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Edgar A. Poe, when his pupil at the Richmond Academy; to Colonel John T. L. Preston, of the Virginia Military Institute, and Andrew Johnston, Esq., of Richmond, for their reminiscences of Poe as a schoolboy ; to Mr. William Wertenbaker, Librarian of the University of Virginia, and to Neilson Poe, Esq., for details of family history and personal recollections of the poet.
EUGENE L. DIDIER. 185 MADISON AVENUE, BALTIMORE, August 1, 1876.
MR. EUGENE L. DIDIER:
Dear Sir :-I am gratified to know that one who so sincerely admires the genius of Edgar Poe, and who must have access to many hitherto unexplored sources of information as to his early history and associates, is preparing to publish the result of his investigations in relation to a period concerning which we still know so little. I doubt not that whatever you may have to say on the subject will be of permanent value in the elucidation of a story whose facts are so singularly evasive and uncertain.
To translate that mysterious, shadowy, poetic life of his, with its elusive details and mythical traditions, into the fixed facts and clear outlines of authentic narrative, must, I fear, prove a difficult task to the most conscientious annalist.
In your letter of June 26, you say : “N. P. Willis speaks of Poe as living at Fordham while he was employed upon the Mirror, which was in the autumn of 1844 and early winter of 1845." I have no certain knowledge of the time when Poe was employed on the Mirror; but I have a very definite and decided knowledge as to the fact that during the whole of the winter 1845-6, he was residing in the city of New York—I think in Amity Street. He was, at that time, a frequent visitor and ever-welcome guest at the houses
of many persons with whom I have long been intimately acquainted-among others, the Hon. John R. Bartlett, then of the firm of Bartlett & Welford, and Miss Anne C. Lynch, now Mrs. Botta—who were accustomed to receive informally at their houses, on stated evenings, the best intellectual society of the city. To reinforce my memory on the subject, I have just referred to letters received from various correspondents in New York, during the winters 1845 and 1846, in all of which the name of the poet frequently occurs.
In one of these letters, dated January 20, 1846, the writer says: "Speaking of our receptions, I must tell you what a pleasant one we had on Saturday evening, in Waverley Place; or rather I will tell you the names of some of the company, and
you will know, among others, that of Cassius Clay; Mr. Hart, the sculptor, who is doing Henry Clay in marble ; Halleck ; Locke (the Man in the Moon); Hunt, of the Merchant's Magazine; Hudson ; Mr. Bellows; Poe; Headley ; Miss Sedgwick ; Mrs. Kirkland ; Mrs. Osgood ; Mrs. Seba Smith; Mrs. Ellet; and many others, more or less distinguished.”
One of these letters, in which the date of the year is wanting, alludes to a controversy, which took place at one of the soirees, between Margaret Fuller (Ossoli) and Poe, about some writer whom, in her lofty, autocratic way, the lady had been annihilating. Miss Fuller was then writing critical papers for the New York Tribune. Poe, espousing the cause of the vanquished, with a few keen, incisive rejoinders, obtained such ascendency over the eloquent and oracular contessa, that somebody whispered, “The Raven has perched upon the casque of Pallas, and pulled all the feathers out of her cap."
In another letter, dated January 7, 1846, I find the following: “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 very few people seem to get well acquainted with him.”
This was in the spring of 1846, when Poe was at the very acme of his literary and social success among the literati of New York.
His wife's health, which had always been delicate, was now rapidly failing, and, hoping that she might be benefited by change of air, the family removed to Fordham. Mr. Poe first took his wife there on a house-hunting tour of inspection, when the fruit trees were in blossom, and the aspect of the little cottage temptingly beautiful to the invalid. Whether they engaged it and removed there at once, I do not know; but it is my impression that they did, and that Poe withdrew himself entirely from the literary circles where his presence had proved so attractive.
There had, moreover, arisen at this time, among Poe's friends and admirers, social as well as literary feuds and rivalries of an incredible bitterness, and an intense vitalityfeuds and rivalries whose unappeased ghosts still “ peep and mutter."
The malign paragraph, falsely attributed to Mrs. Elizabeth Oakes Smith, which recently went the rounds of the news. papers, was doubtless of this class.
It was, apparently, an intentional perversion of a report stated by her in an able article, written for the Home Journal, which appeared early in March or April of the present year.
I do not hesitate to say, without appealing to her on the subject, that the scandal so industriously circulated was neither written nor authorized by her.* It is not only at variance with the whole tenor of the article in question, but with that of a private letter, written within the year, in which she says: “Mr. Poe was the last person to whom I should ever have attributed any grossness.
I saw women jealous in their admiration of him. I think he often found himself entangled by their plots and rivalries. I do not for a moment think he was false in his relations to them."
Moncure Conway, too, who had reason to know something of Poe's habits, in this particular, from gentlemen of Richmond who had been intimately associated with him, says, in a cordial notice of Mr. Ingram's Memoir, prefixed to the Standard edition of Poe's works : “Edgar Poe was exceptionally chivalrous in his relations with women," and he
* Since the above was written, the following note from Mrs. Smith has been received :
HOLLYWOOD, CARTERET Co., N. C., DEAR MRS. WHITMAN:
July 15, 1876. I should be loth to think that any one who had ever known me could believe that I wrote the coarse, slanderous paragraph which you quote from the newspapers
letter of the 12th instant. never saw nor heard of it till now. Mr. Poe was no such person as that would imply. Is it not strange that so much misrepresentation should still follow one so long in the grave ? It is a tribute, but a cruel tribute, to the power of his marvelous genius.
E. O. S.