Explanation of drinking alcohol. Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - General Topics - The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

In 1849, Poe was still sharing a home with Mrs. Clemm in New York, in the same little cottage where Virginia had died in 1847. On June 29, 1849, Poe began a lecture tour to raise money and interest in his projected magazine theStylus. He went first to Philadelphia, then to Richmond and Norfolk. While in Richmond, he reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Elmira Royster Shelton. Both Poe and Mrs. Shelton by then were widowed and after a brief courtship, renewed their long-ago engagement, although there is some question as to whether or not the marriage would ever actually take place. Poe left for New York, to gather Maria Clemm and move their belongings back to Richmond. Before leaving, Poe stopped by the office of Dr. John F. Carter, at Seventh and Broad Streets, at about 9:30 at night. After talking for awhile, he went across the street to Saddler&rsquo,s Restaurant for supper, mistakenly taking Dr. Carter&rsquo,s malacca cane and leaving behind his own and a copy of Moore&rsquo,s Irish Rhapsodies. According to Dr. Carter, the cane contained a hidden sword, of which Poe may or may not have been aware (John Carter, &ldquo,Edgar Poe&rsquo,s Last Night in Richmond,&rdquo, Lippincott&rsquo,s Monthly Magazine, p. 565 and repeated in Weiss, The Home Life of Poe, p. 203-204). Mrs. Susan A. T. Weiss noted, &ldquo,at the restaurant he met with some acquaintances who detained him until late, and then accompanied him to the Baltimore boat. According to their account he was quite sober and cheerful to the last, remarking, as he took leave of them, that he would soon be in Richmond again&rdquo, (Weiss, &ldquo,The Last Days of Edgar A. Poe,&rdquo, p. 714). Explanation of alcoholism.

Taking a boat from Richmond on September 27, Poe arrived in Baltimore on September 28, 1849. Over the next few days, details about Poe&rsquo,s actions and whereabouts are uncertain. Even his Baltimore cousin, Neilson Poe, wrote to Maria Clemm on October 11, 1849 &ldquo,where he spent the time he was here, or under what circumstances, I have been unable to ascertain&rdquo, (Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe, p. 642). Poe apparently called on Dr. Nathan Covington Brooks, who was, unfortunately, out of town. (The origin of the widely repeated information for this visit to Brooks&rsquo, home is elusive. G. E. Woodberry&rsquo,s 1885 Life of Poe (Edgar Allan Poe, 1885, p. 342) seems to be the first mention, giving a slightly extended version, with Poe being partly intoxicated. (Woodberry repeats the information in his 1909 biography of Poe with what erroneously appears to be a note that J. A. Harrison&rsquo,s 1902 Life of Poe as the source. No such reference occurs there and it is a note only for the sentence marked.)

Bishop Fitzgerald noted that Poe left Richmond with as much as $1,500 gathered as subscription money for his magazine (Harrison, Complete Works, Vol. I, p. 322). In a letter to E.H. N. Patterson, written on November 9, 1849, John R. Thompson claimed, &ldquo,The day before he went North from Richmond, I advanced him a small sum of money for a prospective article which he probably never wrote&rdquo, (Harrison, Complete Works, XVII, p. 405). If either story is true, especially Fitzgerald&rsquo,s, the fact that no money was ever found strongly supports the idea that Poe may have been mugged. It should perhaps be noted that $1,500 would have been an astonishing amount of money for Poe to have collected. Since his proposed magazine was to cost $5 per year, it would indicate 300 subscribers during this one trip, a number which greatly exceeds what Poe appears to have been able to gather in all of his previous efforts combined, dating back to 1840. Without impugning the Bishop&rsquo,s integrity, the story should be considered apocryphal in the absence of more tangible evidence.)

