“Whitman”

The “Whitman” daguerreotype was taken in Providence, Rhode Island in 1848 by the studio of Samuel W. Hartshorn. Poe sat for this daguerreotype just days after he sat for the “Ultima Thule” daguerreotype. It’s the only known likeness commissioned by Poe himself, thought to be an engagement gift to Sarah Helen Whitman. She may or may not have accompanied Poe to this sitting. Poe considered this daguerreotype the best likeness he ever had, although Mrs. Whitman disagreed with that sentiment. In an 1874 letter to Poe biographer John Henry Ingram, Whitman said “This picture of mine has been hidden away all these years because I thought it did not represent him truly, but many persons who have seen it lately think it has the best expression of any picture yet taken of him.” This daguerreotype marked the end of a harrowing fortnight for Poe in Providence.

Although the engagement between Poe and Whitman lasted barely a month, Whitman cherished this daguerreotype for the next 25 years. The 71 year old Whitman who sensed her shortening life wanted the daguerreotype to be in good hands. On August 20, 1874, Sarah Helen Whitman sent the daguerreotype to photographer William W. Coleman, who met Poe during his visits to Providence. The daguerreotype was passed between a few different owners before it was finally given to Brown University on January 1, 1905. It now remains in the collection of the Brown University, and can be viewed by appointment at the John Hay Library.

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The “Whitman” Daguerreotype of Poe, courtesy of Brown University.