Text: Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV, “More Pieces in the Puzzle of Poe's The Assignation,” ­Myths and Reality­, Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1987, pp. 59-88


­ [page 59:]


Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV


Poe’s literary backgrounds allow for engagements with myths and reality. Below I turn to a subject that I have elsewhere addressed, namely, certain models for “The Assignation.” This tale has only lately come into own as “major” instead of “minor” Poe — after a long season of its being generally regarded as less than first-rate magazine fiction in the lurid Gothic stripe or maybe a mere parodic recasting of the Lord Byron-Theresa Guiccoli affair, as depicted in Thomas Moore’s famous (to some, notorious) biography of the great Romantic poet, composed chiefly for comic purposes in Tales the Folio Club. Because that projected book came to grief, Poe had to circulate tales slated for inclusion within its framework among annuals and magazines. Such publication divorced the individual tales from the literary-club unity and humor originally intended. Consequently, confusion has dogged the pathways of many of Poe’s earlier tales from his time into the present.(1) Rather than dismiss “The Assignation” as insignificant, we might well remember, A) that this was Poe’s first tale to come out in a nationally prominent magazine and, B) that it was his first tale to center on the death of a beautiful woman — the circumstance, as he would consistently reiterate in critical pronouncements, foremost among poetic themes. Implications about ­[page 60:] the nature of art and its role in life emerge from beneath apparent frothiness as signal concerns in this tale. In whatever context “The Assignation” has been analyzed, it has seldom been far removed from matters relating to its sources. Therefore my commentary may via traditional means bring into sharper focus some of Poe’s aims and methods. Although Poe’s foremost inspiration for “The Assignation” is Moore’s Byron, as has continually been noticed but by no means exhausted, other sources are apparent. I detect probable models in two tales — one from Fraser’s, the second from the New Monthly probably by way of Godey’s — and in Romeo and Juliet.(2)


The tales I propose as sources for “The Assignation” are “Some Passages in the Life of an Idler” and “The Veiled Picture.” The former, by “Henry Mildmay,” began in Fraser’s for December 1830, continued in April 1831, and concluded in September of that year. “The Veiled Picture,” by Robert F. Williams, came out in the New Monthly for April 1833 and was reprinted, without acknowledgment, in Godey’s for July. Poe could have encountered the tale in either magazine. Although a version of “The Assignation” (or “The Visionary,” as it was originally entitled) had been prepared earlier, a revision sometime fairly late in 1833 is plausible. Poe s manuscript versions of “Epimanes” and “Silence — A Fable” differ from the published tales, and he altered “The Masque of the Red Death” and the last installment of “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” shortly before publication (3). Poe’s great acquaintance with and his numerous literary borrowings from his periodical milieu are commonplace to specialists, but J. Lasley Dameron’s Popular Literature: Poe’s Not-so-soon Forgotten Lore (1980) most recently evinces the vitality of these topics, as does The Poe Log. Writing to T. W. ­[page 61:] White, Editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, 30 April 1835, Poe justified his own type of horrific tale by citing similar, and popular, pieces in the New Monthly and Blackwood’s. Debts of his to Fraser’s, Godey’s, and like magazines also stand on record.(4)

Poe might have fixed more than cursorily on Fraser’s during the span mentioned above because of a curiosity about Moore’s and Galt’s biographies of Byron, which were subjected to a gamut of controversial criticism at that same time, most notably in issues for March and October 1830 and March 1831. Furthermore, the epigraph to “Some Passages,” from Byron’s Manfred, emphasizes that the hero’s visions have achieved no fruition because of his untamed nature. A like interest in the New Monthly may have been fostered by recurring commentary on the Moore-Byron topic, J. C. Hobhouse’s review of Galt, and other writings that might have prompted Poe’s use of artwork, Romeo and Juliet, and, perhaps, even the overall scheme for the Folio Club.(5) A series, “After-Dinner Chat,” that made much of eating and drinking well and that included much pretentious use of foreign phrases and references to current events — by such characters as “Brief-wit” — ­[page 62:] began in January 1831.(6) Poe’s club also included members with satiric names, who relished pleasures of the table.


Internal evidence forges strong bonds between the British stories and “The Assignation.” “Some Passages” is narrated by “Henry Mildmay” (also the author, and doubtless a pseudonym since references like The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals give no certain identification), an Irishman (like Tom Moore?) returned home after a lengthy absence. He meets Sir Reginald St. Senane (the protagonist), whose Byronic qualities are unmistakeable. Handsome, rich, proud, reclusive, Sir Reginald simultaneously attracts and repels men. Women, though, admire his “name and fame,” as well as his “romantic bravery,” which is often displayed “to justify, or to secure their favors” (587). One of the smitten is young Geraldine Fitzgerald, “a pretty, gentle, delicate girl.” Mystery, notably as regards amours, surrounds Sir Reginald; like Poe’s protanonist, he “led at once a splendid and solitary life.” Moore’s Byron recounts how its subject was bedeviled by curious English travellers and how his attempts to prevent infringements on his privacy led to his pointed shockings of English proprieties (2: 182-183). Like Poe’s hero too, Sir Reginald, even though he maintained life on a “scale of positive magnificence,” languished from “preying upon his own heart,” in which “the spirit of ambition was extinct” (591). Mildmay “became to him before long . . . a true friend,” much as Tom Moore and Lord Byron drew close. After the manner of that situation too, Sir Reginald turned over his memoirs to ­[page 63:] Mildmay, with discretion to publish when and how he pleased. Now, after Sir Reginald’s death (“sudden and violent, and accompanied with circumstances of much sorrow” — like the deaths in “The Assignation”), Mildmay will bring out the work. Chapter II opens with Mildmay’s gazing at Inchicronan House, Sir Reginald’s home, hard by “a very world of waters” (as is the protagonist’s home at Venice in “The Assignation”). This scene is one in which “the bounds of the past and present seem obliterated” (305), just as Poe’s settings symbolize regions “out of SPACE — Out of TIME,” to quote his poem “Dream-Land.” That thought was anticipated by “Byron” in “The Assignation,’’ who exhorts his companion: “ ‘Proprieties of place, especially of time, are the bugbears that terrify mankind from the contemplation of the magnificent’ ” (Mabbott 2: 165-166). The companions ate and drank sumptuously (and Mildmay remarks, not insignificantly when we recall Poe’s comic delineation of Tom Moore within “The Assignation,” how Moore wrote an ode “which professes to be erotic, but which ought to have been gastronomic”). The wine in particular was accompanied with “seasoned” conversation — rather too close to the kind of dialogue created by Poe to go unnoticed. Sir Reginald’s library, however, is the site most important. Its spiral staircase and its treasures approximate what Poe describes in the regal apartment and art collection of his protagonist. Summoned to a level above the library, Mildmay rushes thither, to behold three portraits of a “lovely woman.” These bear striking likenesses to the portrait of Poe’s Marchesa Aphrodite, of which more later.(7) Otherwise this apartment and scenes in the pictures are filled with ornaments similar in kind, but not in degree, to what appear among the art treasures in “The Assignation.”

Sir Reginald now tells Mildmay that while he was gazing on the portraits of Lady Maria (his second, but most cherished, beloved woman), an omen of his death, in this case a Templar’s cross, appeared on her forehead. While sailing, Sir Reginald tells Mildmay the legend of the fatal cross, which involves his ancestor’s false vows during the crusades into the East. Then Mildmay visits the consumptive Geraldine. News arrives that her brother, Gerald Fitzgerald, has drowned with Sir Reginald and a priest. Mildmay joins the search, dives and observes the disfigured corpses, brings up Sir Reginald’s body, and then grows ill. Finally — enabled by Sir Reginald’s generous bequest — he relocates to Italy.

Chapter III gives us extracts (“some passages”) from Sir Reginald’s memoir. His propensities for dreaming are emphasized. Now we learn that early in life he had loved Fanny Fitzgerald, Geraldine’s older sister, and that this ill-starred but undeclared passion of his, and the lady’s as well, caused her to marry another and consequently led to Fanny’s death from shock when Sir Reginald duelled with and shot her boorish husband, Colonel Keightly, after ­[page 64:] promising Fanny that he would leave Keightly unharmed. Irrational, Sir Reginald hopes to persuade Fanny to elope to a far distant land. During their interview in her garden, the corpse of Keightly is borne in, and Fanny dies from heartbreak in Sir Reginald’s arms. He and his friend Frank Joyse then voyage onto the Atlantic so that Sir Reginald can regain peace of mind — which of course he never does.

The summary provides several resemblances between “Some Passages in the Life of an Idler” and “The Assignation,” but others witness Poe’s probable borrowings. Mildmay, like the “Tom-Moore” narrator in “The Assignation,” is story-teller, European traveller, and apparent roué. Both are also moved to awe by the physical appearances of their respective mysterious friends (described in terms of statuary, though Poe transforms his seeming hackneyed limping into symbolic art). Likewise both narrators are impressed by their friends’ opulent lifestyles, which center in connoisseur regard for the arts — books and painting for Sir Reginald, art treasures from painting and sculpture for Poe’s “Byron.”

The storytellers are invited to inspect startlingly lifelike paintings of each protagonist’s particular inamorata (as is he who narrates “The Veiled Picture”); these onlookers are, alas, hampered by their own imperfect imaginations from comprehending whatever undercurrents the portraits suggest. The responses within these narrators is, at the surface, sensual. They convey a notion that the woman painted is a luscious fleshly being. That view in “Some Passages” is but natural, coming as it does from one whose associations are primarily masculine, be they sailing, drinking, or reuning with schoolfellows. In line with this presentation, the narrator in “The Assignation” highlights the Marchesa’s bodily charms. His rhetoric, that of a dirty old man, in relating the words that the Marchesa whispers to the stranger initially implies that a physical “assignation” is their chief desire. Since this storyteller, like Mildmay, also indulges his liking for wine and admires such manly prowess as the stranger displays in diving for the baby, he remains altogether within realms of the physical senses, although Poe manipulates him subtly in order to elicit registerings of implications about love and art coursing under the lurid surfaces in his tale. Many commentators on the actual Tom Moore’s Byron noted disparities in their manifestations of masculinity that separated Moore from Byron, to the latter’s advantage.

