The “Moon-Notes” at the Top of Poe’s Stairway-Part II

I arrived at the museum on a cold but sunny day in February 2013, to start my journey up Poe’s Stairway. Entering his research room, I looked around and saw that there were piles of boxes on a large oval-shaped hardwood table, containing boxes and folders that were being cataloged by the museum’s Registrar, Jennifer Camp. She worked in an adjacent room that also served as a storage room for the files and rare first edition books. She came out to meet me and then went right back to work. On the walls, there were some paintings of Poe and busts of him and Pallas-the Greek statue that the Raven landed on. On a corner of the table, set aside from the file boxes, I saw three copies of Eureka. Chris informed me that the museum generally kept one first edition copy of Eureka on display in a locked case and two others stored at the Virginia Library. He had checked two of these books out of the State Library for my inspection. I looked at all three of these books with a reserved excitement, like they were fossils from a distant time and place.

Three Rare First Edition Book of Poe's Eureka: A Prose Poem.
Three Rare First Edition Book of Poe’s Eureka: A Prose Poem.

Based on my experiences at the VCU Special Archives Library, I thought I would have to wear gloves to examine these precious books. Instead, Chris said that I would only need to wash my hands and handle the pages carefully. He noted that only 500 copies of the book were printed and less than 50 are still accountable. According to Stuart and Susan Levine’s annotated version of Eureka (2004), other known first editions of Eureka are stored at the following locations:

  • Library of Congress, Washington, DC
  • New York City Public Library
  • Henry Huntington Library (San Marino, CA
  • Yale University Library, New Haven, CT
  • Boston Public Library
  • Chapin’s Library- Williams College, Williamstown, MASS
  • New York State Library
  • William K. Keister
  • Peabody Institute, Baltimore, MD
  • University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA
  • Boston Athenaeum
  • Owen D. Young, NY
  • K. Lilly, Jr., Indianapolis, IND
  • Howe Estate, Cincinnati, OH
  • Carroll A. Wilson, NY
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Texas, Austin, TX
  • Pierpont Morgan Library, New York
  • Viscount Esher, England
  • New York University Library, NYC
  • H. Rindfleisch, Richmond, VA
  • Gabriel Wells (several copies with manuscript annotations throughout by Poe, attested by Rufus Griswold in the Stephen H. Wakeman copy.

I know that this list is not complete since I found one first edition copy of Poe’s last book at the VCU Library. I went back to Dr. Eckhardt and got his approval to prepare my term report on Eureka. When I told him that I made connections with the Poe Museum. Also, that the museum’s curator had scheduled me to do research there once per week as long as I needed he was very pleased. On my next visit to the museum, Chris said that Jennifer would be available to secure the materials that I needed and to answer my questions.

Poe’s “Moon-Notes”

On one of my subsequent visits, Chris informed me that the museum owned a rare facsimile of a Manuscript that Poe wrote in his own handwriting. These notes likely helped him to prepare research on Eureka and some of his other science fiction tales. Chris called the manuscript the “Moon Notes” because they discussed the moon and the planets orbits around the Sun. The original manuscripts, he said, were donated to the Poe Museum  in 1942 by the family of Rufus Griswold, the literary executor of the Poe Estate. In 1948, the Poe Museum (then called the Poe Shrine) gave the originals to the Harvard University Houghton Library in Boston, which also houses a Eureka first edition. The “Moon-Notes” are made up of eight un-ordered and, we thought un-transcribed pages. They start and end in the middle of sentences, indicating that there were other pages; however, no others have been found. Chris thought that it would be a good project for me to try to transcribe the document to see if Poe made some direct or indirect references to Eureka. Jennifer scanned a sample page for me to start my project. I worked on this projects a few hours per week during my first semester at VCU and for about half of the summer. I attempted to faithfully transcribe Poe’s writing without attempting to explain the seemingly obvious abbreviations or informal writing. Although Poe’s handwriting was fairly clear and consistent, I needed to have several difficult words cross-checked by Ms. Camp.

“”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

My Transcription of one page of Poe’s “Moon-Notes” Page ( See Below):

 

Poe's Manuscript Used to Prepare his book, Eureka

“186 feet.

The supposition of D. de Mairan is that the hemisphere of the moon next to the earth is more dense than the opposite one, + hence the same face w necessarily be kept toward the earth.

Juno is free from nebulosity in appearance yet, according to Schroeter, it has an atmosphere more dense than that of any of the old planets of this system-variable atmosphere.

Vesta no nebulosity.

A telescope wh: magnifies only 1000 times will show a spot on the moon’s surface 122 yds diameter.

Prof. Fraunhofer of Munich recently announced that he had discovered a lunar edifice, resembling a fortified cabin, together with several lines of roads.

Schroeter conjectures the existence of a great city on the east side of the Moon, a little north of the equator an extensive canal, in another place, and fields of vegetation in another. Herschel found since shown this to be false.

It may be demonstrated from the laws of optics that there exists no physical impossibility of the introduction of instruments sufficiently powerful to settle the question of the moon’s being inhabited. The difficulty which prevented the great telescope of Herschel from revealing this secret is not so much the x want of power in the lens, as of light in the tube under objects distinct under such an exposure of the visual rays.”

“””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

On the sample transcribed page shown above, Poe writes on theories from several scientists who lived slightly before his time. These notes are scribbled, sometimes in a shorthand style, that is much like the way that modern scholars might take notes on a topic of investigation. Poe writes on the density of the of the moon, the capabilities of modern telescopes,  speculation and rejection of the discovery of possible life on the Moon.  The following scientists and asteroids are discussed on the single page of “Moon Notes” transcribed by the present researcher:

Jean di Ortous Marian (1678 to 1771) was a French astronomer. In 1719 he discussed the varying obliquity of light.  In 1731 he observed nebulosity around a star near the Orion Nebulae (Westfall). Johann Heteronymous Schroter (1745-1816) was an aspiring astronomer, and friend of the Herschel family (Sheehan and Baum 171). Scientists became more interested in distant planets and stars after Wallaston Franenhofer (1787-1826) discovered a powerful telescope with a focal length of thirteen feet and an aperture of nine feet. This telescope made possible the analysis of invisible gasses in the universe such as helium, neon, krypton and argon (Kantor).

Juno’s formal designation is now known as 3 Juno. It was the third asteroid discovered. It is now thought to be about the tenth largest in size (Coffey). Vesta is still considered as one of the largest asteroids in the Solar System, and named after Vesta, the virgin goddess of home and health in Roman Mythology. Sir William Hershel (1738-1822 was “the founder of modern stellar astronomy.” His discovery of Uranus in 1781 was the first identification of a planet in modern times. He developed the theory of nebula’s and described details about the evolution of stars. He cataloged many binary stars and made important modifications to the reflecting telescope. William Herschel also demonstrated that the solar system and the stars move through space, and he discovered infrared radiation, which detected this movement” (Millman 134,141)….

“”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

It seems clear from my study of this page that Poe was preparing research on scientific principles which could have been used to prepare for his Eureka lecture and/or book tour. It also appeared, after I looked at a summary of Poe’s theories in Eureka, that the topics presented on this single page may have been both relevant and important to his book. Whether he did or didn’t refer to these documents when he wrote Eureka, they certainly confirm that Poe studied the theories of important scientists who made significant discoveries in astronomy.  Additionally, from this single page of transcription, I concluded that it would be useful to also transcribe the other seven known pages of the “Moon-Notes.”

When I completed transcribing all eight pages of the “Moon-Notes,” Chris suggested that I send a photocopy of my work to Jeff Savoye, the Director of the International Poe Society in Baltimore, the official repository of the most complete electronic collection of Poe materials in the world. You can get access to these materials at www.eapoe.org. It did not take very long for Jeff to write me back stating that my transcription was fairly accurate but that it had been transcribed in 1902, and included in the Appendix of the Eureka section, in James A. Harrison’s, the Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume XVI. Though I was disappointed that I would not be able to claim that I had made an original transcription, I was delighted that Savoy had connected the “Moon-Notes” to Eureka. In my next Poe and Science Blog, I will discuss the preliminary information and questions I discovered about Eureka and the difficulties that previous researchers have had in conducting evaluations of Poe’s final, and most enigmatic work.

I plan to write at least one Blog per month on my MA Thesis on Poe in Science. It will appear first in the Poe and Science Blog (www.poemuseum.org). Afterward, with the Poe Museum’s permission, I will reprint a similar article in Litchatte.com

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Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education (1973) and in English Literature (2015). He earned a Doctorate in Education in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member and occasional volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write him at ellisonms2@vcu.edu

Murray Ellison at the Richmond Poe Museum

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