Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Preface [to the First Edition]” (A), The Conchologist’s First Book, 1839, pp. 3-4


[page 3:]


THE term “Malacology,” an abbreviation of “Malacozoology,” from the Greek μαλακος, soft, ξωον, an animal, and λογος, a discourse, was first employed by the French naturalist De Blainville to designate an important division of Natural History, in which the leading feature of the animals discussed was the softness of the flesh, or, to speak with greater accuracy, of the general envelop. This division comprehends not only the mollusca, but also the Testacea of Aristotle and of Pliny, and, of course, had reference to molluscous animals in general — of which the greater portion have shells.

A treatise concerning the shells, exclusively, of this greater portion, is termed, in accordance with general usage, a Treatise upon Conchology or Conchyliology; Though the word is somewhat improperly applied, as the Greek conchylion, from which it is derived, embraces in its signification both the animal and shell. Ostracology would have been more definite.

The common works upon this subject, however, I will appear to every person of science very essentially defective, inasmuch as the relations of the animal and shell, with their dependence upon each other, is a radically important consideration in the examination of either. Neither, in the attempt to obviate this difficulty, is a work upon Malacology at large necessarily included. Shells, it is true, form, and for many obvious reasons, [page 4:] will continue to form, the subject of chief interest whether with regard to the school or the cabinet. There is no good reason why a book upon Conchology (using the common term) may not be malacological as far as it proceeds.

In this view of the subject the present little work is offered to the public. Beyond the ruling feature — that of giving an anatomical account of each animal, together with a description of the shell which it inhabits, the Author has aimed at little more than accuracy and simplicity, as far as the latter quality can be thought consistent with the rigid exactions of science.

No attention has been given to the mere History of our subject; it is conceived that any disquisition on this head would more properly appertain to works of ultimate research, than to one whose sole intention is to make the pupil acquainted, in as tangible a form as possible, with results. To afford, at a cheap rate, a concise, yet sufficiently comprehensive, and especially a well illustrated school-book, has been the principal design.

In conclusion, the author has only to acknowledge his great indebtedness to the valuable public labors, as well as private assistance, of Mr. Isaac Lea, of Philadelphia. To Mr. Thomas Wyatt, and his late excellent Manual of Conchology, he is also under many obligations. No better work, perhaps, could be put into the hands of the student as a secondary text-book. Its beautiful and perfectly well-coloured illustrations afford an aid in the collection of a cabinet scarcely to be met with elsewhere. E. A. P.




This book was substantially based on Thomas Brown’s text-book on Conchology, published in Glasgow in 1833.

What may be Poe’s own annotation, written in pencil in his personal copy of this book, reads “Also to Mr[[.]] T. Brown upon whose exelent [[excellant]] book he has very largely drawn[[.]].” Although there was a second edition, this additional acknowledgement was not included. It is printed here, with permission, from a private collection. The final page of the preface, with Poe’s note, is reproduced in facsimile in Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc. Auction Catalogue, The Frank J. Hogan Library: Part One - American Authors, First Editions, Autograph Lettes, Manuscripts, January 23 and 24, 1945, item 572. This copy also includes numerous other corrections througout, apparently also by Poe. Most of these corrections were not applied in the second edition.



[S:0 - CFB, 1839] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Misc. - Preface to the Conchologist's First Book (1839)