"Smoke, Flame, and Ashes"

A "Reverie" from
Ik Marvel's (Donald Grant Mitchell)
Reveries of a Bachelor (1850)

A Critical Edition with Facsimile
Edited by Lisa Spiro, University of Virginia

Versions of "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes"

Historical Commentary

Textual Commentary

Historical Collation

Mitchell's Prefaces to Reveries of a Bachelor

Contemporary Reviews and Advertisements

Images from Reveries of a Bachelor

Biography of Mitchell (Courtesy Early American Fiction Project)

Selected Bibliography of Other Bachelor Fictions

Early American Fiction Project

Works Cited



It was such an evening, Susie, as you and I would walk and have such pleasant musings-- if only you were her perhaps we would have a 'Reverie' after the form of 'Ik Marvel,' indeed I do not know why it would'nt be just as charming as of that lonely Bachelor, smoking his cigar-- and it would be far more profitable as 'Marvel' only marvelled, and you and I would try to make a little destiny to have for our own.... (Emily Dickinson, Letter to Susan Gilbert, Selected Letters, 66-67).

As Emily Dickinson's celebration of Ik Marvel's sentimental musings suggests, his Reveries of a Bachelor, first published in book form in 1850, movingly and powerfully articulated the dream life for many nineteenth century Americans. Indeed, the book ranks as one of the biggest bestsellers of the nineteenth century, causing one critic to compare it to Uncle Tom's Cabin in its popularity and cultural significance. In Reveries of a Bachelor, Donald Grant Mitchell (aka Ik Marvel) offers four fantasies in which a bachelor muses on boyhood, country life, travel, marriage, and, most of all, the act of dreaming itself. Although Reveries of a Bachelor was a crucial part of the literature and culture of nineteenth-century America, it has received little attention from twentieth-century literary and textual critics. Reveries deserves much more attention, in part because it reveals so much about the nineteenth century culture of letters in which it participated, in part because it provides so many salutary challenges to the textual editor. As I explain in the Historical Commentary, Reveries of a Bachelor went through many forms, both as a text and as a physical object. The first two "reveries" in Reveries of a Bachelor were initially published in magazines; after it was published as a book, Mitchell took part or at least authorized at least two revisions. Mitchell was actively involved in deciding how various editions of the book would appear as physical objects, since he and his publisher Charles Scribner exchanged many letters about paper size, illustrations, and bindings. Trying to reach a wide audience, Scribner's (along with pirate publishers) issued the book in a variety of forms, ranging from small, cheap paper editions to collectors' editions of 250 copies. Over the course of the nineteenth century, then, a number of changes, mostly accidentals (punctuation and spelling rather than word choice) were introduced into the text.

This electronic edition is meant to be an experiment testing the possibilities opened up by digital technology. Although it engages with the traditional questions of textual editing, such as how to treat emendations that creep into the text, the edition taps the power of hypertext to allow readers to toggle between different versions of the text and compare them through a unique color coding system. For instance, a reader can swiftly move from the version presented in 1849 in Southern Literary Messenger, which is marked in green, to the 1877 Scribner's New Edition, which is marked in pink. The edition also enables readers to view materials that reveal the contexts surrounding the text, such as reviews, three different prefaces to the book by Donald Grant Mitchell (aka Ik Marvel), and illustrations of the central characters. This edition is driven by four related goals: 1) to present a carefully edited "best text" that takes into account both Mitchell's intentions and the social forces that shaped the text; 2) to provide readers with tools so that they can reconstruct other versions of the text and trace the changes that it underwent; 3) to set the edition in its critical and cultural contexts; and 4) to make use of the vast capabilities of electronic texts in reaching these goals. In the brief overview that follows, I explain both why these goals are worth pursuing and how I attempt to meet them.

