Text: Claude Richard, “AidgarPo Once Again,” Poe Studies, June 1976, Vol. IX, No. 1, 9:27-29


[page 27, column 2:]

AidgarPo Once Again

W. T. Bandy, editor. Charles Baudelaire. Edgar Allan Poe: sa vie et ses ouvrages. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973. xlvi & 128 pp. $10.00.

W. T. Bandy is undoubtedly the most meticulous of all the scholars who have attended to the much debated but still rather enigmatic problem of Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on Charles Baudelaire. His major contribution, a discovery he truly called “sensational,” came in 1953, when he revealed that Baudelaire’s first “critical” notice of Poe, “Edgar Allan Poe: sa vie et ses ouvrages,” had been largely inspired by — if not translated verbatim fromC J. R. Thompson’s and John Daniel’s articles published in the Southern Literary Messenger in November 1849 and March 1850. In a subsequent series of carefully documented articles, Bandy elaborated on his first discovery and showed in convincing detail that Baudelaire owed practically all his biographical and critical opinions to the Virginia journalists. No scholar therefore was better equipped than he to offer an annotated edition of this landmark in literary history. Mr. Bandy has performed his delicate task with considerable erudition and tact.

It is therefore the more to be regretted that he should have felt the need to begin his very valuable book with a statement that can only be called misleading. When, in the very first line of his foreword, W. T. Bandy calls “Edgar Allan Poe: sa vie et ses ouvrages” — published in April 1852 — “the earliest foreign study of the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe,” one wonders what term he would reserve for E.-D. Forgues’ article, “Les Contes d’Edgar Allan Poe,” published in October 1846 in La Revue des de~x mondes? Technically, the latter is a review of the Tales of 1845, but the subtle difference between a review (an important one, for that matter) and “a study of the life and works” seems insufficient to justify Bandy’s statement, a statement which will, most unfortunately, reinforce the prevailing legend that Baudelaire was the French discoverer of Poe. The blunder is the more unfortunate as Bandy, who is recognized by all scholars in the field as the most reliable specialist on the question of Poe’s early reception in France, omits Forgues’ article from his bibliography, even though he has discussed it in his introduction (p. xv). Thus, for careless or not thoroughly specialized readers, the myth — prevalent in French works on Baudelaire — will endure.

I am not quite sure I should have called this “a blunder.” As a matter of fact, Bandy’s perturbing first sentence appears as symptomatic of the peculiar perspective of a book which, purporting to be a scholarly edition of Baudelaire’s first notice of Poe, rather seems, on careful reading, to be motivated by a desire to vindicate Baudelaire’s character from the charges of intellectual dishonesty.

Let us be quite clear: Mr. Bandy’s book is an attempt to defend Baudelaire against the possible accusation of plagiarism: it is by no means a book about Edgar Allan Poe. It is not even a book remotely concerned with Poe.

For a Poe scholar, the main interest of Bandy’s discovery is — to use Bandy’s own words — the “major part [played by Baudelaire’s article] in shaping the European view of Poe” [page 28:] (“Foreword,” p. [ix]). About this rich and far from clarified problem, the reader will not find a word in Bandy’s book. Rather he will find what is of interest to narrowly specialized Baudelaire scholars, to wit, “a complete and accurate account of the genesis of Baudelaire’s essay” (p. x). Taken as such, the book is (almost) unexceptionable. Bandy, however, chooses a point of view which creates a great number of ambiguities: his book is a labor of love and it betrays moments of the blindness traditionally attached to that passion. I will only indicate the most glaring of the prejudiced statements.

In the section entitled “Pirates and Plagiarists,” we discover with some surprise such items as Alphonse Borghers’ translation of “The Gold Bug,” “the first translation of Poe in which he is properly credited with authorship,” as Bandy states himself (p. xiii). If a translator who gives credit of authorship to the author he translates is properly called a “pirate” or a “plagiarist,” I think I will have to ask the Merriam-Webster, Harrap’s and Larousse corporations for a refund of the money I invested in their supposedly reputable dictionaries. And I feel determined to sue the publishers of these lexicons when I find Bandy declaring that Baudelaire is no plagiarist — that Baudelaire, who, as Bandy himself states, “translated Daniel’s article quite literal[ly]” (p. xxxii) in the biographical portion of “Edgar Allan Poe: sa vie et ses ouvrages,” whose second part “combines fragments from Daniel and from Thompson” (ibid.); that Baudelaire, whose “remarks [on] . . . Poe’s verse . . . are either taken bodily from Daniel, or else . . . are so vague as to be virtually meaningless” (ibid.) and who, in the “paragraph on Arthur Gordon Pym [,] translates what Daniel had to say” (p. xxxiii); that Baudelaire, the literal translator who never gives credit of authorship to either Thompson or Daniel, should not, under any circumstance, be called a plagiarist in spite (as Bandy asserts) of “most lexicographers, [for whom] a plagiarist is one who appropriates, purloins, or steals the words, writings, or ideas of another and passes them off as his own” (p. xxxix) .

