Millions of students have memorized Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” but what great work of literature did the author of that famous speech memorize? According to one of his friends, John T. Stuart, Lincoln “carried Poe around on the Circuit—read and loved ‘The Raven’—repeated it over & over.” How might Lincoln have sounded when reading Poe’s solemn poem of death and despair? William H. Herndon wrote in an 1887 letter that “Lincoln’s voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant.”
Ever since he was young, Lincoln loved reading. His biographer, Michael Burlingame, wrote that among Lincoln’s favorite works were Poe’s mystery “The Gold Bug” and his science fiction/horror tale “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Lincoln even tried his hand at writing his own true-crime story based on a murder trial for which he had served as the defense attorney. The story “Remarkable Case of Arrest for Murder” was reprinted over a century later in the March 1952 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
He also wrote a number of poems. Here is one he wrote in his arithmetic book when he was about sixteen:
Abraham Lincoln is my nam[e]
And with my pen I wrote the same
I wrote in both hast and speed
and left it here for fools to read…
In 1858, Lincoln wrote this poem in his landlord’s daughter’s album:
You are young, and I am older;
You are hopeful, I am not—
Enjoy life, ere it grow colder—
Pluck the roses ere they rot.
Teach your beau to heed the lay—
That sunshine soon is lost in shade—
That now’s as good as any day—
To take thee, Rose, ere she fade.
Even though Poe and Lincoln were born a few weeks apart in 1809, they never met. One wonders what might have happened if they had.
Rare first Edition Versions of Eureka: A Prose Poem, Published in 1848
On Being Guided by Edgar Allan Poe—A Re-Introduction to the “Poe and Science Blog,” by Dr. Murray Ellison
Most people would most likely associate Edgar Allan Poe as a writer of some of the world’s scariest horror stories. At least, some of Poe’s short fictional stories must have sent shivers up many readers’ spines and caused others to have sleepless nights. His most famous poem, “The Raven” is unsurpassed in literature in creating moods of terror, as the hapless narrator begs the dark bird bring back his lost love, Lenore. However, the raven can only taunt him and endlessly repeat, “Nevermore.” It is inevitable that many have been terrified as they thought about the chopped-up man, and his beating heart, under the floor boards in the “Tell-Tale Heart.” For me, Poe’s most frightening tale is the “Premature Burial.” I don’t know of anything scarier than the thought of waking up and realizing that you are buried alive in a coffin? Do you?
As horrifying as several of Poe’s’ tales are, I am not frightened one bit by any of them. On the contrary, I am inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s works and his life story, and strongly believe that, though he is no longer living, he has been a significant personal guide and inspiration for me. His writing and life story helped lead me out of the shock of a forced early retirement and guided me, step by step, to my new identity as a lover, teacher, and writer of literature. Although, it may sound like the language spoken at séances that were popular in his lifetime, I believe that I have increasingly felt his direct and indirect presence in my life each step I have taken since I became aware and involved with the Poe community. These experiences have also helped me to gain a clearer understanding of his writing and life struggles. There too many details illustrating my positive experiences with Poe to include in this essay. However, I plan to elaborate more on my experiences with Eddie in my future columns on the Richmond Poe Museum’s, “Poe and Science” blog. In the present forum, I will also discuss why Poe in Science is important and why this topic has been particularly interesting to me.
Perhaps a few readers may remember that I introduced the “Poe in Science Blog” more than a year ago. I wrote several columns explaining why the nineteenth century, the period when Poe wrote about science, is often considered by historians, as one of the most important times in the world in the development of technology that we utilize today. Around Poe’s lifetime, electricity, and photography were invented. Improvements in the range of the telescope greatly expanded humanity’s awareness of the vastness of the Universe. The invention of the telegraph started the boom (or curse) of around the clock communications. Babbage’s mechanical computer was first introduced in in England and then displayed in the United States. Improvements in the printing press increased its capacity from dozens of books, newspapers, or journals a day to hundreds or thousands per hour. Improvements in rail and trans-Atlantic transportation helped to spread people, books, and literary trends faster around the world than it had ever been done in the past. Poe benefited by these trends first as student and then later a writer known all across the United States and Europe. He spent five very influential school years in London learning about literature, European languages, philosophy, science, and literature. As Poe’s fiction, poetry, and journalistic works became more well-known, they were spread all across the United States and Europe in a matter of days or weeks rather months and years. I realize that I would not have had the opportunity to write and distribute an article, such as this one, throughout the world in a few seconds if not for the benefit of these important nineteenth-century technologies. Most important to the present topic is that my friend and guide, Eddie Poe, lived and wrote about several of these seminal technological developments, and that they are still preserved in museums, libraries, bookstores, and perhaps in many of our homes. Today, we can learn a great deal about how nineteenth-century people experienced scientific trends. Some historians even believe that we can learn more about nineteenth-century science by reading Poe’s works than by reading the works of the notable scientists of that period. He lived at the perfect time in history to reflect on how science significantly changed the culture and lifestyles of America and Western culture. It may be easy to see how some of his fictional works reflected several emerging scientific trends. However many readers may not know that Poe’s interest in science is also reflected in his poetry, his journalistic works, and his technical and scientific writing. Some readers may already be wondering how my personal interest in Poe, or his science writing has improved the quality of my life. I will, at least, begin to explain how it all started in the present column and continue in the future.
A few years before I “retired” from my full-time job, my wife and I hosted an international exchange student, Aurora Dallalio, from Bologna Italy to live with us for a year. Our youngest daughter, Leah, had requested that we try to locate and offer an exchange student the opportunity to share our home and to attend James River High School with her in both of their senior years. Right after the process was arranged and Aurora was settled, she asked us if she could visit the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond. I understood that Aurora was excited about living with a new host family and having a same-age female to bond with. But I was surprised that visiting the museum was even more important to her than seeing the Confederate statues all around town or the battlefields of our various wars, or the home of Thomas Jefferson not too far from Richmond. But not! She said she and her friends and family considered that the Poe Museum was the most notable feature in Richmond. Although we agreed to take her to the museum on our first international family outing, I had to concede that I had never been there before; that I knew only a little about Poe; and that I knew nothing about the museum. Our visit was very interesting informative, as Aurora engaged in most of the most discussions and asked the majority of the questions to our tour guide. The year was very productive and inspiring for our family and Aurora, as we have visited her and her family in various locations of Italy. We visited with her and her family for the second time last summer. On the last visit she reminded me that many people in Italy, and throughout much of Europe, consider Poe one of the most important American writers.
