Susan Archer Talley was born on February 14, 1822 in Hanover County, Virginia (there are sources that say she was born in 1835, but that is an error). Her father, Thomas Talley, was a lawyer who had inherited the family plantation from his Revolutionary War veteran father. When Susan was eight years old, Thomas Talley and his wife Eliza Francis Archer moved to Richmond so Susan could receive a better education. Two years later, at the age of ten, Susan came down with scarlet fever and lost her hearing completely. She benefitted from those two previous years of education, though, and was able to continue learning through extensive reading. She also desired to express herself and taught herself how to draw and paint; she even learned how to sculpt plaster with a penknife from one of her cousins. Her skill was of such high caliber that Horatio Greenough, the American sculptor who created The Rescue for the United States government, “begged her father to allow her to devote herself to sculpture” (Rutherford). Susan Archer Talley, however, was a poet at heart.
By the 1840’s, her work was published in the Southern Literary Messenger. In 1859, she published her first volume of poems entitled Poems. Susan was heavily influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, whom she met in 1849, as seen in her poem “The Land of Dreams” which takes after Poe’s “Dreamland” (Castillo and Crow). Today, Susan Archer Talley is known mostly because of her complicated writings on Poe: “The Last Days of Poe” which appeared in Scribner’s Magazine in 1878, and The Home Life of Poe in 1907. She was known as one of Poe’s friends, and cast a favorable light on Poe, but elements of her biographies cannot be verified. Mainly, she states that she was a young girl when she met Poe, but she would have been at least 27 years old.
During the Civil War, she was accused of being a spy by the Union. She was arrested and imprisoned in Fort McHenry, Baltimore. There she met a German Union soldier, Col. Von Weiss, and they married. They had one child, Stuart A. Weiss. The quick marriage was not a happy one, and the Colonel died in 1869. She continued to write poetry, living through her books and words.
Susan Archer Talley Weiss died rather suddenly on April 7, 1917 at the age of 95. Her obituary read, “Mrs. Weiss not only had the distinction of being classed as one of Poe’s associates and friends, but was prominent in behalf of the Confederate States during the War Between the States. While carrying information to General MacGruder she was captured by Union soldiers and imprisoned at Fort McHenry” (Miller).
- Castillo, Susan P., and Charles L. Crow. The Palgrave Handbook of the Southern Gothic. London: Macmillan, 2016. 41-44. Print.
- Miller, John C. “Marginalia,” Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. Web.
- Rutherford, Mildred Lewis. The South in History and Literature: A Hand-book of Southern Authors, from the Settlement of Jamestown, 1607, to Living Writers. Atlanta, GA: Franklin-Turner, 1907. 234-235. Print.
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- Susan Archer Talley