A Few Minor Poe Topics


Poe, Music and the Arts

This is really several minor topics as it covers influences of music and the arts on Poe’s works and the use or influence of his works on music and art. In 1844, Poe wrote to J. R. Lowell that he was “. . . profoundly excited by music . . .” (“[Poe to Lowell, July 2, 1844],” Ostrom, Letters, p. 257). It is reasonable that Poe, living in such a cultural center as New York, would have heard performances of music by Beethoven and Shubert, perhaps even Chopin, Mendelssohn and Johann Strauss (the father of that esteemed family, justifiably known as the Waltz King). The works of Johann Sebastian Bach, neglected since his death in 1750, began to enjoy a revival in 1829. Such speculations, however reasonable, cannot be confirmed. Only a few are mentioned by name. A minor reference to Mozart appears in Poe’s “Marginalia” series, in which Poe mentions a well-known anecdote: “Mozart declared, on his death-bed, that he ‘began to see what may be done in music;’ and it is to be hoped that De Meyer and the rest of the spasmodists will, eventually, begin to understand what may not be done in this particular branch of the Fine Arts” (Southern Literary Messenger, July 1849). As B. R. Pollin notes, De Meyer was a professional pianist, known for his violent style of playing (Burton R. Pollin, ed, The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe - Volume 2: The Brevities, New York: Goridan Press, 1985, p. 403b). The significant detail, at least, is that Poe clearly took an active interest in performances of music. An 1844 essay on “The Swiss Bell-Ringers” includes a reference that they play “. . . with a delicate harmony and precision, which are as perfect in a symphony of Haydn as in ‘Miss Lucy Long’” (New York Evening Mirror, October 10, 1844, reprinted in Mabbott, Tales and Sketches, p. 1119). In Poe’s story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Roderick Usher plays “improvised dirges,” one being “a certain singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber.” (Although this waltz was attributed to Karl Maria Von Weber during Poe’s lifetime, it was later discovered to be by Karl Gottlieb Reissiger. See Mabbott, Tales and Sketches, p. 418n9 and Pollin, Discoveries in Poe, pp. 85-86.) Wagenknect makes, but does not attribute, the claim that Poe “. . . sang and played the flute, and after his marriage encouraged and perhaps guided Virginia’s music-making” (Edward Wagenknecht, Edgar Allan Poe: The Man Behind the Legend, p. 111).

  • Evans, May Garrettson, Music and Edgar Allan Poe: A Bibliographical Study, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1939.
  • Hovland, Michael, Musical Settings of American Poetry, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 302-315.
  • Idol, John L., Jr. and Sterling K. Eisiminger, “Performance of Operas Based on Poe’s Fiction: A Supplementary Listing,” Poe Studies, XV, 1982, p. 42.
  • Lenhart, Charmenz S., “Poe and Music,” Musical Influence on American Poetry, Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1956, (chapter V)  pp. 125-160.
  • Pollin, Burton R., “More Music to Poe,” Music and Letters, LIV, October 1973, pp. 391-404.
  • Pollin, Burton R., “Music and Edgar Allan Poe: A Second Annotated Check List” and “Addendum to Part I,” Poe Studies, XV, June 1982, pp. 7-13, 42.
  • Pollin, Burton R., “Music and Edgar Allan Poe: A Third Annotated Check List,” Poe Studies, XXVI, June/December 1993, pp. 41-58.
  • Pollin, Burton R., “Poe and the Dance,” Studies in the American Renaissance IV, 1980, pp. 169-182. (Reprinted in Insights and Outlooks: Essays on Great Writers, New York: Gordian Press,1986, pp. 130-146.)


Poe and Phrenology

Phrenology is the study of the shape of the human head and its influences on personality, morality and intellect. Although appropriately dismissed today as nonsense, in Poe’s day many considered it a valid science. Poe’s broad forehead was said to demonstrate his great intellect, a comment that no doubt influenced Poe’s early interest in the subject. In 1841, Poe wrote to his friend F. W. Thomas, “. . . Speaking of heads -- my own has been exhamined by several phrenologists -- all of whom spoke of me in a species of extravaganza which I should be ashamed to repeat” ([“Poe to Thomas, October 27, 1841],” Ostrom, Letters, p. 185.) As Mabbott notes (Mabbott, Tales and Sketches, p. 1226-1227n2),  Poe “. . . came to distrust its [phrenology’s] validy. He removed an alusion to it from ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue,’ and another from ‘The Black Cat.’” His references in “The Imp of the Perverse” seem to suggest ridicule as does his first installment of the “Marginalia” series: “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” (United States Magazine and Democratic Review, November 1844).

