Text: Charles Lombard, “Poe and French Romanticism,” Poe Newsletter­, December 1970, vol. III, no. 2, 3:30-35


[page 30, column 1:]

Poe and French Romanticism

University of Illinois at Chicago Circle

By 1800, almost three decades before Poe’s literary debut, French letters and culture were firmly established in the United States. The informed reading public knew the chief writers of Classicism and the philosophes. Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot were to be found in many a colonial library. French plays were presented in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, the last city having its own stock company directly from France. The Federalist reaction to French deism weakened Voltaire’s popularity, but Rousseau did not lose favor owing to his descriptions of the religious intuition at work in man. Sustained interest in the sentimental novel assured the continued success of La Nouvelle Heloise as well as Mme de Stael’s Corinne and Delphine and Chateaubriand’s Atala and Rene. The two novels of Mme de Stael were widely read in the United States. To many feminists Corinne and Delphine became symbols of the emancipated woman. Rated highly as a novelist, Mme de Stael was also considered one of the leading commentators on European belles-lettres and philosophy. Of particular interest were her ideas on the development of a national literature in light of the heated controversy on the future of American letters (1).

Equally as popular was the religious sentimentalism of Chateaubriand. Despite a reputation as a Catholic writer, the elegant Frenchman was highly admired. In the midst of the Second Great Awakening, devout Protestants saw in Chateaubriand a defender of religious values and in the Genie du Christianisme a welcome relief from eighteenth-century deism. Moreover, he was the first distinguished European writer to describe the natural beauty of the American continent and to make the Indian the subject of his writings. Inspired by Atala and Rene, poets of the first part of the nineteenth century imitated Chateaubriand, among them Joel Barlow, Thomas Holley Chivers, R. H. Wilde, A. B. Meek, and Micah Flint. Pioneers in Indian studies, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and Henry Whiting, impressed with Chateaubriand’s portrait of the aborigine, wrote narrative poems patterned after Atala. Timothy Flint, an early novelist of the frontier, frequently borrowed from Chateaubriand for descriptions of the American wilderness (2).

Lamartine also had a large American audience. His Meditations and Harmonies were equally suited to the current spirit of religious revival. By the 1830’s Lamartine’s works were reviewed quite often in the fashionable journals. The Voyage en orient, translated as the Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, augmented his reading public. With his rise as a political figure in the 1840’s, his name was on the lips of the habitues of the New York literary salons frequented by Poe.

In the 1830’s Americans, excited over Victor Cousin’s eloquent expose of man’s capacity for immediate perception [column 2:] of religious truths, grouped him with the creative writers of French Romanticism. New England theologians and writers rejected many of his basic premises but agreed with him that a faculty in man superior to reason gave deeper insights into eternal verities (3).

American readers, involved as they were with religious matters, turned as well to French Romantics concerned about social problems. By the end of the 1830’s enlightened Americans already saw in George Sand a worthy successor to Mme de Stael. Puritanical critics labeled her a menace to society to no avail. Numerous translations of her works assured George Sand a wide following in the forties and fifties. Prominent women like Julia Ward Howe traced her evolution from the first overly passionate novels to those of unquestionable moral value (4).

Victor Hugo was subject at first to the same criticism as George Sand. Notre-Dame de Paris shocked the puritanical. Serious critics, nonetheless, appreciated its style and the novel enjoyed fairly good sales. His poems had greater difficulty in achieving recognition because of the competition from Lamartine. Many preferred the softer verses of the Meditations to Hugo’s verbal pyrotechnics, though a few astute observers sensed in the Orientales and Fenilles d ’automne a talent greater than Lamartine’s.

