Monday, March 29, 2010

The Heinous Henry Harrington (Part Two)

"To vilify a great man is the readiest way in which a little man can himself attain greatness."
-Edgar Allan Poe

Frances Sargent OsgoodAlthough certain of Poe's more unpleasant biographers show obvious reluctance in discarding this alleged attempt to make Osgood his partner in sin--they clearly would like such a sordid story to be true--(one wonders, incidentally, how Mrs. Clemm would figure in this purported elopement)--discard it they must. Aside from the sheer delirious insanity of the tale, any glance at the timeline renders it an impossibility. Harrington had left Albany, where he was a Unitarian minister--one shudders to imagine his sermons--by the beginning of April 1847. From Virginia Poe's death in January of that year until the time Harrington left his Albany flock, Osgood was still in Philadelphia, and Poe living in seclusion at Fordham, battling grief and serious illness. It is also curious that, if this shocking incident truly took place, Osgood would make such an effort, in the reminiscences she published after Poe's death, to depict a close friendship with him. Or that anyone else Osgood treated to her "raillery" about this attempted seduction never came forward with such a sensational piece of gossip. Or that the many other women who knew Poe never thought him even remotely capable of such indecency. In fact, it was from his female acquaintances--including Osgood--that we get the most emphatic accounts of Poe's innate chivalry and gentleness, which would hardly be the case if he had been the brazen satyr of Harrington's dreams.

And, amazingly, Harrington managed to make this the most credible story in his repertoire. Harrington's other allegations are so demonstrably and embarrassingly false that even Poe's most hostile chroniclers avoid so much as mentioning them--probably because those tales utterly destroy the credibility of anything the man ever said. Harrington tried forcing upon the world a pack of unprecedentedly ugly tales that lacked even the faintest shadow of corroboration and were, by his own admission, based solely on hearsay he claimed to have heard about a man who was a complete stranger to him. He also failed to explain why he, as well as all the other people who must have been aware of Poe's scandalous, if not criminal, behavior managed to keep it to themselves that long. In short, Superintendent Harrington lied like a dog.

That he wished to give all the publicity in his power to vicious stories that he must have known were false is patent. The mystery here is what Charles Fort would call "the whyness of it." What were Harrington's motives for making a public spectacle of himself--not to mention dragging through the mud the name of his late sister-in-law? To Stoddard, he claimed to be motivated by a desire to correct any suggestion that Osgood had harbored a tendresse for Poe. To "The Critic," he claimed to be coming forward out of disgust with current efforts to vindicate Poe's character.

If all this was true, why did it take him so long? If he was so concerned with Osgood's reputation, why didn't he come forward in 1860, when Mrs. Whitman published the source of the passage in Stoddard's article that Harrington claimed to find so offensive? Or in the 1870s, when Whitman began peddling the claim that a great scandal erupted when Elizabeth Ellet saw a (presumably compromising) letter written to Poe by Osgood? Certainly, Whitman's nutty and uncorroborated story, which was widely disseminated (and, unfortunately, treated as fact,) by John Ingram, William Gill, and Whitman herself, put Osgood's relations with Poe in a more scurrilous light than anything Stoddard had written.

And as for his second reason for unburdening himself--many people had rushed to Poe's defense ever since Griswold's obituary of him first appeared. If tributes to Poe so infuriated Harrington, how did he manage to hold his tongue through nearly forty years of them? (Curiously, he admitted that Griswold's memoir--which was certainly milder than anything Harrington himself wrote--was "saturated with malignity.")

It all looks very like he was simply grabbing at any feeble excuse he could to suddenly come forward with his stories. Harrington must have had a particular reason for circulating his slanders at that particular time. But what?

The only clue we are given lies in a particularly odd passage in his letter to "The Critic." He claimed there was "a studious effort to brand the writers who have set forth the honest truth about Poe as a band of conspirators, consciously devoted to the task of damaging his fair and honorable reputation." Harrington, of course, frantically denied there was any truth to the allegation--which, so far as we know, was never actually made by anyone. Publicly, at least. It comes off as "protesting too much."

Compare that statement with one of his letters to Stoddard. He pushed his correspondent to "vindicate yourself most surely" by circulating "a simple array" of stories--to be provided by Harrington--"attested by responsible persons, providing instances of Poe's reckless criminality and of moral degradation." As an example of the fine, rich dirt he could offer Stoddard--rather like a salesman offering samples of his wares--Harrington then presented, with an obvious and quite disturbing relish, his salacious story about the young wife Poe had deliberately seduced and "ruined."

