Text: Burton R. Pollin (and E. A. Poe), “Marginalia - part 01,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 1-107 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 107:]



United States Magazine, and Democratic Review

November 1844 XV, 484-94


By Edgar A. Poe.

[43 items plus Introduction]

  * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Marginalia Introduction

In getting my books,(a) I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this is not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general. Where what I have to note is too much to be included within the narrow limits of a margin, I commit it to a slip of paper, and deposit it between the leaves; taking care to secure it by an imperceptible portion of gum tragacanth paste.(b)

All this may be whim; it may be not only a very hackneyed, but a very idle practice; — yet I persist in it still; and it affords me pleasure; which is profit, in despite of Mr. Bentham with Mr. Mill on his back.(c)

This making of notes, however, is by no means the making of mere memoranda — a custom which has its disadvantages, beyond doubt. “Ce que Je mets sur papier,” says Bernardin de St. Pierre, ‘je remets de ma mémoire, et par conséquence je l‘oublie;” — and, in fact, if you wish to forget anything upon the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.(d)

But the purely marginal jottings, done with no eye to the Memorandum Book, have a distinct complexion, and not only a distinct purpose, but none at all; this it is which imparts to them a value. They have a rank somewhat above the chance and desultory comments of literary chit-chat — for these latter are not unfrequently “talk for talk’s sake,” [page 108:] hurried out of the mouth; while the marginalia are deliberately pencilled, because the mind of the reader wishes to unburthen itself of a thought; — however flippant — however silly — however trivial — still a thought indeed, not merely a thing that might have been a thought in time, and under more favorable circumstances. In the marginalia, too, we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly — boldly — originally — with abandonnement(e) — without conceit — much after the fashion of Jeremy Taylor, and Sir Thomas Browne, and Sir William Temple, and the anatomical Burton, and that most logical analogist, Butler, and some other people of the old day, who were too full of their matter to have any room for their manner, which, being thus left out of question, was a capital manner, indeed, — a model of manners, with a richly marginalic air.(f)

The circumscription of space, too, in these pencillings, has in it something more of advantage than of inconvenience. It compels us (whatever diffuseness of idea we may clandestinely entertain), into Montesquieu-ism, into Tacitus-ism (here I leave out of view the concluding portion of the “Annals”) — or even into Carlyle-ism(g) — a thing which, I have been told, is not to be confounded with your ordinary affectation and bad grammar. I say “bad grammar,” through sheer obstinacy, because the grammarians (who should know better) insist upon it that I should not. But then grammar is not what these grammarians will have it; and, being merely the analysis of language, with the result of this analysis, must be good or bad just as the analyst is sage or silly — just as he is a Horne Tooke or Cobbett.(h)

But to our sheep. During a rainy afternoon, not long ago, being in a mood too listless for continuous study, I sought relief from ennui in dipping here and there, at random, among the volumes of my library — no very large one, certainly, but sufficiently miscellaneous; and, I flatter myself, not a little recherche.(i)

Perhaps it was what the Germans call the “brain-scattering” humor of the moment; but, while the picturesqueness of the numerous pencil-scratches arrested my attention, their helter-skelter-insss of commentary amused me.(j) I found myself at length, forming a wish that it had been some other hand than my own which had so bedevilled the books, and fancying that, in such case, I might have derived no inconsiderable pleasure from turning them over. From this the transition — thought (as Mr. Lyell, or Mr. Murchison, or Mr. Featherstonhaugh would have it) was natural enough: — there might be something even in my scribblings which, for the mere sake of scribbling, would have interest for others.(k)

The main difficulty respected the mode of transferring the notes from the volumes — the context from the text — without detriment to that exceedingly frail fabric of intelligibility in which the context was imbedded. With all appliances to boot, with the printed pages at their back, the commentaries were too often like Dodona’s oracles(l) — or those of Lycophron Tenebrosus(m) — or the essays of the pedant’s pupils, in [page 109:] Quintilian which were “necessarily excellent, since even he (the pedant) found it impossible to comprehend them:”(n) — what, then, would become of it — this context — — if transferred? — if translated? Would it not rather be traduit (traduced) which is the French synonym, or overzezet (turned topsy-turvy) which is the Dutch one?(o)

I concluded, at length, to put extensive faith in the acumen and imagination of the reader: — this as a general rule. But, in some instances, where even faith would not remove mountains, there seemed no safer plan than so to re-model the note as to convey at least the ghost of a conception as to what it was all about. Where, for such conception, the text itself was absolutely necessary, I could quote it; where the title of the book commented upon was indispensable, I could name it. In short, like a novel-hero dilemma’d, I made up my mind “to be guided by circumstances,” in default of more satisfactory rules of conduct.(p)

As for the multitudinous opinion expressed in the subjoined farrago — as for my present assent to all, or dissent from any portion of it — as to the possibility of my having, in some instances, altered my mind or as to the impossibility of my not having altered it often — these are points upon which I say nothing, because upon these there can be nothing cleverly said. It may be as well to observe, however, that just as the goodness of your true pun is in the direct ratio of its intolerability, so is nonsense the essential sense of the Marginal Note.


books) a. This selectivity is fiction, as is the assiduous note-pasting method described. Accordingly TOM included the “Introduction” to the Marginalia in his Tales and Sketches pp. 1112-18. The books owned and retained by Poe are now very rare, probably because he omitted his name and sold most of them. The following are those recorded by TOM in a private memorandum, which is adapted here:

The Books Traced to Poe’s Library (* = autographed?) (1 and 9 undoubted; 2 and 6 highly probable)

1. Henry Hirst, The Coming of the Mammoth, (Boston, 1845) — presentation copy, reviewed by Poe, H 12.80. (S. V. Henkels Sale, 3/9/1926.)

2. Thomas Moore, Irish Melodies, (New York, 1819), now in the Humanities Research Center Library at the University of Texas at Austin, with a statement by Dr. John F. Carter that Poe left it at his office in 1849.

* 3. W. G. Clark, Spirit of Life, (1833) “doubtful” — TOM. (Catalogue of Oppenheimer & Co., 5/1926, II, lot 171.)

* 4. Henry Kirk White, Poetical and Prose Remains, (2 vols., 1824) same ref. — doubtful.

* 5. Album of the Countess of Blessington, idem — doubtful.

6. Visions of Quevedo (see TOM’s discussion, p. 83). Doubtful — B. R. P. [page 110:]

* 7. Southey, The Doctor, (New York, 1836). Reviewed by Poe, H 9.66-69. (Now in the Harvard College Library.)

8. Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia, (first series, 2nd ed., Phila. 1828). (Blackwell’s Catalogue, no. 331, 6/1933, item 569.)

9. Bible, (Am. Bible Soc., N. Y., 1844). Formerly at Fordham Cottage, now at the NYPL. See TOM, Politian (1923), p. 72, and Phillips 1545-46.

10. Æsopi Fabulae (formerly J. H. Whitty’s), a schoolbook — see Politian, p. 65.

11. New York Weekly Inspector, 12/27/1806. See M 102.

12. London Magazine, 1760 — see M 88.

13. Ralph Hoyt, Chaunt of Life, Part II of six Parts, (New York, 1845). Reviewed by Poe, H 12.193-201. (Brown Univ. Library)

The books comprising Poe’s “library. . . sufficiently miscellaneous” (para. 6, infra) either in 11/44, when he first published the M Intro. or in 1849, at its reprinting, would not correspond to this list, of course, but certainly would be few in number. For evidence, we might cite Mary Gove’s 1863 reminiscence of an 1846 visit to Fordham cottage: “[in] the sitting room. . . a hanging bookshelf completed its furniture. There were pretty presentation copies of books on the little shelves, and the Brownings had posts of honour on the stand” (Quinn 509). Of the numerous books cited throughout the Brevities only a few recur throughout the whole span (1836-49) to suggest their being carried about for the several changes of city — abodes and residences of the Poe family: Isaac Disraeli’s Curiosities of Literature, Bielfeld’s First Elements of Universal Erudition, a few of Bulwer Lytton’s novels (Pelham, Paul Clifford, Ernest Maltravers), and Stanley, the 1838 novel of H. B. Wallace (or “Landor”). The extreme meagerness of Poe’s literary possessions makes his general literary culture seem impressive.

paste) b. This is Poe’s phrase for tragacanth or gum tragacanth, a kind of mucilage derived from the spines of a form of low-growing Asian shrub, used in medicine as a vehicle for drugs and as a paste; the name is taken from the Greek for goat and thorn (OED). In the article on “Gum” in the En. Br., 12.715-16, its use as a paste concerns the preparation of scientific specimens — a use possibly known to Poe through his work with Thomas Wyatt in preparing The Conchologist’s First Book in 1839 (Poems 549n). Its use by scholars is not mentioned.

back) c. Poe is almost always derisive of the Utilitarians and their leaders, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and the Mills, both James Mill the father (1773-1836), probably meant here, and son John (1806 1873), the butt of many of Poe’s attacks against rigid logic (see MM 63, 124). For loci see MM 42, 63b, 124 and TOM 609, 617n8). See TOM 1116n1, for his Marginalia Introduction comment.

remembered) d. A good example of Poe’s “creative” scholarship is this reference to Jacques — Henry Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737-92), [page 111:] the engineer, traveler to Mauritius, disciple of Rousseau, and natural scientist, so widely influential for his Arcadian novel Paul et Virginie (1787) and Etudes de la nature (1784-89). In my study of “Poe’s Use of Material” (from his Etudes), in Romance Notes, 1971, 12.1-8, I avowed ignorance of the source of this quotation in his works (iterated in TOM 1116n2). Charles Feigenoff has traced the origin, clarified through our subsequent common concern and investigation, into this result: Poe clearly was not quoting from “Study XIV [On Education],” which has the source-passage, but rather was turning into his own type of French an English translation of the passage: “J‘ai eprouve bien des fois que l‘on oublie ce qu‘on ecrit. Ce que je mets sur le papier, je Tote de ma memoire, et bientot de mon souvenir” (Paris, 1804; [3.456]). He probably derived it from Henry Hunter’s translation Studies of Nature (London, 1796), reprinted in Worcester (1797) and Phila. (1808): “I have frequently experienced that we forget what we commit to writing. That which I have conveyed to paper I discharge from my memory, and very soon from my recollective faculty.” As he does with the English of George Sand, reported by Robert Walsh, by translating it into his own French (SM 12, para. 1), Poe obviously translates Hunter’s text. (See TOM, Poems 90 and 117 for its use in Al Aaraaf, and my study in Romance Notes for its use in “MS. in a Bottle.”) Moreover, he implies the French author’s similar subject matter when in reality the context is a discussion of the superiority of the Greek education, which did not depend on note — taking, over French academic habits.

abandonnement) e. See M 109 for Poe’s ascribing “talk for talk’s sake” to Saint Basil (q.v. in my notes). In TOM 1116n3 it is traced to Plato’s “Laches”: “Socrates: But perhaps Nicias is serious, and not merely talking for the sake of talking.” (Collected Dialogues [Princeton UP, 1963, Bollingen Series no. 71], p. 139, Jowett tr.). TOM also traces an instance in Letter 1 of 5/1/1844, Poe’s Doings of Gotham. Poe is contrasting here the ambiance and spirit of “table talk” such as that of Hazlitt and Coleridge (see the end of M 109) with “deliberate” marginalia. His picking up the adjective in the noun “pencillings” (para. 5) implies comparison with N. Willis’s popular Pencillings by the Way (1832) and his characteristic “First impressions of Europe” which ran in the Mirror, 1832-34, for collected publication in 1835. Perhaps the informality of “pencillings” by comparison with “inkings” or formal writing leads him also to the word and idea of “abandon” or its French form, as here. It is a favorite Poe usage, often in a context of poetic production and genius (cf. “Shelleyan abandon” in M 213).

The novelty of Poe’s endeavor in these short essays is perhaps underscored by his inventing a new designation “marginalia” which he italicizes as his own coinage according to his habit (q.v. discussed in PCW 16-17). This is based on a late Latin root. Coleridge earlier evolved the concept in a word in a letter of 4/22/32 which, however, was printed [page 112:] only in 1895, so that Poe’s is the premier printed instance (OED). Unfortunately, he failed to furnish a singular, which might be “marginale” in the suggestion of J. A. Greenwood in Edgar A. Poe: The Rationale of Verse (Princeton, 1968), 85 n. He alone has given Poe this credit. My notes will use awkward periphrastic constructions, such as “one of the Marginalia” or “the Marginalia article.” It may be surmised that in these essays Poe will often show a keen interest in language usage.

marginalic air) f. All five of these literary worthies are well chosen by Poe for their “capital manner” (a favorite Poe adjective), but Poe’s acquaintance with the writings of Temple and Butler was probably most limited. Urn-Burial (1658) of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) gave him the motto of “Murders” and, possibly, Religio Medici (I, 46) was useful, (see DP 87-88; and a mention in M 151, as in an 8/41 review, 10. 189). Jeremy Taylor (1613- 67) is cited here probably for Holy Living and Holy Dying (1650-51) and is mentioned once elsewhere (H 9.203). Sir William Temple (1628-99), patron of Swift and husband of Dorothy Osborne, wrote the charming essays collected as Miscellanea (1680, 1692, and 1701). Robert Burton (1577-1640), is mentioned for his discursive Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) in M 46, which may have been a source for FS 17. Bishop Joseph Butler (1697-1752), well known for his Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed (1736), enters into M 3 through an anecdotal source. (See also TOM I 116n4 for similar particulars.) Poe pays honor to their fine, individual style with his coinage of the word “marginalic,” suggested by his own coinage of “marginalia,” — surely a useful addition to our language which is still considered a “nonce-word” by the OED.

