Text: Burton R. Pollin (and E. A. Poe), “Marginalia - part 15,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: The Brevities (1985), pp. 375-394 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 376:]


Southern Literary Messenger

June 1849 XV, 336-38


By Edgar A. Poe.

[34 items, no. 223-256]

  * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  

Marginalia 223

Pure diabolism is but Absolute Insanity. Lucifer was merely unfortunate in having been created without brains.


Note: Probably this is adapted from no. 17, “Mems for Memory,” anonymously published by Horace Binney Wallace as “William Landor” in B GM of 9/40, 7.151: “The devils are all necessarily insane, for insanity unavoidably follows the extinction of the moral being. A living brain with a dead heart is a condition of madness. That, too, makes the pain of hell.”

Marginalia 224

Whan [[When]] a man of genius speaks of “the difficult” he means, simply, “the impossible.”


Note: Adapted from “Mems for Memory” no. 1, by “William Landor” (i.e., H. B. Wallace) in BGM of 9/40, 7.151: “The ability to distinguish between the extraordinary and the impossible, is that which separates a hero from a cypher on the same hand, and a madman on the other.” [page 377:]

Marginalia 225

We, of the nineteenth century, need some worker of miracles for our regeneration; but so degraded have we become that the only prophet, or preacher, who could render us much service, would be the St. Francis who converted the beasts.


Note: Compare “Mems for Memory, No. 5” by “William Landor” (i.e. Horace Binney Wallace) in BGM of 9/40, 7.151: “So brutifying are the prevailing vices of the times, that the world requires for its regeneration at present, a St. Francis rather than a St. Paul — him who converted beasts rather than him who preached to men.”

Marginalia 226

The nose of a mob is its imagination. By this, at any time, it can be quietly led.


Note: Adapted from two of the “Mems” by “Landor”: BGM, 9/ 40, 7.151, no. 16: “Tame mankind as much as you may, by the institutions of civility, there is one faculty whereby they will still be wild; and that is imagination;” also, BGM, 11/40, 7.250, no. 72: “That ruler will be the greatest and most popular whose actions most fill and inflame the imagination of his people. The more a ruler does of extraordinary and new, the more he will be the idol of his nation.” For similar views see MM 26, 216 (end), 227, and 232.

Marginalia 227

Samuel Butler, of Hudibrastic memory, must have had a prophetic eye to the American Congress when he defined a rabble as — “A congregation or assembly of the States-General — every one being of a several judgment concerning whatever business be under consideration“, . . . “They meet only to quarrel,” he adds, “and then return home full of satisfaction and narrative.”


Note: Here Poe is using the Characters of Samuel Butler (1612-80), published first in his Genuine Remains (1759) for an anti-democratic thrust, characteristic of several of the MM of this installment (see M 226 et al.). Poe apparently pored over Butler’s Hudibras (3 parts, 1663, 1664, 1678; see a dozen loci of refs. in PD 114). Poe probably read “A Rabble” in an article on “mobs;” unidentified, and pieced this “excerpt” together [page 378:] thus: “A RABBLE is a Congregation, or Assembly of the States-General. . . . They are full of Controversy, and every one of a several judgment concerning the Business under present Consideration. . . . They meet,. . . . sing Psalms, quarrel, and return full of Satisfaction and Narrative.” This is taken from Butler’s Characters, ed. A. R. Waller (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1908, p. 147). For other instances of “rabble” in Poe see TOM 125, and Poems, “Tamerlane H,” p. 58, for Poe’s coinage of “rabble-men.”

Marginalia 228

The Romans worshipped their standards; and the Roman standard happened to be an eagle. Our standard is only one-tenth of an Eagle — a Dollar — but we make all even by adoring it with ten-fold devotion.


Note: This is derived from “William Landor” (H. B. Wallace), “Mems for Memory, No. 5,” in the 9/40 BGM, 7.151: “The Roman standard — the Eagle — was worshipped as a God. How many parties and sects are there, who, like the Roman soldiers, worship their standards?” The “spread-eagle” on the eagle coin ($10), half-eagle and quarter-eagle gold coins of the new Republic (some minted as early as 1795) gave Poe his pun, but see M 127 for the later use of “In God we trust.” Earlier Poe was aware of the Roman eagle standard in “Coliseum”: “Here, where the mimic eagle glared in gold” (1. 18, p. 231).

Marginalia 229

“He that is born to be a man,” says Wieland in his “Peregrinus Proteus,” “neither should nor can be anything nobler, greater, or better than a man.”(a) The fact is, that in efforts to soar above our nature, we invariably fall below it. Your reformist demigods are merely devils turned inside out.(b)


man) a. These three sentences come from two sources, in the works of Bulwer Lytton and in an article by H. B. Wallace. The first is a motto to ch. 4 of Book 5 of Bulwer Lytton’s Ernest Maltravers, which is identical save for “and better” in place of “or better.” Poe’s title-author data are as sparse as Bulwer’s. The motto is from Christoph Martin Wieland, Private History of Peregrinus Proteus the Philosopher (tr., London, 1796), 2.43. Poe used it also in his 3/42 rev. of Brougham’s Writings in Graham’s (H 11.99), and SM 19. His manifold use of this quotation underscores the basic theme of “Israfel,” says TOM (Poems 171-72). [page 379:]

inside out) b. The rest of this article is an adaptation of the second half of “Mems for Memory, No. 45” by “Landor” (H. B. Wallace) in 11/ 40 BGM, 7.249: “Our condition is human; to approach our nature to the divine, is to oppose the eternal fitness of things. He that puts off his manhood while garmented in life, will be accused. He that aspires to godhood, will find himself a devil; which is a God turned wrong side out. While we are in life, it is our best happiness. . . our best virtue, to be men. . . .”

