Thank Goodness for Find & Replace

Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his The Rationale of Verse that A stanza is often vulgarly, and with gross impropriety, called a verse.

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Happy Birthday, Susan

Happy birthday to you–how old are you?

While writing Our Susan’s biography, her age–her birth year–has been the most difficult piece of her life to verify.

I’ve been quite excited to find a dozen anthologies of poetry and other collections that include biographical sketches of varying length. While providing a great deal of information, they disagree about the year of her birth. Two journal articles written approximately 35 years ago state quite confidently they solved the mystery of Susan’s birthday but they disagree not only with the other articles but disagree with each other as well. I am of the strong opinion that the two journal articles are no more–if not less–reliable than the biographical sketches they claimed to discredit.

First, I’ll demonstrate the weakness of the journal articles and, second, examine the sketches–which will then be on equal, if not higher, ground as regards to credibility–to establish a timeline based on what we know as fact to better estimate her actual birth year.

The two journal articles are:

  • “True Birthdate and the Hitherto Unpublished Deathdate of Susan Archer Talley Weiss” by John C. Miller, from the Marginalia section of the June 1977 issue of Poe Studies written sixty years after her death.
  • “Susan Archer Talley Weiss: An Untold Story” by L. Moody Sims Jr. which appeared in the Spring 1980 issue of The Richmond Literature and History Quarterly sixty-three years after her death.

“True Birthdate”
Here is the key–and quite cocky–passage:

A. H. Quinn describes Susan Archer Talley at this meeting as “a young woman, whose verses Poe had praised and who had achieved the immortality of being included in Griswold’s Female Poets of America.” [See Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1941), p. 622]. But although Quinn expresses doubt about her reliability as a Poe biographer, he overlooks the point that, if she had been born in 1835, she would have “achieved immortality” in Griswold’s anthology (published in 1848 as Quinn certainly knew) at age thirteen. T. O. Mabbott says she was “a poetess of eighteen” when she first met Poe, thus making her birthdate 1831 instead of 1835. [See Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, I (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1969), p. 567]. The truth o’ the matter is that Susan Archer Talley was born in 1822 and thus was neither a “shy and dreamy girl,” “a young woman,” nor a poetess of “eighteen” when she met Poe in 1849 — she was more than twenty seven years old.

Miller’s sources are an obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch of April 8, 1917 which states she died, “in her ninety-sixth year” and her gravestone which gives her birth as February 14, 1822.

Miller’s article concludes with, “No further proof is needed that Susan Archer Talley Weiss was born in 1822, not in 1835, as all standard reference books and library card catalogues, including the Library of Congress, now read.”

“Untold Story”
The following is from the equally over-confident “Susan Archer Talley Weiss: An Untold Story” by L. Moody Sims Jr. which appeared in the Spring 1980 issue of The Richmond Literature and History Quarterly.

“Creating a biographical sketch of Susan Archer Talley Weiss is an experience in itself. So much contradictory and confusing information was written about her during her lifetime that virtually no statement made can be accepted at face value. Not one of the numerous accounts which vary her date of birth between 1822 and 1835 supplies the correct date; her death certificate alone provides it and the 1850 U.S. Census confirms it: February 14, 1825 … She was the oldest of three children born to Thomas Talley and Eliza Archer.”

Every age Sims gives in the article is based on this date. Unfortunately, the author of this otherwise extremely rich article didn’t provide any citations or sources with the exception of the 1850 US Census–which, as we’ll see, he misquotes.

Evidence in Journal Articles Examined
I’m going to address each point these authors make directly relating to her age:

  • Death Certificate validity
  • Gravestone validity
  • 1850 US Census as well as every other US Census I have found

Susan’s Death Certificate
What is the source of the date on her death certificate? She died in 1917 so I think it’s safe to say anyone who would know for sure is dead. I have yet to find a death certificate for her and, if I do say so myself, I spend a lot of time and effort looking for these things. I might add that there are no citations or verifiable sources mentioned in the article.

Her Gravestone
Please see preceding paragraph followed by the next.

Son, Stuart Archer Weiss
It is safe to say her son, with whom she lived much of her adult life, made all the necessary arrangements after her death but if he is the source for the death certificate, what was his source for this date? Susan would be the likely answer but if these two authors consider her unreliable, that should be across the board–including as a primary source for Stuart. Also, Stuart should, all things being equal, be a rock-solid primary source but that rock quickly crumbles when we consider he would also be the primary source for his own age as recorded in any given US Census.

United States Census
Sims states the 1850 US Census confirms the birth date supplied on her death certificate. The following mess discredits the US Census as a viable source which might imply the date on her death certificate (for which he doesn’t provide a source) is equally inviable.

The census-taker’s record, taken on December 6, 1850 gives Susan’s age as 24. If we consider this source definitive, Susan was born—according to this census and my math—in 1826, not 1825 like Sims insists. An honest mistake on his part? I’m sure it was. But it’s hard to be completely forgiving and graceful when Sims was so cocky and was pointing fingers at what he considered shoddy research. So, in Sims’ own words, his research is also that in which “virtually no statement made can be accepted at face value.”

The 1880 census-taker, on June 10, reports Susan’s age as 60–making her birth year 1820. This not only extends our total range by two years but might confuse someone reading Sims’ article which bases it’s certainty on the 1850 US Census which disagrees with the 1880 Census and, lest we forget, is misquoted by Sims anyway. Stuart is recorded as 18-years-old making his birth-year, according to this census, 1862. If this is “accepted at face value” we would have to both question paternity and make Susan not only in her early 40’s but pregnant during her physically demanding Civil War adventures including her time as a Prisoner-of-War.

The census-taker, on May 20, reports Susan’s age as 75–making her birth year 1835 just like most of her biographers state. Stuart is recorded as 45-years-old making his birth-year, according to this census, 1865 which is, by all accounts, completely incorrect. But who’s counting?

I might also point out that this differs with her gravestone and the alleged death certificate by about fourteen years. The only real source for the information contained on those two documents–if they both actually exist–is Stuart who was also available for this document as well as the 1880 census.

The census-taker, in January, reports Stuart as 55-years-old making his birth-year, according to this census, 1865.

The census-taker, on April 5, reports Stuart as 68-years-old making his birth-year, according to this census, 1862. I want to say Stuart should really be an accurate source for this because he’d just celebrated his birthday but we run into the same time-line issues stated under the 1880 Census.

