Letters to the Editor: A Scientific Controversy

The Carpet-Bag (Boston), vol. 1, no. 34 (November 5, 1851): 5; vol. 2, no. 3 (April 17, 1852): 7; vol. 2, no. 5 (May 1, 1852): 7; vol. 2, no. 7 (May 15, 1852): 3; vol. 2, no. 10 (June 5, 1852): 4; vol. 2, no. 11 (June 12, 1852): 6; vol. 2, no. 12 (June 19, 1852): 3.

This satirical series of entries was written by Benjamin Drew (1812-1903), a copy-editor for the Boston Post, writing asE. Goethe Digg.  In fact, the editor of the Carpet-Bag, Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, came to believe in spiritualism, as did more than a few of his literary associates in Boston.

Spiritual Rappers

    MESSRS. EDS.:—On the questions which have been so much agitated of late, relative to the communications of spirits with men, by means of knocks or raps, it has been my policy hitherto, to preserve a profound silence.  The explanation of Professor Darius Dump* satisfied me that there was “something in it”: nor let any one say, that “there is a screw loose in my mental constitution,” even if I admit, and go on to prove, that there is a great deal in it.  [* The learned Doctor here refers to a very lucid theory in regard to the Spiritual Knockings, from the pen of Darius Dump, Esq., published in the Carpet-Bag, Vol. I, No. 34, which has recently been going the rounds credited to a Cincinnati paper.  As some of our readers may wish to refresh their memories on the subject of Dump’s great theory, we republish his celebrated exposition of the rapping phenomena.—Eds. Carpet-Bag.  “The only true and legitimate manner of accounting for the taps, is the physiological defects in the membranous system.  The obtuseness of the abdominal abdicator causes the cartilaginous compressor to coagulate into the diaphragm, and decreases the duodenum into the flandango.  Now if the taps were caused by the vogation of the electricity from the extremities, the tympanum would also dissolve into spiritual sinctum, and the olfactory ossificator would ferment and become identical with the pigmentum.  Now as this is not the case, in order to produce the taps the spinal rotundum must be elevated down to the spiritual spero.  But, as I said before, the inferior ligaments must not substend over the digitorum sufficiently to disorganize the sterieoletum.  DARIUS DUMP.”] I shall state to the public facts from my own experience, as they occurred, without using abstruse or technical terms, unless I can find no synonym in the vernacular.

    On the night of the 17th of January, 1852—the weather being intensely cold—I directed two ordinary junk bottles, filled with hot water, to be placed in contact with my feet, when I horizontalized for somnolent repose.  My domestic placed them in their proper position, both filled with aqua fontis, at 212° Fahrenheit. [1]  On placing the soles of my pedal extremities in contact with the bottles, I became aware of a sudden and violent repulsion, which caused my head to rap or rather thwack against the head-board, and at the same time I saw sparks like stars, which I conjecture were electrical.  Regardless of pain or personal inconvenience, where a scientific principle is concerned, I repeated the experiment several times, and saw stars as often as my head came into contact with the head-board.  I have since satisfied myself that these stars or sparks were detached optical illusions.  “The first step in every thing is discovered by chance and not by reflection,” as Madam De Stael remarks in her “Influence of Literature.” [2]   I had by chance taken one step in the right direction.  The glass bottles had communicated positive electricity to my feet—of course my head was negative.  This consideration convinced me that I was a medium.  After revolving the matter mentally for weeks, I proceeded to experiment, alone in my study.  I took a common writing desk with an inclined top or upper surface.  On this, I placed a common India rubber ball, and concentrating all my faculties, I willed it to roll down the slope.  The experiment succeeded—the ball rolled down with an accelerated motion, and at length dropped upon the floor, where it performed a series of raps in a truly wonderful manner.  The will, then, had something to do in the matter—but how much?  I was not clear on this point, so I proceeded to further trials.

