Text: Carroll Dee Laverty, “Chapter 01,” Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (1951), pp. 4-20 (This material may be protected by copyright)


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Chapter I

Opinions of Science

Poe often gives his opinion of scientific questions and of science itself. He speaks out on such subjects of scientific speculation as evolution, the perfectibility of man, the adaptability of a species to its environment, and the conflict between truth and poetry, which were live topics in the first half of the nineteenth century — subjects which are a part of science in general as distinguished from a particular science. He furthermore makes informative comments on the benefits of science, the weaknesses of scientists, and the obligation of a nation to science. To these he adds miscellaneous observations on other scientific topics. Although he is often thought of as a poet largely out of touch with the contemporary world, actually he was, on this subject at least, unusually well informed and was concerned about science in the society in which he lived.

Of course, nowhere in his writings goes Poe exhibit a clear-cut appreciation of biological evolution as it is understood today, but he does make a few comments that indicate that he was aware, somewhat vaguely(1) perhaps, of [page 5:] some of the ideas that Charles Darwin a few years later was destined to synthesize and enunciate more early than anyone had done before him. For example, in his review of J. K. Paulding’s Slavery in the United States, published in April, 1836, Poe writes, apropos of the differences between the Negro and the white man:

Let us reason upon it as we may, there is certainly a power, in causes inscrutable to us, which works essential changes in the different races of animals.(2)

In a paragraph,”Study of Nature,” Poe quotes Sir Humphry Davy as follows:

Continents broken into islands; one land produced, another destroyed; the bottom of the ocean become a fertile soil; whole races of animals extinct, and the bones and exuvia of one class covered with the remains of another; and upon the graves of past generations. . .new generations arising, and order and harmony established; and a system of life and beauty produced, as it were, cut of chaos and death; proving the infinite power, wisdom and goodness of the Great Cause of all being.(3)

This passage treats of the materia1 of the theory of biological evolution even though it does not specifically state it. In Eureka, published in 1848, Poe writes of “what we know of the succession of animals on the Earth. As it [page 6:] has proceeded in its condensation, superior and still superior races have appeared.”(4) He says that these changes were attended if not caused by geological revolutions, and he wonders whether the geological disturbances may not have been due to “planetary discharges from the Sun.”(5) Another such discharge might be followed by a race spiritually and materially superior to man.(6) His thought, as here expressed, of a succession of animals is not Darwinian; rather it is of the general school of those who believed that changes came about by catastrophe instead of by gradual natural selection. He is, at any rate considering the causes of changes on earth. For at least sixty years before Eureka, various European and American scientists had been attacking the idea of the fixity of the species.

Evolution in Poe’s day was propounded by geologists more often than by biologists, and Poe did clearly hold to a theory of cosmic evolution. In Eureka he writes of the development of the universe through successive stages, and suggests that each stage may be accompanied by beings of greater intelligence than those of previous eras.

A closely related conception — the idea that all living things are in various stages of development from lowest to highest — Poe clearly adopts. In “The Colloquy of Monos and Una” he emphasizes his position in opposition to a different idea: “. . . in the face of analogy and of God — in despite of the loud warning voice of the laws of gradation so visibly pervading all things in Earth and Heaven. . . .”(7) Later, in “Mellonta Tauta,” he varies the wording and mentions the “laws of gradation so visibly impressed upon all things both in [page 7:] the moral and physical universe.

Still another related idea is accepted by Poe — the mutuality of adaptation between an organism and its environment. This conception was held by men who were not evolutionists, William Paley, for example, whose Natural Theology was reprinted in New York in 1803. John Ray, seventeenth-century zoologist, had also emphasized the remarkable adaptations found on the earth. Both Paley and Ray urged the argument that such perfect adaptation between organism and environment is evidence of the existence of God.(9) Similarly Poe speaks of “the complete mutuality of adaptation” as being Divine, and cites examples to illustrate his meaning:

For secondary example: — In polar climates, the human frame, to maintain its animal heat, requires, for combustion in the capillary system, an abundant supply of highly azotized food, such as train oil. Again: — in polar climates nearly the sole food afforded man is the oil of abundant seals and whales. Now whether is oil at hand because imperatively demanded? or whether is it the only thing demanded because the only thing to be obtained? It is impossible to say: — there is an absolute reciprocity of adaptation for which we seek in vain among the works of man.(10)

In Eureka also(11) Poe emphasizes the perfection of Divine adaptation and attempt to approach it.

