Tamerlane and Other Poems is the first published work by American writer Edgar Allan Poe. The short collection of poems was first published in 1827. Today, it is believed only 12 copies of the collection still exist.
Poe abandoned his foster family, the Allans, and moved to Boston to find work in 1827. Having only minor success, he enlisted in the United States Army. He brought with him several manuscripts, which he paid to have published by a printer named Calvin F. S. Thomas. The 40-page collection was called Tamerlane and Other Poems and did not include Poe’s name. Distribution was limited to 50 copies and it received no critical attention. The poems were largely inspired by Lord Byron, including the long title poem “Tamerlane”, which depicts a historical conqueror who laments the loss of his first romance. Like much of Poe’s future work, the poems in Tamerlane and Other Poems include themes of love, death, and pride.
Poe’s first published collection is so rare that after Poe’s death Rufus Wilmot Griswold believed it had never existed until one was found in 1859. It has since been recognized as one of the rarest first editions in American literature.
Edgar Poe was unable to complete studies at the University of Virginia due to gambling debts. He left the university in March 1827 and the already-strained relationship with his foster-father John Allan grew worse. Poe determined to go to Boston, where he was born. When Poe’s biological mother Eliza Poe died, the only object she left him was a water color painting of the city, on the back of which she had written, “For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston, the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best and most sympathetic friends.” John Allan, a merchant in Richmond, Virginia, refused to give his foster-son the $12 for the trip, though it is likely Poe got the money from his foster-mother Frances Allan. John Allan was not aware of Poe’s decision or whereabouts and, not concerned, wrote “I’m thinking Edgar has gone to Sea to seek his own fortunes”. After arriving in Boston in April 1827, Poe served briefly as clerk for a wholesale merchandise warehouse on the waterfront, then as an office clerk and reporter for an obscure newspaper, the Weekly Report. After several weeks, in desperation, he enlisted in the United States Army for a five-year term under the pseudonym “Edgar A. Perry”; he gave his age as 22, though he was only 18, likely because he would have needed parental consent if under 21. He was assigned to the First Regiment of Artillery and stationed at Boston Harbor’s Fort Independence.
Up to this point, Poe had not written much poetry. His earliest lines of verse were a couplet labeled “Poetry”, presumably written some time in 1824 in the ledger book of Allan & Ellis, his foster-father’s mercantile company. The lines read: “Last night with many cares & toils oppress’d / Weary, I laid me on a couch to rest—”. The earliest known full-length poem by Poe, “O, Tempora! O, Mores!”, is a satirical poem which some dispute as having been authored by Poe. Nevertheless, calling himself “irrecoverably a poet”, he had been working on a few longer poems at the University of Virginia, the manuscripts of which he brought with him to Boston.
Sometime in the spring of 1827, Poe turned over his manuscripts to an 18-year old printer named Calvin F. S. Thomas, whose family may have been known by Poe’s birth parents. Thomas had previously only printed labels, flyers, and other small jobs. Poe used his own money to pay for the publication of his poems as the 40-page collection Tamerlane and Other Poems, the only known book printed by Thomas. The collection was pamphlet-sized, 6.75 by 4.5 inches. Poe was 18 years old when the collection was released in July 1827 and only 50 copies were printed. The total production number is subject of dispute; some scholars believe the number was slightly lower with only 20 copies or as many as 200.
Tamerlane and Other Poems was published anonymously with the credit granted to “a Bostonian”. His name, typically listed as “Edgar A. Poe”, was not published with his work until his second collection, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems in late 1829. Poe may have chosen not to give his name so that his foster-father John Allan would not know where he was. His choice to embrace his Bostonian heritage may have been an attempt to distance himself from the Allan family in Richmond. Boston was, at the time, a center for publishing and the literary world. By the time the book was released, Poe was already in the Army.
Poe introduced the collection with an apologetic notice admitting the low quality of his poems. He said they were not intended to ever be published and “why they are now published concerns no one” but the author. He claimed, however, that the majority of the poems were written between 1820 and 1821, “when the author had not completed his fourteenth year” though this is assumed to be an exaggeration. Poe used the low circulation of this collection to attract readers later in his career, suggesting the 1827 poetry book had been “suppressed through circumstances of a private nature”. That second collection, Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, included revised versions of five of the nine poems from Tamerlane and Other Poems.
Distribution of Tamerlane and Other Poems was so light that Rufus Wilmot Griswold in 1850 claimed it had never existed, noting that none had been found. The first known copy turned up in 1859 with a second found in 1874. A type facsimile of a copy held by the British Museum, edited and introduced by Richard Herne Shepherd, was published as a limited edition in 1884. Another copy of Tamerlane and Other Poems was published in a 1941 facsimile by Thomas Ollive Mabbott, who provided the introduction; his correction and additions to this are found in a subsequent publication.