Text: Arthur Hobson Quinn, “Chapter 17,” Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941), pp. 535-571


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[page 535:]

CHAPTER XVII
 
Eureka

As the new year of 1848 opened, Poe grew better in health, revived his plan for a magazine, and began new projects. A letter to Eveleth tells of his hopes:

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Letter from Poe to G. W. Eveleth (page 1) [thumbnail] Letter from Poe to G. W. Eveleth (page 2) [thumbnail]

[Illustrations on pages 536-537]
 
Poe’s letter to Eveleth, January 4, 1848

New York, Jan. 4, 1848.

My Dear Sir — Your last, dated July 26, ends with — “Write will you not?” I have been living ever since in a constant state of intention to write, and finally concluded not to write at all until I could say something definite about The Stylus and other matters. You perceive that I now send you a Prospectus — but before I speak farther on this topic, let me succinctly reply to various points in your letter. 1 — “Hawthorne” is out — How do you like it? 2 — “The Rationale of Verse” was found to come down too heavily (as I forewarned you it did) upon some of poor Colton’s personal friends in Frogpondium — the “pundits,” you know; so I gave him “a song” for it & took it back.(1) The song was “Ulalume — a Ballad,” published in the December number of the Am. Review. I enclose it as copied by the Home Journal (Willis’s paper), with the editor’s remarks — please let me know how you like “Ulalume.” As for the “Rat. of Verse,” I sold it to “Graham” at a round advance on Colton’s price, and in Graham’s hands it is still — but not to remain even there; for I mean to get it back, revise or rewrite it (since “Evangeline” has been published) and deliver it as a lecture when I go South & West on my Magazine expedition. 3 — I have been “so still” on account of preparation for the magazine campaign — also have been working at my book — nevertheless I have written some trifles not yet published — some which have been. 4 — My health is better — best. I have never been so well. 5 — I do not well see how I could have otherwise replied to English. You must know him, (English) before you can well [page 538:] estimate my reply. He is so thorough a “blatherskite” that to have replied to him with dignity, would have been the extreme of the ludicrous. The only true plan — not to have replied to him at all — was precluded on account of the nature of some of his accusations — forgery for instance. To such charges, even from the Autocrat of all the Asses — a man is compelled to answer. There he had me. Answer him I must. But how? Believe me, there exists no such dilemma as that in which a gentleman is placed when he is forced to reply to a blackguard. If he have any genius then is the time for its display. I confess to you that I rather like that reply of mine, in a literary sense — and so do a great many of my friends. It fully answered its purpose beyond a doubt — would to Heaven every work of art did as much! You err in supposing me to have been “peevish” when I wrote the reply; — the peevishness was all “put on” as a part of my argument — of my plan: — so was the “indignation” with which I wound up. How could I be either peevish or indignant about a matter so well adapted to further my purposes? Were I able to afford so expensive a luxury as personal and especially as refutable abuse, I would willingly pay any man $2,000 per annum, to hammer away at me all the year round. I suppose you know that I sued the Mirror & got a verdict. English eloped. 5(2) — The “common friend” alluded to is Mrs. Frances S. Osgood, the poetess. 6 — I agree with you only in part, as regards Miss [Margaret] Fuller. She has some general but no particular critical powers. She belongs to a school of criticism — the Göthean, aesthetic, eulogistic. The creed of this school is that in criticising an author you must imitate him, ape him, out-Herod Herod. She is grossly dishonest.  She abuses Lowell, for example, (the best of our poets, perhaps) on account of a personal quarrel with him. She has omitted all mention of me for the same reason — although, a short time before the issue of her book, she praised me highly in the Tribune.(3) I inclose you her criticism, that you may judge for yourself. She praised “Witchcraft,”(4) because Mathews (who toadies her) wrote it. In a word, she is an ill-tempered and very inconsistent old maid — avoid her. 7 — Nothing was omitted in “Marie Roget” but what I omitted myself: — all that is mystification. The story was [page 539:] originally published in Snowden’s “Lady’s Companion.” The “naval officer,” who committed the murder (or rather, the accidental death arising from an attempt at abortion) confessed it; and the whole matter is now well understood — but, for the sake of relatives, this is a topic on which I must not speak further. 8 — “The Gold Bug” was originally sent to Graham, but he not liking it, I got him to take some critical papers instead, and sent it to The Dollar Newspaper, which had offered $100 for the best story. It obtained the premium and made a great noise. 9 — The “necessities” were pecuniary ones. I referred to a sneer at my poverty, on the part of “The Mirror.”(5)

And now, having replied to all your queries, let me refer to the Stylus. I am resolved to be my own publisher. To be controlled is to be ruined. My ambition is great. If I succeed, I put myself (within 2 years) in possession of a fortune and infinitely more. My plan is to go through the South & West and endeavor to interest my friends so as to commence with a list of at least 500 subscribers. With this list I can, take the matter into my own hands. There are some few of my friends who have sufficient confidence in me to advance their subscriptions — but at all events succeed I will. Can you or will you help me? I have room to say no more.

Truly yours —

E A POE.(6)

During 1847 Poe had been working steadily upon Eureka, his prose poem dealing with the universe. He read it as a public lecture on February 3, 1848, at the Society Library in New York before a small audience, the weather being unpleasant. Eureka was in press early in June, Putnam having generously made Poe an advance payment of fourteen dollars!(7)

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Title page of Eureka (1848) [thumbnail]

[Illustration on page 540]
 
Title page of Eureka

The lecture was favorably noticed by the press, and the accounts were in general written by hearers who seemed to find no difficulty in understanding its general purpose. The Courier and Enquirer spoke of it as “a nobler effort than any other Mr. Poe has yet given to the world.”(8) This paper reprinted a notice in the Home Journal: [page 541:]

We understand that the purpose of Poe’s lectures is to raise the necessary capital for the establishment of a magazine, which he proposes to call “The Stylus.” They who like literature without trammels, and criticism without gloves, should send in their names forthwith as subscribers. If there be in the world a born anatomist of thought, it is Mr. Poe. He takes genius and its limitations to pieces with a skill wholly unequalled on either side of the water; and neither in criticism, nor in his own most singular works of imagination, does he write a sentence that is not vivid and suggestive. The severe difficulties with which Mr. Poe has been visited within the last year, have left him in a position to devote himself, self-sacrificingly, to his new task; and with energies that need the exercise, he will doubtless give it that most complete attention which alone can make such an enterprise successful.

“His remarks on the subject” — the Tribune observed, “were characterized by the strong analytical powers and intense capacity of imagination which distinguish him.”(9)

The Weekly Universe of February 12th was enthusiastic in its report, but remarked that Poe took two hours! The Evening Post and the Express also commented intelligently and it is hard to see why Poe was not satisfied with the cordial reception of the lecture.

Since Eureka was to a certain extent the climax of Poe’s creative achievement, to which he had devoted so much time and effort, it is of great importance in his biography. An analysis of it will decide whether Poe’s mind was weakening during these last years or whether it was clear, active, and still creative. For the true life of Poe lay in the mind of Poe. In the Preface to Eureka Poe said:

To the few who love me and whom I love — to those who feel rather than to those who think — to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities — I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: — let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.

What I here propound is true: — therefore it cannot die: — or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will “rise again to the Life Everlasting.”

Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.(10) [page 542:]

Poe asked, therefore, that the work be considered as a poem, but his modern critics have refused to accept this limitation. They insist upon judging it as a scientific treatise, and with a certain amount of reason in their position. If the scientific ideas in Eureka are wild and incoherent, or were written without knowledge of what had been discovered in Poe’s own day, the essay may be dismissed as unimportant so far as its thinking is concerned. If, on the other hand, it is based on accurate knowledge of the latest scientific discoveries of its own time, then it is entitled from that point of view to respect.

No one would, I fancy, claim that Poe has solved the riddle of the creation and the destiny of the universe. But then no one else, scientist or philosopher, has solved it. It is likewise unwise to claim that he has anticipated the mathematical systems of Einstein and other contemporary scientific philosophers. It is enough and quite enough to note in what respect certain of his ideas resemble the greater discoveries of modern times, and to hear what Emerson called in another connection “the far off gathering of the intuition.”

Poe explained Eureka more than once, in letters to his correspondents, and these abstracts are consistent. The most inclusive explanation was sent to Eveleth on February 29, 1848:

The General Proposition is this — Because Nothing was, therefore All Things are.

1 — An inspection of the universality of Gravitation — i. e., of the fact that each particle tends, not to any one common point, but to every other particle — suggests perfect totality or absolute unity, as the source of the phenomenon.

2 — Gravity is but the mode in which is manifested the tendency of all things to return into their original unity — is but the reaction of the first Divine Act.

3 — The law regulating the return — i. e., the law of Gravitation — is but a necessary result of the necessary and sole possible mode of equable irradiation of matter through space: this equable irradiation is necessary as a basis for the Nebular Theory of Laplace.

4 — The Universe of Stars (contradistinguished from the Universe of Space) is limited.

5 — Mind is cognizant of Matter only through its two properties, attraction and repulsion: therefore Matter is only attraction and repulsion: a finally consolidated globe-of-globes, being but one particle, would be without attraction — i. e., gravitation: the existence of such a globe presupposed the expulsion of the separative [page 543:] ether which we know to exist between the particles as at present diffused: thus the final globe would be matter without attraction and repulsion: but these are matter: then the final globe would be matter without matter — i. e., no matter at all: it must disappear. This Unity is Nothingness.

6 — Matter, springing from Unity, sprang from Nothingness — i.e., was created.

7 — All will return to Nothingness, in returning to Unity.(11)

This abstract obviously needs amplification. Poe’s general proposition(12) is thus stated:

In the Original Unity of the First Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation.” It is necessary to remember that Poe uses the “Universe” in two senses: “By the term Universe, wherever employed without qualification in this Essay, I mean in most cases to designate the utmost conceivable expanse of space, with all things, spiritual and material, that can be imagined to exist within the compass of that expanse. In speaking of what is ordinarily implied by the expression, ‘Universe’ I shall take a phrase of limitation — ‘the Universe of Stars.’ ”(13) He then proceeds to discuss the Cosmos of Alexander von Humboldt, to whom he had dedicated Eureka. He praised its approach to the problem of the Universe, but remarked that its detail prevents “all individuality of impression.”

With a mistaken sense of humor, Poe introduced at the outset a note of burlesque which has probably discouraged many from reading Eureka. Yet in the discussion which ensued he makes some valuable suggestions. Knowing my own limitations, I have asked for criticisms of Eureka from my scientific friends. From the reply of Dr. Paul R. Heyl, Physicist of the United States Bureau of Standards, I quote the portion dealing with this early section of the essay because he puts the matter so clearly: [page 544:]

Poe discusses deductive and inductive reasoning as typified by Aristotle and Bacon. . . . Poe rebels against both methods as slow and crawling. He lays emphasis on intuition, regulated of course by consistency. In this he is right. The ancients guessed and theorized about nature, but stopped there. They did not check their guesses by experiment. We guess also, but our guesses in the first place are guided by past failures, of which we have a vast accumulation, and in the second place by experimental check.

Poe’s discussion of axioms is interesting. In 1848 the axioms of geometry were still regarded as self-evident truths. Poe questions this [assumption]. Our whole concept of geometrical axioms has changed, due to the work of Lobachevsky and of Bolyai, which resulted in non-Euclidean geometry. We now regard the axioms of geometry as mere space definitions. By leaving out the parallel axiom it is possible to develop a geometry quite different from that of Euclid, but just as self-consistent. True, it is inconceivable, but inconceivability no longer troubles the mathematicians. Nothing but inconsistency can do that.

Lobachevsky’s first publications antedate 1848, but were not translated from the Russian until much later. Bolyai (a Hungarian) published an abstruse article in Latin in 1831, but it attracted little attention until 1866 when it was translated into French. It is impossible that Poe should have heard of these men and their work.(14)

In discussing the Universe Poe remarks that there are two modes; to begin with the Earth and proceed indefinitely, or, to be more intelligible, to begin with Infinity and come down to Earth. He chooses the latter and first attacks the problem of Infinity.

To him Infinity is not a word that is capable of comprehension. Man needed a term to point out the direction of the effort to comprehend this “thought of a thought.”

There follows a brief statement of the “inessentiality” of the solution of the kind of problem to which the conception of Infinity belongs. Poe believed that the Deity has not designed it to be solved. Poe states here that “We believe in a God,” and he meets in advance the kind of scientific thinking which refuses to discuss a problem as soon as the conception of a Deity is brought into the discussion. There is, however, quite another school of scientific thought which is content to say “We are uneasy that there should be an apparently self-contained [page 545:] world in which God becomes an unnecessary hypothesis.”(15) Poe continues, “It may be said that no fog of the mind can well be greater than that which, extending to the very boundaries of the mental domain, shuts out even these boundaries themselves from comprehension.” After this blow at the dogmatism of science, Poe proceeds with a certain humility to define his terms: “In using the phrase, ‘Infinity of Space’ I make no call upon the reader to entertain the impossible conception of an absolute infinity. I refer simply to the ‘utmost conceivable expanse’ of space — a shadowy and fluctuating domain, now shrinking, now swelling, with the vacillating energies of the imagination.”

For obvious reasons, I take Einstein’s doctrine of Relativity in a diluted form. But it is interesting in connection with Poe’s attitude toward infinity to quote again from one of the foremost astronomers of today: “I think Einstein showed his greatness in the simple and drastic way in which he disposed of difficulties at infinity. He abolished infinity.”(16)

Poe adopts the definition of Pascal for the Universe. “It is a sphere,” he says, “of which the centre is everywhere, the circumference, nowhere.” This is for Poe’s Universe, the Universe of Space.

Poe adopts the Godhead as his starting point, and quoting from Baron Bielfeld: “In order to comprehend what He is, we should have to be God ourselves,” he wonders whether “this present ignorance of God is an ignorance to which the soul is everlastingly condemned.”

It is striking that Poe, like Emerson, assuming God as “Spirit — that is to say, as not Matter” — proceeds to state that Spirit created — what?What is it that we are justified — that alone we are justified in supposing to have been primarily created?” Here again, like Emerson, Poe says, “We have attained a point where only Intuition can aid us.”

Poe then states that his intuition forces him to the conclusion “that what God originally created, — that that Matter which, by dint of his Volition, he first made from his Spirit, or from Nihility, could have been nothing but Matter in its utmost conceivable state of — what? — of Simplicity.”

Poe is certain of this intuition, but adds that the processes lie outside of the human analysis — at all events are beyond the utterance of the human tongue. In the revised version, Poe inserted a sentence: [page 546:] “If, however, in the course of this Essay, I succeed in showing that, out of Matter in its extreme of Simplicity, all things might have been constructed, we reach directly the inference that they were thus constructed, through the impossibility of attributing supererogation to omnipotence.”

Poe considers then the nature of Matter in its simplicity. He decides that it must consist of “a particle — absolutely unique, individual, undivided, and not indivisible only because He who created it, by dint of his Will, can by an infinitely less energetic exercise of the same Will, as a matter of course, divide it.” He then proposes to show “that this Oneness is a principle abundantly sufficient to account for the constitution, the existing phaenomena and the plainly inevitable annihilation of at least the material Universe.”

Here Poe brings in his favorite principle of “variety out of unity.” “The assumption of absolute Unity in the primordial Particle includes that of infinite divisibility.”(17) “From the one Particle, as a centre, let us suppose to be radiated(18) spherically — in all directions — to immeasurable but still to definite distances in the previously vacant space — a certain inexpressibly great yet limited number of unimaginably yet not infinitely minute atoms.”

Here is where Poe speaks first of the “utmost possible multiplicity of relation out of the emphatically irrelative One.” He decides, however, that other forms of variety can be assumed from a difference of form, occurring at the first processes of mass-constitution. When the act of creation has been discontinued there comes at once “a reaction — in other words, a satisfiable tendency of the disunited atoms to return into One. But the diffusive energy being withdrawn, and the reaction having commenced in furtherance of the ultimate design — that of the utmost possible Relation — this design is now in danger of being frustrated, in detail, by reason of that very tendency to return which is to effect its accomplishment in general.”

Poe here speculates upon the necessity of a repulsive force setting a limit to the coalition of atoms, up to a certain epoch. This I think is not very clear; and he acknowledges it. But he states that “Man neither employs, nor knows, a force sufficient to bring two atoms into contact. This is but the well established proposition of the impenetrability of matter.”

Poe then develops the theory that electricity arises from the differences [page 547:] in the respective sums of atoms of which the bodies are composed. He suggests that electricity may account for the physical appearance of light, heat and magnetism, but “far less shall we be liable to err in attributing to this strictly spiritual principle the more important phaenomena of vitality, consciousness and Thought.”

