Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “Preface for Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 471-474 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 471, continued:]

for Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque

In 1839 Poe finally found publishers for his collected short stories, and composed a brief preface which is placed here in the present edition, since it was obviously written after the stories that precede it. The two volumes, called Tales of the Grotesque and [page 472:] Arabesque, were dedicated thus: “Dedication. These Volumes are Inscribed to Colonel William Drayton, of Philadelphia, with every Sentiment of Respect, Gratitude, and Esteem, By his obliged Friend and Servant, THE AUTHOR.” Drayton had been Poe’s commanding officer at Fort Moultrie, and the poet as sergeant-major had constantly dealt with him directly. Their friendship was renewed when both lived in Philadelphia, but the precise reason for the dedication must be a matter of conjecture. Drayton’s descendants knew and were proud of the poet’s connection, but preserved no reminiscences beyond the fact that Poe sometimes called on his old commander (Quinn, Poe, p. 129). Possibly Drayton had helped Poe financially.

The Preface is not candid, for the stories had not been composed in two or three, but in at least eight years. Poe also seems to have been unduly worried about critics who protested against his work as Germanic. I have found one pertinent criticism, in the Richmond Compiler, February, 1836, which (anent “The Duc de L’Omelette”) said:

Mr. Poe is too fond of the wild — unnatural and horrible! Why will he not permit his fine genius to soar into purer, brighter, and happier regions? Why will he not disenthral himself from the spells of German enchantment and supernatural imagery? There is room enough for the exercise of the highest powers, upon the multiform relations of human life, without descending into the dark mysterious and unutterable creations of licentious fancy.

The criticism is reprinted in the Southern Literary Messenger, April 1836, p. 345. No file of the Compiler for February 1836 is now available.

See also Poe’s letter of November 11, 1839 to Dr. Snodgrass, where he says he hopes to refute those who accuse him of Germanism by praise from Washington Irving who “heads the school of the quietists.”


The text is from the only authorized version, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), I, [5]-6. [page 473:]


The epithets “Grotesque” and “Arabesque” will be found to indicate with sufficient precision the prevalent tenor of the tales here published.(1) But from the fact that, during a period of some two or three years, I have written five-and-twenty short stories(2) whose general character may be so briefly defined, it cannot be fairly inferred — at all events it is not truly inferred — that I have, for this species of writing, my inordinate, or indeed any peculiar taste or prepossession. I may have written with an eye to this republication in volume form, and may, therefore, have desired to preserve, as far as a certain point, a certain unity of design. This is, indeed, the fact; and it may even happen that, in this manner, I shall never compose anything again. I speak of these things here, because I am led to think it is this prevalence of the “Arabesque” in my serious tales, which has induced one or two critics to tax me, in all friendliness, with what they have been pleased to term “Germanism” and gloom. The charge is in bad taste, and the grounds of the accusation have not been sufficiently considered. Let us admit, for the moment, that the “phantasy-pieces”(3) now given are Germanic, or what not. Then Germanisrn is “the vein” for the time being. To morrow I may be anything but German, as yesterday I was everything else. These many pieces are yet one book. My friends would be quite as wise in taxing an astronomer with too much astronomy, or an ethical author with treating too largely of morals. But the truth is that, with a single exception,(4) there is no one of these stories in which the scholar should recognise the distinctive features of that species of pseudo-horror which we are taught to call Germanic, for no better reason than that some of the secondary names of German literature have become identified with its folly.(5) If in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul, — that I have deduced this terror only from its legitimate sources, and urged it only to its legitimate results.

There are one or two of the articles here, (conceived and executed in the purest spirit of extravaganza,) to which I expect no serious attention, and of which I shall speak no farther. But for the [page 474:] rest I cannot conscientiously claim indulgence on the score of hasty effort. I think it best becomes me to say, therefore, that if I have sinned, I have deliberately sinned. These brief compositions are, in chief part, the results of matured purpose and very careful elaboration.(6)


[page 474, continued:]


1.  Grotesque decoration (so called as found in ancient grottoes, as the Italians termed excavations) combines plant, animal, and human motifs. Arabesque uses only flowers and calligraphy. Poe was not the first person to apply these two words to literary works. Quinn (Poe, p. 289) pointed out that Poe took them from Sir Walter Scott’s essay “On the Supernatural in Fictitious Composition” (Foreign Quarterly Review, July 1827).

2.  There are twenty-five tales, if “How to Write a Blackwood Article” and “A Predicament” are counted as two.

3.  Poe adopted this phrase as the title for the collection of his stories he planned in 1842.

4.  “Metzengerstein.”

5.  The German authors of secondary rank include G. A. B├╝rger and E. T. A. Hoffmann.

6.  The slightest story is “Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling.” The author worked very hard on “Loss of Breath” and “King Pest,” which tend to please his readers the least.






[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Preface for Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque)