WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
- Tamerlane and Other Poems. By a Bostonian (Boston: Calvin F. S. Thomas, Printer, 1827).
- Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems (Baltimore: Hatch & Dunning, 1829).
- Poems by Edgar A. Poe. Second Edition (New York: Elam Bliss, 1831).
- The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, anonymous (New York: Harper, 1838; London: Wiley & Putnam, 1838).
- Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1840).
- The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe, No. 1. Containing the Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Man That Was Used Up (Philadelphia: William H. Graham, 1843).
- Tales by Edgar A. Poe (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845; London: Wiley & Putnam, 1845).
- The Raven and Other Poems (New York: Wiley and Putnam, 1845; London: Wiley and Putnam, 1846).
- Mesmerism "In Articulo Mortis" (London: Short, 1846).
- Eureka: A Prose Poem by Edgar A. Poe (New York: Geo. P. Putnam, 1848).
- The Literati. . . Together with Marginalia, Suggestions, and Essays (New York: Redfield, 1850).
Editions and Collections
- Works of Edgar Allan Poe, with a Memoir by Rufus Wilmot Griswold and Notices of his Life and Genius by N. P. Willis and J. R. Lowell, 4 volumes, edited by Griswold (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1850-1856).
- The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 10 volumes, edited by Edmund Clarence Stedman and George Edward Woodberry (Chicago: Stone & Kimball, 1894-1895).
- The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 17 volumes, edited by James A. Harrison (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1902).
- Selections from the Critical Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by F. C. Prescott (New York: Holt, 1909); republished, with new preface by J. Lasley Dameron and new introduction by Eric W. Carlson (New York: Gordian Press, 1981).
- Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 3 volumes, edited by Thomas Ollive Mabbott (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969-1978).
- Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Burton R. Pollin, volume 1, The Imaginary Voyages: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, The Unparalleled Adventure of one Hans Pfaall, The Journal of Julius Rodman (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981); volume 2, The Brevities of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Gordian Press, 1985).
- Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry and Tales, edited by Patrick F. Quinn (New York: Library of America, 1984).
- Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews, edited by G. R. Thompson (New York: Library of America, 1984).
- Poe's Contributions to the Columbia Spy: Doings of Gotham, as described in a series of letters in the editors of the Columbia Spy, together with various editorial comments and criticisms by Poe now first collected, compiled by Jacob E. Spannuth, with an introduction by Thomas Ollive Mabbott (Pottsville, Pa.: Jacob E. Spannuth, 1929).
- Poe and His Friends: Letters Relating to Poe, Vol. XVII of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe.
- The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. John Ward Ostrom, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1948); republished with three supplements (New York: Gordian Press, 1966); fourth supplement, American Literature, 45 (January 1974): 513-536.
With a relatively small volume of work, some fifty poems, a short novel, about seventy short stories, and a roughly equivalent volume of essays, Edgar Allan Poe has exerted a substantial influence on American and world literature. He may be regarded without too much exaggeration as the single most important influence on the development of an entire poetic tradition in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century--the Symbolist Movement. He had a major impact on the writing of fiction in America. Although his critical recognition is marked by strong disagreement over the intrinsic merit of his writings, his achievement in poetry, criticism, magazine journalism, and fiction is at the very least historically impressive. As a man of letters in a young and still somewhat primitive country, Poe tried in his career to unify the sophisticated and disparate roles of poet, writer of fiction, theoretical critic, practical critic, reviewer, journalist, editor, and philosopher.
Poe's life and career were always strongly marked by self-division; and in view of his obsessive quest for unity, it is a curious irony of fate that he should have been born in the North and reared in the South. Poe's adult life alternated between Boston and Richmond, in ever decreasing pendulum swings from the coastal cities of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, to rest motionless in the streets of Baltimore. Poe's mother was a minor actress named Elizabeth Arnold married to a sometime actor and alcoholic, David Poe; at her death, in Richmond, Virginia, she left her son an inscription on a sketch she had made of Boston Harbor: "For my little son Edgar, who should ever love Boston, the place of his birth, and where his mother found her best, and most sympathetic friends." But the South became Poe's first love and Richmond the city he called home. Yet in early youth, alienated from his foster father, John Allan, a Richmond merchant, and from Southern society, Poe fled north to Boston, where his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827), appeared anonymously as "By A Bostonian."
One of the more coherent explanations of Poe's fragmented life is that which casts him as an actor imitating various personalities. Poe as the orphaned child of itinerant actors and reared in the home of a tyrannical and unloving foster father is said to have felt a lack of roots and self-identity. This lack of identity is supposed to have caused him to assume various unsuitable masks or guises and to spend his life in role-playing. He even refers to himself at least twice as a literary histrio, a player. The player analogy pertains to the earliest models for his fiction, that of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, which developed a cult of personality around its editors and contributors, who under code names played to a special audience of the intellectually elite. In another dimension, even Poe's satire and parody are supposed to show how dependent on imitation and playing he was for literary inspiration. In his poetry, Poe is said to have borrowed not only the symbols of British romantic writing but also the personalities of the romantic poets. Poe played (so the theory goes) Byron in his earliest poems, then Thomas Moore , Shelley, and Coleridge. Yet, at the same time he played the role of the dreamy romantic poet, he also played the contradictory role of the mechanical calculating machine. Toward the end of his career, he played the mathematical critical theorist of such works as "The Philosophy of Composition" and the Nathaniel Hawthorne as well as the super-analytical French detective hero of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter." The player analogy seems to explain a good deal, but not all the facts of Poe's life fit the interpretation equally well. For one thing, despite the violent disagreements and final estrangement, Poe was fortunate in many ways to have John Allan, the self-made practical businessman, as a foster father.
When Elizabeth Poe died in Richmond, the family was split up among various Richmond friends. David Poe had disappeared. The eldest child, William Henry, had been left in the care of David Poe's father, celebrated for keeping the supply lines open for Lafayette and others during the Revolution. The youngest, Rosalie, was taken into the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Mackenzie . Two-year-old Edgar came under the care of Frances Keeling Valentine Allan, who, childless and in ill health, cared for him as her own. Her husband, John Allan, for all his sometimes excessive thrift and temper, did well by the boy for the next fifteen years. He seems to have been prepared to bring up his young charge not only in prosperous circumstances, but also as an heir to a large fortune. Allan knew the value of an education, and he was determined to give the boy the best available. He sent Edgar to two good Richmond academies and continued carefully to oversee his education into young manhood.
Allan saw that Edgar was well instructed when in 1815 they went to Great Britain, where Allan hoped to enlarge his business operations. In London, he took quarters in Russell Square, Bloomsbury. He arranged for Edgar to attend the Dubourg sisters' boarding school and for two years paid for several extra privileges, a bed separate from the dormitory, laundry service, mending, pew rent, advanced writing lessons, and a variety of books. Mrs. Allan declined in health, and eventually Allan sent her to the Gloucestershire countryside to make use of the health waters. He sent Edgar, now nine, to the more advanced school of the Reverend John Bransby in the village of Stoke Newington, then outside the city limits of London. Once more Allan paid for extra comforts (again a separate bed) and slipped the boy extra pocket money, contrary to the wishes of the schoolmaster who thought Poe spoiled. Spoiled or not, Edgar excelled in his studies, especially in Latin and French.
The firm of Ellis and Allan began to suffer reverses, and in June 1820 the family set sail for home. By August they were reestablished in Richmond, though in less prosperous circumstances than before. Nevertheless, Edgar was enrolled in Richmond academies where he could associate with the sons of the genteel society of the city. But he was not accepted as an equal; he was taunted about being the son of actors and about his unconventional position in the Allan household. In the winter that Poe turned fifteen, he learned that Jane Stith Stanard, the mother of his friend Robert Stanard, had a brain tumor, which caused her periods of mental abstractedness. She seems to have represented to him an ideal of womanly grace, and he was fond of calling her "Helen." When she died in the spring, Poe was distraught and is reported to have visited her grave frequently. As with the memories of his mother, combined with his natural concern over Frances Allan's deteriorating health, idealized womanly beauty was once again associated with illness, death, and loss.
Poe had begun to write poetry. He composed poems to several little Richmond girls; Allan seems to have liked these efforts, but Poe's schoolmaster advised him not to have them printed. Poe also composed a number of satires, including one on the Junior Debating Society, of which he was a member. John Allan at this time is said to have enjoyed walking and reading with Poe. He was himself fond of poetry, with the exception of Byron. He admired Shakespeare and could recite passages from memory. Allan's admiration for and indulgence of his foster son are reflected in one recorded remark: "Edgar is wayward and impulsive ... for he has genius.... He will someday fill the world with his fame."
Poe was considered intelligent and talented at school, if a little prone to get by on brains rather than by study. He read Ovid, Caesar, and Virgil in Latin, followed by Homer in Greek, and then by Horace and Cicero in more difficult Latin. His facility with languages was such that he could translate even the hardest classics at sight. He had a penchant for acting and was also gifted athletically.
John Allan meanwhile was having more ill luck, and finally the Ellis-Allan firm was dissolved. Allan was a womanizer, and one affair had brought him an illegitimate son, Edward Collier, for whom he tried to provide as well as he did for Poe. Considering his reduced circumstances, Allan had a worrisome number of obligations. Poe apparently felt the reduction in social status keenly; he had been educated for and grown accustomed to expect a more-or-less genteel life. This, perhaps combined with embarrassment over Allan's love affairs, seems to have led to quarrels with his foster father. Mrs. Allan also seems to have quarreled with Allan frequently, and Poe is said to have joined in on her side. Yet Poe's adolescence does not seem to have been particularly unusual--he was moody, by turns defiant, sociable, and given to solitude--nor was Allan's response to the challenge to his authority by an adolescent boy out of the ordinary. But it was the beginning of the deep rift that was to develop. Allan was beginning to find the boy "sulky & ill-tempered" and without affection or gratitude.
But a turn of fortune eased matters temporarily. Allan's uncle, William Galt, died, leaving him an estate of several hundred thousand dollars. Allan bought a large house in a fashionable part of Richmond and had Poe privately tutored for entrance into the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville. Edgar Poe , now in improved circumstances, called on an attractive fifteen-year-old girl, Sarah Elmira Royster. At first he was well received. They had a brief adolescent courtship (much romanticized by biographers) and may have become engaged before he registered at the university in February 1826.
Now seventeen, Poe enrolled in the schools of ancient and modern languages, where he was to study the classics, along with French, Spanish, and Italian. He was also supposed to enroll in mathematics, and when he did not, the pragmatic Allan was angered. Allan had given Poe $110 to cover expenses, but it was exhausted the first day, so that Poe immediately incurred indebtedness. He could not resist affecting the pose of a young Virginia gentleman of means and ran up a staggering debt of more than $2,000 in gambling debts and in charges with the local merchants. Despite his troubles, Poe did well in classes and seems to have been well enough liked by his fellow students. He had a talent for drawing and is said to have covered the walls of his room with charcoal sketches; some were imitations of illustrations in a volume of Byron, others were caricatures of the professors. He also read aloud to his friends from his growing stock of manuscripts. When he took final examinations in Latin and French, he stood in the second rank in Latin and in the first rank in French.
But Poe's irresponsibility otherwise had alienated his foster father. Allan went to Charlottesville and paid those debts he considered legitimate but not those that Poe regarded as the debts of honor of an aristocratic Virginia gentleman. Back in Richmond for Christmas, Poe must have felt that he was ostracized not only in the Allan household, but also in Richmond society. When he inquired after Elmira Royster he was told by her parents that she was out of the city. It is not fully clear what happened, but she had in fact become engaged to Alexander B. Shelton. Allan meanwhile refused to send Poe back to the university. In early spring, Poe and Allan had a fierce shouting match, and Poe stormed out of the house. He established a mailing address under the name of "Henri Le Rennent" at a local tavern, where he wrote Allan of his determination to seek a "better treatment" in the "wide world" than Allan had given him. Then, in a typically adolescent gesture, having defied and insulted Allan, he asked him for money to go north. But Allan's patience was exhausted; he wrote back pointing out Poe's debt for his upbringing and education. Poe's role as indulged son was at an end. On 3 April 1827, penniless and in disgrace at home, the eighteen-year-old "Virginia gentleman" set out for Boston.
The record of Poe's whereabouts immediately thereafter is sketchy, but en route to Boston he apparently visited his brother and other friends in Baltimore. By the end of May, he had enlisted for a five-year stint in the army under yet another assumed name, "Edgar A. Perry." He began training with Battery H of the First Artillery at Fort Independence, Boston Harbor. Meanwhile, he had arranged to publish his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems. By A Bostonian . In these early poems, Poe experimented with a variety of standard verse forms, though he was much less concerned with metrically regular lines than he came to be in the later incantatory poems that Emerson disparaged when he called Poe "the jingle man." The themes and attitudes expressed in the Tamerlane volume are especially important for an adequate understanding of Poe's writings. For one thing, it was in poetry above all that Poe sought (however mistakenly) to distinguish himself. For another, the book is instructive in placing Poe in the tradition of romantic poetry.
Byronic models are useful formulations for Poe. The major themes of the Tamerlane are the lost joy and lost visionary experience of youth, desire for unworldly dreaming as a refuge from pain or dull reality, and scorn for one's own worldly pride and ambition. All this is combined with an indefinite sense of some higher truth and purity residing beyond this world in the realm of the far stars. Hovering about all existence is a vague sinister threat, from nature, from the mind, or both. The tone of the poems, however, is surprisingly varied underneath the dominant melancholy. In the preface and the notes Poe indulges in a good deal of ironic fun. For example, he comments that the poems "savour too much of Egotism" because the author has so little experience of the world that he has had to write from his own heart. Moreover, he disdains to correct the many faults of these "youthful" productions, despite the practice of his predecessors in poetry, and "amend them in his old age." The preface is the first of Poe's many half-tongue-in-cheek statements about himself and his work. He probably had been at work on the poems from before his fourteenth year, as he claims, but he also doubtless had revised them carefully through his eighteenth, as would be consonant with his inveterate habit of revision and rerevision throughout his career.
The title poem, which comprises slightly more than half the volume, is a dramatic monologue addressed to a "holy friar" by a dying Mongol conqueror who had left his childhood love to pursue his "Ambition" and who has now returned to his little village to discover her dead and childhood's dream flown. It is hard to resist drawing direct biographical parallels with Poe's present circumstances, such as with his own willful pride that caused him so much trouble with Allan, and especially with the unlooked for loss of Elmira Royster. But the poem is more centrally an imitation of Byron's Manfred (1816-1817) in style, tone, and theme. It is striking that Poe's first published work is a half-ironic dramatization (a death-bed confession) focused on Tamerlane's self-disgust and sense of loss, which center around the death of a beautiful woman, features characteristic of his later work. The nine shorter lyric poems comprising the rest of the volume (under the title "Fugitive Pieces") seem rather more personal, though they too are highly self-conscious manipulations of literary conventions: "To--" ("Song"), "Dreams," "Visit of the Dead," "Evening Star," "Imitation," "In Youth Have I Known" ("Stanzas"), "A Wilder'd Being" ("A Dream"), "The Happiest Day--The Happiest Hour," and "The Lake." Especially prominent is the theme of the intertwining of lost love with the infinite regression of all perception into one dream behind another, in tension with the sad celebration of the dreaming imagination, wherein "visionary" perception is always combined with a "dark alloy ... powerful to destroy / A soul that knew it well."
To move from the imaginative world of these dreamy sorrow-laden poems to the outward life of the young army private consumed with daily artillery practice is startling and suggests in another way the dual existence Poe led. The poet-soldier trained all summer and assisted in the commissary before becoming company clerk. On 8 November 1827, Battery H was transferred by sea to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, nine miles from Charleston. Nearby was Sullivan's Island, which seems to have provided the setting for some of Poe's later work, notably "The Gold-Bug." He became friendly with Colonel William Drayton, who introduced him into the genteel society of Charleston. On 1 May 1828, Poe was promoted to the rank of artificer.
Meanwhile Mrs. Allan had grown seriously ill, and John Allan at last inquired after Poe. The army was now aware of Poe's true identity, and the regimental colonel tried to effect a reconciliation with Allan. Apparently, Allan and others encouraged Poe to think of becoming an officer by entering West Point as a cadet. But a formal reconciliation with Allan was necessary before the commanding officer would discharge Poe from the enlisted ranks. By 15 December 1828, the regiment had transferred to Fortress Monroe, Virginia, on the James River. There Poe went to work in the adjutant's office. On 1 January 1829, Poe was promoted to the rank of sergeant major, the highest noncommissioned rank in the army. Because of his intelligence and education, and apparently also because of great self-discipline, his progress had been extraordinarily rapid. After a month's illness, Poe wrote Allan in February. He pointed out that since he had already had a year of university training and nearly two years of practical military experience, his entrance to West Point would probably be a mere formality. He added that he thought the course of study there something "I could run thro' in 6 months."
Frances Allan died 28 February 1829, the third such loss in Poe's young life. He was given a ten-day leave and arrived in Richmond the day after the funeral to find Allan considerably mellowed. They apparently agreed that Poe should enter West Point and Allan gave him some clothing and money. Poe's next letter from Fortress Monroe is addressed to "Pa" and signed "affectionately." On 15 April, Poe paid Sergeant Samuel ("Bully") Graves $25 down and gave him a note for another $50 to act as his substitute in the army, as was the custom for discharge at the time, though Graves's fee was excessive. Poe arranged for letters recommending his appointment to West Point; one of his officers wrote that "his habits are good and intirely free from drinking." During the next several months, while Poe was on his own and without pay from the army, Allan repeatedly sent him money, but the newly established cordial relations once more began rapidly to break down.
In May 1829 Poe looked in on his family in Baltimore. He found that his grandmother was the mainstay not only of his brother, Henry, but also of her daughter Maria Clemm and her two children, Henry and Virginia, who were eleven and seven years of age. While in Baltimore Poe submitted a sheaf of new poems to the Philadelphia firm of Carey, Lea and Carey, which agreed to publish them in a volume if Poe would make good any losses. Poe immediately wrote asking Allan to help him put himself "before the eye of the world." He suggested that the cost would not exceed $100; he added, seemingly in an effort to mollify Allan further, that he had "given up Byron as a model." But Allan by this time possessed habitual skepticism about Poe's handling of money. Poe explained his sudden loss of funds by claiming that on 25 June his cousin, Edward Mosher, had robbed him of $46 and that he had made good the $50 note to his army substitute Graves. Poe was lying, at least about the latter, and Allan was shortly to find it out. Three weeks later Poe again asked for money and pleaded with Allan to give him an indication of his present feelings toward him.
Without substantial support from Allan for a new book-length volume, Poe was forced to withdraw his manuscript from the Philadelphia publishers. He submitted it instead to the Baltimore publishers Hatch and Dunning, who in December 1829 brought out Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. In addition to "Al Aaraaf," which is Poe's longest nondramatic poem (over 400 lines), the volume included in a section titled "Miscellaneous Poems" seven new works: "Sonnet--To Science," which stood as the introduction; "Preface," which was later titled "Romance" in a much altered version and then further revised to stand as "Introduction" to Poe's third volume of poetry (1831); "To--" ("Should My Early Life Seem"), "To--" ("the Bowers Whereat, in Dreams, I See"); "To the River"; "To M--" ("O! I Care Not that My Earthly Lot"); and "Fairy-Land."
"Sonnet--To Science" is an important poem in its own right, possibly one of the best Poe ever wrote, but it also serves well as the introduction to "Al Aaraaf." On a literal level, the poem is a lament for the passing of the traditional and beautiful myths of poetry, which have been made obsolete by the "dull realities" of science. In this, the poem is consistent with those of the Tamerlane volume in its retreat from the objective external world and its celebration of the subjective inner world; again the visionary power of the creative imagination has somehow suffered a loss. But insinuated under the surface statement of the poem is an ironic structure that leads to an affirmation of the poetic imagination after all.
The apparent conflict between science and imagination, reality and dream, truth and poetry, is part of the sustaining thematic framework of "Al Aaraaf." The poem continues the imagery of dreams and stars from the earlier volume. It is a dream vision of the far wandering star where poetic myths, banished from earthly realities, still have ethereal existence. The poem is generally regarded as Poe's most difficult. It also provides a key to his aesthetic world view and a gloss on many other of his works. Key to it is the concept of an otherworldly mid-region where all is counterpoised in stasis, except, possibly, for the passion of transitory love.
Poe had written Carey, Lea, and Carey in May that the dramatic world of the poem was derived from "the Al Aaraaf of the Arabians, a medium between Heaven & Hell where men suffer no punishment, but yet do not attain that tranquil and even happiness" which "they suppose" to be found in heaven. He continues that he has located this realm in "the celebrated star discovered by Tycho Brahe which appeared & disappeared so suddenly" in 1572-1574. Tycho Brahe had described in De Nova Stella (Copenhagen, 1573) the star's appearance near a rectangle of four other stars in the constellation of Cassiopeia (which accounts for the four suns in the sky of Poe's Al Aaraaf). This star, Poe writes, "is represented as a messenger star of the Deity" on "an embassy to our world."
In Part I, Nesace, the ruling angel of the star, silently prays in adoration of the beauty belonging to the higher heaven. Although the form of God is unknown, it is hinted at by the form of man, whose mind is made in his image. Nesace waits for a "sound of silence" which all nature speaks in tune with the "music of the sphere." It is the "eternal voice of God" commanding nature to "wing to other worlds," and bring warning to those proud star realms which threaten to fall, as did the guilty race of earth. Part II opens with a description of a mountain temple. Nesace enters to sing summons to her subjects. She invokes Ligeia, the music of harmony of nature, to awaken the sleeping spirits of Al Aaraaf. While the spirits gather, two lovers hold back, failing to hear the summons clearly because of their passion. One of these, named Angelo, is the spirit of the earthly artist, Michael Angelo Buonarroti. Angelo bends his "dark eye" upon earth and tells his lover, Ianthe, that such monuments as the Parthenon recall to him that there is more beauty in the intellect than in physical passion and that he half wishes "to be again of men." Ianthe reminds him of the beauty of their present "brighter dwelling-place" and of "woman's loveliness" and "passionate love." Angelo then tells of a sensation of falling, rather than rising, to Al Aaraaf at the moment of his death. He also had a perception of the earth hurled into chaos in an apocalyptic fusion of all time in a panoramic moment.
