Poe and the Pug Dog

Edgar Allan Poe is famous for anticipating and/or inspiring developments in later writers; the Sherlock Holmes stories, for example, were prompted by Poe’s Dupin trilogy (though Conan Doyle has Holmes dismiss Dupin as a “very inferior fellow”), while the central plot twist in Around the World in 80 Days derives from Poe’s “Three Sundays in a Week.” (Verne was quite a Poe fan, devoting an entire essay to the works of “Edgard” Poe, and even penning a sequel to Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.)

But who’d have guessed that this famous scene of sophistry from Life With Father

– was prefigured in Poe’s lesser-known essay “Diddling Considered As One of the Exact Sciences”?

The diddler approaches the bar of a tavern, and demands a couple of twists of tobacco. These are handed to him, when, having slightly examined them, he says:

“I don’t much like this tobacco. Here, take it back, and give me a glass of brandy and water in its place.” The brandy and water is furnished and imbibed, and the diddler makes his way to the door. But the voice of the tavern-keeper arrests him.

“I believe, sir, you have forgotten to pay for your brandy and water.”

“Pay for my brandy and water! – didn’t I give you the tobacco for the brandy and water? What more would you have?”

“But, sir, if you please, I don’t remember that you paid me for the tobacco.”

“What do you mean by that, you scoundrel? – Didn’t I give you back your tobacco? Isn’t that your tobacco lying there? Do you expect me to pay for what I did not take?”

“But, sir,” says the publican, now rather at a loss what to say, “but sir –”

“But me no buts, sir,” interrupts the diddler, apparently in very high dudgeon, and slamming the door after him, as he makes his escape. – “But me no buts, sir, and none of your tricks upon travellers.”

(I wouldn’t recommend trying this on an actual bartender, by the way, unless you’re eager to learn wie man mit dem Hammer philosophiert.)

Influence or coincidence? I don’t know. The pug dog incident doesn’t appear to be in Clarence Day’s original book Life With Father, so it probably originated in the subsequent play (by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, best known for The Sound of Music, for which they wrote everything but the songs) which in turn was the basis for the movie. Crouse also wrote about the Mary Rogers murder case (the same case that Poe fictionalised as “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”), so that’s some basis, though not much, for speculating that he might have been a Poe aficionado.


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