Text: Carroll Dee Laverty, “Chapter 05,” Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (1951), pp. 122-161 (This material may be protected by copyright)


[page 122:]

Chapter V


From childhood Poe maintained a lively interest in astronomy. From “Al Aaraaf” to Eureka the science of stars is one bright thread in the variegated tapestry of his creative writing, and an occasional figure of speech from the astral realms glows like Antares on a page of his critical work. Although usually he did not try to blend scientific material into his poetry, astronomy is the one science that is found to an appreciable extent in his poems.

Astronomy furnished him the background for one of his earliest poems and incidental material for parts of others. It gave him the greater part of the substance of a few short stories and a number of casual references in others. And, finally, it furnished him with materials of comparison that he made effective use of in his critical writings. All of his works poems, tales, and reviews — are richer because of his unflagging interest in the celestial bodies.

As a boy of sixteen Poe had a chance to look through a telescope in his own home. In 1824 his foster father, John Allan, who had inherited approximately [page 123:] $750,000, moved into a large house. There, the summer of 1825, Poe used the family telescope to see the stars, and no doubt learned the names of some of them and of some of the constellations, and perhaps a few facts about astronomy.(1) About six months later, he entered the University of Virginia. Astronomy was taught in the School of Natural Philosophy when Poe was there,(2) and perhaps he gleaned a little more knowledge of the subject, even though he was registered in the schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, Certain it is that by 1829 he had somehow acquired knowledge of the fact that the Swedish astronomer Tycho Brahe on November 1572, had discovered a bright star which burst into view and then disappeared. Poe made this mysterious star the scene of much his poem “Al Aaraaf,”(3) first published in 1829.

By 1835 he had learned enough astronomy to introduce a considerable amount of it into his story of a trip to the moon, “Hans Pfaal,” and by 1839 he had written a narrative about the destruction of the world by an astronomical agency, a story foreshadowed in a review published in April of 1836. From that time on, Poe’s writings are dotted with astronomical references of one kind or another culminating in Eureka, which is his attempt to explain, among other things, the origin and motion of the stars.

In Poe’s time astronomy was probably more the news than it is today, [page 124:] and he had ample opportunity to learn about it. The increase in the size of telescopes had made it possible for observers during the last part of the eighteenth century to increase man’s knowledge of the skies. Sir William Herschel, with his “forty foot” telescope, was the outstanding observer of the period. In 1780 he knew of only four double stars. By 1821 thousands had been catalogued. Comets were being discovered almost every year of Poe’s life, and in 1846 a new planet, Neptune, became known to men.

Journals, books, and lectures of the time often dealt with astronomy. As a reviewer, Poe saw a large number of the journals and books on the subject; as a fiction writer seeking material, he read some of the books and as a man interested in science, he attended some of the lectures. Thus he took advantage of the popular interest in the subject to store up information later to be employed in his own writing.

Among the books and magazines in which Poe is known to have read are many accounts of astronomical facts and discussions. Certainly he saw many of them. Blackwood’s Magazine for October, 1819, contains a prediction that the densities of the planets will be found constantly to be increasing because of the attraction of all particles to the center. The same article mentions “the force which counteracts the force of gravity.”(4) We know that Poe read early issues of Blackwood’s, and the reference may be one that first aroused his interest in the questions which he finally treated in Eureka. Another article in the same periodical, “The Last Days of Kant,” remarks that the great German scientist and philosopher had predicted [page 125:] the hiatus in the system of planets filled by the discovery of the asteroid Ceres by Piazzi, in Palermo, and of Pallas, by Dr. Olbers, in Bremen.(5)

In 1833 Sir John Herschel’s A Treatise on Astronomy was published in England. In all probability Poe saw this book. It is certain that he saw it or works based upon it, for in his stories he uses ideas presented there. J. P. Nichol, to whom Poe makes a few allusions, published his Views of the Architecture of the Heavens in 1837. Dick’s Celestial Scenery appeared in 1838 and was noticed in the New York Review in April of 1838,(6) while Poe was still in that city.

During Poe’s stay in Philadelphia, Dr. Dionysius Lardner, a popularizer of science in his day, addressed large crowds there.(7) Very probably Poe heard him, for he mentions the discourses. In August of 1844, when Poe was in New York, Dr. Lardner was delivering lectures at Palma’s theater.(8) Poe could hardly have missed them, as they were reported in the New York Tribune.(9)

While Poe was co-editor of the Broadway Journal, François Arago’s Popular Lectures on Astronomy, with corrections and additions by Dionysus Lardner, was reviewed in that magazine.(10) The following year — 1846 — the Scientific American began publication in New York and printed much of the [page 126:] sort of astronomical information that Poe uses in Eureka.(11) It discussed, for example, the distance of the star Sirius from the earth, Lord Rosse’s telescope: and the discovery of Leverrier’s planet, now called Neptune. Dr. Maedler’s theory that the universe is revolving around the star Alcyone in the Pleiades, is reported in the Article “The Centre the Universe,”(12) and another story treats of the dimensions of the sun, the distance of the earth from the nearest star, and the theory that our universe is only one of many inhabited universes.(13) With his alert journalistic sense, Poe discusses all these in his writings.

It is true, however, that a part of his interest in astronomy was inspired by literature. As a youth, he was fond of Milton, whose Paradise Lost is echoed in Part II of “Al Aaraaf.” Certain works of the English Romantic poets indicate their authors’ interest in astronomy: for example, Keats’s “Endymion” and “Hyperion,” and Shelley’s “Queen Mab” and “Prometheus Unbound.” Shelley was one of Poe’s favorite poets. Furthermore Poe had excessively high praise for R. H. Horne’s Orion, and reviewed “The Culprit Fay” of the American Drake. In this poetic interest in stars and the like, Poe is akin to the youthful Longfellow, whose Voices of the Night (1839) [page 127:] contains “Hymn of the Night” and “The Light of the Stars.”

Poe’s earliest use of astronomy appears in his poetry. Generally in his poems he does not deal with science as Erasmus Darwin did or even as Shelley did in “Prometheus Unbound,” but certain facts inserted in his poems come directly from his knowledge of astronomy, his poetry contains many references to starts.

In the 1827 version of “Tamerlane,” his first published poem, is his first allusion to astronomy:

What tho’ the moon — the silvery moon —

Shine on his path, in her high noon

Her smile is chilly, and her beam,

In that time of dreariness will seem

As the portrait of one after death;(14)

According to science in Poe’s days the moon was cold and white.(15) The coldness was explained by the fact that moon has little or no atmosphere so that heat radiates away from it.(16) The whiteness was supposed to be due to the fact that there was no atmosphere to refract the rays and break the white beams or rays into colors.

In “Spirits of the Dead” Poe, in discussing stars, writes:

But their red orbs, without beam,

To thy weariness shall seem

As a burning and a fever. (11. 15-17) [page 128:]

One wonders whether the passage has a scientific significance.(17) That their red orbs “shall seem as a burning and a fever” is particularly suggestive. In 1800 Sir William Herschel reported the discovery of what we today call “infra-red rays, that is, invisible heat rays below red in the spectrum. Furthermore, it was fairly common scientific knowledge in 1827 that the red rays were accompanied by more heat than the yellow rays or those of any other color.(18) The fact that the red orbs “shall seem as a burning and a fever” is scientifically accurate as well as poetically apt.

“Evening Star,” a short lyric of 1827, is entirely astronomical in background. In this poem the author has the Evening Star visible at midnight. If he refers Venus, as seems likely, he has made an error; for Venus, being within the orbit of the Earth, cannot be seen late at night. If he uses the term midnight loosely to indicate some such time as 10 p.m. or 3 a.m. — a time of darkness — then his statement is possible for Venus sometimes rises before sunrise and sets well after sunset. By comparing the light of the cold moon with the dearer beam of the evening Star, he [page 129:] expresses a personal feeling in the manner later used in “Ulalume.” When he writes of “stars, in their orbits,” he shows only a very rudimentary scientific knowledge of astronomy. The poem is chiefly conventional, and when he writes of the “cold moon, ‘mid planets her slaves,” he is speaking poetry not science. The moon, herself a satellite of a planet, scientifically no more binds other planets than she is bound to them.

