"It is observable that, while among all nations the omni-color, white, has been received as an emblem of the Pure, the no-color, black, has by no means been generally admitted as sufficiently typical of Impurity. There are blue devils as well as black; and when we think very ill of a woman, and wish to blacken her character, we merely call her 'a blue-stocking,' and advise her to read, in Rabelais' 'Gargantua,' the chapter 'de ce qui est signife par les couleurs blanc et bleu.' There is far more difference between these 'couleurs,' in fact, than that which exists between simple black and white. Your 'blue,' when we come to talk of stockings, is black in issimo--'nigrum nigrius nigro'--like the matter from which Raymond Lully first manufactured his alcohol."
-"Fifty Suggestions," "Graham's Magazine," May 1849
The above passage is--with the possible exception of "Ulalume"--the most enigmatic and subtly sinister thing Poe ever published. (One wonders what the unsuspecting readers of "Graham's" made of it.) And, for whatever reason, it has gone almost completely unnoticed by mainstream Poe scholars. Burton R. Pollin, in his book "Discoveries in Poe," noted that a couple of phrases in this quote were borrowed from Horace Binney Wallace's 1838 novel "Stanley," but this did nothing to explicate Poe's meaning. (As a side note, it is interesting that Wallace wrote under the name "William Landor." The obvious tribute in "Landor's Cottage," and the long-acknowledged fact that Wallace helped influence other Poe writings, suggests that he was a more significant figure than we now think.)
Many of Poe's works reveal a familiarity with alchemical lore, but we simply do not know enough about his true private life to say with certainty if this familiarity was merely academic, or an indication that he himself practiced the ancient art. (It should be noted that true alchemy is a process to transform the alchemist himself--or herself--mentally, physically, and spiritually, not merely an effort to turn base metals into gold. In fact, the genuine alchemist disdains the single-minded quest for gold as a childish, and ultimately destructive, parlor trick--something Poe himself intimated in "Von Kempelen and His Discovery.")
I would very much like to know exactly what cryptic message Poe was conveying by tying together references to "blue-stockings" (he obviously had in mind some pseudo-learned women--or one woman in particular--whom he had cause to despise,) "Gargantua and Pantagruel," (another highly esoteric work,) and the legendary alchemist Lully.Whatever it was, I am certain it would explain a lot.