Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Poe and the Polish?

After Poe was dismissed from West Point Academy, he was sort of unsure where to go next. By this point, he was not interested in returning to John Allan and was hoping to make his own fortune. Despite giving up on the Army and purposely getting kicked out of West Point, Poe still toyed with the idea of military success. On March 10, 1831, Poe wrote to Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, Superintendent of West Point, from New York: "I intend by the first opportunity to proceed to Paris with the view of obtaining , thro' the interest of the Marquis de La Fayette, an appointment (if possible) in the Polish Army." In his letter, Poe asked Thayer to attest to his good standing at the Academy or to contact any friends in Paris who could help him out. Poe claimed at this point to have "no longer any ties which can bind me to my native country -- no projects -- nor any friends."

There are so many stories to recount here!

For one, there is no sincere evidence that Poe ever went to Poland, though he did make occasional claims. Some fringe theorists in the studies of Poe claim it is absolutely true and, from his stint with the Polish Army, he became an international spy (some say he was partnered with Washington Irving) and his death 18 years later in 1849 was due to a government conspiracy. Think what you will.

What's more interesting to me is the connection to La Fayette. What made Poe think that this great American Revolutionary hero would give him the time of day?

The Marquis was in Richmond in October 1824 and a young Edgar Poe (age 15) was part of a volunteer company of Richmond boys known as the Junior Morgan Riflemen. It was this organization that rode in the procession for the celebrated La Fayette that led him to his hotel. Edgar, in uniform, was presented to La Fayette himself for inspection.

Two weeks earlier, in Baltimore, the Marquis asked about an old Baltimore friend. "I have not seen among these my friendly and patriotic commissary, Mr. David Poe, who resided in Baltimore when I was here." David Poe, Edgar's grandfather, was dead by this point, and La Fayette demanded he be shown the grave. There, he said, Ici repose un coeur noble ("Here rests a noble heart"). La Fayette did not ask about any others during that trip to Baltimore. Of all the people in that city, why would the great La Fayette single out David Poe?

During the American Revolution, from 1778-1779, David Poe was part of Captain John McClellan's Company of Baltimore troops. Appointed Assistant Deputy Quartermaster, he was authorized to purchase supplies for the colonial army. Seeing a need, David Poe used $40,000 of his own money to supply troops with items like boots. His self-sacrifice earned him a nickname, from the Marquis and others: "General Poe."

Edgar A. Poe often looked back with fondness that his grandfather had played a role in the Revolution. To some degree, his interest in joining the Army, attending West Point, and enlisting for the Polish cause may have been attempts at his own similar military glory.


lila jane said...

Edgar Allan Poe had a strong sense of himself to expect LaFayette to help him. Too much drink and delusions of grandeur, I suppose.

Rob Velella said...

Err... did you not read the post? La Fayette was good friends with Poe's grandfather. And he clearly says he "hopes" he'll get help; not that he "expects" it. I think he might have had a good chance! And let's not overplay the drinking thing. As we all know by now, his habits were not as bad as rumors have indicated.

Holiday Queen said...

Well done! I feel like I just poked my head into a Master's class on Poe.