To appear in Poe Studies
Works of Edgar Allan Poe, The Virginia Edition, Geodesic
Library CD-ROM, revised edition (March 10, 2001).
Mr. Claudie D. Holstein, 23471 Wilshire Court, New Caney, Texas 77357 (281) 689-1103. $79.
The third AMS Press facsimile re-issue of James A. Harrison's Virginia Edition of the Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (17 vols., 1902) -- the first two were in 1965 and 1979 -- is again in print for $695 (ISBN 0404094007). Or Poe scholars can purchase the new Geodesic Library edition of the same Harrison Poe on CD-ROM reinforced with hypertext links for $79. What are the virtues and limits of this new electronic Geodesic Library CD-ROM version of the Harrison Poe compared to the printed AMS version -- for one-ninth of its price? But first, what is the reputation of the Harrison Poe today?
Since the publication of the Harrison edition in 1902, it has been estimated that about 20% more Poe has been discovered in contemporary magazines [Works, 1:xvii], and we also know more about his late revisions and corrections. Harrison now appears over-eager in attributing to Poe about 14 unsigned reviews, largely clustered in the Southern Literary Messenger
and Graham's Magazine, which scholars today exclude from his canon [Jay B.Hubbell, "Poe" in Eight American Authors, ed. Floyd Stovall (New York: Norton, 1948, p. 15-16) and Eight American Authors, ed. James Woodress (New York: Norton, 1971, p. 5, 7); Burton Pollin, Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe's Collected Works (New York: Da Capo, 1968, xiv); Floyd Stovall, "Introduction to the AMS Edition." The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1902) (repr. 17 vols., New York: AMS Press, 1979. 1:21); and Jeffrey Savoye, "Apocryphal, Doubtful and Rejected Literary Criticism," <http://www.eapoe.org/works/canon/poecanon.htm>
accessed 2001]. In addition, the Harrison bibliography has been criticized for listing some works not in the text, erring in some page references, and being inconsistent in arrangement. Although superseded by F. O. Mabbott's edition of the Collected Works, now being completed in Burton Pollin's Collected Writings, the Harrison Poe included a wide gathering of all the forms in which Poe wrote, including poetry, tales and sketches, essays and reviews, and even a life and letters. Thanks largely to the AMS reprints, the Harrison edition is widely distributed in libraries and thus still remains usable for scholarly reference.
But there are two viewpoints on the scholarly acceptability of the Harrison Poe text. For Floyd Stovall, introducing the 1979 AMS reprint, the Harrison chronological arrangement and its "accuracy and inclusiveness" supported its "preservation" until a "more complete edition" might be published . But for Burton Pollin, general editor of the current Collected Writings, the Harrison Poe text "carelessly and irresponsibly" introduced to the canon several articles not by Poe "with unfortunate consequences echoing to this day" [Writings, 5:v]. The most controversial of Harrison's errors was his attribution to Poe of a review, now assigned to Beverly Tucker, of two books on slavery by James K. Paulding and William Drayton. Coming to Harrison's defense, Stovall argues that he was the first editor to rescue Poe from the excesses of 19th century editors, such as Rufus W. Griswold, who had freely rewritten and recombined Poe's texts; moreover, E. C. Stedman and G. E. Woodberry rearranged Poe's tales and sketches into arbitrary thematic categories. Harrison reliably reproduced the originals and arranged them chronologically within basic genres. In the century since 1902, Harrison's editing efforts have been superseded by the work of other scholars, most notably Killis Campbell, Arthur Hobson Quinn, John Ostrom, Floyd Stovall, F. O. Mabbott, Burton Pollin, and Jeffrey Savoye.
Harrison compromised on the great stumbling block for all Poe editors, the question of how to handle that major portion of Poe's work for which he was most famous and most notorious during his lifetime, namely his essays, reviews, and notices. Each editor must decide, first of all, whether to attribute or reject the many unsigned items; second, how to deal with passages substantially repeated in several different pieces; and third, whether to include the lengthy quotations included in some reviews. Harrison was enthusiastic on the first issue and cautious on the second and third, "selecting only the more important reviews, leaving out the long quotations" [8:xii, xvi]. Nevertheless he required nine volumes to cover Poe's non-fiction prose, outweighing five for the tales and sketches and only one for the poems. Stovall estimated that Harrison printed about 60% of the 403 reviews which later were declared with virtual certainty to be Poe's in William Doyle Hull's 1941 dissertation. But Stovall's figure falls to 35% if we take into account the estimate of about 735 reviews which are now regarded as probably Poe's, and it drops further if we accept the more generous tally of "nearly one thousand" [G. R. Thompson, Edgar Allan Poe: Essays and Reviews (New York: Library of America, 1984, p. 1482)]. Taking Stovall's estimate in the 1979 EMS reissue -- that Harrison made 14 wrong guesses in printing about 250 reviews -- would give Harrison's judgment a 95% score for attributions.
Today the Harrison Poe is a logical candidate for reissue on a CD-ROM because it is out of copyright, has a plain typeface which can be readily scanned, and the AMS reprints remain widely available in libraries. The Geodesic Library Poe CD-ROM is an electronic photocopy, as it were, page for page, of the entire Harrison edition. (The independent publisher, Mr. Claudie Holstein, is in process of issuing CD-ROM editions of copyright-unrestricted works of Poe -- his first author -- Emerson, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Johnson, and Jane Austen, to be followed by Thoreau, Browning, Chaucer, and Byron.) The Geodesic Library Poe will run on either a Windows or Macintosh computer with a CD-ROM drive and requires Adobe Acrobat Reader. My review copy came with version Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0, which is also available for download without charge from <http://www.adobe.com>; Adobe recommends that you remove any earlier versions you might have before installing this one. The Poe CD-ROM must be started manually since it has no auto-detect capability or setup program. To start it, find and click on the only file in the root directory of the CD-ROM (called poevir.pdf on my review copy), which will launch the Adobe Acrobat Reader and display the Geodesic Library Poe logo.
In Adobe Acrobat the familiar hypertext screen is divided into two adjustable panes, the collapsible menu on the left and the scrollable text display on the right. Before going ahead, read through the Introduction on Using this Edition, Bookmarks, Hypertext, Search, and Cut and Paste. You may also wish to consult the Adobe Acrobat Help utility. At times the Geodesic Poe information, this review, and what you see on your screen may vary slightly: the data was produced originally on Adobe Acrobat 3, the review was preparing using the full version of Adobe Acrobat 4, and you may be using Adobe Acrobat Reader 5 by now.
Adobe Acrobat is primarily a visual program which uses a proprietary encoding called PDF (portable document format) to deliver to your screen exact electronic images of the original printed pages, a feat no web browser can accomplish with mere HTML. Acrobat handles without difficulty the display of graphical elements such as Poe's quotations in Hebrew or Greek, the inverted typefaces in the cryptograph in "Secret Writing" in Graham's (December 1841), or the illustration in "Maelzel's Chess-Player." Its visual fidelity to the original pages includes a strong sense of page location and numbering. Although probably you would not choose to read it all on your screen (or it print all out, for that matter), it is reassuring to know that the entire 17 volume Harrison edition of 5,500 pages is there on one CD-ROM disk should you ever need it.
The original Harrison index pages have been corrected and reinforced with electronic hypertext links. To bring any page directly to your screen, find its volume, title, or proper name in the appropriate index and click on the page number. When your cursor detects a live hypertext link, the pointer icon turns into a hand. You may also go directly to a known volume-page reference by selecting the volume number from the menu at left and then typing in the page number in the template at the bottom. Once displayed, any page of text may be scrolled, enlarged, or printed. You can also split the screen to display the Harrison text, indexes, and notes or other pairs of pages at the same time.
The weakness of all computer images -- and you will be seeing these text pages as images -- is that they can't be searched for text. To overcome this, Adobe Acrobat creates a hybrid structure, supporting the visible page images with a set of closely-linked but invisible electronic texts specially created for searching, copying, or downloading. In principle such hybrid texts have proved very successful in ambitious projects such as The Making of America online at Michigan and Cornell and the Early American Fiction CD-ROM project of the University of Virginia and Chadwyck-Healey. But in both of those cases accurate textual verification required considerable institutional support and extensive editorial labor. Adobe Acrobat has a built-in Find procedure to locate texts, but it has several limitations. When its pointer hunts from the current cursor position in any file, it may need to go to the end of the file and then circle back word by word from the opposite end to complete its search -- unwieldy because in the Geodesic Poe edition each file is not a single tale, poem, or essay, as you might expect, but rather an entire Harrison volume. Thus some searches in the earliest versions of the Geodesic Poe may be quite lengthy, without assurance in advance as to which volume in which to look -- or even that the desired target exists anywhere in Harrison. This difficulty is partly overcome in the revised version of the Geodesic Poe available now (see below).
The second difficulty, as the publishers of the Geodesic Poe admit, is that there are occasional differences between the screen images we see on the screen and the integrated electronic texts beneath. Some inherent errors were introduced in the computer recognition process by which the images were converted to words; additional errors stem from the difficulty Acrobat Find has with certain locations for hyphenated words. For example, if you hunt from the beginning of "The Fall of the House of Usher" for everyday, a word you know exists in the first paragraph, Acrobat Find will miss it because the word is broken there by an end-of-line hyphen into the form every-day, which contains, as far as the computer is concerned, not one element but four, every, the hyphen, the end-of-line or carriage return marker, and day. For your hunt to succeed, you would have to divine in some way that only the word patterns every, day, or every-day could be used.
The Geodesic Poe documentation apologizes for its "imperfect search capabilities - especially when the search string is looking for text that was end-of-line hyphenated in the original edition." A remedy is given: "Should your search fail, shorten the search string and try again." To be specific, the shortening of strings by dropping letters will not help in such cases unless entire hypenated syllables are removed. Another solution is to use wildcards: every* finds every, everything, every-thing, purposes--every, everyday, every-day, everybody, every-body, etc. while *day finds day, to-day, Monday, mid-day, yesterday, everyday, every-day, and more.
The very useful cross-file Search feature has been added to the current revised version of the Geodesic Poe. A simple installation step is needed the first time it is used to point to the Index: click on Edit - Search - Select Indexes (or type Ctrl-Shift-X) and select the index location, whether on the original CD ROM or any hard disk copy. To do a Search, click on Edit - Search - Query (or type Ctrl-Shift-F). and type in a target word or string. Select the appropriate Harrison volumes and sections to search, or examine them all. To see subsequent Search "hits," click on a Next Highlight or Previous Highlight icon.
The search pattern is retained for narrowing or widening. You can increase hits by using multiple words or wildcards, or by selecting program options such as Word Stem, Thesaurus, Sounds Like, or Proximity -- and decrease hits with Match Case. See Acrobat help for using Boolean expressions. The utility responds to searches of combinations of words and portions of words. The Sounds Like feature finds words which contain the first two consonant letters of the target word. Test Thesaurus and Proximity to see how they affect your search.
One critical omission in the Geodesic Poe instructions concerns cut and paste, described as "accomplished as they are in any other Windows application." Actually no text can be selected unless the Text Select Tool is activated by clicking on its icon or by hitting the V key. Although the visible page images in the Geodesic Poe appear identical in every case to the Harrison pages, the system-generated electronic text used in searching and in cut-and-paste retains a small percentage of inherent mechanical errors, as the Geodesic Poe documentation warns us: "All files have an embedded OCR text to accommodate search and cut-and-paste operations, but retention of the scanned image precludes correction of the OCR text - carefully proof any text pasted from this disk." In one sample, I found this error rate to be about 1%, especially affecting accented letters and foreign words and sometimes arising from difficulties the machine recognition program had when letters, numbers, and punctuation fell contiguously.
The Geodesic Library Poe CD-ROM is outstanding when using the Harrison indexes to locate and display whole works by title or proper name, actually an improvement over the originals because of editorial corrections in the index. A signal virtue of this CD-ROM Poe is that it can be used in conjunction with the printed AMS reprints. Few other matching pairs of printed-plus-electronic Poe editions are readily available. Although both a paper reprint and electronic texts of the Borzoi edition (1946) are available, you must know where to look for them. Recently a comprehensive set of electronic versions of pre-1850 Poe editions have been issued online or on CD-ROM by the Poe Society of Baltimore, by the Early American Fiction project of the University of Virginia in cooperation with Chadwyck-Healey, and by the Digital Library of the South at the University of North Carolina. Regrettably, the corresponding paper editions of these pre-1850 Poe printings are rarely found outside rare book rooms in major research libraries. We need more photo-facsimiles such as Jay B. Hubbell's 1969 edition of the Tales (1845) and The Raven and Other Poems (1845) [Columbus: Charles E. Merrill, 1969]. In the meantime, the continuing availability of the AMS Press Harrison reprints in libraries will contribute to the success of the new Geodesic Poe CD-ROM. In turn, the success of this CD-ROM Harrison (a third generation product based not on the 1902 original edition but rather upon the 1965 AMS Press reprint) should nurture and sustain the Harrison Poe on paper into its second century.
The Geodesic Library Poe CD-ROM should be an automatic purchase for libraries which acquire electronic editions of standard authors (such purchasers may require an ISBN, which my review CD-ROM lacked.). Libraries will find it an excellent supplement to the AMS reprints, individual volumes of which may be charged out, lost, missing, or badly worn. All Poe scholars who work with the Harrison text and who understand the promises and limits of computer methods for literary research will want a copy of this very useful and reasonably-priced Geodesic Library CD-ROM next to -- if not inside of -- their personal computers.