Tag Archives: Edgar Allan Poe

Top Ten Blog Posts of All Time

This month has been a big one here at Tavistock Books! We celebrate our 25th anniversary, along with the one-year anniversary of fearless Aide-de-Camp Margueritte Peterson. We’re also proud that this month we hit the 10,000-visitor mark for our blog. To recognize this occasion, we humbly present the top ten blog articles of all time. Hope you enjoy reading!

Dickens_Great_Expectations_Confederate_Edition1. The Two Endings of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations

When Charles Dickens finished Great Expectations and sent it off to his publishers, he was quite pleased with himself. Then he showed a copy to friend and fellow author Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who, according to Dickens, “was so very anxious that I should alter the end…and stated his reasons so well, that I have resumed the wheel, and taken another turn at it.” The book’s dual endings present complications for critics and collectors alike. Read More>>

2. Why Did Charles Dickens Write Ghost Stories for Christmas? 

For the Victorians, Christmas wasn’t complete without a great ghost story! Charles Dickens certainly catered to this preference with his beloved Christmas Carol and a number of other Christmas tales. But why ghost stories? The holiday–once forbidden by Oliver Cromwell–has its roots in pagan rituals, which included telling “winter’s tales,” that is, ghost stories. Read More>>

Edith_Cavell_Crime_Des_Barbares3. Edith Cavell: Nurse, Humanitarian, and…Traitor?

Edith Cavell quickly earned a reputation as an excellent nurse, and during World War I she found herself with another set of duties. Along with other nurses, Cavell was recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Service to collect information about the Germans. She eventually put that mission aside, preferring to funnel British and French soldiers to neutral Holland. Cavell raised suspicion, and the Germans arrested her for treason. Cavell was convicted and executed, a move that provided plenty of fodder for British and American propaganda machines. Read More>>

4. Alexander Pope’s Legacy of Satire and Scholarship

History has not always been kind to Alexander Pope, and neither were his contemporary critics. The poet published his earliest extant work at only twelve years old and went on to found the Scriblerus Club alongside celebrated authors John Gay and Jonathan Swift. Thanks to the guidance and support of Swift, Pope was able to do what few authors of the era managed to accomplish: he made a comfortable living with the pen, mostly due to his ingenious translation of Homer’s Iliad. Read More>>

5. A Brief History of Propaganda

Propaganda has existed for ages; the Behistun Inscription, written around 515 BCE details King Darius I’s glorious victory. But the Catholic Church gave us the word itself and formalized the use of propaganda, most notably when Pope Urban II needed to bolster support for the Crusades. The literacy boom of the nineteenth century actually drove the production of more propaganda, as politicians had to sway the opinions of a more informed public. World War I saw the first large-scale propaganda production. Britain even enlisted its best authors, like AA Milne, to create pro-war propaganda. Read More>>

6. Charles Dickens Does Boston

Charles Dickens’ first trip to America began promisingly enough; he was immediately mobbed by adoring fans. Dickens fell in love with Boston, declaring the city “what I would like the whole United States to be.” But the trip turned sour when the young author insisted on addressing the issue of international copyright law at every turn. He was also appalled by the way slavery was practiced in the South and by Americans’ lack of social graces. Dickens documented his impressions of the United States in American Notes, which immediately alienated his Continental readers. Read More>>

Beardsley-Salome-Wilde7. Oscar Wilde, Dickens Detractor and “Inventor” of Aubrey Beardsley 

We remember Oscar Wilde just as much for his oversize personality as we do for his authorial excellence. Wilde’s ego often led to strange relationships with fellow authors, most notably Bram Stoker, Charles Dickens, and Aubrey Beardsley. Wilde lost a love to Stoker, railed against Dickens’ sentimentality, and claimed that Beardsley had Wilde to thank for his career. For rare book collectors, Oscar Wilde epitomizes the way that single-author collections can (and should) include works by other authors. Read More>>

8. The Six Hoaxes of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe called his time “the epoch of the hoax,” and the horror writer couldn’t have been happier about it. Poe was a great lover of hoaxes, even attempting several himself. He forged a note from a supposed lunar inhabitant and penned a fake journal from an explorer. Poe even undertook one hoax to dissuade people from going West during the Gold Rush. But Poe’s efforts only proved that he should have stuck to poetry and fiction; he hardly convinced anyone that his hoaxes were real. Read More>>


