The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: Humor

“Facilis Decensus Avenue” by George Arnold


Facilis Decensus Avenue
George Arnold
From Vanity Fair, May 26, 1860

“We see that one of our fashionable tailors has broken ground in Fifth Avenue, and converted one of the fine mansions there, into a magazine of garments…In a short time we may expect to see most of the magnificent private residences in this avenue converted into retail stores and shops.”—Herald.

According to popular talk
The Palatial street of New-York
Is falling from grace
At a terrible pace!
I hear, when I promenade there,
Strange voices of grief in the air,
And I fancy I see
The sad sisters three,
With their black trailing dresses,
And dishevelled tresses,
Go solemn and slow
To and fro
In their woe,
And crying
“Eheu! Eheu! Eheu!
There’s a Tailor in FIFTH-AVENUE!”

O, sorry and sad was the day
When this Tailor came up from Broadway,
With his stitches,
And breeches,
His shears and his goose—
His fashions profuse—
To the house that has been
In years I have seen,
Most aristocratic
From basement to attic!
But gone are the flush and the fair,
And those voices still float in the air
And crying
“Eheu! Eheu! Eheu!
There’s a Tailor in FIFTH-AVENUE!”

Where sweet CRINOLINA once slept,
The sempstresses, maybe, are kept;
And perhaps in her dressing-room, where
Her maid combed that glistening hair
Some cross-legged fellow,
Round-shouldered and yellow,
May sit with his needle and thread;
For the glory that reigned there, has fled!
How oft to that door she ascended—
When the ball or the party was ended—
Flushed, beautiful, bright,
A Queen of delight,
An angel quite worthy of heaven—
To that door, now, a tailor’s-cart’s driven!
No wonder that voice cries “Eheu!”
There’s a Tailor in FIFTH AVENUE!

Then where shall the flush and the fair
Find refuge? Ah, Echo says, “Where?”
There are dentists in Madison Square,
The boarding-house, too, appears there,
And I’ve heard,
In a word,
That some kind of factory, or mill
Was soon to disturb MURRAY HILL!
Now if fashion must be
(And it seems so, to me)
Crowded upward each year,
I very much fear
They’ll be shoved—and the thought makes me shiver—
Off the Island and into the river!
And crying,
“Eheu! Eheu! Eheu!
There’s a Tailor in FIFTH AVENUE!”

“A New Fable for Critics” from the Knickerbocker Magazine

I’m not sure if this related in any way to James Russell Lowell’s book/poem A Fable for Critics. Regardless, it offers its own kick. 

A New Fable for Critics
By Charles Desmarais(?) G——
From the Knickerbocker, March 1857, pg. 280

A RUGGED crust of sterile soil
Once mocked a rustic’s stubborn toil:
The scarce-hid rocks the plough-share feel,
And angry sparks snap at the steel,
And fright the oxen from the path,
And rouse the bumpkin’s stupid wrath.
He spurns the sod with moody curse,
And, growling, swears there ‘s ne’er a worse—
More useless—good-for-nothing lump
Of stone, on all the world’s broad hump;
Then, on his beasts, with coward goad,
He vents his rage and seeks the road.

Ere long, a scholar, travel sore,
But learned in all the mystic lore
Of Nature’s secret laws, most wise
In all Art’s wondrous mysteries,
Upon this barren glebe at length
Was fain to rest for lack of strength;
And on the furrowed crust he flings
His weary limbs like slackened strings:
His listless hand awhile, uneyed,
Toys with the pebbles at his side,
Till instinct, (like a memory stung
To sudden life by something sung—
Some echo of a sound, once woke
A central nerve’s electric stroke,)
Rings on the tymbral of his ear,
A tinkle he was wont to hear
When on some metal’s hidden track,
Of yore, his hammer’s head would crack:
His eye that smouldered dull but now
Flashes beneath his heated brow;
With miser’s grip his agile hand
Snatches the pebbles from the sand;
With microscopic power he strains
His vision on the flinty grains;
Then, leaping from his couch of mould,
He shouts in triumph: ‘Gold! gold! gold!’

The truth by which we might the happiest live
Is, ‘Human wisdom is comparative:’
The fear by which we should be oftenest nudged
Would seem to be: ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’;
And last, not least, methinks the trustiest ‘saw’
Is this, Opinion’s but a thatch of straw,
Which, to conceal our want, in vain we raise;
A neighbor scrapes a match—lo! it is all a-blaze!

Phil. Dec. 16, 1856.

“Lecture Extraordinary on Nosology” by James Gates Percival

Thanks to the resourceful Life and Letters of James Gates Percival by Julius H. Ward, I am able to place a new, humorous article by Percival before the public (new in that it has most likely not seen the light of day since its publication in this book). Before jumping into the satirical article, there are a few terms/names I want to go over briefly in case they seem unfamiliar to any readers.

Nosology is the classification of diseases based on their symptoms—at least, this is the concept that Percival would have been familiar with by 1833. In the case of Percival’s article, he discourses the term in a humorous, punny manner. Please note especially the chart that he provides.

Phrenology is the study of the skull. This was incredibly popular during the 1800s and was used to determine, examine, and interpret the mental faculties of asylum patients, for example. This article, provided by Encyclopædia Brittanica, beautifully describes and discusses the pseudo-science. Near the end of the article, you will find a list of the “meanings” of different areas of the skull and brain. Writers like Edgar Allan Poe were interested in this science during its heyday, and Poe was known to critique other writers by commenting on their phrenological composition, probably to their great dismay. Here, Percival sardonically exclaims that “nosology…is the true phrenology.” It may be surmised that Percival saw through the baffling and flawed pseudo-science, thus dismissing two physical and mental health practices ahead of his contemporaries.

John Neal (b. 1793—d. 1876) was a 19th century author, editor, poet, and artist, known for his turbulent, aggressive, petulant, temperamental, and eccentric personality. As a writer, he was criticized by his contemporaries for being inconsistent, tangental, and erratic in his novels. This is indicated in the footnote written by Percival at the end of this essay, likening Neal to the “accidental organ,” which is “Rubification” (which means to “make red”). He goes on to describe Neal as an “eagle,” which flies waveringly and bumps into many obstacles, unable to control its flight path. Percival does not seem to esteem Neal as either a writer or a person.

“Lecture Extraordinary on Nosology”
By James Gates Percival
Published anonymously in the Daily Herald of August 17, 1833


“Tickets not Transferable!

“Gentlemen! the nose is the most prominent feature in this bill.

‘Ο Νους κατ’ àληθες φρένες
‘The nose is the true seat of mind.’

And, therefore, gentlemen, nosology, or the science of the nose, is the true phrenology.
“He who knows his nose foreknows; for he knows that which is before him. Therefore nosology is the surest guide to conduct.
“Whatever progress an individual may make, his nose is always in advance. But society is only a congeries of individuals,—consequently its nose is always in advance, therefore its proper guide.
“The nose, rightly understood, will most assuredly work wonders in the cause of improvement; for it is always going ahead, always first in every undertaking, always soonest at the goal.
“The ancients did not neglect the nose. Look at their busts and statues! What magnification and abduction in Jove! What insinuation and elongation in the Apollo (εκηβολος)! Then nous (intellect) was surely the nose; gnosis (knowledge), noses; and Minos, my nose. Well might the great judge, when regarding this most prominent member of his judgment-seat, exclaim,—’My nose! Ecce Homo!
“Gentlemen! here is a bad nose,—a very bad nose. What intussusception, what potation, and, as a necessary consequence, alas! what rubification! But I have seen such noses, ah! yes, many such noses! Beware of them! They are bad noses,—very bad noses, I assure you!
“Gentlemen! when you choose your partners for life, look out for the nose. Beware of too great penetration and Romanotion, if you would not be henpecked by the one or butted by the other. O yes,—look out for the nose.
“Do not, I pray you, consider me by any means irreverent, if I say that nosology will prove highly favorable to the cause of religion. This is indeed an awful subject, and I would not touch it on slight grounds; but I sincerely believe that what I say is true,—nosology will prove highly favorable to the cause of religion! Does not the nose stand forth like a watchman on the walls of Zion, on the lookout for all assailants; and when our faces are directed upwards in devotion, does not the nose ascend the highest, and most especially tend heavenwards?
“Nosology, too, has a very important bearing on the great law of descent; that law, which, like the lever of Archimedes, will lift the world. Is not the nose the chief seat of all defluxions, and what are defluxions but a flowing down by the great law of descent? Who shall gainsay it?
“This system of nosology was first concocted by Dr. Schnorr; then perfected by Dr. Shnieser; and is now being retailed by your humble servant at command, Dr. Schaefer,—all from the promontory of noses; all genuine descendants of the Man with the Nose.
“But, mark me, gentlemen! nosology is being retailed free gratis. The citizens of New Haven need not therefore fear, that some eight or nine hundred dollars will thereby escape from their pockets within a few weeks. Dr. Schaefer does not shave, whatever his name would seem to indicate.
“Nosology is a manly science. It stands out in the open light. It does not conceal itself behind scratches and periwigs; nor does, like certain false teachers, mentioned by St. Paul, go about rom house to house, leading astray silly women. 
“Finally, gentlemen! you may rest assured that nosology will not quietly submit to insult. Noli me tangere! Who ever endured a tweak of the nose? It will know how to take vengeance. As Jupiter metamorphosed the inhospitable Lycians into frogs, so its contemners will suddenly find themselves βαρβαρóφωυοι!
“Gentlemen, permit me to exhibit to you a nosological table, in which all the organs are exactly localized. Such of you as are desirous of a copy will be furnished by your humble servant on the most reasonable terms; and I would advise you all to procure a copy, especially for my advantage.


*This is a satirical sally in another vein.
“John Neal is edifying the public, in his Yankee, with his usual free-and-easy remarks on all our literary characters, and that, too, without seeming to care where or how he hits. We believe Neal has talents, but not enough to authorize him to assume such a dictatorship over authors. He has no genius, or if he has, it has run wild without curb or rein. Genius should be capable of continued and lofty enthusiasm. It should fix upon the sun, and soar to it by one long and steady flight. It should imitate the strong-eyed


eagle. Neal may be an eagle, but he is an eagle with his eyes put out, soaring, sinking, dashing, fluttering, now up, now down, now here, now there, criss-cross, every way.


“We will now consider this sketch on a perpendicular plane, to accommodate it to the eagle; but only reduce it to a horizontal plane, and it will suit a figure perhaps more applicable to his excellency, namely, that of an owl lost in the sunshine, driving after all the little sparrows, and all the little sparrows chirping after him; bumping against a stump, thumping against a hemlock, knocking against a rail fence, and last of all, we fear, beating his brains out against the breast of a bold eagle. To speak our mind freely, we think the Yankee, with all its boldness and cleverness, is the most egregious piece of humbug that was ever put off upon a gullible public.

“A. B. C.”

“The Lecturer” by J. Honeywell

The Lecturer.
By J. Honeywell
From the Knickerbocker, Volume 49, February, 1857, pg. 211.

I HAVE been to hear the lecture,
With a crowd of other folks,
Where we marvelled at the wisdom
That overlaid the jokes,
And the bits of queer philosophy,
And humoristic strokes.

It’s astonishing to me
How a lecturer gets along,
And contrives to make his points
So intolerably strong,
That the tears and laughter clash
Like a sermon and a song.

Perhaps the secret lies
In the large amount of pay
Which the speaker nightly gets
For his doings in that way;
A divining rod to point
Where arts of pleasing lay.

Ah! me, if that is so,
And men have wit to sell:
If a fifty-dollar bill
Makes so little learning tell,
I pray the golden bucket
May go often to the well.

I knew before, that gold
Had overwhelming power;
Now I see it can condense
A flood into a shower,
And cram a life’s research
Into lectures of an hour.

I with that some committee
Would apply the test to me:
I would overhaul my brain
Where the learning used to be,
And all the wit I knew
The light of day should see.

I do believe that I,
With what is in my head—
Native genius and the crop
Of what I may have read,
Compressed, could make a book
About as good as ‘Dred.’

Up now a subject pops:
The trial I will dare!
So ye grave committee-men,
Your darling notes prepare:
Be prompt! for well you know
I can’t go everywhere!

“Specimens of American Poets, with Facsimiles of Autographs”—Being a very serious article about very serious poets—Part One.

This is a humorous article written exclusively for the December, 1849 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book (pp. 416-420), which presents letters and accompanying poems from five prominent 19th century authors and poets. Be mindful of the date attached to each letter as you read this. With that being said, I advise the reader take this with a grain of salt. Students, don’t use this article for serious research.

Because of the length of this article, being the letters with the poems, I have this divided into two parts. You will find only the “letters” here, and the “poems” here.