It is in “Al Aaraaf” that Poe makes most extended use of astronomy in his poetry. He employs it to build a rich background for his story of beauty and man’s aspiration for it. Astronomy affords the young poet glowing, colorful images and a backdrop of grandeur unsurpassed. One suspects that the youthful writer enjoys the display of astronomical knowledge in writing a poem full of poetic fire and color and even a bit of nebulosity, “Al Aaraaf” is significant in Poe’s works for another reason, It is in a sense a forerunner of Eureka. Some of the ideas that he there developed more fully are implicit in “Al Aaraaf.”

In his “Sonnet — To Science,” which forms an introduction to “Al Aaraaf,” he alludes to a star as a dwelling place for beings like men or angels. He asks of science

Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car,

And driven the Hamadryad from the wood

To seek a shelter in some happier star?

The belief in a plurality of worlds that men or spirits or other living creatures live on other astronomical bodies than the earth — was commonly held in Poe’s day. One of the lectures of Dr. Lardner already mentioned advanced reasons for believing that life exists on o then stellar [page 130:] spheres.(19)

The “Sonnet — to Science” is “the wandering star” of “Al Aaraaf”(I, 15). The editions of 1829 and 1831 contain a note, as follows:

A star was discovered by Tycho Brahe which burst forth in a moment, with a splendor surpassing that of Jupiter then gradually faded away and became invisible to the naked eye.(20)

In the 1845 edition the note is:

A star was discovered by Tycho Brahe which appeared suddenly in the heavens, attained, in a few days, a brilliancy surpassing that of Jupiter — then as suddenly disappeared, and has never been seen since.(21)

Poetically it is referred to in “Al Aaraaf”: “But when its glory swell’d upon the sky” (II, 257). In both notes, Poe used a poetic license in romanticizing the facts. The star discovered by the Swedish astronomer did not burst forth “in a moment but was many days in exceeding the brilliance of Jupiter. Likewise, it did not disappear in a few days as the note to the 1844 edition implies. It was visible from about November 9, 1572, to March, [page 131:] 1574.(22)

This star in “Al Aaraaf” lay “near four bright suns” (I, 18), which have been variously identified by different scholars as the double-double star E Lyrae(23) and as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Kappa in the constellation of Cassiopeia.(24) A more likely identification may be with Orionis, a quadruple star that “presents the phenomenon of four brilliant principal stars ... forming a trapezium ... “(25) These accord with the four bright suns.”(26) Again in line 29, the “quadruple” light is referred to. [page 132:]

The picture in the lines

Falling in wreaths thro’ many a startled star,

Like woman’s hair ’mid pearls, (I, 32-33)

is that of a comet, which is noted for its trailing glory, often likened to hair.(27) And she average comet is so tenuous that stars can be seen sparkling through it. “A wreath that twined each starry form around” (I, 40) is a reference to the atmospheric rings or cloaks that surround the stars.

The thought expressed in the line She look’d into Infinity — and knelt” common to many works on astronomy. For example, Dick’s Christian Philosopher, published in 1823, contains many such statements as this: “A serious contemplation of the sublime objects which Astronomy has explore must therefore have tendency to inspire us with profound veneration of the eternal Jehovah — to humble us in the dust before his august presence. ...”(28)

In Nesace’s song beginning “Spirit! that dwellest where” (I, 82), Poe mentions the boundary beyond which a star cannot go. No star can get away from the natural laws controlling it, for they are of God. Poe poetically identifies the comets with “carriers of fire.” The comets are not stars that travel in obvious orbits but drudges who must ceaselessly travel “with speed that may not tire.” Thus he uses astronomical bodies to symbolize emotional ideas. [page 133:]

His general knowledge of astronomy is shown in other lines of “Al Aaraaf.” For example, 133-134:

What tho’ in worlds which sightless cycles run,

Link’d to a little system and one sun —.

He is trying to make the universe of “Al Aaraaf” conform in general, at least, to the stellar universe as scientists knew it when he lived. The line “Let the stars totter in the guilt of man” (I, 150) is a reference to the fact, which Poe uses in his story “The Power of Words,” that the displacing of one atom will affect the whole universe. If the earth is destroyed because of man’s sin, by the law of mutual attraction which operates throughout the universe, the stars will totter.(29)

Part I closes with a section stating that Al Aaraaf, like the earl has but one moon, and that Al Aaraaf is a yellow star,

In Part II of “Al Aaraaf,” line 6, Poe sets a time astronomically: “What time the moon is quadrated in Heaven.” There seems no special significance to this line in the poem, but biographically it shows that the nineteen-year-old Poe had astronomical terms in his mini’ The simplest astronomy books of his day explain “quadrature.”

Later, in lines 15-18, he describes a shooting star and refers to the theory that such stars are consumed in fire. [page 134:]

Of molten stars their pavement, such as fall

Thro’ the ebon air, besilvering the pall.

Of their own dissolution, while they die —

Adorning then the dwellings of the sky.

Here, as elsewhere in “Al Aaraaf,” the poet uses astronomical pictures to appeal to the reader’s sense of vision. The sensuous appeal in a line “Thro’ the ebon air besilvering the pall” is Keats-like. One can a picture when one reads such a line.

In lines 42-43, Poe refers to Eyraco, which, he explains in a note, is Chaldea. He seems to have been fascinated by the ancient Chaldean astronomers, for he mentions them more than once in his writings.(30) Here, II, 43, he speaks “Of many a wild star gazer long ago.” Probably the romance of these ancient people appealed to him.

In line 198, Poe refers to the smallness of the earth, when he says of it: “how dim that ray!” In his time, the fact that the earth is a mere speck in the universe was being felt with more force than ever before, because even in 1829 Sir William Herschel forty-foot telescope had revealed to men for the first time the millions of suns that he had never dreamed existed. Truly to an informed man in Poe’s day, the feeble light of earth must have seemed dim!

Near the close of the poem, Poe calls Al Aaraaf “Dread star! that came amid a night of mirth, / A red Daedalion on the timid earth” (II, 243-244). But up to that point he speaks of Al Aaraaf as being yellow or golden. Perhaps he calls it a red Daedalion figuratively, meaning only that it brings terror and destruction to earth, but is not actually red in color. [page 135:] But this seems unlikely. Therefore, one can conclude that Poe knew that Tycho’s star itself changed color. If so, the “red Daedalion” is also red in color. Poe, thus, probably makes poetic use of the knowledge that Tycho’s star changed color from yellow to red. Astronomers already knew that some stars do change color.(31)

Poe mentions the “Twins of Loeda” in “A Valentine” to describe luminous eyes. They are, of course, the twin stars Castor and Pollux, In “Ulalume mere the stars are used symbolically, he shows some astronomical knowledge. He knows, or example, that Astarte — Venue(32) — is sometimes a crescent like t moon and therefore can be “Distinct with a duplicate horn” (1. 38). Astarte comes past the stars of the Lion — that is, passes through that part of the Zodiac belonging to the constellation Leo. Later Venus becomes Lucifer, the morning star, obviously from Hell.(33) The star which was first symbol of joy has become a symbol now of evil or death.

In the second “To Helen” Poe refers to the fact that Venus can sometimes be seen in daylight, as he does in “Eulalie,” and compares Helen’s eyes to “Two sweetly scintillant Venuses, unextinguished by the sun. (ll. 65-66) [page 136:]

There are other references to stars in Poe’s poetry, but they allude to the glow of beauty of the stars and cannot be considered scientific. For the most part, although Poe shows his knowledge of astronomy in his poetry, he uses stars as symbols of beauty or as the places for a purer, happier life than that on this earth. To this poet, a star is usually a thing of beauty or an Aidenn.

In his stories he makes much more extensive use of astronomy. It is an essential element in “Hans Pfaal” and “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion.” In “The Balloon Hoax” and “The Power of Words” it is subordinate but essential and in many other stories there are references to the science that show Poe’s knowledge and continued interest. On the whole, astronomy afforded Poe new exciting material for his tales; it was a science to which he could apply his method of verisimilitude; and finally it afforded him a convenient device for putting before his readers his ideas on death and the after world. His use of science was often romantic, but he tried to make the romance plausible by using much of the current information of the science.

“Hans Pfaal” is a story of a trip to the moon and therefore full of astronomical lore combined with other scientific information. The hero in the story is set to thinking of astronomy by “a small pamphlet treatise on Speculative Astronomy, written either by Professor Encke of Berlin or by a Frenchman of somewhat similar name.”(34) [page 137:]

Hans Pfaal decides to go to the moon by balloon. In the description of his trip and of the moon, Poe draws on the astronomy of his day, for example on page 61, the discussion of the mounts average distance from the earth. He uses the technical term perigee to designate the point of the moon’s orbit nearest the earth. His hero hopes to meet the moon at that point.

This information he might well have obtained from Sir John Herschel’s A Treatise on Astronomy. Some of Poe’s figures — that the moon “is 59.9643 of the earth’s equatorial radii, or about 237,000 miles”(35) from the sun — are exactly those of this book. The words in quotation marks in the preceding sentence are exactly so in “Hans Pfaal” and Herchel’s book except that in “Hans Pfaal” the word only appears before 237,000 miles. In describing the moon’s orbit, Poe also employs whole phrases found in Herschel, again using the scientist’s figure .05484 as the amount of eccentricity. The idea of subtracting the earth’s radius to get a more exact distance to the moon is also found in Herschel.(37) Poe’s method is to take verbatim or to paraphrase closely from a reliable text the scientific data he needs.

Later in the story (p. 63) Poe makes use of the fairly recent discovery that the major axis of the elliptical orbit of Encke’s comet is growing smaller, explaining the decrease by assuming an ether. In Eureka, Poe repudiates this assumption, having learned that scientists have another explanation for she phenomenon. [page 138:]

The following quotations from Herschel and Poe s “Hans Pfaal” respectively will illustrate Poe’s use of his source:

Herschel —

On comparing the intervals between the successive perihelion passages of this comet, after allowing in the most careful and exact manner for all the disturbances due to the actions of the planets, a very singular fact has come to light, viz, that the periods are continually diminishing, or bother words, the mean distance from the sun, or the major axis of the ellipse, dwindling by slow but regular degrees. This is evidently the effect which would be produced byte resistance experienced by the comet from a very rare ethereal medium prevading the regions in which it moves; for such resistance diminishing its actual velocity, would diminish also its centrifugal force, and thus give the sun more power over it to draw it nearer. Accordingly (no other mode of accounting for the phenomenon in question appearing), this is the solution proposed by Encke, and generally received.(38)


Poe —

On comparing the intervals between the successive arrivals of Encke’s comet at its perihelion, after giving credit, in the most exact manner, for all the disturbances due to the attractions of the planets, it appears that the periods are gradually diminishing; that is to say, the major axis of the comet’s ellipse is growing shorter, in a slow but perfectly regular decrease. Now, this is precisely what ought to be the case, if we suppose a resistance experienced from the comet from an extremely rare ethereal medium pervading the regions of its orbit. For it is evident that such a medium must, in retarding the comet’s velocity, increase its centripetal, by weakening its centrifugal force. In other words, the sun’s attraction would be constantly attaining greater power, and the comet would be drawn nearer at every revolution. Indeed, there is no other way of accounting for the variation in question.(39)

Poe then skips about two pages in Herschel’s book and after referring to “a circumstance which has been left out of view,” picks up another idea:

Herschel —

A singular circumstance has been remarked respecting the change of dimensions of the comet of Encke in Progress to and retreat from the [page 139:] sun: viz. that the real diameter of the visible nebulosity undergoes a rapid contraction as it approaches, and an equally rapid dilation as it recedes from the sun. M. Valz, who, among others, had noticed this fact, has accounted for it by supposing a real compression or condensation of volume, owing to the pressure of an ethereal medium growing more dense in the sums neighborhood.(40)


Poe —

The real diameter of the same comet’s nebulosity, is observed to contract rapidly as it approaches the sun, and dilate with equal rapidity in [page 139:] its departure toward its aphelion. Was I not justifiable in supposing, with M. Valz, that this apparent condensation of volume has its origin in the compression of the same ethereal medium I have spoken of before, and which is dense in proportion to its vicinity to the sun?(41)

Poe rearranges, paraphrases, and copies verbatim. The very next passage “Hans Pfaal” is the result of the sane process.

Herschel —

... zodiacal light ... may be seen any very clear evening soon after sunset, about the months of April and May, ... as a cone of lenticular-shaped light, extending from the horizon obliquely upwards, and following generally the course of the ecliptic, or rather that of the sun’s equator.., It is extremely faint and ill-defined, at least in this climate, though better seen in tropical regions, but cannot be mistaken for any atmospheric meteor or aurora borealis. It is manifestly in the nature of thin lenticularly-formed atmosphere, surrounding the sun, and extending beyond the orbit of Mercury and even of Venus and Bay be conjectured to be no other than the denser part of that medium which, ea we have reason to believe, resists the motion of the comets.(42)


Poe —

The lenticular-shaped phenomenon, also, called the zodiacal light, was a matter worthy of attention. This radiance, so apparent in the tropics, and which cannot be mistaken for any meteoric lustre, extends from the horizon obliquely upwards, and follows generally the direction of the sun’s equator. It appeared to me evidently in the nature of a rare atmosphere extending from the sun outwards, beyond the orbit of Venus at least, and I believed indefinitely farther.(43)

Poe then goes on to suggest that perhaps this ether condenses near the [page 140:] planets to form an atmosphere. He concludes, therefore, — at least for the purposes of this story — that the moon has an atmosphere and that Hans Pfaal, his balloonist,(44) will find an atmosphere on the moon essentially like that of the earth. This conclusion was in opposition to the opinion held by most respectable astronomers of Poe’s day that the moon had no atmosphere or very little — certainly not enough to sustain life as it is known on the earth. Poe knew this. It seems certain that he declares for the existence of a substantial atmosphere against his scientific judgment — but for artistic purposes make it possible for his character to survive a sojourn on the moon, but later in the story he again mentions the general opinion of astronomers that the moon has no atmosphere, and advances arguments for believing that it has.(45)

Later in the story, at an immense height above the earth where the atmosphere is very thin, the aeronaut could see the stars in the daytimes “Overhead, the sky was o. a jetty black, and the stars were brilliantly visible.”(46) As the balloon passes over the North Pole, the aeronaut observes a sudden widening of his horizon, explained by the fact that the [page 141:] poles are slightly flattened; it is, Poe says, “owing undoubtedly to the earth’s form being that of an oblate spheroid. He seems to enjoy using technical phrases like “oblate spheroid,” and he is correct in the use, according to the astronomy of his time and of today.

In his navigation, Hans Pfaal changed direction and considered himself fortunate, for if he had not, he could not have reached the moon “whose orbit,” Poe writes, “is inclined to the ecliptic at only the small angle of 5° 8’ 48”.”(48) The balloon, taking another turn of direction, gets almost “in the exact plane of the lunar ellipse,” and soon the aeronaut thinks his balloon is now “actually running up the line of the apsides to the point of perigee.”(49) Several times now the balloonist hears explosive noises and sees “a gigantic and flaming mass,” which Poe probably means to be eruptions from the volcanoes on the moon, which Sir John Herschel believed to exist.(50)

In his account of the balloon journey to the moon, Poe refers to the angular measurement of the earth to show the great distance from it — an procedure. He also describes the results of a bouleversement of the airship as it passes from where the earth’s gravity on the balloon is greater than the moon’s to where it is less, another idea from astronomer. [page 142:] Then Hans Pfaal is able to see the moon, and his description as written by Poe is adapted from Sir John Herschel’s astronomy book again:

Herschel writes:

The generality of the lunar mountains present a striking uniformity and singularity of aspect. They are wonderfully numerous, occupying by far the larger portion of the surface, and almost universally of an exactly circular or cup-shaped form ... the larger have for the most part flat bottoms within, from which rises centrally a small, steep, conical hill. They offer, in short, in its highest perfection, the true volcanic character, as it may be seen in the crater of Vesuvius, and in a map of the volcanic districts of the Campi Phlegraei or the Puy de Dome. And in some of the principal ones, decisive marks of volcanic stratification, arising from successive deposits of ejected matter, may clearly be traced with powerful telescopes,. What is, moreover, extremely singular in the geology of the moon is, that although nothing having the character of seas can be traced ... yet there are large regions perfectly level, and apparently of a decided alluvial character.(51)


Poe writes:

The entire absence of ocean or sea, and indeed of any lake or river, or body of water whatsoever, struck me, at the first glance, as the most extraordinary feature in its geological condition. Yet, strange to say, I beheld vast level regions of a character decidedly alluvial, although by far the greater portion of the hemisphere in sight was covered with innumerable volcanic mountains, conical in shape, and having more the appearance of artificial than of natural protuberances, The highest among them does not exceed three and three-quarter miles in perpendicular elevation; but a map of the volcanic districts of the Campi Phlegraei would afford to your Excellencies a better idea of their general surface than any unworthy description that I might think proper to attempt. The greater part of them were in a state of evident eruption,. ... (52)

Hans Pfaal plumps down on the moon, and finds inhabitants on it. Although the description of them is facetious, some astronomers contemporary with Poe seriously thought the moon to be inhabited.(53) Having landed on [page 143:] the moon, Hans Pfaal turns and looks at the earth he has recently left, sees what Herschel describes in the following words:

Herschel —

If there be inhabitants in the moon, the earth must present to them the extraordinary appearance of a moon of nearly 2° in diameter, exhibiting the same phases as we see the moon to do, but immoveably fixed in their sky (or, at least, changing its apparent place only by the small amount of the libration), while the stars must seem to pass slowly behind it. It will appear clouded with variable spots, and belted with equatorial and tropical zones corresponding to our trade-winds; and it may be doubted whether, in their perpetual change, the outlines of our continents and seas can ever be clearly discerned.(54)


Poe —

I turned from them in contempt gazing upwards at the earth so lately left, and left perhaps for ever, beheld it like a huge, dull, copper shield, about two degrees in diameter, fixed immovably in the heavens overhead, and tipped on one of its edges with a crescent border of the most brilliant gold. No traces of land or water could be discovered, and the whole was clouded with variable spots, and belted with tropical and equatorial zones.(55)

A long footnote on pages 96 and 97 of “Hans Pfaal” about certain unusual appearances of the moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and the fixed stars, as Meredith Neill Posey has shown, is taken with very little change from the article “Moon, Nature and Furniture of the”(56) in Rees’s Cyclopaedia (1802-1820).(57) [page 144:]

Again Poe adapts, leaving out a phrase here, adding one there, changing the order of two in one place, copying the exact wording in another. In this instance, he seems to have added color to his description by making an analogy between the moon and the earth.

After a residence of five years on the moon, Hans Pfaal has some remarkable observations on the climate of that orb which he says he may communicate to the States’ College of Astronomers. Unfortunately for his scientific reputation, however, Sir John Herschel had already published them. He writes:

Herschel —

Hence its climate must be very extraordinary; the alternation being that of unmitigated and burning sunshine, fiercer than an equatorial noon, continued for a whole fortnight, and the keenest severity of frost, far exceeding that of our polar winter, for an equal time. Such a disposition of things must produce & constant transfer of whatever moisture may exist on its surface, from the point beneath the sun to that opposite, by distillation in vacuo after the manner of the little instrument called a cryophoros. The consequence must be absolute aridity below the vertical sun, constant aeration of hoar frost in the opposite region, and, perhaps, a narrow um of running water at the borders of the enlightened hemisphere.(58)


Poe —

I much to say of the climate of the planet; of ita wonderful alternations of heat and cold; of unmitigated and burning sunshine for one fortnight, and more than polar frigidity for the next; of a constant transfer of moisture, by distillation like that in vacuo, from the point beneath the sun to the point farthest from it; of a variable zone of running water; ... (59)

[page 145:]

He then develops in harmony with his own genius, Herchel’s statement:

The lunar summer and winter arise, in fact, from the rotation of the moon on its own axis, the period of which rotation is exactly equal to its sidereal revolution about the earth. ... This is the cause why we always see the same face of the moon, and have no knowledge of the other side. This remarkable coincidence of two periods .is said to be a consequence of general laws to be explained hereafter.(60)

After speaking of “those dark and hideous mysteries which lie in the outer regions of the moon” — Poe’s interpretation of the unseen side of the moon — he goes on: “regions which, owing to the almost miraculous accordance of the satellite’s rotation on its own axis with its sidereal revolution about the earth, have never yet been turned, and, by God’s mercy, never shall be turned to the scrutiny of the telescopes of man.”(61)

Thus it seems, the youthful Poe read Herschel’s A Treatise on Astronomy the year it was published — 1833(62) — and was impressed with the possibilities of it as material for fiction — especially the chapter on the moon. Full of this information, in the fall of that year Poe planned the story he published in 1835. On October 21, 1833, he excitedly told J. H. B. Latrobe, one of the judges who had awarded him a his “MS. Found in a Bottle,” about his proposed story of a flight to the moon.(63) “Hans Pfaal” [page 146:] serves to prove that, early in his career as a fict4on writer, Poe had read carefully parts of one authoritative work on astronomy.

A long note to “Hans Pfaal” was added in the 1840 version. It calls attention to Richard Adam Locke! “Moon Hoax,” first published in the New York in August, 1835, two months later than Poe’s story. It comments on the absurdity of some of the science in Locke’s work and mentions the popular ignorance of astronomy.(64) The note also discusses a few previous accounts of imaginary voyages to the moon — those of Gonzales by Francis Godwin, Peter Wilkins by Robert Patlock; Joseph Atterley’s by George Tucker, and the “The Flight of Thomas O’Rourke.”(65)

In theme Poe probably owes something to these books of cosmic travel but little in detail. He may, however, be somewhat in debt to George Tucker’s A Voyage to the Moon, which appeared anonymously in 1827.(66) For example, in that story the narrator flies over the North Pole “to examine the figure of the earth near the Poles, with a view of discovering whether [page 147:] its form favoured Captain Symmes’s theory of an aperture existing there. ...”(67) He decided that Symmes’s theory was mistaken, but in “Hans Pfaal” also the narrator flies over the North Pole and examines it carefully, describing it as it would look if Symmes’s theory had been true. Poe writes of the land at the North Pole:

[It is] not a little concave, it terminates at the Pole itself, in a circular centre, sharply defined, whose apparent diameter subtended at the balloon an angle of about sixty-five seconds and whose dusky hue, varying in intensity, was at all times darker than any other spot upon the visible hemisphere, and occasionally deepened into the most absolute blackness.(68)

Poe’s account of his balloon as it passes the point at which the moon’s attraction exceeds that of the earth is managed very much as is Tucker’s. In both, the narrator passes this critical position while he is asleep, and awakes to a sense of alarm and wonder until he realizes or is told what has happened.(69) The similarity, however, is only general, not detailed. Tucker’s moon has volcanoes,(70) as does Poe’s. Tucker writes: “but the outline of her [the earth’s j continents and oceans were still perceptible. ...”(71) Poe may be remembering this when he writes: “Not even the outlines of continents and seas could now be traced upon the earth with distinctness,”(72) but more probably he owes this to Herschel. [page 148:]

But “Hans Pfaal”(73) is different from Tucker’s and Paltock’s and the Poe himself explains the difference well: “In other imaginary’ voyages. Poe himself explains the difference well: “In ‘Hans Pfaal’ the design is original, inasmuch as regards an attempt at verisimilitude, in the application of scientific principles (so far as the whimsical nature of the subject would permit ), to the actual passage between the earth and the moon.”(74) In this respect it is akin to the pseudonymous A Voyage to Cacklogallinia published in 1727,(75) which Poe probably never saw. Poe’s parenthesis “so far as the whimsical nature of the subject would permit” sounds almost like an apology for going against the consensus of scientific opinion of the day in such things as giving the moon a heavy atmosphere. And finally, his italicizing of the word verisimilitude in the quoted statement above shows that certainly by 1840, when the note was written, and probably by 1833, when the story was conceived, he had thought out his theories of writing such a short story theories which he also used in what is probably the last story he ever wrote, “Von Kempelen and His Discovery” — a tale which also uses scientific material for artistic purposes. [page 149:]

An elaborate figure of speech developed in his review of J, K. Paulding’s Slavery in the United States, published in April, 1836, shows considerable awareness of astronomy:

But it is lamentable to observe, that let research discover, let science teach, let art practice what it may, mans in all his mutations never fails to get back to some point at which he has been before. The human mind seems to perform, by some invariable laws, a sort of cycle, like those of the heavenly bodies. We may be unable, (and, for ourselves, we profess to be so) to trace the causes of these changes; but we are not sure that an accurate observation of the history of the various rations at different times, may not detect the laws that govern them. However eccentric the orbit, the comet’s place in the heavens enables the enlightened astronomer to anticipate its future course, to tell when it will pass its perihelion, in what direction it will shoot away into the unfathomable abyss of infinite space, end at what period it will return.(76)

Later in the same review he remarks: “Fifty years ago, in France, this eccentric comet, ‘public sentiment,’ was in its opposite node.”(77) This review shows rather detailed knowledge of come is and their orbits early in Poe’s career.

The next story in which astronomy plays more than an incidental role is “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion published four years after “Hans Pfaal.” It is mainly an account of the destruction of the earth by a comet. Here Poe skilfully makes full use of the excited interest of his day In the discovery of many new comets and in the discussions as to whether our world would be harmed if such a heavenly body should wander too near, Sir John Herschel had pointed out that Biela’s comet has an orbit that nearly intersects that of our planet and that in 1832 if the earth had been one month [page 150:] ahead of its orbit it might have collided with Biela’s comet “a singular recontre, perhaps not t ended with danger.”(78) Halley’s comet had appeared in 1835, Encke’s in 1838, and Biela’s, whose orbit was closest tie earth’s, was expected to reappear again in 1839, the year Poe’s story published.

Early in his writing career Poe wrote about the possible destruction of the earth by a comet; therefore, if he had a specific comet in mind, it was probably Biela’s. Poe wrote in 1836:

But what especially concerns us, is to mark its [a comet’s] progress through our planetary system, to determine whether in coming or returning it may infringe upon us, and prove the messenger of that dispensation which) in the end of all things, is to wrap our earth in flames.(79)

Here “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” is clearly foreshadowed.

Taking the destruction of the earth as his theme, then, Poe has it described by a spirit in Aidenn whose body died in the destruction of the earth. Poe points out that astronomers had long discussed what would happen to the earth if a comet approached beyond a critical distance. He states also that astronomers of his day no longer fear the flaming tail of a comet because of the slight density of comets. In his story then he sets the astronomers calculating the orbit of a strange orb, and they soon. realize that at its perihelion it will come near to the earth. Some maintain [page 151:] that an actual contact is inevitable. Poe’s discussion of comets in lime Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” is sound astronomy as understood in his day.

Eiros describes with graphic power the changing state of emotions of the people as the comet comes nearer and nearer and as the excitement increases, and discusses the fact that a comet had harmlessly passed among the satellites of Jupiter — a fact Poe could have picked up from Herschel’s Treatise.80 The final catastrophe comes not from the shock of collision but from chemical reaction that inflames the world in fiery fulfillment of the Scriptural prophecy.

Early in 1843 Poe proved himself an alert journalist by taking advantage of the excitement created by the Great Comet of 1843. It was first seen on February 28, when it was so bright that it could be seen by daylight. The next day it was dimmer and gradually it faded. On April 1, 1843. Poe published in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum this same story of the fiery end of the earth, now entitled “Destruction of the World.” The story also took advantage of the belief of the Millerites that the earth was approaching an end — a belief much in the news in 1843. The Great Comet of 1843 was so bright that for a generation it was written about, and it is still mentioned in astronomy books today.

In “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” Poe blended scientific fact speculation together into a clearly conceived narrative that gave him one of his more effective shorter sketches. [page 152:]

Somewhat like it is “The Power of Words” June 1845). It, too, is a conversation in Aidenn between two spirits long departed from earth, and much of its background is astronomical. In this sketch Poe rehearses some of the ideas he is to present in full dress in Eureka, but here he deals with astronomy on a smaller scale.

By a reference to the stars, the author has Agathos suggest the immensity of the universe:

Look down into the abysmal distances! — attempt to force the gaze down the multitudinous vistas of the stars, as we sweep slowly through them thus — and thus — and thus! Even the spiritual vision, is it not at all points arrested by the continuous golden walls of the universe? — the walls of the myriads of the shining bodies that mere number has appeared to blend into unity?(81)

Such a speech reminds one of the bar beyond which the angels in “Al Aaraaf” could not pass. It is also like many passages in the works of such men as Thomas L. Dick, who used astronomy chiefly to point out the wisdom and power and benevolence of God.

Soon the two conversing angels travel through the heavens. “Come,” says Agathos, “we will leave to the left the loud harmony of the Pleiades, and swoop outward from the throne to the starry meadows beyond Orion, Where, for pansies and violets, and heart’s ease, are the beds of the triplicate and triple-tinted suns.”

The statement is more astronomical than it might appear. According to a theory known to Poe at this time, Needier placed the supposed central orb [page 153:] of the universe in the Pleiades,(82) and some men identified that supposed central orb with the throne of God. Orion was known as one of the most beautiful of constellations, and since Sir William Herschel’s discoveries triplicate suns were widely discussed. Even the triple-tinted suns, in au probability come from astronomy. Sir John Herschel s book, which Poe used, discusses red, green, yellow, and blue stars and combinations of these colors for double stars.(83)

As Oinos and Agathos continue to discuss God and creation in “The Power of Words,” Oinos again reverts to astronomy, speaking of “the starry worlds that, from the abyss of nonentity, burst hourly forth into the heavens.” They converse about creation and the influence that every physical act has on every particle in the whole universe. As they fly, discussing the topics which Poe is later to present in Eureka, they arrive above a “fair star — which is the greenest and yet most terrible of all” encountered in the flight. Green stars were of special interest to astronomers then because usually the smaller of two double stars appeared green or bluish green. Herschel discusses them.(84) Or Poe may have had in mind this astronomical object described by Herschel:

A beautiful round planetary nebula, as sharply terminated as a planet, of a perfectly uniform light, and of a fine blue colour approaching to green; [page 154:] the only insulated object of a decided blue colour I have ever observed in the heavens.(85)

The last of Poe’s stories to make extended use of astronomy is “Mellonta Tauta, published in February, 1849. Much of the astronomy in it is basically the same as that of Eureka, which preceded it, but Poe adds a new thought or two. Probably the most significant suggestion is that the star Alpha Lyrae (Vega) forms a binary system with our sun.(86) Modern astronomy does not agree with him, nor did the astronomy of his time; double stars, however, were still new enough not to have been fully explained. Next in this story Poe repeats his arguments against Maedler’s theory that the whole galactic system revolves around a point near Alcyon in the Pleiades as he had set them forth in Eureka. Following the noted astronomer Bessel, Poe suggests that Maedler may have had reference to a non-luminous orb, however, says no such orb could exist where Needier places it, because if it did it would be “rendered visible by the incalculable host of glorious suns glaring in all directions about it.”(87)

Next Poe comments on what he calls “the five Nepturian asteroids,” which he just recently have heard of, for the planet Neptune was discovered only in the fall of 1846. To date, astronomers have discovered only one satellite for Neptune; the other four of Poe’s Nepturian asteroids(88) are still undiscovered. Then in a whimsical note he says that he “watched with [page 155:] much interest the putting up of a huge impost on a couple of lintels in the new temple at Daphnis in the moon,”(89) — an obvious reference to the many reports in Poe’s day that man-made structures had been discovered on the moon.”(90) Poe closes the astronomical observation in this story with a reference to the fact that the moon has less gravitational attraction because of its smaller mass than the earth — a fact again commonly discussed in the books of Poe os day.(91) Poe writes: “One finds it difficult, too, to conceive the vast masses these people handle so easily, to be as light as our moon tells us they actually are.(92) It is interesting to observe how Poe takes a scientific fact — not used in “Hans Pfaall — and transmutes it into a part of his story, and also to observe Poe finding it difficult to believe what his reason urges him to accept.

Into many other of his prose works, he weaves an occasional reference to astronomy. The introduction to the “Tales of the Folio Club” contains one typical of Poe. “One of them [reasons for limiting the club to eleven however, is that on the first of April, in the year three hundred and fifty before the Deluge, there are said to have been just eleven spots on the sun.”(93) [page 156:]

In “Ligeia” he compares Ligeia’s eyes to the “twin stars of Leda.” In trying to define his feeling at looking into those luminous orbs, he states: “And there are one or two stars in heaven one especially, a star of the sixth magnitude, double and changeable, to be found near the large star in Lyra) in a telescopic scrutiny of which I have been made aware of the feeling.”(94) Even in expressing a poetic idea as here, Poe is scientifically exact in his language; one wonders why he specified that his star was of the sixth magnitude unless it was to display his knowledge.(95) The fact is not strictly pertinent to the story.

In “Mesmeric Revelation,” appears a discussion of ether. Poe was thinking on this subject before he wrote his remarks on it in Eureka, which are a development of thought from “Mesmeric Revelation.” Following astronomers of his day, particularly Encke, he says that a resistance to the motion of heavenly bodies had been ascertained. Here Poe follows the astronomers: in Eureka he goes ahead of them. In “Mesmeric Revelation” he also discusses absolute coalescence, stating, “An ether, absolutely dense, would put an infinitely more effectual stop to the progress of a star than would an ether of adamant or of iron.”(96) Here, of course, he is certainly right, but science knows no such ether. [page 157:]

In any general discussion of science, Poe usually mentions astronomy. Count Allamistakeo, in “Some Words with a Mummy,” points out that his people, ancient Egyptians, were able to calculate eclipses.(97) Poe knew that the Egyptians had early learned much of astronomy. In discussing the mummy’s astronomical knowledge, one character refers another to Ptolemy and “one Plutarch de facie lunae.”(98)

The “Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade” has several references to astronomy, as one would expect in a list of scientific wonders such as the one found there. Poe refers to the elder Herschel’s belief that light would take 3,000,000 years to reach the earth from the faintest nebulae, and adds: “Some made visible by Lord Ross’ [again misspelled] instrument must, then, have required 20,000,000.”(99) He also refers to the astronomical calculations by which the moon and planets were weighed and their unities determined.(100) And he states the idea, more startling in his day than ours, that we may be seeing light from distant stars today that them 20 or 1000 years ago and that we may even be seeing light from astronomical bodies that have been annihilated since it departed from them.(101)

Other features of astronomy that definitely appealed to Poe were grandeur and immensity. Science showed him the awful size of the universe and impressed him with the wonder of it. [page 158:]

In his other prose Poe occasionally discusses an astronomical matter, sometimes correcting what he considers an erroneous statement on the subject. For example, in a review of William Gilmore Simms’s The Damsel of Darien, he criticizes:

Now if by the old world he meant the East, and by the new world the West, we are quite at a loss to know what are the stars seen in the one, which cannot be equally seen in the other.(102)

Another example is his longer comment in a review of Henry Duncan’s Sacred Philosophy of the Seasons, Illustrating the Perfections of God in the Phenomena of the Year. Poe writes:

It is questionable whether there be not something of a philosophy un peu passé in a passage where a certain argument is spoken of as not proving the absolute permanency of our solar system, “because we know from the more aura work of prophecy that it is not destined to last forever.” We believe there are few intelligent men of the present day — few, either laymen or divines — who are still willing to think that the prophecies here referred to have any further allusion than to the orb of the earth, or, more strictly, to the crust of this orb alone. The entire system never was meant to be included. Upon this topic we refer the reader, in perfect confidence, to the excellent observations of Dr. Dick, in his “Christian Philosopher.”(103)

In reviewing The American Almanac, Poe notes “the astronomical department, for which we are indebted to Mr. Paine. ...”(104) And his “Pinakidia” contains some references that show his continued interest in the astral science.(105) His “Fifty Suggestions” contain a question showing his interest in astronomy. “What has become of the inferior planet which Decuppis, [page 159:] about nine years ago, declared he saw traversing the disc of the sun?”(106) Two notes in the Broadway Journal when it was under Poe’s editorship concern astronomy.(107) In two different reviews, he writes about Richard gams Locke and his “Moon Hoax.”(108)

Poe uses material from astronomy occasionally to create a figure of speech. In his review of Barnaby Rudge, for instance, in comparing great with small, names two works that are largely or partly astronomical:

. ...”Newton’s Principia” to “Hoyle’s Games”: of “Earnest Maltravers” to jack-the-Giant-Killer,” or “Jack Sheppard,” or “Jack Brag”; and of “Dicks Christian Philosopher” to “Charlotte Temple,” or the “Memoirs of de Grammont,” or to one or two dozen other works which must be nameless.(109)

In the same review he again refers to the idea of quadruple light. He writes: “ ... these points of which we speak break out in all directions Wasters, and throw quadruple brilliance over the narrative.”(110) Here is the light of the four bright suns of “Al Aaraaf.” In “Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences,” Poe says that a banker is to a diddler the tail of a comet to that of a pig.”(111) Another comparison is found in “The Spectacles”: “But compared with her friend she is as a rushlight to the evening star — a glow-worm to Antares.”(112) [page 160:]

In an addendum to Eureka, Poe presents a mass of astronomical facts and most probably picked up from journals and lectures of the 1840s. These digested notes show his continuing interest in the facts of astronomy and his frequent thought on the subject of cosmogony. Apparently not yet completely satisfied with the cosmogony presented in Eureka, continues to jot down his new theories on the subject, perhaps having in mind a revision of Eureka.

Another collection of astronomical material “Poe’s Unpublished Notes Apparently to ‘Eureka,’” taken from the Griswold manuscripts. A careful examination shows rather conclusively that these notes were intended for “Hans Pfaal” not Eureka.(113) Even in the 1830s, Poe was collecting information for stories making use of astronomy, and he kept the facts on file, to be worked into his writings later. His concern with verisimilitude made it necessary for him to have exact scientific data, and he sought it where he could find it in popular magazines, technical journals, textbooks, and lectures.(114) [page 161:]

In astronomy Poe found the combination of poetic grandeur and scientific truth. This science, instead of driving the Hamadryad from the wood, provided her a shining green or golden star as a home. Instead of dimming the mirror of our joy, astronomy afforded glorious fields of glowing stars and golden barriers of unbearably beautiful light around the throne of God, and gave evidence of perfect beauty in the absolute proportion and symmetry of the wheeling orbs. To Poe the music of the spheres was physical harmony as well as perfect melody. Astronomy interested him all his life and enriched his poetry and prose, providing him with a vast land of beauty afar off where life was happier than here. It seems that it especially appealed to Poe because in it be could see united the grandeur of science and the glory of beauty.



[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 123:]

1.  Hervey Allen, Israfel (New York, 1934), pp. 107-108.

2.  Philip Alexander Bruce, History of the University Virginia 1819-1919 (New York, 1920), II, 99.

3.  Works, I, 76, Gassendi’s life of Tycho Brahe was in the Library of the University of Virginia while Poe was there.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 124:]

4.  VI, 33-35.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 125:]

5.  XXI (Feb 1827), 136.

6.  II, 514. In October, 1837, Poe had contributed a review to the New York Review.

7.  The Saturday Evening Post, XXII (March 2, 1842), 12.

8.  Dionysius Lardner, Popular Lectures on Science and Art, fifteenth edition (New York 1859), I, 12. The first edition of this work was copyrighted and published in 1845.

