Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, June 1984, Vol. XVII, No. 1, 17:22-23


[page 22:]


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 as many paragraphs are acceptable.

Poe, Rossetti, and the Doctors Maudsley

Some years ago, Mary C. Leibman called to our attention a Dr. Henry Maudsley (1835-1918), an eminent British neurologist who was one of Poe’s earliest and most credible Victorian defenders [“Dr. Maudsley, Forgotten Poe Diagnostician,” Poe Studies, 5 (June 1972), 55]. Medical Superintendent of the Manchester Royal Lunatic Hospital, Dr. Maudsley wrote a number of treatises on the heredity, pathology, and treatment of mental disease, as well as a comprehensive psycho-biography of Poe. This Dr. Maudsley also was summoned to treat Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a better-known admirer of Poe. But readers may confuse this physician with another Dr. Maudsley, namely Dr. Henry Carr Maudsley (1859-1944), the elder Maudsley’s nephew and the physician who attended Rossetti shortly before his death in 1881. This brief note addresses whatever confusion may exist in the connections between Poe, Rossetti, and these two Doctors Maudsley.

In a memoir, William Michael Rossetti observed that Poe was “a poet of my brother’s marked predilection,” and that many of Poe’s works were “a deep well of delight” to him. When Rossetti set up a studio with Holman Hunt, Poe was one of the few Americans honored by their list of “Immortals,” a series of exemplars that included Dante, Shakespeare, and Jesus Christ. In the late 1840s, Rossetti painted six illustrations for “Ulalume,” “The Sleeper,” and “The Raven,” the last of which, according to Hall Caine’s recollection, provided the inspiration for Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel” [Recollections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (London: Elliot Stock, 1882), p. 284; five of the six illustrations are reproduced in Virginia Surtees’ The Paintings and Drawings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882): A Catalogue Raisonne (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1971)]. Apparently, the affinity he detected between Rossetti and Poe led James Hannay to dedicate his 1853 edition of Poe’s Poetical Works [London: Griffin, Bohn, and Company; and Addoy and Company] to the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet.

Despite their mutual appreciation of Poe, it is unlikely that the older Dr. Maudsley and Dante Gabriel Rossetti ever exchanged views on the American writer. In June of 1872, when Rossetti suffered a serious mental breakdown (gradually brought on, some say, by Robert Buchanan’s scathing attack of him in the essay “The Fleshly School of Poetry”), Dr. Maudsley was called to examine the poet and to consult with other physicians regarding treatment. But upon Dr. Maudsley’s arrival, Rossetti “at sight insanely charged him with falsely posing as a doctor in order to do him harm” [Oswald Doughty, Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Victorian [column 2:] Romantic (New Haven: Yale Unv. Press, 1949), p. 5191 Dr. Maudsley hastily bowed out.

In December of 1881, not long before Rossetti’s death, the younger Dr. Maudsley was summoned to oversee the poet’s withdrawal from chloral (a narcotic he had been dependent upon for nearly ten years), taking up residence long enough to see the ailing poet through his drug-dependent crisis. Rossetti’s close friend Hall Caine reports that the English poet often recited “Ulalume” and “The Raven” during the last months of his life. If the physician were present at such a recitation, it is possible that Rossetti, himself the victim of severe critical attack in the name of respectability, discussed Poe with the nephew of the older Dr. Maudsley, one of Poe’s earliest British advocates.

Jay Jacoby, University of North Carolina at Charlotte


Masonry, Impunity, and Revolution

The Latin motto which Poe used in “The Cask of Amontillado” and in two other tales Nemo me impune lacessit, “No one insults me with impunity,” is as several scholars have noted, the national motto of Scotland. But it is likely that Poe knew it first through Richmond history, his family’s experience, and his own early military activity. It was well-known locally, proudly preserved upon a favorite artifact of the American Revolution, for it served as the motto of the Richmond Rifle Rangers and was painted on their flag. (“Rangers” in that war meaor riflemen, troops which served essentially as snipers.) Until a fire on 19 May 1871 destroyed the building and much of the collection, the flag of the Richmond Rifle Rangers was on exhibit at the Masonic Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. [Edward W. Richardson, Standards and Colors of the American Revolution (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press and the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution and Its Color Guard, 1982), p. 139. Richardson’s source, in turn, is Franklin Longdon Brockett, The Lodge of Washington: A History of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, AF and AM (1876; Alexandria, Va.: G. E. French, 1928), p. 87.]

