Text: Paul-Emile Daurand Forgues, “[Review of Poe's Tales],” La Revue des deux mondes (Paris, France), vol. XVI, October 15, 1846, pp. 341-366


[page 341, unnumbered:]






The Gold-Bug. — The Black Cat. — Mesmeric Revelation. — A Descent into the Maelstrom. — Monos and Una. — Eiros and Charmion. — The Mystery of Mary Roget. — The Purloined Letter. — The Man of Crowd, etc.


Do you know the Philosophical Essay on Probabilities? It is one of the books in which the audacity of the human mind is best revealed to its greatest extent. After the daring enterprise of Prometheus, stealing the eternal flame from the altar of the gods, we have hardly seen an act as hazardous as that of the men who want to make mutable, uncertain, mysterious order submit to their calculations, to penetrate into the obscure domain of destiny, to reduce to numbers the unreliable chances of mere fortune, and, in these myriad combinations embraced by this single word: the possible, introduce algebra armed with its rigorous formulas, its inflexible deductions. Laplace's book exerts a real fascination over certain minds that the power of reasoning subjugates, intoxicates, and on whom a new truth acts like a pipe of opium, a spoonful of hashish. They make it their Gospel, they devote themselves to propagating it, and I know some [page 342:] who go around the world, peddling this marvelous treatise, just like the Protestants do with the Bible, and our devout Catholics, these dialogues with the beloved, composed for men who do not want to perish. This is understandable: the Philosophical Essay is not only an ambitious effort of the intelligence animated by a vain desire to know; it has its moral conclusions, bringing man back to the practice of good by the calculation of the favorable probablities constantly attached to the observation of the eternal principles which create and maintain societies.

Without quite being of such a high order, without quite leading to such a noble goal, without emanating from quite such vigorous thought, the tales we are going to explore have an obvious relationship with the serious work of the learned marquis. If the incoherent fictions of the vulgar novel are all that appeal to you, then you will find nothing of that sort here. Poetry, invention, effects of style, sequence of drama, everything is subordinated to a strange preoccupation — we would almost say to a monomania of the author — who seems to know only one inspiring faculty, that of reasoning; only one muse, logic; only one means of acting on its readers, doubt. So many stories, so many enigmas in various forms, and wiin a different dress. Wearing the fantastic livery of Hoffmann, or the serious and magesterial costume of Godwin, renewed by Washington Irving or Dickens, it is always the same combination which throws against each other Œdipus and the sphinx, the hero and the enigma; a dark event, a seemingly impenetrable mystery, and the intelligence which becomes aroused to passion against the veil stretched before it, until the moment when, after incredible labors meticulously recounted, it emerges victorious from this struggle.

Ultimately, you will tell me, this is the basis of more than one novel and of almost all dramas. Suppressing curiosity, the reasons to doubt and fear, dispelling this uncertainty about the final outcome of the story, which holds the reader, the bewildered spectator, in suspense; where will you look for the compelling elements which these kinds of compositions require for thier very existence? It is true that every novel, every drama involves an antagonism whose doubtful vicissitudes are more or less, dependent on the talent of the writer, connected by a logical link. The syllogism is at the bottom of the situations that most stir the heart, and such an apostrophe which makes an entire audience applaud is ultimately nothing more than an eloquently concealed resolution. But, in dramas and novels, logic is the secret pivot of action. It is hidden beneath an infinite number of details, all intended to dazzle, to mislead the mind, when, from the starting point which was offered to it, it wants too quickly, and by too direct a path, to rush to the denouement. And to ensure that the extraordinary outweights [page 343:] mere reality, you only have to release the logical substratum from its envelope with a thousand brilliant colors, with a thousand ingenious embroideries; to see from what poor argument, from what miserable plot, this magnificent fabric was woven.

On the contrary, in the original stories that we would like to introduce, and which arrive to us from New-York by the last packet boat, the logic is in plain sight; she dominates everything, she is queen and mistress. Her purpose is no longer to support, as a hidden framework, a monument to external wealth; she is herself this monument, borrowing nothing or almost nothing from other resources of art. She no longer plays the role of the submissive slave who lends a robust shoulder to a master reeling under wine, and leads him, with some difficulty, to a poorly seen door; she walks alone, strong in her own strength; she is the goal and the means, the cause and the effect. Just as yesterday, in the hands of a scholar, she tackled the most difficult problems of speculative philosophy, so today she becomes a novel to put herself within the reach of the greatest number, but surrendering as little as possible of her scientific dignity.

So, what was Laplace looking for in his analysis of chance, and Buffon in his political arithmetic? Each of them, after a thousand illustrious predecessors, wanted to subdue a rebellious unknown, to subdue, by the force of induction, the resistance it offers to thought, and to make the moral consequences of acquired certainty participate in more mathematical consequences. This is how Laplace weighs in the same scales the periodic return of a star, the chances of a lottery ticket, and the value of historical testimony of a judicial decision. The same reasoning serves to assure him that the action of the moon on the sea exceeds that of the sun by more than double, and that Pascal's niece, the young Perrier, was not cured of her fistula by the direct and miraculous intervention of divine Providence. Thus, whether for the past, or the present, or the future, he lays down systematic rules; he establishes general laws of probability.

Mr. Poe, for his part, is also concerned, but in his own way, with this kind of judging, with classifying probabilities, and for this he no longer uses uniform preceptsl but this instinct, this sagacity particular to man, varies in power as well as in goal, according to the aptitudes and profession of each. The basic idea of his tales seems to be borrowed from the early adventures of Zadig, where the young Babylonian philosopher displays such marvelous insight. The eccentric character whom Mr. Poe uses as a favorite agent, and whose subtle intelligence he puts to such severe tests, would also have guessed, by the simple inspection of their footprints, that the spaniel of the Queen of Babylon had recently given birth to puppies [page 344:] when she escaped from the palace; and the king's horse, lost by a marauding groom, had gold studs weighing twenty-three carats on its bit.

This character is, moreover, only Mr. Poe himself, who hardly takes the trouble to hide it; and, in the stories where the character does not directly appear, he boldly substitutes himself.

Who other than this seeker of problems to be solved would have set himself the task of guessing what might be the posthumous sensations of the man or rather of the corpse, lying first on the funeral bed, then at the bottom of the coffin, under the damp earth, listening to his own remains dissolve, watching his own body rot? Who would have thought to tell, in such a way as to make it acceptable to reason, the final catastrophe which will render this terrestrial globe to nothingness? Touching on these great secrets of mortality and the end of the world seems the business of the deepest thinkers, the longest meditations, the most complete systems. For Mr. Poe, it is only a question of adopting a hypothesis, of preposing an initial fact, and of making it generate, among its probable and possible consequences, those which the human mind links together most easily and most willingly.

Monos is dead; Una, his beloved mistress, followed him closely into the dark realms of death. They meet: Una wants to know from her beloved what he felt in the past, from the moment when, standing desolate beside him, she contemplated him motionless, cold, disfigured, marked with the supreme seal. Along with life, had all thought disappeared? Is the divorce of soul and body so abrupt, so sudden, so complete, that with the last death rattle the whole body escapes, leaving behind only an inert mass? The common man responds affirmatively; our writer, not afraid of offending anyone's judgment, disagrees with this hypothesis, which no one can support with certain proofs, and, on its solitary negation, he builds, with the help of logic, his story of beyond the grave.

