Monday, June 28, 2010

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

"There are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told."
-"The Man of the Crowd"

Edgar Allan Poe and the Broadway JournalJanuary 3, 1846 marked the final issue of the "Broadway Journal," a small literary weekly that had been alive for only a year. The magazine carried a farewell message from its owner/editor, Edgar Allan Poe:

"Unexpected arrangements demanding my whole attention, and the objects being fulfilled, so far as regards myself personally, for which 'The Broadway Journal' was established, I now, as its Editor, bid farewell--as cordially to foes as to friends."

This enigmatic obituary notice has puzzled Poe's biographers ever since. What "unexpected arrangements" did he have? What were these fulfilled "objects" for which the "Journal" was established? So far as anyone has been able to tell, the magazine brought Poe less than nothing. As George Woodberry grumbled, "What other objects Poe achieved, except the republication of much that he had previously written in prose and verse, it is hard to see." As for his business investment in the magazine, Heyward Erlich commented, "nowhere is his role on the 'Broadway Journal' elevated above mystery and even obscurity."

It seems to have escaped all notice that Poe's valedictory becomes intelligible only when interpreted as an example of his characteristic sardonic humor. Poe's year-long involvement with the "Broadway Journal" left him in debt, physically worn from overwork, mentally exhausted from nervous tension, dogged by controversy, and surrounded by enemies, old and new. He never found steady magazine work again. He was, in short, publicly presented to the world as someone now depleted and isolated.

And that was precisely the intention.

Any attempts to fully chronicle the dark and complicated life story of the "Broadway Journal" are fatally hampered by the fact that the bulk of our information about the magazine and Poe's role in it come from its co-founder, Charles F. Briggs--largely through letters to his close friend James Russell Lowell. Briggs was a secretive, deliberately enigmatic sort--in "The Literati of New York City," published after the "Journal's" demise, Poe characterized him as someone who had "a passion for being mysterious. His most intimate friends seem to know nothing of his movements, and it is folly to expect from him a direct answer about anything." (In a later revision of his sketch of Briggs, Poe described Briggs' pseudonym " "Ferdinand Mendoza Pinto"--the name of a Renaissance-era adventurer who gained a legendary reputation as a liar--simply as "apt.") This view is borne out by Briggs' letters to Lowell, where his references to Poe and the "Journal" come off as self-serving, self-defensive, and illogical. This was not a man to rely upon as a witness.

Poe's own recorded remarks about the "Broadway Journal" are scant and somewhat contradictory, when they aren't simply mysterious. When addressing potential investors in the magazine, he unsurprisingly attempted a sanguine air about its prospects. To other correspondents, however, he sounded increasingly disgusted with the "Journal" and everyone connected with it. After an involvement of only weeks, he began writing longingly of his desire to bury himself in the remote countryside and devote his energies to writing books--if he could only find someone to take his share of the "Journal" off his hands. Later in the year, his attitude becomes increasingly dissatisfied, then caustic. By December, he was telling Fitz-Greene Halleck: "On the part of one or two persons who are much imbittered against me, there is a deliberate attempt now being made to involve me in ruin, by destroying 'The Broadway Journal.' I could easily frustrate them, but for my total want of money, and of the necessary time in which to procure it: the knowledge of this has given my enemies the opportunities desired."

Poe biographer Arthur Quinn, writing about the demise of the "Journal," commented bemusedly, "...the main cause of the failure was the lack of capital. The advertisements in the 'Journal" seem to be ample, and in fact increased from two to four pages after Poe had complete possession of the paper. No satisfactory figures concerning its circulation are available, but there were agents in twenty-three cities according to the last issue. Then as now, a magazine must lose money at first, if it is to win eventually, and Poe could not afford to lose even for a few months. That he did not know this seems inexplicable."

"Inexplicable?" It was impossible! Clearly, something more than the usual birth struggles of a new publication were being carried out behind the scenes. But what?

In Part Two: A descent into the maelstrom.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I will add here, and now (Oct. 1st, 1878,) the opinion; formed long ago and still held by me, that Poe was willing--yes, that he coolly planned--to leave behind him the impression (for such as might be glad to receive it) of his having been almost anything or everything that was bad--a malign, unhealthful product of the soil of the evil latter times."***
-George W. Eveleth (writing under the nom de plume of "H.B.W.")
This statement is a postcript to a letter Eveleth wrote to the editor of "Scribner's Monthly" in 1877. As "Scribner's"--perhaps unsurprisingly--apparently failed to publish it, Eveleth sent a copy to Poe's biographer John H. Ingram, with this additional comment. What Ingram made of it is, unfortunately, unknown. Eveleth never completely explained why he was so certain that Poe deliberately orchestrated the legend of his disgraceful personal reputation, but he made similar assertions to other correspondents, including Rufus Griswold (who must have had a lively reaction to the idea.)

