Text: Dwight R. Thomas and David K. Jackson, “Introduction,” The Poe Log (1987), pp. ix-xiii


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­ [page ix:]

Introduction

In 1951 the publication of Jay Leyda’s Melville Log provided American literary scholars with a detailed chronological record of Herman Melville’s life. The present compilation offers such a record for Edgar Allan Poe, another author whose career has been similarly obscured by the clouds of controversy and misunderstanding. Although Poe may not have possessed an altogether balanced and serene intellect, the designation genius has often been applied to him. He continues to evoke a divergent response from critics, with some vehemently proclaiming his merits and others just as loudly denying them. Apart from any critical considerations, it can be plausibly argued that Poe has been, and remains, the best known and most widely read American writer, both in the United States and abroad. No American has approached the level of achievement represented by Shakespeare and Dante; but what Poe accomplished in his short and tragic life leads one to wonder whether he might not have done so, given less adverse circumstances. His historical importance is clear. From 1835, when he assumed the editorship of the Southern Literary Messenger, until his death in 1849, he was the main protagonist in American letters, being simultaneously the leading critic, the most original poet, and the most versatile storyteller.

Poe has attracted more than his share of biographers, drawn no doubt by the pathos inherent in his constant struggles with poverty and alcoholism, and by the drama inherent in his ill-fated romances with women and his verbal battles with literary contemporaries. The resulting biographies have generally been works of journalism based on a derivative and superficial knowledge of his life and his milieu. Speculations abound: one commentator suggests that Poe was impotent while another tries to prove that he impregnated someone else’s wife. Instructors of English casually refer to Poe’s “drug addiction” as if this were an established fact, but there is no evidence to support any of these accusations. Poe and his associates almost always maintained a discreet silence on sexual matters, both in their private correspondence and in their public statements. Although Poe did describe the effects of opium in his stories, he is known to have read Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1822), a probable source for these allusions. ­[page x:]

It is still popularly believed that Poe passed his life in obscurity and seclusion: this impression also proves mistaken. However unwilling Poe’s contemporaries were to reward him financially, they amply supplied him with fame. The early stories and criticisms he contributed to the Messenger brough him to the attention of the American intelligentsia; his later fictions, most notably “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Gold-Bug,” endeared him to a broad class of readers. With the appearance of “The Raven” in 1845, he became a celebrity, recognized everywhere as “Poe the poet.” At some periods in his career he did indeed seek seclusion, but more often he sought to play an active and influential role in literary affairs. As a prominent editor and critic in the nation’s largest cities, he was a highly visible figure; and he had occasion to meet, or correspond with, many other writers of his day, ranging from major authors like Charles Dickens or James Russell Lowell to provincial scribblers. Few who met Poe ever forgot him, so unique were his intellect and physiognomy. Some of his associates responded to him with devotion; others, with animosity. The man, like his writings, evoked divergent reactions; but this is hardly surprising. Poe both embodied and embraced contradictions. He possessed polished manners, enormous erudition, formidable conversational abilities, and an indescribable personal magnetism; in his better moments he was genial, kind, and entirely appealing. At other times he yielded to melancholy and self-pity; when drinking he could be abrasive and combative; when confronted with what he felt to be mediocrity or pretension, he rarely refrained from expressing contempt, either in his book reviews or his conversation.

The present compilation has nothing to do with such problematic tasks as aesthetic evaluation or psychoanalytic interpretation. It simply gives the verifiable facts of Poe’s life as revealed in excerpts from contemporary documents: the letters he wrote or received, newspaper reports, magazine articles, reminiscences, and legal records. Some of these documents have been known to scholars; many others have previously remained undiscovered or inaccessible. The compilers have attempted to include as much relevant material as possible; and while they could not exhaust all the potential sources of information, they may justly claim to have prepared a more comprehensive and reliable account than has hitherto been available. The documents excerpted in this compilation are arranged in chronological order; editorial commentary is minimal, allowing Poe and his associates to narrate events in their own words. The text has been divided into chapters corresponding to significant periods in Poe’s life, each chapter being prefaced with a summary of events. Chapters I through IV, covering the years 1809-1837, were prepared by David K. Jackson; Chapters V through XI 1838-1849), by Dwight Thomas. With the exception of newspapers and magazines, each entry in the text concludes with an abbreviated source ­[page xi:] citation in parentheses. Books and articles are cited with the author’s surname and (where appropriate) the year of publication; the only exceptions are the use of the letter W to indicate James A. Harrison’s 1902 edition of Poe’s Works and the letter L for John Ward Ostrom’s 1948 edition of his Letters. Libraries holding manuscripts are represented by the standard abbreviations for these institutions used in the National Union Catalog. The “LIST OF SOURCES” following the text identifies all sources, both printed and manuscript. Persons frequently mentioned in the text are identified in the “BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES” preceding it. The compilers have wished that their chronicle of Poe’s life would serve to some extent as the much-needed new bibliography of his writings. Although a complete list of the unsigned fillers and reviews that Poe ground out for newspapers and magazines is probably not possible, this compilation contains a more accurate and extensive register of his articles than such antiquated bibliographies as those by John W. Robertson (1934) and Charles F. Heartman and James R. Canny (1943). The index entries for the periodicals in question have a subheading for “Poe’s contributions,” enabling the reader to retrieve this data.

During their long years of research the compilers have become indebted to more individuals and institutions than can be acknowledged here. The initial inspiration for this project came from the late Jay B. Hubbell, Professor of English at Duke University and founding editor of American Literature; its completion would have been difficult without the meticulous edition of Poe’s Letters and “Checklist” of his correspondence prepared by Professor Ostrom, who kindly answered requests for additional information. Both compilers received frequent advice and encouragement from Professors Burton R. Pollin and Benjamin Franklin Fisher, IV, as well as from Mrs. Maureen C. Mabbott. David K. Jackson first became interested in Poe in 1929, while an undergraduate at Duke University; his 1931 master’s essay there, directed by Professor Hubbell, was published as Poe andThe Southern Literary Messenger” (1934; reprinted 1970). He wishes to express his indebtedness to, and honor the memory of, the distinguished Poe scholars who were his counsellors and friends in decades past: Lewis Chase, Thomas Ollive Mabbott, James Southall Wilson, and John Cook Wyllie. During his work on this project Mr. Jackson has been aided by Professors Clarence L. F. Gohdes (Duke University), Joseph V. Ridgely (Columbia University), and Martin S. Shockley (North Texas State University), as well as by Mrs. J. Elliott Irvine of Durham, North Carolina, Mrs. D. M. Skinner, Jr., of Princeton, New Jersey, Mrs. Agnes Bondurant Marcuson of Richmond, Virginia, and Edward G. Kidd of Richmond, Clerk for Division I of the Henrico County Circuit Court. Dwight Thomas first became interested in Poe in 1972, while a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania; he wishes to express his indebtedness to Professor ­[page xii:] Robert Regan, who directed his doctoral dissertation “Poe in Philadelphia: 1838-1844” (Pennsylvania, 1978), and to Professors Hennig Cohen and Daniel Hoffman, who read the preliminary draft of that study and suggested improvements. His greatest debt has been to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Huguenin Thomas, Jr., of Savannah, Georgia, who provided financial support for his research. Both compilers owe a unique and inexpressible debt to Joel Myerson, Professor of English at the University of South Carolina and editor of Studies in the American Renaissance, who guided them in preparing their book for publication. Without Professor Myerson’s sympathy and understanding, and his sage editorial decisions, the project would have been abandoned like so many other ambitious and arduous enterprises.

