Text: Carroll Dee Laverty, “Chapter 03,” Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (1951), pp. 44-98 (This material may be protected by copyright)


[page 44:]

Chapter III


Poe tried to understand the human mind in health or disease. By observing and analyzing his own mental activities, by objective scrutiny, and by reading some of the authorities of his time, he added to his knowledge of psychology. He also had more than average understanding of those pseudoscientific offshoots of psychology, phrenology and mesmerism. His writings show interest in formal psychology, in human character as exhibited in the dramatis personae of his stories, and in insanity and the disintegration of the mind. Although in a broader sense every story, poem, and review is a study in psychology, in the narrower sense more than a score of his tales, a few poems, and several essays demonstrate his use of psychology and insanity. Student of contemporary trends in science, sensitive individual of brilliant mind, Poe was well aware of the state of mental science in his era.

During the years of Poe’s creative work (1827 to 1849), psychology was beginning to be differentiated from philosophy; the associationist psychology of England and Scotland had already become prominent in the Anglo-Saxon world at least; psychiatry was making its first feeble advances in the path suggested by Benjamin Rush and the French doctors Pinel and Esquirol; such [page 45:] tentative beginnings in the study of the brain as phrenology and mesmerism were contributing to the interest in the study of the mind; and the very word psychology was struggling for acceptance in the vocabulary of educated man.

His interest in formal psychology is shown by his various comments on the mind, memory, taste and genius, the interpretation of the concept of time and space, and the relation between body and soul, and by his studies of conscience, personal identity, dreams, and to a slight extent, other subjects. Further use of the introspective study of the mind and what he called the soul is demonstrated in his many stories that portray the terror of an individual facing circumstances which are novel and unique in their ability to torture man’s sensibilities and to inflict bodily and mental pain. At least three of his stories turn on psychological tricks.

Many factors stimulated Poe’s interest in insanity. It was partly caused by his own fear of losing his mind. On January 4, 1848, Poe wrote to George Eveleth:

But I am constitutionally sensitive nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness I drank, God only knows how often or how much. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink rather than the drink to the insanity.(1)

Mrs. Shew thought that Poe suffered from a lesion in one side of his brain even in good health, and during the period after Virginia’s death, when she [page 46:] nursed him, he nearly died.(2) She also said that alcohol caused temporary insanity in the poet. His knowledge of his own sensibility must have stimulated his interest in psychological problems. His own natural propensities for the strange and gloomy also probably intensified the concern over insanity which appears in a few of his stories some of his best. The general tone of the Gothic literature of the late 1700s and early 1800s, however, moat also have influenced him. Such a book as Godwin’s Caleb Williams, which Poe read, probably reinforced his interest in the psychological as it influenced Charles Brockden Brown and William Gilmore Simms. And Poets knowledge of medicine, which was finally beginning to look at insanity as disease rather than moral delinquency, augmented his awareness of the subject. The medical and general magazines of the early 1800s contained discussions arguing the wisdom of treating insane patients humanely, doing away with whips and chains, and substituting sympathy and a sense of human dignity. Poe, reader of journals, knew of the mild stir these articles made in the world of thought.

Certain of Poe’s stories might have stimulated psychological speculation,(3) and he, of course, has been the subject of a number of retrospective psycho-analyses.(4) Such comments as these are typical: [page 47:]

For the morbid egotism of the inverted personality . . . issues in interesting and beautiful creations, poems, pictures, stories, such as those of William Blake or Edgar Allan Poe.(5)

Poe’s compositions (says Baudelaire, one of his greatest admirers) seem to have been produced in order to show that strangeness may enter into the elements of the beautiful. . .his literature was extra-human. Here, too, we note the predilection of insane artists for arabesques, and, moreover, for arabesques which suggest the human figure.(6)

Thus also Poe, as Baudelaire has well remarked, took as his text the exceptions of human life, the hallucination which, at first doubtful, afterwards becomes a reasoned conviction; absurdity enthroned in the region of intellect and governing it with a terrible logic; hysteria occupying the place of the contradiction between the nerves and the mind carried so far that grief is driven to utter itself in laughter.(7)

A number of references to mental science and processes and problems of the mind demonstrate Poets acquaintance with the material of psychology. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” begins a four-page essay on “The mental features discoursed of as the analytical,”(8) and Poe declares, “The narrative which follows will appear to the reader somewhat in the light of a commentary upon the propositions just advanced.”(9) In one light, then, this story may be seen as an exemplification of his belief that analysis is a high power of the mind, as much superior to ingenuity as imagination is to fancy. He [page 48:] concludes, “The truly imaginative are never otherwise than analytic.”(10)

There are other evidences of his interest In and use of psychological material. In the Broadway Journal for August 16, 1845, Poe reviewed briefly Essays by John Abercrombie, the “truly great author of ‘The Intellectual powers.’”(11) In speaking of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, in 1836, he wrote:

They would be rendering an important service to the cause of psychological science in America, by introducing a work of great scope and power in itself, and well calculated to do away with the generally received impression here entertained of the mysticism of the writer.(12)

He commented heatedly on the “cant of the day,” in his review of Orion, as follows:

By the “cant of the day” we mean the disgusting practice of putting on the airs of an owl, and endeavoring to look miraculously wise; — the affectation of second sight — of a species of ecstatic prescience — of an intensely bathetic penetration into all sorts of mysteries, psychological ones in especial. . . .(13)

Elsewhere he says of Professor Wilson: “He is no analyst. He is ignorant of the machinery of his own thoughts and the thoughts of other men.”(14) Poe himself was much given to introspection,(15) as were many more modern psychologists, some of whom held that there is no other way to gain knowledge of the mind. [page 49:]

Other comments further demonstrate his interest in the subject. An early review states:

No less eccentric, and far more deeply interesting to us, is the orbit of the human mind. If, as some have supposed, the comet in its upward flight is drawn away by the attraction of some other sun, around which also it bends its coarse, thus linking another system with our own, the analogy will be more perfect. For while man is ever seen rushing with uncontrollable violence toward one or the other of his opposite extremes, fanaticism and irreligion — at each of these we find placed an attractive force identical in its nature and in many of its effects. At each extreme, we find him influenced by the same prevailing interest — devoting himself to the accomplishment of the same great object.(16)

Another review discusses briefly the question of whether the mind of an’ individual who is precocious is destined to great future accomplishment:

. . .for the history of all intellect demonstrates that the point is a questionable one indeed. The analogies of Nature are universal; and just as the most rapidly growing herbage is the most speedy in its decay, — just as the ephemera struggles to perfection in a day only to perish in that day’s decline, — so the mind is early in its decadence; and when we behold in the eye of infancy the soul of the adult, it is but indulging in a day dream to hope for any farther proportionate development. Should the prodigy survive to ripe age, a mental imbecility, not far removed from idiocy itself, is too frequently the result. From this rule the exceptions are rare indeed; but it should be observed that, when the exception does occur, the intellect is of a Titan cast even to the days of its extreme senility, and acquires renown not in one, but in all the wide fields of fancy and of reason.(17)

In “The Angel of the Odd” the narrator speaks of “a reflecting intellect (like mine. . .)” which can explain the increase in the marvellous number of recent odd coincidences as “by far the oddest accident of all.”(18)

A one-page essay on the psychology of reading, published in “Marginalia” has a very modern ring. It emphasizes reading, not by letters or syllables, [page 50:] but by larger groups, a careful analysis of the mental process of reading, and an intelligent habit of reading. It concludes, much as modern psychologists do. that “he who reads really much, finds his capacity to read increase by geometrical ratio. . . .”(19) In fact, the large proportion of items that discuss psychological subjects in “Marginalia,” “Pinakidia,” “Fifty Suggestions and “A Chapter of Suggestions” is evidence of his continuing interest in the subject. It is apparent throughout his writings.

His story “The Imp of the Perverse” is a psychological study of one aspect of the mind which Poe thought was being neglected innate and primitive principle of human action, a paradoxical something, which we may call perverseness. . . .”(20) He asserts phrenologists and philosophers(21) alike have failed to take account of the propensity to do something known to be unreasonable even when doing it brings harm. Poe then develops the story of a murderer who was impelled by his perverseness to declare his guilt even when he knew that he would be hanged for it and that he would not be detected if he did not confess. As in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Poe develops the tale to exemplify a principle of psychology. Modern psychologists would say that a man with such a propensity is under the control of a compulsion.

Poe mentions perverseness in at least three other narratives.(22) A [page 51:] passage in “The Black Cat” summarizes it well:

. . .the spirit of PERVERSENESS. Of this spirit philosophy takes no account, Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart — one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which gives direction to the character of Man.(23)

Such a statement seems to place Poe among the faculty psychologists. Perhaps “the human thirst for self torture, to which he refers, is akin to perverseness. Certainly it is like masochism, of which modern psychologists take note. He may have been indebted to the literature of his time for a suggestion of perverseness. The homicidal and suicidal manias were commonly discussed,(25) as were “sudden and strong impulses of the mind.”(26) None examined by this author, however, has exactly the characteristics of Poe’s perverseness.

A more than half-serious essay in Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, “Instinct vs. Reason — A Black Cat,” published in 1840, probably is a forerunner of his famous story “The Black Cat,” first published in 1843.(27) In this essay, one of his longest on psychological topics, he states that instinct is superior to reason. He writes:

Instinct, so far from being an inferior reason, is perhaps the most exalted intellect of all. It will appear to the true philosopher as the divine mind [page 52:] itself acting immediately upon its creatures.(28)

He expresses a very modern idea when he says in the same essay that “the boundary line between instinct and reason is of a very shadowy nature.”(29)

Poe makes a number of observations on sensation and perception such as would interest a psychologist. “Some of our foreign lions,” he writes, “resemble the human brain in one very striking particular. They are without any sense themselves, and yet are the centres of sensations”(30) He asserts, “The orange ray of the spectrum and the buzz of the gnat (which never rises above the second A) affect me with nearly similar sensations.”(31) He then explains that vibrations of the tympanum may set up abnormal vibrations of the retina.(32) elsewhere he mentions pure sensual perceptions,(33) mental experiments concerning the perception of rhythm,(34) odors,(35) a “ringing in our ears, or rather in our memories,”(36) and sounds the like of which have never “jarred upon the ear of humanity.”(37) At least three times he suggests that sometimes one must doubt his own senses,(38) and once mentions the [page 53:] confusion of the various senses.

