Text: Stuart and Susan Levine, “Notes (Sections 01-04),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeEAP: Eureka (2004), pp. 117-139 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 117:]



Title: “I have found [it],” a famous remark attributed to Archimedes (ca. 287-212 B.C.E.), who supposedly so exclaimed on finding a way through displacement to determine the amount of gold in an alloy.

Dedication: Humboldt: Friedrich Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1850). See notes to paragraphs 9, 231, and 232.

Preface: In his story “Loss of Breath” (1835), Poe wrote, “William Godwin ... says in his ‘Mandeville,’ that ‘invisible things are the only realities.’ ” Poe used a modified version of the phrase from Godwin in the tale “Berenice” (1835) as well. The phrase probably connects also to a passage in the Memories of the Life of Sir Humphry Davy, Bart by Davy's brother, John, a book Poe used elsewhere; the passage speaks of “the universal mind” in which man's intellect at its strongest is no more than “a mere image in a dream” (Pollin, Discoveries in Poe, 109, 177-78).

rise again ... Everlasting: Poe echoes John 5:24: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death into life.” Burton R. Pollin (BRP) suggests that the association came via William Cullen Bryant's poem “The Battle-Field,” stanza 9 of which includes, “Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again; / Th’ eternal years of God are hers.” The poem was first published in the Democratic Review in October 1837; the stanza in question became famous because of a widely reported incident. Benjamin F. Butler, attorney general under presidents Jackson and Van Buren, quoted it to loud applause in a speech in Tammany Hall. A voice from the crowd called for a cheer for Shakespeare. Butler said it was not by Shakespeare but by an American contemporary, Bryant, and the crowd went wild (Godwin, A Biography, 1:337n)


solemn —... august: BRP asks of this opening paragraph, “Is Poe serious or aiming to be breathless?” He notes that “august” usually applies to persons and wonders about Poe's “humility.” Certainly, the heavy use of dashes is often in Poe a sign of less than serious intention (see note to paragraph 122).


Ætna: Mt. Aetna (or Etna) was very active, and explorers, “as Poe probably knew,” had found it to be “a truncated cone without a top.” Thus nobody could whirl [page 118:] on his heel on “the top” of Etna (Holman, “Splitting Poe's ‘Epicurean Atoms’ ”). On the other hand, Etna was the universal symbol of a big, high, dominant peak in that era; it was “ready to hand” for numerous writers. Poe used it himself in an important aesthetic fantasy philosophically close to Eureka, “The Domain of Arnheim” (a briefer version, “The Landscape Garden,” appeared in 1842 and 1845, the longer in 1847). Ellison, an ideally gifted and inspired poetic visionary landscape architect, searches for years for a perfect site for his masterpiece: “We came at length to an elevated table-land of wonderful fertility and beauty, affording a panoramic prospect very little less in extent than that of Ætna” (Collected Works, 3:1278; Short Fiction, 11; Thirty-Two Stories, 212). The volcano in Sicily, the idea of panoramic sweep, and the notion of cosmic unity are common to both pieces. Holman also detects a submerged allusion here to Lord Rosse (see ¶163ff.), Etna being part of the Rossi Mountains. Ketterer also sees humor in Poe's locating his viewer on “top” of a volcano. But, loosely, one does reach the top; the spinning on the heel to get a sense of oneness strikes us as funnier.

The idea of viewing the earth from the height of Etna appears, along with a wide range of other ideas that also recur in various places in Poe, in chapter 1, paragraphs 32 and 33 of the Philadelphia 1834 edition (and a large number of subsequent editions) of John Herschel's A Treatise on Astronomy, a work Poe used in Eureka and quoted from (see ¶227 and note). The ideas include the “insufficient supply of air” at high altitudes, seeing a great portion of the surface of the earth, famous balloon ascensions, whether the earth would look concave or convex from that height, Cotopaxi, and the process of compressing air. Because the range of associations occurs in other writers, one does not want to make firm claims about influence, but the concentration of common referents here and in Poe is striking. See especially Poe's “The Balloon-Hoax” (1844), “Hans Pfaall” (1835), and “Mellonta Tauta,” glossed in Short Fiction, and more fully in Collected Writings, vol. 1. Posey has suggested this passage in Herschel as a source for “Hans Pfaall.” A review of the scholarship is in Collected Writings, 1:487.


Humboldt: See note to dedication. Holman (“Hog, Bacon, Ram”), who believes that satire is the main intention in Eureka, thinks even the praise of Humboldt ironic: she finds Poe contemptuous of broad generalizers. We disagree. Poe is contemptuous of nearsighted fact-grubbing but consistently praises bold theorizing. See what Poe says about Humboldt in paragraph 231; see also the short stories about Ellison and Dupin, the “Sonnet: To Science,” and his criticism. Humboldt's Kosmos (Stuttgart, 1845-) was promptly available in translation in the United States: Cosmos (New York, 1845-). In the July 12, 1845, Broadway Journal, Poe noted its publication in Germany; he announced the New York edition in both the August 30 and September 13 numbers of the Broadway Journal and noted a review of it in the issue for October 11, 1845. See Collected Writings, 3:169, 3:234, 3:247, 3:281, 4:127-28nn.

synœretical: Pollin reports, “Not in OED as adjective for any spelling” (Poe: Creator of Words, 38). [page 119:]


remarkable letter ... bottle: Much of the material in the next paragraphs (11-24) Poe used as well in “Mellonta Tauta” (1849), a witty story set in the year 2848 (Thirty-Two Stories, 346-60; Short Fiction, 547-48, 588-96, 616-19; Collected Works, 3:1289-309). Its text purports to be a letter written aboard the excursion balloon Skylark on April Fool's Day by Pundita to a friend. Although Pundita's world has learned to theorize imaginatively, Pundita is ignorant and a snob. Poe uses her to attack nineteenth-century technology and politics, especially the U.S. government and its leaders, but her era is shown to be as blind as Poe's in most ways: the tale ends with the failure of the balloon. Pundita's knowledge of “antiquity” is comically distorted, but she tends to use correct spellings for the names of figures Poe admired.

Pollin (“Poe's Use of Material”) establishes Poe's frequent use of ideas from Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's Etudes; entrusting a manuscript to a bottle appears there and in several places in Poe.

“Mellonta Tauta” was prefaced by a “letter” “To the Editor of the Lady's Book,” signed by Poe, which shares language and details with paragraph 11 of Eureka. In the story, the “odd-looking MS.” was found “about a year ago, tightly corked up in a jug floating in the Mare Tenebrarum — a sea well described” etc. It seems evident to us that although Eureka was published first, the story was written before it. Collected Works (3:1290) details the publication history — “Mellonta Tauta” had been sold to Louis Godey for use in Godey's Lady's Book; Godey did not print it until after the book Eureka was published and was apparently angry that Poe had used it. See ¶18n.

Mare Tenebrarum: Poe's source is a passage in Jacob Bryant's A New System; or, An Analysis of Ancient Mythology: “By the Nubian Geographer the Atlantic is uniformly called, according to the present version, Mare Tenebrarum. Aggressi sunt mare tenebrarum quid in eo esset, exploraturi. They ventured into the sea of darkness, in order to explore what it might contain” (see ¶65 and ¶65n). Bryant's Mythology was one of Poe's favorite sources of ideas. Collected Writings (2:xxiv-xxv) lists numerous items in Poe's “Pinakidia” and “Marginalia” based on that book. Bryant's imaginative mode of showing all ancient religions as variants of the same miraculous events provided imagery to enrich several Poe stories, although Poe knew that the learned antiquarian Bryant was as wrong as Poe's own Pundita (Levine and Levine, “History, Myth, Fable”). Poe quotes this passage from Bryant in “Eleonora.” He also refers to “the Nubian geographer's account of the Mare Tenebrarum” in “A Descent into the Maelstrom” (Thirty-Two Stories, 347n2, 159-73, esp. 161n3; Short Fiction, 547-48, 616-19, 588-96, esp. 616n2, 59n3; see also Collected Works, 2:595; 2:646, 3:1305).

