| and of course constantly are, varied and combined, but the
essential outline remains unchanged to-day.
Equally prophetic and embracing were. Foe's contributions to the internal structure of the genre. In the very first tale he proceeded to lay down the two great concepts upon which all fictional detection worth the name has been based: (i) That the solvability of a case varies in proportion to its outre character. (2) The famous dictum-by-inference (as best phrased by Dorothy Sayers) that "when you have eliminated all the impossibilities, then, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth," which has been relied on and often re-stated by all the better sleuths in the decades that have followed. As for the almost infinite minutiae, time-hallowed to-day, which Poe created virtually with a single stroke of the pen, only a suggestive catalogue need be given. The transcendent and eccentric detective; the admiring and slightly stupid foil; the well-intentioned blundering and unimaginativeness of the official guardians of the law; the locked-room convention; the pointing finger of unjust suspicion; the solution by surprise; deduction by putting one's self in another's position (now called psychology); concealment by means of the ultra-obvious; the staged ruse to force the culprit's hand; even the expansive and condescending explanation when the chase is done: all these sprang full-panoplied from the buzzing brain and lofty brow of the Philadelphia editor. In fact, it is not too much to say—except, possibly, for the influence of latter-day science—that nothing really primary has been added either to the framework of the detective story or to its internals since Poe completed his trilogy. Manners, styles, specific devices may change—but the great principles remain where Poe laid them down and left them. Unlike Boy Blue's toys, however, they gather no dust!
As Philip Van Doren Stern has well said: "Like printing, the detective story has been improved upon only in a mechanical way since it was first invented; as artistic products, Gutenberg's Bible and Poe's 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' have never been surpassed."
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue," chronologically the first of Poe's detective stories, was called in the original draft "The Murders in the Rue Trianon Bas," but, happily the more "suggestive" title (to quote a contemporary writer) was substituted before publication. The circumstance must surely rank high among the magnificent afterthoughts of literature. (How the original manuscript was preserved by chance and rescued for posterity almost half a century after it was written is one of the fascinating and oft-told legends of American bib-liophily, which, however, can not occupy us here. It has been related in print by Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach and others.) "The Rue Morgue" made three principal appearances in type in its author's lifetime. First, in Graham's for April, 1841. Second, as the only number of a still-born cheap-leaflet series of The Prose Romances of Edgar A. Poe (1843) which has become one of the greatest rarities of Americana-collecting: published at twelve and one-half cents, copies have sold in recent years for as much as twenty-five thousand dollars. And third, in the 1845 Tales, edited by Evert A. Duyckinck. It was also included, of course, in the "Griswold Edition" of the Collected Works, published in 1850. In addition to these American publications, at least three unauthorized French translations of the tale are known to have appeared in the 1840's.* In an era of international literary freebooting, Poe neither received nor expected any remuneration for them. It may be doubted, in fact, that the world's first detective story ever brought its author a penny in direct financial return—for Poe was the salaried editor of Graham's when "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" first appeared; the 1843 leaflet and the 1845 Tales alike were failures;! and Israfel was no more when the Griswold collection was issued. Ironically, in the years since Poe's death, the tale has been reprinted with a frequency which, under modern royalty and copyright engagements, would have netted the ill-fed poet a sizable fortune from this single effort; to say nothing of the untold millions which have accrued to his imitators and followers.
These reprints, however, have served to make the paragraphs of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" thrice-familiar to every school-boy. The story opens with a brilliant but to-day rather outmoded essay on the philosophy of analysis.
* For an accurate account of this highly involved and usually misunderstood business, see C. P. Cambiaire, The Influence of Edgar Allan Poe in France (New York, G, E. Stechert & Co., 1,927).
f It would indeed have made little difference to Poe in any immediate financial sense had they been successful. The terms between the author and his publishers virtually pass belief. There is preserved a singularly pathetic letter dated August 13, 1841, from Poe to the Messrs. Lea and Blanchard, proposing (unfruitfully) a volume of tales to include the recent "Rue Morgue," in which he says: "I should be glad to accept the terms you allowed me before—that is—you receive all profits, and allow me twenty copies for distribution to friends"!
At length the author introduces his hero, the eccentric and
impoverished Chevalier, DUPIN, and his anonymous companion and
chronicler, the first of a thousand wondering Watsons. We join in their
home-life, if their curious insistence on turning day into night may be
designated by so domestic a term, and marvel dutifully with the narrator
at DUPIN'S powers of deduction. Finally and belatedly, Plot raises its
head. A hundred years of imitation have rendered the remainder of the
story so much formula: the preliminary account of the crime; the visit
to the scene; DUPIN'S satisfaction with what he finds, his companion's
blank mystification; the methodical stupidity of the official police;
the denouement, arranged by the detective; the inevitable explanation.
Original text © Howard Haycraft and Peter Davies 1942 Layout © R.D. Collins
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