Under the same subtitle of “Pirates and Plagiarists,” I am upset to find Bandy citing Forgues’ translation of “A Descent into the Maelstrom,” which he calls “a fairly accurate one [that] gives due credit to Poe as the original author” (p. xiv) as well as Forgues’ review of the Wiley and Putnam edition of the Tales (p. xv). And why should Isabelle Meunier’s faithful if occasionally awkward translations come under this heading when she always gives credit of authorship to PoeC a detail Bandy omits to indicate — for tales which, even in the original language of composition, were not protected by International Copyright Law? What is the difference between Forgues’, Borghers’ or Isabelle Meunier’s translations on the one hand, and Baudelaire’s on the other? He gave credit of authorship to Poe as they did — nothing more: if judged by the same standards, as they should be, they ought to come under the same heading.

Being unfair to Baudelaire’s predecessors will not help vindicate Baudelaire or increase his reputation. Is it so difficult to agree on the simple fact that Baudelaire is not the first but the best of Poe’s early French commentators and translators? His predecessors were perfectly honorable people whose talents could not measure up to the great [column 2:] poet’s. There is no point whatsoever in reviling their work.

When he has done with those unfortunate early admirers of Poe, W. T. Bandy concentrates, in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth sections of his introduction, on the true history of Baudelaire’s discovery of Poe. In these four parts, his scholarship and critical care cannot be lauded too highly. This is literary history at its best.

But it is French literary history, as revealed by some of the errors, omissions and oversimplifications which mar the American side of the story throughout the introduction and the notes. A few instances will suffice. “William Wilson” was not published in Graham’s Magazine, as asserted by Bandy (p. xiii), but in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. “Mesmeric Revelation” can hardly be called a “fanciful treatise on mesmerism” (p. xx; italics mine). The assertion (p. xxx) that “Daniel wrote a sympathetic and intelligent report” about Poe’s lecture on “The Poetic Principle” should be either supported or qualified. And Bandy contradicts himself in stating that “Daniel . . . produced a truly remarkable study of Poe” and, in the same breath, that this study was “founded, according to the author’s own statement, on the New York Tribune obituary [and] on Griswold’s notice in the Prose Writers of America “ (p. xxx)), two articles notorious for their distortions of faces, omissions and deliberate misrepresentations of Poe’s life and character. Thompson and Daniel pilfered from the early notices by Griswold, who, in his turn, borrowed heavily from their articles for his infamous “Memoir” in the third volume of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Redfield), with the ultimate result that the image of Poe transmitted to the French through Daniel, Thompson, and Baudelaire is Griswold’s Poe.

Some of Mr. Bandy’s footnotes seem to reveal that this eminent specialist of French poetry is not thoroughly familiar with the American sources he quotes: how otherwise can we explain the fact that on two occasions at lease, he has missed the opportunity to clear up puzzling and much discussed opinions of Baudelaire on Poe’s works. When Baudelaire called Arthur Gordon Pym “un livre puremene humain” (1. 1301, p. 34 of Bandy’s reprint), he undoubtedly misunderstood Daniel’s assertion that Poe “was certainly incapable of producing a novel presenting human life and character in any of its ordinary phases; but his chief fictitious work, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, has been unjustly disparaged and neglected” (p. 85, emphasis mine). Jacques Crepet and Patrick Quinn have devoted enough time and ingenuity to explaining Baudelaire’s enigmatic opinion to justify a footnote (see Edgar Allan Poe, Cahier de l’Herne, Paris, 1974, footnotes 38 and 43, p. 317).

Again, Baudelaire’s arresting indication of Emerson’s great admiration for “The Raven” (“De l’aveu de MM. Longfellow et Emerson, c’ese une merveille” p. 26), requires a somewhat more accurate explanation than Bandy’s vague footnore to line 934 (p. 52). The puzzling declaration is Baudelaire’s most hilarious howler: it translates part of Daniel’s statement that “the Raven has taken rank over the whole world, as the very first poem manufactured upon the American continent. In their eyes, but one other work of the western world can be placed near it: — that is the Humble Bee of Ralph Waldo Emerson” (p. 81). Why [page 29:] should not a Humble Bee be a humble opinion, that is, an aveu, in good French?

Finally, no serious student of Poe’s poetry and of the criticism it has elicited (from Duyckinck to Richard Wilbur, or from Fruit to J. Moldenhauer) would dare write that “Daniel’s analysis of Poe’s poetry can bear comparison with almost anything thee has been written on the subject” (footnote to line 920, p. 51). Daniel’s essay itself, printed by Bandy, will offer sufficient proof of the excess of Bandy’s enthusiasm (see pp. 81-84).