Ptolemy Hephestion: Although Jacob Bryant does mention “Ptolemy Hephæstion,” he did not call him “the Nubian geographer.” Bryant refers rather to al Idrisi, author of Geographia nubiensis. Poe's error seems to be deliberate; one of the running jokes in “Mellonta Tauta” is about antiquarians getting names, facts, and dates wrong. Poe refers to Ptolemy Hephestion in “Berenice” and elsewhere. [page 120:] The Ptolemy who was a geographer was Claudius Ptolemaeus (fl. 127-148), to whom Poe also refers elsewhere (Collected Writings, vol. 2; Pollin, Dictionary of Names and Titles). “Ptolemy Hephestion” was Ptolemy Chennos, son of Hephestion, “one of the Mythographi whose works are synopsized by Photius” (Collected Works, 2:220n9). Poe, in short, hides one deliberate error within another. Looking through his other references to the several Ptolemys makes it clear enough that he knew one from the other.

Transcendentalists ... crotchets: Poe's attitude toward transcendentalism is complex. Probably envious of Emerson and generally hostile to New England Transcendentalists, he nevertheless was philosophically quite close to them. Eureka is, after all, a treatise on the importance of artistic, intuitive, transcendental inspiration as a source of scientific cosmological truth. Poe repeatedly mocked the very ideas in which he seemed to believe most consistently. Extensive discussion of Poe and transcendentalism appears in Levine, Edgar Poe, esp. 33 and 151-68.


Aries ... Tottle: Aristotle is “Hindoo” in “Mellonta Tauta.” BRP suggests an echo of a book by Charles Dickens that Poe praised in the June 1836 Southern Literary Messenger (Complete Works, 9:45ff.): Watkins Tottle, and other sketches, illustrative of every-day Life, and every-day People by Boz [Dickens]. Poe singles out the title piece for mention and quotes it at length.

expel ... nose: Mabbott writes that “Aristotle, in Problemata, xxxiii, 9, said that sneezing comes from the head, the ‘seat of reason’ ” (Collected Works, 3:1318n3). Poe probably had the idea secondhand. Montaigne, in Book 2, chapter 27 of his Essays, says that “sneezing ... because it proceeds from the head, and is without offense, we give ... civil reception,” while frowning on other bodily exhalations. “[D]o not laugh at this distinction,” Montaigne continues, “for they say it is Aristotle's” (2:375). In a chapter called “[O]n Sneezing,” Sir Thomas Browne says that Aristotle feels sneezing to be a sign of mental health (there is a folk belief that idiots never sneeze). Browne writes that sneezing, “being properly a motion of the brain expelling through the nostrils what is offensive to it,” is therefore a good sign. For that reason, he says, Aristotle holds it sacred. We guess that Poe's source is an article (“On the Custom of Saluting after Sneezing”) in Isaac Disraeli's Curiosities of Literature (1791, and many subsequent editions), one of his favorite idea-mines. “Aristotle,” Disraeli wrote, “has delivered some considerable nonsense on this custom: he says it is an honorable acknowledgement of the seat of good sense and genius — the head — to distinguish it from two other offensive eruptions of air, which are never accompanied by a benediction from by-standers” (35). Poe used the same material in his story “Bon-Bon,” a satiric tale he revised and republished repeatedly between 1832 and 1845, more evidence of how closely related Eureka is to the texture of Poe's fiction. “Bon-Bon” is annotated in Collected Works (2:83ff.) and Short Fiction (356, 431-35).

truths ... self-evident: Poe alludes, of course, to the Declaration of Independence.

Tuclid ... C for a K: With slight alterations, Poe used this material in “Mellonta [page 121:] Tauta.” Pundita's spelling for Euclid was “Neuclid.” Much of the humor in that story is temporal. To a writer in 2848, Greece of the third century B.C.E. and Germany (not Holland) of 1800 do not seem significantly distant in time from one another. Poe used the “Kant/Cant” pun several times in other works. The sneer at the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is not isolated, yet Poe in other works as well as in Eureka espouses similar ideas (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 88; and for extended discussion of Poe and Kant, see Omans, “ ‘Intellect, Taste’ ”). Thomas Ollive Mabbott (TOM) adds that Kant “was ein Deutscher, a German, but not ein Hollander, a Dutchman” (Collected Works, 3:1318n4).


Hog ... shepherd: Francis Bacon (1561-1626), the British essayist and philosopher who argued for an analytical and inductive approach to knowledge, believed that such pooled learning would in fact produce progress. Poe's letter-writer, like Pundita in “Mellonta Tauta,” makes a double error. Having called Bacon “Hog,” the writer then confuses him with James Hogg (1770-1835), who was called “the Ettrick Shepherd” and whose name would have been familiar to magazine readers from his work in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, his narrative poems, and his novels. Holman (“Hog, Bacon, Ram”) thinks a link is likely between these pig jokes and the references in paragraph 18 to John Stuart Mill (¶18n). Holman's conjecture seems plausible for a stronger reason: in the same chapter from Mill that Poe quotes in paragraph 17 (¶17n), Mill makes exactly that point, even including the idea of seeing Bacon as a fallacious successor to philosophers of antiquity. Mill says that Aristotle is “the consummation of this mode of speculation” (A System of Logic, 467) and then writes,

From the fundamental error of the scientific inquirers of antiquity, we pass, by a natural association, to a scarcely less fundamental one of their great rival and successor, Bacon. It has excited the surprise of philosophers that the detailed system of inductive logic, which this extraordinary man labored to construct, has been turned to so little direct use by subsequent inquirers, having neither continued, except in a few of its generalities, to be recognized as a theory, nor having conducted in practice to any great scientific results. But this, though not unfrequently remarked, has scarcely received any plausible explanation; and some, indeed, have preferred to assert that all rules of induction are useless, rather than suppose that Bacon's rules are grounded upon an insufficient analysis of the inductive process. (468)

Most likely, Poe used the Harper and Brothers 1846 New York edition, to which our page numbers refer; see especially pages 468-70, which tie together numerous items in connections that one finds also in Poe. (Holman speculates also on the possibility that Poe intended to put Delia Salter Bacon [1811-59] or her brother, Dr. Leonard Bacon, on his reader's mind. Delia Bacon was a lecturer. She and her brother moved legally against a Yale University ministerial student in a juicy breach-of-promise matter.) Pollin (Discoveries in Poe, 180-83, 282n45) discusses the connections among “Hog-ites,” Poe's correspondent George Eveleth, and John William Draper. In a letter to Eveleth of June 26, 1849, Poe calls Draper the “chief” [page 122:] of Hog-ites and says, “He is aware ... that I intended him in ‘Eureka.’ ” Pollin is sure that Draper was not aware and concludes that Hog–Ettrick Shepherd–James Hogg “seems not to allude to Draper at all.” Apparently the Hog–Draper connection was real in Poe's mind, but it is less than certain that he intended it in Eureka. The letter to Eveleth postdates lecture and book.

instantiæ Naturæ: Latinists translate this phrase as “instances of nature” and report that it does occur, starting in Medieval Latin, with the meaning Poe gives it. We found plentiful examples of both instantiæ and of naturæ, but even our Latinist consultants could not find the two together in Bacon (see “Hog,” above) or in the Latin word lists and dictionaries of Bacon's period.

noumena ... phenomena: The letter-writer's contrast appears in Kant (“Cant”), who opposed noumena, objects understood through intellectual intuition, with phenomena, one's “precepts or experiences of objects in the world” about one.

savans: Poe consistently used the old spelling (savans) of this word in Eureka and in the Godey's version of “Mellonta Tauta” (BRP reports nine instances). Most editors modernize it to savants.

