Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “MS. Found in a Bottle,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 130-148 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 130:]

MS. FOUND IN A BOTTLE

This story is a masterpiece in the literal sense of the word. By winning a prize contest it set its author on the way to lasting fame.

Messrs. Charles F. Cloud and William L. Pouder publishers of [page 131:] the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, in the issue of June 15, 1833, announced premiums of “50 dollars for the best Tale and 25 dollars for the best poem, not exceeding one hundred lines.” Poe submitted his poem “The Coliseum” and six stories from the projected collection he now called “Tales of the Folio Club.” Two judges, John Pendleton Kennedy and Dr. James Henry Miller, met with the third, John H. B. Latrobe, early in October at his home, 11 West Mulberry Street, Baltimore, and unanimously awarded the prize for the best tale to Poe.* The award was announced in the Visiter of October 12, 1833.

The story was printed in the next week’s paper, with the comment: “The following is the Tale to which the Premium of Fifty Dollars has been awarded by the Committee. It will be found highly graphic in its style of Composition.”

Poe obtained some immediate publicity away from home; and most important of all, the story brought Poe to the attention of John P. Kennedy, who was to remain a friend while Poe lived, and who gave invaluable impetus to the young author’s career by putting him in touch with Thomas W. White in Richmond. Poe became an early contributor to White’s Southern Literary Messenger, and at twenty-six its editor.

Poe’s story combines several themes. One is the notion of Captain John Cleves Symmes, who believed the earth was hollow, open at both of the poles, and capable of habitation within. With James McBride, Symmes published Symmes’ Theory of Concentric Spheres (Cincinnati, 1826). He had first propounded his ideas in 1818, and a story, Symzonia, by “Captain Adam Seaborn” (perhaps Symmes himself), appeared in 1820, and was reprinted in facsimile [page 132:] with an introduction by J. O. Bailey in 1965. Symmes’ monument in Hamilton, Ohio, with a figure of the pierced globe, is famous.§

The second theme is that of the Flying Dutchman, Sir Walter Scott says in a note to Rokeby (1813) II, xi, 25:

This is . . . a well-known nautical superstition concerning a fantastic vessel, called by sailors the Flying Dutchman, and supposed to be seen about the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope. She is distinguished from earthly vessels by bearing a press of sail when all others are unable, from stress of weather, to show an inch of canvas. The cause of her wandering is not altogether certain; but the general account is that she was originally a vessel loaded with great wealth, on board of which some horrid act . . . had been committed; that the plague broke out among the wicked crew . . . and that they sailed in vain . . . excluded from every harbor for fear of the contagion which was devouring them; and that, as a punishment of their crimes, the apparition of the ship still continues to haunt those seas in which the catastrophe took place, and is considered by the mariners as the worst of all possible omens.

In Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, June 1839, is a review of The Phantom Ship by Captain Marryat. This I now believe was one of Poe’s first contributions to the magazine. The reviewer says: “The old legend of the Flying Dutchman is one possessing all the rich materiel which a vigorous imagination could desire.”

A story that probably aroused Poe’s immediate interest in the theme of the ghostly ship was found by Professor John C. Guilds, Jr. It is “A Picture of the Sea” by William Gilmore Simms, published in the Charleston Southern Literary Gazette, December 1828, when Poe was in the army and stationed at Fort Moultrie. It is practically unthinkable that he did not see a local magazine of this kind at the time.*

The parallels between the beginnings of Poe’s story and that of Simms are striking enough. The narrator of the Simms story is a ship passenger who professes disbelief in superstition. A sudden furious storm strikes after the sea takes on a mysterious foreboding [page 133:] appearance. The captain rebukes the narrator and some other passengers who play cards at such a time, and thinks this may provoke a visit from the Flying Dutchman who frequents the German Ocean (North Sea) where the ship is sailing. Mountainous seas begin to overwhelm it. Then appears a large and majestic vessel under full sail — and passes over the narrator’s ship, which begins to sink. One of his fellow passengers clings to a spar, which the narrator also seizes; finding it insufficient for both, he strangles his companion, but both sink. The conclusion does not parallel Poe’s tale, for Simms’s narrator finds himself in the presence of “the most bewitching of the fairy race,” kisses her, receives “a violent blow of her fist,” and wakes up in church!

Poe has his hero actually get on board the ghostly ship and send an account of his fatal adventure to the world by putting his message in a bottle. Poe employed this simple device again in “Mellonta Tauta,” and in a less significant way in “The Balloon Hoax.”

