Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Bibliographical Note,” from the facsimile edition of Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems New York: The Facsimile Text Society, 1933, pp. v-x


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­ [page v, unnumbered:]

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Poe’s first book, the anonymous Tamerlane, printed at Boston in 1827, fell flat, attracting so little attention that the author said (perhaps euphemistically) that it had been suppressed. But during his enlistment in the U. S. Army under the alias of Edgar A. Perry, the poet did not abandon poetry. Revised versions of the two minor poems from Tamerlane appeared over his brother’s initials in the Baltimore North American in 1827; and though no other publications of the period have been traced as yet, anonymous or pseudonymous printings may still lie hid in some obscure paper. Evidence of his continual revision of his old work is contained in the Wilmer MSS. in the Pierpont Morgan Library, which include revised versions of Tamerlane and other minor poems that surely antedate 1829. And he was at work on a new narrative poem, too.

The death of his foster-mother and a partial reconciliation with the dour John Allan brought about his release from the army; and in the spring of 1829 he was in Baltimore, intent on gaining admission to West Point, and finding a publisher for his verses. After delays he was destined to succeed in both ambitions. We are here concerned only with the second. ­[page vi, unnumbered:]

From a letter addressed to Poe by William Wirt on May 11, 1829, we know that Poe had that day consulted the biographer of Patrick Henry, on Al Aaraaf. Wirt was puzzled by the poetry, pleaded that he was too old-fashioned to be a good judge of modern poetry. But he was kind to Poe, expressed the opinion that the work would please modern readers, that the notes contained “useful” information, and advised Poe to see the Philadelphia critics, Robert Walsh and Joseph Hopkinson.

From Poe’s letters to John Allan we know he did see Walsh. And two surviving letters, May 27, and July 28, 1829 (the former still unprinted, but in the Drexel Institute, Philadelphia), tell us of negotiations with Carey, Lea and Carey of Philadelphia. This famous publishing firm was willing to bring out the volume, if guaranteed against possible loss. John Allan was unwilling to put up the cash, and Poe very politely declined publication on his own account, because he had made “a better disposition” of his poems than he “had any right to expect.” To John Allan on November 18, Poe wrote from Baltimore “The Poems will be printed by Hatch & Dunning of this city upon terms advantageous to me they printing it & giving me 250 copies of the book.” It may be argued that this does not absolutely preclude a guarantee of some kind, and it seems to have been difficult to account for the comparative rarity ­[page vii, unnumbered:] of the book, if so many were issued. But my interpretation is that Hatch and Dunning gave Poe 250 copies unbound. Parts of a copy in sheets were sold (Walpole Galleries, sale catalogue, New York, March 25, 1930, lots 74 and 75) presumably from the possession of a Baltimore family. The number of copies bound and sold or circulated in the usual manner was probably very small. At present perhaps a score of copies are known. In addition to copies at Harvard, Yale, Peabody Institute, New York Public Library, Huntington Library, and the Poe Shrine, Messrs. Heartmann and Rede list a half dozen privately owned copies in their recent Census, and others unlocated. The book is an octavo of 36 leaves (72 pages with the wide margins Poe admired), beautifully printed on paper watermarked “Amies, Philad’a,” really a charming volume. The copy in the Wakeman Collection (American Art Association, New York, April 28 and 29, 1924, lot 936) bore on the title page the date 1820, usually described as a misprint. But that copy belonged to Elizabeth Herring, a cousin of Poe’s, and was used by Poe in preparing copy for his 1845 volume The Raven and Other Poems (in which he abandoned the elaborate revisions of 1831, and gave his poems of 1829 with a few corrections). I have not examined the title page under a glass, but the suggestion that the date may have been altered, either idly or hoaxingly, ­[page viii, unnumbered:] by the poet himself, seems to me quite credible.

The exact date of publication is uncertain, but a letter of December 29, 1829, from Poe to John Neal makes it clear that the book was out that month. Even before publication Poe was circulating his poems in manuscript and seeking prepublication of selections from the volume. John Neal had recently changed a weekly newspaper into a monthly literary magazine, The Yankee and Boston Literary Gazette. In the issue of September, 1829, Neal rejected, not unkindly, some verses on Heaven by E. A. P. of Baltimore (the poem we know as Fairyland); in the issue of December under the heading Unpublished Poetry, he gave extracts from the forthcoming book, from a letter of the author about it, and decidedly favorable criticism of the work. N. P. Willis in the American Monthly, for November, also rejected Fairyland (quoting four lines that identify it). And in a forthcoming issue of American Literature we may hope to see an article by Mr. Rede dealing with another attempt to arouse interest in Al Aaraaf. There may be others still undiscovered.