Now, what do we have here but an effort to enlist Stoddard into a "conspiracy" "consciously devoted to the task of damaging Poe's fair and honorable reputation?"

There is no question that there was an organized effort to destroy Poe professionally and personally during his life, and that these efforts continued, or even intensified, after his death. Sidney P. Moss, who wrote extensively about Poe's literary wars, even described the forces against him as acting in "collusion" and "collaborating"--conspiring, to put it plainly--although Moss always shrank from exploring the full implications of this observation. Moss noted that Poe's antagonists first tried merely to freeze him out of the literary world; his obvious genius making that impossible, they then sought to annul the impact of his work by destroying him as a man. "The truth," Moss wrote, "is that Poe as a critic was successful to the point of his own undoing. Having allowed his enemies no ground on which to stand, he drove them to discredit his criticism by discrediting him as a human being. In this they succeeded, and so well, that it may be forever impossible to deflate the Poe myth to its proper proportions." (Indeed, Harrington repeatedly insisted that Poe's alleged moral failings made it impossible to honor him, no matter what his literary accomplishments may have been.) What set Harrington apart from Poe's other defamers is that he was too stupid to play the game with any finesse. He over-egged the pudding, peddling lies that were so revolting and so blatantly fictional that they only backfired on him.

Henry Harrington--on the surface, a mere filthy-minded, half-mad creep--was clearly part of something far more insidious.

(Image: NYPL Digital Gallery)

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Heinous Henry Harrington (Part One)

"...the magnitude of a slander is usually in the direct ratio of the littleness of the slanderer, but, above all things, of the impunity with which he fancies it may be uttered."
-Edgar Allan Poe
May 4, 1885 marked the launch of the strangest, vilest, and most incomprehensible attack on Poe's personal character--Rufus Griswold's not excepted. On that date, Henry F. Harrington, Superintendant of Public Schools in New Bedford, MA, and the widower of Frances S. Osgood's sister Elizabeth, wrote an unsolicited letter to writer Richard Henry Stoddard.Richard Henry StoddardStoddard was a stranger to Harrington, but he wished to discuss a highly negative newspaper article Stoddard recently wrote about Poe. Harrington claimed that Stoddard had spoken "rather lightly" of his late sister-in-law. He feared that readers of this article would get the impression that Mrs. Osgood's feelings for Poe had been in some way improper. (It is odd that Harrington would express this fear. Stoddard's descriptions of the Poe/Osgood relationship--which he largely plagiarized from Sarah Helen Whitman's "Edgar Poe and His Critics"--were actually quite innocuous, and accompanied by references to Poe's undeniable devotion to his wife.)

"I know very well the peculiar circumstances of her life in New York," Harrington commented cryptically. "I know a good deal about the literati who circled around her." However, Harrington expressed himself as determined to impress upon Stoddard the utter impossibility that Osgood may have been enamored of Poe. "In fact," he wrote, "it was from Mrs. Osgood herself that I received the impression of his character which led me to loathe him as one of the basest of mankind." (Elsewhere, however, he contradicted himself by declaring that Poe's reputation for "sensual excesses" was widely known during his life, making him a pariah wherever he lived.)

Mr. Harrington then proceeded to descend into insanity. He described Mrs. Osgood's many visits to Fordham in 1847, in order to provide the dying Virginia Poe with "the barest necessities of life," which "her profligate husband" denied her, preferring to spend his time and money on dissolute pleasures in the city. (Harrington was evidently unaware of several difficulties with this story: Virginia died at the very beginning of that year, plus, at the time these missions of mercy supposedly took place, Osgood and her family were living in Philadelphia. Osgood never visited Fordham in her life--in fact, she and Poe never spoke to or wrote to each other again after early 1846.)

Some time after Virginia's death, Harrington continued, Mrs. Osgood visited his home in Albany--he himself being away at the time. Upon his return, he declared, his sister-in-law told him, with "sparkling humor," that Poe showed up at the Harrington residence in order to beg Osgood to elope with him--a proposal she described with such "raillery," that proved, Harrington assured Stoddard, she never would have dreamed of submitting to Poe's indecent advances.Edgar Allan Poe and Albany NYHarrington concluded his letter somewhat confusedly, by asking Stoddard "whether you are aware of any circumstances in connection with Poe which compromised Mrs. Osgood's good name. I trust not."