Say what you will about Eveleth, he could always be relied upon to give an interesting take on things.

Perhaps I need to follow his lead: Whenever I encounter horrors such as Kenneth Silverman's "Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance," or Hervey Allen's "Israfel," or, God help us, John Evangelist Walsh's "Plumes In the Dust," I'll simply say, "It's all right, Edgar wanted it this way!"

It would certainly play merry hell with this blog's entire raison d'ĂȘtre, wouldn't it?

***A footnote: The phrase "evil latter times" comes from a 1519 work by Martin Luther, where he declared that the rampant immorality of his era was a sign the Second Coming was near. As strange as Eveleth was, he was far from mad, and all his writings were definitely done for good reasons, albeit ones often known only to himself. I believe he quoted those words quite deliberately. If this is the case, perhaps it's best to not even speculate about what he meant to imply.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Elizabeth Oakes Smith
Elizabeth Oakes Smith may have been a successful poet, magazinist, lecturer and essayist, but where Edgar Allan Poe was concerned, she is best known as an irresponsible fantasist. (Although, God knows, she was hardly unusual in that respect.) She was fond of publishing colorful and subtly malicious reminiscences about her literary brethren. Unfortunately for her quest for "copy," she did not know Poe well--if she actually knew him personally at all. Undeterred, she spread stories about him anyway, mixing together stray scraps of gossip, putting her own finishing touches on them, and generally coming up with a very strange brew indeed. (Poe's biographer John H. Ingram wound up contemptuously dismissing her as "imaginative.")

Her most notorious Poe anecdote was her lunatic claim that the poet died in 1849 as a result of a beating commissioned by a woman (Elizabeth F. Ellet, although Smith never named her publicly) whose letters Poe had refused to return. In other words, she gave a version of the 1846 dispute between Poe and Ellet, as narrated by Rod Serling.

A lesser-known tale of Smith's is equally unbelievable, but very interesting in its broader implications. It is told to us by a man named J.C. Derby, in his 1884 memoir, "Fifty Years Among Authors and Publishers." (Derby, it must be said, is not the world's most reliable source himself. Elsewhere in this same book, when discussing the Griswold edition of Poe's collected works, he made the astonishing statement that "The copyright was paid at first to Mr. Poe, and after his death to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm...")

According to Derby, Smith told him an anecdote concerning Poe and a unnamed woman, who was obviously Elizabeth F. Ellet. He quoted Smith as saying:
"A certain lady of my acquaintance fell in love with Poe and wrote a love-letter to him. Every letter he received he showed to his little wife." [Note: This intriguing detail about Virginia reading all his correspondence was actually confirmed elsewhere by Mrs. Clemm.]

"This lady went to his house one day; she heard Fanny Osgood and Mrs. Poe having a hearty laugh, they were fairly shouting, as they read over a letter. The lady listened, and found it was hers, when she walked into the room and snatched it from their hands. There would have been a scene with any other woman, but they were both very sweet and gentle, and there the matter ended."

Now, this is a patently absurd little fable. Not only do we not have any other source--including Smith herself--that confirms Derby's story, but it flatly contradicts the little we do know. All the evidence we have indicates that the feud involving the three women started when Virginia Poe confronted Mrs. Ellet with a letter written by Mrs. Osgood. In any case, it seems far too conveniently coincidental that, after sending Poe this mash note, Ellet should just happen to enter the Poe house (unannounced, presumably,) at the precise time that the other two ladies are reading her effusions aloud. As the old saying goes, the story doesn't pass the smell test.

What is significant about this anecdote is what it does not say. It is an indirect piece of evidence that, contrary to what is assumed by modern-day Poe biographers, there were no salacious contemporary rumors involving Poe and Osgood's relationship. If there had been, surely the gossipy Mrs. Smith would have incorporated them in her various Poe stories. She never--publicly or privately--hinted at any improper or scandalous allegations about the pair. In fact, her one recorded comment on the Poe/Osgood relationship suggested just the opposite. She once told Sarah H. Whitman that certain of Poe's female admirers--obviously, Mrs. Osgood and Mrs. Ellet--got into a jealous catfight with each other, and Poe wound up being caught in the crossfire. Smith emphasized, however, that she believed him to have been blameless in the matter. Mrs. Smith once wrote that many people had had some very ugly things to say about Mrs. Osgood, but she never connected these calumnies to Osgood's dealings with Poe. In fact, despite whatever negative remarks Smith made about the late poet--and, in her rather condescending way, she made plenty--she described him as a faithful and loving husband. (According to Smith's close friend Mrs. Whitman, Smith and Osgood disliked each other, so she would hardly have a motive to protect the other woman's name.)

