Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Tale of Two Valentines

Valentine by Virginia Clemm PoeBaltimore's Enoch Pratt Library houses what is described as the "original manuscript" of Edgar Allan Poe's 1846 Valentine poem to Frances S. Osgood. The same library also has the poem Virginia Poe wrote to her husband, which is dated the day after the Osgood Valentine. Now, I'm not a professional handwriting expert, but I wish someone else would take a close look at this and this. Can I possibly be the only one who thinks that the handwriting in the "Osgood manuscript" is very much like Virginia's? Not to mention the fact that both poems are written on the same flower-embossed stationary (which hardly seems like the sort of paper a man would use.) The body of the Osgood poem does not match any accepted specimens of Poe's writing from that period (it certainly does not match the writing in Poe's other manuscript copies of this poem,) and the title and initials "EAP" at the bottom of the document are in a different, more "Poe-like" hand. If Virginia wrote out both poems, it would explain the otherwise inexplicable fact that Mrs. Clemm kept this copy of the Osgood verse among her papers, rather than forwarding it, among with Poe's other literary manuscripts, to Rufus Griswold after her son-in-law's death.

If Virginia did indeed make--and keep--a fair copy of the 1846 version of the Osgood Valentine, it opens the possibility, strange though it may sound, that she composed it, as well. Poe biographer Edward Wagenknecht commented that he doubted Virginia's Valentine to her husband was the only poem she ever composed, and it seems to me that he may have been more accurate than he knew. The sentiments expressed in the Osgood poem are mocking, rather than romantic, and could have been written by a woman as easily as a man. Virginia's authorship would also explain how Osgood's middle name came to be misspelled as "Sergeant" rather than "Sargent." Surely Edgar Poe, with his extensive magazine experience, would not make this mistake about a writer whose full name often appeared in print. In short, these two Valentines invite a certain amount of curiosity about the oft-ignored Mrs. Poe.Poe Valentine to Frances Osgood

(Header image via New York Public Library)

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