Monday, November 9, 2009
On November 9, 1848, Sarah Helen Whitman convinced Edgar Poe to have his daguerreotype taken in Providence, Rhode Island. It was a few days after Poe's alleged suicide attempt. Whether a true attempt at killing himself or not, Poe was quite ill that day. This image, which has become one of the most iconic images of any American writer (though at least one of Walt Whitman could compete for it) has been many things to many people. It has been used as evidence of Poe's depression, his poverty, his physical idiosyncrasy, or even proof of what killed him (i.e. carbon monoxide).
To Whitman, it was a "sombre & tragic portrait.” She nicknamed it the "Ultima Thule" portrait, in a letter to John Ingram almost exactly 26 years later (the letter was dated November 13, 1874). This image of Poe, at the furthest habitable region of the world, now only exists in copies; the original has disappeared. He died 11 months after he sat for it.
I leave no further commentary; the image is simply too important.