Museum News

Poe’s Actress Mother-Part Two

Last year, we shared part one of Eliza Poe’s life. Follow the rest of her journey as David, Edgar, and Edgar’s siblings are introduced.

Following Eliza’s marriage, she and her husband, Charles, arrived in Alexandria, Virginia, and were set to perform at Liberty Hall for six weeks in August 1802 (Smith 59-60). When Eliza began rehearsals there, the hall was the newest theatre in Virginia, having been only three years old. According to Smith, a tragic accident had befallen during the summer of its opening, as the company lost Thomas Wade West, the manager of the company. His wife, Margaret, took over and successfully kept the company alive. Under new management, Eliza was working alongside old, fellow actors, and together the company performed operas, ballets, melodramas, and pantomimes during their six week season (60).

Eliza was a skillful dancer and was featured in a triple hornpipe, a lively dance performed in sailor costume and accompanied by hornpipes, according to Smith (61). She also danced a Spanish Fandango in The Mountaineers (61). After their engagement, the couple traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the “land of hog, hominey, and hoe-cake” (61). The couple opened September 18 under the same group they had worked with in Alexandria, performing a little over a month with the company. At the end of that engagement, the company disbanded and Charles and Eliza traveled to Petersburg to join the Virginia Company (62).

In November 1802, Eliza and Charles arrived in Petersburg, Virginia, which then had a population of less than four thousand (63). According to Smith, the Virginia Company was well established in this city of equestrian races, carnivals, and a prominent shipping port (63). Eliza and Charles found themselves with their previous fellow members, and Eliza began learning new parts immediately. For their first performance, she performed as Zelina in Oberon. Although the reviewers for that opening night bemoaned the other actors, Eliza and Charles received good reviews: “The pleasing manner in which Mrs. Hopkins performed the part and sung the songs of Zelina had a very good effect…Mr. Hopkin’s performance of Ratta and Caustic, were in the best style of acting” (64).


The New Market, Corner of Market and Sixth Street

The troupe then proceeded on to Richmond, where Eliza had performed just four years earlier. The city, although having increased in population, remained familiar and nearly unchanged. The old Academy Theatre had burned in 1798, however, and the new theatre was located in the Market Hall on 17th Street, around the corner from the Bell Tavern (65).

Opening night was December 14, and shortly after the company received news that Thomas Wignell, who had supported and influenced Eliza, passed away suddenly. Despite this sad news, Eliza moved on to Norfolk, where she was to make one of her greatest and most important debuts. Scheduled for opening night, Eliza performed in leading roles Louisa in August von Kotzebue’s Sighs and Rosina in William Shield’s opera Rosina (65-66). Following her dramatic performances, she switched to comedic roles, including Moggy McGilpin in The Highland Reel (67).

After various engagements between Norfolk and Petersburg, their Norfolk season ended July 13, and Eliza had successfully completed her first tour with the Virginia Company (68). She had made “important gains with this management” and began playing more challenging roles (69). Over all, things seemed to be in her favor.

Eliza and Charles traveled back to Richmond in August 1803, where they appeared in a concert at the Bell Tavern (70). A reviewer had the following to say about her:

Mrs. Hopkins…is amply compensated by the loud plaudits with which she is always received, which evince, that of all the ladies of the theatre, she is at least a second favorite with the public – though perhaps incapable of ever arriving at the eminence of a Siddons or a Merry. Mrs. Hopkins’ interesting figure, her correct performance, and the accuracy with which she always commits her part, together with her sweetly melodious voice when she charms us with a song, have deservedly raised her to that respectable rank which she indisputably holds in the public favor (70).

The summer of 1804 marked a notable season for Eliza. The company was in Richmond and Eliza and Charles were cast as Susan Ashfield and Sir Abel Handy in Speed the Plow (72). Cast as the hero, Henry, was a young actor making his Richmond debut, nineteen year old David Poe (72). Poe, an avid theatregoer was from Baltimore, and the son of Irish-born Revolutionary War figure, Major David Poe, or “General Poe,” and his wife, Elizabeth Carnes Poe. David left his family while studying law and sought an acting career, joining the Charleston Theatre company in December 1803. Having no experience, the beginning of his career was rocky, and he was called out for being diffident, timid, and paralyzed with stage fright (72-73). However, according to Smith, because of his good looks and fine voice, he was able to get along well.

