Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, June 1981, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, 14:8


[page 8, continued:]


This column is devoted to brief notes, comments, queries. We wish to provide here an outlet for such items as source notes which do not require the extended argument and proof that customarily attends them, and for items of very special or peculiar interest which otherwise might not appear. Contributions to this column should generally be one paragraph in form and less than a page and a half of typescript, though notes of three pages with us many paragraphs are acceptable.

Little Latin and Less French

Two of Poe’s errors in foreign languages live on in T. O. Mabbott’s Harvard edition of Poe’s Tales and Sketches. The first occurs in the motto to “The Pit and the Pendulum,” which did not appear in the tale’s first publication in The Gift of 1843, but which Poe added in the Broadway Journal reprinting on 17 May 1845. The motto’s first line read “Impia tortorum longas hic turba furores . . . .” The error of gender, longas for longos, was repeated by Griswold in the 1850 edition of Poe’s works, as it was in the pirated English editions, which reproduced Griswold’s text. But when Baudelaire translated the tale for his Histoires extraordinaires (1857), he silently corrected the error even though he took his text from Griswold. The incorrect form appears in the Stedman-Woodberry edition of 1895, but Harrison’s 1902 edition gives the proper text. The motto also appears correctly in Poe’s “Pinakidia‘’ [Complete Works, XIV, 66], where Poe “stored” it until it was needed for the tale. Mabbott reproduces Griswold’s incorrect text without explanation [Works, II, 681].

The second of these persistent errors occurs in “‘Bon-Bon,” where Poe’s garbled French has caused no end of trouble for his American [column 2:] and British editors. As the story was originally printed in the Southern Literary Messenger for August 1835, Poe wrote that Pierre Bon-Bon’s “Pates a la fois were beyond doubt immaculate.” Although he had four opportunities to do so, Poe never altered this text, which Griswold retained in his 1850 edition of the works. Sensing that Poe’s French was incorrect, John H. Ingram tried to remedy it by changing it to read “pates a la foie” in 1886 [Tales and Poems (London: Nimmo), 1, 231]. Stedman and Woodberry were content only to supply the missing accent, giving “pates a la fois, while Harrison’s 1902 edition adopted Ingram’s 1886 version of the phrase. Stuart and Susan Levine follow Harrison and thus Ingram in The Short Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe [Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976, pp. 398, 432], but they supply this note on the expression: “Poe means puite a foie (foie is masculine) liver paste.” Finally, Mabbott follows Griswold’s text, emending only the missing accent and adding this unhelpful gloss: “Pates u la fois, literally ‘pates at the time‘” [Works, II, 96, 115].

Because Baudelaire did not translate “Bon-Bon,” we do not know how he might have surmounted the difficulty, but Poe’s other French translators have come to terms with it, Felix Rabbe silently correcting the phrase to “pates de foie” in 1887 and Leon Lemonnier, who returned to the Ingram and Harrison text, adding a note which his French readers would understand: “sic.” The last word, if not in date, on the phrase is said by Edith Phillips in “The French of Edgar Allan Poe” [American Speech, 2 (1927), 277]: “here again, Poe makes odd errors, such as calling a well-known preparation like pâté de foie gras, pâtés à la foist Poe in his student days probably learned a la fois in a list of idioms and thought that the commonly accepted spelling of the food in question was erroneous. Or possibly since pât´e de foie gras is good, one could eat many pâtés à la fois.”

W. T. Bandy, Vanderbilt University


An Error in “Usher”

An interesting error has persisted in the text of “The Fall of the House of Usher” ever since it first appeared in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in September 1839. Perhaps because it has gone unobserved, no notice of it is taken in T. O. Mabbott’s variorum edition (see Works, II, 403-404). The error occurs in a statement by Roderick Usher that the narrator quotes as direct address in the following passage:

[Usher] admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more natural and far more palpable origin — to the severe and long-continued illness indeed to the evidently approaching dissolution — of a tenderly beloved sister — his sole companion for long years — his last and only relative on earth. “Her decease,” he said, with a bitterness which I can never forget, “would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of Ushers.”

Usher’s words “would leave him” should obviously be “would leave me,” since Usher is speaking of himself. The second “him,” beginning the phrase in parentheses, is less clearly an error, for it could be interpreted as the narrator’s parenthetical, mocking commentary, albeit not without some violation of the tone of the passage. If the parentheses are taken at face value, of course, the second “him” should also be “me.” Removing both sets of quotation marks would cure the problem of pronoun reference, but then the “bitterness” of Usher’s tone would not carry the dramatic impact that Poe evidently had in mind. Whether or not the error is unintentional, the ambiguous pronouns are suggestive and deserve attention in terms of the tale’s treatment of subject-object split, dual identity, and narrative voice.

Gary E. Tombleson, Armstrong College


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