Text: Burton R. Pollin, “Figs, Bells, Poe, and Horace Smith,” from Poe Newsletter­, June 1970, vol. III, no. 1, 3:8-10


[page 8, column 1:]

Figs, Bells, Poe, and Horace Smith

City University of New York, Bronx Community College

During Poe’s lifetime, one of the most popular English writers of poetry, essays, novels and tales was Horace or Horatio Smith (1779-1849). It is a significant commentary on the changes in literary fashions that we should be puzzled as to the source of a motto for a tale which Poe neglected to identify probably because he assumed that every reader would know it — in one of Smith’s sketches. Below the original title of “How to Write a Blackwood Article,” namely, “The Signora Zenobia,” first published in the American Museum of December 1838, he wrote: “ ’In the name of the Prophet — figs!! ’ Cry of the Turkish fig-pedler. ” This motto came from “Johnson’s Ghost,” the tenth of the twenty-one articles in Rejected Addresses by James and Horace Smith. It was a book that Poe knew well and expected his readers to know well (1). Since the paragraph in which Smith embedded the phrase includes a sentence that Poe deciphered for Dr. Frailey in the cryptography “exhibitions” of 1841, I furnish the excerpt from this parody of Johnson’s style:

He that is most assured of success will make the fewest appeals to favor, and where nothing is claimed that is undue, nothing that is due will be withheld. A swelling opening is too often succeeded by an insignificant conclusion. Parturient mountains have ere now produced muscipular abortions; and the auditor who compares incipient grandeur with final vulgarity is reminded of the pious hawkers of Constantinople, who solemnly perambulate her streets, exclaiming, “In the name of the Prophet — figs!” (2)

Years later, curiously enough, Poe himself explicates this early motto through an uncollected item in the Broadway Journal of 30 August 1845 (3). He is discussing the Germantown Telegraph’s objection to calling the magazine the Broadway Journal since “it is published in Nassau Street.” Poe retorts: “If primitive meanings are to be adhered to, we might maintain that Mr. T—— is no sycophant merely because he is not in the habit of discovering figs.” Poe is almost but not entirely correct here, for “sycophant” actually comes from “sukophantes” — to transliterate the Greek — or “fig-shower.” His concept, in “discover,” apparently alludes to the false derivation that “it originally meant an informer against the unlawful exportation of figs,” as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, rather than the obscene gesture of “making a fig.” More to the point — it currently meant “a parasite, toady, or lickspittle,” and, in an obsolete sense, “impostor or deceiver.” Both of these (OED, 3 and 4) suit the tale which deals with the wide variety of insincere or “gesture” devices available to the would-be writer for procuring from editors a hearing for worthless material, that is, for “figs” (cf. not care a “fig” about something). The motto with its tangential allusion to “sycophant” points towards Poe’s unusual emphasis upon ideas and expressions in Greek; he says, “In a Blackwood article nothing makes so fine a show as your Greek” (Works, II, 281).

As for the source in Rejected Addresses — there is little [column 2:] need to show the popularity and wide circulation of this set of parodic articles. The book went into more than thirty editions during the century. How well known Smith’s parodies were is further suggested by an article in the United States Literary Gazette of February 1825 (I, 326-327) and another in the American Monthly Magazine of March 1837 (IX, 239-249). The latter article, “Hits at Poetical Styles by an Admirer of ‘Rejected Addresses ’,” discountenances the recent suggestion by Ben Harris McClary that Poe’s motto came from a report, to the effect that in 1831 Sir Walter Scott was said to have greeted an acquaintance just returned from Turkey as follows: “I thought you were living like a Mussulman among the infidel Turks! In the name of the Prophet, figs! I hope you have made a fortune by figs?” (4). Referring to the Rejected Addresses, the American Monthly Magazine says: “Of the imitations of Sir Walter Scott . . . . the author of Marmion himself said, ‘I certainly must have written this myself, although I forget upon what occasion ’!” Obviously, Sir Walter found his Turkish fig peddler in the Rejected Addresses, where Poe also found him.

Another part of the passage from “Johnson’s Ghost” appears in Graham’s Magazine of October 1841; here Poe prints the “solution” of the “cypher submitted through Mr. F. W. Thomas, by Dr. [Charles S.] Frailey, of Washington, and decyphered by us, also in return of mail. . . . .” Part of it reads: “Without dubiety incipient pretension is apt to terminate in final vulgarity, as parturient mountains have been fabulated to produce muscupular [sic] abortions” (5). One begins to suspect that Poe’s earlier acquaintance with the text of “Johnson’s Ghost” may have led him to the easy solution by providing him with several unusual known words in this sentence, which is so strong in the letter “a” — even though Frailey may have given him a faulty spelling for “muscipular.” (The erudite Smith, as Poe terms him, was in error in using an adjective from the Latin for “mouse-trap” in the belief that it referred to a diminutive of “mouse.”) An even more important consequence of “Johnson’s Ghost” was its providing Poe with a novel if not entirely new word for his poem “The Bells.” On the page opposite the “pregnant” paragraph that I have discussed appears the following: “Permanent stage-doors we have none. That which is permanent cannot be removed, for, if removed, it soon ceases to be permanent. What stationary absurdity can vie with that ligneous barricado, which, decorated with frappant and tintinnabulant appendages, now serves as the entrance of the lowly cottage, and now as the exit of a lady’s bed-chamber. . . . .” Smith’s use of “tintinnabulant” is indeed listed by the OED, and it is strange that not one of the many studies of “tintinnabulation” in “The Bells” relates it to Horace Smith’s use. This is Poe’s major source, I firmly believe, in view of his knowledge of the article and his great admiration for Smith.

The “fig cry” was not the first tacit acknowledgment from Poe of Smith’s eminence as a writer. Every student of Poe knows that “Chronologos Chronology,” one of the members of the Folio Club, “admired Horace Smith” and “had a very big nose which had been in Asia Minor” (Works, II, xxxix). On the basis of this remark, it was easy for James Wilson, in 1931, to assign Poe’s early “Tale of Jerusalem” to “Chronologos,” both for its Asian [page 9:] setting and for its direct provenance from Smith’s popular novel, Zillah. A Tale of the Holy City (6). Its popularity is proved by two London editions of 1828, a French translation of Paris of 1829, a New York edition of 1829, and further editions of London in 1832, 1836, 1839, and 1857 (7). For “A Tale of Jerusalem” of 1836 (written earlier, of course), Wilson correctly says that Poe used the general setting and phrases such as “El Emanu,” “true as the Pentateuch,” and “bigger than the letter Jod.” I find other borrowings, such as “by the five corners of that beard which as a priest I am forbidden to shave” (1828 ed., I, 11), “the two Katholikin, or overseers of the treasury” (I, 43) for Poe’s “Katholim,” and the scorn of the defenders of the ramparts for the rest of the world as barbarians in Smith’s Preface (I, xiii-xiv). One wonders whether Poe may not have been made aware, even before reading about the raven in Dickens ’ Barnaby Rudge, of the possibilities for a poem in such a bird, through the episode in Zillah involving Esau, the self-styled prophet. He has a raven which pecks at food concealed under his hair near the ear, enabling him to pretend that it is “whispering to him the dark revelations of futurity” (8).

Poe also took from the book a long excerpt, hitherto never traced, for Number 83 of his “Pinakidia” in the Messenger of August 1836 (Works, XIV, 15). Very few words were changed from Smith’s passage, given here verbatim:

The celebrated Judas Maccabeus took for the motto of his standard the words, “mi camoca baelim Jehovah?” (Exod. XV.11) “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the Gods?” This motto is said to have been written, not at length, but only by the first letter of each word, just as S. P. Q. R. for Senatus populus que Romanus was inscribed on the Roman standard. The four initial letters of the Hebrews are supposed to have formed the anagrammatical word Maccabi, whence this Judas has been called Judas Maccabeus, and those that fought under his standard were termed Maccabees. (1828 ed., I, 82)

This was precisely the odd type of erudition that caused the young Poe to assert in his review of Bulwer’s Rienzi in the Messenger of February 1836: “Horace Smith is as learned” as Bulwer (Works, VIII, 223). We may be sure also that when he alluded in the same issue of the Messenger to Lambert A. Wilmer’s “Satiric Odes in the Post,” over the signature of Horace in Philadelphia, he knew that they stemmed from Smith’s celebrated imitations, Horace in London, of 1813, which went into a fourth edition by 1815 with a Boston reprint at the same time.

A novel by Horace Smith, earlier and less popular than Zillah, may have entered slightly into Poe’s masterpiece “Ligeia,” published in 1838. It is his four-volume Trevanion, or Matrimonial Ventures of 1801. The subtitle particularly makes one suspect that Poe may have received a hint for the second marriage of the disloyal widower who tells the story. The full name of his second bride is Lady Rowena Trevanion, of Tremaine. Elsewhere, however, I have suggested another provenance for Poe’s “Trevanion” with at least an equal claim (9).

The novels of Horace Smith continued to claim Poe’s attention as a reviewer, through the many pirated reprints that reached the editor’s desk. The August 1841 Graham’s [column 2:]Magazine (XIX, 94) contained an uncollected review by Poe of Smith’s novel The Moneyed Man, of which he said:

This is a good book, and well worth the re-publication. The story is skilfully constructed, and conveys an excellent moral. Horace Smith is one of the authors of the “Rejected Addresses.” He is, perhaps, the most erudite of all the English novelists, and unquestionably one of the best in every respect. His style is peculiarly good.

Erudition again to the fore! Poe was much attracted by the combination of learning and wit in so many of Smith’s works — his own genre of writing, he must have thought.

Hence in the Democratic Review of November 1844, he alludes to Smith as though he actually had met him, although Smith never visited the United States. The episode is imagined for the sake of exploiting the double title of the book mentioned — Gaieties and Gravities, the subtitle of this three-volume work of 1826 being A Series of Sketches, Comic Tales, and Fugitive Vagaries By One of the Authors of “Rejected Addresses.” Most of the articles had first appeared in the London Magazine and the New Monthly Magazine, as the Preface indicates. Included is the autobiographical “Portrait of a Septuagenary” (I, 168-207), which Poe uses for a pun in his comment:

In a rail-road car, I once sat face to face with him — or, rather, prósopon kàta prósopon, as the Septuagint have it, for he had a tooth-ache, and three-fourths of his visage were buried in a red handkerchief. Of what remained visible, an eighth, I thought, represented his “Gaieties,” and an eighth his “Gravities.” The only author I ever met who looked even the fourth of his own book. (Works, XVI, 5)

The book was well known in England and America, as appears from the fact that the New-York Mirror ran a “miscellany” column from 21 July 1838 through 1842, appearing about every third issue, according to my inspection, with the title “Gaieties and Gravities” (also “Gayeties”) (10).

This reference is by no means the only indication that Poe knew the varied contents of this work. The first volume contains the well-known piece, originally in the New Monthly, “Address to the Mummy at Belzoni’s Exhibition.” I discount, but not entirely, the possibility that Poe may have received from this poem the main idea for reviving the mummy in “Some Words with a Mummy” (11). There would seem to be, however, little doubt that when he wished to discuss the idea of international copy-right law, Poe dipped into “But prythee tell us something of thyself — / Reveal the secrets of thy prison house,” for his title, “Some Secrets of the Magazine Prison-House” (12). A little less direct but still definite, I feel, is Poe’s earlier borrowing of the idea of the mysterious sounds from the Egyptian statue of Memnon, activated by the sunrise. Smith wrote: “Then say what secret melody was hidden/ In Memnon’s statue which at sunrise played.” Poe has his “Echoes” say in “The Coliseum,” rather inappropriately, considering their Roman provenance: “Prophetic sounds and loud, arise forever from us, and from all Ruin, unto the wise,/ As melody from Memnon to the Sun” (13).

I am inclined to agree also with Richard P. Benton, that Poe owes something to the Gaieties and Gravities [page 10:] article “On Noses.” Poe has often been mentioned for his partiality to pulling the nose and punning on noses; “Lionizing” is merely the most prominent example of this partiality (14). Punning on “nosology” or the “classification of diseases,” Poe exploits his hero’s unusual nose for comic effect in a manner that may have inspired Rostand in Cyrano at the end of the century. It was probably Smith’s essay which led to Poe’s “Folio Club” reference to him as “Chronologos Chronology,” as I said above, and in “Lionizing” we find a parallel name, by association, in “Theologos Theology” (Works, II, 38). I am not excluding, of course, the considerable influence upon Poe’s work of Sterne and other comic writers on “rhinology.”

Two other references to Horace Smith, neither of which is collected by Harrison, will complete the total. In the 7 June 1845 issue of the Broadway Journal (I, 362), Poe reviews Richardsiana; or, Hits at the Style of Popular American Authors, of which he says:

A remarkably clever jeu d ’esprit after the fashion of “Rejected Addresses.” The authors introduced are Croaker & Co.; Daniel Webster; Longfellow; Willis; Irving; Morris; Woodworth; Halleck; Bryant; McDonald Clarke; and two others whom we do not recognize (15).

At the end of the career of the Broadway Journal, on 20 December 1845, Poe writes of Smith’s Love as Mesmerism (London, 1845), in its pirated reprint by Harper and Brothers: “A really admirable work, by an author who never did anything ill. No. 67 of the ‘Library of Select Novels ’ “ (BJ, II, 375). I find little reason for Poe’s praise of this weak double novel by Smith, unless it be in Smith’s citation of La Motte Fouqué in the preface to the book or the fact that the second work is “Mesmerism; A Mystery,” dealing with a subject of general interest to Poe (16). I rather suspect that during these harried days, Poe was likely to endorse any book bearing Smith’s name without reading beyond the preface and the table of contents.

As for other traces of Horace Smith’s writings in Poe’s work, I must admit to finding none — thus far, but they will surely arise, like Memnon’s melody, some dawn.

See also in this issue the “Marginalia” note by Richard Schuster, “More on the ‘Fig-Pedler ’.” — Ed.



(1)  References to Poe’s works are either to original publication or to Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J. A. Harrison (New York, 1902). The Cambridge Bibliography lists for Horace Smith twenty-one titles of novels and short story collections, six of miscellaneous “other works,” and two of poems in collaboration with his brother. Allibone, A Critical Dictionary of English Literature (Philadelphia, 1872), II, 2139, identifies the work of each brother; this one and that on Scott, discussed below, were by Horace. [column 2:]

(2)  Rejected Addresses: or, The New Theatrum Poetarum (Boston, 1860, from the 22nd London ed.), pp. 107-108.

(3)  The item can be easily verified as Poe’s. It appears in BJ, II, 125. Poe refers to his writing “The House of Usher” elsewhere in the miscellany. For this and other uncollected items discussed below, I find confirmation for Poe’s authorship in William D. Hull’s “Canon of the Critical Reviews of Edgar Allan Poe” (University of Virginia dissertation, 1941) or in the bibliographical articles of Killis Campbell.

(4)  “Poe’s ‘Turkish Fig-Pedler ’,” Poe Newsletter, II (1969), 56.

(5)  Works, XIII, 138-140. Smith is parodying “A mountain was in labor . . . . and brought forth a mouse,” to be found variously in Aesop, Phaedrus, and Horace. Poe uses Horace’s version directly in XIII, 203; XIV, 224; and XIV, 229. The Horace Smith provenance of the sentence in the cryptogram was given by W. K. Wimsatt, Jr., “What Poe Knew about Cryptography,” PMLA, XVIII (1943), 765, n. 57.

(6)  See Works, II, xxxix, and James S. Wilson, “The Devil Was in It,” American Mercury, XXIV (1931), 215-220. Both Wilson and Killis Campbell, in The Mind of Poe (Cambridge, Mass., 1933), p. 175, err in using “Jerusalem” for “Holy City” in Smith’s subtitle. T. O. Mabbott, Sewanee Review, XXXVI (1928), 171-176, was earliest in connecting Chronologos with “A Tale of Jerusalem,” but not with Zillah.

(7)  These were, variously, in three, four, or five volumes save for the one-volume 1839 edition, Vol. 18, in Colburn’s Modern Standard Novelists — an indication of its contemporary fame.

(8)  See the 1828 ed., 1, 57-63. See Mabbott, Poems, p. 356, for stress on Poe’s peculiar conversion of the raven into a prophet.

(9)  See Discoveries in Poe (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1970), p. 96, for the reference to Byron’s grandmother, Sophia Trevanion. Allibone, II, 2139, gives only a date of 1813 for Trevanion, either for another edition or by error.

(10)  The copy of Gaieties and Gravities that I used from the Columbia University Library is called the “3rd ed.” and is dated 1826, although not listed in Allibone or elsewhere — being probably a reprint. The first edition appeared in 1825. A one-volume selection was published in New York in 1852.

(11)  “Address to the Mummy,” I, New Monthly Magazine 123-125; see also “Memnon’s Head,” III, 69-75, which speaks also of Memnon’s statue as reviving after twenty-three centuries in London, possibly prior to its going to America. I ignore both pieces in my study, “Poe’s ’some Words with a Mummy ’: More Sources and Associations,” in Emerson Society Quarterly, forthcoming 1970.

(12)  Works, XIV, 160-163, and Gravities, 1826 ed., I, 124; 1852, p. 10.

(13)  Mabbott, Poems, p. 229, altered from its original in “Politian,” p. 287. For another possible influence, note Smith’s story of gambling, entitled “Rouge et Noir,” Gaieties, 1826 ed., II, 231-249, and Poe’s “Folio Club” character, “Mr. Rouge-et-Noir who admires Lady Morgan,” Works, II, xxxviii.

(14)  See Benton, “Poe’s ‘Lionizing ’: A Quiz on Willis and Lady Blessington,” Studies in Short Fiction, V (1968), 243, n. 13, and Gravities, I, 69-79.

(15)  It is regrettable that Poe himself was omitted from the parodies. The New York Public Library owns a copy of this rare forty-odd page pamphlet.

(16)  I am grateful to a SUNY Research Foundation grant for enabling me to examine this work in the British Museum after finding no copy available in this country.


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[S:1 - PSDR, 1970]