Four Famous American Writers: Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe,
Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Deirdre_ca and PG Distributed Proofreaders
FOUR FAMOUS AMERICAN WRITERS
Edgar Allan Poe
James Russell Lowell
A Book For Young Americans
THE STORY OF WASHINGTON IRVING
I. HIS CHILDHOOD
II. IRVING'S FIRST VOYAGE UP THE HUDSON RIVER
III. A TRIP TO MONTREAL
IV. IRVING GOES TO EUROPE
VI. "DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER"
VII. A COMIC HISTORY OF NEW YORK
VIII. FIVE UNEVENTFUL YEARS
IX. FRIENDSHIP WITH SIR WALTER SCOTT
X. "RIP VAN WINKLE"
XI. LITERARY SUCCESS IN ENGLAND
XII. IRVING GOES TO SPAIN
XIII. "THE ALHAMBRA"
XIV. THE LAST YEARS OF IRVING'S LIFE
THE STORY OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
I. THE ARTIST IN WORDS
II. POE'S FATHER AND MOTHER
III. YOUNG EDGAR ALLAN
IV. COLLEGE LIFE
V. FORTUNE CHANGES
VI. LIVING BY LITERATURE
VII. POE'S EARLY POETRY
VIII. POE'S CHILD WIFE
IX. POE'S LITERARY HISTORY
X. POE AS A STORY-WRITER
XI. HOW "THE RAVEN" WAS WRITTEN
XII. MUSIC AND POETRY
XIII. POE'S LATER YEARS
THE STORY OF JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL
II. AN IMPETUOUS YOUNG MAN
III. COLLEGE AND THE MUSES
IV. HOW LOWELL STUDIED LAW
V. LOVE AND LETTERS
VI. THE UNCERTAIN SEAS OF LITERATURE
VII. HOSEA BIGLOW, YANKEE HUMORIST
VIII. PARSON WILBUR
IX. A FABLE FOR CRITICS
X. THE TRUEST POETRY
XI. PROFESSOR, EDITOR, AND DIPLOMAT
THE STORY OF BAYARD TAYLOR
I. HIS BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD
II. SCHOOL LIFE
III. HIS FIRST POEM
IV. SELF-EDUCATION AND AMBITION
V. A TRAVELER AT NINETEEN
VI. TWO YEARS IN EUROPE FOR FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS
VII. THE HARDSHIPS OF TRAMP TRAVEL
VIII. HIS FIRST LOVE AND GREATEST SORROW
IX. "THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAVELER"
X. HIS POETRY
XI. "POEMS OF THE ORIENT"
XII. BAYARD TAYLOR'S FRIENDSHIPS
XIII. LAST YEARS
THE STORY OF WASHINGTON IRVING
[Illustration: _WASHINGTON IRVING._]
The Revolutionary War was over. The British soldiers were preparing to
embark on their ships and sail back over the ocean, and General
Washington would soon enter New York city at the head of the American
army. While all true patriots were rejoicing at this happy turn of
affairs, a little boy was born who was destined to be the first great
William Irving, the father of this little boy, had been a merchant in
New York city. He had been very prosperous until the war broke out.
After the battle of Long Island, the British then occupying the city,
he had taken his family to New Jersey. But later, although he was a
loyal American, he went back to the city to attend to his business.
There he helped the American cause by doing everything he could for
the American prisoners whom the British held. His wife, especially,
had a happy way of persuading Sir Henry Clinton, and when the British
general saw her coming, he prepared himself to grant any request about
the prisoners which she might make. Often she sent them food from her
own table, and cared for them when they were sick.
When their last son, the eleventh child, was born, on April 3, 1783,
the parents showed their loyalty by naming him Washington, after the
beloved Father of his Country.
Six years after this, George Washington was elected president, and
went to New York to live. The Scotch maid who took care of little
Washington Irving made up her mind to introduce the boy to his great
namesake. So one day she followed the general into a shop, and,
pointing to the lad, said, "Please, your honor, here's a bairn was
named after you." Washington turned around, smiled, and placing his
hand on the boy's head, gave him his blessing. Little did General
Washington suspect that in later years this boy, grown to manhood and
become famous, would write his biography.
In those days New York was only a small town at the south end of
Manhattan Island. It extended barely as far north as the place where
now stand the City Hall and the Postoffice. Broadway was then a
country road. The Irvings lived at 131 William Street, afterward
moving across to 128. This is now one of the oldest parts of New York.
The streets in that section are narrow, and the buildings, though put
up long after Irving's birth, seem very old.
Here the little boy grew up with his brothers and sisters. At four he
went to school. His first teacher was a lady; but he was soon
transferred to a school kept by an old Revolutionary soldier who
became so fond of the boy that he gave him the pet name of "General."
This teacher liked him because, though often in mischief, he never
tried to protect himself by telling a falsehood, but always confessed
Washington was not very fond of study, but he was a great reader. At
eleven his favorite stories were "Robinson Crusoe" and "Sindbad the
Sailor." Besides these, he read many books of travel, and soon found
himself wishing that he might go to sea. As he grew up he was able to
gratify his taste for travel, and some of his finest books and stories
relate to his experiences in foreign lands. In the introduction to the
"Sketch Book" he says, "How wistfully would I wander about the
pier-heads in fine weather, and watch the parting ships bound to
distant climes--with what longing eyes would I gaze after their
lessening sails, and waft myself in imagination to the ends of the earth!"
IRVING'S FIRST VOYAGE UP THE HUDSON RIVER
Irving's first literary composition seems to have been a play written
when he was thirteen. It was performed at the house of a friend, in
the presence of a famous actress of that day; but in after years
Irving had forgotten even the title.
His schooling was finished when he was sixteen. His elder brothers had
attended college, and he never knew exactly why he did not. But he was
not fond of hard study or hard work. He lived in a sort of dreamy
leisure, which seemed particularly suited to his light, airy genius,
so full of humor, sunshine, and loving-kindness.
After leaving school, he began to study law in the office of a certain
Henry Masterton. This was in the year 1800. He was admitted to the bar
six years later; but he spent a great deal more of the intervening
time in traveling and scribbling than in the study of law. His first
published writing was a series of letters signed "Jonathan Oldstyle,"
printed in his brother's daily paper, "The Morning Chronicle," when
the writer was nineteen years old.
Irving's first journey was made the very year after he left school. It
was a voyage in a sailing boat up the Hudson river to Albany; and a
land journey from there to Johnstown, New York, to visit two married
sisters. In the early days this was on the border of civilization,
where the white traders went to buy furs from the Indians. Steamboats
and railroads had not been invented, and a journey that can now be
made in a few hours, then required several days. Years afterward,
Irving described his first voyage up the Hudson.
"My first voyage up the Hudson," said he, "was made in early boyhood,
in the good old times before steamboats and railroads had annihilated
time and space, and driven all poetry and romance out of travel.... We
enjoyed the beauties of the river in those days.[+]
[Footnote +: Irving was the first to describe the wonderful beauties
of the Hudson river.]
"I was to make the voyage under the protection of a relative of mature
age--one experienced in the river. His first care was to look out for
a favorite sloop and captain, in which there was great choice....
"A sloop was at length chosen; but she had yet to complete her freight
and secure a sufficient number of passengers. Days were consumed in
drumming up a cargo. This was a tormenting delay to me, who was about
to make my first voyage, and who, boy-like, had packed my trunk on the
first mention of the expedition. How often that trunk had to be
unpacked and repacked before we sailed!
"At length the sloop actually got under way. As she worked slowly out
of the dock into the stream, there was a great exchange of last words
between friends on board and friends on shore, and much waving of
handkerchiefs when the sloop was out of hearing.
"... What a time of intense delight was that first sail through the
Highlands! I sat on the deck as we slowly tided along at the foot of
those stern mountains, and gazed with wonder and admiration at cliffs
impending far above me, crowned with forests, with eagles sailing and
screaming around them; or listened to the unseen stream dashing down
precipices; or beheld rock, and tree, and cloud, and sky reflected in
the glassy stream of the river....
"But of all the scenery of the Hudson, the Kaatskill Mountains had the
most witching effect on my boyish imagination. Never shall I forget
the effect upon me of the first view of them predominating over a wide
extent of country, part wild, woody, and rugged; part softened away
into all the graces of cultivation. As we slowly floated along, I lay
on the deck and watched them through a long summer's day, undergoing a
thousand mutations under the magical effects of atmosphere; sometimes
seeming to approach, at other times to recede; now almost melting into
hazy distance, now burnished by the hazy sun, until, in the evening,
they printed themselves against the glowing sky in the deep purple of
an Italian landscape."
A TRIP TO MONTREAL
Soon after returning from this trip, Irving became a clerk in the law
office of a Mr. Hoffman. There was a warm friendship between him and
Mr. Hoffman's family. Mrs. Hoffman was his lifelong friend and, as he
afterwards said, like a sister to him; and he finally fell in love
with Matilda, one of Mr. Hoffman's daughters, and was engaged to be
married to her. Her sad death at the age of seventeen was perhaps the
greatest unhappiness of his life. He never married, but held her
memory sacred as long as he lived.
In 1803 he was invited by Mr. Hoffman to go with him to Montreal and
Quebec. Irving kept a journal during this expedition, and it shows
what a rough time travelers had in those days.
Part of the way they sailed in a scow on Black River. They were
partially sheltered from the rain by sheets stretched over hoops. At
night they went ashore and slept in a log cabin.
