Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “Never Bet Your Head,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 619-634 (This material is protected by copyright)


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


[page 619, continued:]

NEVER BET YOUR HEAD
(NEVER BET THE DEVIL YOUR HEAD)

Poe spoke of the “witty exaggerated into the burlesque” as a way to attain celebrity in the Magazines in a letter to Thomas W. White, April 30, 1835.* This comic story conforms very well to the author’s peculiar ideas of what constituted humor. Relatively few readers share his belief that any impossible combination of events is laughable; and the tale is never, or hardly ever, anthologized. Nevertheless there are amusing hits at those commentators who give a profound meaning to mere extravagancies of imagination. Poe wrote an illuminating comment on his story in [page 620:] a letter referring to it of September 19, 1841, to Dr. Joseph Evans Snodgrass: “You are mistaken about ‘The Dial.’ I have no quarrel in the world with that illustrious journal, nor it with me. I am not aware that it ever mentioned me by name, or alluded to me either directly or indirectly. My slaps at it were only in ‘a general way.’ The tale in question is a mere Extravaganza levelled at no one in particular, but hitting right and left at things in general.”

The source for the principal incident is a brief account in the second chapter of The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club:

Now it so happened that Mr. Pickwick and his three companions had resolved to make Rochester their first halting-place; . . . they agreed to occupy the seat at the back of the coach . . .

“Heads, heads, take care of your heads,” cried the loquacious stranger, as they came out under the low archway, which, in those days, formed the entrance to the coach-yard. “Terrible place — dangerous work; other day, five children — mother — tall lady, eating sandwiches — forgot the arch — crash, knock — children look round, mother’s head off . . . head of a family off; shocking, shocking.”

Covered bridges were common in America, especially in the northeast, and were usually wooden. Poe’s substitution of one for a British archway is typical, for it may be supposed his transcendental protagonist was from New England.

The story was presumably written in the early summer of 1841. Poe apparently planned to include it in PHANTASY-PIECES, the collection he projected in 1842, for he listed it in the table of contents between “The Mask of the Red Death” and “Eleonora.”

TEXTS

(A) Graham’s Magazine for September 1841 (19:124-127); (B) Broadway Journal, August 16, 1845 (2:85-88); (C) Works (1850), II, 408-417. PHANTASY-PIECES, title only.

The text followed is Griswold’s (C) which shows one apparently auctorial change from (B).

Reprints

New York Brother Jonathan, September 4, 1841, from Graham’s Magazine; Jonathan’s Miscellany, September 7, 1841, from Brother Jonathan. [page 621:]

NEVER BET THE DEVIL YOUR HEAD.   [C]   [[n]]   [[v]]

A TALE WITH A MORAL.

“Con tal que las costumbres de un autor,” says Don Thomas{a} De Las Torres, in the preface to his “Amatory Poems,” “sean puras y castas, importa muy poco que no sean igualmente severas sus obras(1) — meaning, in plain English, that, provided the morals of an author are pure, personally, it signifies nothing what are the morals of his books. We presume that Don Thomas{b} is now in Purgatory for the{c} assertion. It would be a clever thing, too, in the way of poetical justice, to keep him there until his “Amatory Poems” get out of print, or are laid definitely{d} upon the shelf through lack of readers. Every fiction should have a{e} moral; and, what is more to the purpose, the{f} critics have discovered that every fiction has. {gg}Philip Melancthon, some time ago, wrote a commentary upon the “Batrachomyomachia” and proved that the poet’s object was to excite a distaste for sedition. Pierre La Seine, going a step farther, shows that the intention was to recommend to young men temperance in eating and drinking. Just so, too, Jacobus Hugo has satisfied himself that by Euenis, Homer meant to insinuate John Calvin; by Antinöus, Martin Luther; by the Lotophagi, Protestants in general; and, by the Harpies, the Dutch.(2) Our more modern Scholiasts are equally acute.{gg} These{h} fellows demonstrate a hidden meaning in “The Antediluvians,”(3) a parable in “Powhatan,”(4) new views in “Cock Robin,” and trancendentalism in “Hop O’ My Thumb.”(5) {ii}In short, it has been shown{ii} that no man can sit down to write without a very profound design. Thus to authors in general much trouble is spared. A novelist, for example, need have no care of his moral. It is there — that is to say, it is somewhere — and the moral and the critics can take care of themselves. When the proper time arrives, all that the gentleman intended, [page 622:] and all that he did not intend, will be brought to light, in the “Dial,” or the “Down-Easter,”(6) together with all that he ought to have intended, and the rest that he clearly meant to intend: — so that it will all come very straight in the end.

There is no just ground, therefore, for the charge brought against me by certain ignoramuses — that I have never written a moral tale, or, in more precise words, a tale with a moral. They are not the critics predestined to bring me out, and develop my morals: — that is the secret. By and by the “North American Quarterly Humdrum”(7) will make them ashamed of their stupidity. In the meantime, by way of staying execution — by way of mitigating the accusations against me — I offer the sad history appended; — a history about whose obvious moral there can be no question whatever, since he who runs may read it in the large capitals which form the title of the tale. I should have credit for this arrangement — a far wiser one than that of La Fontaine and others, who reserve the impression to be conveyed until the last moment, and thus sneak it in at the fag end of their fables.

{jj}Defuncti injuriâ ne afficiantur was a law of the twelve tables, and{jj} De mortuis nil nisi bonum is an excellent injunction — even if the dead in question be nothing but dead small beer.(8) It is not my design, therefore, to vituperate my deceased friend, Toby Dammit. He was a sad dog, it is true, and a dog’s death it was that he died; but he himself was not to blame for his vices. They grew out of a personal defect in his mother. She did her best in the way of flogging him while an infant — for duties to her well-regulated mind were always pleasures, and babies, like tough steaks, {kk}or the modern Greek olive trees,{kk} are invariably the better for beating — (9) but, poor woman! she had the misfortune to be left-handed, and a child flogged left-handedly had better be left unflogged. The world revolves from right to left. It will not do to whip a baby from left to right. If each blow in the proper direction drives an evil propensity out, it follows that every thump in an opposite one knocks its quota of wickedness in. I was often present at Toby’s chastisements, and, even by the way in which he kicked, I could perceive [page 623:] that{l} he was getting worse and worse every day. At last I saw, through the tears in my eyes, that there was no hope of the villain at all, and one day when he had been cuffed until he grew so black in the face that one might have mistaken him for a little African, and no effect had been produced beyond that of making him wriggle himself into a fit, I could stand it no longer, but went down upon my knees forthwith, and, uplifting my voice, made prophecy of his ruin.

The fact is that his precocity in vice was awful. At five months of age he used to get into such passions that he was unable to articulate. At six months,{m} I caught him gnawing{n} a pack of cards.(10) At seven months,{o} he was in the constant habit of catching and kissing the female babies. At eight months{p} he peremptorily refused to put his signature to the Temperance pledge. Thus he went on increasing in iniquity, month after month, until, at the close of the{q} first year, he not only insisted upon wearing moustaches,{r} (11) but had contracted a propensity for cursing and swearing, and for backing his assertions by bets.

Through this latter most ungentlemanly practice, the ruin which I had predicted to Toby Dammit overtook him at last. The fashion had “grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength,”(12) so that, when he came to be a man, he could scarcely utter a sentence without interlarding it with a proposition to gamble. Not that he actually laid wagers — no. I will do my friend the justice to say that he would as soon have laid eggs. With him the thing was a mere formula — nothing more. His expressions on this head had no meaning attached to them whatever. They were simple if not altogether innocent expletives — imaginative phrases wherewith to round off a sentence. When he said “I’ll bet you so and so,” nobody ever thought of taking him up; but still I could not help thinking it my duty to put him down. The habit was an immoral one, and so I told him. It was a vulgar one — this I begged him to believe. It was discountenanced by society — here I said nothing but the truth. It was forbidden by act of Congress — here I [page 624:] had not the slightest intention of telling a lie. I remonstrated — but to no purpose. I demonstrated — in{s} vain. I entreated — he smiled. I implored — he laughed. I preached — he sneered. I threatened — he swore. I kicked him —{t} he called for the police. I pulled his {uu}nose — he blew it, and offered to bet the Devil his head that I would not venture to try that experiment{uu} again.

Poverty was another vice which the peculiar physical deficiency of Dammit’s mother had entailed upon her son. He was detestably poor; and this was the reason, no doubt, that his expletive expressions about betting{u’} seldom took a pecuniary turn. I will not be bound to say that I ever heard him make use of such a figure{v} of speech as “I’ll bet you a dollar.” It was usually “I’ll bet you what you please,” or “I’ll bet you what you dare,” or “I’ll bet you a trifle,” or else, more significantly still, “I’ll bet the Devil{w} my head.”

