Text: Edgar Allan Poe (???), Omniana (part 04), Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. VII, no. 1, July 1840, 51-52


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[page 51:]

OMNIANA.

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Every thing by starts, but nothing long.

Dryden.

Various; that the mind

Of desultory man, studious of change,

And pleased with novelty, may be indulged.

Cowper.

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STUDIOUS LIFE — NOT UNHEALTHY.

It is a great mistake to imagine that the pursuit of learning is injurious to health. We see that studious men live as long as persons of any other profession. History will confirm the truth of this observation. In fact, the regular, calm, and uniform life of a student conduces to health, and removes many inconveniences and dangers, which might otherwise assault it, provided that the superfluous heat of the constitution be assuaged by moderate exercise, and the habit of the body be not overcharged with a quantity of aliment incompatible with a sedentary life.

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SQUARE-TOES.

In the reign of Queen Mary, of England, square-toed shoes were in fashion, and the men woro them of so prodigious a breadth, that there was a proclamation came out,” that no man should wear his shoes above six inches square at the toss.”

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GROTESQUE.

Benvenuto Cellini, describing various designs for the embellishment of silver and steel work, says: — These foliages (referring to ornaments of the flower kind, worked on metal) have received that name (grotesque) from the moderns, because they are found in certain caverns in Rome, which, in ancient days, were chambers, baths, studies, halls, and other places of the like nature. The curious happened to discover them in these subterranean caverns, which being commonly called grottos, they have thence acquired the name of “grotesque.”

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”DO HIS BUSINESS.”

That is to kill him. This metaphorical expression is older than many people suppose; for Juvenal, among the dangers of the town, mentions foot-pads, who, he says — “Interdum, et ferro subitus grassatur, agit rem.”

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THE DEVIL’S SONATA.

Most persons have heard something of this famous musical composition. Mons. de la Lande informs us, that he had from Tartini’s own mouth the following singular anecdote, which shows to what a degree his imagination was inflamed by the genius of composition. — “He dreamed, one night, in the year 1713, that he had made a compact with the devil, who promised to be at his service on all occasions; and during this vision every thing succeeded according to his mind; his wishes were prevented, and his desires always surpassed by the assistance of his new servant. la short, he imagined that he presented the devil his violin, in order to discover what kind of musician he was; when, to his great astonishment, he heard him play a solo so singularly beautiful, which he executed with such superior taste and precision, that it surpassed all the music he had ever heard or conceived in his life. So great was his surprise, and so exquisite his delight, upon this occasion, that it deprived him of the power of breathing. He awoke with the violence of his sensations, and instantly seized his violin, in hopes of expressing what he had just heard, but in vain. He, however, then composed a piece, which is, perhaps, the best of his works, and called it the [page 52:] Devil’s Sonata: but it was so inferior to what his sleep had produced, that he declared he would have broken his instrument, and abandoned music forever, if he could have subsisted by any other means.”

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STYLE IN COMPOSITION.

I have been amused in looking over the pages of a Gazeteer of New York, by a Mr. Horatio Gates Spafford, published some years ago, speaking of the ridge road, in the state of New York, he flourishes thus: — “When the wood shall be removed from the intermediate lands, and the eye survey the vast extent of a boundless view, embracing Lake Ontario throughout the whole distance, this road will present one of the greatest temptations for tourists.” And “Niagara, the wonder of the world, roars in terrible majesty near the western limit of the alluvial way!” His figures of speech are delightful, too, viz.: — “That a lucid arrangement and sub-division of parts is necessary in all sciences, for none can arrive at the ship of knowledge without a boat — the admiral any more than the cabin boy.” Of the “Catsberg or Catskill” mountains, he writes — “They are a main bifurcation of the Appalachian chain;” and of the “empire state” itself, it “has much fluviatic district along the Hudson.” The air of oddity throughout his book, especially when theorising, or what might be called “sublimizing,” mixing up tawdry ornaments andj simple fact with hard words, which have nothing but their novelty to recommend them, makes this a valuable receipt-book for the “blue devils.” Again ; Mr. S.’s idea of a peninsula — “ The French presque,” he says, “ for almost, or presqu’ isle for almost island, is universally received in geography as a proper and designative name for a peninsula almost insulated!

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CHRISTIAN ERA.

The venerable Bede, the English historian, who published his ecclesiastical history in the year 731, is the most ancient author whom we find using the modern date, Anno Domini. It was adopted in France under King Pepin, and fully established in the reign of Charlemagne. The custom of beginning the year on the first of January, commenced in France in the year 1564.

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LONG NAILS.

The Chinese have many peculiar fashions and fancies which are remarkable; and one of the most curious is the industry with which they cultivate their finger nails. They esteem it a good proof of a man’s being a gentleman, or at least one who is not obliged to have recourse to manual labor to procure his subsistence, if he have long nails. They sometimes allow them to acquire the extraordinary length of eight or nine inches. In order to preserve them from external injury, each of the claws is enclosed in a joint of hollow bamboo, so that the hand which is graced with these strange ornaments, is rendered nearly useless. The Chinese ladies are particularly attentive to the preservation of their nails, which are sometimes an inch or an inch and an half long on all the fingers. Their texture resembles a dry quill very much, and as they increase in length, they curl up at the edges.


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Notes:

The authorship of this series is not certain, but has often been attributed to Poe, as it is by Heartman and Canny (1943).


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[S:0 - BGM, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Omniana [part 04]