The last days of the short, drunken, quarrelsome and unhappy life of Edgar Allan Poe were almost as grim as one of his own macabre stories.
Drink was Poe’s nemesis, allied with poverty after his rich guardian cut him off with nothing, his inability to hold down a job and the tragedy of his young wife Virginia, or ‘Sissy’ as he called her.
She married him in 1834 when she was only thirteen and he was twenty-seven, and already a heavy drinker. In 1842 she fell ill with tuberculosis and the prospect of her inevitable death wore desperately hard on Poe’s nerves. He took refuge from the strain in the bottle. In 1847 Sissy finally died.
Desperate to find a replacement, Poe pursued virtually every woman who came in view.
In 1848 he considered proposing marriage to Elmira Shelton, a widow with whom he had fallen in love years before when he was a university student. Her father had prevented a match between them then because the couple were both still in their teens.
However, there now appeared on the scene Sarah Helen Whitman, a wan, blue-eyed literary spinster, who lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and floated through life in silks, lace, wafting veils and a cloud of fumes from the ether with which she dosed herself for a real or imaginary heart condition.
Helen Whitman, who had long been devouring every published line of Poe with what she called ‘horrified fascination and avidity’, sent the author a poem of homage, an adaptation of his own ‘The Raven’.
He sent her a poem back (one he had originally written to someone else) and in September he went to Providence to meet her.
Within a few days he told her he loved her and pressed her to marry him. She said she needed time to think it over and sent him a succession of unsatisfactory letters until eventually Poe tried to kill himself with an overdose of laudanum.
Helen accepted him in November, but only on condition that he stopped drinking. He tried, but she knew he was failing the test and one day in December he arrived at her house the worse for wear.
The next day they had a scene, she inhaled enough ether to knock her senseless and her mother sent him packing.
‘My life seems wasted,’ Poe wrote miserably in the spring of 1849, ‘the future looks a dreary blank.’ He was forty years old. In the summer he went to Philadelphia, plunged into an orgy of drinking and suffered terrifying hallucinations.
‘For ten days,’ he wrote, ‘I was totally deranged.’ Eventually he managed to borrow enough money to get to Richmond in July.
There he proposed to Elmira, enrolled himself in the Richmond branch of the Sons of Temperance and bought a wedding ring, though he remained in a deeply gloomy state of mind.
Whether Elmira would really have married him is in doubt, but near the end of September he set off on a trip to New York, leaving Richmond for Baltimore on the first leg of the journey.
After meeting some Baltimore friends for a convivial glass of whisky, he disappeared for six days.
No one knows what happened to him until he was found in an Irish tavern named Gunners Hall on October 3rd, stupefied with drink and wearing badly fitting trousers, a soiled and crumpled shirt, a dirty hat and an expression of vacant stupidity.
It looked as if he had sold his own clothes to buy drink. He was taken to the Washington Medical College hospital in a carriage and arrived at five o’clock in the afternoon in a stupor. By the early morning hours, he was delirious, pale and sweating profusely, and talking incessantly to imaginary things on the walls of the room.
He seems to have remained in this state until three in the morning of October 7th, a Sunday, when he appeared to relax, said quietly ‘Lord, help my poor soul’, and died.
He was buried with little ado in Baltimore’s Presbyterian Cemetery. Hearing the news in France, Charles Baudelaire commented that Poe’s death was ‘almost a suicide, a suicide prepared for a long time’.
This colored copperplate view of Bratislava (Posonium in Latin, known as Pressburg during the period of the Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empire) is the oldest and best-known popular depiction of the city.
The creator of this edited copy of the print was the German master Franz Hogenberg (1535−90).
At the time the print was made, Bratislava was the capital of Hungary and was also a coronation city of the Habsburg rulers.
The view depicts the Danube River, dominated by Bratislava Castle, which was a seat of the Hungarian part of the Habsburg monarchy until 1780.
An interesting note in the upper-right part of the view mentions Wolfgang Lazius (1514−65), who was an important Hungarian humanist and cartographer and the author of the second oldest map of Hungary (1556).
In 1593 this view was used in the book Civitates orbis terrarum. Liber quartus urbium praecipuarum totius mundi (The cities of the world. The fourth book of the principal cities of the world), published in Cologne by Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg.
