Text: Clarence S. Brigham, “[Contributions for 1840 (April - May)],” Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger (1943), pp. 63-83 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 63:]

[April 1, 1840, page 2, column 2] [[TOM R-14]]

THE TRIAL OF JAMES WOOD.

The trial of the unfortunate Wood, for the murder of his daughter, Mrs. Sarah Ann Peak, was brought to conclusion on Friday evening last, the jury, after a brief absence, returning a verdict of “Not Guilty, on the ground of insanity.” This was anticipated by every one, and occasioned no surprise. The witnesses for the defence (of whom the most important was Dr. Meigs, for a long time the family physician of the accused) made out so clear a case of constitutional tendency to mania, if not of existing derangement itself, that but one course was left for the jury. The prosecution was conducted by Mr. Johnson, himself, the Attorney General of the State, who, at the conclusion of the evidence, left the matter, without argument, to the jury. Judge King briefly pointed out the main points for determination, and commented especially upon the question of insanity. Upon this head, it appears to us that a very material argument was strangely omitted by the counsel for the defence — an argument which, with many minds, would have had more weight in bringing about a conviction of the prisoner’s insanity than any urged in his behalf. It appears from the testimony that the conduct of Wood, when purchasing his pistols at the shop of the gunsmith, was characterised by an entire self-possession — a remarkable calmness — an evenness of manner altogether foreign to his usual nervous habit. His replies were cool, and without the slightest apparent trepidation. It is just possible that the defence feared to broach this striking subject; for, upon a cursory view, the facts do certainly make against the accused, and imply a premeditated and cool-blooded assassination. But the metaphysician, or the skilful medical man, would deduce from them a positive conclusion in favor of Wood. With the deep cause for agitation which he is known to have had, he could not possibly, in the supposition of his sanity, have assumed the calmness of demeanor mentioned. A nervous trepidancy would have manifested itself, if not in an ordinary form, at least in an overstrained endeavor to be calm. But, [page 64:] in the supposition of his insanity, all is natural — all is in full accordance with the well known modes of action of the madman. The cunning of the maniac — a cunning which baffles that of the wisest man of sound mind — the amazing self-possession with which at times, he assumes the demeanor, and preserves the appearance, of perfect sanity, have long been matters of comment with those who have made the subject of mania their study.

The acquittal of the accused on the ground of insanity involves his legal confinement as a madman until such time as the Court satisfy themselves of his return to sound mind. We cannot believe, however, that this truly unfortunate man will ever be restored to that degree of reason which would authorise his final discharge. His monomania is essentially periodical; and a perfect sanity for months, or even for years, would scarcely be a sufficient guaranty for his subsequent conduct. A time would still come when there would be laid to his charge another — although hardly a more horrible — deed of sudden violence and bloodshed.

NOTE: The report of the Trial of James Wood is distinctly by Poe. Interested in the morbid, he brought the subject of insanity into several of his Tales. The analysis of the mind of a homicidal maniac, accenting the self-possession and cunning which gave the impression of sanity, he brought out in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Wood’s murder of his daughter, Mrs. Edward Peake, because he disapproved of her marriage, was on September 30, 1839, and a lengthy account of the affair, with a full report of the coroner’s inquest, was printed in the Public Ledger of October 1. The trial itself was reported in the Public Ledger from March 24 to 30, 1840, the testimony sometimes running to four columns in length.

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[April 1, 1840, page 2, column 2] [[TOM R-15]]

DISINTERMENT.

We see it stated in some of the papers that thirty-two physicians of St. Clairsville, Louisiana, and its vicinity, have threatened to refuse medical attendance to any one who shall support the bill before the Legislature of that State, making disinterment of the dead for dissection a State Prison offence. This is undoubtedly a [page 65:] bold stand, but one which may well be justified. Human dissection is the surest and truest basis, indeed the only sure basis, of all medical knowledge — A blow legally struck at it, is a vital blow to the best and most important interests of the human family. The prejudice which wars with dissection proceeds from the finest feelings, and is worthy of all respect — but there should be no legal fostering or protection of any mere prejudice whatever.

NOTE: There is nothing in this article which is particularly suggestive of Poe’s style, but the subject would have interested him. Herewith printed only as a probable Poe item.

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[April 1, 1840, page 2, column 5] [[TOM R-16]]

CABS.

These anomalous vehicles, of which we Americans know so little by personal inspection, and so much through the accounts of the travelled, and the pages of the novelist, are about to be introduced among us “as a regular thing.” In New-York they are already gaining ground, and going over it. The cab proper, as used in London, is an affair sui generic, and has very little affinity with any thing else in nature. It resembles, in some respect, the old-fashioned sedan chair, and carries two inside passengers, who sit vis a vis, with the coachman at top. The bottom nearly touches the pavement, and the entire vehicle has an outre appearance. Those in New York at present, are of a bright chocolate color, and look very stylish. Their charge is twenty five cents for any distance under two miles. The cab-introduction will bring about among us a peculiar race of people — the cabman. These creatures are not mentioned in Buffon, and Cuvier has entirely forgotten them. They bear a droll kind of resemblance to the human species — but their faces are all fashioned of brass, and they carry both their brains and their souls in their pockets.