Thomas H. Lane&rsquo,s recollection adds further confusion to the story. In four slightly different accounts, he recalled that Poe had gone to Philadelphia to see friends, where he was found ill. Lane thought that Poe intended to go on to New York, but mistakenly took the train back to Baltimore (Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe, p. 637). T. O. Mabbott felt that Lane was correct in the details of the event, but mistaken as to the year, relating instead what had occurred in 1848 (Mabbott, Poems, 1969, p. 568 n. 6). Moran also states that Poe went to Philadelphia, but that bad weather prevented completion of the trip (Moran, Defense of Poe, p 58). Poe may have gone to Philadelphia to comply with the request of Mrs. Leon Loud, to edit her collection of poems, for which Poe was to be paid $100. This clearly was his intent when he wrote to Maria Clemm on September 18, &ldquo,On Tuesday I start for Phila[delphia] to attend to Mrs Loud&rsquo,s Poems &mdash, &, possibly on Thursday I may start for N. York. If I do I will go straight over to Mrs Lewis&rsquo,s &, send for you. It will be better for me not to go to Fordham &mdash, don&lsquo,t you think so? Write immediately in reply &, direct to Phila. For fear I should not get the letter, sign no name &, address it to E. S. T. Grey Esqr.... Don&lsquo,t forget to write immediately to Phila so that your letter will be there when I arrive&rdquo, (Ostrom, Letters, p. 461). Why Poe felt that he would not get a letter correctly addressed and why it would be better for him not to go to Fordham is unclear. That Poe did not get to Philadelphia, or at least did not manage to see Mrs. Loud, seems to be confirmed by a short notice of her book, Wayside Flowers: &ldquo,The late Mr. Poe was accustomed to praise her works very highly, and was to have edited this edition of them&rdquo, (the International, A Miscellany of Literature, Science and Art, Boston, September 1, 1850, p. 265).

The next certain information about Poe is October 3, 1849, when Joseph W. Walker sent the following note to Dr. J. E. Snodgrass: &ldquo,Dear Sir, &mdash, There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan&rsquo,s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, &, he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance, Yours, in haste, Jos. W. Walker.&rdquo, Ryan&rsquo,s 4th Ward Polls, also known as Gunner&rsquo,s Hall, was a tavern (such places were often used as election places, and voters were regularly rewarded with drinks). There appears to be no foundation for the tradition that Poe was found in a gutter, although it is at least possible that Walker came across Poe on the street outside, and helped Poe into the nearby public house to wait for the arrival of his friend. Dr. Snodgrass and Henry Herring (Poe&rsquo,s uncle) came and found Poe in what they presumed was a drunken state. They agreed that he should be sent to the Washington College Hospital, and arranged for a carriage.

At the hospital, Poe was admitted and made as comfortable as the circumstances permitted. Over the next few days, Poe seems to have lapsed in and out of consciousness. Moran tried to question him as to the cause of his condition, but Poe&rsquo,s &ldquo,answers were incoherent and unsatisfactory&rdquo, (Moran to Maria Clemm, November 15, 1849). Neilson Poe tried to visit him, but was told that Edgar was too excitable for visitors. Depending on which account one accepts, Poe died at about 3:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. on October 7, 1849. Moran gives his last words as &ldquo,Lord help my poor soul&rdquo, (Moran to Maria Clemm, November 15, 1849) or, even more improbably, &ldquo,He who arched the heavens and upholds the universe, has His decrees legibly written upon the frontlet of every human being and upon demaons incarnate&rdquo, (Moran, A Defense of Poe, p. 72). Moran also claims that on the evening prior to his death, Poe repeatedly called out the name of &ldquo,Reynolds.&rdquo, Substantial efforts have been made to identify who Reynolds may have been, with unimpressive results. At least one scholar felt that Poe may have instead been calling the name of &ldquo,Herring&rdquo, (Poe&rsquo,s uncle was Henry Herring) (W. T. Bandy, &ldquo,Dr. Moran and the Poe-Reynolds Myth,&rdquo, Myths and Realities: The Mysterious Mr. Poe, Baltimore: E. A. Poe Society, 1987, pp. 26-36).

