Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840)


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Sometime after 1835, having failed to find a publisher, Poe abandoned his proposed Tales of the Folio Club­, but not the idea of a collected edition of his prose fiction. Dropping the apparatus of a literary club, and the “burlesques upon criticism,” he combined the original tales with additional items which had appeared in the pages of the Southern Literary Messenger­. This new collection of 25 stories became Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. By September of 1839, he had finally convinced a publisher to print this two-volume set.

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840)

Although dated as 1840, the set probably appeared in early November of 1839. The number of copies printed by the publisher has been given as 750 or 1,750. The number generally accepted is 750, which is verified by both a manuscript note in the records of the publishers and unfavorable circumstances. The publishers wrote to Poe: “Dear Sir — As your wish in having your Tales printed is not immediately pecuniary, we will at our own risque [[risk]] and expense print a Small Ed. [edition] say 1750 copies. This sum if sold — will pay but a small profit which if realized is to be ours — The copyright will remain with you, and when ready a few copies for distribution among your friends will be at your Service. If this is agreeable will you have them prepared & Mr. Haswell will be ready to go on, say by Tuesday” (Lea and Blanchard to E. A. Poe, September 28, 1839). As the book did not sell well, and economic difficulties in the U. S. generally were deepening at the time, it is most reasonable that the publishers chose not to fulfill the original intention of 1,750.

Himself in need of cash with the hope of launching his own magazine, Poe tried to sell his copyright to the publishers, who responded with rather harsh words: “EDGAR A. POE , — We have your note of today. The copyright of the Tales would be of no value to us; when we undertook their publication, it was solely to oblige you and not with any view to profit, and on this ground it was urged by you. We should not therefore be now called upon or expected to purchase the copyright when we have no expectation of realizing the Capital placed in the volumes. If the offer to publish was now before us we should certainly decline it, and would feel obliged if you knew and would urge some one to relieve us from the publication at cost, or even at a small abatement” (Lea & Blanchard to E. A. Poe, November 20, 1839). Not quite a year later, Poe wrote again the Lea and Blanchard: “Gentlemen — I wish to publish a new collection of my prose Tales with some such title as this — “The Prose Tales of Edgar A. Poe, Including “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, The “Descent into the Maelström”, and all his later pieces, with a second edition of the “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” . . . I am anxious that your firm should continue to be my publishers, and, if you would be willing to bring out the book, I should be glad to accept the terms which you allowed me before — that is — you receive all the profits, and allow me twenty copies for distribution to friends. . .” (E. A. Poe to Lea & Blanchard, August 13, 1841). Lea and Blanchard replied: “Dear Sir, — We have yours of 13th int in which you are kind enough to offer us a ‘new collection of Prose Tales. ’ In answer we very much regret to say that the state of affairs is such as to give little encouragement to new undertakings. As yet we have not got through the edition of the other work & up to this time it has not returned to us the expense of its publication. We assure you that we regret this on your account as well as our own, as it would give us great pleasure to promote your views in relation to publication” (Lea and Blanchard to E. A. Poe, August 16, 1841). The proposed second edition, for which the title eventually became “Phantasy Pieces,” was never published.


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Bibliographic Data:

2mo. (7 5/8 in x 4 3/8 in). Pages [1]-243 and [1]-228, plus 4 initial pages of advertisments [i]-iv. The two volumes were bound in purple muslin, which has so greatly faded on all copies that the precise hue of the original color is uncertain. Each volume carries on the spine a paper label reading: “TALES / OF THE / GROTESQUE / AND / ARABESQUE / BY / E. A. POE. / [rule] / In Two Vols / VOL. I. [and, respectively, VOL. II].” A rumor that there were copies in paper wraps has never been sustained and may have resulted from a confused memory of Poe’s Tales of 1845, which was issued in paper wrappers. During printing, the type for pages 213 and 219 of volume 2 became loose, causing the page number to appear in some copies as “213” and “231” in others. Heartman and Canny note: “The earlier state has p. 213 of vol. 2 correctly numbered, and a comparison of copies has shown ‘213 ’ deviating out of alignment and the numerals eventually fell out of the chase or frame and were incorrectly replaced” (Heartman and Canny, Bibliography , p. 49). On page 219, the “i” of “ing” (a continuation from the prior line of “lingering”) and the preceding hyphen also shift out of alignment, appearing both above and below the rest of the text for their respective lines.


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Census of Copies:

Because at least several hundred of the original copies appear to survive, a complete census is unnecessary and impractical. There are at least four known presentation copies, of which three are inscribed.

  • Poe to Ann and Bessie Pedder, “For Miss Ann and Miss Bessie Pedder, from their most sincere friend, The Author.” (This copy contains manuscript changes in “The Devil in the Belfry.”) This presentation copy is now in the Widener Collection at Harvard.
  • A second presentation copy is: Poe to Nicholas Biddle (1768-1844): “For Mr. N. Biddle, with the author’s respects.” (The Biddle copy was offered for sale in 1992 by the 19th Century Book Shop in Baltimore.)
  • A controversial presentation copy of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was sold at auction by Christie’s (in New York) around September 1994 (for $63,000). The inscription, in ink, is from Poe to Emily Virginia Chapman, purportedly a cousin. On one of the front blank pages of volume one appears, in pencil, the following poem: “We only part to meet again / Tho mighty boundless waves may sever / Remembrance oft shall bring thee near / And I will with thee go forever // And oft a midnight’s silent hour / When brilliant planets shall guide the ocean / Thy name shall rise to heaven’s highest star / And mingle with my soul’s devotion.” The handwriting was supposedly authenticated by the late autograph expert Charles Hamilton, who may have intended to substantiate only the presentation inscription. Burton Pollin and other Poe scholars have discarded the poem as possibly composed by Poe, even if it should prove to have been written down by him. Since manuscript lines by Poe, especially for an entirely new poem, would provide a substantial boost in value, it is highly suspicious that these two volumes passed through several earlier owners and auction houses with no mention of the poem. (Burton Pollin suggests that the inscription to E. Chapman may have been made when Poe was in Baltimore in January 1844 or, less likely, in March 1846.)
  • According to Heartman and Canny, there is also a volume specially bound for Virginia Poe, although without inscription (Heartman and Canny, Bibliography of the First Printings of the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe , 1943, p. 53). This presentation copy to Virginia Poe was offered for sale by Abraham Simon Wolfe Rosenbach in 1911, 1931 and 1932, all three times for an undisclosed price, and in 1942 for $1085. It is described in the catalogue as “original presentation morocco, with Virginia E. Poe impressed in gold on the sides” (1942, item 286). The current location of this copy, and its authenticty, are unknown, although Rosenbach was generally considered a dealer of impeccable reputation. (It was in the collection of William Koester, and is now presumably at the University of Texas.)
  • Heartman and Canny also note a copy inscribed by Annie Richmond to Poe’s English biographer “J. H. Ingram, with kindest wishes from ‘Annie ’ Christmas, 1870” (Heartman and Canny, p. 54). The date of 1870, however, is probably a misreading for 1876, the year in which John Ingram began to correspond with Mrs. Richmond. According to notes by Ingram, this copy, now in the collection of the University of Texas, had apparently remained in Poe’s possession, passed to Maria Clemm upon his death, and was given by Maria Clemm to Mrs. Richmond at some point prior to her own death in 1871. As this copy does not contain any notations by Poe, the provenance may be somewhat exaggerated.
  • Poe’s own copy of volume I, containing manuscript revisions for his proposed Phantasy Pieces , has survived. It was in the H. Bradley Martin collection until 1990, when it was sold at auction. Mabbott notes that “the title page and preliminary matter have been removed” from this copy (Mabbott, Tales , p. 1398). Mabbott further notes that “Poe made a new title page and table of contents in manuscript and in which he indicated numerous emendations, some of them abortive. Only the first volume survives; it was found in Poe’s trunk after his death. The second volume has disappeared. I suspect that it was broken up and used as copy by Griswold’s printers, and was the source of the Works texts of ‘Metzengerstein ’ and ‘Hans Pfall ’ “ (Mabbott, Tales , p. xxviii).
  • Poe also sent a set, perhaps with inscriptions, to John C. Cox, as noted in Poe’s letter to Cox: “Mess. Lea & Blanchard have just issued two vols of Tales, by myself; and may I beg of you to accept a copy with my kindest regards?” (E. A. Poe to J. C. Cox, December 6, 1839.) Poe sent another set to Joseph Evans Snodgrass, as noted in Poe’s letter to Snodgrass: “I have the pleasure of sending you, through Mess. Lea & Blanchard, a copy of my tales” (E. A. Poe to J. E. Snodgrass, December 12, 1839). Poe claims to have sent another set to John Wilson (Christopher North) of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (Poe to Snodgrass, June 17, 1840).
  • In addition to known presentation copies, it is possible that Poe gave a set to Charles Dickens when Dickens visited Poe in Philadelphia in 1842. Dickens wrote to Poe: “I have mentioned it to publishers with whom I have influence, but they have, one and all, declined the venture. And the only consolation I can give you is that I do not believe any collection of detached pieces by an unknown writer, even though he were an Englishman, would be at all likely to find a publisher in this metropolis just now” (C. Dickens to E. A. Poe, November 27, 1842). The statement “I have mentioned” may suggest that Dickens had nothing to actually show the publishers, and the description of “detached pieces” may be interpreted as Dickens having had no knowledge that the pieces had already been published as a collection. Perhaps Poe had no spare copies of the set by 1842, or perhaps he did not wish Dickens to know that the collection had not sold out the 750 copies printed, even after two years. He may have shown Dickens only versions printed in magazines. At any rate, an 1844 inventory of Dickens’s library does not list any of Poe’s works. An 1870 inventory, made shortly after Dickens’s death, lists only an 1853 edition of Poe’s poems. (Information about the Dickens inventories was provided to the Poe Society by David Parker of the Dickens House in 1998.)

