Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, December 1977, Vol. X, No. 2, 10:40-44


[page 40:]


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.

Some Poe Debts to Irving’s Alhambra

Although T. O. Mabbott mentions many sources for “The Raven” in legend, prose, and poetry [Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Poems (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1969), 1 353-357], he does not cite one obvious precursor, the raven in Washington Irving’s charming story “Legend of Prince Ahmed Al Kamel, or The Pilgrim of Love” in The Alhambra: A Series of Tales and Sketches of the Moors and Spaniards [2 vols. (Philadelphia: Carey and Lea, 1832), II, 55-107]. In order to avoid an astrological prediction that Ahmed would be imperiled by an overly amorous temperament, his father, the King of Granada, has the young prince raised in seclusion. Ahmed’s furor is Ebon Bonabben, “one of the wisest and dryest of Arabian sages, who had passed the greatest part of his life in Egypt, studying hieroglyphics and making researches among the tombs and pyramids and who saw more charms in an Egyptian mummy than in the most tempting of living beauties” [p. 56]. Ebon teaches his sensitive pupil the language of birds to “reconcile him to this restraint and to beguile the tedious hours” [p. 59]. This leads, however, to Ahmed’s chance discovery of the sentiment of love and his romantic attachment to a princess he has never seen. The prince seeks the help and counsel of an owl, a parrot, and a raven in order to make good his escape and consummate his passion. The raven had been the companion of an Arabian magician who lived alone in a ruined tower of the Alcazar in Seville. Of him, the owl says,

He was surrounded by his magic books, and on his shoulder was perched his familiar, an ancient raven, who had come with him from Egypt. I became acquainted with that raven, and owe to him a great part of the knowledge I possess. The magician is since dead, but the raven still inhabits the cower, for these birds are of wonderful long life. I would advise you. O prince, to seek that raven for he is a soothsayer and a conjurer, and deals in the black art, for which all ravens, and especially those of Egypt, are renowned. [p. 77]

Perhaps this yields a clue to exactly what Poe means by “the Night’s Plutonian shore,” that shore of darkness which has for an immemorial time been associated with Egypt and its shadowy mysteries. At any rate, Prince Ahmed, ‘naturally inspired by [the raven’s] venerable appearance and supernatural wisdom,” begins his interview with the words, ‘Pardon me, most ancient and darkly wise raven” [p. 79], a formal mode of address very similar to the direct salutations Poe’s student offers his visitor: initially “Sir or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore!” and later “Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore.” Furthermore, Irving’s work sheds light upon the fatal error Poe’s student commits in consulting such a bird about the status of his “lost Lenore.” For, when Prince Ahmed asks this grey-headed interlocutor about his own unknown but immaculate” love, the crusty old conjurer replies, “What know I . . . of youth and beauty? My visits are to the old and withered, not the young and fair. The harbinger of fate am I who croak bodings of death from the chimney top, and flap my wings at the sick man’s window. You must seek elsewhere for tidings of your unknown beauty” [p. 80]. And because the student in Poe’s poem suffers a sickness of soul, if not of body, this passage also suggests the appropriateness of the raven’s tapping at his window lattice.

The old man in “The Tell-Tale Heart” has “the eye of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it” [The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1902; rpt. New York: [column 2:] AMS Press, 1965), V, 88], a detail Poe may also owe to Irving’s raven, who has “a film over one eye that gave him the glare of a spectre” [p. 78]. Far more significant, however, is the general debt Poe owes to Irving’s dedication of the original publication of The Alhambra to the English painter David Wilkie — a debt that has gone unnoticed because Irving replaced the dedication with a new preface in the Author’s Revised Edition issued by Putnam’s in 1851. The early dedication, of particular importance for our understanding of Poe’s conception of the “arabesque,” reads,

You may remember, that in the rambles we once took together about some of the old cities or Spain, particularly Toledo and Seville, we frequently remarked the mixture of the Saracenic with the Gothic, remaining from the time of the Moors, and were more than once struck with seen” and incidents in the streets, that brought to mind passages in the “Arabian Nights.” You then urged me to wrote something illustrative of these peculiarities; “something in the Haroun Alraschid style,” that should have a dash of that Arabian spice which pervades everything in Spain. I call this to mind to show you that you are, in some degree, responsible for the present work; in which I have given a few “Arabesque’ sketches and tales taken from the life or founded on local traditions, and mostly struck off during a residence in one of the most legendary and Morisco-Spanish places of the Peninsula. [vol. I, pp. iii-iv]

Poe praised Irving’s use of the conquest of Spain by the Saracens as proper material for romance [Works, V111, 91]. And “the mixture of the Saracenic with the Gothic” recurs often in the details of arabesque descriptions in his talesC in “the mass of semi-Gothic, semi-Saracenic archirecture” of “The Domain of Arnheim” [VI, 196], in the ceiling fretted with “specimens of a semi-Gothic, semi-Druidical device” and augmented by a censer “Saracenic in pattern” of “Ligeia” [11, 259], and in the frame “richly gilded and filigreed in Moresque” within the Gothic castle of “The Oval Portrait” [IV, 247]. Irving’s work must then be added to the list of Oriental sources that L. Moffit Cecil lists for “Poe’s Arabesque” [Comparative Literature, 18 (1966), 557o]

Barton Levi St. Armand, Brown University


Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” and
Hawthorne’s “The Wedding Knell”

Poe’s curious, almost Joycean “duplicity” in echoing elements of Hawthorne’s four “Legends of the Province House” from Twice-Told Tales in his own “The Masque of the Red Death” [originally published as “The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy” in Graham’s, 20 (May 1842), 257-259] has been insightfully analyzed by Robert Regan [“Hawthorne’s ‘Plagiary’; Poe’s Duplicity,” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 25 (1970), 281-298]. D. M. McKeithan [“Poe and the Second Edition of Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales,” Nathaniel Hawthorne lournal 1974, pp. 259-269] duplicates a good bit of Regan’s argument but also suggests a broader range of influence. Both men, however, completely ignore the influence of Hawthorne’s “The Wedding Knell” [text cited from Twice-Told Tales, Centenary Edition, ed. William Charvat et al. (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1974), IX, 27-36] on Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death.” The concentration of elements in Hawthorne’s tale which Poe imitated in his own suggests that “The Wedding Knell” influenced Poe as much as, perhaps more than, any of the others from Twice-Told Tales which scholars have cited. Although Regan and McKeithan note that “The Masque of the Red Death” originally appeared in the same issue of Graham’s which printed Poe’s famous first review of Twice-Told Tales, they fail to mention that his review praises “The Wedding Knell” above all of Hawthorne’s other tales: “‘The Wedding Knell’ is full of the boldest imagination — an imagination fully controlled by taste. The most captious critic could find no flaw in this production” [p. 299].

“The Masque of the Red Death” echoes “The Wedding Knell” in a number of ways: in the characterization of Poe’s Prince Prospero and Hawthorne’s Widow Dabney (wealthy, powerful, eccentric, egocentric); in the situations of these eccentrics, whose [page 43:] attempts to deny life’s harsh realities (death for the Prince, old age for the Widow) are dramatically frustrated by symbolically garbed opponents; in settings of picturesque and grotesque celebrations in large religious complexes secluded from the external world (one with a ballroom, the other with characters behaving A as if they mistook the church for a ballroom” [“Knell,” p. 30]); and in theme — the folly of seeking refuge from reality in a disgusting worldliness which is, surely not accidentally, at odds with the religious background of both settings. Even more immediately striking, however, are common elements in both tales’ conclusions: Poe’s shares with Hawthorne’s the bizarre motif of a regular, loudly tolling interruption and the imagery of a horribly costumed spectre in the habiliments “of the grave” who dramatically appears at the climax of a celebration to confront the horrified central character with terrible truth. Hawthorne writes “[a] stroke of the bell seemed to fill the church with a visible gloom, dimming and obscuring the bright pageant, till it shone forth again as from a mist. This time, the party wavered, stops, and huddled closer together, while a slight scream was heard from some of the ladies and a confused whispering among the gentlemen” [p. 31]. In Poe’s tale, A while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and that the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation” [p. 258]. The two writers introduce their climactic scenes in remarkably similar passages. After Mrs. Dabney’s aged friends enter,

it was observed, that, from pew to pew, the spectators shuddered with irrepressible awe as some object, hitherto concealed by the intervening figures, came full in sight. Many turned away their faces; others kept a fixed and rigid stare; and a young girl giggled hysterically, and fainted with the laughter on her lips. When the spectral procession approached the altar each couple separated and slowly diverged, till, in the centre, appeared a form, that had been worthily ushered in with all this gloomy pomp the death knell. and the funeral It was the bridegroom in his shroud!

No garb but that of the grave could have befitted such a deathlike aspect the eyes, indeed had the wild gleam of a sepulchral lamp: all else was fixed in the stern calmness which old men wear in the coffin. [p. 33-34]

In Poe’s tale,

before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested attention of no single individual before . . . there arose at length from the whole company a buzz. or murmur expressive at first of disapprobation and surprise — then, finally, of terror, of horror. and of disgust.

. . . The figure was tall and gaunt. and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. [p 258]

Both tales conclude rather predictably — Hawthorne’s ethically with the widow morally enlightened, Poe’s with a stronger effect in the Prince’s macabre death. And effect, as Poe has taken care to remind us in his review, should we miss the point of the contrast, is the key to a great tale, a great writer.

Walter Evans, Augusta College


Demonology in “The Black Cat”

Critical interpretations of “The Black Cat” dwell primarily upon the psychological state of the narrator. Drawing heavily upon Freud or Jung, commentators see the tale as the study of a frenzied narrator driven by his subconscious to misinterpret a series of otherwise logical events until he commits acts explicable only in terms of his obsession [Marie Bonaparte, The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe: A Psycho-Analytical Interpretation, trans. John Rudker (London: Imago, 1949); Daniel Hoffman, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe, Poe (New York: Doubleday, 1972); James W. Gargano, A The Black Cat’: Perverseness Reconsidered,” Texas Studies in Language and Literature, 2 (1960), 172-178; David Halliburton, Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1973); Roberta Reeder, “‘The Black Cat’ as a Study in Repression,” Poe Studies, 7 (1974), 2021; Richard C. Frushell, “‘An Incarnate Night-Mare’: Moral [column 2:] Grotesquerie in ‘The Black Cat,’ “ Poe Studies, 5 (1972), 4344]. The story, however, can also be read in terms of demonology, allusions to which suggest that dark powers are concentrated in the cats — or in a single cat who is able to return from death. Lucifer himself is often represented as a cat [Ernest Jones, On the Nightmare (New York: Liveright, 1951), p. 160]; and in this tale, one cat is named Pluto, after the god of the underworld. The narrator’s wife, impressed by the high intelligence of the first beast, immediately identifies it with the well-known witches’ familiar — “Not that she was ever serious,” protests the narrator [The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1902; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), V, 144. All references are to this edition]. But only after his initial contact with the beast does the narrator’s character begin to deteriorate And true to the form of the familiar, the animal follows him everywhere — appearing and reappearing mysteriously on a hogshead of rum, on the head of the bed, on the cellar steps before the murder, and on the head of the corpse itself — always on the scene during the A sins” that damn his “soul.” [T. O. Mabbott, Selected Poetry and Prose of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Modern Library, 1951), p. 423, notes that Poe’s “Instinct vs Reason” similarly links black cars and witches.]

Demonic legendry asserts that “night-mares” or “night-riders,” spirits released from hell to prey upon the souls of the living, often assumed the forms of animals and sat upon human breasts at night. Ernest Jones lists three common manifestations of their presence: “ (1) agonizing dread; (2) sense of oppression or weight at the chest which alarmingly interferes with respiration; (3) conviction of helpless paralysis” [pp. 20-21, 73-75, 243, and passim; see also the Fuseli frontispiece, “The Nightmare”]. The cat in Poe’s story terrifies the narrator by fastening its claws in his clothes and climbing to his breast. During the night, the narrator “started, hourly, from dreams of unutterable fear, to find the hot breath of the thing upon my face, and its vast weight — an incarnate Night-Mare that I had no power to shake off — incumbent eternally upon my heart!” [p. 151]. (Freudian interpretations most commonly identify the narrator’s obsession as sexual in nature, linking the cats with the wife and thus the bed as location of “sin.” In the narrator’s transfer of his rage from cat to wife, Poe may be suggesting a response to the sexual threat of night-riders, such as vampires and succubi.) The association of the cat with imagery of suffocation in the above passage is particularly significant, for evil spirirs were often linked with suffocation in an extension of the belief that soul is bonded with breath: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” — Genesis, 2:7. Loss of breath was associated with loss of soul and thus with night-mare creatures like incubi and succubi capable of sucking forth people’s souls [Jones, pp. 82, 98, 116]. When after hiding his wife’s body the narrator is unable to find the pet he calls ‘an incarnate Night-Mare,” he expresses his relief in appropriate terms: “Once again I breathed as a freeman” [p. 154].

