Text: Theodore Sedgwick Fay, “The Successful Novel,” New York Mirror, April 9, 1836, vol. 14, no. 42, 14:324-325


[page 324, column 3, continued:]


“IT is out!” exclaimed Capias, the lawyer's clerk.

“I have myself seen it,” replied Counter, the young dry-good merchant.

“Too ridiculous,” drawled Rosewater, the Broadway beau. “‘Pon honour!”

“I have read it,” said Goosequill, the editor of the Bumble-bee, with a grave, severe face.

“And I,” echoed Rhubarb, the medical student, arching his eyebrows.

“And I,” reiterated Tweedledum, the politician, shrugging his shoulders.

“I, too, have looked into the thing,” said Bulldog, the critick, sternly.

“I waded through every word of it,” said Tulip, the poet, yawning.

“I too,” said Toadeater, “waded through it;” and Toadeater also yawned.

“What sort of thing is it?” demanded Capias.

“Ay, what sort of thing is it?” echoed Toadeater; “that's what we want to know.”

“Trash, trash, trash!” said Bulldog.

“I could have sworn it,” cried Toadeater.

“Trash!” echoed Counter; and with one impulse, though with various expressions of face, they all pronounced the emphatick word trash.

“Upon my soul,” said Rosewater, “I thought I should have dissolved with the labour!”

“What awful grammar!” said Bulldog. “Did you observe in the twenty-seventh line — page two hundred thirty-one — vol. second — where he says which, instead of that? It's too contemptible

“The style is execrable!” cried Counter.

“The plot is impossible!” muttered Rhubarb.

“Full of false sentiment!” cried Tweedledum. [page 325:]

“And what stupid characters!” added Tulip.

“I tell you what, gentlemen,” said Bulldog, “I have called you here in order to ascertain your opinion of this trash. I am delighted to find we are unanimous. Let us form ourselves into a club, for the protection of good taste and true literary merit. Let us guard the literature of our country from the blots which these trashy successful writers bring upon it. The publick, my friends, as you know, are — not any of the wisest.”

“No great shakes here,” cried Rhubarb, laying the point of his forefinger upon his forehead.

“It is certain,” continued Bulldog, “that the publick — the people — the readers — the purchasers of books — such crowds as fill theatres and churches — members of congress or the legislature — in short, all but such as you and I, my friends — (hear, hear,) are liable to errour — inclined to mistake — susceptible, as it were, of being led away — deceived — blinded. In short, gentlemen, the publick are ——— fools. (Hear, hear, hear.) They are fools in all respects, but on literary subjects they are particularly stupid. They have their own way of judging works — and, do all I can, I am unable to guide their wilful obstinacy. Now, gentlemen, we have all written — (applause) — we, have all written well. (Loud applause.) Gentlemen, I will go farther — I will not affect a modesty which would be out of place, and of which I am not conscious — we have each and all of us written beautifully, eloquently, and, what is more, chastely and correctly. (Loud and continued applause, mingled with the cries of hear, hear — and true, true.) It is possible that the publick may not have ascertained our merits. (Hear, hear.) It is probable that they never will. (Cries of no, no.) Be that as it may, gentlemen, you may be sure that the best way to make them see our merits, is to show them that those they are in the habit of admiring do not deserve admiration. (Hear, hear.) Of all things, let us attack youthful authors who happen to be successful. Those fellows whose books sell — they are the ones we must put down. Let us explode the false idea that American literature deserves encouragement. It is too much encouraged already!! We are destroying it by the attention we pay to it. To be sure, we have never been injured by excessive praise. You, Mr. Rosewater, are the author of several pieces in the Gazette.”

“Mere trifles!” said the dandy, carelessly.

“They were exquisite, Mr. Rosewater.”

“You are too kind,” replied Rosewater. “To be sure, they do say that they were not so very bad — but the publick never appreciated them.”

“Exactly what I say, Mr. Rosewater, exactly what I say. They were too good — too chaste — too — too — classick — too — too — ”

“They were exceedingly quiet” said Rosewater. “Indeed, too much so for the sort of people we have here. They were never understood.”

“Never,” said Capias.

“Never,” echoed Toadeater.