Marginalia 230

It is only the philosophical lynxeye that, through the indignity — mist of Man’s life, can still discern the dignity of Man.


Note: This sentence owes something to “William Landor” (i.e., H. B. Wallace, a suicide in 1852), “Mems for Memory, No. 32,” in the 10/40 BGM, 7.201: “He that can perceive the paltriness of life, without ceasing to feel the dignity of man, has solved the great problem of existence.” Poe coined the word “indignity-mist” for this article. In “Purloined Letter” occurs “His lynx eye immediately perceives the paper” (TOM 977/10); in “Thou Art the Man” is “the eye of a lynx” (1048/26). Poe’s spelling of “lynxeye” without a hyphen appears unique, although many compounds of noun and adjective are given in OED. But Poe’s major source for the phrase was probably Richard Griffith, The Koran (1770), text used, that of Dublin, 1770, Vol. 2, p. 238, “The lynx-eyed philosopher.” For Poe’s knowledge of the book see Pin Intro. para. 1.

Marginalia 231

It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream.


Note: This article has many analogues in other works by Poe, several of which are given by TOM in the headnotes to “A Dream within a Dream” (Poems 450-51), where also are possible sources for the phrasing of the idea — an old one, as in Calderón and Shelley’s “Adonais.” Note should be taken also of para. 1 of Preface to Eureka concerning “the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities” — which, in turn, owes something to Poe’s own quotation from Godwin’s Mandeville (TOM 60n7) in the early and later form of “Loss of Breath.” [page 380:]

Marginalia 232

In drawing a line of distinction between a people and a mob, we shall find that a people aroused to action are a mob; and that a mob, trying to think, subside into a people.


Note: Here Poe is varying slightly William Landor’s “Mems for Memory, No. 28” in the 10/40 BGM, 7.201: “It is very necessary, in politics, to apprehend the difference between a mob and a people, and to know when public demonstrations proceed from the one, and when from the other. Nothing is more unsteady in humor than the former; nothing more permanent in principle than the latter; the opinions of the one being founded on passion, those of the other being based in nature.” With this compare MM 108, 226, 227. Note also that in “Mummy” the “usurping tyrant” is named Mob (TOM 1194) and in “Mellonta Tauta” “Mob” “set up a despotism” being “the most odious of all men” (1300).

Marginalia 233

Tell a scoundrel, three or four times a day, that he is the pink of probity, and you make him at least the perfection of “respectability” in good earnest. On the other hand, accuse an honorable man, too pertinaciously, of being a villain, and you fill him with a perverse ambition to show you that you are not altogether in the wrong.


Note: There is an ambiguity in the first sentence, which would be partially settled if “least” were an error for “last.” But the pointing of “respectability” perhaps belies this idea. If ironic, it fails to accord with “in good earnest” meaning “seriously.” Does Poe assume it to mean in “appearance“? This is confirmed, perhaps, by his phrase “On the other hand.” Poe’s stress on “perversity” in “The Imp of the Perverse,” for example, is rather on innate tendencies than on a motive derived from a series of false accusations. His phrase “the pink of probity” has a somewhat old-fashioned aura, as though he is mindful of a Shakespearian “the very pink of courtesy” in Romeo and Juliet, 2.4.61, meaning “the flower” or “embodied perfection.”

Marginalia 234

With how unaccountable an obstinacy even our best writers persist in talking about “moral courage — ” as if there could be any courage that [page 381:] was not moral. The adjective is improperly applied to the subject instead of the object. The energy which overcomes fear — whether fear of evil threatening the person or threatening the impersonal circumstances amid which we exist — is, of course, simply a mental energy — is, of course, simply “moral.” But, in speaking of “moral courage” we imply the existence of physical. Quite as reasonable an expression would be that of “bodily thought” or of “muscular imagination.”


Note: Poe is ignoring the special meaning of the phrase “moral courage” for his attack: that “which enables a person to encounter odium, disapproval or contempt, rather than depart from what he deems the right course” (OED). At the beginning of “Island of the Fay” Poe insisted on “Moral Tales” (by Marmontel) as meaning those which are “fashionable” or “of manners” (TOM 599).

Marginalia 235

In looking at the world as it is, we shall find it folly to deny that, to worldly success, a surer path is Villainy than Virtue. What the Scriptures mean by the “leaven of unrighteousness” is that leaven by which men rise.


Note: This comes from “William Landor” (i. e., H. B. Wallace), “Mems for Memory, No. 48,” in the 11/40 BGM, 7.249: “Scripture speaks of the leaven of unrightness; perhaps because it makes men rise.” Wallace based his quip on 1 Corinthians 5.8: “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness.”

Marginalia 236

I have now before me a book in which the most noticeable thing is the pertinacity with which “Monarch” and “King” are printed with a capital M and a capital K. The author, it seems, has been lately presented at Court. He will employ a small g in future, I presume, whenever he is so unlucky as to have to speak of his God.


Note: This is based on Poe’s review (uncollected) of Ancient America by George Jones, an actor, in the Aristidean of 3/45, p. 10, containing the following: “The only other noticeable part of the extract. . . is the writing monarch and king with a capital M and K — a fashion which Mr. Jones has very properly considered it his duty to adopt since his introduction [page 382:] at court. To render the compliment more pointed, we presume that, in future, he will employ only a small g when he is so unlucky as to have to speak of his God.”

Marginalia 237

“A little learning,” in the sense intended by the poet, is, beyond all question, “a dangerous thing:” — but, in regard to that learning which we call “knowledge of the world,” it is only a little that is not dangerous. To be thoroughly conversant with Man’s heart, is to take our final lesson in the iron-clasped volume of Despair.


Note: Poe is commenting on the couplet from Pope’s Essay on Criticism (2.15-16): A little learning is a dang‘rous thing; I Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.” The phrase “knowledge of the world” is surprisingly modern in origin, being found in Chesterfield’s “Letter to his Son” of 4/5/1776; also his letter of 3/16/1752; and also 10/4/1776; also in Samuel Johnson, Rambler No. 4. The “world” meaning practical affairs and material things, as opposed to things of “the spirit” is virtually timeless in usage, as in The Book of Common Prayer (“The Litany”). The last sentence of this article hearkens back to M 194. Poe coined his compound term “iron-clasped.”

Marginalia 238

Not only do I think it paradoxical to speak of a man of genius as personally ignoble, but I confidently maintain that the highest genius is but the loftiest moral nobility.


Note: Given Poe’s use of so many of the items from H. B. Wallace’s “Mems for Memory” in this installment of M, we may assume that this article is an expansion of “William Landor,” “Mems for Memory, No. 13,” the 9140 BGM, 7.151: “Purity of nature is a kind of genius, and the highest.” Compare M 190 and 247 as discussions of genius, in the second of which is a deprecation of morality for the genius who dies in “prison” or on “the gallows.” Perhaps to be reconciled, also, is the arch-criminal “D —— ” in “Purloined Letter,” “an unprincipled man of genius” (TOM 993). [page 383:]

Marginalia 239

The phrase of which our poets, and more especially our orators, are so fond — the phrase “music of the spheres” — has arisen simply from a misconception of the Platonic word μσνσικη — which, with the Athenians, included not merely the harmonies of tune and time, but proportion generally. In recommending the study of “music” as “the best education for the soul,” Plato referred to the cultivation of the Taste, in contradistinction from that of the Pure Reason. By the “music of the spheres” is meant the agreements — the adaptations — in a word, the proportions — developed in the astronomical laws. He had no allusion to music in our understanding of the term. The word “mosaic,” which we derive from μσνσικη, refers, in like manner, to the proportion, or harmony of color, observed — or which should be observed — in the department of Art so entitled.


Note: The substance of this article is taken from H. B. Wallace’s anonymously printed novel Stanley (1.108-109), a section which was also posthumously printed in Literary Criticisms (1856), pp. 269-70: e.g., “The old philosopher” by “the music of the spheres. . . meant the harmony of form and motion, and had no allusion whatever to sound”; and “The Greeks gave to colored stones arranged in varied order the name of ‘mousaic,’ which modern speech has corrupted into ‘mosaic.“’ In his rewriting Poe infuses some confusion and error, overlooking the fact that “mousike” (with “techne” understood) meant “any art over which the Muses presided, especially music or rather lyric poetry sung to music” (Liddell and Scott’s Greek Dictionary) and that antedating Plato, the word was used by Herodotus and Pindar and even Pythagoras, who wrote of “the music of the spheres (see Aristotle, De Caelo, 2.9) — a concept well-rooted in the musical as well as the astronomical discoveries of the Pythagoreans (see En. Br., 21.700; 25.648). Poe himself uses this idea in “The Conqueror Worm” (Poems, 1.8, p. 325).

As for Plato on “the best education” — in the Republic Plato contrasted not the development of taste and of intellect, but rather of the “soul” and the body, the latter through gymnastics. Various passages explicate this contrast, including two cited by Poe in “Monos and Una” (TOM 611), although Poe’s footnote addition to his quotation (Republic 2.376; 3.401-2) shows a bit of sophistry in winning Plato over to a support of “taste” as he assumes here. Compare Poe’s views in his 6121 BJ review (1.393) of Tayler Lewis’ Plato contra Atheos (H 12.162-66): Despite the “purity and nobility” of the “Platonian soul” and “ingenuity” of the “intellect,” the “philosophy” yields a value of “nothing at all” and “a strong tendency to ill intellectually.”

