Text: Burton R. Pollin, “The Broadway Journal: The ‘Departments’ and Major Topics Treated by Poe (Introduction),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. IV: Broadway Journal (Annotations) (1986), pp. xxxiii-xl (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page xxxiii:]

THE “DEPARTMENTS” AND MAJOR TOPICS TREATED BY POE

The wide scope of Poe’s interests — in the arts, science, social events, politics, contemporary personalities — becomes apparent in the many types of articles from his pen, especially as he became first the leading editor, with Watson covering music, and some drama and art, in July, and then the sole editor, in October. Much earlier, however, it was clear that Briggs willingly assigned him more features than long reviews of prominent books. As the fledgling magazine began committing itself to certain types of cultural news coverage, Poe’s capacities were called into play. This can be seen; in part, through consulting the topics, prominent names, and works listed in my Index. We shall find Poe engaged in the criticism of art, music, and drama, as well as literature, in writing essays on such specialized topics as “Street Paving,” “Anastastic Printing,” and the confrontations of the publisher and writer of magazine literature. In his “Editorial Miscellany” columns, he shows his knowledge of trends in many contemporary fields of science and technology and also in social and political happenings. While the format of the magazine became fairly well established by the end of volume 1, Poe experimented with different arrangements for the reviews, in the use of material from exchange papers, and occasionally in the type of material included (e.g., a play by Laughton Osborn, in installments). Of course, he was hampered greatly by his total inability to pay for contributions, as well as by his own increasing depression and instability as subscriptions fell off and debts mounted. While it is obvious that editing the magazine during the last four months was no longer an inspiration or pleasure, some of the material has much biographical interest for us, as at the time of his Lyceum reading in Boston, which Poe developed into a large “bobbery,” and all of it continues to show the wide scope of Poe’s knowledge and ideas. Only a few categories need any special attention below;

BOOK REVIEWS

Briggs surely offered Poe an opening primarily as reviewer of important new books, such as Elizabeth Barrett Barrett’s Drama Of Exile and Other Poems, appearing in the first two issues. Also, in accordance with his planned series of biographical sketches, as in Poe’s prospectus, he must have had Poe in mind (see the only one by Poe on Willis, in No. 3). Poe did agree to do a journeyman’s job on two more books (see pp. 18-23), but he preferred to continue the “Little Longfellow War” which he had started in the Evening Mirror. Briggs obviously was willing to gain a somewhat notorious publicity [page xxxiv:] for the BJ with the continuity of the planned series, even while disagreeing with the reckless charges of plagiarism against Aldrich and Longfellow. By the end of March, Briggs and probably most of the readers were thoroughly disenchanted with the whole affair. Poe had also contributed a few special short articles on surveying the exchange magazines and other papers, especially when some special topic claimed his attention (see SLM). His supplements in the SLM had surveyed comments in the press on his own magazine, and in his letters to the Columbia Spy of 1844, he discussed current magazines. Certainly Poe knew the contributing writers and nature of the varied publications better than anyone, and seemed to have an amazing capacity to race through quantities of printed matter for relevant, summarizing comments. This was to become his province on the BJ after the “War” ended. And since Briggs was evidently overwhelmed by the complications of the editing tasks, Poe’s special capacities as book-reviewer were increasingly being used, although without stipulated pay by column, as previously. His early major effort in this field was unquestionably the two-part review of the Barrett book.

After his “Longfellow War” series, Poe was clearly expected to fill up many pages during the second quarter of the year and chose to do so with inglorious repetitions of SLM reviews (see those on Hall’s Book of Gems, Mrs. Child’s Philothea, and Dalton’s Peter Snook). His long piece on the detested poems of William Lord had none of the vivacity of his early review of Theodore Fay’s Norman Leslie. A few of his notices enabled him to clarify principles of criticism or diction, such as those on Leigh Hunt (and imagination) and on Bolles’s new dictionary.

In the second volume he alone undertook the important reviews, most of them of volumes of poetry. Under the pressure of editing the magazine alone, he returned too often to his unfortunate habit of the SLM days, of including long and numerous excerpts as space-filler, as can be seen in the most sizable of the reviews: the works of Hirst, Hoyt, Chivers, Hood, Mrs. Smith, Hood (again), Simms, Mary Hewitt, and Fanny Osgood (respectively beginning on 162, 179, 187, 198, 221, 228, 265, 288, 328). (See 144/1-7 note, for his new system of dividing long reviews from brief notices.) Yet, despite the secondary importance of most of Poe’s BJ reviews, there are many fine statements of principle and demonstrations of critical method as well as cross currents of personal and biographical significance that repay study. It has been possible to include all the material of each review save for two or three instances where the article itself is virtually a headnote to the excerpt (see p. 349). [page xxxv:]

EDITORIAL MISCELLANY

This feature of the second volume of the BJ was equivalent to the “Editor’s Table” in the Knickerbocker and similar “spaces” reserved for the editor of other journals. Briggs was apparently casting about for such a channel of personal opinion or else news oddities, often presenting mixed excerpts from the domestic and foreign press, as in “Varieties” (1.29), “Bits of News” (1.77, 1.94), “General Intelligence” (1.142), “Miscellany” (1.366), “Miscellanea” (1.348), “Miscellanies” (1.381), “Weekly Notes.” In the second volume Poe soon hit upon his own phrase, “Editorial Miscellany” (2.60-63), and retained it throughout the volume. Often the first section was his personal comment on statements about the magazine or about himself (as in the Boston press after the Lyceum reading). Often this was followed by adapted or verbatim excerpts from the newspapers and magazines of America or from abroad. The restrictions imposed by limited space have required that those patently copied here without change be eliminated, especially where the topics seem most tangential to the interests of the editor and the readers of the journal, as well as of today. However, relatively few have been dropped in view of the difficulty of ascertaining definitively the verbatim aspect of material from utterly unidentified papers and also in view of the need for showing the full scope of Poe’s interests. Often in my notes are cross references to loci in his other works, including fiction, that corroborate Poe’s interest in the topic. It is noteworthy that Poe marked with a “P” for Mrs. Whitman many of the “Editorial Miscellany” articles, often thereby defining the section that was of personal or particular interest because of the event or the issue discussed. Harrison, who saw this copy when in the hands of F. P. Halsey, carelessly dropped several from his “collected works” even when listing them in his bibliography, so that some of this important material has escaped the notice of students of Poe (see Hull, p. 519).

Needing a passing mention is the “Box” that Poe addressed “To Readers and Correspondents” or simply to the latter. This often spoke about the need to return an item or the acceptance for publication of a contribution by someone with a pseudonym or specified by initials. Often there are editorial comments of telling effect. R. H. Stoddard is told that his “Ode on a Grecian Flute” was, first, lost; next, plagiarized, on which comments (plus his personal visit) hangs a long tale of Poe’s most malignant denigrator and editor after Griswold (see 186, 198 notes). The Della Cruscan flirtation with Mrs. Osgood is archly insinuated in various of the “boxes.” Sometimes a familiar name lurks under the letters, such as “W. W.” — “Walter Whitman,” being thanked for his essay before its appearance in the BJ. All of these receive whatever comment is useful in the [page xxvi:] notes and are listed in the Index, but many more unknowns should yield their secret to scholarly delving.

Another type of editorial opinion is attached to pieces of printed material — not by Poe, in the main text, but furnished in his footnote or headnote: e.g., his three sentence footnote to Whitman’s “Art-Singing and Heart-Singing” agreeing with Whitman’s view of music. (See also his headnote to Fuller’s satire [220]). Either through an excerpt from the text or a summary in my notes, the reader is apprised of the connection of Poe’s comment and the text.

The articles in the BJ of an essay nature rather than in the form of editorial opinion are important in that they include the five long installments of “The Little Longfellow War” (q.v. in Introduction) and deal with plagiarism, imitativeness, and originality. While lacking cogency, balance, and effective rhetorical development as a whole, and being obsessively hostile to Longfellow’s works, they raise basic issues both on the broad topic of what is meant by artistic composition and on Poe’s relations with contemporary writers. Tangential to these are his several short statements on copyright, encouragement of native American talents, publishers’ payments and standards of criticism in the other arts as well. (The article, “Some Secrets of the Magazine Prison-House,” 1.103-4, appears in TOM’S Sketches, pp. 1206-1210). There are a few short articles on nonliterary themes, resembling in style and development several essays that he inserted into BGM in 1839-40; these relied upon sedulous notetaking from other sources, especially encyclopaedias. “Street Paving” is to be assumed of this nature (94-96), while “Anastatic Printing” utilized a contemporary British magazine (83-86; also, 13536). A third area began with his sketch of Willis — of the type that he developed into the accounts of the “literati” in Godey’s, the next year; we remember Poe’s stress on such biographies in his prospectuses. The short satire on Margaret Fuller, with its picture, also underscores his wish for meaningful illustration, which the indigence of the magazine soon terminated.

THE DRAMA

While it had long been customary for weekly journals to review the current drama, Briggs himself was hostile to that field of criticism as he stated in BJ (1.30), giving some highly prejudicial arguments about typically poor acting and imitation of the British stage. He would have minimized the amount, but Poe must have prevailed, through his respect for the theatre, as N. Bryllion Fagin has well shown. He started with a long review on “The New Comedy,” Fashion by Anna C. Mowatt, whom he greatly admired, and continued with occasional reviews and short references that may [page xxxvii:] be followed in my Index, under “drama,” “theaters” (such as the Park, Niblo’s New Bowery, Palmo’s) and specific actors and also elocutionists (Mowatt, Murdoch, Vandenhoff); see also, Dinneford, the manager (anent honest dramatic criticsm, 96-98), and Shakespeare for the stage and its literature. Sorting out Poe’s dramatic criticism apart from that of Watson, in the second volume, has been difficult because some of the review material is obviously dependent upon the accounts of the daily press. Moreover, James E. Murdoch, Poe’s friend, was obviously used for filling out empty pages during the last few difficult months of the journal. Watson also contributed unsigned reviews, which I have had to eliminate. Poe’s genuine articles serve well in clarifying phases of his thought about imitation, parallel progress in the different arts, and stage intrigue or plot.

MUSIC

As early as March Briggs seemed willing to accord a prominent role to music criticism and offered Henry Cood Watson (1818-1875) terms similar to those of Poe (see Ehrlich’s account at note 33). Yet he surely had to contribute in other fields to justify an equal share in the income — small as it proved to be. Even the brief DAB article shows him as of high reputation and considerable versatility in journalistic writing. We should note that for the 10/11 BJ Watson wrote a tale, “The Falling Star” (2.208-210) and a column on the “National Gallery at the Rotunda” (signed “W.” right over Poe’s on “The Ivory Christ,” signed “P.” in print [2.213-14]). Watson’s “appreciation” is extremely literal and gauche. This is a sequel to one of 9/20, unsigned but mentioning “much familiarity with the galleries of England” (169), with an overblown essay on his trip to an art auction at Bordentown (194-196). Apparently he worked also for the British New York weekly, The Albion, and Willis’s New Mirror, earlier. He was always on good terms with Poe, but was diverted from the BJ by his many musical activities, such as lectures, music composition and teaching (see 264 of facsimile text), and the organization of music groups, including the Philharmonic Society of New York. Hence, his name was dropped from the masthead of the 10/25 issue, although traces of Watson’s presence still can be found later, in music references and in “Editorial Miscellany” borrowings from the press abroad. For example, the first paragraph of the last “Fine Arts” column in the 1/3/46 issue (2.406) mentions “Chapin [sic], the celebrated composer and pianist“ — the man whom James Huneker regarded as Poe’s musical parallel. Poe’s intense interest in music, both as performed and as basic to prosody must also be noted (see Pollin, [H]). Occasionally but rarely here he felt qualified to comment on Mendelssohn’s music for Antigone or the quality of [page xxxviii:] performances (see index for “music,” Alpers, Antigone, Donizetti, and Loder).

ART

Poe’s keen interest in the graphic arts was manifested in his attention to details of illustration, binding, cover decoration, and paper quality in his reviews, as well as in his frequent references to renowned artists of the present and past, reflecting his reading and visits to galleries (see Pollin, [1] Part 1). A partiality for woodcut illustrations marked the plans of both Poe and Briggs and while the funds permitted, Briggs managed to have this feature in volume 1, but volume 2 has only a steel plate of the organ of Trinity Church, described in the text of 10/11, 214-217. Briggs himself often discussed art gallery exhibitions and invited his friend William Page, an artist whom Poe himself admired, to contribute a series of six very technical and very dull articles on “The Use of Color in Imitation in Painting” (see the pages in Poe’s Index under “Paintings”). Evidently both Poe and Briggs shared many views about the role of art in the magazine, and Poe even lent his letter press to a wood cut caricature of Margaret Fuller. The use of Gavarni sketches was apologetically acknowledged by Briggs (see notes to 44/19). After the departure of Briggs, Poe was probably unhappy with Watson’s coverage of art and essayed to review exhibitions of two pieces of sculpture; see “The Ivory Christ” and “Sortie du Bain” in the Index. His use of source material and the terms employed were rather interesting than enlightening. See also, in the Index, pages given for other Poe art discussions under C. E. Lester, Hiram Powers, Harper’s . . . Bible, Martin’s . . . Bible, Titian, Raffaelle, and art.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:0 - BRP4J, 1986] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (B. R. Pollin) (Major Topics Treated by Poe)