Friday, November 30, 2012

Maria Tucker Reads "The Bells" at Poe Funeral

Maria Tucker reads "The Bells" at Poe Forward's POE FUNERAL.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

"The Bells" Published 1849

The Bells (1849)

by Edgar Allan Poe

"The Bells" is a heavily onomatopoeic poem by Edgar Allan Poe which was not published until after his death in 1849. It is perhaps best known for the diacopic repetition of the word "bells." The poem has four parts to it; each part becomes darker and darker as the poem progresses from "the jingling and the tinkling" of the bells in part 1 to the "moaning and the groaning" of the bells in part 4.


Hear the sledges with the bells —
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


Hear the mellow wedding bells —
Golden bells!
What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!
Through the balmy air of night
How they ring out their delight!
From the molten-golden notes,
And all in tune,
What a liquid ditty floats
To the turtle-dove that listens, while she gloats
On the moon!
Oh, from out the sounding cells
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! — how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!


Hear the loud alarum bells —
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire,
In a mad expostulation with the deaf and frantic fire,
Leaping higher, higher, higher,
With a desperate desire,
And a resolute endeavor
Now — now to sit or never,
By the side of the pale-faced moon.
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale their terror tells
Of Despair!
How they clang, and clash, and roar!
What a horror they outpour
On the bosom of the palpitating air!
Yet the ear it fully knows,
By the twanging
And the clanging,
How the danger ebbs and flows;
Yet the ear distinctly tells,
In the jangling
And the wrangling,
How the danger sinks and swells,
By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells —
Of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
In the clamor and the clangor of the bells!


Hear the tolling of the bells —
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people — ah, the people —
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone,
And who tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone —
They are neither man nor woman —
They are neither brute nor human —
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
A paean from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the paean of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the paean of the bells,
Of the bells —
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells —
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells —
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.


This poem can be interpreted in many different ways, the most basic of which is simply a reflection of the sounds that bells can make, and the emotions evoked from that sound. For example, "From the bells bells bells bells/Bells bells bells!" brings to mind the clamoring of myriad church bells. Several deeper interpretations exist as well. One is that the poem is a representation of life from the nimbleness of youth to the pain of age. Growing despair is emphasized alongside the growing frenzy in the tone of the poem.[1] Another is the passing of the seasons, from spring to winter. The passing of the seasons is often used as a metaphor for life itself. The poem also suggests a Poe theme of mourning over a lost wife, courted in sledge, married and then killed in a fire as the husband looks on. The tolling of the iron bells reflects the final madness of the grief-stricken husband.

The sounds of the verses, specifically the repetitive "bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells," lie on a narrow line between sense and nonsense, causing a feeling of instability.[2] Poe uses the word "tintinnabulation", which many critics believe is merely an onomatopoeic nonsense term. Poe biographer Hervey Allen suggests the word is based on an ancient bell-based instrument called "tintinabula."[3] The series of "bells" echo the imagined sounds of the various bells, from the silver bells following the klip-klop of the horses, to the "dong, ding-dong" of the swinging golden and iron bells, to screeching "whee-aaah" of the brazen bells. The series are always four, followed by three, always beginning and ending on a stressed syllable. The meter changes to iambic in the lines with repeated "bells," bringing the reader into their rhythm. Most of the poem is a more hurried anapestic (**/) meter.

The bells of which he writes are thought to be those he heard from Fordham University's bell tower, since Poe resided in the same Bronx neighborhood as that university. He also frequently strolled about Fordham's campus conversing with both the students and the Jesuits.

Critical response

"The Bells" is often criticized for being mechanical and forced.[4]

Publication history

Poe is believed to have written "The Bells" in May 1848 and submitted it three times to Sartrain's Union Magazine, a magazine run by John Sartain, until it was finally accepted.[5] He was paid fifteen dollars for his work, though it was not published until after his death in November 1849.

Inspiration for the poem is often granted to Marie Louise Shew (above), a woman who had helped care for Poe's wife Virginia as she lay dying.[5] One day, as Shew was visiting Poe at his cottage in Fordham, New York, Poe needed to write a poem but had no inspiration. Shew allegedly heard ringing bells from afar and playfully suggested to start there, possibly even writing the first line of each stanza.[6]


Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943) composed a choral symphony The Bells, Op. 35, based on a Russian adaptation of the poem by Konstantin Balmont. The symphony follows classical sonata form: first movement, slow movement, scherzo, and finale, thus honoring the poem's four sections.[7] (The work is sometimes performed in English, using not Poe's original, but a translation of Balmont's adaptation by Fanny S. Copeland.) The Scottish composer Hugh S. Roberton (1874–1947) published "Hear the Tolling of the Bells" (1909), "The Sledge Bells" (1909), and "Hear the Sledges with the Bells" (1919) based on Poe's poem.[8] Josef Holbrooke composed his "The Bells, Prelude, Op. 50" on Poe's poem and Phil Ochs composed a tune to the poem recorded his album All the News That's Fit to Sing. Eric Woolfson, musical partner to Alan Parsons in the Alan Parsons Project, has written two albums based on the writings of Poe. His second, Poe: More Tales of Mystery and Imagination includes a song entitled "The Bells", for which he set Poe's words to music. This album was also the basis for a musical stage production that was performed in England, Austria, and other European countries.


1.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York City: Harper Perennial, 1991. ISBN 0060923318 p. 403
2.^ Rosenheim, Shawn James. The Cryptographic Imagination: Secret Writing from Edgar Poe to the Internet. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. p. 125. ISBN 9780801853326
3.^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 25. ISBN 086576008X
4.^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. Cooper Square Press, 1992. p. 223. ISBN 0815410387
5.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. p. 25. ISBN 081604161X
6.^ E. A. Poe Society of Baltimore
8.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. p. 212. ISBN 081604161X

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jan Svankmajer's "Lunacy"

Jan Svankmajer's LUNACY,
loosely adapted from
"The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether"
by Edgar Allan Poe.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" Published 1845

"The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" is a comedic short story written by American author Edgar Allan Poe.

Plot summary

The story follows an unnamed narrator who visits a mental institution in southern France (more accurately, a "Maison de Santé") known for a revolutionary new method of treating mental illnesses called the "system of soothing." A companion with whom he is travelling knows Monsieur Maillard, the originator of the system, and makes introductions before leaving the narrator. The narrator is shocked to learn that the "system of soothing" has been abandoned recently. He questions this, as he has heard of its success and popularity. Maillard tells him to "believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see."

The narrator tours the grounds of the hospital and is invited to dinner. There, he is joined by twenty-five to thirty other people and a large, lavish spread of food. The other guests, he notices, are dressed somewhat oddly; though their clothes are well-made, they do not seem to fit the people very well. Most of them are female and were "bedecked with a profusion of jewelry, such as rings, bracelets and ear-rings, and wore their bosoms and arms shamefully bare." The table and the room were decorated with an excess of lit candles wherever it was possible to find a place for them. Dinner is also accompanied by musicians, playing "fiddles, fifes, trombones, and a drum" and, though they seem to entertain all others present, the narrator likens it to horrible noises. Upon the whole, the narrator says, there was much of the "bizarre" about everything at the dinner.

Conversation as they eat focuses on the patients that they have been treating. They demonstrate for the narrator the strange behavior they have witnessed, including patients who thought themselves a teapot, a donkey, cheese, champagne, a frog, snuff, a pumpkin, and others. Maillard occasionally tries to calm them down, and the narrator seems very concerned by their behavior and passionate imitations.

He then learns that this staff has replaced the system of soothing with a much more strict system, which Maillard says is based on the work of a "Doctor Tarr" and a "Professor Fether." The narrator says he is not familiar with their work, to the astonishment of the others. It is finally explained at this point why the previous system was abandoned. One "singular" incident, Maillard says, was when the patients, granted a large amount of liberty around the house, actually overthrew their doctors and nurses and usurped their positions, locking them up as lunatics. These lunatics were led by a man who claimed to have invented a better method of treating mental illness, and who allowed no visitors except for "a very stupid-looking young gentleman of whom he had no reason to be afraid." The narrator asks how the hospital staff rebelled and returned things to order. Just then, loud noises are heard and the actual hospital staff breaks from their confines. It is revealed that the dinner guests were, in fact, the patients who had just recently taken over. As part of their uprising, the inmates had treated the staff to "tarring and feathering." The keepers now put the real patients, including Monsieur Maillard, back in their cells, while the narrator, who is the "stupid-looking young gentleman" mentioned by Monsieur Maillard, admits he has yet to find any of the works of Dr. "Tarr" and Professor "Fether."

The "system of soothing"

Monsieur Maillard's system avoided all punishments and did not confine its patients. They were granted much freedom and were not forced to wear hospital gowns but instead "were permitted to roam about the house and grounds in the ordinary apparel of persons in right mind." Doctors "humored" their patients by never contradicting their fantasies or hallucinations. For example, if a man thought he was a chicken, doctors would treat him as a chicken, giving him corn to eat, etc.

The system was apparently very popular. Monsieur Maillard says that all the "Maisons de Santé" of France have adopted it. The narrator remarks that after the patient revolt is crushed, that system is reinstated at the asylum he visits--though modified in certain ways that are intended to reform it.

Historical background

At the time this story was written, care for the insane was a highly political issue. People were calling for asylum reform at a time when the mentally ill were treated like prisoners. It is also during a time when increased acquittals due to the insanity defense was being criticized for allowing criminals to avoid punishment.[1]

Publication history

"The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" was held by editors for several months before finally being published in the November 1845 issue of Graham's Magazine.[2]


One of the plays given at the Theatre du Grand Guignol in Paris was "Le Systéme du Dr Goudron et Pr Plume" (1903), adapted by André de Lorde.
The surreal Mexican film La Mansión de la Locura (1973), in English The Mansion of Madness, by Juan López Moctezuma.
Director S.F. Brownrigg's movie The Forgotten (1973), also known as Death Ward #13 and Don't Look in the Basement.
"(The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether" is the fifth track on Tales of Mystery and Imagination, an album by The Alan Parsons Project of music inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer based part of his film Lunacy on this story. The film was also inspired by Poe's 1844 short story, "The Premature Burial," and the works of the Marquis de Sade.
A one-act opera called A Method for Madness (1999), composed by David S. Bernstein, American composer, and libretto by Charles Kondek.


1.^ Cleman, John. "Irresistible Impulses: Edgar Allan Poe and the Insanity Defense," collected in Bloom's BioCritiques: Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001. p. 66-7 ISBN 0-7910-6173-6
2.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. p. 469. ISBN 0801857309

Monday, November 19, 2012

Deathday: Fitz-Greene Halleck 1867 Poet & Poe Associate

Fitz-Greene Halleck (July 8, 1790 – November 19, 1867) was an American poet, born and died at Guilford, Connecticut.


Early life

Fitz-Greene Halleck was born on July 8, 1790,[1] in Guilford, Connecticut at what was the corner of Whitfield and Water Streets.[2] At two years old, he was the victim of a prank when two soldiers fired off their guns next to his left ear; he was partially deaf for the remainder of his life.[3] He left school at 15 to work in his family's shop in Guilford.

Early career

In May 1811, Halleck moved to New York City to find work. After a month of searching, he had all but given up and made plans to move to Richmond, Virginia instead when he was hired by a banker named Jacob Barker.[4] He remained in Barker's employ for the next 20 years.

Halleck's first literary works of note were written with Joseph Rodman Drake. They penned the anonymous "Croaker Papers" which were satires of New York Society. The Croakers were perhaps the first popular literary satire of New York, and New York society (then far from a world cultural center) was overcome with excitement at being considered worthy of erudite derision.

Halleck then penned Fanny, his longest poem, was another satire on the literature, fashions, and politics of the time. Published anonymously in December 1819, it proved so popular that the initial 50 cent edition was fetching up to $10. Two years later, its continuing popularity inspired Halleck to amend an additional 50 stanzas.[5]

Drake had advised Halleck to pursue becoming a nationally-known poet and to sit on "Appalachia's brow" to take in the immense power of nature and use it to inspire his imagination.[6] A medical student, Drake died of consumption at 25 and Halleck commemorated his friend's death with a mournful poem that is considered by many as his most heartfelt, beginning "Green be the turf above thee" (1820). Drake's widow, Sarah Eckford Drake, attempted to make Halleck her second husband, despite Halleck's occasional satires of her, including one where he referred to her as a witch. She died eight years later.[7]

In 1822, Halleck visited Europe, and the traces of this are found in most of his subsequent poetry, e.g. his lines on Robert Burns, and on Alnwick Castle.

Professional and later life

On May 15, 1832, Halleck became the private secretary to John Jacob Astor and was appointed by him one of the original trustees of the Astor Library of New York. He also functioned as Astor's cultural tutor, advising him on what pieces of art to purchase. The immensely wealthy—and tightfisted—Astor in his will left to Halleck an annuity of only $200, a meager sum which Astor's son William increased to $1,500. In 1849 he retired to his hometown of Guilford where he spent the rest of his life living with his older unmarried sister.