Two days later, Harrington wrote again, in response to a note from Stoddard, in which the writer--who had only two brief meetings with Poe in his life (where the poet accused him of plagiarism,) but who had been acquainted with Osgood--evidently strongly asserted the innocence of her relations with Poe. In this second and final letter to Stoddard, Harrington launched into a hysterical tirade against those who sought to defend the character of Poe, a man guilty of "the reckless violation of the fundamental laws of God and man." He urged Stoddard to launch a campaign to enlighten the public about Poe's "moral degradation." As an example, he proposed that Stoddard "make use" of another of his Poe anecdotes. In 1846, Harrington claimed, he was friends with a New York family--whom he never identified--where "love, confidence, and happiness prevailed." Into this Eden, Harrington claimed to have later learned from unnamed sources, the snake Poe appeared. He made the acquaintance of the beautiful young wife of this household and "resolved to make her his victim." The woman was soon "beguiled" into an affair, which soon left her ruined in reputation, abandoned by both husband and lover, and with her once blissful home destroyed. Poe had "added another to the guilty triumphs of his despicable life."

Incidentally, if this woman and her sad tale had actually existed, there is something particularly diseased about Harrington attempting to exploit the shame and misery of a female "friend" of his in order to pursue his bizarre vendetta against Poe--even to the point of offering to provide her name. His eagerness to openly bandy the name of his late sister-in-law is even more appalling. Harrington had evidently disliked Mrs. Osgood and thought little of her probity (see Osgood's 1849 letter complaining about Elizabeth and Henry Harrington's distrust of her word in connection with some scandal that was circulating about her and Rufus Griswold,) but for him to publicly name her in connection with such a suggestive story was, especially in those times, unimaginably ungentlemanly.

Stoddard evidently failed to respond to Harrington's call to arms. Although he claimed to hold a dismal view of Poe's character--hardly surprising, as Stoddard had been a Griswold protege--he certainly never gave any sign that he saw the dead poet as the monster of depravity Harrington described. That avenue having gone nowhere, Harrington then went public himself. A few months later, he wrote a lengthy, rambling letter to "The Critic" magazine ("Poe Not to Be Apotheosized," Oct. 3, 1885.)

This time, Harrington claimed that the impetus for breaking his long silence about Poe was his indignation at the latest edition of the "Encyclopedia Britannica," and its laudatory entry on Poe. This letter repeated the same three stories he told Stoddard--Poe's cruel desertion of his sick wife, his heartless seduction and ruin of a married woman, and his attempts to similarly degrade Mrs. Osgood, all presented in a tone bordering on mania.

Harrington's lurid screed certainly brought him the attention he craved--albeit not the sort he must have expected. Contemporary opinion scarcely knew whether Harrington should be condemned more for his bad taste or his mendacity. One New York paper, the "Daily Telegraph," even devoted most of one Sunday edition to columns expressing disgust with the New Bedford pedagogue. Literary critic and Poe scholar Edmund Clarence Stedman summarized popular reaction to the man he described as "the harrowing Harrington" by noting, "Poe, with all his faults, was not 'a libertine,' and I see not the slightest cause to change my opinion. In fact, he was the least 'sensual' of men and authors..." Harrington made a serious error by allowing his evident obsession with sex to define his charges against Poe. He might have gotten away with painting the author of "The Raven" as a drunk, a liar, a sponger, and a fraud--many others, including Stoddard, had built handsome careers by doing so--but not even Poe's most vigorous detractors could picture him in the role of Don Giovanni.

Harrington abruptly retreated back into well-deserved obscurity, never even trying to defend stories he had claimed were both well-documented and extensively known. Before his outbursts to Stoddard and "The Critic," there is no record of him ever so much as speaking the name of Poe--a man he had never even met--and so far as we know, he never did so again.

...Coming up in Part Two: More sleaze! Conspiracy! Slander! Fun for the whole family!

(Image: Albany, New York during Poe's era via NYPL Digital Gallery.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Poe and Turtle Bay -- The Usual Shameless Fraud

edgar allan poe turtle bay
In 1909, at a New York event celebrating the centenary of Poe's birth, an elderly lady named Sarah Miller presented--for the first time--her memories of the period, early in 1846, when the Poe family were her family's neighbors, in a then-rural area named Turtle Bay. In 1922, her younger brother John also recorded his reminiscences about the famous writer.

