Printer Friendly

Maria Clemm, Poe's aunt: his boon or his bane?

I. Poe's Marriage: Maria Clemm's Involvement

The conventional and widespread view of Maria Clemm derives from Poe's well-known 1849 sonnet "To My Mother" [i.e., Mrs. Clemm], which he composed early in February, almost exactly two years after the death of Virginia.(1) Its composition was probably owed to the predetermined sum of five dollars which was being offered for a sonnet by the Boston weekly Flag of Our Nation rather than to his strong filial affection. We have firm evidence of his contempt for the journal.(2) I agree with those reported by Professor Mabbott who were questioning Poe's sincerity here, "in view of the long lapse of time [since] . . . the loss of Virginia and . . . its publication at a time when Poe was about to court Elmira Shelton."(3) The first Flag version contains a warmed-over tribute to "Virginia's spirit" and to her mother, "dearer" to him, Poe writes, than was his revered mother, the actress Elizabeth Arnold. The reason for this apparent shift of reverence is most plausibly explained by Mabbott, who states: "[I]t may have been meant as a disclaimer."(4) The poem's awkward stress on Maria's being "devotional" may imply, to knowing readers, her devotion, not only to Poe, but implicitly to her own self-interest.(5) I intend to stress this marked characteristic of Maria Clemm as a key to her devastating effect on major phases of Poe's life as well as on his afterlife, that is, his reputation.

To expose this recondite view, we must briefly consider Poe's situation from 1828 to 1837. First he leaves the University of Virginia, after a single term: then his army post in Fort Moultrie, South Carolina; he has a truncated cadetship at West Point, after a self-contrived court-martial for "disobeying orders." In 1831 he becomes a member of Maria Clemm's Baltimore household. This includes his nine-year-old cousin Virginia and his ailing, aged grandmother Elizabeth Cairnes Poe, whose small Maryland state pension as a widow of an officer of the Revolutionary War army supports the whole family. By the end of the year, he relinquishes almost all contact with John Allan in Richmond. Poe tutors Virginia, writes short stories, and earns very little to contribute except some prize money and undefined pay from occasional jobs, during 1832 to 1835. Being ignored in the will of John Allan, who died in 1834, he "can't go home again" to Richmond; but 1835 brings great changes. Grandmother Poe dies in July and her pension ends; however, Poe receives the help of novelist and contest judge John P. Kennedy vis-a-vis the new journal of Richmond, the Southern Literary Messenger, which accepts his long tale, "Hans Pfaall," several reviews, and, finally, in August, his service as acting book-review editor necessarily living in Richmond.(6) We have no surviving direct letters from Aunt Maria in Baltimore to her nephew, but we do have strong reasons to surmise her devious pressure on Poe to ensnare him as a meal ticket. Her nephew, Neilson Poe, married (on November 30, 1831) to Virginia's half-sister (via the father, William Clemm, and his first wife), had offered to take the girl and only possibly her mother, Maria Clemm, to live in his home until the barely thirteen-year-old girl would reach eighteen and decide whether to agree to Poe's apparent wish to marry her. We have only Poe's hysterical reply of August 29, from Richmond lamenting that afterwards he would "live among strangers with not one soul to love" him, i.e., neither "Sis" nor "Muddie."(7) In the letter, Poe objects to the "worldly tone" of Maria's reference to Virginia's chance to "acquire accomplishments." Significantly he adds, "If she goes to Neilson, what are you to do, my own Aunty?" That worrisome question is Maria's real concern and the motive of her manipulation of Poe into returning posthaste but temporarily to Baltimore, apparently to marry the child Virginia in a private wedding ceremony.(8)

Then back he goes to resume his position on the Messenger after a promise to proprietor Thomas Willis White to forego the bottle. As was always to be the case, Maria managed her household frugally and skilfully on Poe's small income and courted respectability for him. Obviously, since Poe was still known in Richmond as the ex-scion of the prominent Allan family, the 1835 surreptitious but whispered-about marriage overshadowed the trio, while Aunt Maria apprehensively observed a close friendship between Poe and White's daughter Eliza, far more mature and literary than Virginia.(9) Hence on May 16, 1836, the "re-wedding" couple and the mother-in-law appeared in the Richmond Hustings Court. There the clerk, a respectable citizen-friend, and Poe individually signed to testify to her being twenty-one on a printed form or marriage bond of the state of Virginia; this was required when the bride's father was deceased or missing.(10) Later in the day, at the wedding ceremony, the Reverend Amasa Converse made them again - so to speak - man and wife, although he and others were reported as questioning her age in view of her diminutive size and her immature face, expression, speech, and manners.(11) Despite a brief honeymoon in Petersburg, Virginia, Poe did not for several years "assume the position of husband" to the then prepubescent girl. In 1848 Poe himself told this in Lowell, Massachusetts, to the brother of Annie Richmond.(12) In his talk at home and in letters, Poe invariably continued to call Virginia "Sis," and her early consumption manifested itself in frailty, fevers, and coughing - poor inducements to erotic encounters or relationship. Moreover, the meager, cramped conditions of their life in Richmond and, after February 1837, in New York City did not encourage conjugal relations. It seems clear to all readers of Poe's correspondence with literary and also flirtatious ladies before and after Virginia's death that Poe's earthly existence was limited to the sexual practice of an anchorite.(13) This would be one very likely effect of this decidely unnatural type of marriage, presided over by a "dragon" of a woman, as Mabbott calls Maria Clemm, however protective in intention she was (I, 466).

There is also the effect of this strained, encumbering marriage on his tales when we find him, early or late, cutting short the lives of the narrator's wives or fiancees, such as Morella, Berenice and, later, Ligeia, Charmion, Una, Eleonora, the deceased Mrs. Wyatt, and Ulalume.(14) Poe's cult of death, often that of beautiful and cherished women, may stem in part from the morbid, death-bed American culture of the day,(15) and it may, in part, be traced to his obsessive "mournful and never-ending remembrance" of his beloved mother, who had in Richmond seemingly abandoned the not yet three-year-old child.(16) From the same essay, "The Philosophy of Composition," comes his summarizing statement and basic esthetic: "The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world." The personal and perverse note in this is a stressful consequence of his strained and strange marriage.

II. Evidences of Maria Clemm's Deleterious Character

Midway in Poe's career (1844-45) there occurred an episode involving Maria Clemm that well illustrates her lack of honesty and probity and her capacity to harm Poe's relationships with others. In March 1844, in Philadelphia, Poe asked his friend Henry Hirst to borrow an early volume of the Messenger containing an article that he needed. Hirst borrowed it from William Duane, Jr., a very reputable Philadelphian contributor to the journal during Poe's editorship. Poe asked his aunt to return it to Hirst, the intermediary, but instead she sold it to a book dealer. Just at that time (April 1844), Poe and Virginia left the city for a second new life in New York, and soon after arriving, Poe reminded Maria again in a letter to return the volume. About May Aunt Maria, now in New York, continued her silence about her fault. In October Poe received another angry request for the volume from Duane himself and was deceptively told by Maria that she had left it in Hirst's office in Philadelphia. In January 1845 Poe learned that Duane had sought a replacement volume in the office of the Messenger in Richmond only to discover his own autographed copy. It had been sold back to the journal by the Philadelphia book seller. Embarrassed, Poe wrote a stormy, obviously specious letter, covering up for Maria, with much harm done to his own name.

Another illustration of Maria Clemm's slack moral sense appears, after Poe's death, in her willingness to furnish seekers with "Poe's own signature"; since her own limited supply had been exhausted, she said, she had learned flawlessly to "manufacture" new ones.(17) She participated, during his life, in making Poe sacrifice his strict critical standards on several occasions when he allowed partisanship to enter into his reviews, especially of feminine friends. Most notorious and provable was his accepting payment from Sylvanus and Stella Lewis for persuading editors of journals and even Griswold, in two of his anthologies, to accord Stella Lewis more space and also favorable headnotes and reviews.(18) Maria Clemm prided herself upon being able to apply this influence, clearly prominent even in the inclusion of a long "life and works" article by Poe about the detested Stella Lewis.(19) Significantly, it is difficult to find any one intimate with the Poe family who had anything good to say, in the long run, about her. Willis, who tried his best to defend Poe against the attack by "Ludwig" in his Home Journal article of October 20, 1849 (printed almost verbatim in volume 1 of the January 1850 Works), ends with a long paragraph of attempted praise, which inappropriately emphasizes her persistent and designedly pathetic begging habits. John H. Ingram, in collecting hundreds of documents from Americans involved with the Poe family for his vindicatory "life and works," learned to abhor the mother-in-law and triumphantly "proved" that her solicitation of money, food, and advance payments from friends, family, and strangers antedated Poe's entrance into her Baltimore home.(20) Miller correctly regards as rooted in jealousy and egotism her destruction of innumerable, carefully preserved letters from Poe's feminine friends, some of great fame, all potentially useful for an understanding of Poe's life.(21) T.O. Mabbott too became one of the many who came to speak of her as domineering, tergiversating, mendacious, meddlesome, insincere, hypocritical, self-seeking, and profoundly untrustworthy.(22)

Without question his contemporaries, later commentators up to the present, and Poe, of course, failed to perceive or assess her full role in his marital and, subsequently, important social and literary arrangements. His appeals to her for consolation at times or for confirmation of arguments or views in literary texts, such as Eureka, which she was incapable of comprehending, and for warm human relations in the bleakness of his various abodes should not blind us to the fact that essentially for her own survival she was abusing Poe, narrowing his social and emotional scope in destructive ways. In actuality, she doomed her perennially immature daughter and brilliant, full-blooded, exuberant nephew to an unfortunate, dysfunctional bond or relationship.