Hugo’s ability to depict melodramatic situations that delighted readers of Notre-Dame de Paris proved even more successful on the American stage. Previously, the theme of Chateaubriand’s noble savage had inspired a series of plays on the Indian, but the full effect of French Romanticism was not felt until the thirties when Hugo’s Lucrece Borgia, Marie Tudor, Hernani, and Ruy Blas had successful performances in the East, South, and West and were included in the repertoire of traveling stock companies. Notre-Dame de Paris too was produced under the title Esmeralda. Hugo shared his popularity with Dumas pere and Sue. The melodramas of Dumas and adaptations of the Three Musketeers and Count of Monte-Cristo were performed along with the Mysteries of Paris. Lacking original native talent, the American stage, much as the English, looked to Paris for fresh ideas, and the French Romantic theater enjoyed a long period of popularity, lasting until the end of the century (5).

Such, then, was the general state of French Romanticism that Poe met on the American literary scene. His frequent references to French Romantics testify to his educated (6) and active, but by no means unique, interest. But before examining the details of his views on the Romantics, Poe’s opinions of their predecessors should be surveyed. Sufficient comments on French writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries exist to suggest that he had also read selectively among them. His judgments were not always favorable. “Corneille’s celebrated moi of Medea” was “borrowed from Seneca,” at best, in Poe’s opinion, an extremely poor model. Racine committed a similar error in Phedre, in which “nearly the whole scene of the declaration of love” was taken from Seneca. Poe’s patience was further taxed by Racine’s long-windedness. In Berenice Antiochus “recites immediately no less than fifty verses in a breath” (”Pinakidia,” XIV, 41, 63) in order to tell the queen of his vow to remain silent. Poe may have profited from reading L ’Art poetique. He certainly displays some of Boileau’s severity, and he quotes [page 31:] L ’Art poetique four times in a favorable context (”Marginalia,” XVI, 47, 77). Respect for Boileau’s judgment may have prompted Poe to moderate his estimate of Racine and at least acknowledge that dramatist’s “fine taste and precise finish” (”Marginalia,” XVI, 32). As for the Enlightenment, Poe could not ignore Voltaire. Fearful young writers, submitting their articles to Blackwood’s, were advised to display their “general reading and wit” by saying that anything, even a chicken, was as “tender as Zaire” (”How to Write a Blackwood Article,” II, 278-279), a remark prompted, no doubt, by Poe’s exasperation with the “thousand blunders” Voltaire committed in “foolish scruples about unity of place” (”Pinakidia,” XVI, 63) . Only one European writer annoyed Poe more: “I am not ashamed to say,” he admitted, “that I prefer even Voltaire to Goethe” (”Marginalia,” XVI, 1.17). Less harsh was his judgment of Rousseau, whose observations on human nature at times were shrewd. In “Loss of Breath” reference is made to Lord Edouard, who in La Nouvelle Heloise maintained that by remaining calm in moments of crisis one would discover that “le chemin des passions” led to the “philosophic veritable” (II, 152). Dupin ends “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” with a quotation from the same novel to describe a jealous police official’s proclivity “de nier ce qui est, et d ’expliquer ce qui n ’est pas “ (IV, 192). Poe’s view of Rousseau as a creative writer is deducible from comments on Thomas Ward (”Flaccus”). Despite its mediocrity, Ward’s poetry revealed on occasion the “work of a heart on fire with passion”; the “utter abandon of the details” reminded one “even of Jean Jacques” (”Flaccus,” XI, 165).

