"Do you know Sarah Helen Whitman? Of course, you have heard it rumored that she is to marry Poe. Well, she has seemed to me a good girl, and--you know what Poe is. Now I know a widow of doubtful age will marry almost any sort of a white man, but this seems to me a terrible conjunction. Has Mrs. Whitman no friend within your knowledge that can faithfully explain Poe to her? I never attempted this sort of thing but once, and the net product was two enemies and a hastening of the marriage; but I do think she must be deceived. Mrs. Osgood must know her..."
-letter of Horace Greeley to Rufus W. Griswold, Jan. 21, 1849
This is one of those quotations which, even though it has appeared in print since 1898, has been almost completely ignored by Poe scholars, likely because it does not, as the saying goes, "fit the narrative." Kenneth Silverman, in fact, repeats this quote in his biography of Poe--but omits that crucial last sentence.
This letter of Greeley's--someone who did not know Poe well, but was close to both Griswold and Frances S. Osgood--is proof that at least some of Poe's contemporaries did not regard his relationship with Mrs. Osgood as a "flirtation," a "romantic friendship," a "sentimental friendship," or even any sort of friendship at all! Greeley's testimony suggests that at least after the uproar centered around Poe and Elizabeth F. Ellet, a period when Greeley, in another letter, described Poe as having "scandalized"--in other words, antagonized or offended--both Ellet and Osgood, Poe and Frances were known to be on the outs. Why else would Greeley name Mrs. Osgood as a suitable agent to poison Mrs. Whitman's mind against Poe? (I have written a great deal about the Poe/Osgood relationship on this blog--normal people would probably say way too much--but I have dealt specifically with this unreported aspect of their history here and here.)
How, with letters like this in existence, along with all the other hints suggesting a very real enmity between Poe and Frances Osgood, can his biographers continue to assert without qualification that there was a warm affection between them that lasted until his death?
(Image: NYPL Digital Gallery)