Carlyle-ism) g. These three instances of Poe’s frequent coinages of stylistic qualities based on proper names present his frequently expressed and unconventional opinions. Of Cornelius Tacitus’s Annals he has said this also in Pin 50 (q.v. for the loci of Tacitus refs. in the Brevities and elsewhere). Poe has spoken of the Baron Charles Montesquieu’s Persian Letters as source for “Letters” in Pin 3 (to be repeated in M 72), but for the conciseness of his L‘Esprit des Lois (1748), as well as that ascribed to Tacitus, see TOM 391n22, tracing Poe’s idea to Hugh Blair’s 1783 Lectures on Rhetoric (no. xviii). For Poe’s utter detestation of the style and much of the matter of Emerson’s friend, Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), see my summary with other loci in M 165 a-b; also loci in the Index. Note Poe’s prediction of quick oblivion for Carlyle, beginning of M 165.

Cobbett) h. This passage on grammar is closely adapted from Poe’s 7/41 Graham’s review of Hugh Pue’s A Grammar of the English Language (H 10.167-71). This is the basis for SM 18, q.v. for discussion of Poe’s views on grammar and on William Cobbett (1766-1835) and John Horne Tooke (1736-1812).

recherché) i. “To our sheep” was one of Poe’s favorite phrases, probably taken from Edward Bulwer Lytton’s novel Pelham (1827), from [page 113:] which he borrowed much, including elements in the Brevities (see MM 78, 280; FS 29, 37; see other refs. under his name in the Index). In ch. 70 the gluttonous Lord Guloseton writes to Pelham: “Mais revenons a [for à] nos moutons (a most pertinent phrase, by the bye — oh! the French excel us in everything from the paramount science of cookery, to the little art of conversation.)” This is a tag for “Let’s return to the main subject” popularized first by Rabelais in his Gargantua (bk. iii, ch. 24) who took it from Pierre Blanchet’s La Farce de Maistre Patelin (1460). The judge in the farce repeats “Sus! Revenons A ces moutons!” (Come! Let’s return to those sheep! [stolen, according to the charge], as TOM indicates (1117n8). For the ambivalence of Poe’s attitude toward Edward Bulwer Lytton, journalist, novelist, editor, parliamentarian, etc., see Pin 1 note.

In keeping with a para. starting with a translated French expression is the use of “recherchrs” to mean “rare, fine, or carefully selected.”

amused me) j. Poe pretended to have much more German available to him than was the case, as is proved by his error in spelling and capitalization of “Leiden” in M 174b (and TOM 1366n12). The lack of a German word may indicate a feigned original, to broaden the sophistication of his “marginalic pencillings” by implication. It is also possible that Poe had indeed seen a pejorative term for “scatter-brain” in German and wished now to play a joke on the reader by reversing the meaning into “brain-scattering” which would certainly require interpretation, in any event, such as “thoughts-distracting.” Such German words might be “der Wirrkopf” for “the scatter-brain” or “flatterhast” for “scatterbrained” or “die Streung” for “state of having a scattered or confused mind.” In M 249 he whimsically played a similar kind of bilingual joke both on the Bostonians and the reader. “In character, a windbeutel” (sic without capital) — these are the last words of scorn (and of text) applied by Poe to Thomas Dunn English, whom Poe regarded as his bitter enemy, in the revised “Literati” sketch of 1848 left to be printed in the 1850 set of articles, (H 15.270; Griswold text, 3.104). In Cassell’s . . . Dictionary the final word (Windbeutel) is given for the English “windbag” and also for “scatterbrain.” It is the “pencil-scratches” which are scattered, helping to justify the digressive and non-consecutive series of Marginalia articles. The end of para. 9 reasserts this.

for others) k. The end of this para. illustrates distinctive features of Poe’s mind: his wide interest in scientific developments, such as geology (cf. M 107); his humorous associations, such as fossil rock remains with marginalic pencillings; and his graphic and wellnigh dramatic transmission of a fancied situation. TOM’s note (I 117n10) furnishes interesting data on the writings, geological achievements, and honors of Charles Lyell (1797-1875), Roderick Impey Murchison (1792-1871), and George Wm. Featherstonhaugh. Poe’s compound word “transition — thought” I have listed as his own coinage (PCW 67), omitted from the OED, although he humorously ascribes it to the geologists, almost in mockery of their [page 114:] use of far-flung and tenuous lines of evidence and theory.

oracles) l. This, the first example of deliberate obscurity, was used with a slightly fuller text in Poe’s “Silence,” an early tale of the “Folio Club” (perhaps 1832 or 1833): “Holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves that trembled around Dodona,” site of the grove to Zeus whose rustlings the priests interpreted (TOM 198, 1117n11).

Tenebrosus) m. Poe also speaks of Lycophron in his 11/41 Graham’s “Chapter of Autography” sketch of Emerson (H 15.260): “Lycophron Tenebrosus is a fool to him.” Lycophron (c. 320, fl. at Alexandria, 285-247 B. C.), a native of Chalcis in Euboea, was credited with about fifty tragedies, with only one fragment surviving, and the extant, extraordinarily obscure poem of 1474 lines, the Alexandra, a dramatic monologue in which a guardian slave-girl reports Cassandra’s prophecies to Priam (see the analysis in OCD 628). It was this play (not “commentaries” as in Poe) which won him the title “Tenebrosus” (dark, obscure).

comprehend them) n. This scrap of learning, borrowed by Poe from Bouhours’ Bien penser first appeared in Pin 113 (q.v.) and also in the anti-Emerson passage of 11/41 mentioned in note m, supra, in almost the same words. Here too Poe originally spelled Quintilian, erroneously, with two “1’s” (now corrected).

Dutch one) o. Poe seems to move about among three languages with some ingenuity in advancing his thesis that notes often change their nature when organized into a set of Marginalia like these. He correctly derives “translated” from “transferred” (“ferro, ferre, tuli, lotus”); thence, he goes into “traduire” which is a synonym (spelled “synonyme” in 1849 and 1850) for the less common “translater” and ends up with the Dutch “overzezet” for “translated.” But there are a few things wrong: Poe did not know that at one time “traduce” meant “translate” in English, and retained this meaning in a somewhat affected style even throughout the 19th century (OED). The common meaning of “slander” or “destroy [the reputation of]” suited his purpose better — namely, to suggest the transformation in charm or meaning enjoined by the transfer. Second, “overzezet” is the wrong spelling for the form “overgezet.” TOM left Poe’s form in his text, with a corrective note (for which he was taken to task by J. Moldenhauer, PS, 1978, 11.44). But TOM’s feeling about keeping Poe’s form was correct although he was unaware of Poe’s true source (with the error), q.v. below. Third, Poe’s pun in his last parenthesis is utterly unfounded, for “overgezet” means “placed or seated over or across” as in “transferred.” In actual fact, it was commonly used for “ferried” and not for its German cognate; “translated” then and now was commonly a different word. This was all the result of Poe’s borrowing his idea and material from the following passage of the Weekly Inspector of New York, vol. 2, no. 41, p. 228, 6/6/1807, article ’Scraps”:

It has been well said, that to translate a book is like [page 115:] pouring honey from one vessel into another — something must always be lost.

Both the Dutch and the French word for translated will bear to be literally rendered: overzezet, and traduit. Milton may more truly be said to be overset in one language, and traduced in the other, than translated in either. Done into English, was not so happy a phrase [,] for many a book was undone by the operation.

Poe used this journal as source for MM 23, 81, 100, 102, and 103 proof positive for this article as well. Oddly enough, the magazine editor and Robert Southey must have been reading the same comment, for the latter wrote, in the Quarterly Review, 1814, 12.73: “Milton has been traduced into French and overturned into Dutch.”

conduct) p. In sentence 2 Poe is citing I Corinthians 13.2: “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains.” Remodeling his notes was more usually a matter of cutting down a lengthy review or excerpting a small portion of one, with a newly provided introduction. This procedure will be traced in the ensuing notes.

Poe seems to be coining the compound “novel-hero” (OED) and his “dilemma‘d” is an interesting revival of a word cited for the 17th century with this instance — the third — the only 19th century one (OED). The familiar tag about “circumstances” is ascribed to Livy, Annals, 22.39, in TOM 1118n16.

TOM helpfully but, I feel, unnecessarily collates four texts of this Introduction for variants, finding only these in the second: para. 3, last sentence — “on the spot” — “upon the spot” and para. 5, first sentence: “than inconvenience” — “than of inconvenience.” These appear in Poe’s autograph revisions of pages of the Democratic Review, now in the Johns Hopkins University Library, but they were not carried into the SLM reprint in 4/1849 (15.217-18), nor into the 1850 edition, edited by Griswold, 3.483-85. For the significant autograph revisions see M 38 note d.

Marginalia 1

Who has seen the “Velschii Ruzname Naurus,” of the Oriental Literature?


Note: Poe himself had obviously not seen this book, more correctly titled Commentarius in Ruzname Naurus, sive Tabulae aequinoctiales novi Persarum & Turcarum anni (i.e., “Commentary on the table of the New Year, or equal night and day tables of the new year of the Persians [page 116:] and Turks”), published at Augsburg, 1676. It was actually divided as follows: Preface by “B. L. S.” (5 pp.), Tables by Sheikh Wafa (14 leaves), dissertation by Velschius, that is, George Jerome Welsch (137 pp.), indices, two in number (18 pp.). The Persian year, I am informed by the Oriental Division of the NYPL, starts on March 21 with six months of 31 days followed by six of 30.

Marginalia 2

There is about the same difference between the epicyclic lines of Shelley, et id genus, and the epics of Hell — Fire Montgomery, as between the notes of a flute and those of the gong at Astor’s.(a) In the one class the vibrations are unequal but melodious; the other have regularity enough, but no great deal of music, and a trifle too much of the tintamarre.(b)


Astor’s) a. Robert Montgomery (1807-1855), a “poetaster” and natural son of Robert Gomery, clown in the Bath theatre, gained favor with The Omnipresence of Deity (1828; 8th ed. the same year) and Satan, or Intellect without God (1830), which won for him Poe’s sobriquet “Hell-Fire” and was scorned by Macaulay in a review. Poe derided the former epic for its dullness in “Loss of Breath” (TOM 76n15 and “Angel of the Odd” 1111-12) and, despite his borrowings from James Montgomery’s Lectures on . . . Literature (1833), linked them together as brothers. For the full account see Pollin, “Poe, Henry King, and the Two Writers called Montgomery,” Studies in American Fiction, 1980, 8.233-37 (see MM 19 and 83). Aside from the pun on the first four letters (“epic”) in “epicyclic,” he is also burying a ref. to the Almagest of Claudius Ptolemæus, the primary geographer, astronomer, and mathematician of the ancient world (see M 82). He must have in mind Shelley’s cosmological poetic drama Prometheus Unbound, although he adds “and this kind of thing” in Latin (more normally including “omne” for “everything of this kind”). See M 213 for Poe’s adulation of Shelley. Astor’s was a great hotel in New York City.

tintamarre) b. Poe used this uncommon word for racket or noise in his Letter V, Doings of Gotham (1929 rep.), p. 61, and in “Street-Paving,” an essay in the BJ of 2/15/45 (H 14.166), evidence of his sensitivity to what we call “noise pollution.”

Marginalia 3

The Bishop of Durham (Dr. Butler) once asked Dean Tucker whether he did not think that communities went mad en masse, now and [page 117:] then, just as individuals, individually.(a) The thing need not have been questioned. Were not the Abderians seized, all at once, with the Euripides lunacy, during which they ran about the streets declaiming the plays of the poet?(b) — And now here is the great tweedle-dee tweedle-dum paroxysm — the uproar about Pusey.(c) If England and America are not lunatic now — at this very moment — then I have never seen such a thing as a March hare.(d)


individually) a. The celebrated Bishop of Bristol, then of Durham, mentioned by Poe in the Marginalia Preface, para. 4, walking at night in his garden in Bristol, discussed security with his chaplain Josiah

Tucker (1712-1799; afterwards Dean of Gloucester). Their exchange was reported later by Dean Tucker in his tract An humble address . . . (1775; p. 20 n), and was, in turn, given by Thomas Bartlett, Memoirs . . . of Joseph Butler (London, 1839), 1.92, where Poe may have seen it: Butler — “What security is there against the insanity of individuals? . . . Why might not whole communities and public bodies be seized with fits of insanity, as well as individuals?” Tucker — “Nothing but this principle, that they are liable to insanity equally with private persons, can account for the major part of those transactions of which we read in history.”

poet) b. Poe refers to the same story in M 165, using there the common substantive Abderite for the inhabitants of ancient Abdera in Thrace, rather more famous for proverbial stupidity caused by the bad air than for mass madness, which is however discussed fully by Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique (ed. of 1820, Paris, used; I, article “Abdera”). In the time of Lysimachus, overlord after the death of Alexander the Great, the city was struck by a fever which left the victims, after a week, with a troubled imagination. As unwilling comedians they recited the now lost Andromeda of Euripides in the streets. The 1849 Webster Dictionary traces its connotation for “foolish or incessant laughter” to Abdera’s being the birthplace of Democritus, who was known for scoffing.

