Text: George Palmer Putnam, “Leaves from a Publisher’s Letter-Book,“ Putnam’s Monthly, October 1869, pp. 467-474


[page 470, column 2, continued:]

In one of many letters which I received in England from Mr. Tupper, the poet-proverbialist, he says, “Shall we make EDGAR POE famous by a notice in the Literary Gazette?” referring to the volumes of Poe’s Tales which Mr. Wiley had printed in our Library of American Books, and which I had given to the [page 471:] poet as novelties. These tales have a weird kind of fascination, which made me curiously interested in the author, whom I had never seen. Another incident enhanced this interest. At our London office we had received, about 1840, a volume called “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, of Nantucket,” which in a long title-page purported to describe sundry veritable voyages, ending with one in which the author had reached the eighty-fourth parallel of southern latitude. The late Mr. D. Appleton was sitting in our office in Paternoster Row. “Here is an American contribution to geographical science,” I said to him. “This man has reached a higher latitude than any European navigator. Let  us reprint this for the benefit of Mr. Bull.” He assented, and took half share in the venture. The grave particularity of the title and of the narrative misled many of the critics as well as ourselves, and whole columns of these new “discoveries,” including the hieroglyphics (!) found on the rocks, were copied by many of the English country papers as sober historical truth. Whether such a book were as justifiable as Robinson Crusoe may be questioned it was certainly ingenious and skilful.

Some years after, when my desk was in Broadway, in separate quarters, a gentleman with a somewhat nervous and excited manner claimed attention on a subject which he said was of the highest importance. Seated at my desk, and looking at me a full minute with his glittering eye, he at length said: “I am Mr. Poe.” I was “all ear,” of course, and sincerely interested. It was the author of “The Raven,” and of “The Gold Bug!” “I hardly know,” said the poet, after a pause, “how to begin what I have to say. It is a matter of profound importance.” After another pause, the poet seeming to be in a tremor of excitement, he at length went on to say that the publication he had to propose was of momentous interest. Newton’s discovery of gravitation was a mere incident compared to the discoveries revealed in this book. it would at once command such universal [column 2:] and intense attention that the publisher might give up all other enterprises, and make this one book the business of his lifetime. An edition of fifty thousand copies might be sufficient to begin with, but it would be but a small beginning. No other scientific event in the history of the world approached in importance the original developments of this book. All this and more, not in irony or in jest, but in intense earnest, for he held me with his eye, like the Ancient Mariner. I was really impressed but not overcome. Promising a decision on Monday (it was late Saturday, P. M.), the poet had to rest so long in uncertainty about the extent of the edition partly reconciled, by a small loan, meanwhile. We did venture, not upon fifty thousand, but five hundred.*

This little book of “great expectations” was simply “Eureka a new Theory of the Universe” which Mr. Poe had read as a lecture to a small audience at the Society Library. A Southern magazine, “The Nineteenth Century,” gave recently a high estimate of the theory or discovery announced in “Eureka” but it has never, apparently, caused any profound interest either to popular or scientific readers.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 471, column 2:]

*  Even after this small edition was in type, the poet proposed to punish us by giving a duplicate of the MS. to another publisher, because a third little advance was deemed inexpedient.




This section is excerpted from a longer article. The full portion on Poe is reprinted above. Poe’s Eureka: A Prose Poem was published by Putnam’s about July 11, 1848.

The Southern magazine mentioned at the end of the article was not “The Nineteenth Century” but the New Eclectic Magazine. The article, by Dr. W. H. Brown, was called “Poe’s ‘Eureka’ and Recent Scientific Speculations.



[S:0 - PM, 1869] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Leaves from a Publisher's Letter-book (G. P. Putnam, 1869)