Books about Poe have utilized the accounts given by the Miller siblings ever since, all blithely ignoring one crucial fact: The Millers could not possibly have been telling the truth.

Brother and sister forgot to coordinate their stories: Sarah said the Poes were her family's neighbors; John said they boarded with the Miller family. Sarah described Poe as a kind, likable man. According to John, the poet was cold and dissipated; an unpleasant person and neglectful husband. A man named William G. Appleton, who had known Sarah Miller for many years, was astonished to hear her 1909 revelations of her early friendship with Poe. He said Miss Miller had often mentioned having seen Poe as a child, but that she never gave any hint of possessing any detailed reminiscences of him. When shown a transcript of her account discussing Poe, Appleton said flatly that she had never before said anything resembling these Poe stories. To top things off, a writer named Appleton Morgan looked into Miller's story. A study of old records of the area in question soon showed him that at the time the Poes and the Millers supposedly lived in the vicinity, no private residences existed there, and no public thoroughfares. (Morgan tactfully suggested that the aged lady's memory "had become confused after a lapse of fifty years.")

A relative of the Brennan family, Bronx-area dairy farmers with whom the Poes boarded in 1844, stated years later that the poet and his small family had lived on the Brennan farm at two different periods. It is only logical that in the short gap between the time the Poes left New York City (sometime late in February or early in March 1846) and their move to their Fordham cottage that spring, they returned to the familiar, congenial home of the Brennans, rather than any mythical housing near or with the Millers. Most likely, the Miller children remembered from their youth local gossip about the brief time the famous Mr. Poe spent in the general area--they may even have known the Brennans--and, as often happens, the siblings embroidered their stories considerably in their old age.

In short, another Poe story bites the dust.Edgar Allan Poe medallionThere is, incidentally, a minor mystery surrounding John Miller's reminiscences. In "The Haunted Palace," Frances Winwar's tawdry and inaccurate biography of Poe, she quoted from what she described as a typewritten transcript of a 1922 letter of Mr. Miller's discussing the poet. Winwar stated that this letter (which told--close to eighty years after the fact--some highly uncomplimentary stories about Poe) was in the archives of the New York Historical Society. A NYHS librarian has told me not only that the Society has no such letter, but that there is nothing in their records to show they ever did. A check of other libraries and archives has yet to uncover the document Winwar cited. Very odd.

(A footnote: The Poe Centenary brought out a bumper-crop of bogus Poe anecdotes. At another Centennial event, Annie Richmond's 79-year-old sister Sarah Heywood Trumbull spoke of her memories of Poe, ending with the previously-unknown statement that "He visited me only a few days before his death, leaving with me some pages of his last manuscript..." An interesting assertion, considering not only that it is impossible that he came calling on her in Lowell "a few days before his death," but that the reminiscences she provided in the 1870s to John Ingram and William Gill state that the last time she saw Poe was in the fall of 1848.)

If this weird little blog of mine could be said to have a theme, I suppose it would be, "Everything We Know About Poe Is Wrong."

(Poe medallion via Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.)

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.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Silence of the Lummis

...or, The Case of the Brother Who Didn't Bark.

When Edgar Allan Poe sued the "New York Mirror" for libel in 1846, one of the listed witnesses for the defense was Elizabeth Ellet's brother William Lummis. (Ellet and Lummis figured in a particularly strange and complicated story I chronicled here, here, and here.) According to Thomas Dunn English (who wrote the column that inspired Poe's lawsuit,) after Poe made his fatal declaration that Mrs. Ellet had sent him some sort of compromising letters, Lummis sought to defend his sister's honor--with a gun. English claimed Poe was so terrified by this pistol-packing brother's wrath that he cravenly sent Lummis a letter retracting his claim and took to his bed, pleading an attack of insanity. Although Ellet claimed years later that she still had Poe's apologia in her possession, it was never produced by her or anyone else--which is very strange, if she did indeed own a letter so helpful to herself, and so damming to her antagonist, Poe.Elizabeth F. Ellet and Edgar Allan PoeWhen Poe filed suit, English not only failed to present any proof for his published allegations, he fled town, leaving the "Mirror" team to fend for themselves. Thus, their only available line of defense was to attempt to blacken Poe's character as much as possible--the idea, evidently, was to show that it was impossible to libel such a wretch. Presumably, as part of this tactic, the defendants hoped to have Lummis substantiate English's version of the Ellet scandal.