From ‘The Cruikshankian Momus’ by Isaac, Robert, and George Cruikshank

9. George Cruikshank: “Modern Hogarth,” Teetotaler, and Philanderer

George Cruikshank followed in his father’s footsteps, building a reputation as a preeminent illustrator of his time. Political from the beginning of his career, Cruikshank was openly racist and patriotic. He adopted an incredibly moralistic tone about drinking. That uncompromising campaign for temperance ultimately became a wedge between Cruikshank and Charles Dickens. After Cruikshank’s death, however, his wife discovered that he’d been leading a secret life–and had fathered eleven children with the family’s former servant. Read More>>

10. The Millerites an the Great Disappointment

The Seventh-Day Adventist Church arose from a great failure. The nineteenth century saw a revival in millinarianism, the belief that a drastic event or movement would suddenly change the course of society as outlined in the book of Revelation. William Miller stepped forward as a sort of prophet, arguing that Jesus would certainly return in 1843 or 1844. His followers, called the Millerites, embraced his predictions–until the days passed and nothing happened. They broke into a number of different sects, one of which developed into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Read More>>



The Six Hoaxes of Edgar Allan Poe

The origins of April Fools’ Day are unclear. Some experts suggest that when the French shifted the New Year to January to correspond with the Roman calendar, rural residents still kept celebrating with the beginning of spring, which often fell around the start of April. They came to be known as “April fools.” This theory, however, doesn’t take into account that the new year would have been celebrated around Easter–which isn’t associated with April first. It’s more probable that our April Fools traditions grew from age-old pagan celebrations of spring, which included adopting disguises and playing pranks on one another.

But some pranksters simply aren’t satisfied to confine their exploits to a single day. One of these was Edgar Allan Poe, who was unabashedly fond of hoaxes. He approvingly called his time the “epoch of the hoax.” During his lifetime Poe would attempt a total of six different hoaxes. Most modern anthologies fail to acknowledge that these stories were originally published as non-fiction.

A “Tone of Mere Banter”

In June 1835, “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall” appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger. It was purportedly the text of an odd note that had been dropped from a hot air balloon over Rotterdam. The note, supposedly written by Hans Pfaall, recounted his journey to the moon, which he undertook to escape creditors on Earth. Pfaall claimed that he had spent five years living on the moon with its native inhabitants. He’d sent a lunar inhabitant back down to Earth with a promise that he’d tell his story if his creditors would forgive his debts. But the lunar inhabitant had been spooked; he dropped the note and fled back to the moon.

Yan Dargent's illustration about Poe's 'The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall' for Jules Verne's 'Edgar Poe et ses œuvres ' (1864)

Yan Dargent’s illustration about Poe’s ‘The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall’ for Jules Verne’s ‘Edgar Poe et ses œuvres ‘ (1864)

Poe’s first attempt at a hoax hardly fooled anyone; even Poe himself admitted that the article’s “tone of mere banter” rendered it less than credible. Then a similar–but much better executed–version of same hoax appeared in the New York Sun. It was such a successful ruse, Poe decided to abandon his own effort altogether.

“The Garb of Fiction”

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was inspired by the spirit of exploration that gripped America in the early- to mid-1800’s. The US Navy had recently organized the Wilkes Expedition to South Africa and Antarctica. Poe played to America’s great interest in such expeditions with The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

Poe published the story serially in Southern Literary Messenger in January and February 1837. Though the serial edition was written “under the garb of fiction,” he added a preface to the novel, claiming the tale was faction. That device was certainly not uncommon; indeed, eighteenth-century authors were in the habit of self-conscious narration, whereby the author would step in to assert the veracity of the story.

Poe based his tale on the theory of John Cleves Symmes, who believed not only that the earth was hollow, but also that it was inhabited. He was constantly trying to raise money for a polar expedition to prove his theory. Poe’s take on the story was so odd, most readers immediately recognized that it was fictional.

A Hoax Fit for a Senator

The Journal of Julius Rodman appeared from January to June 1840 in Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine. It detailed the adventures of the eponymous explorer as he made his way up the Missouri River and into the Far North. The journal was dated 1792, which would have made Rodman the first European to cross the Rocky Mountains. To lend the journal authenticity, Poe actually penned the entire thing. He also borrowed details from Washington Irving’s Astoria and Lewis and Clark’s History of the Expedition.

This time, Poe managed to fool at least one person. US Senator Robert Greenhow specifically mentioned the journal. That chance mention obviously made others believe that the journal could actually be real–but not for long. Poe’s motives for this hoax are unknown.

“Bought Up at Almost Any Price”

The Great Balloon Hoax was almost certainly Poe’s best work as a prankster. A broadside appeared in the midday issue of the New York Sun on April 13, 1844. It included an announcement that the famed European balloonist Thomas Munck Mason had just completed a transatlantic journey in his balloon, the Victoria. The advertisement stated that Mason had departed from England, bound for Paris. But a propellor accident had pushed him off course. An illustration of the balloon accompanied the text.

Mason was a real person, and he had flown a balloon from London to Weilburg, Germany in 1836. He’d documented the trip in Account of the Late Aeronautical Expedition from London to Weilburg. Poe borrowed the illustration from the frontispiece of a pamphlet that was published anonymously and generally accepted as Mason’s, called Remarks on the Ellipsoidal Balloon, Propelled by the Archimedean Screw, Described as the New Aerial Machine (1843).

1844_Sun_newspaper_story (1)

On the day of publication, Poe stood on the steps of the Sun’s office and revealed his own hoax to the crowd. But that did little to quell their clamoring for the paper. He reported, “I have never witnessed more intense excitement to get possession of a newspaper. As soon as the first copies made their way into the streets, they were bought up, at almost any price.” Poe couldn’t even get a copy of the paper for himself. Despite this furor, the Great Balloon Hoax was quickly revealed to be false. Nevertheless, it likely inspired Jules Verne to write Five Weeks in a Balloon and Around the World in Eighty Days. Vern was a great fan of Poe and even published a study of his work.

“Hoax Is Precisely the Word”

The December 1845 edition of American Whig Review included “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” an account of an unusual experiment to test whether hypnotism could stave off death. A terminally ill patient with only hours to live, one M. Ernest Valdemar, was placed under the care of a hypnotist. Valdemar slipped into a hypnotic trance, his pulse stopped, and his breathing ceased. Yet somehow he was still able to gurgle short responses to questions. After a full seven months, Valdemar’s doctors decided the experiment had run its course. The hypnotist brought the patient out of his trance. His body immediately collapsed and became “detestably putrid.”

Valdemar’s case was reprinted all over Europe and the United States. Robert Collyer, a prominent hypnotist, even corroborated the story. He claimed that he’d once revived a man who had died from overdrinking. When a Scottish correspondent wrote to inquire about the case, Poe openly admitted, “Hoax is precisely the word suited to M. Valdemar’s case.”

A “Check to the Gold Fever”

News of “Von Kempelen and His Discovery” appeared in The Flag of Our Union on April 14, 1849. German scientist Von Kempelen claimed that he’d discovered the alchemical process to turn lead into gold. Few fell for the ploy, much to Poe’s chagrin. He had wanted to dissuade people from migrating west in the California Gold Rush. Poe wrote to Evert A Duyckinck, “My sincere opinion is that nine persons out of ten (even among the best informed) will believe the quiz (provided the design does not leak before publication) and that thus, acting as a sudden, although of course a very temporary, check to the gold fever, it will create a stir to some purpose.”

Even though Poe’s motives may seem odd or obscure, his hoaxes live on as a quirky and fascinating part of literary history.

Related Reading:
Edgar Allan Poe: Creator of Enduring Terror and Literary Masterpieces
George Steevens: Bibliophile, Scholar, and Prankster


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Edgar Allan Poe: Creator of Enduring Terror and Literary Masterpieces


Edgar Allan Poe was the first American writer to earn a living completely by his pen–though that living wasn’t always enough to live on. The legendary author redefined the genre of horror and is rightly called the father of the modern detective novel. But these legacies are the result of a more visceral one: Poe’s ability to evoke an all-encompassing terror that springs not from without, but from within.

Poe’s Incredible Influence

It’s well known that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin as a model for his own detective, Sherlock Holmes, and that Doyle’s short stories (“Hound of the Baskervilles” in particular) owe a tremendous debt to Poe. Indeed, Doyle once rhetorically asked, “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed life into it?” But Poe’s influence reached beyond the worlds of horror and mystery. He has long been a beloved figure in literature, one whose power has not waned with the passage of many generations.

Poe and Washington Irving exchanged admiration for one another via correspondence. Irving noted that “the graphic effect [of “Fall of the House of Usher”] is powerful.” Poe responded by sending Irving a copy of “William Wilson,” which he considered his best work. Poe admitted that the story had been inspired by Irving himself, particularly Irving’s “An Unwritten Drama of Lord Byron.”

Robert Louis Stevenson said of Poe, “He who could write ‘King Pest’ has ceased to be a human being.” Stevenson found Poe’s stories absolutely gripping, and was undoubtedly flattered when critic Andrew Lang said that Stevenson was “like Poe with the addition of moral sense.”

Meanwhile Oscar Wilde ranked Poe’s poetry as more important than that of Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Wilde emulated elements of Poe’s style in The Picture of Dorian Gray–which wasn’t lost on Walter Pater, who ardently praised Wilde’s efforts to evoke Poe’s style in the novel. Wilde’s colleague and defender George Bernard Shaw, often an unforgiving critic, was downright effusive about Poe, saying that the American author “constantly and inevitably produced magic where his greatest contemporaries produced only beauty. [His tales are] a world record for the English language: perhaps for all languages.”

Allen Ginsberg argued that “everything leads to Poe….Burroughs, Baudelaire, Genet, Dylan,” and Jorge Luis Borges contended that “contemporary literature would not be what it is” without Whitman and Poe. TS Eliot, however, was not initially convinced of Poe’s genius. He excluded Poe from both American and European literary traditions, calling Poe a “displaced European.” Eliot later acknowledged that he’d underestimated Poe’s talent.

Vladimir Nabokov included multiple allusions to “Annabel Lee” in his masterpiece, Lolita. It appears that Nabokov was indeed deeply interested in Poe; he meticulously mapped the area around Poe’s home and sketched the manifestations of soul in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (which he taught within the context of Poe). Both documents are currently on view at the Morgan Library’s excellent exhibit, Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul.

Later on, novelist and screenwriter Terry Southern, author of Dr. Strangelove, was deeply influenced by Poe, especially The Narrative of A Gordon Pym. Southern wrote an appreciation of Poe, called “King Weirdo,” which was published posthumously. And Stephen King has frequently borrowed archetypal themes from Poe’s works for his own horror novels. The Shining reminds us of both “Masque of the Red Death” and “Fall of the House of Usher.”

Collecting Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe makes a fascinating focus for a single-author collection and also fits wonderfully into nineteenth-century American literature and horror literature libraries. Poe’s works weren’t actually that popular during his lifetime, so they were issued in relatively small print runs. The first edition of Tamerlane and Other Poems (1827) is famously scarce; only twelve copies are known to exist. (Three are currently on display together at the Morgan Library!)

Even if Tamerlane is out of reach, there are countless other desirable editions and volumes. For example the Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe, published by George Robertson in 1868, was the first edition of Poe’s works to appear in Australia. It differs significantly from the British and American editions.

No illustrated editions of Poe’s works were published during his lifetime. The first, Tales of Mystery, Imagination and Humor; and Poems (1852) was illustrated by artists unknown, as they were not given credit for their work. Famous illustrators Edouard Manet, Aubrey Beardsley, Harry Clarke, Edmund Dulac, and Arthur Rackham; first editions of Poe’s works illustrated by these artists are highly desirable.

Poe’s works often showed up in serially issued collections. One of these is The Gift, A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1842. This compilation includes Poe’s “Eleonora,” along with items from Howard Huntley, Catherine Beecher, and Park Benjamin. The volume also includes an uncollected piece by Lydia Sigourney, “The Village Church.”


The Irving Offering for 1851

When Elizabeth Gaskell first published “Lizzie Leigh,” the story was initially ascribed to Charles Dickens–whose byline meant big bucks for publishers. “Lizzie Leigh” appears under Dickens’ name in The Irving Offering: A Token of Affection for 1851, which also include’s Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelstrom.” The edition is fairly scarce: OCLC records none west of the Mississippi.

Though Edgar Allan Poe enjoys special attention around Halloween, collectors of rare books appreciate his works year round. If you’re looking for a specific item for your Poe collection, please don’t hesitate to contact us! We’re happy to help.