Text: Thomas Ollive Mabbott (E. A. Poe), “Unsigned Contributions to the Public Ledger,” The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Vol. III: Tales and Sketches (1978), pp. 1088-1098 (This material is protected by copyright)


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[page 1088, continued:]

UNSIGNED CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE PUBLIC LEDGER

These sketches were originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 17, 18, and 19, 1844. In the Columbia Spy of August 14, Eli Bowen reprinted the second with the following introduction:

A Rich Article. “Fun is fun,” says the proverb. If the following article from the Philadelphia Ledger does not set our readers into a broad laugh, we know not human nature. From the style and manner, we should infer that the paper was written by Edgar A. Poe, who, it is whispered, incites many of the leaders of that able journal. It looks very much like him.

Few men were more likely to hear “whispers” about Poe than Bowen, to whose Spy he had been contributing in May and June of the same year. Poe did not deny the ascription of this article, so typically in his manner. It cannot be proved that Poe knew of [page 1089:] Bowen’s remark, but, as Clarence S. Brigham said to me, the case is just short of absolute proof.*

The author of “A Moving Chapter” is surely that of its continuation. The third article, “Desultory Notes on Cats” in the Ledger of July 19, is also obviously closely akin to them, but nothing else of the kind is to be found in the paper. The three pieces were collected by Jacob E. Spannuth and me in Poe’s Doings of Gotham (Pottsville, 1929), pp. 79-91.

[I]

A MOVING CHAPTER. — The Omnibus may be defined as a moveable house of public entertainment on strictly temperance principles, and four wheels. The word Omnibus is derived, or rather taken bodily from the Latin; and in view of that fact, we have made a painfully severe inquiry into the locomotive habits of the Romans, to find if they had the omnibus. But after profound researches, which would not have dishonored the industry of Niebuhr himself,(1) we arrived at no satisfactory conclusion. So we must leave that an open question for the antiquarian clubs. In modern times the discovery of the omnibus dates after that of the steamboat, and before that of the magnetic telegraph.(2) All three are united in a great cause, either the rapid conveyance of persons or ideas; the two first, however, frequently carrying persons without ideas, and the last being strictly confined, thus far, to carrying ideas without persons. But we are growing personal and ideal in our remarks, while our object is to be simply matter of fact. So we will not dilate on that head.

When the omnibus was first started (literally speaking) in Philadelphia, it was exclusively consecrated to the service of gentlemen weighing each twenty stone;(3) presidents of rich corporations, who had fallen irrevocably into fat, and who humanely thought that it was better to kill sorry public horses in dragging their heavy bodies over the stones, than to sacrifice a private pair periodically in that service. But by the multiplication of this public facility (we believe that is the word in use) other persons partook of the benefit; and the door (we speak figuratively now — the omnibus in hot [page 1090:] weather has no door) was opened to men less portly. Mothers or nurses also, with sleeping infants, would insinuate themselves into the omnibus; and it became a delicate question with the young gentlemen who takes the sixpences and soils the tickets,(4) whether the little affair of the chargee should go at half or whole price. But we believe, though our information is not accurate, never yet having been a mother, or even a nurse, that infants now go for nothing at all in the omnibus. This seems unkind on the part of the young gentleman, to estimate the moral and physical weight of the infant at nothing, when his own are not much. Next young ladies, who had no infants, would timorously venture into an omnibus; young men generally grew suddenly weak about the knees, and changed exercise into inertia in an omnibus. So all ages, sexes and conditions, ride now, where they used to walk; and we would not be surprised if the early accomplishment of using one’s limbs (legs) were ultimately confined to newspaper carriers, porters, and pedestrians.

It is better to ride in an omnibus than to have your own carriage, because an omnibus cannot be upset, any more than a billiard-ball; neither can the horses run away. History records no example of an omnibus horse entertaining such an idea. Do we not often meet with an account of a rich man dying in a gutter, or in newspaper phrase, being dashed against a curbstone and killed instantly? But not from an omnibus, but from the private carriage, does this happen. So people, with or without brains to dash out, think of this when you meditate setting up a fine coach with a spirited pair.