Pusey) c. Edward B. Pusey (1800-1882) led the Tractarian Movement in the Anglican Church. Poe here indicates his own lack of interest in minute ecclesiastical disputes. In the July 1844 Philadelphia Ledger, in “Desultory Notes on Cats,” Poe makes an amusing pun on “Puseyites” (TOM 1095). In “Lion-izing. A Tale” of May 1835, Poe used “tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee” in its 18th century sense of contrasting high and low pitched sounds (originating from “toodle,” sound of an instrument, early it was applied to the feud of the Bononcinists vs. the Handelists), but here in its figurative sense for designating “parties the difference between which is held to be insignificant” (OED). Surely he knew the editorial article on the much mooted question of the use of the Bible in public schools, printed in the Evening Mirror of 10/21/44, [page 118:] ending: “This is the mighty tweedle-dee against which the adherents of tweedle-dum are fighting so fiercely.”

hare) d. Traditionally, in the rutting season (March) hares are especially shy and wild. Poe probably refers here to the uproar over Pusey’s published university sermon, The Holy Eucharist a Comfort to the Penitent of 1843, which caused the church authorities to suspend Pusey for two years from preaching.

Marginalia 4

I believe that Hannibal passed into Italy over the Pennine Alps; and if Livy were living now, I could demonstrate this fact even to him.


Note: The reason for this jesting statement of pseudo-erudition is not clear, since Livy certainly treats of Hannibal’s invasion through the Alpine passes in Book 21 of the history of Rome (see especially Section 38, pp. 111-12 of vol. V in the Loeb Classical Library). The Oxford Classical Dictionary (article: “Hannibal”) in a sense confirms Poe in that Hannibal crossed the Alps between the Little St. Bernard and Mt. Genèvre passes. Probably Poe had a very slight acquaintance with the history of Rome in 142 books (35 being extant) by Titus Livius of Padua, even though he made several conventional allusions (see H 9.193, TOM 882n12, 1118n16, 1124n4) and joked about Livy’s plundering the works of Polybius (TOM 111 and 115n28).

Marginalia 5

In a rail-road car, I once sat face to face with him — or, rather, προσωπον κατα προσωπον, as the Septuagint have it; for he had a toothache, and three-fourths of his visage were buried in a red handkerchief.(a) Of what remained visible, an eighth, I thought, represented his “Gaieties,” and an eighth his “Gravities.” The only author I ever met who looked even the fourth of his own book.(b)


handkerchief) a. From Deuteronomy 5:4 — “The Lord talked with you face to face.”

book) b. The author was Horatio (Horace) Smith (1779-1849), whose novels and parodic verses (Rejected Addresses), used by Poe, and essays (Gaieties and Gravities, a title used by the Mirror for a Miscellany column 1838-42), were well known in America, q.v. in Pollin, PS, 1980, 3:8-10. [page 119:]

Marginalia 6

But for the shame of the thing, there are few of the so-called apophthegms which would not avow themselves epigrams outright.(a) They have it in common with the fencing-school foils, that we can make no real use of any part of them but the point, while this we can never get fairly at, on account of a little flat profundity-button.(b)

outright) a. Poe follows usage in linking the two words, both of which differ from similar terms in having a known author, but more commonly the “epigram” is satirical or paradoxical in its point and is brilliantly phrased. In Greek “apophthegm” means “a terse saying.”

button) b. Poe’s interest in and aversion to dueling was earlier shown in “Lionizing” (TOM 187n26) and “Mystification” (see especially TOM 305nn9-10; and the discussion by Pollin, Mississippi Quarterly, 1972, 25.111-130). His final word “profundity-button” is, of course, a compound that he created, with an echo of Hamlet.

Marginalia 7

I make no exception, even in Dante’s favor: — the only thing well said of Purgatory, is that a man may go farther and fare worse.


Note: This is the only ref. made by Poe to any part of the Divine Comedy save the Inferno. One may surmise from this entry that Poe rather hazily thought the Inferno to follow, rather than precede, Purgatory. For Dante see also Pin 14 and 86 and FS 41.

Marginalia 8

When music affects us to tears, seemingly causeless, we weep not, as Gravina supposes, from “excess of pleasure;” but through excess of an impatient, petulant sorrow that, as mere mortals, we are as yet in no condition to banquet upon those supernal ecstasies of which the music affords us merely a suggestive and indefinite glimpse.


Note: This entry was to become an important sentence (end of para. 14) in “The Poetic Principle,” first delivered as a lecture in 12/48 in Providence and, in 8/9/49 in Richmond before being printed in 1850 after Poe’s death (H 14.274). The text was altered thus: “And thus when by Poetry — or when by Music, the most entrancing of the Poetic moods — [page 120:] we find ourselves melted into tears — we weep then — not as the Abbate Gravina supposes — through excess of pleasure, but through a certain, petulant, impatient sorrow at our inability to grasp now, wholly, here on earth, at once and for ever, those divine and rapturous joys, of which through the poem, or through the music, we attain to but brief and indeterminate glimpses” (H 14.274). The basic concept may be found in Poe’s 3/42 review of Longfellow’s Ballads (H 11.71-72 and 74-75), but without the Gravina ref. which comes, probably indirectly since there were no full translations of the material, from Della Ragion Poetica of Giovanni Vincenzo Gravina (1664-1718), whose work on tragedy Poe also used (see MM 44, 202). (Aside from “Della” meaning “concerning,” Gravina’s title is that of Poe’s essay, “Rationale of Verse.”) Poe’s phrase seems inexact, for the sentence from the two vol. work of 1708 (1, xi, p. 12, col. 1) is this: “But the arousal of emotions, even if they are painful, is always intermingled with delight, when it stimulates slowly and with a slight excitation; so that, to many emotions, even though sad, delight is usually added.” (Ma la commozione degli affetti anche dolorosa e sempre mista col diletto, quando stimola lentamente, e fa leggiera titillazione: onde a molti affetti, quantunque mesti, e per to piu innestato il diletto, quando il moto agita insensibilmente le parti, senza distrarle, e quando all‘affetto non è congiunta la opinion del danno, the distrae le parti, ed accresce troppo punti del dolore, ne tanto è atto a titillare, quanto a sciogliere.)

Marginalia 9

One of the most deliberate tricks of Voltaire, is where he renders, by

Soyez justes, mortels, et ne craignez qu’un Dieu,

the words of Phlegyas, who cries out, in Hell,

Dicite justitiam, moniti, et non temnere Divos.

He gives the line this twist, by way of showing that the ancients worshipped one God. He is endeavoring to deny that the idea of the Unity of God originated with the Jews.


Note: Voltaire is practicing no trickery in thus translating one of the best known lines in the Aeneid (VI, 620) misprinted by Poe: “Discite justitiam“, etc., that is, “Learn justice, you who have been warned, and do not scorn the gods.” Voltaire specifically states that “Vergil in book six [620] of the Aeneid puts these words into the mouth of Phlegyas,” and Perroneau, the editor of one of the standard editions of his works, merely supplies the Latin text, noting that Voltaire’s is “almost” a translation [page 121:] (Oeuvres, Paris, 1821, Vol. 37, Mélanges littéraires: “Des Divers changemens arrivés a l‘art tragique,” p. 91). It freely used “mortels” for “moniti,” the “warned ones” (Virgil having said “Phlegyasque miserrimus omnis / admonet — And most wretched Phlegyas admonishes all”). Phlegyas, son of Mars and Chryse, father of Ixion and Coronis who had been mistreated by Apollo, had destroyed his temple at Delphi and was consequently being tormented in Hades through the overhanging and menacing rock. Voltaire probably enjoyed the irony in Virgil’s words and underscored it by changing “gods” to “a god,” and not necessarily to “one god.” The context does not concern “the Unity of God,” simply the transformation of religious myth and ritual into drama, the mythfigures as characters. It is barely possible that Poe was thinking of another passage by Voltaire in “Philosophie générale” (26:183): “But if the atheists were to be dominant at home. . . I should be grateful to an honest man for coming to say simply to us, like Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus: Mortals, there is a just god; be just yourselves” (my translation). Surely the context of both offers no justification for Poe’s last sentence. The errors of this item point toward a source other than Voltaire used by Poe and as yet undiscovered.

Marginalia 10

The theorizers of Government, who pretend always to “begin with the beginning,”(a) commence with Man in what they call his natural state — the savage. What right have they to suppose this his natural state? Man’s chief idiosyncrasy being reason, it follows that his savage condition — his condition of action without reason — is his unnatural state. The more he reasons, the nearer he approaches the position to which this chief idiosyncrasy irresistibly impels him; and not until he attains this position with exactitude — not until his reason has exhausted itself for his improvement — not until he has stepped upon the highest pinnacle of civilisation — will his natural state be ultimately reached, or thoroughly determined.(b)


beginning) a. This phrase is located as to source by Poe in M 191 (end of para. 1, q.v.), i.e., “Le Bélier” by Count Anthony Hamilton; it was used also in “The Folio Club” Introduction, TOM 206n1, and a rev. of 8141.

determined) b. Poe’s stimulus for this item is probably item 11 from one of the three sets by William Landor (pseud. of Horace Binney Wallace) of aphoristic items which he called “Sweepings from a Drawer,” this one in the 4/38 BGM, 4.241: “Hobbes’ theory and all the democratic theories of natural right, are founded on the assumption that savagery [page 122:] is the natural condition of man; whereas it is more likely, that the highest state of mental and social refinement is truly the state of nature.” The opposition to this approaches the view of the perfectibilitarians, such as William Godwin — a school normally objurgated by Poe (q.v. in DP, ch. 7, pp. 107-127). For Poe’s extensive use of Wallace’s material, without his knowing his identity, see G. E. Hatvary, AL, 1966, 38.365-72, and Horace Binney Wallace (Boston, 1977), passim, and also my notes below.

Marginalia 11

Our literature is infested with a swarm of just such little people as this — creatures who succeed in creating for themselves an absolutely positive reputation, by mere dint of the continuity and perpetuality of their appeals to the public — which is permitted, not for a single instant, to rid itself of these Epizote, or to get their pretensions out of sight.(a)

We cannot, then, regard the microscopical works of the animalculæ in question, as simple nothings; for they produce, as I say, a positive effect, and no multiplication of zeros will result in unity — but as negative quantities — as less than nothings; since — into — will give +.(b)


sight) a. Poe had trouble with the plural of the new word “epizoon” or parasite on the external surface of the host’s body, cited by the OED first for 1836-1839, for he gives the plural in “Scheherazade” (TOM 1163) as “Epizoce” whereas “epizoa” is needed (although, judging from the erroneous “plantœ” there it was probably intended to be “epizoæ” with a printer’s misreading of diphthongal “æ” as “œ”).

give) b. Compare this item with a portion of Poe’s letter of 18 Feb. 1844 to George Lippard, anent attacks on his novel Ladye Annabel, which Lippard published at the end of his next novel Herbert Tracy, with Poe’s permission: “You should regard small animosities — the animosities of small men — of the literary animalculæ . . . as so many tokens of your ascent — or, rather as so many stepping stones, to your ambition” (Ostrom, Letters, p. 243).

Marginalia 12

I cannot imagine why it is that Harrison Ainsworth so be-peppers his books with his own dog Latin and pig Greek(a) — unless, indeed, he agrees with Encyclopædia Chambers, that nonsense sounds worse in English than in any other language.(b) [page 123:]


Greek) a. On every score — of content, technique, language — Poe detested the highly successful William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882), as is best seen in his long 11/41 rev. of Guy Fawkes (H 10.214-220, attacking “the turgid pretension of the style,” the “interwoven pedantry” and “second-hand bits of classical and miscellaneous erudition” (p. 216); see also M 221, para. 4. Poe attacks his use of a Latin phrase in “Thou Art the Man” (TOM 1051) and has him cite Tacitus in “Balloon-Hoax” (at n25, TOM 1081). Dog Latin is “pretended or mongrel Latin” (Brewer’s Dictionary). “Pig Greek” is Poe’s contemptuous coinage.

language) b. George Combe in Lectures on Phrenology (New York, 1839), p. 348, which Poe must have known (see H 8.252; 10.158; 12.165; 15.194), reports that Andrew Boardman (1559-1639) said, “Non sense. . .sounds far better. . . in a foreign than in our mother tongue.” Poe’s attribution to Chambers cannot be traced, but he refers, probably facetiously, to one of the two brothers Chambers, Robert and William, both authors and varied publishers of Edinburgh, who curiously, were to issue the famous Chamber’s Encyclopedia in 1859, after Poe’s death.