NOTE: This article is undoubtedly by Poe, who not only liked plays upon words, but was the only person connected with the Messenger likely [page 66:] to bring Buffon and Cuvier into such an editorial. He also wrote an article on Cabs for the Philadelphia Public Ledger of July 18, 1844, if we can believe the opinion of his friend and contemporary, Eli Bowen, editor of the Columbia Spy, of Columbia, Penn. (see Poe’s Doings of Gotham, 1929, pp. 82, 88), which ascription Poe did not contradict.

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[April 1, 1840, page 2, column 5] [[TOM R-17]]

BURTONS GENTLEMANS MAGAZINE

This racy Magazine is out this month with another magnificent plate by Sartain. The design is by S. E. Jones — the subject a rotund little gentleman “done brown.” He is keeping a sham appointment under a garden wall, while two arch damsels observe him from above in high glee. The engraving is in Sartain’s best style, and is, consequently, admirable — equal to “The Pets.” The literary contents of the number are unusually good. First and best, we have an article called “The April Fool,” by the senior editor, in illustration of the frontispiece just mentioned. The hero is Mister Robert Muggridge, and a very droll hero he is — this is a glorious story, gloriously told. There is no better narrator of such things as these than W. E. Burton.

The “Miami Valley” is concluded, and every one will regret that it is — the last words of the writer are deeply affecting. Mr. Poe has a clever Sonnet. “The Philosopher’s Stone,” by S. J. Burr, is — not so gocd as it might be. “Columbus” is mere twaddle. By the bye, we do think it somewhat odd that while the writer of this poem puffs it pertinaciously in all the New York papers to which he has access, he never thinks of acknowledging its origin in the “Gentleman’s Magazine.” Does he know that that journal honors him by the insertion of his articles?

The “Journal of Julius Rodman” progresses beautifully. The travellers are far on their way, and will soon enter a tract of country hitherto undescribed. A fine engraving illustrates this chapter. “The Log of Old Ironsides” concludes, and Mr. Jesse Erskine Dow avows himself (somewhat vauntingly) the author. The Log, however, has been a good thing. [page 67:]

“The Hollenthal, a tale of Suabia,” will arrest attention — it is a vivid sketch, and strongly evinces Mr. Burton’s versatility of talent, as well as his extraordinary industry. The “Review of New Books” this month strikes us as being entirely from his pen, and is unusually good. By way of appendix, are some forcible observations upon the Copy Right Question.

NOTE: This is quite in Poe’s style, and undoubtedly from his pen. Although magazine reviewers, writing anonymously, were wont to praise their own contributions, they generally exercised a certain amount of restraint. Poe, rather than Burton, would have written the notice of the latter’s “April Fool.” The adverse criticism of S. J. Burr’s “Philosopher’s Stone” and Frederick West’s dull and long drawn-out poem “Columbus” are typical of Poe. The statement that the reviews “strike” the critic as Burton’s is important. Poe went out of his way, in Graham’s for November 1841, to disavow the review of Ainsworth’s Crichton in Burton’s for April 1840. It has been pointed out that the rejection of all reviews in April apparently does not harmonize with Poe’s statement in a letter of June I, 1840 to Burton (printed correctly by Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe, p. 299) that he wrote 17 pages in the April issue.

Regarding this discrepancy Dr. Mabbott writes me as follows: “In view of the figures of the estimate, I formerly thought some of the reviews for April might be Poe’s. But learning of the remark in Alexander’s I have reworked the whole series of contributions to Burton’s Magazine. Four of the twelve months for which he gives figures can be checked against definite statements by Poe of what he wrote. A very large portion of the reviews in all months can be verified as Poe’s by methods similar to those used in the present discussion of the writings in Alexander’s, and sometimes by Poe’s inclusion of whole paragraphs in his “Marginalia.” It seems to me significant that no review in April is certainly established, and only one, a very brief and unimportant notice of Grant’s Every Day Life in London, refers back to a review that Poe did write. As to the figures sent Burton, nine of the twelve months seem to balance exactly, but December 1839 is one too low, May’s 14 should be 17 (the evidence is definite, and the month certified by the reference to copying a MS), and 17 for April is hopeless. Assigning Poe the sure items, all parts of series, “Julius Rodman,” “Omniana,” and “A Chapter on Science and Art,” we get but 8 pages and a fraction. “Silence — a Sonnet” is a reprint, and Poe scrupulously avoided counting them elsewhere. Adding “A Word or Two on the Copyright Question” and Grant, which are probably Poe’s, we get but 9 and a fraction, say 10. Adding all the other reviews it would be only a scant 13. Poe apparently grew careless as he finished his estimates, and certainly ended by adding his figures incorrectly. The statement in Alexander’s therefore seems to be correct; its vague wording may be caused by the presence of the one unimportant [page 68:] review, Poe’s purpose being almost surely to disavow the significant portion of the critical department. The Grant of course must be now regarded as doubtful. In no other month is there so small a proportion of reviews that may be assigned surely or tentatively to Poe. Evidence of Burton’s style and interest in matters theatrical does pervade several of the reviews.”

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[April 8, 1840, page 2, column 2] [[TOM P-11]]

CYPHERS.

We have on hand one or two letters from enigmatical friends, to which we cannot attend, this week, owing to a press of business. In our next they shall hear from us in full. Incog. is over-hasty, and must read what we said again. We meant no offence in the world, and thought we were sufficiently careful in so wording our article as not to give any.

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[April 15, 1840, page 2, columns 4-5] [[TOM R-18]]

REVIVALS.

Some weeks since we said a few words upon the subject of the late Methodist revivals in Philadelphia, of which we were very glad to hear, as every man making pretensions to ordinary morality must be, whether he be a professor of religion or not. The cause of happiness is always aided by the prosperity of religion, and by the increase of religionists. We repeat that we were pleased to find our papers filled with details of numerous revivals, but we were, we confess, not a little astonished, also, to discover that the victuallers of the city — a class somewhat noted for jolly propensities — were foremost upon the list of the converted.

Upon taking up a number of the “Jeffersonian Democrat” a day or two since, we were surprised to find a correspondent who signs himself T. (possibly Tugmutton) abusing us at a round rate about the paragraph in question, and calling us by all kinds of hard names — such as “atheistical sceptica [[sceptics]],” “scoffers,” “infidels,” [page 69:] “heathens,” (or something to that effect) “enemies of religion and good government,” “cowards,” and “impious insulters utterly destitute of good breeding.” The editor of the paper, in giving place to the remarks of his puritanical correspondent, takes occasion to compliment us very highly (for which we tender him our acknowledgments) and to give his friend Tugmutton a severe but sly rap over the knuckles. We doubt, however, if the brilliant and irate T., will understand one word of the hint. The editor, in publishing his effusion, has done us a service, and treated Tug-mutton in an unmerciful manner. At all events, should we ever be guilty of writing such horrible nonsense we should take it as very unkind treatment in any friend of ours to publish it. The fact is that your greatest sighers and groaners are invariably the greatest nincompoops and villains; and the man who can cant as desperately as Tugmutton has here done, would make no hesitation in stealing a sheep, but would hardly know what to do with it when stolen.

NOTE: Poe’s use of the humorous name “Tugmutton,” as well as the general style of the article, shows it to be from his pen. He had similarly used the word “Tugmutton” in his beet-root article in the issue of December 18, 1839. Various slang dictionaries define “Tugmutton” as a youngster, a whore-monger and a glutton. I cannot locate the “Jeffersonian Democrat” in any library, nor find it recorded in any newspaper checklist. Poe might have referred to the “Jefferson Democrat,” published at Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1840, but there is no file located for April 1840, to prove the point. [[TOM — “Poe seems to take the word as sheep stealer.”]]

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[April 15, 1840, page 2, column 5] [[TOM R-19]]

THE WORM.

Under this head we have observed, of late, a variety of erudite articles in some of our daily papers, not only here but in New York, Boston and elsewhere. The hubbub, it appears, has been created by an old story revived concerning a living worm seen in the eye of a horse. The Philadelphia Gazette is incredulous — the Ledger a true believer — and each paper has its partisans. The only wonder in the case is that so mighty a controversy should [page 70:] arise about a matter with which every tolerably decent schoolboy is acquainted, and a detailed account of which may be found in all works upon Natural History. The worm in question belongs to Cuvier’s class of Entozoa — thus defined, “Body in general elongated or depressed; articulated or not; without limbs; no branchia nor trachea, nor any other organ of respiration; no traces of a true circulation: some vestiges of nerves; almost all live within other animals.” The fact is that there are hardly any tissues or cavities in the animal frame where entozoa are not discovered. They have been frequently observed in the muscular substance, and very frequently in the human brain.

NOTE: Poe showed a later interest in this form of worm, or entozoa, which in his “Thousand-and-Second Tale” he placed in the brain of a man-animal. It is also described in similar language in Wyatt’s Natural History, p. 143. The living worm, or snake, in a horse’s eye aroused much interest in the newspapers of the day. The article on the Worm was in the Philadelphia Gazette of April 14, 1840; in the Public Ledger of April 9, 1840; and in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier of May 2, 1840.

