Text: Donald Barlow Stauffer, “The Merry Mood: Poe’s Uses of Humor,” Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, 1982


­ [title page:]



Professor of English at the State University of New York
in Albany

­[page 3:]

In 1940 the French surrealist poet André Breton assembled an anthology of black humor. In it he included Jonathan Swift, Alfred Jarry, and Edgar Allan Poe. Breton justified his inclusion of Poe by noting that the contradiction between Poe the author of “The Raven” and Poe the drunkard would be enough to generate humor, whether it erupts nervously from the conflict between the intellect and the mists of drunkenness, as in “The Angel of the Odd,” or whether, in its most shadowy form, it explores those trivialities of behavior that reveal certain morbid states, as in “The Imp of the Perverse.”

This view of Poe the eccentric and misunderstood writer creating twisted and bizarre humorous pieces comes, quite understandably, from the French view of him, beginning with Baudelaire, who paid little attention to Poe’s lighter moments and translated few of the grotesques. Roger Asselineau, the eminent scholar of American studies at the Sorbonne, observed some years later that Poe wrote humor in order to exorcise his own demons, agreeing that in doing so he reconciled his two opposing visions of the world. Asselineau believes that his comic pieces are responses to psychological conflicts, including his neuroses, his impotence, and his sense of inadequacy. “Poe,” he writes, “refused . . . to accept defeat and chose to laugh at his miseries rather than cry. His black humor is the courageously camouflaged expression of this despair . . . . It is in this sense, as Breton said, ‘a superior revolt of the spirit’.”(1)

This is an interesting theory and it reinforces the image of Poe as a twisted genius striving to transcend misery and despair. But perhaps it is not necessary to think of him completely in these terms. I prefer to think that Poe as a writer was many-sided and that he had a playful as well as a melancholy side. As a writer for popular magazines and as an editor closely involved with the literary and cultural life of his time, Poe was exposed to all the types of humor that were current at the time. In addition, he was eager to build up the circulation of the periodicals he edited, and was therefore aware of the need to attract his readers’ attention. One way to do this was to write humor, and especially satire, for which he had a special talent. However, even putting aside the question of necessity, many of his sketches and reviews show that he sometimes simply enjoyed being silly or foolish or playful — and we would all agree that in more than one case his enjoyment in writing these things must have exceeded by far our pleasure in reading them.

In his own lifetime Poe’s readers did not think of him as a humorist, and this opinion prevailed for at least seventy-five years. The vigorous ­[page 2:] wit of his reviews and the harsh satire of some of his tales made his personality come across in print as bitter and even vicious, even though in the case of the reviews he was actually modelling himself on the notorious Scots reviewers of Blackwood’s and the Edinburgh Magazine, and in the stories he was also often acting in the role of literary critic through parody and satire. But his readers tended to overlook the fact that he was often very funny; they merely resented his harshness and outspokenness. Charles Francis [[Frederick]] Briggs, editor of the Broadway Journal, probably spoke for many when he wrote to James Russell Lowell that Poe had “an inconceivably extravagant idea of his own humor.”(2)

One of Poe’s most sympathetic readers was James Kirke Paulding, who actually encouraged him to write more humorous pieces, and to make them more accessible. When Poe submitted a group of his tales to Harper’s in 1836, most of them probably from his Folio Club collection, they were rejected. Paulding understood why, and wrote to T. H. White explaining that their basic fault was “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. It requires a degree of familiarity, he continued, “with various kinds of knowledge which [readers] do not possess, to enable them to relish the joke: The dish is too refined for them to banquet on.” No one has ever expressed more kindly than this the lack of popular appeal in Poe’s tales. Paulding proceeded to advise Poe, by way of White, how to succeed in getting published:

I hope Mr. Poe will pardon me if the interest I feel in his success should prompt me to take this occasion to suggest to him to apply his fine humour, and his extensive requirements, to more familiar subjects of satire; to the faults and foibles of our own people, their peculiarities of habit and manners, and above all to the ridiculous affectations and extravagancies of the fashionable English Literature of the day which we copy with such admirable success and servility. His quiz on Willis, and the burlesque of “Blackwood,” were not only capital, but what is more, were understood by all.(3)

The publishers themselves were less enthusiastic about the inherently humorous quality of these tales. They wrote Poe to tell him that “the papers were too learned and mystical. They would be understood and relished only by a very few — not by the multitude. The numbers of readers in this country capable of appreciating and enjoying such writings as those you submitted to us is very small indeed.”(4) ­[page 3:]

This observation certainly came as no surprise to Poe, who was aware of the small audience he could hope would understand the more esoteric references in his tales. But he probably also hoped that a larger audience would respond to the elements of broad humor or to the sensational elements in the way that the less well-informed readers of Blackwood’s magazine did. Earlier in 1836 he had replied to a remark by John Pendleton Kennedy concerning the satiric intention of his tales. “Most of them,” he wrote, “were intended for half banter, half satire — although I might not have fully acknowledged this to be their aim even to myself.”(5) This is an ambiguous remark, certainly, the last phrase almost cancelling out the first. It raises some questions particularly about the intentions of tales such as “The Assignation” and “MS. Found in a Bottle,” about which critics have differed as to their serious or comic intentions. He was again ambiguous about his Folio Club collection when he wrote to the Philadelphia publisher Harrison Hall describing them as having “a bizarre and generally whimsical character.”(6)

After his death few writers made reference to his humorous writing. Throughout the nineteenth century most based their opinion of him on their ideas about his character, which were formed almost entirely from Rufus Griswold’s notorious memoir. They seldom attempted to separate the writing from the man, since they were offended that someone who had led such an immoral life could have written such compelling tales. They dwelt on the morbid aspects of his life, on the abstract and mechanical quality of the tales, and on the incongruity of the combination in him of intellectual power and moral weakness; one reviewer called him “a swine of genius.”(7) Evert Duyckinck, in his Literary World review, described Poe’s writing as completely mechanical, abstract, without life, colorless, and mathematical, making no reference to his humor.(8) The New York Tribune reviewer saw nothing but luridness and blackness, but noted, as have many critics, the existence of hoax and satire: “He regarded the world as an enormous humbug, and, in revenge, would repay it in kind.”(9)

One of the few nineteenth-century critics even to mention Poe’s humor was John Daniel, whose review of Griswold’s edition in the Southern Literary Messenger was one of the principal sources for Baudelaire’s famous essay. Daniel is full of praise for Poe, whom he saw as a misunderstood and underestimated writer, but he had nothing good to say about the humor:

