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Edgar Allan Poe

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849
Title: Edgar Allan Poe Collection
Dates: 1766-1974 (bulk 1829-1850)
Extent: 13 document boxes, 1 oversize box, 3 galley folders, and 9 oversize folders (5.46 linear feet)
Abstract: The Poe Collection contains several manuscript works and about seventy letters written by Poe, while the bulk of the collection consists of correspondence and works about him.
Catalog Record #: TXRC99-A0
Language: English; a few items in French
Access:

Open for research. Many items from the Edgar Allan Poe Collection are currently included in an exhibition and will not be available for research use until early 2010. Digital surrogates for all of the exhibit items are available onsite at the Ransom Center and many are available online at http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/poedc/ .




Provenance

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center acquired its collection of Poeana largely through the purchase of the James H. Whitty and William H. Koester collections. Two of the most active American gatherers of Poe materials, Whitty and Koester are thought to have held the largest private collections of Poeana anywhere.

James H. Whitty pulled together an impressive collection of Poe-related materials including many letters, signatures, receipts, and contextual working materials which he used in writing The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1911) and The Genius and Character of Edgar Allan Poe (1929).

William H. Koester began collecting Poeana in the early 1930s. He completed over sixty purchases of signed letters, poems, essays, and short stories, as well as the Whitty Collection, acquiring between 1934 and 1947 most of the original Poe materials available for sale. He obtained two unpublished letters and variants of two critical essays by the time of his last purchase in 1962.

The University of Texas at Austin acquired the Whitty-Koester collection in 1966. Additional Poe materials have been purchased at auction, from book dealers, and from private individuals. A few items in the collection were originally included in the Wrenn and Hanley collections.

Electronic Format:

Digital surrogates of all original manuscripts and letters by Edgar Allan Poe are available in the Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection at http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/poedc/, along with selected additional Poe-related documents, manuscripts, and letters from this collection, as well as art, books, ephemera, personal effects, photographs, and sheet music from other Ransom Center collections.

Acquisition:

Purchases, 1960-1969 (R162, R2915, R3082, R3370, R3844, R3889, R4303, R5390)

Processed by:

Chelsea Jones, 1998; revised by Joan Sibley, 2009

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


Edgar Poe was born in Boston, January 19, 1809, the second child of Eliza Arnold Poe, a well-known actress, and David Poe, Jr., also an actor. Early in 1810, David Poe abandoned his family; nothing is known of his fate. Later that same year Eliza gave birth to her third child, Rosalie. By the summer of 1811, Eliza's health was failing and she died on December 8, 1811, in Richmond, Virginia, at the age of twenty-four. The eldest son went to live with the Poe family in Baltimore, the infant daughter went to a Richmond family named MacKenzie, and Edgar was taken in by John and Frances (Fanny) Allan.

John Allan, a partner in the trading firm The House of Ellis and Allan, promised to provide Edgar with a liberal education and he certainly provided the boy with a standard of living superior to the one to which he had been accustomed. The House of Ellis and Allan was prospering so well that in 1815 they decided to open an office in London. Six-and-a-half-year-old Edgar accompanied John and Fanny to England where he attended several boarding schools. After a slow beginning, the London offices seemed to be doing well. However, in 1819 the bottom fell out of the tobacco market, the business was ruined, and the family returned to Virginia in 1820.

As John Allan sought to regain his financial footing, Edgar continued his schooling, doing well in Latin, French, and sports, often leading the other boys in games and battle drills. Poe faced many of the psychological problems associated with orphans--feelings of abandonment and a need to not just succeed, but to win--and the fact that John Allan never formally adopted him seems to have added to his emotional issues.

In 1825 a wealthy relative died and left a large fortune to John Allan, immediately solving his business and financial woes. In 1826 Poe entered the University of Virginia, then in its second year. Poe acquitted himself well as a student, studying ancient and modern languages, but also ran up debts which added to the growing friction between himself and Allan. Poe wished to remain at the University beyond the usual one-year term, but Allan refused, wishing instead for Poe to settle himself in some business. After a series of angry clashes, Poe left the Allan home in Richmond and went to Boston. Finding it difficult to support himself, Poe enlisted in the Army. He remained there for two years, reaching the rank of Sergeant Major for artillery, before deciding that he had had enough. He sought Allan's aid in obtaining a discharge but help came grudgingly and only after Poe declared his intention to attend West Point.

Poe's term at West Point lasted just a year, from March of 1830 to March of 1831. He performed well in the beginning, but late in the year John Allan remarried (Fanny Allan had died while Edgar was in the army) and wrote to Poe stating his wish for an end to their relationship. These events affected Poe's desire for the military life and he set about getting himself court-martialed and discharged from West Point. From there he went to New York City. In April he made his way to Baltimore to seek aid from the remaining members of his father's family. He moved in with his aunt, Maria Clemm and her daughter, Virginia. Over the next three years little is known about Poe's activities. He had difficulty supporting himself, he may have been briefly engaged, or at least attached, to a young woman whose family objected, and he spent time with his brother who was also living in Baltimore. He also wrote a great deal. He had been writing steadily over the previous ten years, publishing two small pamphlets at his own expense, and his goal became making a living with his writing.