That summer, the three worked together, and Charles began co-managing the theatre. The new managers chose George Colman II’s The Heir at Law for their new season, with Eliza playing Caroline Dormer and David Poe playing Dormer’s lover, Henry Morland. Eliza found herself benefiting from the roles her co-manager husband chose for her, which expanded her repertoire and allowed her to play more dramatic roles, including Stella in James Boaden’s The Maid of Bristol. According to Geddeth, “At this time of her career the vivaciousness of Moggy McGilpin or the predictability of Caroline Dormer were far less challenging than portraying the bitterness and despair of this leading character. It was a difficult role with long speeches and scenes of sustained tension…” (73).

After the close of the season, another followed soon in September, when they traveled to Fredericksburg and then returned to Petersburg. While the trio performed in Adam Cherry’s The Soldier’s Daughter, they were featured in the next issue of The Intelligencer, which wrote about Eliza,

Among those who acquitted themselves with the greatest eclat, I cannot omit to mention the names of Mrs. West, Jr., in the character of the Widow Cheerly and Mrs. Hopkins in Mrs. Malfort–the sprightly vitality of the one, and the placid melancholy of the other, alternately awakened the opposite feelings of innocent hilarity, and heart-rending sorrow (75).

That winter, a cold wave swept through Richmond, causing the theatre to close and the death of one of the troop’s actresses, Anne West. West’s mother, who was involved in management with the group, left after her daughter’s death and the company was affected greatly. This proved to be good for Eliza, however, and she also found herself having to fill in the prominent shoes of West as an actress (76-77).

David returned to Baltimore for a benefit night, debuting in June 1805, while Eliza and Charles traveled to Washington to perform at a theatre they had not been to in five years (77-79). For their opening, two comedies were performed, Elizabeth Inchbald’s Wives as They Were and Maids as They Are and George Colman II’s Ways and Means. Charles performed the leading role in the first play, and Eliza in the second. During this time, David was cast in and was playing the role of Joseph Surface in The School of Scandal (80).

To Eliza’s dismay, a yellow fever epidemic had spread throughout Washington and infected Charles, who passed away on October 26. According to Geddeth, the Richmond Enquirer read, “He has left an affectionate wife to lament his loss,” and at eighteen Eliza was widowed (81). This did not stop her from continuing the show however, and a week later she had a benefit for herself, choosing Adelmorn the Outlaw, a play she and Charles had performed frequently together as the romantic duo Orilla and Herman (81).

She returned to Richmond where she was cast in multiple plays with David Poe, who also had returned. Although, according to Geddeth, “David was very handsome…nervous, highly strung, and had a volatile temper, there was an appealing sensitivity about him,” and Eliza was smitten. The feelings were mutual, and the nineteen and twenty-year-olds issued a marriage bond on March 14, 1806 (82-83). Eliza’s benefit night, performing in Douglas, was the last night she was listed as Mrs. Hopkins, and when the theatre reopened after Easter, she and David were married (83).

She and David returned to Boston, ten years after she had left, and performed among other thespians whom they barely knew. Actors and friends, Charlotte and Luke Usher were notable to Eliza however, and may have been the inspiration for Edgar Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher.

Usher copy

After opening night on October 13, a review for the play the couple performed in, Speed the Plow, stated,

The parts of Henry and Miss Blandford were filled by Mr. and Mrs. Poe from the Virginia theatres, their first appearance in Boston. Estimating the talents of this couple by comparison, we might say the same characters have been more ably sustained on our boards. A first performance however does not always afford a criterion by which merit may be estimated. Mr. Poe possess a full manly voice, of considerable extend; his utterance clear and distinct. The managers will undoubtedly find him a useful, and the town a pleasing, performer in the Henrys, Charles Stanleys, etc. Of the talents of Mrs. Poe we are disposed to judge favorably (The Polyanthos).

In the fourteen weeks of that season, Eliza and David played more than twenty parts before the critical crowd. According to Geddeth, she learned more than one new part a week for the next season, and her talent was not unnoticed. She was described as “excellent” in The Emerald and in a pleasing way deemed “truly laughable” in The Polyanthos (87).

David was not receiving the same reviews, however, and audiences were becoming displeased with his performances. This discouraged David and lead to jealousy between his and Eliza’s marriage, although his feelings may have been abated with a child on the way.

The couple’s first child, William Henry Leonard Poe, was born January 30, 1807. David continued on stage while Eliza remained at home, although she would return only three and a half weeks later to the stage. In the meantime, with David on stage, he was receiving criticism for his attempt to play the character of Charles Surface in The School for Scandal, which he had never played before and which he was forced to play. The Emerald, noted, “We are ready to make allowances for Mr. Poe’s deficiency in Sir Charles Surface, in manners, spirit, and orthoepy…The suddenness with which the character must have been assumed is a mantle, which like charity, covers a multitude of sins” (88-89).

