Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “O, Tempora! O, Mores!,” Southern Opinion (Richmond, VA), Vol. I, no. 39, March 7, 1868, p. 2, col. 3


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


[page 2, top of column 3:]

JUVENILE VERSES OF EDGAR A. POE.

——

The accompanying verses, never before in print, were written by Edgar A. Poe, at the age of seventeen, and have been transmitted to us by John H. McKenzie, Esq., of Henrico County, Virginia, whose mother adopted Rosa Poe, Edgar’s sister, at the same time that Edgar was adopted by Mrs. Allan, of Richmond. The satire is puerile enough, but it is interesting as perhaps the earliest of Poe’s writings known to exist. The luckless Pitts, lampooned of Poe, was a clerk in the leading fashionable dry goods store of Richmond some forty years ago, and was paying court to a youthful belle of the period, who afterwards married a prominent Virginia politician and member of Congress, and who sometimes smiled dans sa premiere jeunesse on the wayward young Edgar, with the bright eyes and hyacinthine curls. Doubtless that lady’s escritoire contained many a woful ballad and love-sick sonnet of the precocious madcap. The frequent use of parliamentary phrases and the mention of members’ claws and members’ logick [[logic]], shows that “O, Tempora! O, Mores!” was written chiefly for the ridicule of Pitts in the eyes of certain members of the Virginia Legislature, who were then boarding in the same house with him. All the parties in any manner connected with the lampoon, the fair lady, the distinguished M. C., the authour [[author]] and his victim, have long since passed away, and its publication can wound the sensibilities of no human being, while the numberless admirers of the authour [[author]] of the “Raven” will read with interest an authentick [[authentic]] poem written by him when a boy — an interest similar in kind, if not as great in degree, to that which would be inspired by a juvenile production of Tennyson or Sir Walter Scott: J. R. Y. [[J. R. T.]]

——

O, TEMPORA! O, MORES!

O, Times! O, Manners! It is my opinion

That you are changing sadly your dominion —

I mean the reign of manners hath long ceased,

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

And as for times, altho’ ’tis said by many

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

Of which sound doctrine l believe each tittle,

Yet still I think these worse than them a little.

 

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

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;

Whether, with grim Heraclitus of yore,

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

Or rather laugh with him, that queer philosopher,

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

The luckless query from a member’s claw!

Instead of two sides, Job [[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,

And, in the meantime, to prevent all bother,

I’ll neither laugh with one, nor cry with t’other,

Nor deal in flatt’ry or aspersions foul,

But, taking one by each hand, merely growl.

 

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

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.

I beg your pardon, reader, for the oath

The monkeys make me swear, though something loth;

I’m apt to be discursive in my style,

But pray be patient; yet a little while

Will change me, and as politicians do,

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,

(As members say they like their logick [[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,

Flounce like a fish in his own element,

Toss back his fine curls from their forehead fair,

And hop o’er counters with a Vester’s air,

Complete at night what he began A.M.,

And having cheated ladies, dance with them;

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 —

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

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

And always keep from laughing, if I can;

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

Lord! to be grave exceeds the power of face.

The hearts of all the ladies are with him,

Their bright eyes on his Tom and Jerry brim

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

Those eyes won’t turn on anything like men.

 

His very voice is musical delight,

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;

For that the power of thought attends the latter

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

And spite of all dogmas, current in all ages,

One settled fact is better than ten sages.

 

For he does think, though I am oft in doubt

If I can tell exactly what about.

Ah, yes! his little foot and ankle trim,

’Tis there the seat of reason lies in him,

A wise philosopher would shake his head,

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

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,

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

And, lest the guessing throw the fool in fits,

I close the portrait with the name of PITTS.

 


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞


Notes:

For the argument in favor of accepting this poem as by Poe, refer to Jay B. Hubbell, “‘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, series B, Studies in the Humanities, vol. 2, no. 4 pp. 314-321.

The introductory remarks are presumed to be by John Ruben Thompson. The ending initials of  J. R. Y., therefore, are probably a typesetting error for J. R. T.

Rosa Poe was Rosalie Poe. John H. McKenzie was John Hamilton Mackenzie.

A set of this journal is in the State Library of Virginia.


∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

[S:1 - SOOP, 1868] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - O, Tempora! O, Mores!