Text: Burton R. Pollin (and E. A. Poe), “Marginalia - part 12,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 331-334 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 331:]


Graham’s American Monthly Magazine of Literature and Art

March 1848 XXXII, 178-79


by Edgar A. Poe.

[1 item]

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Marginalia 200

One of the happiest examples, in a small way, of the carrying-one’s-self-in-a-hand-basket logic, is to be found in a London weekly paper called “The Popular Record of Modern Science; a Journal of Philosophy and General Information.” This work has a vast circulation, and is respected by eminent men. Sometime in November, 1845, it copied from the “Columbian Magazine” of New York, a rather adventurous article of mine, called “Mesmeric Revelation.” It had the impudence, also, to spoil the title by improving it to “The Last Conversation of a Somnambule” — a phrase that is nothing at all to the purpose, since the person who “converses” is not a somnambule. He is a sleep-waker — not a sleepwalker; but I presume that “The Record” thought it was only the difference of an l. What I chiefly complain of, however, is that the London editor prefaced my paper with these words: — “The following is an article communicated to the Columbian Magazine, a journal of respectability and influence in the United States, by Mr. Edgar A. Poe. It bears internal evidence of authenticity.”!(a)

There is no subject under heaven about which funnier ideas are, in general, entertained than about this subject of internal evidence. It is by “internal evidence,” observe, that we decide upon the mind.

But to “The Record:” — On the issue of my “Valdemar Case,” this journal copies it, as a matter of course, and (also as a matter of course) [page 332:] improves the title, as in the previous instance. But the editorial comments may as well be called profound. Here they are:

“The following narrative appears in a recent number of The American Magazine, a respectable periodical in the United States. It comes, it will be observed, from the narrator of the ‘Last Conversation of a Somnambule,’ published in The Record of the 29th of November. In extracting this case the Morning Post of Monday last, takes what it considers the safe side, by remarking — For our own parts we do not believe it; and there are several statements made, more especially with regard to the disease of which the patient died, which at once prove the case to be either a fabrication, or the work of one little acquainted with consumption. The story, however, is wonderful, and we therefore give it.’ The editor, however, does not point out the especial statements which are inconsistent with what we know of the progress of consumption, and as few scientific persons would be willing to take their pathology any more than their logic from the Morning Post, his caution, it is to be feared, will not have much weight. The reason assigned by the Post for publishing the account is quaint, and would apply equally to an adventure from Baron Munchausen: — it is wonderful and we therefore give it.’ . . . The above case is obviously one that cannot be received except on the strongest testimony, and it is equally clear that the testimony by which it is at present accompanied, is not of that character. The most favorable circumstances in support of it, consist in the fact that credence is understood to be given to it at New York, within a few miles of which city the affair took place, and where consequently the most ready means must be found for its authentication or disproval. The initials of the medical men and of the young medical student must be sufficient in the immediate locality, to establish their identity, especially as M. Valdemar was well known, and had been so long ill as to render it out of the question that there should be any difficulty in ascertaining the names of the physicians by whom he had been attended. In the same way the nurses and servants under whose cognizance the case must have come during the seven months which it occupied, are of course accessible to all sorts of inquiries. It will, therefore, appear that there must have been too many parties concerned to render prolonged deception practicable. The angry excitement and various rumors which have at length rendered a public statement necessary, are also sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place. On the other hand there is no strong point for disbelief. The circumstances are, as the Post says, ‘wonderful;’ but so are all circumstances that come to our knowledge for the first time — and in Mesmerism every thing is new. An objection may be made that the article has rather a Magazinish air; Mr. Poe having evidently written with a view to effect, and so as to excite rather than to subdue the vague appetite for the mysterious and the horrible which such a case, under any circumstances, is sure to awaken — but apart from this there is nothing to deter a philosophic mind from further inquiries regarding it. It is a matter entirely for testimony. [So it is.] Under this view we shall take steps to procure from some of the most intelligent and influential citizens of New York all the evidence that can be had upon the subject. No steamer will leave England for America till the 3d of February, but within a few weeks of that time we doubt not it will be possible to lay before the readers of the Record information which will enable them to come to a pretty accurate conclusion.” [page 333:]

Yes; and no doubt they came to one accurate enough, in the end. But all this rigmarole is what people call testing a thing by “internal evidence.” The Record insists upon the truth of the story because of certain facts — because “the initials of the young men must be sufficient to establish their identity” — because “the nurses must be accessible to all sorts of inquiries” — and because the “angry excitement and various rumors which at length rendered a public statement necessary, are sufficient to show that something extraordinary must have taken place.”

To be sure! The story is proved by these facts — the facts about the students, the nurses, the excitement, the credence given the tale of New York. And now all we have to do is to prove these facts. Ah! — they are proved by the story.

As for the Morning Post, it evinces more weakness in its disbelief than the Record in its credulity. What the former says about doubting on account of inaccuracy in the detail of the phthisical symptoms, is a mere fetch, as the Cockneys have it, in order to make a very few little children believe that it, the Post, is not quite so stupid as a post proverbially is. It knows nearly as much about pathology as it does about English grammar — and I really hope it will not feel called upon to blush at the compliment. I represented the symptoms of M. Valdemar as “severe,” to be sure. I put an extreme case; for it was necessary that I should leave on the reader’s mind no doubt as to the certainty of death without the aid of the Mesmerist — but such symptoms might have appeared — the identical symptoms have appeared, and will be presented again and again. Had the Post been only half as honest as ignorant, it would have owned that it disbelieved for no reason more profound than that which influences all dunces in disbelieving — it would have owned that it doubted the thing merely because the thing was a “wonderful” thing, and had never yet been printed in a book.(b)


authenticity) a. Poe’s devotion of a full installment of Marginalia to this amusing pother over his “contribution” to mesmerism demonstrates the intense interest in the topic at the time. The year 1848 also saw the substitution of anesthetics for the use of hypnotism in painful surgery or other medical treatments, as well as the new “fashion” of spiritualism (communication of the dead to the living through a medium). In the 7/15/45 Liberté de Penser (Paris) appeared Baudelaire’s first Poe translation — that of “Mesmeric Revelation.” Poe’s keen interest but diminishing belief in “animal magnetism” is seen in M 179 of 11/46, but even in the 12/27/45 BJ (2.390-91) he is positively derisive of the reverend Dr. Robert H. Collyer, “the eminent Mesmerist,” for sending “Valdemar” as “proof” of the theory to Dr. John Elliotson, who had founded the Zoist to convince British doctors of the validity and usefulness of “magnetism” (see the historical account of the movement in Enc. [page 334:] Brit., 14.201-203; also Lind, cited in M 179).

The hyphenated word at the beginning is Poe’s coinage, and a concept repeated from the end of para. 1 of M 196. The Popular Record dates from 11/29/45-obviously a remnant of the interest represented by the BJ column (given above). “Mesmeric Revelation” first appeared in the 8/44 Columbian Magazine (2.67-70). Poe’s concern over the use of “waker” and not “walker” shows his reliance upon Chauncey Hare Townshend’s Facts in Mesmerism (London, 1840), discussed by TOM 1024-25 (see also M 179), which was not perused by the OED lexicologists, who ascribed it to 1884 for first use (not to Poe for his use in the tale and here; my ascription to Poe in PCW 64 needs this correction). Poe greatly exaggerates the circulation of the London journal.

book) b. Poe’s tale, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” first appeared in the American Review of 12/45 (2.561-65) and again in the 12/20/45 BJ. Poe’s amusement at various responses to his “hoax,” as he termed it in one letter, is discussed by TOM 1230-32. The last three paras. are an extended discussion of the italicized last sentence of para. 1. Poe loved to poke fun at mankind’s gullibility in the face of numerous realistic details supporting an implausible conclusion, and even in the 6/35 SLM printing of “Hans Pfaall” he included a derisive comment: “The Letter — the document . . . carries upon its very face the evidence of its own authenticity” (Imaginary Voyages, p. 428). Poe here and elsewhere (as in M 198) uses “Cockney” for any Englishman, not simply for a lower class Londoner (cf. “Poetic Principle,” H 14.278; and “Scheherazade,” TOM 1158). In the tale’s usage Poe permits himself a pun, as here also in the “post” figure.






[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 12)