Monday, July 12, 2010

The Strange Life and Death of the "Broadway Journal" (Part Three)

"Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform."
Edgar Allan Poe and the Broadway JournalWhatever the true story may have been, the Briggs/Bisco deadlock was ended--and the downfall of Edgar Poe well and truly set in motion--when Briggs presumably left the "Journal." He allowed his erstwhile partner to continue publication, with his own name removed from the masthead. Bisco and Poe signed an agreement on July 14 making Poe sole editor. The contract also gave him half the profits and an "absolute lien" on the "Journal." However, as the original Briggs/Bisco contract had never been abrogated--and never would be--this agreement Poe entered into must have been legally worthless. It would be interesting to know when Poe discovered this--if he ever did--and if this had something to do with the "lies" Briggs claimed Poe was spreading about him at around this time. One also has to wonder what Bisco was thinking. Even if Poe did not know the terms of Bisco's first contract with Briggs, Bisco himself certainly did. Why did he even want to continue so troublesome a publication, particularly when he knew perfectly well Briggs could pull the plug on his enterprise on a whim? The only logical inference is that he and Briggs had a private mutual understanding, of which Poe knew nothing.

In any case, Briggs certainly acted as though he still had the upper hand. He huffed and puffed about taking Poe and Bisco to court in order to halt publication of the "Journal," but these threats proved to be empty. In spite of his claim that he could "displace" Poe and Bisco whenever he chose, Briggs actually seemed suspiciously pleased to allow Poe to dig himself deeper into that hole called the "Broadway Journal."

The apparent lack of capital, as anyone could have predicted, made the paper's continued existence increasingly unlikely. Because the original contract permitted Bisco to demand payments from his partners within three days, Poe, having replaced Briggs as the putative partner, made attempts to acquire personal loans for the magazine. The relatively small sums he acquired in this manner were hardly enough to keep the "Journal" afloat. His efforts saddled him with additional debts and gave his enemies the opportunity to brand him as a shameless borrower and sponger. By October, Bisco suddenly announced his decision to abandon the magazine altogether. Through what Poe dryly described as "a series of maneuvers almost incomprehensible to myself," he thus became sole editor and owner of the "Journal." He had finally achieved his long-cherished dream of owning his own magazine, but with the tragic irony that characterized his entire life, it was hopelessly dysfunctional financially and--he privately believed--contemptible artistically. Adding to his difficulties was the fact that, when Briggs left the "Journal," he was allowed to simply abandon his moiety, but when Bisco jumped ship, he insisted that Poe pay him off.

Although Poe wrote in the "Journal" that he was counting on the aid of "friends" to sustain the magazine, whatever promises he had been given for financial assistance failed to materialize. Early in December, Poe threw up his hands. He transferred half his interest in the "Journal" to Thomas H. Lane, who handled the magazine's liquidation. (Poe later characterized Lane to George Eveleth as "the person to whom I transferred the Journal and in whose hands it perished.")

The true and complete history of the "Broadway Journal" can never be known, because everyone involved, including Poe, had his own individual reasons for not wishing it to be known. However, enough evidence remains on record to show the "objects" for which the "Broadway Journal" was established. That "series of almost incomprehensible maneuvers" which left Poe as sole editor and owner was all part of a complex legal scheme which wound up entrapping and neutralizing Poe as a force in the literary world. (The fact that this crisis in his professional affairs was practically simultaneous with the equally disastrous personal crisis involving Elizabeth Ellet's letters may or may not be coincidental.) When Poe was lured into the magazine, he felt justified in believing that his name and the quality of his contributions would increase circulation and advertising, and thus put the "Journal" on firm footing. In fact, an honest endeavor would undoubtedly have proved successful. The joint venture was set up in a way that ensured failure for the last man standing, and Poe was designated as that man. The "Boston Transcript," a newspaper which had close ties to Poe's worst enemies, commemorated their common opponent's downfall with a mocking elegy referring gleefully to the empty promises from Poe's "friends" which had lured him into the whole disaster. It revealed as much of the truth as they dared:
"To trust in friends is but so so,
Especially when cash is low;
The Broadway Journal's proved 'no go'--
Friends would not pay the pen of Poe."