Text: Dwight Thomas, “Poe the Magazinist: The Broadway Journal
Source: Poe Studies / Dark Romanticism, December 1987, Vol. XX, No. 2, 20:51-52


[page 51:]

Poe the Magazinist: The Broadway Journal

Burton R. Pollin, ed. Edgar Allan Poe: Writings in THE BROADWAY JOURNAL: Nonfictional Prose. New York: Gordian Press, 1986. 2 vole.; 370 + 339 pp. Cloth, $70.00.

These volumes are the fifth installment in the important ongoing project which has been called the Collected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, but might be more conveniently termed “the Mabbott-Pollin edition.” The Harvard University Press published Thomas Ollive Mabbott’s editions of Poe’s Poems (1969) and Tales and Sketches (1978); these were followed by Professor Pollin’s The Imaginary Voyages (1981), issued by G. K. Hall, and The Brevities (1985), issued by the Gordian Press. All these earlier volumes have collected Poe’s writings by genre, the last two being devoted to his long prose narratives (Voyages) and “Marginalia“type miscellanies (Brevities).The present installment has little to do with genre; rather, it attempts to identify, reproduce, and explicate Poe’s contributions to a single periodical, the Broadway Journal, during a single year, 1845. In his “Foreword,” Professor Pollin explains this change in the focus of the Collected Writings, observing simply that “the largest body of uncollected, undetermined and unedited material lay in the Broadway Journal.”

Poe’s involvement with New York’s Broadway Journal came about gradually, seemingly without intention or foresight on his part. Charles F. Briggs, the Journal’s founder, enlisted him as a contributor for the first number, issued on January 4, 1845. In late February Poe became a staff member, agreeing “to assist” Briggs ain the editorship.” In July Briggs experienced difficulties with the Journal’s publisher, John Bisco, and abruptly withdrew from the concern. The upshot was that Poe unexpectedly found himself, for the first time in his life, the sole, unquestioned editor of a magazine; and for the last half of 1845 this editorship absorbed virtually all his energies. While Poe had long dreamed of his own magazine, what he had in mind was a quality monthly of exquisite manufacture, featuring significant critical and creative writings by major authors — a national oracle of sorts, which would not only establish the tone of American letters but even attract international attention. The Broadway Journal was not the magazine of his dreams, nor could he make it so. It was a low-budget weekly, lively and stimulating [column 2:] enough, but functioning largely to report literary and cultural events in a single city. As it never obtained an adequate circulation or returned a profit, it could hardly pay the pens of Hawthorne or Emerson. After July 1845, the Journal became increasingly a one-man enterprise. Poe ground out column after column to fill each number; but while his contributions were plentiful and varied, they do not represent his best work. He wrote no noteworthy fiction or poetry for the Journal, though he reprinted there some earlier stories and poems, now either revised or corrected. Apart from a long criticism of Elizabeth Barrett Barrett in the first two numbers, his reviews tended to be brief and usually elicited by lesser writers and commonplace books. Where, then, lies the importance of the Broadway Journal for students of Poe? For one thing, it reveals Poe in his milieu commenting on a host of literary contemporaries and evaluating art exhibitions, lectures, plays, and hundreds of books and magazines. Here is genius in its offhand moments, working fifteen-hour days and racing to meet deadlines, but nonetheless producing scintillating maxims and apothegms, goading the smug literati of Boston, giving off flashes of critical praise and damnation, and revealing its innermost thoughts in impromptu paragraphs.

Poe’s contributions to the Broadway Journal present a different type of editorial challenge from his poems, tales, and more finely wrought writings. Professor Pollin has responded to it in unconventional fashion, departing from the format of the earlier volumes of the Collected Writings. The text of Poe’s contributions appears in a slightly oversize volume, the same dimensions as the Journal; and it is not a transcription, but rather a facsimile of all columns in the weekly known or suspected to be from Poe’s hand. The columns, arranged chronologically, are uncluttered and free from editorial interruption, though in the left margins Professor Pollin has added line numbers, and at the top, two sets of page numbers, referring both to this facsimile volume and to the original pages in the Journal. The annotations to Poe’s writings appear in a second, standard-size volume and are keyed to the page and line numbers supplied in the first.

The introduction of a facsimile text into the Collected Writings may not sit well with all students of Poe; but for the Broadway Journal, at least, it represents a reasonable decision. The bulk of Poe’s contributions might be described as “bits and snippets,” unquestionably worth preserving for scholars, but which would look silly if transcribed into the magisterial typeface of, say, the Mabbott edition of Tales and Sketches. These [page 52:] “bits” include two-sentence reviews, where the quoted titles of the books often take up more space than Poe’s capsule criticisms, and one-sentence messages “TO CORRESPONDENTS.” Such fragments may be fraught with meaning out of proportion to their length. In the former category, for example, is Poe’s November 29 review of Alfred Tennyson, pronouncing him “the greatest poet that ever lived”; in the latter may be such a billet-douz as this March 29 notice addressing Mrs. Frances S. Osgood by one of her pseudonyms: “A thousand thanks to Kate Carol.” Other Poe contributions may seem negligible biographically or critically but may shed light on the operations of the Journal — errata lists, advertisements, news items, and announcements (“MR THOMAS H. LANE is . . . authorized to give receipts”). All these miscellaneous materials are much more vital in facsimile than they would be in transcription. By opting for facsimile reproduction, Professor Pollin has also avoided the possibility of those small copyist’s errors which marred James A. Harrison’s 1902 edition of Poe, and he has given scholars a text which is simultaneously a historical document. It is worth noting that the particular copy of the Journal facsimiled is the “Whitman copy,” which Poe presented to Mrs. Sarah Helen Whitman in 1848, after initialing the more important of his unsigned contributions with the letter “p.” These initials constitute a unique and indispensable aid in determining which articles are by Poe, rather than by Briggs or other unnamed contributors; until now they have not been readily accessible.

The second volume of Poe’s Journal writings, containing the editorial apparatus and annotations, is a worthy companion to the first. The volume opens with Professor Pollin’s “Introduction,” which is followed by Heyward Ehrlich’s useful survey of the Journals history (reprinted from the February 1969 Bulletin of the New York Public Library). It concludes with a succinct but effective index to Poe’s text. Professor Pollin’s detailed account of the production of his facsimile edition, of the correction of typographical errors in the Journal, and of the several computer systems employed on the annotations and index should be of interest to those scholars contemplating similar projects. On the other hand, his two hundred and sixty-five pages of annotations, occupying most of the second volume, ought to appeal to all students of Poe. To the explication of the Journal writings Professor Pollin brings an extensive knowledge of the classical and European sources for Poe’s art as well as a close familiarity with literary America, especially New York City, in the 1840’s. His ability [column 2:] to explain puzzling references in Poe’s work — books cited, poetry excerpted, phrases quoted in other languages, and persons, places, and periodicals discussed — is unparalleled. His sensitivity to Poe’s diction and prose style stands him in good stead when attributing some articles to Poe and questioning the authorship of others. Definitive attributions may be impossible for many of the shorter reviews in the Journal, but it is good to have Professor Pollin’s acute observations on disputed cases. Of course, the most famous enigma in the Journal concerns the letter from “Outis” attacking Poe’s stance on plagiarism, reprinted in the March 8 issue from the Evening Mirror of March 1. Professor Pollin argues persuasively, if not quite conclusively, that the “Outis” letter was a hoax by Poe himself, who hoped to gain publicity by creating a fictional adversary.

This edition of the Broadway Journal is not likely to match the circulation figures achieved by the recent “Library of America” volumes on Poe, or even by the Mabbott editions of the poems and tales. As with his previous undertakings on Poe, Professor Pollin has chosen to address himself to the scholar rather than to the casual reader; and he has produced work which is detailed, minute, and original. His edition represents virtually everything that could be done with the Journal writings, whether in the way of identification, explication, or organization. Anyone with a serious interest in Poe would do well to acquire these two volumes.

Dwight Thomas, Savannah, Georgia


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]