Grip The Raven - inspiration to America's foremost gothic superstar
Perched in a dark corner of the in the Rare Books Department of the Philadelphia Free Library sits an unusual but important piece of literary history. Pet to England's most famous Victorian author, and the inspiration to America's foremost gothic superstar. Grip was the beloved and chatty pet raven of Charles Dickens. Dickens inserted the talkative raven as a character in his 1841 mystery novel, Barnaby Ridge.
Edgar Allen Poe was struggling. Publishing a few books of poetry, which no one read. He was broke, and his young wife had recently passed away, and his literary prospects were not promising. To make ends meet Poe was working as a literary critic, between Philadelphia, New York City, and Baltimore, and making several literary enemies along the way. Poe reviewed Dickens novel Barnaby Rudge, and commented that the talking raven should have had a larger role to play in the plot. I think you know where we are going.
Poe's new poem “The Raven” was almost never published, until it was first published with the help of his friend Nathaniel Parker Willis of the Evening Mirror. Nathaniel said of “The Raven”, “It will stick to memory of everybody who reads it.” And boy was he right. The poem was eventually published in numerous journals, and was a sensation. Poe had finally got his break.
"The Raven" was a smash success and Poe enjoyed performing readings at fancy salon parties. He would turn down all the lights and recite the poem with great drama. Everyone referred to him as “the Raven,” but it would only be four years after publishing “The Raven” and gaining worldwide fame that Poe would be found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, dying shortly thereafter.
Today, Grip the Raven, who inspired both Dickens and Poe, can still be seen, proud as ever, in the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department, along with a great collection of both Poe and Dickens originals and other rare books.
Other items in the Rare Books department, however not on display is the only known copy of the “The Raven” in Poe's hand. As well as manuscripts of Annabel Lee and Murders in the Rue Morgue and first editions of all Poe’s works.
The Rare Books Department of The Free Library of Philadelphia is located at 1901 Vine St Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103. It is open Monday – Saturday 9 am – 5 pm.