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Documenting the quest to track down everything written by (and written about) the poet, translator, critic, and radio dramatist, Henry Reed.

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Henry Reed, ca. 1960


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I Capture the Castle: A girl and her family struggle to make ends meet in an old English castle.
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«  Wedding Guest (One of Three)  »

Reeding Lessons: the Henry Reed research blog

20.6.2021


Wedding Guest (One of Three)

When I heard my cousin was getting married in Baltimore, the first thing I did was call my brother and ask if he wanted to find some time to do a little local sightseeing. "We could make the pilgrimage to the grave of Edgar Allan Poe!" I said. Still on the phone, he did a quick check with his significant other: "She's making a face, I'm guessing that's a 'No Poe.'" I was disappointed, but didn't have my heart set on it, so we settled on the American Visionary Art Museum for the day after the wedding.

I'm not a Poe fanatic, but I'm certainly a fan. I had an English teacher in Middle School who read us "The Black Cat" and other stories during study period. This probably led to someone giving me a complete collection of Poe, which I read cover-to-cover. Who can forget the first time they read "The Cask of Amontillado," or "The Tell-Tale Heart"? The first time you heard "The Raven" read out loud?

Poe's story "The Gold Bug" has always been a favorite of mine. It's a ripping yarn, in which a secret code leads to the discovery of pirate treasure. The hero of the story breaks the simple substitution cipher by counting the number of appearances of each letter or symbol, and swapping them for the most frequently used letters:


Now, in English, the letter which most frequently occurs is e. Afterward, the succession runs thus: a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l m w b k p q x z. E predominates so remarkably, that an individual sentence of any length is rarely seen, in which it is not the prevailing character....

Let us assume 8, then, as e. Now, of all words in the language, 'the' is most usual; let us see, therefore, whether there are not repetitions of any three characters, in the same order of collocation, the last of them being 8. If we discover a repetition of such letters, so arranged, they will most probably represent the word 'the.' Upon inspection, we find no less than seven such arrangements, the characters being ;48. We may, therefore, assume that ; represents t, 4 represents h, and 8 represents e — the last being now well confirmed. Thus a great step has been taken.

This discovery led to my circle of friends corresponding at school in messages written entirely in ciphers of our devices. We even checked out library books on creating and breaking codes. Oddly enough, when I discovered The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, I successfully used Mr. Poe's letter frequency table (plus a few cribs from the text) to decipher and translate the Elvish inscriptions in Tolkien's illustrations (many of which are English written in Tengwar script).

End digression. At the wedding, in full-on Ancient Mariner's wedding guest regalia (not to mix poetic allusions), I went straight from the receiving line to the bar, and armed with a vodka-rocks-olives, sought out my brother. "Dude," he stoppethed me. "You have got to see this."

The wedding was at Westminster Hall, a deconsecrated church restored by the University of Maryland Law School, and rented out for teleconferences and social events. It's a steep, towering building of dark brown brick, prickling with gothic detail, not ten blocks from Baltimore's Inner Harbor (Google map).

It also happens to be Edgar Allan Poe's final resting place.

Edgar Allan Poe memorial

Right there, at the wedding! Edgar Freaking Allan Poe! (Technically, Poe's original gravesite is around the corner, back in the main burying ground.) My brother and his girlfriend felt they were being shamed by a benevolent, intelligent universe. Oh, and by the way, the American Visionary Art Museum is closed Mondays.

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What is Henry Reed's first name?

1532. Vallette, Jacques. "Grand-Bretagne," Mercure de France, no. 1001 (1 January 1947): 157-158.
A contemporary French language review of Reed's A Map of Verona.



1st lesson:

Reed, Henry (1914-1986). Born: Birmingham, England, 22 February 1914; died: London, 8 December 1986.

Education: MA, University of Birmingham, 1936. Served: RAOC, 1941-42; Foreign Office, Bletchley Park, 1942-1945. Freelance writer: BBC Features Department, 1945-1980.

Author of: A Map of Verona: Poems (1946)
The Novel Since 1939 (1946)
Moby Dick: A Play for Radio from Herman Melville's Novel (1947)
Lessons of the War (1970)
Hilda Tablet and Others: Four Pieces for Radio (1971)
The Streets of Pompeii and Other Plays for Radio (1971)
Collected Poems (1991, 2007)
The Auction Sale (2006)


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