The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane


Edgar Allan Poe

After his mother’s death Edgar was taken into the Richmond, Virginia home of John Allan, a prosperous merchant. While Poe was never formally adopted, by all accounts John Allan and his wife, Frances, gave the boy a comfortable and loving home, providing him with a solid education and many advantages. As an adolescent, however, Poe clashed with his practical and thrifty foster father. Heated quarrels led to estrangement and Poe struck out on his own at the age of eighteen.

Poe arrived in Boston in the spring of 1827, bringing with him the manuscripts of the poems he had written as a teenager. Shortly after his arrival, he met with a little known printer named Calvin Thomas and paid him to print the ten compositions that constitute Tamerlane and other Poems. Although it sank into obscurity as soon as it was published, the slim volume—now among the rarest books in American literature—preserves important clues to Poe’s early development as a writer. Critics have noted the book’s Byronic influences and the appearance of themes that would remain characteristic of Poe’s later work, such as the dark despair of lost love.

Lacking steady employment and still estranged from John Allan, Poe enlisted in the United States Army in the spring of 1827. While continuing to write poetry, he served with distinction for nearly two years, rising to the rank of sergeant major, the highest non-commissioned army rank. Poe soon chafed, however, under the regimentation of military life. After a brief and unsuccessful stint as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he left the army for good in February 1831.

Edgar Allan Poe. Tamerlane and Other Poems. By a Bostonian. Boston: Calvin F. S. Thomas, printer, 1827.

Poe’s first published book is one of the rarest books in American literature. The first known copy of Tamerlane was discovered by Henry Stevens in 1859 among a collection of Boston imprints he purchased from Boston bookseller Samuel G. Drake. Today, only twelve copies are known to exist. The copy in the Tane collection, the most recent to come to light, was found by a book collector in 1988 among vintage agricultural pamphlets in a New Hampshire antiques shop. The collector purchased it for $15.

The Boston Directory. Boston: Hunt and Stimpson, and J. H. A. Frost, 1827.

The printer of Tamerlane is listed in this Boston business directory as “Calvin F. S. Thomas, printer, 70 Washington.” Little is known about Thomas, who was just a teenager when Poe approached him to print his first book. No other books with his imprint are known.

The United States Review and Literary Gazette. New York: G. & C. Carvill; Boston: Bowles & Dearborn, August, 1827.
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The first printed notice announcing the publication of Tamerlane appeared in this issue of The United States Review and Literary Gazette.

Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. By Edgar A. Poe. Baltimore: Hatch & Dunning, 1829.

Although Tamerlane was published two years earlier, Poe considered Al Aaraaf the first published edition of his poetry and revised its entire contents substantially in preparation for this publication. Although the volume did not sell well, it received several favorable reviews, most significantly from the critic John Neal in the December issue of The Yankee. Poe would later call Neal’s favorable critique “the very first words of encouragement I ever remember to have heard.”

There are fewer than twenty known copies of this edition of Al Aaraaf, only twelve of which survive in their original covers.

John Neal. “Unpublished Poetry.” In The Yankee and Boston Literary Gazette. December, 1829.
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John Neal had been introduced to Poe by a fellow member of the Delphian Club of Baltimore. Neal’s article in The Yankee provided Poe with his first meaningful exposure as a writer. Neal ends his essay with high praise: “What more can we do for the lovers of genuine poetry? Nothing. They who are judges will not need more; and they who are not-Why waste words upon them? We shall not.”

Register of the Army and Navy of the United States. No. I, 1830. Washington: Peter Force, 1830.
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Poe is listed on page 84 as a student at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, where he spent several months waiting for his foster father, John Allan, to help him pay the fees required to resign. When Allan refused, Poe intentionally neglected his military and academic duties, leading to a court-martial in January 1831 and dismissal the following month.

Edgar Allan Poe. Tamerlane and Other Poems. London: George Redway, 1884.

This is the second edition of Tamerlane, containing a long preface recounting the publishing history of the book, along with a facsimile of the British Museum’s copy of the original edition. Limited to 100 copies, this is the first separate printing of Tamerlane in England.

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