Poe’s phrase “the cultivation of. . . the Pure Reason” suggests a ref. to Kant’s 1781 Critique of the Pure Reason which Poe cited in German [page 384:] satirically in his “Blackwood’s Article” (TOM 342n20). This intermixing of philosophic schools and concepts here would imply no real respect for Kant, whom Poe invariably ridiculed as a Pantheist or Transcendentalist, with frequent punning on Kant-Cant (see these loci in TOM — 82n7, 115n3, 358n7, 625 at n13, 1307 n20, 1318 n4; Eureka, H 16.188). These instances, Poe’s lack of German, his basic philosophic tendencies, and the very shaky adduced “evidence” render thoroughly untenable “Poe’s Debt to Immanuel Kant” by Glen A. Omans in SAR 1980, pp. 123-168.

Marginalia 240

A pumpkin has more angles than C——, and is altogether a cleverer thing. He is remarkable at one point only — at that of being remarkable for nothing.


Note: Poe quotes this, almost verbatim, from his “Literati” sketch of Lewis Gaylord Clark, ed. of the Knickerbocker Magazine in New York and leader of the powerful group of critics and authors (such as Theodore Fay) whom he early alienated through his derisive and blunt critiques. The sketch in the 9/46 Godey’s (H 15.114-16) is a masterpiece of denigration. Poe says (about Clark) in para. 3: “as a literary man” he has “no determinateness, no distinctiveness, no saliency of point; an apple, in fact, or a pumpkin, has more angles. . . . He is noticeable for nothing in the world except for the markedness by which he is noticeable for nothing.” This is a favorite form of deprecation in Poe’s writings.

Marginalia 241

Not long ago, to call a man “a great wizzard,” was to invoke for him fire and faggot; but now, when we wish to run our protégé for President, wejust dub him “a little magician.” The fact is, that, on account of the curious modern bouleversement of old opinion, one cannot be too cautious of the grounds on which he lauds a friend or vituperates a foe.


Note: Poe always denigrated Martin Van Buren, U.S. President 1837-41, in his tales (see TOM 354 at n46, 376-77, 1291 at nl), and his readers knew well this identity of “a little magician” as in Poe’s uncol. rev. of “The Magazines” in the 4/12/45 BJ , 1.235, criticizing the American Review for an article saying about a Washington acquaintance: “But don‘t you think Wright, and Van Buren, and Tyler, and Polk are great men!. . . . The first, is the great Magician; the second, the Little Magician; [page 385:] . . . the fourth, the Great Unknown.”

Poe was fond of “bouleversement” for both physical and figurative overturning of objects or situations; see para. 67 of “Hans Pfaall” and, for uses in “Thingum Bob” and Eureka, note 67A (Imaginary Voyages) for the texts.

Marginalia 242

It is laughable to observe how easily any system of Philosophy can be proved false: — but then is it not mournful to perceive the impossibility of even fancying any particular system to be true?


Note: This is derived from “William Landor” (i.e., H. B. Wallace), “Mems for Memory, No. 59,” and 11/40 BGM, 7.249: “Unhappy law of life! that of systems of life we can prove each one false, no one true.”

Marginalia 243

Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term “Art,” I should call it “the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.”(a) The mere imitation, however accurate, of what is in Nature, entitles no man to the sacred name of “Artist.” Denner was no artist.(b) The grapes of Zeuxis were inartistic — unless in a bird’s-eye view; and not even the curtain of Parrhasius could conceal his deficiency in point of genius.(c) I have mentioned “the veil of the soul.” Something of the kind appears indispensable in Art. We can, at any time, double the true beauty of an actual landscape by half closing our eyes as we look at it. The naked Senses sometimes see too little — but then always they see too much.(d)


soul) a. I have found no source for Poe’s phrase, “the veil of the soul,” italicized below. His great admirer Algernon Charles Swinburne includes the following in St. 3 of “Atlanta in Calydon” (1865): “Eyesight and speech they wrought I For the veils of the soul therein, / A time for labor and thought, / A time to serve and sin.” (See Swinburne’s Letters concerning . . . Poe to Ingram, of 1910).

artist) b. Balthasar Denner (1685-1749) was a German painter noted for extreme accuracy of representation.

genius) c. Zeuxis (see also H 11.84), the classic Greek painter, (Pliny, Natural History, 35, 36) who added highlights to shading, was said to have deceived the birds with his grapes (possibly in stage sets). Parrhasius, [page 386:] of the same period, was famed for his subtle outlines, and perhaps subordinated shading. His subjects became models for later artists. See this subject also in M 280.

much) d. For the expansion of vision by half closing of the eyea retinal capacity — see discussion for “Murders” (TOM 572-73n30).

Marginalia 244

A clever French writer of “Memoirs” is quite right in saying that “if the Universities had been willing to permit it, the disgusting old débauché of Teos, with his eternal Bat[h]yllis, would long ago have been buried in the darkness of oblivion.”


