Posts Tagged ‘Edgar Allan Poe’

The Eldest Children of Charles Dickens with Pet Raven Grip by Daniel Maclise, 1941

The Eldest Children of Charles Dickens with Their Pet Raven "Grip" by Daniel Maclise, 1841

In yesterday’s post , I mentioned Grip the Raven, author Charles Dickens’ pet bird that was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” Dickens’ children loved the bird Grip although he did bite their ankles. At his children’s request, Dickens included Grip as a character in one of his books, Barnaby Rudge (1841). Dickens had three pet ravens, all named Grip. Grip I died in 1841, possibly because he ate lead chips scraped off a wall being repainted at the Dickens home. Dickens had the bird preserved and mounted in a glass case for display in his study. After Dickens’ death, a Poe collector acquired Grip I and donated him to the Free Library of Philadelphia where it remains today.

Dickens was saddened by Grip’s death. On March 12, 1841, he wrote the following letter to his friend, Daniel Maclise, who provided illustrations for his books and portraits of Dickens and his family, including the one on the left here featuring the eldest four of Dickens’ nine children: Charley, Mamie, Katey, and Walter. Dickens wrote:

 Mr. Dear Maclise,

Charles DickensYou will be greatly shocked and grieved to hear that the Raven is no more… On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated, but he soon recovered, walked twice or thrice along the coach-house, stopped to bark, staggered, exclaimed “Halloa old girl!” (his favorite expression) and died. The children seem rather glad of it. He bit their ankles but that was play…”

You might well ask why Grip the Raven is part of an Edgar Allan Poe Collection in Philadelphia. Toward the end of his life, Poe was a paid literary critic. In this role, he reviewed Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, in which Grip the Raven plays a part. When Grip makes his first noise in the book, one of the characters says, “What was that — tapping at the door?” The answer is “‘Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter.” Poe’s criticism of Barnaby Rudge was that, although he liked the book overall, he felt that the raven’s “croaking might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.”

Four years later, Poe published his most famous work, the poem  “The Raven,” which gave the raven a more central role. It features a tapping and talking raven who flies into a man’s room and perches on a bust of Pallas Athena. Dickens’ raven could speak many words and had many comic turns, including the popping of a champagne cork, but Poe emphasized the bird’s darker “devil-bird”qualities. His bird spoke only one word, “Nevermore.” Poe’s raven may have represented a messenger from hell or the after-life, mirroring the gloom and foreshadowing the doom of the troubled narrator who misses his beloved Lenore.

  The Raven

verse 1

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
                Only this, and nothing more….”

verse 3

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-
                Darkness there, and nothing more.

verse 4

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mienof lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
                Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

1884 Illustration from "The Raven" by Gustave Dore

1884 Illustration from "The Raven" by Gustave Dore

verse 5
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
                Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
Edgar Allan Poe

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2009 commemorative stamp

2009 stamp

Philadelphia wants the body of Edgar Allan Poe but Baltimore isn’t giving it up. Poe didn’t live in Baltimore long, but ever since he died and was buried there in 1849, the city has claimed him for its own. Not fair, says Edward Pettit, a Poe scholar in Philadelphia. He argues that Philadelphia was Poe’s true home, seeing that he wrote his most famous works in Philadelphia where he lived from 1838-1844, including the stories “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

“So, Philadelphians, let’s hop in our cars, drive down I-95 and appropriate a body from a certain Baltimore cemetery,” Mr. Pettit wrote in an article in October. “I’ll bring the shovel.”

Not so fast, said Jeff Jerome, the curator of the Poe House in Baltimore. “Philadelphia can keep its broken bell and its cheese steak, but Poe’s body isn’t going anywhere. If they want [another] body, they can have John Wilkes Booth,”  referring to Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, who is also buried in Baltimore.

Charles Dickens' pet raven, Grip, and the inspiration behind Edgar Allan's poem, "The Raven"

Charles Dickens' pet raven, Grip, and the inspiration behind Edgar Allan's poem, "The Raven"

Mr. Pettit didn’t really expect Poe’s body to be dug up and transferred to Philadelphia. He was merely starting a spirited debate to drum up interest in several Poe exhibits being held in Philadelphia this year to celebrate the bicentennial of the mystery writer’s birth. Among the many attractions was a show of artifacts that just recently closed at the Philadelphia Free Library. While Poe’s original manuscripts and first editions were hits with die-hard Poe fans, the star of the show was undeniably a stuffed bird, Grip, Charles Dickens’ pet raven and the inspiration behind Poe’s best-known work, “The Raven.”  

Poe began writing “The Raven” in Philadelphia but published it in New York where he relocated. Therefore, New York can also lay claim to Poe. Then there’s Boston where he was born. Poe, though, were he consulted on the matter, would have described himself as a Virginian, because he grew up and began his writing career in Richmond. Even South Carolina could cash in on Poe’s fame. Poe was stationed in the Army on Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, in 1827, and set “The Gold Bug” there. He also lived in Britain.

But Paul Lewis, a professor of English at Boston College, says neither of his rival cities are deserving of Poe’s legacy. Boston was the site of Poe’s birth, stated Lewis, the only place where he was happy. Boston and only Boston was Poe’s true home. Poe was poor, alcoholic, and miserable in all those other cities, claimed Lewis. “Every single city inspired Poe because they were torturing him,” said Lewis, tongue-in-cheek.

The argument between the cities has spilled over into blogs and newspaper articles, giving Edgar Allan Poe a boost in popularity, a healthy result for all the cities claiming Poe as its favorite son.

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