Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “Mellonta Tauta,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1289-1309 (This material is protected by copyright)


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


[page 1289:]

MELLONTA TAUTA and
A REMARKABLE LETTER

This story — part of which was entirely rewritten in the form now called “A Remarkable Letter” — satirized the future as seen from the present. There is obviously a kinship to “Some Words with a Mummy,” where the present is ridiculed as seen from the past. These stories deal with three favorite ideas of Poe — that history is unreliable, that democracy degenerates into mob rule, and that belief in progress is fallacious.*

The third attitude is illustrated by Poe’s remarks in his letter of July 10, 1844, to Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers:

I disagree with you in what you say of Man’s advance towards perfection. Man is now only more active, not wiser, nor more happy, than he was 6000 years ago. To say that we are better than our progenitors, is to make the foregone ages only the rudiment of the present and future; whereas each individual man is the rudiment of a future (material, not spiritual) being. It were to suppose God unjust to suppose those who have died before us possessed of less advantage than ourselves.

Comment on dishonest politicians of the last century is needless. But Poe’s method here of presenting the corruption of history is complicated. Almost but not quite everything is mixed up for the characters, whom it is convenient to call the Futurians. Some very great men are remembered correctly. Kepler and Newton are unforgotten, but even Francis Bacon is confused with James Hogg, a minor Scottish poet of Poe’s own time. Many of the jokes were more apparent to Poe’s first readers than they are today; but some, even in 1848, were probably private jokes for Poe himself, for whom any absurd combination was, per se, funny.

There is much that is serious in the story. The Futurians are callous toward individual suffering in a terrible way, but there is [page 1290:] also a plea for imaginative thinking in science. Poe made more of the latter in the second form of his tale.

The history of the publication in two forms is curious. Poe had “Mellonta Tauta” finished before January 17, 1848, when he wrote Louis A. Godey that he had an article “imaginative — not critical” which he thought might please him, and which must have been accepted and paid for at once. It was the last thing Godey bought from the author.

When Poe delivered his lecture on “The Universe” at the New York Society Library on February 3, 1848, he quoted material from paragraphs 7-13 of the story, entirely reworked and expanded. This was quite justifiable in a lecture, and Poe probably expected the original tale to appear by mid-March, in Godey’s magazine for April. But Godey delayed, and the tale was still unpublished when the quoted paragraphs were included in the slightly revised lecture issued in book form as Eureka in July 1848.

Poe seems to have forgotten about the matter, for about January 21, 1849, he wrote Annie Richmond, “I see Godey advertises an article by me, but I am at a loss to know what it is.” The Lady’s Book for February 1849, containing “Mellonta Tauta,” came out about January 15. It is unlikely that Godey read Eureka, but he must have found out about the duplication, and been displeased. Sometime after April 28, Poe again wrote to Annie: “then (on account of his oppression and insolence) I was obliged to quarrel, finally, with . . . .” (This letter is known to us only through publication by Ingram; see Ostrom, Letters, II, 437 and 539. The name has been printed only as a blank, but only “Godey” will fit in with what we know of the situation.) It is pleasant to add that Godey made up with Poe early in July 1849.

TEXTS

Mellonta Tauta

(A) Godey’s Lady’s Book for February 1849 (38:133-138); (B) Works (1856), IV, 288-301.

The first printed version (A) is followed with correction of three misprints. Griswold’s version (B) shows no auctorial changes or corrections; but, to make [page 1291:] a text that he thought more appropriate to publication in a book, that editor omitted the introductory letter, not observing that it was integral to the story.

The erroneous accents on “à priori” and “à posteriori” were omitted in B.

A Remarkable Letter

(A) Eureka (1848), pp. 10-21; (B) Bishop Hurst’s copy of Eureka with manuscript revisions (1849), now in the collection of Mr. H. Bradley Martin; (C) Works (1850), II, 119-127.

There are two copies of Poe’s book in which he made revisions, but only the copy that was once in the collection of Bishop Hurst has changes in the pages containing the jeu d’esprit, hence that text (B) is given. Griswold gave an unrevised copy of Eureka to his printer, and his version (C) can be disregarded.

MELLONTA TAUTA.   [A]   [[n]]

TO THE EDITORS OF THE LADY’S BOOK: —

I have the honor of sending you, for your magazine, an article which I hope you will be able to comprehend rather more distinctly than I do myself. It is a translation, by my friend, Martin Van Buren Mavis,(1) (sometimes called the “Poughkeepsie{a} Seer,”) of an odd-looking MS. which I found, about a year ago, tightly corked up in a jug floating in the Mare Tenebrarum — a sea well described by the Nubian geographer,(2) but seldom visited, now-a-days, except by the transcendentalists and divers for crotchets.(3)

Truly yours,  

EDGAR A. POE.   [[v]]

 

ON BOARD BALLOON “SKYLARK,” }

April 1, 2848.(4) }

Now, my dear friend — now, for your sins, you are to suffer the infliction of a long gossiping letter. I tell you distinctly that I am going to punish you for all your impertinences by being as tedious, as discursive, as incoherent and as unsatisfactory as possible. Besides, here I am, cooped up in a dirty balloon, with some one or two hundred of the canaille, all bound on a pleasure excursion, (what a funny idea some people have of pleasure!) and I have no prospect [page 1292:] of touching terra firma for a month at least. Nobody to talk to. Nothing to do. When one has nothing to do, then is the time to correspond with one’s friends. You perceive, then, why it is that I write you this letter — it is on account of my ennui and your sins.

Get ready your spectacles and make up your mind to be annoyed: I mean to write at you every day during this odious voyage.

Heigho! when will any Invention visit the human pericranium? Are we forever to be doomed to the thousand inconveniences of the balloon? Will nobody contrive a more expeditious mode of progress? This jog-trot movement, to my thinking, is little less than positive torture. Upon my word, we have not made more than a hundred miles the hour since leaving home! The very birds beat us — at least some of them. I assure you that I do not exaggerate at all. Our motion, no doubt, seems slower than it actually is — this on account of our having no objects about us by which to estimate our velocity, and on account of our going with{b} the wind. To be sure, whenever we meet a balloon we have a chance of perceiving our rate, and then, I admit, things do not appear so very bad. Accustomed as I am to this mode of traveling, I cannot get over a kind of giddiness whenever a balloon passes us in a current directly overhead. It always seems to me like an immense bird of prey about to pounce upon us and carry us off in its claws. One went over us this morning about sunrise, and so nearly overhead that its drag-rope actually brushed the net-work suspending our car, and caused us very serious apprehension.(5) Our captain said that if the material of the bag had been the trumpery varnished “silk” of five hundred or a thousand years ago, we should inevitably have been damaged. This silk, as he explained it to me, was a fabric composed of the entrails of a species of earth-worm. The worm was carefully fed on mulberries — a kind of fruit resembling a water-melon — and, when sufficiently fat, was crushed in a mill.(6) The paste thus arising was called papyrus in its primary state, and went through a variety of processes until it finally became “silk.” Singular to relate, it was once much admired as an article of female dress! Balloons were also very generally constructed from it. A better kind of material, it appears, was subsequently found in the [page 1293:] down surrounding the seed-vessels of a plant vulgarly called euphorbium, and at that time. botanically termed milk-weed.(7) This latter kind of silk was designated as silk-buckingham,(8) on account of its superior durability, and was usually prepared for use by being varnished with a solution of gum caoutchouc — a substance which in some respects must have resembled the gutta percha now in common use. This caoutchouc was occasionally called India rubber or rubber of whist, and was no doubt one of the numerous fungi. Never tell me again that I am not at heart an antiquarian.

Talking of drag-ropes — our own, it seems, has this moment knocked a man overboard from one of the small magnetic propellers that swarm in ocean below us — a boat of about six thousand tons,(9) and, from all accounts, shamefully crowded. These diminutive barques should be prohibited from carrying more than a definite number of passengers. The man, of course, was not permitted to get on board again, and was soon out of sight, he and his life-preserver. I rejoice, my dear friend, that we live in an age so enlightened that no such a thing as an individual is supposed to exist.(10) It is the mass for which the true Humanity cares. By the by, talking of Humanity, do you know that our immortal Wiggins(11) is not so original in his views of the Social Condition and so forth, as his contemporaries are inclined to suppose? Pundit assures me that the same ideas were put, nearly in the same way, about a thousand years ago, by an Irish philosopher called Furrier,(12) on account of his keeping a retail shop for cat-peltries and other furs. Pundit knows, you know; there can be no mistake about it. How very wonderfully do we see verified, every day, the profound observation of the Hindoo Aries Tottle (as quoted by Pundit) — “Thus must we say that, not once or twice, or a few times, but with almost infinite repetitions, the same opinions come round in a circle among men.”(13)

April 2. — Spoke to-day the magnetic cutter in charge of the middle section of floating telegraph wires. I learn that when this species of telegraph was first put into operation by Horse, it was considered quite impossible to convey the wires over sea; but now we are at a loss to comprehend where the difficulty lay!(14) So wags the world. Tempora mutantur — excuse me for quoting the Etruscan. [page 1294:] What would we do without the Atalantic{c} telegraph?(15) (Pundit says Atlantic was the ancient adjective.) We lay to a few minutes to ask the cutter some questions, and learned, among other glorious news, that civil war is raging in Africia, while the plague is doing its good work beautifully both in Yurope and Ayesher.(16) Is it not truly remarkable that, before the magnificent light shed upon philosophy by Humanity, the world was accustomed to regard War and Pestilence as calamities? Do you know that prayers were actually offered up in the ancient temples to the end that these evils (!) might not be visited upon mankind? Is it not really difficult to comprehend upon what principle of interest our forefathers acted? Were they so blind as not to perceive that the destruction of a myriad of individuals is only so much positive advantage to the mass!(17)

