Text: Burton R. Pollin, “Rodman (Introduction),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Imaginary Voyages (1981/1994), pp. 508-515 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 508:]


When Poe took up his post in mid-1839 under William E. Burton the actor, as his assistant editor on the two-year old (Burton’s) Gentleman’s Magazine, he was stimulated to produce articles for extra payment by his low salary of ten dollars per week and by the fairly undemanding nature of his work.(1) The generally necessitous condition of his family motivated Poe to write the masterpieces printed in the 1839 issues: “The Man that was Used Up,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “William Wilson,” “Morella,” and “Eiros and Charmion.” The varied and intensive efforts required for these must also have caused Poe to seek a subject susceptible to serial treatment and capable of being elaborated with easily adapted or borrowed material. A tedious series about the West which then included the Midwest, called “The Miami Valley,” authored “by a Pioneer of Ohio,” gave him his cue. Begun in the third volume (1838), this ineptly constructed story about a hunter and Indian killer named Thomas Girty and the narrator whose family had been exterminated by Indians (“J. M. S.,” that is, J. Milton Sanders) appeared in all but four issues of 1839. Several easily produced addenda, called “Some Farther Chapters,” were scheduled for January-April 1840, probably after Poe began planning his own Western series. If Sanders could popularly exploit the vein that Poe later called “life in the Wilderness” amid the menaces of “the half-civilized Indian,” unfailing in its “power of arresting and absorbing attention,” then what could a “man of genius” do with it?(2) For the readers of Burton’s desirous of being enlightened about the West, Poe would undertake to supply a long verisimilar narrative springing from the rich soil of authentic journals of Western explorers, and therefore began in the January 1840 issue a series actually running in tandem with “The Miami Valley” for four issues.(3) Unlike Pym, the “Journal of Julius Rodman.” [page 509:] was planned, from the outset, to cover the definite number of twelve chapters, one for each month of 1840, and to follow a specific, predetermined route: to the West across the Rockies, up to the Yukon, and back to the starting point of Kentucky or Missouri.(4)

Enough of the series had been written by mid-November 1839 for Burton’s magazine to place this advertisement, undoubtedly written by Poe, in Alexander’s Weekly Messenger (Philadelphia), the issue of November 20, 1839. We note the strong effort made to arouse curiosity through the exaggerated phrases. How much of the manuscript was “in the hands of the Editors” is problematical:

In the course of the next volume, the most interesting record ever written will be given to the public, in the journal of the First White Man that ever crossed the Western Wilderness, and passed the desert ridges of the Rocky Mountains. This eventful journey, wherein a handful of men encountered perils scarcely to be believed, occurred a few years before the time of Lewis and Clarke. The MS is now in the hands of the Editors, and in the January number we shall commence its publication. (vol. 3, no. 46)

There is internal evidence in the text of “Rodman” that by the end of December 1839 Poe had completed at least the third chapter (see 3.15A). On the other hand, Poe’s letter of June 1, 1840, to Burton implies a termination of the manuscript with the sixth chapter: “I can give you no definitive answer (respecting the continuation of Rodman’s journal) until I hear from you again” (Ostrom, Letters, 1:132).

“Rodman” appeared for the six remaining months of Poe’s tenure on the magazine, January-June 1840. Poe became disaffiliated after quarreling with the editor-in-chief over his dishonest premium scheme designed to elicit contributions (Letters, 1:138) and over his imputing to Poe negligence to duty through drink and too much attention to the project of the Penn magazine. Poe, therefore, had to leave Rodman stranded in Montana in May 1792 with thousands of miles to go before reaching the promised Yukon and returning to his “old Kentucky home” in 1794. Surely Poe could not resume the narrative of Rodman after a six-month lapse when the hitherto unrevealed author Mr. Poe, early in 1841, took up a similar editorial post on the newly formed Graham’s Magazine.

The first six chapters had failed to receive any popular acclaim despite Poe’s “puffing” the work twice in Alexander’s Weekly Magazine, on which [page 510:] he was a subeditor until May 1840. In the issue of January 29, 1840, concerning the February installment of “Rodman,” Poe writes: “The Journal of Julius Rodman is continued, and a vivid description given of the persons and equipments of the travellers, who proceed up the Missouri as far as the mouth of the Platte. We prophecy [sic] that this will prove an intensely interesting narrative.” In the April 1 issue he notes: “The ‘Miami Valley’ is concluded, and every one will regret that it is-the last words. . . are deeply affecting.” He follows this with another self-puff: “The ‘Journal of Julius Rodman’ progresses beautifully. The travellers are far on their way, and will soon enter a tract of country hitherto undescribed. A fine engraving illustrates this chapter.”(5) Despite the widespread habit of commenting editorially on articles in exchange journals, there are significantly few remarks on the “Rodman” series running in the well-known journal. Poe’s friend and contributor to his journal, Colonel John S. Du Solle, in “Our Table” of his Spirit of the Times for May 1, 1840, praises highly Poe’s article on Bryant and then says briefly: “The interesting journal of Julius Rodman is continued.” The Saturday Courier of Philadelphia, usually favorable to Poe, on February 1, 1840, salutes the second chapter tersely as “a valuable piece of history.” The New-York Mirror of May 30, 1840 (17:371), praises the May issue as “full of life and spirit” and singles out Poe’s articles on Bryant and on “Furniture,” but is silent about “Rodman.” In the only specific commentary that I have found, that of the April Knickerbocker, Lewis Gaylord Clark, in general no friend to Poe, shrewdly guesses the author’s identity. The paragraph should have led Poe’s admirers to investigate the matter before Ingram’s 1877 discovery:

‘The Gentleman’s Magazine,’ Philadelphia. Among the papers we have found leisure to peruse in this periodical for March, the only number we have seen for many months, we find . . . a continuation of the ‘Journal of Julius Rodman, being a minute account of the first passage across the Rocky Mountains ever achieved by civilized man.’ We think we discover the clever hand of the resident editor of the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine,’ Mr. E. A. Poe, in these records; the more, perhaps, that the fabulous narrative of ‘Mr. Arthur Gordon Pym,’ of Nantucket, has shown us how deftly he can manage this species of Crusoe materiel. (15:359)

Given the almost total lack of interest in the series — despite this one tribute — Poe rightly concluded that the work need not be claimed as his [page 511:] in the lists that he occasionally furnished to his correspondents, or in the 1843 Saturday Museum sketch or in the materials that he gave to his literary executor Griswold.

Yet, in an odd fashion, “Rodman” achieved a contemporary, though temporary, recognition undoubtedly unknown to Poe. Recently, David K. Jackson discovered that Robert Greenhow, “Translator and Librarian to the Department of State,” incorporated a paragraph on Poe’s “Rodman” series in the United States Senate Documents (26th Cong., 1st sess., 1839-1840, vol. 4, no. 174, pp. 140-41), called Memoir, Historical and Political, on the Northwest Coast of North America, and the adjacent territories.(6) Mr. Greenhow cautiously states that the account of an expedition of 1791-1794 across the continent has now been begun in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, to be continued for ‘the next following months,” that it will record their travels in the West and North, and that it is not “calculated to excite suspicions with regard to its authenticity.” Poe is mentioned only as coeditor of the magazine. Submitted by Mr. Lewis F. Linn, of the Select Committee on the Oregon territories, Greenhow’s volume was ordered for distribution (2,500 copies) by the Senate. The same Washington printers, Blair and Rives, simultaneously on February 10, 1840, issued a trade edition, as did Wiley and Putnam of New York, both using identical plates save for the title page. In short, save for the “Balloon Hoax,” this was Poe’s most successful hoax, being enshrined in the government’s documents. It must have been a short-lived triumph, for in his History of Oregon and California (Boston, 1844) which enlarges the Memoir, Greenhow omits all mention of Rodman, as in the second, third, and fourth editions of 1845, 1846, and 1847. There is not the slightest reason to believe that anyone ever brought the matter to the attention of Burton or Poe.