Instead of describing any sort of scandal involving the Poe/Osgood relationship, Smith depicted Mrs. Osgood and Poe's wife laughing together about another woman's advances to him. All the recorded contemporary commentary on Poe's controversial dealings with women in 1845-46 focused on the dispute involving Elizabeth Ellet and her reputed letters to him--Osgood is practically ignored. In fact, we have statements (from Hiram Fuller and Horace Greeley in particular) suggesting that relations between Poe and Osgood were believed to have turned hostile. In early 1849, Greeley even saw Mrs. Osgood as someone who could be sent to advise Sarah Helen Whitman not to have anything to do with Poe!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Poe and Saratoga: The Usual Unholy Biographical Mess

Edgar Allan Poe and Saratoga
Among the innumerable minor mysteries in Edgar Allan Poe's biography is the question of whether or not he ever visited Saratoga Springs, New York. In the "Home Journal" in 1884, and again in the New York Times in 1924, a man named William Elliot Griffis published an article ("Behind the Mystery of Poe's 'Raven'") based on what he said had been reminiscences of Poe told him by a James Barhyte, whose parents owned an estate at the watering place. Griffis said Barhyte told him that when he was a small boy, he saw Poe in Saratoga during the summers of 1842 and 1843. (Where, we are told, the poet rarely mingled "with the gay throngs," and "looked like a prairie cowboy.") Arthur S. Wright, the husband of Barhyte's granddaughter, told Poe biographer Mary Phillips in 1919 that James Barhyte and his younger sister Mary had told him essentially the same tale published by Griffis (not that Wright would have any way of knowing if the story was actually true.) However, we have nothing directly from Barhyte himself.

The Griffis/Barhyte story is, on the face of it, utterly ridiculous. During the period of these supposed visits to Saratoga, Poe was at a low ebb, financially and personally. He simply did not have anything like the money that would be necessary for vacationing at a fashionable resort. The idea that he would leave his sick wife and his mother-in-law to fend for themselves in Philadelphia, while he wasted precious time and money to go off on solitary holidays is so patently absurd that it is amazing that anyone has given this account any credibility whatsoever.

The irrepressible Susan Talley Weiss dealt with this obvious difficulty by adding further layers of fiction to Griffis' story. In her 1907 "Home Life of Poe," she borrowed his Saratoga tale, but in her version, Poe made a scandalous visit as the guest of an unidentified wealthy married Philadelphia woman. Her story was in turn repeated and distorted further in the retelling by Poe biographers George Woodberry and Hervey Allen. The entire fantasy actually snowballed to the point where it has been assumed that the "wealthy Philadelphia woman" was none other than James' mother, Ann! Thus, Mrs. Barhyte and Poe were romantically involved! (Never mind that Ann Barhyte was not a Philadelphian, and Griffis' own story showed she and Poe were strangers when he allegedly first came to Saratoga.) The "Gigolo Poe" story, like nearly all of Weiss' fables, can be easily dismissed in disgust, but, amazingly, it still is repeated here and there--which, as in the case of those fraudulent sketches of Virginia Poe and Elmira Royster, just shows that some Poe legends are impossible to kill, no matter how provably false they may be.

To return to Griffis: He (or Barhyte) goes on to further insult our intelligence by giving an account of young James and his mother helping the visiting poet write "The Raven":
On one day, never to be forgotten, the little fellow [Barhyte] had been out fishing for trout on the pond down in the direction of the old gristmill. Having caught his pail full, he was rowing back toward the house oblivious of visitors, and suspecting no one near, when, suddenly, the silence was broken by the deep echo of "nevermore!" As he neared the house, the sonorous polysyllable rolled over the pond and came back in echo at regular intervals.

The sound which issued from the grove seemed to be that of some one reading aloud, though only the one word "nevermore" could be distinguished. The boy, wondering to the verge of fright, knew not what to make of it, having never heard the strange word in such fashion.

