy The Cocoanuts (1939).
Bela Lugosi clearly relished the part of the mad Dr. Mirakle, who abducted women to inject them with ape’s blood in order to prove the theory of evolution. When the injection invariably kills them, he dumps them into the River Seine through a trapdoor conveniently located in his laboratory floor. By the way, he is also fluent in whatever language apes speak. As implausible as that may sound, it absolutely works in the context of the unreal atmosphere of the film.
Four years later, when it came time to cast the sequel to his hit film Dracula, Universal replaced Lugosi with a dummy, which is burned at the beginning of the movie. He would, however, reprise his vampire role in films like Mark of the Vampire (1935), Return of the Vampire (1944), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), and Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1951). Over the course of his prolific career, he displayed a great versatility, playing everything the Frankenstein monster’s sinister sidekick Ygor in The Son of Frankenstein and The Ghost of Frankenstein to a gangster in Black Friday (1940). He even obscured his face and grunted to perform the previously rejected role of Frankenstein’s Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). Universal eventually released Lugosi from his contract, and the actor spent his remaining years playing villains in low-budget films until his death in 1959. His last film was Plan 9 from Outer Space, which has been named the “Worst Film Ever Made.” Per his request, he was buried in his Dracula cape.
Leon Ames portrays the hero of Murders in the Rue Morgue, the medical student Pierre (not Auguste) Dupin. His character is responsible for delivering such corny lines as “You’re like a song the girls of Provence sing on May Day. And like the dancing in Normandy on May Day. And like the wine in Burgundy on May Day.” After Murders in the Rue Morgue Ames found steady acting work until his retirement in 1986. His best known role was that of D.A. Kyle Sackett in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).
His co-star Sidney Fox was only nineteen when she filmed Murders in the Rue Morgue, and he only made a few more films. The persistent rumors of her affair with Carl Laemmle were among the factors that caused her to move to Europe. Her career never recovered. Her poor acting and grating, high-pitched voice have been blamed (a little unfairly, considering the writing) for ruining Murders in the Rue Morgue. She died from an overdose of sleeping pills ten years later.
The cinematographer, Karl Freund, went on to a celebrated career. By the time he made Murders he had already been the cinematographer for Dracula and the director for The Mummy. After working on several films, he became the cinematographer for the television comedy I Love Lucy in 1951. In so doing, he innovated television by introducing flat lighting, a technique that illuminates all parts of the scene evenly so that three different cameras can be used at the same time from different angles without having to adjust the lighting for each camera.
The producer, Carl Laemmle, saved Universal with his series of monster movies and defined pop culture depictions of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Mummy for decades. Regrettably, he lost control of the studio in 1936 and retired a few years later. His influence on later horror films is incalculable.
The real star of the film, Erik the Ape, dies in the film, and he would not be resurrected to appear in any sequels like his fellow Universal monsters Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy. The chimp who portrayed Erik in close-ups lived out his remaining years in the Selig Zoo, which provided animals for films. Joe Bonoma, who wore the ape suit in action shots, went on to a career as a stuntman. Charlie Gemora, who designed the ape suit and wore if for stationary shots, became renowned for his “realistic” ape costumes and would wear them in several films including The Monster and the Girl (1941), the Marx Brothers movie At the Circus (1939), the Laurel and Hardy comedy Swiss Miss (1938), and the Marlene Dietrich feature Blonde Venus (1932). He also found success as a special effects artist at Paramount Studios.
Murders from the Rue Morgue gradually became a cult classic and is considered a fine example of Expressionist filmmaking in America. Universal decided Poe’s name was bankable enough that they added his name and the titles of his works to films like The Black Cat (1935) and The Raven (1935) that bear absolutely no relation to anything Poe ever wrote. This tradition of adding Poe’s names and the titles to unrelated horror films continues to this day.
This was not the last time Hollywood came to the Poe Museum. A decade after the release of Murders in the Rue Morgue, Twentieth Century Fox approached the museum for help with its upcoming romance The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe. The museum consulted the studio on the life of Poe in order to make the film as true to life as possible. Then the studio’s writers promptly ignored this advice and wrote a film that bore only a passing resemblance to the author’s life. Regrettably, the thoroughly historically inaccurate The Loves of Edgar Allan Poe (1942) remains one of the most accurate Poe biopics so far.
Even earlier, in 1928, director James Watson wrote the Poe Museum to see if the institution could assist him in getting the avant-garde film The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) shown in Richmond. The Museum’s secretary replied that she was not sure of any place in town that would be willing to screen it. In recent years, the Poe Museum has shown the film in its Enchanted Garden.
Even when the Poe Museum opened in 1922, Edgar Allan Poe and his works were no strangers to film. No less prestigious a director than D.W. Griffith had already made a Poe film. In fact, the first cinematic adaptation of a Poe story dates to 1907.
Over the years, the Poe Museum has had several visitors from Hollywood. In 1975, Vincent Price, star of several Poe adaptations, visited and toured the museum, Shockoe Hill Cemetery, and Talavera, where he recited some verses from “The Raven” on the spot on which Poe once stood when he recited the poem. Around 1990, writer/director/actor Sylvester Stallone visited the museum and spoke about his own desire to write a new Poe biopic. With the critical success of his recent film Creed, maybe he will find the support he needs to make his Poe film a reality.
While the Poe Museum is best known for its collection of rare Poe manuscripts and historical artifacts dating to the early nineteenth century, but the Museum also collects pop culture ephemera like movie posters and comic books. While the core of the Museum’s movie poster collection was donated by Dr. Harry Lee Poe in 2006, the collection of Poe movie memorabilia dates to the 1932 gift of these Murders in the Rue Morgue film stills. Items like these serve as evidence of Poe’s lasting impact and our culture and the ways writers, visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, and other creatives continue to be inspired by his works. That is why–just in time for this year’s Oscars– this set of publicity stills is the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month.
The Edgar Allan Poe Museum, located in Poe’s hometown of Richmond, Virginia, is proud to announce its 2016 Young Writers’ Conference, to be held June 19-23, 2016. The Young Writers’ Conference is a five-day residency program for high school students who would like to hone their writing skills in a stimulating environment with other like-minded young writers.
Designed to encourage and develop the writing skills of all participants, the conference will feature a variety of experiences, including lectures from visiting writers across a range of genres, intensive workshops, discussion of craft and the artistic process, a focus on Poe through lectures and field trips to places he knew, and much more. The conference concludes with a reading in which students will share the work they’ve produced throughout the week.
As the conference is sponsored by the Poe Museum, one of its goals is to further the legacy of Poe, who was not only a short story writer but also a poet, journalist, editor and critic. Poe grew up in Richmond and began his literary career here, but he also returned to this city throughout his life. The Poe Museum contains the world’s largest collection of Poe’s manuscripts, letters, first editions, artifacts and memorabilia, making it a rich place to study both Poe and the craft of writing.
DAILY SCHEDULE: Each morning of the Young Writers’ Conference begins with breakfast followed by a keynote speaker who would give an hour-long presentation centering on his or her writing specialty. That lecture would be succeeded by an intensive workshop focusing on the presentation topic. After lunch, the afternoon schedule varies from day-to-day and might include a walking tour of Poe’s old neighborhoods, a talk from the Poe Museum’s curator about Poe’s life and work, a trip to Charlottesville where Poe studied at the University of Virginia, visits to historic sites in Richmond such as Monumental Church and Shockoe Hill Cemetery, or a movie night at the famous Byrd Theatre. Every afternoon would include dinner and time for the students to write.
MORNING PRESENTATIONS: The talks in the morning will focus on different kinds of writing each day. Authors who specialize in fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, non-fiction and other genres combine theory and practice to tell the students about the challenges, techniques and rewards of their various fields.
WORKSHOPS: Every morning following the lecture the students participate in a workshop in which they will read from their own work; receive critique, instruction and support from their workshop leader and peers; and engage in exercises and writing prompts that will serve to develop their skills.
HONING THE CRAFT OF WRITING: Time will be set aside each afternoon for the students to practice their writing—often by experimenting with the things they have learned in the morning and on previous days. An essential part of the program, this independent creative time concentrates writing activity and allows students to develop a piece to read aloud on the last evening of the conference.
FOCUS ON POE: Taking advantage of the staff and resources of the Poe Museum and its location in the historic neighborhood of Shockoe Bottom in Poe’s hometown of Richmond. The conference will provide students with several chances to engage closely with Poe’s life and work through lectures, tours, presentations, and activities.
ELIGIBILITY: The 2016 Young Writers’ Conference is open to anyone who is enrolled in the 9th, 10th, 11th or 12th grade at the time of application.
