Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “Bon-Bon,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. II: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 96-117 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 96:]

BON-BON. [F] [[v]]

Quand un bon vin meuble mon estomac,

Je suis plus savant que Balzac —

Plus sage que Pibrac;

Mon bras seul faisant l’attaque

De la nation Cosaque,

La mettroit au sac:

De Charon je passerois le lac,

En dormant dans son bac;

J’irois au fier Eac,

Sans que mon cœur fit tic ni tac,

Présenter du tabac.

French Vaudeville. [[n]]  [[v]]

THAT Pierre Bon-Bon was a restaurateur of uncommon qualifications, no man who, during the reign of ———, frequented the little Câfé{a} in the cut-de-sac{b} Le Febvre at Rouen, will, I imagine, feel himself at liberty to dispute. That Pierre Bon-Bon{c} was, in an equal degree, skilled in the philosophy of that period is, I presume, still more especially undeniable. His pâtés{d} à la fois (1) were beyond doubt immaculate; but what pen can do justice to his essays sur la Nature — his thoughts sur l’Ame — his observations sur l’Esprit? If his omelettes — if his fricandeaux were inestimable, what littérateur{e} of that day would not have given twice as much for an “Idée de Bon-Bon” as for all the trash of all the “Idées” of all the rest of the savants? Bon-Bon had ransacked libraries which no other man had ransacked — had read more than any other would have entertained a notion of reading — had understood more than any other would have conceived the possibility of understanding; and although, while he flourished, there were not wanting some authors at Rouen to assert “that his dicta evinced neither the purity of the Academy, nor the depth of the Lyceum” —(2) although, mark me, his doctrines were by no means very generally comprehended, still it did not follow that they were difficult of comprehension. It was, [page 97:] I think, on account of their{f} self-evidency that many persons were led to consider them abstruse. It is to Bon-Bon — but let this go no farther — it is to Bon-Bon that Kant himself is mainly indebted for his metaphysics. The former was indeed not{g} a Platonist, nor strictly speaking an Aristotelian — nor did he, like the modern Leibnitz, waste those precious hours which might be employed in the invention of a fricassée,{h} or, facili gradu,{i} the analysis of a sensation, in frivolous attempts at reconciling the obstinate oils and waters of ethical discussion.(3) Not at all. Bon-Bon was Ionic — Bon-Bon was equally Italic.(4) He reasoned à priori — He reasoned also à posteriori. His ideas were innate — or otherwise. He believed in George of Trebizond — He believed in Bessarion.{j} Bon-Bon was emphatically a — Bon-Bonist.(5)

I have spoken of the philosopher in his capacity of restaurateur. I would not, however, have any friend of mine imagine that, in fulfilling his hereditary duties in that line, our hero wanted a proper estimation of their dignity and importance. Far from it. It was impossible to say in which branch of his{k} profession he took the greater pride. In his opinion the powers of the intellect{l} held intimate connection with the capabilities of the stomach. {mm}I am not sure, indeed, that he greatly disagreed with the Chinese, who hold that the soul lies in the abdomen.(6) The Greeks at all events were right, he thought, who employed the same word for the mind and the diaphragm.*{mm} By this I do not mean to insinuate a charge of gluttony, or indeed any other serious charge to the prejudice of the metaphysician. If Pierre Bon-Bon had his failings — and what great man has not a thousand? — if Pierre Bon-Bon, I say, had his failings, they were failings of very little importance — faults indeed which, in other tempers, have often been looked upon rather in the light of virtues. As regards one of these foibles, I should not even{n} have mentioned it in this history but for the remarkable prominency — the extreme alto rilievo{o} — in which it jutted out [page 98:] from the plane of his general disposition. — He{p} could never let slip an opportunity of making a bargain.

Not that he{q} was avaricious — no. It was by no means necessary to the satisfaction of the philosopher, that the bargain should be to his own proper advantage. Provided a trade could be effected — a trade of any kind, upon any terms, or under any circumstances — a triumphant smile was seen for many days thereafter to enlighten his countenance, and a knowing wink of the eye to give evidence of his sagacity.

At any epoch it would not be very wonderful if a humor so peculiar as the one I have just mentioned, should elicit attention and remark. At the epoch of our narrative, had this peculiarity not attracted observation, there would have been room for wonder indeed. It was soon reported that, upon all occasions of the kind, the smile of Bon-Bon was wont to differ widely from the down-right grin with which he{r} would laugh at his own jokes, or welcome an acquaintance. Hints were thrown out of an exciting nature; stories were told of perilous bargains made in a hurry and repented of at leisure; and instances were adduced of unaccountable capacities, vague longings, and unnatural inclinations implanted by the author of all evil for wise purposes of his own.

The philosopher had other weaknesses — but they are scarcely worthy our serious examination. For example, there are few men of extraordinary profundity who are found wanting in an inclination for the bottle. Whether this inclination be an exciting cause, or rather a valid proof, of such profundity, it is a nice thing{s} to say. Bon-Bon, as far as I can learn, did not think the subject adapted to minute investigation; — nor do I. Yet in the indulgence of a propensity so truly classical, it is not to be supposed that the restaurateur would lose sight of that intuitive discrimination which was wont to characterize, at one and the same time, his essais and his omelettes. {tt}In his seclusions the Vin de Bourgogne has its allotted hour, and there were appropriate moments for the Côtes du Rhone.{tt} [page 99:] With him Sauterne was to Médoc{u} what Catullus was to Homer.(7) He would sport with a syllogism in sipping St. Péray,{v} but unravel an argument over Clos de Vougeot, and upset a theory in a torrent of Chambertin. Well had it been if the same quick sense of propriety had attended him in the peddling propensity to which I have formerly alluded — but this was by no means the case. Indeed, to say the truth, that trait of mind in the philosophic Bon-Bon did begin at length to assume a character of strange intensity and mysticism, and{w} appeared deeply tinctured with the{x} diablerie of his favorite German studies.

To enter the little Café{y} in the Cul-de-Sac Le Febvre{z} was, at the period of our tale, to enter the sanctum{a} of a man of genius. Bon-Bon was a man of genius. There was not a sous-cuisinier in Rouen, who could not have told you that Bon-Bon was a man of genius. His very cat knew it, and forebore to whisk her tail in the presence of the man of genius. His large water-dog was acquainted with the fact, and upon the approach of his master, betrayed his sense of inferiority by a sanctity of deportment, a debasement of the ears, and a dropping of the lower jaw not altogether unworthy of a dog. It is, however, true that much of this habitual respect might have been attributed to the personal appearance of the metaphysician. A distinguished exterior will, I am constrained to say, have its weight even with a beast; and I am willing to allow much in the outward man of the restaurateur calculated to impress the imagination of the quadruped. There is a peculiar majesty about the atmosphere of the little great — if I may be permitted so equivocal an expression — which mere physical bulk alone will be found at all times inefficient in creating. If, however, Bon-Bon was barely three feet in height, and if his head was diminutively small, still it was impossible to behold the rotundity of his stomach without a sense of magnificence nearly bordering upon the sublime. In its size both dogs and men must have seen a type of his acquirements — in its immensity a fitting habitation for his immortal soul. [page 100:]

I might here — if it so pleased me — dilate upon the matter of habiliment, and other mere circumstances of the external metaphysician. I might hint that the hair of our hero was worn short, combed smoothly over his forehead, and surmounted by a conical-shaped white flannel cap and tassels — that his pea-green jerkin was not after the fashion of those worn by the common class of restaurateurs at that day — that the sleeves were something fuller than the reigning costume permitted — that the cuffs were turned up, not as usual in that barbarous period, with cloth of the same quality and color as the garment, but faced in a more fanciful manner with the particolored velvet of Genoa(8) — that his slippers were of a bright purple, curiously filagreed, and might have been manufactured in Japan, but for the exquisite pointing of the toes, and the brilliant tints of the binding and embroidery — that his breeches were of the yellow satin-like material called aimable — that his sky-blue cloak, resembling in form a dressing-wrapper, and richly bestudded all over with crimson devices, floated cavalierly upon his shoulders like a mist of the morning — and that his tout ensemble gave rise to the remarkable words of Benevenuta, the Improvisatrice of Florence,(9) “that it was difficult to say whether Pierre Bon-Bon was indeed a bird of Paradise, or the rather a very Paradise of perfection.” {bb}— I might, I say, expatiate upon all these points if I pleased; — but I forbear: — merely personal details may be left to historical novelists; — they are beneath the moral dignity of matter-of-fact.{bb}

I have said that “to enter the Café{c} in the Cul-de-Sac Le Febvre was to enter the sanctum of a man of genius” — but then it was only the man of genius who could duly estimate the merits of the sanctum. A sign, consisting of a vast folio, swung before the entrance. On one side of the volume was painted a bottle; on the reverse a pâté.{d} On the back were visible in large letters Œuvres{e} de Bon-Bon. Thus was delicately shadowed forth the two-fold occupation of the proprietor.

Upon stepping over the threshold, the whole interior of the building presented itself to view. A long, low-pitched room, of antique construction, was indeed all the accommodation afforded by [page 101:] the Café.{f} In a corner of the apartment stood the bed of the metaphysician. An array of curtains, together with a canopy à la Grecque,{g} gave it an air at once classic and comfortable. In the corner diagonally opposite, appeared, in direct family{h} communion, the properties of the kitchen and the bibliothèque.{i} A dish of polemics stood peacefully upon the dresser. Here lay an oven-full of the latest ethics — there a kettle of duodecimo mélanges. Volumes of German morality were hand and glove with the gridiron — a toasting fork might be discovered by the side of Eusebius —(10) Plato reclined at his ease in the frying pan — and contemporary{j} manuscripts were filed away upon the spit.

In other respects the Café{k} de Bon-Bon might be said to differ little from the{ll} usual restaurants{ll} of the period.(11) A large{m} fire-place yawned opposite the door. On the right of the fire-place an open cupboard displayed a formidable array of labelled bottles.{n} (12)

It was here, about twelve o’clock one night, during the severe winter of ———, that Pierre Bon-Bon, after having listened for some time to the comments of his neighbors upon his singular propensity — that Pierre Bon-Bon, I say, having turned them all out of his house, locked the door upon them with {oo}an oath,{oo} and betook himself in no very pacific mood to the comforts of a leather-bottomed armchair, and a fire of blazing faggots.

It was one of those terrific nights which are only met with once or twice during a century. {pp}It snowed fiercely,{pp} and the house{q} tottered to its{r} centre with the floods of wind that, rushing through the [page 102:] crannies of{s} the wall, and pouring impetuously down the chimney, shook awfully the curtains of the philosopher’s bed, and disorganized the economy of his pâté-pans{t} and papers. The huge folio sign that swung without, exposed to the fury of the tempest, creaked ominously, and gave out a moaning sound from its{u} stanchions of solid oak.

{vv}It was in no placid temper, I say, that{vv} the metaphysician drew up his chair to its customary station by the hearth. Many circumstances of a perplexing nature had occurred during the day, to disturb the serenity of his meditations. In attempting des œufs{w} à la Princesse, he had unfortunately perpetrated an omelette{x} à la Reine;(13) the discovery of a principle in ethics had been frustrated by the overturning of a stew; and last, not least, he had been thwarted in one of those admirable bargains which he at all times took such especial delight in bringing to a successful termination. But in the chafing of his mind at these unaccountable vicissitudes, there did not fail to be mingled some{y} degree of that nervous anxiety which the fury of a boisterous night is so well calculated to produce. Whistling to his more immediate vicinity the large black water-dog we have spoken of before, and settling himself uneasily in his chair, he could not help casting a wary and unquiet eye towards those distant recesses of the apartment whose inexorable shadows not even the red fire-light itself could more than partially succeed in overcoming. Having completed a scrutiny whose exact purpose was perhaps unintelligible to himself, he{z} drew close{a} to his seat a small table covered with books and papers, and soon became absorbed in the task of re-touching a voluminous manuscript, intended for publication on the morrow.

{bb}He had been thus occupied for some minutes, when{bb} “I am in no hurry, Monsieur Bon-Bon,” suddenly{c} whispered a whining voice in the apartment. [page 103:]

“The devil!” ejaculated our hero, starting to his feet, overturning the table at his side, and staring around him in astonishment.