Note: The Greek lyric poet Anacreon of Teos is meant, Poe deriving this article from the chapter on Béranger in Robert Walsh, Sketches of Conspicuous Living Characters of France (Phila., 1841), a translation of Léonard Loménie’s Galerie Populaire des Contemporains (for details see DP 11). In transcribing this statement Poe corrected Walsh’s “débauchée” but left “Batyllus” which should have been “Bathyllus,” a beautiful youth of Samos, beloved of both Anacreon and Polycrates the tyrant (Walsh, p. 243; see DP 65). Poe writes of Anacreon also in “Romance” (retitled “Intro.” in Poems 157, 1. 20f.), “Shadow” and “Morella” (TOM 1900, 233n 10; see M 202, para. 3 and notes).

Marginalia 245

“Philosophy,” says Hegel, “is utterly useless and fruitless, and, for this very reason, is the sublimest of all pursuits, the most deserving attention, and the most worthy of our zeal.”(a) This jargon was suggested, no doubt, by Tertullian’s “Mortuns est Det filius; credibile est quia ineptum — et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile.”(b)


zeal) a. The 5/40 version of “Philosophy of Furniture” starts with this sentence (reading “deserving of our attention”) and then terms it “a somewhat Coleridgy assertion” (TOM 495). Assiduous search and inquiry have failed to reveal it in any of Hegel’s works (see also TOM 503n 1).

impossibile) b. Poe was fond of citing this statement from De Carne Christi, Book 5, which he probably derived from Father Bouhours (for tr. and details see M 151 and “Berenice,” TOM 220n8). The Latin is [page 387:] varied slightly from earlier citations. In “Man of the Crowd” Poe speaks of the style of Tertullian, a ref. from Jean Guez de Balzac (TOM 517n9) which Poe derived from Curiosities of Literature (London, 1798), 1.179.

Marginalia 246

I have great faith in fools: — self-confidence my friends will call it: —

Si demain, oubliant d‘éclore,

Le jour manquait, eh bien! demain

Quelque fou trouverait encore

Un flambeau pour le genre humain.(a)

By the way, what with the new electric light and other matters, De Béranger’s idea is not so very extravagant.(b)


humain) a. As in M 244, Poe derived this article from Walsh’s tr. of the Béranger sketch in Loménie’s Galerie populaire. Poe incorporates the title into his first sentence: “Les Fous” (“Fools”) — actually a satire on followers of St. Simon, Fourier, and Enfantin, which Poe probably never saw beyond Walsh’s excerpt in French. Poe would have approved of this bias, of course, against what he termed “human-perfectibility men” (see DP 62-72 for fuller treatment of Poe’s use of Walsh). A good tr. of the stanza (11. 45-48) is given by William Young, Béranger: Two Hundred of His Lyrical Poems . . . (N. Y., 1850), p. 318: “If day should fail to-morrow duly / To break-why then, to-morrow, truly, / Some madman would in such a case / Light with his torch the human race.” Poe wryly attenuates the negativism of his first comment with his depreciatory “self-confidence.”

extravagant) b. Poe was always fascinated by the technological advances of science, used in “Hans Pfaall,” “Scheherazade,” “Mummy” and “Mellonta Tauta.” Poe knew of early developments in electrical lighting, ranging from the 1801 and 1808 experiments of Sir Humphry Davy to numerous accounts in the 1840s of carbon pencils for arc lights by J. Foucault (1843) and W. Greene and W. E. Staite (1846) and of platinum wires by F. de Moleyns (1841), E. A. King and J. W. Starr (1845). Poe’s “other matters” hints at the varied solutions for the incandescent — material problem. Poe probably wrote the New York Evening Mirror article of 2/15/45 which discussed Milton J. Saunders as inventor of the electric light” (see Hull, p. 475). [page 388:]

Marginalia 247

I have sometimes amused myself by endeavoring to fancy what would be the fate of any individual gifted, or rather accursed, with an intellect very far superior to that of his race. Of course, he would be conscious of his superiority; nor could he (if otherwise constituted as man is) help manifesting his consciousness. Thus he would make himself enemies at all points. And since his opinions and speculations would widely differ from those of all mankind — that he would be considered a madman, is evident. How horribly painful such a condition! Hell could invent no greater torture than that of being charged with abnormal weakness on account of being abnormally strong.(a)

In like manner, nothing can be clearer than that a very generous spirit — truly feeling what all merely profess — must inevitably find itself misconceived in every direction — its motives misinterpreted. Just as extremeness of intelligence would be thought fatuity, so excess of chivalry could not fail of being looked upon as meanness in its last degree: — and so on with other virtues. This subject is a painful one indeed. That individuals have so soared above the plane of their race, is scarcely to be questioned; but, in looking back through history for traces of their existence, we should pass over all biographies of “the good and the great,” while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows.(b)


strong) a. Can one doubt that Poe thought of himself as this abnormally gifted individual? For the “vortex of Unhappiness” awaiting “those of preeminent endowments” see “The Landscape Garden” (TOM 703) and “Arnheim” (1268). Does this para. reveal Poe’s sentiment about several of his clever, mad heroes (e.g., “Tell-Tale Heart” and “Morello”)? Surely “weak” and “strong” are here shifting their basis of comparison. (See also “Eleonora” para. 1 and “Tarr and Fether.”)

