Often credited with inspiring the Pfaff's Bohemians, Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He enlisted in the army on May 26, 1827 under the name Edgar A. Perry. He received an appointment to West Point and entered the Military Academy on July 1, 1830 but was later dismissed after neglecting his duties. Poe received his first recognition as a writer in 1833 when he won a prize of $50 in the Baltimore Saturday Visitor for his story, "A MS. Found in a Bottle." This prize opened an opportunity for him at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, where he eventually joined the paper's staff. Although Poe was an "inspired" editor, and his literary, critical, and poetical works increased the circulation of the paper, he was dismissed from his position after he had begun drinking to ward off melancholia. Poe returned to Baltimore, where he married his thirteen year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, and after promising not to drink, Poe was reinstated at the Messenger where he published eighty-three reviews, six poems, four essays, and three stories over the course his tenure.
In January 1837, Poe moved to New York, where he had difficulty obtaining work and finding a venue for the publication of his writings, leaving his family in extreme poverty. Poe moved to Philadelphia in 1838, a time during which he began a correspondence with Washington Irving, who offered Poe criticism on his work. Beginning in January 1840, Poe published his "The Journal of Julius Rodman" in serial form in Burton's and, at the end of 1839, his sixth bound work Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published. These two volumes contain several of Poe's best-known works. Also while in Philadelphia, Poe began his efforts to "perfect the mystery story," in the form of works such as "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Roget," and "The Gold Bug." After winning a prize of $100 for "The Gold Bug" and publishing a few other stories, Poe left for New York in April 1844, arriving in the city with $4.50 in his pocket.
In New York, Poe began to freelance again, with the "Balloon Hoax" published in the Sun and "The Raven" published anonymously in the New York Evening Mirror. A signed version of the poem was published in the New-York Mirror one month later. The success of the poem led to N.P. Willis's hiring Poe to do editorial work for the New-York Mirror. From the New-York Mirror, Poe began working at the Broadway Journal with Charles F. Briggs, who had connections with several Pfaffians as a publisher, in 1845. Briggs left his position in June 1845 putting Poe in charge. Poe became proprietor of the paper in October 1845, having borrowed the money to purchase it. He used the paper to publish and re-print several of his own poetic, prose, and critical works, which increased his literary reputation in New York and gained him admittance to the best literary circles of the city. Poe was forced to give up the Broadway Journal in January 1846 due to his poor health, his wife's illness, his financial difficulties, and his escalating dissipation. Three years later, Poe died on October 7th and was eventually buried in the churchyard of Westminister Presbyterian Church (H. Allen).
Poe's memory loomed large in New York after his death and, while he was not alive during the Bohemian era at Pfaff's, several of the Pfaffians were inspired or influenced by him. Eugene T. Lalor describes Poe as "the spiritual guide of Bohemia" (21) and David S. Reynolds names him the "patron saint" of the Pfaff's Bohemians (378). Louis M. Starr speculates that the first Bohemian movement in America at Pfaff's "resurrected Edgar Allan Poe, less, one suspects, for his art (although Fitz-James O'Brien at his macabre best emulated Poe superbly) than because Poe had lived dissolutely, died spectacularly, and hated Boston" (5). In Old Friends William Winter notes that despite Poe's fame for criticizing his New York literary peers as "The Literati," he was also able to recognize young talent. Most notably, Poe is credited as the "first authoritative voice to recognize Bayard Taylor; hailing him in 1849, as 'unquestionably the most terse, glowing, and vigorous of our poets'" (Winter 296). Overall, while Poe died long before Pfaff's started, he was connected to many of the people who became involved in the group and served as an inspiration for many of them in their own work.
Gardette claimed that "The Fire Fiend" was derived from one of Poe's unpublished manuscripts. After the publication of the poems, controversy about their authenticity ensued.
The American Review (later the American Whig Review) was famous in 1845 because of the publication of Poe's "The Raven" in the February edition (65).
Whitman submitted a short essay on "Art-Music and Heart-Music" to the Broadway Journal in 1845. Poe was editing the paper, and printed the essay with an editorial endorsement. Whitman most likely called on Poe shortly after and wrote: "[Poe was] very cordial, in a quiet way...I have a distinct and pleasing remembrance of his looks, voice, manner, and matter; very kindly and human, but subdued, perhaps a little jaded" (71). Allen reprint's Poe's comments in note 20, p.552.
