Did poe use opium

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Did Poe use opium I have allot of conflicting research so if any one could send me a reliable site in this topic I would appreciate it

-- Anonymous, April 20, 2001


". . . in his time opium was easily available as an analgesic and tranquilizer, used for travel sickness, hangovers, and a variety of ailmens and nervous conditions. Just the same, it seems unlikely that Poe used the drug for any purpose beyond such general painkilling, if at all. T.D. English saw and spoke with Poe frequently and was moreover a doctor. Although he detested Poe . . . English denied rumors that Poe took opium and remarked later that had he done so, 'I should, both as a physician and a man of observation, have discovered it' during their frequent meetings. Thomas Dunn English, "Reminiscences of Poe," _Independent_, XLVII (15 Oct 1896), 1381-82. See also Alethea Hayter, _Opium and the Romantic Imagination_ (London, 1968), 29-33." quoted from Kenneth Silverman, _Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance_ New York: HarperCollins, 1991, note, page 481

On November 4, 1848, Poe took an overdose of laudanum (liquid solution of powdered opium in alcohol, weaker in opium content than morphine or heroin. His attempt failed as he retched it up and and was ill for several days. In Silverman's book (above) see "Suicide Attempt; 'Conditonal' Engagement. November 4-December 18, 1848," pages 373-74.

There is much conflicting information about nearly everything about Poe, much of the inaccurate information and distortions started by Poe's literary executor and biographer, Rufus Griswold. Poe is controversial; some of those who have disliked him have over the years tried to malign him by creating malicious myths--such as "he was a opium drug addict," which most scholarship refutes.

I don't know any specific web sites that address this issue. However, my advice is to be careful and not believe information just because it's been posted on a web site. Always ask, "What is the source of this information? How reliable is this source? What are this person's qualifications?"

I have, for example, based my response on a Pulizer Prize-winning biographer, Kenneth Silverman. I have also read similar accounts in several other respected biographies of Poe.

I'm sure this topic must have been discussed here previously; you might check the archives.

-- Anonymous, April 21, 2001


There is little I would or could add to Mr. Stroup's excellent commentary that may dispel this spurious myth of Poe's habitual drug use and any attendant or consequential effect it may have had on his work. Effectively, I suppose, to dispel the former is to eliminate the latter and, I think, his comments are sufficient for the purpose.

However, there are two points I do feel compelled to make that may be perceived as somewhat at odds with his observations. While I concur with his caution for care and circumspection as well as requesting sources where applicable, a significant source for much of the "malicious myth" about Edgar Poe can be found to be spilling from American classrooms. Even a cursory review of threads to this very forum will demonstrate some of the silliest notions ever to grace a fertile young mind and, frankly, I am hard pressed to believe they are spontaneous in nature. While most are rather amusing and many are simply antagonistic attempts to shock, there are some that clearly illustrate a troublesome lack of study on the part of those teaching our young. Regretfully, it does not appear to be limited to high school level class study for numerous threads are from students attending respected colleges.

Secondly, you should be aware that the well researched and reasonably well written biography, "Edgar Allan Poe - Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance" was not the source of Mr. Kenneth Silverman's Pulitzer Prize award. This well deserved and prestigious award was received by Mr. Silverman in 1985 for his book, "The Life and Times of Cotton Mather".

One parting comment, if I may be so bold. Edgar Poe and his work has been a life long study for me and over the last forty-two years I have had the opportunity to read dozens of biographies. Now, I use that term loosely because, in the final analysis, I seriously doubt many of them could be defined as more than profiles or sketches or memoirs any other appropriate name for a recollection of Poe and/or his art. Many were exquisitely researched with painstaking documentation and objectivity. The best of these modern biographicals are from Arthur Hobson Quinn, Thomas Ollive Mabbott and John Ward Ostrom. While Silverman's book is a must read for any enthusiast, his penchant for psychoanalysis can be troublesome and unnerving yet the book is informative and thought provoking.

Best Regards,

-- Anonymous, April 22, 2001

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