Text: Stuart and Susan Levine, “Appendix,” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeEAP: Eureka (2004), pp. 107-108 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 107:]


Poe's Postscript to a Letter about
the Lecture “Eureka”

Because Poe's letter of February 29, 1848, to his Maine correspondent George W. Eveleth was largely about his lecture “Eureka” and contains a very long postscript that Poe called “a few addenda,” some commentators, following Woodberry, have treated the postscript as though Poe intended it as an addition to the text. We see no evidence for this conclusion. Poe seems to mean “some additional ideas on Laplace”; these are “addenda” to the long letter, some other thoughts on the matter, but not intended for incorporation into Eureka. Indeed, Poe said in the first paragraph of the postscript that he wrote them earlier. Poe four times annotated copies of Eureka and never added these ideas. Moreover, while in Eureka the scientific speculation is usually based on sound synthesis of current knowledge, in the postscript it is not. One guesses that it was written before Poe briefed himself on the science he so ably summarizes in Eureka.

Since Poe's manuscript has disappeared (see “A Note on the Text” under “Editorial Method” and Collected Works, ed. Mabbott, 3:1320) and some quite uncharacteristic locutions appear in this postscript, it is perfectly possible that at least portions are inauthentic. Poe writes “votical” here instead of the “vorticial” which he coined in Eureka (Pollin, Poe, Creator of Words). That might be because he wrote this earlier. Much odder is “as I have shown, back” (¶13), which, as BRP notes, is not Poe's style at all. BRP wonders also at a passage in paragraph 17 — “dividing by the breadth to its own periphery that to the periphery of the other.” It does not sound like Poe (indeed, it is not very well written). Speculation is possible: careless transcription (or willful distortion?) by Eveleth, careless writing (or “mystification”?) by Poe, even a forgery by some third party, perhaps after 1896, when the manuscript was last seen.

Of the mathematics in this postscript, Bruce Twarog observes that “it is just numerology” and “all nonsense”; there is nothing in it on which he can comment. Note that unlike Woodberry's consultant Irving Stringham, [page 108:] Twarog reports that the summary of scientific data and theory in the body of Eureka is generally very competent and, sometimes, even contains good original observations and plausible speculation. (But see ¶172 of Eureka and our note to it for an exception which, significantly, is related to this “Postscript.”) Why then would Poe have recommended the material in the postscript to Eveleth? Perhaps — if Poe wrote the letter after writing Eureka — because he had forgotten much of what he had learned in writing Eureka; perhaps, if the letter came first, because he had not yet mastered the scientific information; perhaps because some authors hate to allow anything they have written to go to waste, especially if it involves extra labor, as the fanciful mathematics did. Perhaps it was to show off a bit, too, before a correspondent who might not catch the unsoundness of the calculations.

Probably Poe wrote the postscript for a combination of reasons. Certainly the possibility that he had forgotten the sound science might trouble readers who would rather find evidence of Poe's fervent belief in the lofty arguments of Eureka.

A Note on the Text

We reprint the postscript here in a copy made by Eveleth and kindly provided by the rare book department of the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia. This version is more complete than any we know. T. O. Mabbott included it among Poe's works of fiction (Collected Works, 3:1319-23) but stopped at the end of paragraph 5; Woodberry's text (293-301, 295) lacks the final sentence of that paragraph. Ostrom (Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, 2:360-62) prints the body of the letter, not the postscript. Collected Works contains a list of extant versions of the material and variants through paragraph 5. Our introductory note contains observations on some peculiarities in this document.







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