Thursday, March 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I meet Mr. Poe very often at the receptions. He is the 'observed of all observers.' His stories are thought wonderful, and to hear him repeat 'The Raven,' which he does very quietly, is an event in one's life. People seem to think there is something uncanny about him, and the strangest stories are told, and, what is more, believed, about his mesmeric experiences, at the mention of which he always smiles. His smile is captivating! . . . Everybody wants to know him; but only a few people seem to get well acquainted with him."
-letter from a New York woman to Sarah Helen Whitman, January 7, 1846
Whitman published this quote in an essay she wrote about Poe in the 1870s. Unfortunately, she did not identify her correspondent, or preserve the actual letter, so we can only speculate who Whitman's informant may have been. "The Poe Log" suggested the writer of this letter was Frances S. Osgood, and the missive is in Osgood's schoolgirl style. It's hard to imagine anyone else in Whitman's circle prattling about Poe's "captivating smile," and "observed of all observers"--a line from Shakespeare--fits Osgood's habit of quoting other poets in her own writings. (Osgood also had an obsession with "The Raven;" she often referred to or quoted from the poem.)Frances Sargent OsgoodIf Osgood did write this letter, it is a revealing statement. If she actually made the observation that "only a few people" (which obviously did not include this correspondent) were "well acquainted" with Poe, it would serve as proof that despite what Osgood and Griswold wished us to believe after Poe's death, she and the poet had nothing more than a casual social relationship. In spite of all her fantasies to the contrary, Osgood was not close to Poe at all, and knew of very few people who were. We have, in fact, a number of letters to and from Osgood mentioning Poe. It is striking that every last one of them referred to Poe not only as someone whom the correspondents barely knew, but as someone whom Osgood barely knew. Indeed, no one who was friends with Osgood or Poe during the year of their acquaintance left any contemporary comments indicating the pair had a particular friendship, much less any sort of "romance." The florid reminiscences Osgood published after Poe's death, describing her warm relationship with him (encouraged by his wife!) are completely uncorroborated by any other eyewitnesses.