Text: George H. Soule, Jr., “Another Source for Poe: Trelawny’s The Adventures of a Younger Son,” Poe Studies, December 1975, Vol. VIII, No. 2, 8:35-37


[page 35, column 1, continued:]

Another Source for Poe: Trelawny’s
The Adventures of a Younger Son

University of New Mexico

Despite an uncharitable habit of accusing other writers of plagiarism during literary battles, Edgar Allan Poe approaches the subject of originality with sanity. As he states in his 1836 essay “Magazine Writing — Peter Snook,” “the true invention is elaborate. There is no greater mistake than the supposition that a true originality is a mere matter of impulse or inspiration. To originate is carefully, patiently, and understandingly to combine” (1). “The inventive or original mind as frequently displays itself in novelty of tone as in novelty of matter” (XI, 110), Poe writes in his 1842 review of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, recognizing the writer’s necessity of searching for “matter” outside of his experience.

Poe’s sea stories obviously contain matter which forced [column 2:] him to depart from his personal experiences, and the list of sources grows continually. Rhea’s investigations of J. N. Reynold’s 1836 Address to Congress on the subject of Antarctic exploration and James Cook’s A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (2), McKeithan’s researches in Archibald Duncan’s Mariner’s Chronicle and Benjamin Morrell’s Narrative of Four Voyages;3 Bailey’s considerations of Symzonia: a Voyage of Discovery;4 and Helms’ recent work with Jane Poreer’s Sir Edward S,0award’s Narrative of his Shipwrecks have illuminated Poe’s use of travel and adventure literature in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Given Poe’s propensity to combine materials from a variety of sources, it is not surprising to find similarities in his sea stories and Edward John Trelawny’s The Adventures of a Younger Son, a popular tale of life as a corsair in Malaysian waters published in 1831. Although Poe’s familiarity with this Romantic autobiography cannot be demonstrated from his critical writings or letters, evidence in his stories, especially the sea tales, suggests that The Adventures is a source of elements in them.

“MS. Found in a Bottle” (1833), an imitative experiment in subject and style like Poe’s other early stories, may owe a considerable debt to Trelawny. Trelawny prides himself upon his lack of superstition, a quality Poe attributes to the narrator of “MS. Found in a Bottle.” When Trelawny sets sail on Friday, his crew warns that their voyage is cursed, and he loses two sailors and is becalmed off the coast of Borneo where a simoom strikes his ship, dismasting it. A comparison of parallel passages from “MS. Found in a Bottle” and The Adventures illustrates several similarities between the narratives. Unless otherwise noted, italics are provided.

“MS. Found in a Bottle”

One evening . . . I observed a very singular, isolated cloud . . . the first we had seen since our departure. . . . I watched it attentively until sunset, when it spread all at once to the eastward and westward, girting in the horizon with a narrow strip of vapor.. . . My notice was soon afterward attracted by the dusky-red appearance of the moon, and the peculiar character of the sea. The latter was undergoing a rapid change, and the water seemed more than usually transparent. Although I could distinctly see the 60som, yet, heaving the lead, I found the ship in fifteen fathoms. The air now became intolerably hot, and was loaded with spiral exhalations. . . . As night came on, every breath of wind died away. . . . The flame of a candle burned upon the poop without the least perceptible motion. . . . However, as the captain said he could perceive no indication of danger, and as we were drifting in bodily to shore, he ordered the sails to be furled, and the anchor let go. No [continued on page 36:] watch was set, and the crew, consisting principally of Malays, stretched themselves deliberately upon deck. I went below — not without a full presentiment of evil. Indeed, every appearance warranted me in apprehending a Simoom. I told the captain my fears; but he paid no attention. . . . about midnight I went upon deck. . . . I was startled by a loud humming noise . . . and before I could ascertain its meaning, I found the ship quivering to its centre. In the next instant a wilderness of foam hurled us upon our beam-ends, and rushing over us fore and aft, swept the entire decks from stem to stern. (11, 2-3)

Our cable had . . . parted like a pack-thread . . . or we should have been instantaneously overwhelmed. ( 11, 4)



The Adventures

One evening, just before sunset, I observed the first appearance of a cloud for many days. Thin misty vapours, of a gauze-like transparency, began to envelope the mountains to the westward; and suddenly, as the sun disappeared behind them, a bar of bright flame shot along their summits. . . . The moon was of a dusky-red, the sea changed its colour, and was unusually clear and transparent. I started at seeing the rocks the fish, and the shells at its bottom; we sounded, and there were twelve fathoms of water. The atmosphere was hot and heavy; the flame of a candle, burning on deck, arose as clear as in a vault. I ordered the sails to be furled, and the anchor to be let go, as we were evidently drifting in shore, determined to get under weigh with the first appearance of wind. [continued on page 36:]

I was sitting with Zela on deck . . . with melancholy bodings; and she was telling me what strange fires, simooms, and whirlwinds she had witnessed on her own wild sands, when at that instant, I heard a strange noise, such as comes before the thunder breaks. . . . The blow was struck before I had time to turn the hands up, for the men were sleeping on deck. We were dismasted. . . . The sea was all white with foam, and flew about, covering us as if under a cataract.

Our little vessel plunged madly into the sea, and for a time we were actually under its surface. . . . The cable parted, or we should inevitably have foundered (6).

[page 36, after excerpts:]

Poe’s vessel, like Trelawny’s, is utterly helpless in the aftermath of the storm, but the two tales diverge at this point. Transforming the simoom into a hurricane, Poe sends his narrator upon a nightmare voyage. Trelawny merely loses ten crew members, among them a young Swede, and his adventure ends in the real world when the storm subsides. Accompanied by an ancient Swede who links him to the fantasy world of seamen, Poe’s narrator is propelled to a “supernatural sea” in the south where he is literally flung into the world of superstition. In contrast, Trelawny only records adventures within the realm of nature; but when he arrives at his rendezvous with De Ruyter, the leader of the corsairs, he is met with a jest which may have suggested the supernatural polar journey of Poe’s ghost ship. De Ruyter’s greeting, “‘Halloo, my lads! . . . have you cruised to the north pole, and been knocked up in an iceberg for a hundred years?’” (p. 342), suggests the fate of Poe’s phantom ship, trapped eternally at a geographical extremity of the sea.

Further, Trelawny’s vivid description of the castaway crew of a sunken British frigate seems to have provided Poe additional details for his story.

“MS. Found in a Bottle”

. . . they all bore about them the marks of a hoary old age. Their knees trembled with infirmity; their shoulders were bent double with decrepitude; their shrivelled skins rattled in the wind; their voices were low, tremulous and broken; their eyes glistened with the rheum of years; and their gray hairs streamed terribly in the tempest. (II, 11)

The Adventures

. . . on these forlorn seamen seven days did the work of seventy years. With rheumed, glassy, bloodshot eyes, haggard, wrinkled and hollow cheeks, sunken mouths . . . thinned and whitened hair, collapsed muscles, feeble and tottering gait, sepulchral and inarticulate voices . . . . (p. 480)

Poe’s mariners are ancient, but his description of them echoes Trelawny’s account of the castaways in language and context (7).

In Trelawny’s narratives of storm, shipwreck, and famine, the sea lures men to a dark world that works ghastly effects upon their minds as well as their bodies, an [column 2:] environment providing an ideal milieu for Poe’s thematic concerns. In writing The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1837-1838), Poe seems to have turned to Trelawny’s account of the castaway frigate crew for inspiration in creating the tribulations of Pym and his companions aboard the storm-stricken Grampus.

The suggestion of “corpses uncharnelled” in Trelawny’s image of the British crew may have prompted Poe to create the pest-ravaged Dutch trader, a grotesque floating tomb, in pym (8); but it is Trelawny’s tale of the British seamen’s ordeal which Poe seems to use in part to define Pym’s character and actions. Seeming to resist the full force of the sea, Pym resembles one of Trelawny’s castaways, the mate Darvell, “the weakest of the party . . . [who] seemed alone to have retained his senses” (p. 481). Admitting uncertainty of his behavior, Pym attributes this character to himself, noting that although he is “of a delicate constitution” he suffers “less than any . . . retaining [his] powers of mind in a surprising degree” (III, 120). Some of the incidents of the shipwreck are also similar — rapid deterioration of the castaways, intense thirst relieved by a companion’s blood, and a momentary storm figure in both tales.

