History lesson: Henderson woman inspires Edgar Allen Poe

History lesson: Henderson woman inspires Edgar Allen Poe
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 6:40 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HENDERSON, New York (WWNY) - Edgar Allen Poe is one of the most famous poets in the World. Like many great artists, he had his own writing blocks. But wouldn’t you know, a woman from Henderson New York would be the one to inspire him again.

“The Barney family came to Henderson about 1802 and Dr. Lowrey Barney built this beautiful house about 1837 or so and he ran his medical practice out of it,” said Elain Scott, who’s recording secretary for the Henderson Historical Society. “His daughter, Marie Louise, actually learned from him nursing. So, when her brothers moved to New York City, she moved to New York City also, and did nursing there.

While there, Marie Louise was assigned to nurse a woman very sick with tuberculosis. That woman happened to be the wife of Edgar Allen Poe.

Unfortunately, she died. But he was so grateful to the way Marie Louise was so kind in her nursing, that he wrote a poem for her because they were rather destitute and had no money.

In this poem, Poe wrote that she resurrected his faith in humanity. Then he, too, fell ill and Marie Louise stayed to care for him.

“He felt deeply indebted to her to begin with,” Scott said, “for the great kindness and consideration.”

Again, he dedicated a poem to her, called “The Beloved Physician,” which is now lost to the world, because Marie Louise bought it because it was so personal.

What we do have is his letters to her, where he calls her his dearest friend and the most unselfish person to ever love him.

As well as his last poem to her, titled “To Marie Louise,” where he seems to express that he thinks only of her.

“Can you imagine?” Scott said. “Having a poem written for you by Edgar Allen Poe? And it is a lovely poem.”

But Marie Louise did more than inspire poems. She helped write one of his most famous ones.

During a visit, he was complaining to her about these church bells that were keeping him up and ruining his creative mojo. Almost as a joke, Marie Louise did something to the effect of “The Bells, By E. A. Poe” and rattled off a first line.

But Poe loved it. and recited a few lines off of that. Marie Louise gave another line. Poe rolled with that as well. And by now he was inspired enough to write the entire poem, putting her name as the credit.

“She saw in him a real creative spirit that she could help him continue his work, so we could all be grateful to Marie Louise for that.”

But not long after this, Marie Louise started to distance herself from Poe. She was set to get remarried and didn’t want a scandal. In his last recorded letter to her, he is distressed and says, “Can it be true, Louise, that you have the idea in your mind to desert your unhappy an unfortunate friend and patient, disaster following fast, following faster — are you to vanish like all I love? Unless some true and tender and pure womanly love saves me, I shall hardly last a year longer.”

And Poe did in fact die that following year. To help his remaining family, Marie Louise purchased some of his furniture and brought it back home to the Barney house, eventually giving them to the Poe Museum.

Their shared poem, “The Bells,” was known as Poe’s last prose and published after his death. He was never much able to pay her for her nursing services, but his gifts of poems are worth more than any check would have been anyway.