Reliability of Biographical Sketches
Regardless of Susan’s credibility as a source of her own biographical details, she was at least alive and available for consultation when these sketches were written. It is, dare I say, likely she was the source for these pieces. If not her then at least someone who was also alive and closer to the truth than, say, people who lived days or decades after she (and any other viable witnesses) died.  There’s some variance to the dates in these accounts and I’m also giving some benefit of the doubt to Susan or anyone else who says “about such-and-such an age.” I’m much more forgiving to people who say “about” than those who say “the truth o’ the matter” and other such cocky statements. Granting a little variance, they are all relatively consistent and close so they agree, for the most part, with each other. The authors are people alive at the time who had access to other people also alive at the time–including Susan. These biographers, such as they were, significantly outnumber the two authors of the two articles written with “evidence” far more flimsy well over 100 years later.

Yes, I must concede that many of these sources give her birth year as 1835. Miller is correct that the work of a thirteen year old being featured in Griswold’s anthology might–might–be unlikely. That aside, only five of them give the year 1835 and even those that do seem give her age at certain key events consistent with each other and the other biographies. It may have been a typo the first time and lazy research for those that followed. We know from Poe’s biographies that biographers are a lazy bunch. Given that laziness, the consistency of all the other details is even more impressive.

Ages given in the biographical sketches, articles, and interviews are given independent of a birthyear–they had no agenda other than story-telling–so I’ll work backward, as it were, to reverse engineer her birthyear.

Establishing and Examining a Time-line Based on Biographical Sketches

Reading Bridal Ballad
More than one account states Susan was “about seven years of age” she read this poem in the Southern Literary Messenger–her first exposure to Poe. “Bridal Ballad” was published in the January 1837 issue of the SLM which would imply she was born in 1830.

Richmond and Talavera
Talavera was built in 1838. Every account stating an age for her when they moved there states her age as eight years old. So, again, we have 1830.

Persico’s Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies
“An Untold Story” states:

“In 1838, the Talley family moved to Henrico County … the move to Henrico provided Susan with opportunities to overcome her handicaps. She attended Mr. Percico’s [sic] school on Leigh Street where she acquired all of the accomplishments of the day … She also at this time exhibited a genuine talent for painting and her interest in sculpting dates from this period, too.”

By all accounts, she still had her sense of hearing when entering school in Richmond. Consensus is that her schooling there proceeded normally until she became sick and deaf.
Another way we have of verifying the life of the school is irresistible to mention. According to a letter from Margaret K. Ellis of August 19, 1835 one Edgar Allan Poe was in town applying for a teaching position at the Persico Academy. Poe wasn’t chosen and (according to Jackson) his position at the Southern Literary Messenger was a matter of being in the right place at the right time–for once.

Elizabeth Prentiss was a young, passionate, intelligent teacher at Persico’s boarding school for a brief time. An excerpt from a letter to her cousin dated October 12, 1840:

This morning I had a new scholar, a pale, thin little girl who stammers, and when I spoke to her, and she was obliged to answer, the color spread over her face and neck as if she suffered the utmost mortification. I was glad when recess came, to draw her close to my side and to tell her that I had a friend afflicted in the same way, and that consequently, I should know how to understand and pity her. She held my hand fast in hers and the tears came stealing down one after another, as she leaned confidingly upon my shoulder, and I could not help crying too, with mingled feelings of gratitude and sorrow. Certainly it will be delightful to soothe and to console this poor little thing…. You do not like poetry and I have spent the best part of my life in reading or trying to write it. N.P. Willis told me some years ago, that if my husband had a soul, he would love me for the poetical in me, and advised me to save it for him.”

That the excerpt is abridged just as she’s talking about a “little girl who stammers” just kills me. Especially as the excerpt picks up with the topic of poetry. A hunt for her papers is on! Everything from her journal and letters leads me to believe she was a great influence in Talley’s life.

If the child with the speech impediment written about by Elizabeth Prentiss in late 1840 is Susan, this gives Susan a good couple years to become the star pupil all report her to have been. If she was born in 1830 and went deaf during the following year, that would make her eleven at the time of her illness. Biographies I’ve found give her age at this time as:

  • Three say 11-years-old
  • Two say 10-years-old
  • Two say 9-years-old
  • One says “early in life”

This range might seem troublesome but for the fact that some of these accounts state she became deaf over time while she was sent to various doctors for treatment. A couple accounts say she lost it quickly and “Untold Story” says she lost it suddenly and completely on February 22, 1834. I find such a specific date quite amusing. Again, no source or even reason is given for that specific date.

Art Prodigy
The range here–for her blossoming and demonstrated talent in drawing, painting, and sculpting (corroborated by others throughout her life who actually saw her work) is 10-12 years old. If the girl Prentiss mentions is Susan, that places her at Persico’s Academy during this period and in one of the few instances “Untold Story” doesn’t specifically state an age, the author says it was while Susan was at Persico’s that she pursued and excelled in these arts.

Writing and Publishing Poetry
All accounts state she began writing poetry when “very young,” most of them saying between the ages of 13-15. Multiple accounts state she wrote her verse without showing anyone for a long period before being discovered.

“Untold Story” states her father showed her work to Benjamin Miner, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, in late 1844. Her first published work, “The Spirit of Beauty,” appeared in the April 1845 issue. Most accounts state she was a regular contributor to the SLM at 16-years-old. In May 1846, just over one year after “Spirit of Beauty” was printed, the SLM published “The Sea-Shell,” their seventh poem by Our Susan. This agrees with what I’m calling a general consensus identifying her birth year as 1830.

“My Sister”
The September 1846 issue of The Southern Literary Messenger included Susan’s poem, “My Sister,” written in June 1846.

I have an only sister,
Fresh in her girlish glee,
For she is only seventeen,
And still is fancy free

I’m going to take this poem literally as being about her actual sister, Eliza, who was, according to the 1850 US Census, two years younger than Susan. If, in the summer of 1846, Eliza is seventeen that makes Susan 19 and born in 1827.

Corresponding with Poe
In 1866, Susan wrote, “At length a time came when I, still a mere child [italics mine], learned that this great being had actually read my verses, and had uttered words of praise, and made a flattering prophecy concerning me, and that all this was in print. And then he wrote a kind and courteous, and equally flattering letter, which I have still among my most cherished mementoes of the past.” Word of Poe’s letters praising her and his personal letter to her were written in 1848.

Meeting Poe
Miller criticizes Mabbot for stating Susan was eighteen when she met Poe. From what we’ve just reviewed, Susan should be exactly eighteen when she finally met her pen-pal face to face in the Fall of 1849.

A 1904 issue of The Literary Collector refers to Susan as “over seventy years of age” and having met Poe at age seventeen.

