Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, June 1977, Vol. X, No. 1, 10:27-29


[page 27, column 2:]


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 Influence of “Adonais” on “Eleonora”

Citing the idea of the twin Venuses in The Symposium, Richard P. Benton has discussed Platonic elements in Poe’s “Eleonora” [“Platonic Allegory in Poe’s ‘Eleonora,’” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 20 (1967), 293-297. See also E Arthur Robinson, “Cosmic Vision in Poe’s ‘Eleonora,’ “ Poe Studies, 9 ( 1976), 44-46]. Poe clearly knew Plato’s conception of the twin Venuses, but the provenance of “Eleonora” may be broadened to include nineteenth-century neo-Platonic sources, such as Shelley’s Adonais,” for the tale’s Valley of Many-Colored Grass alludes to Shelley’s “dome of many-coloured glass” in his elegy on the death of Keats [See David Halliburton, Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973), p. 225]. The allusion is neither parodic nor gratuitous. It confirms Benton’s Platonic reading of the tale by reminding the reader of a passage that has been called “the clearest and purest statement” of Platonism in all of Shelley’s poetry [James A. Notopolous, The Platonism of Shelley (New York: Octagon Books, 1969), p. 291]. In addition, it invites further comparison of “Eleonora” and “Adonais” for shared images expressive of elegiac grief. Shelley’s famous lines, announcing inevitable death, point to a Platonic realm above and beyond the physical world: “Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, / Stains the white radiance of eternity, / Until death tramples it to fragments — Die, / If thou wouldst be with that which thou cost seek! / Follow where all is fled!” [Selected Poetry, ed. Neville Rogers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968), p. 272]. Shelley implies that solace can be found only in a Platonic immortality of the spirit, which leaves behind a bodily life of empty shadows. Temporal existence is a stain on the ideal purity of “the white radiance.”

In “Eleonora,” Poe similarly opposes earthly and ideal love in the guise of the two women the narrator encounters and the imagery associated with them. Eleonora elicits an innocent love while Ermengarde evokes “an ecstasy of adoration” [The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1902; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), IV, 243]. Expanding on Benton’s suggestion, one might view Eleonora as a kind of Uranian Venus, parallel to Shelley’s mythic figure Urania, mistress of heavenly love and a Platonic Aphrodite. Urania appears in several guises in “Adonais” — from mythic goddess attending a young shepherd to the mother of all Platonic forms. But as the poem reaches its conclusion, she is less individualized and comes to stand for Divine Love, almost abstractly conceived. Likewise, in Poe’s tale, Eleonora becomes a celestial spirit of love and beauty in contrast to Ermengarde, who is bound to the narrator by the social sanction of marriage. Such an opposition, mentioned by Poe in “The Poetic Principle,” is expressed in “Eleonora” by a dualism that is far less consoling than Shelley’s Platonic promise that sorrow can be transformed by attaining a glimpse of eternity. Poe mentions the “great secret” of duality which embraces a “wisdom which is of good” and “a knowledge which is of evil” [IV, 236]. In Poe’s context, this statement involves an insight into ideal beauty that is unattainable and fleeting. Eleonora inspires the narrator to a high vision, but she discourses on the “last sad change which must befall humanity” [IV, 240]. Ermengarde [page 28:] represents earthly beauty, but the narrator is haunted by his possible betrayal’ of the ideal. Poe thus poses an irreconcilable opposition: an innocent, ideal love that is divorced from social sanctions versus an earthly love that is a stain on “the white radiance of eternity.”

Other similarities in imagery and diction suggest Poe’s indebtedness to “Adonais” while qualifying Shelley’s heartening Platonic position. “The glimpses of eternity” and “light ineffable” in the tale parallel the Platonic “Heaven’s light” of Shelley’s poem; the “condition of shadow and doubt” [IV, 237] parallels Shelley’s “Earth’s shadows.” The place of Keats’ burial, described in the Preface to “Adonais,” has “messy walls and towers” like the secluded, encircled Valley of Many-Colored Grass. “The cemetery is . . . covered with violets and daisies,” precisely the flowers Poe chooses to adorn the scenery of “Eleonora.” The court of Ermengarde is ominously prefigured in “Adonais” as “that high Capital, where kingly Death / Keeps his pale court in beauty and decay.” While neither Eleonora nor Ermengarde offers Poe’s narrator total fulfillment, Shelley suggests that equanimity is to be found, not in the love of woman, but in a visionary surrender to Intellectual Beauty: “A light pressed from the revolving year / And man, and woman; and what still is dear, / Attracts to crush repels to make thee wither.” Notopolous found “Adonais” the quintessence of Shelley’s Platonism, since the poem associated immortality and Intellectual Beauty with the spirit of a great poet rather than a woman. “Eleonora,” following in a similar Pl’atonic tradition, posits (perhaps intentionally) no such heartening conclusion as Shelley’s. Poe’s allusions, twin heroines, and the imagery associated with them suggest his reliance on “Adonais,” but the gulf he posits between ideal and earthly love suggests that this reliance was by no means uncritical.