Eliza’s return was not positive, either. She was to perform as Cordelia in King Lear; however, due to an actor’s sprained ankle, she performed as Little Pickle in The Spoiled Child, which she had not performed in two years (90). The Polyanthos gave Eliza harsh criticism, calling her “a very green Little Pickle” (91). David called on the critic, J. T. Buckingham, to avenge for Eliza; however, he left hurting both of their careers even more.

Finally, after the end of that season in May, Eliza and David were able to rest until the end of the year, and the couple, along with son Henry, took a vacation to Baltimore to visit David’s parents. David’s parents had rejected Eliza initially; however, they now accepted her and Henry into their home. Since Henry was General Poe’s first grandson, he had stolen his and Elizabeth’s hearts, and they would take him into their home after the death of his mother. David Poe’s sister, Maria Clemm, the Maria who was Edgar’s aunt and mother-in-law, said about Eliza, “She was a lovely little creature and highly talented. I loved her most devotedly” (93).

After returning to Boston in the fall, Eliza and David were delighted to hear that the infamous critic, J. T. Buckingham of The Polyanthos, would not be criticizing them any longer because the paper had shut down. During this season, David found more encouraging reviews, although the critic of The Emerald stated about his performance as Vernon in Henry IV, that he had “mutilated some of his speeches in a most shameful manner” (94). This review was in contrast to a positive review, which stated he “was courtly in manners, if he was not perfect in his delivery” (94).


Boston Harbor and East Boston

During a performance of Cinderella that the troupe put on, Eliza found time, according to Geddeth, to walk down to the Boston harbor where she sketched many of the vessels at bay, inscribing, “Morning 1808,” adding, “For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston the place of his birth and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends.” This gift would be given to Edgar later and cherished by the son greatly (96).

That Fall, and multiple performances later, Eliza found herself among new actors and actresses, and five months pregnant. Within two weeks after she had stopped performing that January, she gave birth on January 19, 1809, to their son Edgar. Three weeks later, she was back on the stage; however, nine weeks apparently show that David was not listed for any performances, and it is unclear where he was at. According to letters he had written to his cousin, he was in Pennsylvania on March 22 (100).

Geddeth describes Eliza’s situation while David is gone,

David was evidently still away, and she had a three-month-old baby at home. This meant that she was still probably unable to sleep through the night. If Henry was with her, she also had a two-year-old to be taken care of. Her hands were full to say the very least. The physical and nervous strain of the next six weeks of her life must have been enormous: along with the constant responsibility of her two small sons she faced a task at the theatre that demanded a superbly trained actress with leonine courage and nerve (104).

With David abandoning her briefly, Eliza’s world was probably spinning from the hectic stage life and motherhood. She gained a strong repertoire of roles and success despite these hardships, performing alongside a seventeen-year-old actor, John Howard Payne. To David’s regret, his wife had gained attention and success while he was elsewhere, causing a greater rift in their marriage and his increased jealously (107).


The Park Theatre Interior

When David returned, the couple hurried from Boston to New York to perform under new management at the Park Theatre. Despite the theatre’s grand interior and exterior, the audiences were less than attractive. Washington Irving had written, two years earlier, that the audience was “no inconsiderable part of the entertainment” (109). Unfortunately for the two, they found it difficult to establish themselves at first, and David had made a gaffe, which would haunt his career while there. Performing in Abaellino, Eliza played the Lady Rosamund and David performed as Dandoli. According to the critic for The Rambler, David persisted calling his character “Dan Dilly,” which would be his nickname in future reviews (111).

The negative reviews concerning David’s acting continued, with the same reviewer critiquing David’s performance in Pizarro stating, “…a more wretched Alonzo we have never witnessed. This man was never destined for the high walks of the drama…his person, voice, and non-expression of countenance, all combine to stamp him…” (111-112).

By the end of this season, after only six and a half weeks, David was either fired from or left the company, thus ending his acting career. According to Geddeth, his name no longer appeared in bills and all traces of him vanished (114).

Although it is unknown if David stayed with Eliza after he left the company or if he disappeared for good, Eliza remained vigilant and strong and continued working in the theatre group. She even received a good critique from the gentleman who had ridiculed David’s performances, potentially putting an end to his career (116).

That year, in July 1810, a benefit was held for Eliza. Geddeth explains that the New Yorkers wanted to help Eliza financially, although they were unaware, she was alone with her children, because David had left her permanently, and was expecting her third child (118-119).

She returned to Richmond later that month with Henry who was three, Edgar who was a year old, and expecting a third child who was due in four months. She was alone at twenty-three and had to support herself and her children.

In Richmond, Eliza’s new group was managed by William Green and Alexandre Placide, whom she had known from her work with Sollee’s company in 1797. Unfortunately, the Virginia Company she had worked with no longer existed (121). One of her most important roles in this new company was as Letitia Hardy in Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem. In this role, she acted, sang, and performed a double allemande with Placide, which Geddeth explains as being a, “courtly, somewhat serious dance” (121). She continued with the company to Fredericksburg in October and on to Norfolk, where she gave birth December 18 , 1810, to Rosalie at the Forrest home, a boarding house (123).

Rosalie's Birthplace

Now with five-year-old Henry, two-year-old Edgar, and baby Rosalie, Eliza had a lot to cope with and may have hired a nurse to help care for the children. Henry eventually was sent to Baltimore to live with his grandparents and Eliza continued traveling, most likely broken-hearted having had to part with her son (123).

Arriving in Charleston in 1811, she again played the parts of Priscilla Tomboy in The Romp and Angela in The Castle Spectre. She persisted, despite feeling emotionally, physically, and most likely mentally exhausted, and arrived in Norfolk March of that year. A benefit was to be held for her, and the following letter was printed in the Norfolk Herald:

Sir, permit me to call the attention of the public to the benefit of Mrs. Poe and Miss Thomas for this evening….The former of these ladies I remember (just as I was going in my teens) on her first appearance here met with the most unbounded applause–She was said to be one of the handsomest women in America; she was certainly the handsomest I had ever seen. She never came on the stage, but a general murmur ran through the house, “What an enchanting creature! Heavens what a form!–what an animated and expressive countenance!–and how well she performs! Her voice too! sure never any thing half so sweet!” –Year after year did she continue to extort these involuntary bursts of rapture from the Norfolk audience, and to deserve them too; for never did one of her profession take more pains to please than she. But now “the scene is changed.”–Misfortunes have pressed heavy on her. Left alone, the only support of herself and several young children–Friendless and unprotected, she no longer commands that admiration and attention she formerly did….And yet she is as assiduous to please as ever, and tho’ grief may have stolen a few of the roses from her cheeks, still she retains the same sweetness of expression and symmetry of form and feature (127).

She returned to Richmond, where she would perform her last role as Lady Santon in The Stranger. Her health, rapidly declining, forced her to bed rest. Geddeth states that Malaria was the cause of her death; however, most biographers list Tuberculosis as the cause. Regardless, a benefit was held on November 29, 1811. The Richmond Enquirer stated, “To the Humane Heart: On this night, Mrs. Poe, lingering on the bed of disease and surrounded by her children, asks your assistance; and asks it perhaps for the last time—The generosity of a Richmond Audience can need no other appeal…” (129).

She died Sunday, December 8, 1811, and was buried in an unmarked grave in St. John’s Churchyard that Tuesday. As the Richmond Enquirer stated in her obituary, “By the death of this lady the stage has been deprived of one of its chief ornaments” (129).

Following her death, Henry stayed with his grandparents, Edgar was taken into the Allan family, and Rosalie was received into the Mackenzie family. Most biographers state that David passed within two weeks of Eliza’s own death; however, it remains unknown. Henry and Edgar seemed to be most affected by her death, especially Edgar.

Henry wrote the following poem when he was fourteen, discussing his father and mother:

My Father’s!–I will bless it yet–
For thou hast given life to me:
Tho’ poor the boon–I’ll ne’er forget
The filial love I owe to thee.
My Mother’s too!–then let me press
This gift of her I loved so well,–
For I have had thy last caress,
And heard thy long, thy last farewell.
My Rosa’s! pain doth dim my eye,
When gazing on this pledge of thine–
Thou wer’t a dream–a falsity–
Alas!–’tis wrong to call thee mine!
A Father! he hath loved indeed!
A mother! she hath blessed her son,–
But Love is like the pois’ning weed,
That taints the air it lives upon.

Edgar received the painting of the Boston harbor Eliza had painted, and the inscription on the back would remain dear to his heart.