On another related subject — the perfectibility of man — he holds a definite opinion, one that is opposed to an evolutionary belief. He definitely does not believe in the perfectibility of man on this earth, and [page 8:] more than once he attacks Turgot, Price, Priestley, and Condorcet, whom he groups together as advocates of human perfectibility. In his January, 1837, review of Bryant’s Poems in the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe declares of “The Ages”:

It is, indeed, an essay on the perfectibility of man, wherein, among other better arguments some in the very teeth of analogy, are deduced from the eternal cycles of physical nature, to sustain a hope of progression in happiness.(12)

In a review of Alexander Dimitryts “Lecture on the Study of History, applied to the Progress of Civilization,” he disagrees with the author’s doctrines: “They border somewhat too closely, in our apprehension, upon the eloquent madness of Turgot, Price, Priestly [sic], Condorcet, and De Stael. . . .”(13) His most explicit statement is in a letter to Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers, dated July 10, 1844. There Poe writes:

I disagree with you in what you say of manes advance towards perfection. Man is now only more active, not wiser, nor more happy than he was 5000 years ago. To say that we are better than our progenitors, is to make the foregone ages only the rudiment of the present & future. . . . (14) [page 9:] Here Poe clearly does not show an understanding of the long expanse of time involved in evolution and does not grasp the implications of the science around him.

He alludes to one further subject that has at least a tangential relationship to evolution spontaneous generation of life. This theory was still held by some in the opening years of the nineteenth century. Lorenz Oken, for instance, had published in 1802 his Grundriss der Natur-Philosophie, which advanced the theory of spontaneous generation and a consequent evolution of species. In “Some Words with a Mummy,” Count Allamistakeo suggests as a possible origin of the human race:

“. . .spontaneous germination from rank soil (just as a thousand of the lower genera of creatures are germinated) — the spontaneous germination, I say, of five vast hordes of men, simultaneously upspringing in five distinct and nearly equal divisions of the globe.”(15)

There is no evidence, however, that Poe held this theory.

He was alert to some of the speculation of his day which was a part of pre-Darwinian thinking on evolution, but apparently he failed to glimpse many of the implications of the emerging theory and had no settled belief on the subject. In that respect he was like most of his contemporaries and not, as he sometimes was in other fields of science, well in advance of them.

On the conflict between poetry and science — or poetry and truth, as Poe sometimes phrases it — he is apparently contradictory, yet the contradiction may be partly one of varying moods in the same personality. As a young man twenty years old, Poe published his well-known “Sonnet — To Science,” which has often been quoted in an attempt to establish his dislike of science and his belief that poetry and science are antagonistic. The poem asks why the [page 10:] poet should love science, which has taken the romance from stars, woodland, stream, green field, and his own summer dream.(16) It is a protest against the vulture science “whose wings are dull realities.” (l. 4) Undoubtedly the young poet found a part of his inspiration for “Sonnet To Science” in Keats’s “Lamia.” The idea and wording are similar. Poe echoes this thought in “Al Aaraaf”:

Ev’n with us the breath

Of Science dims the mirror of our joy — (II, 163-164)

As a youth, he probably agreed with Keats that Newton had destroyed some of the poetry of the rainbow. And the same feeling is expressed in the youthful “Letter to B—”: “A poem, in my opinion, is opposed to a work of science by having, for its immediate object, pleasure, not truth.”(17) In “The Poetic Principle,” a product of his later years, likewise he emphasizes the antagonism: “He must be theory-mad beyond redemption who, in spite of these differences, shall persist in attempting to reconcile the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and Truth.(18)

In 1832 Poe turned from poetry to the writing of tales, and it seems possible that the shift was due in part to an increasing interest in science. Some of his earlier stories, “MS. Found in a Bottle” and “Hans Pfaal,” for example, use scientific material. Perhaps his growing knowledge of science was accompanied by a growing feeling of the antagonism between science and [page 11:] poetry.(19)

But he states in Eureka, published almost twenty years after the sonnet: “Poetry and Truth are one.” Poe arrives at this conclusion by stating that symmetry is the poetical essence of the Universe. . . .” And “symmetry and consistency are convertible terms,” and “A perfect consistency. . . can be nothing but, an absolute truth.”(20) This conclusion is an intellectual identification of poetry and truth; his other conclusion that the two are antagonistic — is an emotional judgment. The two opinions represent not merely a change of opinion but two aspects of his being. Furthermore, Poe seems to use the word truth with at least two different meanings. Sometimes it means mere “physical fact.” At other times it signifies perfect proportion, symmetry, consistency. Then truth is poetry in so far as it reveals its harmony to man.

Between these two opinions are others on the subject, for the most part inclining to agree with his youthful judgement. In his review of R. H. Horne’s Orion, published in March, 1844, he deplores the fact that Horne “has been badgered into the attempt of commingling the obstinate oils and waters of Poetry and of Truth.”(21) The next four pages of the review present a discussion of the place of the beautiful and the true in poetry. Beauty is the [page 12:] aim of the poem; truth only incidental to it. In “The Rationale of Verse” he suggests that science is sometimes akin to pedantry:

In verse, which cannot be better designated than as an inferior or less capable Music, there is, happily, little chance for complexity. Its rigidly simple character not even Science — not even Pedantry can greatly pervert.(22)

He often attacks what he considers the narrowness of scientists, but his dislike is for scientists of narrow vision — not for science, as the following excerpt from “Mellonta Tauta,” indicates: “But in all ages the great obstacles to advancement in Art have been opposed by the so-called men of science.”(23)

From 1835 to 1849 there appear in Poets writings comments that indicate his realization of the good that science can do. Science can become an avenue to renown;(24) it can be interesting;(25) “science extends her discoveries, and man, and the sources of his enjoyments, are multiplied.”(26) In reviewing M. F. Maury’s Navigation, Poe writes of the Navy:

We are pleased to see that science also is gaining votaries from its ranks. Hitherto how little have they improved the golden opportunities of knowledge which their distant voyages held forth, and how little have they enjoyed the rich banquet which nature spreads for them in every clime they visit! But the time is coming when, imbued with a taste for science end a spirit of research, they will become ardent explorers of the regions in which they sojourn. Freighted with the knowledge which observation only can impart, and enriched with collections of objects precious to the student of nature, their [page 13:] return after the perils of a distant voyage will then be doubly joyful. The enthusiast in science will anxiously await their coming & and add his cordial welcome to the warm greetings of relatives and friends.(27)

Poe thus speaks favorably of the “enthusiast in science, He mentions the advantages of exploration again in one of his reviews in praise of J. Reynolds:

It is now many years since Mr. A.’s attention was first attracted to the great national advantages derivable from an exploring expedition to the South Sea and the Pacific; time has only rendered the expediency of the undertaking more obvious.(28)

Poe approves of the Rev. Henry Duncan’s Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons, Illustrating the Perfections of God in the Phenomena of the Year and calls it a “valuable work.” It is, he states:

. . . a well-arranged and well-digested compendium, embracing a vast amount of information upon the various topics of physical science, and especially well adapted to those educational purposes for which the volumes are designed.(29)

In reviewing a work of Lord Brougham, he implies that there is pleasure in science.(30) In his story “Some Words with a Mummy, mention is made of “the vast benefits accruing to science.”(31) A note in the Broadway Journal of [page 14:] August 16, 1845, suggests the desirability of keeping “up with science of the day. . . .”(32) And in February of 1849, the narrator in “Mellonta Tauta, story of future accomplishment in practical science, speaks of science as desirable.(33) He remarks on modern inventions several times and sees at least some good in them.(34) The evidence is abundant that Poe realized that science had advantages, if not always for a poet, for society in genera1.(35)