In March 1906 an interview with Susan was published stating, “Mrs. Von Weiss possesses a brain whose fire her seventy-two years have not diminished. Her memory is perfectly clear. We can safely assume the interview and writing of the article took place at least two weeks before the magazine hit the stands and let’s assume it was written less than a year previous. In that time period, according to author T.D. Pendleton, Susan is 72 (and, by his description, still looking pretty damn good) which makes her birth year 1833. Pendleton also relates Susan was a “slip of a girl, just seventeen [italics mine] when Poe met her.” A Susan on, as it were, the edge of seventeen in the Fall of 1849 indicates a birth year of 1832. If this interview did take place after February 14, 1906 and was a very young 72, that would make her birth-year 1834. The statement of age as seventeen is not a quote attributed to Susan, however and we don’t know if it is based on an age or year that Susan gave him or if he’s estimating. Regardless, she’s the direct source for the information and the “give or take a year” range is consistent with the majority of biographies that weren’t written by Poe scholars.

Susan herself wrote, in 1878, the following:

It was a day or two after his arrival that Poe, accompanied by his sister, called on us. He had, some time previous, in a critique on Griswold’s “American Female Poets,” taken flattering notice of my early poems, which had recently appeared in the “Southern Literary Messenger;” and now, on learning from Mrs. Mackenzie that I resided in the neighborhood, he had desired an introduction. The remembrance of that first meeting with the poet is still as vividly impressed upon my mind as though it had been but yesterday. A shy and dreamy girl, scarcely more than a child [italics mine], I had all my life taken an interest in those strange stories and poems of Edgar Poe; and now, with my old childish impression of their author scarcely worn off, I regarded the meeting with an eager, yet shrinking anticipation.

I mention these recollections mostly for the following phrases given on different occasions:

  • still a mere child
  • slip of a girl
  • scarcely more than a child

For whatever it is worth, at the age of 22, Elizabeth Prentiss described herself as “only a little girl.” Prentiss arrived in Richmond to teach at the Persico school on September 30, 1840. I provide the following quote as a comparison of how the two young ladies referred to themselves and their age.

Entry from the personal journal of Elizabeth Prentiss dated October 3, 1840:

How funny it seems here! Everything is so different from home! I foresee that I shan’t live nearly a year under these new influences without changing my old self into something else. Heaven forbid that I should grow old because people treat me as if I were grown up! I hate old young folks. Well! whoever should see me and my scholars would be at a loss to know wherein consists the difference between them and me. I am only a little girl after all.

Art School 1860
From the Daily Richmond Dispatch of December 5, 1860:

“Miss Susan Archer Talley, a well-known Virginia poetess, has arrived in this city, en route for New York, to take the first lessons in sculpture, preparatory to visiting Europe to complete her accomplishment in that art.”

Is it more likely that she entered art school at age 25 (if born in 1835) or at age 35?
Something else keeps gnawing at my brain. Rumor has it that Mr. Persico left for Italy about this time but died at sea. I like to wonder if they would have traveled together but for Susan’s passport application being denied.

The Civil War
During the Civil War, Susan was active as a spy and smuggling arms along with other physically demanding duties. If she were born in 1825, she would have been 37 at the start of the war. I find it difficult to believe a woman of 37 could have done so much that required not only physical effort but, dare I say, the charms of youth.

“The Fair Smuggler” and “Lady of Fashion”
What, exactly, did Susan do as a confederate spy? Well, most of it was quite in the open. She delivered messages to both sides, mediated meetings in the neutral zone in which she lived, got what she and her comrades wanted through visits to Federal camps and with Federal officers and, even after she was arrested, was given to access which she promptly delivered to the confederate command. Is this sort of flirting mercenary one of forty years of age or one in her mid-to-late twenties? Again, perhaps I’m a pig, but I’m betting on the latter.

She also had really bad luck when it came to traveling. After being stranded in New York due to martial law and her passport being denied, she had quite the adventure traveling through hostile territory attempting to get back home. During the war, much of the adventures–and others–related in the previous paragraph involved arduous journies through woods and rivers. After escaping Norfolk she had to hoof it back to Richmond yet again. Lastly, after her son was born, she attempted to–infant in hand–reach New York and her husband.

I hate that I can’t find it but I swear I have an article about her being arrested for smuggling that stated she was in her late twenties which I think is far more believable than a woman in her early forties.

Husband Louis Weiss

  • Enlistment records state Louis was 32 on April 22, 1861.
  • Passport application states Louis was born February 28, 1829.

According to the March 4, 1863 Daily Dispatch, Susan and the Union officer she seduced while he was assigned to guard her (this with the permission of her lifelong friend Colonel Morris after General Dix had given specific orders to keep her in solitary confinement away from anyone and everyone whether they be aligned with the Union or the Rebels) were married on May 13, 1862.

Did Federal officer and prison guard Louis Weiss, age 29, risk being charged with treason and losing a potential US Citizenship by falling in love with a confederate spy who was … 40-years-old … or … 27-years-old? Call me a pig if you want, but I think the latter is more likely.

She kept the marriage a secret because he was a union officer. He kept it a secret because she was a confederate spy. It remained a secret until General Morris released her but she made the mistake of returning to Richmond via Norfolk which had a new commander—General Dix. Imprisoning her the first time was a pain in his ass as well as, now, a failure. Dix gave orders she was not to be allowed to leave the city and had all her incoming and outgoing mail land on his desk. General Dix accepted Lt. Weiss’ resignation July 23, 1862. Weiss was also soon granted a passport and allowed to return to his homeland of Germany.

Less than a week later, Susan—with the assistance of Federal officers—runs the blockade and escapes home to Richmond. I am General Dix’s complete lack of surprise.
The rest of the world began to see her secret reveal itself as she began to show … her pregnancy. Her belated marriage announcement came approximately two weeks before their son was born.

Susan’s Reliability
Obviously, we have lots of dates for her birth from stories that must originate with her. Perhaps because women are said to lie about their age or, perhaps, it’s just something she learned from Poe. This begs the question, however: If she lied about her age all of those times over the decades from which we have these biographical sketches and, if we assume she is the most primary source of dubious secondary sources for her death certificate and gravestone—is she any more reliable at age 96?

Sims stated, “no further proof is needed” like he found the Rosetta Stone and Sims quoted the 1850 US Census as if government documents were infallible. If she were reliable as the source of facts available to witnesses for her death certificate and gravestone, she was reliable as the source for a dozen biographical sketches as well as stories she wrote herself.
Even her critics, when shredding her credibility as a researcher of second-hand information, concede her worth as a primary source. Reports spanning her lifetime note her sharp memory. Also, it is widely reported that, because of her limited–or complete lack of–hearing and speech, she communicated primarily by writing and reading notes. I’m sure having a written record of all your conversations helps.