Floyd Stovall in University of Texas Studies in Literature (1930) sought for parallels to “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.” Poe could hardly have written about a ghostly ship involved in a shipwreck without thinking of Coleridge’s unforgettable old sailor; and the suggestion of an association of the Flying Dutchman with the South Pole may have come from it. But it is rather a minor contributory source than a major one. Ice and albatross in Antarctic regions are factual, as are phosphorescent waters in tropical and semitropical seas.

It has been suspected that an anonymous story called “MSS Found in a Drawer” in the Saturday Visiter of November 30, 1833 might be a burlesque of Poe’s tale, but this is not the case, although it may be remotely inspired by Poe’s narrative. Miss Margaret C. [page 134:] Kelley, secretary of the late William H. Koester, kindly sent me a typewritten copy of the piece. The narrator tells how he was, with two other men, in a small boat run down by a larger craft. Both of his companions were lost, but the hero became delirious, and his wild laughter was heard by several Negroes having a picnic on the nearby shore, who rescued him.

Poe’s story was presumably composed in 1832; had it been submitted in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier contest in 1832, it would almost certainly have been published in that periodical during the following year. Miss Leslie paid Poe twenty dollars for this tale, but her decision to reprint it in The Gift for 1836, instead of one of the unpublished tales he had offered her, surprised and disappointed Poe, as he wrote to John P. Kennedy on September 12, 1835.

TEXTS

(A) Baltimore Saturday Visiter, October 19, 1833; (B) The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1836 (1835), pp. 67-87; (C) Southern Literary Messenger, December 1835 (2:33-37); (D) Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840) I, 111-126; (E) PHANTASY-PIECES (copy of last with manuscript changes, 1842); (F) Broadway Journal, October 11, 1845 (2:203-206); (G) Works (1850) I, 150-160.

Griswold had a version with additional material — hence his text (G) is followed. It may be noted here that the text of Works (1850) is free of many of the typographical errors that marred later issues.

The file of the Visiter (A) I examined personally in 1918 when it was still owned by Miss Elizabeth Seip. It was later in the collection of William H. Koester, and is now at the University of Texas. The preface of The Gift (B) is dated October 1835. Of the seventeen punctuation changes in PHANTASY-PIECES ten were adopted in the later texts. Eight of these substitute semi-colons for dashes. All texts use the first line of asterisks; only F and G use the others — obviously marking breaks in the narrative, and varying in position and number at the convenience of the printer.

Reprints

The People’s Advocate (Newburyport, Mass.), October 26, 1833, from the Baltimore Saturday Visiter; Richmond Semi-Weekly Examiner, October 19, 1849, from Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840). [page 135:]

MS. FOUND IN A BOTTLE. [G]  [[v]]

Qui n’a plus qu’un moment à vivre

N’a plus rien à dissimuler.   Quinault — Atys.  [[v]]   [[n]]

Of my country and of my family I have little to say. Ill usage and length of years have driven me from the one, and estranged me from the other. Hereditary wealth afforded me an education of no common order, and a contemplative turn of mind enabled me to methodise the stores which early study very diligently garnered up. Beyond all things, the works of the German moralists gave me great delight; not from any ill-advised admiration of their eloquent madness, but from the ease with which my habits of rigid thought enabled me to detect their falsities. I have often been reproached with the aridity of my genius; a deficiency of imagination has been imputed to me as a crime; and the Pyrrhonism(1) of my opinions has at all times rendered me notorious. Indeed, a strong relish for physical philosophy has, I fear, tinctured my mind with a very common error of this age — I mean the habit of referring occurrences, even the least susceptible of such reference, to the principles of that science. Upon the whole, no person could be less liable than myself to be led away from the severe precincts of truth by the igues fatui(2) of superstition. I have thought proper to premise thus much, lest the incredible tale I have to tell should be considered rather the raving{a} of a crude imagination, than the positive experience of a mind to which the reveries of fancy have been a dead letter and a nullity.

After many years spent in foreign travel, I sailed in the year 18—, from the port of Batavia,(3) in the rich and populous island of Java, on a voyage to the Archipelago of the Sunda islands. I went as passenger — having no other inducement than a kind of nervous restlessness which haunted me as{b} a fiend.

Our vessel was a beautiful ship of about four hundred tons, [page 136:] copper-fastened, and built at Bombay of Malabar teak. She was freighted with cotton-wool and oil, from the Lachadive islands.(4) We had also on board coir, jaggeree, ghee,(5) cocoa-nuts, and a few cases of opium. The stowage was clumsily done, and the vessel consequently crank.(6)

We got under way with a mere breath of wind, and for many days stood along the eastern coast of Java, without any other incident to beguile the monotony of our course than the occasional meeting with some of the small grabs(7) of the Archipelago to which we were bound.

