Text: Roberta Sharp, “Poe’s Chapters on ‘Natural Magic’,” Poe and His Times: The Artist and His Milieu, Baltimore: The Edgar Allan Poe Society, 1990, pp. 154-167 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 154, unnumbered:]



Sir David Brewster’s Letters on Natural Magic (1831) was popular and influential in Poe’s time. A respected scientist and noted writer, Brewster addresses the volume to Sir Walter Scott, who suggested the book as part of the Family Library Historical Series. In the introductory letter to Scott, Brewster declares his intention to “imbody the information which history supplies respecting the fables and incantations of the ancient superstitions, and to show how far they can be explained by the scientific knowledge which then prevailed.”(1)

The first “letter” discusses the “secret use which was . . . made of scientific discoveries” (p. 17). In later chapters Brewster explains natural phenomena which he calls magic — what could be interpreted as supernatural events by the incredulous or naive — and describes spectral images and other visual and auditory puzzles as “chapter[s] in the history of the marvelous” (p. 34). He insists that they have long been used by rulers in subjugating the citizenry:

When the tyrants of antiquity were unable or unwilling to found their sovereignty on the affections and interests of their people, they sought to entrench themselves in the strongholds of supernatural influences, and to rule with the delegated authority of Heaven. The prince, the priest, and the sage, were leagued in a dark conspiracy to deceive and enslave their species; and man, who refused his submission to a being like himself, became the obedient slave of a spiritual despotism, and willingly bound himself in chains when they seemed to have been forged by the gods. (p. 14)

. . .

A national system of deception, intended as an instrument of government, must have brought into requisition not merely the scientific skill of the age, but a variety of subsidiary contrivances calculated to astonish the beholder, to confound his judgment, to dazzle his senses, and to give a predominant influence to the peculiar imposture which it was thought desirable to establish. (p. 70)

Only slight attention has been given the significant use Poe made of Brewster’s Letters. Recently, Burton Pollin speculates that Poe must have used the “1832 pirated edition of the Harpers, reprinted year [page 155:] after year for decades.” He identifies the first trace of Brewster’s book in Poe’s fiction as the word DISCOVERY mysteriously written on a sail in “MS. Found in a Bottle” (1833).(2) Years ago, W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., established Poe’s reliance on Brewster for “Maelzel’s Chess Player,” attributing Poe’s “exposure” of the chess machine as a person hiding in it to his writing skill, not to his reasoning ability: “Poe alleges as the foundation of his ‘result’ seventeen ‘observations taken during frequent visits to the exhibition.’ Some of them are acute and well applied, but these all tend to establish, not the way the machine worked, but as Poe confesses in a footnote, the fact already amply established, that the machine must be regulated by mind . . . . Sir David Brewster had assumed it was obvious and dwelt on it momentarily.”(3) Pollin speculates upon Poe’s going to such lengths to expose the device which needed no exposing as a hoax: “The ignorance of the public and the failure of anyone to note the pretensions of his claim may then have led him to persist in presenting it as a piece of original ratiocination.”(4) Actually Poe concentrates on detailing ways how people can be fooled, a judgment which Wimsatt supports: “Poe emerges from the ‘Essay’ not as a detective drawing from ‘observed facts a conclusion which squares with other facts. He emerges as an imaginative writer, with a power of making bright and acceptable the drab mechanic guesses of writers with an eye to reality” (p.151).

Little attention has been given the extensive and imaginative use Poe made of Brewster in his other fiction, however. A reading of Letters shows that the book had a significant impact on Poe’s thought throughout his career and provided him with ideas for creating numerous fictional effects. Although Brewster strove to divest phenomena of its mystery and magic, Poe used mysterious effects in creating his fiction. As Poe’s youthful Pym says, “Schoolboys . . . can accomplish wonders in the way of deception” (H3:16).