Geddeth perfectly describes Eliza, which may also be the way Edgar most likely would have seen the portrait of his mother:

Eliza’s beauty had always won her admirers, and when one studies the miniature of her dating from this period, it is easy to see why. The small portrait conveys a delicate beauty of feature–ivory skin tingled with a soft, talisman rose color at the cheeks and lips, a fine nose, tiny sensual mouth, and slightly dimpled, Cupid-like chin. The hair is light brown, fine, tightly curled, but not luxuriant. The artist has captured a warm, sweet, and sensitive expression in the eyes, which are light brown and project glowing vitality…(123)

And, it is without doubt that, just as in life, in death, throughout Henry, Edgar, and Rosalie’s lives, their mother may have been smiling down upon them with that delicate beauty and those sensitive, glowing eyes.

A Tour of Poe Sites in Boston and Providence

A recent business trip gave me an excuse to visit Boston and Providence to see some Poe sites in the area. Sandra Luzzi Sneesby had invited me to speak at an exhibit of her installation The Women who Loved Poe in Providence.

Once she picked me up from the airport, she took me to Edgar Allan Poe Square where, with the help of a map of Boston Poe sites produced by The Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston, we began to trace Poe’s footsteps through the city.

We headed for Poe’s birthplace at 62 Charles Street South (formerly 62 Carver Street). In honor of this historic site, some lover of literature has memorialized Poe with a fine parking lot surrounded by a chain-link fence. The next photo shows what the building looked like before it was demolished. Notice the building on the left is still there in the above image.

Next we visited the site of the Boston’s first regular theater (pictured above), where Poe’s mother, Eliza Arnold Hopkins Poe, made her first appearance on stage on April 15, 1796. Between 1806 and 1809 she performed there several more times. Her roles included Cordelia in King Lear, Blanch in King John, and Ariel in The Tempest. Here is a notice of her playing Fanny in The Clandestine Marriage. Here is a review of Poe’s mother’s performance as Cordelia.

We located the office of The Dial at 15 West Street. Poe was no fan of The Dial, which featured “the so-called poetry of the so-called Transcendentalists.”

A number of important sites one stood near the Old State House. Within a block from this location, Poe’s first book was published in 1827, “The Tell-Tale Heart” was printed in The Pioneer in 1843, Poe’s mother lived shortly after her arrival in America in 1796, and Poe’s mother gave her last Boston performance in 1809.

Before leaving Boston, we visited the Boston Common, site of the Frog Pond which inspired Poe to call Boston writers “Frogpondians.”

The next day, we toured Providence. Our first stop was the North Burial Ground and the grave of Poe’s fiancée Sarah Helen Whitman. We picked up a self-guide tour sheet near the entrance to assist us in locating the grave. My guides told me this was probably the cemetery where Poe and Whitman would take long walks together since it is only a mile from her house. We also visited Swan Point Cemetery, which is also said to be the cemetery Poe and Whitman liked to visit, even though it is a bit farther from her house.

On Benefit Street, we saw Sarah Helen Whitman’s house, a place Poe visited while courting Whitman.

Behind the house we found some rose bushes which immediately called to mind Poe’s description of seeing Whitman in this garden three years before he would meet her.

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!

Was it not Fate, that, on this July midnight —
Was it not Fate, (whose name is also Sorrow,)
That bade me pause before that garden-gate,
To breathe the incense of those slumbering roses?
No footstep stirred: the hated world all slept,
Save only thee and me. (Oh, Heaven! — oh, God!
How my heart beats in coupling those two words!)
Save only thee and me. I paused — I looked —
And in an instant all things disappeared.
(Ah, bear in mind this garden was enchanted!)

The pearly lustre of the moon went out:
The mossy banks and the meandering paths,
The happy flowers and the repining trees,
Were seen no more: the very roses’ odors
Died in the arms of the adoring airs.
All — all expired save thee — save less than thou:
Save only 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 enwritten
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!

But now, at length, dear Dian sank from sight,
Into a western couch of thunder-cloud;
And thou, a ghost, amid the entombing trees
Didst glide away. Only thine eyes remained.
They would not go — they never yet have gone.
Lighting my lonely pathway home that night,
They have not left me (as my hopes have) since.
They follow me — they lead me through the years.
They are my ministers — yet I their slave.
Their office is to illumine and enkindle —
My duty, to be saved by their bright light,
And purified in their electric fire,
And sanctified in their elysian fire.
They fill my soul with Beauty (which is Hope,)
And are far up in Heaven — the stars I kneel to
In the sad, silent watches of my night;
While even in the meridian glare of day
I see them still — two sweetly scintillant
Venuses, unextinguished by the sun!

Our next stop was the Providence Athenaeum where Poe and Whitman spent time together among the shelves. The Athenaeum still has a volume of The American Review in which Poe signed his name next to the anonymously published poem “Ulalume,” which is now considered one of Poe’s greatest poems.

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispèd and sere —
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir —
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic,
Of cypress, I roamed with my Soul —
Of cypress, with Psyche, my Soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll —
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek
In the ultimate climes of the pole —
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek
In the realms of the boreal pole.

Our talk had been serious and sober,
But our thoughts they were palsied and sere —
Our memories were treacherous and sere —
For we knew not the month was October,
And we marked not the night of the year —
(Ah, night of all nights in the year!)
We noted not the dim lake of Auber —
(Though once we had journeyed down here) —
We remembered not the dank tarn of Auber,
Nor the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

And now, as the night was senescent
And star-dials pointed to morn —
As the star-dials hinted of morn —
At the end of our path a liquescent
And nebulous lustre was born,
Out of which a miraculous crescent
Arose with a duplicate horn —
Astarte’s bediamonded crescent
Distinct with its duplicate horn.

And I said — “She is warmer than Dian:
She rolls through an ether of sighs —
She revels in a region of sighs:
She has seen that the tears are not dry on
These cheeks, where the worm never dies,
And has come past the stars of the Lion
To point us the path to the skies —
To the Lethean peace of the skies —
Come up, in despite of the Lion,
To shine on us with her bright eyes —
Come up through the lair of the Lion
With Love in her luminous eyes.”

But Psyche, uplifting her finger,
Said — “Sadly this star I mistrust —
Her pallor I strangely mistrust: —
Oh, hasten! — oh, let us not linger!
Oh, fly! — let us fly! — for we must.”
In terror she spoke, letting sink her
Wings till they trailed in the dust —
In agony sobbed, letting sink her
Plumes till they trailed in the dust —
Till they sorrowfully trailed in the dust.

I replied — “This is nothing but dreaming:
Let us on by this tremulous light!
Let us bathe in this crystalline light!
Its Sybillic splendor is beaming
With Hope and in Beauty to-night: —
See! — it flickers up the sky through the night!
Ah, we safely may trust to its gleaming,
And be sure it will lead us aright —
We safely may trust to a gleaming
That cannot but guide us aright,
Since it flickers up to Heaven through the night.”

Thus I pacified Psyche and kissed her,
And tempted her out of her gloom —
And conquered her scruples and gloom:
And we passed to the end of the vista,
And were stopped by the door of a tomb —
By the door of a legended tomb;
And I said — “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied — “Ulalume — Ulalume —
‘Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”

Then my heart it grew ashen and sober
As the leaves that were crispèd and sere —
As the leaves that were withering and sere,
And I cried — “It was surely October
On this very night of last year
That I journeyed — I journeyed down here —
That I brought a dread burden down here —
On this night of all nights in the year,
Oh, what demon has tempted me here?
Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber —
This misty mid region of Weir —
Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

Said we, then — the two, then — “Ah, can it
Have been that the woodlandish ghouls —
The pitiful, the merciful ghouls —
To bar up our way and to ban it
From the secret that lies in these wolds —
From the thing that lies hidden in these wolds —
Had drawn up the spectre of a planet
From the limbo of lunary souls —
This sinfully scintillant planet
From the Hell of the planetary souls?”

From there we went to the Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum to the see the installation The Women Who Loved Poe. The video installation revealed Poe’s character by showing him through the eyes of the women closest to him. Our hostess was Sarah Helen Whitman, portrayed by Linda Goetz.

Thanks to the hospitality of my guides in Boston and Providence and to the staffs of the Providence Anthenaeum and the Lippitt House Museum, I got know Sarah Helen Whitman, Poe’s mother Eliza Poe, and Edgar Poe a lot better.

Poe Museum Observes Anniversary of Poe’s Death

Anyone can celebrate a birthday, but the Poe Museum also celebrates a death day. On October 3, 2013, the Poe Museum in Richmond will observe the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death (October 7, 1849), with a tribute from Elmira Shelton, the woman to whom Poe was engaged when he died. Debbie Phillips, who has also performed for the museum as Poe’s mother Eliza Poe, returns for a historical interpretation based on years of research into Poe’s last love. After the performance, “Elmira” will stay to mingle with guests. Tours of the museum will explore the themes of death and mourning in Poe’s time. The event will last from 6P.M. until 9 P.M. Refreshments will be available.

