Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (and E. A. Poe), “Oh, Tempora! Oh, Mores!,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. I: Poems (1969), pp. 8-13 (This material is protected by copyright)


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­[page 8:]

OH, TEMPORA! OH, MORES!

These verses are a typical imitation of the eighteenth century satires, and the earliest of Poe’s compositions of any length to survive. The original manuscript probably was burned during the Civil War, but a transcript was preserved in the Mackenzie family and was at one time owned by Poe’s sister Rosalie.(1) From her, I believe, John R. Thompson obtained a copy, which he made available for publication to Henry Rives Pollard, who edited Southern Opinion in Richmond, 1867-1869.(2) Thompson supplied the introduction, signed “J. R. Y.,” an obvious misprint for “J. R. T.”

Later, Eugene L. Didier obtained a transcript of the satire (apparently without knowing it had ever been published), and printed a text in the first number of his own No Name Magazine, dated October 1889, as a “new” poem by Poe.(3) Didier’s text omitted two words, but is obviously closer to Poe’s than Pollard’s.

Thompson said Pitts, who was lampooned in Poe’s verses, was a clerk in the “leading fashionable dry goods store” of Richmond. Pitts was paying court to a youthful belle of the period. She later married a man who went to Congress, and she possibly flirted a little with Edgar Poe. Pitts boarded at the same house as a number of Virginia legislators, and Poe’s use of legal terms may be explained by his desire to ridicule the clerk among them.

The young man whom Poe delighted to honor with this bitter attack has been identified, at my request, by Mrs. Ralph Catterall ­[page 9:] of the Valentine Museum in Richmond. Both printed versions give his name as “Job,” but this must be an error for Bob (or Rob), since Robert Pitts was a clerk in a dry goods store. He worked for the firm of Robert & Hall Neilson & Co., located on the north side of Main Street, between 13th and 14th, and afterward for Hall & Moore, whose store was next door. He receipted a bill for the latter firm for John Adams Smith (1802-1864), a son of Governor George William Smith; and two letters from Pitts to young Smith, dated September 19, 1824, and March 3, 1825, are preserved in the Valentine Museum. These show that the clerk was on terms of friendship with members of the best families.

 

TEXTS

(A) Poe’s original manuscript (1825?), now lost; (B) transcript, possibly existing, but now inaccessible; (C) Southern Opinion (Richmond), March 7, 1868; (D) No Name Magazine (Baltimore), October 1889.

Both of the early printed texts contain obvious errors. My text is based on Didier’s (D) with emendations in lines 13, 21, 36, and 68.

OH, TEMPORA! OH, MORES! [D]

Oh Times! Oh Manners! It is my opinion

That you are changing sadly your dominion —

I mean the reign of manners hath long ceased,

[[n]]

For men have none at all, or bad at least;

5

And as for times, although ’tis said by many

The “good old times” were far the worst of any,

Of which sound doctrine I believe each tittle,

Yet still I think these worse than them a little.

 

I’ve been a thinking, isn’t that the phrase?

10

— I like your Yankee words and Yankee ways —

I’ve been a thinking, whether it were best

To take things seriously or all in jest;

[[v]]

[[n]]

Whether with grim Heraclitus of yore

To weep, as he did, till his eyes were sore,

15

Or rather laugh with him, that queer Philosopher, ­[page 10:]

[[n]]

Democritus of Thrace, who used to toss over

The page of life and grin at the dog-ears,

As though he’d say, “Why who the devil cares?”

 

This is a question which, oh Heaven, withdraw

20

The luckless query from a Member’s claw!

[[v]]

Instead of two sides, Bob has nearly eight,

Each fit to furnish forth four hours debate.

What shall be done? I’ll lay it on the table,

And take the matter up when I’m more able,

25

And in the meantime, to prevent all bother,

[[v]]

I’ll neither laugh with one or cry with t’other,

Nor deal in flattery or aspersions foul,

[[n]]

But, taking one by each hand, merely growl.

 

Ah growl, say you, my friend, and pray at what?

30

Why, really, sir, I almost had forgot —

But damn it, sir, I deem it a disgrace

That things should stare us boldly in the face,

And daily strut the street with bows and scrapes,

Who would be men by imitating apes.

35

I beg your pardon, reader, for the oath,

[[v]]

The monkey’s made me swear, though something loath;

I’m apt to be discursive in my style,

But pray be patient: yet a little while

Will change me, and as politicians do

40

I’ll mend my manners and my measures too.

 

Of all the cities, and I’ve seen no few —

For I have travelled, friend, as well as you, —

I don’t remember one, upon my soul,

But take it generally upon the whole,

45

(As Members say they like their logic taken

Because divided it may chance be shaken)

So pat, agreeable, and vastly proper

As this for a neat, frisky counter-hopper;

Here he may revel to his heart’s content, ­[page 11:]

50

Flounce like a fish in his own element,

Toss back his fine curls from his forehead fair

[[v]]

[[n]]

And hop o’er counters with a Vestris air,

Complete at night what he began A. M.

And having cheated ladies, dance with them;

55

For at a ball what fair one can escape

The pretty little hand that sold her tape,

Or who so cold, so callous to refuse

The youth who cut the ribbon for her shoes!

 

One of these fish, par excellence the beau,

60

God help me, it has been my lot to know,

At least by sight, for I’m a timid man

[[v]]

And always keep from laughing when I can;

But speak to him, he’ll make you such grimace,

[[n]]

Lord! to be grave exceeds the power of face.

65

The hearts of all the ladies are with him,

[[n]]

Their bright eyes on his Tom and Jerry brim

And dove-tailed coat, obtained at cost; while then

[[v]]

Those eyes won’t turn on anything like men.

 

His very voice is musical delight,

70

His form once seen becomes a part of sight,

In short his shirt-collar, his look, his tone is

The “beau ideal” fancied for Adonis.

Philosophers have often held dispute

As to the seat of thought in man and brute,

75

[[v]]

For that the power of thought attend the latter

My friend, the beau, hath made a settled matter,

And spite all dogmas current in all ages,

One settled fact is better than ten sages.

 

[[v]]

For he does think, although I’m oft in doubt

80

If I can tell exactly what about.

[[n]]

Ah yes! his little foot and ancle trim,

[[n]]

’Tis there the seat of reason lies in him;

A wise philosopher would shake his head, ­[page 12:]

He then, of course, must shake his foot instead.

85

At me in vengeance shall that foot be shaken —

Another proof of thought, I’m not mistaken —

Because to his cat’s eyes I hold a glass

And let him see himself a proper ass?

I think he’ll take this likeness to himself,

90

[[v]]

But if he won’t he shall, the stupid elf,

And lest the guessing throw the fool in fits,

I close the portrait with the name of Pitts.

[1825?]

 


VARIANTS

13  grim [added from C, as required by the meter]

21  Bob [my emendation] / Job (C, D)

26  or / nor (C)

36  The monkey’s made [my emendation] / The monkeys make (C); The monkey made (D)

52  Vestris / Vester’s (C)

62  when I can / if I can (C)

68  eyes [added from C, as required by the meter]

75  attend / attends (C)

79  although I’m / though I am (C)

90  the stupid elf / a stupid elf (C)

 


NOTES

Title  Poe, of course, knew that the opening of the first Catilinarian Oration of Cicero is followed by the famous “O tempora! O mores!” Indeed he was studying Cicero with Joseph Clarke in 1824.

4  Apparently originally from the lost Oeneus of Euripides, and quoted in Aristophanes, Frogs, line 72: “For there are none, but those there are, are bad.”

13  Heraclitus of Ephesus was known as the “weeping philosopher.”

16  Democritus of Abdera in Thrace was the “laughing philosopher” because he thought good humor part of the “summum bonum.”

28  Poe does not name but means Diogenes the Cynic — whose school of philosophy took its name from the Greek word for dog, and so growled.

52  Vestris was the name of a remarkable family of dancers acclaimed in Europe for at least three generations. Gaetano (1729-1808), progenitor of the clan, was born in Italy but won fame in France. Marie Auguste (1760-1842) had enormous success in England and, as Miss Helen Willard has pointed out, was the subject of a popular engraving depicting him in a fantastic leap. Auguste Armand (d. 1825), ballet master at the King’s Theatre in London, married in 1813 Lucia Elisabetta Bartolozzi (1797-1856), who as Madame Vestris was internationally famous as a singer, actress, and theatre manager. Among other members of the family was Charles, who with his wife Maria Ronzi Vestris contributed greatly to the success of the Bowery Theatre in New York for several seasons after their debut there in 1828. (Charles Francis ­[page 13:] Adams saw them in Boston on December 12 of that year and commented that their performance was “astonishingly fascinating.” See his Diary, ed. A. and D. Donald, 1964, II, 321.)

64  Compare Pope’s “Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot,” line 36: “to be grave, exceeds all pow’r of face.”

66  The “Tom and Jerry brim” refers to a style of hat, like our high silk hats, with the top a trifle expanded and the brim a little rolled up. These hats can be seen in George Cruikshank’s illustrations for the elder Pierce Egan’s Life in London; or the Days and Nights of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom (1821). The book, dedicated by permission to George IV, was extremely popular and was the basis of at least three stage plays, some performed in America. John Camden Hotten tells us, at page 10 of his reprint of 1869, that “tailors, bootmakers, and hatters recommended nothing but Corinthian shapes and Tom and Jerry patterns.” The book is lively, but is now hard to read, because so much of it is in forgotten slang. The memory of Tom and Jerry chiefly survives in a drink named for them, of which Bob Cratchit and the reformed Scrooge partook, at the end of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. This is a concoction of egg, sugar, spices, and rum.

81  The spelling “ancle” was tolerated in 1825.

82  This seems to allude to the heel of Achilles, in which lay not his reason but his life.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 8:]

1  Professor Jay B. Hubbell, who discovered the first publication of the poem, has discussed it with scholarly acumen and completely established its authenticity (“ ‘O, Tempora! O, Mores!’ A juvenile poem by Edgar Allan Poe,” Elizabethan Studies and Other Essays in Honor of George F. Reynolds, University of Colorado Studies, ser. B, Studies in the Humanities, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 314-321, October 1945). J. H. Whitty’s statement to Mary E. Phillips, recorded in Edgar Allan Poe the Man (1926), II, 1595, that Thompson arranged for Rosalie Poe to be paid ten dollars for the poem I think preserved the right tradition.

2  Pollard was apparently a laudator temporis acti whose form sheet required spellings like “authour” and “logick.” He also seems to have “corrected” the poem to suit his ideas of grammar, and printed “Vester’s” for Vestris. Hubbell reprinted Pollard’s text.

3  See J. H. Whitty, ed., Complete Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1911), pp, 161-165. Didier wrote Whitty that his introductory note came from Thompson. Whitty copied Didier’s text.

 


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Notes:

Although TOM states that Didier apparently reprinted the poem without seeing the article in Southern Opinion, the introduction in the No Name Magazine is clearly a slightly modified form of the introduction in the earlier printing. Simply looking at the two introductions, one would feel confident in stating that Didier took his text from the Southern Opinion and not an independent copy of the manuscript. According to J. H. Whitty, however, “The Editor of the Magazine [[the No Name Magazine]], Mr. Eugene L. Didier, wrote to me that the poem was sent him by John R. Thompson of the Southern Literary Messenger and that the introduction was written by Thompson” (Complete Poems, 1911, p. 171). If we accept this additional information at face value, it seems likely that Didier was indeed unaware of the Southern Opinion printing, being an obscure periodical than ran for only a few years and vanished two decades before the No Name Magazine started. Unfortunately, Thompson, who left the Southern Literary Messenger in 1860, died in New York in 1873, making it unclear when he might have sent the transcript to Didier (or why he would not have mentioned that the poem had already been printed if he did so after 1868). Didier printed his own memoir of Poe in 1877 and 1878, accompanying an edition of Poe’s poems published by W. J. Widdleton, but making no mention at all of this particular poem. Finding the unpublished manuscript of “Alone” in 1875, Didier was quick to rush it into print (in Scribner’s Magazine), but apparently he was in no hurry to do the same for “Oh Tempora! Oh Mores!” One is left to wonder whether Didier really received the material directly from Thompson, but was, for some reason, suspicious of it or could not find a publisher to accept it until he had his own magazine in 1889. The alternative is that Didier did indeed get his text from Southern Opinion and merely told people that he had obtained it from Thompson to cover his tracks. (In printing “Alone” in 1875 as a facsimile, Didier added a date and title, imitating Poe’s handwriting. These additions cast a shadow of doubt over the authenticity of the poem, but, more importantly, revealed Didier as an editor with few scruples in such matters.) In either case, the source of both texts is J. R. Thompson, and it is not practical, therefore, in the absence of Thompson’s own material, to confidently pronounce one set of differences as authorial and the other as editorial. Given this observation, it is hardly possible to accept TOM’s unsupported assertion that Didier’s text is “closer to Poe’s than Pollard’s.” On the other hand, Whitty, who himself prints the 1889 text of the poem, goes on to state that “The original manuscript of this poem in Poe’s autograph was once in the possession of John H. MacKenzie. It was destroyed with other Poe papers by fire during the Civil War. A copy reading like the above verses is still preserved by a step-daughter of Mr. MacKenzie, with an account of how it come to be written by Poe in the year 1826” (Complete Poems, 1911, p. 171). If Whitty can be trusted in this instance, his choice of text would seem to endorse TOM’s judgment. — JAS

In his own copy of TOM’s edition of the Poems, Burton R. Pollin makes a number of notes that should be mentioned. In the margin by lines 40, 51 and 57, BRP notes “Poe’ alliteration,” and in the margin by line 81, BRP notes that “ancle” is “P[oe]’s sp[elling]!” In the margin by line 88, BRP notes “very Poeian.” In the margin by line 10, BRP notes “Poe! unlikely,” presumably because Poe would harldy “like your Yankee words and Yankee ways,” although BRP may be missing the author’s satirical intent.


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[S:1 - TOM1P, 1969] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Oh, Tempora! Oh, Mores!)