Poe, feeling perhaps that he was on less certain ground here, discards the terms “gravitation” and “electricity” and adopts the terms “Attraction” and “Repulsion.” “The former is the Body; the latter the Soul; the one is the material; the other the spiritual, principle of the Universe. No other principles exist.” . . . “So rigorously is this the case — so thoroughly demonstrable is it that Attraction and Repulsion are the sole properties through which we perceive the Universe — in other words, by which Matter is manifested to Mind — that for all merely argumentative purposes, we are fully justified in assuming that matter exists only as Attraction and Repulsion — that Attraction and Repulsion are matter; — there being no conceivable case in which we may not employ the term ‘Matter’ and the terms ‘Attraction’ and ‘Repulsion’ taken together, as equivalent, and therefore convertible, expressions in Logic.”

Again Poe’s idea is strangely modern. George Norstedt, quoting from Charles Nordman’s “Einstein and the Universe,”(19) says: “ ‘All this [the result of Modem Research] irresistibly compels us to think that the inertia of the various component parts of atoms — that is to say of all matter — is exclusively electromagnetic in origin. There is now no matter. There is only electrical energy, which by the reaction of the surrounding medium upon it, leads us to the fallacious belief in the existence of this substantial and massive something which hundreds of generations have been wont to call “matter”. . . . There is nothing but energy in the external universe. A strange — in a sense, an almost spiritual turn for physics to take.’ This strange turn of modern physics Poe anticipated.”

Poe then proceeds with a modification of the Newtonian law, saying that not only every body but “every atom of every body, attracts every other atom, both of its own and of every other body, with a force which varies inversely as the squares of the distance between the attracting and attracted atom.” Believing that such a conception should not be limited to this planet, he claims that every earthly thing has “a tendency not only to the Earth’s centre but in every conceivable [page 548:] direction besides.” He shows his understanding of the logical consequences of this relation of the atoms, for it leads to influences beyond the grasp of the imagination. “If I venture to displace, by even the billionth part of an inch, the microscopical speck of dust which lies now upon the point of my finger, what is the character of that act upon which I have adventured? I have done a deed which shakes the Moon in her path, which causes the Sun to be no longer the Sun, and which alters forever the destiny of the multitudinous myriads of stars that roll and glow in the majestic presence of their Creator.” It is in such a conception that Poe truly arrives at the imaginative scope of a prose poem.

Those who smile at these visions, have not seen such a profound and moving play as Wings over Europe, by Robert Nichols and Maurice Brown, which was based on a similar theory.(20) Some of the lines read as though they had been taken out of Poe’s essay.

The confidence of Poe in his theory is complete. “I am not so sure that I speak and see, — that my heart beats and that my soul lives; — of the rising of tomorrow’s sun — . . . as I am of the irretrievably bygone Fact that ‘All things and All Thoughts of Things with all their ineffable Multiplicity of Relation, sprang at once into being from the primordial and irrelative One.”

Poe then takes up a difficulty of his theory, that of reconciling radiation from a center, not continuous radiation, such as light usually presumes, but of determinate radiation, that is, one finally discontinued, with generally equable distribution of Stars. It is interesting to see that he speaks of this difficulty as a cloud which led him to the ultimate solution, just as in Murders in the Rue Morgue apparent difficulties led to a solution. Poe assumes a radiating force, emitting a number of atoms and forcing them outward from a centre till they are distributed loosely over the interior surface of a sphere — then another exercise of the same force sending others out, in concentric strata, till they come down at length to the central point. In the revision of Eureka there is a note: “Here describe the process as one instantaneous flash.” These atoms are equably distributed and the force by which any individual atom was sent to its position in the sphere, was directly proportional with the square of that atom’s distance, while in that position, from the centre of the sphere.

Frankly, I do not see why Poe’s theory of a universe, starting from [page 549:] nothing, and proceeding rapidly from an atom by radiation to a closed yet indeterminate sphere, is absurd. Eddington, in speaking of the start of things, objects to the theory of Einstein and de Sitter “that in the beginning all the matter created was projected wih [[with]] a radial motion so as to disperse even faster than the present rate of dispersal of the galaxies.”(21) I am not able to analyze the equations in which Einstein and de Sitter express this theory, and they do not state it in words. But as Eddington describes it, it suggests essential elements of Poe’s theory of radiation. Eddington prefers a balanced universe, at the beginning, of homogeneous matter. And then he adds “To my mind undifferentiated sameness and nothingness cannot be distinguished philosophically.”(22) Certainly I do not care to distinguish them, but at least Poe’s “nothingness” has respectable company. I am more inclined to agree with another statement of Eddington: “The beginning seems to present innumerable difficulties unless we agree to look on it as frankly supernatural.”(23)

Gravity, Poe claims, is a reaction, therefore, the desire of Matter to return to the Unity from which it came. He then takes up the tendency of the atoms to return to the centre, — not a centre in space but a condition of unity — because along the straight line joining the atom and the centre there are a greater number of atoms than along any other straight line. Poe concludes this branch of the subject with a restatement of his law: “I am fully warranted in announcing that the Law which we have been in the habit of calling Gravity exists on account of Matter’s having been radiated, at its origin, atomically, into a limited sphere of Space, from one, individual, unconditional, irrelative, and absolute Particle Proper, by the sole process in which it was possible to satisfy, at the same time, the two conditions, radiation, and generally-equable distribution throughout the sphere — that is to say, by a force varying in direct proportion with the squares of the distances between the radiated atoms, respectively, and the Particular centre of Radiation.”

The poetic interpretation of this law is that “the two principles, Attraction and Repulsion — the Material and the Spiritual — accompany each other, in the strictest fellowship, forever. Thus The Body and The Soul walk hand in hand.”

Poe then proceeds to take up one of the agglomerations of atoms, namely, our Solar System, and describes Laplace’s Nebular Hypothesis. [page 550:] His description of the hypothesis is clear, although his statement that it is “beautifully true” is not in accord with modern astronomy. Astronomers, nevertheless, treat it with the greatest respect.

Poe’s presentation of astronomical phenomena was on the whole accurate. He was mistaken in believing the Moon self-luminous, but his scientific attitude is shown in his remark that the demonstration by Comte that the Nebular Hypothesis is in accord with the planetary system, does not prove the Hypothesis. It would be necessary to prove that no other series of data might equally as well account for the result.

Poe understood well the relative aspect of the Universe, although his conclusions concerning the Nebulae are not correct. He quotes Lord Rosse’s supposed resolution of Orion Nebula into a simple collection of stars, now known to have been impossible. But his arguments against the existence of true nebulae, while incorrect, may be pardoned, since Poe could naturally not foresee the investigations which, through the spectroscope, show innumerable nebulae. One passage, however, has a strikingly modern quality:

Of course, it will be immediately objected that since the light by which we recognize the nebulae now, must be merely that which left their surfaces a vast number of years ago, the processes at present observed, or supposed to be observed, are, in fact, not processes now actually going on, but the phantoms of processes completed long in the Past — just as I maintain all these mass-constitutive processes must have been.

Compare this with Sir Arthur Eddington’s description:

This brings us to the “theory of ghosts” — an idea developed more as a mathematical curiosity than as a serious physical speculation. In a perfectly spherical world rays of light emitted in all directions from a point will after travelling round the world converge to the same point; thus a real image is formed from which light will again diverge in all directions. Such an image might optically be mistaken for a substantial body. Owing to the time taken in circumambulating the world the image is not formed until at least 6000 million years later than its source. Other images would be formed after two circuits, three circuits, etc. We can thus imagine space to be populated not only with real stars and galaxies but with ghosts of stars which existed 6000 million, 12000 million, etc. years ago.(24) [page 551:]

Poe’s description of the shape of our Galaxy and the Sun’s position within it shows a keen perception of the’ vastness of the Galaxy. Although I cannot reproduce his lengthy description, it remains one more illustration of his ability at a brilliant portraiture of astronomical phenomena.(25)

Next comes one of the most interesting contributions of Poe, his conception of the Universe of Stars as not illimitable but finite. “Were the succession of stars endless, then the background of the sky would present us an uniform luminosity, like that displayed by the Galaxy — since there could be absolutely no point, in all that background, at which would not exist a star.”