One evening, leaning over the taffrail, I observed a very singular, isolated cloud, to the N. W. It was remarkable, as well for{c} its color, as from its being the first we had seen since our departure from Batavia. 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, and looking like a long line of low beach. My notice was soon afterwards 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 bottom, yet, heaving the lead, I found the ship in fifteen fathoms. The air now became intolerably hot, and was loaded with spiral exhalations similar to those arising from heated iron. As night came on, every breath of wind died away, and a more entire calm it is impossible to conceive. The flame of a candle burned upon the poop without the least perceptible motion, and a long hair, held between the finger and thumb, hung without the possibility of detecting a vibration. 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 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 Simoon.{d} (8) I told the captain my fears; but he paid no attention to what I said, and left me{e} without deigning [page 137:] to give{f} a reply. My uneasiness, however, prevented me from sleeping, and about midnight I went upon deck. As I placed my foot upon the upper step of the companion-ladder, I was startled by{g} a loud, humming noise, like that occasioned by the rapid revolution of a mill-wheel, 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.

The extreme fury of the blast proved, in a great measure, the salvation of the ship. Although completely water-logged, yet, as{h} her masts had gone by the board, she rose, after a minute, heavily from the sea, and, staggering awhile beneath the immense pressure of the tempest, finally righted.

By what miracle I escaped destruction, it is impossible{i} to say. Stunned by the shock of the water, I found myself, upon recovery, jammed in between the stern-post and rudder. With great difficulty I gained my feet, and looking dizzily around, was at first struck with the idea of our being among breakers; so terrific, {jj}beyond the wildest imagination,{jj} was the whirlpool of mountainous{k} and foaming ocean within which we were{l} ingulfed. After a while, I heard the voice of an old Swede, who had shipped with us at the moment of our leaving port. I hallooed to him with all my strength, and presently he came reeling aft. We soon discovered that we were the sole survivors of the accident. All on deck, with the exception of ourselves, had been swept overboard; the{m} captain and mates must have perished as they slept, for the cabins were deluged with water. Without assistance, we could expect to do little for the security of the ship, and our exertions were at first paralyzed by the momentary expectation of going down. Our cable had, of course, parted like pack-thread, at the first breath of the hurricane, or the should have been instantaneously overwhelmed. We scudded with frightful velocity before the sea, and the water made clear breaches over us. The frame-work of our stern was shattered excessively, and, in [page 138:] almost every respect, we had received considerable injury; but to our extreme{n} joy we found the pumps unchoked, and that we had {oo}made no great shifting of our ballast.{oo} The main fury of the blast{p} had already blown over, and we apprehended little danger from the violence of the wind; but we looked forward to its total cessation with dismay; well believing, that,{q} in our shattered condition, we should inevitably perish in the tremendous swell which would ensue. But this very just apprehension seemed by no means likely to be soon verified. For five entire days and nights — during which our only subsistence was a small quantity of jaggeree, procured with great difficulty from the forecastle — the hulk flew at a rate defying computation, before rapidly succeeding flaws of wind, which, without equalling the first violence of the Simoon, were still more terrific than any tempest I had before encountered. Our course for the first four days was, with trifling variations, S. E. and by S.; and we must have run down the coast of New Holland.(9) On the fifth day the cold became extreme, although the wind had hauled round a point more to the northward. The sun arose with a sickly yellow lustre, and clambered a very few degrees above the horizon — emitting no decisive light. There were no clouds{r} apparent, yet the wind was upon the increase, and blew with a fitful and unsteady fury. About noon, as nearly as we could guess, our attention was again arrested by the appearance of the sun. It gave out{s} no light, properly so called, but a dull and sullen glow {tt}without reflection, as if all its rays were polarized.{tt} Just before sinking within the turgid{u} sea, its central fires suddenly went out, as if hurriedly extinguished by some unaccountable power. It was a dim, silver-like rim, alone, as it rushed down the unfathomable ocean.

