X-ing a Paragrab
Edgar Allan Poe (1849)
As it is well known that the "wise men" came "from the East," and as
Mr. Touch-and-go Bullet-head came from the East, it follows that Mr.
Bullet-head was a wise man; and if collateral proof of the matter be
needed, here we have it -- Mr. B. was an editor. Irascibility was his
sole foible, for in fact the obstinacy of which men accused him was
anything but his foible, since he justly considered it his forte. It
was his strong point -- his virtue; and it would have required all
the logic of a Brownson to convince him that it was "anything else."
I have shown that Touch-and-go Bullet-head was a wise man; and the
only occasion on which he did not prove infallible, was when,
abandoning that legitimate home for all wise men, the East, he
migrated to the city of Alexander-the-Great-o-nopolis, or some place
of a similar title, out West.
I must do him the justice to say, however, that when he made up his
mind finally to settle in that town, it was under the impression that
no newspaper, and consequently no editor, existed in that particular
section of the country. In establishing The Tea-Pot he expected to
have the field all to himself. I feel confident he never would have
dreamed of taking up his residence in Alexander-the-Great-o-nopolis
had he been aware that, in Alexander-the-Great-o-nopolis, there lived
a gentleman named John Smith (if I rightly remember), who for many
years had there quietly grown fat in editing and publishing the
Alexander-the-Great-o-nopolis Gazette. It was solely, therefore, on
account of having been misinformed, that Mr. Bullet-head found
himself in Alex-suppose we call it Nopolis, "for short" -- but, as he
did find himself there, he determined to keep up his character for
obst -- for firmness, and remain. So remain he did; and he did more;
he unpacked his press, type, etc., etc., rented an office exactly
opposite to that of the Gazette, and, on the third morning after
his arrival, issued the first number of The Alexan -- that is to
say, of The Nopolis Tea-Pot -- as nearly as I can recollect, this
was the name of the new paper.
The leading article, I must admit, was brilliant -- not to say
severe. It was especially bitter about things in general -- and as
for the editor of The Gazette, he was torn all to pieces in
particular. Some of Bullethead's remarks were really so fiery that I
have always, since that time, been forced to look upon John Smith,
who is still alive, in the light of a salamander. I cannot pretend to
give all the Tea-Pot's paragraphs verbatim,
but one of them runs thus:
"Oh, yes! -- Oh, we perceive! Oh, no doubt! The editor over the way
is a genius -- O, my! Oh, goodness, gracious! -- what is this world
coming to? Oh, tempora! Oh, Moses!"
A philippic at once so caustic and so classical, alighted like a
bombshell among the hitherto peaceful citizens of Nopolis. Groups of
excited individuals gathered at the corners of the streets. Every one
awaited, with heartfelt anxiety, the reply of the dignified Smith.
Next morning it appeared as follows:
"We quote from The Tea-Pot of yesterday the subjoined paragraph:
'Oh, yes! Oh, we perceive! Oh, no doubt! Oh, my! Oh, goodness! Oh,
tempora! Oh, Moses!' Why, the fellow is all O! That accounts for his
reasoning in a circle, and explains why there is neither beginning
nor end to him, nor to anything he says. We really do not believe the
vagabond can write a word that hasn't an O in it. Wonder if this
O-ing is a habit of his? By-the-by, he came away from Down-East in a
great hurry. Wonder if he O's as much there as he does here? 'O! it
The indignation of Mr. Bullet-head at these scandalous insinuations,
I shall not attempt to describe. On the eel-skinning principle,
however, he did not seem to be so much incensed at the attack upon
his integrity as one might have imagined. It was the sneer at his
style that drove him to desperation. What! -- he Touch-and-go
Bullet-head! -- not able to write a word without an O in it! He would
soon let the jackanapes see that he was mistaken. Yes! he would let
him see how much he was mistaken, the puppy! He, Touch-and-go
Bullet-head, of Frogpondium, would let Mr. John Smith perceive that
he, Bullet-head, could indite, if it so pleased him, a whole
paragraph -- aye! a whole article -- in which that contemptible vowel
should not once -- not even once -- make its appearance. But no; --
that would be yielding a point to the said John Smith. He,
Bullet-head, would make no alteration in his style, to suit the
caprices of any Mr. Smith in Christendom. Perish so vile a thought!
The O forever; He would persist in the O. He would be as O-wy as O-wy
Burning with the chivalry of this determination, the great
Touch-and-go, in the next Tea-Pot, came out merely with this simple
but resolute paragraph, in reference to this unhappy affair:
"The editor of the Tea-Pot has the honor of advising the editor of
the Gazette that he (the Tea-Pot) will take an opportunity in
tomorrow morning's paper, of convincing him (the Gazette) that he
(the Tea-Pot) both can and will be his own master, as regards
style; he (the Tea-Pot) intending to show him (the Gazette) the
supreme, and indeed the withering contempt with which the criticism
of him (the Gazette) inspires the independent bosom of him (the
TeaPot) by composing for the especial gratification (?) of him (the
Gazette) a leading article, of some extent, in which the beautiful
vowel -- the emblem of Eternity -- yet so offensive to the
hyper-exquisite delicacy of him (the Gazette) shall most certainly
not be avoided by his (the Gazette's) most obedient, humble
servant, the Tea-Pot. 'So much for Buckingham!'"
In fulfilment of the awful threat thus darkly intimated rather than
decidedly enunciated, the great Bullet-head, turning a deaf ear to
all entreaties for "copy," and simply requesting his foreman to "go
to the d---l," when he (the foreman) assured him (the Tea-Pot!) that
it was high time to "go to press": turning a deaf ear to everything,
I say, the great Bullet-head sat up until day-break, consuming the
midnight oil, and absorbed in the composition of the really
unparalleled paragraph, which follows:-
"So ho, John! how now? Told you so, you know. Don't crow, another
time, before you're out of the woods! Does your mother know you're
out? Oh, no, no! -- so go home at once, now, John, to your odious old
woods of Concord! Go home to your woods, old owl -- go! You won't!
Oh, poh, poh, don't do so! You've got to go, you know! So go at once,
and don't go slow, for nobody owns you here, you know! Oh! John,
John, if you don't go you're no homo -- no! You're only a fowl, an
owl, a cow, a sow, -- a doll, a poll; a poor, old,
good-for-nothing-to-nobody, log, dog, hog, or frog, come out of a
Concord bog. Cool, now -- cool! Do be cool, you fool! None of your
crowing, old cock! Don't frown so -- don't! Don't hollo, nor howl nor
growl, nor bow-wow-wow! Good Lord, John, how you do look! Told you
so, you know -- but stop rolling your goose of an old poll about so,
and go and drown your sorrows in a bowl!"
Exhausted, very naturally, by so stupendous an effort, the great
Touch-and-go could attend to nothing farther that night. Firmly,
composedly, yet with an air of conscious power, he handed his MS. to
the devil in waiting, and then, walking leisurely home, retired, with
ineffable dignity to bed.
Meantime the devil, to whom the copy was entrusted, ran up stairs to
his "case," in an unutterable hurry, and forthwith made a
commencement at "setting" the MS. "up."
In the first place, of course, -- as the opening word was "So," -- he
made a plunge into the capital S hole and came out in triumph with a
capital S. Elated by this success, he immediately threw himself upon
the little-o box with a blindfold impetuosity -- but who shall
describe his horror when his fingers came up without the anticipated
letter in their clutch? who shall paint his astonishment and rage at
perceiving, as he rubbed his knuckles, that he had been only thumping
them to no purpose, against the bottom of an empty box. Not a single
little-o was in the little-o hole; and, glancing fearfully at the
capital-O partition, he found that to his extreme terror, in a
precisely similar predicament. Awe -- stricken, his first impulse was
to rush to the foreman.
"Sir!" said he, gasping for breath, "I can't never set up nothing
without no o's."
"What do you mean by that?" growled the foreman, who was in a very
ill humor at being kept so late.
"Why, sir, there beant an o in the office, neither a big un nor a
"What -- what the d---l has become of all that were in the case?"
"I don't know, sir," said the boy, "but one of them ere G'zette
devils is bin prowling 'bout here all night, and I spect he's gone
and cabbaged 'em every one."
"Dod rot him! I haven't a doubt of it," replied the foreman, getting
purple with rage "but I tell you what you do, Bob, that's a good boy
-- you go over the first chance you get and hook every one of their
i's and (d--n them!) their izzards."
"Jist so," replied Bob, with a wink and a frown -- "I'll be into 'em,
I'll let 'em know a thing or two; but in de meantime, that ere
paragrab? Mus go in to-night, you know -- else there'll be the d---l to
"And not a bit of pitch hot," interrupted the foreman, with a deep
sigh, and an emphasis on the "bit." "Is it a long paragraph, Bob?"
"Shouldn't call it a wery long paragrab," said Bob.
