Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque

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This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840)
by Edgar Allan Poe
1825Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque1840Edgar Allan Poe

Volume 1


Epigram on title page

Seltsamen tochter Jovis
Seinem schosskinde
Der Phantasie



The epithets "Grotesque" and "Arabesque" will be found to indicate with sufficient precision the prevalent tenor of the tales here published. But from the fact that, during a period of some two or three years, I have written five-and-twenty short stories whose general character may be so briefly defined, it cannot be fairly inferred — at all events it is not truly inferred — that I have, for this species of writing, any inordinate, or indeed any peculiar taste or prepossession. I may have written with an eye to this republication in volume form, and may, therefore, have desired to preserve, as far as a certain point, a certain unity of design. This is, indeed, the fact; and it may even happen that, in this manner, I shall never compose anything again. I speak of these things here, because I am led to think it is this prevalence of the "Arabesque" in my serious tales, which has induced one or two critics to tax me, in all friendliness, with what they have been pleased to term "Germanism" and gloom. The charge is in bad taste, and the grounds of the accusation have not been sufficiently considered. Let us admit, for the moment, that the "phantasy-pieces" now given are Germanic, or what not. Then Germanism is "the vein" for the time being. To morrow I may be anything but German, as yesterday I was everything else. These many pieces are yet one book. My friends would be quite as wise in taxing an astronomer with too much astronomy, or an ethical author with treating too largely of morals. But the truth is that, with a single exception, there is no one of these stories in which the scholar should recognise the distinctive features of that species of pseudo-horror which we are taught to call Germanic, for no better reason than that some of the secondary names of German literature have become identified with its folly. If in many of my productions terror has been the thesis, I maintain that terror is not of Germany, but of the soul, — that I have deduced this terror only from its legitimate sources, and urged it only to its legitimate results.

There are one or two of the articles here, (conceived and executed in the purest spirit of extravaganza,) to which I expect no serious attention, and of which I shall speak no farther. But for the rest I cannot conscientiously claim indulgence on the score of hasty effort. I think it best becomes me to say, therefore, that if I have sinned, I have deliberately sinned. These brief compositions are, in chief part, the results of matured purpose and very careful elaboration.



Volume 2





These were included as a part of volume 2 of the work. A few are by well-known writers

These Tales have received encomiums of a most unusual character, from a great variety of high sources. Besides a number of editorial opinions in their favor, some personal ones (not editorial) are here appended. As all these (with a single exception) have already found their way into the papers, or other prints, of the time, the publishers presume there can be no impropriety in their republication.


These tales are eminently distinguished by a wild, vigorous, and poetical imagination, a rich style, a fertile invention, and varied and curious learning... Of singular force and beauty.

— John P. Kennedy.

I am much pleased with a tale called "The House of Usher," and should think that a collection of tales, equally well written, could not fail of being favorably received... Its graphic effect is powerful.

Washington Irving.

I have read a little tale called "William Wilson" with much pleasure. It is managed in a highly picturesque style, and the singular and mysterious interest is ably sustained throughout. I repeat what I have said of a previous production of this author; that I cannot but think that a series of articles of like style and merit would be extremely well received by the public.

— Washington Irving.

In "Ligeia," by Mr. Poe, there is a fine march of description, which has a touch of the D'Israeli quality.

N. P. WillisLetters from under a Bridge.

He puts us in mind of no less a writer than Shelley.

— John Neal.

"Bon-Bon," by Mr. Poe, is equal to anything Theodore Hook ever wrote.

— M. M. Noah.

Mr. Poe's "M.S. found in a bottle" is one of the most singularly ingenious and imaginative things I ever remember to have read. Discovery is there analyzed and spiritualized in a strain of allegory which need not fear comparison with Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner."

— J. F. Otis.

— That powerful pen, whose versatile and brilliant creations I have so often admired.

Mrs. L. H. Sigourney.

Mr. Poe possesses an extraordinary faculty. He paints the palpable obscure with strange power, throwing over his pictures a sombre gloom which is appalling. The images are dim, but distinct; shadowy but well-defined. The outline indeed is all we see; but there they stand, shrouded in darkness, and fright us with the mystery which defies farther scrutiny... His genius, as well as private history, puts us in mind of that of Coleridge.

— Judge Beverly Tucker (of Va.,) author of "George Balcombe."

There can be but one opinion in regard to the force and beauty of his style... He discovers a superior capacity and a highly cultivated taste... A gentleman of fine endowments, possessing a taste classical and refined, an imagination affluent and splendid, and withal a singular capacity for minute and mathematical detail... We always predicted that he would reach a high grade in American literature... "Morella" will unquestionably prove that Mr. Poe has great powers of imagination, and a command of language never surpassed. We doubt if anything in the same style can be cited which contains more terrific beauty than this tale.

— James E. Heath (of Va.), author of "Edge-Hill" and Editor of the S. Lit. Messenger.

Mr. Poe is decidedly the best of all our young writers — I don't know but that I may say, of all our old ones.

— J. K. Paulding.

— Facile princeps.

— Professor Charles Anthon.


We must say that we derive no small enjoyment from a delineation like this. We like to see the evidences of study and thought, as well as of inspiration, in the design, and of careful and elaborate handling in the execution, as well as of grand and striking effect in the tout ensemble. The "Fall of the House of Usher" is what we denominate a stern and sombre, but at the same time a noble and imposing picture, such as can be drawn only by a master-hand. Such things are not produced by your slip-shod amateurs in composition.

Phil. Weekly Messenger (Professor John Frost).

"William Wilson," by Mr. Poe, reminds us of Godwin and Brockden Brown. The writer is a kindred spirit of theirs in his style of art. He paints with sombre Rembrandt-like tints, and there is great force and vigor of conception in whatever he produces.

Phil. Weekly Messenger (Professor Frost).

There is also a sketch of much power and peculiar interest, entitled "The House of Usher" which cannot fail to attract attention — ... a remarkable specimen of a style of writing which possesses many attractions for those who love to dwell upon the terrible.

Phil. Pennsylvanian (Jos. C. Neal).

Mr. Poe's story of "The House of Usher" would have been considered a chef d'oevre if it had appeared in the pages of Blackwood.

N. Y. Evening Star.

"Lionizing" by Mr. Poe is an inimitable piece of wit and satire; and the man must be far gone in a melancholic humor whose risibility is not moved by this tale.

S. Lit. Messenger (E. Vernon Sparhawk).

Mr. Poe's "Hans Phaall" will add much to his reputation as an imaginative writer. The story is a long one, but will appear short to the reader, whom it bears along with irresistible interest through a region of which of all others we know least, but which his fancy has invested with peculiar charms.


The author of the "Lunar Hoax" is indebted to the "Hans Phaall" of Mr. Poe for the conception and in a great measure for the execution of his discoveries.

Norfolk Herald.

The "Due de L'Omelette" by Edgar A. Poe, is one of those light, spirited, and fantastic inventions of which we have had specimens before in the Messenger, betokening a fertility of imagination and power of execution, that would, under a sustained effort, produce creations of an enduring character.

Baltimore American (Geo. H. Calvert).

The "Due de L'Omelette" is one of the best things of the kind we have ever read. Mr. Poe has great powers, and every line tells in all he writes. He is no spinner of long yarns, but chooses his subject, whimsically perhaps, but originally, and treats it in a manner peculiarly his own.

National Intelligencer (J. F. Otis).

Of the lighter contributions — of the diamonds which sparkle beside the more sombre gems, commend us, thou spirit of eccentricity, forever and a day, to "The Duc de L'Omelette," — the best thing of the kind we ever have read or ever expect to read.

Petersburgh (Va.) Constellation (H. Haines).

"The Tale of Jerusalem," is one of those felicitous hits which are the forte of Edgar A. Poe.

Baltimore Gazette.

We seldom meet with more boldness in the development of intellectual capacity, or more vividness in description than we find in the productions of Edgar Allan Poe.

Brownsville (Pa.) Observer.

— Equally ripe in graphic humor and various lore.

Charleston Courier.

— An uniquely original vein of imagination, and of humorous delicate satire.

S. L. Messenger.

The story of "The Fall of the House of Usher," from the pen of Mr. Poe, is very interesting — a well told tale.

Phil. U. S. Gazette (Jos. R. Chandler).

Many of these tales are of a very high order of merit, and have been admired wherever they have been perused by men of mind. Mr. Poe is no imitator in story-telling. He has a peculiarity of his own — dealing often in rather wild imaginings, and yet he always contrives to sustain his plots with so much novelty of incident, that you must read him out in spite of any sober realities that may occasionally flit across the mind. And as you read you are ever impressed with the truth that he has much fancy, great richness of description, and true poetry for his imagery and colorings.

Phil. Sat. Courier (E. Holden).

Poe can throw a chain of enchantment around every scene he attempts to describe, and one of his peculiarities consists in the perfect harmony between each locale and the characters introduced. He has certainly written some of the most popular tales of American origin.

Baltimore Post (Dr. J. Evans Snodgrass).

He is excellent at caricature and satire.

Richmond Compiler.

He is one of the very few American writers who blend philosophy common sense, humor and poetry smoothly together... He lays his hand upon the wild steeds of his imagination, and they plunge furiously through storm and tempest, or foam along through the rattling thunder-cloud; or, at his bidding, they glide swiftly and noiselessly along the quiet and dreamy lake, or among the whispering bowers of thought and feeling...There are few writers in this country — take Neal, Irving, and Willis away, and we would say none — who can compete successfully in many respects with Poe. With an acuteness of observation, a vigorous and effective style, and an independence that defies control, he unites a fervid fancy and a most beautiful enthusiasm. His is a high destiny.

St. Louis Commercial Bulletin.