Philip Pendleton Cooke
About the Poet
Philip Pendleton Cooke (1816-1850) was a poet whose work emphasized lost love, the natural world, and exoticism, placing him firmly within the romantic literary movement. Cooke practiced law in western Virginia but struggled to make a living at writing. His association with Edgar Allan Poe led to the publication of his most famous work, the poem “Florence Vane” (1840), which continues to be anthologized as an example of romantic poetry. As a teenager, Cooke had contributed verse to the Winchester Virginia Republican, and while in college he published three pseudonymous poems in the Knickerbocker; or New York Monthly Magazine. After Cooke returned to Virginia, he began a long association with the Southern Literary Messenger under the pseudonym Larry Lyle. In 1835 and 1836 he contributed several poems and a critical essay on “English Poetry.”
Caught between his unsteady and unsuccessful attempts to establish himself as a lawyer and his preference for gentlemanly hunts, he wrote little during the late 1830s. Only the intervention of Edgar Allan Poe, who initiated a correspondence with Cooke in 1839, jolted him from his literary seclusion. Cooke contributed two poems to Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, which Poe helped edit. “Florence Vane” (1840), a lament of lost love that particularly pleased Poe, became Cooke’s most famous poem. Newspapers throughout the country reprinted the poem, composers set it to music, and anthologizers, most notably Rufus Wilmot Griswold, included it in their collections. Cooke settled in Martinsburg and intensified his efforts at the law. In 1843 he published two poems, “Life in the Autumn Woods” and “The Power of the Bards,” in the Southern Literary Messenger, but these alone constituted his output for the first half of the decade. Poe revived interest in Cooke’s work by singling out “Florence Vane'' for praise during a lecture on American poetry. At Poe’s urging, Cooke published an appreciation of Poe, intended as a sequel to James Russell Lowell’s memoir of the poet, in the January 1848 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger.
Cooke resumed contributing poems to several magazines and in 1847 published Froissart Ballads, and Other Poems, his only book. The collection elicited positive reviews but sold poorly. Determined to achieve financial success through writing, Cooke redirected his energies to prose. The Messenger published several of his critical essays on contemporary literature and four novelettes, including “John Carper, The Hunter of Lost River” (1848), and “The Crime of Andrew Blair” (1849).
Having contracted pneumonia after fording an icy stream in search of game, Cooke died at his home on January 20, 1850, and was buried in the Old Chapel Cemetery, in Clarke County.
Virginia City or County Affiliation
Clarke County, Virginia
Year of Birth
Published Works or Performances
- Froissart Ballads, and Other Poems. Carey and Hart, 1847.
- "John Carper, The Hunter of Lost River." The Southern Literary Messenger, 1843.
- “The Power of the Bards." The Southern Literary Messenger, 1843.
- "The Crime of Andrew Blair." The Southern Literary Messenger, 1849.
Philip Pendleton Cooke