But the humor never makes us laugh, and the wit never pleases while it surprises us by its scintillations . . . . Edgar Poe’s wit and ­[page 4:] humour, in consequence of his superlatively metaphysical nature, becomes the pure grotesque. Passages which would be witty and humourous in the hands of an earthly man — of a real human being — upon his pages resemble only fantastic aperies, — the grimaces of some unknown species of goblin monkey, twistings and quaint gesticulations which we cannot understand at all. It is too far removed from fleshly sympathies to excite the nerves of laughter — or the odd surprise and smiling titillations which follow the natural exercises of wit.(10)

In 1911 an editorial in the Denver Rpublican [[Republican]] praising Poe as a humorist created a national tempest in a teapot as editors of various other newspapers responded in the negative. The editor of the Emporia Gazette commented:

If there is anything in the world more gloomy and heartrending than Poe’s tragic tales, it is Poe’s humorous work. He hadn’t the first qualification of a humorist. There was nothing buoyant or effervescent in his make-up. His “humorous” stories are such labored things as to make the reader weep. The fact that he constantly uses italics to identify and emphasize his alleged jests is enough for any reasonable man.

The editor of the Chicago Tribune also objected, observing that “Poe was never funnier than the earache.” But the Republican’s editor defended his position, while admitting that not all of Poe’s humorous tales were successful:

It is impossible for any man to strike twelve at all times. Even such humorists as Mark Twain and Eugene Field are judged by comparatively few of their efforts. But there are half a dozen of Poe’s sketches of humor which give Poe a real claim as an American humorist. One of them, “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether,” is so unique in conception that it will live as long as “The Jumping Frog.” On that one story alone Poe’s reputation as a humorist must stand secure, even against assaults from those twin literary centres, Chicago and Empory.”(11)

Even today, in spite of a more widespread recognition of the presence of humor in his work, there is as tendency not to regard Poe as a humorous writer. Walter Blair, for example, included no selection from Poe in his anthology, Native American Humor (1960), nor does he mention Poe in the historical survey or even in the index, although many of his contemporaries, such as Irving, James Kirke Paulding, John Neal, John Pendleton Kennedy, and William Gilmore Simms, are discussed. ­[page 5:] And in Blair’s and Hamlin Hill’s 1978 study, American Humor: From Poor Richard to Doonesbury, only two incidental references are made to Poe. Another, less eminent, writer said in 1947 that Poe’s humorous writing “seeped out of his dark mind smelling of the charnel house,” echoing Daniel’s comments of a hundred years earlier.(12)

But many serious readers of Poe have taken his humor seriously, dating back to Professor Thomas O. Mabbott, who in 1928 wrote a pioneering article about Poe’s humorous tales.(13) Another famous Poe scholar, James Southall Wilson of the University of Virginia, set out some lines of investigation of Poe’s humor that have been useful ever since, looking at Poe’s plans for his tales of the Folio Club and concluding that his intentions in the early tales was burlesque, and that we can understand them only in that light. And others have been instructive in their investigations of Poe’s humor, such as Arthur Hobson Quinn in his gathering of the material which gave us a better appreciation of the day-to-day facts of Poe’s writing, publishing, and editing life; Edward Davidson for his insights into the relationship between Poe’s “grotesques,” or humorous pieces, and his serious work; and others.(14)

There are even some today who believe that all of Poe’s tales should be read on two — possibly even three — levels. G. R. Thompson, for example, sees Poe as a “romantic ironist,” who views the world with intellectual and emotional detachment and responds to it in his multi-levelled tales with nihilistic laughter.(15)

I cannot agree with this wholesale view of all of Poe’s work as mockery; however, I find that humor in Poe is widespread, and appears in his criticism, his miscellaneous essays, and his poetry, as well as in his tales. This of course brings us to the basic question I put to myself when I began looking at Poe as a humorist. Is Poe funny? I am not going to try to answer this question by developing a theory of humor. Nor am I even going to attempt to define humor, since to do so would get me waist-deep into a Big Muddy of definition from which I could quite possibly never emerge. But I believe that Poe is funny, and that he is funnier than he is often given credit for. What I would like to call attention to in particular is the streak of playfulness that runs through his writing. This should not seem surprising or incongruous when we think of his fondness for the hoax. Anyone who writes hoaxes does so not merely for the satisfaction he gets from duping the public and making himself feel superior to his readers; he must also enjoy the act of creating the hoax, in the spirit of play — or horseplay — that persuades him to concoct a transatlantic balloon voyage, a voyage to the moon, or a dying man speaking from beyond the grave under hypnosis. Or to build up a ­[page 6:] series of horrifying examples of premature burial and then at the end to destroy the mood by mocking it as just another “bugaboo tale.”

Poe’s own ideas about what constitutes humor are sparse and not very well formulated. One of his fullest discussions of humor appears in a discussion of N. P. Willis as a prose writer.(16) In comments elsewhere he had said that humor is based on incongruity; here he attempts to make distinctions between Imagination, Fancy, Fantasy, and Humor.

Ranking them on a scale, he places imagination at the top and humor at the bottom, but what they all have in common are Combination and Novelty — terms that Poe draws from Coleridge’s “Aids to Reflection.” He finds that each of these four types uses combination and novelty in different ways. Imagination is the most artistic, selecting those qualities which are harmonious, that is, most combinable — from either beauty or deformity, and creating “that Beauty which is at once its sole object and its inevitable test.”Fancy, second on the scale, is less beautiful than imagination, occurring when the harmony of the combination is comparatively neglected, and when unexpectedness replaces novelty. Fantasy, next in degree, arises not only from novelty and unexpectedness of combination, but “in the avoidance of proportion.”

This brings him down to the level of humor:

When, proceeding a step farther, however, Fantasy seeks not merely disproportionate but incongruous or antagonistical elements, the effect is rendered more pleasurable from its greater positiveness; — there is a merry effort of Truth to shake from her that which is no property of hers: — and we laugh outright in recognizing Humor.

Thus in attempting to relate humor to his theories about beauty and the imagination, Poe places humor at the lower end of the scale. He sees a connection between Fantasy and the grotesque, in his idea of the avoidance of proportion, and when to this the incongruous is added, the result is humor. He thus gives us some useful insights into what he was trying to accomplish in his burlesques and grotesques. Above all, his emphasis is intellectual rather than emotional: for his humor is more closely allied to wit than to goodnaturedness. But to hold Poe to this definition would be an oversimplification, since he also had a love of the good yarn or the tall tale.

Constance Rourke, in her pioneering study, American Humor, makes a case for Poe’s having been exposed to various types of comic story-telling during his life, including Negro legends told by his step-father’s slaves, adventure stories he read in almanacs, the tall-tale telling ­[page 7:] that went on among his fellow students at the University of Virginia, tales told by travelers returning to Baltimore from the South and West, and the comic characters, including Davy Crockett, who were beginning to appear on the stage in Philadelphia and New York.(17)

Rourke’s observations about Poe’s knowledge of frontier humor are partially borne out by what he said in his review of Augustus B. Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes. Seldom, he says “perhaps never in our lives — have we laughed as immoderately over any book as over the one now before us. If these scenes have produced such effect upon our cachinnatory nerves — upon us who are not “of the merry mood,” and, moreover, have not been used to the perusal of somewhat similar things — we are at no loss to imagine what a hubbub they would occasion in the uninitiated regions of Cockaigne.” Poe freely admits here he is not “of the merry mood, “and that he is not used to this kind of humor. It may be partly the novelty of this kind of writing that appeals to him, yet he notes that the writing has a raciness and vigor “which do honor to the pages of Blackwood.” He admires the author’s “keen sense of the ludicrous,” his “joint humor and verisimilitude”; he singles out a passage for quotation describing Miss Aurelia Emma Theodosia Augusta Crump’s execution of a piece on the piano. Part of his admiration of the book undoubtedly stems from the fact that it was by a Southern author; still he was clearly struck by Longstreet’s talent for burlesque and satire, and for his colorful sketches of Georgia backwoods characters.(18)

There is still another type of humor that Poe was concerned with — something he called “archness,” which he found in certain kinds of poetry and attempted to achieve in his own. Humor itself, he felt, was “directly antagonistical” to the soul of the Muse — a remark consistent with his view that the essence of true poetry is melancholy. In a review of some poems by John Brainard, Poe pointed out that the only bond between humorous verse and poetry is that they both use rhythm and rhyme. But there is, nevertheless, he said, “an individual branch of humor which blends so happily with the ideal, that from the union result some of the finest effects of legitimate poesy. We allude to what is termed ‘archness’ — a trait with which popular feeling, which is unfailingly poetic, has invested, for example, the whole character of the fairy.” Perhaps this will explain why Poe made so few attempts at humorous poetry, which he considers a contradiction in terms, and why the only kinds of humor to be found in his verse are satire or parody and what he called “archness.”(19)

Satires, in fact, were among the earliest of Poe’s writings, some of which he wrote in Richmond when he was about sixteen. Only one of ­[page 8:] these survives, but authenticated stories about others make clear that he tended to take out his anger and frustrations by writing lampoons and satires: one against a debating society of which he was a member, another against a young man who had insulted him, and a third against a dry goods clerk named Pitts, with whom Poe possibly fancied himself a rival with a local Richmond belle.

This poem, “Oh, Tempora! Oh, Mores!,” is the longest of his early compositions to survive, a typical eighteenth-century satire written in couplets. At one point he sneers at the idea of a dry goods clerk presuming to attend a ball with a girl above his social station:

For at a ball what fair one can escape

The pretty little hand that sold her tape,

Or who so cold, so callous to refuse

The youth who cut the ribbon for her shoes!

Poe wrote lampoons at West Point, one of which survives as “Lines on Joe Locke.” The victim was an instructor and inspector who made himself unpopular by reporting cadets for infractions of the rules. But some time before his West Point days Poe was playing with the other kind of verse, using archness. His interest in parody and his love of the beautiful are combined in an attempt at archness in a poem about the faery. In “Fairy-Land,” which appeared in its first version in 1829, Poe uses “archness” to achieve effects compatible with the aim of poetry to strive toward beauty. His archness consists of frequently undercutting his romantic descriptions with authorial asides and anti-romantic comments. After one such description of a moon he adds in parentheses, “A sort which, upon trial, / They have found to be the best.” When the fairies arise in the morning he attempts to find something to which to compare their moony covering, rather lamely concluding that it is

Like — almost any thing —

Or a yellow Albatross

And adds:

They use that moon no more

For the same end as before —

Videlicet a tent —

Which I think extravagant

Poe’s humorous intentions are made explicit in his footnote to the 1829 version of the “like — almost any thing” line, which reads: “Plagiarism — see the works of Thomas Moore — passim — Edr.” The joke, as Mabbott has suggested, is that “Moore compared anything to almost anything else, real or unreal.”(20) ­[page 9:]

Another 1829 poem, “To the River —,” requires some knowledge of Byron’s poetry in order to understand it. As the poem contains echoes of Byron’s “Stanzas on the Po,” it seems quite possible that with the name of the river that is left blank Poe is making what might be called an implicit pun on his name. The reference is so indirect and obscure that it apparently occurred to no one until 1945. But the idea is typical of Poe in its archness and in its use of wordplay, even if the execution falls rather short of success.(21)

There is also convincing evidence that Poe wrote the “Epigram for Wall Street,” published in the Evening Mirror in January 1845 and first noticed and reprinted by Mabbott. This also consists primarily of wordplay, of which Poe was excessively fond. Since the poem has not often been reprinted I will give the whole piece here:

I’ll tell you a plan for gaining wealth,

Better than banking, trade or leases —

Take a bank note and fold it up,

And then you will find your money in creases!

This wonderful plan, without danger or loss,

Keeps your cash in your hands, where nothing

can trouble it;

And every time that you fold it across

’Tis as plain as the light of the day that

you double it!(22)

Poe’s early humor is seldom good-natured or light-hearted; it was not until later in his life that he was able to relax and to indulge in a kind of playfulness. It is primarily an intellectual humor — witty, often sardonic and cruel, often dependent upon wordplay, literary allusion, and learning. We can find examples of such humor in the notebook entries that he began publishing in 1844 that he called “Marginalia.” Many of these had already been included in reviews and tales. A number of them are humorous comments on individuals and books, typical of the mordant style of his “funny” reviews. For example, he wrote of Horace Walpole:

In saying that “grace will save any book and without it none can live long,” Horace Walpole had reference, I fancy, to that especial grace which managed to save so many books of his own — his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury.(23)

Poe’s fondness for learning is demonstrated in several of his sarcastic comments on other writers, such as this one referring to the Odyssey:

Surely M———— cannot complain of the manner in which his book has been received; for the Public, in regard to it, has given ­[page 10:] him just such an assurance as Plyphemus pacified Ulysses with, while his companions were being eaten up before his eyes. “Your book, Mr. M————,” says the Public, “shall be — I pledge you my word — the very last that I devour.’”(24)

