Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott, “Poe and the Philadelphia Irish Citizen,” Journal of the American Irish Historical Society, vol. XXIX, 1931, pp. 121-131


[page 122:]



Among the minor writings of Edgar Poe are several references to Daniel O’Connell which might be thought from their unimportant character to show nothing more, despite Poe’s ancestral connections with Ireland, than a normal interest in a figure very much in the world’s eyes in the forties. But the two references that particularly come to my mind, in the tale Diddling, and in the third of the series of news letters to the Columbia Spy,(1) indicate a special interest in 1843 and 1844, and I believe that this is a reflection of the interests of some of Poe’s associates in Philadelphia in the two rather little understood years of his life named. Unhappily, although the evidence is convincing that some further light on the poet might be thrown by the discovery of a file of the Philadelphia Irish Citizen, no actual copy of the newspaper is known to survive. But since there is a certain amount of information to be found in the files of other periodicals of the period, and this scattered, it seems worth while to gather in one article all of this information, which includes a story attributed to Poe, though pretty surely only a burlesque of his style by Thomas Dunn English. Some of this has of course been discussed before, but always with such brevity that the full significance of the items has been lessened, and most curiously of all, the disputed story has not been reprinted since 1848, although known to modern students for a good many years.(2) From the references to the paper that have met my eye, we can prove a little and surmise [page 122:] much about the friendly and unfriendly relations between Poe and English, and the other writers of Philadelphia with whom they associated. It will be remembered that after parting company with Graham’s Magazine Poe became associated with a periodical called the Saturday Museum — a connection which he belittled to Lowell as if he were ashamed of it, and which probably soon petered out. Then until he moved to New York in April, 1844, aside from a brief and tragicomic excursion into politics, Poe was a journalistic free lance, selling his work where he could, lecturing now and then, and apparently living on terms of intimacy with his satellite Henry B. Hirst, who seems like Poe to have been sometimes friendly, sometimes unfriendly to Thomas Dunn English, who in 1843 made his one bid for fame in publishing Ben Bolt. Now English was an Irishman and interested in the Repeal Movement as we know from the Philadelphia Public Ledger of July 12, 1843. And his interest must have in a degree been shared by his associates among the Literati of the city of Penn, to use Poe’s favorite name for Philadelphia. The organ of this Repeal Movement in Philadelphia was the Irish Citizen, and below are given in full the contemporary references discovered about it to date.

The first notice I have met with is in the columns of the Philadelphia Daily Pennsylvanian, January 5, 1843, which reads :

“The Irish Citizen” is the title of a new weekly paper just commenced in this city by Benj. Pemberton Binns. It is intended chiefly to promote the cause of repeal and to advocate the cherished principles of our Irish fellow citizens. The publication office is at No. 164 S. 4th St., and the subscription price is two dollars a year. The first number promises well.

The next is from the advertisements in the Public Ledger, June 3, 1843:

IRELAND AND REPEAL!!! GREAT EXCITEMENT! The “IRISH CITIZEN” for today will be an interesting and valuable number, containing the Latest News brought by the Steamer Acadia. Look out for it at 12 o’clock noon. Single copies 5 Cents — Subscription Two Dollars per annum. To be had at the office, Northeast corner of Third and Dock Streets.




And still another notice comes from the columns of the Pennsylvanian of June 19, 1843: [page 123:]

“The Irish Citizen,” published weekly by Messrs. Severns and Magill, at the corner of Third and Dock Sts., is a paper which deserves the encouragement of the friends of Ireland, and possesses much interest just now in furnishing the earliest intelligence of the repeal movement on both sides of the Atlantic. We learn from the “Citizen” that, at the Repeal Meeting held on Tuesday Evening, June 13th, at the Assembly Buildings, the sum of four hundred dollars was collected, making the sum total collected for this purpose in Philadelphia, within a period of eight days, amount to no less than $2112.50; which affords a strong evidence of the enthusiastic feeling that prevails among the friends of Ireland in this quarter.

From this it appears that the paper came out on Saturdays, that the first issue probably bore date of January 1, 1843, and that it moved and perhaps changed publishers during the year. It is amusing that contemporary advertisements show that the opponents of repeal had established a rival paper which seems to have taken its policies like its name as the opposite of our paper — it was called the “American Citizen, and Anti-Repealer.”

On February 1, 1844, the Baltimore Republican (3) reprinted a story which it headed “The Ghost of a Grey Tadpole. By Edgar A. Poe,” and credited (as was usually the custom on reprinting an article from another paper) with the headnote “From the Irish Citizen.” This tale was probably reprinted at the time, because, as Professor Killis Campbell has shown, Poe was in Baltimore lecturing. There has been much discussion about the story — it is too silly to be a serious effort of Poe’s, and yet it is evidently from the pen of someone who knew the style of the poet well. And perhaps, if the claim that the measurements of the house described in the tale are those of Poe’s residence in Philadelphia, it is from one who knew the poet personally. But this fits Thomas Dunn English perfectly, since he was long acquainted with Poe, and his connection with the Irish Citizen can be established.

In Select Poems of Dr. Thomas Dunn English,(4) it is stated that his ballad The Bread Snatcher, first appeared in the Irish Citizen. That this was not the New York paper of that name established in 1867 is proved by an uncredited reprint of the poem in the New York Broadway Journals(5) of September 27, 1845. And curiously enough, the burlesque itself turns up once more, very slightly revised, in a periodical edited by English after [page 124:] his celebrated law suit with Poe. In the later publication, in the humorous weekly called the John Donkey,(6) for June 3, 1848, the tale is prefaced by a longish humorous note in which the editor leaves little room for doubt that the story is his own. It is a very smart burlesque, far cleverer than the mock poem The Mammoth Squash which English published as a joke (7) in 1845, but of course it is no more. Yet its appearance in the Baltimore paper may indicate that Poe appreciated the joke, for the Republican was friendly to him. In any case it shows that the repeal party was interested in the work of Poe, and he no doubt in this case returned the compliment.(8) Some day a file of the Irish Citizen may turn up. Meanwhile it seems worth while to give the text of the burlesque, which exists in no other very accessible place, and is unique as a tale attributed even in fun to Poe during his lifetime over his full name, but not acknowledged by him. Professor Campbell before the discovery of the John Donkey version rightly thought Poe’s omission of the title from the list of his stories sent Lowell in 1844 precluded acceptance of the work. The tale is really very good as a burlesque. Professor Campbell thinks it a hit at Poe’s tippling proclivities — and it must be remembered that English knew of them. For from a letter(9) Poe wrote to Dow and Thomas on March 16, 1843, it seems that Poe had objected to the moustaches of the poetical doctor while on a convivial party, but afterwards apologized to him. From a literary point of view there are several amusing hits; the calculus of probabilities and the art of secret writing or cryptography were made much of in the mystery tales which Poe wrote so well. The phrase cui bono(10) was a cliche with Poe, and his reckless denunciation of famous contemporaries, Carlyle especially, must have been known to all. But the whole story of the tadpole closely follows that of the Black Cat — at least as far as the appearance of the ghostly figure of the first cat in that tale. The mottoes were evidently an afterthought, and not omitted by the Baltimore Republican, for one of them relates to General Taylor who hardly would have been worth [page 125:] joking about until the Mexican War. While some are nonsense, like those from curiously spelled “Spicy Histories” and “Knocked into Pi,” the long one from Bacon is itself a burlesque of the quotation about “no beauty without some strangeness” which Poe used in Ligeia, and often elsewhere.

The text of the story on page 126 follows an unchanged photostat of the columns of the copy of the John Donkey in the New York Historical Society. I have compared this with a transcript of the version of the tale in the Baltimore paper, and recorded the two or three slight changes of any significance. The footnotes are mine. [page 126:]


On the Germanesque.

The Germanesque is a name, which, for want of a better, we have given to a species of tale or sketch of incident, which seems to be getting into vogue. As it may be — for popular taste is sometimes monstrous in its character — the rage, at one time or other, you shall be taught all the rules by which it is composed. They are few and easy to comprehend. Indeed, judging by the works and mind of its chief and almost only follower on this side of the Atlantic, it is a pure art, almost mechanical — requiring neither genius, taste, wit nor judgment — and accessible to every impudent and contemptible mountebank, who may choose to slander a lady, and then plead insanity to shelter himself from the vengeance of her relatives.

You must by all means choose a subject, which every one under ordinary management could comprehend. To mystify such a thing as this proves your genius. An ordinary man, in an ordinary disquisition upon a vegetable so ordinary as potatoes, would be easy to comprehend. What he wrote those who read would fathom at once. But if you write about such a matter, satisfy them that although you may be yourself the smallest of small potatoes, you and your productions are alike difficult of digestion.

Pay great attention to minutiae, and lay great stress on trifles. This makes the reader expect that the story will hinge upon these especially, and he becomes very thankful if he be disappointed. For instance — if your hero wear boots, give the exact height of their heels, the breadth of their toes, the name of their maker, and the number of pegs in their soles. Every one will conclude that you are possessed of an observation so rigorous that nothing can escape it, and think you qualified at least to search in a haystack for a lost needle.

You can frequently produce a great effect by writing the first part of your work with a certain design, which you change before, [page 127:] you get to the end. This will make a very pretty confusion. But your best plan is to carry your work through without any design at all. Thus, neither yourself nor your reader will understand your intent; and to effect this delicious state of bewilderment is the true office of the Germanesque.

Preface your production by a number of quotations, from as many languages as possible. It is not necessary that these should have any reference to the subject, indeed, that they should have any meaning. Your purpose will be sufficiently answered, if you impress your reader with a belief that you are a profound linguist and an untiring reader.

The little sketch which follows combines the greater part of these requisites. It has been attributed to Mr. Poe. We are not sure that it is from the pen of that very distinguished writer; but if not his, is a palpable imitation of his style. You will do well to study its characteristics with great care before venturing upon the composition of the Germanesque.



“Muhazzin al zerdukkaut, munaskif al filfillee.”

Jamee al Hukkaiaut.

“Al del Carpio freguenta ‘I moro altiva

Le diga por merced —

Su nombre, y quien el por ser costumbre:

Bernaldo respondio, Bernaldo soy.”

Espinosa, c. 2, 30, 1.

“Magnanimo signore, ogni vostro atto

Ho siempre con rajion laudato, e laudo.”

Orlando Furioso, Car. xviii. stan. 1.

“Mihi an Beate Martin.” Plautus.

“Nolus volus.” Gen Taylor, Ord. Capt. May.

“Quel heure est il? Une heure apres midi.”

Le Cid, par Corneille.

“ΑΒτδ.” Herodotus, b. 1.

“Wir bekoomen trek schuyt.”

Der Vrye Metsalaaren.

“Karl, der reiber, ist der mann.” Schiller.

“Nid mugrell and ceiliogwdd.”

Gr. ad. M. ab Dafydd. [page 128:]

“Akt 2¶co†1=+รท rm. Fy! O!! p?”

Nokt Intwopi.

“Iak ptak oknem przszcznztzskczjzmnkscznlwy.”

Spiewy Hystorycne.

“Oysters are quiescent, bibulatory of sea-water and bearded. The human mind luxuriates in the vague and mysteresque as a pike in a fish-pond. Hence springs that longing after the immortal which pervades the universe. Hence lovers engrave the names of their heart’s idols upon gate-posts, with their jack-knives.” — Lord Bacon.(11)

There are strange antipathies and stranger attachments. It may be said of a female infant, in the language of JAN CHODSK-WICZSZNSKI, 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 Miss EPPIE SARGENT, and the milk-and-water to which they may be likened. They prefer for their reading, MRS. RADCLIFFE and the Newgate Calendar,(12) 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 squatting, croaking, winking, leaping, diving and discontented frogs. The mind of the looker-on is [page 129:] 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 I 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, grey 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, [page 130:] 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. I drew a plug which was 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’s

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(14) 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 [page 131:] certainty. Madness ! horror! There on the wall before me was a grey, gigantic, strange tadpole, with a ferocious glare. It [[I]] knew it. It 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.


[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 121:]

1.  Diddling first appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier, October 14, 1843; for references to O’Connell see Harrison’s edition of Poe, v, 212; and the third letter to the Columbia Spy, as reprinted from that newspaper of June 1, 1844, in Poe’s Doings of Gotham, Pottsville, 1929, p. 39, by Mr. J. E. Spannuth and myself.

2.  See Professor Killis Campbell’s article the Poe Canon, in Modern Language Notes, xxvii, 339-340 (1912); my letter in the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, June 29, 1919; and M. E. Phillips, Edgar Allan Poe the Man, Philadelphia, 1926, i, 851f. The last writer pointed out the similarity between the house described and Poe’s, and decided the author was Poe himself. But English could easily have noticed the dimensions of the house, and it would improve the joke to be accurate.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 123:]

3.  Baltimore Republican and Daily Argus, February 1, 1844, according to Professor Campbell, who seems to have discovered the story.

4.  Newark, 1894, p. vii.

5.  Broadway Journal, ii, 176-177.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 124:]

6.  John Donkey (Philadelphia?), Vol. i, No. 23, pp. 364-365.

7.  The Aristidean, N. Y., October, 1845, vol. i, p. 290.

8.  The connection with journalists interested in Ireland may lead us to a possible channel for Poe’s probable but still unproved knowledge of Mangan.

9.  Harrison’s edition, xvii, 136; “Remember me most kindly to the Don, whose mustachios I do admire after all etc.,” and cf. Harrison, xvii, 247.

10.  Cf. Harrison, xv, 260; v, 299, for uses of Cui bono.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 128:]

11.  The introduction and mottoes do not appear in the Republican. There the title is The Ghost of a Grey Tadpole.

12.  “Eppie Sargent,” “Miss Eppie Sargent”; the earlier version reads “Mrs. Arthur.” The allusions are to well-known writers of the day, Epes Sargent, and T. S. Arthur, both men; the latter the author of Ten Nights in a Barroom.

[The following footnotes appear at the bottom of page 130:]

13.  “waters escaped .. . them” in the earlier version reads “water escaped . . . it.” This is the only verbal revision of significance.

14.  Henson the aeronaut was much in the public eye at the time, and the reference carries little weight, though Poe mentioned him in the Balloon Hoax.





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