Text: George E. Woodberry, “New Editions of Poe,” The Nation (New York, NY), Vol. 75, no. 1953, December 4, 1902, pp. 445-447


[page 445:]


The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Edited by James A. Harrison. 17 volumes. Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. 1902.

The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe. With a critical introduction by Charles F. Richardson. 10 volumes. G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1902.

At last Poe has come into his own. His text was long the most neglected in our native literature; it is now, if not the best, certainly the most edited of all. Our classics cannot be too often issued, and both these new editions have, each in its own way, novel points of excellence unshared by others. The coincidence of their publication strongly emphasizes the established place of Poe in our standard literature, and the care with which his fame is cherished. The Virginia edition is, indeed, an old-fashioned labor of love, the work of three gentlemen of the University of Virginia where Poe was educated, and sets him forth with local pride as a Virginia product. The more sumptuous “Arnheim Edition” of Messrs. Putnam, introduced by Professor Richardson of Dartmouth College, presents Poe exclusively as a “world-author.” In other respects, the two editions are also opposed; and, if the former receives greater attention here, it is because of its unusual claims. The “Arnheim” is a careful standard reprint, in substance, and is content to take its place with others. The Virginia editors are of a different mind. They endeavor to reconstitute the text; they claim that they have freed it from the corruptions of other editors, and that it is now presented in its original integrity for the first time. Such a claim — the question being what is the standard text of one of our most distinguished authors — deserves scrutiny.

The first point made by the Virginia editors (and it is often reiterated) is, that they have gone to the original sources. A hasty reader might get the impression that they only had done so. Griswold, of course, had the original sources, as Poe’s executor, [column 2:] for so much of Poe’s work as be included in his edition. It is not the fact of going to the sources that counts, but rather the use one makes of them. Griswold attempted no more than a fairly good reprint of what seemed permanent or interesting in the miscellaneous papers of a writer, lately dead, whose place in literature was still to be judged. The edition so made served its purpose until, with the increase of Poe’s fame and the lapse of time, something more seemed due him. Stedman and Woodberry then gave a new edition; they went to the original sources, rearranged the matter, modernized the mode of printing as regards spelling, punctuation, and so forth, corrected errors in dates, names, quotations, foreign terms, and the like, and, in a word, established a text such as any author desires of his own works. This was, in fact, a critical edition. There is another way of editing the sources, namely, to reproduce them in their original state. This the Virginia editors have adopted. They have retained the contemporary form in which Poe’s writings appeared, in all the details of the printing, and have corrected errors only in the most necessary cases, and then with notice to the reader. It is a facsimile method of editing. Either method has advantages of its own, and both have been applied to many great authors; but, in general, the former is the best for the general public; the latter is the most useful to the special literary student. With this general statement as to the character of the editing, and with the remark that the arrangement is chronological, by divisions, the results may best be illustrated by taking the parts separately, and examining them with regard to the three prime virtues of editing — fulness, accuracy, and authority.

In the “Tales” and “Poems” there is no new matter, and the verbal text does not differ in any material point from that generally received, such variations as there are being in the nature of very minor corrections. The original sources, printed and manuscript, are the same used by other editors, except that the first publication of “The Angel of the Odd” in the Columbian Magazine has been found and collated. The identification had been previously made by the late W. M. Griswold. Further research by the editors might not have been fruitless, however; for example, the first publication of “The Sphinx,” for the text of which Griswold has been the only authority, was in Arthur’s Magazine, January, 1846, and an earlier text of “Mystlfication” than any collated may-be found in the American Monthly for June, 1837. The novel feature of the edition, under “Tales” and “Poems,” is a variorum, showing the state of the text in the different forms published by Poe. As is well known, Poe was accustomed to revise his work of all sorts, and print it over again whenever he had a chance. The extent of this revision is remarkable, and the illustration now afforded of it by this laborious compilation is complete for this section. Woodberry had already done the same thing for the “Poems,” but the extension of this method to the “Tales” is the most peculiar and valuable trait of the Virginia edition.