It is not, to be fully honest, the first time that wild imagination has thus surpassed the boundaries of life, those insurmountable limits for reason, and before which all philosophy lowers its eyes, humiliated; but I do not believe that the memoirs of a dead person have ever been given this character of exact definition and reasoned conviction by playing games. It is not a question here of fantastic adventures, of arbitrary complications, of dialogues more or less filled with humor, but of a true monograph, patient, methodical, and which seems to aspire to take its place among other documents of human science. Mr. Poe deduced from the phenomena of dreams those of cadaveric sensitivity; he took seriously this brotherhood of sleep and death that so many poets have sung about; he made it a philosophical dogma, and from this dogma [page 345:] he strives to draw out all the truths that result from it. We will agree that this is not hackneyed work.

“I was no longer breathing,[[”]] said Monos; [[“]]the circulation of my blood had stopped; my heart had stopped beating. The faculty of will remained with me, but powerless. My senses, however, animated by extraordinary activity and given over to a bizarre confusion, usurped each other's functions. Taste and smell, through an inextricable amalgam, had merged into one and the same faculty, completely abnormal and of extreme intensity. The rose water that your tender hands had poured onto my lips, at the supreme hour, awakened in me the idea of unknown flowers, with scents that were completely new to me; ideal flowers, much more beautiful than those of the ancient world, but of which I will show you the graceful prototypes here. My eyelids, empty of blood and perfectly transparent, only half prevented me from discerning objects. The lack of my will, paralyzed for a time, prevented my pupils from moving in their orbits, but everything that was within the radius of the visual hemisphere appeared to me, more or less distinct; the cornea, moreover, had become more sensitive than the retina, and the anomaly was so complete that the effects of vision were translated into acoustic phenomena, into harmonious or discordant sounds, depending on whether the objects placed next to me were located. more or less lit, and offered me curved lines or abruptly cut angles. At the same time, the hearing functioned, although overexcited, in a fairly regular manner; only she judged the sounds with a precision, a sensitivity, which I would happily describe as extravagant. Touch had undergone an even more particular modification: from its impressions, received late, but preserved with unusual tenacity, always resulted a physical voluptuousness exalted to the point of paroxysm. Thus the contact of your fingers, gently pressed on my eyelids, a contact of which I had only realized, at first, by sight, after a certain time, and when for several minutes you had withdrawn your hand, fills everything my being with a delicious sensation, impossible to express in all its energy. This sensation was, mind you, purely physical; all my perceptions remaining limited in the material order, the images transmitted by the senses to my brain, now passive, did not undergo any of these transformations which a living intelligence imprints on them. So I experienced little or no suffering, while the pleasures were numerous and excessive. Morally, neither pleasure nor pain. Nothingness in all its apathy,[[”]] etc.

We will not extend this curious quotation, for it is sufficient to support what we said above about the unique character that Mr. Poe has, this anatomy of a dead man dissected by himself. [page 346:]

The final ruin of the globe, the destruction of our planet is just as methodically treated in the dialogue of Eiros and Charmion, as the decomposition of the human being in that of Monos and Una. The principle is stated in the same way. Given this elementary fact, that breathable air is composed of twenty-one parts of oxygen, seventy-nine of nitrogen, plus a small part of carbonic acid; given the fact also, that the earth is enveloped by an atmosphere about fifteen leagues thick; what must happen if the ellipses described around the sun by a comet brought this latter body into contact with the terrestrial globe? This is precisely Trissotin's supposition in Les Femmes savantes(1). Mr. Poe does not adopt this view. He presents the comet not as a massive and heavy body, but as a whirlwind of subtle matter, the core of which is of a much lower density than that of our lightest gases. The encounter therefore does not have precisely the same disatrous effect as that of two locomotives launched on the same rails, and we will pass through the enemy star without difficulty. But what will happen to us during this singular gap? Oxygen, the principle of combustion, will expand to unnatural proportions. Nitrogen, on the contrary, will be completely extracted from the Earth's atmosphere. What consequence will this double phenomenon have? An irresistible combustion, which devours everything, which prevails against everything (all devouring, omni prevalent). On this fact, once admitted, the story will follow itself punctually logical, with its ruthless consequences, its forced deductions. Challenge, if you wish, the major, the premises, the starting point; the rest is strictly unassailable.

Thus, we first witness this astonishing spectacle of an entire world surprised by the announcement of its destruction. From the moment astronomers attested that the comet must approach the earth, and that contact between them became almost inevitable, this terrible truth, initially greeted by doubt and irony, gained ground. every day a deeper and more general belief. From scholars, men capable of understanding their calculations, the fatal conviction soon spreads to good people, to simple and gullible minds. From all points of the globe, eyes are fixed on the menacing star. We note its progress, we note the very slow, but continuous, unmistakable enlargement of its diameter: we scrutinize its color, we seek to realize [page 347:] of its true nature. According to scholars, it is admitted that it is neither a flame nor a solid body. We therefore fear neither fire nor shock; but, all in all, this luminous vapor, so tenuous and so devoid of calories, must nevertheless exert some influence. And which one, and when? This is what all philosophers, all academicians from all countries seek to guess at the same time. The optimists dismiss the idea of a catastrophe, invoking, as proof of their confidence, the passage of several comets among the satellites of Jupiter without resulting in any sidereal upheaval. Theologians, piously alarmed, go back to the biblical prophecies and comment on them to the people with a fervor, a power of faith and persuasion that the coming crisis makes very natural: however, they obtain only limited credit. They announce the combustion of the globe, and its inhabitants know, beyond any doubt, that contact with the comet cannot have this result. If you are surprised by this confidence placed by the vulgar in the always more or less risky conclusions of human science, the narrator explains to you that the prejudices, the popular errors in matters of comet, — the vain fears of war and plague that formerly linked to the appearance of these wandering stars, — have vanished in the face of the imminence of a more certain and better known danger. — “By a sort of convulsive effort, reason had thrown from its throne the ancient superstition, already shaken. A new concern, a dominating interest, gave a certain vigor to the most feeble minds.”

Faithful to their instinct to know everything, and even to predict everything, the scholars began to debate the various alterations, more or less essential, that the meeting of the earth and the comet could not fail to bring about. Will the climate and vegetation be modified or not? Do we have to fear upheavals caused by electricity? Will the mysterious power of magnetism manifest itself in some disasters? And, while these secondary points are discussed, the hairy star always approaches, grows, casts a more terrible radiance.

There comes a time when people no longer listen to such vain debates. The danger, which until then remained in the domain of chimeras, suddenly takes on a character of reality, of certainty, which brings fear into the firmest hearts. “The comet had ceased to be a phenomenon in the sky; it was an incubus on our chests, a cloud in our brain. With inconceivable rapidity it had taken on the appearance of a vast curtain of transparent flame, extending from horizon to horizon.”

Suddenly the universal fear, having reached its peak, dissipates. Already, and obviously under the influence of this fatal encounter, the object of so much terror, animated beings continue to live; [page 348:] much better, their limbs have more elasticity, their minds more liveliness, more spring. The excessive tenuity of the impalpable comet is obvious to all, since through the new substance with which the atmosphere is charged, the celestial constellations remain visible. The vegetation is undergoing undeniable changes, but which are not very threatening, and which are only betrayed, on each tree and each plant, by an unusual exuberance of foliage.

