Monday, April 25, 2011

The Philosophy of Keywords; Or, What Hath Google Wrought?

Edgar Allan Poe portrait
Allow me to present a few of the recent search terms that have led people to my doorstep:
sarah helen whitman is alive
sarah helen power whitman's children with edgar allan poe
ida grey furniture
was edgar allan poe vegan
hazards of harts
Heywood Summer Undine

Here's one that sums up this entire blog in only three words:

poe scholarship depressing

In all seriousness, I'd really like to know what this person is researching
rufus w griswold poe's wife poison

My personal favorite:
poe killed by family of stella anna lewis
Or maybe it's this:
Elizabeth Poe was pecked to death by crows
And people wonder why Poe drank.
edgar allan poe girl in ashland va
Ashland, a town in the Richmond metro area, has a very confused legend that an anonymous local girl, "a daughter of the Sheltons" was the inspiration for "Lenore."
Folk ballads from the World of Edgar Allan Poe blog
Pleased to oblige.
Edgar Allan Poe folk balladsI actually own a copy of this record, and believe it or not, it's pretty good, if you've ever wondered what it would be like if Roderick Usher hosted a hootenanny
James P. Moss edgar allan poe's friend
Moss makes only one known appearance in the World of Poe, but it is a strange and possibly crucial one indeed. Poe's biographer Arthur H. Quinn provided the most detailed account of this man's story. Quinn heard of him from a friend of his named Dallas Fuguet. Fuguet, in turn, got his account from his cousin Thomas H. Lane (the same man who presided over the demise of the "Broadway Journal.") Lane's aunt was married to Moss. According to this Quinn-via-Fuguet-via-Lane-via-Moss story, Poe stopped off at Philadelphia in 1849, en route for New York. He became ill while there, and was brought to the home of Moss, who was a friend of his. Poe left the next morning, still feeling poorly but insisting that he was able to continue his journey home. Lane assumed that Poe, in his weakened and possibly confused condition, accidentally took the wrong train, which explained how he wound up in Baltimore.

This is a plausible story, to a certain extent, but unfortunately is full of enough hearsay to choke an elephant. We have no way of judging Moss' credibility--or even if he truly was a friend of Poe's. It is impossible to say how this story may have become distorted through these multiple retellings over the years. Quinn himself was obviously a bit dubious about his own anecdote, noting that it was "improbable but not impossible" that he took the wrong route. However, passengers traveling from Philadelphia to New York would first take a ferry to Camden, New Jersey, and then continue the rest of the trip by rail. Quinn noted dryly that "he must have been in very poor shape not to notice that he was taking an omnibus instead of a boat!"

The Moss story is frustrating. If true, it would at least partially fill in those "blank days" between Poe's departure from Richmond and his mysterious appearance in Baltimore. However, the utter lack of first-hand corroboration makes the tale impossible to fully trust.

Practically every day I see search terms that pursue one particular topic, all of them variations on the following:
lenore hart plagiarism
raven's bride plagiarism
raven's bride very young mrs poe
undine raven's bride

Well, if you insist. Back by popular demand, a few more comparisons--all in the interests of "fair use"--between Lenore Hart's "The Raven's Bride" and Cothburn O'Neal's "The Very Young Mrs. Poe":

Poe, Virginia, and Mrs. Clemm take rooms at Mrs. Yarrington's boardinghouse
O'Neal: "The house, near the southeastern corner of the Capitol grounds, was very much like Mrs. Poore's, set back on a wide lawn with the same Greek portico, the same half-glazed doors. Tom entered without knocking, as Eddy had done, and rang the bell."

Hart: "Mrs. Yarrington's looked so much like Mrs. Poore's...The same neat square of clipped yard and long painted portico, the same half-glazed doors, and Thomas swept in without knocking as if he lived there as well."

O'Neal: "'Mr. Poe is assistant editor of the Southern Literary Messenger,' Tom went on. 'He has been staying with us, but now that his aunt and cousin have come to live with him, Mrs. Poore doesn't have room for all three of them. We thought you might--.'" "No doubt she thought that Tom's 'we' had included Mrs. Poore as well."

Hart: "He [Tom Cleland] called down the landlady and introduced us. 'Mr. Poe is, ah, assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger, and--well, my mother-in-law hasn't room for, uh, the three of them. So we thought you might.'" "This was very clever, for that we made it sound as if Mrs. Poore herself had sent and thus approved of us."
When--in both books--Mrs. Yarrington tells them that she has a large front room for the ladies and an adjoining one for Mr. Poe, Eddy replies
O'Neal: "'My aunt will decide. Would you show them to her, please?'"

Hart: "'My aunt, Mrs. Clemm, will decide. Would you show the rooms to her, please?'"
Mrs. Yarrington accepts them as tenants:
O'Neal: "'I don't usually rent rooms to women. You never know what you are taking in. But, of course, a widow--I presume you are a widow--and her daughter--a lovely child, I might say--with a male member of the family to look after them. Well, that's different. And with Mr. Poe working for Mr. White on the Messenger. I have two other men on the Messenger living here. They're quiet, hard working, no trouble at all."

Hart: "'I don't usually let to females. But as you are a respectable widow...and with Mr. Poe, a male relative, here to protect the two of you...I have other lodgers who work at Mr. White's establishment. Quiet, hardworking men. No trouble at all."
In both books, Virginia muses over the strangeness of her life
O'Neal: "After they were gone Sissy sat alone before the fire. She tried to read, but she could not keep her mind on a book. Instead her thoughts traveled back over what her life had been with Eddy. It was like a long thin ribbon, sometimes twisted into knots, sometimes into pleasant little bows; or it was a narrow stream winding tortuously through straits and deep, restricted gorges which only occasionally offered a view of wider, happier places."

Hart: "So I sat by the fire waiting, drowsing in the heat, thinking about where our lives had led us. It seemed to me much like the course of the rocky Wissahickon River--sometimes a narrow, constricted stream, at others a wider, wilder torrent rushing on, carving its way tortuously through deep gorges which offered occasionally a glimpse of something finer, more pleasant--such as a country road, or a tame elk."
St. Martin's Press must be so proud. Incidentally, I have forgotten to mention that "The Raven's Bride" is also the name of Elizabeth Crook's 1991 novel about the wife of another famous 19th century figure, Sam Houston. Yes, my friends, even the title is a rerun.

(Header image courtesy New York Public Library.)