HORROR STORY: POE seeks a favor on behalf of an obsessive female writer who would later try to destroy his reputation
Scarce ALS signed “Poe,” one page, 6.5 x 8, December 10 [no year; 1845?]. Poe writes to E. A. Duyckinck. In full: “If you could get the enclosed article (by Mrs. Ellett) in The Morning News, editorially, I would take it as a great favor.” After signing, Poe adds a postscript: “If it cannot go in, please preserve it for me.” The original recipient, Evert Augustus Duyckinck (1816–1878) was an editor of the publishers Wiley and Putnam’s series “Library of American Books,” which included Poe’s 1845 collection Tales. Duyckinck also wrote for the New York Morning News and, with his brother, copublished the two-volume Cyclopedia of American Literature. Duyckinck’s views on Poe’s literary efforts were evidently complex. On one hand, in reviewing the first two volumes of a posthumous collection of Poe’s works, he noted that “the method and management of many of Mr. Poe’s tales and poems are admirable, exhibiting a wonderful ingenuity, and completely proving him master of the weapon he had chosen for his use.” In the same review, however, Duyckinck colorfully dismissed the writer as “a Campanologian, a Swiss bell-ringer, who from little contrivances of his own, with an ingeniously devised hammer, strikes a sharp melody, which has all that is delightful and affecting, that is attainable without a soul.” Duyckinck took an even dimmer view of the third volume, which consisted largely of Poe’s published criticism, saying that it had “not the slightest earthly value” and that “Poe was, in the very centre of his soul, a literary attorney, and pleaded according to his fee.” For his part, Poe was scarcely more complimentary toward Duyckinck as an editor. Writing to another acquaintance following the 1845 publication of his Tales, Poe complained that “The last selection of my Tales was made from about 70, by Wiley & Putnam’s reader, Duyckinck. He has what he thinks a taste for ratiocination, and has accordingly made up the book mostly of analytic stories. But this is not representing my mind in its various phases—it is not giving me fair play. In writing these Tales one by one, at long intervals, I have kept the book-unity always in mind—that is, each has been composed with reference to its effect as part of a whole. In this view, one of my chief aims has been the widest diversity of subject, thought, & especially tone & manner of handling....” Poe was so displeased with Duyckinck’s selections, in fact, that he wrote Duyckinck seeking to quickly issue an additional volume of Tales, “a far better one than the first—containing, for instance, ‘Ligeia,’ which is undoubtedly the best story I have written.” Elizabeth F. Ellett (1818–1877) was a poet and historian who had come to Poe’s attention by writing him flirtatious letters. In 1846, after moving to New York City and joining Poe’s literary circle, Ellett touched off a scandal by spreading the rumor that Poe was having an affair with the married writer Frances Sargent Osgood. The obsessive Ellett finally ceased her campaign when Osgood’s husband threatened a lawsuit, but she continued to blame Poe for the scandal, characterizing him as “intemperate and subject to acts of lunacy,” and reportedly sent anonymous letters to Poe’s wife, Virginia, accusing the writer of marital indiscretions. The unsavory events caused such a strain on Virginia, who was already ill, that, as she lay on her deathbed months later, she claimed that “Mrs. E. had been [my] murderer.” Poe himself later remarked of Ellett, “I scorned Mrs. E simply because she revolted me, and to this day she has never ceased her anonymous persecutions.” The reverse of the letter bears the address panel in Poe’s hand. The same letter has been documented in “Revised Check List of the Correspondence of Edgar Allan Poe” by John Ward Ostrom, as published in the 1981 book Studies in the American Renaissance (edited by Joel Myerson; pp. 169–255). Ostrom, who dates the letter to 1845, further notes a provenance from the Anderson Galleries (sale, May 27, 1914) and Charles Hamilton (sale, November 14, 1974). Ostrum further describes the manuscript as “unlocated,” granting the letter extra significance as a rediscovered primary source for scholars of Poe’s life and literary career. The letter has been matted and framed (in a display allowing both sides to be viewed), together with a portrait engraving and biographical plaque, to an overall size of 26 x 19.25. Marginal seal-related loss at left edge (expertly restored) and faint intersecting folds, otherwise fine, clean condition. A remarkable treasure from this most elusive of American literary giants! Auction LOA John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and R&R COA.