Text: Burton R. Pollin, “The Provenance and Correct Text of Poe’s Review of Griswold’s Female Poets of America, ” Poe Newsletter­, April 1969, Vol. II, No. 2, 2:35-36


[page 35, column 1:]

The Provenance and Correct Text
Of Poe’s Review of Griswold’s Female Poets of America

City University of New York, Bronx Community College

In Volume XI of his edition of Poe’s works, James A. Harrison includes an article first printed by Rufus W. Griswold under the caption, “Mr. Griswold and the Poets” (1). This purports to be a twofold review of Griswold’s The Poets and Poetry of America and The Female Poets of America, and bears a note taken by Harrison from Griswold’s 1850 edition: “Text: Griswold, 1849; Boston Miscellany, November, 1842.” A moment’s thought will indicate that the two sections should not have been placed together, since the second of the two Griswold anthologies was published in December, 1848, with the issue date of 1849. Clearly this part of the review does not belong in Poe’s “Middle Period of Criticism,” as Harrison terms his Volumes X and XI. The title of the article, moreover, is Griswold’s, not Poe’s, in contradiction of Harrison’s boast: “The thirty or forty reviews and sketches of our Volumes X and XI appear with Poe’s own titles affixed to them” (Harrison, X, vi). He then directly cites the instances of the articles on Hawthorne and the “poetical Davidson sisters,” in which “Griswold (followed by recent editors) has proceeded in a peculiar manner with the original matter.” Harrison explains how he has had to separate the parts of articles that were not originally printed as one. Yet, why did he not indicate the source of the 1849 review by Poe, instead of accepting Griswold’s caption and his possibly defective text? He maintained: “We are responsible only for the purity of his text. . . . . Old reviews, when reprinted, have been carefully corrected by the originals” (Harrison, X, viii). It is all the more strange since Harrison reprinted a Poe letter of 1849, probably forged by Griswold for his 1850 “Preface” to the “Memoir” in the works of Poe, which expressly alludes to his notice of The Female Poets in the “forthcoming” Southern Literary Messenger (2).

One would imagine that the obvious contradiction of Harrison’s printing two reviews, of 1842 and 1849, as one article would have struck Arthur Hobson Quinn as well, when he was accumulating the material for his biography of Poe; he was also carefully checking the distortions of Griswold in editing Poe’s literary remains, as indicated in his detailed chapter on the matter: “The Recoil of Fate” (3). Quinn, specifically, traced the text of the first part of the article, in the Boston Miscellany, and noted that the review “contains a list of the authors treated by Griswold, usually omitted in reproductions” (4). Surely, Griswold’s omissions in the second part, of more importance, should have been noted.

Before I noticed the 1849 letter, printed by Griswold and Harrison, I had found the correct source in checking through the reviews for The Female Poets as listed in the Early American Periodicals Index on microcards: The [column 2:]Southern Literary Messenger for February, 1849, XV, 126-127 (5). It is strange indeed that Benjamin Blake Minor, in his book on The Southern Literary Messenger, 1834-1864, did not discover this when he discussed the relationship of Poe and John Reuben Thompson, editor from 1847 (6). Even stranger is its being overlooked by David K. Jackson, when he compiled his book The Contributors and Contributions to The Southern Literary Messenger, since he includes a section on the work of Poe and knew Poe’s writings well from his studies (7). The review, of course, is unsigned. For 1849, Jackson lists Poe’s review of Lowell’s Fable for the Critics of March, the signed installments of the “Marginalia” for April, May, June, July, and September, and the signed article on Frances Sargent Osgood of August. Both Minor and Jackson could have followed the lead of Griswold’s forged letter and also of a bonafide Poe letter of June 28, 1849 (q.v., below, in my text), as well as the listing in Killis Campbell’s bibliography. Perhaps one reason for the oversight is the tendency of biographers to accept Poe’s statements about his contributions as being complete. Woodberry, for example, lists all those traced, without suggesting that there were more (8). Harrison may have contributed to the general failure to search and to check in stating: “Poe’s later contributions (after 1845) to ‘Graham’s, ’ ‘Godey’s’ and the ’Southern Literary Messenger’ were almost invariably signed with his name whose full commercial value he now thoroughly understood, as did the magazines: he had become too valuable a factor in the literary world to write anonymously” (I, xiii). If this were true, one might ask, why was Poe’s review of Lowell’s Fable published anonymously?

This review of Griswold’s Female Poets helps, a little, to solve a few minor points in Poe biography. It slightly substantiates Poe’s claim that “engagements to write are pouring in upon me every day” in his letter of January 21 [?], 1849, to Annie S. Richmond, although his humble “hope” that Thompson will print the review of the Fable (letter of February, 1849) belies this one too (9). The review, however, does serve to explain a statement in Poe’s letter of June 9, 1849, to John R. Thompson: “Please send me $10 if you can possibly spare it,” about which Ostrom comments: “Another installment of Poe’s ‘Marginalia ’ was printed in the June issue of the Southern Literary Messenger . . . . scarcely enough at $2 a page to make the sum asked for in the present letter; perhaps Thompson owed him for previous installments . . . .” (Ostrom, II, 446). The review of Female Poets, almost two pages, must also be added to that account. Poe’s letter of June 28, 1849 to Griswold directly starts: “Since I have more critically examined your ‘Female Poets ’ it occurs to me that you have not quite done justice to our common friend, Mrs. Lewis: and if you could oblige me so far as to substitute, for your no doubt hurried notice, a somewhat longer one prepared by myself (subject, of course, to your emendations) I would reciprocate the favor when, where, and as you please” (Ostrom, II, 450-451). He continues in this strain, giving particulars about Griswold’s calling for his article on Mrs. Lewis, presumably for another edition of the Female Poets and about defraying expenses — all of which were, of course, borne by the ambitious Estella Anne Lewis and her husband. Griswold did, indeed, call for the notice and published [page 35:] it after Poe’s death under her name (Works, 1850, I, 242-249).