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[April 22, 1840, page 2, column 3] [[TOM P-??]]

CYPHERS AGAIN.

A press of business has prevented us, for one or two weeks past, from paying attention to our enigmatical correspondents — favors from several of whom we have on hand. We now proceed to square all accounts by a full solution of every thing received.

The first cypher we take up runs as follows:

2.9.14.7.8.1.13.20.15.14 2 18.15.15 13 5. 3 15.

21.14.20 25. 1.16 189.12 1st 1840. 6.18. 15.13.

25 15 21.18.6.18 25.14.4. 8 5 14.18.25

The translation is — Binghampton, Broome county, N. Y. — your friend, Henry.

We are happy in having it in our power to oblige our friend at Terre Coupee. His cypher is thus read: [page 71:]

The wind blows hard, the thunder rolls,

Among the trees the lightnings gleam,

The rain in torrents sweep along,

The God of storms now reigns supreme.

The wind is hushed, the air is sweet,

Now Sol resumes his wonted splendor —

This Messenger’s a handsome sheet;

Its boss must be a son of Endor.

Our patriot fathers bravely fought,

Our rights preserved, our freedom won,

Their sons will guard the sacred gift —

Decipher this, and I am done.

We now come to a letter from Kalida, Ohio, written in characters for which we have no type in the office, but of which the translation is thus:

Sir, Sometime since I forwarded to you the money for eleven copies of the “Weekly Messenger,” for the last three weeks, but only ten copies have been received at this office.

Yours,   F. RISLEY.

We have attended to the matter.

Another communication is dated from Philadelphia, and is as follows:

Dear Sir: — I have seen for some time with astonishment, and I must say with doubt, your wonderful solutions of hieroglyphical writing; and so great has been my skepticism, that I have determined to test your powers with the above articles, both original. If you succeed in solving them I shall certainly suggest the propriety of employing you to read all the despatches, written in cypher, that may be intercepted during the course of the Bloodhound War.

Respectfully yours,  
HAMILTON BROWN.

[page 72:]

For the first we have no type — but we presume one will satisfy Mr. Brown.

C’WW WPB VKI WPYKIY UN BI VKONJ

C’WW NZV BI W VKI XIEB DZCNJ

PFL WPJI BI YVPEV

IPNK AUWWB YKPWW EINIOXI MB YVCFL

IPNK UCNI ZFW MB AIIV CWW GECFL

PFL MPJI CV YMPEV.

of which the meaning is —

I’ll lay the lash on ye thick,

I’ll cut ye to the very quick,

And make ye start,

Each folly shall receive my sting,

Each vice unto my feet I’ll bring.

And make it smart.

To INCOG, we reply, that we must decline, for the present, a full explanation of our method of solution, but will speak upon the subject hereafter in a way which will convince him that he has only partially understood the matter. We say again deliberately that human ingenuity cannot concoct a cypher which human ingenuity cannot resolve.

Lafayette, Ind., April 9, 1840.

MR. C. ALEXANDER.

Dear Sir: — Having ever since I commenced taking your interesting and valuable paper, noticed a disposition with you to oblige your subscribers, permit me to take advantage of that disposition, and respectfully request of you the solution of the following puzzle, which will, no doubt, satisfy a few of your subscribers in this place that you solve them honestly, of which / have no doubt.

Very respectfully  
Yours, &c.,  
“LITTLE RICH.”

[page 73:]

The translation is —

The battle field of Tippecanoe has become classic ground. The American traveller pauses there to contemplate a scene which has become hallowed by victory. The people of Indiana contemplate with pride the battle ground on which their militia won imperishable honor, and their infant State became enrolled in the ranks of patriotism.

At the bottom of the cypher we find the three mysterious words “I recon not” — spelling as we give it.

NOTE: Professor Arthur H. Quinn, in commenting upon the last puzzle in this article, writes me: “The reference to the battle field of Tippecanoe reads to me like a political puff for General Harrison. Poe says in one of his letters that he ‘battled with right good-will for Harrison, when opportunity offered.’ The passage has certainly a Whig flavor, therefore it may be no real cryptogram at all.”

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[April 22, 1840, page 2, col. [[column]] 4] [[TOM R-20]]

A LONG LEAP.

Under this head we perceive chronicled in many of our papers a somewhat tough story in relation to Miss Kerr, the danseuse. This young lady, it is said, was a passenger on board the steamboat Selma, which was snagged in going up the Mississippi, and when the boat parted in the middle, found herself on the hurricane roof of the part sinking in deep water. With a desperate bound she sprang to the part falling towards the shore, and, at one leap cleared a space of twenty eight feet. We are sorry to spoil a good thing, or to deprive Miss K. in the slightest degree of her gymnastic honors, but then there is rather too much of the Munchausen in this story, and we happen to know something about leaping. We doubt very much if the quintessence of desperation would force any young or old lady in Christendom, with a run, into a leap of more than sixteen feet, or, without a run, into one of more than eight. The longest leap on record, by man, on firm ground, and with all the impetus of a previous run, does not exceed twenty-two [page 74:] feet. It is very possible that Miss Kerr, who is certainly an agile damsel, did go the entire animal, as described, to the extent of twenty-eight inches. Some wag has multiplied the matter by twelve.

NOTE: This is written in Poe’s satirical manner, and he did “know something about leaping.” Henry B. Hirst, in his biography of Poe in the Philadelphia Saturday Museum of March 4, 1843, says: “In his youth, Mr. Poe was noted for gymnastic feats, to an extent almost beyond the credible; and it is believed, that, to this day, he remembers such achievements with greater pride, than any subsequent mental triumphs. At one period he was known to leap the distance of twenty-one feet, six inches, on a dead level, with a run of twenty yards.” Col. John Preston, a boyhood friend, relates the same story, as quoted in Mary E. Phillips’ Edgar Allan Poe, vol. I, p. 197. In the Southern Literary Messenger for August 1836, vol. 2, p. 599, Poe, reviewing Inklings of Adventure by Willis, says: “This gulf is six feet across and, of course, says Mr. Slingsby, ‘it was impossible to jump it.’ (We have jumped one and twenty feet, six inches ourselves, but then we are no Mr. Slingsby ...)”; and he speaks of the relative difficulty of jumping ten or twenty feet, and the impossibility of jumping to the moon, in Eureka (Harrison, Works of Poe, vol. t 6, p. 201). In 1846 he distanced several competitors in a leaping contest, as related by Mrs. Mary Gove Nichols in some reminiscences of a visit to Poe’s house at Fordham (Six Penny Magazine, February 1863, reprinted in 193 t under the title Reminiscences of Edgar Allan Poe). The story of the accident on the Mississippi was in the Public Ledger of April 20, taken from a New Orleans paper. Miss Ann Kerr was a well known danseuse, performing in this country as early as 1827, dancing at one time with Fanny Ellsler, and married to C. W. Hunt in 1841. There are many references to her in Odell’s Annals of the New York Stage, vol. 4, and a short biographical sketch in Wemyss Chronology of the American Stage, 1852, p. 86.

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[April 22, 1840, page 4, column 1] [[TOM R-21]]

CHANGING SEATS. — The following problem may be found in many of our elementary books of arithmetic: A club of eight persons agreed to dine together every day as long as they could sit down to the table differently arranged. How many dinners would be necessary to complete this arrangement? — Answer — by the well known rule of permutation, it will be found that the whole party must live Ho years and 170 days, and must eat [page 75:] 362,880 dinners. So rapidly does the sum roll up on this process that if the party had consisted of one more person, they would have had 443,520 dinners to get through; and if ten persons were to enter into the compact, it would be necessary for them, in order to complete their task, to live long enough to devour 3,628,800 dinners.

NOTE: Included because Poe probably handled all puzzle queries. A later article of May 6, 1840 makes a correction of the above puzzle, stating that a line had been omitted.

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[April 29, 1840, page 2, column 4] [[TOM P-16]]

CYPHERS.

We have just received the following: —

New Carlisle, Ia. [[In.]], April 9th, 1840.

C. ALEXANDER. — Dear Sir — As you have in your Weekly Messenger defied the world to puzzle you by substituting arbitrary signs, figures, etc., for the different letters of the alphabet, I have resolved to try my utmost to corner you and your system together, and have manufactured the two odd looking subjects which accompany this as avant couriers. If you solve the last one, please to state in your paper how you applied your system to it. Your success in solving the ugly and odd-looking puzzles which have been showered upon you, has surprised all your subscribers in this vicinity, and your system is so unique, and, at first glance, so improbable, that some have rather doubted the genuineness of your communications. If you succeed in solving the accompanying, I will, of course, as you request, acknowledge it publicly to my friends.

With respect, I am,  
Sincerely your friend,  
SCHUYLER COLFAX.

We have only time, this week, to look at the first and longest cypher — the unriddling of which, however, will no doubt fully [page 76:] satisfy Mr. Colfax that we have not been playing possum with our readers. It runs thus:

8n()h58td w!O bt!x6ntz

k65!nz k65,81tn bhx 8ndhPxd!zw8x 6k n6

?6w — tud!x86n; x=tOzt55!zt x=t w8nz

8n 8xd 62n tdXttw!nz k65?t 8x x6

5t36 t5 8xd Pt?tP b3 5t?tUst.

() hn8hd.

And is thus decyphered —

“Injuries may be atoned for and forgiven, but insults admit of no compensation; they degrade the mind in its own esteem, and force it to recover its level by revenge.”

JUNIUS

By some accident we have mislaid a letter, from Austinburg we think, and signed with two names. It contained a very simple cypher which we were requested to unravel. If the writers will take the trouble to forward another, or the same, we shall be happy to convince them of our ability in this way. It will be but fair, however, to comply with our conditions. The words in the cypher sent were not properly separated from each other.

NOTE: Schuyler Colfax, later to be Vice-president of the United States during Grant’s first term, in 1840 was a youth of seventeen, living at New Carlisle, Indiana. It is interesting to note that Alexander required all letters to his paper to be addressed to him, rather than to Poe, who conducted the puzzle column.

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[April 29, 1840, page 2, columns 4-5] [[TOM R-22]]

A CHARLATAN!

Weather Prophet, Star Reader, & Fortune Teller.

A more signal rebuke of impudent presumption has seldom been witnessed than in the instance of the Charlatan Hague, who, for some months, has been laboring to impose his “predictions of the weather” upon the community. Professing to be able to “read [page 77:] the stars” and divine future events, he has published a pamphlet of trash, which we are sorry to see noticed by any person of the slightest pretension to intelligence or discernment. That it has so been noticed, and above all, that it is made a means of aiding the puerile imposition of “fortune telling,” are the only reasons why the impostor meets any other than silent contempt.

This Hague, then, is a “fortune teller,” one of that hopeful class who get their living by their impositions. His fortune telling powers, are, we suppose, equal to his capacity for predicting the state of the weather, and how great that is we shall presently make manifest. It is, perhaps, not a matter to be treated seriously, especially since the almanac makers, after long and ample experience, have generally relinquished this weather prediction as being utterly unworthy of credence. But Mr. Hague takes up the castoff trade and attempts to make a fortune-telling profit out of it, with what success let his numerous blunders for March explain.

A friend who cut out his “predictions” and took the trouble of marking them day by day, exhibits the following string of blunders. It is really a matter of no little merriment how the fellow could possibly miss hitting the mark so constantly. Let him, in his next attempt, after manufacturing his impositions, reverse the whole mass and publish precisely the opposite of his predictions. He will then be quite as correct and possibly a little more so.

March 1st, was to have been “blustering, boisterous, frosty, and like a lion.” Instead of which it “roared me like a sucking dove,” and was most delightfully mild and provokingly warm.

March 2d. “High winds and extremely severe weather” was the sage prediction, instead of which mild airs puffed their pleasant and really warm contradictions flat in the face of Mr. Hague’s prophecy.

March 3d. Ditto with the preceding, and as palpably contradicted.

March 4th, was to have been “very cold with heavy falls of snow,” but the weather obstinately persisted in not getting very cold, while the entire absence of a particle of snow utterly confounded the quack predictions. [page 78:]

March 5, there was snow predicted, but none came; it was also to have been cold, but precisely the reverse happened to be the case.

March 6 and 7. After the predicted fall of snow — which said snow did not come — we were to have had the weather milder and warmer, when the very opposite was the fact. But the most thorough and mortifying rebuke which this arrant Charlatan could possible experience happened on

March 8. After most falsely predicting that the preceding day was to be milder and fairer, he says — the 8th will be still clearer and warmer, i.e. the 6th warm, the 7th warmer, and the 8th still warmer — instead of which, the United States Gazette says — “It was so cold on the morning of the 8th that the mercury sank to 22 deg.” To make this failure still more signal, the sage farther predicted “a threatening sky, with large white clouds and heavy masses of condensed vapors,” when, in fact, there was not a cloud to be seen, and it was actually as clear as a bell all day.

March 9. We were to have had “hail and rain, accompanied with lightning and thunder,” instead of which there was not a particle of either to be seen or heard of.

March to. A damp atmosphere, and rain, were predicted, but verified by no such thing. It was not damp at all, and not a particle of rain fell.

March 11. — “Blustering weather,” “heavy rains,” “unpleasant,” &c., were the predictions put forth with all the gravity and confidence that impudence could assume for this day, and just as positively contradicted. The weather having been on that day cool, fine, and pleasant.

March 12. — “The air gets warmer.” True. This wonderful prophet happens to hit it this once. Let him have the credit of his amazing sagacity.

March 13. — “More settled and pleasant.” Instead of which, we had a slight sprinkle of snow, which said snow was not predicted. The weather was not more pleasant, though fair enough for the season.

March 14. — “Fine,” “night brings a change” — a small mistake! [page 79:] all the change commencing long before night. But what change, whether colder or warmer, or wet or dry, is not said.