“Very true,” calmly replied the voice.

“Very true! — what is very true? — how came you here?” vociferated the metaphysician, as his eye fell upon something which lay stretched at full-length upon the bed.

“I was saying,” said the intruder, without attending to the{d} interrogatories, “I was saying, that I am not at all pushed for time — that the business upon which I took the liberty of calling, is of no pressing importance — in short, that I can very well wait until you have finished your Exposition.”

“My Exposition! — there now! — how do you know? — how came you to understand that I was writing an Exposition — good God!”

“Hush!” replied the figure, in a shrill under tone; and, arising quickly from the bed, he made a single step towards our hero, while {ee}an iron lamp that depended{ee} overhead swung convulsively back from his approach.

The philosopher’s amazement did not prevent a narrow scrutiny of the stranger’s dress and appearance. The outlines of his{f} figure, exceedingly lean, but much above the common height, were rendered minutely distinct by means of a faded suit of black cloth which fitted tight to the skin, but was otherwise cut very much in the style of a century ago. These garments had evidently been intended{g} for a much shorter person than their present owner. His ankles and wrists were left naked for several inches. In his shoes, however, a pair of very brilliant buckles gave the lie to the extreme poverty implied by the other portions of his dress. His head was bare, and entirely bald, with the exception of the hinder-part, from which depended a queue of considerable length. A pair of green spectacles, with side glasses, protected his eyes from the influence of the light, and at the same time prevented our hero from ascertaining either their color or their conformation. About the entire person there was no evidence of a shirt; but a white cravat, [page 104:] of filthy appearance, was tied with extreme precision around the throat, and the ends, hanging down formally side by side, gave (although I dare say unintentionally) the idea of an ecclesiastic. Indeed, many other points both in his appearance and demeanor might have very well sustained a conception of that nature. Over his left ear, he carried, after the fashion of a modern clerk, an instrument resembling the stylus of the ancients. In a breast-pocket of his coat appeared conspicuously a small black volume fastened with clasps of steel. This book, whether accidentally or not, was so turned outwardly from the person as to discover the words “Rituel Catholique” in white letters upon the back. His entire physiognomy was interestingly saturnine — even cadaverously pale. The forehead was lofty, and deeply furrowed with the ridges of contemplation. The corners of the mouth were drawn down into an expression of the most submissive humility. There was also a clasping of the hands, as he stepped towards our hero — a deep sigh — and altogether a look of such utter sanctity as could not have failed to be unequivocally{h} prepossessing.(14) Every shadow of anger faded from the countenance of the metaphysician, as, having completed a satisfactory survey of his visiter’s person, he shook him cordially by the hand, and conducted him to a seat.

There would however be a radical error in attributing this instantaneous transition of feeling in the philosopher, to any one of those causes which might naturally be supposed to have had an influence. Indeed, Pierre Bon-Bon, from what I have been able to understand of his disposition, was of all men the least likely to be imposed upon by any speciousness of exterior deportment. It was impossible that so accurate an observer of men and things should have failed to discover, upon the moment, the real character of the personage who had thus intruded upon his hospitality. To say no more, the conformation of his visiter’s feet was sufficiently remarkable {ii}— he maintained lightly upon his head an inordinately tall hat{ii} — there was a tremulous swelling about{j} the hinder part of his breeches — and the vibration of his coat tail was a palpable fact. Judge, then, with what feelings of satisfaction our hero found himself [page 105:] thrown thus at once into the society of a{k} person for whom he had at all times entertained the most{l} unqualified respect. He was, however, too much of the diplomatist to let escape him any intimation of his suspicions{m} in regard to the true state of affairs. It was not his cue to appear at all conscious of the high honor he thus unexpectedly enjoyed; but, by leading his guest into conversation, to elicit some important ethical ideas, which might, in obtaining a place in his contemplated publication, enlighten the human race, and at the same time immortalize himself — ideas which, I should have added, his visiter’s great age, and well-known proficiency in the science of morals, might very well have enabled him to afford.

Actuated by these enlightened views, our hero bade the gentleman sit down, while he himself took occasion to throw some faggots upon the fire, and place upon the now re-established table some bottles of{n} Mousseux. Having quickly completed these operations, he drew his chair vis-à-vis to his companion’s, and waited until the latter,{o} should open the conversation. But, plans even the most skilfully matured{p} are often thwarted in the outset of their application — and the restaurateur found himself nonplussed{q} by the very first words of his visiter’s speech.

“I see you know me, Bon-Bon,” said he: “ha! ha! ha! — he! he! he! — hi! hi! hi! — ho! ho! ho! — hu! hu! hu!” — and the devil, dropping at once the sanctity of his demeanor, opened to its fullest extent a mouth from ear to ear, so as to display a set of jagged and fang-like teeth, and throwing back his head, laughed long, loudly,{r} wickedly, and uproariously, while the black dog, crouching down upon his haunches, joined lustily in the chorus, and the tabby cat, flying off at a tangent, stood up on end, and shrieked in the farthest corner of the apartment.

Not so the philosopher: he was too much a man of the world either to laugh like the dog, or by shrieks to betray the indecorous [page 106:] trepidation of the cat. It must be confessed,{s} he felt a little astonishment to see the white letters which formed the words “Rituel Catholique” on the book in his guest’s pocket, momently,{t} changing both their color and their import, and in a few seconds, in place of the original title, the words, “Registre{u} des Condamnés” blaze forth in characters of red.(15) This startling circumstance, when Bon-Bon replied to his visiter’s remark, imparted to his manner an air of embarrassment which {vv}probably might not otherwise have been observed.{vv}

“Why, sir,” said the philosopher, “why, sir, to speak sincerely — I believe you are — upon my word — the d———dest — that is to say, I think — I imagine — I have some faint — some very faint idea — of the remarkable honor ——”

“Oh! — ah! — yes! — very well!” interrupted his Majesty; “say no more — I see how it is.” And hereupon, taking off his green spectacles, he wiped the glasses carefully with the sleeve of his coat, and deposited them in his pocket.

If Bon-Bon had been astonished at the incident of the book, his amazement was now much{w} increased{x} by the spectacle which here presented itself to view. In raising his eyes, with a strong feeling of curiosity to ascertain the color of his guest’s, he found them by no means black, as he had anticipated — nor gray, as might have been imagined — nor yet hazel nor blue — nor indeed yellow nor red — nor purple — nor white — nor green — nor any other color in the heavens above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.(16) In short, Pierre Bon-Bon not only saw plainly that his Majesty had no eyes whatsoever, but could discover no indications of their having existed at any previous period — for the space where eyes should naturally have been, was, I am constrained to say, simply a dead level of{y} flesh.(17)

It was not in the nature of the metaphysician to forbear making some inquiry into the sources of so strange a phenomenon; [page 107:] and, the reply of his Majesty was at once prompt, dignified, and satisfactory.

“Eyes! my dear Bon-Bon — eyes! did you say? — oh! — ah! — I perceive! The ridiculous prints, eh, which are in circulation, have given you a false idea of my personal appearance? Eyes! — true. Eyes, Pierre Bon-Bon, are very well in their proper place — that, you would say, is the head? — right — the head of a worm. To you likewise these optics are indispensable — yet I will convince you that my vision is more penetrating than your own. There is a {aa}cat, I see,{aa} in the corner — a pretty cat — look at her — observe her well. Now, Bon-Bon, do you behold the thoughts — the thoughts, I say — the ideas — the reflections — {bb}which are being engendered{bb} in her pericranium? There it is, now — you do not! She is thinking we admirer {cc}the length of her tail and{cc} the profundity of her mind. She has just concluded that I am the most distinguished of ecclesiastics, and that you are the most superficial{d} of metaphysicians. Thus you see I am not altogether blind; but to one of my profession, the eyes you speak of would be merely an incumbrance, liable at any time to be put out by a toasting iron or a pitchfork. To you, I allow, these optical affairs{e} are indispensable. Endeavor, Bon-Bon, to use them well; — my vision is the soul.”(18)

Hereupon the guest helped himself to the wine upon the table, and pouring out a bumper for Bon-Bon, requested him to drink it without scruple, and make himself perfectly at home.

“A clever book that of yours, Pierre,” resumed his Majesty, tapping our friend knowingly upon the shoulder, as the latter put{f} down his glass after a thorough compliance with {gg}his visiter’s{gg} injunction. “A clever book that of yours, upon my honor. It’s a work after my own heart. Your arrangement of the{h} matter, I think, however, might be improved, and many of your notions remind me of Aristotle. That philosopher was one of my most intimate acquaintances. I liked him as much for his terrible ill temper, as for his happy knack at making a blunder. There is only one solid truth in [page 108:] all that he has written, and for that I gave him the hint out of pure compassion for his absurdity. I suppose, Pierre Bon-Bon, you very well know to what divine moral truth I am alluding?”

“Cannot say that I ——”

“Indeed! — why it was I who{i} told Aristotle, that, by sneezing, men expelled superfluous ideas through the proboscis.”(19)

“Which is — hiccup! — undoubtedly the case,” said the metaphysician, while he poured out for himself another bumper of Mousseux, and offered his snuff-box to the fingers of his visiter.

“There was Plato, too,” continued his Majesty, modestly declining the snuff-box and the{j} compliment it implied{k} — “there was Plato, too, for whom I, at one time, felt all the affection of a friend. You knew Plato, Bon-Bon? — ah, no, I beg a thousand pardons. He met me at Athens, one day, in the Parthenon, and told me he was distressed for an idea. I bade him write down that ‘ο νους εστιν αυλος.’{l} He said that he would do so, and went home, while I stepped over to the pyramids. But my conscience smote me for {mm}having uttered a truth, even to aid a friend,{mm} and hastening back to Athens, I arrived behind the philosopher’s chair as he was inditing the ‘αυλος.’ Giving the lamma a fillip with my finger, I turned it upside down. So the sentence now reads ‘νους εστιν αυγος,’and is, you{n} perceive, the fundamental doctrine in{o} his metaphysics.(20)

“Were you ever at Rome?” asked the restaurateur, as he finished his second bottle of Mousseux, and drew from the closet a larger supply of{p} Chambertin.

“But once, Monsieur Bon-Bon, but once. There was a time,” said the devil, as if reciting some passage from a book — “there {qq}was a time when occurred{qq} an anarchy of five years, during which the republic, bereft of all its officers, had no magistracy besides the tribunes of the people, and these were not legally vested with any [page 109:] degree of executive power — at that time, Monsieur Bon-Bon — at that time only I was in Rome, and I have no earthly acquaintance, consequently,{r} with any of its philosophy.”*(21)

“What do you think of{t} — what do you think of — hiccup! — Epicurus?”

“What do I think of whom?” said the devil, in astonishment; you cannot surely mean to find any fault with Epicurus! What do I think of Epicurus! Do you mean me, sir? — I am Epicurus! I am the same{u} philosopher who wrote each of the three hundred treatises commemorated by Diogenes Laertes.”{v} (22)

“That’s a lie!” said the metaphysician, for the wine had gotten a little into his head.

“Very well! — very well, sir! — very well, indeed, sir!” said his {ww}Majesty, apparently much flattered.{ww}

“That’s a lie!” repeated the restaurateur, dogmatically, “that’s a — hiccup! — a{x} lie!”

“Well, well, have it your own way!” said the devil, pacifically; and Bon-Bon, having beaten his Majesty at an argument, thought it his duty to conclude a second bottle of Chambertin.

“As I was saying,” resumed the visiter, “as I was observing a little while ago, there are some very outré{y} notions in that book of yours, Monsieur Bon-Bon. What, for instance, do you mean by all that humbug about the soul? Pray, sir, what is the soul?”(23)

“The — hiccup! — soul,” replied the metaphysician, referring to his MS., “is undoubtedly ——”

“No, sir!”

“Indubitably ——”

“No, sir!”

“Indisputably ——”

“No, sir!” [page 110:]

“Evidently ——”

“No, sir!”

“Incontrovertibly ——”

“No, sir!”

“Hiccup! ——”

“No, sir!”

“And beyond all question, a ——”

“No, sir, the soul is no such thing!” (Here, the {zz}philosopher, looking daggers, took occasion to make an end, upon the spot, of{zz} his third bottle of Chambertin.)

“Then — hiccup! — pray, sir — what — what is it?”