For all of their enthusiastic responses to the manliness as they perceive it in their friends, both narrators are themselves similarly unable to cope with life’s shocks. Mildmay “fell to the ground as if struck by lightning” on learning of Sir Reginald’s unexpected death (even if omens had portended its arrival). After recovering from one serious illness in consequence of that surprise, and in reaction to old Fitzgerald’s abominable stance in regard to the deaths of his children (Fanny, Gerald, Geraldine) and Sir Reginald, Mildmay first swallowed quantities of wine that “unstrung [his] nerves with terrific energy.” (Like circumstances afflict Poe’s narrator.) Consequently Mildmay fainted, grew violently ill, removed to Italy, and foresaw no brightening future for himself. As if to give point to Mildmay’s gloom, Chapter III of his tale ­[page 65:] consists entirely of Sir Reginald’s diary account (the memoir he had given to Mildmay) of his life through the time of Fanny Fitzgerald’s death.

Although Mildmay’s stance is common enough in Gothic fiction, Poe’s narrator moves beyond this cliché. He verges upon physical illness and sustains severe emotional shock, but these debilitations, paradoxically, in no way diminish his narrative function. If he fails to understand the events he chronicles, through Poe’s art he nevertheless brings to us means to allow more ample, less thoroughly sensual responses for probing creative energies in love and analogously in the arts. Sexual rampantness, which inheres in the notion of what sort of “assignation” the Marchesa and her lover may enjoy, is unsatisfactory in the end. Mutuality and emotional depth engendered by love are Poe’s integral themes in “The Assignation.” The marble-statues and what they represent, therefore, remain behind when their correspondent (and, for the duration of their earthly lives, imperfect) human lovers transcend “bugbears” of time and space (and society’s dictates within them) to planes of ideal beauty and love. To make that transition, the stranger and the Marchesa Aphrodite must take appropriate, if violent, steps to effect migration into what is hopefully a better existence.

Poe’s hero and Sir Reginald seem, like several of Lord Byron’s own characters, fated for unhappy lives and premature deaths. In “Some Passages” Sir Reginald’s generous uncle considered himself “in all probability booked for an early journey to the shades” (590). In this respect his nephew again proves his uncle’s heir. Sir Reginald, for whom “existence [was] a sore burthen,” dies, not from suicide, as do Arthur in “The Veiled Picture” (and from poison, no less) and Poe’s hero, but from drowning accidentally. Sir Reginald

was in the prime of life . . . His head was nobly set upon his shoulders — his forehead fair — oh, delicately fair, and exquisitely moulded, terminating in eye-brows dark, full, smooth, and far asunder, from beneath which there extended a nose perfectly Phidian. In youth his face must have been femininely beautiful; the features were so perfect in themselves, so harmoniously drawn in concert. (585)

Pride, however, has made him “statue-like” and “very cold.” Sir Reginald’s countenance is nonetheless compelling, and Mildmay “could scarcely turn [his] eyes away from him.”

Poe’s heroic figure greatly resembles the Apollo Belvidere, as did Lord Byron himself. The analogy with Apollo is yet another ascription of symbolic value to artwork in “The Assignation.” Apollo’s associations with the sun and with music, as well as his ardent pursuit of females, make him a fit emblem (as is the Antinous) for the man discussing the Belvidere Apollo, as that man supposedly existed in earthly life — an adventurer and poet of enviable sexuality. But Poe’s fictional “Byron”-Apollo journeys beyond overt sex and ­[page 66:] the marble (cold, fixed) statuary teamed with it; both represent imperfect creative potential.(8)

Intruding two more possible sources for Poe’s tale may be in order here, because they come to bear primarily on matters sculptural. First, Sir Reginald’s “Phidian”-ness may have attracted Poe’s attention in conjunction with a magazine article that names Phidias as the supposed sculptor of the Medicean Venus. The “Editor’s Easy Table,” in the American Monthly Magazine for April 1831 — just a month after the review of Moore’s Byron, to which Poe elsewise alludes in “The Assignation” — comments on this theory, along with lauding the Venus of the Medici as superior to that of Canova. Poe’s hero’s preference for Canova’s figure, therefore, may not only have alluded to Moore’s Byron, but simultaneously quizzed N. P. Willis, Editor for the American Monthly. The second plausible inspiration may have come from Hazlitt’s lengthy review of Schlegel’s Lectures on Dramatic Art, with which Poe was acquainted. Hazlitt’s essay, originally in the Edinburgh Review for February 1816, is cited by Margaret Alterton as a possible source for Poe’s theory of unity of effect. Relevant to the present discussion are its allusions to relationships between Shakespeare’s characters and statues, specific remarks about the Niobe and the Apollo legend, linking poetry to sculpture, the superiority of the mind that can range discriminatingly over varied periods of culture, minglings of drunkenness and humor, and particular components of Romeo and Juliet (9). Such articles as these may have spurred Poe’s interest in stories of art and artists, which led toward his own attempt in this vein.

Further kinships between Sir Reginald and Poe’s hero, as they crop up in phraseology too similar to pass by, make the former a likely literary model for the latter. Sir Reginald informs Mildmay that

Genius is a fatal gift, separating the possessor from his fellows and their sympathies, and rendering him . . . the beacon light that guides, and warns, and illuminates . . . but is itself wasting away in its own brilliancy; and this, I think, is peculiarly the case with literary genius, and I therefore look upon the author as indubitably the most miserable of the higher orders of mankind . . . (307) ­[page 67:]

Poe’s protagonist, also an author and an imaginative, cultured being is introduced thus:

Ill-fated and mysterious man! — bewildered in the brilliancy of thine own imagination and fallen in the flames of thine own youth . . . There are surely other worlds than this — other thoughts than the thoughts of the multitude . . . Who then shall call thy conduct into question? who blame thee for thy visionary hours, or denounce those occupations as a wasting away of life, which were but the overflowings of thine everlasting energies? (Mabbott 2: 150-151)

Sir Reginald and Poe’s “Byron” are alike in that pride removes them from the mass of humankind. Both, of course, share common traits typifying the doomed overreacher, inherited from Bulwer, Byron, and their heritage from Gothicism. These heroes are fated because of thwarted or misused potential in situations that bring together artistic and romantic involvements. Sir Reginald and, echoing him, Mildmay find deplorable “passion” in females. Thus we are led to wonder about the nature of Sir Reginald’s relationship with Maria. In line with those ambiguities, Poe’s narrator remains bound to erotic, near pornographic fantasies, although Poe manages to achieve for his fated lovers more abstract and idealistic responses from readers. The space-time shifts already mentioned give a dimension to Poe’s tale only crudely handled in “Some Passages.”

Both heroes are introduced in panoramic views, and the narrators then narrow their focus such that specific dialogue between the protagonist and a beloved woman creates a significant scene. In “Some Passages” Sir Reginald is beheld talking to Geraldine “in a low but very animated tone; while she seemed to be listening with her whole soul” (586). In “The Assignation,” likewise, the stranger and the Marchesa draw close; she, however, proves to be the sole speaker, although the passage echoes Mildmay’s. As Geraldine’s utter devotion shows in her eyes, with lids that move in “a nervous motion” to betray a pleasure so great that it was almost pain,” the Marchesa’s seems a repeat: “Yes! tears are gathering in those eyes — and see! the entire woman thrills throughout the soul, and the statue has started into life!” This “statue” speaks as well, in a “singularly low tone . . . uttered hurriedly,” and its words express an enslavement of the soul: “ ‘Thou hast conquered . . . thou hast conquered — one hour after sunrise — we shall meet — so let it be!’ ” (Mabbott 2: 154-155). Poe lifts Mildmay’s common magazine-fiction vignette to a level of ­[page 68:] more densely textured fiction: the beloved statue theme from folklore via Gothic tradition provides the advancement.(10)

The deaths of the protagonists also suggest possibilities for Poe’s having read “Some Passages.” Sir Reginald’s friend, finding him drowned,

approached nearer, and observed his swollen and blackened features . . . his eye dull and glazed, and motionless . . . my heart sickened, my reason failed . . . and I struggled . . . with the most impetuous speed . . . , the gurgling of the waters sounding like thunder in my ears, and every rock and weed assuming in my view some huge and hideous form. (317)

Such a scene seems repeated as we conclude Poe’s tale. Hearing of the poison-suicide of the Marchesa, the narrator reacts, for him, typically:

Bewildered, I flew to the ottoman, and endeavored to arouse the sleeper to a sense of the startling intelligence. But his limbs were rigid — his lips were livid — his lately beaming eyes were riveted in death. I staggered back towards the table — my hand fell upon a cracked and blackened goblet — and a consciousness of the entire and terrible truth flashed suddenly over my soul. (Mabbott 2: 166)

We find no great wrenching in the transfers of blackness from corpse to goblet or in turning thunder into a flash like lightning. The overall horrors in the passages remain the same.(11) Such attention to the corpse’s eyes in each tale may suggest another of Poe’s dependencies. Both protagonists are “visionaries” (a term not wholly of approbation in Poe’s day) in their pursuits to shake mundaneness from their lives. Sir Reginald tells us:

For thirty years my life has passed away like a dream . . . like a troubled dream, of whose real existence there is no trace save in shaken nerves and a chilled heart . . . . But was it not actually a dream? — a dream in which strange scenes have been careering before my eyes . . . .? (143) ­[page 69:]

Although nightmare dreams seem to be as much the portion of Poe’s narrator as his hero, and although the latter’s visions partake of heat instead of cold, his summation of his life is strikingly similar to Sir Reginald’s:

To dream . . . to dream has been the business of my life. I have therefore framed for myself, as you see, a bower of dreams . . . Like these arabesque censers, my spirit is writhing in fire, and the delirium of this scene is fashioning me for the wilder visions of that land of real dreams whither I am now rapidly departing. (Mabbott 2: 165-166)

Lines, presumably penned in anticipation of his death by Poe’s hero, in “‘To One in Paradise,” deftly coalesce with the departure of luster from such compelling eyes. The verse might equally be Sir Reginald’s epitaph: “Ah, dream too bright to last . . . my spirit lies, / Mute — motionless — aghast!,” with intensification in “For alas! alas! with me / The light of life is o’er” (Mabbott 2: 162). Poe’s fiction once again surpasses his predecessor’s; Sir Reginald’s dreams cease with his death, but those of Poe’s “Byron” seem likely to gain a more positive dimension on the far side of the grave.

The probabilities of carry-overs from “Some Passages” into “The Assignation” are reinforced when we come to the female characters. Several comparisons have already been made; now paintings of the adored women that play prominent roles must be assessed. Three paintings of Sir Reginald’s Maria elicit appreciation from Mildmay (307-308). In the first

she appeared in the etherial drapery of the mantilla — walking in the gardens of a superb Moorish palace. The form was symmetry itself; the face beautiful beyond compare — such a face as doth sometimes visit us in our youthful dreams — the forehead polished and ample — the nose Phidian — the lips ripe and full — the eyes large, serene, and brilliant. The expression, however, was peculiar, happy, but thoughtful, and something haughty and tinted with a settled shadow, proclaiming that excessive sensitiveness which is proper to the higher order of genius.

Just under the painting hangs a scroll, bearing this message:

Who, round the North, for paler dames

would seek,

Now poor their forms appear, how languid,

wan, and weak!

Picture Two represents Maria in peasant garb. “Here, however, her countenance was radiant with delight, and her delicate hands were pressed upon her bosom, as if to control its impetuous heaving.” A scroll also appears beneath this painting. The third rendering

exhibited the beautiful Andalusian in a far different situation. She was alone in a rich chamber; a silver lamp lay on the table near her, which was ­[page 70:] strewn with costly ornaments, carelessly flung aside. She was dressed in a loose white robe, her black tresses were dishevelled, and streamed upon the ground; one fair hand rested listlessly upon her lute, the other dangled in like fashion over the arm of the chair; and her head was thrown back, and her upraised eyes were cold and glazed, as if the tear was frozen in them.

The Lady Maria never appears in her own person, and so, along with the meagre words bestowed on her by Sir Reginald, these paintings must supply additional, but limited, material for our conjectures. An Andalusion [[Adnalusian]], she would be in British eyes a “foreigner” and maybe thus more likely to be sensual than a well brought-up Briton. Also, since she, like Sir Reginald, has a “Phidian” nose, we may deem her a Venus type. The portraits appeal to Mildmay’s male fantasies; fittingly, the “youthful dreams” phrasing implies that he moves little beyond an adolescent mind-set. Not that features of the Lady Maria herself are behindhand in feeding such an outlook (which may also be Sir Reginald’s, as noted above). The “impetuous heaving” of her bosom in the second picture, and more hints of eroticism — which, however, seems not to prove fulfilling, if the general air of carelessness combines with her own frigid demeanor to carry meaning — in the third might, after all, be bases for her appeal to Sir Reginald and his guest. The scroll also hints at Maria’s voluptuousness. An unshakable erotic implication will make itself felt, no matter how the rhetoric of surface sentimentality in “Some Passages” may suggest loftier thoughts. This idea is borne out by Sir Reginald’s seeing the omen of the fatal cross while gazing on “the portrait of my own beautiful Maria.” These words to Mildmay also suggest possible eroticism and selfishness (“my,” “own”) in Sir Reginald’s feelings toward the lady, who, we must assume, is now no more, or so his words about “broken hopes, and blighted prospects, and inexorable fate” might imply. Appropriately, a supernatural occurrence brings an end to Sir Reginald’s earthly fantasies. Like Poe’s “Byron,” moreover, who jests with his “Tom Moore” guest about laughter, Sir Reginald tells Mildmay: “you will laugh . . . and you may laugh” (309), and his disquisition on merriment quickly shifts toward melancholy and death.

Turning now to Poe, we read:

Human art could have done no more in the delineation of her superhuman beauty. The same ethereal figure which stood before me the preceding night upon the steps of the ducal palace stood before me again. But in the expression of the countenance, which was beaming all over with smiles, there still lurked (incomprehensible anomaly) that fitful stain of melancholy which will ever be found inseparable from the perfection of the beautiful. Her right arm lay folded over her bosom. With her left she pointed downward to a curiously fashioned vase. One small, fairy foot alone visible, barely touched the earth: and, scarcely discernible in the brilliant atmosphere which seemed to encircle and enshrine her loveliness, floated a pair of the most delicately imagined wings. (Mabbott 2: 164) ­[page 71:]

One need not belabor the parallels between this portrait and those in “Some Passages.” The same aura of brilliant light dazzles those who gaze. The same profusion of jewels and other ornaments appears in both. We must not forget that Poe draws forward into the painting details attaching to the Marchesa as she had appeared when first described. By this point, though, any notion from the introductory vignette that might be construed as sexual are muted or eliminated. Now the lady is silent and more abstractly beautiful. In Section II, I submitted that Poe may have added new brush strokes to whatever version of “The Assignation” then existed when readying it for first publication. In the Godey’s version, interestingly enough, the wings in the picture were “silvery” and the figure was “sylph-like.” Poe’s alterations in later versions diminished implications of what might have been blatant coporealness. Thus, the “scroll which lay at her feet,” with its message, “ ‘I am waiting but for thee’ ” (Mabbott 2: 164), which might have come from “Some Passages,” and which carried heavy-handed foreshadowing of the double deaths, was also excised. And although “silvery” may not seem like clumsiness, it does convey tangibility. Likewise “sylph-like” may suggest an actual body or a sensual image, and it gave way to intensified undercurrents of transcendence. The Marchesa’s arm on her bosom also is at rest; no tumultuous heavings or overt sexuality, as those Lady Maria may reveal, are found in her who at this point in the tale has “superhuman beauty.” Instead she points to a curious vase, resembling that chosen by her lover to furnish wine for his poisoned chalice. True, his proximity had earlier caused her (“the statue”) to come to life:

The pallor of the marble countenance, the swelling of the marble bosom, the very purity of the marble feet, we behold suddenly flushed over with a tide of ungovernable crimson; and a slight shudder quivers about her delicate frame, as a gentle air at Napoli about the rich silver lilies in the grass. (Mabbott 2: 154-155)

To this passage Poe deftly shifted in revision the “silver” from the later section; however, we are not yet able to detect any certain drift of what Poe elsewhere would term “supernal beauty,” because we remain probably too much under the sway of the imperceptive narrator — whose sights readily center upon the physical. Although the Marchesa’s countenance is not at all “haughty,” as is Lady Maria’s, the same touch of melancholy flits across both Lady Maria presumably remains earthbound (like Sir Reginald, she ceases to exist when life on earth ends), but Poe’s Marchesa seems bound for regions of considerable freedom, where she and her lover may be happy.


Having allotted such ample space to citing likenesses between “Some Passages in the Life of an Idler” and “The Assignation,” I can now epitomize in treating those between Poe’s tale and “The Veiled Picture.” If in fact Poe ­[page 72:] knew both the New Monthly and the Godey’s printings of “The Veiled Picture,” he may have presumed that his own specimen of fiction centering on the plight of the Romantic artist might win favor with the Godey’s editor. “The Veiled Picture” holds no such significance among sources for “The Assignation” as do Moore’s Byron or, as I trust I have demonstrated above, “Some Passages in the Life of an Idler.” Its general theme, however, may have interested Poe, and parallels in scene, character, and language seem to exist in “The Assignation.” A summary may expedite our acquaintance with “The Veiled Picture.”

The unnamed narrator meets in London a young painter, Arthur, whom he had known in Rome. Highly considered in his field, young, handsome, Arthur is also fully and idealistically committed to his art, is well read in classical literature, and is endowed with a “highly poetical imagination.” The narrator quickly realizes how drastically his friend has changed; Arthur’s once athletic frame and flashing eye are now wasted and dull: “a shadow of deep melancholy enshrouded his features” (43). With forced laughter, Arthur turns aside his friend’s queries about his condition and seems pleasant enough. They soon visit at Arthur’s studio, where the narrator’s attention is drawn to a painting veiled in green. Again he attempts to discuss what he has divined is some secret grief gnawing at Arthur. Arthur reveals that he had from early youth loved Laura, from a wealthy family, whose mother and brother scheme to obstruct their romance. Although his own fortunes take a great plunge, Arthur’s offer to break off their relationship is emphatically rejected by Laura, who pledges unceasing love. After several years, Laura’s family discharge the trusted servant who had carried her letters to Arthur. He is then moved to paint her into a rendering of the Heloise-Abelard legend, and this work, the veiled picture, he finally displays to the narrator, who is thoroughly captivated. Then Arthur’s obvious agitation frightens his friend, particularly when the artist remarks: “ ‘I dare not trifle with time’.” Arthur continues the story of his love’s increasing, his studies in Italy, and his achieving wealth and renown. Returning to England, he encounters Laura, who acts oddly and then sends a note urging him to forget her. Shock makes Arthur dangerously ill, and, now, he adds, he has lost all desire to live because without Laura the world is joyless. Returning next morning, the narrator, startled by the alarming look of Arthur’s servant, rushes upstairs to find that the artist had poisoned himself. Later the narrator delivers to Laura a note from Arthur expressing his forgiveness and fidelity. Laura immediately grows hysterical and ill, but later recounts how, in a “weak moment” when she yielded to her mother’s wishes, she agreed to an advantageous marriage with another, and tried to forget Arthur. Shortly after this meeting, and on the day planned for her wedding, Laura dies.

The narrators in “The Veiled Picture” and “The Assignation” are kindred spirits in their unawareness concerning the dramatics unfolding around them. Both are awed by their Byronic friends’ splendors in wealth, life-style, and cultural achievements. Although ruined in health and spirits by the time the principal dramatic events unfold, Arthur yet manages “with a ­[page 73:] supernatural energy” to rebound temporarily. Poe’s hero, not at all supernatural (but “superhuman” in the same sense as his lady), seems modelled after this pattern when in “moments of intense passion” his frame “expanded” (Mabbott 2: 156). Such passion, which is of course grounded in physical bases, is eventually dismissed for a greater, transcendental state. In contrast, the narrators are too mundane to match wits in any sphere with their companions — and thus the suicides take place with no interference.

