Wednesday, July 23, 2014

In Honor of Poe

It has been a long time since I last updated this blog, but I hope to soon rectify this situation. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from my recent visit to Stoke Newington, the locale for Edgar Allan Poe's childhood educational institution, the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School. As noted in a prior post, the school was torn down years ago, but the memory of Poe has not disappeared from the place.  There is a wonderful bust of the Father of the Macabre and two plaques commemorating him adorning the front of The Fox Reformed, a pub located on Stoke Newington Church Street. If you ever plan to visit, I recommend also stopping by Abney Park Cemetery.  There is a fantastic church located at the center of the park (actually one of the Magnificent Seven Victorian cemeteries) that is well worth the visit.  A picture is included at the end of the post.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe -- the Biography

Short Bio: 

The following biography is a summation of the Wiki article on  Edgar Allan Poe ( and a biography by Peter Ackroyd, (Poe, A Life Cut Short – Nan A. Talese, an imprint of The Doubleday Printing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, 2008).

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809, to Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and David Poe, Jr.  – the second of three children  (brother William Henry Leonard Poe and sister Rosalie Poe) to these two actors. His father abandoned the family in 1810 and his mother died a year later from consumption. Poe was fostered, though never adopted, by John and Francis Valentine Allan of Richmond, Virginia.

During his school years, he attended a number of institutions, some in the U.S. and some in England (most notably – as it pertains to my blog entry on Griswold and Ingram – the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School in Stoke Newington), ultimately attending the University of Virginia in February of 1826.  However, his college career ended after only one year, when mounting gambling debts that his foster father refused to pay, found him at odds with the ideals of the university. Soon after he moved to Boston where he started working as a clerk and newspaper writer, using the pseudonym of Henri Le Rennet.  However, quickly finding that he was unable to support himself, he enlisted in the US Army in May of 1827, where he remained for two years and published his first book of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems, under the name “by a Bostonian”. After obtaining an early dismissal in April of 1829, he published his second book, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems  before entering West Point, where he successfully matriculated as a cadet one year later.  However, after numerous quarrels with his foster father and a growing disinterest in the military, he purposefully conducted himself in such a way as to be court-martialed and thus left West Point in February of 1831.

He moved to New York City and published a third volume of poems called Poems, financed by donations from his fellow cadets at West Point.  It was a republication of his first two works with six new poems in it. He then moved back to Baltimore in March of 1831 to live with his aunt (Maria Clemm), cousin (Virginia Clemm) and brother, who, on August 1, 1831, died from complications brought about by alcoholism. Up to this time in his life, he was a relative unknown, but in October of 1833 he won a prize from the Baltimore Saturday Visiter for his short story “MS. Found in a Bottle”, which was noticed by John P. Kennedy.  Kennedy helped him to place more of his stories and introduced him to Thomas W. White, the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virginia. White hired him as an assistant editor in August 1835 where he remained employed until Jan 1837, though his tenure was a bit rocky due to his penchant for drink.  During this time he honed his skills as a literary critic.

On Sept. 22, 1835, he secretly married Virginia Clemm, then 13 years old but claiming to be 21.  Later that year he published The Narragive of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and in 1839 became the assistant editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine where he continued his career as a literary critic. In 1839 he published “The Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” and left Burton’s for a job as assistant at Graham’s Magazine.

In June 1840, he announced his intentions to start his own literary journal, originally slated to be called The Penn and later The Stylus, however, he was unable to accomplish this endeavor during his lifetime. In 1842, he moved back to New York City where he eventually became the editor, then sole owner, of the Broadway Journal, however after accusing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism, he was soon ostracized from the literary community. He regained popularity, though not financial security, in January 1845, when his poem, “The Raven”, was published.

In 1846, The Broadway Journal failed and Poe moved into a cottage in the Bronx, New York ,where on January 30, 1847, Virginia died of tuberculosis. Poe’s mental health deteriorated after this and he was increasingly drawn to drink.  He attempted to court the poet Sarah Helen Whitman, and then his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster, but was unable to regain any sense of normalcy with either

On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore in a state of delirium and wearing someone else's clothes. He was taken to Washington Medical College where he died on October 7, 1849.  On the night before he died he is reported to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds”.  Unfortunately, all of the medical records, including his death certificate, have been lost. Speculations as to what caused his death include alcoholism, heart disease, epilepsy, syphilis, menigeal inflammation, cholera and even rabies.  One theory states that he was a victim of vote-rigging or cooping – a process whereby someone was drugged and forced to vote in multiple jurisdictions after which they were sometimes beaten or killed.


Due to the plethora of information collected by John Ingram and all the subsequent biographers who followed him, the information on Poe’s life, though in some ways still sketchy, is vast.  That said, I found it very hard to condense this into a truly “Short Bio” and thus a review of one of his stories will appear in a separate post rather than appended to this one.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Premature Burial – the Death and Resurrection of Edgar Allan Poe

As I was researching the life of Edgar Allan Poe, I discovered a tantalizing little tidbit, not about his life, but about what occurred after his death. Though I’ve read a couple of the many available biographies on Poe, I had never run across this pivotal sequence of events that at first destroyed Poe’s reputation and then resurrected him from the ashes. It is a play of passions, one fueled by anger and malice and the other by a dogged determination to make the truth prevail. Truly a tale worthy of the master of the macabre’s literary legacy, it all begins with  a man named Griswold. 


Rufus Wilmot Griswold (1815-1857), after attempting a career as a Baptist minister and failing, turned his sights to becoming a literary editor. As a man of means, and with the backing of the literati of New York City and Philadelphia, he ensconced himself as an anthologist of contemporary works, most notably those produced by American poets and prose writers (The Poets and Poetry of America (1842), Gems from American Female Poets (1842), and Prose Writers of America (1847) to name a few).  To Poe, Griswold’s abilities at literary criticism were middling at best and tended towards the promotion of the editor’s friends over those authors with actual talent worth revealing.  And though he was not averse to stating these opinions in letters to his friends, Poe found himself obliged on a number of occasion, due to Griswold’s influence in the publishing world, to temper his acerbic opinions during lecture tours and in his reviews. However, Poe’s acid wit could not be fully contained, and on occasion he struck out at the editor. This tentative up and down relationship between the two men lasted throughout their careers, with neither one seemingly the worse the wear for it. However, unbeknownst to Poe, Griswold was harboring a grudge greater than the author could ever imagine – a grudge that Griswold nurtured and maliciously let loose two days after Poe died.

His hatred first manifested itself in an obituary attributed to someone called “Ludwig” (later revealed to be Griswold) that was published in the New York Tribune on October 9, 1849. It read as follows: “Edgar Allan Poe is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.”  And whereas, this insensitive, though by no means long lasting barb, may have satisfied your average disgruntled  adversary, it was just the tip of the iceberg for Griswold. What occurred next is unclear – either Griswold approached Maria Clemm, or not knowing Poe’s history with the man, Mrs. Clemm approached Griswold herself. In either case, Griswold somehow convinced her to give him some of Poe’s original works with the promise that he would secure an income for her by publishing them.  From these resources he produced a two volume set with a dedication to Mrs. Clemm  included as the preface.  It was published towards the end of 1849 and started selling, however, instead of paying Mrs. Clemm any money, Griswold sent her six copies and told her to get as much as she could for them.  He didn’t even send her back the original manuscripts so that she could try to publish them elsewhere.  

His evil still not complete, he set to writing a biography entitled “Memoir of the Author”. Supposedly backed by Poe’s own correspondence (it was later determined that the letters that Griswold used as the basis for his “facts” were forged), it painted Poe as an unscrupulous cad ruined by drug and alcohol addictions (though he was certainly not averse to drinking, there is apparently no hard evidence that Poe abused drugs). Initially published in the International Monthly Magazine in October of 1850, Griswold also included it in a third volume of Poe’s works that he published later that year. This maligning of Poe’s character did nothing but fuel sales of the collected works, and whether intended or not, ended up padding Griswold’s pockets even further. Poe’s friends spent years fighting Griswold’s claims, publishing retorts to each of his accusations and claiming that Griswold was trying to enact an all out character assassination.   But for each plea to clear Poe’s name, two or three articles, mainly supplied by Griswold’s friends, would surface supporting Griswold’s depiction of Poe as a wicked and debauched man.  As the years passed, Griswold republished his Poe collection three more times, ultimately supplanting the dedication to Maria Clemm with his “Memoir of the Author” as the preface.  In 1857 when Griswold died, it was still the sole biography on Poe. However, the story doesn’t end there. 


