Tuesday, June 8, 2010
This Thursday past, June the 3rd, marks the anniversary of the demise of one of the most loathsome "women" it was ever my excruciating ill-fortune to have known...Elizabeth F. Ellet.
Regarding the notice of her death to the right I must pose the following query...Am I the only being upon the earth capable of penning an objective obituary? While I realize that one must be mindful of discretion and respect for the dead when penning a notice of this sort for the public, my own personal experience with the deceased compels me to append some additional information regarding the corrosive effect that this woman's existence had on that of my own.
I first became acquainted with Mrs. Ellet in 1840 while preparing for the press a volume entitled "The Poets and Poetry of America". Persons of literary taste will be well familiar with the book in question. Soon after it's publication I was surprised to learn that my notice in that book of her literary labors was displeasing to her. I had endeavored to exhibit her in the most favorable light possible, quoting several pages of her verses and praising them as highly as I could. What more I could have done and maintained my professional integrity I do not know.
I saw but little of this woman until the year 1848. In the interim she was involved in a scandal with the wretch, Edgar Poe. In the protracted absence of her husband she attempted to romantically entangle the degenerate poet; to his credit he refused her advances, but I attribute this more to cloud of flatulence that perpetually enfogged her than to that southern perverts commitment to his child-bride. This can be evidenced by the fact that he did pursue romantically Mrs. Ellet's fellow poetess Francis Osgood, though she had no interest in him whatsoever. Scorned, Ellet tried to avenge herself on both Poe and Osgood by spreading gossip and interfering in both of their lives. It is not my intent to offer all the details of this scandal; only to add that it ended in Mrs. Ellet's embarrassment and in Mr. Poe's receipt of a sound beating by a certain Thomas Dunn English. Ultimately it may have resulted in poor Virginia Poe's death, exacerbated by the interference of the meddlesome cow Ellet.
Mrs. Ellet's resentment of my supposed ill-treatment of her literary reputation eight years previous did not prevent her desire for inclusion in my forthcoming "Female Poets of America"; nor did it prevent her from using my generous and trusting nature in assisting her in the research for her own upcoming project about "the heroic women of the Revolution". She complimented my supposed "intimacy with American History" and sought access to the library of the Historical Society in New York, of which I was a member. I acquiesced, going as far as allowing her access to my own personal library, which was quite extensive. The rooms of the Historical Society were in the University, on Washington Square, and I myself, when in the city, occupied others in the same building as a study. To these rooms, the key to which I kept hidden under the door mat, I permitted Mrs. Ellet for research purposes only. I later discovered that some of my personal papers and correspondence had been of interest to her as well; thereafter I forbade her entry, and with good cause. She is also known to have ransacked the desk of fellow authoress Sarah Anna Lewis while a guest in her home. To add further insult, the woman neglected to even acknowledge my invaluable assistance in the production of the work that she would be most remembered for.
Upon the publication of my 'Female Poets' I was made aware that I once again had failed to print Mrs. Ellet's own estimate of her literary genius; this notification came in the form of a savage review of the volume in question that appeared in a paper called Neal's Saturday Gazette in December of 1849. Had it simply been a criticism of the book I should have taken no notice of it; but it embraced personal imputations that were libelous, such as the outright fabrication on the part of Mrs. Ellet that I had attempted to bribe her to withdraw the offending article. She, of course, denied any part in having written it.
I would likely have had no further intercourse with this woman were it not for her own obsession with my affairs. She had at no point exhibited any amorous intentions toward me (as she had toward Poe), and I have no explanation as to why she was to become so persistent in persecuting me other than as a result of her own defects of character.
By 1852 I had become estranged from my second wife, Charlotte, and had met and intended to marry my third wife, Harriet. For reasons known only to Mrs. Ellet, she and another of the lower order of literary women, Ann S. Stephens, whom I barely knew, attempted to frustrate my plans by writing to Charlotte and telling her not to permit the divorce. They also wrote to Harriet telling her not to marry me. After with great effort and sacrifice managing to secure my divorce from Charlotte, Harriet and I were married.
As a brief aside, Mrs. Ellet during this period (in 1853) had a sketch of a western adventure entitled "Mary Spears" published in Putnam's Monthly. She would, in 1868, sell a story to Harper's Monthly, which was word for word the same but for a few verbal alterations, entitled "Mary Nealy". Paid twice for the same work, she denied any knowledge of the 1853 publication, although this can clearly be determined to be untrue as it is recorded in Mr. Putnam's ledgers that Ellet received payment for the sketch.
My new bride and I had not enjoyed a month of our new life together when Mrs. Ellet addressed to my wife, to whom she was as much a stranger as if she had never been born, a letter filled with abusive falsehoods about me. To what degree the writing of such a letter, even if every word of it had been true, to a newly married woman against her husband was an outrage of common decency, I will let the reader decide. From time to time during the following three years anonymous letters about me, made up of almost every species of slander and vituperation, were continually appearing in the public journals. In the Charleston Courier it was stated that I had procured a divorce by bribing the Pennsylvania legislature, and that Mrs. Ellet, coming to knowledge of the circumstances, had caused me to be arrested for bigamy. In a great number of newspapers it was alleged that I had stolen from the office of the prothonotary of Philadelphia county the records of my suit, either to conceal frauds of which it furnished evidence, or to prevent an appeal to the Supreme Court. If I was observed to be a visitor at the house of any gentleman of social or professional eminence, an anonymous letter against me was addressed to him. Gentlemen and ladies called at my own house at the peril of receiving communications of the same description. At length, in the Spring of 1855, paragraphs appeared in various quarters to the effect that an extraordinary and unparalleled history of villainy by a clergyman and man of letters was about to be exposed in the courts, and that it would comprise such details of profligacy and cruelty as would put to shame even the most revolting "inventions of the French novelists". All of these communications were easily traceable to the same individuals, and the larger part of them to Mrs. Ellet herself.
These significant intimations were followed by the filing of an "affidavit" purporting to be the composition of the respondent in my suit for divorce, tried and decided three years before, and setting forth that the decree then granted me should be vacated because procured by fraud. In truth it was not my former wife Charlotte who had instigated this new legal drama, but Ellet and her associates, who had continued writing her in an effort to get her to have the divorce repealed. When at last the appeal went to court, neither Charlotte nor myself were in attendance; Mrs. Ellet and Mrs. Stephens did attend, however, to provide lengthy testimony against my character and reputation. In the end, the divorce decree remained. Unfortunately by this time Harriet had left my side, horrified at being in involved in the public scandal that arose as a result of Elizabeth F. Ellet.
Her funeral was held on the morning of June the 5th, 1877. She now lies buried in Green-Wood cemetery, as do I. Though our mortal remains may occupy the same expanse of earth, I am confident that our everlasting souls do not dwell in the same hereafter. May she forever roast on a barbed spit in the fires of Hell.