We waited in vain for the {vv}arrival of the{vv} sixth day — that day to me has not{w} arrived — to the Swede,{x} never did arrive. Thenceforward we were enshrouded in pitchy darkness, so that we could not have seen an object at twenty paces from the ship. Eternal [page 139:] night continued to envelop us, all unrelieved by the phosphoric sea-brilliancy to which we had been accustomed in the tropics. We observed too, that, although the tempest continued to rage with unabated violence, there was no longer to be discovered the usual appearance of surf, or foam, which had hitherto attended us. All around were{y} horror, and{z} thick gloom, and a black sweltering desert of ebony. Superstitious{a} terror crept by degrees into the spirit of the old Swede, and my own soul was wrapped up{b} in silent wonder. We neglected all care of the ship, as worse than useless, and securing ourselves, as well as possible, to the stump of the mizen-mast, looked out bitterly into the world of ocean. We had no means of calculating time, nor could we form any guess of our situation. We were, however, well aware of having made farther to the southward than any previous navigators,(10) and felt great{c} amazement at not meeting with the usual impediments of ice. In the meantime every moment threatened to be our last — every mountainous billow hurried to overwhelm us. The swell surpassed anything I had imagined possible, and that we were not instantly buried is a miracle. My companion spoke of the lightness of our cargo, and reminded me of the excellent qualities of our ship; but I could not help feeling the utter hopelessness of hope itself, and prepared myself gloomily for that death which I thought nothing could defer beyond an hour, as, with every knot of way the ship made, the swelling of the black stupendous seas became more dismally appalling. At times we gasped for breath at an elevation beyond the albatross — at times became dizzy with the velocity of our descent into some watery hell, where the air grew stagnant, and no sound disturbed the slumbers of the kraken.(11)

We were at the bottom of one of these abysses, when a quick scream from my companion broke fearfully upon the night. “See! see!” cried he, shrieking in my ears, “Almighty God! see! see!” As he spoke, I became aware of a dull, sullen glare of red{d} light which streamed{e} down the sides of the vast chasm where we lay, and threw a fitful brilliancy upon our deck. Casting my eyes upwards, I beheld [page 140:] a spectacle which froze the current of my blood. At a terrific height directly above us, and upon the very verge of the precipitous descent, hovered a gigantic ship, of perhaps{f} four thousand tons. Although upreared upon the summit of a wave{g} more than a hundred{h} times her own altitude, her apparent size still exceeded that of any ship of the line or East Indiaman in existence. Her huge hull was of a deep dingy black, unrelieved by any of the customary carvings of a ship. A single row of brass cannon protruded from her open ports, and dashed{i} from their polished surfaces the fires of innumerable battle-lanterns, which swung to and fro about her rigging. But what mainly inspired us with horror and astonishment, was that she bore up under a press of sail in the very teeth of that supernatural sea, and of that ungovernable hurricane. When we first discovered her here{j} bows were alone to be seen, as she rose{k} slowly from the {ll}dim and horrible{ll} gulf beyond her. For a moment of intense terror she paused upon the giddy pinnacle, as if in contemplation of her own sublimity, then trembled and tottered, and — came down.

At this instant, I known{m} not what sudden self-possession came over my spirit. Staggering as far aft as I could,(12) I awaited fearlessly the ruin that was to overwhelm. Our own{n} vessel was at length ceasing from her struggles, and sinking with her head to the sea. The shock of the descending mass struck her, consequently, in that portion of her frame which was already under water, and the inevitable result was to hurl me, with irresistible violence, upon the rigging of the stranger.(13)

As I fell, the ship hove in stays, and went about; and to the confusion ensuing I attributed my escape from the notice of the crew. With little difficulty I made my way, unperceived, to the main hatchway, which was partially open, and soon found an opportunity of secreting myself in the hold. Why I did so I can hardly tell. An{o} indefinite sense of awe, which at first sight of the navigators [page 141:] of the ship had taken hold of my mind, was perhaps the principle of my concealment. I was unwilling to trust myself with a race of people who had offered, to the cursory glance I had taken, so many points of vague novelty, doubt, and apprehension. I therefore thought proper to contrive a hiding-place in the hold. This I did by removing a small portion of the shifting-boards, in such a manner as to afford me a convenient retreat between the huge timbers of the ship.

I had scarcely completed my work, when a footstep in the hold forced me to make use of it. A man passed by my place of concealment with a feeble and unsteady gait. I could not see his face, but had an opportunity of observing his general appearance. There was about it an evidence of great age and infirmity. His knees tottered beneath a load of years, and his entire frame quivered under the burthen. He muttered to himself, in a low broken tone, some words of a language which I could not understand, and groped in a corner among a pile of singular-looking instruments, and decayed charts of navigation. His manner was a wild mixture of the peevishness of second childhood and the solemn dignity of a God. He at length went on deck, and I saw him no more.

