In yesterday’s post , I mentioned Grip the Raven, author Charles Dickens’ pet bird that was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven.” Dickens’ children loved the bird Grip although he did bite their ankles. At his children’s request, Dickens included Grip as a character in one of his books, Barnaby Rudge (1841). Dickens had three pet ravens, all named Grip. Grip I died in 1841, possibly because he ate lead chips scraped off a wall being repainted at the Dickens home. Dickens had the bird preserved and mounted in a glass case for display in his study. After Dickens’ death, a Poe collector acquired Grip I and donated him to the Free Library of Philadelphia where it remains today.
Dickens was saddened by Grip’s death. On March 12, 1841, he wrote the following letter to his friend, Daniel Maclise, who provided illustrations for his books and portraits of Dickens and his family, including the one on the left here featuring the eldest four of Dickens’ nine children: Charley, Mamie, Katey, and Walter. Dickens wrote:
Mr. Dear Maclise,
You will be greatly shocked and grieved to hear that the Raven is no more… On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated, but he soon recovered, walked twice or thrice along the coach-house, stopped to bark, staggered, exclaimed “Halloa old girl!” (his favorite expression) and died. The children seem rather glad of it. He bit their ankles but that was play…”
You might well ask why Grip the Raven is part of an Edgar Allan Poe Collection in Philadelphia. Toward the end of his life, Poe was a paid literary critic. In this role, he reviewed Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, in which Grip the Raven plays a part. When Grip makes his first noise in the book, one of the characters says, “What was that — tapping at the door?” The answer is “‘Tis someone knocking softly at the shutter.” Poe’s criticism of Barnaby Rudge was that, although he liked the book overall, he felt that the raven’s “croaking might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.”
Four years later, Poe published his most famous work, the poem ”The Raven,” which gave the raven a more central role. It features a tapping and talking raven who flies into a man’s room and perches on a bust of Pallas Athena. Dickens’ raven could speak many words and had many comic turns, including the popping of a champagne cork, but Poe emphasized the bird’s darker “devil-bird”qualities. His bird spoke only one word, “Nevermore.” Poe’s raven may have represented a messenger from hell or the after-life, mirroring the gloom and foreshadowing the doom of the troubled narrator who misses his beloved Lenore.The Raven
verse 1Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more….”
verse 3Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mienof lord or lady, perched above my chamber door-
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door-
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.verse 5Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore-
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”Edgar Allan Poe1845