One morning after a rainy night they awoke to find the sky clear and
the sun shining brightly. Setting out again in their boat, they were
soon surprised by meeting three canoes in pursuit of a deer.
"The deer made for our shore," says Irving in his journal. "We pushed
ashore immediately, and as it passed, Mr. Ogden fired and wounded it.
It had been wounded before. I threw off my coat and prepared to swim
after it. As it came near, a man rushed through the bushes, sprang
into the water, and made a grasp at the animal. He missed his aim, and
I jumped after, fell on his back, and sunk him under water. At the
same time I caught the deer by one ear, and Mr. Ogden seized it by a
leg. The submerged gentleman, who had risen above the water, got hold
of another. We drew it ashore, when the man immediately dispatched it
with a knife. We claimed a haunch for our share, permitting him to
keep all the rest."
Irving had one or two experiences with the Indians which were not
altogether pleasant at the time, but which afterward appeared very
On one occasion he went with another young man to a small island in a
river, where he hoped to be able to hire a boat to take the party to a
place some distance farther down the stream. They found there a wigwam
in which were a number of Indians, both men and women; but the Indian
they were looking for was away selling furs.
He soon came in, with his squaw, who was rather a pretty woman. Both
he and she had been drinking. While the other young man was trying to
explain their business, the Indian woman sat down beside Irving, and
in her half drunken way began to pay him great attention.
The husband, a tall, strapping Hercules of an Indian, sat scowling at
them with his blanket drawn up to his chin, and his face between his
hands, while his elbows rested on his knees.
But soon the Indian could no longer endure the flirtation his wife was
carrying on with Irving. He rushed upon him, calling him a "cursed
Yankee," and gave him a blow which stretched him on the floor.
While Irving was picking himself up and getting out of the way, his
friend went to the Indian and tried to quiet him. By this time the
feelings of the drunken redman had quite changed. He fell on the young
man's neck, exchanged names with him after the Indian fashion, and
declared that they would be sworn friends and brothers as long as they
Irving hastened to get into his boat, and he and his companion made
off as quickly as possible, having no wish for any further intercourse
with drunken Indians.
IRVING GOES TO EUROPE
Irving's health was by no means good, and his friends were so alarmed
that when he was twenty-one they planned a trip to Europe for him. As
he stepped on board the boat that was to take him, the captain eyed
him from head to foot and remarked to himself, "There's a chap who
will go overboard before we get across."
To the surprise of the captain and other passengers, however, he did
not die, but got much better.
He disembarked at Bordeaux, in France, and joining a merry company,
traveled with them in a kind of stagecoach called a diligence.
Among the company were a jolly little Pennsylvania doctor, and a
French officer going home to see his mother. In one of the little
French towns where they stopped they had an amusing experience, which
Irving has described in his journal.
"In one of our strolls in the town of Tonneins," says he, "we entered
a house where a number of girls were quilting. They gave me a needle
and set me to work. My bad French seemed to give them much amusement.
They asked me several questions; as I could not understand them I made
them any answer that came into my head, which caused a great deal of
laughter amongst them.
"At last the little doctor told them that I was an English prisoner,
whom the young French officer (who was with us) had in custody. Their
merriment immediately gave place to pity.
"'Ah, the poor fellow!' said one to another, 'he is merry, however, in
all his trouble,'
"'And what will they do with him?' said a young woman to the traveler.
"'Oh, nothing of consequence,' replied he; 'perhaps shoot him or cut
off his head.'
"The honest souls seemed quite distressed for me, and when I mentioned
that I was thirsty, a bottle of wine was immediately placed before me,
nor could I prevail on them to take a recompense. In short, I
departed, loaded with their good wishes and benedictions, and I
suppose I furnished a theme of conversation throughout the village."
Years afterward, when Mr. Irving was minister to Spain, he went some
miles out of his way to visit this town. Says he:
"As my carriage rattled through the quiet streets of Tonneins, and the
postilion smacked his whip with the French love of racket, I looked
out for the house where, forty years before, I had seen the quilting
party. I believe I recognized the house; and I saw two or three old
women, who might once have formed part of the merry group of girls;
but I doubt whether they recognized in the stout, elderly gentleman,
who thus rattled in his carriage through their streets, the pale young
English prisoner of forty years since."
* * * * *
In this manner he wandered about for nearly two years. He visited
Genoa, the birthplace of Columbus, and climbed Mount Vesuvius. He
dined with Madame de Stael, the famous author of "Corinne." At Rome he
met Washington Allston, the great American painter, then a young man
not much older than he. They became good friends, and Allston
afterward illustrated some of Irving's works. Irving was tempted to
remain in Rome and become a painter like Allston. But he finally
decided that he did not have any special talent for art, and went home
to finish his study of law.
Washington Irving returned to New York, quite restored to health; and
there he soon became a social hero. Trips to Europe were so uncommon
in those days that to have made one was a distinction in itself.
Besides, Irving was now a polished young gentleman, very fond of
amusement; and having become a lawyer with little to do, he made up
his mind to enjoy himself.
He and his brother Peter, with a number of young men about the same
age, called themselves "the nine worthies," or the "lads of Kilkenny,"
and many a gay time they had together,--rather too gay, some people
thought. One of their favorite resorts was an old family mansion,
which had descended from a deceased uncle to one of the nine lads. It
was on the banks of the Passaic river, about a mile from Newark, New
Jersey. It was full of antique furniture, and the walls were adorned
with old family portraits. The place was in charge of an old man and
his wife and a negro boy, who were the sole occupants, except when the
nine would sally forth from New York and enliven its solitudes with
their madcap pranks and orgies.
"'Who would have thought," said Irving at the age of sixty-three to
another of those nine lads, "that we should ever have lived to be two
such respectable old gentlemen!"
About this time Irving and a friend named James K. Paulding proposed
to start a paper, to be called "Salmagundi." It was an imitation of
Addison's _Spectator_, and consisted of light, humorous essays, most
of them making fun of the fads and fancies of New York life in those
days. The numbers were published from a week to a month apart, and
were continued for about a year.
The young men had no idea of making money by the venture, for they
were then well-to-do; but to their surprise it proved a great success,
and the publisher is said to have made ten or fifteen thousand dollars
out of it. He afterwards paid the editors four hundred dollars each.
Irving now visited Philadelphia, Boston, and other places. He thought
of trying for a government office, and was tempted into politics. His
description of his experience is amusing enough.
"Before the third day was expired, I was as deep in mud and politics
as ever a moderate gentleman would wish to be; and I drank beer with
the multitude; and I talked handbill-fashion with the demagogues, and
I shook hands with the mob--whom my heart abhorreth. 'Tis true, for
the two first days I maintained my coolness and indifference.... But
the third day--ah! then came the tug of war. My patriotism all at once
blazed forth, and I determined to save my country! O, my friend, I
have been in such holes and corners; such filthy nooks, sweep offices,
and oyster cellars!"
He closes by saying that this saving one's country is such a sickening
business that he wants no more of it.
On October 26, 1809, there appeared in the _New York Evening Post_ the
"Left his lodgings, some time since, and has not since been heard of,
a small elderly gentleman, dressed in an old black coat and cocked
hat, by the name of Knickerbocker. As there are some reasons for
believing he is not entirely in his right mind, and as great anxiety
is entertained about him, any information concerning him left either
at the Columbian Hotel, Mulberry street, or at the office of this
paper, will be thankfully received.
"P.S. Printers of newspapers will be aiding the cause of humanity in
giving an insertion to the above."
Two weeks later a letter was printed in the _Evening Post_, signed "A
Traveler," saying that such a gentleman as the one described had been
seen a little above King's Bridge, north of New York, "resting himself
by the side of the road."
Ten days after this the following letter was printed:
"_To the Editor of the Evening Post_:
"Sir,--You have been good enough to publish in your paper a paragraph
about Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker, who was missing so strangely some
time since; but a very curious kind of a written book has been found
in his room, in his own handwriting. Now I wish to notice[+] him, if
he is still alive, that if he does not return and pay off his bill for
boarding and lodging, I shall have to dispose of his book to satisfy
me for the same.
[Footnote +: Legal term, meaning "to give notice to."]
"I am, sir, your obedient servant,
"Landlord of the Independent Columbian Hotel, Mulberry Street."
On November 28th there appeared in the advertising columns the
announcement of "A History of New York," in two volumes, price three
The advertisement says, "This work was found in the chamber of Mr.
Diedrich Knickerbocker, the old gentleman whose sudden and mysterious
disappearance has been noticed. It is published in order to discharge
certain debts he has left behind."
When the book was published the people took it up, expecting to find a
grave and learned history of New York. It was dedicated to the New
York Historical Society, and began with an account of the supposed
author, Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker. "He was a small, brisk-looking old
gentleman, dressed in a rusty black coat, a pair of olive velvet
breeches, and a small cocked hat. He had a few gray hairs plaited and
clubbed behind.... The only piece of finery which he bore about him
was a bright pair of square silver shoe-buckles." The landlord of the
inn, who writes this description, adds: "My wife at once set him down
for some eminent country schoolmaster."
Imagine for yourself the astonishment, and then the amusement--in some
cases even the anger--of those who read, to find a most ludicrous
description of the old Dutch settlers of New York, the ancestors of
the most aristocratic families of the metropolis of America. The
people that laughed got the best of it, however, and the book was
considered one of the popular successes of the day. The real author of
this book was, of course, Washington Irving. When forty years later
the book was to be included in his collected works he wrote an
"Apology," in which he says, "When I find, after a lapse of nearly
forty years, this haphazard production of my youth still cherished
among them (the New Yorkers); when I find its very name become a
'household word,' and used to give the home stamp to everything
recommended for popular acceptance, such as Knickerbocker societies,
Knickerbocker insurance companies, Knickerbocker steamboats,
Knickerbocker omnibuses, Knickerbocker bread, and Knickerbocker
ice,--and when I find New Yorkers of Dutch descent priding themselves
upon being 'genuine Knickerbockers,' I please myself with the persuasion
that I have struck the right chord."
A COMIC HISTORY OF NEW YORK
"Knickerbocker's History of New York" was undertaken by Irving and his
brother Peter as a parody on a book that had lately appeared, entitled
"A Picture of New York." The two young men, one of whom had already
proved himself something of an author, were so full of humor and the
spirit of mischief that they must amuse themselves and their friends,
and they thought this a good way of doing it. There was to be an
introduction giving the history of New York from the foundation of the
world, and the main body of the book was to consist of "notices of the
customs, manners, and institutions of the city; written in a
serio-comic vein, and treating local errors, follies, and abuses with
The introduction was not more than fairly begun when Peter Irving
started for Europe, leaving the completion of the work to the younger
brother. Washington decided to change the plan, and merely give a
humorous history of the Dutch settlement of New York.
Let us take a peep into this amusing history. First, here is the
portrait of "that worthy and irrecoverable discoverer (as he has
justly been called), Master Henry Hudson," who "set sail from Holland
in a stout vessel called the Half-Moon, being employed by the Dutch
East India Company to seek a northwest passage to China."
"Henry (or as the Dutch historians call him, Hendrick) Hudson was a
seafaring man of renown, who had learned to smoke tobacco under Sir
Walter Raleigh, and is said to have been the first to introduce it
into Holland, which gained him much popularity in that country, and
caused him to find great favor in the eyes of their High Mightinesses,
the Lords States General, and also of the honorable East India
Company. He was a short, square, brawny old gentleman, with a double
chin, a mastiff mouth, and a broad copper nose, which was supposed in
those days to have acquired its fiery hue from the constant
neighborhood of his tobacco pipe.
"He wore a commodore's cocked hat on one side of his head. He was
remarkable for always jerking up his breeches when he gave out his
orders, and his voice sounded not unlike the brattling of a tin
trumpet--owing to the number of hard northwesters which he had
swallowed in the course of his seafaring.
"Such was Hendrick Hudson, of whom we have heard so much and know so
You must read in the history itself the amusing account of Ten
Breeches and Tough Breeches. One of the Dutch colonists bought of the
Indians for sixty guelders as much land as could be covered by a man's
breeches. When the time for measuring came Mr. Ten Breeches was
produced, and peeling off one pair of breeches after another, soon
produced enough material to surround the entire island of Manhattan,
which was thus bought for sixty guelders, or Dutch dollars.
In due time came the first Dutch governor, Wouter Van Twiller.
Governor Van Twiller was five feet six inches in height, and six feet
five inches in circumference, his figure "the very model of majesty
and lordly grandeur." On the very morning after he had entered upon
his office, he gave an example of his great legal knowledge and wise
As the governor sat at breakfast an important old burgher came in to
complain that Barent Bleecker refused to settle accounts, which was
very annoying, as there was a heavy balance in the complainant's
favor. "Governor Van Twiller, as I have already observed, was a man of
few words; he was likewise a mortal enemy to multiplying writings--or
being disturbed at his breakfast. Having listened attentively to the
statement of Wandle Schoonhoven, giving an occasional grunt, as he
shoveled a spoonful of Indian pudding into his mouth,--either as a
sign that he relished the dish or comprehended the story,--he called
unto him his constable, and pulling out of his breeches pocket a huge
jack-knife, dispatched it after the defendant as a summons,
accompanied by his tobacco-box as a warrant."
When the account books were before him, "the sage Wouter took them one
after the other, and having poised them in his hands, and attentively
counted over the number of leaves, fell straightway into a great
doubt, and smoked for half an hour without saying a word; at length,
laying his finger beside his nose, and shutting his eyes for a moment,
with the air of a man who had just caught a subtle idea by the tail,
he slowly took his pipe from his mouth, puffed forth a column of
tobacco smoke, and with marvelous gravity and solemnity pronounced,
that, having carefully counted over the leaves and weighed the books,
it was found that one was just as thick and heavy as the other;
therefore, it was the final opinion of the court that the accounts
were equally balanced; therefore, Wandle should give Barent a receipt,
and Barent should give Wandle a receipt, and the constable should pay
It is not wonderful that this was the first and last lawsuit during
his administration, and that no one was found who cared to hold the
office of constable.
This is only one of scores of droll stories to be found in this most
FIVE UNEVENTFUL YEARS
It seems strange that the success of the "History of New York" did not
make Irving a professional man of letters at once. The profits on the
first edition were three thousand dollars, and several other editions
were to follow steadily. But though he wished to be a literary man,
and now knew that he might make a fair living by his writings, there
was still lacking the force to compel him to work. He had always lived
in easy circumstances, doing as he liked, enjoying society, and
amusing himself, and it was hard for him to devote his attention
strictly to any set task.
He applied for a clerkship at Albany, but failed to get it. Then his
brothers, with whom he must have been a great favorite, as he was the
youngest of the family, arranged a mercantile business in which he was
to be a partner. Peter was to buy goods in England and ship them to
New York, while Ebenezer was to sell them. Washington was to be a
silent partner, and enjoy one fifth of the profits. At first he
objected to taking no active part in the business; but his brothers
persuaded him that this was his chance to become independent and have
his entire time for literary work.
But five years passed away and little was accomplished. This covered
the period of the War of 1812. At first Irving was opposed to the war;
but when he heard the news of the burning of Washington his patriotism
blazed forth. "He was descending the Hudson in the steamboat when the
tidings first reached him," says his nephew in the biography which he
wrote. "It was night and the passengers had betaken themselves to
their settees to rest, when a person came on board at Poughkeepsie
with the news of the inglorious triumph, and proceeded in the darkness
of the cabin to relate the particulars: the destruction of the
president's house, the treasury, war, and navy offices, the capitol,
the depository of the national library and the public records. There
was a momentary pause after the speaker had ceased, when some paltry
spirit lifted his head from his settee, and in a tone of complacent
derision, 'wondered what _Jimmy_ Madison would say now.' 'Sir,' said
Mr. Irving, glad of an escape to his swelling indignation, 'do you
seize on such a disaster only for a sneer? Let me tell you, sir, it is
not now a question about _Jimmy_ Madison or _Jimmy_ Armstrong.[+] The
pride and honor of the nation are wounded; the country is insulted and
disgraced by this barbarous success, and every loyal citizen should
feel the ignominy and be earnest to avenge it.' 'I could not see the
fellow,' said Mr. Irving when he related the anecdote, 'but I let fly
at him in the dark.'"
[Footnote +: The Secretary of War.]
As soon as he reached New York, Irving went to the governor and
offered his services. He was immediately appointed military secretary
and aide with the rank of colonel. His duties were neither difficult
nor dangerous, and he enjoyed his position; but he was glad when the
war came to an end the following year.
When the War of 1812 was over, his friend Commodore Decatur invited
him to accompany him on an expedition to the Mediterranean, the United
States having declared war against the pirates of Algiers. Irving's
trunks were put on board the _Guerriere_, but as the expedition was
delayed on account of the escape of Napoleon from Elba, he had them
again brought ashore, and finally gave up his plan of going with
Decatur. His mind was set on visiting Europe, however, and he
immediately took passage for Liverpool in another vessel. Little did
he think that he was not to return for seventeen years.
One of Irving's married sisters was living in Birmingham, and his
brother Peter was in Liverpool managing the business in which he was a
partner. Soon after Washington's arrival, however, Peter fell ill, and
the younger brother was obliged to take charge of affairs. He found a
great many bills to pay, and very little money with which to pay them.
He was now beginning to face some of the stern realities of life. He
worked hard; but the black cloud of ruin came nearer and nearer. Other
difficulties were added to those they already had to face, and
finally, in 1818, the brothers were obliged to go into bankruptcy.
It was now absolutely necessary that Irving should earn his living in
some way. His brothers procured him an appointment at Washington; but
to their astonishment he declined it and said he had made up his mind
to live by his pen.
He immediately went to London and set to work on the "Sketch Book,"
and during the next dozen years wrote the greater number of his more
FRIENDSHIP WITH SIR WALTER SCOTT
While he was worrying over the failure of his business, Irving was
fortunate enough to make some distinguished literary friendships. He
had already helped to introduce Thomas Campbell's works in the United
States, and had written a biography of Campbell; one of the first
things he did, therefore, after reaching Liverpool, was to go to see
the English poet.
It was not until a little later that he became acquainted with Sir
Walter Scott, who was the literary giant of those times. In 1813 Henry
Brevoort, one of Irving's most intimate boyhood friends, had presented
to Scott a copy of the "History of New York," and Scott had written a
letter of thanks in which he said, "I have been employed these few
evenings in reading the annals of Diedrich Knickerbocker aloud to Mrs.
S, and two ladies who are our guests, and our sides have been
absolutely sore with laughing. I think, too, there are passages which
indicate that the author possesses powers of a different kind."
Irving, too, had been a great admirer of Scott's "Lady of the Lake."
Campbell gave him a letter of introduction to the bard, and in a
letter to his brother, Irving gives a delightful description of his
visit to Abbotsford, Scott's home.
"On Saturday morning early," says he, "I took a chaise for Melrose;
and on the way stopped at the gate of Abbotsford, and sent in my
letter of introduction, with a request to know whether it would be
agreeable for Mr. Scott to receive a visit from me in the course of
the day. The glorious old minstrel himself came limping to the gate,
and took me by the hand in a way that made me feel as if we were old
friends; in a moment I was seated at his hospitable board among his
charming little family, and here I have been ever since.... I cannot
tell you how truly I have enjoyed the hours I have passed here. They
fly by too quickly, yet each is loaded with story, incident, or song;
and when I consider the world of ideas, images, and impressions that
have been crowded upon my mind since I have been here, it seems
incredible that I should only have been two days at Abbotsford."
And here is Scott's impression of Irving: "When you see Tom Campbell,"
he writes to a friend, "tell him, with my best love, that I have to
thank him for making me known to Mr. Washington Irving, who is one of
the best and pleasantest acquaintances I have made this many a day."
When the "Sketch Book" was coming out in the United States, and Irving
was thinking of publishing it in England, he received some advice and
assistance from Scott; and finally Scott persuaded the great English
publisher Murray to take it up, even after that publisher had once
declined it. On this occasion Irving wrote to a friend as follows:
"He (Scott) is a man that, if you knew, you would love; a right
honest-hearted, generous-spirited being; without vanity, affectation,
or assumption of any kind. He enters into every passing scene or
passing pleasure with the interest and simple enjoyment of a child."
"RIP VAN WINKLE"
Irving's most famous work is undoubtedly the "Sketch Book"; and of the
thirty-two stories and essays in this volume, all Americans love best
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle."
After the failure of his business, when Irving saw that he must write
something at once to meet his ordinary living expenses, he went up to
London and prepared several sketches, which he sent to his friend,
Henry Brevoort, in New York. Among them was the story of Rip Van
Winkle. This, with the other sketches, was printed in handsome form as
the first number of a periodical, which was offered for sale at
seventy-five cents. Though "The Sketch Book," as the periodical was
called, professed to be edited by "Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.," every one
knew that Washington Irving was the real author. In fact, the best
story in the first number, "Rip Van Winkle," was represented to be a
posthumous writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker, the author of the
"History of New York."
There are few Americans who do not know the story of "Rip Van Winkle"
by heart; for those who have not read the story, have at least seen
the play in which Joseph Jefferson, the great actor, has made himself
Attached to the story is a note supposed to have been written by
Diedrich Knickerbocker, which a careless reader might overlook, but
which is an excellent introduction to the story. Says he:
"The story of Rip Van Winkle may seem incredible to many, but
nevertheless I give it my full belief, for I know the vicinity of our
old Dutch settlements to have been very subject to marvelous events
and appearances. Indeed, I have heard many stranger stories than this
in the villages along the Hudson; all of which were too well
authenticated to admit of a doubt. I have even talked with Rip Van
Winkle myself, who, when I last saw him, was a very venerable old man,
and so perfectly rational and consistent on every point, that I think
no conscientious person could refuse to take this into the bargain;
nay, I have seen a certificate on the subject, taken before a country
justice, and signed with a cross, in the justice's own handwriting.
The story, therefore, is beyond the possibility of doubt."
Rip was truly an original character. He had a shrewish wife who was
always scolding him; and he seems to have deserved all the cross
things she said to him, for he had "an insuperable aversion to all
kinds of profitable labor--in other words, he was as lazy a fellow as
you could find in all the country side."
Nevertheless, every one liked him, he was so good-natured. "He was a
great favorite among all the good wives of the village, who took his
part in all the family squabbles; and never failed whenever they
talked those matters over in their evening gossipings, to lay all the
blame on Dame Van Winkle. The children of the village, too, would
shout with joy whenever he approached. He assisted at their sports,
made their playthings, taught them to fly kites and shoot marbles, and
told them long stories of ghosts, witches, and Indians. Whenever he
went dodging about the village, he was surrounded by a troop of them,
hanging on his skirts, clambering on his back, and playing a thousand
tricks on him with impunity; and not a dog would bark at him
throughout the neighborhood."
You can't find much fault with a man who is so well liked that even
the dogs will not bark at him. You are reminded of Irving himself, who
for so many years was so idle; and yet who, out of his very idleness,
produced such charming stories.
"Rip Van Winkle," continues the narrative, "was one of those happy
mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy,
eat white bread or brown, whichever can be got with least thought or
trouble, and would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound. If
left to himself, he would have whistled life away in perfect
contentment; but his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about
his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his
This description is as perfect and as delightful as any in the English
language. Any one who cannot enjoy this has no perception of human
nature, and no love of humor in his composition. In time Rip
discovered that his only escape from his termagant wife was to take
his gun, and stroll off into the woods with his dog. "Here he would
sometimes seat himself at the foot of a tree, and share the contents
of his wallet with Wolf, with whom he sympathized as a fellow sufferer
in persecution. 'Poor Wolf,' he would say, 'thy mistress leads thee a
dog's life of it; but never mind, my lad, whilst I live thou shalt
never want a friend to stand by thee!' Wolf would wag his tail, look
wistfully into his master's face, and if dogs can feel pity, I verily
believe he reciprocated with all his heart."
Rip is just the sort of fellow to have some sort of adventure, and we
are not at all astonished when we find him helping the dwarf carry his
keg of liquor up the mountain. The description of "the odd-looking
personages playing at nine-pins" whom he finds on entering the
amphitheater, is a perfect picture in words; for the truly great
writer is a painter of pictures quite as much as the great artist.
"They were dressed in a quaint outlandish fashion; some wore short
doublets, others jerkins, with long knives in their belts. Their
visages, too, were peculiar: one had a large head, broad face, and
small piggish eyes; the face of another seemed to consist entirely of
nose, and was surmounted by a white sugar-loaf hat, set off with a
little red cock's tail. They all had beards of various shapes and
colors. There was one who seemed to be the commander. He was a stout
old gentleman, with a weather-beaten countenance; he wore a laced
doublet, broad belt and hanger, high-crowned hat and feather, red
stockings, and high-heeled shoes, with roses in them.... What seemed
particularly odd to Rip was, that though these folks were evidently
amusing themselves, yet they maintained the gravest faces, the most
mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy party of
pleasure he had ever witnessed. Nothing interrupted the stillness of
the scene but the noise of the balls, which, whenever they were
rolled, echoed along the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder."
But now comes a surprise. Rip indulges too freely in the contents of
the keg and falls asleep. When he wakes he finds a rusty old gun
beside him, and he whistles in vain for his dog. He goes back to the
village; but every thing and everybody is strange and changed. Putting
his hand to his chin he finds that his beard has grown a foot. He has
been sleeping twenty years.
But you must read the story for yourselves. It will bear reading many
times, and each time you will find in it something to smile at and
LITERARY SUCCESS IN ENGLAND
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" also purports to be written by Diedrich
Knickerbocker, and it is only less famous than "Rip Van Winkle." When
he was a boy, Irving had gone hunting in Sleepy Hollow, which is not
far from New York city; and in the latter part of his life he bought a
low stone house there of Mr. Van Tassel and fitted it up for his
"The outline of this story," says his nephew Pierre Irving, "had been
sketched more than a year before[+] at Birmingham, after a
conversation with his brother-in-law, Van Wart, who had been dwelling
on some recollections of his early years at Tarrytown, and had touched
upon a waggish fiction of one Brom Bones, a wild blade, who professed
to fear nothing, and boasted of his having once met the devil on a
return from a nocturnal frolic, and run a race with him for a bowl of
milk punch. The imagination of the author suddenly kindled over the
recital, and in a few hours he had scribbled off the framework of his
renowned story, and was reading it to his sister and her husband. He
then threw it by until he went up to London, where it was expanded
into the present legend."
[Footnote +: That is, before it was finally written and published.]
No sooner had the first number of the "Sketch Book," as published in
New York, come to England, than a periodical began reprinting it, and
Irving heard that a publisher intended to bring it out in book form.
That made him decide to publish it in England himself, and he did so
at his own expense. The publisher soon failed, and by Scott's help, as
already explained, Irving got his book into the hands of Murray.
Murray finally gave him a thousand dollars for the copyright. But when
it was published, it proved so very popular that Murray paid him five
hundred more. From that time forward he received large sums for his
writings, both in the United States and in England.
The "Sketch Book" was followed by "Bracebridge Hall," consisting of
stories and sketches of the same character; and later by the "Tales of
In the "Tales of a Traveller" we are most interested in "Buckthorne
and his Friends," a series of English stories, with descriptions of
literary life in London. Most famous of all is the account of a
publishers' dinner, with a description of the carving partner sitting
gravely at one end, with never a smile on his face, while at the other
end of the table sits the laughing partner; and the poor authors are
arranged at the table and are treated by the partners according to the
number of editions their books have sold.
