Monday, November 16, 2009

Poe gets arrested... maybe

In a letter dated November 16, 1831, Poe wrote to his foster-father John Allan in need of assistance. Earlier in the year, he had gotten himself kicked out of West Point Military Academy. About three months earlier, his older brother (the sailor) died of tuberculosis. Lost and alone in the world, Poe was getting desperate, which led him back to John Allan, the foster-father who had lost all interest in him.

In fact, John Allan finally had a legitimate heir, a son born earlier that year to his second wife, Louisa Patterson Allan.

In the letter, Poe makes a startling revelation: "I was arrested eleven days ago for a debt which I never expected to have to pay." Whether this was a monetary debt or not is uncertain. He says part of the expense was on his brother Henry, dating to about two years prior. "I would rather have done any thing on earth than to apply to you again... If you will only send me this one time $80, by Wednesday next, I will never forget your kindness & generosity." There is no evidence that this arrest actually happened (police records of this incident, for example, do not exist). Further, Allan should find no evidence that Poe would have paid him back, having just said that his last debt was one he "never expected to have to pay."

Poe's request for aid was in vain. About four months after this letter was written, John Allan wrote the first draft of his will, in which he left absolutely nothing of his vast fortune for the boy he raised for nearly two decades.

The letter shows a transition period in Poe's young adulthood. He wanted to hold on to the hope that Allan, the man he once called "Pa," still had some concern for him. At the same time, however, he wanted to make it on his own. Rather than return home after his ordeal in jail (if it ever happened), he continued to live his life on his own terms.


Anonymous said...


Poe wrote three times to Allan and the last letter was on december, 29.

Since december 7, Allan already signed for a bank check for $80 and $20 more.

But we are astonished to read on the back cover of Poe's letter that Allan neglected to send the letter until jannuary the 12th.

That was the very last gesture for one who sat on his knees.

(Sorry for my awful written english!).

Rob Velella said...

True - Allan's delayed response shows that, no matter how much money he sent to Poe, the underlying relationship between foster-father and foster-son would never be mended.

Anonymous said...


I will be with my son in the USA for next holidays on december.

It's our first journey in your great country and we are vey excited. We will only visit the old South because I'm very interested in (Faulkner is for me the other great american writer). We will visit the some places of Civil War.

Could you please indicate us where are the Poe's "topoi", Museums and exhibitions?

My son is 9 years old and I'm reading him Poe's Tales and want him to discover Poe's places. I think it's a good think to discover our Poet and to discover your country and your national history too.

Could you indicate me a sort of literary guide book of the USA and an historical southern guide?

Thank you for your answer.

Rob Velella said...

The quick answer is, "No, sorry."

The only Poe in the south sites I know of are in Richmond, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina. This blog has a sidebar on the left which lists upcoming events and exhibitions related to Poe. That's all I know. I'm not a personal guidebook.

Anonymous said...

Great ! Thank you for your very kind answer.

Anonymous said...


You've asked "when" did Poe 3 times write to Allan to ask hime some money (perhaps because of a brother of him) :

- on november, the 18th from Baltimore (Edgar Poe to John Allan, Obstrom, Letters, 1, p.47)

- on decembre, the 15th (From Arthur Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe : A Critical Biography p. 191)

- and last on december, the 29th (Letter, From Valentine museum, Richmond)

On december, the 5th Maria Clemm wrote to Allan to inform him that she only has $20 and that Poe has no debt at all (not a cent) (Letter of Maria Clemm to John Allan in Mary Newton Stanard : The Dreamer : A Romantic Rendering of the Life-Story of Edgar Allan Poe, Lippincott, 1925).

Rob Velella said...

Errr... I can easily access the information, so that's not what I was asking. I'm pretty sure that Poe wrote to Allan more than three times (you still didn't give the year). "Poe wrote three times to Allan in his lifetime," is what you were implying. That's all that I meant.