It is unclear who speaks the penultimate paragraph, but it is likely Ianthe's response. The spirits are likened to the "fire-fly of the night"; they simply come and go without asking any reason beyond the "angel-nod" of Nesace, who, in turn, is responding to some summons from her God. Time, it is said, never unfurled a wing over a fairer world than earth, but when Al Aaraaf's beauty appeared in earth's sky, the star and the earth trembled reciprocally before the guilty "heritage of men." The two lovers then seem to fall toward eternal sleep, not having responded to Nesace's call:
"Al Aaraaf" is a mid-world in a series of infinitely regressive dreams of a higher reality--a half-realized Platonic idea of absolute Beauty. The divine is known only through beauty via the imagination, which is the godlike part of man. But even in this "deep sky," as in the yet deeper heaven, the "terrible and fair, / in beauty vie," in an eternity of which we feel but the shadow. The spirit beings whom God's messenger, Nesace, has known have only dreamed of God's "Infinity" as a "model of their own." Through beauty (Nesace) and harmony (Ligeia) the will of God is indefinitely communicated to man. Understanding of such things is but faint on earth; earthly science confuses truth and falsehood; and fuller knowledge is refracted, through death, from God's infinity. Although the poetically imagined star-world of the angels hints of the true beauty, even in this star-world, passion, which is too earthly for pure poetry and beauty, intrudes. This world too is flawed; the only release is to sink into oblivion. "Al Aaraaf" is an invented cosmological myth codifying the implications of the earlier poems, "Evening Star," "Stanzas," and "A Dream." It anticipates Poe's later prose-poem dialogues about the creation and destruction of the earth, "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" (1839), "The Colloquy of Monos and Una" (1841), and "The Power of Words" (1845). It anticipates as well his book-length cosmological treatise, also a prose-poem, Eureka (1848), in which Poe attempts to reconcile various contraries of existence under the proposition that the fundamental paradox is that annihilation is built into the very origin of existence. The other poems of the volume continue the themes of transitoriness, lost love, lost joy, unreal dreams--with a touch of defiance here and there. Of these, "Romance" (one of Poe's favorite works) and "Fairy-Land" both contain burlesque elements in varying degrees.
The publication of the Al Aaraaf volume doubtless made the waiting for acceptance to West Point somewhat easier. Allan finally invited Poe to visit him in Richmond, and Poe seems to have lived with him through January 1830. In March, the appointment came. But on 3 May 1830, Sergeant Graves asked Allan for the remaining $50 Poe owed him; Allan was extremely annoyed with discovering yet another lie from Poe. In defense, Poe wrote Graves that general confusion reigned in the household because "Mr. A is not very often sober." Allan was shortly to discover this letter and completely sever relations. At this time, however, Allan was still supportive; he equipped Poe for West Point and gave him money. Poe took entrance examinations in June and was enrolled 1 July with pay of $28 a month. About this time, Elizabeth Wills bore John Allan illegitimate twins--while he was proposing marriage to Louisa Gabriella Patterson. Miss Patterson accepted him on condition he reform certain of his ways; they were duly married the following October. During the summer, Poe went through the routine exercises of encampment, which is the first training of new cadets. The academic term began 1 September. Poe studied French and mathematics. Although he complained to Allan about not being sent appropriate texts, he did well. He came to stand third in French and fifth in mathematics among the cadets.
But something went wrong. Poe ran into debt again; as always, he asked Allan for money; but it was not sent. Poe began to drink alone in his room. In good fellowship, he wrote a series of satiric caricatures of the officers, which the cadets appreciated, but by Christmas Poe's academy career was essentially over. Allan wrote Poe that he never wanted to hear from him again, having seen his letter to Graves. Poe rehearsed his own grievances and asked Allan's permission to resign from the academy. If Allan would not send formal permission, it was his intention deliberately to disobey orders so as to be dismissed by court martial. Poe missed roll call and refused to go to church or classes. An unsubstantiated tradition has it that he once turned out for roll call on the parade ground dressed in nothing but his military cross-buckstraps. On 27-28 January 1831, Poe was court martialed; his formal dismissal date was 6 March. Meanwhile, he solicited, with official permission, subscriptions from the cadets for a new book of poems. Most of those subscribing apparently were under the mistaken impression that the volume would include Poe's caricatures of the officers.
In February Poe, now twenty-two, left West Point for New York, where he contracted a bad ear infection. Once again he asked Allan for help, this time in a letter in a very shaky hand. He also wrote Colonel Thayer, the Commandant at West Point, for a recommendation to the Marquis de Lafayette so he could go to Paris to join the Polish Revolution. In April, the New York publisher Elam Bliss brought out Poems By Edgar A. Poe. Second Edition , dedicated to "the U.S. corps of cadets." The book is not quite what its title implies; it included only a few lines from previously published poems incorporated into the two longer works "Tamerlane" and "Al Aaraaf" and nine "new" shorter works. The volume also has a critical prefatory essay, "Letter to Mr.--," which begins "Dear B--," probably an invented person, though possibly his publisher Bliss. This is Poe's first critical statement; in it he states a poetic credo derived in part from Coleridge. Whereas he admires Coleridge, he attacks Wordsworth. He also is opposed to the metaphysical in poetry, though what he means by this is unclear. Using "indefiniteness" as a key, Poe asserts that a poem is opposed both to a work of science and to a work of romance:
A poem ... is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth; to romance, by having for its object an indefinite instead of a definite pleasure, being a poem only so far as this object is attained; romance presenting perceptible images with definite, poetry with indefinite sensations, to which end music is an essential since the comprehension of sweet sound is our most indefinite conception. Music, when combined with a pleasurable idea, is poetry; music without the idea is simply music; the idea without the music is prose from its very definitiveness.In "Letter to B--" one can see more definitely the significance of Ligeia (the spirit of harmony and melody) in "Al Aaraaf," later to be developed into a famous definition of poetry as the "Rhythmical Creation of Beauty" in "The Poetic Principle" (1848) and other essays.
"Mysterious Star" is a new introduction to "Al Aaraaf" emphasizing the otherworldly quality of the star-world, with its dream gardens and dream maidens. The new "Introduction" to the volume as a whole, however, sounds a quite different note, and it is important in understanding Poe's complex attitude toward himself and his work. In part it suggests the self-pitying aspect of the Byronic pose. Moreover, the new poem contains some of the most notorious lines in all of Poe's poetry:
The two contrary impulses of Poems (1831)--the visionary dreams of lost joy and beauty--and the satire burlesque of such poetry--almost pull the volume in two. For example, "Fairy-Land,"in a key of self-parody and satire similar to the "Introduction," is followed by what is often regarded as Poe's finest lyric, "To Helen," a hymn to womanly beauty admired for its classical allusions and images, for its mellifluous, melodic use of alliteration, assonance, and consonance, and for its idealized picture of woman standing elevated in a window-niche holding a lamp as a guide to the holy regions. Another of Poe's most famous poems appears in this volume, "Israfel." The theme is the superiority of other worlds to the earthly for the poet. The speaker of the poem suggests that if Israfel would trade places with him, the angel might not "sing so wildly well"; but if the earthly poet were transported to the star realm a "bolder note" might swell. The dramatic situation of "The City in the Sea" is based on the story in Genesis 19 of the destruction of the five cities of sin on the plain surrounding the Dead Sea. According to tradition, the waters of the Dead Sea change colors three times a day as the sun's rays fall at different angles; the ruins of the Cities of the Plain are visible just under the surface of the water and even, in dry weather, protrude out of the water. A standard reading of Poe's landscape is that it prophesies that an earthquake will tumble down the ruins that are still standing sunken in the lake. As the city settles downward--perhaps into its own reflection--hell seems to rise upward to "do it reverence."
Poe was fortunate enough to receive a couple of favorable reviews for the 1831 Poems in the local papers. Although he was trying to establish himself on the New York literary scene, he returned to Baltimore in May 1831, where he applied for an editorial position with the Federal Gazette, vacated by his cousin Neilson Poe. He failed to get the appointment and applied for a teaching position in a local boys' school, which he also failed to get. He moved in with his aunt, Maria Clemm, and her children, and Grandmother Poe. For the next four years, Poe lived in Baltimore, supporting himself meagerly by odd jobs (such as copy editing and news reporting) and by an occasional sale of a story. By 1833-1834, he was in desperate circumstances, apparently starving and in ill health. But he kept writing. In 1831-1832 his first fiction began circulating in the presses. The bulk of it was satiric and humorous, displaying almost the opposite impulse of the early poems, though, as indicated, the ironic and satiric element had begun to manifest itself in the poetry.
In June 1831, the Philadelphia Saturday Courier announced a $100 prize contest for fiction. Poe sent five tales that were part of a larger interconnected sequence. That August, William Henry Poe died of consumption, just before the devastating cholera epidemic that raged through Baltimore in September. In October, Poe wrote Allan of his regret at their estrangement, remarking that although he was poor and in debt, he was not this time asking for assistance. By November he had apparently received some kind word from Allan, and true to form, Poe immediately asked Allan for $80 to pay a mysterious debt. (Allan sent no money until January.) The Courier then awarded the $100 prize to Delia S. Bacon for a tale called "Love's Martyr," but they began to publish Poe's five stories at regular intervals throughout 1832, from January to December. These were "Metzengerstein," "The Duke de L'Omelette," "A Tale of Jerusalem," "A Decided Loss" (the first version of "Loss of Breath"), and "The Bargain Lost" (the first version of "Bon-Bon").
Poe's satiric intent in some of these stories seems to have been only vaguely comprehended, for the satire frequently depended on very specific acquaintance with certain literary works of the day. "The Duke de L'Omelette" must have puzzled most of the Courier readers. A sensitive French nobleman dies in a paroxysm of disgust when served an ortolan without paper ruffles. Finding himself in Hell, he plays cards with the Devil to win back his soul, succeeds by cheating, and takes his leave with the remark, in French, that if he were not the Duke de L'Omelette he would have no objection to being the Devil. The literary context of the tale reveals the story to be a satiric parody of the literary style and the elegant manners and cultural pretensions of a contemporary editor, Nathaniel Parker Willis . Poe exaggerates Willis's imitation of the "silver-fork" style of Benjamin Disraeli in Willis's preciously written column, "The Editor's Table," in the American Monthly Magazine. "A Tale of Jerusalem," in which the Jews, besieged in the Holy City by Pompey's legions, bargain for a sacrificial lamb but are given a pig instead, also seems rather pointless, and unpleasantly anti-Semitic. The tale, however, is a satire on the rage for didactic historical novels set in the Holy Land, parodying in particular Horace Smith 's Zillah, A Tale of the Holy City, a three-decker published in 1828. "The Bargain Lost" (later called "Bon-Bon" ) tells the story of a philosopher chef who, while completing an absurd metaphysical treatise, gets into a drunken conversation with the Devil. The Devil is a gourmet--of philosophers' souls. The chef offers his own soul for his Satanic Majesty's delectation only to be turned down. The satiric point of the tale, with its metaphysical conversation, plentiful references to classical authors, and other recondite allusions, seems to be mockery of German metaphysics and pretended scholarship in contemporary fiction. Similar pretense, as well as the whole genre of "sensation" tales or "intensities" featured in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, along with transcendentalism, are the major satiric targets of "A Decided Loss" (later titled "Loss of Breath" ). The "predicament" of the narrator is that he has lost his breath while cursing his wife. He tries to get along without the faculty of speech that his "loss" engenders by practicing the "Indian" dramas then popular on the American stage, for these plays require only "frog-like" tones, looking asquint, showing of teeth, working of knees, shuffling of feet, and other "unmentionable graces which are justly considered the characteristics of a popular performer." While searching for his breath, the hero is beaten, accused of various crimes, hanged, partially dissected, and entombed--all the while conscious of his "sensations." The tale is not without some effectively grisly scenes of horror, but the absurdities of the story are obvious, and its subtitle ("A Tale a la Blackwood") points to the object of satire.
Whether "Metzengerstein" is a parody or a straight Gothic tale of terror is more equivocal. A hereditary feud between an old Count and a young Baron is given a bizarre twist when the Count is burned in a fire and apparently transformed into a horse at the same time that the figure of a horse disappears from a tapestry. The young Baron captures the horse and rides him night and day in frenzy. A fire then breaks out in the Baron's castle, the horse carries him into the fire, and the smoke from the ramparts rises into the shape of--a horse. "Metzengerstein" is clearly the most sombre and horrific of the Courier group. But some critics have found enough exaggerations and incongruities--such as the confused curse, the dense narrator (who at one time praises death by consumption), the melodramatic style, the possible delusion of the boy Baron--to suggest that if the tale is not direct satire, it may yet be a hoax. With its equipoised balance of absurdity and supernatural horror, the story presents a basic problem of interpretation not only in and of itself, but also for Poe's other fiction.
During the year that the Courier published these tales, Poe must have continued to work at odd jobs while he continued to write both poetry and fiction. But the year is nearly a blank in our knowledge of his life. There is a story that he enlisted in the army again, under yet another assumed name, that some of the officers recognized him, and that, embarrassed to have a former cadet in the enlisted ranks, they forced him out. Then there is the romantic story that Poe told about himself some years later. He claimed that in his youth (about this time) he had gone to Europe, managed to get to St. Petersburg, Russia, and intended eventually to join the Greek Revolt. But he ran out of funds and was sent back to America by courtesy of the United States minister. The story seems to have been a fabrication to enhance his Byronic image with his public. Similarly, a story extant in manuscript and ascribed to Alexandre Dumas about Poe's visiting him secretly in Paris seems to be spurious. It is also told of Poe during these years that he cut a melancholy but dashing figure in his West Point coat, charming the Baltimore ladies with his gray eyes, dark hair, melodious voice, and gracious manners. It is known that he wrote poems for their autograph albums in the early 1830s, sometimes using the same poem several times for different ladies. It was in these years too that Poe met an eighteen-year-old woman named Mary Starr (also known as Devereaux). They are supposed to have become engaged; if so, the match was quickly broken off.
In May 1833, Poe wrote to Joseph and Edwin Buckingham , the publishers of the New England Magazine, about a collection of sequential stories tentatively titled "Eleven Tales of the Arabesque." This never-published collection Poe apparently intended as a large-scale parody. He included with his letter to the Buckinghams, as representative of the collection, his tale "Epimanes" (later called "Four Beasts in One--The Homocameleopard" ). It is the story of a Syrian tyrant who runs wildly through the streets of Antioch disguised as an animal until the beasts become indignant at the imposture and break out of their cages and lead a protest march through the city. The tale is an overtly comic work with many satiric thrusts at American democracy and nineteenth-century concepts of progress.The whole series of tales, Poe explained, was not only an imitation of contemporary styles of tale writing, but also a burlesque of current modes of criticism:
They are supposed to be read at table by the eleven members of a literary club, and are followed by the remarks of the company upon each. These remarks are intended as a burlesque upon criticism. In the whole, originality more than anything else has been attempted.... If you like the specimen which I have sent I will forward the rest at your suggestion--but if you decide upon publishing all the tales, it would not be proper to print the one I now send until it can be printed in its place with the others.
The "Eleven Tales of the Arabesque" were probably the five tales published in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in 1832, to which he now added six tales submitted to the Baltimore Saturday Visiter in response to an announcement of a prize contest: "Some Passages in the Life of a Lion" (revised as "Lionizing"), "The Visionary" (revised as "The Assignation"), "Shadow," "Epimanes," "Siope" (revised as "Silence"), and "MS. Found in a Bottle." Poe also submitted a poem, "The Coliseum." The poem, which, like "The City in the Sea," is an evocative description of the ruined pride of an ancient architectural structure, won an honorary second prize. "MS. Found in a Bottle" won first prize of $50. The tale is based on the Legend of the Flying Dutchman, the phantom ship doomed for eternity to roam the seas. The narrator initially suffers a shipwreck, but at the moment of apparent destruction he is thrown high into the rigging of a gigantic ship which has been growing in the South Seas like a living organism. The phantom crew ignores the new passenger from the world of the living, and the rest of the narrative is rendered with an atmosphere of dreaminess that makes it difficult to be sure whether the events are real or the delusion of a man driven mad. His exaggerated, melodramatic narrative breaks off just as the ship is poised at the brink of a Maelstrom--or is it perhaps the southern of the two fabled entrances to the center of the earth at the poles? Throughout, the narrator feels he is on the verge of some great Discovery, but the revelation is withheld, and the ship merely goes "down." Both the tale and the poem were published in the Visiter in October 1833, along with an advertisement for subscriptions to a volume to be called "Tales of the Folio Club."
The "Folio Club" is an expansion of the scheme of the "Eleven Tales of the Arabesque," which, like the earlier project, was never published as an interconnected whole. Critics have come to regard the "Folio Club" plan as centrally important for a full and balanced view of Poe's art in fiction. The "Folio Club" survives in a fragmentary manuscript which contains only the preface and the concluding tale, "Siope" ("Silence"). This manuscript is all that remains of a relatively lengthy collection of tales that Poe unsuccessfully sent to various publishers over the next three years.
The Folio Club (perhaps modeled on the Balitmore literary society, the Delphian Club) is a "Junto of Dunderheadism," which meets once a month at dinner for a reading by each member of "a short tale of his own composition." The author of the best tale becomes president for the month; the author of the worst tale provides dinner and wine for the next meeting. The writer of the preface represents himself as making an expose of the Club after attending his first meeting. Although some of the members' tales may at first seem no more ridiculous than the standard Gothic and sensational fiction popular at the time, most of the stories are parodies and satires. The intention of the Club, the narrator says, is "to abolish Literature, subvert the Press, and overturn the Government of Nouns and Pronouns." The membership includes, besides the newly elected author of the preface, ten "most remarkable men," such as "Mr. Convolvulus Gondola," "De Rerum Natura, Esqr.," "Mr. Solomon Seadrift who had every appearance of a fish," "Mr. Blackwood Blackwood who had written certain articles for foreign magazines," and others. A good deal of scholarly speculation has ensued about which of the fictitious "authors" are to be assigned to various tales (such as Horribile Dictu to "Metzengerstein," Chronologos Chronology to "A Tale of Jerusalem," Solomon Seadrift to "MS. Found in a Bottle," and so on), as well as critical debate over the implications of the "Folio Club" manuscript for Poe's intentions in his earliest tales--about how serious, satiric, comic, or ironic these works were intended to be.
This critical debate has special pertinence to Poe's next story, for example, much admired for its somber fatality. After receiving the Visiter prize, Poe met the novelist John Pendleton Kennedy , a member of the award committee. Kennedy helped Poe select from among his tales a story called "The Visionary" (retitled "The Assignation" ) for submission to Godey's Lady's Book.Godey's published the tale in January 1834; it was Poe's first publication in a journal of wide circulation. In Venice, a Byronic stranger and a married countess make a suicide pact, but the narrator of the tale is unaware of the situation until the end. The narrator describes with awe and puzzlement the odd behavior of the stranger and the sumptuous appointments of his palatial apartment. The mysterious stranger remarks incongruously at one point that "to die laughing" would be the most glorious of deaths even though he also says that his spirit is "writhing in fire." Reference to an Altar to Laughter in ancient Sparta is countered by reference to the grinning masks at Persepolis, from the eyes of which adders writhe. The tale balances sinister passion with comic wryness; a satiric element is added by a pun on the name Thomas More. The thrice repeated name is a clue that the tale is a parody of the romantic poet Thomas Moore , who wrote an adulatory account of his visit to Byron's Venice apartment in 1819 and who edited Byron's letters in 1830. The whole tale plays on Byron's intrigue with the Countess Guiccioli, though no names are given in the text. The parodic aspect of the tale is further underscored by the "Folio Club" scheme, for its most likely author would be the unlikely Convolvulus Gondola (a humorous reference to Venice's canals).
Sometime early in 1834, Poe seems to have gone to Richmond to see Allan. According to tradition, when the new Mrs. Allan told him that his foster father was too ill to receive him, Poe pushed past her and went upstairs; the bedridden Allan raised his cane at him, and Poe left without a word. Allan died 27 March 1834. In his will he provided for everyone, including his illegitimate children, but not for Edgar Poe .
The friendship with Kennedy meanwhile was proving to be one of the lucky events in Poe's life. When subscriptions to "Tales of the Folio Club" did not materialize, Kennedy generously recommended the book to his own publishers (though they eventually replied that a volume of such tales would not be profitable). But Kennedy's major contribution to Poe's career was to introduce him to the editors of the Southern Literary Messenger , which had been established just a few months before in Richmond, Virginia. Poe submitted his tale "Berenice." The Messenger accepted the story (published March 1835), asked for more works, and offered Poe regular reviewing assignments.
Poe had also been writing a play. In its present unfinished form, it is known as "Scenes from 'Politian': An Unpublished Drama," a blank verse imitation of Renaissance tragedy. Poe seems to have based the action on a famous affair known as the "Kentucky tragedy." In 1825 Jereboam O. Beauchamp stabbed Colonel Solomon P. Sharp to death in obedience to a wish from his bride to avenge her prior seduction by Sharp. Poe's version sets the action in late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century Rome; his characters are Italian aristocrats with names like Lalage, Alessandra, Jacinta, and Baldazzar, intermixed with historical figures like Castiglione in the role of Sharp and Politian in the role of Beauchamp, though the parallels with the "Kentucky tragedy" are relatively faint.
With the death of Grandmother Poe in July 1835, the government pension that was the mainstay of the family ceased, and by 18 August Poe was in Richmond in search of some permanent employ. T. W. White, publisher of the Southern Literary Messenger, agreed to take him on trial for a month at $10 a week salary, to be supplemented with payment (by the column) for any contributions Poe made to the magazine. Poe had at last secured a professional literary position.