Irving's father was a Scotchman, and his mother was an Englishwoman;
and one of his sisters and one of his brothers, as we have already
learned, lived in England for many years. It is not strange, then,
that England became to him a second home, and that many of his best
stories and descriptions in the "Sketch Book," "Bracebridge Hall," and
the "Tales of a Traveller" relate to English characters and scenes.
IRVING GOES TO SPAIN
When Irving went to Liverpool in 1815, it was his intention to travel
on the continent of Europe. As we have seen, business reasons made
that impossible. But after the publication and success of the "Sketch
Book" he was free. He was now certain of an income, and his reputation
was so great that he attracted notice wherever he went.
In 1820, after having spent five years in England, he at last set out
on his European journey. We cannot follow him in all his wanderings;
but one country that he visited furnished him the materials for the
most serious, and in one way the most important part of his literary
work. This was Spain. Here he spent a great deal of time, returning
again and again; and finally he was appointed United States minister
to that country.
He first went to Spain to collect materials for the "Life and Voyages
of Christopher Columbus." This was a much more serious work than
anything he had before undertaken. It was, unlike the history of New
York, a genuine investigation of facts derived from the musty old
volumes of the libraries of Spanish monasteries and other ancient
collections. It was a record of the life of the discoverer of America
that was destined to remain the highest authority on that subject.
Murray, the London publisher, paid him over fifteen thousand dollars
for the English copyright alone.
In his study among the ruins of Spain, Irving found many other things
which greatly interested him--legends, and tales of the Moors who had
once ruled there, and of the ruined beauties of the Moorish palace of
the Alhambra. His imagination was set on fire, he was delighted with
the images of by-gone days of glittering pageantry which his fancy
called up. Before his history of Columbus was finished, he began the
writing of a book so precisely to his taste that he could not restrain
himself until it was finished. This was the "Chronicle of the Conquest
of Granada"--a true history, but one which reads more like a romance
of the Middle Ages than a simple record of facts.
This was followed by four other books based on Spanish history and
legend. It seemed as if Irving could never quite abandon this
entrancing subject, for during the entire remainder of his life he
went back to it constantly.
When his great history of the life of Columbus was published and
proved its merit, Irving was honored in a way he had little expected
in his more idle days. The Royal Society of Literature bestowed upon
him one of two fifty-guinea[+] gold medals awarded annually, and the
University of Oxford conferred the degree of L.L.D.
[Footnote +: Two hundred and fifty dollars.]
The "Life of Columbus" was followed in 1831 by the "Voyages of the
Companions of Columbus." In the following year Irving returned to the
United States after an absence of seventeen years.
He was no longer an idle young man unable to fix his mind on any
serious work; he had become the most famous of American men of
letters. When he reached New York his countrymen hastened to heap
honors upon him, and almost overwhelmed him with public attentions.
Just before Irving's return to the United States in 1832, he prepared
for publication some sketches which he had made three or four years
before while living for a few months in the ruins of the Alhambra, the
ancient palace of the Moorish kings when they ruled the kingdom of
Granada. Next to the stories of "Rip Van Winkle" and the "Legend of
Sleepy Hollow," nothing that Irving has written has proved more
popular than this volume of "The Alhambra;" and it has made the
ancient ruin a place of pilgrimage for tourists in Europe ever since.
In this volume Irving not only describes in his own peculiarly
charming manner his experiences in the halls of the Alhambra itself,
but he gives many of the stories and legends of the place, most of
which were told to him by Mateo Ximenes, a "son of the Alhambra," who
acted as his guide. This is the way he came to secure Mateo's
"At the gate were two or three ragged, super-annuated soldiers, dozing
on a stone bench, the successors of the Zegris and the Abencerrages;
while a tall, meagre valet, whose rusty-brown cloak was evidently
intended to conceal the ragged state of his nether garments, was
lounging in the sunshine and gossipping with the ancient sentinel on
duty. He joined us as we entered the gate, and offered his services to
show us the fortress.
"I have a traveler's dislike to officious ciceroni, and did not
altogether like the garb of the applicant.
"'You are well acquainted with the place, I presume?'
"'Nobody better; in fact, sir, I am a son of the Alhambra.'
"'The common Spaniards have certainly a most poetical way of
expressing themselves. 'A son of the Alhambra!' the appellation caught
me at once; the very tattered garb of my new acquaintance assumed a
dignity in my eyes. It was emblematic of the fortunes of the place,
and befitted the progeny of a ruin."
Accompanied by Mateo, the travelers pass on to "the great vestibule,
or porch of the gate," which "is formed by an immense Arabian arch, of
the horseshoe form, which springs to half the height of the tower. On
the keystone of this arch, is engraven a gigantic hand. Within the
vestibule, on the keystone of the portal, is sculptured, in like
manner, a gigantic key," emblems, say the learned, of Moorish
superstition and religious belief.
"A different explanation of these emblems, however, was given by the
legitimate son of Alhambra, and one more in unison with the notions of
the common people, who attach something of mystery and magic to
everything Moorish, and have all kinds of superstitions connected with
this old Moslem fortress. According to Mateo, it was a tradition
handed down from the oldest inhabitants, and which he had from his
father and grandfather, that the hand and key were magical devices on
which the fate of the Alhambra depended. The Moorish king who built it
was a great magician, or, as some believed, had sold himself to the
devil, and had laid the whole fortress under a magic spell. By this
means it had remained standing for several years, in defiance of
storms and earthquakes, while almost all other buildings of the Moors
had fallen to ruin and disappeared. This spell, the tradition went on
to say, would last until the hand on the outer arch should reach down
and grasp the key, when the whole pile would tumble to pieces, and all
the treasures buried beneath it by the Moors would be revealed."
The travelers at once made application to the governor for permission
to take up their residence in the palace of the Alhambra, and to their
astonishment and delight he placed his own suite of apartments at
their disposal, as he himself preferred to live in the city of
Irving's companion soon left him, and he remained sole lord of the
palace. For a time he occupied the governor's rooms, which were very
scantily furnished; but one day he came upon an eerie suite of rooms
which he liked better. They were the rooms that had been fitted up for
the beautiful Elizabetta of Farnese, the second wife of Philip V.
"The windows, dismantled and open to the wind and weather, looked into
a charming little secluded garden, where an alabaster fountain
sparkled among roses and myrtles, and was surrounded by orange and
citron trees, some of which flung their branches into the chambers."
This was the garden of Lindaraxa.
"Four centuries had elapsed since the fair Lindaraxa passed away, yet
how much of the fragile beauty of the scenes she inhabited remained!
The garden still bloomed in which she delighted; the fountain still
presented the crystal mirror in which her charms may once have been
reflected; the alabaster, it is true, had lost its whiteness; the
basin beneath, overrun with weeds, had become the lurking-place of the
lizard, but there was something in the very decay that enhanced the
interest of the scene, speaking as it did of the mutability, the
irrevocable lot of man and all his works."
In spite of warnings of the dangers of the place, Irving had his bed
set up in the chamber beside this little garden. The first night was
full of frightful terrors. The garden was dark and sinister. "There
was a slight rustling noise overhead; a bat suddenly emerged from a
broken panel of the ceiling, flitting about the room and athwart my
solitary lamp; and as the fateful bird almost flouted my face with his
noiseless wing, the grotesque faces carved in high relief in the cedar
ceiling, whence he had emerged, seemed to mope and mow at me.
"Rousing myself, and half smiling at this temporary weakness, I
resolved to brave it out in the true spirit of the hero of the
enchanted house," says the narrator. So taking his lamp in his hand he
started out to make a midnight tour of the palace.
"My own shadow, cast upon the wall, began to disturb me," he
continues. "The echoes of my own footsteps along the corridors made me
pause and look around. I was traversing scenes fraught with dismal
recollections. One dark passage led down to the mosque where Yusef,
the Moorish monarch, the finisher of the Alhambra, had been basely
murdered. In another place I trod the gallery where another monarch
had been struck down by the poniard of a relative whom he had thwarted
in his love."
In a few nights, however, all this was changed; for the moon, which
had been invisible, began to "roll in full splendor above the towers,
pouring a flood of tempered light into every court and hall."
Says Irving, "I now felt the merit of the Arabic inscription on the
walls--'How beauteous is this garden; where the flowers of the earth
vie with the stars of heaven. What can compare with the vase of yon
alabaster fountain filled with crystal water? Nothing but the moon in
her fullness, shining in the midst of an unclouded sky!"
"On such heavenly nights," he goes on, "I would sit for hours at my
window inhaling the sweetness of the garden, and musing on the
checkered fortunes of those whose history was dimly shadowed out in
the elegant memorials around. Sometimes, when all was quiet, and the
clock from the distant cathedral of Granada struck the midnight hour,
I have sallied out on another tour and wandered over the whole
building; but how different from my first tour! No longer dark and
mysterious; no longer peopled with shadowy foes; no longer recalling
scenes of violence and murder; all was open, spacious, beautiful;
everything called up pleasing and romantic fancies; Lindaraxa once
more walked in her garden; the gay chivalry of Moslem Granada once
more glittered about the Court of Lions!
"Who can do justice to a moonlight night in such a climate and in such
a place? The temperature of a summer night in Andalusia is perfectly
ethereal. We seem lifted up into an ethereal atmosphere; we feel a
serenity of soul, a buoyancy of spirits, an elasticity of frame, which
render mere existence happiness. But when moonlight is added to all
this, the effect is like enchantment. Under its plastic sway the
Alhambra seems to regain its pristine glories. Every rent and chasm of
time; every moldering tint and weather-stain is gone; the marble
resumes its original whiteness; the long colonnades brighten in the
moonbeams; the halls are illuminated with a softened radiance--we
tread the enchanted palace of an Arabian tale!"
When one may journey with such a companion, through a whole volume of
enchantment and legend and moonlight, it is not strange that "The
Alhambra" has been one of the most widely read books ever produced by
an American writer.
THE LAST YEARS OF IRVING'S LIFE
Some people have thought that Irving's long residence abroad indicated
that he did not care so much as he should for his native land. But the
truth is, the years after his return to the United States were among
the happiest of his life; and more and more he felt that here was his
In 1835 he purchased, as I have already said, a small piece of land on
the Hudson, on which stood the Van Tassel house mentioned in the
"Legend of Sleepy Hollow." It was an old Dutch cottage which had stood
for so many years that it needed to be almost entirely rebuilt; and
Irving spent a considerable sum of money to fit it up as his bachelor
quarters. First he shared it with one of his bachelor brothers; but
soon he invited his brother Ebenezer to come with his family of girls
to occupy it with him.
As the years went on, Irving took a delight in this cottage that can
hardly be expressed. At first he called it "Wolfert's Roost";
afterward the name was changed to "Sunnyside," the name by which it is
still known. Little by little he bought more land, he planted trees,
and cultivated flowers and vegetables. At one time he boasts that he
has become so proficient in gardening that he can raise his own fruits
and vegetables at a cost to him of little more than twice the market
During this period several books were published, among them a
description of a tour on the prairies which he took soon after his
return from abroad; a collection of "Legends of the Conquest of Spain"
which had been lying in his trunk since his residence in the Alhambra
seven or eight years before; and "Astoria," a book of Western life and
adventure, describing John Jacob Astor's settlement on the Columbia
It was his wish to write a history of the conquest of Mexico, for
which he had collected materials in Spain; but hearing that Prescott,
the well-known American historian, was at work on the same subject, he
gave it up to him.
The chief work of his later years was his "Life of George Washington."
This was a great undertaking, of which he had often thought. He was
actually at work on it for many years, and it was finally published
only a short time before his death in 1859.
Irving's friends in the United States had long wished to give him some
honor or distinction. He had been offered several public offices,
among them the secretaryship of the navy; but he had declined them
all. But in 1842, when Daniel Webster was secretary of state, Irving
was nominated minister to Spain. It was Webster's idea, and he took
great delight in carrying out his plan. After the notification of his
nomination had been sent to Irving, and Webster thought time enough
had elapsed for him to receive it, he remarked to a friend:
"Washington Irving is now the most astonished man in the city of New
When Irving heard the news he seemed to think less of the distinction
conferred upon him than of the unhappiness of being once more banished
from his home. "It is hard--very hard," he murmured, half to himself;
"yet," he added, whimsically enough (says his nephew), being struck
with the seeming absurdity of such a view, "I must try to bear it.
_God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb_." Later, however, Irving
speaks of this as the "crowning honor of his life."
He remained abroad four years, when he sent in his resignation, and
hurried home to spend his last years at Sunnyside.
His first thought was to build an addition to his cottage, in order to
have room for all his nieces and nephews. His enjoyment in every
detail of the work was almost that of a boy. Though now an old man, he
seemed as sunny and as gay as ever. Every one who knew him loved him;
and all the people who now read his books must have the same
affectionate fondness for this most delightful of companions.
In the United States he met both Dickens and Thackeray. His friendship
with Dickens was begun by a letter which Irving wrote to the great
novelist, enthusiastically praising his work. At once Dickens replied
in a long letter, fairly bubbling over with delight and friendship.
Here is a part of it:
"There is no man in the world who could have given me the heartfelt
pleasure you have. There is no living writer, and there are very few
among the dead, whose approbation I should feel so proud to earn. And
with everything you have written upon my shelves, and in my thoughts,
and in my heart of hearts, I may honestly and truly say so.
"I have been so accustomed to associate you with my pleasantest and
happiest thoughts, and with my leisure hours, that I rush at once into
full confidence with you, and fall, as it were, naturally, and by the
very laws of gravity, into your open arms.... My dear Washington
Irving, I cannot thank you enough for your cordial and generous
praise, or tell you what deep and lasting gratification it has given
me. I hope to have many letters from you, and to exchange a frequent
correspondence. I send this to say so....
"Always your faithful friend,
The warmth of feeling which Dickens displays on receiving his first
letter from Irving, we must all feel when we have become as well
acquainted with Irving's works as Dickens was.
Washington Irving died on the 28th of November, 1859, at his dear
Sunnyside, and now lies buried in a cemetery upon a hill near by, in a
beautiful spot overlooking the Hudson river and Sleepy Hollow.
* * * * *
NOTE.--The thanks of the publishers are due to G. P. Putnam's Sons for
kind permission to use extracts from the Works of Washington Irving.
THE STORY OF EDGAR ALLAN POE
[Illustration: _EDGAR ALLAN POE_.]
EDGAR ALLAN POE
THE ARTIST IN WORDS
Who has not felt the weird fascination of Poe's strangely beautiful
poem "The Raven"? Perhaps on some stormy evening you have read it
until the "silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain" has
"thrilled you, filled you, with fantastic terrors never felt before."
That poem is the almost perfect mirror of the life of the man who
wrote it--the most brilliant poetic genius in the whole range of
American literature, the most unfortunate and unhappy.
Poe had a singular fate. When Longfellow and Bryant and Lowell and
Holmes were winning their way to fame quietly and steadily, Poe was
writing wonderful poems and wonderful stories, and more than that, he
was inventing new principles and new artistic methods, on which other
great writers in time to come should build their finest work; yet he
barely escaped starvation, and the critics made it appear that,
compared with such men as Longfellow and Bryant, he was more notorious
than really great. Lowell in his "Fable for Critics" said:
"There comes Poe,... three fifths of him genius, and two fifths sheer
But now, fifty years after his death, we see how great a man Poe was.
Poe invented the modern art of short story writing. His tales were
translated into French by a famous writer named Charles Baudelaire.
Other French writers saw how fine they were and modeled their work
upon them. They learned the art of short story writing from Poe. Then
these French stories were translated into English, and English and
American writers have imitated them and adopted similar methods of
Conan Doyle's detective stories would probably never have been written
had not Poe first composed "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"; and the
stories of horror and fear so common to-day are possible because Poe
wrote "William Wilson," "The Black Cat," and other stories of the same
Have you ever learned to scan poetry? If you have, you know that the
rules which tell you that a foot is composed of one long syllable and
one short one, two short syllables and one long one, or whatever else
it may be, are frequently disregarded. You know, too, that some lines
are cut off short at the end, and others are made a little too long.
Why is this permitted? In his "Rationale of Verse," Poe explained all
these things, and showed how the learned of past ages had made
mistakes. In a subsequent chapter we shall see just what the relation
between music and poetry is, and what Poe taught about the art of
For years people thought that Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition,"
in which he tells in what a cold-blooded way he wrote "The Raven," was
a joke; but in later times we have learned to understand what he meant
and to know that he was very sensible in his methods of working.
When Poe was young he was not a very remarkable poet; but, as years
went on and he learned more and more the art of writing, he rewrote
and rewrote his verses until at last in conscious art he was almost,
if not quite, the master poet of America.
POE'S FATHER AND MOTHER
Edgar Allan Poe was descended on his father's side from a
Revolutionary hero, General David Poe. The Poes were a good family of
Baltimore, where many of them still live as prominent citizens. It is
said that General Poe was descended from one of Cromwell's officers,
who received grants of land in Ireland. One of the poet's ancestors,
John Poe, emigrated from Ireland to Pennsylvania; and from there the
Poes went to Maryland. General Poe was an ardent patriot both before
and during the Revolution.
General Poe's son David, the eldest, was not much like his father. In
Baltimore he enjoyed himself with his friends and played at amateur
theatricals with the Thespian Club. He was supposed to be studying
law. For this purpose he went to live with an uncle in Augusta,
Georgia; but his father soon heard that he had given up law to become
an actor. General Poe was very angry and after that allowed the young
man to shift for himself.
Edgar Allan Poe's mother was an English actress, whose mother had also
been an actress. She was born at sea, and as she went with her mother
on her travels from town to town, naturally the daughter learned the
mother's art as a means of self-support, and in time became very
At seventeen, her mother having married again, Elizabeth Arnold, for
that was her name, was thrown upon her own resources. She joined a
Philadelphia company, and remained with it for the next four years. In
June, 1802, she acted in Baltimore, and perhaps it was there that
David Poe, Jr., first saw her. She was pretty and gay, yet a good girl
and a very fine actress.
She soon married a young Mr. Hopkins, who had been playing with the
company, and for the following two years the young couple lived in
Virginia. It was then that David Poe, Jr., having left his uncle's
home at Augusta and gone on the stage in Charleston, joined the same
company. He was not a very good actor; and he never rose to a high
place in his profession.
In the following year Mr. Hopkins died, and a few months later young
David Poe married Mrs. Hopkins, who had been Elizabeth Arnold.
Mr. and Mrs. David Poe were now husband and wife, and very poor, as
most actors are. Soon after their marriage they went to Boston, and
remained for some years. There Edgar Poe, their second son, was born,
January 19, 1809.
