Monday, February 2, 2009

Virginia's funeral

Virginia Clemm Poe died on January 30. Her obituary in the New York Daily Tribune her death "of plumonary consumption, in the 25th year of her age, VIRGINIA ELIZA, wife of EDGAR A. Poe". A young Walt Whitman also made a notice of her death in the Brooklyn Eagle. On February 2, 1847, her funeral was held and she was buried (for the first time).

Not having a lot of money at this point, Poe turned to his landlord, John Valentine, in Fordham, New York. The Valentine family had taken an interest in the Poes and were willing to have Virginia buried in their family plot in a Dutch Reformed Church near the cottage they rented to the Poes (seen in the image at right, the Fordham Cottage is open to the public!). Funeral attendees included Nathaniel Parker Willis, Mary Valentine, Sarah Anna Lewis (presumably), Poe's cousin Elizabeth Rebecca Herring, and possibly Evert Augustus Duyckinck, Cornelius Mathews, and other (then) important literary figures. It was a cold afternoon and Poe wore the great grey coat he was issued at West Point — which had previously been used as a blanket by Virginia on her deathbed.

It is speculated that it was only a few hours after Virginia's that Poe, realizing he had no image of his wife, commissioned a water color portrait (possibly painted by Mary Louise Shew). For a time, it was believed this, a portrait of her corpse, was the only image of Virginia in existence. Some time ago, however, a more flattering oil portrait was found in the possession of the Herring family.

Mary Louise Shew, a friend who had served as an amateur nurse in Virginia's final days, helped arrange for the funeral. After Virginia's death, she tried to take care of Poe, who was suddenly ill. She also helped make the controversial diagnosis that Poe had a brain lesion or brain congestion — leading to more modern speculation about his death two years and eight months later.

Shortly after Virginia's funeral, possibly a day or two, Poe scribbled out a couplet — the beginning of a poem he never finished:

Deep in earth my love is lying
And I must weep alone

1 comment:

boland said...

rest in peace, virginia.