The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 2

By Edgar Allan Poe

Page 10

never been known to fail. You will now understand what I
meant in suggesting that, had the purloined letter been hidden any where
within the limits of the Prefect's examination--in other words, had the
principle of its concealment been comprehended within the principles of
the Prefect--its discovery would have been a matter altogether beyond
question. This functionary, however, has been thoroughly mystified;
and the remote source of his defeat lies in the supposition that the
Minister is a fool, because he has acquired renown as a poet. All fools
are poets; this the Prefect feels; and he is merely guilty of a non
distributio medii in thence inferring that all poets are fools."

"But is this really the poet?" I asked. "There are two brothers, I know;
and both have attained reputation in letters. The Minister I believe has
written learnedly on the Differential Calculus. He is a mathematician,
and no poet."

"You are mistaken; I know him well; he is both. As poet and
mathematician, he would reason well; as mere mathematician, he could
not have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of the

"You surprise me," I said, "by these opinions, which have been
contradicted by the voice of the world. You do not mean to set at naught
the well-digested idea of centuries. The mathematical reason has long
been regarded as the reason par excellence."

"'Il y a a parier,'" replied Dupin, quoting from Chamfort, "'que toute
idee publique, toute convention recue est une sottise, car elle a
convenue au plus grand nombre.' The mathematicians, I grant you, have
done their best to promulgate the popular error to which you allude, and
which is none the less an error for its promulgation as truth. With an
art worthy a better cause, for example, they have insinuated the term
'analysis' into application to algebra. The French are the originators
of this particular deception; but if a term is of any importance--if
words derive any value from applicability--then 'analysis' conveys
'algebra' about as much as, in Latin, 'ambitus' implies 'ambition,'
'religio' 'religion,' or 'homines honesti,' a set of honorablemen."

"You have a quarrel on hand, I see," said I, "with some of the
algebraists of Paris; but proceed."

"I dispute the availability, and thus the value, of that reason which
is cultivated in any especial form other than the abstractly logical.
I dispute, in particular, the reason educed by mathematical study. The
mathematics are the science of form and quantity; mathematical reasoning
is merely logic applied to observation upon form and quantity. The great
error lies in supposing that even the truths of

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