The appeal had the desired effect. Old friends and new came to the rescue, and, thanks to them, and especially to Mrs. Shew, the “Marie Louise” of Poe’s later poems, his wife’s dying moments were soothed, and the poet’s own immediate wants provided for. In January, 1846, Virginia Poe died; and for some time after her death the poet remained in an apathetic stupor, and, indeed, it may be truly said that never again did his mental faculties appear to regain their former power.
For another year or so Poe lived quietly at Fordham, guarded by the watchful care of Mrs. Clemm,—writing little, but thinking out his philosophical prose poem of “Eureka,” which he deemed the crowning work of his life. His life was as abstemious and regular as his means were small. Gradually, however, as intercourse with fellow literati re-aroused his dormant energies, he began to meditate a fresh start in the world. His old and never thoroughly abandoned project of starting a magazine of his own, for the enunciation of his own views on literature, now absorbed all his thoughts. In order to get the necessary funds for establishing his publication on a solid footing, he determined to give a series of lectures in various parts of the States.
His re-entry into public life only involved him in a series of misfortunes. At one time he was engaged to be married to Mrs. Whitman, a widow lady of considerable intellectual and literary attainments; but, after several incidents of a highly romantic character, the match was broken off. In 1849 Poe revisited the South, and, amid the scenes and friends of his early life, passed some not altogether unpleasing time. At Richmond, Virginia, he again met his first love, Elmira, now a wealthy widow, and, after a short renewed acquaintance, was once more engaged to marry her. But misfortune continued to dog his steps.
A publishing affair recalled him to New York. He left Richmond by boat for Baltimore, at which city he arrived on the 3d October, and handed his trunk to a porter to carry to the train for Philadelphia. What now happened has never been clearly explained. Previous to starting on his journey, Poe had complained of indisposition,—of chilliness and of exhaustion,—and it is not improbable that an increase or continuance of these symptoms had tempted him to drink, or to resort to some of those narcotics he is known to have indulged in towards the close of his life. Whatever the cause of his delay, the consequences were fatal. Whilst in a state of temporary mania or insensibility, he fell into the hands of a band of ruffians, who were scouring the streets in search of accomplices or victims. What followed is given on undoubted authority.
His captors carried the unfortunate poet into an electioneering den, where they drugged him with whisky. It was election day for a member of Congress, and Poe with other victims, was dragged from polling station to station, and forced to vote the ticket placed in his hand. Incredible as it may appear, the superintending officials of those days registered the proffered vote, quite regardless of the condition of the person personifying a voter. The election over, the dying poet was left in the streets to perish, but, being found ere life was extinct, he was carried to the Washington University Hospital, where he expired on the 7th of October, 1849, in the forty-first year of his age.