Text: Margaret Alterton, “Preface,” Origins of Poe’s Critical Theory (1925), pp. 3-4 (This material is protected by copyright)


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This paper, dealing as it does with the genesis of Poe’s critical theory, lays no claim to an appreciation of the writer’s art, nor does it attempt to suggest any degree of local or foreign commendation that time has awarded him or has withheld from him. From the nature of the problem, it has from necessity sought to discover, first, what were Poe’s readings; secondly, what were the particular parts of those readings which interested him to the exclusion of the rest of the matter he read; thirdly, what broad lines of thought grew up in his mind as a result of these congenial interests; fourthly, what original researches they prompted him to make; fifthly, what use these interests were to him in ways of subject-matter; and, finally, what working-principle applicable to the needs of a writer evolved itself from his methods of thinking.

Poe’s own literary work, — criticism, poetry, and short story, — points by its variety to the fact that he was a prodigious reader. Magazine literature, both of America and of Europe, of his own day, and of periods preceding, fell under his eye. Scientific and philosophic material, much of which appeared in these periodical issues, and also literary critical opinions both in magazines and in their authors’ volumes, were objects of his study. To mention only a few of these readings, it is plain that he shows himself a student of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, of the Edinburgh Review, of a certain part of the work of Augustus Wilhelm von Schlegel, of Coleridge, of Plato, and of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. And it was from such readings that there arose his particular congenial interests, such as law, dramatic procedure, scientific problems concerning the motions of the heavenly bodies, and philosophic ideas, principally those of Plato, of Aristotle and of the Christian philosophers. And in many striking instances, he betrays a following of these readings in his subject-matter, especially whenever philosophic reasoning and scientific experimentation appear in his text.

Moreover, as evidence that in this dependence he was possessed also with the spirit of originality, he is seen to extend his study to a point where he combines these different lines of interest into one consistent way of thinking. Thus it can be made apparent that [page 4:] the idea of unity grew and developed in his mind until he reached what to his sense was a writer’s reliable standard of criticism and a writer’s working-principle; and that he derived a technical method from the themes he had chosen. Cases of pathological interest for example, offer suggestions for method in their scientific diagnoses. Furthermore, the perfect working of physical law, he insists, should be the model for the writer of a story or a poem. I shall try to show that natural processes lay back of all Poe’s theory and practice.

Watching thus the growth of Poe’s literary principles and noting how he endeavored to use his own dicta, I have been tempted to propose for consideration some additional material for the Poe canon. In some cases, since various pieces in periodicals of his time not hitherto attributed to Poe, bear in idea so striking a resemblance to his own productions and stand the test of such external evidence as exists, I have not hesitated to attribute them to Poe. In other instances, I have only suggested the remote possibility that certain pieces came from his pen.

The thesis was undertaken and written under the direction of Professor Hardin Craig. In all the work connected with its start, progress, and completion, Professor Craig has been both inspiring and helpful. I am therefore glad to take advantage of this opportunity to give public and grateful expression of the debt that I owe him.







[S:0 - OPCT, 1925] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Origins of Poe's Critical Theory (M. Alterton) (Preface)