An ocean away in England there lived a young man named John Ingram who was destined to turn Griswold’s smear-scheme of Poe on its ear. Born on November 16, 1842, Ingram grew up in Stoke Newington, a suburb of London in which Poe himself had briefly lived as a child while attending the Reverend John Bransby’s Manor House School. Ingram, who was mainly home schooled, spent hours reading his father’s books, one of which was a volume of Poe’s poetry. He later recollected that it mesmerized him and sparked a love for the author ‘s writing that in later years turned into his passion.

Ingram, whose plan to attend college was cut short by the death of his father, entered the work force in 1868, taking a position as a clerk with the Savings Bank Department of the London General Post Office, a job he would hold until he retired in 1903. With steady, if boring, employment secured, he set to bettering himself by spending his evenings and weekends studying, writing and lecturing. His Saturday afternoons were spent in the Reading Room of the British Museum Library where he taught himself to read and write several languages and honed his skills at research. His first foray into the world of writing occurred with the publication in 1869 of a book entitled Flora Symbolica; or the Language and Sentiment of Flowers, a work dealing with the history of floriography (the symbolic meaning of flowers). It is an exhaustive resource (over 300 pages long) and demonstrated his skills at compiling information and presenting it in a clear and readable format.  

Having experienced success in this adventure, he sought another avenue to research and found himself drawn once again to Edgar Allan Poe. Having great admiration for the writer, he was horrified by his treatment at the hands of Griswold and determined that he would rectify what he saw as a collection of lies. His journey down this path began in 1870 and ended up occupying the rest of his life.

To begin his work, he published a few short articles in 1873 and 1874, announcing his purpose. He then set to reading everything available to him in London.  However, knowing that these sources were limited and oftentimes simply rehashed Griswold’s lies, he soon sought to make contact with any living friends and family of the author to see if they were willing to share their recollections with him. The reaction he received was more than he could have ever hoped for.  Exhausted from their own battles to portray Poe as they had known him, his friends found an errant knight in Ingram and immediately started sending him as much material as they could find. He received original letters, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, remembrances of personal meetings, etc. from Sarah Helen Whitman, Annie Richmond, Marie Louise Shew Houghton, Stella Lewis (who sent him the daguerreotype of Poe which now seems to grace every modern edition of the author’s works), Edward V. Valentine, William Hand Browne, John Neal, various members of the Poe family (Rosalie (his sister), Neilson and Amelia) and many others. So strong were the feelings these people had for Ingram that they refused to work with any other biographers, going so far as to refuse them any information and publicly supporting Ingram to do the same.  With all of this material at hand, Ingram published sixteen different books on Poe between 1870 and 1880, ending with his coup de gr√Ęce against Griswold’s memoir, a two volume edition entitled Edgar Allan Poe: His Life, Letter, and Opinions (1880).

To Ingram, he had accomplished his goal and was determined to move on to other endeavors, however, fate would have it another way.  The popularity of his biography opened the gate for new editions of Poe’s stories to be published and with it a renewed interest by others to further the research into Poe’s life.  Many of these people questioned Ingram’s reliance upon materials that were mainly correspondence and remembrances rather than hard facts. Ingram, who had become quite possessive of his collected knowledge of Poe, found it impossible not to react, and he spent the rest of his life refuting comments about his work, often overstepping bounds with purposefully negative reviews of other biographers' works.

Determined to be the last word on Poe, Ingram expanded his biography into a deluxe four volume version, which was under consideration with an editor in 1916 when he suddenly died on February 12 at his home in Brighton.  Due to his sister’s lack of interest in following through with the editor, and the constraints imposed by the times (World War I), it was never published, which in retrospect was probably a good thing, because rather than enhance his former work, this expanded version only served to inject bile towards anyone (i.e. all other biographers) he viewed as trying to sully his prowess on the subject of Poe.  Having died intestate and having left no directions on how he wanted his Poe collection to be handled, his sister, Laura Ingram, who was strapped for money, decided to sell it to the highest bidder. Through a gut-churning series of events that could have easily seen all those papers scattered to the wind, it was the University of Virginia who finally bought the collection on March 24, 1922, for approximately $800 (181 pounds, 14 shillings).

So there you have it, the legacy of the father of the macabre, the creator of the modern mystery and short story format, at first destroyed by petty jealousy and then resurrected by a self-determination that spanned a life time. No matter what his personality traits, anyone who has a modicum of respect for Poe as a writer and a man owes John Ingram a huge debt of gratitude.   