III. Maria Clemm's Effect upon Poe's Reputation: the Contrived Executorship

The single episode which proved most disastrous to Poe, after the contrived marriage, was Maria Clemm's managing, with the aid of Sylvanus and Stella Lewis, to make Griswold the editorial executor of Poe's papers and of the published Works; thus, his aunt/mother-in-law enabled his arch enemy to blacken his name and public record via many carefully selected and altered documents and a long, adversely slanted life-story. Poe had died Sunday, October 7, 1849, in Baltimore, and the next day, the 8th, the papers of that city (most prominently The Sun) published a paragraph on his death. This was at once telegraphed to major papers throughout the nation. Most of the New York papers carried a brief item on October 9, save for the long article by Rufus Wilmot Griswold (signing himself as "Ludwig") in the Tribune, operated by proprietor Horace Greeley. Greeley was no friend of Poe but rather a long-time friend of Griswold, who had immediately offered to write the obituary in the Tribune office, on October 8(23) - his chance to vent his long pent-up spite against Poe, stemming from the scarifying review of Griswold's poetry anthology in 1843 and numerous derisive lectures.(24)

Maria Clemm saw one of the October 9 obituaries, probably that in the Tribune, for she immediately sent a letter to Poe's friend Nathaniel Willis, expressing her grief and forlorn state, but also requesting him as editor of The Home Journal to ask editor Griswold, habitue of "Newspaper Row," to visit her for a message from Edgar. This, of course, concerned the posthumous collected edition of his publications that she and Stella Lewis had "conceived," using the edited or revised copies of his works left by Poe with his aunt. This plan took shape within the day of their receiving the news of Poe's death.(25) To this easing of the editing process she soon added, as an inducement, her assignment of the legal publication "rights" to Griswold. She and her lawyer quickly had to manage to snatch the materials and rights from Rosalie, the proper custodian of such effects.(26) Sylvanus Lewis, the lawyer-husband of Stella, provided all the technical language, documents, and processing of the needed papers.(27)

Willis reprinted an abridged form of her October 8 letter to him in his October 13 Home Journal defense of Poe's probity against "Ludwig's" canards. George Graham, in his magazine of March 1850, wrote of Griswold's intended "immortal infamy," after seeing the obituary reprinted by Willis in the January 1850 volume 1 of the Works.(28) No one ever seems to have asked the embarrassing question: what so-called message did Maria wish to convey from Poe to Griswold, with not a scrap of documentary evidence ever shown? Griswold, later, in his letters to Poe's friends, Helen Whitman for one, asserted that he was not Poe's friend and had no knowledge of the "trust" to be reposed in his editorial hands until after his "Ludwig" obituary notice.(29) In the Preface to the "Memoir" of September 1850, in volume 3 of the Works, he tries to mend the matter of his not wishing to assume the task save that several of Poe's "intimate friends," especially the Lewis "family," knew of Poe's choice of Griswold for his "executor." This reveals the Machiavellian touch also of Stella Lewis, hoping for a continuity of special treatment of her by Griswold in his anthologies and also in magazines in his very wide sway. Mrs. Clemm had to know the identity of the author of "Ludwig's" article on October 9, from its style, its hostile view of Poe, and its clear reference to Poe's sending to Griswold, then preparing a new edition of the Poets and Poetry of America, his "last poem" ("Annabel Lee") in May or June before his final trip to the South. Maria was willing to overlook Griswold's animosity and consider only his editorial competence plus the benefit to her in friendliness, arranged royalties, and also an invitation to reside indefinitely with the Lewises. Their complicity in the scheme, sketched out two days after Poe's death, appears in the particularity of the language of Mrs. Clemm's power of attorney to Griswold enabling him to make a contract with a publisher for the posthumous Works. This was drawn up by Sylvanus Lewis, as the language and the ideas show. Maria Clemm expected to realize several thousand dollars in unspecified royalties from the steady sale of the sets: three volumes in 1850 (two in January and one in September, plus a fourth trailing along in 1856). And she should have done so, according to a sales record of 1500 sets a year as being published,(30) with thirteen reprintings, at least of the first three volumes between 1850 and 1864.(31) Yet Mrs. Clemm continued her poverty-stricken, insecure, peripatetic existence until 1863 when she entered the Baltimore Episcopal Church Home, coincidentally established in the very hospital building which had housed Poe in his final days (her death being in 1871). She had virtually no profit from her treachery to her nephew and son-in-law Poe.

Maria Clemm received, as her "reward" for this triune plot, only a paltry few sets of the volumes, which she was allowed to peddle to charitable friends or pitying strangers. Occasionally, she complained of the further indignities of the expanded obituary, called by Griswold a "Memoir" (of about 40,000 words), which her treachery in October 1849 had enabled Griswold to include in every set of the widely distributed Works.(32) Throughout England and America readers were first confronted with Mrs. Clemm's "Preface" (probably another essay by the Lewis couple) with "palpable" inventions about Poe. He was on his way on June 29, to lecture in Richmond, where lived his old sweetheart, Elmira, now a wealthy widow. How did Aunt Maria explain the shift in expectations of a new life and views of his old enemy Griswold? "Under an impression that he might be called suddenly from the world, [Poe] wrote . . . requests that Griswold should act as his literary Executor, and superintend the publication of his works . . . unequivocally certifying his respect for the literary judgement and integrity of Mr. Griswold . . . [despite] some unhappy misunderstanding . . . for years. . . . . [T]his edition . . . is published for my benefit . . . [according to] the wishes of the dying poet . . . . [There will be no] other recompense [to Griswold and Willis] than the happiness which rewards acts of duty and kindness." Only once, in a private letter of 12 December 1853, to Thomas H. Chivers, did she acknowledge her perfidious invention of Poe's designating Griswold as executor-editor.(33)

How this "authorized" editor must have exulted in his ultimately lucrative commission(34) to prepare his major literary foe's works, with a Preface in which he included letters from Poe to himself with forged passages, to show Poe's pettiness and malice and to inflame old and powerful acquaintances, like Evert Duyckinck! At the same time he invented epistolary instances of generosity and patient tolerance toward Poe for himself. His shading of major episodes in Poe's life helped to blacken his name further, making it a symbol of perfidy, lack of control, and cynical amorality for the whole Victorian period and even later, especially in England and America.(35) Killis Campbell succinctly stated, after a good analysis of the canards and distortions in the "Memoir," that the "sketch, coming . . . from the approved editor of Poe and presented with much circumstantiality, had the effect of silencing for a time most of Poe's defenders and apologists" (p. 447). This first full view of the late Mr. Poe, by the insidious Griswold seemed to be authorized by Mrs. Clemm, and reinforced the condemnation in the press of the vastly influential Temperance Movement of the day and later.(36) Hence, widespread prejudices against considering Poe as a serious literary artist were fueled through the self-concern and hypocrisy of his own close relative, who owed him so much real consideration and gratitude.(37)

1 For the two versions, one published after Poe's death, see Thomas Ollive Mabbott, Collected Works of . . . Poe, (Harvard University Press: 1969), I, 465-468. For seven reprints in the periodical press during the year following Poe's death (10/7/1849), see American Periodicals, 1992, 2:48, invariably with laudation. Poe's sonnet with its fervid tribute to this elderly, respectable woman beguiled not only English-speaking Victorians but also the French literary elite, led by Charles Baudelaire. He published his verse translation of the sonnet in the very popular journal Le Pays (of 7/25/1854) and, revised, as the dedication for the Histoires Extraordinaires of July 1854. The changes accorded with suggestions that Baudelaire derived from that section of his long introduction which he had translated from Willis's panegyric of Maria Clemm soon after Poe's death. For the Baudelaire texts and authoritative notes by Jacques Crepet see Baudelaire, Oeuvres Completes. Histoires Extraordinaires (Paris: Conard, 1932), pp. xix-xx, 391-392, 398-400. Baudelaire detested and denigrated Griswold and admired Maria Clemm as Poe's salvation, projecting his views influentially throughout Europe. For example, Ola Hansson's long Swedish study, "Edgar Allan Poe," incorporating Baudelaire's material on Mrs. Clemm, appeared in German, Danish, Norwegian (1889-1894), Polish (1905), and Swedish (in its first complete form) (1921), q.v. in Carl L. Anderson, Poe in Northlight (Durham: Duke University Press, 1973), pp. 64, 164-166, 180-181.

2 See his admission to Willis concerning "For Annie," that it was a paper "for which sheer necessity compels me to write now and then. It pays well as times go" (J.W. Ostrom, Letters [Harvard University Press, 1948] [4/20/1849], p. 436); and earlier to Annie Richmond (2/8/1849): "['Hop-Frog'] will be published in . . . 'the Flag of Our Union' - not a very respectable journal . . . but one that pays as high prices as most of the Magazines. . . . He [the proprietor, Gleason] gives $5 for a Sonnet, also" (Ostrom, p. 425). Poe also sold to the paper his poem "A Dream Within a Dream" (published 3/31/1849) and his hoax-tale "Von Kempelen and His Discovery" (after Duyckinck rejected it for the Literary World) (printed 4/14/1849) and "Landor's Cottage" (printed 6/9/1849). In his letter to Duyckinck Poe correctly gauged the effect on the Flag's readers: "It will be quite thrown away" (p. 435). In a later letter to Annie Richmond (ca. April 28 to May 23) he warmly speaks of his effort to have his poem "For Annie" correctly reprinted in Willis's Home Journal (see p. 438; also Ostrom's long note on pp. 436-437), but indifferently alludes to the forthcoming articles, "A Sonnet to My Mother" and "Landor's Cottage," as though the sonnet is no more than a pot boiler.

3 Professor Mabbott does aver that "the poem I think is heartfelt, though it perhaps shows but one side of the medal," after which he provides a long note on the justifiable contemporaneous diet rust of Maria Clemm's character, Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, volume 1. Poems (Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 465-466. See my n. 22, below.

4 See Poems, "To My Mother," note to line 9, p. 468, which also cites the firm evidence, via Marie Louise Shew, of Poe's loyalty to Elizabeth Arnold but omits Poe's "boast" of being "the son of an actress" in the 7/19/45 Broadway Journal (see Writings of Poe, B. Pollin, ed. [New York: Gordian Press, 1986], III, 176).

5 In the first version, Poe declares that "the angels, whispering to one another" in Heaven can find "among their burning terms of love, / None so devotional as that of 'Mother'" - / You who are more than mother unto me . . . ." In the revision that he gave for printing in the Leaflets of Memory (appearing after his death) he rather weakly has the angels "Devoutly singing unto one another" but leaves "burning" and "devotional" unchanged. The stale quality of the language also appears in "fill my heart of hearts," which he had twice used in Politian, in "Landor's Cottage." and in a letter to Mrs. Whitman of 10/1/1848, adapting Hamlet's "heart of heart" (q.v. in Poems, p. 294, n. to 1.57). He also borrowed his revised "by that sweet name I long have called you" (originally "dear name") from his 10/18/48 letter to Mrs. Whitman. In his revision, he managed to eliminate the inept repetition of "dear" in lines 5 and 14. Elsewhere Mabbott sagely remarks: "Poe was not fond of sonnets and wrote only" five (Poems, p. 323). All of this makes one hesitate to call this sonnet either sincere or masterly.

6 See Poe's letter of 6/22/35 to T.W. White: "Indeed I am anxious to settle myself in that city [Richmond], and . . . would gladly accept it [a situation], were the salary even the merest trifle" (Ostrom, 1, 63).

7 For the whole agitated letter see Ostrom, pp. 69-71; also, Arthur H. Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Appleton-Century, 1941), pp. 219-223, which fails to transcribe Poe's enclosed "postscript letter 'For Virginia'" calling her "my own sweetest Sissy, my darling little wifey" (of which more needs to be said later) and referring to Maria's prior letter (never verified as to text) which had reached him "amid sorrow . . . and the deepest anxiety."

8 The date was, apparently, 9/22, and the minister was the Reverend John Owen, according to Mabbott, Collected Works, I, 546, convincedly following Woodberry in his Life of Poe, I, 143. See also Kenneth A. Silverman, Edgar A. Poe (New York: Harper-Collins, 1991), p. 107, for a good discussion of the likely "first" marriage of 1835.

9 Elizabeth Oakes Smith thought the marriage to be engineered by Maria Clemm to save him from the toils of the White's daughter, q.v. in Item 214, a letter of 4/7/1875, q.v. in John Henry Ingram's Poe Collection at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1960 [2nd ed., John E. Reilly, 1994]), no. 214. References by item number apply to either edition, here and below.

10 This is in accord with the enactments of the General Assembly of the State of Virginia, of March 13, 1832, and of March 17, 1836. The attestation on the marriage bond was, clearly, a way of evading the need for proof of Virginia's eligibility, most simply attained by having all three perjure themselves in this action. With the minority age fixed at any level below twenty-one, in days of commonly early marriage, such criminal declarations led to no investigations or charges, even for a well-known "native son," once attached to the prominent Allan family and now to the widely read journal.