This latter form seemed to please him{x} best: — perhaps because it involved the least{y} risk; for Dammit had become excessively parsimonious. Had any one taken him up, his head was small, and thus his loss would have been{z} small too. But these are my own reflections, and I am by no means sure that I am right in attributing them to him. At all events the phrase in question grew daily in favor, notwithstanding the gross impropriety of a man{a} betting his brains like bank-notes: — but this was a point which my friend’s perversity of disposition would not permit trim to comprehend. In the end, he abandoned all other forms of wager, and gave himself up to “I’ll bet the Devil{b} my head,” with a pertinacity and exclusiveness of devotion that displeased not less than it surprised me. I am always displeased by circumstances for which I cannot account. Mysteries force a man to think, and so injure his health. The truth is, there was something in the air with which Mr. Dammit was wont to give utterance to his offensive expression — something in his manner of enunciation — which at first interested, and afterwards [page 625:] made me very uneasy — something which, for want of a more definite term at present, I must be permitted to call queer; but which Mr. Coleridge would have called mystical, Mr. Kant pantheistical, Mr. Carlyle twistical, and Mr. Emerson hyperquizzitistical.{c} (13) I began not to like it at all. Mr. Dammit’s soul was in a perilous state. I resolved to bring all my eloquence into play to save it. I vowed to serve him as St. Patrick, in the Irish chronicle, is said to have served the {dd}toad, that is to say, “awaken him{dd} to a sense of his, situation.{e} (14) I addressed myself to the task forthwith. Once more I betook myself to remonstrance. Again I collected my energies for a final attempt at expostulation.

When I had made an end of my lecture, Mr. Dammit indulged himself in some very equivocal behavior. For some moments he remained silent, merely looking me inquisitively in the face. But presently he threw his head to one side, and elevated his eyebrows to great extent. Then he spread out the palms of his hands and shrugged up his shoulders. Then he winked with the right eye. Then he repeated the operation with the{f} left. Then he shut them both up very tight.{g} Then he opened them both so very wide that I became seriously alarmed for the consequences. Then, applying his thumb to his nose, he thought proper to make an indescribable movement with the rest of his fingers. Finally, setting his arms a-kimbo, he condescended to reply.

I can call to mind only the heads of his discourse. He would be obliged to me if I would {hh}hold my tongue.{hh} He wished none of my advice. He despised all my insinuations. He was old enough to take care of himself. {ii}Did I still think him baby Dammit? Did I mean to say anything against his character? Did I intend to insult him? Was I a fool?{ii} Was my maternal parent aware, in a word, of my absence from the domiciliary residence? He would put this latter question to me as to a man of veracity, and he would bind [page 626:] himself to abide by my reply. Once more he would demand explicitly if my mother knew that I was out. My confusion, he said, betrayed me, and he would be willing to bet the Devil{j} his head that she did not.

Mr. Dammit did not pause for my rejoinder. Turning upon his heel, he left my presence with undignified precipitation. It was well for him that he did so. My feelings had been wounded. Even my anger had been aroused. For once I would have taken him up upon his insulting wager. I would have won {kk}for the Arch-Enemy Mr. Dammit’s little head — for the fact is, my mamma was very{kk} well aware of my merely{l} temporary absence from home.

But{m} Khoda shefa midêhed(15) Heaven gives relief — as the Musselmen say when you tread upon their toes. It was in pursuance of my duty that I had been insulted, and I bore the insult like a man. It now seemed to me, however, that I had done all that could be required of me, in the case of this miserable individual, and I resolved to trouble him no longer with my counsel, but to leave him to his conscience and{n} himself. But although I forebore to intrude with my advice, I could not bring myself to give up his society altogether. I even went so far as to humor some of his less reprehensible propensities; and there were times when I found myself lauding his wicked jokes, as epicures do mustard, with tears in my eyes: —(16) so profoundly did it grieve me to hear his evil talk.

One fine day, having strolled out together, arm in arm, our route led us in the direction of a river. There was a bridge, and we resolved to cross it. It was roofed over, by way of protection from the weather, and the arch-way, having but few windows, was thus very uncomfortably dark. As we entered the passage, the contrast between the external glare, and the interior gloom, struck heavily upon my spirits. Not so upon those of the unhappy Dammit, who offered to bet the Devil{o} his head that I was hipped.(17) He seemed to be in an unusual{p} good humor. He was excessively lively — so much so that I entertained I know not what of uneasy suspicion. It is not impossible that he was affected with the transcendentals. [page 627:] I am not well enough versed, however, in the diagnosis of this disease to speak with decision upon the point; and unhappily there{q} were none of my friends of the “Dial” present. I suggest the idea, nevertheless, because of a certain {rr}species of austere{rr} Merry-Andrewism which seemed to beset my poor friend, and caused him to make quite a Tom-Fool of himself.(18) Nothing would serve him but wriggling and skipping about under and over everything that came in his way; now shouting out, and now lisping out, all manner of odd little and big words, yet preserving the gravest face in the world all the time. I really could not make up my mind whether to kick or to pity him. At length, having passed nearly across the bridge, we approached the termination of the foot way, when our progress was impeded by a turnstile of some height. Through this I made my way quietly, pushing it around as{s} usual. But this turn would not serve the turn of Mr. Dammit. He insisted upon leaping the stile, and said he could cut a pigeon-wing over it{t} in the air. Now this, conscientiously speaking, I did not think he could do. The best pigeon-winger over all kinds of style, was my friend Mr. Carlyle, and as I knew he could not do it, I would not believe that{u} it could be done by Toby Dammit. I therefore told him, in so many words, that he was a braggadocio, and could not do what he said. For this, I had reason to be sorry afterwards; — for he straightway {vv}offered to bet the Devil{vv} his head that he could.

I was about to reply, notwithstanding my previous resolutions, with some remonstrance against his impiety, when I heard, close at my elbow, a slight cough, which sounded very much like the ejaculation “ahem!” I started, and looked about me in surprise. My glance at length fell into a nook of the frame-work of the bridge, and upon the figure of a little lame old gentleman of venerable aspect.(19) Nothing could be more reverend than his whole appearance; for, he not only had on a full suit of black, but his shirt was perfectly clean and the collar turned very{w} neatly down over a white cravat, while his hair was parted in front like a girl’s. [page 628:] His hands were{x} clasped pensively together over his stomach, and his two eyes were carefully rolled up into the top of his head.(20)

Upon observing him more closely, I perceived that he wore a black silk apron over his small-clothes; and this was a thing which I thought very odd. Before I had time to make any remark, however, upon so singular a circumstance, he interrupted me with a second “ahem!

To this observation{y} I was not immediately prepared to reply. The fact is, remarks of this laconic{z} nature are nearly unanswerable. I have known a{a} Quarterly Review non-plused{b} by the word “Fudge!(21) I am not ashamed to {cc}say, therefore, that{cc} I turned to Mr. Dammit for assistance.

“Dammit,” said I, “what are you about? don’t you hear? — the gentleman says ‘ahem!’ ” I looked sternly at my friend while I thus addressed him; for to say the truth, I felt particularly puzzled and when a man is particularly{d} puzzled{e} he must knit his brows and look savage, or else he is pretty sure to look like a fool.

“Dammit,” observed I — although this sounded very much like an oath, than which nothing was farther from my thoughts — “Dammit,” I suggested — “the gentleman says ‘ahem!’ ”

I do not attempt to defend my remark on the score of profundity; I did not think it profound myself; but I have noticed that the effect of our speeches is not always proportionate with their importance in our own eyes; and if I had shot Mr. D. through and through with a Paixhan bomb,(22) or knocked him in the head with {ff}the “Poets and Poetry of America,”(23) he{ff} could hardly have been more discomfited than when I addressed him with those simple words — “Dammit, what are you about? — don’t you hear? — the gentleman says ‘ahem!’ ”

“You don’t say so?” gasped he at length, after turning more colors than a pirate runs up, one after the other, when chased by a man-of-war. “Are you quite sure{g} he said that? Well, at all events I am in for it now, and may as well put a bold face upon the matter. Here goes, then — ahem![page 629:]

At this the little old gentleman seemed pleased — God only knows why. He left his station at{h} the nook of the bridge, limped forward with a gracious air, took Dammit by the hand and shook it cordially, looking all the while straight up in his face with an air{i} of the most unadulterated benignity which it is possible for the mind of man to imagine.