Kent Ljungquist, Bluefield College


A Poe Detractor Unmasked

One of the most brutal charges ever brought against Poe’s character was contained in the Edinburgh Review for April 1858 [pp. 419-442 of the British edition, pp. 215-227 of the American]. The article, a review of the Redfield edition, began with these lines: “Edgar Allan Poe was incontestibly [sic] one of the most worthless persons of whom we have any record in the world of letters,” and “a blackguard of undeniable mark,” who attained “the lowest abyss of moral imbecility and disrepute.” In accordance with policy of the Edinburgh Review, the article was unsigned, and the author’s identity has remained a mystery for well over a century. Arthur Hobson Quinn quotes a few lines but gives no clue to the authorship. The two recent bibliographies of Poe criticism, by Dameron and Cauthen and by E. F. Hyne man, list the article among the anonymous entries.

The reviewer is identified by the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals [1, 507] as Bryan Waller Procter, better known under his pen-name of Barry Cornwall. According to the writer of the notice in the Dictionary of National Biography, Procter was born in 1787 and educated at Harrow, where he was a schoolmate of Byron. He published several volumes of verse between 1819 and 1832, establishing himself as a popular poet, though certainly not a major one, then entered government service. He died in 1874, at age 87. There are four references to Procter in Poe’s writings [Burton Pollin, Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe’s Collected Works, ( New York: Da Capo Press, 1968) pp. 23, 75]. Three of these occur in articles that appeared in the Broadway Journal and were not included in the Redfield edition, so it is not likely that Procter ever saw them. The fourth occurs in Poe’s article on Thomas Dunn English in The Literati, printed in the third volume of the Redfield edition [p. 101]: “The inexcusable sin of Mr. Brown [English] is imitation — if this be not too mild a term. When Barry Cornwall, for example, sings about a ‘dainty rhythm’, Mr. Brown forthwith, in B flat, hoots about it too.” Surely nothing in this remark could have inspired Procter’s wrath. [column 2:] Procter did not care much for Poe’s fiction, which he found too heavily indebted to William Godwin and Charles Brockden Brown. Nor did he relish the poetry, with one notable exception, “The Raven,” which he called one of those “productions which suffice singly to make a reputation.” Procter quoted the poem almost in its entirety and expressed the hope that it would become better known in England, since it deserved “to be remembered by all lovers of verse.” Admitting that, in speaking of Poe the man, he felt bound to express his opinions without any subterfuge, Procter regretted that a fuller biography had not accompanied the works. He recognized that “no man is thoroughly evil” and that “the petty acts are indeed before us, but perhaps ‘the greatest is behind.’” In spite of the cruel remarks at the beginning of his article, one feels that Procter was a charitable man, who had been misled, like many others, by Griswold’s mendacious account of Poe’s life and character.

W. T. Bandy, Vanderbilt University


Montresor’s Audience in “The Cask of Amontillado”

Some years ago G. R. Thompson proposed an hypothesis regarding Edgar Allan Poe’s famous tale, “The Cask of Amontillado,” which had the effect of expanding the dimensions both of character and of narrative irony in the story. Briefly, he speculated that Montresor, the first person narrator, is telling the tale to his confessor on his deathbed. Identification of this highly specified audience, whom Poe puts within the frame of the stoq, opens for the reader the ironic contrast between the narrator who “seems to be chuckling over his flawlessly executed revenge” and the actual Montresor who has “suffered a fifty-year ravage of conscience” for the deed. [See Thompson’s Introduction, Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), pp. 19-20; and Poe’s Fiction: Romantic Irony in the Gothic Tales (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1973), pp. 13-14.] Other speculations have been offered concerning the identity of the puzzling “you, who so well know the nature of my soul,” mentioned in the second sentence of the story. One of the more ingenious is Shannon Burns’ recent suggestion that Montresor addresses his tale to the buried bones of his Catholic family, now satisfactorily avenged for the insult of Fortunato’s Freemasonry. This thesis also has the benefits of placing the “you” within the fictional world of the tale, and of clarifying the “In pace requiescat!” which ends the story as addressed to those departed ancestors. [“ ‘The Cask of Amontillado’: Montresor’s Revenge,” Poe Studies, 7 (1974), 25.] Unfortunately the verb is singular, so it cannot function as Burns suggests. Furthermore, external evidence suggests that the dispute must be settled and judgment rendered in favor of Thompson’s hypothesis. The basis for this is one of Benjamin Franklin’s French “bagatelles,” strikingly presented in the first attempt at a complete edition of Franklin’s papers, edited by Jared Sparks in ten volumes [Boston: 1836-40], a few years before Poe’s story was first published. I quote only the English translation offered by Sparks, which accurately represents Franklin’s French version as printed in this edition:

A Tale

An officer named Montresor, a worthy man [homnue de tarn], was very ill. The curate of his parish, thinking him likely to die, advised him to make his peace with God, that he might be received into Paradise. “I have nor much uneasiness on the subject,” said Montresor, “for I had a vision last night which has perfectly tranquilized my mind.” “What vision have you had?” said the good priest. “I was, replied Montresor, at the gate of Paradise, with a crowd of people who wished to enter, and St. Peter inquired of every one what religion he was of. One answered, ‘I am a Roman catholic.’ ‘Well,’ said St. Peter, enter, and take your place there among the Catholics.’ Another said he was of the Church of England. ‘Well,’ said the Saint, ‘enter and place yourself there among the Anglicans.’ A third said he was a Quaker. ‘Enter,’ said St. Peter, ‘and take your place among the Quakers.’ At length my turn came, he asked me of what religion I was. Alas!, said I, ‘Poor Jacques Montresor has none.’’ ‘Tis a pity, said the Saint; “I know not where to place you; but enter nevertheless, and place yourself where you can.’ “

“A Tale” is first of all a dream vision, a genre which Poe frequently used. It is a joke as well, and Poe’s penchant for the [page 29:] literary jest is much in evidence in a story where French, Italian, and Spanish wines are hopelessly confused and where two connoisseurs pretend to be able to distinguish Amontillado from sherry. Both stories end with important italics, though this could be pure coincidence. But the most striking parallel is Franklin’s “Montresor,” a Frenchman of some rank, dying, and speaking to his confessor. From this source Poe evidently takes the name of his central character and the basic narrative situation: a deathbed confession.

William H. Shurr, Washington State University


The True Birthdate and the Hitherto Unpublished
Deathdate of Susan Archer Talley Weiss

Susan Archer Talley Weiss met Poe when he visited Richmond for the last time during the summer of 1849. Many years later she published an important biographical article about him in Scribner’s Monthly Magazine for March 1878 [15, 707-716] in which she described their several walks and talks together, his expressed appreciation for her remarkable understanding of him, and his stated intention of writing a critical article about her youthful verses which he would publish in the second number of his projected magazine, The Stylus. In 1904 she repeated her reminiscences of Poe in two articles in The Independent for May and August [56, 1010-1014; 57, 443-448], and in 1907 she published a book, The Home Life of Poe [New York: Broadway Publishing Co.]. In all of these publications the author presents herself as a “shy and dreamy girl, scarcely more than a child,” when she met Poe.

A. H. Quinn describes Susan Archer Talley at this meeting as “a young woman, whose verses Poe had praised and who had achieved the immortality of being included in Griswold’s Female Poets of America.” [See Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1941), p. 622]. But although Quinn expresses doubt about her reliability as a Poe biographer, he overlooks the point that, if she had been born in 1835, she would have “achieved immortality” in Griswold’s anthology (published in 1848 as Quinn certainly knew) at age thirteen. T. O. Mabbott says she was “a poetess of eighteen” when she first met Poe, thus making her birthdate 1831 instead of 1835. [See Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, I (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1969), p. 567]. The truth o’ the matter is that Susan Archer Talley was born in 1822 and thus was neither a “shy and dreamy girl,” “a young woman,” nor a poetess of “eighteen” when she met Poe in 1849 — she was more than twenty seven years old.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch on Sunday, April 8, 1917 page 11, printed a brief notice of Mrs. Weiss’ death at 9:25 P.M. April 7, 1917. On Tuesday, April l0, 1917, the same newspaper printed the following obituary:

Funeral of Mrs. Weiss

Mrs. Susan Archer Talley Weiss, an artist and poet whose work attracted the attention of Edgar Allan Poe, was laid to test yesterday in Riverview Cemetery. She died suddenly on Saturday night at her home, 3216 West Marshall Street, in her ninety-sixth year.

Mrs. Weiss was the daughter of the late Thomas Talley. a lawyer, and his wife, who was the daughter of Captain Edward Archer. She leaves one son, Stuart A. Weiss.

Mrs. Weiss not only had the distinction of being classed as one of Poe’s associates and friends, but was prominent in behalf of the Confederate States during the War Between the States. While carrying information to General MacGruder she was captured by Union soldiers and imprisoned at Fort McHenry.

The marker over Mrs. Weiss’ grave in Riverview Cemetery reads: “Susan Archer Talley Weiss / Wife of / Louis Weiss / Born February 14, 1822 / Died April 7, 1917.” No further proof is needed that Susan Archer Talley Weiss was born in 1822, not in 1835, as all standard reference books and library card catalogues, including the Library of Congress, now read.

John C. Miller, Old Dominion University


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