As he neared the landing he began to hear whole lines, and to catch a regular cadence of sound. He now made up his mind that some one was "speaking a piece," and that it was likely to be none other than Mr. Poe. Laughing to himself at the idea of having been so scared, he gave the oars a fresh pull and the mystery was solved. There was Poe in something of a fine frenzy, pacing up and down the space cleared among the trees, reciting to himself the poem, the refrain of which had so frightened the lad at a distance--the semicroak, the demi-thunder of "nevermore."

His fears over, the boy now resolved to have some fun. Knowing the poet so well, he had by this time lost all fear of "the Mexican." [Young James' nickname for the visitor.] So, leaping ashore with his fish he walked up to the man in long hair and slouch hat, and shouted mockingly:

"Oh! what a name for a bird! Who ever heard of a bird named 'Nevermore?'"

Instead of scowling or taking offense, Poe's face brightened. He clapped his hands and seemed delighted with a new idea.

"I have it," he cried. "Just the thing. That will make the stanza I need to complete the poem."

Poe then submitted the poem to Ann Barhyte for criticism, a task she "conscientiously undertook," making a number of corrections to the work, which the poet said were great improvements. (The story claimed she wrote poems for the "New York Mirror" under the pen name of "Tabitha"--an assertion that no one to date has been able to verify.) Yes, according to Griffis, these are the people we have to thank for Poe's most famous poem--the Barhytes, mother and son.

Now, while all this certainly makes for light entertainment, it has no place in serious biography. (Incidentally, if I ever have a decade or two of time to spare, I plan to compile a list of the multitudes of people who informed us that they witnessed the composition of, or helped Poe write, "The Raven." It would make for an even longer roster than that of all the women who claimed to be Annabel Lee.) Stories like the one published by Griffis always remind me of the old David Letterman skit, "Brush With Greatness"--where people related fleeting, inconsequential meetings with celebrities, and then added increasingly wild and ludicrous details about the encounter. The only difference is, these Poe reminiscences were not intended as humor.

One other claim that Poe was ever in Saratoga comes from a Theodore Pease Sterns. In 1920, ("The Outlook" magazine, "A Prohibitionist Shakes Dice With Poe,") he published what he said were reminiscences of the poet given to him by his great-uncle, Peter Pindar Pease. (Again, these stories are all second or third-hand.) Sterns wrote that his relative told him that an E.M. Murdock had told him (Pease) of his own acquaintance with Poe. The story claimed that in 1843, Poe visited Saratoga in the hopes of arranging to bring his invalid wife there for medical treatment. According to the Sterns/Pease/Murdock tale, Poe paid for this trip from a loan he had obtained, as well as money from the recent sale of one of his stories. However, on arrival at the spa, he discovered not only that Saratoga was unaffordably expensive, but that the journey would likely be far too arduous for Virginia. He stayed only a few days, returning to Philadelphia "utterly cast down in spirit over this additional disappointment."

This story has been cited as corroboration of the Griffis/Barhyte account, but in fact it essentially contradicts it. While it places Poe in Saratoga, this article depicts him making only one trip to the resort, and that of very short and unsatisfactory duration. While, unlike the Griffis yarn, this tale at least has the virtue of plausibility, its lack of documentation and questionable source makes it untrustworthy.Saratoga Springs and Edgar Allan Poe
Saratoga Springs c. 1830. NYPL.

If Poe ever was in Saratoga, his visit must have been something like that which was described by Sterns. Lacking any better evidence, however, his alleged sojourn has to remain among the vast pile of Poe Apocrypha.

Monday, June 7, 2010

"That Marriage Will Never Take Place"

sarah helen whitman pallas athena
Those six words are among the most intriguing--and hotly-contested--utterances ever attributed to Edgar Allan Poe.

The controversy started--as so many did--with Rufus Griswold's biography of Poe ("that very peculiar fancy-piece called a 'Memoir,'" in the immortal words of GeorgeW. Eveleth.) In describing the end of his subject's engagement to Sarah Helen Whitman, Griswold wrote:

"They were not married, and the breaking of the engagement affords a striking illustration of his character. He said to an acquaintance in New York, who congratulated with him upon the prospect of his union with a person of so much genius and so many virtues--'It is a mistake: I am not going to be married.' 'Why, Mr. Poe, I understand that the banns have been published.' 'I cannot help what you have heard, my dear Madam: but mark me, I shall not marry her.' He left town the same evening, and the next day was reeling through the streets of the city which was the lady's home, and in the evening--that should have been the evening before the bridal--in his drunkenness he committed at her house such outrages as made necessary a summons of the police. Here was no insanity leading to indulgence: he went from New York with a determination thus to induce an ending of the engagement; and he succeeded."