While Edgar was still a little child his parents went to Richmond,
Virginia, to fill an engagement in the theater there. Misfortune
followed them. His father died in poverty, and his mother did not
survive him long. Edgar and his brother and sister were thus left
penniless orphans. But good friends took care of them.
Edgar was adopted by a Mrs. Allan, the wife of a wealthy man in the
city of Richmond. She was very fond of the bright little boy, and as
long as she lived he had a good home. He was petted and spoiled; but
those were almost the only years of his life when he had plenty of
money. He was very fond of his adoptive mother, and held her memory
dear to the day of his death. He was now known as Edgar Allan.
YOUNG EDGAR ALLAN
Edgar was a beautiful child, with dark eyes, curly dark hair, and
lively manners. At six he could read, draw, and dance. After dessert,
sometimes they would put him up on the old-fashioned table, where he
would make amusement for the company. He could speak pieces, too, and
did it so well that people were astonished. He understood how to
emphasize his words correctly. He had a pony and dogs, with which he
ran about; and everywhere he was a great favorite.
In June, 1815, when Edgar was about six years old, his adoptive father
and mother, with an aunt, went to England to stay several years.
Before starting, Mr. Allan bought a Murray's reader, two Murray's
spelling books, and another book to keep the little fellow busy on the
long sailing voyage across the Atlantic; for at that time a trip to
England occupied several weeks instead of a few days as now. When the
family reached London and were settled down, Edgar was sent to a
famous English school.
This school was at Stoke Newington, a quiet, old-fashioned country
town, only a few miles out from London. Here was the house of
Leicester, the favorite of Queen Elizabeth, whose story you may read
in Scott's "Kenilworth"; and here too was the house of Anne Boleyn's
ill-fated lover, Earl Percy.
The Manor House School, as it was called, was in a quaint and very old
building, with high walls about the grounds, and great spiked,
iron-studded gates. Here the boys lived and studied, seldom returning
home, and seldom going outside the grounds, except when they went with
In this strange school, Edgar Allan lived and studied for five years.
The schoolroom was long, narrow, and low; it was ceiled with dark oak,
and had Gothic windows. The desks were black and irregular, covered
with the names and initials which the boys had cut with their
jackknives. In the corners were what might be called boxes, where sat
the masters--one of them Eugene Aram, the criminal made famous in one
of Bulwer's romances. Back of the schoolroom, reached by winding,
narrow passages, were the bedrooms, one of which Poe occupied. When
the boys went out to walk they passed under the giant elms, amid which
once lived Shakespeare's friend Essex, and they gazed up at the thick
walls, deep windows, and doors massive with locks and bars, behind
which the author of Robinson Crusoe wrote some of his famous works.
Within the walls of this school a large number of boys had a little
world all to themselves; they had their societies and their games and
their tricks, along with hard work in Latin and French and
mathematics; and though such work may seem monotonous and dreary, they
managed to enjoy it. Poe has described his life here very carefully in
his famous story of "William Wilson." "Oh, a fine time were those
years of iron!" says he. The life produced a deep impression on his
mind, and molded it for the strange, weird poetry and fiction which in
later years he was to write.
At last, in 1820, the Allans returned with Edgar to their home in
Richmond, Virginia. The lad now added his own name to that of Edgar
Allan, and became known as Edgar Allan Poe.
He was at once sent to the English and Classical School of Joseph H.
Clarke, where he prepared for college. He did not study very hard, but
was bright and quick, and at one time stood at the head of his class
with but one rival. He was a great athlete, too, being a good runner
and jumper and boxer. He was a remarkable swimmer, and it is stated
that he once swam six miles in the James River, against a strong tide
in a hot sun, and then walked back without seeming in the least tired.
He was slight in figure, but robust and tough, and was a very decided
character among his classmates. He took part in the debating society,
where he was prominent, and was known as a versifier of both love
poems and satire. When Master Clarke retired, in 1823, Poe read an
English ode addressed to the outgoing principal.
One of his friends said of him at this time that he was "self-willed,
capricious, inclined to be imperious, and though of generous impulses,
not steadily kind, nor even amiable." Part of this temper on his part
may have come from the fact that the aristocratic boys of the school
hinted that his father and mother had not been of the best people.
They knew, however, that Mr. Allan belonged to the best society; and
it was chiefly Edgar's imperious manners that made some of them shun
him. He had friends, however, and Mr. Allan gave him money liberally.
It was at this time that he found and lost his first sympathetic
This was Mrs. Jane Stith Stanard, the mother of one of his younger
schoolmates. When one day he went home with this friend, he met Mrs.
Stanard, a lovely, gentle, and gracious woman, was thrilled by the
tenderness of her tones and her sympathetic manner toward him, and
immediately made her his boyhood friend and confidante. To his great
grief, however, she died not very long afterward. When she was gone he
visited her grave time after time, and in after years when he was
unhappy he often thought and spoke of her.
Poe left the English and Classical School in March, 1825, and spent
the next few months in studying with a private tutor.
On the 14th of February, 1826, he wrote his name and the place and
date of his birth, in the matriculation book of the University of
Virginia, the famous college founded by Jefferson and opened about a
Poe is described at this time as short, thickset, bowlegged, with the
rapid and jerky gait of an English boy. His face, surrounded by dark
curly hair, wore a grave, half-melancholy look; but it would light up
expressively when he talked. He was a noted walker; and being the
adopted child of a rich man, he dressed well and carried himself
proudly. He studied Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, and Italian, and
stood well in his classes. At the end of the year he went home with
the highest honors in Latin and French.
Before the term closed, however, Mr. Allan went up to investigate some
stories of Poe's wildness that had reached him, and found that besides
other debts, Poe owed two thousand dollars in "debts of honor"--that
is, gambling debts. Mr. Allan paid all but the latter, and quietly
determined that as soon as the term closed, Poe's college life should
Poe was, however, a studious and well-behaved young man in the opinion
of the professors, and he was never found guilty of any serious
misconduct. He was fond of wandering over the Ragged Mountains,
whither he went alone or with only a dog, and he delighted to fancy
that he was the very first white person to penetrate some lonely glen
He was also something of an artist, and decorated his rooms with
charcoal sketches. He and a classmate bought a volume of Byron with
steel engravings in it. The next time his friend went to see Poe he
found him copying one of these on the ceiling, and he continued this
until he had covered the whole of the walls with figures that were
said to be artistic and striking.
At the age of eighteen there came a change in Poe's life. Until then
he had been a petted child in a wealthy family. Mr. Allan did not have
that affection for him which Mrs. Allan had. He did not understand the
boy's peculiar and erratic nature, and was particularly displeased
when he found that Edgar had run into debt at college. There was an
angry scene between the two, and Edgar was told that he must leave the
university and go into the counting-room. It appears that he made some
attempt to tie himself down to figures and accounts and business
routine; but as he had not been brought up to this kind of life, he
soon tired of it, and decided to go into the world to seek his own
fortune. He went to Boston, where he published a volume of poetry.
In the preface to this volume, Poe says that the poems were written
before he was fourteen. Though this may not be strictly true, there is
little doubt that some of them were. While he was still at school he
had collected enough of his poems to make a volume, and Mr. Allan had
taken them up to the master of the English and Classical School to get
his advice about publishing them. This gentleman advised against it on
the ground that it would make Edgar conceited,--a fault from which he
was already suffering. As soon as he was free to do as he pleased,
therefore, it was natural that he should rewrite his poems and publish
The volume was entitled "Tamerlane and Other Poems. By a Bostonian."
It was published by a young printer named Calvin Thomas, and was a
thin little book, not very attractive in appearance. Several of the
pieces then published are now included in Poe's collected works, but
they have been greatly changed.
Naturally the poems of an obscure young man did not sell, and the
volume was soon suppressed--Poe says "for private reasons." The
"private reasons" were doubtless merely the fact that the book was a
complete failure, and the young, proud poet was much ashamed that he
could not sell even a dozen copies--possibly not even one.
The little money Poe had was now spent, and he was obliged to do
something to keep from starvation. The only chance he saw was to
enlist in the army. He did so under the name of Edgar A. Perry, and
the record of his service may be found in the War Department of our
government at Washington. He was assigned to Battery H, First
Artillery, and conducted himself so well that he was promoted from the
ranks to be sergeant-major. From Boston the company was sent to
Charleston, South Carolina, and a year later to Fortress Monroe,
From Fortress Monroe Poe wrote to Mr. Allan for the first time. He
soon afterwards learned of the illness of Mrs. Allan, who died
February 28, 1829. He got leave of absence to attend her funeral, and
went to Richmond.
Poe was such a bright young man that it seemed a pity for him to
remain in the ranks, when he might become an officer; therefore it was
suggested that he be sent to West Point. Mr. Allan agreed to help him;
but it is said that, after the death of Mrs. Allan, he no longer
entertained any affection for Edgar. In a letter to the Secretary of
War, he said: "Frankly, sir, I do declare that he is no relation to me
whatever; that I have many in whom I have taken an active interest to
promote theirs; with no other feeling than that, every man is my care,
if he be in distress. For myself I ask nothing, but I do request your
kindness to aid this youth in the promotion of his future prospects."
Poe did not like the life at West Point in the least, though he amused
his mates by writing satirical verses about the professors. After a
few months he asked to be discharged; but Mr. Allan would not consent.
