WHAT IS MAN?
AND OTHER ESSAYS
By Mark Twain
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910)
WHAT IS MAN?
THE DEATH OF JEAN
THE TURNING-POINT OF MY LIFE
HOW TO MAKE HISTORY DATES STICK
THE MEMORABLE ASSASSINATION
A SCRAP OF CURIOUS HISTORY
SWITZERLAND, THE CRADLE OF LIBERTY
AT THE SHRINE OF ST. WAGNER
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS
ENGLISH AS SHE IS TAUGHT
A SIMPLIFIED ALPHABET
AS CONCERNS INTERPRETING THE DEITY
TAMING THE BICYCLE
IS SHAKESPEARE DEAD?
WHAT IS MAN?
a. Man the Machine. b. Personal Merit
[The Old Man and the Young Man had been conversing. The Old Man had
asserted that the human being is merely a machine, and nothing more. The
Young Man objected, and asked him to go into particulars and furnish his
reasons for his position.]
Old Man. What are the materials of which a steam-engine is made?
Young Man. Iron, steel, brass, white-metal, and so on.
O.M. Where are these found?
Y.M. In the rocks.
O.M. In a pure state?
Y.M. No—in ores.
O.M. Are the metals suddenly deposited in the ores?
Y.M. No—it is the patient work of countless ages.
O.M. You could make the engine out of the rocks themselves?
Y.M. Yes, a brittle one and not valuable.
O.M. You would not require much, of such an engine as that?
Y.M. No—substantially nothing.
O.M. To make a fine and capable engine, how would you proceed?
Y.M. Drive tunnels and shafts into the hills; blast out the iron ore;
crush it, smelt it, reduce it to pig-iron; put some of it through the
Bessemer process and make steel of it. Mine and treat and combine several
metals of which brass is made.
Y.M. Out of the perfected result, build the fine engine.
O.M. You would require much of this one?
Y.M. Oh, indeed yes.
O.M. It could drive lathes, drills, planers, punches, polishers, in a word
all the cunning machines of a great factory?
Y.M. It could.
O.M. What could the stone engine do?
Y.M. Drive a sewing-machine, possibly—nothing more, perhaps.
O.M. Men would admire the other engine and rapturously praise it?
O.M. But not the stone one?
O.M. The merits of the metal machine would be far above those of the stone
Y.M. Of course.
O.M. Personal merits?
Y.M. Personal merits? How do you mean?
O.M. It would be personally entitled to the credit of its own performance?
Y.M. The engine? Certainly not.
O.M. Why not?
Y.M. Because its performance is not personal. It is the result of the law
of construction. It is not a merit that it does the things which it
is set to do—it can't help doing them.
O.M. And it is not a personal demerit in the stone machine that it does so
Y.M. Certainly not. It does no more and no less than the law of its make
permits and compels it to do. There is nothing personal about it;
it cannot choose. In this process of "working up to the matter" is it your
idea to work up to the proposition that man and a machine are about the
same thing, and that there is no personal merit in the performance of
O.M. Yes—but do not be offended; I am meaning no offense. What makes
the grand difference between the stone engine and the steel one? Shall we
call it training, education? Shall we call the stone engine a savage and
the steel one a civilized man? The original rock contained the stuff of
which the steel one was built—but along with a lot of sulphur and
stone and other obstructing inborn heredities, brought down from the old
geologic ages—prejudices, let us call them. Prejudices which nothing
within the rock itself had either power to remove or any desire
to remove. Will you take note of that phrase?
Y.M. Yes. I have written it down; "Prejudices which nothing within the
rock itself had either power to remove or any desire to remove." Go on.
O.M. Prejudices must be removed by outside influences or not at
all. Put that down.
Y.M. Very well; "Must be removed by outside influences or not at all." Go
O.M. The iron's prejudice against ridding itself of the cumbering rock. To
make it more exact, the iron's absolute indifference as to whether
the rock be removed or not. Then comes the outside influence and
grinds the rock to powder and sets the ore free. The iron in the
ore is still captive. An outside influence smelts it free of the
clogging ore. The iron is emancipated iron, now, but indifferent to
further progress. An outside influence beguiles it into the
Bessemer furnace and refines it into steel of the first quality. It is
educated, now—its training is complete. And it has reached its
limit. By no possible process can it be educated into gold. Will
you set that down?
Y.M. Yes. "Everything has its limit—iron ore cannot be educated into
O.M. There are gold men, and tin men, and copper men, and leaden men, and
steel men, and so on—and each has the limitations of his nature, his
heredities, his training, and his environment. You can build engines out
of each of these metals, and they will all perform, but you must not
require the weak ones to do equal work with the strong ones. In each case,
to get the best results, you must free the metal from its obstructing
prejudicial ones by education—smelting, refining, and so forth.
Y.M. You have arrived at man, now?
O.M. Yes. Man the machine—man the impersonal engine. Whatsoever a
man is, is due to his make, and to the influences brought to
bear upon it by his heredities, his habitat, his associations. He is
moved, directed, COMMANDED, by exterior influences—solely.
He originates nothing, not even a thought.
Y.M. Oh, come! Where did I get my opinion that this which you are talking
is all foolishness?
O.M. It is a quite natural opinion—indeed an inevitable opinion—but
you did not create the materials out of which it is formed. They
are odds and ends of thoughts, impressions, feelings, gathered
unconsciously from a thousand books, a thousand conversations, and from
streams of thought and feeling which have flowed down into your heart and
brain out of the hearts and brains of centuries of ancestors. Personally
you did not create even the smallest microscopic fragment of the materials
out of which your opinion is made; and personally you cannot claim even
the slender merit of putting the borrowed materials together. That
was done automatically—by your mental machinery, in strict
accordance with the law of that machinery's construction. And you not only
did not make that machinery yourself, but you have not even any command
Y.M. This is too much. You think I could have formed no opinion but that
O.M. Spontaneously? No. And you did not form that one; your
machinery did it for you—automatically and instantly, without
reflection or the need of it.
Y.M. Suppose I had reflected? How then?
O.M. Suppose you try?
Y.M. (After a quarter of an hour.) I have reflected.
O.M. You mean you have tried to change your opinion—as an
O.M. With success?
Y.M. No. It remains the same; it is impossible to change it.
O.M. I am sorry, but you see, yourself, that your mind is merely a
machine, nothing more. You have no command over it, it has no command over
itself—it is worked solely from the outside. That is the law
of its make; it is the law of all machines.
Y.M. Can't I ever change one of these automatic opinions?
O.M. No. You can't yourself, but exterior influences can do it.
Y.M. And exterior ones only?
O.M. Yes—exterior ones only.
Y.M. That position is untenable—I may say ludicrously untenable.
O.M. What makes you think so?
Y.M. I don't merely think it, I know it. Suppose I resolve to enter upon a
course of thought, and study, and reading, with the deliberate purpose of
changing that opinion; and suppose I succeed. That is not the work
of an exterior impulse, the whole of it is mine and personal; for I
originated the project.
O.M. Not a shred of it. It grew out of this talk with me. But for
that it would not have occurred to you. No man ever originates anything.
All his thoughts, all his impulses, come from the outside.
Y.M. It's an exasperating subject. The first man had original
thoughts, anyway; there was nobody to draw from.
O.M. It is a mistake. Adam's thoughts came to him from the outside. You
have a fear of death. You did not invent that—you got it from
outside, from talking and teaching. Adam had no fear of death—none
in the world.
Y.M. Yes, he had.
O.M. When he was created?
O.M. When, then?
Y.M. When he was threatened with it.
O.M. Then it came from outside. Adam is quite big enough; let us
not try to make a god of him. None but gods have ever had a thought
which did not come from the outside. Adam probably had a good head,
but it was of no sort of use to him until it was filled up from the
outside. He was not able to invent the triflingest little thing with
it. He had not a shadow of a notion of the difference between good and
evil—he had to get the idea from the outside. Neither he nor
Eve was able to originate the idea that it was immodest to go naked; the
knowledge came in with the apple from the outside. A man's brain is
so constructed that it can originate nothing whatsoever. It can
only use material obtained outside. It is merely a machine; and it
works automatically, not by will-power. It has no command over itself,
its owner has no command over it.
Y.M. Well, never mind Adam: but certainly Shakespeare's creations—
O.M. No, you mean Shakespeare's imitations. Shakespeare created
nothing. He correctly observed, and he marvelously painted. He exactly
portrayed people whom God had created; but he created none himself.
Let us spare him the slander of charging him with trying. Shakespeare
could not create. He was a machine, and machines do not create.
Y.M. Where was his excellence, then?
O.M. In this. He was not a sewing-machine, like you and me; he was a
Gobelin loom. The threads and the colors came into him from the outside;
outside influences, suggestions, experiences (reading, seeing
plays, playing plays, borrowing ideas, and so on), framed the patterns in
his mind and started up his complex and admirable machinery, and it
automatically turned out that pictured and gorgeous fabric which still
compels the astonishment of the world. If Shakespeare had been born and
bred on a barren and unvisited rock in the ocean his mighty intellect
would have had no outside material to work with, and could have
invented none; and no outside influences, teachings, moldings,
persuasions, inspirations, of a valuable sort, and could have invented
none; and so Shakespeare would have produced nothing. In Turkey he would
have produced something—something up to the highest limit of Turkish
influences, associations, and training. In France he would have produced
something better—something up to the highest limit of the French
influences and training. In England he rose to the highest limit
attainable through the outside helps afforded by that land's ideals,
influences, and training. You and I are but sewing-machines. We must
turn out what we can; we must do our endeavor and care nothing at all when
the unthinking reproach us for not turning out Gobelins.
Y.M. And so we are mere machines! And machines may not boast, nor feel
proud of their performance, nor claim personal merit for it, nor applause
and praise. It is an infamous doctrine.
O.M. It isn't a doctrine, it is merely a fact.
Y.M. I suppose, then, there is no more merit in being brave than in being
O.M. Personal merit? No. A brave man does not create his
bravery. He is entitled to no personal credit for possessing it. It is
born to him. A baby born with a billion dollars—where is the
personal merit in that? A baby born with nothing—where is the
personal demerit in that? The one is fawned upon, admired, worshiped, by
sycophants, the other is neglected and despised—where is the sense
Y.M. Sometimes a timid man sets himself the task of conquering his
cowardice and becoming brave—and succeeds. What do you say to that?
O.M. That it shows the value of training in right directions over
training in wrong ones. Inestimably valuable is training, influence,
education, in right directions—training one's self-approbation to
elevate its ideals.
Y.M. But as to merit—the personal merit of the victorious coward's
project and achievement?
O.M. There isn't any. In the world's view he is a worthier man than he was
before, but he didn't achieve the change—the merit of it is
Y.M. Whose, then?
O.M. His make, and the influences which wrought upon it from the
Y.M. His make?
O.M. To start with, he was not utterly and completely a coward, or
the influences would have had nothing to work upon. He was not afraid of a
cow, though perhaps of a bull: not afraid of a woman, but afraid of a man.
There was something to build upon. There was a seed. No seed, no
plant. Did he make that seed himself, or was it born in him? It was no
merit of his that the seed was there.
Y.M. Well, anyway, the idea of cultivating it, the resolution to
cultivate it, was meritorious, and he originated that.
O.M. He did nothing of the kind. It came whence all impulses, good
or bad, come—from outside. If that timid man had lived all
his life in a community of human rabbits, had never read of brave deeds,
had never heard speak of them, had never heard any one praise them nor
express envy of the heroes that had done them, he would have had no more
idea of bravery than Adam had of modesty, and it could never by any
possibility have occurred to him to resolve to become brave. He could
not originate the idea—it had to come to him from the outside.
And so, when he heard bravery extolled and cowardice derided, it woke him
up. He was ashamed. Perhaps his sweetheart turned up her nose and said, "I
am told that you are a coward!" It was not he that turned over the
new leaf—she did it for him. He must not strut around in the
merit of it —it is not his.
Y.M. But, anyway, he reared the plant after she watered the seed.
O.M. No. Outside influences reared it. At the command—and
trembling—he marched out into the field—with other soldiers
and in the daytime, not alone and in the dark. He had the influence of
example, he drew courage from his comrades' courage; he was afraid,
and wanted to run, but he did not dare; he was afraid to run, with
all those soldiers looking on. He was progressing, you see—the moral
fear of shame had risen superior to the physical fear of harm. By the end
of the campaign experience will have taught him that not all who go
into battle get hurt—an outside influence which will be helpful to
him; and he will also have learned how sweet it is to be praised for
courage and be huzza'd at with tear-choked voices as the war-worn regiment
marches past the worshiping multitude with flags flying and the drums
beating. After that he will be as securely brave as any veteran in the
army—and there will not be a shade nor suggestion of personal
merit in it anywhere; it will all have come from the outside.
The Victoria Cross breeds more heroes than—
Y.M. Hang it, where is the sense in his becoming brave if he is to get no
credit for it?
O.M. Your question will answer itself presently. It involves an important
detail of man's make which we have not yet touched upon.
Y.M. What detail is that?
O.M. The impulse which moves a person to do things—the only impulse
that ever moves a person to do a thing.
Y.M. The only one! Is there but one?
O.M. That is all. There is only one.
Y.M. Well, certainly that is a strange enough doctrine. What is the sole
impulse that ever moves a person to do a thing?
O.M. The impulse to content his own spirit—the necessity
of contenting his own spirit and winning its approval.
Y.M. Oh, come, that won't do!
O.M. Why won't it?
Y.M. Because it puts him in the attitude of always looking out for his own
comfort and advantage; whereas an unselfish man often does a thing solely
for another person's good when it is a positive disadvantage to himself.
O.M. It is a mistake. The act must do him good, first;
otherwise he will not do it. He may think he is doing it solely for
the other person's sake, but it is not so; he is contenting his own spirit
first—the other's person's benefit has to always take second
Y.M. What a fantastic idea! What becomes of self—sacrifice? Please
answer me that.
O.M. What is self-sacrifice?
Y.M. The doing good to another person where no shadow nor suggestion of
benefit to one's self can result from it.
Man's Sole Impulse—the Securing of His Own Approval
Old Man. There have been instances of it—you think?
Young Man. Instances? Millions of them!
O.M. You have not jumped to conclusions? You have examined them—critically?
Y.M. They don't need it: the acts themselves reveal the golden impulse
back of them.
O.M. For instance?
Y.M. Well, then, for instance. Take the case in the book here. The man
lives three miles up-town. It is bitter cold, snowing hard, midnight. He
is about to enter the horse-car when a gray and ragged old woman, a
touching picture of misery, puts out her lean hand and begs for rescue
from hunger and death. The man finds that he has a quarter in his pocket,
but he does not hesitate: he gives it her and trudges home through the
storm. There—it is noble, it is beautiful; its grace is marred by no
fleck or blemish or suggestion of self-interest.
O.M. What makes you think that?
Y.M. Pray what else could I think? Do you imagine that there is some other
way of looking at it?
O.M. Can you put yourself in the man's place and tell me what he felt and
what he thought?
Y.M. Easily. The sight of that suffering old face pierced his generous
heart with a sharp pain. He could not bear it. He could endure the
three-mile walk in the storm, but he could not endure the tortures his
conscience would suffer if he turned his back and left that poor old
creature to perish. He would not have been able to sleep, for thinking of
O.M. What was his state of mind on his way home?
Y.M. It was a state of joy which only the self-sacrificer knows. His heart
sang, he was unconscious of the storm.
O.M. He felt well?
Y.M. One cannot doubt it.
O.M. Very well. Now let us add up the details and see how much he got for
his twenty-five cents. Let us try to find out the real why of his
making the investment. In the first place he couldn't bear the pain
which the old suffering face gave him. So he was thinking of his
pain—this good man. He must buy a salve for it. If he did not succor
the old woman his conscience would torture him all the way home.
Thinking of his pain again. He must buy relief for that. If he
didn't relieve the old woman he would not get any sleep. He must
buy some sleep—still thinking of himself, you see. Thus, to
sum up, he bought himself free of a sharp pain in his heart, he bought
himself free of the tortures of a waiting conscience, he bought a whole
night's sleep—all for twenty-five cents! It should make Wall Street
ashamed of itself. On his way home his heart was joyful, and it sang—profit
on top of profit! The impulse which moved the man to succor the old woman
was—first—to content his own spirit; secondly to
relieve her sufferings. Is it your opinion that men's acts proceed
from one central and unchanging and inalterable impulse, or from a variety
Y.M. From a variety, of course—some high and fine and noble, others
not. What is your opinion?
O.M. Then there is but one law, one source.
Y.M. That both the noblest impulses and the basest proceed from that one
Y.M. Will you put that law into words?
O.M. Yes. This is the law, keep it in your mind. From his cradle to his
grave a man never does a single thing which has any FIRST AND FOREMOST
object but one—to secure peace of mind, spiritual
comfort, for HIMSELF.
Y.M. Come! He never does anything for any one else's comfort, spiritual or
O.M. No. except on those distinct terms—that it shall first
secure his own spiritual comfort. Otherwise he will not do it.
Y.M. It will be easy to expose the falsity of that proposition.
O.M. For instance?
Y.M. Take that noble passion, love of country, patriotism. A man who loves
peace and dreads pain, leaves his pleasant home and his weeping family and
marches out to manfully expose himself to hunger, cold, wounds, and death.
Is that seeking spiritual comfort?
O.M. He loves peace and dreads pain?
O.M. Then perhaps there is something that he loves more than he
loves peace—the approval of his neighbors and the public. And
perhaps there is something which he dreads more than he dreads pain—the
disapproval of his neighbors and the public. If he is sensitive to
shame he will go to the field—not because his spirit will be entirely
comfortable there, but because it will be more comfortable there than it
would be if he remained at home. He will always do the thing which will
bring him the most mental comfort—for that is the sole law
of his life. He leaves the weeping family behind; he is sorry to make
them uncomfortable, but not sorry enough to sacrifice his own
comfort to secure theirs.
Y.M. Do you really believe that mere public opinion could force a timid
and peaceful man to—
O.M. Go to war? Yes—public opinion can force some men to do anything.
Y.M. I don't believe that. Can it force a right-principled man to do a
Y.M. Can it force a kind man to do a cruel thing?
Y.M. Give an instance.
O.M. Alexander Hamilton was a conspicuously high-principled man. He
regarded dueling as wrong, and as opposed to the teachings of religion—but
in deference to public opinion he fought a duel. He deeply loved
his family, but to buy public approval he treacherously deserted them and
threw his life away, ungenerously leaving them to lifelong sorrow in order
that he might stand well with a foolish world. In the then condition of
the public standards of honor he could not have been comfortable with the
stigma upon him of having refused to fight. The teachings of religion, his
devotion to his family, his kindness of heart, his high principles, all
went for nothing when they stood in the way of his spiritual comfort. A
man will do anything, no matter what it is, to secure his
spiritual comfort; and he can neither be forced nor persuaded to any
act which has not that goal for its object. Hamilton's act was compelled
by the inborn necessity of contenting his own spirit; in this it was like
all the other acts of his life, and like all the acts of all men's lives.
Do you see where the kernel of the matter lies? A man cannot be
comfortable without his own approval. He will secure the largest
share possible of that, at all costs, all sacrifices.
Y.M. A minute ago you said Hamilton fought that duel to get public
O.M. I did. By refusing to fight the duel he would have secured his
family's approval and a large share of his own; but the public approval
was more valuable in his eyes than all other approvals put together—in
the earth or above it; to secure that would furnish him the most
comfort of mind, the most self—approval; so he sacrificed all
other values to get it.
Y.M. Some noble souls have refused to fight duels, and have manfully
braved the public contempt.
O.M. They acted according to their make. They valued their
principles and the approval of their families above the public
approval. They took the thing they valued most and let the rest go.
They took what would give them the largest share of personal
contentment and approval—a man always does. Public
opinion cannot force that kind of men to go to the wars. When they go it
is for other reasons. Other spirit-contenting reasons.
Y.M. Always spirit-contenting reasons?
O.M. There are no others.
Y.M. When a man sacrifices his life to save a little child from a burning
building, what do you call that?
O.M. When he does it, it is the law of his make. He can't
bear to see the child in that peril (a man of a different make could),
and so he tries to save the child, and loses his life. But he has got what
he was after—his own approval.
Y.M. What do you call Love, Hate, Charity, Revenge, Humanity, Magnanimity,
O.M. Different results of the one Master Impulse: the necessity of
securing one's self approval. They wear diverse clothes and are subject to
diverse moods, but in whatsoever ways they masquerade they are the same
person all the time. To change the figure, the compulsion that
moves a man—and there is but the one—is the necessity of
securing the contentment of his own spirit. When it stops, the man is
Y.M. That is foolishness. Love—
O.M. Why, love is that impulse, that law, in its most uncompromising form.
It will squander life and everything else on its object. Not primarily
for the object's sake, but for its own. When its object is happy it
is happy—and that is what it is unconsciously after.
Y.M. You do not even except the lofty and gracious passion of mother-love?
O.M. No, it is the absolute slave of that law. The mother will go
naked to clothe her child; she will starve that it may have food; suffer
torture to save it from pain; die that it may live. She takes a living pleasure
in making these sacrifices. She does it for that reward—that
self-approval, that contentment, that peace, that comfort. She would do
it for your child IF SHE COULD GET THE SAME PAY.
Y.M. This is an infernal philosophy of yours.
O.M. It isn't a philosophy, it is a fact.
Y.M. Of course you must admit that there are some acts which—
O.M. No. There is no act, large or small, fine or mean, which
springs from any motive but the one—the necessity of appeasing and
contenting one's own spirit.
Y.M. The world's philanthropists—
O.M. I honor them, I uncover my head to them—from habit and
training; and they could not know comfort or happiness or
self-approval if they did not work and spend for the unfortunate. It makes
them happy to see others happy; and so with money and labor they
buy what they are after—happiness, self-approval. Why don't
miners do the same thing? Because they can get a thousandfold more
happiness by not doing it. There is no other reason. They follow
the law of their make.
Y.M. What do you say of duty for duty's sake?
O.M. That it does not exist. Duties are not performed for duty's sake,
but because their neglect would make the man uncomfortable.
A man performs but one duty—the duty of contenting his
spirit, the duty of making himself agreeable to himself. If he can most
satisfyingly perform this sole and only duty by helping his
neighbor, he will do it; if he can most satisfyingly perform it by swindling
his neighbor, he will do it. But he always looks out for Number One—first;
the effects upon others are a secondary matter. Men pretend to
self-sacrifices, but this is a thing which, in the ordinary value of the
phrase, does not exist and has not existed. A man often honestly thinks
he is sacrificing himself merely and solely for some one else, but he is
deceived; his bottom impulse is to content a requirement of his nature and
training, and thus acquire peace for his soul.
Y.M. Apparently, then, all men, both good and bad ones, devote their lives
to contenting their consciences.
O.M. Yes. That is a good enough name for it: Conscience—that
independent Sovereign, that insolent absolute Monarch inside of a man who
is the man's Master. There are all kinds of consciences, because there are
all kinds of men. You satisfy an assassin's conscience in one way, a
philanthropist's in another, a miser's in another, a burglar's in still
another. As a guide or incentive to any authoritatively
prescribed line of morals or conduct (leaving training out of the
account), a man's conscience is totally valueless. I know a kind-hearted
Kentuckian whose self-approval was lacking—whose conscience was
troubling him, to phrase it with exactness—because he had
neglected to kill a certain man—a man whom he had never seen.
The stranger had killed this man's friend in a fight, this man's Kentucky
training made it a duty to kill the stranger for it. He neglected his duty—kept
dodging it, shirking it, putting it off, and his unrelenting conscience
kept persecuting him for this conduct. At last, to get ease of mind,
comfort, self-approval, he hunted up the stranger and took his life. It
was an immense act of self-sacrifice (as per the usual definition),
for he did not want to do it, and he never would have done it if he could
have bought a contented spirit and an unworried mind at smaller cost. But
we are so made that we will pay anything for that contentment—even
another man's life.