Of the French Romantics, it is natural that Poe spoke much more profusely, if not always more generously, for their names and works filled the air of the literary circles he moved in. His greatest exposure to views on France’s contemporary writers was at the home of Anne Charlotte Lynch. The gracious hostess to New York’s literary elite held weekly conversazioni attended by the persons listed in Poe’s Literati. Margaret Fuller, nicknamed the “American Mme de Stael,” discussed the French Romantics in her works, especially George Sand, whom she was to meet in person. Thomas Dunn English, Poe’s enemy, and George “Gaslight” Foster wrote a history of the Revolution of 1848 glorifying Lamartine, who had been popular among American francophiles since 1830. Elizabeth Fries Ellet, our poet’s nemesis, commented on Lamartine and Hugo and translated their poems in the literary reviews. Caroline Matilda Kirkland, author of A Book for the Home Circle (1853), admired Mme de Stael and George Sand and confessed to settling temporarily in the Michigan backwoods after reading Chateaubriand’s uplifting descriptions of life outdoors. Sarah Helen Whitman and Estelle Lewis, two of Poe’s friends, were also quite familiar with the French Romantics. Mme de Stael was the subject of a biography in 1832 by the outspoken feminist Lydia Child (1802- 1880). The popular columnist Sara Clarke Lippincott (1823-1904) (”Grace Greenwood”) wrote newspaper articles in the 1840’s on the French literary scene. Fritz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867) in the same period translated some of Hugo’s poems. The hostess, Miss Lynch, participated in any conversation on the literature of France, a subject to which she devoted a [column 2:] long chapter in the Handbook of Universal Literature in 1860. Much admired by Anne Lynch and detested by Poe, Henry T. Tuckerman (1813-1871) pontificated at any discussion of contemporary French authors. The works of Tuckerman contained many allusions to Lamartine, Hugo, Chateaubriand, and Mme de Stael. Admired by Sainte-Beuve, Tuckerman was listed in Gustave Vapereau’s Dictionnaire Universel of 1851 along with Anne Lynch and other members of the literati. Among those not mentioned by Poe but still sharing the general interest in French Romanticism were Evert and George Duyckinck, Julia Ward Howe, and Donald G. Mitchell (”Ik Marvel”). Distinguished out-of-town francophiles, Longfellow, Whittier, and Francis G. Shaw of Brook Farm, also visited Lynch’s (7).

New York then was a logical place to foster interest in the French Romantics. Their plays were currently appearing in the city’s theaters. Mme de Stael’s theory of literary nationalism had been a topic of conversation since 1815. The literary reviews and newspapers printed articles on the French Romantics and the translations of their works. Novels in translation by Dumas, Sand, and Hugo flooded the book market. One newspaper, the Home Journal, was strongly francophile in its orientation and faithfully recorded the activities of Anne’s group.

Poe had his own opinions to express at the conversazioni whenever French Romanticism was under consideration. On the subject of Chateaubriand he scoffed at the idealized Indians in Atala and Rene and at the American writers who attempted to imitate them. “No Indian,” Chateaubriand to the contrary, ever indulged in the “disjointed and hyberbolical” speech fabricated by second-rate novelists (Review of “Legends of a Log Cabin,” VIII, 121). Poe appreciated Chateaubriand more as a travel writer and considered the Itineraire de Paris a Jerusalem one of the “valuable books of eastern travel,” the content being relatively unaffected by the author’s “exaggerated sentimentality” (Review of “Stephens ’ Arabia Petraea,” X, 2, 25). Robert M. Walsh’s Sketches of Conspicuous Living Characters of France, a translation of Louis de Lomenie’s Galerie Populaire des Contemporains in which Chateaubriand was “lauded ad nauseam,” irritated Poe. Weary of the “mere cant and rhapsody” lavished upon Chateaubriand and Lamartine, he complained:

we have observed that all “rear writers who fall occasionally into the sins of ranting and raving, meet with critics who think the only way to elucidate is to out-rant and out-rave them. A beautiful confusion of thought of course ensues, which it is truly refreshing to contemplate. (Review of “Characters of France,” x, 134-136)

This comment represents Poe’s usual opposition to puffery and probably his strong reaction against Tuckerman’s praise of Chateaubriand, for undue commendation of any writer by the quiet Bostonian obliged Poe to take exactly the opposite position. Nevertheless, there is evidence that Poe was impressed by the Itineraire de Paris a Jerusalem and Genie du Christianisme. His early poem, “To Zante,” ends with this glowing tribute:

O hyacinthine isle! O purple Zante

“Isola d ’oro! Fior di Levante.”

