Text: Alexander Hammond, “Poe’s ‘Lionizing’ and the Design of Tales of the Folio Club,” ESQ (Pullman, WA), vol. 18, 3rd quarter, 1972, pp. 154-165 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 154:]

Poe’s “Lionizing” and the
Design of Tales of the Folio Club

Alexander Hammond

It is an oft-made generalization that attack is a vital element of satire; in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Lionizing” (1835), a tale the author called a “satire properly speaking,” the objects of attack are “the rage for Lions and the facility of becoming one,” or so he described them in an 1836 letter to John P. Kennedy.(1) In a recent exchange of articles in Studies in Short Fiction, Richard P. Benton and G. R. Thompson argue that Poe’s satire contains allusions that damn at least two particular candidates for the title of lion, N. P. Willis and Bulwer-Lytton.(2) Adding to our knowledge of such influences on “Lionizing” as Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Bulwer’s “Too Handsome for Anything,” these critics convincingly establish analogues and sources for the tale in Willis’ 1835 correspondence in the New York Mirror, in the June 1827 number of the Edinburgh Review, and in Bulwer’s Pelham of 1828.

The present essay develops new sources for “Lionizing” that serve to clarify the dating, early textual history, and meaning of both its hypothetical 1832-33 form and its 1835 form. Primary among these are a popular magazine essay by Bulwer and Benjamin Disraeli’s first novel, Vivian Grey, from which Poe borrowed much of the erudition and phrasing as well as the basic storyline in his satire. The 1835 version of “Lionizing,” evidently like its earlier form, is a satiric imitation of Vivian Grey. Moreover, the satire contains internal clues revealing that Thomas Smith’s adventures constitute a quiz on Disraeli’s early literary career.(3) These findings significantly illuminate both the original function of “Lionizing” in the eleven-story version of “Tales of the Folio Club” as well as the role of the narrator in that collection.


We have Poe’s testimony for establishing the dating and context of the original composition of this satire. In a letter written to T. W. White on 20 July 1835, Poe stated that “Lionizing” was among the six “Tales of the Folio Club” that were submitted for judging to the Baltimore Saturday Visiter’s literary contest; the deadline for entries to that competition was 1 October 1833.(4) Since these stories were almost certainly a selection from the “Eleven Tales of the Arabesque” (the original title for “Tales of the Folio Club”) that Poe offered to the New-England Magazine the previous May (Letters, I, 53), some form of “Lionizing” was very probably complete by the spring of 1833. In his informal reconstruction of Poe’s Folio Club collection, T. O. Mabbott suggested that “Lionizing” may have been the contribution of the newest member of the club, who, it will be recalled, narrates the surviving introduction to its eleven-story version, has his tale voted worst among the evening’s offerings, steals the other ten manuscripts, and publishes the whole as an exposé.(5) As will be seen, the complex interrelationship of “Lionizing” and Vivian Grey confirms Mabbott’s insight.

The internal evidence for dating the composition of “Lionizing” is consistent with Poe’s testimony. With the exception of Willis’ letters to the Mirror in 1835 [page 155:] (to be discussed at the end of this essay), the known sources for the satire were all available to Poe by the spring of 1833. Thompson has shown how Thomas Smith’s behavior at social events echoes Lord Russelton’s lionizing in Bulwer’s 1828 novel Pelham,(6) and David K. Jackson has noted that the knowledge displayed by Delphinus Polyglot in the satire ultimately derives from Charles Anthon’s 1825 edition of J. Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary.(7) From Poe’s use of Bulwer’s writings, we can establish May 1832 with some certainty as the earliest that “Lionizing” could have been composed. In that month, J. & J. Harper of New York published Bulwer’s Conversations with an Ambitious Student in Ill Health: With Other Pieces; this collection included, in addition to the title article (serialized in the New Monthly Magazine from December 1830 to March 1832), “Monos and Diamonos” (New Monthly, May 1830), “A Manuscript Found in a Madhouse” and “Too Handsome for Anything” (both from the Literary Souvenir, 1828), and several miscellaneous essays. The editor’s preface represented the title article and, by implication, the remainder of the contents as reprintings of Bulwer’s popular contributions to the New Monthly during 1830 and 1831. This book, as George E. Woodberry first observed, plays a substantial role in the composition of “Lionizing” and other early Folio Club stories.(8)

Poe’s familiarity with its contents is unquestionable. Scholars have noted the probable influence of “Monos and Diamonos” on “Silence. A Fable” (part of the manuscript remains of the eleven-story Folio Club collection) and the parallel between the titles of Poe’s “MS. Found in a Bottle” (1833) and Bulwer’s “A Manuscript Found in a Madhouse.”(9) In his famous 1835 letter defending “Berenice,” Poe claimed that it was similar in kind to “the ‘M.S. found in a Madhouse’ and the ‘Monos and Diamonos’ of the London New Monthly . . . written by no less a man than Bulwer” (Letters, I, 58). Presumably Poe linked these stories together because both were included in the Harpers’ collection; and since “A Manuscript Found in a Madhouse” did not appear in the New Monthly, Poe must have drawn his information from the preface to that book. Poe’s acquaintance with the opinions advanced in “Conversations with an Ambitious Student in Ill Health” undoubtedly led him, as Benton suggests (pp. 243-244), to caricature Bulwer as the “human-perfectibility man” in “Lionizing” who quotes “Turgot, Price, Priestly, Condorcet, De Staël, and [himself in] the ‘Ambitious Student in rather ill health.’ “ The twisting of Bulwer’s title is apparently one of Poe’s jokes — the student in question is indeed in “rather ill health”: he dies at the end of the dialogue. Poe very probably borrowed this character’s name and part of his list of authors directly from “Conversations”: immediately after Bulwer’s student introduces the subject of “human perfectibility,” the narrator comments, “You have inclined, then, to the eloquent madness of Condorcet and De Staël!”(10)

From a later section of “Conversations,” Poe appropriated all of the learned topics attributed to another lion in his satire, the “writer on Ethics,” who “talked of Fire, Unity, and Atoms — Bi-part and Pre-existent soul — Affinity and Discord — Primitive Intelligence and Homoomeria.” Bulwer’s student offers precisely this list to illustrate the “jargon” of ancient sages: “the Pythagorean unity and Heraclitan fire to which that philosopher of wo reduced the origin of all things. And the ‘Homoomeria’ and primitive ‘intelligence’ of Anaxagoras; and the affinity and discord of Empedocles, and the atoms of Epicurus, and the bipart and pre-existent soul which was evoked by Plato” (p. 77). This evidence of Poe’s direct borrowing from Bulwer’s “Conversations,” coupled with the strong probability that his source was the Harpers’ text of 1832, circumstantially supports Woodberry’s contention that “Too Handsome for Anything” provided Poe with a model for “Lionizing.” [page 156:]

Benton correctly attacks the claims that “Lionizing” closely copies “Too Handsome for Anything,”(11) but their many similarities do suggest, I feel, that Poe casually appropriated his general structure and style from Bulwer’s story, in all probability for reasons of no more significance than convenience — Bulwer’s amusing, trivial satire on society’s responses to male beauty happened to be included in the Harpers’ collection, where Poe evidently saw in it techniques that would serve to more purpose in one of his own Folio Club stories. Certainly the surface structure of “Lionizing” has a recognizable antecedent in “Too Handsome for Anything,” where brief, rapidly paced scenes, rendered primarily in dialogue, display the reactions of various alazons to the central character, a satiric victim alternately petted and condemned because of his extraordinary beauty. “Lionizing,” which shares a duel and a reference to Almack’s with this sketch, is similarly organized around its hero’s most prominent feature. Poe evidently read Bulwer’s satire carefully, for the phrases “A thousand pounds!” and “A thousand devils!” (p. 194) from it are directly echoed in “Lionizing.” And Poe’s use of ordinal numbers to designate the speakers for the final group scene in his satire duplicates a device in “Too Handsome for Anything,” where the following discussion occurs: “. . . ‘Never marry a beauty,’ said a third; . . . ‘Will have so many mistresses,’ said a fourth; — ‘Make you perpetually jealous,’ said a fifth; — ‘Spend your fortune,’ said a sixth; — ‘And break your heart,’ said a seventh” (p. 192).

As the passage above suggests, it is to Bulwer’s mannered style that “Lionizing” owes its greatest debt. I quote below from a scene involving Bulwer’s hero at an army riding school:

“He is a d—d ass!” said Cornet Horsephiz, who was very ugly; “A horrid puppy!” said Lieutenant St. Squintem, who was still uglier; “If he does not ride better, he will disgrace the regiment!” said Captain Rivalhate, who was very good-looking; “If he does not ride better, we will cut him!” said Colonel Everdrill, who was a wonderful martinet; “I say, Mr. Bumpemwell, (to the riding-master), make that youngster ride less like a miller’s sack.”

“Pooh, sir, he will never ride better.”

“And why the d—l will he not?”

“Bless you, Colonel, he is a great deal too handsome for a cavalry officer!”

“True!” said Cornet Horsephiz.

“Very true!” said Lieutenant St. Squintem.

“We must cut him!” said the Colonel.

And Mr. Ferdinand Fitzroy was accordingly cut.

Our hero was a youth of susceptibility — he quitted the ______ Regiment and challenged the Colonel. The Colonel was killed!

“What a terrible blackguard is Mr. Ferdinand Fitzroy!” said the Colonel’s relations.

“Very true!” said the world. (pp. 190-191)

The staccato rhythm, the use of type-names and repetition, and particularly the method of orchestrating dialogue here all carry over into “Lionizing.” If one compares this scene with the treatment of Thomas Smith’s visit to Almack’s in “Lionizing,” the conclusion that Poe learned his technique from Bulwer is inescapable.

To summarize briefly, Poe evidently had access to the Harpers’ collection when he was composing Folio Club stories like “MS. Found in a Bottle” and “Silence.” For “Lionizing,” Poe borrowed from pedantic displays of erudition in “Conversations with an Ambitious Student” to create two of his characters, the human-perfectibility man (a satiric portrait of Bulwer himself) and the writer on Ethics. From the example of “Too Handsome for Anything,” he learned the stylistic and structural techniques that, in a more compressed and mannered form, characterize his satire. While Poe could conceivably have seen these pieces in their separate printings, their presence together in the Harpers’ collection more reasonably accounts for his use [page 157:] of them and thus serves to date the composition of “Lionizing” sometime between May 1832 and the spring of 1833.


