Hervey Allen, Edgar Allan Poe and the Creepy Scribblings of Bernhart Hobbins

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(Please welcome a debut Litkicks piece by Michelle Glauser, who runs her own blog and describes herself as "a Mormon chocolate-lover who studied English at the University of Utah and American Studies at the University of Leipzig in Germany, where I focused on women's autobiographical writing and wrote a master's thesis on mommy blogging". -- Levi)

Have you ever found something in an old book that took you by surprise? It's not unusual to find a name or maybe even a phone number. Sometimes you'll find evidence that the book once belonged to a library. But extensive notes and criticism of an author as well-known as Edgar Allan Poe and his biographer? Maybe in a textbook. I certainly wasn't expecting what I recently found.

Until recently, I'd never heard of Hervey Allen, the author of the once-popular 1,224-page novel Anthony Adverse as well as Israfel, a biography of Edgar Allan Poe. I opened one of those old, old books that has been sitting around forever until you look at it one day and realize you should read it. Upon opening this 1938 edition of The Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, I found first a completely creepy sketch followed by an illegible name -- perhaps "Bernhart Hobbins"? I have no recollection of its induction into my library; I must have picked the book up at a garage sale or something.

But it was the contents of the grandmotherly script on the title page that really had me wondering. First, the "Hervey Allen" in "With an Introduction by Hervey Allen" had penciled-in quotation marks. And I quote the following:

It is a shame that a bastard like Hervey Allen is allowed to deface a decent book; other authors' books should not be degraded as they are where his name appears anywhere in them. Besides, he is as stupid as a toad, and should confine his odiousness and not give it air in this parasitic manner herein displayed.

Heh? Then this before the introduction:

Let me here say that Hervey Allen should rather have spent his time in more profitable masturbation than this, obscenely debasing words! He is a pukey writer as is so aptly revealed.

Wow, such biting words in such lovely handwriting. I still don't know why this person so hated Hervey Allen. He or she did point out in the table of contents that a poem to Virginia is missing, which is more than I could do and which I guess could be helpful. Isn't it interesting what you find in books sometimes?

Short reactions of the mysterious Hobbins filled the poetry section. Poems were marked with:

  • "perfect" ("Lenore")
  • "mediocre" ("Hymn" and "To ____ ____")
  • "inspired" ("To My Mother")
  • " ... the words contradict the structure. Feeble!" ("The Haunted Place")
  • "I like this tho it is not treated grotesquely enough for any pulsing gore" ("The Conqueror Worm")
  • "Very unworthy of this name. O Poe!" ("The Coliseum")
  • "And this is unworthy of the labor.--exceptions: those braced" ("To Helen")

There are also other remarks. Additionally, words in "Annabel Lee" have been corrected, though as far as a couple of Google searches show, the book had them right. Oh, and another treasure appears below Poe's "Politian":

June 28, 1940 -- Almost like a crude attempt of a schoolboy to imitate the style of Keats, and to invent new deviations from all previous rules of dramatic art. Effete [?] and nauseous and watery. Puerile!

Yikes. I certainly hope the unknown critic Hobbins (or a descendant) never gets close to anything I've ever written or commented on. Googling "'Bernhart Hobbins' Edgar Allan Poe" didn't bring up some awesome anti-Hervey Poe scholar; it didn't bring up anything at all. Alas, Hobbins has probably by now joined Poe as well as his archnemesis Hervey Allen. Perhaps they can work out their differences wherever they are now.

6 Responses to "Hervey Allen, Edgar Allan Poe and the Creepy Scribblings of Bernhart Hobbins"

Wow, this is pretty cool. Writing within writing about writing! Whoever the note writer is, you have done an amazing thing by launching their words into virtual immortality via the Internet, and could this person ever imagine such a thing would happen when they first placed pen to page? I love the "word virus" aspect of this. It's like a metafictional plot but it's real.

Here's a good plot for a story: A kid writes notes in a book, dreaming of becoming an author, but due to various circumstances involving the drudgery of life, the dream never happens. Years later, in a retirement home, the "kid" much older now, finds out that someone scanned their notes, posted them on the internet, and the post has become so popular it has "gone viral" as they say. The dream is fulfilled after all!

by Amy Bankhead on

cool.

by Claudia on

Michelle, intriguing, and not very surprising, lit crit wars! If these guys had taught in the same department, they'd be fighting for the chair position and the biggest office. Better not put them on the same dissertation committee, even beyond the grave, or they'd make your life hell:).

by Undine on

Yow. What a great find! I didn't think much of Hervey Allen's biography myself, but my dislike obviously pales next to the eloquent Mr. Hobbins.

I'd really, really, like to know who this guy was.

by Gary Sides on

Just for fun, Bernhart Robbins was born January 19, 1914. He entered in world War II on April 6, 1943. Bernhart lived in New Jersey all his life and passed away just after his 86th birthday on January 22, 2000 living at his home at 68 Braeton Way, just off Willow Brook Road in Freehold, New Jersey.

Wow, maybe it was Bernhart Robbins. I wonder what career field he was in . . .

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