Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The Gold-Bug and Other Tales. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum. New York: Dover, 1991. 30-56.
Sir Thomas Browne: According to Wiki, “Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was an English author of varied works which disclose his wide learning in diverse fields including medicine, religion, science and the esoteric.” Here’s what Wiki has to say about his “Urn-Burial,” which Poe quotes at the beginning of “Rue Morgue”: “Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial, or a Discourse of the Sepulchral Urns lately found in Norfolk, is a work by Sir Thomas Browne, published in 1658 as the first part of a two-part work that concludes with The Garden of Cyrus. Its nominal subject was the discovery of a Bronze Age urn burial in Norfolk. The discovery of these remains prompts Browne to deliver, first, a careful description of the antiquities found, and then a careful survey of most of the burial and funerary customs, ancient and current, of which his era was aware. The most famous part of the work, though, is the fifth chapter, where Browne quite explicitly turns to discuss man’s struggles with mortality, and the uncertainty of his fate and fame in this world and the next, to produce an extended funerary meditation tinged with melancholia. The changes wrought by time and eternity, the fleetingness of mortal fame, and our feeble attempts to cope with the certainty of death are Browne’s subjects.”
Involute: “Intricate; complex”; also “inward-curling or coiled.”
“The possible moves [in chess] being not only manifold but involute, the chances of such oversights are multiplied. . . .” (31)
Whist: “A card game ancestral to bridge, played with a full deck by two teams of two players, in which the last card dealt indicates trump, tricks of four cards are played, and a point is scored for each trick over six won by each team.” If that’s about as clear as mud to you (which it was to me), head on over to Wiki and try to poke your way through that article. The most relevant point in relation to the “Rue Morgue” seems to be this: “Although the rules are extremely simple, there is enormous scope for scientific play; since the only information known at the start is the player’s thirteen cards, the game is difficult to play well.” Reading rules for games is a bugger; I think they only really make sense once you actually break out some cards and play.
“Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed calculating power. . .” (31)
Quondam: “That once was; former.”
Pasquinade: “To ridicule with a pasquinade; satirize or lampoon,” with the noun version of “pasquinade” meaning “A satire or lampoon, especially one that ridicules a specific person, traditionally written and posted in a public place.”
“Chantilly was a quondam cobbler of the Rue St. Denis, who, becoming stage-mad, had attempted the role of Xerxes, in Crebillon’s tragedy so called, and been notoriously Pasquinaded for his pains.” (34)
“Et id genus omne”: Latin, meaning “And everything of the sort.”
“. . . who brought you to the conclusion that the mender of soles was not of sufficient height for Xerxes et id genus omne.” (34)
Stereotomy: “The science or art of cutting solids into certain figures or sections, as arches, and the like; especially, the art of stonecutting.”
“I could not doubt that you murmured the word ‘stereotomy,’ a term very affectedly applied to this species of pavement.” (35)
“Perdidit antiquum litera prima sonum”: “He has ruined the old sound with the first letter,” which, according to this Book Notes Summary at Book Rags, is a Latin phrase referring to Orion — I don’t know what from.
“I mean the line ‘Perdidit antiquum litera prima sonum’.” (36)
Metal d’Alger: “Algier’s Metal,” which, according to this metal recycler’s site, is “A tin-antimony alloy. Composition: tin 90%, antimony 10%. Sometimes contains copper, also. It is white and takes a good polish.”
“Upon the floor were found four Napoleons, an ear-ring of topaz, three large silver spoons, three smaller of metal d’Alger, and two bags containing nearly four thousand francs in gold.” (36)
Supererogation: A noun from the verb “supererogate,” meaning “To do more than is required, ordered, or expected.”
“And, therefore, it was thought a matter of supererogation to withdraw the nails and open the windows.” (46)
Fulvous: “Tawny; dull yellow, with a mixture of gray and brown.”
“It was minute anatomical and generally descriptive account of the large fulvous Ourang-Outang of the East Indian Islands.” (51)