The date at which the flag first came into the museum’s collection and was put on public display is not established. But Poe served as an officer in the Richmond Junior Volunteers and was thus in close contact with the city’s military traditions, especially in 1824, when the Marquis de LaFayette visited Richmond on his triumphal return visit to the nation he had done so much to create. Poe’s youthful cadet corps was issued arms for the period, for the regular guard was busy for a time outside the city, and the Junior Volunteers were made available to quell the potential slave insurrection southerners always feared. The Volunteers paraded and were presented to LaFayette; Hervey Allen is certain that Poe entered enthusiastically into local military matters and that he would have had his mind on his family’s part in the Revolution. [Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1934), pp. 98-102] Certainly LaFayette remembered the important services rendered his command by Poe’s grandfather, Major David Poe, for in 1824 he asked after Major Poe and met with his widow. [Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: Appleton-Century Co., 1941), pp. 15-18.] Every move LaFayette made was heavily publicized.

In “The Cask of Amontillado” Nemo me impune lacessit is the Montresor family motto, and Montresor teases Fortunato with [page 23:] the possibility that he, like his victim, is a Mason. Poe used the motto in humorous contexts, too, in “The Duc de L‘Omelette” and in his satire “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.” The latter story also connects to the American Revolution through a submerged allusion to Mrs. E. F. Ellet, a plagiarist “interested in stories of the American Revolution.” [See Works, III, 1148, 35. For a likely literary source, see Stuart and Susan Levine, eds., The Short Fiction of EAP (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1976), p. 470, n. 8.] Poe apparently associated a cluster of ideas — the Latin phrase, the American Revolution, Richmond, military service, and Masonry — which connect youthful experience, history, family, and reading to his art. That two of three stories in which the quotation appears have to do with the insecure world of the American magazinists, and the third with bitter vengeance, is certainly suggestive.

Stuart Levine, University of Kansas


Mrs. Osgood’s “The Life-Voyage” and “Annabel Lee”

Professors Buford Jones and Kent Ljungquist exercise more ingenuity than care in arguing that there are enough “internal parallels alone” to make Frances Sargent Osgood’s “The Life-Voyage. A Ballad” a “probable model” for “Annabel Lee” [see “Poe, Mrs. Osgood, and ‘Annabel Lee,‘” Studies in the American Renaissance (1983), pp. 275-280]. Noting that Poe must have been familiar with “The Life-Voyage” when he wrote “Annabel Lee,” Jones and Ljungquist cite what they believe are five “parallels” between the two poems: 1) both contain the phrase “sounding sea”; 2) both “are ballads”; 3) both “begin in fairy tale fashion beside the sea”; 4) both present a fair maiden “who is envied by the angels in heaven”; and 5) both share the “theme of angelic-demonic ambivalence.” But Jones and Ljungquist fail to make their case: two of these alleged “parallels” do not exist, and though the remaining three are genuine, none can be adduced as convincing evidence that Mrs. Osgood’s poem served as a “probable model.”

Of the three genuine parallels, the phrase “sounding sea” doff occur in the first and second stanzas of Mrs. Osgood’s poem and in the closing stanza of the earliest version of “Annabel Lee.” But why should Mrs. Osgood’s use of the phrase be considered a “probable” source for Poe when, as Jones and Ljungquist admit in a footnote, Poe must for years have been familiar with Milton’s use of “sounding sea” in “Lycidas“? The fact that the phrase occurs in Blake’s The Four Zoas and in Tennyson’s “The Lover’s Tale” (works not published before Poe’s death which cannot of course, have influenced “Annabel Lee”) suggests that it was not sufficiently uncommon to identify any single work as its “probable” source in Poe’s poem. Moreover, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “sounding” appears as an adjective “frequently in 18th century poetry.” One such appearance especially noteworthy here, though not cited by the Dictionary, occurs in the story of Lysander and Aspasia at the close of “Night V” of Edward Young’s Night Thoughts, a work with which Poe was familiar. As in “Annabel Lee,” the love of Lysander and Aspasia was “envied” by “all who knew” and their sorrowful tale related in Night Thoughts is played out upon “the sounding beach.”