Although the character of the normally sanguine Trelawny is more akin to Augustus Barnard than to the melancholy Pym, Trelawny and Pym do have similar nightmares:


My dreams were of the most terrific description. Every species of calamity and horror befell me. Among other miseries, I was smothered to death between huge pillows. . . . Immense serpents held me in their embrace. . . . I stood, naked and alone, amid the burning sand-plains of Zahara. At my feet lay crouched a fierce lion of the tropics. (111, 27-28)

The Adventures

I dreamed of undergoing every kind of horrible death; of being torn to pieces by sharks, by tigers, — of suffocation by drowning, and of my skull being cracked like a nut between the huge jaws of a crocodile. (p. 341)

Pym’s dream reflects the multiple terrors of Trelawny’s nightmare: suffocation, reptilian monsters, and great cats. Poe thus seems to have used Trelawny’s dream along with the character of the British mate, amplifying both considerably, as he attempted to delineate Pym’s character; perhaps some of Pym’s inconsistencies result from this selection process.

Poe may also derive ideas from Trelawny for other than the nautical tales. The figure of the willful, undisciplined young men who appear in “Metzengerstein” and “William Wilson” accords with Trelawny’s definition of the younger son. “Metzengerstein” (1832) presents the motif of a young man wedded to a spirited horse which may be partially based on Trelawny’s experience with such an animal in Bombay. Trelawny battles with an exceptional, though not supernatural, horse, finding “a fellow feeling for his independent spirit,” becoming “a show-lion to the sober natives,” and, finally, coming to an understanding in which man and horse appear “together in public, like decent married people” (p. 67). Likewise, Metzengerstein’s attachment to his possessed horse, “in the eyes of all reasonable men, a hideous and unnatural fervor” (II, 193), becomes another curious marriage: “in the glare of noon — at the [page 37:] dead hour of night — in sickness or in health” (II, 193), Metzengerstein is riveted to his horse.

In addition, Metzengerstein’s riotous behavior while celebrating his inheritance is defined in the exact terms which Trelawny uses to describe his own actions: both young men “out-heroded Herod” (“Metzengerstein,” II, 187). This phrase recurs in William Wilson’s account of his conduct, an account also paralleled in Trelawny’s self-revelation:

“William Wilson”

. . . it were absurd to pause in the detail of my extravagence. Let it suffice, that among spendthrifts I out-Heroded Herod, and that, giving name to a multitude of novel follies, I added no brief appendix to the long catalogue of vices then usual in the most dissolute university of Europe. (III, 315-316)

The Adventures

In every thing I undertook, no matter how ridiculous, I must out-herod Herod, brooking no compeer. My brow now burns with shame in remembering how many follies. . . I then and afterward committed. . . . Thus I have played the drunkard, the glutton, the braggart and the bully. (p. 83)