Plausibly, the author of Treatise on Optics (1831) devotes much of Letters to the subject of visual distortion. He discusses at length various ways that visual perception can be confounded — mirrors, haze, smoke, light, and other conditions of nature — and the resulting illusions. Brewster clearly provided material that Poe used in creating effects in his fiction. Brewster details how strategically placed mirrors may trick the eye into seeing an image in an inverted position or in some other strange circumstance; for example, if two concave mirrors are placed opposite each other, an aerial image will be formed which “will exhibit the precise form and colours and movements of the living object,” but it will make an image “either suspended in the air or depicted upon a wreath of smoke” (p. 66). [page 156:]

This effect must be what Poe has in mind in Pym when the native Too-wit looks into the two large mirrors in the cabin of the Jane Guy: “Upon raising his eyes and seeing his reflected self in the glass, I thought the savage would go mad; but, upon turning short round to make a retreat, and beholding himself a second time in the opposite direction, I was afraid he would expire on the spot” (H3: 183). Poe does not explain that Too-wit may be seeing himself in some distorted fashion, either upside down or floating in the air. Pym and the crew members see Too-wit’s reaction as naivete, but their assumptions about the simple-mindedness of the natives soon prove false, of course, when the savages engineer an earthslide which entombs most of the party.

Poe uses mirrors for psychological effect in “Von Jung” (“Mystification”) and “William Wilson.” Baron Ritzner Von Jung throws a decanter of wine into the mirrored reflection of Mynheer Herman with the words: “I shall discharge this decanter of wine at your image in yonder mirror, and thus fulfill all the spirit, if not the exact letter, of resentment for your insult, while the necessity of physical violence to your real person will be obviated” (M2: 300). As part of an elaborate ruse involving both the provocation and eventual aversion of a duel, the mirror thus facilitates the Baron’s practical joke. The narrator in “William Wilson” does resort to physical violence by savagely stabbing his own double. Psychologically, the murder of the doppelgänger becomes self-destruction; the narrator perceives this truth only when he confronts his image in an imaginary mirror: “A large mirror, — so at first it seemed to me in my confusion — now stood where none had been perceptible before; and, as I stepped up to it in extremity of terror, mine own image, but with features all pale and dabbled in blood, advanced to meet me with a feeble and tottering gait” (M2: 447448). This scene closely parallels Brewster’s explanation that mirrors may create an illusion of a person being stabbed by his own image:

If a person with a drawn and highly polished dagger, illuminated by a strong light, stands a little farther from a concave mirror than its principal focus, he will perceive in the air between himself and the mirror an inverted and diminished image of his own person with the dagger similarly brandished. If he aims the dagger at the centre of the mirror’s concavity, the two daggers will meet point to point, and, by pushing it still farther from him towards the mirror, the imaginary dagger will strike at his heart . . . . By using two mirrors . . . the spectator would witness an exact image of the assassin aiming the dagger at his life. (pp. 66-67) [page 157:]

Poe’s fiction abounds with scenes which appear out of a smokey or cloudy atmosphere. These scenes are often beautiful as in the “Domain of Amheim” or “Landor’s Cottage,” frequently mysterious as in “The Man of the Crowd” or “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” but sometimes grotesque as in “King Pest.” The last may derive macabre imagery involving skulls and skeletons from an observation of Brewster’s about effects of light passing through haze, dust, or smoke:

It has long been a favourite experiment to place at A a white and strongly illuminated human skull, and to exhibit an image of it amid the smoke of a chafing-dish at B; but a more terrific effect would be produced if a small skeleton suspended by invisible wires were placed as an object at A. Its image suspended in the air at B, or painted upon smoke, could not fail to astonish the spectator. (p. 66)

Perhaps achieving a “more terrific effect” is the object of the sinister assembly described in Poe’s “King Pest”:

Before each of the party lay a portion of a skull, which was used as a drinking cup. Overhead was suspended a human skeleton, by means of a rope tied round one of the legs and fastened to a ring in the ceiling. The other limb confined by no such fetter, stuck off from the body at right angles, causing the whole loose and rattling frame to dangle and twirl about at the caprice of every occasional puff of wind which found its way into the apartment. In the cranium of this hideous thing lay a quantity of ignited charcoal, which threw a fitful but vivid light over the entire scene; while coffins, and other wares appertaining to the shop of an undertaker, were piled high up around the room, and against the windows, preventing any ray from escaping into the street. (M2: 248)

Scenes in this tale are as gruesome as the death ship described in Ch. 10 of Pym. Despite the repulsive imagery and the setting in a wine cellar beneath an undertaker’s shop, “King Pest” is “one of the most brilliant pure burlesques in the language’”(5)

Brewster’s discussion of the magic lantern effect perhaps explains one of Poe’s strangest stories, “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains.” Brewster describes “mysterious handwriting on the wall of an apartment from which the magician and his apparatus were excluded” (p. 89) as well as the arrangement of a speculum and lens which could project an image at a distance when illuminated by sunlight. He adds: “any word associated with the fate of the individual observer could not fail to produce a singular effect upon his mind” (p. 90). This line might well [page 158:] have prompted Poe to tell the story of Augustus Bedloe, who, as if stepping through a space-time warp amid the mists and fog of Indian Summer, vividly experiences what appears to be his own past death in the midst of an uprising in an Oriental city. After the wind blows away the fog, “as if by the wand of an enchanter,” Bedloe sees an “Easternlooking city” on the banks of the river far below him and witnesses events which, Dr. Templeton later reveals, have basis in historical fact.(6) Whether Bedloe’s experience is hallucination, dream, fantasy, remembrance, mirage, delusion or clairvoyance is never made entirely clear. Poe wants us to rule out, I think, the simple explanation that it was all a dream in having Bedloe “test” it by suspecting it to be a dream. The narrator finds significance in the palindrome created by the name Oldeb by the typographical misspelling of Bedloe’s name as Bedlo in his obituary, an error which the narrator claims makes “one truth [that] is stranger than any fiction” (M3: 950). Ironically, this conclusion creates even more mystification unless one considers Brewster’s sketch showing a word projected in reverse by the magic lantern effect (p. 89, Fig. 9) and that the mirror image of Oldeb would be Bedlo.

Still another idea about visual phenomena which Poe may have borrowed from Brewster is seeing better by indirect vision. Brewster explains that “all objects seen indirectly are seen indistinctly; but it is a curious circumstance, that when we wish to obtain a sight of a very faint star, such as one of the satellites of Saturn, we can see it most distinctly by looking away from it, and when the eye is turned full upon it, it immediately disappears” (p. 15). Poe uses this idea in several tales, notably “Murders,” and states it in “A Chapter of Suggestions”: “The intuitive and seemingly casual perception by which we often attain knowledge, when reason herself falters and abandons the effort, appears to resemble the sudden glancing at a star by which we see it more clearly than by a direct gaze” (M3: 1318, n5). Pym applies the principle to his dilemma in the dark hold of the Grampus when he needs to examine a piece of paper: “The white slip of paper could barely be discerned, and not even that when I looked at it directly; by turning the exterior portions of the retina toward it, that is to say, by surveying it slightly askance, I found that it became in some measure perceptible” (H3: 37).

Pym’s action, as he later realizes, is not so clever as it first sounds because the paper appears blank, and he tears it up and throws it away. Later, realizing his folly in not examining both sides of the paper, he finds the pieces and fits them together. His phosphorous almost gone, he feel what he hopes is the written side for some unevenness on its surface: “I now again carried my forefinger cautiously along when I was aware of an exceedingly slight, but still discernible glow, which [page 159:] followed as it proceeded. This I knew, must arise from some very minute remaining particles of the phosphorus with which I had covered the paper in my previous attempt” (H3: 40). Pym continues his efforts until he does indeed discover a note, only part of which he can read because his phosphorous supply burned out. Pym’s method must owe something to Brewster on reading coins in the dark: “All black or rough surfaces radiate light more copiously than polished or smooth surfaces, and hence the inscription is luminous when it is rough” (p. 113).