11 See Hervey Allen, Israfel (New York: Farrar & Reinhart, 1934), pp. 319-320, George Woodberry, The Life of . . . Poe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1909), I, 163, Mary E. Phillips Edgar Allan Poe - The Man (Philadelphia: Winston, 1926), I, 529-534, and Silverman, Poe, p. 124.

12 Frederick W. Coburn, "Poe as seen by the brother of 'Annie,'" New England Quarterly, 16 (1943), 468-476.

13 Joseph Wood Krutch, Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius (New York: Knopf, 1926; rept., 1965), pp. 50-62. Krutch correctly cites her continuing immaturity, Poe's going into society alone, his platonic connections after Virginia's death; he might have added Poe's seeking out married women, like Mrs. Osgood or Mrs. Richmond. See also Kenneth Silverman, Edgar A. Poe, pp. 37-71, 378, concerning "sweet sister Annie," whose solid marriage in Lowell threatened no "intimacy" or "sexual contact" and Sarah Helen Whitman in Providence, to whom Poe promised only "unexacting affection" after marriage.

14 This view is well instanced by David M. Rein's stimulating and insightful commentary on the effect of the marriage on Poe's narratives, "Poe and Virginia Clemm," Bucknell Review, 7 (1958), 207-216. Concerning the first two tales, both of 1835, one may postulate scarcely conscious premonitions concerning a consumption-ridden family and early signs of disease.

15 See J. Gerald Kennedy, Poe, Death, and the Life of Writing (Yale University Press, 1987), pp. 5-18.

16 See the excellent biography by Kenneth Silverman, Edgar A. Poe, whose subtitle quotes this phrase from Poe's ending to "The Philosophy of Composition," where it is italicized as "emblematical" of his intended meaning for "The Raven."

17 R. H. Stoddard is reporting his only encounter with Mrs. Clemm, at an evening in the Brooklyn home of the Lewises, in Lippincott's Magazine, 1 (1889), 107-115. He also records her remark about Poe's inconsiderateness in making her walk lengthily on the porch of the Fordham cottage in the winter.

18 See no. 213, in Ingram's Poe Collection (ed. 1 only) for Mrs. Shew Houghton's long manuscript to Ingram of 4/3/1875, detailing Poe's wishes to excape from "literary bores" like Stella Lewis, whom Maria Clemm's wiles caused him to promote for money.

19 The only provenance of this article is in editor Griswold's third volume, called "The Literati," pp. 242-249; the essay consists almost entirely of the text of Poe's review of Lewis's Child of the Sea and Other Poems, in the 8/1848 Messenger. Strangely, another even more excessively laudatory, although a very brief "memorandum . . . on Stella," presumably in Poe's handwriting, was found by James Harrison among Griswold's papers and printed by him together with reprints of the other two in his Complete Works of Poe (New York: Crowell, 1902), XIII, 155-165, 215-226, and 226-227. It appears that Maria Clemm had used her influence well, insuring even her subsistence for the three months of Poe's final sojourn in the South and her several subsequent years, in the Lewis household. Her siding with Sylvanus against Stella in their domestic quarrels brought about her departure.

20 See John Carl Miller, Building Poe Biography (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977), pp. 21-22. See also The Poe Log, ed. Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987), p. 124, citing Jackson's 1979 identification of the 1831 correspondent [Judge Thomas Kell] as Maria's target in Miller's document.

21 See next page.

22 See next page.

21 Miller, Building Poe Biography, pp. 53, 136. He also points to Annie Richmond's avouching her destruction and virtual theft of Poe's own letters to her when Maria was her house guest, p. 193; and he cites a letter from Frances Osgood lamenting that she "should be singled out after his death as the only victim to suffer from the slanders of his mother" (p. 204, quoted by Quinn, Poe, p. 499, from Passages from the Correspondence of . . . Griswold, W.M. Griswold, ed. [Cambridge: W.M.G. 1898], p. 257).

