Text: Burton R. Pollin, “The Poe Editions of the Library of America,” Poe Studies, December 1985, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, 18:29-32


[page 29:]

The Poe Editions of the Library of America

Patrick Quinn, ed., Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry and Tales. New York: Library of America, 1984. 1408 pp. $27.50.

G. R. Thompson, ed., Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews. New York: Library of America, 1984. 1544 pp. $27.50.

For at least two years preceding the publication of these volumes, the general and literary channels of publicity have been flooded with advance notices of “The most important book-publishing project in the nation’s history” (Newsweek), full page advertisements, solicitations to subscribe, special leaflets claiming that “For the first time in our history, you can own and enjoy all of Melville . . . Poe” et al. The public is offered “The Definitive Edition of the Collected Works of America’s Most Famous Authors,” and the publisher promises “in . . . unabridged volumes, . . . the complete writings of . . . Poe” to charter subscribers to the whole series. Now, of course, students of Poe can make allowances for sales pitches, publicity notices, and grandiose claims. But they must ask whether these two volumes add to our knowledge about and insight into Poe’s works and their place in the literature of America and whether they supply a good replacement for the somewhat outdated and expensive (in its facsimile reprint) multivolume set of the dames A. Harrison 1902 edition. Certainly, from the viewpoint of compactness, beauty of typesetting, quality of paper and binding, durability, all guaranteed by the lavishly expended funds of the NEH and the Ford Foundation, given thanks on a special page, these two volumes represent a subsidized boon for readers. Here we shall address solely the procedures of the editing of the two distinguished scholars appointed by the Library of America and furnished with technical help, equipment, and staff.

Admittedly, Poe offers more problems for editing than any other major American writer, largely because of the unevenness, variety, and unedited state of much of his total work. Woodberry and Stedman, in 1894, faced this issue and decided to make their ten volumes a “selection,” but James A. Harrison wished to reprint the “complete” works in his fifteen volumes of text (two more volumes of his edition being a “life” and a potpourri of letters). Even he had to cut corners, leaving out many columns from Poe-edited magazines. The tales and poems offered no organizational problem, of course, unlike the rest of the prose. He solved the difficult task of ordering all the other prose through a compromise between chronology and subject classifications, lending to Mr. Thompson his basic plan for the essays volume: tales, in volumes 2-6; poems, volume 7; reviews and criticism, given chronologically, 8-13; essays and “miscellanies” with a free sort [column 2:] of chronology, 14; “Literati” papers and “autography” articles, 15; “Marginalia” and Eureka, 16. In the new Library of America edition, the tales and poems, augmented by Eureka, all fall to Mr. Quinn’s province in a single volume, justified by the balance of available pages and also, one supposes, by Poe’s treatise on the universe being subtitled “A Prose Poem.” Explanations are very difficult to find in these two volumes, so suppositions and inferences must often prevail.

We shall consider first the nonfiction volume under Mr. Thompson’s aegis. The variety of material here is very great, and he has chosen to arrange it all in six categories, many ignoring the original dating. First are the three essays (about 100 pages) on “Theory of Poetry” (excluding the earliest, “Notes on English Verse,” as being incorporated into the “Poetic Principles”). The next two sections are devoted to reviews of European authors and American authors, listed alphabetically, not by date, as in Harrison (about 900 pages). Fourth is a melange of seven items entitled “Magazines and Criticism” (about 40 pages) which starts with a reprint from the July 1836 Southern Literary Messenger of a special “Supplement (A Reply to Critics).” This supplement responds to a local newspaper’s critique of Poe’s reviews, especially his notice of a book by Slidell, yet Thompson oddly omits the notice in question from his collection of reviews. On this topic, we might add that many other review articles, especially from the same magazine, are omitted (on books by Anthon, Mrs. Trollope, Paulding, Maury, Gallagher, Richardson, French, Mrs. Child, Hazlitt, and Basil Hall), as well as the whole of “Pinakidia“ — probably because of its being so derivative. The essays on “Palestine” (Gentleman’s Magazine) and “Street Paving” (BroadwayJournal) are also omitted, as are the two sets of “Autography” sketches of 1836 and 1841. The unwary reader, believing in the “completeness” of all important material in this volume, certainly needs a clearer warning word than that furnished by the “Note on the Texts.” We learn that the numerous one-paragraph “pieces” have “generally been omitted” and that the “Literati” and “Marginalia” articles recombine many of them, but we are not informed about the character of longer prose pieces excluded from the edition’s “selection.”

The last two sections are, first, “The Literary and Social Scene,” largely the Broadway Journal’s “Editorial Miscellanies” from September to the end of 1845 and “The Literati” of 1846 in their order of publication (all told, about 175 pages); second, “Articles and Marginalia” (about 250 pages), with miscellaneous items, such as the “Chess-Player,” and the whole of the “Marginalia,” in the order of dates but unnumbered, as would be useful. The divisions are not untenable, although they might easily have been reduced to four or five. The issue is important chiefly because each section has its own table of contents, offering a fuller, more precise title and also the date of each article, information not given, of course, in the Index. Hence, one has to thumb through the “Contents” table of each section at times, and if one [page 30:] cannot mentally allocate a title to the right category, one cannot find it quickly. Sometimes the Index missed or altered the title greatly. An 1843 article with no specification, said to be “reprinted here for the first time” (p. 1482), required over twenty minutes of search, it being listed in the Index under the book’s title (it was in the sixth section, under ‘’South-Sea Expeditions”). There was no help even in the useful “Chronological Short-Title Catalog” (1484-1489) giving the original magazine, date, and pages of the major articles. This “Catalog” positively demands a column of initial pages in this particular volume, to avoid consulting the Index and, very possibly, one or all of the six tables of contents.

The sedulous and scholarly reader is generally not considered in the apparatus provided, and perhaps he need not be, despite the promotional literature. The editor’s total material ranges from pp. 1473-1510, and the Index (onomastic for persons and titles only) from 1513- 1544. The ‘‘Chronology‘’ of Poe’s life (1473-1481) is repeated in both volumes, stemming, I think, from Thompson’s account at the end of his 1970 Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe. The two-page “Note on the Texts‘’ takes proper first-reprint credit for “some of the selections” (1482), specifying four, of which the 1843 review of Wyandotte was actually in Harrison (XI, 205-220). It is good to have most of Poe’s essays in the Aristidean (1845) and all of his “Editorial Miscellany” columns of the Broadway Journal. Thompson, perhaps wisely, omits explaining why September 27, 1845, starts his reprints for a series beginning with the January 3 issue, according to his note for 1067.1 on p. 1504; Briggs, of course, prepared the earlier ones. But if all the unsigned ‘’selections” printed have been ‘‘verified as his” from the correspondence, “collocation for content,” or corroboration by Hull’s dissertation on ‘‘the canon,” why does a non-Poe entry for October 11 slip in (1089-90)? The call for a New York city library like that of the British Museum is not Poe’s in style or in specific diction, or in the range and nature of the place in London discussed. Clearly, this is by Henry C. Watson, of that city, who was co-editor, or it was closely adapted (or repeated) from a British journal; like the preceding separate items in this “Editorial Miscellany.” Finally, for the sake of space, the decision to use a later review article incorporating all or most of an earlier one (as indicated in the ‘‘catalog”) is wise.

The handling of the reprinted text is another major aspect of such an edition, intended to be ‘‘authoritative” according to the publicity of the Library of America. Thompson wisely leaves the punctuation in the style of the original text, even if different from our modern practice. There are minor changes in the “display capitalization” of initial words or in single versus double quotation marks. But ‘‘typographical errors have been corrected,” and almost two pages (1490-92) give us, presumably, all of those found by assistants, reading to each other, culling all instances of contemporary usage with lexical aids, and, presumably, fine-combing the text. Obvious spelling and punctuation errors, foreign accents (and wrong letters, [column 2:] for example, in Greek and Hcbrew), are listed, with the page and line number. Hence, we infer that the main text as given is now editorially correct or ‘‘authoritative.‘’ I offer a supplementary list, quickly culled from my skimming and from my own ‘‘typo” lists in the 1985 edition of Poe’s Brevities (the 600 short items in “Marginalia,‘’ “Fifty Suggestions,” etc.) and the forthcoming volume of commentary-notes for The Broadway Journal. The page numbers are Thompson’s, showing the word before the slash as in his text, and that after, the needed correction, the attached “(new)” means simply that Thompson’s text has introduced a new fault in the given word. A few of the corrected spellings are noted in some part of the notes or in the Index, the latter via a parenthetical spelling alternate, but the reader, unapprised in any note for a given page or not turning to the Index for any other reason, would naturally assume the misspelling to be correct and quote it accordingly. I suspect a lack of coordination between the staffs preparing the text, the notes, and the Index — an important, certainly demanding performance (see, for example, the Index entries and the spellings for these samples: Mathews, E. C. Pinkney, and Spenser).

