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Edgar Allan Poe's Later Years

by Sherwin Cody

Poe had the hardest time of his life when he was at New York, living in that little cottage at Fordham, where his poor wife died. He was always borrowing money, from sheer necessity, to keep himself and his wife from starvation. Once while in New York he was so hard pressed that Mrs. Clemm went out to see if she could not get work for him. She went to the office of Nathaniel P. Willis, who was the editor and proprietor of The Mirror. Willis was then starting The Evening Mirror, and said he would give Poe work. So the poet came; he had his little desk in the corner, and did his work meekly and regularly,—poor hack work for which he was paid very little.

Later he had an interest in a paper called The Broadway Journal. When it was about to cease publication Poe bought it himself for fifty dollars, giving a note which Horace Greeley endorsed and finally paid.

Once a young man wrote to Greeley, saying, "Doubtless among your papers you have many autographs of the poet, Edgar Allan Poe," and intimated that he should like to have one of them. Greeley wrote back that he had just one autograph of Poe among his papers; it was attached to a note for fifty dollars, and Greeley's own signature was across the back. The young man might have it for just half its face value.

But after Poe bought The Broadway Journal he had no money to carry it on, and its publication was soon suspended.

He earned his livelihood mainly by writing stories or articles for various magazines and papers, which paid him from $5 to $50 each. It was a hand to mouth way of living, for he was often, often disappointed.

In 1845, a volume entitled, "Tales. By Edgar A. Poe," was published by Wiley and Putnam, and in the same year "The Raven and Other Poems" appeared in book form from the same publishing house. Poe also delivered lectures, and by way of criticism carried on what was called the "Longfellow War." Though he considered Longfellow the greatest American poet, he accused him of plagiarism, or stealing some of his ideas, which was very unjust on the part of Poe. Hawthorne and Lowell he praised highly.

After the death of his wife, Poe was very melancholy. He went to lecture, and to visit friends in Providence, Rhode Island, and in Lowell, Massachusetts, and afterward went south to Richmond, where he planned to raise enough money by lecturing to start The Stylus.

He was hospitably entertained in Richmond, and became engaged to marry his boyhood's first love, Miss Royster, now the widow, Mrs. Shelton. Their marriage was to take place at once, and Poe started north to close up his business in New York and bring Mrs. Clemm south. In Baltimore it seems that he fell in with some politicians who were conducting an election. They took him about from one polling place to another to vote illegally; then some one drugged him, and left him on a bench near a saloon. Here he was found by a printer, who notified his friends, and they sent him to the hospital, where he died on the 7th of October, 1849. He was nearly forty-one years old.

Poe had a great and wonderful mind. In the latter part of his life he gave much of his time to a book called "Eureka," which was intended to explain the meaning of the universe. Of course he was not a philosopher; but he wrote some things in that book which were destined afterward to be accepted by such great men as Darwin and Huxley and many others.

His life was so full of work and poverty, so crossed and crossed again by unhappiness and hardship, that he never had time or strength of mind to think out anything as he would otherwise have done. All his work is fragmentary, broken bits on this subject or on that. He wrote very few poems, not many stories, and only a little serious criticism.

But a Frenchman will tell you that Poe, among American poets and writers, is the greatest; his writings have been translated into nearly every European language. In England, too, he is spoken of as our one great poet and critic, our first great story-writer, the inventor of the artistic short story.

Poor, unhappy Poe! After his death a monument was to have been erected over his grave; but by a strange fatality it was destroyed before it was finished. Twenty-five years later admiring friends placed over his remains the first monument to an American poet. No such memorial was needed, however, for American hearts will never cease to thrill at the weird, beautiful music of "Annabel Lee," "The Bells," and "The Raven."