Text: Joseph J. Moldenhauer, “Miniatures under the Magnifying-Glass,” Poe Studies / Dark Romanticism, December 1986, Vol. XIX, No. 2, 19:44-50


[page p, column c:]

Miniatures under the Magnifying-Glass

Burton R. Pollin, editor. Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe: Volume 2, The Brcvities. New York: Gordian Press, 1985. lx, 575 pp. $45.00.

Not long ago I talked about Poe over luncheon with Professor Jerome Loving of Texas A & M University, who remarked that he thought Poe the smartest of our nineteenth-century American writers. The adjective struck me as particularly apt, for it captured Poe’s tendencies toward intellectual display and aggressive wit (the “smart-aleck” aspect) as well as his omnivorous reading and astonishing powers of memory and association. No matter that his erudition is sometimes flawed and often derived from intermediaries: Poe arguably knows more about historical and current issues, events, personages, books, and the arts than does even so eclectic an American scholar as Emerson. Nowhere does Poe’s knowledge and cleverness find more concentrated and multiform expression than in his collections of terse observations and brief essays, gathered by Burton R. Pollin as The Brevities: “Pinakidia,” the “Marginalia” series, “A Chapter of Suggestions,n “Fifty Suggestions,” and “Literary Small Talk,” plus supplementary sections of the first two titles. Over practically the entire span of his career as a prose writer, from 1836 to 1849, Poe generated these groups of “essay-notes” (p. v) in important periodicals. At the time of his death, John R. Thompson of the Southern Literary Messenger held manuscript copy for some “Marginalia” items not printed in the last five installments of the series, and Poe’s own files contained, it seems, marked clippings of still other pieces extracted from old book reviews. These excerpts were printed among the aMarginalia” in Griswold’s posthumous edition. Altogether, the Brevities assembled by Pollin comprise 604 distinct items or “articles,” grouped thus: 173 in “Pinakidia,” including the authorial introduction; 292 in the seventeen installments of “Marginalia,” including Poe’s introduction to the first installment; 46 in “Supplementary Pinakidia” (Pollin’s title), used mainly as fillers in the Messenger; 7 in the two installments of “Literary Small Talk”; 11 in “A Chapter of Suggestions”; “Fifty Suggestions“ — an accurate count — covering two installments; and 25 “Supplementary Marginalia” drawn from volume 3 of Griswold’s The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe.

Professor Pollin’s encyclopedic knowledge of Poe’s milieu and works has been augmented by T. O. Mabbott’s store of textual material, sole use [column 2:] of which Pollin enjoys as Mabbott’s editorial successor. His latest volume in Collected Writings is a milestone in the progress of Poe scholarship and the establishment of the modern Poe canon. For the first time Pollin collects, in a single edition, all Poe’s published writings in the genre of the “brevity.” The previous “collected editions” of Poe by Griswold, Ingram, Stedman and Woodberry, and Harrison deleted segments of the original printings and altered the arrangement of entries, even fusing discrete articles on different subjects. Major components of the Brevities have been reliably reprinted only in John Carl Miller’s edition of Marginalia (1981) and among the Essays and Reviews edited by G. R. Thompson for the Library of America (1984), which omits “Pinakidia” and the fillers. Miller’s volume suffers from the absence of annotation, a deficiency Thompson’s volume remedies but lightly in end-notes. Pollin, like Miller and Thompson, bases his texts on the first printings rather than on posthumous reprints, and he adopts a format appropriate to the miscellaneous, allusive, and often ephemeral character of the pieces. Within each series, each article is assigned a number for ready citation in the index and apparatus, and each article text, saving a few of the shortest and simplest, is followed immediately by a section of scholarly notes and commentary. The annotations account for the source or sources of the item in Poe’s reading — both the “primitive authorities” (Poe’s phrase from the “Pinakidia” introduction) and the intermediate loci if Poe obtained the quotation or paraphrase or reference at second hand, as frequently he did. Substantive variations between Poe’s version of a quotation and the text of the source(s) are reported. Pollin here also identifies parallels and analogues between each item and other Brevities articles, and between the Brevities item and passages in Poe’s fiction, criticism, journalism, letters, and poems. When the biographical context is pertinent to the understanding of an article, Pollin supplies it. He locates and summarizes the published scholarship, much of it contributed by himself, on Poe’s interest in the subject or author treated in the Brevities article. Finally, he translates foreign language matter, glosses Poe’s word-coinages, and explicates Poe’s puns. To my mind, these commentary-notes are the chief glory of Pollin’s enterprise. The polymath author is well served by so erudite an editor.

