Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, December 1981, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, 14:31-32


[page 31:]


This column is devoted to brief notes, comments, queries. We wish to provide here an outlet for such items as source notes which do not require the extended argument and proof that customarily attends them, and for items of very special or peculiar interest which otherwise might not appear. Contributions to this column should generally be one paragraph in form and less than a page and a half of typescript, though notes of three pages with as many paragraphs are acceptable.

Usher’s Narrator Veiled

Gary E. Tombleson has pointed to what he consuders an error in pronoun choice in “The Fall of the House of Usher” in the use of “him” instead of “me” in the following passage [“An Error in ‘Usher,’ ” Poe Studies, 14 (1981), 8. The present writer noted the discrepancy independently while Tombleson’s note was in Press — the editors]: “‘Her decease,’ he [Usher] said, with a bitterness which I can never forget, ‘would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of Ushers’ ” [Works, II, 404]. Tombleson concludes that “whether or not the error is unintentional, the ambiguous pronouns are suggestive and deserve attention in terms of the tale’s treatment of subject-object split, dual identity, and narrative voice.” His argument is both reasonable and convincing, but it overlooks another passage in which Poe’s narrator speaks directly to the reader offering an additional problematic pronoun: “Our books — the books which, for years, had formed no small portion of the mental existence of the invalid — were, as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm” [11, 408; my emphasis]. By using “our” here instead of “his,” Poe suggests not only that the narrator and Usher jointly study these texts but also that they may jointly own them.

Before concluding that the original text is in error in these instances, we might consider two possibilities. First because of Poe’s deliberate inclusion of images of the human head and his references to mental disorders, to the effects of opium and miasmas on the mind, and to certain aspects of faculty psychology, “Usher” lends itself particularly well to psychological interpretations [Richard Wilbur, “The House of Poe,” The Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Eric W. Carlson (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1966), pp. 254-278; Colin Martindale, “Archetype and Reality in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ” Poe Studies, 5 (1972), 911; Bruce Olson, “Poe’s Strategy in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ” Modern Language Notes, 75 (1960), 556-559; Peter Obuchowski, “Unity of Effect in Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ” Studies in Short Fiction, 12 (1975), 407-412; William B. Stein, “The Twin Motif in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ” Modern Language Notes 75 (1960), 109-111; Allen Tate, “The Angelic Imagination: Poe and the Power of Words,” Kenyon Review, 14 (1952), 455-475; Edward Davidson, Poe, A Critical Study (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap of Harvard Univ. Press, 1957), pp. 196-198; E. Arthur Robinson, “Order and Sentience in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ ” PMLA, 76 (1961), 68-81]. Central to these interpretations is the problem of understanding the precise relationship between Roderick and the narrator. The view that these two characters are doppelgangers for one another or even aspects of the same mind is neither new nor surprising [column 2:] [Wilbur; Martindale; Stein; Tate; Davidson; E. M. Budick, “The Fall of the House of Usher: A Reappraisal of Poe’s Attitudes toward Life and Death,” Southern Literary 1ournal, 9 (1977), 30-50]. What is surprising is the possibility that Poe deliberately used ambiguous pronoun reference to strengthen the case for such a relationship between Roderick and the narrator. Further, as Roberta Sharp points out, “usher” is “an archaic term for teacher,” and it is the narrator who teaches the reader the facts surrounding the tale [“Usher and Rosicrucianism: A Speculation,” Poe Studies, 12 (1979) 34-35]. In this sense we might see the narrator as the last surviving “usher” of the tale — a technique that Poe uses in other stories, such as “A Descent into the Maelstrom” and The Narrative of A. Gorlon Pym. Thus Poe’s use of “him” and “our” may serve as veiled references to the narrator as an “usher,” that is, as a generic “usher,” not as a literal member of the Usher family. A consideration of these two possibilities can make the difference between our ultimate judgment of the tale as shoddy or brilliant.

David R. Saliba, University of Texas, San Antonio


Poe and the Panopticon

I believe that a subtle satire of Jeremy Bentham may lie behind Poe’s description of the ideal room in “The Philosophy of Furniture.” Poe specifically mentions Bentham in that essay in the course of lambasting Utilitarians as “a race of time-servers and money-lovers — children of Baal and worshippers of Mammon — Benthams, who, to spare thought and economize fancy, first cruelly invented the Kaleidoscope, and then established jointstock companies to twirl it by steam” [ Works, 11, 498]. In a review of Frederick Von Raumer’s travel book, England in 1835, in the July 1836 Southern Literary Messenger, Poe in passing names “Bentham’s penitentiary” [Complete Works, IX, 63], Bentham’s ingenious prison employing a system of mirrors by which jailers could keep constant watch on their prisoners. ( While Parliament did not grant funds for construction of such a prison in England, versions of Bentham’s design were built in Illinois and at Breda in Holland.) Both the money-making kaleidoscope and the panopticon operate by not dissimilar principles involving the angular arrangements of mirrors to diffuse and reflect images.

