Edgar Allan Poe
Analyzes Handwriting:

A Chapter On Autography

by Edgar Allan Poe



Edgar Allan Poe's classic work of graphology includes as much literary criticism as it does handwriting analysis, and also serves as an overview of the major literary figures of his time - some still well-known, many forgotten or only known by scholars.This edition includes an introduction and a Biographical Dictionary of Poe's Subjects.

Edgar Allan Poe on Writers of His Time

Excerpted from the over ONE HUNDRED entries (signatures with comments)
in Poe’s “A Chapter On Autography” (1841)

NEW!!! The entire Biographical Dictionary is now on-line HERE

Some still known today…


James Fenimore Cooper


Mr. Cooper's MS. is very bad—unformed, with little of distinctive character about it, and varying greatly in different epistles. In most of those before us a steel pen has been employed, the lines are crooked, and the whole chirography has a constrained and school-boyish air. The paper is fine, and of a bluish tint. A wafer is always used. Without appearing ill-natured, we could scarcely draw any inferences from such a MS. Mr. Cooper bas seen many vicissitudes, and it is probable that, he has not always written thus. Whatever are his faults, his genius cannot be doubted.


John Quincy Adams


The chirography of Ex-President Adams (whose poem, "The Wants of Man," has of late attracted so much atten­tion), is remarkable for a certain steadiness of purpose per­vading the whole, and overcoming even the constitutional tremulousness of the writer's hand. wavering in every letter, the entire MS. has yet a firm, regular, and decisive appearance. It is also very legible.


William Cullen Bryant

Mr. Bryant's MS. puts us entirely at fault. It is one of the most commonplace clerk’s hands which we ever encountered, and has no character about it beyond that of the day-book and ledger. He writes, in short, what mercantile men and professional penman call a fair hand, but what artists would term an abominable one. Among its regular up and down strokes, waving lines and hair-lines, systematic taperings and flourishes, we look in vain for the force, polish and decision of the poet.  The picturesque, to be sure, is equally deficient in his chirography and in his poetical productions.

Washington Irving


The MS. of Mr. Irving has little about it indicative of his genius. Certainly, no one could suspect from it any nice finish in the writer's compositions; nor is this nice finish to be found. The letters now before us vary remark­ably in appearance; and those of late date are not nearly so well written as the more antique. Mr. Irving has travelled much, has seen many vicissitudes, and has been so thoroughly satiated with fame as to grow slovenly in the performance of his literary tasks. This slovenliness has affected his hand­writing. But even from his earlier MSS. there is little to be gleaned, except the ideas of simplicity and precision. It must be admitted, however, that this fact, in itself, is charac­teristic of the literary manner, which, however excellent, has no prominent or very remarkable features.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


H. W. Longfellow (Professor of Moral Philosophy at Harvard), is entitled to the first place among the poets of America–certainly to the first place among those who have put themselves prominently forth as poets. His good qualities are all of the highest order, while his sins are chiefly those of affectation and imitation-an imitation sometimes verging upon downright theft. His MS. is remarkably good, and is fairly exemplified in the signature. We see here plain indications of the force, vigour, and glowing richness of his literary style; the deliberate and steady finish of his compositions. The man who writes thus may not accomplish much, but what he does, will always be thoroughly done. The main beauty or at least one great beauty of his poetry, is that of proportion; another is a freedom from extraneous embellishment. He oftener runs into affectation through his endeavours at simplicity, than through any other cause. Now this rigid simplicity and proportion are easily perceptible in the MS., which, altogether, is a very excellent one.

Some largely forgotten…

(Excerpts from the Biographical Dictionary appear for each)



William Evans Burton


Mr. Burton is better known as a comedian than as a literary man, but he has written many short prose articles of merit., and his quondam editorship of the "Gentleman's Magazine" would, at all events, entitle him to a place in this collection. He has, moreover, published one or two books. An annual issued by Carey and Hart in 1840 con­sisted entirely of prose contributions from himself, with poetical ones from Charles West Thompson, Esq. In this work many of the tales were good.

Mr. Burton's MS. is scratchy and petite, betokening indecision and care or caution.


BURTON, William Evans 1804-1860 - English actor who came to the United States in 1834 and established New York’s celebrated Chambers Street Theatre in 1848. Burton himself was successful in a wide range of parts from Shakespeare, Dickens and other authors. He wrote "The Actor's Soliloquy” and "Waggeries and Vagaries” and edited the Literary Souvenir in 1838 and 1840. In 1837, he established The Gentleman's Magazine, of which Poe was briefly assistant editor (1840). He also published a Cyclopedia of Wit and Humor (1858).


Catherine Maria Sedgwick


The penmanship of Miss Sedgwick is excellent. The characters are well-sized, distinct, elegantly but not osten­tatiously formed, and, with perfect freedom of manner, are still sufficiently feminine. The hair-strokes differ little from the downward ones, and the MSS. have thus a uniformity they might not otherwise have. The paper she generally uses is good, blue, and machine-ruled. Miss Sedgwick's handwriting points unequivocally to the traits of her literary style—which are strong common sense, and a masculine disdain of mere ornament. The signature con­veys the general chirography.


