The year 1845 was a time of unimaginable deprivations: No smart phones, no Twitter, no Words With Friends, plus there was a lot of cholera, and those Irish street gangs, and also slavery somewhere. The Gowanus Canal was not just a repulsive sewage channel and heartbreaking symbol of environmental devastation, but a primary means of public transport through Brooklyn — construction on the great bridge to Manhattan wouldn’t be begin for another quarter century. And on this day in 1845, it was probably also very cold.
For a mostly unknown writer and poet from Baltimore, January 29 was one of his last good days. The New York Evening Mirror published his poem “The Raven,” which became an immediate sensation for a people without Hulu or Vine. Edgar Allan Poe had already sold it to The American Review, which was a political journal kind of like the National Review except that it wasn’t a non-profit blog full of racism and idiocy. Poe received nine dollars from the magazine, which published “The Raven” in February. And then the content was “scraped” by the rest of the parasitic media, so Poe became famous but not at all rich from his labors.
His young wife/cousin would soon be dead, and Poe himself was in the grave a few years later. He was buried in Baltimore on October 9, 1849. And his obituary, a bizarre fiction written by a lunatic enemy of Poe’s, appeared on that same day in the New York Tribune. It is the source of, among other slanders, the commonly held belief that Poe was an opium addict. The lunatic, an editor named Rufus Wilmot Griswold, had in 1842 become obsessed with hatred for the mild-mannered Baltimore writer. Somehow — meaning, “exactly what you would expect from a venomous sociopath New York editor” — the Baptist religious fanatic Griswold also became the legal executor of Poe’s literary estate. The poem, by the way, reportedly follows a rhyme scheme of AA,B,CC,CB,B,B, although some say it’s ABCBBB.
Photo by Laura Crane.