Although the narrator wonders at the power of “a brute beast “ to work “insufferable wo” upon man “fashioned in the image of the High God’ [p. 151], the imagery suggests that the cat has this power because it is not a brute beast, but a demon. The transformation that the narrator blames on “the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance” may thus involve possession by a much more literal “Fiend”: witness, for example, his response early in the tale to being bitten by Pluto: “The Fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame” [p. 145]. Even the “spirit of perverseness” that the narrator defines as the “unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself” [p. 146] may be simply the rationalization of a man unable to recognize that his soul is demonically possessed; certainly his description of the effect of perverseness strongly suggests the latter alternative: “[1] . . . hung [the cat] because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin — a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it — if such a thing were possible even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God” [p. 147]. The narrator may therefore accurately intuit the cat’s nature when, after rapping [page 44:] on the cellar wall hiding his wife’s corpse, he prays, “may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend!” And he may visualize a true emblem of his soul’s condition arid the cat’s victory in his interpretation of the howl that arises behind that wall — “a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation” [p. 155].

Gayle Denington Anderson, The Pennsylvania State University


A Man Named Bool: A Shadow on the Wall

Writing to “Dear Pa” from Baltimore, August 10, 1829, Edgar Allan Poe requested that John Allan forward from Richmond

a small trunk containing books & some letters . . . to the care of H-W. Bool Jr & if you think I may ask so much perhaps you will put in it for me some few clothes as I am nearly without” [Letter 19, The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. John Ward Ostrom (New York: Gordian Press, 1966), 1, 29-30]. Professor Ostrom notes that “H. W. Bool’s identity is unknown.” Perhaps Poe took refuge in Bool’s home at a time when, as he described in this same letter, his grandmother, Mrs. David Poe, Sr., was “extremely poor & ill (paralytic) [.] My aunt Maria if possible still worse & Henry [Poe] entirely given up to drink & unable to help himself, much less me.” Arthur Hobson Quinn [Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York and London: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1941), p. 151] believed that at this time “Poe was evidently boarding and was not yet with Mrs. Clemm. . . .”

Matchett’s Baltimore Director [spelled without a “y”], Corrected up to June 1829 lists a Henry W. Bool “bookseller and general auctioneer, 60 Baltimore [Street]” [p. 33] as well as Poe’s physician, Dr. John Buckler [see Ostrom, Letters, 1, 61], 20 West Fayette Street [p. 46], and “Ridgeway H. Labourer, Guilford al[ley]. near Charles qt.” [p. 268], to whom Poe apparently helped Mrs. Clemm sell a slave in December 1829 [see John C. Miller, “Did Edgar Allan Poe Really Sell a Slave?” Poe Studies, 9 (1976), 52-53]. Mrs. Clemm, who does not appear in the 1829 directory, in 1831 is listed with the ‘Mechanics’ row, Wilk St.” address [p. 78], and Bool’s occupation is given as “bookseller, auctioneer and commission merchant” [p. 44]. In the 1833 directory Mrs. Clemm is living at 3 Amity Street between Saratoga and Lexington Streets [p. 42], and Bool is still located at 60 Baltimore Street [p. 25]. A brief characterization of Bool appears in Shadows on the Wall or Glimpses of the Past. A Retrospect of the Past Fifty Years. Sketches of Noted Persons Met with by the Author . . . [Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers 1877, pp. 88-90] by John Hill Hewitt, a minor Baltimore literary figure and occasional rival of Poe’s. Hewitt’s account follows

Henry W. Bool was a very celebrated auctioneer at the time of which I now write. He was a Northern man, and settled in Baltimore in the capacity of vendor of second-hand books. His magasin was a cellar and his assortment of mutilated tomes elicited much attention on the part of the antiquarian book-worm In the course of time he commenced the book-auction business and finally took out a license as a general auctioneer; and by his great business tact, accumulated a very considerable property.

He was a man of very quick calculation knew how to humor the public, advertised largely and made a great sputter in his advertisements. At one time he advertised the “Sale of a worthy widow lady in Old Town” and at another he informed the world that he would put under the hammer “the identical piano practised on by Martha Custis before she was married to George Washington.” Many humorous scenes took place in his salesroom on Baltimore street, which was the lounging place of all the wags in the city, particularly when a pawnbroker’s sale was advertised at which numerous curious articles were exposed to a knock-down, such as second-hand female garments family portraits, jewelry, medals of honor, and rare relics of antiquity. He once obtained a very high bid for a rusty old sword which he averred was the very one Gen. Cornwallis surrendered to Gen. Washington at the battle of Yorktown. On one occasion he was trying to induce the company to bid freely on a volume of my poems the last of a large edition of which he had about fifty copies to close accounts with Hickman the publisher I stood outside the door, unseen by the knight of the hammer and listened to his oration.

