Dreams of a “NEW REGIME”? Did Edgar Allan Poe Really Foresee Blogging, the Internet, and the Decline of Publishers—Or Is This Quote of His Taken Out of Context—or Even FAKE?

Andrew Sullivan today posted a striking quote from Edgar Allan Poe that seems to anticipate blogging and the Internet, and the decline of publishers!

I don’t know who tipped him off to this.

Did he locate it himself, or did someone on his small staff (excuse the Freudianism) locate it, or was Sullivan talking to a literature professor at a dinner party who told him about it?

I’d never seen it before.

In any case, here it is:

… authors will perceive the immense advantage of giving their own manuscripts directly to the public without the expensive interference of the type-setter, and the often ruinous intervention of the publisher. All that a man of letters need do will be to pay some attention to legibility of manuscript, arrange his pages to suit himself, and stereotype them instantaneously, as arranged. He may intersperse them with his own drawings, or with anything to please his own fancy, … In the new régime the humblest will speak as often and as freely as the most exalted, and will be sure of receiving just that amount of attention which the intrinsic merit of their speeches may deserve.

When I first read it, the quote seemed to me too eerily prescient, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was taken grossly out of context—or was simply fake.

Sullivan linked the quote to an anthology of Poe’s essays at GoogleBooks, but gave no further information.

I thus followed Sullivan’s link to GoogleBooks and discovered that the book from which he derives the Poe quote is vol. 9 of a ten volume collection of Poe’s writings that is long out of print. The collection was edited by Stedman and Woodberry, and was published by Stone & Kimball in 1896.

Typing in the phrase “authors will perceive” into the Google search engine for the book, I found that the quote begins on page 283 and is part of an essay titled, “Anastatic Printing.”

It appears that Poe was excited by an acid chemical process that could take HANDWRITTEN manuscripts and transfer them directly to printing plates, thereby bypassing the need for laborious typesetting, and this is what he meant by “anastatic printing.” Thus the context of the quote is Poe’s excitement about a technique for direct delivery to audiences of a writer’s neat, and perhaps even artistically elaborated, handwritten manuscripts!

Here is the quote again, but I have set in bold type what immediately preceeds what Sullivan merely offered as ellipse:

This consideration will lead to the cultivation of a neat and distinct style of handwriting; authors will perceive the immense advantage of giving their own manuscripts directly to the public without the expensive interference of the type-setter, and the often ruinous intervention of the publisher. All that a man of letters need do will be to pay some attention to legibility of manuscript, arrange his pages to suit himself, and stereotype them instantaneously, as arranged. He may intersperse them with his own drawings, or with anything to please his own fancy, … In the new régime the humblest will speak as often and as freely as the most exalted, and will be sure of receiving just that amount of attention which the intrinsic merit of their speeches may deserve.

In short, Poe’s dream was to bypass the publication middlemen, and all laborious elements of publication, and reach an audience directly, and the closest thing that he could see on the horizon was a primitive form of “photocopying” in which his neat and even sylized handwriting could be set upon metal plates and reproduced via ANASTATIC PRINTING.

He thus clearly FAILED TO FORESEE the implications of what such a form of dissemination might have for writers and readers—and big city publishers—should it ever become widespread. Photocopying, afterall, never did become a “NEW REGIME”—as Poe predicted—even though it is widepread. Photocopying proved NOT to really threaten or bypass editors, publishers, or the distributors of words at all, nor reduce a writer’s or a reader’s dependence upon them.

BUT Poe WAS clearly on to something, and once a technology emerged that really could bypass the typesetter and middlemen, all the implications that he drew seem to be coming to pass.

So the quote, although a little bit out of context, is not entirely so—and not being fake, but GENUINE, it suggests that Poe would have enthusiastically embraced blogging and the Internet, and would have seen it as the fulfillment of the “new regime” that he dreamed of in his essay, “Anastatic Printing.”

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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One Response to Dreams of a “NEW REGIME”? Did Edgar Allan Poe Really Foresee Blogging, the Internet, and the Decline of Publishers—Or Is This Quote of His Taken Out of Context—or Even FAKE?

  1. Pingback: Link to Poe’s “Anastatic Printing” Essay (the One Where He Supposedly “Anticipates” Blogging and the Internet « Prometheus Unbound

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