“That is neither here nor there, Monsieur Bon-Bon,” replied his Majesty, musingly. “I have tasted — that is to say, I have known some very bad souls, and some too — pretty good ones.”(24) Here he smacked{a} his lips, and, having unconsciously let fall his hand upon the volume in his pocket, was seized with a violent fit of sneezing.

He{b} continued:

“There was the soul of Cratinus — passable: Aristophanes — racy: Plato — exquisite — not your Plato, but Plato the comic poet: your Plato would have turned the stomach of Cerberus — faugh! Then let me see! there were Nævius,{c} and Andronicus, and Plautus, and Terentius. Then there were Lucilius, and Catullus, and Naso, and Quiutus{d} Flaccus, — dear Quinty! as I called him when he sung a seculare for my {ee}amusement, while I toasted him, in pure good humor, on a fork.{ee} But they want flavor these Romans.(25) One fat Greek is worth a dozen of them, and besides will keep, which cannot be said of a Quirite.(26) — Let us taste your Sauterne.”

Bon-Bon had by this time made up his mind to the nil admirari,(27) and endeavored to hand down the bottles in question. He was, however, conscious of a strange sound in the room like the wagging of a tail. Of this, although extremely indecent in his Majesty, the philosopher took no notice: — simply kicking the [page 111:] dog,{f} and requesting him to be quiet. The visiter continued:

“I found that Horace tasted very much like Aristotle; — you know I am fond of variety. Terentius I could not have told from Menander. Naso, to my astonishment, was Nicander in disguise. Virgilius had a strong twang of Theocritus. Martial put me much in mind of Archilochus — and Titus Livius{g} was positively Polybius and none other.”(28)

“Hiccup!” here replied Bon-Bon, and his Majesty proceeded:

“But if I have a penchant, Monsieur Bon-Bon — if I have a penchant, it is for a philosopher. Yet, let me tell you, sir, it is not every dev — I mean it is not every gentleman, who knows how to choose a philosopher. Long ones are not good; and the best, if not carefully shelled, are apt to be a little rancid on account of the gall.”


“I mean, taken out of the carcass.”

“What do you think of a — hiccup! — physician?”

Don’t mention them!{h} — ugh! ugh!” (Here his Majesty retched violently.) “I never tasted but one — that rascal Hippocrates! — smelt of asafœtida — ugh! ugh! ugh! — caught a wretched cold washing him in the Styx — and after all he gave me the cholera morbus.”

“The — hiccup! — wretch!” ejaculated Bon-Bon, “the — hiccup! — abortion of a pill-box!” — and the philosopher dropped a tear.

“After all,” continued the visiter, “after all, if a dev — if a gentleman wishes to live, he must have more talents than one or two; and with us a fat face is an evidence of diplomacy.”

“How so?”

“Why we are sometimes exceedingly pushed for provisions. You must know that, in a climate so sultry as mine, it is frequently impossible to keep a spirit alive for more than two or three hours; and after death, unless pickled immediately, (and a pickled spirit is not good,) they will — smell — you understand, eh? Putrefaction is always to be apprehended when the souls{i} are consigned to its in the usual way.”

“Hiccup! — hiccup! — good God! how do you manage?” [page 112:]

Here the iron lamp commenced swinging with redoubled violence, and the devil half started from his seat; — however, with a slight sigh, he recovered his composure, merely saying to our hero in a low tone, “I tell you what, Pierre Bon-Bon, we must have no more swearing.”{j}

The host{k} swallowed another bumper,{ll} by way of denoting thorough{m} comprehension and acquiescence,{ll} and the{n} visiter continued:

“Why, there are several ways of managing. The most of us starve: some put up with the pickle: for my part I purchase my spirits vivente corpore, in which case I find they keep very well.”

“But the body! — hiccup! — the body!!!”{o}

“The body, the body — well, what of the body? — oh! ah! I perceive. Why, sir, the body is not at all affected by the transaction. I have made innumerable purchases of the kind in my day, and the parties never experienced any inconvenience. There were Cain and Nimrod, and Nero, and Caligula, and Dionysius, and Pisistratus,(29) and — and a thousand others, who never knew what it was to have a soul during the latter part of their lives; yet, sir, these men adorned society. Why is n’t there A——, now, whom you know as well as I? Is he not in possession of all his faculties, mental and corporeal? Who writes a keener epigram? Who reasons more wittily? Who —— but, stay! I have his agreement in my pocket-book.”

Thus saying, he produced a red leather wallet, and took from it a number of papers. Upon some of these Bon-Bon caught a glimpse of the letters MachiMazaRobesp — with{p} the words {qq}Caligula, George,{qq} Elizabeth.(30) His Majesty selected a narrow slip of parchment, and from it read aloud the following words:

“In consideration of certain mental endowments which it is unnecessary to specify, and in farther consideration of one thousand louis d’or, I, being aged one year and one month, do hereby make over to the bearer of this agreement all my right, title, and appurtenance [page 113:] in the shadow called my soul.” (Signed) A . . . . .*(31) (Here his Majesty repeated a name which I do not feel myself justified{s} in indicating more unequivocally.)

“A clever fellow that,”{t} resumed he; “but like you, Monsieur Bon-Bon, he was mistaken about the soul. The soul a shadow, truly!{u} The soul a shadow! Ha! ha! ha! — he! he! he! — hu! hu! hu! Only think of a fricasséed shadow!”(32)

Only think — hiccup! — of a {vv}fricasséed shadow!”{vv} exclaimed{w} our hero, whose faculties were becoming much{x} illuminated by the profundity of his Majesty’s discourse.

“Only think of a — hiccup! — fricasséed shadow!! Now, damme! — hiccup! — humph! If I would have been such a — hiccup! — nincompoop. My soul, Mr. — humph!”

Your soul, Monsieur Bon-Bon?”

“Yes, sir — hiccup! — my soul is” —

“What, sir?”{y}

“No shadow, damme!”

“Did you{z} mean to say” —

“Yes, sir, my soul is — hiccup! — humph! — yes, sir.”

“Did not intend to assert” —

My soul is — hiccup! — peculiarly qualified for — hiccup! — a” —

“What, sir?”







“Ragoût{a} and{b} fricandeau — and see here,{c} my good fellow!{d} I’ll [page 114:] let you have it — hiccup! — a bargain.” {ee}Here the philosopher slapped his Majesty upon the back.{ee}

“Couldn’t think of such a thing,” said the latter{f} calmly, at the same time rising{g} from his seat. The metaphysician stared.

“Am supplied at present,” said his Majesty.

“Hic-cup! — e-h?” said the philosopher.

“Have no funds on hand.”


“Besides, very unhandsome{h} in me” —


“To take advantage of” —


“Your present {ii}disgusting and ungentlemanly{ii} situation.”

Here the visiter{j} bowed and withdrew — in what manner{k} could not precisely be ascertained{l} — but in a well-concerted effort to discharge a bottle at “the villain,” the slender chain was severed that depended from the ceiling, and the metaphysician prostrated by the downfall of the lamp.(33)


[[Poe’s Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears near the bottom of page 97:]

*  Φρενες. [Poe’s note]

[The following footnote appears near the bottom of page 109:]

*  Ils ecrivaient sur la Philosophie, (Cicero, Lucretius, Seneca) mais c’etait la

Philosophie Grecque. — Condorcet.{s} [Poe’s note]

[The following footnote appears near the bottom of page 113:]

*  Quere — Arouet?{r} [Poe’s note]



[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 96:]

Title:  Bon-Bon — A Tale. (A, B)

Motto:  “Notre Gulliver” — dit le Lord Bolingbroke — “a de telles fables.” — Voltaire. (A) canceled in B; C and D have neither motto nor introductory verse. Spelling and punctuation of F (which is identical with E) have been changed to conform to the source.

a  Câfé (A, B, C, D, E, F)

b  Cal-de-sac (A, B) misprint

c  Pierre Bon-Bon / he (D)

d  Patés (A) throughout; patés (B, C, D, E, F) throughout

e  literateur (A)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 97:]

f  their entire (A, B, C, D)

g  indeed not / not indeed (A, B, C, D)

h  fricasée, (E, F)

i  gradú, (E, F)

j  Bossarion. (A, B, C, D, E, F) misprint, corrected editorially

k  his duplicate (A, B, C, D)

l  mind (A, B, C, D)

mm . . . mm  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

n  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

o  relievo (A, B, C, D, E, F) corrected editorially

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 98:]

p  Bon-Bon (A, B)

q  Bon-Bon (A, B)

r  that Restaurateur (A, B); that restaurateur (C, D)

s  a nice thing / impossible (A, B, C, D)

tt . . . tt  This sentence is placed after the two that now follow it in A, B, C, transposed in D

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 99:]

u  Medoc (A, B, C, D, E, F)

v  Peray, (A, B, C, D, E, F)

w  and, however singular it may seem, (A, B, C, D)

x  the grotesque (A, B, C, D)

y  Câfé (E); Câfe (F)

z  Febre (F) misprint

a  sanctum (A, B, C, D) here and below

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 100:]

bb . . . bb  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

c  Câfé (E, F)

d  paté. (A, B, C, D); pate. (E, F)

e  the words Æuvres (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 101:]

f  Café in the Cul-de-Sac Le Febvre. (A) changed in B; Càfe. (E, F)

g  Greque, (A, B, C, D, E, F) misprint, corrected editorially

h  and friendly (A, B, C, D)

i  bibliothéque. (A, B, C, D); accent omitted (E, F)

j  cotemporary (A, B)

k  Càfe (E, F)

ll . . . ll  Cafés (A, B, C, D)

m  gigantic (A, B, C, D)

n  After this: There Mousseux, Chambertin, St. George, Richbourg, Bordeaux, Margaux, Haubrion, Leonville, Medoc, Sauterne, Bârac, Preignac, Grave, Lafitte, and St. Peray contended with many other names of lesser celebrity for the honor of being quaffed. From the ceiling, suspended by a chain of very long slender links, swung a fantastic iron lamp, throwing a hazy light over the room, and relieving in some measure the placidity of the scene. (A, B, C, D except that of very . . . links is canceled in B and omitted in C, D)

oo . . . oo  a sacre Dieu, (A, B, C); a sacré, (D)

pp . . . pp  The snow drifted down bodily in enormous masses, (A, B, C) changed in D

q  Café de Bon-Bon (A, B, C, D)

r  its very (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 102:]

s  in (A, B, C, D, E)

t  paté-pans (A, B, C, D, E); patépans (F)

u  it (E) misprint

vv . . . vv  I have said that it was in no very placid temper (A, B, C, D)

w  Des Æufs (A) changed to lower case in B

x  omelete (E, F)

y  a (A) changed in B

z  Bon-Bon (A) changed in B

a  closer (A, B, C, D)

bb . . . bb  Omitted (A, B, C) added in D

c  Omitted (A, B, C) added in D

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 103:]

d  Bon-Bon’s (A); his (B)

ee . . . ee  the iron lamp (A, B, C, D)

f  a (A, B, C, D, E)

g  intended a priori (A) changed in B

[The following variants appears at the bottom of page 104:]

h  Canceled (D)

ii . . . ii  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

j  in (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 105:]

k  of a / of a — of a (A, B, C, D)

l  the most / such (A, B, C, D)

m  suspicions, or rather — I should say — his certainty (A, B, C, D)

n  of the powerful Vin de (A, B, C, D)

o  the latter / he (A, B, C, D)

p  matured, (F) comma deleted to follow A, B, C, D, E

q  entirely nonplused (A, B, C, D)

r  loud, (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 106:]

s  confessed, however, that (A, B, C, D)

t  momently, / momentarily (A, B)

u  Regitre (A, B, C, D); Régitre (E, F) corrected editorially

vv . . . vv  might not probably have otherwise been observable. (A, B, C, D)

w  now much / now (A) changed in B

x  increased to an intolerable degree (A) changed in B

y  of cadaverous (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 107:]

z  and to his surprise (A, B, C, D)

aa . . . aa  cat, I see (E); cat I see (F) punctuated from A, B, C, D

bb . . . bb  engendering (A, B, C, D)

cc . . . cc  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

d  superfluous (A, B, C, D, E)

e  optical affairs / optics (A, B, C, D)

f  set (A, B)

gg . . . gg  this (A) changed in B

h  Omitted (A, B, C, D, E)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 108:]

i  it was I who / I (A, B, C, D)

j  Canceled (D)

k  it implied omitted (A, B, C, D)

l  [Poe transliterated the Greek words thus: o nous estin augos; augos; o nous estin aulos in A. He put them in Greek letters in the Duane copy B which was followed in C. In D, which later texts followed, he changed three Greek words and interchanged gamma and lambda and permitted the latter to be spelled lamma; see note.]