Median: Unchangeable; see Daniel 6:8, “Now, O King, establish the interdict and sign the document so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians” (Forrest, Biblical Allusions).

“Baconian”: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 74).

“Hog-ian”: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 74).


intuitive leaps: In “Mellonta Tauta,” Pundita phrases it, “All true knowledge ... makes its advances almost invariably by intuitive bounds.” Poe means this seriously. Knowledge progresses mainly through intuitive inspiration, not through reasoning from given premises (Aristotle) or from sorting, classifying, and analyzing (Bacon). Although Poe sometimes mocks writers who praise intuition — Emerson, for example — he generally trusts it himself. The inspired artist has a direct line to “Truth” and is an important source of knowledge, scientific as well as aesthetic. See Poe's “Sonnet — To Science,” Emerson's poem “Blight,” Shelley's “Defense of Poetry” (1822), and Poe's stories about the master detective Dupin (especially “The Purloined Letter”) for other contemporary statements on the efficacy of artistic inspiration. Thomas Ollive Mabbott (Collected Works, 3:1318n5) suggests as well “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and number 8 in “A Chapter of Suggestions.”

Aries ... ram: In astrology, Aries the Ram is the first sign of the Zodiac. Having called Aristotle “Aries Tottle,” Poe now makes a bad pun by allowing his letter-writer (the sex of the letter-writer in Eureka is indeterminate; in “Mellonta Tauta” it is a woman) to try her hand, inaccurately, at etymology (see also ¶12n).


Scotch snuff of detail: Pollin says, “Scotch snuff seems to be an Americanism given [page 123:] by Craigie (DAE) [Dictionary of American English] as ‘finely ground snuff of a characteristic strength and pungency prepared from well dried tobacco.’ ” It was “used for fumigation as well as an inhalant” (Collected Writings, 2:486).

Hog-ites: See Pollin (Poe: Creator of Words, 74).

inter-Tritonic minnows: Triton is, of course, a Greek sea deity. Poe seems to mean minnows among “monstrous denizens of the sea” (TOM, notes). It is likely that he is echoing a yet-unlocated source for the phrase. See also “unlettered hind” (¶16nn). Pollin (Poe: Creator of Words, 74) notes that the Oxford English Dictionary “gives an 1836 Tritonic only.”


on the face of the earth: From Genesis 6:1.

Bacon-engendered: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 70).

one-idead: Poe's coinage (ibid., 58).

unlettered hind: The phrase is from the first lines of the lady in John Milton's masque “Comus” (TOM):

This way the noise was, if mine ear be true,

My best guide now; me thought it was the sound

Of riot, and ill manag'd merriment,

Such as the jocond flute, or gamesom pipe

Stirs up among the loose unleter'd hinds,

When for their teeming flocks, and granges full,

In wanton dance they praise the bounteous Pan,

And thank the gods amiss. (Oxford Anthology, 334)

It may be that several associations in this portion of Eureka connect to “Comus.” The masque opens with a speech by an “attendant Spirit,” which is heavy in allusions to sea deities. Poe's “inter-Tritonic minnows” of paragraph 15 just might tie that passage to this.


ex nihilo nihil fit: The idea — “out of nothing comes nothing” — is from Lucretius (ca. 95-55 B.C.E.), whose De Rerum Natura Poe clearly knew. The exact phrase appears in the writings of Epicurus (ca. 340-270 B.C.E.) (TOM). A list of Poe's allusions to Lucretius is in Pollin (Word Index). Poe planned a collection of tales, each supposedly the creation of a different author, each a member of the “Folio Club.” Poe used the title of Lucretius’ work as the name of one “author,” writing it, “De Rerum Naturâ, Esqr.” (Collected Works, 2:205). Poe's immediate source, however, for this and the two propositions that follow was John Stuart Mill's A System of Logic (1843). In the Harper and Brothers New York 1846 edition, this quotation appears on page 462 in Book 5, chapter 3, “Fallacies of Simple Inspection; Or A Priori Fallacies” (see ¶13n). That the propositions appear together is one of several reasons it seems quite certain Mill is Poe's source; in the next paragraph, Poe says that Pundita is looking at Mill.

“thing ... is not”: This appears on the previous page in Mill at the start of the [page 124:] preceding paragraph. Mill's sense is close to Pundita's; even the idea of looking back to the errors of a previous age is in both. Mill writes, “Rather more than a century and half ago it was a philosophical maxim, disputed by no one, and which no one deemed to require any proof, that ‘a thing cannot act where it is not.’ ”

“there ... antipodes”: Mill puts it as follows on page 460 of the same passage: “It was long held that Antipodes were impossible, because of the difficulty which men found in conceiving persons with their heads in the same direction as our feet.”

“darkness ... light”: This hypothetical proposition does not appear in the passage in Mill from which we have been quoting, although its logical reason for being here is the same. To illustrate another logical error, Mill on page 463 uses an example that involves whiteness. It just may have suggested the light and dark illustration to Poe.

Although Poe's source for at least three of the four axioms is Mill (or a secondary account or review of Mill, Poe being an avid reader of magazines and collections), their appearance is a fine reminder of the lineage of Eureka, the tradition from early antiquity of works that were at once poetic, scientific, and religious. Poe was familiar with his contemporary Mill and with Lucretius, but ideas like these axioms are in Parmenides, too, a much earlier, pre-Socratic, philosopher of the Eleatic School to which Poe elsewhere refers — see his satiric “How to Write a Blackwood Article” (1838-45). The axioms in Mill and Poe are not, according to classicists consulted, literal quotations; Mill and Poe meant them as typical axioms of classical philosophers. See our Introduction to Eureka for comparison of Eureka to the fragments that have survived of Parmenides’ great account of his visit to the Goddess of Truth. Compare Mill's and Poe's examples — “a thing cannot act where it is not,” “there cannot be antipodes,” and “darkness cannot proceed from light” — with these utterances of the goddess: “Gaze steadfastly at things which, though far away, are yet present to the mind. For you cannot cut off being from being: it does not scatter itself into a universe and then reunify”; “Strong conviction will not let us think that anything springs from Being except itself”; and “It is indifferent to me at what point I begin, for in any case I must return again to that from which I set out” (Wheelwright, The Presocratics, 96-97).


Pundit: In Poe's “Mellonta Tauta,” Pundit is the narrator's husband (see ¶11n). Because there is no special reason for introducing these characters into his lecture or book, they suggest that the story existed first and that Poe left them in to simplify the job of editing the material for incorporation into Eureka.

Miller, or Mill: John Stuart Mill (1806-73). His System of Logic (1843) is an analysis of the process of inductive logic (¶13nn; ¶17nn; ¶18nn, next item). Holman (“Hog, Bacon, Ram”), although unable to establish firm connections, thinks that it is likely that Poe, like Carlyle, meant to charge Mill with swinishness; hence, the pig jokes of ¶¶12ff. Pollin (Collected Writings, 2:170 and 2:227) points out [page 125:] that Poe seems sometimes to confuse J. S. Mill with Mill's father, James Mill (1773-1836), but the fact that Poe is quoting J. S. Mill in this portion of Eureka suggests that it is he whom he intends.

Poe has his letter-writer confuse “Mill” with “Miller” to put in the reader's mind the name of Joe Miller (1684-1738), the supposed author of a famous book of jokes, Joe Miller's Jest-Book (see Collected Works, 2:259-64).

