Virginia Clemm and Edgar Allan Poe – Part 9
July 17, 2008
I hated gossip about Eddy living with his “child cousin.” I wasn’t a child but a young lady only three months short of fourteen. Eddy still made sure our marriage bond said I was twenty-one. That afternoon in May 1836 a smiling minister married us in our boarding house. My mother and our landlord and Eddy’s publisher Mr. White also seemed at ease. But I knew Eddy was very nervous about our honeymoon. I wanted to be alone with him the first time but he kept saying we should bring my mother. I usually agreed with everything but this time told him, “We’re going alone.”
Mother stayed home while we went to a hotel in Petersburg, and I ran in and jumped on the biggest bed I’d ever seen and said, “Come here, Eddy.”
He edged over and I grabbed both his hands and pulled.
“No,” he said.
“We really mustn’t.”
“I thought I’d told you. I’m amazed I haven’t. We must wait till you’ve matured. You understand, don’t you?”
I pushed my face into the covers, and both nights Eddy stayed on the floor. It was all right. Back in Richmond I continued sleeping with Mother and we were all happy as before and I especially enjoyed when Eddy tutored me about math and English and when I got to swing and jump rope with children in the neighborhood.
In December 1836 I was very angry Mr. White failed to publish The Messenger and blamed my husband. Eddy became nervous and sick about that and his lack of independence and the low pay and took the only medicine he could and by January said we were going to New York, a big city with many opportunities.
Eddy was brighter than anyone there but lots of editors and writers were jealous and wanted revenge for things he’d written in The Messenger and wouldn’t give him a job. Eddy probably wouldn’t have needed them if the bank panic of 1837 hadn’t ruined his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, which was a great sea adventure about mutiny and rescue and barbarism and would have been published and made us lots of money. Thankfully, my mother got work running the meal table at our boarding house and we survived.
Eddy said things would be better in Philadelphia but he found only hackwork so started training then working as a lithographer, a horrible job that kept him bent over and wheezing all the time.
“You have to quit, Eddy, or that’ll be the end,” Mother said.
“A proper fate, if I can’t support you.”
“I mean for all of us, Eddy.”
He quit, and I tried to help, often sitting nearby as he wrote and making sure his pens and papers were ready, and in July 1938 I hugged him when The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was finally published and later told him not to worry about slow sales and to keep working on what he called his masterpiece story, “Ligeia”, and kissed him when the American Museum magazine in Baltimore paid ten dollars, and assured him our daily meals of bread and molasses were still good enough.
“You know this kills me,” he said.
“Why don’t you write to Neilson?”
“I’ll sooner entreat Satan than Neilson Poe.”
He tried anyway but our cousin replied he could no longer help me since he was “pushed himself.” Mother and Eddy wrote or personally asked others for loans. That wasn’t working. Eddy needed a job. He’d been corresponding with William E. Burton, an actor from England, who in Philadelphia published Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. When Eddy received Burton’s offer of ten dollars a week, in May 1839, he showed me the letter and said this proved I’d been right to come with him, that he really could take care of Mother and me, and that he loved me more than he could say, and I said I felt the same about him and was but three months from my sixteenth birthday and wanted to be a real wife. That night I moved from my mother’s room to Eddy’s and we tried.