Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, June 1974, Vol. VII, No. 1, 7:22-25


[page 25:]


This column is devoted to brief notes, comments, queries. We wish to provide here an outlet for such items as source notes which do not require the extended argument and proof that customarily attends them, and for items of very special or peculiar interest which otherwise might not appear. Contributions to this column should generally be one paragraph in form and less than a page and a half of typescript, though notes of three pages with as many paragraphs are acceptable.

The Birthdate of John Henry Ingram

In an unpublished letter now in the Brown University Library, John Ingram wrote clearly to Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman on March 6, 1874, “I am now 31.” But after Ingram had published the four-volume Works of E. A. Poe [Edinburgh: A. & C. Black, 1874-75] and continued contributing articles on Poe to leading British and American magazines, his name and biographical entry appeared first in 1879 in Men and Women of Our Time, a pioneer reference book absorbed into the British Who’s Who in 1901, and there his birthdate is listed as October 7, 1849, the day and year that Poe died. As Ingram’s literary reputation increased, he was listed in Who’s Who itself by 1887, and here his entry reads that he was born on November 16, 1849. These dates were carried in Who’s Who until 1916, the year of Ingram’s death, when they were transferred to that year’s new edition of Who Was Who. Backed by this authority, standard reference books and library card catalogues on both sides of the Atlantic, including our own Library of Congress, continue to list 1849 as Ingram’s birthyear. But John Ingram was born on November 16, 1842, not 1849, as he truthfully told Mrs. Whitman in 1874, and as is attested to by a certified copy of the birth certificate he furnished the Treasury Department when he received his Civil Service commission in 1868. [A search of the Births Register in Somerset House, London, failed to uncover an entry for Ingram’s birth in 1849. The copy was found among the records of the General Post Office, where Ingram served as a Civil Service Officer from 1868 to 1903. Had he been born in 1849 he would not have been eligible, as a youth of nineteen, for the Commission he received in 1868.]

Did Ingram deliberately change his birthyear to coincide with Poe’s deathyear? My years of study in his papers permit me to advance a strong conjecture that he did. His early identification with Poe was many-faceted: he had been born in Stoke Newington, where Poe had attended school; as a child, Ingram had read and reread Poe’s poetry and tales until he became obsessed with the dual ideas of becoming a great poet and writer, such as Poe had been, and of writing a biography of Poe that would redeem his name from Griswold’s slanders. On the first count, he failed; he published, probably privately, but soon suppressed a little volume, Poems by Dalton Stone, in 1863. [Not listed in the Library of Congress and British Museum catalogues of suppressed publications, it does appear in Lippencott’s Pronouncing Biographical Dictionary (Philadelphia and London: 1938). It is not likely that it is the work of a fourteen-year-old boy.] Five years later, he edited and published a large volume, Flora Symbolica; or, the Language and Sentiment of Flowers [London: Frederick Warne & Co.; New York: Scribner, Welford & Co. 1868, it is certainly not the production of a nineteen-year-old.] which went into a second edition, but scarcely brought the money or fame Ingram wanted.

But when he turned to collecting materials for his defense of Poe, Ingram found his true vocation. He was able to excite strong loyalties and elicit valuable biographical materials from Poe’s former associates, the same persons with whom American would-be biographers of Poe had failed. His strongly worded appeals to Americans for help in his self-styled “noble work” brought him a flood of correspondence expressing delight in his efforts and containing copies of Poe’s letters, in many cases the [column 2:] holograph letters themselves, copies of Poe’s books, newspaper and magazine clippings about Poe, and daguerreotypes, most important for his proposed biography, his correspondents wrote out for his use their recollections of Poe’s looks, actions, and words. Between 1874 and 1879, Ingram amassed the largest and most valuable collection of Poe source materials ever gathered by anyone, more than one thousand items, now in the University of Virginia Library. When Ingram published his Memoir of Poe, attached to the first of the four-volume edition of Poe’s works in 1874, and his two-volume biography, Edgar Allan Poe. His Life, Letters and Opinions. With Portraits of Poe and his Mother [London John Hogg, 1880], he proved, as he had determined long before to do, that Griswold had, in many instances, falsified some of his materials and had lied about Poe. Ingram then regarded himself, as he bluntly informed his reading public, the only biographer qualified to say what kind of man and writer Edgar Poe had really been. Perhaps Ingram’s strong sense of identification with Poe (not without precedent, as Baudelaire and Strindberg had felt similarly) led him to change his real birthyear to the year of Poe’s death. Such a coincidence would be in keeping with Poe’s own idea of metempsychosis, as he made plain in “Metzengerstein,” and public recognition of the coincidence would make stronger Ingram’s deeply felt and often expressed conviction that he had been chosen, singled-out, as it were, to be the redeemer of Poe’s besmirched reputation.

