Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. E. C. Stedman and G. E. Woodberry), “Notes,” The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, New York: Stone and Kimball, vol. V, 1895, pp. 355-361


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[page 355:]

NOTES

NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM

THE Narrative | of | Arthur Gordon Pym, | of Nantucket; | comprising the Details of a Mutiny and Atrocious Butchery | on board the American Brig Grampus, on her Way to | the South Seas in the month of June, 1827 | with an Account of the Recapture of the Vessel by the | Survivors; their Shipwreck, and subsequent Horrible | Sufferings from Famine; their Deliverance by | means of the British Schooner Jane Guy; the | brief Cruise of this latter Vessel in the | Antarctic Ocean; her Capture, and the | Massacre of her Crew among a | Group of Islands in the | eightyfourth parallel of Southern latitude; | together with the incredible Adventures and | Discoveries | still further South, | to which that distressing Calamity gave rise. | New York: | Harper & Brothers, 82 Cliff St. | 1838. |

Collation. Duodecimo. Title (with copyright on verso), pp. iii-iv; preface, pp. v-vii; blank verso, p. viii; narrative, pp. 9-201.

Published in July, 1838. Chapters I., II., III., and a portion of IV. (pp. 7-54), had previously appeared in the “Southern Literary Messenger,” January, February, 1837. Poe’s attention was directed to the subject by the public interest in the South Sea Expedition then contemplated by the government. Its chief projector, J. N. Reynolds, was an acquaintance of Poe, and his plans had been supported by the latter in a critical notice of the “Report of the Committee [page 356:] on Naval Affairs to whom were referred memorials from sundry citizens of Connecticut interested in the whale-fishery, praying that an exploring expedition be fitted out to the Pacific Ocean and South Seas, March 21, 1836.” This notice was published in the “Southern Literary Messenger,” August, 1836. In writing the “Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” Poe was indebted to this Report and other similar sources for his knowledge of the scene and for suggestions of incidents and the manner in which they would take place; but his obligations of this kind exceeded the ordinary limit, and portions of the volume are in fact compiled, by the method of close paraphrase, from his authorities. This was a literary method used by Poe from time to time in many of his writings, and it may be well to exemplify it in this instance by parallel passages. The account of the South Seas is taken mainly from Capt. Benjamin Morell’s “Narrative of Four Voyages to the South Seas and Pacific, 1822-1831,” Harpers, 1832. How closely Poe followed the text appears from the following extracts. —

  

POE

“It was first discovered in 1772, by the Baron de Kergulen, or Kerguelen, a Frenchman, who, thinking the land to form a portion of an extensive southern continent, carried home information to that effect, which produced much excitement at the time. The government, taking the matter up, sent the baron back in the following year for the purpose of giving his new discovery a critical examination, when the mistake was discovered. In 1777, Captain Cook fell in with the same group, and gave to the principal one the name of Desolation Island, a title which it certainly well deserves. Upon approaching the land, however, the navigator might be induced to suppose otherwise, [page 357:] as the sides of most of the hills, from September to March, are clothed with very brilliant verdure. This deceitful appearance is caused by a small plant resembling saxifrage, which is abundant, growing in large patches on a species of crumbling moss.” — pp. 159 — 160.

  

MORELL

“Kerguelen’s Land . . . was first discovered in 1772 by M. de Kerguelen, a French navigator, who mistook it for a southern continent, and so reported to his government; who sent him back in the following year to give his new discovery a critical examination, survey its coasts, etc. He now discovered his mistake. . . . Three years afterward Captain Cook fell in with the same islands, but considered them of little importance. It was he who named the principal one the ’Island of Desolation.’ . . . In approaching the harbor, the sun n y declivities of the snow-crowned eminences present many cheering spots of living verdure. . . . The illusion is caused by a small plant [page 357:] resembling saxifrage,” etc. — p. 62.

  
  

the “royal penguin, so called from its size and beautiful plumage, is the largest. The upper part of the body is usually gray, sometimes of a lilac tint; the under portion of the purest white imaginable. The head is of a glossy and most brilliant black, the feet also. The chief beauty of the plumage, however, consists in two broad stripes of a gold color, which pass along from the he ad to the breast.” — pp. 160 — 61.

