Text: Richard Kopley, “The Gold-Book,” Poe Studies, June 1982, Vol. XV, No. 1, 15:24-26


[page 24, column 2:]

The Gold-Book

Burton R. Pollin, editor. Word index to Poe’s Fiction. New York: Gordian Press, 1982. 485 pp. $25.00.

Edgar Allan Poe asserted in an 1841 review of The Pic Nic Papers, “Few men are conversant with the whole works of an author.” Certainly it is true that few are conversant with the whole of Poe; however, many may now approach practical conversancy with the language of Poe’s imaginative prose works through Professor Burton R. Pollin’s recent volume, Word Index to Poe’s Fiction.

Pollin’s Word Index complements at least two significant prior efforts. The first, A Concordance of the Poetical Work of Edgar Allan Poe (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1967), was compiled by Bradford A. Booth and Claude E. Jones, with some guidance from Professor Thomas Ollive Mabbott. This useful work, originally published in 1941, is keyed primarily to Killis Campbell’s The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe and provides a listing of most of the words in Poe’s poetry, with their contexts and their locations in the poems specified. The second related effort, a concordance for selected words of Poe’s poetry and fiction, was assembled some years ago by Palmer Holt and is keyed to the Mabbott edition of Poe’s poetry and the Harrison edition of Poe’s fiction. Holt’s unpublished index, created for his own use, is made up of thousands of alphabetized cards listing the context and location of numerous critical words in Poe’s canon.

The latest effort, Pollin’s Word Index, is a large quarto volume which neatly and plainly lists, in alphabetical order, 25,906 different words on 392 8” by 10” pages. Each page features double columns of sixty-five lines. A given entry is made up of the word, its frequency, and its locations up to a frequency of fifty-one. The locations of words which appear more frequently, up to the frequency of 336, may be ascertained from the extended version of the Word Index, which is available at the New York Public Library, as well as the libraries of Indiana University at Bloomington, the University of Iowa, and Washington State University. No contexts are furnished in the Word Index, whether the standard or extended version, for reasons of economy. Consequently, it is not, strictly speaking, a concordance.

Pollin generated this Word Index from T. O. Mabbott’s Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volumes II and III, Tales and Sketches (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), and from his own Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume I, The Imaginary Voyages (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981). The Harvard volumes are designated as “A” and “B,” the Twayne volume as “C.” Pollin identifies a word’s location by volume, page number, and line number, or “T,” “M,” or “V,” denoting Title, Motto, or Variant. Thus if one were to look up the first entry for the word “scarabaeus” one would find “B808/19,” [page 25:] which indicates that the word may first be located in the second Harvard volume of Tales and Sketches on page 808, line 19. This word appears, of course, in “The Gold-Bug”; a brief check, with the assistance of one of the convenient line markers supplied, reveals the word’s particular context.

Pollin’s Word Index is the second of his computer-aided Poe books; the first was his Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe’s Collected Works (New York: Da Capo Press, 1968). The computer facilities and staff necessary for the compilation of the Word Index were furnished primarily by the CUNY Graduate Center and the CUNY Computer Center. The data was entered through the Wylbur on-line text-editing system, linked to an IBM 3033 with a Digital Data Printer. Plainly the computer was programmed with considerable meticulousness. For example, the Word Index includes only hyphens intrinsic to words, eliminating line-end hyphens. It differentiates between certain upper and lower case versions of the same word, and often preserves italics, chiefly in the case of foreign words in foreign contexts. Furthermore, the Word Index includes all substantive textual variants.

These and other matters are ably discussed in the “Introduction” to the Word Index, in which Pollin also explains the various difficulties he encountered in the creation of this book, computer-related and otherwise. For the interested Poe scholar, this “Introduction” is well worth reading. The two sections which follow the word index itself also deserve attention. The supplementary six-page index of compound words is vital; it lists these words alphabetically according to the second of their two parts, thereby highlighting words which would otherwise be obscured. And the lengthy word-frequency list which follows it is a very handy gauge of Poe’s over-all word preference.

The uses to which Pollin’s Word Index may be put are many. The Index can facilitate the identification of the key words in Poe’s tales, and it can streamline research into the critical lexical connections between tales. This work can aid in the study of theme and image in Poe’s fiction, and it can help distinguish word patterns which give shape to that fiction. Also, Pollin’s book can expedite the finding of remembered or quoted passages whose locations are unknown, it can assist in the analysis of Poe’s allusions, and it can enhance the study of the sources for Poe’s fiction, as well as the works for which his fiction was a source. Furthermore, the Word Index can help to prove or disprove the authenticity of a work uncertainly attributed to Poe. Clearly, Pollin’s Word Index is an extraordinarily useful tool which will advance Poe scholarship substantially in years to come.

However, there is one genuine problem with the Word Index, and that is its omission of “A Dream,” a short piece tentatively attributed to Poe by Killis Campbell and T. O. Mabbott. Pollin argues in the “Introduction” that the language of this piece is not typical of Poe’s tales, and the work may therefore be deleted from the canon. He cites [column 2:] such words as “physiologist,” “candlestick,” and “graveworm,” and such phrases as “the wild vagaries of the imagination,” “the skirts of mortal vision,” and “‘twas lost in utter darkness,” as uncharacteristic of Poe’s fiction. But Pollin’s own Word Index reveals just how characteristic such words and phrases are.

The word “physiologist” (A7/ 1) does appear again twice in Poe’s fiction in “Lion-izing” (A174/4, A179/15). Furthermore, variations of the word, such as “Physiological,” “Physiology,” and “physiology” appear once each. The word “candlestick” (A8/15) does not reappear, as such, in Poe’s fiction, yet it could hardly be classed as un-Poe-like, for words such as “candelabra,” “candelabrum,” “candle,” “candles,” and “candlestand” appear a total of twenty-nine times in Poe’s fiction. The word “grave-worm” (A9/14) also does not reappear, as such, in Poe’s fiction, but it is nonetheless wholly Poe-esque. Words such as “grave,” “graves,” and “graveyard,” referring to the sepukhre, appear, altogether, forty times in Poe’s fiction, and words such as “Worm,” “worm,” “worm-eaten,” “worm-holes,” “worm’s,” “worms,” and “earth-worm,” referring to the creature, appear, altogether, twenty-four times in his fiction. In view of this along with Poe’s authorship of “The Conqueror Worm,” his fascination with the terrors of the tomb, and his proclivity to invent words, it would seem that the horrific word “grave-worm” is an utterly characteristic coinage.

Similarly, some of the phrases which Pollin enumerates as uncharacteristic of Poe’s fiction may also be shown to be wholly characteristic. For example, the phrase “the wild vagaries of the imagination” (A6/9) anticipates such later Poe phrases as “the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness” (A411/7) and “such vagaries of thought” (B825/15). The phrase “the skirts of mortal vision” (A7/24) prefigures not only such later Poe phrases as “the skirts of the valley” (A366/32), “the skirts of my friend’s coat” (C68/40), and “the skirts of the stream” (C571/15), but also such others as “the mortal or human point of view’ (B1274/‘8) and “unseen by mortal eye” (B1317/31). Also, the phrase “‘twas lost in utter darkness” (A8/14) foreshadows such later Poe phrases as “the intense and utter raylessness of the Night” (B967/3) and “grovelling in utter darkness” (C182/6).

Pollin does acknowledge that some of the words from “A Dream” which he specifies as atypical of Poe’s work do appear in Poe’s poetry; however, it should also be noted that some of the phrases from the story which Pollin does not consider particularly Poe-esque may be found in Poe’s poetry, too, as the Booth-Jones Concordance helps reveal. For instance, the line “A perfect loveliness had thrown itself over animated nature” (A7/31) is echoed not only by Poe’s comic reference to the “perfection of loveliness” (B1169/18), but also by lines from “Politian”: “Rich melodies are floating in the winds — / A rarer loveliness bedecks the earth . . . .” The phrase “they sang the hoarse requiem” (A8/2) is echoed by lines from “Lenore”: “How shall the ritual, then, be read? / The requiem how be sung . . . .” And the phrase “the spirit of darkness spread [page 26:] his pinions” (A8/4) is echoed, as well, by lines from “The Haunted Palace”: “Never seraph spread a pinion / Over fabric half so fair!”

In summary, Pollin’s Word Index and the Booth-Jones Concordance effectively demonstrate that a number of “atypical” phrases from “A Dream” do have clear equivalents in Poe’s work. Furthermore, numerous words and phrases in the story not cited by Pollin also correspond with Poe’s language in various tales and poems. In addition, the overt Christian theme of “A Dream” is covert in later Poe works, as studies such as William Mentzel Forrest’s Biblical Allusions in Poe (New York: Macmillan, 1928) and Edward Wagenknecht’s Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963) make clear. There seems every reason to preserve “A Dream” as an important minor piece in Poe’s oeuvre: Campbell’s and Mabbott’s attribution of “A Dream” to the hand of Poe, however tentative, still seems astute.

Yet, apart from this omission, Pollin’s Word Index constitutes a triumph for Poe scholarship; such work should and will continue. It is gratifying to learn that Professor Elizabeth Wiley of Susquehanna University is currently preparing her own computer-aided concordances to the poetry and fiction keyed to the Harvard and Twayne editions of Poe’s work. Her concordances will apparently not have frequency limits, except for the very commonest words such as “the,” “of,” and “and.” Moreover, Professor Wiley’s concordances will provide each word’s context. Her work will be yet another welcome accessory to Poe scholarship.

It is to be hoped that eventually all Poe’s works — including “Marginalia,” “Pinakidia,” the reviews, criticism, and other essays, and Eureka — will be available in modern scholarly editions, and that a concordance will be created for the entirety. It is also to be hoped that the significant phrases of Poe’s work will themselves be arranged in an index or concordance. While Pollin does list some phrases, most are, by definition, absent from the Word Index. Since Poe often uses corresponding phrasing to establish patterns in his writing, such a phrase index or concordance would certainly come to be an essential aid to Poe study. In addition it would be useful if an index of themes and images in Poe’s writing could be devised, which would nicely complement Professor Robert L. Gale’s book Plots and Characters in the Fiction and Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe (Hamden, Ce.: Archon Books, 1970). Perhaps Pollin’s Word Index will help open ehe way for such reference works.

Professor Pollin’s Word Index to Poe’s Fiction has long been sorely needed; ie will surely prove a boon for students of Poe. A comment by Poe’s William Legrand concerning his precious scarabaeus might serve as a fitting final comment on Pollin’s work: “. . . I have only to use it properly and I shall arrive at the gold of which it is the index” (B8 15 /6-7).

Richard Kopley, Illinois State University


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]