Whitman attended the public reburial of Poe's remains in Baltimore in 1876. Whitman was invited to sit on the platform at the event, but declined the offer to speak, as was reported in the November 16 Washington Star (the account was most likely written by Whitman himself). "Here he was reported to have said in an informal interview that he had long had a distaste for Poe's writings, in which he missed the sunlight, fresh air, and health, but he had recently come to appreciate Poe's special place in literary history" (468).[pages:44,54,65,71,80-81,342,468,542,552(n20)]
"Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is one of the two American poets regarded with greatest respect by authors and critics in England and on the Continent [...] because his subject matter is so universal-located out of space and out of time-and because he was such a master craftsman in his art" (173).[pages:108, 173-189, 242, 343, 411, 481,482]
When Aldrich began his assistant editorship at The Home Journal, he wrote and worked at the same desk Poe used when he worked at the paper (231).
Poe pronounced Alice Cary's "Pictures of a Memory" "one of the very finest poems produced in America" (246). Derby also writes that "When Edgar Allan Poe published his sketches of the literati of New York City, in 1846, he placed Mrs. Smith [Elizabeth Oakes Smith] in the front rank among the poets of this country." Derby also briefly discusses Poe's review of her poem "The Sinless Child" (546). Derby also includes Mrs. Smith's recollections of Poe, including the following:
"Mr. Poe called on me a great many times, and was always the gentleman. His conversation without being fluent was ready and pointed; he could turn a compliment almost as elegantly as N.P. Willis. Oftentimes, Poe would converse with me upon literature, metaphysics, poetry, and everything in that direction, but he never talked about his immediate surroundings. When he was talking and interested he had that far-away look which was so usual with him" (547).
Of the publication of the Raven, Derby also quotes Mrs. Smith:
"The Raven was first published in the New York Review. I had not seen it, when one evening Charles Fenno Hoffman called with the Review, and read it to me. He was a fine reader, and read the poem with great feeling. His reading affected me so much I arose and walked the floor, and said to him, 'It is Edgar Poe himself.' He had not told me who the author was; indeed, it was published anonymously. 'Well,' said I, 'every production of genius has an internal life as well as its external. Now, how do you interpret this, Mr. Hoffman?' The latter, who had many disappointments and griefs in life, replied, 'It is despair brooding over wisdom.'
The next morning who should call but Mr. Poe. I told him what Mr. Hoffman had said. Poe folded his arms and looked down, saying, 'That is a recognition.' Soon the Raven became known everwhere and everyone was saying 'Nevermore.'
One afternoon Poe called on me and said, 'I find my Raven is really being talked about a great deal. I was at the theatre last night, and the actor interpolated the word "Nevermore," and it did add force to the sentiment that was given, and the audience immediately (he looked so pleased when he said this), evidently took the allusion.'
One day he said to me, as he rolled up some of his MS., 'Sometimes I think that all my success is due to my good penmanship, my writing with such care, finishing my paragraphs, and the care I take of my manuscript,' which was really equal to copper-plate" (547-548).
Derby mentions that a young Stoddard was given his story "Ulalume" to read and critique by Mrs. Kirkland, editor of the Union Magazine. Stoddard told Mrs. Kirkland that he did not understand the story, and she decided to return the story to its author (597).[pages:231,246,252,297,302-303,348,546-548,585,588-590,597,622,662]
Ford mentions that Poe was the "idol" of the Pfaffians, and he notes that they appreciated "Poe's genius" (1).[pages:1]
Gardette claimed that the "Fire Fiend" was a posthumous manuscript of Poe's.
Aldrich mentions in a letter to Howells that he would like to write a book about the New York he knew when he was seventeen or eighteen and the writers of the time were "still prowling the streets, upon which still rested the shadow of Poe" (192).
Aldrich mentions him in a letter to Stedman in which they are talking about highly ranked American poets and Aldrich's low opinion of Lanier. Aldrich says: "I don't believe there are five critics who would rank him [Lanier] with Poe, Bryant, Emerson, Whittier, and Lowell. (I mention Poe, though I've an idea that if Poe had been an exemplary, conventional, tax-oppressed citizen, like Longfellow, his few poems, as striking as they are, would not have made so great a stir.)" (215).[pages:192,215]
This text identifies the following pseudonyms: Marginalia (60), Hans Pfaal (110).[pages:60, 110]
In 1845, Poe left the Evening Mirror to assist Briggs at the Broadway Journal. Poe bought out Briggs through an arrangement with Greeley and moved the paper's offices to Clinton Street. The paper was not as successful under Poe, however, and he left his position in January, 1846 (159-60).
