The Visitor of the Poor (1824; trans. 1832), a highly influential tract in the antebellum United States by French essayist, moral reformer, and philosopher Joseph-Marie de Gérando, encourages philanthropists to visit the poor and investigate their lives prior to donating money or rendering help: “Penetrate into secrets of his afflicted heart,” he writes. Another study in moral reform, “An Address on the Prevention of Pauperism” (1843) by Walter Channing, claims that poverty “tells its whole story. It has no concealments.” Starting with these completely opposite visions of poverty in moral reform literature, this article places “The Man of the Crowd” against the context of antebellum philanthropic discourse. Poe’s story stages a dramatic encounter of a middle-class gentleman with a stranger stricken by poverty and despair that fluctuates between surfaces and depths, transparency and secrecy, exposure and concealment. Although Poe’s narrator is not a philanthropist and the old man is anything but a humble supplicant, this story makes use of rhetorical formulas and conventions present in the vast body of the so-called benevolence literature and can be read as a complex response to this influential antebellum genre of writing.

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