Poe&rsquo,s clothing had been changed. In place of his own suit of black wool was one of cheap gabardine, with a palm leaf hat. Moran describes his clothing as &ldquo,a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat&rdquo, (Moran, Defense of Poe, p. 59.) J. E. Snodgrass offers a more detailed description: &ldquo,a rusty, almost brimless, tattered and ribbonless palmleaf hat. His clothing consisted of a sack-coat of thin and sleazy black alpaca, ripped more or less at several of its seams, and faded and soiled, and pants of a steel-mixed pattern of caseinate, half-worn and badly-fitting, if they could be said to fit at all. He wore neither vest nor neck-cloth, while the bosom of his shirt was both crumpled and badly soiled. On his feet were boots of coarse material, and giving no sign of having been blackened for a long time, if at all&rdquo, (Snodgrass, &ldquo,The Facts of Poe&rsquo,s Death and Burial,&rdquo, p. 284). Moran also quotes Capt. George W. Rollins, supposedly the conductor of the train, as noting two men who appeared to be following Poe (Moran, Defense of Poe, pp. 60-61.) Most modern biographies take care to note that in spite of the change of clothing, Poe still had Dr. Carter&rsquo,s cane. According to Susan A. Weiss, this cane was sent by Moran to Mrs. Clemm, who returned it to Dr. Carter (Weiss, Home Life of Poe, p. 205), but this seems to be a misinterpretation of Dr. Carter&rsquo,s own testimony. It has also been suggested that the key to his trunk was still in his pocket, although this statement seems based on little more than speculation. The key itself is on display in the Poe Museum in Richmond, as is Poe&rsquo,s trunk. It is equally reasonable that Mrs. Clemm may simply have had a second key.

The only contemporary public reference to a specific cause of death was from the Baltimore Clipper, a somewhat cryptic &ldquo,congestion of the brain&rdquo, (The Poe Log, p. 851). Death certificates were apparently not required at the time and none is known to have been filed for Poe. Dr. Moran&rsquo,s November 15, 1849 letter to Maria Clemm unhelpfully avoids the simple information we would have liked by saying &ldquo,Presuming you are already aware of the malady of which Mr. Poe died...&rdquo, In the late 1960s, Birgit Bramsback made an ardent search for a death certificate or any official hospital records, but found nothing (Bramsback, &ldquo,The Final Illness and Death of E. A. Poe,&rdquo, p 40, n. 3).

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This is the theory most people think of when they are asked about Poe&rsquo,s death. That Poe engaged in bouts of drinking, particularly during Virginia&rsquo,s long illness (1842-1847) is well established, but how exactly he may have died of alcoholism has never really been explained. Clearly, Poe did not have an accident and his drinking seems to have been neither so consistent nor so intense as to cause sclerosis of the liver. It has been suggested that poor nutrition and a weakened condition brought on by other illnesses could have allowed delirium tremens to occur with fewer and less intense episodes of drinking than would normally be required, but none of these offerings completely explain his condition and the change of clothing.

J. E. Snodgrass felt certain that alcohol was the cause of Poe&rsquo,s death and repeated the claim in his temperance lectures from the early 1850s. In 1856, his account was published in the Women&rsquo,s Temperance Paper. It was revised and published again in 1867 in Beadle&rsquo,s Monthly (&ldquo,The Facts of Poe&rsquo,s Death and Burial&rdquo,). The fervor of Snodgrass&rsquo,s commitment to the temperance movement clearly colored his statements and apparently led him to exaggerate the story. He was even willing to manipulate the evidence in a way that discredits him as a reliable source. These manipulations were established, after Snodgrass&rsquo,s death in 1880, by Edward Spencer in the New York Herald for March 27, 1881 (substantially reprinted in J. A. Harrison&rsquo,s biography of Poe, pp. 328-332).

In 1878, Mrs. Susan A. T. Weiss related what she recalled as a prophetic incident during Poe&rsquo,s last days in Richmond in 1849. If true, the story may be extremely significant: &ldquo,... on the day following he made his appearance among us, but so pale, so tremulous and apparently subdued as to convince me that he had been seriously ill. On this occasion he had been at his rooms at the &lsquo,Old Swan [Tavern]&rsquo, where he was carefully tended by Mrs. Mackenzie&rsquo,s family, but on a second and more serious relapse he was taken by Dr. Mackenzie and Dr. [William] Gibbon Carter to Duncan&rsquo,s Lodge, where during some days his life was in imminent danger. Assiduous attention saved him, but it was the opinion of the physicians that another such attack would prove fatal. This they told him, warning him seriously of the danger. His reply was that if people would not tempt him, he would not fall&rdquo, (Weiss, &ldquo,The Last Days of Edgar A. Poe&rdquo,, p. 712).

