Tales of the Folio Club (1832-1836)


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By 1832, Poe had published three volumes of poetry, none of which had succeeded in being the artistic or financial triumph he had hoped. With a touch of pragmatism, he turned from poetry to the writing of tales. Never one to merely dip his toe into even an unknown body of water, Poe plunged in with the full extent of his energy and imagination. The result was an ambitious plan for a collection of tales, designed around a fictional group of characters who called themselves the Folio Club. Although the proposed volume was never printed as a distinct collection, the individual tales appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier and the Southern Literary Messenger.

Tales of the Folio Club (1832-1836)

Offering “Epimanies” to Edwin and Joseph Tinker Buckingham, of the New England Magazine, Poe described the tales as: “They are supposed to be read at table by the eleven members of a literary club, and are followed by the remarks of the company upon each.  These remarks are intended as a burlesque upon criticism.  In the whole, originality more than any thing else has been attempted” (Poe to E. and J. T. Buckingham, May 4, 1833).

SLM, August 1835, 1:716, column 2:

As one or two of the criticisms in relation to the Tales of our contributor, Mr. Poe, have been directly at variance with those generally expressed, we take the liberty of inserting here an extract from a letter (signed by three gentlemen of the highest standing in literary matters) which we find in the Baltimore Visiter. This paper having offered a premium for the best Prose Tale, and also one for the best Poem — both these premiums were awarded by the committee to Mr. Poe. The award was, however, subsequently altered, so as to exclude Mr. P. from the second premium, in consideration of his having obtained the higher one. Here follows the extract.

“Among the prose articles offered were many of various and distinguished merit; but the singular force and beauty of those sent by the author of the Tales of the Folio Club , leave us no room for hesitation in that department. We have accordingly awarded the premium to a Tale entitled MS. found in a Bottle . It would hardly be doing justice to the writer of this collection to say that the Tale we have chosen is the best of the six offered by him. We cannot refrain from saying that the author owes it to his own reputation, as well as to the gratification of the community, to publish the entire volume, (the Tales of the Folio Club.) These Tales are eminently distinguished by a wild, vigorous, and poetical imagination — a rich style — a fertile invention — and varied and curious learning.

(Signed) JOHN P. KENNEDY,
J. H. B. LATROBE,
JAMES H. MILLER.”

We presume this letter must set the question at rest. Lionizing is one of the Tales here spoken of — The Visionary is another. The Tales of the Folio Club are sixteen in all, and we believe it is the author’s intention to publish them in the autumn. When such men as Miller, Latrobe, Kennedy, Tucker, and Paulding speak unanimously of any literary productions in terms of exalted commendation, it is nearly unnecessary to say that we are willing to abide by their decision.

Since five tales had already been published in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in 1832, it is likely that Poe did not submit any of these to the Baltimore Saturday Visiter . We know from Poe’s letter to the Buckinghams in May 1833 that the Tales of the Folio Club at this point contained eleven tales. Since the letter from Kennedy, Latrobe and Miller states that Poe submitted only six tales several months later for the Visiter contest, agreeing with the total of eleven, we can confidently establish nine of the original set as:

Metzengerstein
The Duc de L ’Omelette
A Tale of Jerusalem
Loss of Breath
Bon-Bon
Epimanies
Lionizing
The Visionary
MS. found in a Bottle

The remaining two are probably

Shadow
Silence

Expanded to seventeen, Poe to Harrison Hall, September 2, 1836.

The curious assertion by Richard Gimble that Poe’s “The Spectacles” might have been one of these tales may be confidently dismissed.


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Bibliography:

  • Hammond, Alexander, “Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Folio Club: the Evolution of a Lost Book,” in Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV, ed., Poe at Work: Seven Textual Studies , Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1978, pp. 13-43.
  • Harrison, James Albert, “Poe’s Introduction to ‘The Tales of the Folio Club ’,” — 1902 — The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, vol. 2: Tales I , ed. J. A. Harrison, New York: T. Y. Crowell (2:xxxv-xxxix)
  • Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, ed., The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, vol. 2: Tales and Sketches (1831-1842).
  • Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, “On Poe’s ‘Tales of the Folio Club ’,” Sewanee Review , April-June 1928, 36:1271-176
  • Savoye, Jeffrey A., “Focusing on a Pair of False ‘Spectacles’,” Edgar Allan Poe Review, Spring 2009, vol. X, no. 1, pp. 98-102
  • Wilson, James Southall, “The Devil Was in It,” American Mercury , October 1931, 24:215-220.

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