Brewster’s discussion of spectre images may explain the muchdiscussed but still puzzling “shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men. And the hue of the skin of the figure was of the perfect whiteness of the snow” (H3: 242). The figure at the end of Pym could be a visual fantasy according to Brewster on what can happen to vision in twilight:

The pupil expands nearly to the whole width of the iris, in order to collect the feeble light which prevails; but it is demonstrable that in this state the eye cannot accommodate itself to see near objects distinctly, so that the forms of persons and things actually become more shadowy and confused when they come within the very distance at which we count upon obtaining the best view of them. . . . The spectres which are conjured up are always white, because no other colour can be seen, and they are either formed out of inanimate objects which reflect more light than others around the, or of animals or human beings whose colour or change of place renders them more visible in the dark. When the eye dimly descries an inanimate object whose different parts reflect different degrees of light, its brighter parts may enable the spectator to keep up a continued view of it; but the disappearance and reappearance of its fainter parts, and the change of shape which ensues, will necessarily give it the semblance of a living form, and if it occupies a position which is unapproachable, and where animate objects cannot find their way, the mind will soon transfer to it a supernatural existence. (pp. 25-26)

Poe, of course, leaves the significance of the figure to speculation by readers, but Pym survives to tell the tale even though Poe never explains how he survives. Throughout the journey the pattern involves danger and deceptive appearances with even the circumstances which seem most treacherous or inexplicable yielding to reasonable explanation. Richard Kopley theorizes that the “shrouded human figure” is a reflection of a ship’s figurehead in the form of a penguin; a ship, of course, could account for Pym’s survival. Although he does [page 160:] not consider Brewster’s ideas, Kopley believes that the “essential structure of the book” rests on the idea of double mirrors.(7)

Brewster also analyzes spectre images of ships or land projected onto the horizon when atmospheric conditions are just right. He offers an explanation of spectre ships, which in some instances have been seen in duplicate with one image reversed as with the double mirrors:

If, in serene weather, the surface of the sea is much colder than the air of the atmosphere, as it frequently is, . . . the air next the sea will gradually become colder and colder, by giving out its heat to the water; and the air immediately above will give out its heat to the cooler air immediately below it, so that the air from the surface of the sea, to a considerable height upwards, will gradually diminish in density, and therefore must produce the very phenomena we have described. (p. 142)

These phenomena are circumstances in which atmospheric and temperature conditions are such that the surface of the water acts either as a concave or convex lens and may produce the image of an object “transferred over the intervening convexity and presented in distinct and magnified outline” (p. 140). Such conditions may explain the false shore line envisioned by Parker when Pym knows that their vessel is far from land (H3: 121). Similarly, the ship Pym later spots in the same direction may have been a mirage; such a possibility could account for her apparently erratic behavior in that she at first appears to be heading toward the stranded crew. Suddenly Pym sees the “ship all at once with her stern fully presented towards us, and steering in a direction nearly opposite to that in which I had at first perceived her” (H3: 122).

Another particularly fascinating image Brewster cites is the spectre of Mt. Aetna, which may have provided Poe a suggestion for Eureka; Brewster quotes a Rev. Mr. Hughes on the following illusion: “‘At the extremity of the vast shadow which Aetna projects across the island, appears a perfect and distinct image of the mountain itself elevated above the horizon, and diminished as if viewed in a concave mirror”’ (p. 139). The narrator of Eureka could literally spin around on a spectral mountain about as well as on the real Mt. Aetna, which is a volcano. This gyration, however, would cause “exclusively terrestrial matters” to vanish and allow the “more conspicuous [to] become blended into one” (H16:187).

Poe may be further indebted to Brewster for the notion of seeing all “blended into one.” Brewster explains the pinwheel effect of putting [page 161:] part of a sentence on one side of a card and part on the other and then spinning the card

Particular letters may be given on one side, and others upon the other, or even halves or parts of each letter may be put upon each side, or all these contrivances may be combined, so that the sentiment which they express can be understood only when all the scattered parts are united by the revolution of the card.

As the revolving card is virtually transparent, so that bodies beyond it can be seen through it, the power of the illusion might be greatly extended by introducing into the picture other figures either animate or inanimate. The setting sun, for example, might be introduced into a landscape (p. 35).

