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Obituary of Edgar Allan Poe

October 7, 2013 | by

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From the Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, vol. II, no. 98, October 12, 1849:

EDGAR ALLAN POE died in Baltimore on Sunday last. His was one of the very few original minds that this country has produced. In the history of literature, he will hold a certain position and a high place. By the public of the day he is regarded rather with curiosity than with admiration. Many will be startled, but few will be grieved by the news. He had very few friends, and he was the friend of very few—if any. But his character and adventures were too remarkable, and his literary merits too indubitable, to pass from the stage with the simple announcement already given.

His family was a very respectable one in Baltimore. His grandfather was a Quartermaster General in the Revolution, and the esteemed friend of Lafayette. During the last visit of that personage to this country, he called upon the widow to tender her his acknowledgments for services rendered him by her husband. His great-grandfather married a daughter of the celebrated Admiral McBride. Through him they are related to many of the most illustrious families in England. Edgar Poe’s father was reputably brought up and educated. — Becoming enamored with a beautiful young actress, he made up a runaway match with her, and was disowned by his friends thereafter. He or his wife possessed mimetic genius, and they lived precariously. They came to Richmond in pursuit of their profession. She was somewhat of a favorite on our boards—but more on account of her beauty than her acting. They both died in Richmond—both of consumption, and within a few weeks of each other, and left here without a house or home their gifted but most miserable and unfortunate son. Mr. John Allan, a wealthy and kind hearted merchant of this place, having no children of his own, taking a natural fancy to the handsome, clever child, adopted him as son and heir. He was consequently brought up amidst luxury, and received the advantages of education to their fullest extent. In 1816 he accompanied his adopted parents in a tour through England, Scotland and Ireland. — They returned to this country, leaving him at Dr. Brandsby’s High School, Stoke Newington, near London, where he continued five years. He returned in 1822, and continued about Richmond for two or three years. He was then remarkable for his general cleverness, his feats of activity, his wayward temper, extreme personal beauty, his musical recitations of verse, and power of extemporaneous tale-telling. In 1825 he went to the University of Virginia. The University was then a most dissolute place, and Mr. Edgar A. Poe was remarked as the most dissolute and dissipated youth in the University. He was already a great classical scholar, and he made huge strides in mathematics, botany, and other branches of natural science. But at the same time he drank, gambled, and indulged in other vices until he was expelled from the place. On Mr. Allan’s refusal to pay some of his gambling debts, he broke with him and went off at a tangent to join the Greeks—those being the times of Bozzaris and the Greek Revolution. When he reached St. Petersburg, however, he found both money and enthusiasm exhausted, and he got into a quarrel with the Russian authorities—whether about liberty or lucre is not known. At any rate he found himself nearly adding some knowledge of the knout and Siberia to his already extensive knowledge of men and manners, and was glad enough to accept the intervention of the American consul, Henry Middleton, and his aid to get home. In 1829 he entered the Military Academy of West Point. In the meantime, Mr. Allan had lost his first wife, and married a lady his junior by a very great number of years—he being sixty-five. Mr. Poe is said to have behaved uncivilly to the lady and to have ridiculed the match. The old gentleman wrote him an angry letter, and Mr. Poe answered it with a very bitter one. The breach was never healed. Mr. Allan died a short time afterwards, and left Poe nothing.

Mr. Poe left West Point without graduating, and here commenced his disastrous battle of life, in 1831, he printed a small volume of poems, his first brochure. They were favorably received by the reviewers, and well spoken of by their few readers. But they did not sell—at which we have never wondered. He wrote for newspapers, compiled and translated for booksellers, made up brilliant articles for reviews, and spun tales for magazines. But although publishers willingly put forth, they paid the young man so little, that in poverty and despair he got abundantly near enough to death’s door to “hear the hinges creak.” At last a newspaper in Baltimore offered two premiums—for the best poem and the best prose tale. A committee of distinguished literateurs—John P. Kennedy at their head—was appointed to judge the productions. Of course they did not read them—the sanction of their names being all that was wanted by the publishers. But while chatting over the wine at the meeting, one of them was attracted by a bundle among the papers written in the most exquisitely beautiful caligraphy ever seen. — To the end of his life Poe wrote this surpassingly perfect hand. — He read a page solely on that account; and being impressed with the power of the style, he proceeded to read aloud. The committee voted the premiums by acclamation “to the first of the geniuses that has written a legible hand.” The confidential envelop being broken, within it was found the then unknown name of Poe.

