Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “A Prediction,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1319-1323 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 1319, continued:]

A PREDICTION

This short piece deserves a place among Poe’s Tales and Sketches because of its imaginative character and its avowed connection with “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion.”

Poe never printed it, but on February 29, 1848, included a manuscript copy in the postscript to a letter addressed to George [page 1320:] W. Eveleth. The body of the letter was mainly concerned with the lecture on “The Universe” which Poe had delivered on February 3 and was to publish in revised form as Eureka in July. The postscript contained, besides “A Prediction,” some less speculative comments on the solar system, and has been in print, somewhat incompletely, since 1895.

Poe could not have composed “A Prediction” in the form that has reached us until he had heard about the discovery of Neptune. The new planet was first seen by Johann Gottfried Galle at Berlin on September 23, 1846, and a satellite was noticed three weeks later. News must have taken from two to four weeks to reach America.

An earlier version of “A Prediction” may have been written in which Uranus was mentioned as the most remote planet, as Poe’s words suggest, but his notorious inaccuracy about dates makes his phrase “penned . . . several years ago” of doubtful value.

TEXTS

(A) Manuscript, February 29, 1848; (B) Transcript of the manuscript by George W. Eveleth, October 1, 1878; (C) Works, edited by Stedman and Woodberry, vol. IX (1895), pp. 293-295; (D) New York Methodist Review, January 1896 (78: 9-11); (E) Complete Works, edited by Harrison (1902), XVI, 337-339, as part of “Poe’s Addenda to ‘Eureka.’ ”

The transcript (B) sent in a letter to John H. Ingram in 1878, now number 41 among his papers at the University of Virginia, is necessarily followed, since the original manuscript (A) no longer accompanies Poe’s letter in the Pierpont Morgan Library and has not been seen since 1896. There is reason to think this text is complete. [We are indebted to Edmund Berkeley, Jr., Curator of the Manuscripts Department of the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia for a recent collation.] The two versions first published (C and D) are from later transcripts by Eveleth, who silently omitted small portions in each case. Harrison’s text (E) is a composite making use of both the early printed forms, but neither of these included the final sentence, which is now first printed.

A PREDICTION.   [B]   [[n]]

By the bye, lest you infer that my views, in detail, are the same with those advanced in the Nebular Hypothesis,{a} (1) I venture to offer a few addenda, the substance of which was penned, though,{a′} never printed, several years ago, under the head of — A Prediction. [page 1321:]

As soon as the{a′′} next century it will be entered in the books,{b} that the Sun was originally condensed at once{c} (not gradually, according to the supposition of Laplace) into{d} his smallest size; that, thus condensed, he rotated on an axis; that this axis of rotation was not the centre of his figure, so that he not only rotated, but revolved in an elliptical orbit (the rotation and revolution are one; but I separate them for convenience of illustration); that, thus formed and thus revolving, he was on fire {ee}(in the same way that a volcano and an ignited meteoric stone are on fire){ee} and sent into space his substance in {ff}the form of{ff} vapor, this vapor reaching farthest on the side of the larger{g} hemisphere, partly on account of the largeness, but principally because the force of the fire was greater here; that, in due time, this vapor, not necessarily carried then to the place now occupied by Neptune, condensed into Neptune;{h} that the planet{i} took, as a matter of necessity,{j} the same figure that{k} the Sun had, which figure made his rotation a revolution in an elliptical orbit; that, in consequence of such revolution — in consequence of his being carried backward at each of the daily{l} revolutions — the velocity of his annual revolution is not so great as it would be, if it depended solely upon the Sun’s velocity of rotation (Kepler’s Third Law);(2) that his figure, by influencing his rotation — the heavier half, as it turns downward toward the Sun, gains an impetus sufficient to carry it by{m} the direct line of attraction, and thus to throw outward the centre of gravity — gave him power to save himself from falling to the {nn}Sun (and, perhaps, to work himself gradually outward to the position he now holds);{nn} that he received, through a series of ages, the Sun’s heat, which penetrated to his centre, causing {oo}volcanic eruptions{oo} eventually, and thus throwing off vapor; and which evaporated substances upon his surface, till finally{p} his moons and his gaseous ring (if it is true that he has a ring)(3) were produced; that these moons took elliptical forms, rotated and revolved “both under one.” were [page 1322:] kept in their monthly orbits by the centrifugal force acquired in their daily{q} orbits, and required a longer time to make their monthly revolutions than they would have required{q′} if they had had no daily revolutions.

