Text: Killis Campbell, “Bibliographical Note,” from the facsimile edition of Poems New York: The Facsimile Text Society, 1933, pp. v-xii


[page v:]


The most precious of all the early editions of Poe’s poems was the present small volume, published under the simple title Poems at New York in the spring of 1831. Two other volumes had preceded it, the very rare first edition, Tamerlane and Other Poems, published anonymously at Boston in 1827, and the volume entitled Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, published at Baltimore in 1829; but it was in this little book that Poe first made it convincingly clear to the world that a new poet had been born in America.

The volume is a small duodecimo, 6 3/4 by 3/4 inches, and is bound in green cloth. It comprises 124 pages, of which, however, more than twenty pages are blank. The publisher, as appears from the title-page, was Elam Bliss, and an entry on page 4 reveals the fact that the book was printed by Henry Mason, at 64 Nassau [page vi:] St., New York. It was dedicated to the “U. S. Corps of Cadets,” of which Poe had been a member during the second half of 1830 and the opening months of 1831. The volume is referred to on the title-page as a second edition, the poet ignoring the publication of his volume of 1827, in which he had not made known his identity, but had merely referred to himself as “a Bostonian.” The price appears to have been seventy-five cents; this tallies, at least, with the testimony of one of his fellow cadets, General A. B. Magruder (in a letter to Professor George E. Woodberry, The Life of Poe, I, p. 78), though it runs counter to the testimony of another cadet, T. W. Gibson (Harper’s Monthly Magazine, XXXV, p. 755), who asserts, quite inconsistently with what we know about book prices in Poe’s time, that the price was two dollars and fifty cents.

Just when the book came off the press is not definitely known; but circumstantial evidence makes it probable that it appeared at some time during the month of April, 1831. Poe left West Point for New York [page vii:] City on February 19, 1831 (see the Edgar Allan Poe Letters . . . in the Valentine Museum, ed. Mrs. Mary Newton Stanard, p. 268), a fortnight before his formal dismissal from the Academy on March 6; he was still in New York City on March 10 (see Woodberry, I, p. 79), and he probably remained there for a month or six weeks, reading the proofs of his volume in the meantime; he then went on to Baltimore, which he reached at some time before May 6 (see a letter of that date to William Gwynn, Woodberry, I, p. 88). The volume was out before May 7, 1831, as is indicated by the appearance of a review of it in the New York Mirror of that date.

Elam Bliss, Poe’s publisher, was not among the leading American publishers of the day; but he had brought out in 1825 volumes of poetry by both J. G. C. Brainard and James A. Hillhouse; in the same year he had been associated with E. White in the publication of the New York Review and Atheneum Magazine, with which Bryant was editorially connected; [page viii:] he published the well-known gift book The Talisman for the years 1828, 1829, and 1830, and also so much as appeared of The American Landscape, another annual, for-1830; and he published in 1832 (copyright, 1831) Bryant’s second collected edition of his poems.

The “Letter to Mr. — —” (later entitled “Letter to B—”), with which Poe prefaces his volume, was apparently addressed to Bliss, though it has been held (see General George W. Cullum in Harper’s Monthly, XLV, p. 561) that Poe had reference to Lord Bulwer. This essay enjoys the distinction of being the earliest piece of prose from Poe’s hand, so far as now known, to make its way into print. It is rambling and immature, but it is of peculiar interest as setting forth for the first time certain of Poe’s best-known critical doctrines, among them that of the “heresy of the didactic” and the idea of “indefinitiveness” as a characteristic virtue of the lyric. From quotations and other passages in the essay it is plain that Poe had been reading Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. [page ix:]

The volume contains a total of eleven poems, one of which, “Tamerlane,” had first appeared in the edition of 1827; four, “Introduction” (later entitled “Romance”), “Fairyland,” “Sonnet. To Science,” and “Al Aaraaf,” are from the volume of 1829; and six, “To Helen,” “Israfel,” “The Doomed City” (later known as “The City in the Sea”), “Irene” (later known as “The Sleeper”), “A Paean” (later known as “Lenore”), and “The Valley Nis” (later known as “The Valley of Unrest”), were now first published. In addition it is worth noting that the text of “Tamerlane” as it appears here includes also imperfect drafts of “The Lake — To ——” and “A Dream within a Dream,” both from the volume of 1827. All of the poems carried over from the earlier editions have undergone revision of some sort, the chief alterations being the addition of upwards of forty lines each to the texts of “Tamerlane,” “Romance,” and “Fairyland,” and the omission of some twenty-five lines in “Tamerlane.”