The publisher gave Mr. Kennedy an account of the author, which induced him to see Mr. Poe. He describes him at that day as a young man thin as a skeleton from evident starvation, dressed in a seedy frock coat, buttoned up to his chin to conceal the want of a shirt, with tattered trousers, and a pair of torn old boots, beneath which were evidently neither drawers nor socks. But his manners were those of a gentleman, and his eyes full of intelligence. Kennedy spoke in a friendly manner to him, and he opened his heart—told him all his story, his ambition and his great designs. Kennedy took him to a clothing store, gave him a good suit, and introduced him into society.

These were the days in which Thomas W. White was building up the Messenger. He got Mr. Poe to edit it, giving him $500 per annum. On this income, he immediately married himself to a girl without a cent. We regret to hear that he was generally intemperate; but he certainly found time to write many great articles and brilliant criticisms for the Messenger. It was Poe who first gave the periodical its standing. 

After editing the Messenger a year and a half, he removed to Philadelphia, and edited the Gentleman’s Magazine. For this last he always continued to write, and to be well paid therefor. In 1840, he published his “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.” In 1844, we find him in New York editing the “Broadway Journal.” In 1845, the well known volumes by Wiley and Putnam made their appearance. He continued to issue many things—which we shall notice more fully hereafter, until 1847. We then hear of his wife dying in a state of great destitution at a place called Fordham near New York A subscription was gotten up to relieve him by the literateurs of New York, and was easily raised. We next hear of him through the newspapers as again at death’s door—but this time with delirium tremens. A bitter note through the same vehicles of intelligence in answer to the various enquiries made about him, announced his contempt for all who professed themselves his friends, and his general disgust with the world. But he seems to have suffered nothing farther from destitution, his literary labors bringing him enough. For the last two years he has been seen now and then about Richmond, generally in a state very unbecoming to a man of genius. But during his last visit, for nearly two months’ duration, he has been perfectly himself, neatly dressed, and exceedingly agreeable in his deportment. — He delivered two lectures—worthy of his genius in its best moods. It was universally reported that he 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. When we last saw him, he was just starting for New York, to publish a new collection of his tales. — He had another errand. Some rich woman, named Mrs. St. Leon Loud, had died, leaving verses. — Her husband, Mr. St. Leon Loud, wanted Poe to prepare them for the press, make a memoir, &c. He knew nothing about them save their good price, and he was going on for the job. Death cut him short at Baltimore. The newspapers say he died of congestion of the brain.

Of Mr. Poe’s genius and personal characteristics we shall treat fully in our next.

 

9 COMMENTS

8 Comments

  1. Yogurt | October 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    Time for a little absinthe…

  2. Tara R. Edwards | October 7, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    In the shadow of Monticello’s graces, when Jefferson’s serpentine walls were among my regular haunts, and the ever present mists of the Blue Ridge would cloud the mountains like living shadows from this past with so vital a breath, absinthe was no longer in vogue. Rather the grand traditions of Rush and Grad Happy Hour kept up UVA’s reputation as the premiere Virginia gentleman’s drinking school. Apparently not so different than in Poe’s day.
    Upon acquiring an apartment on Jefferson Avenue, I had the privilege of passing by Poe’s quaint residence whilst walking to class each day. Midst the hoary overgrowth of vines and brush I examined the somber, almost austere exterior, it’s simplicity belying the history therein. Though never venturing to peek through the barred windows, I saw in my mind’s eye the serious youth bent over his studies and conjuring his dark tales.
    When dining at Poe’s Restaurant in Charlottesville, I would consider his legacy. As a young girl, I past time reading Doyle, Shelley, Stoker, Hugo and Bronte, but seeing the Raven so prominently a local icon, I took a special interest in Poe’s meanderings midst the darker visage of the human psyche.
    Perhaps my favorite was “The Fall of the House of Usher”. It so hauntingly explored complex manifestations of genius gone awry, therein lying the ultimate determination that that which cannot sustain itself will ultimately determine it’s own demise.
    Dying at the age of forty, Edgar Allen Poe’s own time of reckoning came far too soon, sadly mirroring perhaps the themes of his own finest art. Indeed “The Raven” will be remembered… forevermore

  3. Drew | October 8, 2013 at 8:45 am

    It is interesting to note that some American and English critics were baffled by Mr. Poe. In fact, in a lecture presented by T. S. Eliot at the Library of Congress on November 19, 1948 titled “From Poe to Valery,” Mr. Eliot gives a brief, assessment of Mr. Poe’s literary importance, more on Mr. Poe’s influence on other writers than on his rank as a Poet, since, Mr. Eliot admits, “Poe is indeed a stumbling block for the judicial critic.”

    He goes on to say that it would be fair to remark that: “If we examine his work in detail, we seem to find in it nothing but slipshod writing, puerile thinking unsupported by wide reading or profound scholarship, haphazard experiments in various types of writing, chiefly under pressure of financial need, without perfection in any detail.” In addition, Mr. Eliot states that: “Poe’s influence is equally puzzling.” Except in France, where his influence was evident in the work of three French poets: Baudelaire, Mallarme and especially Paul Valery. Stressing that the ‘sequence is in itself important.’

    ‘I believe” Mr. Eliot continues: “.. the view of Poe taken by the ordinary cultivated English or American reader is something like this: Poe is the author of a few, a very few short poems which enchanted him for a time when he was a boy, and which do somehow stick in the memory.” in terms of Poe’s prose, Mr. Eliot states: “ ..it is recognized that Poe’s tales had great influence upon some types of popular fiction. So far as detective fiction is concerned, nearly everything can be traced to two authors Poe and Wilkie Collins….the efficient professional policemen originates with Collins, the brilliant and eccentric amateur with Poe. Conan Doyle owes much to Poe,….”

    After vivisecting Mr. Poe’s most memorable poem, THE RAVEN, and concluding that Poe’s description of the bird itself is problematic in a literary sense:

    In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore,

    “Since there is nothing particularly saintly about the raven, if indeed the ominous bird is not wholly the reverse, there can be no point in referring his origin to a period of saintliness, even if such a period can be assumed to have existed.”

    After demonstrating that: “ Poe had, to an exceptional degree, the feeling for the incantatory element in poetry” Mr. Elliot concludes with the recognition that:
    “within this tradition from Poe to Valery are some of those modern poems which I most admire and enjoy; second, I think that the tradition itself represents the most interesting development of poetic consciousness anywhere in that same hundred years; and finally I value this exploration of certain poetic possibilities for its own sake, as we believe that all possibilities should be explored. And I find that by trying to look at Poe through the eyes of Baudelaire, Mallarme and most of all Valery, I become more thoroughly convince of his importance, of the importance of his work as a whole.”

    R.I.P. Mr. Poe.

  4. yamomma | October 10, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    ppppppppeeeeeeeeellllllllaaaaaaaaaa

  5. Evan | October 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Many American and English critics were baffled by Edgar Allan Poe. He died in Baltimore on a Sunday. People were more curious about him rather than admired him. He had very little friends but his adventures were amazing. Poe came from a respected family mostly because of his grandfather. Poe was educated and well taught for someone living during this time. Poe lived a pretty good and peaceful life. He wrote many great stories and there are all pretty well known today.

  6. Anonymous | October 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Edgar Allen Poe was a very strange man, but was a fantastic writer. It seems from the article that many people in his time thought he was very odd. He was well educated and also came from a highly respected family in the area.

  7. Boy rider | November 12, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Weird

  8. Lover of Poe | March 13, 2014 at 3:00 am

    First Mr.Poe’s name “Allan” is spelled with an ‘a’ not an ‘e’. He only signed his name Edgar Allan Poe one time. He usually signed it as E.A.Poe or Edgar A.Poe. Mr.Poe was never adopted by John Allan. It was Mrs.Allan’s idea to take little Edgar in. John Allan never treated him like a son nor did he provide Edgar with the proper education he promised, barely paying his tuition. He left Richmond,VA around Sept.27th 1849 to solicit subscriptions to start his own magazine. He left Richmond running a tempature & an irregular heart rate, he was not seen again until Oct 3rd, 1849 near a or in a tavern in Baltimore,MD disheveled, not wearing his own clothes or shoes. He was delirious, but managed to give a name to contact. He was taken to Washington Hospital where he was in a state of great distress & running a high temp until he passed away on Oct.7th, 1849 @ the age of 40. The days between him leaving Richmond & being found on Oct.3rd,his whereabouts remain to this day unknown His father David Poe’s whereabouts or death is unknown as he left his family in Richmond. It is only under assumption that he died. Yes,Edgar A.Poe was a beautiful person in looks & in mind. He was not an alcoholic nor a drug addict! It is a great shame that it has taken over 160 yrs for the truth to be finally revealed & that Mr.E.A.Poe given the justice he so well deserves. R.I.P our beloved Eddy.

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