In 1834 Poe married his cousin Virginia, who was not quite fourteen at the time, and began seriously seeking a means of supporting "his family." In the spring of 1835, the family moved back to Richmond where Poe took a position with the Southern Literary Messenger. Poe used the opportunity to publish several of his poems and short tales in the paper, but he also began developing his reputation as a pugnacious critic by contributing scathing reviews of popular contemporary authors. In 1837 Poe left his position as editor of the Messenger by mutual agreement with the owner after a number of disagreements over Poe's vicious articles.

Poe spent the rest of his life attempting to establish himself as a creditable force on the American literary scene. He tried to start his own literary paper on several occasions, but when that failed he continued to work for other papers in the capacity of critic and editor, most notably Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia (1839-1840) and The Broadway Journal in New York (1845). Poe's desire to be in charge, his vituperative critical attacks on people he disliked or disagreed with, coupled with an ongoing problem with alcohol made it difficult for him to maintain a long-term working relationship with magazine owners and editors.

In 1847 Virginia Poe died after a long battle with tuberculosis. Poe was devastated. Suffering ill-health himself, and beaten down after his long battle with poverty, he continued to write and lecture, but his mental state seemed to decline. He was found unconscious on a street in Baltimore in the fall of 1849 and he died on October 7. A brief obituary in the Baltimore Clipper reported that he died of "congestion of the brain." It has been assumed by most scholars that alcoholism killed Poe, but a new theory which is gaining credence speculates that Poe actually died of rabies.


Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.


Poems, essays, correspondence, and catalogs make up the bulk of the Edgar Allan Poe Collection, 1766-1974 (bulk 1829-1850). The collection is organized into two series: I. Poe Works and Letters, 1829-1911, and II. Materials about Poe and His Works, 1766-1974. This collection has been re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.

The Poe Works and Letters series contains about fifteen works mostly handwritten by Poe, some of which are fragments and all of which are from the last fourteen years of his life. About seventy letters written by Poe are also present, spanning 1829-1849 and readily demonstrating Poe's wide range of correspondents. Most of the letters are personal, though many include details of business and pleas for loans. Many of Poe's letters and works are accompanied by correspondence between book dealers and William Koester, descriptions of the items as they appeared in auction or sale catalogues, and other provenance information.

Materials about Poe and His Works is a broad-ranging series which encompasses a large number of letters between friends, relatives, collectors, and critics of Poe. While not all of the correspondence is specifically about Poe, it provides context for his life. Also included in this series are a number of works, most about Poe's life and work, but also some contextual works. Additionally, there are many items of Poe ephemera, much of it collected by James Whitty, as well as a number of items withdrawn from books donated by Poe scholars and fans, and a few forgeries which were at one time attributed to Poe.


Other materials associated with Poe may be found in the following collections at the Ransom Center:

  • Campbell, Killis
  • Gardner, Erle Stanley
  • Lake, Carlton/Poe, Edgar Allan
  • Lake, Carlton/Stein, Gertrude
  • Lowell, J. R.
  • Queen, Ellery
  • Varner, John Grier


Elsewhere in the Ransom Center, there are over one hundred photographs of Poe, his family, friends, and collectors located in the Literary Files of the Photography Collection, as well as a large number of Poe-related art pieces in the Art Collection. Poe books and also sheet music with musical settings of Poe poems are present in the Library. A number of newspapers which contain Poe contributions are preserved in their entirety and descriptions can be accessed in the University's online catalog by searching "Newspaper KPO" as "Other Call Number." An extensive collection of newspaper clippings covering the publication and criticism of Poe's work, other printed ephemera, and five scrapbooks are present in the Center's Vertical File Collection. The Personal Effects Collection includes a desk used by Poe along with several other artifacts.


Correspondents

Allan, John, 1779-1834

Allen, Hervey, 1889-1949

Baudelaire, Charles, 1821-1867

Clemm, Maria, 1790-1871

Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870

Didier, Eugene Lemoine, 1838-1913

Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge, 1832-1898

Greeley, Horace, 1811-1872

Griswold, W. M. (William Maccrillis), 1853-1899

Ingram, John Henry, 1842-1916

Lewis, Estelle Anna Robinson, 1824-1880

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882

Minor, Benjamin Blake, 1818-1905

Stedman, Edmund Clarence, 1833-1908

Varner, John Grier

Weiss, Susan Archer Talley, 1835-

Whitman, Sarah Helen, 1803-1878

Woodberry, George Edward, 1855-1930

Subjects

American literature

Fiction--19th century

Horror--Poetry

Mystery and detective stories

Document Types

Forgeries

Galley proofs

Legal instruments

Postcards

Collectors

Koester, William H.

Whitty, J. H. (James Howard), 1859-1937