Surely this image of the setting sun suggests a scene in Poe’s “The Island of the Fay”:

As I thus mused, with half-shut eyes, while the sun sank rapidly to rest, and eddying currents careered round and round the island, bearing upon their bosom large, dazzling, white flakes of the bark of the sycamore — flakes which, in their multiform positions upon the water, a quick imagination might have converted into anything it pleased — while I thus mused, it appeared to me that the form of one of those very Fays about whom I had been pondering, made its way slowly into the darkness from out of the light at the western end of the island (M2: 604).

Besides the visual manifestations that so readily convince people that they have witnessed the supernatural, Brewster explains several incidents involving ventriloquism which suggest to the listener that the voice came from “a spirit”: “though the persons of his [the ventriloquist’s] fictitious dialogue are not visible to the eye, yet they are unequivocally present to the imagination of his auditors, as if they had been shadowed forth in the silence of a spectral form” (p.160). Poe has Peters use a disguised voice in the scene where Pym, masquerading as a corpse, frightens one of his captors to death and stuns the others so much that Pym and his companions escape. The narrator of Poe’s “Thou Art the Man”(8) uses his “ventriloquial abilities” to accuse a man of murder (M3: 1059). The effect of a corpse making an accusation was so shocking that Mr. Goodfellow confessed to the murder and died on the spot.(9)

Brewster’s discussion of cavities in minerals could explain the strange color and texture of the water found by Pym and his [page 162:] companions. Brewster describes “two new fluids different from any hitherto known,” which can be seen under microscope in the cavities of gems; these fluids exist “in the same cavity in actual contact, without mixing together in the slightest degree” (p. 298). His detailed explanation of this phenomenon concentrates on properties in the fluids which expand and contract differently in response to heat, but he also remarks on the “singular” nature of the fluids and the resulting “beautiful optical phenomena” (pp. 298-306). Poe’s account reads:

At a small brook . . . Too-wit and his attendants halted to drink. On account of the singular character of the water, we refused to taste it, supposing it to be polluted. . . , Although it flowed with rapidity in all declivities where common water would do so, yet never, except when falling in a cascade, had it the customary appearance of limpidity. It was . . . not colorless, nor was it of any one uniform color-presenting to the eye, as it flowed, every possible shade of purple, like the hues of a changeable silk. This variation of shade was produced in a manner which excited as profound astonishment in the minds of our party as the mirror had done in the case of Too-wit. Upon collecting a basinful, and allowing it to settle thoroughly, we perceived that the whole mass of liquid was made up of a number of distinct veins, each of a distinct hue; that these veins did not commingle; and that their cohesion was perfect in regard to their own particles among themselves, and imperfect in regard to neighboring veins. Upon passing the blade of a knife athwart the veins, the water closed over it immediately, and also, in withdrawing it, all traces of the passage of the knife were instantly obliterated. If however the blade was passed down accurately between the two veins, a perfect separation was effected which the power of cohesion did not immediately rectify (H3: 186-187).

Brewster recounts also an undivulged chemical process that produced a remarkable color transformation:

Professor Beyruss, who lived at the court of the Duke of Brunswick, one day pronounced to his highness that the dress which he wore should during dinner become red; and the change actually took place, to the astonishment of the prince and the rest of his guests. M. Vogel, who has recorded this curious fact, has not divulged the secret of the German chemist; but he observes, that if we pour limewater into the juice of beet-root, we shall obtain a colourless liquid; and that a piece of white cloth dipped in this liquid and dried rapidly will in a few hours become red by the [page 163:] mere contact of air. M. Vogel is also of opinion that this singular effect would be accelerated in an apartment where champaign or other fluids charged with carbonic acid are poured out in abundance. (p. 307)

One need only recall such transformations as that of Berenice’s hair changing from dark to light or Rowena’s from light to dark to appreciate Poe’s fascination with such possibilities. He was intrigued by transformations. One of the most interesting connections of all between Brewster’s book and Poe’s fiction concerns one of Poe’s last tales, “Von Kempelen and His Discovery.” This tale is also linked to “Maelzel’s Chess Player” in that, according to Brewster, the inventor of the chess machine was M. Kempelen of Presburg (p. 243). Poe’s Von Kempelen discovered how to transform lead into gold.

