Text: J. Albert Robbins, “Review: The Poe ‘Dictionary ’,” Poe Newsletter­, April 1969, Vol. II, No. 2, 2:38-39


[page 24, column 1:]

The Poe “Dictionary”

Burton R. Pollin. Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe’s Collected Works. New York: De Capo Press, 1968. 

Because the Harvard edition of Poe has been on the drawing board so long and because, even now, its future remains uncertain, a careful, cross referenced, and annotated index of the Harrison Complete Works is a useful undertaking. (I would have been spared much time and effort in trying to identify names in Poe’s tales if we had had this Dictionary two or three years ago.) In preparing the dictionary Professor Pollin extracted from the Harrison edition the proper names and titles from all of the poetry and prose, omitting the two volumes of letters and omitting geographical names. He annotated as necessity demanded and as knowledge permitted, drawing upon his own knowledge of Poe and that of the late Thomas O. Mabbott. Data on his cards were fed into a computer and the resulting print-out forms the published book. (Professor Pollin explains the procedures and describes the advantages of the method in his preface.) The first index of names runs to 3409 entries from Aaron to Zopyrus and the second index of titles, to 2263 entries from “About Critics and Criticism” to Zophiel. From the two complete indexes of names and titles, Pollin has extracted and appended four “specialized” indexes of fictional characters, titles of poems and tales, titles of articles, and titles of reviews. He has omitted nine articles in Harrison [column 2:] which Mabbott believes are not Poe’s. (The omitted articles are cited on p. xiv.)

The index in Volume XVI of the Harrison edition is difficult to use, is not annotated, and is not complete. There is no way of knowing whether a citation in the Harrison index is to an insignificant passing mention or to an extended discussion (Pollin solves this problem with suffixes); and the Harrison index is untrustworthy (the four references in Harrison to Béranger should be ten, for example).

There is evidence throughout the Dictionary of care in the compiling and of intelligence in the editing and annotating. Professor Pollin has been careful to include rejected titles and passages in Stewart’s textual notes. He cites pseudonyms and fleshes out cryptic references whenever possible. For example, one Dr. Smith is noted to be “connected with Stonehenge” and another Dr. Smith is glossed, “book on optics; possibly Hamilton L. Smith . . . .” Peter Pinder, we learn, is “Harrison’s misprint for Pindar, i.e., John Wolcot.” The compiler is brave enough to guess — and this is certainly more helpful than silence. Under Apicius, he notes, “three persons thus named; probably Apicius Caelius, author of De Arte Coquinaria.” Such an index as this has a wider utility than identifying single citations. The frequency of entries provides a profile of Poe’s reading and learning, and Professor Pollin gives an example of what such an index can tell us. “I have found that after [Poe’s] 1841 review of Walsh’s Sketches of Conspicuous Living Characters of France, with several pages on Victor Hugo, a stream of hidden references, taken from Notre Dame de Paris begins to pervade his work, including one of his most famous short stories” (p. xxxi).

This Dictionary is an excellent new aid to Poe scholars and should be useful for a long time to come. It is not flawless, for such a task as this is extremely demanding and time-consuming. And we are all fallible.

I find some errors of transcription or proofreading: Miss Lynch’s first name is Anne, not Anna; the Lockhart citation should be 9.172, not 9.171; the Sigourney review should be 8.122-5, not 8.132-5. Some entries could have been expanded with more checking or research. For example, “Clarke, Miss” should read, “Clarke, Miss Sara Jane” and her pseudonym should have been recorded as “Greenwood, Grace (Clarke).” The one Frampton citation in volume 8 should include also a second on page 157. The bare reference to “Coffin, Mr.” should be expanded to read “Coffin, Mr. N. W. (Boston Lyceum).” (There are many instances of unexpanded surnames, but these are not generally serious.) Occasionally there is a substantial oversight. One is the important entry, “Nubian geographer.” Other than the one citation noted, three others should be added (4.236; 6.295; 16.187). More debatable are the inferences — where one man’s guess is as good as another’s. Professor Pollin, I think, is right in glossing the punning names in “Mellonta Tauta” in all but two instances. I suggest that “Wiggins” is not the author of Monster Misery but Matthew James Higgins, an Englishman who wrote popularly on social and moral matters. And the aeronaut “Yellow” (or, as Pundit called him, “Violet”) is not, I think, Girond de Villette, a balloonist, but Charles Green, an Englishman who went along on Monck Mason’s flight from London to Germany in 1836.

Indexing Poe can be exceedingly tricky in such burlesques [page 39:] as “How to Write a Blackwood Article” and “A Predicament.” Professor Pollin identifies Gulley of “Gulley’s New Compendium of Slang-Whang” and an anonymous quotation (on 2.274-5) gets cited under “Byron.” However, Chang Yün, the probable author of the Chinese novel which Poe cites, does not appear in the name index — although Pollin helpfully glosses the title, “(Two Noble Cousins in Chinese, tr. by Abel Remusat and mentioned by P. P. Cooke in S.L.M.).” The reference to Confessions of an Opium Eater is in the title index, but this citation of De Quincey is missing in the name index. When it comes to Poe’s deliberately misassigning authors of quotations, the indexer either lacks the time to track them down or excludes them by editorial fiat. The quatrain on 2.279 is from Cervantes (and is indexed under “Cervantes”), but it is Cervantes quoting Juan Escriva (not indexed). The couplet on that page attributed to Ariosto is indexed under “Ariosto” — but it certainly is by another Italian, just who I have not discovered. Another couplet on the same page, Poe deliberately misinforms us, is by Schiller (indexed under “Schiller”) — but as Poe knew, it is by Goethe (not indexed). An error (possibly deliberate by Poe) attributed a phrase on 2.280 to Lucan (indexed) — though it is from Lucian (not indexed). In another humorous misattribution, Poe gives a quotation from Menander (not indexed) to Demosthenes (indexed).

I am not arraigning Professor Pollin for these exclusions but mentioning them for the record and to indicate how troublesome Poe can be to scholars. For all the minor errors and oversights, the Dictionary is a very useful, and welcome, work.

J. Albert Robbins, Indiana University


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[S:1 - PSDR, 1969]