But all was not well. According to White, Poe was subject to fits of despondency and at times drank to excess. Maria Clemm's letter after barely two weeks separation could hardly have contributed to his equanimity. She wrote from Baltimore suggesting that Virginia would be taken into the home of cousin Neilson. Poe promptly and somewhat hysterically wrote to ask for Virginia's hand in marriage. He was twenty-six and Virginia thirteen. This circumstance has led to the view of Poe as somehow perverted, having an unnatural interest in little girls. Actually he was drawn as much to older women, and the circumstances of his proposal to Virginia do not suggest much erotic interest. In fact, years later Poe wrote that he never consummated the marriage. But this too has been taken as evidence of psychological abnormality--that he was impotent. Such a conclusion is presumptive. That he loved Virginia seems clear, but it was at this time probably in a brotherly way. His letter to Mrs. Clemm (29 August 1835) suggests anguish over what threatened to be the final breakup of his already fragmented family.
In September 1835, Poe abruptly left his position with the Messenger and returned to Baltimore, where he took out a license to marry Virginia. Indeed, they may have been married in secret at this time. Poe then wrote White about the possibility of regaining employment with the Messenger. In reply, White wrote a friendly but firm letter: "it must be expressly understood by us that all engagements on my part would be dissolved, the moment you get drunk." On 3 October, Poe brought Virginia (whom he called "Sissy") and her mother to Richmond, where they took rooms in a boarding house for $9 a week, leaving only a single dollar from his salary. Anything extra would have to come from his writing.
From the time the Messenger had printed his first story in the spring of 1835 through the spring of the following year, Poe contributed to it revised versions of his first seven stories, eight new poems, and seven new stories. From the fall of 1835 through the fall of 1836, Poe wrote more than one hundred reviews and editorials for the magazine, including a column on current literary events. He also did a series of half-satiric sketches of famous literary figures, the "Autography"; under the pretense of analyzing signatures, Poe filled the series with hidden jokes of various kinds, from ethnic slurs to printer's puns. All this was in addition to the chores of soliciting and reading manuscripts, keeping up a large correspondence, acting as a copyist for White, copy editing manuscripts, proofreading galleys, and in general overseeing the production of the Messenger . Poe was so good at it all that White rapidly (though anonymously) turned over the magazine to him, so that as of December 1835 Poe was de facto editor. To the December 1835 number alone, Poe contributed excerpts from "Politian" and more than two-dozen reviews on a wide variety of subjects. Whatever his problems with depression and drinking, he was a hardworking writer and editor.
In addition to the tales reprinted from the Courier, the Visiter, and Godey's, Poe published from March 1835 to March 1836 the new tales "Berenice," "Morella," "Some Passages from the Life of a Lion" ("Lionizing"), "Hans Phaall," "King Pest the First. A Tale Containing an Allegory," "Shadow. A Fable," and "Epimanes" ("Four Beasts in One"). Three of these are on the surface terror-ridden Gothics. "Morella" tells the story, in highly evocative, highly cadenced prose, of the reincarnation of a mother in the form of her daughter (at least according to the distraught husband). "Shadow" is a revelation of the impending finality of death; during a seance-like wake a shadow guest speaks with the voices of a thousand departed souls in an eerie climax. "Berenice," however, is more problematic. The narrator, who is a visionary born and brought up in his mother's library, has developed a grotesque obsession with his loved one's teeth. These concrete and specific objects somehow represent the idea of Berenice to him. When she "dies," the narrator breaks into her burial chamber to retrieve her teeth. But she has been buried alive in a cataleptic fit. The narrator is only dimly aware of the situation and pries the teeth out of the still living woman. The final image of the thirty-two gory teeth scattered about the floor of the library acts as an objective correlative of the narrator's "monomania." As with "Metzengerstein," because facets of the tale approach absurdity, some critics have felt that "Berenice" is a "Folio Club" parody of a contemporary style of storytelling.
In fact, Poe himself commented obliquely on the matter. "Berenice" was the first tale he had published in the Messenger, and White had complained that the story had too much "German" horror. In defense, Poe had written White that "Berenice" was merely typical of the kind of tale that sells magazines. White was not to take the tale so seriously, since it "originated in a bet" that he "could produce nothing effective on a subject so singular." He continued:
The history of all Magazines shows plainly that those which have attained celebrity were indebted for it to articles similar in nature--to Berenice..... I say similar in nature. You ask me in what does this nature consist? In the ludicrous heightened into the grotesque: the fearful coloured into the horrible: the witty exaggerated into the burlesque: the singular wrought out into the strange and mystical.
All but the last formulation in the series applies to the grotesque, semi-Gothic tale, "King Pest." Two drunken sailors come upon a weird group of people in a plague-infested area of London near an undertaker's. King Pest is a tall thin man with an abnormally high forehead; Queen Pest is a lady whose mouth gashes across her face from ear to ear. The others include a lady whose nose dangles below her mouth, a man with bladderlike cheeks, a man with huge elongated ears, and a man with enormous goggle eyes. They are drinking wine from human skulls, beneath an inverted skeleton chandelier, coals glowing in its skull. The sailors are invited to drink to the coming of Death. When they refuse, the court of King Pest tries to drown them in a barrel of ale. The sailors subdue the men and carry off the women. Although the fusion of the grisly and the comic has puzzled many readers, an underlying satiric allegory (mentioned in the subtitle) unifies what seems an otherwise pointless tale. The characters are burlesques of Andrew Jackson and his "kitchen cabinet" so that the tale is in large part political satire.
Satire also underlies the puzzling tale "Some Passages in the Life of a Lion." The large-nosed narrator, having completed a treatise on "Nosology," is lionized by arty society. He becomes so vain that he demands a fee of 1,000 pounds for the privilege of portraying his nose on canvas. When he is insulted by the men in the group, he challenges one to a duel and shoots off the fellow's nose. To his chagrin, he finds that the artsy ladies now lionize his rival who is the more interesting for having "no proboscis at all." The satiric point of the tale becomes clear when one sees the thrusts at specific literary figures: the British novelist, Edward Bulwer-Lytton ; the patroness of the arts, Lady Blessington; the Irish poet, Thomas Moore ; the Scots editor of the Edinburgh Review, Francis Jeffrey; and others. The tale is notable for its specifically sexual humor, usually not so blatant in Poe. The remaining Messenger story, "Hans Phaall," has stimulated interest among science-fiction readers, who see it as an early prototype of space travel. It is also basically framed as a satire and comic hoax. Poe does experiment, however, with the illusion of verisimilitude in the speculative details given about the journey, which is accomplished rather improbably in a balloon. Perhaps Poe's concern for Defoe-like verisimilitude is the cause of the tale's unusual length (it is the third longest of Poe's fictions).
In all these tales, Poe claimed to have "book-unity" always in mind and had sent them as a unified sequence to Kennedy's publishers for book publication; and when they had been returned as unprofitable, he had sent them as a group to Harper's. On 3 March 1836, the New York novelist James Kirke Paulding wrote to White regarding Poe's manuscript. Although Paulding disclaimed any influence with the firm, noting that they had an independent editorial reader, he told White that they had communicated to him their reasons for declining Poe's manuscript: the stories had been so recently published in the Messenger "that they would be no novelty--but most especially they object that there is a degree of obscurity in their application, which will prevent ordinary readers from comprehending their drift, and consequently from enjoying the fine satire they convey." Emphasizing this point, Paulding commented: "For Satire to be relished, it is necessary that it should be leveled at something with which readers are familiar." The same point was made by Kennedy and by Harper's when the firm returned his manuscript in June.
But Poe would not give up the "Folio Club" scheme. By September 1836, he had expanded the number of tales and narrators to seventeen. In a letter to the Philadelphia publisher Harrison Hall, Poe stated that all the tales recently published in the Southern Literary Messenger were part of the "Folio Club" series: "They are of a bizarre and generally whimsical character.... The seventeen tales which appeared in the Messenger are supposed to be narrated by the seventeen members.... As soon as each ... tale is read--the other 16 members criticise it in turn--and these criticisms are intended as a burlesque upon criticisms are intended as a burlesque upon criticism generally." At this time, Poe had actually published only fourteen tales in the Messenger. It would seem logical therefore to conclude that the other three tales were among those published immediately following the fourteen in the Messenger, and that Poe had originally intended them for the Messenger. The most likely seeming candidates are the overtly comic and parodic "Von Jung," "How to Write a Blackwood Article," and "A Predicament." The last two mentioned are companion tales, the second being an illustration of the first, and so might be construed as by one "Folio Club" author. Scholars have, however, made cogent arguments for other, later tales.
Meanwhile, Poe was pouring out critical reviews, of which several are important for an understanding of his developing literary principles. Among the more generally significant in the first series, published in the Messenger in December 1835, are the reviews of Kennedy's Horse Shoe Robinson, The Classical Family Library Euripides (partially borrowed from A.W. Schlegel), Thedore S. Fay's Norman Leslie, E.S. Barrett's The Heroine; or Adventures of Cherubina , and William Godwin 's Lives of the Necromancers. The review of Norman Leslie is a classic example of Poe's unrelenting attack on the type of literary clique, especially in the North, that overpraised or "puffed" the works of its own set. The New York Mirror had been breathlessly announcing the coming publication of Fay's novel. Poe's review begins:
WELL!--here we have it! This is the book--the book par excellence--the book bepuffed, beplastered, and be-Mirrored: the book "attributed to" Mr. Blank, and "said to be from the pen" of Mr. Asterisk: the book which has been "about to appear"--"in press"--"in progress"--"in preparation"--and "forthcoming."... For the sake of everything puff, puffing and puffable, let us take a peep at its contents!
Norman Leslie ... is, after all, written by nobody in the world but Theodore S. Fay, and Theodore S. Fay is nobody in the world but "one of the Editors of the New York Mirror."He goes on to analyze the novel's characters, plot, style, and grammar--and finds them all wanting. Such reviews began to earn Poe the title of the "tomahawk man" from the South, while the circulation of the Messenger began to increase.
After his first review, for example, the friends of the wounded author charged Poe with "regular cutting and slashing." The review was certainly caustic enough. Seizing upon the title of Laughton Osborn's Confessions of a Poet, Poe wrote: "The most remarkable feature in this production is the bad paper on which it is printed.... The author has very few claims to the sacred name he thought proper to assume." But Poe pointed out later that he did not "regularly" slash; in fact, he claimed that most of his reviews were favorable. A good example is the review of Barrett's Cherubina , a piece important for what it suggests about Poe's literary values. Cherubina is a lighthearted parody of the conventions of the Gothic romance and of the character of the sentimental heroine. Poe wrote of it: "There are few books written with more tact, spirit, naivete, or grace, few which take hold more irresistably upon the attention of the reader, and none more fairly entitled to rank among the classics of English literature...." Even though it is a "mere burlesque," its "wit, especially, and its humor, are indisputable...." Such praise throws further light on Poe's own early fiction, his interest in humor, and the "Folio Club" question.
In the next series of critical reviews for the Messenger (published January 1836), the most important pieces include Poe's discussion of three volumes by women poets, William Gilmore Simms 's The Partisan , and a republication of Daniel Defoe 's Robinson Crusoe. In the first, while discussing the poetry of Mrs. L.H. Sigourney, Poe mentions in passing that Coleridge's Christabel is "entitled to be called great from its power of creating intense emotion in the minds of great men." This continues the affective theory of poetry first begun in "Letter to B----," and which is to be developed into the famous definitions of the 1840s. The next step in the theory is a concern for "proportion." Poe comments that in long poems, that is, in a poem of "magnitude," the "mind of the reader is not, at all times, enabled to include in one comprehensive survey the proportions and proper adjustment of the whole." In the long poem, the reader is pleased with successive accumulation of "pleasurable sensations inspired by ... individual passages during the process of perusal." But in the briefer poem (like Mrs. Sigourney's), the effect is dependent on "the contemplation of the picture as a whole." Thus its effect will depend on the precise "adaptation of its constituent parts, and especially upon what is rightly termed by Schlegel, 'the unity or totality of interest.'" Poe was shortly to decide that a long poem, like Milton's Paradise Lost (which he had found wearisome in "Letter to B----"), is a contradiction in terms. Poe develops these ideas step by step, review by review.
The same concern for unity of effect in fiction is evident in his review of Simms. He notes Simms's lapse of taste in giving the minute details of a murder committed by a maniac. This may seem a puzzling remark for the author of "Berenice." But when he charges Simms with "a love for that mere physique of the horrible which has obtained for some Parisian novelists the title of the 'French convulsions,'" he is pointing to a disjuncture between the content of certain scenes and their function in the overall design of the novel. Simms achieves only external semblance of horror rather than a pervading atmosphere of horror. Related is Poe's enthusiastic praise for a new edition of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. He adduces three reasons for the book's continued popularity. First is "the potent magic of verisimilitude" with which the author permeates his narrative. This is then combined with the author's power of "identification--that domination exercised by volition over imagination which enables the mind to lose its own, in a fictitious, individuality." The third reason for the popularity of the book is the subject matter: the "idea of man in a state of perfect isolation," he says, has exerted a constant fascination for readers.
April was the month of one of Poe's most revealing and important reviews, that of Joseph Rodman Drake's The Culprit Fay and Fitz-Greene Halleck 's Alnwick Castle, collections of poems of a certain romantic sort which Poe minutely dissected. He began by tracing American criticism from initial "servile deference to British critical dicta" to present day American chauvinism. Now, he claimed, Americans suffer under the "gross paradox of liking a stupid book the better, because, sure enough, its stupidity is American." Neither Drake nor Halleck are truly poetical for Poe. He parodies Drake's attempt to "accoutre a fairy" by rewriting several lines in which he mechanically substitutes different animal and plant metaphors, one-for-one, with those of Drake, concluding that "the only requisite for writing verses of this nature ... is a tolerable acquaintance with the qualities of the objects to be detailed, and a very moderate endowment of the faculty of Comparison." The difference between the poems of Drake and Halleck and those poems that are truly poetic--such as Shelley's Queen Mab , Coleridge's Christabel, Milton's Comus, Dante's Inferno--is the difference between mere "Fancy" and true "Imagination." Imagination, Poe writes, is the "soul" of poetry and springs "from the brain of the poet, enveloped in the moral sentiments of grace, of color, of motion--of the mystical, of the august--in short of the ideal." Although the imagination may modify, exalt, enflame, purify, or control "the passions of mankind," there is no "inevitable" or "necessary co-existence" of true imagination and the passions. The passions are earthly; poetry is spiritual. Poetry is so ethereal it cannot even be defined. "Its intangible and purely spiritual nature refuses to be bound down within the widest horizon of mere sounds," that is, by mere earthbound words. Yet, although poetry cannot be defined, it can be recognized: "If, indeed, there be any one circle of thought distinctly and palpably marked out from amid the jarring and tumultuous chaos of human intelligence, it is that evergreen and radiant Paradise which every true poet knows, and knows alone, as the limited realm of his authority--as the circumscribed Eden of his dreams."
Poe uses two phrenological terms to get at the essence of true poetry. The functions of "Veneration" and "Ideality" both point to some power or realm superior to our present earthly condition. Poetry, he says, is "the sentiment of Intellectual Happiness" on earth and "the Hope of a higher Intellectual Happiness hereafter," and he singles out Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" (1817) as the poem most nearly describing these aspirations and possessing such ideality.
A careful reading of the specific lines that he isolates for criticism in the works of Drake and Halleck reveals that as a practical critic Poe works by binaries, in which an indefinite opposite is implied by certain images, such as "twilight" by "day," and that he rejects out of hand, as simply unpoetic, any references to the world of labor, money, trade, or business. Yet at the same time that he values vagueness and ideality, he also insists on a logical preestablished pattern for the whole work. A similar attitude and methodology may be observed in his August review of an anthology of British poems called the Book of Gems, in which he comments on ethical or moral elements in poetry and makes revealing comparisons of Donne, Cowley, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and others. The two tendencies of his thought--toward ideal indefiniteness and patient step-by-step organization--are further underscored by Poe's analysis in the same issue as the Drake-Halleck review of the famous "mechanical" chessplayer then being demonstrated in America by J.N. Maelzel. In contending that it worked via a concealed human being underneath the table, Poe gives a sequence of deductive reasons, proceeding as though inductively, that resembles the method of C. Auguste Dupin, the prototype of the Sherlock Holmes detective which Poe was to invent five years later in the "Murders in the Rue Morgue."
In May 1836, Poe took out in Richmond a second license to marry Virginia; after the ceremony they went on a two-week trip to Petersburg, Virginia. Poe now decided to demand payment from the United States Government of the $40,000 his grandfather had contributed to the Revolutionary cause. But since his grandmother had died before Congress passed the bill allowing such claims, none of the Poe family ever collected on the debt. In the August Messenger, Poe printed thirteen of his reviews along with a column titled "Pinakidia," a miscellany of sayings and quotations from encyclopedias and other sources. Although primarily filler, the column is of value for indicating the topics to which Poe's interest was drawn.
In the June 1836 number, Poe praised the unknown author of Watkins Tottle, a collection of sketches "by Boz." This was an American reprint of the early work of Charles Dickens . During the course of the review, Poe defends the "brief article" as different from and perhaps better than the so-called "sustained effort" of the novel. He observes that "unity of effect" may be somewhat foregone in a mere novel, but not in the brief article. Novels, he decides, are generally remembered not for their whole design but for "detached passages." As an example of the unity of effect of the short article he copies out the whole of Dickens's sketch "Gin Shops." In September, he would review Dickens's Pickwick Papers favorably, reprinting the entire tale "A Madman's Ms." Reviews such as these, both the positive and the negative, caused the circulation of the Messenger to increase dramatically--from but 500 to over 3,500 during the year-and-a-half Poe was associated with it--and made the magazine a nationally recognized force in American letters.
But Poe began drinking again, and in September 1836 White gave him a month's notice. Apparently, Poe made him some sort of promise, and White reinstated him. In the October issue of the Messenger , Poe reviewed a British story, "Peter Snook," in which he praised the work for its design. In opposition to the prevailing romantic ideas of his time, and in modification of his comments on Drake, he stated that originality is not "a mere matter of impulse or inspiration"; instead, to "originate, is carefully, patiently, and understandingly to combine." This seems to be an early statement of the principles more emphatically articulated in the 1840s in his review of Hawthorne and in "The Philosophy of Composition"; but it also may have some bearing upon the jigsaw-puzzle way in which he was putting together Arthur Gordon Pym, his only novel.
By December, White and Poe were at odds again, and for whatever reasons--renewed drinking on Poe's part, dissatisfaction with his low salary, disagreement over editorial policy (White later said he felt "cramped by him in the exercise of my own judgment")--they severed relations at the end of 1836. Poe's last contributions to the Southern Literary Messenger were in the January and February 1837 numbers: five reviews, including important discussions of Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant , and two installments of his novel-in-progress, Pym.
In February 1837, Poe moved to New York, where he first rented a place in Greenwich Village and then a place farther south where Mrs. Clemm could take in boarders. In response to an inquiry from a new annual, the Baltimore Book, he sent them "Siope--A Fable," a tale which develops the theme of solitude in a kind of inverse Eden. An unstable world with shrieking water lilies, lowing hippotami, and graven rocks whose letters spell "Desolation" is described by a Demon to the narrator as one in which there was never any rest. Here poisonous flowers constantly writhed and blood streamed from the skies--until the Demon cursed the land with silence and stasis. Then the solitary man inhabiting this world at last knew terror. At the end of his description, the Demon laughs at the narrator, while a lynx comes out of a cave and stares steadily into the Demon's face. The tale has been admired as an apocalyptic tone-poem, and certainly on the surface it is portentous enough. But not only is it part of the "Folio Club" manuscript, it also carried the subtitle "(In the manner of the Psychological Autobiographists)" as a clue to some specific model. The tale has some close parallels with the opening of Disraeli's Contarini Fleming (1832), which was subtitled A Psychological Auto-Biography, as well as with Bulwer-Lytton's story "Monos and Daimonos" (1830). Both writers were favorite satiric targets of Poe.
Poe placed "Von Jung" ("Mystification" ) with the American New Monthly Magazine , where it was published in June. This is a comic piece in which Baron Von Jung, noted for "mystification" (i.e., practical jokes and hoaxes), is more or less insulted by a student named Johann Hermann, an expert duelist. The baron writes that Hermann should consult the ninth paragraph in an obscure Latin text. Hermann does and replies that he is now entirely satisfied. Von Jung then reveals to the narrator that the passage referred to is a burlesque about a duel between two baboons and contains a hidden cryptographic joke. He observes that Hermann is so vain that he would never admit that he could not understand a text on dueling. The characters of Von Jung and the sinister jokester Hop-Frog (1849) have been seen by biographical critics as revealing self-caricatures of Poe that complement the self-characterization in Roderick Usher and others of his sort. If so, the two major tendencies of Poe's personality are clearly drawn. The only other writing Poe seems to have had very far advanced at this time was his "Arabia Petrea" review of J. L. Stephens for the New York Review, which was not published until October 1847. Poe consulted with Professor Charles Anthon of Columbia College for help with Hebrew characters pertinent to the work, and this resulted in a new friendship. Poe then worked fake Arabic and Hebrew words into the editorial conclusion of Pym, where rock writings and even the chasms of the island of Tsalal near the South Pole, as seen from above, spell out a mysterious message.
Little is known of Poe's life in New York in 1837 and the first half of 1838 except that it was not easy. It is said that the family lived on bread and molasses for weeks at a time. There is an unsubstantiated story that Poe worked as a printer and studied lithography. In 1837 political change was in the air; the Whigs, with whom Poe associated himself, defeated the Jacksonian democrats, giving Poe some hope of a political appointment. During this time Poe finished Pym, which he sent to the Harpers. They agreed to publish it by the following summer.
Given his increasing disparagement of long works in both poetry and prose, it is surprising that Poe began at this time a novel-length piece. But Kennedy, Paulding, and publishers had advised him to create longer work if he wanted to sell to a large audience. Perhaps that was the initial motivation for The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym . Although the book received a few favorable notices in America and had a vogue in Britain for a while as a "factual" account of an extraordinary voyage, it has been generally dismissed by critics and readers. It has seemed unduly obscure, especially in its mystifying editorial frames and its inconclusive conclusion. Moreover, it has seemed episodic to the point of disorganization. Poe himself later called it "a very silly book," though precisely what he meant by that is unclear. Recent criticism, however, has come to see it as central to the Poe canon, a key to his world view, and possessing structural symmetry and thematic consistency. This is not an unchallenged view, however; a good deal of critical controversy rages over the book. T. O. Mabbott, editor of the Harvard edition of Poe's works, has gone so far as to say that Pym's chief importance seems to be that "it is supposed to have inspired to some extent Melville's Moby-Dick."
