University of Virginia Library

I. B. Cauthen, Jr.

The lines entitled "Alone," first published in 1875, twenty-six years after Poe's death, have been generally accepted by his editors as an early Poe poem.[1] Various details concerning the background of this poem and bearing on its attribution to Poe have not previously been known, for the correspondence of John Ingram, the English biographer of Poe, seems never to have been examined for the light it throws on the poem.[2] In addition to discussing the prepublication background of "Alone" and the source from which the poem is derived, this paper will present information concerning the manuscript of the poem which only recently has been definitely located.

The poem was first published in Scribner's Magazine for September, 1875, with a prefatory note by Eugene L. Didier, who claimed to have found the poem "in the album of a lady of distinguished social position."[3] The poem is reproduced in what Didier calls "fac-simile," but very likely it is a reproduction either by wood-cut or zinc-plate; this is different in several ways from modern


Page 285
facsimile processes since the hand of the engraver intervenes between the document and its printed reproduction.[4]

Nearly a year before the poem's publication, Didier had offered Ingram on the first of October, 1874, a transcript of this poem for $100, along with other information he had been collecting for "five or six years . . . for a correct life of Poe." Concerning "Alone," Didier wrote, "I have in my possession a M. S. poem of Poe's which has never been printed. Poe wrote it in a lady's Album in this city [Baltimore], from which I copied it. It is dated March 17, 1829, and signed E. A. Poe. This will be very valuable to you."[5] Ingram appears to have been interested enough in this writer and the materials he offered to write to a Baltimore friend for details about Didier. For, on May 17, 1875, John Parker, an assistant in the Peabody Institute Library, wrote Ingram that Didier was "a magazine writer, who had been collecting and writing in regard to Poe for some years, but from what I hear of him I do not believe he would impart much knowledge."[6] Two months later Parker was able to send Ingram a copy of this poem under rather strange circumstances:

I send you two photographic copies of a poem which bears Poe's name and which I have never seen before. I obtained them quite accidentally. A gentleman, who is doing some work for our librarian, has invented a new style of photography, and one day about a month ago one of his assistants brought up to the library some samples of this new mode of photographing manuscripts &c and among these samples was this poem. As soon after this as I was able I obtained some copies of it and also made enquiries as to where they had seen this poem. All the information I could get was that they had photographed it from the autograph album of some


Page 286
gentleman whose name they did not remember. They also said that the page whereon it was written was very yellow with age and that the writing had almost faded away.[7]
Ingram probably had his doubts of the poem's authenticity and must have asked Parker for further details; thus, in December, after the poem had appeared in the September Scribner's, Parker wrote:
From the photographer of the poem I learnt the following items. Mr. Didier borrowed the album containing the poem from its owner and brought it to him to have some copies photographed. He kept several copies for himself, some of which I sent you. He says he photographed directly from the album which was a very old one. Mr. Didier refused to give me the name of the owner of the album and insisted that it was Poe's writing. He was rather indignant when I suggested to him in a note that it might possibly be a copy of Poe's writing.[8]

Later, in an essay on the Virginia Edition of Poe's Works, Didier himself gives us an important piece of information concerning these lines. Again claiming the poem to be a genuine one, although Professor Harrison had classed it under "Attributed Poems," Didier declared,

I discovered it in the autograph album of Mrs. Balderston, the wife of Judge Balderston, formerly Chief Judge of the Orphan's Court in Baltimore. I had it engraved and published in Scribner's Monthly. I gave the poem the name of "Alone," and dated it, as it had neither name nor date, but the poem and signature as published in the magazine are an exact fac simile of the writing in the album.[9]
Thus, although the poem purported to be in Poe's handwriting, Didier admitted that he added a title and a date to the manuscript. The title has been retained by Poe's editors, but the date has been suspect. Although Didier had implied to Ingram that the dating of the poem, "Baltimore, March 17, 1829." was in Poe's hand, actually it was his own handwriting. This fictitious date has not been accepted by editors: indeed, the chronology of Poe's life does not allow acceptance. After the funeral in Richmond of Mrs. Allen, Poe's foster mother, Poe had returned to Fortress Monroe by March 10, 1829, and presumably


Page 287
was there until his discharge from the army on April 15, 1829. Although it is possible that he could have visited Baltimore sometime in that month before his discharge from the army, a letter from Baltimore, May 20, 1829, seems to indicate that he had but recently arrived.[10]

The handwriting of the poem as it appears in the reproduction in Scribner's has sometimes been doubted by Poe's editors and friends. For instance, Mrs. Whitman, the "Seeress of Providence," was outraged by "so audacious and so palpable a forgery." Nevertheless, she saw that the poem might after all be Poe's:

I think that the poem might readily be accepted as genuine. If it had been in Poe's writing I should not have questioned it even without signature. . . . Still, the poem may be his, but if so why was it not given in his own handwriting.[11]

Although there are many difficulties in determining the authenticity of the handwriting with only the reproduction in Scribner's as a basis, it is now possible to examine the original of the poem, which only recently has been definitely located.[12] It is written in an early nineteenth-century autograph album, 12.5 by 20.5 centimeters, bound in red morocco with gold and black stampings; on the spine in the lettering in gilt, "ALBUM." Its pages are numbered in script, the odd numbers on the recto, the even on the verso, from 1 to 258. Some of the leaves bear the watermark, inverted, with the outline letters "S &A Butler / U S"[13] at the fold near the bottom of the sheet. The paper, which is of the "wove" type, appears to be fully consistent throughout the album.

There are seventy-six poems in the album, many of them bearing datelines; these dates range from August 1, 1826 (p. 15) to October 7, 1848 (p. 99). Many of the poems bear signatures as well: one is signed by Lucy Holmes, the original owner of the album; another signature is that of I. Balderston, who


Page 288
married Miss Holmes. In addition to members of the Balderston and Holmes families, several of the other writers can be identified.[14]

The poem that is of the greatest interest in the album is that signed "E. A. Poe" (p. 55). It is headed "Original" and bears no date-line. Yet traces of the title "Alone" and the date-line which Didier admitted that he added can be seen, for they appear to have been carelessly erased from pencilling. The traces left, however, are sufficient to indicate that the writing is that of Didier, and that this is the manuscript that he had photographed and from which he was working for the Scribner's publication.

Of almost equal interest is a poem, p. 51, headed in this way: "by W. H. Poe—copied at his / request by E. A. Poe—"[15] Although there is a slight difference in appearance in the handwriting of this poem and Poe's own poem, it is very probable that they were written by the same person. Especially the formation of short words like my and in, the long pendulums on certain letters, the general cursory nature of the script, and the characteristic of crossing the "t" some distance after the letter itself lead me to believe they are in the same hand.

From several pieces of evidence it appears that these are genuine Poe manuscripts. First, there are no blank rectos of leaves in the first hundred pages of the album except in one instance where a poem is written on the verso following (p. 48). It seems rather improbable, then, that two leaves, p. 51 and p. 55, would be left blank (to be utilized by a forger) in this rather full first section; the leaving of these rectos blank here would be more than chance. The latest poem in the album (p. 99), dated October 7, 1848, may indicate that there were no blank rectos suitable for autograph in this first section at that time; otherwise, the writer here would have utilized them. His alternative was to turn to the back of the album where there are many blank leaves, but he seemed to have wanted his poem as near the first of the album as possible, and therefore he may have taken the first blank recto he came to.

Two other items may be mentioned to authenticate the poems: both pages 51 and 55 are conjugate to their gathering, and there is no evidence of any kind of insertion of these two leaves. The stitching is plainly evident, and it has not been tampered with. The other item is a drawing, p. 258, the last page of the album, of a series of visiting cards bearing the names of writers in the album. These are the work of a skilled penman, and the cards are in contemporary styles of engraved cards. Among these cards is the name of "E. A. Poe." The ink used seems to be of the same age throughout this page, and the addition


Page 289
of Poe's name at a later date might be indicated by a difference in ink, which is not present. There is every indication that this card was drawn with the others.

But the most conclusive evidence rests on the handwriting, which examination shows to be the same in the two poems. It would seem an unnecessary and almost unbelievable forgery to head a poem "by W. H. Poe copied . . . by E. A. Poe," since it would clearly be more advantageous for a forger to give us another poem by Edgar Poe. But this problem is subordinate to the handwriting of the poem "Alone." The signature of Poe on both poems is very similar to those of the Poe letters to John Allan in 1829 and 1830, which Mrs. Whitman and Ingram did not know; their conclusion that the poem was not in Poe's handwriting was very likely based on the Poe script that they knew, which was some years later than the presumed date of this poem. The handwriting within the poems, aside from headings and signatures, has been carefully examined for me by several specialists. Especially, Mr. Robert W. Hill, Keeper of Manuscripts, The New York Public Library, has very generously examined this poem and compared it with Poe letters particularly of the years 1829 and 1835. He has written that while this examination has been hindered by the necessity of comparing letters against poem, "nevertheless, there are common characteristics in both: the 'th,' the long pendulums of the 'f,' 'g,' and the 'y' and the beginning strokes of the 'm' and 'n.'" He summarizes his examination by stating that, "An examination of the photostats which have been furnished me and which have been made from the autograph album described in this paper leads me to lean toward acceptance of the poem as being in the handwriting of Poe."[16]

Thus this poem which has been long suspect because of the method of first publication and the temporary disappearance of this album now seems to be authenticated, and may be accepted as a genuine Poe manuscript.

