[Ads-l] Antedating of "Torch Song," "Carry the Torch"

Ben Yagoda byagoda at UDEL.EDU
Tue Sep 28 13:56:20 UTC 2021

I searched my ebook of the collected stories of O. Henry (1862-1910) hoping to find an early use from this master of slang but found only a Hymen reference, in the story “The Hypotheses of Failure,” originally published in January 1904. A character is addressing a divorce lawyer:

“You handle all the various ramifications of busted-up connubiality. You are a surgeon, we might say, who extracts Cupid’s darts when he shoots ’em into the wrong parties. You furnish patent, incandescent lights for premises where the torch of Hymen has burned so low you can’t light a cigar at it.”


Henry, O.. The Complete Works of O. Henry: Short Stories, Poems and Letters . e-artnow. Kindle Edition. 

> On Sep 28, 2021, at 12:00 AM, ADS-L automatic digest system <LISTSERV at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> wrote:
> Date:    Mon, 27 Sep 2021 20:37:58 -0400
> From:    ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM <mailto:adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>>
> Subject: Re: Antedating of "Torch Song," "Carry the Torch"
> The figurative phrase "carries a torch of love in her heart" appeared
> in "The Baltimore Sun" in 1922. In this instance, here was no
> implication that the love was unrequited. The overall context was
> "Tribulation In Marriage Mart" as mentioned in the article title.
> Date: February 19, 1922
> Newspaper: The Baltimore Sun
> Newspaper Location: Baltimore, Maryland
> Article: Young Man Meets Tribulation In Marriage Mart
> Part 4, Quote Page 2, Column 3
> Database: Newspapers.com <http://newspapers.com/>
> https://www.newspapers.com/image/373267143/?terms=torch <https://www.newspapers.com/image/373267143/?terms=torch>
> [Begin excerpt]
> That men are marrying every day is indicative of the fact that men
> have struggled with and conquered their problems. Somehow, with help
> or without it, or through the sympathetic encouragement of some sister
> who, being young herself, still carries a torch of love in her heart,
> the man attains his heart's desire.
> [End excerpt]
> Various torchbearers have been mentioned within this thread including:
> the Statue of Liberty, Diogenes, Prometheus, Jessica in "Merchant of
> Venice", and the servant Eurycleia in "The Odyssey".
> Another possibly pertinent torchbearer is the god of marriage
> ceremonies Hymen. According to the sometimes reliable Wikipedia: "At
> least since the Italian Renaissance, Hymen was generally represented
> in art as a young man wearing a garland of flowers and holding a
> burning torch in one hand".
> I've come across multiple references to Hymen (and a few jokes) while
> exploring this topic. Here is an 1891 citation for an oft repeated
> joke.
> Date: February 25, 1891
> Newspaper: The Topeka State Journal
> Newspaper Location: Topeka, Kansas
> Article: The Reason For It
> Quote Page 2, Column 3 and 4
> Database: Newspapers.com <http://newspapers.com/>
> [Begin excerpt]
> "I wonder how it is," remarked the lady in an undertone, "that Hymen
> is always represented as carrying a torch? I never yet saw a picture
> purporting to be the marital god without the inevitable torch stuck in
> his hand."
> "I don't see anything strange about that," remarked her husband, with
> a cynical grin, "that's easily enough explained, I'm sure. The reason
> he is always drawn with the torch is to indicate how warm he makes it
> for the men who are foolish enough to enter the matrimonial state."
> [End excerpt]
> Garson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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