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  • “Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul.” Exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum
  • Gabriel Mckee (bio)

“If what I have written is to circulate at all,” Poe wrote in the preface to The Raven and Other Poems, “I am naturally anxious that it should circulate as I wrote it.” To truly read Poe’s words as he wrote them, of course, one must view original manuscripts. These were on display in abundance at “Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul,” an exhibition on view at the Morgan Library from October 4, 2013, through January 26, 2014. The exhibit includes more than thirty manuscript poems, tales, and letters in Poe’s hand, including many of his most important works.

This is not the first time the Morgan has honored Poe with an exhibition. “Poe: The Ardent Imagination,” held on the 150th anniversary of Poe’s death in 1999, showed some fifty manuscript and printed items from the Morgan’s own collection. “Terror of the Soul” puts many of the highlights of the previous exhibition on display again. But co-curators Declan Kiely and Isaac Gewirtz have raised the stakes by drawing on two other exceptional collections—the New York Public Library’s Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, and the private collection of Susan Jaffe Tane. The result is perhaps the most impressive assembly of Poe materials ever displayed.

The items in the exhibition, drawn evenly from the three collections, show different facets of the author: Poe as poet, as fantasist, as critic, and as a literary influence on later writers. Additional items shown throughout the gallery offer visual interest: daguerreotype portraits of Poe, including the “Ultima Thule” (from the Morgan’s collection); original artwork; printed copies of illustrated editions of Poe’s works; and manuscript pieces by authors influenced by Poe. [End Page 82]

The gallery is painted a deep burgundy, and in the necessarily dim lighting of the space the framed objects stand out nicely. Michael Deas’s striking portrait of Poe (commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service for the stamp commemorating Poe’s bicentennial) greets the visitor at the entrance. The organization of the materials allows different entry points for the viewer: turn to the left and you may see highlights of Poe’s poetry in a more-or-less chronological manner, beginning with “Tamerlane”; turn to the right for examples of well-known modern writers influenced by Poe, and continue back in time to see the tales that inspired them; or go straight ahead to see examples of Poe’s criticism and learn about the literary world in which he operated.

The poetry section is virtually all highlights: here we have complete handwritten texts of “The Bells,” “Annabel Lee,” and “Ulalume,” as well as a manuscript stanza of “The Raven”—one of the few examples of material from Poe’s most famous poem in his own hand, as part of an autograph letter to John Augustus Shea. The manuscript of “Ulalume” on display is accompanied by the charming story of its creation: about a month before his death, Poe spent an evening talking and reciting poetry for a group of young admirers at the Hygeia Hotel in Old Point Comfort, Virginia. One of the group, a girl of about seventeen years named Susan V. C. Ingram, asked Poe to transcribe “Ulalume” for her, and later that night he slid a scroll containing a freshly written manuscript under her door, along with a genial note (on display in the exhibition as well). Also on view are Poe’s personal, annotated copy of Eureka, first editions of The Raven and Other Poems and Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems, and a fragment of Poe’s coffin.

The following section, on Poe’s tales, contains still more major pieces: “Hans Phaall,” “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” and “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” from the Morgan; “Epimanes” from the Tane collection; and Poe’s final, incomplete piece of fiction, “The Light-House,” from the Berg. This section is enhanced bibliographically by the presence of original publications (including a copy of the Prose Romances, nearly as rare as...


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