I have said enough, without referring to the other planets, to give you an inkling of my hypothesis, which is all I intended to do. I did not design to offer any evidence of its reasonableness; since I have not, in fact, any collected, excepting as it is flitting, in the shape of a shadow, to and fro within my brain.

You perceive that I hold to the idea that our Moon{r} must rotate upon her axis oftener than she revolves round her primary, the same being the case with the satellites{s} accompanying Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus.

Since the penning, a closer analysis of the matter contained has led me to modify somewhat my opinion as to the origin of the satellites — that is, I think{s′} now that these came, not from vapor sent off in volcanic burnings{t} and by simple diffusion under the solar rays, but from rings of it which were left in the inter-planetary spaces, after the precipitation of the primaries. There is no insuperable obstacle in the way of the conception that aerolites{u} and “shooting-stars” have their source in matter which has gone off from {vv}the Earth’s surface and from out her bowels;{vv} but it is hardly supposable that a sufficient quantity could be produced thus to make a body so large as, by centrifugal force resulting from rotation, to withstand the absorptive power of its parent’s rotation. The event implied may take place not until the planets have become flaming suns — from an accumulation of their own Sun’s caloric, reaching from centre to circumference,{w} which shall, in the lonesome latter days,(4) melt all the elements{x} and dissipate the solid foundations out as a scroll!(5) {yy}(Please substitute the idea for that in “Conversation of Eiros and Charmion”).{yy} (6)

 


VARIANTS

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1320:]

a  Nebular Hypothesis, (C)

a′  but (C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1321:]

a′′  the beginning of the (C, D, E)

b  the books (D, E)

c  at once (D, E)

d  to (D, E)

ee . . . ee  Omitted (C, D, E)

ff . . . ff  Omitted (D, E)

g  larger (equatorial) (D, E)

h  that planet; (C, D, E)

i  the planet / Neptune (C, D, E)

j  course, (D, E)

k  which (D, E)

l  daily (D, E)

m  past (D, E)

nn . . . nn  Sun; (D, E)

oo . . . oo  volcanoes (C, D, E)

p  Omitted (C)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 1322:]

q  daily (moon-day) (C)

q′  Omitted (C)

r  moon (D, E)

s  moons (C, D, E)

s′  hold (C, D, E)

t  eruptions (C, D, E)

u  meteoric stones (C, D, E)

vv . . . vv  volcanoes, and by common evaporation; (C, D, E)

w  surface, (C, D, E)

x  ‘elements’ (D, E)

yy . . . yy  Omitted (C, D, E)

 


[page 1323:]

NOTES

Title:  Supplied from the introductory paragraph. Poe’s letter of February 29, 1848, with its postscript, was apparently the fifth item in a series of transcripts Eveleth sent to Ingram in one mailing. The letter proper begins near the foot of p. 10, ends on p. 12 with Poe’s signature, and is followed on the next line by the paragraph (“By the bye . . .”) introducing the postscript. Professor Ostrom (Letters, II, 525, note on letter 263) points out that the original manuscript of Poe’s letter, now in the Morgan Library, consists of two pages, with “the last line of the letter, the close, and the signature all being written on the same line at the foot of the page,” thus the paragraph introducing the postscript began on a new page, and — from the evidence of Eveleth’s closely written transcript — probably without a heading. Mr. Ostrom also mentions that the introductory paragraph was first printed by Ingram (II, 141-142), in his 1880 biography of Poe.

1.  The Nebular Hypothesis is that of Pierre-Simon, Marquis de Laplace (1749-1827) who published his Mécanique Céleste between 1799 and 1825. The translation (1829-1839) by Nathaniel Bowditch is a famous work of early American scholarship. This hypothesis is referred to again in “A Remarkable Letter.”

2.  Johann Kepler’s Third Law is: “The square of the time of revolution of any planet about the Sun is proportional to the cube of its mean distance from the Sun.” It was stated in Kepler’s Harmonici mundi (1619).

3.  Neptune now is known to have no ring. The existence of his second moon was long doubted, but was finally confirmed in 1949 by G. P. Kuiper, who found it on a photograph made May 1, 1949 with the 82-inch reflector at McDonald Observatory in Texas. (I am indebted to Professor Stanley P. Wyatt for these details.) The two moons are now named Triton and Nereid. Triton (the larger, and the first discovered) is retrograde.

4.  Compare “The Conqueror Worm,” lines 1-2, “a gala night / Within the lonesome latter years.”

5.  Compare also Isaiah 34:4, “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll”; and Revelation 6:14, “The heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together.”

6.  In “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (1839) Poe suggested that a comet with an affinity for nitrogen might cause a final general conflagration. See the commentary on that story.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM3T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (A Prediction)