Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “The Folio Club,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 200-207 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 200:]

THE FOLIO CLUB

Poe composed this piece as an introduction for a collection of his stories as planned in 1833 (see p. 13, above). How many “manuscript tales” he had allowed Lambert A. Wilmer to read, and praise in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter of August 4, 1832, is not [page 201:] recorded. On May 4, 1833, Poe sent a manuscript of “Epimanes” embodied in a letter to Joseph T. and Edwin Buckingham, in which he said:

It is one of a number of similar pieces which I have contemplated publishing under the title of “Eleven Tales of the Arabesque.” 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.

This certainly describes Poe’s plans on May 4 but not necessarily what he had actually finished. The burlesque criticisms never appeared — and I suspect were never written. The Boston publishers showed no interest in any of Poe’s tales. Since we know that his little manuscript volume was what the judges of the Saturday Visiter contest had before them, we may consider the final date for entry in that contest, October 1, 1833, as a terminus ante quem for completion of that manuscript.

The imaginary club was modeled, as Dr. John C. French pointed out (Maryland Historical Magazine, June 1937), on two actual organizations of which Poe must have known. There had been a literary group in Annapolis in the eighteenth century called The Tuesday Club — and Poe’s club met on Tuesday. There was from 1816 to 1825 (and perhaps later) a Delphian Club, to which John Neal and Poe’s acquaintance William Gwynn belonged. Its members adopted odd pseudonyms; Neal used his when he published his poem The Battle of Niagara in 1818 as by Jehu O’Cataract.

It now seems to me possible to identify the eleven stories, and to assign each with confidence to its appropriate narrator.* Five stories had appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier in 1832, namely those now called “Metzengerstein,” “The Duc de L’Omelette,” “A Tale of Jerusalem,” “Loss of Breath” and “Bon-Bon.” Three more were published, or submitted for publication, [page 202:] in 1833: “MS. Found in a Bottle,” “The Visionary” (“The Assignation”), and “Epimanes” (“Four Beasts in One”). The single leaf of manuscript that formerly accompanied “The Folio Club” is of the conclusion of “Silence.” In the Southern Literary Messenger, August 1835 (1:716), it is stated that “Lionizing” was one of the stories. The eleventh trust be “Shadow.”

No text of “The Folio Club” was printed until 1902.

LATER PLANS FOR THE FOLIO CLUB

Poe’s failure to find a publisher for his little volume in 1833 did not discourage him completely. In the Southern Literary Messenger, August 1835 (1:716), a notice by E. V. Sparhawk appeared: “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.”

On September 2, 1836, Poe wrote Harrison Hall, a publisher, about the tales:

I have prepared them for republication, in book form, in the following manner. I imagine a company of 17 persons who call themselves the Folio Club. They meet once a month at the house of one of the members, and, at a late dinner, each member reads aloud a short prose tale of his own composition. The votes are taken in regard to the merits of each tale. The author of the worst tale, for the month, forfeits the dinner and wine at the next meeting. The author of the best, is President at the next meeting. The seventeen tales which appeared in the Messenger are supposed to he narrated by the seventeen members at one of these monthly meetings. As soon as each tale is read — the other sixteen members criticise it in turn — and these criticisms are intended as a burlesque upon criticism generally. The author of the tale adjudged to be the worst demurs from the general judgment, seizes the seventeen MSS upon the table, and, rushing from the house, determines to appeal, by printing the whole, from the decision of the Club, to that of the public.

In this letter, first printed in the Sewanee Review, April 1928, Poe went on to tell Hall that the critical remarks would “make one fourth of the whole,” and that the book would run to 300 pages. In view of Poe’s habit of anticipating accomplishments, it is very doubtful that the criticisms were ever written, and some of the six new tales may also have been merely planned. Four new stories were in print before September 1836, namely: “Berenicë,” “Morella,” [page 203:] “Hans Phaall,” and “King Pest.” No two others can be identified with confidence. Wilson and Quinn, both cited above, suggest “Mystification,” which was the first printed after Poe left the Southern Literary Messenger. Wilson, and William Bittner in Poe (1962), p. 290, suggest “Why the Little Frenchman,” of which no first printing in a periodical has been found. Neither of those stories seems to me earlier than 1837.

TEXTS

(A) Manuscript, 1833, now in the Harvard College Library; (B) Complete Works, ed. James A. Harrison (1902), II, xxxvi-xxxix.

The original manuscript (A), presented to Harvard by the Griswold family, is followed. It is written on both sides of a single leaf in a small print-like hand, with two small auctorial cancelations (indicated in our text by enclosure in angle brackets). Harrison’s text (B) is merely the first publication.

THE FOLIO CLUB   [A]

There is a Machiavelian plot

Though every nare olfact it not.

BUTLER   [[v]]   [[n]]

The Folio Club is, I am sorry to say, a mere Junto of Dunderheadism. I think too the members are quite as ill-looking as they are stupid. I also believe it their settled intention to abolish Literature, subvert the Press, and overturn the Government of Nouns and Pronouns. These are my private opinions which I now take the liberty of making public.

Yet when, about a week ago, I first became one of this diabolical association, no person could have entertained for it more profound sentiments of admiration and respect. Why my feelings in this matter have undergone a change will {aa}appear, very obviously,{aa} in the sequel. In the meantime I shall vindicate my own character, and the dignity of Letters.

I find, upon reference to the records, that the Folio Club was organized as such on the —— day of —— in the year ——. I like to [page 204:] begin with the beginning,(1) and have a partiality for dates. A clause in the Constitution then adopted forbade the members to be otherwise than erudite and witty: and the avowed objects of the Confederation were ‘the instruction of society, and the amusement of themselves.’ For the latter purpose a meeting is held monthly at the house of some one of the association,{b} when each individual is expected to come prepared with a ‘Short Prose Tale’ of his own composition. Each article thus produced is read by <respective> its{c} author to the company assembled over a glass of wine at <a very late>,{d} dinner. Much rivalry will of course ensue — more particularly{e} as the writer of the ‘Best Thing’ is appointed President of the Club pro tem:, an office endowed with many dignities and little expence, and which endures until its occupant is dispossessed by a superior morceau. The father of the Tale held, on the contrary, to be the least meritorious, is bound to furnish the dinner and wine at the next similar meeting of the Society. This is found an excellent method of occasionally supplying the body with a new member, in the place of some unfortunate who, forfeiting two or three entertainments in succession, will naturally decline, at the same time, the ‘supreme honour’ and the association. The number of the Club is limited to eleven. For this there are many good reasons which it is unnecessary to mention, but which will of course suggest themselves to every person of reflection. One of them, however, is that on the first of April, in the year three hundred and fifty before the Deluge, there are said to have been just eleven spots upon the sun. It will be seen that, in giving these rapid outlines of the Society, I have so far restrained my indignation as to speak with unusual candour and liberality. The exposé which it is my intention to make will be sufficiently effected by a mere detail of the Club’s proceedings on the evening of Tuesday last, when I made my debût{f} as a member of that body, having been only chosen in place of the Honourable Augustus Scratchaway, resigned.

At five P.M. I went by appointment to the house of Mr. Rouge-et-Noir who admires Lady Morgan, and whose Tale was condemned [page 205:] at the previous monthly meeting. I found the company already assembled in the dinning-room, and must confess that the brilliancy of the fire, the comfortable appearance of the apartment, and the excellent equipments of the table, as well as a due confidence in my own abilities, contributed to inspire me, for the time, with many pleasant meditations. I was welcomed with great show of cordiality, and dined with much self-congratulation at becoming one of so wise a Society.

The members,{g} generally, were most remarkable men. There was, first of all, Mr. Snap, the President, who is a very lank man with a hawk nose, and was formerly in the service of the Down-East Review.

Then there was Mr. Convolvulus Gondola, a young gentleman who had travelled a good deal.

Then there was De Rerum Naturâ, Esqr., who wore a very singular pair of green spectacles.

Then there was a very little man in a black coat with very black eyes.

Then there was Mr. Solomon Seadrift who had every appearance of a fish.

Then there was Mr. Horribile Dictû,{h} with white eyelashes, who had graduated at Gottingen.{i}

Then there was Mr. Blackwood Blackwood who had written certain articles for foreign Magazines.{j}

Then there was the host, Mr. Rouge-et-Noir, who admired Lady Morgan.

Then there was a stout gentleman who admired Sir Walter Scott.

Then there was Chronologos Chronology who admired Horace Smith, and had a very big nose which had been in Asia Minor.(2)

Upon the removal of the cloth Mr. Snap said to me ‘I believe there is little need of my giving you any information, Sir, in regard to the regulations of our Club. I think you know we intend to instruct society, and amuse ourselves. To night{k} however we propose [page 206:] doing the latter solely, and shall call upon you in turn to contribute your quota. In the meantime I will commence operations.’ Here Mr. Snap, having pushed the bottle, produced a M.S.{l} and read as follows.