Again Eddington, though with some difference of meaning, speaks of the whole volume of spherical space as finite. “It is,” he says, “‘finite but unbounded’; we never come to a boundary, but. . . we can never be more than a limited distance away from our starting point. In the theory I am going to describe the galaxies are supposed to be distributed throughout a closed space of this kind.”(26)

On the other hand, Poe saw no reason why there could not be other Universes, “each in the bosom of its own proper and particular God.” He makes no attempt to prove this, believing it impossible of proof. Philosophers have usually treated this idea with the same detachment.(27)

Poe then proceeds to expound more definite conceptions of the solar system. He evidently knew the velocity of light and the general dimensions of the Solar System, and makes clear the immensity of the distances between the sun and the planets. He had also correct ideas of the distances of the stars. Poe quotes correctly and with judgment the great German astronomer, F. W. Bessel, on the distance of 61 Cygni, which Bessel had announced in 1838. Poe’s explanation of parallax is clear and effective.

As the distances grow more vast, Poe rises to a high level of clarity in his interpretation to a lay audience of the wonders of the Universe of Stars:

And here, once again and finally, it seems proper to suggest that even as yet we have been speaking of trifles. Ceasing to wonder at the space between star and star in our own or in any [page 552:] particular cluster, let us rather turn our thoughts to the intervals between cluster and cluster, in the all comprehensive cluster of the Universe.

I have already said that light proceeds at the rate of 167,000 miles in a second — that is, about 10 millions of miles in a minute, or about 600 millions of miles in an hour: — yet so far removed from us are some of the “nebulae” that even light, speeding with this velocity, could not and does not reach us, from those mysterious regions, in less than 3 millions of years. This calculation, moreover, is made by the elder Herschell, and in reference merely to those comparatively proximate clusters within the scope of his own telescope. There are “nebulae,” however, which, through the magical tube of Lord Rosse, are this instant whispering in our ears the secrets of a million of ages by-gone. In a word, the events which we behold now — at this moment — in those worlds — are the identical events which interested their inhabitants ten hundred thousand centuries ago. In intervals — in distances such as this suggestion forces upon the soul — rather than upon the mind — we find, at length, a fitting climax to all hitherto frivolous considerations of quantity.

This conception of the “Island Universe” distances which he tells us he obtained from the elder Herschell, is again held today after a long period of disbelief. The proof, which came about twenty years ago, through the resolution of the edges of the spiral nebulae into stars, is another instance of Poe’s acceptance of a hypothesis, in which he judged correctly between different scientific schools of thought.

Poe then lets his imagination consider the difficulty experienced by astronomy in explaining the vast spaces apparently left void between stars. He explains this phenomenon by saying that Space and Duration are one. “That the Universe of Stars might endure throughout an aera at all commensurate with the grandeur of its component material portions and with the high majesty of its spiritual purposes, it was necessary that the original atomic diffusion be made to so inconceivable an extent as to be only not infinite.” This identity Poe urges as a proof of the “absolute accuracy of the Divine adaptation,” and proceeds to draw a distinction between Divine and human constructions, with respect to the reciprocity of adaptation between causes and effects. This is of interest because he reveals here his theory of plot construction in his purely literary work. To him, “the pleasure we derive from any display of human ingenuity is in the ratio of the approach to this species of reciprocity. In the construction of plot, for example, in fictitious literature, we should aim at so arranging the [page 553:] incidents that we shall not be able to determine, of any one of them, whether it depends from any one other or upholds it. In this sense, of course, perfection of plot is really, or practically, unattainable — but only because it is a finite intelligence that constructs. The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a plot of God.” It will thus be seen that the perfect plot to Poe was one in which cause and effect were so mutually adapted that it would be impossible for the reader to decide which is which. This attitude naturally led to the supernatural motive, where cause and effect did not operate.

Poe’s acuteness of reasoning is shown in his rejection of the theory put forth by Mädler, of a central sun about which all systems revolve. This grandiose conception, now long since discredited by astronomical science, but considered and discussed by astronomers long after Poe’s day,(28) might have appealed to a poet whose reason did not move in logical paths. But Poe showed how this central sun must be either luminous, in which case we should see it, or non-luminous, in which case it could not have thrown off luminous suns, or if it had, it would be seen by their light.

His discussion of the theory that the Universe is in a state of progressive collapse has not been without support from modern scientists. Eddington says: “It is true that the extrapolation foretells that the material universe will some day arrive at a state of dead sameness and so virtually come to an end.”(29)

Poe rejects the necessity for a material ether as a resisting medium, showing knowledge of Lagrange’s work on the configurations of the spheroids.

Another instance of Poe’s keen analysis is shown in his distinguishing between mankind’s love of symmetry, with which he deeply sympathizes, and the pursuit of superficial symmetry of forms and motions. “It is the poetical essence of the Universe — of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems. Now symmetry and consistency are convertible terms: — thus Poetry and Truth are one. . . . A perfect consistency, I repeat can be nothing but an absolute truth.”

Toward the end of Eureka Poe rises to a contemplation not only of “the awful Present,” but also of “the still more awful Future.” An eloquent description of the End(30) follows, including the disappearance of Matter, which having served its purpose in the development [page 554:] of that spiritual ether in which Poe believed, would terminate and “God would remain all in all.”

Poe does not stop with the end of this material Universe. “We can readily conceive that a new and perhaps totally different series of conditions may ensue . . . another action and reaction of the Divine Will. Guiding our imaginations by that omniprevalent law of laws, the law of periodicity, are we not indeed more than justified in entertaining a belief — let us say, rather, in indulging a hope — that the processes we have here ventured to contemplate will be renewed forever, and forever, and forever; a novel Universe swelling into existence, and then subsiding into nothingness, at every throb of the Heart Divine? And now — this Heart Divine — what is it? It is our own.”

Poe goes back for proof of this theory to our “Memories of a Destiny more vast — very distant in the by-gone time, and infinitely awful.” With a similarity to Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality, he refers to our youthful belief in our memories, to the awakening of Reason which tells us that there was a time when we did not exist and that we were created by an Intelligence greater than our own. To Poe such a belief is incomprehensible, and therefore untrue, which is a curious limitation for him. He believes this limitation is inherent in our own nature, for “No thinking being lives who, at some luminous point of his life of thought, has not felt himself lost amid the surges of futile efforts at understanding, or believing, that anything exists greater than his own soul.”

Poe’s own struggles with despondency, his bitterness and his pride, are reflected in the next sentence:

“The utter impossibility of any one’s soul feeling itself inferior to another; the intense, overwhelming dissatisfaction and rebellion at the thought; — these, with the omniprevalent aspirations at perfection, are but the spiritual, coincident with the material, struggles towards the original Unity — are, to my mind at least, a species of proof far surpassing what Man terms demonstration, that no one soul is inferior to another — that nothing is, or can be, superior to any one soul — that each soul is, in part, its own God — its own Creator: — in a word, that God — the material and spiritual God — now exists solely in the diffused Matter and Spirit of the Universe; and that the regathering of this diffused Matter and Spirit will be but the re-constitution of the purely Spiritual and Individual God.

In this view, and in this view alone, we comprehend the riddles of Divine Injustice — of Inexorable Fate. In this view alone the [page 555:] existence of Evil becomes intelligible; but in this view it becomes more — it becomes endurable.

The ending of Eureka is purely imaginative; it deals poetically with the relations of a still existent Being and those creatures “which are really but infinite individualizations of Himself.” They are conscious of a proper identity, “conscious, secondly and by faint indeterminate glimpses, of an identity with the Divine Being of whom we speak — of an identity with God.” The former will grow weaker, the latter stronger, till Man “will attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall recognize his existence as that of Jehovah. In the meantime bear in mind that all is Life — Life — Life within Life — the less within the greater, and all within the Spirit Divine.”

In the revision Poe added a note — “The pain of the consideration that we shall lose our individual identity, ceases at once when we further reflect that the process, as above described, is, neither more nor less than that of the absorption, by each individual intelligence, of all other intelligences (that is, of the Universe) into its own. That God may be all in all, each must become God.”

Having quoted so freely from the work of Sir Arthur Eddington, Plumian Professor of Astronomy, at Cambridge University, I felt it proper to submit this analysis of Eureka to him, in order that I might not misinterpret his views. He was good enough to reply as follows:

1940 Sept 29

I am returning your typescript separately, as I think a letter is less likely to be delayed.

First, I raise no objections to any of your quotations from my writings. Opinions will naturally differ as to how far the resemblance between the ideas I am attempting to express and those of Poe to which the quotations are considered relevant should be stressed rather than the differences; but, whilst not always convinced of the appropriateness, I am not averse to their being used in your argument.

Secondly, I think you make out clearly that “Eureka” is not a work of dotage or disordered mind. It is, I think, the work of a man trying to reconcile the science of his time with the more philosophical and spiritual cravings of the mind. Poe, besides being fairly well-informed in science and mathematics, seems to have had the mind of a mathematician, and consequently was not to be put off with vague phrases; and made a creditable attempt to introduce precision of thought.

