When one serves a fattened, sizzling ortolan cooked over an open flame, one is supposed to wrap the bird's legs in paper so that diners won't get their fingers greasy. If you didn't know that, welcome to the club--neither did Poe until he read about it in a review of a novel (we don't think he had read the novel). But one has to know a few such things to understand this very funny story. It is probably the best example in this volume of a Poe story which is impenetrable without some explanation, and which "comes clear" with the explanation.
Daughrity has figured out what "The Duc De L'Omelette " is about: N. P. Willis at the time was editor of The American Monthly Magazine and wrote for it a column called the "Editor's Table " in which he invited the reader to share the Pleasures of his office: two dogs, a pet "South American trulian" (a bird of his own invention, apparently), perfume for the quill of his pen, crimson curtains, all manner of exotic lounges, ottomans and divans, olives, japonica flowers, and a bottle of Rudesheimer.
Willis was attacked and teased for these affectations; they were well enough known so that James Paulding, in explaining that a group of Poe's tales was rejected because the targets of Poe's satires would be missed by most readers, also said that this story was one of the exceptions--everyone would understand it. Twentieth-century scholars caught on first to a second joke buried in the tale: the Duc's affectations come from The Young Duke by Benjamin Disraeli. Hirsch informed us of another quite private joke: Poe probably never even read the Disraeli novel. Our explication (see note 2 and "A note of explanation," below) adds still another: Poe hadn't read all of his other "sources," either.
A note of explanation : Poe plays with stories of people so precious that they expire from slight offenses to their aesthetic sensibilities. His footnote is meant to be another funny illustration. But it was puzzling in some ways, and unraveling what Poe had done to come up with it gives an unusually good sense of how Poe worked--where his ideas came from, how he tinkered with them, how clever, playful, and even dowrnnright sneaky he could be.
Poe slightly misquotes Gabriel Guéret's Le Parnasse Réformé ( 1668), in which Montfleury ( Zacharie Jacob Montfleury, 1600-67) is made to say,
Qui voudra donc savoir de quoy je suis mort, qu'il ne demande point si c'est de la fièvre, de l'hydropisie, ou de la goutte, mais qu'il sache que c'est d'Andromaque.
The man then who would know of what I died, let him not ask if it were of the fever, the dropsy, or the gout; but let him know that it was of the Andromache! (Disraeli's translation)
Poe's version translates,