Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “A Moving Chapter (Part I),” Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 17, 1844


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. 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 [cancels] 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, 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 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.





[S:0 - PPL, 1844 (photograph)] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - A Moving Chapter (part 01)]