Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Doings of Gotham [Letter VI],”Columbia Spy (Columbia, PA), vol. XV, no. 10, June 29, 1844, p. 3, col. 1.


[page 3, column 1, continued:]

Correspondence of the Spy.


New-York. June 18, 1844.  

* In point of natural beauty, as well as of convenience, the harbor of New-York has scarcely its equal in the northern hemisphere; but, as in the case of Brooklyn, the Gothamites have most grievously disfigured it by displays of landscape and architectural taste. More atrocious pagodas, or what not — for it is indeed difficult to find a name for them, — were certainly never imagined than the greater portion of those which affront the eye, in every nook and corner of the bay, and, more particularly, in the vicinity of New Brighton. If these monstrosities appertain to taste, then it is to taste in its dying agonies.

* Speaking of harbors; I have been much surprised at observing an attempt, on the part of a Philadelphian paper, to compare Boston, as a port, with New-York; and in instituting the comparison, the journal in question is so bold as to assert that the largest class of ships cannot pass the bar of this harbor at low water. I believe this to be quite a mistake: — is it not?

* Foreigners are apt to speak of the great length of Broadway. It is no doubt a long street; but we have many much longer in Philadelphia. If I do not greatly err, Front street offers an unbroken line of houses for four miles, and is, unquestionably, the longest street in America, if not in the world. Grant, the gossiping and twadling [[twaddling]] author of “Random Recollections of the House of Lords,” “The Great Metropolis,” &c., &c., in mentioning some London thoroughfare of two miles and three-quarters, calls it, with an absolute air, “the most extensive in the world.” The dogmatic bow-wow of this man is the most amusing thing imaginable. I do believe that out of every ten matters which he gives to the public as fact, eight, at least, are downright lies, while the other two may be classed either as “doubtful” or “rigmarole.”

* The trial of Polly Bodine will take place at Richmond, on Monday next, and will, no doubt, excite much interest. This woman may, possibly, escape; — for they manage these matters wretchedly in New-York. It is difficult to conceive anything more preposterous than the whole conduct, for example, of the Mary Rogers affair. The police seemed blown about, in all directions, by every varying puff of the most unconsidered newspaper opinion. The truth, as an end, appeared to be lost sight of altogether. The magistracy suffered the murderer to escape, while they amused themselves with playing court, and chopping the technicalities of jurisprudence. Not the least usual error, in such investigations, is the limiting of inquiry to the immediate, with total disregard of the collateral, or circumstantial events. It is malpractice to confine evidence and discussion too vigorously within the limits of the seemingly relevant. Experience has shown, and Philosophy will always show, that a vast portion, perhaps the larger portion of truth, arises from the apparently irrelevant. It is through the spirit of this principle that modern science has resolved to calculate upon the unforseen. The history of human knowledge has so uniformly shown that to collateral, or incidental, or accidental events, we are indebted for the most numerous and most valuable discoveries, that it has, at length, become necessary, in any prospective view of improvements, to make not only large, but the largest allowances for inventions that shall arise by chance — out of the range of expectation. It is, thus, no longer philosophical to base upon what has been, a vision of what is to be. Accident is admitted as a portion of the substructure. We make chance a matter of absolute certainty. We subject the unlooked-for and unimagined to the mathematical formulae of the schools. But what I wish now to observe is, that the small magistracies are too prone to ape the airs and echo the rectangular precepts of the courts. And, moreover, very much of what is rejected as evidence by a court, is the best of evidence to the intellect. For the court, guiding itself by the general principles of evidence, — the recognized and booked principles, — is averse from swerving at particular instances. And this steadfast adherence to principle, with systematic disregard of the conflicting exception, is a sure mode of attaining the maximum of attainable truth, in any long sequence of time. The practice, in mass is, therefore, philosophical; but it is none the less certain that it engenders, in many extraordinary instances, a vast amount of individual error. I have good reason to believe that it will do public mischief in the coming trial of Polly Bodine.

* The literary world of Gotham is not particularly busy. Mr. Willis, I see, has issued a very handsome edition of his poems — the only complete edition — with a portrait. Few men have received more abuse, deserving it less, than the author of “Melanie.” I never read a paper from his pen, in the “New-Mirror,” without regretting his abandonment of Glen-Mary, and the tranquility and leisure he might there have found. In its retirement he might have accomplished much, both for himself and for posterity; but, chained to the oar of a mere weekly paper, professedly addressing the frivolous and the fashionable, what can he now hope for but a gradual sinking into the slough of the Public Disregard? For his sake, I do sincerely wish the “New-Mirror” would go the way of all flesh. Did you see his Biography in “Graham’s Magazine”? The style was a little stilted, but the matter was true. Mr. W. deserves nearly all, if not quite all, the commendation there bestowed. Some of the newspapers, in the habit of seeing through mill-stones, attributed the article to Longfellow, whose manner it about as much resembled as a virgin of Massaccio does a virgin of Raphael. The real author, (Mr. Landor,) although a man of high talent, has a certain set of phrases which cannot easily be mistaken, and is as much a uni-stylist as Cardinal Chigi, who boasted that he wrote with the same pen for fifty years.

* In the “annual “ way, little preparation is making for 1845. It is doubtful whether Mr. Keese will publish his “Wintergreen.” Mr. Appleton may issue something pretty, but cares little about the adventure, and would prefer, I dare say, a general decay of the race of gift-books; their profit is small. Mr. Kiker [[Riker]] is getting ready the “Opal”, which was first edited by Mr. Griswold, afterwards by Mr. Willis for a very brief period, and now by Mrs. Hale, a lady of fine genius and masculine energy and ability. The “Gift,” however, will bear away the palm. By the way, if you have not seen Mr. Griswold’s “American Series of the Curiosities of Literature,” then look at it, for God’s sake — or for mine. I wish you to say, upon your word of honor, whether it is, or is not, per se, the greatest of all the Curiosities of Literature, or whether it is as great a curiosity as the compiler himself.






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