In “The Philosophy of Furniture,” Poe soundly criticizes Americans’ “exaggerated employment of mirrors. We line our dwellings with great British plates [my italics], and then imagine we have done a fine thing. Now the slightfft thought will be sufficient to convince any one who has an eye at all, of the ill effect of numerous looking-glasses, and especially of large ones. . . . Considered as a reflector, [the mirror] is potent in producing a monstrous and odious uniformity: and the evil is here aggravated, not in merely direct proportion with the augmentation of its sources, but in ratio constantly increasing. In fact, a room with four or five mirrors arranged at random is, for all purposes of artistic show, a room of no shape at all” [Works, II, 499-500]. Obviously excessive use of mirrors produces the “want of keeping‘’ [II, 497] the narrator finds so offensive in American decor generally. The context compares the effect of this room to the kaleidoscope and suggests it reflects the corruption of American taste by Benthamite values. Furthermore, the essay implies that the experience of living among so many mirrors is akin to imprisonment in Bentham’s panopticon with its inescapable violation of personal privacy: in Poe’s later description of an ideal interior, a single mirror is placed so as to create an exact converse of Bentham’s prison room: “But one mirror — and this not a very large one — is visible. In shape it is nearly circular — and it is hung so that a reflection of the person can be obtained from it in none of the ordinary sitting-places of the room‘’ [my italics; Works, II, 502].

G. W. Sherman, San Jose, California [page 32:]


Poe’s Littleton Barry and Isaac D‘Israeli’s Littleton

Poe’s Broadway Journal pseudonym, Littleton Barry, has prompted in very brief comments a variety of conclusions about its possible sources. Burton Pollin noted that “in these two words are implied many possibilities of literary and personal meaning”: George Lord Lyttleton; Barry Cornwall, Bryan Waller Procter’s pseudonym; Thackeray’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon; and Bulwer-Lytton [Discoveries in Poe (South Bend: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1970), p. 217]. While noting the possible influence of Thackeray’s novel, T. O. Mabbott thought that the signature might have resulted from the combination of Barry Cornwall and Mark Littleton, John P. Kennedy’s pseudonym [Works, 11, 77, n. 41]. Because the pseudonym probably had its origin in a combination of several names with meaningful associations for Poe, to the source list of Littletons/Lyttletons one should add Adam Littleton, whose name was suitable and readily available when Poe first used the pseudonym in the Broadway Journal reprinting of “Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling” [2 (6 September 1845) 129131]. He continued to use the pseudonym for four other Journal reprintings: “The Duc De L‘Omelette,” 2 (11 October 1845) 206-208; “King Pest,” 2 (18 October 1845) 219-223; “Mystification,” 2 (27 December 1845) 382-385; and “Loss of Breath,” 2 (3 January 1846) 397-401.

Adam Littleton (1627-1694) is referred to in “Literary Follies” in Isaac D‘lsraeli’s Curiosities of Literature [London, 1791-1824; rpt. New York: Leavitt and Co., 1851, p. 81] as follows:

Littleton, the author of the Latin and English Dictionary, seems to have indulged his favourite propensities to punning so far as even to introduce a pun in the grave and elaborate work of a Lexicon. A story has been raised to account for it, and it has been ascribed to the impatient interjection of the lexicographer to his scribe, who taking no offence at the peevishness of his master, put it down in the Dictionary. The article alluded to is, “CONCURRO, to run with others; to run together; to come together ro fall foul on one another; to CONcur, to CONdog.

