Monday, December 7, 2009


A few random thoughts:

Am I the only one slightly spooked by the fact that Thomas Dunn English named his youngest son--born years after his enemy Poe's death--"Edgar?"
When describing Poe's nightmarish visit to Philadelphia in July of 1849, John Sartain claimed that Poe was on his way to New York. Poe, of course, was traveling from that city, en route to Richmond. This could be just a memory lapse in Sartain's extremely strange--and probably overdramatized--account of his dealings with Poe at this time. However, in 1875, a writer named Francis Fairfield quoted a friend of Poe's named C.C. Burr (who also saw Poe in Philadelphia.) Fairfield said Burr told him that, during what was evidently this same visit, Poe told him of his upcoming marriage to an unnamed wealthy woman. Poe confided that he abhorred the idea of another woman taking Virginia's place, but he was anxious to provide Mrs. Clemm, his "more than mother," with a comfortable home in her old age, and marriage to a lady of means was his only way to do so. Fairfield assumed the woman in question was Sarah Helen Whitman, but this seems impossible. Poe's involvement with Whitman was long over by then. The anecdote could only refer to Sarah Elmira Shelton (particularly since Whitman claimed that after Poe's death, Mrs. Clemm showed her letters from Poe indicating that he was only marrying Shelton for the sake of his former mother-in-law's future security.) The obvious difficulty with this story is the fact that, in July of 1849, he had yet to reach Richmond to launch any sort of courtship of Shelton, much less successfully conclude one.

Is it possible that Sartain and Burr were describing a Philadelphia visit Poe made when returning from Richmond late in September, and that their accounts became confused regarding dates? Such a visit has been hypothesized, but no trustworthy evidence he made it as far as Philadelphia has been found. Sartain and Burr's stories, however, at least hint at the possibility that part of Poe's "lost period"--the five or so untraceable days between his departure from Richmond and his reappearance in a Baltimore tavern--was spent in Philadelphia.


Whatever happened to Virginia Clemm's older brother Henry? The last record we have of him is a letter Poe wrote in January 1836, where his future in-law is described tersely as being "absent (at sea.)" After that, it is as though young Henry had never existed. Many years later, one of their Baltimore relatives told a Poe biographer that Henry Clemm became a sailor and died young and unmarried, but provided no further details.

The most curious part of Henry's brief life is the fact that I have yet to discover any reference to him from his own mother. In the years after Poe's death, Maria Clemm's main topics of conversation were of her loved and lost children--that is to say, Edgar and Virginia. Not one word about her only biological son. Very strange.


Virginia Clemm PoeI find it odd that we have no letters written by Virginia Clemm Poe. The lack of correspondence between her and her husband is understandable. Mrs. Clemm once explained that there never really were any letters between Edgar and Virginia because they were nearly always together--Virginia often accompanied her husband when he left town for any extended period. (A comment on the brief note Poe supposedly wrote Virginia in June 1846: As much as I would like to have some sort of letters between them, we have only a copy of this note that Marie Shew Houghton claimed to have acquired. In the absence of any original manuscript, and keeping in mind Houghton's utter unreliability, I have to be wary about its authenticity.)

However, Virginia must have written letters of some kind to her friends and relatives (we have Poe documents and letters written on stationary embossed with her initials, as well as some decidedly feminine floral paper that must also have been hers,) and it seems unlikely that not one of them has survived.

I wonder if it is possible that somewhere, among some hoard of old family papers, there are letters written by Virginia that have yet to be recognized as such? Few people now would recognize her handwriting on sight, and if the letter was merely signed with her first name, and said nothing explicitly identifying the writer as the wife of Edgar Allan Poe, it could be easily dismissed as being written by an unimportant "unidentified correspondent."

Something for archivists and Poe researchers to keep in mind.


Has anyone else read this letter and found it difficult to imagine (among all its other incomprehensible elements) that Poe--no matter what his mental state may have been--could write "exasperated by ether," instead of what would be the correct, "exacerbated by ether?"

Poe may have had his sins, but they would never have included crimes against the English language.

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