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Bibliography:

  • Blanck, Jacob, “Edgar Allan Poe,” Bibliography of American Literature ; volume 7: James Kirke Paulding to Frank Richard Stockton, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983, p. 117. (Volume 7 is edited and completed by Virginia L. Smyers and Michael Winship.) (Item 16133)
  • Charvat, William A., “A Note on Poe’s ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, ’ “ Publisher’s Weekly , November 23, 1946.
  • Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, ed., The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, vols II-III: Tales and Sketches , Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 471-474 and 1396-1397.
  • 19th Century Bookshop sale Catalogue, The Poe Catalogue , Baltimore, 1992, pp. 40-41. (Prose Romances are items 76 and 78. Item 77 is a copy of Charles Matthews, Continuation of the Memoirs , Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Blanchard, 1839, with the 4 pages of advertisements for Poe’s Tales of the G & A , the same pages printed with Poe’s book.)
  • Pollin, Burton R., “The Telltale Chiasmus,” The New York Times Book Review , February 5, 1995, p. 31. (This is a letter to the editor in reply to a January 3, 1995 article in the New York Times about the Emily Virginia Chapman copy of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque . This letter primarily seeks to dispute Poe’s purported authorship of the poem which appears on one of the front blanks of volume one of this copy.)
  • Quoth the Raven: Selections from the Susan Jaffe Tane Edgar Allan Poe Collection , 1997, pp. 36-37.
  • Southeby Auction Catalogue, The Library of H. Bradley Martin: Highly Important American and Children’s Literature , New York, January 30 and 31, 1990, items 2201-2203.

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[S:0 - JAS] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Editions - Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840)