Y.M. You spoke a moment ago of trained consciences. You mean that
we are not born with consciences competent to guide us aright?
O.M. If we were, children and savages would know right from wrong, and not
have to be taught it.
Y.M. But consciences can be trained?
Y.M. Of course by parents, teachers, the pulpit, and books.
O.M. Yes—they do their share; they do what they can.
Y.M. And the rest is done by—
O.M. Oh, a million unnoticed influences—for good or bad: influences
which work without rest during every waking moment of a man's life, from
cradle to grave.
Y.M. You have tabulated these?
O.M. Many of them—yes.
Y.M. Will you read me the result?
O.M. Another time, yes. It would take an hour.
Y.M. A conscience can be trained to shun evil and prefer good?
Y.M. But will it for spirit-contenting reasons only?
O.M. It can't be trained to do a thing for any other reason.
The thing is impossible.
Y.M. There must be a genuinely and utterly self-sacrificing act
recorded in human history somewhere.
O.M. You are young. You have many years before you. Search one out.
Y.M. It does seem to me that when a man sees a fellow-being struggling in
the water and jumps in at the risk of his life to save him—
O.M. Wait. Describe the man. Describe the fellow-being.
State if there is an audience present; or if they are alone.
Y.M. What have these things to do with the splendid act?
O.M. Very much. Shall we suppose, as a beginning, that the two are alone,
in a solitary place, at midnight?
Y.M. If you choose.
O.M. And that the fellow-being is the man's daughter?
Y.M. Well, n-no—make it someone else.
O.M. A filthy, drunken ruffian, then?
Y.M. I see. Circumstances alter cases. I suppose that if there was no
audience to observe the act, the man wouldn't perform it.
O.M. But there is here and there a man who would. People, for
instance, like the man who lost his life trying to save the child from the
fire; and the man who gave the needy old woman his twenty-five cents and
walked home in the storm—there are here and there men like that who
would do it. And why? Because they couldn't bear to see a
fellow-being struggling in the water and not jump in and help. It would
give them pain. They would save the fellow-being on that account.
They wouldn't do it otherwise. They strictly obey the law which I
have been insisting upon. You must remember and always distinguish the
people who can't bear things from people who can. It will
throw light upon a number of apparently "self-sacrificing" cases.
Y.M. Oh, dear, it's all so disgusting.
O.M. Yes. And so true.
Y.M. Come—take the good boy who does things he doesn't want to do,
in order to gratify his mother.
O.M. He does seven-tenths of the act because it gratifies him to
gratify his mother. Throw the bulk of advantage the other way and the good
boy would not do the act. He must obey the iron law. None can
Y.M. Well, take the case of a bad boy who—
O.M. You needn't mention it, it is a waste of time. It is no matter about
the bad boy's act. Whatever it was, he had a spirit-contenting reason for
it. Otherwise you have been misinformed, and he didn't do it.
Y.M. It is very exasperating. A while ago you said that man's conscience
is not a born judge of morals and conduct, but has to be taught and
trained. Now I think a conscience can get drowsy and lazy, but I don't
think it can go wrong; if you wake it up—
A Little Story
O.M. I will tell you a little story:
Once upon a time an Infidel was guest in the house of a Christian widow
whose little boy was ill and near to death. The Infidel often watched by
the bedside and entertained the boy with talk, and he used these
opportunities to satisfy a strong longing in his nature—that desire
which is in us all to better other people's condition by having them think
as we think. He was successful. But the dying boy, in his last moments,
reproached him and said:
"I believed, and was happy in it; you have taken my belief away, and my
comfort. Now I have nothing left, and I die miserable; for the things
which you have told me do not take the place of that which I have lost."
And the mother, also, reproached the Infidel, and said:
"My child is forever lost, and my heart is broken. How could you do
this cruel thing? We have done you no harm, but only kindness; we made our
house your home, you were welcome to all we had, and this is our reward."
The heart of the Infidel was filled with remorse for what he had done, and
"It was wrong—I see it now; but I was only trying to do him good.
In my view he was in error; it seemed my duty to teach him the truth."
Then the mother said:
"I had taught him, all his little life, what I believed to be the
truth, and in his believing faith both of us were happy. Now he is dead,—and
lost; and I am miserable. Our faith came down to us through centuries of
believing ancestors; what right had you, or any one, to disturb it? Where
was your honor, where was your shame?"
Y.M. He was a miscreant, and deserved death!
O.M. He thought so himself, and said so.
Y.M. Ah—you see, his conscience was awakened!
O.M. Yes, his Self-Disapproval was. It pained him to see the mother
suffer. He was sorry he had done a thing which brought him pain. It
did not occur to him to think of the mother when he was misteaching the
boy, for he was absorbed in providing pleasure for himself, then.
Providing it by satisfying what he believed to be a call of duty.
Y.M. Call it what you please, it is to me a case of awakened conscience.
That awakened conscience could never get itself into that species of
trouble again. A cure like that is a permanent cure.
O.M. Pardon—I had not finished the story. We are creatures of outside
influences—we originate nothing within. Whenever we take
a new line of thought and drift into a new line of belief and action, the
impulse is always suggested from the outside. Remorse so
preyed upon the Infidel that it dissolved his harshness toward the boy's
religion and made him come to regard it with tolerance, next with
kindness, for the boy's sake and the mother's. Finally he found himself
examining it. From that moment his progress in his new trend was steady
and rapid. He became a believing Christian. And now his remorse for having
robbed the dying boy of his faith and his salvation was bitterer than
ever. It gave him no rest, no peace. He must have rest and peace—it
is the law of nature. There seemed but one way to get it; he must devote
himself to saving imperiled souls. He became a missionary. He landed in a
pagan country ill and helpless. A native widow took him into her humble
home and nursed him back to convalescence. Then her young boy was taken
hopelessly ill, and the grateful missionary helped her tend him. Here was
his first opportunity to repair a part of the wrong done to the other boy
by doing a precious service for this one by undermining his foolish faith
in his false gods. He was successful. But the dying boy in his last
moments reproached him and said:
"I believed, and was happy in it; you have taken my belief away, and my
comfort. Now I have nothing left, and I die miserable; for the things
which you have told me do not take the place of that which I have lost."
And the mother, also, reproached the missionary, and said:
"My child is forever lost, and my heart is broken. How could you do
this cruel thing? We had done you no harm, but only kindness; we made our
house your home, you were welcome to all we had, and this is our reward."
The heart of the missionary was filled with remorse for what he had done,
and he said:
"It was wrong—I see it now; but I was only trying to do him good.
In my view he was in error; it seemed my duty to teach him the truth."
Then the mother said:
"I had taught him, all his little life, what I believed to be the
truth, and in his believing faith both of us were happy. Now he is dead—and
lost; and I am miserable. Our faith came down to us through centuries of
believing ancestors; what right had you, or any one, to disturb it? Where
was your honor, where was your shame?"
The missionary's anguish of remorse and sense of treachery were as bitter
and persecuting and unappeasable, now, as they had been in the former
case. The story is finished. What is your comment?
Y.M. The man's conscience is a fool! It was morbid. It didn't know right
O.M. I am not sorry to hear you say that. If you grant that one
man's conscience doesn't know right from wrong, it is an admission that
there are others like it. This single admission pulls down the whole
doctrine of infallibility of judgment in consciences. Meantime there is
one thing which I ask you to notice.
Y.M. What is that?
O.M. That in both cases the man's act gave him no spiritual
discomfort, and that he was quite satisfied with it and got pleasure out
of it. But afterward when it resulted in pain to him, he was
sorry. Sorry it had inflicted pain upon the others, but for no reason
under the sun except that their pain gave him pain. Our consciences
take no notice of pain inflicted upon others until it reaches a
point where it gives pain to us. In all cases without
exception we are absolutely indifferent to another person's pain until his
sufferings make us uncomfortable. Many an infidel would not have been
troubled by that Christian mother's distress. Don't you believe that?
Y.M. Yes. You might almost say it of the average infidel, I think.
O.M. And many a missionary, sternly fortified by his sense of duty, would
not have been troubled by the pagan mother's distress—Jesuit
missionaries in Canada in the early French times, for instance; see
episodes quoted by Parkman.
Y.M. Well, let us adjourn. Where have we arrived?
O.M. At this. That we (mankind) have ticketed ourselves with a number of
qualities to which we have given misleading names. Love, Hate, Charity,
Compassion, Avarice, Benevolence, and so on. I mean we attach misleading
meanings to the names. They are all forms of self-contentment,
self-gratification, but the names so disguise them that they distract our
attention from the fact. Also we have smuggled a word into the dictionary
which ought not to be there at all—Self-Sacrifice. It describes a
thing which does not exist. But worst of all, we ignore and never mention
the Sole Impulse which dictates and compels a man's every act: the
imperious necessity of securing his own approval, in every emergency and
at all costs. To it we owe all that we are. It is our breath, our heart,
our blood. It is our only spur, our whip, our goad, our only impelling
power; we have no other. Without it we should be mere inert images,
corpses; no one would do anything, there would be no progress, the world
would stand still. We ought to stand reverently uncovered when the name of
that stupendous power is uttered.
Y.M. I am not convinced.
O.M. You will be when you think.
Instances in Point
Old Man. Have you given thought to the Gospel of Self—Approval since
Young Man. I have.
O.M. It was I that moved you to it. That is to say an outside influence
moved you to it—not one that originated in your head. Will you try
to keep that in mind and not forget it?
Y.M. Yes. Why?
O.M. Because by and by in one of our talks, I wish to further impress upon
you that neither you, nor I, nor any man ever originates a thought in his
own head. The utterer of a thought always utters a second-hand one.
Y.M. Oh, now—
O.M. Wait. Reserve your remark till we get to that part of our discussion—tomorrow
or next day, say. Now, then, have you been considering the proposition
that no act is ever born of any but a self-contenting impulse—(primarily).
You have sought. What have you found?
Y.M. I have not been very fortunate. I have examined many fine and
apparently self-sacrificing deeds in romances and biographies, but—
O.M. Under searching analysis the ostensible self-sacrifice disappeared?
It naturally would.
Y.M. But here in this novel is one which seems to promise. In the
Adirondack woods is a wage-earner and lay preacher in the lumber-camps who
is of noble character and deeply religious. An earnest and practical
laborer in the New York slums comes up there on vacation—he is
leader of a section of the University Settlement. Holme, the lumberman, is
fired with a desire to throw away his excellent worldly prospects and go
down and save souls on the East Side. He counts it happiness to make this
sacrifice for the glory of God and for the cause of Christ. He resigns his
place, makes the sacrifice cheerfully, and goes to the East Side and
preaches Christ and Him crucified every day and every night to little
groups of half-civilized foreign paupers who scoff at him. But he rejoices
in the scoffings, since he is suffering them in the great cause of Christ.
You have so filled my mind with suspicions that I was constantly expecting
to find a hidden questionable impulse back of all this, but I am thankful
to say I have failed. This man saw his duty, and for duty's sake he
sacrificed self and assumed the burden it imposed.
O.M. Is that as far as you have read?
O.M. Let us read further, presently. Meantime, in sacrificing himself—not
for the glory of God, primarily, as he imagined, but first
to content that exacting and inflexible master within him—did he
sacrifice anybody else?
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. He relinquished a lucrative post and got mere food and lodging in
place of it. Had he dependents?
O.M. In what way and to what extend did his self-sacrifice affect them?
Y.M. He was the support of a superannuated father. He had a young sister
with a remarkable voice—he was giving her a musical education, so
that her longing to be self-supporting might be gratified. He was
furnishing the money to put a young brother through a polytechnic school
and satisfy his desire to become a civil engineer.
O.M. The old father's comforts were now curtailed?
Y.M. Quite seriously. Yes.
O.M. The sister's music-lessens had to stop?
O.M. The young brother's education—well, an extinguishing blight
fell upon that happy dream, and he had to go to sawing wood to support the
old father, or something like that?
Y.M. It is about what happened. Yes.
O.M. What a handsome job of self-sacrificing he did do! It seems to me
that he sacrificed everybody except himself. Haven't I told you
that no man ever sacrifices himself; that there is no instance of
it upon record anywhere; and that when a man's Interior Monarch requires a
thing of its slave for either its momentary or its permanent
contentment, that thing must and will be furnished and that command
obeyed, no matter who may stand in the way and suffer disaster by it? That
man ruined his family to please and content his Interior Monarch—
Y.M. And help Christ's cause.
O.M. Yes—secondly. Not firstly. He thought it was
Y.M. Very well, have it so, if you will. But it could be that he argued
that if he saved a hundred souls in New York—
O.M. The sacrifice of the family would be justified by that great
profit upon the—the—what shall we call it?
O.M. Hardly. How would speculation do? How would gamble do?
Not a solitary soul-capture was sure. He played for a possible
thirty-three-hundred-per-cent profit. It was gambling—with
his family for "chips." However let us see how the game came out. Maybe we
can get on the track of the secret original impulse, the real
impulse, that moved him to so nobly self—sacrifice his family in the
Savior's cause under the superstition that he was sacrificing himself. I
will read a chapter or so.... Here we have it! It was bound to expose
itself sooner or later. He preached to the East-Side rabble a season, then
went back to his old dull, obscure life in the lumber-camps "hurt to
the heart, his pride humbled." Why? Were not his efforts acceptable to
the Savior, for Whom alone they were made? Dear me, that detail is lost
sight of, is not even referred to, the fact that it started out as a
motive is entirely forgotten! Then what is the trouble? The authoress
quite innocently and unconsciously gives the whole business away. The
trouble was this: this man merely preached to the poor; that is not
the University Settlement's way; it deals in larger and better things than
that, and it did not enthuse over that crude Salvation-Army eloquence. It
was courteous to Holme—but cool. It did not pet him, did not take
him to its bosom. "Perished were all his dreams of distinction, the
praise and grateful approval—" Of whom? The Savior? No; the
Savior is not mentioned. Of whom, then? Of "his fellow-workers."
Why did he want that? Because the Master inside of him wanted it, and
would not be content without it. That emphasized sentence quoted above,
reveals the secret we have been seeking, the original impulse, the real
impulse, which moved the obscure and unappreciated Adirondack lumberman to
sacrifice his family and go on that crusade to the East Side—which
said original impulse was this, to wit: without knowing it he went
there to show a neglected world the large talent that was in him, and rise
to distinction. As I have warned you before, no act springs
from any but the one law, the one motive. But I pray you, do not accept
this law upon my say-so; but diligently examine for yourself. Whenever you
read of a self-sacrificing act or hear of one, or of a duty done for duty's
sake, take it to pieces and look for the real motive. It is
Y.M. I do it every day. I cannot help it, now that I have gotten started
upon the degrading and exasperating quest. For it is hatefully
interesting!—in fact, fascinating is the word. As soon as I come
across a golden deed in a book I have to stop and take it apart and
examine it, I cannot help myself.
O.M. Have you ever found one that defeated the rule?
Y.M. No—at least, not yet. But take the case of servant—tipping
in Europe. You pay the hotel for service; you owe the servants nothing,
yet you pay them besides. Doesn't that defeat it?
O.M. In what way?
Y.M. You are not obliged to do it, therefore its source is
compassion for their ill-paid condition, and—
O.M. Has that custom ever vexed you, annoyed you, irritated you?
Y.M. Well, yes.
O.M. Still you succumbed to it?
Y.M. Of course.
O.M. Why of course?
Y.M. Well, custom is law, in a way, and laws must be submitted to—everybody
recognizes it as a duty.
O.M. Then you pay for the irritating tax for duty's sake?
Y.M. I suppose it amounts to that.
O.M. Then the impulse which moves you to submit to the tax is not all
compassion, charity, benevolence?
Y.M. Well—perhaps not.
O.M. Is any of it?
Y.M. I—perhaps I was too hasty in locating its source.
O.M. Perhaps so. In case you ignored the custom would you get prompt and
effective service from the servants?
Y.M. Oh, hear yourself talk! Those European servants? Why, you wouldn't
get any of all, to speak of.
O.M. Couldn't that work as an impulse to move you to pay the tax?
Y.M. I am not denying it.
O.M. Apparently, then, it is a case of for-duty's-sake with a little
Y.M. Yes, it has the look of it. But here is a point: we pay that tax
knowing it to be unjust and an extortion; yet we go away with a pain at
the heart if we think we have been stingy with the poor fellows; and we
heartily wish we were back again, so that we could do the right thing, and
more than the right thing, the generous thing. I think it
will be difficult for you to find any thought of self in that impulse.
O.M. I wonder why you should think so. When you find service charged in
the hotel bill does it annoy you?
O.M. Do you ever complain of the amount of it?
Y.M. No, it would not occur to me.
O.M. The expense, then, is not the annoying detail. It is a fixed
charge, and you pay it cheerfully, you pay it without a murmur. When you
came to pay the servants, how would you like it if each of the men and
maids had a fixed charge?
Y.M. Like it? I should rejoice!
O.M. Even if the fixed tax were a shade more than you had been in
the habit of paying in the form of tips?
Y.M. Indeed, yes!
O.M. Very well, then. As I understand it, it isn't really compassion nor
yet duty that moves you to pay the tax, and it isn't the amount of
the tax that annoys you. Yet something annoys you. What is it?
Y.M. Well, the trouble is, you never know what to pay, the tax
varies so, all over Europe.
O.M. So you have to guess?
Y.M. There is no other way. So you go on thinking and thinking, and
calculating and guessing, and consulting with other people and getting
their views; and it spoils your sleep nights, and makes you distraught in
the daytime, and while you are pretending to look at the sights you are
only guessing and guessing and guessing all the time, and being worried
O.M. And all about a debt which you don't owe and don't have to pay unless
you want to! Strange. What is the purpose of the guessing?
Y.M. To guess out what is right to give them, and not be unfair to any of
O.M. It has quite a noble look—taking so much pains and using up so
much valuable time in order to be just and fair to a poor servant to whom
you owe nothing, but who needs money and is ill paid.
Y.M. I think, myself, that if there is any ungracious motive back of it it
will be hard to find.
O.M. How do you know when you have not paid a servant fairly?
Y.M. Why, he is silent; does not thank you. Sometimes he gives you a look
that makes you ashamed. You are too proud to rectify your mistake there,
with people looking, but afterward you keep on wishing and wishing you had
done it. My, the shame and the pain of it! Sometimes you see, by the
signs, that you have it just right, and you go away mightily
satisfied. Sometimes the man is so effusively thankful that you know you
have given him a good deal more than was necessary.
O.M. Necessary? Necessary for what?
Y.M. To content him.
O.M. How do you feel then?
O.M. It is my belief that you have not been concerning yourself in
guessing out his just dues, but only in ciphering out what would content
him. And I think you have a self-deluding reason for that.
Y.M. What was it?
O.M. If you fell short of what he was expecting and wanting, you would get
a look which would shame you before folk. That would give you pain.
You—for you are only working for yourself, not him. If
you gave him too much you would be ashamed of yourself for it, and
that would give you pain—another case of thinking of yourself,
protecting yourself, saving yourself from discomfort. You never
think of the servant once—except to guess out how to get his
approval. If you get that, you get your own approval, and that
is the sole and only thing you are after. The Master inside of you is then
satisfied, contented, comfortable; there was no other thing at
stake, as a matter of first interest, anywhere in the transaction.
Y.M. Well, to think of it; Self-Sacrifice for others, the grandest thing
in man, ruled out! non-existent!
O.M. Are you accusing me of saying that?
Y.M. Why, certainly.
O.M. I haven't said it.
Y.M. What did you say, then?
O.M. That no man has ever sacrificed himself in the common meaning of that
phrase—which is, self-sacrifice for another alone. Men make
daily sacrifices for others, but it is for their own sake first.
The act must content their own spirit first. The other
beneficiaries come second.
Y.M. And the same with duty for duty's sake?
O.M. Yes. No man performs a duty for mere duty's sake; the act must
content his spirit first. He must feel better for doing the
duty than he would for shirking it. Otherwise he will not do it.
Y.M. Take the case of the Berkeley Castle.
O.M. It was a noble duty, greatly performed. Take it to pieces and examine
it, if you like.
Y.M. A British troop-ship crowded with soldiers and their wives and
children. She struck a rock and began to sink. There was room in the boats
for the women and children only. The colonel lined up his regiment on the
deck and said "it is our duty to die, that they may be saved." There was
no murmur, no protest. The boats carried away the women and children. When
the death-moment was come, the colonel and his officers took their several
posts, the men stood at shoulder-arms, and so, as on dress-parade, with
their flag flying and the drums beating, they went down, a sacrifice to
duty for duty's sake. Can you view it as other than that?
O.M. It was something as fine as that, as exalted as that. Could you have
remained in those ranks and gone down to your death in that unflinching
Y.M. Could I? No, I could not.
O.M. Think. Imagine yourself there, with that watery doom creeping higher
and higher around you.
Y.M. I can imagine it. I feel all the horror of it. I could not have
endured it, I could not have remained in my place. I know it.
Y.M. There is no why about it: I know myself, and I know I couldn't do
O.M. But it would be your duty to do it.
Y.M. Yes, I know—but I couldn't.
O.M. It was more than thousand men, yet not one of them flinched. Some of
them must have been born with your temperament; if they could do that
great duty for duty's sake, why not you? Don't you know that you
could go out and gather together a thousand clerks and mechanics and put
them on that deck and ask them to die for duty's sake, and not two dozen
of them would stay in the ranks to the end?
Y.M. Yes, I know that.
O.M. But you train them, and put them through a campaign or two;
then they would be soldiers; soldiers, with a soldier's pride, a soldier's
self-respect, a soldier's ideals. They would have to content a soldier's
spirit then, not a clerk's, not a mechanic's. They could not content that
spirit by shirking a soldier's duty, could they?
Y.M. I suppose not.
O.M. Then they would do the duty not for the duty's sake, but for
their own sake—primarily. The duty was just the
same, and just as imperative, when they were clerks, mechanics, raw
recruits, but they wouldn't perform it for that. As clerks and mechanics
they had other ideals, another spirit to satisfy, and they satisfied it.
They had to; it is the law. Training is potent. Training
toward higher and higher, and ever higher ideals is worth any man's
thought and labor and diligence.
Y.M. Consider the man who stands by his duty and goes to the stake rather
than be recreant to it.
O.M. It is his make and his training. He has to content the spirit that is
in him, though it cost him his life. Another man, just as sincerely
religious, but of different temperament, will fail of that duty, though
recognizing it as a duty, and grieving to be unequal to it: but he must
content the spirit that is in him—he cannot help it. He could not
perform that duty for duty's sake, for that would not content his
spirit, and the contenting of his spirit must be looked to first.
It takes precedence of all other duties.
Y.M. Take the case of a clergyman of stainless private morals who votes
for a thief for public office, on his own party's ticket, and against an
honest man on the other ticket.
O.M. He has to content his spirit. He has no public morals; he has no
private ones, where his party's prosperity is at stake. He will always be
true to his make and training.
Young Man. You keep using that word—training. By it do you
Old Man. Study, instruction, lectures, sermons? That is a part of it—but
not a large part. I mean all the outside influences. There are a
million of them. From the cradle to the grave, during all his waking
hours, the human being is under training. In the very first rank of his
trainers stands association. It is his human environment which
influences his mind and his feelings, furnishes him his ideals, and sets
him on his road and keeps him in it. If he leave[s] that road he will find
himself shunned by the people whom he most loves and esteems, and whose
approval he most values. He is a chameleon; by the law of his nature he
takes the color of his place of resort. The influences about him create
his preferences, his aversions, his politics, his tastes, his morals, his
religion. He creates none of these things for himself. He thinks he
does, but that is because he has not examined into the matter. You have
O.M. How did they happen to be Presbyterians and not Congregationalists?
And why were the Congregationalists not Baptists, and the Baptists Roman
Catholics, and the Roman Catholics Buddhists, and the Buddhists Quakers,
and the Quakers Episcopalians, and the Episcopalians Millerites and the
Millerites Hindus, and the Hindus Atheists, and the Atheists
Spiritualists, and the Spiritualists Agnostics, and the Agnostics
Methodists, and the Methodists Confucians, and the Confucians Unitarians,
and the Unitarians Mohammedans, and the Mohammedans Salvation Warriors,
and the Salvation Warriors Zoroastrians, and the Zoroastrians Christian
Scientists, and the Christian Scientists Mormons—and so on?
Y.M. You may answer your question yourself.
O.M. That list of sects is not a record of studies, searchings,
seekings after light; it mainly (and sarcastically) indicates what association
can do. If you know a man's nationality you can come within a split
hair of guessing the complexion of his religion: English—Protestant;
American—ditto; Spaniard, Frenchman, Irishman, Italian, South
American—Roman Catholic; Russian—Greek Catholic; Turk—Mohammedan;
and so on. And when you know the man's religious complexion, you know what
sort of religious books he reads when he wants some more light, and what
sort of books he avoids, lest by accident he get more light than he wants.
In America if you know which party-collar a voter wears, you know what his
associations are, and how he came by his politics, and which breed of
newspaper he reads to get light, and which breed he diligently avoids, and
which breed of mass-meetings he attends in order to broaden his political
knowledge, and which breed of mass-meetings he doesn't attend, except to
refute its doctrines with brickbats. We are always hearing of people who
are around seeking after truth. I have never seen a (permanent)
specimen. I think he had never lived. But I have seen several entirely
sincere people who thought they were (permanent) Seekers after
Truth. They sought diligently, persistently, carefully, cautiously,
profoundly, with perfect honesty and nicely adjusted judgment—until
they believed that without doubt or question they had found the Truth. That
was the end of the search. The man spent the rest of his life hunting
up shingles wherewith to protect his Truth from the weather. If he was
seeking after political Truth he found it in one or another of the hundred
political gospels which govern men in the earth; if he was seeking after
the Only True Religion he found it in one or another of the three thousand
that are on the market. In any case, when he found the Truth he sought
no further; but from that day forth, with his soldering-iron in one
hand and his bludgeon in the other he tinkered its leaks and reasoned with
objectors. There have been innumerable Temporary Seekers of Truth—have
you ever heard of a permanent one? In the very nature of man such a person
is impossible. However, to drop back to the text—training: all
training is one form or another of outside influence, and association
is the largest part of it. A man is never anything but what his
outside influences have made him. They train him downward or they train
him upward—but they train him; they are at work upon him all
Y.M. Then if he happen by the accidents of life to be evilly placed there
is no help for him, according to your notions—he must train
O.M. No help for him? No help for this chameleon? It is a mistake. It is
in his chameleonship that his greatest good fortune lies. He has only to
change his habitat—his associations. But the impulse to do it
must come from the outside —he cannot originate it himself,
with that purpose in view. Sometimes a very small and accidental thing can
furnish him the initiatory impulse and start him on a new road, with a new
idea. The chance remark of a sweetheart, "I hear that you are a coward,"
may water a seed that shall sprout and bloom and flourish, and ended in
producing a surprising fruitage—in the fields of war. The history of
man is full of such accidents. The accident of a broken leg brought a
profane and ribald soldier under religious influences and furnished him a
new ideal. From that accident sprang the Order of the Jesuits, and it has
been shaking thrones, changing policies, and doing other tremendous work
for two hundred years—and will go on. The chance reading of a book
or of a paragraph in a newspaper can start a man on a new track and make
him renounce his old associations and seek new ones that are in
sympathy with his new ideal: and the result, for that man, can be an
entire change of his way of life.
Y.M. Are you hinting at a scheme of procedure?
O.M. Not a new one—an old one. Old as mankind.
Y.M. What is it?
O.M. Merely the laying of traps for people. Traps baited with initiatory
impulses toward high ideals. It is what the tract-distributor does. It
is what the missionary does. It is what governments ought to do.
Y.M. Don't they?
O.M. In one way they do, in another they don't. They separate the smallpox
patients from the healthy people, but in dealing with crime they put the
healthy into the pest-house along with the sick. That is to say, they put
the beginners in with the confirmed criminals. This would be well if man
were naturally inclined to good, but he isn't, and so association makes
the beginners worse than they were when they went into captivity. It is
putting a very severe punishment upon the comparatively innocent at times.
They hang a man—which is a trifling punishment; this breaks the
hearts of his family—which is a heavy one. They comfortably jail and
feed a wife-beater, and leave his innocent wife and family to starve.
Y.M. Do you believe in the doctrine that man is equipped with an intuitive
perception of good and evil?
O.M. Adam hadn't it.
Y.M. But has man acquired it since?
O.M. No. I think he has no intuitions of any kind. He gets all his
ideas, all his impressions, from the outside. I keep repeating this, in
the hope that I may impress it upon you that you will be interested to
observe and examine for yourself and see whether it is true or false.
Y.M. Where did you get your own aggravating notions?
O.M. From the outside. I did not invent them. They are gathered
from a thousand unknown sources. Mainly unconsciously gathered.
Y.M. Don't you believe that God could make an inherently honest man?
O.M. Yes, I know He could. I also know that He never did make one.
Y.M. A wiser observer than you has recorded the fact that "an honest man's
the noblest work of God."
O.M. He didn't record a fact, he recorded a falsity. It is windy, and
sounds well, but it is not true. God makes a man with honest and dishonest
possibilities in him and stops there. The man's associations
develop the possibilities—the one set or the other. The result
is accordingly an honest man or a dishonest one.
Y.M. And the honest one is not entitled to—
O.M. Praise? No. How often must I tell you that? He is not the
architect of his honesty.
Y.M. Now then, I will ask you where there is any sense in training people
to lead virtuous lives. What is gained by it?
O.M. The man himself gets large advantages out of it, and that is the main
thing—to him. He is not a peril to his neighbors, he is not a
damage to them—and so they get an advantage out of his
virtues. That is the main thing to them. It can make this life
comparatively comfortable to the parties concerned; the neglect of
this training can make this life a constant peril and distress to the
Y.M. You have said that training is everything; that training is the man
himself, for it makes him what he is.
O.M. I said training and another thing. Let that other thing pass,
for the moment. What were you going to say?
Y.M. We have an old servant. She has been with us twenty—two years.
Her service used to be faultless, but now she has become very forgetful.
We are all fond of her; we all recognize that she cannot help the
infirmity which age has brought her; the rest of the family do not scold
her for her remissnesses, but at times I do—I can't seem to control
myself. Don't I try? I do try. Now, then, when I was ready to dress, this
morning, no clean clothes had been put out. I lost my temper; I lose it
easiest and quickest in the early morning. I rang; and immediately began
to warn myself not to show temper, and to be careful and speak gently. I
safe-guarded myself most carefully. I even chose the very word I would
use: "You've forgotten the clean clothes, Jane." When she appeared in the
door I opened my mouth to say that phrase—and out of it, moved by an
instant surge of passion which I was not expecting and hadn't time to put
under control, came the hot rebuke, "You've forgotten them again!" You say
a man always does the thing which will best please his Interior Master.
Whence came the impulse to make careful preparation to save the girl the
humiliation of a rebuke? Did that come from the Master, who is always
primarily concerned about himself?
O.M. Unquestionably. There is no other source for any impulse. Secondarily
you made preparation to save the girl, but primarily its object
was to save yourself, by contenting the Master.
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. Has any member of the family ever implored you to watch your temper
and not fly out at the girl?
Y.M. Yes. My mother.
O.M. You love her?
Y.M. Oh, more than that!
O.M. You would always do anything in your power to please her?
Y.M. It is a delight to me to do anything to please her!
O.M. Why? You would do it for pay, solely —for profit.
What profit would you expect and certainly receive from the investment?
Y.M. Personally? None. To please her is enough.
O.M. It appears, then, that your object, primarily, wasn't to save
the girl a humiliation, but to please your mother. It also appears
that to please your mother gives you a strong pleasure. Is not that
the profit which you get out of the investment? Isn't that the real
profits and first profit?
Y.M. Oh, well? Go on.
O.M. In all transactions, the Interior Master looks to it that you
get the first profit. Otherwise there is no transaction.
Y.M. Well, then, if I was so anxious to get that profit and so intent upon
it, why did I throw it away by losing my temper?
O.M. In order to get another profit which suddenly superseded it in
Y.M. Where was it?
O.M. Ambushed behind your born temperament, and waiting for a chance. Your
native warm temper suddenly jumped to the front, and for the moment its
influence was more powerful than your mother's, and abolished it. In
that instance you were eager to flash out a hot rebuke and enjoy it. You
did enjoy it, didn't you?
Y.M. For—for a quarter of a second. Yes—I did.
O.M. Very well, it is as I have said: the thing which will give you the most
pleasure, the most satisfaction, in any moment or fraction of a
moment, is the thing you will always do. You must content the Master's latest
whim, whatever it may be.
Y.M. But when the tears came into the old servant's eyes I could have cut
my hand off for what I had done.
O.M. Right. You had humiliated yourself, you see, you had given
yourself pain. Nothing is of first importance to a man
except results which damage him or profit him—all the rest is
secondary. Your Master was displeased with you, although you had
obeyed him. He required a prompt repentance; you obeyed again; you
had to—there is never any escape from his commands. He is a hard
master and fickle; he changes his mind in the fraction of a second, but
you must be ready to obey, and you will obey, always. If he
requires repentance, you content him, you will always furnish it. He must
be nursed, petted, coddled, and kept contented, let the terms be what they
Y.M. Training! Oh, what's the use of it? Didn't I, and didn't my mother
try to train me up to where I would no longer fly out at that girl?
O.M. Have you never managed to keep back a scolding?
Y.M. Oh, certainly—many times.
O.M. More times this year than last?
Y.M. Yes, a good many more.
O.M. More times last year than the year before?
O.M. There is a large improvement, then, in the two years?
Y.M. Yes, undoubtedly.
O.M. Then your question is answered. You see there is use in
training. Keep on. Keeping faithfully on. You are doing well.
Y.M. Will my reform reach perfection?
O.M. It will. Up to your limit.
Y.M. My limit? What do you mean by that?
O.M. You remember that you said that I said training was everything.
I corrected you, and said "training and another thing." That other
thing is temperament —that is, the disposition you were born
with. You can't eradicate your disposition nor any rag of it —you
can only put a pressure on it and keep it down and quiet. You have a warm
O.M. You will never get rid of it; but by watching it you can keep it down
nearly all the time. Its presence is your limit. Your reform will
never quite reach perfection, for your temper will beat you now and then,
but you come near enough. You have made valuable progress and can make
more. There is use in training. Immense use. Presently you will
reach a new stage of development, then your progress will be easier; will
proceed on a simpler basis, anyway.
O.M. You keep back your scoldings now, to please yourself by
pleasing your mother; presently the mere triumphing over your
temper will delight your vanity and confer a more delicious pleasure and
satisfaction upon you than even the approbation of your mother confers
upon you now. You will then labor for yourself directly and at first
hand, not by the roundabout way through your mother. It simplifies the
matter, and it also strengthens the impulse.
Y.M. Ah, dear! But I sha'n't ever reach the point where I will spare the
girl for her sake primarily, not mine?
O.M. Why—yes. In heaven.
Y.M. (After a reflective pause) Temperament. Well, I see one must
allow for temperament. It is a large factor, sure enough. My mother is
thoughtful, and not hot-tempered. When I was dressed I went to her room;
she was not there; I called, she answered from the bathroom. I heard the
water running. I inquired. She answered, without temper, that Jane had
forgotten her bath, and she was preparing it herself. I offered to ring,
but she said, "No, don't do that; it would only distress her to be
confronted with her lapse, and would be a rebuke; she doesn't deserve that—she
is not to blame for the tricks her memory serves her." I say—has my
mother an Interior Master?—and where was he?
O.M. He was there. There, and looking out for his own peace and pleasure
and contentment. The girl's distress would have pained your mother.
Otherwise the girl would have been rung up, distress and all. I know
women who would have gotten a No. 1 pleasure out of ringing Jane up—and
so they would infallibly have pushed the button and obeyed the law of
their make and training, which are the servants of their Interior Masters.
It is quite likely that a part of your mother's forbearance came from
training. The good kind of training—whose best and highest
function is to see to it that every time it confers a satisfaction upon
its pupil a benefit shall fall at second hand upon others.
Y.M. If you were going to condense into an admonition your plan for the
general betterment of the race's condition, how would you word it?
O.M. Diligently train your ideals upward and still upward toward
a summit where you will find your chiefest pleasure in conduct which,
while contenting you, will be sure to confer benefits upon your neighbor
and the community.
Y.M. Is that a new gospel?
Y.M. It has been taught before?
O.M. For ten thousand years.
Y.M. By whom?
O.M. All the great religions—all the great gospels.
Y.M. Then there is nothing new about it?
O.M. Oh yes, there is. It is candidly stated, this time. That has not been
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. Haven't I put you first, and your neighbor and the community
Y.M. Well, yes, that is a difference, it is true.
O.M. The difference between straight speaking and crooked; the difference
between frankness and shuffling.
O.M. The others offer you a hundred bribes to be good, thus conceding that
the Master inside of you must be conciliated and contented first, and that
you will do nothing at first hand but for his sake; then they turn
square around and require you to do good for other's sake chiefly;
and to do your duty for duty's sake, chiefly; and to do acts of self-sacrifice.
Thus at the outset we all stand upon the same ground—recognition of
the supreme and absolute Monarch that resides in man, and we all grovel
before him and appeal to him; then those others dodge and shuffle, and
face around and unfrankly and inconsistently and illogically change the
form of their appeal and direct its persuasions to man's second-place
powers and to powers which have no existence in him, thus
advancing them to first place; whereas in my Admonition I stick
logically and consistently to the original position: I place the Interior
Master's requirements first, and keep them there.
Y.M. If we grant, for the sake of argument, that your scheme and the other
schemes aim at and produce the same result—right living—has
yours an advantage over the others?
O.M. One, yes—a large one. It has no concealments, no deceptions.
When a man leads a right and valuable life under it he is not deceived as
to the real chief motive which impels him to it—in those
other cases he is.
Y.M. Is that an advantage? Is it an advantage to live a lofty life for a
mean reason? In the other cases he lives the lofty life under the impression
that he is living for a lofty reason. Is not that an advantage?
O.M. Perhaps so. The same advantage he might get out of thinking himself a
duke, and living a duke's life and parading in ducal fuss and feathers,
when he wasn't a duke at all, and could find it out if he would only
examine the herald's records.
Y.M. But anyway, he is obliged to do a duke's part; he puts his hand in
his pocket and does his benevolences on as big a scale as he can stand,
and that benefits the community.
O.M. He could do that without being a duke.
Y.M. But would he?
O.M. Don't you see where you are arriving?
O.M. At the standpoint of the other schemes: That it is good morals to let
an ignorant duke do showy benevolences for his pride's sake, a pretty low
motive, and go on doing them unwarned, lest if he were made acquainted
with the actual motive which prompted them he might shut up his purse and
cease to be good?
Y.M. But isn't it best to leave him in ignorance, as long as he thinks
he is doing good for others' sake?
O.M. Perhaps so. It is the position of the other schemes. They think
humbug is good enough morals when the dividend on it is good deeds and
Y.M. It is my opinion that under your scheme of a man's doing a good deed
for his own sake first-off, instead of first for the good deed's
sake, no man would ever do one.
O.M. Have you committed a benevolence lately?
Y.M. Yes. This morning.
O.M. Give the particulars.
Y.M. The cabin of the old negro woman who used to nurse me when I was a
child and who saved my life once at the risk of her own, was burned last
night, and she came mourning this morning, and pleading for money to build
O.M. You furnished it?
O.M. You were glad you had the money?
Y.M. Money? I hadn't. I sold my horse.
O.M. You were glad you had the horse?
Y.M. Of course I was; for if I hadn't had the horse I should have been
incapable, and my mother would have captured the chance to set old
O.M. You were cordially glad you were not caught out and incapable?
Y.M. Oh, I just was!
O.M. Now, then—
Y.M. Stop where you are! I know your whole catalog of questions, and I
could answer every one of them without your wasting the time to ask them;
but I will summarize the whole thing in a single remark: I did the charity
knowing it was because the act would give me a splendid pleasure,
and because old Sally's moving gratitude and delight would give me another
one; and because the reflection that she would be happy now and out of her
trouble would fill me full of happiness. I did the whole thing with
my eyes open and recognizing and realizing that I was looking out for my
share of the profits first. Now then, I have confessed. Go on.
O.M. I haven't anything to offer; you have covered the whole ground. Can
you have been any more strongly moved to help Sally out of her
trouble—could you have done the deed any more eagerly—if you
had been under the delusion that you were doing it for her sake and
Y.M. No! Nothing in the world could have made the impulse which moved me
more powerful, more masterful, more thoroughly irresistible. I played the
O.M. Very well. You begin to suspect—and I claim to know —that
when a man is a shade more strongly moved to do one of two
things or of two dozen things than he is to do any one of the others,
he will infallibly do that one thing, be it good or be it evil; and
if it be good, not all the beguilements of all the casuistries can
increase the strength of the impulse by a single shade or add a shade to
the comfort and contentment he will get out of the act.
Y.M. Then you believe that such tendency toward doing good as is in men's
hearts would not be diminished by the removal of the delusion that good
deeds are done primarily for the sake of No. 2 instead of for the sake of
O.M. That is what I fully believe.
Y.M. Doesn't it somehow seem to take from the dignity of the deed?
O.M. If there is dignity in falsity, it does. It removes that.
Y.M. What is left for the moralists to do?
O.M. Teach unreservedly what he already teaches with one side of his mouth
and takes back with the other: Do right for your own sake, and be
happy in knowing that your neighbor will certainly share in the
Y.M. Repeat your Admonition.
O.M. Diligently train your ideals upward and still upward toward a
summit where you will find your chiefest pleasure in conduct which, while
contenting you, will be sure to confer benefits upon your neighbor and the
Y.M. One's every act proceeds from exterior influences, you
Y.M. If I conclude to rob a person, I am not the originator of the
idea, but it comes in from the outside? I see him handling money—for
instance—and that moves me to the crime?
O.M. That, by itself? Oh, certainly not. It is merely the latest outside
influence of a procession of preparatory influences stretching back over a
period of years. No single outside influence can make a man do a
thing which is at war with his training. The most it can do is to start
his mind on a new tract and open it to the reception of new influences—as
in the case of Ignatius Loyola. In time these influences can train him to
a point where it will be consonant with his new character to yield to the
final influence and do that thing. I will put the case in a form
which will make my theory clear to you, I think. Here are two ingots of
virgin gold. They shall represent a couple of characters which have been
refined and perfected in the virtues by years of diligent right training.
Suppose you wanted to break down these strong and well-compacted
characters—what influence would you bring to bear upon the ingots?
Y.M. Work it out yourself. Proceed.
O.M. Suppose I turn upon one of them a steam-jet during a long succession
of hours. Will there be a result?
Y.M. None that I know of.
Y.M. A steam-jet cannot break down such a substance.
O.M. Very well. The steam is an outside influence, but it is
ineffective because the gold takes no interest in it. The ingot
remains as it was. Suppose we add to the steam some quicksilver in a
vaporized condition, and turn the jet upon the ingot, will there be an
O.M. The quicksilver is an outside influence which gold (by its
peculiar nature—say temperament, disposition) cannot be
indifferent to. It stirs up the interest of the gold, although we do
not perceive it; but a single application of the influence works no
damage. Let us continue the application in a steady stream, and call each
minute a year. By the end of ten or twenty minutes—ten or twenty
years—the little ingot is sodden with quicksilver, its virtues are
gone, its character is degraded. At last it is ready to yield to a
temptation which it would have taken no notice of, ten or twenty years
ago. We will apply that temptation in the form of a pressure of my finger.
You note the result?
Y.M. Yes; the ingot has crumbled to sand. I understand, now. It is not the
single outside influence that does the work, but only the last
one of a long and disintegrating accumulation of them. I see, now, how
my single impulse to rob the man is not the one that makes me do
it, but only the last one of a preparatory series. You might
illustrate with a parable.
O.M. I will. There was once a pair of New England boys—twins. They
were alike in good dispositions, feckless morals, and personal appearance.
They were the models of the Sunday—school. At fifteen George had the
opportunity to go as cabin-boy in a whale-ship, and sailed away for the
Pacific. Henry remained at home in the village. At eighteen George was a
sailor before the mast, and Henry was teacher of the advanced Bible class.
At twenty-two George, through fighting-habits and drinking-habits acquired
at sea and in the sailor boarding-houses of the European and Oriental
ports, was a common rough in Hong-Kong, and out of a job; and Henry was
superintendent of the Sunday-school. At twenty-six George was a wanderer,
a tramp, and Henry was pastor of the village church. Then George came
home, and was Henry's guest. One evening a man passed by and turned down
the lane, and Henry said, with a pathetic smile, "Without intending me a
discomfort, that man is always keeping me reminded of my pinching poverty,
for he carries heaps of money about him, and goes by here every evening of
his life." That outside influence —that remark—was
enough for George, but it was not the one that made him ambush the
man and rob him, it merely represented the eleven years' accumulation of
such influences, and gave birth to the act for which their long gestation
had made preparation. It had never entered the head of Henry to rob the
man—his ingot had been subjected to clean steam only; but George's
had been subjected to vaporized quicksilver.
More About the Machine
Note.—When Mrs. W. asks how can a millionaire give a single dollar
to colleges and museums while one human being is destitute of bread, she
has answered her question herself. Her feeling for the poor shows that she
has a standard of benevolence; there she has conceded the millionaire's
privilege of having a standard; since she evidently requires him to adopt
her standard, she is by that act requiring herself to adopt his. The human
being always looks down when he is examining another person's standard; he
never find one that he has to examine by looking up.
The Man-Machine Again
Young Man. You really think man is a mere machine?
Old Man. I do.
Y.M. And that his mind works automatically and is independent of his
control—carries on thought on its own hook?
O.M. Yes. It is diligently at work, unceasingly at work, during every
waking moment. Have you never tossed about all night, imploring,
beseeching, commanding your mind to stop work and let you go to sleep?—you
who perhaps imagine that your mind is your servant and must obey your
orders, think what you tell it to think, and stop when you tell it to
stop. When it chooses to work, there is no way to keep it still for an
instant. The brightest man would not be able to supply it with subjects if
he had to hunt them up. If it needed the man's help it would wait for him
to give it work when he wakes in the morning.
Y.M. Maybe it does.
O.M. No, it begins right away, before the man gets wide enough awake to
give it a suggestion. He may go to sleep saying, "The moment I wake I will
think upon such and such a subject," but he will fail. His mind will be
too quick for him; by the time he has become nearly enough awake to be
half conscious, he will find that it is already at work upon another
subject. Make the experiment and see.
Y.M. At any rate, he can make it stick to a subject if he wants to.
O.M. Not if it find another that suits it better. As a rule it will listen
to neither a dull speaker nor a bright one. It refuses all persuasion. The
dull speaker wearies it and sends it far away in idle dreams; the bright
speaker throws out stimulating ideas which it goes chasing after and is at
once unconscious of him and his talk. You cannot keep your mind from
wandering, if it wants to; it is master, not you.
After an Interval of Days
O.M. Now, dreams—but we will examine that later. Meantime, did you
try commanding your mind to wait for orders from you, and not do any
thinking on its own hook?
Y.M. Yes, I commanded it to stand ready to take orders when I should wake
in the morning.
O.M. Did it obey?
Y.M. No. It went to thinking of something of its own initiation, without
waiting for me. Also—as you suggested—at night I appointed a
theme for it to begin on in the morning, and commanded it to begin on that
one and no other.
O.M. Did it obey?
O.M. How many times did you try the experiment?
O.M. How many successes did you score?
Y.M. Not one.
O.M. It is as I have said: the mind is independent of the man. He has no
control over it; it does as it pleases. It will take up a subject in spite
of him; it will stick to it in spite of him; it will throw it aside in
spite of him. It is entirely independent of him.
Y.M. Go on. Illustrate.
O.M. Do you know chess?
Y.M. I learned it a week ago.
O.M. Did your mind go on playing the game all night that first night?
Y.M. Don't mention it!
O.M. It was eagerly, unsatisfiably interested; it rioted in the
combinations; you implored it to drop the game and let you get some sleep?
Y.M. Yes. It wouldn't listen; it played right along. It wore me out and I
got up haggard and wretched in the morning.
O.M. At some time or other you have been captivated by a ridiculous
Y.M. Indeed, yes!
"I saw Esau kissing Kate,
And she saw I saw Esau;
I saw Esau, he saw Kate,
And she saw—"
And so on. My mind went mad with joy over it. It repeated it all day and
all night for a week in spite of all I could do to stop it, and it seemed
to me that I must surely go crazy.
O.M. And the new popular song?
Y.M. Oh yes! "In the Swee-eet By and By"; etc. Yes, the new popular song
with the taking melody sings through one's head day and night, asleep and
awake, till one is a wreck. There is no getting the mind to let it alone.
O.M. Yes, asleep as well as awake. The mind is quite independent. It is
master. You have nothing to do with it. It is so apart from you that it
can conduct its affairs, sing its songs, play its chess, weave its complex
and ingeniously constructed dreams, while you sleep. It has no use for
your help, no use for your guidance, and never uses either, whether you be
asleep or awake. You have imagined that you could originate a thought in
your mind, and you have sincerely believed you could do it.
Y.M. Yes, I have had that idea.
O.M. Yet you can't originate a dream-thought for it to work out, and get
O.M. And you can't dictate its procedure after it has originated a
dream-thought for itself?
Y.M. No. No one can do it. Do you think the waking mind and the dream mind
are the same machine?
O.M. There is argument for it. We have wild and fantastic day-thoughts?
Things that are dream-like?
Y.M. Yes—like Mr. Wells's man who invented a drug that made him
invisible; and like the Arabian tales of the Thousand Nights.
O.M. And there are dreams that are rational, simple, consistent, and
Y.M. Yes. I have dreams that are like that. Dreams that are just like real
life; dreams in which there are several persons with distinctly
differentiated characters—inventions of my mind and yet strangers to
me: a vulgar person; a refined one; a wise person; a fool; a cruel person;
a kind and compassionate one; a quarrelsome person; a peacemaker; old
persons and young; beautiful girls and homely ones. They talk in
character, each preserves his own characteristics. There are vivid fights,
vivid and biting insults, vivid love-passages; there are tragedies and
comedies, there are griefs that go to one's heart, there are sayings and
doings that make you laugh: indeed, the whole thing is exactly like real
O.M. Your dreaming mind originates the scheme, consistently and
artistically develops it, and carries the little drama creditably through—all
without help or suggestion from you?
O.M. It is argument that it could do the like awake without help or
suggestion from you—and I think it does. It is argument that it is
the same old mind in both cases, and never needs your help. I think the
mind is purely a machine, a thoroughly independent machine, an automatic
machine. Have you tried the other experiment which I suggested to you?
Y.M. Which one?
O.M. The one which was to determine how much influence you have over your
Y.M. Yes, and got more or less entertainment out of it. I did as you
ordered: I placed two texts before my eyes—one a dull one and barren
of interest, the other one full of interest, inflamed with it, white-hot
with it. I commanded my mind to busy itself solely with the dull one.
O.M. Did it obey?
Y.M. Well, no, it didn't. It busied itself with the other one.
O.M. Did you try hard to make it obey?
Y.M. Yes, I did my honest best.
O.M. What was the text which it refused to be interested in or think
Y.M. It was this question: If A owes B a dollar and a half, and B owes C
two and three-quarter, and C owes A thirty—five cents, and D and A
together owe E and B three-sixteenths of—of—I don't remember
the rest, now, but anyway it was wholly uninteresting, and I could not
force my mind to stick to it even half a minute at a time; it kept flying
off to the other text.
O.M. What was the other text?
Y.M. It is no matter about that.
O.M. But what was it?
Y.M. A photograph.
O.M. Your own?
Y.M. No. It was hers.
O.M. You really made an honest good test. Did you make a second trial?
Y.M. Yes. I commanded my mind to interest itself in the morning paper's
report of the pork-market, and at the same time I reminded it of an
experience of mine of sixteen years ago. It refused to consider the pork
and gave its whole blazing interest to that ancient incident.
O.M. What was the incident?
Y.M. An armed desperado slapped my face in the presence of twenty
spectators. It makes me wild and murderous every time I think of it.
O.M. Good tests, both; very good tests. Did you try my other suggestion?
Y.M. The one which was to prove to me that if I would leave my mind to its
own devices it would find things to think about without any of my help,
and thus convince me that it was a machine, an automatic machine, set in
motion by exterior influences, and as independent of me as it could be if
it were in some one else's skull. Is that the one?
Y.M. I tried it. I was shaving. I had slept well, and my mind was very
lively, even gay and frisky. It was reveling in a fantastic and joyful
episode of my remote boyhood which had suddenly flashed up in my memory—moved
to this by the spectacle of a yellow cat picking its way carefully along
the top of the garden wall. The color of this cat brought the bygone cat
before me, and I saw her walking along the side-step of the pulpit; saw
her walk on to a large sheet of sticky fly-paper and get all her feet
involved; saw her struggle and fall down, helpless and dissatisfied, more
and more urgent, more and more unreconciled, more and more mutely profane;
saw the silent congregation quivering like jelly, and the tears running
down their faces. I saw it all. The sight of the tears whisked my mind to
a far distant and a sadder scene—in Terra del Fuego—and with
Darwin's eyes I saw a naked great savage hurl his little boy against the
rocks for a trifling fault; saw the poor mother gather up her dying child
and hug it to her breast and weep, uttering no word. Did my mind stop to
mourn with that nude black sister of mine? No—it was far away from
that scene in an instant, and was busying itself with an ever-recurring
and disagreeable dream of mine. In this dream I always find myself,
stripped to my shirt, cringing and dodging about in the midst of a great
drawing-room throng of finely dressed ladies and gentlemen, and wondering
how I got there. And so on and so on, picture after picture, incident
after incident, a drifting panorama of ever-changing, ever-dissolving
views manufactured by my mind without any help from me—why, it would
take me two hours to merely name the multitude of things my mind tallied
off and photographed in fifteen minutes, let alone describe them to you.
O.M. A man's mind, left free, has no use for his help. But there is one
way whereby he can get its help when he desires it.
Y.M. What is that way?
O.M. When your mind is racing along from subject to subject and strikes an
inspiring one, open your mouth and begin talking upon that matter—or—take
your pen and use that. It will interest your mind and concentrate it, and
it will pursue the subject with satisfaction. It will take full charge,
and furnish the words itself.
Y.M. But don't I tell it what to say?
O.M. There are certainly occasions when you haven't time. The words leap
out before you know what is coming.
Y.M. For instance?
O.M. Well, take a "flash of wit"—repartee. Flash is the right word.
It is out instantly. There is no time to arrange the words. There is no
thinking, no reflecting. Where there is a wit-mechanism it is automatic in
its action and needs no help. Where the wit-mechanism is lacking, no
amount of study and reflection can manufacture the product.
Y.M. You really think a man originates nothing, creates nothing.
O.M. I do. Men perceive, and their brain-machines automatically combine
the things perceived. That is all.
Y.M. The steam-engine?
O.M. It takes fifty men a hundred years to invent it. One meaning of
invent is discover. I use the word in that sense. Little by little they
discover and apply the multitude of details that go to make the perfect
engine. Watt noticed that confined steam was strong enough to lift the lid
of the teapot. He didn't create the idea, he merely discovered the fact;
the cat had noticed it a hundred times. From the teapot he evolved the
cylinder—from the displaced lid he evolved the piston-rod. To attach
something to the piston-rod to be moved by it, was a simple matter—crank
and wheel. And so there was a working engine.
One by one, improvements were discovered by men who used their eyes, not
their creating powers—for they hadn't any—and now, after a
hundred years the patient contributions of fifty or a hundred observers
stand compacted in the wonderful machine which drives the ocean liner.
Y.M. A Shakespearean play?
O.M. The process is the same. The first actor was a savage. He reproduced
in his theatrical war-dances, scalp—dances, and so on, incidents
which he had seen in real life. A more advanced civilization produced more
incidents, more episodes; the actor and the story-teller borrowed them.
And so the drama grew, little by little, stage by stage. It is made up of
the facts of life, not creations. It took centuries to develop the Greek
drama. It borrowed from preceding ages; it lent to the ages that came
after. Men observe and combine, that is all. So does a rat.
O.M. He observes a smell, he infers a cheese, he seeks and finds. The
astronomer observes this and that; adds his this and that to the
this-and-thats of a hundred predecessors, infers an invisible planet,
seeks it and finds it. The rat gets into a trap; gets out with trouble;
infers that cheese in traps lacks value, and meddles with that trap no
more. The astronomer is very proud of his achievement, the rat is proud of
his. Yet both are machines; they have done machine work, they have
originated nothing, they have no right to be vain; the whole credit
belongs to their Maker. They are entitled to no honors, no praises, no
monuments when they die, no remembrance. One is a complex and elaborate
machine, the other a simple and limited machine, but they are alike in
principle, function, and process, and neither of them works otherwise than
automatically, and neither of them may righteously claim a personal
superiority or a personal dignity above the other.
Y.M. In earned personal dignity, then, and in personal merit for what he
does, it follows of necessity that he is on the same level as a rat?
O.M. His brother the rat; yes, that is how it seems to me. Neither of them
being entitled to any personal merit for what he does, it follows of
necessity that neither of them has a right to arrogate to himself
(personally created) superiorities over his brother.
Y.M. Are you determined to go on believing in these insanities? Would you
go on believing in them in the face of able arguments backed by collated
facts and instances?
O.M. I have been a humble, earnest, and sincere Truth-Seeker.
Y.M. Very well?
O.M. The humble, earnest, and sincere Truth-Seeker is always convertible
by such means.
Y.M. I am thankful to God to hear you say this, for now I know that your
O.M. Wait. You misunderstand. I said I have been a Truth-Seeker.
O.M. I am not that now. Have your forgotten? I told you that there are
none but temporary Truth-Seekers; that a permanent one is a human
impossibility; that as soon as the Seeker finds what he is thoroughly
convinced is the Truth, he seeks no further, but gives the rest of his
days to hunting junk to patch it and caulk it and prop it with, and make
it weather-proof and keep it from caving in on him. Hence the Presbyterian
remains a Presbyterian, the Mohammedan a Mohammedan, the Spiritualist a
Spiritualist, the Democrat a Democrat, the Republican a Republican, the
Monarchist a Monarchist; and if a humble, earnest, and sincere Seeker
after Truth should find it in the proposition that the moon is made of
green cheese nothing could ever budge him from that position; for he is
nothing but an automatic machine, and must obey the laws of his
Y.M. And so—
O.M. Having found the Truth; perceiving that beyond question man has but
one moving impulse—the contenting of his own spirit—and is
merely a machine and entitled to no personal merit for anything he does,
it is not humanly possible for me to seek further. The rest of my days
will be spent in patching and painting and puttying and caulking my
priceless possession and in looking the other way when an imploring
argument or a damaging fact approaches.
1. The Marquess of Worcester had done all of this more than a century
Instinct and Thought
Young Man. It is odious. Those drunken theories of yours, advanced a while
ago—concerning the rat and all that—strip Man bare of all his
dignities, grandeurs, sublimities.
Old Man. He hasn't any to strip—they are shams, stolen clothes. He
claims credits which belong solely to his Maker.
Y.M. But you have no right to put him on a level with a rat.
O.M. I don't—morally. That would not be fair to the rat. The rat is
well above him, there.
Y.M. Are you joking?
O.M. No, I am not.
Y.M. Then what do you mean?
O.M. That comes under the head of the Moral Sense. It is a large question.
Let us finish with what we are about now, before we take it up.
Y.M. Very well. You have seemed to concede that you place Man and the rat
on a level. What is it? The intellectual?
O.M. In form—not a degree.
O.M. I think that the rat's mind and the man's mind are the same machine,
but of unequal capacities—like yours and Edison's; like the African
pygmy's and Homer's; like the Bushman's and Bismarck's.
Y.M. How are you going to make that out, when the lower animals have no
mental quality but instinct, while man possesses reason?
O.M. What is instinct?
Y.M. It is merely unthinking and mechanical exercise of inherited habit.
O.M. What originated the habit?
Y.M. The first animal started it, its descendants have inherited it.
O.M. How did the first one come to start it?
Y.M. I don't know; but it didn't think it out.
O.M. How do you know it didn't?
Y.M. Well—I have a right to suppose it didn't, anyway.
O.M. I don't believe you have. What is thought?
Y.M. I know what you call it: the mechanical and automatic putting
together of impressions received from outside, and drawing an inference
O.M. Very good. Now my idea of the meaningless term "instinct" is, that it
is merely petrified thought; solidified and made inanimate by
habit; thought which was once alive and awake, but it become unconscious—walks
in its sleep, so to speak.
Y.M. Illustrate it.
O.M. Take a herd of cows, feeding in a pasture. Their heads are all turned
in one direction. They do that instinctively; they gain nothing by it,
they have no reason for it, they don't know why they do it. It is an
inherited habit which was originally thought—that is to say,
observation of an exterior fact, and a valuable inference drawn from that
observation and confirmed by experience. The original wild ox noticed that
with the wind in his favor he could smell his enemy in time to escape;
then he inferred that it was worth while to keep his nose to the wind.
That is the process which man calls reasoning. Man's thought-machine works
just like the other animals', but it is a better one and more Edisonian.
Man, in the ox's place, would go further, reason wider: he would face part
of the herd the other way and protect both front and rear.
Y.M. Did you stay the term instinct is meaningless?
O.M. I think it is a bastard word. I think it confuses us; for as a rule
it applies itself to habits and impulses which had a far-off origin in
thought, and now and then breaks the rule and applies itself to habits
which can hardly claim a thought-origin.
Y.M. Give an instance.
O.M. Well, in putting on trousers a man always inserts the same old leg
first—never the other one. There is no advantage in that, and no
sense in it. All men do it, yet no man thought it out and adopted it of
set purpose, I imagine. But it is a habit which is transmitted, no doubt,
and will continue to be transmitted.
Y.M. Can you prove that the habit exists?
O.M. You can prove it, if you doubt. If you will take a man to a
clothing-store and watch him try on a dozen pairs of trousers, you will
Y.M. The cow illustration is not—
O.M. Sufficient to show that a dumb animal's mental machine is just the
same as a man's and its reasoning processes the same? I will illustrate
further. If you should hand Mr. Edison a box which you caused to fly open
by some concealed device he would infer a spring, and would hunt for it
and find it. Now an uncle of mine had an old horse who used to get into
the closed lot where the corn-crib was and dishonestly take the corn. I
got the punishment myself, as it was supposed that I had heedlessly failed
to insert the wooden pin which kept the gate closed. These persistent
punishments fatigued me; they also caused me to infer the existence of a
culprit, somewhere; so I hid myself and watched the gate. Presently the
horse came and pulled the pin out with his teeth and went in. Nobody
taught him that; he had observed—then thought it out for himself.
His process did not differ from Edison's; he put this and that together
and drew an inference—and the peg, too; but I made him sweat for it.
Y.M. It has something of the seeming of thought about it. Still it is not
very elaborate. Enlarge.
O.M. Suppose Mr. Edison has been enjoying some one's hospitalities. He
comes again by and by, and the house is vacant. He infers that his host
has moved. A while afterward, in another town, he sees the man enter a
house; he infers that that is the new home, and follows to inquire. Here,
now, is the experience of a gull, as related by a naturalist. The scene is
a Scotch fishing village where the gulls were kindly treated. This
particular gull visited a cottage; was fed; came next day and was fed
again; came into the house, next time, and ate with the family; kept on
doing this almost daily, thereafter. But, once the gull was away on a
journey for a few days, and when it returned the house was vacant. Its
friends had removed to a village three miles distant. Several months later
it saw the head of the family on the street there, followed him home,
entered the house without excuse or apology, and became a daily guest
again. Gulls do not rank high mentally, but this one had memory and the
reasoning faculty, you see, and applied them Edisonially.
Y.M. Yet it was not an Edison and couldn't be developed into one.
O.M. Perhaps not. Could you?
Y.M. That is neither here nor there. Go on.
O.M. If Edison were in trouble and a stranger helped him out of it and
next day he got into the same difficulty again, he would infer the wise
thing to do in case he knew the stranger's address. Here is a case of a
bird and a stranger as related by a naturalist. An Englishman saw a bird
flying around about his dog's head, down in the grounds, and uttering
cries of distress. He went there to see about it. The dog had a young bird
in his mouth—unhurt. The gentleman rescued it and put it on a bush
and brought the dog away. Early the next morning the mother bird came for
the gentleman, who was sitting on his veranda, and by its maneuvers
persuaded him to follow it to a distant part of the grounds—flying a
little way in front of him and waiting for him to catch up, and so on; and
keeping to the winding path, too, instead of flying the near way across
lots. The distance covered was four hundred yards. The same dog was the
culprit; he had the young bird again, and once more he had to give it up.
Now the mother bird had reasoned it all out: since the stranger had helped
her once, she inferred that he would do it again; she knew where to find
him, and she went upon her errand with confidence. Her mental processes
were what Edison's would have been. She put this and that together—and
that is all that thought is —and out of them built her
logical arrangement of inferences. Edison couldn't have done it any better
Y.M. Do you believe that many of the dumb animals can think?
O.M. Yes—the elephant, the monkey, the horse, the dog, the parrot,
the macaw, the mocking-bird, and many others. The elephant whose mate fell
into a pit, and who dumped dirt and rubbish into the pit till bottom was
raised high enough to enable the captive to step out, was equipped with
the reasoning quality. I conceive that all animals that can learn things
through teaching and drilling have to know how to observe, and put this
and that together and draw an inference—the process of thinking.
Could you teach an idiot of manuals of arms, and to advance, retreat, and
go through complex field maneuvers at the word of command?
Y.M. Not if he were a thorough idiot.
O.M. Well, canary-birds can learn all that; dogs and elephants learn all
sorts of wonderful things. They must surely be able to notice, and to put
things together, and say to themselves, "I get the idea, now: when I do so
and so, as per order, I am praised and fed; when I do differently I am
punished." Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.
Y.M. Granting, then, that dumb animals are able to think upon a low plane,
is there any that can think upon a high one? Is there one that is well up
O.M. Yes. As a thinker and planner the ant is the equal of any savage race
of men; as a self-educated specialist in several arts she is the superior
of any savage race of men; and in one or two high mental qualities she is
above the reach of any man, savage or civilized!
Y.M. Oh, come! you are abolishing the intellectual frontier which
separates man and beast.
O.M. I beg your pardon. One cannot abolish what does not exist.
Y.M. You are not in earnest, I hope. You cannot mean to seriously say
there is no such frontier.
O.M. I do say it seriously. The instances of the horse, the gull, the
mother bird, and the elephant show that those creatures put their this's
and thats together just as Edison would have done it and drew the same
inferences that he would have drawn. Their mental machinery was just like
his, also its manner of working. Their equipment was as inferior to the
Strasburg clock, but that is the only difference—there is no
Y.M. It looks exasperatingly true; and is distinctly offensive. It
elevates the dumb beasts to—to—
O.M. Let us drop that lying phrase, and call them the Unrevealed
Creatures; so far as we can know, there is no such thing as a dumb beast.
Y.M. On what grounds do you make that assertion?
O.M. On quite simple ones. "Dumb" beast suggests an animal that has no
thought-machinery, no understanding, no speech, no way of communicating
what is in its mind. We know that a hen has speech. We cannot
understand everything she says, but we easily learn two or three of her
phrases. We know when she is saying, "I have laid an egg"; we know when
she is saying to the chicks, "Run here, dears, I've found a worm"; we know
what she is saying when she voices a warning: "Quick! hurry! gather
yourselves under mamma, there's a hawk coming!" We understand the cat when
she stretches herself out, purring with affection and contentment and
lifts up a soft voice and says, "Come, kitties, supper's ready"; we
understand her when she goes mourning about and says, "Where can they be?
They are lost. Won't you help me hunt for them?" and we understand the
disreputable Tom when he challenges at midnight from his shed, "You come
over here, you product of immoral commerce, and I'll make your fur fly!"
We understand a few of a dog's phrases and we learn to understand a few of
the remarks and gestures of any bird or other animal that we domesticate
and observe. The clearness and exactness of the few of the hen's speeches
which we understand is argument that she can communicate to her kind a
hundred things which we cannot comprehend—in a word, that she can
converse. And this argument is also applicable in the case of others of
the great army of the Unrevealed. It is just like man's vanity and
impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull
perceptions. Now as to the ant—
Y.M. Yes, go back to the ant, the creature that—as you seem to think—sweeps
away the last vestige of an intellectual frontier between man and the
O.M. That is what she surely does. In all his history the aboriginal
Australian never thought out a house for himself and built it. The ant is
an amazing architect. She is a wee little creature, but she builds a
strong and enduring house eight feet high—a house which is as large
in proportion to her size as is the largest capitol or cathedral in the
world compared to man's size. No savage race has produced architects who
could approach the ant in genius or culture. No civilized race has
produced architects who could plan a house better for the uses proposed
than can hers. Her house contains a throne-room; nurseries for her young;
granaries; apartments for her soldiers, her workers, etc.; and they and
the multifarious halls and corridors which communicate with them are
arranged and distributed with an educated and experienced eye for
convenience and adaptability.
Y.M. That could be mere instinct.
O.M. It would elevate the savage if he had it. But let us look further
before we decide. The ant has soldiers—battalions, regiments,
armies; and they have their appointed captains and generals, who lead them
Y.M. That could be instinct, too.
O.M. We will look still further. The ant has a system of government; it is
well planned, elaborate, and is well carried on.
Y.M. Instinct again.
O.M. She has crowds of slaves, and is a hard and unjust employer of forced
O.M. She has cows, and milks them.
Y.M. Instinct, of course.
O.M. In Texas she lays out a farm twelve feet square, plants it, weeds it,
cultivates it, gathers the crop and stores it away.
Y.M. Instinct, all the same.
O.M. The ant discriminates between friend and stranger. Sir John Lubbock
took ants from two different nests, made them drunk with whiskey and laid
them, unconscious, by one of the nests, near some water. Ants from the
nest came and examined and discussed these disgraced creatures, then
carried their friends home and threw the strangers overboard. Sir John
repeated the experiment a number of times. For a time the sober ants did
as they had done at first—carried their friends home and threw the
strangers overboard. But finally they lost patience, seeing that their
reformatory efforts went for nothing, and threw both friends and strangers
overboard. Come—is this instinct, or is it thoughtful and
intelligent discussion of a thing new—absolutely new—to their
experience; with a verdict arrived at, sentence passed, and judgment
executed? Is it instinct?—thought petrified by ages of habit—or
isn't it brand-new thought, inspired by the new occasion, the new
Y.M. I have to concede it. It was not a result of habit; it has all the
look of reflection, thought, putting this and that together, as you phrase
it. I believe it was thought.
O.M. I will give you another instance of thought. Franklin had a cup of
sugar on a table in his room. The ants got at it. He tried several
preventives; and ants rose superior to them. Finally he contrived one
which shut off access—probably set the table's legs in pans of
water, or drew a circle of tar around the cup, I don't remember. At any
rate, he watched to see what they would do. They tried various schemes—failures,
every one. The ants were badly puzzled. Finally they held a consultation,
discussed the problem, arrived at a decision—and this time they beat
that great philosopher. They formed in procession, cross the floor,
climbed the wall, marched across the ceiling to a point just over the cup,
then one by one they let go and fell down into it! Was that instinct—thought
petrified by ages of inherited habit?