The Knickerbocker inference about authorship was confirmed in Poe’s letter to Burton of June 1, 1840, indicating also the noncompletion of the work. Because of Poe’s initial intention, could he have retrieved the full book, even if he was leaving the magazine? He had a synopsis at least in mind (“Introductory,” 1.1 and 1.21), but many factors operated against such an effort: his probable lack of any written sketch or text, his intense involvement with the projected Penn magazine, and his lack of a suitable publishing outlet, since Carey and Lea had just issued his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque and the Harpers had become alienated by his Conchology involvement.(7) Clearly, Poe was content to let [page 512:] this unfinished travel romance drop completely out of sight. Over thirty years later John Ingram was able to discover (or rediscover, after L. G. Clark) Poe’s authorship, via the copy of Poe’s 1840 letter to Burton that had been sent him in May 1877 by Poe’s friend Annie Richmond (Letters, 2:484). The result was the publication, with Poe’s name, of brief extracts from the work (3:12 and 14, 4:8-20) in the London Mirror of Literature of November 3, 1877, 1:9-10. Next, Ingram included the nearly complete work in his Tales and Poems (London, 1884), 4:3-90, omitting the woodcut of the chieftain and the relevant last sentence of 4.9. In his discussion of the work in Edgar Allan Poe (London, 1880), 1:171-72, Ingram had asserted that the presumed remainder of the book was suppressed through a waning of public interest in Western exploration-a view very far from the truth. With the publication by Stedman and Woodberry of the whole text and their reference to the un-reprinted “conventional wood-cut” we approach a true text of the first edition, but there are many silent and unlisted small changes in their text, and a complete renumbering of the chapters.(8) Quite indefensibly, Harrison, in his 1902 Complete Works, 4:9-101, used the text of Ingram, with its suppressed sentence and with many silent corrections, and yet asserts: “The text follows Burton’s” (4:277). Only with the publication in 1947 of the Grabhorn Press edition (San Francisco) was all the material from the magazine finally reprinted. Even here the orange-red ink used for the picture and the inclusion of six modern illustrations in color make it other than a faithful reprint of the first edition. My copy-text is that in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, January-June 1840, the only authorized version.

“Rodman” has been analyzed by commentators chiefly with reference to its sources, since it more nearly resembles a verbal collage than any other work by Poe. It is conceivable, but unlikely, that Poe’s germinal ideathe discovery of a manuscript narrative about crossing the Rockies before any other known explorer achieved the feat — came from the American Museum or Universal Magazine (Philadelphia) of May 1792, as John Grabhorn suggested in the introduction to his 1947 edition. Poe certainly took an interest in old periodicals, many of which he apparently owned or consulted (see “Marginalia,” nos. 83, 96, 100, 102). The relevant sentences of the American Museum paragraph are these: “It is incredible what pains [page 513:] are taken . . . by . . . European nations . . . to send enterprising travellers to explore the interior regions of America. Among these, the British take the lead. . . . A mr. Stuart . . . has not long since returned from four years travels through the hitherto unexplored regions to the westward. . . . He penetrated to the head of the Missouri, and from thence due west, to within about five hundred miles . . . of the Pacific ocean” (p. 216). The lack of further information about “mr. Stuart,” the use of “unexplored regions” and “head of the Missouri” — these must have prompted the farfetched attribution. Similarly unwarranted is his calling John Kirk Townsend’s Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains (1839) a source, chiefly on the authority of Henry R. Wagner, presumably in the second edition of the latter’s bibliography, The Plains and the Rockies.(9) Yet Townsend’s title, somewhat similar to the subtitle of “Rodman,” also misled Killis Campbell into believing that a continuation of “Rodman” had been published in the no longer extant Saturday Museum of July 22, 1843, according to an advertisement in the United States Gazette (Philadelphia) of July 21. These “further extracts from the ‘Narrative of a Journey to the Rocky Mountains’ ” are clearly additions to Townsend’s Narrative, which was being published as a “second edition” in an issue of the Saturday Museum earlier the same year.(10) We should also rule out Zebulon Pike’s An Account of Expeditions. . . of 1810 as a source (see 1.18A) despite Woodberry’s ascription in his Life of Poe (1909; 1:236).

