Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Puffing (Part I),” Columbia Spy, vol. 15, no. 30, November 23, 1844, p. 3, col. 2


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[page 3, column 2, continued:]

PUFFING.

We have frequently been astonished at the extensive and extravagant manner in which many of the country newspapers lavish their praise upon any and every work emanating from the Presses of our large cities. Puffing has become a science, and ‘celebrated men’ and ‘distinguished writers’ are manufactured in the shortest time imaginable. It has, however, of late been carried to such excess, that there is little virtue embraced in ‘puffing.’ No matter what may be the character of the work, they (the country papers) will, generally, unhesitatingly recommend it to the public — and many individuals, no doubt, belonging to that ‘Democratic circle,’ have sorely regretted the influence of the Press in such matters. We propose giving an illustration, to show the extent to which this system of puffing is carried, and how grossly unjust it is to the public and to newspaper publishers themselves.

‘The United States Saturday Post’ is published at $2.00 per annum. It is a large paper — a very large paper — but this is all. The paper itself is uninteresting — the news-items being invariably two weeks behind country papers. Taken on a whole it is not worth its subscription: being filled weekly with original nothings, and namby-pamby love-tales, continued from one paper to another. The publishers of this journal semi-annually put forth a flaming prospectus, full of large promises and capital letters, showing the great usefulness of the paper and urging upon every one to subscribe and pay for it in advance! At the bottom is a polite note, to the effect: ‘Editors copying the above will be entitled to an exchange.’ The prospectus usually occupies a column of a paper of the size of the Spy. For the same space, an advertiser would be charged $12. Now, is not this cool impudence?

The publisher of ‘Alexander’s Express Messenger and Philadelphia Weekly Prices Current’ — (the name is sufficient to make it out humbug) has had the impudence to send us a paper containing the prospectus, with the same reasonable and gentlemanly request at the bottom! ‘Editors copying the above will be entitled to an exchange!’ Out with you!

‘Neal’s Saturday Gazette,’ another of these catch-pennies, has lately sprung forth, like a great wakening light, and we find our country brethren endeavoring to make out the editor a Great Man, and his journal the best in the land. It is hard to oppose popular opinion; it would be useless to oppose it in the case of Mr. Neal, for he is unquestionably small potatoes, and this single fact is sufficient to gain the affections of most of the country presses! But he is the author of the Charcoal Sketches — his personal and political friends of the Philadelphia press pronounce the papers an extraordinary achievement! The Sketches are gravely reviewed and the critic detects a peculiar ‘under-current of humor’; (which no one else can find) his ‘friendly eye could see no faults,[[’]] and the name of the author is placed with that of Dickens, and dubbed the ‘American Boz.’ This was sufficient. The Sketcher is removed from his obscure position as editor of a political paper, and placed at the head of this grand and imposing humbug. Another series of Sketches is announced — another flourish of trumpets — and lo! the country press, with scarcely an exception, hail him in his new position, as the most successful and popular writer of the day! A-hem! Could a greater absurdity be committed?

We have sought in vain for the sharp wit, the ‘under-current of humor,’ the moral, the finish of Mr. Neal’s writings. Why, there is scarcely a contributor to ‘Graham’ that does not excel him in every quality which should distinguish an entertaining and accomplished writer of fiction. Mr. Arthur has written more, and better, and with infinitely more benefit to the reader, than Mr. Neal may ever accomplish, if he were to attain an hundredth year.

The Gazette is on a par with the Post, and the interests of the two establishments are without doubt mutual. It is intended to attract the fancy of the reader by its mechanical arrangements, rather than by anything of intrinsic value. The ‘Charcoal-Sketcher’ has commenced another series of papers under that sublime cognomen, and serves them up in weekly parts in the Gazette. We have seen a fragment of the new series in several of our exchanges, entitled ‘Peleg W. Ponder, &c.’ It is a short production, but a fair sample of the ‘Sketches.’ There is no wit, or point, or pith in the article. We observe that the author has used the precaution (and, for ourselves, we thank him for it) to secure copy-rights for these articles, so that the public cannot get at them through any other channel than the Gazette itself!

But not satisfied with copying prospectuses, and laboring directly against their own interests, the conductors of our country papers must needs follow it up with an extravagant ‘puff’; and thus they deprive themselves of that support which is rightfully their own.

One-half of the milk-and-water literati of the present day obtain a name and a reputation by another species of puffing — carried out in the cities. The puffs of the city journals are in many instances paid for, or obtained through motives of friendship — and on other grounds — but seldom on account of ability or talent. We fear country editors are often times influenced by such notices, instead of trusting to their own judgements.

It must not be inferred from the above, that we are averse to awarding praise when deserved. On the contrary, we are ever ready and willing to notice everything deserving of a notice, whether emanating from the city or country. But we have always been opposed to the wholesale system of puffing, adopted by the majority of country editors. We trust they will hereafter discountenance this practice, and look to their own interests.

 


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Notes:

This item was first attributed to Poe by Spannuth. In later years, it was rejected by T. O. Mabbott.

 

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[S:1 - CS, 1844] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc. - Puffing (Part I)