Text: James A. Harrison, “Introduction,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. XV: Literati and Autography (1902), pp. vii-x


[page vii:]


AMONG the most interesting occurrences of Poe’s chequered life was his contribution of the famous series of Literati papers to Godey’s Lady’s Book in the summer and fall of 1846. These papers, six in number, and entitled “The Literati of New York City,” ran from May to October, and the first number proved so popular that it had to be reprinted, along with the autographs of the writers under discussion, in the June number. The writers discussed were thirty-eight in number, and embraced all the shining literary lights of the metropolis, — men and women distinguished in poetry, criticism, and journalism. Poe insists that the names were selected at random, and they were grouped together in the six numbers of Godey’s without any special effort at order or arrangement. Thus, in the May group we find George Bush, G. H. Colton, N. P. Willis, W. M. Gillespie, C. F. Briggs, W. Kirkland, and J. W. Francis, — a collection of amiable nobodies (except Willis) who exercised a kind of haphazard sovereignty over the literary Cockaigne of the day. Men and women alike were admitted to the Pantheon of celebrities; poets and poetesses are found there in profusion, and nearly all are discussed in a strain of gentle laudation such as one would hardly have expected from the fierce and implacable Poe. The alarm excited at first by the announcement of the series [page viii:] caused Mr. Godey to address a note to the agitated “Minor Contemporaries,” but, as the reader will see, Zephyr himself could hardly have breathed more tenderly over the perturbed spirit than did Poe in these memorable papers. In this connection it will be of interest to read the following announcements which appeared in Godey’s:

“The first number of our union is presented to the readers of ‘Godey’s Lady’s Book’ and ‘Arthur’s Magazine.’ The union combines all the great contributors to both publications. Mr. Arthur, it will be seen, contributes to this number; and Mr. E. A. Poe commences No. 1 of the New York Literati. We are much mistaken if these papers of Mr. P. do not raise some commotion in the literary emporium.” — Editor’s Book Table, Godey’s Lady’s Book, May, 1846.

The Authors and Mr. Poe.

“We have received several letters from New York, anonymous, and from personal friends, requesting us to be careful what we allow Mr. Poe to say of the New York authors, many of whom are our personal friends. We reply to one and all that we have nothing to do but publish Mr. Poe’s opinion, not our own. Whether we agree with Mr. Poe or not is another matter. We are not to be intimidated by a threat of the loss of friends, or turned from our purpose by honeyed words. Our course is onward. The May edition was exhausted before the first of May, and we have had orders for hundreds from Boston and New York, which we could not supply. The first number of the series (with autographs) is republished in this number, which also contains No. 2. The usual quantity of reading matter is given in addition to the notices.

“Many attempts have been made and are making various persons to forestall public opinion. We have [page ix:] the name of one person. Others are busy with reports of Mr. Poe’s illness. Mr. Poe has been ill, but we have letters from him of very recent dates; also a new batch of the Literati, which show anything but feebleness either of body or mind. Almost every paper that we exchange with has praised our new enterprise — the Union — and spoken in high terms of No. 1 of Mr. Poe’s opinions.” — Editor’s Book Table, Godey’s Lady’s Book, June, 1846.

“We hear of some complaints having been made by those writers who have already been noticed by Mr. Poe. Some of the ladies have suggested that the publisher has something to do with them. This we positively deny, and we as positively assert, that they are published as written by Mr. Poe, without any alteration or suggestion from us.” — Godey’s Lady’s Book, September, 1846.

“In Mr. Poe’s notice of Richard Adams Locke, in the October number of the Lady’s Book for 1846, there occur some errors touching the ‘Sun’ newspaper in N. York, which we desire to correct. In the first place, the ‘Sun’ newspaper was started by Messrs. Day & Wisner, and not Moses Y. Beach. It is also stated that Beach employed Locke to write the moon hoax, when the fact is it was published in the ‘Sun’ some two or three years before Mr. Beach became interested in the paper — Benjamin H. Day being then the sole owner, who purchased the story of Mr. Locke.” — Godey’s Lady’s Book, May, 1847.

“The Literati of New York City,” now for the first time printed under its own title just as Poe wrote it, was “edited” by Griswold, who substituted, for Poe’s papers on Thomas Dunn English, Mary E. Hewitt, James Lawson, C. F. Briggs, and Mrs. F. S. Osgood, other papers in the Poe manner. These Griswold versions will be found in the Appendix. [page x:]

We have carefully disentangled what might well be called the snarl of the Literati by printing the dated divisions as the articles originally appeared, by editing every article carefully from the original Godey series, and by giving in every possible case Poe’s own orthography and punctuation.

We fancy it will be an agreeable surprise to most readers and students of Poe to find reprinted in this volume for the first time the famous “Autography” papers of the “Southern Literary Messenger” of February-August, 1836. If we exclude “Hans Pfaall,” this was the earliest of his celebrated hoaxes, and created an immense stir in its day. Its mixture of humor and audacity was prophetic even at this early age (26) of things yet to come in the way of sardonic satire, biting wit, and grotesque extravagance. It is accompanied in this volume by its “double,” the paper of genuine autographs, reproduced exactly from “Graham’s Magazine” for November, December, and January, 1841-42. Poe promised, in the latter series, one hundred autographs, with running comments thereon, but actually gave one hundred and twenty-eight or one hundred and twenty-nine in all. The autographs omitted by Griswold (among them his own!), have all been restored, as has also been reprinted here Poe’s Appendix to the original series.

It may interest the reader to know that the type of the Messenger papers was set up from carefully prepared photographs of the yellowed pages of the old periodical. He will also find it interesting to compare Poe’s judgments and criticisms in “The Literati” with those in “Autography.”





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