Rejected — “Lines on Ale”


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This poem was attributed to Poe by Thomas Ollive Mabbott in 1939, and again in 1969. The original manuscript supposedly hung on the wall of the Washington Tavern in Lowell, Massachusetts for many years. It was apparently last seen around 1892. It was recalled from memory by a former bartender there about 1939. Although of questionable origin, the attribution had some merit and for decades was not seriously opposed.

It was suggested that alternate versions of some lines of the poem might have read as follows:

Filled with mingled cream and amber,

I will fill that glass again

[. . . .]

Faintest thoughts — queerest fancies

[. . . .]

The poem must now be considered as rejected, however, following discoveries made by Michael Patrick Hearn, and sent to the Poe Society of Baltimore on March 28, 2013 by Herb Moskovitz. The lines are described by Hearn as:

“. . . really no more than a poor recollection of the first verse of ‘Drinking Wine’ in George Arnold’s Poems Grave and Gay (Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1867, pp. 83-84):

Pour the mingled cream and amber!

Let me drain the bowl again!

Such hilarious visions clamber

Through the chambers of my brain.

Quaintest jests and queerest fancies

Spring to life and fade away:

What care I how time advances?

I am drinking wine to-day.

See also ‘The Lounger,’ The College Courant, December 24, 1870, p. 389; and A. L. Rawson, ‘A Bygone Bohemia,’ Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, January 1896, p. 96.”

The clear similarity between the two texts is too great to allow for coincidence. This reassignment of the poem to Arnold, however, has not necessarily convinced every Poe scholar. On November 12, 2014, Doug Boulter wrote to the Poe Society expressing his speculation that Arnold may have plagiarised the poem from the manuscript left by Poe at the tavern. His argument is based chiefly on two points. First, Arnold was not a very good poet, and he is justifiably little remembered. His reputation barely registered during his lifetime and has certainly since fallen deeply into the misty shadows of time. Some minor touches in the poem, such as the highly effective sound play of “Quaintest jests and queerest fancies,” seem beyond Arnold’s limited skills, but well within those of Poe, even for a minor effort. Second, the text as credited to Poe is about ale, while that printed by Arnold is about wine. This slight difference might warrant little attention but for the fact that ale certainly fits much better the description of “mingled cream and amber,” with a creme-colored head of foam floating over the liquid brown of the ale itself. Wine is more usually classified as red or white, or variations on those colors, but not brown or amber. Arnold might freely alter “ale” to “wine,” but “amber” is required to pair with “clamber” for the sake of the rhyming scheme. Although the attribution to Arnold has the strong advantage of being based on far more tangible evidence than the unverifiable memory of one person (as Mabbott relied upon for his text and tradition for the poem), the earliest printing for Arnold’s poem is 1867, decades before the likely date of the recollection of the purported Poe manuscript (1892) yet decades after the death of Poe in 1849 (before which event any poem by Poe would necessarily have to have been written). While it may be difficult to establish a certain and absolute answer, the current weight of evidence would seem to argue for a rejected or at the very least a doubtful status. Future discoveries may argue for an overturning of this judgement.


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Historical Texts:

Manuscripts and Authorized Printings:

  • Text-01 — “[Lines on Ale]” — about July 10, 1848 — (Mabbott text A)

 

Reprints:

  • “Lines on Ale” — July 29, 1939 — Notes and Queries (London)  (pp. 77-78)

 

Scholarly and Noteworthy Reprints:

  • Lines on Ale” — 1969 — The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, vol. 1: Poems, ed. T. O. Mabbott, Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (1:449-450)

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Comparative Texts:

Instream Comparative Texts:

  • None

 

Plain Text Files for Juxta:

  • None

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Associated Material and Special Versions:

Miscellaneous Texts and Related Items:

  • None.

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Bibliography:

  • Boulter, Doug, “ ‘Lines on Ale’: A Covert Action in the Longfellow War?,” ANQ, vol. 14 (Winter 2001): 17-22.
  • Heartman, Charles F. and James R. Canny, A Bibliography of First Printings of the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Hattiesburg, MS: The Book Farm, 1943.
  • Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, ed., The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Vol 1 Poems), Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969.

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[S:0 - JAS] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - Lines on Ale