Sunday, April 17, 2011

Z. Collins Lee attends Edgar Allan Poe’s Funeral

Edgar Allan Poe, 1849
Zaccheus Collins Lee (5 December 1805–26 November 1859) was born in the Lee Family of Virginia, the seventh of the nine children of Richard Bland Lee (1761–1827) and his wife, Elizabeth Collins (1768–1858). Named for a maternal uncle, Zaccheus Collins and known as Z. Collins Lee, he was the nephew of Light-Horse Harry Lee and thus the first cousin of Robert E. Lee.

Lee studied law under Henry St. George Tucker at Tucker's Winchester Law School and under William Wirt at the University of Virginia. After completing the bar, Lee practiced law in Baltimore, Maryland. He served as United States District Attorney for Maryland from 1841 to 1845, and from 1850 to 1853. Lee was appointed Judge of the Superior Court of Baltimore in 1855 and served until his death.

Z. Collins Lee died at 5 o'clock in the evening on 26 November 1859 in Baltimore, after suffering an apparent stroke a few days earlier.

At the University of Virginia Lee was a classmate of Edgar Allan Poe, and one of the few attendees at Poe's funeral. The Lee Family Digital Archive is currently digitizing many of Lee's papers, including court cases, and ran across the following interesting article.

The Grave of Poe
Eugene Lemoine Didier

[Note: The following is taken from the 27 January 1872 issue of Appleton’s Journal: A Magazine of General Literature (volume 7, p. 104). Eugene Lemoine Didier (1838–1913), an early authority on Poe, was an editor and deputy marshal of the United States Supreme Court.]
THE GRAVE OF POE.


IT was on a cold, dull, and dreary day, last winter, while attending the funeral of Mrs. Maria Clemm, the aunt and mother-in-law of Edgar A. Poe, that I first saw the nameless grave of that gifted but most unfortunate poet. She had died the day before, and her last request was to be buried by the side of her “darling Eddie,” in Westminster Church-yard, corner of Fayette and Green Streets, Baltimore. No stone has ever marked the place of his burial, though, shortly after his death, a marble was prepared, which was accidentally broken in the stone-cutter’s shop, only a few days before it was to be erected. It bore the following inscription:

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HIC
TANDEM FELICIS
CONDUNTUR RELIQUIÆ
EDGARI ALLAN POE.
OBIIT OCT. 7, 1849,
ÆT. 38.

“Hic tandemn felicis!” Here at last he is happy! Can any thing be more beautifully pathetic? Here, misguided child of genius, victim of want, of disappointment, and of thy own fiery passions, thou didst find that peace which was denied thee during life!

In my conversations with Mrs. Clemm, she gave me many interesting facts about Poe’s personal appearance, his dress, etc. He was five feet eight and a quarter inches high; slightly but elegantly formed; his eyes were dark gray, almond-shaped, with long, black lashes; his forehead was broad, massive, and white; his mouth and teeth were beautiful; he wore a long but not heavy mustache; his hair was dark brown, almost black, and curly; his feet and hands small as a woman’s. He was very neat—even fastidious—about his dress; was fond of gray clothes; he always wore a turn-down collar and black cravat.

His custom was to walk up and down his library when engaged in literary composition. He never sat down to write until he had arranged the plot, the characters, and even the language, he was to use. To this may be at tributed the extraordinary finish which his compositions display.

The true story of Poe’s death has never been correctly told. It is this: In the summer of 1849 he left New York for Virginia. In Richmond he met Miss Elmira Shelton, whom he had known in his youth, renewed his acquaintance, and, in a few weeks, they were engaged to be married. He wrote to his friends in the North that he should pass the remainder of his life in Virginia, where the happiest days of his youth had been spent. Early in October he set out from Richmond to fulfil a literary engagement in New York, and to prepare for his marriage, which was to take place on the 17th of the month. Arriving in Baltimore, he found that he had missed the Philadelphia train which he expected to take, and would have to wait two or three hours for the next train. He went into a restaurant near the depot to get some refreshments. There he met some of his old West-Point friends, who invited him to a champagne-supper that night. He accepted the invitation, and went. At first he refused to drink, but at last he was induced to take a glass of champagne. That set him off, and, in a few hours, he was madly drunk. In this state he wandered off from his friends, was robbed and beaten by ruffians, and left insensible in the street all night. The next morning he was picked up and taken to the Maryland Hospital. He was delirious with brain-fever. He was well cared for by the physicians of the hospital, but he was beyond the skill of the doctors. He lingered two or three days, and died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, in the thirty-eighth year of his age. His funeral was attended by the Hon. Z. Collins Lee, Dr. Snodgrass, Nelson Poe (his cousin), and Henry Herring (his uncle).

Washington Irving sweetly says of the grave: “It buries every error, covers every defect, extinguishes every resentment. From its peaceful bosom spring none but fond regrets and tender recollections. Who can look down upon the grave even of an enemy, and feel not a compunctious throb that he should ever have warred with the poor handful of dust that lies mouldering before him!”

Let us, then, forget the errors of Edgar Poe, remembering the noble lines of Stoddard:
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He lies in dust, and the stone is rolled
Over the sepulchre dim and cold;
He has cancelled all he has done or said,
And gone to the dear and holy dead.
Let us forget the path he trod,
And leave him now to his Maker, God!

EUGENE L. DIDIER.

Learn more about the Lee Family at the Lee Family Digital Archive.

 

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