There are many theories about Poe's death. Here's a list, in chonological order, from poemuseum.org:
Beating (1857)The United States Magazine Vol.II (1857): 268. article by Elizabeth Oakes Smith
Epilepsy (1875)Scribner's Monthly Vo1. 10 (1875): 691.
Dipsomania (1921)Robertson, John W. Edgar A. Poe A Study. Brough, 1921: 134, 379.
Heart (1926)Allan, Hervey. Israfel. Doubleday, 1926: Chapt. XXVII, 670.
Toxic Disorder (1970)Studia Philo1ogica Vol. 16 (1970): 41-42.
Hypoglycemia (1979)Artes Literatus (1979) Vol. 5: 7-19.
Diabetes (1977)Sinclair, David. Edgar Allan Poe. Roman & Litt1efield, 1977: 151-152.
Alcohol Dehydrogenase (1984)Arno Karlen. Napo1eon's Glands. Little Brown, 1984: 92.
Porphryia (1989)JMAMA Feb. 10, 1989: 863-864.
Delerium Tremens (1992)Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar A1lan Poe. Charles Scribner, 1992: 255.
Rabies (1996)Maryland Medical Journal Sept. 1996: 765-769.
Heart (1997)Scientific Sleuthing Review Summer 1997: 1-4.
Murder (1998)Walsh, John E., Midnight Dreary. Rutgers Univ. Press, 1998: 119-120.
Epilepsy (1999)Archives of Neurology June 1999: 646, 740.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (1999) Albert Donnay
Notice the first theory, the one printed in an article in The United States Magazine. The article that states Poe was beaten to death was written by Elizabeth Oakes Smith in 1857. At that time she was 51 years old, an established lecturer on human rights. Her lecture tour began in 1852 after her series of articles Woman and Her Needs were published and widely circulated. She was at the height of her "career," still writing and sought after to speak. Smith knew Poe well. He attended parties at her house and mingled with her friends and acquaintances. She knew the women he spoke to very well.
Here is an excerpt from her 1857 article:
"Not long before his death he was cruelly beaten, blow upon blow, by a ruffian who knew of no better mode of avenging supposed injuries. That Edgar Poe may have subjected himself to the imputation or inebriety may perhaps be conceded, for a glass of wine would act fearfully upon his delicate organization; but that he was a debauched man in any way is utterly false. He was not a diseased man from his cups at the time of his death, nor did he die from delirium tremens, as has been asserted.
The whole sad story will probably never be known, but he had corresponded freely with a woman whose name I withhold, and they having subsequently quarreled, he refused to return her letters, nor did she receive them until - after Poe's death. This retention not only alarmed but exasperated the woman, and she sent an emissary of her own to enforce the delivery, and who, failing of success, beat the unhappy man in a most ruffianly manner.
A brain fever supervened and a few friends went with him to Baltimore, his native city, which he barely reached when he died.
The hand should be palsied, and the name blighted, of the man who, under any provocation, could inflict a blow upon a slender, helpless, intellectual being, however misguided, like Edgar A. Poe."
Smith wrote another article for The Beadle in 1867 stating that Poe was beaten and murdered. People discredited her. One such person was the doctor who treated Poe at the time of his death, Dr. Snodgrass. According to a post on trutv.com, Snodgrass rebutted Smith's claim in an article, saying:
"I am positive that there was no evidence whatever of any such violence having been used upon his person, when I went to his rescue at the tavern. Nor was there any given at the hospital, where its detection would have been certain, if external violence had really been the cause of his insanity, for there would have been some physical traces of it on the patient's person. In this view of the question I respectfully submit that it is high time that the hypothesis of a beating were dropped."
I'm curious if this doctor was credible. Would a cover up of a beating have ended his career? Did he have something to hide? I wonder all this after having done so much research on Elizabeth Oakes Smith that I feel confident in saying I know this lady's character. The goal of her life was to pursue knowledge, and she felt that moral intelligence was the highest form of wisdom. Why then, would she lie and spread gossip about a friend? Why would she participate in the petty talk among shallow women and men in her literary circle? Look at her article; the way it is worded. She does not use the passive voice, saying, "This is what may have happened, or I have heard this, or perhaps this took place..." She says, flat out, "He was cruelly beaten."
I think Elizabeth Oakes Smith was completely sure of her theory, and completely competent and well-meaning in stating it. So why was she ignored? I think it was because a man, a doctor, discredited her and in that day and age, that was the end of that.
As far as the name Smith is withholding, I've read that it could have been a woman named Elmira Shelton, whose brothers may have been harassing Poe. An author by the name of Walsh wrote a book called Midnight Dreary alleging this theory. This book was widely discredited by Poe scholars. There is another theory that the woman's name was poet Elizabeth Ellet. She wanted correspondence between herself and Poe destroyed to save her reputation. At any rate, it seems that Poe was mixed up with a whole lot of catty women in ways that may have endangered his life.
(If you go to page 19 of this journal you can read some of what I read:
No one really knows what happened to Edgar Poe. This is why scientists should exhume Poe's body and do forensic testing to rule out murder. Apparently, many scholars don't see the merit in doing such a thing. This was one of the greatest American writers of all time. He was a poor, sad man who struggled. He died in a shameful way, alone in a ditch. No human being deserves this end, although many die this way. Someone should finally publicly acknowledge Poe's celebrity status and do something extravagant for him: attempt to confirm what is truthful about his death. Some Poe experts say don't bother.
"Jeffrey Savoye, secretary/treasurer of the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore, dismisses the idea. He says evidence from historical records likely reveals more than would be gleaned from exhumation. And besides, the monument above the author’s grave would have to be moved with considerable difficulty." (1)
Until someone does that, no one is right about his death. I think Poe would think exhuming himself very cool.
1. McCutcheon, Chuck. "Solving old mysteries: exhumation on the rise"SpokesmanReview.com. 2005.