Text: James A. Harrison, “Introduction,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XIV: Essays and Miscellanies (1902), 14:v-viii


[page v:]


ABOUT one-fourth of the Essays and Miscellanies contained in this section will be found new even to the Poe specialist, never having been reprinted before, and the remainder will be found new in their close adherence to the originals, not deviating (except in the case of obvious misprints and typographical errors) from the form in which Poe left them. Many of Poe's original titles have been restored to their rightful position, and now introduce the papers as he wrote them, and as they are found in this volume. Nothing has been “normalized” to suit the taste of the age or the editor; the orthographic idiosyncrasies of two or three generations ago have been preserved as an interesting part of the history of the times; conflicting systems of spelling have not been reconciled or made consistent; Poe, marvellously accurate in ear and judicious in perception, has been allowed to punctuate, capitalize, and paragraph for himself, and no educated modern reader can sensibly find fault with his singular fastidiousness of taste along these lines. His MS. to-day would form a model, inimitable for clearness, beauty, and correctness, to contemporary writers, and affords one excuse the less for tampering with his text.

The earliest of the dated Essays in the present volume is the one on “Palestine,” not signed in the [page vi:] Literary Messenger, but indexed as by “Edgar A. Poe” in the table of contents for 1836. Its character is of a kind in which Poe rarely indulged — the compilatory, but one which is illustrated further on by the papers on “Stonehenge,” “Street-Paving,” and parts of “Maelzel's Chess-Player.” Perfunctory work of this sort was not to his liking, and he made use of it generally only in the papers on “Sports and Past-times” in some of the earlier magazines with which he was connected. Yet, distasteful as mere compilation was to Poe, he always contrived to invest his compilations with the singular charm of his style, so cameo-clear in its distinction and so absolutely free from the verbal ambiguities for which he did not hesitate to rate even Macaulay. This charm of style throws a lasting interest about Poe's papers of this type and justifies us in rescuing them from oblivion. “Stonehenge” and “Street-Paving” are entirely new, and will be found excellent specimens of the author's manner in the “information” article.

The “Pinakidia” opens another instructive window into the soul of this curiously constructed being, revealing his ant-like habit of storing up granules of intellectual food for future use, — quotations from the poets, aphorisms from the philosophers, lines and memorabilia from the men of literary generations gone by. The habit was perhaps an intellectually noxious one, for Poe continually used the same quotations — especially the French ones — to garnish some trite context or give an air of superior learning to some insignificant critique. He evidently took it for granted that the circulation of the Messenger (in whose pages for August, 1836, “Pinakidia” appeared) would not be great enough to prevent his using this store-house of [page vii:] quotations whenever he wished, and he therefore did not hesitate to return to it again and again for its scraps of epigrammatic thought and its striking bits of wit and wisdom. The collection is psychologically interesting as showing Poe's wide reading at twenty-seven, the cast of his mind, and his incidental industrious habits in holding on to what he once had gained, afterwards so remarkably shown in his “Marginalia,” in which he exemplified the French habit of self-quotation, La Bruyère-like characterization, and autograph epigram after the fashion of Pascal and La Rochefoucauld.

“Pinakidia” appears in the present edition unabbreviated, just as Poe printed it when he was editor of the Messenger, type errors alone excepted.

The article commonly printed under the title “Cryptography” has here restored to it the name under which it originally appeared in Graham's Magazine for July, 1841: “A Few Words on Secret Writing,” with the further important additions of the interesting correspondence that accompanied the publication and the three Supplements which Poe appended to the August, October, and December numbers. The reader is thus made entirely familiar with this celebrated discussion, which had gone on also in Alexander's Weekly Messenger, and excited, like the “Autography” and the “Literati” articles, vehement discussion pro and con. “The Gold-Bug,” embodying his cryptographic principles in concrete artistic form, made the cryptogram fashionable in literature and gave birth to the Jules Verne school of pseudo-scientific “literarians.”

The reader will also find printed here Poe's more difficult cryptograms, which have been ignored by other editions. [page viii:]

The other papers of this volume of Essays and Miscellanies have been subjected likewise to faithful restoration, in every detail, to their original form, the accretions, additions, and overlying débris cast upon them by previous workers having been carefully removed.





[S:1 - JAH14, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Introduction)