Edgar Allan Poe, “The Man of the Crowd”

Merely to breathe was enjoyment; and I derived positive pleasure even from many of the legitimate sources of pain. I felt a calm but inquisitive interest in every thing. With a cigar in my mouth and a newspaper in my lap, I had been amusing myself for the greater part of the afternoon, now in poring over advertisements, now in observing the promiscuous company in the room, and now in peering through the smoky panes into the street.


This latter is one of the principal thoroughfares of the city, and had been very much crowded during teh whole day. But, as the darkness came on, the throng momently increased; and, by the time the lamps were well lighted, two dense and continuous tides of population were rushing past the door. At this particular period of the evening I had never before been in a similar situation, and the tumultuous sea of human heads filled me, therefore, with a delicious novelty of emotion. I gave up, at length, all care of things within the hotel, and became absorbed in contemplation of the scent without.

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Man of the Crowd”


I was reminded of those lines from Auden’s “Unknown Citizen”, viz.,

Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare

He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan

And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,

A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.


The phonograph and the radio, and all the entertainment and use they offered and promised, have been fulfilled and surpassed in the smart phone; the car will never be surpassed among technologies for its determinant influence on all aspects of man’s potential for life in community.

None of the things that delight Poe’s character happens in the world where everyone has “everything necessary to the Modern Man.” The people outside are not going by foot, but by car: they cannot jostle one another, encounter one another by chance, welcome contact with one another in a spirit accustomed to closeness taught by necessity.

The man inside is not reading a newspaper that lies biddable in his lap, easily surrendering and occupying his attention in turns.

The cigar does not hang from his lips or fill the crook of his finger, satisfying that tactile urge—it has been banned by legal ordinance from the room!—, and the glassy screen of his panacea enjoys the constant satisfaction of its calling to be touched.

The men and women about him are not a mystery, for any question that might arise and unite them in the natural human pursuit of seeking truth is aborted in a few unthinking, unremembering strokes of this thing which, in lieu of persons, we call “smart”.

Lest I end with mere criticism—I abhor the tendentiousness of exhortation, but will try to submit to my own critics—I offer a little positive note: waste time!

Sit still, or walk, whatever you do, especially in these next few days when you are likely to have a better opportunity than ever to do so, do it with a spirit of permitting the thing you are doing right now to be a good in itself.

In this way let your mind and heart be open to new thoughts and friendships, or better thoughts and better friendships!

Waste time? …but this is to digest, not to waste time! For this is not merely to let it pass, leaving the unwelcome scent of fetid corruption, but to turn it into fresh, new blood!

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.



About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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