Marginalia 13

These gentlemen, in attempting the dash of Carlyle, get only as far as the luminousness of Plutarch, who begins the life of Demetrius Poliorcetes with an account of his death, and informs us that the hero could not have been as tall as his father, for the simple reason that his father, after all, was only his uncle.


Note: By “luminousness” Poe must punningly mean “lightness” or whimsicality in these ill-assorted elements about the Macedonian king Demetrius I (336-382), although Poe unquestionably is virtually quoting Anthony Hamilton’s Memoirs of Count Grammont (Paris, 1812 ed., 1.17). Plutarch, in his Lives (Volume 5), is pairing Demetrius with Mark Antony for genius, eminence, splendor and moral dissolution, especially at the end of a promising career. Hence Plutarch mentions his dying in captivity (after three years) and also the rumored story that he was not the son of King Antigonus but rather of his deceased brother whose wife Antigonus had married, and he oddly comments: “Demetrius had not the height of his father Antigonus, though he was a tall man” (Clough’s translation). Toward the end of his long “life” of Demetrius Plutarch would devote several pages to his captivity at the court in Cilicia of Seleucis who would promote the moral and physical decline of the Macedonian through sloth, gaming, and drink. Hamilton, amusedly, restates Plutarch’s introduction for its humorous confusion (which Poe underscores) in his 1812 Memoirs which Poe unflatteringly cites in his 2/42 [page 124:] review of Barnaby Rudge (H 11.40): “Demetrius. . .was not. . . so tall as his father according to Plutarch; on the other hand, he tells us that Antigonus was merely his uncle; but all that is only after his furnishing a resume of his death, his various exploits, his good and bad qualities, etc.” (Paris, 1818, p. 18; Phila., 1836, p. 36).

For other Poe references to Carlyle, invariably deprecatory, see M 188, 255; FS 33; SM 19.

Marginalia 14

To persist in calling these places “Magdalen Asylums” is absurd, and worse. We have no reason to believe that Mary Magdalen ever sinned as supposed, or that she is the person alluded to in the seventh chapter of Luke. See Macknight’sHarmony” — p. 201 — part 2.


Note: More commonly called a Magdalen Hospital or simply a Magdalen, the “home for the refuge and reformation of prostitutes” (OED) expresses the unsupported identification of “Mary called Magdalen, out of whom went seven devils” (Luke 8:2) with the weeping sinner who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears (Luke 7:37-39). Poe is citing James MacKnight, A Harmony of the Four Gospels (1756; 2nd ed., 1763), Part 11, Section 43, p. 201 n. MacKnight (1721-1800) was a Scottish divine.

Marginalia 15

Nothing, to the true taste, is so offensive as mere hyperism.(a) In Germany wohlgebor[e]n is a loftier title than edelgebor[e]n;(b) and, in Greece, the thrice-victorious at the Olympic games could claim a statue of the size of life, while he who had conquered but once was entitled only to a colossal.(c)


hyperism) a. This entire article is the same as a passage that Poe inserted into the revised “Literati” sketch of Frances S. Osgood of 9/46 (in Godey’s) which was separately printed in the SLM of 8/49 (H 13. 186) and included by Griswold in the 1850 Works (3.96) and collected in H 15. 283. In these texts the first sentence reads thus: “Nothing more deeply grieves it — or more vexes the true taste in general, than hyperism of any kind.” For Poe’s coinage of hyperism for the “use of excess” or for “exaggerated language” see other instances in his works (PCW, p. 28). [page 125:]

edelgeboren) b. The first italicized word means “well born” and the second, “of genteel birth.” Both words come from Prince Puckler-Muskau, Tour in England, Ireland, and France, tr. by Sarah Austin (Phila., 1833), p. 282, from which book Poe derived much, including data on the Thelluson family bequest used for Ellison’s fortune in “Domain of Arnheim” and its earlier form “The Landscape Garden” (TOM 704 Poe’s footnote).

colossal) c. Historical records do not agree with Poe’s statement. According to Walter W. Hyde, Olympic Victor Monuments and Greek Athletic Art (Washington, 1921), any victor could erect his likeness-statue, at Delphi outside the sacred precincts, and at Olympia, within (pp. 24, 27) but the latter statues, for example, were too costly for some victors. The size depended simply upon the means of the victor, and one per victory was allowed. Sometimes other interested parties or the native city would set up the statue (28-30). Most of the statues — usually of bronze — were life-size or under (45-46). In other authorities consulted, such as Percy Gardner, New Chapters in Greek History (1892), anent portrait statues, the differentiation given by Poe is unmentioned. Poe must have derived his curious unverified information from the description accompanying a large lithograph print of a design by Robert Kerr, a visiting British architect, for the projected Washington Monument, in competition with other designs, particularly that of Calvin Pollard. Kerr’s broadside or leaflet (which I have not managed to see) came out toward the end of 1844, in time for Poe to take note of it in M 15; it was reviewed briefly in the New York Commercial Advertiser of 1/4/45 and the contents are clearly indicated, probably by Charles F. Briggs in an article on “The New Washington Monument” in the BJ of 2/8/45, pp. 92-93: “Such a structure cannot be a small one, says Mr. Kerr. But . . . the true size for a monument of a hero is the life size, which is the true standard of dignity. Mr. Kerr’s monument shows infinitely more invention than Mr. Pollard’s . . . but it seems to be but little more than three choragic monuments set on top of each other . . . The choragic monuments, although among the largest among the Greeks, were of the lowest order.” Small prints of Kerr’s classical-style monument can be seen in Stokes, Iconography of New York, 3.811 and Jacob Landy, “The Washington Monument Project in New York,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 1969, 28.291-296, specifically 293. Unfortunately, the text is omitted from both accounts. Poe’s interest in the much discussed New York City project appears in his satirical “Mellonta Tauta” (TOM 1303-1304), q.v. in Pollin, “Politics and History in Poe’s ‘Mellonta Tauta,’ ” Studies in Short Fiction, 1971, 8.627-31. [page 126:]

Marginalia 16

The author* speaks of music like a man, and not like a fiddler.(a) This is something — and that he has imagination is more. But the philosophy of music is beyond his depth, and of its physics he, unquestionably, has no conception. By the way — of all the so-called scientific musicians, how many may we suppose cognizant of the acoustic facts and mathematical deductions? To be sure, my acquaintance with eminent composers is quite limited — but I have never met one who did not stare and say “yes,” “no,” “hum!” “ha!” “eh?” when I mentioned the mechanism of the Sirène, or made allusion to the oval vibrations at right angles.(b)

* H. F. Chorley, author of “Conti.”


fiddler) a. Poe uses this contemptuous designation for a mere performer also in M 202, para. 1, where the composer is lauded for his creativity, as is the poet. Here he is less laudatory of composers as a group. For Poe’s interest in Henry F. Chorley (1808-1872), music critic, novelist, and dramatist, see his admiring reviews of Conti, the Discarded (H 8.229-34) and Memorials of Mrs. Hemans (9.195-204). Poe here is probably referring to the second of the three volumes of Conti, subtitled “with Other Tales and Fancies” and featuring such articles as “Popular Love of Music,” “A Night at the Opera,” and “The Imaginative Instrumental Writers.”

angles) b. In CS 10, Poe shows little understanding of the physics of sound, but see his percipience in “Rationale of Verse” para 21 (H 14.219). The “Sirène” or Siren is said to have been invented by Charles Cagniard de la Tour (1777-1859) about 1819 (although the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., 4.947, implies his mere improvement of an earlier device), who made it “needlessly complicated” (Grove’s Dictionary of Music, 1939 ed., 4.773), as Poe seems to hint. Not a musical instrument, it ascertained the number of vibrations corresponding to a sound of any particular pitch and could be made to illustrate “any law of musical acoustics.” It was a revolving disc, pierced with sets of holes at regular intervals, producing tones when presented to a bellows and windpipe, thereby demonstrating that the pitch of a note depends upon the period of its vibration (Grove’s, 1908 ed., 4.471-72). Poe’s meaning in the final two phrases is far from clear. Since he implies acoustics in his third sentence, “the optical illusion of a lenticular curve” in a “bowed string” may be intended (see Article: “Acoustics” in Grove’s, ed. of 1980, 1.70). [page 127:]

Marginalia 17

His mind* — granting him any — is essentially at home in little statistics, twaddling gossip, and maudlin commentaries, fashioned to look profound; but the idea of his attempting original composition, is fantastic.

* Grant-author of “Walks and Wanderings.”


Note: This is an offshoot of a devastating uncollected rev. by Poe of Walks and Wanderings, in the World of Literature, in BGM, 12/39, 5.334. The book, also cited by Poe in the 1844 Letter VI of Doings of Gotham, pp. 65-66, for outrageous “rigmarole,” has a section of “Stories” in vol. 2 after such articles as “Nursery Poetry,” “Lakes of Scotland,” “Jack and Jill as Heroic Poetry,” and “My School-boy Companions,” all fit for Poe’s ire.

Marginalia 18

All the Bridgewater treatises have failed in noticing the great idiosyncrasy in the Divine system of adaptation: — that idiosyncrasy which stamps the adaptation as Divine, in distinction from that which is the work of merely human constructiveness. I speak of the complete mutuality of adaptation. For example: — in human constructions; a particular cause has a particular effect — a particular purpose brings about a particular object; but we see no reciprocity. The effect does not re-act upon the cause — the object does not change relations with the purpose. In Divine constructions, the object is either object or purpose, as we choose to regard it, while the purpose is either purpose or object; so that we can never (abstractedly, without concretion — without reference to facts of the moment) decide which is which. For secondary example: — In polar climates, the human frame, to maintain its due caloric, requires, for combustion in the stomach, the most highly ammoniac food, such as train oil. Again: — In polar climates, the sole food afforded man is the oil of abundant seals and whales. Now, whether is oil at hand because imperatively demanded? — or whether is it the only thing demanded because the only thing to be obtained? It is impossible to say. There is an absolute reciprocity of adaptation, for which we seek in vain among the works of man.(a)

The Bridgewater tractists(b) may have avoided this point, on account of its apparent tendency to overthrow the idea of cause in general — consequently of a First Cause — of God. But it is more probable that they have failed to perceive what no one preceding them, has, to my knowledge, perceived. [page 128:]

The pleasure which we derive from any exertion of human ingenuity, is in the direct ratio of the approach to this species of reciprocity between cause and effect. In the construction of plot, for example, in fictitious literature, we should aim at so arranging the points, or incidents, that we cannot distinctly see, in respect to any one of them, whether that one depends from any one other, or upholds it. In this sense, of course, perfection of plot is unattainable in fact, — because Man is the constructor. The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a Plot of God.


man) a. The Bridgewater Treatises “on the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God,” endowed by Francis Henry Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater (1756-1829) — a benefactor of the British Museum-appeared 1833-1840. In the 2/36 fifth SLM rev. of Peter Roget’s text on physiology, in the series, Poe severely criticizes the financial terms of the seven treatises and the shaping purpose of glorifying God’s variety in creation. (H 13.206-11). Poe repeated this item, virtually unchanged, in his discussion of complex plot in “The American Drama” of 8/45 (H 13.4546) and develops the idea. For a further use of Divine adaptation and the perfect plot of God see Eureka (H 16.291-92, 306). In M 82 Poe again touches upon plot “adaptation” in his specialized meaning.

tractists) b. This presumably useful word was coined by Poe in this article and repeated in the discussion of 8/45, indicated above. The OED does not record it.

Marginalia 19

“Who does not turn with absolute contempt from the rings, and gems, and filters, and caves, and genii of Eastern Tales, as from the trinkets of a toyshop, and the trumpery of a raree-show?” — Lectures on Literature, by James Montgomery.(a)

This is mere “pride and arrogance, and the evil way, and the froward mouth.”(b) Or, perhaps, so monstrous a proposition (querily put)(c) springs rather from the thickness of the Montgomery skull, which is the Montgomery predominant source of error — the Eidolon of the Den wherein grovel the Montgomery curs.(d)


Montgomery) a. Poe uses the quotation as the basis for Pin 27, q.v. for discussion of Poe’s utter contempt for the two Montgomery writers.

mouth) b. Proverbs 8:13: “Pride and arrogance, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” [page 129:]

put) c. The word “querily” appears to be Poe’s coinage.

curs) d. For Poe’s unflattering references to Robert Montgomery see “Loss of Breath” (TOM, 68 and 76 n15, “Angel of the Odd,” 1166, also “Never Bet,” n20; but note that the Montgomery source of M 83, The Wanderer of Switzerland (1806), by James Montgomery, said by the DNB to be “feeble,” went quickly into three editions. See Pollin, Studies in American Fiction, Fall 1980, 8:234-237, for a discussion of the writers Montgomery and Poe. In the “Eidolon of the Den” Poe refers to Bacon’s Novum Organum, Aphorisms, Book I, specifically the second of the four Idola, XLII, which begins: “The Idols of the Cave are the idols of the individual man. For everyone has a cave or den of his own, which refracts and discolors the light of nature, owing either to his own proper and peculiar nature, etc.” See MM 47 and 196 for his humorous wish to add an “eidolon of the wit or parlor” to Bacon’s four. In CS 11, Poe resents a fancied depreciation of the Novum Organum by Macaulay.

