Edgar Allan Poe and the Jesuits

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Thursday 12, July 2012 | Category:   Clergy
E. A. POE, friend of the
early Fordham Jesuits
Dr. Pat McNamara, professor of church history at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, blogs on American Catholic history at McNamara's Blog, and a few months ago had an item about a little-known connection between the American writer Edgar Allan Poe and the early Jesuit community at Fordham University.

"In the summer of 1846," Dr. McNamara writes, "Poe, along with his young wife Virginia and her mother, had rented a home in what is now the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. The area was still predominantly rural, numbering a handful of farms at most, offering some hope of comfort and stability. But within a few months Virginia, whom locals remembered as frail and beautiful, died. The grief-stricken widower found some solace in visiting her grave and in long walks.

"Sometimes these walks took him by the Jesuit's St. John's College [later Fordham]. Between Poe's home and the college (formerly a colonial manor) were nothing but woods. One early twentieth century author commented:Fordham is still so charming and rural a locality that we can imagine it to have been a poet's true home before the first encroachments of a rapidly advancing city had broken its quiet.

"[Poe] liked [the] Jesuits, he wrote friend, because they were 'highly cultivated gentlemen and scholars, they smoked and they drank and they played cards, and they never said a word about religion.' " The Jesuits had a similar impression of him, McNamara says. "One young Jesuit, the Canadian-born Edward Doucet, became quite close to Poe. Later the college president . . .   Doucet recalled the poet as 'extremely refined . . . a gentleman by nature and by instinct.' He became almost a confessor to the troubled artist. On their walks around the campus, Poe poured out his numerous troubles to the young priest as they conversed in French.

Another early Fordham Jesuit "remembered Poe as a 'familiar figure at the college . . . It seemed to soothe his mind to wander at will about the lawn and the beautiful grounds back of the college buildings.' Another wrote: 'It was one of Poe's greatest gifts that he could make friends wherever he went. To know him was to love him. . . . It was a pleasure to see him and still more to listen to him.'

"A recent biographer," McNamara says, "notes that Poe 'found intellectual and spiritual companionship' with the Jesuits at the college. In this sparsely populated community, there weren't many people with whom Poe could discuss literature. The Jesuits, who sympathized with this starving artist, invited him to dinner many an evening, and gave him the use of their library. After dinner, he would peruse the library  or play cards with the Jesuits (the majority of whom were French-born).Usually he went home feeling better, but sometimes he couldn't bear going back. On those occasions, when his grief was too palpable, one of the Jesuits would walk him home. Occasionally he stayed overnight at the college."

Dr. McNamara's blog is on Patheos, which has the full story.
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