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"This death was almost a suicide, a suicide prepared for a long time."

That quote belongs to Charles Baudelaire, referring to the death of Edgar Allan Poe. Pete Lit reminded me that today is Poe's birthday.

Since the endings of dark and doomed writers are far more interesting than their beginnings, I offer you a couple of paragraphs from near the end of Kenneth Silverman's excellent biography Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance:

It was Election Day for members of Congress, and like other local watering holes the tavern served as a polling place. Poe seemed to Walker "rather worse for the wear" and "in great distress." Apparently flooded with drink, he may also have been ill from exposure. Winds and soaking rains the day before had sent Baltimoreans prematurely hunting up overcoats and seeking charcoal fires for warmth--"a real breeder of suicides," one newspaper called the weather, "and a genuine precursor of Old Winter." Poe managed to tell Walker that he knew Joseph Evans Snodgrass, the Baltimore editor and physician with whom he had often corresponded while living in Philadelphia. As it happened, Walker had worked as a typesetter for Snodgrass's Saturday Visitor. He sent Snodgrass a dire note, warning that Poe needed "immediate assistance."

A page or so follows in which Poe is taken to the hospital and various people he knew are fetched, while he becomes sicker and more delusional.

Then Poe seemed to doze, and Moran left him briefly. On returning he found Poe violently delirious, resisting the efforts of two nurses to keep him in bed. From Moran's description, Poe seems to have raved a full day or more, through Saturday evening, October 6, when he began repeatedly calling out someone's name. It may have been that of a Baltimore family named Reynolds or, more likely, the name of his uncle-in-law Henry Herring. Moran later said that he sent for the Herring family, but that only one of the Herring's two daughters came to the hospital. Poe continued deliriously calling the name until three o'clock on Sunday morning. Then his condition changed. Feeble from his exertions he seemed to rest a short time and then, Moran reported, "quietly moving his head he said 'Lord help my poor Soul' and expired!"

When I was in high school, we were fed a faulty version of Poe's death, in which he drowned in a pool of his own vomit in the gutter. This was likely to ensure we didn't drink too much should we grow up and become Tortured Writers.


  • At 6:28 PM , Blogger Chris McLaren said...

    In celebration, my daughter and I will go and listen to Iggy Pop and Diamanda Galas read some Poe, before she goes to bed. (


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