Text: Joseph V. Ridgely, “The Authorship of the ‘Paulding-Drayton Review’,” from PSA Newsletter, XX, no. 2, Fall 1992, pp. 1-3, 6


[page 1, column 1:]

The Authorship of the “Paulding-Drayton Review”

Joan Dayan, “Romance and Race,” in Emory Elliott, gen. ed. The Columbia History of the American Novel. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1991. xviii + 905 pp. $59.95.

Dana D. Nelson, The Word in Black and White: Reading “Race” in American Literature 1638-1867. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1792. xvi + 189 pp. $35.

Both of these wide-ranging studies contain sections on Poe, with particular attention to the ways in which his views on race and slavery may be reflected in his fiction. In the first, Joan Dayan, writing a chapter on “Romance and Race,” traces her interpretation of his racial views through several tales and the Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. In “Ethnocentrism Decentered,” a section of her study which focuses on Pym, Dana D. Nelson sees a “recent trend to sweep Poe’s politics under the rug” and considers how such a “trend toward a depoliticized and dehistoricized reading of the Poe oeuvre concomitantly’saves’ Poe for a canon increasingly skeptical of texts that support human oppression.” She adds: “I am not suggesting that acknowledging the racist dimension of Poe’s work should remove his works from the canon; but I think we must at least consider the cultural work performed now by masking that aspect of his work.”

What both Dayan and Nelson see as among the acts of “masking” is the disinclination by most scholars to accept as Poe’s the review of two books on slavery which appeared in the April 1836 Southern Literary Messenger (SLM 2:336-39), of which he was editor. Why is assigning to Poe authorship of this review so crucial to them? Clearly it is because, accepted as evidence, it can provide the critic with a more extended, more theoretical, and more emotional defense of racism and slavery than can be found in the few comments that are unquestionably his. For Dayan, who has no doubt about Poe’s authorship, this review, emphasizing [column 2:] the master-slave bond, is revelatory because it is “what could be called Poe’s most disturbing, because most authentic, ‘love poem’. . . .” As support for the attribution to Poe, both critics cite approvingly an article by Bernard Rosenthal, “Poe, Slavery, and the Southern Literary Messenger: A Reexamination,” published in the December 1974 Poe Studies (7:29-38). Before the persuasions of Dayan and Nelson lead us toward a new orthodoxy, it would be well to look again at the strength of Rosenthal’s “reexamination.”

The review in question is headed simply “Slavery”; below this caption are listed two works: James K. Paulding’s Slavery in the United States and the anonymous The South Vindicated. . ., now attributed to William Drayton. A reader of the “Paulding-Drayton Review” (Rosenthal’s title) quickly sees that this is less a book review than it is an excuse for a proslavery essay. As Rosenthal notes, it was printed as Poe’s by James A. Harrison in his Virginia edition (8:265-75); but, after the publication in 1924 of a letter from Poe to the prominent proslavery spokesman Beverley Tucker (to which I will return), it was credited to Tucker by William Doyle Hull in his 1941 dissertation on the Poe canon. Rosenthal’s apparently inclusive article is devoted to rebuffing this widely accepted attribution and to returning authorship to Poe.

Rosenthal is concerned first with demonstrating that the proslavery ideas expressed by Poe in other notices are [page 2:] compatible with those in “Paulding-Drayton.” He cites four, all in the SLM: those of  1) Joseph H. Ingraham’s The South-West (2:122-23);  2) Anne Grant’s Memoirs (2:511-12);  3) R. M. Bird’s Sheppard Lee (2:662-67);  4) Thomas R. Dew’s Address (2:721-22). (He also instances a later unpublished review by Poe of John L. Carey’s Domestic Slavery; the text does not survive.) Now, there should be no doubt that Poe shared in the racism and proslavery sentiment of his time and place; he also expressed contempt for abolitionists. But Rosenthal’s extrapolations — his quotations from the texts reviewed — have the effect of obscuring the actual extent of Poe’s remarks. In  1) there is most of one paragraph; in  2) one sentence, introducing a quotation; in  3) one paragraph, referring to abolitionist activities; in  4) praise for Dew, a leading proslavery spokesman and president of William and Mary; the review deals with the College’s curriculum, and there is no reference to slavery except in a quoted excerpt from Dew’s address. In short, all of Poe’s printed comments on slavery would fill no more than a longish paragraph. But the issue here is not the fact of Poe’s racist attitudes. And it is not whether Poe could have written “Paulding-Drayton,” unique though such a long piece promoting the “positive good” theory of slavery would be in his canon. It is, simply, what proof is there that he did?