When Albert Einstein said the Linotype was one of the cleverest machines ever invented in the 19th Century he was invited to see one in action.
Unfortunately, he ended up you know where…
But Apprentice Albert needed lots of help to come to grips with the very strange layout of the Linotype keyboard.
Meanwhile, the Hot Metal Comps nearby seem to be enjoying the old boy’s frustrations.
Jealous, evil bastards!
Mergenthaler next realized—somewhat to the dismay of his backers—that single brass matrices would produce superior results, and began work on a new machine.
It was tested in the summer of 1885, and was a complete success. A new company called The Mergenthaler Printing Company was organized, and with strong financial backing, it was decided to build twelve of the new machines.
The first machine completed was sent to the New York Tribune, where it was used to set part of the newspaper of July 3, 1886.
Mergenthaler demonstrates the “blower” Linotype for Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune in July, 1886. Drawing by J. Coggleshall Wilson.
Before the last of the twelve machines had been completed, Mergenthaler had added nine patented improvements.
Business control of the venture passed into the hands of a group of newspaper owners, who, seeing big profits in the offing, ordered that 100 more machines be built at all speed.
Mergenthaler, who saw the possibility of further important improvements, pleaded for time but was overruled.
He proceeded with the work, struggling with the problem of producing brass matrices on a commercial scale by means of steel punches, which were all engraved by hand.
This was a bottleneck, and he began work on a punch engraving machine. He had not yet finished this work when the Benton pantograph machine was completed, and Mergenthaler stopped work on his own.
Trouble between the backers (headed by Whitelaw Reid of the Tribune) and Mergenthaler had been brewing for some time; now there came a split.
After many bitter letters, he resigned in 1888 and although the syndicate continued to manufacture the Linotype machine, his own company in Baltimore, Ottmar Mergenthaler & Co., continued to make parts and to build the blower machines for the syndicate.
Mergenthaler contracted tuberculosis in 1894 and began a desperate struggle against the disease.
In 1897 he fled to the benign climate of New Mexico, but, sensing he had little time left to tell his story, he and his children’s tutor, Otto Schoenrich, began his biography.
The book, though called a “biography,” might better be considered an autobiography.
It was published anonymously in Baltimore in 1899, a few weeks before Mergenthaler’s death at the early age of 45.
It is a slim book full of bitterness at his betrayal by the syndicate, and quiet pride at his accomplishment.
In 1911, when the original Linotype patents expired, the Intertype machine appeared on the market. It was essentially the same as the Linotype, but with some changes and improvements. Both machines used the same matrices.
Although Ottmar Mergenthaler was born in Hatchel, Germany in 1854 and received his early training as a watchmaker in Württemberg, his creative career started and flourished after he arrived in Washington, D.C. in 1872 at the age of eighteen.
His first job could not have been more serendipitous: he started work in the scientific instrument shop of August Hahl, his step-cousin and the son of his former master in Germany. Much of the shop’s work was the making of working models of new inventions, which were then required by the U.S. Patent Office.
For the next four years, Mergenthaler’s skill and ingenuity were applied to this work, and his special talents were soon recognized.
When Hahl transferred his business to Baltimore in 1876, Mergenthaler accompanied him. One of his first projects there was to correct the defects of a machine intended to produce printing by a combination of typewriting and lithography.
The idea for the invention came from James O. Clephane of Washington. Although the machine never yielded satisfactory results, it set Mergenthaler on the path to revolutionizing the casting of type.
Clephane then suggested a machine that could punch indented characters into papier-maché, producing type through a stereotype casting. Mergenthaler, after a short examination of the idea, doubted its practicality, but on Clephane’s urging continued.
Mergenthaler completed the machine in late 1878, but in spite of much effort Mergenthaler’s misgivings proved correct. Clephane and his associates worked without Mergenthaler until they abandoned the project in 1884.
After abandoning the Clephane project, Mergenthaler proceeded on his own, and began by rethinking the entire concept. Here we can see the value of the outsider’s objective thinking; if Mergenthaler had training in printing it is quite likely he might have attempted another incremental improvement, instead of the revolutionary invention he produced.
At the time of his work, in the 1880s, there were scores of typesetting machines being invented and many were in daily use in this country and in Europe.