Marginalia 20

The serious (minor) compositions of Dickens have been lost in the blaze of his comic reputation. One of the most forcible things ever written, is a short story of his, called “The Black Veil;” a strangely pathetic and richly imaginative production, replete with the loftiest tragic power.(a)

P. S. Mr. Dickens’ head must puzzle the phrenologists. The organs of ideality are small; and the conclusion of the “Curiosity-Shop” is more truly ideal (in both phrenological senses) than any composition of equal length in the English language.(b)


power) a. The first para. is taken, almost verbatim, from the end of Poe’s uncollected review of Nicholas Nickleby in BGM, 12/39, 5.330, reading thus: “His serious pieces . . . possibly . . . have been lost in the blaze of his comic reputation. One of the most forcible things ever written is a brief story of his called ‘The Black Veil,’ a strangely pathetic and richly imaginative production, replete with the loftiest tragic ability.” Poe expressed a similar view earlier in his 6/36 rev. of Sketches by Boz (H 9.4): “‘The Black Veil‘. . . is distinct in character from all the rest — an act of stirring tragedy, and evincing lofty powers in the writer. Broad humor is, however, the prevailing feature of the volumes.”

language) b. At the end of his eulogistic review of the volume in 1841 Poe had praised the “ideality” of the conclusion of the novel as relieving its unendurable pathos (H 10. 154). See also M 110. [page 130:]

Marginalia 21

A good book, but, for a modern book, too abundant in faded philosophy. Here is an argument spoken of as not proving the permanency of the solar system, “because we know, from the more sure word of prophecy, that it is not destined to last for ever.” Who believes — whether layman or priest — that the prophecies in question have any farther allusion than to the orb of the Earth — or, more strictly, to the crust of the orb?

 “Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons” — By the Rev. Henry Duncan — Ruthwell, Scotland.


Note: The four volumes of the 1835-36 work of Henry Duncan (1774-1846) enjoyed a certain popularity, with New York and Boston editions of 1839 and 1847, the latter of which is used for citations below. This entry derives directly from Poe’s 3/40 rev. of the Boston ed. (para. 3) in BGM, (H 10.81): “It is questionable whether there be not something of a philosophy un peu passé in a passage where a certain argument is spoken of as not proving the absolute permanency of our solar system, ‘because we know from the more sure word of prophecy that it is not destined to last forever’ [1.105]. We believe there are few intelligent men of the present day — few, either laymen or divines — who are still willing to think that the prophecies here referred to have any further allusion than to the orb of the earth, or, more strictly, to the crust of this orb alone.” The last sentence refers to Duncan’s: “The crust of this planet has frequently been broken up by some mighty catastrophe” (1.338). The “certain argument” at the beginning perhaps refers to Duncan’s: “Each successive catastrophe has indicated continually progressive improvement in the development of living forms, so as to exhibit a design, indefinite . . . and boundless. . . [leading to] the final perfection and happiness of animated beings.” A passage from the same section (“Summer, Twelfth Week”) may be connected with Poe’s interest in Biblical prophecy of doom both early and later and even show suggestions used for “Eiros and Charmion” of 12/39 (see TOM 452-54): In the Bible we find that the world . . . is destined again to be brought to an end; that the day will come, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burnt up.” It is perhaps a tribute to the persistence of Poe’s memory that details used in the unfinished, undated “The Lighthouse” (TOM 1388-92) match details in Duncan’s passage on the Eddystone Lighthouse (“Autumn,” 4.345-52). This suggests that the “last” tale really dates from the composition of “The Maelstrom,” to which it was to be a companion, says TOM. 130

Marginalia 22

It ranks* (a) with “Armstrong on Health” — the “Botanic Garden” — the “Connubia Florum.” Such works should conciliate the Utilitarians.(b) I think I will set about a lyric on the Quadrature of Curves — or the Arith metic of Infinites. Cotes,(c) however, supplies me a ready-made title, in his “Harmonia Mensurarum,” and there is no reason why I should not be fluent, at least, upon the fluents of fractional expressions.(d)

* “Poem[a] de Ponderibus et Mensuris,” by Quintus Rhemmius Fannius Palaemon. Its conclusion: — found by Denis, in the Imperial Library, Vienna.


ranks) a. Carmen de Ponderibus is a didactic work (208 lines) of disputed date (1st to 5th century A. D.) It is sometimes wrongly ascribed to the Roman grammarian Priscian (printed in Endlicher’s edition, 1828), but others ascribe it to “Remmius Flavius” or Flavinus or Flaviannus; also to Q. Remmius Palaemon. It is not so attributed in Enc. Br. (20.523) or Oxford Classical Dictionary (pp. 206, 768). Poe apparently uses a French source (1st ed. Paris, 1565).

Utilitarians) b. The first sentence incorporates two of the works mentioned in Pin 69, (q.v.) and in his 1842 rev. of Longfellow’s Ballads (H 11.76). Poe termed “a revolting production” the didactic poem, The Art of Preserving Health (1774) by John Armstrong (1709-1779), a physician and essayist.

Cotes) c. Roger Cotes (1682-1716) was Professor of Astronomy at Cambridge and friend of Newton. The title is that of his posthumously collected works, 1772. He wrote on meteors and mathematics.

expressions) d. The word “fluent” is defined (OED) for mathematics as the “variable quantity in fluxions which is continually increasing or decreasing.”

Marginalia 23

In general, we should not be over-scrupulous about niceties of phrase, when the matter in hand is a dunce to be gibbeted. Speak out! — or the person may not understand you. He is to be hung? Then hang him by all means; but make no bow when you mean no obeisance, and eschew the droll delicacy of the Clown in the Play — “Be so good, sir, as to rise and be put to death.”(a)

This is the only true principle among men. Where the gentler sex is concerned, there seems but one course for the critic — speak if you can commend — be silent, if not; for a woman will never be brought to admit a non-identity between herself and her book, and “a well-bred man” says, justly, that excellent old English moralist, James Puckle, in [page 132:] his “Gray Cap for a Green Head,” “a well-bred man will never give himself the liberty to speak ill of women.”(b)


death) a. See Measure for Measure, 4.3.29: “You must be so good, sir, to rise and be put to death.” For this unidentified quotation Poe probably used a volume of the New York Weekly Inspector, which he owned and used for other M items (see M 102), for the whole context of para. 1 is closer to “Demagogue Hunting,” I, no. 24, 2/711807, 1:26566: “The attempt of several editors to be civil to men who deserve to be hooted out of the society of honest men, appears to me as foolish as the absurd civility of Shakespears’s clown on this occasion. They seem to say, ‘You must be so good, Sir, to rise and be put to death!’ ”

women) b. This comes from James Puckle’s (1667?-1724) The Club, or a Dialogue between Father and Son, in vino veritas (1711), often reprinted as The Club, or Gray Cap for a Green Head (4th ed., 1723), section called “Rake” (no. 286, p. 74 in ed. of 1900). This item was used again by Poe to start his 1845 rev. of E. B. Barrett’s Drama of Exile (H 12.1); See MM 149, 153, 154, 266 and FS 9 for other Puckle items. Puckle reads thus: “A well bred man never gives himself the liberty to speak ill of women” (p. 58, 1834 ed.).

Marginalia 24

It is the half-profound, half-silly, and wholly irrational composition of a very clever, very ignorant, and laughably impudent fellow — “ingeniosus puer, sed insignis nebulo,” as the Jesuits have well described Crébillon.(a)

 “The Age of Reason.”(b)


Crébillon) a. See Pin 129 for the source, in Disraeli’s CL, of this characterization of Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1674-1762): “clever boy, but outstanding scamp.” For Poe’s use of a line by him at the end of “Purloined Letter” and for three other references see TOM 997n27.

Reason) b. Poe is rather lenient toward Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the “March of Mind” author of this celebrated book (1793).

Marginalia 25

The Germans, just now, are afflicted with the epidemic of history-writing — the same cacöethes which Lucian tells us beset his countrymen upon the discomfiture of Severianus in Armenia, followed by the triumphs in Parthia. [page 133:]


Note: Poe refers to what Juvenal designates, in Satire VII, 51, as “scribendi cacoethes,” or “the itch of writing” (Addison in Spectator papers) or “th’ insatiate itch of scribbling” (William Gifford). Juvenal’s line: “Scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde senescit” is thus given: “The itch for writing becomes inveterate in your distempered brain” (Loeb Classics, 1950). For the passage by Lucian of Samosata see his epistolary How to Write History, 26: “In the reign of Marcus Aurelius the Parthians annihilated the Roman forces under Severianus in Cappadocia but were soon suing for peace from the Roman generals under Verus, in 165 A. D.” Poe refers often to the German Historians, such as Niebuhr, von Raumer, and von Ranke (q.v. in PD).

Marginalia 26

The sense of high birth is a moral force whose value the democrats, albeit compact of mathematics, are never in condition to calculate. “Pour savoir ce quest Dieu,” says the Baron de Bielfeld, “il faut être Dieu même.”


Note: Poe’s aristocratic proclivities are displayed in several of the Brevities, e.g. MM 226, 229, 232, 250, 267, 276. Presumably Poe alludes to pluralities and the “masses” whose numbers “count.” His French quotation is drawn from Baron Jacob Bielfeld, q.v. in Pin Intro. From his three vol. Les Premiers traits de l‘Erudition Universelle (Leiden, 1767), Bk. 1, sect. 1, Poe took this maxim, which he used four times: in the BGM of 7/39, 5.61, uncol. rev. of Advice to a Young Gentleman, M 196, and Eureka, para. 40 (H 16.205), in which last he adds to the maxim and translates the whole: “We know absolutely nothing of the nature or essence of God: — in order to comprehend what he is, we should have to be God ourselves.” George Woodberry, in his notes to Eureka, discusses this as the germ of its basic thesis (Works, eds. Woodberry and Stedman, 1895; 1914 ed., 9.368-69 borrowed by Woodberry from his 1885 Life, and included in 1909, 2.247-48). Bielfeld’s sentence in French correctly reads: “Nous ne connaissons rien de la nature ou de 1‘essence de Dieu; — pour savoir ce qu‘il est, il faut être Dieu même.”

Marginalia 27

I have seen many computations respecting the greatest amount of erudition attainable by an individual in his life-time; but these computations are falsely based, and fall infinitely beneath the truth. It is true that, in general, we retain, we remember to available purpose, scarcely [page 134:] one-hundredth part of what we read; yet there are minds which not only retain all receipts, but keep them at compound interest for ever. Again: — were every man supposed to read out, he could read, of course, very little, even in half a century; for, in such case, each individual word must be dwelt upon in some degree. But, in reading to ourselves, at the ordinary rate of what is called “light reading,” we scarcely touch one word in ten. And, even physically considered, knowledge breeds knowledge, as gold gold; for he who reads really much, finds his capacity to read increase in geometrical ratio. The helluo liborum will but glance at the page which detains the ordinary reader some minutes; and the difference in the absolute reading (its uses considered), will be in favor of the helluo, who will have winnowed the matter of which the tyro mumbled both the seeds and the chaff. A deep-rooted and strictly continuous habit of reading will, with certain classes of intellect, result in an instinctive and seemingly magnetic appreciation of a thing written; and now the student reads by pages just as other men by words. Long years to come, with a careful analysis of the mental process, may even render this species of appreciation a common thing. It may be taught in the schools of our descendants or the tenth or twentieth generation. It may become the method of the mob of the eleventh or twenty-first. And should these matters come to pass — as they will — there will be in them no more legitimate cause for wonder than there is, to-day, in the marvel that, syllable by syllable, men comprehend what, letter by letter, I now trace upon this page.


Note: Poe may be very slightly indebted in this admirable prediction of what is now termed “speed-reading” to 1. Disraeli’s article “The Man of One Book” (4.244-248): “We are now in want of an art to teach how books are to be read, rather than not to read them: such an art is practicable” and “We now find an helluo librorum . . . among the unlearned” (p. 245). This is a literary, classical term for “book worm” or “devourer of books,” (q.v. in Cicero, De Provinciis Consularibiis, 6).

Marginalia 28

Is it not a law that need has a tendency to engender the thing needed?


Note: This appears to be Poe’s somewhat pompous expression for “Necessity is the mother of invention” — translating the Latin proverb “Mater artium necessitas.” It is used by Wycherley and many others in this form or in adaptations (q.v. in B. Stevenson’s Home Book of Quotations, p. 1394). But see also Aulus Persius Flaccus (A. D. 34-62): “Magister [page 135:] artis ingenique largitor venter” (Satires, prologue, 1.10) or “The stomach is the teacher of the arts and the dispenser of invention.” In his edition Harrison printed this article as part of M 27.

Marginalia 29

“The nature of the soil may indicate the countries most exposed to these formidable concussions, since they are caused by subterraneous fires, and such fires are kindled by the union and fermentation of iron and sulphur. But their times and effects appear to lie beyond the reach of human curiosity, and the philosopher will discreetly abstain from the prediction of earthquakes, till he has counted the drops of water that silently filtrate on the inflammable mineral, and measured the caverns which increase by resistance the explosion of the imprisoned air. Without assigning the cause, history will distinguish the period in which these calamitous events have been rare or frequent, and will observe, that this fever of the earth raged with uncommon violence during the reign of Justinian. Each year is marked by the repetition of earthquakes, of such duration, that Constantinople has been shaken above forty days; of such extent, that the shock has been communicated to the whole surface of the globe, or at least of the Roman Empire.”(a)

These sentences may be regarded as a full synopsis of the style of Gibbon — a style which has been more frequently commended than almost any other in the world.