gallows) b. This appears to be disproved by the great intellectual and moral leaders who have soared and yet been universally respected, such as Newton and Leibniz. We wonder how “slight records” can yield evidence of such superior gifts, why such ignominious destinies must await the superior, and indeed what differentiating criteria are available to separate the truly depraved from the merely misunderstood. (See MM 190, 238 for contradiction.) Does he have a Eugene Aram in mind? His quotation must refer to Joseph Addison’s Campaign: “O fatal love of fame! O glorious heat, / Only destructive to the brave and great! (11. 220-21). John Ingram titled his article “Fatal Superiority,” lending his phrase to Paul Valéry, who starts his comments thus: “I find a dubious point in these profound observations” (see the end of M 150 for the locus). [page 389:]

Marginalia 248

My friend, —— , can never commence what he fancies a poem, (he is a fanciful man, after all) without first elaborately “invoking the Muses.” Like so many she-dogs of John of Nivelles, however, the more he invokes them, the more they decline obeying the invocation.


Note: Jean de Montmorency, sire de Nivelle(s) (1422-77), left the party of Louis XI for that of the Duke of Burgundy. His father disinherited him as a “chien,” and he went to Flanders. Hence, the French proverb, “II ressemble au chien de Jean de Nivelle, qui s‘enfuit quand on 1‘appelle” (Larousse, Dictionnaire). There is also a “Chanson de Jean de Nivelle” in which the line occurs.

Marginalia 249

The German “Schwarmerei” — not exactly “humbug,” but “sky-rocketing” — seems to be the only term by which we can conveniently designate that peculiar style of criticism which has lately come into fashion, through the influence of certain members of the Fabian family — people who live (upon beans) about Boston.


Note: Poe borrows the term “Schwärmerei” from his sketch of the Boston poet William Ellery Channing, whom he objurgates as almost the worst of poets (8/43 Graham’s ; H 11.174-90, specifically, 175). Coming from “schwarm,” of the same root as the English “swarm” it does mean “enthusiasm, gush, rapture, ecstasy,” but scarcely “hum-bug” or “sky-rocketing,” the first synonym being a derogation of the Transcendentalist writing of New England, especially perhaps in the Dial, earlier.

By “the Fabian family” Poe indirectly may refer to many Roman personages of the eminent gens of Fabius, such as the great consul Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, Cunctator (“Delayer”), who wore down Hannibal’s strength. There was no connection with the Latin “faba” or bean, but Poe enjoys the irony of the proud lineage-conscious Bostonians as a group fond of the humble fare of baked beans. For his derision of Boston as the city also of the “frog-pond” (on the Common) see M 274 and note.

Marginalia 250

“This is right,” says Epicurus, “precisely because the people are displeased with it.”(a)

Il y a à parier,” says Chamfort — one of the Kamkars of Mirabeau — [page 390:]que toute idee publique — toute convention reçue — est une sottise; car elle a convenu an plus grand hombre.”(b)

Si proficere cupis,” says the great African bishop, “prima id verum puta quod sana mens omnium hominum attestatur.”(c)


“Who shall decide where Doctors disagree?”

To me, it appears that, in all ages, the most preposterous falsities have been received as truths by at least the mens omnium hominum. As for the sana mens — how are we ever to determine what that is?(d)


with it) a. This comes, verbatim (but “said” for “says”), from H. B. Wallace, Stanley, 1.232. Wallace’s source is not clear. It may derive from this: Epicurus / The Extant Remains, Cyril Bailey, tr. (Clarendon Press, 1926), V. “Fragments,” pp. 107-139: “I was never anxious to please the mob. For what pleased them, I did not know, and what I did know, was far removed from their comprehension” (para. 43, p. 131).

nombre) b. The exotic word “Kamkars” (misprinted by Harrison as “Kamkars”) came to Poe from “William Landor” (i. e., H. B. Wallace), “Mews for Memory, No. 68,” the 11/40 BGM, 7.250: “In the religion of Zoroaster, each genius was surrounded by Assistant genii, called Kamkars. This is but a figure of earthly genius. Dumont, Chamfort, Maubillon, were the Kamkars of Mirabeau. How many Kamkars had Napoleon?” No major unabridged dictionary of the English or French languages contains this word, but it does occur in the 1892 Persian-English Dictionary of F. Steingass (Librairie du Liban, Beirut), p. 1009 thus: “Name of a rose of intense red, called after a Persian dihquan of the same name” (a dihquan being a chief man or magistrate). In the Concise Persian-English Dictionary (Amir Kabri Publication, 1976), “kamkar” is an adjective meaning “prosperous, successful, happy, august, absolute.” Articles and books on Zoroastrianism have produced no trace of the word, at least through my own efforts.