Although Pollin may exaggerate in saying that Brevities is “Poe’s assumed title” (p. xix), it is a felicitous caption, wisely adopted for this volume. A neologism, it first occurs in Poe’s introduction to “Pinakidia,” Southern Literary Messenger, August [page 45:] 1836: “Under the head of‘Random Thoughts,’ ‘Odds and Ends,’ ’Stray Leaves,’ ’Scraps,’ ‘Brevities,’ and a variety of similar titles, we occasionally meet, in periodicals and elsewhere, with papers of rich interest and value — the result, in some cases, of much thought and more research.” All but the last of these exemplary headings derive verbatim or approximately from pieces printed in earlier issues of the Messenger. Poe admires his own term, repeating it a few sentences later as he chides modern compilers of recondite anecdotes and quotations: afor the most part, these ‘Brevities,’ &c. are either piecemeal cullings at second hand, from a variety of sources hidden or supposed to be hidden, or more audacious pilferings from those vast storehouses of brief facts, memoranda, and opinions in general literature, which are so abundant in all the principal libraries of Germany and France.” (Anticipating a similar charge of intellectual light-fingeredness against himself, Poe names several of these repositories, for example, Bielfeld’s Universal Erudition, then disclaims such “pretensions to originality” as presumably characterize the modern filching compilers, and then implies, with an equivoque on “original,” that he has sometimes gone to the earliest sources for his own extracts.) The term “brevities” reappears in an editorial footnote to the first of five late aMarginalia” installments in the 1849 Messenger. Probably authorial in wording, the note begins, “Some years since [,] Mr. Poe wrote for several of the Northern Magazines a series of critical brevities under the title of ‘Marginalia.‘”

In The Brevities, the Poe texts and their accompanying annotation are preceded by an editorial foreword and compact Introdtlction, fifty-eight pages including lists and tables. Pollin here provides histories of the composition, first publication, and reprintings of the several groups, an account of his copy-text choices, and information about his general procedures. The often curious publication histories are recovered in fine detail. aPinakidia” was the first of the groups issued as an intact work, under a title Poe contrived by adaptation from an etymology of fanciful book titles in Isaac Disraeli’s Curiosities of Literature. It was omitted from the original Griswold edition of 18501856, but when John H. Ingram assembled his four-volume Works (1874-1875), he incorporated more than half the articles in a section of hitherto uncollected pieces. Griswold’s edition was still being profitably reprinted in New York, however, and the publishers appropriated Ingram’s aAddenda” for their set. James A. Harrison reverted to the Messenger for his text in the Complete Works of 1902, but silently dropped ten articles and silently [column 2:] emended and normalized others. For a year prior to the first printing of “Pinakidia” in August 1836, and for some months subsequently, Poe composed fillers for each number of the magazine, items similar in kind to the “Pinakidia” contents. These short pieces, together with sixteen from Messenger numbers a dozen years later, Pollin gathers as “Supplementary Pinakidia.” Unsigned in the magazine pages and unassigned to Poe in the volume indexes, the fillers of 1835-1836 and 1848 were first attributed to Poe by Killis Campbell, Margaret A1terton, and David K. Jackson. Pollin contributes another to the list and registers doubts about Jackson’s attribution of two longer Messenger articles; but he preserves these two (items 12 and 24) “for the sake of the continuity of the first set of articles, assigned by Jackson” (p. xxv), and because he is reluctant to discard them definitively as Poe apocrypha.