The internal arrangements of an omnibus are superior to those of the old-fashioned stage coach. In a half-empty stage coach you cannot lie down. But in an omnibus, if there be one side full only, you can lie down on the other, and go to sleep, hat off and boots up. All the stuff in poetry and prose about quiet being necessary to sleep, you can practically deny. Monotony, not quiet, is the thing to put one to sleep. It is the quiet which wakes you up when the coach stops. We once heard of a man who had fallen asleep during a roaring thunder storm, and only waked up when the last tremendous clap (which struck the house) had just ceased. This loud fact sets the question at rest, if it be a question at all, which is a question. If you do not go to sleep in an omnibus, you should be careful as to [page 1091:] your manners, for the word omnibus, translated, means, every body for himself.(5) If there be a modest, pretty girl within it, by all means put yourself directly opposite to her. Then an honest man is bound to have an open countenance; so open it upon her, and put her out of her countenance. If there be an old, infirm lady in the omnibus, do not move your feet as she endeavors to pass, but if you well nigh trip her up, it will be serviceable in reminding her of her declining years and strength, and thus help to reconcile her with fate. If there be a sick child, who complains, do you complain of people who bring sick children into an omnibus. If there be many passengers, delay them when you get in or out. A good plan is to require the young gentleman in attendance to change a five dollar note, just as you leave, and pay your fare. A wet umbrella and a dirty dog are useful in a full omnibus. When you enter and leave, tread upon the company’s toes; it hurts their feelings, but yet makes an impression. Just now the omnibus is very useful. If a riot breaks out, you can ride into it in a few minutes;(6) you can also ride in an omnibus to Fairmount, and drink the pure warm water, just as it comes from the reservoir.(7) But as it is near dinner time we shall leave off writing, and take to riding in an Omnibus.

[II]

A MOVING CHAPTER CONTINUED. — In consideration of these times of popular movement, we ventured, yesterday, to say a few words on the people’s coach and pair — the Omnibus. Following up the subject, we shall now offer a running commentary on the Cab, with the reader’s kind permission.(8) This asking permission, however, after the thing is printed and poked under the reader’s nose, is very much like humbug — but such is the fashion.

The derivation of the word cab is not quite certain. According to Dr. Lumberskull, of Gutt-stuffin University, the word comes from the lately discovered antediluvian Arabic. In that language, caba means go-ahead — hence a cab, a thing for going ahead.(9) But, with due deference to the doctor’s erudition, we are inclined to think that the word comes from the Greek. In the Isle of Naxos, the word kabos means tub.(10) Now it is believed by some, and we are of that number, that the tub of the George Munday(11) of Greece, Diogenes, [page 1092:] was not one of your vulgar washingtubs, but a circular box, on wheels, drawn, probably, by a donkey — possibly by a Newfoundland dog. This being the fact, the weight of evidence inclines to the Greek; for the word kabos is in Schrevilius,(12) and has not been lost, as we have shown, in the modern dialect. It probably floated, centuries ago, from the mainland to the island, where it has remained in use to this time. The word cab, however, sounds like English, inasmuch as it expresses the nature of the thing itself, for it has a squat, angular sound — cab! Carriage, an easy sound; omnibus, a heavy import. In this thing of the sound of words echoing their sense,(13) the English is remarkable. For example, Christchurchsteeple — a lofty, pointed sound; sugarhousemolasses — “linked sweetness, long drawn out,”(14) it strikes on the ear.

You can get into a difficulty gratis, at any time, but it requires twenty-five cents to get into a cab. The omnibus lines are as straight as those of a regiment; the lines of a cab are, on the contrary, all sorts; squares, rhomboids, cones, circles — whatever you are willing to pay for. As it is known that cabmen, in imitation of their illustrious ancestors, hackmen, are in a conspiracy to make all the money they can, and in which they differ, totally, from the rest of the world, the City Fathers have determined to put them down in this matter; accordingly, their prices are regulated by a special ordinance of the Select and Common Councils; so that gentlemen worth ten thousand a year cannot be ruined by being charged twelve cents too much cab-hire.

When it is considered that all the cabmen, without exception, are millionaires (of this fact we are confidentially assured), the wisdom of the ordinance is apparent. The aristocracy of apple women, of hot-corn venders, of charcoal men, of that particular man who makes such a devil of a noise with his “trallala! lemon ice-cream — and the vanilla, too!” should all read in this a severe lesson, that Law can protect the poor people in Chestnut and Walnut and Arch streets against their extortions. But we are deriving eloquence from a sense of indignation, while our desire is to be simply analytical.

