Text: Stuart and Susan Levine, “Notes (Sections 05-09),” The Collected Writings of Edgar Allan PoeEAP: Eureka (2004), pp. 139-167 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 139, continued:]


To explain: — .... — unless: Poe's heavy use of dashes (seventeen in this paragraph alone, one of which is very much oversize) may lead readers to question his seriousness, for he had written satirically on the subject in a tale about a hack writer so full of self-importance that he considers calling his memoirs “Memoranda to serve for the Literary History of America.” At the conclusion, the literary hack gives one reason for his “success”: “The style! — that was the thing. I caught it from Fatquack — whizz!fizz! — and I am giving you a specimen of it now.” (See “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.” [1844], in Thirty-Two Stories, 284-302, Short Fiction, 353-54, 422-25; and Collected Works, 3:1124-48.) It is, of course, possible that Poe slipped into the rather shrill tone that so many dashes produce here for reasons other than stylistic whimsey, but there is other evidence that “Thingum Bob” was on his mind as he wrote Eureka (see ¶149n). For Poe on the “proper” use of the dash, see “Marginalia” item 191 (Collected Writings, 2:325-27). To BRP, dashes used this way also suggest oral presentation, attesting to the origin of Eureka as a lecture (see ¶90n). An enlightening discussion of Poe's more serious reasons for using dashes in Eureka appears in Dayan, Fables of Mind.


See paragraphs 94-96. [page 140:]


The Body ... hand: In the February 1836 Southern Literary Messenger, Poe favorably reviewed Peter Mark Roget's Animal and Vegetable Psychology, Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (Complete Works, 8:206-11). To brief himself on the series of books of which Roget's formed a part, he read an anonymous article in the Quarterly Review (vol. 50, Oct. 1833-Jan. 1834), “The Universe and Its Author” (St. Armand), in which appears this suggestive passage: “[T]he time appears to have newly arrived, when science and conviction ought to walk hand in hand with faith.” The context of the passage suggests a close tie to Eureka, because the author argues that science is about to confirm faith. There is, however, a notable difference; the Quarterly Review article is somewhat more religiously literal than is Eureka. St. Armand argues that the eight “Bridgewater Treatises” provided much of the philosophical frame for Eureka, that, indeed, Eureka can be understood as “an uncommissioned ninth Bridgewater Thesis.” (“In 1829 the Rev. Francis Henry, Eighth Earl of Bridgewater, left £8,000 pounds to the British Royal Society for the purpose of commissioning ... a book ‘On the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation’ ” [St. Armand, “Seemingly Intuitive Leaps,” 9]. Eight books, not just one, resulted. Mark Twain had the final word on the matter in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, wherein “the rightful Duke of Bridgewater” is transmuted into “Bilgewater.”) For more on Poe's use of these books, see ¶198nn ff. Interestingly, a section in J. S. Mill's A System of Logic, which Poe used in Eureka, also mentions the “Bridgewater Treatise” [sic]. See notes to paragraphs 13, 17, and 18. Poe's “Marginalia” item 18 is on the failure of the Bridgewater Treatises to notice “the great idiosyncrasy in the Divine system of adaptation,” namely, “the complete mutuality of adaptation.” A note to that item traces repetitions of Poe's remarks in different contexts (Collected Writings, 2:127-28).

BRP suggests comparing “The Body and The Soul” as walking hand in hand with “I roamed with my Soul” in line 12 of Poe's poem “Ulalume” (1847) (Collected Works, 1:416).


“Cosmogony”: The term refers to the study of the origin of the universe. (It is contrasted to “cosmology,” which is the study of philosophical constructs dealing with laws governing the universe.) Laplace, in fact, did not concern himself with such basic questions as why matter was present to begin with, matter, that is, to form the star from which his model generates the rest of the solar system. Poe quibbles because his argument in Eureka includes the history of matter itself.

Laplace: In Exposition du système du monde (1796) Pierre Simon, Marquis de Laplace (see ¶77n) presented the “Nebular Hypothesis,” which sought “to give scientific form to a theory originally propounded by Swedenborg and Kant.” Laplace's Mécanique analytique (1799-1825) helped provide incontrovertible mathematical proof of Newton's gravitational hypothesis (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 408n).


Poe is saying that if one accepts the law of gravity, Laplace's work is correct. Laplace visualized a vast gas cloud. As it collapsed, it rotated faster. (This model [page 141:] “works” — visualize an ice skater spinning. Skaters spin faster as they concentrate their bodies at the center of a spin, spreading their limbs and bending their bodies to slow.) Two principles explain the phenomenon: the conservation of angular momentum and gravity. The paragraphs that follow are Poe's summary of Laplace. Laplace figured that as the sun collapsed and accelerated, the spinning would leave behind material in the shape of a disk from which planets would eventually form.

Laplace's scheme is felt today to be basically correct, although he ignored too many details for it to work mathematically. The sun, for instance, is not spinning nearly fast enough to match Laplace's visualization.

In a letter to Charles F. Hoffman of September 20, 1848, Poe wrote that Eureka gave “Laplace's theory in full” and spoke of his “firm conviction of its absolute truth at all points.” He next pointed out — correctly — that his work dealt with a broader subject: “The ground covered by the great French astronomer compares with that covered by my theory, as a bubble compares with the ocean on which it floats” (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 408; Poe, Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Ostrom, 2:379-82, esp. 380). Poe's letter reacts to misrepresentations in Hoffman's review of Eureka.


The mass .... the mass: Nichol (Views of Astronomy, Lecture 5, p. 29) contains a passage very close to this (Hodgens typescript). Poe does not quote; perhaps he paraphrases, or both follow a common source. Hodgens notes that Nichol himself leans here on his own book, The Views of the Architecture of the Heavens.


non-increasing: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 32).

— just as ... presented: another passage very close to Nichol (Views of Astronomy, Lecture 5, p. 30) and, like the one in paragraph 137, dependent in turn on Nichol's Views of the Architecture of the Heavens (Hodgens typescript).

caoutchouc: rubber.


and Poe's handwritten note to it: Poe tried to make his work very timely. Neptune had only been discovered in 1846. Nichol gave it a good deal of attention in his lecture course; in the fifth lecture, he said that it had two moons. So had said also the May 1848 Fraser's Magazine (TOM, notes). (Yet the second moon, Nereid, was not discovered until 1949.) Triton should have caused Poe some difficulty in his amplification of Laplace's model, for it moves in a direction opposite to the orbital direction of the planet around the sun. The second moon mentioned in Nichol is probably the result of an unconfirmed sighting. Triton, the innermost moon, was discovered in 1846. Perhaps Nichol confused Neptune with Uranus, which was known to have two moons that went in the “right” direction. Partial rings of Neptune were not discovered until 1983. Information available in 1848 was somewhat ambiguous. Such details are not basic, however, to the theory of the formation of the solar system that Poe was illustrating.


spherification: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 37) [page 142:]


As of 2002, planets and moons in the solar system are: Mercury, none; Venus, none; Earth, one moon; Mars, two moons (Deimos and Phobus); Jupiter, thirty-nine moons, most of them retrograde; there are also rings. Saturn has twenty-eight moons, at least one retrograde, in addition to rings; Uranus has twenty-one moons, five retrograde; and Neptune has eight moons, one retrograde, and more are likely. Pluto, not discovered until 1930, has one moon (Charon).


Uranus: Poe has the right answer; see his note below. Uranus is tilted. It turns on its axis like other planets, but we see it almost pole-on. Its satellites, then, spin in that odd orbital plane. There is thus a relationship between the way a planet spins and the way its moons do; it tells the observer that the moons were not “captured” but rather thrown off during the planet's own formation. Poe might be leaning on Nichol here. As Hodgens (typescript) and BRP note, the same information and argument appear in Lecture 5 (p. 27) of Nichol's Views of Astronomy.

bouleversement (in Poe's note): The French word means “somersault.” The note is essentially correct. Poe's alteration (in the 1848 text the word was inclination) might be an evasion. A little unsure of himself, he perhaps substituted a word that is more obscure, less precise (“inclination” is just right) and has humorous associations for him. It is in his 1835 burlesque tale “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” (Collected Writings, 1:422, 1:486n), which deals with a balloon voyage to the moon. See also his use of it in “The Literary Life of Thin-gum Bob, Esq.” (Thirty-Two Stories, 301; Short Fiction, 387, 425, Collected Works, 3:1144). Poe seems to have had that story in mind as he wrote this portion of Eureka; see our note to paragraph 122.


the finger of Deity itself: If one examined only one area of the universe, there would be no way to account for angular momentum without postulating some sort of “finger of God” to get “tangential velocity” started. In the larger view, apparent angular momentum in one sector will be counterbalanced by counteracting momentum far off. See note to paragraph 153, “rotation ... aggregation.”


