Text: William Doyle Hull II, “Introduction,” A Canon of the Critical Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1941) , pp. i-viii


[page i:]


Until the present year there existed three Poe canons which which [[sic]] included the critical works: Harrison’s in volume XVI of the Virginia Poe; Campbell’s in the second volume of the Cambridge History of American Literature, pp. 456-460; and Robertson’s A Bibliography of the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe. By and large Harrison is the most valuable, though he is often at fault. His work with the Messenger and the Broadway Journal is based on erroneous methods; he ignores or includes under the phrase “and several brief notices” those Burton’s reviews which constitute the great majority; and he assigns to Poe in the Mirror only a series of translations, signed “E.P.,” printed before Poe’s connection with the Mirror and probably the work of an Emily Percival.(1) His canon includes many reviews not Poe’s and excludes many that are clearly his. Often his fault is the result of lack of thoroughness,(2) Many letters, however, are now available which were not available to him. Though it added many items and is usually correct, Campbell’s canon is inadequate: he lists only the more significant of those reviews the authenticity of which he is certain. It is also difficult to use; for it is supplemented by many scattered articles. Robertson is not to be trusted; his method is anything but scholarly. For Burton’s, for example, except for the June,1839 and 1840, issues, [page ii:] he includes all the reviews published during Poe’s connection with the magazine, save for two short ones which must have been overlooked. His canon is as likely to be wrong as right.

Last fall Heartman and Canny issued a Poe bibliography which is full of inaccuracies. The section on critical writings, which is far from complete, seems to be based on Campbell. This spring two bibliographies appeared. One, from the University of Pennsylvania, is obviously based on Robertson’s work, and shares his errors as well as perpetrating new ones; the other, from the Now York Public Library, is, as Poe would say, “neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring.” It screams with the most blatant, the most inexcusable errors. On the last page Mr. Mabbott has in brief form a canon for Burton’s and Graham’s which is of some value.

There is, then, a need for a definitive canon of Poe’s critical works, one which will carry on from Harrison and Campbell. That is the purpose of this study, the establishment of a canon of Poe’s critical writings as definitive as possible. Whether or not an absolutely definitive canon of this division of Poe’s work may ever be achieved is a matter for doubt. It seems improbable that conclusive evidence may ever be found for a large number of notices which are possibly Poe’s. In the absence of such evidence the assigning of reviews is much a matter of personal opinion; I have tried, therefore, to be precise in distinguishing between those reviews for which evidence sufficiently conclusive exists, which are clearly Poe’s beyond doubt, and those which, in the absence of indisputable evidence, I personally feel to be definitely, probably, or perhaps Poe’s. Those of the first class I have marked with an asterisk. [page iii:]

Of evidence there may be several kinds, differing in value. First, external: usually in letters in the form of a direct attribution.or a sufficiently clear reference, this evidence is unquestionable except in the presence of contradictory proof. It may occur in other forms, such as a statement in the magazine or in another journal. In the latter case its value depends upon the extent to which the writer is informed of the set-up of the magazine in which the review appeared. Such an attribution may be merely a guess. When, however, it is reprinted in the magazine with which Poe is connected, it has full authority; one may be sure Poe would have denied it were it mistaken.

Second, external-internal: this sort of evidence, found ordinarily in other articles by Poe, throws light on the authorship of the review in question. It may be a definite reference to the review as “ours”; it may be a passage quoted or paraphrased in the second article from the review in question, sometimes acknowledged, sometimes not. This sort of evidence is always conclusive. Another kind of external-internal is any thing in a piece of Poe’s which throws light on the particular reviews critical principles, ideas, attitudes, phrases, or words peculiar to or characteristic of Poe; revelations of familiarity with some fund of material on which he draws for information in the particular review, or evidence of familiarity with the work of the author under review. This type of evidence is of real value only when it occurs in sufficient quantity to be impressive. The. possibility of imitation must here be considered.

Internal-external evidence is distinguished from the external-internal only by the point of view. It consists in evidence of the kind listed in the preceding paragraph, found in the particular review, referring either back or forward to a Poe article. Even [page iv:] when it clearly demonstrates the two articles to be from the same pen, its value depends upon the degree of authenticity in the second article. In the case of quotation or paraphrase this sort of evidence is decisive always when the second article is of an earlier date. When it follows in tine the particular review, the possibility of plagiarism must be considered, unless the second article is known to be Pools. Here, again, parallel principles, prejudices, points of view, sources, references, and the use of “Poe” words or phrases are of decisive value only as contributing parts of a mass of evidence.

Internal evidence is that of style and tone, of method, and that of theories, opinions, attitudes, and references typical of Poe, but not traced to any specific review for comparison because of their recognized frequency of occurrence. When only this sort of evidence exists, the judgment must be wholly personal and, therefore, liable to error. The presence of any external evidence, unless it be a suppository statement without basis, and the presence of certain external-internal and internal-external evidence constitute a satisfactory basis for giving Poe a review with an asterisk. To be conclusive to this degree, evidence of other sorts must be present in conjunction and decidedly overweigh any negative evidence. There are a few cases when internal evidence has seemed sufficiently impressive to warrant the attributing of a review to Poe with no ground for question. Ordinarily, however, in such cases I merely state my own conviction.

I discuss all the reviews which appeared during the period of Poe’s official association with those magazines whose critical departments were entirely or partially under his control — all the reviews except those which are merely announcements with no criticism. [page v:] One critical word, however, demands the inclusion of the announcement.(1) It has seemed necessary to discuss all the reviews for the periods directly preceding Poe’s engagement with the Messenger, with Graham’s, and with the Broadway Journal. Of the reviews appearing after Poe’s withdrawal from the editorship of a magazine, it has seemed sufficient to handle in detail only those reviews which show some signs of perhaps being his. This selective method applies also to those magazines on which he never filled an official position. Without exception, however, I consider any review which has at any time been attributed to Poe.(2)

There is a question as to the inclusiveness of “critical works. I have limited it to pieces which contain actual criticism of an author, general or specific; and to pieces which may be classed as general literary criticism — such as the Mirror ‘Does the Drama of the Day Deserve Support.’ This definition admits such articles as “Pinakidia,” “Marginaliaā€˛” and “Autography”; it excludes such things as the Mirror series on the pay of authors and international copyright.

I have attempted to present for each review all available evidence, except in cases where Poe himself claims the review, or where the magazine printing the review assigns it to him. A very large number of the reviews, the majority of them in the Mirror and the Journal, are brief notices, often no more than one, two, or three sentences long. Barely here is there any convincing evidence of an external-internal or internal-external sort. Ordinarily there can be little absolute certainty about these notices in Burton’s, the Mirror, and the first volume of the Journal; for Poe was not the only member of the critical department. On Graham’s and the Journal, volume II, he [page vi:] was exclusively” in control. This fact in itself offers external evidences when Poe is the sole head of the critical department and when all the longer reviews are his, it is fairly sate to assign to him the brief notices, the degree of certainty in the attribution being dependent upon the internal evidence supplied by the particular notice. It seems very unlikely, in such a case, that another critic should supply one or more of the short notices which, it is usually apparent, required but little time either for composition or for scanning the book. When one or more of the longer reviews is from another hand, the position of the short notices in relation to the foreign review may be of some help in determining their authorship. This principle applies also to the Messenger, though with less force; for White continually besieged his friends for reviews during Poe’s editorship, end there is evidence that one of the shorter notices is by White himself. It is again, however, unlikely that an outsider should supply the brief notices, often no more than announcements. Such a critic would, it seems, offer a review of a book which especially interested him — in which case it would not be a short notice; or he might be requested to review a book in his field, or simply to help out in a rush — and again probabilities are against the result’s being a short notice. These perfunctory criticisms, which fill up the tail end of the critical department, which dispense hurriedly with uninteresting or unimportant books, are a part of the editor’s drudgery.

In offering evidence for them it is often possible to do no more than quote from them in an attempt to suggest the general style and point of view. The value of such quotations, of course, lies wholly in the extent to which they are representative. In the majority of cases, the decisions respecting these short notices are of necessity [page vii:] purely personal opinions. The most of these notices, however, are of little significance in relation t o Poe’s criticism.

To each of the five magazines on which foe served in an official capacity a separate section has been devoted; other magazines to which he contributed have been handled in one section. Certain of these are well enough known. I have combed the Poe correspondence available, t o me as well as all letters relating to Poe for suggestions of others. These I have investigated and found in them no trace of a Poe review: Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, American Metropolitan, American Monthly Magazine, Boston Museum, Boston Notion, Christian Examiner and General Review, Cincinnatti [[Cincinnati]] Literary Gazette, Holden’s Dollar Magazine, Madisonian, New World, Western Monthly Magazine. I have been able to see only partial files of Arthur’s Ladies’ Magazine, the Flag of Our Union, the Aristidean, and the Saturday Evening Post. Files of certain magazines have been unavailable: Columbia Spy, Gentleman’s Magazine (Cincinnatti [[Cincinnati]]) , Philadelphia Saturday Courier, Philadelphia Saturday Museum, and the Western Quarterly Review. This section of the work cannot be regarded as complete.

It has seemed necessary to prefix to each section a brief study of Poe’s relations with the magazine in question; for the situation in the office of the magazine, the date of Poe’s becoming editor and of his resignation, the conditions under which he worked, and information about the date of issue, the rate paid for contributions, etc., are often important in assigning the reviews. In these introductory sections my purpose has been to present all of the pertinent evidence, largely from letters, and to trace as concisely and definitely as possible the course of Poe’s career on each of the magazines. [page viii:]

The results of this study have been placed at the beginning of the dissertation. It has seemed advisable to list here with distinguishing markings not only those reviews given to Poe, but also those denied him. It has also seemed advisable to repeat with each title in the body of the w ork the marking used in the canon.

I am indebted to Dr. James Southall Wilson, Edgar Allen [[Allan]] Poe Professor of English, under whose direction this study was made; to John C. Wyllie, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, for suggestions and aid in the procuring of material; and to Dr. Fredson T. Bowers for reading the manuscript.

Errata: all footnotes to White-Tucker letters which read “copies in UVL” should read “typescript of letters in possession of George P. Coleman, Williamsburg, Virginia; all footnotes to White-Badger and White-Scott letters which read “typescript” should read “typescript of letters in the Abernathy Collection of American Literature, Middlebury College.”




[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page i:]

1.  See Woodberry, G.E., Life of Edgar Allan Poe, II, p.103, ftn.1.

2.  There are in his canon many minor errors of dating, etc.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page v:]

1.  For example: This is an able work published by Langley.

2.  There is one exception: the New York Library project which has been referred to.

3.  See GM, XIX, p.188.


[S:0 - CCWEAP, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - A Canon of the Critical Works of EAP (W. D. Hull) (Introduction)