Saturday, June 6, 2009

Poe's Penn Prospectus

On June 6, 1840, George Graham reported in the Saturday Evening Post that Edgar A. Poe had announced his plans to launch his own journal, the Penn Magazine. Graham, Poe's one-time boss at Graham's Magazine (Poe quit to pursue his own publishing venture; he would be replaced by Rufus Griswold) offered his best wishes: "The gentleman who issues the prospectus and proposes to be publisher and editor, is so well known in the literary world, that commendation would be useless... We wish him success in his new undertaking, and congratulate him."

The same week, the Pennsylvania Inquirer reported: "Edgar A. Poe, Esq. has just issued proposals for a monthly literary journal, to be called the 'Penn Magazine.'" Another notice was posted by the Philadelphia Gazette and several other newspapers. Support for the Penn was ample. Charles W. Alexander of the Daily Chronicle noted his pleasure at the idea that "Mr. Poe will again enter the field of literature." He noted that Poe "has a fund of talent" (a great phrase!) and offered his best wishes to Poe's success. "We ardently hope that he may succeed in his new enterprise," Alexander wrote. Critic Willis Gaylord Clark was inspired to write to, of all people, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about his excitement over the idea:
Mr. Edgar A. Poe will issue in this city on the first of January next, and continue thereafter in monthly numbers, 'The Penn Magazine.' Mr. Poe is a clear and vigorous writer; a discriminate and fearless critic, — and we shall be pleased to find him reigning in his own sphere, where his classic power and genuine good taste, untrammeled by base or palsying associations, shall have full scope and play. We do not doubt that the Penn Magazine will add to the reputation of its conductor, and do honor to its name.
Many of these magazine printed the prospectus in question, usually as a paid advertisement. It read as follows:
Prospectus of the Penn magazine, a monthly literary journal, to be edited and published in the city of Philadelphia, by Edgar A. Poe. — To the Public... To those who remember the early years of the [Southern Literary] Messenger, it will be scarcely necessary to say that its main feature was [a] somewhat overdone causticity in its department of Critical Notices. The Penn Magazine will retain this trait of severity in so much only as the calmest and sternest sense of literary justice will permit. One or two years, since elapsed, may have mellowed down the petulance, without interfering with the rigor of the critic... It shall be the first and chief purpose of the Magazine now proposed, to become known as one where may be found, at all times, and upon all subjects, an honest and fearless opinion... The Penn Magazine will be published in Philadelphia, on the first of each month, and will form, half yearly, a volume of about 500 pages. The price will be $5 per annum, payable in advance, or upon the receipt of the first number...
Though the Penn would never come to be, even in its later name The Stylus, it was a substantial dream for Poe to begin his new journal. What makes this potential business venture unique from other publications was the critic's fearless voice — a distinct response to the "puffing" which was rampant in American letters. This type of criticism was the selling point of Poe's journal — and was what Poe's supporters believed would lead to its success. Often, in modern times, we dismiss Poe's criticism as being too harsh — but it is this type of criticism which built Poe's reputation, gained the respect of fellow editors, and which would have launched his journal with tremendous support.

If only Poe's dream came true! The closest he came was when he became, by default, the sole owner of the Broadway Journal. It ceased publication shortly after and Poe continued his quest to begin his magazine.


Jim McAuley said...

Hi Rob. My name is Jim McAuley. We met at the talk you gave in Salem, MA. How are you doing?

It just occurred to me a few moments ago after reading your account about Poe's ideas for his own magazine, "The Stylus", that your Edgar Allan Poe Calander is in a way a fine literary publication in itself. It suggests to me what possibly Poe might have wanted his readers to hear about, the Truth, Wonder, Terror and the like...ideas that help us all appreciate the world through the author's eyes about innovation and imagination.

Thank you very much for all your efforts. I have been appreciating every single entry in your calelndar ever since you told me about it the night of your talk.

Keep up the great work and I hope to see you at, "The Wayside" this coming July 2nd.

Take care,

Jim McAuley

Rob Velella said...

Thanks for checking in, Jim!