Poe’s detailed knowledge of D‘Israeli’s Curiosities, of course, is well-known. His earlier borrowings from the allusions tO this work are too numerous to list [see, for example, Earl Leslie Griggs, “Five Sources of Edgar Allan Poe’s Pinakidia,” American Literature, 1 (1929), 196-199; also the index for Works, 11-111], but one should note that the second Littleton Barry tale, “The Duc De L‘Omelette,” featured a footnote added in 1836 which has been traced to Curiosities [Works, II, 38, n. 2]. In 1837 he might have drawn on material in “Literary Follies” itself for the reference to “the nonsense verses of Du Bartas” in “Mystification,” the fourth Littleton Barry tale [Works, II, 305, n. 11]. D‘lsraeli’s Curiosities r.-appeared in 1843 with Griswold’s Curiosities appended (the first of many editions of this combined text in Poe’s lifetime). Poe mentioned D‘lsraeli’s or Griswold’s work or drew material from D‘lsraeli’s at least four times in 1844 [Works, III, 1101, 1117, n. 13; Jacob E. Spannuth and Mabbott, Doings of Gotham (Pottsville, Pa.: Jacob E. Spannuth, 1929), pp. 68-69, 76] and at least four more times in 1845 [Works, III, 1151-1152; Complete Works, XII, 56] and in 1846 [Complete Works, XVI, 110-111, 122; see Pollin, “Poe’s Use of D‘lsraeli’s Curiosities to Belittle Emerson,” Poe Newsletter, 3 (1970), 38]. Given his detailed knowledge of and his continued attention to D‘Israeli’s compendium, Poe might easily have had D‘Israeli’s Littleton in mind in September 1845 as well as George Lord Lyttleton or Mark Littleton or Bulwer-Lytton.

D‘Israeli’s Littleton, as a man of erudition given to puns, is an appropriate figure to associate with the five tales attributed to Littleton Barry. Adam Littleton, trained as a clergyman and remembered chiefly for his Latin dictionary, Linguae Latinae Liber Dictionarius Qualripartitus, according to Collier’s Supplement to the Great Historical, Geographical, Genealogical and Poetic Dictionary [London: Henry Rhodes and Thomas Newborough, [column 2:] 1705], was known also for his expertise in a variety of languages (including Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic) and for his wide learning in other areas such as mathematics and classical history and literature. In short, “he was . . . an Universal Scholar.” This portrait of a man of languages and general erudition reappeared, in many of the same words, in the expanded Bayle’s Dictionary [London: James Bettenham, 1730 VII, 125-1271, and was present in briefer form in Rees’ Cyclopaedia [Philadelphia: Samuel Bradford, 1810-1824, XXII]. In the Littleton Barry tales there is, of course, the not unexpected appearance of varied linguistic capabilities and erudition, including an attempt to work out a dialect for an Irish narrator (and his occasional renderings of French) as well as his more customary use of French and Latin phrases and references to history and literature. More important, because punning was so prominent in D‘Israeli’s Littleton portrait, and because the art of punning is not associated with any other Lyttleton/Littleton who has been connected with Poe, this figure is appropriate for Poe’s wordplay in these early tales. Without exhausting the possibilities, there is, for example, in “Why the Little Frenchman” the report that Mrs. Tracle’s “futmen had kicked us both down the stairs” and the statement, “I wish I may be drownthed dead in a bog, if it’s not mmilf, Sir Pathrick O‘Grandison, Barronitt, that‘ll make a houl bushel otlove to yur [eddy-ship, in the twinkling o’ the eye of a Londonderry purraty” [pratie or potato; see Works, II, 471, n. 11]. In “King Pest” Mabbott observes Poe’s playing on the word “pest” [an epidemic disease, an annoying or troublesome person; Works, 11, 255, n. 16] and on “dropsy” [an unquenchable thirst, an illness; Works, 11, 254, n. 10]. In “Loss of Breath,” besides the play on the idea of breathlessness, there is the possible pun on George Crabbe’s name and also the playful use of the meaning (doglike, currish) of the Greek root of “cynic” [Works, II, 76, nn. 20, 26]. There is also the tale of yet another cur: “Heat has been his mortal enemy. In the dog-days his days have been the days of a dog” [Works, II, 71]. Whatever other ancestors Littleton Barry might have had, D‘Israeli’s Littleton suitable and available, should be included with the figures who might have contributed to this pseudonym.

Gerald E. Gerber, Duke University


Two Notes on Poe’s Death

Most Poe biographers are not entirely accurate in calling the site of his death the Washington College (or University) Hospital in Baltimore [See, for example, Mary E. Phillips, Edgar Allan Poe the Man (Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto: John C. Winston Co. 1926), p. 1506; Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York and London: Appleton-Century, 1941), p. 640]. While Poe was admitted to that institution on 3 October 1849, its name changed to the Baltimore City Marine Hospital before his death. When Dr. John J. Moran wrote of Poe’s last days to Maria Clemm on 15 November, he used the hospital’s new letterhead.

A hitherto unnoticed mention of Poe’s death appeared in the “Telegraphic Reports” of the Washington National Intelligencer on 9 October 1849:

Baltimore’ October 8 — 5 P.M. . . . Our city is very healthy The interments last week were only 89 in all.

Edgar A. Poe, distinguished as a writer, and I may say widely known for his literary qualifications died in this city yesterday morning in the 38th year of his age.

W. T. Bandy, Vanderbilt University


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