The first two installments appeared in the January and February Messenger. It was not published as a whole until July 1838. Poe had a good deal of time to reconsider and refine the work--as indicated by the small alterations of early chapter breaks for suspense and changes of the time sequence for symbolism and symmetry (so that the main narrative extends from spring to spring, for example). For the book version, "Pym" writes an editorial preface in which he comments that "Mr. Poe," a well-known editor, had written a narrative based on Pym's experiences more than a year earlier; since these initial episodes were well received by readers, he now offers the rest of the story himself. The reader should have no trouble, he says, in seeing where Poe's style and his own diverge.
Four sea journeys structure the temporal episodes, two in small boats, enclosing two in larger vessels. The sequence of enclosures, descents, lapses into states of dream and unconsciousness, and the consequent emergences from these, suggests a series of metaphoric deaths and rebirths--what one critic calls a "Lazarus" plot. Yet the world of Pym is one of repeated revolutions of order in which survival is by chance alone. The characters habitually or instinctively dissemble; they are subject to misperception and recurrent fits of "perversity" (the impulse to self-destructive acts). Deception, masquerade, treachery, and illusion constitute the norms of Pym's world.
In the first episode, two boys, Pym and Augustus Barnard, go for a drunken sail during a storm and are run down by a whaler. Pym is rescued after being pinned to the hull by a bolt through his neck and submerged for some five to ten minutes, so that the reader is immediately faced with an improbability or absurdity. The experience so whets Pym's appetite for adventure that he has "visions" of "ship-wreck or famine," a clue to his "perverse" character. He admits also to lifelong "deceit" and "hypocrisy."
In the second episode, he stows away on the Grampus, a whaler commanded by Augustus's father. Augustus has prepared a coffin-like, iron-bound box for him in the dark tomb-like hold. Here Pym spends most of his time sleeping; he succumbs to a continuous nightmare of demons, bright-eyed serpents, empty deserts, rows of leafless trees with twisting roots immersed in black water which cry in silence to heaven for mercy. Augustus eventually reaches Pym, but rescue from entombment must wait, for there has been a mutiny and most of the crew has been murdered.
A mutiny develops among the mutineers, however, and one Dirk Peters befriends the boys. When Pym throws a fright into the mutineers by masquerading as a murdered sailor returned from the dead, Peters and the boys are able to take control. They spare only one man, named Parker. A storm forces them to cut away the masts, leaving the ship helpless. Three days later, a "Dutch" ship, all black, bears down on them. A figure leaning over the rail nods and smiles, but it is a corpse, the ship a plague ship, the smile that of death.
For seven days they drift south, when the Jane Guy picks them up. A storm drives them farther south; in October they put in at "Christmas Harbor" on "Desolation Island" in the Indian Ocean. Here Pym studies the flora and fauna, noting especially the geometric configuration of the rookeries formed by the black and white penguins and white albatrosses. In November, Pym's dates become inconsistent as he chronicles the voyage farther south. He recounts the voyages of earlier explorers and feels mounting excitement over some impending revelation or discovery. Instead of growing colder the farther south they proceed, it grows warmer.
On 19 January (Poe's birthday) they land on the island of Tsalal. A hundred ebony natives greet them. Their chief, Too-Wit, leads a small party aboard the Jane Guy, and they examine the ship with childlike wonder, though Pym suspects their demeanor is affected for the white men's benefit. Ashore the white men find a land much different from the world they know. Everything is of a dark hue. The water is striated or veined, each layering a different hue. The black natives display a nervousness over things white. While Pym, Peters, and another sailor are exploring a large fissure in the hills, a violent earth tremor knocks Pym unconscious. Pym and Peters find each other in the dark and climb laboriously to the surface and daylight, where they discover that the blacks have led the other sailors down a deep gorge and buried them in a rock slide. The natives have also taken the ship, which now explodes, and a thousand black bodies fall like rain from the sky. Others of the natives have discovered the body of a white furry creature with scarlet teeth and eyes, which they enclose in a circle of stakes, crying "Tekeli-li" at it.
Pym and Peters hide until mid-February, when they descend a deep chasm of black granite. They discover a pattern to this and two other chasms--a straight line entering into a loop--except that the third chasm ends in a cul-de-sac of hardened clay and shells. Carved in its wall are figures: one seems to be a man pointing; others look like letters of a strange alphabet. A few days later, they climb down the south face of the mountain, and Pym has an irrational desire to fall--a fit of perversity. But he is saved by Peters. They surprise five of the blacks, kill four, and take one prisoner. Stealing a canoe, they drift farther south.
Gray vapor appears on the southern horizon; the water grows warm and milky. When Pym takes out a white handkerchief, their black prisoner shudders in horror and goes into a convulsive fit, which draws his lips back from his perfectly black teeth. A numbing dreaminess sets upon them while fine white powder or ash falls. Above, the sky is dark, but out of the ocean comes a luminous glare. A veil of white vapor ranging the whole extent of the southern horizon begins to assume some distinctness of form, as though it were "a limitless cataract, rolling silently into the sea from some immense and far-distant rampart in the heaven." "Gigantic" and "pallidly white" birds fly from beyond the veil, uttering the cry "Tekeli-li." A chasm opens in the white vapor, and there arises in their pathway a huge human figure, shrouded, the hue of whose skin is "of the perfect whiteness of the snow."
Here the narrative breaks off; the revelation is withheld. An appended editorial note explains that Pym died suddenly and that the last chapters are missing. There follows some speculation on the possible meanings of the shapes of the chasms and letters on Tsalal: the first suggests an Ethiopian word meaning "to be shady," the second an Arabic word meaning "to be white," followed by an Egyptian word meaning "the region of the south." There is no further comment.
One interpretation of Pym is that it is basically a book that Poe tried to pass off as a tale of real adventure (thus the preface about "Mr. Poe" and "Mr. Pym"). Some readings emphasize satiric and ironic elements in the structure, especially those matters that seem to be calculated contradictions or absurdities. Others suggest that Poe was in a hurry, needed to fill a lot of pages, and merely wanted to create a sensation with a narrative of a journey to the Pole reporting "evidence" of an ancient civilization.
A biblical reading may be grafted onto this interpretation by reference to Poe's "Arabia Petrea" review and the controversy over the nature of the curse on the land of Edom, along with specific biblical echoes in the text of Pym. By such speculation, the name "Tsalal" and other vaguely Arabic and Hebrew words in the text suggest "Psalemon" and the dispersed tribes of the ancients.
A racist interpretation may be added to these readings from the implications of the favorable review of two books on slavery in the April 1836 Messenger. Some scholars think the review is by Poe, though others attribute it to Judge Beverley Tucker. By this interpretation, Pym is an allegory of race relations in America, one which predicts, through recovery of mythic history, the increased hatred between black and white, and as well hints of the abandonment of a cursed land by whites. In this reading, Tsalal is metaphorically hell; the blacks are the damned. The eternal hostility of black and white was prefigured in the creation when God "divided the light from the darkness."
In nonracist terms, critics have made the identification of Tsalal with hell the main metaphor of an archetypal interpretation. Pym is the mythic hero who advances toward a higher state of knowledge and purity by coming to understand the basic unity of the universe. He does this by the archetypal descent into hell. The sea journey is a complementary Jungian image of a voyage into the recesses of the human psyche. By journeying inward into the collective unconscious, Pym travels back to the origins of creation.
Another coherent view suggests that Pym's journey is purely regressive. He moves away from the complex world of business and family toward a primal world that is increasingly simple. Pym learns that the division between mind and body is false; the mind is one with bodily thirst and hunger. Perceptions are frequently false; the color of the world becomes simplistically split into black and white at the same time that the steady increase of whiteness to all things suggests an original unity to creation that negates shape, distinction, perception. The traditional meaning of whiteness is intellectual or spiritual illumination. Pym's perception is of a negating white blank, wherein the "oneness" of the universe is fused with "nothingness." At the end of Pym's journey, rather than the traditional blackness of death, there arises up in a "shroud" the blinding white light of revelation--of void.
The American poet Richard Wilbur has brilliantly argued that the central proposition in Poe is that annihilation is built into creation and that the poet abets the design of the universe in writing of death and regression to the primal unity of nothingness. Since, in Poe's mythology, the universe is in a collapsing phase, the earthly poet is emulating God in creating fictive worlds of collapse. He does this principally by means of characters who journey into the "hypnagogic state," spiraling inward toward void, stasis, and unity, letting go of the turmoil of the conscious, earthly world. Wilbur writes principally of the dream motif of the poems. But, by this construct, the dream motif of the poems. But, by this construct, the dream imagery of Pym--and the dream journey of Pym--is positive as well. Perhaps this kind of "affirmative" reading differs from the other main critical readings only in arbitrarily giving the same perceived structures and themes a positive connotation. Another (slightly Freudian) reading illustrates this critical problem: Pym's journey to the ends of the earth is at last to warm and milky waters; he sails an amniotic sea toward reabsorption into the great womb of the world. Or--alternately--is he buried alive in eternal unbeing?
Finally (although there are still other readings), very recent structuralist criticism has suggested that Pym's journey is metafictional, creative of fictional word-worlds in a way different from the creation of mythic worlds. Similar to the Wilbur thesis, the structuralist thesis is that Pym is about the process of artistic creation; but it does not refer to the objective world. Pym by this reading is a fiction about fictionality; the creation of fiction is part of the definition of the self; words are the self. These critical approaches represent various biases and assumptions of historical eras in criticism. Yet they point to certain stable recurring elements that generate a haunting ambiguity in the book. Pym is a major text over which the critical waters of controversy break. Doubtless Poe would have been delighted with the later stir he created with his "very silly book."
Simultaneously with the publication of Pym early in July, Poe moved his family to Philadelphia, where he was to live for the next five years. Presumably, he thought the literary opportunities better than in New York. Little is known of his life during the rest of 1838. The only other notable publications during the year were "Ligeia" in a new Baltimore magazine, the American Museum of Science, Literature and the Arts, in September, and in November "How to Write a Blackwood Article" and "The Scythe of Time" (retitled "A Predicament") in the same journal.
In "Blackwood Article," Mr. Blackwood Blackwood, editor of an influential British journal, advises a Bluestocking litterateur about the publishing situation of the day; and his recommendations constitute Poe's burlesque assessment of the Blackwood's formulas. An author must get his protagonist into an impossible predicament and have him analyze his sensations. Blackwood comments on the "tone didactic," the "tone enthusiastic," the "tone metaphysical," and the "tone elevated, diffusive and interjectional." In the last of these the "words must be all in a whirl, like a humming-top, and make a noise very similar, which answers remarkably well instead of meaning ... the best of all possible styles where the writer is in too great a hurry to think." Mr. Blackwood gives the young lady (whose name is either Suky Snobbs or Psyche Zenobia, depending on the precision of one's pronunciation) several "piquant facts for similes" and "piquant expressions" which she is to introduce into the narrative. The companion tale is her attempt to write in the Blackwood's style, replete with badly garbled versions of the Blackwood's expressions. She tells of her sensations when her head gets caught in a steeple clock. The clock hand comes down upon her neck while she is looking out of a hole in the clock-face. While she is inextricably caught in this predicament, her head is severed from her body--a circumstance that gives rise to profound thoughts on the nature of identity.
By early 1839 Poe had become associated with Peter S. Duval and Professor Thomas Wyatt , author of A Manual of Conchology, published the previous year. Since Poe had achieved a degree of fame, he was paid $50 to allow his name to appear on the title page of a new and cheaper edition of Wyatt's book in order to increase sales. Poe revised the introduction and paraphrased portions of the text. He seems to have accepted a second such job for Wyatt's Synopsis of Natural History (1839). Unfortunately, the Conchologist's First Book, with Poe's name as author, contained pages of material plagiarized by Wyatt from a Scottish text, and the whole enterprise was later to muddy Poe's reputation.
Poe continued to publish humorous and satiric works meanwhile. "The Devil in the Belfry" is a comic imitation of the kinds of Germanic and Dutch characters made fun of by Thomas Carlyle and Washington Irving , and one may detect a poke at the Pennsylvania Dutch among whom Poe was living. A playful devil enters the overly neat, perfectly regulated village of Vondervotteimittis and causes the town clock to strike thirteen, thereby driving the fussy villagers to distraction. Poe's comic treatment of an increasingly major theme in his serious fiction--that of time--is both overt and covert, for the village is laid out like a clock with sixty houses, each with twenty-four cabbages; the clock has seven faces, and the taller devil and the fat belfry man are like minute and hour hands.
In the spring of 1839, Poe was living in a small house with a garden and had obtained a black cat, Catterina. On 10 May, William E. Burton, a British comic actor and playwright, offered Poe co-editorship of his new journal, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, at a salary of $10 a week. Poe accepted, but what happened immediately thereafter is unclear. Poe resigned in anger, apparently because Burton asked him to tone down the severity of his reviews. Burton mollified him, however, and for the July number Poe contributed at least one review and reprinted two of his oldest poems. For August, Poe reprinted three more poems and contributed a satire, "The Man That Was Used Up. A Tale of the Late Bugaboo and Kickapoo Campaign." In this sketch, Brevet Brigadier General A. B. C. Smith, severely wounded in the Indian Wars, has been fully reconstructed by American technological know-how. He is fitted up with artificial limbs, shoulders, chest, hair, eyes, teeth, and palate. When put altogether, the general is a handsome figure of a man, over six feet tall. The tale may be a comic version of a question that Poe was obsessed by, the principle of individual identity, treated in "Ligeia" and other stories; but it seems as well to be a political satire aimed at the campaign ploys of Richard M. Johnson, vice-president under Martin Van Buren.
For the next year, from July 1839 to June 1840, Poe wrote most of the reviews in Burton's. The more important ones are easily recognized. Three reviews are of interest for Poe's comments about American writers: his August 1839 review of N. P. Willis's Tortesa, the Usurer (in which he discusses "inconsequential" plotting); his February 1840 charge that Longfellow plagiarized from Tennyson; and his May 1840 overview of William Cullen Bryant . Two reviews show Poe working out his theoretical principles. For September 1839, he reviewed Baron De La Motte Fouque's Undine, a romance about the love of a water spirit, a fay, for a mortal man. It is significant that Undine's race has no soul. Whereas men "awake" after death to a higher and purer state, her race simply dissolves into the elements. Poe says that he gathers from "internal evidence" of the book that the author suffered "the ills of an ill-assorted marriage" and gives a psychological interpretation of the marriage motif of Undine. Poe approves of this sort of implied meaning in the narrative or of any "mystic or under current of meaning," which is "simple" yet "richly philsophical," so long as it is "distinct from allegory." He finds allegory objectionable because it dissipates the effect of indefinitiveness, of suggestiveness, and tends toward heavy-handed didacticism. Fouque, he says, has managed to make what would ordinarily be a blemish (this near approach to allegory) a beauty.
In his review of Thomas Moore 's Alciphron (January 1840), Poe further develops his concept of the proper function of an "undercurrent" of meaning. Revising his earlier opinion in his Drake-Halleck review, he now criticizes Coleridge's distinction in the Biographia Literaria between Fancy and Imagination. He defines a "mystic" work according to the concept of A. W. Schlegel and "most other German critics" as "that class of composition in which there lies beneath the transparent upper current of meaning an under or suggestive one. What we vaguely term the moral of any sentiment is its mythic or secondary expression. These remarks are consistent with his early attempt to create suggestive, indefinite poems. But his concept of how this effect of suggestivity and indefinitiveness is to be achieved goes in an opposite direction from the theoretical effect. The artist patiently combines, by logic and laborious attention to detail, in order to create a work suggesting the ideal. Therefore Coleridge's distinction between the lower faculty of Fancy and the higher of Imagination ("the fancy combines, the imagination creates") Poe claims is a distinction "without a difference." Neither really creates, for the artist is not a literal God.
Throughout 1838-1839 Poe published a remarkable sequence of tales of the double: "Ligeia" (American Museum, September 1838), "The Fall of the House of Usher" (Burton's, September 1839), and "William Wilson" (The Gift, an annual for 1840, published December 1839). Poe rang the changes on different kinds of doubles: two opposite women in "Ligeia," a man and a woman in "Usher," and two men in "William Wilson." All three tales deal with the duality of the will: Ligeia has too strong a will, Usher too weak a will, and William Wilson an exactly counterbalanced will,as the double repetition of will in his name suggests. Poe also experimented with doublings in setting, imagery, time sequence, and structure. In addition, the three stories reveal a consummate mastery of point of view well beyond that of any of his contemporaries and considerably antedating Henry James .
"Ligeia" is overtly a supernatural tale of metempsychosis, with the appropriate themes of the nature of identity and the potential power of the will over death. The narrator, somewhat cloudy of memory, conjures up visions of Ligeia, his dead wife. At her death, she had exclaimed that it is only the feebleness of the will that prevents us from living forever. Both structurally and arithmetically by bulk of pages, the tale at this point is exactly half told. In the second half, the distraught narrator leaves Germany and travels to England, where he buys a ruined abbey and a titled bride, the blonde and blue-eyed Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine, who is the exact opposite of Ligeia. Whereas he loved Ligeia, he hates Rowena, though for no specific reason. He decorates her pentagonal bridal chamber with images of black magic and death. She dies; three nights later, at midnight, sitting by her shrouded body, the narrator thinks he sees her move as though struggling to life again. Then the body seems to relapse into death, only to show movement again later. Finally, he sees it stand, the cerements falling away. The figure is much taller than Rowena in life, the hair now raven-black, and the dark eyes those of his lost Ligeia.
The narrator's final reaction is left ambiguous; although one may assume that he would be glad to have his lost love back, shocked horror is equally appropriate. The reader's response is more important; not having such an obsession with the lady, presumably the reader is awed and frightened by this return from the dead. That is, Poe presumably built the story around an implied reader upon whom it would have a predesigned, calculated effect. Since narration is in first person throughout, some critics have argued that the entire work can be read as the ravings of a madman and is so distorted that we do not know that anything has happened as we are told. The tale seems calculated to achieve an exact counterpoise between affirmation and negation, beatitude and horror, the supernatural and the psychological.
Poe's concern for the frail rationality of the mind was given remarkable form in a poem published in the American Museum in April 1839. Despite his strictures on the mode, Poe cast "The Haunted Palace" as an allegory. It proceeds by a single basic metaphor worked out in terms of two major images, a castellated palace and a human head, along with a subsidiary metaphor of sound (with two aspects each, music and voice, harmony and discord). In the first half of the poem, the palace takes on features of a human face (banners = hair, windows = eyes, door = mouth) so that when "evil things" assail the palace of "Thought" the image of the castle/face changes from harmony to disharmony. Poe wrote in a letter sometime later that by the palace he meant "to imply a mind haunted by phantoms--a disordered brain." Poe "embodied" (as he said) the poem at the center of the second of three episodes in "The Fall of the House of Usher," dividing the central episode and the tale exactly in half.
But in "Usher," no overt allegory structures the tale. Instead all is suggestive, under the surface, even "mystic." It is a beautifully crafted tale of the last descendants, twin brother and sister, of a cursed family decaying in a haunted mansion that may be preternaturally "alive." In fact, all things, organic and inorganic, may be linked in one identity. The house, the brother, and the sister seem to share a single soul, and they meet their common dissolution at the same time. But underneath, or around, the supernatural fatality that the story evokes, is a structure of realistic psychological explanations. The struggle between the forces of life and death is paralleled by the struggle between the forces of reason and madness in a complex pattern of doubling. One clue to the pervasiveness of the pattern is the structure of resemblances between Usher's face and the face of the house, redoubled in Usher's poem about his fear of going mad, "The Haunted Palace," with its house/face analogy. Poe makes of the stock story of the haunted house (replete with hints of incest, burial alive, and a return from the grave) an elaborate architectural symbol of the frail rationality of the mind, of moral and psychological decay. He does so without sacrificing the sense of the supernatural; and he does so from the subjective point of view of the sick protagonist without sacrificing the occult vision of that protagonist. Moreover, Poe does all this through an apparently objective first-person narrator, who corroborates, seemingly, the preternatural events of the narrative. If one accepts such a reading, the tale is a brilliant tour de force in point of view and the next logical step from "Ligeia."
"William Wilson" is a study of the psychology of interior conscience; the question of the physical existence of the second Wilson is not crucial because whether a physical entity or not, Wilson's double is morally and psychologically real for him. As in "Usher," architecture is symbolic of the mind. The three different schools Wilson attends represent stages of moral and psychological growth (or regression). The first is Dr. Bransby's Academy for Boys, the middle is Eton, the last is Oxford, each identified with a building and more specifically a room. Mirroring the setting, the time sequence is in three episodes. But the first and last episodes are developed at length, while the middle one is developed briefly and divides the story exactly in half--exhibiting the same pattern as "Usher." Inverting the presentation of merely implied doubles in "Ligeia," Poe begins with an overt identification of the second character as a traditional double--another being who physically duplicates the protagonist--although the alert reader will remember that the tale is told in the first person by the central (and therefore subjective) participant. This being intrudes into the life of the narrator at crucial moral junctures (like cheating at cards) to act as a reminder of conscience, always speaking in a whisper, even though at these times in the story he is apparently another human being. Poe then casts a double perspective (supernatural and psychological) upon the supposedly real physical doubles. At the end of the story, the first Wilson is told, by the mirror image of either the first or second, or both, that it is his own "soul" that he has "murdered" by thrusting his rapier at his own image.
Obviously the double need not be supernatural at all; he may be the construct of the guilty or perverse mind of the narrator. As in "Ligeia," the world we perceive as readers is filtered through the mind of the narrator; and he, in fact, draws our attention in the opening of the story to his "family character." He is the descendent of a family of "imaginative and easily excitable temperament." He is "addicted to the wildest caprices" and says in a blatant pun that he is "self-willed." Such seems to be the psychological meaning of the concluding image of Wilson staring at his image in the mirror and talking to himself. He has perversely willed his self-destruction. Poe would make use of doubles and structures of doubling again (as in "Eleonora," "The Black Cat," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Cask of Amontillado," and others), just as he had from the start of his career (in such works as "Metzengerstein," "Loss of Breath," "Morella"). But in "Ligeia," "Usher," and "William Wilson," Poe's art of portraying psychological states reached its first apogee.
In another kind of doubling. "The Man That Was Used Up" presents a comic version of the double, and its first four paragraphs parody point for point the opening paragraphs of "Ligeia." Poe's doublings extend to other complex pairings of tales, both serious and comic, and suggests that the "book-unity" he originally sought with "Tales of the Arabesque" and "Tales of the Folio Club" was never out of his mind. These problems of unity and duality are also apparent in the collection of previously published tales that Poe was at long last able to get published as a book: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840). Critics have generally thought that the title indicates a division between the comic stories (grotesques) and the serious stories (arabesques). Although there is some basis for this distinction, the matter is not so simple. Each term contains within it a double meaning, and each definition shares some of the properties of the other. In the famous preface, Poe defends himself from "Germanism": "If in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul--that I have deduced this terror only from its legitimate sources, and urged it only to its legitimate results."
Poe's obsession with terror of the soul, duality, and doubling also finds expression in one of the few poems he wrote during these years. In "Sonnet--Silence" (1840), the speaker says that there are some qualities and things which are double and are the type of the duality that "springs / From matter and light, evinced in solid and shade." There is, for example, a "two-fold Silence," comparable to the sea and shore, one solid, one not, like body and soul. One kind of silence is "corporate," associated with graves; it holds no real terrors. But the other silence (of soul) is like a shadow that haunts places no living man knows. Should one be so unfortunate as to meet this incorporate silence, this image of void, then "commend thyself to God!"
Poe also was writing a column on various events in the city for Alexander's Weekly Messenger (a Philadelphia paper edited by Burton's printer). He attracted a good deal of attention by challenging readers of both Alexander's and Burton's to stump him with cryptograms and later wrote papers on "Secret Writing." Just as had happened during his association with the Messenger, the circulation of Burton's began rapidly to increase, despite the fact that Poe was not putting as much effort into the magazine because he did not respect Burton's standards.
In January 1840, Poe's second longest fiction, "The Journal of Julius Rodman," began serial publication in Burton's. It is a tale of the exploration of the Far West, beyond the Rockies, based in part on his review of Irving's Astoria. It shares some similarities with Pym in the excitement Rodman feels in exploring country never before seen by civilized man, and in its apparent intent of hoaxing the public as to the actuality of the narrative. Also toward the end they discover,as in Pym, gigantic rock walls carved (by erosion) into hieroglyphics. This unfinished story has received comparatively little critical attention, and imaginative structures like those that fascinate critics in Pym have not been detected. In February, Poe published a satire, "Peter Pendulum. The Businessman," in Burton's. Peter Profit owes his sense of business to his old Irish nurse, who cured him of crying by swinging him by the heels and hitting his head against a bedpost, raising the phrenological bump of "order." His business is mainly that of the con man; he is a minor extortionist who shines boots for those whose boots his dog muddies, and who for a charge delivers letters he has forged. It appears to be a parody of J.C. Neal's Charcoal Sketches (1838), but it may also reflect Poe's contempt for money-minded editors and creditors.
In May 1840, Poe and Burton quarreled. One version of what happened, from a suspect source, says that Poe drank too much, and Burton criticized him. Poe is supposed to have replied: "Burton, I am editor of the Penn Magazine--and you are a fool." Another version is that Poe simply thought Burton lacked standards and chafed under Burton's criticism. In addition, he may have resented his low salary and not being paid for extra contributions of fiction and poetry to the magazine. In any event, Poe walked out. For some time, he had been planning to establish his own publication; the Penn Magazine, as he was calling it, would be expensive and of high quality. He was already soliciting subscriptions. Burton demanded Poe return $100 of salary advanced for work as yet undone and wanted to know his plans for concluding the "Rodman" serial. Poe said he owed Burton only about $60 and that whether he continued "Rodman" or not depended on Burton's behavior.
In November 1840, Burton sold his magazine to George Rex Graham , who united it with his own magazine, The Casket, to form Graham's Magazine. Despite his quarrel with Poe earlier in the year, Burton seems to have recommended Poe to Graham. Financial support for the Penn Magazine had not been sufficient to bring it into existence, and he went to work for Graham. He contributed his tale "The Man of the Crowd" to the last issue of Burton's, which was really the first issue of the new magazine. Poe's name did not appear under the masthead of Graham's until April 1841. In "The Man of the Crowd" (1840) the narrator, recovering from illness and in a somewhat disoriented state of mind, comments that he can classify the various strata of the crowds passing by a cafe in London by their appearance or behavior. Through the smoke-darkened glass of the window appears an old man of peculiar aspect who is unclassifiable.The narrator follows him through the streets of London all night until dawn. He notices the man follows the flow of the crowd. The narrator arbitrarily concludes that he must be "the type and genius of deep crime. He refuses to be alone." The tale has been admired for its "urban" Gothic qualities, for its presentation of the modern city's glare of gaslight and its creation of the archetype of city restlessness in the old man. While these qualities are certainly part of the appeal of the story, the narrator's attribution of supernatural significance to the old man is suspect. He may be following an old drunk from one bistro to another (as suggested by certain resemblances to Dickens's "Gin Shops"). Most telling in this regard is that the narrator, in attributing sinister and mysterious significance to the old man, compares him to a mysterious German book that "would not allow itself to be read." But the joke is that this particular book could not be read because it was so badly printed, not because of the inscrutable mystery it contained.
Poe contributed four reviews to Graham's from January to March, the most notable of which is that of Bulwer's Night and Morning. While he was working on the April issue, a young Baptist minister named Rufus Wilmot Griswold asked him for a selection of work for an anthology of the Poets and Poetry of America; Poe was also invited to contribute his own biographical sketch, which he did, altering his age and inventing some adventures.
Poe now began what he called a new kind of thing, though it can be seen as the logical development of his interest in mysteries, puzzles, cryptograms, and the rational faculties. In Burton's the year before there had appeared the "Unpublished Passages in the Life of Vidocq, the French Minister of Police." Vidocq was a criminal turned detective who "solved" mysterious crimes committed in Paris. In April 1841 Poe published "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" in Graham's. The tale opens with C. Auguste Dupin and the narrator walking along a Paris street. When his friend slips on a cobblestone, Dupin with lightning quickness of mind follows the stream of probable associations in his friend's mind during the last quarter hour's walk. Reasoning back through seven stages, he comments about his friend's opinion of an amateur actor. His companion is amazed that Dupin knows his precise thought at the precise moment. Dupin's instinctual analytic powers are next exhibited in the solution of a crime. Dupin reads of the case in the newspaper. It is a sealed room mystery. A mother and daughter have been murdered in a particularly violent fashion. Dupin examines the room and discovers one of the nails in the windows has rusted through and that the two halves fit perfectly but imperceptibly. He further discovers that the hair clenched in one victim's hands is not human and reasons that the force required to thrust one of the women upside down up the chimney was not human either. He places an ad in the papers to the effect that a large hairy animal has been found. When a sailor comes to claim the animal, Dupin confronts him with the "facts"; the sailor confesses that his pet orangutan escaped with his razor and swung up a pole to the women's apartment. The sailor is an acrobat and so was able to follow the animal up the side of the building and into the apartment. But he could not recapture the animal, who fled out the window again; the sash slid back in place after the sailor exited. The embarassed police are forced to release a bank clerk they have precipitously arrested.
Dupin's companion is slow of mind and must have everything explained. Obviously, the explanation is also for the reader and shows off the brilliance of the detective, who sees the clues, which so baffle the police, in a new way that leads to the solution. By such meticulousness of plot and detail, Poe created what he called the tale of ratiocination, in which the interest is in logically following the process of solution. Along with the use of the sealed room, the brilliant amateur sleuth, the bumbling police, and the naive sidekick, Poe perfected at one stroke the archetype of the detective story.
For the next four years Poe wrote permutations of the ratiocinative story, just as he did with that of the double, incorporating the double motif in them. Poe's detective story proper is easily recognized: Dupin is the central character of both "The Mystery of Marie Roget" (1843) and "The Purloined Letter" (1845), and the method is the same as "Murders in the Rue Morgue." In "'Thou Art the Man'" (1844), Poe even offers a comic burlesque of the genre he has just perfected. Several of the other tales of the early 1840s are clearly in the ratiocinative mode as well, though to varying degrees. "The Gold-Bug" (1843) is the most obvious of these, for the main reader interest is following Legrand as he deciphers Captain Kidd's map and steps out its directions, which include the dropping of a death's-head scarab through the eye of a skull for a precise measurement. Two stories of escape, "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1842) and "A Descent into the Maelstrom" (1841), and a story of metempsychosis, "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" (1844), also employ the ratiocinative motif.
Poe builds a double mystery into "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains," in which a series of coincidences leads the characters to suspect metempsychosis. Augustus Bedloe, in a dream possibly induced by morphine, remembers being killed in a city in the Orient, his description exactly duplicating the experience of a Mr. Oldeb, a friend of Dr. Templeton, Bedloe's physician. He shows Bedloe Oldeb's miniature, noting the strong resemblance between the two. Later the narrator learns Bedloe has died and remarks that the newspaper spelling of his name without the final "e" is "Oldeb" spelled backwards. But, like Dupin's Watson figure, the narrator may have missed the full significance of the events, for his attention is focused elsewhere--on the supernatural possibilities of the experience. A pattern of subtle clues, however, suggests that Templeton may possibly have obsessively, though perhaps unconsciously, reenacted the murder of his friend and taken Bedloe's life.
Most of these tales have other complex meanings as well. Both "Maelstrom" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" strongly suggest that the ratiocinative faculties have little or nothing to do with the final escape or salvation of the protagonists. In "Maelstrom," Poe emphasizes the traditional Western themes of transcendence from a petty involvement with self and the need for submission to the larger design of Nature. Giving up all sense of mere individual importance, the narrator feels a positive wish to see what lies at the bottom of the whirlpool. Although he survives, it is probably by mere accident rather than by his careful observation of and submission to Nature (the mechanics of the hydraulic effect on geometric forms is a hoax). His incomplete confrontation with the void at the center of the whirlpool (a "manifestation of God's power") turns his hair prematurely white. The tale calls into question traditional Western belief: is the narrator's mystical experience of the magnificence of God one of horror or one of beatitude?
The narrator of "The Pit and the Pendulum" is thrown into a dungeon by the Spanish Inquisition. He is saved just as he is about to fall into the pit he has so long avoided by means of careful rational calculation. This ratiocinative tale is one of Poe's clearest dramatizations of the futile efforts of man's will to survive the malevolent perversity of the world and to make order out of chaos. The tale has sometimes been read as the escape from madness through a descent into madness. Although the hero is mentally tortured until he confesses to himself that "all is madness" and that his mind has been "nearly annihilated," he learns like Pym to rely on primal cunning and an instinctive sense of danger. Under the razor edge of the pendulum, he recovers his ratiocinative power: "for the first time during many hours--or perhaps days--I thought." Yet, when his release finally comes, it is a rescue from the outside coming unexpectedly, independently, unconnected with his own personal fate, and at the last moment of his despair and defeat. Both "Maelstrom" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" are apocalyptic in ways compatible with a failure of the rational mind to effect its own salvation. Furthermore, specific echoes of Revelation come into play at both the opening and the conclusion of "The Pit and the Pendulum."
For most readers, the major interest of "The Gold-Bug" lies in the discovery of treasure and in following the cryptographic solution Poe offers. Recent criticism has uncovered a richer vein of meaning. A structure of East-West polarities parallels a theological split, and the tale may embody a coded scriptural message somewhat in the manner of Pym, though the meaning of this message is unclear. More concrete is the tale's integrated pattern of alchemical symbolism. Tin and gold, both important alchemical elements, and the number seven play important parts in this tale. The particular tree from which the scarab must be dropped is specifically a golden tree having seven branches. There are seven stages in the alchemical process to transmute tin into gold. Legrand's servant is named Jupiter, and his dog Wolf. Tin is associated with the planet Jupiter in alchemy, and a wolf or large dog symbolizes the active agent in the alchemical process that produces gold. One critic has argued that, thematically, the transformation is one of the "Americanizations" of the tradition. Poe's Faust becomes an American cryptographer; the Philosopher's Stone, Captain Kidd's treasure; and Mercurius, the spirit of ominous revelation, the shadowy Captain Kidd. A final ironic twist is that, like Pym, "The Gold-Bug" is filled with what may be calculated errors and chance discoveries. The code is inconsistent; the telescope is pointed at the wrong angle; the ink is specifically the wrong type; the invisible secret writing is revealed only by accident. Poe's ratiocinative tales are double-edged. Having once taken the reader through the ratiocinative process, Poe seems at the same time to mock that very process.
In Dupin this process is carried even further. In "Marie Roget," Dupin reasons that the police are wrong in believing the girl's death to be the work of a gang; the murderer is instead her lover. The Dupin type of mentality assumes a godlike omniscience, with the "I" narrator and the reader playing the role of the dull-witted dupes. The Dupin setup is based on the discrepancy between appearance and actuality, the ease of Dupin's solutions contrasting with our mystification. But the mystification goes deeper. Dupin's role in "The Purloined Letter" is complex and suspect. The tale is predicated on a perverse observation about human behavior: what is blatantly obvious often goes unobserved. Dupin hides the letter in the open, confounding the police and criminal. But the tale exhibits a complicated system of duplicative structures. Dupin and D----(the minister) are moral doubles, each having a talent for duplicity and malice. Dupin's interest in the case is morally dubious, for it may be based on a desire for revenge, a love of game, even of financial profit and the acquisition of power.D----duplicates all these traits. In both, the strategies of sizing up one's opponent by identifying oneself with his mind and of deception, especially in the method of stealing the letter, are the same. Dupin and D----may even be literal twin brothers, as a series of details suggests, especially the concluding reference to Crebillon's Atree, a play about the fatal opposition between two brothers. Yet because enough calculated ambiguity about literal fraternity exists, a more symbolic meaning emerges.Dupin and D----may constitute a single composite being, even to one mind, each part the rival double of the other. For example, one character is said to go out only at night, the other only by day. Furthermore, D----is never presented directly; his actions are reported by Dupin. In its total ambiguity of multiple structures, the double elements of the tale come to symbolize a basic opposition within a single human mind.
While Poe developed the motif of the double and the technique of the ratiocinative story in the early 1840s, he also continued in other modes. In the second half of 1841, he published two "landscape" tales involving the death or dissolution of a female figure, another tale of apocalypse, and two comic works. Some of these incorporate the figure of the double. "Eleonora" (published in The Gift), for example, explores the nature of identity by means of two women, wives of the visionary narrator. One reading of the story is that Eleonora has a dual personality, one melancholy, one cheerful, and actually returns as the second wife. Other readings stress the narrator's unreliability ("men have called me mad"). An Undine-like figure in "The Island of the Fay" seems to be the last of her race, and she finally fades away into shadow and nothingness. Fading into nothingness is the major theme of "The Colloquy of Monos and Una" (Graham's , 1841), which presents another of Poe's versions of apocalypse. Poe had theorized in "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" (Burton's, December 1839) that a large comet passing through the earth's atmosphere would draw out all the nitrogen, leaving such dense oxygen that it would ignite and engulf the world in flame. "Monos and Una" is supposedly an "affirmative" dialogue between two disembodied spirits beyond death who merge toward oneness. The revelation of what is beyond shows the merging of the body with the elements in the slow process of decay, while the spirit is, all the while, aware of this decay as its own energy fades away to a mere "glow" and silence. "The sense of being at length utterly departed, and there reigned in its stead ... dominant and perpetual--the autocrats Place and Time.... For all this nothingness, yet for all this immortality, the grave was still a home, and the corrosive hours co-mates."
Typically, Poe followed this gloomy tale with a comic and satiric piece: "Never Bet Your Head. A Moral Tale" (Graham's, September 1841; later titled "Never Bet the Devil Your Head"). With this tale, Poe answers the charge that his works are unmoral. Only the "moral" of this tale is a satiric slap at the high moralizing of the transcendentalists and at their journal, the Dial. The shocking conclusion of the tale, wherein the narrator coldly plans to have the body of his friend Toby Dammit dug up for "dog's meat," has been pointed to by some critics as an example of the fierce uncongeniality of humor in Poe, but the joke is that the "dissolute" life of the "immoral" but transcendentally gifted Dammit is merely the story of a boy (the narrator) and his dog (Dammit).
Such was the multiplicity of plots, characters, and themes taking shape in Poe's mind in 1841, ones he would develop in a great outpouring of creative work in the next few years. His journalistic sense was also at a peak. His renewed "Autography" series (beginning September 1841) and his solutions of cryptograms (he solved all but one of a hundred sent in and demonstrated that that one was unsolvable) were popular. The circulation of Graham's had increased some fourfold to an amazing 20,000 (it was eventually to increase more than half again as much). Things had never been better for Poe: on the eve of his thirty-third birthday, he had his drinking under control; he was secure in his job; he was decently paid; he had editorial authority; he was productive; he was well-known and respected. Then in mid-January 1842, while singing, Virginia Poe hemorrhaged from the lungs and throat, beginning the last phase of the tuberculosis that would take her life five years later.
After some frantic watchful weeks, Poe moved his family farther out toward the country where he began once more to act in an erratic manner. Nevertheless, during the first five months of 1842, Poe contributed an extraordinarily acute sequence of important reviews to Graham's (presumably drawn from the reservoir of the previous year's work). In the January issue, Poe published a "Review of New Books," better known as "Exordium to Critical Notices," an essay on the art of reviewing. Here he reiterates his dismay that American criticism has gone to the "opposite extreme" of "subserviency to the dicta of Great Britain" and now calls for a "national literature!--as if any true literature could be 'national'--as if the world at large were not the only proper stage...." He observes that a review used to give "an analysis of the contents" of a book and pass "judgment upon its merits or defects." Now reviews are merely "digests" with "copious extracts," or essays in which the book under review is merely a pretext for a difference of "opinion with the author." He compares American with British, French, and German reviews. He attacks Cornelius Mathews 's "frantic spirit of generalization," which goes counter to true criticism. Literary criticism should be limited to "comment upon Art ... it is only as the book that we subject it to review." It is not the opinion but "the mode" that should be criticized. In these remarks Poe anticipates Henry James and mid-twentieth-century formalist criticism.
In the February issue, he published a revised version of his Post article on Barnaby Rudge of the year before, adding that in the actual outcome of his mystery Dickens had not played fair with the reader. In March he met Dickens, who expressed admiration for his ability to forecast his plot. In the March and April issues, he published a two-part review of Longfellow's Ballads and Other Poems, in which he says "his conception of the aims of poetry is all wrong.... His didactics are all out of place." In the next installment, he distinguishes between "the truthful and the poetical modes" of inculcating a moral. He places "taste" (beauty) between the "intellect" (truth) and the "moral sense" (duty). Man's sense of immortality is "a wild effort to reach the beauty above. It is a forethought of the loveliness to come...." Novel combinations in poetry attempt to satisfy "the thirst for supernal Beauty ... not offered the soul by any existing collocation of earth's forms...." Although music most nearly approaches this ideal beauty, it needs the addition of words to make "song." Therefore, "the Poetry of words" is "the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty ," in which the "sole arbiter is Taste," not duty or truth. It is clear from such reviews that Poe's concept of the aims of poetry is different from his concept of the aim and effect of prose fiction. This is made even more emphatic by another review beginning in the April 1842 Graham's, Nathaniel Hawthorne In the May number he expanded his comments. Seeing Hawthorne as extraordinarily "original," Poe praises the "strong under-current of suggestion" that runs "continuously beneath the upper stream of the tranquil thesis." He mentions the "constitutional melancholy," the "fastidiousness of taste," and the sense of "indolence" in the tales. He develops a thesis of unity of impact around reading at "one sitting" a "short prose narrative, requiring from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal." He distinguishes between the aim of a poem and a tale: whereas an artificially rhythmic poem suggests the idea of indefinite Beauty, a tale frequently aims at Truth. Poe emphasizes the predesigned effect which is intransitive:
During the hour of perusal the soul of the reader is at the writer's control. There are no external or extrinsic influences--resulting from weariness or interruption.
A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents--he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design.Poe also categorizes the types of the short tale as "the ratiocinative, for example, the sarcastic, or the humorous ...."
Because of his work for the Whigs and his acquaintance with President Tyler's son, Robert, Poe at this time had persuaded himself that he was in line for a political appointment to a customhouse position, but it did not materialize. He became ill and,after recovering, found that Graham's other editor, C.J. Peterson, had assumed control. Poe promptly quit. R. W. Griswold then took Poe's job. Expecting to lose Virginia at any moment, Poe became distracted and melancholy--a change noted by Graham and others.
Poe's personal concerns seem to be reflected in two tales about the triumph of death. These contrast strongly with a new tale about an idyllic garden, of interest because Poe and others regarded landscape gardening as a kind of poetry. Perhaps "Life in Death" (Graham's, April 1842; retitled "The Oval Portrait") reflects Poe's concern for Virginia's fading health, as some biographical critics maintain. Certainly the theme of the death of a beautiful woman intensified after Poe took his frail bride. But this tale about the transfer of life from a living person to a painting owes as much to literary convention as to anything else. Moreover, a carefully constructed dramatic frame surrounds it, so that the tale can also read as the dream of a man delirious from pain and lack of sleep, although the conclusion is left ambiguous. Similarly, "The Mask of the Red Death" (Graham's, May 1842), a tale of the supernatural visitation of Death himself, can also be read as a tone poem about hysteria engendered by mood and setting. The seven chambers extending from East to West, each lighted by a different colored window, suggest the progress from youth to death. Prince Prospero's sinister stronghold, of course, contrasts directly with the enchanted island of his namesake, Prospero, the magician in Shakespeare's The Tempest. The theme of Poe's tale focuses on the grimly perverse joke of Prospero's having walled in death in a frenetic attempt to wall it out. In 1845, the word "mask" in the title was changed to "masque" to emphasize the tale's danse macabre fatality, and possibly to insinuate a "moral" undercurrent, as in Comus.
