Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “How to Write a Blackwood Article and A Predicament” [Text-05], Broadway Journal, July 12, 1845, 2:1-7


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[page 1, unnumbered, column 1, continued:]

HOW TO WRITE A BLACKWOOD ARTICLE.

“In the name of the Prophet — figs!!

Cry of the Turkish fig-pedler.

I PRESUME every body has heard of me. My name is the Signora Psyche Zenobia. This I know to be a fact. No body [[Nobody]] but my enemies ever calls me Suky Snobbs. I have been assured that Suky is but a vulgar corruption of Psyche, which is good Greek, and means “the soul” (that’s me, I’m all soul) and sometimes “a butterfly,” which latter meaning undoubtedly alludes to my appearance in my new crimson satin dress, with the sky-blue Arabian mantelet, and the trimmings of green agraffas, and the seven flounces of orange-colored auriculas. As for Snobbs — any person who should look at me would be instantly aware that my name wasn’t Snobbs. Miss Tabitha Turnip propagated that report through sheer envy. Tabitha Turnip indeed! Oh the little wretch! But what can we expect from a turnip? Wonder if she remembers the old adage about “blood out of a turnip, &c.” [Mem: put her in mind of it the first opportunity.] [Mem. again — pull her nose.] Where was I? Ah! I have been assured that Snobbs is a mere corruption of Zenobia, and that Zenobia was a queen — (So am I. Dr. Moneypenny, always calls me the Queen of the Hearts) — and that Zenobia, as well as Psyche, is good Greek, and that my father was “a Greek,” and that consequently I have a right to our patronymic, which is Zenobia, and not by any means Snobbs. Nobody but Tabitha Turnip calls me Suky Snobbs. I am the Signora Psyche Zenobia.

As I said before, everybody has heard of me. I am that very Signora Psyche Zenobia, so justly celebrated as corresponding secretary to the “Philadelphia, Regular, Exchange, Tea, Total, Young, Belles, Lettres, Universal, Experimental, Bibliographical, Association, To, Civilize, Humanity.” [column 2:] Dr. Moneypenny made the title for us, and says he chose it because it sounded big like an empty rum-puncheon. (A vulgar man that sometimes — but he’s deep.) We all sign the initials of the society after our names, in the fashion of the R. S. A., Royal Society of Arts — the S. D. U. K., Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, &c, &c. Dr. Moneypenny says that S stands for stale, and that D. U. K. spells duck, (but it don’t,) and that S. D. U. K. stands for Stale Duck, and not for Lord Brougham’s society — but then Dr. Moneypenny is such a queer man that I am never sure when he is telling me the truth. At any rate we always add to our names the initials P. R. E. T. T. Y. B. L. U. E. B. A. T. C. H. — that is to say, Philadelphia, Regular, Exchange, Tea, Total, Young, Belles, Lettres, Universal, Experimental, Bibliographical, Association, To, Civilize, Humanity — one letter for each word, which is a decided improvement upon Lord Brougham. Dr. Moneypenny will have it that our initials give our true character — but for my life I can’t see what he means.

Notwithstanding the good offices of the Doctor, and the strenuous exertions of the association to get itself into notice, it met with no very great success until I joined it. The truth is, the members indulged in too flippant a tone of discussion. The papers read every Saturday evening were characterized less by depth than buffoonery. They were all whipped syllabub. There was no investigation of first causes, first principles. There was no investigation of anything at all. There was no attention paid to that great point, the “fitness of things.” In short there was no fine writing like this. It was all low — very! No profundity, no reading, no metaphysics — nothing which the learned call spirituality, and which the unlearned choose to stigmatize as cant. [Dr. M. says I ought to spell “cant” with a capital K — but I know better.]

When I joined the society it was my endeavor to introduce a better style of thinking and writing, and all the world knows how well I have succeeded. We get up as good papers now in the P. R. E. T. T. Y. B. L. U. E. B. A. T. C. H. as any to be found even in Blackwood. I say, Blackwood, because I have been assured that the finest writing, upon every subject, is to be discovered in the pages of that justly celebrated Magazine. We now take it for our model upon all themes, and are getting into rapid notice accordingly. And, after all, it’s not so very difficult a matter to compose an article of the genuine Blackwood stamp, if one only goes properly about it. Of course I don’t speak of the political articles. Everybody knows how they are managed, since Dr. Moneypenny explained it. Mr. Blackwood has a pair of tailor’s-shears, and three aparentices [[apprentices]] who stand by him for orders. One hands him the “Times,” another the “Examiner,” and a third a “Gulley’s New Compendium of Slang-Whang.” Mr. B. merely cuts out and intersperses. It is soon done — nothing but Examiner, Slang-Whang, and Times — then Times, Slang-Whang, and Examiner — and then Times, Examiner, and Slang-Whang.

But the chief merit of the Magazine lies in its miscellaneous [page 2:] articles; and the best of these come under the head of what Dr. Moneypenny calls the bizarreries (whatever that may mean) and what everybody else calls the intensities. This is a species of writing which I have long known how to appreciate, although it is only since my late visit to Mr. Blackwood (deputed by the society) that I have been made aware of the exact method of composition. This method is very simple, but not so much so as the politics. Upon my calling at Mr. B.’s, and making known to him the wishes of the society, he received me with great civility, took me into his study, and gave me a clear explanation of the whole process.

“My dear madam,” said he, evidently struck with my majestic appearance, for I had on the crimson satin, with the green agraffas, and orange-colored auriculas. “My dear madam,” said he, “sit down. The matter stands thus: In the first place, your writer of intensities must have very black ink, and a very big pen, with a very blunt nib. And, mark me, Miss Psyche Zenobia!” he continued, after a pause, with the most impressive energy and solemnity of manner, “mark me! — that penmustnever be mended! Herein, madam, lies the secret, the soul, of intensity. I assume upon myself to say, that no individual, of however great genius, ever wrote with a good pen, — understand me, — a good article. You may take it for granted, that when manuscript can be read it is never worth reading. This is a leading principle in our faith, to which if you cannot readily assent, our conference is at an end.”

He paused. But, of course, as I had no wish to put an end to the conference, I assented to a proposition so very obvious, and one, too, of whose truth I had all along been sufficiently aware. He seemed pleased, and went on with his instructions.

“It may appear invidious in me, Miss Psyche Zenobia, to refer you to an article, or set of articles, in the way of model or study; yet perhaps I may as well call your attention to a few cases. Let me see. There was ‘The Dead Alive,’ a capital thing! — the record of a gentleman’s sensations when entombed before the breath was out of his body — full of taste, terror, sentiment, metaphysics, and erudition. You would have sworn that the writer had been born and brought up in a coffin. Then we had the ‘Confessions of an Opium-eater’ — fine, very fine! — glorious imagination — deep philosophy — acute speculation — plenty of fire and fury, and a good spicing of the decidedly unintelligible. That was a nice bit of flummery, and went down the throats of the people delightfully. They would have it that Coleridge wrote the paper — but not so. It was composed by my pet baboon, Juniper, over a rummer of Hollands and water, ‘hot, without sugar.’” [This I could scarcely have believed had it been any body but Mr. Blackwood, who assured me of it.] “Then there was ‘The Involuntary Experimentalist,’ all about a gentleman who got baked in an oven, and came out alive and well, although certainly done to a turn. And then there was ‘The Diary of a Late Physician,’ where the merit lay in good rant, and indifferent Greek — both of them taking things with the public. And then there was ‘The Man in the Bell,’ a paper by-the-by, Miss Zenobia, which I cannot sufficiently recommend to your attention. It is the history of a young person who goes to sleep under the clapper of a church bell, and is awakened by its tolling for a funeral. The sound drives him mad, and, accordingly, pulling out his tablets, he gives a record of his sensations. Sensations are the great things after all. Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations — they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet. If you wish to write forcibly, Miss Zenobia, pay minute attention to [column 2:] the sensations.”

“That I certainly will, Mr. Blackwood,” said I.

“Good!” he replied. “I see you are a pupil after my own heart. But I must put you au fait to the details necessary in composing what may be denominated a genuine Blackwood article of the sensation stamp — the kind which you will understand me to say I consider the best for all purposes.

“The first thing requisite is to get yourself into such a scrape as no one ever got into before. The oven, for instance, — that was a good hit. But if you have no oven, or big bell, at hand, and if you cannot conveniently tumble out of a balloon, or be swallowed up in an earthquake, or get stuck fast in a chimney, you will have to be contented with simply imagining some similar misadventure. I should prefer, however, that you have the actual fact to bear you out. Nothing so well assists the fancy, as an experimental knowledge of the matter in hand. ‘Truth is strange,’ you know,’stranger than fiction’ — besides being more to the purpose.”

Here I assured him I had an excellent pair of garters, and would go and hang myself forthwith.

“Good!” he replied, “do so; — although hanging is somewhat hackneyed. Perhaps you might do better. Take a dose of Brandreth’s pills, and then give us your sensations. However, my instructions will apply equally well to any variety of misadventure, and in your way home you may easily get knocked in the head, or run over by an omnibus, or bitten by a mad dog, or drowned in a gutter. But to proceed.

“Having determined upon your subject, you must next consider the tone, or manner, of your narration. There is the tone didactic, the tone enthusiastic, the tone natural — all common-place enough. But then there is the tone laconic, or curt, which has lately come much into use. It consists in short sentences. Somehow thus: Can’t be too brief. Can’t be too snappish. Always a full stop. And never a paragraph.