So Poe made up his mind that he would have himself expelled. He stayed
away from parade, roll-call, and guard duty. As a court-martial was
then in session, he was summoned before it. He denied the most
flagrant charge against him; but this only made his case worse, and he
was expelled from the academy.
LIVING BY LITERATURE
Once more the young poet found himself cast out on the world, without
home or friends. He could hope for nothing more from Mr. Allan, after
his disgrace at the military academy, and he had found out that army
life was not so fine a refuge from starvation as he had thought it. He
was a proud, melancholy young man, and in school and college had
learned many bad habits. He had no trade nor practical knowledge of
any kind of work, though he was quick and ingenious. He had studied
the art of writing, and this alone offered him the means of earning a
livelihood. How poor and precarious a chance it was, we shall see as
we go on.
While waiting for appointment to the Military Academy the preceding
year, Poe had made acquaintance with his father's relatives in
Baltimore. He formed some literary connections there, and had a volume
of his poems published. It was entitled "Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and
Minor Poems, by Edgar A. Poe." "Al Aaraaf" was a poem about a star
that a great astronomer had seen blaze forth and then disappear.
When he left West Point in April, 1831, nearly two years after the
publication of his Baltimore volume, Poe was short of money; and to
supply his needs his fellow-students subscribed for a new edition of
his poems. For this, seventy-five cents was stopped out of the pay of
each, and a publisher in New York agreed to issue the book in good
style. The cadets thought his volume would contain the many funny
squibs he had written on the professors; but they were disappointed.
Poe next went to Baltimore. There he tried to get employment in vain.
Friends helped him, but it was some time before he made his first
It happened at last that a weekly paper called the _Saturday Visiter_
was started in Baltimore. To give the paper popularity, two prizes
were offered, one of a hundred dollars for the best short story, and
the other of fifty for the best poem. Poe tried for both. He had six
short stories, which he copied in a neat little manuscript volume
entitled "Tales of the Folio Club." The poem he sent was "The
The judges were well-known gentlemen of the city of Baltimore, one of
whom, John P. Kennedy, afterward became Poe's intimate friend. When
they met they looked over several stories, which did not interest them
very much. They then came to the "Tales of the Folio Club." One was
read aloud, and the three gentlemen were so much interested that they
kept on till they had read all, and at once decided to give the prize
to one of these. They chose Poe's famous story "A MS. Found in a
Bottle." Afterward they decided that his poem was the best submitted;
but noticing that it was in the same handwriting as the stories, they
thought it best to give the prize to another. When they made their
report they greatly complimented the stories Poe had sent in, and said
they should be published in a volume.
We have said that one of the judges, Mr. Kennedy, became Poe's friend.
To show how very poor Poe was, I copy this passage from Mr. Kennedy's
diary: "It was many years ago that I found Poe in Baltimore in a
state of starvation. I gave him clothing, free access to my table, and
the use of a horse for exercise whenever he chose; in fact, I brought
him up from the very verge of despair."
Here, too, is an extract from a letter from Poe to Mr. Kennedy:
"Your invitation to dinner has wounded me to the quick. I cannot come
for reasons of the most humiliating nature--my personal appearance.
You may imagine my mortification in making this disclosure to you, but
it is necessary."
Mr. Kennedy did all that a friend could do for the future poet and
story-writer. Says Poe: "He has been at all times a true friend to
me--he was the first true friend I ever had--I am indebted to him for
Poe now contributed regularly to the _Saturday Visiter,_ its young
editor, Lambert A. Wilmer, becoming his friend and constant companion.
It is said that at this time he dressed very neatly, though
inexpensively, "wore Byron collars and a black stock, and looked the
poet all over."
POE'S EARLY POETRY
We have seen how persistently Poe clung to his poetry. Three times he
published the little volume of his verses, revising, enlarging, and
strengthening. In those days there was no market for poetic writing,
and as Poe wrote in a strange, weird style, it is not remarkable that
no one took any notice of the contents of his little volumes. It was
his own opinion, however, that these early poems contained more real
poetic imagination than his later successes, and it is perhaps as well
that we should begin our study of Poe with some of the first fruits of
First let us read that most pathetic of autobiographical poems,
"Alone." With strange sincerity and directness the poet tells us how
his spirit grew and learned the burden of its melancholy, yet
From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were,--I have not seen
As others saw,--I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then--in my childhood--in the dawn
Of a most stormy life was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,--
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,--
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
As a poem written in early youth we should not expect this to be as
perfect as "The Raven," for instance. Let us see if we can find some
of its faults, as well as some of its beauties:
First, we notice that it ends rather abruptly, as if it were
unfinished. In his essay on "The Poetic Principle" Poe pointed out
that many a poem fails of its effect by being too short. It must not
be so long that one is wearied out before it can be read through; at
the same time it must be long enough to convey the whole of the idea.
This poem of his own is an example of the fault he himself pointed
out. It is too short to give us clear ideas of all he evidently had in
his mind. We notice, also, that it is rhymed in couplets, that is,
every two lines are rhymed together. Now the couplets in the last half
of the poem seem to strike the ear with more satisfaction than those
in the first part. For instance, we are pleased with the sound of
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain.
But in some of the lines the pauses of punctuation do not come at the
right points to make smooth reading:
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, _I_ loved alone.
The semicolon after "sorrow" should have come at the end of the line
instead of in the middle. Poe had not yet learned the secret of the
rhythmic flow which we find in such perfection in "The Bells," for
But in the last part of the poem we find a beauty of image and
comparison that thrills us, and something of that strange, weird
suggestiveness which was characteristic of all of Poe's poetry, the
thing he has in common with no other poet.
This weird suggestiveness is found in still greater vividness in
another poem entitled "The Lake." In this, besides, we see how Poe had
a sort of fascination for the horrible. Notice how he says:
Yet that terror was not fright,
But a tremulous delight.
Here is the complete poem. The young student of poetry may study it
for himself, and discover, if he can, its shortcomings, as we have
pointed out the faults in the poem "Alone."
In spring of youth it was my lot
To haunt of the wide world a spot
The which I could not love the less,--
So lovely was the loveliness
Of a wild lake, with black rock bound,
And the tall pines that towered around.
But when the night had thrown her pall
Upon that spot as upon all,
And the mystic wind went by
Murmuring in melody,--
Then,--ah, then I would awake
To the terror of the lone lake.
Yet that terror was not fright,
But a tremulous delight,--
A feeling not the jeweled mine
Could teach or bribe me to define,--
Nor Love--although the Love were thine.
Death was in that poisonous wave,
And its gulf a fitting grave
For him who thence could solace bring
To his lone imagining,--
Whose solitary soul could make
An Eden of that dim lake.
These poems are chiefly interesting as they give us some idea of the
nature of the young poet's mind. Poe had what may be called a
scientific mind, infused through and through with poetry. At times he
was exact, keen-minded, and patient as the scientist; then again he
wandered away into mere fanciful suggestion of things that "never were
on land or sea." His scientific turn we see in his detective stories;
his poetic nature we see struggling against this intellectual
exactness in the following sonnet:
Science! True daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jeweled skies,
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?
POE'S CHILD WIFE
While Poe was in Baltimore, after he had begun to earn something by
his pen, he went to live with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm. She was very poor,
and whatever Poe earned went toward the support of the whole family,
which included not only Poe and his aunt, but her young daughter
Virginia, at this time only eleven years of age.
Virginia was an exceedingly delicate and beautiful girl. She had dark
hair and eyes, and a fine, transparent complexion. She was very modest
and quiet; but she had a fine mind, and a very sweet and winning
manner. She had also a poetic nature, and became an accomplished
Mrs. Clemm, on the other hand, was a large, coarsely formed woman, and
it seemed impossible that she could be the mother of so delicate and
graceful a girl. She was very faithful and hardworking, however, and
sincerely devoted to Poe as well as to her daughter. She had the
business ability to manage Poe's small income in the best way, and
made for him a home that would have been extremely happy had it not
been for poverty and other misfortunes.
While Poe lived in Baltimore he would go out to walk nearly every day
with the editor of the _Saturday Visiter_; but he sometimes walked
alone or with Virginia.
After a time the young poet and story-writer decided to go to
Richmond, his early home. He had many friends there, who welcomed him
back, and a good position was offered him. The _Southern Literary
Messenger_ had been started by a Mr. White, and Poe was made assistant
He had become very much attached to Mrs. Clemm and Virginia while in
Baltimore, and now wished to marry Virginia. She was but fourteen
years of age,--indeed, not quite fourteen,--and Mrs. Clemm's friends
thought the girl too young to marry. But Poe gained the mother's
consent, and he and Virginia were united in May, 1836.
Virginia was Poe's ideal of womanhood, and we find her figuring as the
model for nearly all the heroines of his poems. In a letter after the
death of both Virginia and her poet husband, Mrs. Clemm wrote, "She
was an excellent linguist and a perfect musician, and she was very
beautiful. How often has Eddie said, 'I see no one so beautiful as my
sweet little wife.'" Poe undertook her education as soon as they were
married, and was very proud of her brilliant accomplishments.
As she was the source of his greatest happiness, her loss was the
occasion of his greatest sorrow. A year after their marriage she burst
a blood vessel while singing. The following extract from a letter of
Poe's to a friend will explain how this misfortune affected him.
"You say," he writes, "'Can you hint to me what was the terrible evil
which caused the irregularities so profoundly lamented?' Yes, I can do
Back to Full Books