LOCATION AND RESIDENCE: The 2016 Young Writers’ Conference is centered at the Linden Row Inn, at 100 East Franklin Street, Richmond VA 23219. Students will reside at the Inn throughout their stay; some meals and many activities will be there as well. This is a residential program, which involves the students living together as a community of writers wherein the participants encourage and creatively engage each another through conversation, reading each other’s work and sharing a common routine and schedule.
COST: The 2016 Young Writers’ Conference is $750 per participant. This fee includes four nights’ lodging at the Linden Row Inn and three meals a day for the four full days of the conference, plus dinner on the first night after arrival.
RULES: Those who apply to the 2016 Young Writers’ Conference should be high school students who are actively engaged in writing and serious about improving their skills and contributing to a residential writing community. Attendees are not allowed to bring or use tobacco products or alcohol. The residence is gender segregated and visits to the rooms of members of the opposite gender are prohibited.
TO APPLY: Those interested in participating in the 2016 Young Writers’ Conference must submit their application by MAY 1, 2016. The application process is open to anyone enrolled in high school in the spring of 2016; those applying should demonstrate a serious interest in writing and the ability to live in a residential writing community for five days. All applicants will receive notice of the result of their application by May 6, 2016. Those accepted will be expected to send a deposit of $100 to secure their spot by May 27, 2016. The remainder of the fee will be due in full before or upon arrival at the Conference.
From March 18 until May 22, Art students from Petersburg, Virginia’s Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology will display their new Poe-inspired artwork at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond. Under the supervision of their instructors David Bartlett, Susanne Whittier, Jason Taylor, and Patty Lyons; the students have produced both 2-D and 3-D artwork in a variety of media. In addition to the visual art, the students will also provide live music at the March 18, 6-8p.m. opening reception in the form of the small ensemble Descendants of Tamerlane. The exhibit will be a great opportunity for the public to see the work of some of the great artists of tomorrow.
“Bits and Pieces” by Olivia Nash
The Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology provides gifted and talented students a differentiated and rigorous education, cultivates a supportive environment that inspires unique artistic and technological visions, promotes cultural tolerance, nurtures community partnerships, and produces active, engaged citizens.
“Emergence” by Branden Berkey
The exhibit is part of the Poe Museum’s “Poe Inspires” initiative to collaborate with a diverse variety of outside groups to interpret Poe’s influence through writing, visual art, performing art, gardening, and science. On March 19 and 20, the Latin Ballet of Virginia will perform the Poe-inspired ballet POEMAS at the Poe Museum.
February 14th, 2016 by Kelly
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[The Poet] feels it in the beauty of woman — in the grace of her step — in the lustre of her eye — in the melody of her voice — in her soft laughter — in her sigh — in the harmony of the rustling of her robes. He deeply feels it in her winning endearments — in her burning enthusiasms — in her gentle charities — in her meek and devotional endurances — but above all — ah, far above all — he kneels to it — he worships it in the faith, in the purity, in the strength, in the altogether divine majesty — of her love.-Poe, the Poetic Principle Poe was deeply touched by woman’s beauty throughout his life, and many such women became muses for his works. Not only does he dwell on the beauty of “woman” in the passage stated, but he also states in “The Philosophy of Composition”, “Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.” We see Poe being touched, nay, moved to the point of tears by woman’s beauty. But what kind of beauty could evoke such strong emotion in Poe to bring him to tears? In this same article, which is arguably one of his most well known quotes, he states, “I asked myself-‘Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy’? Death-was the obvious reply. ‘And when,’ I said, ‘is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?’ From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also, is obvious-‘When it most closely allies itself to Beauty : the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world…”(165).
As explained, Poe saw beauty through death, and subsequently death through beauty. He was often moved by woman’s beauty, to the point, as the previous quote infers, to tears. From what we can ascertain, Poe found love for the women he admired not only through their physical beauty, which we will provide description examples of below, but also through their ability to inspire his writing. And perhaps we may receive a glimpse of the beauty that so moved Poe.
Jane Stanard Jane Stanard was the mother of Poe’s childhood friend, Robert Craig Stanard. Poe would often visit Robert just to be able to spend time with Jane, whom he’d developed boyish feelings for. She treated him like a son and provided him with the maternal love that he craved, not to mention that she was described as being “a woman of great beauty and of a somewhat classic countenance…Her family and relatives have preserved into modern times the memory of one unusual for her warmth of heart and graciousness in an age of gracious manners. In short, Mrs. Stanard is known to have been a beautiful woman, a splendid hostess, and possessed of a peculiarly radiant and extraordinary and memorable personality”(Allen 88).
