Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “A Would-Be Crichton,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1323-1325 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 1323, continued:]


This little story is old in substance, and tells again something generally told of the famous Cambridge Professor Richard Porson (1759-1808), as noted for classical learning as for Bacchanalian [page 1324:] prowess.* Once, when traveling, Porson met a boastful fellow who quoted freely from Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Porson produced the complete works of the three Greek tragedians from his pockets, and confounded the pretender, who could locate none of the passages he had cited.

Oddly enough, Poe once saved a friend from a similar experience. Mrs. Whitman, discussing Poe’s “habitual courtesy and good nature . . . in domestic and social life,” said, “At one of the soirées . . . A lady, noted for her great lingual attainments, wishing to . . . check . . . the vanity of a young author, proposed inviting him to translate . . . a difficult passage in Greek, of which . . . she knew him to be profoundly ignorant, although given to a . . . display of Greek quotations in his published writings. Poe’s earnest and persistent remonstrance against this piece of méchanceté alone averted the embarrassing test.”

Poe’s paragraph was in one of the manuscripts of “Marginalia” he had just sent to the Southern Literary Messenger, as he reported in a letter to Annie Richmond about January 21, 1849.


(A) Southern Literary Messenger, April 1849 (15:220), “Marginalia,” no. 207; (B) Works (1850), III, 517, “Marginalia,” no. LXIII.

Griswold’s text (B) is followed; it shows three slight changes, none verbal and one a correction of an obvious misprint.

[A WOULD-BE CRICHTON   (B)]   [[n]]

Here is a good idea for a Magazine paper: — let somebody “work it up:” — A flippant pretender to universal acquirement — a would-be Crichton(1) — engrosses, for an hour or two,{a} perhaps, the attention [page 1325:] of a large company — most of whom are profoundly impressed by his knowledge. He is very witty, in especial, at the expense of a modest young gentleman, who ventures to make no reply, and who, finally, leaves the room as if overwhelmed with confusion; — the Crichton greeting his exit with a laugh. Presently he returns, followed by a footman carrying an armful{b} of books. These are deposited on the table. The young gentleman, now, referring to some penciled{c} notes which he had been secretly taking during the Crichton’s display of erudition, pins the latter to his statements, each by each, and refutes them all in turn, by reference to the very authorities cited by the egotist himself — whose ignorance at all points is thus made apparent.



[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1324:]

a  Comma omitted (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1325:]

b  armfull (A)

c  pencilled (A)


[page 1325, continued:]


Title:  Supplied from text.

1.  “The admirable Crichton rose like a meteor upon the literary horizon of Europe, and his career was as brilliant and as brief,” said an editorial note in the New-York Mirror, September 10, 1836, introducing a passage from W. Harrison Ainsworth’s forthcoming novel Crichton, which the Harpers published in New York in 1837. James Crichton (1560?-1682?), M.A. of St. Andrews University in 1575, whose appellation was accorded in 1652 by his biographer, Sir Thomas Urquhart, reputedly knew ten languages, was an accomplished swordsman, athlete, and horseman, wrote poetry in Latin and Italian, and served for a time in the French army. During travels in Europe he distinguished himself in debates on questions of science and religion with leading scholars in Paris, Genoa, Venice, and Padua. In Mantua, intending to enter the service of the Duke, he was killed in a street brawl.



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 1324:]

*  Poe probably saw the Porson anecdote in Charles Caleb Colton’s once popular compilation, Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words (1821-1822); see p. 387 in the New York stereotyped edition (1849), published by Poe’s friend William Gowans. Colton (1780-1832) visited America in 1828. Poe mentioned him in “Marginalia;” number 46 (Democratic Review, December 1844, p. 581).

  See Sarah Helen Whitman, Edgar Poe and His Critics (1860), pp. 25-26. The salon was probably that of Miss Anne C. Lynch, and the female linguist almost surely Mrs. Ellet. The young author is unidentified, even by conjecture.






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