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  • Into the Imperial Whirlpool: Poe’s “MS. Found in a Bottle” and the United States South Seas Exploration Expedition
  • Matthew Teorey
Matthew Teorey
Peninsula College


1. David B. Tyler, The Wilkes Expedition: The First United States Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1968), 404. For further information on early nineteenth-century American exploration and imperialism, see Geoffrey Sutton Smith, “The Navy before Darwinism: Science, Exploration, and Diplomacy in Antebellum America,” American Quarterly 28, no. 1 (1976): 41–55; William H. Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1993); Paul Lyons, “Opening Accounts in the South Seas: Poe’s Pym and American Pacific Orientalism,” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 42 (1996): 291–326; Barry Joyce, The Shaping of American Ethnography: The Wilkes Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842 (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2001); and Nathaniel Philbrick, Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery; The U. S. Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842 (New York: Viking, 2003).

2. For Reynolds’s influence on Poe, see Lisa Gitelman, “Arthur Gordon Pym and the Novel Narrative of Edgar Allan Poe,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 47 (1992): 349–61; Aubrey Starke, “Poe’s Friend Reynolds,” American Literature 11 (1939): 152–59; and Robert F. Almy, “J. N. Reynolds: A Brief Biography with Particular Reference to Poe and Symmes,” Colophon 2 (1937): 227–45.

3. On groups lobbying Congress for the expedition, see Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of South-Sea Expedition,Southern Literary Messenger 3 (January 1837): 68–72; Herman J. Viola, “The Story of the U. S. Exploring Expedition,” in Magnificent Voyagers: The U. S. Exploring Expedition, 1838–1842, ed. Herman J. Viola and Carolyn Margolis (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985); and Tyler, Wilkes Expedition.

4. On Symmes and his relation to Poe, see Victoria Nelson, “Symmes Hole: Or, the South Polar Romance,” Raritan 17 (Fall 1997): 136–66; William Stanton, The Great United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1975); and Hans-Joachim Lang and Benjamin Lease, “The Authorship of Symzonia: The Case for Nathaniel Ames,” New England Quarterly 48 (1975): 241–52.

5. Philbrick, Sea of Glory, 19.

6. Edgar Allan Poe, review of A Brief Account of the Discoveries and Results of the United States’ Exploring Expedition, by Jeremiah N. Reynolds, Graham’s Magazine 24 (September 1843): 165.

7. Thomas Ollive Mabbott writes that Poe submitted “MS. Found in a Bottle” to a writing contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter as part of the projected “Tales from the Folio Club” collection. “MS. Found in a Bottle” won $50, and the Visiter published it on 19 October 1833 (Works, 2:130–31).

8. Alexander Hammond, “A Reconstruction of Poe’s 1833 Tales oftheFolio Club, Preliminary Notes,” Poe Studies 5, no. 2 (1972): 25.

9. Edmund Fanning published Voyages around the World, a narrative of his expedition to the South Pacific, in 1833.

10. Daniel J. Tynan argues that Poe was directly influenced by Reynolds’s book; see “J. N. Reynolds’ Voyage of the Potomac: Another Source for The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,” Poe Studies 4 (1971): 35–37. Also see Harold Beaver, introduction to The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1975), 7–30.

11. Selections from Reynolds’s “Address, on the Subject of a Surveying and Exploring Expedition to the Pacific Ocean and South Seas” appear with Poe’s editor’s note (“Review of South-Sea Expedition”) in Southern Literary Messenger 3, no. 1 (1837): 68–72. A complete version of the address, with correspondences and notes, was published in 1836 (New York: Harper).

12. Poe, review of Brief Account, 165.

13. Poe, “Review of South-Sea Expedition,” 68.

14. Poe’s story appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger for December 1835 and in The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1836 (Philadelphia: E. L. Carey and A. Hart, 1836), issued in October of 1835.

15. Burton R. Pollin, Discoveries in Poe (Notre Dame: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1970), 148.

16. On Pym and American imperialism, see John Carlos Rowe, “Edgar Allan Poe’s Imperial Fantasy and the American Frontier...


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