Specimens of American Poets, with Facsimiles of Autographs
Prefatory Correspondences

Philadelphia, April 1st, 1849.
Sir: I am a foreigner, who has been traveling in this country for a year past. Anxious to take away with me some memento of American literature, I addressed notes to various authors, requesting them to furnish me, free of cost, the means of complying with my desire. Most of these were polite enough to accede to my request. Others there were, I am sorry to chronicle the fact, mean and illiberal enough to take no notice of my very reasonable request. One, indeed, whose name I charitably suppress, was wicked enough to write me a reply, couched in very brief but expressive terms.
Having achieved what I wished, my next object is to make something out of it. I showed my collection to several publishers, who all declined to enter into the publication of these specimens. Some one or two—not more than two; and it may be less than one, since my memory is treacherous—expressed doubts as to their authenticity. Under these circumstances, I appeal to you. Let your endorsement of their genuine character be given, and I shall have all the publishers bidding, like so many buyers as a mock-auction, for my wares. You will not, surely, lack charity so far as to refuse this, my first, and by far the most reasonable offer I ever made you. To be sure, it may cause you a pang of conscience; but what of that? Charity, you know, covers a multitude of sins. I gave a bad sixpence to a blind man, yesterday, myself; and you should comfort yourself with this assurance.
I am, imploringly, yours,



To L. A. Godey, Esq.


We have examined the MSS. sent, and are willing to publish a few of them; but express no opinion in regard to their authenticity. The signature which accompany some of the letters look very like originals—the poems, we should say, were very original.


New York, April 1st, 1848.
MY DEAR BOY: I received your note this moment. I am very happy to be of any service to you, and enclose a poem. I hope you will succeed. Pray, let me know if I can be of any use. Would you like a notice in the Home Journal? I can do you any good, only indicate the mode, and at once. Believe me, my dear fellow,
For Willis and self, cordially yours,




Worcester, 4th Mo. 1st, 1848.
ESTEEMED FRIEND: I am enabled to comply with thy request, and dispatch to thy address, by the mail of to-day, an effusion, which I sincerely trust may answer thy purpose. Thou wilt observe that it touches upon a subject which concerns the most ordinary business of life, and will therefore find its response in the hearts, or in a more tender portion, of every member of the human family. With my most earnest wishes for all proper prosperity to attend thee, I am,
Ever thine,




New York, April 1st, 1848.
MY DEAR SIR: To be obliged to penetrate with the pump-buckets of necessity, prompted by the piston of a fifty-dollar compensation, with a publisher as the pump-handle, in search of a poem, is, of itself, annoying enough. To draw one up with the rope and bucket of gratuity, is a labor which qualifies for a long residence in fatiguedom. Your letter found me fagging away over my work-desk—chasing a brilliant idea in and out of the myriads of convolutions of my brain. All the while that I was aping Prometheus (the window being half-opened), I could sniff the delightful odors of a rose, which a fair neighbor will insist on keeping (poor Tantalus I), and could see, occasionally, white, ring-loved fingers parting the curtains on the opposite side of the street. My poor bird—Canary and I are fellow-prisoners here—was wearing his wing-feathers against the bars; and speaking with his wings what Sterne’s starling did with his throat. It was impossible for me to write anything for you with such sights, and smells, and sounds before and near me. But the Brigadier, good-naturedly, insisted that I should do something for you. I send you therefore an old scrap, which lies by me, with a protest against such demands. I cannot see that you have any more right to drag from me, as forced gifts, the products made in my workshop of a brain, than I would have to ask my neighbor’s goose to convert himself into my special quill manufactory.
Faithfully yours,




Fordham, April 1st, 1848.
SIR: The true purpose of poetry appears to have been misunderstood by poets in all ages. It has been reserved for the moderns, or one of them at least, to discover its proper uses—or, more correctly speaking, want of use. Poetry is but the rhythmical creation of beauty. Its true office is the beautiful only. It may verge on the grotesque, but must not enter it. It must never deal with the terrible, the vividly fearful—the horrid, or the profound. Didactic poetry is a misnomer, as reason is not rhyme. A poem should never have its moral, nor should it ever possess a meaning. I trust I make myself sufficiently clear, even to the meanest comprehension. To aid my exposition, I send you an example, in the singularly beautiful and strikingly peculiar poem which I inclose.
Your obedient servant,
Untitled 2




April 1st, 1848.
SIR: Here you have an extract from a new poem—the Battle of the Engines. For my own part, I care nothing for my own poetry—nor do other people, may be; however, they lose by that—besides, poetry is in itself an art—art is unproductive—and while I am on the subject of unproductiveness, I may as well mention that you did not pay the postage on the letter directed to