The curious thing is that we have no evidence that Lummis actually testified. We know there were transcripts made of the trial--"Mirror" editor Hiram Fuller afterwards stated he owned one, and the lawyers involved surely had copies--but no one ever revealed their contents in any detail, and no complete record of the trial has ever surfaced. The failure of Poe's enemies to make use of the court testimony strongly indicates it only favored him. So far as we know, the worst specific charge that was allowed to stand against Poe during the trial was that he sometimes drank--hardly an earth-shattering revelation. After the trial, Poe himself crowed to George Eveleth that the defense "could not get a single witness to testify one word against my character..." If Lummis had sworn to the truth of English's libels--especially if he could produce a self-incriminating letter directly from Poe--it is impossible to believe that Poe's multitude of enemies would not have trumpeted this to the world. It all implies that Lummis would not--or could not--back up English's story under oath. In other words, Lummis' silence provides additional evidence that English's version of the Ellet dispute--which most of Poe's biographers accept as fact--was indeed a pack of malicious lies.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Annabel Lee Leland - Another Cautionary Tale

In March 1851 the Milwaukee "Daily Free Democrat" copied a death notice that had recently appeared in a New York newspaper:
"DIED-On Monday evening, Feb. 24, of inflammation of the brain, after an illness of 38 hours, ANNABEL LEE, only daughter of Mary J. and T.C. Leland, aged 9 months and 2 weeks."
The "Free Democrat" said of this sad little obituary:

"Connected with the above announcement, is a piece of beautiful history." The paper went on to say that the Lelands "had always cherished the warmest affection for the late gifted and unfortunate Edgar A. Poe. Their house had been a refuge for him when all others were shut against him, and in the bitterest hours of trial and suffering, he had found in them warm and steady friends."

The paper explained that Poe's close relations with the family resulted from a "sincere affection" he felt for Mrs. Leland in their youth. After he left school, they parted ways for many years, and during their separation, he received the mistaken impression that she had died. "But the bright dreams inspired by her remained with him, and he told us that her angel form often rose up before him in his degradation, darkness, and ruin...In one of these moments, when frenzied by intoxication, the lovelight of his early days appeared before him--he thought how it was untimely quenched, and left him in the darkness alone, friendless, helpless and hopeless, he seized his pen and wrote those wild sweet strains of "Annabel Lee"--and 'the cloud that came out by night'--
'Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.'"
Soon after writing this poem, he chanced to meet his old sweetheart, seemingly returned from the grave, and married to another. But she and her husband both befriended him, and when their only child was born, named her after the lovely tribute to the mother. "And here we see that this child is dead. The cold sod too, is above the form of him whose life was clouded by suffering, and whose sun went out in darkness. Lightly may it rest on his bosom, is the prayer of those who loved him, and lasting will be the remembrance of the proud and gifted one."edgar allan poe annabel leeNot a dry eye in the house, eh?

This elegiac little story was widely reprinted in newspapers across the country, establishing the previously unknown Mary J. Leland as one of the innumerable candidates for the honor of having inspired "Annabel Lee." At least two Poe scholars who discovered this column assumed that Mrs. Leland was the "Poe's Mary" of Augustus Van Cleef's infamous 1889 magazine article. (I'm surprised John Evangelist Walsh failed to write a book arguing that Poe was the real father of Mary Leland's baby.)

What is unfortunately overlooked is the fact that, shortly after this story became public, the Lelands paid to have a "card" published in a New York paper "stating that they are not the persons who showed kindness to Edgar A. Poe--though they wish they were--that they never had the pleasure of his acquaintance." The Lelands, unsurprisingly, expressed their curiosity about how their names came to be so colorfully linked with the late poet.

The "Free Democrat" soon printed a sheepish retraction, muttering that they had not expected "the article would be generally copied." They absolved the Lelands of all responsibility for the story.

In other words, the editor of the "Free Democrat," in need of lively copy for his newspaper--or perhaps he just had had a liquid lunch--saw the death notice from New York with the Poe-inspired name, and allowed himself to have way too much fun with it.