Y.M. No, I don't believe it was. I believe it was a newly reasoned scheme
to meet a new emergency.
O.M. Very well. You have conceded the reasoning power in two instances. I
come now to a mental detail wherein the ant is a long way the superior of
any human being. Sir John Lubbock proved by many experiments that an ant
knows a stranger ant of her own species in a moment, even when the
stranger is disguised—with paint. Also he proved that an ant knows
every individual in her hive of five hundred thousand souls. Also, after a
year's absence one of the five hundred thousand she will straightway
recognize the returned absentee and grace the recognition with an
affectionate welcome. How are these recognitions made? Not by color, for
painted ants were recognized. Not by smell, for ants that had been dipped
in chloroform were recognized. Not by speech and not by antennae signs nor
contacts, for the drunken and motionless ants were recognized and the
friend discriminated from the stranger. The ants were all of the same
species, therefore the friends had to be recognized by form and feature—friends
who formed part of a hive of five hundred thousand! Has any man a memory
for form and feature approaching that?
Y.M. Certainly not.
O.M. Franklin's ants and Lubbuck's ants show fine capacities of putting
this and that together in new and untried emergencies and deducting smart
conclusions from the combinations—a man's mental process exactly.
With memory to help, man preserves his observations and reasonings,
reflects upon them, adds to them, recombines, and so proceeds, stage by
stage, to far results—from the teakettle to the ocean greyhound's
complex engine; from personal labor to slave labor; from wigwam to palace;
from the capricious chase to agriculture and stored food; from nomadic
life to stable government and concentrated authority; from incoherent
hordes to massed armies. The ant has observation, the reasoning faculty,
and the preserving adjunct of a prodigious memory; she has duplicated
man's development and the essential features of his civilization, and you
call it all instinct!
Y.M. Perhaps I lacked the reasoning faculty myself.
O.M. Well, don't tell anybody, and don't do it again.
Y.M. We have come a good way. As a result—as I understand it—I
am required to concede that there is absolutely no intellectual frontier
separating Man and the Unrevealed Creatures?
O.M. That is what you are required to concede. There is no such frontier—there
is no way to get around that. Man has a finer and more capable machine in
him than those others, but it is the same machine and works in the same
way. And neither he nor those others can command the machine—it is
strictly automatic, independent of control, works when it pleases, and
when it doesn't please, it can't be forced.
Y.M. Then man and the other animals are all alike, as to mental machinery,
and there isn't any difference of any stupendous magnitude between them,
except in quality, not in kind.
O.M. That is about the state of it—intellectuality. There are
pronounced limitations on both sides. We can't learn to understand much of
their language, but the dog, the elephant, etc., learn to understand a
very great deal of ours. To that extent they are our superiors. On the
other hand, they can't learn reading, writing, etc., nor any of our fine
and high things, and there we have a large advantage over them.
Y.M. Very well, let them have what they've got, and welcome; there is
still a wall, and a lofty one. They haven't got the Moral Sense; we have
it, and it lifts us immeasurably above them.
O.M. What makes you think that?
Y.M. Now look here—let's call a halt. I have stood the other
infamies and insanities and that is enough; I am not going to have man and
the other animals put on the same level morally.
O.M. I wasn't going to hoist man up to that.
Y.M. This is too much! I think it is not right to jest about such things.
O.M. I am not jesting, I am merely reflecting a plain and simple truth—and
without uncharitableness. The fact that man knows right from wrong proves
his intellectual superiority to the other creatures; but the fact
that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any
creature that cannot. It is my belief that this position is not
Y.M. What is your opinion regarding Free Will?
O.M. That there is no such thing. Did the man possess it who gave the old
woman his last shilling and trudged home in the storm?
Y.M. He had the choice between succoring the old woman and leaving her to
suffer. Isn't it so?
O.M. Yes, there was a choice to be made, between bodily comfort on the one
hand and the comfort of the spirit on the other. The body made a strong
appeal, of course—the body would be quite sure to do that; the
spirit made a counter appeal. A choice had to be made between the two
appeals, and was made. Who or what determined that choice?
Y.M. Any one but you would say that the man determined it, and that in
doing it he exercised Free Will.
O.M. We are constantly assured that every man is endowed with Free Will,
and that he can and must exercise it where he is offered a choice between
good conduct and less-good conduct. Yet we clearly saw that in that man's
case he really had no Free Will: his temperament, his training, and the
daily influences which had molded him and made him what he was, compelled
him to rescue the old woman and thus save himself —save
himself from spiritual pain, from unendurable wretchedness. He did not
make the choice, it was made for him by forces which he could not
control. Free Will has always existed in words, but it stops there,
I think—stops short of fact. I would not use those words—Free
Y.M. What others?
O.M. Free Choice.
Y.M. What is the difference?
O.M. The one implies untrammeled power to act as you please, the
other implies nothing beyond a mere mental process: the critical
ability to determine which of two things is nearest right and just.
Y.M. Make the difference clear, please.
O.M. The mind can freely select, choose, point out the right and
just one—its function stops there. It can go no further in the
matter. It has no authority to say that the right one shall be acted upon
and the wrong one discarded. That authority is in other hands.
Y.M. The man's?
O.M. In the machine which stands for him. In his born disposition and the
character which has been built around it by training and environment.
Y.M. It will act upon the right one of the two?
O.M. It will do as it pleases in the matter. George Washington's machine
would act upon the right one; Pizarro would act upon the wrong one.
Y.M. Then as I understand it a bad man's mental machinery calmly and
judicially points out which of two things is right and just—
O.M. Yes, and his moral machinery will freely act upon the other or
the other, according to its make, and be quite indifferent to the mind's
feeling concerning the matter—that is, would be, if the
mind had any feelings; which it hasn't. It is merely a thermometer: it
registers the heat and the cold, and cares not a farthing about either.
Y.M. Then we must not claim that if a man knows which of two things
is right he is absolutely bound to do that thing?
O.M. His temperament and training will decide what he shall do, and he
will do it; he cannot help himself, he has no authority over the mater.
Wasn't it right for David to go out and slay Goliath?
O.M. Then it would have been equally right for any one else to do
O.M. Then it would have been right for a born coward to attempt it?
Y.M. It would—yes.
O.M. You know that no born coward ever would have attempted it, don't you?
O.M. You know that a born coward's make and temperament would be an
absolute and insurmountable bar to his ever essaying such a thing, don't
Y.M. Yes, I know it.
O.M. He clearly perceives that it would be right to try it?
O.M. His mind has Free Choice in determining that it would be right
to try it?
O.M. Then if by reason of his inborn cowardice he simply can not essay
it, what becomes of his Free Will? Where is his Free Will? Why claim that
he has Free Will when the plain facts show that he hasn't? Why content
that because he and David see the right alike, both must act
alike? Why impose the same laws upon goat and lion?
Y.M. There is really no such thing as Free Will?
O.M. It is what I think. There is will. But it has nothing to do
with intellectual perceptions of right and wrong, and is not under
their command. David's temperament and training had Will, and it was a
compulsory force; David had to obey its decrees, he had no choice. The
coward's temperament and training possess Will, and it is
compulsory; it commands him to avoid danger, and he obeys, he has no
choice. But neither the Davids nor the cowards possess Free Will—will
that may do the right or do the wrong, as their mental verdict
Not Two Values, But Only One
Y.M. There is one thing which bothers me: I can't tell where you draw the
line between material covetousness and spiritual covetousness.
O.M. I don't draw any.
Y.M. How do you mean?
O.M. There is no such thing as material covetousness. All
covetousness is spiritual.
Y.M. All longings, desires, ambitions spiritual, never
O.M. Yes. The Master in you requires that in all cases you shall
content his spirit —that alone. He never requires anything
else, he never interests himself in any other matter.
Y.M. Ah, come! When he covets somebody's money—isn't that rather
distinctly material and gross?
O.M. No. The money is merely a symbol—it represents in visible and
concrete form a spiritual desire. Any so-called material thing that
you want is merely a symbol: you want it not for itself, but
because it will content your spirit for the moment.
Y.M. Please particularize.
O.M. Very well. Maybe the thing longed for is a new hat. You get it and
your vanity is pleased, your spirit contented. Suppose your friends deride
the hat, make fun of it: at once it loses its value; you are ashamed of
it, you put it out of your sight, you never want to see it again.
Y.M. I think I see. Go on.
O.M. It is the same hat, isn't it? It is in no way altered. But it wasn't
the hat you wanted, but only what it stood for—a something to
please and content your spirit. When it failed of that, the whole
of its value was gone. There are no material values; there are only
spiritual ones. You will hunt in vain for a material value that is actual,
real—there is no such thing. The only value it possesses, for
even a moment, is the spiritual value back of it: remove that end and it
is at once worthless—like the hat.
Y.M. Can you extend that to money?
O.M. Yes. It is merely a symbol, it has no material value; you
think you desire it for its own sake, but it is not so. You desire it for
the spiritual content it will bring; if it fail of that, you discover that
its value is gone. There is that pathetic tale of the man who labored like
a slave, unresting, unsatisfied, until he had accumulated a fortune, and
was happy over it, jubilant about it; then in a single week a pestilence
swept away all whom he held dear and left him desolate. His money's value
was gone. He realized that his joy in it came not from the money itself,
but from the spiritual contentment he got out of his family's enjoyment of
the pleasures and delights it lavished upon them. Money has no material
value; if you remove its spiritual value nothing is left but dross. It
is so with all things, little or big, majestic or trivial—there are
no exceptions. Crowns, scepters, pennies, paste jewels, village notoriety,
world-wide fame—they are all the same, they have no material value:
while they content the spirit they are precious, when this fails
they are worthless.
A Difficult Question
Y.M. You keep me confused and perplexed all the time by your elusive
terminology. Sometimes you divide a man up into two or three separate
personalities, each with authorities, jurisdictions, and responsibilities
of its own, and when he is in that condition I can't grasp it. Now when I
speak of a man, he is the whole thing in one, and easy to hold and
O.M. That is pleasant and convenient, if true. When you speak of "my body"
who is the "my"?
Y.M. It is the "me."
O.M. The body is a property then, and the Me owns it. Who is the Me?
Y.M. The Me is the whole thing; it is a common property; an
undivided ownership, vested in the whole entity.
O.M. If the Me admires a rainbow, is it the whole Me that admires it,
including the hair, hands, heels, and all?
Y.M. Certainly not. It is my mind that admires it.
O.M. So you divide the Me yourself. Everybody does; everybody must.
What, then, definitely, is the Me?
Y.M. I think it must consist of just those two parts—the body and
O.M. You think so? If you say "I believe the world is round," who is the
"I" that is speaking?
Y.M. The mind.
O.M. If you say "I grieve for the loss of my father," who is the "I"?
Y.M. The mind.
O.M. Is the mind exercising an intellectual function when it examines and
accepts the evidence that the world is round?
O.M. Is it exercising an intellectual function when it grieves for the
loss of your father?
Y.M. That is not cerebration, brain-work, it is a matter of feeling.
O.M. Then its source is not in your mind, but in your moral territory?
Y.M. I have to grant it.
O.M. Is your mind a part of your physical equipment?
Y.M. No. It is independent of it; it is spiritual.
O.M. Being spiritual, it cannot be affected by physical influences?
O.M. Does the mind remain sober with the body is drunk?
O.M. There is a physical effect present, then?
Y.M. It looks like it.
O.M. A cracked skull has resulted in a crazy mind. Why should it happen if
the mind is spiritual, and independent of physical influences?
Y.M. Well—I don't know.
O.M. When you have a pain in your foot, how do you know it?
Y.M. I feel it.
O.M. But you do not feel it until a nerve reports the hurt to the brain.
Yet the brain is the seat of the mind, is it not?
Y.M. I think so.
O.M. But isn't spiritual enough to learn what is happening in the
outskirts without the help of the physical messenger? You perceive
that the question of who or what the Me is, is not a simple one at all.
You say "I admire the rainbow," and "I believe the world is round," and in
these cases we find that the Me is not speaking, but only the mental
part. You say, "I grieve," and again the Me is not all speaking, but
only the moral part. You say the mind is wholly spiritual; then you
say "I have a pain" and find that this time the Me is mental and spiritual
combined. We all use the "I" in this indeterminate fashion, there is no
help for it. We imagine a Master and King over what you call The Whole
Thing, and we speak of him as "I," but when we try to define him we find
we cannot do it. The intellect and the feelings can act quite independently
of each other; we recognize that, and we look around for a Ruler who
is master over both, and can serve as a definite and indisputable "I,"
and enable us to know what we mean and who or what we are talking
about when we use that pronoun, but we have to give it up and confess that
we cannot find him. To me, Man is a machine, made up of many mechanisms,
the moral and mental ones acting automatically in accordance with the
impulses of an interior Master who is built out of born-temperament and an
accumulation of multitudinous outside influences and trainings; a machine
whose one function is to secure the spiritual contentment of the
Master, be his desires good or be they evil; a machine whose Will is
absolute and must be obeyed, and always is obeyed.
Y.M. Maybe the Me is the Soul?
O.M. Maybe it is. What is the Soul?
Y.M. I don't know.
O.M. Neither does any one else.
The Master Passion
Y.M. What is the Master?—or, in common speech, the Conscience?
O.M. It is that mysterious autocrat, lodged in a man, which compels the
man to content its desires. It may be called the Master Passion—the
hunger for Self-Approval.
Y.M. Where is its seat?
O.M. In man's moral constitution.
Y.M. Are its commands for the man's good?
O.M. It is indifferent to the man's good; it never concerns itself about
anything but the satisfying of its own desires. It can be trained to
prefer things which will be for the man's good, but it will prefer them
only because they will content it better than other things would.
Y.M. Then even when it is trained to high ideals it is still looking out
for its own contentment, and not for the man's good.
O.M. True. Trained or untrained, it cares nothing for the man's good, and
never concerns itself about it.
Y.M. It seems to be an immoral force seated in the man's moral
O.M. It is a colorless force seated in the man's moral
constitution. Let us call it an instinct—a blind, unreasoning
instinct, which cannot and does not distinguish between good morals and
bad ones, and cares nothing for results to the man provided its own
contentment be secured; and it will always secure that.
Y.M. It seeks money, and it probably considers that that is an advantage
for the man?
O.M. It is not always seeking money, it is not always seeking power, nor
office, nor any other material advantage. In all cases it
seeks a spiritual contentment, let the means be what they
may. Its desires are determined by the man's temperament—and it is
lord over that. Temperament, Conscience, Susceptibility, Spiritual
Appetite, are, in fact, the same thing. Have you ever heard of a person
who cared nothing for money?
Y.M. Yes. A scholar who would not leave his garret and his books to take a
place in a business house at a large salary.
O.M. He had to satisfy his master—that is to say, his temperament,
his Spiritual Appetite—and it preferred books to money. Are there
Y.M. Yes, the hermit.
O.M. It is a good instance. The hermit endures solitude, hunger, cold, and
manifold perils, to content his autocrat, who prefers these things, and
prayer and contemplation, to money or to any show or luxury that money can
buy. Are there others?
Y.M. Yes. The artist, the poet, the scientist.
O.M. Their autocrat prefers the deep pleasures of these occupations,
either well paid or ill paid, to any others in the market, at any price.
You realize that the Master Passion—the contentment of the
spirit—concerns itself with many things besides so-called material
advantage, material prosperity, cash, and all that?
Y.M. I think I must concede it.
O.M. I believe you must. There are perhaps as many Temperaments that would
refuse the burdens and vexations and distinctions of public office as
there are that hunger after them. The one set of Temperaments seek the
contentment of the spirit, and that alone; and this is exactly the case
with the other set. Neither set seeks anything but the contentment
of the spirit. If the one is sordid, both are sordid; and equally so,
since the end in view is precisely the same in both cases. And in both
cases Temperament decides the preference—and Temperament is born,
O.M. You have been taking a holiday?
Y.M. Yes; a mountain tramp covering a week. Are you ready to talk?
O.M. Quite ready. What shall we begin with?
Y.M. Well, lying abed resting up, two days and nights, I have thought over
all these talks, and passed them carefully in review. With this result:
that... that... are you intending to publish your notions about Man some
O.M. Now and then, in these past twenty years, the Master inside of me has
half-intended to order me to set them to paper and publish them. Do I have
to tell you why the order has remained unissued, or can you explain so
simply a thing without my help?
Y.M. By your doctrine, it is simplicity itself: outside influences moved
your interior Master to give the order; stronger outside influences
deterred him. Without the outside influences, neither of these impulses
could ever have been born, since a person's brain is incapable or
originating an idea within itself.
O.M. Correct. Go on.
Y.M. The matter of publishing or withholding is still in your Master's
hands. If some day an outside influence shall determine him to publish, he
will give the order, and it will be obeyed.
O.M. That is correct. Well?
Y.M. Upon reflection I have arrived at the conviction that the publication
of your doctrines would be harmful. Do you pardon me?
O.M. Pardon you? You have done nothing. You are an instrument—a
speaking-trumpet. Speaking-trumpets are not responsible for what is said
through them. Outside influences—in the form of lifelong teachings,
trainings, notions, prejudices, and other second-hand importations—have
persuaded the Master within you that the publication of these doctrines
would be harmful. Very well, this is quite natural, and was to be
expected; in fact, was inevitable. Go on; for the sake of ease and
convenience, stick to habit: speak in the first person, and tell me what
your Master thinks about it.
Y.M. Well, to begin: it is a desolating doctrine; it is not inspiring,
enthusing, uplifting. It takes the glory out of man, it takes the pride
out of him, it takes the heroism out of him, it denies him all personal
credit, all applause; it not only degrades him to a machine, but allows
him no control over the machine; makes a mere coffee-mill of him, and
neither permits him to supply the coffee nor turn the crank, his sole and
piteously humble function being to grind coarse or fine, according to his
make, outside impulses doing the rest.
O.M. It is correctly stated. Tell me—what do men admire most in each
Y.M. Intellect, courage, majesty of build, beauty of countenance, charity,
benevolence, magnanimity, kindliness, heroism, and—and—
O.M. I would not go any further. These are elementals. Virtue,
fortitude, holiness, truthfulness, loyalty, high ideals—these, and
all the related qualities that are named in the dictionary, are made of
the elementals, by blendings, combinations, and shadings of the
elementals, just as one makes green by blending blue and yellow, and makes
several shades and tints of red by modifying the elemental red. There are
several elemental colors; they are all in the rainbow; out of them we
manufacture and name fifty shades of them. You have named the elementals
of the human rainbow, and also one blend —heroism, which is
made out of courage and magnanimity. Very well, then; which of these
elements does the possessor of it manufacture for himself? Is it
Y.M. He is born with it.
O.M. Is it courage?
Y.M. No. He is born with it.
O.M. Is it majesty of build, beauty of countenance?
Y.M. No. They are birthrights.
O.M. Take those others—the elemental moral qualities—charity,
benevolence, magnanimity, kindliness; fruitful seeds, out of which spring,
through cultivation by outside influences, all the manifold blends and
combinations of virtues named in the dictionaries: does man manufacture
any of those seeds, or are they all born in him?
Y.M. Born in him.
O.M. Who manufactures them, then?
O.M. Where does the credit of it belong?
Y.M. To God.
O.M. And the glory of which you spoke, and the applause?
Y.M. To God.
O.M. Then it is you who degrade man. You make him claim glory,
praise, flattery, for every valuable thing he possesses—borrowed
finery, the whole of it; no rag of it earned by himself, not a detail
of it produced by his own labor. You make man a humbug; have I done
worse by him?
Y.M. You have made a machine of him.
O.M. Who devised that cunning and beautiful mechanism, a man's hand?
O.M. Who devised the law by which it automatically hammers out of a piano
an elaborate piece of music, without error, while the man is thinking
about something else, or talking to a friend?
O.M. Who devised the blood? Who devised the wonderful machinery which
automatically drives its renewing and refreshing streams through the body,
day and night, without assistance or advice from the man? Who devised the
man's mind, whose machinery works automatically, interests itself in what
it pleases, regardless of its will or desire, labors all night when it
likes, deaf to his appeals for mercy? God devised all these things. I
have not made man a machine, God made him a machine. I am merely calling
attention to the fact, nothing more. Is it wrong to call attention to the
fact? Is it a crime?
Y.M. I think it is wrong to expose a fact when harm can come of it.
O.M. Go on.
Y.M. Look at the matter as it stands now. Man has been taught that he is
the supreme marvel of the Creation; he believes it; in all the ages he has
never doubted it, whether he was a naked savage, or clothed in purple and
fine linen, and civilized. This has made his heart buoyant, his life
cheery. His pride in himself, his sincere admiration of himself, his joy
in what he supposed were his own and unassisted achievements, and his
exultation over the praise and applause which they evoked—these have
exalted him, enthused him, ambitioned him to higher and higher flights; in
a word, made his life worth the living. But by your scheme, all this is
abolished; he is degraded to a machine, he is a nobody, his noble prides
wither to mere vanities; let him strive as he may, he can never be any
better than his humblest and stupidest neighbor; he would never be
cheerful again, his life would not be worth the living.
O.M. You really think that?
Y.M. I certainly do.
O.M. Have you ever seen me uncheerful, unhappy.
O.M. Well, I believe these things. Why have they not made me
Y.M. Oh, well—temperament, of course! You never let that escape
from your scheme.
O.M. That is correct. If a man is born with an unhappy temperament,
nothing can make him happy; if he is born with a happy temperament,
nothing can make him unhappy.
Y.M. What—not even a degrading and heart-chilling system of beliefs?
O.M. Beliefs? Mere beliefs? Mere convictions? They are powerless. They
strive in vain against inborn temperament.
Y.M. I can't believe that, and I don't.
O.M. Now you are speaking hastily. It shows that you have not studiously
examined the facts. Of all your intimates, which one is the happiest?
Isn't it Burgess?
O.M. And which one is the unhappiest? Henry Adams?
Y.M. Without a question!
O.M. I know them well. They are extremes, abnormals; their temperaments
are as opposite as the poles. Their life-histories are about alike—but
look at the results! Their ages are about the same—about around
fifty. Burgess had always been buoyant, hopeful, happy; Adams has always
been cheerless, hopeless, despondent. As young fellows both tried country
journalism—and failed. Burgess didn't seem to mind it; Adams
couldn't smile, he could only mourn and groan over what had happened and
torture himself with vain regrets for not having done so and so instead of
so and so—then he would have succeeded. They tried the law—and
failed. Burgess remained happy—because he couldn't help it. Adams
was wretched—because he couldn't help it. From that day to this,
those two men have gone on trying things and failing: Burgess has come out
happy and cheerful every time; Adams the reverse. And we do absolutely
know that these men's inborn temperaments have remained unchanged through
all the vicissitudes of their material affairs. Let us see how it is with
their immaterials. Both have been zealous Democrats; both have been
zealous Republicans; both have been zealous Mugwumps. Burgess has always
found happiness and Adams unhappiness in these several political beliefs
and in their migrations out of them. Both of these men have been
Presbyterians, Universalists, Methodists, Catholics—then
Presbyterians again, then Methodists again. Burgess has always found rest
in these excursions, and Adams unrest. They are trying Christian Science,
now, with the customary result, the inevitable result. No political or
religious belief can make Burgess unhappy or the other man happy. I assure
you it is purely a matter of temperament. Beliefs are acquirements,
temperaments are born; beliefs are subject to change, nothing
whatever can change temperament.
Y.M. You have instanced extreme temperaments.
O.M. Yes, the half-dozen others are modifications of the extremes. But the
law is the same. Where the temperament is two-thirds happy, or two-thirds
unhappy, no political or religious beliefs can change the proportions. The
vast majority of temperaments are pretty equally balanced; the intensities
are absent, and this enables a nation to learn to accommodate itself to
its political and religious circumstances and like them, be satisfied with
them, at last prefer them. Nations do not think, they only feel.
They get their feelings at second hand through their temperaments, not
their brains. A nation can be brought—by force of circumstances, not
argument—to reconcile itself to any kind of government or
religion that can be devised; in time it will fit itself to the
required conditions; later, it will prefer them and will fiercely fight
for them. As instances, you have all history: the Greeks, the Romans, the
Persians, the Egyptians, the Russians, the Germans, the French, the
English, the Spaniards, the Americans, the South Americans, the Japanese,
the Chinese, the Hindus, the Turks—a thousand wild and tame
religions, every kind of government that can be thought of, from tiger to
house-cat, each nation knowing it has the only true religion and
the only sane system of government, each despising all the others, each an
ass and not suspecting it, each proud of its fancied supremacy, each
perfectly sure it is the pet of God, each without undoubting confidence
summoning Him to take command in time of war, each surprised when He goes
over to the enemy, but by habit able to excuse it and resume compliments—in
a word, the whole human race content, always content, persistently
content, indestructibly content, happy, thankful, proud, no matter what
its religion is, nor whether its master be tiger or house-cat. Am I
stating facts? You know I am. Is the human race cheerful? You know it is.
Considering what it can stand, and be happy, you do me too much honor when
you think that I can place before it a system of plain cold facts
that can take the cheerfulness out of it. Nothing can do that. Everything
has been tried. Without success. I beg you not to be troubled.
THE DEATH OF JEAN
The death of Jean Clemens occurred early in the morning of December 24,
1909. Mr. Clemens was in great stress of mind when I first saw him, but a
few hours later I found him writing steadily.
"I am setting it down," he said, "everything. It is a relief to me to
write it. It furnishes me an excuse for thinking." At intervals during
that day and the next I looked in, and usually found him writing. Then on
the evening of the 26th, when he knew that Jean had been laid to rest in
Elmira, he came to my room with the manuscript in his hand.
"I have finished it," he said; "read it. I can form no opinion of it
myself. If you think it worthy, some day—at the proper time—it
can end my autobiography. It is the final chapter."
Four months later—almost to the day—(April 21st) he was with
Albert Bigelow Paine.
Stormfield, Christmas Eve, 11 A.M., 1909.
JEAN IS DEAD!
Has any one ever tried to put upon paper all the little happenings
connected with a dear one—happenings of the twenty-four hours
preceding the sudden and unexpected death of that dear one? Would a book
contain them? Would two books contain them? I think not. They pour into
the mind in a flood. They are little things that have been always
happening every day, and were always so unimportant and easily forgettable
before—but now! Now, how different! how precious they are, now dear,
now unforgettable, how pathetic, how sacred, how clothed with dignity!
Last night Jean, all flushed with splendid health, and I the same, from
the wholesome effects of my Bermuda holiday, strolled hand in hand from
the dinner-table and sat down in the library and chatted, and planned, and
discussed, cheerily and happily (and how unsuspectingly!)—until nine—which
is late for us—then went upstairs, Jean's friendly German dog
following. At my door Jean said, "I can't kiss you good night, father: I
have a cold, and you could catch it." I bent and kissed her hand. She was
moved—I saw it in her eyes—and she impulsively kissed my hand
in return. Then with the usual gay "Sleep well, dear!" from both, we
At half past seven this morning I woke, and heard voices outside my door.
I said to myself, "Jean is starting on her usual horseback flight to the
station for the mail." Then Katy (1) entered, stood quaking and gasping at
my bedside a moment, then found her tongue:
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
Possibly I know now what the soldier feels when a bullet crashes through
In her bathroom there she lay, the fair young creature, stretched upon the
floor and covered with a sheet. And looking so placid, so natural, and as
if asleep. We knew what had happened. She was an epileptic: she had been
seized with a convulsion and heart failure in her bath. The doctor had to
come several miles. His efforts, like our previous ones, failed to bring
her back to life.
It is noon, now. How lovable she looks, how sweet and how tranquil! It is
a noble face, and full of dignity; and that was a good heart that lies
there so still.
In England, thirteen years ago, my wife and I were stabbed to the heart
with a cablegram which said, "Susy was mercifully released today." I had
to send a like shot to Clara, in Berlin, this morning. With the peremptory
addition, "You must not come home." Clara and her husband sailed from here
on the 11th of this month. How will Clara bear it? Jean, from her
babyhood, was a worshiper of Clara.
Four days ago I came back from a month's holiday in Bermuda in perfected
health; but by some accident the reporters failed to perceive this. Day
before yesterday, letters and telegrams began to arrive from friends and
strangers which indicated that I was supposed to be dangerously ill.
Yesterday Jean begged me to explain my case through the Associated Press.
I said it was not important enough; but she was distressed and said I must
think of Clara. Clara would see the report in the German papers, and as
she had been nursing her husband day and night for four months (2) and was
worn out and feeble, the shock might be disastrous. There was reason in
that; so I sent a humorous paragraph by telephone to the Associated Press
denying the "charge" that I was "dying," and saying "I would not do such a
thing at my time of life."
Jean was a little troubled, and did not like to see me treat the matter so
lightly; but I said it was best to treat it so, for there was nothing
serious about it. This morning I sent the sorrowful facts of this day's
irremediable disaster to the Associated Press. Will both appear in this
evening's papers?—the one so blithe, the other so tragic?
I lost Susy thirteen years ago; I lost her mother—her incomparable
mother!—five and a half years ago; Clara has gone away to live in
Europe; and now I have lost Jean. How poor I am, who was once so rich!
Seven months ago Mr. Rogers died—one of the best friends I ever had,
and the nearest perfect, as man and gentleman, I have yet met among my
race; within the last six weeks Gilder has passed away, and Laffan—old,
old friends of mine. Jean lies yonder, I sit here; we are strangers under
our own roof; we kissed hands good-by at this door last night—and it
was forever, we never suspecting it. She lies there, and I sit here—writing,
busying myself, to keep my heart from breaking. How dazzlingly the
sunshine is flooding the hills around! It is like a mockery.
Seventy-four years old twenty-four days ago. Seventy-four years old
yesterday. Who can estimate my age today?
I have looked upon her again. I wonder I can bear it. She looks just as
her mother looked when she lay dead in that Florentine villa so long ago.
The sweet placidity of death! it is more beautiful than sleep.
I saw her mother buried. I said I would never endure that horror again;
that I would never again look into the grave of any one dear to me. I have
kept to that. They will take Jean from this house tomorrow, and bear her
to Elmira, New York, where lie those of us that have been released, but I
shall not follow.
Jean was on the dock when the ship came in, only four days ago. She was at
the door, beaming a welcome, when I reached this house the next evening.
We played cards, and she tried to teach me a new game called "Mark Twain."
We sat chatting cheerily in the library last night, and she wouldn't let
me look into the loggia, where she was making Christmas preparations. She
said she would finish them in the morning, and then her little French
friend would arrive from New York—the surprise would follow; the
surprise she had been working over for days. While she was out for a
moment I disloyally stole a look. The loggia floor was clothed with rugs
and furnished with chairs and sofas; and the uncompleted surprise was
there: in the form of a Christmas tree that was drenched with silver film
in a most wonderful way; and on a table was a prodigal profusion of bright
things which she was going to hang upon it today. What desecrating hand
will ever banish that eloquent unfinished surprise from that place? Not
mine, surely. All these little matters have happened in the last four
days. "Little." Yes—THEN. But not now. Nothing she said or thought
or did is little now. And all the lavish humor!—what is become of
it? It is pathos, now. Pathos, and the thought of it brings tears.
All these little things happened such a few hours ago—and now she
lies yonder. Lies yonder, and cares for nothing any more. Strange—marvelous—incredible!
I have had this experience before; but it would still be incredible if I
had had it a thousand times.
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
That is what Katy said. When I heard the door open behind the bed's head
without a preliminary knock, I supposed it was Jean coming to kiss me good
morning, she being the only person who was used to entering without
I have been to Jean's parlor. Such a turmoil of Christmas presents for
servants and friends! They are everywhere; tables, chairs, sofas, the
floor—everything is occupied, and over-occupied. It is many and many
a year since I have seen the like. In that ancient day Mrs. Clemens and I
used to slip softly into the nursery at midnight on Christmas Eve and look
the array of presents over. The children were little then. And now here is
Jean's parlor looking just as that nursery used to look. The presents are
not labeled—the hands are forever idle that would have labeled them
today. Jean's mother always worked herself down with her Christmas
preparations. Jean did the same yesterday and the preceding days, and the
fatigue has cost her her life. The fatigue caused the convulsion that
attacked her this morning. She had had no attack for months.
Jean was so full of life and energy that she was constantly in danger of
overtaxing her strength. Every morning she was in the saddle by half past
seven, and off to the station for her mail. She examined the letters and I
distributed them: some to her, some to Mr. Paine, the others to the
stenographer and myself. She dispatched her share and then mounted her
horse again and went around superintending her farm and her poultry the
rest of the day. Sometimes she played billiards with me after dinner, but
she was usually too tired to play, and went early to bed.
Yesterday afternoon I told her about some plans I had been devising while
absent in Bermuda, to lighten her burdens. We would get a housekeeper;
also we would put her share of the secretary-work into Mr. Paine's hands.
No—she wasn't willing. She had been making plans herself. The matter
ended in a compromise, I submitted. I always did. She wouldn't audit the
bills and let Paine fill out the checks—she would continue to attend
to that herself. Also, she would continue to be housekeeper, and let Katy
assist. Also, she would continue to answer the letters of personal friends
for me. Such was the compromise. Both of us called it by that name, though
I was not able to see where any formidable change had been made.
However, Jean was pleased, and that was sufficient for me. She was proud
of being my secretary, and I was never able to persuade her to give up any
part of her share in that unlovely work.
In the talk last night I said I found everything going so smoothly that if
she were willing I would go back to Bermuda in February and get blessedly
out of the clash and turmoil again for another month. She was urgent that
I should do it, and said that if I would put off the trip until March she
would take Katy and go with me. We struck hands upon that, and said it was
settled. I had a mind to write to Bermuda by tomorrow's ship and secure a
furnished house and servants. I meant to write the letter this morning.
But it will never be written, now.
For she lies yonder, and before her is another journey than that.
Night is closing down; the rim of the sun barely shows above the sky-line
of the hills.
I have been looking at that face again that was growing dearer and dearer
to me every day. I was getting acquainted with Jean in these last nine
months. She had been long an exile from home when she came to us
three-quarters of a year ago. She had been shut up in sanitariums, many
miles from us. How eloquently glad and grateful she was to cross her
father's threshold again!
Would I bring her back to life if I could do it? I would not. If a word
would do it, I would beg for strength to withhold the word. And I would
have the strength; I am sure of it. In her loss I am almost bankrupt, and
my life is a bitterness, but I am content: for she has been enriched with
the most precious of all gifts—that gift which makes all other gifts
mean and poor—death. I have never wanted any released friend of mine
restored to life since I reached manhood. I felt in this way when Susy
passed away; and later my wife, and later Mr. Rogers. When Clara met me at
the station in New York and told me Mr. Rogers had died suddenly that
morning, my thought was, Oh, favorite of fortune—fortunate all his
long and lovely life—fortunate to his latest moment! The reporters
said there were tears of sorrow in my eyes. True—but they were for
ME, not for him. He had suffered no loss. All the fortunes he had ever
made before were poverty compared with this one.
Why did I build this house, two years ago? To shelter this vast emptiness?
How foolish I was! But I shall stay in it. The spirits of the dead hallow
a house, for me. It was not so with other members of my family. Susy died
in the house we built in Hartford. Mrs. Clemens would never enter it
again. But it made the house dearer to me. I have entered it once since,
when it was tenantless and silent and forlorn, but to me it was a holy
place and beautiful. It seemed to me that the spirits of the dead were all
about me, and would speak to me and welcome me if they could: Livy, and
Susy, and George, and Henry Robinson, and Charles Dudley Warner. How good
and kind they were, and how lovable their lives! In fancy I could see them
all again, I could call the children back and hear them romp again with
George—that peerless black ex-slave and children's idol who came one
day—a flitting stranger—to wash windows, and stayed eighteen
years. Until he died. Clara and Jean would never enter again the New York
hotel which their mother had frequented in earlier days. They could not
bear it. But I shall stay in this house. It is dearer to me tonight than
ever it was before. Jean's spirit will make it beautiful for me always.
Her lonely and tragic death—but I will not think of that now.
Jean's mother always devoted two or three weeks to Christmas shopping, and
was always physically exhausted when Christmas Eve came. Jean was her very
own child—she wore herself out present-hunting in New York these
latter days. Paine has just found on her desk a long list of names—fifty,
he thinks—people to whom she sent presents last night. Apparently
she forgot no one. And Katy found there a roll of bank-notes, for the
Her dog has been wandering about the grounds today, comradeless and
forlorn. I have seen him from the windows. She got him from Germany. He
has tall ears and looks exactly like a wolf. He was educated in Germany,
and knows no language but the German. Jean gave him no orders save in that
tongue. And so when the burglar-alarm made a fierce clamor at midnight a
fortnight ago, the butler, who is French and knows no German, tried in
vain to interest the dog in the supposed burglar. Jean wrote me, to
Bermuda, about the incident. It was the last letter I was ever to receive
from her bright head and her competent hand. The dog will not be
There was never a kinder heart than Jean's. From her childhood up she
always spent the most of her allowance on charities of one kind and
another. After she became secretary and had her income doubled she spent
her money upon these things with a free hand. Mine too, I am glad and
grateful to say.
She was a loyal friend to all animals, and she loved them all, birds,
beasts, and everything—even snakes—an inheritance from me. She
knew all the birds; she was high up in that lore. She became a member of
various humane societies when she was still a little girl—both here
and abroad—and she remained an active member to the last. She
founded two or three societies for the protection of animals, here and in
She was an embarrassing secretary, for she fished my correspondence out of
the waste-basket and answered the letters. She thought all letters
deserved the courtesy of an answer. Her mother brought her up in that
She could write a good letter, and was swift with her pen. She had but an
indifferent ear for music, but her tongue took to languages with an easy
facility. She never allowed her Italian, French, and German to get rusty
The telegrams of sympathy are flowing in, from far and wide, now, just as
they did in Italy five years and a half ago, when this child's mother laid
down her blameless life. They cannot heal the hurt, but they take away
some of the pain. When Jean and I kissed hands and parted at my door last,
how little did we imagine that in twenty-two hours the telegraph would be
bringing words like these:
"From the bottom of our hearts we send our sympathy, dearest of friends."
For many and many a day to come, wherever I go in this house,
remembrancers of Jean will mutely speak to me of her. Who can count the
number of them?
She was in exile two years with the hope of healing her malady—epilepsy.
There are no words to express how grateful I am that she did not meet her
fate in the hands of strangers, but in the loving shelter of her own home.
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
It is true. Jean is dead.
A month ago I was writing bubbling and hilarious articles for magazines
yet to appear, and now I am writing—this.
CHRISTMAS DAY. NOON.—Last night I went to Jean's room at intervals,
and turned back the sheet and looked at the peaceful face, and kissed the
cold brow, and remembered that heartbreaking night in Florence so long
ago, in that cavernous and silent vast villa, when I crept downstairs so
many times, and turned back a sheet and looked at a face just like this
one—Jean's mother's face—and kissed a brow that was just like
this one. And last night I saw again what I had seen then—that
strange and lovely miracle—the sweet, soft contours of early
maidenhood restored by the gracious hand of death! When Jean's mother lay
dead, all trace of care, and trouble, and suffering, and the corroding
years had vanished out of the face, and I was looking again upon it as I
had known and worshipped it in its young bloom and beauty a whole
About three in the morning, while wandering about the house in the deep
silences, as one does in times like these, when there is a dumb sense that
something has been lost that will never be found again, yet must be
sought, if only for the employment the useless seeking gives, I came upon
Jean's dog in the hall downstairs, and noted that he did not spring to
greet me, according to his hospitable habit, but came slow and
sorrowfully; also I remembered that he had not visited Jean's apartment
since the tragedy. Poor fellow, did he know? I think so. Always when Jean
was abroad in the open he was with her; always when she was in the house
he was with her, in the night as well as in the day. Her parlor was his
bedroom. Whenever I happened upon him on the ground floor he always
followed me about, and when I went upstairs he went too—in a
tumultuous gallop. But now it was different: after patting him a little I
went to the library—he remained behind; when I went upstairs he did
not follow me, save with his wistful eyes. He has wonderful eyes—big,
and kind, and eloquent. He can talk with them. He is a beautiful creature,
and is of the breed of the New York police-dogs. I do not like dogs,
because they bark when there is no occasion for it; but I have liked this
one from the beginning, because he belonged to Jean, and because he never
barks except when there is occasion—which is not oftener than twice
In my wanderings I visited Jean's parlor. On a shelf I found a pile of my
books, and I knew what it meant. She was waiting for me to come home from
Bermuda and autograph them, then she would send them away. If I only knew
whom she intended them for! But I shall never know. I will keep them. Her
hand has touched them—it is an accolade—they are noble, now.
And in a closet she had hidden a surprise for me—a thing I have
often wished I owned: a noble big globe. I couldn't see it for the tears.
She will never know the pride I take in it, and the pleasure. Today the
mails are full of loving remembrances for her: full of those old, old kind
words she loved so well, "Merry Christmas to Jean!" If she could only have
lived one day longer!
At last she ran out of money, and would not use mine. So she sent to one
of those New York homes for poor girls all the clothes she could spare—and
more, most likely.
CHRISTMAS NIGHT.—This afternoon they took her away from her room. As
soon as I might, I went down to the library, and there she lay, in her
coffin, dressed in exactly the same clothes she wore when she stood at the
other end of the same room on the 6th of October last, as Clara's chief
bridesmaid. Her face was radiant with happy excitement then; it was the
same face now, with the dignity of death and the peace of God upon it.
They told me the first mourner to come was the dog. He came uninvited, and
stood up on his hind legs and rested his fore paws upon the trestle, and
took a last long look at the face that was so dear to him, then went his
way as silently as he had come. HE KNOWS.
At mid-afternoon it began to snow. The pity of it—that Jean could
not see it! She so loved the snow.
The snow continued to fall. At six o'clock the hearse drew up to the door
to bear away its pathetic burden. As they lifted the casket, Paine began
playing on the orchestrelle Schubert's "Impromptu," which was Jean's
favorite. Then he played the Intermezzo; that was for Susy; then he played
the Largo; that was for their mother. He did this at my request. Elsewhere
in my Autobiography I have told how the Intermezzo and the Largo came to
be associated in my heart with Susy and Livy in their last hours in this
From my windows I saw the hearse and the carriages wind along the road and
gradually grow vague and spectral in the falling snow, and presently
disappear. Jean was gone out of my life, and would not come back any more.
Jervis, the cousin she had played with when they were babies together—he
and her beloved old Katy—were conducting her to her distant
childhood home, where she will lie by her mother's side once more, in the
company of Susy and Langdon.
DECEMBER 26TH. The dog came to see me at eight o'clock this morning. He
was very affectionate, poor orphan! My room will be his quarters
The storm raged all night. It has raged all the morning. The snow drives
across the landscape in vast clouds, superb, sublime—and Jean not
here to see.
2:30 P.M.—It is the time appointed. The funeral has begun. Four
hundred miles away, but I can see it all, just as if I were there. The
scene is the library in the Langdon homestead. Jean's coffin stands where
her mother and I stood, forty years ago, and were married; and where
Susy's coffin stood thirteen years ago; where her mother's stood five
years and a half ago; and where mine will stand after a little time.
FIVE O'CLOCK.—It is all over.
When Clara went away two weeks ago to live in Europe, it was hard, but I
could bear it, for I had Jean left. I said WE would be a family. We said
we would be close comrades and happy—just we two. That fair dream
was in my mind when Jean met me at the steamer last Monday; it was in my
mind when she received me at the door last Tuesday evening. We were
together; WE WERE A FAMILY! the dream had come true—oh, precisely
true, contentedly, true, satisfyingly true! and remained true two whole
And now? Now Jean is in her grave!
In the grave—if I can believe it. God rest her sweet spirit!
1. Katy Leary, who had been in the service of the Clemens
family for twenty-nine years.
2. Mr. Gabrilowitsch had been operated on for appendicitis.
THE TURNING-POINT OF MY LIFE
If I understand the idea, the BAZAR invites several of us to write upon
the above text. It means the change in my life's course which introduced
what must be regarded by me as the most IMPORTANT condition of my career.
But it also implies—without intention, perhaps—that that
turning-point ITSELF was the creator of the new condition. This gives it
too much distinction, too much prominence, too much credit. It is only the
LAST link in a very long chain of turning-points commissioned to produce
the cardinal result; it is not any more important than the humblest of its
ten thousand predecessors. Each of the ten thousand did its appointed
share, on its appointed date, in forwarding the scheme, and they were all
necessary; to have left out any one of them would have defeated the scheme
and brought about SOME OTHER result. I know we have a fashion of saying
"such and such an event was the turning-point in my life," but we
shouldn't say it. We should merely grant that its place as LAST link in
the chain makes it the most CONSPICUOUS link; in real importance it has no
advantage over any one of its predecessors.
Perhaps the most celebrated turning-point recorded in history was the
crossing of the Rubicon. Suetonius says:
Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, he halted for a
while, and, revolving in his mind the importance of the step he was on the
point of taking, he turned to those about him and said, "We may still
retreat; but if we pass this little bridge, nothing is left for us but to
fight it out in arms."
This was a stupendously important moment. And all the incidents, big and
little, of Caesar's previous life had been leading up to it, stage by
stage, link by link. This was the LAST link—merely the last one, and
no bigger than the others; but as we gaze back at it through the inflating
mists of our imagination, it looks as big as the orbit of Neptune.
You, the reader, have a PERSONAL interest in that link, and so have I; so
has the rest of the human race. It was one of the links in your
life-chain, and it was one of the links in mine. We may wait, now, with
bated breath, while Caesar reflects. Your fate and mine are involved in
While he was thus hesitating, the following incident occurred. A person
remarked for his noble mien and graceful aspect appeared close at hand,
sitting and playing upon a pipe. When not only the shepherds, but a number
of soldiers also, flocked to listen to him, and some trumpeters among
them, he snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran to the river with it,
and, sounding the advance with a piercing blast, crossed to the other
side. Upon this, Caesar exclaimed: "Let us go whither the omens of the
gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us. THE DIE IS CAST."
So he crossed—and changed the future of the whole human race, for
all time. But that stranger was a link in Caesar's life-chain, too; and a
necessary one. We don't know his name, we never hear of him again; he was
very casual; he acts like an accident; but he was no accident, he was
there by compulsion of HIS life-chain, to blow the electrifying blast that
was to make up Caesar's mind for him, and thence go piping down the aisles
of history forever.
If the stranger hadn't been there! But he WAS. And Caesar crossed. With
such results! Such vast events—each a link in the HUMAN RACE'S
life-chain; each event producing the next one, and that one the next one,
and so on: the destruction of the republic; the founding of the empire;
the breaking up of the empire; the rise of Christianity upon its ruins;
the spread of the religion to other lands—and so on; link by link
took its appointed place at its appointed time, the discovery of America
being one of them; our Revolution another; the inflow of English and other
immigrants another; their drift westward (my ancestors among them)
another; the settlement of certain of them in Missouri, which resulted in
ME. For I was one of the unavoidable results of the crossing of the
Rubicon. If the stranger, with his trumpet blast, had stayed away (which
he COULDN'T, for he was an appointed link) Caesar would not have crossed.
What would have happened, in that case, we can never guess. We only know
that the things that did happen would not have happened. They might have
been replaced by equally prodigious things, of course, but their nature
and results are beyond our guessing. But the matter that interests me
personally is that I would not be HERE now, but somewhere else; and
probably black—there is no telling. Very well, I am glad he crossed.
And very really and thankfully glad, too, though I never cared anything
about it before.
To me, the most important feature of my life is its literary feature. I
have been professionally literary something more than forty years. There
have been many turning-points in my life, but the one that was the last
link in the chain appointed to conduct me to the literary guild is the
most CONSPICUOUS link in that chain. BECAUSE it was the last one. It was
not any more important than its predecessors. All the other links have an
inconspicuous look, except the crossing of the Rubicon; but as factors in
making me literary they are all of the one size, the crossing of the
I know how I came to be literary, and I will tell the steps that lead up
to it and brought it about.
The crossing of the Rubicon was not the first one, it was hardly even a
recent one; I should have to go back ages before Caesar's day to find the
first one. To save space I will go back only a couple of generations and
start with an incident of my boyhood. When I was twelve and a half years
old, my father died. It was in the spring. The summer came, and brought
with it an epidemic of measles. For a time a child died almost every day.
The village was paralyzed with fright, distress, despair. Children that
were not smitten with the disease were imprisoned in their homes to save
them from the infection. In the homes there were no cheerful faces, there
was no music, there was no singing but of solemn hymns, no voice but of
prayer, no romping was allowed, no noise, no laughter, the family moved
spectrally about on tiptoe, in a ghostly hush. I was a prisoner. My soul
was steeped in this awful dreariness—and in fear. At some time or
other every day and every night a sudden shiver shook me to the marrow,
and I said to myself, "There, I've got it! and I shall die." Life on these
miserable terms was not worth living, and at last I made up my mind to get
the disease and have it over, one way or the other. I escaped from the
house and went to the house of a neighbor where a playmate of mine was
very ill with the malady. When the chance offered I crept into his room
and got into bed with him. I was discovered by his mother and sent back
into captivity. But I had the disease; they could not take that from me. I
came near to dying. The whole village was interested, and anxious, and
sent for news of me every day; and not only once a day, but several times.
Everybody believed I would die; but on the fourteenth day a change came
for the worse and they were disappointed.
This was a turning-point of my life. (Link number one.) For when I got
well my mother closed my school career and apprenticed me to a printer.
She was tired of trying to keep me out of mischief, and the adventure of
the measles decided her to put me into more masterful hands than hers.
I became a printer, and began to add one link after another to the chain
which was to lead me into the literary profession. A long road, but I
could not know that; and as I did not know what its goal was, or even that
it had one, I was indifferent. Also contented.
A young printer wanders around a good deal, seeking and finding work; and
seeking again, when necessity commands. N. B. Necessity is a CIRCUMSTANCE;
Circumstance is man's master—and when Circumstance commands, he must
obey; he may argue the matter—that is his privilege, just as it is
the honorable privilege of a falling body to argue with the attraction of
gravitation—but it won't do any good, he must OBEY. I wandered for
ten years, under the guidance and dictatorship of Circumstance, and
finally arrived in a city of Iowa, where I worked several months. Among
the books that interested me in those days was one about the Amazon. The
traveler told an alluring tale of his long voyage up the great river from
Para to the sources of the Madeira, through the heart of an enchanted
land, a land wastefully rich in tropical wonders, a romantic land where
all the birds and flowers and animals were of the museum varieties, and
where the alligator and the crocodile and the monkey seemed as much at
home as if they were in the Zoo. Also, he told an astonishing tale about
COCA, a vegetable product of miraculous powers, asserting that it was so
nourishing and so strength-giving that the native of the mountains of the
Madeira region would tramp up hill and down all day on a pinch of powdered
coca and require no other sustenance.
I was fired with a longing to ascend the Amazon. Also with a longing to
open up a trade in coca with all the world. During months I dreamed that
dream, and tried to contrive ways to get to Para and spring that splendid
enterprise upon an unsuspecting planet. But all in vain. A person may PLAN
as much as he wants to, but nothing of consequence is likely to come of it
until the magician CIRCUMSTANCE steps in and takes the matter off his
hands. At last Circumstance came to my help. It was in this way.
Circumstance, to help or hurt another man, made him lose a fifty-dollar
bill in the street; and to help or hurt me, made me find it. I advertised
the find, and left for the Amazon the same day. This was another
turning-point, another link.
Could Circumstance have ordered another dweller in that town to go to the
Amazon and open up a world-trade in coca on a fifty-dollar basis and been
obeyed? No, I was the only one. There were other fools there—shoals
and shoals of them—but they were not of my kind. I was the only one
of my kind.
Circumstance is powerful, but it cannot work alone; it has to have a
partner. Its partner is man's TEMPERAMENT—his natural disposition.
His temperament is not his invention, it is BORN in him, and he has no
authority over it, neither is he responsible for its acts. He cannot
change it, nothing can change it, nothing can modify it—except
temporarily. But it won't stay modified. It is permanent, like the color
of the man's eyes and the shape of his ears. Blue eyes are gray in certain
unusual lights; but they resume their natural color when that stress is
A Circumstance that will coerce one man will have no effect upon a man of
a different temperament. If Circumstance had thrown the bank-note in
Caesar's way, his temperament would not have made him start for the
Amazon. His temperament would have compelled him to do something with the
money, but not that. It might have made him advertise the note—and
WAIT. We can't tell. Also, it might have made him go to New York and buy
into the Government, with results that would leave Tweed nothing to learn
when it came his turn.
Very well, Circumstance furnished the capital, and my temperament told me
what to do with it. Sometimes a temperament is an ass. When that is the
case the owner of it is an ass, too, and is going to remain one. Training,
experience, association, can temporarily so polish him, improve him, exalt
him that people will think he is a mule, but they will be mistaken.
Artificially he IS a mule, for the time being, but at bottom he is an ass
yet, and will remain one.
By temperament I was the kind of person that DOES things. Does them, and
reflects afterward. So I started for the Amazon without reflecting and
without asking any questions. That was more than fifty years ago. In all
that time my temperament has not changed, by even a shade. I have been
punished many and many a time, and bitterly, for doing things and
reflecting afterward, but these tortures have been of no value to me; I
still do the thing commanded by Circumstance and Temperament, and reflect
afterward. Always violently. When I am reflecting, on those occasions,
even deaf persons can hear me think.
I went by the way of Cincinnati, and down the Ohio and Mississippi. My
idea was to take ship, at New Orleans, for Para. In New Orleans I
inquired, and found there was no ship leaving for Para. Also, that there
never had BEEN one leaving for Para. I reflected. A policeman came and
asked me what I was doing, and I told him. He made me move on, and said if
he caught me reflecting in the public street again he would run me in.
After a few days I was out of money. Then Circumstance arrived, with
another turning-point of my life—a new link. On my way down, I had
made the acquaintance of a pilot. I begged him to teach me the river, and
he consented. I became a pilot.
By and by Circumstance came again—introducing the Civil War, this
time, in order to push me ahead another stage or two toward the literary
profession. The boats stopped running, my livelihood was gone.
Circumstance came to the rescue with a new turning-point and a fresh link.
My brother was appointed secretary to the new Territory of Nevada, and he
invited me to go with him and help him in his office. I accepted.
In Nevada, Circumstance furnished me the silver fever and I went into the
mines to make a fortune, as I supposed; but that was not the idea. The
idea was to advance me another step toward literature. For amusement I
scribbled things for the Virginia City ENTERPRISE. One isn't a printer ten
years without setting up acres of good and bad literature, and learning—unconsciously
at first, consciously later—to discriminate between the two, within
his mental limitations; and meantime he is unconsciously acquiring what is
called a "style." One of my efforts attracted attention, and the
ENTERPRISE sent for me and put me on its staff.
And so I became a journalist—another link. By and by Circumstance
and the Sacramento UNION sent me to the Sandwich Islands for five or six
months, to write up sugar. I did it; and threw in a good deal of
extraneous matter that hadn't anything to do with sugar. But it was this
extraneous matter that helped me to another link.
It made me notorious, and San Francisco invited me to lecture. Which I
did. And profitably. I had long had a desire to travel and see the world,
and now Circumstance had most kindly and unexpectedly hurled me upon the
platform and furnished me the means. So I joined the "Quaker City
When I returned to America, Circumstance was waiting on the pier—with
the LAST link—the conspicuous, the consummating, the victorious
link: I was asked to WRITE A BOOK, and I did it, and called it THE
INNOCENTS ABROAD. Thus I became at last a member of the literary guild.
That was forty-two years ago, and I have been a member ever since. Leaving
the Rubicon incident away back where it belongs, I can say with truth that
the reason I am in the literary profession is because I had the measles
when I was twelve years old.
Now what interests me, as regards these details, is not the details
themselves, but the fact that none of them was foreseen by me, none of
them was planned by me, I was the author of none of them. Circumstance,
working in harness with my temperament, created them all and compelled
them all. I often offered help, and with the best intentions, but it was
rejected—as a rule, uncourteously. I could never plan a thing and
get it to come out the way I planned it. It came out some other way—some
way I had not counted upon.
And so I do not admire the human being—as an intellectual marvel—as
much as I did when I was young, and got him out of books, and did not know
him personally. When I used to read that such and such a general did a
certain brilliant thing, I believed it. Whereas it was not so.
Circumstance did it by help of his temperament. The circumstance would
have failed of effect with a general of another temperament: he might see
the chance, but lose the advantage by being by nature too slow or too
quick or too doubtful. Once General Grant was asked a question about a
matter which had been much debated by the public and the newspapers; he
answered the question without any hesitancy. "General, who planned the
march through Georgia?" "The enemy!" He added that the enemy usually makes
your plans for you. He meant that the enemy by neglect or through force of
circumstances leaves an opening for you, and you see your chance and take
advantage of it.
Circumstances do the planning for us all, no doubt, by help of our
temperaments. I see no great difference between a man and a watch, except
that the man is conscious and the watch isn't, and the man TRIES to plan
things and the watch doesn't. The watch doesn't wind itself and doesn't
regulate itself—these things are done exteriorly. Outside
influences, outside circumstances, wind the MAN and regulate him. Left to
himself, he wouldn't get regulated at all, and the sort of time he would
keep would not be valuable. Some rare men are wonderful watches, with gold
case, compensation balance, and all those things, and some men are only
simple and sweet and humble Waterburys. I am a Waterbury. A Waterbury of
that kind, some say.
A nation is only an individual multiplied. It makes plans and Circumstance
comes and upsets them—or enlarges them. Some patriots throw the tea
overboard; some other patriots destroy a Bastille. The PLANS stop there;
then Circumstance comes in, quite unexpectedly, and turns these modest
riots into a revolution.
And there was poor Columbus. He elaborated a deep plan to find a new route
to an old country. Circumstance revised his plan for him, and he found a
new WORLD. And HE gets the credit of it to this day. He hadn't anything to
do with it.
Necessarily the scene of the real turning-point of my life (and of yours)
was the Garden of Eden. It was there that the first link was forged of the
chain that was ultimately to lead to the emptying of me into the literary
guild. Adam's TEMPERAMENT was the first command the Deity ever issued to a
human being on this planet. And it was the only command Adam would NEVER
be able to disobey. It said, "Be weak, be water, be characterless, be
cheaply persuadable." The latter command, to let the fruit alone, was
certain to be disobeyed. Not by Adam himself, but by his TEMPERAMENT—which
he did not create and had no authority over. For the TEMPERAMENT is the
man; the thing tricked out with clothes and named Man is merely its
Shadow, nothing more. The law of the tiger's temperament is, Thou shalt
kill; the law of the sheep's temperament is Thou shalt not kill. To issue
later commands requiring the tiger to let the fat stranger alone, and
requiring the sheep to imbue its hands in the blood of the lion is not
worth while, for those commands CAN'T be obeyed. They would invite to
violations of the law of TEMPERAMENT, which is supreme, and takes
precedence of all other authorities. I cannot help feeling disappointed in
Adam and Eve. That is, in their temperaments. Not in THEM, poor helpless
young creatures—afflicted with temperaments made out of butter;
which butter was commanded to get into contact with fire and BE MELTED.
What I cannot help wishing is, that Adam and EVE had been postponed, and
Martin Luther and Joan of Arc put in their place—that splendid pair
equipped with temperaments not made of butter, but of asbestos. By neither
sugary persuasions nor by hell fire could Satan have beguiled THEM to eat
the apple. There would have been results! Indeed, yes. The apple would be
intact today; there would be no human race; there would be no YOU; there
would be no ME. And the old, old creation-dawn scheme of ultimately
launching me into the literary guild would have been defeated.
HOW TO MAKE HISTORY DATES STICK
These chapters are for children, and I shall try to make the words large
enough to command respect. In the hope that you are listening, and that
you have confidence in me, I will proceed. Dates are difficult things to
acquire; and after they are acquired it is difficult to keep them in the
head. But they are very valuable. They are like the cattle-pens of a ranch—they
shut in the several brands of historical cattle, each within its own
fence, and keep them from getting mixed together. Dates are hard to
remember because they consist of figures; figures are monotonously
unstriking in appearance, and they don't take hold, they form no pictures,
and so they give the eye no chance to help. Pictures are the thing.
Pictures can make dates stick. They can make nearly anything stick—particularly
IF YOU MAKE THE PICTURES YOURSELF. Indeed, that is the great point—make
the pictures YOURSELF. I know about this from experience. Thirty years ago
I was delivering a memorized lecture every night, and every night I had to
help myself with a page of notes to keep from getting myself mixed. The
notes consisted of beginnings of sentences, and were eleven in number, and
they ran something like this:
"IN THAT REGION THE WEATHER—" "AT THAT TIME IT WAS A CUSTOM—"
"BUT IN CALIFORNIA ONE NEVER HEARD—"
Eleven of them. They initialed the brief divisions of the lecture and
protected me against skipping. But they all looked about alike on the
page; they formed no picture; I had them by heart, but I could never with
certainty remember the order of their succession; therefore I always had
to keep those notes by me and look at them every little while. Once I
mislaid them; you will not be able to imagine the terrors of that evening.
I now saw that I must invent some other protection. So I got ten of the
initial letters by heart in their proper order—I, A, B, and so on—and
I went on the platform the next night with these marked in ink on my ten
finger-nails. But it didn't answer. I kept track of the fingers for a
while; then I lost it, and after that I was never quite sure which finger
I had used last. I couldn't lick off a letter after using it, for while
they could have made success certain it would also have provoked too much
curiosity. There was curiosity enough without that. To the audience I
seemed more interested in my fingernails than I was in my subject; one or
two persons asked me afterward what was the matter with my hands.
It was now that the idea of pictures occurred to me; then my troubles
passed away. In two minutes I made six pictures with a pen, and they did
the work of the eleven catch-sentences, and did it perfectly. I threw the
pictures away as soon as they were made, for I was sure I could shut my
eyes and see them any time. That was a quarter of a century ago; the
lecture vanished out of my head more than twenty years ago, but I would
rewrite it from the pictures—for they remain. Here are three of
them: (Fig. 1).
The first one is a haystack—below it a rattlesnake—and it told
me where to begin to talk ranch-life in Carson Valley. The second one told
me where to begin to talk about a strange and violent wind that used to
burst upon Carson City from the Sierra Nevadas every afternoon at two
o'clock and try to blow the town away. The third picture, as you easily
perceive, is lightning; its duty was to remind me when it was time to
begin to talk about San Francisco weather, where there IS no lightning—nor
thunder, either—and it never failed me.
I will give you a valuable hint. When a man is making a speech and you are
to follow him don't jot down notes to speak from, jot down PICTURES. It is
awkward and embarrassing to have to keep referring to notes; and besides
it breaks up your speech and makes it ragged and non-coherent; but you can
tear up your pictures as soon as you have made them—they will stay
fresh and strong in your memory in the order and sequence in which you
scratched them down. And many will admire to see what a good memory you
are furnished with, when perhaps your memory is not any better than mine.
Sixteen years ago when my children were little creatures the governess was
trying to hammer some primer histories into their heads. Part of this
fun--if you like to call it that--consisted in the memorizing of the
accession dates of the thirty-seven personages who had ruled over England
from the Conqueror down. These little people found it a bitter, hard
contract. It was all dates, they all looked alike, and they wouldn't
stick. Day after day of the summer vacation dribbled by, and still the
kings held the fort; the children couldn't conquer any six of them.
With my lecture experience in mind I was aware that I could invent some
way out of the trouble with pictures, but I hoped a way could be found
which would let them romp in the open air while they learned the kings. I
found it, and then they mastered all the monarchs in a day or two.
The idea was to make them SEE the reigns with their eyes; that would be a
large help. We were at the farm then. From the house-porch the grounds
sloped gradually down to the lower fence and rose on the right to the high
ground where my small work-den stood. A carriage-road wound through the
grounds and up the hill. I staked it out with the English monarchs,
beginning with the Conqueror, and you could stand on the porch and clearly
see every reign and its length, from the Conquest down to Victoria, then
in the forty-sixth year of her reign—EIGHT HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN
YEARS OF English history under your eye at once!
English history was an unusually live topic in America just then. The
world had suddenly realized that while it was not noticing the Queen had
passed Henry VIII., passed Henry VI. and Elizabeth, and gaining in length
every day. Her reign had entered the list of the long ones; everybody was
interested now—it was watching a race. Would she pass the long
Edward? There was a possibility of it. Would she pass the long Henry?
Doubtful, most people said. The long George? Impossible! Everybody said
it. But we have lived to see her leave him two years behind.
I measured off 817 feet of the roadway, a foot representing a year, and at
the beginning and end of each reign I drove a three-foot white-pine stake
in the turf by the roadside and wrote the name and dates on it. Abreast
the middle of the porch-front stood a great granite flower-vase
overflowing with a cataract of bright-yellow flowers—I can't think
of their name. The vase was William the Conqueror. We put his name on it
and his accession date, 1066. We started from that and measured off
twenty-one feet of the road, and drove William Rufus's stake; then
thirteen feet and drove the first Henry's stake; then thirty-five feet and
drove Stephen's; then nineteen feet, which brought us just past the
summer-house on the left; then we staked out thirty-five, ten, and
seventeen for the second Henry and Richard and John; turned the curve and
entered upon just what was needed for Henry III.—a level, straight
stretch of fifty-six feet of road without a crinkle in it. And it lay
exactly in front of the house, in the middle of the grounds. There
couldn't have been a better place for that long reign; you could stand on
the porch and see those two wide-apart stakes almost with your eyes shut.
That isn't the shape of the road—I have bunched it up like that to
save room. The road had some great curves in it, but their gradual sweep
was such that they were no mar to history. No, in our road one could tell
at a glance who was who by the size of the vacancy between stakes—with
LOCALITY to help, of course.
Although I am away off here in a Swedish village (1) and those stakes did
not stand till the snow came, I can see them today as plainly as ever; and
whenever I think of an English monarch his stakes rise before me of their
own accord and I notice the large or small space which he takes up on our
road. Are your kings spaced off in your mind? When you think of Richard
III. and of James II. do the durations of their reigns seem about alike to
you? It isn't so to me; I always notice that there's a foot's difference.
When you think of Henry III. do you see a great long stretch of straight
road? I do; and just at the end where it joins on to Edward I. I always
see a small pear-bush with its green fruit hanging down. When I think of
the Commonwealth I see a shady little group of these small saplings which
we called the oak parlor; when I think of George III. I see him stretching
up the hill, part of him occupied by a flight of stone steps; and I can
locate Stephen to an inch when he comes into my mind, for he just filled
the stretch which went by the summer-house. Victoria's reign reached
almost to my study door on the first little summit; there's sixteen feet
to be added now; I believe that that would carry it to a big pine-tree
that was shattered by some lightning one summer when it was trying to hit
We got a good deal of fun out of the history road; and exercise, too. We
trotted the course from the conqueror to the study, the children calling
out the names, dates, and length of reigns as we passed the stakes, going
a good gait along the long reigns, but slowing down when we came upon
people like Mary and Edward VI., and the short Stuart and Plantagenet, to
give time to get in the statistics. I offered prizes, too—apples. I
threw one as far as I could send it, and the child that first shouted the
reign it fell in got the apple.
The children were encouraged to stop locating things as being "over by the
arbor," or "in the oak parlor," or "up at the stone steps," and say
instead that the things were in Stephen, or in the Commonwealth, or in
George III. They got the habit without trouble. To have the long road
mapped out with such exactness was a great boon for me, for I had the
habit of leaving books and other articles lying around everywhere, and had
not previously been able to definitely name the place, and so had often
been obliged to go to fetch them myself, to save time and failure; but now
I could name the reign I left them in, and send the children.
Next I thought I would measure off the French reigns, and peg them
alongside the English ones, so that we could always have contemporaneous
French history under our eyes as we went our English rounds. We pegged
them down to the Hundred Years' War, then threw the idea aside, I do not
now remember why. After that we made the English pegs fence in European
and American history as well as English, and that answered very well.
English and alien poets, statesmen, artists, heroes, battles, plagues,
cataclysms, revolutions—we shoveled them all into the English fences
according to their dates. Do you understand? We gave Washington's birth to
George II.'s pegs and his death to George III.'s; George II. got the
Lisbon earthquake and George III. the Declaration of Independence. Goethe,
Shakespeare, Napoleon, Savonarola, Joan of Arc, the French Revolution, the
Edict of Nantes, Clive, Wellington, Waterloo, Plassey, Patay, Cowpens,
Saratoga, the Battle of the Boyne, the invention of the logarithms, the
microscope, the steam-engine, the telegraph—anything and everything
all over the world—we dumped it all in among the English pegs
according to its date and regardless of its nationality.
If the road-pegging scheme had not succeeded I should have lodged the
kings in the children's heads by means of pictures—that is, I should
have tried. It might have failed, for the pictures could only be effective
WHEN MADE BY THE PUPIL; not the master, for it is the work put upon the
drawing that makes the drawing stay in the memory, and my children were
too little to make drawings at that time. And, besides, they had no talent
for art, which is strange, for in other ways they are like me.
But I will develop the picture plan now, hoping that you will be able to
use it. It will come good for indoors when the weather is bad and one
cannot go outside and peg a road. Let us imagine that the kings are a
procession, and that they have come out of the Ark and down Ararat for
exercise and are now starting back again up the zigzag road. This will
bring several of them into view at once, and each zigzag will represent
the length of a king's reign.
And so on. You will have plenty of space, for by my project you will use
the parlor wall. You do not mark on the wall; that would cause trouble.
You only attach bits of paper to it with pins or thumb-tacks. These will
leave no mark.
Take your pen now, and twenty-one pieces of white paper, each two inches
square, and we will do the twenty-one years of the Conqueror's reign. On
each square draw a picture of a whale and write the dates and term of
service. We choose the whale for several reasons: its name and William's
begin with the same letter; it is the biggest fish that swims, and William
is the most conspicuous figure in English history in the way of a
landmark; finally, a whale is about the easiest thing to draw. By the time
you have drawn twenty-one wales and written "William I.—1066-1087—twenty-one
years" twenty-one times, those details will be your property; you cannot
dislodge them from your memory with anything but dynamite. I will make a
sample for you to copy: (Fig. 3).
I have got his chin up too high, but that is no matter; he is looking for
Harold. It may be that a whale hasn't that fin up there on his back, but I
do not remember; and so, since there is a doubt, it is best to err on the
safe side. He looks better, anyway, than he would without it.
Be very careful and ATTENTIVE while you are drawing your first whale from
my sample and writing the word and figures under it, so that you will not
need to copy the sample any more. Compare your copy with the sample;
examine closely; if you find you have got everything right and can shut
your eyes and see the picture and call the words and figures, then turn
the sample and copy upside down and make the next copy from memory; and
also the next and next, and so on, always drawing and writing from memory
until you have finished the whole twenty-one. This will take you twenty
minutes, or thirty, and by that time you will find that you can make a
whale in less time than an unpracticed person can make a sardine; also, up
to the time you die you will always be able to furnish William's dates to
any ignorant person that inquires after them.