    I found that diet has a great effect upon the medium-ical power.  An amalgam of meat and potatoes, eaten warm, causes large detachments of kyanized electricity. [3]  Pickled gherkins produce staccato raps, when the will of the medium is reflected from a bright tin basin.  Slippery elm is very favorable.  The medium should always have a piece in his mouth—or, in default of this, any thing else which is slippery is better than nothing.  Tapioca produces loud taps.  Green cheese is, however, the best diet for a regular medium.  I have known this to procure satisfactory responses when all other means had failed.  I would by no means recommend ardent spirits.  They produce dangerous raps, whose effects extend beyond the control of the operator.  Those who like fish diet are referred to the book of Tobit—but that is apocryphal.  Goose-fish, however, leads to highly singular and convincing results; and the same may be said of flat-fish, only as these have no sound, the raps in this case, are wholly imaginary. [4]   Tomato ketchup made of dried apples, will sometimes procure responses of remarkable truthfulness. [5]   I once tried the effect of sausages—no raps followed, but I distinctly heard a dog barking in the distance.

    On the 1st of March instant, I dined entirely on green cheese, and immediately, before rising from the table, I inquired, “Is there any spirit present which will communicate with me?”  I heard loud raps under the table.  “Is it Galen?”  No answer.  “Is it Tissot?”  No answer.  “Is it Dr. Sangrado?”  Loud raps followed forthwith.  “Did Gil Blas tell the truth about your mode of practice?”   Raps.  “Can you tell me where to find the lost decades of Livy?”   Raps.  “Where are they?”  “In the cave of Montecristo,” answered the spirit audibly.   “Obstupui, steteruntque comæ, et vox faucibus hæsit.” [6]  Of course, I could ask no more questions.  I shall, on a future occasion, detail what happened when Mesdame La Bryot used my services as a medium.
      Yours, &c.,
       E. GOETHE DIGG, U. G. [7]

Myself the Medium

    MESSERS. EDS.:—In a recent number of the Carpet-Bag I explained the effects of diet on rappings—also I alluded to the theory of electrical repulsion.  Mechanical means are best for procuring loud raps, although the sledge-hammer principle has been sparingly introduced hitherto.

    On the 6th of April, I caused invitations to be forwarded to a few of my friends, requesting their attendance at my lodgings in the evening.  At 6 o’clock, there were present the two German professors Schwarzelbug, Doderot of Lyons, Lord Tom Plump, Scandalbeg, Blarney O’Blarney, Mesdame La Bryot and Miss Snibby.  The rays of the lunar luminary fell in the apartment, and I placed the table in such a position as to receive a full flood of moonshine: raps were immediately heard.  I then requested my friends to circumvallate the table.  (Raps.)  I then remarked, as follows: The raps which you hear are produced by electricity, developed by a spiritual gymnotus which is parasitically attached to the mastoid process of mediums.  They are occasioned by the presence of spirits—are independent of the will, but are affected and effected by a focus of powerful volitions.  Proceed.  (Raps.)  The elder Schwarzelbug produced an alphabet—asked questions and received answers.  Q. “Whose spirit raps?”  A. “Titus Oates.” [8]Q. “What is your punishment?”  A. “I am eaten by horses.”  I was careful to note the letters on which the inquirer rested, and procured the raps accordingly.  In this way, correct answers can almost always be obtained.  My opinion is, that Schwarzelbug was thinking simply of oats, when he caused me to rap out the last answer.  The younger Schwarzelbug then produced an envelope, secured by gluten, which contained, he assured me, six questions, which no one had seen but himself.  I wish, said he, that Lord Tom Plump would write down the answers as the spirit gives them, affixing to each an ordinal number as I have done to the questions.  If the answers are correct, I shall believe and proclaim that there is “something in it.”  Six answers were procured and jotted down by his lordship.  The envelope was then torn open, and the questions with their corresponding answers were found to arrange themselves as follows:

     Q. 1. Which is the most crooked letter of the alphabet?

     A. 1. Sigma.

     “Sigma! Why, that’s a writer in the Transcript,” exclaimed Miss Snibby. [9]  “No,” answered Doderot, “it is a Greek letter, composed of straight lines, and the answer is therefore incorrect.”  Blarney O’Blarney dissented.  I decided that the answer was right.

     Q. 2. Who will be the next President of the United States?

     A. 2. Ensign Stebbings. [10]

     The company took a vote, and the result was, eleven for Stebbings—two of the spirits having voted for him!  Mesdame La Bryot distinctly saw two ballots go into the hat without hands.  What will the doubters say to this?  This answer was, therefore, CORRECT.

    Q. 3. Who was the most impolite varlet in the world?

    A. 3. Fontenelle. [11]

    “Impolite!  Fontenelle impolite!  He was a Frenchman,” cried both Schwarzelbugs.  Lord Tom Plump said, he believed the answer to be correct.  Mesdame La Bryot and Miss Snibby espoused sides; Scandalbeg said nothing, and the disputation became warm and animated.  At length Doderot, of Lyons, appealed to me as the only man who could settle the disagreement.  I took down a volume of Oeuvres, and read the following passage from Fontenelle: “Woman has one more fibre in her heart, and one cell less in her head than man.”  “The villain!” shrieked the two ladies in a breath.  This  was enough.  No. 3,—correct.

    Q. 4.  If the Maine liquor law is adopted in Massachusetts, what nautical action will it carry out and prohibit at the same time?

     A. 4. Splicing the Maine brace.

     “That staggers me!” exclaimed Doderot—“for although I am no sailor, I understand the meaning of the reply.”  The two ladies exchanged glances—I suppose of satisfaction, at the answer. [12]  “Is that a conundrum—that No. 4?” asked Scandalbeg.  I am, answered I, an honorary life member of a Conundrumical Association, and I must admit, that it is a conundrum—but I am by no means responsible for the answers of our invisible visitors.  No. 4, correct.

     Q. 5.  What instrument of offence destroys more lives in peace than it does in war?

     A. 5.  The mortar.

     Scandalbeg arose in a rage.  “It is false—I did not come here to be insulted”; and he strode to the door.  “Hold!” cried Blarney O’Blarney, “In the hands of a scientific apothecary like yourself, the mortar is only charged with saving powders—but in the hands of a quack,”—“True,” answered Scandalbeg—and he resumed his seat, admitting, with the rest, the correctness of answer No. 5. [13]

     Q. 6.  [A blank space.]

     A. 6.  [A blank space.]

     “That, gentlemen,” said I, “is a remarkable, a most satisfactory test of the truthfulness of spirituous answers or replications.  It was by the same process that Pyrrhus satisfied himself of the truthfulness of the Delphic oracle.  He sent a sealed letter, directing that the oracle should transmit a correct reply, before opening his own missive.  A blank sheet was returned; and on opening the letter of Pyrrhus, it was found to be blank!”  “Don’t retail Rollin’s Ancient History to us!” exclaimed the Schwarzelbugs. [14]   “But,” said Mesdame La Bryot, “was the oracle true and reliable?  If we admit from No. 6, the truthfulness of the rappings, we must admit, by parity of reasoning, the truthfulness of the oracle.”  “There is nothing new under the sun,” I answered, “there were great men before Agamemnon, and small men, too.  Spiritual rappings, communications from above humanity and beyond humanity, have always been delivered, wherever and whenever there were wise men to hear and transmit them, and wise men to put their truth in them, and rich men to give splendid offerings to Apollo, and poor men to devote a portion of their substance to the benefit of mediums.”  “I must see you again on the subject,” said Miss Snibby; “I wish to inquire whose cat killed my canary.”  “Next Thursday evening, Mesdame, I shall be at your service.”  [Exeunt.]
       Yours, (raps),
        E. Goethe Digg, U. G.

Darius Dump vs. Doctor Digg

    MESSIEURS EDITORS:—I notice in your Bag, No. 3 of volume second, a communication from E. Goethe Digg, U. G., in relation to the spiritual manifestations; and, notwithstanding a professed respect for the theory of mine published some time since, and alluded to in a complimentary manner in connection with said communication, a decided inclination is manifest towards the theory of Mr. J. D. Vose, said theory being founded upon electricity. [15]  Upon the first reading of this communication I was startled.  My very pins shook beneath me.  I saw in my “mind’s eye” a retreating vision of the faint outlines of my long cherished theory.  I felt my prided superiority in relation to this “mysterious science” sinking beneath me like ice cream in an oven, when a thought struck me—that may seem queer to some, but it is nevertheless a fact, that a thought actually penetrated my pericranium, and illumined the hitherto barren substance lodged in the cavity of my skull, commonly denominated the brain—and at the same instant the pericardium of my heart was rent asunder, and I experienced a sensation of profound commiseration for the magnanimous but unfortunate E. Goethe Digg, U. G.  It occurred to me that I would investigate—I would ascertain by finding out—I would ponder and recapitulate, circumnavigate and experiment.  And, Mr. E. Goethe Digg, U. G., I have recapitulated and circumnavigated and experimented upon this “mysterious science,” in all its multifarious departments, and I have been rewarded for my labor by seeing the false glare and obstreperous mystery with which it has been enveloped vanishing and fleeing away like hens in a hail storm.  The sublime science is probed.  All doubt is removed.  No longer I roam in conjecture forlorn, but the bright and balmy effulgence of perverted truth has lit up my soul.  Since it has been rendered clear to my voluminous understanding to think that E. Goethe Digg, U. G.—he of the ponderous, profound and gigantic intellect—the possessor of a powerful mind and prophetic genius—before whom the world bows in admiration, and the entire constituency of newspaperdom sinks into comparative insignificance—to think that he should embrace such a doctrine is absolutely astounding!  Infallible as is his constitution, to have arrived at such a hypothetical result, he must have reasoned from a species of “Ignoratio Elenchi,” or, what is still more, “Non causa pro causa.”  Speaking of the experiments which convinced him, he says:

     “On placing my pedal extremities in contact with the bottles, (which contained hot water,) I became aware of a sudden and violent repulsion, which caused my head to rap, or rather thwack, against the head-board; at the same time I saw sparks, like stars, which I conjectured were electrical.”

     Now it will be seen, by reference to Duflap’s Hand Book of the Coarse Arts, that this phenomenon is caused by the preponderance of the mastadonic qualities over the frigidarium, and that throws the aborical arrangements into the rotundum.  Hence the result is a collision of the head-board and the head piece.  In this case the sparks are inevitable, on account of the propagated oscillation of the optic nerve from the punctum coriander, and while in this state all objects passing before the retina are rendered dubious.  Again, he says—

    “I took a common writing-desk, with an inclined top or upper surface.  On this I placed a common India rubber ball, and, concentrating all my faculties, I willed it to roll down the slope.  The ball rolled down with accelerated motion—at length it dropped upon the floor, and performed a series of raps in a truly wonderful manner.”

     Now, I found by trying that same experiment, with the same appliances—i.e., a common writing desk and a common India rubber ball—that the same result invariably followed, in each distinct and separate trial.  Immediately upon placing the ball upon the most elevated point of the desk, and without any concentration of my faculties, or volition of the will to that effect, it commenced rolling down the slope, apparently without any hesitancy or irresolution, and as it approached the bottom it even increased its speed, as if in defiance of all laws.  By a series of most wonderful experiments, I ascertained that the raps were produced by its extreme elasticity, which caused it to rebound several times after it first struck the floor.  The whole is caused by the insufficiency of the resisting medium to overcome the specific gravity of the caoutchouc.  The specific gravity of that being 0.925, and that of the air, I suspect, less—therefore it is clearly and vividly traceable to the law of gravitation.  I shall treat more at length upon this in a future number.
           DARIUS DUMP, P. B.
        Dingletown, April 21, 1852.

New Phase in Spiritual Manifestations

    MESSRS. EDITORS:—Having perused with much interest, if not some satisfaction, the scientific disquisitions which have recently appeared in your valuable newspaper, upon the subject of those mysterious manifestations which have startled the world for the last four or five years; and feeling that, for the elucidation of the mystery, it is necessary that all data relative thereto be collected, and all facts connected therewith be brought into notice, I am impressed to give the world an account of a most remarkable circumstance which recently transpired under my own observance.

    It is not my intention to indite a tractate upon the matter, and I shall leave its explanation to that illustrious mystagogue, the renowned Dr. Digg.

    Upon the evening of Monday, the 3d of May, A. D. 1852, at a somewhat advanced hour of the night, I found myself standing on what is commonly termed Exchange Corner, it being formed by the conjunction of Main and State streets.  The night was a pleasant one.  The nearest vane, which is deemed by good judges to be a reliable one, denoted that the wind was a little S. from N. W.: how much I was not able to determine with unaided optics; but I should estimate, fully a degree.  At the point where I stood, however, there was very little wind perceptible—not enough to overcome the inertia of my pocket-handkerchief.

     The temperature of the atmosphere was, I think, about 20° Fahrenheit; but this is a mere estimate of mine, for I had no opportunity during the time of which I write, for looking at a thermometer.  The sky was clear, well lit with stars, and in no part thereof could cloud be discovered.  This fact, as well as the lull of the wind, may doubtless be attributed to the presence of the moon, at that time just full and several hours high in the heavens.