[page 32:]

Stedman and Woodberry trace these lines to the Itineraite and Chateaubriand’s pleasant recollections of the island. “Je souseris a ces noms d ’lsola d ’oro, de Fior di Levante “ (8). In “The Bells” there is an allusion to a familiar theme in Chateaubriand, the association of the tolling of the bell with fear and apprehension: “Hear the alarum bells, / Brazen bells! / What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!” Again Stedman and Woodberry indicate a passage from the Genie in which the “cloche d ’alarme” mingles with the “cris aigus” of frightened citizens (X, 38, 185-186). In describing the grandeur of the American continent in “Ragged Mountains” and The Journal of Julius Rodman, Poe echoes Chateaubriand’s reactions to similar scenes. The “immensity of territory . . . . abounding in the magnificent works of God” and through which mighty rivers flow certainly recaptures the tone and spirit of the Genie (IV, 33). It is one of those rare moments when Poe finds nature majestic and inspiring and not the sinister reflection of some dark, foreboding mystery.

If Poe had little time for protracted meditations on the beauties of nature, he had still less for the “human-perfectibility man” who quoted Mme de Stael (”Lionizing,” II, 38). Since most of the bluestockings at Anne Lynch’s read Corinne and Delphine, Poe in all probability listened to more than one soulful commentary on Mme de Stael’s delicate treatment of feminine emotions. With definite reservations about Margaret Fuller, America’s version of Mme de Stael, he was no ardent admirer of intellectual women. Accordingly, Poe considered Mme de Stael just another emotional representative of her sex. He had no comment on Mrs. Hemans ’ desire to identify personal joys and suffering with those of Corinne (Review of “Memorials of Mrs. Hemans,” IX, 202), probably out of respect for the English poet. Common sense dictated a wiser course to prudent women than the one offered by Corinne and Delphine. In “The Landscape Garden,” Ellison, with a faithful wife, finds “a far greater amount of positive happiness than ever glowed in the rapt daydreams of De Stael” (IV, 271). In light of this estimate, Poe would have little time for speculations on national literature. He might well have blamed Mme de Stael for the plethora of mediocre books laying claim to literary greatness simply because the authors were American.

The absence of any mention of De l ’Allemagne and De la litterature was consistent with Poe’s indifference to theoretical and utopian phases of French Romanticism. Theories on literary nationalism bored him as much as overnight solutions to social problems. A few allusions in Poe’s works to the reformers among French Romantics give a rather clear picture of his views. He speaks mischievously in “The Mystery of Marie Roget” of an attempt to “fasten the crime of the late atrocity” on the unfortunate idealist, Abbe de Lamennais (V, 41). Passing mention of the “divine sixth sense . . . . the basis of all Cousin’s dreams” (Review of “Orion,” XI, 255 -256) leaves little doubt that he did not share the enthusiasm of American Transcendentalists. That other idol of Brook Farm, Fourier, was as much an object of Poe’s scorn as the whole movement of Transcendentalism. He seriously questioned whether it was worth the trouble “even to sneer at the reveries of Fourier.” In one of his less witty moments, Poe poked fun at social idealists exemplified [column 2:] by the “Irish philosopher called Furrier,” so name-d after a fur shop (”Mellonta Tauta,” VI, 199).

A dislike for utopias explains Poe’s brief treatment of George Sand, with no mention of the digressions on feminine rights and social reforms in her novels. The ladies in Anne Lynch’s salon probably exasperated him with their glowing tributes to George Sand’s idealism. Consequently, he dwelt solely on those aspects of her writing relevant to literature. Walsh’s analysis of her pleased him with its “piquancy and spirit” (”Characters of France,” X, 137). In a sense, Poe’s judgment of George Sand, who interspersed “many an admirable sentiment with the most shameless and altogether objectionable fiction” (Review of “Byron and Mrs. Chaworth,” XV, 150), seemed a partial concession to the position of Anne Lynch’s coterie. He apparently was not sufficiency acquainted with her works to go into further detail, and, moreover, she was not the type of novelist who would sustain Poe’s interest.