22 Note T.O. Mabbott, I, 465-466, on Maria's being selfish, ungenerous, impulsive, indiscreet; also Mrs. Shew on her worldliness in Maria's advice to her on dress and on Annie Richmond's calling her "cruel and treacherous," letter of 4/3/1875 to Ingram, in Ingram's Poe Collection, no. 213; also Quinn, p. 563, on Poe's "loathing for the position" that she put him in, pp. 631-632, on her promise to Griswold guaranteeing a favorable review of his books by Poe; also on similar promises and begging in two letters, nine years apart, to Bayard Taylor (Charles Duffy, American Notes and Queries, 2[1943], 148); Miller, Building Poe Biography, pp. 20-23, on her begging letters (one as early as 1831) and on her lugubrious nature, p. 41; on her destruction of hundreds of letters to Poe, p. 53; on her heartless lack of respect for Poe's mother's effects, p. 121; on her jealousy, p. 136; John MacKenzie, as quoted by Susan Weiss [see below], who observed (p. 223) that the marriage was the major example of Poe's "feeble yielding of himself to the dominant will of a mother-in-law"; a view well instanced by David M. Rein's stimulating and insightful commentary on the effect of the marriage on Poe's narratives ("Poe and Virginia Clemm," Bucknell Review, 7 [1958], 207-216); Susan Talley Archer Weiss, Home Life of Poe (1907): on the unsuitability of the marriage of Poe with the always immature Virginia, the exaggeration of Poe's grief over her illness and death, on his weak will and his "unsuccess" as owed to the disastrous marriage (pp. 75-95. 132-136, 217-224); and Mrs. Mary Gove Nichols, in "Reminiscences of Poe" of February 1863 (reprinted by Woodberry, II, 438) concerning Maria Clemm's absurd pleasure that Virginia was "entombed in lovely linen" through Mrs. Shew's generosity.

23 See, in American Periodicals, 2 (Fall 1992), 6-50, Pollin, "A Posthumous Assessment," the following New York obituaries of 10/9/1850: nos. 175, 181, 186, 192, 221, 234, 251, 253, in addition to the Tribune's, 156. Many other papers, of course, published notices slightly later in the week.

24 For the full text, annotated and "canonized," first appearing in the Saturday Museum of Philadelphia, 1/28/1843, see Pollin, American Renaissance Literary Report 7 (1993), 139-171, specifically, pp. 139-141, and p. 151, n.6, which indicates the six lectures as given by Dwight Thomas, The Poe Log, or seven by Silverman.

25 Griswold's diary for 1849 shows the following: "October 16. Call on Mrs. Lewis, to assort at her home, Poe's papers. October 17. The affairs of Poe." This has been transcribed by Joy Bayless in her . . . Griswold: Poe's Literary Executor (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1943), p. 161; the subtitle is now Griswold's major claim to fame, tainted as that was.

26 See Quinn, pp. 656-658, who tries to sort out the varied claims to Poe's literary effects, with reference to posthumous publication, including Rosalie's clear (but sidetracked) claim as his legal heir, ineffectually supported by editor John R. Thompson of Richmond; and see Griswold's forceful reply to Thompson about Maria Clemm's giving him the "MSS. &c. with full power of attorney, to act in her behalf . . . [to receive] all the profits that do not go to the booksellers." Consistently mendacious, even in the 1857 new edition of The Prose Writers of America (never cited for this to my knowledge), Griswold wrote: "Soon afterward, having been appointed his literary executor, I collected and published his various works, in three volumes, for the benefit of his family" (p. 523).

27 See A.H. Quinn, Poe, p. 754, for the full power of attorney, dated October 20, drawn up and attested by Sylvanus D. Lewis, whose attestation is strangely omitted from the reprints of this document in Mary Phillips and Hervey Allen.

28 It is strange that Griswold abided by his pledge to have Lowell and Willis write introductions to the first volume of January 1850. Obviously he had not had time to complete his "Memoir," expanding his vitriolic obituary, nor did the first two, so that Lowell used a far less favorable version of his 1845 Graham's Magazine sketch of Poe, but Willis reproduced his 10/20/49 answer to the "Ludwig" article, shorn of its reprint of "Annabel Lee" and two short, transitional paragraphs around the poem in his original notice.

29 See Harrison, Works, XVII, 405-406, Griswold's letter of 12/17/1849 to Helen Whitman: "I was not his friend, nor was he mine . . . I undertook to edit his writings to oblige Mrs. Clemm," to which he adds: "Mrs. Clemm . . . is not your friend, nor anybody's friend, and . . . has no element of goodness or kindness in her nature, but whose heart and understanding are full of malice and wickedness."

30 See the testimony of James C. Derby, Fifty Years among Authors, Books and Publishers (Hartford: Winter and Hatch, 1884), pp. 586-588. He avers, rather fuzzily, that "the copyright was paid to Mr. Poe and after his death" to Mrs. Clemm (probably his confusion with the Putnam Tales of 1845). He also speaks of her "relinquishing all claims" for $250 when she needed it for entrance into the Baltimore Home. He insists that Griswold never received a cent for his labors.

31 See Mabbott, III, 1399-1400, n. using the data of Charles F. Heartman and James R. Canny, eds., A Bibliography of . . . the Writings of . . . Poe . . . (Hattiesburg, Mississippi: 1943), p. 132. See also n. 34, below.