March 15. — “An overcast sky,” is all he ventures on. The twenty-four hours commenced with a snow storm, which was not predicted, and the balance was made up of a fair proportion of clouds and sunshine.

March 16. — A most laughable budget of blunders verified this day’s predictions. “Frost” and “fogs,” and “sleet and cold rains in abundance,” were to have come, when actually nothing of the kind happened. Opposite this batch of stupidity we find marked an appropriate and emphatic “Bah!”

March 17. — Equally stupid and false is the prediction of “sleety,” “wintery weather” for St. Patrick’s day. There was nothing of the kind; not a particle of aught like sleet or winter; and so with

March 18. — Which our prophet is “werry” funny about; but the “bluster” he predicted did not happen to take place, to his great chagrin, no doubt.

March 19. — Completes the climax. Impudence and absurdity need go no farther. We have this day “fine, pleasant weather” distinctly foretold, when as if signally to rebuke this silly falsifier, the rain came down incessantly all day, thoroughly drenching all the prophet’s pretentions, giving him very much the appearance of a drowned rat.

But we have no patience to follow out the track of this trash maker to the end. Those who may take the trouble will find it “so forth and so on” to the end of the chapter. Blunder upon blunder marks the entire catalogue. This is a mere matter of course with all impostors, but those who are credulous or weak enough to suffer themselves to be imposed upon, may easily verify a few odd days. This can be done by stringing a bunch of days together and giving a general mixing up, making a lump job of it, like some sage Almanac maker who commences at the top and running down the whole page with “about these days expect a little changeable weather,” or something of that sort. Or those who are particularly anxious to help out the predictions, may take the little end of any [page 80:] day in the month and give the complexion of its half hour or so, as a complete and perfect verification of that day’s prophecy. Or by claiming rain somewhere else when there happens to be none here, and sunshine there, when it happens to be otherwise here. This is a singularly convenient process, by the aid of which, you can have it rain or dry, clouds or sunshine, and blow hot or cold, with the same breath, ad libitum et infinitum.

NOTE: Thomas Hague is entered in the Philadelphia Directory for 1840 as “planet reader.” He issued The Meteorological Almanac and Spring Quarter Horoscope in the spring of 1840, to cover the months of April, May and June, of which there is a copy in the Library of Congress; but no copy of the issue which covered March 1840 can be located. The local papers treated him none too kindly, and the Public Ledger on April 9 and 14, 1840 printed articles concerning him, concluding that his horoscopes were “decidedly humbuguous.” The Philadelphia Saturday Courier began on January 4, 1840 to print a column on the Horoscope and weather predictions signed by T. Hague. In March at the end of each week, Hague published his predictions for the previous seven days, in order to show how generally accurate they were — quite different from the results shown in the above article.

The article headed “A Charlatan” is evidently by Poe, who liked to prick the bubbles of pretense and to write in a sarcastic vein about those whom he disliked. In his “Marginalia,” no. xxm, he says: “Brown, in his ‘Amusements,’ speaks of having transfused the blood of an ass into the veins of an astrological quack — and there can be no doubt that one of Hague’s progenitors was the man.” This reference was to Thomas Brown’s Amusements Serious and Comical, London, 1700. Dr. Mabbott says that Poe probably obtained his reference from a chapter on Quacks in James Puckle’s Club, a book which he often quoted, rather than from the original source. The dove quotation of March 1 is from “Midsummer’s Night Dream.”

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[May 6, 1840, page 2, column 2] [[TOM R-02(2)]]

CHANGING SEATS.

The correspondent who writes us in regard to a permutation puzzle which appeared in the Messenger a few weeks ago, is informed that an error occurred in the printed article by the omission of a line. The answer is as he gives it. [page 81:]

NOTE: Printed in continuation of the previous article on the same subject, on April 22.

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[May 6, 1840, page 2, column 2] [[TOM R-23]]

CREDULITY.

“It is well known,” says a clever contemporary, by way of commencing an article on the subject of credulity, “that men are deceived with a facility proportioned to their own inability or indisposition to deceive others.” This remark must surely be taken cum grano salis. Men, entirely unable to deceive others; at all events, men perfectly indisposed to deceive others are not unfre-quently found to have the sharpest eyes in the case of attempted imposition upon themselves. We have known numerous instances of a pure integrity and utter single-mindedness combined with the most wonderful acumen in regard to the motives which actuate the worldly. Simplicity is not always stupidity — and as a pendant to this proposition we may observe that, had we ourselves occasion to deceive your man of finesse, we should feel more certain of accomplishing our object by a course of undisguised frankness and truth, than by the most elaborate processes of cunning. To act honorably with a scoundrel is so completely to mystify him as to paralyze his utmost exertions. In other stages of existence we may be endowed with a sixth sense, yet of its nature we cannot, with the five now possessed, establish in our minds even the shadow of a conception. Truth is the sixth sense to the man of wiles. He feels that there may be such a thing, but he is bewildered in his endeavors to comprehend its use, and succumbs at once to him who robes himself in a garb so mysterious yet so august.

NOTE: This article is quite in line with Poe’s style and sentiments. Professor Quinn calls to my attention the fact that Poe, in “The Colloquy of Monos and Una” (Graham’s Magazine, August 1841, vol. 14, p. 54), writes about the sixth sense, by which his character, in listening to the ticking of clocks, could measure the “slightest deviations from the true proportion.”

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[page 82:]

[May 6, 1840, page 2, column 2] [[TOM R-04(2)]]

THE DAGUERREOTYPE.

The New York Sunday Mercury, one of the very best papers we receive in every respect, has a good article on the Fifteenth annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design. Its observations on the Daguerreotype are especially excellent. It observes, however, that, until the transcript can be produced on paper, its use can never prove detrimental to the interests of the engraver. This is true in part, but then the production of the Daguerreotype effects on paper is likely to be soon accomplished. In France some very successful attempts have been made in this way. We agree fully, nevertheless, with the Mercury, that the invention will prove, upon the whole, highly beneficial to the interests of the fine arts. By the way, why is it that Americans persist in mispelling the word Daguerreotype. The accent should be placed upon the second e as we give it, and the word thus becomes one of five instead of four syllables.

NOTE: Poe again complains of the incorrect spelling and accent of the word “daguerreotype,” as he did in the previous article of January 15. The article in the New York Sunday Mercury was in its issue of May 3, 1840, and the editors were so pleased with being noticed by Alexander’s paper that they reprinted the “puff” in their issue of May to.

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[May 6, 1840, page 2, column 4] [[TOM R-24]]

BULWER USED UP.

The last number of Frazer’s Magazine, uses up the novels of Mr. Edward Lytton Bulwer in fine style, but with little scruple as far as regards integrity, candor, or fact. We mean this remark as applicable only to the charges made against the incidental and colloquial portions of the works in question. But the critic is, in our opinion, perfectly right in condemning by wholesale Bulwer’s absurd pretence to metaphysical knowledge. The parade which he always makes of this, arises from a consciousness of his total ignorance [page 83:] and deficiency. He has warm passions and a glowing imagination — but nothing can be more perplexed and indistinct than his reasoning powers, and nothing possibly worse than his style.

NOTE: Characteristically by Poe, and in line with the biting sarcasm of many of his reviews. Poe generally was favorable to Bulwer and praised his skill in plots and his imaginative qualities. In the “Marginalia” he has several notices of Buiwer’s work, especially in one long article where he says that Bulwer’s criticism “is really beneath contempt” and his moral philosophy “most ridiculous” (Harrison, Works of Poe, vol.16, p. 158); yet in other places he praises him highly. In his review of “Night and Morning” (Graham’s Magazine, 1841, vol. 18, pp. 200-201), Poe criticizes the defects in Bulwer’s style and his anxiety “to appear profound.” The article in Fraser’s Magazine was in the issue of January 1840, in which Thackeray criticized Bulwer’s work under the heading of “Epistles to the Literati.” Poe liked the phrase “used up” and employed it in his “Fifty Suggestions,” no. xviii (Harrison, Works of Poe, vol. 14, p. 174).

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[May 6, 1840, page 2, column 6] [[TOM R-25]]

BEST CONUNDRUM YET.

With this heading we find the following in the New York Signal: — “Why may Prince Albert be considered a saving and frugal personage?” Answer — because he lays by a sovereign every night.” Mr. Benjamin, we have a very high respect for you, but not for your opinion about your own puns. Do you seriously think that conundrum a good one — we don’t. To be good, a double entendre should be at least good English when viewed on either side. Now we may lay by a piece of money — but we lie by a wife.

NOTE: Poe’s interest in conundrums, and the place given to this paragraph on the editorial page, well apart from the column (not by Poe) entitled “Wit and Humor,” together with the analytical tone, leads to the belief that it was by Poe. The conundrum appeared in Park Benjamin’s paper, the New York Evening Signal of April 30, 1840. The New York Sunday Mercury of May 3, 1840 quotes the conundrum from the Signal, and disparages it because it was “perpetrated at the sacrifice of good grammar.”

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Notes:

Neither Brigham nor Mabbott comment on the abbreviation for Indiana used in the text for the letter from Shuyler Colfax. The abbreviation of states was not standardized at the time the article was originally printed, so they presumably did not consider it an error.

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[S:0 - CSB43, 1943] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Articles - Edgar Allan Poe’s Contributions to Alexander’s Weekly Messenger (C. S. Brigham) (Contributions for 1840, April - May)