About the Reading Text of “Hans Phaall”

What is presented here as a reading text is what I know as “Hans Phaall.” Every critic should define his or her text; I give you mine as honest bricolage.

You may consider this representation as either an infographic or an anti-text, for it goes against the grain by adopting the 1835 copy-text as its constitutive basis. Later editions do not receive priority: just the opposite, and the manuscript trumps all. Thus, we have the “youngest” possible text. As Poe says, “it is by the first effort of an author that we form the truest idea of his mental bias.”  

The tale is revealed to be breezy, conversational, and much more animated by reverting to Poe’s early intent, including an exuberant use of dashes and italics, and to his original “misspellings” (they are not). The text comes alive in an extraordinary fashion, and we hear the rhythms of Poe’s youthful narrative voice unmarred by intervening copy editors, second guesses, and house styles. The difference in edits is subtle; the change in tone is not.

Burton Pollin, successor to Thomas Ollive Mabbott, declares Griswold’s 1850 text to be “definitive” (and later scholars declare Pollin’s effort “definitive”) out of a tradition that assumes that the author continually hones his work, and thus would have made the latter changes, such as rewriting Hans’s last name retroactively, if only he or she had known better years earlier. But a hoax is made to make a hit and is thus jarring, wild, and entirely of the moment. To encounter Poe at his wittiest and most philosophical, the moment of the hoax’s inception needs to be brought out by using the original manuscript — or a text as close to the point of conception as can be found. And the accursed 1850 text of “Pfaall” is tired and horribly chopped up, presumably by a house editor; it is certainly not in Poe’s original style nor his heart.

Joseph Moldenhauer’s commentary on Pollin’s choice of the Griswold edition 

Color Key

This textual map employs color coding to depict the larger changes made to the base manuscript, which is used as the one source of truth. Use the map to see patterns of change over time, and to identify the source text for particular wordings. For minor changes (which are not marked), see Mabbott’s notes. 

The title is adapted from Poe’s markup of the table of contents for Phantasy-Pieces. Note that the markup (select ) shows “The Unparralleled Adventure of one Hans Pfaall”, small “o.” “Contents of Vol. I.” (p. v) of Griswold’s edition lists “The Adventures of one Hans Pfaall”, which indicates that the printer followed the lower casing, but inexplicably dropped “Unparralleled” entirely and gave Hans multiple adventures. Perhaps this was an unseen editorial hand at work, or a printer’s overreach, so to speak. Note that Poe mis-capitalizes other titles on the same Contents markup, errors that are not reproduced by the printer.

Why use a parallel sign in “Phaa”?

The base (black text, white background) was proofed against the images of the fair-copy manuscript as intended for the June 1835 SLM. Manuscript, page 1.

Gray indicates portions missing from the manuscript and therefore proofed against the SLM text.

Green indicates revisions from the 1839 (pub. date 1840) Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.

Red indicates changes made for the J.S. Redfield (Griswold) 1850 edition.

Blue indicates text deleted after first printing.

A Notable Deletion

Crucially, Poe deletes this passage after the initial printing:

The d — l, you say! Now that’s too bad. Why, hang the people, they should be prosecuted for a libel. I tell you, gentlemen, you know nothing about the business. You are ignorant of Astronomy — and of things in general. The voyage was made — it was indeed — and made. too, by Hans Phaall. I wonder, for my part, you do not perceive at once that the letter — the document — is intrinsically — is astronomically true — and that it carries upon its very face the evidence of its own authenticity.


Duane SLM Markup

The elusive Duane markup of 1839 features mostly minor copy edits. To view the “Duane copy of Southern Literary Messenger, with Poe’s manuscript changes SLM-WMD (about 1839), made in anticipation of publication in Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque,” select .

“Phaall” and “Eureka”

There also exist unpublished notes not included here that once were thought to be intended for “Hans Phaall”, then “Eureka.”

Regrettably, the connection between “Phaall” and “Eureka” has never been fully explored, especially from a mathematical point of view.

What is Poe after, and exactly how does a burlesque that blaringly declares itself to be a hoax relate to a work about cosmology?

How do the two interrelate?

What word does one shout upon solving a hoax like “Phaall”?




Background on the manuscript notes