Mabbott Poe is an online resource based on the papers of Thomas Ollive Mabbott (1898-1968), editor of the three-volume Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe.[i] The centerpiece of Mabbott Poe is an exhibit of Mabbott’s research files on Poe’s works in prose and poetry. These contain many of Poe’s probable or actual sources for his tales and poems, first printings as well as reprints in their original periodicals or in facsimile, Mabbott’s as well as his wife Maureen Cobb Mabbott’s notes, and various other intriguing materials. The exhibit provides a model of primary source research, a record of the text editing process, and a pre-digital ensemble of editorial materials and techniques.
For a brief biography of Mabbott, links to articles articles by and about him, and a list of the Mabbott collection's contents, see The University of Iowa Library's Papers of Thomas Ollive Mabbott.
Mabbott Poe was made possible by the generous assistance of Special Collections, Main Library, The University of Iowa Libraries, and the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio at The University of Iowa.
A Tale of Mabbott Poe
While planning a Spring 2017 undergraduate course on “Poe & His World,” I decided to schedule two class meetings in The University of Iowa Library’s Special Collections, which holds Mabbott’s papers, books, and historical newspapers and periodicals. I viewed the collection shortly before the beginning of semester to prepare a “pull list,” and, as is so often the case with archival visits, this one led me to a cache of materials that I planned to glance at, but didn’t think would amount to anything. These materials were the preparatory notes for Mabbott’s three-volume Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, and they stole my attention for the rest of my day in the archive. The files of notes, each one devoted to a poem or tale, contained first printings and reprints of Poe’s works in periodicals and newspapers, in their original state and facsimile; manuscript notes by Thomas and Maureen Mabbott; and just about anything else related to the works, from historical broadsides about apes turned barbers to mid-twentieth-century fashion advertisements featuring sociable crows. I saw the value of the nineteenth-century magazines, still in their original state and unbound. I also felt that the research process recorded in the files expressed the editor’s tireless and at times idiosyncratic pursuit of contextual influences and cultural afterlives.
I left Special Collections feeling that Mabbott’s research files could be a teaching tool as well as a reference point for textual criticism.Shortly before the beginning of the Spring 2017 semester, I proposed Mabbott Poe to The University of Iowa Library’s Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio, and they generously offered their support. Special Collections, too, offered support, volunteering to make high-resolution scans of the files. Of course, Mabbott Poe had just begun to take shape when the “Poe & His World” course began, so we couldn’t make use of it as I had intended. However, when Special Collections finished scanning a file of research notes, the staff passed the digital facsimiles along to me, so that the class could begin to work with them. Over the course of the semester, I found that the facsimiles provided students with the opportunity not only to read Poe’s works in their newspaper and periodical contexts, but also to see, firsthand, how editors construct textual corpora, narrowing a plurality of variants to a single text and consolidating dispersed contextual influences in an author's name.
Our class discussions entailed further consideration of the technologies Mabbott had at his disposal when preparing his edition. Digital remediation of historical periodicals, photocopied manuscripts, and editorial marginalia highlighted the significant role media plays in research, text editing, and cultural production in general. As Mabbott Poe continues to grow, I see it facilitating discussion of primary source research, text editing, and media history in Poe courses as well as survey courses that feature Poe.
A Word about Mabbott’s Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe
As a life-long numismatist and connoisseur of historical ephemera, Thomas Ollive Mabbott was, first and foremost, a collector. Discovery of and commentary on lost, ignored, or forgotten documents from literary history formed the backbone of his scholarship. His first extensive work of Poe scholarship (also his doctoral dissertation) was the first edition of the “unfinished tragedy” Politian, which Mabbott “based on a thorough collation of the remaining portions of Poe’s original MS, and of all printed versions of the play known to have appeared during the poet’s lifetime.”[ii] Mabbott also wrote the introduction to the Facsimile Text Society’s edition of Poe’s personal and annotated copy of The Raven and other Poems.[iii]But these are only highlights. Mabbott was an accomplished scholar of Milton, Whitman, and others. His research was not limited by nation, period, or even canon. Many of his editorial and scholarly works are listed in the appendix of Maureen Mabbott’s Mabbott as Poe Scholar: The Early Years (1980).[iv] His edition of the Collected Works was his culminating achievement.
Several important editions of Poe preceded Mabbott’s Collected Works. Rufus W. Griswold’s The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (1850-1856) is notorious for being the first edition to pretend to collect the poems and tales, but it is really just a selection. Moreover, given Griswold’s attempts to mutilate Poe’s already tainted reputation as the executor of his literary estate, his selection is suspect.[v] Griswold aside, Mabbott’s edition of the Collected Works follows and improves on two significant predecessors: Edmund Clarence Stedman and George Edward Woodberry’s The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 10 vols. (1894-95) and James A. Harrison’s The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 17 vols. (1902). Despite its impressive number of volumes, Harrison’s “complete works” is, in fact, incomplete. As Mabbott points out in the general introduction of Volume One: “Since 1902 scholars have recovered, from old periodicals and from manuscripts, many compositions inaccessible to Harrison. The bulk of Poe’s writings here to be presented has been increased about twenty per cent” (1:xvii). Of course, the author’s corpus has continued to grow since Mabbott’s time, as the editor himself might have anticipated.
Mabbott’s volumes of Poe’s Collected Works have a somewhat tragic history: he dated the “Acknowledgements” published in Volume One of the Collected Works 1 May 1968. He passed away on May 15. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver added a note after the “Acknowledgements” confirming that the present volume was “all but finished” before his death. Because Maureen Mabbott had been an “assistant to her husband” as Eleanor D. Kewer, Chief Editor for Special Projects of the Harvard University Press, also had, Gohdes and Silver assure us that his posthumous collaborators were “fully cognizant of Mr. Mabbott’s methods of work” when they, along with some of Mabbott’s former assistants, took it over (1:vii). Kewer and Mrs. Mabbott state in the “Acknowledgements” for Volume Two, the first volume of the tales, that T.O.M.’s method helped them continue his work because his goal was to “emphasiz[e] sources and records rather than his own opinions.” The collaborators add: “[t]his emphasis has made it possible to complete his work on the Tales by verifying and fleshing out references, and by following closely his leads” (2:v). And yet, the research files betray a combination of science and whimsy. Like Auguste Dupin's detective work, Mabbott’s combined convention and imagination, objectivity and subjectivity. Did Maureen Mabbott and Eleanor Kewer have access to T.O.M.'s concrete methods and individual peculiarities? Or was the editor's melange of sensibilities the result of collaboration?
The research files adjust and focus how we think about Mabbott’s edition of Poe and perhaps about editorial methods in general. For instance, Maureen Mabbott had more of a hand in editing the volume of poems (Volume One) than Gohdes and Silver suggest: Her hand appears throughout the file on “The Raven.” Such traces confirm that Mabbott’s death did not take his editorial project out of his hands, for it was never entirely his. The research files allow us to reconstruct the collaborative efforts that contributed to Mabbott’s Collected Works, an editorial project perhaps directed by Mabbott, but not completely attributable to him in any of the three volumes. The same could be said about the technological resources that he had at his disposal, for these were both limiting and fortuitous. Had it not been for affordable photo-reproduction in Mabbott’s day, much of the research that contributed to the Collected Works would not have been possible. Photocopies and photographs of newspapers and manuscripts allowed Mabbott and his collaborators to gather drafts and publications so that they could track the complex evolution of Poe’s tales and poems. The digital Mabbott Poe remediates the facsimiles that assisted the carefully assembled Collected Works, and, in doing so, this resource highlights the difference between Mabbott and company’s editorial process and the fortuitous circumstances of our own.
[i] Edgar Allan Poe, Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume One: Poems; Volumes Two and Three: Tales and Sketches, ed. Thomas Ollive Mabbott; with the assistance of Eleanor D. Kewer and Maureen C. Mabbott (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969; 1978). Henceforth cited by volume and page number, i.e., 1:1.
[ii] Edgar Allan Poe, Politian: An Unfinished Tragedy, ed. Thomas Ollive Mabbott (Richmond: The Edgar Allan Poe Shrine, 1923), 41. See also Maureen Cobb Mabbott, Mabbott as Poe Scholar: The Early Years (Baltimore: Enoch Pratt Free Library, 1980), 8-9.
[iii] Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven and Other Poems: Reproduced in Facsimile from the Lorimer Graham Copy of the Edition of 1845 with Author’s Corrections, ed. Thomas Ollive Mabbott (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942).
[iv] Mabbott as Poe Scholar, 33-36.
[v] For an account of Griswold’s slandering of Poe and others who defended him, see Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 672-693.