Librarians throughout the country have performed herculean labors in Poe’s behalf, responding to queries, photocopying manuscripts, lugging the unwieldy, dust-covered files of early nineteenth-century newspapers, producing scarce microfilms and out-of-print books by Interlibrary Loan. Although the compilers cannot possibly mention all these dedicated coworkers, they wish to express their deep appreciation to some of them: Edmund Berkeley, Jr., and Gregory A. Johnson (University of Virginia); Samuel M. Boone, Emerson Ford, Dr. Mattie Russell, and other staff members at the Perkins Library (Duke University); Janet Buda and James Lawton (Boston Public Library); Herbert Cahoon (Pierpont Morgan Library); Marie T. Capps (United States Military Academy at West Point); Margaret Cook and Clifford Currie (College of William and Mary); Bernard R. Crystal and Kenneth A. Lohf (Columbia University); Rodney G. Dennis (Houghton Library of Harvard University); Ellen S. Dunlap and David Farmer (Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin); David Mike Hamilton (Huntington Library); Donald Haynes, Timothy Heigh, and Rebecca Johnson (Virginia State Library); Howell J. Heaney (Philadelphia Free Library); Shirley Jenkins (George Peabody Library of Johns Hopkins University); William H. Loos (Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo, New York); Faye Lowry (Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore); Frank Paluka (University of Iowa); Peter J. Parker, John Platt, and Timothy Bratton (Historical Society of Pennsylvania); Louis A. Rachow (Hampden-Booth Theatre Library of the Players Club); Hester Rich (Maryland Historical Society); E. Lee Shepard (Virginia Historical Society); Sarah Shields (Valentine Museum); Saundra Taylor (Lilly Library of Indiana University); Lillian Tonkin (Library Company of Philadelphia); Joyce Ann Tracy (American Antiquarian Society); and Marilyn Wheaton (Archives of American Art). Without naming particular individuals, the compilers also need to thank the efficient staffs of the Abernethy Library of American Literature at Middlebury College, the American Philosophical Society, the Beinecke Library of Yale University, the Brown ­[page xiii:] University Library, the Bucks County Historical Society, the Charleston Library Society, the Daughters of the American Revolution Library, the Davidson College Library, the Delaware Historical Society, the Durham County Public Library, the Georgia Historical Society, the Library of Congress, the Long Island Historical Society, the Newberry Library, the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, the Ohio Historical Society, the Pennsylvania State Library, the Providence Athenaeum, the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Savannah Public Library, the University of North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill, and the Van Pelt Library of the University of Pennsylvania. While the Poe Museum in Richmond cannot properly be classified as a library, it preserves books, manuscripts, and other materials relevant to its subject. For access to the Museum’s collections, the compilers acknowledge the gracious assistance of Denise Bethel, Dr. Bruce V. English, Alan Golden, and Agnes Bondurant Marcuson.

To some extent the present compilation has been constructed on a foundation of previous books, especially the serious biographies of George E. Woodberry (1909) and Arthur Hobson Quinn (1941), and the numerous publications of Killis Campbell and Thomas Ollive Mabbott. The compilers are grateful to the respective presses for permission to quote short passages from the following indispensable titles: The Correspondence of Thomas Holley Chivers (Brown University Press), John Carl Miller’s Building Poe Biography (Louisiana State University Press) and his Poe’s Helen Remembers (University Press of Virginia), Sidney P. Moss’s Poe’s Major Crisis (Duke University Press), and the Ostrom edition of Poe’s Letters (Harvard University Press for 1948 text, Gordian Press for 1966 supplement). For permission to quote unpublished manuscripts, the compilers wish to thank the Abernethy Library of American Literature at Middlebury College, the Archives of American Art, the Brown University Library, the College of William and Mary Library, the Columbia University Library, the Duke University Library, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Houghton Library of Harvard University, the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin, the Library of Congress, the Lilly Library of Indiana University, the National Archives, the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, the Philadelphia Free Library, the Pierpont Morgan Library, the Poe Museum of the Poe Foundation, the Trustees of the Boston Public Library, the United States Military Academy at West Point, the University of Virginia Library, the Valentine Museum, and the Virginia Historical Society.

DWIGHT THOMAS
DAVID K. JACKSON


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TPL, 1987] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - The Poe Log (D. R. Thomas and D. K. Jackson) (Introduction)