Saturday, February 21, 2009

Poe and The Broadway Journal

Still reeling from the success of his poem "The Raven," Edgar A. Poe signed into a business partnership on February 21, 1845, as one-third owner of the New York periodical, The Broadway Journal. His partners were John Bisco and Charles Frederick Briggs (a good friend, by the way, of James Russell Lowell - if you're interested in him, come back here tomorrow). The New York-based publication was brand new when Poe signed his year-long contract which also entitled him to one-third of all profits.

Briggs was well-known as the author of the two-volume romp through New York, The Adventures of Harry Franco (1839). He was headstrong and intended to keep his fingers tightly around his editorial duties, but he met his match in Poe. By then the "tomahawk" criticism of Poe was well-known, and Briggs thought it was too much. Partly inspired by Poe's accusations against Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Briggs gave up on the Broadway Journal by June 1845. And then there were two.

Bisco didn't last much longer. He wasn't the editorial type, but more of a businessman. Poe really could have used his expertise but, by October, Bisco sold his part ownership to Poe for $50. Poe paid him using a loan from, of all people, the newspaper powerhouse Horace Greeley.

Thus, by October 1845, Poe was the sole proprietor and editor of his very own journal. It was the closest he ever got to launching his dream project, The Stylus. With full editorial control, Poe was able to continue his special brand of literary criticism amidst the "puffers" of the time without a boss giving him a hard time for it. Of course, his partners had abandoned ship for a reason: the Broadway Journal never gained its financial footing, and it was sinking. Poe continued as best he could but the market was flooded with competing magazines and periodicals. The final issue was dated January 3, 1846.

Poe never really abandoned his hope for a new journal, however. To inherit a journal is one thing, but to create one in his image was something entirely different. The Stylus, Poe believed, would be superior to the competition in every way, not just in content and scope, but also in its physical presentation: Poe even detailed the high quality paper he wanted to use. Alas, The Stylus, never came to be, and his brief stint as sole owner and editor of the Broadway Journal was as close as he ever got.

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