And here are two which draw upon his knowledge of science, the first of Newton:

With the aid of a lantern, I have been looking again at “Niagara and Other Poems” (Lord only knows if that be the true title) — but “there’s nothing in it;” — at least nothing of Mr. Lord’s own — nothing which is not stolen — or, (more delicately,) transfused — transmitted. By the way, Newton says a great deal about “fits of easy transmissions and reflection,” and I have no doubt that “Niagara” was put together in one of these identical fits.(25)

The second involves a similar play on words:

Had John Bernoulli lived to have experience of G————’s occiput and sinciput, he would have abandoned, in dismay, his theory on the non-existence of hard bodies.(26)

Some of Poe’s most humorous writing is in his reviews, particularly of bad books. He once described to Rufus Griswold what he called his “funny” reviews, listing examples. These are good places to look at Poe’s humor, because they give us a clearer understanding of what it is like. We can also see some connections between these reviews and the burlesque and parody in his tales and sketches.

As a reviewer for the Southern Literary Messenger Poe tried to bring as much life and interest to his reviews as possible, in emulation of the cutting reviews of Blackwood’s. He felt justified in indulging his wit at the expense of some of the mediocre books he was given to review. There is a combination of youthful high spirits and calculated troublemaking in his review of Confessions of a Poet:

The author avers upon his word of honor that in commencing the work he loads a pistol, and places it upon the table. He farther states that, upon coming to a conclusion, it is his intention to blow out what he supposes to be his brains. Now this is excellent. But, even with so rapid a writer as the poet must undoubtedly be there would be some little difficulty in completing the book under thirty days or thereabouts. The best of powder is apt to sustain injury by lying so long “in the load.” We sincerely hope the gentleman took the precaution to examine his priming before attempting the rash act. A flash in the pan — and in such a case — were a thing to be lamented. Indeed there would be no answering for the consequences. ­[page 11:] We might even have a second series of the Confessions.(27)

There is a similar playfulness in the course of another of his Messenger reviews, where he plays with eating metaphors:

Men can no more read every thing than they can eat every thing; and the petits plats, that are handed round hot-and-hot, leave us no room to do honor to the roast beef of old England, nor to the savory Virginia ham. But these are the food by which the thews and sinews of manhood are best nourished. They at once exercise and help digestion. Dyspepsia was not of their day. It came in with French Gastronomy. Are we mistaken in thinking that we see symptoms of a sort of intellectual dyspepsia, arising from the incessant exhibition of the bon bons and kickshaws of the press? Well! here is something that will stick by the ribs.(28)

Another of Poe’s “funny” reviews was in a series he did for Graham’s Magazine called “Our Amateur Poets.” This was a review of Thomas Ward’s Passaic, a Group of Poems Touching that River: with Other Musing, by Flaccus. In a letter to Griswold, Poe wrote that this review provided a fair example of the “style” of his “funny” criticism.(29) Ward was an easy target, as Poe shows in his quotation from a poem about an ocean voyage in which the poet describes his seasickness. Poe doubts if the whole world of literature “can afford a picture more utterly disgusting than the following:

But most of all good eating cheers the brain,

Where other joys are rarely met — at sea —

Unless, indeed, we lose as soon as gain —

Ay, there’s the rub, so baffling oft to me.

Boiled, roast, and baked — what precious choice of dishes

My generous throat has shared among the fishes.

Poe’s tactic is to quote a lot of such stuff, and this helps establish the “funny” tone of the review. “We notice his book at all,” he writes, “only because it is an unusually large one of its kind, because it is here lying upon our table, and because, whether justly or unjustly, whether for good reason or for none, it has attracted some portion of the attention of the public.”(30)

Another cutting review, written in similar high spirits, is the third in the amateur poets series, this one of the poems of William Ellery Channing the younger. In the opening paragraph Poe writes: “It may be said in his favor that nobody ever heard of him. Like an honest woman, he has always succeeded in keeping himself from being made the subject ­[page 12:] of gossip. His book contains about sixty-three things, which he calls poems, and which he no doubt seriously supposes so to be. They are full of all kinds of mistakes, of which the most important is that of their having been printed at all.” Poe liked this comment so well that he expanded it for his “Marginalia” for the Southern Literary Messenger for July 1849:

In examining trivial details, we are apt to overlook essential generalities. Thus M————, in making a to-do about the “typographical mistakes” in his book, has permitted the printer to escape a scolding which he did richly deserve — a scolding for a “typographical mistake” of having printed the book at all.

This version, with its more leisurely and dry tone — more colloquial — is different from the tone of the earlier one and more in the vein of Mark Twain. The review concludes with a long, rather labored section on the confusion that arises when a person’s name is like someone else’s — in this case Channing and his father:

We hear daily complaints from the George Washington Dixons, the Socrates Smiths, and the Napoleon Buonaparte Joneses, about the inconsiderate ambition of their parents and sponsors . . . . If George Washington Dixon, for example, does not think proper, upon compulsion, to distinguish himself as a patriot, he is considered a very singular man; and Socrates Smith is never brought up before his honor the Mayor without receiving a double allowance of thirty days; . . . Napoleon Buonaparte Jones, on the other hand, to say nothing of being called Nota Bene Jones by all his acquaintance, is cow-skinned, with perfect regularity, five times a month, merely because people will feel it a point of honor to cowskin a Napoleon Buonaparte.

So it is with Channing, Poe argues, since “there are a vast number of uninformed young persons prowling about our bookshops, who will be raw enough to buy, and even to read half through this pretty little book (God preserve and forgive them!) mistaking it for the composition of another.”(31)

One of Poe’s most notorious early reviews was of Theodore S. Fay’s Norman Leslie, which he attacked with spirit and glee. “Well!” he wrote, “Here we have it! This is the book par excellence — the book bepuffed, beplastered, and be-mirrored . . . For the sake of everything puff, puffing and puffable, let us take a peep at its contents.” His summary of the contents is filled with sarcastic asides, such as “oh fi! Mr. Fay — oh, Mr. Fay, fi!” or “As far as we can understand the plot of ­[page 13:] Norman Leslie it is this,” or “we have great hopes that the principal characters in the plot will so far oblige us as to cut one another’s throats.”(32)