Poe mocks the idea of divine intervention but retains it in the “one primary exercise of the Divine volition,” a view logically compatible with, although different in tone from, the familiar idea that when physics progresses far enough, “God will turn out to be a formula.” Poe intends more, as the next sentence explains, for his God is also all matter. God not only wills the primal particle into expansion but also is the particle. Thus Poe reconciles spirit with matter, or, to put it differently, tries to provide a physics for spirituality. God “became all things at once,” so all parts of the universe are God. The beliefs of occultists and adherents of numerous Oriental, tribal, and mystical religions approximate this; often for such believers the goal of human life is attainment of full realization of one's own divinity. This is conceivable because one's matter is also the matter of the godhead. Related concepts in eastern religious thought attracted Transcendental writers such as Emerson to the Orient. Poe is philosophically often close to the Transcendentalists he professed to scorn; his ideas are spelled out [page 143:] explicitly in his fiction, although sometimes with humor and even satiric undercutting of the ideas themselves. Eureka retains both doctrine and satire. For extended discussion of Poe's paradoxical attitudes toward Transcendentalism, see Levine, Edgar Poe, 151-68, esp. 162. For the source of Poe's phrase “the finger of God,” see Luke 11:20.


Nature ... Nature: BRP points to the phrase in the letter from Henry St. John, Viscount of Bolingbroke (1687-1751) to Alexander Pope: “One follows Nature and Nature's God; that is, he follows God in his works and in his word.” One thinks also of Pope's “Epitaphs Intended for Sir Isaac Newton” (1730): “Nature, and Nature's laws lay hid in night: / God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.” Poe would have known it from Jefferson, for the Declaration of Independence (1776) speaks of “the laws of nature and of Nature's God.”


rotation ... aggregation: Poe's scheme is not too far removed from one widely believed in 2002. If the “Big Bang” theory of how the universe began is correct, it is assumed that turbulence would be the source of angular momentum. The analogy given by astronomy teachers is the behavior of water going downstream. Angular momentum is the result of the interaction of the pressure of the gas cloud against its own gravitational pull. The unevenness (“lumpy-ness”) of the gas cloud would be sufficient to start the whirling.

imparticularity: See paragraph 45.


that our Moon is self-luminous: The perils of doing astronomy by what Professor Hill in The Music Man called the “Think System.” The moon is not luminous. Poe, however, is probably just repeating Nichol, who said in Views of Astronomy, Lecture 7, p. 40, that the moon gives off light of its own (TOM, notes; Hodgens typescript). See also Pollin (Poe: Creator of Words, 63), who lists “self-luminous” as Poe's coinage.

total eclipse: During a lunar eclipse, the earth blocks the sun. The moon appears reddish at such times, because some light coming through the earth's atmosphere does get to the moon.

flashes: There are no “flashes” during a lunar eclipse. Reports of them might be the result of observer error. Or Poe might have his eclipses confused. When there is a solar eclipse (the moon between earth and sun), there is a phenomenon called “Bailey's beads,” bright “beads” of light visible at the moment the light of the reemerging sun breaks through the rough edges of the lunar landscape.

Auroras: These are believed to be the result of the interaction of solar discharges (sunspots) with atmosphere. The moon does not have them.


Auroras: There are auroras on Venus because it has an atmosphere. BRP suggests comparison with Poe's poem “Ulalume” (1847): “Astarte's bediamonded crescent, / Distinct with its duplicate horn” (Collected Works, 1:417, 11:37-38). “Astarte” is Venus; see also ibid., 1:422. [page 144:]


Melville islands ... vegetation: Melville Island is in the Timor Sea, sixteen miles off the northwestern coast of Australia. Beaver (409) speculates that the name may have come to Poe because of the popularity of Herman Melville's two “ultra-tropical” novels of South Seas adventure, Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847) (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 409). Poe's immediate source, however, is the newspaper account of Nichol's seventh lecture, in which he speaks of “ultra-tropical vegetation” on Melville and Bathurst islands (TOM, notes). Hodgens notes that Poe here repeats an error in Nichol (Lecture 7, p. 40): “Nichol is referring to Melville Island, not islands” (Hodgens typescript).

whirling-off: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 69).


In speaking: The book Eureka retains many characteristics of Poe's lecture on “The Universe,” which, in BRP's phrase, it “closely represents.” See the Introduction for contemporary newspaper accounts of what Poe said.


the succession of animals on the Earth: Loosely evolutionary ideas were common among educated people in the half century before Charles Darwin. Emerson, for example, used evolution as an example of an “obvious” relationship in chapter 5 of Nature (1836). He speaks of “resemblances ... in things whose analogy is obvious, as when we detect the type of the human hand in the flipper of the fossil saurus.” The idea that evolution, whatever its cause, may produce not only new but also “better” creatures and people is interesting to encounter in Poe, who in general scoffed at the meliorist assumptions of most intellectuals of his era. Poe's story “Mellonta Tauta” heavily overlaps Eureka; Poe used a good deal of the same prose in both pieces. But “Mellonta Tauta” mocks the idea of progress of any sort. Pundita, its narrator, is contemptuous of the nineteenth century, but her own age, far in the future, is no wiser. A passage in Nichol (Views of Astronomy, Lecture 6, pp. 36-37) is a likely source for the idea that evolution on Earth is tied to the development of the solar system, though Poe carried the idea further (Hodgens typscript). Hodgens notes, correctly, that not many stages are available in Poe's scheme: “There were just two discharges after Earth's — those of Venus and Mercury.” BRP adds “that improvement here comes through solar and planetary changes, not man's technological advances.”

vitalic: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 40). BRP adds, “The seeming coinage ... [here and in paragraph 214], ascribed to Poe by the OED, must reflect the widespread school of Vitalism, of French origin in the late eighteenth century, overturned in the next century (see “Physiology,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed., 21:554).


Comte: Auguste Comte (1798-1857). His Traite d’astronomie populaire was published in Paris in 1845. Beaver (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, 409) thinks that Poe knew Compte's Cours de philosophie positive (1830-42) through Sir David Brewster's review in 1838 of a two-volume Paris edition (1830-35) in the Edinburgh Review. A serious and solid essay, this is the lead article in the July 1838 issue (36:271-308). It covers covers the sorts of connections between physical [page 145:] science and worldview with which Poe is concerned. See esp. 297f., where Brewster shows Comte summarizing Laplace and suggesting yet another way of verifying his hypothesis.


the Cloud-Land of Metaphysics: BRP notices that Poe uses the same phrase in “The Rationale of Verse” (para. 2). BRP also recalls “Cloudland” in Coleridge. In “Fancy in Nubibus, or the Poet in the Clouds” (1817), Coleridge wrote of making “the shifting clouds be what you please” (l. 3) in the evening sky, and of imagining “a traveller go / From mount to mount through Cloudland, gorgeous land!” (l. 9) (The Complete Poetical Works, ed. E. H. Coleridge, 1:435). See also Collected Writings, 2:66 and 2:255 (“Pinakidia,” item 100, and “Marginalia,” item 147) for a possible tie to Aristophanes’ “The Clouds.” Each deals with the question of whether “The Clouds” contained rhyme.


unfounded opinion ... overthrown: Poe is correct; indeed, Laplace was not only challenged but actually fell into disfavor later in the nineteenth century (Kaufmann, Exploration of the Solar System, 516).

the large telescope of Cincinnati: “This magnificent telescope, one of the largest and most perfect in the world, was made at the Frauenhofer Institute, Munich, by Mssrs. Mertz & Mahler.” Provided with a clockwork mechanism that a single observer could operate, it weighed about 2,500 pounds, had a focal length of roughly 17 1/2 feet, an object-glass 12 inches diameter, and a magnifying power of from 100 to 1,400 x. The tone of contemporary accounts suggests why Poe could assume his listeners or readers would know of it; it was considered one of the marvels of the age: “This stupendous instrument, mounted on a stone pedestal of great strength and graceful figure, rises, when directed at the zenith, some 20 feet above the floor of the room in which it is located.” The whole was located on a high hill above the Ohio River in a building whose walls were on wheels mounted on railroad tracks for easy movement. (Cist, Sketches and Statistics, 108.)

Lord Rosse: William Parsons, Earl of Rosse (1800-1867), was one of the first to see that there were other galaxies. His telescope had great resolution. Rosse's discoveries did, in fact, cause controversy for a century (see ¶213 and its notes). Details on Poe's probable source for this information and on his other use of it are in Collected Writings, 1:497-98.

the appearance of nebulosity: At this stage of astronomical history, “nebulæ” meant any fuzzy-looking object. A modern definition is “any non-point source of light in the sky” (Twarog).

Twarog explains that distance is critical. The debate in that era was “Are all galaxies the same sort of object?” Rosse could see that some nearby galaxies were just clusters of stars and guessed that distant fuzzy objects with extended spiral features were galaxies, too. Rosse had seen stars in M51 and in the nebula in Orion. That nebula does not have a well-defined shape: One sees an extended gas cloud in which some stars are embedded. Rosse had no way to resolve stars [page 146:] in extra-galactic nebulæ. The “Orion nebulosity” today refers to the gas surrounding the stars; any blobs Rosse saw were the star-clusters. Stars were not resolved in extra-galactic nebulæ until the twentieth century. Poe, then, merely repeats an error of his age, that better telescopes would show nebulæ to be galaxies.

nebulists: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 32).

the great “nebula” ... stars: The object Poe names was not one that better telescopes could resolve into a “simple collection of stars.” It was obviously a gas cloud, although there are some stars associated with it. Better telescopes have since enabled astronomers to determine that some “fuzzy objects” are gas clouds, some are, in fact, galaxies, and others are a mixture of both.

letter (in the note): Poe refers apparently to Nichol's book, Views of the Architecture of the Heavens, the subtitle of which is In a Series of Letters to a Lady. The first American edition, “Republished from the last London and Edinburgh editions to which has [sic] been added notes and a glossary &c by the American Publishers,” appeared in New York (A. H. Chapin & Co.) in 1840.

