Text: Various, “Marginalia,” Poe Studies, June 1979, Vol. XII, No. 1, 12:19-20


[page 19:]


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.

Poe’s “Tekeli-li”

Many sources have been offered for “Tekeli-li,” the cry of the Tsalalians, in Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym [for Poe’s use of the term, see Complete Works, III, 245]. James Riley appended to his best-selling book An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce Wrecked on the Western Coast of Africa, in the Month of August, 1815, with an Account of the Sufferings of her Surviving Officers and Crew, Who Were Enslaved by the Wandering Arabs (1817) a glossary of Arabic vocabulary which included “Tekkela” for “trust or confidence.” [See Burton R. Pollin, “Three More Early Notices of Pym and the Snowden Connection,” Poe Studies, 8 (1975), 32-35, in which he considered Riley’s book as one of Poe’s probable sources for Pym.] In 1942 James O. Bailey, unconsciously following in the footsteps of Riley, theorized that “Tekeli-li” might be corrupt Arabic for “Trust to me” [“Sources of Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, ‘Hans Pfaall’ and Other Pieces,” PMLA, 57 (1942), 513-535]. Because Daniel 5:27 has the word “Tekel” in the phrase written on the wall of Belshazzar, Sidney Kaplan speculated that the term was “a kind of Hebrew” [“An Introduction to Pym,” in Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Robert Regan ( Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: PrenticeHall, 1967), p. 156]. After consulting two Hebraists, Professor J. V. Ridgely expressed dissatisfaction with Kaplan’s explanation and proposed in its stead the possibility that “Tekeli-li” might be found in the Maori-Polynesian language, in which he claimed no expertise [“The Continuing Puzzle of Arthur Gordon Pym: Some Notes and Queries,” Poe Studies, 3 (1970), 5-6].

To the three languages proposed as possible sources for this fascinating term, we add still another, Hungarian, which, we believe, really came to Poe from the French of Pixerecourt by way of Theodore Edward Hook and Byron. Reviewing Rienzi for the Southern Literary Messenger in February, 1836 [2, 197], Poe observed that “In some species of wit Theodore Hook rivals Bulwer,” and he briefly noticed Hook’s The Marrying Man in Graham’s for August 1841 [19, 94]. More significantly, Poe knew his Byron. The most likely source for Tekeli-li, given these facts, is a footnote to the phrase “a Prince within a barrel pent” from English Bards and Scotch Reviewers in Thomas Moore’s edition of Byron’s Works [London, 1832, VII, 248]; the footnote, discovered by each of us independently, is also found in the earlier Galignani edirion [Paris, 1818, VI, 84] and reads as follows: “In the melo-drama of Tekeli, that heroic prince is clapt into a barrel on the Stage, a new asylum for distressed heroes.” The allusion is to a drama by Hook, which English Bards and Scotch Reviewers refers to another time as well: “And Hook conceal his heroes in a cask!” [column 2:]

“Tekeli” was the surname of the Hungarian patriot, Emeric, Count Tekeli (1656-1703) [see Hoefer’s Nouvelle Biographie Generale (Paris, 1886), XLVI, 460-462]. About him Hook wrote a popular three-act British melodrama called Tekeli, or, The Siege of Montgatz [1806; condensed by Hook into two acts, 1809], adapted from Pixerecourt’s French drama of 1803. Hook also used “Tekeli” as a pseudonym for his Poems on Various Subjects [London, 1809]. In its three forms (three-act or two-act melodrama or burletta with songs), Hook’s Tekeli continued to hold its place on the American stage into the period of Poe’s composition of Pym; for example, Odell in Annals of the American Stage records these New York performances: two in 1823, three in 1825, one in 1827; two in 1829, two in September and October 1837 and one in 1843 [vole. 111 and IV]. Whether Poe came upon the phrase directly or indirectly is thus matter for speculation. It is an interesting coincidence that his mother appeared as Christine in Tekeli on March 23, 1811, at the Charleston Theatre [A. H. Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (New York and London, 1941), p. 723].

David K. Jackson, Durham, North Carolina

Burton R. Pollin, Bronx Community College of the City University of New York, Emeritus


A Closer Source for the Goths in Poe’s “Letter to B——”

In Poe Studies [9 (1976), 54], Thomas Thornburg suggested that Herodotus’ History was Poe’s immediate source for an anecdote in “Letter to B ——.” Condemning Wordsworth for conceiving of poetry as metaphysical in its intent and for “wearing away his youth in contemplation with the end of poetizing in his manhood,” Poe recommends that he follow the example of “the old Goths of Germany,” who always debated matters of importance twice, once sober and once drunk, in order not to rely too much upon rational judgment. Mr. Thornburg presents a clear parallel in Herodotus of a similar practice among the Persians. But a source closer to Poe exists in Washington Irving’s A History of New York [I quote from a modern edition of its 1812 text, ed. Edwin T. Bowden (New Haven: College and University Press and Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1964), IV, v, 194-195]:

We are told that the ancient Germans had an admirable mode of treating any question of importance: they first deliberated upon it when drunk, and afterwards reconsidered it when sober. The shrewder mobs of America, who dislike having two minds upon a subject, both determine and act upon it drunk; by which means a world of cold and tedious speculation is dispensed with — and as it is universally allowed that when a man is drunk he sees double, it follows most conclusively that he sees twice as well as his sober neighbor.

The passage occurs in the 1809, 1812, 1819 American and 1820 London editions of the History (but not in the heavily revised 1848 version).

It may be objected that Poe specifically states in a 4 September 1838 letter to Nathan C. Brooks that he had not read Irving since he was a boy, save Irving’s Granada [Letters I, 111-112]. But Burton R. Pollin [Dictionary of Titles and Names in Poe’s Collected Works (New York: Da Capo Press, 1968)] lists thirty-five references to Irving, twelve of which predate the 1838 letter; they range from (in Pollin’s terms) mere mentions, comments, quotations, and passages to a short 1835 review of Crayon’s Miscellany and a long 1837 review of Astoria. Clearly, one should not accept Poe’s assertion that he had not read Irving since he was a boy: his interest in Irving was long and continuous and it remains probable that A History of New York is the immediate source for Poe’s anecdote. [page 20:]

Thus Thornburg’s suggestion that Poe deliberately intensified his condemnation of Wordsworth by changing Herodotus’ Persians into Goths seems unlikely, for Irving’s History at the very least testifies to the contemporary existence of Poe’s form of the anecdote. In “Letter to BC ,” Poe sees Wordsworth’s too correct judgment unfortunately leading to metaphysics; the comparison with the Goths underscores Poe’s idea that poetry has “for its immediate object, pleasure not truth” [Complete Works, VII, xliii]. Wordsworth’s insistence that poetry arrive at truth is, in Poe’s opinion, fallacious: sober reasoning may produce a poetry of statement but not a poetry conveying the indefinite pleasure that is its chief end.

James O’Neill, Washington State University


Poe’s Philosophy of Punctuation

No scholar, to my knowledge, has noted a curious fact about Poe’s punctuation of lines quoted from “The Raven” in his “The Philosophy of Composition.” When Poe quotes the final stanza of “The Raven” at the end of that essay — at least in the original text as printed in Graham’s Magazine [28, (April 1846), 167] and reprinted in Complete Works, XIV, 208 — he de-emphasizes the ultimate “nevermore” by punctuating it with a period. This period is a substitution for the original exclamation point of the poem’s first printing in The American Review: A Whig Journal [I (February 1845), 143-145]. The change may be only a printer’s error, but I would suggest that it is functional in the orchestration of Poe’s criticism. “The Philosophy of Composition” had already come to a climax with Poe’s quotation of the line “Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!” which — aside from Poe’s deliberate italicizing of the phrase “my heart” — follows the punctuation of the original poem. But Poe had doubled his effect at this climactic point by adding an exclamation point to the refrain which accompanies this line — “Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore!’” — originally punctuated by a simple period. To have ended his critique with a quotation punctuated by yet another exclamation point would have destroyed the sense of controlled rationality that permeates “The Philosophy of Composition.” Thus, in order to avoid a typographical anticlimax, Poe subtly played fast and loose with his own stress marks, following his dictum that “It is only with the denouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence, or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention” [Complete Works, XIV, 193]. Here, we must take Poe’s use of the plural “points” on both a literal and a figurative level.