At first glance, Lamartine would appear to have little appeal for Poe. He was one of Tuckerman’s favorites and represented the type of sentimentality Poe despised and ridiculed. Dupin, conducting the Rue Morgue investigation, comes upon the “little alley called Lamartine,” paved with “overlapping and riveted blocks” (”Rue Morgue,” IV, 155) . The latter remark may refer to Lamartine’s wearisome repetition of certain themes, a defect Poe criticized in Walsh’s work. Here the description of Lamartine is obviously influenced by the self-portrait in the French poet’s own writings. Seemingly it was in the divine plan that the author of the Meditations would be engaged in “picking up Grecian lyres dropped by the mild Chenier, enriching them with Christian chords, and ravishing the world with new melodies!” (”Characters of France,” X, 137). Annoyance at such egotism caused Poe to compare the French writer to Thomas Moore whose verbal tours de force would oblige a versifier like Lamartine to “stand aghast” (Review of “Alciphron — A Poem,” X, 69). On the other hand, the “too French enthusiasm of Lamartine” (Review of “Stephens ’ Arabia Petraea,” X, 25) had its merits. The Voyage en orient was one of the better books on the Holy Land and the narrative poem, La Chute d ’un ange, ranked with the “more namral, and more ideal compositions of recent times in Europe” (9). Poe must have been pleased with the melodrama of La Chute d ’un ange, written with a vigor unusual for Lamartine. While Poe himself treated Lamartine casually, he did not allow similar freedom to Elizabeth F. Ellet when translating a poem from the Harmonies. The profession of translator might not require “high originality or very eminent talent of any kind,” but Poe felt this did not excuse her from adhering closely to the text. “We cannot perceive the lines answering to Mrs. E’s verses,” he grumbled about the following excerpt from her rendition of the “Perte de l ’Anio”:

All that obscures thy sovereign majesty

Degrades our glory in degrading thee.

(“Mrs. Ellet,” VIII, 138-139)

Poe must have been airing a grudge against Mrs. Ellet, for her translation retains the original sense rather well: [page 33:]

Et tout ce qui fletrit ta majeste supreme

Semble en te degradant nous degrader nous-meme! (10)

Perhaps in taking exception to Mrs. Ellet’s pedestrian translations, Poe was recalling an earlier period when, more sensitive to the Romantic themes of love and nature, he possibly read with pleasure the Meditations. Lines from “The Lake,” written in 1827, correspond to the general tone of Le Lac, composed several years earlier:

In spring of youth it was my lot

To haunt of the wide world a spot

The which it could not love the less

So lovely was the loneliness. . . . . (VII, 21)

Similar to Lamartine, Poe perceives in the lake a symbol of time and the fleeting delights of love. Whereas to Iamartine the lake is a specific reminder of his own love for Mme Charles, Poe finds a murky image of death that ultimately faces any solitary soul gazing into its waters.

In Eugene Sue, a less prestigious contemporary of Lamartine’s, Poe found qualities more to his liking. The author of the “admirable Juif errant” (”Arnheim,” VI, 179) and that book of “unquestionable power,” the Mysteries of Paris, had of course his shortcomings. Sue’s writings, a “paradox of childish folly and consummate skill,” were characteristic of what Poe termed “the ‘convulsive ’ fictions.” Even the “incidents” were “consequential from the premises,” although the “premises themselves” might be “laughably incredible.” What delighted Poe ostensibly was Sue’s handling of tense, dramatic situations, a salient feature of Poe’s own tales. The “cant about the amelioration of society,” however, failed to impress Poe. A “saleable book” was, in his opinion, the underlying motive of Sue and other writers who made a show of humanitarian concern (”Marginalia,” XVI, 104-109). In rejecting utopian novelists, Poe was undoubtedly thinking of George Sand, so often cited in America for her deep social consciousness.

