September 1, 1827 saw the third and final installment of Merlin, a play in verse by Maryland writer Lambert A. Wilmer. Published in the North American, the three-act play followed a heroine named Elmira and her despondent pursuer Alphonse. The drama was based on the true story of a young Edgar Poe — the first in what would be a long series of fictionalized stories about Poe over several decades.*
As a young man, Poe pursued a neighboring Richmond woman named Sarah Elmira Royster. The relationship seemed strong enough and the couple apparently made some kind of agreement to get married. Poe then left Richmond to attend the University of Virginia and, somehow, the relationship ended. Poe wrote her often, imploring for a response. Miserable at college, quickly running out of money (due to insufficient support from his guardian John Allan) and, now, nursing a broken heart, the seventeen-year old Poe eventually gave up on his studies and never graduated. Royster, he assumed, had forgotten him, perhaps fallen in love with another man.
As it turns out, the villain of this real-life story was none other than Royster's father, who carefully intercepted each of Poe's letters before his daughter saw them. After months of hearing nothing from her husband-to-be, she gave up on him. By the time Poe returned home from his unsuccessful stint at the University, Poe realized Royster was no longer available. One story says that Poe went to see her at her family home and was surprised to find a party being hosted there — it turned out to be Royster's engagement party.
Whether that story is true or not, Poe and Royster lost their opportunity to live happily ever after — for now. The star-crossed lovers whose relationship inspired a play would rekindle their relationship many years later, when both were widows. That story will be told later this month.
* Though modern works like Matthew Pearl's The Poe Shadow or Louis Bayard's The Pale Blue Eye come to mind first and foremost, this post shows that neither author was doing anything particularly new or innovative. Literally scores of works based on Poe have been produced over the years, including short stories, novels, video games, and films.