While in New York, Poe wrote scathing literary criticisms that appeared in Godey's Lady's Book. Thomas Dunn English responded harshly to one of Poe's criticisms and was sued by Poe for damages (161-2). Hemstreet mentions that much of the furniture that was in Poe's rooms in Poe's home in New York was purchased with the money won in the suit against English (163-4).
Hemstreet mentions Poe and his wife attended receptions at the home of Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta, a friend of Bayard Taylor. Hemstreet mentions that Poe's "delicate" wife seemed to strengthen "when she saw her husband the centre of a notable gathering" and that Poe had quite a following among this circle (200).
Hemstreet also relates Poe's praise for Elizabeth Oakes Smith's poem, "The Sinless Child," as "one of the strongest long poems ever produced in America" (200).
Poe was also friends with the poet "Estella" Lewis, from Brooklyn, who also likely attended Botta's receptions (201). Poe read The Raven at her home before it was published and she was the last friend he visited in New York before he headed south on the trip that ended in his death (202).[pages:150-n/a(ill),159-160,161-162,163-4,200-203]
Charles F. "Briggs, with characteristic friendliness, began by admiring Poe and defending him against criticism, but could not long remain blind to his talented associate's temperamental peculiarities and weaknesses." [Referring to Poe's contributions to Briggs' Broadway Journal.
Lalor calls Poe "The Spiritual Guide of Bohemia" (21).[pages:21]
Although Poe was a Southerner and had attended West Point, he "cast away the respectable profession of the sword for a more precarious one with the pen" (52).[pages:29, 47, 48, 52, 54, 76]
Levin notes that both the Frenchman Baudelaire and Walt Whitman analyze Poe and come up with very different interpretations: "Baudelaire and his Poe embrace the dream state while Whitman longs for the concrete" (57).[pages:56-57]
In discussing the contrast between Baudelaire's and Whitman's views of Bohemia, Levin argues that their "conflicting responses to Poe" help shape their positions (71).[pages:71-72,88]
Poe lamented the lack of quality in American stage productions of the 1830s (6). Poe "wanted nature's ideal pattern--not its everyday happenings. Thus, he demanded more truthfullness to nature than the theatre offered in the 1840s--but without rejecting romanticism" (7).[pages:6-8]
O'Brien refers to the "assault" on Dr. Ward in Poe's Literati (3).[pages:3]
Parry writes that for America, Poe "a significant example of [a] morose and mad free spirit." Parry also claims that "When madness, or its minor form, eccentricity, are pretended, Bohemianism degenerates into flamboyancy, into a deliberate pose. Poe and Baudelaire were, perhaps, truer Bohemians than Oscar Wilde and a Greenwich Villager, for there was madness in Poe and Baudelaire" (xii). Parry also writes that the writer of the history of Greenwich Village and Bohemianism in America is "compelled to trace a connecting link between a great genius like Poe and a talented dilettante like Clapp because both of them were called Bohemians and, in fact, Clapp's group gathered in Pfaff's saloon a few short years after Poe's death from alcohol and madness" (xiii). Parry notes that American Bohemianism "began with a tragedy," Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was rarely, and possibly never referred to as a Bohemian in his own lifetime, as the term made its way to the United States near the end of Poe's life. Parry writes that the first mention of Poe as a "Bohemian" occurred several decades after his death, when Stoddard listed Briggs and English as Poe's "Bohemian friends." In 1885, Stedman referred to the period between Poe's departure from Mr. Allan's house and his marriage to "the profligate phase" in his life, something akin to a bohemian phase. Coincidentally, Poe happened to live in the Greenwich Village area whenever he lived in New York since housing was inexpensive; Parry notes that several people have seen this fact and Poe's returns as significant and symbolic (3-4). Parry maintains, however, that rather than pass through a Bohemian phase, "He was born and died a Bohemian, his whole life the truest picture of that phenomenon at its rarest and best" (4).