Although, for the most part, Poe held a good opinion of science, he held a low opinion of many scientists.(36) Too often, he thought, they were “animalculae which judge of merit solely by result, and boast of the solidity, tangibility and infallibility of the test which they employ.”(37) In his opinion, Henry Lord Brougham was one of the animalcules. “The Broughams of the human intellect are never its Newtons or its Bayles.(38) The trouble with [page 15:] Brougham was, Poe thought, that he dealt only with facts not with synthesis facts:

His whole design consists in an immethodical collection of the most striking and at the same time the most popularly comprehensible facts in general science. And it cannot be denied that this plan of demonstrating the advantages of science as a whole by detailing insulated specimens of its interest is a most unphilosophical and inartistical mode of procedure — a mode which even puts one in mind of the [[Greek text]] offering a brick as a sample of the house he wished to sell.(39)

In 1844 Poe adversely criticized a certain class of scientists: “. . . celerity never yet attended the movements of squadrons, specially when encumbered with ‘men of science.’”(40) But his most telling attack on this kind of scientist is fully developed in the opening passages of Eureka(41) and repeated in “Mellonta Tauta.” His argument is essentially the sane such a man plods along the road to truth, stumbling over facts, never once glimpsing the glorious destination to which the man of imagination speeds on the wings of intuition.

At least once Poe pictures the destruction that applied science can cause to natural beauty:

Meantime huge smoking cities arose, innumerable. Green leaves shrank before the hot breath of furnaces. The fair face of Nature was deformed as with the [page 16:] ravages of some loathsome disease.(42)

Contrary to the general opinion that Poe had little sense of civic obligation, he expresses the belief that a government or a society should help science to advance. His whole review of Peter Mark Roget’s Animal and Vegetable Physiology considered with Reference to Natural Theology, published in the Southern Literary Messenger, February, 1836, is a lament that the plan of the whole series of Bridgewater Treatises was not different. In Poe’s opinion, much more good to science would have resulted from a different plan — a work by one man instead of eight.(43)

In the same issue of the Southern Literary Messenger, his review of A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia etc., evaluates the contributions of the state of Virginia to the moral and physical sciences and expresses the hope that recent efforts toward improvement “will be crowned by highly useful and practical results.”(44)

Societies and associations for collecting information in the various departments of moral and physical science, have abounded in most countries having the least pretension to civilization; and even in some of the States of our confederacy, it is known that an enlightened spirit of inquiry exists on the same subject. Our state indeed, boastful as it is of its early history, the renown of some of its sons, and its abundant natural advantages, has nevertheless, we are pained to admit, manifested too little of that public spirit which has animated other communities. Of late, indeed, some signs have been exhibited of a more liberal and resolute course of action. . . . (45)

Poe’s fullest exposition of the duty of the national government to contribute to the progress of scientific knowledge is presented in his August, 1836, [page 17:] review of the Report of the Committee on Naval Affairs, etc. Three excerpts will illustrate his position:

We have astronomers, mathematicians, geologists, botanists, eminent professors in every branch of physical science — we are unincumbered by the oppression of a national debt, and are free from many other drawbacks which fetter and control the measures of the trans-Atlantic governments. We possess, as a people, the mental elasticity which liberal institutions inspire, and a treasury which can afford to remunerate scientific research.(46)

Let it not be said of us, in future ages, that we ingloriously availed ourselves of a stock of scientific knowledge, to which we had not contributed our quota — . . . . (47)

. . . the germ of a spirit of scientific ambition, which, fostered by legislative patronage and protection, should build up for us a name in nautical discovery commensurate with our moral, political, and commercial position among the nations of the earth.(48)

In a review of J. N. Reynolds’s address in the Southern Literary Messenger, he discusses governmental obligation to science as follows:

In matters of mere nautical or geographical science, our government has been hitherto supine, and it is due to the national character that in these respects something should be done.(49)

Poe urges the establishment of a “College for the Advancement of Science” in “A Chapter on Science and Art, published in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, March, 1840. The two-paragraph essay on the necessity of such an institution is apropos of the disposition of Smithson’s bequest. It discusses the inadequacies of existing academies, the need of physical knowledge in the United States, the spirit of the age, the probable jealousy of state [page 18:] institutions, and the character of the proposed college one to begin in science where most others leave off.(50)