  * * * * *  

A feeling, for which I have no name,(14) has taken possession of my soul — a sensation which will admit of no analysis, to which the lessons of by-gone time are inadequate, and for which I fear futurity itself will offer me no key. To a mind constituted like my own, the latter consideration is an evil. I shall never — I know that I shall never — be satisfied with regard to the nature of my conceptions. Yet it is not wonderful that these conceptions are indefinite, since they have their origin in sources so utterly novel. A new sense — a new entity is added to my soul.

  * * * * *  

It is long since I first trod the deck of this terrible ship, and the rays of my destiny are, I think, gathering to a focus. Incomprehensible men! Wrapped up in meditations of a kind which I cannot divine, they pass me by unnoticed.(15) Concealment is utter folly on my part, for the people will not see. It was but just now that I passed directly before the eyes of the mate; it was no long while ago [page 142:] that I ventured into the captain’s own private cabin, and took thence the materials with which I write, and have written. I shall from time to time continue this journal. It is true that I may not find an opportunity of transmitting it to the world, but I will not fail to make the endeavor. At the last moment I will enclose the MS. in a bottle, and cast it within the sea.

  * * * * *  

An incident has occurred which has given me new room for meditation. Are such things the operation{p} of ungoverned chance? I had ventured upon deck and{q} thrown myself down, without attracting any notice, among a pile of ratlin-stuff and old sails, in the bottom of the yawl. While musing upon the singularity of my fate, I unwittingly daubed with a tar-brush the edges of a neatly-folded studding-sail which lay near me on a barrel. The studding-sail is now bent upon the ship, and the thoughtless touches of the brush are spread out into the word DISCOVERY.   * * *  

I have made many observations lately upon the structure of the vessel. Although well armed, she is not, I think, a ship of war. Her rigging, build, and general equipment, all negative a supposition of this{r} kind. What she is not, I can easily perceive; what she is, I fear it is impossible to say. I know not how it is, but in scrutinizing her strange model and singular cast of spars, her huge size and overgrown suits of canvass, her severely simple bow and antiquated stern, there will occasionally flash across my mind a sensation of familiar things, and there is always mixed up with such {ss}indistinct shadows{ss} of recollection, an unaccountable memory of old foreign chronicles and ages long ago.(16)   * * * * *  

I have been looking at the timbers of the ship. She is built of a material to which I am a stranger. There is a peculiar character about the wood which strikes me as rendering it unfit for the purpose to which it has been applied. I mean its extreme porousness,{t} considered independently of the worm-eaten condition which is a consequence of navigation in these seas, and apart from the rottenness attendant upon age. It will appear perhaps an observation somewhat over-curious, but this wood would have{u} every characteristic [page 143:] of Spanish oak, {vv}if Spanish oak were distended by any unnatural means.{vv}

In reading the above sentence, a curious apothegm of an old weather-beaten Dutch navigator comes full upon my recollection. “It is as sure,” he was wont to say, when any doubt was entertained of his veracity, “as sure as there is a sea where the ship itself will grow in bulk like the living body of the seaman.”(17)

  * * * * *  

About an hour ago, I made bold to thrust myself among a group of the crew. They paid the no manner of attention, and, although I stood in the very midst of them all, seemed utterly unconscious of my presence. Like the one I had at{w} first seen in the hold, 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. Around them, on every part of the deck, lay scattered mathematical instruments of the most quaint and obsolete construction. * * * * *

I mentioned, some time ago, the bending of a studding-sail. From that period, the ship, being thrown dead off the wind, has continued{x} her terrific course due south, with every rag of canvass packed upon her, from her trucks to her lower studding-sail booms, and rolling every moment her top-gallant yard-arms into the most appalling hell of water which it can enter into the mind of man to imagine. I have just left the deck, where I find it impossible to maintain a footing, although the crew seem to experience little inconvenience. It appears to me a miracle of miracles that our enormous bulk{y} is not swallowed{z} up at once and for ever. We are surely doomed to hover continually upon the brink of eternity, without taking a final plunge into the abyss. From billows a thousand times more stupendous than any I have ever seen, we glide away with [page 144:] the facility of the arrowy sea-gull; and the colossal waters rear their heads above us like demons of the deep, but like demons confined to simple threats, and forbidden to destroy. I am led to attribute these frequent escapes{a} to the only natural cause which can account for such effect. I must suppose the ship to be within the influence of some strong current, or impetuous under-tow.   * * *  