This summation is based on two wonderful articles, links to which are as follows:

Article on Griswold’s smear campaign from the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore: 

Article on  John Ingram’s resurrection of Poe’s name, written by John Carl Miller : 

Obit on John Ingram from The Dial 1916, written by J.H. Whitty:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo Update April 28, 2013

Well, it is done. I completed a little over 20,000 words in one month with a vacation in the middle of it.  Now to edit it and edit it and edit it!  Then go back and do 20,000 more words in July at the next Camp.

It was great fun setting this challenge for myself and I highly recommend it to anyone with even the slightest itch to write.  I can't claim that what I produced is publishable, but at least I have a LOT of material to work with now and I some characters I've really grown to like.  So if you get the hankering, join the fun in July.  Would love to see you there.

Thank you Camp NaNoWriMo!

With this done, I plan to get back to doing my weekly reviews, so stop on by next week to see what gem, new or old, I've found lurking on my shelves.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Flying Buttresses -- Hodman Dodmanott and Sally Forth

I just got back from a wonderful vacation in northern Tennessee. I spent some time gathering up old historical records that my grandmother had compiled and which had unfortunately been scattered to the four winds.  After many years of hunting them down, I'm in hopes that most of them have now been found.  I want to give a huge shout out to the wonderful Historical Society of Washington County in Abingdon, VA for all of the care and consideration they gave in assisting with the hunt.  If you are ever in Abingdon, drop by and say hi.  They have a wonderful staff and lots of fantastic documents and pictures scanned and ready for searching.

I also had the opportunity to see some old friends, Hodman Dodmanott and Sally Forth of The Flying Buttresses.  They are a lovely old couple from the isle of Oblivia off the coast of the UK and they were kind enough to stop by the USA this Spring to visit Dollywood during the Festival of Nations. Unfortunately, the Festival of Nations ended today, so if you didn't get a chance to go see them, hope really hard that they will come back next year.  To whet your appetite and give you a little taste of their charm, here is a link to their website and a short clip on YouTube that was filmed at Dollywood.  I think you will enjoy their show as much as I did.   Have a safe trip home Hodman and Sally!

On the Camp NaNoWriMo front, I'm up to 13,490 words and counting.  I have a little over a week to make my 20,000 goal, so I'm signing off now to go type away at it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo Update -- Short Hiatus from Review Postings

Okay, so I took the plunge and am trying to write (or at least start) my own masterpiece.  Well, maybe not a masterpiece, not yet anyway :)  I set a very reasonable word count of 20,000 for myself, which equates to around 667 words a day.  So far, I'm on track (5234 words as of this posting) -- just spent the entire morning writing to catch up and try and get ahead after a long day of doing chores yesterday.

The experience is exhilarating.  I've now Pantsed my way through 25% of my goal (for those of you new to the NaNoWriMo world, Pantsing means making it up as you go along as opposed to Planning it out -- those people are called Planners). I'm not sure if any of it will make any sense when I get done, but at least I'll have 20,000 words to edit to my hearts content.  Very exciting.

The down side to this, and unfortunately there is one, is that I have not had time to compose a review this week, and probably won't until this experiment is over. However, it is a small price to pay, I think, given I might have the germ of a novel to hone once the experiment is through.

So there you have it.  I'll keep posting updates as the weeks go by.  And with any luck, I'll be able to tell you on April 30th, that I've met my goal.

Good luck to all you other Campers. May your words flow smoothly!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo

So, there I was perusing FB when a fellow Friend's post smacked me in the face --it was a link to their blog ( encouraging people to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo (  Well I first heard about NaNoWriMo (, the parent for the Camp, a few years ago.  It is an annual writing "workshop" (for lack of a better term) that occurs each November.  People sign up with the goal of starting (and finishing) a novel of a set number of words all to be written in one month. There is no prize.  It doesn't get published.  It is simply held to encourage people to write. The problem, for me, has always been that I simply do not have time to participate in this event during November due to work constraints.  Well, lo' and behold, I now know that NaNoWriMo has two similar writing workshops to occur in April and July -- the Camp! They are less stringent with the word count (you set your own goal) than with the Nov. NaNoWriMo, which is really good for people who work and only have a limited time frame to devote to this endeavour.

So here's to the challenge.  If you feel the urge to set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as in my case), join the fun. Hope to see you there!