“Then there is the tone elevated, diffusive, and interjectional. Some of our best novelists patronize this tone. The words must be all in a whirl, like a humming-top, and make a noise very similar, which answers remarkably well instead of meaning. This is the best of all possible styles where the writer is in too great a hurry to think.

“The tone metaphysical is also a good one. If you know any big words this is your chance for them. Talk of the Ionic and Eleatic schools — of Archytas, Gorgias, and Alcmæon. Say something about objectivity and subjectivity. Be sure and abuse a man named Locke. Turn up your nose at things in general, and when you let slip anything a little too absurd, you need not be at the trouble of scratching it out, but just add a foot-note, and say that you are indebted for the above profound observation to the ‘Kritik der reinem Vernunft,’ or to the ‘Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Naturwissenchaft.’ This would look erudite and — and — and frank.

“There are various other tones of equal celebrity, but I shall mention only two more — the tone transcendental and the tone heterogeneous. In the former the merit consists in seeing into the nature of affairs a very great deal farther than any body else. This second sight is very efficient when properly managed. A little reading of the ‘Dial’ will carry you a great way. Eschew, in this case, big words; get them as small as possible, and write them upside down. Look over Channing’s poems and quote what he says about a ‘fat little man with a delusive show of Can.’ Put in something about the Supernal Oneness. Don’t say a syllable about the Infernal Twoness. Above all, study innendo [[innuendo]]. Hint every thing [[everything]] — assert nothing. If you feel inclined to say ‘bread [page 3:] and butter,’ do not by any means say it outright. You may say anything and everything approaching to ‘bread and butter.’ You may hint at buck-wheat cake, or you may even go so far as to insinuate oat-meal porridge, but if bread and butter be your real meaning, be cautious, my dear Miss Psyche, not on any account to say ‘bread and butter!’

I assured him that I should never say it again as long as I lived. He kissed me and continued:

“As for the tone heterogeneous, it is merely a judicious mixture, in equal proportions, of all the other tones in the world, and is consequently made up of everything deep, great, odd, piquant, pertinent, and pretty.

“Let us suppose now you have determined upon your incidents and tone. The most important portion — in fact, the soul of the whole business, is yet to be attended to — I allude to the filling up. It is not to be supposed that a lady, or gentleman either, has been leading the life of a book-worm. And yet above all things it is necessary that your article have an air of erudition, or at least afford evidence of extensive general reading. Now I’ll put you in the way of accomplishing this point. See here!” (pulling down some three or four ordinary-looking volumes, and opening them at random). “By casting your eye down almost any page of any book in the world, you will be able to perceive at once a host of little scraps of either learning or bel-esprit-ism, which are the very thing for the spicing of a Blackwood article. You might as well note down a few while I read them to you. I shall make two divisions: first, Piquant Facts for the Manufacture of Similes; and, second, Piquant Expressions to be introduced as occasion may require. Write now!” — and I wrote as he dictated.

“PIQUANT FACTS FOR SIMILES. ‘There were originally but three Muses — Melete, Mneme, Aœde — meditation, memory, and singing.’ You may make a good deal of that little fact if properly worked. You see it is not generally known, and looks recherché. You must be careful and give the thing with a downright improviso air.

“Again. ‘The river Alpheus passed beneath the sea, and emerged without injury to the purity of its waters.’ Rather stale that, to be sure, but, if properly dressed and dished up, will look quite as fresh as ever.

“Here is something better. ‘The Persian Iris appears to some persons to possess a sweet and very powerful perfume, while to others it is perfectly scentless.’ Fine that, and very delicate! Turn it about a little, and it will do wonders. We’ll have something else in the botanical line. There’s nothing goes down so well, especially with the help of a little Latin. Write!

“‘The Epidendrum Flos Aeris, of Java, bears a very beautiful flower, and will live when pulled up by the roots. The natives suspend it by a cord from the ceiling, and enjoy its fragrance for years.’ That’s capital! That will do for the similes. Now for the Piquant Expressions.

“PIQUANT EXPRESSIONS. ‘The venerable Chinese novel Ju-Kiao-Li.’ Good! By introducing these few words with dexterity you will evince your intimate acquaintance with the language and literature of the Chinese. With the aid of this you may either get along without either Arabic, or Sanscrit, or Chickasaw. There is no passing muster, however, without Spanish, Italian, German, Latin, and Greek. I must look you out a little specimen of each. Any scrap will answer, because you must depend upon your own ingenuity to make it fit into your article. Now write!

“‘Aussi tendre que Zaire’ — as tender as Zaire — French. Alludes to the frequent repetition of the phrase, la tendre [column 2:] Zaire, in the French tragedy of that name. Properly introduced, will show not only your knowledge of the language, but your general reading and wit. You can say, for instance, that the chicken you were eating (write an article about being choked to death by a chicken-bone) was not altogether aussi tendre que Zaire. Write!

Van [[Ven]] muerte tan escondida,

Que no te sienta venir,

Porque el plazer del morir,

No me torne a dar la vida.’

“That’s Spanish — from Miguel de Cervantes. ‘Come quickly, O death! but be sure and don’t let me see you coming, lest the pleasure I shall feel at your appearance should unfortunately bring me back again to life.’ This you may slip in quite à propos when you are struggling in the last agonies with the chicken-bone. Write!

Il pover ‘huomo che non se’n era accorto,

 Andava combattendo, e era morto.’

That’s Italian, you perceive — from Ariosto. It means that a great hero, in the heat of combat, not perceiving that he had been fairly killed, continued to fight valiantly, dead as he was. The application of this to your own case is obvious — for I trust, Miss Psyche, that you will not neglect to kick for at least an hour and a half after you have been choked to death by that chicken-bone. Please to write!

Und sterb’ich doch, no sterb’ich denn

 Durch sie — durch sie!

That’s German — from Schiller. ‘And if I die, at least I die — for thee — for thee!’ Here it is clear that you are apostrophizing the cause of your disaster, the chicken. Indeed what gentleman (or lady either) of sense, would’nt die, I should like to know, for a well fattened capon of the right Molucca breed, stuffed with capers and mushrooms, and served up in a salad-bowl, with orange-jellies en mosüiques. Write! (You can get them that way at Tortoni’s,) — Write, if you please!

“Here is a nice little Latin phrase, and rare too, (one can’t be too recherché or brief in one’s Latin, it’s getting so common,) — ignoratio elenchi. He has committed an ignoratio elenchi — that is to say, he has understood the words of your proposition, but not the idea. The man was a fool, you see. Some poor fellow whom you address while choking with that chicken-bone, and who therefore didn’t precisely understand what you were talking about. Throw the ignoratio elenchi in his teeth, and, at once, you have him annihilated. If he dares to reply, you can tell him from Lucan (here it is) that speeches are mere anemonae verborum, anemone words. The anemone, with great brilliancy, has no smell. Or, if he begins to bluster, you may be down upon him with insomnia Jovis, reveries of Jupiter — a phrase which Silius Italicus (see here!) applies to thoughts pompous and inflated. This will be sure and cut him to the heart. He can do nothing but roll over and die. Will you be kind enough to write?

“In Greek we must have something pretty — from Demosthenes, for example. Ανερο φευγων χαι παλιν μαχεσεται. [Aner o pheugoen kai palin makesetai]. There is a tolerably good translation of it in Hudibras  —

For he that flies may fight again,

Which he can never do that’s slain.

In a Blackwood article nothing makes so fine a show as your Greek. The very letters have an air of profundity about them. Only observe, madam, the astute look of that Epsilon! That Phi ought certainly to be a bishop! Was ever there a smarter fellow than that Omicron? Just twig that Tau! In short, there is nothing like Greek for a genuine [page 4:] sensation-paper. In the present case your application is the most obvious thing in the world. Rap out the sentence, with a huge oath, and by way of ultimatum at the good-for-nothing dunder-headed villain who couldn’t understand your plain English in relation to the chicken-bone. He’ll take the hint and be off, you may depend upon it.”

These were all the instructions Mr. B. could afford me upon the topic in question, but I felt they would be entirely sufficient. I was, at length, able to write a genuine Blackwood article, and determined to do it forthwith. In taking leave of me, Mr. B. made a proposition for the purchase of the paper when written; but as he could offer me only fifty guineas a sheet, I thought it better to let our society have it, than sacrifice it for so paltry a sum. Notwithstanding this niggardly spirit, however, the gentleman showed his consideration for me in all other respects, and indeed treated me with the greatest civility. His parting words made a deep impression upon my heart, and I hope I shall always remember them with gratitude.

“My dear Miss Zenobia,” he said, while the tears stood in his eyes, “is there any thing else I can do to promote the success of your laudable undertaking? Let me reflect! It is just possible that you may not be able, so soon as convenient, to — to — get yourself drowned, or — choked with a chicken-bone, or — or hung, — or — bitten by a — but stay! Now I think me of it, there are a couple of very excellent bull-dogs in the yard — fine fellows, I assure you — savage, and all that — indeed just the thing for your money — they’ll have you eaten up, auriculas and all, in less than five minutes (here’s my watch!) — and then only think of the sensations! Here! I say — Tom! — Peter! — Dick, you villain! — let out those” — but as I was really in a great hurry, and had not another moment to spare, I was reluctantly forced to expedite my departure, and accordingly took leave at once — somewhat more abruptly, I admit, than strict courtesy would have otherwise, allowed.

It was my primary object upon quitting Mr. Blackwood, to get into some immediate difficulty, pursuant to his advice, and with this view I spent the greater part of the day in wandering about Edinburgh, seeking for desperate adventures — adventures adequate to the intensity of my feelings, and adapted to the vast character of the article I intended to write. In this excursion I was attended by one negro-servant Pompey, and my little lap-dog Diana, whom I had brought with me from Philadelphia. It was not, however, until late in the afternoon that I fully succeeded in my arduous undertaking. An important event then happened of which the following Blackwood article, in the tone heterogeneous, is the substance and result.

———

A PREDICAMENT.

What chance, good lady, hath bereft you thus? — COMUS.

IT was a quiet and still afternoon when I strolled forth in the goodly city of Edina. The confusion and bustle in the streets were terrible. Men were talking. Women were screaming. Children were choking. Pigs were whistling. Carts they rattled. Bulls they bellowed. Cows they lowed. Horses they neighed. Cats they caterwauled. Dogs they danced. Danced! Could it then be possible? Danced! Alas, thought I, my dancing days are over! Thus it is ever. What a host of gloomy recollections will ever and anon be awakened in the mind of genius and imaginative contemplation, especially of a genius doomed to the everlasting, and eternal, and continual, and, as one might say, the — continued — yes, the continued and continuous, bitter, harassing, [column 2:] disturbing, and, if I may be allowed the expression, the very disturbing influence of the serene, and godlike, and heavenly, and exalted, and elevated, and, purifying effect of what may be rightly termed the most enviable, the most truly enviable — nay! the most benignly beautiful, the most deliciously ethereal, and, as it were, the most pretty (if I may use so bold an expression) thing (pardon me, gentle reader!) in the word [[world]] — but I am always led away by my feelings. In such a mind, I repeat, what a host of recollections are stirred up by a trifle! The dogs danced! I — I could not! They frisked — I wept. They capered — I sobbed aloud. Touching circumstances! which cannot fail to bring to the recollection of the classical reader that exquisite passage in relation to the fitness of things, which is to be found in the commencement of the third volume of that admirable and venerable Chinese novel the Jo-Go-Slow.

In my solitary walk through the city I had two humble but faithful companions. Diana, my poodle! sweetest of creatures! She had a quantity of hair over her one eye, and a blue riband tied fashionably around her neck. Diana was not more than five inches in height, but her head was somewhat bigger than her body, and her tail, being cut off exceedingly close, gave an air of injured innocence to the interesting animal which rendered her a favorite with all.

And Pompey, my negro! — sweet Pompey! how shall I ever forget thee? I had taken Pompey’s arm. He was three feet in height (I like to be particular) and about seventy, or perhaps eighty, years of age. He had bow-legs and was corpulent. His mouth should not be called small, nor his ears short. His teeth, however, were like pearl, and his large full eyes were deliciously white. Nature had endowed him with no neck, and had placed his ankles (as usual with that race) in the middle of the upper portion of the feet. He was clad with a striking simplicity. His sole garments were a stock of nine inches in height, and a nearly-new drab overcoat which had formerly been in the service of the tall, stately, and illustrious Dr. Moneypenny. It was a good overcoat. It was well cut. It was well made. The coat was nearly new. Pompey held it up out of the dirt with both hands.

There were three persons in our party, and two of them have already been the subject of remark. There was a third — that person was myself. I am the Signora Psyche Zenobia. I am not Suky Snobbs. My appearance is commanding. On the memorable occasion of which I speak I was habited in a crimson satin dress, with a sky-blue Arabian mantelet. And the dress had trimmings of green agraffas, and seven graceful flounces of the orange[[-]]colored auricula. I thus formed the third of the party. There was the poodle. There was Pompey. There was myself. We were three. Thus it is said there were originally but three Furies — Melty, Nimmy and Hetty — Meditation, Memory, and Fiddling.

Leaning upon the arm of the gallant Pompey, and attended at a respectable distance by Diana, I proceeded down one of the populous and very pleasant streets of the now deserted Edina. On a sudden, there presented itself to view a church — a Gothic cathedral — vast, venerable, and with a tall steeple, which towered into the sky. What madness now possessed me? Why did I rush upon my fate? I was seized with an uncontrollable desire to ascend the giddy pinnacle, and thence survey the immense extent of the city. The door of the cathedral stood invitingly open. My destiny prevailed. I entered the ominous archway. Where then was my guardian angel? — if indeed such angels there be. If! Distressing monosyllable! what world of mystery, and [page 5:] meaning, and doubt, and uncertainty is there involved in thy two letters! I entered the ominous archway! I entered; and, without injury to my orange-colored auriculas, I passed beneath the portal, and emerged within the vestibule. Thus it is said the immense river Alfred passed, unscathed, and unwetted, beneath the sea.

I thought the staircase would never have an end. Round! Yes, they went round and up, and round and up and round and up, until I could not help surmising, with the sagacious Pompey, upon whose supporting arm I leaned in all the confidence of early affection — I could not help surmising that the upper end of the continuous spiral ladder had been accidentally, or perhaps designedly, removed. I paused for breath; and, in the meantime, an accident occurred of too momentous a nature in a moral, and also in a metaphysical point of view, to be passed over without notice. It appeared to me — indeed I was quite confident of the fact — I could not be mistaken — no! I had, for some moments, carefully and anxiously observed the motions of my Diana — I say that I could not be mistaken — Diana smelt a rat! At once I called Pompey’s attention to the subject, and he — he agreed with me. There was then no longer any reasonable room for doubt. The rat had been smelled — and by Diana. Heavens! shall I ever forget the intense excitement of the moment? Alas! what is the boasted intellect of man? The rat! — it was there — that is to say, it was somewhere. Diana smelled the rat. I — I could not! Thus it is said the Prussian Isis has, for some persons, a sweet and very powerful perfume, while to others it is perfectly scentless.

The staircase had been surmounted, and there were now only three or four more upward steps intervening between us and the summit. We still ascended, and now only one step remained. One step! One little, little step! Upon one such little step in the great staircase of human life how vast a sum of human happiness or misery often depends! I thought of myself, then of Pompey, and then of the mysterious and inexplicable destiny which surrounded us. I thought of Pompey! — alas, I thought of love! I thought of my many false steps which have been taken, and may be taken again. I resolved to be more cautious, more reserved. I abandoned the arm of Pompey, and, without his assistance, surmounted the one remaining step, and gained the chamber of the belfry. I was followed immediately afterwards by my poodle. Pompey alone remained behind. I stood at the head of the staircase, and encouraged him to ascend. He stretched forth to me his hand, and unfortunately in so doing was forced to abandon his firm hold upon the overcoat. Will the gods never cease their persecution? The overcoat it dropped, and, with one of his feet, Pompey stepped upon the long and trailing skirt of the overcoat. He stumbled and fell — this consequence was inevitable. He fell forwards, and, with his accursed head, striking me full in the — in the breast, precipitated me headlong, together with himself, upon the hard, filthy and detestable floor of the belfry. But my revenge was sure, sudden and complete. Seizing him furiously by the wool with both hands, I tore out a vast quantity of black, and crisp, and curling material, and tossed it from me with every manifestation of disdain. It fell among the ropes of the belfry and remained. Pompey arose, and said no word. But he regarded me piteously with his large eyes and — sighed. Ye Gods — that sigh! It sunk into my heart. And the hair — the wool! Could I have reached that wool I would have bathed it with my tears, in testimony of regret. But alas! it was now far beyond my grasp. As it dangled among the cordage of the bell, I fancied it still alive. I fancied that it stood on end with indignation. Thus the happydandy [column 2:] Flos Aeris of Java bears, it is said, a beautiful flower, which will live when pulled up by the roots. The natives suspend it by a cord from the ceiling and enjoy its fragrance for years.

Our quarrel was now made up, and we looked about the room for an aperture through which to survey the city of Edina. Windows there were none. The sole light admitted into the gloomy chamber proceeded from a square opening, about a foot in diameter, at a height of about seven feet from the floor. Yet what will the energy of true genius not effect? I resolved to clamber up to this hole. A vast quantity of wheels, pinions, and other cabalistic-looking machinery stood opposite the hole, close to it; and through the hole there passed an iron rod from the machinery. Between the wheels and the wall where the hole lay, there was barely room for my body — yet I was desperate, and determined to persevere. I called Pompey to my side.

“You perceive that aperture, Pompey. I wish to look through it. You will stand here just beneath the hole — so. Now, hold out one of your hands, Pompey, and let me step upon it — thus. Now, the other hand, Pompey, and with its aid I will get upon your shoulders.”

He did everything I wished, and I found, upon getting up, that I could easily pass my head and neck through the aperture. The prospect was sublime. Nothing could be more magnificent. I merely paused a moment to bid Diana behave herself, and assure Pompey that I would be considerate and bear as lightly as possible upon his shoulders. I told him I would be tender of his feelings — ossi tender que beefsteak. Having done this justice to my faithful friend, I gave myself up with great zest and enthusiasm to the enjoyment of the scene which so obligingly spread itself out before my eyes.

Upon this subject, however, I shall forbear to dilate. I will not describe the city of Edinburgh. Every one has been to Edinburgh — the classic Edina. I will confine myself to the momentous details of my own lamentable adventure. Having, in some measure, satisfied my curiosity in regard to the extent, situation, and general appearance of the city, I had leisure to survey the church in which I was, and the delicate architecture of the steeple. I observed that the aperture through which I had thrust my head was an opening in the dial-plate of a gigantic clock, and must have appeared, from the street, as a large key-hole, such as we see in the face of the French watches. No doubt the true object was to admit the arm of an attendant, to adjust, when necessary, the hands of the clock from within. I observed also, with surprise, the immense size of these hands, the longest of which could not have been less than ten feet in length, and, where broadest, eight or nine inches in breadth. They were of solid steel apparently, and their edges appeared to be sharp. Having noticed these particulars, and some others, I again turned my eyes upon the glorious prospect below, and soon became absorbed in contemplation.

From this, after some minutes, I was aroused by the voice of Pompey, who declared that he could stand it no longer, and requested that I would be so kind as to come down. This was unreasonable, and I told him so in a speech of some length. He replied but with an evident misunderstanding of my ideas upon the subject. I accordingly grew angry, and told him in plain words, that he was a fool, that he had committed an ignoramus e-clench-eye, that his notions were mere insommary Bovis, and his words little better than an ennemywerrybor’em. With this he appeared satisfied, and I resumed my contemplations.

It might have been half an hour after this altercation [page 6:] when, as I was deeply absorbed in the heavenly scenery beneath me, I was startled by something very cold which pressed with a gentle pressure on the back of my neck. It is needless to say that I felt inexpressibly alarmed. I knew that Pompey was beneath my feet, and that Diana was sitting, according to my explicit directions, upon her hind legs in the farthest corner of the room. What could it be? Alas! I but too soon discovered. Turning my head gently to one side, I perceived, to my extreme horror, that the huge, glittering, scimetar-like minute-hand of the clock, had, in the course of its hourly revolution, descended upon my neck. There was, I knew, not a second to be lost. I pulled back at once — but it was too late. There was no chance of forcing my head through the mouth of that terrible trap in which it was so fairly caught, and which grew narrower and narrower with a rapidity too horrible to be conceived. The agony of that moment is not to be imagined. I threw up my hands and endeavored, with all my strength, to force upward the ponderous iron bar. I might as well have tried to lift the cathedral itself. Down, down, down it came, closer and yet closer. I screamed to Pompey for aid; but he said that I had hurt his feelings by calling him “an ignorant old squint-eye:” I yelled to Diana; but she only said “bow-wow-wow,” and that “I had told her on no account to stir from the corner.” Thus I had no relief to expect from my associates.

Meantime the ponderous and terrific Scythe of Time (for I now discovered the literal import of that classical phrase) had not stopped, nor was it likely to stop, in its career. Down and still down, it came. It had already buried its sharp edge a full inch in my flesh, and my sensations grew indistinct and confused. At one time I fancied myself in Philadelphia with the stately Dr. Moneypenny, at another in the back parlor of Mr. Blackwood receiving his invaluable instructions. And then again the sweet recollection of better and earlier times came over me, and I thought of that happy period when the world was not all a desert, and Pompey not altogether cruel.

The ticking of the machinery amused me. Amused me, I say, for my sensations now bordered upon perfect happiness, and the most trifling circumstances afforded me pleasure. The eternal click-clack, click-slack [[click-clack]], click-clack of the clock was the most melodious of music in my ears, and occasionally even put me in mind of the grateful sermonic harangues of Dr. Ollapod. Then there were the great figures upon the dial-plate — how intelligent, how intellectual, they all looked! And presently they took to dancing the Mazurka, and I think it was the figure V who performed the most to my satisfaction. She was evidently a lady of breeding. None of your swaggerers, and nothing at all indelicate in her motions. She did the pirouette to admiration — whirling round upon her apex. I made an endeavor to hand her a chair, for I saw that she appeared fatigued with her exertions — and it was not until then that I fully perceived my lamentable situation. Lamentable indeed! The bar had buried itself two inches in my neck. I was aroused to a sense of exquisite pain. I prayed for death, and, in the agony of the moment, could not help repeating those exquisite verses of the poet Miguel De Cervantes:

Vanny Buren, tan escondida

Query no te senty venny

Pork and pleasure, delly morry

Nommy, torny, darry, widdy!

But now a new horror presented itself, and one indeed sufficient to startle the strongest nerves. My eyes, from the cruel pressure of the machine, were absolutely starting from [column 2:] their sockets. While I was thinking how I should possibly manage without them, one actually tumbled out of my head, and, rolling down the steep side of the steeple, lodged in the rain gutter which ran along the eaves of the main building. The loss of the eye was not so much as the insolent air of independence and contempt with which it regarded me after it was out. There it lay in the gutter just under my nose, and the airs it gave itself would have been ridiculous had they not been disgusting. Such a winking and blinking were never before seen. This behavior on the part of my eye in the gutter was not only irritating on account of its manifest insolence and shameful ingratitude, but was also exceedingly inconvenient on account of the sympathy which always exists between two eyes of the same head, however far apart. I was forced, in a manner, to wink and to blink, whether I would or not, in exact concert with the scoundrelly thing that lay just under my nose. I was presently relieved, however, by the dropping out of the other eye. In falling it took the same direction (possibly a concerted plot) as its fellow. Both rolled out of the gutter together, and in truth I was very glad to get rid of them.

