almost certainly erroneous attribution made by Barnaby Conrad III in his otherwise excellent book, "Absinthe: History in a Bottle" (San
Franciso: Chronicle Books, 1988). On page 98, Conrad reproduces a photograph of Poe and accompanies it with the following caption:
"Edgar Allen [sic] Poe, 1848. Poe and his friend Henry Beck Hirst, a lawyer interested in international copyright records and ornithology,
regularly visited the Philadelphia offices of publisher John Sartain, a well-known absinthe drinker. Here Poe and Hirst learned to drink what
must have been a nearly fatal mixture of absinthe and brandy. After imbibing, Hirst, with his passion for birds, would morosely urge Poe to
recite, once again, 'The Raven.' Poe's drinking brought an early death, but Baudelaire, who translated Poe into French, felt that alcohol was
essential for Poe's writing, 'a magic conveyance that transported him to the enchanted spaces of the unreal.' "
Unfortunately, no documentation, nor a source, is given in support of this story about Poe.
Part of this is guilt by association, and in the case of Baudelaire a very distant association. Poe never met or even heard the name of
Baudelaire, and Baudelaire, while he came to adopt Poe as a kind of muse or inspiration, never met or even corresponded with Poe. Any
information Baudelaire might have left us about Poe, then, is merely his own interpretation or speculation.
A more important probable source, at least indirectly, is a book by John Sartain, although it has apparently been misinterpreted. In his
“Reminiscences of a Very Old Man”, Sartain gives several brief but detailed accounts of his dealings with Poe, including the strange
episode in Philadelphia in 1849 when Sartain was asked to shave off Poe's moustache so that he could avoid being recognized by men
he felt were following him with the intent on doing him harm (pp. 199-217). Unmentioned in any of this discussion, however, is so much as
a hint of absinthe. Where absinthe seems to make its entrance is in the subsequent chapter, where Sartain writes about Henry Beck Hirst,
who Sartain introduces as "a rollicking companion of Poe's" (p. 224).
Sartain describes "a series called Rhein Wein, Flagon First, and so on," which Hirst contributed beginning in May 1852.
"The Poems were brilliant till the fourth, which showed a sudden breaking down, and he soon gave marked signs of a complete decay of
his faculties. Hirst's office was within a stone's throw of my house in Sansom Street, and he would come in on me two or three times every
day. Sometimes he would insist on dragging me off to drink absinthe with him, but he succeeded twice only. I then resolutely stopped, for I
knew the evil of it. He did not stop, and the end is well known. Every time he left my office he said, 'Eau reservoir,' with a wave of his hand,
and seemed proud of the witticism" (p. 224).
A few pages later, Sartain goes on to say:
"In his broken-down condition, result doubtless of the absinthe habit, Hirst would come to see me often and stay until late in the night.
Seated beside me he would attempt to write poetry. Purring like a cat and swaying his body to and fro to the rhythm he was trying, he would
jot down words here and there with intervals left to be filled up. Sometimes I would suggest an appropriate word, when down it would go with
'That's it, that's just it.' He was in such a dilapidated state physically and mentally that I continued in dread that he might die on my hands
then and there" (p. 226).
Although the statement that Poe and Hirst were "rollicking companions" suggests that they were inclined to go out drinking together,
Sartain's references to absinthe are in regard to Hirst, not Poe, and all suggest a date after Poe's death in 1849. As is widely repeated,
modern use of absinthe dates back to the late eighteenth century when it was first commercialized in Switzerland, but it was only after
French troops began to return from years of battle in Algiers (1844-1847) that it became a part of Parisian night life. It was just entering use
in the United States as Poe was about to die, and he would have had scant opportunity to acquire the habit. (It might also be noted that Poe
had moved to New York in 1844, while Hirst and Sartain remained in Philadelphia, severely reducing the possibility of socializing.) In any
case, there is no indication in Sartain's accounts of Poe that the great writer had any direct connection with absinthe, and in the absence of
such evidence the claim must be dismissed, no matter how appealing the idea might be to aficionados of absinthe, or to some admirers
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Edgar Allan Poe and Absinthe
Edgar Allan Poe is frequently described as a heavy absinthe drinker, or even a casualty of
absinthism. This, like many of the stories about Poe's troubles with alcohol, is an
unsubstantiated myth, albeit a longstanding one. The feeling of many of Poe’s present day
admirers (and, in earlier days, his enemies) that he was the kind of person who ought to have
drunk absinthe, has convinced many of them that he in fact did. In fact there is not a shred of
evidence that Poe ever drank absinthe, and there is substantial circumstantial evidence that not
only was he not an abuser of the green drink, but he may not even have been aware of its
No contemporary report mentions Poe drinking absinthe, he never mentioned it at all in any of his
letters or books, and absinthe only became widely available in the US after his death. A well-
known French anti-absinthe temperance tract designed for schoolchildren written 60 years after
Poe's death included him amongst a list of famous absinthe drinkers [SCANS TO FOLLOW], but
this is almost a certainly a completely spurious attribution. It's apparently on the strength of this
tract that he's been subsequently commonly regarded as an absinthe drinker, reinforced by an
Central to the centuries old demonization of absinthe - and, it must be said, also to its outlaw romance - is the long roll call of
"victims of absinthe" - some, as we'll see here, more imagined than real.
Guillet, at the age of just 29, a heavy smoker and absinthe drinker.
This is one of the earliest recorded examples of a death purportedly related to excessive absinthe