Parry continues his case for Poe's Bohemianism: "Poe was not a self-conscious protestant. His despair of the world was not a pose. It was natural in all of its manifestations. His whole make-up as man and poet led to it as inevitably as a mighty river leads to a tumultuous sea. Both heredity and environment molded Poe into the torn, mad, unconventional being that he was" (4). Parry continues: "The desire to escape from the painful reality of an uncertain social position has been, in all lands and times, one of the chief reasons for Bohemianism. Poe was the first American refugee of this sort" (5).
Parry remarks on Poe's determined and business-like manner towards drinking and drugs, as well as his family's tendencies towards insanity (6). Parry also notes that Poe was largely an outsider and alone for much of this period: "There were no kindred souls to understand his pain and his desire to soar above it. His companions were temporary because they were common and petty, and there were no higher minds in sight. Like most geniuses, Poe was born out of the bounds of his proper time and country. He was either too late or too early in coming to earth; he was either born too gar to the West or too far to the East" (7). Parry also adds that "There would have been less pain and solitude of spirit for Poe had a Bohemia of high and sympathetic souls existed in his time, a group not too large and not too widely advertised and exploited" (7). Parry writes that since Poe did not have this group, he instead laid the foundation for the subsequent American Bohemian movements.
Parry credits Poe with beginning in "America the tradition of literary hoaxes, of vitriolic criticism with a frankly personal tinge and twist, of making taverns into rendezvous of arts, and of dying drunk and delerious in a gutter, an attic, and the backroom of a saloon. Before Poe, literature might have been the profession of the starved, but the starved never ceased to be genteel. Before Poe, American literati, artists, and actors drew the blinds when they sinned or when they thought they sinned. Poe made his dissolution a public affair, even though, surrounded by drinkers, he managed to remain tragically alone" (7-8). Parry does make it clear, however, that Bohemianism among Poe and his frinds was a "vague phenomenon" and that "In Poe's time, it was not as organized and publicized as it became a few years after his death. There was no king and no queen of literary roamers in his time; there was prime-minister dispensing drinks from behind his idealized and yet profitable counter" (8). Parry also notes that Poe became the "prophet" of "organized Bohemia" during the movements that followed his death and feels that he would have enjoyed this role.
"The first organized American Bohemia that followed the unearthly specter of Poe spoke of him in tones of robust enthusiasm or hushed awe. The imbibers at Pfaff's of the 'Fifties took up Poe's fight against the smugness and prosperity of Boston, making an exception, from among all the New England butts of Poe's hatred, of Emerson only.
"Essentially gay and life-loving, this group tried to emulate Poe's distrust of mankind and his despair of the world. Fitz-James O'Brien tried to borrow the mystery and horrors of Poe's imagination for his own stories. Henry Clapp endeavored to be as sexless and as sublimely morose as Poe, but since Henry was essentially a cynic and a wit he failed, and turned out to be caustically sullen instead -- yet quite sexless. Ada Clare and George Arnold attempted mild melancholy, and the whole group talked of suicide as an idea exit from life. All of them hung on the words of those who had the privilege of meeting and talking with their departed idol. R.H. Stoddard, a sedate and staunch enemy of noisy freedom, used his recollection of an encounter with Poe as a sermon to his young friends on the evils of their mode of life" (9).
Parry notes that the group continued to drink and "[pretend] at melancholy and restless travels, and in drawing charcoal sketches on the walls of their garrets" in imitation of Poe (9). Parry mentions that the Pfaffians "gladly and freely acknowledged their debt to Poe" (9). Parry also notes that most of the writers compared to Poe or influenced by his work were indebted to him and grateful for the comparison (10). Parry claims that it was O'Brien's admiration of Poe that prompted his aspirations for an American literary career (52).[pages:xii-xiii,3-13,52,90,165-166,255,298]
Personne reports that during a benefit for Stephen Massett in Charleston, S.C., "sixty young gentlemen of the Collegiate School recited Edgar A. Poe's 'Chime of the Bells' with 'killing effect'" (3).[pages:3]
Described as the "patron saint" of the Pfaff's bohemians (378-9).[pages:378,379]
Stansell writes that for Poe and O'Brien a decade later, journalism became "a profession for the broken and disappointed of the gentlemanly classes" (114).[pages:114]
The reviewer compares O'Brien to Poe, stating that, "[w]hen we read the opening pages of 'The Lost Room,' we say: Poe never had a weirder dream, nor told one in language so rich and graceful" (471).[pages:471]
Winter cites Poe's "Haunted Palace" an example of "ardent poetic emotion" (22).