Poe Museum Acquires Documents Related to Poe’s Parents

Although the Poe Museum’s collection is comprised of thousands of objects, there are still holes in the collection. One place the collection can still grow is in its artifacts related to Edgar Allan Poe’s parents, the actors David Poe, Jr. (1784-1810?) and Eliza Poe (1787-1811). Both were actors who died young–when Edgar was only two. Poe’s mother was buried in an unmarked grave at St. John’s Church in Richmond, and the fate of Poe’s father in unknown.

Above: A notice for a benefit performance to be held on Mrs. Poe's behalf.

Few artifacts survive to tell the story of these talented people who left a lasting impression on Edgar Allan Poe’s life and work. That is why is a special treat to see the selection of documents the Poe Museum was able to bring together, with the help of the Library of Virginia and the Lilly Library, for its current exhibit, Poe’s Mother: The Untold Story. The Poe Museum’s contributions to the exhibit included the scripts from plays Poe’s parents performed, newspaper notices of benefits held on Mrs. Poe’s behalf, and reviews of their performances by critics of their day. Such documents serve as some of the few reminders of the careers of Poe’s talented parents, so it is always great to find such pieces to add more details to our understanding of their lives. This week, the Poe Museum did just that when it acquired three Boston newspapers from 1806 containing notices of Poe’s parents.

David and Eliza were married in April 1806 in Richmond. In October 1806, they appeared in on the stage in Boston, where their first son, William Henry Leonard Poe, was born on January 30, 1807. Their second son, Edgar Poe, was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. It was during this time in Boston that Eliza Poe wrote that it was in Boston that she had found her “best and most sympathetic friends.”

The newspapers the Poe Museum acquired date to October 29, 1806 (the month Mr. and Mrs. Poe arrived in Boston), November 8, 1806, and November 12, 1806. Poe’s mother is listed as appearing in the role of Fanny in the comedy the Clandestine Marriage on November 12. David Poe is listed as playing the role of Bellmour in Jane Shore on November 10, and both are listed as playing different plays on the same night on October 29.

You can learn more about the Poe Museum’s collection in our online collections database, and you can learn more about our new exhibit on our website.

Two New Paintings of Eliza Poe

In honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother on the bicentennial of her death, a Richmond artist painted these two portraits of Eliza Poe. The first is closely based on the only surviving life portrait of Eliza Poe.

The second portrait was painted from the actress Debbie Phillips during one of her performances as Eliza Poe. This painting is currently hanging in the Poe Museum’s gift shop.

Bicentennial of Poe’s Mother’s Death Commemorated at Poe Museum

Thursday, December 8, 2011 is the bicentennial of the death of Edgar Allan Poe’s mother, Eliza Poe. Though Edgar was only two years old when he lost his mother, his “mournful and neverending remembrance” of her cast a shadow over his life and work. Although Eliza Poe’s fame has long been overshadowed by her famous son, she was actually a talented and popular actress in the early days of American theater.

In observance of the bicentennial, the Poe Museum hosted a lecture by renowned Poe scholar Richard Kopley, a performance by Eliza Poe interpreter Debbie Phillips, and an exhibit of rare artifacts related to her life and career. The weekend began with the Poe Illumination, in which the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden came to life with thousands of lights and holiday decorations. Below is some video of the Poe Foundation’s President, Dr. Harry Lee Poe, speaking at Eliza Poe’s grave after having laid a wreath on her monument.

The exhibit devoted to Poe’s mother continues until April 1, 2012, so be sure not to miss it. In case you can’t attend in person, some of the artifacts from the exhibit can now be seen in our online collections database.

Enjoy some holiday cheer at the Poe Museum Illumination

The Poe Museum is helping to usher in the holiday season with a special event of our own on Friday, December 2nd.

Our Enchanted Garden will be looking extra-enchanted with thousands of Christmas lights and assorted decorations.

There will be hot cider as well as tea, coffee and gingerbread for sale, and we’ll also have some free food.

Live music with a holiday twist will be provided by Beggars of Life.

We’ll also be visited by Poe’s mother, Eliza Poe (as portrayed by the lovely Debbie Phillips) and will be debuting a new exhibit in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mrs. Poe’s demise.

Miss Emmeline Edens, a lovely 19th century lady will also be on hand to assist with trimming our Christmas tree and to tell people a little about Christmas in her time.

So come on out to this event and pick up some presents for the Poe fan in your life in our shop while you’re at it – we have everything from ornaments and parasols to busts of Poe and a wonderful assortment of books.

Admission is free and holiday cheer is guaranteed! (We’ve even gotten a mention in RVANews!)

(We’ve even gotten a mention in RVANews – how exciting!)

New Exhibit Reveals Untold Story of Poe’s Mother

Etching of Eliza Poe by Alexander Von Jost

Edgar Allan Poe was not the first member of his family to bring fame to the Poe name. His mother, Eliza Poe, who died at the age of twenty-four when Edgar was only two, was a gifted actress and singer who performed throughout the country. Just in time for the bicentennial of her death, the Poe Museum is bringing together some of the few remaining artifacts associated with her life for the exhibit Poe’s Mother: The Untold Story, opening December 2, 2011 and running until April 1, 2012. The exhibit will pay tribute to the talented performer who blazed the trail for future American actresses in a day when acting was still considered immoral and an unsuitable profession for women. Among the artifacts on view will be original scripts from plays in which she performed and a copy of her marriage bond and her only known signature.

Watercolor of Eliza Poe from Collection of the Poe Museum

The exhibit opening on December 2 from 6-9 P.M. will feature a performance by Eliza Poe as performed by Debbie Phillips. The performance will include original songs Eliza Poe is known to have performed. Admission to the opening reception event is free, and warm drinks and live music will be available.

Rare script for play featuring Eliza Poe in the Cast

Photo of Eliza Poe's Marriage Bond Courtesy of the Library of Virginia

Rare Engraving of the Richmond Theater Fire from the Collection of the Poe Museum

Copy of Only Known Letter Written by Eliza Poe Courtesy of the Lilly Library, Indiana

Poe’s Mother visits Unhappy Hour

Eliza Poe performing

Mrs. Poe regaling Unhappy Hour visitors with tales about her life as an actress.

May’s Unhappy Hour was graced by the presence of Poe’s mother,Eliza Poe (as portrayed by Debbie Phillips). Mrs. Poe met and mingled with visitors to the Unhappy Hour event and regaled her audience with stories of her life as an actress in the early 1800s. She even favored us with a few songs that she made famous in her day.

Elizabeth “Eliza” Arnold Hopkins Poe was born in England in 1787 into a family of actors. By 1796, her father had died, so she and her mother Elizabeth Arnold journeyed to America. Eliza made her acting debut on the Boston stage at the age of nine and was a working actress until her death in 1811. She was a talented comedienne, singer and dancer and described as having a “sweetly melodious voice” in reviews. She played at least 200 different roles during her lifetime. She married David Poe, Jr. in 1806. Mr. Poe tried his hand at acting as well, but was not anywhere near as beloved a stage presence as his wife. This may have proved to be a source of friction in their marriage and Poe appears to have abandoned Eliza and their three small children (William Henry Leonard Poe, born in January 1807; Edgar Poe born January 19, 1809; and Rosalie Poe, born in December 1810) sometime in the first half of 1811. By October of 1811, Eliza was showing signs of tuberculosis and had to stop performing and she died on the 8th of December 1811. She is buried in the churchyard at St. John’s Church here in Richmond (five blocks east of the Poe Museum).

Though he was very small at the time of her death, Eliza seems to have been a big influence on her son Edgar. She was, in fact, the first of the important women in Poe’s life to die young. Poe stated that the “death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world, ” and this is certainly a theme that crops up frequently in his work.

The Poe Museum was fortunate to have Eliza Poe portrayed so ably by living history actress, Debbie Phillips from Richmond Discoveries. We were also fortunate to have wonderful music provided by local flautists, Stacie Snyder and Linda Simmons.

Flautists in the Poe Shrine

Flautists Linda Simmons and Stacie Snyder making beautiful music in the Poe Shrine during the event.

Unhappy Hour Guests

Visitors enjoying the Unhappy Hour festivities

Lots more photos of the evening’s events can be found here:
You can share your own photos from Unhappy Hour or your visit to the Poe Museum on the museum’s flickr photo sharing group –

Our next Unhappy Hour will take place on June 23rd and will feature Poe’s story “The Pit & The Pendulum”, even in the 21st century, it is never too late to fear the Spanish Inquisition. (Besides, nobody expects the Spanish Inqusition!)

Debbie Phillips as Eliza Poe

Debbie Phillips as Edgar Allan Poe's Mother

See Debbie Phillips portray Poe's Mother at the Poe Museum.

Here is a photograph of Debbie Phillips portraying Eliza Poe for the May 26 UNhappy Hour.