"Ah, well, then! do the best you can with it! We must get to press,"
said the foreman, who was over head and ears in work; "just stick in
some other letter for o; nobody's going to read the fellow's trash
"Wery well," replied Bob, "here goes it!" and off he hurried to his
case, muttering as he went: "Considdeble vell, them ere expressions,
perticcler for a man as doesn't swar. So I's to gouge out all their
eyes, eh? and d--n all their gizzards! Vell! this here's the chap as
is just able for to do it." The fact is that although Bob was but
twelve years old and four feet high, he was equal to any amount of
fight, in a small way.
The exigency here described is by no means of rare occurrence in
printing-offices; and I cannot tell how to account for it, but the
fact is indisputable, that when the exigency does occur, it almost
always happens that x is adopted as a substitute for the letter
deficient. The true reason, perhaps, is that x is rather the most
superabundant letter in the cases, or at least was so in the old
times -- long enough to render the substitution in question an
habitual thing with printers. As for Bob, he would have considered it
heretical to employ any other character, in a case of this kind, than
the x to which he had been accustomed.
"I shell have to x this ere paragrab," said he to himself, as he read
it over in astonishment, "but it's jest about the awfulest o-wy
paragrab I ever did see": so x it he did, unflinchingly, and to press
it went x-ed.
Next morning the population of Nopolis were taken all aback by
reading in The Tea-Pot, the following extraordinary leader:
"Sx hx, Jxhn! hxw nxw? Txld yxu sx, yxu knxw. Dxn't crxw, anxther
time, befxre yxu're xut xf the wxxds! Dxes yxur mxther knxw yxu're
xut? Xh, nx, nx! -- sx gx hxme at xnce, nxw, Jxhn, tx yxur xdixus xld
wxxds xf Cxncxrd! Gx hxme tx yxur wxxds, xld xwl, -- gx! Yxu wxn't?
Xh, pxh, pxh, Jxhn, dxn't dx sx! Yxu've gxt tx gx, yxu knxw, sx gx at
xnce, and dxn't gx slxw; fxr nxbxdy xwns yxu here, yxu knxw. Xh,
Jxhn, Jxhn, Jxhn, if yxu dxn't gx yxu're nx hxmx -- nx! Yxu're xnly a
fxwl, an xwl; a cxw, a sxw; a dxll, a pxll; a pxxr xld
gxxd-fxr-nxthing-tx-nxbxdy, lxg, dxg, hxg, xr frxg, cxme xut xf a
Cxncxrd bxg. Cxxl, nxw -- cxxl! Dx be cxxl, yxu fxxl! Nxne xf yxur
crxwing, xld cxck! Dxn't frxwn sx -- dxn't! Dxn't hxllx, nxr hxwl,
nxr grxwl, nxr bxw-wxw-wxw! Gxxd Lxrd, Jxhn, hxw yxu dx lxxk! Txld
yxu sx, yxu knxw, -- but stxp rxlling yxur gxxse xf an xld pxll abxut
sx, and gx and drxwn yxur sxrrxws in a bxwl!"
The uproar occasioned by this mystical and cabalistical article, is
not to be conceived. The first definite idea entertained by the
populace was, that some diabolical treason lay concealed in the
hieroglyphics; and there was a general rush to Bullet-head's
residence, for the purpose of riding him on a rail; but that
gentleman was nowhere to be found. He had vanished, no one could tell
how; and not even the ghost of him has ever been seen since.
Unable to discover its legitimate object, the popular fury at length
subsided; leaving behind it, by way of sediment, quite a medley of
opinion about this unhappy affair.
One gentleman thought the whole an X-ellent joke.
Another said that, indeed, Bullet-head had shown much X-uberance of
A third admitted him X-entric, but no more.
A fourth could only suppose it the Yankee's design to X-press, in a
general way, his X-asperation.
"Say, rather, to set an X-ample to posterity," suggested a fifth.
That Bullet-head had been driven to an extremity, was clear to all;
and in fact, since that editor could not be found, there was some
talk about lynching the other one.
The more common conclusion, however, was that the affair was, simply,
X-traordinary and in-X-plicable. Even the town mathematician
confessed that he could make nothing of so dark a problem. X, every.
body knew, was an unknown quantity; but in this case (as he properly
observed), there was an unknown quantity of X.
The opinion of Bob, the devil (who kept dark about his having "X-ed
the paragrab"), did not meet with so much attention as I think it
deserved, although it was very openly and very fearlessly expressed.
He said that, for his part, he had no doubt about the matter at all,
that it was a clear case, that Mr. Bullet-head "never could be
persuaded fur to drink like other folks, but vas continually
a-svigging o' that ere blessed XXX ale, and as a naiteral
consekvence, it just puffed him up savage, and made him X (cross) in