Monday, August 24, 2009

More About the Osgood Valentine

Edgar Allan Poe Valentine to Frances Sargent OsgoodIn March of 1849, Poe republished his 1846 Valentine poem to Frances Osgood. He rewrote the poem--an acrostic containing her name--correcting the earlier version's misspelling of "Sargent." This necessitated a complete revision of the latter half of the poem, and in doing so Poe did a very curious thing. The last few lines of the 1849 poem refers to Osgood's "well-known name" and says of it:

"Its letters, although naturally lying--
Like the knight Pinto (Mendez Ferdinando)--
Still form a synonym for truth. Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle though you do the best you can do."

Ferdinando Mendez Pinto was a sixteenth-century traveler who was regarded as a famous teller of lies. His name, in fact, became so associated with falsehoods that the saying was that he only told the truth when he admitted to being a liar--only by confessing his many tall tales did his name become a "synonym for truth." Interestingly, Poe's enemy Charles Briggs used the pseudonym "Ferdinand Mendoza Pinto," to write a series of columns for a New York paper--a pen name Poe dryly described as "apt."

In other words, by writing that Frances Osgood's name, like Pinto's, was a "synonym for truth," he was publicly calling her a liar. Which casts a fascinating, and completely ignored, light on their relations.

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