Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Newsletter­, December 1970, vol. III, no. 2, 3:37-39


[page 39, column 2:]


This column is devoted to brief notes, comments, queries. We wish to provide here an outlet for such items as source notes which do not require the extended argument and proof that customarily attends them, and for items of very special or peculiar interest which otherwise might not appear. Contributions to this column should be one paragraph in form, not to exceed in length a page and a half of typescript, with all bibliographical citations enclosed in brackets.

Poe’s Use of Page and Lore in “Tamerlane”

No analysis has yet been offered for the ambiguous lines 81-85 of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “Tamerlane.” In these lines, the Mongol conqueror, Tamerlane, bemoans the waste he has made of his life by seeking power and acclaim rather than searching for ideal love and beauty. After speaking of passion and the “loveliness of loving well” and relating them to a beautiful childhood love, the narrator interjects another thought of his past:

Thus I remember having dwelt

Some page of early lore upon,

With loitering eye, till I have felt

The letters — with their meaning — melt

To fantasies — with none.

[11. 81-85]

At this point, he again turns to his discussion of love and the “she” who was “worthy of all love,” with no explanation of what the “page of early lore” is or to what it might refer. These five lines relate not merely to the literal sense of dreaming, but also to the theme of love, a relationship which yields a more satisfactory reading of the poem. In the lines preceding those quoted above, the narrator admits an inability to describe “the loveliness of loving well”; nor will he, he states, “attempt to trace / The more than beauty of a face” [11.77-78] suggesting, therefore, a need for figurative language. The “lineaments” of the face of a beautiful woman are the focal point of these lines implying, then, that Poe never did leave the subject of the woman’s face and that he has not abandoned his train of thought for five lines only to return thereafter to a further portrayal of the young woman. For one thing, the traditional use of the colon at the end of line 80 suggests that the lines which follow will be a restatement of the idea preceding it or, possibly, an example to reinforce that idea. An examination of all other situations in which the colon is employed in this poem reveals that this is indeed the precise use that Poe makes of it. Second, the word Thus at the beginning of the lines under consideration demonstrates even more forcefully the intricate relationships of these ideas with the subject matter of the lines just before. Consequently, an analytical reading of this section of the poem reveals that the “page of early lore” refers not to something outside the poem but to a subject already dwelt upon in the preceding lines, the face of the beautiful young woman, a face that was capable of “teaching” or “instructing” — in short, a lesson [as [page 38:] the OED defines lore ] “which is taught . . . . with reference to moral principles” [def. 2]. This same idea is, in fact, carried into the next stanza, with but slight modification: “. . . . as her young example taught” [1. 93]. One could argue for the synonymity of book and page as the terms are used by various writers. for one is but a short step removed from the other and the idea of something that instructs being a book is common in literature. Shakespeare saw “bookes in the running brooks” [As You Like It ]; Bacon advocated two books to study, “first the scriptures and then the creatures” [The Advancement of Learning ]. In 1822, J. G. Strutt referred to the “book of nature and of the human heart” [Sylva Britannica ]; and in 1834, Thomas Moore sharpened the metaphor with “My only books were woman’s looks” [”The Time I ’ve Lost in Wooing”]. Poe’s “Tamerlane” was first published in 1827, seven years before Moore’s poem; but as noted, the metaphor had a certain degree of popularity before then. This popularity adds strength to the probability of Poe’s using it as suggested above, with only a slight modification to fit his own design. On a figurative level, then, the page of lore to which the narrator refers in line 82 is the face of the beautiful woman whose love he has sacrificed for military success and its accompanying transient glory.