The bar was now four inches and a half deep in my neck, and there was only a little bit of skin to cut through. My sensations were those of entire happiness, for I felt that in a few minutes, at farthest, I should be relieved from my disagreeable situation. And in this expectation I was not at all deceived. At twenty-five minutes past five in the afternoon precisely, the huge minute-hand had proceeded sufficiently far on its terrible revolution to sever the small remainder of my neck. I was not sorry to see the head which had occasioned me so much embarrassment at length make a final separation from my body. It first rolled down the side of the steeple, then lodged, for a few seconds, in the gutter, and then made its way, with a plunge, into the middle of the street.

I will candidly confess that my feelings were now of the most singular — nay, of the most mysterious, the most perplexing and incomprehensible character. My senses were here and there at one and the same moment. With my head I imagined, at one time, that I the head, was the real Signora Psyche Zenobia — at another I felt convinced that myself, the body, was the proper identity. To clear my ideas on this topic I felt in my pocket for my snuff-box, but, upon getting it, and endeavoring to apply a pinch of its grateful contents in the ordinary manner, I became immediately aware of my peculiar deficiency, and threw the box at once down to my head. It took a pinch with great satisfaction, and smiled me an acknowledgement in return. Shortly afterwards it made me a speech, which I could hear but indistinctly without ears. I gathered enough, however, to know that it was astonished at my wishing to remain alive under such circumstances. In the concluding sentences it quoted the noble words of Ariosto —

Il pover hommy che non sera corty

And have a combat tenty erry morty;

thus comparing me to the hero who, in the heat of the combat, not perceiving that he was dead, continued to contest the battle with inextinguishable valor. There was nothing now to prevent my getting down from my elevation, and I did so. What it was that Pompey saw so very peculiar in my appearance I have never yet been able to find out. The fellow opened his mouth from ear to ear, and shut his two eyes as if he were endeavoring to crack nuts between the lids. Finally, throwing off his overcoat, he made one spring for the staircase and disappeared. I hurled after the scoundrel these vehement words of Demosthenes — [page 7:]

Andrew O’Phlegethon, you really make haste to fly,

and then turned to the darling of my heart, to the one-eyed! the shaggy-haired Diana. Alas! what a horrible vision affronted my eyes? Was that a rat I saw skulking into his hole? Are these the picked bones of the little angel who has been cruelly devoured by the monster? Ye gods! and what do I behold — is that the departed spirit, the shade, the ghost, of my beloved puppy, which I perceive sitting with a grace so melancholy, in the corner? Harken! for she speaks, and, heavens! it is in the German of Schiller —

“Unt stubby duk, so stubby dun

 Duk she! duk she!”

Alas! and are not her words too true?

And if I died at least I died

For thee — for thee.

Sweet creature! she too has sacrificed herself in my behalf. Dogless, niggerless, headless, what now remains for the unhappy Signora Psyche Zenobia? Alas — nothing! I have done.

EDGAR A. POE.


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Notes:

In some later printings, the two tales presented here have been printed separately, although generally with the one following the other. Unfortunately, a reader must read both to get the full intent of Poe’s design. Much of the humor of the satirical story “A Predicament” builds upon information established in the introductory material “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” as Miss Zenobia applies (and misapplies) Mr. Blackwood’s advice.

In the first paragraph of the original printing of this version of the tale, the word “No” appears at the end of one line and “body” at the beginning of the next, with no hyphen, although a space following “No” strongly suggests that a hyphen was intended, but was perhaps too worn to actually print. At least a trace of a hyphen can be seen, although it is apparently misplaced rather high on the line. Still, a hyphen appears to have been intended. The Griswold text blindly copies it as “No body,”, on a single line, while TGA does give it as a single word “Nobody.”

Similarly, near the end of page 2, “every thing” appears as two words only because it is broken up across two lines, and a hyphen is lacking, although no space appears to have been allotted for the hyphen. It is given as “everything” in a subsequent sentence, and it appears thus in both TGA and in the 1850 Works. Mabbott reproduces the inconsistency, without comment, as does the LOA edition. Harrison, probably following the 1850 Works even as he claims the BJ version as his copy-text, forces the consistent form of “everything” without comment in his notes.


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[S:0 - BJ, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Tales - How to Write a Blackwood Article and A Predicament [Text-05]