The association of ideas, already important in the psychology of Poe’s time, appears often enough in his works to demonstrate his knowledge of it. In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Dupin explains in detail the ideas associated in the mind of his companion whom he was observing. So accurately did Dupin observe the thoughts of his friend that he startled him by detailing the links in the chain of association. “The larger links of the chain run thus — Chantilly, Orion, Dr. Nichols, Epicurus, Stereotomy, the street stones, the fruiterer.”(40)

Intuition interested Poe very much, and he has many comments on it. believed that by intuition one could gain the highest knowledge and truth and that without it a thinker must be a laggard. His ideas on intuition are much like those of Schelling and probably derive at least in part from the German philosopher, from Descartes, and from Plato. In his exaltation of intuition, Poe is in accord with Emerson and other Transcendental thinkers.(41)

Elsewhere in Poe’s writings are many incidental references to material that is a part of psychology. Some of them pertain to coincidences that almost make one believe in the supernatura1,(42) invisible things as the only realities,(43) form and quantity,(44) noumena and phenomena,(45) instinct, will [page 54:] and analysis,(46) “‘an intuitive acumen in regard to the everyday impulses of the heart an untrodden field,”(47) the mental characteristics of the North American Indians,(48) mysteries which “force a man to think,”(49) the suspension of one’s powers to express himself,(50) “moods of the keenest appetency, when the film from the mental vision departs,”(51) the attentive and speculative properties of the mind,(52) childish impressions as true ones and the cycle in human thought.(53) The evidence is abundant that Poe was alert to the emerging science of the mind.

He gave particular attention to memory and entered the controversy with respect to whether or not memory is a separate faculty of the mind. He writes:

Few subjects are more entirely misapprehended than that of the faculty of Memory. For a multiplicity of errors on this head Leibnitz and Locke are responsible. That the faculty is neither primitive nor independent is susceptible of direct proof. That it exists in conjunction with each primitive faculty, and inseparable from it, is a fact. . . .(54)

The faculty psychologists, who still had a following in Poe’s day, maintained that memory is a separate faculty of the mind.(55) In “Ligeia” he comments on memory:

There is no point, among the many incomprehensible anomalies of the [page 55:] science of mind, more thrillingly exciting than the fact — never, I believe, noticed in the schools — that, in our endeavors to recall to memory something Icing forgotten, we often find ourselves upon the very verge of remembrance, without being able, in the end, to remember.(56)

And his discourse on reading in “Marginalia” has some comments on memory.(57) He notes that the original stimulus for an act may be forgotten even though performance of the act still seems compulsive.(58) As modern psychologists have done, he speaks of the memories that arise in a swoon(59) and seems to glimpse the fact that such remembrances from an abnormal state may throw important light on the mind of man. He describes the fourfold-active memory of amen who supposes himself to be dying.(60) In his poetry, “The Raven” is a psychological study of the self-torture that the memory can inflict. The whole poem portrays memories of things which have been and can be no more. As N. P. Willis remarked, “Poe set the Raven the Arabic figure for Memory upon Pallas. It is a fine thought How the dark plumes of Remembrance overshadow our knowledge.”(61)

As a creative artist, he gave considerable thought to the interrelated problems of imagination, creative writing, genius, beauty, and taste — problems that command attention from twentieth-century psychologists.

He made a distinction between imagination and fancy that is much like the Coleridge-Wordsworth distinction, but not so sharp. “The pure Imagination chooses, from either Beauty or Deformity, only the most combinable [page 56:] things hitherto uncombined, “(62) he declares. Imagination usually merely bins things into compounds partaking of the beauty or sublimity of the parts, he writes but sometimes by a process analogous to chemical reaction a product is created entirely different from the elements.(63) Thus he implies, as Coleridge stated, that the imagination modifies concepts. Since it can combine anything, Poe reasons, the imagination is unlimited in range. “Its materials extend throughout the universe.”(64) But he insists with the associationists: “The mind of man can imagine nothing which has not really existed; and this point is susceptible of the most positive demonstration — . . . .”(65) Like Coleridge, he believes that imagination gives harmony and unity to what it combines, and the richness of imagination is proportional to “the absolute ‘chemical combination’ of the completed mass.”(66)

Poe asserts that Coleridge’s distinction between fancy and imagination “is a distinction without a difference without a difference even of degree.(67) He seems to base this opinion on his contention that imagination and fancy have in common combination and novelty. He goes on to say, however, that “imagination is the artist”(68) and that only it gives an undercurrent of meaning,(69) which is much like Coleridge’s opinion that imagination, as distinguished from fancy, gives unity to what it combines [page 57:] and “stamps all nature with one, and that its own, meaning.. Poe clearly states that Thomas Hood’s forte generally fancy and is only rare for short intervals imagination, implying an important distinction.(71)

The imagination, supreme among the mental faculties, he thinks, “brings his [mants1 soul often to a glimpse of things supernal and eternal — to the very verge of the great secrets.”(72) Such a statement is suggestive of modern declarations that psychology may some day soon learn much more about psychic phenomena. “Some of the most profound knowledge,” he states, “ — perhaps all very profound knowledge has originated from a highly stimulated imagination.”(73) This statement is perhaps another way in which he declares his belief in intuition as the source of highest knowledge.

Often Poe identifies the “ideality” of phrenology with imagination, and he calls ideality the poetic sentiment. Fancy is more akin to the phrenological faculty of comparison.(74)

Poe was fascinated by the possibility of learning the great secrets of life which lie beyond the grave or of the life of the soul. Speaking of daydreamers, he asserts, “They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”(75) They may catch a “glimpse of eternity. . .they have been upon the verge of the great secret .”(76) Such [page 58:] daydreaming adventures may be mystical experiences for Poe, and in his acceptance of them he is perhaps a mystic.(77) His tale “The Island of the Fay” may be interpreted as a mystical vision of the narrator. In another story, one of Poe’s characters asserts: “Let us suppose only, that the soul of man is upon the verge of some stupendous discoveries.”(78) His many comments on the soul’s soaring until it obtains a glimpse of knowledge forbidden to physical man suggest that he believed or at least hoped that man would soon make “some stupendous psychal discoveries.”

The psychological processes of creative writing interested Poe. In The Opal, 1845, he wrote: “An excellent magazine paper might be written upon the subject of the progressive steps by which any great work of art — especially literary art — attained completion 79 “The Philosophy of Composition, published more than a year later, is exactly such a paper. By means of introspection and analysis, he created a study in the psychology of literary creation. This essay is an amplification of his earlier statement:

There is no greater mistake than the supposition that a true originality is a mere matter of impulse or inspiration. originate, is carefully, patiently, and understandingly to combine.(80)

This assertion accords with the psychology of the associationists. But it seems to contradict his statements that the imagination brings one glimpses [page 59:] great beauty and truth.

The “noblest poem which, possibly, can be composed,” he writes, will be the creation of him who “shall unite in one person (if ever it shall) the Shelleyan abandon and the Tennysonian poetic sense, with the most profound Art (based both in Instinct and Analysis) and the sternest Will properly to blend and rigorously to control all. . . .”(81)

As if conscious of his own exceptional natural capacity for literary composition, Poe has something to say on genius.(82) In a three-page discussion of the subject in his “Fifty Suggestions,” he advances the ideas that genius is merely the result of true proportion among all the mental faculties in a person of inordinately great mental power, that what the world calls genius — a great excess of some one faculty — is actually a diseased condition closely akin to madness,(83) that a poet of genius is not more irritable than other men but merely more clear-sighted in perceiving wrong, that an exquisite sense of beauty is characteristic of the true poet, and that true genius acts upon all men irresistibly and manifests itself often in a simple gesture and therefore is sometimes not acknowledged to be genius.(84) He explains the “peculiar sensibility which is at the root of genius” as being due to a “psychal want. ..a struggle of the soul to [page 60:] assume the position which, under other circumstances would have been its due.”(85) Much of man’s striving for perfection he attributes, as here, to the soul’s desire to reach a perfection more than human.(86) His poem “Israfel,” for example, sings of this longing of mankind to participate in the lyric power of the angels.

One of the “Marginalia” notes almost a page in length speculates as to fate of a man of genius far superior in intellect to others of his race. Conscious of his superiority and misunderstood everywhere, he would make armies and suffer painfully, Poe concludes. To find such individuals in history, he suggests, we should have to “search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam or upon the gallows.”(87) Believing himself not recognized for the genius he was, in all propability [[probability]] he was writing about himself when he penned these lines about an individual of very superior intellect.

As he explains imagination and genius quite largely on a psychological basis, so he does with beauty. “Beauty,” Poe maintains, .is the excitement, or pleasurable elevation, of the soul.”(88) Nowhere does he explicitly define soul, but a number of his uses of the word seem to indicate that for him the soul is man’s most sensitive and refined capacity to appreciate beauty and knowledge, a capacity which gives promise of someday going beyond [page 61:] the limitations of what is normally called human life. For him the soul is not so much an exclusively theological entity as a refined intellect freed of the passions of the body. The soul is the pure mind, the spirit of per-feet beauty, much like the Nesace of “Al Aaraaf.” It thirsts after beauty in life, which perhaps it glimpses in a future state. With Poe there is no sharp distinction between matter and spirit, one merging into the other. The soul, analogously, is not exclusively immaterial. His notion is much like Milton’s; Milton held that angels have material bodies, but that they are more refined than human bodies. The Poetic Principle, Poe defines as “the Human Aspiration for Supernal Beauty,” and “the manifestation of the Principle is always found in an elevating excitement of the Soul. . . .”(89)

This elevation of the soul must be short, for “all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity brief.”(90) Thus Poe explains psychologically his contention that “a long poem is a paradox.”(91) If a poem is “the rhythmical creation of Beauty” and if beauty is necessarily a brief experience psychologically, there cannot be a long poem. He argues:

Within this limit, the extent of a poem may be made to bear mathematical [page 62:] relation to its merit — in other words, to the excitement or elevation-again in other words, to the degree of the true poetical effect which it is capable of inducing; for it is clear that the brevity must be in direct ratio of the intensity of the intended effect; — this, with one proviso — that A certain degree of duration is absolutely requisite for the production of any effect at all.(92)

Another element, in fact, “the root of all beauty,” Poe declares elsewhere, seems to be a “merely mathematical recognition of equality. . . .”(93) He asserts:

And, in fact, the sense of the symmetrical is an instinct which may be depended upon with an almost blindfold reliance. It is the poetical essence of the Universe — of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems.(94)

To this must be added novelty, he believes, and explains by quoting Lord Bacon: “there is no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportions.(95) Poe comments:

Take away this element of strangeness — of unexpectedness — of novelty — or originality — call it what we will — and all that is ethereal in loveliness is lost at once. We lose — we miss the unknown — the vague — the uncomprehended, because offered before we have time to examine and comprehend. We lose, in short, all that assimilates the beauty of earth with what we dream of the beauty of Heaven.(96)

This belief that all beauty must have an element of novelty helps explain [page 63:] many of his stories which deal with man in unique situations.

Closely related to strangeness in beauty, is indefiniteness, which Poe says adds to the beauty of music.(97) The same is true “(incomprehensible anomaly!) [of] that fitful strain of melancholy which will ever be found inseparable from the perfection of the beautiful.”(98) Here is a part of the explanation of the sad tone of much of his poetry and of the themes of several of his tales also.

Poe defines art psychologically as follows: “Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term ‘Art,’ I should call it ‘the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul.’”(99)

As a critic of literary art, he depends on taste and analysis. He attacks the conception that there is no disputing about tastes.(100) His conception of taste is a product of the time in which he lived. Taking a division of the mental faculties from Kant, he writes:

Dividing the world of mind into its most obvious and immediately recognisable distinctions, we have the pure intellect, taste, and moral sense. We place taste between the intellect and the moral sense, because it is just this intermediate space which, in the mind, it occupies. It is the connecting link in the triple chain.(101)

Taste has the beautiful as its province, and abhors deformity.(102) Furthermore, “a fine taste will intuitively avoid, even in trifles, all that is [page 64:] unnecessary or superfluous, and bring nothing into use without an object or end.”(103) This conception of taste is only one step away from Poe’s idea of plot as “that in which no part can be displaced without ruin to the whole.”(104) Thus partly through a psychological conception of taste, Poe arives at a theory of plot almost identical with that to which his consideration of the unity of the whole physical universe helped to lead him. In Eureka, for example, he declares, “The plots of God are perfect. The Universe is a plot of God.”(105) Although rhetoric texts may also have given Poe thoughts on unity and literary taste, his whole conception of imagination, creative writing, genius, and taste is partly based on the psychology of his own time.

Another phenomenon of psychology that Poe probed is the reaction of the human individual to terror. Imaginatively, in many of his stories, he lays bare the soul of man faced with novel and apparently overpowering forces conducive of extreme fear. Such experiences, his narrator says, add a new entity to man’s sou1.(106) Poe remarks in his “Marginalia”:

If any ambitious man have a fancy to revolutionize, 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.(107) [page 65:]

In his tales and poems, he lays bare the human heart in the face of over-whelming, mysterious terror. In probing the innermost recesses of human emotions he anticipates the modern psychologists who look for knowledge of man in studying, his basic emotions as well as his rational mind.

Poe details the sufferings of a human individual as he hangs by one leg caught in a rope dangling from a balloon, is being walled up in a living tomb, faces the walls of his prison closing in on him, is whirled into the depths of a raging whirlpool, thinks he has been buried alive, rides a ship that is rushing, out of control, toward an opening into the interior of the earth, is helpless as his own fears drive sanity from his mind, watches the scimitar-like hand of a huge clock descend on his neck, sees a corpse sit up to accuse him of murder, experiences the sensations of being hanged, serves the spirit of his departed wife take possession of the body of his second spouse, hears a Shadow speak of regions of the dead, and listens fascinated while an ebony bird, in speaking, symbolizes “Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance.”

In the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, he writes of horror anticipated:

. . . and that the appalling horror which has sometimes been brought about, is to be attributed, even in the cases most in point, and where most suffering has been experienced, more to a kind of anticipative horror, lest the apparition might possibly be real, than to an unwavering belief in its reality.(108)

Here Poe expresses an idea that Dr. Benjamin Rush had written about: “‘It is less distressing to die (says Mr. Pascall [sic] than to think of death.’” [page 66:] This I believe is strictly true in most cases.(109) In “The Fall of the House of Usher’ the narrator expresses the belief that consciousness of in-asing superstition serves to accelerate the increase. “Such,” he states, have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror a basis.”(110)

An example of Poe’s depiction of terror from the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym will illustrate his method:

I firmly believe that no incident ever occurring in the course of human events is more adapted to inspire the supremeness of mental and bodily distress than a case like our own, of living inhumation. The blackness of darkness which envelops the victim, the terrific oppression of lungs, the stifling fumes from the damp earth, unite with the ghastly considerations that we are beyond the remotest confines of hone, and that such is the allotted portion of the dead, to carry into the human heart a degree of appalling awe and horror not to be tolerated — never to be conceived.(111)

In one tale Poe describes a death resulting from fear.(112) It was an observation of psychologists of his time that fear could cause death.(113) In another story, he describes a man whose hair turned white from fear.(114) This, too, is in accord with the current beliefs of psychologists.(115) All in all, the psychological probing of the human soul under the press of fear [page 67:] important motif in many of his stories.(116)

Perhaps in unconscious justification of his employment of fear in all of its aspects, he deals with “sepulchral terrors” in a spirit according With the beliefs of modern psychiatrists, who themselves explore the dim caverns of man where vague terrors sometimes lie hid. Poe writes:

There are moments when, even to the sober eye of Reason, the world of our sad humanity must assume the aspect of Hell; but the Imagination of Man is no Carathis, to explore with impunity its every cavern. Alas! the grim legion of sepulchral terrors cannot be regarded as altogether fanciful; but like the Demons in whose company Afrasiab made his voyage down the Oxus, they must sleep, or they will devour us — they must be suffered to slumber, or we perish.(117)

Like many psychologists ancient and modern, Poe concerned himself with the problem of the relation of the body and soul a problem still un-solved.(118) He makes no consistent philosophical effort to solve it, but his comments show that he held an opinion which brought upon him a charge of materialism. He states that “the Body and Soul walk hand in hand.”(119) [page 68:] They are like the two aspects of matter — attraction and repulsion. The spirit is made of a material as much more rare than the ether, as this ether is more rare than the metal. . . .”(120) This rarest of all forms of matter, Poe declares, is unparticled, is God. This conception “that the universe is a simple all-embracing unity, which is God,” among modern philosophers goes back to Spinoza, (121) whose works Poe mentions. The monist, materialist conception of the body and soul (or mind) as a unity was widely held in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Another aspect of Poe’s interest in this question is the dialogue of the body and soul. “For Annie” makes use of the device, and “Ulalume” employs such a dialogue for its central theme — both in a way that throws light on Poe’s psychology. The dialogue is a literary device that gained popularity in medieval literature, and Poe undoubtedly knew of it as a literary form as well as a means of displaying different aspects of an individual’s total personality.

In his “Sonnet — Silence” Poe writes of “that twin entity which springs”

From Matter and light, evinced in solid and shade. There is a two-fold Silence — sea and shore — Body and sou1.(122)

Here body and soul represent different aspects of the same entity. The [page 69:] Whole “Sonnet-Silence” is a psychological attempt to portray the awful silence of the soul in regions “where hath trod no foot of man.”(123) A companion piece in prose, “Silence. A Fable,” originally had a subtitle “In the Manner of Psychological Autobiographists.” Eureka, likewise, speaks of the body and soul as going always hand in hand,(124) with the implication that they are complementary aspects of the same thing.

A related subject the fate of the spirit or soul after death, is referred to in a number of Foe’s works. He clearly held a belief in some sort of immortality. His early story “The Assignation” takes as its theme the appointment of two lovers to meet after their self-induced deaths. “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” “The Power of 4oi-ds and “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” are tales unfolded by means of a dialogue between spirits. Such stories as “Morella,” “Eleanora,” and “Ligeia” deal with the departed spirit and its struggle to maintain an influence over or an emotional connection with the living object of its love. And the closing passages of Eureka speak unmistakably of an after-life.

Metempsychosis, the belief in the transmigration of the soul, appears in several of his stories. In ‘Berenice” it appears incidentally, as follows: “But it is mere idleness to say that I had not lived before — that the soul has no previous existence.”(125) The whole theme of “Metzengerstein” is based on metempsychosis, and “The Oval Portrait” is colored by it. Metempsychosis is employed in “A Tale of the nagged Mountains, and in his review of Sheppard Lee Poe criticizes: “Some fault may be found with the conception of [page 70:] the metempsychosis which is the basis of the narrative.”(126) Like philosophers and psychologists of all times, he gave thought to the problems of the its relation to the body, and the various states of its existence; and e worked the thread of much of this thought into the fabric of his literary productions.

Some of Poe’s finest psychological portraits deal with conscience. At least six of his stories pivot on the promptings of conscience experienced by the dramatis personae. Chief among these is “William Wilson,” to which admittedly Stevenson was indebted for his more famous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Poe’s story itself is one of a kind and is indebted itself, if not to specific stories, to the literary atmosphere of the early nineteenth century. “William Wilson” is the story of a young man of weak character, dissolute habits, and a hereditary tendency toward madness, who at certain critical moments in his life is confronted by his double. This double stimulates him to think of behaving more nobly, but William Wilson, the main character, ignores the promptings of his double. Finally after fleeing school and trying to avoid his double, William Wilson faces him and slays him with a sword, only to discover that it is himself, his nobler self, that he has slain.(127) [page 71:]

In three of his other stories, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Imp of the Perverse,” narrator who has committed murder without being discovered is betrayed into revealing his own crime by a force within elf which may be identified with a conscience. In “Thou Art the Man” a crimina1 is revealed by means of a complicated trick involving ventriloquism that so startles and plays upon the murderer’s conscience that death results. And “The Man of the Crowd” is a psychological sketch of a type of criminal who cannot endure being alone with his own conscience. Always he is restless, seeking the populous places, avoiding solitude, more fearful of his own conscience than of being apprehended in a crowd.

Poe’s studies of conscience are in general accord with more modern psychology., which holds that such efforts to suppress a part of the personality may result in a later outburst and in the coloring of the entire personality.

Another question that has challenged psychology and philosophy alike is treated by Poe in several of his stories and is commented on in his other [page 72:] writings — the problem of personal identity.(128) He states the problem as follows:

Nothing is more vague than impressions of individual identity. Each man recognizes his neighbor, yet there are few instances in which any one is prepared to give a reason for his recognition.(129)

In “Berenice” the heroine suffers a complete change in her personal identity as the result of a withering disease. Her moral nature alters; her hair dumps from black to yellow; and her teeth undergo metamorphosis. Apparently a new spirit enters her body, for the narrator carefully establishes a belief in metempsychosis at the opening of the story, and no other explanation is adequate to account for her moral degeneration. What spirit has brought about the change in her identity and for what purpose, Poe does not make clear.

He more skilfully develops the idea of personal identity in “Morella.” In this story, death takes Morella from her lover, but so strong are her love and feeling of identity that her spirit takes possession of the body of her daughter at baptism — a daughter who “was the perfect resemblance of her who had departed. . . .”(130) “Morella” contains a brief essay on personal identity that suggests the sources of Poe’s knowledge of and interest in the subject:

. . . above all, the doctrines of Identity as urged by Schelling, were generally the points of discussion presenting the most of beauty to the imaginative [page 73:] Morella. That identity which is termed personal, Mr. Locke, I think, truly defines to consist in the saneness of a rational being. And since by person we understand an intelligent essence having reason, and since there is a consciousness which always accompanies thinking, it is this which makes us all to be that which we call ourselves — thereby distinguishing us from other beings that think, and giving us our personal identity. But the principium individuationis — the notion of that identity which at death is or is not lost forever, was to me — at all times, a consideration of intense interest.

His most artistic use of the theme of personal identity appears in “Ligeia.” The raven-haired Ligeia, who loved life inordinately, asserts her will and establishes her own identity even in the body of Lady Rowena Trevanion of Trernaine, whom the narrator had married after Ligeia’s death. The will of Ligeia is able to effect even bodily changes in her rival so that she becomes in the flesh, as well as in spirit, Ligeia,

In Poe’s stories personal identity was basically something of the soul, which if activated by a will sufficiently powerful could alter bodily features by a process of metempsychosis.132 One wonders whether he did not think sometimes in his periods of ill health and discouragement that the spirit of some unhappy far-off being had taken possession of his body for its brief forty years on this earth.

There is another aspect to his concern with personal identity. In Eureka he declares in effect that man will find his identity by losing it in the all-pervading soul — God. He writes:

Think that the sense of individual identity will be gradually merged in the general consciousness — the Man, for example, ceasing imperceptibly to feel himself Man, will at length attain that awfully triumphant epoch when he shall [page 74:] recognize his existence as that of Jehovah.(133)

This belief is another part of Poe’s mysticism.

Still another element of non-rational psychology that captured his attention was dreaming and the dream-state. A number of his poems deal with dreams a few of his stories and his miscellaneous prose contains comments on the subject. One critic interprets “Ulalume” as made of dream stuff. He writes: “The poem is surely an excursion into the incoherencies of dream-consciousness as is the ‘Larme’ of Aimbaud.”(134)

Perhaps his best description of the unreal landscape of a dream is in poem ‘Dream-Land.” It gives a graphic representation of the unearthly regions men’s minds sometimes picture to them in dreams.

There the traveller meets aghast,

Sheeted Memories of the Past —

Shrouded forms that start and sigh

As they pass the wanderer by — (ll. 33-36)

The “bottomless vales and boundless floods,” and “mountains toppling ever-more” are true dream scenery. His “Fairy-Land” is also much like dream land:

Dim vales — and shadowy floods —

And cloudy-looking woods,

Whose forms we can’t discover

For the tears that drip all over;

Huge moons there wax and wane.(ll. 1-5)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .....  . .

And their moony covering

Is soaring in the skies, [page 75:]

With the tempests as they toss,

Like — almost anything —

Or a yellow Albatross. (ll. 30-34)

The poem is descriptive of dream landscape and a dream experience. “Dreams” describes the fancies of sleep:

Dreams! in their vivid coloring of life,

And in that fleeting, shadowy, misty strife

Of semblance with reality which brings

To the delirious eye, more lovely things

Of Paradise and Love — and all our owns

Than young Hope in his sunniest hour hath known. (11. 29-34)

In prose Poe paints a vivid picture of sepulchral landscape in a dream described in his story “The Premature Burial.”(135)

He uses dreams as a device for depicting unrealized hopes and longings, much according to the Freudian principle, as in “A Dream” and “To —.” In “A Dream within a Dream” he expresses a common poetic idea:

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream. (ll. 10-11)

His story “The Angel of the Odd” is a depiction of a dream instigated by external physical stimuli. The action in its absurdity and the chief character, a synthesis of various paraphernalia for handling and containing wine,136 are typical of the dream-state. And “Ligeia,” Poe declared, was dreamed. As a dream, it may have a different interpretation from the usual one, as will appear later. [page 76:]

“The Island of the Fay” and “Berenice” depict characters who experience semi-dream in the moments between waking and sleeping — a sort of experience to which twentieth-century psychologists have given some attention. marginalia” he develops this idea most fully.(137) He writes:

These “fancies” have in them a pleasurable ecstasy as far beyond the most pleasurable of the world of wakefulness, or of dreams, as the Heaven of the Northman theology is beyond its Hell. I regard the visions, even as they arise, with an awe which, in some measure, moderates or tranqualizes the ecstasy — I so regard them, through a conviction (which seems a portion of the ecstasy) that this ecstasy in itself, is of a character supernal to the Human Nature — is a glimpse of the spirit’s outer world; and I arrive at this conclusion — if this term is at all applicable to instantaneous intuition — by a perception that the delight experienced has, as its element, but the absoluteness of novelty. I say the absoluteness — for in these fancies — let me now term them psychal impressions — there is really nothing even approximate in character to impressions ordinarily received. It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality.(138)

This essay is a good example of the introspective method of examining certain mental or psychic conditions that has always been one of the main tools of the psychologist. Poe distinguishes between reverie, the dream state,(139) and the mesmeric condition, asserting that the extreme of reverie is the [page 77:] mesmeric condition.(140) The belief that visions of the soul can gain knowledge unknowable to the mind may be compared with Jastrow’s statement that in anaesthetic dreams we notice the “metaphysical conviction of piercing the secret of reality.”(141)

Being a dreamer himself and a genius of a tortured soul, Poe sought in dreams some escape from sordid reality or perhaps saw themes a reality. Being an analytical person, he analyzed his own dream states and wrote about them. And probably partly because, as a magazinist, he recognized the interest in psychic phenomena, he wove dream stuff into his poetry, tales, and essays.

At least four of Poe’s stories make use of what may be called psychological tricks. The whole point of “The Purloined Letter” is the psychological trick played by the criminal upon the prefect of police and discovered by Dupin. To a person used to seeking hidden things in secret places, would never occur the device of making the hidden letter so obvious that every one could see it. Montresor dupes Fortunato, in “The Cask of Amontillado, by the simple but effective psychological trick of appealing to his vanity as a connoisseur of winos. The bait, the mention of his rival Luchresi, completely secures Fortunato to the mad purposes of Montresor. In “Mystification” the Baron Ritzner von Jung uses a device fundamentally similar to that in “The Purloined Letter”; he mystifies Hermann by causing him to face a new situation which his unflexible mind cannot solve. Consequently he is stultified. And the villain in “Thou Art the Man” is discovered by the narrator’s observation that he is too eager and too good. The trick of having the corpse of the villain’s victim suddenly spring up and accuse the murderer is [page 78:] effective that the criminal dies of fright.(142)

Poe was interested in the interpretation of character by various means. says that authors, for example, exhibit their personality in their literary works and in their handwriting. In a “Literati” sketch he writes:

The supposition that the book of an author is a thing apart from the author’s self, is, I think, ill-founded. The soul is a cypher, in the sense of a cryptograph; and the shorter a cryptograph is, the more difficulty there is in its comprehension — at a certain point of brevity it would bid defiance to an army of Champollions.(143)

And in the same series of sketches, he asserts of Mrs. Frances L. Osgood: “Her character is daguerreotyped in her works reading the one we know the other.”(144)

Poe’s contention that one’s handwriting indicates something of his character stems from his interest in that part of psychology which tries to interpret human personality by every means available. He writes: “. . .that a strong analogy does generally and naturally exist between every man’s chirography and character, will be denied by none but the unreflecting.”(145) his “A Chapter on Autography” he declares that his design is “In the first place, seriously to illustrate our position that the mental features are indicated (with certain exceptions) by the handwriting.”(146) In the opening [page 79:] of this essay(147) he most fully develops his thesis, but occasional com — mots on it are found in many of the short pieces that make up the series. Or example, he writes of Horace Greeley:

What mental idiosyncrasy lies perdu beneath all this, is more than we can say, but we will venture to assert that Mr. Greeley (whom we do not know personally) is personally, a very remarkable man.(148)

These short interpretations of character by an examination of a person’s handwriting were published in five groups,(149) and may be compared with the “Literati” sketches, many of which attempted a phrenological exposition of the personality of the subject.

Poe expresses a similar idea — the reverse side of the picture when he asserts that good manuscript breeds good thought, especially precision and laxity. In “A Chapter on Autography” he writes:

In the case of literary men generally, we may expect some decisive token of the mental influence upon the MS., and in the instance of the classical devotee we may look with especial certainty for such token.(150)

In “Anastatic Printing” he expresses the converse:

And at this point we are arrested by a consideration of infinite moment, although of a seemingly shadowy character. The cultivation of accuracy in MS., thus enforced, will tend with an inevitable impetus to every species of improvement in style — more especially in the points of concision and distinctness — and this again, in a degree even more noticeable, to precision of thought, and luminous arrangement of matter. There is a very peculiar and easily intelligible reciprocal influence between the thing written and the [page 80:] or of writing — but the latter has the predominant influence of the two. The most remote effect on philosophy at large, which will inevitably result from improvement of style and thought in the points of concision, distinctness, and accuracy, need only to be suggested to be conceived.(151)

Although modern psychologists cannot say how much the handwriting exposes a person’s character, there is some basis for the belief that the evi-‘dance of handwriting is better than no evidence at all and that conclusions ed on it are accurate more often than would be the case if only chance were acting.(152)

Although the science known in 1951 as psychology was in the 1830s and 40s only a fledgling under the wing of philosophy, in his writings Poe dealt with a surprisingly large number of mental phenomena that have received the attention of psychologists since his death. Not having formulated a system of psychology, he nevertheless expressed reasoned opinions on many subjects that concerned psychologists of his own day. He was akin to the associationists, and perhaps through his interest in phrenology, he held some of the tenets of the faculty psychology of his time. In his concern with the emotional drives and experiences that are so great a part of modern psychology, he was ahead of his times. ever literary artists dealt with fundamental problems of individual personality — problems of the body and soul, personal identity, the primum mobile of the Spirit, emotional propensities, the nature of genius and imaginative art, and man’s conscience — Edgar Allan Poe did so. [page 81:]


Poe’s interest was not confined to the problems of normal people. A significant number of his stories deal with unfortunate human beings who have passed the vague boundary line between the normal and abnormal activities of mind. He creates characters who suffer from mania, compulsion, split personality, and manic-depressive states. He describes the incidents in an insane asylum, and in his poetry attempts to depict in words the mind which has lost its reason. Some of his best stories deal with madness and with the depths orthe human soul which psychologists recently have been probing.

Poe himself sometimes thought of suicide, suffered periods of intense lancholy, and had eerie forebodings of tragedy awaiting him in the future. Emotionally, if not intellectually, he was disintegrating during the last years of his life. It is no wonder, then, that certain of the characters in his stories suffer extreme depression, are obsessed by manias, or see their personalities disintegrate before their very eyes. He is perhaps the first important American writer to treat artistically what today the psychiatrist attempts to deal with scientifically.

