Many thanks to Peter Graham for asking about the raven that was the inspiration
for Poe's "The Raven." It gives us a chance to publicize the fact that The
Free Library of Philadelphia has Grip I, the first of three pet ravens named
Grip that were owned by Charles Dickens. Grip died in 1841, possibly as a
result of eating lead paint. Dickens had the bird preserved and mounted in a
case. (Having one's pet stuffed became fashionable in England after George IV
had his giraffe stuffed, according to a staff member at the Academy of Natural
Sciences of Philadelphia.)
Collector Col. Richard Gimbel acquired Grip, and the Free Library received the
bird as part of his large and expansively defined collection of material by and
about Edgar Allan Poe as a bequest after Col. Gimbel died in 1970.
Why is Grip part of a *Poe* collection? Especially since Col. Gimbel also had
a Dickens collection (which went to Yale)? The connection between Grip and Poe
is purely literary -- and makes a good story, too.
Dickens's children wanted their father to include Grip as a character in one of
his books, so Grip appears in *Barnaby Rudge* (1841). Poe reviewed *Barnaby
Rudge*, and criticized Dickens for not using the bird as a more prophetic
element in the story. The theory is that Poe wrote "The Raven" (1845) to show
how he could do precisely that, use the bird as a prophetic element.
That may seem somewhat tenuous ... until one notes the language at the end of
Chapter 5 of *Barnaby Rudge*. When Grip is first making noise, someone
remarks, "What was that -- him tapping at the door?" The answer is " 'Tis some
one knocking softly at the shutter." The question is: did Poe realize how much
the wording of "The Raven" echoes this section of *Barnaby Rudge*? Is this a
case of authorial intent, or accident? You decide.
Last January, at ALA mid-winter, Friends of Libraries, USA (FOLUSA) designated
Grip a literary landmark. And he currently is part of a mini-exhibition at the
Free Library in honor of the 150th anniversary of Poe's death. The show has no
ashes, but it does include a portrait miniature of Poe's mother (who died when
he was still young), the manuscript for "Murders in the Rue Morgue," and the
document in which Poe's aunt (who was also his mother-in-law) gives Rufus
Griswold literary power-of-attorney over Poe's works, in accordance with Poe's
Griswold apparently harbored a grudge against Poe, and made significant efforts
to villify Poe in writing Poe's obituary and in a memoir of Poe, which he wrote
to accompany the 1850 edition of Poe's complete works. Perhaps Griswold
should have written a poem instead. Griswold today is remembered as the person
who tried to destroy Poe's literary reputation -- and Poe is remembered as the
author of "The Raven."
So .. Exlibrans, when you are in Philadelphia, do consider visiting Grip -- the
pet raven of Charles Dickens that may have inspired Edgar Allan Poe's "The
-- Cornelia King, Free Library of Philadelphia
*** Peter Graham mentions revival claims. I think that may derive from the
fact that a few years ago, when Yale mounted an exhibition of realia in its
special collections, one news story quoted the curator as saying that somehow
Dickens's pet raven could not be located. That was, of course, because Grip
now is in the Free Library's Gimbel Collection on Edgar Allan Poe, and not in
Yale's Gimbel Collection on Charles Dickens.
*** Also in the recent past, Grip received conservation treatment at the
Academy of Natural Sciences; they freeze-dried him after possible insect damage
was detected. The conservators said the insect damage turned out to be minimal
because so much arsenic had been used in the taxidermy.
(Thanks again for asking for our story! It's part of our favorite