Nevermore:
The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane

Family History

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe. Later nineteenth century interpretation by an unknown artist.

Edgar Allan Poe’s parents, Eliza and David Poe, Jr., and his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Arnold, were actors. Eliza Arnold (Poe) began performing as a child in England, sometimes appearing with her mother on stage. Elizabeth and her daughter emigrated to America in 1796, and Eliza made her stage debut in Boston at the age of nine.

Eliza met David Poe, Jr., also an actor, in 1805, and they married the following year. Edgar Poe, the couple’s second son, was born in 1809. A quick succession of tragedies then befell the young family. David Poe left his wife soon after Edgar’s birth and died shortly thereafter, leaving the young mother to struggle alone. Eliza gave birth to a third child, Rosalie, in 1810, and died of tuberculosis the following year, at the age of twenty-four.

Edgar Allan Poe claimed to remember very little of his life before the death of his parents. But the stories and impressions later gleaned from friends and family members colored his imagination. Fellow actors in his parents’ theatrical troupe, Mr. and Mrs. Usher, lent their names to one of Poe’s most famous stories. The loss of loved ones was an enduring theme in his poems and tales. And some saw in Poe himself a measure of inherited charisma and dramatic presence that helped him succeed on stage as a public lecturer.

The Tane collection contains more than a dozen publications tracing the acting careers of Poe’s parents and his maternal grandmother. These scarce playbills, newspaper advertisements, and published plays comprise some of the few written records that allow us to reconstruct the stage careers of Poe’s relatives.

Playbill. The Woodman. London: Theatre-Royal Covent-Garden. Monday May 23, 1791.
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Playbill. Orpheus and Eurydice. London: Theatre-Royal Covent-Garden. Tuesday March 13, 1792.
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Two London playbills advertise performances at the Theatre-Royal Covent-Garden. Listed among the performers is Poe’s maternal grandmother, Mrs. Arnold.

Boston Gazette. Thursday, February 5, 1807.
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This advertisement in the Boston Gazette publicizes a performance of Romeo and Juliet to be given at the Boston Theatre in February 1807, two years before Poe’s birth. The role of “Paris” is played by Poe’s father, Mr. Poe, and Mrs. Usher appears in the chorus.

Mrs. Inchbald. Every One Has His Fault; a Comedy, in Five Acts. As performed at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden and at the Boston Theatre. Boston: John West and co., 1809.
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Poe’s father appeared as the character “Mr. Placid” in the Boston cast of Mrs. Inchbald’s Every One Has His Fault. Mr. Usher played the role of “Lord Norland.”

William Diamond. Foundling of the Forest. New York: David Longworth, 1809.
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M. G. Lewis. Venoni, or, The Novice of St. Marks. New York: David Longworth, 1809.
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James Bland Burges. Riches; or the Wife and Brother. New York: D. Longworth, 1810.
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Poe’s mother appeared in the New York cast of each of the three plays shown here. She played the role of “Rosabelle” in William Diamond’s play Foundling of the Forest; the role of “Veronica” in the M.G. Lewis play Venoni, or, The Novice of St. Marks, and “Eliza” in James Bland Burges’s Riches; or the Wife and Brother.

Artist Unknown. Pen-and-ink silhouette of Edgar Allan Poe, signed with initials “E.A.P.”
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This is the only extant Poe silhouette from life, and one of only twelve known portraits of Poe executed in the author’s short lifetime.

Artist Unknown. Charcoal portrait of Edgar Allan Poe as a child, with Mrs. Allan.
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On the back is written in pencil “Edgar, age 10,” with mother Allan, 1819. This composition, of unknown origin, was purchased at a Virginia estate sale in 1984. At the end of the auction, the buyer was approached by the elderly lady whose items were being auctioned. She stated that the portrait is of Edgar Allan Poe when he was ten years old, with a woman she called “Frances.”

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