Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Preface to the Projected Edition,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. xvii-xxii (This material is protected by copyright)


­[page xvii:]


Edgar Allan Poe’s position as a major author of poetry, fiction, and criticism is generally recognized. There has long been a need for a complete collection of his writings. The last and only previous attempt to present an unabridged edition was made more than sixty years ago. Since then the corpus of Poe’s known works has increased considerably.

The earliest collection, The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe, brought out in four volumes between 1850 and 1856 by Rufus Wilmot Griswold, was professedly a selection, but remained the basis of all subsequent editions for the prose(1) — the poems fared somewhat better — until 1902. In that year James A. Harrison edited The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe in seventeen volumes. The title was used with some propriety, yet a fair number of articles mentioned in Harrison’s bibliography were not included in his text.

My edition was planned after a discussion with Killis Campbell some forty years ago, and from it nothing surely authentic is to be intentionally excluded. Since 1902 scholars have recovered, from old periodicals and from manuscripts, many compositions inaccessible to Harrison. The bulk of Poe’s writings here to be presented has been increased about twenty per cent. The inspiration of Harrison is gratefully acknowledged,(2) but this edition will not be a mere revision of his work. It will be a complete recension of the text, based on all accessible manuscripts and known printings by Poe. As I see it, the chief duties of an editor are to present ­[page xviii:] what an author wrote, to explain why he wrote it, to tell what he meant when he wrote it (if that be in any way now obscure), and to give a history of its publication. In addition, some evaluation of the more important works may be desirable.

The canon is established on the basis of both external and internal evidence. Almost unexceptionally, Poe’s imaginative works were published at some time with his name. Unsigned works, chiefly critical, can be assigned to him on the basis of his own acknowledgments in manuscript or in print, by the statements of contemporaries in a position to know the facts, and by cross references. Poe’s habit of repeating himself, especially in his “Marginalia,” is well known. Nevertheless, the authorship of some few compositions remains in doubt. My editorial policy is to include (with a caveat) imaginative works for which there is considerable evidence of Poe’s authorship, even if it is short of absolute proof. In the case of articles that are not imaginative, only those considered certainly to have been written by Poe will be given. The reasons for the ascription of unsigned items will be explained in every instance.(3)

The introductions to the sections of the miscellaneous contributions to periodicals will explain the few omissions; it does not seem necessary to include whole chapters of books quoted by Poe as “specimens of the author’s style” but not the subject of analytic comment, nor to reprint more than once in the same volume favorite poems by Poe’s friends which he quoted in full again and again.(4) Besides reviews, Poe sometimes wrote notices that amount to no more than records of the receipt of books. These will be reprinted only if they are specifically acknowledged.

The text may be fairly called conservative. The problems confronting the editor of Poe’s writings are of some complexity, since no collected edition appeared during his lifetime; and the posthumous edition of Rufus Wilmot Griswold, his literary executor (de facto and perhaps de jure), was a selection, somewhat hastily ­[page xix:] made, and not representing Poe’s final intentions in the case of some compositions. Hence, each poem and each prose article must be considered in the light of what is known of the merits of the documents we have today. Let it be said at once that we do have excellent sources in a large majority of instances. It is usually possible to find a document that certainly is the best in representing the latest intentions of the author, which should and can be reproduced with no alterations at all. This is not true for a small minority of documents; and in such cases “correct” texts will be presented, insofar as possible.

Where changes are made, editorial policy will be guided by rules — maxims rather than Median laws — to be described below. These depend on the nature of the surviving documents in every case. For Poe we have most of the kinds of sources to be expected for an American author of the second quarter of the nineteenth century.

The original manuscripts include drafts — both preliminary notes and hastily written versions not carefully revised — as well as carefully finished manuscripts prepared by the author as fair copy for the printer. All these are holographs. Poe did not dictate to amanuenses or employ copyists. A few manuscripts were written as autographs in albums or otherwise for collectors.(5)

There are printed texts of two kinds: some read in proof by the author, others which he did not so read.

There are also revised printed texts — both of book and of periodical printings — with later manuscript alterations made by Poe with a view to future republications.

We do not have any specimens of corrected proof, although some must once have existed. It may be confidently asserted that Poe did not stop the presses to make changes either for his books or for separate articles.

Lastly, we have a few transcripts of now lost manuscript and printed texts, made when they still existed or long afterward from memory by people who knew the poet.

Poe’s handwriting changed much over the years. In his youth ­[page xx:] it was generally rather large and flowing. Later, in the early ’thirties, he wrote pieces meant for publication in an imitation of print (it would now be called “script”), and then he turned to a plain hand which, as the years advanced, became more and more designedly calligraphic. It is, of course, specimens of this that are familiar to most students from illustrations in popular books. Poe’s hand is never hard to read, but he was old-fashioned in writing capital I and J without differentiation, his capital P and T often look alike, and the diphthongs æ and œ can be distinguished (at least by me) only from the sense. These often bewildered his printers, and I will print them correctly. Poe did sometimes employ an ampersand, which will always (save in the names of firms and “&C”) be printed as “and” without comment. I am unwilling to call these emendations.(6)

Actual verbal emendations will be confined to the correction of sure misprints (typographical errors) and of obvious slips of the pen. The former are infrequent after 1827; Poe’s first printer, Calvin Thomas, was an inexperienced beginner. Later Poe always had the services of competent compositors, and usually was on friendly terms with them. The slips of the pen were extremely rare but they exist.(7) No “improvement” of Poe’s grammar will be attempted in any case; slight errors may be found in his English and certainly there are wrong genders in his Greek and French.

He was an almost impeccable speller but not a consistent one. Fashions changed during his lifetime, and he sometimes used forms curious to our eyes. He wrote words like honour and honor indifferently, although late in life he preferred the American forms. But it should be remembered that in his day visiter, headach, and even it’s (possessive) were tolerated as correct, and I shall preserve them.

Poe strove to improve his punctuation in 1835, and later wrote in his “Marginalia” (number 196) of the importance of dashes; ­[page xxi:] of these he was extremely fond, as he was of italics. But it was not so much logical as rhetorical punctuation, a guide to the pauses in reading aloud.

Finally there are accents. In English they are given as Poe gave them, except for an addition of a diaeresis for the name Irenë, where modern Americans do not sound the final letter and their ancestors a century ago did, as is still the custom in Britain. Poe usually wrote French accents correctly, and these are all given selon les règles. For Greek, editorial policy may puzzle readers. Poe usually did not write the accents, and his printers rarely printed them. After discussion with advisors, I have decided, in an American text of the second quarter of the nineteenth century, to follow copy and use accents only if they appear in the original.

When the best text of an item has been chosen, it will be presented according to the methods just described. Poe often rewrote poems and even stories completely; and he constantly made minor revisions in reprinting them. Hence it is sometimes desirable to give full texts of earlier versions in addition to what is regarded as the best. Significant minor changes will be recorded as variants. For the imaginative works, the collection of verbal changes will be as complete as possible.

The annotation will be as nearly exhaustive as possible. In an introductory note to each item I plan to give the history of its composition and an account of Poe’s major sources if they are certainly known or plausibly suggested. The history of publication which follows will include a list of all authorized versions of the item now known. In the case of articles that neither Poe nor his literary executor collected, record will be made of first publication in periodicals and of first inclusion in books.

In the commentary I will give the sources of Poe’s direct and indirect quotations and explanations of his references and allusions that may not be clear to a reader of today. These notes are “a modified variorum.” There will be a full discussion of cruces, but record will usually be omitted of views outmoded in the light of present knowledge and of explanations withdrawn or abandoned by their proponents. ­[page xxii:]

Credit is given to my predecessors, I hope with some thoroughness. I am also indebted to my students and to friends for unprinted suggestions given to me directly,(8) which I have tried to acknowledge and for which I express my sincere thanks.

Purely aesthetic criticism will be deliberately kept to a minimum. It will usually be confined to pointing out the merits of widely recognized masterpieces and to evaluation of pieces less well known. Something will be said of the estimates of his work (not always favorable) that stem from Poe himself. Of Poe’s vast influence on his contemporaries and on those who have come after him even less will be said, but mention will be made of all known reprints in Britain before 1850, and of translations made on the Continent during his lifetime.




[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page xvii:]

1  In their once celebrated edition of Poe’s Works (1895), Edmund Clarence Stedman and George Edward Woodberry “collected and edited” only the poetry independently. The introduction to different sections of the present edition will describe the few accretions to the prose in that and other nineteenth-century editions.

2  The chronological arrangement (within categories) is based on Harrison’s; but the order of some compositions is changed in the light of new information, and I have placed among the “Tales and Sketches” a few items Harrison classified as essays.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page xviii:]

3  These reasons have been discussed with my advisors, but final decisions are necessarily my responsibility. No two men presumably would agree on every item, but instances of serious disagreement are few.

4  Notably “Unseen Spirits” by N. P. Willis and “The Forsaken” by Mrs. Sarah Anna Lewis.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page xix:]

5  We have specimens of Poe’s manuscripts from every period of his career, but relatively few of those used by his printers survive. It was the custom in his day to throw away manuscripts after the text was set up and proofread, unless the author requested their return or an editor or printer kept one for a special reason.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page xx:]

6  I have at one time or another seen in the original or in a mechanical facsimile every known manuscript of a poem or story. This, of course, is not true of all the critical prose or of all the letters.

7  All authorized versions of the tale “Thou Art the Man” twice give the name of one character where sense demands another, and in this case the surviving manuscript proves the slips were the author’s own.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page xxii:]

8  Some have come from master’s essays I directed, from papers written for my classes, and from discussions with my students and other friends, verbally or in correspondence. I have, after consultation, decided to read no unprinted doctoral dissertations, save at the request of their writers.




The “Marginalia” item about dashes first appeared in the 11th installment, published in Graham’s Magazine for February 1848. It was repeated in the 3rd volume of the Griswold edition of 1850 as item 5. In the edition oprepared by Burton R. Pollin, it is numbered as item 197 (The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. 2: The Brevities, New York: Gordian Press, 1985).

In his own copy of TOM’s edition of the Poems, Burton R. Pollin writes two comments that should be mentioned. In the margin near the statement about Poe being “an almost impeccable speller,” BRP writes “wrong”; and in the margin near the statement on the facing page about Poe usually writing “French accents correctly,” BRP writes “no.” Neither comment is given fuller explanation, although BRP repeatedly expressed the opinion that Poe’s knowledge of foreign languages was vastly overstated. (The note in regard to Poe’s spelling is repeated by BRP in the margin of the “Introduction,” in the section about “Rhyme.”)


[S:1 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Acknowledgments)