NABOKV-L post 0018427, Fri, 3 Jul 2009 14:12:19 -0300

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[NABOKOV-L] Evolution, animal classification, Poe and Conchology
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Dear List,

After setting down the two references, by Kinbote, to E.A.Poe's first published works (on Conchology and Tamerlane & other poems) I decided to explore the conchologist item. Wikipedia not only reveals a series of misattributed works verging on plagiarism, but mentions the poet's ability to alter the mode of classification of the animals, abandoning the organization by the shape of the shells to construct a superior system ( according to Jay Gould)*.

Nabokov's contributions to lepidoptery entailed a novel way for the classification of butterflies and moths. It would be interesting to ascertain if he'd been aware of Poe's creative intervention related to Lamarck and Linnaeus.

Carolyn Kunin had already mentioned the link bt. "conchology" in Poe and PF in a past posting to the List.

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An abridged version from the entries found in Wiki and with its most important items concerning Nabokov's classificatory interests and plagiarism underlined.
The Conchologist's First Book (sometimes subtitled with Or, A System of Testaceous Malacology) is an illustrated textbook on conchology issued in 1839, 1840, and 1845. Though the book was originally printed under Edgar Allan Poe's name, the actual author was Thomas Wyatt, an English author and lecturer.Wyatt wrote the original, longer textbook, Manual of Conchology, upon which Poe based his shorter, condensed version.[...]This odd arrangement was to avoid copyright problems with the original edition of Wyatt's book, Manual of Conchology, previously published by Harper & Brothers [...]Poe made some significant changes to Wyatt's original text [...] Poe wrote the preface, the introduction, translated the French text by Georges Cuvier into English, worked on the accounts of the animals, constructed a new classification or taxonomy scheme, and organized the book. Poe made translations of the scientific descriptions by the French naturalist and zoologist Georges Cuvier, although he was uncredited on the title page.
[...] Wyatt's book, in turn, took much material from British naturalist Thomas Brown without attribution. Brown's book, The Conchologist's Textbook [...]Brown himself based his text on the previous work of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Linnaeus. Brown noted on his title page that his book was "embracing the arrangements of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Linnaeus". In other words, Brown himself could be accused of "plagiarizing" his textbook from Lamarck and Linnaeus.In his personal copy of the 1839 first edition, Poe made annotations and corrections. He penciled in as the last sentence to the preface an acknowledgment to Thomas Brown: "Also to Mr. T. Brown upon whose excelent [sic] book he has very largely drawn". The second edition of the book, however, did not incorporate Poe's acknowledgment of Brown[ ...] In "Poe's Greatest Hit", American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould showed how Poe made significant contributions to the text by simplifying, organizing, and condensing the text, Manual of Conchology, and, more importantly, by translating Cuvier's passages into English [...] Gould noted that Poe, who was fluent in French, analyzed and translated French naturalist Georges Cuvier's scientific classification scheme. Poe changed the organization of Wyatt's original book. Wyatt had arranged the animals by the shapes of their shells. Poe, however, regarded that mode of classification as too simplistic and superficial. Poe created a much broader classification system by analyzing the derivation of the term conchology, the scientific study of mollusk shells: "The Greek conchylion from which it is derived, he says, embraces both the animal and [its] shell." In fact, Poe constructed a superior system of classification, according to Gould. So while Poe biographers disparage Poe as being "boring, pedantic, and hair-splitting", Poe actually made meaningful and important contributions to the book, and to biological taxonomy, in creating a new and more complex system of classification for mollusks. In other words, according to Gould, Poe did not just put his name on the book, but made significant and meaningful contributions and changes to the text, which was intended as an abridged textbook or primer, not as an original work[...] On the title page of the first edition in 1839, it states that the book consists of "A System of Testaceous Malacology Arranged expressly for the use of Schools ... By Edgar A. Poe."[...] Moreover, Poe wrote: "The title-page acknowledges that the animals are given 'according to Cuvier'." A second edition appeared in 1840 with Poe's name on the title page. An 1845 edition, however, appeared without Poe's name on it. The controversy and confusion is largely a semantic one. [...]The controversy was used largely to slander and libel Poe and to destroy his reputation and credibility during his lifetime.

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