Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “A Moving Chapter (Part 02),” Philadelphia Public Ledger, vol. XVII, no. 98, July 18, 1844, p. 2, col. 3


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, 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, Christchurchsteeple — 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 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, surr!” 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 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.





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