He had three hobbies which he rode to the death (stuffed puppets as they were), and which he kept in condition by the continual sacrifice of all that is valuable in language. These hobbies were DignityModulationLaconism. Dignity is all very well; and history demands it for its general tone; but the being everlastingly on stilts is not only troublesome and awkward, but dangerous. He who falls en homme ordinaire — from the mere slipping of his feet — is usually an object of sympathy; but all men tumble now and then, and this tumbling from high sticks is sure to provoke laughter.

His modulation, however, is always ridiculous; for it is so uniform, so continuous, and so jauntily kept up, that we almost fancy the writer waltzing to his words.

With him, to speak lucidly was a far less merit than to speak smoothly and curtly. There is a way in which, through the nature of language itself, we may often save a few words by talking backwards; and this is, therefore, a favorite practice with Gibbon. Observe the sentence commencing — “The nature of the soil.” The thought expressed could scarcely be more condensed in expression; but, for the sake of this condensation, he renders the idea difficult of comprehension, by subverting the natural [page 136:] order of a simple proposition, and placing a deduction before that from which it is deduced. An ordinary man would have thus written: “As these formidable concussions arise from subterranean fires kindled by the union and fermentation of iron and sulphur, we may judge of the degree in which any region is exposed to earthquake by the presence or absence of these minerals.” My sentence has forty words — that of Gibbon thirty-six; but the first cannot fail of being instantly comprehended, while the latter it may be necessary to re-read.

The mere terseness of this historian is, however, grossly over-rated. In general, he conveys an idea (although darkly) in fewer words than others of his time; but a habit of straight thinking that rejects non essentials, will enable any one to say, for example, what was intended above, both more briefly and more distinctly. He must abandon, of course, “formidable concussions” and things of that kind.

E.g. — “The sulphur and iron of any region express its liability to earthquake; their fermentation being its cause.”

Here are seventeen words in place of the thirty-six; and these seventeen convey the full force of all that it was necessary to say. Such concision is, nevertheless, an error, and, so far as respects the true object of concision, is a bull.(b) The most truly concise style is that which most rapidly transmits the sense. What, then, should be said of the concision of Carlyle?(c) — that those are mad who admire a brevity which squanders our time for the purpose of economizing our printing-ink and paper.

Observe, now, the passage above quoted, commencing — “Each year is marked.” What is it the historian wishes to say? Not, certainly, that every year was marked by earthquakes that shook Constantinople forty days, and extended to all regions of the earth! — yet this only is the legitimate interpretation. The earthquakes are said to be of such duration that Constantinople, &c., and these earthquakes (of such duration) were experienced every year. But this is a pure Gibbonism — an original one; no man ever so rhodomontaded before. He means to say merely that the earthquakes were of unusual duration and extent — the duration of one being so long that Constantinople shook for forty days, and the extent of another being so wide as to include the whole empire of Rome” — by which,” he adds sotto voce — “by which insulated facts the reader may estimate that average duration and extent of which I speak” — a thing the reader will find it difficult to do.

A few years hence — and should any one compose a mock heroic in the manner of the “Decline and Fall,” the poem will be torn to pieces by the critics, instanter, as an unwarrantable exaggeration of the principles of the burlesque.


Empire) a. From Gibbon, Decline and Fall, Bury ed. 4.434, a passage following a discussion of comets, Poe ambiguously veers between [page 137:] praise and ridicule of Gibbon’s style, q.v. in M 178 and “Literary Small Talk” (Part 11) where he also uses his coinage of “Gibbonism” (para. 6; called “laughable”) as well as in para. 10, below, and elsewhere “Gibbonish” (H 11.80, review of 1842).

bull) b. Poe’s italics indicate his belief that “bull,” of old but uncertain origin (instances dating from 1630 are given by OED), is racy or irregular; it means “fraud,” “ludicrous jest,” or “self-contradictory proposition,” and does not derive from the Papal Bull or Edict or a Mr. Bull.

Carlyle) c. Poe invariably derides Thomas Carlyle, whom he often associates with Emerson and with Transcendentalism; see his deprecation in the Preface of M, and in MM 13, 165, 188, 255, and 289. With alterations para. 9 of this article became the last two of the four paragraphs of Poe’s article on “The diffuseness of American Legislative Oratory” and “Objectionable Concision” in the Evening Mirror of 1/22/45, an uncollected important set of observations on style.

Marginalia 30

I never knew a man, of so really decent understanding, so full of bigotry as B———d.(a) Had he supreme power, and were he not, now and then, to meet an odd volume sufficiently silly to confirm his prejudices, there can be no doubt that he would burn every book in the world as an auto da fe.(b)

B———d) a. Orthographically Bielfeld and Bristed both fit, but Poe could not speak thus of the much venerated Baron Bielfeld (see Pin, Preface), nor of Charles Astor Bristed, John Jacob’s great-grandson (1820-1874), just beginning as a writer on philology and severe critic of American society. In M 191 Poe, alluding to him as “well known for his scholarship,” speaks adversely of his “forcible paper” in the 1845 American Review (q.v.). See Poe’s letter of 1848 appealing for funds (Quinn, Poe, pp. 566-567 and Ostrom, 369 with check list letter, no. 667, of 1847. Bristed’s social position and youth make this identification here somewhat unlikely. It is more likely that Poe here alludes to Charles Bristed’s father, John Bristed (1778-1855) who came to America from England as a lawyer in 1806 but served as editor in 1807 of the Monthly Register (transferred from Charleston to New York). Following the derision of this journal by the Weekly Inspector (see M 23, 102, 103), Poe lampoons Bristed’s journal on his own in MM 83, 100.

fe) b. The book burning idea may reflect Poe’s citing St. Augustine in the 1839 LST, para. 1, q.v., soon to appear again in M 86. [page 138:]

Marginalia 31

It is a deeply consequential error this: — the assumption that we, being men, will, in general, be deliberately true. The greater amount of truth is impulsively uttered; thus the greater amount is spoken, not written. But, in examining the historic material, we leave these considerations out of sight. We dote upon records, which, in the main, lie; while we discard the Kabbala, which, properly interpreted, do not.


Note: Poe seems to regard the Kabbala (of FS 49) or kabala or cabbala or cabala, improperly used here and in loci below, as a plural noun, as impulsive utterance or intuitive knowledge. It can be defined as “an occult theosophy of rabbinical origin, widely transmitted in medieval Europe, based on an esoteric interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures” (Heritage Dictionary) or post-Biblical Hebrew (OED). Poe was to use it in “Mummy” (TOM 1189-1190), where it is similarly opposed to history and linked with traditions (and used as a plural), in “Scheherazade“(1170n) and in “Imp” (1219), where it is simply opposed to Revelation. Poe uses the adjectival forms merely to mean “odd, mysterious, or magical”: TOM 242/2, 351/30, and 1374/22.

Marginalia 32

“The right angle of light’s incidence produces a sound upon one of the Egyptian pyramids.” This assertion, thus expressed, I have encountered somewhere — probably in one of the Notes to Apollonius. It is nonsense, I suppose, — but it will not do to speak hastily.(a)

The orange ray of the spectrum and the buzz of the gnat (which never rises above the second A), affect me with nearly similar sensations. In hearing the gnat, I perceive the color. In perceiving the color, I seem to hear the gnat.(b)

Here the vibrations of the tympanum caused by the wings of the fly, may, from within, induce abnormal vibrations of the retina, similar to those which the orange ray induces, normally, from without. By similar, I do not mean of equal rapidity — this would be folly; — but each millionth undulation, for example, of the retina, might accord with one of the tympanum; and I doubt whether this would not be sufficient for the effect.


hastily) a. Poe had used the sound effect of light (dawn) upon a stone statue, said to be Memnon’s at Thebes (actually that of Amenophis III) in the 1833 “Coliseum” (TOM 231 1.36) and also in “Stanzas” of 1827 (TOM, 78n to 1.23), but he seems here to have forgotten the reality [page 139:] of the physics involved. Poe perhaps had in mind the collocation of a discussion of the Sirène counting vibrations of music (see M 16) and insect wing sounds and a discussion of the length of color rays in Dionysius Lardner’s Course of Lectures (New York, 1842) p. 39 (6th Lecture). He quotes this book in M 38 (q.v.) and seems to have used it extensively for “Scheherazade” (TOM 1151). Apollonius of Perga (fl. 250-220 B. C.) produced Treatise on Conic Sections, the basic and standard text on the subject, preserved partly in Greek and partly in Arabic; Edmund Halley’s Latin version (1706 and 1710) is still used. Poe alludes to the “eighth book of the Conic Sections of Apollonius” in the first (5/35) version of “Lionizing” (TOM 176) and later versions, although the eighth book has never been found. This was Poe’s arcane joke.

gnat) b. Poe here alludes to what we term “synaesthesia,” a “term denoting the perception, or description of the perception, of one sense modality in terms of another.” In the rest of its brief article on the subject the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics cites for the popularizing effect of the “practice” works by three writers who derived much from Poe: Correspondances by Baudelaire (1857), Voyelles by Rimbaud (1871) and A rebours by Huysmans (1884). There is no good thorough study of Poe’s practice of synesthesia. For an account of the amusing and farreaching consequences of a typical instance, “purple perfume,” in Al Aaraaf, see Pollin Discoveries in Poe, pp.100-104. See also Poe’s Tamerlane footnote: “I could distinctly hear the sound of the darkness” (TOM 38). In para. 2 Poe abandons the explanation in terms of the association of ideas or perceptions leading to interchangeable stimuli for a pseudophysical and utterly fantastic notion of similar vibrations and “undulations,” internal and external in causation. Concerning the “buzz” which “never rises above the second A” — Poe always likes to impress the readers with his specialized music critic’s language, as in the “Spectacles” (TOM 905 and nn9 and 18, showing his source).

Marginalia 33

How many good books suffer neglect through the inefficiency of their beginnings! It is far better that we commence irregularly — immethodically — than that we fail to arrest attention; but the two points, method and pungency, may always be combined. At all risks, let there be a few vivid sentences imprimis, by way of the electric bell to the telegraph.


Note: The final reference springs from the great interest then in the new device of Samuel Morse (1791-1872), displayed publicly through the 5/24/44 message between Baltimore and Washington, followed by a [page 140:] real dialogue on 5126 concerning the National Democratic Convention’s choice of candidate and his refusal. The bell always gave warning of an imminent message, q.v. in Morse’s warning in May: “Do not be out of hearing of your bell,” q.v. in Samuel L. Prime, Life of . . . Morse (N. Y., 1875), pp. 480-97, and W. T. Jeans, Lives of the Electricians (London, 1887), p. 272. In the 2145 “Scheherazade” the telegraph is one of the narrated prodigies (TOM 1167 and n).

Marginalia 34

I am far more than half serious in all that I have ever said about manuscript, as affording indication of character.

The general proposition is unquestionable — that the mental qualities will have a tendency to impress the MS.(a) The difficulty lies in the comparison of this tendency, as a mathematical force, with the forces of the various disturbing influences of mere circumstance. But — given a man’s purely physical biography, with his MS., and the moral biography may be deduced.

The actual practical extent to which these ideas are applicable, is not sufficiently understood. For my own part, I by no means shrink from acknowledging that I act, hourly, upon estimates of character derived from chirography. The estimates, however, upon which I depend, are chiefly negative. For example; a man may not always be a man of genius, or a man of taste, or a man of firmness, or a man of any other quality, because he writes this hand or that; but then there are MSS. which no man of firmness, or of taste, or of genius, ever did, will, or can write.

There is a certain species of hand-writing, — and a quite “elegant” one it is, too;(b) although I hesitate to describe it, because it is written by some two or three thousand of my personal friends, — a species of hand writing, I say, which seems to appertain, as if by prescriptive right, to the blockhead, and which has been employed by every donkey since the days of Cadmus, — has been penned by every gander since first a grey goose yielded a pen.(c)

Now, were any one to write me a letter in this MS., requiring me to involve myself with its inditer in any enterprise of moment and of risk, it would be only on the score of the commonest civility that I would condescend to send him a reply.


the MS.) a. Poe’s extensive previous utterances on this topic are the following: “Autography” in SLM, 2/36 (TOM 259-286 and H 15. 139-174); “A Chapter on Autography,” Part I in the 11/41 Graham’s, and Part II, 12/41 Graham’s (H 15.175-261). In Part I, above, he asserts: “A strong analogy does generally and naturally exist between every man’s [page 141:] chirography and character” (H 15.178), and half jocosely he applies this principle to his analyses of over 100 autographs displayed in the letters.

too) b. The question of “elegance” and also the “picturesque” in handwriting is pursued and mocked in numerous letters, e.g., Letters XXII (TOM 278) and XXXII (283).

pen) c. The “grey goose” probably comes from Byron’s English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (11. 7-10): “Oh! Nature’s noblest gift, my grey goose-quill! . . . That mighty instrument of little men!” (see M 256 for “anserine.”) The “enterprise of moment” clearly comes from Hamlet, 3.1.86: “And enterprises of great pith and moment.” Cadmus, son of Agenor, King of Tyre, in search of his sister Europa, introduced the Phoenician alphabet into Greece when he founded Thebes. Poe’s thousands of “personal friends” is an instance of the “hyperism” of a sort deprecated in M 15.