To confine attention to the “Poems,” “The Raven” may be regarded as a fair example by which to test the accuracy of the collation. “The Raven” was issued by Poe in the American Whig Review, corrected [column 3:] in the Broadway Journal, and revised in the edition of 1845; it now is given either in a fourth form, that of Griswold, or a fifth, that of the Lorimer-Graham copy (originally Griswold’s) of the 1845 edition, with MS. corrections by Poe. There are thus five distinct forms of the poem, It the variorum of the Virginia editors be compared with these, the following results appear. In the account of the first form, two readings, mortals and something, are recorded, but do not occur; in that of the second, the same readings are recorded, but do not occur, a variant in stanza xi, 5 is omitted, and a misprint vied for tried, should be noted; there is no account of the third form; there is no account of the fourth form, except a reference made to it in the account of the first, and the reference is incorrect; the fifth form is the one adopted in the text. The editors give, however, an account of the form in the Southern Literary Messenger, which is verbally the same as that in the Whig Review, but differs in punctuation. In describing this, they omit six readings, give in stanza xi. the Broadway Journal reading by mistake, and in stanza ii, 2 (as also in the Broadway Journal form in the same place) adduce a variation where none exists.

The raven is an ill-omened bird, and makes here a pretty nest of errors. It is not given to editors to be faultless, and this is a peculiarly trying kind of work; the rest of the editing is, on the whole, much more to be trusted, so far as we have examined it. A few other errors may be noted in passing, in case the work should be revised. as it needs to be: in “Al Aaraaf,”1831, lines 26-30, are omitted; in “lsrafel,” 1831, viii. 4, so for as; in “The City of Sin” (misprinted Sea), 1836, the omission of six lines from 1831 is not noted. The date of “To One in Paradise,” in Godey’s, should be 1834. Misprints are numerous throughout the notes; one in the body of the text, “The Valley of Unrest,” line 22, three for there, may be worth correction. Apart from these matters of detail, we observe that the variant readings of the Philadelphia papers are entirely omitted, as well as those of the Wilmer manuscript and of the manuscript facsimile of the lines to Mrs. Show.

To pass to the critical writings, it is here that the editors are most proud of what they have accomplished; and if enthusiasm for their author and laborious patience in his service were all there is to editing, they might well be satisfied. They have greatly increased the bulk of the section, partly by including reviews hitherto thought too valueless to be revived, and partly by printing the earlier forms of later critical writing in addition to the latter. The method followed is, in fact, the same as in the “Tales” and “Poems,” only, instead of giving the variants in notes, the original articles are reprinted, It is better that there should be repetition, it is said in explanation, than that anything of Poe’s should be lost. The results are occasionally surprising, owing to Poe’s inveterate habit of using his old material over again. For example, a long review of Hall’s ‘Book of Gems,’ from the Southern Literary Messenger, August, 1836, was reprinted, very slightly revised. in the Broadway Journal. 1845; the editors, therefore, give it twice — once in volume ix. 91 as “early criticism,” and again in volume xii. 189 as “later criticism.” Some passages will be thus found [page 446:] in at least three places. In these ways the amount of critical matter is enlarged by the reprinting of earlier forms of papers which have hitherto been taken only in their final forms, and by reviving a considerable portion of transitory and inferior criticism mainly from Poe’s youthful period. The section “Marginalia” is much swelled in this way. In respect to fulness, nevertheless, nothing previously unknown has been found, nor is all that is known included.