I have seen the captain face to face, and{b} in his own cabin — but, as I expected, he paid me no attention. Although in his appearance there is,{c} to a casual observer, nothing which might bespeak him more or less than man, still, a feeling of irrepressible reverence and awe mingled with the sensation of wonder with which I regarded him. In stature, he is nearly my own height; that is,{d} about five feet eight inches.(18) He is of a well-knit and compact frame of body, neither robust nor remarkable{e} otherwise. But it is the singularity of the expression which reigns upon the face — it is the intense, the wonderful, the thrilling evidence of old age,(19) so utter, so extreme, which {ff}excites within my spirit a sense — a sentiment ineffable.{ff} His forehead, although little wrinkled, seems to bear upon it the stamp of a myriad of years. His gray hairs are records of the past, and his grayer eyes are sybils{g} (20) of the future. The cabin floor was thickly strewn with strange, iron-clasped folios, and mouldering instruments of science, and obsolete long-forgotten charts. His head was bowed down upon his hands, and he pored, with a fiery, unquiet eye,(21) over a paper which I took to be a commission, and which, at all events, bore the signature of a monarch. He muttered to himself — as did the first seaman whom I saw in the hold — some low peevish syllables of a foreign tongue; and although the speaker was close at my elbow,{h} his voice seemed to reach my ears from the distance of a mile.   * * * * *  

The ship and all in it are imbued with the spirit of Eld.(22) The crew glide to and fro like the ghosts of buried centuries; their eyes [page 145:] have an eager and uneasy meaning; and when their figures{i} fall athwart my path in the wild glare of the battle-lanterns,{j} (23) I feel as I have never felt before, although I have been all my life a dealer in antiquities, and have imbibed the shadows of fallen columns at Balbec, and Tadmor, and Persepolis, until my very soul has become a ruin.(24)   * * * * *  

When I look around me, I feel ashamed of my former apprehensions. If I trembled at the blast which has hitherto attended us, shall I not stand aghast at a warring of wind and ocean, to convey any{k} idea of which, the words tornado and simoon are trivial and ineffective? All in the immediate vicinity of the ship is{l} the blackness of eternal night, and a chaos of foamless water; but, about a league on either side of us, may be seen, indistinctly and at intervals, stupendous ramparts of ice, towering away into the desolate sky, and looking like the walls of the universe.   * *  

As I imagined, the ship proves to be in a current — if that appellation can properly be given to a tide which, howling and shrieking by the white ice, thunders on to the southward with a velocity like the headlong lashing of a cataract.   * * *  

To conceive the horror of my sensations is, I presume, utterly impossible; yet a curiosity to penetrate the mysteries of these awful regions, predominates even over my despair, and will reconcile me to the most hideous aspect of death.(25) It is{m} evident that we are hurrying onwards to some exciting knowledge — some never-to-be-imparted secret, whose attainment is destruction. Perhaps this current leads us to the southern pole itself.(26) It must be confessed that a supposition apparently so wild has every probability in its favor.

  * * * * *  

The crew pace the deck with unquiet and tremulous step; but there is upon their countenances an expression more of the eagerness of hope than of the apathy of despair.

In the meantime the wind is still in our poop, and, as we carry a crowd of canvass, the ship is at times lifted bodily from out the [page 146:] sea! Oh, horror upon horror! — the ice opens suddenly to the right, and to the left, and we are whirling dizzily, in immense concentric circles, {nn}round and round{nn} the borders of a gigantic amphitheatre, the summit of whose walls is lost in the darkness and the distance. But little time will be left me to ponder upon my destiny! The circles rapidly grow small — we are plunging madly within the grasp of the whirlpool — and amid a roaring, and bellowing, and thundering{o} of ocean and of tempest, the ship is quivering — oh God! and — going down!

{pp}Note. — The “MS. Found in a Bottle,” was originally published in 1831; and it was not until many years afterwards that I became acquainted with the maps of Mercator, in which the ocean is represented as rushing, by four mouths, into the (northern) Polar Gulf, to be absorbed into the bowels of the earth; the Pole itself being represented by a black rock, towering to a prodigious height.{pp} (27)

 


VARIANTS

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 135:]

Title:  Manuscript Found in a Bottle (B) and Table of Contents of PHANTASY-PIECES

