Obituary of Edgar Allan Poe


Arts & Culture


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.