However, there remains the last word of the ordeal, the apogee of the crisis, the moment when the very core of the comet, and no longer its surrounding envelope, will find itself directly in contact with the earth. As he approaches, the men, finally disillusioned, feel the first attacks of an unknown evil, and a cry of horror and anguish arises from all sides. These warning symptoms consist of a painful tightness of the chest, accompanied by dryness of the epidermis which causes severe suffering. It is therefore certain that the earth's atmosphere is notably corrupted, and all concerns are focused in this direction. The prophecies of the holy book return to everyone's mind, and the entire human race is in the position of Macbeth, when the equivocal predictions of the bearded sisters, initially contradicted by the facts, are fulfilled in an entirely new way, quite unexpectedly, when the woods of Birnam march against him, when he finds himself face to face with the man “who was not born of a woman”:

I pull in resolution; and begin

To doubt the equivocation of the fiend

That lies like Truth.

Likewise, pale humans curse their blindness, and finally understand the mysterious decrees of Providence. The deadly gases of the comet, better than the lightning of Sinai, will extinguish at once, in all breasts, the overexcited life for a moment; but, before dying, the human race goes mad. A sort of delirium pushes the inhabitants of the globe, panting, feverish, to run here and there, sometimes cursing and defiant, sometimes shouting and weeping, depending on what is expressed, here and there, by the impetuous rise of the blood which circulates more quickly in their veins burning.

“However,” continues Eiros, “the destructive nucleus was upon us. — I still shudder at this memory, even here, even in the bosom of Eden. — At first it was a livid, wandering light, whose rays penetrated from all sides; then, — let us bow, Charmion, before the majesty of the great Creator! — a noise arose, resounding and formidable, like a death sentence pronounced by him; this ethereal mass in which we lived suddenly burst into flames, transformed into an intense flame of which it is not even given to the angels of heaven to express [page 349:] the indescribable brilliance, the concentrated ardor. — So everything was finished!”

You see, this extraordinary story, this incredible caprice of an imagination that nothing stops, has all the trappings, if not all the reality, of a severe logic. Few people will deny that a comet and the Earth can meet in space. Having said this, you must admit, at least as very probable, this conflagration of gas, this conflagration of the atmosphere, this horrible end of the entire human race suddenly reduced to sucking in nothing but flame.

When we have once tackled such problems, we soon take pleasure in reviewing all those whose science seems condemned to eternally deny us the solution, reserved for God. Mr. Poe is therefore led to seek a plausible explanation of the human soul and the divinity. This is the subject of a third story entitled Mesmeric Revelation. The author imagines himself at the bedside of an unbeliever who, having reached the final stages of a mortal illness, is being treated with mesmerism. Mr. Van-Kirk doubted the immortality of the soul all his life. For only a few days, troubled by the vague memories left to him by his sleepwalking ecstasies, he has wondered if, in this singular state, a series of well-asked questions could not shed a completely new light on the metaphysical truths, divined perhaps, being but poorly explained and poorly commented on by philosophy, which is hampered by the insufficiency of its ordinary resources. Indeed, from the moment when magnetic action allows man to make up for the imperfection of his finite organs and transports him, endowed with miraculous clairvoyance, into the domain of creations which escape the senses, is it not very natural that the sleepwalker has, better than any other, the power to explain to us the hidden realities of the invisible world? This first point gained, trust the storyteller to give you, by requests and by answers, a very probable theory of everything which is linked to the division of the soul and the body, to the essence which constitutes this force and this higher order known under the name of God, with the unknown relationships of the human soul, individualized particle of divinity, with this divinity from which it is forever separated. It goes without saying that we in no way guarantee, against the illustrious representatives of modern philosophy, the system exposed by the American storyteller. It would be as well to resurrect, in order to have to defend them, the theories of Cardinal de Cusa (Nicolas Chripffs) on comprehensible incomprehensibility, theories with which that of Mr. Edgar Poe is not without some distant connections. We might as well make ourselves the champions of Giordano Bruno, who also seems to have a good share in Mr. Poe's ingenious hypotheses. What Bruno called Nature, both principle and element of what is, — as a pilot can be at the same time [page 350:] both soul and part in the vessel he guides, — Mr. Poe calls him God. He challenges the separation that men have wanted to establish between spirit and matter. Everything is matter, even God, composed only of the most subtle substance, the very one which acts in us under the name of soul: separate substance, sublimated beyond everything that the human mind can conceive, one, indivisible, and which is not formed like all the others of agglomerated particles. It fills everything, makes everything move, it is itself everything that is included in it, that is to say the entire universe. At rest, this God-Substance is the universal soul; active, it is the creative faculty. This portion of ourselves that we call our soul is a fragment of the universal soul, which, without ceasing to be part of it, finds itself incarnated, individualized for a time. The incarnation alone, by giving this fraction of divine substance limited organs, limits the omnipotence which would otherwise be its necessary attribute. Man, therefore, separated from his body, would be God or would return to God. But this separation is not possible. Man is a creature, creatures are thoughts of God. Every thought is irrevocable by its nature.

“Explain yourself,” cries Mr. Van-Kick's interlocutor; do you mean that man will never be stripped of his body?

— I said, replies the sleepwalker, that he would never be incorporeal. In fact, there are two bodies: one rudimentary, the other complete, an analogy of which will make you understand the difference. One of these bodies is the worm, the other is the butterfly. What we call death is nothing other than the painful metamorphosis which marks the passage from the first to the second of these conditions. Our current incarnation is progressive, preparatory, ephemeral; our future incarnation will be perfect, definitive, immortal.

— But we know how the metamorphosis of the worm is accomplished; we follow all the phases one by one.

We, no doubt, but not the worm. The rudimentary body is matter visible to itself; but the organs which serve it are too imperfect, too crude, to grasp, at the moment when it escapes, the interior form, which has gradually developed under this perishable envelope.”

Mr. Van-Kirk then explains, with singular lucidity, what happens during magnetic ecstasy, where, the organs of the rudimentary body finding themselves paralyzed, the clairvoyant medium of the later body, of this body too subtle to have organs, works freely, etc. — We will not go any further in this purely hypothetical presentation, several passages of which have reminded us of the inspirations or rather the aspirations of some of our novelists, who found charming [page 351:] to put “in madrigals,” fourteen or fifteen years ago, the visions of Jacob Boehm, Saint-Martin, Swedenborg, even Madame Guyon. Only, it must be noted, Mr. Poe's logic has a much more precise character, much more tenacious than that of Louis Lambert or Séraphîtüs, the angelic hermaphrodite. She does not pay for big cloudy words, impenetrable formulas in their affected conciseness. Once the principles are established, it rarely deviates, and always clear, always intelligible, it grips the reader despite his knowledge.

The time has come to come back down to earth and to follow, on a terrain less favorable to the traps of style, to the illusions, to the prestige of art, this inexorable logic.

In The Gold-Bug, we could see all the conjectural faculties of man grappling with a seemingly impenetrable figure, to whose deciphering is attached the promise of a rich treasure, once buried by a pirate. Here reasoning plays the role of a talisman that can enrich you in a few hours. Further on, in the Descent into the Maelstrom, Mr. Poe will tell us how a well-made observation, a well-followed argument, pulled safely from the bottom of the Norwegian abyss an unfortunate fisherman dragged into this devouring whirlwind. We will not affirm that vulgar verisimilitude is completely respected here, nor that a theory of gravity could ever have been improvised by a crude peasant in a situation which seems to exclude any exercise of the mental faculties, — that of a man carried away by the movement of a dragon of wind; — but if everything that is rigorously, strictly possible, is conceivable, as an exception, by the human mind, we can admit that extreme danger develops in a man to whom the certainty of death has restored all his composure, a particular lucidity of the intellect, a miraculous power of observation, and this is enough for this tale to captivate you like Lewis's The Anaconda or the novel of Frankenstein, both certainly very little probable.

Here's who is easier to believe. A young man devoted himself early to transcendent mathematics and especially to that branch of exact sciences which, because of its retrogressive processes, is called analysis. All types of calculation are familiar to him. He is the first force in all games where success depends on the exact assessment of the chances. — By the way, Mr. Poe, considering them in this connection, places whist well above chess and gives a complete theory on the subject. — The young man we are talking about, born of noble parents, but reduced to extreme poverty, lives in a miserable Parisian slum, absorbed in a perpetual contemplation of human thought, of its faculties, of the development that they can [page 352:] receive. Pleasures, business, ambitious concerns, mercenary thoughts cannot distract him for a moment from this glorious task. The day has become odious to him as a condition unfavorable to inner clairvoyance. He closes his windows at dawn, and, in a vast room that is barely lit by two torches, he likes to stay alone for whole days, reading, writing, above all dreaming, and by all means, through all possible trials, he disciplines, he strengthens, he exercises his already powerful intelligence. Also a few years of this regime invested it with a marvelous conjectural force. He boasts of being able, if necessary, to read the thoughts of his interlocutors, “however tightly the windows of their souls may be.” When he enjoys giving samples of this special faculty, his fixed eyes, his voice seeming to be altered, his features contracted by effort, give him the appearance of a sibyl on the tripod. It then seems that his being is split into two parts, and that a second self questions the first, forced in spite of himself to answer.

Reading the thoughts of a man who is silent next to him is only a game for this singular character, capable, if we challenge him, of going back to all the origins of this thought, and of finding a to one all the successive associations which produced it, even if it were the most indifferent in the world.

“You are right, he is too small for his job: he would be better suited to the Théâtre des Variétés, he said suddenly to the usual companion of his nocturnal walks.” He was surprised, because he had not opened his mouth, and yet this sentence, thrown through his thoughts, responded exactly to the one that had just occupied him. He was in fact thinking of a tragic actor whose size hardly suited the majesty of his roles.

“Let's see, aren’t you thinking of Chantilly, that dwarf of theater kings? It was the fruiterer from earlier who put it in your head.

— Which fruiterer? I haven't seen any.

— The one who hit you with his basket of apples. This surprises you, I see; but you will be less surprised when I have taken you through, backwards, the whole series of your meditations from the moment when I spoke to you until the moment when this apple seller offended you in passing. Here is the summary by chapter headings: Chantilly, Orion, Doctor Nichols, Epicurus, stereotomy, the pavement of the streets, the fruiterer.”

Then, from point to point, and without omitting a single one, he demonstrates the necessary relationship between these very incoherent ideas. Pushed by the fruit grower, the walker ran into a pile of stones and slightly bruised his foot. This led him to meditate in spite of himself on the disadvantages of paving. A wooden paving test (qualified as stereotomy) has [page 353:] at this moment struck his attention, and, recently occupied with the theories of Epicurus on atomistic cohesion, he must have thought of a certain discussion that he recently held on the cosmogonic doctrines of this philosopher called into question with regard to a system nebulae. Thinking of the nebulae, he mechanically looked up at the constellation Orion. From this, how to get to the actor Chantilly? By a very simple route: a small newspaper, mocking this cobbler who had become a tragedian the day before, had applied this Latin verse:

Perdidit antiquum litera prima sonum,

to the change of name which had made such a complete metamorphosis necessary. Now, this verse, originally, was applied to the constellation Orion whose first name was Urion.

The involuntary gestures of the silent walker, the words he murmurs between his teeth, the direction of his glances, the memory of a few recent conversations, were enough for the passionate observer, for whom the most minute inquisition has become a constant habit, and not one of these ideas escaped him in passing.

Apply this surprising insight, the result of an almost superhuman mental tension and a marvelous instinct, to a police operation, and you have an admirable bloodhound, an investigator from whom nothing escapes, an investigating judge like there are hardly any. Mr. Poe seizes this situation and pushes through, with all-American tenacity, the most extreme consequences.

Three or four of his stories are based on this very simple combination, but with a very sure effect. We will only regret that the foreign storyteller believed to increase the interest by choosing Paris, of which he has not the slightest idea, and our current society, very little known in the United States, to place his ingenious hypotheses there. His intention, without a doubt, was to thereby increase, in the eyes of his compatriots, the plausibility of these little dramas. Major e longinquo. [[The greater the distance.]] Such a detail, unacceptable in a story whose scene took place in Baltimore or Philadelphia, became admissible placed two thousand leagues away, and no longer disturbed the voluntarily credulous disposition of the American reader. The marvelous, and even the extraordinary, need perspective. Make the khalif Haroun-al-Raschid circulate in the streets surrounding the Tuileries, disorientate yourself only on the banks of the Yonne or the Cher from the astonishing adventures which make up the charm of the Alif-Laïla(1), — the history of Aboul-Hassan and Chems-el-Nihar, for example, — and you will tell us some news about it. Mr. Poe was therefore not so misguided in moving his paintings away to hide [page 354:] the artifices of his painting, and give it all the prestige of truth; but it was necessary to foresee that French readers, coming to stop in front of these same paintings, would be stunned to find the capital of France completely turned upside down, the main districts suddenly dislodged, a Lamartine impasse in the vicinity of the Palais-Royal, a rue Morgue in the Saint-Roch district, and the barrier du Roule on the banks of the Seine, “on the bank opposite to rue Pavée-Saint-André.” We should not then, applying to our social hierarchy the ideas of a country much more leveler than ours, suppose that the prefect of police, at the end of his means, and not knowing which saint to turn to for the discovery of a mysterious paper (The Purloined Letter), comes one evening, familiarly, to smoke one or two cigars with the young observer of whom we have spoken, to ask his advice, to submit his doubts to him, and to place a bet on the success of the steps proposed by this unofficial advisor. Still, we do not cite all the blunders, nor the most enormous ones, that our red pencil has noted in the margins of these strange little novels. These blunders can be explained, moreover, by their foreign origin, and also by the method that the author adopts of bringing to us real chronicles, chosen from among the crimes which occupied the magistrates of New York or Boston. Thus the story of Marie Roget (the Mystery of Marie Roget) is an American cause celebre; the names alone are Frenchified, the incidents could not be. The Hudson becomes the Seine; Weehawken, the Roule barrier; Nassau-Street, rue Pavée-Saint-André, and so on. Likewise Marie Roget, the so-called Parisian grisette, is none other than Mary-Ceclia Rogers, the cigar-girl whose mysterious assassination terrified the population of New York a few years ago. Let us first recount the event as it was reported in the New-York Mercury or in Brother Jonathan. There will always be time to return to fiction when we have a fair idea of reality.

