Allow me to introduce myself; I am Morella, a lifelong devotee of the immortal and ineffable Edgar Allan Poe. I was literally raised on his works at my mother's knee, and I was named for one of the mysterious dark ladies to be found in his prose and poetry. I aspire to manifest his elegant eloquence, as my nature inevitably partakes of his morbid imagination. And I have always found the matter of his untimely demise to inspire troubled misgivings, as well as deepest sorrow.
The irrefutable facts that have survived concerning his activities and whereabouts those five days unaccounted for before he turned up in a tavern are few and far between. Too often, they tend to add to the shadows that have gathered over the years rather than illuminate the events that took place exactly 150 years ago this coming October 4th. Most Poe biographers and scholars have contented themselves with merely reporting the facts as they are known. Some have alluded to the rumors and opinions expressed by certain contemporaries of Poe. There have been a few who propigated the prevailing theory of the day, one of these being the widely accepted story of his having fallen prey to a gang of "coopers".
Cooping was a well-documented and notorious practice in the middle part of the last century. It involved gathering up those men unlucky enough to be out on the streets unprotected on the night (or two) before an election. If these poor unfortunates were not already adequately stupified, they were held captive in cellars and strongholds where they were plied with liquor and drugs (probably laudanum) until all thought of resistance was gone. When Election Day dawned, they were herded by their abductors like so many sheep from poll to poll, ticket in hand, to vote again and again for the pre-arranged candidate. This continued until the hapless captives often dropped in the streets and were of no further use to their captors. There are several cases on record of death resulting from this widespread and odious abuse of the public trust by its elected officials.
It is not difficult to understand why this theory became so widely accepted as the underlying and inadvertent cause of Poe's passing. He was found the day after a major election had taken place in a tavern that had been used as a polling center; and he was in an apparent drunken stupor, wearing clothes that were not his own, and looking much the worse for wear, having spent the previous cold October night in the frigid streets outside. Although Poe was well known to be a problem (although not always a habitual) drinker, he had only one month earlier taken a public Pledge of Temperance, which was reported in several prominent newspapers of the day. For the many friends, fans, and supporters of Poe, this scenario took some of the responsibility for his public drunkenness and subsequent demise away from Poe himself.
Now comes a new book by John Evangelist Walsh, the third biographical treatment of Poe by this author. His earlier books dealt with the story of Poe's creation of the modern detective story (Poe the Detective) and his relationship with the minor poetess Frances Osgood (Plumes in the Dust). Now Mr. Walsh endeavors to lay to rest, for once and for all, the unanswered questions surrounding the death of Edgar Allan Poe. He begins by meticulously documenting every known bit of trivia that has remained on record, and he has succeeded in unearthing an impressive amount of data that had been buried and overlooked by previous Poe researchers. Building on this foundation of hard facts, he proceeds to overlay a body of inferences and suppositions, taking great care to validate his conclusions with excerpts from personal correspondence and recorded interviews whenever possible. While all readers and fans of Poe may not in the end concur with Mr. Walsh's theories, we must agree that he has certainly given all of us, and especially those of us with more than a passing familiarity with Poe's life, food for thought.
According to Mr. Walsh, the key to unlocking the mystery surrounding Poe's death lies with his recently renewed romantic entanglement with his boyhood sweetheart, Elmira nee Royster Shelton. They had been unwillingly estranged when Poe went away to college, and her father had intercepted the letters they never saw from one another. In 1849, the final year of Poe's life, Elmira had been a widow for five years. Poe has lost his beloved Virginia in 1847, and after a year spent in a deep depression and filled with frequent bouts of drinking and despair, he had for the most part rallied. He had picked up the pieces of his neglected literary career, and renewed his efforts to attain his lifelong dream: creating and editing his own magazine, carved in his image and molded to his own vision, expressing his own voice in the burgeoning and uniquely American literature movement of his day.