[126] Last Bower / Lost Bower [203]Jaque /Jacque [325] Marryatt / Marryat [385] equivoque / equivoque, Calderon / Calderon [403] bizzarreries / bizarreries [456] Melanges / Melanges [458] schwarmerei /schwarmerei [460] azula /azul [1061] Manichocans / Manichaeans [1081] millionare / millionaire [1090] La Martine / Lamartine [1144] Proemus / Boemus [1214] Herschell / Herschel (new) [1298] statutary / statutory, apopthegm / apophthegm [1300] Tomas / Tomas, importo / importa, poco qui /poco que [1302] questio / quaestio [1303] Greely / Greeley [1306] Spencer / Spenser [1307] er lasst / es lasst, Massaccion / Masaccian [1309] consequence / conse‘quence [1311] Quintillian / Quintilian [1323] jen / j‘en [1332]Bolinbroke / Bolingbroke, Maniere / Maniere (Maniere is erroneously substituted) [1336] some one other / some one or other [1338] cents / cent [1339] Menipee / Menippee [1347] Le Sueur / Le Seur [1367] Busching / Busching, Canabitch / Cannabich, Gutsmuth / Guths-Muths [1371] Sulspicius / Sulpicius, parire / perire, Carey / Cary [1376] pinciples (corrected editorially but not in list) [1385] condems / condemns [1391] Hardenburgh / Hardenburg [1403] my monotone / by monotone [1414] Foque / Fouque [1430] is‘nt / isn‘t [1440] Pinckney / Pinkney [1466] Triuculo / Trinculo, preterea / praeterea [1466] Malspert / Malapert (corrected, but not listed) [1467] niai-series / niaiseries (not listed), sangre azula / azol, villify / vilify, Francais / franc,ais [1483] Ostram / Ostrom (new), echas / ekes (both in Greek letters) [1487] Newham / Newnham (new) [1497] Trelawney / Trelawny (new), Rose Matilda / Rosa etc. (new) [1506] Aurungzebe’s / Augungzebe’s (new) [1507] Marcantonia / Marcantonio (new) [1508] Sulpicious (twice) / Sulpicius (new) [1515] Barthelemy / Barthelemy [1516] Broglie, Dulce / Broglie, Duc [1518] “Chaunt of a Sole” / “Chaunt of a Soul,” Chenier / Chenier [1524] Gold Bug / Gold-Bug [page 31:] [1526] Horsely / Horsley [1531] La Maniere / La Maniere [1536] Preisstnitz / Priessnitz [1540] Tegner / Tegner [1541] Trelawney / Trelawny [1542] Volney. . .Francoise / Volney. . .François

Concerning the annotations at the end, tersely Mr. Thompson states, ‘‘No note is made for material included in a standard desk-reference book. Some queries concerning full names, authorship, and further mention of titles may be answered by checking the Index for cross-references” (1493). In fact, most of the items are merely translations of foreign phrases. Moreover, the three allusions on the first page — as a sample (truth in a well, Melmoth, and Temora) could be furnished by a good “reader’s companion.” But no glosses are given for numerous items relating to Poe’s characteristic and idiosyncratic language or many allusions. Occasional notes of some fullness do throw light on tangled subjects, such as his response to Longfellow’s Waif and his “plagiarism” or “Outis” series. Thompson sensibly inclined to identify that anonymous letter-writer with Poe himself. Surely a few more pages could have been spared for more of the needed explications.

Similarly, the Index would have been enhanced by adding subjects as well as merely titles and personal names. There are a few surprising omissions, such as “The Sensitive Plant” of Shelley, discussed in Poe’s text, and some implied glosses are questionable (e.g., Sawney is not a “British critic” but another form of “Sandy” or “Alexander,” a sobriquet for any “Scot”). Despite the flaws indicated, the book fulfills the need for a one-volume compendium of Poe’s short and long essay articles, being convenient to use, easy to purchase, broad in its range, and likely to stimulate greater interest in Poe’s total oeuvre.

Patrick Quinn faced fewer problems in selecting and organizing the creative or “imaginative” works of the other volume, which includes the cosmogonic treatise Eureka (see p. 1370). The essay-sketches by Poe had already entered the semifictional canon via Mabbott’s edition (for example, “The Philosophy of Furniture”), thereby providing a rationale for the section of “plate articles” here, including ‘’Stonehenge” and “Byron and Miss Chaworth.” There are, then, with the poems, three major sections, with only two separate contenttables. This volume also provides a note on the texts, a “typo” list, a “Notes” section, and a catalogue of poems and tales, keyed to the exact source text in the original magazine, Griswold edition, or volume by Mabbott or Stovall (for the poetry). Quinn also adds an index of titles plus first lines of the poems. There is no index of persons’ or characters’ names or short titles which would serve for quick reference: now “Hans Pfaall” can be found only under “Unparalleled Adventure of . . .” and “Thingum Bob” only under “Literary Life of . . . .” It is true that the catalogue lists titles chronologically, but with exceptions, such as throwing “Hans Pfaall,” Pym, and “Rodman” into the [column 2:] special section of very long narratives, both in the list and in the book itself.

Because this edition has no variants, Poe’s habit of drastically revising his poems requires separate printing of markedly different versions, but here long ones, such as “Tamerlane,” have to be accommodated solely with a later printing (that of 1845) deemed authoritative or author-intended. Mabbott’s choices, especially for the tales, exercise much influence over the arrangement, even when another text than his is printed, and the reader is referred (p. 1385) for “detailed notes, etc.” to Mabbott’s volumes or to mine or Sidney Kaplan’s Pym. Hence, the “Notes” section (1385-1400) is extremely meager and carries the same statement about a “standard desk-reference book” as the other volume. This is unfortunate, especially for Eureka, because there is no published, annotated edition of that work. Quinn acknowledges using an unpublished critical edition, prepared by Roland W. Nelson from four separate copies with over 300 autograph changes made by Poe. Aside from a reprinted long letter-excerpt about Eureka, sent to Eveleth, the notes for this large work comprise less than a page. A section of four plate articles (928-945) has very well-reproduced pictures on “Stonehenge,” “Byron and Miss Chaworth,” “Morning on the Wissahiccon,” and “The Island of the Fay.” For the last, Quinn’s assumption of the priority of the plate to Poe’s verbal sketch is inaccurate, as I proved in a 1972 study; a note could have clarified the matter. Quinn has exercised discretion about his inclusion of short entries, retaining some of those added to the canon by Mabbott, such as “Instinct vs. Reason,” but dropping the absolutely untenable “A Dream,” offered in 1978 with weighty caveats and no proof at all of authorship; likewise disallowed or ignored is my own “discovery” of the plate article on “Harper’s Ferry,” as reported in 1968 in American Literature.

Quinn uses a kind of metaphysical ambiguity in stating that “typographical errors have been corrected, [but] errors for which Poe was presumably responsible have not.” How can we make a distinction between errors by Poe and those made by the typesetter without having the manuscripts in our hands? Can we intuitively overlook misspellings of common words as “intended,” just as we must his errors in “foreign words and phrases,” as “accurate transcriptions” that he “let stand” (1382)? No list of verbal or spelling “errors” is logically possible for this edition, but in reality almost two pages of them are supplied. I should like to add a few more: For Pym three geographical degree signs (1112, 1114), for “Byron etc.” “unparralleled” (945), and for “Rodman,” “parrallel,” “commisseration,” and “Missisippi” twice (1197, 1240, 1202, 1210), plus some spelling caveats on “Aregan” and “Amateaza” (1248), all of these covered in the notes to my edition. In the non-Poe texts, we find these errors: “GROSTESQUE” (1379), “Purlioned” (1381), and “Heloise” (1390).

In the same “Note on the Texts,” Quinn speaks of Poe’s habit of placing the “diaeresis over the wrong [page 32:] vowel” left “uncorrected” (1382) Actually Poe here was idiosyncratic but not wrong, as I point out in the Introduction to The Brevities, and in this way he inadvertently signalized his preparation of texts presented by Griswold in 1850 as edited by himself alone Wisely Quinn surmises this situation (1371), one of the many anomalies in Poe studies In general, this volume is a fine collection of Poe’s poems and tales, splendid for general reading and useful for many specialized purposes but not for demanding scholarship

Burton R Pollin, Professor Emeritus, CUNY


Associated Article(s) and Related Material:

  • None


[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]