Historical Commentary


"Smoke, Flame, and Ashes," the first sketch of Donald Grant Mitchell's Reveries of a Bachelor, presents compelling challenges for the textual editor because it proliferated in so many different versions. Not only did the sketch appear twice in periodicals between 1849 and 1850, but once it reached book form it became so popular that it was republished almost a hundred times between 1850 and 1907, whether by its legitimate publisher, Scribners, or by a pirate publisher (NUC). As new versions kept appearing, changes inevitably crept into the text, but only some of these changes appear to have been made by Mitchell. By examining the history of the writing, publication, and reception of "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes," we can begin to understand the changing nature of the text.

"Smoke, Flame, and Ashes" was first published in Southern Literary Messenger in September of 1849 as "A Bachelor's Reverie, In Three Parts." Rather than using his own name, Mitchell adopted the pen-name "Ik Marvel," associating himself with the Angler Isaak Walton and the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell. Although the Southern Literary Messenger, a Richmond journal edited by Mitchell's friend John R. Thompson, lacked a large audience, Mitchell's sketch attracted notice. George Wymberley-Jones, whom Mitchell describes as a "curious bibliophile" from Savannah, Georgia, saw such value in "A Bachelor's Reverie" that he asked to print it privately in a fine quarto edition of twelve copies ("Third Preface," xvi). As Wymberly-Jones's representative Winthrop Sargent wrote to Mitchell in a letter proposing the volume,

In common with every person of taste who has seen it ["A Bachelor's Reverie"], he [Wymberly-Jones] has read the article with exceeding delight--and is desirous, in his enthusiasm, of preserving it in a more elegant and worthy dress than it would receive from an American publisher. Having some experience as a private printer of rare American MSS &c --in numbers of from a dozen to twenty or thirty copies of each work printed-- he wishes to print privately, for distribution among his friends, & for his own gratification, ten copies of the "Reveries", and requests your consent thereto...The paper, ink, and typography shall all be of the most beautiful and costly description -- and should you make no objections to his project, he will be happy to show you one of the most exquisite passages in the whole range of English Literature, in a garb unexcelled, and probably unequalled by any work published in America. (8th November 1850; Beinecke Mitchell Collection, Za M692 850r)

Mitchell assented to the offer, so in 1850 "A Bachelor's Reverie" was published at Wormsloe, Georgia. Mitchell seems not to have been involved in preparing this edition, which was taken from the Southern Literary Messenger sketch. In promising to put the work in fancy "garb," Wymberly-Jones was the first of many readers and writers to recognize how well the sentimental "Reveries" lent itself to an ornate, elegant physical form. The narrator's frequent dreaming over rare, beautiful books seemed to make readers want to hold a similar book in their own hands.

But before "Reveries" appeared in book form, it was published once more in a periodical, this time in the inaugural volume of Harper's New Monthly Magazine, edited by Henry J. Raymond. In October of 1850, the fifth issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine included "A Bachelor's Reverie." Although this version might have generated excitement for the forthcoming publication of the book Reveries of a Bachelor, it apparently exercised no influence on the version of the sketch that appeared in book form, since Scribner's Reveries of a Bachelor was advertised as being in press on March 23, 1850, and the Harper's piece appeared six months later (BAL, 224).

Inspired by the success of "A Bachelor's Reverie" in Southern Literary Messenger, Mitchell decided "to add more papers in a kindred vein, and publish all together as an independent volume" ("Third Preface," xvii). To the first reverie, which he renamed "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes," Mitchell added three sketches, each one longer than the preceding one: "Sea-Coal and Anthracite," "A Cigar Three Times Lighted," and "Morning, Noon, and Evening." Initially Mitchell offered the book, which was titled Reveries of a Bachelor, or a Book of the Heart, to Boston's Ticknor and Fields, but the firm rejected it. Then Mitchell presented the volume to New York's Baker and Scribner, which had previously published his The Battle Summer: Being Transcripts from Personal Observation in Paris During the Year 1848 (1850), also under the pen name "Ik Marvel." Although Charles Scribner doubted that Reveries would sell many copies, he agreed to publish it, and in December of 1850 the first edition appeared, again with the author identified as "Ik Marvel."

Scribner's doubts proved unfounded; as Mitchell writes, Reveries "laid strong hold upon those of romantic appetites; and reached, within a very few months, a sale which surprised the publisher as much as it surprised the author" ("Third Preface," xix). Less than two months after the book was published, Scribners took out an ad in The Literary World celebrating the book's critical and popular success, trumpeting that it had already reached its fifth edition of a thousand copies. By March of 1852 twenty-thousand copies had been printed (BAL, 224). Recognizing that many readers wanted collectible copies of the book, in 1852 Scribners issued a more expensive illustrated edition, with etchings by the prominent American illustrator Felix O. Darley. In 1861, Reveries had reached its thirtieth edition (NUC, 665), and in 1863 Scribners produced a new, revised edition with a new preface by Mitchell (NUC, 665). Another new edition, in which significant changes were made to punctuation and other accidentals, appeared in 1877 (NUC, 665).

In January of 1883, Charles Scribner II, the son of Charles Scribner and the new president of Charles Scribner's Sons, advised Mitchell that it was time to come out with a new edition of Reveries of a Bachelor, as well as selected other works. Not only were the plates for Reveries damaged, but Scribner recognized that he could generate renewed interest in--and more revenue from--Mitchell's works by producing new editions (January 26, 1883; Beinecke, Mitchell Collection, item 63). Charles Scribner II and Mitchell squabbled over royalties and illustrations, but collaborated in deciding such details as the style of typeface, the size of the pages, the price of the volume, the kind of binding, and the wording of the preface. Five years later, in 1888, Scribner was ready to issue another edition of Reveries as part of The Works of Donald Grant Mitchell, and he again used new plates. Mindful of the aesthetic concerns of book buyers, Scribner proposed to issue version of edition in a "smaller and more attractive" form, with an etching by Davy Moran and a "new and attractive device for the cover in the form of a cameo stamped in white on the side" (August 15 and 27, 1889). In 1907, Scribners published the final authorized version of Reveries to be issued in Mitchell's lifetime, including it in the Edgewood edition of The Works of Donald Grant Mitchell.

As this brief sketch of the text's history suggests, "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes"--and indeed the entire Reveries of a Bachelor --went through many forms from 1849 to 1907. As Wayne Kime reports, "Throughout the 1850s it remained one of the best-selling writings by an American author, and in the three decades that followed it continued to be reprinted, extracted, translated, and imitated in a bewildering array of forms" (13). In 1852 two pirated editions appeared in Great Britain, while in 1853 two firms in Paris likewise published unauthorized editions. In 1856, Reveries of a Bachelor was published in German as part of Durr's Standard American Authors (Dunn, 232). Fifty years later, when he was in his mid-eighties, Mitchell looked back at these piracies with bitter amusement; when asked to write a brief preface to the 1907 Author's Complete Edition of Reveries, he fixated on the problem of piracy.

To the same period of time [the early 1850s, when Mitchell also wrote Fresh Gleanings and The Lorgnette] belong virtually those twin books of exultant youthful sentiment,--"Reveries" and "Dream-Life"--subject now, under expiration of copyright, to a wearisome publicity. No less than forty totally different imprints of the "Reveries" adorn in tatterdemalion way, one of the shelves in my library-- a collection largely due to the persistent quests of a whimsical friend. These issues vary in cost from two pennies to a guinea each, but (it is needless, perhaps, to say) no one of them has brought to the author any monied return--save one only, when the projector of a "Railway Library" in London, forwarded to the author an honorarium of 10 pounds. Presentation copies, however, of various degrees of attractiveness, have been received from generously disposed publishers in Leipsic, Berlin, London, and various home cities. For such of these as have not received other, and special acknowledgment, I trust that this public record of my indebtedness may suffice. (Preface to The Works of Donald Grant Mitchell, vol. I, 1907, vii-viii)