After eliminating weak or false attributions, we are left with a sizable body of passages indisputably borrowed from the journals of Lewis and Clark, Mackenzie, and Bonneville and from the adapted accounts by Irving of the groups connected with Astoria. In 1932 Polly Pearl Crawford first exposed Poe’s levies upon the 1814 History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark (see 1.1F), a debt merely alluded to by Woodberry previously (1:236). As with Morrell’s Narrative of Four Voyages, used for Pym, Poe manages to parallel his character’s travel experience with those of the source closely enough to lard his text with details of weather, scenery, geography, geology, encounters with natives, and even the emotional states of people. There are dozens of these details, not all of them mentioned by Polly Crawford, which are ascribed in my notes; these manifest Poe’s techniques of verbatim [page 514:] copying, close or loose paraphrase, and even deliberate contradiction or citation by opposition.

The second major source, Irving’s Astoria of 1836 (see 1.1A), offers occasional complications by being in itself dependent upon the Lewis and Clark journal (see 6.8A) — with only a generalized preliminary attribution. There is poetic justice, perhaps, in this reduplicative derivativeness, for which Irving too has been censured. Frequently, Poe follows the itinerary of the two accounts and uses Irving’s apt images and phrases to decorate his narrative.(11) Irving’s presentation of Captain Bonneville, from that explorer’s notes, also furthered the portraiture of Poe’s hypochondriac hero, who finds solace, spiritual renewal, and heady excitement through the fur-trapping and subsequent scenery — discovering expedition (1.1G). The warmth and humanity of Rodman — unusual in a Poe protagonistcan possibly be traced to the amplitude and sympathetic nature of the historic Bonneville shown in the Adventures as well as to the character of Wilson Price Hunt in Astoria. Wayne R. Kime has also pointed out Poe’s debt to Alexander Mackenzie’s Voyages . . . in . . . 1789 and 1793 for its historical data, somewhat misconstrued or misrepresented, and for cargo and pelts collected.(12)

There has been scarcely any other comment on “Rodman” save for two articles that are perhaps more provocative than fully enlightening. The first has insisted upon the initial presentation of Rodman as a melancholy hero retreating from society, in part because of ethnic qualities imputed to him — an untenable concept (see 1.2E), This view largely ignores Rodman’s evident enjoyment of the companionship of the Greelys and voyageurs, who constituted a transplanted society, and his obviously preferring the artifacts of civilization, such as boats and guns, to the primitive life of the Indians.(13) The second paper, while making a few valid observations, offers misreadings of passages too often unjustifiably juxtaposed for the sake of rhetoric or thesis and ignores sources that would refute the strained or whimsical explanations.(14) There is no full study of the truncated novel in the exact context of Poe’s life and writings [page 515:] in Philadelphia at the time and of the actual thematic links with his other works. Even the journeyman’s work of Poe is worthy of a serious approach. It is clear, to be sure, that Poe himself had no very high regard for his own serial creation, which he left incomplete. He was probably discouraged by the almost complete lack of response to his hoax. As we have seen, there was no indication that anyone other than Robert Greenhow took it seriously as a “first” exploration of “unknown regions,” especially since Lewis and Clark’s journal and Astoria had made the area so familiar, as his own text correctly admits. Burton’s inability to pay for continuing installments, the Penn magazine project, and, as Woodberry asserted, Poe’s feeling that “Rodman” was unsuitable for his tale-telling genius (Life, 1:235) were good reasons for abandoning the story. While the piecing together of his borrowings required a high measure of skill and helped to support his hoax, which was not a parody, the whole showed a small measure of original inspiration and slight attention to the stylistic qualities of his narrative.