Perhaps the strongest evidence for an alcohol-related death is J. P. Kennedy&rsquo,s October 10, 1849 note in his diary: &ldquo,On Tuesday last Edgar A. Poe died in town here at the hospital from the effects of a debauch.... He fell in with some companion here who seduced him to the bottle, which it was said he had renounced some time ago. The consequence was fever, delirium, and madness, and in a few days a termination of his sad career in the hospital. Poor Poe!... A bright but unsteady light has been awfully quenched.&rdquo, (Charles H. Bonner, John Pendleton Kennedy, Gentleman from Baltimore, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1961, p. 194. See also The Poe Log, p 852, which begins the quotation slightly differently as &ldquo,On Sunday last&rdquo, rather than &ldquo,On Tuesday.&rdquo, Poe did die on Sunday.) Again, it should be noted that Kennedy was recording information second-hand, probably from his friend J. E. Snodgrass.

R. H. Stoddard&rsquo,s memoir of Poe states &ldquo,It was believed at the time by his relatives in Baltimore that he drank with a friend while waiting between trains, in consequence of which he took a wrong train, and proceeded as far as Havre de Grace, whence he was brought back to Baltimore by the conductor of the Philadelphia train in a state bordering on delirium&rdquo, (Stoddard, &ldquo,Life of Poe,&rdquo, from The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: A. C. Armstrong &, Sons, 1884, I, p. 195). Stoddard then gives the final cause of Poe&rsquo,s death related below as the &ldquo,cooping&rdquo, theory.

John Ruben Thompson wrote to E. H. N. Patterson on November 9, 1849 &ldquo,no confidence could be placed in him [Poe] in any relation of life, least of all in antagonism to his fatal weakness. He died, indeed, in delirium from drunkenness, the shadow of infamy beclouded his last moments&rdquo, (Harrison, XVII, p. 404). It must, of course, be remembered that Thompson&rsquo,s statement was made without any first-hand knowledge. At some point, Thompson changed his opinion. About 1860, Thompson began to lecture about Poe&rsquo,s life and at some point began to attribute his death to the &ldquo,cooping&rdquo, theory detailed below.

After Thompson&rsquo,s death in 1874, Dr. Moran presented his own series of lectures, eventually published as A Defense of Edgar Allan Poe (1885). In this book, Moran noted &ldquo,I have stated to you the fact that Edgar Allan Poe did not die under the effect of any intoxicant, nor was the smell of liquor upon his breath or person&rdquo, (Moran, Defense of Poe, p. 55) As has already been noted, Moran is notoriously unreliable on many points and cannot be trusted on matters for which he is the only authority. In addition to the contradictions apparent in his own writings, Moran apparently told different stories to his friends as well. In 1889, the Rev. W. T. D. Clemm wrote to Elmer R. Reynolds, &ldquo,Allow me to say that this remarkable statement of Dr. Moran both confuses and surprises me because it positively contradicts the statement made to me personally by the Doctor, and surprises me because he did not years ago give to the public what he now avers to be the true cause of Mr. Poe&rsquo,s death.&rdquo,

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This is the theory given in the vast majority of Poe biographies, although it cannot be proven true. Coincidence or not, the day Poe was found on the street was election day in Baltimore and the place near where he was found, Ryan&rsquo,s Fourth Ward Polls, was both a bar and a place for voting. In those days, Baltimore elections were notorious for corruption and violence. Political gangs were willing to go to great extremes to ensure the success of their candidates. Election ballots were stolen, judges were bribed and potential voters for the opposition intimidated. Some gangs were known to kidnap innocent bystanders, holding them in a room, called the &ldquo,coop.&rdquo, These poor souls were then forced to go in and out of poll after poll, voting over and over again. Their clothing might even be changed to allow for another round. To ensure compliance, their victims were plied with liquor and beaten. Poe&rsquo,s weak heart would never have withstood such abuse. This theory appears to have been first offered publicly by John R. Thompson in the early 1870s to explain Poe&rsquo,s condition and the fact that he was wearing someone else&rsquo,s clothing. A possible flaw in the theory is that Poe was reasonably well-known in Baltimore and likely to be recognized.