Poe shows the same high-spirited manner in his review of Joseph Robinson’s The Swiss Heiress, which opens: “The Swiss Heiress should be read by all who have nothing better to do.” He then proceeds to summarize the plot in some detail, interspersing acid remarks on its absurdity, as he does in this passage: “Hereupon Mr. Theodore Montelieu calls Mr. Frederic Mortimer a liar, a big liar, or something to that effect, and challenges him to a fight, with a view of either blowing out his already small modicum of brains, or having the exceedingly few blown out, which he himself (Mr. Theodore Montelieu) possesses. Mr. Mortimer, however, being a hero declines fighting, and contents himself, for the present, with looking mysterious.” At the end he summarizes the complicated twists and turns of plot by saying, “everybody concerned in the business is not precisely what he is, and is precisely what he is not. After this horrible development, if we recollect, all the dramatis personae faint outright, one after the other. The inquisitive reader may be assured, however, that the whole story ends judiciously, and just as it ought to do, and with a very excellent quotation from one of the very best of the late writers.”(33)

Of all of Poe’s humorous writing his Tales of the Folio Club are the most puzzling. In his prospectus for the tales he gives some notion of what he thinks is funny, yet to this day scholars and critics cannot agree about his intentions in many of them. And whether they are indeed funny is still another question, asked by both Poe’s contemporaries and readers today. There is, to understate the case, more than one way to answer the question. But I would argue that Poe is funnier than many give him credit for. Although his humor is often taken to be brittle, hollow, esoteric, obscure, childish, etc., there are elements of playfulness and wit that are appealing if we are receptive to them. One aspect of Poe’s humor that we are always aware of is his verbal humor: word-play, puns, funny names, and variations in levels of diction, the comic use of cliché and slang. To many the pun is the lowest form of humor, but for that reason it is perhaps, to quote Joe Miller, the foundation of all wit.

Poe’s early comic tales are studded with comic names, some of them satirical and others playing on words. Many readers today find them simply annoying and puerile — nineteenth-century equivalents of Mad Magazine and the National Lampoon; nevertheless they are a staple of Poe’s humor. Here are some names: Mr. Slyass, Mr. Mumblethumb, Mr. Crab, Thingum Bob, Snob, Mr. Fatquack, Doctor Dubble L. Dee, ­[page 14:] Mr. Touch-and-go Bullet-head, Dr. Moneypenny, Miss Tabitha Turnip, Psyche Zenobia, Suky Snobbs, Messrs. Cut & Comeagain, Aestheticus Ethix, Sir Postive Paradox, Bibulus O’Bumper, her Grace of Bless-my-Soul, the Elector of Bluddenuff, Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Mr. Lackobreath, Mr. Windenough, Blab, Scissors, an editor, Chiponchipino, a sculptor, Reverend Doctor Drummummupp, Arabella and Miranda Cognoscenti, Mrs. Kathleen O’Trump, Miss Bas-Bleu, Mrs. Pirouette, Climax, the actor, Doctor Ponnonner, Count Allamistakeo, and Dr. Lumberskull of Gutt-stuffin University. Then there were place names, like Vondervotteimittis, Alexander-the-Great-o-nopolis, and the City of Smug; and the magazines: the Gad-Fly, the North American Quarterly Hum-Drum, the Rowdy-Dow, Lollipop, Goosetherumfoodle, Owl, Toad, Mole, Daddy-Long-Legs, and Snapping-Turtle.

This tendency toward word play became so habitual, in fact, that he seemed unable to control himself, even when he was writing a tale that was predominantly serious. The mixture of tones that is so characteristic of all of Poe’s fiction is created partly through this kind of word play. In “The Man of the Crowd,” for example, there is a jarring note in his description of the haunting old man the narrator is following through the city streets: “A shop-keeper, in putting up a shutter, jostled the old man, and at the instant I saw a strong shudder come over his frame.” In the light of what we know about Poe’s almost obsessive concern with precision in the use of words, and with his careful habits of revision, this can hardly be considered an accident. It would seem, rather, that the imp of the perverse has momentarily taken over and forced him to use this bad pun in the course of this somber narrative. A similar, and better known, example is in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” where the narrator is met by Usher’s valet, who “now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his master.” In this carefully written tale, where every word and phrase seems to have been chosen according to Poe’s critical principles, such a phrase, jarring as it may seem, cannot be an oversight. It seems as though Poe simply could not resist this kind of word play; moreover, it reflects the cast of mind of the rational, intellectual narrator; and, finally, it carries a mysterious, portentous verbal force of its own. Perhaps I stray here from the subject of humor, but such examples help us to understand the relationship between Poe’s humorous devices and the whole of his writing, and lend force to the view that we must look at all of his writing together, rather than attempting to put his tales into various classifications. ­[page 15:]

Other types of humorous wordplay include the narrator in “Thingum Bob” who uses French phrases followed by a parenthesis with a phrase such as “as we say in France,” then varying this with other phrases, including “as we say in Germany” “as we say in the Anglo-Saxon,” and, finally, following the phrase tête baissée, “as they have it in the Kickapoo.” Poe also liked to use words and names that rhymed, as in the line of descent of Mr. Simpson in “The Spectacles”: his mother Mademoiselle Croissart, his father, M. Froissart, his grandfather, Mr. Croissart, his grandmother, Mademoiselle Voissart, his great-grandfather, M. Voissart, and his great-grandmother Mademoiselle Moissart. He also uses repetition and rhyme in “‘His Grace the Arch Duke Pest-Iferous’ — ‘His Grace the Duke Pest-Ilential’ — ‘His Grace the Duke Ten-Pest’ — and ‘Her Serene Highness the Arch Duchess Ana-Pest’ ” from “King Pest”; “ ‘You hard-hearted, dunderheaded, obstinate, rusty, crusty, musty, fusty, old savage!’ ” in “Three Sundays in a Week”; and Mrs. Fibalittle, Mrs. Squibalittle, and Mademoiselle Cribalittle in “Thingum Bob.”

One of Poe’s early humorous pieces was the two-part series in the Southern Literary Messenger which he called “Autography.” In this sketch the editor purportedly meets his friend Joseph Miller, who gives him a set of twenty-four letters signed by “our principal literati.” The “editor” prints the letters, with facsimiles of the signatures, and then makes remarks about the handwriting of each. The idea gave Poe several opportunities. He could quite irresponsibly poke fun at writers he did not like and flatter those he did like. His use of the names of famous people was bound to pique readers’ curiosity and thus increase circulation. And his introductory narrative allows him to indulge in the verbal horseplay of which he is so fond. Each time Miller is addressed he is given a different middle initial: Joseph A. Miller, Joseph B. Miller, etc., all the way through the alphabet. And each of the twenty-four letters is addressed to a Miller with a different middle initial, omitting only J and U. In a second series of fourteen letters Poe doubles up on the middle initial, beginning “Joseph E. F. Miller.” This time he skips I and U. In this opening interview Poe also shows his ability to construct amusing and colloquial dialogue:

“No, sir, not of what said he . . . not of what at all; but of that absurd, nefarious and superfluous piece of autobiographical rascality therein — that is to say in the London Athenaeum — deliberately, falsely, and maliciously fathered upon me, and laid to my charge — to the charge of me, I say, Joseph L. Miller.” ­[page 16:]

. . . “Ah ha!” said he, getting particularly nervous, “we begin to understand you. We comprehend. Sit down! You, Joseph M. — that is to say, Joseph N. Miller — have had — that is to say, ought to have had, eh? — and the London Athenaeum is — that is to say, it is not &c — and — and — and — oh, precisely!”

The letters themselves are constructed with obvious relish. Poe makes Mrs. Sigourney discover “good sense” and “purely Christian opinions” in the ridiculous pamphlet that Miller sends her; he makes almost pure gibberish flow from the pen of James K. Paulding. The well-known poet Fitz-Greene Halleck is made to say this:

Your poem on “Things in General,” I have not had the pleasure of seeing. I have not, however, the least doubt of its — of its — that is to say, of its extreme delicacy of sentiment, and highly original style of thinking — to say nothing at present of that — of that extraordinary and felicitous manner of expression which so particularly characterizes all that — that I have seen of your writings. I shall endeavor, sir, to procure your Poem, and anticipate much pleasure in its perusal.

William Ellery Channing writes:

No such person as Philip Philpot has ever been in my employ as a coachman, or otherwise. The name is an odd one, and not likely to be forgotten. The man must have reference to some other Dr. Charming. It would be as well to question him closely.

Two writers are made to seem foolish enough to give away their autographs against their wills. One of them, William “Pop” Emmons, whom Poe had satirized in “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob,” has his name attached to this letter:

Sir, — Yours of the — came duly to hand. I cannot send you what you wish. The fact is, I have been so pestered with applications for my autograph, that I have made a resolution to grant one in no case whatever.

Poe liked this gag so well that he used it again for Mordecai Noah, the journalist and playwright who later became a good friend:

Dear Sir, — I am not to be quizzed. You suppose, eh? that I can’t understand your fine letter all about “things in general.” You want my autograph, you dog — and you sha’nt have it.

Two authors whom Poe had “used up” unmercifully are parodied. William Leete Stone, the author of The Ups and Downs of a Distressed Gentleman, is made to write a repetitious letter: ­[page 17:]

I am exceedingly and excessively sorry that it is out of my power to comply with your rational and reasonable request. The subject you mention is one with which I am utterly unacquainted — moreover, it is one about which I know very little.

The other parody is of Theodore Fay, whose Norman Leslie Poe had described as an inestimable piece of balderdash. The letter mimics Fay’s florid style:

My Good Fellow, — I am not disposed to find fault with you having addressed me, although personally unknown. Your favor (of the — ultimo) finds me upon the eve of directing my course towards the renowned shores of Italia. I shall land (primitively) on the territories of the ancient Brutii, of whom you may find an account in Lempriére. You will observe (therefore) that, being engrossed by the consequent, necessary, and important prepartions for my departure, I can have no time to attend to your little concerns.

Believe me, my dear sir, very faithfully your


When we look at Poe’s humorous tales, we find that a good many of them — most of them, in fact — are more or less esoteric in nature. They are satires, burlesques, parodies written for an audience familiar with magazine publishing and the New York literary scene, with political events or political figures, and even with Poe’s other tales. Very few of them, in fact, could have been read by most of his own contemporaries, outside of a small coterie of fellow writers and editors, with much understanding or enjoyment. This was pointed out to him both by Paulding and the Harper brothers, and he seems to have worked in the 1840’s to follow their advice to make his tales more accessible. The early tales — those in the Folio Club collection and others — are full of private jokes: direct and oblique references to Blackwood’s Magazine, Bulwer’s fiction, minor New York littérateurs, etc. But this obscurity of reference did not prevent the editor of the Philadelphia Saturday Courier from publishing five of Poe’s earliest, and most obscure, tales in 1832 — though Poe was unaware that he was doing so. Two of these, “The Bargain Lost” later retitled “Bon-Bon,” and “The Duc de l’Omelette,” I would classify among Poe’s most obscure tales, yet they were published by the Courier.

Unless we are aware of the circumstances surrounding the composition and the sources of these tales we are likely to read them with an admiration for Poe’s cleverness with words but with very little understanding ­[page 18:] of what he was doing. Stuart Levine has suggested that reading these allusive comic tales is like reading James Joyce or Vladimir Nabokov: as we peel away layer after layer of meaning we begin to laugh with real understanding, rather than with a mildly puzzled amusement or even frustration or distaste for what seems to be puerile and pointless nonsense. I have found, in trying to identify the tales I consider humorous, that placing them in any kind of category is difficult, since they tend to spill out of one pigeonhole into another: gothic becomes burlesque, science fiction becomes hoax, satire becomes parody, and so forth.

In spite of, or in defiance of, these pitfalls, I have still attempted to make some generalizations about the humorous pieces that I believe cast some light on Poe’s methods and his interests. Four of them are about magazine or book publishing: “Loss of Breath,” “Lionizing,” “Psyche Zenobia,” and “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.” All four are satires, but the last two are more specifically satires of the publishing world that Poe knew well. “Psyche Zenobia” is Poe’s most detailed examination of the various devices he saw as the staples of Blackwood’s fiction: “Thingum Bob” makes some devastating comments on the world of magazine publishing in the 1830’s and 1840’s. But there is an important difference between them. The first is quite accessible and understandable, while the second is really for the initiated.

These two tales, then, are in different categories: those that are clearly and immediately funny to anyone, and those that were, and are, funny only to readers who know what he was talking about. In the first category I would include “Lionizing,” “Some Words with a Mummy,” “ ‘Thou Art the Man’,” and “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.” Even though “Lionizing” also deals with the world of publishing, its context and its point are made clear enough within the tale itself for any reader to understand it. “Some Words With a Mummy” achieves its satiric point through the device of an Egyptian mummy who is reawakened by means of a relatively new scientific discovery, the “Voltaic pile,” allowing the mummy to make numerous comparisons between ancient Egyptian and contemporary American civilization, as well as to poke fun at the current faddish interest in Egypt. “ ‘Thou Art the Man’ ” is a comic detective story, possibly the first ever. But the easy manner of its telling, the frontier atmosphere and humor, in short, its Americanness, make it one of Poe’s most readable tales. “Tarr and Fether,” although it also has some satirical elements, and may even be read as a parody of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” is still not difficult to enjoy simply as an amusing and well-written tale. ­[page 19:] The episodes describing the inmates of the asylum are funny, and the scene in which the visitor is asked to dine on stuffed calf and “rabbit-au-chat” is one of the funniest Poe ever wrote.