April 3. — It is really a very fine amusement to ascend the rope-ladder leading to the summit of the balloon-bag and thence survey the surrounding world. From the car below, you know, the prospect is not so comprehensive — you can see little vertically. But seated here (where I write this) in the luxuriously-cushioned open piazza of the summit, one can see everything that is going on in all directions. Just now, there is quite a crowd of balloons in sight, and they present a very animated appearance, while the air is resonant with the hum of so many millions of human voices. I have heard it asserted that when Yellow or (as Pundit will have it) Violet, who is supposed to have been the first æronaut,(18) maintained the practicability of traversing the atmosphere in all directions, by merely ascending or descending until a favorable current was attained, he was scarcely hearkened to at all by his cotemporaries, who looked upon him as merely an ingenious sort of madman, because the philosophers (?){d} of the day declared the thing impossible. Really now it does seem to me quite unaccountable how anything so obviously feasible could have escaped the sagacity of the ancient savans. But in all ages the great obstacles to advancement in Art have been opposed by the so-called men of science. To be sure, our men of science are not quite so bigoted as those of old: — oh, I have [page 1295:] something so queer to tell you on this topic.(19) Do you know that it is not more than a thousand years ago since the metaphysicians consented to relieve the people of the singular fancy that there existed but two possible roads for the attainment of Truth! Believe it if you can! It appears that long, long ago, in the night of Time, there lived a Turkish philosopher (or Hindoo possibly) called Aries Tottle. This person introduced, or at all events propagated what was termed the deductive or à priori mode of investigation. He started with what he maintained to be axioms or “self-evident truths,” and thence proceeded “logically” to results. His greatest disciples were one Neuclid and one Cant.(20) Well, Aries Tottle flourished supreme until the advent of one Hog, surnamed the “Ettrick Shepherd,” who preached an entirely different system, which he called the à posteriori or inductive.(21) His plan referred altogther to Sensation. He proceeded by observing, analyzing and classifying facts — instantiæ naturæ, as they were affectedly called — into general laws. Aries Tottle’s mode, in a word, was based on noumena; Hog’s on phenomena. Well, so great was the admiration excited by this latter system that, at its first introduction, Aries Tottle fell into disrepute; but finally he recovered ground, and was permitted to divide the realm of Truth with his more modern rival. The savans now maintained that the Aristotelian and Baconian roads were the sole possible avenues to knowledge. “Baconian,” you must know, was an adjective invented as equivalent to Hog-ian and more euphonious and dignified.

Now, my dear friend, I do assure you, most positively, that I represent this matter fairly, on the soundest authority; and you can easily understand how a notion so absurd on its very face must have operated to retard the progress of all true knowledge — which makes its advances almost invariably by intuitive bounds.(22) The ancient idea confined investigation to crawling; and for hundreds of years so great was the infatuation about Hog especially, that a virtual end was put to all thinking properly so called. No man dared utter a truth for{e} which he felt himself indebted to his Soul alone. It mattered not whether the truth was even demonstrably a [page 1296:] truth, for the bullet-headed savans of the time regarded only the road by which he had attained it. They would not even look at the end. “Let us see the means,” they cried, “the means!” If, upon investigation of the means, it was found to come neither under the category Aries (that is to say Ram) nor under the category Hog, why then the savans went no farther, but pronounced the “theorist” a fool, and would have nothing to do with him or his truth.

Now, it cannot be maintained, even, that by the crawling system the greatest amount of truth would be attained in any long series of ages, for the repression of imagination was an evil not to be compensated for by any superior certainty in the ancient modes of investigation. The error of these Jurmains, these Vrinch, these Inglitch and these Amriccans, (the latter, by the way, were our own immediate progenitors,)(23) was an error quite analogous with that of the wiseacre who fancies that he must necessarily see an object the better the more closely he holds it to his eyes.(24) These people blinded themselves by details. When they proceeded Hoggishly, their “facts” were by no means always facts — a matter of little consequence had it not been for assuming that they were facts and must be facts because they appeared to be such. When they proceeded on the path of the Ram, their course was scarcely as straight as a ram’s horn, for they never had an axiom which was an axiom at all. They must have been very blind not to see this, even in their own day; for even in their own day many of the long “established” axioms had been rejected. For example — “Ex nihilo nihil fit;(25) “a body cannot act where it is not;” “there cannot exist antipodes;” “darkness cannot come out of light” — all these, and a dozen other similar propositions, formerly admitted without hesitation as axioms, were, even at the period of which I speak, seen to be untenable. How absurd in these people, then, to persist in putting faith in “axioms” as immutable bases of Truth! But even out of the mouths of their soundest reasoners it is easy to demonstrate the futility, the impalpability of their axioms in general. Who was the soundest of their logicians? Let me see! I will go and ask Pundit and be back in a minute . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ah, here we have it! Here is a book written nearly a thousand years ago and lately translated from the Inglitch — which, by the way, appears to have been the rudiment of [page 1297:] the Amriccan. Pundit says it is decidedly the cleverest ancient work on its topic, Logic. The author (who was much thought of in his day) was one Miller, or Mill; and we find it recorded of him, as a point of some importance, that he had a mill-horse called Bentham. But let us glance at the treatise!(26)

Ah! — “Ability or inability to conceive,” says Mr. Mill, very properly, “is in no case to be received as a criterion of axiomatic truth.” What modern in his senses would ever think of disputing this truism? The only wonder with us must be, how it happened that Mr. Mill conceived it necessary even to hint at anything so obvious. So far good — but let us turn over another page. What have we here? — “Contradictories cannot both be true — that is, cannot co-exist in nature.” Here Mr. Mill means, for example, that a tree must be either a tree or not a tree — that it cannot be at the same time a tree and not a tree. Very well; but I ask him why. His reply is this — and never pretends to be anything else than this — “Because it is impossible to conceive that contradictories can both be true.” But this is no answer at all, by his own showing; for has he not just admitted as a truism that “ability or inability to conceive is in no case to be received as a criterion of axiomatic truth?”

Now I do not complain of these ancients so much because their logic is, by their own showing, utterly baseless, worthless and fantastic altogether, as because of their pompous and imbecile proscription of all other roads of Truth, of all other means for its attainment than the two preposterous paths — the one of creeping and the one of crawling — to which they have dared to confine the Soul that loves nothing so well as to soar.(27)

By the by, my dear friend, do you not think it would have puzzled these ancient dogmaticians to have determined by which of their two roads it was that the most important and most sublime of all their truths was, in effect, attained? I mean the truth of Gravitation. Newton owed it to Kepler. Kepler admitted that his three laws were guessed at — these three laws of all laws which led the great Inglitch mathematician to his principle, the basis of all physical principle — to go behind which we must enter the Kingdom of Metaphysics. Kepler guessed — that is to say, imagined.(28) He was essentially a “theorist” — that word now of so much [page 1298:] sanctity, formerly an epithet of contempt. Would it not have puzzled these old moles,(29) too, to have explained by which of the two “roads” a cryptographist unriddles a cryptograph of more than usual secrecy, or by which of the two roads Champollion directed mankind to those enduring and almost innumerable truths which resulted from his deciphering the Hieroglyphics?(30)

One word more on this topic and I will be done boring you. Is it not passing strange that, with their eternal prating about roads to Truth, these bigoted people missed what we now so clearly perceive to be the great highway — that of Consistency? Does it not seem singular how they should have failed to deduce from the works of God the vital fact that a perfect consistency must be an absolute truth! How plain has been our progress since the late announcement of this proposition! Investigation has been taken out of the hands of the ground-moles and given, as a task, to the true and only true thinkers, the men of ardent imagination. These latter theorize. Can you not fancy the shout of scorn with which my words would be received by our progenitors were it possible for them to be now looking over my shoulder? These men, I say, theorize; and their theories are simply corrected, reduced, systematized — cleared, little by little, of their dross of inconsistency — until, finally, a perfect consistency stands apparent which even the most stolid admit, because it is a consistency, to be an absolute and an unquestionable truth.

April 4. — The new gas is doing wonders, in conjunction with the new improvement with gutta percha. How very safe, commodious, manageable, and in every respect convenient are our modern balloons! Here is an immense one approaching us at the rate of at least a hundred and fifty miles an hour. It seems to be crowded with people — perhaps there are three or four hundred passengers — and yet it soars to an elevation of nearly a mile, looking down upon poor us with sovereign contempt. Still a hundred or even two hundred miles an hour is slow traveling, after all. Do you remember our flight on the railroad across the Kanadaw continent?(31) — fully three hundred miles the hour — that was traveling. Nothing to be seen, though — nothing to be done but flirt, feast and dance in the magnificent saloons. Do you remember what [page 1299:] an odd sensation was experienced when, by chance, we caught a glimpse of external objects while the cars were in full flight? Everything seemed unique — in one mass.(32) For my part, I cannot say but that I preferred the traveling by the slow train of a hundred miles the hour. Here we were permitted to have glass windows — even to have them open — and something like a distinct view of the country was attainable. . . . . . . Pundit says that the route for the great Kanadaw railroad must have been in some measure marked out about nine hundred years ago!(33) In fact, he goes so far as to assert that actual traces of a road are still discernible — traces referable to a period quite as remote as that mentioned. The track, it appears, was double only; ours, you know, has twelve paths; and three or four new ones are in preparation. The ancient rails were very slight, and placed so close together as to be, according to modern notions, quite frivolous, if not dangerous in the extreme. The present width of track — fifty feet — is considered, indeed, scarcely secure enough. For my part, I make no doubt that a track of some sort must have existed in very remote times, as Pundit asserts; for nothing can be clearer, to my mind, than that, at some period — rot less than seven centuries ago, certainly — the Northern and Southern Kanadaw continents were united;(34) the Kanawdians, then, would have been driven, by necessity, to a great railroad across the continent.

April 5. — I am almost devoured by ennui. Pundit is the only conversible person on board; and he, poor soul! can speak of nothing but antiquities. He has been occupied all day in the attempt to convince me that the ancient Amriccans governed themselves! — did ever anybody hear of such an absurdity? — that they existed in a sort of every-man-for-himself confederacy, after the fashion of the “prairie dogs” that we read of in fable.(35) He says that they started with the queerest idea conceivable, viz: that all men are born free and equal — this in the very teeth of the laws of gradation so visibly impressed upon all things both in the moral and physical universe. Every man “voted,” as they called it — that is to say, meddled with public affairs — until, at length, it was discovered that what is everybody’s business is nobody’s, and that the “Republic” (so the absurd thing was called) was without a government at all. It is related, [page 1300:] however, that the first circumstance which disturbed, very particularly, the self-complacency of the philosophers who constructed this “Republic,” was the startling discovery that universal suffrage gave opportunity for fraudulent schemes, by means of which any desired number of votes might at any time be polled, without the possibility of prevention or even detection, by any party which should be merely villainous enough not to be ashamed of the fraud. A little reflection upon this discovery sufficed to render evident the consequences, which were that rascality must predominate — in a word, that a republican government could never be anything but a rascally one. While the philosophers, however, were busied in blushing at their stupidity in not having foreseen these inevitable evils, and intent upon the invention of new theories, the matter was put to an abrupt issue by a fellow of the name of Mob, who took everything into his own hands and set up a despotism, in comparison with which those of the fabulous Zeros and Hellofagabaluses were respectable and delectable.(36) This Mob (a foreigner, by the by), is said to have been the most odious of all men that ever encumbered the earth. He was a giant in stature — insolent, rapacious, filthy; had the gall of a bullock with the heart of an hyena and the brains of a peacock. He died, at length, by dint of his own energies, which exhausted him. Nevertheless, he had his uses, as everything has, however vile, and taught mankind a lesson which to this day it is in no danger of forgetting — never to run directly contrary to the natural analogies. As for Republicanism, no analogy could be found for it upon the face of the earth — unless we except the case of the “prairie dogs,” an exception which seems to demonstrate, if anything, that democracy is a very admirable form of government — for dogs.