Gordon J. Loberger, Murray State University  

Poe’s Use of D’Israeli’s Curiosities
To Belittle Emerson

Of ten references to Emerson in Harrison’s Complete Works, only one is neutral, the rest ranging in tone from scorn to outright abuse. The most extreme occurs in the last of the “Marginalia” items, in Graham’s of December 1846 [Works, XVI, 122]. Here Poe draws a parallel between Emerson’s “aping” Carlyle and Arruntius’s “aping” Sallust for the latter’s “History of the Punic Wars.” Both the method and “the things imitated are identical,” he says. The use of a Latin parallel for denigration of Emerson follows Poe’s technique in the Emerson autography analysis in Graham’s of December 1841 [Works, XV, 260], where the parallel is drawn between Quintilian’s objection to a self-enraptured obscurantist and Emerson’s Carlylean mysticism. The source of Poe’s peculiar and very inappropriate parallel of Emerson with Sallust-Arruntius lies in Isaac D ’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature [New York reprint of 14th London ed., 1865 (I, 125)]. This entry was not traced by Earl Griggs, when he examined the “Pinakidia” for sources in this work [American Literature, I (1929), 196-199] nor by Stedman and Woodberry [Works of Poe (Chicago, 1905), IV, 289-294]. Without doubt, Poe had not read this very obscure Latin historian, whom D ’Israeli admittedly cites from Seneca, and he counted upon his readers ’ ignorance, since there was absolutely nothing “identical” in the subjects treated. It is instructive to observe Poe’s method in reshaping D ’Israeli’s phrases for his own purposes. The references to “the monkey of the original writer” and the “undiscerning herd of his apes” become “the aping of Sallust by Aruntius.” D ’Israeli’s imputation of a lack of motive to Arruntius for using so curious a style enables Poe to make him into the “fool” that Emerson “is not.” D ’Israeli’s phrase “obscure brevity” becomes “Laconism (which had the effect of diffuseness ....)” in Poe. D ’Israeli’s phrase “uncommon words” becomes “unusuality of expression.” Affected “qualities of style” and “servile affectation” lead to Poe’s “unaffected thought”; and “imitation” occurs in both passages. Clearly Poe merely adapted D ’Israeli’s passage, which is followed by a paragraph on similar coarse imitations by poor writers of the great figures of eighteenth-century England’s literary scene. Poe unwisely drops an “r” from D ’Israeli’s spelling of Arruntius, the form given by Seneca [Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium, no. 114] and by Tacitus in the Annales [11.6 and 7]. Had he looked into Seneca directly, Poe would have discovered how grossly D ’Israeli had exaggerated the “servile affectation” of Seneca’s subject, even while he filched many phrases from the Latin account. In Tacitus he would have found high praise of Lucius Arruntius, Consul of Rome.

Burton R. Pollin, The City University of New York, Bronx Community College [column 2:]  

Poe and Charles Lamb

Of the few Poe references to Charles Lamb which I noted in Charles Lamb in America to 1848 [Worcester, 1963] only a short review [Broadway Journal, II (September, 1845), 151] of Wiley & Putnam’s Essays of Elia (1845) was of much importance. Now Burton R. Pollin’s computer-assisted Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe’s Collected Works [New York, 1968] locates some half-dozen other comments; and they too prove to be largely incidental. Still, they help us to see how Poe (if unsteadily and only in part) viewed the English writer: as an “extravaganzist,” for example [XVI, 39 (Harrison’s ed.)]; as overly prone to Latinize (”gross imitation”) [XI, 60]; as much given to “covert conceit,” “hidden humor,” and “piquant allusion” [VIII, 320]. Elsewhere, Lamb, Hunt, and Hazlitt are deemed original; but their originality has, at best, an “uneasy and meretricious quaintness, replete with startling effects unfounded in nature, and inducing trains of reflection which lead to no satisfactory result” [XV, 105]. In his review of the 1845 Elia, Poe was more generous. “Of all the British essayists Charles Lamb is the most original.... Of all original men, too, Lamb, we think, has the fewest demerits. Of gross faults he has none at all. His merest extravagances have about them a symmetry which entitles them to critical respect.” In 1963 I rejected as Poe’s a review of Lamb’s Specimens of English Dramatic Poets Who Lived about the Time of Shakespeare [Broadway Journal, II (November 15, 1845), 287-289]. Judging largely on stylistic grounds, I couldn ’t believe that Poe had written: “We repine, we confess, at the taking down of this book from our shelf (it has been the dear companion of many joyful years), and leading it out into the market place. But as we hope for many sharers through it, in our old and longtime enthusiasm for the Elders — we submit that our fell-grief be made common, and that all mankind be let in to ‘joy in our joy, and sadden in our sadness. ’ ‘Farewell, old Friends! — The million spread their hands to take you. ’” (Poe failed to claim the piece when he marked the file of the Broadway Journal which he gave to Sarah Helen Whitman and which is now in the Huntington Library. To be sure, he didn ’t initial the notice of Elia, either; but the late Thomas O. Mabbott told me that Poe would have acknowledged such a substantial review as that of the Specimens.) As for the author’s “longtime enthusiasm for the Elders,” Killis Campbell (sans computer, but after assiduous collection of data) concluded: “Of the Elizabethan dramatists other than Shakespeare, [Poe] had, it appears, read little” [”Poe’s Reading,” University of Texas Studies in English, V (1925), 176]. Campbell, however, accepted the attribution and in the end Professor Mabbott agreed [Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe: I, Poems (Harvard University Press, 1969), 126]. I would welcome comment on this point.