  • Hungerford, Edward, “Poe and Phrenology,” American Literature, II, 1930, pp. 209-231.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan, “[Review of Mrs. Miles’ Phrenology, and the Moral Influence of Phrenology . . . by Mrs. L. Miles],” Southern Literary Messenger, March 1836. (Poe begins with the claim that “Phrenology is no longer to be laughed at. It is no longer laughed at by men of common understanding. It has assumed the majesty of a science; and, as a science, ranks among the most important which can engage the attention of thinking beings. . . . “)
  • Poe, Edgar Allan, “[Review of Robert Walsh’s Didactics -- Social, Literary, and Political],” Southern Literary Messenger, May 1836. (This review ends with the following passing reference: “The only paper in the Didactics, to which we have any decided objection, is a tolerably long article on the subject of Phrenology, entitled ‘Memorial of the Phrenological Society of -- to the Honorable the Congress of -- sitting at --.’ Considered as a specimen of mere burlesque the Memorial is well enough -- but we are sorry to see the energies of a scholar and an editor (who should be, if he be not, a man of metaphysical science) so wickedly employed as in any attempt to throw ridicule upon a question, (however much maligned, or however apparently ridiculous) whose merits he has never examined, and of whose very nature, history, and assumptions, he is most evidently ignorant. Mr. Walsh is either ashamed of this article now, or he will have plentiful reason to be ashamed of it hereafter.”)
  • Poe, Edgar Allan, “The Imp of the Perverse” (T. O. Mabbott, ed., The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe - Volume III: Tales and Sketches, Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 1217-1227).
  • Stauffer, Donald Barlow, “Poe as Phrenologist: The Example of Monsieur Dupin” in Richard P. Veler, ed., Papers on Poe: Essays in Honor of John Ward Ostrom, Springfiled, Ohio: Chantry Music Press, Inc at Wittenberg University, pp. 113-125.


Poe and Crytography

Poe was generally interested in the idea of secret codes and exceedingly proud of his ability to translate them. His review of Walsh’s Sketches of Conspicous Living Characters of France includes the passing reference: “The difficulty of decyphering may well be supposed much greater had the key been in a foreign tongue; yet any one who will take the truble may address us a note in the same manner as here proposed, and the key-phrase may be in either French, Italian, Spanish, German, Latin, or Greek (or in any of the dialects of these languages), and we pledge ourselves for the solution of the riddle. The experiment may afford our readers some amusement -- let them try it” (Graham’s Magazine, April 1841). Responses to this challenge resulted in two subsequent essays, specifically on the topic of secret writings and their decipherment.

  • Brigham, Clarence S., Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, Worcester, Massachusetts: The American Antiquarian Society, 1943. (Reprints several articles by Poe which deal with cryptograms.)
  • Irwin, John T., “Part Two: Poe”, American Hieroglyphics: The Symbol of Egyptian Hieroglypics in the American Renaissance, Boston: Yale University Press, 1980. (Reprinted in paperback Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.)
  • Poe, Edgar Allan, “A Few Words on Secret Writing,” Graham’s Magazine, July 1841.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan, “ Secret Writing [Addendum to ‘A Few Words on Secret Writing’],” Graham’s Magazine, August 1841.
  • Rosenheim, Shawn James, The Cryptographic Imagination: Secret Writing from Edgar Poe to the Internet, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.


Poe and the Psychoanalysts

The temptation to seek through Poe’s works for signs of his personality and mental processes is apparently irresistible. Certainly a large number of Poe scholars and devotees have failed to resist it. Many, indeed, clearly reveled in it to a degree which encourages one to question the sanity of these self-same researchers. For some time discredited (along with many of Freud’s theories), the French school of literary criticism reawakened the approach, which still reigns strongly among a handful of scholars. It seems curious that these same scholars, who would be unlikely to confuse William Shakespeare for Richard III (Richard III) or Charles Dickens for Fagin (Oliver Twist) , foolishly insist on mistaking Poe for Roderick Usher (“The Fall of the House of Usher”) or any number of his anonymous narrators. Given the opportunity, Poe would perhaps say of his psychoanalysts what his character C. Auguste Dupin said in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” of the French detective Vidocq: “He impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole.”