mm . . . mm  the lie, (A, B, C) changed in D

n  as you (D)

o  of (A, B, C, D)

p  of Vin de (A, B, C, D)

qq . . . qq  was (A) changed in B

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 109:]

r  therefore, (D)

s  Poe’s French. See note. Unaccented in any text except that A, B, C, D, E have Grécque.

t  of Epicurus (A, B, C, D)

u  Canceled (D)

v  It’s sure [?] it’s a fact. added in a scrawling hand (D)

ww . . . ww  majesty. (A, B, C, D)

x  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

y  outre (E, F)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 110:]

zz . . . zz  philosopher finished (A, B, C); philosopher, being in high dudgeon, finished (D); comma after philosopher in text above added editorially

a  he smacked / the devil licked (A, B, C, D)

b  His majesty (A, B, C) changed in D

c  Noevius, (A, B, C, D, E, F) misprint, corrected editorially

d  Quintius (A, B, C, D, E, F) misprint, corrected editorially

ee . . . ee  amusement — (D)

[the following variants appear at the bottom of page 111:]

f  black water dog (A, B, C, D)

g  Livy (A, B, C, D)

h  one! (D)

i  spirits (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 112:]

j  swearing. Will you mind that, eh? — will you?” (D)

k  The host / Bon-Bon (A, B, C, D)

ll . . . ll  Omitted (A, B, C) changed in D

m  Omitted (D)

n  his (A, B, C, D)

o  After this: — vociferated the philosopher, as he finished a bottle of Sauterne. (A, B, C, D)

p  Robesp — with / RICH. . . . . , and (A, B, C, D)

qq . . . qq  CALIGULA and (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page 113:]

r  Quære — Arouet? — Editor. (A, B); Quære — Arouet? (C, D)

s  justifiable (A, B, C, D)

t  that,” / that A. . . . . .” (A, B, C, D)

u  truly! — no such nonsense, Monsieur Bon-Bon. (A, B, C, D)

vv . . . vv  f-r-i-c-a-s-s-e-e-d s-h-a-d-o-w!!” (A) changed in B

w  echoed (A, B, C, D)

x  gloriously (A, B, C, D)

y  sir!” (A) changed in B

z  not (A, B, C, D)

a  Ragout (all texts)

b  or (A, B, C, D)

c  see here, omitted (A) added in B

d  my good fellow! omitted (A, B, C, D)

[The following variants appear at the bottom of page of 114:]

ee . . . ee  Omitted (A, B, C, D)

f  the latter / his majesty (A, B, C, D)

g  arising (A, B, C, D)

h  ungentlemanly (A, B, C) changed in D

ii . . . ii  Omitted (A, B, C); ungentlemanly and disgusting (D)

j  the visiter / his majesty (A, B, C, D)

k  manner the philosopher (A, B, C, D)

l  be ascertained / ascertain (A, B, C, D)


[page 114, continued:]


Motto:  This may be translated, “When a good wine fills my stomach, I am more learned than Balzac, wiser than Pibrac; my lone arm attacking the Cossack nation would plunder it; I would cross Charon’s lake sleeping in his bark; would go to proud Aeacus, without my heart going pit-a-pat, to offer him some snuff.” Poe found it in Bielfeld’s Érudition Universelle (Book II, chap. vii, section 29) in the discussion of Versification, and included it in his “Pinakidia,” number 154 (SLM, August 1836, p. 581). Balzac is Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac (1597-1654), master of French prose style. Guy du Faur, Seigneur de Pibrac (1529-1584), was a French jurist of great influence who composed moral verses and was a friend of Ronsard. Aeacus, a legendary king of Aegina, was one of the judges in Hades, whither souls were ferried by Charon. Poe’s earlier motto, used in text A (SLM, August 1835), was front Voltaire’s La Bible enfin expliguée, 1776; Beuchot edition (1829), XLIX, 259. It means, “Lord Bolingbroke said, ‘Our Gulliver has such fables.’ ” [page 115:]

1.  Pâtés à la fois, literally “pâtés at the time.”

2.  The Academy is the school of Plato, the Lyceum that of Aristotle.

3.  Poe often ridiculed Kant, but usually wrote of Leibnitz with respect.

4.  The Ionic school included the earlier Greek philosophers; Thales, Anaximander, and Heraclitus hailed from Ionia, and Heraclitus studied there. The Italic or Eleatic school (from Elea in Southern Italy) included Parimenides, who held that “the All is One.”

5.  George of Trebizond in 1464 wrote a comparison of Plato and Aristotle, which in 1469 brought a severe reply In Calumniatorem Platonis from Jean Bessarion, also a native of Trebizond. To agree with both was a remarkable feat, but Bon-Bon’s creator may have recalled that Bielfeld, in L’Érudition Universelle (Book I, chapter xxxviii, section 21), said that the true philosopher is a man who has philosophy in himself — who reasons, reflects, seeks for himself the cause of everything, and has courage enough to find it, without embarrassing himself with a system.

6.  The Chinese placing the intellect in the abdomen is mentioned again in “Marginalia,” number 285 (SLM, July 1849, p. 416).

7.  Like his predecessor Pedro, Bon-Bon preferred light and pleasing poetry and wine to the weighty and salubrious. Sauterne is sweet, Médoc therapeutic, like the amorous Catullus and the sublime Homer. The healthful quality of Médoc is used ironically in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

8.  Genoa velvet is mentioned in Politian, VIII, 52, and in “Landor’s Cottage.”

9.  Benevenuta, “well come upon,” is an appropriate name for a composer of impromptu verses.

10.  Eusebius, who became Bishop of Caesarea about 313 A. D., is called the father of ecclesiastical history.

11.  The first dining room to be known as a restaurant was opened in Paris in 1765 by one Boulanger.

12.  In the canceled passage, compare the list of wines in “Lionizing” at n. 19. [See also “Poe’s Wine List,” by L. Moffitt Cecil, Poe Studies, December 1972.]

13.  “À la Princess” involves asparagus tips, rich cream sauce, and truffles — “À la Reine,” purée of chicken with sauce suprême, made of butter, flour, chicken bouillon, eggs and cream, to which are sometimes added truffles, mushrooms and ripe olives. The joke is solely on the names.

14.  Maxwell Morton in A Builder of the Beautiful, p. 39f., points out a description of the devil in Dr. Robert Macnish’s “Metempsychosis” in Blackwood’s for May 1826. There he sneezes “finickly,” and is described as a little, meagre, brown-faced, elderly “person with a ‘hooked nose’ and long well-powdered queue.” He wore a surtout of “snuff-color” and “black small clothes buckled at the knee,” and “tortoise-shell spectacles” with glasses of unusual dimensions. He has a large snuff-box, and carries a pen behind his right ear “after the manner of the counting-house” and has a manuscript book. He “whines” and talks of great [page 116:] philosophers of the past. Morton cites other material from tales by Macnish, but far less strikingly like “Bon-Bon.” See also “The Devil in the Belfry,” especially at n. 4.

15.  Compare the changing letters on a cliff in “Silence — a Fable.” There is a parallel in Beckford’s Vathek.

16.  See Exodus 20:4: “any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

17.  There is a voodoo war and blood divinity named Shango who is eyeless, and of whom Poe may have heard from Negroes. If so, this is his only clear use of such stories.

18.  Poe allows the devil to read minds here, but not in “The Duc de L’Omelette.”

19.  What Aristotle, Problemata, xxxiii, 9, said was that “Sneezing comes from . . . the head . . . the seat of reasoning.” Poe refers to this again in one of the early paragraphs in Eureka.

20.  Poe has in mind an old story to be found in Richard Griffith’s Koran (often ascribed to Lawrence Sterne), III, 152: “Even so late as near the beginning of the sixteenth century, a certain priest, having met with this passage in some Greek author, ho nous estin aülos, mens humana immaterialis est, and finding, in his Lexicon, that augós signified a flute or pipe, brought no less than fifteen arguments, in an academic exercise, to prove the human soul to be a whistle.”

By changing a lambda to gamma the word becomes augos, morning light. “The mind is a light” is not one of Plato’s doctrines. Poe’s form “lamma” is not Greek, but I forbear emendation as it is in a joke. Compare “The Bargain Lost,” n. 14.

21.  Rome was in chaos in 86-82 B.C. between the death of Marius and the return of Sulla. Poe’s footnote is from Condorcet’s Esquisse d’un tableau historique, Epoque V. It can be found in the edition of O’Connor and Arago (Paris, 1847), VI, 94; there was a complete edition of Condorcet’s works in 1804. The French here, however, is Poe’s.

22.  On the voluminous works of Epicurus see Diogenes Laertius, Lives, X, 17.

23.  See Aristotle De Anima, II, 1-4, for complex definitions of the soul. He talks of nutritive soul, and Poe makes it nutritious.

24.  See introductory remarks on William Elliot’s translation of The Visions of Quevedo, above.

25.  Cratinus at least once defeated Aristophanes. Almost nothing survives of Plato comicus. Naevius is a very early Roman poet and playwright. Livius Andronicus, who translated Homer’s Odyssey, flourished in the third century B. C. Terentius Afer we call Terence. C. Lucilius (180-102 B. C.) seems to have been the first writer of satires. Catullus, the lyrist of Verona, has by some been thought the wanderer of Poe’s “To Helen.” Naso is Ovid. Quintus Horatius Flaccus, in 53 B. C., composed the Secular Ode for Rome’s 700th birthday; we judge from his Satire, II, vi, 37, that he disliked the familiar use of his first name by mere acquaintances; the vocative form is “Quinte.”

26.  A Quirite is a Roman citizen not in military service. [page 116:]

27.  Nil admirari, meaning “be astonished at nothing,” is from Horace, Epistolae, I, vi, 1.

28.  Horace’s Ars Poetica versifies much from Aristotle’s Poetics. Terence owed much to Menander, more of whose comedy is now known than in Poe’s day. Julius Caesar called Terence half a Menander. Nicander, a grammarian and physician, wrote on beasts and poisons in the second century before our era, and may have influenced Ovid. Vergil’s Eclogues imitate the pastoral poems of Theocritus of Syracuse. Martial (first century A. D.) wrote biting epigrams; the savage verses of Archilochus (seventh century B. C.) are said to have driven a woman who rejected his suit to suicide. Polybius (204-122 B. C.) was a source for the historical writings of T. Patavinus Livius whom we call Livy, and the French, Tite Live.

29.  Poe’s collection is of successful but wicked people. Nimrod, King of Babylon, a great-grandson of Noah, is merely called “a mighty hunter before the Lord” in Genesis 10:9, but he has a traditional reputation for slaughter and cruelty, based on commentaries on Micah 7:2. Caligula, a madman, was Roman Emperor 37-41 A.D. He is also mentioned in “Metzengerstein.” Dionysius was a tyrant of Syracuse; Pisistratus of Athens. The latter is undeserving of this condemnation.

30.  Machiavelli, Mazarin, and Robespierre are patent; Elizabeth I perhaps joins the bad company because of having had Mary Queen of Scots put to death; George must be the Fourth, whom Poe disliked. Rich[ard III] was omitted from the final version of the story.

31.  See “The Bargain Lost” at n. 18.

32.  Compare The Visions of Quevedo, p. 146: “the Persian [souls] fricasseed with gravy de demon.”

33.  The “iron lamp that depended overhead” had, we recall, “swung convulsively back” from the Devil’s first approach.



There is a complicated sequence of issues about the Greek text on page 108, beyond what is detailed by TOM. Indeed, TOM repeats a questionable absence of quotation marks and himself adds a new error, both of which have been restored in the text as presented here.


page 108: I bade him write down that ‘ο νους εστιν αυλος’. / I bade him write down that ο νους εστιν.


[S:1 - TOM2T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Bon-Bon)