  • United States Census, 1850
  • United States Census, 1870
  • United States Census, 1880
  • United States Census, 1910
  • United States Census, 1920
  • United States Census, 1930
  • “Edgar Allan Poe” by Mrs. Susan Archer T. Weiss from the New York Weekly Review (October 6, 1866)
  • “The Last Days of Edgar A. Poe” by Mrs. Susan A. T. Weiss from Scribner’s Magazine (March 1878)
  • “Susan Archer Talley Weiss: An Untold Story” Spring 1980, The Richmond Literature and History Quarterly.
  • “True Birthdate and the Hitherto Unpublished Deathdate of Susan Archer Talley Weiss” by John C. Miller, from the Marginalia section of the June 1977 issue of Poe Studies.
  • “Something about a Mr. Persico” by David K. Jackson from “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, June 1976, Vol. IX, No. 1
  • The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss by George L. Prentiss (1882)
  • Building Little Italy: Philadelphia’s Italians Before Mass Migration by Richard N. Juliani
  • American Portrait Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.), Carrie Rebora Barratt, Lori Zabar
  • Tula D. Pendleton, “Some Memories of Poe,” Bob Taylor’s Magazine (Nashville, TN), vol. II, no. 6, March, 1906
  • Advertisement for “Mr. & Mrs. Persico’s Boarding and Day School for Young Ladies” October 1, 1841 Richmond Whig
  • “1836: Elisabeth (McKnight) Persico to Ellen (McKnight) Brayton” from the Spared & Shared 3 blog retrieved from:
  • The Biographical Sketches
  • The Female Poets of America by Rufus Wilmot Griswold (1848). New York: James Miller.
  • Living Writers of the South by (1869)
  • Songs of the South: Choice Selections from Southern Poets from Colonial Times to the Present Day Collected and edited by Jennie Thornley Clarke (1914). London: Alexander Moring Limited.
  • The South In History and Literature: A Handbook of Southern Authors from the Settlement of Jamestown, 1607 to Living Writers by Mildred Lewis Rutherford (1907). Atlanta: Franklin-Turner Company.
  • Southland Writers: Biographical and Critical Sketches of the Living Female Writers of the South with Extracts from Their Writings Volume II by Ida Raymond (1870). Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger.
  • Women of the South Distinguished in Literature by Mary Forrest (1860). New York: Derby & Jackson.
  • The South in the Building of the Nation (1909)
  • Poets of Virginia (1907)
  • The Woman’s Record (1853)
  • “Literary Talent of Richmond” (1904)
  • Woman of the Century … Leading American Women (1893)
Posted in Civil War, Historical Research, Stuart Archer Weiss, Susan Archer Weiss | 1 Comment

The Spirit of Eld

I’d never heard of the “Spirit of Eld” until working on this poem. I knew the word “Eld” must come from something she’d been exposed to so I googled it. The search results gave up none other than Edgar Allan Poe and, well, a rather strange bedfellow.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “MS Found in a Bottle” won $50 for the 24-year-old from a local newspaper’s short story contest and was published in the October 19, 1833 issue of the Baltimore Saturday Visiter.

“The ship and all in it are imbued with the spirit of Eld. The crew glide to and fro like the ghosts of buried centuries, their eyes have an eager and uneasy meaning, and when their figures fall athwart my path in the wild glare of the battle-latterns, I feel as I have never felt before, although I have been all my life a dealer in antiquities, and have imbibed the shadows of fallen columns at Balbec, and Tadmor, and Persepolis, until my very soul has become a ruin.”

The similarity in Poe’s description to Talley’s is undeniable. But wait, there’s more. Here’s an excerpt from “Prelude,” which I found in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1839 collection, Voices of the Night.

And dreams of that which cannot die,
Bright visions, came to me,
As lapped in thought I used to lie,
And gaze into the summer sky,
Where the sailing clouds went by,
Like ships upon the sea;

Dreams that the soul of youth engage
Ere Fancy has been quelled;
Old legends of the monkish page,
Traditions of the saint and sage,
Tales that have the rime of age,
And chronicles of Eld.

Susan’s poem was first published in June 1849—just as Edgar was journeying back to Richmond on his lecture tour. Already a fan of her work, I am quite sure he went out of his way to read the piece and, what with all the time they spent together, I’d like to think the changes may have been suggested by him. This, I do not think, is mere speculation on my part because the changes made to this poem have more a quality of definite improvement that Talley’s other changes of a word or phrase here and there. Specifically, the changes bring about a unification of effect and/or impression—Poe’s legacy to literature. But I’ll get back to that in a moment.

“The Chronicles of Eld” isn’t just a phrase that might be interpreted or paraphrased as “histories of old.” Following the Civil War, Talley concentrated almost exclusively on prose—both fiction and non-fiction. Particularly, she gained a respectful reputation for researching the origins of rhymes, songs, tales and stories. Usually, the results were pieces describing, for example, “The Original Little Bo Peep.” Today, she’d probably work at writing pieces like “Five Fairy Tales You Didn’t Know Were True.” That would certainly have given Susan a place to release her sense of humor that was, obviously, dying to get out.

I have, in my grateful and greedy little hands, a lengthy, hand-written and unpublished manuscript she intended to publish as a book on Scottish and Irish history. Specifically—and I had no idea of this when I first started this project—what, legend has it, is my family line on my mother’s side. I was so flattered upon discovering this I, briefly, considered giving her a place as co-author of a similar book I’d already started. Sorry, Susan, you’re dead and I’m alive—them’s the breaks.

All that to say Susan Archer Talley, an insatiable reader since—reportedly–the age of four, must have been exposed to the same Scottish and Irish legends from which Poe and Longfellow drew their references. These “chronicles of Eld” are ancient (if that isn’t too strong of a word) both Susan and I were using in our research. A strange and wonderful first visit to told me I could trace my family from myself (and my children) back to Adam & Eve through records, however dubious, such as the Chronicles of the Picts, Tigernach, Annals of the Four Masters and the Leabhar Gabhála (Conquests of Ireland). Susan, obviously, fell in love and familiarized herself with these works 150 years before I did.

Talley wrote about and referred to not mere “fairy tales” but “tales of fairies” including human ancestors who married them. Who, exactly, were the Picts? Did they really exist? We have the same questions about the Scythians but, hey, here I am and, apparently, I descended from them. I might just have fairy blood in me.