32 Mabbott (I, 571, n.9) on the basis of a 2/19/1850 letter of Griswold to Thompson and an 1875 letter of Marie Louise Shew to John Ingram (Miller, Ingram's Collection, no. 197) states that the "Memoir" in the third volume was intended to stimulate sales of the initially slow-selling set. Mrs. Shew had been vainly trying to "buy" Griswold's promise to drop the "Memoir" in future editions with a gift of her valuable jewelry. Apparently, it was returned to Maria Clemm, who sold part of it for $300 or $500, never reimbursing Mrs. Shew.

33 See Joan Bayless, p. 167, who saw and reported on a copy of the original letter furnished by Dr. Lewis Chase, whose book on Chivers was never published; I have not been able to trace this important document. The whole tissue of lies has never been analyzed or challenged as a reflection of Maria Clemm's probity. Poe's extant letters provide a relevant disclaimer that he made such a request, for during his last day in New York, 6/28/49, he did make a request by mail to Griswold, but only concerning Stella Lewis - that the editor of the anthology substitute for his own "headnote" on Lewis in the 12/1848 Female Poets of America a more favorable one prepared by Poe for any future printing or revision of the book. Griswold actually inserted the laudation by Poe, whom the Lewises had paid in advance, in the September 1850 Works of Poe, III, 242-243. There was no hint of any concern about an eventual "executorship" in this, Poe's final letter to Griswold (Ostrom, II, 450-451). Nor is there any hint in his last two letters to Maria Clemm, from Richmond, August 28 and September 18, discussing hopefully his coming marriage to Elmira, his large lecture audiences, his well-paid commission to edit Mrs. Loud's poems by Christmas, and his admonition about his aunt's keeping up his clipping-file of notices in periodicals.

34 See Quinn, Poe, pp. 658-659, for details on Griwwold's eagerness during October to complete all the preliminary editing of Poe's works, with introductions by Willis and Lowell (based on their prior sketches of Poe) so that the printing technicalities could be completed by early December. Griswold had ten compositors setting up copy, early in November, about which fact Quinn sagely remarks, "Someone was surely in a hurry to make money out of Poe's writings." The catalogue of the Library of Congress records nineteen editions between 1850 and 1865 under J.S. Redfield; then eight under W.J. Widdleton, to whom the copyright had ben sold; followed by at least one in 1882 under W.C. Bush; and finally two under A.C. Armstrong and Son in 1884 (and 1892). The reviewer of "The New Poe" (i.e., the new ten-volume Woodberry-Stedman edition of the Works of Poe) in the Atlantic Monthly, 7 (1896), 551-554, refers to "the supression of a new edition because of the Griswolds's holding the copyright till lately," meaning the heirs to the estate, of course. Compare nn. 26, 29, 30, above.

35 For the early response, especially in England, see Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe and Other studies, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933), pp. 77-79, and, more broadly, see Alice L. Cooke, "The Popular Conception of Poe from 1840 to 1890," University of Texas Studies in English, 22 (1942), 144-170, and Dudley Hutcherson, "Poe's Reputation . . . 1850-1809." American Literature 14 (1942), 211-233. In France the saving grace of Baudelaire's exoneration and admiration preserved Poe's artistic reputation, at least, and some instances of a brave stand against Philistines and "low brows" (see n. 1, above). For the damning effect which tempered the protests of his few friends, save for Helen Whitman, Lippard and Chauncey Burr, John Neal, George Graham, and N.P. Willis, see Killis Campbell, "The Poe Griswold Controversy," in PMLA, 34 (1919), 437-464, specifically, pp. 446-451; also Quinn, pp. 684-692.

36 See Burton Pollin, Insights and Outlooks (New York: Gordian Press, 1986), "The Temperance Movement and Its Friends Look at Poe," pp. 147-172.

37 For the stimulus and opportunity to organize and present my notes of many years, I owe my gratitude to Dr. Richard Kopley as arranger of the program and Director Ron Furqueron of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum of Richmond, which was sponsoring the Second Poe Festival. I was invited as one of the three speakers at the October 8, 1994, symposium, "Poe and Women," and my share ("Maria Clemm, Poe's Aunt: His Boon or His Bane?") has become the basis for the much expanded, present study.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Mississippi State University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Edgar Allan Poe
Author:Pollin, Burton R.
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1995
Words:6609
Previous Article:The common property of the mob: democracy and identity in Poe's "William Wilson."
Next Article:Through a glass eye, darkly: the skeptic design of 'Life on the Mississippi.'

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters