Text: Robert D. Jacobs, “Wallace, Poe, and Plagiarism,” Poe Studies, June 1979, Vol. XII, No. 1, 12:23-24


[page 23, continued:]

Wallace, Poe, and Plagiarism

George E. Hatvary. Horace Binney Wallace. Twayne United States Authors Series. Boston: G. R. Hall & Co., 1977. 173 pp. $9.50.

A dozen years ago George E. Hatvary published in the “Notes and Queries” section of American Literature a seven-page listing of Poe’s borrowings from Horace Binney Wallace, who wrote for B? ‘rton’s and Graham’s under the pseudonym of “William Landor.” Hatvary established Poe’s plagiarism by presenting parallel passages and claimed that Poe was indebted to no author more than to Wallace. This claim is reiterated in stronger terms in Hatvary’s Wallace for the Twayne series: Poe “read at least parts of Stanley with greater intensity than he read any other book . . . .” Indeed, Professor Hatvary argues that Stanley, a book he considers [column 2:] remarkable though flawed, influenced “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “William Wilson,” “The Colloquy of Monos and Una,” Poe’s criticism, the detective tales, and even Eureka.

There is something strained and eccentric in this attempt to prove that the genius behind many of Poe’s best fictional ideas was Horace Binney Wallace. Hatvary urges us to believe that the characters of Dupin, Usher, and William Wilson derive from prototypes in Stanley and that Poe, in respect to Wallace at least, was a persistent kleptomaniac — the term kleptomania is used, as are other condemnatory terms such as theft and plagiarism. Much of the evidence, however, is unconvincing. The idea for the double William Wilson, as Poe acknowledged and Mabbort pointed out half a century ago, came from Irving’s “An Unwritten Drama of Lord Byron,” in which a Spanish nobleman stabs his personified conscience to death; and reclusive characters of the same general type as Usher are common in Gothic fiction. It was Poe’s talent to transform conventional fictional modes into art not only by achieving superior form but also through his insight into psychopathology.

No one disputes Poe’s debt to Wallace in his “Marginalia,” as Hatvary established it in 1966. Griswold knew it over a hundred years ago and said so in the “Memoir” prefixed to his edition of Poe’s works. As Hatvary points out, Griswold did not print many of the items taken from Wallace, justifying the omissions with this statement: “In his ‘Marginalia’ he (Poe] borrowed largely, especially from Coleridge, and I have omitted in the republication of these papers, numerous paragraphs which were rather compiled than borrowed from one of the profoundest and wisest of our own scholars.” By failing to quote the firs4 clause of this statement, Hatvary makes it appear that Wallace was Poe’s primary source, whereas Griswold correctly stated that the “Marginalia” were compiled from a variety of sources. Poe used Wallace’s erudition as he had that of Bielfeld, D’Israeli, and Coleridge, to gratify the appetite for learning that was characteristic of the magazine audience in the days of what Mott called the “Knowledge Books.”

This portion of Hatvary’s book is strangely archaic. We are carried back to the time when the Poe detractors and defenders bombarded each other from journalistic trenches. Not surprisingly, a brief account of Griswold, Wallace’s close friend, appears in the same chapter that links Wallace and Poe. The defenders of Poe — Hatvary names Baudelaire, Harrison, and Arthur Hobson Quinn — are accused of being sentimentalists for seeing Griswold only as the murderer of Poe’s reputation. The implication is that Griswold, a neurotic hack who managed to be a superior anthologist, was led into his falsifications of Poe documents because he knew that Poe had plundered Wallace: Poe was a rascal and must be exposed to the world. Apparently Hatvary is not unsympathetic to this position.

The remainder of the book will be of less interest to students of Poe. In the brief sketch of Wallace’s life, the interpretation of his character is primitive. Wallace, who committed suicide gruesomely by cutting his throat at the [page 24:] age of thirty-five, is discussed under such terms as “benevolence,” “coldness,” and “passion,” scarcely a precise vocabulary to describe the “self-destructive” genius that Harvary makes him out to be. The method of handling Wallace’s writings is equally primitive. His literary works are summarized in detail, even travel sketches and book reviews; but a modern evaluative mode is lacking. Here is a sample: “In terms of Coleridge’s important critical distinction current at the time, Wallace’s approach to his later fiction was not truly imaginative, only fanciful.”

If Wallace, who evidently had some literary merit, is to be restored to what Hatvary calls his deserved place in our literature, this is not the book to do it.

Robert D. Jacobs, Georgia State University


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[S:0 - PS, 1979]