Text: Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr., “Poe’s Debt to Father Bouhours,” from Poe Studies, December 1971, vol. IV, no. 2, 4:27-29


[page 27, column 1:]

Poe’s Debt to Father Bouhours

University of Hawaii

In the August 1836 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger appeared Edgar Allan Poe’s “Pinakidia,” a collection of items of literary interest culled from a variety of sources. Professors Griggs and Jackson identified many of them (1). They have made clear identifications from works by Isaac D’Israeli, Baron Bielfeld, Jacob Bryant, James Montgomery, James Fenimore Cooper, and August Wilhelm Schlegel. In introductory remarks in “Pinakidia,” Poe mentions Isaac D’Israeli and Baron Bielfeld (2). And, among others, in his citations, he refers to Montgomery, Cooper, Bryant, D’Israeli, and Baron Bielfeld (3). In both the introductory remarks and in an item in the body of the work, Poe also makes references to an unidentified source, “the author of ‘La Maniere de bien Penser’ “ (4).

The reference in the inttoduction is preceded by the name of Balzacs in such a way that a reader might think that Poe was identifying Balzac as the author of La Maniere de loden Penser. The work in question, however, was not by Balzac, but by Father Dominique Bouhours, another leading French literary critic of the seventeenth century. Perhaps Poe did not know the name of Father Boubours, since the title page of the edition I have access to does not indicate who the author is (6). [column 2:]

Father Bouhours’ work was first published in 1687 and has been briefly characterized by J. G. Robertson as follows: “Like most works of literary theory at this time, the Maniere is written in the form of dialogues. It is, in the main, an anthology from Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish authors illustrating the superiority of the classics to the modern literature of Italy and Spain” (7).

Following the procedure employed by Griggs and Jackson, I use the number of the paragraph in “Pinakidia,” in accordance with the order of the Harrison edition of Poe’s works for each identified item. Next is given the dialogue number as well as the page number(s) in the 1688 edition of La Maniere for the corresponding items as well as a brief indication of the subject matter.



La Maniere


  Subject Matter

Corneille’s Medea
Ariosto’s dead warrior
“Praecucurrit citius”
Hannibal in the Punica
Tasso, Lucan, Sulpicius
Naive Greek epigrams
Jupiter’s reveries
Richelieu’s dedication
Inscription for Louvre
Sr. Bruno “Egli e vivo”
Cervantes, “Van muerte”
Quintilian and obscuriq

A glance at this table shows that almost all the items from “Pinakidia” are found in the same small section of Father Bouhours’ work, and also that in general they are in the same order. It should be mentioned, perhaps, that the item numbered 110 corresponds to a similar one in Isaac D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature, as observed by Griggs (p. 198).

These facts should be sufficient to prove Poe’s dependence on La Maniere, but examination of the items will clinch the case. The item numbered 102 is a significant one in this regard. It reads, in Poe, as follows:

Ariosto says of one of his heroes, that, in the heat of combat not perceiving that he was a dead man, he continued to fight valiantly, dead as he was.

“Il pover’ hnomo, che non s’en era accorto,

Andava combattendo, ed era morto” (8).

The relevant passage in La Maniere reads as follows:

De l’humeur dont vous estes, replique Philanthe, vous n’approuveriez pas ce que dit l’Arioste d’un de ses Heros: que dans la chaleur du combat, ne s’etant pas apperceu qu’on l’avoit tue, il combatit toujours vaillamment tout mort qu’il estoit:

1l pover’ huomo che non s’en era accorto

Andava combattendo, & era morto (9).

If Poe made use of this edition, or a similar one, of La Maniere, the expansion of dr to ed suggests a knowledge of Italian usage; ed, rather than e, is used before a word beginning with a vowel. Otherwise, Poe has preserved the spelling of the French writer; he has translated Father Bouhours accurately, but with some freedom, rendering qu’on l’avoit tue ( literally, “that one had killed him”) as “that he was a dead man.” [page 28:]

Thomas O. Mabbott has stated that this passage, as quoted by Poe, should not be attributed to Ariosto, but did not indicate who the Italian poet was (10). John Hoole criticized Father Bouhours for the mistaken attribution and his “most extraordinary censure of Ariosto.” He also identified the passage that Father Bouhours must have had in mind as coming from Berni’s rifacimento of Boiardo’s Orlando lnnamorato, Book II, Canto XXIV, Stanza 60. The lines as given by Hoole are: “Cost colui del colpo non accorto,/Andava combattendo ed era Morto” (11).

Of like interest is the item numbered 107 in “Pinakidia” (p. 60). Poe writes: “Longinus calls pompous and inflated thoughts ‘reveries of Jupiter’—insomnia Jovis” (12). Father Bouhours quotes two lines in Latin attributed by him to Longin (that is, Longinus): In nugas quandoque facillime, quae grandis sunt, evadunt./ Quid enim haec aliud dixerimus, quam Jovis insomnia (Sect. 7) . He comments: “Tant il est aise de tomber du grand dans la bagatelle, ainsi que remarque Longin, qui nomme ces sortes de pensees, vaines & fastueuses, les reveries de Jupiter” (p. 252). Poe’s “reveries of Jupiter” is in literal agreement with Father Bouhours’ “reveries de Jupiter.” Poe made triple use of the item about the dead warrior continuing to fight unaware that he was dead in “Pinakidia” and in “The Scythe of Time” and yet again in “How to Write a Blackwood Article.” Similarly he again uses the phrase, insomnia Jovis, glossed as “reveries of Jupiter,” in the “Blackwood” story. On this occasion, however, he attributes the expression to Silius Italicus. Since the phrase is in Latin, a superficial reader might think Silius Italicus, whose Punica was written in Latin, a more likely source than Longinus (13). Unquestionably Father Bouhours was quoting from the work in Greek attributed to Longinus, but in a Latin version.

Although Poe’s expression “reveries of Jupiter” is not completely felicitous as a translation of the Greek Δισς ενυπνια it shows fidelity to the Jovis insomnia and reveries de Jupiter of Father Bouhours. Three years before the publication of La Maniere, Boileau’s French translation of the work of “Longinus” came into print. Perhaps Father Bouhours had completed this part of his work before becoming familiar with Boileau’s version; in any case, there is a noticeable difference between the version in La Maniere and Boileau’s from which we quote: “. . . . Ies genies naturellement les plus eleves tombent quelquefois dans la badinerie . . . . ce vent d’assez beaux songes, et, si vous voulez, des songes de Jupiter meme” (14). Perhaps the association of sublimity with both Silius Italicus and Longinus was in some way connected with Poe’s attributing the expression Jovis insomnia to the former. Poe was certainly much impressed by five lines of the Punica. In item 104 of “Pinakidia” (p. 59) he quotes these lines with the comment: “There is no passage among all the writings of antiquity more sublime than these lines of Silius Italicus. The words are addressed to a young man of Capua, who proposed to assassinate Hannibal at a banquet.” These lines are quoted in La Maniere (ii.85) and also used by Poe to illustrate the scansion of hexameters in his “The Rationale of Verse.”l5

The item numbered 113 in “Pinakidia” (p. 61) also supports the belief that Poe made use of La Maniere (iii.328). The same item also occurs in “How to Write [column 2:] a Blackwood Article” (Quinn and O’Neill, I, 239). In the story, Mr. Blackwood tells Psyche Zenobia:


‘Van [sic] muerte tan escondida,

Que no te sienta venir,

Porque el placer del morir

No mestorne [sic] a afar la vida.’

That’s Spanish—from Miguel de Cervantes. ‘Come quickly, O death! but be sure and don’t let me see you coming, lest the pleasure I shall feel at your appearance should unfortunately bring me back again to life.’ This you may slip in quite a propos when you are struggling in the last agonies with the chicken-bone. Write!

The text needs correction: van, “they go,” should be ven, “come”; mestorne should be me tome. In his translation, Poe may have been following Father Bouhours more closely than the Spanish, for Father Bouhours provides a French version:

O mort, viens promptement contenter mon envie;

Mais viens sans te faire sentir:

De peur que le plaisir que j’aurois a mourir,

Ne me rendist encor la vie!

which literally corresponds to:

O death, come promptly to content my desire

But come without causing thyself to be sensed:

Lest the pleasure that I would have in dying

Might render life to me again!

The Spanish lines, in a literal version, read:

Come, death so hidden, That I may not sense thy coming In order that the pleasure of dying May not again give life to me.

Father Bouhours and Poe attribute the lines to Cervantes and, indeed, they are found in Don Quijote, but as a quotation slightly altered from a stanza by Escriva, published in the Cancionero General of Hernando del Castillo a century before the writing of the novel (16).