By far the longest of the Brevities groups and the most diverse in its topics, “Marginalia” was inaugurated in J. L. O’Sullivan’s prestigious Democratic Review, November 1844. The second installment appeared in the same magazine (December 1844), as did the sixth and seventh in 1846. Godey’s Lady’s Book printed the third and fourth as aMarginal Notes” in the summer of 1845. Installments five (March 1846) and eight through twelve (1846-1848) came out in Graham’s Magazine, and the last five were printed in the Messenger. Evidently Poe hoped the whole could be compiled as a book, perhaps with the addition of twenty-five items he culled from reviews and left for Griswold’s attention. In reprinting “Marginalia” in 1850, Griswold incorporated the twenty-five but dropped ninety magazine “Marginalia” (due to Poe’s carelessness in preparing copy for his executor?) and reordered the remainder with some internal modifications to the texts. The author’s touch in certain of these wording changes indicates that Poe entered revisions in the personal copies, now lost, from which Griswold’s reprint derived.

Regardless of Poe’s conjectured role in the 1850 “Marginalia” reprint, Pollin’s approach in The Brevities is simple, practical, and defensible. He presents the “Marginalia” articles in the order and form (including installment numbers, titles, and by-lines) of their first publication, and reports in a selective list the Griswold edition’s substantive variants. The twenty-five added items in the posthumous collection Pollin reprints in a separate, “Supplementary” grouping. The textual history is partially clarified and Pollin’s editorial decisions are significantly complicated by the survival at the Johns Hopkins University library of two annotated Democratic Review installments and a [page 46:] third unannotated — all from Poe’s last effects and covering most of the articles omitted by Griswold. The editor provides a collation of Poe’s autograph revisions but does not adopt them for the Brevities texts.

Problematic also is the survival in the Pennsylvania Historical Society’s Dreer Collection of a asheaf of manuscripts” representing the fourth installment and showing many discrepancies of accidentals from the Godey’s printing. Pollin rejects this manuscript as copy-text for the installment, preferring to use magazine texts consistently; and he refrains from itemizing the variants in a list. A kindred situation involves autograph fragments in other archives; Pollin’s annotations to the equivalent magazine articles account for such substantive variations as these manuscripts reveal. Finally, among aMarginalia” remnants at the Huntington Library there survive three articles perhaps intended for the series but not used by J. R. Thompson. These pieces, one of which runs to 1500 words, are unfortunately left unprinted in either the Brevities text or the Introduction. Pollin settles for calling attention to the merit of the longest.

The Opal for 1845, edited by Sarah J. Hale, provides copy-text for “A Chapter of Suggestions.” Pollin recounts the circumstances of Poe’s submitting it to the annual as a substitute for “The Oblong Box,” which Mrs. Hale chose to publish instead in Godey’s. The UChapter” articles were detached, Pollin suspects, from Poe’s ample manuscript intended for the earliest aMarginalia” installments. Stedman and Woodberry first reprinted aA Chapter of Suggestions” in their collected edition, but they added under its title most of the numbered items Poe published independently as aFifty Suggestions.” Jettisoning the latter title, and deleting the item numbers, they made it appear that all the entries had originally appeared under the former caption. This impression was compounded by Woodberry’s bibliographical note in volume 8 (not 7,“as Pollin reports) of the 1894-1895 edition: a. . . A Chapter of Suggestions. Published in ‘The Opal,’ 1845, and (the second part) in ‘Graham’s Magazine,’ May, June, 1849.”

“Fifty Suggestions” was carelessly reprinted from Graham’s in volume 3 of the Griswold edition, with few if any signs of authorial involvement in the various departures from the original. Harrison claimed to have drawn his edition’s text from the magazine, but in fact followed Griswold’s altered version; moreover, he identified the first printing as Graham’s for May and June of 1845, perhaps having been confused by Woodberry’s note, quoted above. It also appears that Harrison took his [column 2:] “Chapter of Suggestions” text from Stedman and Woodberry.

The Introduction to The Brevities teems with additional facts and analyses. Pollin devotes three paragraphs to translations of aMarginalia” material into French, Italian, Polish, German, and Spanish. He records in a table the placement shifts between aMarginalia” items as serialized and as reprinted in 1850, to facilitate a reader’s tracing a Griswold article in the magazine (and Brevities) sequence or vice versa. For the aSupplementary Marginalia” he lists the loci of the original versions among Poe’s reviews dating back to 1836. The introductory section headed aSources and Borrowings” is especially valuable. In it Pollin correlates Brevities articles with sources used, but not directly named or quoted, therein. For each Brevities series, the list is organized alphabetically by source author or compiler, the source identification being followed by the item numbers where Poe’s borrowings occur. Readers may thus see at a glance the extent of Poe’s concealed dependence on these books, and may observe also how his borrowings tend to cluster by source. Poe’s method of assembling his afarragoes” is strongly illuminated by this exhibit. In aPinakidia” he takes 19 items from Bielfeld, all but 2 falling between numbers 151 and 170; he takes 13 from Bouhours, numbers 102-114; from Jacob Bryant’s Mythology he takes 9, all falling between numbers 57 and 72; from Disraeli, 36 items, chiefly in the sequences 28-46, 64-69, 89-97, and 125-129. These concentrations suggest that Poe composed his collections with the source works before him; his assertions in the aPinakidia” and aMarginalia” introductions, about keeping a commonplace book and making notes on the margins of his books and on gummed interleaves, are unsupported by surviving manuscripts and Poeana. These declarations may be totally fictitious. But one of Poe’s formats for submitting copy to editors — the manuscript scroll consisting of slips about four inches wide, wafered together at top and bottom — would have been especially suitable for the Brevities collections. On January 31, 1849, indeed, he transmitted to J. R. Thompson “eleven pages of ‘Marginalia‘, done up in a roll.”

Another table points out Poe’s repetition of certain “Pinakidia” contents in “Marginalia”; yet another provides like correlations between “Marginalia” items and items in aLiterary Small Talk” and UFifty Suggestions.” Next comes an extended essay, richly illustrated with examples, on the digraph and the dieresis in Poe’s texts. The first subject is meaningful to editors because of the [page 47:] frequent interchange of ” and ce ligatures. Pollin attributes these errors to the peculiarities of Poe’s fine calligraphic handwriting, and to the similarity of the two digraphs in italic font (which reduced the likelihood of detection and correction by proofreaders). Poe’s preferences for the dieresis, Pollin demonstrates, were unconventional but conscious and unvarying: he placed the double dots over the first paired vowel rather than the second. A list of seventeen terms and names containing diereses, drawn from Poe manuscripts and first printings from 1831 to 1850, establishes a sufficient basis for Pollin’s allowing Poe’s idiosyncrasy to stand and even for emending to aPoe’s style” some instances of conventional dieresis placement among the Brevities.

The next Introduction section is called “Typographical Variants and Errors.” I will presently turn to it and to “Special Elements Needing Explanation,” since it is in these places that Pollin states most explicitly his policy of emendation, a word which (in my reading of the forematter) he sedulously avoids, and a subject which demands examination. The lists of end-of-line hyphenations in the copy-texts and in the new Brevities printing are conventional both in format and in the editorial rationale for resolving ambiguous forms to solid or hyphenated readings. “Marginalia Topics,” “Fifty Suggestions — Topics,” and “Supplementary Marginalia Topics” are handy synopses of Poe’s main idea in each of the articles “need for honest, censorious critics with standards” (Marginalia 141), for example. The one-line summaries, which must have cost Pollin no small effort to abstract, will supplement the index in guiding readers to entries of special interest. One wonders why the list of capsule topics, which covers the bulk of the volume, was not extended to embrace the whole.

