Two Bound Volumes of The Saturday Evening Post containing "Enigma" and "Psalm 139th" [Volume 6, 1827] and "The School of Flora" [a series of illustrated botanical sketches in Volumes 6 and 7: 1827-1828]
Elephant folios. Two bound volumes of this weekly Philadelphia newspaper for the years 1827 and 1828. Volume 6: Whole Nos. 284-335 (January 6th-December 29th, 1827). Lacks the issue of January 20th, else complete. Contemporary three quarter dark red morocco and marbled paper boards. Scuffing to the leather, a bump to the top right corner of the text pages, moderate scattered foxing and some staining, overall good or better. Volume 7: Whole Nos. 336-387 (January 5th-December 27th, 1828). Complete. Full dark blue cloth, gilt spine title. Ex-library, with a bookplate on the front pastedown. Moderate scattered foxing and toning throughout, issue no. 354 detached with scattered small tears along the foredge, else very good. Each weekly issue consists of four pages. The Post was founded in 1821, and traces its roots back to Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette.
Volume 6 (1827) contains the first printed appearance in the March 10th issue of the puzzle poem "Enigma," attributed to Edgar Allan Poe, and "Psalm 139th," published by Poe's older brother William Henry Poe in the February 3rd issue. The puzzle poem "Enigma" is unsigned, but has been attributed to Edgar Allan Poe by Killis Campbell (The Poe Canon p. 335). Heartman and Canny consider it a "doubtful item" (p.245), but they go on to quote Thomas Mabbott, who writes that though it is "tantalizingly doubtful" his feeling is that it "may well be by Poe." Considering Poe's penchant for puzzle poems, the competence of the poem itself, and his habit of re-using titles (his famous puzzle poem "Sonnet [An Enigma]," published in The Union Magazine in 1848 is undisputed), it certainly deserves further consideration.
Henry Poe was an interesting and largely forgotten figure. The brothers were orphaned at a very young age and separated. Henry was adopted by his Baltimore relations; Edgar by the Allan's of Richmond. Henry became a sailor and his experiences and adventures in the Navy supplied much material for Edgar's fiction, particularly for The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, (and on occasion for Edgar's often self-inflated autobiographical notices). Henry published a few poems and stories, in a style strikingly similar to his brother's, both of the Poes' youthful poetry was heavily influenced by Byron. In a turnabout, Henry, after having received his copy of Tamerlane from Edgar, published a few of the poems in newspapers under his own name, whether by mistake or design is unclear. Henry died at the age of 24 from complications from tuberculosis and alcoholism, while sharing an attic room with Edgar, at the home of Maria and Virginia Clemm. Lifetime examples of his poems are notoriously rare. Henry Poe's collected poems were not published until 1926 (Poe's Brother: The Poems of William Henry Leonard Poe, edited by Thomas Mabbott and Hervey Allen).
Volume 6 and the accompanying Volume 7 for 1828 are also notable for the numerous articles by Philadelphia's famous polymath Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. Like Poe, he was recognized by his peers as an eccentric genius. Rafinesque made important contributions to botany, philology, and natural history. He published more than 6,700 binomial names of plants, and his theory relating to the gradual evolution of differing plant species through minute changes in response to environmental stimuli was acknowledged by Darwin.
His series of illustrated botanical sketches, The School of Flora, first appeared in the January 6th issue of 1827. A total of 42 sketches were published that year in the weekly issues through January 5th, 1828. A new series commenced in the January 19th issue of 1828, with a total of 22 sketches published in weekly issues throughout 1828. Each sketch consists of a single wood-engraved figure together with a detailed scientific description and a discussion of the species, "forming a kind of floral history," he writes, "wherein will be introduced whatever may interest youth, draw the attention, or illustrate the subject; and every flower will be considered as a moral emblem." For example, his description of "Venus' Fly Trap" reads, in part: "This strange American Flower is one of the greatest wonders of the vegetable world. There are many Plants showing evident signs of irritability and spontaneous motions, but few that decoy and ensnare insects so completely by acts emulating volition... It may be considered as a true emblem of Caution, teaching us to beware of deceitful attractions and the concealed snares of the world." Almost all the emblems are colorful and harken back to a time when symbols were a larger part of everyday life, and their meanings more generally understood. Some other examples (among many) are "Antipathy and Irritable Temper" (Common Barberry), and "Sordid Deceit" (Buttercup Crowfoot). This two-volume set lacks just one sketch (No. 3) from the missing January 20th, 1827 issue. A complete list of the 66 English names of the flowers (or plants) and their emblems is available.
Other important contributions by Rafinesque include: "Capt. Symmes' Theory of the Earth," and "New Theory of the Earth," (February 10th and March 10th, 1827); "An Essay on Botany" (March 10th, 1827); "Grape Vines" (March 17th, 1827); "Four Letters on American History. By Prof. Rafinesque, to J.H. M'Culloh, of Baltimore" (Each letter published separately: June 7th, June 21st, July 19th, and September 6th, 1828). Also included in both volumes are various shorter pieces published irregularly under the headers: "Medical Discovery," "Medical Notice," "Success of the Pulmel" (multiple "Select Cases"), and "Consumption" (multiple "Numbers" or "Select Cases"). The four "Letters" are especially noteworthy for his study of Native American earthworks and his views on the history and significance of Mesoamerican languages.
Despite his achievement, and again like Poe, Rafinesque's last years in Philadelphia were spent in poverty and ill-health. He died "in a miserable garret" in 1840. His published works are very scarce, since most were published in small editions at his own expense or with the help of friends. Index Rafinesquianus (pp.13-14).
Other front page articles from these volumes feature items of local Philadelphia interest and general Americana, many of which are illustrated with an architectural or landscape wood-engraving, such as: "A View of the Passaic Falls, Patterson, N.J."; "An Indian Medal engraved by Vaux for The Friendly Association for regaining and preserving peace with the Indians, by pacific means"; "View of the Pennsylvania State Prison"; "A View of Harper's Ferry in Virginia"; "View of the N.W. Corner of Chesnut and Sixth Streets, Philadelphia: Shakespeare Buildings, Theater, Arcade"; &c.
A scarce set, featuring two early items of Poeana, and the first printed appearances of extensive contributions by Rafinesque.