Indicative of his general interest in madness are a number of incidental comments scattered throughout his works. For example, Poe poses a question which today is still unanswered to the satisfaction of psychiatrists: “As for the sana mens — how are we ever to determine what that is?”(153) Insanity he does define: “Pure Diabolism is but Absolute Insanity. Lucifer was merely unfortunate in having been created without brains.”(154) He describes the [page 82:] impulse of the partially mad man to counterfeit greater insanity.(155) In reviewing The Doctor, he dismisses the idea that it was written by a lunatic with the statement, “But there are none of the proper evidences madness in the book. . . .”(156) Again to dismiss a suspicion of madness, the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart” asks,”And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses?”(157)

In several of Poe’s tales there is a fundamental use of insanity that is subordinate to other elements in the story. In “The Premature Burial” the hero’s maniacal fear of being buried alive is cured by the terror of an experience in which he thought he suffered the fate he feared most. The cure here is much like that of modern psychiatry. An honest, courageous facing of the phobia instead of a suppression of it or an evasion of its consequences works the cure. The opposite effect, the creation of madness and death by means of terror acting on a guilty conscience, is dramatically portrayed in “Thou Art the Man.”(158) In the Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, Peters is reduced by terror to supineness and imbecility.(159)

Poe suggests that “incipient delirium” caused the hero’s interest in the paintings he observed in “The Oval Portrait,(160) A victim of an optical illusion is taken for insane in “The Sphinx,(161) and in “The Gold-Bug” the narrator suspects Legrand of insanity,(162) explaining the supposed madness in the following words: “A mind disposed to lunacy would readily be led away by [page 83:] such suggestions — especially if chiming in with favorite preconceived ideas . . . .”(163) In “The journal of Julius Rodman” Poe describes another character whose reason actually was overthrown by a desire for gold.

This hallucination was now diverted into another channel, and he thought of nothing else than of finding gold mines in some of the fastnesses of the country. Upon this subject he was as entirely mad as any man could well be; but upon all others was remarkably sensible and even acute.(164)

“The Black Cat” is almost a case study of a paranoiac — the narrator. He feels that the cat Pluto and his successor are somehow persecuting him. He attaches importance to casual happenings and interprets them in the light of his delusion. He vaguely feels that his own state is not reasonable:

. . .some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my m44. . .will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with aloe, nothing more than ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.(165)

But he thinks he sees demonism in the cat. As sometimes happens, the paranoid condition is accompanied by a homicidal tendency. The narrator suggests that alcoholism is the underlying cause. “‘Very often paranoid tendencies appear on an antecedent basis alcoholism. . .,”(166) states a modern psychiatrist. The narrator tends to boast like a paranoiac. He seems actually to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. His early fondness for animals and for his wife arms one aspect of his personality which ultimately comes into conflict with his destructive, delusional tendencies, which form his other self. Or the forces of conscience are one phase of his personality; the baser drives, the other. The desire to give offense is a compulsion of [page 84:] that part of his personality.

A madman plays an important part in each of several of his other tales. “Hop Frog” is the story of a dwarf whose long suppressed resentment against his mistreatment results in the execution of a maniacal plan for revenge. The narrator in “Berenice” is obviously the victim of a compulsion to with- draw the teeth from his bride’s mouth. Her teeth have become almost a fetish with him, and he succumbs to an insane compulsion to have them. Poe leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that the narrator is mad. It is during a fugue — a period when one part of his consciousness is dissociated from his basic personality — that he commits the crime of horror that brings the story to a climax. Mr. Wyatt, the hero of “The Oblong Box, likewise the object of mania caused by the shock of his wife’s death. A compulsion, completely irrational, to save the coffin containing her dead body costs him his life. Again Poe leaves no doubt as to his sanity: one of the characters declares, Mr. Wyatt, you are mad.”(167) And the narrator speaks of “the madman (for as such only could we regard him). . . .”(168) The story is a picture of action with the dark light of madness casting its shadows over all. Montresor is surely insane in the diabolical single-mindedness of his revenge on Fortunato in “The Cask of Amontillado. The young Metzengerstein is likewise insane. The multitude who heard of his exploits gave dark hints of an equivocal nature concerning his behavior, and the narrator speaks of his mania.(169) Only on the supposition of his madness could his actions be explained, a madness involving a belief in metempsychosis. In “Metzengerstein” and “The Black Cat” Poe uses the insanity of his characters to help explain their belief in the [page 85:] supernatural. In “Hop Frog,” “Berenice “The Oblong Box, and “The Cask of Amontillado” the mania of a character accounts for his strange actions — actions which are calculated to create an impression of Gothic horror in the minds of the readers.

The last stanza of one poem, “The Haunted Palace,” describes a human head as the palace of the mind, from which reason has fled:

And travellers now, within that valley

Through the red-litten windows see

Vast forms that move fantastically

To a discordant melody,

While, like a ghastly rapid river,

Through a pale door

A hideous throng rush out forever,

And laugh — but smile no more. (ll. 41-48)

How well are suggested in these few lines the discord, the purposelessness, the chaos of a mind from which reason has been driven: In a letter to R. W. Griswold, Poe wrote, “. . . by ‘The Haunted Palace’ I mean to imply a mind haunted by phantasms — a disordered brain. . . .”(170) This poem is introduced into “The Fall of the House of Usher” as having been written by Roderick Usher. He thus expresses his fear of his own insanity, and very likely the poem is autobiographical, showing Poe’s fear that he would become insane.

One story, “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,” springs directly from the contemporary interest in improving the treatment of insane people. The chief movement in the more scientific care of lunatics in the early nineteenth century was in the direction of giving them more freedom and using less physical restraint and force in dealing with them. In America Dr. Ben-Amin Rush had advocated humane treatment for mental patients before the turn of the century and his book Observations on the Diseases of the Mind, published [page 86:] in 1812, contains such pronouncements as “The clanking of chains, and of the whip, are no longer heard in their cells.”(171) The French Dr. Phillipe Pinel fought the same battle for the insane of France in the 1790s, himself actually striking the chains from the insane. And during the first half of the nineteenth century the subject was widely discussed in such Journals as the London Lancet and the American Journal of Medical Sciences.(172) Most of these articles pleaded for non-restraint of the insane and a more humane or moral treatment of the inmates of madhouses. Poe’s story, published in Graham’s Magazine of November, 1845, depicts the adventures of a young man who visits a Maison de Sante in which the system of non-restraint had been inaugurated.

His narrator describes the system as follows:

I had heard, at Paris, that the institution of Monsieur Maillard was managed upon what is vulgarly termed the “system of soothing” — that all punishments were avoided — that even confinement was seldom resorted to — that the patients, while secretly watched, were left much apparent liberty, and that most of them were permitted to roam about the house and grounds, in the ordinary apparel of persons in right mind.(173)

The narrator arrives at a time when the insane patients are in control, having revolted and imprisoned the guards. He attends their dinner of revelry and finally sees them overthrown by the guards who, having escaped, reinstitute the soothing system with modification. [page 87:]

The story is grotesque, but it does offer Poe an opportunity to express ideas on insanity.(174) One is that there “is no argument which so touches the feeble reason of the madman as the argumentum ad absurdum.”(175) The idea that a madman can sometimes skilfully feign sanity, Poe expresses more than once. For example:

. . . the dexterity with which he counterfeits sanity, presents to the metaphysician, one of the most singular problems in the study of mind. When a madman appears thoroughly sane, indeed, it is high time to put him in a straitjacket.(176)

Poe’s entire story is full of comments on insanity and madmen.

A review written by him ten years before the story has this passage:

As Mr. Arthur Megrim, he passes through a variety of adventures, and fancies himself a coffee-pot, a puppy, a chicken, a loaded cannon, a clock, a hamper of crockery ware, a joint stock, a Greek Demi-God and the Emperor of France.(177)

Poe’s characters are much like these and include one who thinks herself a chicken and another a teapot.(178) [page 88:]

The observation that a person who has a mania may be sane on other sub-pots, Poe reprints in one of his earliest reviews. He quotes: “It is no uncommon thing to find persons acute on all subjects save one —. . .”(179) an idea implicit in the description of most of the characters of “The System of Dr. Taurr and Prof. Fether.”

This story demonstrates that in 1845, when it was Published, Poe had a knowledge of some of the characteristics of madmen and that he had an understanding of the newest method of trying to restore them to their normal condition. It suggests, furthermore, that the many discussions in the public press of the soothing system made him aware of the timeliness of the subject as the stuff from which to create a popular tale.

Several of Poe’s stories involving insanity are susceptible of interpretation on a psychic as well as physical level, a fact suggesting that he was probing the mysteries that Freud has partly explained. In his interest in psychology and the use of it in his stories, Poe is in good company. Hawthorne, particularly, anticipated and influenced Henry James, who carried analysis of psychological states to an extreme of perfection in the novel. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was born the same year as Poe, was likewise developing [page 89:] interest in psychology that he later worked into his novels. Freud is reported to have said, “The poets and philosophers before me have discovered the scientific method with which the unconscious can be studied.”(180) Poe was one of the poets who had discovered the unconscious before him.

“William Wilson, already discussed as a tale of conscience, may be interpreted, so as to complement that interpretation, as the story of a double personality in which the evil personality is dominant but in which the personality built around the impulses to do good asserts itself at critical moods and struggles, though unsuccessfully, for mastery of the complete personality.

Under the influence of disease, “Berenice became an entirely different person. Perhaps Poe intended to indicate that Berenice’s change from a lovable to a loathsome young woman was really only a change in the mind of her -lover, who obviously was mad. The growing hatred and perverted tendencies in him say have been projected into the hated Berenice.

Psychology is also important, according to one interpretation, in “The Masque of the Red Death.” The ghastly specter of the dreaded disease may be interpreted as the hallucination of a fear-crazed crowd of dancers. Yvor Winters asserted, “‘The Masque of the Red Death’ is a study in hallucinatory terror.”(181)

The narrator in “Morella” is also a man under the influence of a mania. He says, “tortured nerves obtained the mastery over my mind.(182) It may be that in that statement, Poe is telling the reader that a mere figment of a diseased mind is all the following narrative — the death of Morella, the [page 90:] birth of her daughter, the taking possession of the child’s body by the spirit of Morella, and the final death of mother and daughter. So interpreted the daughter of Morella becomes a symbol in the madman’s mind for the love that he felt he should have, but did not feel, for his wife. Morella s glee for that love and finally masters it only to kill it. A mind split by a powerful feeling that it ought to love Morella and by an equally powerful feeling of hatred for her might well set up a symbolic struggle such as that between Morella and her daughter. Under such an interpretation, metempsychosis would become the mere mechanism by means of which the disintegrating mind accounted for the appearance of Morella’s spirit to seize her daughter’s body.