As Mitchell's complaint suggests, versions of Reveries of a Bachelor only multiplied once Mitchell's copyright expired in 1893. Scribner's hustled to issue another reprint in the hopes of capturing the market and making it "unprofitable" for another publisher to print the book (Charles Scribner II, January 23, 1893). On Mitchell's suggestion, Scribners printed in its catalogues and advertisements that its editions "are the only ones from which you [Mitchell] derive any benefit" (February 28, 1898). But other publishers were not deterred by Scribners' maneuvers. Among the many companies that issued unauthorized editions of Reveries of a Bachelor were the Henry Altemus Company, Optimus Printing Company, The Rodgers Company, Donohue, Henneberry, & Co, Porter, W. L. Allison Company, F. T. Neely, Thomas Y. Crowell Company Publishers, The Mershon Company Publishers, G. Munro's Sons, H. M. Caldwell Company, The Henneberry Company, M. A. Donohue & Company, Homewood Company, A. L. Burt Company, The F. M. Lupton Company, H. M. Caldwell Co., Strawbridge & Clothier, The Edward Publishing Company, W. B. Conkey Company, Acme Printing Company, The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, and R. F. Fenno & Company (BAL, 240-1; NUC, 664-667). Although many of these unauthorized texts were cheap editions, others, such as the 1906 Bobbs and Merrill Reveries featured whimsical illustrations and fine craftsmanship. Mitchell even considered authorizing the Bobbs-Merrill edition, since he admired the illustrations and since they offered his daughter the opportunity to write a preface for the edition. But Scribner reprimanded Mitchell for even thinking about approving the Bobbs-Merrill edition: "Although the copyright has expired I still regard the Bobbs-Merrill edition as a piratical book to the extent that no reputable Eastern house would undertake such a publication without your authority. It is I believe this knowledge which prompts them to seek some form of authorization" (October 10, 1906). Reveries of a Bachelor continued to be published well into the twentieth century; Holborn House issued an edition in 1931, Scribners in 1952 (NUC 668).

Even though Scribners had to deal with the problem of piracy, it certainly profited from Reveries of a Bachelor, and it strategized to win an even larger audience. For instance, it issued both a cheap edition and a collector's edition when the book was revised in 1883. In arranging for the large paper edition, Charles Scribner II sought to sell a literary personality as well as fine volume of "Holland hand-made paper," asking Mitchell to sit for a photograph (letter to Mitchell, October 2, 1883, Beinecke Collection). Mitchell himself came up with other features for the large paper edition, recommending that the book include an autograph rendition of the dedication (letter to Mitchell, Scribner, October 4, 1883, Beinecke Collection).

Not only was Reveries cleverly marketed, but it was used to market other products. Advertising both bachelor fantasies and a magic formula to prevent hair loss, the tonic medicine huckster E. Thomas Lyon, "Chemist and Manufacturer of Lyon's Kaithairon, and Pure Jamaica Ginger for Gratiuitous Distribution," distributed Extracts from The Reveries of a Bachelor (1853), a cheap pamphlet with a yellow paper cover. Apparently Scribner consented to the deal in the hopes of wooing new readers (the bald and balding?). The beginning of the pamphlet includes the dedication:

This work is respectfully dedicated to Ik. Marvel's numerous friends. Whoever, from perusing these Extracts, are induced to purchase and read entire his pathetic illustrations of the human feelings, in his 'Book of the Heart,' will enjoy an agreeable pastime and an instructive lesson. It is not confined to any age or temperament for admirers, but takes hold with equal effect upon the gentle feelings of childhood and the stoic sobriety and ripened sentiments of mature years. Published by CHARLES SCRIBNER, N. Y. Now selling the seventeenth edition. (Beinecke, ZA Mitchell 692)

Almost every succeeding page is divided into two parts; on the top half, the pamphlet reprints "Blaze--signifying cheer," the second part of "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes," while on the bottom half, the pamphlet includes advertisements for and testimonials to Lyon's Kathairon, which promises to relieve baldness, gray hair, nervous head-ache, ring worm, barbers-itch, shaving pimples, bruises, chapped hands, and many other ailments. Not only patent medicine salesmen made use of the volume to sell their wares, but also more "respectable" businesses. For instance, in 1889, the Phoenix Insurance Company purchased 1500 copies of the cameo edition to distribute, apparently to employees and customers (BAL, 240; Scribner, October 24, 1889).

Despite the popularity of Reveries of a Bachelor, Mitchell seemed rather embarrassed by his work, labeling it a product of his youth meant for a young audience. In the preface he wrote for the revised edition of Reveries published in 1883, Mitchell claimed that looking over the book forced him "again to face the youngness of it--to measure its short-comings--to be critical over its affluent diction, and yet--to launch it once again upon a new cruise amongst the abounding book-craft of later and shapelier make" (xiii). Aware of the book's defects, Mitchell tried to disconnect himself from it, claiming that he felt uncomfortable revising something that seemed an artifact of another time produced almost by another person. Charles Scribner II even admonished Mitchell for assuming such a self-critical tone in his 1883 preface, writing "I think it a mistake to insert a preface so distinctly deprecatory" (August 7, 1883). But the self-deprecatory tone remained in the preface, as Mitchell asserted that he had written much better works but agreed that Reveries seemed to make a special appeal to the emotions of his young readers.