After Aurora had returned to Italy, I started reading more of Poe’s stories and getting more interested in both his life and what he had to write about. Although I was never an orphan, the fact that Poe’s father left his family and was never seen again, and that his mother died when he was about two years old, resonated very strongly with me. I was also deeply disturbed when I read that he sat in the same small and dark room of a boarding home to watch his mother slowly suffer from extreme poverty and tuberculosis. Several other of Poe’s loved ones died of this dreaded disease. It is, then, easy for me to understand how he had the inspiration to write horror stories. My natural mother abandoned me when I was about seven and “dropped” me off in the care of a loving set of grandparents. Since then, I never saw or heard from her again, or got any word about her whereabouts. Based on the fact that she would be well over a hundred years old now, I can only assume that she died many years ago. Eventually, I went to live with my natural father, Mark and his new wife Ethel (my step-mother) until I started college. I am thankful that they raised me and brought me up in a caring environment and encouraged me to go to college and strive to be successful. Attaining wisdom was, and still is a very big part of the Jewish culture that they raised me in. Consequently, I cringed even more when I read that young Eddie was a foster child who was never legally adopted by his foster parents, John and Frances Allan. This callous slight disturbed me more than reading any of Poe’s horror stories. I was also very upset when I heard that John Allan refused to pay for Eddie’s college expenses at the University of Virginia, even though records show are available at the Poe Museum that document that he was a brilliant student at that university.
In 2012, I decided to take a major step forward in hopes of finding some future direction in my new life as a retired man. I enrolled as a graduate student in English Literature at Virginia Commonwealth University. In one of my first classes, English Scholarship, I was assigned by the Professor, Joshua Eckhardt, to locate and prepare a report about a rare and first edition literary book; I thought about the Poe Museum. In looking at their website I noted that they had some rare copies of a Eureka: A Prose Poem. This book was listed as a treatise on science and philosophy that Poe had written in 1848. I found out that it was the last work that he wrote and published in his lifetime. Although the book is rare and almost unknown today among most Poe readers, he wrote that he thought that it was one of the most important science treatises in the history of the world. My exploration of Poe’s world, his life, and his interest in science had started with my exploration of Eureka. He wrote that his discoveries in Eureka were even more important than Newton’s discovery of gravity! But, it was a long road that took me from my initial research on this book to the completion of my Master’s Thesis on Edgar Allan Poe and Science: Unraveling the Secrets of the Universe. I hope you will accompany me on this journey as I attempt to write a monthly column on Poe and Science for the Richmond Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
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 also an editor of the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic and meditation teacher. Murray also serves 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]
“Burton not only lies, but deliberately and wilfully lies . . . Were I in your place I would take some summary method of dealing with the scoundrel, whose infamous line of conduct in regard to this whole premium scheme merits, and shall receive exposure.”-Poe to Joseph Snodgrass, June 17, 1840
Many may be familiar with the fact that Poe worked for multiple editors during the 1830s-1840s, including Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine; however, many may not know that Burton, Poe’s eccentric, conniving manager was a comedic-thespian during his day before becoming owner of his magazine, which would only run for about four years.
So, how did this actor-turned-magazine enthusiast become manager of his own magazine, and why did he and Poe have a strained relationship?
William E. Burton came to Philadelphia from London in 1834, according to William L. Keese in William E. Burton, and first appeared in September of that year at the Arch Street Theater (4). This was not his first time acting, however, for he, according to his private journal obtained by Keese, wrote while in England, “‘July 19, 1825. Opened at the theater in Southern to only 50 shillings. In Ollapod, eighth time, in the ‘Hunter of the Alps.’ I sang the comic song of ‘Gaby Grundy’s Courtship'” (46). Therefore, he had already made his footing in theater. In fact, his first performance in Philadelphia was as Ollapod (46).
From William E. Burton by Keese
After establishing himself in his new home, he contributed to periodicals with articles that were “sketches of life and character made lively by touches of humor, and not infrequently a story would appear of graver import, often rendered somber by the introduction of a weird element” (5). He later published his own collection of pieces, “Waggeries and Vagaries.” His establishment in the literary and publishing field may have inspired him to start his own magazine, known as The Gentleman’s Magazine, in 1837-this would become known to Poe as Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. Burton included his own articles in the magazine, including a notable sketch of his friend, Wallack (6).
Keese explains that Poe was associated with Burton in the conduct of a magazine about this time, however, “though Burton was disposed to be indulgent and friendly towards his associate, the comedian and the poet did not pull well together, and the relationship was severed” (9). This is when the magazine was sold to George Rex Graham, Poe’s future employer at Graham’s Magazine.
In Joseph Jefferson’s autobiography, he states, “Burton’s ambition to succeed in the various tasks he had set himself was strongly fortified by his quick apprehension and great versatility. He was at the same time managing the Arch Street Theater in Philadelphia, the Chambers Street Theater in New-York, acting nightly, and studying new characters as fast as they came out. In addition to these professional duties, he was building a country residence at Glen Cove, writing stories for the magazines, and taking prizes at the horticultural shows for hot-house grapes and flowers” (10). Not only was Burton interested in the theater and writing, but also horticulture, and, later stated, books-he carried with him to New York a library of over twelve-thousand volumes, which then grew to twenty-thousand before his death in 1860 (11).
We have established Burton’s acting career and its launch, as well as mentioned the magazine he managed and hired Poe under. Poe had already worked for the Southern Literary Messenger in his hometown of Richmond, so he had already begun forming and practicing excellent, albeit biased and sometimes very harsh editorship skills. But how did Poe come to know Burton, and why did they have that falling out previously mentioned?