Dr. N. ... hypothetical (in the note): Hodgens (typscript) locates the passage in Nichol's Lecture 5 (Views of Astronomy, p. 29): “The audience will perceive that these [Laplace's] are two great hypotheses, but we must begin with hypotheses. No calculation or deduction can ever enable the human race to track back our System to its origin. This being the case I would have the audience observe that LAPLACE'S system rests entirely upon hypothesis. It is a hypothetical Cosmogony.”

the late experiments of Comte (in the note): Comte worked out a mathematical means to verify Laplace's theory of how the solar system was formed. As Brewster's review of Comte (see ¶161n) put it, the question to be answered was “what was the duration of the rotation of the sun when the mathematical limit of his [the sun's] atmosphere extended to the different planets?” Comte tried his equation first on the relationship of the earth and moon. It worked; the “periodic time” of the moon “agrees within less than the tenth of a day with the duration which the revolution of the earth ought to have had at the time when the lunar distance formed the limit of our atmosphere” (299).

Maskelyne (in the note): See paragraph 62n.


the primary processes of Creation: Astronomers today do, in fact, attempt to observe at least the early results of “the primary processes” of creation; echoes of the “Big Bang” still resonate. Data gathered from a great distance are data from greatest antiquity, a principle Poe fully understands — see, for instance, paragraph 167, in which he says that the “processes” we observe today are “but the phantoms of processes completed long in the Past.” Attempts to reconstruct the physics and chemistry of the new universe use such data.

nebulosity: First recorded with this meaning in Herschel's Astronomy (l833) (BRP; OED). Poe repeats it in paragraph 168. [page 147:]

hoary ... age: Poe again echoes his own fiction. In “MS. Found in a Bottle,” a very early (1833) tale (Thirty-Two Stories, 16-25; Short Fiction, 622, 623-29, 630-31; Collected Works, 2:143), he speaks of the sailors on board a ghost ship (he has in mind the Flying Dutchman) as follows: “They all bore about them the marks of a hoary old age.” The connection in his mind is the projection of the past into the present. The Dutchman is doomed to sail for eternity.


Mass-constitutive: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 56).


rendering ... Cæsar's: Matthew 22:21 (BRP).


valid objections ... establish: Poe is correct. For Laplace's system to work, matter must be distributed in lumps rather than evenly. Laplace postulates the lumpiness but does not attempt to account for it; he merely “goes from there” (Twarog). That is not Laplace's error; it is more accurate to say, as Poe implies, that Laplace was not particularly concerned with the problem.


Epicurean atoms: The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.) was a follower of Democritus in the matter of atoms. How close Eureka is to Poe's fiction is suggested by the passage in which Epicurus is mentioned in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) (Thirty-Two Stories, 38-39n11; Short Fiction, 181, 245n9; Collected Works, 2:535), a passage, incidentally, in which Poe's detective, Dupin, is explaining how the mind proceeds via associations — exactly the process that for Poe connects the nebula in Orion with atomism and with the nebular cosmogony of Laplace. “I knew,” Dupin says to the narrator, “that you could not say to yourself ‘stereotomy’ without being brought to think of atomies, and thus of the theories of Epicurius; and since ... I mentioned to you how ... the vague guesses of that noble Greek had met with confirmation in the late nebular cosmogony, I felt that you could not avoid casting your eyes upward to the great nebula in Orion.” See also the note to paragraph 49.

inacumen: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 29).


the ring ... distances: Poe's imaginative elaboration of Laplace alters Laplace, who never said that all the rings existed at once as rings. Indeed, Laplace never explained how planets condensed from rings at all. Poe here tries to invent a physical mechanism to explain what Laplace never tackled. Poe's theory is “pure numerology” (Twarog). See also “Postscript to a Letter about ‘Eureka,’ ” note to paragraph 2.


seventeen planets: Poe counts the known planets and asteroids. See notes on Poe's revisions of Eureka: the 1848 edition had sixteen.

a number ... systems: BRP writes, “G. P. Kuiper authoritatively postulated that through the contracting nebulosities of all the galaxies, 1 out of 100 form planetary systems like ours, numbering 109 (Ency. Brit., 1960, 6:501, ‘Cosmogony’).” For poetic accounts of the creation of planets, see the last stanza of Poe's poem “Ulalume” (1847) (Collected Works, 1:418-19) or “The Power of Words” (1845) (Thirty-Two Stories, 318-22; Short Fiction, 114-16; Collected Works, 3:1211-15). [page 148:]

(note): A similar thought appears in Nichol, Views of Astronomy, Lecture 5, p. 28 (Hodgens typescript).


Titanic: An unusual and clever use of the word. As the Titans were primal giants in Greek mythology, so these atoms are a primal form of cosmic matter.

Mελλοντα ταυτα: “Those things that are to be,” or, as Poe translated it, “These things are in the future.” (The Greek in Eureka was printed without accents.) Poe quotes the reply of the messenger to Creon at the end of Sophocles’ Antigone (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words). Poe used the quotation in two stories: as a motto added to the 1845 version of his apocalyptic tale “The Colloquy of Monos and Una” and as the title of his satiric fantasy about the distant future, “Mellonta Tauta.” Since large portions of “Mellonta Tauta” are shared with Eureka (see notes ¶11ff.), Poe's use of the Greek quotation again here once more closely links Eureka with his fiction (see also ¶160n). It is likely that Poe's immediate source was Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Ernest Maltravers (1837) (TOM, notes), where it appears as a motto for Book 9: “These things are in the Future.” See Collected Writings, 2:180; 2:257, 2:259, 2:378, for Poe's other uses of this book and the index to that volume for other levies on Bulwer.


unequably, with clusters: See note to paragraph 153 and also paragraph 50. Poe's universe contracts (see ¶174); modern astronomers believe it expands. In both, however, matter is distributed somewhat unevenly.


We have no reason ... “nebulæ”: Poe's statement is correct and matches the dominant theory that the earth's location in the universe is not “special,” that data about our environment are probably average. There is a theological issue here, of course, the “Copernican principle” that once one moves man from the center of the universe, all other religious accounts of reality will collapse as well.


we must picture .... capital Y: Poe follows Humboldt's Cosmos closely here: “The stellar milky way ... constitutes ... an annulus, that is to say an independent zone, somewhat remote from our lenticular-shaped starry stratum, and similar to Saturn's ring. ... Our planetary system lies in an eccentric [“excentric” in Maddison, “Poe's Eureka; see “excentrically” below] direction nearer to the region of the Cross than to the diametrically opposite point, Cassiopeia.” (Humboldt, Cosmos [1849 ed.], 1, 141. We follow the 1849 London edition translated by Elise C. Otté. See notes to paragraphs 9 and 231, and esp. 232.) Maddison refers to the same edition but omits the ellipsis after “constitutes,” spells “annulus” with one n, and spells “eccentric” as “excentric,” probably confused by Poe's spelling. (TOM, notes, following Carol Hopkins Maddison). As a matter of fact, Humboldt's view was advanced for the date; our location was not known to be near the edge of the galaxy until 1917. Poe's description of the shape of the galaxy seems reasonably close to the modern image of a spiral. Spiral galaxies are disks (lenticular objects) that have, superimposed on them, spiral structure. A modern composite picture of the galaxy (Berman and Evans, Exploring the Cosmos, 334-35) shows dark regions caused by interstellar dust (dust-lanes in the [page 149:] spiral arms of the galaxy). Poe's “gash” is such a dark region. A diagram clarifies the relationship between the Y Poe visualizes, the spiral, and lenticular shape. Imagine a “top view” of a galaxy shaped like Saturn:

Eureka figure 2

Although Poe was not above padding a work with extraneous information culled from reference works, the passage is germane: in it, he is addressing the issue of the roughly equal distribution of matter.

star-island: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 87).

excentrically: Pollin (Word Index) shows that Poe usually spelled this work [[word]] eccentrically, and we initially thought to change it to conform with his usual practice. BRP suggested, however, that Poe might have been following a source, possibly Rees's Cyclopaedia (Abraham Rees, Cyclopaedia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literatures [London, 1802-19]). In the portions of Rees we examined, BRP's surmise was correct. Rees consistently spells the word “exc.” See, for example, the article “Steam Engine,” in the 1972 facsimile reprinting of only the entries on engineering and manufacturing topics, Neil Cossons, ed., Rees's Manufacturing Industry. Another source, John F. W. Herschel, also was in the habit of using “exc”; we noticed it in his Outlines of Astronomy.


Maddison says that Poe's language here again is close to that of Humboldt, and points to Cosmos (1:72-73) in the London, 1845 edition (see notes to ¶178n and ¶232). Here, for comparison, is a portion of the passage from Cosmos. Like Poe's, it deals with visualizing earth's position in the Milky Way. Plainly, however, Poe was not copying. See also paragraph 209 and note.

In the direction of the longer axis, where the stars lie behind one another, the more remote ones appear closely crowded together, united, as it were, by a milky-white radiance, or luminous vapour, and are perspectively grouped, encircling as in a zone the visible vault of heaven. This narrow and branched [page 150:] girdle, studded with radiant light, and here and there interrupted by dark spots, deviates only by a few degrees from forming a perfect large circle round the concave sphere of heaven, owing to our being near the centre of the large starry cluster, and almost on the plane of the Milky Way. If our planetary system were far outside this cluster, the Milky Way would appear to telescopic vision as a ring, and at a still greater distance as a resolvable discoidal nebula.