“Eleanore” is another story in which the narrator doubts of his own sanity. Before he narrates the last part of his story — the part, again as in Morella, that concerns the period after the death of Eleanora — he asserts, “I feel that a shadow gathers over my brain, and I mistrust the per-feet sanity of the record.”(183) It is as if Poe told his reader, “Once again I leave reality for the realms of the supernatural. I do not explain, I merely relate these adventures of thesoul.” Is not Ermengarde the angelic form of Eleanore? The narrator names his second love only three times, once by the epithet ethereal, once by seraph, once by angel. How else explain Eleanora’s complete absolution of her lover’s vows? Such a union can take place only in the mind as the phantasy of a lover compensating for his lost love. So interpreted, the story is plausible. Otherwise it is frankly supernatural with only a metaphysical explanation. We do not know which Poe intended. His nearest explanation is: [page 91:]

We will say, then, that I am mad. I grant, at least, that there are two distinct conditions of my mental existence — the condition of a lucid reason, not to be disputed, and belonging to the memory of events forming the first epoch of my life — and a condition of shadow and doubt, appertaining to the present, and to the recollection of what constitutes the second neat era of my being.(184)

Cannot one conclude that Poe was treating artistically the shadowy depths of the mind that psychologists are probing one hundred years later?

“Ligeia” has been successfully interpreted as a realistic story of psychological experience by Roy P. Basler in an illuminating article.(185) The tale, asserts, is unfolded on two levels — the physical and the psychological, and at each point the reader must understand at which level the story is being told.(186) The same fact is true of “Berenice,” “Eleanora,” “Morella, at least under this interpretation.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” likewise be interpreted as a narrative of psychological rather than supernatural or purely physical happenings. Roderick Usher is described from the first as suffering from “acute mental disorder,”(187) and his madness is kept before the reader at all times. Thus the background is provided for a story of mental phenomena.

Roderick Usher has most of the characteristics of a manic-depressive, a fact which would account for some of his otherwise unaccountable actions. “His action was alternately vivacious and sullen.”(188) From boyhood he has been introspective; he is constitutionally timid; he has lost his power of [page 92:] decision; he is in the grip of an overpowering fear; in his deep depression be is in a stupor; there is a definite hypochondriacal tendency; insomnia is his lot; he has suffered physical deterioration; he suffers delusions; he is largely asocial; he is afraid of losing his reason.(189) Roderick Usher, as poe describes him, is a manic-depressive in a condition of depression through- out the last part of the story.

According to the mental science of his time, Poe makes it clear with threefold force that Roderick Usher is mad. He lived in surroundings where la pestilent and mystic vapor.”(190) could affect him. Miasmas were thought to be causes of insanity in Poe’s time.(191) Usher comes of a family with a hereditary taint “a constitutional and a family evil. .. — a mere nervous affection.(192) Upham,(193) Rush (194) and Abercrombie, authorities of Poe’s day or slightly earlier, agree that a predisposition to insanity is often hereditary.(195) A possible third cause of Usher’s insanity is his bodily illness. [page 93:] Of hypochondria, the disease Poe ascribes to Usher, Dr. Rush asserted that it is a form of madness “seated in the mind,”(196) but affected by corporeal owes. Poets contemporary reader would fully realize that Roderick Usher was afflicted with a form of insanity.

Roderick Usher was completely dominated by fear, when the narrator first saw him, and fear can cause insanity. Upham wrote, for example: “Again: fear may exist with such intensity as essentially to affect the mind, and even cause insanity.”(197) Indeed “The Fall of the House of Usher” may be interpreted as the psychological and physical experiences of a man driven insane by a superstitious fear. Poe emphasizes Usher’s fear and his slavery to It:

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. “I shall perish,” said he, “I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect in terror. In this unnerved — in this pitiable condition — I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm FEAR.”(198)

Even the surroundings in which Usher lives, through his belies in the sentience of stones and tarn, prey on his diseased mind.(199)

Pessimistic certainty of his own approaching death is a characteristic of the manic-depressive in his phase of depression. Usher’s morbid sensibility(200) is typical of the neurotic guff under anxiety or fear. And the [page 94:] fact that Usher was an amateur poet, painter, and musician is in accord with the beliefs of Poe’s era. Dr. Lush quotes the great Pinel to the effect that npoets painters, sculptors, and musicians, are most subject to ‘madness.’”(201) Writing almost one century later, William McDougall calls attention to a similar tendency of madmen:

The half-dead schizophrene will, if he is educated, become an actor or musician during the transitional stage. . .perhaps he will even become a fu-. twist painter, an expressionist poet, an inventor, or a builder of abstract philosophical systems.(202)

Roderick Usher is not a schizophrene, lacking the delusions of grandeur of such a person, but in many ways the manic-depressive is like the schizophrene, and Usher is a poet, does paint what in 1950 could well be called a futuristic picture. Poe carefully describes the kind of picture Usher painted:

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any portion of its vast extent, amino torch, or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendour.(203)

The picture quite obviously symbolizes a grave.

Roderick Usher is hopelessly mad. Poe writes: [page 95:]

And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreserved - into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the utility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom.(204)

This may be profitably compared with Abercrombie’s description of a patient suffering from melancholia, which as the context makes clear is the depressive state of a manic-depressive:

The evil seems overwhelming and irremediable, admitting neither of palliation, consolation nor hope. For the process of mind calculated to diminish such an impression, or even to produce the hope of a palliation, of the evil, is precisely that exercise of mind which, in this singular condition is lost or suspended. . . .(205)

The treatment that the narrator puts into practice to cure Roderick Usher is of a kind recommended by Dr. Hush. He advises a physician to divert the mad by conversing and telling stories, “to read to them select passages from entertaining books.(206) The narrator does exactly that for Roderick Usher. He comments:

I indulged a vague hope that the excitement which now agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief (for the history of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the extremeness of the folly which I should read.(207)

Poe skilfully weaves the material read into the very fabric of his narrative, thereby heightening the effect of both.

Most of the narrative of “The Fall of the House of Usher” can be understood at the physical level, but parts of it are better understood if interpreted as psychological experience. Roderick’s sister, Madeline Usher, [page 96:] is more than his sister. She is somehow himself onto whom he has projected his fear. She symbolizes for him the fear that has haunted him for years.

In the original version of the story, Poe emphasizes the identity of Roderick and Madeline Usher:

Her figure, her air, her features — all, in their very minutest development were those — were identically (I can use no other sufficient term) were identically those of Roderick Usher who sat beside me.(208)

The narrator was assailed by inexplicable feelings of dread and stupor when he first beheld her, perhaps because she was only a hallucination of Roderick Usher’s mind which the narrator shared in his excited state. He admitted being affected by the superstitious air of the place. He saw her only once again, when she appeared from the tomb as an enshrouded vapory figure.

Roderick Usher had predicted that he would finally lose his reason and his life together in a “struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.”(209) And the climax of the story is the fulfilment of his gloomy prophecy. Roderick Usher “sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul [losing his sanity]. — ‘MADMAN!’ I TELL YOU THAT SHE NOW STANDS WITHOUT THE DOOR!’”(210) Then death comes to Roderick Usher at the exact instant in which it takes his sister Madeline:

For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.(211) [page 97:]

Madeline as the incarnation of his fears brings death to Roderick Usher! In calling the narrator “Madman,” Roderick Usher may simply be referring to his failure to sense Madeline’s presence outside the door, or he may be the mouthpiece for author Poe, telling the reader that the highly wrought narrator is also mad and that the enshrouded Madeline Usher is merely a hallucination which the two men experience — telling the reader that Madeline Usher is the “grim phantasm, FEAR” that Roderick prophesied would take h s sanity and his life and that did in fact end both at the same instant.

Thus interpreted “The Fall of the House of Usher” becomes more intelligible. More significance is attached to the identity of Roderick and Madeline, and instead of being merely a skilful tale of Gothic horror, the narrative becomes an artistic story of the disintegration of a human personality under the power of overwhelming fear. To Poe, a story of perfect disintegration (analysis) was just as much a masterpiece as a story of perfect synthesis. “The Fall of the House of Usher” portrays artistically the return of everything — The House of Usher — into nothingness just as the Universe, according to his statement in Eureka, will ultimately dissolve into nothingness. It is an account of the complete disintegration of one human personality which represents an entire lineage.

When one interprets Poe’s stories on the basis of psychology and by so doing tries to explain certain incidents which are not explicable according to any known physical laws, he should remember, however, that it is very possible that the author had no explanation for certain occurrences and considered it inessential that they gain credence. In a review published in September, 1836, he describes a method for dealing with stories of the supernatural or what appear to the ordinary reader to be so. He says he prefers this method, and in all probability applied it to his own stories. He [page 98:] explains his method as follows:

It consists in a variety of points — principally in avoiding, as may easily be done, that directness of expression which we have noticed in Sheppard Lee, and thus leaving much to the imagination — in writing as if the author or firmly impressed with the truth, yet astonished at the immensity, of the wonders he relates, and for which, professedly, he neither claims nor anticipates credence — in minuteness of detail, especially upon points which have no immediate bearing upon the general story — this minuteness not being at variance with indirectness of expression — in short, by making use of the infinity of arts which gave verisimilitude to a narration — and by leaving the result as a wonder not to be accounted for. It will be found that bizarreries thus conducted, are usually far more effective than those otherwise managed. The attention of the author, who does not depend upon explaining away his incredibilities, is directed to giving them the character and the luminousness of truth, and thus are brought about, unwittingly some of the most vivid creations of human intellect. The reader, too, readily perceives and falls in with the writer’s humor, and suffers himself to be borne on thereby. On the other hand what difficulty, or inconvenience, or danger can there be in leaving us uninformed of the important facts that a certain hero did not actually discover the elixir vitae, could not really make himself invisible, and was not either a ghost in good earnest, or a boil fide Wandering Jew?(212)

If he applied that method to “Ligeia” and “The Fall of the House of Usher as seems probable, then one cannot accurately say that he consciously thought of the returned Ligeia as a hallucination of the narrator’s mind and of Madeline Usher as the incarnation of Roderick’s fear. But he can still marvel at the accuracy of psychological portrayal that makes it possible for his stories to be interpreted in the light of psychological developments completely unknown to him.

In his understanding of insanity, Poe was quite up-to-date; and in his use of it to enrich his character-portrayals, he anticipated some features of twentieth-century psychology.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 45:]

1.  Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York, 1941), pp. 347-348. Dr. Clarence P. Oberndorf has called attention to this letter of Poe’s as a report of his “Reactions on this question of anxiety and decision.” — The Psychiatric Novels of Oliver Wendell Holmes (New York, 1946), footnote, p. 74.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 46:]

2.  John H. Ingram, Edgar Allan Poe His Life, Letters, and Opinions (London, 1880), II, 115.

3.  Henry E. Sigerist has remarked that “psychiatry itself was greatly stimulated by literature.” — Civilization and Disease Ithaca, N. Y., 1943), p. 191.

4.  For example, Joseph Wood Krutch, Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius (New York, 1926); John W. Robertson, Edgar Allan Poe; A Psychopathic Study (New York, 1922); and Emile Lauvrière, “Edgar Poe et le Freudisme,” La Grande Revue, 142 (Oct., 1933), 565-587.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 47:]

5.  William McDougal, The Energies of Man A Study of the Fundamentals of Psychology (New York, 1937), p. 289.

6.  Cesare Lombroso, The Man of Genius (London, 1891), p. 318.

7.  Ibid., p. 320.

8.  Works, IV, 146-150. The earliest version of this story begins with a paragraph discussing the possibility that further phrenological research will discover and locate an organ of analysis.

