[K6] “The Spermaceti Papers,” The Citizen Soldier, July 19, 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.)

“I say, Ikey, what made that ’are ’oss jump so?”

“Why, Benny, I’ll tell you—I touched him on the—raw.


It was a picture a—Daguerrotype picture.

There was the editorial sanctum, with its bare walls, the chill ceiling, and the uncarpeted floor, littered with newspapers.  The light of a dim foggy morning came struggling thro' the two windows opening toward the south, with a pleasant view of house tops and chimneys and the white walls of the deserted * * * * * Bank in the distance.

In the center of the room was a table, strewn with files of manuscripts, a broken inkstand and three or four superannuated goose quills.

A little, short man, arrayed in a dingy brown Holland round jacket spotted with ink at the cuffs, and elbows, was writing at this table, his pale face hanging over the paper, his wiry eyes fixed upon his manuscript, while his goose quill scratched merrily away.  Scratch—scratch—scratch—the little man looked like a churn.  An intellectual churn—how the buttermilk of his thoughts rolled forth on the yellow-white paper, how his under lip worked, how his brow frowned.  If he was not a great man, he'd like to know who was?

A tap at the door.

"Wa-lk in"—said very quick, and quite indignantly.

A short little man, with bow legs, long slim and spider-like, a chunk of a body lumped way up under the bony arms.  Short man with a great, large face, relieved by draggled masses of red hair, straying from under a large crowned hat, a large face with a wide mouth, pug nose, white eye-brows, and gooseberry eyes.

"Is the edithur in himself?"

"If you wish to see the editor of the Ladies' American Magazine—"

"Faix and troth, he's the very man.  Ye say me name's Phillegrim, Phalix Phillegrim—I'm away yon from over the wather.  It's a litherary character, I am.  It’s a tale I'm wishin' to sell ye, an original tale, altogether."

"If you wish to see the editor of the Ladies' American Magazine, I tell you with all candour that I am that individual!"

"O yez is, is yez!"  Och Professor Sun its yerself as writes the bewtiful poethry!"

"My friend, candidly speaking, you flatter me."

"I do-es, do-es I."  Look at the July number of the Leddies Amerykin Magazine!  There's "The Winter Landscape," such swate lines!  Be the toad that St. Pathrick kicked into the salt, salt say, that can't be bate at all, at all!—Hark to it—here's the lines.

         "Lone standing on this quiet hill

                     Which snows o'erstrew and withered leaves

I see a prospect calm and still;

A Switzer barn with jutting eves,

         Where boys tie up their bags for mill—"

"Och—misther Pather Sun jest stop.  I'll lay back on my cheer and enjoy the pictur'.  'The byes tyin' up their bags for mill!'  Hoch—Whullaloo!  The meat bags and the byes.  That's original and can't be bate!"

"Your mirth is rather uproarious.  Still I do think there's a pure Saxon monosyllabic beauty in that line."

"Couldn't it be set to music?  Eh?  Professor?  Then there's the beautiful lines, to some little bye's "mother."  Isn't it illegant intirely?  Rade—och rade it!"

"The author speaks of his mother telling pretty stories to himself and little brother.  He says, with touching pathos, that she told him stories

                     "Of holy sires with the dead,

         (You bade us tread the path they trod,)

                     Of angels watching all we said,

         Of martyrs who had died for God—

                     Of they who Joseph's garment tore—"

"Will ye jest stop a bit—eh?  A puff on the outside speaks of "the dream-like beauty" of your sketches!  Faix there's a visionary beauty in the idea of "byes tyin' up their bags for mill," only exca-ded by the dream-like fancy o' tearin' a shirt.  Och, whallaloo!  It's the poethry o' th' heart—if it isn't, may I get drunk on vinegar for  a month, by the clock."

"I would like to look at your story," said Peter Sun, not exactly pleased at the uproarious mirth of his visitor.  "A look at your story, sir, if you please."

"There—yer spakin' like a sinsible individu-al.  Just answer me one question fust, will ye?  What school o'litterathure is the most in vogue about these times?

“The bombazine, sir—the bombazine, sir.”

“The bombez-a-ne!  Whalaloo! and what’s that?”

“The bombazine school of literature is a school by itself.  It is fragrant of the petticoat.  It deals in the soft, and occasionally diverges into the silly.  It writes under the name of Mrs. So-and-so, and Miss This-and-that.  It speaks much of female influence, and plunges neck-and-heels into the sentimental.  I am,” continued Peter Sun, glancing round the sanctum with an ominous look, “I am the father of the bombazine school of literature.”

“The devil yez is!”

“Two years ago, sir, I was unknown.  This may seem to you a very small fact.  I, Professor Peter Sun, was unknown.  How should I make myself famous?  I hit on a plan of my own; I wrote under a dozen names—male and female.  I wrote under names similar to those of the great writers of the land.  The people took it for granted that these things were good, because of the sounding names attached to them; and then, sir, (here he drew a hard breath,) the Bombazine School of Literature was established!”

“Och, murther!  Is it wool you’re pulling over my eyes?”

“Sir, the bombzine school has one peculiarity; a magazine published on this system is like a pawnbroker’s shop.  No one dare inquire ‘how these things got there?’  They are there, and that’s enough.  You can steal as much as you like—the fact that your articles appear in a bombazine periodical, is sufficient proof of their originality.”

"Answer me one question, will yez?"

"Sir, I am at your service."

“Was the pary odical in which 'THE AVENGER' appeared, a Bombazine magazine?"

"Sir, it was. Why d'ye ask?"

"'Cos we folks over the wa-ther prefer reading these things in the original."

"The original!  What d'ye mean?"

"It’s green ye are.  Don't we read 'Pelham' over the wather?"

This was a sock dologer.

"Your tale, sir, if you please."