Wallace Nethery, University of Southern California  

An Echo of Poe in
Of Time and the River

Thomas Wolfe’s over-all debt to Joyce, Proust, Whitman, and Melville has been frequently noted; and his affinity for the English Romantic poets — especially Shelley and Coleridge — is common knowledge. The numerous echoes of other writers in his novels, however, offer a subject which is only beginning to be explored. [See, for example, Floyd C. Watkins, “Thomas Wolfe’s High Sinfulness of Poetry,” Modern Fiction Studies, II (195657), 197-206, and Mark D. Hawthorne, “Thomas Wolfe’s Use of the Poetic Fragment,” Modern Fiction Studies, XI (1965), 234-244, both of which deal with verbal rather than rhythmic echoes in Wolfe’s work.] Among them is a distinct similarity to Poe’s “The Bells.” In a passage in Of Time and the River, in which the hero, Eugene Gant, is drunkenly surveying the dark Virginia landscape as he speeds by on the train at night, Wolfe employs a pattern of rhyme and rhythm which, if not identical with that of Poe’s refrain, is yet close enough to demand comparison. To facilitate such comparison, I shall divide [page 39:] the passage, which appears, of course, as prose in the original, into “poetic” lines typographically, and insert commas:

The broken moonlight shivers,

The broken moonlight quivers,

The light of many rivers

Lay dreaming in the moonlight,

Beaming in the moonlight,

Dreaming in the moonlight, moonlight, moonlight

Seeming in the moonlight, moonlight, moonlight,

To be gleaming to be streaming

In the moonlight, moonlight, moonlight, moonlight,

Moonlight, moonlight, moonlight, moonlight,

·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·      ·

— To be seeming to be dreaming in the moonlight!

[New York, 1935, p. 70]

Like Poe, Wolfe uses this pattern of rhyme and rhythm for onomatopoetic effect. The novelist’s effect is that of reproducing the hypnotic “clickety-clack” of the train as it passes rapidly over the railroad ties — an effect completely different from Poe’s re-creation of various bell sounds. Yet to an ear attuned to the compelling cadences of Wolfe’s poetic prose, the similarity in rhyme and rhythm to the endings of the stanzas in “The Bells” is inescapable. Though a minor point in itself, this echo indicates both the rich veins of literary allusion and parallel which Wolfean scholarship has yet to work, and the continuing fascination Poe’s magic-in-verse has for modern American writers.

Larry Rubin, Georgia Institute of Technology  

T. S. Eliot on “Poe the Detective”

B. R. McElderry in “T. S. Eliot on Poe” [PN, II, 32-33] carefully considers Eliot’s shifting critical attitude toward Poe as a poet. By drawing from several different sources which form the background of Eliot’s famous essay “From Poe to Valery,” McElderry plots the development of Eliot’s opinion of Poe the poet. He concludes that Eliot’s views of Poe are to be found in “scattered” sources, sometimes with “surface inconsistencies that need close comparison and attention to content. From these various comments it is evident that Eliot never really ‘liked ’ Poe, and felt superior to him in much the same way that Emerson and Henry James did.” Yet there is another facet of Poe that Eliot grew to admire very much — Poe the detective story writer. In Volume V of The New Criterion ( 1927), Eliot devotes much of the longer book-review sections to detective stories. In the first issue Eliot is biased against Poe, even contending that “the typical English detective story is free from the influence of Poe” (140). In this issue, containing Eliot’s first thoroughgoing consideration of English detective stories, Eliot would have his readers believe that Wilkie Collins is superior to Poe. Using what he considers the most perfect detective story, Collins ’ The Moonstone, as the basis for evaluative criteria, Eliot formulates five rules for the genre: 1) the story must not rely upon elaborate and incredible disguises; 2) the character and motive of the criminal should be normal; 3) the story must not rely either upon occult phenomena or, what comes to the same thing, upon mysterious and preposterous discoveries made by lonely scientists; 4) elaborate and bizarre machinery is an irrelevance; 5) the detective should be highly intelligent. Eliot soon becomes discouraged in his hopes of seeing good modern detective stories of the Collins type. In the third issue of the 1927 Criterion, we see Eliot showing admiration for Poe as a writer of superior detective stories. He says, “One likes in a detective story to have the pleasure of following the workings of one keen mind. In real keenness of wit and the way in which this keenness is exhibited no one has ever surpassed Poe’s Monsieur Dupin” (362) . Eliot feels that modern detective fiction in general is weak because “It has neither the austerity, the pure intellectual pleasures of Poe’s Marie Roget, nor has it the fullness and abundance of Wilkie Collins.” Eliot continues to hold a high opinion of Collins, but he now also thinks well of Poe. By the last issue [column 2:] of Volume V of Criterion, Eliot considers Poe one of the two (and in some ways the better of the two) great detective story writers in English. Thus, not only are there the “shifts in Eliot’s critical position on Poe” that Professor McElderry has detailed, but also there is an inverse shift in Eliot’s opinion of Poe as a writer of detective stories.