Humboldt is correct that the Milky Way looks equally bright in all directions (even though our sun is near the edge of its ring). Humboldt (and Poe) did not know that this is merely because interstellar dust prevents us from seeing more than about a thousand parsecs in any direction in the plane of the galaxy. With only that range of vision, one gets the notion that one is in the center; one cannot see either to the near edge or to the distant edge. Instead, one sees a thousand parsecs of stars in either direction. Our galaxy is nearly ten times larger than nineteenth-century astronomers could envisage, and our sun is nearer to the edge than Humboldt thought. A chart to aid in visualizing the matter appears on page 3 of Mihalas and Binney, Galactic Astronomy. For Poe's earlier knowledge of Humboldt, see paragraph 9n and his story “Hans Pfaall” (see ¶149n), especially Collected Writings, (1:402, 1:474, 26e). BRP thinks that “lenticular shaped” comes from Herschel, Treatise on Astronomy, para. 626. See also the note to paragraph 178.


space- ... power: BRP notes that although he ascribed it as a coinage to Poe (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 65), he now finds that it has “another significant paternity. The OED lists it for the 1799 Philosophical Transactions, but more to the present point, it returned to Poe's texts in 1846, after its use in ‘Hans Pfaall,’ through the intermediation of a third popularizing text by Thomas Dick, his Practical Astronomer (England, 1845; Harpers, 1846).” Poe was relying on John Herschel's Treatise on Astronomy, an often-reprinted text of 1833 (America, 1834). Dick's several uses (Christian Philosopher, 298, 299, 302) brought it to Poe's awareness for “The Literati” papers and Eureka. It also helps prove that Poe relied on the third of Dick's science-made-easy texts (see note to ¶198).


Were the succession. ... is so: Poe gives an accurate statement of what astronomers call “Olbers’ paradox,” referring to a theory argued by Heinrich Olbers in 1823: if the universe were infinite in extent, the night sky should be white. At any point at which we looked there would be at least one star, so that there would be no black background anywhere. A passage in Nichol, Views of Astronomy, Lecture 1, pp. 6-7, makes the same point (Hodgens typescript). But, as Poe says, even if the universe were infinite in size, we would only see light that has had time to reach us. Modern cosmology uses fifteen billion years as a rough estimate of the age of the universe, so were there stars more than fifteen billion light-years away, people on earth would not be able to see them. The sky would still seem black. Because we conceive of the universe as finite because of the curvature space, however, the question is academic at present (Twarog). [page 151:]


Erebus: Mt. Erebus, an active Antarctic volcano discovered and named in 1841 by Sir James Clark Ross, whose explorations were reported in an Edinburgh Review article mentioned by Poe (Complete Works, 8:87). Poe alludes to it in his poem “Ulalume — A Ballad (1847), calling it “Yaanek,” a name he apparently coined, for it is not in standard geographical sources:

These were days when my heart was volcanic

As the scoriac rivers that roll —

As the lavas that restlessly roll

Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek,

In the ultimate climes of the Pole —

That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek,

In the realms of the Boreal Pole.

(Collected Works, 1:415-19, 1:416)

In mythology, Erebus, son of Chaos, begot Aether and Hemera (Day) by Nux (Night), his sister. The name signifies darkness and is applied to the dark space through which the shades pass into Hades. Poe uses it also in “The Spectacles” (1844) (Collected Works, 3:897; Short Fiction, 337, 349n9).

perpetual variation: Poe is wrong, in fact, for dark voids are areas of cosmic dust, and matter is, for all practical purposes, distributed evenly in the solar neighborhood. Only “local” bodies — those within the solar system — exert more than negligible force. One wonders, however, why, even before cosmic dust was known, Poe bothered to fuss with the gravitational pull of distant stars when he had the easily discernable tug of the moon at hand to make his point (Twarog). Perhaps he was attracted to the idea because of his general sense of the interconnectedness of all things — the same impulse which is behind his story “The Power of Words” (1845) (Collected Works, 3:1211-15; Thirty-Two Stories, 318-22, Short Fiction, 107-8, 114-16).


phantom ... idea: Poe says in paragraph 29 that infinity “is by no means the expression of an idea — but of an effort at one. It stands for the possible attempt at an impossible conception.” In paragraph 37, he says that infinity “belongs ... to the class representing thoughts of thought.” See paragraphs 29-39.


Each ... God: Extended discussion of philosophical precedent for Poe's vision of multiple gods appears in the Introduction.


This paragraph is a correct restatement of what are now known as Kepler's Three Laws of Planetary Motion (Twarog).

radius vector: The term had long been standard; the OED lists usage from 1753: “A variable line drawn to a curve from a fixed point as origin; in astronomy the origin is usually at the sun or a planet around which a satellite revolves.”


moon-attended: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 57).

immortal laws guessed .... “guess-work”: See paragraph 23 and note. Poe is right about Kepler and Newton only in the most general sense (Twarog), though his [page 152:] feeling that guessing has been important in the development of science is sound. Poe expanded on this point in a letter to Charles Fenno Hoffman. See paragraph 135 note.

Plato ... Alcmæon: Poe's statement is a play on a passage from Cicero's “Tusculan Disputations” (1:39, TOM): “Errare mehercule malo cum Platone, ... quam cum istis vera sentire” (By Hercules, I prefer to err with Plato, ... than to think the truth with “those”). “Those” refers to the Pythagoreans in general. Cicero does not name Alcmæon (see next item), but Alcmæon was a Pythagorean.

Alcmæon was a native of Crotona in the sixth century B.C.E., a pupil of Pythagoras. His On Nature (ca. 500 B.C.E.) may be the first work on natural philosophy. He argued that the gods alone had certain knowledge; men could, however, conjecture. Poe alluded to him in a satire on bad writing, “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” in a passage in which “Mr. Blackwood” advises the aspiring but incompetent Signora Psyche Zenobia to stuff her writing with irrelevant but learned-seeming allusions: “The tone metaphysical is also a good one. If you know any big words this is your chance for them. Talk of the Ionic and Eleatic schools — of Archytas, Gorgias, and Alcmæon” (Thirty-Two Stories, 74, 74n10; Short Fiction, 360, 415n10, Collected Works, 2:341, 2:359n18). Poe had thought creatively about bad writing and knew of other authors who had as well. See Levine and Levine, “ ‘How to’ Satire.”


distance .... 28 hundred millions: Modern figures are always given in kilometers: Earth to moon, 384,500 kilometers (ca. 238,928 miles, using 1 kilometer = .6214 miles). Distances from sun in 106 kilometers: Mercury, 57.9 (35,970,600); Venus, 108.2 (67,235,480); Earth, 149.6 (92,588,600); Mars, 227.9 (141,617,060); Jupiter, 778.3 (438,635,620); Saturn, 1427.0 (886,737,800); Uranus, 2871.0 (1,784,039,400); Neptune, 4497.1 (2,749,497,900); and Pluto, 5913.5 (3,674,338,200).

the nine Asteroids ... and: Astræa actually had been discovered just in 1845; its discovery set off a boom in asteroid sighting. A ninth was found in April 1848 and named Higeia (Twarog). By 2002 more than twenty thousand asteroids had been named, among them asteroids called for our consultant, Bruce Twarog, and his astronomer wife, Barbara.

Neptune: Discovered only in 1846, the planet was still news in 1848. It had been noticed that the transit of Uranus was irregular. Astronomers hypothesized that the gravitational pull of another planet must be the cause. John Couch Adams in England and Urbain Jean Joseph Leverrier in France did the necessary mathematics in 1845 to predict its location, and Johann Gottfried Galle in 1846 found it exactly there. The first satellite, Triton, was detected a month later (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 410-11n42).

May not ... radiation?: Hodgens (typescript) suggests that Poe here responds to a challenge posed in Nichol (Views of Astronomy, Lecture 4, p. 25): “Now the origin of Bode's law is entirely unknown: it is what is called an empirical law, because [page 153:] we do not understand the principle upon which it acts.” Poe's explanation is nonsense. As of 2004 there was still no fully satisfactory explanation of the law (Twarog).

Bode: Johann Elert Bode (1747-1826), an important compiler of astronomical statistics and founder in 1774 of the Astronomische Jahrbuch. A formula for what Poe called the “order of interval among the planets” goes by his name, though it had earlier been noticed by Kepler, and announced by Johann Daniel Titius in 1772. One gets a rough estimate of the “order of interval” by writing a series of 4s; adding (in order) 0, 3, 6, 12, 24 (0 for Mercury, then 3 for Venus); and doubling the number for each planet outward (TOM, notes; Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 411). This empirical law is called the Titius-Bode Law.


There are ... ocean: Poe plays to his American audience, flattering readers with an unwarranted assumption about their experience as travelers. He also enjoyed implying that he himself knew Europe well; see his stories “The Assignation” (1834) and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), for example. Thirty-Two Stories (26, 130-31) and Short Fiction, 471, 153) explain the real sources of Poe's “expertise” about Venice and Paris. It is in fact unlikely that, after a childhood sojourn in England (1815-20), he ever left the United States.