There yet remain two questions: What changes did Griswold make and for what reason? (There is no need to comment on Harrison’s error in misspelling the name “Carey” four times, by omitting the “e” which is in Griswold’s text as well as in the Messenger.) Griswold first omitted Poe’s phrase after the listing of his three anthologies in the first sentence: “previous compilations of Mr. Griswold.” In the second sentence Poe wrote: “Compilations, however, is not precisely the word; for these works have indisputable claims upon public attention, etc.” Griswold dropped all the words up to “these works” in his reprinting. Obviously, he chafed under the sobriquet of “compiler,” especially since he had added critical and biographical comments to the selections. His next omission was a parenthetical identification. To the Griswold-Harrison sentence, “We allude especially to the case of Miss Talley,” Poe had originally added this: “(the ‘Susan’ of our own Messenger).” One can see the significance of this from David K. Jackson’s listing of her many poems in the Messenger, always signed “Susan, Richmond” or “Susan, Henrico” (that being the county of which Richmond was the seat): in 1845, three; in 1846, six; in 1847, one; in 1848, eight; and in 1849, three (Jackson, pp. 77-98). I assume that Griswold was deliberately and pettily trying to conceal the provenance of the review from readers of the Works in this fashion. Yet, apparently as an afterthought, in his “Preface” he inserted the forged letter “which appears to have been written early in 1849,” chiefly for the purpose of dwelling on Poe’s craven apology for his “Lecture on the American Poets” (10).

The last omission in Griswold’s reprint of the review is that of the final sentence: “The most glaring omissions are those of Mrs. C. F. Orne and Miss Mary Wells.” To point up Griswold’s oversight, Poe had even italicized the word “omissions.” It may, of course, be that Griswold did not think this to be such a heinous defect in his anthology, but fairly strong personal motivation must have led to his editorial tampering with the given text (11). Perhaps Poe’s reasons for thus highlighting these two names at the end needs exploration. Neither lady was very eminent, and only one of them was to achieve the distinction of a book — and that much later; Mrs. Caroline Francis (sic) Orne (1818-1906), of the distinguished Massachusetts family of the Stones, whose estate of Sweet Auburn eventually became Mount Auburn cemetery, published Sweet Auburn and Mount Auburn (1873) and Morning Songs of American Freedom (1876) . Up to the time of Poe’s review she had “contributed prose and poetry to the ‘Worcester Spy ’ and the magazines,” according to the National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, the only source of information that I could find (12). More obscure is the name of Miss Wells, who apparently never published any books, but did contribute to the Messenger, according to David K. Jackson (pp. 72, 77, 83, 93, and 98). Mary G. Wells published original poems and translations of sonnets of Petrarch as follows: three in 1845; one in February, 1846; one in 1848; and one in June, 1849. The last bore the highly significant title, “Eureka,” perhaps borrowed from the “prose poem” of a far greater writer, and when we notice her apparent residence in Philadelphia, a place so formative in Poe’s life during the [column 2:] 1840’s, we become curious about a name that is otherwise entirely absent from Poe’s works and might have remained absent, thanks to Griswold.



(1)  Griswold, The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1850), III, 283-292, “The Literati and Criticism”; Harrison, The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1902), XI, 147-160. Textual references will be made to this edition under “Harrison.”

(2)  I have found no discussion of this letter, which is omitted from the collection of Poe’s letters made by Ostrom (see n. 5 below), but the original has not been found, according to Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe (Cambridge, Mass., 1933), p. 88, n. 1; and Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe (New York, 1941), p. 354, n. 16, casts doubt upon its authenticity.

(3)  Quinn, Poe, Ch. XX, pp. 642-695, see also pp. 279-281, and 443-450; also Campbell, The Mind of Poe, pp. 84-98.

(4)  Quinn, Poe, p. 351, n. 11, refers to the Boston Miscellany, II (November 1842), 218-221.

(5)  I have also found it listed in Heartman and Canny, A Bibliography of First Printings of the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (Hattiesburg, Miss., 1943), p. 261, and indicated in the notes in the Supplement to John Ward Ostrom, The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (rev. ed., New York, 1968), II, 722. Killis Campbell also lists it in his Bibliography for Chapter XIV of the Cambridge History of American Literature (New York, 1918), II, 460.

(6)  Minor, The Messenger (New York, 1905), pp. 166-167.

(7)  Jackson, The Contributors to The Messenger (Charlottesville, Virginia, 1936), p. 97.

(8)  George E. Woodberry, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe (Boston 1909), II, 296.

(9)  Ostrom, Letters, II, 418 and 427.

(10)  The letter of “Poe to Griswold” can be found in Harrison, XVII, 326-327, reprinted from Griswold’s “Preface” to “The Memoir of the Author.” Ostrom, Letters, II, 624-625, drops it entirely from his “Check List” of the early part of 1849, with no explanation or discussion.

(11)  There is no hint of any involvement of Griswold with the two women in Joy Bayless’s well-indexed Rufus Wilmot Griswold (Nashville, Tennessee, 1943).

(12)  National Cyclopaedia (New York, 1929), VI, 299.


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[S:1 - PSDR, 1969]