POE, Edgar Allan (1809-1849). Autograph letter signed ("Edgar A. Poe") to Nicholas Biddle, Philadelphia, 6 January 1841.
One page, 198 x 247mm, with address leaf in Poe's hand, both hinged to a slightly larger sheet.
"Your name has an almost illimitable influence in this city": Poe seeks crucial support from an eminent Philadelphian for his literary journal The Penn. After editorial stints at the Southern Literary Messenger (1835-37) and Burton's Gentleman's Magazine (1839-40), Poe sought to finally achieve his longtime dream of owning and operating a journal of his own. In the lengthy prospectus set forth in 1840 he stated: "It shall be the first and chief purpose of the Magazine now proposed, to become known as one where may be found, at all times, and upon all subjects, an honest and a fearless opinion. […] Its aim, chiefly, shall be to please; and this through means of versatility, originality and pungency […] the spirit is novelty and vigor, and the immediate object of the enkindling of the imagination. In such productions, belonging to the loftiest regions of literature, the journal shall abound."
The Penn was meant to debut on the first of January 1841, with an annual subscription of $5 per annum. To Biddle, however, Poe writes on 6 January, "On account of a world of difficulties which I have had to encounter, not the least of which has been a severe illness, confining me to bed for the last six weeks, I have been forced to postpone the issue of the first number of my proposed Magazine until the first of March." He details his trouble in gaining subscribers and dances around Biddle's generosity before naming his ask: "that you would lend me the influence of your name in a brief article for my opening number. I need not suggest to you, as a man of the world, the great benefit I would derive from your obliging me in this matter. Without friends in Philadelphia, except among literary men as uninfluential as myself, I would at once be put in a good position…" No reply to this letter is known, and Poe's efforts were ultimately in vain: the project never got off the ground and the following month he took a job at Graham's Magazine.
Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844) was a literary man, scholar, statesman, and financier. In March 1839 he withdrew from public life and retired to "Andalusia," his country seat on the Delaware, where Poe called on him in 1840. As a wealthy, prominent Philadelphian interested in literature (as a young man Biddle had edited the Portfolio, then a leading literary periodical in America), he would have been an obvious possible patron for Poe to approach for support for his venture. Indeed the schedule accompanying Poe's 1842 bankruptcy filing shows that he owed $20 to Biddle for "money advanced." Ostrom Collected Letters (2008) 106a. Provenance: Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844) – by descent to James Biddle (Christie's, 17 May 1989, lot 186).