Sunday, November 29, 2009

An appeal to the humane heart

On this night, Mrs. Poe, lingering on the bed of disease and surrounded by her children, asks your assistance, and asks it perhaps for the last time. — The generosity of a Richmond Audience can need no other appeal.

This appeal, printed in the Richmond Inquirer on November 29, 1811, advertised that evening's benefit performance for Mrs. Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe. She was an acclaimed British-born actress, playing such roles as Shakespeare's Ophelia and Juliet Capulet. She outlived her first husband and her second, David Poe, seems to have abandoned not only his wife but his three children as well. Now, without adult family, Eliza Poe (as she was called) was on her deathbed, dying of tuberculosis.

To get an idea for how much Eliza Poe was respected in the theatrical world, especially in Richmond, here's an excerpt on the article on this benefit performance from the Virginia Patriot:
In consequence of the serious and long continued indisposition of Mrs. Poe, and in compliance with the advice and solicitation of many of the most respectable families, the managers have been inducted to appropriate another night for her benefit — Taking into consideration the state of her health, and the probability of this being the last time she will ever receive the patronage of the public, the appropriation of another night for her assistance will certainly be grateful to their feelings, as it will give them an opportunity to display their benevolent remembrance.
The staff at the Richmond Theater hoped a benefit performance would bring in money to assist in Eliza's medical bills but, certainly, they must have also hoped to offer money for the children just in case she didn't survive. In fact, Mrs. Eliza Poe would die less than two weeks later, leaving behind her children William Henry Leonard, Rosalie, and, of course, her middle child Edgar — who was then less than three years old.

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