In contrast, "The Landscape Garden" (Ladies' Companion , October 1842) reads almost like a fantasy dream of wish-fulfillment. Mr. Ellison inherits $450,000,000. He wants to create, by art, an earthly paradise. He embarks on a man-made landscape garden of vast proportions, which will be "Nature" and yet not "God" or an "emanation of God." Still, this project has "high spirituality." Ellison attempts by combination of novel physical forms in nature to emulate the Poet of words and the God of nature. The sketch concludes by observing that Ellison was able to obtain "an exemption from the ordinary cares of Humanity" through "the companionship and sympathy of a devoted wife." Poe was to revise this piece in 1847, the year of Virginia's death, in a melancholy way by adding a passage in which Ellison cannot contend with "geological upheavals" that prevent him from making the earth's surface (i.e., the earthly) fulfill "at all points man's sense of perfection in the beautiful...." This intention is frustrated by rocky outcroppings, which Ellison now finds "prognostic of death." Whether or not man suffered a fall, the Eden Garden of his dreams is circumscribed, and these obtrusive rocks (cf. Pym) are symbolic of God's "subsequently conceived deathful condition" for the earth. Ellison wants to parallel God's creation and thus become Godlike himself. But in the later version he dies.
In September 1842, Poe was able to meet with his new friend, F. W. Thomas, at a political rally in Philadelphia, just before "Marie Roget" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" were published (in Snowden's and The Gift). About this time, Poe collected and reorganized his tales under a new title, Phantasy-Pieces, but he was unable to secure a publisher. He was also at this time corresponding with a Georgia physician, Thomas Holley Chivers , who was later to produce some highly rhythmic poems resembling Poe's; they discussed starting their own magazine. James Russell Lowell had just begun a magazine called the Pioneer and needed copy. Poe offered to contribute to the Pioneer regularly; and in January 1843, Lowell printed "The Tell-Tale Heart." In this story, Poe improves upon Dickens's "A Madman's Ms." which he had singled out for praise years before. Poe's story is a study in obsessive paranoia, yet another story of the mind watching itself disintegrate under the stresses of delusion in an alienated world. It is the perverse fortune of the narrator to become fearful of the grotesque eye of a kindly old man, whom he says he loves. With a double perversity, he gives himself away to the police at the moment of success. Yet the narrator is caught in a weird world in which he loves the old man yet displays no real emotion toward him, in which he cannot let the "beloved" old man live and yet cannot kill him without remorse, in which he cannot expose his crime and yet must do so. The two almost merge identities. He mistakes the apparent beating of his own heart as the beating of the still-living heart of the old man which becomes an emblem of his own guilt (and which, finally, compels him to confess).
By February, Poe had taken a partner in his effort to establish his own magazine, now to be called the Stylus. In March, he decided to go to Washington to inquire about a government appointment, but when he arrived he went on a week-long drunk. He presented himself to President Tyler with his cloak turned inside out; he got into a fight with Thomas Dunn English ; and he finally had to be sent home by friends. Poe had completed "The Gold-Bug" by this time and had given it to Graham; but the Dollar Newspaper announced a $100 prize contest, and Poe retrieved his story from Graham with a promise to make it up with reviews and other matter, beginning in the March number with a new series, "Our Amateur Poets." Lowell's Pioneer meanwhile was not doing well and soon ceased publication. Before it died, however, Poe contributed "Lenore" (February) and "Notes on English Verse" (March; revised in 1848 as "The Rationale of Verse"). "Lenore" is a revision of the 1831 "A Paean," the angry lament of a young bridegroom for his lost bride; the speaker asserts she is lucky to die young and escape the jealousies of earthly life. Poe visited New York about this time and published an attack on "The Magazines" under a pseudonym. He had asked Lowell to contribute a poem to the Stylus and also asked him to persuade Hawthorne to contribute a story. But by May Poe had quarreled with his partner, and the Stylus no longer had its funding.
"The Gold-Bug" won the $100 prize and was published in the Dollar Newspaper in June. It created a stir and was immediately reprinted; a dramatic adaptation was produced the next month in the famous Walnut Street theater. Also in August "The Black Cat" appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. Another development of the themes of guilt and perversity, it details the irrational desire to act against one's own self-interest. An ambiguous conclusion suggests the agency of malevolent fate at the same time that it suggests subconscious self-punishment. The motif of the double now takes the form of two black cats, representing different stages of the narrator's guilty conscience. In a drunken rage, the narrator kills his first cat after mistreating it. A second cat manifests itself (suspiciously, on top of a wine barrel) and follows him everywhere. The second cat may be the hallucination of the narrator, a manifestation of his guilty conscience and alcohol-soaked brain. What the precise object of this guilt is becomes ambiguous, since, in a reenactment of his impulsive violence toward the first cat, he suddenly turns on his wife and cleaves her head in two with the ax he had intended to use on the second cat. The final manifestation of repressed guilt may be that he intentionally, though unconsciously, walls up the cat with the body of his wife so that its screaming will lead the police to discover the murder. Although in its details and atmosphere "The Black Cat" differs from "The Tell-Tale Heart," it shares with that tale similar plot structure, characterization, and theme.
Following his pattern, Poe's next published work, "Raising the Wind; or, Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences" in the October Saturday Courier, was comic. In it, Poe returned to the theme of the con-artist, detailing several methods of swindling, and comically asserting that the essential element of a successful "diddle" is the satisfaction that the con-man feels afterward--summed up in the element of "Grin." Perhaps the same concerns, hoaxing and the juxtaposition of humor and horror, are behind the "uniform serial edition" of The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe, the first number of which appeared in the late summer or early fall of 1843. But there were to be no other numbers; and the two "romances" were the unlikely duo of "Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Man That Was Used Up."
In January 1844, at the age of thirty-five, Poe began lecturing, an enterprise that had made good money for other authors. He lectured on American poets in Baltimore on 31 January, in Reading, Pennsylvania, on 13 March, and apparently elsewhere. It was at this time that Poe got rid of his unbecoming sidewhiskers and grew the dashing moustache generally associated with him. He published a nature sketch, "Morning on the Wissahiccon" (retitled "The Elk") in the gift annual The Opal early in 1844. In the March Dollar Newspaper he published "The Spectacles," a comic sketch about a man who, too vain to wear his glasses, is overwhelmed with the beauty of a woman who turns out not only to be quite elderly but also to be his own grandmother. These were followed in April by "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" in Godey's.
His reviewing for Graham's had dwindled to nothing, and he still owed Graham money for "The Gold-Bug." Poe felt he had exhausted the possibilities of Philadelphia. Making arrangements with a Pennsylvania paper called the Spy to contribute a series of reports on the "Gotham" city, Poe moved his family in April to New York once again. He timed his arrival with one of his best hoaxes. What is now known as "The Balloon Hoax" appeared as a report of an actual transatlantic crossing in the 13 April extra issue of the New York Sun, causing such a commotion that the paper sold a record number at inflated prices. In May Poe's "Doings of Gotham" began in the Spy; he describes various sections of New York and their people and comments on architecture, sports, city government, and the New York magazines. Poe then rented quarters in a farmhouse in the countryside just outside the city.
In June 1844, he published the poem "Dream-Land" in Graham's . In it, he returns to the visionary experience of his earliest poems. The otherworldly landscape, as seen in a world of dreams, is a kind of "ultimate" in such visions in Poe's poetry: a "wild weird clime" that lies "Out of Space--out of Time." Its landscape is of:
Lowell had agreed to write a biographical notice of Poe for the "Contributors" column of Graham's. On 2 July 1844, in response to a request, Poe wrote to Lowell about his life and philosophy. In this letter, Poe outlines a theory of existence in terms of the infinite gradations of matter and denies the separate existence of spirit. It is a concise precis of the cosmology dramatized in the tale "Mesmeric Revelation" (published the next month in the Columbian ) and expounded in his lectures on "The Universe" (1847-1848) that resulted in the book-length essay, Eureka (1848). Poe says he perceives "the vanity of the human or temporal life" and thus lives "continually in a reverie of the future."
I have no faith in human perfectibility.... Man is now only more active--not more happy--nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.... I cannot agree to lose sight of the individual, in man in the mass.--I have no belief in spirituality. I think the word a mere word. No one has really a conception of spirit. We cannot imagine what is not.He goes on to define what we call "spirit" monistically; it is infinitely rarefied matter. "Matter escapes the senses by degrees--a stone--a metal--a liquid--the atmosphere--a gas--the luminiferous ether."
How serious all this is cannot be exactly determined, for Poe was out to make a name for himself by overturning traditional concepts; and to deny the existence of the spirit in nineteenth-century America was not only to contradict Christian orthodoxy but also to dismiss Emerson and the transcendentalists. Moreover, Poe elsewhere makes fun of these ideas. "Mesmeric Revelation," in which a man under hypnotism reveals this design of the universe (one which denies the existence of the spirit) before dying happily into his new "life," has been seen by some critics as a deadpan parody. In his characteristic pairing of tales, Poe was to publish a year later (American Review, December 1845) another tale of mesmeric revelation, "The Facts of M. Valdemar's Case," in which the "sleep-waker" comes to a revolting end rather than expiring with a beatific smile. Valdemar's life is prolonged beyond the proper point of death by the new science of mesmerism; but the last horrible details suggest the grim finality of death as his whole body lapses rapidly into a disgusting liquid putridity. Poe was bemused with the success of these tales as hoaxes and remarked sarcastically on the gullibility of the public.
The serio-comic is a major feature of "The Premature Burial" (Dollar Newspaper, July 1844). The hero, an avid reader of Gothic books about burial alive, relates horrifying "factual" histories for three-quarters of the tale. Terrified of being buried alive himself, especially since he is subject to cataleptic fits, the protagonist arranges for a special sepulcher, easily opened from within, and a special coffin, with a spring-lid and a hole through which a bellpull is to be tied to the hand of his "corpse." When he awakes in a cramped, dark, earthy-smelling place, he is convinced that he has fallen into a trance while among strangers and that he has been "thrust, deep, deep, and for ever, into some ordinary and nameless grave." But it turns out that the hero has fallen asleep in the narrow berth of a ship, where he has sought refuge for the night, and he is rousted out of his bunk by the sailors he has awakened with his horrible cry of fear. The experience strikes the narrator as so ludicrous that he is shocked into sanity and he reads no more "'Night Thoughts'--no fustian about churchyards--no bugaboo tales--such as this."
Macabre humor also is at work in "The Oblong Box," published in September 1844 (Godey's). An artist brings aboard a ship an oversized box that presumably contains his paintings. The passengers are forced to abandon ship in a storm, but the artist lashes himself to the box and sinks with it into the sea. The captain remarks puzzlingly that they will recover the box when the salt melts. This mystery is then explained: the box contained the body of the man's wife packed in salt; knowing the "superstitions" of his passengers, the captain had concealed the true contents from them, but he is haunted by a "hysterical laugh which will forever ring within my ears." This piece was followed in October by "The Angel of the Odd--an Extravaganza" (Columbian Magazine). When the narrator expresses his annoyance with improbable coincidences in the stories, the Angel of the Odd manifests himself. He causes a series of comic improbabilities to happen to the narrator, culminating in a fall from a balloon down his own chimney. There is a strong suspicion that the narrator has dreamed it all in a drunken haze. In a similar mood, Poe's parody of the detective story, " 'Thou Art the Man,' " followed in November (Godey's). The narrator catches a murderer by packing a wine case with the corpse of the victim and placing a length of whalebone down the throat and bending it so that the corpse seems to sit up when the case is opened at a party; at this point, the narrator by ventriloquism says "Thou Art the Man," and Old Charley Goodfellow, in fright, confesses.
In December 1844, Poe turned to satire of contemporary magazines and their editors, especially Lewis Gaylord Clark , possibly Graham. It is not hard to see Poe's first-hand experiences in the profession in "The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq., Late Editor of the 'Goosetherumfoodle'" (Southern Literary Messenger). The editor of the Lollipop, one Crab, criticizes the editor of the Gad-Fly and suggests that Thingum Bob write an attack on the Lollipop editor, though he makes it clear he cannot pay Thingum Bob for his work. Crab also suggests that he make a new "name" for himself as "Thomas Hawk," the "tomahawking" reviewer. Thingum Bob then proceeds to fashion reviews by physically cutting up texts and shaking them on to a glued surface; he eventually becomes a super-editor by merging four warring magazines together.
In the latter part of 1844, Poe had become a regular contributor to N. P. Willis's New York Mirror and had been contributing "Marginalia" notes to the Democratic Review. In December, Lowell put Poe in touch with Charles F. Briggs, author of The Adventures of Harry Franco (1839). Briggs began publishing a new magazine, the Broadway Journal, in January 1845; and the next month, Poe became Briggs's coeditor, sharing the profits equally with Briggs and John Bisco. Perhaps Poe was able to negotiate, for the first time, such an arrangement because his fame had taken another startling leap the end of January--with the publication of "The Raven."
"The Raven" appeared in the Mirror, the American Review, and several other papers and was an instant success, even more so than "The Gold-Bug." Poe seems to have had divided feelings about it--as he did about so many things--for he both touted it as the most original poem ever composed and downplayed it as written "for the express of running--just as ... the 'Gold-Bug'...." As to its "run" in public favor, he wrote F. W. Thomas that "the bird beat the bug ... all hollow." The poem was widely reprinted in America and in Europe, where it caught the attention of Elizabeth Barrett. It is simultaneously an eerie and a comic psychological study of perversity. On a stormy December night, a student reads curious volumes of ancient lore in an effort to forget his lost love, Lenore. A raven taps at his window, and for a wild moment (as in "Ligeia") he thinks it might be the ghost of his lady returned. Amused at himself and at the ungainly appearance of the raven, he lets the bird in; it perches ludicrously on the head of his bust of Pallas Athena, goddess of wisdom. Discovering that the bird has a one-word vocabulary, "Nevermore," he bemusedly puts to it questions capable of being answered by that word--until he asks (for whatever perverse reason) the ultimate question. Will he ever see his lost love Lenore in heaven? At the foreknown answer of "Nevermore," he shrieks his anguish at the bird--yet sets up a still deeper twisting of pain. In response to his injunction to the raven to depart and "Take thy beak from out my heart," the anticipated reply comes: "Nevermore." The student concludes (perhaps with satisfaction) that the shadow cast by this bird on his soul "shall be lifted--nevermore."
The poem is dramatically conceived. Poe carefully balances an atmosphere of the supernatural with the presentation of abnormal psychology, just as in the short stories, and the poem is to a degree a departure from his rigid distinction between poetry and fiction. The next year in "The Philosophy of Composition" (Graham's, April 1846), a half-serious, half tongue-in-cheek explanation of how he wrote "The Raven" step by step, Poe characterizes the student as one "impelled ... by the human thirst for self-torture." He asks the bird questions he anticipates the answer to, so as to "bring him ... the most of a luxury of sorrow." Other elements of the "philosophy" of composition are articulated in the essay that relate directly to the short story. The essay begins by asserting that
... every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated in its denouement before any thing be attempted with the pen. It is only with the denouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.The denouement is tied to an "effect":
Keeping originality always in view ... I say to myself, in the first place, 'Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?' Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid effect, I consider whether it can best be wrought by incident or tone--whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone--afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.Effect is then a consequence of combinations of "tone" and "incident." The combinations specified are especially revealing: ordinary events plus peculiar tone; peculiar events plus ordinary tone; and peculiar events plus peculiar tone. These constitute a program for the heightened, romantic tale; the combination Poe omits is ordinary events plus ordinary tone, a formula for later nineteenth-century realism. Despite such heightening, however, "every thing is within the limits of the accountable--of the real." The storyteller's task is to bring the lover and the raven together in some reasonable way that yet creates intensity. This is done by choosing a locale that provides "close circumscription of space" and by emphasizing "the force of contrast, with a view of deepening the ultimate impression." An "air," a suggestion, of "the fantastic--approaching as nearly to the ludicrous as was admissible--is given to the Raven's entrance." This intensified, predesigned effect, Poe writes, is carefully calculated for "universal" appeal. The aesthetic effects of poetry, not prose, enable the soul to attain its most intense and pure elevation. For in poetry the adjuncts of repetition--of rhythm, measure, sound--help to create an hypnotic tone. Of the poetic devices, the most universal is the use of a refrain; Poe's is to be one of variable applicability that will bear repetition and deepen the effect. The very sounds of the word "Nevermore" are appropriate to the creation of a dominant tone of melancholy--the universal sense of loss of the ideal. Of all earthly subjects, he asks, what is the most melancholy? The death of a beautiful woman--the calculated subject of his poem. In it the raven comes to symbolize mournful and never-ending remembrance. Poe implies that at last someone has done an "original thing" in poetry.
In his review of N. P. Willis in the Broadway Journal two weeks before the publication of "The Raven" (18 January 1845), Poe developed some similar concepts of "novelty" and "combination," distinguishing between fancy, imagination, fantasy, and humor, but placing these four major categories on a continuum of effects. He concludes that the imagination selects for the creation of artistic works equally "from either beauty or deformity." In August of the same year, in his review of the "American Drama" (American Review ), Poe defined plot as integrated structure and suggested that the "contemplation of unity" in a work of art partakes of the "ideal." In 1849, in an expansion of his essay on "Song Writing" in Burton's ten years before, he was to link the ethereal, dreamlike sense of indefinitiveness in poetry not only with "melody," but also with the mathematical measurement of music--even to the point of asserting that mathematical equality is the root of all beauty.
Meanwhile in 1845, Poe continued his more journalistic essays, commenting on new developments in printing, criticizing the state of reviewing and editorial practices of magazines, calling for an international copyright law to protect both American and foreign authors (see "Some Secrets of the Magazine Prison-House"). He continued his "Marginalia" and "Suggestions" series, and, in a curious sequence of events, he became involved in what is now known as "The Longfellow War." To understand this episode, one must be aware of several extenuating matters: Poe was trying to create publicity for himself and the new magazine. The literary warfare among the magazines of the time was acrimonious, personal, and characterized by almost instinctive aggressive reflexes. Further, Poe really did detest the power of the literary cliques and the abuse of the artistic gift. He felt Longfellow had sold out to popularity with his mechanical verse forms and easy didacticism.
Longfellow had published an anthology he had edited of minor poems by minor writers, called The Waif. Poe charged him with avoiding "all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow." Put more bluntly, Poe was saying he had failed to include poets he had plagiarized from. Several magazines entered the fray, and early in March 1845 a defense of Longfellow and an attack on Poe appeared in the New York Weekly Mirror by one "Outis" ("Nobody"). Outis said by employing the kind of argument made by Poe about Longfellow's "borrowings," one could accuse Poe of stealing "The Raven" from other poems about birds. Poe responded in five lengthy installments in the Broadway Journal from 8 March to 5 April, attacking not only Longfellow but also the Northern literati in general, and especially the clique around the Knickerbocker, then under the editorship of Lewis Gaylord Clark . The Knickerbocker responded with a parody of "The Raven." There is considerable reason to believe that Outis was none other than Poe himself, stirring up controversy and hoaxing friends and public alike; but the matter cannot be proved.
At the end of February 1845, Poe gave a lecture on American poetry, during the course of which he praised the poetry of Frances Sargent Osgood , a beautiful woman of thirty-four, two years younger than himself. She met with him sometime in the spring and carried on a "romantic friendship" that caused a great deal of criticism of Poe for "deserting a dying wife" in favor of a flirtatious poetess. Mrs. Osgood was also frequently in the company of R.W. Griswold and another man; these flirtations may all have been her strategem to win back an errant husband. In any event, Virginia Poe liked her; she seemed to think the relationship platonic and Fanny Osgood a good influence on Poe. Yet Poe was once again drinking, and, almost as if he were acting according to a script, his association with Briggs on the Broadway Journal began to break down. Poe wrote his friend F. W. Thomas in May that he felt like "a slave" to the journal. At this time, Lowell was traveling through New York and wanted to see Poe, whom he had never met. When he called, he found Poe "not tipsy," but certainly "a little soggy with drink"; the encounter ended their relationship. The Georgia poet Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers called on Poe, and they seem to have gone drinking together repeatedly. On the way home from the office of the Broadway Journal one evening, they ran into Clark of the Knickerbocker, and Poe offered to knock him down, but Clark avoided him.
In June, Evert A. Duyckinck, editor at Wiley and Putnam, selected twelve of Poe's stories for publication in a volume known simply as Tales. By July, Poe was being feted as a literary lion at the famous soirees of Anne Charlotte Lynch in Greenwich Village, where he met some of the most famous literary people of the day, and whom he gently satirized in "The Literati of New York City" in May of the following year (Godey's). He was noted for charm and for both reticence and brilliance in conversation. Briggs meanwhile had maneuvered to wrest the Broadway Journal from Poe and Bisco, its publisher. Bisco retained the magazine and renegotiated Poe's contract in July; Poe was to be in complete editorial control and to share all profits equally. To fill pages, Poe reprinted most of his fiction and poetry in revised versions, sometimes under the pseudonym of "Littleton Barry," apparently so his name would not appear too often.
Poe had been publishing works in a variety of other journals as well. In February 1845, "The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade" had appeared in Godey's; in April "Some Words with a Mummy" in the American Review. Both satirize the penchant of Americans for gadgetry and patent medicines, and are sprinkled with sarcastic observations on clothing styles and the democratic "experiment." In the first tale, after listening to all sorts of incredible stories of weird beings and devices from the future (i.e., the nineteenth century), the Arab potentate's credulity is stretched too far when Scheherazade tells him women wear contraptions called bustles. He has her executed. Poe reversed the basic frame in the second tale; instead of a medieval Arab hearing the wonders of the nineteenth century, the nineteenth century hears of ancient Egypt. "Some Words with a Mummy" comically presents Poe's dissatisfaction with mobocracy, with American technology, and with the very concept of progress which had become by 1845 dear to the hearts of his countrymen. The narrator, deeply disturbed by the inability of modern Americans to demonstrate the superiority of their culture to that of ancient Egyptians, may mirror Poe's feelings when he comments: "The truth is, I am heartily sick of this life and of the nineteenth century in general. I am convinced that everything is going wrong."