Like the Harpers’ collection, Vivian Grey figures in the composition of several tales commonly identified as Folio Club stories. From its last three volumes (the sequel Disraeli added in 1827), Poe adapted the main scene in “King Pest”(12) and borrowed the knowledge of wines displayed in “Bon-Bon.”(13) Poe gives us an indirect glimpse at his opinion of Disraeli’s novel in “Loss of Breath. A Tale à la Blackwood,” in which the breathless hero, hanging from the end of a rope, gains the satirically profound ability to perceive “beauties in Vivian Grey — more than beauties in Vivian Grey — profundity in Vivian Grey — genius in Vivian Grey — everything in Vivian Grey.”(14) From the context, Poe’s irony is obvious. The first two volumes of Vivian Grey, which formed the whole of the work as originally published in 1826, are the self-contained story of the title character’s swift rise and fall in the world of British politics. Poe clearly had these particular volumes open before him while composing “Lionizing”: among the gathering of lions in that satire, three owe their learning directly to Vivian Grey.

Poe’s “modern Platonist,” who quotes “Porphyry, Iamblichus, Plotinus, Proclus, Hierocles, Maximus Tyrius, and Syrianus,” duplicates a list of authors that Vivian requests from his father to augment his study of Plato: “Father! I wish to make myself the master of the later Platonists. I want Plotinus, and Porphyry, and Iamblichus, and Syrianus, and Maximus Tyrius, and Proclus, and Hierocles, and Sallustius, and Damascius.”(15) The knowledge displayed by “the President of Fum-Fudge University,” who “said that the moon was called Bendis in Thrace, Bubastis in Egypt, Dian in Rome, and Artemis in Greece,” comes from Vivian’s soliloquy to the moon in volume II of the novel: “Here to thee, Queen of the Night! . . . Or Bendis, as they hailed you in rugged Thrace; or Bubastis, as they howled to you in mysterious Egypt; or Dian, as they sacrificed to you in gorgeous Rome; or Artemis, as they sighed to you on the bright plains of ever glorious Greece!” (II, 58). And Poe’s “Fricassée from the Rocher de Cancale,” who “mentioned Latour, Markbrunnen and Mareschino [sic] — Muriton of red tongue and Cauliflowers with Velouté sauce — veal à la St. Menehoult, Marinade à la St. Florentin, and orange jellies en mosaïques,” owes his elegant list of food and drink to Disraeli’s digression on eating later in the same volume: “What a dull dinner! I have eaten everything: . . . neck of veal à la Ste. Menehoult — marinade of chicken à la St. Florentin — muriton of red tongue, with spinach — six quails — two dishes of kale, merely with plain butter — half a dozen orange jellies, en mosaïques — cauliflowers with velouté sauce . . . a bottle of Markebrunnen, a pint of Latour, and a pint of Maraschino” (II, 183). By an odd coincidence, Poe again drew on Vivian Grey in his 1845 revision of “Lionizing” when he added “Bibulus O’Bumper” to this cast of lions. The wines mentioned by this character were undoubtedly taken directly from “Bon-Bon,” but Poe’s original source for them was the sequel to Vivian Grey.(16) In these borrowings, Poe used the novel, as he had Bulwer’s “Conversations,” for little more than a convenient reference work. Other elements of “Lionizing,” however, bear a more complex relationship to Vivian Grey.

Central to this relationship is Thomas Smith’s history, which Poe modeled after Vivian Grey’s adventures and which frequently echoes Disraeli’s phrasing. Like “Lionizing,” Vivian Grey begins with the precocious childhood and education of its central character. When the novel opens, Vivian is in revolt against the frills and [page 158:] curls impressed on him by his mother; he “actually insisted upon being — breeched!” (I, 4). The narrator refers to him, with only mild irony, as a “young genius” (I, 11), his scholarly father gives him “a glass of claret per diem” (I, 7), and much of his education, with brief interludes at boarding schools, takes place at home. There he plunges into the classics and discovers Plato. His father, in response to this interest, gives him a volume of Plotinus. Vivian’s reading eventually leads him to a more practical subject, “THE STUDY OF POLITICS” (I, 53), and the young commoner thereby discovers his life’s purpose — to enter politics, to exercise power by manipulating the wealthy and titled who lack his wit, and thus to become “a great man.” Vivian chooses this path over law because “to be a great lawyer, I must give up my chance of being a great man” (I, 55). Smith’s childhood is a compressed version of Vivian’s. The precocious Smith, called a “genius” by his mother, is given a treatise on Nosology by his father, which he masters along with other authorities on the subject before he is “breeched.” Every morning he takes “a dram or two.” His studies at home lead him to conclude that, “provided a man has a nose sufficiently big, he might, by merely following it, arrive at a Lionship.” Smith’s choice of goal, if not means, is directly equivalent to Vivian’s, for in Poe’s satire to own a “Lionship” is to be a “great man”; as Smith announces at the beginning of the tale “I AM — that is to say, I was, a great man.”

When he is approximately eighteen, Vivian has several extended interviews with his father. In the earliest, his father advises him, “Endeavor to discover, when you are alone, what are the chief objects of your existence in this world” (I, 45-46). After Vivian has found his life’s purpose, his father again offers advice: “beware of endeavoring to be a great man in a hurry” (I, 61). Vivian ignores this, decides against attending Oxford, and launches himself into the world of politics. Poe satirically compresses these interviews in “Lionizing.” When Smith comes of age, his father calls him into his study and asks, “My son . . . what is the chief end of your existence?” In reply, Smith begins to pontificate on Nosology, but his father interrupts, declares his education complete, and kicks him out to “scuffle” for himself. Smith, undismayed, feels the “divine afflatus” and writes a pamphlet on Nosology. Disraeli employs this singular phrase to describe Vivian’s opinion of Burke: “nor did he deny the inspiration of Demosthenes, because he recognized in Burke the divine afflatus” (I, 48).

After leaving home, Smith and Vivian both enjoy early success in their chosen careers, are much admired for their “cleverness,” and fail prematurely; their adventures end in precisely similar ways, with duels and final interviews with their respective fathers. At a dinner hosted by his father, Vivian begins his career by ingratiating himself with the Marquess of Carabas, a rich but stupid politician. This scene may have been Poe’s source for the gathering of lions hosted by His Royal Highness of Touch-me-not, the equivalent of the Marquess in “Lionizing,” as well as for the name of his central character. The party in Vivian Grey includes a Thomas Smith:

The guests were not numerous. A regius professor of Greek; an officer just escaped from Sockatoo; a man of science, and two M.P.’s with his Lordship [the Marquess of Carabas]; the host, and Mr. Vivian Grey, constituted the party. Oh, no! there were two others. There was a Mr. John Brown, a fashionable poet, and who, ashamed of his own name, published his melodies under the more euphonious and romantic title of “Clarence Devonshire,” and there was a Mr. Thomas Smith, a fashionable novelist; — that is to say, a person who occasionally publishes three volumes, one-half of which contain the adventures of a young gentleman in the country; and the other volume and a-half, the adventures of the same young gentleman in the metropolis. (I, 73-74)

The repeated “there was” is the same device that Poe uses to introduce guests at [page 159:] the party of lions in his story, and each of Disraeli’s characters, again like Poe’s lions, arrives with a quota of information appropriate to his profession and delivers it in turn when the evening’s conversation begins. Vivian wins over the Marquess by producing wholly fabricated quotations from Bolingbroke; thereafter, he is constantly in attendance on the politician, who habitually refers to him as a “monstrous clever young man” (I, 141, 191, et passim).

Similarly, Poe’s Smith arrives at his lionship by winning over His Royal Highness of Touch-me-not, who initially thinks Smith and his nose “Abominable!” But he invites Smith to a dinner party (apparently after reading his pamphlet); there, in competition with other lions who ride specialized hobby horses, Smith creates a sensation with his talk of the “Science of Noses.” His Royal Highness thereupon finds him a “Marvellous clever young man!” The next morning, the Duchess of Bless-my-soul, whose various encounters with Smith have no obvious equivalent in Vivian Grey, invites him to Almack’s, where his spectacular entrance marks the apex of his lionizing career. The high point of Vivian’s social success occurs at a gathering well-attended by the notables of the day, not, however, at Almack’s, but at the country estate of the Marquess (I, 182 ff.). Smith’s brief reign as lion of the day ends when he shoots off a rival’s nose in a duel; he then returns home to seek advice of his father, who sagely points out the cause of his failure. Vivian’s equally brief career in politics collapses when the titular leader of his new political party, spurred on by the machinations of the Marquess’ daughter-in-law, challenges him to a duel. Vivian accidently kills his opponent and promptly falls into a coma. The novel ends when Vivian awakens to have a final interview with his father, who, in the great tradition of parents in English novels, advises his son to travel on the Continent to regain his health.

If Poe found his stylistic technique in Bulwer’s “Too Handsome for Anything,” he found his storyline in Disraeli’s Vivian Grey, clearly the major source behind “Lionizing.” Some of Poe’s borrowings — for example, his use of Disraeli’s casual displays of erudition to create the President of Fum-Fudge University — are largely mechanical. But the phrasing, the treatment of Smith’s childhood, the role of the hero’s father, and the final duel in “Lionizing” so obviously parallel the novel that one must conclude Poe designed it to be recognized as a satiric imitation of Vivian Grey.


The object of this satire was not, I think, simply to create a burlesque version of Vivian Grey; rather the imitation served as a vehicle for a satiric attack on Disraeli and the purposes for which, in Poe’s opinion, he composed this novel. The character of Thomas Smith is a quiz on Disraeli, who, Poe satirically implies, acted out in a literary sphere the same pattern of aggressive self-assertion as did Vivian in a political one. Central to understanding this quiz — and, as will be seen, the function of “Lionizing” in “Tales of the Folio Club” — is a knowledge of Disraeli’s early literary career and in particular of the spectacular manner in which his first novel was published.

Disraeli’s apparent motives for composing and publishing Vivian Grey were well known to readers of the British magazines during the late 1820’s.(17) As critics recognized soon after the novel was published, Vivian’s history was on one level simply scantily disguised autobiography that was primarily interesting because it contained a satiric attack on the powerful London publisher John Murray. In a more general sense, however, the work was specifically designed to fit into the newly popular genre of Silver Fork novels (Thomas Smith in Vivian Grey writes [page 160:] such novels of fashion, suggesting that Poe’s quiz may spring from a germ planted by Disraeli himself in what amounts to an ironic self-portrait). Henry Colburn, a London publisher who more or less specialized in this kind of novel,(18) accepted the book and had it widely puffed in the magazines before its publication as “a sort of Don Juan in prose” in which “nearly all the individuals at present figuring in fashionable society are made to flourish, with different degrees of honour” — New Monthly, 18 (1 April 1826), 173. Deliberately exploiting the anonymity of the author, Colburn intimated that he was a young man of high social standing who, because of the nature of the novel, understandably wished to remain anonymous. At the time, of course, Disraeli was the obscure son of a Jewish scholar with no claims whatsoever to social standing or inside knowledge of fashionable society.

