Sunday, May 16, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Virginia Eliza Clemm married Edgar Allan Poe
I dwelt alone
In a world of moan,
And my soul was a stagnant tide,
Till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride —
Till the yellow-haired young Eulalie became my smiling bride.
Ah, less — less bright
The stars of the night
Than the eyes of the radiant girl!
And never a flake
That the vapour can make
With the moon-tints of purple and pearl,
Can vie with the modest Eulalie’s most unregarded curl —
Can compare with the bright-eyed Eulalie’s most humble and careless curl.

Now Doubt — now Pain
Come never again,
For her soul gives me sigh for sigh,
And all day long
Shines, bright and strong,
Astarté within the sky,
While ever to her dear Eulalie upturns her matron eye —
While ever to her young Eulalie upturns her violet eye.

MARRIED - On May 16, by Rev. Converse, Edgar A. Poe, to Miss Virginia Eliza Clemm.
-Richmond Whig & Public Advertiser, Friday, May 20, 1836

...Or, at least one of the anniversaries, at any rate. Edgar Allan Poe, God bless him, could not even get married without giving his biographers fits. As is well known, Baltimore city records show that on September 22, 1835, he and Virginia Clemm (who had reached the legal age to marry only the previous month,) applied for a marriage license. To date, however, no evidence has been uncovered to show that an actual marriage ceremony took place at that time, and the fact that the couple indisputably married in Richmond on May 16 of the following year would seem to argue against an earlier ceremony.

However, in 1874 N.H. Morison, a Baltimore friend of the couple's relative Neilson Poe, told John H. Ingram that Edgar and Virginia had indeed wed twice, although he was uncertain about the dates. Giving Neilson Poe as his source, Morison claimed that "the marriage took place in Christ's Church in this city, the ceremony being performed by Rev. now Bishop John Johns. The parties did not live together for more than a year, when they were again married in Richmond where they were to reside. This second marriage, the bride 15, took place to save all comments, because the first one had been so private."

Unfortunately, Morison's word does little to settle the question. His account is completely uncorroborated--even by Neilson Poe himself. Christ's Church left no record of this alleged marriage, and Bishop Johns' relatives were also unaware of him having married the couple. Also, if Edgar and Virginia felt a second ceremony was required for the sake of propriety, why did they make the first ceremony so secret?

It has always been difficult to know what to make of the matter. It seems highly improbable that Poe would suddenly abandon his job at the "Southern Literary Messenger" in order to make a flying visit to Baltimore and go to the trouble of taking out a license, all for nothing. However, it seems even more improbable that the couple would marry privately, pretend the event never took place, and then wed again a mere eight months later. To date, no one has found a satisfactory explanation for the puzzle.Edgar and Virginia Poe marriage bondThe theory that the initial ceremony was kept secret because of Virginia's youth seems absurd--surely, it could have made little difference whether the bride was thirteen years and one month old, or thirteen years and nine. There is no evidence for the oft-asserted belief that the couple's relatives violently opposed their desire to marry, and even if they had, as long as the girl's mother consented to the match, there would be nothing they could do to stop the pair. If they felt the need to keep the initial marriage hidden and unconsummated because of Virginia's youth, why would they marry then at all? (Hervey Allen's assertion that the initial wedding was kept secret in order to make it easier for Mrs. Clemm to cadge loans from their relations is not even worth discussing.) There is no known sane reason why they should have married secretly, especially considering that surely no one at the time would have noticed or cared what the then-obscure couple did. So then, how to explain the Baltimore license?

In this, as is so often the case when contemplating Poe biography, one must echo the words of the Duchess of Malfi:
"Wish me good speed,
For I am going into a wilderness
Where I shall find nor path nor friendly clue
To be my guide."