Although on the surface the tone of “Von Kempelen” resembles that of a fairly serious report, Poe makes some of his funniest jokes in it. The narrator’s deadpan reference to “protoxide” of azote, for example, is really a reference to nitrous oxide or laughing gas (Pollin, Discoveries, p. 179). He also quibbles over grammar in the sentence supposedly quoted from Sir Humphrey Davy’s “Diary,” a source still unidentified despite Poe’s bracketed editorial comment in response to the narrator’s promise of a quotation from the “Diary”: “As we have not the algebraic signs necessary, and as the ‘Diary’ is to be found at the Athenaeum Library, we omit here a small portion of Mr. Poe’s manuscript” (M3: 1358). Pollin believes that Poe invented the “Diary of Sir Humphrey Davy,” even down to its spurious facts of publication and page references (Discoveries, p.170).(10)

Interestingly, near the end of Letters, Brewster includes several pages of direct quotation from Davy recounting the effects on himself of laughing gas, taken experimentally on three separate occasions. Although Davy claims no ill effects from the gas, he does experience a euphoria which resembles intoxication and causes him to exclaim on one occasion, “‘What an annoying concatenation of ideas!’” (p. 309) and on another, “‘Nothing exists but thoughts; the universe is composed of impressions, ideas, pleasures, and pains!”’ (p. 310). Perhaps these remarks prompted Poe to mock this respected scientist with a cryptic line: “The fact is, Sir Humphrey Davy was about the last man in the world to commit himself on scientific topics. Not only had he a more than ordinary dislike to quackery, but he was morbidly afraid of appearing empirical” (M3: 1359). Probably, Poe’s sly references to Davy’s “Diary” were directed at the passages in Brewster’s Letters as the source of the apocryphal “Diary.” In fact, Poe claims that the following line appears near the middle of page thirteen in Davy: “‘In less than half a minute the respiration being continued, diminished [page 164:] gradually and were succeeded by analogous to gentle pressure on all the muscles”’ (M1: 1359). A sentence from Brewster must be the source of Poe’s garbled version: “‘The first feelings were similar to those produced in the last experiment, but in less than half a minute, the respiration being continued, they diminished gradually, and were succeeded by a highly pleasurable thrilling, particularly in the chest and the extremities”’ (pp. 308-309).

Despite sounding like a title Poe would invent, “Silliman’s Journal” was a popular scientific publication — the American Journal of Science and Arts, edited by Benjamin Silliman. Immediately following his quotations from Davy, Brewster quotes Professor Silliman’s account of two of his students who took nitrous oxide: one of “sanguine temperament” became so excited that he danced and shouted and “was thrown into a frightful fit of delirium” (p. 311); the other, who had been gloomy and depressed, experienced “‘an astonishing invigoration of his whole system, and the most exquisite perceptions of delight,”’ but also developed a taste for sugar or molasses on everything he ate as a result of this experiment (p. 312). It is not surprising that Poe took a satiric thrust at “Silliman’s Journal” in “Von Kempelen.”

Brewster’s Letters may not only have given Poe these hints for humor in “Von Kempelen,” but, in a discussion of alchemy, the suggestion for the tale itself. Brewster claims that at one time “gold and silver were actually produced by chemical processes from the rude ores of lead and copper” (p. 269). His further discussion may have provided Poe with the idea for alchemy as a criminal act which could be used for satire.

When his [the alchemist’s] calling was followed, as it soon was, by men prodigal of fortune and of character, science became an instrument of crime; secrets unattained were bartered for the gold of the credulous and the ignorant, and books innumerable were composed to teach these pretented [sic] secrets to the world. An intellectual reaction, however, soon took place; and those very princes who had sought to fill their exhausted treasuries at the furnace of the chemist, were the first to enact laws against the frauds which they had encouraged, and to dispel the illusions which had so long deceived their subjects.

But even when the moral atmosphere of Europe was thus disinfected, chemistry supplied the magician with his most lucrative wonders, and those who could no longer delude the public with dreams of wealth and longevity, now sought to amuse and astonish them by the exhibition of their skill, (pp. 275-276) [page 165:]

Poe apparently considered “Von Kempelen” a “moral disinfectant” for gold fever: “The announcement of the discovery six months ago would have had material influence in regard to the settlement of California” (M3:1364).

