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Famous Meetings in History Edgar Allan Poe Meets Charles Dickens

About the meeting of the famous writers Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens, history and account of the meeting.

Edgar Allan Poe Meets Charles Dickens

When: 1842

Where: Philadelphia, Pa.

Who: At the time of their encounter, Dickens was 30 years old and had already published Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, and The Old Curiosity Shop. He was one of the most popular writers in England, and also beloved in America, where his books had been pirated. This visit to the U.S., the first of two, was undertaken to fulfill a lecture tour and propagandize in favor of international copyright laws. The relatively little-known Edgar Allan Poe, at 32, had published Tamerlane and Other Poems, The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, and Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Six years earlier he had married 13-year-old Virginia Clemm and was living with her and her mother, Maria Clemm. In this period he was drinking heavily.

What Led to the Meeting: Dickens arrived in Philadelphia to lecture. He checked into the United States Hotel. Learning of this, Edgar Allan Poe sent him a letter requesting a meeting, along with a two-volume collection of his short stories. Dickens responded at once. "My Dear Sir, I shall be very glad to see you whenever you will do me the favor to call. I think I am more likely to be in the way between half past eleven and twelve than any other time."

What Happened: They actually met twice in Dickens's room. Both times Poe wore a somber suit and mended gloves. On the first visit, Dickens received Poe wearing a green necktie in a diamond clasp under his shirt and a velvet vest with a gold chain. On the second visit, Dickens wore a dressing gown with violet facings. The meetings were impersonal. They discussed contemporary English and American writers. They talked about the necessity for an international copyright law. At last, Poe came to the point. He wanted his book Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque published in England. Would Dickens help through his contacts? Dickens promised to try. (Nine months later, Dickens wrote Poe admitting failure. "I have mentioned it to publishers with whom I have influence, but they have, one and all, declined the venture. . . . Do not for a moment suppose that I have ever thought of you but with a pleasant recollection; and that I am not at all times prepared to forward your views in this country.") Actually, according to Poe biographer Una Pope-Hennessy, the meetings between the two "proved sterile and closed coldly. Neither seems to have liked the other much."

When Dickens returned to America for his second tour, Poe was already dead. In Baltimore, Dickens learned that Poe's mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, was ill and living on charity. Dickens visited her, pressed some money into her hand, and later from England contributed $1,000 for her keep.

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