Text: Rufus Wilmot Griswold, “Poe’s ’Raven’ in The Poets and Poetry of America,” New York Daily Times, vol. V, no. 1301, November 19, 1855, p. 1, col. 4


­[page 315, column 4:]

Poe’s “Raven,” in “The Poets and Poetry of America.”

To the Editor of the New-York Daily Times:

SIR: In a notice of the sixteenth edition of The Poets and Poetry of America, in the TIMES for the 12th instant, is the following paragraph:

“We submit that Dr. GRISWOLD has no right to take POES “Raven,” and entirely change its appearance, as he has done, by printing it, not as POE wrote it, but to suit some fancy of his own, or, it is yet more probable, to suite the double columns of the book. As it is, the poem has not its own peculiar look. Mr. POE gave five full and one short line to each stanza. Dr. GRISWOLD breaks these up into eleven, and thereby destroys the actual identity of the poem. In like manner, it may be presumed, he would take MACAULAYS “Virginia” and double its length, as well as change its individuality, by breaking each Elizabethan line into a brace of ordinary eights and sixes.”

“The Raven” was first printed in Poets and Poetry of America in the Spring of 1845, (soon after its original publication in the Whig Review,) from a manuscript copy furnished by the author. A proof was sent to him; on reading it he suggested that the poem would look better if the lines were divided, each upon the fourth trochee, except the last in each stanza, which, consisting already of three and a half feet of that kind, needed no division for the purposes in view; the change was, therefore, made, and on returning a second proof, he wrote me the letter which I inclose for your inspection, expressive of the satisfaction he felt at its improved appearance “in short meter.” Thus you will perceive that you were mistaken in supposing I have taken any unwarrantable liberties with what you are pleased to call “the actual identities of the poem.”

That Mr. POE wished it always to be printed in short lines is evident from the facts that, in the several autograph copies of it which he made for his friends, and in a copy which he prepared very carefully for a London publisher, who proposed issuing an edition of his poems, he wrote it so. Besides, as he lived more than four years after I printed “The Raven” in this manner, if he had disapproved of the change, or if the change had been made without his authority, you may readily believe that he would have indicated his feelings on the subject in some altogether unmistakeable way.

I make this correction of your error respecting “The Raven,” lest your paragraph should lead others, not less acute, to similar criticisms of my book. Probably more than one hundred of the poems which it contains were printed from the autographs of their authors, or from copies in which they had made alterations. This was the case with all those by RICHARD HENRY WILDE, with two by JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, and with others by Judge HOPKINSON, WASHINGTON ALLSTON, ANDREWS NORTON, Bishop DOANE, OTWAY CURRY, JOHN NEAL, C. F. HOFFMAN, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, CHARLES G. LELAND, HENRY W. PARKER, and, no doubt, many whose names I do not now remember.

Your obedient servant,  

NOVEMBER 15, 1855.



This letter is in a similar vein to Griswold’s private letter of June 8, 1852 to Wm. J. Pabodie, an overly bombastic assault against a relatively minor point of disagreement, with implicit demands for complete surrender and retraction — and something less in terms of merit than might be suggested by the air of confident authority. Although Poe’s letter to Griswold, returning the proofsheets, is dated April 19, 1845, “The Raven” did not appear in Griswold’s anthology until 1847. (This delay was probably caused by the fact that The Poets and Poetry of America was printed from stereoplates, a great convenience for reprinting a popular book, but something of a complication in making substantial additions or changes. Inserting a new poem of some length would alter the already established pagination and table of contents. Because a new edition did not already require the considerable effort of new type, and a good deal of care would be needed to make changes to the stereoplates, it was likely considered impractical to add “The Raven” until a point in time when other substantial alterations in the anthology were needed.)

Although Griswold claims that Poe sent him a manuscript, he more likely printed the text from the Broadway Journal (February 8, 1845), with changes and corrections made by Poe on the printed pages or in the proof sheets, as documented in Poe’s letter. (No manuscript of “The Raven” appears to have been among Griswold’s papers. It was common practice to discard such material after the text had been set in type, but it seems more likely that a manuscript of a poem that had already achieved such celebrity would have been retained as an autograph.)

More importantly, Poe’s letter clearly indicates that he is willing to accept the short lines, but does not establish that he requested or substantively advocated them. (Indeed, the charge of the Times that this form was adopted for the sake of fitting in the columnar format of the book is quite probably true, although the attending charge that this format somehow intrinsically ruins the poem seems unwarranted.) Unfortunately, Griswold did not stop at making the reasonable defense that his change was made with Poe’s permission. Using Griswold’s own assertion of the Spring of 1845 as a starting point, there are five texts that were subsequently created under Poe’s own authority, omitting The Poets and Poetry of America for the sake of evaluating the claim made in Griswold’s comments above to the Times. Of these five texts, which include a full manuscript of the poem written as an autograph in 1848 and a revised printed text personally overseen by Poe in the weeks preceding his death, not one uses the short lines — the precise opposite of the assertion made. (In three other instances, including an autograph of a single stanza, Poe quoted some isolated lines from the poem. Only in his review of the poems of William Lord, from the Broadway Journal of May 24, 1845, where two lines are quoted, did he use the short form, and here the choice may have been made to emphasize his point about similarities between “The Raven” and a poem by Mr. Lord. Outside of Poe’s letter to Griswold, no autograph of the poem using the short lines is known to exist.) Even in collecting the poem in the posthumous edition of Poe’s works which Griswold himself edited (published in 1850), “The Raven” appears in long lines, although here another controversy emerged with the apparently unauthorized addition of an “s” to “mortal” in the fifth stanza.

The statement about a London publisher is more curious. No such publisher can be identified, and the only edition of Poe’s poems to be printed in England during Poe’s lifetime, in 1846, was a reprint of The Raven and Other Poems by Wiley and Putnam. That edition used the same type as the American edition, with a new title page. Given Griswold’s evidently cavalier attitude towards offering supposed facts, and in the absence of independent verification, the information, while potentially intriguing, must be regarded with some suspicion.


[S:0 - NYDT, 1855] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Poe's Raven in The Poets and Poetry of America (R. W. Griswold, 1855)