Bentham: Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), Utilitarian philosopher. Mill was deeply influenced by Bentham, particularly by the doctrine of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, but Mill's independence from Bentham is shown in his opinion of him: “he was not a great philosopher but a great reformer in philosophy:” (Atkinson, Jeremy Bentham, 31). The political causes for which Mill fought would not have been attractive to Poe: Negro rights, woman suffrage, workers’ rights. Bentham, moreover, had an aversion to poetry (TOM, notes). For discussion of Poe's views of the connection between Bentham and Mill, see Collected Writings, 2:170-72, 2:107, 2:110, and cross-referenced locations.


“Ah! — Ability”: In the same passage from Mill that Poe uses so heavily in this portion of Eureka (see notes to ¶13 and ¶17 especially) Mill makes precisely the point, although not in exactly the words Poe places in quotation marks. Mill writes, for example, “[W]hat we cannot think of as existing, cannot exist at all,” and, “Whatever is inconceivable is false” (A System of Logic, 460). Mill, like Poe, says that such reasoning is fallacious; mankind, he says, assumed that “a thing cannot act where it is not” because people could not conceive that it could be untrue. But Newtonian gravity plainly involves things acting where they are not. Therefore, “inability to conceive” is not a valid argument. Poe's recurrent fits of hostility to Mill seem illogical, for what he objects to in Mill in his items on Mill in “Marginalia” (Introduction, items 63, 124, in Collected Writings, vol. 2) is precisely what Mill objects to in the passage Poe uses. Mill demonstrated the fallacies of à priori reasoning.

David Hume: (1711-76). The skeptical empiricist Scottish philosopher and historian. His moral theory does, in fact, anticipate Bentham and Mill.

Joe: At least three possibilities, all plausible:

1. There was a Joseph Hume (1777-1855), Poe's contemporary and famous enough to be well known in America. A leader of the Radical Party in the House of Commons, he proposed a broad slate of reforms in government and church. Poe was generally hostile to meliorists.

2. Joe Miller (see note to ¶18).

3. “Joe” in the sense of “anybody” or “everyman.” Such locutions are a literary convention of the period. Compare Thoreau's “John or Jonathan” at the close of Walden, in which “John” probably means “all Englishmen” and Jonathan” all Americans.

Poe may well have intended all three possibilities. [page 126:]


sotticism: Pollin (Poe: Creator of Words, 37) reports that this word is “derived from French and English sottise” and does not appear in the OED. It is Poe's coinage and seems to mean “foolishness.” BRP points out that sottise has nothing to do with the English word sot, habitual drunk (although Poe must have been aware that the meaning would occur to readers). BRP adds that it “was a favorite word.” Pollin (Poe: Creator of Words) lists four instances. See also Complete Works, 13:51, where Poe uses it to describe the speech of an egotistical character in a play, and, below, paragraph 130, where Poe used it, then altered it to “folly.”


Soul ... soar: Cf. Poe's poem “To Helen” (the later poem by that title): “like thine own soul, soaring” (TOM, notes). The date strengthens the connections. Poe first published the poem, then called “To — — —,” in the November 1848 issue of Union Magazine (later Sartain's).


Kepler [[Keplers]]: Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), great German astronomer. See subsequent note. In Poe's story “Mellonta Tauta,” Kepler's is one of the few names that Pundita does not misspell. See note to paragraph 11.

Laplace [[Laplaces]]: Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace (1749-1827), was an important French astronomer, theoretician, and mathematician. See note to paragraph 77.


cryptographist: Poe's interest in cryptography was considerable — see his story “The Gold Bug,” especially. He even made journalistic claims about his ability to solve coded passages. The word is Poe's coinage. Pollin lists points at which he used it or the word cryptograph (Poe: Creator of Words, 84-85).

Champollion: Jean François Champollion (1790-1832), using the Rosetta Stone, learned to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. The stone, found in 1799, bore an inscription in two different forms of hieroglyphics and in Greek. “Solving” it was a great scholarly feat. Poe indicates respect for the accomplishment by having the letter-writer spell “Champollion” correctly.

phonetical hieroglyphics: This was Champollion's phrase (TOM, notes). Irwin observes that Poe's letter-writer in Eureka... associates Champollion's intuitive deciphering of the hieroglyphics with Kepler's intuitive grasp of the laws of gravity.” Irwin concludes from this association “that Poe's own ‘scientific reading’ of the physical shape of the universe in Eureka is to be understood as an imaginative decipherment of the cosmic hieroglyph” (American Hieroglyphics, 43-44ff.). Irwin (46ff.) also treats at length Humboldt's discussion of Aztec hieroglyphics and Poe's other references to that subject (pt. 2 passim).

Newton: Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the great English scientist whose name Poe also allowed to be remembered correctly through the fictional ages.

guessed: Hodgens observes that here Poe disagrees with Nichol, who says (Lecture 3, p. 2 1) that “guesses are nothing, unless verified” to “the high philosopher.” John Pringle Nichol, Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow, was the author of Views of the Architecture of the Heavens (1837), and Poe's competitor for a lecture audience when Eureka was given as a talk. See Pollin, [page 127:] “Contemporary Reviews of Eureka,” for details. References to Nichol's lectures are to the New York 1848 edition, Views of Astronomy. Seven Lectures Delivered before the Mercantile Library Associations of New York in the Months of January and February, 1848, as transcribed by Oliver Dyer, “Phonographic Writer.”

Poe's letter-writer's attempt to define precisely what enabled Kepler to make a great breakthrough in astronomy is somewhat inaccurate, although Poe shows some familiarity with the history of that science. Kepler had been given by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) the task of creating a conceptual model of the solar system that would fit Tycho's highly accurate empirical data. Tycho, however, believed that the earth was at the center of the system; he also thought in terms of circular orbits for the sun, planets, and satellites. Kepler dutifully worked at the mathematics of model-building for four fruitless years, adding to the circular orbits the circular wheels-upon-wheels of cycles and epicycles that were the traditional astronomical method of handling discrepancies between model and observations. Tycho's death freed Kepler to use a new model with the sun at the center and elliptical orbits. Kepler got his model to work but had no physical understanding of why it worked. Newton would provide the basis for a theoretical account of why Kepler's model worked. So the statement in Eureka is not quite right. Kepler worked for years to find the laws; there was no inspired guessing of a theory because he produced no theory, although no science historian would deny that the model, his visualization, might well have resulted from the combination of induction, deduction, and subliminal association that Poe describes.

Poe is being perhaps excessively fussy in not calling the “route” intuition. The argument, however, occurs so often in his work that one can define what he has in mind. Neither blind data-gathering nor simple guesswork produces truth. An informed and perceptive poetic intellect can perceive truth slantingly, as — to use Poe's analogy — the eye sees a dim star best when one does not look directly at it.

Ram-ishly: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 87).


I care not ... fury: Patrick Quinn calls this a “free paraphrase of the final sentences in the Proem to Book V of Kepler's Harmonice Mundi (1619)” (Edgar Allan Poe, 1399). Margaret Alterton thinks Poe read Kepler's comments in John Drinkwater Bethune's Life of Kepler (1830) in “The Library of Useful Knowledge” (TOM, notes; Collected Works, 3:1319). Alterton quotes Bethune as follows:

What I prophesied two and twenty years ago ... what I firmly believed long before I had seen Ptolemy's “Harmonics.” ... Great is the absolute nature of Harmonics in all its details ... it is found among all celestial notions ... [.]

Nothing holds me. I will indulge in my sacred fury: I will triumph ... I have stolen the golden vases of the Egyptians.

If you forgive me, I rejoice; if you are angry, I can bear it; ... the book is written, to be read either now or by posterity. I care not which — it may well wait a century for a reader, as God has waited six thousand years for an observer. (Origins, 142) [page 128:]

Mabbott observes that Poe might have seen Kepler's “rhapsodic outburst” in a wide variety of places, because it was very well known (Collected Works, 3:1319n11).


unastronomical: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 9).


Solomon Seesaw: Poe alludes to John Parish Robertson's Solomon Seesaw (London, 1839), a humorous novel in three volumes. There are no sonnets in it, although Robertson makes a great deal of dialects, manners, and gestures. The character Solomon Seesaw courts and eventually weds the daughter of a haughty Welsh woman. Robertson concludes, “Thus I bring to a close the not long, but eventful, History of the ‘Ups and Downs of Solomon Seesaw.’ ” Had Seesaw written sonnets, they would likely have been poor. Poe reviewed the novel in the September 1839 Burton's. He also coined a similar name, “Solomon Seadrift,” for a member of his “Folio Club.” See ¶17n and Collected Works, 2:205 (TOM, notes; BRP).


thought of a thought: Mabbott (TOM, notes; Collected Works, 1:405-9) suggests comparison to Poe's poem “To —— (Marie Louise Shew)” (1848), which contains the line “unthought-like thoughts that are the souls of thought” in a context that is, in fact, related to the idea here. “To ——” is a gallantly flattering piece that argues at the start that the poet had recently

[[...]] denied that ever

A thought arose within the human brain

Beyond the utterance of the human tongue.

The name Marie Louise, however, proves the speaker wrong, for the words stir “from out the abysses of his heart, Unthought-like thoughts,” etc. “Unthought-like” is another of Poe's coinages (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 67).


Poe's “quotations” in this paragraph are probably suppositional statements. The last one (“The mind admits ... space”) plainly is.


jump twenty: BRP suggests that Poe was using personal experience. Two published items cite his prowess: He is said to have gone 21 ½ feet (Southern Literary Messenger 2, 9 [Aug. 1836]: 597; Saturday Museum, March 4, 1843). By contemporary standards, 21 ½ feet would be beyond the range of an untrained broad-jumper but attainable by a trained high school athlete. The world record is around twenty-nine feet.


insupportable: See Collected Writings, 2:270, for a guide to Poe on puns.


I cannot conceive .... fancy: BRP suggests that Poe repeated here much of what he wrote elsewhere in “his attempts to define ‘fancy’ and ‘imagination.’ ” Poe's source, BRP continues, was often Coleridge (Collected Writings, 3:16-18; Poe on Nathaniel P. Willis, Broadway Journal, Jan. 18, 1845, and note to it, in Collected Writings, 4:17n, 17/12-36; see also Omans, “ ‘Intellect, Taste,’ ” 137).


inessentiality: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 29). [page 129:]

thinkers-that-they-think: Poe's coinage (ibid., 66). Poe probably echoes Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.”

self-cognizance: Poe's coinage (ibid., 63).


periphrasing: Not listed in most modern dictionaries but not a coinage. The OED gives a 1652 precedent where it appears in the same sentence as “paraphrasing.” It means “expressing something in a roundabout way.”

It is ... nowhere: Blaise Pascal (1623-62), Pensees 2:72 (TOM, notes). The French reads, “C’est une sphère dont le centre est partout, la circonfèrence nulle part.” Pascal's Pensées exists in numerous editions; the wording of the line varies from one to another. We follow M. León Brunschvicg because his edition includes variants we noticed in editions from Poe's era. The wording which Poe quotes is that which Brunschvicg prefers. The Pensées, written “in fragments” and published posthumously, “trace the universal search for God,” (W. F. Trotter, xv). This particular thought has been attributed to sources as old as Empedocles and Hermes Trismegistus and was in common use by the French authors Rabelais, Gerson, St. Bonaventure, and Vincent de Beauvais. Pascal is known to have read it in Lady Gournay's preface to the Essays of Montaigne: “Trismégiste, y est-il dit, appelle la Déité cercle dont le centre est. ... etc” (Pascal, Pensées, ed. Brunschvicg, 348; Pascal, Pensées, [Paris, 1876], 118n).


Nous ... ourselves”: Book 1, ch. i, “On Theology,” sec. i from Jacob Friedrich Bielfeld (1717-70), Les premiers traits de l’érudition universelle, ou analyse abregée de toutes les sciences, des beaux-arts et des belles-lettres (TOM) (Leyden, 1767, and numerous subsequent editions (Collected Writings, 2:6). Mabbott notes that there was a translation by W. Hooper, M.D. (Elements of Universal Erudition), but Poe's English translation was not copied from it. Pollin (Collected Writings, 2:6) shows how extensive is Poe's use of material from Bielfeld, suggests the 1770 London edition as Poe's source, and explains that Bielfeld was a Prussian who wrote in French.


BRP speculates about “a parallel in tone and idea with [the motto of ‘Ligeia’] (Poe-created) and [the] major theme [of that story] (as in Collected Works 2:310; 319-320). Note the contrived dramatic ‘dialoguism’ here and that in the narrative.” His suggestion seems apt. See also Thirty-Two Stories, 54-55, 55n2, 62-63n10; Short Fiction, 64, 79, 103nn1, 2, 104n10. The title, “Ligeia,” reinforces the connection; if man were a part of the godhead, God's will and man's, God's knowledge and man's, would be identical. Poetic inspiration (Ligeia is the spirit of divine inspiration) would be a manifestation of the transcendent oneness.


If ... Omnipotence: Poe added this sentence for stress. Summary of Poe's argument at this point appears in A. H. Quinn (Edgar Allan Poe, 545-46), who repeats Poe: all creation comes from an original particle; multipicity begins in unity; God's spirit (“Nihility”) created matter; only intuition can guide us to such primal truths. Poe's position is close to Emerson's. [page 130:]


Imparticularity: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 29). Used also in paragraph 153.

The discussion in the following passage (paragraphs 45-49) should be compared, as BRP suggests, to the character Vankirk's explanation of “unparticled matter” in the 1844 tale “Mesmeric Revelation” (Collected Works, 3:1029-40, esp. 1033-35; Short Fiction, 139-45, esp. 141-42). Hypnotized at the point of death, Vankirk is able to report back on what he has learned. God is “not spirit.” “Nor is he matter” as mankind understands matter, for “there are gradations of matter of which man knows nothing .... These gradations of matter increase in rarity or fineness, until we arrive at matter unparticled,” which “permeates” and “impels all things. ... This matter is God” (Collected Works, 1030; Short Fiction, 141). Vankirk explains that “the infinitude of littleness in the spaces between [atoms] ... is an absurdity.” There is a point at which matter is so rarified that the spaces “vanish” and the mass coalesces into one imparticled whole, which is at once “matter” and what is called “spirit.” But “spirit” “is ... as fully matter as before” (Collected Works, 1034; Short Fiction, 142).

without ... void”: Poe quotes Genesis 1:2.


unimaginably yet not infinitely minute atoms: Poe may have in mind here Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura (ca. 55 B.C.E.). See, for example, Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, 37-45. Poe was familiar with the works of Lucretius and his predecessor Epicurus. For numerous references to these authors, see the listings in Pollin, Dictionary of Names and Titles, 32, 58; see also ¶171, ¶117n.


uniquity: Perhaps this is merely a more formal way of saying “uniqueness” in the sense of “original one-ness,” a term Poe might have wanted to avoid. See “How to Write a Blackwood Article” (1838): “Put in something about the Supernal Oneness. Don’t say a syllable about the Infernal Twoness” (Thirty-Two Stories, 74-75; Short Fiction, 360; Collected Works, 2:342). Poe made fun of transcendental assumptions (see Thirty-Two Stories, 68ff., esp. 68-69, 70n3, 74n11; Short Fiction, 414-17, esp. nn3,11).

inequidistance: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 29). “But,” BRP adds, “the adjective has a 1677 instance.”

difference of form: For a discussion of the difference of form in atoms in Lucretius, see On the Nature of the Universe (71-78).

rëunition: BRP notes that this word “is apparently a theological coinage of 1635, 1693 and laically in 1893, with Poe's instance ignored by the OED; a convenient term for the gerund ‘reuniting’ or the unsuitable ‘reunion.’ Poe's care in placing the dieresis over the first vowel (also in “rëaction” in paragraph 51, and in numerous other words formed with ‘re’) is his regular custom, q.v. in Collected Writings, 2:xxxviii-xl.”


Relation: Poe's use of the word is very odd. He means “physical relationship” or “physical interaction,” with the added implication “of utmost complexity.” He [page 131:] explains his ad hoc definition of “relation” in paragraph 50, where he speaks of “the utmost possible multiplicity of relation out of the emphatically irrelative One.” The original atom, in plain language, had nothing with which to react. “Divine Will” burst it into bits that could then interact. The point of “utmost possible Relation” is the time of maximum diffusion.


Uni-tendency: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 39).


the impenetrability of matter: It is now understood that it is electromagnetism that keeps one from putting one's finger through a wooden table. But there is no universal “repulsive” force of the sort Poe postulates.


the God: An interesting locution. We think that Poe intends it to embrace “the gods” of polytheistic religions and the “God” of monotheism, the merger implying something like “world-spirit.”

the knot: Poe probably has in mind the Gordian knot, through which Alexander the Great is supposed to have cut.


unempirically: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 39).

no-difference: Poe's coinage (Ibid., 58).

The amount ... composed: Poe's formula (the italicized sentence) would not work for gravity. He is trying to say that the size of the effect is in relationship to the discrepancy between the two objects. There is no formula of this sort outside of Poe (Twarog).


To electricity — ... Thought: Writers in Poe's era were confident that science was on the verge of providing physical and logical proof of spirituality. It is for this reason, for example, that an American literary magazine, Atkinson's Casket (the journal that was to become Graham's, with Poe as editor) in 1838 ran an item describing the work of a French experimenter in applying electricity to human nerves for therapeutic purposes. Such information was of special interest because it suggested material explanation for hitherto intangible phenomena. It is for this reason that Poe in paragraphs 55ff. extrapolates physical fact (one generates electricity by moving one electrically charged unit through the field of another) to universal speculation. If the nervous system runs via electricity, then thought, spirit, or intangible spirituality are likely to be “real,” based on physics; the poetic creation and the physical universe would thus be interlocked and perhaps identical. See Poe's visionary tales, especially “The Power of Words” and other angelic colloquies.

At this stage in Eureka, Poe does not spell out the connection: Electricity (or some other cause) accounts for light, heat, and magnetism and also for spiritual things such as thought. There is, we shall learn, a link between physical fact and intimations of the cosmic unity. Poe would have assumed that readers caught the implications before he made them explicit; educated people all supposed that something of the sort would soon be demonstrated (Levine, Edgar Poe, 135).

The idea had been current for some time. Richard Lovett (1692-1780), for [page 132:] example, had argued in his Electrical Philosopher (Worcester, Eng., 1774) that the “electrical fluid” is the “mechanical Cause that we breathe live and move; the efficient Cause of all motion; the physical Cause of Gravitation, Cohesion, Magnetism, the ebbing and flowing of the Sea, and of all of the other of the most abstruse Phenomena of Nature” (19). Lovett and others who try to provide materialistic explanations of the hitherto ineffable are discussed in Schofield (Mechanism and Materialism, esp. 163, 200, 206). A book published in 1792 in Philadelphia (William Cullen, First Lines of the Practice of Physic) defines the tie from human physiology to the cosmos explicitly by making analogous connections between electricity and “aether”: “As elect matter may exist in bodies ... so the aether in the nervous system exists” (quoted in Schofield, Mechanism and Materialsm [[Materialism]], 206). Twarog adds that the idea was hardy and long-lived; it was to be incorporated into spiritualism later in Poe's century. (The matter is discussed in Brandon, The Spiritualists.)

Poe's suggestion that there may be something more fundamental underlying “light, heat and magnetism” that we might, “for the present,” call electricity (but presumably is not quite that either) is a fine example of his ability to point to areas in which future theorizers would have to work. Poe does not “predict” the current controversial attempt to explain all physical phenomena through “superstrings,” for his next paragraph moves in a different direction. But he did sense the need for totally new kinds of formulations to account for the existence and nature of the universe.


Attraction and Repulsion: Terms introduced into molecular theory by Ruggiero Giuseppi Boscovich (1711-87), who visualized atoms as the “nuclei of attractive and repulsive forces” (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 405n18). BRP points to a prior discussion by Poe of attraction and repulsion in “Pinakidia” (item 151). The item and a meticulous explication appear in Collected Writings, 2:93-94, where Poe's main source is identified as Baron Jacob Bielfeld's Elements of Universal Erudition.

Woodberry and his scientific consultant, Irving Stringham, said of Poe's theory that Poe's “position, that matter came from nihility and consisted of centers of force, had been put forth as a scientific theory by Boscovich in 1758-59, had been widely discussed, and had found its way into American text-books” (Poe, The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Stedman and Woodberry, 9:309). Woodberry's treatment of Eureka seems uncharacteristically offhanded and abrupt; he was plainly impatient with it.


metaphysical schools: BRP writes, “For Poe's disdain for these ‘schools,’ see his scornful coinage ‘metaphysicianism’ ” in Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 31, which guides the reader to instances in Poe's fiction, criticism, and miscellaneous writing.

famous .... experiments: In 1774, Nevil Maskelyne (1732-1811) conducted a famous experiment at Mt. Schehallion, Perthshire, Scotland (not Wales). Theme idea was to measure the deflection from vertical of a pendulum caused by the [page 133:] proximity of the mountain, thus determining the gravitational constant — that is, G — through a formula:

“F = G x M1M2



in which F = force due to gravity, G = gravitational constant, M1 and M2 = the masses of the two objects, and R = the distance between the two objects” (Twarog).

Cavendish: Working independently, as Poe suggests, Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) did similar work with an “apparatus of movable lead balls” (TOM, notes). Cavendish's results were published in 1798.

Bailly: Poe's spelling suggests that he confused the French astronomer J. Sylvain Bailly with the British astronomer Francis Baily (1774-1844), who “laboriously repeated” the Cavendish experiments following 1838 (TOM, notes). But Poe might simply have misspelled the name


Bryant ... “Mythology”: One of Poe's favorite sources was A New System; or, An Analysis of Antient Mythology (1774-76) by Jacob Bryant (1718-1804), a book which, on the basis of linguistic evidence — evidence that was, alas, quickly seen to be unsound — argues that intimate relationships connect a wide range of ancient myths and religions. Though Bryant's Mythology was unconvincing, it was immensely learned and remains fascinating. Poe loved it, although he saw through it, and borrowed from it the symbolic underpinnings of several stories, notably “Metzengerstein” (1832) and “Shadow” (1835). His ambivalence toward Bryant, who seemed to him both imaginatively intriguing and funny, is important for understanding Poe's attitude toward Eureka. This analogical reference to Bryant seems perfectly serious, yet it is plain that Poe was, to some extent, pulling our leg. “Erudite” is ironic. Poe knew exactly how “erudite” poor Bryant had been. Fuller discussion of Poe's use of Bryant, including the passage quoted here, is in Levine and Levine, “History, Myth, Fable,” in which are plentiful examples of Poe's attitude — for instance, the section in “Four Beasts in One — The Homocameleopard” (written by 1833, published 1836) in which Poe concludes a passage based on material derived from Bryant, “what great fools are antiquarians.” In the story “The Purloined Letter” and item 70 of “Pinakidia” Poe uses this quotation, which may be found in volume 2, page 173, of the 1807 London edition of Bryant (Thirty-Two Stories, 267n12; Short Fiction, 249n12). See also paragraph 11 note, Mare Tenebrarum. A list of Poe's sources for “Brevities” in Collected Writings (2:xxiv-xxv) illustrates how heavy is his use of Bryant.