After the book was issued, an unfavorable review by John H. Hewitt was published in the Baltimore Minerva and Emerald — the date is uncertain for the unique Yale file of the paper is incomplete. But ­[page ix, unnumbered:] my friend Vincent Starrett showed me a transcript of Hewitt’s clipping of the review, which led to bad feeling between Poe and Hewitt, and, until he denied its authorship, with his coeditor Rufus Dawes. Its interest is now merely biographical. A more intelligent, though very brief review, by Mrs. Hale appeared in the Boston Ladies’ Magazine for January, 1830 (pointed out by J. H. Whitty in the New York Evening Post Book Review, August 13, 1921). Finding some faults with the work of an obviously young author, she recognized a kinship of his work to Shelley’s and called the author a fine genius.

A complete commentary on Al Aaraaf would require a good sized book, and involve a study of all the important prose and verse of Poe. Suffice it here to say that in abandoning the manner of Byron, Poe tried to adopt some of that of Milton and Moore, but actually gave us in the first volume printed with his own name the germs of the mysticism, curious lore, and wholly individual melody that distinguish his later work. In this epyllion, or little epic, is much that reminds one of Callimachus, Catullus, and Landor. And For Annie, The Fall of the House of Usher, and Eureka are here all foreshadowed. Angelo, Poe wrote to Lea, is the spirit of Michelangelo. But the motto, in bad Spanish, on page 3, is ­[page x, unnumbered:] a warning: “Do you understand this, Fabio?,” “Yes,” “Fabio, you are a liar!”

In preparing this note I have consulted especially the documents given by Mrs. Stanard in Edgar Allan Poe Letters . . . in the Valentine Museum, the discussions in the lives of Woodberry and Allen, in Killis Campbell’s and J. H. Whitty’s editions of the poems, and in Hewitt’s Shadows on the Wall. At one time or another I have personally examined all the periodicals and most of the MSS. mentioned. Other sources are specially named.

The facsimile is made from the copy in the Aldis Collection, through the courtesy of the Yale University Library authorities and Professor Stanley T. Williams.

T. O. M.

HUNTER COLLEGE
   November, 1932


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Notes:

For additions to these notes, see the Digression A in Mabbott’s “Introduction” to The Raven and Other Poems (1942).

This text is reproduced with special permission from the estate of Thomas Ollive and Maureen Cobb Mabbott.

The note is dated late in 1932, but the facsimile in which it appeared was printed early in 1933. A copy inscribed to Philip P. Jordan as “For Phil with regards from T.O.M.” is dated “Feb. 1, 1933,” establishing a likely date the facsimile first appeared. This copy also bears the “Errata” page as a separate item, also inscribed by Mabbott, and dated “April 28, 1933,” Although the “Errata” page corrects the sequence of pages "In the earliest copies of Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems distrubuted by the Facsimile Text Society,” all copies examined seem to contain the same problem, for which it may be assumed that the inclusion of the “Errata” page was considered sufficient correction. When the facsimile was reissued in 1973 by Folcroft Library Editions, the same error appears, without benefit of the “Errata” page.

Althought this note has been separated from the facsimile, the full text of the Poe’s original book is reproduced in e-text as ­Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems­.

The Facsimile Text Society was founded in 1929, by Frank Allen Patterson, an English professor at Columbia University. An early notice of the society states:

“The Facsimile-Text Society has recently been organized and has begun operations. The aim of the Society is to reproduce rare printed books, pamphlets, and manuscripts, that are of interest to scholars. The method of reproducing will be the offset process, which is based upon photographs of the original documents. Thus the Society is able to guarantee in their reproductions a text that will conform in every essential to the original documents.” Philosophical Review (July 1930), 39:439.

Additional information about the Facsimile Text Society appeared in Time for July 21, 1930 (a section on education). The society produced four important books of poetry by Poe, as well as L. A. Wilmer’s Merlin, which was based on Poe’s ill-fated romance with Elmira Royster. (At least one book published by the Society may have been printed in 1927, possibly before the idea of a formal society was attempted.) The Society appears to have ceased publication with the death of Patterson in 1944.

The article by Kenneth Rede, mentioned in the article as forthcoming, was “Poe Notes: From an Investigator’s Notebook,” American Literature (March 1933), 5:49-54.

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[S:1 - BNATMP, 1933] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Bibliographical Note [to Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems] (T. O. Mabbott, 1933)