Sound passes. ... latter: Poe's figures are good approximations. Calling the speed of sound roughly 1,100 feet per second gives a speed of sound of 750 m.p.h. (the contemporary figure at sea level is 1,087 feet per second, about 741 m.p.h.). Sound from the moon — were there an atmospheric carrier — would arrive in 13.1667 days, less about a second and a quarter to allow for the light to arrive.


If we ascend ... general survey: In these and subsequent paragraphs, Poe leans very heavily on Thomas Dick's The Christian Philosopher: or, The Connection of Science and Philosophy with Religion (Glasgow, 1823) (Alterton, Origins, 139-40). There were a number of subsequent editions, some pirated. We follow a New York edition (Solomon King, 1831). For comparison, here is the equivalent paragraph in Dick, from his chapter “Omnipotence of the Deity”:

Were we to take our station on the top of a mountain, of a moderate size, and survey the surrounding landscape, we should perceive an extent of view stretching 40 miles in every direction, forming a circle 80 miles in diameter, and 250 in circumference, and comprehending an area of 5,000 square miles. In such a situation, the terrestrial scene around and beneath us — consisting of hills and plains, towns and villages, rivers and lakes — would form one of the largest objects which the eye, or even the imagination, can steadily grasp at one time. But such an object, grand and extensive as it is, forms no more than the forty thousandth part of the terraqueous globe; ... were a scene, of the magnitude now stated, to pass before us every hour, until all the diversified scenery of the earth were brought under our view, and were twelve hours a-day allotted for the observation, it would require nine years and forty-eight [page 154:] days before the whole surface of the globe could be contemplated, even in this general and rapid manner. (Alterton, Origins, 139, quoting Dick, 17)

successiveness: The OED gives a 1676 usage, then James Mill's 1829 “Human Mind whence Poe may have derived it,” although “Poe's Italics often indicate his belief that he is coining a new word” (BRP). See Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 16.

Dick was, like the authors of the “Bridgewater Treatises,” a “populizer” (St. Armand, “Seemingly Intuitive Leaps,” 12), trying to show how science could confirm faith. See paragraph 133 note for further discussion of the impact of these works on Eureka.


Here is the paragraph in Dick from which Poe obtained both his idea and his data (Alterton, Origins, 139):

The earth contains a mass of matter equal in weight to at least 2,200,000,000,000,000,000,000, or more than 2 thousand trillions of tons, supposing its mean density to be only about 2 1/2 times greater than water. To move this ponderous mass, a single inch beyond its position, were it fixed in a quiescent state, would require a mechanical force almost beyond the power of numbers to express. The physical force of all the myriads of intelligences within the bounds of the planetary system, though their powers were far superior to those of men would be altogether inadequate to the production of such a motion.

See paragraph 201 note.


The diameter. ... circumference: Another illustration taken from Dick, this from his chapter “The Solar System”: “Of this system, the SUN is the center and the animating principle ... This vast globe is found to be about 880,000 miles in diameter ... Were its central parts placed adjacent to the surface of the earth, its circumference would reach two hundred thousand miles beyond the moon's orbit, on every side. ... Even at the rate of 90 miles a-day, it would require more than 80 years to go round its circumference” (Alterton, Origins, 140).

The close connection between Eureka and Poe's fiction is illustrated again in his use of Dick in his apocalyptic tale “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (1839) (Alterton, Origins). Poe's tale avoids specific Christian implications: it uses Dick's physics, not his theology. A guide to Poe's use of Dick appears in Collected Writings (1:657). Poe used The Christian Philosopher six times and Dick's Celestial Scenery (1838) ten times there.


the tongue of an archangel: This may come from I Corinthians 12:4, “the tongues of men and of angels,” or Milton's Paradise Lost (7:112-13): “To recount almighty works, / What words or tongues of seraph can suffice?” (BRP). Compare also the angel figure in paragraph 200.

Leverrier's planet: Neptune (¶193 and note).

the largest orbs ... Space: Poe's statement is too simplistic. The mass of a star, not [page 155:] its size, would determine how vast a “vacancy” it would sweep clean of matter. In fact, high-mass, high-luminosity stars do have large cavities around them, but this is because of their radiation pressure, not their gravitational pull (Twarog).


the eye of the mind: “A recasting of Hamlet's ‘in my mind's eye, Horatio’ (1.2.line 185)” (BRP). Poe used it elsewhere (Complete Works, 8:144 [a review of William Gilmore Simms's The Partisan in the January 1836 Southern Literary Messenger] and Collected Writings, 3:44 [a column entitled “Literary Notices” in the Broadway Journal on September 20, 1845, discussing a weekly paper, the New World]). Poe sometimes further alters Shakespeare, as “in our mind's eye.”


Alpha Lyræ: Further evidence of the close relationship between Eureka and Poe's satiric tale “Mellonta Tauta.” Not only do the two works share several pages of nearly identical prose (see ¶11-¶24 above), they also share a good deal of common information. Alpha Lyræ is mentioned twice in “Mellonta Tauta,” once in a passage in which Pundita, Poe's unreliable tourist-narrator, explains a special relationship between the sun and Alpha Lyræ. The idea is pure stardust, of course: all celestial bodies interact with one another, but Alpha Lyræ is too immensely distant to be in significant relationship with the sun. Pundita passes along this pearl of her husband's wisdom (he is a “pundit”) in a context that suggests a connection with the thought of Immanuel Kant (Thirty-Two Stories, 356n14; Short Fiction, 618n14; Collected Works, 3:1300-1302), which is also suggestive for Eureka. Both Eureka and “Mellonta Tauta” contain disparaging allusions to Kant (see ¶12).


159 ——— miles: Substituting modern values in Poe's illustration for the distance to Alpha Lyræ yields a very different distance; the figures Poe used were off by a factor of about 2. Now, one would use not 159 miles but 317 (Twarog).


As elsewhere noted, Eureka often shows its origin as a talk. These paragraphs strike BRP as especially oral in nature. In paragraph 205, “readers” in the first sentence could well read “listeners,” and the deliberate error and correction regarding distance “is the sort of jest expected on the platform, not in a treatise.” See also the opening of Eureka, especially paragraph 11 note.


19 trillions, 200 billions of miles: The distance is now reckoned at 11.214 light-years, a radically different value from the figures Friedrich Bessel (see next item) generated. Indeed, 61 Cygni is much closer to earth than is Alpha Lyræ — only 0.4 the distance (or as our astronomer consultant writes it, 0.4 D Lyr). A pocket calculator puts that at 6.5822968 x 1013 miles (Twarog).

Bessel. ... 61 [[64]] trillions of miles: Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784-1846), director of the Koenigsberg Observatory, in 1838 published his study of the annual parallax of the star 61 Cygni. This was the first time anyone had succeeded in observing parallax of a star, and this yielded the first even approximately accurate figures for interstellar distance. Bessel's accomplishment was officially recognized in 1841 (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver). An account of this work by Bessel appears in Humboldt's Cosmos, in the same passage (2:72) in which [page 156:] the material alluded to in paragraph 179 also appears (see ¶179n). Humboldt writes that it follows from Bessel's ... excellent Memoir on the parallax of the remarkable star 61 Cygni ... , (whose considerable motions might lead to the inference of great proximity), that a period of nine years and a quarter is required for the transmission of light from this star to our planet.” Accounts of new scientific developments, however, were widely available and generally provided “context,” explaining how the new work affected the “big picture” (Twarog). One cannot prove that Poe took this information from Humboldt.


Struve ... second: Otto Struve (1819-1905), director of the Pulkovo Observatory in Russia. Struve's elegant method for measuring the speed of light used “stellar aberration,” that is, the apparent change in position of a star that results from the motion of the earth about the sun. The size of the observed change depends upon


—–   when VE = velocity of Earth and C = speed of light.


If VE is known, one can derive C. VE was known from the length of our year, its orbital period, and the size of its orbit (2 AU). Encke had earlier determined 1 AU (the distance between the Earth and the Sun) by using solar parallax. These early calculations were quite accurate — off only about 3 percent from modern figures (Twarog).

A modern figure for the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. So far as Poe's argument goes, all the material about the vastness of the universe is padding.


the elder Herschell ... telescope: Sir William Herschel (1738-1822) did brilliant work on the motion of stars in space, concluding with a “pretty correct idea of which way the Sun moved” (Ronan, Astronomers Royal, 93). In the course of further work to catalog the brightness (“magnitude”) of stars, he decided to produce the estimates of stellar distances to which Poe refers. He had at Slough in 1789 a telescope with “a 48-inch mirror and a focal length of 10 feet” (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 411). Herschel “tells us that his forty-foot reflector will bring him light from a distance of ‘at least eleven and three-fourths millions of millions of millions of miles’ — light which left its source two million years ago” (Williams, The Great Astronomers, 257). Herschel studied nebulæ, discovering roughly two thousand new ones himself. The most distant he could see “was at least three hundred thousand times as distant from us as the nearest fixed star” (ibid., 259). Herschel, incidentally, could be a source for Poe's notion in paragraphs 185 and 186 and at the close of Eureka that there may be other universes, each “instinct with life” (Williams, The Great Astronomers). His were the first systematic attempts to use actual observations “to determinee extent of the stellar system” (Pannekoek, A History of Astronomy, 316).

Herschell: Poe's spelling error is discussed in Collected Writings, 1:471. The trail [page 157:] runs to his story “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” (1835) and to an item in Poe's “literati” series on Richard Locke.

magical tube of Lord Rosse: William Parsons, third earl of Rosse (1800-1867) (see ¶163 and its notes). From 1839 on, he had a thirty-six-inch reflector at Birr Castle. A six-foot reflector was completed in 1845. A news item about the earl's astronomy equipment ran in the January 10, 1845, Evening Mirror (TOM, notes). “Between 1845 and 1908 his Leviathan, 58 feet in length and 7 feet in diameter, was the largest telescope ever built” (P. Quinn, ed., Edgar Allan Poe, 1400). Poe wrote about it in a letter to the Columbia Spy (Letter 4 in the Spy for June 8, 1844). BRP suggests mention of Poe's boyhood use of a telescope from the upper porch of his Richmond home (A. H. Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe, 92-93). On a likely source for Poe's information on Rosse and the telescope, see the tale “Hans Pfaall” in Collected Writings, 1:430, 1:497-98. See also paragraph 82 (p. 428) of that story.


Space and Duration are one: The statement seems to be unambiguous evidence that Poe understood space-time in the modern sense. Although most of the more famous ways in which Eureka “anticipates” or “predicts” twentieth-century science turn out on close examination to be not quite the same as more modern concepts, or shrewd guesses based on not very solid data, this one seems to be a fine extrapolation from firm information that Poe thoroughly understood. It suggests how very good a mind Poe had (Twarog). The remainder of the paragraph, however, seems to be nonsense, because Poe never — despite the dramatic dashes he perhaps added to cover his logical tracks — says exactly why vast cosmic distances are necessary. The word “vitalic” perhaps provides a clue to what Poe had in mind; BRP suggests a link to the passage in paragraphs 159 and 160 in which Poe speculates very loosely (so loosely that he apologizes for doing so) on the possibility of a relationship between celestial events and the evolution of life and consciousness. Pollin writes, “The remainder of the paragraph seems to be a bow to theological propriety which the school of Vitalism was seeking to conciliate.” See also 133 and note.


Divine adaptation: As ¶218n explains, in this portion of Eureka Poe echoes “Marginalia” item 18. BRP, who edited Poe's “Brevities” (Collected Writings, vol. 2), has provided detailed notes on how close the two passages are. “Item 18,” he writes,

is devoted to “Divine adaptation” by contrast with “human constructions.” The first three sentences of the earlier passage are close to the first three of paragraph 216, but do not use the term “reciprocity.” This, however, is introduced at the end of the first of the three paragraphs. The texts are so similar as to warrant our regarding paragraphs 216-217 as variants of the passage from the “Marginalia.” The ostensible point of Poe's 1844 article lay in the short paragraph, omitted, on the writers of the Bridgewater Tracts [see ¶218n and also ¶133] who avoid this “mutual adaptation” because it tends “to overthrow the idea of ... First Cause — of God.” Or else, they have “failed to perceive” [page 158:] Poe's sole insight (expressed in the next paragraph below, q.v.). In the 12/44 set of “Marginalia” (item 82) Poe used “plot adaptation” for this one sentence article, and in the 8/45 “American Drama” article of the American Whig Review he incorporated all of Marginalia item 18 unchanged — a waystation to Eureka.


azotized: “Azote” was Lavoisier's term for nitrogen. Poe referred to it also in “Von Kempelen and His Discovery” (1849) (Pollin, Discoveries in Poe, 178-80; Short Fiction, 607-11, esp. 607-8, 620n6; Collected Works, 3:1355-67, esp. 3:1359, 3:1366n9) in “Hans Pfaall” (1835), in which tale Poe referred to Herschel, as he does so importantly in Eureka.

train-oil: Oil from blubber, or from seals and codfish. See note to paragraph 114.

reciprocity of adaptation: Poe is alluding to a phenomenon that he terms in “Marginalia” item 18 “mutuality of adaptation” (see Collected Writings, 2:127-28). (It is absent, he complains, from the “Bridgewater Treatises.”) He is either being prescient or concealing his source in regard to an aspect of what is now termed coevolution; this is applied to the interdependence between plants and animals, enabling their continued living and reproducing together. Following a suggestion by BRP, we checked a number of histories of evolutionary theory without finding reference to the concept before Poe. The 1989 second edition of the OED and its supplements through 1997 did not list “coevolution.” An excellent discussion of attempts to define coevolution appears in Schemske, “Limits to Specialization,” 67-109. Building upon a definition by Jonathan Roughgarden in Theory of Population Genetics and Evolutionary Ecology: An Introduction (New York: Macmillan, 1979) — “the simultaneous evolution of interacting populations” (451) — Schemske notes that one needs to add that the process is the result of “interactions between taxa at the level of particular traits” (70). Close examination of what Poe says in paragraphs 216 and 217 in the light of those definitions suggests that Poe may not have had a secure grip on coevolution as it is now understood. His explanation in paragraph 216 perhaps promises more than his example in paragraph 217 delivers, for the example does not quite show “simultanous evolution” or “interaction ... on the level of particular traits.” Poe does not argue, that is, that people of the cold north have evolved so that they can metabolize fats or that the animals they eat have mutually evolved in ways beneficial to both species. Our consultant in the history of biology (Professor Emeritus John A. Weir, University of Kansas), however, agreed with us that Poe's insight was nevertheless impressive and very unusual for the period — “profound,” he called it.


In the construction ... God: Poe quotes himself again, repeating a passage previously used in “Marginalia” item 18 in 1844 and in his article “The American Drama” (1845) (Pollin, “Politics and History,” 128; Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver; see also ¶216 and ¶216n). In both places the “plot of God” passage is connected to mention of the “Bridgewater Treatises” (see ¶133). (Poe's [page 159:] “depends” means “hangs from” or “is supported by.”) The passage is important evidence of Poe's sense of unity. Artistic and scientific inspiration are of the same sort, man's efforts — flawed by his “finite intelligence” — to perceive the perfect beauty that underlies creation. Hence Poe's most astute analyst, the detective Dupin, is also a poet: see the story “The Purloined Letter” (1844). BRP kindly provides a table of variations. In each case, the “Marginalia” item 18 version appears first and the Eureka version is after the slash: the approach / the approach; reciprocity between cause and effect. / reciprocity.; the points / the incidents; that we cannot distinctly see, in respect to any one of them, whether that one / that we shall not ... depends; perfection of plot / perfection of plot; unattainable in fact, — because Man is the constructor. / unattainable ... constructs.


washer-womanish: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 68). In this portion of Eureka he seems to be uncomfortable with his material. See note to paragraph 222.


Fourier: Authorities disagree on whether Poe intended to refer here to Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier (1768-1830), a “French physicist noted for his researches on heat and numerical equations” (Poe, The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Beaver, 411) or to the French social theorist François Marie-Charles Fourier (1772-1837). There is considerable evidence that Poe had in mind the latter. Eureka heavily overlaps Poe's satirical story “Mellonta Tauta.” In that tale, the narrator consistently misspells the names of any figures Poe intends to criticize. Poe elsewhere made snide remarks about F. M-C. Fourier, who was extremely well known in the United States because a number of American socialist utopian communities were deeply influenced by his theories. Brook Farm near Boston, which began as an idyllic Transcendentalist haven, eventually fell into the hands of Fourierist theorists who attempted to turn it into a phalanstery. Poe, who admired Hawthorne's stories (the feeling was mutual), nevertheless teased him in print for having involved himself in Brook Farm's “phalanx and phalanstery atmosphere” (Holman, “Splitting Poe's ‘Epicurean Atoms,’ ” 2). “Phalanx” and “phalanstery” are Fourier's terms. In “Mellonta Tauta,” Poe spelled Fourier as “Furrier.” In Eureka, he spelled it “Fourrier” in 1848, correcting it later in a penciled note (see list of Poe's corrections). Poe's error was probably a carryover of the joke he was using in the story (see Thirty-Two Stories, 346, 347-60, esp. 349, 349n5; Short Fiction, 547-48, 588-96, esp. 589, 617n6; Collected Works, 3:1289-309, esp. 3:1293 and 3:1306n12). (See the next item for further evidence that Poe had the humor of “Mellonta Tauta” in mind.) On the other hand, Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier was extremely famous and very important; his great work in theory of equations and in heat diffusion and partial differential equations was closely related to very general scientific and philosophical issues of the sort that interested Poe. He “rejected the prevailing Laplacian orthodoxy of analyzing physical phenomena through the assumption of imperceptible molecules connected by local Newtonian forces” (Ravetz and Grattan-Guiness, “Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier,” 97). The work of Descartes, Bernoulli, Newton, Laplace, Comte, Bessel, [page 160:] and others intersects his. Indeed, several of those great figures were his contemporaries, and he dealt with them personally. Poe knew about this Fourier: he was one of the famous men of the age. His political adventures during the period of the French Revolution, his career as a Napoleonic administrator, and his work in Egypt during the French campaigns there make an extraordinary story that was well known. There is even a scrap of circumstantial evidence that Poe had read about him in some detail. In Poe's “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (1842), Poe mentions a street address, “Rue Pavée Saint André.” That address does not appear in the novel from which Poe cribbed most of his geographical facts about Paris, Pelham or Adventures of a Gentleman by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1828, 1840; the place names are in vol. 1, ch. 23). But until 1829, Fourier lived at 15 Rue Pavée St. André des Arts.

Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier's fame, the relevance of his work to Eureka, and the chance that Poe borrowed a fact about him, however, do not point directly to what Poe says in paragraph 220 of Eureka, whereas the works of F. M-C. Fourier plainly do. Poe says “reveries,” and “reveries” is appropriate language for his work, for although his thought has been surprisingly influential, his writing is marked by, in Edward S. Mason's words, “a great deal of the fantastic and ridiculous and a verbiage so luxuriant as to seem at times that of a madman.” He does indeed offer wild speculation on the cosmos, as Poe suggests: the Milky Way, he allowed, is soon going to dissolve. Fourier felt that his work on the human passions was the true completion of the work of Newton. His writings, although notably chaotic, are, in fact, intellectually akin to Eureka. Charles Fourier believed in analogy. His work is dotted with tables to show correspondences among smells, planets, human passions, his coming state of “Harmony,” phalanxes, the climate on earth, the oceans (which would become beverages), the solar system, the universe, and creation beyond the universe. For further examples of Poe on F. M-C. Fourier, see his scornful references in “Marginalia” item 165 (Collected Writings, 2:274-75, 2:275, 2:276n) and “Fifty Suggestions,” notes 10 and 28 (ibid., 481, 482n, 493-94, 494n).

Mädler: Johann Heinrich von Mädler (1794-1874), the German astronomer, is also mentioned in Poe's “Mellonta Tauta” (see previous item), where Poe's narrator Pundita spells his name “Muddler.” The misspelling indicates satirical intent (“a muddler”). Operating at the observatory in Dorpat (Tartu) in what is now Estonia after 1840 with the excellent astronomical equipment with which Struve had worked, Mädler tried to establish that the Milky Way had a central constellation — Alcyone, in the Pleiades. Later research effectively destroyed his hypothesis (Twarog). See paragraph 221 and note. Mädler, however, is not Poe's only source for the idea; it was current in intellectual circles as well. The idea of the rotation of stars around a common center is important in “Mellonta Tauta,” wherein Poe develops an “analogy”: stars move around a center as the planets move around the sun. This makes it likely that Poe connected the idea to Immanuel Kant as well, for in “Mellonta Tauta,” Pundita expounds Kant, whose [page 161:] name she spells as “Cant” (Thirty-Two Stories, 351 n8; Short Fiction, 617n7; Collected Works, 3:1295). BRP points out that Poe knew Kant only secondhand via summaries. See note to paragraph 12.

period ... years: The modern figure for the time it takes the sun to orbit the center of the galaxy is larger: 230 million years. The “stupendous globe,” of course, is nowhere in sight.


A point ... Herculis: See note to paragraph 220. A passage in Nichol (Views of Astronomy, Lecture 2, p. 12) also explains that stars toward which the sun is moving appear to spread out, whereas those from which it moves away seem to cluster more closely. Nichol has the earth's solar system moving toward Hercules, however, and Poe, away. Hodgens (typescript) suggests that Poe had the direction wrong.

Mädler ... performed: See note to paragraph 220. Note that Poe makes clear in paragraphs 224 and 225 that he rejects Mädler's idea.


“analogy”: Poe's discussion of analogy in this and subsequent paragraphs rejects the hypothesis that there exists a vast central star around our sun and the rest of the galaxy revolve. It does not do so because reasoning from analogy is a logical fallacy. Like other high Romantics of transcendental leanings, Poe believed strongly in the importance of analogical inferences. He agreed on this matter with Emerson, who wrote in the chapter entitled “Language” in Nature, “there is nothing lucky or capricious in ... analogies ... they are constant, and pervade nature. These are not the dreams of a few poets, here and there, but man is an analogist, and studies relations in all objects.” In “The American Scholar,” Emerson put it even more simply: “[S]cience is nothing but the finding of analogy, identity, in the most remote parts.” Poe rejects the argument for the vast star not because he is suspicious of analogical reasoning but rather because the analogy is incomplete. There is no evidence of a central “orb” or of the curved trajectory of the sun. The close correlation between Eureka and the satirical “Mellonta Tauta” continues: the narrator of the story also connects a central “orb,” the rotation by the sun, Mädler, and analogy, the same range of ideas and associations (Thirty-Two Stories, 356n14; Short Fiction, 618n14; Collected Works, 3:1301).


non-luminosity: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 86). The word non-luminous (see ¶222) is ascribed by the OED solely to the introduction to David Brewster's Optics. Poe was familiar with Brewster's Letters on Magic and Edinburgh Encyclopedia articles (see Pollin “ ‘MS Found in a Bottle’ ”; Collected Works, index entries in 2:1415; and Collected Writings, 1:656, index entries).


Sir John Herschell: Sir John Frederick William Herschel (not Herschell; see ¶213n) (1792-1871), English astronomer. Poe quotes paragraph 615, chapter 12, of Herschel's A Treatise on Astronomy (TOM, notes). The Treatise was enormously popular. Carey, Lea and Blanchard of Philadelphia brought out editions in [page 162:] 1834, 1835 (“New ed.” but not actually revised), 1836, 1838, 1839, 1842, 1844, 1845, 1846, and 1848. Poe said that he had read the Harper's edition of 1835 (Short Fiction, 615n26), but we have been unable to confirm its existence. (See Collected Writings, 1:471 n23a, for discussion of Poe's use of Herschel in “Hans Pfaall.”) We obtained copies of both the 1834 and 1835 Philadelphia editions, which do contain Poe's quotation with just enough minor variations to leave one uncertain about why they are present. Poe did frequently tinker with other people's words; it was a habit as marked as his odd practices regarding the digraph and dieresis (explained in Collected Writings, 2:xxxvi-x1). The text, identical in these two copies, was: “It is difficult to form any conception of the dynamical state of such a system. On the one hand, without a rotatory motion and a centrifugal force, it is hardly possible not to regard them as in a state of progressive collapse. On the other, granting such a motion and such a force, we find it no less difficult to reconcile the apparent sphericity of their form with a rotation of the whole system round any single axis, without which internal collisions would appear to be inevitable.”

Later editions of Herschel's Treatise on Astronomy are different in chapter and paragraph numbering, but we have not found one with Poe's exact wording.

Collected Writings (1:658) indexes eighteen other references to Herschel. See also paragraph 73.


Poe quotes from Nichol's first lecture, the one given on January 25 and covered in the New York Tribune on January 27. See the note to the next paragraph. Oliver Dyer, “phonographic writer,” transcribed Nichol's entire series of lectures for the Tribune; his texts were quickly published as Views of Astronomy (New York: Greeley and McElrath, 1848). Poe's quotation varies from that text in small details; among other things, Poe corrected obvious typographical errors:

When   when
to bear upon   to bear to upon
which were thought   which which were thought
irregular,   spherical
which looked oval;   that looked oval,
Rosse's   Ross's
Now   ¶Now,
comparatively   comparalively
reverse;   reverse,
stars,   stars
stretching ... power   stretching ... power


without ... phænomena: One commentator remarks of Poe's critique of Nichol here, “One reads these words with a good deal of surprise .... [I] t is not unlikely that Poe owed the first suggestion of his ‘stupendous truth’ to the very man whom he now dismisses as not having the ‘faintest suspicion’ of it. At the very [page 163:] least he knew that Nichol was thoroughly acquainted with the nebular cosmogony, for in his first reference to Nichol years before he had presented his name as an inevitable association of the theory” (Connor, “Poe and John Nichol,” 203).” But Hodgens, in a note to us, points to a distinction: “As shown here [and elsewhere] ... , Dr. N., following Herschel, was prepared to consider the collapse of clusters or galaxies and of solar systems, but not ready (shall we say) to say the entire universe of stars is collapsing.” Connor slightly misreads Poe; Poe is not accusing Nichol of not knowing about the nebular cosmogony but of having “missed” Poe's “stupendous” idea of a universe beginning and ending in unity because of an initial action by God: “In the Original Unity of the First Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation” (¶5). Connor was correct in his general observation that Poe is unfair to Nichol, as we have discussed in the Introduction. Poe's first reference to Nichol was in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) (Collected Works, 2:570n16, 2:571n21). He referred to him again in a review in the June 21, 1845, Broadway Journal of Tayler Lewis's Plato Contra Athos ... Extended Dissertations on Some of the Main Points of the Platonic Philosophy ... Compared with the Holy Scriptures. (Poe spelled the name “Nichols” in both places.) (See Collected Writings, 3:88, 4:67, 88/71-74, 3:154, 4:116, 154/67-69.)


Argelander: Friedrich Wilhelm Argelander (1799-1875), a Prussian astronomer who continued the pioneering work of F. W. Bessel (see above) ultimately publishing an extensive catalog of the motions of 560 stars, DLX stellarum fixarum positiones mediae ineunte anno 1830 (Helsinki, 1835), “incontestably the most exact of the contemporary catalogs” (Sticker, “Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander”). Poe here probably refers, however, to Argelander's Über die eigene Bewegung des Sonnensystems. hergeleitet aus den eigenen Bewegungen der Sterne (Concerning the Peculiar Movement of the Solar System as Deduced from the Proper Motions of the Stars) (St. Petersburg, 1837). This work verifies with superior data and instruments Herschel's brilliant work on the movement of the sun. Argelander asks but stops short of exploring the large question, “Are all bodies ... subject only to their mutual attractions, or do all of them obey the attractive force of a large central body?” (Sticker, “Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander,” 241), a question of which Poe makes much in Eureka. BRP points out that Alterton and Craig (Edgar Allan Poe, 552) reached the same conclusion regarding Poe's reference to Argelander.

Mädler's basis: All astronomy subsequent to Argelander's work depends upon it (Sticker, “Friedrich Wilhelm August Argelander”).

Humboldt: Recall that Eureka is dedicated to Alexander von Humboldt.


“When. ... hypothesis”: Poe quotes the first section, “Celestial Portion of the Cosmos,” of Humboldt's Kosmos (Stuttgart, 1845). He apparently used an incomplete, pirated English-language edition published in New York by Harper and Brothers, because he referred to that edition in the Broadway Journal on August [page 164:] 30, 1845. His footnote quoting the German original he included to suggest that he knew German, although he did not: he had an English text open before him, which he altered somewhat, probably to make the translation seem his own work. Gruener (“Poe's Knowledge of German”) reports that the 1845 edition is a sixty-six-page pamphlet, the first installment of a book the rest of which Gruener believes never appeared. We examined the copy owned by the Library of Congress in which the first sixty-four pages, ending in the middle of a sentence, are bound together with a photocopy of pages 65 through 128. BRP reports that Harper and Brothers did complete the volume. The photocopied pages likely came from the remainder of the Harper edition, which Gruener could not locate and the Library of Congress does not own. (There is a copy in Boston, BRP reports.) Harper promised a second volume but did not produce it. Because Poe so warmly praised Kosmos, we think it likely that he did not know even the remainder of the first volume, for the volume ends with a moving affirmation of “the unity of the human kind” that repudiates “all the unsatisfactory assumptions of higher and lower races of men” (108). Poe's racial ideas were not nearly so modern. Poe, at any rate, probably based his “translation” on this edition, although his alterations are considerable. The passage Poe adapted is on page 46. The Harper and Brothers text reads, “If the non-perspective proper motions of the stars be considered, many of them appear groupwise opposed in their directions; and the data hitherto collected make it at least not necessary to suppose that all the parts of our astral system, or the whole of the star-islands which fill the universe, are in motion about any great, unknown, luminous, or non-luminous central mass. The longing to reach the last or highest fundamental cause, indeed, renders the reflecting faculty of man as well as his fancy disposed to adopt such a supposition.”

BRP notes an error in Maddison (“Poe's Eureka”), who discussed this passage using a later translation by Elise C. Otté, while the Harper volume uses the Augustin Pritchard translation. Poe's “rewrite” is closer to the latter. See also the Broadway Journal, July 12, 1845 (Collected Writings, 3:169) and the notes to it (4:127-28). The Broadway Journal item introduces four transplanted paragraphs from Kosmos, and the notes discuss Poe's rewording of the translation.

non-perspective: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 86).


Herschell: See paragraphs 7 and 65 notes.

collapse: Poe believed that the universe is in its contracting phase. See paragraph 236 note.

orbitual: “An unexpected term for the common ‘orbital’ and half a dozen more adjectives for ‘orbit.’ The OED's attribution as the first instance to Herschel's Treatise on Astronomy probably indicates Poe's further reliance upon that work” (BRP).


Herschell: See paragraphs 7 and 65 notes.


“if ... obtain”: Poe's quotation is hypothetical; he is not quoting anyone in particular. [page 165:] His general point is incorrect; the universe is known to be still expanding. The current standard view is that “in a finite universe with an edge, gravitational imbalance must draw matter away from the edge — i.e., a collapse must occur” (Twarog).


supremeness: The OED credits Poe with this coinage in his 1844 tale “The Premature Burial” (Short Fiction, 308; Collected Works, 3:953) (BRP). For a useful discussion of this paragraph, see Dayan, Fables of Mind.


vortical: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 40). BRP adds that Poe “pays special attention” here and in several stories to “the movement and funnel-shape of the gyre.” See “MS. Found in a Bottle,” 1833 (Thirty-Two Stories, 16; Short Fiction, 623; Collected Works, 2:135); “A Descent into the Maelström,” 1841 (Thirty-Two Stories 160; Short Fiction, 40; Collected Works, 2:577); The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, 1837 (Collected Writings, 1:144); and “Hans Pfaall,” 1835 (Short Fiction, 558; Collected Writings, 1:387-433)


gradual ... comet: “Encke's comet” was named after Johann Franz Encke (1791-1865), who showed in 1819 that comet sightings in 1786, 1795, 1805, and 1818 were of the same comet. He calculated its orbit and period (about 1,204 days) and noted that it was accelerating, though not in the “perfectly regular” manner Poe claims. Its behavior, indeed, posed major problems for nineteenth-century astronomy. Its situation is, in fact, much like that of Halley's comet. Fuller discussion of Poe's use of Encke in “Hans Pfaall” and of comets in his work is in Collected Writings (1:463n9a,1:473n26b).


Lagrange: Poe's science summary is good, but his science history is faulty. Lagrange (1736-1813) worked on planetary theory from 1774 to 1784 and again following 1808, but the breakthrough for which Poe credits him was actually Laplace's, not Lagrange's, although Lagrange figures in the story. Here is an account from a standard modern astronomy history:

Halley had in 1693 perceived that the moon's period of revolution, hence also its distance from the earth, had gradually diminished. ... If this diminution in the moon's orbit continued into the future, the moon would finally descend upon the earth. In 1770 the Paris Academy offered their prize for research as to whether the theory of gravitation could explain the phenomenon; Euler, in his prize treatise, [concluded] ... ‘that the secular inequality of the moon's motion cannot be produced by the forces of gravitation.’ In ... 1772 he ... [supposed] that the term probably arose from the resistance of an ethereal fluid which filled celestial space. ... After many fruitless attempts by Lagrange and Laplace, the latter at last, in 1787, succeeded in discovering the real cause. By the action of the planets upon the earth, the eccentricity of the earth's orbit was continually diminishing ... ; because the orbit became more circular, the mean distance of the sun increased, and its perturbing effect decreased. By the attraction of the sun, the moon's orbit was enlarged; this enlargement now gradually diminished through the decrease of the sun's [page 166:] effect ... Thus ... uneasiness was removed, and the conviction that Newton's theory was capable of explaining all the movements in the solar system grew even stronger. (Pannekoek, A History of Astronomy, 304-5)


an ether: Compare what Poe says here to Agathos’ explanation in Poe's story “The Power of Words” (1835) (Thirty-Two Stories, 318-22, esp. 321-22n5; Short Fiction, 107-8, 114-16, 145-46, esp. 146n5; Collected Works, 3:1210-17). Agathos speaks of an ether “which, since it pervades, and alone pervades all space, is thus the great medium of creation.” In “The Power of Words,” the ether does seem to be “matter”; in Eureka, Poe says that it is not. Agathos explains that one must take seriously the “physical power of words,” acting first on the air and then upon the “ether” so that one can literally speak stars into being. The distinction between ether as “matter” or as spiritual medium is less critical than one might think. Poe's underlying point is the same: Spirit and matter, creation, perception, and nature are intertwined, unified, ultimately one. The inspired artist-scientist-poet-visionary will someday be able to account for spirituality in scientific terms. Emerson's phrase from “The Poet” is apt: “The Universe is the externalization of the soul.” For a comparison between Poe's projections and the models of contemporary astrophysics, see the Introduction to this volume.


vorticial: See note to paragraph 238.

indrawing: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 29).


system-atoms: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 66).


climacic: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 24).


that God ... all: See I Corinthians, 15:28, “that God may be all in all” (TOM, notes).


this Heart Divine ... is our own: Central to many of the mystical, Oriental, and/or occult beliefs that seemed sympathetic to Romantic authors is the understanding that the individual is identical with the universe. Transcendence in such systems of thought is often defined as the realization of this unity, which is sometimes seen as identical to merger with the godhead. The idea is recurrent in Emerson, for example, and appears in Western thought at least as far back as Plato. It is in Poe as well, although not always with the bright implications it carries in Eureka. For a gloomier variant, see his poem “A Dream within a Dream” (1827 and repeatedly revised until 1849):

O God! can I not save

One [grain of sand] from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

See paragraph 263, where merger with a world-spirit that sounds very much like the Emersonian Oversoul is made especially specific, and paragraph 266, in which another aspect of occult belief is spelled out. [page 167:]


We ... awful: That the young retain some sense of “a Destiny more vast” from a time before their birth is an idea found frequently among the Romantic authors and poets whom Poe knew best. The intuitive, magical knowledge of the very young was generally felt to be buried gradually as the maturing child was “socialized.” In paragraph 259 and the paragraphs that follow, Poe plays a special variation on the theme. Wordsworth wrote in the “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (1807):

... trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home.

But by the time we are older, the inspired poetic vision has become, as Wordsworth put it elsewhere, “a study” (see Critical Theory, note to ¶9 of Poe, “Letter to B——”). In Poe, in contrast, the clouds of glory are a sign that each soul is part of the godhead, “that each soul is, in part, its own God” (¶263).

world-existence: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 69).


World-Reason: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 69).


re-constitution: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 35).


There was. ... Spirit Divine: In such religions as those referred to in the note to paragraph 256, the universe is understood as alive, sensate, identical with the individual, and identical with God. BRP suggests comparison with a very similar passage in “The Island of the Fay” (1841): see Collected Works, 2:601 and 2:605n3.

Self-Diffusion: Poe's coinage (Pollin, Poe: Creator of Words, 63).

pain-intertangled: Poe's coinage (ibid., 59).







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