Barton Levi St. Armand, Brown University


The Identity of Maria Clemm’s Friend, the Judge

In Building Poe Biography [Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1977, p. 22] John Carl Miller reproduces Maria Clemm’s letter written “ca. 1831” to “a former member of the Judiciary” [Item 436, Ingram Poe Collection, University of Virginia; first printed in the Maryland Historical Magazine, 6 (March 1911), 44] as the earliest example on record of one of her begging letters. [For later letters and assessments of her, see Miller, pp. 19-57, and Steven Allaback, “Mrs. Clemm and Henry [column 2:] Wadsworth Longfellow,” Harvard Library Bulletin, 18 (1970), 32-42.] Miller’s comment is that Maria Clemm’s request “was addressed to a prominent judge in Baltimore whose grandson allowed [William Hand] Browne to copy the letter for [J. H.] Ingram but had absolutely refused to allow his grandfather’s name to be used in connection with it” [p. 21].

Before me is a copy of a letter of some length dated Bel Air Maryland, October 8, 1930, from Samuel W. Bradford to his cousin Mrs. J. W. Nisbet, of Macon, Georgia, in which Bradford identifies himself as the grandson and his grandfather, Thomas Kell, as the recipient of Maria Clemm’s letter [E. A. Nisbet Papers, MS. Dept., William R. Perkins Library, Duke Univ.]. According to Bradford’s account, he inherited Maria Clemm’s letter, loaned it to a Baltimore “newspaperman” for a magazine article, and never got the letter back. He later recalled seeing the 1911 printing of the letter in the Maryland Historical Magazine. Bradford speculated that Poe was the bearer of Maria Clemm’s written request to his grandfather, and he related to his cousin his mother’s and aunt’s recollections that later their kinsman supplied almost daily large baskets of provisions to Maria Clemm and her family, then living in what was known as Old Baltimore.

I am unable to discover whether Kell was actually a judge and when he was born and died, but certainly he was a prominent member of the legal profession. [See Annie Leakin Sioussat, old Baltimore (New York: Macmillan, 1931), p. 172.] With William Gwynn and others, Kell was a law student of Luther Martin (ca. 1748-1826), the first Attorney General of the State of Maryland and one of the counsel for Aaron Burr in his 1807 trial for treason. In 1813 Kell signed a deposition printed in Report of the Committee of Grievances and Courts of Justice of the House of Delegates of Maryland, on the Subject of the Recent Mobs and Riots in the City of Baltimore Together with the Depositions Taken Before the Committee [(Annapolis: Printed by Jonas Green, 1813), pp. 135-141]. Three years later, he was one of three commissioners “to examine applicants and grant provisional relief” [J. Thomas Scharf, The Chronicles of Baltimore . . . (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1874), p. 381]. In 1824 he was appointed Attorney General of the State of Maryland, apparently as successor to Luther Martin, his teacher [Niles’ Register, 27 (September 4, 1824), 16 — information kindly furnished me by Marjorie B. Jones, Administrative Assistant, Maryland Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland].

David K. Jackson, Durham, North Carolina


A Poe Play: The Treadwell Papers

Drafts of a play based on Poe’s life by American dramatist Sophie Treadwell, together with its final script, are among the Sophie Treadwell papers in the Special Collections of the University of Arizona Library at Tucson. Although never published, Plumes in the Dust was produced in New York in 1936 by Alfred Hopkins, starring Henry Hull as Poe. A melancholy, fictionalized portrayal of Poe as son, husband, and struggling artist, the play highlights emotional crises in his life — his stepfather’s withdrawal of college tuition, his struggle for survival with Virginia, her death, and his own. While Plumes received unfavorable reviews and had only two dozen performances, it is, in H. Bryllion Fagin’s judgment [The Histrionic Mr. Poe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1949), p. 230], “without question the most ambitious play on the life of Poe ever written and produced”; as such, it merits more attention from serious students of Poe than it has heretofore enjoyed.

Louise Heck-Rabi, Wyandotte, Michigan


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