The character of the cabman is soon summed up. If you approach within forty feet of one of them, he roars out “Cab, surr!” though you may at the time be looking out for an eclipse, or a lost [page 1093:] trinket, in an opposite direction. The cabman, notwithstanding his wealth, dresses as if he is poor. His parsimony is further evinced in his manner, which seems to indicate that he does not get enough for his work. Actuated by a sneaking fondness for the root of all evil, he is willing to expose himself to all weathers, and all night, too, like the watchman; without a box to sleep in, or the privilege of boring you with execrable verses about sleet, and snow, and burglars, and all that, at Christmas time.(15) The cabman drives generally but one horse. It is obviously labor-saving machinery, if you can, to make one horse do the work of two. In case of a horse famine it would be well, therefore, to pass a horse law, operating upon all vehicles with two horses, taking up one of them — i. e., the horses. Seizing the horse would probably make him mad, and then he could be put to death under the statute against hydrophobia.

As the cab is heavy, and the rich driver is not light, not more than five persons, with their luggage, should drive up at night (after the horse has been on duty sixteen hours) from the foot of Chestnut street to Broad. There were some gentlemen who intended to start a “Society for the Suppression of Cruelty to Animals,”(16) and wishing to try how many passengers it would take to kill a horse in a given time, by way of scientific experiment, they got into a cab, about four too many, and the result was the cab overturned backwards. Now had the aforesaid gentlemen been, after the accident, drawn out, like Adam’s wife, from the side, it would have been a humane experiment; but the back door coming on the ground, they were imprisoned in a lonely spot until muscular force was brought to their relief.

The manners which one should practice in a cab are easily told. When you enter, especially at night time, let your boots be filthy; plant them forthwith upon the opposite seat; and the next stranger, supposing her to be a lady in white satin, going to a ball, will remember that cab, though she has forgotten its number. As Americanism partakes largely of a defiance of law, just now,(17) you might occupy yourself by pitching the framed twenty-five ordinance out of the window. If you think yourself handsome, you may, in the day time, make mouths before the little looking-glass in the cab. It will be a lesson in human nature, showing its reflections under [page 1094:] different circumstances. In consideration of the indignity which the cabman offers you, by emptying you out like a load of dirt at the back of a cart, you may very properly refuse to pay him a cent. If he ventures to bring the matter before the authorities, he will have to pay the costs, because the sympathy of republican power is never with extortion and aristocracy.

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[III]

DESULTORY NOTES ON CATS. [[n]] — Cats were first invented in the garden of Eden. According to the Rabbins, Eve had a pet cat, called Pusey, and from that circumstance arose a sect of cat-worshippers among the Eastern nations, called Puseyites, a sect which, it is said, is still in existence somewhere.(1) When rats began to be troublesome, Adam gave the first pair of cats six lessons in the art of catching them; and since then the knowledge has been retained. The Greeks spelled cat with a k, and the French put an h into it; the pure English scholar will not heed such ignorance, but will keep to the right orthography.(2) In the time of Chaucer,(3) cataract was spelt caterect; but what analogy there is between a cat getting up in the world and water falling down in it, it is difficult to say. The introduction of the cat into cat-aplasm, cat-egory, &c., is unauthorized; [page 1096:] it is without the knowledge or consent of the parties, and has no meaning. Cat-nip, on the contrary, has a signification; it bears the same relation to the animal economy of the cat that Pease’s hoarhound candy does to that of the animal economy of man.(4) It is mentioned that a gentleman in the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties, wishes to know what is the reason that cats which have that within them which contains such divine melody, should make such execrable music themselves? The answer to this, perhaps, is simple. Cats are modest. They make no show of accomplishments. You never hear of a learned cat. Learned pigs, bears and dogs, who can tell what time of day it is, and how many spectators are present (which last is easily told, to the sorrow of the showman,) are common. But who ever heard of a learned cat? A cat pretends to no knowledge, not even to that of the piano and singing. If you kill her you may prepare a physical essence, so to speak, which, if stretched and resined, may have a divine effect.(5) It is probably the departed spirit refined down to a single string, and making simple melody, whereas, in the original, the strings were interlinked and confused, so that they produced necessarily discordant sounds; to say nothing of their being vulgarly alive, and in a raw state of nature.