Judy Osowski, Washington State University  

A Further Word on Poe and Lolita

In his recently edited volume Vladimir Nabokov: The Annotated Lolita (New York, 1970), Alfred Appel, Jr., discusses at some length the “more than twenty” references to Edgar Allan Poe in Lolita, pointing out “the most specific — and obvious links” between the two and observing that “Poe allusions have been the most readily identifiable to readers and earlier commentators . . . .” (p. 331) . One of the earlier commentators was Arthur E. DuBois, who noted some years ago in The CEA Critic [XXVI (No. 6, 1963), 1, 7] the pervasiveness of Poe in Lolita, another more recent is Carl R. Proffer, who devotes several pages in his Keys to Lolita [Bloomington, Indiana, 1968, pp. 34-45] to developing analogies between the early love of Humbert (Nabokov’s narrator) for Lolita and Poe’s love for his child-bride, Virginia. Not pointed out by any of the above critics — perhaps because it is neither sufficiently specific nor obvious — is the incidental parody of “The Cask of Amontillado” in Chapter 35 of Lolita. Humbert Humbert, “lucidly insane, crazily calm” (Appel, p. 296), and thus in a comparable frame of mind to that of Montresor, has arrived at Pavor Manor on Grimm Road. Here he intends to carry out the revenge murder of Clare Quilty, who has seduced his beloved Lolita Encountering his victim, Humbert jests with him urbanely, delighting “to have him trapped, after those years of repentance and rage” (Appel, p. 297). (”The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could,” began Montresor.) Humbert’s insistence that his victim “must understand why he was being destroyed” (Appel, p. 299) recalls Montresor’s belief that a wrong is unredressed “when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.” Like Fortunato perceiving the mason’s trowel produced by Montresor, Quilty fails (or does not wish) to realize that the “little dark weapon” in Humbert’s palm is the instrument of his death, and he tries to make a jest of the matter. “’say! ’ he drawled . . . . ‘that’s a swell little gun you ’ve got there. What d ’you want for her? ’” (Appel, p. 299). As in “Amontillado,” the murderer is coldly methodical. Humbert fires numerous telling shots at Quilty just as Montresor immures Fortunato with relentless rows of brick. Both victims cry out as they recognize their fate. Fortunato, in “conical cap and bells” at carnival time, exclaims “For the love of God, Montresor!” Quilty, “in an absurd clownish manner” and while a parry is going on elsewhere in his house, cries, “Ah, that hurts, sir, enough! Ah, that hurts atrociously, my dear fellow. I pray you, desist. Ah — very painful, very painful, indeed . . . . God!” (Appel, p. 305). And both murderers are burdened rather than satisfied by their crimes. Humbert says, “Far from feeling any relief, a burden even weightier than the one I had hoped to get rid of was with me, upon me, over me” (Appel, p. 306). Like Montresor, whose “heart grew sick,” Humbert leaves the house “with a heavy heart” (Appel, p. 307). It was the murderer’s feeling of revulsion at the end of Poe’s story that Nabokov wished to catch at the conclusion of his own. In a 1967 interview in Wisconsin Studies (quoted by Appel, p. 437) Nabokov said that at the close of Lolita he wanted “to convey a constriction of the narrator’s sick heart, a warning spasm causing him to . . . . hasten to conclude his tale before it was too late.” The words echo Montresor’s — “I hastened to make an end of my labor.” For neither narrator was there to be peace of mind, Montresor lived on into mad senility like the Ancient Mariner, repeating his story about a cask of Amontillado, though it was murder that burned in his brain. And Humbert spent his remaining days writing of his love for Lolita, but it was the slaying of Quilty that he made the high point of his narrative.

George P. Clark, Hanover College


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1970]