As a writer, Halleck became associated with the New York-based Knickerbocker Group, as did his collaborator Drake.

In April 1860, a lingering illness caused enough concern for Halleck that he gave instructions for his funeral and burial.[8] Increasingly irritable in his later years, he often turned down requests for public appearances and complained about being pestered by "frequent appeals for letters to hard-hearted editors."[9] People even named their children after the poet, much to Halleck's annoyance. He wrote, "I am favored by affectionate fathers with epistles announcing that their eldest-born has been named after me, a calamity that costs me a letter of profound gratefulness."[9] Halleck's last major poem, "Young America," was published in 1867 in the New York Ledger.[3] On November 19, 1867, around 11:00 at night, he called out to his sister, "Marie, hand me my pantaloons, if you please." He died without making another sound before she could turn around.[10] He is buried at Alderbrook Cemetery in Guilford.[11]


It has been posited that Halleck was in love with Joseph Rodman Drake. This presumption is not without reason; Halleck describes serving as best man at Drake's wedding:

"[Drake] has married, and, as his wife's father is rich, I imagine he will write no more. He was poor, as poets, of course, always are, and offered himself a sacrifice at the shrine of Hymen to shun the 'pains and penalties' of poverty. I officiated as groomsman, though much against my will. His wife was good natured, and loves him to distraction. He is perhaps the handsomest man in New York, - a face like an angel, a form like an Apollo; and, as I well knew that his person was the true index of his mind, I felt myself during the ceremony as committing a crime in aiding and assisting such a sacrifice."[12]

In his will, he asked for the body of his friend Drake to be dug up and reburied with him.[13] His wish almost came true in 1903, when plans were set to move the bodies of Drake, his wife, daughter, sister, and nephew to Halleck's plot in Guilford.[14] A biographer noted that Halleck's last major work, "Young America," was both "a jaded critique of marriage and a pederastic boy-worship reminiscent of classical homosexuality."[3]

Halleck's first infatuation with another man was much earlier. At nineteen, he became enamored with a young Cuban named Carlos Menie. A few early poems were dedicated to Menie.[15]

Critical response

In the mid to late 19th century, Halleck was regarded as one of America's leading poets, dubbed "the American Byron"..Amongst his most well-known was "Marco Bozzaris," which Halleck noted was "puffed in a thousand (more or less) magazines and newspapers" in the United States, England, Scotland, and Ireland.[16] Charles Dickens spoke very fondly of the "accomplished writer" in a January 1868 letter to William Makepeace Thackeray (as recounted in "Thackeray in the United States"). It is not clear how much of Dickens's fondness is based on Halleck's poetical ability and how much on his wit and charm, which is often lauded by his contemporaries. Abraham Lincoln occasionally read Halleck's poetry aloud to friends in the White House.

American writer and critic Edgar Allan Poe reviewed Halleck's poetry collection Alnwick Castle. Regarding Halleck's poem "Fanny," he said, "to uncultivated ears... [it is] endurable, but to the practiced versifier it is little less than torture."[17] In the September 1843 issue of Graham's Magazine, Poe wrote that the Halleck "has nearly abandoned the Muses, much to the regret of his friends and to the neglect of his reputation."[17]

(Poe Forward note: When Poe's BROADWAY JOURNAL was in danger of going under, he appealed to Halleck for money and received a signed note of endorsement. Poe never got the money. How this affected his review of Halleck's work is up for speculation.)

Halleck spent several years without producing any literary works. After his death, poet William Cullen Bryant addressed the New York Historical Society on February 2, 1869, and spoke about this blank period in Halleck's career. He ultimately concluded: "Whatever the reason that Halleck ceased so early to write, let us congratulate ourselves that he wrote at all."[18]


In July 1869 a granite monument was erected to him in Guilford, Connecticut, the first monument ever erected in celebration of an American Poet. Poet Bayard Taylor, author of America's first homosexual novel Joseph and His Friend (1870), spoke at the commemoration.[19]

In 1877 a statue was erected to him, the first statue to commemorate an American poet. It still stands on the Literary Walk on the Mall in New York City's Central Park.

In 2006 The Fitz-Greene Halleck Society was founded to raise awareness of this forgotten historical figure. The Society sees Halleck's value as a lesson of the fleeting nature of fame, but in no way seeks to mock the now almost completely forgotten poet.

Further reading

Wilson, The Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck (New York, 1869)
Wilson, The Poetical Writings of Fitz-Greene Halleck (New York, 1869)
Hallock, John Wesley Matthew. "The First Statue: Fitz-Greene Halleck and Homotextual Representation in Nineteenth-Century America." [Temple U, 1997], DAI, Vol. 58-06A (1997): 2209.


1.^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 44. ISBN 086576008X
2.^ Ehrlich and Carruth, 76
3.^ Hallock, 9
4.^ Hallock, 43
5.^ Burt, Daniel S. The Chronology of American Literature: America's Literary Achievements From the Colonial Era to Modern Times. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004: 126. ISBN 9780618168217
6.^ Callow, James T. Kindred Spirits: Knickerbocker Writers and American Artists, 1807–1855. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967: 147.
7.^ Hallock, 90–92
8.^ Hallock, 142
9.^ Hallock, 143
10.^ Hallock, 150
11.^ Ehrlich and Carruth, 77
12.^ James Grant Wilson, The Life and Letters of Fitz-Greene Halleck, pg. 184. New York: Appleton and Company, 1869.
13.^ "To Exhume Drake's Body", The New York Times. September 19, 1903: p. 2
14.^ Hallock, 91
15.^ Hallock, 32
16.^ Hallock, 97
17.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001: 103. ISBN 081604161X
18.^ Chubb, Edwin Watts. Stories of Authors, British & American. Echo Library, 2008: 152. ISBN 9781406892536
19.^ Hallock, 151


Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. ISBN 0195031865
Hallock, John W. M. The American Byron: Homosexuality and the Fall of Fitz-Greene Halleck. University of Wisconsin Press, 2000. ISBN 0299168042

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Loss of Breath" Published 1832

Loss of Breath (1832)
by Edgar Allan Poe

"O Breathe not, etc."
- Moore's Melodies

The most notorious ill-fortune must in the end yield to the untiring courage of philosophy—as the most stubborn city to the ceaseless vigilance of an enemy. Shalmanezer, as we have it in holy writings, lay three years before Samaria; yet it fell. Sardanapalus—see Diodorus—maintained himself seven in Nineveh; but to no purpose. Troy expired at the close of the second lustrum; and Azoth, as Aristaeus declares upon his honour as a gentleman, opened at last her gates to Psammetichus, after having barred them for the fifth part of a century....

"Thou wretch!—thou vixen!—thou shrew!" said I to my wife on the morning after our wedding; "thou witch!—thou hag!—thou whippersnapper—thou sink of iniquity!—thou fiery-faced quintessence of all that is abominable!—thou—thou—" here standing upon tiptoe, seizing her by the throat, and placing my mouth close to her ear, I was preparing to launch forth a new and more decided epithet of opprobrium, which should not fail, if ejaculated, to convince her of her insignificance, when to my extreme horror and astonishment I discovered that I had lost my breath.

The phrases "I am out of breath," "I have lost my breath," etc., are often enough repeated in common conversation; but it had never occurred to me that the terrible accident of which I speak could bona fide and actually happen! Imagine—that is if you have a fanciful turn—imagine, I say, my wonder—my consternation—my despair!

There is a good genius, however, which has never entirely deserted me. In my most ungovernable moods I still retain a sense of propriety, et le chemin des passions me conduit—as Lord Edouard in the "Julie" says it did him—a la philosophie veritable.

Although I could not at first precisely ascertain to what degree the occurence had affected me, I determined at all events to conceal the matter from my wife, until further experience should discover to me the extent of this my unheard of calamity. Altering my countenance, therefore, in a moment, from its bepuffed and distorted appearance, to an expression of arch and coquettish benignity, I gave my lady a pat on the one cheek, and a kiss on the other, and without saying one syllable (Furies! I could not), left her astonished at my drollery, as I pirouetted out of the room in a Pas de Zephyr.

Behold me then safely ensconced in my private boudoir, a fearful instance of the ill consequences attending upon irascibility—alive, with the qualifications of the dead—dead, with the propensities of the living—an anomaly on the face of the earth—being very calm, yet breathless.

Yes! breathless. I am serious in asserting that my breath was entirely gone. I could not have stirred with it a feather if my life had been at issue, or sullied even the delicacy of a mirror. Hard fate!—yet there was some alleviation to the first overwhelming paroxysm of my sorrow. I found, upon trial, that the powers of utterance which, upon my inability to proceed in the conversation with my wife, I then concluded to be totally destroyed, were in fact only partially impeded, and I discovered that had I, at that interesting crisis, dropped my voice to a singularly deep guttural, I might still have continued to her the communication of my sentiments; this pitch of voice (the guttural) depending, I find, not upon the current of the breath, but upon a certain spasmodic action of the muscles of the throat.

Throwing myself upon a chair, I remained for some time absorbed in meditation. My reflections, be sure, were of no consolatory kind. A thousand vague and lachrymatory fancies took possesion of my soul- and even the idea of suicide flitted across my brain; but it is a trait in the perversity of human nature to reject the obvious and the ready, for the far-distant and equivocal. Thus I shuddered at self-murder as the most decided of atrocities while the tabby cat purred strenuously upon the rug, and the very water dog wheezed assiduously under the table, each taking to itself much merit for the strength of its lungs, and all obviously done in derision of my own pulmonary incapacity.

Oppressed with a tumult of vague hopes and fears, I at length heard the footsteps of my wife descending the staircase. Being now assured of her absence, I returned with a palpitating heart to the scene of my disaster.

Carefully locking the door on the inside, I commenced a vigorous search. It was possible, I thought, that, concealed in some obscure corner, or lurking in some closet or drawer, might be found the lost object of my inquiry. It might have a vapory—it might even have a tangible form. Most philosophers, upon many points of philosophy, are still very unphilosophical. William Godwin, however, says in his "Mandeville," that "invisible things are the only realities," and this, all will allow, is a case in point. I would have the judicious reader pause before accusing such asseverations of an undue quantum of absurdity. Anaxagoras, it will be remembered, maintained that snow is black, and this I have since found to be the case.

Long and earnestly did I continue the investigation: but the contemptible reward of my industry and perseverance proved to be only a set of false teeth, two pair of hips, an eye, and a bundle of billets-doux from Mr. Windenough to my wife. I might as well here observe that this confirmation of my lady's partiality for Mr. W. occasioned me little uneasiness. That Mrs. Lackobreath should admire anything so dissimilar to myself was a natural and necessary evil. I am, it is well known, of a robust and corpulent appearance, and at the same time somewhat diminutive in stature. What wonder, then, that the lath-like tenuity of my acquaintance, and his altitude, which has grown into a proverb, should have met with all due estimation in the eyes of Mrs. Lackobreath. But to return.

My exertions, as I have before said, proved fruitless. Closet after closet—drawer after drawer—corner after corner—were scrutinized to no purpose. At one time, however, I thought myself sure of my prize, having, in rummaging a dressing-case, accidentally demolished a bottle of Grandjean's Oil of Archangels—which, as an agreeable perfume, I here take the liberty of recommending.

With a heavy heart I returned to my boudoir—there to ponder upon some method of eluding my wife's penetration, until I could make arrangements prior to my leaving the country, for to this I had already made up my mind. In a foreign climate, being unknown, I might, with some probability of success, endeavor to conceal my unhappy calamity—a calamity calculated, even more than beggary, to estrange the affections of the multitude, and to draw down upon the wretch the well-merited indignation of the virtuous and the happy. I was not long in hesitation. Being naturally quick, I committed to memory the entire tragedy of "Metamora." I had the good fortune to recollect that in the accentuation of this drama, or at least of such portion of it as is allotted to the hero, the tones of voice in which I found myself deficient were altogether unnecessary, and the deep guttural was expected to reign monotonously throughout.

I practised for some time by the borders of a well frequented marsh;—herein, however, having no reference to a similar proceeding of Demosthenes, but from a design peculiarly and conscientiously my own. Thus armed at all points, I determined to make my wife believe that I was suddenly smitten with a passion for the stage. In this, I succeeded to a miracle; and to every question or suggestion found myself at liberty to reply in my most frog-like and sepulchral tones with some passage from the tragedy—any portion of which, as I soon took great pleasure in observing, would apply equally well to any particular subject. It is not to be supposed, however, that in the delivery of such passages I was found at all deficient in the looking asquint—the showing my teeth—the working my knees—the shuffling my feet—or in any of those unmentionable graces which are now justly considered the characteristics of a popular performer. To be sure they spoke of confining me in a strait-jacket—but, good God! they never suspected me of having lost my breath.

Having at length put my affairs in order, I took my seat very early one morning in the mail stage for --, giving it to be understood, among my acquaintances, that business of the last importance required my immediate personal attendance in that city.

The coach was crammed to repletion; but in the uncertain twilight the features of my companions could not be distinguished. Without making any effectual resistance, I suffered myself to be placed between two gentlemen of colossal dimensions; while a third, of a size larger, requesting pardon for the liberty he was about to take, threw himself upon my body at full length, and falling asleep in an instant, drowned all my guttural ejaculations for relief, in a snore which would have put to blush the roarings of the bull of Phalaris. Happily the state of my respiratory faculties rendered suffocation an accident entirely out of the question.

As, however, the day broke more distinctly in our approach to the outskirts of the city, my tormentor, arising and adjusting his shirt-collar, thanked me in a very friendly manner for my civility. Seeing that I remained motionless (all my limbs were dislocated and my head twisted on one side), his apprehensions began to be excited; and arousing the rest of the passengers, he communicated, in a very decided manner, his opinion that a dead man had been palmed upon them during the night for a living and responsible fellow-traveller; here giving me a thump on the right eye, by way of demonstrating the truth of his suggestion.

Hereupon all, one after another (there were nine in company), believed it their duty to pull me by the ear. A young practising physician, too, having applied a pocket-mirror to my mouth, and found me without breath, the assertion of my persecutor was pronounced a true bill; and the whole party expressed a determination to endure tamely no such impositions for the future, and to proceed no farther with any such carcasses for the present.

I was here, accordingly, thrown out at the sign of the "Crow" (by which tavern the coach happened to be passing), without meeting with any farther accident than the breaking of both my arms, under the left hind wheel of the vehicle. I must besides do the driver the justice to state that he did not forget to throw after me the largest of my trunks, which, unfortunately falling on my head, fractured my skull in a manner at once interesting and extraordinary.

The landlord of the "Crow," who is a hospitable man, finding that my trunk contained sufficient to indemnify him for any little trouble he might take in my behalf, sent forthwith for a surgeon of his acquaintance, and delivered me to his care with a bill and receipt for ten dollars.

The purchaser took me to his apartments and commenced operations immediately. Having cut off my ears, however, he discovered signs of animation. He now rang the bell, and sent for a neighboring apothecary with whom to consult in the emergency. In case of his suspicions with regard to my existence proving ultimately correct, he, in the meantime, made an incision in my stomach, and removed several of my viscera for private dissection.

The apothecary had an idea that I was actually dead. This idea I endeavored to confute, kicking and plunging with all my might, and making the most furious contortions—for the operations of the surgeon had, in a measure, restored me to the possession of my faculties. All, however, was attributed to the effects of a new galvanic battery, wherewith the apothecary, who is really a man of information, performed several curious experiments, in which, from my personal share in their fulfillment, I could not help feeling deeply interested. It was a course of mortification to me, nevertheless, that although I made several attempts at conversation, my powers of speech were so entirely in abeyance, that I could not even open my mouth; much less, then, make reply to some ingenious but fanciful theories of which, under other circumstances, my minute acquaintance with the Hippocratian pathology would have afforded me a ready confutation.

Not being able to arrive at a conclusion, the practitioners remanded me for farther examination. I was taken up into a garret; and the surgeon's lady having accommodated me with drawers and stockings, the surgeon himself fastened my hands, and tied up my jaws with a pocket-handkerchief—then bolted the door on the outside as he hurried to his dinner, leaving me alone to silence and to meditation.

I now discovered to my extreme delight that I could have spoken had not my mouth been tied up with the pocket-handkerchief. Consoling myself with this reflection, I was mentally repeating some passages of the "Omnipresence of the Deity," as is my custom before resigning myself to sleep, when two cats, of a greedy and vituperative turn, entering at a hole in the wall, leaped up with a flourish a la Catalani, and alighting opposite one another on my visage, betook themselves to indecorous contention for the paltry consideration of my nose.

But, as the loss of his ears proved the means of elevating to the throne of Cyrus, the Magian or Mige-Gush of Persia, and as the cutting off his nose gave Zopyrus possession of Babylon, so the loss of a few ounces of my countenance proved the salvation of my body. Aroused by the pain, and burning with indignation, I burst, at a single effort, the fastenings and the bandage. Stalking across the room I cast a glance of contempt at the belligerents, and throwing open the sash to their extreme horror and disappointment, precipitated myself, very dexterously, from the window. this moment passing from the city jail to the scaffold erected for his execution in the suburbs. His extreme infirmity and long continued ill health had obtained him the privilege of remaining unmanacled; and habited in his gallows costume—one very similar to my own,—he lay at full length in the bottom of the hangman's cart (which happened to be under the windows of the surgeon at the moment of my precipitation) without any other guard than the driver, who was asleep, and two recruits of the sixth infantry, who were drunk.

As ill-luck would have it, I alit upon my feet within the vehicle. immediately, he bolted out behind, and turning down an alley, was out of sight in the twinkling of an eye. The recruits, aroused by the bustle, could not exactly comprehend the merits of the transaction. Seeing, however, a man, the precise counterpart of the felon, standing upright in the cart before their eyes, they were of (so they expressed themselves,) and, having communicated this opinion to one another, they took each a dram, and then knocked me down with the butt-ends of their muskets.

It was not long ere we arrived at the place of destination. Of course nothing could be said in my defence. Hanging was my inevitable fate. I resigned myself thereto with a feeling half stupid, half acrimonious. Being little of a cynic, I had all the sentiments of a dog. The hangman, however, adjusted the noose about my neck. The drop fell.

I forbear to depict my sensations upon the gallows; although here, undoubtedly, I could speak to the point, and it is a topic upon which nothing has been well said. In fact, to write upon such a theme it is necessary to have been hanged. Every author should confine himself to matters of experience. Thus Mark Antony composed a treatise upon getting drunk.

I may just mention, however, that die I did not. My body was, but I had no breath to be, suspended; and but for the knot under my left ear (which had the feel of a military stock) I dare say that I should have experienced very little inconvenience. As for the jerk given to my neck upon the falling of the drop, it merely proved a corrective to the twist afforded me by the fat gentleman in the coach.

For good reasons, however, I did my best to give the crowd the worth of their trouble. My convulsions were said to be extraordinary. My spasms it would have been difficult to beat. The populace encored. Several gentlemen swooned; and a multitude of ladies were carried home in hysterics. Pinxit availed himself of the opportunity to retouch, from a sketch taken upon the spot, his admirable painting of the "Marsyas flayed alive."

When I had afforded sufficient amusement, it was thought proper to remove my body from the gallows;—this the more especially as the real culprit had in the meantime been retaken and recognized, a fact which I was so unlucky as not to know.

Much sympathy was, of course, exercised in my behalf, and as no one made claim to my corpse, it was ordered that I should be interred in a public vault.

Here, after due interval, I was deposited. The sexton departed, and I was left alone. A line of Marston's "Malcontent"-

Death's a good fellow and keeps open house-

struck me at that moment as a palpable lie.

I knocked off, however, the lid of my coffin, and stepped out. The place was dreadfully dreary and damp, and I became troubled with ennui. By way of amusement, I felt my way among the numerous coffins ranged in order around. I lifted them down, one by one, and breaking open their lids, busied myself in speculations about the mortality within.

"This," I soliloquized, tumbling over a carcass, puffy, bloated, and rotund—"this has been, no doubt, in every sense of the word, an unhappy—an unfortunate man. It has been his terrible lot not to walk but to waddle—to pass through life not like a human being, but like an elephant—not like a man, but like a rhinoceros.

"His attempts at getting on have been mere abortions, and his circumgyratory proceedings a palpable failure. Taking a step forward, it has been his misfortune to take two toward the right, and three toward the left. His studies have been confined to the poetry of Crabbe. He can have no idea of the wonder of a pirouette. To him a pas de papillon has been an abstract conception. He has never ascended the summit of a hill. He has never viewed from any steeple the glories of a metropolis. Heat has been his mortal enemy. In the dog-days his days have been the days of a dog. Therein, he has dreamed of flames and suffocation—of mountains upon mountains—of Pelion upon Ossa. He was short of breath—to say all in a word, he was short of breath. He thought it extravagant to play upon wind instruments. He was the inventor of self-moving fans, wind-sails, and ventilators. He patronized Du Pont the bellows-maker, and he died miserably in attempting to smoke a cigar. His was a case in which I feel a deep interest—a lot in which I sincerely sympathize.

"But here,"—said I—"here"—and I dragged spitefully from its receptacle a gaunt, tall and peculiar-looking form, whose remarkable appearance struck me with a sense of unwelcome familiarity—"here is a wretch entitled to no earthly commiseration." Thus saying, in order to obtain a more distinct view of my subject, I applied my thumb and forefinger to its nose, and causing it to assume a sitting position upon the ground, held it thus, at the length of my arm, while I continued my soliloquy.

-"Entitled," I repeated, "to no earthly commiseration. Who indeed would think of compassioning a shadow? Besides, has he not had his full share of the blessings of mortality? He was the originator of tall monuments—shot-towers—lightning-rods—Lombardy poplars. His treatise upon "Shades and Shadows" has immortalized him. He edited with distinguished ability the last edition of "South on the Bones." He went early to college and studied pneumatics. He then came home, talked eternally, and played upon the French-horn. He patronized the bagpipes. Captain Barclay, who walked against Time, would not walk against him. Windham and Allbreath were his favorite writers,—his favorite artist, Phiz. He died gloriously while inhaling gas—levique flatu corrupitur, like the fama pudicitae in Hieronymus.* He was indubitably a"-

Tenera res in feminis fama pudicitiae, et quasi flos pulcherrimus, cito ad levem marcessit auram, levique flatu corrumpitur, maxime, c.—Hieronymus ad Salvinam.

"How can you?—how—can—you?"—interrupted the object of my animadversions, gasping for breath, and tearing off, with a desperate exertion, the bandage around its jaws—"how can you, Mr. Lackobreath, be so infernally cruel as to pinch me in that manner by the nose? Did you not see how they had fastened up my mouth—and you must know—if you know any thing—how vast a superfluity of breath I have to dispose of! If you do not know, however, sit down and you shall see. In my situation it is really a great relief to be able to open ones mouth—to be able to expatiate—to be able to communicate with a person like yourself, who do not think yourself called upon at every period to interrupt the thread of a gentleman's discourse. Interruptions are annoying and should undoubtedly be abolished—don't you think so?—no reply, I beg you,—one person is enough to be speaking at a time.—I shall be done by and by, and then you may begin.—How the devil sir, did you get into this place?—not a word I beseech you—been here some time myself—terrible accident!—heard of it, I suppose?—awful calamity!—walking under your windows—some short while ago—about the time you were stage-struck—horrible occurrence!—heard of "catching one's breath," eh?—hold your tongue I tell you!—I caught somebody elses!—had always too much of my own—met Blab at the corner of the street—wouldn't give me a chance for a word—couldn't get in a syllable edgeways—attacked, consequently, with epilepsis—Blab made his escape—damn all fools!—they took me up for dead, and put me in this place—pretty doings all of them!—heard all you said about me—every word a lie—horrible!—wonderful—outrageous!—hideous!—incomprehensible!—et cetera—et cetera—et cetera—et cetera—"

It is impossible to conceive my astonishment at so unexpected a discourse, or the joy with which I became gradually convinced that the breath so fortunately caught by the gentleman (whom I soon recognized as my neighbor Windenough) was, in fact, the identical expiration mislaid by myself in the conversation with my wife. Time, place, and circumstances rendered it a matter beyond question. I did not at least during the long period in which the inventor of Lombardy poplars continued to favor me with his explanations.

In this respect I was actuated by that habitual prudence which has ever been my predominating trait. I reflected that many difficulties might still lie in the path of my preservation which only extreme exertion on my part would be able to surmount. Many persons, I considered, are prone to estimate commodities in their possession—however valueless to the then proprietor—however troublesome, or distressing—in direct ratio with the advantages to be derived by others from their attainment, or by themselves from their abandonment. Might not this be the case with Mr. Windenough? In displaying anxiety for the breath of which he was at present so willing to get rid, might I not lay myself open to the exactions of his avarice? There are scoundrels in this world, I remembered with a sigh, who will not scruple to take unfair opportunities with even a next door neighbor, and (this remark is from Epictetus) it is precisely at that time when men are most anxious to throw off the burden of their own calamities that they feel the least desirous of relieving them in others.

Upon considerations similar to these, and still retaining my grasp upon the nose of Mr. W., I accordingly thought proper to model my reply.

"Monster!" I began in a tone of the deepest indignation—"monster and double-winded idiot!—dost thou, whom for thine iniquities it has pleased heaven to accurse with a two-fold respimtion—dost thou, I say, presume to address me in the familiar language of an old acquaintance?—'I lie,' forsooth! and 'hold my tongue,' to be sure!—pretty conversation indeed, to a gentleman with a single breath!—all this, too, when I have it in my power to relieve the calamity under which thou dost so justly suffer—to curtail the superfluities of thine unhappy respiration."

Like Brutus, I paused for a reply—with which, like a tornado, Mr. Windenough immediately overwhelmed me. Protestation followed upon protestation, and apology upon apology. There were no terms with which he was unwilling to comply, and there were none of which I failed to take the fullest advantage.

Preliminaries being at length arranged, my acquaintance delivered me the respiration; for which (having carefully examined it) I gave him afterward a receipt.

I am aware that by many I shall be held to blame for speaking in a manner so cursory, of a transaction so impalpable. It will be thought that I should have entered more minutely, into the details of an occurrence by which—and this is very true—much new light might be thrown upon a highly interesting branch of physical philosophy.

To all this I am sorry that I cannot reply. A hint is the only answer which I am permitted to make. There were circumstances—but I think it much safer upon consideration to say as little as possible about an affair so delicate—so delicate, I repeat, and at the time involving the interests of a third party whose sulphurous resentment I have not the least desire, at this moment, of incurring.

We were not long after this necessary arrangement in effecting an escape from the dungeons of the sepulchre. The united strength of our resuscitated voices was soon sufficiently apparent. Scissors, the Whig editor, republished a treatise upon "the nature and origin of subterranean noises." A reply—rejoinder—confutation—and justification—followed in the columns of a Democratic Gazette. It was not until the opening of the vault to decide the controversy, that the appearance of Mr. Windenough and myself proved both parties to have been decidedly in the wrong.

I cannot conclude these details of some very singular passages in a life at all times sufficiently eventful, without again recalling to the attention of the reader the merits of that indiscriminate philosophy which is a sure and ready shield against those shafts of calamity which can neither be seen, felt nor fully understood. It was in the spirit of this wisdom that, among the ancient Hebrews, it was believed the gates of Heaven would be inevitably opened to that sinner, or saint, who, with good lungs and implicit confidence, should vociferate the word "Amen!" It was in the spirit of this wisdom that, when a great plague raged at Athens, and every means had been in vain attempted for its removal, Epimenides, as Laertius relates, in his second book, of that philosopher, advised the erection of a shrine and temple "to the proper God."


"Loss of Breath" November 10, 1832 Philadelphia Saturday Courier Humor Originally "A Decided Loss"[63]

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"The Cask of Amontillado" Published 1846

"The Cask of Amontillado" (sometimes spelled "The Casque of Amontillado") is a short story, written by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the November 1846 issue of Godey's Lady's Book.

The story is set in a nameless Italian city in an unspecified year (possibly in the 18th century) and concerns the deadly revenge taken by the narrator on a friend who he claims has insulted him. Like several of Poe's stories, and in keeping with the 19th-century fascination with the subject, the narrative revolves around a person being buried alive — in this case, by immurement.

As in "The Black Cat" and "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe conveys the story through the murderer's perspective.

Plot summary

Montresor tells the story of the night that he took his revenge on Fortunato, a fellow nobleman. Angry over some unspecified insult, he plots to murder his friend during Carnival when the man is drunk, dizzy, and wearing a jester's motley.

He baits Fortunato by telling him he has obtained what he believes to be a pipe (about 130 gallons,[1] 492 litres) of Amontillado, a rare and valuable sherry wine. He claims he wants his friend's expert opinion on the subject. Fortunato goes with Montresor to the wine cellars of the latter's palazzo, where they wander in the catacombs. Montresor offers wine (first Medoc, then De Grave) to Fortunato; at one point, Fortunato makes an elaborate, grotesque gesture with an upraised wine bottle. When Montresor appears not to recognize the gesture, Fortunato asks, "You are not of the masons?" Montresor says he is, and when Fortunato, disbelieving, requests a sign, Montresor displays a trowel he had been hiding.

Montresor warns Fortunato, who has a bad cough, of the damp, and suggests they go back; Fortunato insists on continuing, claiming that "[he] shall not die of a cough." During their walk, Montresor mentions his family coat of arms: a foot in a blue background crushing a snake whose fangs are embedded in the foot's heel, with the motto Nemo me impune lacessit ("No one insults me with impunity"). When they come to a niche, Montresor tells his victim that the Amontillado is within. Fortunato enters and, drunk and unsuspecting, does not resist as Montresor quickly chains him to the wall. Montresor then declares that, since Fortunato won't go back, he must "positively leave [him]."

Montresor walls up the niche, entombing his friend alive. At first, Fortunato, who sobers up faster than Montresor anticipated he would, shakes the chains, trying to escape. The narrator stops working for a while so he can enjoy the sound. Fortunato then screams for help, but Montresor mocks his cries, knowing nobody can hear them. Fortunato laughs weakly and tries to pretend that he is the subject of a joke and that people will be waiting for him (including the Lady Fortunato). As the murderer finishes the topmost row of stones, Fortunato wails "For the love of God, Montresor!" Montresor replies, "Yes, for the love of God!" He listens for a reply but hears only the jester's bells ringing. Before placing the last stone, he drops a burning torch through the gap. He claims that he feels sick at heart, but dismisses this reaction as an effect of the dampness of the catacombs.

In the last few sentences, Montresor reveals that it has been 50 years since that night, he has never been caught, and Fortunato's body still hangs from its chains in the niche where he left it. The murderer, seemingly unrepentant, ends the story by remarking: In pace requiescat! ("May he rest in peace!").

Publication history

"The Cask of Amontillado" was first published in the November 1846 issue of Godey's Lady's Book[2] which was, at the time, the most popular periodical in America.[3] The story was only published one additional time during Poe's life.[4]


Although the subject matter of Poe's story is a murder, "The Cask of Amontillado" is not a tale of detection like "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" or "The Purloined Letter"; there is no investigation of Montresor's crime and the criminal himself explains how he committed the murder. The mystery in "The Cask of Amontillado" is in Montresor's motive for murder. Without a detective in the story, it is up to the reader to solve the mystery.[5]

Montresor never specifies his motive beyond than the vague "thousand injuries" to which he refers. Many commentators conclude that, lacking significant reason, Montresor must be insane, though even this is questionable because of the intricate details of the plot.[5]

Though Fortunato is presented as a connoisseur of fine wine, his actions in the story make it questionable. For example, he comments on another nobleman being unable to distinguish Amontillado from Sherry when Amontillado is in fact a type of Sherry to begin with and treats De Grave, an expensive French wine, with very little regard by drinking it in a single gulp.[1]

Poe may have known bricklaying through personal experience. Many periods in Poe's life lack significant biographical details, including what he did after leaving the Southern Literary Messenger in 1837.[6] Poe biographer John H. Ingram wrote to Sarah Helen Whitman that someone named "Allen" said that Poe worked "in the brickyard 'late in the fall of 1834.' This source has been identified as Robert T. P. Allen, a fellow West Point student during Poe's time there.[7]


An apocryphal legend holds that the inspiration for "The Cask of Amontillado" came from a story Poe had heard at Castle Island (South Boston), Massachusetts, when he was a private there in 1827.[8] According to this legend, while stationed at Castle Island in 1827 he saw a monument to Lieutenant Robert Massie. Massie had been killed in a sword duel on Christmas Day 1817 by Lieutenant Gustavus Drane, following a dispute during a card game.[9] According to the legend, other soldiers then took revenge on Drane by getting him drunk, luring him into the dungeon, chaining him to a wall, and sealing him in a vault.[10] (though the last part is untrue, as Drane was courtmartialled and acquitted,[11] living until 1846[12]). A report of a skeleton discovered on the island may be a confused remembering of Poe's major source, Joel Headley's "A Man Built in a Wall" (1844), which recounts the author's seeing an immured skeleton in the wall of a church in Italy.[13] Headley's story includes details very similar to "The Cask of Amontillado"; in addition to walling an enemy into a hidden niche, the story details the careful placement of the bricks, the motive of revenge, and the victim's agonized moaning. Poe may have also seen similar themes in Honoré de Balzac's "Le Grande Bretêche" (Democratic Review, November 1843) or his friend George Lippard's The Quaker City; or The Monks of Monk Hall (1845).[14] Poe may have borrowed Montresor's family motto Nemo me impune lacessit from James Fenimore Cooper, who used the line in The Last of the Mohicans (1826).[15]

Poe wrote his tale, however, as a response to his personal rival Thomas Dunn English. Poe and English had several confrontations, usually revolving around literary caricatures of one another. Poe thought that one of English's writings went a bit too far, and successfully sued the other man's editors at The New York Mirror for libel in 1846.[16] That year English published a revenge-based novel called 1844, or, The Power of the S.F. Its plot was convoluted and difficult to follow, but made references to secret societies and ultimately had a main theme of revenge. It included a character named Marmaduke Hammerhead, the famous author of "The Black Crow," who uses phrases like "Nevermore" and "lost Lenore," referring to Poe's poem "The Raven." This parody of Poe was depicted as a drunkard, liar, and an abusive lover.

Poe responded with "The Cask of Amontillado," using very specific references to English's novel. In Poe's story, for example, Fortunato makes reference to the secret society of Masons, similar to the secret society in 1844, and even makes a gesture similar to one portrayed in 1844 (it was a signal of distress). English had also used an image of a token with a hawk grasping a snake in its claws, similar to Montresor's coat of arms bearing a foot stomping on a snake — though in this image, the snake is biting the heel. In fact, much of the scene of "The Cask of Amontillado" comes from a scene in 1844 that takes place in a subterranean vault. In the end, then, it is Poe who "punishes with impunity" by not taking credit for his own literary revenge and by crafting a concise tale (as opposed to a novel) with a singular effect, as he had suggested in his essay "The Philosophy of Composition."[17]

Poe may have also been inspired, at least in part, by the Washingtonian movement, a fellowship that promoted temperance. The group was made up of reformed drinkers who tried to scare people into abstaining from alcohol. Poe may have made a promise to join the movement in 1843 after a bout of drinking with the hopes of gaining a political appointment. "The Cask of Amontillado" then may be a "dark temperance tale," meant to shock people into realizing the dangers of drinking.[18]

Poe scholar Richard P. Benton has stated his belief that "Poe's protagonist is an Englished version of the French Montrésor" and has argued forcefully that Poe's model for Montresor "was Claude de Bourdeille, Count of Montrésor, the 17th-century political conspirator in the entourage of King Louis XIII's weak-willed brother, Gaston d'Orléans".[19] The "noted intriguer and memoir-writer" was first linked to "The Cask of Amontillado" by Poe scholar Burton R. Pollin.[19][20]


1.^ Cecil, L. Moffitt. "Poe's Wine List", from Poe Studies, Vol. V, no. 2. December 1972. p. 41.
2.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. Checkmark Books, 2001. ISBN 081604161X p. 45
3.^ Reynolds, David F. "Poe's Art of Transformation: 'The Cask of Amontillado' in Its Cultural Context", as collected in The American Novel: New Essays on Poe's Major Tales, Kenneth Silverman, ed. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0521422433 p. 101
4.^ Edgar Allan Poe — "The Cask of Amontillado" at the Edgar Allan Poe Society online
5.^ Baraban, Elena V. "The Motive for Murder in 'The Cask of Amontillado' by Edgar Allan Poe", Rocky Mountain E-Review of Language and Literature. Volume 58, Number 2. Fall 2004.
6.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991: 129–130. ISBN 0-06-092331-8
7.^ Thomas, Dwight and David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. New York: G. K. Hall and Co., 1987: 141. ISBN0-7838-1401-1.
8.^ Bergen, Philip. Old Boston in Early Photographs. Boston: Bostonian Society, 1990. p. 106
9.^ Vrabel, Jim. When in Boston: a time line and almanac. Northeastern University, 2004. ISBN 1-55553-620-4 / ISBN 1-15553-621-2 p. 105
10.^ Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 37. ISBN 0-618-05013-2
11.^ Vrabel, p. 105
12.^ Battery B, 4th U.S. Light Artillery - First Lieutenants of the 4th U.S. Artillery
13.^ Mabbott, Thomas Ollive, editor. Tales and Sketches: Volume II. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2000. p. 1254
14.^ Reynolds, David F. "Poe's Art of Transformation: 'The Cask of Amontillado' in Its Cultural Context", as collected in The American Novel: New Essays on Poe's Major Tales, Kenneth Silverman, ed. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0521422433 pp. 94–5
15.^ Jacobs, Edward Craney. "Marginalia – A Possible Debt to Cooper," collected in Poe Studies, vol. VIII, no. 1. June 1976.
16.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991: 312–313. ISBN 0-06-092331-8
17.^ Rust, Richard D. "Punish with Impunity: Poe, Thomas Dunn English and 'The Cask of Amontillado'" in The Edgar Allan Poe Review, Vol. II, Issue 2 – Fall, 2001, St. Joseph's University.
18.^ Reynolds, David F. "Poe's Art of Transformation: 'The Cask of Amontillado' in Its Cultural Context", as collected in The American Novel: New Essays on Poe's Major Tales, Kenneth Silverman, ed. Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0521422433 pp. 96–7
19.^ Benton, Richard P. (June 1996). "Poe's 'The Cask of Amontillado': Its Cultural and Historical Backgrounds". Poe Studies 29: 19–27.
20.^ Burton R. Pollin (1970). "Notre-Dame de Paris in Two of the Tales". Discoveries in Poe. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. pp. 24–37.