How large an edition of this volume was [page x:] originally published we can only conjecture, but it was probably less than a thousand copies, and possibly not more than five hundred. Most of the cadets at West Point, who numbered in 1831 only 219, are said to have subscribed for it (see T. W. Gibson in Harper’s Monthly, XXXV, p. 755). Copies of the, volume are preserved in the Harvard College Library, the Brown University Library, the Poe Shrine at Richmond, and the Wrenn Library of the University of Texas; and half a dozen or more copies are in private hands (see Heartman and Rede, A Bibliographical Check-List of the First Editions of Edgar Allan Poe, p. 14). In each of the copies preserved in public libraries two typographical errors appear: the spelling “Al Araaf” (for “Al Aaraaf”) on page 83 and the misprinting of the page number for page 105 so as to read “150.”

Despite its extraordinary significance, the volume seems to have attracted very little attention at the time of publication. I have come across only two contemporary notices, the brief but well-considered review [page xi:] (already referred to as affording a clue to the date of publication) which appeared in the New York Mirror for May 7, 1831 (VIII, pp. 349-350), and a short and perfunctory notice (in which “To Helen,” “Irene,” and the “Sonnet. To Science” are quoted) published about May 15 in the Philadelphia Casket (V, pp. 239-240), both of them published anonymously. The reviewer in the Mirror (possibly George P. Morris himself) remarks in the course of his observations that “everything in the language [of the volume] betokens poetic inspiration” and that as poetry it has a “plausible air of imagination,” though it exhibits “a general indefiniteness of the ideas,” “numerous obscurities,” and “sometimes a conflict of beauty and nonsense.” In reality, three of the poems first published in the volume — “To Helen,” “Israfel,” and “The City in the Sea” — are as richly poetic as anything Poe ever wrote. Of the lines “To Helen” Lowell declared in his famous notice in Graham’s Magazine for February, 1845 (XXVII, p. 51): “There is a smack of [page xii:] ambrosia about it. . . . All is limpid and serene, with a pleasant dash of the Greek Helicon in it.” Stedman in his Poets of America (p. 248) writes even more enthusiastically: “If I had any claim to make up a ‘Parnassus,’ not perhaps of the most famous English lyrics, but of those which appeal strongly to my poetic sense, and could select but one of Poe’s, I confess that I should choose ‘Israfel,’ for pure music, for exaltation, and for its original, satisfying quality of rhythmic art.” And “The City in the Sea” is scarcely inferior to either of those, approaching as it does the magic of Coleridge at his best in its diction and its melody.

The present facsimile is based on a copy preserved in the Harvard College Library, and is here reproduced by the courtesy of the officials of that Library.

K. C.






This text is reproduced with special permission from the estate of Killis Campbell.

In the original printing, the pages of Dr. Campbell’s introductory note have not be numbered. Since other editions in the series were given Roman numerals, as is common for front matter, that practice has been imposed on the current presentation.

Althought this note has been separated from the facsimile, the full text of the Poe’s original book is reproduced in e-text as Poems. In their 1974 Edgar Allan Poe: A Bibliography of Criticism (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia), the compilers, J. Lasley Dameron and Irby B. Cauthen, Jr., choose to assign this material as pp. 1-8.

The Facsimile Text Society was founded in 1929, by Frank Allen Patterson, an English professor at Columbia University. An early notice of the society states:

“The Facsimile-Text Society has recently been organized and has begun operations. The aim of the Society is to reproduce rare printed books, pamphlets, and manuscripts, that are of interest to scholars. The method of reproducing will be the offset process, which is based upon photographs of the original documents. Thus the Society is able to guarantee in their reproductions a text that will conform in every essential to the original documents.” Philosophical Review (July 1930), 39:439.

Additional information about the Facsimile Text Society appeared in Time for July 21, 1930 (a section on education). The society produced four important books of poetry by Poe, as well as L. A. Wilmer’s Merlin, which was based on Poe’s ill-fated romance with Elmira Royster. (At least one book published by the Society may have been printed in 1927, possibly before the idea of a formal society was attempted.) The Society appears to have ceased publication with the death of Patterson in 1944.

Although Dr. Campbell pronounces the 1831 volume of Poe’s Poems as “The most precious of all the early editions of Poe’s poems,” copies of there earlier Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827) have sold for as much as $662,000 (in 2009), considerably more than copies of the 1831 Poems. All three of Poe’s earliest volumes of poetry are extremely scarce and desirable, each survivng only in about a dozen examples.



[S:0 - BNPOEMS, 1933] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Bibliographical Note [to Poems] (K. Campbell, 1933)