Unprepared to accept the sociologically-oriented roman a these, Poe was equally opposed to the bombast of that “absurd antithesis-hunter, Victor Hugo.” A thinking person had no choice “but to laugh outright at such phrases as the ’sympathetic swan-like cries ’ and the ’singular lyric precocity of the crystal soul ’ — of such an ass as the author of Bug-Jargal” (”Characters of France,” X, 136-137). Poe might have been quoting from an English translation, but it is more likely that he translated the phrases himself, since he usually cited a French author in the original. Elsewhere he repeated his ridicule by suggesting that one of Hugo’s ancestors had been injected with “the blood of an ass” (”Marginalia,” XVI, 91). Though exasperated with his inflated style, Poe did not lose sight of Hugo’s merits. Notre-Dame de Paris afforded “a fine example of the force which can be gained by concentration, or unity of place” (Review of “Barnaby Rudge,” XI, 59). In “The Masque of the Red Death” the festivities preceding the gruesome climax had “much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm — much of what has been seen in ‘Hernani ’” (IV, 254). Significantly Poe is struck by those aspects directly related to stage setting. He had apparently attended a performance of Hernani and in his role as drama critic must have gone frequently [column 2:] to the theater to see other French Romantic plays then in vogue. One result of his theater-going may be the masquerade scene in “The Masque of the Red Death,” which parallels the final act of Hernani. In both cases the guests question each other about the identity of a sepulchral, masked figure. The mysterious intruder in each instance brings death to the host. Ruy Gomez forces Hernani to commit suicide and Prince Prospero is stricken with the plague.

A borrowing from Hernani is most likely, in view of Poe’s comments on the American theater, which reflect a probable acquaintance with the Preface de Cromwell. With Hugo, he conceded that the stage “in its mechanisms” had made progress. Poe also shared Hugo’s insistence on likeness On the question of plot, Poe wanted one so well-knit that it would be impossible to “detach from it or disarrange any single incident involved, without destruction to the mass.” Judging from his approval of Nathaniel P. Willis ’ Tortesa and its involved story, Poe had in mind Hugo’s concept of the unity of action with several distinct sub-plots related to the central plan (”The American Drama,” XIII, 33-73). The uncompleted play Politian reveals the extent of Poe’s attraction to Hugo’s melodramas. Of further interest is an apparent reference in “The Landscape Garden” to Hugo’s theory of the sublime and the grotesque. We are told that a natural setting does not need the symmetry of a Grecian temple. Instead, the proper combination of “strangeness, vastness, definitiveness, and magnificence” might easily inspire the angels, and a rugged country garden would, despite its wildness, still have a beauty satisfying the “instinct of the beautiful or sublime” (IV, 269-270) of the most exacting critic.

Hugo’s specific applications of this theory evidently impressed Poe especially where the grotesque was the predominant element. The jester Hop-Frog embodies physical and psychological traits common to Han d ’Islande and Habibrah in Bug-Jargal. Similar to these two dwarfs Hop-Frog has a “distortion of his legs” and “prodigious muscular power” combined with a desire for revenge. There is also a resemblance to Quasimodo. At the close of the tale Hop-Frog, in partial imitation of the hunchback’s rescue of Esmeralda, swings from a cord to set fire to the costumes of the king and his seven “privy-councillors” (”Hop-Frog,” VI, 217-228). Thus having avenged a royal insult to Tripetta, he vanishes with her, never to be seen again, much in the manner Quasimodo disappears with Esmeralda’s body. In addition, Poe inserts some incidents from Han d ’lslande. Just as Hop-Frog destroys his enemies by fire, Han ignites the straw in his prison immediately before being executed. The resulting conflagration overwhelms his executioners. There remains “un amas d ’ossements blanchis et de cadavres defigures” (11), much like Hop-Frog’s victims, “a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass” (”Hop-Frog,” VI, 228). Passing reference should perhaps be made to another possible borrowing from Han d ’lslande. Poe’s mummer disguised as the Red Death brings to mind Nychol Orugix, the executioner, clothed in “serge rouge” (II, 17).

