Edgar Allan Poe Tidbit #3 - Long Lost Letter

by Edgar Allen Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe Tidbit #3 - Long Lost Letter

Unread postby Liz » Wed Oct 26, 2005 9:18 am

January 10, 2005
Long Lost Edgar Allan Poe Letter Discovered

A long lost letter by Edgar Allan Poe has surfaced and the Poe Museum of Richmond has the first option to buy it. Dr. Harry Lee Poe, president of the Poe Museum, made the announcement. The letter came to light in the fall when its owner was moving and found it among some old files. Until then, the letter had been lost for twenty years.

“Letters by Poe are among the most sought after documents by collectors. They rarely come available for sale,” said Dr. Poe who is descended from Edgar Allan Poe’s cousin William. “This letter is particularly unusual because it had never before been catalogued among the collections of Poe letters.”

The letter was written to Mr. Samuel Prentice Kettell, editor of the Democratic Review, on June 6, 1846. For some years, Poe had written a column which he called “Marginalia” that appeared in various journals. He had sent a column to Kettell that dealt with Richard Adams Locke, a literary figure of the day. In his letter Poe asks that Kettell return the column about Locke and accept a new piece in its place. His mother-in-law Mrs. Maria Clemm delivered the note personally to the editorial offices and Poe asked that the manuscript be given to her to bring to Poe. It is a brief note, but it describes the situation during the last year of the life of Poe’s wife when he wrote frantically to earn enough money to buy her food and medicine as she slowly died of tuberculosis. Poe remained fixed to his desk while Mrs. Clemm went from journal to journal selling Poe’s poetry, short stories, and articles. Today the manuscript of one of those poems or short stories commands an astronomical price.

The letter surfaced just in time to be included in a new book about Poe’s letters written by the eminent Poe scholar Burton Pollin. Arguably the most knowledgeable scholar of Poe manuscripts, Pollin was already working with the page proofs of his book when Dr. Poe notified him of the discovery. The museum provided Pollin with a copy of the letter so that it could be included in his work.

The letter was bought in a yard sale in Texas over twenty years ago. The woman who bought it also acquired several other rare documents including part of Andrew Jackson’s journal. These papers were sold to a Texas university, but the woman gave the Poe letter to her pastor because she knew her pastor loved literature. Shortly after receiving the gift, the pastor finished seminary and moved from Texas. During the move, she lost the letter and assumed it was gone forever. The week before the anniversary of Poe’s death, however, the letter reappeared just as she needed money. Rather than put the letter up for auction, however, she wanted it to go to the Poe Museum.

“It’s a case of every man’s worst nightmare. The woman who held the yard sale told the lady who bought the letter that she was getting rid of all of her husband’s old junk,” explained Poe.

The pastor had no experience selling old documents, so she enlisted the help of a friend at church who traded antiques as a hobby. She contacted the Poe Museum on behalf of the pastor, and Dr. Poe then negotiated on behalf of the museum.

“The trustees were quite excited to have the opportunity to acquire another letter for our collection,” said Dr. Poe. “Unfortunately, we are a small museum with a very small endowment. We did not have the money to spare to buy the letter. Nonetheless, the trustees authorized me to proceed with the negotiations if I could find the money somewhere.”

Negotiations took much longer than Dr. Poe expected. He first had to determine if the letter was in fact authentic. A number of famous Poe forgeries circulated in the twentieth century. Dr. Poe consulted the most prominent private collector of Poe manuscripts and first editions, and she recommended a leading international dealer in rare manuscripts, who has encountered many Poe forgeries over the years, to examine the manuscript. Poe then had to persuade the owner to send the manuscript from Montgomery, Alabama to the dealer for examination.
“It helped in establishing a trust level that we are both ministers,” explained Dr. Poe, who is an ordained minister serving as the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.

The pastor agreed to send her letter by Federal Express. With a positive report in hand, Poe and the pastor arrived at a mutually satisfactory price of $18,000 for the letter. This price is less than the museum would probably pay at auction, but more than the sellers would receive after auction expenses. Unfortunately, Dr. Poe still did not have the money for the letter and the pastor needed to be paid soon in order to close on a house she was buying.

“At the last minute, a long-time friend of the Poe Museum stepped forward and said that he would be willing to buy the letter and hold it for the museum to allow us time to raise the money. If we cannot raise the money, however, the letter will belong to him, and he can do with it as he pleases,” explained Dr. Poe.

The anonymous friend of the museum offered his financial help with one unusual stipulation. The museum must raise $22,000 rather than the $18,000 that the letter cost.

“The supporter is eager for us to establish an acquisitions fund, and he thought this was the best way to do it. He will sell us the letter for $18,000, but only if we raise $22,000. We accepted the terms of his challenge, because we believe the people of Virginia will want to be a part of securing Poe’s legacy for the state he always claimed as his home,” Dr. Poe explained.

Edgar Allan Poe lived the greater part of his life in Richmond, where his mother died and is buried at St. John’s Churchyard. In Richmond he was encouraged to write poetry by Mrs. Jane Stanard. In Richmond he married his child bride Virginia. In Richmond he revived the fortunes of The Southern Literary Messenger in his first position as an editor. In Richmond he gave his last public lectures and became engaged to his childhood sweetheart just two weeks before he died.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Richmond to bring the letter where it belongs,” Dr. Poe observed. The artifact will be publicly displayed for the first time on January 16, 2005 at the Poe Museum.
(I'm assuming that really happened)

The Poe museum contains the largest collection of Poe artifacts in the world in addition to its collection of manuscripts and first editions. Douglas Southall Freeman, legendary editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and a group of prominent Richmond citizens founded the museum in 1922. The Old Stone House, which is the centerpiece of the four-building complex, is located in Shockoe Bottom and is the oldest house in Richmond. Edgar Allan Poe served as lieutenant of the honor guard which escorted the Marquis de Lafayette to a reception held in the Old Stone House in 1824. Poe’s grandfather General David Poe had served with Lafayette during the Revolution.

In addition to exhibiting its prized collection, the Poe Museum also conducts educational programs designed to encourage young people to read and write. Each summer the museum conducts the Edgar Allan Poe Young Writers Conference at Virginia Commonwealth University for high school students. The museum has also established the Douglas Southall Freeman Award for high school journalism to encourage another aspect of writing at which Poe excelled.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Oct 26, 2005 9:37 am

The letter was bought in a yard sale in Texas over twenty years ago.

Note to self..check out more garage sales... :-O
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Unread postby gilly » Wed Oct 26, 2005 7:47 pm

Yep..garage sales are great ..I'm a garage sale junkie...I would love to visit the Poe museum,sounds a fascinating place..The part about Poe being chained to his desk furiously writing to save enough money to try to help his dying wife..so heartbreaking...Has anyone made a film about his life..now that would be a great project fro Johnny :cool:
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