Motto:  A wet sheet and a flowing sea. CUNNINGHAM. (A, B, C); no motto in D and E; the French motto first appeared in F — accents are added to our text from F

a  ravings (A, B, C)

b  like (A, B, C, D) changed in E

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 136:]

c  as for (A); from (B)

d  Simoom throughout (A, B, C, D, E, F)

e  left me / went below (A, B)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 137:]

f  give me (A, B)

g  with (A, B, C, D, E)

h  as all (A, B, C, D, E)

i  impossible for me (A)

jj . . . jj  Canceled (E)

k  mountains (A)

l  are (A)

m  and the (A, B, C, D, E)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 138:]

n  Canceled (E)

oo . . . oo  no great difficulty in keeping free. (A, B, C)

p  Simoom (A, B, C, D, E)

q  that, / that (A, G) comma added from C, D, E, F

r  clouds whatever (A, B, C, D, E)

s  gave out / emitted (A, B)

tt . . . tt  unaccompanied by any ray. (A, B, C, D, E)

u  furgid (A) misprint

vv . . . vv  Omitted (B)

w  not yet (A, B, C)

x  the Swede, / him, (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 139:]

y  us was (A, B); was (C, D, E)

z  and a (B)

a  Superstition’s (A)

b  wrapped up / wrapt (B)

c  extreme (A, B, C, D, E)

d  Omitted (A, B, C)

e  rolled, as it were, (A, B, C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 140:]

f  nearly (A, B, C, D, E)

g  wave of (A, B, C, D, E)

h  a hundred / a million (A, B); fifty (E)

i  dashed off (A, B, C, D, E)

j  her stupendous (A, B, C, D, E)

k  rose up, like a demon of the deep, (A, B, C, D, E)

ll . . . ll  everlasting (A, B)

m  knew (A)

n  Omitted (B)

o  A nameless and (A, B, C, D, E)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 142:]

p  operations (A, B, C, D, E)

q  and had (B)

r  the (A, B)

ss . . . ss  shadows, as it were, (A, B, C)

t  porousnses, (F) misprint

u  would have / has (A, B, C, D) changed in E

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 143:]

vv . . . vv  if Spanish oak were distended or swelled by any unnatural means. (A, B, C, D) changed in E

w  Omitted (B)

x  held (A, B, C, D, E)

y  hulk (A, B)

z  buried (A, B, C, D, E)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 144:]

a  escapes from imminent and deadly peril (A, B)

b  face, and / face (B)

c  was, (A, B)

d  is, I mean, (A, B)

e  remarkably (A, B, C, D, E, F)

ff . . . ff  strikes upon my soul with the shock of a Galvanic battery. (A, B, C)

g  Sybils (A, C, F); Sibyls (B)

h  elbow, yet (A, B, C, D, E)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 145:]

i  fingers (G) misprint, corrected from all other texts

j  battle-latterns, (C, D, E) misprint

k  an (B)

l  ship is / ship, is (G) corrected from all other texts

m  it (G) misprint

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 146:]

nn . . . nn  round and round and round (B)

o  shrieking (A, B, C, D, E)

pp . . . pp  Omitted in all earlier texts

 


[page 146, continued:]

NOTES

Motto:  “He who has but a moment to live, has no longer anything to dissemble” is from Atys, I, vi, 15-16, by Philippe Quinault (1635-1688). The earlier motto is the opening line of a lyric by Allan Cunningham (1784-1842) first published in 1825.

1.  Pyrrho of Elis (about 360-270 B. C.) was an extreme skeptic who held that there is as much to be said for as against any opinion, that reason and the senses are untrustworthy, and that when we are convinced that we know nothing we cease to care. Hence pyrrhonism has come to mean absolute skepticism, or universal doubt. “Pyrro” is the name of the narrator in the first version of Poe’s “Eleonora.”

2.  Ignes fatui are will-o’-the-wisps.

3.  Batavia may be chosen as ill-omened; the town was completely destroyed by earthquake and flood in 1699.

4.  The Laccadive Islands are a coral group two hundred miles west of the Malabar coast of India, in the Arabian Sea.

5.  Coir is the prepared fiber of the Husks of coconuts, used to make mats and ropes; jaggery is a coarse sugar made from the sap of palms, or from coconuts; ghee is clarified butter made from buffalo milk.

6.  Crank means unstable, liable to capsize.

7.  Grabs are light-draft coasting vessels with two or three masts, used in the East Indies. [page 147:]

8.  The Simoon (or Simoom) is properly a hot wind sweeping over the African desert, across the Mediterranean to Italy, mentioned also in “Al Aaraaf,” II, 165; in the 1831 version of “Tamerlane,” line 180; and in a canceled passage in “Silence — a Fable,” but the word is here used in the general sense of a tropical storm.

9.  New Holland is an old name of Australia.

10.  Compare Coleridge, “The Ancient Mariner,” lines 105-106, “We were the first that ever burst / Into that silent sea.”

11.  The mythical Kraken, largest sea-monster in the world, was believed in by Scandinavian sailors even in Poe’s day. See A. deCapell Brooke, Travels Through Sweden (London, 1823), p. 188. It is sometimes pictured as a huge squid or octopus, large enough to seize a ship in its tentacles and sink it.