Thanks to Colburn’s advance publicity, the novel was an immediate popular success when it appeared in April 1826, and efforts to solve the mystery of the author’s identity became a cause célèbre in London society. Magazines under Colburn’s control quickly obliged with reviews that echoed this speculation. His Star Chamber in particular spurred on the curiosity about the identity of the author and the various characters in the novel with a “Key to Vivian Grey.”(19) The novel quickly went into a second edition, and Harpers in New York issued a pirated version before the year was out. Interest was still high in 1827, when Carey and Lea in Philadelphia brought out the novel with Disraeli’s sequel and an expanded version of the Star Chamber’s “Key to Vivian Grey” as a pamphlet. This pamphlet, which claimed to reprint the tenth London edition, perpetuated the fiction that the author’s identity was still a mystery. Colburn had done his work well, for even as late as August 1827 the Boston Lyceum was debating the authorship of Vivian Grey.

But the British had not been so lax. By June 1826, Disraeli had been discovered, and the magazine critics, justifiably feeling deceived by Colburn’s publicity, unleashed scathing attacks on the book and its young author. A few samples from these reviews, which provided retrospective histories of Vivian Grey’s publication and its initial reception, will illustrate the basis of Poe’s characterization of Disraeli in “Lionizing.” The Literary Magnet devoted two long articles to the book; the first, entitled “Nuisances of the Press” —2 ( July 1826), 1-6 — argued that the young Disraeli, ambitious for notoriety, employed means that “may well surprise those who do not consider it worth their while to sacrifice their characters as gentlemen, and their possible future reputation as authors, for the sake of a little factitious popularity — a popularity acquired by the meanest and most revolting artifices, and the total disregard of all honourable feeling; and sustained (until the cheat is discovered and exposed) by . . . elaborate and ingeniously-devised newspaper panegyrics.” In “Noctes Ambrosianae,” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine — 10 ( July 1826), 98 — damned Colburn for “fastening the authorship on various gentlemen, either by name or innuendo . . . , knowing all the while that the writer is an obscure person, for whom nobody cares a straw.” And the Monthly Magazine — 2 (August 1826), 154-160 — began its review, “The latest performance of the novel press is ‘Vivian Grey,’ immeasurably the most impudent of all feeble things, and of impudent things the most feeble; begot in puppyism, conceived in pertness, and born in puffing.” The book could have been written by “a collector of intelligence in servants’-halls and billiard-rooms” who had “the graces of a tavern-waiter, and the knowledge of a disbanded butler.” The reviewer concluded, ironically in light of later events, “Of the individual in question we personally know nothing; the miserable efforts he has made to force himself into the public talk have failed, and we shall probably never have to mention his name again[;] . . . his only chance of [page 161:] escaping perpetual burlesque, is . . . sinking suddenly and finally into total oblivion.”

Disraeli, horrified by these attacks, fled England. He did, of course, continue writing novels and by the time Poe began composing “Lionizing” had emerged from the oblivion to which the Monthly consigned him to become one of London’s most flamboyant dandies, a friend to Bulwer, and a favorite in Lady Blessington’s circle. Poe evidently followed the reception of Vivian Grey in the British magazines; he may also have encountered Disraeli’s detailed re-enactment of the controversy in Contarini Fleming. A Psychological Auto-Biography (London and New York, 1832).(20) Whatever his source of information, Poe certainly knew Disraeli’s early career well enough to design “Lionizing” as an elaborate quiz on the author.

The first clue in this quiz is simply Smith’s large nose, which constitutes a crude but obvious allusion to the fact that Disraeli was a Jew. It is Smith’s role as author, however, that confirms he is a caricature of Disraeli and not simply a comic equivalent for Vivian Grey. When he has just come of age, Smith writes a pamphlet on Nosology as the first step in his quest for a lionship; as we have seen, the British critics accused the young Disraeli of harboring identical motives by composing Vivian Grey to gain “a little factitious popularity” and “to force himself into the public talk.” The pamphlet, like the novel, is immediately successful and widely noticed in British magazines:

All Fum-Fudge was in an uproar.

‘Wonderful genius!’ — said the Quarterly.

‘Superb physiologist!’ — said the New Monthly.

‘Fine writer!’ — said the Edinburgh.

‘Great man!’ — said Blackwood.

Evidently Smith’s pamphlet is also published anonymously, for it too generates speculation about the identity of its author, like Disraeli a virtual unknown at the time:

Who can he be?’ — said Mrs. Bas-Bleu.

What can he be?’ — said the big Miss Bas-Bleu.

Where can he be?’ — said little Miss Bas-Bleu.

The eager questions of the Bas-Bleus (that is, blue stockings) are clearly references to the much-publicized mystery surrounding the authorship of Vivian Grey, for the very opening of “Lionizing” contains a similar, but more obvious allusion to it. Smith begins his story by announcing his name and birthplace as if revealing a well-kept secret: “I AM — that is to say — I was, a great man. But I am neither the author of Junius, nor the man in the mask — for my name is Thomas Smith, and I was born some-where in the city of Fum-Fudge.” The references to Junius, the pseudonym of an eighteenth-century political satirist, and to the man in the (iron) mask, the prisoner of state in the court of Louis XIV, both point to famous, and yet unsolved, mysteries of identity. This pattern of allusions clearly establishes that Smith and his pamphlet are satiric fictions for Disraeli and Vivian Grey.

The remainder of Poe’s satire functions as a quiz on Disraeli’s later success as a social lion in the early 1830’s. Following the uproar occasioned by his pamphlet, Smith takes rooms on Jermyn street, displays his nose and wit about town, and is soon lionized by the Duchess of Bless-my-soul (as Benton points out, an obvious pun on Lady Blessington’s name).(21) Early in 1832, Disraeli similarly assumed residence in the heart of fashionable London just off Jermyn street and established himself, a dandy resplendent in foppish clothes, in Lady Blessington’s circle (Blake, pp. 73 ff.). The Duchess of Bless-my-soul has the dubious honor of being the most ardent admirer of Smith’s nose in “Lionizing”; indeed, her enthusiastic response [page 162:] is the source of much of Poe’s bawdy word-play equating nose and penis in the satire. Since Lady Blessington was notorious for her open affair with Count D’Orsay, her own son-in-law by an extraordinary arrangement of her husband’s will, the Duchess’ attitude toward noses implies that Poe was satirically alluding to this aspect of her reputation. In such a context, the Duchess’ fascination with Smith’s nose contains the comic suggestion that Disraeli was admitted into the famous Lady Blessington’s favor for rather more earthy reasons than his conversational brilliance.

Thus the recognition that Smith is a deliberate caricature of Disraeli leads to a self-consistent reading of the 1835 text of “Lionizing.” Its overall design, which is recognizably patterned at the beginning and end on Vivian Grey, satirically conflates Disraeli’s early career with Vivian Grey’s and thus the author’s character with that of his vain, facile, aggressive hero (Disraeli coincidentally protested against critics who implied such a connection in the beginning of his 1827 sequel to this novel). Just as the British critics had, Poe’s quiz damns Disraeli as an upstart poseur and his intentions in writing Vivian Grey as a self-serving attempt to force himself into the public eye. And it casts delightfully malicious suspicions over the basis of Disraeli’s later success in Lady Blessington’s circle. This reading is still partial, however, for the full ironic complexity of “Lionizing” — and finally the explanation for its dual structure as both a quiz on Disraeli and an imitation of Vivian Grey — emerges only when the satire is read as part of “Tales of the Folio Club.”


In that context, “Lionizing” almost certainly served as the contribution from the newest Folio Club member, the disgruntled editor of the collection whose tale receives the vote as worst in the literary competition. The epigraph to the Folio Club introduction — “There is a Machiavelian plot / Though every nare olfact it not.”(22) — directly links its narrator with “Lionizing.” Noses are, of course, the speciality of Thomas Smith in that story, and the narrator of the introduction, as the epigraph reveals, shares this hobby-horse, for he “olfacts” a plot by the Folio Club “to abolish Literature, subvert the Press, and overturn the Government of Nouns and Pronouns.” After these opening remarks, the narrator makes the following comment: “I find, upon reference to the records, that the Folio Club was organized as such on the ______ day of ______ in the year ______. I like to begin with the beginning, and have a partiality for dates” (Works, II, xxxvi). “Lionizing” and, of course, Vivian Grey “begin with the beginning” with the birth and early childhood of their heroes. Moreover, this passage contains a typographical joke (the narrator with a “partiality for dates” comically provides the reader with none whatsoever) that Poe lifted from Vivian Grey, where the authorial persona opens a chapter headed “The Vivian Papers” as follows: “Mr. Colburn insists, that this is the only title, under which I can possibly publish the letters, which Vivian Grey received on the ______ day of ______, 18__. I love to be particular in dates” (II, 98). By having the newest club member share an interest in dates and chronological beginnings with Disraeli, Poe was providing, I think, an initial clue to his identity. When one recognizes that this figure’s problems with the Folio Club constitute a comic version of Disraeli’s experience in publishing Vivian Grey, the conclusion that he would contribute “Lionizing” is inescapable.

Poe’s plans for this never-published book called for commentary by the club members after each story was read; this commentary was to be, in Poe’s words, a “burlesque upon criticism” (Letters, I, 53, 104). Obviously the criticism following the newest member’s contribution must have reflected the negative judgment of [page 163:] the club’s final vote against it. “Lionizing” was clearly designed to satisfy the particular demands of this role. Like the young Disraeli, the newest member of the Folio Club would attempt to enter the current literary establishment, for which the club is an extended metaphor, by contributing an autobiographical narrative that displays his own egotism and ambitions (that is, the precise functional equivalent of Vivian Grey). It is for this purpose, then, that “Lionizing” duplicates the overall pattern of Vivian Grey while simultaneously providing a quiz that identifies Smith — and by extension the club member who presents this first-person narrative — as a caricature of Disraeli. The parallel with Disraeli’s first venture into fiction would be complete when “Lionizing” was criticized as the worst tale read during the meeting. Indeed, Poe may well have modeled this criticism directly upon the scathing reviews unleashed at Vivian Grey once its author was discovered. Within this context, the pamphlet written by the big-nosed Smith would function both as an emblem for the autobiographical Vivian Grey and as an internal image of “Lionizing” itself, for that story would similarly constitute a “pamphlet on Noseology” as presented to the Folio Club by its author. The reception of “Lionizing” would, of course, be the ironic obverse of the praise that greets Smith’s pamphlet. And as a story within a story, Thomas Smith’s abrupt fall from his lionship would ironically foreshadow its author’s own failure to maintain his position within the gathering of lions calling itself the Folio Club. This in turn would recreate a biographical irony implicit in the plot of Vivian Grey, for in the premature failure of Vivian’s schemes Disraeli unwittingly anticipated the nose dive — if one will pardon the expression — that his own literary reputation suffered once the novel was published.