Bandy’s argumentation is spoiled by a too obvious desire to justify Baudelaire at any cost: in the process, he almost completely forgets Edgar Allan Poe. He states, for instance, that “at times he [Baudelaire] even went so far as to impugn the authenticity of his source by injecting a note of disbelief and rebuttal, obviously based on pure intuition, but, more often than not, striking nearer to the truth than Daniel had come” (p. xxxii), but never discusses what this “truth” is. Is the truth about Poe’s life and works such a settled matter?

After two sections euphemistically entitled “Baudelaire’s Debt to Daniel” and “Gleanings from Thompson,” Bandy states that “as a result of this distrust [of Griswold’s ‘Memoir’], he [Baudelaire] made relatively little use of Griswold’s testimony when he revised the 1852 essay” (p. xxxviii). I deplore the vagueness of the word “relatively.” After all “Edgar Poe, sa vie et ses ocuvres” (the revised essay in question) is crammed with borrowings from the “Memoir,” as can be demonstrated by a mere juxtaposition of passages (see “Baudelaire critique d’Edgar Allan Poe” in my forthcoming Edgar Allan Poe Journalist et critique, Paris, Klincksieck, appendix vii).

Bandy’s last section of the introduction is a rather specious attempt to argue that Baudelaire cannot be called a plagiarist. It is an extremely weak plea. Baudelaire could afford to plagiarize a biographical and critical article. He didC and no one will hold it against him unless hagiographers keep telling us in scholarly editions that since Baudelaire loved and translated Poe “parce qu’il [lui] ressemblait” (p. xiii, and final argument), the uncredited translation of Daniel’s article should not be called a plagiarism.

Such are the main shortcomings of Bandy’s useful work, if we choose to skip over the odd omissions in the footnotes and in the bibliography (Bandy quotes an 1852 review of “Edgar Poe’s Tales” but omits Forgues’ earlier review, lists Louis Betz’s “outdated and unreliable” book, p. 120, but omits Andre Ferran’s splendid I’Esthetique de Baudelaire, reprinted in 1968); the too numerous misprints, both in French and in English (converation for conversation, p. xxxvi; 19 October 1849 instead of 9 October 1849 for “Ludwig’s” article, footnote 69, p. xiv; if we can placd any faith, p. 48 footnote to line 577; origial for original, p. 51, footnote to lines 837-919); and the startlingly unusual style of the footnotes where periods are omitted at the end of most but not all of the references.

Those sins against the “minor morals of literature,” as Poe would have put it, should not deter us from pointing out, by way of conclusion, that Mr. Bandy’s well-informed book will be valuable to students of Baudelaire. To students of Poe, it will be useless. For the general public, it is a dangerous book flawed in a way that must be vigorously [column 2:] underlined: nowhere is it said, or even hinted, thee Baudelaire’s famous essay is the primary source of a totally legendary image of Edgar Allan Poe in France. Nowhere does M. Bandy try to analyse, or even indicate, the consequences of an essay constantly quoted, paraphrased, or plagiarized as a faithful representation of Edgar Allan Poe’s life and works. An example like the following should warn us about those deplorable consequences. Daniel: “He did drink most barbarously” (Bandy’s text, p. 74). Baudelaire: “Car il ne buvait pas en gourmand, mais en barbare” (ibid., p. 23). Andre Breton (quoting Baudelaire): “Car il ne buvait pas en gourmand mais en barbare” (Anthologie de l’humour noir, 1940). Jacques Cabau: “Ceete fa,con de boire en harioare comme il [Poe] dit, l’emerveille autant qutelle l’effraie” (Poe par lui-meme, Paris, Le Seuil 1960, p. 20). Cabau is not a mere amateur: he teaches American literature in one of our good universities.

The French image of Poe is still, in large measure, strongly indebted to Daniel’s, Thompson’s and Griswold’s “opinions” of Edgar Allan Poe. It will be even more so for the unprepared readers of Bandy’s book, who may not realize that these opinions are the biased and often deliberately distorted views of second rate pen pushers who knew little about Poe and less about his works.

These opinions Baudelaire transmitted to the French, almost word for word. If Poe’s glory in France is the result of his brotherly exertions, Poe’s legendary image is the final outcome of his unfortunate plagiarisms. Mr. Bandy chooses to draw no line between the two activities and their consequences. It is the main flaw of his book: Poe, the man, will be still more of a legendary figure; Poe, the writer, will be more neglected than ever.

Claude Richard, Universite de Montpellier.





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[S:0 - PS, 1976]