The humorous and playful manner of Poe in his mid-thirties may be seen in several tales, including “The Purloined Letter.” To consider this a humorous tale is to distort it, of course, yet there is no denying it has humorous elements. Many have considered it the best of Poe’s ratiocinative efforts, in which he uses and develops the characteristics of Dupin to write a well-constructed tale. It opens with a paragraph reminding the reader of Dupin’s previous successes in solving crimes, ending with the entrance of Monsieur G————, the Prefect of the Parisian Police. He is an object of gentle mockery from both the narrator and Dupin, who are amused first of all by his “fashion of calling every thing ‘odd’ that was beyond his comprehension,” and thus living “amid an absolute legion of ‘oddities’.” Their attitude toward their visitor is further defined by the narrator’s question about the reasons for his visit:

“And what is the difficulty now?” I asked. “Nothing more in the assassination way, I hope?”

This flippant manner is taken up by Dupin in several succeeding comments, and after a lengthy explanation of the case, concluding with the Prefect’s declaring that it has been turned over to him, Dupin’s response is especially dry:

“Than whom,” said Dupin, amid a perfect whirlwind of smoke, “no more sagacious agent could, I suppose, be desired, or even imagined.”

And these sarcastic jabs go unnoticed by their target

When the Prefect returns a month later, he is again made to appear comically ineffectual, first by the way Dupin offhandedly produces the purloined letter and then by the elaborate facial gestures, stares, and frantic check-writing that follow. This is a funny scene, and although it contains the familiar ingredient of humiliation that so frequently occurs in Poe’s tales it still contributes to the light-hearted tone. The tale could easily be ponderous and plodding but it is not, largely through Poe’s success in lightening the tone throughout by creating in the Prefect “half as much of the entertaining as of the contemptible” and by making the solution of the crime itself appear to be an amusing game.

Another tale that demonstrates Poe’s comic ability is his detective story, “ ‘Thou Art the Man’.” The tale is untypical in some ways, particularly in its use of a contemporary American setting, in this case the frontier. Poe supplies enough details of rural characters and behavior ­[page 20:] to suggest a kinship with other frontier writers and humorists. The closest resemblance is to the sketches in A. B. Longstreet’s Georgia Scenes, which Poe reviewed favorably in 1835.

The opening paragraphs of the tale establish the tone. “I will now play the Oedipus to the Rattleborough enigma,” the narrator begins. The comic name of the town itself, and the behavior of the “Rattleburghers,” are entertaining overlays upon a tale which has its share of gothic horror, including the corpse with a whalebone shoved down its throat and doubled over in a nailed-down coffin. The tale is one which the narrator says he “should be sorry to discuss in a tone of unsuitable levity,” yet it is this very tone of levity which contributes to its success. The narrator relates the events with a dry irony and an obviously false credulity designed to make sure the reader is suspicious of what he is being told. The result is a tale of frontier America in which its innocent and ignorant townsfolk are led astray — with the exception of the astute narrator, who sees through the inaptly named Charley Goodfellow and makes sure the reader shares his feelings of intellectual superiority and moral righteousness.

In “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.,” first published in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1844, Poe most fully realizes his comic potential. His years of experience in the magazine publishing world, along with more than a dozen years of publishing short stories, gave him a mastery of tone and language far different from the uncertain and ambiguous efforts at humor of his Folio Club days. The sketch is a highly specialized one, appealing most to those readers who could or can today appreciate his allusions; yet it has a breezy and confident quality and a universal theme that make it appealing to the more casual reader as well. We are still aware today of the devices that writers and publishers use to puff their works, and we are still aware of the fallibility of editors and the gullibility of readers. Therefore we can appreciate this sketch of the career of a writer and editor. Poe chose as his archetypal silly writer a fictional successor to an actual person: Richard “Pop” Emmons, who was famous for his bathetic and maudlin verses, including a ludicrous epic called The Fredoniad. So the pompous Thingum Bob begins his memoir by noting that since Shakespeare and Mr. Emmons are deceased “it is not impossible that I may even die,” and that “I may as well retire from the field of Letters and repose upon my laurels.” This last sentence with its two clichés is typical of the prose of Mr. Bob, which Poe loads with clichés and pompous phrases. He “pens” rather than writes; he “kills two birds with one stone”; he “awoke and found himself famous” and is “damned with faint praise”. The list of clichés is a long ­[page 21:] one: “the unkindest cut[[,]]” “that was the rub,” “putting money in my purse” (all unknowing references to Shakespeare), “honesty is the best policy,” “sustained effort,” “my maiden attempt,” “touched me to the heart.” In addition to this aspect of style, Poe indulges himself in coining ludicrous names for his characters and the names of the periodicals, as I have already noted. The basic joke — that of plagiarizing from famous writers and submitting the work to editors, who in turn reject the work for various reasons — is developed into a series of absurd favorable reviews of Bob’s original literary creation, a two-line poem:

To pen an Ode upon the “Oil-of Bob”

Is all sorts of a job.



Poe also parodies something he has not yet written, as he makes Bob describe his own “Philosophy of Composition”:

With my first verse I had no material difficulty . . . . Having carefully looked out, however, all the legitimate rhymes to “Bob,” I found it impossible to proceed. In this dilemma I had recourse to paternal aid; and, after some hours of mature thought, my father and myself thus constructed the poem . . . . To be sure, this composition was of no very great length — but I ‘have yet to learn’ as they say in the Edinburgh Review, that the mere extent of a literary work has any thing to do with its merit.

We can see several types of humor going on here simultaneously: the mocking of pompous statements by writers about their work, the parody of the British quarterlies, the satire directed at pretentiousness in verse-writing. This is done with an ease and lightness of touch that are a far cry from the involuted and obscure burlesques of the early 1830’s, even though the subject matter is somewhat the same.