    I was standing facing the south, one foot (I think the right one) placed a little in advance of the other.  Directly in front of me, at the distance of less than a foot, was a deserted counter, or box, used through the day for traffic in candy, cakes, &c.  It was built of pine wood, and did not differ either in size, form or construction, from those commonly used for such purposes.

    My mind was in a very subdued state, and was occupied with reflections upon the evanishing nature of riches; how quickly they take to themselves wings and fly away; said thoughts being the result of the absence of my pocket-book, some individual in a fit of abstraction having removed it from my possession.

    Involuntarily, almost unconsciously, I struck the box before me with my right hand, clenched into a fist.  The resonant sound common to hollow bodies thus touched was emitted, and directly following its cessation, as if its echo, the Centre Church bell tolled once; and then all was silent.  I instantly ceased thinking of my loss, for my attention was strongly directed to this curious fact.  I struck the box again, and the solemn toll of the bell followed immediately.  “The Devil!”* I exclaimed, in my astonishment. [*His ejaculation was uttered in Greek, it is but justice to say, but our font of Greek is all used up in a work of Dr. Digg’s upon Strabismus.—EDS.]  The street was deserted; not even a solitary footfall could be heard; and I felt a cold awe creep over me, chilling my blood, as the echo of that solemn note, thus pealed by unknown power, died away in the stillness of night.  But I yet retained sufficient courage and presence of mind to continue the experiment, which was followed by the same result each time.  Once, however, the bell seemed somewhat tardy in responding, and I was compelled to strike the second time.  The intervals between my stroke upon the box and the knell of the bell were nearly uniform, the discrepancy, if any, being extremely minute.  The bell must have been at least 500 feet in a direct line through the air, from the point at which I stood.

    I repeated the experiment ten or a dozen times; but the ghostly dread induced by that mysterious sound so grew upon me at each repetition, that when the neighboring State House clock suddenly struck the midnight hour, I started with fear, and ran swiftly toward home—where I passed the remainder of the night in vain endeavors to conjecture some plausible explanation of the strange occurrence.

    May I request you to lay this account before Dr. Digg, the illustrious savan, with whom I have not the honor of being acquainted.
      Yours most respectfully,
      Graeco Typographus
      Venerable Gaol, Hartford.

Prof. Aitchkeythe vs. Darius Dump

    I am astonished, dumbfounded, dumfuzzled, and—puzzled, O, Dump!  Wherefore dost thou with such tenacity cling to a doctrine, so inconceivably obtuse in its general principles, and frightfully horrible in its details, that Digg—the enormous and stupendous Digg—utterly repudiates.  The illustrious Diogenes, Jr., after a careful examination and review of your theory, says—“We cannot and will not endorse the ‘flandango’!”  Now I should imagine, that in consideration of the opinions of these learned philosophers, you would at once withdraw the sentiments you have set forth, and become a true proselyte of Digg.

    Fearing the learned Doctor might be so astounded at your presumption as to be totally incapable of making a reply—I—Prof. Aytchkeythe, G. A. S., do here propose to demean myself so far, as to dash your incomprehensible and mythical philosophy into several hundred pieces.

    It seems strange to me, that a person of the extensive understanding you profess, Dump, should wish to expose his ignorance to such an extent, as to refer to “Duflap.”  Of this person, I have but to say—let it be understood, however, that he formerly tended a corner grocery, but more recently an inmate of an asylum for the reformation of individuals of a limited mind.  So much for “Duflap.”  And now I am fully prepared to sustain, against all opposition, the doctrine of knocks as produced by electricity.  I will relate some experiments.  Imprimis:  Taking a common water glass, putting therein sixteen parts eau de vie, one part sugar, and 0.128 Croton, then stirring very rapidly with a turned stick of oak, (I have since discovered, however, that pine will do,) so as to ensure a thorough combination of the ingredients, I drank it off immediately. [16]  I repeated this dose three times, and then walked into the street.  I think I had proceeded eleven blocks, when I began to have a delicious consciousness of an irresistible desire to emit certain divers musical sounds.  Which sounds, when arranged according to the rules which govern music, bore, as I am constrained to believe, some semblance to the well known and popular air of “Who’s that knocking.”  Just as I had got to the last line in the eighth verse, where the voice ascends from pp to sextubule forte sprozaro dulce,* I became decidedly sensible of several distinct and powerful knocks, on my cranium, in the immediate region of the organ of veneration.  [* I must refer to Dump as to the correctness of this phrase—he’s musical.]  I do not know whether raps, performed on that particular bump, will have the effect of causing one to prostrate one’s self more quickly than any other.  But suffice it to say, without the least effort or desire on my part, (now mark me, Dump,) I found myself extended in a horizontal position in the gutter!  At the same time I solemnly aver, that I saw sparks, or stars.  The appearance of these sparks, or stars, was indeed very remarkable.  As near as I could judge at the time, they consisted of five points, surrounding circle, chain pendant, device in centre, with motto which appeared to be in Greek.  It ran somewhat thus—NEw yORK. M. P. 7th Dt.  (Will the mighty Digg elucidate.)

    How long I remained in the aforesaid situation, I have no means of ascertaining correctly; but should judge, from the number of omnibuses that passed, it was eight minutes, twenty-one seconds, and three forty-fifths.

    I do not wish it to be understood that this is the precise time—all, experimenting, will lie—for that depends upon the number of glasses imbibed, and the strength of the decoction, both of which must be considered in connection with the constitution of the experimenter.

    Secondis: Taking a russet apple, I tied a string to its stem—said string being nine feet, eight inches, three sixteenths and a fraction long.  I then fastened the string to a hook in the ceiling, and, taking the apple in my right hand, I carried it out to an angle of forty-five degrees, and let go of it.  Imagine my overwhelming surprise and astonishment, when, without any apparent agency, it commenced swinging very rapidly to and fro until it stopped!

    Here was a deep and almost an impenetrable mystery.  I threw myself into a study; and after two day’s profound thinking, came to the following conclusion, which I give in Dutch:—Hur gerhausten gei spooks mit der snigger fritz.  Von ish shister oc, sprig smout mook um schrog—frog.  Grac mein mit der hostl tog cappage gerfrauselisth pembuc.

    This, I think, must be the cause, at least according to my researches.  Dump, perhaps, may think otherwise.  If so, he will please tell me wherein I have erred.  Digg, however, I think will concur with me, when he has given the subject an impartial examination.

    Who, after these, and various other experiments I have tried, and shall continue to try—who, I say, dares to doubt the agency of electricity in these matters.  Positively no one but Dump.  Reform, O Dump, reform! and thereby save me this brain-racking  exercise, together with ink and paper.  But if you are still unconvertible, then keep your optics in a state of vigilance for more wonderful revelations in a future number.
        Prof. Aitchkeythe, G. A. S.
        New York, May 17, 1852.

Spiritual Rappings Again

    MESSIEURS BAGS:—In a recent number of your truly valuable and widely-circulated hebdomadal, to wit: No. 7, vol. 2, of the Carpet-Bag, appears a communication under the caption of “Darius Dump vs. Dr. Digg,” and over the signature of “Darius Dump, P. B.,” dated at the bottom thereof “Dingletown, April 21, 1852.”  In this said communication, making one hundred and ten lines of bourgeois type, the writer attempts to make it clear, by an extraordinary process of pre-eminent logic, that he has penetrated a stupendous mass of obscurity, forty thousand times darker than the concentrated darkness of forty thousand midnights, and reached a point of subtle investigation whence he can perceive the “true and legitimate cause” of the so-called Spiritual Rappings.  Indeed, so exceedingly anxious is he to impress this overwhelmingly important fact upon the minds of your readers, that he ridiculously inflates himself with the gas of fancied triumph, soars far up into the regions of rhetorical balloonery, and, making a grand flourish of hens, hailstorms, &c., proclaims to the world that “the sublime science is probed—all doubt is removed.”  This is all very fine, no doubt, but, unfortunately for the cloud-kissing aspirations of Darius Dump, P. B., it manifests more of the spirit of adventure than of genuine philosophy.  A careful examination of the grounds upon which it is based, has convinced me that the profound (?) and erudite Darius Dump, P. B., is—to use a no harsher term—cheated by the illusions of a distempered fancy; or, in other words, that he has, in his eager haste to “recapitulate and circumnavigate this mysterious science,” glided past the subject under a tremendous press of sail, and lost himself in the unexplored seas of philosophical clap-trap and humbuggery.  Treating upon the result of a series of experiments recently made by the ingenious Dr. E. Goethe Digg, U. G., he says:—

“This phenomena is caused by the preponderance of the mastadonic qualities over the frigidarium, and that throws the aborical arrangements into the rotundum.”

    Now, Messieurs Bags, that the aborical arrangements are sometimes distributed—nay, that they are frequently torn up by the roots and cast into the rotundum—no man unincumbered with a strait waistcoat will deny; but that they are thus forced into locomotion by a preponderance of the mastadonic qualities over the frigidarium, is as absurd as it is unphilosophical.  A preponderance which IS a preponderance, and yet is NOT a preponderance, IS NO PREPONDERANCE AT ALL;* nor can it be shown, from the principles of reasoning adopted by mankind, that, an object, equally operated upon by two equal powers, can yield to either of them.†  [* Bhullwhistler’s Elements of Logic, vol. XIX, p. 921.  † Sqdgtxlyzem’s Philosophia, vol. VII, p. 735.]  Thus, if an irresistible projectile come in direct and immediate contact with an immovable object, an effect is, doubtless, inevitable; but a preponderance of either body over the other does not necessarily follow.‡  [‡ Nhumscullh’s Inquiries.]  True, a combination or train of circumstances may be produced by a remote cause, yet a previous effect, existing independently of a subsequent cause, cannot, by any means, be connected with that cause.§ [§ Digg’s Treatise on Cause and Effect, vol. XXXVIII.]  Hence, the only and true reason why Don Quixotte failed in his memorable attack upon the windmills, and also why Thompson’s colt [17]rushed into the river to escape the rain.†† [†† “As the rain approached, the intelligent animal pricked up its ears, switched its tail significantly, and then walked into the water.”—E. Fitzwhistler’s Zoological Recreations, vol. VII, p. 121.]

    But, admitting, for a moment, this alleged preponderance of the mastadonic qualities over the frigidarium—the question arises, would the aborical arrangements be thereby affected?  Certainly not; and for this reason, to wit: the aborical arrangements being composed of the epibifstatic obtundities encircling the vulcanic nebulæ effluviating from the pillrifium,‡‡ are, in fact, nothing more than a sanguineous coagulation of the cerephantaginous particles revolving round the quacklætarium.  [‡‡ Blokhedd’s Anatomy, vol. XXIV, p. 862.]  Now it is evident that a sudden preponderance of the mastadonic qualities over the frigidarium, would instantaneously expand the diabodgical tubes supporting the pillrifium, and precipitate the ligamentary ramifications eradicating from the cranial swabem into the cavity of the sockdollaragium, by which means the absquatulatorum would be extirpated and thrown with tremendous force against the gaserioclœtis, thereby disorganizing the functions against the spinal obliterator, and ultimately terminating in carslumpthiasis of the gizzard.  Yet this most incomparable of all philosophical nincompoops—this pondering, recapitulating and circumnavigating Darius Dump, P. B., (Palpable Blockhead,) of the obscure village of Dingletown,§§ [§§ Where is Dingletown ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?]—swaggers into the columns of the Carpet-Bag, with a diabolical obstreperosity at which his satanic majesty might well turn up his nose in unfeigned surprise, and affirms that the aborical arrangements are thrown into the rotundum by a preponderance of the mastadonic qualities over the frigidarium!  Profound Dump!  Wonderful discovery!!  Sublime Theory!!!

     Again, he says:—“The whole is caused by the insuff”—but, Messieurs Bags, the remaining absurdities and inconsistencies of this monstrous, outrageous humbug will be developed in a future number.
       E. S. Squabbs, P. Q. O. R.
       Smashville Institute, May 20, 1852.

Notes—(by JB)

    [1]Aqua fontis = spring water.

    [2]Madame de Staël, The Influence of Literature upon Society; translated from the French of Madame de Stael-Holstein (Boston: W. Wells, 1813).

    [3]Lumber was “kyanized” when it was soaked in bichloride of Mercury in order to protect it from rotting.  I have no idea how the word could be used here except nonsensically.

    [4]“Goose-fish” is now called “monkfish” (Lophius Americanus).  “Flat-fish” are sole or flounder.  There is a pun here on the word “sound” as either the object of an auditory sensation or as a body of water.