Several other matters of language suggest Poe’s dependence on La Maniere. Poe’s familiarity with La Maniere may have caused him to refer to La Rochefoucauld as Rochefoucault, since the latter is the form given in the Table des Matieres at the end of Father Bouhours’ book: “Rochefoucault. Le Duc de la Rochefoucault Auteur des Reflexions morales, 67, 312. Sa pensee sur un ouvrage plein de subtilite & de brillant, 72” (17). In view of Father Bouhours’ usage, it is hard to concur completely with Professor Barzun that evidence of Poe’s lack of a command of French is his having written “Rochefoucault with a barely allowable t instead of d, and without the obligatory La before the name” (18). It may be harder to defend Poe or his editors for creating the name of La Bougive when La Bruyere was intended (see Barzun, pp. 23-24). In Poe’s defense, as Barzun recognizes, Poe does spell the name of La Bruyere correctly in the epigraph to “The Man of the Crowd.” In addition, Poe’s citation of La Bruyere shows an ability to transform within French a somewhat complicated statement (18). Professor Barzon has also pointed out (p. 26) the unidiomatic quality of the famed rue Morgue as a French street name. For Poe’s American readers, however, the effect of rue Morgue is to convey more mystery and atmosphere, [page 29:] it may be argued, than the “only possible phrase” — rue de la Morgue. Students of Poe owe gratitude to Baraun for his interest in these details, but may decide to accept as still valid an earlier appraisal of Poe’s use of French: “. . . . Poe does not use French indiscriminately. He is always getting an effect, and usually with success” (20).

Finally, it is provocative to consider how far La Maniere may have influenced Poe as a literary critic. This is a question which may be difficult to answer, but it is probable that at least some of the ideas of the French critic were read by the American writer with sympathy and interest. A statement like the following, in terminology and spirit, is not alien to the Poe of “The Philosophy of Composition”: “Quoy qu’il en soit, il est certain que les fictions ingenieuses ne font pas un moins bel effet en prose qu’en vers. Ce vent pour [’esprit autant de spectacles divertissans, qui ne manquent point de plaire aux personnel eclairees” (21). And Father Bouhours’ comments on brevity (for example, iv.381) have something in common with the point of view expressed by Poe in “The Poetic Principle” (Harrison, XIV, 266-292) . But my purpose has been simply to establish Poe’s familiarity with La Maniere; it remains for students of literary criticism to determine what effect Father Bouhours’ ideas may have had on Poe. In any case, the name of this French critic must be added to those of Isaac D’Israeli, Baron Bielfeld, Jacob Bryant, James Montgomery, James Fenimore Cooper, and August Wilhelm Schlegel in the case of “Pinakidia.” Furthermore, recognition of this source of Poe deepens the impression that French literature and literary criticism played a significant role in the development of Poe as critic and writer.



(1) Earl L. Griggs, “Five Sources of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Pinakidia,’” American Literature, 1 (1929), 196-199; David K. Jackson, “Poe Notes: ‘Pinakidia’ and’some Ancient Greek Authors,’” American Literature, 5 (1933), 258-267.

(2) James A. Harrison, ea., The Complete Work of Edgar Allan Poe, XIV (New York: The University Society, 1902), p. 39. “Pinakidia” appears between pages 38 and 72 of this edition. Further references will be as “Pinakidia,” with page number.

(3) “Pinakidia,” pp. 45, 46, 53, and 67 respectively.

(4) “Pinakidia,” pp. 39 and 59.

(5) Presumably to be identified as the literary critic whose name in full was Jean Louis Guez de Balzac, and whose Lettres and posthumously published essays, Les Entretiens, are significant as works of seventeenth-century French literary criticism.

(6) The title page gives the title: LA MANIERE DE BIEN PENSER DANS LES OUVRAGES D’ESPRIT. DIALOGUES. It contains the explanatory phrase: “Suivant la Copie, A AMSTERDAM, Chez ABRAHAM WOLFGANG, Pres de la Bourse. L’An 1688.” References to this work hereafter will be indicated as La Maniere with dialogue and page numbers.