Poe returned to the cosmological dialogue after death in "The Power of Words" (United States Magazine and Democratic Review, June 1845), which seems to take as its text the opening of the New Testament--"In the beginning was the word"--only literally. The spirit Oinos (whose name means "wine") discusses with the spirit Agathon (who in Plato's Symposium ends up drunk under the table) the nature of existence. Quite different is "The Imp of the Perverse," published in Graham's the next month. Almost more an essay than a tale, it is a dark comedy of errors which clearly spells out Poe's fundamental conception that it is man's fate to act against his own best interests. But the dissertation on perversity has its dramatic irony, for the rationality of the narrator merely enmeshes him deeper in anxiety, as he absurdly, helplessly, uses his imaginative intellect to will his own destruction by means of a mere whimsical thought.
By fall 1845, Bisco wanted out from the Broadway Journal. Poe had for years sought his own magazine; he borrowed what he could and signed a note to pay all outstanding debts against the journal. The 25 October issue carried the words "Edgar A. Poe, Editor and Proprietor." In October, Poe was supposed to read a new poem before the Boston Lyceum for $50, a considerable sum; but he was unable to compose an occasional poem and instead discoursed on the nature of poetry and read "Al Aaraaf." Some thought it was a good performance; others were outraged. Poe, who had gotten tipsy afterward, said in his Broadway Journal that he had hoaxed the Bostonians with a poem written when he was ten years old, delivering it to them while drunk. Meanwhile, since the Tales volume had been selling well (bringing Poe a royalty of eight cents a copy), Wiley and Putnam brought out The Raven and Other Poems late in November. In his preface to this volume he claimed that, had he not been forced by worldly considerations to devote his energies to the somewhat more profitable pursuits of editing, criticism, and tale writing, poetry would have been his first choice for a career. He remarked that the volume contained nothing "of much value to the public or very creditable to myself." The preface concludes with the observation that "with me poetry has been not a purpose, but a passion; and the passions should be held in reverence; they must not--they cannot at will be excited with an eye to the paltry compensations, or the more paltry commendations, of mankind." His prefatory deprecation of his efforts in poetry is actually an exaltation of the Poetic Ideal above the mundane considerations of deadlines and commerce.
Two tales closed out the year: "Valdemar" (American Review, December) and "The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether" (Graham's, November). In "Tarr and Fether" Poe combined architectural symbolism with political satire in a comic grotesque and literary burlesque. Traveling through the South of France, the narrator encounters in the insane asylum of M. Maillard a conflict between the "soothing system" of treating patients (in which they are allowed to act out their delusions) and the "new" system of Professors Tarr and Fether (in which delusion is not tolerated). Under the old system, inmates could even act out the delusion that the keepers were the insane and the insane the keepers. At a party that night, while the orchestra plays "Yankee Doodle," a troop of what appear to be black baboons bursts in. They turn out to be the keepers, tarred and feathered by the insane M. Maillard. They have escaped from their basement prison. As in other of Poe's works, the irrational has welled up from below to overwhelm the rational faculties, to be followed by another revolution. Both Dickens and Willis had commented on the conditions of asylums for the insane and are caricatured in the tale. The story seems, as well, to present satiric commentary on the political relations of the North and the South in America.
Earlier in the year, Poe seems to have contributed reviews to The Aristidean, edited by Dr. Thomas Dunn English . Until the latter part of the year, he got along well enough with English. But Poe was being manipulated by Mrs. Elizabeth F. Ellet , who wanted him to puff her poems in his magazine. He got into a complicated argument with English over certain letters of both Mrs. Osgood and Mrs. Ellet. About the same time, the note for the debts against the Broadway Journal, which had steadily lost money, came due. Poe got intoxicated and got into a fistfight with English. Poe's Broadway Journal ceased publication on 3 January 1846.
The years 1846-1847 were, for a number of reasons, Poe's least productive. Virginia Poe's health had seriously deteriorated, and Poe became embroiled in personal, professional, and legal turmoil. One of the major literary wars was that between the Knickerbocker clique and another group calling themselves (after the model of the German romanticists) Young America. Poe, without a clique of his own and now without a magazine, was caught in the middle. In January 1846, the Knickerbocker viciously attacked not only Poe's poetry and criticism, but also his character. Poe's ally Willis resigned from the New York Mirror, and his new enemy, Briggs, joined its staff. Poe had a chance to strike back hard in the "Literati" series, which ran in installments in Godey's during 1846, but he contented himself with occasional potshots. Poe seems to have been blacklisted in several of the new magazines. When "The Sphinx" appeared in the January number of Arthur's Ladies' Magazine, Poe felt degraded by being forced to publish in such a low quality journal. The tale is one of his slighter pieces, but of interest for its remarks on the American ego and for its hoaxlike technique. It comes to a comic conclusion after a frightening and weird, but absurdly deceptive, vision of a monster that turns out to be a bug dangling only a fraction of an inch from the eye.
In February, Virginia wrote Poe a Valentine poem, in which the first letters spell out his name; she asks for "a cottage for my home" and says that "Love shall heal my weakened lungs." He first moved them to a farmhouse, later to a cottage at Fordham. In between, he visited Baltimore, drank a lot, and became quite ill. In May, the New York Mirror parodied Poe's first "Literati" sketch by viciously caricaturing Poe, both professionally and personally. In mid-June, Poe retaliated half-heartedly in his "Literati" sketches of James Aldrich and Thomas Dunn English , suggesting that Aldrich was a plagiarist and that English's English was so bad that he needed some "private instruction." On 23 June, the Mirror printed another scurrilous personal attack, "War of the Literati: Mr. English's Reply to Mr. Poe." English went too far; among other things he accused Poe of slander, forgery, and monetary fraud. In response, Poe sued the Mirror for libel. He continued the literary war, though, being careful not to commit any blunders like English's. He had to publish his "Rejoinder" in a Philadelphia paper, however, because Godey was wary of getting embroiled with the factions. English's "Reply to Mr. Poe's Rejoinder" gleefully noted that "Mr. Poe had some difficulty in obtaining a respectable journal" for his article. The battle continued through the fall of 1846. Poe's August "Literati" sketch of Clark, the editor of the Knickerbocker, claimed that "as the editor has no precise character, the magazine, as a matter of course, can have none." In October, the Knickerbocker repeated English's story of the fistfight with Poe. In the October "Literati," Poe inserted a tongue-in-cheek lament for the fall of the Knickerbocker under the editorship of Clark to "outer darkness ... utter and unconceivable dunderheadism," calling Clark "King Log the Second." The Mirror meanwhile was serializing English's 1844; or the Power of the S. F., in which Poe is satirized as one "Marmaduke Hammerhead." This was followed in November by Briggs's Mirror serial, The Tripping of Tom Pepper, in which Poe would be caricatured (in February) as "Austin Wicks," who gets drunk on one glass of wine, picks fights, has to be carried home, and is eventually buried at public expense.
In the November Godey's, Poe published one of his finest tales, "The Cask of Amontillado," notable for its compression and crisp dialogue, not to mention its structural symmetry and resonant symbolism. Tales like "The Black Cat," "The Tell-Tale Heart," and "The Imp of the Perverse" had involved a dramatized confessional element, wherein a first-person narrator seems calmly or gleefully to recount horrible deeds, but which generally implies a listener to whom the agonized soul is revealing his torment. The characterization of Montresor in "The Cask of Amontillado" is perhaps the ultimate in such strategy. In the surface story, Montresor seems to be chuckling over his flawlessly executed revenge upon unfortunate "Fortunato" fifty years before. But a moment's reflection suggests that the indistinct "you" whom Montresor addresses in the first paragraph is probably his death-bed confessor--for if Montresor has murdered Fortunato fifty years before, he must now be some seventy to eighty years of age, having suffered a fifty-years' ravage of conscience. As in "The Tell-Tale Heart," the murderer and the murdered merge their identities into one.
Virginia now required nursing, and Poe himself was ill. A kindly lady, Mrs. Marie Louise Shew, was brought in to help; Poe was to write a couple of poems to her in gratitude. Things were in a bad way for the Poe family. Poe was out of work and out of money. Two weeks before Christmas, another friend, Mrs. Mary Hewett, got the New York Morning Express to publish an appeal for money; the appeal was copied in a number of papers and many people responded, to whom Poe wrote embarrassed notes of thanks. Mrs. Shew noticed that Poe had an "intermittent pulse," which suggested heart trouble and a brain lesion of some kind, confirmed in some degree by Poe's recurrent feverishness. Mrs. Shew was the one Virginia sent for on 29 January 1847, when she felt her end was near. The next day Virginia Poe died.
According to tradition, Poe became distraught, morose, nervous, unable to sleep, given to solitary walks which would end at Virginia's grave, though the last may have been exaggerated by acquaintances to explain the poem "Ulalume," not published until December 1847 (American Review). The only other works of note published during the year were a cooler but still approving review of Hawthorne (Graham's, November), and "The Domain of Arnheim" (Columbian, March), a revision of "The Landscape Garden" of five years before. Whereas in the earlier tale there had been no withered leaves, not a single patch of barren ground, Poe now inserted the rocky facts of death and imperfection. "Ulalume" has attracted a good deal of critical commentary--and the familiar controversies. It has been admired for its imagery and its hypnotic, incantatory repetition. But is it visionary and affirmative at the end, or is it a revelation of repressed grief over the triumph of death? The very title contains an ambiguity. It is a made-up word suggesting "wailing" (ululare) and "light" (lumen), and one reading is that it means "light out of sorrow" and is thus affirmative; but it can equally as well mean "sorrowful light." In the latter reading, it refers to the sad star that brings painful remembrance of loss. The speaker remembers walking down and an avenue of cypress trees one night in October, under ashen skies, conversing with himself. The other part of himself is personified as female, Psyche, his soul. The landscape is subjective; life has died out of the leaves; mist obscures vision; and the woods seem haunted by "ghouls." Toward dawn a nebulous light appears at the end of the path, and from this the crescent of Astarte (the planet Venus) arises. The speaker says that this star-goddess (of sensual love) is warmer than the chaste moon-goddess, Diana (cf. "Evening Star"). She has, he says, "come past the stars of the Lion." Astrologically, the love-goddess Venus has left the sign of Leo, which seems to hint of some vague hopefulness to the speaker, since Venus in Leo is unfavorable to marriage. Moreover, Venus seems to promise the peace of forgetfulness. But the other part of the self, Psyche, does not trust this hopeful sign. The speaker insists, however, that the sky is full of beauty and hope, and that they follow the starlight to the end of the path. There they find a tomb inscribed with the name of his lost love, Ulalume. He then remembers that a year ago he had brought "a dread burden" to the tomb and wonders what demon has prompted him to return, to reawaken the painful memory of his lost love. But the question is not answered.
Despite all this sorrowfulness, Poe was willing to use the poem in a little game of literary politics--to reestablish himself, as he said, in the literary scene. In December, Poe asked N. P. Willis to reprint "Ulalume" and speculate about the identity of the author so as to create a stir. Willis did as Poe asked on New Year's Day, 1848. Three weeks later Henry Hirst argued in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier that Poe was the author. Meanwhile Poe scheduled a lecture on "The Universe" (later expanded as Eureka) for the New York Historical Society. Simultaneously, he sent Godey the satire "Mellonta Tauta," not published until a year later (February 1849). The title means "That Which Is to Come." The story is about a balloon voyage across the Atlantic, on 1 April (cf. "Hans Phaall"), 2848, a thousand years into the future. The Ms. had been found, the epigraph states, in a bottle floating in the Mare Tenebrarum, the Dark Sea, visited mainly by transcendentalists and "divers for crochets." The dim-witted female narrator, Pundita, may represent Margaret Fuller , and the man addressed as Pundit may represent Emerson. In any event, the types of transcendentalist thinkers are burlesqued. Poe used the opening of the tale as part of the opening of the ostensibly deadly serious Eureka .
The reception of the February lecture on "The Universe," which lasted two hours, was a little mixed, though generally favorable. One reviewer, a theological student, had been well-impressed with the lecture. But he became distressed when the next month he looked over the manuscript for Eureka in the office of Putnams, which planned to publish it in the summer. He discovered to his shock that Poe actually denied the spirit and that the argument was based on a material pantheism. The underlying ideas of Eureka are much the same as outlined in Poe's letter to Lowell in 1844, and in "Mesmeric Revelation," but there is a good deal of wordplay and philosophical joking in it well beyond any hoaxing. Poe called it a "Poem," rather than a scientific treatise, but he also intended it to be a synthesis of modern scientific and philosophical thinking about the origin and nature of the universe, logic and consciousness, man, destiny, and God.
Poe suggests that the cycle of the birth, death, and resurrection of the universe operates through two forces: attraction (gravity) and repulsion (electricity). Matter as we sense it is in a midregion between these two poles. Originally all was one whole; God then willed matter to become particled and diffused through space; when it reaches its ultimate point of dispersal, it will collapse again into unity. But because the basic proposition of Eureka declares that inevitable annihilation is built into the structure of the universe, man's belief in a designed cosmos has to be reconciled with oblivion. Romantic literary analogies of God as an artist, shaping the cosmos with divine symmetry to his own end, provide Poe the answer. He says the universe is like a fictive romance; it is a "plot of God"; and the plot is for "novel universes" to swell into "objectless" existence and then subside into nothingness. If it were not for this grand design, Poe suggests, then: "We should have been forced to regard the Universe with some such sense of dissatisfaction as we experience in contemplating an unnecessarily complex work of human art. Creation would have affected us as an imperfect plot in a romance, where the denoument [sic] is awkwardly brought about by interposed incidents external and foreign to the main subject." The endlessly repeated cycles of creation, destruction, and re-creation make an aesthetic design that gives humankind some hope. The point is crucial, Poe argues, because only if there is aesthetic design does the "evil" manifest in the universe become "intelligible" and "endurable"; only then can we "comprehend the riddles of Divine Injustice." Some readers sense in the protestations Poe's very real suspicion that his life, along with all existence, is like badly contrived fiction, riddled with injustice. But the majority of readers see Eureka as an affirmation of order and meaning in the universe.
In March 1848, two complimentary verses, addressed to ladies who had helped Poe through Virginia's last illness, appeared. "An Enigma" (Union Magazine) spells out the name Sarah Anna Lewis, beginning with the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, and so on. Mrs. Lewis was a poetess, who was to bedevil Poe for critical puffery in his last years. "To----" (Columbian ) is another poem for Mrs. Shew, given her by Poe the year before along with "The Beloved Physician," now lost, which is supposed to have recreated her diagnosis of his heart condition and brain lesion. According to tradition, Poe visited Mrs. Shew one Sunday, overwrought, and complained about the noise of the bells from Grace Church. To calm him, she wrote on a piece of paper "The Bells, by E.A. Poe. The little silver bells." Poe wrote a few lines, and she suggested iron bells, and he wrote several more lines. Although she seemed to have real affection for him, Mrs. Shew allowed herself to be persuaded by friends that Poe's religion was unorthodox. Poe wrote her an anxiety-ridden letter saying that on his last visit she had been more cordial to the cat than to him. But she never saw him again.
Poe's general health was poor, and he suffered from growing mental disorientation--apparently not only from drink, but from what seems to have been a series of strokes. He may have had diabetes as well. He sought a woman to keep him steady. A poetess, Sarah Helen Whitman , began to show interest in him; they exchanged poems, and eventually Poe wrote her some sixty lines (later titled "To Helen" by Griswold). Then Mrs. Jane Locke of Lowell, Massachusetts, was taken with him and arranged a lecture in July. "The Poets and Poetry of America" was a great success and earned Poe a fair amount of money. While in Lowell, he met twenty-eight-year-old Mrs. Nancy (Annie) Richmond. Although she was still married, Poe decided he was in love with her.
But Poe had really wanted to lecture in the South in an effort to resurrect the Stylus by subscription. He set out for Richmond, Virginia, and while there began drinking in a waterfront tavern, subsequent to which he seems to have challenged the editor of the Richmond Examiner to a duel. He spent the summer in Richmond, where he received a batch of poems from Mrs. Whitman. She turned out to be a well-to-do widow of forty-five (some six years older than Poe). As well as being a hypochondriac, she was something of a spiritualist, and used ether to veil the "grossness" of the world from her vision. Poe decided to pursue what started out as a literary flirtation, and late in September of 1848, he called on her in Providence, Rhode Island. He claimed that he now loved "for the first and only time" and asked her to marry him. He wrote her that he would gladly die with her. She, however, had heard disturbing gossip about him, some of it from Mrs. Ellet regarding Frances Osgood. Moreover, she said, her friends feared Poe wanted to marry her for her money.
Although Poe denied this, and reiterated his love for her, he went to Lowell in November and declared his love for Annie Richmond. He begged Mrs. Richmond to leave her husband. Her refusal is said to have been gentle, but in a letter, in which it is hard to separate truth from fiction, Poe says that he fully intended to commit suicide because of her refusal. He claims that he bought two ounces of laudanum and took half of it. Apparently, he was so ignorant about the use of drugs that he did not know how to use the opiate properly and went into spasms of vomiting that left him debilitated for days. Despite his weakened condition, he went to Providence to renew his suit with Mrs. Whitman. She showed him written warnings from friends about his character, and Poe went away. But the next day he called her name repeatedly outside her house. He was let in, disoriented, and a doctor was called; the physician said that Poe had some kind of cerebral congestion. A neighbor seized the opportunity and forced Poe to pose for a now-famous daguerreotype, in which his face is puffy and lined, constricted and lopsided, as though he had just suffered a stroke.
Apparently Poe's woeful condition moved Mrs. Whitman. She agreed to marry--on the condition that she would call off the marriage if he indulged in any of the excesses she had been warned about. The middle of November 1848, Poe returned to New York by steamboat, where he promptly wrote a letter to Mrs. Richmond asking her to come to him, if only for a week. Mrs. Whitman sent him a poem, "Arcturus," along with more reports of his bad character received from friends. She had two legal documents drawn, the purpose of which was to make sure Poe could not get his hands on any of her money. Poe wrote that they could discuss the matter when he came to Providence to lecture on "The Poetic Principle" (posthumously published in the Home Journal, August 1850).
This lecture was a summary of the poetic theory he had been developing over the last twenty years, though it did not go into the technicalities of quantification, accentual stress, and strategies of rhythm of "The Rationale of Verse" (Southern Literary Messenger, October-November 1848). In "The Poetic Principle," he asserts that a poem must be brief or the totality of effect will be lost; yet "undue brevity" is also a fault. The idea that the "ultimate object of all Poetry is Truth" and that every poem should "inculcate a moral" is, he says, "the heresy of the didactic." A poem conveys whatever "truth" it has through its art, through the poetic experience itself. Nothing more dignified or supremely noble exists than a "poem written solely for the poem's sake." The sense of the Beautiful is an immortal instinct, and the "Poetic Sentiment" attempts to apprehend "supernal Loveliness." It may take various modes: painting, sculpture, dance, especially music, and also landscape gardening.Only in the "contemplation of Beauty" can we attain "elevating excitement of the Soul." For this, rhythm and song are essential. He ends with a catalogue of elements that induce in the poet the "true poetical effect," moving from the stars, through objects of nature--especially indefinite sights, smells, and gentle tactile sensations like wind--to the sense of the undiscovered, the distant, the unworldly, and concluding with "the beauty of woman," especially the divinity of "her love."
Poe gave this lecture to a large audience of some 2,000 on 20 December. Two days later, he signed the documents Mrs. Whitman wanted, and showed up at her house that evening a little tipsy. After a scene, he promised never to touch a drop more. The next morning, he had wine with breakfast, and Mrs. Whitman broke the engagement amidst some awkward complications.
In 1849 Poe arranged to contribute regularly to the Flag of Our Union, a Boston weekly of large circulation. He hoped as well to continue contributing to Graham's and Godey's; and he had connections with the American Review, the Whig Review, the Democratic Review , and Sartain's Union. After his return from Providence, he arranged to contribute several pages of "Marginalia" to the Southern Literary Messenger. "Mellonta Tauta" appeared in Godey's in February, and "A Dream Within a Dream" in the Flag in March. Also in the March Flag was Poe's ludicrous tale of horrible revenge told in fairy-tale style, "Hop-Frog, or the Eight Chained Orangoutangs." A hunchbacked dwarf is jester to a king who loves practical jokes. The king loves to torment Hop-Frog, especially by forcing a glass of wine on him, for he knows a single glass maddens the dwarf. The tale has been read as a parody of the fairy tale, as a story of the terrible darkness of the human soul, and as symbolic biography.
In the April Flag, Poe published two poems, "For Annie" and "A Valentine," retitled "Eldorado," along with a story, "Von Kempelen and His Discovery." The story is in the nature of a hoax; it is told as a newspaper account implying that Von Kempelen has discovered a way of scientifically transmuting base metals into gold; Poe apparently thought to capitalize on the California "gold fever." "Eldorado" is similarly conceived on one level, but it deepens into one of Poe's most effective ironic poems. The gold seeker becomes a "gallant knight" who grows old searching for the mythic City of Gold, Eldorado. He asks directions from a shadow pilgrim, who tells him that the treasure is beyond the mountains of the moon and "Down the Valley of the Shadow." "Ride, boldly ride!" the shadow says, not fully in derision. The quest leads, as always, to death.
"For Annie" is a highly ambiguous poem about the fever called living which is over at last--though whether for the speaker or for Annie or for both is unclear. The speaker lies calmly in what some might call a narrow bed; some might fancy him dead now that the throbbing, nausea, and agony are quiescent; he himself fancies he smells the odor of funeral flowers; but he dreams of the bright Annie, who bathes him with her hair and kisses him. Others may fancy him dead, but he still feels Annie's love. The blurring of subjective and objective, of life and death, of dream and reality, is obvious. The biographical reading of this poem is considerably strengthened by the fact that Poe sent it to Mrs. Richmond in March. In May he went to visit her, ran out of money,and, in her presence, had a bank draft drawn against Graham's rejected.