    [5]The “truthfulness” would seem to refer to the diner’s denunciation of something represented as “tomato ketchup” but faked, made instead from dried apples.

    [6]The ancient Greek physician Galen was often represented by spirit mediums to be their contact, enabling them to diagnose and prescribe for medical conditions.  French physician Samuel Auguste David Tissot was considered an authority on the “electrical” nervous system of the body and wrote the influential Treatises on the Diseases Produced by Onanism.  The quack “Dr. Sangrado” was a character in the 1735 novel, Gil Blas, by Alain René le Sage.  Sangrado prescribed bleeding and the drinking of warm water for every patient.

    Roman historian Livy organized his History of Rome from Its Foundation into pentads and decads—groups of five scrolls.  One of the decads is lost.

    Alexandre Dumas’ novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, includes a secret treasure cave.

    “I was amazed, my hair stood on end, and my voice stuck in my throat”—Virgil, The Aeneid 2.774 and 3.48.

   [7] The editor of the Carpet Bag identified “Dr. Digg” as Benjamin Drew:  “Another feature of the Carpet Bag was the erudite profundity of Dr. E. Goethe Digg, U. G. (Universal Genius), late of Cattawampas College, Iowa, whose ponderously solemn utterances were replete with fun, and whose decisions upon matters submitted to him were exhaustive exhibitions of presumed research, every sentence of which was laden with humor that made his contributions delicious.  Mr. Drew was possessed of a versatility of talent that was constantly devoted to the expansion of the Carpet Bag.”  Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber, “Experiences of Many Years,” The New England Magazine, vol. 15, no. 2 (October 1893): 156.

   [8] Titus Oates, a notorious criminal fabulist, pretended to have discovered a “Popish Plot” during the reign of Charles II to assassinate the king, resulting in the execution of English Catholics and the persecution of many others.

    [9]Lucius Manlius Sargent wrote satires and sketches on antiquarian interests in the Boston Transcript under the pen-name of “Sigma.”

    [10]Shillaber, “Experiences during Many Years,” The New England Magazine, vol. 15, no. 2 (October 1893): 156—“One feature of the Carpet Bag fun, that led perhaps to the damage of the paper, was its political satire at the time when the Presidential contest was going on between Gen. Scott and Gen. Pierce, by which the partisans of both were offended.  The Carpet Bag’s candidate was ‘Ensign Jehiel Stebbings’ of ‘Spunkville,’ ostensibly a hero of the ‘Aroostook war,’ where he was wounded by falling over the tongue of a commissary wagon, I think, and was described as a patriot of a most extreme character.  . . . The character originated with Mr. Benjamin Drew, who labored as zealously in its support—aided by a corps of able volunteers—as did those who were urging the claims of the contestants of the two great parties.  The fiction took with the press of the country, and the name of ‘Ensign Stebbings’ was nearly as often mentioned as Scott or Pierce.  . . . Those who caught the spirit of fun that was in it enjoyed it hugely; but the number was largest that did not, and the satire was discontinued before the Presidential issue, for prudential reasons, but without avail.”

    [11]Bernard Le Bouyer de Fontenelle, French philosopher and poet.  The name “Doderot” is apparently meant to evoke both the name of Denis Diderot, the French Encyclopedist, as well as the word “doddering.”

   [12] Maine passed a liquor prohibition law, the nation’s first, in 1846.  “Splicing the main brace,” as a nautical term, meant to unite the ends of two ropes or spars or timbers by overlapping and binding them together.  Sailors used it, in an extended sense, to mean doling out or drinking an extra ration of rum or other spirits to counteract cold or stormy weather.  Yet another extended use for the phrase was as slang, to mean marriage or sexual intercourse (and thus the two ladies’ exchanged glances).

    [13]Apothecaries used mortars and pestles to prepare their medicines.

    [14]Charles Rollin, The Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians Medes and Persians, Macedonians, and Grecians, first translated from the French in 1729.

   [15] John Denison Vose, a journalist who, at the time, was the editor of the humor weekly, New-York Picayune.

    [16]Eau de vie = brandy; Croton = New York City fresh water (that is, from the Croton Aquaduct).

    [17] Actually, “Thompson’s colt” is proverbial for another reason—it was a colt that swam across a wide river in order to drink from a small well on the other side.

[ Ephemera Home ] [ Lighter Spirit ]