April 6. — Last night had a fine view of Alpha Lyræ,(37) whose disk, through our captain’s spyglass, subtends an angle of half a degree, looking very much as our sun does to the naked eye on a misty day. Alpha Lyræ, although so very much larger than our sun, by the by, resembles him closely as regards its spots, its atmosphere, and in many other particulars. It is only within the last century, Pundit tells me, that the binary relation existing between these two orbs began even to be suspected. The evident motion of our system [page 1301:] in the heavens was (strange to say!) referred to an orbit about a prodigious star in the centre of the galaxy. About this star, or at all events about a centre of gravity common to all the globes of the Milky Way and supposed to be near Alcyone(38) in the Pleiades, every one of these globes was declared to be revolving, our own performing the circuit in a period of 117,000,000 of years! We, with our present lights, or vast telescopic improvements and so forth, of course find it difficult to comprehend the ground of an idea such as this. Its first propagator was one Mudler.(39) He was led, we must presume, to this wild hypothesis by mere analogy in the first instance; but, this being the case, he should have at least adhered to analogy in its development. A great central orb was, in fact, suggested; so far Mudler was consistent. This central orb, however, dynamically, should have been greater than all its surrounding orbs taken together. The question might then have been asked — “Why do we not see it?” — we, especially, who occupy the mid region of the cluster — the very locality near which, at least, must be situated this inconceivable central sun. The astronomer, perhaps, at this point, took refuge in the suggestion of non-luminosity; and here analogy was suddenly let fall. But even admitting the central orb non-luminous, how did he manage to explain its failure to be rendered visible by the incalculable host of glorious suns glaring in all directions about it? No doubt what he finally maintained was merely a centre of gravity common to all the revolving orbs — but here again analogy must have been let fall. Our system revolves, it is true, about a common centre of gravity, but it does this in connection with and in consequence of a material sun whose mass more than counterbalances the rest of the system. The mathematical circle is a curve composed of an infinity of straight lines; but this idea of the circle — this idea of it which, in regard to all earthly geometry, we consider as merely the mathematical, in contradistinction from the practical, idea — is, in sober fact, the practical conception which alone we have any right to entertain in respect to those Titanic circles with which we have to deal, at least in fancy, when we suppose our system, with its fellows, revolving about a point in the centre of the galaxy. Let the most vigorous of human imaginations but attempt to take a single [page 1302:] step towards the comprehension of a circuit so unutterable! It would scarcely be paradoxical to say that a flash of lightning itself, traveling forever upon the circumference of this inconceivable circle, would still forever be traveling in a straight line. That the path of our sun along such a circumference — that the direction of our system in such an orbit — would, to any human perception, deviate in the slightest degree from a straight line even in a million of years, is a proposition not to be entertained; and yet these ancient astronomers were absolutely cajoled, it appears, into believing that a decisive curvature had become apparent during the brief period of their astronomical history — during the mere point — during the utter nothingness of two or three thousand years! How incomprehensible, that considerations such as this did not at once indicate to them the true state of affairs — that of the binary revolution of our sun and Alpha Lyræ around a common centre of gravity!

April 7. — Continued last night our astronomical amusements. Had a fine view of the five Neptunian{f} asteroids,(40) and watched with much interest the putting up of a huge impost on a couple of lintels in the new temple at Daphnis in the moon.(41) It was amusing to think that creatures so diminutive as the lunarians and bearing so little resemblance to humanity, yet evinced a mechanical ingenuity so much superior to our own. One finds it difficult, too, to conceive the vast masses which these people handle so easily, to be as light as our reason tells us they actually are.

April 8. — Eureka! Pundit is in his glory. A balloon from Kanadaw spoke us to-day and threw on board several late papers: they contain some exceedingly curious information relative to Kanawdian or rather to Amriccan antiquities. You know, I presume, that laborers have for some months been employed in preparing the ground for a new fountain at Paradise, the emperor’s principal pleasure garden.(42) Paradise, it appears, has been, literally speaking, an island time out of mind — that is to say, its northern boundary was always (as far back as any records extend) a rivulet, or rather a very narrow arm of the sea. This arm was gradually widened until it attained its present breadth — a mile. The whole length of the [page 1303:] island is nine miles; the breadth varies materially. The entire area (so Pundit says) was, about eight hundred years ago, densely packed with houses, some of them twenty stories high; land (for some most unaccountable reason) being considered as especially precious just in this vicinity. The disastrous earthquake, however, of the year 2050, so totally uprooted and overwhelmed the town (for it was almost too large to be called a village) that the most indefatigable of our antiquarians have never yet been able to obtain from the site any sufficient data (in the shape of coins, medals or inscriptions) wherewith to build up even the ghost of a theory concerning the manners, customs, &c. &c. &c., of the aboriginal inhabitants. Nearly all that we have hitherto known of them is, that they were a portion of the Knickerbocker tribe of savages infesting the continent at its first discovery by Recorder Riker, a knight of the Golden Fleece.(43) They were by no means uncivilized, however, but cultivated various arts and even sciences after a fashion of their own. It is related of them that they were acute in many respects, but were oddly afflicted with a monomania for building what, in the ancient Amriccan, was denominated “churches” — a kind of pagoda instituted for the worship of two idols that went by the names of Wealth and Fashion. In the end, it is said, the island became, nine-tenths of it, church. The women, too, it appears, were oddly deformed by a natural protuberance of the region just below the small of the back — although, most unaccountably, this deformity was looked upon altogether in the light of a beauty. One or two pictures of these singular women have, in fact, been miraculously preserved. They look very odd, very — like something between a turkey-cock and a dromedary.(44)