There is only one piece of documentary evidence, and it is one which Rosenthal must convincingly challenge if the rest of his brief for Poe is to have any weight. This is a letter from Poe to Tucker, dated May 2, 1836 (full text in [column 2:] John Ward Ostrom, ed., Letters, New York, 1966, 1:90-91). Two paragraphs are relevant. In the first, Poe, speaking for the owner of the SLM, Thomas W. White, writes: “At Mr. White’s request I write to apologise for the omission of your verses ‘To a Coquette’ in the present [i.e., April] number of the Messenger. Upon making up the form containing them it was found impossible to get both the pieces in, and their connection one with the other rendered it desirable not to separate them — they were therefore left for the May number.” In the second paragraph, Poe refers to his own editorial duties: “I must also myself beg your pardon for making a few immaterial alterations in your article on Slavery, with a view of so condensing it as to get it in the space remaining at the end of the number. One very excellent passage in relation to the experience of a sick bed has been, necessarily, omitted altogether.” As Rosenthal notes, both Hull and Tucker’s biographer, Percy W. Turrentine, assigned “Paulding-Drayton” to Tucker on the basis of this comment, but both had problems. Turrentine observed that it does not come at the end of the number (it is followed by another review and a long supplement of notices of the SLM). Both also felt that Poe’s remarks about “a sick bed” were inconsistent with what is printed in the text; he must, therefore, have changed his mind about omission of the passage just before publication. Rosenthal seizes upon this last point. He argues that by the date of the letter the April SLM had already been issued, since it was reviewed in the New Yorker for May 7; for Hull’s and Turrentine’s suggestions of last-minute changes to be valid, a harried Poe, after quickly resetting forms to alter the text, would have needed incredible luck with mail-carrying [page 3:] boats for the SLM to have arrived in New York in time for this review. We should be aware of what Rosenthal has done here; with a kind of patter about timetables he has diverted our attention from Poe’s own words and has refocused it on Hull’s and Turrentine’s mistaken interpretations of them. He then caps his verbal legerdemain with an unwarranted conclusion: he triumphantly announces that, with “the basic explanation of the inconsistencies found by Hull and Turrentine rendered implausible, if not impossible, there is scarcely anything left to suggest that Tucker wrote the Paulding-Drayton review.”

What is actually left, however, is the plain sense of Poe’s letter. Of course, it was written after the April SLM had appeared; Poe is telling Tucker not what he plans to do but what, as makeup editor, he has already done: he has made “a few immaterial alterations in your article on Slavery,” including omitting a “passage in relation to the experience of a sick bed,” “with a view of so condensing it as to get it in the space remaining at the end of the number” (italics added). In the printed text there are, as Hull and Turrentine noted, two anecdotes about “sick beds.” But there are also four other unelaborated allusions to sick beds; Poe’s cut could have been made in material “in relation to” any of these “experiences.”

A fuller understanding of Poe’s explanation to Tucker requires some knowledge about the physical makeup of the March and April issues of the SLM. An “Advertisement” on the cover of the March number informed readers that its publication had been delayed because of the Proprietor’s (i.e., White’s) desire to get in a long address by Thomas R. Dew (2: 261-82), which is on the “Federative Republican System of Government.” (It is not, as Rosenthal misleadingly calls it, “an essay on slavery.”) The notice continues: “To counterbalance this delay, 16 pages of extra matter are given. The April Number . . . will contain, therefore, 16 pages less than usual.” (italics in original; full text given in Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson, The Poe Log, Boston, 1987, p. 196). This is accurate: the March issue consisted of ten eight-page (quarto) signatures; the April issue had only six, the last being a self-contained (and self-puffing) “Supplement” of critical notices of the SLM. (The point is that the supplement has no textual connection to the preceding signature and was probably set before it.) Space was thus tight in April, but Poe managed nevertheless to get in his own “A Tale of Jerusalem” (a reprint), “Maelzel’s Chess-Player,” and the long “Drake-Halleck” review. The latter led off the final section of “Critical Notices”; the space now “remaining at the end of the number” (i.e., in the last eight-page signature which he had to fill) was slightly more than four pages. What Poe placed in the form were the “Paulding-Drayton review” (captioned with the single word “Slavery”) and another headed “Brunnens of Nassau.” Rosenthal points to a puzzle here: why would Poe have [column 2:] made cuts in a review by Tucker when Tucker could see that the final notice is largely quotation and therefore a better candidate for shortening if space was limited? The question is unanswerable: we can guess but we cannot know why Poe resolved his space problems as he did. But is our lack of explanation grounds for canceling out his unambiguous statement to Tucker?

