Text: Hervey Allen, “Preface to this Edition,” Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1934), pp. vii-viii


[page vii:]


ISRAFEL was originally issued in a two-volume edition. In that form it went through a number of printings here and abroad and a certain amount of emendation. During the process a considerable demand for a less expensive and more convenient format developed to which this one-volume edition is the publisher’s answer.

The book has not been reprinted from the old plates but completely reset, and I have taken advantage of the opportunity thus provided to make a number of minor corrections not only as to the publishing details of some of Poe’s writings but in regard to the spelling of certain names of those associated with the poet. In a few cases these spellings are still doubtful, due to the lapse of years or the difficulty of making out old handwriting. As far as possible I have agreed with Professor Woodberry in the use of proper names, for the sake of standard practice, although in one or two cases I depart from his usage where an error seems obvious. The references in the footnotes have also been brought more up to date and in a large number of notes references have been changed in order to provide the casual reader with a more available text or to direct the more scholarly to the prime source rather than to a commentator.

Since the publication of this biography not a great deal of important new material about Poe, from a biographical standpoint, has come to light. What of interest has been recently turned-up by scholars I have sometimes availed myself of, now and then, incorporating a few minor new facts into the text with necessary acknowledgment and reference. In that connection it is proper to say that I have not felt it incumbent upon me to mention in the body of the text the so-called “letter” from Dumas the elder to an Italian officer of police, which purports to tell of Dumas’s meeting with Poe and Fenimore Cooper in the year 1832 in Paris, although through the courtesy of the present owner I was permitted to examine that “letter” and the material connected with it.

In one or two cases illustrations have been changed or shifted and I have also here and there taken the opportunity of correcting and, I hope, of improving, the diction and the style of the book in general.

I have been urged by some authorities, whose opinions properly convey great weight in all matters concerning Poe, to “tone down” my assertion in the text that a secret marriage took place between Poe and Virginia Clemm in Baltimore previous to their marriage in Richmond. After careful and long considered reweighing of all the evidence I am still of the opinion that the secret marriage did take place as I state [page viii:] in the text. My reasons for not altering my opinion are, in brief: The marriage license was issued and is on record; Mrs. Clemm made a statement in a conversation that was taken down in shorthand that the marriage took place; curious circumstances strongly point to the expediency of the secret marriage. In this case, as in general throughout the book, I have taken contemporary authentic documents and the statements that eyewitnesses made about Poe as being more valid in evidence toward establishing a biographical fact than any post-mortem speculations or doubts possibly can be, no matter by whom advanced. The careful reader, however, is urged to examine the evidence for himself in this particular.

Israfel is not “fictionized biography.” Even very small circumstances and particulars about Poe, the people he knew, and his surroundings as described in the text, are for the most part literal. Where I have been forced to reconstruct from scattered evidence I have been painstaking and conservative. The reader is asked out of fairness to bear in mind that this biography does not contain all the facts about Poe, nor does any other; also that Israfel is a biography and not a textual critique or bibliography of Poe’s writings. Those who wish minute and detailed facts about Poe’s publications should consult Professor Killis Campbell’s “Poe Canon” (in his book The Mind of Poe), and other textual comments and commentators.

I should also state that the purpose of this biography precluded the possibility of any extensive asides in literary criticism. The attempt here has been to tell the story of Poe’s life in more than usual detail; to get the essential narrative of time, place, events and personalities that constitute Poe’s life-story in proper sequence and truthful relationship. I am conscious of the fact that in some places I have laid an emphasis on details which appear trivial in themselves and which even seem to put me in the position of overemphasizing the importance of Poe himself. That is not so. Nearly everything about Poe has either been a matter of bitter dispute or has become needlessly legendary. To offset that I have been under the necessity of presenting evidence even in minute detail in order to make the record clear.

In preparing this text I have frequently availed myself of the corrections and right criticisms of former editions, which the comments of many Poe specialists provided me. In particular, I wish to thank Professors Killis Campbell, Thomas Ollive Mabbott, and S. Foster Damon for their emendations, and Miss Julie Eidesheim for her invaluable assistance in reading the proof.


October 1934







[S:0 - HVA34, 1934] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (H. Allen) (Preface to this Edition)