The correspondence between some of his ideas and modern [page 556:] views is interesting; but, as bearing on his intellectual powers, one must view it with some detachment. Any one of independent mind, — a rebel against conventionally accepted views — is likely to hit the mark sometimes. That is particularly the case when it is a case of philosophical and spiritual intuition versus scientific progress. The idea of “unity in diversity and diversity in unity” is now becoming actually realised in scientific theory; but until science had reached a certain stage of development it was no more helpful to science than the doctrine of the Trinity which contains the same idea. I expect many believed that this must be an ultimate truth, but science must be left gradually to find it by its own pedestrian progress.

I should say then that regarded as an attempt to put forward a new physical theory, Eureka would rightly be regarded as a crank-theory by scientists of the time. (The trouble with cranks is usually, not that they are not far-seeing, but that they have no appreciation of the immediate obstacles in the road.) Poe’s more definite suggestions (in the contemporary state of science) were not unintelligent but amateurish. But as a “poem” on the significance of things as partially revealed in the state of science of the time, I think it showed a fine penetration.

Yours sincerely,

A. S. EDDINGTON

If you should wish to quote any of these remarks, by all means do so.

I wish also to introduce at this point a statement made at my request by my colleague Dr. Charles P. Olivier, Flower Professor of Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania:

Summing up I should say that Poe had read widely and with keen appreciation the general astronomy of the day. So long as he limited himself to choosing between rival hypotheses of others, he usually chose either the right one or the most probable in his day.

It is not, however, to be expected that anyone, a hundred years ago, could advance a theory of the Universe which today would be acceptable. Poe, of course, did not have the proper scientific training to make a very hopeful attempt. Further he tended to mix up religion, or at least a type of mysticism, with his hypotheses.

But even with these defects “Eureka” shows that its author had a keen intelligence and great ability in putting forward his ideas. One must admit the full mental vigor of its author without necessarily agreeing with his conclusions. [page 557:]

Poe was not, therefore, as has been frequently stated, entering in 1848 upon a period of mental decline. His mind was clear and his imaginative power was still capable of dealing with scientific problems that tax the best of modern thinkers. How far he might have proceeded had he possessed adequate technical training we can only surmise. That Eureka produced little effect upon the science of its own day is not surprising. Its concepts were in most cases, unusual, and the hospitality of science to unusual theories, especially those of men of letters, is not large.

And yet, ironically, the general reader must have the help of a scientist in reading the essay, for the ideas are not readily grasped. Even when they are, the mysticism of the essay is forbidding to those who are realistically inclined. Poe’s message is not to these, and yet as Eddington says, “It is reasonable to inquire whether in the mystical illusions of man there is not a reflection of an underlying reality.”(31)

Certainly as a prose poem Eureka rises to a lofty height. Poe’s conception of the relations of God and man, of the Creator for the created, is one of the important steps taken during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in that spiritual succession in which William Vaughn Moody and Eugene O’Neill are other figures. When that spiritual progress is fully understood, then perhaps at last Eureka will come into its own.(32)

Eveleth sent another series of questions on January 11th, especially with regard to Poe’s habits, of which he had read in the Weekly Universe. The editor of this sheet, incidentally, was a good prophet, for he remarked, “Mr. Poe will be more fairly judged after his death than during his life.” Poe replied to Eveleth in another self-revealing letter:

New York — Feb. 29-48.

My dear Sir;

I mean to start for Richmond on the 10th March. Everything has gone as I wished it, and my final success is certain, or I abandon all claim to the title of Vates. The only contretemps of any moment, lately, has been Willis’s somewhat premature announcement of my projects: — but this will only force me into action a little sooner than I had proposed. Let me now answer the points of your last letter. [page 558:]

Colton acted pretty much as all mere men of the world act. I think very little the worse of him for his endeavor to succeed with you at my expense. I always liked him, and I believe he liked me. His “I understand the matter perfectly” amuses me. Certainly, then, it was the only matter he did understand. His intellect was o.

“The Rationale of Verse” will appear in “Graham” after all.(33) I will stop in Philadelphia to see the proofs.

The editor of the “Weekly Universe” speaks kindly, and I find no fault with his representing my habits as “shockingly irregular.” He could not have had the “personal acquaintance” with me, of which he writes, but has fallen into a very natural error. The fact is thus: — my habits are rigorously abstemious, and I omit nothing of the natural regimen requisite for health — i. e., I rise early, eat moderately, drink nothing but water, and take abundant and regular exercise in the open air. But this is my private life — my studious and literary life — and of course escapes the eye of the world. The desire for society comes upon me only when I have become excited by drink. Then only I go — that is, at these times only I have been in the practice of going among my friends; who seldom, or in fact never, having seen me unless excited, take it for granted that I am always so. Those who really know me, know better. In the meantime I shall turn the general error to account. But enough of this: the causes which maddened me to the drinking point are no more, and I am done drinking forever. I do not know the editors and contributors of the “Universe,” and was not aware of the existence of such a paper. Who are they? or is it a secret.

The “most distinguished of American scholars” is Prof. Chas. Anthon, author of the “Classical Dictionary.”

I presume you have seen some newspaper notices of my late lecture on the Universe.(34) You could have gleaned, however, no idea of what the lecture was, from what the papers said it was. All praised it — as far as I have yet seen — and all absurdly misrepresented it. The only report of it which approaches the truth — is the one I enclose — from the “Express” — written by E. A. Hopkins, a gentleman of much scientific acquirement, son of Bishop Hopkins of Vermont; but he conveys only my general idea, and [page 559:] his digest is full of inaccuracies. I enclose also a slip from the “Courier & Enquirer.” Please return them. To eke out a chance of your understanding what I really did say, I add a loose summary of my propositions and results: —

[The summary of Eureka has been given on pages 542-543.]

After the summary Poe continued:

Read these items after the Report. As to the Lecture, I am very quiet about it — but, if you have ever dealt with such topics, you will recognize the novelty and moment of my view. What I have propounded will (in good time) revolutionize the world of Physical and Metaphysical Science. I say this calmly — but I say it.

I shall not go till I hear from you.

Truly yours,

E. A. POE.(35)

In a letter to George E. Isbell, of Binghamton, New York,(36) Poe sent a new prospectus of The Stylus. The language is somewhat changed, but the same principles of independence, and of devotion to “Literature, Drama and the Fine Arts” are expressed. It is not necessary to repeat the details; among the new ones were Poe’s claim that he had established correspondents at London, Paris, Rome, and Vienna!

Poe paid his respects to the dogmatism of science in this letter:

“The Vestiges of Creation” I have not yet seen; and it is always unsafe and unwise to form opinions of books from reviews of them. The extracts of the work which have fallen in my way, abound in inaccuracies of fact: — still these may not materially [page 560:] affect the general argument. One thing is certain; that the objections of merely scientific men — men, I mean, who cultivate the physical sciences to the exclusion, in a greater or less degree, of the mathematics, of metaphysics and of logic — are generally invalid except in respect to scientific details. Of all persons in the world, they are at the same time the most bigoted and the least capable of using, generalizing, or deciding upon the facts which they bring to light in the course of their experiments. And these are the men who chiefly write the criticisms against all efforts at generalization — denouncing these efforts as “speculative” and “theoretical.”

There is also another abstract of “Eureka” somewhat more brief than that already quoted.

The “Marginalia” in Graham’s for January, February, and March, 1848, include an interesting passage concerning the difficulty of anyone writing a book which could reveal his own heart. “No man ever will dare to write it. No man could write it, even if he dare. The paper would shrivel and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen.”(37) What would Poe think of the women who dare to do this very thing today and emerge without a curl disturbed! There is an amusing account of the way in which the London Popular Record of Modern Science took “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” seriously, and reprinted it under the title of “The Last Conversation of a Somnambule.”(38)

Poe had been working during 1846 and 1847 on a critical account of American Literature. All that seems to be now extant is contained in a manuscript dated 1848.(39) What Poe hoped to publish is given best in his own words on the title page:

LITERARY AMERICA

Some Honest Opinions about our Autorial
Merits and Demerits

with

Occasional Words of Personality

by

Edgar A. Poe [page 561:]

If I have in any point receded from what is commonly received, it hath been for the purpose of proceeding melius and not in aliud.

Lord Bacon.
 

Truth, peradventure, by force, may for a time be trodden down, but never, by any means whatsoever, can it be trodden out.

Lord Coke.