An alarming amount of accepted information about Poe has been built on no firmer foundation. His biographies have repeated as fact many old newspaper and magazine articles that are as uncorroborated and unbelievable as the Leland saga. And the "Free Democrat" was hardly unique in its methods for filling column space. As this article shows, dramatic tales about celebrities were always highly popular, and journalists were supremely indifferent about whether they were true. And, of course, then as now, there were many people eager to gain their fifteen minutes of fame through a publicized "brush with greatness"--whether they could do so legitimately or not. If the Lelands had not had the integrity to publicly refute this story, the world would never have known of the hoax.Edgar Allan Poe Pratt daguerreotypePoe biography could use more of the honesty shown by the Lelands. Two of the more egregious examples of this need are the cases of Kate Bleakley and Mary Andre Phelps. Bleakley's story surfaced in 1903, with numerous newspapers carrying the story of the elderly lady who had known Poe in early 1830s Baltimore. (The young poet was said to have written her the "letters and verses" that are obligatory to all Poe reminiscences of this stripe--none of which was extant, of course.) The problem is, none of the stories about her was identical. In some versions of her tale, she became romantically involved with him before he entered West Point. In others, she met him after he left the Military Academy. Depending on which account you care to believe, she knew him either as "Edgar Allan," or "Mr. Poe." In one newspaper, they had been engaged. In another, they were merely sweethearts, with what Sarah E. Shelton would call a "partial understanding." Yet another quotes the lady herself as saying that she and Poe had been nothing more than acquaintances, with no hint of romance, and she warmly remembered his future wife Virginia Clemm as "one of the sweetest girls of her day."

And this dog's breakfast of contradictory silliness, simply because it had the virtue of appearing in print, achieved immortality for Miss Bleakley through the inclusion of her name in that well-respected reference source, "The Poe Log"!

As for Mrs. Phelps, she was a woman who, in 1900, gave a newspaper interview where she described her family's close friendship with the Poe household when they lived in Fordham. Thomas O. Mabbott, Hervey Allen, George Woodberry, and other Poe biographers used her story as serious source material--largely focusing on Phelps' claims of overhearing Maria Clemm telling her mother that she--Mrs. C.--had "made the match" between Poe and Clemm's daughter Virginia. (As if this would be something Poe's mother-in-law would boast about to one and all.)

As in the Bleakley case, anything that casts doubt on her story's credibility is ignored by these "historians." For instance, Mrs. Phelps--who supposedly knew Poe so intimately--stated that Virginia had died many years before Poe and Mrs. Clemm moved to Fordham. (She also imagined that "Muddy" had been Virginia's nickname.) Elsewhere, she said that her father, William Andre, was a direct descendant of the Major Andre who had been hanged as a spy during the Revolutionary War. (She was evidently unaware of the fact that the Major had no direct descendants, and that a study of her family's genealogy establishes that she had no relation to this historical figure at all.) Just for good measure, she also claimed to have been a childhood friend of opera star Adelina Patti.

In 1893, the "Chicago Herald" carried an interview with Mrs. Phelps' mother, Aurelia Andre, that managed to outdo even her daughter's inventiveness. Mrs. Andre was also under the impression that Poe had become a widower long before his arrival at Fordham. She went on to say that the name of Poe's wife--who, according to this authoritative source, had been Mrs. Clemm's niece--was "Lenore." She described Poe as having been raised by Mrs. Clemm from boyhood, and that her brother, "Eddie's" uncle, "had him educated."

And then the interview got truly weird.

And these were two women whom Mabbott, Allen, Woodberry, etc., treated as unimpeachable witnesses!

In other words, either the reporters who published these stories learned all they knew about journalism from studying back files of the Milwaukee "Free Democrat," or the Andres were publicity-hungry liars. Or both.

The cases of Leland, Bleakley, Andre, and Phelps are merely representative of many, many similar stories associated with Poe. There is the published account of "Mrs. Jane Clarke, of Louisville, KY" (a woman who, so far as can be ascertained, never even existed,) Mary Winfree (ditto,) Mary Bronson DeLuc (who claimed that Poe wrote "Ulalume" for her father's use as an elocution exercise--?!?--the letter Poe allegedly wrote to her father on the subject deserves a post all its own. I'd wager good money it is one of the clumsiest forgeries I've ever seen...)

The credibility given to these stories says a lot about the depths to which Poe scholarship can sink.