9.  Ibid., I, 23.

10.  I (March 29, 1845), 1940

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 125:]

11.  I (Oct. 31, 1846), 46.

12.  II (May 1, 1847), 253.

13.  II (July 31, 1847), 365. The Literary World, which he most certainly read, published a review, “Prof. Mitchell’s Lectures on Astronomy.” This article mentions “the three remarkable astronomical topics of the day — the great Telescope of Lord Reese, the Planet Leverrier, and the Central Sun of Maedler. ...” — I (March, 27, 1847), 179-180. Ormsby MacKnight Mitchel, astronomer and lecturer, was an assistant professor of mathematics at West Point while Poe was a cadet there. Whether Poe knew him is not certain, but Probably he did, Professor Mitchel vas one of several teaching the mathematics course Poe studied, but records at West Point do not indicate which instructor Poe studied under. Poe later mentions the great telescope of the Cincinnati Observatory established under Professor Mitchel’s direction. The Literary World misspelled his name with two ls.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 126:]

14.  The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Killis Campbell (Boston, 1917), p. 19, ll. 376-380. This edition is hereinafter referred to as Poems.

15.  The 1845 edition changes “silvery” to “white.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 126, running to the bottom of page 127:]

16.  Erasmus Darwin in Botanic Garden, II, 82, speaks of the Moon’s “airless realms of frost.” His note to this line explains the coldness of the moon as being due to a lack of atmosphere. In view of Poe’s later use [page 128:] in “Al Aaraaf” of stellar bodies as places for beings to live in, it is pertinent to observe that in the same note Darwin states that “it is not probable that the moon is at present inhabited.” Darwin, however, believed in the possibility of life on other planets.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 127:]

17.  In “Prometheus Unbound” Shelley speaks of the Sun without beams (I, 65). And in a note to “Queen Mab” he says: “Beyond our atmosphere the sun Would appear a rayless orb of fire. ...” — Note to 11. 242-243, Part I of “Queen Mab.” Poe knew “Prometheus Unbound” and “Queen Mab,” and may have got the notion of a star without beam from Shelley.

18.  David Brewster, A Treatise on Optics, new edition (Philadelphia, 1835), p. 81. See also Thomas Dick, Christian Philosopher, The Complete Works of Thomas Dick, 11 vols, in 2 (Cincinnati, 1859), II, 81.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 130:]

19.  See a more complete discussion of the plurality of worlds in the chapter “Eureka.” The reference to “highest stars” (I, 51) concerns this belief which Poe at least pretends to hold, that different stars are living places for beings of various degrees of perfection — a belief not uncommon in the early 1800s.

20.  Poems, p. 174.

21.  Loc. cit. On November 15, 1845, he printed in the Broadway Journal an item giving an account of the finding of some optical instruments and some manuscripts of the Swedish astronomer Tycho Brahe. — II (Nov. 15, 1845), 293. Apparently Poe had not lost his interest in the astronomer then.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 130:]

22.  Dick, Sidereal Heavens, Complete Works, II, 36-37. Poe could have Learned of Tycho’s star from any ore of many sources. Sir Issac Newton devotes more than half a page of his Principia to a detailed description of it. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy and His System of the World, Translated ... by Andrew Motte. ...The translation revised, and supplied with an historical and explanatory appendix, by Florian Cajori (Berkeley, California, 1946), p. 541. Practically every work on astronomy of Poe’s time mentions it as an example of what astronomers today would call a nova. For example, Sir John F. W. Herschel, A Treatise on Astronomy, a new edition, with preface, etc. by S. C. Walker (Philadelphia, 1839) p. 359; John Gummere, An Elementary Treatise on Astronomy, etc., fourth edition, revised by E. Otis Kendall (Philadelphia; 1851), p. 186; Elijah M. Burritt, The Geography of the Heavens and Class Book of Astronomy, etc., with introduction by Thomas L. Dick (New York, 1842), pp. 40, 136-137.

23.  Selected Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Thomas Ollive Mabbott (New York, 1928), pp. 126.

24.  Floyd Stovall, “An Interpretation of Poe’s ‘Al Aaraaf’”, University of Texas Studies in English, No. 9 (July 8, 1929), 112.

25.  William A. Norton, An Elementary Treatise on Astronomy, third edition (New York, 1852), p. 378. See also Herschel, p. 376.

26.  In any event, toward the end of the eighteenth century, Sir William Herschel began his study of the multiple stars, and Poe must have read about them, perhaps in Dick’s Christian Philosopher, Complete Works, II, 90. It is likely, however, that the poet, knowing that quadruple stars existed, had no particular four stars in mind.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 132:]

27.  Burritt, op. cit., p. 243.

28.  Complete Works, II, 91-92. See also Burritt, op. cit., xviii-xxi Introduction, by Dick.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 133:]

29.  This idea is fairly common in the theology of that time also. — Dick, Philosophy of Future State, Complete Works, II, 49. And it probably has a literary source as well. The transformation in the Garden of Eden after Adam’s fa may be alluded to. Such an interpretation would involve the pathetic fallacy, having the earth suffer for man’s sin.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 134:]

30.  See “The Coliseum,” ll. 15-16.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 135:]

31.  Sidereal Heavens, Complete Works, II, 37. See also Newton, op. cit., p. 541.

32.  Astarte has sometimes been identified with the moon, but Poe here identifies her with Venus, the morning star. He contrasts her with Dian. The moon would be consistent only if Poe meant October 6, 7, 8, or 9, 1847. Any day after October 6, 1847, would have found Venus rising “as the star-dials hinted of morn.”

33.  See T. O. Mabbott, “The Astrological Symbolism of Poe’s ‘Ulalume,’” Notes and Queries, CLXI (July 11, 1931), 26-27. On October 7, 1847, Venus became the morning star.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 136:]

34.  Works, II, 49. In Poe’s time there lived two noted German astronomers named J. F. Encke, whom Poe mentions also in Eureka, and L. Hencke, whom Poe perhaps confused with the former.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 137:]

35.  Ibid., II, 61.

36.  Treatise on Astronomy (London, 1833), pp. 204-205.

37.  P. 204.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 138:]

38.  Herschel, p. 291.

39.  Works, II, 63-64.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 139:]

40.  P. 293.

41.  Works, II, 64.

42.  P. 380.

43.  Works, II, 64.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 140:]

44.  Poe’s use of scientific data in describing the construction of the balloon and its flight is dealt with in another chapter of this work, “Aeronautics.”

45.  These arguments he could have found in many places, e.g., Thomas Dick’s Christian Philosopher, (II, 83) and Celestial Scenery, in the latter of which they are developed much as Poe presents them, (II, 93), and J. H. Schroeter, whose arguments, though not always accepted, were respectfully quoted in contemporary books and encyclopedias on astronomy.

46.  Works, II, 85, Poe may have got this from Monck Mason’s Aeronautica (London, 1838), p. 172, Or he may have picked up the notion of the blackness of the sky from Shelley, who wrote in a note to Queen Mab: “Beyond our atmosphere the sun would appear a rayless orb in the midst of a black concave.” See note to Part I, 11. 242-243.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 141:]

47.  Works, II, 87.

48.  Ibid., II, 90. The figures are taken from Herschel’s book, and the wording is paraphrased.

49.  Herschel explains these terms on page 205, from which Poe got his figure as to the inclination of the moon’s orbit.

50.  P. 218.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 142:]

51.  P. 218.

52.  Works, II, 95, George E. Woodberry has pointed out Poe’s general indebtedness to Herschel, but not the specific parallels indicated here. See Woodberry, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, I, 128.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 142, running to the bottom of page 143:]

53.  Dick, Celestial Scenery, Complete Works, II, 94. See also the following [page 143:] statement: “Olbers thinks it very probable the moon is inhabited by rational creatures.” — “The Moon and its Inhabitants,” Annals of Philosophy, 28 (Dec., 1826), 469. See also “The Planets,” Scientific American, II (May 8, 1847), 261, for statement that Maedler and Baer held the same opinion.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 142:]

54.  P. 220.

55.  Works, II, 99.

56.  “Notes on Poe’s ‘Hans Pfaall,’” Modern Language Notes, XLV (Dec., 1930), 505.

