Text: J. A. Leo Lemay, “Poe’s ‘The Business Man’: Its Contexts and Satire of Franklin’s Autobiography,” Poe Studies, December 1982, Vol. XV, No. 2, 15:29-37


[page 29:]

Poe’s “The Business Man”: Its Contexts
and Satire of Franklin’s Autobiography

University of Delaware

In his splendidly annotated Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Ollive Mabbott claims that “The Business Man‘‘(1) was generally understood as “a deliberate parody” of Joseph C. Neal’s Charcoal Sketches, a series of tales humorously and sympathetically portraying low-life urban characters, who often have alliterative names. Two of Neal’s sketches satirize indigent poets and writers, and one of them, “Undeveloped Genius: A Passage in the Life of P. Pilgarlick Pigwiggen,” even describes Poe’s typical dress.(2) Since Neal implies that indigent writers should abandon their efforts and turn to business, Poe may have intended his satirical sketch of the businessman as a reply to Neal. Poe had contrasted the artist with the businessman as early as 1836: “When shall the artist assume his proper situation in society — in a society of thinking beings? How long shall he be enslaved? How long shall the veriest vermin of the Earth, who crawl around the altar of Mammon, be more esteemed of men than they, the gifted ministers to those exalted emotions which link us with the mysteries of Heaven?” (Complete Works, VII, 230). But Poe’s parody of Neal was general rather than specific and was deliberately weakened when he revised the story in 1835.

Mabbott also has pointed out that Poe borrowed the name Peter Pendulum (which he used in the title of the 1840 version) from Joseph Dennie’s “Peter Pendulum,” an essay that appeared in the Farmer’s Weekly Museum for 10 April 1798 with its author’s acknowledgment that he had published it before. In 1801, Dennie reprinted it again in The Spirit of the Farmer’s Weekly Museum.(3) As this early Peter Pendulum goes “from one pursuit to another,” Dennie traces his flighty religious and philosophical opinions, then his changing occupations (ministry, law, medicine, literature, and business), and finally his fickle love affairs. Although Dennie warns against instability, he ends with Peter Pendulum a happy man because he has become “settled and regular in business.” Since Dennie does not prepare for the final change in Peter Pendulum, I [column 2:] presume that Poe found Dennie’s happy ending absurdly primitive and Dennie himself overrated. At any rate, in the 1840 version of Poe’s story, the flighty, scoundrelly Peter Pendulum is, Poe implies, the kind of successful businessman that Dennie’s Peter Pendulum would have become. When Poe revised the story in 1845, he dropped the Peter Pendulum allusions, perhaps because Dennie hardly seemed worth satirizing.

No one has pointed out, however, that the main satiric context for Poe’s “The Business Man” was neither Neal’s stories nor Dennie’s sketch, but Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, especially Part Two, the much maligned Art of Virtue,(4) the satiric use of which, as I shall point out below, was strengthened in Poe’s 1845 revision. The reductio ad absurdum of the Art of Virtue in “The Business Man” portrays Franklin’s practical advice on conduct and discipline as the philosophy of a scoundrel who prides himself on being a methodical businessman. Peter Proffit, the low crook who is the protagonist-persona of “The Business Man,” is a version of Franklin — the Franklin deified as the progenitor, model, and patron saint of American materialistic society. Poe’s achievement in his sketch can be fully appreciated only when one realizes that the urban, low-life swindler so remarkably and viciously self-revealed is, in fact, a splendid satirical epitome of that emerging cultural ideal of American middle-class society — the self-made, wealthy businessman.(5) Poe wrote in his Marginalia, “In looking at the world as it is, we shall find it folly to deny that, to worldly success, a surer path is Villainy than Virtue. What the Scriptures mean by the ‘leaven of unrighteousness’ is that leaven by which men rise” (Complete Works, XVI, 162) . Although Charles Brockden Brown and Nathaniel Hawthorne had previously used Franklin’s Autobiography as a satiric literary touchstone for the idea of rising in the world, neither was as vicious as Poe. Perhaps Poe, not D. H. Lawrence, should be credited with writing the most savage indictment of Franklin’s Autotoiography; however that may be, “The Business Man” should certainly be recognized as one of the cruelest burlesques of antebellum American materialism.(6)


Although the commercial ethic emerged as an avant-garde intellectual philosophy during the eighteenth centuury, the popular ideals (even in America) were still dominantly those of a hierarchical, aristocratic, and feudal society.(7) During the early decades of the nineteenth century, the [page 30:] businessman emerged as a hero and an ideal in American society. The word businessman itself seems first to have been used in 1826, but it was not uncommon during the 1830’s.(8) Even in the colonial period, Americans prided themselves as especially sharp traders — a reputation that existed in the Southern and Middle colonies as well as among the Yankees.(9) By the Jacksonian period, the continued expansion of the United States, both demographically and geographically, together with industrialization and new, speedy possibilities for the mass distribution of goods, caused a boom in the numbers of entrepreneurs and businessmen, as well as a rise in their reputation.(10) In the 1820’s, mercantile library associations were organized in most major American cities. The ones in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were especially active, sponsoring lectures on such topics as “What Constitutes a Merchant” and “Commerce as a Liberal Pursuit.‘‘(11)

By 1839, Poe’s friend Freeman Hunt judged that businessmen were so numerous and so well identified as a group that a magazine aimed specifically at their interests would be successful. It was. Although Hunt published a “large edition” of the first volume of his Merchants’ Magazine, the run was exhausted well before June of 1840 when he announced a reprinting.(12) Hunt claimed in his introduction to the July 1839 issue that Americans were “essentially and practically a trading people” and that commerce was a “science . . . calculated to elevate the mind, and enlarge the understanding.” A primary purpose of his magazine was “to raise and elevate the commercial character.” Hunt believed that business was “now the most honorable pursuit in which a man of talent and enterprise can engage.” He wanted to inspire young men to take up careers in business because “commerce is now the lever of Archimedes and the fulcrum which he wanted to move the world.” He claimed that businessmen “now determine the questions of peace or war, and decide the destinies of nations” (pp. 9- 10) .

Like the newspapers of the time, Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine carried anecdotes praising individual businessmen and devoted biographical sketches to deceased ones.(13) Furthermore, biographies and autobiographies of successful merchants began appearing in the 1830’s, as did books of instruction for The Young Merchant.(14) Religious discourses celebrated commerce, and directories were published giving businessmen’s names, addresses, and specialties.(15) The epitaph of Samuel Polk (d. 1827), the father of President James K. Polk, splendidly encapsulates antebellum respect for the businessman and entrepreneur: “MEN OF ENTERPRISE — HERE MOULDER THE MORTAL REMAINS OF A KINDRED SPIRIT.‘‘(16)

The phenomenon of the businessman fascinated both American and foreign intellectuals. Mrs. Trollope aristocratically disparaged American society for its materialism: “Nothing can exceed their [Americans’] activity and perseverence in all kinds of speculation, handicraft, and enterprise, which promises a profitable pecuniary result.‘‘(17) Tocqueville analyzed the phenomenon in the 1830’s. Farmers, he said, could only grow wealthy “little by little and [column 2:] with toil,” but trade and industry offered “the quickest and best means” for Americans to get rich. In aristocratic countries, disparaging attitudes toward trade and commerce often prevented their citizens from going into business, but in democratic countries and particularly in America, Tocqueville found just the opposite — “nothing has brighter luster than commerce.” Not only did business attract “the attention of the public,” it even filled “the imagination of the crowd.” The rich as well as the poor loved enterprise “for the sake of promised gain” and especially for “the emotions it provides.‘‘(18) Tocqueville perceived that business aroused great emotions because it promised “success.”