Mary Rogers was, it seems, one of the prettiest girls in New York. A tobacco merchant, speculating on her beauty, had taken her as a counter maid. Exposed in her shop to all eyes and to more than one familiar question, Mary had nevertheless not given rise to any bad remarks, when one fine day she mysteriously disappeared, without her boss nor her mother being able to say where she was. aisle. The public voice immediately seized on this circumstance, which gave rise to many more or less epigrammatic, more or less sinister comments, and the press itself took its usual advantage from it, by endeavoring to further irritate general curiosity. . In short, always growing and presented each morning in a more extraordinary light, the disappearance of the beautiful merchant caused a lot of noise, when after a week she reappeared, in good health, a little sad, [page 355:] very surprised at the scandal she had caused without wanting to, and, as best she could, explaining her strange absence. This unexpected return naturally put an end, if not to all gossip, at least to all public inquiry. The newspapers went silent, and Mary, whom the curiosity of which she had become the object seemed to tire beyond measure, left the store to return to her mother's house. She ran a bourgeois pension in Nassau Street.

Five months after this first adventure, so simple in itself, Mary Rogers disappeared again. Three days passed without anyone hearing from her. On the fourth, her body was found floating on the waters of the Hudson, near the bank opposite the neighborhood where she and her mother lived, and in the neighborhood of a rather disreputable suburb, Weehawken. This event produced a profound sensation. After a few days of fruitless research, they offered first 200 dollars, then 400, then 1,000, then 2,000, to anyone who would discover the assassin. To these bonuses offered by the municipal police, a committee of citizens soon added a sum voted by them; in short, 6,000 dollars (approximately 30,000 francs) were promised to the denouncer who would facilitate the punishment of the crime that we were keen to avenge. These first steps had no result, except to see roughly what had become of Mary Rogers, from the moment she left her mother's house until the moment she must have perished.

She had gone out at nine o’clock in the morning on Sunday June 22, to go, she said, to spend the day with one of her aunts who lived at the other end of the city, in a neighborhood quite close to the edge of the river. water. A young man, to whom she was engaged, was going to pick her up there on Sunday evening to take her home. He was prevented from doing so by bad weather, and believed that his bride would spend the night at her aunt's house, as had happened to him more than once. Only on Monday did we learn that Mary had not gone to her relative's house. On Wednesday, his body was found, as we have said. She did not appear to have been drowned. His face was stained with black blood which was coming out of his mouth. Around his lips, no foam; no color alteration in cellular tissues. A few bruises, a few fingerprints around the neck. The stiffened arms were brought to the chest. The left hand was closed and clenched, the right half open. Excoriations around the wrists sufficiently attested that the victim's hands had been tied, either before the murder or after. Besides, there are no apparent injuries, no trace of blows. At first we did not see a silk ribbon so tight around the neck that it disappeared under the swollen flesh. The knot of this ribbon was under the left ear; this ribbon could have been the instrument of [page 356:] murder. As for the remainder of the investigations, the doctors called upon to carry them out could alone, in their scientific language, express the results. It will suffice for us to say that they believed in culpable violence and that they nevertheless attested to the innocence of the murdered young girl.

Mary's clothes were very disordered and torn. Her dress, slit from the lower hem to the waist, and twisted around her waist, was held there by one of those knots which sailors call key . From her skirt, made of fine muslin, a sort of headband, eighteen inches wide, had been carefully detached, which, when placed around her neck, formed a sort of very loose tie held in place by a very tight knot. Over this strip of muslin and the ribbon we spoke of above, we still found the straps of an embroidered cap which hung on the shoulders of the corpse. The knot of these ribbons looked nothing like the one a woman's fingers are accustomed to forming. It was more of a sailor's slip-knot .

To the conjectures drawn from this first inspection of the corpse, it was necessary, a few days later, to add important information. The children of a woman who kept a sort of inn in the suburb, wandering among the groves surrounding Weehawken, found under a very secluded cradle, where three large stones formed a sort of rustic bench, a white petticoat, a scarf of silk, a parasol, gloves, a pocket handkerchief; all of these items had belonged to Mary Rogers. Several pieces of clothing were also discovered in the surrounding bushes. The ground was trodden, the bushes bore the marks of a struggle. Between the grove in question and the river, several barriers had been thrown down, and the ground was plowed as after the passage of a heavy object, dragged by force of arms.

The innkeeper, questioned following this first discovery, declared that around three o’clock in the afternoon, on the Sunday on which the murder must have been committed, a very dark young man and a young girl had come to spend some time at her house. From there they headed towards the surrounding woods. The young person, whose costume the hotelier had noticed, was in fact wearing a scarf. Soon after the departure of the young couple, a group of young people, belonging to this evil class which constantly compromises public peace, came loudly to demand a meal which they had forgotten to pay for when leaving. They had been seen heading towards the woods; In the evening, in great haste and very heated, they retraced their steps and recrossed the river. It was in the same evening, a little before nightfall, that the innkeeper heard the cries of a woman; violent, desperate cries, but quickly stifled. A driver [page 357:] of the omnibus confirmed this testimony by stating that he had seen Mary Rogers crossing the Hudson in a ferry, in the company of a young dark man.

Two days after the day on which the above investigation took place, a tragic incident further increased public perplexity. Payne, Mary Rogers's suitor, was discovered and found almost lifeless near the grove where it was assumed she must have perished. An empty vial of laudanum at his side, and the smell remaining on his lips, proved that he had been poisoned. He died without speaking. A letter found on him said that his regrets and his love were the cause of this strange suicide.

But this suicide could have been the result of remorse. Payne had been suspected from the first moment, and owed his release only to a more or less doubtful alibi. In the absence of Payne, Mary's murder could be attributed either to her unknown companion, or to the unconfessed young people who met them in the depths of the woods. Who to suspect? who to sue? This was the problem which all the New York newspapers took up, and which became the subject of fierce controversy.

Mr. Poe seizes it in his turn, and launches into the midst of the clash of opinions this character apart, this living syllogism of which we have spoken. The Chevalier Dupin, — such is the name he coined for him, a truly characteristic name, and one of very remarkable improbability and strangeness, — the Chevalier Dupin, attentive to all the contradictory versions, discusses them rigorously, subject to the requirements of mathematical analysis. We see that he read, in Laplace's Essai Philosophique, the chapter devoted to the probability of court judgments . Laplace says in fact that we should refrain from judging whether, to establish a definitive judgment in criminal matters, mathematical evidence was rigorously required. While searching for this evidence, Mr. Poe's agent seems to despair of it. But his probability calculations are striking and curious. That's all we should ask of them.