Laura’s contemplated suicide (by drowning) and her lover’s actual taking of his life by poison may plausibly have attracted Poe and led him to create a similar near-death for the baby and a poisoning for his hero. Interestingly, Arthur sheds tears after listening to his friend’s speech about the “delirious poison” that results from concentrating too much in “excessive feelings and passions.” Poe may have enjoyed a moment of mirth in shaping to his own, sometimes comic, purposes these situations of poison and passions. Furthermore, both tales present scenes in which the protagonists deliberately do not reveal all to their companions (maybe they sense that such friends could not respond satisfactorily to their plights). Arthur lays hold of his listener’s hand, in a gesture revelatory of great emotion. The nature of that emotion may be ambiguous; since the narrator brings up the topic of “passions,” he may involuntarily reveal his own earthiness. Later, Arthur takes his friend’s arm as he directs him to the veiled picture. Poe’s hero takes his companion’s arm in like fashion as he begins guiding him amidst his art collection, with its own veiled picture. Like Arthur, too, Poe’s imaginative character sheds tears, but in both instances this release occurs within the privacy of their homes — where they will not detract from images of manliness formed by the public in regarding these famous men. The meaning of Arthur’s stark comment, “I dare not trifle with time,” is also expanded and enriched by Poe. Just as the languishing Arthur “took but little nourishment, and drank very sparingly of wine” (43), Poe’s central figure is never seen eating, although wine assists his journey toward a dream world. Even though briefly mentioned, such a reference to wine in “The Veiled Picture” may have appealed to Poe during his work on the Folio Club project. When he dismantled that work, the wine-drinking for mirth needed no great reworking to function as part of a more serious-textured fiction.

The next great potential significance to Poe is Arthur’s unveiling of Laura’s portrait. Along with several more details in the story, this action brings our attention to Laura, who would appear an appropriate model for the Marchesa Aphrodite. Both paintings, we learn, are extremely close in features to their originals. Williams’ narrator exclaims that he had “never beheld any thing so lovely as the being before [him]; the atmosphere seemed to grow bright, as if a burst of sunshine had flooded the room” (45). In like fashion, Poe’s narrator responds almost overmuch to the repeated bright lighting that confronts him. Not only do thematic combinations of actual with legendary lovers within the pictures inform both tales (with greater sophistication in Poe): the more specific details are too close to go unnoticed. Although Laura is light-complexioned and the Marchesa Aphrodite dark, they are described ­[page 74:] such that they might be twins. Laura’s hair highlighted her “fair and open forehead, and rested in luxuriant tresses upon her dazzling throat and swelling breasts.” Charms like hers, though divided between initial appearance and later painting, also grace Poe’s heroine. Both ladies’ eyes are given a central position within overall description. True, in contrast to Aphrodite’s, Laura’s “were of that deep rich blue that seem born to Heaven, from their resemblance to the fair clouds which veil it from our sight, and were filled with that deep and earnest expression of womanly tenderness that subdues the heart on which it falls.” Be the color what it may, both sets of eyes seem to function as windows to the soul and as guides to realms of abstract beauty. In Poe, while subduing gross passion, Aphrodite’s eyes inspire her lover to more vital engagement with idealistic feelings than Laura’s do Arthur.

Additional details in this portrait seem probable backgrounds for Poe’s. “Beauty seemed to breathe in the swelling outline of her form, and passion appeared to dwell in the melting fondness of her looks.” Laura, like the Marchesa Aphrodite, seems a slave to love here. Poe in his picture brings to the fore all possible idealistic implications while he avoids any overt mention of “passion,” as it might dilute the desired effect of transcendence. Laura’s dress permits “the graceful shape of the limbs to be seen beneath the folds,” and thereby again reminds us of both first and second appearances of Poe’s Marchesa, the shift from possibly physical to the assuredly spiritual being symbolized in that transition. Behind the painted Laura-Heloise is a tapestry with biblical scenes: the figure is enhanced by a “rich light which . . . came mellowed through a window of painted glass, whereon a virgin and child were drawn in clear and faceless colours.” During his years in Italy, Arthur recalled visions of Laura ever associated with light: “all bright thoughts and glorious imaginings were centered in her remembrance” (45). Just so, in Poe, the Marchesa’s figure is thrown into relief by simple ornamentation and splendid light. In addition, the virgin-child motif, in its implicit chastity, may have given substance — rather unlike those portraits in “Some Passages” — to Poe’s own conception of ideal beauty in the Marchesa’s portrait. The illumination within that portrait also contrasts tellingly with the garish light in the hero’s apartment. A Madonna by Guido is actually mentioned elsewhere in “The Assignation.” Here it may also be appropriate to mention that in “The Veiled Picture” Arthur mentions finding in Rome women “as lovely as the Madonnas of Raffaelle, and men as finely shaped as the Deities of Canova” (45). From this story Poe may have experienced a stimulation about Canova that supplemented that from Byron’s Folingo letter cited by Benton.

Glancing now at what else Poe may have adapted from Laura, we must consider Arthur’s last encounter with her:

She appeared glad to see me, pressed my hand with ecstasy, and looked up into my face with all her usual tenderness; yet, afterwards, she blushed, hung down her head in silence, and seemed fearful of being seen in my company. (45) ­[page 75:]

The same uneasiness, the “ecstacy,” the hand upon the arm, and the blush appear almost mirror-like in the Marchesa’s first appearance, after her child has been safely delivered. Laura’s being compared with Juno, Cytherea, and Circe is repeated in Poe’s practice of naming his heroine after an actual classical goddess. Petrarch’s Laura may also have been in both Williams’ and Poe’s minds as they wrote their stories. A closer link, with the Marchesa’s “fitful stain of melancholy,” appears in Laura’s “trace of melancholy in the features of the original, which the portrait did not possess” (46). To be sure, when we first see Poe’s Marchesa, she has no reason to be melancholy; conversely, when we next see her countenance, in point of time when death is overtaking her, the melancholy (consequent upon her uncertainties in journeying into the unknown) is fitting. Again Poe’s technique is more artistic than his predecessor’s. A final touch in “The Veiled Picture” may yield relevant value. Reading her late lover’s letter, Laura gazes upon the narrator, with the result, he tells us, that her “glassiness of eye riveted [him] to the spot” (46). This phrasing echoes in the final paragraph of Poe’s tale, when the frightened narrator realizes that his host has died in front of him.


More than one pathway leads from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Poe’s tale of love and death in Venice.(12) Poe’s own writings witness his general knowledge of the play, but what amounts to an embarrassment of riches in pieces fitting into the mosaic that comprises “The Assignation” is at hand — mainly from contemporaneous secondary items that Poe read or could easily have read.

Poe’s personal life may lead off into pathways charting transitions from Romeo and Juliet to “The Assignation.” Elizabeth Arnold Poe, Edgar’s mother, was a much acclaimed actress. Her acting of Juliet, for example in Boston, 11 April 1810, may have remained a cherished memory — albeit not from his on-the-spot participation — with the son. Later, performances of the play in New York (1826, 1828, 1829, and 1832) could have attracted his notice. Most notably, Fanny Kemble, an actress greatly admired by Poe, played in the last of these, with concurrent acting of Bianca in Milman’s Fazio — a name that looms as potential background in “The Assignation.” The New-York Mirror, 29 September 1832, lavished praise on Kemble, allotting considerable space to portraying her personal charms and her drama abilities. Her long dark hair, her “sweet new face glowing with soul and feeling,” and her “large dark eyes [capable of intimating] force and splendor almost intense”: all could be easily transmuted into the Marchesa Aphrodite. ­[page 76:]

That handbook for Poe’s tale, as we might well term Moore’s Byron, also affords a major connection between Romeo and Juliet and “The Assignation” because of its numerous references to Shakespeare within the Byronic context. Poe’s consequent association of the two authors and their works, therefore, would be but normal. More precisely, Byron’s visit to Verona in Autumn 1816 engendered within him a fascination for the continually touted “tomb of all the Capulets” (2: 35-37, 43, 68), which may have set in motion a chain of associations for Poe. What must Poe have imbibed from yet a later passage, when, urged by Byron to flee with him from her husband, Countess Guiccoli proposed, “like another Juliet, to ‘pass for dead’ ” (2: 159)? Such an act would certainly have appealed to Poe, whose reiterated use of premature burial themes informed some of his other tales. Byron later associates himself with violence like that in the opening of Romeo and Juliet.

Allusions to suicide pepper Moore’s Byron; in tandem with Shakespeare, they may have influenced Poe. Byron’s physician, Polidori contemplated a death from poison in Autumn 1816, which he ultimately enacted (2: 20). Another remark about wives poisoning husbands should not be overlooked as grist for Poe’s mill (2: 47), nor should one concerning a young Spaniard’s suspicion that his illicit lady love wants to poison him (2: 107), nor that about a mistress of Byron throwing herself into the canal (2: 130). Byron also tells Moore about a supposed seduction resulting in a young girl’s suicide attempt by leaping into the canal (2: 171-172). Finally, Byron twice mentions suicides (one succeeded in drowning, a second was revived from poisoning himself) by two men in love with a Madame Cottin (2: 321, 366). In consequence we need not wonder at Poe’s managing a double suicide for his nightmare tale of “Byron.”

Had Poe not read Moore, he could have known other writings that bring closely together such apparently disparate phenomena as Shakespeare (with direct references to Romeo and Juliet), Byron, Thomas Moore, sculpture, painting, drunkenness, dreams — in varied combinations. Proceeding chronologically, we may turn first to A. W. Schlegel’s Lectures on Dramatic Arts and Literature, translated by John Black in 1815, which we know Poe read.(13) Schlegel’s critique of Romeo and Juliet contains many scenes that could have germinated into “The Assignation,” even if Moore’s Byron was Poe’s initial and greatest cornerstone. Romeo and Juliet, we read,

is a picture of love and its pitiable fate, in a world whose atmosphere is too rough for this tenderest blossom of human life. Two beings created for each other feel mutual love at a first glance; every consideration disappears before the irresistible influence of living in one another; they join themselves secretly under circumstances hostile in the highest degree to their union . . . By unfriendly events . . . their heroic constancy is ­[page 77:] exposed to all manner of trials, till, forcibly separated from each other, by a voluntary death they are united in the grave to meet again in another world. (2: 186-187)