In Poe’s works there are, finally, further comments on other aspects of scientific thought. In “MS. Found in a Bottle,’ published in 1833, he refers to the modern tendency to judge all matters by standards of physical philosophy:

Indeed, a strong relish for physical philosophy has, I fear, tinctured my mind 4th a very common error of this age — I mean the habit of referring occurrences, even the least susceptible of such reference, to the principles of science.(51)

A comment suggestive alike of his own method of writing and of scientific research is found in an early review in the Southern Literary Messenger for May, 1836: “. . .how absolutely necessary to final success in any undertaking is a scrupulous attention to even the merest minutiae of the task.”(52) This belief is probably the foundation of his belief in versimilitude as a literary technique. In his stories of verisimilitude and in the revision of his most ethereal poems, he observed this necessity. From his early stories in the years before 1837 up to the last year of his life, he practiced the method.(53) The scientist’s careful attention to every detail to discover [page 19:] truth became under Poets artistry a painstaking concern with the minutiae to create the illusion of reality.

A comment on theory and practice in his review of Barnaby Rudge in Graham’s Magazine of February, 1842, is likewise applicable to science:

. . .theory and practice are in so much one, that the former implies or in eludes the latter. A theory is only good as such, in the proportion to its reducibility to practice. If the practice fail, it is because the theory is imperfect.(54)

One of Poets favorite conceptions, that of variety in unity as an essential element of beauty, is perhaps partly referable to the variety in unity that astronomers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had found in the stellar universe. In addition to developing this concept fully in Eureka he states it several times elsewhere.(55)

Unity itself became one of Poets basic artistic tenets. His growing appreciation of the oneness of the universe is probably reflected in his growing [page 20:] appreciation of unity in his literary work. In his literary criticisms he explain the necessity of unity and finds fault with works which do not exhibit it. His doctrine of the single effect and of the complete interdependence of all elements of a plot on every other element(56) is a part of his acceptance of unity as a principle of art.(57) It is quite possible, however, that from Aristotle’s Poetics and from contemporary rhetoric books he got some of his ideas of the unity of plot. Aristotle wrote:

As therefore, in the other imitative arts, the imitation is one when the object imitated is one, so the plot, being an mutation of an action, must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, it is not an organic part of the whole.(58)

Throughout his career as a writer, Poe continually expressed opinions on scientific matters. The that he did so indicates an interest in science and suggests that it was of major importance to him as an author.



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1.  On February 29, 1848, Poe wrote to George E. Isbell: “‘The Vestiges of Creation’ I have not yet seen. . . .” — James A. Harrison, editor, Complete Works of Edgar Allan (New York, 1902), I, 277. This edition is hereinafter [page 5:] referred to as Works. Poe must have been aware of Vestiges of Creation, however, for it is mentioned at least twice in the Broadway Journal. — II (Aug. 30, 1845), 122 and II (Dec. 6, 1345), 342. Vestiges of Creation, written by Robert Chambers and published anonymously in 1844, outlined a theory of evolution of animal species and aroused considerable discussion.

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2.  Works, VIII, 270. Poe’s statement is in the stream of pro-slavery argument. Many denied that white men and Negroes had the same origin. See William Sumner Jenkins, Pro-Slavery Thought in the Old South (Chapel Hill, 1935), pp. 242-284.

3.  “Omniana,” Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, VI (May, 1840), 235.

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4.  Works, XVI, 259.

5.  Ibid., XVI, 259.

6.  Ibid., XVI, 259.

7.  Ibid., IV, 203.

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8.  Ibid., VI, 208.

9.  Their very titles suggest this fact: Ray’s is The Wisdom of God in the is of Creation, and Paley’s subtitle is Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, collected from the Appearances of Nature. Louis Agassiz also saw in nature an exemplification of God’s law. Never accepting Darwinism, he saw the various glacial ages as periods of geologic destruction and then recreation of new species of fauna by God.