9.  Ibid., IV, 147-150.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 48:]

10.  Ibid., IV, 150.

11.  II., 90.

12.  Works, IX, 52.

13.  Ibid., XI, 251.

14.  Ibid., XII, 240.

15.  See ibid., XIV, 186 and XVI, 204. In Eureka Poe writes:

“A mind not thoroughly self-conscious — not accustomed to the introspective analysis of its own operations — will, it is true, often deceive itself. . .” — Ibid., XVI, 202.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 49:]

16.  Ibid., VIII, 267.

17.  Ibid., X, 222.

18.  Ibid., VI, 104.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 50:]

19.  Ibid., X I 13-14.

20.  Ibid., VI, 146.

22.  In the first half of the nineteenth century psychology was considered a branch of philosophy. Poe’s title “The Philosophy of Composition” is an example of such usage. Phrenology was a direct outgrowth of the “faculty psychology” of the eighteenth century. Both divided the mind into divisions of intellect and feeling and used many of the same terms for the subdivisions. Poe’s linking together of psychologists and phrenologists was natural for one living when the phrenological craze was at its height.

22.  Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, Works, III,. 44; “Morella,” Works, II, 33; and “The Black Cat,” Works, V, 146.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 51:]

23.Works,  V, 146.

24.  Ibid., XIV, 207.

25.  See “The Last Words of Charles Edwards, Esq.,” Blackwood’s Magazine, XIV (Oct., 1823), 409.

26.  Thomas C. Upham, Elements of Mental Philosophy (New York, 1841), 393-395.

27.  Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, p. 29.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 52:]

28.  Ibid., p. 30.

29.  Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, p. 31.

30.  “Fifty Suggestions,” Works, XIV, 171.

31.  “Marginalia,” Works, XVI, 115.

32.  “Marginalia,” Works, XVI, 17-18, See also IV, 36, for a note on color.

33.  “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” Works, IV, 207.

34.  “The Rationale of Verse,” Works, XIV, 227.

35.  “Marginalia,” Works, XVI, 31.

36.  “The Imp of the Perverse,” Works, VI, 151.

37.  “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” Works, VI, 163.

38.  Works, III, 313; V, 55; V, 143.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 53:]

39.  Ibid., IV, 207.

40.  Ibid., IV, 154. See also IV, 153-156; for other references to the association of ideas, see Works, VI, 222 and XIV, 174.

41.  Of Transcendentalism Clarence Gohdes wrote: “Its fundamental principle is a belief in the infallibility of intuition. . . .” — The Periodicals of American Transcendentalism (Durham, N. C., 1931), pp. 10-11.

42.  Works, V, 2.

43.  Ibid., II, 154.

44.  Ibid., VI, 44.

45.  Ibid., VI, 202, and XVI, 189.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 54:]

46.  Ibid., XVI, 150.

47.  Ibid., IV, 280.

48.  “Algic Researches, etc.,” Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, V Sept., 1839), 173.

49.  Works, IV, 217.

50.  “To — — “

51.  Work, IV, 134.

52.  Ibid., II, 19 and 20.

53.  Ibid., XVI, 91-93.

54.  Ibid., IX, 65.

55.  Gardner Murphy, An Introduction to Modern Psychology (New York, 1929), p. 217.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 55:]

56.  Works, II, 252.

57.  Ibid., XVI, 93.

58.  Ibid., XV 13-14.

59.  Ibid., V, 69.

60.  Ibid., II, 358-359.

61.  “Pithy Brevities (Or Things More Might Be Said About,” Home Journal, Whole No. 863 (Aug. 23, 1862), p. 3.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 56:]

62.  Works, XVI, 155-156.

63.  Ibid., XVI, 156.

64.  Ibid., XV, 14.

65.  Ibid., X, 62. Essentially this idea is repeated in ibid., XV, 13.

66.  Ibid, XVI, 156.

67.  Ibid., XV, 13; see also ibid., X, 61.

68.  Ibid.,. XV, 13.

69.  Ibid., X, 65-66.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 57:]

70.  The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Professor W. T. Shedd (New York, 1854 III, 203.

71.  Works, XVI, 178.

72.  Ibid., XIV, 187.

73.  Ibid., XIV, 187.

74.  Poe often uses terms from phrenology to explain an idea. For a fuller discussion, see the chanter “Phrenology.”

75.  Works, IV, 236.

76.  Ibid., IV, 236.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 58:]

77.  For a discerning discussion of Poe’s mysticism, see William Forrest’s Biblical Allusions in Poe (New York, 1928), pp. 33-55.

78.  Works, V, 174. See also II, 14.

79.  Ibid., XIV, 188.

80.  Ibid., XIV, 73. Poe first published this statement in October, 1836.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 59:]

81.  Ibid., XVI, 150.

82.  Poe may have been stimulated to think on this subject — if any further incitement was needed than his own circumstances — by Isaac Disraeli’s book The Literary Character; or the History of Men of Genius, first published in 1818.

83.  Compare this with a different interpretation in Works, IV, 236.

84.  Works, XIV, 175-178.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 60:]

85.  Ibid., XIV, 190.

86.  The phrenologists maintained that a person with great ideality would seek perfection.

87.  Works, XVI, 165-166. Poe’s discussion has some general resemblances to Isaac Disraeli’s discussion of the irritability of genius. See The Literary Character; or the History of Men of Genius (New York, n. d.), pp. 98-102. Poe knew Disraeli’s works.

88.  Works, XIV, 198.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 61:]

89.  Ibid., XIV, 290.

90.  Ibid., XIV, 196; XIII, 151; XI, 107.

91.  Ibid., XI, 107. Poe may owe his doctrine of the short poem to A. W. Schlegel. See William Charvat, The Origins of American Critical Thought 1810-1835 (Philadelphia, 1936), p. 57 and Margaret Alterton, The Origins of Poe’s Critical Theories, pp. 30ff. See also Broadway Journal, II (Dec.6, 1845 note on p. 340. In this opinion he was like William Cullen Bryant. “He did not believe in long poems,” his biographer John Bigelow wrote. “It was a theory of his. . .that a long poem was as impossible as a long ecstasy; that what is called a long poem, like ‘Paradise Lost’ and the ‘Divine Comedy, is a mere succession of poems strung together upon a thread of verse.. ..” — John Bigelow, William Cullen Bryant (Boston and New York, 1895 p. 154. This is precisely Poe’s belief.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 62:]

92.  Works, XIV, 196-197.

93.  Ibid., XVI, 137.

94.  Ibid., XVI, 302.

95.  This quotation is from the essay “Of Beauty.” See The Essayes or Counsels Civill and Morall of Francis Bacon, Lo: Verulam. Viscount St. Alban, edited by Walter Worrell, with an Introduction by Oliphant Smeaton (New York and London, 1900), p. 184: “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in proportion.”

96.  Work., XVI, 85-86.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 63:]

97.  Ibid., XVI, 136-140 and XVI, 29. See also Poe’s letter to Lowell of July 2, 1844. John Ward Ostrom, editor, The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), I, 257-258.

98.  Works, II, 122; see also XIV, 202.

99.  Ibid., XVI, 164.

100.  Ibid., 65.

101.  Ibid., XI, 70, and X, 213.

102.  Ibid., XVI, 121. Under this classification, the intellect deals with the true, and the moral sense with the right.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 64:]

103.  Ibid., VIII, 10.

104.  Ibid., X, 117. See also the discussion of the debt of literature phrenology for laws of taste, op. 110-111.

105.  Ibid., XVI, 292. See also XVI, 10.

106.  “MS. Found in a Bottle,” ibid., II,

107.  Ibid., XVI, 128.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 65:]

108.  Ibid., III, 92. The same story contains another example of horror anticipated. See III, 229.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 66:]

109.  Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind, third edition (Philadelphia, 1827), p. 325.

110.  Works, III, 276.

111.  Ibid., III, 204-205. This portrayal of the horrors of premature burial is very much like that in Snart’s Thesaurus of Horrors and in stories published in Blackwood’s Magazine.

112.  “Thou Art the Man.”

113.  Thomas C. Upham, Elements of Mental Philosophy, I, 416-417.

114.  “A Descent into the Maelstrom.” The suggestion for this change Poe may have found in a note in The Casket, XIII (April, 1838), 189, “A Child’s Hair Turned White from Fear.”

115.  Rush, op cit., p. 323.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 67:]

116.  Justification for the use of horror in literature Poe could have found in Blackwood’s Magazine; and very probably he obtained suggestions from it, because fear in all of its aspects is a part of the Gothic tradition which colored many of the stories in the journal. One comment from the magazine observes that “there exists in this country that strength of imagination which delights in the feeling of superstitious horror.” — “Some Remarks on the Use of the Preternatural in Works of Fiction,” III (Sept., 1818), 648-650. Another adds: “Nothing that is a part, a real essential part, of human nature, ever can be exhausted — and the regions of fear and terror never will be so.” — “The Devil’s Elixir,” XVI (July, 1824), 56. And finally Poe has the following statement to support his use of such themes in his tales: “. . .the horrible is quite as legitimate a field of poetry and romance, as either the pathetic or the ludicrous.” — Ibid., p. 55.

117.  Works, XVI, 167.

118.  Nolan D. C. Lewis, A Short History of Psychiatric Achievement, etc. (New York, 1941), p. 133.

119.  Works, XVI, 244 and 256.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 68:]

120.  Ibid., V, 247. The Stoics “held that the soul was rarefied matter” and that there was a “world-soul shared by all.” See Walter R. Miles, “Psychology,” in “The Development of the Sciences, second series, edited by L. 1. Woodruff (New Haven, 1941), p. 257. Milton’s angels in Paradise Lost are likewise of an extremely refined matter.

121.  C. E. M. Joad, Guide to Philosophy (New York, 1946), p. 123. Poe, however, may have derived the idea from Hegel, who was a prominent monist. Spinoza and Hegel both held that the body and soul are one.

122.  L1. 3-6.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 69:]

123.  L1. 14-15.

124.  Works, XVI, 244 and 256.

125.  Ibid., II, 17.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 70:]

126.  Ibid., IX, 137.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 70, running to the bottom of page 71:]

127.  He probably obtained a suggestion for “William Wilson” from Washington Irving, “An Unwritten Drama of Lord Byron,” The Gift (1836), pp. 66-71. See Quinn, op. cit., p. 286. The sketch ends: “The foregoing sketch of the plot may hereafter suggest a rich theme to a poet or dramatist of the Byron school.” Perhaps Poe took the hint. And he likely owed a debt to the doppelgänger stories that were a popular part of German romanticism. For example, Palmer Cobb has pointed out Poe’s possible indebtedness to E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Devil’s Elixir for the theme of “William Wilson.” — “The Influence of E. T. A. Hoffmann on the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe,” Studies in Philology, III (1908), 31-48. It might well be added that a review with excerpts, of Hoffmann’s work in Blackwood’s Magazine may first have drawn Poe’s attention to the theme. The following quotations illustrate the point: “This is the idea of what he calls in his own language, a doppelgänger; that is to say, [page 71:] of a man’s being haunted by the visitations of another self — a double of his own personal appearance.” — XVI (July, 1824), 56-57.

