In a remarkable, lengthy letter, Poe refuses to compromise the integrity of his work for ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ writer Sarah Josepha Hale: “to send you a crude or hastily written article would be injurious to me, and an insult to yourself”
Rare and unusually lengthy ALS signed “Edgar A. Poe,” one page, 8 x 10, October 20, 1837. Letter to noted writer Sarah Josepha Hale, author of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb.’ In full: “I was somewhat astonished to day at receiving a letter addressed to ‘W. G. Simms Esqr, Editor of the S. L. Messenger,' and hesitated about my right to open it, until I reflected that, in forwarding it to Mr S., I should place him in a similar dilemma. I therefore broke the seal — but the address, even within, was ‘W. G. Simms.’ I could arrive, therefore, at no other conclusion than that, by some miss apprehension, you have imagined Mr S. to be actually Editor of the Messenger, altho’ I wrote you, but lately, in that capacity myself.
Of course, under the circumstances, it is difficult to reply to one portion of your letter — that touching the prose article desired. If however, it was your wish that I should furnish it, I am grieved to say that it will be impossible for me to make a definite promise just now, as I am unfortunately overwhelmed with business, having been sadly thrown back by late illness. I regret this the more sincerely as I would be proud to find my name in any publication you edit, and as you have been so kind as to aid the Messenger so effectually in a similar manner yourself. To send you a crude or hastily written article would be injurious to me, and an insult to yourself — and I fear that I could, at present, do little more.
As Editor of the Messenger I can however say that it will afford me sincere pleasure to do you any service in my power. I shall look anxiously for the ‘Ladies’ Wreath.’
I am surprised and grieved to learn that your son (with whom I had a slight acquaintance at W[est] Point) should have been vexed about the autographs. So mere nonsense it was hardly worth while to find fault with. Most assuredly as regards yourself, Madam, I had no intention of giving offence — in respect to the ‘Mirror’ I am somewhat less scrupulous.” Integral second page is inlaid into a slightly larger sheet, and bears an address panel in Poe’s hand to “To Mrs. Sarah J. Hale, Boston, Mass.” In very good condition, with intersecting folds, one through a single letter of signature, a few small tape repairs to reverse along fold and hinge separations, a bit of scattered mild toning and soiling, and a few areas of paper loss to second page. Letter is housed in a custom hardcover binder.
Poe was hired as the assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, Virginia, in 1835, but was fired after only a few weeks after his boss caught him drunk on the job. He was reinstated after promising good behavior and was soon made editor of the journal. Poe remained with the Messenger until January 1837, over which time he published a number of poems, book reviews, and stories in the paper. These included his short stories ‘Berenice’ and ‘Morella,’ as well as installments of his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) had recently been hired to edit Godey’s Lady’s Book at the time of her correspondence. Poe had attended West Point with her son, David Hale, Jr., in the early 1830s. Her request for a “prose article” for publication in Godey’s was not untoward, given that other literary lights such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Washington Irving were all contributors, and Poe later wrote a number of pieces for the magazine. Hale remained the editor of the publication for forty years, retiring at almost 90 years old. A literary gem, this choice letter to another leading literary figure of the period, is exceptional both in its unusual length and content. Provenance: Martin Collection. Sotheby's New York, Jan 30, 1990, lot 2220. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.