Edgar Allan Poe, despite working for Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, seemed not to understand the implication of my being William E. Burton: I paid ten dollars a week, more than sufficient compensation starting in June 1839, and expected him to be a dutiful and deferential editorial assistant. I realized many readers considered Poe brilliant, particularly after I that September published “The Fall of the House of Usher”. But I presided over a business that monthly squeezed my financial assets, and the works of Mr. Poe did nothing to alleviate my discomfort.
“I’m the finest writer yet born on this continent,” he declared.
“That is decidedly unproven,” I said. “Furthermore, don’t imply I alone have concerns about your pecuniary worth. Lea and Blanchard, your esteemed publisher, have just this week informed you, and me as well, that they’ll only publish Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque if you agree to accept no payment, even in the implausible event all books are sold, and instead satisfy yourself with twenty complimentary copies. That’s rather ignominious, I must say.”
“The ignominy resides in your reluctance to offer incisive literary reviews.”
“I explained before you began, indeed I rebuked you, that I will not permit attacks on your fellow writers in the morbid manner you’ve elsewhere employed.”
Whenever I left Philadelphia to be a leading comedic figure in the theater, Poe stumbled about, calling me a louse for deserting my first wife in England, a bigamist for marrying another in the United States, and a reprobate for maintaining another lady. I bothered not to inform Poe I’d eventually divorced my first wife. I instead spoke to him thusly: “This article is much too obscure, don’t you think? We can’t publish it but do have some short assignments for you. Brevity is essential, as I’m paying for the paper. So, you have some marvelous new ideas? What are they? Yes, yes. That means I heard you. No, you can’t use them. Not in my publication. Perhaps you can sell them elsewhere, since you’re an unprecedentedly talented fellow. Will you be in tomorrow? I pray one of your biweekly fevers won’t strike again tonight.”
In June 1840 I virtually hurled Poe out the door: the misanthrope had been plotting to start his own rival magazine. Then he complained upon learning I’d been trying to sell Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. That proprietary privilege I had no obligation to discuss with a servant.