Emerson analyzed the virtues and the vices of the businessman in his sketch of Napoleon, that “giant of the middle class.‘‘(19) Emerson believed that “Bonapart was the idol of common men because he had in transcendent degree the qualities and powers of common man.” Napoleon strove for power and wealth “without any scruple as to the means” (pp. 227-228). He was completely selfish and amoral, scorning ideals, sentiments and affections as baubles “for women and children” (p. 228). Napoleon sacrificed all ideals of sentiment, intellect, and morality in order to achieve his goals (pp. 223, and 253), goals identical to the businessman’s, except that Napoleon emphasized power whereas businessmen emphasized wealth — both “means to a material success” (p. 244) . Emerson found that “the fatal quality,” the treacherous element in “the pursuit of wealth” was “the breaking or weakening of the sentiments” — until finally a man who desired to be rich would pursue the end “without any stipulation or scruple concerning the means” (p. 253). Thus Napoleon “would steal, slander, assassinate, drown and poison, as his interest dictated” (p. 255). Napoleon’s complete immorality was also true of the businessman, for the goal of “material success” (p. 224) implicitly denies moral principles (p. 258).

During the same time that the businessman became a dominant role-model for achievement and success in popular American culture, two complementary types emerged and were often identified with the businessman. First, the millionaire. Like the word businessman, millionaire also initially appeared in 1826.(20) By the 1820’s, millionaires were celebrated at death as heroes of the republic in the public press. No matter how selfish and grasping they may have been, millionaires’ lives and achievements were generally found praiseworthy.(21) The underlying rationale for the enormous respect accorded the millionaire was succinctly stated by the Boston intellectual and politician, Edward Everett. In a speech before Boston’s Mercantile Library Association, 13 September 1838, Everett proclaimed that “No man can promote his own interest without promoting that of others.“(22) Since the millionaire promoted his own economic interest extraordinarily successfully, he must also have greatly promoted the general welfare.(23)

The hero worship of the rich — simply because they were rich — is demonstrated by the appearance of biographical dictionaries devoted to the wealthy. Moses Y. Beach published the first such listings (with estimates of the [page 31:] individuals’ wealth) in 1841. By 1850, two volumes had appeared listing the wealthy of Philadelphia, three had appeared for Boston, and four for New York24 Without intending any irony, the compilers sometimes entitled these volumes The Aristocracy of . . . . Finally, to cite a post-Civil War perspective on the rich, in William Dean Howells’ novel A Hazard of New Fortunes (1889), the reflective hero Basil March analyzes the change that Jacob Dryfoos has undergone in his transformation from Ohio farmer to New York millionaire and then commeats on the popular appeal of Dryfoos’ role as millionaire: “That’s the way I philosophize a man of Dryfoos’ experience, and I am not very proud when I realize that such a man and his experience are the ideal and ambition of most Americans.“(25)

The second complementary type to achieve popular celebration during the Jacksonian period was the self-made man.(26) Andrew Jackson, himself an orphan, exemplified the image; and the role itself was thought to fulfill democratic principles.(27) Although Henry Clay evidently coined the term in 1832,(28) the idea of a self-made man was ancient, and Benjamin Franklin was its best-known modern example. In 1819, beginning an antislavery piece with a comment on Franklin, Benjamin Rush wrote, “Every Man is said to be the artificer of his own character.” Horace Greeley found that Franklin stood “highest in the civilized regard” of all “the men whom the world currency terms Self-Made.“(29) The concept, of course, was commonly applied to the businessman: in November 1839, Freeman Hunt noted that “Mr. [Joseph Tinker] Buckingham . . . like Mr. [Mathew] Carey, is the architect of his own fame.“(30) The myth of the log-cabin birth of American presidents attests to America’s attachment to the role.(31) Calvin Colton, a journalist, politician, and friend of Henry aay, wrote what is probably the best single statement of the rationale for the ideal of the self-made man:

Ours is a Country, where men stare from an humble origin, and from small beginnings rise gradually in the world, as the reward of merit and industry, and where they can attain to the most elevated positions, or acquire a large amount of wealth, according to the pursuits they elect for themselves. No exclusive privileges of birth, no entailment of estates, no civil or political disqualifications, stand in their path; but one has as good a chance as another, according to his talents, prudence, and personal exertions. — This is a country of self-mude men, than which nothing better could be said of any state of society.(32)

Colton, like many of his contemporaries, believed that the existence of “self-made” men seemed in itself a justification of democraq, and conversely, that the tenets of democracy implicitly called for the existence of “self-made” men.

In “The Business Man,” as I will argue below, Poe satirizes these kinds of American popular heroes, and he does so partially by ridiculing Franklin’s Autobiography, an American literary document widely seen as exemplifying and justifying not only these models but also the commercial, democratic world-view which defined “success” in terms of them. The self-proclaimed virtues of Poe’s businessman ironically personify the ills of commercial American society, while the sketch as a whole constitutes a parody of the numerous praises of the merchant that were appearing [column 2:] in antebellum American popular literature.(33) Peter Proffit, the autobiographer telling of his path to success in “The Business Man,” reveals himself to be stupid, opinionated, hypocritical, superstitious, and proud. Although he professes individualism and morality, he is a conformist and scoundrel who deludes only himself.


Although nearly every literate American in the nineteenth century knew Franklin’s life and Autobiography,(34) it is nevertheless questionable to assume that a specific person had read the Autobiography and knew it well. There is only one direct reference to the work in Poe’s public writings. Reviewing Robinson Crusoe in the Southern Literary Messenger for January 1836, Poe characterizes a number of Defoe’s works, adding that An Essay on Projects was “mentioned in terms of high approbation by our own Franklin” (Complete Works, VIII, 171). The allusion is to Franklin’s testimony in the Autobiography that An Essay on Projects “perhaps gave me a Turn of Thinking that had an Influence on some of the principal future Events of my Life.“(35) Burton R. Pollin has demonstrated that Poe drew this comment on Franklin directly from prefatory material in the edition of Robinson Crusoe under review.(36) Although this reference tells us nothing about Poe’s firsthand knowledge of the Autobiography, the text of “The Business Man” proves that Poe both knew the work and expected his readers to be familiar with it.