The “picture” above certainly resembles Poe’s methodology for the overall framework of his Venetian tale. The harsh world’s blasting of love’s flower may prefigure “To One in Paradise.” The love-at-first-sight motif might have combined with Moore’s information about the immediate attraction between Byron and Theresa to make an impact on Poe. Poe’s lovers also engage what seems to be secrecy, and unfriendly events lead to their dual suicide, just as Schlegel outlines such dramatics above. Even Poe’s theme of transcendence is anticipated in this passage. Continuing in this vein, Schlegel states that in Romeo and Juliet “it was reserved for Shakespeare to unite purity of heart and the glow of imagination, sweetness and dignity of manners and passionate violence, in one ideal picture.” Shakespeare’s “reservation,” may have initiated the theme of his play, but Poe’s tale gives us an “ideal picture” — though not strictly in the sense meant by Schlegel — of the features Schlegel names, even to the “purity.” Poe’s lovers seem to be motivated by that emotion, despite whatever differing opinion society might adopt as to their conduct. Indeed Schlegel’s subsequent comment, that love “elevates even the senses themselves into soul,” epitomizes Poe’s desired unity of effect or, as Schlegel here terms it, “unity of impression” within his tale. Love in Shakespeare’s play “appears like a heavenly spark that, descending to the earth, is converted into a flash of lightning, by which mortal creatures are almost in the same moment set on fire and consumed.” In keeping with this sentiment, Poe’s tale opens (with a paraphrase from Measure for Measure, no less) in prose that figuratively establishes a like lightning, which continues with an influence upon the characters akin to that set forth here. Love, after all, causes the narrator to return in retrospect to those Venetian incidents that had affected him with literal and figurative shocks. Romeo and Juliet, “this poem” in Schlegel’s words, is pervaded by an “intoxication” that calls up all the romance of southern Europe, redolent of ardor, voluptuousness, and melancholy. Poe too incorporates “intoxication” into “The Assignation.” If he looked to Schlegel for his model, he certainly turned to Moore, perhaps to the novels of Peacock, for an admixture of a somewhat different intoxicant to erect upon the foundation model.

Other catch-phrases might underlie Poe’s tale. Romeo and Juliet “hurries on from the first timidly-bold declaration of love . . . to an irrevocable union [and] to the death of the two lovers, who, “by their death . . . have obtained a triumph over every separating power.” Like Schlegel, Poe probably admired Shakespeare’s “excellent dramatic arrangement, the significance of each character in its place, the judicious selection of all the circumstances even the most minute” (2: 188). These words again might constitute a précis of Poe’s accomplishment. Scattered observations elsewhere in the Lectures also suggest Poe’s disciple-ship to Schlegel. For example, Romeo and Juliet, along with Othello, says Schlegel, link to comedies and to ­[page 78:] romantic love tales (2: 155). Such theory might have given rise to Poe’s blendings of the humorous and horrific, in “The Assignation” and in other tales. Poe might also have recalled Schlegel when working on another segment of his tale: the German’s notion that tragic characters are always beautiful; thus they compare with ancient statues come to life. In sculpture such figures could be naked; on stage, clothed (1: 67-68). Byron biography may have supplied the germ for Poe’s Venus-Apollo construct, but Schlegel contributed theoretical substance, no doubt. Finally, two more remarks from the Lectures may, in line with Romeo and Juliet, bear upon Poe. First, that the Taming of the Shrew (whence the “Bianca” name for Poe’s heroine in the 1834 text may derive as much as from Milman) resembles Italian comedy and its inescapable love intrigue. Second, mention of “the great lord who is driven by idleness and ennui to deceive a poor drunkard” (1: 158-159).

Next, and not surprisingly, in the chronological progression among likely motivators for Poe’s drawing Romeo and Juliet into “The Assignation,” is Blackwood’s. During 1818-1819 the “Notices of the Drama Acted in London” criticized Shakespearean productions, and their terminology is decidedly close to the aura of Poe’s tale. The January installment (426-429) places Shakespeare’s plays into the current debate over art-nature inherent in the statues of Venus and Apollo, followed by an allusion to Romeo and Juliet. In February (567-570), Miss O’Neil’s role as Juliet is contrasted with that of Mrs. Siddons, with palms going to the latter who, like the Apollo Belvidere, stands as “a kind of tacit satire on the species.” Shortly thereafter are linkings of Byron’s verse with current plays; significantly, they compare The Bride of Abydos with Milman’s Fazio. Comment in March (664-669) notes Kean’s admirable acting of Shakespeare, which recalls the Apollo Belvidere and is typified by “passion.” Kean-Apollo bonds repeat in April (77-83). O’Neil’s Bianca is also cited, and the character itself is deplored: it is like the “Niobe, all tears”.(14) O’Neil’s Juliet is again criticized in March 1819 (713), and in June the “What’s-in-a-name” speech is mentioned.

Three articles, in the London Magazine and North American Review during 1821 could have brought Romeo and Juliet into Poe’s psyche. One reviews Shakespeare’s play alongside Byron’s tragedy, Marino Faliero (which, in presenting the horrors wrought by the aged Doge of Venice and his young wife, anticipates — however minimally — Poe’s Mentoni-Aphrodite ­[page 79:] situation). Miss Dance’s Juliet recalls Fanny Kemble’s, whose comic faculty is no longer much in evidence (June, 673-674). The American notice of Byron’s play emphasizes the rapidity with which Juliet’s first glimpse of Romeo is followed by “the impress of the tomb.” Just before this observation, we find paintings of Venus cited (July, 243). Such juxtaposition might well have in turn been taken up by Poe. Hazlitt enters the puzzle again, in the London Magazine (June, 593-607), with “Pope, Lord Byron, and Mr. Bowles’’.(15) Byron and Shakespeare, Venus and Antinous, the Grand Canal, and Canova are listed in a single passage, with the same group used by Poe — Antinous, Venus, and Apollo — cited again on the next page (597-598) as exemplars of the popular art-Nature controversy. Since Bowles favored the first two, Poe’s joke about his own statutes may owe something to this passage. Just as likely background for Poe occurs in Hazlitt’s wry statement that Byron dashed away the “cup of delicious poison” offered, at his own request, by critics. This sentence brings together, as it happens nowhere else to my knowledge, the suicide-”Byron” ploy in “The Assignation.” What with criticism of “grotesque edifices” and of Byron’s taste being “Oriental, Gothic; his muse is not domesticated” — can we doubt Poe’s reworking of this material?

To return to Blackwood’s, we find several more possible bits of appropriate lore for Poe, first in a long review of Leigh Hunt’s Lord Byron and His Contemporaries (March 1828). Succeeding strictures on Byron’s animal passion, which showed in his desire for Theresa Guiccoli’s body, comes the telling comment how, when he was young Byron could believe in the passion of Romeo and Juliet. In later years, Byron’s talk to women was “connected with anything but the graces with which a poet would encircle his Venus” (397). A satiric thrust at Moore’s work might also not be dismissed as potential fodder for Poe. The October issue carries in a tale, “The Sphinx,” terse lines on strange lovers compared with Romeo and Juliet (450). More reasonable quarries for Poe are found in “Noctes Ambrosianae” for January 1831, where Shakespeare and Byron are named as suffering from unhappy marriages and where the first volume of Moore’s Byron is discussed, as are consequences of hard drinking that lead to “blue devils” (or simply the “blues”), a term customarily comic in Poe’s era (27-34). The “Noctes” may ­[page 80:] be seen as forerunners of the Folio Club, and so we need not wonder how from this individual installment of that framework Poe secured nuggets for a tale numbering among his framed narratives.

Since Poe probably tinkered with “The Assignation” till close to its publication in Godey’s, we should find believable his knowing John Wilson’s (“Christopher North” in the “Noctes”) “Characteristics of Women, No. III: Characters of Passion and Imagination — Shakespeare,” a Blackwood’s essay for March 1833 (391-418).(16) Wilson’s opening:

What is passion? The art and act of suffering. What is imagination? The art and act of creating. The two together? Poetry, dealing with mortal pleasure and pain, and thereby subliming even while it saddens, beautifying even while it troubles life and death.

might be paraphrased into a headnote for Poe’s tale, and be an analogue to his death-of-a-beautiful-woman theme. Other parts of the essay seem to have furnished the very kind of material Poe relished. “We see Juliet but for a very short time . . . and she speaks but a very few words” — as does the Marchesa Aphrodite. “Romeo we see and hear much,” just as we do Poe’s protagonist. More of Juliet as model for Poe’s Marchesa is to be seen. Juliet “dwells in a fair city — she has been nurtured in a palace — she clasps her robe with jewels . . . but in herself she has no more connexion with the trappings around her, than the lovely exotic, transplanted from some Eden-like climate, has with the carved and gilded conservatory.” Here are prototypes for Poe’s Venice and its architecture, the Marchesa’s appointments, and her entire manner, plus possibilities for the lavish decor in her lover’s apartment and for materials contributing to his poem. As to the suicides, we might think that either heroine “has learned heroism from suffering, and subtlety from oppression,” or that death and “suffering in every horrid form she is ready to brave, without fear or doubt” (398).

The intention and proper imagery surrounding Poe’s romantic pair seems to emerge from another dictum here: “Affection gazes on its object in the hour of fate, and thenceforth burns but for it in a changed world” (392). While this idea suggests Poe’s first meeting of his lovers, another reminds us of subsequent parts of his tale: [The couple] “are mated for ever after in calm or storm, gloom or sunshine. A mysterious sympathy of nature links them together — an irresistible attraction . . .” The motifs of ardent devotion, light (notably sunlight and the eerie lighting elsewise), the peculiar “listening” by the hero, and the visual-emotional thrust of “To One in Paradise” are all provided above. Romeo “plays the Pilgrim,” and Byron was often cast as ­[page 81:] such. Romeo “is a poet — and speaks like Apollo”; Poe’s Romeo character is also a poet — and looks like Apollo.

The pertinent parts of the New Monthly, already noted above, need not occupy us here. Suffice it to say that Poe could have a ready grasp of any or all of the information I have cited, and that it might have brought within the act of his composing “The Assignation” such materials, and probably many more like items. Citing Shakespeare’s works proper, therefore, we might submit several possible influences for “The Assignation.” The third paragraph of the tale apostrophizes the protagonist: “fallen in the flames of thine own youth!” In Measure for Measure (II, iii, 11) we read about a lady Juliet who, “falling in the flaws of her own youth, / Hath blistered her report . . .” Her intrigue with Claudio, a young gentleman, brings him dangerously close to death. A marble-like lady (considered cold and stony because she will not respond to Bertram’s ardor), Diana in All’s Well that Ends Well (IV, ii, 2-8) may adumbrate Poe’s Marchesa. Another statue who starts into life is, of course, Hermione in The Winter’s Tale. Poe’s interest in the works of Shakespeare during the time that “The Assignation” was bubbling up in his psyche is also evident in a series of extracts he copied from the plays during this same period.(17)

That Romeo and Juliet unmistakably underlies “The Assignation” and infuses it in important ways, I hope to demonstrate below. Considering the readiness of Poe, the great beadle in the congregation of authors and critics, to hurl charges of plagiarism at others, and how skillfully, therefore, he often concealed his own borrowings, this text of Shakespeare’s may understandably have been overlooked. Poe’s sources, however, turn up in some strange locations, and so to consult Romeo and Juliet in comparison with “The Assignation” may yield positive results (18). I also think that the Wilson essay, cited above, may have directed Poe’s use of this play by bringing certain passages before him.

General similarities are easily detected. Moore’s Byron can have reasonably assisted Poe’s transfers of incidents in Verona to Venice, which Byron called a “poetical place” with English writers from Shakespeare to Otway (2: 39). Time in Romeo and Juliet and “The Assignation” is midsummer (also the time of crucial happenings in “Some Passages”). ­[page 82:] Disasters of tragic love bring about horrendous denouements in both, and poetic elements allow for latitude in interpreting the events. The importance of the dual suicides is obvious. Tragedy is thrown into relief by means of relevant comic wordplay. Within characters, most notably the “heavy” fathers (and to some extent, Count Paris), from Shakespeare, we may see foreshadowed A) Poe’s sinister Mentoni and B) in traits from these elders joined with some from Mercutio, Tybalt (in his pleasanter aspects), and the nurse a prototype for the sensuality and minimized comprehension of significant truths earmarking Poe’s narrator, more easily recognizable as a satirized Tom Moore. The likes of such mortals can but imperfectly sense (their sensations bringing about emotional disturbances and symptoms of physical upset), and not fully empathize with a transmutation that lifts passion from the grossness and bawdiness of immaturity into the spiritualizing, imaginative levels of ideal love. The nurse speaks pertinently: “Ah . . . death’s the end of all” (IV, iii, 92). Poe’s narrator seems to think similar thoughts. Shakespeare and Poe both body forth this changing love via symbols of ideal beauty. Dreams and dream motifs enhance the transcendent potential in such relationships. Even Poe’s recurrent theme of premature burials is anticipated (V, ii, 30).

Textual parallels make likely Poe’s borrowing from Romeo and Juliet. “The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love” in Shakespeare’s “Prologue” gives precedent for the theme in Poe’s tale. Poe’s quickly bringing before us the citizenry of Venice (assembled, if implicitly, because of the accident to the child) may be likened to the gathering of Verona’s people early in Romeo and Juliet: to position the heroes in bold relief against the crowd. Moore’s detailing Byron’s initial glimpse of Countess Guiccoli, across a ballroom “in all the gaiety of bridal array” (2: 143 ff.), which rendered the lord smitten thereafter, may have called into Poe’s mind Romeo’s like situation and sensations in meeting Juliet. The passage setting forth Romeo’s feelings is of special value:

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night

As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear —

Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,

As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows. (I, v, 44-49)

He concludes this paean: “For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night” (50). The very structure in this passage seems to enter Poe’s tale. The Marchesa indeed makes the flambeaux burn brilliancy. Her pose on the “black mirror of marble” paving stones, her own white drapery and diamonds contrasting excellently with the walkway, and her vow to give all to love (i.e., she, like Juliet, is “[b]eauty too rich for use, for earth too dear,” so she’ll take measures to transcend such mundaneness): all are outlined. Many sentiments expressed here seem to recur in the second view of Poe’s lady. Farther on, preparing to ­[page 83:] take her drug, Juliet hesitates: “I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins” (IV, iii, 15). The Marchesa also “thrills,” and “a slight shudder quivers about her delicate frame” (Mabbott 2: 134-135) as she readies herself to take her poison. Moore’s Byron, already mentioned above for its detail about Countess Guiccoli’s suggestion of following in Juliet’s footsteps, may also suggest this earlier scene: the “agitation of her mind between horrors of such a step, and her eager readiness to give up all and everything for him she loved” (2: 159) fairly duplicates visual effects connected with our first view of Marchesa Aphrodite.

Such rich images continue to swirl about Juliet in a warm light decidedly like that encircling Poe’s Marchesa. Romeo later calls Juliet his “[b]right angel,” who is “as glorious to this night, being o’er my head, / As is a winged messenger of heaven / Unto the . . . wond’ring eyes / Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him” (II, ii, 26 ff.). She later calls her love for him “infinite” (135). Poe’s winged Marchesa is also a bright heavenly messenger, who confounds the narrator gazing at her (we don’t find such a scene in Moore). Friar Lawrence may add dimension to Juliet-become-Marchesa by his consolation to the weepers after her simulated death: “[She is] advanc’d above the clouds as high as Heaven itself” (IV, v, 73-74). The friar’s Christian outlook turns pagan, of course, in Poe, whose hero also weeps before showing the “heavenly,” or idealized picture of his winged darling, who seems to be ascending. All in all, the portrait of the Marchesa suggests Romeo’s vision of Juliet in her window: high and bright. Romeo had previously called Juliet his “dear saint,” her hand his “shrine” (I, v, 103, 94). Such metaphors Poe could have easily refashioned, the first into an abstraction pervading his tale, the latter into a specific within “To One in Paradise.” Juliet’s words that follow may also echo in and impart imagery to Poe’s vignette of the blushing, trembling Marchesa. Were it not for night, “a maiden blush would bepaint my cheek,” Juliet tells Romeo (II, ii, 86), adding that I will ever be true to him, but cautioning that he should not “impute this yielding to light love, / Which the dark night hath so discovered” (95 ff.). Poe could also have created from another passage an implication in his Marchesa’s apparently inexplicable conduct in the stranger’s company: “I have no joy of this contract tonight” (117). Throughout this scene, significantly, Juliet remains in her window, outlined as in a picture, with Romeo looking up at her. Poe could have consciously reversed this strategy: the Marchesa gazes up into another niche where her lover lies concealed, and where she had presumably been looking when the baby fell from her arms. Juliet’s feeling about the sunrise shining into her chamber, bringing the morning that will part her from Romeo — “Then, window, let day in, and let life out” (III, v, 41) — subtly reverses the window-life (i.e., it allows love to enter) metaphor analyzed above, and thus it could lay groundwork for Poe’s crimson windows that seem to grudge entry to the rising sun, that sun whose rays signal death, literal or figurative, for the lovers. Other hints for technique may have moved from Shakespeare’s window motif into Poe’s tale. Juliet’s lights and her appearance associate respectively with the “east” and the “sun.” In Poe, just ­[page 84:] as the “hour after sunrise” strikes (perhaps evolved from Shakespeare’s “hour before the worshipp’d sun,” cited below), the hero importunes his guest: “Let us pour out an offering to yon solemn sun” (Mabbott 2: 165). This sounds like Shakespeare. The speaker also may think of his beloved as great light in his trammeled life.

The character of Romeo may also supply its quota of background for Poe’s hero. Unlike the stranger, Romeo is pitted against no actual husband of Juliet’s, although Paris’s position, age, and — for Juliet — lack of attractiveness might appear in the makeup of Mentoni. Romeo and Juliet are young, as are Poe’s pair. Like Byron in life, Romeo has clearly enjoyed, but has grown jaded with, amours principally based in sensuality. As is the situation in which a matured hero rather deceptively and impatiently entertains his earthbound, flesh-oriented guest, so Romeo addresses Mercutio and Tybalt, who fail to understand him. Shakespeare’s young sensualists die; closing his story, Poe’s narrator can see death only as a sad ending.

Romeo — seen incidentally by Benvolio “an hour before the worshipp’d sun / Peer’d forth the golden window of the East” (I, i, 118-119) — is said to weep frequently, and to secrete himself, with all light locked out (I, i, 131 ff.). This description reminds us not just of the closing scene in “The Assignation”; minor reshuffling would give it a place in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” In Poe, however, Benvolio and Mercutio’s jesting with Romeo becomes the stranger’s rallying of his visitor. But Benvolio’s meeting Romeo at an early hour, during which Romeo speaks of fires in love (I, i, 180, 191) must not be overlooked as leading into “The Assignation,” where the hero is figuratively consumed by flames from within. As we learn early that the flames blast Poe’s “bewildered” hero, we might quickly read related foreshadowings sentiments in Act I of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo grows pensive in telling Benvolio:

my mind misgives

Some consequences yet hanging in the stars

Shall bitterly begin this fearful date

With this night’s revels, and expire the term

Of a despised life clos’d within my breast

By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (iv, 106 111)

Although Poe’s rescue scene (positioned like this one — early) is no “revel” in the manner of Shakespeare’s feast, it does stand as an upsurge of positive emotion in the main characters. Furthermore, Juliet is later termed a star by Romeo; thus she might provide a model for Poe’s Venus, who likewise is associated with astrological lore. Allusions to Venus (II, i, ii), Apollo (III, ii, 1-5), and other classical deities reinforce this possibility. Analogous to his pictorializing, Shakespeare’s imagery keeps bringing statuary types to our attention. Thus Romeo and Juliet could reinforce Moore’s Byron and other commentary on sculpture as contributors to Poe’s ­[page 85:] deft tableaux, those “pictures” on stage.(19) Romeo’s reference to Juliet as his “soul” (II, ii, 165) calls to mind a Psyche figure. Poe, we are aware, employed such beings repeatedly (that in “To Helen,” so much like “The Assignation” in imagery and theme, is a prime example). Because the hero in “The Assignation” clearly looks to the Marchesa as his psyche or soul, he may have ancestry in Romeo. Romeo and Juliet’s meeting by her window may prepare in another way for meaningful interchange in Poe. Romeo questions “O, wilt thou leave me unsatisfied?” Juliet’s naive question about what he wants leads to this conclusion:

Rom. Th’ exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.