Winter discusses Poe's "acrimonious" criticisms of Longfellow and notes that they are included in the "standard edition of his works, edited by Stedman and Woodbury." Of these, Winter says: "They are rank with injustice and hostility. In judging of the writing and conduct of Poe, however, allowance has to be made for the strain of insanity that was in him, and for the mordant bitterness that had been engendered in his mind by penury and grief. Poe lived at a time when writers were very poorly paid, and furthermore his genius was of a rare and exquisite order, lovely in texture, sombre in quality, monotonous in its utterance, and obviously unfit for the hack-work of newspapers and magazines. His really appreciative audience is a small one, even now, and probably it will long, or always, remain a small one. Such poetry as his 'Haunted Palace'--(which is perfection)--is seldom understood. The defects of his character and errors of his conduct, moreover, were exaggerated in his own time, and they have been absurdly exploited in ours" (33-34).
Winter continues in describing Poe: "He was a brilliant and an extraordinary man. The treasures of imaginative, creative, beautiful art, in prose as well as verse, that he contributed to American literature are permanent and precious; and nothing in literary biography is more contemptible than the disparagement of his memory that continually proceeds through its pages, on the score of his intemperance" (34).
Continuing on the topic of the focus on Poe's "intemperance," Winter states: "Poe died in 1849, aged forty, leaving works that fill ten closely packed volumes. No man achieves a result like that whose brain is damaged by stimulants. The same disparagement has been diffused as to Fitz-James O'Brien, that fine poet and romancer, who died at thirty-four,--losing his life in the American Civil War,--whose writings I collected and published...Poe may have been afflicted with the infirmity of drink. My old friend John Brougham, the comedian, who knew him well, told me that Poe could not swallow even a single glass of wine without losing his head. But what does it signify, and why should a reader be perpetually told of it, whether he drank wine or not? His writings remain, and they are an honor to our literature; and that is all we need to consider" (34-35).
Winter quotes Tennyson:
"He gave the people of his best!
His worse he kept: his best he gave.
My Shakespeare's curse on clown and knave
Who will not let his ashes rest." (35).
Charles D. Gardette managed to convince the public that "The Fire Fiend" was a posthumous poem by Poe; it was soon discovered to be a hoax (65).
Winter compares O'Brien's "The Diamond Lens" to Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," stating that O'Brien's piece "revived...the fashion for the weird short story" and, with Poe's story, "provided a model for subsequent compositions of that order" (67).
When discussing the fact that many writers were not able to live solely on a literary incomes and often had other jobs or professions, Winter remarks that "Poe, notwithstanding his marvellous genius,--or because of it,--had lived in comparative poverty and died in destitution" (81).
On the topic of "detraction," Winter states: "The custom of detraction, which has been exceedingly present in American criticism from the time of the hounds that barked upon the track of Edgar Poe, is not only pernicious but ridiculous, and it is right and desirable that protest should be made against it. The men of whom I am writing had faults, no doubt, and many of them: all the angels, of course, lived in Boston, at that time, and were marshalled, by Frank Underwood, around "The Atlantic Monthly" (92).
When discussing the variations in literary opinion among those in the literary community, Winter remarks that "Poe belittled Burns and disparaged Longfellow, but he perceived divine fire in Mrs. Browning" (154).
In a letter to Winter, Bayard Taylor remarks that he read a German translation of "The Raven" at a lecture on American Literature for the Ladies' Charitable Associations that made a strong impression upon the audience (175).
Winter describes Stoddard as "the most subtle and exquisite lyrical genius in our poetic literature since Poe" (177).
Winter remarks that when Curtis began his literary career in 1846 at the age of twenty-two, American literature and literary figures where gaining substantial proportions. By this time "Poe had nearly finished, in penniless obscurity, his desolate strife" (264).
Winter briefly mentions Poe's accounts of "The Literati" and some of its notable figures: Epes Sargent, George P. Morris, N.P. Willis, Fitz-Greene Halleck, William Wallace, Cornelius Matthews, Thomas Dunn English, and Charles F. Briggs. "Those writers, with many others, figure in the pages of Poe, and it is significant and pleasant to recall that Poe, often and harshly censured for his criticism of his contemporaries, was the first authoritative voice to recognize Bayard Taylor; hailing him in 1849, as 'unquestionably the most terse, glowing, and vigorous of our poets'" (296).[pages:22,33-38,65,67,81,92,154,175,177,264,296]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015