[K5] “The Spermaceti Papers,” The Citizen Soldier, July 12. 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.)


            A man of tolerably slim figure, and yet not too slim; a man with a smilin' face, a man with his hands in his pockets, jingling the cash.  D'ye see the picture?

A man of middle age, dressed in black, with a quiet, easy look, a sort of "well-to-do-in-the-world" smile, and an easy, lounging gait.  Have you any idea of the man, now?

There he stood, with Spermaceti Sam on one side—Professor Sun on the other.  They stood in the doorway—such a picture!

The Grey Ham, middle height, easy figure, dressed in black, now turns to the Spermaceti.—The Spermaceti, with that face of bacon, and that look of fatness, turns to the Grey Ham; and as he turns, his paunch describes a circle in the air like the revolution of the globe.

The Grey Ham smiles, jingles the cash, and turns to the Peter Sun—that little fellow with the foot-rule face, looking from beneath the umbrella of a Panama hat.  The Peter Sun* with the long body and short legs, the smooth look, and the eye that never looked a man straight in the face.  The Peter Sun speaks in his soft, bland way; the Spermaceti Sam uncloses his jaw, and the crimson of his infinite cheeks is disturbed by speech.

The Grey Ham turns from one to the other.—He is the man of cash—a clever man—a good-hearted fellow.  But he has fallen among thieves—literal and literary thieves. 

            And this is the gallant Grey.  This man in the black coat, with the amiable face, is the Autocrat of American Literature!  He dispenses immortality in monthly doses.  He gives out—fame.  He is the Grey Ham, the man of men, the publisher of publishers.

The Grey Ham may be compared to a rich meadow—a fine verdant pasturage—rich with bloom, yet hedged in by thistles.

Various kinds of cattle pasture on this meadow.  There, browzing on violets, butter-cups and dandelions, is the little speckled heifer—Peter Sun.  He sucks from a thousand founts, and lives on stolen milk.  Yonder, floundering in the mud, is the large bull calf, Spermaceti Sam, bellowing and roaring, while he kicks his heels in the air.

And that solemn animal, on the verge of the meadow, apparently on the point of being turned out—that sagacious animal, browsing on thistles—the animal with the long ears and the sober look.  How d’ye call it?

Rumpus Grizzle.  The neck of the animal is wreathed with flowers—they are stolen.  A sprig of laurel crowns his top-knot—green, but stolen.  This is a sage animal, and he pastures on the Grey Ham meadow to some purpose.

And then there are a variety of smaller cattle pasturing on the Grey Ham.  I never yet fired at small game—very small game—except in the instance of Peter Sun and Rumpus Grizzle, but I’ll be hanged if I’ll fire at such microscopic game as the Blow Nakre.  Let the very little cattle pass.

The Grey Ham once was poor.  The Grey Ham then was pliant in the hams, pleasant in the speech, silky in the manner.  The Grey Ham then was content to serve as literary hack, in the  * * * * * of our town.  And the Grey Ham served under men whom he afterwards treated with condescending courtesy and respect, for the sum of five dollars per week.

It is to his honor that he worked his way upward.  Talent and enterprize, the puff writers say, did the business.  No such thing.  Talent means—luck—enterprize—means chance.  This same luck, and this same chance, are rules that work both ways.

The toad-stool rises in a night.  A single foot-step will scatter the fungus.

Now it’s a very pretty thing to have the command of a Lying-in-Hospital—a Literary Midwifery.  What a pinnacle of human ambition—to be an intellectual midwife!  Did ye ever see the birth of one of these pamphlets, called American Magazines?  No.

I’ll let you into the secret.

First the Magazine—is to be born.  Peter Sun or Rumpus Grizzle, father the bantling, Spermaceti Sam prepares the linen, the Grey Ham brings the babe to light.

Then it must be christened.  Some fine sounding name, some grand flourish of adjectives, with the word “Ladies” attached to it, at all events.—Then puffs are written in the Lying-in-Hospital, sent out to the various newspapers through the country, to Canada, to Florida, from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic.

These puffs are copied in the Cairo papers (it’s about people in Cairo I’m talking, mind ye,) as original compliments, rewards of merit, and then—the bantling has a fine start.

D’ye want to secure the favor of the Spermaceti Club?  You must pet their baby.  ‘Oh—my eyes, sich a dear!  A nose just like you, Mr. Grizzle—a face jist like your’n, my dear Mrs. Peter Sun!  Lawks—me—lud-a-massy, but it is a child and no mistake!  So fat—and deary me, the very cheeks of Mr. Spermaceti—sich a whaler!’

Have you the command of a newspaper in town?  You must rock the baby to sleep with a puff, sweet and sugary, by way of a ‘slutzer.’  You must praise its cradle, say soft things about its papa, confess the Grey Ham to be the best of midwifes, the Mrs. Murphy of accoucheurs.

Is your newspaper in the country?  Puffs, of course, but you must also insert two or three columns of a handbill advertisement, stating the name of the baby in large capitals, with a long list of its god-fathers and grand-pappies.  Your reward for all this?

A monthly squall from the baby, a periodical visitation of its dear  little phiz, and you are amply paid for your types and your labor.

‘Well, well, my friends, go it while you can,’ this was the advice of Rumpus Grizzle to the Spermaceti gentlemen one day—but s’pose our babe should die! mind I don’t say it will die—but s’posen it should?  We’ll want a funeral, wont we?  Here’s the order of the procession—how d’ye like it?




(With “Poets of America” in his hand—picked up in a hurry for his Bible.)


The Blow Nakre

(clad entirely in newspaper puffs.)

The Peter Sun,

(reading a pollywogue, his manner is solemn, and his tears fall fast on the blue book in his hand.)

The Grey Ham Babe.


The Spermaceti Sam

(lighting the way with his face.)

The Devil,

(crying “copy!—copy!—oh, Peter Sun, some copy!—beg, borow, or steal me some copy.)


T H E   G R E Y   H A M :

In one hand a “list of original contributors,” in the other “Life of the Deceased,” by its affectionate father.


Two and two, with “Salt River Saturday Stick and Universal Lamp Post,” in their hands.


(dividing the babe’s linen.)


(with bills for services.)

Then follows,


Sent out to assist in burying the babe away at Cairo—;

Comprises the god-fathers and grand-pappies of the deceased.

Hon. R—t T. C—d,

Singing the Lord’s Prayer; walking arm-in-arm with

J—s F—e C—r,

Who carries a banner, representing a jackal tearing up the bodies of the dead, while “an attack on the memory of Perry” protrudes from his coat pocket.



Walking arm-in-arm, examining a “Mousetrap” which Thomas carries in his hand, while T—r is singing the following lament on the deceased, written by his fellow traveller for immortality,

P E T E R   S U N ,  E S Q U I R E .


It’s dead and gone, the gen-t-l-e thing,

No more to chirp—pee-weet—and s-i-n-g! (a sob)

Silent the chord—broken the silver string—

            It’s dead and g-o-n-e! (repeat with a howl.)

It used to sing in its lit-tle cage;

The ladies said ’twas quite the r-a-g-e; (a groan)

It died of premature old a-g-e!

            With-out—(sob)—a g-r-o-a-n!

T—r, overcome by emotion, falls in the arms of Done Brown, who carries him “piggy-back” and so the procession closes.

* This is the man who stole the episode of Reginald Glanville, and palmed it off as his own, in a certain Magazine.  This is the man who stole Kit North's criticism on Dr. M'Henry, from Blackwood.  This is the man who stole, &c.