From William E. Burton by Keese
Burton seemed as amiable of a boss as Poe could have had, although Burton’s daughters later recalled that their father “loved his children, but at all times demanded strict obedience…” (20). This implies a rough edge to Burton’s facade of being a comedic, genial gentleman. Would Poe have also had these strict holds on him while working under Burton?
Poe’s works were initially rejected by Burton. However, if we look at some of the material written by Poe published just a few months after being hired, including “The Fall of the House of Usher,” we can infer that Poe’s restrictions were gradually lifted. What appears to be very significant in the publishing of a story like “Usher” is that it was horrific, different, and potentially scarring to Burton’s readers. Burton was taking a risk for his magazine, just as White’s Southern Literary Messenger had done with Poe’s stories. The fact that these stories were being published, if even briefly for Burton’s, seems relatively positive in light of their relationship.
That Poe was an excellent editor wasn’t a question to Burton, who wrote in an announcement of the June, 1839 issue, “William E. Burton, Editor and Proprietor, has much pleasure in stating that he has made arrangements with Edgar A. Poe, Esq., late Editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, to devote his abilities and experience to a portion of the Editorial duties of the Gentleman’s Magazine” (EAPoe). Burton had full confidence in his new editor.
From William E. Burton by Keese
Not only might they have gotten along as colleagues, but also as acquaintances, for Poe might have found common ground with Burton in the fact that Burton was a thespian, just like Poe’s biological parents. With Poe’s appreciation for theater, as well as literature, one might surmise that Burton and Poe would have had well-mannered conversations regarding these subjects.
Unfortunately, these weren’t enough for the proprietor and his assistant’s relationship, and their ultimate falling out occurred. In Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, Arthur Hobson Quinn explains that Poe wrote all of the reviews between the July and August issues, which were Burton’s responsibility (283). He follows this up with another statement, “Burton began to feature his own name on the front wrappers with larger display type. Yet Poe was acting as Editor during Burton’s absences on the road” (293). Finally, a letter by Charles W. Alexander on October 20, 1850, reminisces,
…I well remember his [Poe’s] connection with the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” of which Mr. Burton was editor, and myself the publisher, at the period referred to in connection with Mr. Poe.
The absence of the principal editor on professional duties left the matter frequently in the hands of Mr. Poe, whose unfortunate failing may have occasioned some disappointment in the preparation of a particular article expected from him, but never interfering with the regular publication of the “Gentleman’s Magazine,” as its monthly issue was never interrupted upon any occasion, either from Mr. Poe’s deficiency, or from any other cause, during my publication of it, embracing the whole time of Mr. Poe’s connection with it. That Mr. Poe had faults seriously detrimental to his own interests, none, of course, will deny. They were unfortunately, too well known in the literary circles of Philadelphia, were there any disposition to conceal them. But he alone was the sufferer, and not those who received the benefit of his pre-eminent talents, however irregular his habits or uncertain his contributions may have occasionally have been (297).
With a fair perspective from a bystander, may we approach more of the happenstance between Burton and Poe. Although a supposed letter from Burton to Poe, to which Poe responded to, is lost, Poe responds to said “ghost” letter with the following,
Sir,-I find myself at leisure this Monday morning, June 1, to notice your very singular letter of Sunday, and you shall now hear what I have to say. In the first place, your attempts to bully me excite in my mind scarcely any other sentiment than mirth. When you address me again, preserve, if you can, the dignity of a gentleman. If by accident you have taken it into your head that I am to be insulted with impunity I can only assume that you are an ass. This one point being distinctly understood I shall feel myself more at liberty to be explicit. As for the rest, you do me gross injustice; and you know it (297-298).
He goes on to chastise Burton for making him write 11 pages per month on average, not the supposed 2 or 3 that were, apparently, asked of Poe in the beginning (299). He then continues,
At first I wrote long articles which you deemed inadmissible, [sic] & never did I suggest any to which you had not some immediate and decided objection. Of course I grew discouraged & could feel no interest in the Journal. I am at a loss to know why you call me selfish. If you mean that I borrowed money of you-you know that you offered it-and you know that I am poor. In what instance has any one ever found me selfish…You first “enforced,” as you say, a deduction of salary…You next spoke disrespectfully of me behind my back…Lastly, you advertised your magazine for sale without saying a word to me about it. I felt no anger at what you did-none in the world (299-300). [Note: Quinn states that this letter may have been a rough draft copy of the one sent to Burton; however, Mrs. Richmond, when enclosing the letter to biographer John Ingram, explained that it was “a perfect copy…precisely like the original” (300).]
Amidst all of this, the rumor of Burton’s getting rid of the magazine to attend to his own prospective theater had gotten to Poe, as well as come true, for Burton’s theatrical project premiered in the opening of the National Theater on Chestnut Street on August 31, 1840. Because of this, any sort of break between the two was inevitable. As for Burton’s managerial skills, and describing the sort of treatment Poe underwent, Francis C. Wemyss, manager of the Walnut Street Theater, states of Burton, “As an actor, Mr. W. E. Burton has no superior on the American Stage-but as a manager, his faults are, first, want of nerve to fight a losing battle; in success he is a great general, but in any sudden reverse, his first thought is not to maintain his position, but to retreat” (301).
In the end, Burton’s magazine was sold to Graham, Poe was, for the most part, transferred, and the name William E. Burton left a sour taste in Poe’s mouth. Not only did Poe confide in Snodgrass that he was convinced that it was never Burton’s intention to stay true to the initial offer he had given Poe before taking the job, but in an April 1, 1841 letter to Snodgrass as well, he implied that Burton had spread rumors regarding Poe’s drinking habits (301-303). (Don’t let the date it was written fool you, for Poe was not in the least joking in this letter.)
But who ultimately won in the end? One could argue that Burton won, for he sought his theatrical pursuits free of debt and any nightmarish effects Poe and Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine may have had on him. As for Poe, he continued working only for nine more years thereafter, consistently impoverished, getting into literary and editorial brawls with writers such as Longfellow and editors such as Griswold, and riding a rollercoaster of slight gain and immense loss.
