Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Click to enlarge.

Engraving of American critic, editor, and author Rufus Wilmot Griswold.

Poet and critic Rufus Wilmot Griswold (1815—1857) and Edgar Allan Poe had a complicated relationship. They met in 1841 and maintained a "friendship" primarily based on their mutual interest in furthering their own careers. Though they sometimes exchanged pleasant letters and compliments, their friendship was marked by arguing and insult. The two battled privately in their correspondence and publicly in the pages of magazines and newspapers. In spite of their contentious relationship, Griswold became Poe's literary executor, placing Griswold in a powerful position from which he had an important impact on Poe's legacy and reputation.

When Poe died in 1849, Griswold, using the pseudonym Ludwig, published an obituary of Poe that read, "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." The next year, Griswold wrote a "memoir" of Poe's life that was published in a magazine and a collected edition of Poe's works. Griswold generally praised Poe's work but attacked his character, making up several stories and forging letters from Poe to do so. In contrast to most executors who advocate for their subject, Griswold actively attempted to ruin Poe's reputation.

Griswold's "memoir" remained the only major biography of Poe for almost 25 years. The lies he created were taken up and perpetuated by other biographers. Even today, much of the popular knowledge of Poe and his life is actually misinformation, spread by his "friend" Rufus Griswold.

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Manuscript letter. Click to enlarge. Manuscript letter. Click to enlarge. Newspaper article. Click to enlarge.


Visit the Poe vs. Griswold page to see a sample of the insults and compliments the two exchanged.