Text: Burton R. Pollin, “Two Recent Poe Editions,” Poe Studies, December 1982, Vol. XV, No. 2, 15:42-45


[page 42, column 2, continued:]


Two Recent Poe Editions

Stephen Peithman, ed. The Annotated Tales of Edgar Allan Poe. Garden City, Neuv York: Doubleday, 1981. 684 + viii pp. X35.

Edgar Allan Poe: Marginalia. Introduction by John Carl Miller. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1981. 235 + ix pp. $11.95.

At first the Annotated Tales appears rather impressive: it has over seven hundred large pages, good heavy white paper, with over one hundred pictures, two columns of print, one intended solely for the voluminous notes, and a tone of respect for Poe the writer and for the refinements of research and truth-seeking. The long procession of marginal notes is tied to the text by boldface figures, helpfully repeated at the line’s edge, but not cluttering up the text as buried superscripts. The introduction (pp. x-xvii), seemingly well organized, has five divisions. In the first Peithman announces his purpose: to present “explanations, definitions, interpretations, sources,” and information on biography and Poe-inspired works; the brief second section presents Poe as a man and writer who puzzles and perplexes us; the third briefly surveys his life (with several errors of fact — for example, his Tales came out in 1840); four and five consist almost entirely of explanations of and tributes to his genius. Of the thirteen cited critical comments, we notice that twelve chance to appear in Eric Carlson’s Recognition of Poe, not credited here but listed in the “annotated” one-page bibliography (p. 684) as “a particularly useful compendium of critical commentary.”

The sixty-one stories themselves are grouped under four rubrics and chronologically ordered in each: “Terror of the Soul” (including “Assignation” and “Oval Portrait”), “Mysteries,” “Humor and Satire,” and “Flights and Fantasies.” Since no alphabetical list is provided, quick consultation [page 43:] is impossible. The heavenly dialogues are excluded as being too much like essays, but why is “The Light House” left out? At the end is the “Bibliography” of exactly seventeen non-Poe books by such authors as Jung, Ann Douglas, G. A. Walker, and L. T. C. Rolt (presumably originally picked up from Harold Beaver’s reference in his Science-Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe), along with works by Marie Bonaparte, Daniel Hoffman, Wolfgang Kayser, and Julian Symons. Omitted are standard works by Edward Davidson, J. W. Ostrom, Patrick Quinn, G. W. Woodberry and many others.

The numerous and varied notes (over fifty apiece for “Usher,” “Gold-Bug,” “William Wilson,” and “Ligeia”) seem to fulfill the edition’s announced purpose — and are in line with the long-standing dedication of the editor, according to the dustjacket, who chose to study “Narrative Point of View in Poe’s Tales,” in his University of California, Davis, dissertation of 1973 — Poe Studies, 10 (1977), 25. For the numerous annotations and headnotes, there are infrequent attributions to the authors of specific discoveries and opinions in the field of Poe scholarship, but very quickly the reader is struck by a marked resemblance to the material in the Mabbott edition of the tales. To be sure, those two volumes, embodying four decades of ceaseless inquiry and accumulated erudition, are mentioned in the bibliography as “the most comprehensive examination of Poe’s texts” and “the only place to go” for “alternate versions,” but of notes and commentary there is no mention. Let me be specific. Almost at random, I select the brief tale of “Hop-Frog” for comparison. In Mabbott’s edition are the informative headnote about sources and fourteen comments; in Peithman’s are a headnote plus twenty-two notes, nine of which do not cover the same content as Mabbott’s. Of these nine most treat — perhaps unnecessarily — of the definitions of such words as “motley,” “eclat,” “stockinet,” “saloon,” and “flambeaux.” There are some rather obvious comments on the irony of story elements, how far the gritting of the jester’s teeth might be heard, the merit of the king and his crew’s being tarred and feathered (along with a gratuitous and unfounded reference to this as a common treatment of abolitionists). By odd coincidence almost every note involving search, curious information, and nice discrimination corresponds to one in Mabbott’s edition usually a few — and very few — words in Peithman’s statements are different. Certainly there are some differences: for example, a very long note in the volume gives S. W. Green’s 1882 translation of a passage in Froissart’s Chronicles for parallels to details in the plot, whereas Mabbott gives the exact passage in the Chronicles cited in the Broadway Journal article of Evert Duyckinck that stirred Poe’s imagination in the first place. This sort of thing leads to nothing but confusion. Another example, Peithman has presumably used Mabbott’s nore (Works, I, 597) for “The Maelstrom” on the source of Poe’s Archimedes’ “quotation” without telling us that Poe was adapting a title derived from an article in Isaac D‘Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature, rather than inventing a totally new title. There are occasional acknowledgments to other commentaries on the tales, especially those in Poe Newsletter or Poe Studies, but I found none to the Harvard edition. Nor is there any reference to Harold Beaver’s Science-Fiction of Edgar Allan [column 2:] Poe, which furnishes a striking number of correspondences in note material for “Hans Pfaall,” not included in the Harvard text.

The arrangement by which the notes are printed near the text at the side, like the old glosses, is certainly helpful, and the note-type is clear and legible, although slightly smaller. However, all the care in format has failed to prevent a truly shocking profusion of typographical errors: for example, “varient” (p. 22), “apprently” (p. 23), “mamed” for“named” (p. 183), “accustation” (p. 254), “tile” for“title” (p. 290),“Dlyle” for“Doyle” (p. 299), “L‘Omellette” (p. 329), “conversal” (p. 407), “comparitively” and “abstact” (p. 478), and “Cournus” (p. 651). There are numerous errors of textual and verbal fact: for example, about Poe’s aunt “Marie” (p. xii), about the “unknown” origin of “bedizened” (p. 27), about the root of “arrondees” (from “aronder” rather than “arronder“ — p. 91), about the meaning of “myrmidone” (p. 236), about the British meaning of “bug,” which is“bedbug,” not “louse” (p. 262), about Vogel’s first name (“John” on p. 550 and “Johann” on p. 477 and other pages; even the last name probably should be “Wogel” as it was in the Quantin edition). Factual and research errors abound: that Poe wrote an essay on “Fancy and the Imagination” (p. 63), that the Dr. Percival in “Usher” was the poet (an error long ago exploded by Harry Warfel — p. 65), that Beardsley did the notorious forgery displayed as his (p. 150), that Poe involved Mrs. Osgood’s brother (really Mrs. Eller’s — p. 174), that the picture marked “Coburn” is “unknown” (p. 298; see also pp. 291 and 293 for the signature).

This last error is particularly strange since Peithman reprints most of F. S. Coburn’s four dozen pictures which have become almost too popular since their use in the 1902 New York/Boston ren-volume set of the works. They are dull, unimaginative, melodramatic sketches, with so little definition of details as to reproduce very badly in these reproductions. A little more satisfactory are the Albert Sterner illustrations ascribed here to the Century Magazine but used also in the earlier Woodberry-Stedman edition of 1894. Such matters of date and priority are scarcely important, since Coburn’s pictures here sometimes bear either no date or 1901, 1902 or 1903. Those from the widely circulated, inordinately influential Quantin two-volume set of 1884 of Paris are usually labeled “nineteenth century,” although several by Wogel are inexplicably labeled 1856. About twenty-five illustrations are tantalizingly unidentified — some quite charming, unpretentious, simple line drawings. No clue is given as to their source, date, medium, as is true, I must remark, of a number of Poe illustrations clipped and filed in the Betteman “picture library.” I wonder about Peithman’s discovery of the large number which are clearly not from the illustrations of standard editions of Poe’s works.

A word is due about the distracting nature of many of the notes, some of them rather obvious or irrelevant: for example, about another modern Prospero in J. Bellairs’ The Face in the Frost (p. 114), about Wilkie Collins’ “The Yellow Mask” of 1855 (p. 119), about Jung’s Psychology (p. 122), about the general worth of C. B. Brown (p. 123), about what Hop-Frog had in his mind (p. 180), about the career in Congress of Alexander Stephens because an “Alexandre [page 44:] Etienne” was mentioned in Poe’s tale (p. 200), and about the “impolite” meaning of “cur” as in “cul-de-sac” (!) leading to a speculation about the root “bag” in the name for a character in The Holobitt (p. 341). Finally Mr. Peithman’s style exhibits flaws which hamper easy reading and ready comprehension: for example, “a mistake to constantly equate the two” (p. x); the editor “was a man he disliked, and who repaid the feeling”; Palladio designed buildings “all in a surprisingly unpompous and unpedantic style” (p. 22); “He goes into shock, and hangs near death in its aftermath” (p. 119); and endlessly more.

It must be admitted that the author has done his best to fulfill his intentions of presenting “multiple levels of meaning” on Poe’s work, including those that are “representative” and “some of the more offbeat.” He advocates the reader’s basically “coming to his or her own conclusions.” Knowing and judicious readers will certainly wish to do that, as always.

Of all the major works of Poe, none is more ambiguous in status, reputation, and significance than the composite called “Marginalia,” which he clearly envisaged as a book comprising seventeen articles, divided into 291 subsections. Whatever their importance in the 1840’s, when first published, or to posterity, to Poe they were a meaningful and vital part of his discursive writing, expressing his thoughts candidly: “We talk only to ourselves,” he said, and therefore “freshly — boldly — originally — with abandounnement — without conceit” in the manner of certain old essayists who wrote “with a richly marginalic air.” This part of his November 1844 introduction to the series (reprinted also in the April 1849 installment) did not belie the feigned nature of his contention that all the entries were written in the margins of his book. This fiction caused T. O. Mabbott to include the introduction in his edition of Poe’s Tales and Sketches. But the brief essays would have been the same had Poe been able to retain his books, which were always being sold for subsistence.

What other proof have we that Poe cherished these “fresh” and “bold” observations? We have many self-satisfied references in his other works (for example, Complete Works, XII, 74; XIII, 131; XV, 48). He takes pains to point out in the Broadway Journal (II, 95) a printer’s error in a Godey’s Magazine installment that put two of the items into one. He occasionally reminds the reader of his previous treatment of a “Marginalia” topic, sometimes published in another periodical, as though he wishes the whole series to be regarded as an integrated work. His correspondence mentions them with a sort of pride; for example, his letter of 13 January 1849 to John R. Thompson states that the design of the “Marginalia” afforded “great scope for variety of critical or other comment.” They “proved as popular as any papers written by me.” On 10 May he “hopes” that a later installment is “more piquant.” In line with these hints are a few manuscripts Poe left, with markings indicative of his intention to publish the series with revisions — see Miller’s introduction and also Ex Libris (Johns Hopkins, 1940). Such “jottings,” “pencilings,” or “scraps” of the most informal variety were then popular; [column 2:] Poe temperamentally liked the brief, well shaped, occasionally learned, often witty or satiric essay-note.

Despite Griswold’s 1850 publication of the majority of the “Marginalia” items, originally printed in seventeen installments from 1844 to 1849, no nineteenth-century researcher attempted to seek out the full corpus even though those printed in the collected works were carefully read by Poe devotees; yet Paul Valery, in tribute, left a running commentary on the introduction and a half dozen of the items (see his Collected Works, Bollingen Series Vol. 45). Griswold as editor reordered and reduced the number of selections for reasons to be discussed in my forthcoming edition of all of Poe’s Brevities. Later editorial treatment has not been circumspect. Stedman and Woodberry callously omitted a large portion of the material as “printed elsewhere in the critical writings” or based on “obscure” or “ephemeral” material. Harrison, in 1902, inadvertently omitted two whole installments and introduced numerous errors in the text, F. C. Prescott, in the notes to his Selections of 1909, followed by Margaret Alterton in 1935, pointed out the shortcomings of Harrison’s edition, but full treatment of these came only with an article by E. H. O‘Neill in American Literature in November 1943. Even the present edition ignores this article, which helped tO make the book possible. In Mabbott’s 1978 edition of the tales lies the seed of a greatly heightened interest in the proper presentation of the “Marginalia”: in his notes are over one hundred references to the link between the tales and the series. Moreover, he devises a careful numbering system of continuous, chronologically ordered items. Surely it is time to have this convenience for general purposes, but this edition ignores it.

What else might the student and scholar expect of a “complete” edition of the “Marginalia“? Surely we should have full annotations encompassing the following: (1) the sources of the material, whether in Poe’s writings (chiefly reviews) or in other writers’ texts (2) the correct forms and significance of all names, titles, and allusions; (3) identifications of typographical errors or idiosyncrasies in the original texts of the journals (Democratic Review, Graham’s, Godey’s, Messenger); (4) an indication of the original end-of-line hyphenations or separations of compounds for proper quotations from the text, (5) a full topical and onomastic index; (6) and cross-references of themes and names throughout the entire corpus of Poe’s works.

This new volume does not attempt to offer these aids to the student. It must be stressed, however, that the late John Carl Miller’s edition has many virtues and probably would have more if he had been spared for a more extensive preparation of the work. On the page for acknowledgments is a hint that he was present for only a small portion of the processing: he “answered many hard questions at the outset and . . . supplied enthusiasm when it was needed” (p. xvii). Miller is not termed “editor” any place, but solely as writer of the brief introduction (two paragraphs of which untenably suggest that Oliver Wendell Holmes “aped” Poe’s “Marginalia” in his “Autocrat” series, which were in reality begun in 1831). The unnamed staff of the University Press of Virginia is basically responsible for the book, aside from Miller’s probable initial stimulus. It is a [page 45:] handsome little book, neatly bound, printed on excellent paper, with ample margins and clear type, an attractive illustrated dust jacket, good running heads designating the separate installments, a comprehensive index (pp. 219-235), and issued at a reasonable price.

Does it fill the needs of the student or scholar? Not sufficiently. It would be carping to ask that it be a critical edition. Clearly Professor Miller did not envision this, and without his presence, the press editors could not provide the specialized insight. Needed would be the accumulations of years of notes and intensive research; we could not expect such annorations on short notice. But is the text satisfactory in its limited way, as a stop-gap or “working” text, so to speak? In parr, yes. But questions arise. First of all, why were the items not numbered, perhaps through easy collation with the Mabbott edition references? This would have revealed four entries in their volume that are submerged — their divisions “number” 287 entries, not 291. The magazine editors were partially responsible in three cases by dropping the separating rule at the foot of three columns of print, but the present-day compositors should have been directed to make these separate entries on the basis of the differing contents of each of the four pairs. One (p. 101) is even correct in the Harrison printing. These are the four “double” entries: nos. 27 and 28 (p. 14), nos. 122-123 (p. 76; as indicated above, Poe himself corrected this error in the Broadway Journal, II, 95), nos. 128-129 (p. 78), and nos. 151-152 (p. 101). Next, what policy concerning changes made in the original text should we expect to find? We are told that “obvious . . . errors in the setting of punctuation marks . . . are silently corrected.” But there is no indication of what was changed save for two words that might have been “authorial rather than compositorial” (“Pease” for “Pearce” and “Aenone” for “Oenone“ — pp. xiii-xiv). Clearly, the text is not considered as unalterable, and “improvements” are allowed. In fact, there are several errors probably made by Poe that are unmentioned and probably unnoticed: “Rhemmius” for “Rhemnius” (p. 12), “Ramaseand” for “Ramaseana” (p. 26), “Statue Statuoe” for “Statuae” (p. 97), “Smirna” for “Smyrna” (p. 205) . There are more than a few new errors not in the magazine texts: for example, “Mautuanus” for “Mantuanus” (p. 52), “The day is gone” for “done” (p. 80), “furious ear” for “furious car” and “before observed” for “observed before” (both on p. 121), “anymore” for “any more” (p. 160), “which half fancied” for “which I half fancied” (p. 188), and a change in important accentuation of a French quotation which destroys the point of Poe’s discussion (at the head of p. 117).

These flaws do not negate the merits of this publication, and in view of the gaps in the Harrison text, of the irresponsible selectivity of the Woodberry and Stedman edition, and of the inaccessibility of the four journals of the 1840’s, it is a good compromise that needs hand-numbering by the user, some textual correction, and reluctant abaegation of annotations. In general, Professor Miller conferred a decided benefit through his stimulating enthusiasm at the end of his life.

Burton R. Pollin, Bronx Community College of CCNY, Emeritus


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]