Jane Stanard, painted by artist Chris Semtner
Not only did Poe find, according to Hervey Allen, “the chivalrous ideal of a young boy’s first idolatry and the material comfort of sympathy and appreciation,” but he also found arguably his first muse. Stanard, if at all known, is recognized as being the inspiration of Poe’s poem “To Helen.” The passion Poe expressed at such a young age indicates that not only did he appreciate the outward beauty of women, but as indicative of Stanard’s personality and his poem dedicated to her, he found a familial and transcendent love. He placed his “Helen” on the pedestal that Helen of Troy would have been placed upon, and he raised her image above his eye to admire from afar, despite being so close.
Her death in April, 1824 marked a difficult time in Edgar’s life, and, according to Allen, “There is an immortal story that Poe haunted the spot” (90). There is no doubt that many may have heard this tale, and, yes, it is widely told that Poe and Robert would often visit Jane’s grave to morn and weep-Robert, for his mother and also perhaps mentor and great friend, and Poe, for his first love, his “Helen,” and one of, if not his first, ideal forms of beauty.
Elmira Royster When Poe was just sixteen, he met his first fiancée, Sarah Elmira Royster. She would also become his last fiancée and love before his death in 1849. According to Poe biographer Hervey Allen, “…she was about fifteen and dowered with a trim little figure, an appealing mouth, large black eyes, and long, dark chestnut hair” (110). We emphasize that this was when Edgar first came to know her, amidst the beauty of childhood bliss and blooming love that happens at that tender age. She would have been the second significant female figure in his life to romantically interest him, and we see, from this description, that she held the characteristic dark eyes and hair that may have made her appear pale in complexion-at least, to Poe and his romantic eye.
Forged Drawing of Young Elmira Royster
As many may know the tale, Poe went off to college, Elmira’s father destroyed all of the letters that Edgar sent to her, and she became engaged to Alexander Shelton. When Poe returned, he learned of the unfortunate fate that had befallen their love, thus inspiring of a few of his poems including “I Saw Thee On Thy Bridal Day….” and “To [Elmira],” which even alludes to her eyes, “in Heaven of heart enshrined,” falling unto his “funereal mind,” thus displaying the connection of beauty with death. Not only do we have a copy drawing of a portrait of Elmira sketched by Poe here at the museum, which showcases her beauty and allows us to see the beauty Poe saw in her, but we also have other numerous quotes regarding her appearance later in life. You can read more about Elmira and her character and appearance in the post for this month’s “Museum Object of the Month,” here.
Virginia Poe Many are familiar with Virginia Poe, for she was the youthful wife of Edgar Poe. It may be argued that she was the main inspiration for many of his works, including “Annabel Lee,” “Ulalume,” and “Eleonora.” In the following passages, we receive a glimpse of her outward appearance.
“She was rather small for her age, ‘pump, pretty, but not especially so, with sweet and gentle manners and the simplicity of a child,'” she was described as being during the year of 1835, when she and Poe married. It was also said, according to Hervey Allen, that “When she [Virginia] was twenty-odd it was noticed by competent persons that she did not appear to be over fifteen. Her mind developed more normally that her cousin’s [Rosalie Poe], but her body was never wholly mature…it was remarked that the otherwise childish prettiness of Virginia was marred by a chalky-white complexion…” (311-312).
Virginia Poe-drawing after her “Death Portrait”
According to Allen, in accordance with Poe’s statement initially quoted at the beginning of this post, “For Poe the ‘delicacy’ which the advancing stages of the dread, but then fashionable and romantic, disease, conferred on his wife-the strange, chalky pallor tinged with a faint febrile rouge, the large, haunted liquid eyes-gradually acquired a peculiar fascination” (312). Although this is simply painted by Allen, who would not have seen Virginia personally during her decline before her death, his description is certainly romantic and promotes the ideal beauty of death to Poe.