And like Wilson, Trelawny from earliest childhood confesses his willful nature

More generally, there are also Gothic elements in Trelawny’s autobiography which may have some relevance to Poe’s tales. Trelawny’s assassination of his father’s raven, the tyrannic guardian of the family garden, may bear some relation to “The Black Cat”: both animals are mutilated and ultimately destroyed in the same manner (9). Moreover, Roderick Usher has a counterpart in Trelawny’s young, melancholic French aristocrat who becomes addicted to opium, plays the guitar insanely, and eschews “books and writing, which had been as a poet, his only solace” (p. 378). He has fled France with a young lady, related “by ties of consanguinity,” who had been consigned to the “living grave” of a convent by her “proud, unnatural, aristocratic parents” (p. 386) to prevent her from receiving her portion of the family estate. The girl subsequently dies of a lingering tropical fever, and she and the youth, presumed to be her brother, are found “on a mattress on the floor, locked fast in each other’s embraces. . . . She [has] been dead for some time” (p. 385). The dose relationship of the lovers, the figurative living burial, and the suggestion of necrophilia in their final embrace may have influenced Poe’s tale of the Usher twins and the destruction of their proud, unnatural, and aristocratic line.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” extends the catalepsy motif of “Berenice” (1835), and the narrator of “Berenice” is also similar to the young Frenchman. Egaeus and Berenice are cousins who love; her disease falls “like the simoom upon her frame” (II, 18) (10), and he is a necrophiliac of some note. Berenice begins a line of Poe’s ladies, beautiful girls who die of strange diseases, which may derive in part from Trelawny’s narrative. Both the French girl’s tropical fever and the poisoning of Zela, Trelawny’s Arab bride, cause wasting illnesses which create anguish for their lovers. Poisoned by candied nutmegs the gift of a French widow spurned by Trelawny, Zela wanes before her lover’s moist eyes: “She wasted, day by day, till she became almost a shadow. I never left her and in her lucid intervals . . . she dung to me with more than her wonted fondness . . .” (p. 515). Poe may use Zela’s poisoning as a Gothic element in “Morella” and [column 2:] “Ligeia”; indeed, Ligeia’s deathbed scene, in which, in the narrator’s words, “for long hours, detaining my hand, would she pour out before me the overflowing of a heart whose more than passionate devotion amounted to idolatry” (II, 255), is similar to Zela’s. Moreover, after Zela’s death Trelawny enters a state of profound morbidity compounded by using opium just as Ligeia’s husband does. If Poe does use Zela’s poisoning in “Morella” and “Ligeia,” he improves considerably upon Trelawny, transforming poisoned nutmegs into psychic pollution.

Such is the case in every instance where Poe parallels Trelawny. He appears to have discovered this author early in his writing career, and The Adventures of a Younger Son probably provided him with ideas for characters and situations, if only as points of departure. While this study is by no means exhaustive, perhaps it does point to one source of some of the “matter” which Poe so carefully combined to create his tales. If he does draw upon Trelawny, he seldom uses the material as he found it, consistently moving beyond The Adventures in originality of expression.



(1) Edgar Allan Poe, The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1902; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), XIV, 73. All subsequent quotations from Poe cite this edition.

(2) Robert Lee Rhea “Some Observations on Poe’s Origins,” Texas Studies in English 10 (1930), 135-146.

(3) D. M. McKeithan, “Two Sources of Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” Texas Studies in English, 13 (1933), 116-137. Keith Huntress, “Another Source of Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” American Literature, 16 (1944), 19-25, extends McKeithan’s discovery, substituting R. Thomas’ Remarkable Events and Remarkable Shipwrecks as a source more contemporary to Poe. Thomas reproduces several accounts from The Mariner’s Chronicle along with other material found in Pym.

(4) J. O. Bailey, “Sources for Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, ‘Hans Pfaal,’ and Other Pieces, PMLA, 57 (1942), 513-535.

(5) Randel Helms, “Another Source for Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym,” American Literature, 41 (1970), 572-575.

(6) Edward John Trelawny The Adventures of a Younger 50s (London: Oxford, 1925) pp. 333-335. Trelawny’s narrative is generally accepted as embellished autobiography. As H. B. Forman, the editor of his letters, notes, “Trelawny had no view but to record the facts of his life. . . . He protested from the first and up to the last to his intimates that the work was not a romance but the story of a man’s life, his own life”CThe Letters of Edward John Trelawny (London: Oxford, 1910), pp. xiv-xv.

(7) Compare the Norwegian in “A Descent into the Maelstrom” (1841): “The six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a very old man — but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow” (II, 225).

(8) The physical description of these corpses is more obviously derived from the Flying Dutchman myth as reflected by the ghost ship in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

(9) Not surprisingly, H. B. Forman associates Poe’s raven with Trelawny’s (Letters, pp. xvi-xvii): “gray and grisly . . . covered with large warts,” with “bleared and sinister expression” (The Adventures, p. 5). The raven is a formidable personal demon and Trelawny batters an eye from its head before he hangs it.

(10) The use of the simile “like a simoom” possibly indicates Poe’s closeness to Trelawny in this story. The simoom is out of place in “Berenice,” a thoroughly European story, but Poe perhaps had the suddenness of the storm and the French girl’s fever in mind — both caused tropical devastations.


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[S:0 - PS, 1975]