concentralization: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 25), which he repeats in paragraphs 85 and 86.

especiality: “Poe often italicized his own coinages, although sometimes erroneously.” “Concentralization” (see previous item) is credited “solely to Poe by the OED, while ‘especiality’ is cited solely for 1460.” The OED omits Poe's use (BRP) (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 16). Because several italicized words in this passage are [page 134:] common terms (sensitive, perception, and essential), especiality might not indicate that Poe thought it a coinage.

phænomenon: “The spelling ... seems eighteenth century or earlier, an apparent affectation in Poe, for all twelve instances in the OED for the nineteenth century drop the ‘a’ of the diphthong” (BRP). BRP suggests a search of John Herschel as a likely source of Poe's odd spelling, but Herschel consistently spelled, it “phen.” See, for example, the 1830 article “Sound,” which Herschel contributed to the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana: Physical Astronomy. Sound. Light (n.p., n.d.), 820. See as well Outlines of Astronomy (Philadelphia, 1853, but unaltered in spelling from earlier editions), in which “Phenomena” is a page heading and forms of the word, so spelled, appear frequently. See also paragraph 178n, “excentrically.”


wilderness: “A favorite word in Poe. (Pollin [Word Index] gives twenty-nine instances), often indicating [‘]multifold confusion[’] as well as ‘wild places’ ” (BRP).


mote: Nichol (Views of Astronomy, Lecture 3, p. 15) uses the same word in a very similar context (Hodgens typescript).

If I venture .... of their Creator: Thus every action alters the universe. In the poetic visionary fantasy “The Power of Words” (1845), Poe has one angelic spirit explain to another how each spoken word, through the vibrations it creates, literally and physically changes the world; the speaker shows his companion a star that he has spoken into existence (Thirty-Two Stories, 322, see also 318; Short Fiction, 116, see also 107-8; Collected Works, 3:1215). In Eureka and elsewhere, Poe gave spirituality the physical basis that people of his era were sure science would soon provide. See also Levine, Edgar Poe, esp. 155ff.


unthoughtlike thoughts: paragraph 29 and paragraph 29n.

soul-reveries: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 65).


brotherhood: Compare Poe's letter to John Neal (Poe, Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Ostrom, 1:32, dates it Oct.-Nov. 1829): “the beauty of the ... sky and the sunshiny earth — there can be no tie more strong than that of brother for brother ... that they love the same parent” (TOM, notes). This is the letter that begins, “I am young — not yet twenty — am a poet — if deep worship of all beauty can make me one.”

omniprevalent: “This is Poe's coinage, as OED says for this usage; [it is] used also in the Evening Mirror of 1/13/1845. [It appears also] in ‘Marginalia’ item 134 [Collected Writings, 2:234], but spelled with a hyphen, omni-prevalent’ ” (BRP).

One: Poe seems to believe sincerely in ultimate unity and Oneness in the sense the New England Transcendentalists did. Yet as always in Poe, there was ambivalence, for he increasingly came to attack Transcendentalists in print. In “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” his comic satire on magazine article writing, for example, he has “Mr. Blackwood” tell the aspiring incompetent author Psyche Zenobia, “Put in something about the Supernal Oneness. Don’t say a syllable about the Infernal [page 135:] Twoness.” (In early versions of the tale, he aimed satire at Goethe or Coleridge, and in 1845 he turned on The Dial, the Transcendentalist journal. See Collected Works, 2:359-60n21.) Where, then, did Poe stand, if he propounded this unity as eternal truth on one page yet mocked it on another?

this ... One: Poe deliberately breaks grammatical rules for poetic emphasis. His meaning is clear: this absolute, irrelative, unconditional oneness.


sphericity: See Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 37. BRP suggests that the term, with a misspelling (“sphereicity”), was probably borrowed from Herschel (see ¶227n).

radiated: As our list of variants shows, Poe altered this word (and also “irradiate” and “irradiation”) from the published “irradiated.” Both words carry the sense of “sending forth from a center,” but “irradiate” was more commonly used to mean “light up” or “illuminate.” Poe's alterations were in the interest of precision.


Dr. Nichol .... “Geometry”: Poe quotes either the Tribune report of Nichol's talk, which was printed on the morning of Poe's Eureka lecture, February 3 (Conner's idea), or the pamphlet reprint of the Tribune articles (Connor, “Poe and John Nichol”; Nichol, Views of Astronomy, [New York, 1848], Lecture 3, p. 20) (Hodgens typescript; TOM, notes). There are minor variations between the version Hodgens quotes and Poe's quotation. See also Pollin, “Contemporary Reviews of Eureka,” n5. John Pringle Nichol was Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow; Emerson helped arrange his lectures, which were unfortunate competition for Poe, who had hoped to raise enough cash from his talk to bankroll a proposed magazine, “The Stylus.”


“ultimate principles,” ... God?: Pressed by the competition of Nichol and eager to show that he, too, is an authority, Poe both quibbles and deals with Nichol's ideas out of context. Nichol “was talking about discrepancies between the observed and calculated paths of Uranus.” Poe distorts Nichol, too; his Views of the Architecture of the Heavens and the Tribune account of January 31 both make plain that he would agree with what Poe said about the “Volition of God” (Conner, “Poe and John Nichol,” 201-2). There is no doubt that Poe knew much of the Nichol material well; see, for example, his note to paragraph 163.

self-evidence: paragraph 12n.


Magnetism ... Transcendentalism: See our note to paragraph 57. Each of the “isms” Poe lists is concerned in part with unifying spiritual links between one person and another or between any person and the universe. Thus magnetism (or, for other speculators, electricity) was supposed to make possible the phenomenon now labeled as hypnotism. “Mesmerism,” as hypnosis was then called, was felt to be based on “Animal Magnetism.” Swedenborgianism (see Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 77) is the philosophy of the mystic philosopher and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), who was supposed to have been clairvoyant (see Poe's story “The Fall of the House of Usher” [1839], in Collected Works, 2:392-422; Short [page 136:] Fiction, 62, 64-65, 88-98, 104-6; Thirty-Two Stories, 87-103). Ralph Waldo Emerson, the principal voice of New England Transcendentalism, spoke of a “world-spirit” or “Oversoul.” The liberated human spirit was capable of receiving direct inspiration through the Oversoul; it was, moreover, identical with the Oversoul — though Emerson often deliberately maintained an ambiguity about whether the Oversoul was literally “out there,” permeating all things, or only within each person (see, e.g., the opening chapter of Nature [1836]). Poe's sarcasm in regard to “isms” is misleading, for Eureka plainly argues that some unifying spiritual force exists and that, moreover, it is susceptible to scientific analysis and explanation.

Laplace ... attack it: See note to paragraph 22. Beaver, in a different context, quotes a passage from Laplace's Mécanique céleste (1798) in which Laplace came close to what Poe demands (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 406n). Laplace said that if one knew enough about forces and had enough data — in modern terms, if one could quantify the variables — one could, if intelligent enough to analyze them all, derive a formula that would remove uncertainty of past, present, and future. Poe's remark about Laplace's timidity, then, is somewhat unfair.

mathematico-physical: The term derives from Herschel's A Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy, 3:iii:274 (OED).