  • Basler, Roy P., “The Interpretation of ‘Ligeia’,” College English, V, APril 1944, pp. 363-372. (Reprinted in Roy P. Basler, Sex, Symbolism, and Psychology in Literature, 1948, pp. 143-159. Basler’s collection also contains analyses of “The Valley of the Unrest,” and “Ulalume,” with an additional article on “Poe’s Dream Imagery.” The “Ligeia” article also reprinted in Robert Regan, ed., Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1967, pp. 51-63.)
  • Bett, W. R., “Edgar Allan Poe: The Oedipus Complex and Genius,” The Infirmities of Genius, New York: Philosophical Library, 1952, pp. 67-78.
  • Bonaparte, Marie P., The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychoanalysis, translated by John Rodker, London: Imago, 1949. (Originally published in French in 1933 and German in 1934.)
  • Goudiss, Charles Houston, M. D., “Edgar Allan Poe: A Pathological Study,” The Book News Monthly, XXV, August 1907, pp. 801-803. (This short article presents Poe as suffering from dipsomania, attempting to show that “his faults were constitutional rather than vicious.”)
  • Krutch, Joseph Wood, Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius, New York: A. A. Knopf, 1926.
  • Muller, John P., Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida, and Psychoanalytic Reading, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.
  • Pruette, Lorine, “A Psycho-Analytical Study of Edgar Allan Poe,” American Journal of Psychology, XXXI, October 1920, pp. 370-402. (Reprinted in Hendrick M. Ruitenbeek, The Literary Imagination: Psycho-analysis and the Genius of the Writer, Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965, pp. 391-432.)
  • Robertson, John W., Edgar Allan Poe: A Psychopathic Study, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1923.
  • Stewart, Dr. Robert Armistead, The Case of Edgar Allan Poe: Pathological Study Based on the Investigations of Lauviere, Richmond, Virginia: Whittet and Shepperson, 1910.
  • Tucker, Beverly Randolph, “Poe -- A Psychological View,” The Reviewer, III, April 1923, pp. 829-833.
  • Wood, Clement, “Edgar Allan Poe: Kubla in Hell,” Southern Magazine, I, March 1924, pp. 47-50, 87-96.
  • Yewdale, Merton S., “Edgar Allan Poe, Pathologically,” North American Review, CCXII, November 1920, pp. 686-696.
  • Young, Philip, “The Early Psychologists and Poe,” American Literature, XXII, January 1951, pp. 442-454.


Poe and Outis

In the New York Evening Mirror (January 14, 1845), Poe launched the first of what would be a series of seven articles denouncing the well-known poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as a plagiarist. Longfellow, who prided himself on never responding to even his harshest critics, remained silent on the matter. According to N. P. Willis, Poe made the attack in part because he felt that “Longfellow is asleep on velvet; it will do him good to rouse him. His friends will come out and fight his battle” (Mabbott, “Annals,” Poems, 1969, p. 557). Indeed, a defender for Longfellow did appear, an anonymous writer who signed his letters only as “Outis,” meaning “nobody.” After the one article in the Evening Mirror, Poe continued his attacks on Longfellow in The Broadway Journal, with one final volley in the pages of the Aristidean (April 1845). Almost immediately, Poe labeled the exchange “The Little Longfellow War,” a sufficiently light title that suggests Poe’s attack was made without any malice or true hostility. A great deal of speculation has centered around the identity of Outis, with several scholars asserting that he was none other than Poe himself. Given Poe’s fondness for playing hoaxes, the possibility has an undeniably tantalizing appeal although it cannot be proven with any certainty. The great Poe scholar T. O. Mabbott stated only “That Poe himself wrote the defense of Longfellow . . . is not certain; I incline to believe so” (Mabbott, “Annals,” Poems, 1969, p. 557 n5). Burton Pollin agrees strongly with Mabbott, but others have taken differing positions. The controversy continues to this day and will probably go on for many years unless some definitive evidence is discovered.

  • Campbell, Killis, “Who Was Outis?,” University of Texas Studies in English, VIII, 1928, pp. 107-109. (This article asserts that Poe was Outis.)
  • Ljungquist, Kent and Buford Jones, “The Identity of ‘Outis’: A Further Chapter in the Poe-Longfellow War,” American Literature, LX, 1988, pp. 402-415. (This article argues that Outis was Lawrence Labaree.)
  • Ljungquist, Kent, “Letter to the Editor” PSA Newsletter, XVII, no. 1, Spring 1989 p. 6 (with a reply by Dwight Thomas)
  • Pollin, Burton R., “Poe as the Author of the ‘Outis’ Letter and ‘The Bird of the Dream’,” Poe Studies, XX, 1987, pp. 10-15.
  • Pollin, Burton R., “Notes to The Broadway Journal,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe - Volume 4: Writings in The Broadway Journal - Part 2, The Annotations, New York: Gordian Press, 1986. (Several notes, including: p. l-li, p. 31 n 31/6, p. 32-33 n31/91 and p. 43 n48/25-27.)
  • Pollin, “Letter to the Editor” PSA Newsletter, XVII, no. 2, Fall 1989 pp. 6-7 (with a reply by Dwight Thomas)
  • Thomas, Dwight, “Outis: A Gordian Knot Still Bekons” PSA Newsletter, XVI, no. 2, Fall 1988 pp. 3-4


[S:0 - JAS] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - General Topics - A Few Minor Poe Topics