Poe's editors have generally agreed that, as Killis Campbell describes it, the poem "is clearly in Poe's early manner."[17] The tone of the poem is certainly not that of the mature poet, but it contains many resemblances to his early work. As Swinburne wrote Ingram, the verses "seemed to me not unworthy on the whole of the parentage claimed for them."[18] Indeed, the lines are particularly infused, as we shall see, with a reflection of Byronism that is very common in the early poems. It is likely that Poe had "read all of Byron's poems, and that he had read and re-read many of them";[19] this early reading obviously


Page 290
influenced Poe's earliest volumes, and "Alone" shares a kinship with those early volumes because of the strong Byronic element common to all of them. While the mere presence of a Byronic influence does not guarantee the authenticity of "Alone," it strengthens the claim that this is a genuine Poe poem.

It has not hitherto been pointed out that the first nineteen lines of "Alone" are derived from Byron's Manfred, II, ii, 50-75, although the last three lines are a Poësque conclusion using only a slight hint from Byron. A comparison of Poe's lines and the passage from Manfred shows clearly the strong similarity of the two.

Both "Alone" and the speech of Manfred are autobiographical. Both begin with a similar phrase, and both put an emphasis on the act of seeing. Manfred declares:

From my youth upwards,
My Spirit walked not with the souls of men,
Nor looked upon the earth with human eyes.
(ll. 50-52)
Poe writes:
From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw.
Both poets continue in the description of their isolation from humanity. In Byron it is,
The thirst of their ambition was not mine,
The aim of their existence was not mine;
My joys— my griefs— my passions— and my powers,
Made me a stranger; though I wore the form,
I had no sympathy with breathing flesh.
(ll. 53-57)
This difference in the poet's passions from those of the common man is reemphasized in Poe:
I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow— I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov'd— I lov'd alone.


Page 291
This is the same sense of isolation that Byron expresses in
. . . with men, and with the thoughts of men,
I held but slight communion.
(II. 60-61)

Byron, for dramatic foreshadowing, mentions the "One" who, as Manfred later explains, has been destroyed by heart and not by hand. Poe does not reflect these two lines, but begins a description, following Byron, of the mystery which binds him, a Byronic love of nature. The elements that the two poets mention are similar, Poe's "red cliff of the mountain," Byron's "iced mountain top," Poe's "the torrent, or the fountain," Byron's,

to plunge
Into the torrent, and to roll along
On the swift whirl of the new-breaking wave
Of river-stream, or Ocean, in their flow.
(II. 65-68)
Byron's "the moving moon, / The stars and their development," becomes in in Poe "the sun that 'round me roll'd / In its autumn tint of gold." Byron's "the dazzling lightnings" is Poe's "the lightning in the sky / As it passed me flying by—." Byron's "the scattered leaves" and "Autumn winds . . . at their evening song" is compressed by Poe to "the thunder and the storm."

Poe's conclusion,

. . . the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view,
is not directly derived from the passage in Manfred but was perhaps suggested by the Witch of the Alps to whom Manfred had spoken the lines of autobiography.

Here again it appears that Poe was familiar with Byron's writings and did not hesitate to rely on them for ideas. It would be interesting to know if Poe composed these lines on the spur of the moment for Mrs. Balderston's album. If he did, the performance shows a remarkable memory for his reading and an admiration for this particular passage in Byron. But, of course, it is possible that he had composed the lines some time before and that he took the opportunity of a proffered album to set them down. Although he was probably satisfied in the suitability of his paraphrase for a lady's album, he was not proud enough of its to include it in his later volume of poems.



Page 292

The following editors accept these lines as genuine: Richard Henry Stoddard, The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Amontillado Edition, 1884), I, 35, 430; Edmund Clarence Stedman and George Edward Woodberry, The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1895), X, 138, 237; R. Brimley Johnson, The Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1909), 143; J. H. Whitty, The Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1911), 135, 283; Thomas Ollive Mabbott, Selected Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1928), 93. For the comments of James A. Harrison, see The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1902), VII, 227, and XVI, 378. Killis Campbell, in The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1917), 299, places it under "Poems Attributed to Poe," but he adds in a note that "the poem is clearly in Poe's early manner." The poem is not included in Arthur Hobson Quinn and Edward H. O'Neill, The Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (1946).