This explanation seems clear. A young cat or kitten is graceful; her chief occupation is chasing her tail, but her tail will not stay chased. Very little children adore very little cats. But when the children, if boys, grow bigger, and learn the humanities at school, all about Draco,(6) Alexander and Cæsar, they change towards cats, and kill them whenever sport prompts them to do so. Among the saws, is one that persecution makes that thrive which it seeks to subdue. This is a slight mistake. In the case of rats, which cats persecute, persecution ever thins their numbers. It is only when persecution is half way, or has a spice of charity, that it does what the saw says. Not only in the case of rats, but of Indians, is this shown to be a false saw. The Indians have been persecuted with fire, whiskey and sword, and they are nearly exterminated. It is only when the cat is in love that she makes a fool of herself. It is then, that, forgetting all other considerations in the fullness of her heart, the cat plays, unconsciously, the troubadour. (We apply the feminine gender and pronoun to cats, because all cats are she; in the same way that all sluts and mares are called he, a peculiar beauty of the English [page 1097:] language.)(7) The serenading cat makes a noise like an infant with the cholic, for which it is often mistaken. Both sexes of cats sport whiskers and moustaches; whether the actual she cats will ever change the fashion, as it applies to them, after it has so long prevailed, is doubtful. One of the brightest pages in English Annals, is the History of Whittington and his Cat.(8) We know a boy, who has a cat, and says he intends hereafter to be Mayor of Philadelphia. Not the slightest objection to it.

 


[page 1094, continued:]

NOTES

[I]

1.  Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776-1831) was a German scholar of vast and varied learning, who, for his Roman History (English translation, 3 v., London, 1828-1842), studied monuments as well as literary sources.

2.  Robert Fulton’s steamboat, Clermont, made its first round trip between New York and Albany in August 1807; Samuel F. B. Morse sent his epoch-making message by telegraph between Washington and Baltimore on May 24, 1844. The new magnetic telegraph and steamboats are referred to as wonders in “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade.”

3.  Twenty stone is 280 pounds; use of the term, still current in England, was unusual in America, even in Poe’s day. Its use, admittedly, does not strengthen the case for Poe as author of “A Moving Chapter.”

4.  To “soil the tickets” was obviously to cancel them; the word in this sense has not been recorded in dictionaries consulted. It may have been done with a drop of acid, a method sometimes used to cancel the stamps of private local posts.

5.  Latin “omnibus” means primarily “for all,” but may bear the humorous meaning given in the text.

6.  There were serious anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in the summer of 1844. Members of the so-called American Party — the “Know-Nothings” — were concerned. The trouble began when a militia company, made up largely of Irish immigrants, stored rifles in the cellar of a Roman Catholic church, and rumors of a “Papist Rebellion” spread. The rumors were of course absurd, but some lives were lost in the violence. The newspapers were full of the troubles.

7.  Fairmount Park is on the outskirts of the City of Philadelphia. Poe lived in the vicinity, at 2502 Coates Street in North Fairmount, for a time, in 1842 and early 1843. See Phillips, Poe the Man, I, 817.

[II]

8.  Compare the jeu d’esprit “Cabs” from Alexander’s Weekly Messenger of April 1, 1840, above.

9.  Dr. Lumberskull of Gut-stuffin University — that is, Göttingen — reminds us of the imaginary learned Dutch worthies in “Hans Phaall” and “The Devil in the Belfry.” The antediluvian Arabic “caba” is pure nonsense.

10.  The word kabos, from the Hebrew qab, is a grain measure, used in the [page 1095:] Septuagint and in St. Luke 16:6 (translated “measure” in the King James Version). No vocabulary of the Naxian dialect has been found.

11.  George Munday was a well-known eccentric in Philadelphia and its vicinity, who, for religious reasons, wore a beard. He was occasionally seen intoxicated. He was called “the hatless prophet” in a notice that he had been arrested for wife beating, in the New York Evening Mirror, July 21, 1846.

12.  Cornelius Schrevelius (1615-1664), a Dutch scholar, compiled a Lexicon Manuale, Greco-Latin and Latin-Greek. First published in 1654, it was often reprinted for use in schools. Schrevelius’ Greek Lexicon translated into English, 2nd edition, with added English and Greek Lexicon, was published in London in 1831, 3rd edition in 1836, and a 4th in 1841.