Clearly, Brewster provided Poe with sources for some of his most provocative works. He responded imaginatively to Brewster’s charge: “If those who have not hitherto sought for instruction and amusement in the study of the material world, shall have found a portion of either in the preceding pages, they will not fail to extend their inquiries to other popular departments of science, even if they are less marked with the attributes of the marvellous” (p. 313), For Poe, Brewster’s book was useful as a source of “instruction and amusement,” not in studying the “material world” so much as in creating his fictional world.


[page 165, continued:]


1.  Letters on Natural Magic (New York, 1832), p. 17.

2.  “‘MS. Found in a Bottle’ and Sir David Brewster’s Letters: A Source,” PoeS, 15(1982), 41-42.

3.  “Poe and the Chess Automaton,” AL, 11(1939), 148-149.

4.  Discoveries in Poe (Notre Dame, 1970), p. 171.

5.  Constance Rourke, American Humor: A Study of the National Character (New York, 1931), p. 183.

6.  Templeton is right in that at least some of the details of Bedloe’s vision refer to “actual events” (M3: 949). Warren Hastings was indeed administrator of Benares, but Mabbott says that the date of the insurrection should be 1781 (M3: 952, n20). Pollin says that Poe plagiarized from Macaulay in using the name Bedloe from an account of an uprising against Hastings and cites an interesting historical precedent for Bedloe in English history: “William Bedloe had confirmed the false testimony of Titus Oates in the false charges against the Catholics in 1678, in consequence of which thirty-five men were judicially murdered” (Discoveries, p.26). The implication is that the name Bedloe connotes falsification.

7.  “The Hidden Journey of Arthur Gordon Pym,” in SAR (1982), p. 30.

8.  Interestingly, the title, “Thou Art the Man,” ties this tale even more closely to Sir David Brewster through Richard Adams Locke’s Moon Hoax. This article, which was taken seriously for a time, describes a discussion between Sir John Hershell and Brewster [page 167:] about a newly developed telescope: “ . . . the conversation became directed to that all-invincible enemy, the paucity of light in powerful magnifiers. After a few moments’ silent thought, Sir John diffidently enquired whether it would not be possible to effect a transfusion of artificial light through the focal object of vision! Sir David, somewhat startled at the originality of the idea, paused awhile, and then hesitantly referred to the refrangibility of rays, and the angle of incidence. Sir John, grown more confident adduced the example of the Newtonian Reflector, in which the refrangibility was corrected by the second speculum, and the angle of incidence restored by the third. “And,” continued he, “why cannot the illuminated microscope, say the hydro-oxygen, be applied to render distinct and if necessary, even to magnify the focal object?” Sir David sprung from his chair in an ecstasy of conviction, and leaping half-way to the ceiling, exclaimed ‘Thou art the man!”’ Quoted by Gibson Reaves, “The Great Moon Hoax of 1835,” The Griffith Observer, 18(1954), 129; for a complete transcript of the Moon Hoax, see Sky, February, March, April 1937.

9.  Goodfellow’s confession and the narrator’s “solution” leave problems in addition to that of the circumstantial nature of the “evidence.” The narrator’s suspicions of Goodfellow are supposedly confirmed by the extraordinarily large bullet, having a flaw which matches a mold and a rifle belonging to Mr. Pennifeather. This bullet was found in the chest of Mr. Shuttleworthy’s dead horse and allegedly passed completely through the horse only to have been replaced by the culprit. Earlier it caused the magistrate to indict Pennifeather. Later it caused the narrator to convict Mr. Goodfellow without benefit of trial and execute him by shock. Even though the unusually large bullet did fit Mr. Pennifeather s rifle, Mr. Goodfellow’s confession mentions shooting the horse with a pistol, a weapon which surely would have been too small for the large bullet. Another problem with Charley’s confession is his claim that he dragged the wounded horse to the pond, a doubtful feat for an old man.

10.  See M3: 1365, n2; 1366, n8.






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