“Gentlemen,” said he, flourishing his hammer aloft as if he intended to split the rock of Gibraltar in twain, “these poems are the mental offspring of a bard of Baltimore, a poor devil of a poet. In charity to his [column 2:] starving family, give me a bid. Did I hear a fip? Thank you, sir. A fip for the Baltimore bard. Going; once — twice — have you all done? Three-e-e-”

At this moment I entered the salesroom, and Bool, seeing me, suddenly changed his tune:

“Gentlemen, these is the author of this beautiful casket of gems. It is with pride that I introduce him to you, the Byron of America, the adopted poet-laureate of the Monumental City! Would you insult him by allowing this volume to go for a fip? Shame on you! Think of his feelinks.”

This appeal was so powerful that the bids ran up to fifty cents a copy, with the privilege. It is almost needless to say that I was the bidder and took the entire lot. I managed to get rid of them all, by distributing them, “with the author’s compliments,” among my numerous patrons!

Poor Bool! his eccentricities made him a noted character. He had his enemies as well as friends. During the great panic, when the banks refused specie payments, and the country became flooded with irresponsible paper issues, whether from despondency or a diseased mind, it is not known, he put an end to his life. One morning he went into the loft over his office and committed suicide with a loaded pistol, leaving a wife and an adopted daughter, who subsequently became a great traveller and a noted writer.

A few questions are raised but left unanswered. What were the books and letters in Poe’s trunk? What second-hand books did Bool have for sale and did Poe read any of them? Who was Bool’s adopted daughter, “a great traveller and a noted writer”? Was she Sarah Anna Blanche Robinson Lewis (1824-1880)?

David K. Jackson, Durham, North Carolina


The Mountains of the Moon in “Eldorado”

In his gloss on “the Mountains / Of the Moon” in “Eldorado,” T. O. Mabbott observes that they “are a type of the utterly remote. They are referred to by Thomas Moore in a note on Lalla Rookh quoting James Bruce: ‘The Mountains of the Moon or Montes Lunae of antiquity, at the foot of which the Nile is supposed to rise.’ They were referred to by Ptolemy and other geographers for centuries, but often were supposed fabulous, since no traveler had visited or even seen them” [Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Poems (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1969), 1, 464]. A more likely source for Poe’s allusion, and a more precise reading of its meaning, may be found in Charles Anthon’s Classical Dictionary, a work Poe knew well, borrowed from, praised, and defended [see David K. Jackson, “Poe Notes: ‘Pinakidia’ and ‘Some Ancient Greek Authors,’” American Literature, 5 (1933), 258-267; Southern Literary Messenger, 2 (May 1836), 392, and The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1902; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), IX, 266; XV, 35. For an overview of Poe’s relations with Anthon, see “Introduction,” J. L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea and the Holy Land, ed. V. W. von Hagen (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1970)]. Under the long and detailed entry for “Nilus,” Anthon notes that Ptolemy fixes the source of one branch of the Nile “in numerous lakes at the foot of the Mountains of the Moon,” and that the river, “as if it were doomed for ever to share the obscurity which covers the ancient history of the land to which it ministers, still conceals its true sources from the eager curiosity of modern science. . . . The repeated failures which had already attended the various attempts to discover its fountains, convinced the geographers of Greece and Rome that success was impossible, and that it was the will of the gods to conceal from all generations this great secret of nature” [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1842].

Given Poe’s probable knowledge of this source, it seems likely that the poem’s allusion to the Mountains of the Moon, in keeping with that to Eldorado, functions ironically to call up an image of the impossible quest, in this case, the search for the source of the Nile. Reinforcing this interpretation is the existence of a proverb using this search to signify impossibility: in the words of the entry “Nilus” in J. Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary, on which Anthon’s work of the same name is based, the river’s “sources were unknown to the ancients, and the moderns are equally ignorant of their exact situation, whence an impossibility is generally expressed by the proverb of Nili caput quaere [to seek the source of the Nile]” [Philadelphia: James Crissy, 1822].

Fredric M. Leeds, The Pennsylvania State University, Shenango Valley Campus


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