13.  Compare Pope’s Essay on Criticism, II, 165: “The sound must seem an echo to the sense.”

14.  The quotation is from Milton’s “L’Allegro,” line 140.

15.  Night watchmen, like newspaper carriers, presented broadside poems to their patrons. Some printed specimens front Philadelphia are in the Harris Collection at Brown University.

16.  See “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.,” n. 19. The movement for the protection of animals spread from England after the organization there in 1824 of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which gained prestige by the addition of “Royal” to its title in 1840. In America the cause was among the mid-century reforms being agitated, but it was not until 1866 that the first American society with the same declared purpose was formed, by Henry Bergh, in New York.

17.  Americanism here refers to the violence of the “Know-Nothing” party; see n. 6 above.

[page 1097, continued:]

[III]

Title:  Poe’s fondness for cats is well known. See cat behavior described in “Bon-Bon” and “Instinct vs Reason,” and my introduction to “The Black Cat.”

1.  The reference to the Rabbius may be a sly allusion to the fact that cats are not mentioned in the Bible itself. “Puseyites” were the adherents of Edward Bouverie Pusey, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, who in 1843 had been suspended for two years, by the vice chancellor, from preaching before the university — an action that generated much controversy. Poe considered the storm raised about the beliefs of Pusey and his High Church associates to be a tempest in a teapot. See n. 17 on the 1845 version of “Lionizing”; and “Marginalia,” number 3 (Democratic Review, November 1844, p. 485).

2.  Greek for cat is katos; French, le chat. Poe has puns on “cat” in “Enigmatical and Conundrum-ical” (Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, December 18, 1839) and in the Saturday Museum, April 1, 1843.

3.  The reference here is pure nonsense. Poe almost never speaks of Chaucer. In reviewing Hall’s Book of Gems (SLM, August 1836), Poe includes Chaucer in a list of English poets, and in a review of Chivers’ poems in the Broadway Journal, August 2, 1845, he says that Chivers’ work belongs “to the era of impulse — in contra-distinction to the era of criticism — to the Chaucerian rather than to the Cowperian days.”

4.  The Compound Extract of Hoarhound, made by John Pease and Son, 44 Division Street, New York, was widely sold nationally. Among the testimonials, in an advertisement in the New York Brother Jonathan, December 23, 1843, is one from Andrew Jackson. Hoarhound (horehound) drops are still used by some as cough drops.

5.  Jokes about cats and violin strings made of catgut are commonplace, although the entrails really used are those of sheep.

6.  Draco, an Athenian lawgiver of the Seventh Century before our era, wished to punish so many offenses by death that he is regarded as a monster of cruelty. His name means a big snake and it was punningly said “his were not the laws of a man but a dragon.” Poe referred to “Draconian Laws” in “William Wilson.”

7.  The remark on the custom of referring to cats as “she,” to dogs and horses as “he” is of interest. The phenomenon known as “unnatural gender” is common [page 1098:] in many languages, but is so rare in English that few of our grammars mention it. Boats of all kinds and cats are generally called “she” even now.

8.  Richard Whittington (d. 1423) was a real person, and a friend of Henry V, who is said to have knighted him. He was a prominent merchant from about 1380 to 1423, and served three times as mayor of London. But the legends about him, familiar in the nursery and often printed in chapbooks, are what the author of “Desultory Notes on Cats” had in mind. According to these, Dick came to London as a poor boy and was employed in the kitchen of a wealthy man. There was an opportunity for members of the household to send items for sale in a trading vessel, and Dick had only his cat to offer. The ship went to a port in Barbary, where there was great need for cats, and the animal fetched a high price. Meanwhile, Dick was used badly by the cook, and determined to go home from the City. As he was walking away he heard the ringing of Bow Bells, which seemed to him to say: “Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London!” He obeyed, and soon was given the large sum received for his cat. With this as a beginning, he prospered greatly in trade, married an heiress, and in time became Lord Mayor.

 


[[Footnotes]]

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 1089:]

*  See n. 3 below.

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - TOM3T, 1978] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe (T. O. Mabbott) (Unsigned Contributions to the Public Ledger)