Numerous particulars in “The Business Man” recall events and details from the Autobiography. Poe’s reference to the soap-boiler’s trade (B: 482) in a list of occupations in the sketch may allude to Franklin’s father’s “Business, which was that of a Tallow Chandler and Sope-Boiler” (A: 7) and to Franklin’s youthful fear that he was “destin‘d” to “be a Tallow Chandler” (A: 10). Peter Proffit’s refusal of occupations suggested by his parents (the counting house and the grocery business — B: 483) recalls Franklin’s rejection of a series of occupations (A: 6-7, 10, 11) suggested by his father. Poe’s reference to “autobiography” (B: 483) may allude to America’s most famous autobiography. Proffit’s running away from home at age sixteen (B: 483) recalls Franklin’s celebrated running away to Philadelphia at seventeen (A: 20-25). Proffit’s severe youthful illness (“just touch-and-go for six weeks — the physicians giving me up and all that sort of thing“ — B: 483) may glance at Franklin’s severe illness at twenty-one: “My distemper was a Pleurisy, which very nearly carried me off: — I suffered a good deal, gave up the Point in my own mind, & was rather disappointed when I found my self recovering” (A: 52). Although Poe, like Franklin, was proud of his feats of swimming,(37) I suspect that when Proffit says “my old habits of system carried me swimmingly along” (my italics — B: 488), Poe alludes to Franklin’s striking metaphorical use of swimmingly (A: 68, with the comment “and so full of demnition mischievous as one who creates a large mud puddle and then provides, for a tip, a way to cross it (B: 488) — as well as his statement that “American streets are so muddy” (B: 490), both recall Franklin’s concern for cleaning muddy streets (A: [page 32:] 124-125, 126-129), and perhaps remind us of his youthful project for building a pier with the workmen’s stones so that the Boston boys, when fishing for minnows, would not have to get muddy in a “mere Quagmire” (A: 7). Poe follows his statement that “American streets are so muddy” with the comment “and so full of demnition mischievous little boys,” and thereby strengthens the allusion to Franklin’s mischievous childhood project. Proffit’s penultimate project “in procuring a situation in the Sham-Post” (B: 490) may allude to Franklin’s roles as Philadelphia’s post master and, later, postmaster general of America (A: 101, 129-130).

Poe’s epigraph “Method is the soul of business” (repeated and echoed throNghout the story) is his own creation.33 But it not only sounds like something from Poor Richard’s Almanac; it also functions as a direct reference to the Autobiography and as a degenerate encapsulation of the supposed Franklinian values. Franklin emphasizes method throughout the Autobiography and urges its application even to the formation of character. Franklin’s systematic chart for spending the hours of a day (A: 83), his list of thirteen virtues (A: 79-80), and his entire methodical scheme for attaining “moral perfection” (A: 78-91) all exemplify Franklin’s emphasis on method. Indeed, the statement prefacing his list of virtues is itself a splendid example of applying method to “the Art of Virtue”: “For this purpose I therefore contriv‘d the following Method. . . . I propos‘d to myself, for the sake of Clearness, to use rather more Names with fewer Ideas annex‘d to each, than a few Names with more Ideas; and I included under Thirteen Names of Virtues all that at the time occur‘d to me as necessary or desirable, and annex‘d to each a short Precept, which fully express‘d the Extent I gave to its Meaning” (A: 78-79). Of course, order or method is itself Franklin’s third virtue, and he wrote at length of his efforts to attain “Method,” illustrating his reluctant acceptance of his comparative failure with the anecdote of the “Speckled Ax” (A: 86-87). Poe reduces the Franklinian virtues to a simple concern with method, and he heightens this caricature of Franklin’s “moral perfection” by embodying it in a degenerate and hypocritical scoundrel, Peter Proffit.

When Peter Proffit says that “method characterized my actions as well as my accounts” (B: 484), I am reminded of Franklin’s claiming that he “took care not only to be in Reality Industrious & frugal, but to avoid all Appearances to the Contrary,” a statement that Franklin illustrated with his anecdote of bringing home paper on a wheelbarrow (A: 68). Proffit is the epitome and reductio ad absurdum of Franklin’s advice to young men to “always render Accounts & make Remittances with great Clearness and Punctuality.” According to Franklin, “The Character of observing Such a Conduct is the most powerful of all Recommendations to new Employments & Increase of Business” (A: 101) . For Peter Proffit, at least in his own view of himself, embodies perfectly Franklin’s recommended qualities. Proffit tells us “I got to be well known as a man to be trusted; and this is one-half the battle” (B: [column 2:] 488). And again, “My strict integrity, economy, and rigorous business habits, here again came into play” (B: 485). Part of Poe’s satire, however, is that Peter Proffit fails in several enterprises despite (and because of) his attention to method. So, even if one accepts the morally degenerate business world of Peter Proffit, Franklin’s advice concerning method does not necessarily point the way to wealth. In satirizing the middle-class virtue of method, Poe repeatedly plays upon the words and concepts of a self-made man and a made man. Franklin’s Autobiography, of course, still remains the classic account of the life of a self-made man. Poe seems to allude to Franklin’s account of his rise from rags to riches when Proffit says, “In my case, it was method — not money which made the man” (B: 484). Poe continues the sentence with a brilliant satirical thrust at the superficial values implied by the Franklinian order (and his zeugma also satirizes the common cliche “a made man”): “at least all of him that was not made by the tailor whom I served” (B: 484). At the end of the story, Poe returns to the cliche, satirizing not only its shallow “clothes” implications, but also the “made man’s” usual tone of self-satisfaction: “I consider myself, therefore, a made man, and am bargaining for a country seat on the Hudson” (B: 491).(39)

Proffit’s reference to his “Day-book and Ledger” (B: 483) recalls Franklin’s reference to his journal and accounts (A: 51, 59, 95, 101), especially to his “little Book in which I alloted a Page for each of the Virtues” (A: 81). Poe’s chart of the account of “Peter Proffit, Walking Advertiser” (B: 484-485) burlesques Franklin’s use of charts (A: 78-79, 81, 83). And Poe’s use of onehalf a cent in the figures and in the total (and his use of one-quarter cent in the first version) anticipates Thoreau’s similar satire of materialism and similar use of one-half a cent in his chart in Walden.(40) At the same time, Poe’s symbolic portrayal of the modern businessman as a tailor’s walking advertisement, a robot wearing attractive clothing, hauntingly embodies and ridicules both bourgeois materialism and Franklin’s disregard of man’s spiritual qualities.(41) The ultimate ridicule of the traditional “clothes” philosophy may be found in Poe’s satire of Proffit as a sandwich man. At the same time, this walking advertiser is a splendid symbol for the dehumanization of modern man. Just as Emerson in “The American Scholar” (1837) complained of modern men strutting about like “so many walking monsters — a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man”; just as Thoreau in Walden made clothes the basic quality of the mass of men (“We know but few men, a great mass of coats and breeches”); and just as Melville in “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853) portrays a business world where such inhabitants as Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut act out their predictable half-lives in a setting “deficient in what landscape painters call ‘life‘”; so Poe in “The Business Man” presents his own version of modern man as a manikin. “The Business Man” thus belongs with those stories and poems by Poe that display, in Allen Tate’s words, “the disintegration of the modern personality.“(42) Indeed, Poe’s symbol of the businessman as nothing but a sandwich man(43) anticipates both Yeats’ haunting lines “An aged man is but a paltry thing / A tattered [page 33:] coat upon a stick” and Eliot’s main image in “The Hollow Men.”