“Mr. Capias is another instance of the injustice and ignorance of the publick. Did not you also write a novel, Mr. Capias’?”

“Certainly,” said Toadeater. “I read the manuscript, and never did I peruse so brilliant, affecting and interesting a production — I could not wipe away the tears on my cheeks for the smiles on my lips.”

“Really, Toadeater,” cried Capias, “you are positively a flatterer. Nonsense, the thing was well enough, perhaps, but not so very — ”

“Nonsense back again, Mr. Capias. It was one of the finest works ever published.”

“But was it published?” asked Tweedledum.

“Why — the fact is — “ said Capias, reddening a little — you see — Mr. Tweedledum — the Harpers, as you know, have so little principle, that they publish only works which they think will sell. But to change the conversation, Mr. Bulldog, you have been more successful as a writer, have you not I”

“Why, the fact is, gentlemen,” said Bulldog, “I have no right to complain of the publick, for my writings would doubtless meet their approbation, but through the envy and jealousy — the stupidity and villany — “

”Why, Bulldog,” cried Rosewater, “upon my honour, I wish you would be a little calmer — you alarm me.”

“This author — this successful novelist — this here Mr. Thingummey — or Mr. what d’ye call him — was the editor of the Gazette, and — and — when I sent my pieces to his paper, he — he — ”

“Good heavens!” cried Toadeater, “you don’t say so?”

“Fact, by Jupiter — said they 1 had not sufficient interest cursed be my tribe, if I forgive him.”

“Well,” said Goosequill, the editor of the Bumble-bee, “I think the fellow full of fustian. He's a great quack.”

“A very great quack,” cried Toadeater.

“A plagiarist,” said Rosewater.

“Oh, altogether a plagiarist,” echoed Toadeater.

“Knows nothing whatever of mankind,” added Capias.

“Not the least grain,” echoed Toadeater; “that was exactly what I said, when I read his stupid book: ‘Not the least grain,’ says I, ‘about mankind,’ says I — those were my very words.”

“He is a very dangerous man to the literature of our country,” cried Goosequill, shaking his head; “we ought to put him down. His book has gone through three editions! Think of it! and here are we in statu quo.”

“Abominable!” cried Toadeater. “What a publick benefactor you would be, Mr. Goosequill, if you would show the publick what fools they are.”

“I will, with pleasure, if Bulldog will aid me.”

“My dear Goosequill, nothing would afford me more satisfaction.”

Give me your hand. If there is anything which makes my bile rise, it is the sight of a successful author. Faugh! asafœtida is nothing to it.” [column 2:]

“They affect me, my dear Bulldog, in the same way.”

“And me,” echoed Toadeater. “They make me feel just so, too.”

“And all of us,” cried the rest.

“Let us, then, enter into a league to put him down. Have you any presses at command, Mr. Bulldog.”

“I have three devoted to me, soul and body,” answered Bulldog: ‘The Cahawba Citizen,’

‘The Macdonough Democrat,’ and ‘The Southern Literary Passenger.’”

“I also,” said Toadeater, “have a press, which will publish anything I write without reading.”

“I have a hold on ‘The Hornet's Nest,’ “ said Rhubarb.

“My ‘Bumble-bee,’ gentlemen, shall be at your disposal,” cried Goosequill.

“I will attack him in doggerel,” said Tulip.

“I will review his book in ‘The Southern Literary Passenger,’” cried Bulldog, foaming at the mouth. “I will — I will — annihilate the scoundrel. I’ll teach him to reject my ———”

”My dear Bulldog,” said Rosewater, extending his finger so as to reach the breast of Mr. Bulldog, and pushing him, gently, farther off; “my dear Bulldog, you are too much excited — you make my head ache.”

“Mr. Bulldog is right,” cried Goosequill, “to feel a just and virtuous indignation against a fellow, who makes more money by trash, than we can by wisdom.”

“Perfectly right,” cried Toadeater.

“As for me,” said Capias, “I wish there could be a law, making it indictable for a publisher to publish such a stupid book.”

“And to compel them to publish such novels as yours, my dear Capias,” added Toadeater.

“Well, gentlemen,” cried Bulldog, “it is well for American literature, that such persons as we exist, in order to keep the pure well of English undefiled. If the publick will trust to us, they shall soon have a literature of their own. At present, they are so ridiculous as to cope with England. Such men as Paulding — ha! ha! ha! and Cooper. — (Loud laughter and hisses.) They have disgusted me, by praising their own writers. They buy their books, and injure them by excessive praise. Thank heaven, gentlemen, excessive praise has never injured our powers. — (Applause.) We have never grown in the hotbed of flattery. Neither wealth nor fame has waited on our immature efforts. We enjoy a laudable and healthy obscurity, from which we can secretly and safely direct our sneers against those more fortunate aspirants, whose genius, (where they have any,) is smothered in its infancy, under the dog-star of authorship. I trust, gentlemen, we shall succeed in making the path of literature so thorny, that no youthful foot will dare to tread it. By insult, sneers, misrepresentation and ridicule, let us keep all candidates off the arena, except such as are already too well known and established to yield to our laudable and patriotick co-operations; and even let us have a fling at such also, that we may derive celebrity and dignity, from warring with greater than ourselves. Let us raise a ‘hue and cry,’ the same that has been ever raised against popular authors, that literature is retrograding, that the publick are gulled, and that we — and such as we — are the only true criticks. You know, my friends, how easy it would be for us to go forth, at this instant, into the street, and create somewhat of a panick, by a bold cry of fire!’ ‘mad dog!’ or ‘yellow fever!’ We can do so as well by a cry of ‘corruption in literature!’ ‘successful trash!’ and ‘wit and talent neglected!’ Let us open in full pack upon successful books. Prate of Scott, Shakspeare, Milton and Homer, to the tyroes of a new country, and endeavour to attain that reputation for wisdom, which even an owl may beget by gravity, and a dunce by shaking his head. Particularly, undervalue your own country's resources, and deride her claims to equality. We shall have followers a plenty. We shall have troops of unsuccessful authors to cry ‘huzza,’ when we speak. We shall even gain over some sensible people, who are too apt to distrust their country, and to exaggerate the wonders of foreign climes. In the dark period of the old French revolution, the first step of those who intended to raise a riot, and perpetrate a massacre, was to go out, and themselves cry ‘riot’ and ‘murder.’ So, if we wish to advance stupid books to favour, we will first cry out against the prevalence and success of stupid books. I trust, hereafter, to find, gentlemen, that our arrows will be simultaneously directed toward any writer who wins favour from the publick. The moment his head is raised above the general level, let him have it. It always has been the fate of successful books, and it always will be. I myself slandered Paulding, till, at length, the fellow grew out of my reach. You know not how much a single arrow may do. A pigmy may wound a giant.”

Bulldog sat down, amid great applause.

“There has never been made such a speech,” said Toadeater, “since the days of Demosthenes.”

“Never,” said Capias.

“We’ll physick his book for him,” said Rhubarb, bitterly.

“I hate him,” said Bulldog, “because he rejected my articles.”

“And I,” said Counter, “because he writes such trash!”

“Horrible trash!” said Toadeater.

“Well, gentlemen,” said Tweedledum, fiercely, “what is the use of lying? You may have this, that, and the other cause of dislike against him, but they are all swallowed up, and merged in one.”

“What is it?” cried Capias.

“Ay, let us know what that one is,” echoed Toadeater.

“You know well enough, gentlemen, what's at the bottom of your hearts. You hate him — you will pursue him — you will sneer at him in the newspapers — slander and insult him in the reviews — laugh at him — scorn, deride, and strive to ruin him — because — he is successful.”

“Certainly,” said Toadeater.





In this parody/satire, the character of Bulldog is meant to be Poe. Fay was angry at Poe's harsh criticism of Fay's novel Norman Leslie. The parody is loosely based on Poe's satirical tale “Lion-izing.”

Under general editorial notes, the Mirror refers to this entry on page 327, at the bottom of column 3:

☞ Those who have read the notices of American books in a certain “southern” monthly, which is striving to gain notoriety by the loudness of its abuse, may find amusement in the sketch, in another page, entitled “The Successful Novel!” The “Southern Literary Messenger” knows, ☞ by experience! ☜ what it is to write a successless novel!



[S:0 - NYM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Poe Bookshelf - The Successful Novel (T. S. Fay)