Novalis said in his Moral Ansichten: “In events there are ideal series which rub shoulders, in a parallel line, with the series of real events. Rarely do they coincide. Men and circumstances usually modify the ideal sequence of facts, in such a way as to make this sequence imperfect, and the consequences they entail just as imperfect. So it was with the reform. Instead of true Protestantism, Lutheranism emerged.” By choosing this passage as the epigraph of his story, the American author explains its metaphysical purpose to us. When he compares the various hypotheses of the French (that is to say American) newspapers on the subject of the murder committed [page 358:] in New York, when he brings out the gross errors of this vulgar logic, improvised for the grazing of the unintelligent masses, his aim is to prove that by virtue of certain principles an ideal series, that is to say purely logical, of facts that are very dependent on each other, must lead, through an accumulation of mutually corroborating suppositions, as close as possible to the real series or the truth. He thus destroys, through an inexorable dialectic, the false systems erected around him, and, on perfectly cleared ground, he constructs from scratch a new edifice.

In the eyes of this terrible reasoner, the practice of the courts which restrict the admission of evidence to a small number of conclusive facts is supremely erroneous. Modern science, which very often calculates on the unforeseen, and proves the known by the unknown, understands better the importance of secondary incidents, of collateral demonstrations, which must above all be taken into account. These are seemingly insignificant facts, isolated accidents which have become the basis of the most complete and best established systems.

Once this principle is established, the consequences arrive by themselves. By abandoning the main fact to focus on details which seem insignificant, the knight manages to note several circumstances which will later serve to enlighten him.

During her first escapade, poor Mary Rogers had as an accomplice a young naval officer with a rather bad reputation. It was presumed that she had left him following a quarrel, the motive of which was unknown. This is the first rather irrelevant detail — to speak like the jurisconsults — from which our logician derives his benefit.

The second is even less conclusive. Three days after the day Mary Rogers was lost, a resident of New York, walking with his wife and daughter, walked across the Hudson with six young people in a rowboat. They actually transported him to the other bank; but, the young girl having retraced her steps to claim her umbrella forgotten in the boat, the bad subjects seized her, gagged her, dragged her into the middle of the river, and, after unworthy treatment, placed her on the shore some distance from where they had landed his father and mother.

Another detail, apparently not very essential. On Monday June 23 (we remember that Mary Rogers’ disappearance dated from Sunday the 22nd), one of the customs boatmen saw an empty boat floating on the Hudson. There were only sails in the hold. We towed it as far as the boat depot ( office barge ). The next morning, unbeknownst to the supervisors, she had disappeared. Only the rudder has been preserved, which was accidentally kept safe from thieves. [page 359:]

These circumstances, scattered in the columns of twenty newspapers, have little value. Brought together in a series of arguments, they can become decisive.

The first leads us to wonder if this young dark-haired man, in the company of whom Mary Rogers was seen by two reliable witnesses, would not be precisely the naval officer whom Mary Rogers had once followed away from the house. kindergarten.

The second explains how public opinion, misled by the analogy of two events that happened a few days apart, is imbued with the idea that the pretty merchant was surprised in the streets by a gang of criminals, and put to death. died by them after shameful attempts. We should therefore no longer give too much value to this popular version.

The third circumstance only has real significance after a very long series of arguments with which we cannot tire the reader — and which all bring the mind to the same conclusion, namely that the naval officer, guilty of the first seduction, which remained incomplete, must necessarily be suspected of having committed the murder for which the author or authors were sought in vain. When all these clues are thus grouped together, the removal of the boat left at the office barge becomes a real streak of light. This boat, towed there on Monday, disappeared the following day, before any newspaper had announced that it had been found. It was undoubtedly the owner of this boat who came to take it back; but why did he not ask for the rudder? This denotes some trouble of conscience, — just as the consummate skill with which he deceived the surveillance of the guards proves the habit of maritime maneuvers, — just as the knowledge he had of the place where his barque establishes that as a professional he is aware, before any public information, of the smallest news concerning the state of the port. This settled, we return to the examination of the corpse. The shoulders, slightly bruised, bore imprints corresponding to those of the crosspieces which line the bottom of a boat. Moreover, the body could not, without serious imprudence, have been thrown into the low water which borders the shore. So a boat was needed to take him into the middle of the current. Once rid of the corpse, the murderer will have immediately tried to escape the search. On arriving at the landing stage, if he did not immediately find at hand what he needed to moor his boat, pursued by the terrors which were to besiege him, he will have easily given in to the thought of letting go to the drifts this worthless boat. Flee at all costs, get away from the cursed river where the corpse that accuses him floats, such must have been his only concern in this moment of crisis and anguish; but, the next day, with horror [page 360:] unspeakable, he learns that this pod, mute witness to the crime, instead of being taken towards the Ocean, is at the disposal of the authorities, deposited in a public place. At this moment, only one thought occupies him, and that is to remove this dangerous piece of evidence at all costs. Now what could have become of her? Where is this rudderless boat, easy to recognize, and whose identity could easily be verified by the customs officer, who found it on Monday morning? If we discover it, if it has, directly or indirectly, some connection with the officer who is already so suspicious, are we not approaching the solution of this problem, so ardently studied?

We are not giving you, — note this carefully, — the twentieth part of the reasoning which, directly or indirectly, corroborates this one. You only have the emaciated skeleton of this vigorous indictment, which Jefferies and Laubardemont would have envied Chevalier Dupin, as it is both meticulous and well-conducted, as its bases seem light, and as the author ended up giving it of solid aplomb.

Now that you have an idea of the American author, commented on according to his favorite habits, we must try to introduce you to him in a new aspect. We studied him as a logician, a hunter of abstract truths, a lover of the most eccentric hypotheses, of the most arduous calculations; it is fair to judge him as a poet, as an inventor of aimless fantasies, of purely literary caprices. For this, we will stick to two tales that we have expressly reserved: — The Black Cat, and the Man of the Crowd.

The Black Cat reminds us of the darkest inspirations of Théodore Hoffmann. Never did the Sérapion club listen to anything more fantastic than the story of this man, of this unfortunate maniac, who lodges in his brain, burned by strong liquors, a monstrous hatred, the hatred of his poor cat. He had previously loved it very much; but, one evening when he came back drunk and Pluto — that was the name of the poor animal — wanted to escape from brutal caresses, he grabbed him in such a way as to injure him. Pluto defended himself, and bit his master somewhat. The latter, in a black transport of rage, drew a knife from his pocket, and, taking this unfortunate beast by the neck, gouged out one of its eyes without hesitation.

The next day, when the alcoholic fumes had dissipated, this one-eyed cat appeared to his master as the incarnation of remorse, as a living reproach for his cowardly violence, his crazy cruelty. Furthermore, resentful and fearful, Pluto fled the caresses of the man who had thus mutilated him. Thus, little by little, there arose the strange antipathy that we have described, an atrocious hatred, which seemed to develop under the irritating influence of spirits. In short, giving in to an inspiration no [page 361:] less diabolical than the first, our man hanged his cat, his poor black cat, already blinded by him.

By a singular fate, the following day, his house burned down. The fire caused all the walls to collapse, except for one, freshly plastered. On this one, which offered a perfectly smooth and white surface, the crowd, rushing to check the ravages of the fire, contemplated with astonishment — and the owner with horror — the image of a black cat, drawn, so to speak. say, in relief. This cat could only be Pluto, as witnessed by the rope placed around his neck, the imprint of which was found on this fantastic medallion.

