The Comet

The Comet

The Comet

Author: Eaton Stannard Barrett
Publisher: C. Barber (printer)
Publication Year: 1808
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 12.5cm x 21.5cm
Pages: 86
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .B377 C 1808


Eaton Stannard Barrett, a satirist who also wrote a comic gothic novel, composed this satirical newspaper specifically for Joseph Stockdale, one of his publishers, in 1808.


Material History

First title page, with Barrett’s name added in pencil

The edition of The Comet that is held in the Sadleir-Black collection at the University of Virginia does not possess a front or back cover—it is simply a collection of pages bound by string and a glue of some sort. When receiving the text from the archive, it comes wrapped in two envelopes. The first is a thick parchment material that is dyed in a green-blue hue. Once you unfold the leaflets of this envelope, the second envelope is attached on the inside and the text can be removed from there.

The author’s name, Eaton Stannard Barrett, is not explicitly printed anywhere in this edition. Rather than claiming the work under his name, he identifies himself as “the author of All the Talents,” which was another piece of literature that he had written previously. A prior reader of this work added Barrett’s full name in pencil on the cover title page. In addition, the same reader (as suggested by the similar handwriting styles) wrote in an almost illegible script under the title something that seems to be, “The Comet; a mock newspaper.” The letter “a” and the word “newspaper” are both very much unambiguous, but the handwriting of the word “mock” is too unclear to be sure.

Unlike many of the other gothic texts in this collection, The Comet does not contain any illustrations except for two minimalistic line drawings of signs that look similar to headstones on pages 15 and 17. One is placed within the paragraph and the other is placed at the end of the letter with the valediction, “I am, Sir, &c A Member of the Antiquarian Society.” Otherwise, the work is very consistent in its layout with wide spacing and clear text.

Line drawing on page 15; a similar one—reading “XXI Miles to London”—appears on page 17.

As for the condition of the physical pages, the work is truly delicate. The pages are quite worn and are an almost yellow mustard color. Some of the sheets are made with thicker paper than others. It feels as though each sheet was made out of a cottony material, but if you observe closely there are fine pieces of brown wood chipping contained within each individually cut page. In reference to the trimming of the pages, some are actually cut incorrectly or unevenly. Specifically, on page 61, the bottom corner is folded into itself so as to hide that it was mistakenly cut to be bigger than the rest of the pages. When unfolded, the corner juts out widely and has numerous tears. The text on this page is slightly faded, as well.

If you are to skim quickly through the 81 pages in their entirety, you will notice that many of the pages do have stains that they have acquired over time. It is difficult to tell what they are from, but it can be discerned that multiple spots are from the natural oils occurring on human skin. Since this piece has been handled numerous times, there is no doubt that it has withstood damage from naturally occurring elements. Although, it is very easily recognized that this script is in impressive condition for being originally published in 1808.


Textual History

The Comet was first published in 1808 specifically for Joseph Stockdale, one of Barrett’s publishers, as a kind of personal satirical newspaper. The text was published in the form of a book but was written in the style of a newspaper.

Second title page featuring fake edition number and pricing, as well as the cast list for the play, “The Cabal.”

Barrett at the time was not extraordinarily popular for his literature, but in later years he would gain a bit more recognition. Although, within the same year as this work’s printing, a second edition of The Comet was produced, with minor changes. There is no preface in either edition of the text, but there is a title page that has the title of the work centered in both editions.

Within the first edition, below the title, there is a subheader in Latin of, “Bellum Erit Quia Fulsit Cometa” which translates to: There will be war because the comet burned/gleamed. This is most likely a reference to the irreverent, satirical, and political humor utilized throughout the text. Beneath those two headers, there is an edition number of “1,234,567,890” and a price of “000.” Directly after this, the text begins. There are no prequels or sequels to this publication found in archival databases.

With its initial publication, there were no perceived reviews for The Comet because of its publication as a personal gift. That being said, there were no advertisements for it, either.  Despite The Comet not being translated into any other languages because it was published for one individual Englishman, Barrett had two of his total of 121 works published in German. Through research of Barrett’s name within interlibrary systems, there is rarely any mention of The Comet. On specific lists, it does not even appear as one of his published works. His more popular works consisted of The Heroine, or: Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader (1813), My Wife, What Wife? (1815), and his most popular piece of poetry, Woman (1810). Taking this into account, there are no modern day reprintings of the text because of its little known popularity. As of 2017, there is a result for the text if you search it on Amazon, but it only says “out of print—limited availability,” and you cannot order it. There is, however, a microfilm version of the text available at specific libraries. There have been pdf files uploaded online through Vanderbilt University of the original text that is held in the Sadleir-Black Collection at the University of Virginia. Paragraph

Page 61, where the corner was cut too large for the page

The Comet does not have any known influence on any other piece of literature. There have also not been any adaptations of the text. Academic research surrounding Barrett’s satirical newspaper is conclusive of knowing very little about his personal life. Despite the assistance of interlibrary databases and archives, there is no information regarding scholarly articles written about The Comet. The overwhelming majority of articles surrounding Barrett’s name were about his comic gothic work, The Heroine, or: Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader.