Jul. I gave thee mine before thou didst request it. (II, ii, 125-129)

The pictorial aura already established leads to these lines in such a way that we seem to see Poe’s hero and his Marchesa engaged in attitudes that convey the same meaning as these speeches. Neither do we need an extraordinary ear to hear in the Marchesa’s “ ‘Thou hast conquered’ ” lines exactly the same feeling as that above. The parallel is pressed home by Romeo’s converse outburst when he sees Juliet in the tomb, “dead”: “Thou art not conquer’d” (V, iii, 94) — meaning that death in its negative aspects has not triumphed. Poe’s lady accedes to death because of a far different conception of what will result. This conception gathers force as well in Juliet’s own determination, as she contemplates separation from Romeo: “If all else fail, myself have power to die” (III, v, 242). Poe’s Marchesa may not articulate such a sentiment, but it is assuredly hers.

A natural concomitant that devolves from these metaphors is the set of toasts offered by Shakespeare’s lovers. Juliet, preparing to drink her drug, proposes “Romeo, Romeo, Romeo! Here’s drink — I drink to thee” (IV, iii, 58). In the tomb, Romeo — fixing his gaze on Juliet, whose “beauty makes / This vault a feasting place of light” (V, iii, 84-85, 120) — salutes: “Here’s to my love!” The repetitive structures and imagery could have had an impact on Poe. Beauty and light amidst eerie surroundings underlie the uncovering of the beauty and brilliance in the Marchesa’s picture. Her lover’s apostrophe may be an elaboration, or even a bit of wordplay. Romeo’s words, however, follow another passage that is even more like Poe’s scene than the toast itself: “How oft when men are at the point of death / Have they been merry, which their keepers call / A lightning before death” (V, iii, 88-90)! What a felicitous source for the jests about Tom Moore-Thomas More in “The Assignation” this ­[page 86:] is. Juliet’s well-known “What’s in a name” speech (II, ii, 43), in company with these other lines, could also be another pathway to the “Moore-More” humor or to the Venus-Apollo passages in Poe. The “lightning” of Shakespeare (heightened by that from the magazine stories) seems to have ramified under Poe’s hand: into the opening of his tale, into the narrator’s “preternatural light” in the ducal palace, in the gleams and brilliance flashing through the picture of the Marchesa before her palace, in the glaring illumination of the stranger’s residence, in the light promoted by the picture, and in the “flash” in the final paragraph.

A few more parallels are noteworthy. Juliet’s nurse, for instance, functions as a low-comedy type; thus she and Poe’s narrator have affinities, as I noted above. A tighter bonding arises because of their excessively emotional reactions to matters that better demand cool heads. The nurse twice breaks out in lamentations when she supposes that Juliet is dead: “Alas, alas! Help, help! my lady’s dead!” and again: “She’s dead, deceas’d, she’s dead, alack the day!”(20) Such outbursts take hold of Lady Capulet, who echoes: “slack the day, she’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead” (IV, v, 14, 23-24). Mabbott’s opinion that these words were adapted by Poe in Politian may be supplemented by our hearing them from another mouth: “ ‘My mistress — my mistress — Poisoned! — poisoned! Oh, beautiful — oh, beautiful Aphrodite’ ” (Mabbott 2: 166)! The poison and the rhetoric convince us of Poe’s debt.

As well as “The Assignation” itself, Poe’s Folio Club may also be among credible heirs of Shakespeare’s play. A comic note, like that from the periodicals noted earlier, in names like “Susan Grindstone” and “Potpan,” servants to old Capulet (and associated with food) could stand as forerunners of Poe’s names among his club’s dramatic personae. A companion use of language we might not want to pass by is Shakespeare’s designating Juliet’s drug and Romeo’s poison as a “cordial” (IV, i, 94; V, i, 85). The “very spirit of cordiality,” whatever mirth it may purport for Poe’s hero (Mabbott 2: 158), might have originated in far more sober environs. Poe’s adept juggling of serio-comic language about alcohol, however surfaced in “The Assignation.” If an inspiration was Shakespeare’s “cordial,” I think that it entered Poe’s tale through the alembic of Moore’s Byron, even if alcoholic comedy came to Poe as well from different sources.(21) Byron wrote to Moore, 10 July 1817 (2: 92-93), penning lines that went as a “libation” to Moore, in a poem, “My boat is on the shore.” There too we encounter images of a bark adrift, smiles to one’s opponents, other water imagery, a desert: in short, much that seems to have found a way into Poe’s tale and the poem within it. Two lines seem an ­[page 87:] outline for the closing of “The Assignation”: “Ere my fainting spirit fell, / ‘Tis to thee that I would drink.” A note also puns on “port” as wine or a harbor.

Perhaps among interlocking pieces forming the puzzle of “The Assignation” is one more that leads from Shakespeare through Byron to Poe. To Romeo’s “Dost thou not laugh,” Benvolio answers: “I rather weep” (I, i, 183). Byron’s famous lines in Don Juan, “And if I laugh at any mortal thing, / ‘Tis that I may not weep,” echo Shakespeare. Poe in turn seems to carry them into the later sections of his tale (whence they could have come from Moore 2: 272). This thought carries much of the burden of his story entire, in which tears and laughter, appearance and reality, and life and death come to us with many traditional barriers separating them blurred most skillfully. Most ordinary mortals, as exemplified by the narrator, can not fathom such collapsings.


From the foregoing, I trust that the sources I offer as foundations to “The Assignation” have been marshalled with reasonable evidence. The British tales alone might have provided Poe ample grounds on which to build. They contain customary characters and incidents to be found in high-pitched periodical fiction of the time. They also embody phrases and situations strikingly like his. That “Some Passages” (in part) and “The Veiled Picture” were reprinted shows how editors calculated to provide their customers with what was au courant. From these stories of art and artists came Poe’s character types and the magnificent portrait, with some similar incidents and wording besides. Romeo and Juliet brought to him a dramatic love situation, very like the “Byron” affair. The play also offered him rich image patterns and a mode of characterization, plus subtle language devices. How natural Poe’s arriving at that play, through bombardments of reminders in his periodical milieu, must have been. Its plot coalesces with his own in “The Assignation.” Along with the magazine tales, the play brought possibilities for dreams and dreaming — and in far greater art than that offered by “Some Passages” or “The Veiled Picture.” All three sources were adapted by Poe to enhance his own purposes. He conflated like elements, e. g., the suicides, the death-humor, the portraits, the classical mythology, like-sounding phrases, with surety. He took what were hackneyed characters and stereotyped plots out of magazine-fiction dross and relocated them amidst depths of psychological regions and multi-leveled dialogue for which we remember him. Shakespeare’s art in language seems also to have found a sympathetic successor in Poe. Both created “character,” as opposed to “characters” (i.e., one-dimensional inhabitants) in plays and fiction. Unlike Mildmay and Williams, Shakespeare and Poe engaged magnificent wordplay, and their practices of this art were in no way limited to the single play and tale in this study. Poe came to the clichés of Gothic tradition to which, we remember, Shakespeare and other Renaissance dramatists stood as godparents, and he remade them into what we ­[page 88:] now see as pioneer materials for the various “moderns” and “contemporary” in literature. Evolving from traditions rather than revolting against them, (demonstrated in such source studies as this), however, was Poe’s abiding practice. Plagiarist he may have been; but what a creative plagiarism he achieved time and again. In Romeo and Juliet, Friar Lawrence comes onto the stage mulling life’s contrarieties and concludes: “Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied, / And vice sometimes by action virtue” (II, iii, 21-22). Above I show how Poe worked toward “dramatizing” precisely that variety of ambiguity in “The Assignation.” The two British magazine tales were, after Moore’s Byron, possibly Poe’s more immediate inspirations, with Romeo and Juliet somewhat farther in the background. And in the New-York Mirror, 13 August 1831, maybe during the very time when the Folio Club was welling up in his imagination, Poe could have read “Original Sketches of Distinguished Poets” (41-42). Censuring “offensive details” in Moore’s Byron, the critic concludes: “Fiction, however monstrous, is better than such truths; for there is always a lurking remembrance . . . that it is fiction, and poor human nature is saved from the effect which might be produced if it had been treading over realities.” Such an overview may have clinched Poe’s pushing together the individual parts of his puzzle that produced “The Assignation” as we now have it. Poe’s sources for producing a “fiction” of Byron in Venice during his last love affair, often reached him by traveling many, often circuitous pathways. Once Poe had his puzzle’s pieces at hand, he manipulated them in curious fashion as they ultimately merged. Overall, he created in “The Assignation” a fantasy, which the OED defines as “a making visible” or “to make visible; to show.” In his “Preface” to the The Nigger of the Narcissus, Joseph Conrad claimed that, above all else, great art should enable readers “to see.” Poe’s densely-textured puzzle that is “The Assignation” was wrought, on several levels, to make us see.


[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 59:]

1  Antecedent commentary and source studies are synthesized in my “To ‘The Assignation’ from ‘The Visionary’ and Poe’s Decade of Revising,” Library Chronicle 39 (1973), 89-105 [Poe’s original published text — Godey’s, 8 (January 1834), 40-43 — is reprinted, pp. 90-100]; 40 (1976), 221-251. Particular attention should be called to the study that has spurred most subsequent response: Richard P. Benton, “Is Poe’s ‘The Assignation’ a Hoax?,’’ Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 18 (1963), 193-197. Follow-up approaches appear chronologically, in Alexander Hammond, “A Reconstruction of Poe’s 1833 Tales of the Folio Club: Preliminary Notes,” Poe Studies, 5 (1972), 25-32; G. R. Thompson, Poe’s Fiction Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales, Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, 1973, pp. 125-130; my study named above and The Very Spirit of Cordiality: Alcohol and Alcoholism in the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1978, pp. 3-5; Mabbott, 2: 148-169; George H. Soule, “Byronism in Poe’s ‘Metzengerstein’ and ‘William Wilson’,” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, 24 (1978), 152-162; Edward W. Pitcher, “Poe’s ‘The Assignation’: A Reconsideration,” Poe Studies, 13 (1980), 1-4; Dennis Pahl, “Recovering Byron: Poe’s ‘The Assignation’,” Criticism, 26 (1984), 111-119; and my “The Flights of a Good Man’s Mind: Gothic Fantasy in Poe’s ‘The Assignation’,” Modern Language Studies, 16 (1986), 27-34.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 60:]

2  Source studies are cited in Fisher, Library Chronicle, pp. 103-105; 245-251. The idea that Poe did not draw on E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “Doge and Dogaressa,” also mentioned there, is strengthened by Mabbott, 2: 149. Conversely, the Moore-Poe bond is tightened by Burton R. Pollin, “Light on ‘Shadow’ and Other Pieces by Poe; or, More of Thomas Moore,” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance,” 18 (1972), 166-173.

