[K3] “The Spermaceti Papers,” The Citizen Soldier, June 14, 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."


It would have done you good—a look at Blow Nakre—Blow Nakre, Esq.

You may have seen a bean pole walk, or a pair of them try the pedestrian movement together.—You may have seen a lean rooster, with  his tail shorn short, stalking along in sullen dignity, his comb erect, and his bill thrown upward.  You may have seen the poor devil, who has shaken hands—or feet—with the tread-mill, walk after his release, one foot planted in the air, and then the other, as though he were ascending imaginary stairs.

You may see all these, and yet still have but an indefinite idea of Blow Nakre, Esq.

Did you ever see a moving panorama?  Here is one.  Suppose your position taken at the corner of one of the streets of Cairo.

Mark that man yonder.  Tall, slim and lean in figure; spare body; spindle-shanked lower limbs; thin bony arms, and a hatchet face, with small ferret eyes, sharp nose, turned heavenward, and a little sprinkling of whiskers on either cheek.

Mark how he walks.  D'ye see the tread mill gait?  The imaginary stairway scramble?  And the little black cane in his hand—how he twirls it—what an air, what a swell, what a rush!

That is Blow Nakre, Esq., business man of the Salt River Saturday Stick and Universal Lamp-Post.  That's Blow Nakre, who sells the tickets for the temperance concerts at Cairo.  That's the man whose name's on every committee—stereotyped in every advertisement.  That's the terror of the newsmen, the fear of the newsboys.  That is—Blow Nakre, Esq.

I have a high respect for Blow.  I am at times a believer in the Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration—over the left.

I think that the spirits of animals enter the bodies of men, instead of men disguising themselves in beasts and birds—wild cats or tom tits.  Where was the animal that exists in Blow Nakre previous to its present habitation?  What was it?  It couldn't have been a pig—I ask for information.  Could it now?  A weazel, perhaps?  Maybe a cat?  Yes, perhaps a cat, with a stick to it.  A cat that frequents the wild wood, and dwells amid strange and overpowering perfumes.

There is an insect that lives in luxury, riots in fatness, swells big in plenty.  It turns and it twists; it peers into things, and it looks out from rottenness.  It is called the—maggot, and the scene of its glories is a—rotten cheese.

There was a malicious man in the city of Cairo, who once said that Blow Nakre was—the—insect, and the "Salt River Saturday Stick and Universal Lamp-Post" was the cheese.  God help the wight who owns the cheese, that keeps the insect.  And the man also remarked, as I thought with some pity, that there were other insects in this cheese, kicking and pushing in fatness.

Blow Nakre was a great man.  The world thought so.  A polite man..  All softness, suavity and silk.  Guava jelly was nothing to him.  He never insulted anybody except the—poor.  He never wriggled his whiskers or turned up his nose at any body, save the little newsboys whom he could flog.  He was a prudent man—was Nakre.  A wise Nakre.  He always picked his antagonist.  He once picked up courage to make a face at an ancient negro woman, picking up rags in the street.  But this is not certain—this fact rests upon evidence somewhat apocryphal.


It was an awful hot day in Cairo.  The negroes lay coiled up along the cellar doors, like young rattlesnakes in a cane-break.  The very air seemed over-heated, and Spermaceti Sam perspired tallow.

He sat in the editorial sanctum.  Drop—drop—drop—went the perspiration down his blazing face, on to the paper under his hand.  Opposite him, with his pale visage, solemn as usual, sat Professor Sun.  Blow Nakre sat between the two.  The trio were clustered round the editorial table.  A fine trio for a picture.  Spermaceti Sam, his face red as a boiled lobster, his eyes rolling about, like a solitary oyster in a chafing dish—Professor Sun, pale, solemn and hot; Blow Nakre with his thin face and starved whiskers, undergoing the process of gradual melting.

"Aint it hot?" said Spermaceti Sam, lifting his gold spectacles.

"I think you observed it was hot," said P. Sun, raising his face from his paper; "I might say with propriety, it is hot."

"It's thundering hot, if I may be allowed the expression," suggested Blow Nakre.

A footstep disturbed the silence of the sanctum.

A slim, grave individual, with a solemn face, and long draggled masses of dark hair, sweeping behind the ears, stood before the trio.  He was clad in black, a ’shiny’ black.  A bundle was in his hand, in fact—a blue calico handkerchief bundle.

“My name,” said the stranger, “is Rumpus Grizzel.  The Reverend Rumpus Grizzel.  I’m away from down east.  I’ve been doin’ a small bit of writing in Fildelfy—tryin’ to set up a Standard in politics.  Then I tried to set up a guide Post in literature.  It wouldn't do; so I came out here.  You haint got no kind of job for me in the literary way here, have you?”

"What!" cried Spermaceti Sam, "did I understand you aright?  Are you Rumpus Grizzel?"

"Are you," cried Professor Sun—"Are you the author of the Poets of Lickemwell?"

"With illustrations and copious notes?” chimed in Blow Nakre.

“I’m all that; my name’s Rumpus Grizzel.  I’m the author of the ’Poets,’ I’m the one as does up things in that line.  The people in Fidelfy know’d me, they did.  I made a stir there, I did.”

“What’s the nature of literary life in Philadelphia?” asked Spermaceti, removing his gold specs from his nose.

“You never seed a fine tabby cat with a dozen kittens, did ye?  A fine tabby cat laying on the ground, while the pussies are tugging away at her bosom for dear life.  Suckin’ her dry, completely.  You never seed this, did ye?  How she purrs and meaws, and rolls about, perfectly willin’ to suckle the whole lot, but she haint got the grit.  The poor thing’s in pain, and for all her good nature, too.  Did ye ever see this sight?”

“I think I have,” said Blow Nakre, with solemn deliberation.

“That’s just the way with some of the magazine publishers in Philadelphia.  When they succeed in one literary experiment they aint satisfied.  Them tabbies can’t rest satisfied with one kitten at a time.  They must suckle a dozen pussies at once.  Consequence is—they’re sucked dry.”

“Please ex-plain,” asked Peter Sun.

“Why, I’ll take a single establishment as an instance.  The proprietor has a dozen tabbies, tugging at his breast all at once.  First there’s a yeller magazine, then a blue one—which makes two kittens.  Then there’s a weekly newapaper, which is an almighty hungry kitten.  Then there’s a lot of lazy clerks, cast-off lawyers, brainless persons, engaged as authors, critics and business men, which makes nine kittens.  The whole party keep sucking and tugging at the proprietor—so he’s sucked dry, and that’s the reason why I’m here.”