Aside from fairly close parallels with incidents and characters in Hugo’s novels, Poe’s imagery and descriptions [page 34:] possess certain traits in common with his French contemporary. Both poets took delight in playing with the effects of light and shadow, fire and darkness. The hallucinatory landscape of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “a few white trunks of decayed trees” (III, 273), brings to mind the “rameaux tordus” (12) in the forest whose mysteries haunt the poet of “A Albert Durer.” In “Metzengerstein” Poe has a horse disappear in a burning castle, only to re-appear in the form of a smoking image over the ruins (II, 195-196). Somehow we are reminded of “Soleils couchants” and Hugo’s vivid word-portrait of a “grand crocodile au dos large et raye” formed by the clouds (13). The “multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances” in “The Masque of the Red Death” (IV, 251-254) created by the projection of the fire’s rays on the tinted windows recalls in its general outlines the swarm of nocturnal spirits pictured by Hugo in “Les Djinns”:

Ils vent tous pres! — Tenons fermee

Cette salle ou nous les narguans.

Quel bruit dehors! Hideuse armee

De vampires et de dragons! (14)

The passage from “Les Djinns” represents that part of French Romanticism which mainly attracted Poe and manifested itself in his borrowings from Victor Hugo. In the plays, novels, and poems of Hugo, Poe found dramatic situations and vivid imagery in accord with his own literary tastes. To a certain degree even Sue was preferable to Chateaubriand and Lamartine whose immoderate sentimentalism wearied Poe. Emotionalism inspired by religiosity, unrequited love, or utopianism were all equally annoying to the American writer. For that reason, he rejected the idealized Indians of Chateaubriand, the melancholy lines of Lamartine, and the humanitarian aspirations of the French Romantics in general. At times, particularly in his earlier years, he was momentarily affected by the reflective and wistful moods of Chateaubriand and Lamartine. This frame of mind did not last long, and Poe embraced with greater enthusiasm the melodramatic elements of Hugo’s plays and novels adaptable to his own short stories. In its overall effect, Poe’s descriptive artistry resembles that of Hugo from the standpoint of imagery and color.

On the whole, Poe’s interest in French Romanticism is a reflection of the time and the people he knew. Many of his opinions of individual French Romantics are personal assessments; others reflect the influence of his contemporaries, especially the literati of the Lynch salon. While Poe could either accept or reject their judgments, to ignore their influence and the current popularity of French Romantic drama would be an undue oversight. This does not minimize the originality of certain conclusions on Poe’s part. It was not his practice to accept current literary fads without question. Instead, Poe read and evaluated the French Romantics and did not hesitate to borrow elements suitable to his own writing. From this standpoint, he was probably the first major American writer of the nineteenth century to study and imitate them to some extent. It would not be unreasonable to conjecture, therefore, that Baudelaire and Mallarme were drawn to Poe partly by a perceptible Gallic cast in his works. [column 2:]



(1)  See my article “The American Attitude Towards the French Romantics,” RLC, XXXIX (1965), 358-371.

(2)  See my article “Chateaubriand’s American Reception,” Chateau-briand, ed. Richard Switzer (Geneva, 1970), pp. 221-228. Claude Richard in “Arrant Bubbles: Poe’s ‘The Angel of the Odd, ’” PN II (1969), 46-48, has some pertinent remarks on Poe’s attitude toward Lamartine. On the basis of contemporary opinion, with which Poe at times agreed, there is no reason to believe he disapproved of the Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which, incidentally, is the translation of Voyage en orient and the Pilgrimage to which Poe refers and not Le dernier chant du pelerinage d ’Harold. The latter poem was little known here. Richard is fairly accurate in dealing with Tuckerman although he does not give the quiet Bostonian his due. Tuckerman was, to my knowledge, the only American critic influenced by the historical school of criticism popularized by Mme de Stael. There is even some evidence that Tuckerman used a few of Sainte-Beuve’s techniques.

