Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Doings of Gotham [Letter I],” Columbia Spy (Columbia, PA), vol. XV, no. 4, May 18, 1844, p. 3, col. 2.


[page 3, top of column 2:]

Correspondence of the Spy.


May 14, 1844.  

It will give me much pleasure, gentlemen, to comply with your suggestions, and, by dint of a weekly epistle, keep you au fait to a certain portion of the doings of Gotham. And here if, in the beginning, for “certain” you read “uncertain,” you will the more readily arrive at my design. For, in fact, I must deal chiefly in gossip — in gossip, whose empire is unlimited, whose influence is universal, whose devotees are legion: — in gossip which is the true safety-valve of society — engrossing at least seven-eights of the whole waking existence of Mankind. It has been never better defined than by Basil, who calls it “talk for talk's sake,” nor more thoroughly comprehended than by Lady Wortley Montague, who made it a profession and a purpose. Although coextensive with the world, it is well known, however, to have neither beginning, middle, nor end. Thus, of the gossiper it was not acutely said that “he commences his discourse by jumping in medias res.” Herein it was Jeremy Taylor who deceived himself. For, clearly, your gossiper begins not at all. He is begun. He is already begun. He is always begun. In the matter of end he is indeterminate, and by these things shall you know him to be of the Cæsars — porphyrogenitus — born in the purple — a gossiper of the “right vein” — of the true blood — of the blue blood — of the sangre azula. As for law, he is cognizant of but one, and that negative — the invariable absence of all. And, for his road, were it as straight as the Appia, and as broad as “that which leadeth to destruction,” nevertheless would he be malcontent without a frequent hop-skip-and-jump, over the hedges, into the tempting pastures of digression beyond. Thus, although my avowed purpose be Gotham, I shall not be expected to give up the privilege of touching, when it suits me, de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis — upon everything and something besides.

We are not yet over the bustle of the first of May. “Keep moving” have been the watchwords for the last fortnight. The man who, in New-York, should be so bold as not to peregrinate on the first, would, beyond doubt, attain immortality as “The Great Unmoved” — a title applied by Horne, the author of “Orion,” to one of his heroes, Akineros [[Akinetos]], the type of the spirt of Apathy.

Talking of Horne — I regard his epic as the noblest of modern days. An indisputably great man. You have, perhaps, seen his “New Spirit of the Age,” lately reprinted in this country by the Harpers. Of a host of the British literati he speaks frankly and fearlessly — as a man — and as a man who “does his own thinking.” For this there will be, doubtless, an attempt at proscription. Indeed it has already commenced. I quote from a letter of the poet's now lying before me: — “If you have seen ‘The New Spirit of the Age’ you will readily understand that a great many critics here, and some authors, are far from pleased with me. The attacks and jeers in Magazines and Newspapers (though several have treated me very fairly) are nearly all written by friends of the angry parties, or influenced by them. Perhaps I may say a word on this point in the second edition now preparing.”

I have been roaming far and wide over this island of Mannahatta. Some portions of its interior have a certain air of rocky sterility which may impress some imaginations as simply dreary — to me it conveys the sublime. Trees are few; but some of the shrubbery is execeedingly picturesque. Not less so are the prevalent shanties of the Irish squatters. I have one of these tabernacles (I use the term primitively) at present in the eye of my mind. It is, perhaps, nine feet by six, with a pigsty applied externally, by way both of portico and support. The whole fabric (which is of mud) has been erected in somewhat too obvious an imitation of the Tower of Pisa. A dozen rough planks, “pitched” together, form the roof. The door is a barrel on end. There is a garden, too; and this is encircled by a ditch at one point, a large stone at another, a bramble at a third. A dog and a cat are inevitable in these habitations; and, apparently, there are no dogs and no cats more entirely happy.

On the eastern or “Sound” face of Mannahatta (why do we persist in de-euphonizing the true names?) are some of the most picturesque sites for villas to be found within the limits of Christendom. These localities, however, are neglected — unimproved. The old mansions upon them (principally wooden) are suffered to remain unrepaired, and present a melancholy spectacle of decrepitude. In fact, these magnificent places are doomed. The spirit of Improvement has withered them with its acrid breath. Streets are already “mapped” through them, and they are no longer suburban residences, but “town-lots.” In some thirty years every noble cliff will be a pier, and the whole island will be densely desecrated by buildings of brick, with portentous facades of brown-stone, or brown-stonn, as the Gothamites have it.

The fountain in the Park is in so much good, as it fulfils its design. That at the Bowling-Green is an absurdity — and is it for this reason that it has been pronounced sublime? The idea, you know, — the original conception was rusticity — Nature, in short. The water was designed to fall and flow naturally, over natural rocks. And how has this design been carried into execution? By piling some hundred nearly-rectangular cubes of stone, into one nearly-rectangular cube. The whole has much the air of a small country jail in a hard thunder shower.

For the present, vale et valete.


Editors of the “Columbia Spy.”



In column 1 of the same page, appears the following notice:

* EDGAR A. POE . Esq., well known to the Literary public as an eminent scholar and a distinguished critic, we are pleased to announce to our readers, will, in future, be a regular contributor to the Spy. Besides other matters, he will furnish us with a weekly “Correspondence” from the City of New-York, where he has taken up his residence for the present.

In this first installment of the series, the heading “Correspondence of the Spy” is not italicized, although it is italicized in the subsequent installments. In printing the text of this article in 1929, Spannuth and Mabbott make some minor alterations, perhaps unintentionally, mostly in capitalization and the use of italics. They also do not honor Poe's use of a hyphen in “New-York” and “nearly-rectangular.” An extraneous space in the original between the opening question mark and “Columbia” in the saluation at the end of the letter has not been reproduced in the present text, with this note considered as sufficient.


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