Even though Mitchell publicly distanced himself from Reveries of a Bachelor, he was quite protective, even proud, of his authorship. He used the book to woo his future wife, giving her a copy of the 1852 leather-bound illustrated edition in which he had written a fond inscription. In later years, he treated the book as a reflection of his own life, as if it were a tool to help him remember his youth. When he was in his seventies or eighties, Mitchell went through the Hurst Company edition of Reveries (1892) and added extensive notes in which he identified the places and people that the narrator mentions. As Mitchell noted on the fly sheet to the volume, the text was "Annotated with a view to determination of location of which mention it made--more or less definite--in the text" (Beinecke, Za M 692 85Ork). In annotating, Mitchell attempted to give biographical parallels to those fictions he had created over forty years before. For instance, in a section where the narrator describes a schoolmate named Tom Belton, Mitchell underlined the name and wrote at the bottom of the page "His name was Savage, & he came from Hartford" (150). Mitchell also penciled in revisions to the text, apparently for his own satisfaction, or perhaps for the enlightenment of readers who would be going through his books (such as his children and his biographer, Waldo Dunn). Demonstrating his interest in upholding his authorship, he corrected the text's printing of the French phrase "et moi, je peurs" by adding an "l" after the "p" (72).

Although as he approached his eighties Mitchell was no longer authoring new books, he found a way that he could make books and control every step in the process. The Beinecke Library at Yale University holds several of these "books," pamphlets that look more like a fifth grader's project for an English class than a volume published by, say, Scribners. He constructed each booklet out of a heavy construction paper, using red for the cover and cream paper for the sheets inside. Rather than using a binding, Mitchell punched two holes into the top of the sheaf of papers and tied the leaves together with yarn. To dress up his work, he used colorful crayons and formed his letters with flourishes. Within his "books," Mitchell carefully compiled bibliographies of his works and of books and letters that he owned. In Catalogue of Autograph Letters 1852 to 1900, Mitchell listed the various important people who had written to him (Beinecke, Za Mitchell 140). In BIBLIOGRAPHY D. G. M. 1841-1902 EXTENDING OVER SIXTY-ONE YEARS, Mitchell listed over a hundred works that he had written, ranging from a valedictory address on "The Dignity of Learning" to essays about agriculture. He included commentary on pirated editions as well as those that he had authorized, writing, for instance, of Clark, Beeton, and Company's 1852 British edition of Reveries that it is "A pirated cheap edition...with several crude wood cuts; published in a series of 'Readable Books' (Ten pounds given for this reprint, as honorium)" (Beinecke, Mitchell Collection, item 89). Determined to protect his authorship, Mitchell even collected several examples of poor pirated editions and inscribed his sense of each version's failings on the flysheet. On the flysheet for the Clark, Beeton, and Company Railway edition, Mitchell complained, "The illustrations are [most of them] execrable, & there is an occasional 'mending' of the text, which is as bad--notably on bottom of p. 219." Mitchell even crossed out passages on page 219 and added in his revisions. Likewise, for the Bay View edition of 1899, Mitchell wrote on the flysheet "Coarsely printed & Carrying many errors" (Beinecke Za Mitchell 157).

Given Mitchell's interest in protecting his authorship, it seems fitting that a textual editor should attend carefully to his work. Yet because of the popularity of Reveries of a Bachelor, and because there is little clear evidence establishing authority for emendations, it is difficult to know exactly how Mitchell would have wanted to have his texts treated. In this edition, I try to to give a detailed picture of the changes that the text went through, even as I present a digital facsimile and transcription of the version that first won wide popular attention, the 1850 Scribners edition. (See "Textual Commentary" for a fuller discussion of the problems of editing this text, as well as an explanation of the editorial approach that I am using). I am focusing exclusively on "Smoke, Flame, and Ashes," which was known as "A Bachelor's Reverie" when it was first published in Southern Literary Messenger, and which Mitchell used as the first of four reveries in Reveries of a Bachelor. In part, I've chosen to limit myself to this sketch for practical reasons: given that the volume is almost 300 pages long and appeared in numerous editions, collating the entire book would require enormous resources of time and money. Moreover, by focusing on this sketch, I can trace the evolution of the text from its periodical form to book form, from its initial form in 1849 to its form at Mitchell's death in 1907. But I hope that this text will be part of a larger project to produce an edition of the entire Reveries of a Bachelor.