Ultimately, when the two parted, Burton returned to playing his characters, where as Poe continued writing his own.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we thought the Poe Museum’s Object of the Month for February should be a memento of Poe’s “first and last love.”
Shelton’s CDV of Poe
Edgar Allan Poe was a distasteful subject in Elmira Royster Shelton’s home. In fact, her daughter forbade her to mention his name in her presence. For decades, the widow Shelton refused requests for interviews about her famous fiancée, and, when she finally agreed to answer some questions from Richmond historian Edward Valentine in 1874, she denied that she and Poe had ever been engaged. Scholars eventually questioned whether they had been or if the engagement was just one of the many legends that have grown up about Poe’s love life. After all, a number of women had emerged to claim their place as inspirations for his poetry. While one of Poe’s lady friends legally changed her name to match the nickname Poe had given her and while yet another held séances to communicate with his spirit, Elmira Shelton lived a quiet life in Virginia, attended church regularly, and revered the memory of her late husband. But, to her death, she kept this tiny photograph of the author as a memento of the poet.
Elmira Royster Shelton
The facts of Poe’s relationship with Shelton are already well known, even if some of the details have been obscured by time or disputed by historians. It is known that they first met in Richmond when Poe was fifteen and Shelton, about fifteen. James Whitty, a Poe collector who interviewed her in her later years, told Poe biographer Mary Phillps that Shelton been a “beautiful girl” who “was fond of all the boys, but liked Edgar best, while he was interested in all the girls but lingered longest with Elmira.” Her father was the merchant James Royster, who disapproved of the attention the orphan Poe was paying his daughter. Shelton later told Valentine, “He was a beautiful boy — Not very talkative. When he did talk though he was pleasant but his general manner was sad…” In an 1884 interview with John Moran, she related, “We spent much of our time together when we were children. They play the same piano, sang songs, and took walks through a neighbor’s walled garden together. By one account, the Presbyterian Elmira accompanied Poe and his foster mother Frances Allan to Sunday services at Monumental Episcopal Church.
It is believed that Poe and Elmira became secretly engaged before he left to attend the University of Virginia. One source, Shelton descendant Belle Fitzhugh, wrote the Poe Museum in the 1940s that she owned a letter Elmira had written to her own mother telling her about the engagement. That letter, however, disappeared after Fitzhugh’s death.
“Our acquaintance was kept up until he left to go to the University,” Shelton later told Valentine, “and during the time he was at the University he wrote to me frequently, but my father intercepted the letters because we were too young — no other reason.”
By the time Poe returned to Richmond after his first—and only—term at the University, she had engaged herself to the wealthy Alexander Barrett Shelton who had a shipping business on the canal. They were married a year later, in 1828, when he was twenty-one and she was eighteen. After their marriage, Mrs. Shelton was baptized at St. John’s Episcopal Church at the age of twenty-four.
The break from Elmira had sent Poe on a different path. Having accumulated so much debt at the University that he was unable to continue his studies, Poe went to work in an unpaid position at his foster father John Allan’s export business. After three months of increasingly heated arguments with Allan, Poe stormed out of his guardian’s house in a quest “to find some place in this wide world, where I will be treated — not as you have treated me.” The following day, Poe wrote Allan for money to facilitate this quest.
When Poe finally returned to Richmond in 1835, the twenty-six year old writer had published three books of poetry and had seen his poems and short stories published in newspapers and magazines. In fact, his first story to be printed in a nationally circulated magazine was “The Visionary,” which told of a young man hopelessly in love with a beautiful young woman who is married to a much older man she does not really love.
Poe had also met one of Elmira’s close friends, Mary Winfree of Chesterfield County, Virginia. She is said to have assured Poe that Elmira did not really love Alexander Shelton.
While in Richmond, Poe found employment at the Southern Literary Messenger and married his cousin Virginia. Shortly after the marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Poe attended a party where they encountered Mr. and Mrs. Shelton. Elmira later wrote to Poe’s aunt Mara Clemm that “I remember seeing Edgar, & his lovely wife, very soon after they were married — I met them — I never shall forget my feelings at the time — They were indescribable, almost agonizing— ‘However in an instant,’ I remembered that I was a married woman, and banished them from me, as I would a poisonous reptile…”
Within a year, Poe and his bride moved to New York, not to return to Richmond for over a decade. The Sheltons had four children, two of whom died young. The surviving children, Ann Elizabeth and Alexander, did not have much time to know their father before his death in 1843 at the age of thirty-seven. He is said to have died from pneumonia after having leapt into the freezing James River to rescue a drowning man. The only problem is that he died on July 12, in the middle of a hot Richmond summer, so his exact cause of death is unknown.
Alexander Shelton’s Grave in Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond
Alexander’s death forced Elmira into a period of Victorian mourning. A proper lady like Elmira was expected to follow the etiquette of mourning, which dictated her behavior, clothing, and even her stationery for the next four five years. As her period of mourning drew to a close in 1848, she wrote a cousin, Philip Fitzhugh, “I am fearful Cousin Philip, that I shall never be a happy woman again…” Shelton had certainly changed since Poe had known her. One of their mutual acquaintances, Susan Archer Talley Weiss, described her as “a tall, rather masculine-looking woman, who drew her veil over her face as she passed us on the porch, though I caught a glimpse of large, shadowy, light blue eyes which must once have been handsome.”
Edward Alfriend, who knew Shelton, had a very different view of her appearance:
When I knew Mrs. Shelton she had a lovely, almost saintly face. Her eyes were a deep blue, her hair dark brown, touched with grey, her nose thin and patrician, her forehead high and well developed, her chin finely modeled, projecting and firm, and her cheeks round and full. Her voice was very low, soft and sweet, her manners exquisitely refined, and intellectually she was a woman of education and force of character. Her distinguishing qualities were gentleness and womanliness. She was just the woman in which such a perturbed spirit as that of Poe would have sought rest and found it.
Shelton was also gifted in business. In the six years since her husband’s death she had increased her $60,000 inheritance to about $70,000 at a time when American women still had few rights.
Then Poe reentered her life. As she told Valentine,
I was ready to go to church and a servant told me that a gentleman in the parlour wanted to see me. I went down and was amazed to see him — but knew him instantly — He came up to me in the most enthusiastic manner and said: “Oh! Elmira, is this you?” That very morning I told him I was going to church, that I never let anything interfere with that, that he must call again and when he did call again he renewed his addresses.
Since leaving Richmond, Poe had moved from New York to Philadelphia and back to New York, working at some of the nation’s leading periodicals and becoming a literary celebrity along the way. While living outside New York, in the village of Fordham, his wife died after a prolonged battle with tuberculosis. The only alleviation from the crippling depression that ensued seemed to be the friendly admirers who came to Fordham to visit the famous poet. By the time he resumed his lecture tour in 1848, he was desperate to find a new wife to fill the void left by Virginia’s absence. His travels brought him from Fordham to Richmond to Providence and back to Richmond. Along the way, he became fixated on Nancy Richmond of Lowell, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, she was happily married at the time, so he turned his attention to Providence, Rhode Island where an eccentric widow named Sarah Helen Whitman had addressed a Valentine’s Day poem to him. She closed the poem by expressing her desire to share a “lofty eyrie” with the “raven.” When he read a copy of her Valentine, Poe dropped everything to visit her in Providence, and proposed to her on their first meeting. She declined, and he attempted suicide. About two weeks later, she accepted his proposal on the condition that he abstain from drinking. The engagement only lasted a month.
Elmira Shelton’s House on Church Hill, Richmond
Less than a year later, Poe showed up on Elmira Shelton’s doorstep. He was in town to lecture at the Exchange Hotel and to sell his essays to the Southern Literary Messenger, which was by then under new ownership. Although she had initially refused to receive him, Poe soon became a frequent visitor. On one such visit, Shelton later recalled, “he looked very serious and said he was in earnest and had been thinking about it for a long time. Then I found out that he was very serious and I became serious. I told him if he would not take a positive denial he must give me time to consider of it. And he said a love that hesitated was not a love for him.”
On August 29, Poe wrote his aunt Maria Clemm, “And now let me tell you all about Elmira as well as I can in a letter. — We are solemnly engaged to be married within the coming month (Septr) — but I make no doubt that in a week or 10 days, all will be over.”
According to the letter, Shelton tried to postpone the wedding until January, so Poe stormed out and went to his sister’s house in the country. Then Shelton “went out to Mackenzie’s after me & all about town — so that every body knows of our engagement. It was reported, indeed, that we were married last Thursday.”
Ann Elizabeth Shelton on left
But there was some strong opposition to the match. Poe’s sister Rosalie Poe disliked Shelton, who had tried to discourage her from annoying Edgar by following him everywhere he went. Additionally, Shelton’s married daughter opposed the marriage because, in Poe’s opinion, Ann Elizabeth’s “pecuniary interests will be injured…” The problem was a stipulation in Shelton’s late husband’s will stating that, if she ever remarried, she would lose three quarters of her inheritance, which would still leave her more money than Poe had made from his entire twenty-two year career as a writer. Poe, of course, had struggled with poverty his entire adult life and made plans to save $500 a year by educating her son Southall himself at home. The ten-year-old would have probably hated the idea. He is known to have mocked Poe behind his back while Ann Elizabeth giggled uncontrollably.
Poe had other plans for the marriage. In addition to expressing his intention to move with Elmira to a cottage in the country, he also wanted to bring Maria Clemm to Richmond to live with them. She accepted the plan, writing Clemm, “I am fully prepared to love you, and I do sincerely hope that our spirits may be congenial — There shall be nothing wanting on my part to make them so…”
If Elmira was looking forward to the wedding, Poe still had doubts. He wrote Maria Clemm, “There is one other thing, too, dear mother, which drives me frantic — my love for Annie — I worship her beyond all human love. My passion for her grows stronger every day. I dare not, at this crisis, either speak or think of her — if I did I should go mad…Indeed, indeed, there is no expressing or conceiving the devotion I have for her. My love for her will never, never cease, either in this world or the next.”
A couple weeks later, Poe wrote Clemm, “I confess that my heart sinks at the idea of this marriage. I think, however, that it will certainly take place & that immediately.” Just eight days after writing that letter, Poe wrote Clemm again, this time making plans to meet her in New York to bring her back to Richmond for the wedding. By then, he expressed his renewed devotion to Elmira, writing, “I think she loves me more devotedly than any one I ever knew & I cannot help loving her in return.” In spite of his poverty, Poe bought Elmira extravagant gifts including a gold locket containing a lock of his hair, a gold wedding ring, and a daguerreotype of himself. Meanwhile, the hotel in which he had been staying confiscated his luggage until he could pay his bill.
Shelton’s Daguerreotype of Poe ruined during a cleaning attempt
Regardless, Poe was in good spirits. He visited the office of the Southern Literary Messenger, where, as the editor John Rueben Thompson recalled, “The evening before his departure from Richmond he was with me and spoke in the highest spirits of his resolves and prospects for the future. He had become a Son of Temperance and was soon to be married to a lady here.” By joining the Sons of Temperance, Poe pledged to abstain from drinking alcohol.
On his last night in Richmond, Poe spent the evening with Elmira. He complained of feeling sick, and she thought he seemed “very sad.” The next morning, he caught a steamship to Baltimore, where he died ten days later.
Poe spent his last four days in a Baltimore hospital under the care of Dr. John J. Moran who noted a month later in a letter to Maria Clemm, “He told me…he had a wife in Richmond (which, I have since learned was not the fact).” The “wife” to whom Poe referred could have been Elmira.
Elmira was stunned to read about Poe’s death in the newspaper and frantically wrote Maria Clemm, “Oh! how shall I address you, my dear, and deeply afflicted friend under such heart-rending circumstances? I have no doubt, ere this, you have heard of the death of our dear Edgar! yes, he was the dearest object on earth to me… Oh! my dearest friend! I cannot begin to tell you what my feelings were, as the horrible truth forced itself upon me! It was the most severe trial I have ever had; and God alone knows how I can bear it!”
By the time of Poe’s death, word had already spread about his engagement. The day after Poe’s funeral, his friend John Pendleton Kennedy wrote in his diary, that Poe “was soon to be married to a lady in Richmond of quite good fortune.” Poe’s acquaintance and editor of the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner John Moncure Daniel, wrote, “It was universally reported that [Poe] was engaged to be married. The lady was a widow, of wealth and beauty, who was an old flame of his, and whom he declared to be the ideal and original of his Lenore.”
Others believed the engagement had been broken before Poe left Richmond. Dr. John Carter, whose house Poe visited immediately after his last evening at the Shelton house, wrote in 1902, “I had not seen Poe for some days, when he one evening, about half-past nine o’clock, called at my office, which, being on Seventeenth and Broad Streets, had afforded him a half-way resting-place between Duncan Lodge and the residence of Mrs. Shelton, on Church Hill, during his brief engagement to that lady. As was well known to his intimate friends, the engagement was broken off before he left Richmond, though whether afterwards resumed is not certain.”
A friend of Poe’s sister’s, Susan Archer Talley Weiss, wrote in 1904, “He himself always denied, even in public, that any engagement existed between himself and Mrs. Shelton, and spoke of the schoolboy love affair with her as a case of ‘measles.’” Weiss believed that Poe could only been interested in marrying Shelton for her money because Shelton was “not gifted with those traits which might be supposed capable of attracting one of his peculiar taste and temperament.” But Weiss does mention in the same account that “Mrs. Shelton, on Poe’s death, donned ‘widow’s weeds’ of the deepest mourning.”
Weiss also reported that Shelton’s neighbor, the former Civil War spy Elizabeth Van Lew, told her, “I used at first to often see Mr. Poe enter there, but never during the latter part of his stay in Richmond. It seemed to be known about here that the engagement was off. . . . Gossip had it that Mrs. Shelton discarded him because persuaded by friends that he was after her money. All her relatives are said to be opposed to the match.”
If Poe had been a celebrity during his lifetime, he became a legend after his death. Countless newspapers printed his obituary, and magazines carried accounts of his life. Rufus Griswold printed a memoir of the author, and Sarah Helen Whitman wrote her own Poe biography a few years later. John Rueben Thompson started deliver a lecture about “The Genius and Character of Edgar Allan Poe.” It seems almost everyone who had ever met the author started telling their story to any journalist who would listen. A number of women from Poe’s life were eager to alert the media that they were the inspiration for “Annabel Lee,” “Lenore,” or some other Poe poem. Elmira, however, refused to speak about her former fiancé. When she finally did answer a few questions from Edward Valentine, she insisted, “He never addressed any poems to me.”
After Poe’s death, Shelton continued to live in her Church Hill home, spurning the advances of potential suitors. Southall fought and lost an eye in the Civil War. Ann Elizabeth moved with her husband John Henry Leftwich to Ashland, Virginia. After the War, Elmira fell on hard times, eventually selling the locket, mother-of-pearl purse, drawing, and daguerreotype Poe had given her. At some point, she gave her wedding ring—with Poe’s name inscribed inside the band—to Poe’s sister Rosalie MacKenzie Poe.
Ann Elizabeth Shelton Leftwich
Around 1870, Shelton left Richmond to move in with her daughter in Ashland. After all those years, Ann Elizabeth still detested Poe, forbidding her mother to mention his name in her presence. Ann Elizabeth’s daughter Jennie Leftwich Wright later recalled, “The feeling of my mother was so strong against Mr. Poe and any association of his name with my grandmother’s that even as an old lady my mother would become incensed whenever their names were linked.”
By 1875, Shelton was living in a house on Clay Street in Richmond. She revered the memory of her husband and rarely spoke of Poe. The only person permitted to mention the poet was her favorite grandson, Southall’s son Alexander F. Shelton, who occasionally called out, “Well, Lost Lenore?” when she returned from visiting friends. To this she insisted she was most certainly not the “Lost Lenore.” Incidentally, the home in which she briefly lived in Ashland is listed on the National Record of Historic Places as the “Lost Lenore” House.
When she finally agreed to speak with Valentine, she insisted she had never been engaged to Poe: “He [continued] to visit me frequently but I never engaged myself to him. He begged me when he was going away to marry him. Promised he would be everything I could desire.”
In 1884, when Poe’s attending physician John J. Moran was preparing his own biography of Poe, he requested an interview, and Elmira accepted. On meeting her, he observed that “though in feeble health and well advanced in years, her face indicates a peaceful mind and a joyous hope of the rest beyond.”
He spoke with her for four hours during which “she talked freely with me of their childhood and riper years when they were in each other’s company.” He later quoted her as telling him, “I am lost in wonder and amazement at the singular drama now being enacted. Oh, sir, you can have no idea of the thoughts that have so crowded upon my memory and occupied my mind. How often I have wished to see his physician, so that I could learn from his own lips Mr. Poe’s dying words. And to think that so many years after his death, we are face to face, reviewing his life, from his childhood to his grave. All this I have anxiously hoped for before I should die, and it is now fulfilled.” She wept the tears with her handkerchief as she spoke.
Four years later, Elmira was dead. Her February 12, 1888 obituary in the Richmond Whig, entitled “Poe’s First and Last Love,” began, “One more of the few ties that prominently connect the name of Edgar Allan Poe to earth has been broken.” The article’s eleven paragraphs told of Poe’s life, his engagement to Sarah Helen Whitman, his marriage to Virginia Clemm, and nothing about Shelton’s life apart from him. Her granddaughter had grown up with no idea that her grandmother had once known a famous writer, but there was no missing the fact after the publication of that obituary.