  

the “largest is the royal or king penguin, so called from its size, beauty of plumage, and irrepressible pride. . . . The head is of a glossy, shining black, the upper part of the body of a leaden gray, the under part of the purest white, and the feet in color correspond with the head. Two broad stripes of a fine, bright, glossy yellow descend from the head to the breast,” etc. — p. 64.

  
  

“A level piece of ground is selected, of suitable extent, usually comprising three or four acres, and situated as near the sea as possible, being still beyond its reach. The spot is chosen with reference to its evenness of surface, and that is preferred which is the least encumbered with stones. This matter being arranged, the birds proceed with one accord, and actuated apparently by one mind, to trace out, with mathematical accuracy, either a square or other parallelogram,” etc — p. 162.

  

“They carefully select a level piece of ground of suitable extent, often comprising four or five acres, and as near the water as practicable; always preferring that which is the least encumbered with stones. . . . As soon as they are satisfied on this point, they proceed to lay out the plan of their projected encampment; which task they commence by tracing a well-defined parallelogram,” etc. — pp. 51-52

  
  

the “three islands together form a triangle and are distant from each other about ten miles, there being fine open passages between The land in all of them is very high, especially in Tristan d’Acunha, properly so called. This is the largest of the group, being fifteen miles in circumference, and so elevated that it can be seen in clear weather at the distance of [page 358:] eighty or ninety miles.” — p. 166.

  

“Tristan d’Acunha is the largest of three islands. . . It is fifteen miles in circumference, and is so much elevated that it can be seen in clear weather at the distance of twenty-five leagues. The three islands together form a triangle,” etc — p. 352. [page 358:]

  
  

“In 1811, a Captain Haywood, in the ’Nereus,’ visited Tristan. He found there three Americans, who were residing upon the islands to prepare sealskins and oil. One of these men was named Jonathan Lambert. . . . On the twenty-fifth of March, 1824, the ‘Berwick’ Captain Jeffrey, from London to Van Diemen’s Land, arrived at the place, where they found an Englishman of the name of Glass,” etc. — p. 168.

  

“Captain Heywood was at th1s island in 1811, where he found three Americans. . . . One of these enterprising Yankees was named Jonathan Lambert. . . . ’The island of Tristan d’Acunha,’ says a London paper of April, 1824, ’has now upon it, living in great happiness, twenty-two men and three women. The ’Berwick,’ Captain Jeffrey, from London to Van Diemen’s Land, sent her boat ashore on the 25th of March. The sailors were surprised at finding an Englishman of the name of Glass,’” etc. — p. 354.

  
  

“These islands are said to have been discovered as early as 1762, by the commander of the ship ’Aurora.’ In 1790, Captain Manuel de Oyarvido, in the ship ’Princess,’ belonging to the Royal Philippine Company, sailed, as he asserts, directly among them. In 1794, the Spanish corvette ’Atrevida’ went with the determination of ascertaining their precise situation, and, in a paper published by the Royal Hydrographical Society of Madrid in the year 1809, the following language is used respecting this expedition: ’The corvette “Atrevida,”’ etc. — pp. 169-170.

  

the “commander of a ship called the ‘Aurora,’ is said to have given to these

’Airy nothings

A local habitation and a name.’

In the publications of the Spanish ‘Royal Hydrographical Society of Madrid,’ for 1809, it is said that these islands were seen again in 1790, ‘by the ship “Princess,” belonging to the Royal Philippine Company, Captain Manuel de Oyarvido. . . . In 1794 the corvette “Atrevida” went purposely to situate them,’ “ etc. — p. 57.

  

These examples suffice to show in what way the geographical and scientific portions of the work were written. The passage, quoted, but not credited by name, on pp. 205-207, describing the bêche-de-mer, is from Morell, pp. 401-402, a word or two being omitted here and there by Poe. Morell quotes the first paragraph from Doctor Pascalis. It should be remarked that the island of pumice-stone mentioned by Morell, p. 591, and especially the characteriztics [page 359:] of the newly discovered island (pp. 463-464) with its peculiar people, may have suggested to Poe the physical features, and the Hebraic idea, in his own Tsalal.

A few errors are noticeable in the “Narrative,” as, for example, where Augustus is said to have returned, p. 68; and a curious oversight in seamanship occurs on p. 14 and also on p. 115. Poe’s seamanship is, no doubt, partly from observation and practice during his voyages in boyhood and his expedition in the army, but a portion of it is compiled, — the account of stowage, pp. 72-76, and of lying-to, pp. 86-88, for example, are from a manual of “Seamanship.”

THE JOURNAL OF JULIUS RODMAN

the “Journal of Julius Rodman” was published anonymously in “Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine,” January-June, 1840. Poe refers to it in his correspondence (Poe to Burton, June 1, 1840) as follows: “I can give you no definitive answer [respecting the continuation of “Rodman’s Journal”] until I hear from you again.” The internal evidence that the “Journal” was from his hand is convincing, if this mention of it be deemed insufficient to establish its authorship. The attention of Poe was directed to the subject, in the first place, perhaps, by Irving’s “Astoria,” of which he had written a long review in the “Southern Literary Messenger,” January, 1837, included among his works; and to this and other volumes of Western travel he was indebted in the same way as in the case of the “Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” for the scene, the general character of the incidents, and some passages almost identical in text. A few examples are given below: —

  

POE

“His intention was to cross the country, between the forty-third and forty-sixth degrees of north [page 360:] latitude, to the shores of the Pacific. His object was to ascertain the breadth of the continent at its broadest part, and to determine upon some place, on the western coast, where government might establish a post to facilitate the discovery of a northwest passage, or a communication between Hudson’s Bay and the Pacific Ocean. He had supposed that the Columbia, then termed the Oregon, disembogued itself somewhere about the Straits of Annian; and it was here that he expected the post to be formed. He thought, also, that a settlement in this neighborhood would disclose new sources of trade, and open a more direct communication with China and the British possessions in the East Indies, than the old route afforded, by the Cape of Good Hope. He was baffled, however, in his attempt to cross the mountains.” — pp. 263-264.

  

IRVING

“Captain Jonathan Carver . . . projected a journey across the continent between the forty-third and [page 360:] forty-sixth degrees of northern latitude, to the shores of the Pacific. His objects were to ascertain the breadth of the continent at its broadest part, and to determine on some place on the shores of the Pacific where government might establish a post to facilitate the discovery of a northwest passage, or a communication between Hudson’s Bay and the Pacific Ocean, The place he presumed would be somewhere about the Straits of Annian, at which point he supposed the Oregon disembogued itself. It was his opinion, also, that a settlement on this extremity of America would disclose new sources of trade, promote many useful discoveries, and open a more direct communication with China and the English settlements in the East Indies than that by the Cape of Good Hope or the Straits of Magellan.” — ASTORIA. I, ch. iii.

  
  

Caches are holes very frequently dug by the trappers and fur traders, in which to deposit their furs or other goods during a temporary absence. A dry and retired situation is first selected. A circle about two feet in diameter is then described — the sod within this carefully removed and laid by. A hole is now sunk perpendicularly to the depth of a foot, and afterwards gradually widened until the excavation becomes eight or ten feet deep, and six or seven feet wide. As the earth is dug up, it is cautiously placed on a skin, so as to prevent any traces upon the grass, and, when all is completed, is thrown into the nearest river, or otherwise effectually concealed. The cache is lined throughout with [page 361:] dried sticks and hay or with skies,” etc. — p. 344.

  

“A cache is a term common among traders and hunters to designate a hiding-place for provisions and effects. . . . The first care is to seek out a proper situation, which is generally some dry, low bank of clay, on the margin of a water-course. . . . A circle of about two feet in diameter is then nicely cut in the sod. . . . The uncovered area is then digged perpendicularly to the depth of about three feet, and is then gradually widened so as to form a conical chamber six or seven feet deep. The whole of the earth displaced by this process is . . . heaped into a skin or cloth, in which it is conveyed to the stream. Should the cache not be formed in the vicinity of a stream, the earth thus thrown [page 361:] up is carried to a distance. . . . The cave being formed is well lined with dry grass, bark, sticks, and poles, and occasionally a dried hide,” etc. — ASTORIA, ii. ch. xv.

  

It is needless to multiply instances of the literary method here adopted to give the sense of actuality. The frequency with which Poe resorted to it indicates a weakness of the realistic element in his imaginative faculty, which was truly creative only in the world of mood and fantasy. Either on the sea or the land he did not, after all, show the wonders that he set out to evoke from the regions of the Unknown: both Pym and Rodman were unable to tell their tale.

G. E. W.

END OF VOL. V.

 


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Notes:

None.

 

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[S:0 - SW, 1895] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Notes (Stedman and Woodberry, 1895)