Perched on a log in the Rare Books department of the Philadelphia Free Library stands a strange piece of history. Dead since 1841, but preserved with arsenic, and frozen inside a shadow box, this bird’s legacy is longer than most people’s. His name is Grip. Grip the Clever, Grip the Wicked, Grip the Knowing.
Once Charles Dickens’ pet raven, upon its death Dickens had it professionally taxidermied and mounted. Grip even makes an appearance in Dickens’ lesser-known story “Barnaby Rudge.”
That book was reviewed by then literary critic Edgar Allan Poe. Poe wrote that “[the raven’s] croaking might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama.” It wasn’t long after this that Poe published his breakout work “The Raven.” The coincidence didn’t escape notice, and Poe was taunted with the refrain “Here comes Poe with his Raven, like Barnaby Rudge, / Three fifths of him genius, two fifths sheer fudge.”
Despite this, “The Raven” was a smash success and Poe enjoyed performing readings at fancy salon parties. He would turn down all the lights and recite the poem with great drama. Everyone referred to him as “the Raven,” but it would only be four years after publishing “The Raven” and gaining worldwide fame that Poe would be found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, dying shortly thereafter.
Today, Grip the Raven, who inspired both Dickens and Poe, can still be seen, proud as ever, in the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department, along with a great collection of both Poe and Dickens originals and other rare books.