Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Stamp of a Writer: Edgar Allan Poe

The cost of publishing the work, in a style equal to any of our American publications, will at the extent be $100. This then, of course, must be the limit of any loss supposing not a single copy of the work to be sold. It is more than probable that the work will be profitable and that I may gain instead of lose, even in a pecuniary way.
— To John Allan, his foster father, May 29, 1829

At the request of Mr. T.W. White, I take the liberty of addressing you and of soliciting some little contribution to our Southern Literary Messenger. I am aware that you are continually pestered with such applications, and am ready to believe that I have very little chance of success in this attempt to engage you in our interest, yet I owe it to the magazine to make the effort.
— To James Fenimore Cooper, June 7, 1836

Could I obtain the most unimportant Clerkship in your gift — any thing, by sea or land — to relieve me from the miserable life of literary drudgery to which I now, with a breaking heart, submit, and for which neither my temper nor my abilities have fitted me, I would never again repine at any dispensation of God. I feel that I could then, (having something beyond mere literature as a profession) quickly elevate myself to the station in society which is my due. It is needless to say how fervent, how unbounded would be my gratitude to the one who should thus rescue me from ruin, and put me in possession of happiness. I leave my fate in your hands.
— To James Paulding, American writer and US Secretary of the Navy, July 19, 1838.

I feel, however, that I am, in regard to yourself an utter stranger — and that I have no claim whatever upon your good offices. Yet I could not feel that I had done all which could be justly done, towards ensuring success, until I had made this request of you. I have a strong hope that you will be inclined to grant it, for you will reflect that what will be an act of little moment in respect to yourself — will be life itself to me.

My request now, therefore, is that, if you approve of William Wilson, you will express so much in your own terms in a letter to myself and permit Mess: Lea & Blanchard to publish it, as I mentioned.
— To Washington Irving, October 12, 1839 

I wish to publish a new collection of my prose tales with some such title as this — “The Prose Tales of Edgar A. Poe including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, the “Descent into The Maelstrom”, and all later pieces, with a second edition of the “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque”.

The “later pieces” will be eight in number, making the entire collection thirty-three — which would occupy two thick novel volumes.

I am anxious that your firm should continue to be my publishers, and, if you would be willing to bring out the book, I should be glad to accept the terms which you allowed me before — that is — you receive all profits, and allow me twenty copies for distribution to friends.

— To Lea and Blanchard, August 13, 1841

I need not call your attention to the signs of the times in respect to magazine literature. You will admit that the tendency of the age lies in this way — so far at least as regards the lighter lepers. The brief, the terse, the condensed, and the easily circulated will take place of the diffuse, the ponderous, and the inaccessible. Even our reviews (lucus a non lucendo) are found too massive for the taste of the day: I do not mean for the taste of the tasteless, but for that of the few. In the meantime the finest minds of Europe are beginning to lend their spirit to magazines. 
— To H.W. Longfellow, June 22, 1841

Depend upon it, after all, Thomas, Literature is the most noble of professions. In fact, it is about the only one fit for a man. For my own part, there is no seducing me from the path. I shall be a litterateur, at least, all my life.
— To Frederick W. Thomas, an old friend, February 14, 1849 

Material Source: © The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

First Day Cover: © Postal History Store


  1. Excellent post. Hard to say which of these quotes sounds the most desperate. Even the last, like a man with a hopeless addiction.

  2. Ron, thanks very much. I selected these quotes pertaining to Poe's work from dozens of letters he wrote to various people. I liked the last quote too which, as you'll see, is in chronological order.

  3. How sadly desperate is this man. How amazing that he was still able to write at all. It's such a damn shame to think how little he and others of his ilk, i.e. Herman Melville and a couple of other writers whose books are revered today - were treated in their lifetime.

  4. An extraordinary author - and I definitely wouldn;t have wanted to be around him! Great stuff Prashant!

  5. Wonderful quotes. Thank you for sharing them.

  6. So interesting to see the quality of letter writing in bygone days. Amazing stuff.

  7. Yvette, what you say is true. In spite of their name and fame, these authors were ordinary people who led ordinary lives and were treated as such. I don't think they were "revered" in their own lifetime as they are today.

  8. Sergio, thanks very much. Poe was, doubtless, an "extraordinary" author. I found his letters to various people rather depressing. In some letters, he actually pleads for editorial contributions to his magazine. He appears to have led a very restless life, at least professionally.

  9. Patti, you are most welcome. I have been carrying "Stamps" of writers, actors and singers for a while now and thought of Poe for this one. Instead of taking his quotes from his writings, I thought I'd dig into archives and see if he hadn't said things that were not known widely, like the innumerable letters he wrote.

  10. Charles, absolutely! As I sifted through dozens of Poe's letters I discovered that he has sent common letters to many of his acquaintances, like the one he wrote James Fenimore Cooper in which he is soliciting contributions to "Southern Literary Messenger" — something that we do even today for convenience.