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[Text: Edgar Allan Poe (?), "An Old Fire Bursting Out Afresh," from the Evening Mirror, October 21, 1844, page 2, cols 1-2.]


[page 2, column 1:]

AN OLD FIRE BURSTING OUT AFRESH.

    The mooted point about the use of the Bible in public schools, is coming up again, we observe. A new County Superintendent, appointed since the death of Col. Stone, signalizes his entrance upon the duties of that office by committing himself at the very threshold to positive opinions on matters of importance and very popular interest. Is this foolish or wise precipitate, or duly cautious?

    At the present period of the clearness of vision which prevails very generally among intellectual persons on the subject of the Holy Scrptures, [[Scriptures,]] it were chimerical to deny their sacred beauty, merit, and fitness for elevating and refining mankind. But the Christian world is broken up in sects, differing in doctrine. What is authority with one has no weight with another. And in this republic, where our boast of equality, not only in the letter but in the spirit also, is professedly applicable to the religious as well as political immunities and favors of the people, we certainly think the principles on which the Commissioners and Inspectors of the 14th Ward schools have founded their movements are right.

    Dr. Reese, the new superintendent, takes the ground, in condemning the non-use of the Bible, that in schools which do not use it, there is no formal acknowledgment of the Creator. This is sophistry. Probably no single book read in the public schools of New York is without a frequent express or implied mention of God, his holiness, his omniscience, and other attributes. The avoidance of the use of the Bible is simply a recognition of the doctrine that no certain number of men, (be they a majority or otherwise,) have the [column 2:] right of any especial favor to their religious views, in opposition to the religious views of their neighbors. Indeed, to state the matter plainly, it is a denial that the religion of any respectable classes of citizens should be contumeliously depressed by the elevation in any way of some other before and over it.

    This seems to us the proper position for every school officer: and however much we might be disposed to go with Dr. Reese and the gentlemen of the Board who think with him, in resenting any attack on the Sacred Book which is indeed an Anchor of Safety for individuals as well as the peace and order of communities we take, upon this question, most decided part with the thirty public schools which have discontinued the use of the Bible.

    Perhaps it may not be amiss in conclusion to explain what, after all, really is this "reading," which excites so much bitter blood. Upon the calling together of the pupils, the head teacher, when they take their seats, rises at his desk, and opening any part of the Scriptures, (his discretion is the only guide,) reads aloud sometimes five, sometimes ten, and sometimes twenty verses, as he thinks proper. The children having just come form home, or from play, the few minutes thus spent are perhaps useful as an opportunity for the subsiding of their restlessness and lately excited animal spirits; but no person who has witnessed the scene can think it a favorable time for any seeds of virtue or wisdom to take root and fasten themselves for future growth. The whole proceeding has much the appearance of some of those ceremonials at the opening of judicial courts, which are reverenced in one sense of the term, but to which nobody listens with interest or pays any other than outward heed. And this is the great bone of contention this is the mighty tweedle-dee against which the adherents of tweedle-dum are fighting so fiercely!


[Although many aricles from the Evening Mirror were reprinted in the Weekly Mirror, this one was intentionally not reused. Instead, N. P. Willis printed an apology in the Evening Mirror of October 24, 1844:

The Bible in Schools

    God forbid that we should advocate the exclusion of the Bible from schools! An article went abroad, however, in our paper of Monday, which every one who knows us must believe to be foreign to every feeling and principle within us. It was inserted wholly without our knowledge. The writer is a gentleman on whose talent and practical sense we had the fullest reliance, and it was hurriedly given out among other things for "copy" with simply glancing at the subject (which we supposed could be treated in but one way) a subsequent judgment on it in the proof being our own mental reservation. It was condemned in the proof-sheet, and set aside the day before the arrival of the Acadia. This arrival was the first time since the starting of our paper that we had received English news it came at a most inopportune hour, and we were literally overwhelmed with our morning task. The condemned article still stood in type, was mistakenly put in, in the confusion of the moment, for approved matter, and we did not even observe it till the second day after it had gone abroad! We give two letters on the subject in another column, and trust that their excellent arguments, and this explanation, will undo the harm so accidentally done and so sincerely regretted.

"The writer . . . on whose talent and practical sense we had the fullest reliance . . ." is presumed to have been Poe. Based on this presumption, this article was attributed to Poe by Thomas Ollive Mabbott, in notes currently held in the T. O. Mabbott Collection of the University of Iowa.]

[Poe refers to "tweedle-dee" and "tweedle-dum" in the first installment of "Marginalia" (Democratic Review, November 1844) and also in "Lion-izing" (Southern Literary Messenger, May 1835). Poe comments favorably on the principles of the separation of church and state in his third letter of the series "Doings of Gotham" (Columbia Spy, June 1, 1844).]

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[S:0 - EM, 1844]