12.  The action may need clarification; the narrator has now unfastened himself from the stump of the mast.

13.  A passenger actually was saved in this way in the collision of the Andrea Doria and the Stockholm in 1957.

14.  Compare “The Lake” (F), lines 15-16, “A feeling not the jewelled mine / Could teach or bribe me to define.”

15.  Compare “Ill-fated and mysterious man — bewildered in the brilliancy of thine own imagination,” from the opening of “The Assignation.”

16.  Compare “Old unhappy far off things / And battles long ago,” from Wordsworth’s “Solitary Reaper.”

17.  The source (if there be one) for the navigator’s remark is not known. It may well have been heard by Poe in some sailor’s yarn.

18.  Poe was of the same height as the narrator.

19.  See “Ligeia” for “the glances of unusually aged people.”

20.  Sibyls are prophetesses noted for longevity.

21.  Compare “I gazed with unquiet eye,” from “Ligeia” at n. 13.

22.  Compare “The Coliseum,” line 10: “Vastness! and Age! and Memories of Eld!”

23.  Compare Arthur Gordon Pym, chapter VIII: “the dim light of a kind of battle-lantern.”

24.  Compare “Al Aaraaf,” II, 36-37 (Mabbott, I, 107):

Friezes from Tadmor and Persepolis

From Balbec, and the stilly, clear abyss

Of beautiful Gomorrah!

and “The Coliseum,” lines 8-9, “so drink within / My very soul thy grandeur, gloom, and glory!”

25.  Poe is saying that the human response to the extremities of danger and [page 148:] despair is not resignation but the keenest mental activity. The protagonists in “A Descent into the Maelström (see at note 16), and “The Pit and the Pendulum” (see at note 17) respond in the same way.

26.  Here Poe obviously had the hollow earth theory of Symmes in mind, as he did later on in “Hans Pfaall” and Arthur Gordon Pym.

27.  The disclaimer of a debt to Mercator was omitted in all earlier texts. Gerhard Kremer (1512-1594), who called himself Gerardus Mercator, was the greatest cartographer of his time. He first published his projection in 1568; it showed the North Pole as a high black rock, rupes nigra et altissima, says Sidney Kaplan in the introduction to his edition of Arthur Gordon Pym (1960), p. xiv.

The wrong date of publication, 1831 instead of 1833, is typical of Poe’s inaccuracy in such matters.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 131:]

*  Rumor may have spread that there was really no contest, since nothing else of any merit was submitted. To still any gossip, Henry B. Hirst stated in a footnote to his sketch of Poe in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum of March 4, 1843, that Timothy Shay Arthur had entered a story. Hence, Poe did compete with at least one author whose work would not have been discreditable to the paper.

  A reprint in the Newburyport People’s Advocate of October 26, 1833 is known.

  Poe also was to receive the friendship of Dr. Miller (1788-1853). Phillips, Poe the Man, I, 468, mentions letters from Poe to the physician or to his niece, which have not been published. Latrobe’s reminiscences of the poet are notoriously inaccurate. See John Ward Ostrom, The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (1948), p. 571, “Check List,” numbers 99 and 100.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 132:]

§  See J. O. Bailey’s Pilgrims Through Space and Time (1947), pp. 40-41, and for Symmes, J. W. Peck in Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, 18:28-42 (1909). Poe had his Hans Pfaall report seeing one of the holes, and again used the idea in Arthur Gordon Pym (1838).

*  See London Notes and Queries, October 1956. Professor Guilds kindly sent me a photocopy of the now extremely rare original, of which there is an exemplar in the A.S. Salley Collection in the Library of the University of South Carolina.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 133:]

  [Another source has been suggested by Burton Pollin. In 1829, four years before writing “MS. Found in a Bottle,” Poe had made footnote references to Bernardin de St. Pierre in “Al Aaraaf” (Mabbott, I, 102, 117); in 1835 in the long canceled passage in “Loss of Breath” (at n. 5) he spoke of the “lunar-lunatic theories of St. Pierre.” Professor Pollin believes that Poe would have been stimulated by Bernardin’s discussion of ocean currents and that he drew upon him also for other details, using Henry Hunter’s translation, Studies of Nature, in the first edition (1797). See Pollin, “Poe’s Use of Material from Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s Etudes,” in Romance Notes, Spring 1971.]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 134:]

  See Kennedy’s statement made in 1851 and recorded in a letter of William Hand Browne to John H. Ingram, June 22, 1893 (Ingram List, number 395, and Phillips, I, 468).

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (MS. Found in a Bottle)