 


VARIANTS

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 203:]

Motto:  rare / hare (B)

aa . . . aa  appear very obviously (B)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 204:]

b  Association, (B)

c  Canceled in the manuscript

d  Canceled in the manuscript [at a very late] B

e  particularly, (B)

f  début (B)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 205:]

g  Comma omitted (B)

h  Dictu, (B)

i  Göttingen. (B)

j  magazines. (B)

k  To-night (B)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 206:]

l  M.S. / M. S. (B)

 


[page 206, continued:]

NOTES

Motto:  This is from Samuel Butler’s Hudibras, I, i, 741-742.

1.  Compare “the folly of not beginning at the beginning — of neglecting the giant Moulineau’s advice to his friend Ram” in “Marginalia,” number 191 (Graham’s, January 1848, p. 191). Poe earlier referred to the same advice in his review of L. A. Wilmer’s Quacks of Helicon, in Graham’s for August 1841. In the story of Count Anthony Hamilton, “Le Bélier” (Œuvres, Paris, 1812, II, 153), the giant Moulineau says, “Bélier, mon ami . . . Si tu voulois commencer par le commencement to me ferois plaisir.”

2.  Mr. Snap’s tale is “Lionizing.” Dr. John C. French identified Mr. Snap with John Neal, whose names are likewise monosyllabic, and who wrote severe criticisms of N. P. Willis, the person satirized in the story. Neal disapproved of duels; had written a novel, The Down Easters; and had edited a magazine called The Yankee. Poe has another character called Snap in “The Business Man.”

Convolvulus Gondola appropriately told the Venetian story of “The Visionary,” later called “The Assignation.” Miss Helen Convolvulus is a character in Bulwer’s “Too Handsome for Anything.”

De Rerum Naturâ, named for the philosophical poem of Lucretius, told of the philosopher, “Bon-Bon.” In “A Few Words on Etiquette,” in Godey’s Lady’s Book for August 1846, Poe says green spectacles are for students of theology.

The little man in black is a good person to discuss “Shadow.”

To Mr. Solomon Seadrift may be assigned “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

Horribile Dictû had been at Göttingen, and hence told of the Germanic nobles of Transylvania in “Metzengerstein.” The Latin quotation means “Horrible to tell,” and is a commonplace traced to Florus, Epitome, I, xvi, 12. Poe also used the phrase in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

Mr. Blackwood Blackwood obviously told “Loss of Breath,” which in the Southern Literary Messenger of September 1835 was subtitled “A Tale a la Blackwood.”

Mr. Rouge-et-Noir, whose name is that of a game, surely told of “The Duc de L’Omelette,” a story of a French gambler. The Irish Lady Sydney Morgan wrote a book on France, received with great praise and blame by critics of different political bias. Like the Duc she resided in the Chaussée d’Antin, as N. P. Willis tells us in the twentieth chapter of his Pencillings by the Way, first printed in the New-York Mirror, June 30, 1832. See his Prose Works (1845), p. 32. [page 207:]

The stout gentleman who admired Scott presumably told “Epimanes,” a historical story, for no other tale is appropriate to him.

Chronologos Chronology, who admired Horace Smith, must have written “A Tale of Jerusalem” which is founded on Smith’s Zillah (1828). In it is a reference to an ancient date by the system of “years of the world,” which placed the creation in 4004 B. C.

To the narrator, who is silent about his own name, “Siope,” now called “Silence,” is appropriately assigned, since it is “in the manner of the Psychological Autobiographists” Bulwer and Thomas DeQuincey. The position of the manuscript fragment of “Silence” with relation to that of “The Folio Club” suggests that “Silence” may have been the last of the collection. An observation in a review — probably by Poe — of Legends of a Log Cabin, by a Western Man, in the Southern Literary Messenger for December 1835 may be significant. “The Minute Men is the last of the series, and from its being told by the author himself, is, we suppose, considered by him the best.”

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 201:]

*  Poe scholars have enjoyed indulging in this pastime. See my discussion in the Sewanee Review for April 1928 — I have since changed three of the ascriptions I made then; see also the important article by James Southall Wilson in the American Mercury, October 1931; and Quinn, Poe, pp. 745-746. I take into account our knowledge that “A Descent into the Maelström” was not among the eleven.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 203:]

  To be included in Volume IV of this edition.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (The Folio Club)