In May and June two stories appeared in the Flag. "X-ing a Paragrab" is another comic piece on printing and magazine editing. One rival paper attacks another in a paragraph with too many Os. The other paper wishes to reply by making fun of its rival's style; but the printer discovers all his Os have been stolen; so he substitutes Xs--so that they can hardly "bxw-wxw-wxw" back at the other paper. "Landor's Cottage" is subtitled "pendant" to "The Domain of Arnheim." Here the landscape gardening is all naturalized, so that Arnheim's glittering, bejewelled, semi-Gothic, semi-Saracenic architecture becomes a simple country cottage. In July a touching tribute to Mrs. Clemm appeared in the Flag, "Sonnet--To My Mother," in which the lady is said to be twice a mother, once to the speaker and once to his wife.
In mid-spring Poe received a delayed letter from E.H.N. Patterson of Illinois that renewed his hopes of establishing his own literary magazine. Patterson had been given a paper by his father, and he offered Poe entire editorial control of the literary department it they could get a thousand advance subscriptions. Poe wrote that he was going on a lecture tour from New England to the South, and he asked Patterson for a $50 advance, to be sent to him in Richmond. At the end of June Poe left Mrs. Clemm to go to Philadelphia. Nearly two weeks went by without a word from him; then a letter dated 7 July arrived. Poe wrote that he had been ill with "the cholera, or spasms quite as bad." He spoke of wanting to die with her, of having been subject to fits of insanity, and of having "been taken to prison once since I came here for getting drunk; but then I was not. It was about Virginia."
Later in the month, Poe went to John Sartain's office and insisted on protection from two men who were out to kill him. He had been on his way home; but when he noticed his pursuers, he had gotten off the train and returned to Philadelphia to confuse them. He wanted Sartain to shave off his moustache for him, so he would not be recognized. He told Sartain he had been in prison and had had a dream about a radiant female figure on top of a tower speaking to him across a great distance. Few can object very strongly to the biographical reading of this event as referring to Virginia and the other idolized lost women of his life calling to him across the void of death. Poe, Sartain said, was afraid to be left alone or in the dark. Two days later, Poe had sufficiently recovered to say that the whole business was a delusion; he told Sartain he had been arrested on suspicion of passing counterfeit money but had been recognized as a poet and released. Fact and fancy are impossible to sort out. Two friends, Chauncey Burr and George Lippard , saw that Poe got on a train for Baltimore. From Baltimore Poe headed "home" to Richmond, where his sister, Rosalie, and her foster parents, the Mackenzies, cared for him. He had been scheduled to lecture on poetry in Richmond, but his valise had mysteriously disappeared at the train station in Philadelphia. So he had to set about rewriting the entire "Poetic Principle," he claimed. The lectures were successful, and Poe's spirits picked up. As a protective measure against his weakness for drink, he joined the Shockoe Hill Division of the Sons of Temperance. As in the summer before, he was accepted into Richmond society, and there are testimonies to his quiet grace, charm, and kindness to children.
In this summer of 1849, Poe called on his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster Shelton, now a wealthy widow in her late thirties. In their talk, they discovered that two decades ago John Allan had refused to promise her father that Poe would be his heir. Mr. Royster therefore had thought it a bad match with Poe and sent his daughter out of the city and intercepted Poe's letters. Poe now courted her all over again. But even while engaged in this pursuit, he wrote Mrs. Clemm not to tell him anything about Annie Richmond--"unless you can tell me that Mr. R. is dead." He added that after his marriage to Elmira he did not want to live in Richmond: "... I want to live near Annie."
In September he lectured in Norfolk, Virginia, returning on the seventeenth to Richmond. His paranoid feelings were returning. He wrote Mrs. Clemm not to sign her next letter, but to address it to "E.S.T. Grey, Esq.," of Philadelphia. He lectured again with success, although people were beginning to remark on his paleness and nervousness. One evening at the home of Susan Talley, after talking enthusiastically of his future, when Poe took his leave (according to Miss Talley), "a brilliant meteor appeared in the sky directly over his head, and vanished in the east." Poe and his hosts laughed, and he disappeared into the darkness. The next night he told Elmira Royster that he had a feeling he would never see her again. He stayed up all night at a local tavern without taking a drink and at dawn rushed down to the dock to catch the steamboat for Baltimore.
A week later, during election time, he was found lying unconscious in Lombard Street near the Fourth Ward polling place. According to one tradition, apparently fabricated, Poe had been plied with liquor by an unscrupulous element of one of the political parties and taken from one polling place to another to vote over and over again. A compositor for the Baltimore Sun dragged Poe into Gunner's Tavern and sent a note to Dr. J.E. Snodgrass, an acquaintance of Poe's for fifteen years, and Henry Herring, who had been married to Poe's deceased aunt, Eliza. Both came.
Poe's jacket was ripped at the seams, and the trousers looked as though they belonged to someone else. He seemed to Snodgrass not so much to be in a drunken stupor as in a delirium from some sort of fever. When Dr. John J. Moran examined Poe, in the hospital tower room where the drunks were taken, he too thought Poe in a much worse state than a drunken stupor. Cousin Neilson Poe arrived. He commented on the "weakness" of the "bad streak" in the family and left with a promise to send some clean linen. At 3 a.m. Poe came back to consciousness and muttered some incoherent things about a wife, Richmond, or the Richmonds, and death.
Poe remained in a semicoma for three days. Saturday night he called out "Reynolds! Oh, Reynolds!" Then, Sunday at 3 a.m., 7 October 1849, Poe died, "of congestion of the brain"--a brain lesion of some sort, possibly complicated by intestinal inflammation, a weak heart, and diabetes.
Among the obituaries was one in the New York Tribune, signed "Ludwig." The article was unsympathetic and critical; worse, it distorted his character and life mercilessly. "Few will be grieved," Ludwig said, for Poe "had few or no friends." The mysterious Ludwig seemed to know Poe's life and writings well, despite his distortions. Ludwig was, as fate would have it, the man chosen to be Poe's literary executor, Rufus Wilmot Griswold . He prepared an edition of Poe's collected works as rapidly as possible and published portions of Poe's correspondence, not only with deletions, but also with additions of his own, mostly designed to make Poe look bad. Perhaps he had some grudge over Poe's hoaxing reviews of his anthology of the Poets of America years before, or perhaps he thought to sensationalize Poe's character in order to create sales. But he is said also, for some inexplicable reason, to have destroyed many letters and papers.
Several authors, including N.P. Willis and, of all people, Longfellow, tried to defend Poe's reputation--but to no avail. The Griswold, Mirror, and Knickerbocker version of Poe took hold and grew. Poe the on-again, off-again alcoholic became Poe the drug addict. Poe who tried to preserve a fragmented family became Poe the luster-after-little-girls. Poe the fighting journalist became the hypocrite and backbiter, the untrustworthy self-serving pretender, the liar, and the madman. Doubtless it made good copy and good material for romanticized biography. Even Poe's last publications were a bit melodramatic. His death was followed almost immediately by publication of two of what came to be his best-loved poems, both dealing with the final triumph of death: "Annabel Lee" (Richmond Examiner and the New York Tribune) and "The Bells" (Sartain's Union, November). "Annabel Lee" is yet another lament for the death of a beloved woman, a wife, a child-bride. She was taken away, the lover says, by jealous angels who envied their earthly love. But the speaker defies the power of either heaven or hell to "dissever my soul from the soul / Of the beautiful Annabel Lee," and he lies down by her side in her tomb by the sounding sea. "The Bells," a tour de force in onomatopoeia, traces the progress of life through four major stages signalled by different bells: silvery sleigh bells of childhood, golden wedding bells of youth, brass "alarum" bells of adulthood, iron funeral bells of age. Each section is developed at one more increment, so that the derisive triumph of the ghouls of death is nearly four times the length of the first section. Both poems are highly incantatory. Poe left little in manuscript: the opening paragraphs of a tale called "The Lighthouse," and a nearly complete draft of a satire on himself, "A Reviewer Reviewed."
Poe was to have a remarkable influence on the rest of his century. The French poet, Charles Baudelaire , became obsessed with Poe as his own alter ego. He saw Poe as the poete maudit, the blighted (and even, conventionally, evil) poet of genius buried alive in a materialistic society of insensitive Philistines. He undertook a series of translations of Poe's prose. Some readers say that the somber works are better in Baudelaire's French than in Poe's English, though the internal nuances of bizarre humor are lost. For Baudelaire, Poe was heroic and therefore quite the opposite of Griswold's version. Yet, reflecting Baudelaire's own tormented personality, his Poe was as eccentric as Griswold's. So by a curious irony, the negative and the positive images of Poe grew together into an uneasy and grotesque composite of Griswold/Baudelaire and Puritan America/Bohemian France. Even in death, Poe was destined to be split in two within a paradoxical union. In the Art-for-Art's-sake, Symbolist, and Surrealist movements at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Poe was reconstructed into the image required. For Mallarme, he was a culture hero; for Valery, a stunning skeptic. The vogue of Poe in France continues today with Poe's works holding special fascination for the structuralist, post-structuralist, and deconstructionist cliques of avant-garde criticism. In Russia, his major influence was on Dostoevsky. In German and Scandinavian countries, Poe's influence is relatively recent, and he is regarded generally as a writer caught between romanticism and modernism. In Britain, and even in America, Poe presents a puzzle; the nuances of his style and the narrow obsessiveness of his focus on the death/life parodox seem to put him outside the mainstream of the Anglo-American tradition.
From the perspective of more than a century, Poe's various achievements as a professional man of letters are extraordinary. As a poet, Poe developed a mode of dramatized interior monologue and a lyric incantatory style aimed at suggesting a visionary state of "supernal beauty" to be sought "out of space--out of time." He tried to achieve this dreamlike perception through precise manipulation of sound and rhythm by means of hypnotic repetition. Poe developed a poetics that sought to reconcile the material and mental medium of language as sensuous sound. At the same time that Poe sought a visionary spiritual beauty (tinged with loss and melancholy and glimpsed but indefinitely), he emphasized meticulous craftsmanship based on a preestablished pattern of total integration of all elements of a work.
As a practical critic of contemporary letters, Poe exposed carelessness, fraud, literary theft, while recognizing the talent of a writer like Nathaniel Hawthorne . As a practicing journalist, Poe took a stand against the literary cliques that promoted inferior regional writing, especially those centered around the Northern periodicals. Poe defended not only the cause of Southern letters, but also the American quest for literary independence from Europe. Yet at the same time that he attacked slavish imitation of European models, he opposed the excesses of the American literary nationalism that forced critics into the dilemma of liking a stupid book because its stupidity was American. Although deeply involved in the literary warfare of his times, Poe's driving force was to establish an eminent magazine of letters and culture freed from petty conflict, social prejudice, and the prevailing moral bias of the age. Regarding the latter, he even went so far as to formulate the "heresy of the didactic." An overriding moral concern in a work of art he said, was to be regarded as an offense against the ideals of art as art.
But it is Poe's achievement in the short story for which he is best remembered. As with poetry, he codified an affective theory of the short story that aimed at an almost subliminal effect through a carefully predesigned and unified pattern. He considered the opening word through every piece of punctuation and every sentence as important to the impact of the whole structure on the conscious and unconscious responses of the reader. He exemplified his theory in his practice, while experimenting with proto-science-fiction, visionary prose-poems, multi-leveled satire, and developing if not outright inventing the detective story. Simultaneously, he perfected the Gothic tale of terror, horror, and mystery. Poe is an acknowledged master of Gothic atmosphere, but he is equally the master of the interior monologue of a profoundly disturbed mind. His fictional dramatizations of mental turmoil operate on several levels, from gruesome physical shock, to spiritual anguish, to subtle manipulation of narrative point of view. The stories exhibit an architectural symmetry and proportion and careful integration of details of setting, plot, and character into an indivisible whole.
Poe's life and career were strongly marked by self-division. Yet in theory and practice, Poe is a major exponent of one version of the romantic ideal of the organic wholeness of art. As a consequence of this aesthetic, Poe ventured into philosophical romantic cosmology. In his creative, critical, and philosophical writings his romantic program was nothing less than to resolve all apparent contraries of the world into unity: the life and death impulses of existence; the apparent irradiation and collapse of a pulsating universe; the paradoxes of time and space, of matter and energy, of the rational and irrational; the seeming oppositions of the material and the immaterial, of the serious and the comic, of logic and imagination, of science and poetry. His works and his career are the brilliant record of that inconclusive quest.
Poe's papers are widely scattered. Among the more important collections are the following: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University; Boston Public Library (Griswold Collection); Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland; Harvard College Library and the Houghton Library, Harvard University; Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California; J.K. Lilly Library, Indiana University (Poe and Griswold Collections); Library of Congress (Ellis and Allan Papers); New York Public Library (Manuscript Division and Berg Collection); Pierpont Morgan Library, New York; M. L. Stark Library and Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin (Koester Collection); Valentine Museum, Richmond, Virginia (Ellis and Allan Papers); the State Library of Virginia (Poe Foundation of Richmond); University of Virginia (Ingram Collection). Two private collections are described in " 'Quoth the Raven': An Exhibition of the work of Edgar Allan Poe ... from the collections of H. Bradley Martin and Colonel Richard Gimbel," Yale University Library Gazette, 33 (April 1959): 138-189. Guides to the following collections are available: Arthur Hobson Quinn and Richard H. Hart, Edgar Allan Poe : Letters and Documents in the Enoch Pratt Free Library (New York: Scholars Facsimiles and Reprints, 1941); John D. Gordan, Edgar Allan Poe ... A Catalogue of First Editions, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, from the Berg Collection (New York: New York Public Library, 1949); John Carl Miller, John Henry Ingram's Poe Collection at the University of Virginia: A Calendar ... (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1960); David A. Randall, "The J. K. Lilly Collection of Edgar Allan Poe ," Indiana University Bookman, no. 4 (March 1960): 46-58; Randall, The J. K. Lilly Collection of Edgar Allan Poe : An Account of Its Formation (Bloomington: Lilly Library of Indiana University, 1964); Joseph J. Moldenhauer, A Descriptive Catalog of Edgar Allan Poe Manuscripts in The Humanities Research Center Library, The University of Texas at Austin (Austin: Texas Quarterly Supplement, Distributed by the University of Texas Press, 1973).
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR
- John W. Robertson, Bibliography of the Writings of Edgar A. Poe and Commentary on the Bibliography of Edgar A. Poe (San Francisco: Russian Hill Private Press, Edwin & Robert Grabhorn Publishers, 1934).
- William D. Hull, "A Canon of the Critical Works of Edgar Allan Poe with a Study of Edgar Allan Poe the Magazinist," Ph.D. dissertation, University of Virginia, 1941.
- John Cook Wylie, "A List of the Texts of Poe's Tales," in Humanistic Studies in Honor of John Calvin Metcalf (New York: Columbia University Press, 1941), pp. 322-338.
- Charles F. Heartman and James R. Canny, A Bibliography of First Printings of the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, rev. ed. (Hattiesburg, Miss.: The Book Farm, 1943).
- Haldeen Braddy, Glorious Incense: The Fulfillment of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Scarecrow, 1953).
- Jay B. Hubbell, "Poe," in Eight American Authors: A Review of Research and Criticism, ed. Floyd Stovall (New York: Modern Language Association, 1956), pp. 1-46.
- William B. Todd, "The Early Issues of Poe's Tales (1845)," Library Chronicle of the University of Texas, 7 (Fall 1961): 13-17.
- G. Thomas Tanselle, "The State of Poe Bibliography," Poe Newsletter, 2 (January 1969): 1-3.
- Hubbell, "Poe," in Eight American Authors: A Review of Research and Criticism, rev. ed., ed. James Woodress (New York: Norton, 1971), pp. 3-36.
- J. Lasley Dameron, "Thomas Ollive Mabbott on the Canon of Poe's Reviews," Poe Studies, 5 (December 1972): 56-57.
- Esther K. Hyneman, Edgar Allan Poe: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles in English, 1827-1973 (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1974).
- Dameron and Irby B. Cauthen, Jr., Edgar Allan Poe: A Bibliography of Criticism 1827-1967 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974).
Concordances and Indexes:
- Bradford A. Booth and Claude E. Jones, A Concordance to the Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1941).
- J. Lasley Dameron and Louis Charles Stagg, An Index to Poe's Critical Vocabulary (Hartford, Conn.: Transcendental Books, 1966).
- Burton R. Pollin, Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe's Collected Works (New York: Da Capo Books, 1968).
- Rufus Wilmot Griswold, "Memoir of the Author," in The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (New York: J. S. Redfield, 1850), III:vii-xxxix.
- Sarah Helen Whitman, Edgar Poe and His Critics (New York: Rudd & Carleton, 1860).
- William Fearing Gill, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Dillingham, 1877).
- John H. Ingram, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life, Letters and Opinions, 2 vols. (London: John Hogg, 1880).
- George Edward Woodberry, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, Personal and Literary, 2 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1909).
- Hervey Allen, Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe, 2 vols. (New York: Doran, 1926).
- Joseph Wood Krutch, Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius (New York: Knopf, 1926).
- Mary E. Phillips, Edgar Allan Poe, the Man, 2 vols. (Chicago: John C. Winston, 1926).
- Marie Bonaparte, The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psycho-analytic Interpretation (Vienna: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1934); trans. John Rodker (London: Imago, 1949).
- Una Pope-Hennessy, Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849: A Critical Biography (London: Macmillan, 1934).
- Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1941).
- Perry Miller, The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956).
- Frances Winwar [pseud.], The Haunted Palace: A Life of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Harpers, 1959).
- William Bittner, Poe: A Biography (Boston: Little, Brown, 1962).
- Edward Wagenknecht, Edgar Allan Poe: The Man Behind the Legend (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963).
- Sidney P. Moss, Poe's Literary Battles: The Critic in the Context of His Literary Milieu (Durham: Duke University Press, 1963).
- John Walsh, Poe the Detective: The Curious Circumstances Behind "The Mystery of Marie Roget" (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1967).
- Moss, Poe's Major Crisis: His Libel Suit and New York's Literary World (Durham: Duke University Press, 1970).
- John C. Miller, Building Poe Biography (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977).
- Wolf Mankowitz, The Extraordinary Mr. Poe (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978).
- Julian Symons, The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Harper & Row, 1978).
- Dwight R. Thomas, "Poe in Philadelphia, 1838-1844: A Documentary Record," Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1978.
- John Carl Miller, ed., Poe's Helen Remembers (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1979).
- David K. Jackson and Dwight Thomas, The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849 (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987).
- John Phelps Fruit, The Mind and Art of Poe's Poetry (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1899).
- Arthur Ransome, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Study (London: Stephen Swift, 1912).
- Margaret Alterton, The Origins of Poe's Critical Theory (Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1925).
- Celestin Cambiaire, The Influence of Edgar Allan Poe in France (New York: G. E. Stechert, 1927).
- Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe and Other Studies (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933).
- N. Bryllion Fagin, The Histrionic Mr. Poe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1949).
- Charles Baudelaire, Baudelaire on Poe: Critical Papers, ed. Lois and Francis Hyslop (State College, Pa.: Bald Eagle Press, 1952).
- Edward H. Davidson, Poe: A Critical Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957).
- Patrick F. Quinn, The French Face of Edgar Poe (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1957).
- Harry Levin, The Power of Blackness: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville (New York: Knopf, 1958).
- Richard Wilbur, "The House of Poe," in Anniversary Lectures 1959 (Washington, D.C.: Reference Department of the Library of Congress, 1959).
- Wilbur, "Introduction" and "Notes" to Poe, The Laurel Poetry Series (New York: Dell, 1959).
- Edd Winfield Parks, Edgar Allan Poe As A Literary Critic (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1964).
- Geoffrey Rans, Edgar Allan Poe (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1965).
- The Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe: Selected Criticism Since 1829, ed. Eric W. Carlson (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966).
- Franz H. Link, Edgar Allan Poe: Ein Dichter zwischen Romantik und Moderne (Frankfurt am Main: Athenaum Verlag, 1968).
- Michael Allen, Poe and the British Magazine Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969).
- Robert D. Jacobs, Poe: Journalist & Critic (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969).
- Floyd Stovall, Edgar Poe the Poet: Essays Old and New on the Man and His Work (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1969).
- New Approaches to Poe: A Symposium, ed. Richard P. Benton (Hartford, Conn.: Transcendental Books, 1970).
- Burton R. Pollin, Discoveries in Poe (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1970).
- Affidavits of Genius. Edgar Allan Poe and the French Critics, 1847-1924, ed. Jean Alexander (Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat, 1971).
- Daniel Hoffman, Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe (Garden City: Doubleday, 1972).
- Stuart G. Levine, Edgar Poe: Seer and Craftsman (Deland, Fla.: Everett / Edwards, 1972).
- Papers on Poe: Essays in Honor of John Ward Ostrom, ed. Richard P. Veler (Springfield, Ohio: Chantry Music Press at Wittenberg University, 1972).
- Carl L. Anderson, Poe in Northlight: The Scandinavian Response to his Life and Work (Durham: Duke University Press, 1973).
- Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe, sa vie et ses ouvrages, ed. W. T. Bandy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973).
- Richard M. Fletcher, The Stylistic Development of Edgar Allan Poe (The Hague: Mouton, 1973).
- David Halliburton, Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973).
- G.R. Thompson, Poe's Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1973).
- Roger Forclaz, Le Monde d'Edgar Poe (Berne: Herbert Lang; Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1974).
- Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Claude Richard (Paris: Edition de l'Herne, 1974).
- Poe as Literary Cosmologer: Studies on Eureka. A Symposium, ed. Richard P. Benton (Hartford, Conn.: Transcendental Books, 1975).
- Vincent Buranelli, Edgar Allan Poe, rev. ed. (Boston: Twayne, 1977).
- Poe at Work: Seven Textual Studies, ed. Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV (Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1978).
- This biographical study was drawn in part from research undertaken during a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Fellowship.