Although not in keeping with the political aspects of this theory, there is an earlier suggestion that Poe was physically abused in his final days: &ldquo,At the instigation of a woman, who considered herself injured by him, he was cruelly beaten, blow upon blow, by a ruffian who knew of no better mode of avenging supposed injuries. It is well known that a brain fever followed....&rdquo, (Mrs. E. Oakes Smith, &ldquo,Autobiographic Notes: Edgar Allan Poe,&rdquo, Beadle&rsquo,s Monthly, February 3, 1867, p. 154). It was in reply to Mr. Smith&rsquo,s article that Dr. Snodgrass wrote his &ldquo,The Facts of Poe&rsquo,s Death and Burial&rdquo, noted above.

The eminent Poe scholar Dr. Thomas Ollive Mabbott, quoting Robert D&lsquo,Unger, dismissed the cooping theory as &ldquo,twaddle,&rdquo, but neither offers any explanation. It does answer some of the stranger details and may yet be shown to have some merit. James A. Harrison seems to accept the cooping theory. Didier&rsquo,s book The Poe Cult reprints his article on &ldquo,The True Cause of Poe&rsquo,s Death&rdquo, in which he quotes a letter from a person who claims to have seen Poe &ldquo,in the coop.&rdquo, This information was sent to Didier by Alexander Hynds on December 8, 1879. Hynds, a Baltimore attorney, identified the source only as &ldquo,my friend, a prominent man of San Francisco.&rdquo, Since the ultimate source for the letter remained anonymous, it has generally been dismissed as journalistic sensationalism. In his own biography of Poe, John Joyce quotes the identical letter, also without identifying the source, and claiming it as if it had been related to him personally (John A. Joyce, Edgar Allan Poe, New York: F. T. Neely, 1901, pp. 195-197). Mrs. Weiss adds further to the confusion by repeating the same article, but attributing it, ironically, to Dr. Snodgrass (Weiss, Home Life of Poe, 207-211). Didier had already published a slightly different account: &ldquo,he met some of his old West-Point friends, who invited him to a champagne-supper that night. At first he refused to drink, but at last he was induced to take a glass of champagne. That set him off, and, in a few hours, he was madly drunk. In this state he wandered off from his friends, was robbed and beaten by ruffians, and left insensible in the street all night&rdquo, (Didier, &ldquo,The Grave of Poe,&rdquo, Appleton&rsquo,s Journal, VII, January 27, 1872, p. 104). One wonders if Didier&rsquo,s opinion was changed by convicing evidence or mere preference.

N. H. Morrison&rsquo,s letter to J. H. Ingram, November 27, 1874, includes these comments &ldquo,The story of Poe&rsquo,s death has never been told. Nelson [Neilson] Poe has all the facts, but I am afraid may not be willing to tell them. I do not see why. The actual facts are less discreditable than the common reports published. Poe came to the city in the midst of an election, and that election was the cause of his death&rdquo, (Miller, Building Poe Biography, p. 49). Neilson, Poe&rsquo,s cousin, spoke briefly at the dedication of Poe&rsquo,s memorial grave in 1875, but made no statement concerning the circumstances of Edgar&rsquo,s death. If Neilson Poe had specific information about Poe&rsquo,s final days, he apparently took it with him to the grave.

William Hand Browne&rsquo,s letter to J. H. Ingram, August 24, 1874, includes these comments &ldquo,The general belief here is, that Poe was seized by one of these gangs, (his death happening just at election-time, an election for sheriff took place on Oct. 4th), &lsquo,cooped,&rsquo, stupefied with liquor, dragged out and voted, and then turned adrift to die&rdquo, (Miller, Building Poe Biography, p. 69). According to Elizabeth Ellicott Poe and Vylla Poe Wilson, &ldquo,The conclusion to be drawn, in view of all the factors and probabilities, is that he [Poe] was shanghaied shortly after his arrival in Baltimore, given liquor and opium to which he was peculiarly susceptible, and while in that irresponsible condition held until election day. A certain Passano, associated with that &lsquo,coop,&rsquo, is said to have confessed to relatives in after years that this is what happened to the poet, but no formal record was made of his testimony to this effect&rdquo, (E. E. Poe and V. P. Wilson, Edgar Allan Poe: A High Priest of the Beautiful, Washington: The Stylus Publishing Company, 1930, p. 79).

A legitimate question is why there seems to have been very little attention to the &ldquo,cooping&rdquo, theory of Poe&rsquo,s death until J. R. Thompson began his lecture tour. A reasonable answer is the fact that &ldquo,cooping&rdquo, was, under the best of circumstances, highly illegal, and being connected to an actual death would certainly make the spotlight of attention even less attractive. Only someone closely associated with the operation would have known the details of what occurred, and such a person would hardly be likely to publicize the information. The Whigs were also a party with considerable power, featuring such notable names as the great Daniel Webster (of Massachusetts) and Zachary Taylor (who was elected president in 1848). A delegate in the Eighteenth Ward was none other than Edgar&rsquo,s cousin, Neilson Poe. (On October 2, 1851, Neilson was removed from his position for opposing the slate of judges approved by the official Whig commitee. Neilson&rsquo,s side of this judicial matter was made public as a pamphlet called An Appeal from the Politicians to the People: In a Letter to Dr. John Hanson Thomas, President of the Whig City Convention, Baltimore: Sherwood &, Co, 1851.)

We also do not know how the idea occurred to Thompson, or precisely when he incorporated it into his lecture. A small notice in the Southern Literary Messenger for November 1860 comments: &ldquo,We learn that John R. Thompson, Esq.... intends delivering his Lecture on Edgar A. Poe in the Southern cities during the coming winter. Delivered first in Baltimore, and subsequently in Richmond and other cities of Virginia, this Lecture excited the highest encomiums&rdquo, (p. 393). Even in his lecture, Thompson does not let Poe entirely off the hook in regard to drinking, which he notes as Poe&rsquo,s &ldquo,besetting sin&rdquo, (p. 42).

Explain alcoholics anonymous

Walsh dismisses the &ldquo,cooping&rdquo, theory in part because in looking at newspapers of the period he found no evidence of the practice (p. 64). Walsh seems to have erred, however, in limiting his search to the most prominent, and easily obtainable, newspapers, namely the Baltimore Sun. A more careful search by Doug Boulter did indeed unearth evidence of &ldquo,cooping&rdquo, which disproves Walsh&rsquo,s assertion. Two of the most direct references are printed here with his permission:

&rdquo,Beward of the Whig tricks. Our opponents are at their old game again. Tickets are out with their candidates and the hickory emblem. Colonization on a large scale is to be resorted to. Illegal votes will be polled from a distance and otherwise. Coops have been started by them. All this and more the Whigs are doing &mdash, see Democrats that they do not succeed. LET US ALL BE ON THE ALERT&rdquo, (the Republican and Argus, Oct. 3, 1849, p. 2). &ldquo,Democrats of the Fourth Ward protect your rights &mdash, yours is the ward that will receive the great mass of foreign Whigs. It is in your ward that they expect to swell the vote&rdquo, (the Republican and Argus, Oct. 1, 1849, p. 2). Neither of these warnings, of course, prove that Poe was the victim of a political gang, but they do establish that &ldquo,cooping&rdquo, was a recognized political trick in Baltimore in 1849, and that the term could be used without requiring additional explanation. There seems to have been particular concern about voting in the Fourth Ward, precisely where Poe was found on that fateful election day.

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