Marginalia 35

These gentlemen may be permitted to exist yet a very little while, since it is “the darling public” who are amused, without knowing at what —

Mais moi, qui, Bans le fond, sais hien ce que fen crois,

Qui compte, tons les jours, leurs larcins par mes doigts,

Je ris — etc.(a)

Fellows who really have no right — some individuals have — to purloin the property of their predecessors. Mere buzzards; or, in default of that, mere pechingzies — the species of creatures that they tell us of in the Persian Compendiums of Natural History — animals very soft and very sly, with ears of such length that, while one answers for a bed, the other is all that is necessary for a counterpane.(b) A race of dolts — literary Cacuses, whose clumsily stolen bulls never fail of leaving behind them ample evidence of having been dragged into the thief-den by the tail.(c)


Je ris — etc.) a. The last two of the three lines, from Boileau’s Satire, IX, 11.13-15, (after Horace’s Satire 2.7) are, more accurately: “Qui compte, tous les jours, vos defauls par mes doigts, / Je ris quand je vous vois, etc.,” meaning: “But I, who, fundamentally know well what I think of it / Who count, every day, your faults on my finger, / I laugh when I see you, etc.” Poe’s use of the works of Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636-1711) was frequent: Pin 87, 97; FS 37; M 92, 139A. Here he is very lenient on plagiarists whom he normally subjects to condemnation, for reasons explored by Nelson F. Adkins in PBSA, 1948, 42.169-210.

counterpane) b. The word “pechingzies” has not been specifically traced, but it may be explained by a ref. in La Grande Encyclopédie to [page 142:] “pechily,” as Chinese for “cat with long fur and hanging ears.” Poe seems to be using the novel Stanley by Horace Binney Wallace (Phila., 1835), 1.45-46, where the name itself is omitted: (concerning enthusiasts for Lord Byron) “Let us escape from these romantic fools, who realize the Persian description of a sacred animal of that country, whose ears are so long that when he lies upon his side, one of them serves for a mattress, and the other for a coverlet.” Poe may have borrowed ideas about long ears from “An Heroical Epistle of Hudibras to Sidrophel,” affixed to the third canto of Part II of Butler’s Hudibras, 11.9-10, and especially to n3 by Zachary Grey in the 1744 ed. (1896 ed., p. 206). See Pin 94 for Poe’s knowledge of Hudibras, as well as the next note below.

tail) c. Given the context of Hudibras, above, Poe may be using another passage and its notes for his Cacus reference here, for in II, 1 (p. 133) Butler is talking about love as “a burglarer [sic], a felon”: “‘Tis like that sturdy thief that stole / And dragged beasts backward into’s hole: / So love does lovers; and us men / Draws by the tails into his den.” Note 2 says “Alluding to the story of Cacus, who robbed Hercules” and then cites Virgil’s Aeneid, VIII, 205 ff., in the Dryden translation.

Marginalia 36

In the Hebrew MS. (172 Prov. 18-22) after the word אשה is an erasure, by which we lose some three or four letters. Could these letters have been anything but מובה? The version reads, “whoso findeth a wife, findeth a good thing;” a proposition which cannot be mathematically demonstrated. By the insertion suggested, it would be converted into “whoso findeth a good wife, findeth,” &c. — an axiom which the most rigorous caviller for precision would make no scruple of admitting into Euclid.


Note: The source here is unknown, although Poe surely did not make this observation about the probable inclusion of the word “good” himself. It should be added that there is no “Hebrew MS.” for this text that is well-known or bears a unique reading. The so-called Hebrew word for “good” in sentence two is not any word identifiable or meaningful, according to an Hebraist consulted. Moreover the “172” before “Proverbs” has no meaning at all, and the combination of numbers incorrectly designates chapter 18 and verse 22; therefore “18:22” should be printed. Poe’s “improvement” has never been demanded by scriptural exegetes, e.g. Interpreter’s Bible, 4.955, gloss on 18.22, referring to Proverbs 31:10-30, giving an acrostic on the qualities of “a good woman.” There is no proof that Poe studied or learned Hebrew in or out of school and the celebrated reply about Hebrew texts sent him by Charles Anthon, [page 143:] 6/1/37 (H 17.42-43) was learnedly used by him in three reviews, without acknowledgment (H 10.17-18, 83-84, 180), and in M 115, “bringing his reputation for erudition thereby perilously near charlatanry,” says Harrison (10.viii). William M. Forrest’s defense of Poe through an attack upon Harrison, in Biblical Allusions in Poe (1928), pp. 206-208, does not really endow Poe with Hebrew learning, especially since Forrest grants that the rest of the items of this type (listed) “are of a kind to be easily culled from Biblical commentaries, encyclopedias, and the like,” including this one. They do show Poe’s and the public’s interest in Biblical matters.

Marginalia 37

“His imagery* is by no means destitute of merit, but is directed by an exceedingly coarse and vulgar taste.”

Quite true; but the remark would have come with a better grace from almost any other lips than those of Lord Brougham and Vaux.

* That of John Randolph.


Note: John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833), Virginia statesman and orator, from 1799-1829 played a major rule in Congress and was known as a “constitutional purist . . . hater of iniquity, a master of vituperation” (DAB). Lord Brougham’s Historical Sketches of Statesmen who flourished in the time of George III, Second Series, pirated by Lee and Blanchard of Phila. in 1839, was reviewed (but not collected) by Poe for BGM (5.166), this being Poe’s sole largely favorable statement about Henry Peter Brougham, Baron Brougham and Vaux (1778-1868); Poe’s hostility probably derived from his association with reform movements (especially anti-slavery) and the Utilitarians. For Poe’s comments on and references to Brougham, usually satirical or derisive, see, for the tales, TOM 337 at n5, 1013 at n17, and 1141 at n39; for other prose, H 8.49, 9.57,11.98-110; and also M 78, M 112 (here not adverse), and especially SM 19. The source of this quotation has not yet appeared in the twelve volumes of Brougham’s collected works.

Marginalia 38

Dr. Lardner thus explains the apparent difference in size between the setting and the noon-day sun: —

“Various solutions have been proposed, and the one generally adopted by scientific minds I will now endeavor to make plain, though [page 144:] I fear its nature is so remarkable that I am not sure I shall make it intelligible. But here it is. If the sun, or another celestial object, be near the horizon, and I direct my attention to it, I see between me and that object a vast number of objects upon the face of the earth, as trees, houses, mountains, the magnitudes and positions of which are familiar to me. These supply the mind with a means of estimating the size of the object at which I am looking. I know that it is much farther off than these; and yet the sun appears, perhaps, much larger than the top of the intervening mountain. I thus compare the sun, by a process of the mind so subtle and instinctive that I am unconscious of it, with the objects which I see between it and myself, and I conclude that it is much larger than those. Well, the same sun rises to the meridian; then there are no intervening objects whereby to space off the distance, as it were, and thus form a comparative estimate of its size. . . . I am prepared to be met by the objection, that this is an extremely learned and metaphysical reason. So it is.”(a)

How funny are the ideas which some persons entertain about learning, and especially about metaphysics!

Whatever may be the foible of Dr. Lardner’s intellect, its forte is certainly not originality;(b) and however ill put are his explanations of the phenomenon in question, he is to be blamed for them only inasmuch as he adopted them, without examination, from others. The same thing is said, very nearly in the same way, by all who have previously touched the subject. And the reasoning is not only of very partial force, but wretchedly urged. If the sun appears larger than usual merely because we compare its size with mountains and other large objects upon the earth (objects, the Doctor might have said, beyond all which we see the sun), how happens it that the illusion does not cease when we see the orb setting where no such objects are visible? for example, on the horizon of a smooth sea.

We appreciate time by events alone. For this reason we define time (somewhat improperly) as the succession of events; but the fact itself — that events are our sole means of appreciating time — tends to the engendering of the erroneous idea that events are time — that the more numerous the events, the longer the time; and the converse. This erroneous idea there can be no doubt that we should absolutely entertain in all cases, but for our practical means of correcting the impression — such as clocks, and the movements of the heavenly bodies — whose revolutions, after all, we only assume to be regular.

Space is precisely analogous with time. By objects alone we estimate space; and we might as rationally define it “the succession of objects,” as time “the succession of events.” But, as before. — The fact, that we have no other means of estimating space than objects afford us — tends to the false idea that objects are space — that the more numerous the [page 145:] objects the greater the space; and the converse; and this erroneous impression we should receive in all cases, but for our practical means of correcting it — such as yard measures, and other conventional measures, which resolve themselves, ultimately, into certain natural standards, such as barley-corns,(c) which, after all, we only assume to be regular.

The mind can form some conception of the distance (however vast) between the sun and Uranus, because there are ten objects which (mentally) intervene — the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Vesta, Juno, Pallas, Jupiter, and Saturn. These objects serve as stepping-stones to the mind; which, nevertheless, is utterly lost in the attempt at establishing a notion of the interval between Uranus and Sirius; lost — yet, clearly, not on account of the mere distance (for why should we not conceive the abstract idea of the distance, two miles, as readily as that of the distance, one?) but, simply, because between Uranus and Sirius we happen to know that all is void. And, from what I have already said, it follows that this vacuity — this want of intervening points — will cause to fall short of the truth any notion we shall endeavor to form. In fact, having once passed the limits of absolutely practical admeasurement, by means of intervening objects, our ideas of distances are one; they have no variation. Thus, in truth, we think of the interval between Uranus and Sirius precisely as of that between Saturn and Uranus, or of that between any one planet and its immediate neighbor. We fancy, indeed, that we form different conceptions of the different intervals; but we mistake the mathematical knowledge of the fact of the interval, for an idea of the interval itself.(d)

It is the principle for which I contend that instinctively leads the artist, in painting what he technically calls distances, to introduce a succession of objects between the “distance” and the foreground. Here it will be said that the intention is the perspective comparison of the size of the objects. Several men, for example, are painted, one beyond the other, and it is the diminution of apparent size by which the idea of distance is conveyed; this, I say, will be asserted. But here is mere confusion of the two notions of abstract and comparative distance. By this process of diminishing figures, we are, it is true, made to feel that one is at a greater distance than the other, but the idea we thence glean of abstract distance, is gleaned altogether from the mere succession of the figures, independently of magnitude. To prove this, let the men be painted out, and rocks put in their stead. A rock may be of any size. The farthest may be, for all we know, really, and not merely optically, the least. The effect of absolute distance will remain untouched, and the sole result will be confusion of idea respecting the comparative distances from rock to rock. But the thing is clear: if the artist’s intention is really, as supposed, to convey the notion of great distance by perspective comparison of the size of men at different intervals, we must, at least grant that he puts himself to unnecessary trouble in the multiplication of his [page 146:] men. Two would answer all the purposes of two thousand; — one in the foreground as a standard, and one in the background, of a size corresponding with the artist’s conception of the distance.

In looking at the setting sun in a mountainous region, or with a city between the eye and the orb, we see it of a certain seeming magnitude, and we do not perceive that this seeming magnitude varies when we look at the same sun setting on the horizon of the ocean. In either case we have a chain of objects by which to appreciate a certain distance; — in the former case this chain is formed of mountains and towers — in the latter, of ripples, or specks of foam; but the result does not present any difference. In each case we get the same idea of the distance, and consequently of the size. This size we have in our mind when we look at the sun in his meridian place; but this distance we have not — for no objects intervene. That is to say, the distance falls short, while the size remains. The consequence is, that, to accord with the diminished distance, the mind instantaneously diminishes the size. The conversed experiment gives, of course, a conversed result.(e)

Dr. Lardner’s “so it is” is amusing to say no more. In general, the mere natural philosophers have the same exaggerated notions of the perplexity of metaphysics. And, perhaps, it is this looming of the latter science which has brought about the vulgar derivation of its name from the supposed superiority to physics — as if μετα φυσικα had the force of super physicam. The fact is, that Aristotle’s Treatise on Morals is next in succession to his Book on Physics, and this he supposes the rational order of study. His Ethics, therefore, commence with the words Μετα τα φυσικα — whence we take the word, Metaphysics.

