Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “O, Tempora! O, Mores!,” No Name Magazine (Baltimore, MD), Vol. I, no. 1, October 1889, pp. 1-2


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­[page 1:]

Oh Tempora! Oh Mores!

AN UNPUBLISHED POEM OF

EDGAR A. POE

[column 1:]

[The following verses, which have never before appeared in print, were written by Edgar Allan Poe, at the age of seventeen, and were for more than half a century in the possession of the late John H. M’Kenzie, Esq., of Henrico County, Virginia, whose mother adopted Rosalie Poe, Edgar’s sister, at the same time that Edgar was adopted by Mrs. Allan, of Richmond. The satire 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 at the time, 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 lovesick sonnet of the precocious madcap. The frequent use of parliamentary phrases, and the mention of members’ claws and members’ logic, shows that “Oh Tempora! Oh 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 this lampoon — the fair lady, the distinguished M. C., the author and his victim, — have long since passed away, and its publication now can wound the sensibilities of no human being, while the numberless admirers [column 2:] of the author of “The Raven” will read with interest an 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.]

OH TEMPORA! OH MORES!

Oh Times! Oh 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, although ’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 or cry with t’other,

Nor deal in flattery 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, ­[page 2:]

The monkey made me swear, though something loath;

I,m [[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 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 Vestris 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 when I can;

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

Lord! to be grave exceeds the power of face. [column 2:]

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 attend 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, although I'm oft in doubt

If I can tell exactly what about.

Ah, yes! his little foot and ancle 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 the stupid elf,

And, lest the guessing throw the fool in fits,

I close the portrait with the name of PITTS.

 


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Notes:

It seems very likely that the current text is a reprint of the article from Southern Opinion. The introductions of both printings are far too similar to suggest independent sources. Journalistic standards in the 1880s would hardly have been sufficient to discourage publicizing the poem as previously unpublished, even if it was knowingly taken from a printed source.

A set of this journal is in the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, MD. Some issues are also in the collection of the Maryland Historical Society.


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[S:1 - NNM, 1889] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Poems - O, Tempora! O, Mores!