The critical section, however, raises a much more important question than that of completeness — the question of the authority of Griswold’s text in those portions where it differs from the magazine publication by Poe in his lifetime. The Virginia editors challenge it, and assail Griswold’s character after the old manner of Poe’s apologists. The subject is brought to a head in the text of the ‘Literati.’ In the “Editor’s Preface” the chief editor says, without qualification: “Of the original thirty-eight papers printed by Poe, five found in the current editions are Griswold’s substitutes for Poe’s original articles. We have rejected the spurious papers and put Poe’s back in theirplaces.” The italics are his own. In the special “Introduction” to the ‘Literati,’ he adds: “ ‘The Literati of New York City,’ now for the first time printed under its own title,just as Poe wrote it, was ‘edited’ by Griswold, who substituted for Poe’s papers on Thomas Dunn English, Mary E. Hewitt, James Lawson, C. F. Briggs and Mrs. F. S. Osgood, other papers in the Poe manner. These Griswold versions will be found in the Appendix.” The charge is grave, and should not have been lightly made. It is that Griswold, being Poe’s literary executor, tampered with the text, and “substituted,” in fact, “spurious” papers “in the Poe manner” for Poe’s own articles in these five cases; and elsewhere the position taken is that Griswold, unsupported by an independent text, is untrustworthy. Let us take the case of the paper on Mrs. F. S. Osgood. Griswold’s text is printed in the Appendix (vol. xv, 271). If the reader will turn to volume xiii, 175, under the head of “Later Criticism,” he will find a paper on Mrs. Osgood published under Poe’s name during his life in the Southern Literary Messenger for August, 1849, and hence here included. It is identical with Griswold’s paper, except for some slight variation in the extent of the quotations from Mrs. 0sgood’s poems, and also for the omission of some live lines at the end. In other words, the paper on Mrs. Osgood, described as “spurious,” and written “in the Poe manner,” is also printed as Poe’s undoubted work. It is hardly credible that so stupid a blunder should have been made, especially when the editor was attacking the character of one of his predecessors; but there the two articles stare the reader in the face.

“We have carefully disentangled what might well be called the snarl of the ‘Literati,’” says the editor, and this is the way he began to do it. What is “the snarl of the ‘Literati’ ”? The truth about it is as follows: Poe contributed a series of papers, with this title, to Godey’s in 1846. At a later time he formed a plan of gathering his critical writings on American authors into a book, and, as usual, he rewrote and rearranged the whole, using his old material. The work was advertised to appear in the spring of 1847, but it was never [column 2:] published. The manuscript of this work, with some parts missing, was found among the Griswold papers. The way in which Poe used it may be readily illustrated. The present writer has before him pp. 79, 80 of the MS. which contain a revised version of the Daper on Laughton Osborn in the ‘Literati.’ Poe used a portion of this to make his introduction to his review of Lowell’s “Fable for Critics” in the Southern Literary Messenger for March, 1849. The rest has never been printed. In the last-mentioned magazine for October, 1850, appeared “Poe on Headley and Channing,”announced as “from advance sheets of ‘The Literati,’ a work in press by the late Edgar A. Poe.” The existence of the work in question, then, namely, a revised ‘Literati,’ is clear; and from its pages Poe’s later critical magazine writings were extracted. He was merely following his usual method when he sent the paper on Mrs. Osgood to the Messenger in 1849. From this same source, there can be no doubt Griswold obtained the halfdozen critical papers not previously publlshed, as well as the four other “substituted” papers of the ‘Literati,’ and also the rearrangement of the papers on Hawthorne and other writers at which the Virginia editors are so indignant.

“Griswold,” Professor Harrison says, “has taken the review of Hawthorne in Godey’s Lady’s Book for November, 1847, split it open, inserted another review of Hawthorne from Graham’s Magazine for May, 1842, mutilated the latter, and then continued with the tail fragment of the 1847 review as colophon, thus dissecting Poe’s later paper on the New England writer, and inserting scraps in fragments from one written five years earlier.”

This was precisely Poe’s way of treating his own work. Griswold would not have taken the trouble to do it. There is no ground to question for a moment that Griswold had manuscript authority for whatever he published differing from or in addition to Poe’s printed texts. yen in the case of “The Raven” it must be held an open question whether his version or the Lorimer-Graham version, which he also owned, is of the higher authority. As to the ‘Literati,’ Griswold was in possession of a manuscript, more or less complete, in part a revision of old work, in part a first copy of MS. elsewhere used in other connections, and, in general, crossing Poe’s published work in various ways. It is to be inferred that he used this manuscript, as was said above. for the final form for such papers as those on Hawthorne, and a revised form for the five ‘Literati’ papers, and the only source for a few pieces; and that he did not utilize it in cases where (as in Osborn’s) it would have involved repetition of passages elsewhere appearing.