It is evident, then, that “Lionizing” was designed as the capstone(23) of the eleven-story version of “Tales of the Folio Club,” where it would have occasioned the climax for Poe’s “burlesque upon criticism.” Its intricate organization demonstrates both the careful craftsmanship that Poe lavished upon his first collection of short stories and the extent to which, in this case at least, the individual tales were linked to its total framework. But since “Tales of the Folio Club” never appeared as a whole, the reading of “Lionizing” advanced here ultimately serves to illuminate the genesis of the satire as we encounter it in its first printing. By publishing it in isolation from its original context, Poe implicitly acknowledged that his quiz, heavily rooted though it was in historical particulars, also functioned autonomously as a satire on “the rage for Lions and the facility of becoming one.”

Indeed, Poe had good reasons for selecting “Lionizing” from among his unpublished stories to submit to the Messenger in the spring of 1835. His financial situation was desperate. The Messenger constituted his only regular outlet for fiction, and although his first contributions — “Berenice” (March 1835) and “Morella” (April 1835) — had been published, James Heath, the magazine’s first editor, had objected to the “German horror in his subject” in editorial comments on both tales.(24) “Lionizing” was obviously a strategic choice for Poe’s third submission, and it was greeted with a sigh of relief from an editor who found “Germanism” distasteful: “ ‘Lionizing,’ by Mr. Poe, is an inimitable piece of wit and satire: and the man must be far gone in melancholic humor, whose risibility is not moved by this tale. Although the scene of the story is laid in the foreign city of ‘Fum-Fudge,’ the disposition which it satirizes is often displayed in the cities of this country — even in our own community.”(25)

As Benton has convincingly demonstrated, readers in 1835 familiar with the Mirror may well have read the satire as a quiz on N. P. Willis’ recent, self-publicized [page 164:] lionizing with Lady Blessington and her circle in London. While the evidence developed here shows that the Messenger text of “Lionizing” springs from other sources, there is a possibility that Poe made last-minute revisions to take advantage of Willis’ activities. Hypothetically, the character of the Duchess of Bless-my-soul, the necessary element in a “quiz on Willis,” could have been a late interpolation into a story not otherwise significantly altered. (Thompson [p. 96] has shown how Poe made a similar emendation in the 1845 version of the satire, widening its allusiveness to include the famous 1806 duel between Thomas Moore and Francis Jeffrey at Chalk Farm.) On the other hand, the role played by the Duchess of Bless-my-soul is consistent with a reading of “Lionizing” as a quiz on Disraeli, and it seems unlikely that Poe would make such an addition for the specific purpose of quizzing Willis without also changing other details (for example, the fact that Smith is born and raised in London) to strengthen the correspondence with the traveling American.

While the text of this quiz on Disraeli was probably not revised in any significant fashion in 1835, the apparent parallels with Willis’ London activities are not, I feel, merely accidental. Heath’s editorial comment on “Lionizing” suggests that Poe intimated his satire did indeed apply to an American author when he submitted it to the Messenger. And as Benton notes, Poe was apparently prompting readers to see the story as a quiz on Willis and Lady Blessington in his review of Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi; this review, which appeared in the same number of the Messenger as “Lionizing,” refers to Lady Blessington by name and protests, “The business of female education with us, is not to qualify a woman to be the head of a literary coterie, nor to figure in the journal of a traveling cox comb [that is, N. P. Willis].”(26) Evidently Poe saw in Willis’ Mirror letters a timely opportunity for submitting his satire, recognizing that readers unfamiliar with Disraeli and Vivian Grey would nevertheless see the latest of Lady Blessington’s lions in his archetypal hero.

University of California, Los Angeles



1.  The Letters of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. John Ward Ostrom, rev. ed. with suppl. (New York: Gordian Press, 1966), I, 84. Hereafter cited as Letters.

2.  Benton, “Poe’s ‘Lionizing’: A Quiz on Willis and Lady Blessington,” SSF, 5 (1968), 239-244; Thompson, “On the Nose — Further Speculation on the Sources and Meaning of Poe’s ‘Lionizing,’” SSF, 6 (1968), 94-96; and Benton, “Reply to Professor Thompson,” 97. I gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness here to Professor Benton’s generous advice and valuable criticism.

3.  The name of Poe’s hero changes to Robert Jones in the 1845 version of this satire. My discussion is limited to the earliest text of “Lionizing,” Southern Literary Messenger, 1 (May 1835), 515-516, reprinted in The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison (1st pub. 1902; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), II, 323-328. Hereafter cited as Works. All quotations from “Lionizing” follow the 1835 text. Because of the story’s brevity, page references to it have been omitted. As will be seen, the conclusions of this essay are not necessarily inconsistent with Benton’s argument that “Lionizing,” in its 1835 printing, functioned as a quiz on Willis and Lady Blessington. A satire directed at one lion, Poe evidently realized, was easily pressed into service as an attack on another.

4.  See Letters, I, 65; and John C. French, “Poe and Baltimore Saturday Visiter,” Maryland Historical Magazine, 33 (1918), 259.

5.  Mabbott, “On Poe’s ‘Tales of the Folio Club,’” Sewanee Review, 36 (1928), 176. For Poe’s descriptions of the Folio Club design, see Letters, I, 53, 103-104; the introduction to the eleven-story version is reproduced in Works, II, xxxvi-xxxix. [page 165:]

6.  Thompson, 95. This article suggests other possible borrowings from Pelham; in most cases, I feel Vivian Grey was Poe’s more immediate source. For a supplement to Thompson’s discussion of the literary antecedents to Poe’s use of noses as a satiric device, see Ruth Hudson’s “Poe’s Craftsmanship in the Short Story,” Diss. University of Virginia (1935), pp. 330-355, which documents numerous examples of satires on noses in British magazines of the 1820’s and 1830’s.

7.  “ ‘Some Ancient Greek Authors,’ A Work of E. A. Poe,” Notes & Queries, 166 (1934), 368.

8.  Edgar Allan Poe (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1885), p. 85. Also see James Southall Wilson, “The Devil Was In It,” American Mercury, 24 (1931), 217-219, and Hudson, pp. 111, 257, 264. I have followed Miss Hudson’s meticulous scholarship in discussing Bulwer’s 1832 collection.

9.  Killis Campbell, The Mind of Poe and Other Studies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1933), pp. 162-163, and Clark Griffith, “Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ and the English Romantics,” University of Toronto Quarterly, 24 (1954), 13.

10.  Conversations with an Ambitious Student in Ill Health: With Other Pieces (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1832), p. 15. Future citations from items in this collection are made parenthetically in the text.

11.  “Poe’s ‘Lionizing,’ ” p. 244; also see Woodberry, p. 85, and Wilson, p. 218.

12.  Ruth Hudson, “Poe and Disraeli,” American Literature, 8 (1937), 402-416.

13.  Compare ‘Bon-Bon,” Southern Literary Messenger, 1 (August 1835), in Works, II, 350, and Vivian Grey, 5 vols. (London: Henry Colburn, 1826-1827), V, 7-8. Poe could have used American editions of the novel published by Harpers or Carey and Lea. The reader should note that Disraeli’s later revisions delete a number of passages that Poe borrowed from the original version of Vivian Grey.

14.  Works, II, 359. This scene is deleted from the 1845 version of the tale.

15.  Vivian Grey, I, 42. Future citations to this work are made parenthetically in the text.

16.  See footnote 13. In their 1845 printings, this wine list disappears from “Bon-Bon” and appears in “Lionizing” (“Some Passages in the Life of a Lion”); consult Works, II, 39, 350. In addition to Bon-Bon’s wines, Bibulus O’Bumper also gains Fortunato’s comic ability to distinguish sherry from Amontillado.

17.  I follow the detailed accounts of the composition, publication, and reception of Vivian Grey given in B. R. Jerman, The Young Disraeli (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1960), pp. 45-171, and Robert Blake, Disraeli (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode Ltd., 1966), pp. 23-51. Unless otherwise specified, my citations may be traced by reference to these studies.

18.  For an overview of Colburn’s publicity methods and his relationship to the Silver Fork school, see Matthew Whiting Rosa, The Silver Fork School: Novels of Fashion Preceding Vanity Fair (New York: Columbia Univ. Studies, 1936).

19.  Jerman, p. 60, n. 34. The original “Key” — reprinted in Key to Vivian Grey (London, 1827), pp. 23-25 — mentioned Lord Glengall, Lord Normandy, Robert Plumer Ward, and Theodore Hook as among those who had been wrongly identified as the book’s author, thus advancing their candidacy even while denying it.

20.  Contarini Fleming (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1832), I, 136-163. Poe probably knew this book, since it was evidently the source for his subtitle to the first printed version of “Silence”: “Siope — A Fable (In the manner of the Psychological Autobiographists).”

21.  “Poe’s ‘Lionizing,’ ” p. 239. Poe may well have had comic intentions in linking the Duchess to Almack’s, for that institution catered to a much stuffier, and more visibly respectable, circle than Lady Blessington commanded.

22.  The epigraph is misprinted in Works, II, xxxvi; see Claude Richard, “Poe and the Yankee Hero . . . ,” Mississippi Quarterly, 21 (1968), 109.

23.  The newest member would almost certainly have read his story last, where, grouped with the criticism and vote against it and the final theft of the manuscripts, it would provide a strong climax for the Folio Club framework.

24.  SLM, 1 (March 1835), 387, and 1 (April 1835), 460.

25.  SLM, 1 (May 1835), 531. While the Messenger changes editors with the May number, in my judgment Heath is responsible for the editorial commentary at the end of that issue.

26.  Quoted by Benton in “Poe’s ‘Lionizing,’ “ p. 242.




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[S:1 - ESQ 1972] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Poe’s “Lionizing’ and the Design of Tales of the Folio Club (A. Hammond)