Text: Robert A. Stewart (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Notes to The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IV: Tales - part 03 (1902), pp. 275-277


[page 275:]




The text follows 1845.

Griswold does not differ from 1845.

1840 shows several unimportant variations from the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1845 was slightly revised from the 1840 state.

Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, December, 1839.

No motto.

Page 1 l. 6 more; — (—) page 2 l. 7 this; — (—) page 3 l. 5 all, (o. c.) page 4 l. 16 , upon (o. c.) l. 21 , that (o. c.) l. 23 of (and these of) l. 33 rapid; ( —) page 5 l. 17 wise; (—) l. 20 nucleus (n. i.) l. 21-22 the harmless ... of ... visitor (its harmless) l. 23 which (one which) l. 26 of (, of) page 6 l. 8 , of (;) l. 18 , at length, (o. c.) l. 20 now (, now) l. 30 heavens, (—) l. 30 hearts (heart) l. 30 , but (o. c.) l. 31 brains (brain) l. 33 flame, (o. c.) page 7 l. 1 comet; (—) l. 4 for (o.) l. 6 altered; (—) l. 8 , utterly (—) l. 9 before, (—) l. 12 men; (—) l. 17 affected; (—) page 8 l. 4 immediate; — (—) l. 5 their (its) l. 17 rigidly (immoveably) l. 18 heavens (cap.) l. 20 ; — even (. Even) l. 22 moment (short moment) l. 25-26 shouting and (great) l. 28 , burst (o. c).

1840. Variations from above.

Page 3 l. 5 now (, now) page 5 l. 3 color (colour) l. 23 which (one which) page 6 l. 9 , and (o. c.) l. 12 [page 276:] on, (o. c.) l. 30 hearts (heart) l. 33 flame, (o. c.) page 7 l. 13 pain (pain —) page 8 l. 24 down (down,).

Variations of Griswold from text.

Accents in motto supplied by Ed.

Note by Prof. W, LeConte Stevens, Washington and Lee Univ.

Eiros undertakes to explain to Charmion how the world, or at least that part of it in which Charmion had been living, was destroyed by the collision of a comet. The author writes intelligently about comets in the first part of the discussion, so long as he confines himself to outlining what astronomers had already learned about comets, their slight density, the improbability of collision, and of shock due to collision. As soon as he abandons the historical he plunges into not only the improbable but the impossible. The last two pages teem with errors.

He says the comet on close approach took “the character of a gigantic mantle of rare flame, extending from horizon to horizon.” While we do not know with certainty the source of brightness of comets, it is quite well agreed that they are not masses of flame, that there is no combustion in the sense of chemical combination producing heat and light. The light is most probably due to reflection from gaseous or vaporous particles, just as an afternoon cloud looks white by reflecting the sunlight.

He says “A wild luxuriance of foliage, utterly unknown before, burst out upon every vegetable thing.” Such a change has no conceivable relation to the approach of a comet. If it be called a “predicted circumstance” the prediction was never made by any reputable astronomer, or by any scientific man who limits his conclusions in proportion to the quantity and quality of the evidence attainable.

All that the author says about “constriction of the [page 277:] breast and lungs,” “insufferable dryness of the skin,” etc., is imagination alone.

He says the air is a “compound of oxygen and nitrogen gases.”It is not so; it is a mechanical mixture of them. He says oxygen is the “vehicle of heat.” It does not convey heat any more than any other gas, such as nitrogen. The heat is merely the physical manifestation of the transformation of chemical energy. Oxygen is usually one of the elements present when such transformation produces heat, but not necessarily always so. He assumes that by collision with the comet either oxygen is given in great excess to our atmosphere or nitrogen is withdrawn from our atmosphere, and that conflagration is the result. Comets have been studied by the aid of the spectroscope, an instrument first devised in 1814 but not generally used until after 1859, and hence after the date of this essay by Poe. The result has been to show that the comets examined were devoid of oxygen, or if this were present it vĀ«ras in exceedingly small quantity. If it be assumed that the comet would withdraw nitrogen from our atmosphere and thus leave in it an excess of oxygen, the assumption can not be based on anything known about comets or about our atmosphere.

The recital of Eiros is thus a clever bit of imagination without the slightest basis in science, but rather in opposition to scientific probability.





[S:0 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Notes to The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion)