Edgar Allan Poe and the Masses: The Political Economy of Literature in Antebellum America

By Terence Whalen | Go to book overview

Chapter Six
SUBTLE BARBARIANS
THE SOUTHERN VOYAGE OF EDGAR ALLAN POE

Commerce has constantly increased with the knowledge of man; yet it has been undergoing perpetual revolutions. These changes and revolutions have often mocked the vigilance of the wary, and the calculations of the sagacious; but there is now a fundamental principle on which commerce is based, which will lead the intelligent merchant and the wise government to foresee and prepare for most of these changes; and that principle consists in an intimate knowledge of all seas, climates, islands, continents, of every river and mountain, and every plain of the globe, and all their productions, and of the nature, habits and character of all races of men; and this information should be corrected and revised with every season. ( Jeremiah N. Reynolds, 1828)

[The savages] had uniformly behaved with the greatest decorum, aiding us with alacrity in our work, offering us their commodities frequently without price, and never, in any instance, pilfering a single article … A very short while sufficed to prove that this apparent kindness of disposition was only the result of a deeply laid plan for our destruction, and that the islanders for whom we had entertained such inordinate feelings of esteem, were among the most barbarous, subtle, and bloodthirsty wretches that ever contaminated the face of the globe. (Poe, 1838)

It is a fashion among Mr. Lowell's set to affect a belief that there is no such thing as Southern Literature. Northerners—people who have really nothing to speak of as men of letters—are cited by the dozen. … Other writers are barbarians and satirized accordingly—if mentioned at all. (Poe, 1849)

NEAR THE END of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, the British schooner Jane Guy drops anchor in the bay of a mysterious antarctic island called Tsalal. The schooner, which earlier had rescued Pym from a shipwrecked whaler, is on a commercial voyage “to cruise the South Seas for any cargo which might come most readily to hand.” 1 The Jane Guy is quickly met by the native inhabitants, who happen to be completely black; as Pym later discovers, there is nothing white on the entire

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