“I am quite sure you will{j} win it, Dammit,” said he, with the frankest of all smiles, “but we are obliged to have a trial you know, for the sake of mere form.”

“Ahem!” replied my friend, taking off his coat with a deep sigh, tying a pocket-handkerchief{k} around his waist, and producing an unaccountable alteration in his countenance by twisting up his eyes, and bringing down the corners of his mouth — “ahem!” And “ahem,” said he again, after a pause; and not another{l} word more than “ahem!” did I ever know him to say after that. “Aha!” thought I, without expressing myself aloud — “this is quite a remarkable silence on the part of{m} Toby Dammit, and is no doubt a consequence of his{n} verbosity upon a previous occasion. One extreme induces another. I wonder if he has forgotten the many unanswerable questions which he propounded to me so fluently on the day when I gave him my last lecture? At all events, he is cured of the transcendentals.”

“Ahem!” here replied Toby, just as if he had been reading my thoughts, and looking like a very old sheep in a reverie.(24)

The old gentleman now took him by the arm, and led him more into the shade of the bridge — a few paces back from the turnstile. “My good fellow,” said he, “I make it a point of conscience to allow you this much run. Wait here, till I take my place by the stile, so that I may see whether you go over it handsomely, and transcendentally, and don’t omit any flourishes of the pigeon-wing. A mere form, you know. I will say ‘one, two, three, and away.’ Mind you start at the word ‘away.’ ” Here he took his position by the stile, paused a moment as if in profound reflection, then{o} looked up and, I thought, smiled very slightly, then tightened [page 630:] the strings of his apron, then took a long look at Dammit,{p} and finally gave the word as agreed upon —

Onetwothreeand away!

Punctually at the word “away,” my poor friend set off in a strong gallop. The stile{q} was not very high, like Mr. Lord’s{r} — nor yet{s} very low, like that of Mr. Lord’s{t} reviewers,(25) but upon the whole I made sure that he would clear it. And then what if he did not? — ah, that was the question — what if he did not? “What right,” said I, “had the old gentleman to make any other gentleman jump? The little old dot-and-carry-one! who is he? If he asks me{u} to jump, I won’t do it, that’s flat, and I don’t care who the devil he is.” The bridge, as I say, was arched and covered in, in a very ridiculous manner, and there was a most uncomfortable echo about it at all times — an echo which I never before so particularly observed as when I uttered the four last words of my remark.

But what I said, or what I thought, or what I heard, occupied only an instant.{v} In less than five seconds from his starting, my poor Toby had taken the leap. I saw him run nimbly, and spring grandly from the floor of the bridge, cutting the most awful flourishes with his legs as he went up. I saw him high in the air, pigeon-winging it to admiration just over the top of the stile; and of course I thought it an unusually singular thing that he did not continue to go over. But the whole leap was the affair of a moment,{w} and, before I had a chance to make any profound reflections, down came{x} Mr. Dammit on the flat of his back, on the same side of the stile from which he had started. At{y} the same instant I saw the old gentleman limping off at the top of his speed, having caught and wrapped up in his apron something that fell heavily into it from the darkness of the arch just over the turnstile. At all this I was much astonished; but I had no leisure to think, for Mr. [page 631:] Dammit lay particularly still, and I concluded that his feelings had been hurt, and that he stood in need of my assistance. I hurried up to him and found that he had received what might be termed a serious injury. The truth is, he had been deprived of his head, which after a close search I could not find anywhere; — so I determined to take him home, and send for the homœopathists.{z} In the meantime{a} a thought struck me, and I threw open an adjacent window of the bridge; when the sad truth flashed upon me at once. About five feet just above the top of the turnstile, and crossing the arch of the foot-path so as to constitute a brace, there extended a flat{b} iron bar, lying with its breadth horizontally, and forming one of a series that served to strengthen the structure throughout its extent. With the edge of this brace it appeared evident that the neck of my unfortunate friend had come precisely in contact.

He did not long survive his terrible loss. The homœopathists{c} did not give him little enough physic,(26) and what little they did give him he hesitated to take. So in the end he grew worse, and at length died, a lesson{d} to all riotous livers. I bedewed his grave with my tears, worked a bar sinister(27) on his family escutcheon, and, for the general expenses of his funeral, sent in my very moderate bill to the transcendentalists.{e} The scoundrels refused to pay it, so I had Mr. Dammit dug up at once, and sold him for dog’s meat.

 


VARIANTS

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 621:]

Title:  Never Bet Your Head. A Moral Tale. (A); Never Bet Your Head. (PHANTASY-PIECES)

a  Tomas (A)

b  Torres (A)

c  so heterodox an (A)

d  definitively (A)

e  its (A)

f  our modern (A)

gg . . . gg  Omitted (A)

h  These ingenious (A)

ii . . . ii  It has been proved (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 622:]

jj . . . jj  Omitted (A)

kk . . . kk  Omitted (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 623:]

l  Omitted (A)

m  Omitted (A)

n  knawing (C) emended from A, B

o  Omitted (A)

p  Omitted (A)

q  his (A)

r  Melnotte frocks, (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 624:]

s  but in (A)

t  him — / him and (A)

uu . . . uu  nose, and he bet me that I dared not do it (A)

u’  betting, (B, C) corrected from A

v  a figure / figures (A)

w  the Devil / you (A)

x  him the (A)

y  the least / less (A)

z  have been / be (A)

a  man’s (A, B)

b  the Devil / you (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 625:]

c  hyper-fizzitistical. (A)

dd . . . dd  snakes and toads when he “awakened them (A)

e  their (A)

f  his (A)

g  tight, as if he was trying to crack nuts between the lids. (A)

hh . . . hh  keep my opinions within my own bosom. (A)

ii . . . ii  Did I mean to say anything against his character? Did I intend to insult him? Did I take him for an idiot? Did I still think him baby Dammit? Was I a fool? — or was I not? Was I mad? — or was I drunk? (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 626:]

j  the Devil omitted (A)

kk . . . kk  his little head. My maternal parent was very (A)

l  Omitted (A)

m  Omitted (A)

n  and to (A)

o  the Devil / me (A)

p  extravagantly (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 627:]

q  th ere (B) misprint

rr . . . rr  austere species of (A)

s  as is (A)

t  it while (A)

u  Omitted (A)

vv . . . vv  bet me (A)

w  Omitted (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 628:]

x  Omitted (A)

y  observation of his (A)

z  Omitted (A)

a  a profound (A)

b  stumped (A)

cc . . . cc  say that (A)

d  Omitted (A)

e  pnzzled (B) misprint

ff . . . ff  one of Dr. McHenry’s epics, he (A)

g  sure that (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 629:]

h  in (A)

i  an air / a countenance (A)

j  you will / you’ll (A)

k  pocket-hankerchief (B) misprint

l  not another / devil the (A)

m  of my friend, (A)

n  his great (A)

o  then looked down, then (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 630:]

p  Dammit, then put his fore-finger to the side of his nose, (A)

q  style (A)

r  Pue’s (A)

s  yet to say (A)

t  Pue’s (A)

u  me (A)

v  instant of time. (A)

w  moment, as they always say in the crack historical novels, (A)

x  downcame (B) misprint

y  In (B)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 631:]

z  homœpathics. (A)

a  mean time (B)

b  flat and sharp (A)

c  homœopathics (A)

d  lession (C) misprint, corrected from A, B

e  transcendendalists. (B) misprint

 


[page 631:]

NOTES

Title:  The title phrase seems to have been a fairly common expression in Poe’s day. Only a few years after the publication of this tale the New World, March 8, 1845, reported of the Shakespearean lecturer Henry Norman Hudson: “Mr. Hudson was determined to emphasize his assertion — so leaning forward and bringing his hand down vigorously upon the table before him, he added in a loud and earnest tone, ‘I’ll wager my head on it!’ ”

1.  The Spanish quotation means “As long as the habits of an author are pure and chaste, it matters very little if his works are less austere” — a doctrine being disputed at the time by English and American critics. Texts A, B, and C [page 632:] all give the erroneous spelling importo for importa. The sentence may be found in Cuentos en verso castellano by Tomás Hermenegildo de las Torres (Zaragoza, 1828), pp. v-vi. Poe used it again in “Fifty Suggestions,” number 19 (Graham’s, May 1849).

2.  Compare “Pinakidia,” numbers 131 and 142 (SLM, August 1836, p. 580), which (as pointed out by Palmer Holt, AL, March 1962) Poe took from H. N. Coleridge’s Introductions to the Study of the Classic Poets. See the Philadelphia edition (Carey & Lea, 1831), p. 183, where a footnote says:

Philip Melancthon wrote a commentary on the Battle of the Frogs and Mice, and conceived the scope of the poet to have been to excite a hatred of tumults and seditions in the minds of the readers.

Pierre la Seine thought the object was to recommend to young men temperance in eating and drinking; — Why, I do not find written. Fabric[ius, Bibliotheca Graeca]. Lib. ii, c.2. s.3.

Another passage in a note on p. 89 reads:

Jacobus Hugo was of opinion that Homer under divine influence prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem under that of Troy; the life, miracles and passion of our Saviour, and the history of the Church under the Emperors in the Iliad. He thinks Homer secretly meant the Dutch by the Harpies, John Calvin by Euenis, Martin Luther by Antinous and Lades, and the Lutherans generally by the Lotophagi. Fabric. lib i. c.6. s.15.

Jacobus Hugo (Jacques Hugues) published his Vera historia Romana at Rome in 1655. Melancthon’s commentary appeared in an edition of the Pseudo-Homeric Batrachomyomachia (Paris, 1542); and Pierre La Seine (Pietro Lasena, an Italian scholar of French descent) wrote Homeri Nepenthes, seu, de abolendo luctu (Lyons, 1624).

3.  The Antediluvians, or The World Destroyed, a narrative poem in ten books (London, 1839; Philadelphia, 1840), was by Dr. James McHenry (1785-1845), poet, novelist, and contributor of criticism to Robert Walsh’s American Quarterly Review. Two articles of his in the American Quarterly (March 1832 and June 1834) unfavorably criticizing Willis and Bryant and American literature in general had stirred up violent antagonism, and in July 1834 an article by Willis Gaylord Clark in the Knickerbocker very nearly demolished him. McHenry’s epic, The Antediluvians, was reviewed most unfavorably in Blackwood’s for July 1839, and again unfavorably in Graham’s for February 1841. (This review was taken for Poe’s work and reprinted by Harrison, Complete Works, X, 105; but Poe wrote no reviews for Graham’s before the April number.) In “An Appendix of Autographs,” Graham’s, January 1842, Poe complained of the unfair tactics of Professor Wilson, the editor of Blackwood’s, and of a cabal of American enemies of Doctor McHenry, and called his poem “the only tolerable American epic.” One suspects Poe decided to be on the side of a poet disliked by Lewis Gaylord Clark and his cohorts; and, between the time he composed his tale and “An Appendix of Autographs” for Graham’s, looked into The Antediluvians. He let only one of his two original references stand in revising “Never Bet.” McHenry died on July 25, 1845, and was given a brief but kindly obituary in the Broadway Journal of August 23, 1845. [page 633:]

4.  Seba Smith’s Powhatan: A Metrical Romance was unfavorably reviewed by Poe in Graham’s for July 1841.

5.  The old nursery rhyme “Who Killed Cock Robin?” and the fairy tale “Hop o’ My Thumb” (from Charles Perrault’s collection) have been part of children’s literature in English since the early eighteenth century.

6.  The Dial, founded in 1840, was the organ of the Transcendentalists, including Emerson and Margaret Fuller. Down-Easter is a fictitious title possibly suggesting John Neal’s old Yankee, founded in Portland, or suggested by the title of one of his novels, The Down-Easters (1833).

7.  The Humdrum burlesques the serious quarterlies, particularly the North American Review. Poe used the same made-up title in “Autography” (SLM, February 1836, letters V and VIII), and in “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob,” the hero purchases the Hum-Drum.

8.  The first statement, just as it is here, appeared in “Pinakidia,” No. 25 (SLM, August 1836, p. 575). “Let the dead suffer no injury” is not in the early Roman laws, but is of uncertain origin. “Nothing but good of the dead” is a maxim of the early Greek philosopher Chilo, recorded by Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers (1, “Chilo,” 2), and mentioned by Plutarch as one of the laws of Solon (Lives, Solon, sec. 21). For both quotations see “Fifty Suggestions,” number 9 (Graham’s, May 1849).

9.  The comparison of babies to steaks is again used in “Fifty Suggestions,” number 20. For the olive trees, compare “Sweepings from a Drawer” by “W. Lander” (Horace Binney Wallace) in Burton’s, November 1839: “Some schoolmasters seem to think of their pupils as the modern Greeks do of their olive trees, that the more they are beaten the more they thrive.”

10.  “Knawing” for gnawing is listed in the OED as a spelling used occasionally in the fifteenth century and more commonly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is now considered obsolete.

11.  The “Melnotte frocks” mentioned in the canceled passage were fashionable coats named after Claude Melnotte, the hero of Bulwer’s play The Lady of Lyons (1838).

12.  Adapted from Pope’s Essay on Man, II, 136; the passage is also used in “The Colloquy of Monos and Una” and “The Black Cat,” in serious contexts.

13.  Most of Poe’s numerous references to Coleridge, Kant, Carlyle, and Emerson make fun of what he considered vagueness, obscurity, or confusion of style.

14.  The remark about St. Patrick is used also in “Fifty Suggestions,” number 12 (Graham’s, May 1849).

15.  Mr. Francis Paar informed me that the phrase is correct modern Persian; but the proper plural of Mussulman is Mussulmans.

16.  The bit about mustard echoes the section “Rake” in James Puckle’s little book The Club; or, A Gray Cap for a Green Head (1711), and is used also in [page 634:] “Fifty Suggestions,” number 18 (Graham’s, May 1849). A delightful illustrated edition of The Club was issued by the Chiswick Press in 1834.

17.  “Affected with hypochondria; morbidly depressed” OED.

18.  Buffoonery. William Maginn’s comment in Fraser’s, January 1836, p. 37, is quoted by the OED: “Nothing is more distasteful . . . than the undiscriminating Merryandrewism of an ingrained vulgarian.” Both Merry Andrews and Tom Fools are buffoons.

19.  In Le Diable boiteux (1707) of Alain-René Le Sage, the demon Asmodeus is lame. In popular representations of the Devil, identifying marks often include a cloven hoof. It is suggested in “Von Kempelen and His Discovery.”

20.  In the Yankee, December 1829, reviewing Robert Montgomery’s poems, John Neal said a certain portrait of the author made him look “like a hero of a French cookery-book — with his hair parted in the middle like a girl’s, and tumbled up in huge masses at the temples.” A satirical drawing of Montgomery by Daniel Maclise, accompanying Maginn’s amusing text in Fraser’s for January 1832, not only shows Montgomery’s hair arrangement but also “hands clasped . . . over his stomach” and eyes upturned. The drawing is labeled “The author of Satan.” It is probably not accidental that Poe made the Devil look like this religious poetaster. (See also “Loss of Breath,” note 15.)

21.  [There is probably some connection here with Thomas Moore’s books on the adventures of the Fudge Family, which undoubtedly influenced “Lionizing.”]

22.  General Henri-Joseph Paixhans (1783-1854) designed field guns to fire explosive shells in the Napoleonic wars.

23.  Poe here substituted for his earlier reference to McHenry the title of R. W. Griswold’s Poets and Poetry of America, a royal octavo of over 400 pages, often called “The Big Book.” The first three editions appeared in 1842 and contained three of Poe’s poems; a tenth edition was issued in 1849. (See Mabbott, I, 584, for a listing of Poe’s contributions to the first and later editions.)

24.  Compare “Un mouton qui rêve,” in “Philosophy of Furniture” at n. 5.

25.  Poe “used up” William W. Lord’s Poems (one of which burlesqued Poe) in the Broadway Journal, May 24, 1845 (see Mabbott, I, 314-315, 352). The author ridiculed in the earlier version is Hugh A. Pue, a Philadelphian, whose Grammar. . . Addressed to Every American Youth, published by the author, Poe denounced in Graham’s for July 1841.

26.  The use of very small doses was a conspicuous characteristic of homeopathy, a system of therapeutics based on the theory that like cures like. It was still new in the United States in the 1830’s and like Mesmerism and phrenology was attracting attention.

27.  A bar sinister, sometimes called a baton, is a sign of illegitimacy in heraldry. There is a double entendre, since a sinister bar was unluckily fatal to Toby Dammit.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 619:]

*  For a discussion see Walter Fuller Taylor, “Israfel in Motley,” Sewanee Review, July-September, 1934.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 620:]

  Poe had reviewed Dickens’ book appreciatively in the Southern Literary Messenger, November 1836. My quotation is from the Philadelphia edition (1836), pp. 26-27.

  See Clara E. Wagemann, Covered Bridges of New England (1931). Age and motor traffic have now eliminated most of them.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Never Bet Your Head)