Text: Thomas Dunn English, “The Ghost of a Grey Tadpole,” Republican and Daily Argus (Baltimore, MD), vol. XXIX, whole no. 6,821, February 1, 1844, p. 1, cols. 1-2


[page 1, column 1, continued:]

From the Irish Citizen.





There are strange antipathies and stranger attachments. It may be said of a female infant, in the language of Jan Chodskwiczsznski, the well-known Pole — “Ona luba mleka.” By the addition of the English words “and water,” the remark may be applied to the writings of the great Eppie Sargent; and at the same time refer to the taste of her admirers. Now, while many admire, there are a benighted few who detest both the writings of the divine Mrs Eppie Sargent, and the milk-and-water to which they may be likened. They prefer for their reading, Mrs. Radcliffe and the Newgate Calendar, and refresh their inner man by that peculiar draught known as “cold without.” There is no accounting for this peculiar state of things. The calculus of probabilities fails us. Cryptography affords no solution. It would baffle the analytical powers of my friend, the Chevalier Dupin. Babington Macaulay might write a disquisition on the matter, and Carlyle might pen a book — but “cui bono?” They are both asses. I have said so in one of my reviews, and I ought to know.

From my infancy to the present time, I have possessed a dislike to tadpoles. Now, per se, the tadpole is not an object of dislike. Indeed, it is rather graceful than otherwise. The rotundity of body, with its gradual and progressive diminution at one extremity into a beautiful caudal appendage, gratifies the eyes of all lovers of the curvilinear and picturesque. But tadpoles are disgusting from their associations. They do not always remain in a state of tadpoledom. They emerge as it were into another nature. From graceful, gliding creatures, they pass into souatting, croaking, winking, leaping, diving and discontented frogs. The mind of the looker-on is obliged to travel to the future, and contemplate their probable destiny. A vision of innumerable mud-puddles crosses the fancy — green slime makes its appearance — and the ear is offended with pond-concerts, conducted with a scanty supply of musical knowledge, and in violation of the first principles of harmony.

But to my story.

Underneath the house in which I lived, there was a cellar. This was divided. The front part was arranged for the purpose of holding wood, coal, refrigerators, mice, and the usual appurtenances of such apartments. The back part was a kitchen — of the kind denominated by the unthinking vulgar, a cellar-kitchen. — This communicated with the yard by means of steps. These steps were partly outside of the house, in a kind of area, six feet broad by fifteen long. The area was paved with damp bricks, and in its northeast corner, about six inches from the wall, stood a water-cask, filled by means of a conductor leading from a rain-spout above.

I know not what peculiar impulse drove me to the spot I have thought of it since, as I think of it now, with a vain attempt to penetrate the mystery. Be the cause what it may, that I did go there is undoubtedly true. I bent over the water-cask. It was, as 1 said before, filled ; and just two inches from the bottom — I am certain it was two inches, for my eyes never deceive me — just two inches from the bottom, suspended there by a vibratory motion of his tail, was a large, gray tadpole, measuring five inches and four lines, from the tip of his snout to the end of his tail, and five inches and three lines from the end of his tail to the tip of his snout.

I was horror struck. I stood over the cask with the upper part of my body bent to an angle of forty-five degrees, ten minutes, from the perpendicular. My eyes dilated to their utmost extent, and rolled painfully in their sockets. The left eye tried to catch the glance of the right — the right eye tried to catch the glance of the left There I stood, motionless, transfixed for several minutes. I was shocked, and retired in a state of perfect disgust.

Again I stood over it The tadpole, who had hitherto remained motionless, seemed to read my thoughts by a kind of mesmeric power. He curled his body until the end of his tail reached his nose, and remained there with a peculiar vibratory motion. The figure thus formed, although very strange, and strikingly arabesque, was nevertheless insulting, and inflamed my already excited temper to madness. Seizing a huge stick, I carefully poised it in a perpendicular position, over the spot where the reptile rested. I drove it as I thought with unerring aim. It descended vehemently, — the water was agitated — dirt and bubbles arose to the surface. I congratulated myself on my success. I laughed.

The particles gradually subsided, the water became clear, and I looked in again. The laugh passed from the dexter to the sinister side of my mouth. Instead of the crushed, mangled and vile fragments of my enemy, I beheld the same tadpole as before — in the same spot — and in the same insulting position, with the tip of his tail applied to the end of his nose.

I sat down coolly and began to reflect A thought struck me. 1 drew a plug which was [column 2:] inserted at the base of the water-cask, for I knew if the waters escaped through the aperture thus made, my enemy would be drawn along with them. The result showed the greatness of my judgment.

At first the waters flowed fastly, then slower — but before their entire subsidence, the vainly resisting reptile was borne out, and cast floundering upon the wet, brick floor. He waggled about, and looked piteously in my face. I had no pity. There was no remorse at my heart With a fury at which my conscience now shudders, I raised my right foot, which is fifteen inches in length and seven in breadth, and with one stroke destroyed the wretch who had tormented me. I trampled on him again and again, in a perfect fury of hatred. I fairly revelled in destructive joy.

Now that I had succeeded, a strange thirst came over me. I hastened to the hydrant in the yard, and setting the water in motion applied my mouth to the end of the spout. I sucked the water in greedily, till I was fully sated.

The peculiar sensation of thirst had now passed, and I sat down on the pavement to reflect. I began to speculate on the possibility of my head becoming one of Henson's flying machines, and had actually thought of getting a tumbler of brandy by way of steam, when I saw a strange profile on the opposite fence.

Wonderful! The appearance assumed a definity — a fixity — a certainty. Madness! horror! There on the wall before me was a gray, gigantic, strange tadpole, with a ferocious glare. I knew it. I knew it for the tadpole I had slain. I sat like a statue of Pagan Rome, white, chiseled and motionless. I was haunted by a merciless fiend.



Thomas Dunn English reprinted this tale as part of a satirical article with the title “Hints for Authors,” in the John-Donkey for June 1848.

The Poe Society is indebted to Christopher J. Kintzel of the Maryland State Archives for providing a copy of this rare item.


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