The truth is, that the editor’s prejudice against Griswold has led him to reject Poe’s own late and mature revision of his major critical writings in favor of these early, scattered, and fragmentary forms in which they appeared in the magazines in their original helter-skelter production. The same question, it should be observed, arose, though less importantly, in the “Tales.” There the editor “straddled”; for example, Griswold’s revision of “The Cask of Amontillado” is rejected, “as we have no positive evidence that these changes were made by Poe”; his “Hans Pfaall” and “Metzengerstein” are accepted, “as undoubtedly founded on a revised form of the text in [column 3:] the hands of the editor”; and his “Thousand and Second Tale” is also accepted, but without reason assigned. In conclusion, it must be held that Griswold’s authority, so far from being impaired, is strengthened by the present attack on him, and that the edition itself suffers in just that proportion in which it departs from him in substance. In any discussion of the text of Poe the primary fact should never be lost sight of, namely, that Griswold had Poe’s papers, as collected and prepared by Poe himself, who expected that he might die at any time and had taken care to ask Griswold to be his executor. Griswold’s task was comparatively a light one; he had no motive to tamper with the text, and beyond the fact that he did not go much outside the collections he had received, and did not oversee the printing with great accuracy, there is no fault to be found with him.

We have left ourselves with short space for the remainder of the contents of the edition, i. e., the Letters and the Biography. The idea of collecting the letters was an admirable one, for, taken together, they give, with all their triviality of subject and frequent meanness of spirit, the best personal impression of Poe. The collection is very complete, though a few have been missed, as, for example, the letter to Bryan, published April 16, 1892, in the Critic. The editor makes much of including the Griswold papers which were copied for him from the originals at Boston, or procured in other ways. We observe that he does not mention the publication of all the important letters to, from, or about Poe, in this collection, by Woodberry some years ago. The same lack of candor is even more noticeable in the fact that, while he has obtained several of the letters first collected in Woodberry’s ‘Life of Poe’ from the original sources and owners, and has paraphrased such others in it as he could not so obtain, including those to Lowell, he does not mention that biography as the source. In his own biography of Poe there is very little that is new, and that little is discreditable to Poe. He revives the Richmond gossip about Poe’s demanding money of a lady of the Allan family and smashing the windows of the house on being refused, and he is the first biographer to state the cause of Mr. Allan’s rupture with Poe as being the latter’s forgery of the former’s name, though the fact has been strongly suspected. His authority is a niece of Mr. Allan, from whom he prints a letter. There is no attempt in the biography to conceal Poe’s faults. Indeed, there has been no such collection of the evidence against Poe as is here gathered. The whole of the English episode, for example, is included, and the damaging letter of his friend Thompson — “no confidence could be placed in him in any relation of life” —— with many others; revive nearly all the scandal connected with his name. It would hardly have been possible for any one except a professed Southern apologist of Poe to do this without offence; as it is, an unmeasured eulogy of Poe (these things excepted) makes the balance even.

A few incidental blemishes are to be regretted in this part of the work. The sneer at Longfellow’s veracity might well have been omitted, and the attitude toward Lowell is an unpleasant one, while such things as the charge of lying brought against Briggs are, perhaps, though groundless, [page 447:] to be expected, since the apologists of Poe have always shown an incapacity to appreciate the fact that the character of others beside Poe is at stake in their statements. Altogether, the biography is a very curious mixture of derogatory facts and laudatory remarks. The other critical apparatus of the edition is of very slight value.

On the whole, notwithstanding its shortcomings and errors, its minimizing, obscuring, and undervaluing the labors of others in the same field, and especially its wrong-headed attitude toward Griswold, for which it pays so heavy a penalty in lessening its own authority, the edition is to be heartily welcomed: it gathers together much obscure matter for the student of Poe, and collects in an accessible form much that has hitherto been scattered in many places, and it will range with other editions, not swallowing them up like Aaron’s rod, but reposing amicably beside them on library shelves.





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