Rosenthal, of course, wants to argue that it does, but his tactic is so weak that even he admits its inadequacy. He speculates that what Poe is talking about may be an earlier SLM article by Tucker refuting Blackstone’s views on slavery. Perhaps Tucker wanted Poe to have copies of this article reprinted as a pamphlet. Or perhaps it’s some other essay. But Rosenthal’s own comment leaves us little to debate: “My own speculation has the serious weakness of postulating that an offprint would be called a ‘number,’ and I am not ready to defend a guess as a fact. Nor have I been able to locate an actual offprint.”

In the rest of his long essay, Rosenthal dodges further mention of Poe’s letter and goes on to present what he takes to be other evidence for Poe’s authorship. He also makes a brief (and unproductive) attempt to show specific parallels between “Paulding-Drayton” and passages in Poe’s works. He does not tell us whether he made the same sort of comparison for Tucker beyond the weak claim that Tucker’s prose shows a heavy reliance on colons and semicolons and the review does not. I have space here only to suggest what a more enterprising (and necessary) demonstration for Tucker would show. Confining myself to what Tucker had published thus far in the SLM, I would instance first his “Note to Blackstone’s Commentaries . . . on the Subject of Domestic Slavery . . .” (1:227-31; identified as Tucker’s in the volume index). This article and “Paulding-Drayton” share these specific points (first page reference to “Blackstone,” second to “Paulding-Drayton”): 1) masters’ care of sick slaves (1:230; 2:338-39); 2) reference to slaves as “property” (1:231; 2:337); 3) citation of Edmund Burke on emancipation (direct in 1:231; inferentially in 2:337, in a discussion of the French Revolution); 4) attacks on “philanthropy” (i.e., the movement for ending slavery on humanitarian grounds) (1:231; 2:338-39); 5) allusion to recent events in the West Indies (i.e., slave revolts) (1:231; 2:337). Not one of these references can be found anywhere in Poe’s known comments on slavery. I would add one more point a small and curious item, but one which offers a link between Tucker and “Paulding-Drayton.” This is the background: In December 1834, before Poe had any connection with the journal, the SLM published the text of a “Law Lecture” given by Tucker (1:145-54). This was directly followed by a short anonymous piece entitled “The March of Mind,” a conservative’s discussion of human progress (1: 154-56). Tucker makes a direct allusion to it in his SLM review of George Bancroft’s History of the United States (1:587-91, [page 6:] attributed to Tucker by Poe in 2:283). A second allusion occurs at the very beginning of “Paulding-Drayton” (2:396).

Here is the sequence of relevant quotations: 1) “The March of Mind”: “nearly approaching the idolatrous reverence of a Hindoo, for the fabled virtues of his bloody Juggernaut” (1:154). 2) Tucker’s Bancroft review: “How long it shall be before ‘the march of mind,’ as it is called, in its Juggernaut car, shall pass over us. . .” (1:587-88; italics in original). 3) “Paulding-Drayton”: “Nulla vestigia retrorsum,” is a saying fearfully applicable to what is called the ‘march of mind’ “ (2: 336). The Latin phrase, derived from Horace, Epistles, I, means “no stepping back again”; it [column 2:] introduces a turgid disquisition on the vagaries of human progress chat echoes the “March of Mind” piece. Tucker’s concern with “The March of Mind” is obvious. That Poe on his own would have decided to refer directly to the same obscure article seems to me beyond probability.

Other strong arguments against Poe’s authorship of the review could be adduced in regard to its rhetoric and vocabulary. But I have offered enough information to show that Rosenthal’s thesis is, at best, deeply flawed. Future critics should ponder this contradictory evidence before proclaiming his article an “excellent argument” (Dayan) or “impressively thorough” (Nelson).

J. V. Ridgely

Columbia University, Emeritus



This article is reprinted by permission of the author, J. V. Ridgely. It includes several minor typographical corrections from the original printing.


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