Prefaced with a Critical and Biographical sketch of the Author

by

James Russell Lowell and P. P. Cooke.

1848.

If the three articles which comprise the manuscript represent Poe’s conception of a literary history, it is just as well that he did not publish it. They are substantially the same as the critical articles on Richard Adams Locke, “Thomas Dunn Brown,” and Christopher Pearse Cranch,(40) published in Griswold’s Edition of the Literati in1850. Apart from the unfortunate nature of the article on English, this method of writing literary history is obviously not the proper one.

While the “Rationale of Verse” was not published until October and November, 1848, in the Southern Literary Messenger, it had been sold to Colton in 1847. Poe had published in 1843 his “Notes on English Verse” in the Pioneer, but he had rewritten these, not always to advantage. Both essays are now of interest in their revelation of how one of the most consummate masters of the art of poetry should have been so confused in his theories of versification. With his elaborate schemes of notation, his “bastard trochees” and other vagaries, we do not have to deal. Fortunately, they were not adopted, for they would only have added to the chapters of inaccuracy in the theoretical writings on English versification, to which he refers pungently at the opening of the essays. The trouble lay in Poe’s ignorance of the history of English versification. He shared this ignorance, of course, with all those who wrote before Sievers’ discoveries, fifty years later, of the real laws of Old English verse. But Coleridge had shown the way to truth in his discussion of “Christabel” and Poe deliberately refused to follow it. Curiously enough, he was closer to the truth in the earlier essay, for there he said: “[The versifier] should employ his syllables [page 562:] as nearly as possible, with the accentuation due in prose reading.” Coleridge had recognized the accentual basis for English verse, but Poe floundered on with his conception of “long” and “short” syllables in English, and reached such absurdities as the rule that, “In a line, every long syllable must of its own accord occupy in its utterance, or must be made to occupy, precisely the time demanded for two short ones.” There are, of course, no inherently long or short syllables in English verse. Our verse is not based on syllables at all.

Just as the English language absorbed the Latin, Danish and French influences and emerged still an English tongue, so our versification is still based on the fundamental laws of Old English verse. A number of accented elements, preferably four, are arranged at fairly even intervals in a line. Liberties are taken as to the number and stress of the unaccented elements. The rhythm is prevailingly rising or falling, that is, the unstressed elements either precede or follow the accented elements to which they belong rhetorically or etymologically. The rhythm may change even in the middle of a line. The governing element is the meaning — and whenever the meaning and any preconceived metrical rule conflict the latter always gives way. English poetry, unhampered by technical rules as in French poetry, has therefore become the greatest in the world.

Poe sensed some of the objections to the conventional theories. He denied the necessity of regularity in the succession of feet, recognized that “emphasis can make any syllable as long as desired” and in speaking of French verse, said that “it is without accentuation and, consequently without verse.” If he had only gone a step further and seen that accent or stress and not quantity is the fundamental basis of English verse, he might have contributed definitely to our knowledge of that subject.

He quotes his own lines in “Al Aaraaf,”

“When first the phantom’s course was found to be

Headlong hitherward o’er the starry sea”

as examples of the substitution of two “trochaic” for two “iambic” feet, when what he was really doing was to change from a rising to a falling measure, the entire second line being falling in its movement. The amazing thing is that as a poet, by using a falling measure, he produced a striking line describing the fall of the phantom, while as a critic, he solemnly tells us that he substituted “trochaic” feet for “iambic” feet, neither of which exist in English at all!

Mrs. Shew continued to befriend Poe and Mrs. Clemm, and Poe [page 563:] published in the Columbian Magazine for March, 1848, his second poem to her, “To ——.” It is again in blank verse, and while in part a composite of earlier lines, it has some striking verses like

“Unthought like thoughts that are the souls of thought”

It is also sincere, and quite different in quality from “An Enigma” which appeared in the same month in Sartain’s Union Magazine. This was written for Mrs. Estelle Anna Lewis, whose pen name, Sarah Anna Lewis, is to be found in the verses. She was one of the women who paid in cash and in service to Mrs. Clemm for Poe’s critical praises of her work and for his editing of her poems. A vivid picture of the loathing he felt for the position in which Mrs. Clemm put him is given in a letter written by Mrs. Shew (later Mrs. Houghton), to Ingram.(41)

“Mr. Poe expressed to me the great mortification it was to him, and I, childlike, I hated the fat, gaudily dressed woman whom I often found sitting in Mrs. Clemm’s little kitchen, waiting to see the man of genius, who had rushed out to escape her, to the fields and forests — or to the grounds of the Catholic School in the vicinity. I remember Mrs. C— sending me after him in great secrecy one day. I found him sitting on a favorite rock, muttering his desire to die and get rid of literary bores.”

Mrs. Shew seems to have suggested to Poe the writing of “The Bells,” early in the summer of 1848. He came to her home, which was at 51 Tenth Street, near Broadway,(42) mentally exhausted, yet feeling that he had a poem to write. He was annoyed by the nearby bells, probably those of Grace Church at Tenth Street and Broadway. She gave him paper and wrote on it “The Bells, by E. A. Poe” — adding “The little silver bells.” Poe finished the stanza in the first form, of seven lines. She then suggested “The heavy iron bells,” and Poe wrote the first form of the second stanza of eleven lines. After he had slept for twelve hours in her brother’s room, she took him home to Fordham.(43)

“The Bells” was rewritten at least three times before it reached the form in which it finally appeared in Sartain’s Magazine in November, 1849. John Sartain also published the original brief form, in December, 1849, stating that it came to him “about a year since.” “About six months after this,” he continued, “we received the poem enlarged and [page 564:] altered nearly to its present size and form, and about three months since, the author sent another alteration and enlargement, in which condition the poem was left at the time of his death.(44)

He also denied Stoddard’s charge that Poe had sold the poem three times. As Sartain said, “It came from Poe in three distinct forms, and at different intervals of time, and as each of the last two was a great improvement upon the preceding, it was but fair that the author should receive additional compensation each time.[[”]](45)

“The Bells” is one of the most successful verbal imitations of sound in the English language. The effect is secured largely by skillful contrast of close vowel sounds,

“How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle

In the icy air of night.”

with open vowels,

“Hear the mellow wedding bells,

Golden bells”

and, of course, by the apt creation of vivid phrases. Many and various have been the suggestions as to the sources for “The Bells”(46) but it is not the choosing of bells as a subject of a poem which is important.  It is the way in which the sounds are chosen and combined which makes the poem a great one. Here Poe, as usual, was his own source.

Sometime later during 1848, Mrs. Shew wrote Poe that their friendship could not continue. As usual, much ink has been spent in conjecture. Her own words are the best testimony:

“Mr. Poe always treated me with respect and I was to him a friend in need and a friend indeed, but he was so excentric [sic] and so unlike others, and I was also, that I had to define a position I was bound to take and it hurt his feelings and after he was dead I deeply regretted my letter to him, as we all do when too late.”(47) Poe made an appeal to her in 1849, which will come in its proper place.

On May 19, 1848, Poe wrote a long letter(48) to Mrs. Jane E. Locke, [page 565:] of Lowell, Massachusetts, evidently in reply to one of hers. It represents Poe in one of his least attractive roles, that of a man parrying the sentimental advances of a woman and yet encouraging her by the expression of an assumed interest. Some portions of the letter have collateral information:

But for duties that, just now, will not be neglected or even postponed — the proof reading of a work of scientific detail, [Eureka] in which a trivial error would involve me in very serious embarrassment — I would, ere this, have been in Lowell, — to clasp you by the hand — and to thank you personally for all that I owe you — and, oh, I feel that this is very — very much. . . . Will you remember that the hermit life which for the last three years I have led, buried in the woods of Fordham, has necessarily prevented me from learning anything of you, and will you still refuse to tell me at least one particular of your personal history? I feel that you cannot misunderstand me. Tell me nothing — I ask nothing — which has any reference to “worldliness” or the “fear of the world.” Tell me only of the ties — if any exist — that bind you to the world: — and yet I perceive that I may have done very wrong in asking you this: — now that I have asked it, it seems to me the maddest of questions, involving, possibly, the most visionary of hopes.

