I'd had no idea, before plowing through the Library of America Poetry and Tales, how many comic stories Poe wrote. Of 68 tales and sketches, I identify 25, more than a third, as comic. "Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling." "The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq." "Diddling Considered as One of the Exact Sciences."
What? I didn't say they were funny. They're supposed to be funny. Tastes may differ - and did they ever. How can I communicate how important these histoires were as une pièce of Poe's oeuvre? First, I should stop randomly using French in a Poe-like manner. Second, I should create a graph (click to enlarge):
The time runs from Poe's first five published stories in 1832 to his last six in 1849. Poems, essays, reviews, and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1837-8) are omitted. "Supposed to be funny" versus "not supposed to be funny" is my judgment. Please refer to Poetry and Tales, Library of America, pp. 1375-8, to check my data.
I put some signposts on the graph to help see what Poe was doing. There's "The Fall of the House of Usher" in 1839, which I would call Poe's first great story. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is from 1841. That's "The Gold-Bug" in 1843. There in 1845 - but not included in the totals - is "The Raven."
Like Hawthorne, Poe's fiction productivity was hugely uneven. But he was always writing, almost. In 1836, for example, he wrote eighty book reviews for the Southern Literary Messenger - this was the beginning of Poe the Hatchet Man. Then came Poe's one novel in early 1838. Poe was seriously ill in 1847, and hardly wrote anything. 1848 saw the publication of the bizarre Eureka: A Prose Poem, which I will write about later, if I can think of anything to say about it.
Back to my original point. Poe's most famous stories are almost all from the period 1839-46. Most great writers needed some time to find their own voice. Once they find it, they cultivate it, or test it out, or become formulaic. Poe found his voice, or what we think of as the Poe voice, with the writing of Arthur Gordon Pym in 1837; the first classic Poe short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher," came two years later. After that, he wrote one or two classics a year. But he also continued to write all sorts of other things, including comic tales, the green bars in the graph, and magazines continued to publish them. He never specialized.
Poe could be very funny - his reviews prove that. And there are funny moments in these stories. But his comic tales seem to me to be too much of his time. The references are obscure, or the satire has gone flat, or the sorts of jokes people like have changed. I don't know. But where his weird tales retain their creepy effect, in the face of thousands of imitators, the comic tales are genuine period pieces, instructive about their time, but without much to say to ours.
I will say, though, that at least two of the "funny" ones end with beheadings. Comic Poe is still Poe.