Well, these few details are nearly all that have descended to us respecting the ancient Knickerbockers. It seems, however, that while digging in the centre of the emperor’s garden, (which, you know, covers the whole island,) some of the workmen unearthed a cubical and evidently chiseled block of granite, weighing several hundred pounds. It was in good preservation, having received, apparently, little injury from the convulsion which entombed it. On one of its surfaces was a marble slab with (only think of it!) an inscriptiona legible inscription. Pundit is in ecstasies. Upon [page 1304:] detaching the slab, a cavity appeared, containing a leaden box filled with various coins, a long scroll of names, several documents which appear to resemble newspapers, with other matters of intense interest to the antiquarian! There can be no doubt that all these are genuine Amriccan relics belonging to the tribe called Knickerbocker. The papers thrown on board our balloon are filled with fac-similes of the coins, MSS., typography, &c. &c. I copy for your amusement the Knickerbocker inscription on the marble slab: — (45)

This Corner Stone of a Monument to the

Memory of

GEORGE WASHINGTON,

was laid with appropriate ceremonies on the

19TH DAY of OCTOBER, 1847,

the anniversary of the surrender of

Lord Cornwallis

to General Washington at Yorktown,

A.D. 1781,

under the auspices of the

Washington Monument Association of the

city of New York.

This, as I give it, is a verbatim translation done by Pundit himself, so there can be no mistake about it. From the few words thus preserved, we glean several important items of knowledge, not the least interesting of which is the fact that a thousand years ago actual monuments had fallen into disuse — as was all very proper — the people contenting themselves, as we do now, with a mere indication of the design to erect a monument at some future time; a corner stone being cautiously laid by itself “solitary and alone” (excuse me for quoting the great Amriccan poet Benton!)(46) as a guarantee of the magnanimous intention. We ascertain, too, very distinctly, from this admirable inscription, the how, as well as the where and the what, of the great surrender in question. As to the where, it was Yorktown (wherever that was), and as to the what, it was General Cornwallis (no doubt some wealthy dealer in corn). He was surrendered. The inscription commemorates the surrender of — what? — why, “of Lord Cornwallis.” The only question is [page 1305:] what could the savages wish him surrendered for. But when we remember that these savages were undoubtedly cannibals, we are led to the conclusion that they intended him for sausage. As to the how of the surrender, no language can be more explicit. Lord Cornwallis was surrendered (for sausage) “under the auspices of the Washington Monument Association” — no doubt a charitable institution for the depositing of corner-stones. —— But, Heaven bless me! what is the matter? All, I see — the balloon has collapsed, and we shall have a tumble into the sea. I have, therefore, only time enough to add that, from a hasty inspection of the fac-similes of newspapers, &c. &c., I find that the great men in those days among the Amriccans, were one John, a smith, and one Zacchary, a tailor.(47)

Good bye, until I see you again. Whether you ever get this letter or not is a point of little importance, as I write altogether for my own amusement. I shall cork the MS. up in a bottle, however, and throw it into the sea.

Yours everlastingly,  

PUNDITA.

 


VARIANTS

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1291:]

The Letter is omitted from B

a  Toughkeepsie (A) emended for sense, since Poe wrote capital P and T alike

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1292:]

b  with (B)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1294:]

c  Atlantic (B)

d  philosophers (!) (B)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1295:]

e  to (A, B) emended for sense and on the basis of the parallel sentence in “A Remarkable Letter.”

[The following variant appears at the bottom of page 1302:]

f  Nepturian (A, B) emended for sense

 


[page 1305, continued:]

NOTES

Title:  The title phrase, meaning “These things are in the future,” is from the Antigone of Sophocles, line 1333. Poe probably found it together with the translation as one of the quotations preceding Book IX of Bulwer’s Ernest Maltravers (1837). For Tales (1845), he inserted it as the motto for “The Colloquy of Monos and Una.” Poe certainly saw W. Dinneford’s disastrous production of Sophocles’ play in English in New York — see “The Antigone at Palmo’s,” Broadway Journal, April 12, 1845 — but I doubt that he read it in Greek.

1.  By Martin Van Buren Mavis Poe meant the “Poughkeepsie Seer,” Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910), as was observed by Kendall B. Taft in American Literature, January 1955. (The spelling “Toughkeepsie” — see variants — may have been auctorial “mystification.”) Under mesmerism Davis practiced “clairvoyant” healing from about 1843, and between November 28, 1845 and January 25, 1847 he delivered, in Manhattan, 157 lectures while in a state of mesmeric trance; subsequently he “preached social reconstruction as going hand in hand with spiritual regeneration,” gave modern spiritualism much of its phraseology, and first formulated its underlying principles (see DAB). In the eleventh of “Fifty Suggestions” (Graham’s, May 1849) Poe said “There surely cannot be more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of (oh, Andrew Jackson Davis!) in your philosophy.”

2.  For the term Mare Tenebrarum (Sea of Shadows, an old name for the Atlantic Ocean), and for the Nubian Geographer, see “Eleonora,” n. 4. [page 1306:]

3.  The OED lists, among derived and figurative meanings of the word crotchet, “a whimsical fancy . . . a fanciful device, mechanical, artistic, or literary.” Compare “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade” at n. 45.

4.  The setting was a thousand years in the future, for the story was written in 1848; but the letter begins on April Fool’s Day, as did the adventure of Poe’s earlier balloonist, Hans Phaall.

5.  The English balloonist Charles Green (1785-1870) — see “The Balloon Hoax” — is credited with introducing the dragrope (also called guide rope), hung from a balloon to trail along the ground and serve, according to Webster, as “a variable ballast, a brake, or a mooring line.” One was used by Poe’s voyagers in “The Balloon Hoax” and one by an aeronaut in “The Angel of the Odd.”

6.  An allusion to the feverish interest in sericulture that raged for several years after 1838. See “Some Secrets of the Magazine Prison-House,” n. 6.

7.  The botany is intentional nonsense. Euphorbium is an extremely acid gum obtained from spurge (Euphorbia), and has no close relation to milkweed (Asclepias). Spurge was supposed to cure warts, and is the source of the word expurgate.

8.  J. Silk Buckingham was a British traveler, satirized in “Some Words with a Mummy” (see n. 11), in Poe’s criticism of Miss Barrett (1845), and in “Marginalia,” number 288 (SLM, July 1849, p. 416).

9.  The first American transatlantic steamers, 1,750 tons each, were put into service between New York and Bremen in 1847.

10.  This callous cruelty is intentionally brought in to suggest that the advancements of the future are accompanied by retrogressions — Poe’s idea being that Progress is illusory.

11.  Wiggins is obviously a philosopher of the future. It is absurd to try to identify him with any writer of Poe’s day.

12.  Furrier is François-Marie-Charles Fourier, the French socialist, founder of communities called phalanxes; Brook Farm was modeled on his plans. There is another joke in calling him Irish, since “Frenchman” was in Poe’s day a humorous name for Irishman.

13.  The quotation is from Aristotle’s Meteorologia, I, iii, as Professor James H. Reid, S. J. told me.

14.  Horse is Samuel Finley Breese Morse (1791-1872), inventor of the electric telegraph, referred to also in “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade.” Notice that in his prophecy Poe did not envision the Atlantic cable (successfully completed in 1866) as being laid under the ocean, but afloat.

15.  The Latin quotation, “Times change and we change with them,” is often ascribed (as it was by John Lyly in Euphues) to Ovid. Modern reference works call it a sage remark of Lothair, Holy Roman Emperor (840-855), recorded by Borbonius.

16.  Etruscan (above) is for Latin; Africa, Europe, and Asia are transparent.

17.  See note 10.

18.  Here the reference is probably to Charles Green, mentioned above. [page ?:]

19.  The material from this point to the end of the entry for April 3 was presented in elaborated form, adorned with several extra bits of “mystification,” in “A Remarkable Letter.”

20.  Euclid and Kant are hardly disciples of Aristotle!

21.  Francis Bacon is deliberately confused with James Hogg (1770-1835), a Scottish dialect poet called the Ettrick Shepherd, of whom we learn much from the Noctes Ambrosianae of Blackwood’s Magazine.

22.  Here Poe stresses the importance of intuition and imagination. Compare the striking change of wording in “A Remarkable Letter” at n. 5.

23.  Germans, French, English, and Americans are patent.

24.  On holding something too close to see it well, compare “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (p. 545 above) and “The Sphinx.”

25.  “Out of nothing nothing is made” — a very old thought — the basis of Epicurean physics — uttered in Greek about 595 B.C. by the poet Alcaeus (Fragment 173) and repeated, with variations in phrasing, in several languages down through more than two thousand years. The concise Latin form Poe quotes he may have found in Henry Fielding’s “Essay on Nothing,” section 1 (c. 1750): “There is nothing falser than the old proverb which. . . is in everyone’s mouth: Ex nihilo nihil fit. Thus translated by Shakespeare . . . ‘Nothing can come of nothing.’ ” See King Lear, I, 1, 90.

26.  John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) is confused with Joe Miller (1684-1738), the reputed compiler of the celebrated joke book. Poe’s slighting references to the utilitarian theories of Jeremy Bentham, who disliked poetry, are frequent. The last three quotations above, as well as those in the following paragraph, are adapted from John Stuart Mill, System of Logic, Book II, “Of Reasoning,” sections 5-7. I quote the 10th edition, London, 1879, pp, 276 and 311:

“There was a time when men of the most cultivated intellects, and the most emancipated from the dominion of early prejudice, could not credit the existence of antipodes; were unable to conceive, in opposition to old association, the force of gravity acting upwards instead of downwards. The Cartesians long rejected the Newtonian doctrine of the gravitation of all bodies toward one another, on the faith of a general proposition, the reverse of which seemed to them to be inconceivable — the proposition that a body cannot act where it is not . . .

“When Mr. Spencer says that while looking at the sun a man cannot conceive that he is looking into darkness, he should have said that a man cannot believe that he is doing so.”

27.  Compare “To Helen [Whitman],” lines 4 and 5, “A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring, / Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven . . .” Compare the elaboration in “A Remarkable Letter” at n. 8.

28.  The discussion of Newton and Kepler is serious.

29.  For the phrase “old mole,” see Hamlet, I, v, 162.

30.  See the introduction and notes to “Some Words with a Mummy” for the background of Poe’s somewhat imperfect knowledge of Champollion and ancient Egyptian writing. The French savant did guess that Coptic was akin to the language of the Pharaohs. [page 1308:]

31.  Kanadaw (Canada) is the Futurians’ generic name for the Americas.

32.  “Unique” in this sense is now obsolete. Compare “The Pit and the Pendulum” at n. 24. Poe uses “unique mass” as descriptive of unparticled matter in “Mesmeric Revelation.”

33.  In 1844 Asa Whitney (1797-1872), a New York businessman with some experience in China, convinced of the benefits a transcontinental railway would produce for the whole country, presented a plan to Congress for a railroad that would run from Lake Michigan to the Pacific. Unsuccessful but tenacious, for the next seven years he conducted a vigorous, unremitting campaign of education in promotion of the project through the press, public meetings, addresses to state legislatures, and contacts with individual congressmen — but the first transcontinental line was not completed until May 10, 1869.

34.  The Panama Canal, severing the continents, was first opened to traffic on August 15, 1914.

35.  The prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) is really a rodent, akin to the squirrels. The following account is abridged from a chapter called “A Republic of Prairie Dogs” in A Tour of the Prairies by Washington Irving, which was copied in a review, presumably by E. V. Sparhawk (SLM, April 1835):

“A burrow, or village, as it is termed, of prairie dogs, had been discovered . . . about a mile from the camp . . . The prairie dog is . . . one of the curiosities of the far West, about which travellers delight to tell marvellous tales, endowing him at times with something of the politic and social habits of a rational being, and giving him systems of civil government and domestic economy, almost equal to what they used to bestow upon the beaver.

“The prairie dog is an animal of the coney kind, and about the size of a rabbit . . . He is very gregarious, living in large communities, sometimes of several acres in extent, where innumerable little heaps of earth show the entrances to the subterranean cells of the inhabitants, and the well beaten tracks, like lanes and streets, show their mobility and restlessness . . . They would seem to be continually full of sport, business and public affairs . . . Sometimes . . . they pass half the night in revelry, barking or yelping with short, quick, yet weak tones, like those of very young puppies . . .

“This little inhabitant of the prairies . . . appears to be a subject of much whimsical speculation and burlesque remarks, among the hunters of the far West.”

36.  Zero is for Nero. Hellofagabalus is for Heliogabalus (more properly Elagabalus), a Roman Emperor mentioned also in “William Wilson” (n. 1) and “Four Beasts in One” (n. 12). Although sexually depraved, wasteful, and a religious fanatic, he was not cruel. The tyrant Mob is referred to in “Some Words with a Mummy,” at n. 38.

37.  Alpha Lyrae is Vega; see “Ligeia,” n. 14.

38.  Alcyone is the central star of the Pleiades in Taurus.

39.  Johann Heinrich von Madler (1794-1874), a German astronomer, in 1846 published Die Centralsonne, propounding a system of all the solar systems of the Galaxy revolving about a central orb. The discussion that follows is much elaborated in paragraphs 212-225 of Eureka. [page 1309:]

40.  Neptunian asteroids are minor planets, which might be found in the future, near Neptune. The original magazine reading (Neptunian) is clearly a misprint; Poe does not meaninglessly confuse the names of heavenly bodies in the story.

41.  Poe planned to discuss the inhabitants of the moon in “Hans Phaall,” had he continued it. Daphnis is not the real name of any lunar formation now recorded. In Greek mythology Diana, the moon goddess, was the patron of the shepherd Daphnis. By 2848 a city in the moon may be named for him.

42.  Paradise means park; the reference (reminiscent of Kubla Khan’s stately pleasure dome) is to the Park Fountain, near City Hall in New York; the island is Manhattan.

43.  Richard Riker (1773-1842) was a New York politician, to whom Fitz-Greene Halleck addressed his once famous poem, “To the Recorder.” The Order of the Golden Fleece was the highest decoration of the Holy Roman Empire. Poe hints that Riker, who was widely suspected of grafting, had fleeced the people of their gold.

44.  Poe also ridiculed bustles in “The Spectacles” and in “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Schellerazade.”

45.  The proponents of a “suitable” monument had been trying since the beginning of a subscription list in 1843 to raise funds for the project. The goal remained far out of sight, however, and in 1847 it was hoped that the laying of a cornerstone would stimulate further contributions. Elaborate ceremonies accompanied the dedication, including a parade, cannon, speeches, and George Pope Morris’s ode, sung by 500 voices “with great éclat.” The New-York Daily Tribune, October 20, 1847, carried a glowing account of the affair. But the proposed monument never took shape, and Henry Kirke-Brown’s equestrian bronze statue of Washington, in Union Square, was not unveiled until 1856. See James Grant Wilson, Memorial History of . . . New York (1893), III, 454.

46.  The phrase “solitary and alone” occurs in Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, chapter xxxi, “Paris,” but Poe and his contemporaries undoubtedly associated it with Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), senator from Missouri, who had used it in a brief but emphatic speech of 1837. Referring to his stalwart three-year fight to have a resolution censuring President Jackson for removing federal deposits from the Bank of the United States “expunged” from the record, just before the “expunging” vote was taken Benton “uttered the following well-known words which have become imperishably associated with his name: ‘Solitary and alone I set this ball in motion.’ ” See the United States Magazine and Democratic Review for October 1837, p. 83. [Burton Pollin calls attention to this reference and others in “Politics and History in Poe’s ‘Mellonta Tauta’: Two Allusions Explained,” Studies in Short Fiction, Fall 1971, in which he sketches the contemporary background of Poe’s tale.] Benton, in the course of his long and distinguished political career, had, on numerous issues, voted in opposition to his fellow Democrats; in 1848 he refused to take sides in a split in the Democratic Party over the choice of a presidential candidate and thereafter was politically isolated.

47.  The references are to the commonest name, John Smith; and to that of President Zachary Taylor; recently elected when Poe wrote.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1289:]

*  Other tales dealing with one or more of these ideas are “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” “The Angel of the Odd,” “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade,” and “The Sphinx.”

  See note 10 below.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1290:]

  See Poe’s letter of July 19, 1849, to Mrs. Clemm; and Quinn, Poe, p. 621.

 


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


Notes:

There are actually four copies of Eureka with manuscript corrections written by Poe, but the additional two copies also have very minor changes, not affecting this selection.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

[S:1 - TOM3T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Mellonta Tauta)