The preliminary matter concludes with a page and a half of “Abbreviations and Short Titles,” a vital expedient for a book whose annotations make myriad references to compilations Poe ransacked, to major editions of Poe including the titles in Mabbott’s and Pollin’s series, to standard biographical, bibliographical, and lexical reference works, and to scholarship on Poe. The provision of two different abbreviations for Pollin’s own Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe’s Collected Works, “DN” and “PD,” is one of many signs that The Brevities was years in preparation and that its apparatus was not brought into strict uniformity. Among the entries appear Pollin’s short forms for the Brevities contents — CS, FS, LST, M, Pin, SM, and SP. These abbreviations had also been identified a page or two before, in aSpecial Elements . . . ,” although they had been employed through

out the preceding Introduction. Their meanings could usually be inferred without confusion, but as a safeguard the editor might have identified them in an early footnote. One form, “MM,” unexplained until the “Abbreviations” list as the plural of “M,” was troublesome, leading me to toy briefly with the interpretation “missing Marginalia,” a phrase Pollin uses just before the first instance of “MM.” The convention is unevenly applied; compare “MM 170-175” at page xix and “MM 160, 198” at page xxxiii with “M 134 and M 140” at page xxxix. In so crowded and circumstantial a body of exposition as this, we cannot admire a brevity [of style] which squanders our time for the purpose of economizing our printing-ink and paper” (M 29)

Pollin’s index includes topical terms as well as titles and names from the articles proper, and the names of source authors from the annotations. Its usefulness would have been enhanced by entries for the many imaginative works by Poe that are echoed or anticipated, but not directly quoted, in the articles. To find Pollin’s cross-references between the Brevities and Poe’s fiction one must read through the commentary-notes. The index unaccountably lacks an entry for aShakespeare,” mentioned occasionally in the articles and more often in the annotations, although aMilton” and a host of other authors seem to be fully indexed both by name and by works.

Under “Special Elements Needing Explanation” Pollin declares his guiding principle for treatment of the copy-texts: aAs far as possible Poe’s text is reprinted with minimal changes and these are invariably recorded in the list of ‘Typographical Errors’ in the Introduction or through the insertion of bracketed letters.” The second clause is not strictly accurate, since at least one class of silent (not individually recorded) changes is announced in the Introduction, but Pollin’s drift is clear: he wishes to limit editorial interference in the texts to the bare necessities. Clear text is not his aim, since he elects to separate the articles with commentary, supplies superscript letters for keying text features to commentary paragraphs, uses “[sic]” to call attention to miscellaneous anomalies, and makes small bracketed corrections. Minimal interference here is a matter of following the accidentals and substantives of the copy-texts exactly, unless a perceived error seriously obscures Poe’s meaning or unmistakably violates the lexical or onomastic norms of Poe’s time. When Pollin speaks of “silent” correction, he means that instead of signalling a change with brackets in the text or a comment in the article [page 48:] notes, he lists it in the Introduction’s “Typographical Variants and Errors” table. That table, two and a half pages in double columns, consists almost entirely of faulty accentuations and spellings of foreign names and terms, followed by the proper forms adopted in the edited text. The few remaining entries in this emendation list include misspelled English and American names (for example, “Greely” in FS 28), missing or misplaced end punctuation, English misspellings involving superfluous or transposed letters (“villify” in M 282 and “Villiany” in M 235), misspellings involving substitutions of letters (“prophecied” in Pin 72), superfluous words (aso so” in M 239), and, despite Pollin’s preference for bracketed interpolations, a few cases of missing letters (“condem” for “condemn” in M 153).

