Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Poe's brother, The Pirate

The Baltimore North American Review published a short story titled “The Pirate” by William Henry Leonard Poe, Edgar’s older brother, on October 27, 1827. The story was based on Edgar’s young, tragic romance with Sarah Elmira Royster. Henry, as he called himself, published several poems in his short life and even occasionally submitted the poetry of his younger brother — though they were often credited to the wrong Poe. There has been some debate about some of the Poes' early poetry, as far as who wrote which.

Less than four years after the publication of "The Pirate," William Henry Leonard Poe died. He was 24 years old.

Henry had served as a sailor for a time but his life was cut short due to tuberculosis, but most biographers are quick to point out that his illness was exacerbated by alcoholism. In fact, the little we are told about Henry is almost always used as a way to better understand Edgar Poe.

Admiring his brother's exploits, Poe later made claims that he traveled to exotic lands (just like Henry). He set many of his prose works at sea, including his only complete novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Poe was deeply affected by the various tuberculoid figures in his life, including his brother. And, like his brother, he turned to drinking when times were tough.

Edgar once wrote: "there can be no tie more strong than that of brother for brother — it is not so much that they love one another as that they both love the same parent." For a time, Edgar used the alias "Henri Le Rennet," incorporating a French version of his older brother's first name. The strangest speculation comes from biographer Jeffrey Meyers, who says the name "Lenore" was a transformation of "William Henry Leonard."

It's all very poetic. But it's also making speculative leaps to connect the dots. How much do we really know about William Henry Leonard Poe? We don't even know what he looked like; no image of him has been identified.

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