The Snowdrop and the Critic



PROLOGUES to magazines!-the man is mad,

No magazine a prologue ever had;

But let us hear what new and mighty things

Your wonder working magic fancy brings.


Bit by the muse in an unlucky hour,

I’ve left myself at home, and turn’d a flower,

And thus disguised came forth to tell my tale,

A plain white snow drop gathered from the vale:

I come to sing that summer is at hand,

The summer time of wit you’ll understand;

And that this garden of our magazine

Will soon exhibit such a pleasing scene,

That even critics shall admire the show

If their good grace will give us time to grow;

Beneath the surface of the parent earth

We’ve various seeds just struggling into birth;

Plants, fruits, and flowers, and all the smiling race,

That can the orchard or the garden grace;

Our numbers, Sir, so fast and endless are,

That when in full complexion we appear,

Each eye, each hand, shall pluck what suits its taste,

And every palate shall enjoy a feast;

The rose and lily shall address the fair,

And whisper sweetly out, “My dears, take care”;

With sterling worth, the plant of sense shall rise

And teach the curious to philosophize;

The keen eyed wit shall claim the scented briar,

And sober cuts the solid grain admire;

While generous juices sparkling from the vine,

Shall warm the audience until they cry-divine!

And when the scenes of one gay month are o’er,

Shall clap their hands, and shout-encore, encore!


All this is mighty fine! but prithee, when

The frost returns, how fight you then your men?


I’ll tell you, Sir: we’ll garnish out the scenes

With stately rows*of hardy evergreens,

Trees that will bear the frost, and deck their tops

With everlasting flowers, like diamond drops;

We’ll draw, and paint, and carve, with so much skill,

That wondering wits shall cry-diviner still!


Better, and better, yet! but now suppose,

Some critic wight, in mighty verse or prose,

Should draw his gray goose weapon, dipt in gall,

And mow ye down, plants, flowers, trees, and all.


Why, then we’ll die like flowers of sweet perfume,

And yield a fragrance even in the tomb!

  • When the Pennsylvania Magazine was first introduced in January, 1775, the public was informed that “like the snow-drop it comes forth in a barren season, and contents itself with foretelling that choicer flowers are preparing to appear.” Paine wrote this introduction and followed it up with this anonymous poem which he addressed to himself as the editor of the magazine. The poem was preceded by the following note: “To the Editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, 1775. Sir: I have given your very modest ‘Snowdrop’ what, I think, Shakespeare calls ‘a local habitation and a name’; that is, I have made a poet of him, and have sent him to take possession of a page in your next magazine; here he comes, disputing with a critic about the propriety of a prologue.’”-Editor.