That Leibnitz, who was fond of interweaving even his mathematical, with ethical speculations, making a medley rather to be wondered at than understood — that he made no attempt at amending the common explanation of the difference in the sun’s apparent size — this, perhaps, is more really a matter for marvel than that Dr. Lardner should look upon the common explanation as only too “learned” and too “metaphysical” for an audience in Yankee-Land.(f)


it is) a. Poe was markedly antagonistic to Dionysius Lardner, LL. D. (1793-1859), founder and editor of the Cabinet Cyclopaedia of over 130 volumes, appointed professor of science and astronomy in the new London University, 1827, and immensely popular as a lecturer on science in America from 1840. Poe satirized him in “Three Sundays,” as “Doctor Dubble L. Dee, the lecturer upon quack physics” (TOM 648, 652, 655). Yet he borrowed several items for “Scheherazade” (TOM 1151, 1173, and 1174, nn33, 34-37, 39, 44) from Lardner’s Course of Lectures (N. Y., 1842, a 52-page pamphlet), based on a lecture on “Popular Fallacies,” delivered at Niblo’s theatre, 12/41. This quotation comes from the pamphlet, p. 23, save for these alterations (the reading in the pamphlet [page 147:] precedes each virgule): Sun or / sun or; Earth- / earth, as; mountains, and, / mountains,; Sun / sun; save by process / by a process; than these. / than those.; Sun / sun; objection / objection,; no italics at the end; colon at the very end.

originality) b. The humorous contrast between weakness (foible, Old French for foible) and strength (forte) is used by Poe also in “Three Sundays” (at n15) and in para. 1 of “X-ing a paragrab” (TOM 1369).

barley-corns) c. Barley-corns, or the grains of barley, were once used as a measure of approximately one third of an inch.

itself) d. For Poe’s keen interest in the planets and asteroids see various passages in Eureka (1848), especially H 16.279-280, and his updating the number of asteroids in the Bishop Hurst copy which he was preparing as a second ed. (16.330, 332). There he also elaborates on the difficulty of having a “positive idea” or “definitive conception” of interplanetary and interstellar distances (H 16.277-290).

He also took an interest in the discovery of “new” asteroids or planetoids, as shown in the notes for Eureka and also in his annotations in a copy of the Democratic Review Marginalia of 11/44, 4/46, 7/46, which are now in the Gilman Collection of the Johns Hopkins University Library. These are briefly described in its quarterly leaflet, Ex Libris, of 1/ 1940, vol. 9 (2 unnumbered pages), reproducing p. 493 of the 11/44 number. This shows the following replacement for the end of para. 7 (below), “remains . . . size”:

is not correspondingly increased. The orb seems to be closer and, therefore, we expect it to appear larger. In other words it looks smaller than it should be — smaller than the sun which sets.

With regard to the planetoids — Poe’s first list (Ceres, Vesta, Juno, and Pallas) of 1844 needed the addition of Astraea, found 12/8/45, as his inked annotation states: “Now eleven — Astraea since discovered“. A further annotation in pencil (presumably in 1849) acknowledged the finding of Neptune in 1846, plus three asteroids in 1847, one in 1848, and one in 1849:

Now 17 — a planet and 6 Asteroids since discovered[.]

None of these changes, plus about twenty more in wording throughout the three installments, entered into any printed version of the Marginalia, since the 1850 ed. omitted the first 43 items. However, Poe apparently intended to republish his Marginalia with many more changes than he directed in the 1850 text.

result) e. Poe was to apply his interest in real and apparent size and distance of objects to fiction in “The Sphinx” (1846), TOM 1246-51.

Yankee-Land) f. Poe encountered the scrap of learning about the origin of the word metaphysics in Bielfeld’s book and first embodied it in Pin 157, q.v. In general, he derided metaphysics and coined the [page 148:] derisive term “metaphysicianism” which he applied to Schelling and to Coleridge (see PCW, p. 31, for the loci). Here he manages even to involve the Transcendentalists of “Yankee-Land” in his scorn, although it is true that “Yankee-Land” was used for the U. S. A. as a whole (see OED) and Lardner did not confine his lectures to New England. Generally speaking, Poe is adverse to the eminent philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) for over-subtlety and strange mixtures of thought, but not always: see M 161 and “Bon-Bon” (TOM 115 n3) and “Man of Crowd” (516 n4), and various refs. in Harrison: 9.65, 12.165, 14.217, 16.233-24, and the joke in M 87.

Marginalia 39

That “truth is stranger than fiction” is an adage for ever in the mouth of the uninformed, who quote it as they would quote any other proposition which to them seemed paradoxical — for the mere point of the paradox. People who read never quote the saying, because sheer truisms are never worth quoting. A friend of mine once read me a long poem on the planet Saturn. He was a man of genius, but his lines were a failure of course, since the realities of the planet, detailed in the most prosaic language, put to shame and quite overwhelm all the accessory fancies of the poet.

If, however, the solemn adage in question should ever stand in need of support, here is a book will support it.* (a)

* Ramaseama; or a Vocabulary of the peculiar language used by the Thugs, with an Introduction and Appendix descriptive of the System pursued by that Fraternity, and of the Measures adopted by the Supreme Government of India for its Suppression. — Calcutta.”(b) 1836.


it) a. Poe’s “adage” is somewhat inaccurately cited from Byron’s Don Juan, XIV, ci, 1-2: “‘Tis strange — but true; for truth is always strange, — / Stranger than fiction.” Poe was a bit closer in his citation in “Blackwood Article” (TOM 340): “Truth is strange . . . stranger than fiction.”

Calcutta) b. The footnote title Ramaseand — a misprint for Ramaseana, etc. — Poe derived from the preface of this two-volume reprint (Phila., 1839) which he reviewed in the 9/39 BGM, 5.174 (uncollected), under the title of The Thugs or Phansigars of India, etc., given it by Carey and Hart of Philadelphia. His one-para. review stressed the boldness, atrocity, and secrecy of the “fraternity.” Not long after this, in the 12/ 18/39 Alexander’s Weekly Messenger (p. 4) Poe led off his column of conundrums with “1. Why are the Thugs like the crack omnibuses? Because they are Phansigars. — fancy cars.” [page 149:]

Marginalia 40

Some richly imaginative thoughts, skilfully expressed, might be culled from this poem — which, as a whole, is nothing worth. E.g. —

And I can hear the click of that old gate,

As once again, amid the chirping yard,

I see the summer rooms open and dark.

and —

— How calm the night moves on! and yet,

In the dark morrow that behind those hills

Lies sleeping now, who knows what horror lurks?

 “The Bride of Fort Edward.” — Anonymous.


Note: Poe’s review of this work is in the 9/39 BGM 5.168-169, and includes thirteen more lines of the verses. Published anonymously by Samuel Colman (New York, 1839), it was written by Delia Bacon according to a manuscript note in the New-York Historical Society Library copy. Poe refers to a masculine author, on the whole with less commendation, but he speaks of “imagination of no common order” and design . . . excellent. . . by no means badly executed,” but he condemns the poetic drama for its author’s obvious admiration of Coleridge. Delia Salter Bacon (1811-1859), later famous for her view of Francis Bacon’s authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, had won with “Love’s Martyr” the Saturday Courier prize in the 1831 contest which Poe entered with his Folio Club tales (TOM 13, 17). Poe’s quotations are from “Dialogue,” I, 11-13, p. 13 and “Thoughts,” III, 11. 31-33, p. 82, with his italics. Poe humorously cites Hamlet in “nothing worth”: “My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth” (IV, iv, 66); see also M 186 for “exceedingly little worth.”

Marginalia 41

The great force derivable from repetition of particular vowel sounds in verse, is little understood, or quite overlooked, even by those versifiers who dwell most upon what is commonly called “alliteration.” How richly melodious are these lines of Milton’s “Comus!”(a)

May thy brimmed waves for this

Their full tribute never miss —

May thy billows roll ashore

The beryl and the golden ore! [page 150:]

— and yet it seems especially singular that, with the full and noble volume of the long 6 resounding in his ears, the poet should have written, in the last line, “beryl,” when he might so well have written “onyx.”(b)


Comus) a. Much of the charm and power of Poe’s prose and poetry lies in his exceptionally varied and frequent use of alliteration. The appeal of Comus for Poe was very strong, as favorable references to the title or citations of lines or echoes in his own language show: H 2.283; 7.xxxvii; 8.299; 9.290; 10.66, as also in M 138; TOM, Poems, 89, 126, 291, 373. For a study of Poe’s views of literary ladies and Comus see Gerald E. Gerber, PS, 1970, 3.25-26.

onyx) b. Poe’s admiration for this passage led him to echo it in “Domain of Arnheim,” TOM, 1280: “opals and golden onyxes, rolling silently out of the sky.” Poe’s recommended rewriting of Milton and his own succession of vowels strongly suggests his pronunciation of “onyx” with a long “o“, then and now an allowed pronunciation, and the only one in the 1851 Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language. The four lines in Comus are separated: 923-24 and 931-32, but are otherwise unchanged by Poe save for modernized spelling and the added dash after “miss.”

Marginalia 42

Moore has been noted for the number and appositeness, as well as novelty of his similes;(a) and the renown thus acquired is indicial of his deficiency in that noble merit — the noblest of all. No poet thus distinguished was ever richly ideal.(b) Pope and Cowper are instances.(c) Direct similes are of too palpably artificial a character to be artistical. An artist will always contrive to weave his illustrations into the metaphorical form.

Moore has a peculiar facility in prosaically telling a poetical story. By this I mean that he preserves the tone and method of arrangement of a prose relation, and thus obtains great advantage, in important points, over his more stilted compeers. His is no poetical style (such as the French have — a distinct style for a distinct purpose) but an easy and ordinary prose manner, which rejects the licenses because it does not require them, and is merely ornamented into poetry. By means of this manner he is enabled to encounter, effectually, details which would baffle any other versifier of the day; and at which Lamartine would stand aghast. In “Alciphron” we see this exemplified. Here the minute and perplexed incidents of the descent into the pyramid, are detailed, in verse, with quite as much precision and intelligibility as could be attained even by the coolest prose of Mr. Jeremy Bentham.(d) [page 151:]

Moore has vivacity; verbal and constructive dexterity; a musical ear not sufficiently cultivated; a vivid fancy; an epigrammatic spirit; and a fine taste — as far as it goes.


similes) a. This whole entry is closely adapted from the last part of Poe’s rev. of Thomas Moore’s Alciphron in BGM of 1140, 6.53-56 (H 10.60-71). It condenses the last part (H 10.68-71), much of which was a repetition of his 1835 SLM rev. of the poems of Drake and Halleck. The vast influence upon Poe of the poems, romances, songs, and Byron — biography of Moore can only be touched upon. Significant is his scissoring a part of an important rev. for one of the early M Items. For the considerable role of Moore in Poe’s tales see ESQ, 1972, 18.166-173, study by Pollin, and for the loci of 25 more allusions to and comments on Moore, see DN, p. 65, of which only two are disparaging (12.40 and 13.144). See also the loci listed in TOM for Poems and tales. The newly inserted proviso at the end, we note, shows Poe’s increasing doubt of Moore’s being the acme of poetic power.

ideal) b. The word “indicial” is a Poe coinage occurring only here and in the source text. Poe borrowed much of his meaning for “ideal” from phrenology, as can be seen in his rev. of the book of Mrs. L. Miles, Phrenology, in the SLM of March 1836 (H 8.252-255) where he notes that the Imaginative Faculties are “Hope, Ideality, and Marvelousness.” For the “Faculty” see H 8.282-83.

instances) c. Poe’s standard Romantic distrust of Pope and yet his intense admiration of his technical skill and his sharp wit have never received full treatment. Killis Campbell’s brief statement in the TSLL of 1925, 5:175, merely pointed the way, unfollowed. For 21 other refs. by Poe to Pope in Harrison see DN, p. 74, and see the large number in the indices of TOM. The unusually strong stimulus to Poe’s ideas in Cowper’s works has been largely ignored but see eight other loci in DN (23-24) including M 219, wherein we again find this same trio of poets; see also numerous refs. in TOM.

Bentham) d. Poe disdained the enormously popular poet Alphonse Lamartine (1790-1869), q.v. in eight refs. in DN, 53 and in TOM at 571 n 18 and 1110 n2. Consistently he expressed utter contempt for Jeremy Bentham (see 9 more instances in DN, 10), as well as Preface to M and M 63. See especially the opening of “Diddling” (TOM 869), of the preceding year.

Marginalia 43

The defenders of this pitiable stuff, uphold it on the ground of its truthfulness. Taking the thesis into question, this truthfulness is the one [page 152:] overwhelming defect. An original idea that — to laud the accuracy with which the stone is hurled that knocks us in the head. A little less accuracy might have left us more brains. And here are critics absolutely commending the truthfulness with which only the disagreeable is conveyed! In my view, if an artist must paint decayed cheeses, his merit will lie in their looking as little like decayed cheeses as possible.

(To be continued.) [magazine note]


Notes: The subject area indirectly discussed here must be either the drama or painting, probably the former because of the word “thesis.” While Poe upheld “naturalism” in acting, being the first to give the new meaning to an old word (H 12.188), he objurgated the “low” or “disagreeable” more than once; see the same wording used in his 1842 rev. of Hawthorne’s Twice-told Tales, deriding the details of the ample, smug household of the Van Tassels in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”: “a nauseating surfeit of low miniature copying of low life, much in the manner . . . of the Dutch herrings and decayed cheese of Van Tyssel” (sic) (H 11. 102). Poe himself had indulged in such details in Pym in the cannibalism episode. As a critic of art, in an uncollected BJ piece on the Ivory Christ (2.214), Poe praises the “absolute truth of the entire design” and also the agonizing anatomical details, but primarily “the intellectuality of its expression.”







[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 01)