The second genuine parallel cited by Jones and Ljungquist is that both “Annabel Lee” and “The Life-Voyage” are ballads. But the fact that the two poems can be considered ballads is meaningless because the ballad as a genre is an omnium-gatherum of such [column 2:] generous proportions that it includes works having little in common. Poe’s poem is a personal story of lost love which achieves its unique effects largely through its narrative voice and its haunting repetitions. It is not written in stanzas of traditional ballad quatrains. Osgood’s poem is a didaaic tale addressed to a young child, a moral allegory tracing the journey of personified “Innocence” as she bears the “divine gem” of “Truth” across the perilous seas of life to her “home” in “yonder skies.” Though Mrs. Osgood’s poem is written in ballad quatrains, the kind of repetition we associate with the traditional ballad plays almost no role in her poem. Jones and Ljungquist’s third point — that both “Annabel Lee” and “The Life-Voyage” begin in fairy tale fashion beside the sea — is also valid. In Poe’s poem, however, “a kingdom by the sea” is the locus of all the action, whereas in Mrs. Osgood’s, “bffide the sounding sea” is only a point of departure: by line twenty her heroine has “bravely put to sea” on a voyage which occupies the remaining one hundred and eight lines, a voyage which is the subject of the poem.

The fourth parallel alleged by Jones and Ljungquist — that the heroine of each poem ‘‘is envied by the angels in heaven“ — does not, in fact, exist. Nowhere does Mrs. Osgood’s poem suggest that the “fair maiden” (that is, Innocence”) is envied by anyone, least of all by the angels in heaven. Quite the contrary, the “angels” are instrumental and faithful in assisting “Innocence” in her effort to reach the safety of heaven. Even the “evil spirits” who beset her are not motivated by envy: they simply play their role in a conventional contest in which “Innocence” traditionally finds herself the prize. The last parallel, what Jones and Ljungquist call the “theme of angelic-demonic ambivalence,‘’ is also non-existent. This theme, which alleges that angels are transformed into devils and vice versa, is one of the longstanding interpretations of that controversial passage in Poe’s ballad where Annabel Lee u:ppears to have been the victim of both angels and demons or ‘uf angels as demons. Jones and Ljungquist hold that the angels in “The Life-Voyage” are similarly transformed into “demons” and back into angels as they alternately assault and assist the maiden on her voyage. But Mrs. Osgood’s scenario is quite otherwise. “The Life-Voyage” is an old-fashioned Christian allegory laced with a distinct element of Manichaeism, furnished here by a cast made up of good characters who assist the maiden and of evil characters who tempt and threaten her. The good characters, the angels, put in their first appearance in lines 23-24, where they “whisper‘d her from Heaven, / To loose . . . or to reef’ the sail of her “shallop”; thus, they function as a kind of mission control advising the maiden on the trim of her craft as it makes its “way” to its “home” in “yonder skiff,” a “way” or course illuminated by the pearl of “Truth.” But the maiden is beset by two distinct bands of hostile beings. The first, the “false, evil spirits” of lines 37-72, represent a moral threat to the maiden by tempting her first with “costly lure” and then with “rank,” “power,” and “pleasures free” in their effort to bribe her into surrendering her “white pearl” of “Truth.” But they fail (lines 73-80). The second hostile band is the “dark-wind demons” of lines 85-96, representing a physical threat to the maiden by trying her courage through a violent storm. But she prevails again (lines 97-112). In the midst of this “blinding storm,” an “angel” finally leaves heaven to join the maiden on her frail vessel (lines 105-108; note that the angels of lines 23-24 had only whispered advice from heaven). Guided through the dark storm by the light of the pearl on the maiden’s shallop, this angel “Flew down the fairy helm to take, / And steer the boat aright,” piloting the vessel to its “designated port.” Here (lines 105-116) the maiden passes from storm and temptation to heavenly peace with her “Innocence” intact. But nowhere in her allegory does Mrs. Osgood burden her reader (identified as “my pure and simple child”) with those disturbing ambiguities of devilish angels that people the paranoid world of “Annabel Lee.” As Jones and Ljungquist point out, there can be no doubt of Poe’s “exposure” to Mrs. Osgood’s “The Life-Voyage,” but this fact, even when coupled with the parallel occurrence of the phrase “sounding sea,” does not justify swelling still further the ranks of “probable” sources of Poe’s poem.

John E. Reilly, College of the Holy Cross


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