10.  Works, XIII, 45-46. Almost the same wording found also in XVI, 9-10.

11.  Ibid., XVI, 291-292.

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12.  Ibid., IX, 269.

13.  Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, V (July, 1839), 58. This review is here identified as Poets because it uses the list “Turgot, Price, Priestly, Con-dorcet, and De Steel” as Poe used it elsewhere, expresses an idea Poe expressed elsewhere, and is in an issue of a magazine containing other reviews by Poe. In “The Domain of Arnheim” he refers to “the doctrines of Turgot, Price, Priestly and Condorcet,” as “what has been deemed the chimera of the perfectionists.” — Works, VI, 176. See also II, 38-39. Although Poe in his pessimism, belittled the thinking of these men, they are important in American thought. Priestley favored the French Revolution. Price believed in intuition much as Poe did. For a statement of the importance of Condorcet in American thought, see Charles A. and Mary R. Beard, The American Spirit (New York, 1942), op. 73-83, especially 78. Poe as a pessimist was almost alone among the writers of his time — as Schopenhauer was.

14.  George E. Woodberry, ed., “The Poe-Chivers Papers,” The Century Magazine, LXV (Jan., 1903), 441. Essentially the same idea is expressed in Poe’s letter to J. R. Lowell on July 2, 1844.

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15.  Works, VI, 132.

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16.  See also Broadway Journal, II (Dec. 27, 1845), 386.

17.  Works, VII, xliii. Poe obtained this thought in very nearly this wording from Coleridge.

18.  Ibid., XIV, 272.

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19.  1839 he quotes William Wallace’s stanza from The Triumphs of Science:

“Oh! who can tell the raptures of that time

When o’er man’s spirit science burst sublime

Disclosed the splendors of the spangled dome

Whose mystic torches lit Jehovah’s home,

As step stet his soul in wonder trod

Nature’s bright stairway up to Nature’s God?”

Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, V Aug., 1839), 116. Poe does not say he agrees with the idea expressed here, nor does he say he disagrees. He praises the imagery and imagination of it.

20.  Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, V (Aug. 1839), 116.

21.  Works, XI, 254 Very much the same wording is used in “The Poetic Principle,” published in 1850. — XIV, 272.

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22.  Ibid., XIV, 220.

23.  Ibid., VI, 201. A note on “Reform” in the Broadway Journal, I (April 19, 1845 p 243, perhaps by Poe, asserts: “. . .all reformers have been poets or discoverers of truths in science.”

24.  Works, VIII, 37 (Southern Literary Messenger, July 1835). Hereinafter this magazine is referred to as SLM.

25.  Ibid., II, 166 (SLM, Sept., 1835).

26.  Ibid., VIII, 268 (SLM, April, 1836).

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27.  Ibid., IX, 50 (SLM, June, 1836).

28.  Ibid., IX, 307 (SLM, Jan., 1837). In the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym published in 1838, the narrator speaks in confidence that science will verify his improbable statements. — Ibid., III, 53. This statement could be merely part of the attempt to gain verisimilitude by an appeal to science. In September of 1843 Poe wrote more in praise of J. N. Reynolds and also spoke of “the advancement of many important branches of natural science,” resulting from what Poe contends should be called “The Expedition of Mr. Reynolds.” “A Brief Account of the Discoveries and Results of the United States’ Exploring Expedition,” Graham’s Magazine, XXIII (Sept 1843), 184-185.

29.  Ibid., X, 81.

30.  Ibid., XI, 100.

31.  Ibid., VI, 125.

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32.  II, 90. See also II (Sept., 6 1845), 143.

33.  Works, VI, 212.

34.  Ibid., II, 162-163; III, 263; VI, 78-102; and VI, 197-215.

35.  In “A Chapter on Science and Art,” Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, VI (March, 1840), 149, the following sentences appeared: “It may be said, moreover, in favor of physical knowledge, that it is the property not of any individual, or of any people, but of mankind. All are interested in its pursuit; its profits all share; and herein consists its great superiority to mere literature. . . .” The reference to the great superiority of science to mere literature does not sound like Poe. It is quite possible that Poe wrote most, although not all, of the paragraphs in the columns headed “A Chapter on Science and Art,” usually attributed to him.