Leibnitz: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1648-1716) “held substance to be force; [and] space, matter [and] motion ... [to be] phenomenal; he believed in the continuity and development of consciousness” (TOM, notes). Compare Poe's comment about Leibnitz in “Marginalia” item 38: “Leibnitz ... was fond of interweaving even his mathematical, with ethical speculations, making a medley rather to be wondered at than understood” (Collected Writings, 2:146). Poe perhaps thought of Leibnitz in this context because Poe perceived a connection between his (Poe's) speculation about “some principle ... behind the Law of Gravity” and what he termed “Leibnitz’ Law of Continuity.” See Collected Writings (2:190-91, 2:272) for discussions of Poe's — limited — knowledge of Leibnitz.

physico-metaphysical: Poe's coinage, following the pattern of “mathematico-physical” above. See Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 33, for Poe's parallel coinage: “Physico-mental” (BRP).


taken for a madman: Speaking in his own voice in a treatise, which, he says, he wants taken seriously as his most important pronouncement, Poe uses a favorite device from his fiction, in which often a narrator begins by telling the reader that he comes from a family noted for mental instability, or that people have called him mad, or even that “you may think me mad, but I am sane — see how cleverly I can reason?” Such passages offer rationalist readers the option of considering the narrative that follows merely a projection of a disordered mind and therefore credible as psychological fiction: the events may be incredible, but the “projection” is credible. Poe's use of the device here should trouble the reader who want [[wants]] to see Eureka as entirely serious. [page 137:]

I here declare ... thing: Poe's certainty contrasts strikingly to Isaac Newton's great uncertainty. Newton wrote in a letter of February 25, 1692/3 that the idea of one body acting upon another through a vacuum and at great distance “without the mediation of anything else ... is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it” (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 406-7n).


light-particles: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 55).

light-impressions: Poe's coinage (ibid., 54).


particles: In this paragraph, Poe seems to be using a theory of light as particles. In contemporary (2004) science, light-as-particles accounts for certain phenomena, whereas others require light-as-waves. We do not have a single accepted theory to account for the nature of light. There is a summary of the ambiguous state of the issue in Poe's day in Beaver (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 397-403) that connects the uncertainty on this and related matters to Newton's puzzlement.


Conversing: The OED provides several very old (from 1551 on) instances of “conversion” being used to mean “turning around” but does not list “conversing” in that sense. BRP suggests, “Poe seems to be coining a verb from the mathematical term ‘the converse of.’ ”

“concentralization”: Poe provides an ad hoc definition here because his previous use of this coined word in paragraph 65 is different.


slight inspection ... situated: This is a strangely naive statement for Poe to make. When the Milky Way is visible, a “slight inspection” in fact suggests just the opposite; the distribution of stars does look roughly even. Yet Poe is right that the distribution of matter in the universe is, as Twarog puts it, “lumpy,” but seems roughly even. Poe visualizes an analogy between the “radiation” of atoms and heavenly bodies.

irrelation: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 30). Compare De Quincey's 1848 usage cited in the OED: “The instinct of contempt ... towards literature was supported by the irrelation of literature to the state.”


Footnote: Poe's note refers the reader to a page and passage in Tales by Edgar A. Poe. At that point in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” his detective (not Poe himself) explains that the Paris police have failed to solve a double murder because they “have fallen into the gross but common error of confounding the unusual with the abstruse. But it is by these deviations from the plane of the ordinary, that reason feels its way, if at all, in its search for the true.” It was what was most bizarre about the case that made solving it easiest for Dupin. He says that the question to ask is not “ ‘what has occurred’ ” but rather “ ‘what has occurred that has never occurred before.’ In fact,” Dupin concludes, “the facility with which I shall arrive, or have arrived, at the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ratio of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police.” Citing his fictitious character [page 138:] in this context illustrates, first, the close ties of Eureka to the fiction and, second, Poe's incurable love of playing games as he wrote. The cross-reference is discussed in Collected Works, 2:573n33; see also Poe's cross-reference from “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (ibid., 3:737).


I do not say: Compare the conclusion of Thoreau's Walden (1854): “I do not say that John or Jonathan will realize all this .... The sun is but a morning star” (266). One should not claim that Thoreau had read Eureka or that there is a common source, although both are quite possible. But the similarities suggest another way in which Eureka is a transcendentalist document. There is even a surprising amount of shared rhetoric. See paragraph 97 for another example or examine Walden just five paragraphs before the passage quoted, where Thoreau uses the rare word tintinnabulum, suggesting again a tie to Poe, who coined “tintinnabulation” in his poem “The Bells.”

I go on to say .... Nature: BRP suggests that “the word ‘say’ plus the anaphora in the verbs show the lecture-style origin of the treatise.”


ray-streams: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 61).


Read in isolation, this passage could be taken as Poe's anticipation of the current (2004) investigation of subatomic physics; he could be said to be talking about the “strong force” and the “weak force.” He is not. He is constructing a model, analyzing what one might see if one could freeze the diffusing process at several stages and examine the distribution of “atoms.” See paragraph 110 for further apparent but misleading evidence of Poe's prescience.


I ... expect to find, lurking ... the secret: See paragraph 90n. Compare the last paragraph of the chapter entitled “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Thoreau's Walden, which is also about searching intuitively for truths buried “somewhere hereabouts” and rhetorically overlaps the passage in Eureka.


strongest of forces: Poe is not predicting the more recent subatomic physics (¶¶93-95n)


they can: Poe's intention is “can they.”

satisfactions: BRP notes that “it is odd to find here the language of Bentham's Utilitarianism (the maximum of satisfactions or pleasures)” applied to atoms. Such anthropomorphic language, however, is consistent with Poe's general philosophic scheme, for he is arguing, after all, that matter and spirit are one and that the laws of physics are the will of God.


exactly ... purposes: BRP notes Poe's discussion of “the great idiosyncrasy in the Divine system of adaptation,” namely, “the complete mutuality of adaptation.” Poe writes:

In Divine constructions, the object is either object or purpose, as we choose to regard it, while the purpose is either purpose or object; so that we can never (abstractedly, without concretion — without reference to facts of the moment) [page 139:] decide which is which. For secondary example: — In polar climates, the human frame, to maintain its due caloric, requires, for combustion in the stomach, the most highly ammoniac food, such as train oil. Again: — In polar climates, the sole food afforded man is the oil of abundant seals and whales. Now, whether is oil at hand because imperatively demanded? — or whether it is the only thing demanded because the only thing to be obtained? It is impossible to say. There is an absolute reciprocity of adaptation, for which we seek in vain among the works of man. (“Marginalia,” item 18, in Collected Writings, 2:127-28)

Poe argues that his view of “Divine ... adaptation” is absent from the “Bridgewater Treatises” (1833-40, see ¶133n). “Marginalia” item 18 is the one that ends with the famous statement “The Universe is a Plot of God.” The connection with Eureka, then, is extremely likely.


surface: As the list of textual variants shows, Poe changed the printed “circumference” to “surface.” The latter is preferable because Poe's perception is three-dimensional; he envisions a sphere, not a circle.


“In the beginning”: Poe's quotation from Genesis starts a paragraph on the sustained effects of God's creation (“continuous Volition”). Compare the usual deistic model of a clockwork universe set in motion by God.

sub-principle”: BRP notes Poe's fondness for the qualifying prefix sub. See Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 37, which includes “sub-sub-editor.” One thinks of Melville's “poor devil of a Sub-Sub” librarian in the “Extracts” section of Moby-Dick; this must have been a popular gag.




The order of the notes is determined by the order in which they appear in the section of notes. In a few cases, adhereing to that order makes the note tags appear to be out of order, such as 62.1, 62.2 and 63.3.

The Levines are inconsistent in their use of the word “paragraph” and the ¶ symbol.



[S:1 - SSLER, 2004] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - EAP: Eureka (S. and S. Levine) (Notes)