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The Saturday Visiter Contest

(August 1831 - March 1834)

Edgar had his first serious romantic attachment since Elmira Royster with a seventeen-year-old girl named Mary Starr. It's said that he proposed to her but that her brother disapproved since Edgar could not support himself, let alone a wife. Edgar was apparently jealous and the two often quarreled. One time Edgar visited Mary late at night, under the influence of alcohol, they started to quarrel; Mary ran home and her mother had to stop the furious Edgar from catching her. After that he was not allowed to visit her anymore.
According to a Maryland journalist named Lambert Wilmer, who also had published a play based on Edgar's broken off engagement with Elmira Royster, Edgar was very occupied with his writing during this period of his life, and he had now turned to fiction, probably hoping to make some more money than he did on poetry. His first published tale appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Evening Post on August 13, 1831 and was entitled "The Dream". In the narrator's dream he walks around in a seemingly dead environment when he sees a distant opening in the sky from where comes the person he had helped to slay. With a colorful language Edgar describes the hideous charachter approaching before the narrator awakes. The story embodies much of Edgar's past and might have been inspired from Henry's death. A statement where "nature mourned, for its parent had died" could suggest a connection between Edgar's feelings about Henry's and their mother, Eliza's, death.
Whether Edgar wrote the story or not is not certain, it was published with the signature "P" but the circumstances around the publishings and the charachter of the story suggests that he did. Henry had published his work in the magazine earlier and this story was published shortly after Henry's death.
In the spring of 1831 the Saturday Courier, also in Philadelphia, announced a contest offering $100 for "the best AMERICAN TALE". Edgar did not win but the judges liked his work. On January 14, 1832, they published his first acknowledged tale - "Metzengerstein". This story was a dreamlike, supernatural tale with strong autobiographical overtones. Fifteen-year-old Baron Frederick Metzengerstein had, like Edgar, been orphaned early in life and after that he "stood without a living relative". The palace in the tale also recalls Moldavia.
Later in 1832, Edgar published four comic tales in the Philadelphia Courier, "Duke de L'Omelette", "A Tale of Jerusalem", "A Decided Loss" and "The Bargain Lost". Even if they were comic, all the tales bring up the subject of surviving death. The Duke de L'Omelette is brought to Baal-Zebub to play cards with the devil. "A Decided Loss" shows of all the ways you can die without dying. The narrator lost his breath, got his skull crushed, was hanged, had his ears cut off by a coroner, gets cut up, still alive although killed again and again. Edgar's language in these tales is full of detailed, shocking violence, tendencies he had shown of as early as in the letters he wrote from the University to John Allan.
By the spring of 1833 Edgar decided to gather his work into a volume called "Eleven Tales of the Arabeque". Six of the tales he entered in a contest sponsored by a Baltimore newspaper, the Saturday Visiter. The prize was $50 for the best tale and $25 for the best poem. In the latter category Edgar also entered a new poem entitled "The Coliseum". The manuscript he sent was called, "The Tales of the Folio Club" and the jury had no problems picking Edgar as a winner considering all his tales equally good. The tale that was chosen as a winner for its originality was "MS. Found in a Bottle" and it was published October 19, 1833, and the week after his poem was published.
"MS. Found in a bottle" is mainly about a man who, together with an "old Swede", survives when their ship gets destroyed. They end up on a phantom-ship where he walks around and nobody notices him and as the vessel plunges into a whirlpool the narration breaks off - "the ship is quivering - O God! and - going down!". The tale is as many other tales by Edgar filled with effectful contradictions - the dead are living, the young are old, the strange is unstrange, the near is far and so on. The ship reappears in "The Coliseum" but this time in a ghostly architechtural version, and also the Colliseum is a survivor of death.
On the same day "The Coliseum" was published the visiter ran a notice calling for subscribers for Edgar's new volume, "The Folio Club". But one week later Edgar decided not to publish as planned, instead he wanted to publish in Philadelphia. These changes of plans was probably because of the editor John Hewitt. The winner of the poem cathegory was Henry Wilton which apparently was a psudonym for Hewitt himself which Edgar did not like. Edgar was furious and accused Hewitt for having tampered with the jury in the contest and according to Hewitt some of his friends had to stop Edgar from starting a fight.
Edgar handed over his manuscript to a Baltimore novelist named John Pendelton Kennedy. He admired Edgar's writing and agreed to show it to Henry Carey in Philadelphia. Before that, Edgar got a part of it published - "The Visionary". It was published in January 1834 and it was Edgar's debut in a monthly magazine of national circulation.

The Death of John Allan

During these years of Edgar's life he had not much contact with John Allan. In August 1831, John Allan's new wife gave birth to the couples first child whom they named John Allan Jr. Edgar, who hadn't heard from Allan since he left West Point, probably found out about the child in October.
Edgar wrote to John Allan telling how ignorant and thankless he had been for the help he had received from John Allan and he was sure to say that it was not a concealed way of asking for money. But in the end of the letter he says that he was "wretchedly poor". And one month later Edgar claimed that he had been arrested for an old debt of $80 - but no evidence of this arrest has been found. Edgar's aunt, Maria Clemm , also wrote to John Allan at least twice trying to help Edgar out. Help was finally received and the debt was paid and after that Edgar had no contact with Allan for about 15 months.
Still in financial trouble, Edgar again went to live with Maria, his cousin Virginia and his grandmother in the spring of 1833. In April he once again wrote to John Allan begging for money to "save me from destruction". Allan who was fed up with Edgar's attidude refused any help.
In the 95 degree heat in the summer of 1833, John Allan became ill. He had now two children with Louisa, the second son named after William Galt. In 1834 the couple had a third child and John Allan health was not improving. A second hand witness states that Edgar came to visit Allan once and had to force himself past Louisa and into John Allan's sickroom. John Allan had raised his cane as to hit Edgar with it and ordered him to leave.
March 27, 1834, John Allan died sitting in his armchair. His will was problematic and not legally valid. John Allan's property was given to Louisa and the couple's common children. Edgar was not even mentioned in the will and although John Allan was good for about three quarters of a million dollar Edgar did receive nothing!

Last modified: February 07 2006 19:06:55.