Without doubt, — because we no longer believe in miracles, — the cat, detached from the tree where it was hanging, had been thrown into the house, by some evil joker, as soon as the fire began, and the fall of some floorboards had stuck it against the new wall, where it remained while the house burned. At least that is how this extraordinary transfer can be explained.

In any case, the ghost of Pluto, since this fatal scene, haunted the deranged brain of his assassin, who was looking for an opportunity to atone for his crime, when he met, one evening, in a cabaret where he was passing the night, another cat, black as Pluto, and which seemed to receive with singular pleasure the caresses with which he overwhelmed it. By purchasing this cat, which followed him very willingly, the poor fool believed he was appeasing his victim's spirits. Alas! the next day, when he examined his new host in broad daylight, the unfortunate man noticed that, like Pluto, this cat was one-eyed. This almost inexplicable coincidence gave him a very natural aversion to the animal, which, similar in every way to the first, accumulated, grew, and festered every day.

To make it better understood, we must also add that on its black fur this unfortunate cat had a whitish spot, — the only difference which distinguished it from its predecessor, — and that this spot, at first quite vague in its contours, had ended up taking — at least our drunkard saw it that way — the very distinct and very clear shape of a gallows. This was, for a sick imagination, a kind of dire prognosis.

Notwithstanding all these causes of hatred, the man, his wife and the cat lived for some time without quarrels; the woman particularly loved the cat, the cat loved the man; the man feared the cat, and hardly liked the woman. Add to these unfortunate dispositions the bad advice of poverty, — malesuada fames, — and the bloody chimeras that drunkenness arouses in a sick mind; you will understand what followed.

The man went down to the cellar one day, escorted by his wife and his [page 362:] cat. The latter, always eager around his master, found himself following his steps, and made him walk. Then forgetting his fears, and listening only to his resentment, the man raised a hatchet which he held in his hand at the cat; the woman intervened at the wrong time to save the cat: the hatchet — we will not undertake to explain this error — went astray on the woman's head.

Once the crime had been committed, it was no longer a matter of making the corpse disappear. After having reviewed all the means used in such a case, — from cutting up into small pieces, to packing in a trunk which is sent some thousand miles away, to the address of an unknown correspondent, — the man invented to wall up his wife's body, following the method adopted by the monks in their in pace, that is to say, to bury her in the thickness of a wall. This beautiful project was immediately put into execution: the assassin removed the bricks with which the front of a condemned home had been masked, and, in the void they left, placed the body of the deceased; then, in front of the body, he raised the partition, which was thus perfectly in line with the rest of the wall. It goes without saying that he had very carefully soiled the mortar he used for this delicate operation, and mixed enough yellowish villi into the plaster to remove any indiscreet whiteness. In short, the work was well done, and the trompe-l’oeil executed in a very reassuring manner.

This finished, the man returned to the thought of actually killing the cat, the only witness to the murder; but, to his great surprise and joy, he could not find it anywhere. The cautious animal had undoubtedly fled the bloody house. Wasn’t his departure a happy omen?

However, after four or five days, the police, informed that the woman no longer appeared, sent their agents into the field, and made a home visit to the husband, suspected of having obtained the pleasures of widowhood by some illicit process. The house is carefully searched. The master himself leads the disconcerted clerks from the attic to the cellar. He leads them, with a sort of wild triumph, to the very place where what they are looking for is hidden. He takes great pleasure in praising them about the thickness and solidity of the walls; he goes, — so great is his audacity and his complete security, — so far as to strike the partition which hides from their eyes the proof of the crime. . . but then from the wall itself comes a long moan, a complaint which has nothing to do with it. human, and which seems the voice of an accusing demon. The man fainted on the spot, the police threw down the wall, dug, and found inside, on the corpse of the murdered woman, the big crouching black cat, whose single eye, lit by hunger and anger, lights up the darkness of the cellar from afar. The man had walled it up, too, without realizing it. [page 363:]

The Man of the Crowd is not a story, it is a study, it is a simple idea rendered with energy. The author supposes that, at a moment when his eyes wandered randomly over the numerous walkers who passed and repassed in front of the windows of a café where he was sitting, he distinguished a face whose appearance filled him with an indescribable curiosity; it is that of a thin and pale old man whose every feature expresses with rare energy the restlessness of conscience, the anguish of remorse.

“I had never seen anything,” he said, “which bore any resemblance, even remotely, to this decrepit figure, and my first idea, on seeing it, was that Retszch, if he had known it, would have preferred the type he chose to represent Mephistopheles. While, faithful to my system of observation, I tried to analyze and translate into facts or passions the multiple lines offered to me by such a singular face, twenty ideas awoke in me confused and paradoxically amalgamated, from rare and powerful intelligence, of habitual distrust, of misery, of sordid avarice, of rigid and profound insensitivity, of malice, of cruelty, of triumphant irony, of hidden terrors, then, above all, of intense and supreme despair. I felt interested, almost dazzled, fascinated to a surprising degree. — What a strange story we would learn, I said to myself, if we could read this chest! Then came an extreme desire not to let this man escape, to follow him, to learn about him at least what others knew about him.”

Yielding to this desire, our curious man rushes into the street and follows the stranger's trail, studying his slightest gestures, his costume, his gait with minute attention, and all the more at ease for this examination. passionate, that the mysterious walker never turns his head, always going straight ahead, and choosing with a marked preference large groups, sidewalks crowded with crowds. This method or this mania, whatever you want to call it, allows the observer who pursues him to get as close as he wants, and to closely scrutinize the smallest details of his attire. Now, under the threadbare rag which covers as best it can the lean and curved torso of this singular old man, the volunteer spy distinguishes, in relief, the handle of a dagger. Through the slits of this rag, he sees a diamond gleaming. Is there not something to confirm his suspicions so quickly aroused?

He therefore continues his hunt, hoping to discover the old man's home; but the hours pass, the evening advances, and he does not seem to think of lodging anywhere. First he stood in the busiest streets. As the passers-by become fewer in number, he leaves them one after the other to go to the passages where the life of [page 364:] the city is gradually becoming more concentrated. Only there is his approach slow and assured, his gaze calms; only there he breathes freely. The passages in turn empty, the air freshens, the rain falls; but, despite the cold and the rain, this type of wandering Jew, eager to escape solitude, will prowl at the doors of the theaters, along their colonnades where the gas still glows, where the wet crews, the torpid coachmen, wait their masters. There takes refuge, for another hour, the man of the crowds, and, when the noisy spectators leave the room which is about to close, the unfortunate man throws himself with feverish eagerness into the middle of their lively groups. It matters little to him where these living streams lead him to the current of which he abandons himself; he walks, he goes until, little by little drying up, their last waves leave him alone in some distant and silent street. Then, once again recalled to himself, he ceases to obey purely mechanical instinct; he hastens his walk, he hastens in the darkness, and, finally turning some well-known corner, he sees in front of him half-open shutters which let out, with bright rays of light, a confused sound of blasphemies and songs. There is no mistake, this cabaret, this gin palace, is an infamous den where prostitution and theft take place at night. In the narrow and mephitic streets that our stranger crossed to get there, there is no blacker sludge, more fetid mire, more corrupt filth than the miserable beings piled up pell-mell in this asylum of debauchery and of crime. No matter, the light and the noise have already revived this unfortunate man, whom the silence overwhelms, whom the isolation crushes. He will only leave this screaming pandemonium at dawn where he rushes with a cry of joy sadder than a cry of agony.