Ermina Starkweather Locke, who for some reason unknown to her most authentic biographers,(49) prefixed “Jane” to her name, was a sentimental and occasional poetess and a kinswoman of Mrs. Osgood. Ill health and the care of a large family apparently gave her a pessimistic view of life. This was probably not brightened when Poe came to Lowell at her invitation to lecture on “The Poets and Poetry of America” at Wentworth Hall on June 10, 1848.(50) [page 566:]

Poe was apparently disappointed with his forty-three year old hostess at Wamesit Cottage, for he met her neighbor, Mrs. Nancy Locke Heywood Richmond, and was instantly attracted to her. She became the “Annie” of one of his most fervent affairs. Mrs. Locke, jealous of his attentions to her friend, contributed her version of that romance to the scandals of 1848 and 1849. Whether Poe saw her on his second visit, in the fall of 1848, is not very clear, but a letter of introduction to Mrs. Locke, which he gave to Mrs. Lewis in October, 1848, shows that he was still on good terms with her at that time.

Why Poe postponed his visit to Richmond in the interest of The Stylus is made clear from this letter, which does not appear in any of the biographies.

Fordham — June 7, — 48.

Dr Sir,

I fear that, on reading this note, you will think me (what God knows I am not) most ungrateful for your former kindness — and that I presume upon it more than I should, in asking you to aid me again. My only excuse is, that I am desperately circumstanced — in very bitter distress of mind and body — and that I look around me in vain to find any friend who both can and will aid me, unless it be yourself. My last hope of extricating myself from the difficulties which are pressing me to death, is in going personally to a distant connexion near Richmond, Va, and endeavoring to interest him in my behalf. With a very little help all would go well with me — but even that little I cannot obtain; the effort to overcome one trouble only serving to plunge me in another. Will you forgive me, then, if I ask you to loan me the means of getting to Richmond? My mother in law, Mrs. Clemm, who will hand you this, will explain to you the particulars of my situation.

Truly & gratefully yours

EDGAR A. POE

C. A. Bristed Esqre

Mr Putnam has my book in press, but he could make me no advance, beyond $14 — some weeks ago.(51)

­

Poe's visiting card [thumbnail]

[Illustration on the top of page 567]
 
Poe’s visiting card, made by himself

Charles Astor Bristed, then a young man of twenty-eight, was a grandson of John Jacob Astor, II, and a scholar and man of letters, although his publications came mainly after this period. Let us hope he helped Poe, as he could well have afforded some assistance. Poe [page 567:] had spoken favorably(52) of an article by him on “The Scotch School of Philosophy and Criticism” in Colton’s Review, for October, 1845.

Mrs. Clemm’s visit to Bristed may not have been fruitful for a letter to Bayard Taylor reveals Poe’s effort to sell a poem, probably the second “To Helen,” since it appeared in the Union Magazine in November, 1848:

June 15 — 48

Bayard Taylor Esq.

Dr Sir,

I would feel greatly indebted to you if you could spare time to look over the lines enclosed and let me know whether they will be accepted for “The Union” — if so, what you can afford to pay for them, and when they can appear.

Truly Yours,

EDGAR A. POE.

P. S. I feel that I have been guilty of discourtesy in not sooner thanking you for your picturesque and vigorous “Views A-Foot” — but when they reached me, and long afterwards, I was too ill to write — and latterly I have been every day hoping to have an [page 568:] opportunity of making your acquaintance and thanking you in person.(53)

The correspondence with Chivers came to an end at this time, and helps to fix an important date:

Fordham — Westchester Co —
July 13, 48.  

My Dear Friend,

I have just returned from an excursion to Lowell: — this is the reason why I have not been to see you. My mother will leave this note at your hotel in the event of your not being in when she calls. I am very anxious to see you — as I propose going on to Richmond on Monday. Can you not come out to Fordham & spend tomorrow and Sunday with me? We can talk over matters, then, at leisure. The cars for Fordham leave the dépôt at the City Hall almost every hour — distance 14 miles.

Truly yours

POE.(54)

Across the top of this letter Chivers wrote, “The following is the last letter that I ever received from him.”

John R. Thompson, then Editor of the Southern Literary Messenger was responsible for a distressing picture of Poe’s habits at that time, and since his testimony has been given in detail in all the biographies it is necessary to test its validity. On October 17, 1848, he wrote to Philip Pendleton Cooke:

Poe is not in Richmond. He remained here about 3 weeks, horribly drunk and discoursing “Eureka” every night to the audiences of the Bar Rooms. His friends tried to get him sober and set him to work but to no effect and were compelled at last to reship him to New York. I was very anxious for him to write something for me, while he remained here, but his lucid intervals were so brief and infrequent that it was quite impossible. “The Rationale of Verse” I took — more as an act of charity than anything else, for though exhibiting great acquaintance with the subject, it is altogether too bizarre and too technical for the general reader. Poe is a singular fellow indeed.(55)

More than a year later Thompson wrote to E. H. N. Patterson: [page 569:]

Richmond, Va., 9 Nov., 1849.

My dear Sir, — Your letter making inquiries of a personal nature concerning poor Poe has been lying on my table some days. I avail myself of the first leisure moment to reply to it.

My first acquaintance with the deceased was in the spring of 1848, when I accidentally learned that a person calling himself Edgar A. Poe had been, for a fortnight, in a debauch, in one of the lowest haunts of vice upon the wharves in this City. If you have ever visited Richmond you may perhaps know that the business portion of the town and the sites occupied by residences exclusively are distant from the shipping by a mile and a half, so that very few persons not actually engaged in commercial affairs ever visit the landing at all. As soon as I heard the name of Poe in this connection my worst suspicions were excited, and I at once took a carriage and went to seek him. It was a very warm day in the latter part of May or early in June. When I reached the purlieus of this abandoned quarter, I learned that such a person had indeed been there, drunk, for two weeks, and that he had gone a few hours previous, without hat or coat, to the residence of Mr. John MacKenzie, some three miles distant in the country, alone & on foot. It was Poe. The next day he called on me with Mr. MacKenzie. From that time until his death we were much together and in constant correspondence. I did all I could to restrain his excesses and to relieve the pressure of his immediate wants (for he was extremely indigent) but no influence was adequate to keep him from the damnable propensity to drink and his entire residence in Richmond of late was but a succession of disgraceful follies. He spoke of himself as the victim of a pre-ordained damnation, as l’âme perdue, a soul lost beyond all hope of redemption. For three weeks previous to his departure from Richmond he had been sober — a Son of Temperance. But no confidence could be placed in him in any relation of life, least of all in antagonism to his fatal weakness. He died, indeed, of delirium from drunkenness; the shadow of infamy beclouded his last moments

“And his soul from out that shadow

Shall be lifted never more!”

But who shall judge harshly of the dead? Mercy benignly tempers the divine Justice, and to this Justice we commit his spirit.

Poe had spoken to me of your design with reference to the literary enterprise of which you speak. You were fortunate, I think, in not having embarked in it, for a more unreliable person that [[than??]] he could hardly be found. I have not, as yet, recovered his trunk, so that I cannot tell you whether or no he left any unpublished [page 570:] MSS. The day before he went North from Richmond, I advanced him a small sum of money for a prospective article which he probably never wrote. His complete Works will be brought out by the Rev. Dr. Griswold.

With much regard, I am Sir, yours,

JNO. R. THOMPSON.(56)

This later letter, which has been most often quoted, contradicts both itself and the earlier note. The “three weeks” has grown to a visit beginning “late in May or early in June.” Poe did not leave New York until July 17, 1848, and if he spent two weeks “in one of the lowest haunts of vice” after his arrival in Richmond, it was not until August that Thompson saw him. Again, this second letter undoubtedly refers in part to the 1849 visit, yet Thompson writes as though he were speaking of one period. Both letters are couched in extravagant terms, and Poe’s publications during August and September show that he was able to write,(57) and that Thompson was evidently an unreliable witness. Moreover, in Thompson’s article on Poe in the Messenger for November, 1849, and in his Genius and Character of Edgar Allan Poe,(58) written some years later and only recently published, Thompson says nothing of this episode. In the last he says, “I love to think of him as he appeared during the two months preceding his death, a quiet, easy, seemingly contented and well-bred gentleman.” That Poe was drinking when he was in Richmond in 1848 is quite probable, but that he lived in the state Thompson describes him, at second hand, is quite improbable. Poe did not seek the purlieus of the cities he visited, and unless he was drugged, he was not found there, until his last journey. Indeed there is something irritating in the romantic pictures of this 1848 visit. If Mr. Whitty’s researches were correct, which is of course always open to question, there is no mention of Poe’s visit in the Richmond newspapers of the time.(59) E. V. Valentine’s “Notes” in the Valentine Museum, while giving many details concerning the 1849 visit, does not mention that of 1848. The [page 571:] stories about Poe’s duel with John M. Daniel are told in absolutely contradictory terms by equally competent and incompetent witnesses. He apparently did not meet Mrs. Shelton. Poe’s own reference to Daniel “the man whom I challenged when I was here last year”(60) is the only evidence for the 1848 visit that seems authentic. When the lack of information concerning this 1848 visit is compared with the detailed and reliable information concerning his stay of 1849, it seems as though there might be some truth in Mrs. Clemm’s statement that he did not visit Richmond from 1837 to 1849!(61) We shall, of course, accept Poe’s own testimony in this case, but the visit must have been a minor episode.