It is especially fitting that the first occupation of Poe’s businessman is advertising, a developing profession that accompanied the rise of mass markets. Advertising prostituted the writer’s sacred word to materialism, and it seemed to embody the fall of man’s last — and, to some, greatest — ideal to the new vogues of wealth and materialistic progress. In the increasingly common practice of advertising, the thoughtful man of letters saw that the Republic of Letters — that Enlightenment ideal which seemed the fulfillment of cultural progress — had become the tool of soulless materialism.(44) In a related fashion, Poe’s epigraph “Method is the soul of business” slyly reinforces the criticism of American materialism through its use of the world soul. Poe implies that the Franklinian philosophy reduces man to nothing more than an entity for business, that is, to a corporation. But even Poe’s scoundrelly caricature of a businessman appreciates a key difference between real men and corporations, for the latter (and in its first version, Poe’s story ended with these words) “have neither bodies to be kicked nor souls to be damned” (B: 489).

Some aspects of the tone and style of “The Business Man” also seem to mock the Autobiography. Although Franklin brilliantly counters the major literary sin of the autobiography as a genre, its tendency toward smug self-satisfaction, he occasionally falls into that posture, an attitude Poe burlesques when Proffit says “hence that positive appetite for system and regularity which has made me the distinguished man of business that I am” (B: 482). The allusion to Franklin is clearer when Proffit says, “I will just copy a page or so out of my Day-Book; and this will save me the necessity of blowing my own trumpet — a contemptible practice, of which no high-minded man will be guilty” (B: 487). Poe here not only satirizes Franklin’s quoting from his “little Book” (A: 81) and other writings (for example, the Journal Book — A: 51, 59), but also ridicules Franklin’s repeated advice upon how to keep oneself in the background: “I put my self as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a Scheme of a Number of Friends, who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought Lovers of Reading. In this way my Affair went on more smoothly, and I ever after practis‘d it on such Occasions; and from my frequent Successes, can heartily recommend it” (A: 75; compare 90-91) .

Poe thought that “nine-tenths” of maxims and popular proverbs were “the quintessence of folly” (Complete Works, XI, 65), but, like Franklin, Proffit admires proverbs and sententiae. Besides quoting as an epigraph that supposed old saying “Method is the soul of business” and echoing it throughout the story, Proffit sententiously opines, “It’s an old saying and a true one . . . that money is nothing in comparison with health” (B: 488).(45) Poe, like Thoreau,(46) often undercuts the proverbs, cliches, and biblical allusions he works into his text. The effect is to mock not only Proffit’s particular use of them, but also the characteristic Franklinian style. Just before Proffit parrots the proverb “business is business” (B: 485),47 Poe has him echo the [column 2:] common (and usually hypocritical) cliche, “it’s not the money but the principle of the thing.” Proffit says, “I stood upon the principle of the thing” (B: 485). But he has no principle except profit. When Proffit condemns “your eccentric fools who prate about method without understanding it; attending strictly to its letter, and violating its spirit” (B: 482), Poe ironically alludes to 2 Corinthians 3:6 and Romans 7:6 (B: 491 n. 1), while satirizing Franklin’s ostensible concern with “moral perfection” as well as his practice of biblical allusion. And Poe probably had Franklin’s list of “Virtues” specifically in mind (especially No. 3, Order or Method — A: 79), as well as Franklin’s entire “bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection” (A: 78). While Proffit’s allusion to the Scriptural injunction “Be fruitful and multiply” (B: 491, 492 n. 17) recalls Franklin’s frequently citing the Bible, it may also suggest his well-known advocacy of philoprogenitiveness; in the the midst of so many other allusions to Franklin, one may even suspect an allusion either to the common oral reports of Franklin as a lover or to his famous hoax, “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker.“48 Of course any association of Franklin and proverbs recalls Poor Richard’s Almanac (especially the preface which came to be known as “The Way to Wealth”) and the common practice of quoting Poor Richard’s proverbs (and Franklin’s example) to children. Dennie, Keats, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Melville, Twain, and Lawrence all, as children, chafed at those “mean and thrifty maxims.“49 Evidently Poe did too. And Poe probably again glances at the common habit of quoting proverbs when Proffit attributes his success to “those stern habits of methodical accuracy which had been thumped into me by that delightful old nurse” (B: 486). Proffit also repeatedly mentions that he must remember his “old nurse” in his will, so Poe may be alluding to Franklin’s actual will, which was frequently celebrated because of its charitable legacies.(50)

Peter Proffit’s attack on the man of genius (“the greater the genius the greater the ass“ — B: 482) contains several ironies. Although it alludes to Franklin, whose reputation as the greatest American genius was more widely celebrated in Poe’s day than now,(51) the attack also satirizes the businessman’s attitude toward the creative genius, typifying materialist America’s scorn for artists such as Poe.(52) Thus it may be seen as an ironic expression of the romantic artist’s alienation from middle-class virtues and bourgeois society.(53) Poe may also ruefully have had in mind Franklin’s statement that he “escaped being a poet, most probably a very bad one” because his father told him that poets “were generally Beggars” (A: 12). Poe was often a beggar, although businessmen who worked in truly “fantastic employments” and “eccentric pursuits” (B: 482) were often wealthy — and regarded as geniuses by the mob. Poe’s implication may well be that in any true scheme of values, the poet would be regarded as a genius and rewarded with adequate material success, while the businessman, as such, would be regarded as an ass. Since Peter Proffit considers any of the following as geniuses — “a merchant or a manufacturer . . . a dry-goods dealer, or soap-boiler . . . a lawyer, or a blacksmith, or a physician” (B: 482-483)54 — Poe evidently satirizes the numerous popular articles stressing the [page 34:] universal knowledge and education, that is, the “genius,” that a businessman must possess.(55) Finally, because Proffit considers these normal occupations to be “fantastic employment” and “eccentric pursuits” (B: 482) and refers to his “walking advertiser” role as a “decent occupation” (B: 484) and to his “Eye-Sore” business as an “ordinary” occupation (B: 485), Poe implies that the only true occupation of a businessman is cheating. In this vision, he is remarkably similar to Emerson’s slightly later attitude, as well as to one expression of Franklin’s own philosophy.(56)

Although Poe’s numerous direct and indirect allusions to Franklin’s Autobiography amount to a severe satirical portrait of that classic, there are ambivalent passages within the obvious satire. Poe’s attitudes toward individuals are notoriously difficult to make out, for those — from Locke to Coleridge and Laplace — whom he heaps with the highest praise are also those against whom he turns with severest satire. “The Business Man” implies that Poe had carefully read the Autobiography. When he satirizes Proffit’s exaggerated self-importance, Poe no doubt glances as I have noted, at Franklin’s self-complacent attitude as it occasionally manifests itself in the Autobiography — and yet, he is also imitating Franklin’s own ironic satire of the autobiographer’s tendency to think of himself as self-important. In the burlesque autobiography Memoirs of P. P., Clerk of this Parish (1727), Alexander Pope and his contemporaries satirized autobiographers’ tendency to celebrate themselves. Hawthorne, by referring to the Memoirs in his “The Custom-House,” reveals that he expects some of his readers to know the book and appreciate his ironic self-depreciation.(57) Franklin certainly knew it and was convinced of the absurd pride of man. Indeed, nothing in “The Business Man” matches the depths of irony toward man’s own self-satisfaction revealed by Franklin’s comment that “it would not be quite absurd if a Man were to thank God for his Vanity among the other Comforts of Life” (A: 2). Thus when Poe satirizes Proffit’s evident mindless self-satisfaction, he is, on the deepest level, reflecting Franklin’s own satire rather than satirizing him. And, as Poe evidently knew the Autobiography well, he must have realized that, on one level, he was paying the Autobiography the greatest flattery — he was imitating it.

