- Poe’s Memory
Et aux séductions d’une beauté singulière iljoignait une puissance de mémoire poétiquemerveilleuse, avec la faculté précoced’improviser des contes.“Edgar Allan Poe, sa vie et ses ouvrages” (2: 258)1
Poe, éprouvant peut-être le sinistrepressentiment d’une fin subite, avait désignéMM. Griswold et Willis pour mettre sesœuvres en ordre, écrire sa vie, et restaurer samémoire. Ce pédagogue-vampire a diffamélonguement son ami dans un énorme articleplat et haineux, juste en tête de l’éditionposthume de ses œuvres.–Il n’existe doncpas en Amérique d’ordonnance qui interdiseaux chiens l’entrée des cimetières?“Edgar Poe, sa vie et ses œuvres” (2: 298) [End Page 863]
In 1852 Baudelaire published his first major study of Poe in the Revue de Paris, under the title, “Edgar Allan Poe, sa vie et ses ouvrages.”2 Although by all accounts Baudelaire’s knowledge of Poe was extremely limited at this time, his devotion to the man and his work is here already apparent.3 Baudelaire lauds Poe’s genius for recounting stories and dedicates nearly a third of “Edgar Allan Poe” to the recapitulation of Poe’s tales. W. T. Bandy has shown that to make up for the lacunae in his knowledge of Poe’s œuvre, Baudelaire relied heavily upon two published works, both supplied to him by an American lawyer living in Paris. These two texts would form the factual—and to some extent also critical—basis of the 1852 “Edgar Allan Poe.” They consisted of an obituary by John Reuben Thompson, first published in 1849, and a longer review of Poe’s life and works by John Moncure Daniel, published in 1850.4 Despite these borrowings, “Edgar Allan Poe” is generally recognized to be an integral piece of Baudelaire’s critical work; indeed, one that betrays in Baudelaire an already keen insight into Poe’s literary talent.
When, however, in 1856 it came time to publish Histoires extraordinaires (the first collected book volume of Baudelaire’s Poe translations5) and with it an introduction to Poe’s life and work, Baudelaire declined to republish his earlier piece—although he had initially [End Page 864] intended to do so. And while the 1856 introduction, “Edgar Poe, sa vie et ses œuvres,”6 still draws heavily on the former essay, Baudelaire explains in a letter from July 10, 1855 to Emile-François Templier that he finds the 1852 text “plus qu’insuffisante,” and that he intends to undertake major revisions. These revisions are, in retrospect, fairly easy to account for.7 Baudelaire had been exposed to so much more of Poe’s work in the four years following the first essay’s publication that it would have been more surprising if his views hadn’t evolved. In terms of content, the subtraction of the lengthy summaries that compose so much of the first essay and the addition to the second essay of various defensive passages shielding Poe against the aggressions of his American critics account for the better part of Baudelaire’s major changes. It is easy to imagine that, as to the former omissions, the growing popularity of Poe and the placement of the second essay as an introduction to a volume of his works had obviated the need for synopsis. And as to the latter passages, it seems probable, if not likely, that the persistently defamatory tone of early American criticism had necessitated—at least as far as Baudelaire was concerned—additional defenses on Poe’s behalf.8 If, however, these differences are relatively easy to account for, still others prove more difficult.
One of these more troubling differences is that of the texts’ inscriptions of Poe’s memory. Surprisingly, and in spite of their rather stark divide on this point, this feature has all but been neglected by the numerous studies that have been dedicated to the two works.9 The oversight is all the more remarkable when one considers that their [End Page 865] divergence on this point constitutes one of the more powerful and...