In preparing his copy for the printer Poe committed the kinds of faults that he reprehended in the works that he had reviewed. We might notice the following: “There is a chapel and. . . dwellings” (2.3); “only said” (2.9); the tense of “had . . . endangered” (2.9); “smallest” instead of “smaller” (2.10); “the lean parts . . . is cut” (2.12; retained from his source); the dangling participles, “pushing in this manner” and “using the pole” (2.15); “Pierre and myself” as subjects (2.17); “to the southward” (3.5); “only made” and “only use” (3.12); “and sometimes” for “or” (4.4); “rejoiced” for “rejoicing” (4.10); “only be” (3.20); the dangling participles “ascending” (5.19) and “attempting” (6.3); “only knew” (6.7); and the dangling participle “sending” (6.10). Nor does Poe’s apparently casual proofreading of the text indicate any great concern for his own creation, as is indicated in the lists ending this Introduction. For example, all the degree signs are omitted in the given compass positions and there are numerous errors and inconsistencies in orthography.

It can be argued perhaps that these inconsistencies, sometimes through the use of eighteenth-century forms, impart an old-fashioned flavor to the journal of a man of that period. Perhaps Poe sought a rough and spontaneous tone for “The Journal of Julius Rodman.” He may have intended to polish it upon completion of the twelve chapters, aiming toward book-publication. In its present form it shows occasional gleams of Poe’s genius, and it helps to underscore basic interests in his reading at that period and themes in his overall viewpoint which are to be traced in the comments and notes.



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 508:]

1.  See A. H. Quinn, Life of . . . Poe, p. 278, for Burton’s letter of May 11, 1839, outlining Poe’s duties.

2.  Poe contrasts this theme with that other popular one of “life upon the ocean” in his November 1843 review in Graham’s Magazine of Cooper’s Wyandotté, first paragraph.

3.  F. L. Mott, A History of American Magazines (Cambridge, 1930), 1:674, states that “Rodman” climaxes the publication of many articles on the West in Burton’s, although besides this series, there was only a poem in April, an Indian tale in July, and a short letter from a settler in August.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 509:]

4.  The twelve-installment plan was discovered by William Nelson, Magazine of American History, March 1891, 25:255-56, from the editorial note on the cover of the January 1840 issue of BGM.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 510:]

5.  See Clarence S. Brigham, ed., Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger (Worcester, 1943), Introduction, pp. 3-11, and 28-29 and 66 for the reprinted texts.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 511:]

6.  Poe Studies, December 1974, 7:47-48.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 511, running to the bottom of page 512:]

7.  Poe had allowed himself to abridge Wyatt’s expensive book on Conchology published [page 512:] by the Harpers, issuing the cheap little version in 1839 under his name. The cause of the publisher’s “complaints” against Poe for these “movements” as Anthon said, in his letter of November 2, 1844, was thus correctly interpreted, I think, by Mary E. Phillips, Poe (1926), 2:881 (for the full letter, see Harrison, Works, 17:193).

8.  Mary Phillips, Poe,1:618, first reproduced the illustration.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 512:]

9.  The Grabhorn Press published the second edition which finds “Rodman” to be based on Townsend’s Narrative, probably deriving the idea from John W. Robertson, Commentary on the Bibliography of Edgar A. Poe (San Francisco, 1934), p. 191. This opinion is dropped from the third edition (Columbus, 1953), item 85.

10.  See Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe (Cambridge, Mass., 1933), p. 234. See also Ingram’s Life (London, 1880), 1:139, for his question about a continuation.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 514:]

11.  A goodly number of these were traced by Wayne R. Kime, AL, May 1968, 40: 215-22.

12.  Earlier, Arlin Turner, AL, March 1986, 8:69-70, showed Poe’s use of Mackenzie’s pemmican passage and, in UTSE, July 1930, 10:147-51, his use of the Bonneville description of the beaver. Finally, see W. Kime, Western American Literature, 1968, 3:6168, for his greater use of Mackenzie’s Voyages.

13.  Stuart Levine, The Midwest Quarterly, Spring 1960, 1:245-59.

14.  John J. Teunissen and Evelyn J. Hinz, “Poe’s journal . . . as Parody,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, December 1972, 27:317-38.






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