Narrative Point of View

The narrative style of The Comet is quite unique because of the format of the text. Through the setup being a sort of submission style, each portion has the potential to be a completely dissimilar style than the next. For example, some pieces are “letters to the editor” that are written as first-person accounts, whereas others are stories told in the third person. An overarching similarity in the narration style across the pieces is the substantial usage of convoluted phrases. These may be difficult to understand at times; nevertheless, they are used very frequently.

Sample Passage from “Madame Catalani”:

The profligacy of public taste was never more evidently evinced than in the plaudits heapt upon this miserable quaverer. What though she has the finest voice in the world, and fifteen hundred inflexions in it? What though she has the finest taste, the finest execution, and the most perfect knowledge of her art, still she is not worth listening to; inasmuch as her shake is often too rapid, and she sometimes begins a song before the fiddlers have ended the prelude. Besides, the body of her voice ascending gradually through the regions of interminable sound, forms a motley mixture of light and shade, forged by the red-hot finger of art, and embracing the flowery labyrinths of the affectuoso, instead of the blue-eyed drapery of the unsophisticated gamut. (21)

The section, “Madame Catalani,” is a review on a singer and actress, and through the use of the third person, the illustration of the Madame herself is very vivid. The overuse of complicated terms does serve as a setback for this passage because it potentially obscures meaning, particularly if readers feel as though they cannot fully understand the satire at work in the newspaper. The impact that this kind of narration has on the rest of the newspaper is that it reflects the kind of performance review section that a typical newspaper would have, but it does so in a way that is meant to be entertaining. Through this medium, The Comet is crafting an image of a play that others have not seen but are able to imagine through this specific recount of events and character description.

Sample Passage from a “Letter to the Editor”:

Sir, I resume my pen to apprize you, that at length my wretchedness is complete. My pamphlet on Bonaparte is no more—it is as if it never had been. Molly, Sir, my wife Molly, has given it to the cook to light the fire with; and just now, when I went to dinner, I found a sheet of it wrapped round a Maintenon cutlet—yes, by the heavens, round a greasy Maintenon cutlet, the worst, without exception, that ever was eaten. I recognized the writing instantly. Bonaparte himself first stared me in the face, and on nearer inspection, I discovered the misconduct of Ministers, half of Copenhagen, and commerce lying in the agonies of death. Lord bless me, what a groan I gave. But Ministers are entirely to blame: for they have secreted so much paper, that at present this article is hardly to be had, and Opposition, have employed almost a whole session in endeavouring to make them restore it.

MISERABILISSIMUS. (14)

In this letter, the author (who styles himself “Miserabilissimus”) writes about how he strongly dislikes his wife. Through its usage of a first-person account and letter format, this passage serves as a parallel to modern “Letters to the Editor” sections of newspapers. The interesting twist on this piece is that it has nothing to do with the fictional newspaper’s material in the slightest way. Often letters to editors are responses to previous editions or are asking for advice, but in this example “Miserabilissimus” is just complaining about how difficult his wife is and about how he is grieving over his things being destroyed. This makes the whole idea amusing because it is making fun of those individuals who write to newspapers asking for advice; the suggestion, in this letter, is that these letter-writers are never sincerely interested in advice, since this writer very overtly does not care for advice and just wants a forum for airing his grievances.


Summary

The Comet is a fictional newspaper that consists of satirical pieces, play reviews, and advertisements. It does not follow a linear story line in the slightest. It begins with a list of characters that are in the play known as “The Cabal.” These characters names are Cavendish, Auckland, Buckingham, Adair, and Lauderdale. Immediately after this, advertisements are made for products such as “paniatreuotic pills” and “Du Bosc’s Patent Face-Pairing” (4, 5). Interestingly enough, none of these advertisements have any impact on the rest of the newspaper.

A two-page spread of fake advertisements

There is a letter to the editor included, as well. The author of this letter describes how miserable he is because of his wife and he signs it Miserabilissimus (14). As for the introduction of the play into the newspaper, the play itself is not actually included. Rather, there is a review of the acting portrayed in “The Cabal” (22). There is a “poet’s corner” included that is comprised of poor, satirical poetry (43).

The final page of The Comet

After this, there are two sections laid out for “foreign” and “domestic” news (26, 30). The reviews, news, and poet’s sections do not have credited authors but the responses to the “letters to the editors” have an array of authors.

The most interesting piece of this newspaper is that it does not make much sense. The wording is extraordinarily dense and filled with superfluous adjectives. Barrett references himself as being a poor writer and seems to reflect wholly on inside jokes with the newspaper’s audience (which was, in reality, only one reader). The end of the text depicts a narrative of “The British Imperial Parliament” where the men that are narrating are attempting to communicate on political issues (51). This then leads into the section titled “House of Commons,” where a second narrative ensues about political issues, as well (62). The issues are not very specific. This is a very strange break in the structure of the text, which does not seem to be leading to a narrative style ending. The ending also comes at a very abrupt point. Barrett actually includes “The End” after the “House of Commons” piece, despite the fact that most editors do not end their newspapers with “The End” (86).


Bibliography

Barrett, Eaton Stannard. The Comet. London, 1808.


Researcher: Caetlin McFadden