“On that last night, as the shadows fell across him, it must have been the horrors of shipwreck, of thirst, and of drifting away into unknown seas of darkness that troubled his last dreams, for, by some trick of his ruined brain, it was the scenes of Arthur Gordon Pym that rose in his imagination, and the man who was connected most intimately with them. ‘Reynolds!’ he called, ‘Reynolds!, Oh, Reynolds!’ The room rang with it. It echoed down the corridors hour after hour all that Saturday night” (Allen Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe, 846-47).
The legend of Poe shouting Reynolds on his deathbed is mysterious and attention grabbing, but nobody has figured out who this infamous Reynolds was. Many theories revolve around the ambiguous name, and below are some of the theories we’ve come up with.
According to W. T. Bandy in his article, “Dr. Moran and the Poe-Reynolds Myth,” “‘[His] state continued until Saturday evening . . . when he commenced calling for one “Reynolds,” which he did through the night up to three on Sunday morning.’” This would be the start of the Reynolds mystery.
James A. Harrison, who published a letter written to Maria Clemm, stated that Reynolds may have been the author of the “Address on the subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the South Seas,” which may have given Poe ideas for his novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This address, presented in the Southern Literary Messenger January 1837, by Jeremiah N. Reynolds, was a proposal for exploring the Pacific and South seas for the benefit of Whale Fishing expansion. Under the header of this article is the note, “Critical Notes by Edgar A. Poe, Editor.” Because we know Edgar worked for the Southern Literary Messenger, these two coincide and this brings light to the idea that this Reynolds, whose article Poe edited, may have been the Reynolds whom Poe spoke aloud for.
Arthur Hobson Quinn, in his biography, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, backs up this theory by writing,
On Saturday night he began to yell loudly for “Reynolds!” Perhaps to his dim and tortured brain, he seemed to be on the brink of a great descending circle sweeping down like the phantom ship in the “Manuscript Found in a Bottle” into “darkness and distance.” In that first published story, Poe had written, “It is evident we are hurrying onward to some exciting knowledge – some never to be imparted secret, whose attainment is destruction. Perhaps this current leads to the South Pole itself.” It would have been natural enough for his favorite theme, the terror of the opening chasm, to lead his thoughts to that other story, Arthur Gordon Pym, and from that to Jeremiah Reynolds, projector of the voyages to the South Seas, whose very language he had used in that tale. He could easily have known Reynolds, but what led to his wild cries must still remain uncertain (640).
Something to note is that there is also a J. N. Reynolds who appears in a bankruptcy petition written by Poe, from 1842. This Reynolds, who most likely is the same Reynolds noted above, had given ten dollars to Poe. Not only did Poe edit Reynolds address, but Poe owed him money, and thus we surmise the two had remained in some form of contact until this point.
Another example of a Reynolds is a gentleman in Baltimore who was a carpenter serving at the Fourth Ward Polls as election judge, Henry R. Reynolds. However, this is the extent of our knowledge regarding this fellow, so we can neither completely validate, nor deny this gentleman being the true Reynolds. Something to note regarding this Reynolds is that this may potentially tie into a popular theory of Poe’s death, the “cooping” theory. This theory involved ambassadors for political figures going about town and snatching victims, who they would strip of and replace their own clothes, send them to polls and force them to stuff ballots. Could it be that, because Henry Reynolds was involved in the political campaigns at the same time these events regarding Poe occurred, he may have caused wrong to Poe or may have been involved in some way to the point where Poe would cry out his last name?
John Evangelist Walsh in Midnight Dreary, states,
Even now, to the little mystery there can be added only one new fact, small but rather interesting. As newspapers of the day record, at Ryan’s Fourth Ward polls in Gunner’s Hall on election day, one of the three presiding judges was a man who bore the name of Henry R. Reynolds. Present in the same room as Poe on October 3rd at Ryan’s place, only days before he began in his delirium to call out the name, was an actual, flesh-and-blood Reynolds (122).
Walsh goes on to suggest, however, that, “The sodden brain may simply have picked up a sound it heard spoken in the haze of the noisy room, sparking some far-drawn memory” (122).
Although Walsh paints a potential portrait of the Reynolds theory, he even discounts the facts.
This leads us to indicate that there are, unfortunately, inconsistencies with the account of Poe shouting “Reynolds,” not only based on what we’ve found, but also based on revised and re-revised versions of Moran’s story. The first account was given in 1849. By his account in 1875, he claimed, “I had sent for his cousin, Nelson Poe [sic], having learned that he was his relative, and a family named Reynolds, who lived in the neighborhood of the hospital . . . Mr. W. N. Poe came, and the female members of Mr. Reynold’s family.” According to Bandy, Jeremiah Reynolds is ruled out as he was living in New York, not Baltimore, and could not be of the family Reynolds living in the neighborhood. This may coincide with Henry R. Reynolds, however.
Another inconsistency lies in the fact that by 1885, in Moran’s Defense, he had omitted the “Reynolds” legend. According to Bandy, Moran quotes a similar passage to his previous one, stating, “I had sent for his cousin, Mr. Nielson [sic] Poe, now Judge Poe, of the orphan’s court of Baltimore, having learned that he was related to my patient; and also for a Mr. Herring and family, who lived in the neighborhood. Judge Poe came as soon as he was notified and also the Misses Herring.” Notice that Herring is replaced by Reynolds in this passage. This leads us into the final theory.
This Herring, referring to Poe’s uncle, in fact was called to Poe in the Baltimore tavern, although he refused to take Poe in despite Poe’s disheveled state. It is theorized that because Herring was Poe’s relative, and due to the fact that Moran revised the name in his latter statement, Moran may have meant to provide the name “Herring” rather than “Reynolds,” although the two are incomparably dissimilar.
Finally, the Reynolds story even expands to modern day. Just a few years ago, Reynolds was featured as the main antagonist in James McTeigue’s film The Raven. As Poe (John Cusack) sits on a bench, shivering to the bone, an unknown gentleman approaches him, to which Poe asks him to “Get Reynolds.” He leans his head back and a fade-out-fade-in reveals Moran announcing Poe’s death. Moran explains to another character, Fields, a detective, that Poe was referring to Fields as being Reynolds, which prompts Fields to chase after Reynolds. Although we won’t spoil the antics that Reynolds was up to in the film, we will say that this creative interpretation is most likely not the case, and we do not believe Reynolds was a (spoiler) serial killer out for Poe’s blood.
Over all, there is no telling who this mysterious “Reynolds” truly was. Some believe that Moran’s original account was true and that, despite the inconsistent accounts given later on, his first is to be believed. Others believe, such as Bandy, that a Reynolds did not truly exist, calling Moran “…a chronic liar, interested only in taking advantage of his fortuitous acquaintance with Poe to attract attention to himself.”
What do you think? Do you think Moran was true in his accounts, or do you believe he really was only attempting to gain attention by creating such false lies? This certainly would not be the first time a contemporary of Poe’s would attempt to falsify accounts of Poe’s life (and death).