(7) J. G. Robertson, Studies in the Genesis of Romantic Theory in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962), p. 9. Robertson’s analysis of La Maniere ends on p. 12. The reader wishing more information about Father Bouhours’ criticism is referred also to A. F. B. Clark, Boileau and the French Classical Critics in England 1660-1830 (Paris: Librairie Ancienne Edouard Champion, 1925), Ch. V, entitled “Bouhours,” pp. 262-274. Later references to the latter study will be indicated as Clark, with page numbers. The eighteenth century saw [column 2:] published at least two English versions of La Maniere: The Art of Criticism . . . . Translated from the best edition of the French (i.e., “La Maniere de bien penser”) . . . . by a person of quality. In four dialog?’es. 2 pt. (London: D. Brown & A. Roper, 1705), and The Arts of Logick and Rhetorick . . . . Interpreted and explain’d by . . . . Father Bo~ho~rs, adapted hy John Oldmixon from “La Maniere de bien penser” . . . . (London: John Clark, 1728). But, as I shall show, there is no need to assume that Poe made use of an English version, or that he did not have access to a French edition of La Maniere

(8) “Pinakidia,” p. 59. In the Italian quotation, the s’en should be changed to se n’ and the apostrophe of pover’ is not necessary. In modern practice, there is no h in uomo.

(9) La Maniere, p. 13. For a French writer, to write s’en is a natural way of writing se n’.

(10) Thomas Ollive Mabbott, ed., Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, I (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard U P, 1969), p. 486, in speaking of Poe’s use of the lines in “The Scythe of Time” and in “Pinakidia,” Professor Mabbott gives e rather than ed, and uses se’ n. Further references to this volume are indicated as to Mabbott with page number.

(11) John Hoole, Orlando Furioso, translated from the Italian of Lodovico Ariosto, I (London, 1783), pp. xxxvii-xxxviii. Hoole suggested that the lines were quoted by Father Bouhours from memory. For an account of how the faulty attribution was repeated by George Granville, Lord Lansdowne, in his Essay Upon Unnatural Flights in Poetry, in which he relied on La Maniere, and Hoole’s recognition of the mistake, see Clark, pp. 265 and 346-347.

(12) See The Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe.... ed., Arthur Hobson Quinn and Edward H. O’Neill (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), I, 239 and 240.

(13) This may account for the statement made by Emma Katherine Norman, “Poe’s Knowledge of Latin,” American Literature, 6 (1934), 77: “Once Poe correctly attributes the phrase ‘insomnia Jovis’ to Silius Italicus; but in using the phrase another time he speaks of it as the words of Longinus.” A reading of Silius Italicus’ epic has failed to unearth the phrase.

(14) Boileau Despreaux: Oeuvres completes, II (Paris, 1813), 391-392.

(15) Quinn and O’Neill, II, 990. The Latin passage occurs in the Punica, XI, 11. 342-346. See Silius Italicus, Punica with an English translation by J. D. Duff, II (London: William Heinemann Ltd; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1934), 126-127. For Fallis in “Pinakidia” read Fallit. For Trebium in both “Pinakidia” and “The Rationale of Verse” read Trebiam.

(16) See Mabbott, p. 485, who correctly located the rhyme in Don Quijote (II, xxxviii). Also Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha (Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, S. A., 1944) as edited by Francisco Rodriguez Marin in the Clasicos Castellanos, VII, 39.

(17) The Table des Matieres is not provided with page numbers; the page would be p. 418, and Rochefoucault comes between Ressemblance and Rome.

(18) See Jacques Barzun, “A Note on the Inadequacy of Poe as a Proofreader and of His Editors as French Scholars,” The Romantic Review, 61 (1970), 23. Professor Barzun takes issue with the name as mentioned in “The Purloined Letter.” See Quinn and O’Neill, II, 601. Poe has the same spelling Rochefoucault in “Pinakidia,” p. 39.

(19) For the epigraph, see Quinn and O’Neill, I, 308: “Ce grand malheur, de ne pouvoir etre seul.” See also Barzun, 26, n. 8. The probable source is: “Tout notre mal vient de ne pouvoir etre seuls: de la le jeu, le luxe, la dissipation, le yin, les femmes, I’ ignorance, la medisance, I’envie, l’oubli de sol-meme et de Dieu.” [All our evils stem from being unable to be alone; from it comes gambling, display of wealth, dissipation, wine, women, ignorance, backbiting, envy, forgetfulness of oneself and of God.] Found in La Brnyere, Oeuvres ( Paris: Librairie de C. Hachette et Cie, 1865), II, 46, no. 99, from “De l’homme” in Les Caracteres ou Les Moeurs de ce siecle.

(20) Edith Philips, “The French of Edgar Allan Poe,” American Speech, 2 (1927), 272.

(21) La Maniere, ii, 138. Trans cf. Harrison, XIV, 193-208.


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1971]