57.  A list of subscribers to this encyclopedia printed in the work itself includes “John Allen [sic] of Richmond.”

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 144:]

58.  Op. cit., pp. 218-219.

59.  Works, II, 100. In this passage and the one on page 143, Poe expresses his thought more concisely and more picturesquely than Herschel. He improves the style of what he borrows.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 145:]

60.  Pp. 219-220.

61.  Works, II, 100.

62.  A long review of this book in the Edinburgh Review, LVIII Oct., 18” 164-198, shows that it was published early enough in that year for Poe to have read it before his interview with Latrobe. Poe evidently read the book before the American edition appeared the following year, Meredith Neill Posey, op. cit., has also called attention to Poe’s indebtedness to Sir John Herschel.

63  John E. Semmes; John H. B. Latrobe and His Times 1801-1891 (Baltimore, 1917), p. 561. Latrobe was favorably impressed with Poe’s scientific knowledge. Latrobe’s opinion is of special interest because he himself was a mathematician and engineer. — Semmes, op. cit., p. 558.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 146:]

64.  This part of Poe’s note so closely parallels one in Thomas Dick’s Celestial Scenery, which was first published in 1838, as to suggest an indebtedness on Poe’s part, although his note contains some information not found in Celestial Scenery. — Complete Works, II, 94.

65.  It is not my purpose here to discuss these imaginary voyages in detail, but merely to suggest Poe’s general indebtedness to them for his theme. For a detailed study of this question, see Newton Edd Miller, A Study of Poe’s Use of Imaginary and Extraordinary Voyages, University of Texas Master’s Thesis (1940). For a general account of cosmic voyages, see Marjorie Hope Nicolson, Voyages to the Moon (New York, 1948).

66.  There is no external proof that Poe read this book or knew that Tucker wrote it. He does, however, comment on a review of it in the American Whig Review. — Works, II, 108.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 147:]

67.  Tucker, p. 77. See also J. O. Bailey on Poe and Symmes; “Sources of Poe’s Gordon Pym, ‘Hans Pfaal,’ and Other Pieces,” PMLA, LVII June, 1942), 513,-535. Professor Bailey sees an influence of Symmes on the unreal regions of “Ulalume” and “Dream-Land.” See “The Geography of Poe’s ‘Dreamland’ and ‘Ulalume’,” Studies in Philology, XLV (July, 1948), 512-523.

68.  Works, II, 89.

69.  Tucker, pp. 83-84. Poe, pp. 93-94. The point of equal attraction between the moon and the earth is discussed in other literature of the time..

70.  P. 86.

71.  Pp. 84-85.

72.  Works, II, 92.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 148:]

73.  A paragraph added to “Hans Pfaal” in the Griswold edition contains one other item significant to Poe’s knowledge of astronomy, The paragraph deals with Lord Rosse’s huge telescope — news then as the Mt. Palomar telescope is news to us today. Poe was aware of this new development in astronomy. He spells the name incorrectly — Ross.

74.  Works, II, 108.

75.  Captain Samuel Brunt, A Voyage to Cacklogallinia, etc. reproduced from, the original edition, 1727, with an introduction by Marjorie Nicolson New York: The Facsimile Text Society, 1940).

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 149:]

76.  Works, VIII, 266-267. For a further development of this figure speech, see page 49 in the chapter “Psychology.”

77.  Ibid., VIII, 269.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 150:]

78.  Treatise, pp. 292-293. Blackwood’s Magazine for October,.1819, carried an account of Olber’s estimate that after 220,000,000 years a comet will clash with the earth. See VI, 100. Thomas L. Dick in his Sidereal Heavens has a small section titled “Whether a comet may ever come in contact with the earth, and produce a concussion?” His answer is that “it is not impossible.” — Complete Works, II, 128.

79.  Review of J. K. Paulding “Slavery in the United States,” Works, II, 267.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 151:]

80.  P. 292.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 152:]

81.  Works, VI, 139. See also: “A mountain, to be sure, by the mere sentiment of physical magnitude which it conveys, does impress us with a sense of the sublime. ...” — Ibid., XIV, 268.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 153:]

82.  J. P. Nichol, The Architecture of the Heavens, ninth edition (London, “. 51), p. 266. The first edition was published in 1838. See also J. P. Nichol, Thoughts on Some Important Points Relating to System of the World, first American edition, revised and enlarged (Boston and Cambridge, 1848), pp. 144-145.

83.  P. 369.

84.  Pp. 368-369.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 154:]

85.  P. xiii.

86.  Works, VI, 211.

87.  Works, VI, 210.

88.  Presumably by “Nepturian asteroids” Poe means satellites of Neptune. The term asteroids, however, is not properly so used.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 155:]

89.  Works, II, 211.

90.  Burritt, op. cit., 214-215, quotes Schroeter on a city on the east side of the moon, and Professor Frauenhofer, who said he saw a lunar edifice. See also the following from Scots Magazine, XIV (May, 1824), 551: “Telescopes, and good eyes, have now discovered roads, towns, in the moon ... .”

91.  Herschel states: “It should, however, be observed, that owing to the small density of the materials of the moon, and the comparatively feeble. ... pull of gravitation on bodies on her surface, muscular force would go six times as far in overcoming the weight of materials as on the Treatise, p. 219.

92.  Works, VI, 211.

93.  Ibid., II, xxxvii.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 156:]

94.  Ibid., II, 252.

95.  Among the books that Roderick Usher read was “the Selenography of Brewster.” — Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, VI (Sept., 1839), 159. In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” the narrator follows a chain of thought as fellows: “The larger links of the chain run thus — Chantilly, Orion, Dr. Nichols, Epicurus, Stereotomy, the street stones, the fruiterer.” — Works, VI, 154. Orion, Dr. Nichols, and Epicurus were all related in Poe’s mind to astronomy.

96.  Works, V, 247-248.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 157:]

97.  Ibid., VI, 133.

98.  Ibid., VI, 133.

99.  Note, ibid., VI, 100.

100.  Ibid., VI, 100.

101.  Ibid., VI, 100.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 158:]

102.  Ibid., X, 56.

103.  Ibid., X, 81-82.

104.  Ibid., XI., 161

105.  Ibid., XIV, 51, 42-43, 41.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 159:]

106.  Ibid., XIV, 182[[.]]

107.  II (Oct. 11, 1845), 217 and II (Nov. 15, 1845), 293.

108.  Works, XV, 126 and XV, 259. See also Doings of Gotham, pp. 52-55.

109.  Works, XI, 40.

110.  Ibid., XI, 50.

111.  Ibid., V, 211

112.  Ibid., V, 189.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 160:]

113.  J. O. Bailey has demonstrated that most of those notes are the same as material in Rees’s Cyclopaedia. See “Sources for Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, ‘Hans Pfaal,’ and Other Pieces,” PMLA, XVII (June, 1942), 522-529. Much of the exact material is also found verbatim in James Ferguson, with notes, etc., by David Brewster (Edinburgh, 1811), a work to which Poe refers. Quite possibly both Poe and Rees vent direct to Ferguson for the identical material in each.

114.  In Poe works, there are just enough references to astrology to show that he was conversant with that pseudo-science, and his astrology is sound. The atmosphere of gloom in his “Shadow” is strengthened by the use of astrology; “To those, nevertheless, cunning in the stars it was not unknown that the heavens wore an aspect of ill; and to me, the Greek Oinos, among others, it was evident that now had arrived the alternation of that seven hundred and ninety-fourth year when, at the entrance of Aries, the Planet Jupiter is conjoined with the red ring of the terrible Saturnus..” — Works, II, 147-148.



[S:0 - CDL51, 1951] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of EAP (C. D. Laverty) (Chapter 05)