“‘Horrible wretch!’ said I; ‘what mean’st thou? What would’st thou from me?’

I beheld, in all its horror, the deadly pale visage of my second self. . . .” — XVI (July, 1824), 66. See also ibid., p. 65. See also the following quotation from “Gillie’s German Stories,” Blackwood’s Magazine, XX (Dec., 1826), 853: “Physical or paraphysical; logical or paralogical; nay, even metaphysical or parametaphysical; nothing comes amiss to a German romancer. Of this latter species of agency, we have an example in the Doppelgänger, or cases of double identity — where a man runs in a curricle, as it were, with a repetition or duplication of himself. All the world is duped by the swindling facsimile, and even the poor injured man is not always able to distinguish between his true and his spurious identity. . . .”

Bulwer’s “Monos and Daimonos” may also have given Poe some suggestions. Published in the Saturday Evening Post of April 21, 1838, where he could have noticed it, it is the story of an unnamed tormentor who follows the hero through life. Finally the hero recognizes the tormentor for what it is: “At last I said to myself, ‘This is a delusion, and a cheat of the external senses and the thing is not, save in my mind.’” The theme of a nemesis appearing to Challenge an individual’s wickedness appears in one other book he looked at William Godwin’s Mandeville — and one he may have read — Tucker’s A Voyage to the Moon. In these books, however, the incarnation of conscience is not a double.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 72:]

128.  In addition to the passages quoted, for other mentions of personal identity, see Works, II, 360; IV, 315.

129.  Ibid., V, 34.

130.  Ibid., II, 31.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 73:]

131.  Ibid., II, 29.

132.  See ibid., IX, 137-138.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 74:]

133.  Ibid., XVI, 314-315. For a modern statement of this phenomenon, see Gardner Murphy, “Loss of Selfhood,” Personality A Biosocial Approach to Origins and Structure (New York, 1947), pp. 519-521.

134.  Yvor Winters, “Edgar Allan Poe: A Crisis in the History of American Obscurantism,” American Literature, VIII (Jan., 1937), 395.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 75:]

135.  Works, V, 266-268.

136.  This conception of the angel of the odd, Poe could have obtained from a line drawing in Le Maaasin Pittoresque, III (1835), 65, entitled “Les Masques et Les Mascardes.” The picture depicts a man with a barrel for a body, kegs for arms, kegs for legs, a tub for a head very much like Poe’s character. See Works, VI, 105.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 76:]

137.  Works, XVI, 87-90.

138.  Ibid., XVI, 88-89.

139.  An essay “An Opinion on Dreams,” Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, V (Aug., 1839), 105, has been attributed to him, but probably is not his. This essay speaks of an “immaterial world,” although Poe declares elsewhere that even God is material. The style is somewhat looser than the one Poe most commonly used. It classifies dreams as of the mind and of the soul. Confusion respecting whether dreams have any connection with the eternal world, the essay declares, arises from a failure to distinguish between mind and soul. Mind can employ itself only upon what has engaged it, but the soul may have visions that are far above the knowledge of the mind. The essay declares that the body often sleeps, the mind occasionally, the soul never and that the mind is the link between body and soul which makes remembrance of the visions of the soul possible. The slumber of the mind causes forgetfulness, the essay concludes.

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140.  Works, XIV, 186-187.

141.  Joseph Jastrow, The Story of Human Error (New York, 1936), p. 245.

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142.  A source for this story may be a review of “The Five Nights of St. Albans,” Blackwood’s Magazine, XXVI (Oct., 1829), 566. This story ends much as Poe’s: a vision points to the criminal and declares, “Thou Art the Man:” The accused jumps up to fight, but staggers to the floor.

143.  Works, XV, 81.

144.  Ibid., XV, 104.

145.  Ibid., XI, 178. See also XVI, 18-19.

146.  Ibid., XV, 178.

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147.  Ibid., XV, 177-182.

148.  Ibid., XV, 251.

149.  The Southern Literary Messenger, II (Feb., 1835), 205-212; II (Aug., 1836), 601-604; and Graham’s Magazine, XIX (Nov. 1841), 224-234; XIX (Dec., 1841), 273-286; and XX (Jan., 1842), 44-49.

150.  Works., XV, 181.

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151.  Ibid., XIV, 157-158.

152.  Murphy, op. cit., pp. 646-648 and 688-693.

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153.  Works, XVI, 166.

154.  Ibid., XVI, 160.

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155.  Ibid., XII, 227-223.

156.  Ibid., IX, 67.

157.  Ibid., V, 91.

158.  Ibid., V, 306-307.

159.  Ibid., III, 144.

160.  Ibid., IV, 245.

161.  Ibid., 242.

162.  Ibid., V, 104.

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164.  Ibid., V, 26.

165.  Ibid., V, 143.

166.  William S. Sadler, Theory and Practice of Psychiatry (St. Louis, 1936), p. 855.

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167.  Works, V, 286.

168.  Ibid., V, 287.

169.  Ibid., II, 194.

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170.  Ibid., XVII, 83-84.

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171.  Rush. op. cit., 241. See also p. 181. Dorothea Lynde Dix did much to improve conditions for the insane in Poe’s time, but Poe nowhere mentions her work.

172.  Typical articles are “The Hull Asylum. — The Moral Treatment of Insanity,” London Lancet, I (1841), 87-88; “Insane Hospital Reports,” AJMS, N.S., IX (Jan., 1845), 157-163; the Southern Quarterly Review, IV (Oct., 1843), 03-485; and “Improved Treatment of the Insane,” North American Review, XLIV (Jan., 1837), 296.

173.  Works, VI, 145.

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174.  Most of these ideas can be found in Dr. Rush’s book.

175.  Works, VI, 57. Dr. Rush cites cases of patients cured by such appeals. — Op. cit., pp. 128-130.

176.  Works, VI, 148. See also ibid., VI, 55 and III, 8-9. Dr. Rush wrote: “. . . a return of reason and a certain cunning, which enables mad people to talk and behave correctly for a short time, and thereby to deceive their attendants, so as to obtain a premature discharge, from their place of confinement.” — Op. cit., p. 237. Poe expresses a similar idea in “The Trial of James Wood.” There he says that a madman is calm when a sane man would be excited. The calmness proves the insanity. — Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, pp. 63-64.

177.  Works, IX, 136.

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178.  Dr. Rush comments on similar cases. The madman, he writes, “imagines “himself to be converted into an animal of another species, such as a goose, a cock, . . . and the like. . . . In this case he adopts the noises and gestures of the animals into which he supposes himself to be transformed.” — Rush, op. [page 88:] cit., p. 78. A review in Blackwood’s Magazine mentions a work which describes a scene in a madhouse with everyone displaying his own lunacy and analyzing others clearly very much as do the characters in this story. The review observes that “in our literature. . .there is no such work.” — XV (May, 1824), 544. Perhaps Poe set out to fill the gap in English literature.

The suggestion that a physician might become the victim of his insane patients, he could have found in the Southern Quarterly Review. In a review of Physic and Physicians a character is quoted as saying to a doctor of the insane, “I fear you will become their victim.” — IV (Oct., 1843)) 484. The same fear was expressed for the French Dr. Pinel when he personally freed insane patients from chains in experiments which were widely publicized in the following years.

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179.  “Phrenology, and the Moral Influence of Phrenology, etc.,” Southern Literary Messenger, II (March, 1835), 286. See also Works, IV, 26.

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180.  Quoted in Oberndorf, op. cit., p. 6.

181.  Op. cit., p. 397.

182.  Works, II, 30.

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183.  Ibid., IV, 241.

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184.  Ibid., IV, 236-237.

185.  “The Interpretation of ‘Ligeia,’” College English, V (April, 1944), 363-372, and Sex, Symbolism, and Psychology in Literature (New Brunswick, N.J., 1948), pp. 113-159.

186.  Ibid., p. 367. For a discussion of the use of phrenology and medicine in “Ligeia,” see pages 118-120 and 260, respectively, of this thesis.

187.  Works, III, 274.

188.  Ibid., III, 279.

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189.  See William S. Sadler, op. cit., pp. 782-810.

190.  Work, III, 276.

191.  Dr. Rush wrote: “. . . ‘koino-miasmatic exhalations’ may affect the brain and thereby induce primary, or ideopathetic phrenitis.” — Rush, op. cit., p. 24. Upham described the effect more fully: “There is another gas, the Febrile Miasma, which is found, on being inhaled, to affect the mind also, by first affecting the sanguineous fluid. . .the mental exercises are rendered intense and vivid by the febrile miasma; but the emotions which are experienced, instead of being pleasant, are gloomy and painful. The trains of thought which are at such times suggested, and the creations of the imagination, are all of an analogous character, strange, spectral, and terrifying.” — Upham, op. cit., I, 415-416.

192.  Works, III, 280.

193.  Op. cit., I, 451-452.

194.  Op. cit., pp. 46 and 246-247.

195.  Abercrombie, whom Poe mentions favorably, wrote: “Insanity is, in a large proportion of cases, to be traced to hereditary predisposition.” — Jobn Abercrombie, Inquiries Concerning the Intellectual Powers, and the Inquiries Concerning the Intellectual Powers, and the Investigation of Truth, revised with additions, etc., by Jacob Abbott, p. 236.

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196.  Rush, op. cit., p. 169.

197.  Op. cit., II, 399.

198.  Op. cit., III, 280.

199.  Ibid., XVI, 314. Poe it is worth observing, himself expressed a belief in the sentience of all matter.

200.  Ibid., III, 280 and 283.

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201.  Op. cit., p. 61.

202.  Outline of Abnormal Psychology (New York, 1926) p. 385. Quoted by McDougall from E. Kretschner’s Physique and Character.

203.  Works, III, 283.

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204.  Ibid., III, 282.

205.  Abercrombie, op. cit., p. 236.

206.  Op. cit., p. 39.

207.  Works, III, 292.

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208.  Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, V (Sept., 1839), 147.

209.  Works, III, 280.

210.  Ibid., III, 296.

211.  Ibid., III, 296.

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212.  Ibid., IX, 138-139. It may well be that in explaining this method, Poe had in mind his Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, published less than two Mrs later. Perhaps he was already planning it or even working on it.



[S:0 - CDL51, 1951] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of EAP (C. D. Laverty) (Chapter 03)