Text: Edgar Allan Poe (???), Omniana (part 02), Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, vol. VI, no. 5, May 1840, 235-236


[page 235:]



Every thing by starts, but nothing long.


Various; that the mind

Of desultory man, studious of change,

And pleased with novelty, may be indulged.




THERE is an affinity between all natures, animate and inanimate; the oak, in the pride and lustihood of its growth, seems to me to take its range with the lion and the eagle, and to assimilate in the grandeur of its attributes to heroic and intellectual man.

With its mighty pillar rising straight and direct towards heaven, bearing up its leafy honors from the imparities of earth, and supporting them aloft in free air and glorious sunshine, it is an emblem of what a true nobleman should be: — a refuge for the weak — a shelter for the oppressed — a defence for the defenceless; warding off from them the peltings of the storm, or the scorching rays of arbitrary power. He who is this, is an ornament and a blessing to his native land. He who is otherwise, abuses his eminent advantages; abuses the grandeur and prosperity which he has drawn from the bosom of his country. Should tempests arise, and he be laid prostrate by the storm, who would mourn over his fall? Should he be borne down by the oppressive hand of power, who would murmur at his fate? “Why cumbereth he the ground?”



If we look, says Sir Humphrey Davy, with wonder upon the great remains of human works, such as the columns of Palmyra, broken in the midst of the desert; the temples of Palmyra, beautiful in the decay of twenty centuries; or the mutilated fragments of Greek sculpture in the Acropolis of Athens, as proofs of the genius of artists, and power and riches of nations now passed away ; with how much deeper feeling of admiration must we consider those grand monuments of nature which mark the revolutions of the globe! Continents broken into islands; one land produced, another destroyed; the bottom of the ocean become a fertile soil; whole races of animals extinct, and the bones and exuvia of one class covered with the remains of another; and upon the graves of past generations — the marble or rocky tombs, as it were, of a former animated world — new generations arising, and order and harmony established; and a system of life and beauty produced, as it were, but of chaos and death; proving the infinite power, wisdom and goodness of the Great Cause of all being.



Ben Jonson, passing along Fleet street, observed a countryman staring at a grocer's sign; he tapped, him on the shoulder, and asked him what so engaged his attention? “Why, master,’‘ he replied, “I be admiring that nice piece of poetry over the shop.” “How can you make that rhyme,” said Ben; “the words are, coffee and tea to be sold.” “Why, thus,” replied Ralph: —

“Coffee and tea

To be s—o—l—d.”

This so pleased the poet, that Ralph was taken into his service immediately, and he continued to serve him until Jonson's death.



The anecdote which follows furnishes a practical illustration of the inutility of imprisonment for small debts. As the genius of our laws is said to disclaim revenge in the penalties they inflict, we cannot acknowledge the fitness of that authority, which places the personal liberty of the poor debtor at the mercy, perhaps, of an enraged creditor; who, in most cases, under color of law, seeks only the gratification of the most immoral and vindictive passions, forgetting the precepts of mercy and loving kindness.

A debtor in the Fleet prison, in London, lately sent to his creditor, to let him know he had a proposal to make, which he believed would be for their mutual benefit. Accordingly, the creditor calling on him to hear it, “I’ve been thinking,” said he, “that it is a very idle thing for me to lie here, and put you to the expense of seven groats a week. My being so chargeable to you has given me great uneasiness, and it is impossible to say what it may cost you in the end. Therefore, what I would [page 236:] propose is this. You shall let me out of prison, and, instead of seven groats, you shall allow onhr eighteen pence a week, and the other ten-pence shall go to discharge the debt.”

With us, in Pennsylvania, the law fixes the amount of allowance to imprisoned debtors, (bread money) at fifty cents per week, paid by the creditor.



A word, verse, or sentence, that is the same when read backwards or forwards — such as madam, eye, and a few others are palindromes; so that, like the bourgeoise gentilhomme, who talked prose all his life without knowing it, we repeat extemporray palindromes daily, in utter ignorance of our talent. This is a redeeming quality, by the bye, to conceal any quality we have, when we are so proud of displaying those we have not. Indeed, our talents may be often divided in the same way as some hand-writing I have heard of; first, such as nobody can find out; secondly, what none but ourselves can discover; and thirdly, what our friends can also discern. We subjoin an English palindrome by Taylor, the Water-poet: —

Lewd did I live, and evil I did dwell.

And an enigma where all the words required are palindromes; the answers will easily be discovered: —

First, find out a word that doth silence proclaim,

And that backwards and forwards is always the same;

Then next you must find out a feminine name

That backwards and forwards is always the same;

An act, or a writing on parchment whose name

Both backwards and forwards is always the same;

A fruit that is rare, whose botanical name

Read backwards and forwards is always the same;

A note, used in music, which time doth proclaim,

And backwards and forwards is always the same;

Their initials connected, a title will frame,

That is justly the due of the fair mairied dame,

Which backwards and forwards is always the same.



Although we would not be understood to approve the state, or inculcate the “cold comforts of single blessedness,” it is but justice to admit that the satirical aspersions cast on “old maids” are infinately more to their praise than is generally imagined, or as it should seem intended. A lively writer on this subject says: — “Is a woman remarkably neat in her person? She will certainly die an old maid. Is she particularly reserved towards the other sex? She has all the squeamishness of an old maid. Is she frugal in her expenses, and exact in her domestic concerns? She is cut out for an old maid. And if she is kindly humane to the animals about her, nothing can save her from the appellation of an old maid.” In short, I have always found, that, neatness, modesty, economy, and humanity, are the never fading characteristics of that terrible creature — an “old maid.”



Celsus very sensibly says that “a healthy man, under his own government, ought not to tie himself up by strict rules — nor to abstain from any sort of food; that he ought sometimes to fast and. sometimes to feast.”

Dr. Arbuthnot, says, “a constant adherence to one sort of diet may have bad effects on any constitution. Nature has provided a great variety of nourishment for human creatures, and furnished “us with appetites to desire, and organs to digest them.”

An unerring regularity is almost impracticable, and the swerving from it, when it has become habitual, dangerous: — for every unusual thing in a human body becomes stimulus, as wine or flesh meat to one not used to them; therefore, Celsus's rule with proper moral restrictions, is a good one.



There are people who affect to think nothing but the human character deserves their study, and pass over the great works of GOD, as unworthy the trouble of contemplating. But I wonder any being who affects taste would venture to assert that this immense body of water presents only sameness and monotony. To me it seems that even the colors and sounds are little less varied than those we see or hear in the midst of the most luxuriant landscape.



The authorship of this series is not certain, but has often been attributed to Poe, as it is by Heartman and Canny (1943).


[S:0 - BGM, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc - Omniana [part 02]