Text: Burton R. Pollin, “Appreciation of Poe,” Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe’s Collected Works, (1968), xxx-xxxiii (This material is protected by copyright)


[page xxx:]


Burton R. Pollin

The last of my introductory remarks, concerning the uses of the following index, might more appropriately be written by the readers than the author. I shall, however, offer a few suggestions since I have been so intimately enmeshed of late in the very thought processes of Edgar Allan Poe. I cannot hope to convey here in brief compass the great respect for Poe that this index has given to me. I venture to say that no author in the history of American writing has displayed his verbal inventiveness and dexterity. Poe’s experimentalist attitude toward names and toward descriptive language is reflected in the vast panoply of references which follow. I do not claim any scholarly erudition or accuracy for him; certainly the many parenthetical emendations disprove his pretensions to universality and precision of learning, but the appositeness of his references, even the grace with which he brings in seemingly remote material for a tribute or, more often, for sardonic disparagement, is unparalleled among American writers. Considering the philistinism and crudity of his age, it is almost miraculous that Poe could have paid attention, by referential implication, for so long to his readers’ refinement of taste. Of course, he borrowed at second and third hand from many writers, such as William Landor (i.e., Horace Binney Wallace), Victor Hugo, Isaac D’Israeli, and the Baron de Bielfeld. And I should acknowledge here my own indebtedness to Poe for the amusement and detective’s delight which I have enjoyed in exposing and discussing some of those borrowings.

More to the heart of the matter — Poe’s originality and creative genius — is the use to which he put those references in his criticism and in his creative work. True it is that sometimes they served him merely for affectation or display. [page xxxi:] In our biographical studies they may serve to indicate what he was reading and when he was reading the given material. Thus, I have found that after his 1841 review of Walsh’s SKETCHES OF CONSPICUOUS LIVING CHARACTERS OF FRANCE, with several pages on Victor Hugo, a stream of hidden references, taken from NOTRE DAME DE PARIS begins to pervade his work, including one of his most famous short stories. Three articles of mine were completed on this very subject before I realized through the index that a reference to Du Bartas also pointed squarely toward a borrowing from Hugo’s NOTRE DAME: the date and the nature of the allusion and even the whole context, as I shall point out in a separate study, prove the point. To me, it has been a little like living in Poe’s study and watching him take down some books for a half glance, others for a long perusal. Sometimes he makes a note of a passage to be reread, sometimes he pencils a parallel with a smile, which signifies that it will be used eventually at the proper time. And the time always would come, in his life of driving necessity and hardship, since every page of eked-out material covered with his fine penmanship meant so many loaves of bread for the survival of the pitiful trio of the Poe household.

More significant to some readers will be the insights furnished into Poe’s methods as a creative artist, through lists of names that suggest those in his prose and poetry. I have alluded to the Leonores who people the works that he criticized and finally his own poetry and one tale (“Eleonore”), Iras and Charmian who come out of the pages of Shakespeare into “Politian” and “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion,” the real Von Kempelen connected with Maelzel’s automatic chess player, who becomes part of “Von Kempelen and His Discovery,” Thellusson of the great, cumulative fortune of England who becomes Ellison, “doppleganger” for Poe, in imaginatively creating a paradisaical landscape garden remote from abusive society. These derivations of name, [page xxxii:] personality, and motives are suggested by some of the items in the index, as my annotations seek to indicate. Another phase of Poe’s creativity is his playful use of names, sometimes sardonically and sometimes in sheer whimsicality. Many of my entries with “sic” in parentheses are of this nature, and they all add up to a staggering total of onomastic inventions of great ingenuity; consider a few, such as the “Arch Duchess Ana-Pest,” “Lyttleton Barry” (his pseudonym), “Count Capricornutti,” “Doctor Double L. Dee,” “Duc de L’Omelette,” and “Dundergutz” — to go no further than the “d’s” in my list. One cannot deny that Poe frequently shows dubious taste both in the vitriolic substance of his sarcasm and in the attempted elegance and sophistication of his allusions. It was, however, a crude and self-consciously provincial society in which he moved at the time, and Poe can be seen as concentratedly reflecting social currents that need further study than we have given them.

Most important of all, I feel, is the stimulus to his imagination provided by the vast stores of learning in his associative and retentive memory. Our Cairo consul Gliddon, noted in his review of ARABEA PETREA, deciphers “Allamistakeo,” the name of the mummy in “Some words with a Mummy.” Hans Pfaal’s wife’s name in a list suddenly strikes us as “Grettel,” showing Poe’s wish to underscore the “Hansel and Gretel” nature of his balloon-hoax story. Look at “Frogton,” a derisive term which came to Poe through the author Cockton, whose work he was reviewing, and which led him to coin “Boston” and perhaps ultimately “Frogpond,” for Boston, focus of his animosity and sense of literary frustration. Poe’s social attitude is indicated in his pun of “Furrier” on the name of Fourier. Another phase of his verbal dexterity is the phonic inventiveness, leading to what some might call his “echolalia” on the one hand, as in “Ulalume,” or, in the judgment of many, his haunting and evocative matching of sound and [page xxxiii:] sense, as in “To Helen.” If the juxtaposition of names and the listing of titles hitherto left scattered on the pages of the Harrison edition serve to make possible studies of these and other phases of Poe’s critical and creative prowess, I shall be deeply satisfied with this too brief onomastic presentation. Whatever the shortcomings — and I know them to be many — I wish to claim sole responsibility despite the superb cooperation I have had from everyone who was involved in the book.





[S:1 - DNTCW, 1968] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Dictionary of Names and Titles (B. R. Pollin) (Appreciation of Poe)