3  Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson, The Poe Log. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987, pp. 127-135. I acknowledge assistance from Alexander Hammond in shaping my thinking about this circumstance. “Epimanies” — later “Four Beasts in One” — appears in Ostrom 53-54; “Silence — A Fable” in my “The Power of Words in Poe’s ‘Silence’,’’ Poe at Work: Seven Textual Studies, ed. Benjamin Franklin Fisher IV. Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1978 pp. 57-59, with a facsimile between pp. 60-61. See also Robert Regan, “Hawthorne’s ‘Plagiary’: Poe’s Duplicity,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 25 (1970), 281-288; Richard Fusco, “Poe’s Revisions of ‘The Mystery of Marie Rogêt — a Hoax?,” Poe at Work, pp. 91-97.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 61:]

4  Originally the fifty-seventh annual lecture to The Edgar Allan Poe Society (7 October 1979), Baltimore, Dameron’s study draws on Fraser’s and other contemporaneous periodicals. It establishes specific parallels between “Usher” and Bulwer’s “Conversations with an Ambitious Student in Ill Health,” running in the New Monthly during 1831-1832. So Poe’s acquaintance with that magazine at about the time “The Veiled Picture” appeared is established. See also Ostrom, 57-59. Ties to Fraser’s are cited by Mabbott, 1: 372-373: and throughout 2 and 3. More specifics on Fraser’s appear in W. T. Bandy, American Literature, 24 (1953), 534-537; and Daniel E. Lees, Papers on Language and Literature, 6 (1970), 92-95. The Godey’s connection is cited in Mabbott, 2: 357-359, and links with Blackwood’s are also established there. Two more books worthwhile in this context are Margaret Alterton, Origins of Poe’s Critical Theory. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press 1925; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966, especially Chapter 1 [on Blackwood’s Edinburgh Review]; and Michael Allen, Poe and the British Magazine Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969, pp. 13, 19, 44-46, 132, 159-161 [Fraser’s, Godey’s].

5  The first installment of “Some Passages,” moreover, was pirated by a periodical composed of reprints that Poe could have seen, The Museum of Foreign Literature and Science, published in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, 20 (1832), 3-12. There also appeared notices of the books about Byron, materials on Thomas Moore, and a Blackwood”s piece on Chateaubriand. Poe’s use of Chateaubriand’s Travels may have taken his attention to this article, in which Byron and Shakespeare are bracketed as minglers of “poetry and romance,” and thus effected a chain of associations that called up Romeo and Juliet within Poe’s imagination.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 62:]

6  Further possible New Monthly sources for “The Assignation” appear in 28 (1830), 97-104 (on Canova, Michelangelo, and other sculptors), 154-166 (joke about a wine-lover’s near suicide from poison), 200 (poem, “The Gondola,” includes visions of Venice, the drinking of beauty in man’s final hour in Eden, “though the draught was death”), 271-275 (Byron and Shakespeare mentioned, along with Kemble and O’Neill, who acted Juliet and mention of Tom Moore’s The Fudge Family in Paris), 327-336 (a half comic essay, but one which associates Byron with Shakespeare), 455 (near live burial in “the tomb of the Capulets” prevented when the painter’s wife rescues him); 30 (1830), 160-161, 169 (Romeo and Juliet mentioned, also alludes to Tom Moore as “Moore of Venice”), 202-209 (mentions Persians’ pagan worship, Apollo Belvidere), 480-481 (mentions Titian, Michelangelo), 502-503 (J. C. Hobhouse’s notice of Galt’s Byron, with nearby remarks on Shakespeare), 31 (1831), 127-132, 363-372 (“After-Dinner Chat”), 159-164 (Moore’s shortcomings as Byron’s biographer), 32 (1831), 30 (Siddons’s acting Juliet); 33 (1832), 69-70 (brackets Bianca from Fazio, Shakespeare’s women, notes Moore’s slurs on Byron), 117-118 (Byron, Bianca from Fazio, and Shakespeare named in close proximity). Poe might also have drawn the name Bianca into his Godey’s text because of Byron’s citing a “genuine Donna Bianca.” Poe probably knew best the American edition of Moore’s Byron, published by Harper in New York, 2 vols., 1830-1831, which I cite throughout — the “Donna Bianca” comment from 2: 262.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 63:]

7  Ruth Leigh Hudson’s unpublished dissertation, University of Virginia, 1935, pp. 39-141, suggests “Some Passages” as a source for the Marchesa’s portrait, but only in terse terms.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 66:]

8  Fisher, Library Chronicle, 227-229, “The Flights of a Good Man’s Mind,” 33. Pahl, 218-219, offers dissenting opinion. See also Mario Praz, On Neoclassicism, transl. Angus Davidson. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969, pp. 150-151.

9  American Monthly Magazine, 3 (1831), 61-65. A notice of Milman’s Fazio, that Poe probably saw (Fisher, Library Chronicle, 226-227, 247), followed in May. Cf. n5 above. See also The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P. P. Howe. London and Toronto: Dent, 1933, 16: 57-99. Poe may also have read Hartley Coleridge’s “Ignoramus on the Arts,” Blackwood’s, 29 (January 1831), 214-223. Byron’s name appears in close proximity to remarks about Venus and Apollo; the persona framing the essay, like Poe’s narrator, can not grasp principles of art. See Alterton, Origins, pp. 31 ff., 190.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 68:]

10  Paull F. Baum, “The Young Man Betrothed to a Statute,” PMLA, 34 (1919), 523-575; 35 (1920), 60-62, analyzes ambiguities in Venus lore. Poe could have known of Byron’s preference for sculpture over painting, expressed, for example, in Child Harold, and noted in More 2: 74-75. Amusingly, Byron deprecated the Apollo Belvidere, to which he was often compared.

11  An analogous sensation horrifies Sir Maurice, Reginald’s ancestor, who, after witnessing a lurid death, reports: “The thought of what had passed during the night now flashed upon [my] brain.” Sir Reginald’s glimpse of the omen, and the associations it conjures, is thus expressed: “[A] thousand old stories flashed upon my mind” (308).

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 75:]

12  Library Chronicle, 104; Burton R. Pollin, “Shakespeare in the Works of Edgar Allan Poe,” Studies in the American Renaissance, 9 (1985), 157-187; Mabbott 2: 167.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 76:]

13  2 vols. London and Edinburgh: Black, 1815.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 78:]

14  Alterton (33) cites this essay as an origin for Poe’s theory about unity of effect; he may have drawn elsewise on it for “The Assignation,” and also (Alterton’s bibliography notes it as a possible source for other aspects of Poe) from October 1818, “Remarks on the Poetry of Thomas Moore” (1-5). Moore’s sensuality is attacked; Byron’s treatment of women is much better. Moore placed into the mouth of a dying poet words that were altogether “reminiscences of sensual delights . . . as if there were no soul to wing an eternal flight from the lips of the departed” (3). The winged Aphrodite in the painting and the speeches of her lover may reasonably originate here. See also Hoover H. Jordan, “Byron and Moore,” Modern Language Quarterly, 9 (1948), 429-439.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 79:]

15  Hazlitt, Complete Works, 19: 62-84, may be more convenient. An anonymous rejoinder, in the [London] Album, 3 (May 1823), 88-99, contrasts Byron’s notion that sculptural art — exemplified by Canova’s Venus — was superior to Nature, with what the critic argues is the superiority of Nature, citing Romeo’s love as “Nature.” The critic prefers flesh and blood, but his comparisons could have appealed to Poe. Mention of Byron’s nature, as “Genius” or “Demon,” Edinburgh Review, 55 (January 1820), 1, may likewise have influenced Poe; the second paragraph in “The Assignation” contained a “Demon of Romance” until 1845, when “Genius” replaced it. See also Carl R. Woodring, “Nature, Art, Reason, and Imagination in Childe Harold,” Romantic and Victorian: Studies in Memory of William H. Marshall, ed. W. Paul Elledge and Richard L. Hoffman. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1971, pp. 147-157.  [This footnote appears at the bottom of page 79.]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 80:]

16  Wilson’s essay quotes much from Jameson’s Characteristics of Women (1833), but his own words, which echo in Poe, make his essay the more likely source. Pertinent contexts for “passion” appear in Glen Allan Omans, Passion in Poe: The Development of a Term. Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1986.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 81:]

17  In “Shakespeare . . . Poe,” Pollin suggests two additional allusions to Hamlet in “The Assignation,” p. 171. The manuscript of Poe’s copied extracts, now published in Pollin, pp. 182-186, is held in the Virginia State Library. I acknowledge the kindness of Randolph W. Church, former state Librarian, for making it accessible to me, and that Alexander Hammond and Kent Ljungquist, for useful suggestions.

18  I cite The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974, pp. 1055-1099. Mabbott offers Romeo and Juliet (IV, v, 23, “She’s dead, deceas’d, she’s dead; alack the day!”, as background for Politian, in his edition of Poe’s play — Menasha, Wis: The Collegiate Press, 1923, p. 75.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 85:]

19  Russell B. Nye discusses tableaux in The Unembarrassed Muse: The Popular Arts in America. New York; Dial Press, 1970, p. 184. Actors representing classical deities wore garments tight or scanty enough to be revealing, as is borne out in the paintings in “Some Passages” and approximated in the introduction of Poe’s Marchesa. The authoritative discussion of the tableaux mode is Lucien Rimels, “Quadro Vivente,” Enciclopidia dello Spettacoli, ed. Silvia d’Amico. Rome: Casa, 1961, p. 614.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 86:]

20  Since all of his sources make use of the device, Poe could hardly have avoided conveying news through the mouth of a menial about some major personage’s terrible death.

21  Fisher, The Very Spirit of Cordiality, pp. 3-6. Byron’s scattered puns on “Poeshie” might naturally have caught Poe’s eye and ear.



This publication is based on lectures delivered at the rededication of the Sir Moses Ezekiel statue of Poe at the Univeristy of Baltimore in 1983.

Some minor typographical errors in the original printing of this lecture have here been silently corrected.

© 1987 and 1998, by the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.


[S:1 - MAR, 1987] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Lectures - Myths and Reality - More Pieces in the Puzzle of Poe's The Assignation (B. F. Fisher IV, 1987)