Wallace’s inclusion of Chamfort probably evoked for use here the quotation which Poe had already used in four varied texts: an uncollected rev. of J. P. Robertson’s Solomon Seesaw in BGM of 9/39; a rev. of Sprague’s Writings in the 5/41 Graham’s (H 10.140); a rev. of Longfellow’s Ballads in the 3/42 Graham’s (H 11.64); the “Purloined Letter” of 9/44 (TOM 986-87 and 995nl6). As TOM indicates, the quotation (Poe’s direct source is unknown) came from Maximes et Pensées, 2.42 of the French cynic Sébastien-Roch Nicolas, called Chamfort (1740-94). “It is safe to wager that every idea that is public property, every accepted convention, is a bit of stupidity, for it has suited the majority” (TOM’s tr.).

attestatur) c. Poe derived this “learned” bit, presumably from St. Augustine’s writings, directly from Wallace’s novel Stanley, 1.132, in which [page 391:] there is “primo firme” — the “firmly” dropping out of Poe’s transcription. The Latin may be thus translated: “If you wish to progress, first consider as true the thing which the sound mind of all men corroborates.” A very thorough search has failed to turn this sentence up in the very voluminous writings of St. Augustine, but Wallace would not have invented it.

that is) d. Poe is quoting inexactly from Alexander Pope, Moral Essays, “Epistle II1,” 1.1: “Who shall decide, when Doctors disagree?” Both Poe and St. Augustine probably alluded to the concept which became defined in the well known text of Juvenal, Satires (10.356): “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.”

Marginalia 251

There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad humanity must assume the aspect of Hell;(a) but the Imagination of Man is no Carathis, to explore with impunity its every cavern. Alas! the grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful; but, like the Demons in whose company Afrasiab made his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep, or they will devour us — they must be suffered to slumber, or we perish.(b)


Hell) a. It is probable that this article combines material from three separate passages of H. B. Wallace, Stanley (1838), two of which have been discussed and cited by TOM for the last para. of “Premature Burial” (971-72n20) which M 251 almost duplicates. Aside from accidentals, there are no variants save for “semblance” for “aspect.” The first “hint” from Stanley lies in an omitted passage of the excerpt given for M 239 above, concerning the “old philosopher” who “had no allusion whatever to sound: neither had Wordsworth when he heard ‘the still sad music of humanity, nor harsh, nor grating.’ — he was referring only to the melody of virtuous conduct in the midst of suffering” (1.109). Surely Poe knew “Tintern Abbey” before the total context of Wallace’s quotation suggested this pastiche for the article.

perish) b. The following two passages from Stanley comprise the rest of the item: “. . . with all the ardor of desperation; he sounded passion to its depths, and raked the bottom of the gulf of sin; he explored, with the indomitable spirit of Carathis, every chamber and cavern of the earthly hell of bad delights” (2.83-84), and “The passions are like those demons with whom Afrasiab sailed down the river Oxus, our safety consists in keeping them asleep; if they wake we are lost” (1.124). As TOM explains, Wallace derived part of this from Beckford’s Vathek (1786), which is also the name of the son of the wicked witch Carathis, although [page 392:] the episode involving King Afrasiab, Rustam’s enemy in Firdusi’s Shah Nameh, is not to be found in that Persian epic. Poe was fascinated by Vathek and by William Beckford and his architectural “creation” — the pseudo-Gothic Fonthill Abbey (see Pin 158, and refs. in TOM’s “Index” 1414). Wallace’s passage owes something to Mark 5: 2, 9, 12 concerning the man by name “Legion” out of the tombs from whom the devils entered into the swine.

At the Anderson Galleries the manuscript of this article, then being sold, was collected by TOM and found to show no variants.

Marginalia 252

What can be more soothing, at once to a man’s Pride and to his Conscience, than the conviction that, in taking vengeance on his enemies for injustice done him, he has simply to do them justice in return?


Note: Issues of “vengeance” sometimes are intrinsic to Poe’s tales: In “Purloined Letter” Dupin in part acts, out of “political prepossessions,” as a partisan of the lady who has suffered torments for eighteen months (993); the vindictive madman Montresor in “Amontillado” starts his tale by discussing punishment for “a thousand injuries,” all possibly imaginary, but clearly connected with his “pride” if not “conscience.”

Marginalia 253

Talking of puns: — “Why do they not give us quail for dinner, as usual?” demanded Count Fessis, the other day, of H———, the classicist and sportsman.

Because at this season,” replied H———, who was dozing, “qualis sopor fessis.” (Quail is so poor, Fessis.)