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 535:]

(1)  This does not agree with Mrs. Gove’s account of the purchase of a poem which seems to have been “Ulalume,” in 1846.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 538:]

(2)  Poe made a mistake in the numbering, using “5” twice.

(3)  November 26, 1845.

(4)  Play by Cornelius Mathews, dealing with New England. One of the best of the early dramas.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 539:]

(5)  Refers to drinking and Virginia’s illness. See pp. 347-348, or facsimile.

(6)  Original Autograph Ms. In Collection of Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach.

(7)  Poe to Bristed, June 7, 1848, see p. 566.

(8)  February 11, 1848.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 541:]

(9)  February 4, 1848.

(10)  Edition of 1848, p. 5.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 543:]

(11)  Original Autograph Ms., J. P. Morgan Library.

(12)  Eureka, p. 8.

(13)  Eureka, pp. 8-9. Quotations are from the First Edition, of 1848. In certain cases where Poe modified the statements in a copy which he was evidently preparing for a new edition, I have made use of these corrections. The quotations represent therefore Poe’s latest thought on the subject. These revisions are given in Virginia Edition, XVI, 319-336. I have made my corrections from Poe’s Ms. alterations in the volume of Eureka now in the library of Mr. H. B. Martin. The “Addenda” and Poe’s “Notes” (see the Virginia Ed., pp. 337-354) are too technical for quotation here and sometimes are not correct.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 544:]

(14)  I am quoting certain portions of this letter verbatim, because it is only fair to Dr. Heyl to state that his opinions concerning the general theories of Eureka do not coincide with mine.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 545:]

(15)  Sir Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (New York and Cambridge, 1930), p. 281.

(16)  Sir Arthur Eddington, The Expanding Universe (Cambridge and New York, 1933), p. 31.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 546:]

(17)  In the revision Poe makes a note to “show this in another edition.”

(18)  In the original edition Poe used the term “irradiated” throughout.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 547:]

(19)  See George Norstedt, “Poe and Einstein,” Open Court, XLIV (1930), 173-180 — passage quoted on p. 175.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 548:]

(20)  Produced first in the United States by the Theatre Guild at the Martin Beck Theatre, New York, December 10, 1928.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 549:]

(21)  The Expanding Universe, p. 80.

(22)  The Expanding Universe, p. 82.

(23)  The Expanding Universe, p. 178.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 550:]

(24)  The Expanding Universe, p. 109-110.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 551:]

(25)  See especially pages 96-99, 1848 ed.

(26)  The Expanding Universe, p. 50. See also his Nature of the Physical World, p. 80.

(27)  See Eddington, The Expanding Universe, p. 19.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 553:]

(28)  It is still mentioned in such a treatise as Young’s Astronomy.

(29)  The Expanding Universe, p. 178.

(30)  Eureka, p. 136.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 557:]

(31)  See the entire Chapter XV, “Science and Mysticism,” of The Nature of the Physical World.

(32)  Among recent discussions, see Clayton Hoagland, “The Universe of Eureka,” Southern Literary Messenger, I (May, 1939), 307-313.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 558:]

(33)  It did not appear in Graham’s, but in the Southern Literary Messenger.

(34)  Eureka.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 559:]

(35)  Original Autograph Ms. in J. P. Morgan Library. It differs only slightly from the copy printed in J. S. Wilson’s edition of the letters, except that it does not include the following postscript:

“By the bye, lest you infer that my views, in detail, are the same with those advanced in the Nebular Hypothesis, I venture to offer a few addenda, the substance of which was penned, though never printed, several years ago, under the head of — A Prediction.”

[Here follow Poe’s “Addenda,” before noted.]

“How will that do for a postscript?”

(36)  February 29, 1848. Letter and printed Prospectus of the Stylus, dated April, 1848, are in collection of J. K. Lilly, Jr. The letter is addressed to “George E. Irbey,” but the surname is changed by an unknown hand to “Isbell.” Since George E. Isbell appears in the directory of Binghamton in 1859, and a street is named after him, and since no “Irbey” appears to have lived in that town, the latter name is probably an error by Poe.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 560:]

(37)  Graham’s, XXXII (January, 1848), 24.

(38)  Graham’s, XXXII (March, 1848), 178-179.

(39)  Now in the Huntington Library.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 561:]

(40)  The three treatments of Cranch, in the Democratic Review, July, 1846, in “The Literati” in Godey’s for the same month, and in Literary America (1848), illustrate Poe’s methods in the repetition of the same material. That the articles in Literary America are later revisions is indicated clearly not only by the date, but also by the correct spelling of Cranch’s middle name.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 563:]

(41)  April 3, [1875?]. Original Ms. now in Library of University of Virginia.

(42)  H. N. MacCracken, Poe at Fordham, pp. 32-33.

(43)  Ingram, Life, II, 155

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 564:]

(44)  Editorial Page of Sartain’s Magazine, V (December, 1849), 385-387.

(45)  Lippincott’s Magazine, XLIII (March, 1889), 411-415. See also Sartain’s Reminiscences of a Very Old Man (New York, 1900), pp. 202-205.

(46)  See especially Campbell’s, Whitty’s, and the Woodberry-Stedman Editions of the Poems.

(47)  Mrs. Shew (Houghton) to Ingram, April 3, [1875?]. Original Autograph Ms., Library of University of Virginia. Mrs. Shew’s ideas of punctuation are casual.

(48)  Original Autograph Ms., W. H. Koester Collection. So far as I know, it has not been published in any of the biographies.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 565:]

(49)  For personal information concerning Mrs. Locke and the Lowell episodes, I am indebted to Frederick W. Coburn, President of the Lowell Historical Society. See his paper on “Jane E. Locke,” Lowell Courier Citizen, January 20 and 27, 1940, also “Lowell’s Association with Edgar Allan Poe,” January 20 and 27, February 3 and 10, 1941.

(50)  Poe did not lecture in July, 1848, on “The Poetic Principle” as stated in Woodberry’s Life, II, 269, Hervey Allen’s Israfel, p. 763, etc. In the advertisements and advance notices of the lecture in the Lowell Journal and Courier, July 8 and 10, 1848, and the Lowell Advertiser, of July 8th, also in the account of the lecture in the Advertiser of July 11th, the title is given as “The Poets and Poetry of America.” He intended to lecture on “The Poetic Principle” during the visit to Lowell in the fall of 1848 but apparently this lecture was not given.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 566:]

(51)  Original Autograph Ms., W. H. Koester Collection.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 567:]

(52)  “Marginalia,” Graham’s, January, 1848.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 568:]

(53)  Original Autograph Ms., W. H. Koester Collection.

(54)  Original Autograph Ms., Huntington Library.

(55)  Original Autograph Ms., W. H. Koester Collection.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 570:]

(56)  Original Autograph Ms., Morgan Library.

(57)  “The Literati of New York. S. Anna Lewis,” Democratic Review, August, 1848. “Mrs. Lewis’s Poems,” Southern Literary Messenger, September, 1848. Of course, they may have been written before he reached Richmond.

(58)  The Genius and Character of Edgar Allan Poe, by John R. Thompson, Ed. by James H. Whitty and James A. Rindfleisch (Privately Printed, 1929), p. 41.

(59)  Memoir of Poe in the Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Boston and New York, 1917-19), p. lxv.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 571:]

(60)  Poe to Mrs. Clemm, September, 1849. Original Autograph Ms., Griswold Collection, Boston Public Library.

(61)  Mrs. Clemm, to Mrs. Whitman, April 14th, 1859. Original Autograph Ms., J. K. Lilly, Jr. Collection.


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Notes:

On page 563 of the original 1941 edition, Quinn gives Mrs. Lewis’ pen name as “Mrs. ‘Estelle’ Anna Lewis,” and her real name as “Sarah Anna Lewis.” In the revised edition of 1942, he has reversed the nature of these names, giving “Sarah Anna Lewis” as her pen name. The text presented above follows the 1942 edition.


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[S:1 - EAP:ACB, 1941] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - E. A. P.: A Critical Biography (A. H. Quinn) (Chapter 17)