[K2] “The Spermaceti Papers,” The Citizen Soldier, June 7, 1843

T h e   S p e r m a c e t i   P a p e r s .


“You see, my young friend, said the Doctor, these penny-a-line editors, these ginger-pop poets, and root-beer rhymsters—what are they? the priests that minister at the shrine of Minerva?  No—they are but the l—e crawling around the head of the goddess, the bugs that soil her vestments, the vermin that defile her person.”—(Conversations with Dr. C.)

"Blubber is a very dull thing to look at, and yet it makes a light."


The Professor is what Thucydides, in one of his familiar moods, would call a bird, not that he is one of your jolly birds, your chirping tom-tits, or musical catties; no, don’t think it.  The Professor is one of your solemn birds.  His face is grave, long, and deep in all manner of solemn thought.  A shade of gentle pallor hangs over his visage, like a lawn hankercher thrown over a gate-post.

Solemn is the Professor.  Your owl is no touch to him.  When he walks the streets, you’re convinced that something great is coming.  In stature he is small—so was Napoleon.  His appearance is impressive, his talk is tall.  He looms large on your vision, with his long, square body, and short legs, his long, pale face, and his Panama hat.

And the Professor is a writer.  The Salt River Saturday Stick and Universal Lamp-Post, glows with his fancy, and shines with his intellect.

He dives deep into the gloomy; he walks right into the moral; he is next door neighbor to the sublime.  Witness the following passage from one of the professors, Autumn Pollywogue, written for the Stick and Lamp-Post, under the assumed name of Jedediah Long:

“I love autumn.  The leaves whirl to and fro, the liveried woods look up to the lurky sky, and the wind goes whistling up and down.  It seems to have no home—the gentle wind; no abiding place, no regular residence.  A militia fine collector couldn’t catch it.  How melancholy to look at nature with an opthalmic eye!  How glorious is Providence, how divine is Goodness!  Sweet thoughts come over one’s soul, when listening to the autumn wind.  Thoughts of the grand, the far-off, and visions of the not-to-be-come-at.  With what a gush the soul goes it, under these influences!  Such a sweep, such a looseness!  How terrible is the injunction of the sage—“In nature there is a vast infinitude—study her works, and improve thyself—oh, my son!”

And in the vein poetical, the Professor is really touching.  He strings fine thoughts together, like cat-fish on a willow withe.


It’s dead and gone, the gentle thing,

No more to chirp pe-wit and sing;

Silent its tone—broken the silver string—

         It’s dead and g-o-n-e!

It used to sing in its little cage,

The ladies said ’twas quite the rage,

It died of premature old age—

         Without a g-r-o-a-n!

The Professor, we say, assisted in editing the “Stick and Lamp-Post.”  He whittled the stick to some purpose.  His way of “editing papers” was original.  He’d a way of his own—an original idea.  And let me tell you, an original idea with the spermaceti gentlemen, is no familiar visitor.  It don’t drop in to see them every day, but when it does come they treat it kindly.  They make much of it.  When the Professor has an original idea, he reminds you of a fond mother with a solitary petted child.  Or perhaps he brings to mind an ancient Dominique hen, with a single chicken, and that a speckled fowl.  The Professor treats the original idea kindly.  To-day he dresses it out in a bib and tucker, to-morrow he attires it in small clothes, and then he gives it a long-tailed coat, with metal buttons.  Find an idea in one of his stories, you will see it peeping out from all.  He pets the idea—he does.  He walks round it, “clucking” merrily all the while, with a fond, maternal regard for the safety of his chicken.—Cluck—cluck—cluck.  Tuck-oo—tuck-oo—tuck—tuck—tuck-oo!

The Professor had an idea.  Why pay half-a-dozen beggarly authors for original stories for the “Stick?”  Couldn’t Peter be half-a-dozen authors himself?  He’d like to know what was to hinder him?  Couldn’t he write under half-a-dozen names?  Hey?  To be sure he could; and so the third number of “The Salt River Saturday Stick and Universal Lamp-Post,” came out in magnificent array, brilliant with the productions of six new contributors—every soul of the six a genius, “an all-fired big fellow for trousers.”

There was “The Dying Thomas-Tit,” a sketch by Miss Angeline T. R. Bates; “The Impurpled Cemisette,” a tragic tale, by Darnely Chipps, Esq.; “The Last of the Living Licks,” a monologue, from the German of Der Schaustergrifter, by Walter Mawthorne, Esq.; “Lines on a Clean Shirt,” with some lucubrations on the use and abuse of “Dickies,” a spicy article, by Auguste Polayra, Esq.; “The Lonely Duck,” a marine story, by Balsey Babblebitsche, Esq.; “The Trial of the Triangular Tripod,” a mystery, by a “New Contributor.”

This was all very pretty.  And yet not a solitary reader of the “Stick” guessed the identity of this literary phalanx, with the Professor.

Miss Bates, Darnley Chipps, Walter Mawthorne, Augustus Polayra, Balsey Babblebitsche, Jedediah Long, and Peter Sun, all, all were—one and the same genius, in a variety of contrasted lights.

Isn’t it a blessing to have a genius, that can wear pants to-day and petticoats to-morrow?  Today the pen, to-morrow the pap-spoon?

Peter is a good boy.  He never puts nothing in his productions, except something—really moral.  Something to improve the mind, and keep the babies in order.  Something “that wouldn’t raise a blush on the most fastidious cheek, or cause a moment of pain to Miss Harriet Martineau.”

One of the choicest bits of the Professor is


There’s a beauty in a pap-spoon.  A melancholy beauty.  It’s a little spoon—and yet it has fed babies in its time.  An insignificant spoon—yet it has diluted the “slutzer” for lips infantile.  It’s a little spoon—and yet how many fond memories are associated with its humble beauties.  A mother has bent over that spoon—a father, perchance, has tasted pap from it, ere that baby took a taste.  A grandma, an aunt, an uncle, or a second cousin, may have all handled that spoon in their day, and now they all are gone—the baby has grown up, and gone to Texas—the spoon alone remains!”