Text: Ingram, John H., Review of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (part II), Athenaeum (London), vol. 5, whole no. 3570, March 28, 1896, pp. 406-407


The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. With a Memoir, Critical Introductions, and Notes by E. C. Stedman and G. E. Woodberry. Vols. VL-X. (Lawrence & Bullen.)

The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Vols. V.-VIII. (London, Shiells & Co.; Philadelphia, Lippincott Co.)

“WHAT the world calls ‘genius,’ ” says Poe, “is the state of mental disease arising from the undue predominance of some one of the faculties.” This description and its corollary, that what is popularly deemed genius is an “ organic malformation of the mind,” may gratify Dr. Max Nordau or Prof. liombroso, but will scarcely satisfy established opinion. Poe’s theory was that a man of real genius should be and could be equally conversant with any and every department of knowledge, and he attempted to prove the correctness of his proposition by exhibiting his own mastery over many things. He posed as a poet ; sought by criticisms to teach how authors should work and books be written ; cryptography was the vehicle of proving his learning in various different ways ; and, finally, having displayed in his tales and essays his mathematical, chemical, astronomical, and other scientific acquirements, he wished to crown his fame and prove his theory by the production of ‘Eureka.’ Limited as was his learning and small hie scientific knowledge, he possessed a marvellous dexterity in displaying his attainments to the best advantage.

Volumes vi.-x. of Messrs. Stedman and Woodberry’s edition contain the most varied and, as far as the time expended upon them is concerned, the chief labours of Poe’s lifetime, yet, save the few pages of poetry, they are the productions which have made the least lasting impression upon the reading world. His criticisms are recognized by the unprejudiced as in the main just, discriminating, and even prophetic; friendship, or respect for the pioneers of his country’s literature, in a few instances caused him to award more than the due mead of praise, but generally time has confirmed his judgments. “He was not far out in his estimates of Cooper and Bryant,” says Mr. Stedman, and “he saw that Hawthorne, Longfellow, and Lowell were to be among the foremost builders of our imaginative literature, and his rally to the defence of young Bayard Taylor was quick and fine.” His approval or condemnation of an author or his works was founded upon artistic principles. “The spirit of his critical writings,” Mr. Stedman remarks, “is that of what he felt himself to be — an apostle of Taste.” His appreciation of Hawthorne was so early in that writer’s career — before the author of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ had published a single one of those romances upon which his fame is chiefly based — that we readily pardon such criticism of him as does not coincide with our own estimate.

Poe’s ‘Marginalia’ has not yet received the attention it deserves, and even Mr. Stedman does not appear to appreciate fully its value. There is precious ore within for those who care to quarry it. No student of the poet’s character can afford to neglect this section of his work, for many portions of it cast valuable side-lights upon his mental history. In the introductory paragraph how attractively are we taken into his confidence and made to feel that we are in the presence of a lover of literature and a gentleman! Many are the paragraphs — the headings of which, by the way, are mainly taken from Poe’s English editor — displaying the poet’s idiosyncrasies, such as that suggestion for an original work: —

“If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionise, at one effort, the universal world of human thought, human opinion, and human sentiment, the opportunity is his own — the road to immortal renown lies straight, open, and unencumbered before him. All that he has to do is to write and publish a very little book. Its title should be simple — a few plain words — ‘ My Heart Laid Bare. But — this little book must be true to its title.

“Now, is it not very singular that, with the rabid thirst for notoriety which distinguishes so many of mankind — so many, too, who care not a fig what is thought of them after death — there should not be found one man having sufficient hardihood to write this little book ? To write, I say. There are ten thousand men who, if the book were once written, would laugh at the notion of being disturbed by its publication during their life, and who could not even conceive why they should object to its being published after their death. But to write it — there is the rub. No man dare write it. No man ever will dare write it. No man could write it, even if be dared. The paper would shrivel and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen.”

The pungency and literary finish of these paragraphs are undeniable. Turn to either, the little essay on punctuation, styled The Dash,’ or, again, the instruction how to begin a book — and we know how faithfully Poe followed hie own prescription — with a “ few vivid sentences, imprimis, by way of the electric bell to the telegraph.” Than the paragraph on Byron’s affection for Mary Chaworth no truer essay on first love probably exists, whilst the intensely interesting notes on The Power of Words’ are unique in suggestiveness, or paralleled only by the poet’s own story of Oinos and Agathos. Then many of these passages, if more commonplace than those alluded to, are noteworthy for their Poesque asides, such as “Man’s real life is happy, chiefly because he is ever expecting that it soon will be so.” Some of the editors’ acts of omission and revision in this section of the Works’ are difficult to comprehend. Why, for example, detach from Poe’s essay ‘Old English Poetry,’ which is not inserted, a portion of his remarks on Marvell, and print it as a marginal note?

This is editing with a vengeance! Then the ‘Chapter of Suggestions’ is included, but ‘Pinakidia’ is omitted, yet both are Marginalian notes. True, it is sought to excuse the exclusion of the latter, but other instances are left unreferred to.

The editor responsible for the notanda, in lieu of explanatory notes upon Eureka,’ reprints from Mr. Ingram’s Memoir of Poe’ a long letter ascribed to the poet, and a still more lengthy disquisition on the technicalities of the work by Prof. Stringham. Despite the professor’s argumentation, recent research has been greatly in favour of Poe’s scientific suggestions ; and seeing it is acknowledged that theories he put forth foreshadowed those adopted by Faraday, Lord Kelvin, and such renowned savants, they can scarcely be refuted by sneers. Regard it how we may, ‘ Eureka’ is a work of genius, at once scientific and poetic, suggesting and presaging much that men of more technical experience have not refrained from adopting.

