Edgar Allen Poe’s immortal poem The Raven was first published 177 years ago today. When last the Nevermore was uttered on these pages it was eight years ago and the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, had launched a Kickstarter to preserve the most magnificently evocative illustrations submitted by artist James Carling in 1882 for a special edition of Poe’s masterpiece that would instead be illustrated by Gustav Doré.
Carling created 43 watercolor and ink illustrations, defying what had become a very conventional, posed approach to illustrating the scenes and motifs of The Raven. He “reproduced mentality and phantasm” instead of depicting a stanza like a stage set and believed that Poe would have recognized what he was trying to accomplish. “I feel that Poe would have said that I have been faithful to his idea of ‘The Raven,’ for I have followed his meaning so close as to be merged into his individuality.”
The illustrations were exhibited to the public only once many years after his death by his brother. They were very well-received but remained unpublished and little known. When his brother passed away, the set was sold by his heirs to the Poe Museum in 1937, where they went on display as the jewel of the collection for decades before their deteriorating condition required that they be removed from view in 1975. In 2013, the museum launched a fundraising campaign to conserve the fragile watercolors. They came just over $8,000 short of their goal of $60,000, sadly.
Part of the goal of the conservation project was to have them photographed in high resolution and published in a book dedicated to his drawings. I didn’t know until today that despite the Kickstarter closing just shy of the goal, they must have gotten their full funding somehow, because the book exists! Not only that, but it has existed since 2015. That’s the best news you can get on The Day of The Raven.