A Not-Yet-Famous Poe Once Met Charles Dickens. This Is the Story.

On Mar. 6, 1842, Charles Dickens wrote a letter to the now-famous Poe. But, back then, Edgar Allan Poe was far from a well-known name.

He was instead editor of Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine. He’d sent books and papers for Dickens to enjoy, and he’d written positive reviews of Dickens’s novels, including Barnaby Rudge (Amazon | Bookshop).

The famous Poe, Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe

The novel came out in 1841. It takes place in London during the Gordon Riots of 1780. The book’s title character has a pet raven named Grip, based on a Dickens’s pet raven of the same name. 

Poe praised Barnaby Rudge in his Feb. 1842 review and called Grip “intensely amusing.”

And so, as he prepared for a six-month visit to the U.S., Dickens wrote to Poe. He opens the letter with, “I shall be very glad to see you whenever you will do me the favor to call.” 

Dickens thanked Poe for the reading materials he sent. Then Dickens adds, “I have the greater pleasure in expressing my desire to see you on this account.”

Dickens, his wife Catherine, and their children came to America in 1842.

By that time, Grip was dead. He died the year before, but Dickens had the bird stuffed and placed in a glass box overlooking his writing desk. And Grip lived on in a portrait of the Dickens family, which accompanied them to the New World.

Dickens meet the soon-to-be-famous Poe

The Dickens family stayed at the United States Hotel in Philadelphia. It’s there in 1842 that Poe and Dickens met for the first time. 

We don’t know much about what they discussed. But Poe may have learned that the raven from Barnaby Rudge had been a real-life pet of Dickens’. And that raven, named Grip, may have inspired Poe to write a poem that made him famous. 

The poem is “The Raven,” which Poe sold to a magazine for publishing. But a newspaper, The Evening Mirror, scooped the magazine by publishing a pirated copy of the poem. As a result, “The Raven” first appeared in public on Jan. 29, 1845.

“The Raven” was a hit. A lack of copyright protection, though, meant Poe received little money for his poem’s success. 

In need of work, Poe wrote Dickens in 1846. He asked if the novelist could help him get a job as an American correspondent for a British newspaper.

Dickens declined, telling Poe he had little connection to the media outlet. 

“Any such proposition as yours, therefore, must be addressed to the Editor,” Dickens wrote. “I do not know, for certain, how that gentleman might regard it, but I should say that he probably has as many correspondents in America and elsewhere, as the Paper can afford space to.”

Three years later, Edgar Allan Poe died. His mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, survived him. 

In 1868, Dickens returned to America. Dickens visited Clemm and, perhaps feeling bad about not helping her son years before, the famous author gave Poe’s mother what scholars believe to be a large amount of money.

Books by Edgar Allan Poe

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