Poe and The Illuminating Force of Mesmerism

By Siham Elmali

Mesmerism, otherwise known as Animal Magnetism, was a very popular concept around Poe’s time, and was viewed as fascinating by many authors of that era. This pseudo-science subject took its name from Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer, a German physician who believed that all living beings possessed a sort of invisible force that could be tapped into by medical practitioners for healing purposes. Poe’s interest in mesmerism may have been fueled by Facts of Mesmerism: Animal Magnetism, by the Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, a book that Poe had praised in more than one occasion. Poe found the concept so illuminating and fascinating that he incorporated it into some of his works.

Picture1“Mesmeric Revelation” as illustrated by Harry Clarke

The “Mesmeric Revelation” is the second of Poe’s stories to make use of mesmerism, after “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”, which appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in April, 1844. In his most exciting tale of animal magnetism, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, which is closely related to the “Mesmeric Revelation”, Poe said “My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the subject of Mesmerism” (Poe, 561).

The “Mesmeric Revelation,” had “excited much discussion. A large number of the mesmerists, queerly enough, take it all for gospel. Some of the Swedenborgians, at PHILADELPHIA, wrote word to POE, that at first they doubted, but in the end became convinced, of its truth. . . . It is evidently meant to be nothing more than the vehicle of the author’s views concerning the DEITY, immateriality, spirit, &c., which he apparently believes to be true, in which belief he is joined by Professor [George] BUSH” (Poe Log, Page 587). However, in “Marginal Notes” in Godey’s, August 1845, p. 50 (“Marginalia,” number 130), Poe clarified for readers that “the story is a pure fiction front beginning to end” (Mabbott, 1026).

Given the complexity of the aforementioned text, I was tasked by Dr. Gabrielle Dean, editor of Fiction and Mystery Magazine to create an annotated version. The annotated text is intended to be either a print or digital edition (given that Fiction and Mystery Magazine is both an in print and a digital magazine).

The two-column structure is easily represented in digital form. In print, the annotations can be included in the margins of a larger book, or the pages could alternate between original text and annotations to fit into smaller pages. The design is intended to be aesthetically pleasant to the viewer. Each page of the text and its corresponding annotations are closely located (making it easy to associate the annotations with the source material). The annotations were chosen to make certain passages in the text more understandable. Common elements include definitions and historical context, in regards to both events and individuals. Illustrations can be embedded in the original text or in the annotations based on spacing availability (see the design of the first two pages below).

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The headnote is italicized to not be confused with the annotations. It serves as a brief introduction to the text with some additional context. The annotated text is intended for general readers, students, and anyone otherwise interested in Poe’s work; the tale can prove challenging to decipher, largely due to terminology employed by Poe. The tale itself is an incredible piece of work that might be most appreciated by those with an interest in physics, philosophy, or metaphysics.

The text used for the annotation was published in Tales in July, 1845 (Mabbott edition). In a letter to Lowell, Poe forwarded a corrected copy of his “Mesmeric Revelation” contained in the August Columbian Magazine: “In fact the article was wofully misprinted; and my principal object in boring you with it now, is to beg of you the favor to get it copied (with corrections) in the Brother Jonathan — I mean the Boston Notion — or any other paper where you have interest. . . . In what are you occupied? . . . For myself I am very industrious — collecting and arranging materials for a Critical History of Am. Literature. Do you ever see Mr Hawthorne? He is a man of rare genius. . . . How fares it with the Biography?” (Poe Log, page 469). However, there has been no record of its publication. Another presumed copy of first corrected version, with more extensive revisions made in preparation for Tales. This version no longer exists, but is presumably reflected in base text chosen for this annotation.

In January 4, 1845 Poe sent a letter to George Bush, Professor of Hebrew at the New York University. He attached his story “Mesmeric Revelation,” as reprinted in the New York Dollar Weekly from its original publication in the Columbian Magazine for August 1844: “I have ventured to send you the article because there are many points in it which bear upon the subject matter of your late admirable work on the Future Condition of Man — and therefore I am induced to hope that you will do me the honor to look over what I have said.” Although “the article is purely a fiction,” Poe believes it contains “some thoughts which are original”; he is “exceedingly anxious to learn if they have claim to absolute originality” (Poe Log, page 485). Professor Bush replied to Poe giving him a positive opinion of the story (Poe Log, page 486).

The correspondence between the two may have been the reason why Poe added several paragraphs to the text. The following three sentences at the end “His brow was of the coldness of ice. Thus, ordinarily, should it have appeared, only after long pressure from Azrael’s hand. Had the sleep-waker, indeed, during the latter portion of his discourse, been addressing me from out the region of the shadows” may have been added to help provide suspension of disbelief (Mabbott, page 1042).

It is my hope that making this annotated edition publicly available over the internet will help in exposing new readers to Poe’s works, as well as give readers already familiar with some of Poe’s works the opportunity to explore some of his science fiction writings, which are perhaps less known. Please note that this editorial statement is one of many others that my colleagues at Fiction and Mystery Magazine have created to showcase their design for their respective annotated work, all for the sole purpose of advancing Poe’s legacy and reaching more readers.

 

References

Dwight R. Thomas and David K. Jackson, “Chapter 07 [Part 02],” The Poe Log (1987), pp. 446-480. Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore.

Dwight R. Thomas and David K. Jackson, “Chapter 08 [Part 01],” The Poe Log (1987), pp. 483-545. Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

Dwight R. Thomas and David K. Jackson, “Chapter 08 [Part 02],” The Poe Log (1987), pp. 545-608. Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” [Text-02], American Review (New York, NY), vol. II, no. 6, December 1845, pp. 561-565

Edgar Allan Poe — “Mesmeric Revelation”.” Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore – Works – Tales – Mesmeric Revelation. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Edgar Allan Poe, “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”: first published in Godey’s in April 1844, although the version consulted was the one appearing in Broadway Journal, 29 November 1844, 2, pp. 315–18. Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore

Harry Clarke illustrations for E A Poe, as presented in http://50watts.com/Harry-Clarke-Illustrations-for-E-A-Poe

Mesmer, Franz A, and George Bloch. Mesmerism: A Translation of the Original Scientific and Medical Writings of F.a. Mesmer. Los Altos, Calif: W. Kaufman, 1980. Print.

Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “Mesmeric Revelation,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1024-1042

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