One curious passage in “The Business Man” contradicts the ironic and savage authorial voice that characterizes the tale as a whole. When Poe tells of Proffit’s “CurSpattering” profession (in which a muddy dog rubs against a dandy’s boots to win a bit of boot-blacking business for Peter Proffit), Poe drifts off into complete fantasy: “This did moderately well for a time; — in fact I was not avaricious, but my dog was. I allowed him a third of the profit, but he was advised to insist upon half. This I couldn‘t stand — so we quarreled and parted” (B: 489). When the reader encounters this passage, he must assume from its tone that Poe is not serious, that the seeming satire in the story is really just a light-hearted spoof. But this passage was not present in the 1840 version; it concludes the first of the seven paragraphs added in the 1845 text. Perhaps Poe, now enjoying considerable literary fame (although no financial success) as the result of the publication of [column 2:] “The Gold-Bug” in June 1843 and “The Raven” in January 1845, saw less reason to chafe about the ideals of “success” in America than he had in 1840. However that may be, the prevailing authorial voice in “The Business Man,” even in the other six paragraphs added in 1845, is satiric and ironic.

Of course Franklin’s Autobiography is not the only subject of Poe’s satire in “The Business Man,” nor is it, strictly speaking, his primary satirical target, for Poe’s main concern is to ridicule the materialistic values and commonplace ideals of antebellum American culture. References in the story to “the frauds of the banks” (B: 489) and the “Democratic rabble” (B: 490) are not, therefore, merely incidental allusions. Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography provided Poe the most famous literary exemplum of concepts he wished to attack. The Autobiography burlesqued by Poe is not, of course, the actual Autobiography but an image of it as progenitor of the self-made man, as justifier of the utilitarian society, as the Autobiography of Poor Richard, and as another version of The Way to Wealth. Poe knew the more complex Franklin, for he published some of Franklin’s previously unknown essays while editing the Southern Literary Messenger; and his willingness to refer to “our own” Benjamin Franklin in his only published reference to him suggests that he, like most Americans of his day, was patriotically proud of the earlier American’s achievements.(58) But Franklin had been adopted as the patron saint of American businessmen and of “self-made” men by the 1840’s.

Poe draws on the Autobiography in order to satirize such men as Stephen Girard (1750-1831) and John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), as well as hordes of less famous businessmen, many of whom were publishing autobiographies filled with complacence at their minor achievements. Besides the business ethic, the self-satisfaction of autobiographers, and the popular journalists, Poe also mocks the democratic tendencies implicit in the philosophy of the “self-made” man. As I noted above, the radical optimism concerning the possible achievements of the common man and the jingoistic promises of American wealth were philosophic and super-patriotic tendencies, celebrated by such popular and opposing politicians as Henry aay, Daniel Webster, and Andrew Jackson.(59) And like the achievement of wealth, the exalted position of the supposedly self-made man was a common degenerate version of the American Dream. Poe’s “The Business Man,” I would suggest, ranks among the great satires of the implications of the American Dream. It is natural that Poe anticipated F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in choosing to satirize the American Dream through its best-known and greatest literary embodiment, Franklin’s Autobiography.(60)

Although Poe’s satire is complex, and although the real Franklin and the actual Autobiography are not Poe’s primary objects of attack, yet the Autobiography is satirized throughout the story, and I will conclude by listing the most obvious reasons why. First, since Franklin had been adopted as the patron saint of the American business ethic, an attack on Franklin directly attacked [page 35:] the business ethic. Second, the romantic and spiritual tendencies of Poe’s thought run counter to the rationalistic, utilitarian, and pragmatic philosophy of Franklin: for example, “I began to suspect that this Doctrine [deism] tho’ it might be true, was not very useful” (A: 58). Peter Proffit is thus a caricature of man without ethics and spirituality — a reductio ad absurdum of an element of Franklin (Poe also directly attacked Jefferson for his lack of spirituality).(61) Third, Franklin, like almost all other autobiographers, does sometimes seem self-congratulatory, and Poe satirized him for it. Fourth, Franklin provides an example and, in the fictive world-view of the Autobiography, a theoretical justification for democracy and the ideal of the self-made man, and Poe uses him as a whipping-boy for this radical democratic thrust in American society. Fifth, the deliberately optimistic implications of the philosophy of the Autobiography offended Poe’s view of the actual psychology of individuals, and so he ridicules the shallow, senselessly optimistic beliefs of Peter Proffit. And last, “The Business Man” satirizes the theme of the American Dream in the Autohiography, finding that last, best hope for mankind fulfilled in a dehumanized, degenerate version of material success — the soulless moneygrubbing, diddling, stupid, and dehumanized American businessman, Peter Proffit.



1 - The story first appeared in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine for February 1840, with the title “Peter Pendulum the Business Man.” When Poe revised it for the Broadway Journal, 2 August 1845, he shortened the title, changed the persona’s name to Peter Proffit, added the final seven paragraphs, and revised a number of details — see Works, 11, 480. Future references to Poe’s “The Business Man” are indicated by the sigla ‘B’ and the page number in Mabbott’s volume two.

2 - “Olympus Pump; or, The Poetic Temperament” and “Undeveloped Genius. A Passage in the Life of P. Pilgarlick Pigwiggen, Esq.” in Neals Charcoal Sketches (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1838), pp. 7-15, 50-59.

3 - Joseph Dennie, ea., The Spirit of the Farmer’s Weekly Museum (Walpole, N. H.: Carlisle, 1801), pp. 190-195. Dennie’s “Peter Pendulum” was probably reprinted in the popular press in Poe’s day. Mabbott points out that Evert A. and Charles L. Duyckinck reprinted this sketch by Dennie in their Cycloepedia of American Literature (New York: Scriboer, 1855) — see Works, II, 491.

4 - The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. A Genetic Text, ed. J. A. Leo Lemay and P. M. Zall (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1981), pp. 88-89. For “The Art of Virtue” see Benjamin Franklin to Lord Kames, 3 May 1760, in Leonard W. Labaree, William B. Wilcox, et al., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1959-), IX, 104-105.

5- Hawthorne, for example, shows that he appreciatff the dominant role of the businessman in mid-nineteenth-century American society when he writes of one man . . . whose character gave me a new idea of talent.” The businffsman “stood as the ideal of his class.” The Custom House is Hawthorne’s brilliant ironic symbol for the aggregate of the ideals and customs of his own society; when Hawthorne calls the businffsman “the Custom-House in himself” and says that he is “thoroughly adapted to the situation which he held,” Hawthorne is clearly passing judgment upon his society. The Scarlet Letter, ed. William Charvat et al. (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1962).

6 - James H. Justus, “Arthur Mervyn, American,” American Literature, 42 (November 1970), 304-324; Max F. Schulz, “Brockden Brown: An Early Casualty of the American Experience,” Americana-Austriaca: Beitrag zur Amerikakunde, 2 (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumuller, 1970), 81-90; and William Hedges, “Charles Brockden [column 2:] Brown and the Culture of Contradictions,” Early American Literature, 9 (1974), 107-142, ffp. 136-139. Julian Smith, “Coming of Age in America: Young Ben Franklin and Robin Molineux,” American Quarterly, 17 (1965), 550-558; A. B. England, “Robin Molineux and the Young Ben Franklin: A Reconsideration,” lonrnal of American Studies, 6 (1972), 181-188; and Denis M. Murphy, “Poor Robin and Shrewd Ben: Hawthorne’s Kinsman,” Studies in Short Fiction, 15 (1978), 185-190. Mabbott’s slighting comment that Poe’s “The Business Man” was “hardly better than its models” (Works, 11, 481) takes on dimensions unsuspected by Mabbott when one realizes that Poe’s main models were American society and Franklin’s Autobiography. D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1923), pp. 9-21.

7 - The popularity of Franklin’s The Way to Wealth among French intellectuals may be partially explained by its embodiment of the avant-garde commercial philosophy. In 1792 Joel Barlow splendidly (if hyperbolically) phrased the new doctrinff: “The men that were formerly dukes and marquesses are now exalted to farmers, manufacturers and merchants“ — Advice to the Privileged Orders, in The Works of loel Barlow, ed. William K. Bottorff and Arthur L. Ford (Gainesville: Scholar’s Facsimiliff and Reprints, 1970), 1, 128. For the rise of commercial ideology, see Ralph Lerner, “Commerce and Character: The Anglo-American as New-Model Man,” William and Mary Qvarterly, 36 (1979), 3-26.

8 - The Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, v. 1, A-G, ed. R. W. Burchfield (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), under business, no. 24. The Dictionary of American English, ed. Sir William Craigie, 4 vols. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Prffs, 1936-44), gives two examples from the 1830’s. See also Freeman Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine, 1 (November 1839), 410n. Daniel J. Boorstin has perceptive comments on “The Businessman as an American Institution,” in The Americans: The National Experience (New York: Random House, 1965), pp. 115-123, and notes, pp. 456-459.

9 - J. A. Leo Lemay, Men of Letters in Colonial Maryland (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Prffs, 1972), pp. 57-58.

10 - Sigmund Diamond, The Reputation of the American Businessman (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1955), analyzes the obituary notices of six businessmen, only two of whom are early enough to be significant indicators of public opinion in Poe’s day — Stephen Girard (1750-1831) and John Jacob Astor (1763-1848). Glenn Porter and Harold C. Livesay, Merchants and Manufacturers: Studies in the Changing Structure of Nineteenth-Century Marketing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1971); and Rush Welter, The Mind of America, 1820-1860 (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1975), “Enterprise,‘’ ch. 6, are both suggestuve.

11 - [Freeman Hunt], “Mercantile Library Associations,” Merchants’ Magazine, 29 (October 1853), 437-438; F. B. Perkins, “Young Men’s Mercantile Libraries,” in Public Libraries in the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1876), pp. 378-385; and Sidney Ditzion, ‘‘Mechanics’ and Mercantile Libraries, Library Quarterly, 10 (1940), 192-219. The two lectures cited, by Charles Edwards and Charles King, respectively, appeared in the Merchants’ Magazine, I (October 1839), 289-303, and 2 (January 1840), 9-24.

12 - Poe wrote a sketch of Hunt in “The Literati of New York city,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, June 1846, revealing that he evidently knew Hunt in 1839 — Complete Works, XV, 40-43. Poe’s close association with Hunt is discussed by Burton R. Pollin, “Poe, Freeman Hunt, and Four Unrecorded Reviews of Poe’s Works,‘’ Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 16 (1974-75), 305-313. Merchants’ Magazine, 2 (June 1840), 536.

13 - Hunt reprinted a selection of them in Lives of American Merchants, 2 vols. (New York: Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine, 185(58).

14 - Two such titles are Mathew Carey’s Autobiographical Sketches (Philadelphia: John Clarke, [1829]) and George Savage White, Memoirs of Samuel Slater, the Father of American Manufactures (Philadelphia: no pub., 1836). The Young Merchant (Philadelphia: R. W. Pomeroy, 1839), variously attributed to John Frost or to R. W. Pomeroy, went through several editions. Alexander Young, The Good Merchant (Boston: no pub., 1837). [page 36:]

15 - John R. Bodo, The Protestant Clergy and Ps‘61ic Iss?‘es, 18121848 (Princeton: Princeron Univ. Press, 1954). Henry F. May has commented that the early nineteenth-century teachers of economy in American colleges “might well be labeled clerical laissez faire‘‘ — Protestant Churches and Industrial America (New York: Harper, 1949), p. 14. “Preach the Gospel,” chapter 7 in Irvin G. Wyllie, The Self-Made Man in America: The Myth of Rags to Riches (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1954), pp. 116132, surveys the literature. For a good example, see the Reverend Orville Dewey, Moral Views of Commerce, Society and Politics (New York: Felt, 1838). W. G. Lyford, The Western Address Directory: Containing the Cards of Merchants, Manufacturers and Other Business Men (Baltimore: J. Robinson, 1837).

16 - Charles Grier Sellers, Jr., James K. Polk (Princeron: Princeton Univ. Press, 1957-66), 1, 114. I owe this beautiful example to my colleague Professor Raymond R. Wolters. For the vogue of the idea of enterprise, see Rush Welter, Mind of America, pp. 156-158.

17 - Frances M. Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), ed. Donald Smalley (New York: Knopf, 1949), p. 301.

18 - Alexis, Comte de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (first American ed. 1838), ed. Jacob P. Mayer and Max Lerner, tr. George Lawrence (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), pp. 552-553. Joel Barlow, Advice, 1, 127, 154, anticipated Tocqueville’s sentiments (see n. 7 above).

19 - “Napoleon; or The Man of the World,” in Representative Men (1850), Vol. 4 of The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 12 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1903), pp. 221258.

20 - Oxford English Dictionary, s. v. millionaire, where Benjamin Disraeli’s Vivian Grey (1826), one of Poe’s favorite novels, is cited. Excessive respect for the rich was nothing new in American society, as Dr. Alexander Hamilton’s satiric references demonstrate in “The History of the Tuesday Club” (written 1753-56), ed. Robert J. Micklus (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Delaware, 1980), pp. 415, 826.

21 - Diamond, Reputation of the American Businessman, passim.

22 - Edward Everett, An Address Delivered 6efore the Mercantile Library Association, at the Odeon, in Boston, September 13, 1838 (Boston: Ticknor, 1838); quoted from a partial reprint in the Merchants’ Magazine, 1 (July 1839), 30.

23 - Daniel Boorstin defines the businessman as “a peculiarly American type of community maker and community leader. His slatting belief was in the interfusing of public and private property.” The Americans: The National Experience, pp. 115-116.

24 - For a bibliography of these books, see Edward Pessen, Riches, Class, and Power before the Civil War (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1973), p. 347. In 1848, William Armstrong compiled The Aristocracy of New York and Thomas L. Wilson produced The Aristocracy of Boston.

25 - William Dean Howells, A Hazard of New Fortunes, ed. David J. Nordloh, Don L. Cook, et al. (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Prffs, 1976), pp. 224-225 (Part Third, ch. 2).

26 - Two studies are Wyllie, The Self-Made Man in America, and John G. Cawelti, Apostles of the Self-Made Man (Chicago: Univ. Of Chicago Press, 1965).

27 - See ch. 9, “The Self-Made Man,” in John William Ward, Andrew lackson — Symbol for an Age (1955; rpt. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1962), pp. 166-180.

28 - The Dictionary of American English, s.v. self-made man, records Clay’s usage of the phrase in the Congressional Debates on 2 February 1832.

29 - National Intelligencer, 14 July 1819. Horace Greeley is quoted in James Parton, Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (Boston: Osgood, 1864), 11, 677-678.

30 - Merchants’ Magazine, 1 (November 1839), 429n.

31 - Henry R. Graft, “Decease of the ‘Log Cabin’ Legend,” New York Times Magazine, 30 June 1963, pp. 8, 39, 41; and Robert G. Gunderson, The Log Cabin Campaign (Lexington: Univ. of Kentucky Press, 1957).

32 - Colton, Labor and Capital, “The Junius Tracts No. VII” (1844), quoted from Ideology and Power in the Age of Jackson, ed. Edwin C. Rozwenc (New York: Anchor Books, 1964), p. 356.

33 - Besides Freeman Hunt, both Timothy Shay Arthur and Horace Greeley, two more of Poe’s journalist friends, commonly praised [column 2:] commerce and the businessman. See the DAB sketches of these three, or, better, the biographies of Arthur and Greeley in Antebellum Writers in New York and the South, Vol. 111 of the Dictionary of Literary Biography, ed. Joel Myerson (Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1979). Of course the periodical press was filled with such praises; see Jerome Thomases, “Freeman Hunt’s America,‘’ Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 30 (1943), 395-407. 34The immense popularity of Franklin’s Autobiography is documented by Paul Leicester Ford, Franklin Bibliography (Brooklyn, N.Y.: no pub., 1889), nos. 383-546, to which should be added the numerous editions of the Autobiography within Franklin’s collected works.

35 - Lemay and Zall, eds., Autobiography, p. 11. Subsequent references will be presented in a clear text and indicated by the sigla “A” within the text.

36 - Pollin, Dictionary of Names and Titles in Poe’s Collected Works (New York: Da Capo Press, 1968), p. 35, and “Poe and Daniel Defoe: A Significant Relationship,” Topic: A Journal of the Liberal Arts, 16 (1976), 3-22.

37 - Arthur Hobson Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (1941; rpt. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1969), p. 84. Poe to T. W. White, 30 April 1835, in Letters, 1, 57.

38 - Mabbott points out that Lord Chesterfield wrote “Dispatch is the soul of business” (B: 491). Probably the closest nineteenth-century proverb to Poe’s “Old Saying” is “Punctuality is the soul of business.” See The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, compiled by William George Smith, 3d ed. rev. by P. P. Wilson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), p. 654, citing Thomas Chandler Haliburton, Wise Saws, that is, Sam Slick’s Wise Saws (London, 1853), p. 63.

39 - For the traditional “clothes philosophy,” see ch. 9, “The Wardrobe of a Moral Imagination,” in Paul Fussell, The Rhetorical World of Augustan Humanism (New York: Oxford Univ. Prms, 1965), pp. 211-232; or, for details in another literary work, Elias J. Chiasson, “Swift’s Clothes Philosophy in the Tale and Hooker’s Concept of Law,” Studies in Philology, 59 (1962), 64-82. Carlyle’s Sartor Resartsus (1836) was the most eminent recent book to make major use of the traditional clothff philosophy. See James C. Malin, “Carlyle’s Philosophy of Cloth” and Swedenborg’s,” Scandinavian Studies, 33 (1961), 155-168.

Mabbott points out that mansions on the Hudson were a common symbol of financial success (Works, 11, 493), and I suspect that Poe knew Freeman Hunt’s popular Letters about the Hsudson River, 3rd ed. (New York: F. Hunt, 1837), pp. 105-108, where the mansion of Col. George P. Morris (another of Poe’s friend-enemies) is described and praised.

40 - Henry D. Thoreau, Walden, ed. J. Lyndon Shanley (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1971), p. 49.

41 - From the time of the first known evaluation of the Autobiography (Richard Price’s letter to Franklin, cat 30 May 1790) to the mid-twentieth century, the commonest criticism of the Autobiography has been that Franklin disregarded man’s spiritual qualities. Times change. A late twentieth-century critic faults Franklin for not being as atheistic as Voltaire — Karl J. Weintraub, “The Puritan Ethic and Benjamin Franklin,” losurnal of Religion, 56 (1976), 223-237, esp. p. 236.

42 - The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Centenary Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903), 1, 83. See also Carl F. Strauch, “Emerson’s ‘New England Capitalist,‘” Harvard Library Bulletin, 10 (1956), 245-253. Walden, ed. Shanley, p. 22. For “Bartleby,” see The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Shorter Ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), p. 833. Allen Tate, “The Angelic Imagination,” in The Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. Eric W. Carlson (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1979), p. 239.

43 - Poe does not use the term. The earliest record of “sandwich man” is in John Camden Hotten, The Slang Dictionary, 3rd ed. (London: Hotten, 1864), p. 219, although Dickens adumbrated the expression in his Sketches by Boz (1836), p. ix: “an animated sandwich composed of a boy between two boards.”

44 - See Sidney P. Moss, Poe’s Literary Battles (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1963), for an extended discussion of “puffing” and of Poe’s attitude toward this practice of writing advertising in the guise of book reviewing. [page 37:]

45 - Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, p. 362.

46 - In Poor Richard for 1735, Franklin wrote “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” and he used the proverb again in The Way to Wealth — The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree et al. (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1959-), II, 9; VII, 342. Compare Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, p. 211. In Walden, Thoreau writes “Who would not be early to rise, and rise earlier and earlier every successive day of his life, till he became unspeakably healthy, wealthy, and wise?“ — p. 127. For a shrewd analysis of Thoreau’s use of proverbs and cliches, see Joseph J. Moldenhauer, “The Rhetorical Function of Proverbs in Walden,” Journal of American Folklore 80 (1967), 151-159.

47 - Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs, p. 93.

48 - Although not printed in the early editions of Franklin’s works, “The Speech” was widely published in periodicals, and Franklin’s authorship was known by a number of American men of letters. Poe even had the scholarly satisfaction of informing the great Franklin scholar Jared Sparks that the jeu d‘esprit signed “Celia Single” was an authentic Franklin piece — Letters, 1, 91. As a result of Poe’s letter, Sparks added a “Supplement” to The Works of Benjamin Franklin (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1836), 11, 523557, reprinting the Franklin manuscripts which William Duane, Jr., possessed, and which Poe had just published in the Southern Literary Messenger. See also The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, I 240-243; and, for “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker,” III, 120-125. Max Hall, Benjamin Franklin and Polly Baker: The History of a Literary Deception (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1960) traces the eighteenth-century popularity of “The Speech.” A few further references to its popularity are found in J. A. Leo Lemay, “The Text, Rhetorical Strategies, and Themes of ‘The Speech of Miss Polly Baker,‘” The Oldest Revolutionary: Essays on Benjamin Franklin, ed. Lemay (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), p. 115.

49 - The words are by Keats — Letters of John Keats, ed. Sidney Colvin (London: Macmillan, 1918), p. 175. For Joseph Dennie’s denigration (which Leigh Hunt echoed) of Franklin’s “scoundrel maxim,” see Lewis Leary, “Joseph Dennie on Benjamin Franklin: A Note on Early American Literary Criticism,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 72 (1948) 240-246. For Thoreau see n. 41. Melville called Franklin a “maxim-monger” in Israel Potter, ed. Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern Univ. and Newberry Library, 1982), p. 48. And Mark Twain’s entire spoof, “The Late Benjamin Franklin,” The Galaxy, 10 (1870), 138-140, ostensibly proves that “His maxims were full of animosity toward boys.” For Lawrence, see n. 6. In his Biographical Stories for Children, Hawthorne has Mr. Temple answer his son’s question “Why should he have grown so famous?” with the reply that “Poor Richard’s Almanac did more than anything else, towards making him familiarly known to the public.” The child Edward replies “I have read some of those proverbs . . . but I do not like them. They ate all about getting money or saving it“ — True Stories from History and Biography (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press 1972), pp. 273-274.

50 - Franklin left bequests to the schools of Boston, to the Pennsylvania Hospital, and to young tradesmen of Boston and Philadelphia. Typically, Mason Locke Weems praises the will in The Life of Benjamin Franklin (Philadelphia: U. Hunt, 1835), pp. 232233.

51 - Several good essays have been devoted to Franklin’s reputation: William Macdonald, “The Fame of Franklin,” Atlantic Monthly 96 (1905), 451-462; Dixon Wecter, “Poor Richard: The Boy Who Made Good,” in his The Hero in America: A Chronical of Hero Worship (New York: Scribner’s, 1941), pp. 50-80 and 495-497; Louis B. Wright, “Franklin’s Legacy to the Gilded Age,” Virginia Quarterly Review, 22 (1946), 268-279; Robert E. Spiller, “Franklin on the Art of Being Human,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 100 (1956), 304-315; and Richard D. Miles, “The American Image of Benjamin Franklin,” American Qvarterly, 9 (1957), 117-143.

52 - Poe wrote that he “should be inclined to rank John Neal first, or at all events second [that is, Poe himself was first] among our men of indisputable genius.” Since Poe’s satire in “The Business [column 2:] Man” is directed at democracy, as well as American materialism, it is noteworthy that Poe continues his serious remarks on Americans “of indisputable genius” with the question, “Is it, or is it not a fact that the air of Democracy agrees better with mere talent than with Genius“ — Complete Works, XVI, 152.

53 - In view of the alienation of French artists and intellectuals, it is only fitting that Poe’s French audience was particularly sensitive to his alienation from bourgeois values. Baudelaire remarked, ‘The man of letters is the world’s enemy“ — The Essence of Laughter and Other Essays (New York: Meridian Books, 1956), p. 188. For the development of intellectual alienation in America, see Lewis P. Simpson, “The Southern Writer and the Great Literary Secession,” in The Man of Letters in New England and the South: Essays in the History of the Literary Vocation in America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1973), esp. pp. 230-235. See also Simpson’s “Slavery and the Culture of Alienation,” in The Dispossessed Garden: Pastoral and History in Southern Literature (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1975), pp. 3464. I trust that in commenting on Poe’s alienation, I will not seem to side with those critics who have found that Poe was “Out of Space — Out of Time”; for in being alienated, he was very much a man of his time. As Marshall McLuhan has written, “it was from the experience of the Virginia of his day that Poe was able to project those symbols of alienation and inner conflict which won the immediate assent of Baudelaire himself“ — McLuhan, “Edgar Poe’s Tradition,” in The Interior Landscape: The Literary Criticism of Marshall McLuhan 1943-1962, ed. Eugene McNamara (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969), p. 217.

54 - Neither the soap-boiler nor the blacksmith belong in this catalogue of professionals and businessmen. I have pointed out that the soap-boiler probably alludes to Franklin. The blacksmith may also, for Franklin’s family had traditionally been blacksmiths (A: 3). Weems says, “for three hundred years the eldest son . . . was invariably brought up a blacksmith‘‘ — The Life of Benjamin Franklin, p. 6.

55 - See above, nn. 11 and 33.

56 - For Emerson, see Part 1. On 4 April 1769, Franklin wrote that there were “but three Ways for a Nation to Acquire Wealth,” by “War which is robbery”; “Commerce which is generally Cheating”; and “by Agriculture the only honest Way“ — The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, XVI, 109.

57 - The Memoirs of P. P., Clerk of this Parish first appeared in the Swift-Pope Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (London, 1727) and satirized the first volume of Bishop Gilbert Burnet’s History of His Own Times (London, 1724). The Scarlet Letter, p. 3.

58 - Letters, 1, 91. See also n. 35 above. Poe may glance at Franklin in “Loss of Breath” when he refers to the “originator” of lightning-rods (Works, 11, 71).

59 - Cawelti, Apostles of the Self-Made Man, pp. 43-45.

60 - Interesting treatments of the theme of the American Dream in The Great Gatsby may be found in Floyd C. Watkins, “Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatz and Young Ben Franklin,” New England Quarterly, 27 (1954), 249-252; Richard D. Lehan, “Focus on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: The Nowhere Hero,” in American Dreams, American Nightmares, ed. David Madden (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 106-114; and Brian M. Barbour, “The Great Gatsby and the American Past,” Southern Review, 9 (1973), 288-299.

61 - Poe wrote that the Act for the Establishment of Religious Freedom was one of Jefferson’s “iniquities“ — Complete Works, VII, 250. For the Act, see The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd et al. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1950), 11, 545553. Poe may have attacked Franklin’s lack of spirituality in an earlier satire, “King Pest,” where two drunken, irresponsible sailors iconoclastically break the ban and risk catching and spreading the plague “to the crew of the ‘Free and Easy‘” (Works, 1, 240, 254). Franklin’s new religious society was to be entitled the “Society of the Free and Easy” (A: 93). Poe’s allusion identifies Franklin’s new religion with the grotesque violation of society enacted by the two sailors. But it is possible either that the “Free and Easy” was the name of a Philadelphia bar or that Poe was alluding to Neal’s Charcoal Sketches (see n. 2), for Pedrigo Pumpilion in Neal’s sketch “‘Tis Only My Husband” hangs out at “the ‘free and easies‘” before his marriage (p. 27).


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1980]