I’ve only slightly gotten off course here. Poe’s reference to “the spirit of Eld” led me back to my best friend Google where I found a couple translations of a Gaelic legend by that name. The more famous of the two seems to have been in Reminiscences of a Highland Parish (1867) but I’ve chosen this one, from Gaelic Fairy Tales (1908) for two reasons: I like the translation far better and it included the original Gaelic for our viewing pleasure.

Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_001 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_002 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_003 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_004 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_005 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_006 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_007 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_008 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_009 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_010 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_011 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_012 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_013 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_014 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_015 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_016 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_017 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_018 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_019 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_020 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_021 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_022 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_023 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_024 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_025 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_026 Gaelic_Fairy_Tales_027

Posted in Edgar Allan Poe, Historical Research, Poetry, Project Progress, Susan Archer Weiss | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharing My Work

I struggle with this blog and my other, For the Love of Poe, because I agonize over what to include in them and how to include those things if I do. As it turns out, my gut instinct is correct—I should share all of those things and share them how I think and feel them (not worrying about what others will think or feel).

Somewhere along my surfing, I discovered Austin Kleon and his forthcoming book, Share Your Work! It confirmed my hunch that others might be interested in things I’m interested in. If I think these books are worth writing and reading and you’re here to read about a book or books that aren’t even out yet (some not for a while) then you might just care about some more detail and enjoy it.

I here and now cease to worry about being all formal and scholarly and will henceforth share my joy and what I think is fun about Our Susan and Mr. Poe.

They say write about what you care about or would enjoy reading. I’ve just realized I should write it and write about it like you actually care about it and enjoy it, too.

I should also stop worrying that people will steal all my brilliant ideas.

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Arguments for Segregation

I am convinced that “Mixed Academies and Colleges” is Our Susan’s most quotable and delightful prose piece. It’s just delightful and insightful for and to anyone who has ever set foot in a public school. Printed in the May 28, 1881 issue of the Sunny South with the byline “S.A.W.”—readers wrote letters appearing in subsequent issues well aware whose initials these were and not all of them liked the article as much as I do. Like Sarah Elmirah Royster and Rosalie MacKenzie Poe, Our Susan attended a school exclusively attending to the needs of young ladies and was also raised in “society” so she knows the worlds of which she speaks.


Public sentiment amongst us, reflecting the experience of these most familiar with internal history of schools, has not heretofore favored mixed academies and colleges. Many, however, are now disposed to question the correctness of this view. The subject, indeed, may be considered sub judice, and, therefore, open to discussion.

It is well to remember that an opinion, though derived from experience and formed with proper sagacity from the original facts, a wider observation may show it to be erroneous. At the same time, we should hasten slowly in discarding what we have been accustomed to look upon as a fundamental idea in our system of education.

They who would innovate on the old should first prove the expediency of the changes proposed. This can be done in no other way than by a method strictly inductive: that is, by collecting a sufficient number of well authenticated facts bearing upon the particular question at issue, and then drawing a conclusion with patience and candor. From assumed principle of human nature it is no difficult thing to construct a plausible theory, the inherent weakness of which shall be disguised by the illusions of logic. But such theories are as worthless in reality as they are big in pretension.

It should also be borne in mind that the primary object of schools is not to refine one sex by means of the other, but to lead out and instruct the minds of the young through the instrumentality of a course of study adapted to that purpose. Common sense teaches that the efficiency of an institution for its main end must not be sacrificed for the sake of a collateral benefit. The architect of a bridge should consult in no part of its structure mere beauty at the expense of strength and durability.I grant, however, that schools, if they can do so with proper regard to their main end, may promote other good ends, and especially such as may be a means of attaining the main end.

In order that teacher and pupils may do the best work it is all-important that a school be well classified. But in mixed academies and colleges this can be done only with the greatest difficulty, for as the two sexes approach maturity there is a wider divergence of mental and moral characteristics.

I may here mention a more weighty objection. The conservative influences of the school room are no match for the mysterious magnetism exerted by one sex over the other. Every one must know that a state alternating between fevered rapture and cruel care is totally incompatible with close application. How soon young men and ladies brought into daily contact get into the condition of “lovers disdaining all but love,” how they then rage against wholesome restraint, become indifferent to study, wasteful of time and mentally weak through musing upon anticipated bliss and how the towering thought and big ambition are resigned for a sigh, I shall not attempt to tell. Zero with a minus sign before it represents what many of these pupils learn.

Rivalry, which implies competition nearly always more or less unfriendly, would place the sexes in an unnatural attitude to each other. In classes composed of older boys and girls it soon becomes apparent which are the best pupils. Such members as are deficient in application rather than in talent, find a level to which they can keep themselves with little exertion. The dull, who are usually also indolent, much too readily accept what may seem to them the inevitable.

A boy can have no good reason for wishing to demonstrate to girls that he is superior to them in point of mind. By this means he could not hope to win their favor and affection. If he has judgment, he will trust not so much to a display of intellect, and more especially an invidious display, as to a pleasing address and those minute attentions eloquent though nameless, which have captured the heart of many a fair maiden.

It is questionable whether the associations of the two sexes in academies and colleges, would improve the moral tone of the young men. I doubt not that the nature of woman, to whom the preservation of good morals of more importance than to men, instinctively shrinks from the grosser forms of vice. But why may not her influence in favor of virtue be as sensibly felt in schools exclusively male? These institutions are situated  in communities whose women are distinguished for culture and refinement, and the pupils are not forbidden but encouraged to cultivate the society of the ladies. It were folly, however, to expect that boys would be restrained from gratifying their evil propensities by the terror of woman’s frown. The certainty rather than the nature of the penal consequences deters from wrong doing. Moreover, the right appreciation of woman’s nature with which a proper respect for her opinions is correlative, supposes maturity of mind. The boy admires physical strength and courage more than gentleness and purity. In this, as well as in other things, he resembles a savage, the individual closely corresponding with the national development.

I am sure that the question of discipline is greatly complicated by the feature of which I speak. In schools it is necessary that the chief power reside in a single person under whose general supervision the conduct of all the pupils should come. Of course, the tax on his administrative ability will be heavier, in proportion as the differences in the character and disposition of the persons subject to his authority are more numerous and diverse.