36  . It is interesting to note that Poe generally thought transcendentalists despicable, although he did not dislike Transcendentalism. To T. H. Chivers, he wrote: “You mistake me in supposing I dislike transcendentalists — it is only the pretenders and sophists among them.” — “The Poe-Chivers Papers,” op. cit., p. 441. This was very much his opinion of scientists.

37.  Works, XI, 39.

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38.  Ibid., XI, 99. By Bayles Poe no doubt means “Boyles” in reference to the great physicist and chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691), who established Boyle’s law. Poe misspells the names of a few other scientists, although the substitution of an a for an o could very easily be typographical. It is possible, however, that he refers to Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), philosopher and [page 15:] author of the famous Dictionnaire Historique et Critique.

39.  Ibid., XI, 100-101.

40.  Jacob E. Spannuth„ editor, Poe’s Contributions to the Columbia Spy: Doings of Gotham as Described in a Series of Letters to the Editors of the Columbia Spy, etc., (Pottsville, Pa., 1929), pp. 49-50.

41.  This subject is discussed more fully in the chapter “Eureka.”

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42.  Works, IV, 203.

43.  Ibid., VIII, 206-211.

44.  Ibid., VIII, 212.

45.  Ibid.,VIII, 212. See also IX, 192-193.

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46.  Ibid., IX, 89.

47.  Ibid., IX, 89.

48.  Ibid., IX, 90

49.  Ibid., IX, 308.

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50.  VI, 149

51.  Works, II, 1. See also IV, 250.

52.  Ibid., IX, 13.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 18, running to the bottom of page 19:]

53.  In January, 1836, he sang the praises of verisimilitude in his review of Robinson Crusoe in the Southern Literary Messenger: “Not one person in ten — nay, not one person in five hundred, has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance. Defoe has none of their thoughts-Robinson all. The powers which have wrought the wonder have been thrown into obscurity by the very stupendousness of the wonder they have wrought! We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest — we close the book, and are quite satisfied that we could have written as well [page 19:] ourselves? All this is effected by the potent magic of verisimilitude. Ibid., VIII, 170. See also II, 108 and XV, 127-128. His definition of verisimilitude is given the next month in a review of The American in England, which, he points out, rivets the attention “by a succession of minute details.” But the details are very carefully chosen, and some are omitted altogether. Drawing an analogy with painting, Poe continues: “. . . to give (speaking technically) the idea of any desired object, the toning down, or the utter neglect of certain portions of that object is absolutely necessary to the proper bringing out of the other portions — portions by whose sole instrumentality the idea of the object is afforded.” — Ibid., VIII, 216. In a review of Sheppard Lee, published in September, 1836, Poe describes his method of verisimilitude more fully. It consists in avoiding directness of expression, in writing as if the narrator were convinced of the truth, in not claiming or expecting belief, and in using minute details especially in points not directly affecting the plot, — Ibid., IX, 138-139. This passage is quoted verbatim in the chapter “Psychology.” By the fall of 1836 he had worked out the method which he used from that time on up to one of his very last stories, “Von Kempelen and His Discovery,” which he meant “as a kind of ‘exercise’ or experiment, in the plausible or verisimilar style.” — Ibid., XVII, 341. Of this story he wrote, “. . .here the whole strength is laid out in verisimilitude.” — Ibid., XVII, 342.

54.  Ibid., XI, 39.

55.  Ibid., VI, 257, VI, 264; XIV, 220.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 20:]

56.  See page 26 of the chapter “Scientific Thought.”

57.  Margaret Alterton has discussed Poe’s idea of unity in “Unity a Scientific Law in the Physical World,” Origins of Poe’s Critical Theory (Iowa City, 1925), pp. 132.-183. See also Margaret Alterton and Hardin Craig, in (American Writers Series) (New York, 1935), pp. lix-ixi.

58.  S. H. Butcher, Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art with a Critical Text and Translation of the Poetics, fourth edition (London, 1920), p. 35.



[S:0 - CDL51, 1951] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of EAP (C. D. Laverty) (Chapter 01)