Note: Poe talks about puns or gives examples also in M Intro., MM 87, 257, 259, 291. This article is adapted from H. B. Wallace, Stanley, 1.132: “It is constantly happening that in literature as in everything else, those voices which make up public opinion, are baying darkly where there is no game; but the blunder is finally discovered. . . .. Your doctrine,’ said Gauden, ‘would be qualis sopor fessis to poor Chandos of Sudeley, — the peer-less Sir Egerton Brydges. He has reached the conclusion that all good books are unpopular, and by a very harmless non-distributio medii, resolved therefrom that all unpopular books, like his own, are good.“’ Wallace is using Vergil, Eclogues, 5.45-46: “Tale tuum [page 393:] carmen nobis, divine poeta, / Quale sopor fessis in gramine. . .” (“Your lay, heavenly bard, is to me even as sleep on the grass to the weary.”). Wallace told the anecdote about Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, descendant of Baron Chandos of Sudely (1762-1837), author of excellent works of learning and mediocre poems and novels. Poe is, apparently, aiming it at Henry William Herbert (1807-58), son of the eminent Dean of Manchester, who came to the U. S., taught classics, edited periodicals, translated from the French, and wrote prolifically on field sports as “Frank Forester” until his suicide. Poe did not care for his work, q.v. in M 116. Compare this entry with Poe’s article, “Enigmatical and Conundrum-ical” in the 12/18/39 Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, No. 6 of which reads: “Why is his last new novel sleep itself? / Because it’s so poor. sopor.”

Marginalia 254

An infinity of error makes its way into our Philosophy, through Man’s habit of considering himself a citizen of a world solely — of an individual planet — instead of at least occasionally contemplating his position as cosmopolite proper — as a denizen of the universe.


Note: The manuscript of this entry, at the Henry E. Huntington library, capitalizes the word: “Universe.” Poe is using the word “cosmopolite” rather differently from its ordinary usage, emphasizing the “cosmos” or “universe” aspect, perhaps mindful of Humboldt’s Kosmos which he had excerpted in BJ and highly praised in Eureka (1848), paras. 9-10 (H 16.186-87). Indeed, the last sentence prelimns M 254: “A man, in this view, becomes mankind; mankind a member of the cosmical family of Intelligences.” (See also paras. 177-180.)

Marginalia 255

The Carlyle-ists should adopt, as a motto, the inscription on the old bell from whose metal was cast the Great Tom, of Oxford: “In Thomæ laude resono ‘Bim! Bom!’ sine fraude:“-and “Bim! Bom,” in such case, would be a marvellous “echo of sound to sense.”


Note: This is one of the numerous deprecations of Carlyle and his followers in Poe’s works; see M 289 for a similar approach. Poe invented the word “Carlyle-ists.” Poe’s facts were correct, as can be verified in William D. Caröe, Sir Christopher Wren and Tom Tower, Oxford (Clarendon Press, 1923), pp. 67-68; the legend refers to St. Thomas of [page 394:] Canterbury: “In praise of St. Thomas I resound ‘Bim Bom’ without deception.” The En. Brit. (11th ed., 3.688-89) reports that the 101 peals of Great Tom (weighing 7‘/2 tons) at 9 p.m. signal the closing of the college gates.

Poe’s last allusion is to Pope’s Essay on Criticism: “The sound must seen an Echo to the sense” (1.365).

Marginalia 256

Paulus Jovius, living in those benighted times when diamond-pointed styluses were as yet unknown, thought proper, nevertheless, to speak of his goosequill as “aliquando ferreus, aureus aliquando” — intending, of course, a mere figure of speech; and from the class of modern authors who use really nothing to write with but steel and gold, some, no doubt, will let their pens, vice versâ, descend to posterity under the designation of “anserine” — of course, intending always a mere figure of speech.


Note: In the Prospectus of the long-planned magazine “The Stylus” are the verses of “Launcelot Canning” (i.e., E. A. Poe): “ —— unbending that all men / Of thy firm TRUTH may say — ‘Lo! this is writ / With the antique iron pen.“’ This is the germ from which eventually came M 256. It was derived in part from Jeremiah 17.1: “Written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond” (Scriptum est stylo ferreo in unque adamantino). Eventually Poe linked to this the small item in H. B. Wallace’s Stanley, 1.51, in a passage on Alexander Pope: “He battled singly for the right-that with a magic transformation made the pen of Pope, as Paulus Jovius said of his own, sometimes a pen of gold and sometimes a pen of iron.” Paolo Giovio (1483-1552), won fame and fortune, in part through his contemporary histories in Latin, sometimes written to please benefactors. The commentators agree in attributing to him the saying that he had two pens, as here, according to gifts of his patrons, although the epigram has never been directly traced to Giovio (see DP 223-24 for details). In a letter to E. H. N. Patterson of 5/23/49 Poe tells of having the design for The Stylus executed (by Darley) with the Latin motto (probably in Poe’s Latin) ascribed to “Jovius” under the picture of a hand writing “truth” in Greek, using a “STYLUS” — which word is cleverly inserted into the middle of the four words (frontispiece of DP ; see also Poems, p. 329, and Pollin, “Poe’s Iron Pen,” ATQ, 1969, 11.16-18). In “anserine” Poe is probably alluding to Byron’s English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (beginning), which he and his readers knew well: “Oh! Nature’s noblest gift-my grey-goose quill! / Slave of my thoughts, obedient to my will.” See M 284 for “goose” as synonym for fool, and M 34, para. 3, for the goose “pen”; see also LST 4d. 394






[S:0 - BRP2B, 1985] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Marginalia - part 15)