Again, when boys and girls who have reached a certain age are associated in school, this fact greatly multiplies the regulations which are designed to secure some particular object, and which may appear arbitrary in their nature. But if the reasons of a rule, the obeying of which requires some exertion, is not plain, peculiar difficulty will be experienced in its enforcement. Boys, especially, in whom the pride and independence of the man are beginning to mingle with the wilfulness  and indiscretion of the boy, rebel against such restraint. The cases of discipline in these schools will not only be more numerous but will also require more delicate manipulation. I do not know of any position, indeed, demanding more judgment, tact and patience, than that of the teacher upon ever angle of whose sensibilities a promiscuous circle of the sexes are constantly infringing.

While transcribing this I could not help but thing of the living hell Edgar Allan Poe made Jane MacKenzie’s life at her school for girls!

Posted in Non-Fiction, Prose, Rosalie MacKenzie Poe, Susan Archer Weiss | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Proofing and Wondering Why

It isn’t necessarily boring or tedious, but it is time-consuming and the thought of it fills me with dread. It is interesting, however, comparing how a poem differs and evolves from it’s original writing to first publication to reprints in anthologies.

For someone who, unlike Edgar Allan Poe, said she wrote in a passion and almost never made any changes to her work … well, she’s a big, fat liar. I’ve a short list of poems that drastically changed from their original appearance in The Southern Literary Messenger to and through the anthologies in which her work was later included. My favorite poems by Our Susan are those which were only published once.

I’ve finally just finished comparing the original SLM version of her acclaimed and popular Battle of Manassas to a later version and some of the changes were among the most interesting I’ve seen despite being small and, perhaps, the most subtle. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that, for this poem at at least, I’m only comparing the SLM version to one other—the poem was reprinted far too often to bother comparing them all, I think.

One reason I don’t think it’s worth the time is that, while trudging through this task, I remembered something else Our Susan wrote in a letter accompanying her manuscript for Poems to that sack of turds, Rufus “What a douchebag” Griswold. Although still a young lass and, thus, probably not as confident as she may later have been, she gave that douchebag carte blanche to make whatever changes he saw fit. This tells me she may have given similar permission to others—something else Poe would never, ever have done. For The Raven, alone, we have … what? … ten different Poe-authorized versions?

In some cases, changes are made that seem as if Our Susan believed they were obvious improvements. Others, a change of a word that changes neither the meaning nor the rhythm, are a little more mysterious (hence, some “wondering why”). But, again, I wonder if she made the changes or if she actually lived up to her statement of almost never making changes and the changes were made by an editor with or without her blessing.

Speaking of the Battle of Manassas, it is one of two Susan-related videos I’m making for this blog.

In some cases, Poems & Poetry (getting closer almost every day!) has both versions of a poem—the version from Poems and another version from SLM or another source because of significant changes/differences. In the case of BoM, the differences are several, but small, and interesting enough that I want to share some thoughts that aren’t “valuable” enough to put in the book’s end-notes. So, for BoM, I’ll feature those changes and thoughts in an upcoming post.

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Castles In the Sky

Chateaux en Espagne by Susan Archer Talley is one of two prose pieces featured in my upcoming Poems & Poetry anthology. I think you’ll agree it deserves a place amongst Our Susan’s Poetry. It grieves me that her mentor, Edgar Allan Poe, did not live to see this piece because it demonstrates the quality he most recognized in her work–imagination.

Chateaux en Espagne! Let Benthanmites sneer, if they will, at this expression, as embodying the very quintessence of idle folly. To me, as to many others who may chance to read these lines, it is a potent charm-the “open sesame” to a region of things glorious and beautiful, which it is better to behold in Dreamland than never behold at all.

Most grave and reverence seignors of the Benthamit school-you who dwell exclusively in the world of the actual, and to whom the golden realms of imagination are as unseen as are those enchanted gardens of the desert, past which the fainting pilgrim journeys, unconscious of the rich fruits and cooling waters within his reach-sneer not at the poet’s Dreamland.

To you it is an Eden unvisited, an Eldorado of riches, within whose golden gates thine heart-stained footsteps may never enter; yet oftentimes you-yea, even you-have unconsciously approached near enough to behold a dim reflection of its radiance upon the sunset clouds, or to hear, in the silence of night, a faint echo of its music, borne down from those airy regions to the dull atmosphere of earth-sounds and sights to you strange and unrecognized, yet, for an instant, stirring a finer chord of feeling than those which daily jar to the touch of worldly influences.

For instance, has there never been a time when, wearied of the close counting-house, you have lifted your eyes from those interminable ledgers, and they have, by some chance, rested upon a picture–a woman’s sweet face or a scene of Arcadian beauty? As you look at it, a strange feeling is stirred within you–a consciousness of, and a longing for some beauty or happiness which is lacking in your sterile existence. Unconsciously, your thoughts wander away from the present in search of that unknown good, and you are lost in a dream of what, perchance, once was, or might have been, or may even yet be.

“Pshaw!” you say, turning again to your columns of figures; “it is but an idle dreaming.”
Still, has it not fallen upon your heart like dew upon parched flowers–awakening it to gentler and purer emotions, and a yearning for something better and nobler than what you meet in the hard working-day life of yours? Lo! the dim-reflected light and faint, unrecognized music of Dreamland!

You do not know where lies this Dreamland! It is a fair region above the strata of our earthly atmosphere, which veils it from the sight of mere dwellers below. Many are the wanderers here. Some roam idly and aimlessly, whithsoever the flowery path may lead, or the bright stream wander; others build for themselves abodes–Chateaux d’ Espagne they are called, or castles in the air–where, as in the Palace of Art, the soul gathers to itself all that it most loves or desires, and in the midst thereof takes its rest. Few there are who do hot possess some such “place of pleasance,” where they reign autocrats supreme, ordering all things at their will.

Could we wander throughout the realm of Dreamland, and behold the chateaux there erected, varied and strange would their aspect appear. Here we should see a cottage orne, embowered in roses and myrtle–a shrine erected, doubtless, by some loving and unambitious heart for its cherished idol; there, a proud mansion, with walls of marble and columns of porphyry, and, within, couches of velvet, and inliad tables, bearing costly fruits in silver dishes, and rare wines sparkling in golden goblets–for these things cost little in Dreamland. Fitting abode this for the Epicurean. Yonder, amid those tw2ilight regions of purple hills, a few turrets quietly raise their gray heads–abode of some world-sick and disappointed spirit, whose sole prayer now is, “Implora pace.”

Higher and farther still, crowing a lofty and rugged eminence, glitters a temple upon whose fair facade is inscribed the magic word, Fame. Here dwells the ambitious and aspiring soul–whether of poet, or scholar, or artist–fondly hping that in time he may bring down that air-built structure unto the earth, a visible reality to the eyes of all men. This dream many have realized. Have we not read of a young poet who “awoke one morning,” and, like the princess in the fairy tale, found his castle in the air suddenly transferred to earth–a monument which time itself cannot destroy.

Others, less fortunate, have built by slow and toilsome degrees and untried energies–wearing away their lives in the effort to perpetuate their airy fabrics–and have seen, at least, the treacherous walls give way with a crash, burying themselves beneath the ruins. Dreamland is full of such ruins–too often the monument of some broken heart. Yet, better thus than that the the heart, crushed and bruised, should yet “brokenly live on” to haunt forever the desolate ruins of what might have been its pride and glory.

For the saddest of all things is this undying regret for what might have been. The joy that has been, was, and is still our own. Once, it was a blessed reality. Now that it is past, we hold its image enshrined in our hearts, to be lived over in memory. We know that this is a joy which cannot be taken from us, and we are blessed.

“Blessed for the beautiful within us dwelling,
Never to fade; a refuge from distress;
A spring of purer life, still freshly welling,
To clothe the barrenness of earthly dust,
With flowers divine.”

Life has given us one draught of real bliss, and now that the eup is empty, we place it reverently and resignedly upon the grave of the past, rejoicing that it has been ours. Yea, though the draught was brief, and its dregs gall and wormwood to our lips, still we have known the sweetness of life, and feel that there is nothing more to be desired on earth; as she who said:

“Ive lived and loved, and that was today;
Make ready my grave clothes tomorrow.”

Thus with the joy that has been. But for that which might have been–that which was within our grasp, and torn from us, helpless, despairing–calling in vain for human aid–praying in vain fro divine interposition; what is it but a yearning and an anguish forever?

I pity the man or the woman, who , when life is dark and the heart weary, has not some chateau in Dreamland, whither he may retire and find rest and consolation. If poverty assail, he can turn from his meager apartment to the luxurious splendors of this chateau. If friends desert, he can there summon whom his soul desires, and walk amid the great and god of the earth. And in this companionship, though in Dreamland, is his soul strengthened and cheered, and so fitted for the trials and struggles of our every day life. For all things that bring thoughts of the good and the beautiful to our hearts, are as the visits of angels, who, in departing, leave a blessing behind.

For myself, I have a castle in Dreamland–a Chateau d’ Espagne–which I would not exchange for one of substantial stone and cement. “Fast by the margin of a summer sea,” is this castle of mine–a vast and unknown sea, whose playful ripple, or sad murmour, or stormy surge, echoes ever in harmony with the changeful mood of my own spirit. For I love the sea–so full it is of life and motion–so varied in aspect; ruffled by a breath–stirred to its uttermost depths by a storm; yet the same–ever the same. Here my soul feels, in gazing across its vast expanse, as though it had room in which to expand. No near hills for me, with their changless and lifeless aspect, shutting me in as with a prison-wall; but space, free and boundless space, in which the soul may spread its wings and soar at large. Far away, toward the West, it is true, stretches a faint line of blue hills; but these serve to reveal instead of concealing the distance. And all between, lie scenes of varied and picturesque beautiful; while nearer, close around my chateau, are gardens, fragrant with rare flowers and the perfume of orange groves. And this is the spot which my soul had chosen for its place of pleasance.

But you, my friend, shall come with me to my chateau, and behold, with your own eyes, that which appears to me so fair.

It is twilight, my favorite hour for visits to Dreamland. The fire casts vague shadows here in this dim room; quiet and silence are within, cold and tempest without. You are, like myself, wearied with the cares or the emptiness of the past day , or with the coldness and worldliness of those with whom you have been brought in contact. Cheer up! Let us shut the door, and with it these evil spirits. Now close your eyes; clasp over them your weary hands. You have read of the magic power possessed by spirits, evil and good, of transporting a person, in an instant’s space of time, to the land of sprites and fairies. You have heard the sweet legend of Kilmenny? A miracle, you thing; yet lose, a greater is here; for while your body remains quiet and almost unconscious, sunk in the luxurious depths of that cushioned arm-chair, your spirit is away–away with mine, in Dreamland.

Vague at first, and indistinct; a realm of mingling and moving shadows. But these clear away, and lo, before us rise the turrets of my chateau.

No splendid edifice of gold, and porphyry, and marble, though these I might have at will; nay, not even so much as a pretence at architectural elegance. I like not the cold and symmetrical formality of the classic orders, nor the crowded and laborious arches of the gothic, nor yet the heavy and gloomy style of the middle ages. But here I have a mingling of the beauties of each; a fantastic but picturesque jumble of turrets, and columns, and arches–a “most harmonious discord” of architectural achievement. Others might smile at its want of order and appropriateness of parts, but a greater than I–the great wizard of the North, of whom we have all heard, possessed  a similar taste, and reared a chateau like to my own–not in Dreamland, but among the wild and picturesque hills of Scotland.

We will first take a turn through the gardens, where the shadows lie still and heavy beneath the trees, whose branches are yet lighted by the rays of the setting sun. For who does not love a garden? though by that name be dignified a tiny plot of ground, ornamented with a few cowslips and a rosebush .Never yet was there a poet, or a great and learned man, who delighted not in a garden. It is the first love of a child, and often the last lingering fancy of old age; and is, in fact, but a form of development of that love of nature which is implanted in every heart, and never thoroughly worn out, even amid the world-worn denizens of the city.

Yet here in my gardens, in Dreamland, are no straight graveled walks and stiff pruned hedges, and plots of mathematical symmetry. I hate this torturing of nature into forms of art. Oh, for once, said my soul, let nature be herself in all her aspects that are pure and beautiful. Yes, let the soul be itself, and here in dreamland, away from worldly influences, live the life that God gave it; all its generous emotions un-chilled–its aspirations unsubdued–its nobler instincts untrammeled by artificial teaching. And so, here in Dreamland, I live a higher and purer life than on earth. And here in my garden I delight to wander as I will, with nature in all her beautiful forms around me. Here are clumps of orange and magnolia perfuming the air with their snow-white blossoms, and clear, crystal springs that gush from their native rock, and wander away, at their own sweet will, amid grassy banks, and wild flowers, and moss-covered rocks. Here are many lovely little spots and picturesque objects, which would please the fancy of poet or painter, though the ordinary observer might pass them by unheeded. Now we come to a mossy little hollow, overshadowed by the low drooping boughs of a tree, amid whose gnarled roots, a little well lies dark, and clear, and still. Lower down, the snow-white blossoms of the water-lily gleam amid their dark green leaves. Here, a fallen trunk, gray with lichens, spans the stream; and just beyond, rises a huge rock, rich in gold and green moss, and feathery fern, and graceful creepers with scarlet berries. how many beautiful pictures; and what artist could do without a Dreamland of his own?

The moon is rising slowly over the sea now–the fair bright sea, rippling in a gentle swell, and falling upon the silvery sands, and murmuring dreamily to itself. A few rosy shells, half-filled with water–masses of tangled sea-weed; and here, a bit of wreck cast on the sands, as a touch of shadow in the bright picture. Far away toward the West, a hazy, golden gleam is reflected from a bright world beyond, of which, as yet, I know nothing.

Thitherward my thoughts often turn, in vague, though earnest longings for that unknown land, whose name is Hereafter. Sometimes, when the sea is dark and threatening, I hear a voice whisper, “It is the Sea of Death, and a time will come, when, as you sit lonely upon this shore, listening to its moaning voice, there will come a little boat to your feet, steered by a fair angel, and over that sea you will go together to the beautiful land that is beyond.”
Do you see those ships gliding, spirit-like, through the twilight? They are mine; for here, in Dreamland, I have a whole fleet of my own. their names are various–Prayer, Hope and Love. I send them forth, richly laden; I trust them to the winds and the waves. Sometimes they are wafted on fairly to their destined haven; sometimes they go down gently, yet hopelessly, when all is calm; and at times there arises a mightily tempest, and the wreck is dashed back, riven and splintered, at my feet. All along the shore are strewn fragments of these wrecks; and even when the sea is brightest, I remember that those ripples are sparkling and singing over wrecks that lie buried, with all their rich freight, in the moaning depths below.

I love to watch that long line of moonlihgt reflrected upon the waters, like an illuminated pathway to the Hereafter beyond. Sometimes I see bright figures, as of angels, pass and repass that line of light. Sometimes I see a shadow by my side, and hear my name called, and feel my hand clasped; and when I turn and stretch forth my arms, it is gone, gone! And the Sea of Death means on in its everlasting dirge.

But away with sad thoughts, and come with me now into my chateau. I have books here–a great library, which I have delighted to collect, and where I love to shut myself in, and, forgetful of my own insignificance, talk, face to face, with the great minds of earth. Here they are, of all nations and ages–a strange and motley assemblage. Now I listen, curious and awe-struck, to a learned Rabbi, or an Athenian philosopher, or a bearded Monk of the dark ages. These come and go, like phantoms, strangely and coldly, exciting in my mind only awe and reverence. But with the dreamy poet, or the brilliant eassayist, or romancer of more modern times, my soul holds a closer and more familiar communion. With these I pass many a happy hour–listening to their words, and even gazing into their faces until their features become to me as those of familiar friends. Among the best loved of these are genial Sir Walter, and “gentle Elis,” and hearty, cheerful Kit North–with whom I delight to roam away over the breezy Moors, and in the shadow of Ben Lomond, and on the wild and picturesque shores of Inch Cruin. Sometimes I listen to the weird Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, or to the voice of one who sinned against his own soul in writing Queen Mab. But most, I love the sweet and dreamy tone of one who delights to wander away from the haunts of men, “amid lonely hearts of purple hills,” and by “salt sea-marshes,” and ferny fens, and on the shores where

“all through the moonless night,
The plunging seas draw backward from the land,
The moon-led waters white.”

I know not why it is that I so love Tennyson, but with him my heart instinctively claims a closer sympathy than with any other poet. His melodies, when I first heard them, struck startling upon my soul, as echoes of its own, or of what I seemed to have heard long ago, and to remember as a half-forgotten dream. And now his voice ever sends through my heart a thrill as of a fresher and purer life, rife with all images of beauty.

In my chateau I have, also, a studio, where I daily paint some rare icutes to adorn the walls of my gallery; and the picture even takes the tone of my own mind, as it chances to be at the moment–grave or gay, sunny or sombre. Now, it is a flowery knoll, with sunlight streaming through crimson autumn foliage, and flecking with gold the mossy rocks and yellow ferns. Then, it is a desolate sea-coast, with wild waves dashing upon beetling crags, and on the sands a human form, clinging with lifeless hand to a fragment of broken mast. Again, when my spirit is strong, and full of a tameless energy to “do and dare”–to struggle against all trials of life and conquer–I paint a battle-piece, with mailed warriors and fiery chargers mingling in combat, and the flash of swords gleaming through “war-clouds dun.” And then, in some quiet, tender mood, I sketch a little child, with meek, loving blue eyes and golden curls, clasping to his heart a lily or a dove–a little child who was wont to rest his head upon my bosom, but whom I see no more now, save in Dreamland. I have other pictures as dear as this, but they are veiled, and I dare not look upon them, for the wild regrets which awaken for the dead, and worse, far worse, for the living lost.

Yet here, in Dreamland, I meet them all again. Here I walk, as of old, amid friends who are seen no more on earth. Voices, long silent, speak to me here, gently and tenderly; eyes, long dimmed in death, gaze lovingly into my own; and hands clasp my own, whose warm pressure I shall never again meet, save in Dreamland. They are here–all here; and when on earth my soul faints in unutterable yearning for their presence, is it nothing to be able to enter Dreamland and there meet them, my loved and cherished guests? And so, those who are dad to others are not dead to me; and voices, forgotten by them, I hear daily and forget not.

You, my friend, may wander as you will over my chateau, and enter every where save in one apartment, which, like that in the fairy tale, is never opened; yet, no chamber of horrors is this, but an inner sanctuary of things to my soul, too holy for the gaze of other eyes. Who reveals the full secrets of his chateau in Dreamland? Is there not in every one a sealed chamber, where the soul of the possessor lives a life of unknown save to itself and God? There are hoarded the joys which have made earth a paradise, and the agonies whose very remembrance is a pang–yet a pang so blent with the soul’s deepest affections that we cannot turn away from, or forget them. And, oftentimes, in that inner temple, is an idol enshrined, a dim phantom-form, whose name the pale lips of the dreamer utter not to human ear.

In Dreamland, we live over the hours past; in Dreamland, anticipate those that are to come; in our chateau, hoard all things that the soul most loves and desires. There are souls, strengthened and refreshed for the cares and trials of life; and should some cold voice say, sneeringly, “They are shadows,” then we will answer, looking upward, strong and serene in our faith: “Yea; but shadows of the great Truths that have been, and that shall yet be in the Hereafter, whose golden haze shines afar, beyond the great unknown Sea of Death.”

Posted in Edgar Allan Poe, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Project Progress, Prose, Susan Archer Weiss | Tagged , | Leave a comment