The Ingram correspondence, purchased after the removal of some of its more valuable letters, is now in the manuscript holdings of the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia. The letters cited in this paper are from that collection.


Scribner's Magazine, X (September, 1875), 608.


For this information I am grateful to Mr. Rollo G. Silver, Peabody Institute Library. In a private communication, October 21, 1949, he writes that, because of the use of the word "fac-simile" by Didier, "we may be sure that photography was employed." Ringwalt's American Encyclopedia of Printing (1871), states that "wood-engraving, which, as applied to printing purposes, precedes all others, still holds a front rank for popular purposes; and its utility has been immensely increased during the present century by the readiness and certainty with which perfect copies of an engraved block can be electrotyped, and the rapidity with which impression can be made on machine presses." (p. 158). It is also pointed out that "designs can readilv be photographed on wood for the use of the engraver" (p. 348) and, furthermore, on the same page, he states that "various attempts have been made to produce cuts capable of being printed on typographic presses without the aid of an engraver." Later (p. 506) he notes that zinc plates are "specifically useful when only small editions are required." As Mr. Silver writes, "we can arrive at the conclusion that the manuscript was printed from a plate which may have been made from a wood-cut or from a zinc-plate. The consensus of opinion in these parts is that no one person can be sure of identifying the method employed." It must be pointed out that, while modern facsimiles do not employ a human element, this Scribner's plate most likely had the engraver's hand between the photograph that Didier submitted and the final, published plate. Thus handwriting characteristics might be slightly modified, and certain irregular formations that might partake of the appearance of forgery could very well be incorporated.


ALS, Didier to Ingram, October 1, 1874.


ALS, Parker to Ingram, May 17, 1875.


ALS, Parker to Ingram, July 7, 1875. There is no record in the files of the Peabody Institute Library of "a new style of photography" having been invented at that time. For this and other information about Baltimoreans connected with this poem, I am again grateful to Mr. Rollo G. Silver, Peabody Institute Library. These photographs are not at present in the Ingram collection, nor is there any record of their receipt.


ALS, Parker to Ingram, December 13, 1875.


The Poe Cult and Other Papers (1909), p. 270. Judge Isaiah Balderston (1806-1883) was a non-practicing dentist of Baltimore who was Chief Judge of the Orphans' Court from 1867 to 1871. He married Lucy Holmes, daughter of Dr. Oliver Holmes, surgeon-dentist.


Letter 11 from Poe to John Allan, The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by John Ward Ostrom (1948), I, 16-17.


ALS, Mrs. Whitman to Ingram, September 28, 1875. Ingram also commented on his copy of the poem, clipped from Scribner's, "not Poe's calligraphy."


The album in which Poe presumably wrote the poem was described, as pointed out above, by Didier on several occasions. However, Poe editors—not having traced the album itself— have been content perforce to use the Scribner's reproduction as a basis for the poem. After many fruitless searches, the album now has been located as the property of Mrs. E. H. Welbourn of Cantonsville, Maryland, a granddaughter of the original owner. It is through the generosity of Mrs. Welbourn that I am able to describe this album and the manuscripts it contains.


Mr. Dard Hunter of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has kindly written to me of the history of this firm: it was established in Suffield, Hartford County, Connecticut, by Asa Butler and his brother Simeon, in 1816. In 1819 they received the first government contract for supplying paper to the United States Senate, which before this time had used foreign-made papers. The firm went through several hands, and in 1877 the old "Eagle Mill" of the Butler firm was destroyed by fire.


For example, one of the writers is Franklin James Didier (1794-1840), a Baltimore physician-author, the father of Eugene Didier.


This poem was noted by T. O. Mabbott, "Poems by W. H. Poe" N & Q, CLXII (May 21, 1932), 369, as having been first published in No Name Magazine, Baltimore, August 1890, I, no. 11, by E. L. Didier. In the album ms. the only variants are some slight differences in punctuation from the text Mr. Mabbott printed from the magazine.


Private communication to the writer, New York, May 25, 1950.


The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, p. 299.


Letters of Algernon Charles Swinburne, edited by Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise (Bonchurch Edition, 1927), XVIII, 134-135. The letter is dated "April 21st, 1874" but this is incorrect: a date more consonant with events mentioned in the letter is 1876: see my "Swinburne's Letter on Poe," Papers Bibl. Soc. America, XLIV (1950), 185-90.


Killis Campbell, "Poe's Reading," University of Texas Studies in English, No. 5 (October 8, 1925), 169.