When Griswold's anecdote appeared in print, Mrs. Whitman was, unsurprisingly, quite aggrieved. Her concern, however, was far more for her own reputation than it was for Poe's. After all, she herself told a correspondent soon after Poe's death that "I could not have written to you so freely...if the interest I feel in Mr. Poe had partaken of the character of what is usually termed love." Also, in years to come, she did not hesitate to relate to his biographers many damning stories of her own, such as a long, surreal anecdote--which she claimed was the basis for Griswold's distressing tale--describing a time when Poe came to her house in a state of madness so hysterical that a doctor had to be summoned. (She claimed piously that it was only this graphic evidence of his desperate state that caused her to accept his proposal, in the hope of "saving" him.) The truth was, her vanity was pricked by this public statement that Poe had rejected her--and worse, that he had not hesitated to let all his acquaintances know it.

In the hope of finding evidence to contradict Griswold's assertion, Whitman wrote to a minor poet named Mary Hewitt. She and Hewitt did not know each other, but Whitman was aware that the other woman was a friend of Griswold's, and she hoped to learn how he acquired the story. (From her letter to Hewitt, she clearly assumed the source was another "literary lady," Jane Locke--who had repeatedly informed her that Poe had told many people he had no intention of ever marrying Whitman.)

On receiving Hewitt's reply, Whitman was disconcerted to find that not only did Hewitt endorse the basic truth of Griswold's story--that Poe denied that he would marry Whitman--but that she herself claimed to be the "acquaintance in New York" to whom Poe made his declaration! (Incidentally, it seems just too coincidental that Whitman, completely by accident, contacted--of all the people in New York--the very person who figured in Griswold's anecdote. It is possible that Hewitt, who had after all barely known Poe, simply lied about being the recipient of his declaration, in order to be able to defend and corroborate her good friend Reverend Rufus to Whitman. Lacking more evidence in the matter, this can only remain speculation.)

Unfortunately, Whitman did not keep Hewitt's actual letter to her detailing this important conversation. Whitman had an irritating--and most suspicious--habit of mutilating, destroying, and altering her correspondence with others about Poe, evidently with the aim of creating a historical record to benefit herself. As part of this selfish ambition, she preserved "draft" copies of letters she supposedly wrote giving information about her putative ex-fiance (we usually have no idea if they matched what she actually sent her correspondents.) Even worse, she made copies of important letters she received, then destroyed the originals, leaving posterity in the dark about whether these copies precisely matched the real letters.

Whitman left what she said were two "extracts" from Hewitt's letter to her--and they do not match. One, in the Boston Public Library's collection of Griswold's papers, quotes Hewitt writing to Whitman, "As Mr. Poe arose to leave he said 'I am going to Providence this afternoon.' 'I hear you are about to be married,' I replied. He stood with the knob of the parlour door in his hand, and as I said this drew himself up with a look of great reserve and replied 'that marriage will never take place.' 'But,' I persisted, 'it is said you are already published.' Still standing like a statue with a most rigid face, he repeated 'It will never take place.' These were his words and this was all. He bade me good morning on the instant and I never saw him more." (In this "extract," Whitman also included a passage that reflected her willingness to pass on slurs against Poe when it happened to suit her purposes. She quotes Hewitt as defending Griswold's motives in publishing his story, with the words, "I am assured dear Mrs. Whitman that for yourself Mr. Griswold cherishes the highest respect and admiration. I know he regretted your intended marriage, knowing upon what a wreck (pray forgive me) you were about to embark so trustingly.")

The other copy of this letter, among Whitman's papers in the Lilly Library, omits reference to the banns, with Mrs. Hewitt merely asking, "Mr. Poe, are you going to Providence to be married?" Poe is depicted as replying "No, Madam, I am not going to Providence to be married, I am going to deliver a lecture on Poetry." After a pause, he added, "That marriage may never take place."

Quite a difference!

Just to add further confusion to an already unreal story, in 1852 Whitman, distressed that the claim she had been jilted refused to die, deputized her friend William Pabodie to write Griswold on her behalf. (She evidently lacked the nerve to confront him herself.) Pabodie loyally denied that Whitman had been rejected by the late poet. He claimed--citing Hewitt's letter as his source--that Poe had stated that "the marriage may never take place," these words being merely a reference to the objection of her family and friends to the match.

Griswold responded with one of his more psychotic letters. After asserting the truth of Poe's desire to be rid of Mrs. Whitman, he resorted to out-and-out menace, threatening to defend himself by placing "before the public such documents as will be infinitely painful to Mrs. Whitman and all others concerned." (These "documents"--presumably letters to or from Poe giving his true feelings regarding Whitman--have not survived, if they ever existed.) Griswold added that he had "great respect and sympathy" for Mrs. Whitman, but on the subject of Poe "if not on some others" she "was insane." (A statement that was true enough, but surely a "pot, meet kettle" moment if ever there was one.) He followed this with the utterly baffling declaration that at the time of Poe's conversation with Mrs. Hewitt, he "was already engaged to another party." Just to round things out nicely, he closed by declaring that at the time of Poe's death, he was keeping both Mrs. Clemm and "Annie" Richmond as his mistresses, while preparing to marry Mrs. Shelton for her money.

After this cornucopia of slime was delivered (Poe biographer Arthur Quinn shuddered to think of what Griswold must have been privately whispering about Poe, if he was willing to put the likes of this on paper,) the dispute, unsurprisingly, lapsed. While the side issue of whether Poe made his last appearance in Providence a scene of drunken riot was firmly denied by both Whitman and Pabodie, the vital question of Poe's true intentions and feelings regarding his "Helen" foundered in utter confusion. For the rest of her days, Whitman strongly denied that Poe had behaved as constabulary bait during his final visit to her home--a denial she clearly hoped would, by inference, cast doubt on the rest of Griswold's story--but she avoided directly dealing with his alleged chat with Mrs. Hewitt.

Where does all this leave us? Where we usually wind up in Poe biography: Dealing with a welter of utterly irreconcilable stories emanating from unsatisfactory and untrustworthy sources. Both Mary Hewitt and Jane Locke apparently stated that Poe had--not just to themselves, but to others as well--denied that he was engaged to Whitman. Unfortunately, we have nothing directly from these women themselves, and Locke, at least--who suffered from a frustrated passion for Poe--was deranged enough to say anything to anyone. (After Poe's death, Locke outraged Maria Clemm by stating he had sent her a "farewell message" via Mrs. Whitman. She also spread talk that Whitman herself had had some hard things to say about the late poet.)

Whitman herself clearly believed in her heart Poe had repudiated the gossip claiming they were engaged, although she professed to be befuddled why he would make such a statement. According to her, Poe spent virtually every moment of their acquaintance begging for her immediate hand. However, Whitman's willingness to tamper and distort direct evidence (such as Hewitt's letter,) her obvious self-interest in preserving the legend of Poe's passion for her, and her generally varying and contradictory stories about anything concerning her relationship with the poet leaves it impossible to implicitly trust the woman. The evidence makes it probable that Poe did indeed state--loudly enough for it to become common knowledge, even before the publication of Griswold's memoir--that he would not marry Whitman. This, of course, changes the entire accepted history of their association, leaving it shrouded in mystery and doubt.

Once again, we are left asking: Who was Edgar Poe? And what relationship did he have to the legendary figure bearing that name which was created by his contemporaries--Griswold, Whitman, and all the rest--after the flesh-and-blood man was no longer around to speak for himself?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The snares and subterfuges he [Poe biographer John H. Ingram] had encountered in his dealing with the ladies who had known Poe, and some who claimed they had, and on whom he was so completely dependent for source material, had kept him walking nervously, as on a knife edge, and had at times driven him quite close to that insanity which he daily feared."
-John Carl Miller, editor of Ingram's correspondence, in "Building Poe Biography"

This statement of Miller's--delivered as a casual aside in the final pages of his book--is actually an astonishing bombshell. Miller admits, as if it was a detail of no consequence, that the women who so eagerly volunteered source material for Ingram's highly influential biography--women whose testimony provided so much of what we think we "know" about Edgar Allan Poe, and who, inadvertently or not, did so much to destroy what was left of his personal reputation--engaged in "snares and subterfuges." Not only that, their ranks included women who lied about knowing him at all! Miller, whose editing and annotating of the correspondence these women had with Ingram did so much to promote trust in them, here conceded they were not to be trusted at all--and that they almost literally drove Ingram mad!

Whom, among Ingram's female "Poe contacts," did Miller have in mind? Sarah Helen Whitman? "Annie" Richmond? Marie Louise Shew Houghton? Elizabeth Oakes Smith? Sarah Elmira Shelton? Stella Lewis? Or simply the whole strange, self-glorifying, mendacious lot of them?