In a headnote to the “Typos” list Pollin summarizes the questions posed by peculiar or unconventional readings in the texts. Is the odd feature Poe’s or a compositor’s? (Since all the copy-texts are print forms, usually unsupported by surviving fair or draft manuscript, this question tends to be pervasive and unanswerable.) Did contemporary lexical and printshop practice tolerate the feature, however queer it may look to modern eyes? (Forms tolerated in British or American usage in Poe’s day should be retained in the text.) Did the perceived error originate in the copy-text, or rather in Poe’s acknowledged or unacknowledged source, when he borrowed from another writer? (Pollin accepts the burden of hunting for the equivalents of these readings in the sources, and discusses — but usually leaves unemended — features that Poe faithfully transcribed from defective originals.) Did Poe deliberately modify standard English for emphasis or sport? All these considerations lead the editor to emend conservatively and to annotate lavishly. He feels little hesitation about normalizing foreignlanguage accents; a named category of exceptions is absent Greek and Latin diacritics, which, Pollin says, Poe never used. Omitted letters and words, transposed and superfluous letters, and other palpable results of copying or typesetting error similarly excite little doubt. Diereses are regularized to Poe’s idiosyncratic form. Lower-case digraph errors are silently fixed.

Some inconsistencies of principle and practice disturb this conservative program. Why should faults of accentuation in modern foreign languages be freely rectified (diacritics being asometimes vital to the meaning of a word”), while errors in Greek diacritics are ignored? Why, except perhaps for aesthetic eflfect within the texts and a desire to keep the “Typos” list brief, should words with missing characters be corrected by bracketed [column 2:] interpolations and not be listed, while emendations for superfluous or transposed or substituted characters are reported in the list? Why does the list contain a few such features as “vesification,” FS 33, corrected in the text without recourse to brackets? Is the normalization of a‘(Drowne’s Wooden Image)’ ” in M 79 by placing the quotation marks within Poe’s parentheses really ademanded for logic or proper reading of [the] phrase in English” (pp. xl-xli)? Why does the “Typos” list contain an entry for a feature (“Gualtier,” Pin 30) that the editor declines to emend?

Pollin’s emendation policies are partly inspired by the difficulty of appraising both the copy-texts and certain post-copy-text variants, a predicament with which other textual editors can sympathize. Very few manuscripts remain. The contents of the Brevities groups are heterogeneous and often (as Poe might say) recherche. The amount of quoted and paraphrased matter is extensive. Foreign names, titles, and phrases swarm, as do wordplays of every species. The first printings appeared in half a dozen outlets, each with its own printers and editorial policies. Contemporary proof-correction, by Poe or his editors, was less than perfect. Poe changed his intentions about aMarginalia,” in degrees we may only guess at from the scanty remaining documents that bear his revisions. Clearly he took some part in the alterations for Griswold’s edition, but how much cannot be ascertained. An editor applying the Greg-Bowers-Tanselle textual philosophy attempts to recover final authorial substantives from revised reprints. Identifying final intentions for the “Marginalia” would be, I suspect, a futile chore. (See Hershel Parker, Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons, 1984, esp. Chapters 2 and 3, for a vigorous questioning of whether the standardized editorial methodology should be applied to works heavily revised after the initial publication.)

The immediate obstacles here are the deficiency of external evidence and the contradictory implications of internal evidence. Pollin now asserts, now denies Poe’s authority for variants in the aMarginalia” articles and other brevities of 1850. “Pinakidia” was ignored by Griswold adoubtless through Poe’s directed omission” (p. xiv); “there can be no doubt” that Poe directed Griswold’s choice of setting copy for the 1850 edition (p. xix); Griswold printed aa number of highly significant changes definitely Introduced [sic] by Poe” into some aMarginalia” items (p. xvi; see also p. xxi); Poe adefinitely selected” the group Pollin calls “Supplementary Marginalia” (p. v; see also p. xx). These certitudes would seem to urge adoption of 1850 “Marginalia” readings as emendations whenever [page 49:] Pollin can argue that Poe exerted a positive influence on a variant. On the other hand, Pollin maintains with justice that Griswold and his typesetters introduced many defects (pp. xxi, xxviii-xxix); he supposes that Griswold dropped some “Marginalia” articles on his own initiative in deference to his friend H. B. Wallace (p. xvii); and he notes Griswold’s assertions of editorial freedom (p. xx), but immediately wonders whether Griswold was not aclaiming credit . . . for Poe’s discrimination” in cutting certain of the weaker pieces. The standard of final intention cannot be applied with adequate assurance; in the jargon of textual editing, aemendation from post-copy-text” would be full of peril. Yet Pollin does not address the emendation option for dealing with any Griswold variants. Instead, he explains his decision to reject the 1850 printing as “Marginalia” copy-text:

It must suffice to say there [sic] that there are several arguments in this “ambiguous” matter militating against using in full the texts at least of the 201 surviving articles instead of the original magazine printings. One is the extremely careless printing of the 1850 edition, which would fill the articles of the Brevities with obviously compositorial errors . . . . Second, the absence from the scene of the correcting and revising mind of Poe the author would make the text other than fully authoritative — to which we must add the clearly invidious nature of Griswold, regardless of his expertise as editor in general. Also, there were obviously unintended gaps in the sheaf of Marginalia copy-texts left to the executor. Hence, I must employ this approach: The substantive changes are given below [in a list] and wherever significant are also given in the commentary-notes of the main Marginalia of my text. (p. xxi)

Properly dismissing Griswold’s edition as copytext for all but the twenty-five “Supplementary Marginalia,” Pollin also tacitly dismisses the possibility of emending the magazine texts to recover final authorial substantives. To be sure, the remaining course of action yields texts of the aMarginalia” that we may confidently view as authorial, if not necessarily final, and allows us to speculate about Poe’s last purposes by listing the 1850 variants apresumably authorized by Poe.” But readers interested in editorial procedures are left to infer the absent rationale, when Pollin could easily have made it explicit. Furthermore, Pollin offers no argument for rejecting extant manuscripts in favor of their print equivalents, or for excluding from The Brevities, as mentioned above, the few unpublished pieces among the “Marginalia” remnants at the Huntington. The most controversial aspect of Pollin’s copy-text selection is, I believe, this set of decisions to avoid basing any of the Brevities on absolute authorial forms. [column 2:]

In consequence either of Pollin’s hesitation to interfere with the text, or of his shifting principles for tolerating or rectifying errors as his research and text-preparation proceeded, he retains numerous features that are manifestly aTypographical Variants and Errors.” Pin 112 has an ungrammatical avan” in a quotation from Don Quijote, although both Cervantes and the intermediate source, Bouhours, read aven.” M 111 preserves “grassatus” for “grassator” in a quotation from Juvenal. In M 115 Poe uses a transliterated Hebrew word twice in the space of three lines, correctly the second time but with an n substituted for an m in the first instance. The blunder is noted but not emended. SP 14 retains the obvious gaffe aDiomede’s” for aDiomedes‘“ — an accidental with substantive effect, more demanding of correction than, for example, aTrelawney” in SM 4, which Pollin emends to aTrelawny” and enters in the “Typos” list. The Brevities text of SP 44 gives “As” for “Os” in the Portuguese title of Camoens’ epic; similar errors in French were redressed but “As Lusiadas” persists, as does (without annotation) aCamoen’s” in the same article, another copy-text solecism.