The miscellaneous papers appear to have been more or less edited. They include ‘Maelzel’s Chess-Player,’ which pseudo-automaton Poe demonstrated must be worked by mental, not mechanical agency, and ‘Cryptography,’ so first named by Poe’s English editor. Of this latter Mr. Woodberry says: —

“The subject interested Poe greatly, and contributed to ‘The Gold Bug’; in his correspondence it continually recurs in these years, inasmuch as public attention was arrested by his claim to be able to solve any cipher that cryptographers might present, and many were sent to him to try his powers.”

Mr. Woodberry omits to add that Poe succeeded in solving them all, in triumphant proof of the correctness of his theorem that human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve. Several of these essays, it should be pointed out, were first collected and published in the British editions of Poe’s works. “The unsigned review” of Griswold’s ‘Poets and Poetry of America,’ which the editors refer to “as of the nature of early studies,” but wisely refrain from reprinting, they may rest assured was not written by Poe.

In many respects the last volume of this collection is the most noteworthy. It contains not only the whole of Poe’s recognized poetical work, but a large number of variorum readings, which, if including little or nothing of importance not already published by the poet’s English editor, for the first time brings the whole material into one comprehensive collection. The chief poems have been too long before the public to call for further comment, and even Mr. Stedman, in his “Introduction to the Poems,” seems to find it difficult to add much that is at once true and original. The rearrangement of the poems, as, indeed, of the tales, is bewildering, and does not appear to have been made upon any intelligible plan, being neither chronological, bibliographical, nor on any other logical method. Neither the notes nor the variants are altogether satisfactory; of The Raven’ nothing new can be told, and the repetition of ridiculous and exploded myths about it and its author is a waste of space that might have been better occupied. The evolution of Poe’s masterpiece from Pike’s ‘Isadore’ has been conclusively [page 407:] proved, and to allude to the fact as “illusory” is begging the question. The variorum readings do not include, by a long way, all that has been published, apart from the fact that available MS. sources have not been resorted to. Several extra pages of ‘Politian’ have been published by Mr. Ingram; of ‘For Annie’ a much better transcript might have been procured; the earliest version of ‘The Bells’ is not printed; and various other omissions are apparent.

The portraits, including ten of Poe, are the most interesting feature of this edition, and had not considerable confusion existed in the notes upon their history, they would have been of much biographic value. We have not space to refer to all these portraits in detail, but may especially refer to the first, from Osgood’s painting, as it was for many years the only portrait of the poet known to the public. No. 2 has been often engraved, but only once really well, and then as the frontispiece to Mr. Woodberry’s volume on Poe in the “American Men of Letters.” No. 4 is most decidedly not a portrait of Poe, and bears no human resemblance to him. The editors say of No. 6, “Of all the likenesses of Poe this is the most picturesque, intense, and even dramatic, in look and attitude.” The original daguerreotype, now the property of Mr. Ingram, about the taking of which the editors are so puzzled, was made for Mrs. Lewis, in New York, just before Poe’s departure for the South in 1849. They confuse it with No. 10, which is really the portrait used for Mr. Ingram’s Edinburgh collection of the works, which collection they confound with the illustrated edition he edited for Mr. Nimmo. No. 7 is copied from an execrable engraving issued in Graham’s Magazine, but is interesting from the likeness it bears to Poe’s aunt Mrs. Clemm. There are also portraits of the poet’s mother from the photograph in Mr. Ingram’s ‘ Life of Poe, and of his wife Virginia, from the picture belonging to Miss Poe, of Baltimore; but, strange to say, of Mrs. Clemm, the poet’s aunt, the mother of his wife, and his “more than mother,” not one has been included. It is procurable. Her likeness to her famous relative, especially about the temples, is remarkable. The other illustrations call for little comment: that of the Allan mansion at Richmond has been deftly manipulated, so as almost to obliterate the ugly shaft behind it; and the Fordham Cottage is better rendered than is usual.

Although an immense amount of labour appears to have been expended upon the bibliography, it is scarcely surprising to find that It is neither complete nor perfectly accurate. No acknowledgment of the fact appears, but it may be stated that this mass of information is based upon Mr. Ingram’s published labour, and that without such aid it would have been difficult to have furnished it. Nor should it be left unnoted that there are still remaining in the text many errata which might have been avoided, whilst the index is most imperfect. Take it for all in all, however, this is the best edition of Poe’s works which has yet been published, and as regards typography and general “get-up” it is in every way a desirable acquisition. [column 2:]

Messrs. Shiells & Co.’s collection is a cheap, clearly printed set of volumes of a handy size for the pocket. The illustrations are most miscellaneous in character, and there is nothing whatever about the issue to render it noteworthy for the book-lover.



Although neither review is signed, one may confidently assign the author as John H. Ingram based on the content. Both parts are attributed to Ingram by J. C. Miller in his Building Poe Biography, 1977, p. 258.

A clipping of this article was retained by J. H. Ingram and is item 903. On this copy, Ingram pencils a number of minor changes to the text.


[S:0 - ATH, 1896] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - A Poe Bookshelf - Review of Stedman and Woodberry Edition of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe [Part II] (John H. Ingram, 1896)