Rufus Griswold wrote an obituary about Edgar Allan Poe which was extremely unflattering. Signing it "Ludwig," Griswold did not fool Poe's friends who suspected that Griswold was responsible. This image, online via the University of Virginia Magazine, depicts a view of that obituary. Note, however, that the date of Poe's death is incorrect in this excerpt.


Rufus Griswold and Edgar Poe were not friends.  They worked with each other, when it was mutually beneficial, but they shared a suspicious distrust.

Two days after Poe died, the New York Tribune carried a widely disseminated obituary of the famous writer.  Although it was signed by "Ludwig," Poe's friends suspected Griswold had written the unflattering piece.  It started with these words:

Edgar Allan Poe is dead.  He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday.  This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it.  (New York Tribune, October 9, 1849, page 2.)

Griswold didn't stop with the obituary.  Conning Maria Clemm into entrusting him with Poe's works, Rufus busily changed Poe's words.  The end result had a disastrous effect on Poe's personal legacy.

Although his poems, stories and criticisms speak for themselves, since most were published before Edgar died, Poe's private letters were wracked by Griswold's changes and inventions.  Comparing Poe's original writings with Griswold's publications of them, scholars have been stunned at the extent of the man's blatant rewrite of Poe's history (and Griswold's role therein). 

No rewrite was too outrageous, and no lie was too great, when it came to Griswold's reworking of Poe's private papers, letters and life facts.   A few examples make the point:

  • Poe had voluntarily decided not to return to the University of Virginia; Griswold had him expelled for bad behavior
  • Poe had an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army; Griswold tagged him a deserter
  • A "Memoir of the Author," written by Griswold, contains forged letters to make Griswold look good and changed documents to make Poe look bad.

Because Griswold published Poe's collected literary works, he was able to accomplish what Poe never could during his own lifetime.  On the other hand, Griswold's personal interjections and inappropriate changes were repeated, for years, in the works of many other writers.

In "The Raven," a film version of Poe's last days - in which John Cusack portrays the famous poet - a critic named Griswold endures a very bad end (akin to the story of The Pit and the Pendulum).  The real critic Griswold also met a bad end - of tuberculosis - in August of 1857. 

Of Griswold, in 1843, one of Poe's friends prophetically wrote:

...what will be his fate? ... if he is spoken of hereafter, he will be quoted as the unfaithful servant who abused his trust.  (Henry Beck Hirst, Philadelphia Saturday Museum, 28 January 1843.)

For Griswold, in 2012, what fate awaits him in a fictional film?  Pleading for his life, after abusing his trust, he cries-out: 

I'm only a critic!

To which Poe, himself - were he still alive - might respond:   "So be careful not to libel or slander someone!"

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: May 01, 2012

Updated Last Revision: Mar 13, 2016

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"RUFUS GRISWOLD and POE'S LEGACY" AwesomeStories.com. May 01, 2012. Jan 19, 2020.
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