Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. T. O. Mabbott), “Editorials in the Public Ledger,” Doings of Gotham: Poe's Contributions to The Columbia Spy (1929), pp. 79-91 (This material is protected by copyright)


[page 79:]


Ascribed to Poe by Eli Bowen

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, 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. 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; 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. [page 80:] 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 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, 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, [page 81:] 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 your manners, for the word omnibus, translated, means, every body for himself. 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 [page 82:] 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; you can also ride in an omnibus to Fairmount, and drink the pure warm water, just as it comes from the reservoir. But as it is near dinner time we shall leave off writing, and take to riding in an Omnibus.


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. 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. 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. Now it is believed by some, and we are of that number, that the tub of the George Munday of Greece, Diogenes, was not one of your vulgar washingtubs, but a circular box, [page 83:] 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, 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, the English is remarkable. For example, Christchurch-steeple — a lofty, pointed sound; sugarhousemolasses — “linked sweetness, long drawn out,” 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 [page 84:] 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, surd” though you may at the time be looking out for an eclipse, or a lost 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. 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 [page 85:] 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,” 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, 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 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. [page 86:]


DESULTORY NOTES ON CATS. — 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. 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 It into it; the pure English scholar will not heed such ignorance, but will keep to the right orthography. In the time of Chaucer, cataract was spelt cat-erect; 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; 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. 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 [page 87:] 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. 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, Alexander and Cxsar, 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; [page 88:] in the same way that all sluts and mares are called he, a peculiar beauty of the English language.) 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. We know a boy, who has a cat, and says he intends hereafter to be Mayor of Philadelphia. Not the slightest objection to it.


The group of three articles printed in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 17, 18 and 19, 1844, belong to a peculiar class — the evidence for Poe's authorship being almost conclusive, yet somewhat unusually incapable of proof or disproof. The second article was reprinted in the Columbia Spy of August 14, 1844, with the following editorial note by Bowen:


“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, indites many of the leaders of that able journal. It looks very much like him.”

While this at first sight seems to attribute but one article to Poe, I shall show below that it leads to the ascription of two more articles.

When it is recalled that Poe had recently been connected with the Spy, that Bowen was in a position to know what he was doing, that Poe revealed his authorship of anonymous articles occasionally by little notices in papers with which he was connected, one suspects that the statement was inspired by a hint from Poe, if not by a request. Furthermore, if the attribution was erroneous, one would suppose Poe would have protested, which he is not known to have done. And [page 89:] Poe is known to have stated that he wrote several more “tales” than can be accounted for easily among his surviving productions. Of course there is the possibility that Poe never saw the number of the Spy; or that he did see it and answer it in some other periodical which has escaped our notice. But he did not deny it in the natural place, the columns of the Spy. And Bowen's language has certainly the tone of genuine information — in any case is disinterested and bona fide.

Of style perhaps the less said the better, for Poe employed different styles for different types of work, and only the higher types are distinctive. Yet one need only read such humorous tales as The Devil in the Belfry and Some Words With a Mummy to see that the style of this writer of editorials was like enough that of Poe in satiric mood. The Spy spoke only of the second half of A Moving Chapter as Poe's. But both halves of the article are by one person who refers to the first part in the second. And going through the Public Ledger for several weeks at the period indicated by Bowen, I found only one other “leader” of the same type — the three articles were printed on three successive days, July 17, 18 and 19, respectively, and I believe all are from one pen — that of a special contributor. Who he was it is not yet possible to establish positively. But Bowen thought it was Poe, and I believe he was right. In any case the works must be considered by all students of Poe as attributed with great probability. The Public Ledger, it may be added, was published by the publishers of the Dollar Newspaper for which Poe wrote at the time, and was connected with Graham's Magazine by a friendly arrangement I believe.

To recapitulate, if Bowen attributed the articles on Cabs and Omnibuses to Poe because of some hint from the poet himself, the rumor that Poe wrote leaders for the Ledger demanded that a search of the paper files be made. But only one other article in the same manner is to be found at the time — and that follows immediately in the issue of July 19. The supposition that Poe sold all three bits to the Ledger at once is certainly defensible. We know that on three successive days articles appeared in that paper, differing from anything else published by it at the time. We know that Poe was publishing newspaper articles at the time, and that this series has a marked similarity to some of his minor humorous work. Poe at other times acknowledged anonymous works through notices in papers with which he was connected. The [page 90:] Raven is a case in point. We know that Bowen, in a position to know, attributed one of these articles to Poe, and that Poe despite his haste on other occasions to deny the authorship of what he did not write, never denied Bowen's attribution.

We do not have Poe's own word that he wrote the sketches, nor any absolute repetition in surviving acknowledged works of sentences from these. But we do have close similarity of ideas and phrases, and a high probability of Poe's writing such brief pieces at the time and place, to confirm the testimony of Bowen which is not circumstantial only but rather direct. The attributions are such that I think no editor of Poe could ignore them, and only definite identification of some other author or discovery of a denial by Bowen or Poe could completely overthrow them. Happily they are brief — and harmless nonsense, and by no means unworthy of the pen of Poe in a careless mood — they could hardly be the product of any other.


Of particular points of interest, the following stand out. Niebuhr, the very famous German historian might well have been chosen as a typical scholar. One should read the adventures of the hero of Loss of Breath in a coach for evidence of Poe's awareness of the discomforts of travel.


The mock professor — Lumberskull reminds one of the learned Stuffundpuk, Gruntundguzzle and others in The Devil in the Belfry, where Poe deals in mock etymology.

The word kabos, meaning a grain measure, occurs in the Septuagint and hence may well have been kept in the often reprinted Greek Lexicon of the Dutch scholar Cornelius Schrevelius, which was that commonly used in schools.

The joke on George Munday I do not understand — a George Mundy was a missionary to India who wrote much on his travels, but there may be some local allusion.

The line “linked sweetness” is from Milton and is a commonplace, though Poe certainly used it humorously in his review of George Jones in the Aristidean, March, 1845. The comment on “Americanism partaking of law breaking” refers to the riots resulting from the activities of the political party called the Native Americans. The remarks on hot-corn venders, charcoal men, and others should be compared with the discussion of street noises in Letter IV. [page 91:]


The bit about Cats is too slight for serious comment, but Poe was severe on Pusey in the Marginalia and seems to have regarded the Oxford Movement as a tempest in a teapot. His reference to the Draconian (or bloody) rule in the school in William Wilson, may or may not be considered a good parallel to Poe's reference here to the ruthlessness of antique heroes.





[S:0 - SPM29, 1929] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Bookshelf - Doings of Gotham: Poe's Contributions to The Columbia Spy (J. Spannuth and T. O. Mabbott) (Editorials in the Public Ledger)