Discrepancies among the commentary-notes reinforce my impression that the apparatus did not receive a comprehensive review before The Brevities went to press. By way of illustration, I quote the varying treatments of a Poe title. It is given in full, and accurately, as “How to Write a Blackwood Article” in the apparatus for Pin 112; yet in several earlier commentaries we encounter the short forms aA Blackwood Article” (Pin 108), “Blackwood Article” (Pin 102), aBlackwood’s Article” (Pin 58), and even aBlackwoods Article” (Pin 94). The textual tables and annotations are besprinkled with small typographical lapses. Nor does the Brevities Introduction approach the amicroscopical excellence and absolute accuracy of typography” claimed for the Koran, according to Poe’s forced interpretation of the phrase, aThere is no error in this book” (M 76). For example, the twopage textual history of “A Chapter of Suggestions” contains, by my count, five mistakes, beginning with a reference to the “Flag of the Union” (for “Flag of Our Union”). The Brevities texts themselves are not immaculate. In a desultory reading, for sense, of about half the Poe articles, I met with six apparent mistakes of transcription. When I compared these details with the copy-texts in University of Texas specimens (microfilm and print), one peculiarity, the absence of punctuation after “boot” in FS 47, proved to be a copy-text feature which might have been eligible for correction under Pollin’s guidelines. Another, “awful act” [page 50:] in SM 1, was likewise an error in the copy-text (1850 Works); Poe’s intended language is “awful fact“, as in the Broadway Journal aEditorial Miscellany,” October 4, 1845, from which Griswold’s botched version derives. The illicit “act” escaped Pollin’s notice when he collated the aSupplementary Marginalia” with their precursors in Poe’s magazine criticism. New errors occur in M 27 (“liborum” for “librorum”) and Pin 96 (“Absalom and Achitopel‘”), while in Pin 94 and Pin 105 the wrong font is used for prose after poetry extracts. A more systematic comparison with the copy-texts might disclose further weaknesses in the Brevities articles; but the low incidence of suspect features in my sampling leads me to regard Pollin’s texts as quite trustworthy.

More bothersome than misprints in the Introduction and notes is the editor’s prose style. Repeatedly I had to grope for the sense of a sentence, sometimes trying to infer missing information, and sometimes entertaining alternate interpretations of syntax or diction. The phrase ain view of,” for example, is oddly used at page xxvi, where it means “in keeping with”: aIn view of his plea of being ‘exceedingly in need of a little money’ . . . he at once complied [with a request for copy].” Pollin’s phrase at page xxxi, athe deleted numbers of the articles,” should be athe numbers of the deleted articles.” I find impenetrable the following sentence from the note to Pin 21: aA visit to Ferrara in 1981 to verify the inscription [over the prison gate] indicated its destruction since it was set up in 1815 after the recent restoration of the building.” A sentence on the digraph reads, aThe link between the two letters is sometimes missing in the text, especially for my commentary notes, although an effort was made to reproduce it faithfully in Poe’s text.” The writer’s sense seems to be “The link between the two letters is sometimes not reproduced in the commentary notes, although an effort . . . ” and so forth. Instances of confusing prose could be multiplied here to the point of tedium. They impose needless and sometimes vexing obstacles to comprehension, and they loudly proclaim (as do the typos and inconsistencies throughout the apparatus) the value of an independent, alert, patient, and knowledgeable copy-editing of final typescript. In prose which involves legitimate intellectual challenges — complex historical reporting, assessments of textual authority, minute discriminations of editorial procedure — any stylistic tax on the reader’s understanding will arouse protest.

In these last paragraphs I have run the risk of playing the “bibliomanic Argus” (M 76), preoccupied [column 2:] with spying out the “inverted o” and neglecting matters of great moment. Well — the textual editor’s discipline is a demanding one, and the results of an editor’s labor invite scrutiny in proportion to their claims as definitive or authoritative. But if The Brevities falls short of the stylistic and typographical ideal, it towers above all earlier collections of Poe’s bons moss, literary memoranda, and miniature critical essays. Like The Imaginary Voyages, Pollin’s previous volume in Collected Writings, this book will be welcomed as the standard scholarly edition. It affords texts upon which the critic may rely. It provides annotations unprecedented in depth of historical research. The annotations alone would make The Brevities indispensable to the community of Poe scholars. Graduate students will discover a gold mine of dissertation topics among the commentaries.

In person and by proxy, the clever Poe looted libraries when he assembled these heaps of glittering fragments. Armed with the complementary virtues of investigative rigor and thoroughness, his editor has enlisted larger libraries — whole Vaticans, as it were — into the service of identifying Poe’s purloined belles lettres and tracing the twists of his genius. The task has demanded “much thought and more research.” It has borne an abundant success.

Joseph J. Moldenhauer, University of Texas, Austin


Associated Article(s) and Related Material:

  • None


[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]