20 January 2010

Poe's snails

The Baltimore Sun reports that the mysterious person who had been leaving roses and a bottle of cognac at Edgar Allan Poe's grave site every year on the writer's birthday since 19 January 1949 didn't show up yesterday. Oh, well...

But did you know that in 1839 Poe published a book on mollusks? Yes, mollusks...snails, bivalves, octopuses and their kin. The full title of the book was The conchologist's first book: a system of testaceous malacology, arranged expressly for the use of schools, in which the animals, according to Cuvier, are given with the shells, a great number of new species added, and the whole brought up, as accurately as possible, to the present condition of the science.

Actually, Poe wrote only the preface and the introduction. The rest of the book was plagiarized, not by Poe, but by the publisher, Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell of Philadelphia, from Scottish naturalist Thomas Brown's The conchologist's text-book, embracing the arrangements of Lamarck and Linnaeus, with a glossary of technical terms published in 1833. Nevertheless, according to this site, The conchologist's first book was Poe's only book that went thru 2 editions in his lifetime.

Here are a few sentences from Poe's introduction:

Shells, too, being composed of particles already in natural combination, have not within them, like flowers and animals, the seed of dissolution. While the preparation of a specimen for the cabinet is a simple operation, a conchological collection will yet remain perfect for ages. These important circumstances being duly considered, in connexion with the universally acknowledged beauty and variety, both of form and colour, so strikingly observable in shells, it is a matter for neither wonder nor regret that these magnificent exuviae, even regarded merely as such, should have attracted, in a very exclusive degree, the attention and the admiration of the naturalist.


Wanderin' Weeta said...

1949 to 2009.

O, the fickleness of human affections!

fred schueler said...

"quoth the Limax, 'Nevermore.'" ...oops, those don't have shells.

Julia said...

That's quite a title, with some serious commas!