“Thingum Bob” is a story about style — literary style and styles of editing, but it works to expose hypocrisy and deception in the best satiric traditions. The narrator himself, however, is not a hypocrite; he is an innocent, who is completely taken in by the flattery, the frauds, and the perils of magazine publishing, as Poe had seen them over the years. Bob believes in the rightness of what he is doing and believes he is a genius. He even reveals the secrets of the reviewer’s trade: signing himself as “Thomas Hawk,” he indulges in scalping, browbeating, and otherwise using-up the herd of “poor-devil authors” by cutting up the “New-Slang Syllabus,” the “Whole Art of Snubbing,” and other works, “then, throwing the shreds into a sieve, sifted out carefully all that might ­[page 22:] be thought decent (a mere trifle); reserving the hard phrases, which I threw into a large tin pepper-castor with longitudinal holes, so that entire sentences could get through without material injury,” then dusts this mixture on a piece of egg’d foolscap, and so writes his reviews. In this Poe is not only satirizing reviewers, he is also forecasting some of the more extreme forms of twentieth-century experimental fiction, such as that of William Burroughs, John Barth, and Donald Barthelme.

But more directly related to style is the closing paragraph, which is a sample of Bob’s own style:

By day I adhered to my desk, and at night, a pale student, I consumed the midnight oil. You should have seen me — you should. I leaned to the right. I leaned to the left. I sat forward. I sat backward. I sat tête baissée (as they have it in the Kickapoo), bowing my head close to the alabaster page. And, through it all, I — wrote. Through joy and sorrow, I wrote. Through good report and through ill report, I — wrote. Through sunshine and through moonshine, I — wrote. What I wrote it is unnecessary to say. The style! — that was the thing. I caught it from Fatquack — whizz! — fizz! — and I am giving you a specimen of it now.

Why is this apparent trifle — usually overlooked — worth talking about at all?(34) I believe that the strength of the sketch derives from its use of American, hence familiar, materials, which Poe can use easily and effectively with a surer feel for the target of his satire and for his audience. It is not a falling off; it is not capitulation to the demands of mass-circulation magazines; it is a move away from the affected and imitative humor of his early years, when he was still under the spell of the quarterlies, to a surer — and more American — manner. The conversational tone of the writing, and the creation of a somewhat obtuse and innocent narrator have their affinities with the frontier and platform humor of Artemus Ward, Jack Downing, and other predecessors of Mark Twain, even though his origins are on the island of Manhattan. William Carlos Williams long ago noticed Poe’s affinity with Twain when he remarked in In the American Grain that there is in his work “a primitive awkwardness of diction, lack of polish, colloquialism that is, unexpectedly, especially in the dialogues, much in the vein of Mark Twain.”(35)

Poe will not replace Mark Twain in the nineteenth century or S. J. Perelman in the twentieth as America’s great humorist. But our sympathetic rereading of his work in the past decade or two has revealed a much more versatile and many-sided writer than the tortured gothicist of yore. A mild, gentle, and basically serious person, he had a sense of ­[page 23:] irony and a sense of play that sometimes led him astray in ill-considered or hasty attempts to be funny; but in other cases he exerted more control over his material and produced some comic tales, some light verse, and some amusing essays and reviews that deserve more attention than they usually receive.

­ [page 20, continued:]


1.  Roger Asselineau, “Introduction,” Edgar Poe: Choix de Contes (Paris: Aubier, 1958), p. 88.

2.  Oct. 13, 1845, quoted in Thomas O. Mabbott, ed., Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978), II, xx.

3.  The Letters of James Kirke Paulding, ed. Ralph M. Aderman (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1962), pp. 173-174.

4.  Griswold Collection, Boston Public Library, quoted in Arthur Hobson Quinn, Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: Appleton, 1941), p. 251.

5.  John Ward Ostrom, ed., The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (New York; Gordian, 1966), I, 84.

6.  Ostrom, Letters, I, 103.

7.  The Critic, reprinted in The Living Age, 41 (April, 1854), 166-71.

8.  Literary World, 81 (January, 1850), 483-86.

9.  Reprinted in The Living Age, 15 (April, 1850), 77-78.

10.  Southern Literary Messenger, 16 (March, 1850), 183.

11.  This exchange was reprinted in the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, Thursday, July 6, 1911, p. 6.

12.  James R. Aswell, ed., Native American Humor (New York: Harper, 1947), p. 393.

13.  “On Poe’s ‘Tales of the Folio Club’,” Sewanee Review, 36 (1928), 171-76.

14.  James Southall Wilson, “The Devil Was in It,” American Mercury, 24 (1931), 215-20; Arthur Hobson Quinn, Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: Appleton, 1941); Edward H. Davidson, Poe: A Critical Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957).

15.  Poe’s Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1973).

16.  “American Prose Writers. No. 2. N. P. Willis,” Broadway Journal, January 18, 1845, reprinted in James A. Harrison, ed., Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Crowell, 1902), XII, 36-40.

17.  Constance Rourke, American Humor: A Study of the National Character (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1931, repr. 1953 Doubleday), pp. 145-49.

18.  Southern Literary Messenger, March 1836, in Harrison, Works, VIII, 257-65.

19.  “A Few Words About Brainard,” Graham’s, Feb. 1842, in Harrison, Works, XI, 23-24.

20.  Collected Works, I, 138.

21.  Collected Works, I, 133-34.

22.  Collected Works, I, 378.

23.  Harrison, Works, X, 168. ­[page 24:]

24.  Harrison, Works, X, 170-71.

25.  Harrison, Works, X, 103-104.

26.  Harrison, Works, X, 53.

27.  Southern Literary Messenger, April 1835, in Harrison, Works, VI, 3.

28.  Review of I Promessi Sposi, Southern Literary Messenger, May 1835, in Harrison, Works, VI, 15.

29.  Ostrom, Letters, I, 279.

30.  Graham’s, March 1843, in Harrison, Works, XI, 160-74.

31.  Graham’s, August 1843, in Harrison, Works, XI, 174-90.

32.  Harrison, Works, VI, 51-62.

33.  Southern Literary Messenger, 1836, in Harrison, Works, IX, 191.

34.  Michael Allen actually deplores his efforts to simplify style and manner, seeing Poe’s comic impulse “channeled into rather regrettable efforts like ‘The Spectacles’, [which is bad] or burlesques on the American literary scene (‘The Literary Life of Thingum Bob’).” Poe and the British Magazine Tradition (New York, Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 142.

35.  In the American Grain (New York: New Directions, 1956), p. 230.



This lecture was delivered at the Fifty-ninth Annual Commemoration Program of the Poe Society, October 4, 1981. The lecture was presented in the Wheeler Auditorium of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

© 1982 and 2010, by The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.


[S:1 - MMPUH, 1981] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Lectures - The Merry Mood (D. B. Stauffer, 1981)