Although Elmira Shelton had long-since sold almost all her mementos of Poe, she kept a tiny albumen print photograph of him until her death. It is unknown when or where she got the picture, but she must have acquired it at least twenty years after Poe’s death because the pastel portrait depicted in the photo was not created until 1868 and probably not reproduced until 1870.
The photograph is stamped “Lee Gallery, Richmond VA,” so she could have received it from any of her friends in the city or even from Poe’s sister, who resorted to selling photographs of her famous brother in the lean times after the Civil War. Rosalie Poe is said to have considered this portrait the best likeness of Poe, so copies of it could be among those she sold.
After Shelton’s death, the photograph was among her possessions that passed to her daughter Ann Elizabeth Shelton to Ann Elizabeth’s daughter Lou Newton Leftwich Coghill to her son daughter Bessie Coghill Cobb to her sons Maj. William Magruder Cobb and Thomas Tracy Cobb. William and Thomas Cobb donated their collection of Shelton family photographs and portraits to the Poe Museum in 1979. In addition to the photograph of Poe, the group includes two photographs of Ann Elizabeth Shelton Leftwich, a miniature of James Royster, a photograph of John Henry Leftwich, two photographs of Elmira Shelton’s sister, and one of two known daguerreotypes of Elmira Shelton.
Daguerreotype of Elmira Shelton donated by the Cobbs
Ever since Poe’s death, various scholars have tried to dismiss the possibility that Poe and Elmira were engaged at the time of his death, but evidence has emerged to lend support to claims made by Poe, Thompson, Kennedy, Daniel, and Shelton herself that they really were engaged and very likely would have married if his life had not been cut short just days before the ceremony was to have taken place. The truth is we can never be certain whether or not Poe would have married Shelton and finally settled down into a comfortable upper-class life for the first time in his adult life. All that remains as evidence of their relationship are some second-hand accounts, a couple letters, and a few scattered artifacts, among which is the Poe Museum’s photograph.
The albumen print carte-de-visite is slightly smaller than a baseball card. Poe’s image emerges in slightly faded sepia tones on one side. On the back of the photograph, Elmira wrote the name “Edgar Allan Poe” in handwriting clearly recognizable from her letters. Above her signature is written in a different handwriting, “Poe’s picture kept by Elmira Royster/ WMC [William M. Cobb] 1950/ Writing below probably/ Elmira Royster’s.” There is no other evidence to suggest what this photograph—or its subject—meant to her.
Back of CDV
Today the Poe Museum devotes a case to Elmira Royster Shelton. In it are displayed a handful of items donated by Shelton’s descendants. Her spectacles, a daguerreotype of her, a miniature of her father, a copy of a drawing Poe made of her, a photograph of her daughter, and a selection of other artifacts serve to tell the story of a love that could have been.
On February 11 from 7-9 p.m. at the Patrick Henry Pub and Grille in Richmond, the Poe Museum will team up with James River Writers to bring back the grand tradition of the salon, an intimate setting to meet & fraternize with local authors as they in turn guide you in your own writing practice. Whatever your genre, this will be a great way to connect, to learn, and to philosophize. There is no cover charge. We welcome writerly types of all experience levels and readers, thinkers, and artists of every sort. To top it off, the building in which we will be meeting was the home of J.W. Fergusson, Poe’s assistant at the Southern Literary Messenger and one of the few people to attend Poe’s wedding. The theme for the first salon will be “The Secret Heart–Considering the Dark Side of Romance” with speaker Slash Coleman.
Here are the Details:
February Topic: The Secret Heart – Considering the Dark Side of Romance
Speaker: Slash Coleman
Thursday, February 11, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Patrick Henry Pub & Grille, in the upstairs salon
2300 East Broad Street (free street parking)
About the Speaker:
NPR calls award-winning storyteller Slash Coleman “Extremely provocative and entertaining,” and WGBH says the NYC based author, “has the power to change the way people think.”
The author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash), Slash is best known for his PBS Special The Neon Man and Me and is currently creating The New American Storyteller for PBS. Slash’s performances have been featured in American Theatre Magazine, Backstage Magazine, The Washington Post, and most recently on the NPR series How Artists Make Money.
For more than a century, Edgar Allan Poe’s works have inspired countless writers, visual artists, musicians, and filmmakers; but now his works will inspire a ballet, which will be performed in the Poe Museum of Richmond’s legendary Enchanted Garden on March 19 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and on March 20 at 3 p.m.
The Latin Ballet of Virginia is proud to announce the world premiere of POEMAS, a dance theatre production inspired by the life and poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, Alfonsina Storni, Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca. Latin Ballet of Virginia’s Artistic Director, Ana Ines King in collaboration with international artists and choreographers, Antonio Hidalgo Paz and Domingo Ortega of Spain and Ana Patricia Nuckols of El Salvador, produced the works and interpretations seen in POEMAS. As part of the performance, the Poe Museum’s curator Chris Semtner will be reading Poe’s poetry.
POEMAS is choreographed in dance theatre, contemporary dance, contemporary and traditional Flamenco, Latino American dance and Spanish classical dance forms to give each poet an accurate character illustration in the most traditional and cultural interpretation.
POEMAS supports Latin Ballet of Virginia’s scholastic initiatives Everybody READS!, an educational component of the Be Proud of Yourself program, which promotes a love of reading, writing and literature through performances, lectures and workshops.
The Latin Ballet of Virginia is honored to be partnering with The Edgar Allan Poe Museum, to aid in their mission of interpreting the life and influence of Edgar Allan Poe for a global audience. POEMAS will be just one in a series of “Poe Inspires” events and exhibits through which the Poe Museum will showcase Poe’s continuing legacy of inspiration for today’s artists. This is will be the first time a ballet has ever been performed at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.
The Poets whose works will be featured in POEMAS are:
Edgar Allan Poe’s work has had a profound impact on American and international literature. His stories mark him as one of the originators of both detective fiction and the modern tale of psychological terror. Today, Poe is remembered as one of the first American writers to become a major figure in world literature.
Federico García Lorca is one of the most prominent Spanish cultural figures of the twentieth century. His lyrical work incorporates elements of Spanish folklore, Andalusian flamenco and gypsy culture while exploring themes of romantic love and tragedy
Alfonsina Storni is considered one of the most prominent Latino American women poets of the twentieth century. Inspired by her own personal experiences, Storni courageously wrote about the struggles of women in modern urban society, advocating equality for women and bemoaning the inadequacies of romantic relationships in a male-dominated culture.
Pablo Neruda led a life charged with poetic and political activity, whose most notable collection of poetry was written at the young age of 19. The book, Veinte Poemas de Amor y una Canción Desesperada (“Twenty Poems of Love and a Song Despair”) made a celebrity of Neruda, who gave up his studies to devote himself to his craft.
Click here for more information about this innovative performance.
March 17-18 at Gottwald Playhouse (Richmond CenterStage)
Thursday 10:30 am & 12:30 pm, Friday 10:30 am, 12:30 pm and 7:30 pm
March 19-20 at The Edgar Allan Poe Museum:
Saturday 3:00 pm & 7:30 pm, Sunday at 3:00 pm
Tickets available for purchase at:
www.latinballet.com/tickets or through The Edgar Allan Poe Museum at www.poemuseum.org/shop
$20 Adults | $15 Students & Seniors | $10 Groups and Fieldtrips
FREE for Children 6 years old and under.
Thanks to a generous loan from film director Raul Garcia, the Poe Museum in Richmond is proud to host an exhibit of artwork from Garcia’s new Poe-inspired animated film Extraordinary Tales. Included in the exhibit are intricate paper sculptures by Jack Mircala as well as concept sketches, story boards, and posters for each of the film’s six segments. The film features adaptations of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Raven.” The exhibit will continue until February 28, 2016.
Below are some of Jack Mircala’s paper sculptures.
People of all ages arrived at the Poe Museum last Saturday for the thirteen-hour Poe Birthday Bash 2016. A line had already formed on the sidewalk before the museum even opened, and there was still a crowd lingering after the midnight champagne toast. Below are a few scenes from the celebration.
The cake featured Poe, his mother, and his last fiancée. All of them were present during the day, and the latter two gave guided tours of the neighborhood.
Somebody is excited about getting some birthday cake!
Poe’s last fiancée, Elmira Royster Shelton, guided a group to her home on Church Hill.
The Sisters in Crime held a panel in which members of the mystery writer group spoke about their favorite Poe stories.
Back by popular demand, Margot MacDonald performed in the heated tent.
Members of Ocean Versus Daughter played for the Poe-fans.
Poe himself delivered an impassioned performance of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Michael Fawcett thrilled the audience with his recitation of “The Raven.”
Bill Blume of James River Writers’ The Writing Show made the mistake of following Poe to the cellar to sample his new cask of amontillado.
The Poe Museum’s new exhibit “Poe’s Greatest Hits” took visitors inside Poe’s terror tales.
The day’s festivities ended with a midnight toast to Poe in the Poe Shrine.
Looking for a place to park when you visit the Poe Birthday Bash this Saturday? In addition to on-street parking and limited spaces in the Poe Museum lot, you can also find abundant parking one block south of the Poe Museum at the Virginia Holocaust Museum’s Lower Lot at 21st and Canal. Many thanks to the Virginia Holocaust Museum for their generosity. Click here for directions.
January 8th, 2016 by Andrea Martin
Posted in Events, Exhibits, Poe News, Poetry | Comments Off on Winners Announced! Edgar Allan Poe Flash Fiction & Poetry Contest
This past December, we partnered with James River Writers to launch the Edgar Allan Poe Flash Fiction and Poetry Contest with the theme “Poe Inspires.” We were pleasantly inundated with wonderful entries and loved reading them. Poe would have been proud. A huge thank you to all who participated! Out of the many submissions we received, one poem and one flash fiction piece in particular impressed us with the writers’ technical skill, creative imagination, and overall aura of Poe-ness. We are delighted to announce our winners for the contest: Jonathan Tyktor for Flash Fiction and Jan Best for Poetry. Congratulations!! The winning entries are published below and will also be published on James River Writers’ website as well as in their “Get Your Word On” (circulation of 3,400+). These will also be proudly displayed at the Poe Museum’s Birthday Bash on January 16. Again, congratulations to Jon and Jan and thank you so much to everyone who submitted their work.
FLASH FICTION WINNER: The Tollkeeper, Jon Tyktor
Two masked highwaymen hid by a country road. Obscured by a ridge, they
watched as a hobbling, cloaked figure walked by and heard the jingling of
coins. The rogues, Gaetano and Arrigo, jumped out and brandished their
“Pay the toll!” said Gaetano.
“And what toll is that?” said the figure.
“Ours!” said Arrigo. “Make payment in money or life.”
“Hah! Indeed,” said the figure. “All that is mine comes back to me, but
here, take it for now.”
The figure reached into his cloak and threw a bulging purse at their feet.
He set back to the road before either thief could say another word. Gaetano
and Arrigo examined their prize.
“We are rich!” said Arrigo.
“And without a fight!” said Gaetano.
“What fight could he muster? He was so near death, he looked to be nothing
but bones walking upright!”
Gaetano took two bronze coins from the pile and said “We should have spared
him these so he could pay his final toll!”
“I suppose they now will be your own!”
Gaetano placed the coins over his eyes in jest and began to scream. He tore
at the coins, now fused to his flesh, and fell to his knees. His eyes
glowed with an infernal fire that charred his face and hands in an instant.
With a final searing flash, his screams were silent and his smoldering body
Arrigo watched the body lay. He then heard a jingling come down the country road.
POETRY WINNER: Lorena, Jan Best
In a room
dark as a tomb
‘cept for a candle’s flame,
his eyes fixed on
his one true love
he’ll never see again.
Her tender skin
like a veil
of cloud-wisped sail
across her moon-shaped face.
Her name so sweet
his hardened cheek
had lifted in recall,
a poignant frame
against the reddened wall.
All that was left-
his echoed breath
that wilted in the air,
Lorena, Sweet Lorena, kissed
a bullet through his chair.