Text: Carroll Dee Laverty, “Introduction,” Science and Pseudo-Science in the Writings of Edgar Allan Poe (1951), pp. 2-3 (This material may be protected by copyright)


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Although Edgar Allan Poe is often thought of as a man concerned only with his art, he showed a real interest in science. His writings abound in ideas and facts taken from the science his day and from that of previous generations.(1) The scientific material appears most often in his short stories, but is also evident in his reviews and other prose and to a less extent in his poems. His interest seems to have been due to the natural curiosity of an active mind, to his realization that science was a timely subject, to a romantic quality of his personality, and to a desire to display his learning.

The purpose of this study is to present in detail the scattered manifestations of Poets interest in science to suggest how he used scientific material in creating literature, and secondarily to show, where possible, the sources of his information. The various scientific data are brought together, according to a somewhat arbitrary classification perhaps, into chapters which demonstrate his knowledge of and concern with each of many of the sciences known in his lifetime. A chapter presenting his opinions about science and [page 3:] certain related topics, another discussing his interest in and use of the scientific method, and one treating of Eureka, his most ambitious work using such material, are included. Each of two pseudo-sciences is allotted a chapter both because they are, after all, offshoots of science and because each helps to illuminate Poets interest in science. An appendix deals with two stories and one poem in an attempt to suggest how a critic with an understanding of the scientific information in Poets writings may enrich the interpretation of his artistic creations.

For the purposes of this study, science is understood to include the natural sciences, psychology, and medicine. The natural sciences dealt with are astronomy, physics and chemistry, aeronautics, geology and meteorology, and biology. Although some of these branches of knowledge — for example astronomy and physics are not mutually exclusive, it has been thought best to treat them in separate chapters. Phrenology and mesmerism are the pseudo-sciences discussed.



[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 2:]

1.  Most Poe scholars have called attention to the fact that he occasionally used scientific or pseudo-scientific material in his writings. The biographers, for example, devote a few pages to the matter. Scattered articles also have appeared in the scholarly journals discussing such things as his use of phrenology, the source of an individual story, or his debt to some person. And Margaret Alterton has considered some aspects of the subject at greater length in Origins of Poe’s Critical Theory (Iowa City, 1925). But there has been no comprehensive study of science in all his works.




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