John C. Miller, Old Dominion University


William Cowper Brann on Edgar Allan Poe

Students of Poe who attempt to assess his standing among the poets of the nineteenth century will find some spirited words in the essays of William Cowper Brann. Brann, a native of Illinois who tried his hand at various jobs before becoming a newspaperman in Saint Louis and San Antonio, edited and published Brann’s Iconoclast in Waco, Texas, from 1895 until his death in 1898. An avowed foe of humbuggery, Brann developed a large following; at the peak of its circulation, his magazine went to nearly 90,000 subscribers. [See Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines, 1885-1905 (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press, 1957), IV, 443].

His essays on poets of the Romantic and Victorian periods provided the occasion for an assessment of Poe. The essays are entitled “A Plague of Poets: Machine-Made Melody” and “A Tour Among the Titans: Poets of the Past and Present.” The first of these is reprinted in Volume VI (pp. 266-277) and the second in Volume VII (pp. 2S4-271) of The Works of Brann the Iconoclast [New York: The Brann Publishers, Inc., 1919].

The following extracts from the essays constitute all of Brann s remarks concerning Poe and reveal Brann’s eagerness to deny Poe an honorable position among poets of whatever era or nationality. They also show that Brann’s reading of Poe extended to his criticism, at least to Poe’s estimate of Tennyson which appeared in the Democratic Review (December 1844).

Poe declared forty years ago that Alfred Tennyson, then but upon the threhold [sic] of his fame, was the greatest poet of all the ages. But was Poe a competent critic? I think not — else he would have burned four-fifths of his madcap as an incantation of Orpheus or Apollo. There is a wild charm about some of his work — a kind of mania a potu fury; but at the risk of being called an Ishmaelite by the faddists and cast into the outer darkness of Philistia, I do protest that Edgar Allen [sic] Poe earned for himself no place even among the minor poets. “The Raven” his best production, might have been written by almost any reporter, if comfortably full of wienerwurst and dollar-a-bottle wine. [Works, VI, 275]

More hostile words appeared in the second essay when Poe was placed alongside Lord Byron.

Of late poets, Edgar Allan Poe alone has shown some faint adubration [sic] of the Byronic mind; but so strange are the judgments of the world so inexplicable in its affections that while Poe is loved for his very frailties the immortal genius of Byron cannot induce it to forgive his faults. Byron was kingly in his cussedness; Poe was beneath contempt. The first was immoral, but the last was mean. The muse of Poe is a fantastic hysterical creature who wails and shrieks without apparent cause — is the sweet singer of Bedlam the patron saint of suicides.

Poe declared Tennyson the greatest poet the world has produced — which were giving [Tom] Moore’s inferior the post of honor at a feast where sit not only Dante and Byron, but Chio’s immortal bard. [Works, VII. 267-268]

Another remark strikes at public taste but also reflects Brann’s prejudice in favor of standard authors.