SEDGWICK, Catherine Maria 1789-1867 – A popular novelist whose subjects included Native Americans and women’s issues. Her first novel A New-England Tale; or, Sketches of New-England Character and Manners (1822) grew out of her conversion to Unitarianism and ideas on religious tolerance. Redwood (1824) was her second. Her third, Hope Leslie (1827) made her America’s most famous woman novelist. A later novel, Married or Single? (1857) argued for a woman’s independence. Some of her many short stories were collected in Tales and Sketches (1835), Stories for Young Persons (1841), and Tales of City Life (1850).



Lewis Jacob Cist


Mr. L. J. Cist, of Cincinnati, has not written much prose, and is known especially by his poetical compositions. many of which have been very popular, although they are at times disfigured by false metaphor, and by a meretricious straining after effect. This latter foible makes itself clearly apparent in his chirography, which abounds in ornamental flourishes, not ill executed, to be sure, but in very bad taste.


CIST, Lewis Jacob 1818-1885 – Banker, poet and collector of autographs and portraits. Already as a boy he wrote poetry and music. He wrote for the Western Monthly Magazine, Hesperian, and Cist's Weekly Advertiser, and for several years, he published the Souvenir, the first annual of the West. Poe, reviewing his collected Poems (1845) in the Broadway Journal wrote that Cist had many admirers. He is virtually unknown today.

Sarah Josepha Hale


Mrs. Hale is well known for her masculine style of thought. This is clearly expressed in her chirography, which is far larger, heavier, and altogether bolder than that of her sex generally. It resembles in a great degree that of Professor Lieber, and is not easily deciphered.


HALE, Sarah Josepha 1788-1879 – Writer. the first female editor of a magazine and – author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (1830). A widow, she began writing (1822) to support her family. She edited the Ladies’ Magazine from 1828 until Godey bought it in 1837. As Godey’s Lady’s Book, it became the major woman’s magazine of its time. She collected women’s poetry in The Ladies Wreath (1837). Her Woman's Record; or, Sketches of All Distinguished Women, From "The Beginning Till A.D. 1850” (1853) includes 2,500 biographical entries.

Francis Lieber


Francis Lieber is Professor of History and Political Economy in the College of South Carolina, and has published many works distinguished by acumen and erudition. Among these we may notice a "Journal of a Residence in Greece," written at the instigation of the historian Niebuhr; "The Stranger in America," a piquant book abounding in various information relative to the United States; a treatise on " Education;" "Reminiscences of an Intercourse with Niebuhr;" and an "Essay on International Copyright"—this last a valuable work. Professor Lieber's personal character is that of the best and most unpretending bonhommie, while his erudition is rather massive than minute. We may therefore expect his MS. to differ widely from that of his brother scholar Professor Anthon; and so in truth it does. His chirography is careless, heavy, black, and forcible, without the slightest attempt at ornament-very similar, upon the whole, to the well-known chirography of Chief-Justice Mar­shall. His letters have the peculiarity of a wide margin left at the top of each page.


LIEBER,  Francis 1800-1872 - Born in Germany, he had a variety of adventures in Europe before coming to America in 1872. He became a professor of history and political economy at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, until 1856, when he went to Columbia College, New York. His inaugural address on "Individualism; and Socialism, or Communism” was published by the college. He wrote against secession (while in South Carolina) and later for the Union. He also wrote Guerrilla Parties considered with reference to the Law and Usages of War, and Instructions for the Government of the Armies of the United States in the Field (1863) as well as a number of other works on law and the penal system.



Anne S. Stephens


Mrs. Ann S. Stephens was at one period the editor of the " Portland Magazine," a periodical of which we have not heard for some time, and which, we presume, has been discontinued. More lately her name has been placed upon the title-page of "The Lady's Companion" of New York: as one of the conductors of that journal—to which she has contributed many articles of merit and popularity. She has also written much and well for various other periodicals, and will hereafter enrich this magazine with her compo­sitions, and act as one of its editors.

Her MS. is a very excellent one, and differs from that of her sex in general by an air of more than usual force and freedom.


STEPHENS, Anne S. 1813-1886 - A New England author, she founded the Portland Magazine in 1835 and in 1836 published The Portland Sketchbook, a collection of local writing. Moving with her husband to New York in 1837, she edited The Ladies’ Companion and wrote for Graham’s Magazine and Peterson’s Magazine, then founded The Ladies’ World (1843) and The Illustrated New Monthly (1846). Her poem “The Polish Boy” was long a favorite. She also wrote several short stories. Her first long novel, Fashion and Famine (1854), went through several editions in France. She was admired for realistic if “intense” writing and did research in hospitals, institutions, etc.. Her other works include Zana, or the Heiress of Clare Hall (1854), The Old Homestead  (1855), Sybil Chase (1862) and Ahmo's Plot (1863) as well as a Pictorial History of the War for the Union.





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