Gimbel, Richard

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Richard Gimbel (1898-1970) was a leading rare book and manuscript collector and the son of the founder of Gimbel's department store. Gimbel began collecting while serving with the 8th U.S. Army Air Force in England during World War II and continued after becoming curator of aeronautical literature at Yale University. In 1939, Gimbel purchased the Edgar Allan Poe House in Philadelphia. He refurbished the home and opened it as a museum. The National Park Service began overseeing the property in 1978, reopening the home in 1980.

Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809, the second child of actors Eliza Arnold Poe and David Poe, Jr. Early in 1810, David Poe abandoned his family; nothing is known of his fate. By the summer of 1811, Eliza's health was failing and she died on December 8, 1811, in Richmond, Virginia, at the age of twenty-four. The eldest son went to live with the Poe family in Baltimore, the infant daughter went to a Richmond family named MacKenzie, and Edgar was taken in by John and Frances (Fanny) Allan.

John Allan was a partner in the trading firm, The House of Ellis, which opened an office in London in 1815. Poe accompanied John and Fanny to England, where he attended several boarding schools. After a slow beginning, the London offices seemed to be doing well. The family returned to Virginia in 1820, after the business was ruined due to a dramatic change in the tobacco market. As John Allan sought to regain his financial footing, Poe continued his schooling, doing well in Latin, French, and sports. However, Poe was dealing with many psychological problems. Feelings of abandonment, a need not just to succeed, but to win, and the fact that John Allan never formally adopted him, seem to have added to his emotional issues.

In 1826, Poe studied briefly at the University of Virginia. After a series of angry clashes with Allan, Poe went to Boston. Finding it difficult to support himself, he enlisted in the Army. He remained there for two years before deciding that he had had enough. He sought Allan's aid in obtaining a discharge but help came grudgingly and only after Poe declared his intention to attend West Point. Poe's term at West Point lasted just a year, from March of 1830 to March of 1831. He performed well in the beginning, but late in the year John Allan remarried (Fanny Allan had died while Edgar was in the army) and wrote to Poe stating his wish for an end to their relationship. These events affected Poe's desire for the military life and he got himself court-martialed and discharged from West Point. From there he went to New York City. In April he made his way to Baltimore to seek aid from the remaining members of his father's family. He moved in with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and her daughter, Virginia. Over the next three years little is known about Poe's activities. He had difficulty supporting himself, he may have been briefly engaged, and he spent time with his brother who was also living in Baltimore. He also wrote a great deal.

In 1834 Poe married his cousin Virginia, who was not quite fourteen at the time, and began seriously seeking a means of supporting his family. In the spring of 1835, the family moved back to Richmond where Poe took a position with the Southern Literary Messenger . Poe used the opportunity to publish several of his poems and short tales in the paper, but he also began developing a reputation as a pugnacious critic by contributing scathing reviews of popular contemporary authors. In 1837 Poe left his position as editor of the Messenger by mutual agreement with the owner after a number of disagreements over Poe's articles.

Poe spent the rest of his life attempting to establish himself as a creditable force on the American literary scene. He tried to start his own literary paper on several occasions, but when that failed he continued to work for other papers in the capacity of critic and editor, most notably at Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in Philadelphia (1839-1840) and at The Broadway Journal in New York (1845). Poe's desire to be in charge, his vituperative critical attacks on people he disliked or disagreed with, and an ongoing problem with alcohol made it difficult for him to maintain a long-term working relationship with magazine owners and editors.

In 1847, Virginia Poe died after a long battle with tuberculosis. Edgar Allan Poe was devastated. Suffering ill health himself, and beaten down after his long battle with poverty, he continued to write and lecture, but his mental state seemed to decline. He was found unconscious on a street in Baltimore in the fall of 1849 and he died on October 7. No one knows why or how he died.

Poe published many works of fiction. Some of those works include The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe, No. I., containing "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Man That Was Used Up" (1843), Tales by Edgar A. Poe (1845), and Eureka: A Prose Poem (1848). His most famous work, "The Raven," was published in 1845.

Bibliography: This biographical sketch was taken almost entirely from the biographical notes provided in the finding aids to Edgar Allan Poe collections at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin and the Enoch Pratt Free Library Special Collections in Baltimore, Maryland.

From the guide to the Colonel Richard A. Gimbel collection of Edgar Allan Poe materials, 1809-1995, (Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Literary Manuscripts collection, 1666-1990 Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department
creatorOf Colonel Richard A. Gimbel collection of Edgar Allan Poe materials, 1809-1995 Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Baudelaire, Charles, 1821-1867 person
correspondedWith Bryant, William Cullen, 1794-1878 person
correspondedWith Carey, Matthew, 1760-1839 person
correspondedWith Dumas, Alexandre, 1802-1870 person
associatedWith Edgar Allan Poe House (Philadelphia, Pa.). corporateBody
associatedWith Free Library of Philadelphia. corporateBody
correspondedWith Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth, 1807-1882 person
correspondedWith Lowell, James Russell, 1819-1891 person
correspondedWith Meredith, George, 1828-1909 person
associatedWith Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849 person
correspondedWith Putnam, George Palmer, 1814-1872 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Authors, American--19th century




Ark ID: w6vn923q

SNAC ID: 30769377