As “like takes to like,” a people capable of making McKinley president quite naturally prefers a Dobson to a Dante, and raves over Poe while forgetting Petrarch. [Works, VII, 255]

John L. Idol, Jr., Clemson University


“The Cask of Amontillado”: Montresor’s Revenge

Reference to the traditional Italian concept of revenge illuminates some of the questions that arise from a close reading of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.” The ground rules that Montresor lays down for his revenge and the methods he employs in carrying it out coincide directly with popular ideas about the Italian code of revenge, which were formed in Elizabethan times and persisted in America in Poe’s day. The Italian was not above hiring paid assassins and using the most devious and horrible means to carry out his revenge, and he was infamous for requiring revenge for even the most minor injuries. In 1592 Thomas Nashe stated that “The Italian saith, a man must not take knowledge of injure till he be able to revenge it.” [Works, ed. R. B. McKerrow (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1910), I, 309.] Montresor reflects this attitude: “You, who so well know the nature of my soul will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat” [The Complete Poems and Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), II, 666]. Nashe’s 1593 pronouncement that “these Italians . . . will carrie an iniurie a whole age in memorie” [Works, III, 289] aligns with Montresor’s vow, “At length I would be revenged” [p. 666]. The Italian dictum to revenge absolutely without risk [see Fredson Bowers, Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1966), p. 52] is also echoed by Montresor: “I must not only punish but punish with impunity” [p. 666]. Finally, Innocent Gentillet’s assertion that “there is nothing wherin they [Italians] take greater delectation, pleasure, and contentment, than to execute a vengeance; insomuch as, whensoever they can haue their enemie at their pleasure, to be reuenged vpon him they murder him after some strange & barbarous fashion, and in murdering him, they put him in remembrance of the offence done vnto them, with many reproachful words and injuries to torment the soule and the body together” [A Discourse . . . Against Nicholas Machiavel (1608), quoted by Bowers, p. 52]. Montresor repeats both in his method of revenge and in his statement that “It [the wrong] is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong” [p. 666].

By placing the tale in the tradition of Italian revenge, one can, I think, better understand the nature of Fortunato’s insult and, consequently, identify the “you” Montresor addresses. As James E. Rocks notes, Montresor and Fortunato are religious enemies. But Rocks goes on to suggest that Montresor’s motive is “a faithful Catholic’s hatred and fear of the brotherhood of Freemasonry” [“Conflict and Motive in ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’” Poe Studies, 6 (1972), 50. For other discussions of motive see Marvin Felheim, “‘The Cask of Amontillado,’” Notes and Queries, 199 ( 1954), 447-448; and Kathryn Montgomery Harris, “Ironic Revenge in Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’” Studies in Short Fiction, 6 (1969), 333-335]. Certainly, however, Montresor does not propose to kill Masons as a general religious principle. In the nature of Italian revenge his injury is specific: “. . . when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge” [p. 666]. Because Poe lays a great deal of emphasis on the family and its Catholicism, Fortunato must have directed his insult against Montresor’s family C its religion and its honor, both of which Montresor must, as the Italian code dictates, protect. [See Bowers, p. 38; Rocks, p. 50, correctly notes that Montresor feels an almost religious duty to avenge, a characteristic of Italian revenge.] Therefore, as Rocks [column 2:] and Felheim note, because Montresor deliberately uses the word immolation, he clearly feels that Fortunato is being sacrificed. But to whom? To whomever the “you” of the tale is. Montresor does not address the reader, for the reader does not know at the outset the nature of Montresor’s soul. Neither is he speaking to some person unknown to the reader; an unknown person would direct our attention outside the tale when it is desirable that it be with. in. [Kent Bales, “Poetic Justice in ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’” Poe Studies, 6 (1972), 51, for example, states that the identity of the “you” is Montresor’s confessor.] Nor is he speaking to the remains of Fortunato, for Forrunato considered Montresor his friend; he, too, did not know Montresor’s soul. I submit, then, that Montresor, the consummate Italian avenger, standing in the caracombs, is addressing the bones of his ancestors; certainly they would know the nature of his soul. To them, to the name Montresor, Fortunato has been sacrificed; the insult has been avenged, and Montresor can say, not to Fortunato, but to the remains of his ancestors, “In pace requiescat!”

Shannon Burns, Ohio University


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[S:0 - PS, 1974]