(3)  “American Attitude Towards the French Romantics,” pp. 358371.

(4)  See my article “George Sand’s Image in America (1837-76),” RLC, XL (1966), 177-186.

(5)  See my article “French Romanticism on the American Stage,” RLC, XLIII (1969), 161-172.

(6)  Much of Poe’s instruction in the French language and literature was received at the University of Virginia. See “Biography of Edgar Allan Poe,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (New York, 1902), 1, 37-38. Subsequent references to this edition will include only the specific title of the part quoted with volume and page number. See also Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Annals” in Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 1, Poems ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969), pp. 534-538; and Floyd Stovall, “Edgar Poe and the University of Virginia,” Virginia Quarterly Review, XLIII (Spring 1967), 297-317.

In regard to Poe’s knowledge of French, see Jacques Barzun, “A Note on the Inadequacy of Poe as a Proofreader and of His Editors as French Scholars;” RR, LXI (February 1970). Barzun’s remarks are appropriate but fail to take into consideration Poe’s intuitive grasp of the art of French writers whatever the state of his technical knowledge of the language. Walt Whitman, with a much weaker background in French than Poe’s, still had a marvelous grasp of Hugo. On the subject of Poe’s reference in “The Gold Bug” to a “La Bougive,” we clearly have another one of our author’s verbal tricks. Perhaps he meant to write “La Bougie” (the candle). At least a misspelling of “La Bougie” is more understandable. We should not, as Barzun suggests, silently change it to “La Bruyere.”

(7)  See my article “The First American Salon,” EA, XIX (1966), 27-36.

(8)  “To Zante,” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Edmund Clarence Stedman and George E. Woodberry (Chicago, 1895), X, 24, 176. “I smiled at these names d ’lsola d ’oro, de Fior di Levante.” Alfred G. Engstrom, in “Chateaubriand’s Itineraire de Paris a Jerusalem and Poe’s ‘The Assignation, ’” MLN, LXIX (1954), 506-507, indicates Chateaubriand as a source for a remark by the hero of Poe’s tale on the Altar of Laughter in ancient Sparta. Burton R. Pollin, in Discoveries in Poe (Notre Dame, Ind., 1970), pp. 95-100, has some interesting observe tions on Poe’s use of Chateaubriand in “To Zante.” Poe was drawn to Chateaubriand undoubtedly by the latter’s antiquarian interests. The Itineraire apparently gave impetus to antiquerianism in America.

(9)  Stedman and Woodberry, VI, 121.

(10)  “La Perte de l ’Anio,” Harmonies poetiques et religieuses (Paris, 1832), p. 83.

(11)  Victor Hugo, Han d ’lslande (Paris, 1823), IV, 299. In his Discoveries in Poe, Pollin makes an interesting study of Poe’s use of Hernani in “The Masque of the Red Death” and episodes from Notre-Dame de Paris in several tales. Undoubtedly Poe [page 35:] knew the preface to Cromwell. Certainly much in the American writer’s technique is reminiscent of Hugo’s theory of the sublime and the grotesque. In all probability Poe had the opportunity to see this theory put to use on the stage in New York and Philadelphia in Hugo’s plays that were adapted for American audiences.

(12)  “A Albert Durer,” Les Voix interieures (Paris, 1837), p. 59.

(13)  “Soleils couchants,” Les Feuilles d ’Automne (Paris, 1831), p. 93.

(14)  “Les Djinns,” Les Orientales (Paris, 1829), p. 57.

They are all near by!

Let us keep this hall closed

from which we defy them (let’s bite our thumb at them)

What a noise outside!

(What a) hideous army

of vampires and flying lizards!


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1970]