  1. To provide the best text and confront the problem of intention: As I show in the Textual Commentary, establishing Mitchell's intentions is a difficult task. The manuscript for "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes" has not been located. Ordinarily one would take the sketch's first appearance--in this case, its publication in the September, 1849 issue of Southern Literary Messenger--as copy text (the text on which to base an edition), but the text underwent some significant changes as it became part of a larger book, suggesting to me that the 1850 Scribner's first edition best reflects Mitchell's intention. Of course, Mitchell was involved in revising Reveries after it was published in 1850 by Scribner's; he says as much in the prefaces that he wrote when the book was revised in 1863 and 1883. But Mitchell backed away from responsibility for the emendations by characterizing the Reveries as the product of his youth, as something to which he no longer felt connected.

    Given these circumstances, I have decided to present a faithful transcription of "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes" as it appeared in the 1850 Scribner's edition of Reveries of a Bachelor, preserving the original features of the text such as spelling, line breaks, and punctuation. This electronic edition also includes page images from the 1850 edition so that a reader can get a sense of the book as a physical object and compare the digital facsimile of the 1850 edition to the transcription of another edition. Giving priority to the 1850 edition also allows me to serve another goal of the edition: to deepen a sense of the cultural and literary contexts important in antebellum America. Making available both page images and a transcription, this edition reproduces in electronic form the version of the text that Emily Dickinson and her contemporaries most likely read--the 1850 Scribner's Reveries of a Bachelor.

  2. To enhance flexibility: This edition also allows readers to reconstruct the story of the text's transformation through forms (periodical to book) and time (from 1849, when "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes" first appeared, to 1907, when Mitchell died). Not only does the edition offer a complete textual apparatus in the Historical Collation, but it experiments with several methods of presenting variants. With "Over a Wood Fire," the first section of "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes," the user may choose to look at a reading version of the text (the 1850 Scribner's edition), a version in which all of the variants are presented according to a color-coded system, or a version of the sketch that appeared either in the Southern Literary Messenger, (September of 1849), Harper's New Monthly Magazine, (October of 1850), Scribner's First Edition of Reveries of a Bachelor (December of 1850), Scribner's New Edition, which shows significant revisions (1877), or Scribner's New and Revised Edition with new preface (1884), which reflects the 1883 revisions (1884). To gain access to these texts, please visit the Versions of 'Smoke, Flame and Ashes' page and click on the version that you would like to see. Once you've opened the text, you may click on the * to be taken to a listing of all the recorded variants. (The page images, however, are only of the 1850 Scribner's version).
  3. To provide contexts: So that the reader can understand the "cultural work" that "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes" might have performed in nineteenth-century America, and so that she has a better sense of the text's history, the edition makes available a range of materials related to the sketch, including reviews and an advertisement, images from various editions of Reveries of a Bachelor, and the three prefaces that Mitchell wrote for the volume.
  4. To experiment with the potential of electronic texts: In the preceding items, I've already accounted for some of the advantages of producing an electronic edition. These advantages include increasing access to rare books, providing hypertext links to such contextual information as images and reviews, and allowing the reader to reconstruct different versions of the text by including variants as part of the coding. Not only is an electronic edition available at little cost to a wide audience, but its readers can perform searches for a particular word or concept.

As an experiment, the edition operates under certain limits. Because the Reveries of a Bachelor appeared in so many versions, and because it extends for almost three hundred pages, I have found it necessary to constrain this edition to one part of the larger text: the first reverie, which Mitchell called "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes" (pp. 15-49). I have chosen to focus on this reverie for the obvious reason that it comes first, but also because it provides the editor with the opportunity to examine the evolution of a text as it makes its way from periodical to book form.

If you would like to determine the value of an edition of Reveries of a Bachelor, see your local bookdealer or consult one of the following web sites:

Unless the book is a first edition (published by Baker and Scribner in 1850) or belonged to someone prominent, it is unlikely to be worth more than $15.

For questions or comments about the content of this site, please contact Lisa Spiro at lspiro@rice.edu.

Last Modified: Thursday, 04-Nov-1999 06:26:15 EST