While traveling alone from Richmond, Virginia, to New York City, Poe disappeared for nearly a week. When seen again he was terribly drunk and nearly dead in Baltimore. In the hospital, four days later, after periods of raving delirium, he died. The immediate cause of death given was "congestion of the brain." At first no one seriously doubted that Poe died from drunken debauchery. However, Poe adherents suggested many theories of a physical nature about precipitating causes but no one has seroiusly probed the mystery of the missing week . . . until now.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.51(d)|
About the Author
John Evangelist Walsh is the author of more than a dozen books of history and biography, includingDarkling I Listen: The Last Days and Death of John Keats.
Read an Excerpt
It's broad, many-windowed facade topped by a large, square cupola from which flew a huge American flag, the recently completed American Hotel loomed grandly over Richmond's busy Main Street. An eye cast up and down the extensive, gently sloping thoroughfare would judge the American to be easily the most prominent building in sight.
On an oppressively hot morning in mid-July 1849 one of the city's regular horse-drawn omnibuses pulled to a stop before the American's front entrance, unexpectedly modest for so imposing a structure. As the compact little vehicle halted at the curb, its narrow rear door popped open and through it appeared a slightly built man, somber-faced and moving rather stiffly. Clutching a valise in one hand, he stepped down to the pavement, hurried up the stone steps, and entered the hotel lobby. At the desk he signed the register, then accepted a key and climbed wearily up the stairs to his room.
Edgar Allan Poe, aged forty, and feeling a good deal under the weather, had arrived on stage for the final act of his often hectic personal drama. But of that sad fact he had no inkling. Despite a head still throbbing from a recent overindulgence, he had definite plans for the future.
Earlier that morning, after a journey of some thirty hours by train and steamboat, he had reached Richmond from Philadelphia, where he stopped over on his way south from his home in New York. The latter part of the journey had not been pleasant, for he was still feeling the effects of another of his prolonged drinking bouts, this one in the Quaker City, and in fact the worst yet. So extreme had been his intoxication in Philadelphia, where he lingered for two weeks, that he'd experienced his first full-blown fit of delirium tremens, complete with visions.
Taken briefly into police custody, he had escaped a formal charge, and jail time, through the accident of his being recognized by the judge. Only with the sympathetic help of some friends, including the gift of some cash to replace what he'd thrown away on liquor, had he been able to pull himself together sufficiently to continue his planned trip to the Virginia capital.
Secure at last in the quiet of his room at the American, he gratefully passed the remainder of the day resting, while duly applying whatever remedies and restoratives he'd come to depend on in these emergencies. Before approaching any of his friends in the city or getting in touch with those who were expecting him, he'd need time to bounce back. Miserable as he was in mind and body, his clothes also needing repair, he knew from experience with his previous sprees that a full recovery would be slow, requiring two or three whole days. He was not a man who held his liquor well.
Then, that same evening, real trouble showed up, posing a threat to his entire purpose in coming south. Taking his valise, he opened it and reached in for the manuscripts of two lectures he'd written especially for this trip. Rummaging through the folded clothes, collars, and personal items, he was alarmed to find that neither of the two manuscripts was in the bag. In Philadelphia the valise had reposed for days in storage at the railway station, and he now concluded that someone had opened the bag and stolen the lectures. Writing home later that evening in a mood of utter despair, he reported the shocking loss. "Think of the blow to me this evening," he lamented, "when on examining the valise, these lectures were gone. All my object here is over unless I can recover them or re-write one of them."
The lecture tour, scheduled for several other cities after Richmond, was not in itself the object or purpose of his trip. It was only the means to an end, one of considerable importance to him. The lectures would, he hoped, be the means of introducing to literate audiences the news of his projected new magazine, The Stylus, long dreamed of as taking rank with the leading American journals. Before any of the work on the magazine could be set in motion, editorial or otherwise, a list of one thousand firmly committed subscribers must be on hand, ensuring at least the cost of paper and printing for the first issue. That was the agreement he'd made with his financial backer, and if everything went as expected the plan was to have that first issue in the hands of readers by year's end or at least by January. It was a target date, as all those concerned in the risky venture were well aware, leaving precious little margin for delay.
At that moment in his room at the American, as the sounds of the darkening city drifted in with the suffocating heat through the open windows, the usually buoyant Poe had reached a very low ebb. "My clothes are so horrible," he added in a burst of remorse and yearning for sympathy as he concluded his letter, "and I am so ill."
Not really ill. That was just the way he and his family had learned to disguise the truth about his periodic binging, and the terrible debility that followed. But this time it was as much plain fear, desperate fear of another failure, that made him ill and made his clothes, wrinkled and stained as they may have been from his Philadelphia binge, appear so disgusting.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The Case Reopened * Enter Poe * Enter the Widow * "We Regret to Learn..." * Witness Time * Five Lost Days * The Sartain Interval * What Mrs. Smith Knew * Suddenly a Tapping * Epilogue: Exit the Widow * Appendix: The Letters of Elmira Shelton * Notes and Sources
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is actually two books. The first half, the author gives a fairly accurate account of Poe's last few days as well as a run-down of the various theories on his death, including the origins of many of those theories. The author's narrative voice snidely editorializes about each of these theories and chides many of them for lacking evidence. The second half of the book is his own editorialized theory which hinges on nearly no evidence at all.