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Poe’s parents and the Boston stage

(EDGAR ALLAN POE). A collection of newspapers with notices of stage performances featuring Poe’s parents

Boston, 1806-1809

16 issues, each a 4pp broadsheet, original folds. Some browning, tears, repairs, a few complete separations at folds, and stains, one or two issues defective, but in respectable condition overall.

This collection documents the theatrical career of Edgar Allan Poe’s parents David and Eliza. David Poe, Jr. married 18-year-old Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins in Richmond in March 1806. The two toured the Northeast with an acting troupe, spending three productive seasons in Boston. There they had two children, William Henry Leonard (born in 1807) and Edgar (born in 1809).

A  highlight is the notice of their Boston debut, printed the morning of the opening night of Speed the Plough. An early reviewer said of this performance, “chronicled the début of Mr. and Mrs. Poe at the winter campaign of the Boston Theater, which commenced on the 13th of October: ‘Morton’s favorite comedy of ‘Speed the Plow’ was selected for the first night’s performance. The parts of Henry and Miss Blanford were filled by Mr. and Mrs. Poe, from the Virginia theaters, their first appearance in Boston. Estimating the talents of this couple by comparison, we might say the same characters have been more ably sustained on our boards. A first performance, however, does not always afford a criterion by which merit may be estimated. Mr. Poe possesses a full, manly voice, of considerable extent, his utterance clear and distinct. The managers will undoubtedly find him a useful and the town a pleasing performer of the Henrys, Charles Stanleys, etc. Of the talents of Mrs. Poe we are disposed to judge favorably’” (Stoddard, 
“Some Myths in the Life of Poe”).

In 1809 the family moved to New York, and soon thereafter David seems to have abandoned the family. In his absence Rosalie was born in 1810. Over the coming months Eliza’s health declined, and she died, likely of tuberculosis, in 1811. The orphaned children were separated, with Edgar Poe being taken in by John and Frances Allan in Richmond.

The collection comprises:

Independent Chronicle, 13 Oct 1806. Opening night notice for Speed the Plough, the Boston stage debut of David and Eliza Poe on October 13.

The Repertory, 20 Feb 1807, 5 May 1807, 9 Oct 1807; 2 Dec 1808; 3 Feb 1809, 14 Feb 1809, 21 Feb 1809, and 25 Apr 1809. Each issue contains a notice of a performance starring the Poes. The 3 February 1809 number lists David Poe in The Country Girl just two weeks after the birth of Edgar. The 14 February 1809 issues lists Eliza as Emilia in False Alarms less than one month after the birth of Edgar.

Independent Chronicle, 12 Jan 1809. A notice for Rule the Wife with David Poe as the Duke of Messina, just one week before the birth of Edgar.

New-England Palladium, 4 Apr 1809. Mrs Poe as Palmyra in Mahomet.

Columbia Centinel, 15 Oct, 29 Oct, 8 Nov, 17 Dec, and 27 Dec 1809. These five newspapers contain notices of the following plays starring the David and Eliza Poe: Lovers’ Vows, The Belle’s Stratagem, The Padlock, Jane Shore, and The Provoked Husband.

$6,800