At daybreak, however, the pale regulars of this horrible inn are chased away, like so many brute animals. Our observer, whose gaze has not left for an instant the strange being on whose trail he has unexpectedly thrown himself, detects a contraction of despair on his physiognomy.

“However, he did not hesitate on the route he had to take, and, with that tireless energy that maniacs often display, he set off with a deliberate step, along the same streets that had brought him, until ‘at this cursed place, in the very heart of the capital of the three kingdoms. He walked quickly and for a long time, while I followed him step by step, determined not to abandon a study which then interested me to the highest degree. The sun rose while we walked thus; and when we arrived in front of one of the principal markets of London, the street from the D. . . Hotel, to which this market abuts, presented a scene almost as lively, almost as noisy, as the previous evening. So painful was the task that I had set for myself in the midst of this human whirlwind [page 365:] imposed, I did not want to give up pursuing the stranger, who again seemed peaceful and almost satisfied. Wandering here and there, without a fixed aim, without apparent concern, he remained all day in this tumultuous street. When evening came, exhausted by twenty-four hours of hunting, and hardly able to promise to penetrate more completely the mystery of this separate existence, I stopped suddenly in front of the wandering man, and I thought to embarrass him with a fixed and deep gaze which sought his deep in the hollow eye sockets where his pupils were sheltered; but he did not only pay attention to me, and, elbowing me aside, he continued with the same solemn step his journey without pause, while, ceasing to attach myself to his steps, I remained motionless contemplating him. — This old man, I said to myself at last, is the type and perhaps the mastermind of crime. As punishment for some crime, he experiences this great misfortune of which a French moralist speaks, “this great misfortune of not being able to be alone.”(1) He is condemned, by his fears or his remorse, to end his life in the crowd. It would be wasted effort to follow him. I will not know anything more, neither about him nor about his past actions. The Heart of the Wicked is a book more indecipherable, more enormous, than Grunninger ‘s Hortulus animœ.”(2)

We have already assimilated Mr. Poe's talent to that of Washington Irving, the latter, more cheerful, more varied, less ambitious, and to that of William Godwin, whose “dark and unhealthy popularity” was so severely controlled by Hazlitt(3). However, we must recognize in the author of Saint-Léon and Caleb Williams more true philosophical science, a much less marked tendency towards purely literary paradox. That if we wanted to designate, in America itself, a predecessor to Mr. Edgar Poe, we could, without forcing the analogies too much, compare him to Charles Brockden Brown,(4) who, too, sought in good faith, even in his most frivolous fictions, the solution of some intellectual problem; taking pleasure, like Mr. Poe, in painting these interior tortures, these obsessions of the soul, these illnesses of the mind which offer such a vast field for observation, and so many curious phenomena to the studious constructors of metaphysical systems.

Brockden Brown, it is true, wrote novels, and we only know of Mr. Poe's very short stories — some of them do not last more than six or seven pages; — but the time would be ill-chosen, it seems to us, to classify, in order of extent, compositions of this kind. It is so easy to extend a series of facts indefinitely, and so difficult, on the contrary, to condense into a few words, in the form of a story, the whole [page 366:] an abstract theory, all the elements of an original conception! Today when the slightest paper dauber rises, at the first leap, to a melodrama in ten or twenty volumes, Richardson himself, if he returned to the world, would, in the interest of his glory, be obliged to summarize his characters, to prune his interminable dialogues, and to distribute the numerous figures of his vast paintings into finely crafted medallions. Yesterday the victory went to the big battalions; tomorrow it will belong to the elite troops. From the great novels which amused Madame de Sévigné, we came to the tales of Voltaire and Diderot. A whim of fashion has brought back into honor the Clélie and Astrée of the 17th century; but for this reason neither Candide nor the Friends of Bourbonne have been forgotten, and time, which has taken nothing away from these stories which have remained classic, will certainly bring back the taste for simple, laconic, cleverly concentrated forms. The diamond is never very big, the essence never fills vast thunderbolts, and a tale like those of Mr. Poe offers more substance to the mind, opens to the imagination more new horizons than twenty volumes like those produced in the past, and by the hundreds, by the Sandraz de Courtils, the Darnaud-Baculard, the de Lussan, precursors and prototypes of many contemporary serialists. Between the latter and the American author, we will be careful not to establish a formal parallel. It will be appropriate and useful to compare them when time has consolidated the emerging reputation of the foreign storyteller, and — who knows? — somewhat shaken that of our fertile novelists.




[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 341:]

(1) Tales by Edgar A. Poe. — New-York and London. Weley [[Wiley]] and Putnam, 1845.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 346:]

(1) It is good to note that this conclusion meets with objections, and one of the most serious is an example, or, as they now say, a precedent. There are, in fact, four planets, called telescopic: Pallas, Juno, Ceres and Vesta, which appear to be only four fragments of a larger planet, shattered by some cause which has remained unknown until now. Cotin's hypothesis, supported by Laplace's reasoning, is therefore not entirely improbable.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 353:]

(1) This is the true title of the collection known to us as the Thousand and One Nights.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 365:]

(1) La Bruyère.

(2) Hortulus animoe cum Oratiunculis aliquibus superadditis. [[by Johann Reinhard Grüninger, January 31, 1500.]]

(3) Spirit of the Age, or contemporary Portraits, vol. I, p. 179. Galignani.

(4) The author of Wieland, Edgar Huntly, etc.




Paul-Emile Daurand Forgues (1813-1883) was a native speaker of French. Being also fluent in English, he translated numerous works into French, including novels by Charlotte Bronte, Wilkie Collins and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The present text is a translation from the original French, based on image pages made available online by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Text in French from these pages was compared against the transcript conveniently provided by French Wikipedia/Wikisource. The refined French text was then converted to English via Google translation and compared against the two prior English translations (Sidney P. Moss, Poe's Major Crisis, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1970, pp. 145-154 and Ian Walker, ed., Edgar Allan Poe: The Critical Heritage, London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986, pp. 205-219). Both of those translations omit portions of the original, primarily extracts and summaries of selections from Poe's tales. The intention of the current presentation was particularly to restore these sections previously left out. Further refinements were made based on personal judgement and consulting standard French/English dictionaries. In the original, a few titles are provided in both French and English. In these instances, only one reference has been retained. Where Forgues uses the title “The Golden Bug,” the title Poe actually used (“The Gold-Bug”) has been substituted. As much as possible, Forgue's original punctuation and italics have been honored. Pagination approximates the placement of text from the French original as closely as possible.

Philosophical Essay on Probabilities is a book written by Pierre-Simon, Marquis de Laplace (1749-1827), published in 1814. Poe was probably familiar with his book The System of the World, first published in Frend in Paris, 1796 and in London in English in 1809.

In quoting from Poe's tales, Forgues does not honor Poe's italics or punctuation, especially in regard to m-dashes. Consequently, rather than simply reproducing Poe's text, we have instead provided an English translation of Forgues' French.



[S:0 - LRDDM, 1846] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Review of Poe's Tales (E. D. Forgues, 1846)