Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Doings of Gotham [Letter II],” Columbia Spy (Columbia, PA), vol. XV, no. 5, May 25, 1844, p. 3, col. 2


[page 3, top of column 2:]

Correspondence of the Spy.


May 21st, 1844.  

In the way of mere news there is nothing — nothing, at least, which I could reconcile it to my conscience to make matter of record.

The city is thronged with strangers, and everything wears an aspect of intense life. Business has experienced a thorough revival, and “all goes merry as a marriage bell.” Notwithstanding the Croton water, or “the Crot’n,” as the Gothamites have it, the streets are, with rare exception, insufferably dirty. The exceptions are to be found in Bond Street, Waverly Place, and some others of the upper, more retired, and more fashionable quarters. These surpass in purity the cleanest districts of Philadelphia; but, in general, there is no comparison between the two cities. I believe that New-York is “scavengered,” to use an English verb, by contract, at an annual expense of $50,000. If this is really the case, there must be either great stupidity, or ignorance, somewhere — or at all events some partisan chicanery. Contractors might pay roundly for the privilege of cleaning the streets, receiving the sweepings for their perquisite, and find themselves great gainers by the arrangement. In any large city, a company of market gardeners would be induced to accept a contract of this character.

Mr. Harper has commenced his reign with vigor, and will, no doubt, make an efficient Mayor. Of course, there has been, and will be, the usual proscription, notwithstanding the usual promises. The anticipation, or rather the certainty of removal from office, has given rise to some high-handed, and at the same time ludicrous instances of the sauve qui peut principle. Entire districts, for example, are left, for weeks, in outer darkness, at night; the lamp-lighting functionaries flatly refusing to light up; preferring to appropriate the oil to their own private and personal emolument, and thus have a penny in pocket, with which to console themselves for that dismissal which is inevitable. Three quarters of a mile on the Third Avenue, one of the most important and most thronged thoroughfares, have been thus left in darkness visible for the last fortnight or more. When the question is asked — “cannot these scoundrels be made to suffer for their high-handed peculation?” — the reply is invariably  — “oh no — to be sure not — the thing is expected, and will only be laughed at as an excellent practical joke. The comers-in to office will be in too high glee to be severe, and as for the turned-out, it is no longer any business of theirs.”

I presume you have seen, by the papers, that some person has been so good as to publish what he calls “The Life and Writings of James Gordon  Bennet [[Bennett]].” Mr. Bennet [[Bennett]], calling the book “an infamous and atrocious libel,” charges Mr. Moses Y. Beach of the “Sun,” with its perpetration, and announces his intention to sue. Mr. Beach denies the parentage, and Mr. T. L. Nichols avows it. Mr. N. was, for a year, associated with Mr. Bennet [[Bennet]]t in the conduct of the “Herald,” and is a man of much talent. He declares that the brochuie in question is chiefly a rifaciments of Mr. Bennet’s [[Bennett’s]] own articles extracted from the “Herald” itself. I have not seen the production, nor shall I see it. It is said to be very severe.

The arrival of the Brittannia at Boston, on Saturday, just as the western train was leaving the city, rendered nugatory the various “express” arrangements in contemplation, and thus put an end to diverse excellent quarrels in prospectu. One, especially, of ominous aspect, had been gradually gathering itself into shape, between Beach, on the one hand, and Messieurs Bennet [[Bennett]] and Greeley, in copartnership, on the other.

Talking of “expresses” — the “Balloon-Hoax” made a far more intense sensation than anything of that character since the “Moon-Story” of Locke. On the morning (Saturday) of its announcement, the whole square surrounding the “Sun” building, was literally besieged, blocked up — ingress and egress being alike impossible, from a period soon after sunrise until about two o’clock P. M. In Saturday’s regular issue, it was stated that the news had been just received, and that an “Extra” was then in preparation, which would be ready at ten. It was not delivered, however, until nearly noon. In the meantime I never witnessed more intense excitement to get possession of a paper. As soon as the few first copies made their way into the streets, they were bought up, at almost any price, from the news-boys, who made a profitable speculation, beyond doubt. I saw a half-dollar given, in one instance, for a single paper, and a shilling was a frequent price. I tried, in vain, during the whole day, to get possession of a copy. It was excessively amusing, however, to hear the comments of those who had read the “Extra.” Of course there was great discrepancy of opinion as regards the authenticity of the story; but I observed that the more intelligent believed, while the rabble, for the most part, rejected the whole with disdain. Twenty years ago credulity was the characteristic trait of the mob, incredulity the distinctive feature of the philosophic; now the case is exactly conversed. The wise are disinclined to disbelief and justly so. The only grounds, in this instance, for doubt, with those who knew anything of Natural Philosophy, were the publication of the marvel in the suspected “Sun” (the organ of the Moon-Hoax) and the great difficulty of running an Express from Charleston, in advance of the mail. As for internal evidence of falsehood, there is, positively, none — while the more generally accredited fable of Locke would not bear even momentary examination by the scientific. There is nothing put forth in the Balloon-Story which is not in full keeping with the known facts of æronautic experience — which might not really have occurred. An expedition of the kind has been long contemplated, and this jeu d’esprit will, beyond doubt, give the intention a new impulse. For my own part, I shall not be in the least surprised to learn, in the course of next month, or the next, that a balloon has made the actual voyage so elaborately described by the hoaxer. The trip might be made in even less time than seventy-five hours — which give only about forty miles to the hour.

The publishing world is very busy here, just now, and it has become a truism that “everything sells.” The “Mirror” still thrives, and will, in the end, be a fortune to its very worthy proprietors. The popularity of General Morris is, perhaps, a little on the wane; but that of Mr. Willis is gradually increasing. He is well constituted for dazzling the masses — with brilliant, agreeable talents — no profundity — no genius. A more estimable man, in his private relations, never existed.

The Magazines for June are already out. “Graham,” I see, has a portrait of Judge Conrad, the author of “Aylmere,” which is no portrait at all — altogether too baby-ish — character-less. The biography (by a friend of yours) does no more than justice.




James Gordon Bennett, Sr. (September 1, 1795 - June 1, 1872) was the founder and editor of the New York Herald. He started the newspaper in May 1835, and remained not only the editor but also the publisher until he relinquished control in 1866 to his son, James Gordon Bennett, Jr. (May 10, 1841 - May 14, 1918). After the death of the younger Bennett, the newspaper was absorbed by the New York Tribune. The last name of Bennett is consistently misspelled in the original printing, but was silently corrected when the text was printed by Spannuth and Mabbott in 1929. Spannuth and Mabbott also change Poe’s “paper” to “newspaper” in the sixth paragraph.


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