Ditty to Science
I once wrote a sonnet to Science.
My tone was of headstrong defiance.
If Mesmer can verify
That Death need not terrify,
Perhaps I will form an alliance.
In The Lost Limericks of Edgar Allan Poe, the “ditty” above is footnoted with this bit of historical context:
Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) pioneered the phenomena of “animal magnetism,” which quickly became known as Mesmerism and evolved into hypnotism. The scientific and spiritual possibilities that might be uncovered by Mesmer’s practices—including communication with the dead—held widespread fascination in Poe’s era, as seen in his “Mesmeric Revelation” and “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.”
That second story by Poe will appear Entranced by Eyes of Evil: Tales of Mesmerism and Mystery, to be released by Brom Bones Books come August. This is an anthology of short stories about evil hypnotists. Well, most of the hypnotists are evil; some just open the Pandora’s box of mesmerism and suffer the consequences. Along with Poe, there are works by Louisa May Alcott, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ambrose Bierce. There are fourteen other authors who might not have sustained their luster quite as well, but who were important writers in their day. Entranced by Eyes of Evil comes with an Introduction and footnotes, and it ends with an Appendix dealing with a real-life court case that made international headlines because the woman charged with murder hoped to be found innocent by reason of hypnotism!
There are, of course, many challenges and frustrations with putting together a book such as this. Not only do I have to transfer the stories from their original format to one that will go to my printer, I have to correct mistakes that go with that process. And any mistakes that were in the original publications. And I’m modernizing the texts a bit by breaking up especially long paragraphs, turning once-hyphenated words such as “to-day” to “today,” and minimizing the commas. Good golly, Victorian writers sure were crazy for commas! This should make the stories more appealing to a new generation of readers.
At the same time, I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds some pleasure in the language styles of the 1800s. So it becomes a balancing act, and I try to tread lightly when modernizing such works. The ultimate goal, of course, is to help the authors connect well with their readers, the duty of any editor — including those who tinkered with the authors’ words when they were first published. A “pure” text, one that reflects exactly what the author presented to their publisher, would be nearly impossible to find — and, in some cases, we’re probably better off without it.
Along the way, I made some interesting discoveries. For instance, I found a slight disagreement over the exact date when Ambrose Bierce’s “The Realm of the Unreal” made its debut in the San Francisco Examiner. All of my sources agree that it was in July of 1890, but was it the 20th, the 27th, or the 29th? With help from a colleague, I found that — unless the Examiner published the tale more than once in a matter of days — the correct date is the 27th. And here’s the pudding that proves it: this is a copy of it from that date. It’s sorting out details such as this that makes editing this kind of anthology a touch maddening but, ultimately, very rewarding.
Finally, though the book won’t be available until next month, I’m pleased to unveil the cover: