A rare opportunity presented itself to me that I feel I must share with my loyal readers. You may at first think I am mad, but I assure you that I am as rational as these black words on the page. I could not determine the impetus to this phenomena; maybe it was the season of scary apparitions or foggy graveyards, but there he was, sitting in the chair, ready to share his life’s story, short but prolific though it was.
I do not know from where he came or how he got in through the locked doors of the house, but there he was, ready to be queried about his works and his life. But why me of all the sane people in the world. I was far from an expert and even farther from being an admirer.
I read some of his works in school many years ago but dismissed them as they were not to my liking, because I did not fancy the macabre. But I do remember that I appreciated the impact and place in American fiction that he occupied. So I inquired again, why me of all people. I was nothing to him. I was merely curious about him, enough so that I could fill a page with an interesting story to provide a brief escape for an interested reader.
“Alright,” I uttered. “I see you’re not going away until we exchange what we need to exchange. Will you promise to leave me once I have asked you enough questions?” He nodded, recrossed his legs and rested his arms on the wing back chair, making himself open to the conversation.
To begin, I wanted to know the best way to address him, Edgar? Mr. Poe? Mr. Allan? He didn’t mind which I chose and proceeded to explain why he had two last names. His mother, an actress touring Richmond, Virginia, had died when he was an infant. His father had already left the two of them. He was taken in by a Richmond merchant John Allan and his wife. He was quick to add that they never formally adopted him.
I commented how fortunate he was that someone with means stepped in to raise and care for him. He nodded looking somewhat remorseful. He explained that John Allan had been fairly good to him, giving him the opportunity to study in Scotland and England and at the University of Virginia.
John Allan wanted him to become a businessman and Virginia gentleman but he strayed from that path. Allan had not given him enough money at the University and he ended up gambling trying to make up the money he needed. The debts were too burdensome and he had to leave the University. When John Alan died, he left Mr. Poe with nothing.
I felt that Mr. Poe wanted to deviate from the painful memory of how his relationship with John Allan ended, so I asked him how he pursued his passion to write. He told of his childhood hero Lord Byron and how he would write verses on the back of ledger sheets while working for his guardian. He knew very early that being a businessman was not for him. At age eighteen he had published his first book of poetry, Tamarlane and Other Poems.
I was impressed with this early accomplishment and must have shown it. He took this as a sign that I wanted him to continue.
He imparted of how he supported himself through the 1830s and 1840s by being an editor of various magazines. Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, where he published the The Fall of the House of Usher, and Graham’s Magazine were in Philadelphia. The Broadway Journal was in New York City. In 1835 he was the editor of Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. My interest must have appeared to be waning so Mr. Poe ended his editorial listing.
With trepidation, I determined that I needed to inquire about affairs of the heart. No thorough interview would be found complete if circumstances surrounding the subject’s love affairs were not relayed. Mr. Poe paused and seemed somewhat reluctant to embrace this line of questioning, but he finally relented.
He told of going back to visit his fiancee’, Elymyira Royster, after leaving the University only to find that she had married another. After discovering this news he went back to the Allan house for a short time until his relationship with John Allan became intolerable. Broke and alone, he left Richmond and traveled to Baltimore to find some of his father’s relatives.
His aunt Maria Clemm took him in, and it wasn’t long before Poe developed romantic feelings for her daughter. When he was twenty-seven, he brought the two of them back to Richmond and married his cousin Virginia who was still 13 years old.
The look of horror on my face did not go unnoticed by Mr. Poe, but I held my tongue. He was, after all, a guest in my house and was accustomed to a much different time. He tried to reassure me that this was acceptable and that he loved her until the day she passed in 1847 at the tender age of 24. They had just moved into a cottage outside of New York when she developed tuberculosis and died. He was devastated and found it difficult to write for months.
Mr. Poe ceased his story telling to regain his composure. He must have found it difficult, still, to tell this part of his story.
In 1849 he traveled back to Richmond and looked up his former fiancee′, Elmira. He found her to be widowed. They rekindled their relationship and planned to be married after his trip to Philadelphia and New York. He abruptly ended the story of his romance leaving me wondering if he was going to revisit the topic later.
But my wondering was short-lived. I realized that this was the beginning of the end. From my research, I knew that he was going to tell me of what would be his last trip.
I kindly interrupted and told him that I read about his travel plans. He had stopped in Baltimore on his way to Philadelphia and disappeared for five days. To this day, mystery still surrounds his death, and I briefly hoped that this may be my chance to resolve that mystery. Do I dare ask him the question that so needed to be asked of him when they found him delirious, in the gutter outside a watering hole that was used as a polling place? He was wearing shabby clothes and looked as if he had been beaten.
I tried to broach the subject as gently and as humanly possible by explaining that there were many possible explanations as to what happened to him. Some think he succumbed to drink knowing that he couldn’t handle his liquor and wound up being beaten by ruffians. Others wondered if cooping was involved. Since I had not yet opined, I left the door open to hear his telling.
Time seemed to pause as I looked at his expression to glean some kind of clue of what he would say. But before I could say another word, Mr. Poe silently bowed his head and seemed to say “thank you.” I was not aware of any revelation that he could thank me for, so I responded with a confused “you’re welcome.” And with that final exchange of words, he vanished as quietly as he appeared.
I sat for what seemed hours, contemplating the appearance of a conversation that just occurred. Was this to be shared or was I to take this experience to my grave never to be talked about again? Who would ever believe that I spoke with Mr. Poe besides partakers of the supernatural, of which I was not. I finally came to my revelation and will kindly share with you my dear reader. Life is a mystery, and who besides the father of the mystery detective story would be so kind as to appear in my study to illustrate how true this was.
Natasha Geiling. The Still Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. Smithsonian. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/still-mysterious-death-edgar-allan-poe-180952936/
Thomas Ollive Mabbott, etal. Edgar Allan Poe. Encyc. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Edgar-Allan-Poe
Who was Edgar Allan Poe? Poe Museum. https://www.poemuseum.org/poes-biography
Edgar Allan Poe. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/edgar-allan-poe