Finally, “Mrs. Poe looked very young; she had large black eyes, and a pearly whiteness of complexion, which was a perfect pallor. Her pale face, her brilliant eyes, and her raven hair gave her an unearthly look. One felt that she was almost a disrobed spirit, and when she coughed it was made certain that she was rapidly passing away” (Mrs. Mary Gove Nichols, “Reminiscences of Edgar Allan Poe,” reprint, p. 8).
Concluding this section with Virginia, we can see that she most resembles the ideal figure of beauty quoted by Poe-she may have perhaps even influenced Poe’s famous quote, as she would have been the closest embodiment of death while he remained by her side until her finale repose.
Frances Osgood was notorious for arresting Poe with her lucid gaze and poise, not to mention the secretive romantic poems that she exchanged with him, albeit publicly. In the following descriptions, however, not only will we see Frances’ outer beauty, but also the inward beauty she held.
In character she is ardent, sensitive, impulsive-the very soul of truth and honor; a worshipper of the beautiful, with a heart so radically artless as to seem abundant in art; unusually admired, respected and beloved. In person she is about the medium height, slender even to fragility, graceful whether in action or repose; complexion usually pale, hair black and glossy; eyes a clear, luminous grey, large, and with singular capacity for expression (Poe 129, Godey’s Lady’s Book).
In the poem, “Stanzas [To F.S.O],” Poe writes, “The gladness of a pure heart/ Pure as the wishes breathed in prayer…/ The fullness of a cultured mind, Stored with the wealth of bard and sage…/ The grandeur of a guileless soul, / With wisdom, virtue feeling fraught, / Gliding serenely to its goal, / Beneath the eternal sky of Thought:- / These should be thine…” (Mabbott 386)
Poe comments on the purity of her heart and her “cultured mind,” almost proving that she has a transcended beauty about her. She, without question, inspired many other poems, which Poe dedicated to her, including “A Valentine.”
Sarah Helen Whitman: Finally, Whitman can be considered as one of the more eccentric love interests of Poe. This maiden of the occult cast her spell on Poe, bewitching him with only her vague figure from afar.
Below is the following account of when Poe first saw the spectral poetess.
“At a late hour, however, on this summer night, Poe became restless and left the hotel. He strolled past Mrs. Whitman’s house at the corner of Benefit and Church Streets. There was moonlight, and Mrs. Whitman happened to be standing in the street door taking the air” (Allen 528).
Sarah Helen Whitman
Our next piece of evidence lies in the lines of Poe’s poem, “To Helen,” written solely for Whitman.
I saw thee once-once only-years ago:
I must not say how many-but not many.
It was a July midnight; and from out
A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,
Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven,
There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,
Upon the upturn’d faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,
Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe-
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death-
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted
By thee, and by the poetry of thy presence.
Clad all in white, upon a violet bank
I saw thee half reclining; while the moon
Fell on the upturn’d faces of the roses,
And on thine own, upturn’d -alas, in sorrow! (Mabbott 445)
Throughout this lengthy poem, Poe alludes to her eyes,
…the divine light in thine eyes-
Save but the soul in thine uplifted eyes.
I saw but them-they were the world to me.
I saw but them-saw only them for hours-
Saw only them until the moon went down.
What wild heart-histories seemed to lie unwritten
Upon those crystalline, celestial spheres!
How dark a wo! yet how sublime a hope!
How silently serene a sea of pride!
How daring an ambition! yet how deep-
How fathomless a capacity for love!” (446).
The ethereal and “divine” qualities of Whitman-almost spiritual qualities-seemed to have invoked in Poe a mature form of love.
Although Poe saw his Helen “once-once only years ago,” according to this poem, he and the poet continued to keep in touch through numerous letters thereafter, which display their evolving love for one another. They would eventually meet again in person and, that same night, Poe would propose to her in a graveyard. This impulsive gesture showcases the themes of death and beauty and love colliding through the morbid act. Although she did not agree initially, she finally accepted Poe’s proposal at a later date; however, their marriage would be called off for numerous reasons.
As we have gathered insight into these five individual women who influenced Poe not only through their beauty but also through their character, we also see that they influenced his writing. The writings chosen for most of these women seem to have an air of melancholy about them, thus proving that although their beauty and muse could bring him happiness, loving a woman could also bring despair, whether it be through the literal deaths of his wife and first love, or the figurative deaths of his other relationships. It should come as no surprise then that Poe felt that “[a] certain taint of sadness is inseparably connected with all the higher manifestations of true Beauty” (The Poetic Principle).