You will now take thirteen pieces of BLUE paper, each two inches square,
and do William II. (Fig. 4.)
Make him spout his water forward instead of backward; also make him small,
and stick a harpoon in him and give him that sick look in the eye.
Otherwise you might seem to be continuing the other William, and that
would be confusing and a damage. It is quite right to make him small; he
was only about a No. 11 whale, or along there somewhere; there wasn't room
in him for his father's great spirit. The barb of that harpoon ought not
to show like that, because it is down inside the whale and ought to be out
of sight, but it cannot be helped; if the barb were removed people would
think some one had stuck a whip-stock into the whale. It is best to leave
the barb the way it is, then every one will know it is a harpoon and
attending to business. Remember—draw from the copy only once; make
your other twelve and the inscription from memory.
Now the truth is that whenever you have copied a picture and its
inscription once from my sample and two or three times from memory the
details will stay with you and be hard to forget. After that, if you like,
you may make merely the whale's HEAD and WATER-SPOUT for the Conqueror
till you end his reign, each time SAYING the inscription in place of
writing it; and in the case of William II. make the HARPOON alone, and say
over the inscription each time you do it. You see, it will take nearly
twice as long to do the first set as it will to do the second, and that
will give you a marked sense of the difference in length of the two
Next do Henry I. on thirty-five squares of RED paper. (Fig. 5.)
That is a hen, and suggests Henry by furnishing the first syllable. When
you have repeated the hen and the inscription until you are perfectly sure
of them, draw merely the hen's head the rest of the thirty-five times,
saying over the inscription each time. Thus: (Fig. 6).
You begin to understand now how this procession is going to look when it
is on the wall. First there will be the Conqueror's twenty-one whales and
water-spouts, the twenty-one white squares joined to one another and
making a white stripe three and one-half feet long; the thirteen blue
squares of William II. will be joined to that—a blue stripe two
feet, two inches long, followed by Henry's red stripe five feet, ten
inches long, and so on. The colored divisions will smartly show to the eye
the difference in the length of the reigns and impress the proportions on
the memory and the understanding. (Fig. 7.)
Stephen of Blois comes next. He requires nineteen two-inch squares of
YELLOW paper. (Fig. 8.)
That is a steer. The sound suggests the beginning of Stephen's name. I
choose it for that reason. I can make a better steer than that when I am
not excited. But this one will do. It is a good-enough steer for history.
The tail is defective, but it only wants straightening out.
Next comes Henry II. Give him thirty-five squares of RED paper. These hens
must face west, like the former ones. (Fig. 9.)
This hen differs from the other one. He is on his way to inquire what has
been happening in Canterbury.
Now we arrive at Richard I., called Richard of the Lion-heart because he
was a brave fighter and was never so contented as when he was leading
crusades in Palestine and neglecting his affairs at home. Give him ten
squares of WHITE paper. (Fig. 10).
That is a lion. His office is to remind you of the lion-hearted Richard.
There is something the matter with his legs, but I do not quite know what
it is, they do not seem right. I think the hind ones are the most
unsatisfactory; the front ones are well enough, though it would be better
if they were rights and lefts.
Next comes King John, and he was a poor circumstance. He was called
Lackland. He gave his realm to the Pope. Let him have seventeen squares of
YELLOW paper. (Fig. 11.)
That creature is a jamboree. It looks like a trademark, but that is only
an accident and not intentional. It is prehistoric and extinct. It used to
roam the earth in the Old Silurian times, and lay eggs and catch fish and
climb trees and live on fossils; for it was of a mixed breed, which was
the fashion then. It was very fierce, and the Old Silurians were afraid of
it, but this is a tame one. Physically it has no representative now, but
its mind has been transmitted. First I drew it sitting down, but have
turned it the other way now because I think it looks more attractive and
spirited when one end of it is galloping. I love to think that in this
attitude it gives us a pleasant idea of John coming all in a happy
excitement to see what the barons have been arranging for him at
Runnymede, while the other one gives us an idea of him sitting down to
wring his hands and grieve over it.
We now come to Henry III.; RED squares again, of course—fifty-six of
them. We must make all the Henrys the same color; it will make their long
reigns show up handsomely on the wall. Among all the eight Henrys there
were but two short ones. A lucky name, as far as longevity goes. The
reigns of six of the Henrys cover 227 years. It might have been well to
name all the royal princes Henry, but this was overlooked until it was too
late. (Fig. 12.)
This is the best one yet. He is on his way (1265) to have a look at the
first House of Commons in English history. It was a monumental event, the
situation of the House, and was the second great liberty landmark which
the century had set up. I have made Henry looking glad, but this was not
Edward I. comes next; LIGHT-BROWN paper, thirty-five squares. (Fig. 13.)
That is an editor. He is trying to think of a word. He props his feet on
the chair, which is the editor's way; then he can think better. I do not
care much for this one; his ears are not alike; still, editor suggests the
sound of Edward, and he will do. I could make him better if I had a model,
but I made this one from memory. But it is no particular matter; they all
look alike, anyway. They are conceited and troublesome, and don't pay
enough. Edward was the first really English king that had yet occupied the
throne. The editor in the picture probably looks just as Edward looked
when it was first borne in upon him that this was so. His whole attitude
expressed gratification and pride mixed with stupefaction and
Edward II. now; twenty BLUE squares. (Fig. 14.)
Another editor. That thing behind his ear is his pencil. Whenever he finds
a bright thing in your manuscript he strikes it out with that. That does
him good, and makes him smile and show his teeth, the way he is doing in
the picture. This one has just been striking out a smart thing, and now he
is sitting there with his thumbs in his vest-holes, gloating. They are
full of envy and malice, editors are. This picture will serve to remind
you that Edward II. was the first English king who was DEPOSED. Upon
demand, he signed his deposition himself. He had found kingship a most
aggravating and disagreeable occupation, and you can see by the look of
him that he is glad he resigned. He has put his blue pencil up for good
now. He had struck out many a good thing with it in his time.
Edward III. next; fifty RED squares. (Fig. 15.)
This editor is a critic. He has pulled out his carving-knife and his
tomahawk and is starting after a book which he is going to have for
breakfast. This one's arms are put on wrong. I did not notice it at first,
but I see it now. Somehow he has got his right arm on his left shoulder,
and his left arm on the right shoulder, and this shows us the back of his
hands in both instances. It makes him left-handed all around, which is a
thing which has never happened before, except perhaps in a museum. That is
the way with art, when it is not acquired but born to you: you start in to
make some simple little thing, not suspecting that your genius is
beginning to work and swell and strain in secret, and all of a sudden
there is a convulsion and you fetch out something astonishing. This is
called inspiration. It is an accident; you never know when it is coming. I
might have tried as much as a year to think of such a strange thing as an
all-around left-handed man and I could not have done it, for the more you
try to think of an unthinkable thing the more it eludes you; but it can't
elude inspiration; you have only to bait with inspiration and you will get
it every time. Look at Botticelli's "Spring." Those snaky women were
unthinkable, but inspiration secured them for us, thanks to goodness. It
is too late to reorganize this editor-critic now; we will leave him as he
is. He will serve to remind us.
Richard II. next; twenty-two WHITE squares. (Fig. 16.)
We use the lion again because this is another Richard. Like Edward II., he
was DEPOSED. He is taking a last sad look at his crown before they take it
away. There was not room enough and I have made it too small; but it never
fitted him, anyway.
Now we turn the corner of the century with a new line of monarchs—the
Henry IV.; fourteen squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 17.)
This hen has laid the egg of a new dynasty and realizes the imposing
magnitude of the event. She is giving notice in the usual way. You notice
I am improving in the construction of hens. At first I made them too much
like other animals, but this one is orthodox. I mention this to encourage
you. You will find that the more you practice the more accurate you will
become. I could always draw animals, but before I was educated I could not
tell what kind they were when I got them done, but now I can. Keep up your
courage; it will be the same with you, although you may not think it. This
Henry died the year after Joan of Arc was born.
Henry V.; nine BLUE squares. (Fig. 18)
There you see him lost in meditation over the monument which records the
amazing figures of the battle of Agincourt. French history says 20,000
Englishmen routed 80,000 Frenchmen there; and English historians say that
the French loss, in killed and wounded, was 60,000.
Henry VI.; thirty-nine RED squares. (Fig. 19)
This is poor Henry VI., who reigned long and scored many misfortunes and
humiliations. Also two great disasters: he lost France to Joan of Arc and
he lost the throne and ended the dynasty which Henry IV. had started in
business with such good prospects. In the picture we see him sad and weary
and downcast, with the scepter falling from his nerveless grasp. It is a
pathetic quenching of a sun which had risen in such splendor.
Edward IV.; twenty-two LIGHT-BROWN squares. (Fig. 20.)
That is a society editor, sitting there elegantly dressed, with his legs
crossed in that indolent way, observing the clothes the ladies wear, so
that he can describe them for his paper and make them out finer than they
are and get bribes for it and become wealthy. That flower which he is
wearing in his buttonhole is a rose—a white rose, a York rose—and
will serve to remind us of the War of the Roses, and that the white one
was the winning color when Edward got the throne and dispossessed the
Edward V.; one-third of a BLACK square. (Fig. 21.)
His uncle Richard had him murdered in the tower. When you get the reigns
displayed upon the wall this one will be conspicuous and easily
remembered. It is the shortest one in English history except Lady Jane
Grey's, which was only nine days. She is never officially recognized as a
monarch of England, but if you or I should ever occupy a throne we should
like to have proper notice taken of it; and it would be only fair and
right, too, particularly if we gained nothing by it and lost our lives
Richard III.; two WHITE squares. (Fig. 22.)
That is not a very good lion, but Richard was not a very good king. You
would think that this lion has two heads, but that is not so; one is only
a shadow. There would be shadows for the rest of him, but there was not
light enough to go round, it being a dull day, with only fleeting
sun-glimpses now and then. Richard had a humped back and a hard heart, and
fell at the battle of Bosworth. I do not know the name of that flower in
the pot, but we will use it as Richard's trade-mark, for it is said that
it grows in only one place in the world—Bosworth Field—and
tradition says it never grew there until Richard's royal blood warmed its
hidden seed to life and made it grow.
Henry VII.; twenty-four BLUE squares. (Fig. 23.)
Henry VII. had no liking for wars and turbulence; he preferred peace and
quiet and the general prosperity which such conditions create. He liked to
sit on that kind of eggs on his own private account as well as the
nation's, and hatch them out and count up the result. When he died he left
his heir 2,000,000 pounds, which was a most unusual fortune for a king to
possess in those days. Columbus's great achievement gave him the
discovery-fever, and he sent Sebastian Cabot to the New World to search
out some foreign territory for England. That is Cabot's ship up there in
the corner. This was the first time that England went far abroad to
enlarge her estate—but not the last.
Henry VIII.; thirty-eight RED squares. (Fig. 24.)
That is Henry VIII. suppressing a monastery in his arrogant fashion.
Edward VI.; six squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 25.)
He is the last Edward to date. It is indicated by that thing over his
head, which is a LAST—shoemaker's last.
Mary; five squares of BLACK paper. (Fig. 26.)
The picture represents a burning martyr. He is in back of the smoke. The
first three letters of Mary's name and the first three of the word martyr
are the same. Martyrdom was going out in her day and martyrs were becoming
scarcer, but she made several. For this reason she is sometimes called
This brings us to the reign of Elizabeth, after passing through a period
of nearly five hundred years of England's history—492 to be exact. I
think you may now be trusted to go the rest of the way without further
lessons in art or inspirations in the matter of ideas. You have the scheme
now, and something in the ruler's name or career will suggest the
pictorial symbol. The effort of inventing such things will not only help
your memory, but will develop originality in art. See what it has done for
me. If you do not find the parlor wall big enough for all of England's
history, continue it into the dining-room and into other rooms. This will
make the walls interesting and instructive and really worth something
instead of being just flat things to hold the house together.
1. Summer of 1899.
THE MEMORABLE ASSASSINATION
Note.—The assassination of the Empress of Austria at Geneva,
September 10, 1898, occurred during Mark Twain's Austrian residence. The
news came to him at Kaltenleutgeben, a summer resort a little way out of
Vienna. To his friend, the Rev. Jos. H. Twichell, he wrote:
"That good and unoffending lady, the Empress, is killed by a madman, and I
am living in the midst of world-history again. The Queen's Jubilee last
year, the invasion of the Reichsrath by the police, and now this murder,
which will still be talked of and described and painted a thousand years
from now. To have a personal friend of the wearer of two crowns burst in
at the gate in the deep dusk of the evening and say, in a voice broken
with tears, 'My God! the Empress is murdered,' and fly toward her home
before we can utter a question—why, it brings the giant event home
to you, makes you a part of it and personally interested; it is as if your
neighbor, Antony, should come flying and say, 'Caesar is butchered—the
head of the world is fallen!'
"Of course there is no talk but of this. The mourning is universal and
genuine, the consternation is stupefying. The Austrian Empire is being
draped with black. Vienna will be a spectacle to see by next Saturday,
when the funeral cortege marches."
He was strongly moved by the tragedy, impelled to write concerning it. He
prepared the article which here follows, but did not offer it for
publication, perhaps feeling that his own close association with the court
circles at the moment prohibited this personal utterance. There appears no
such reason for withholding its publication now.
A. B. P.
The more one thinks of the assassination, the more imposing and tremendous
the event becomes. The destruction of a city is a large event, but it is
one which repeats itself several times in a thousand years; the
destruction of a third part of a nation by plague and famine is a large
event, but it has happened several times in history; the murder of a king
is a large event, but it has been frequent.
The murder of an empress is the largest of all large events. One must go
back about two thousand years to find an instance to put with this one.
The oldest family of unchallenged descent in Christendom lives in Rome and
traces its line back seventeen hundred years, but no member of it has been
present in the earth when an empress was murdered, until now. Many a time
during these seventeen centuries members of that family have been startled
with the news of extraordinary events—the destruction of cities, the
fall of thrones, the murder of kings, the wreck of dynasties, the
extinction of religions, the birth of new systems of government; and their
descendants have been by to hear of it and talk about it when all these
things were repeated once, twice, or a dozen times—but to even that
family has come news at last which is not staled by use, has no duplicates
in the long reach of its memory.
It is an event which confers a curious distinction upon every individual
now living in the world: he has stood alive and breathing in the presence
of an event such as has not fallen within the experience of any traceable
or untraceable ancestor of his for twenty centuries, and it is not likely
to fall within the experience of any descendant of his for twenty more.
Time has made some great changes since the Roman days. The murder of an
empress then—even the assassination of Caesar himself—could
not electrify the world as this murder has electrified it. For one reason,
there was then not much of a world to electrify; it was a small world, as
to known bulk, and it had rather a thin population, besides; and for
another reason, the news traveled so slowly that its tremendous initial
thrill wasted away, week by week and month by month, on the journey, and
by the time it reached the remoter regions there was but little of it
left. It was no longer a fresh event, it was a thing of the far past; it
was not properly news, it was history. But the world is enormous now, and
prodigiously populated—that is one change; and another is the
lightning swiftness of the flight of tidings, good and bad. "The Empress
is murdered!" When those amazing words struck upon my ear in this Austrian
village last Saturday, three hours after the disaster, I knew that it was
already old news in London, Paris, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Japan,
China, Melbourne, Cape Town, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, and that the entire
globe with a single voice, was cursing the perpetrator of it. Since the
telegraph first began to stretch itself wider and wider about the earth,
larger and increasingly larger areas of the world have, as time went on,
received simultaneously the shock of a great calamity; but this is the
first time in history that the entire surface of the globe has been swept
in a single instant with the thrill of so gigantic an event.
And who is the miracle-worker who has furnished to the world this
spectacle? All the ironies are compacted in the answer. He is at the
bottom of the human ladder, as the accepted estimates of degree and value
go: a soiled and patched young loafer, without gifts, without talents,
without education, without morals, without character, without any born
charm or any acquired one that wins or beguiles or attracts; without a
single grace of mind or heart or hand that any tramp or prostitute could
envy him; an unfaithful private in the ranks, an incompetent stone-cutter,
an inefficient lackey; in a word, a mangy, offensive, empty, unwashed,
vulgar, gross, mephitic, timid, sneaking, human polecat. And it was within
the privileges and powers of this sarcasm upon the human race to reach up—up—up—and
strike from its far summit in the social skies the world's accepted ideal
of Glory and Might and Splendor and Sacredness! It realizes to us what
sorry shows and shadows we are. Without our clothes and our pedestals we
are poor things and much of a size; our dignities are not real, our pomps
are shams. At our best and stateliest we are not suns, as we pretended,
and teach, and believe, but only candles; and any bummer can blow us out.
And now we get realized to us once more another thing which we often
forget—or try to: that no man has a wholly undiseased mind; that in
one way or another all men are mad. Many are mad for money. When this
madness is in a mild form it is harmless and the man passes for sane; but
when it develops powerfully and takes possession of the man, it can make
him cheat, rob, and kill; and when he has got his fortune and lost it
again it can land him in the asylum or the suicide's coffin. Love is a
madness; if thwarted it develops fast; it can grow to a frenzy of despair
and make an otherwise sane and highly gifted prince, like Rudolph, throw
away the crown of an empire and snuff out his own life. All the whole list
of desires, predilections, aversions, ambitions, passions, cares, griefs,
regrets, remorses, are incipient madness, and ready to grow, spread, and
consume, when the occasion comes. There are no healthy minds, and nothing
saves any man but accident—the accident of not having his malady put
to the supreme test.
One of the commonest forms of madness is the desire to be noticed, the
pleasure derived from being noticed. Perhaps it is not merely common, but
universal. In its mildest form it doubtless is universal. Every child is
pleased at being noticed; many intolerable children put in their whole
time in distressing and idiotic effort to attract the attention of
visitors; boys are always "showing off"; apparently all men and women are
glad and grateful when they find that they have done a thing which has
lifted them for a moment out of obscurity and caused wondering talk. This
common madness can develop, by nurture, into a hunger for notoriety in
one, for fame in another. It is this madness for being noticed and talked
about which has invented kingship and the thousand other dignities, and
tricked them out with pretty and showy fineries; it has made kings pick
one another's pockets, scramble for one another's crowns and estates,
slaughter one another's subjects; it has raised up prize-fighters, and
poets, and village mayors, and little and big politicians, and big and
little charity-founders, and bicycle champions, and banditti chiefs, and
frontier desperadoes, and Napoleons. Anything to get notoriety; anything
to set the village, or the township, or the city, or the State, or the
nation, or the planet shouting, "Look—there he goes—that is
the man!" And in five minutes' time, at no cost of brain, or labor, or
genius this mangy Italian tramp has beaten them all, transcended them all,
outstripped them all, for in time their names will perish; but by the
friendly help of the insane newspapers and courts and kings and
historians, his is safe to live and thunder in the world all down the ages
as long as human speech shall endure! Oh, if it were not so tragic how
ludicrous it would be!
She was so blameless, the Empress; and so beautiful, in mind and heart, in
person and spirit; and whether with a crown upon her head or without it
and nameless, a grace to the human race, and almost a justification of its
creation; WOULD be, indeed, but that the animal that struck her down
re-establishes the doubt.
In her character was every quality that in woman invites and engages
respect, esteem, affection, and homage. Her tastes, her instincts, and her
aspirations were all high and fine and all her life her heart and brain
were busy with activities of a noble sort. She had had bitter griefs, but
they did not sour her spirit, and she had had the highest honors in the
world's gift, but she went her simple way unspoiled. She knew all ranks,
and won them all, and made them her friends. An English fisherman's wife
said, "When a body was in trouble she didn't send her help, she brought it
herself." Crowns have adorned others, but she adorned her crowns.
It was a swift celebrity the assassin achieved. And it is marked by some
curious contrasts. At noon last Saturday there was no one in the world who
would have considered acquaintanceship with him a thing worth claiming or
mentioning; no one would have been vain of such an acquaintanceship; the
humblest honest boot-black would not have valued the fact that he had met
him or seen him at some time or other; he was sunk in abysmal obscurity,
he was away beneath the notice of the bottom grades of officialdom. Three
hours later he was the one subject of conversation in the world, the
gilded generals and admirals and governors were discussing him, all the
kings and queens and emperors had put aside their other interests to talk
about him. And wherever there was a man, at the summit of the world or the
bottom of it, who by chance had at some time or other come across that
creature, he remembered it with a secret satisfaction, and MENTIONED it—for
it was a distinction, now! It brings human dignity pretty low, and for a
moment the thing is not quite realizable—but it is perfectly true.
If there is a king who can remember, now, that he once saw that creature
in a time past, he has let that fact out, in a more or less studiedly
casual and indifferent way, some dozens of times during the past week. For
a king is merely human; the inside of him is exactly like the inside of
any other person; and it is human to find satisfaction in being in a kind
of personal way connected with amazing events. We are all privately vain
of such a thing; we are all alike; a king is a king by accident; the
reason the rest of us are not kings is merely due to another accident; we
are all made out of the same clay, and it is a sufficiently poor quality.
Below the kings, these remarks are in the air these days; I know it as
well as if I were hearing them:
THE COMMANDER: "He was in my army."
THE GENERAL: "He was in my corps."
THE COLONEL: "He was in my regiment. A brute. I remember him well."
THE CAPTAIN: "He was in my company. A troublesome scoundrel. I remember
THE SERGEANT: "Did I know him? As well as I know you. Why, every morning I
used to—" etc., etc.; a glad, long story, told to devouring ears.
THE LANDLADY: "Many's the time he boarded with me. I can show you his very
room, and the very bed he slept in. And the charcoal mark there on the
wall—he made that. My little Johnny saw him do it with his own eyes.
Didn't you, Johnny?"
It is easy to see, by the papers, that the magistrate and the constables
and the jailer treasure up the assassin's daily remarks and doings as
precious things, and as wallowing this week in seas of blissful
distinction. The interviewer, too; he trie to let on that he is not vain
of his privilege of contact with this man whom few others are allowed to
gaze upon, but he is human, like the rest, and can no more keep his vanity
corked in than could you or I.
Some think that this murder is a frenzied revolt against the criminal
militarism which is impoverishing Europe and driving the starving poor
mad. That has many crimes to answer for, but not this one, I think. One
may not attribute to this man a generous indignation against the wrongs
done the poor; one may not dignify him with a generous impulse of any
kind. When he saw his photograph and said, "I shall be celebrated," he
laid bare the impulse that prompted him. It was a mere hunger for
notoriety. There is another confessed case of the kind which is as old as
history—the burning of the temple of Ephesus.
Among the inadequate attempts to account for the assassination we must
concede high rank to the many which have described it as a "peculiarly
brutal crime" and then added that it was "ordained from above." I think
this verdict will not be popular "above." If the deed was ordained from
above, there is no rational way of making this prisoner even partially
responsible for it, and the Genevan court cannot condemn him without
manifestly committing a crime. Logic is logic, and by disregarding its
laws even the most pious and showy theologian may be beguiled into
preferring charges which should not be ventured upon except in the shelter
of plenty of lightning-rods.
I witnessed the funeral procession, in company with friends, from the
windows of the Krantz, Vienna's sumptuous new hotel. We came into town in
the middle of the forenoon, and I went on foot from the station. Black
flags hung down from all the houses; the aspects were Sunday-like; the
crowds on the sidewalks were quiet and moved slowly; very few people were
smoking; many ladies wore deep mourning, gentlemen were in black as a
rule; carriages were speeding in all directions, with footmen and coachmen
in black clothes and wearing black cocked hats; the shops were closed; in
many windows were pictures of the Empress: as a beautiful young bride of
seventeen; as a serene and majestic lady with added years; and finally in
deep black and without ornaments—the costume she always wore after
the tragic death of her son nine years ago, for her heart broke then, and
life lost almost all its value for her. The people stood grouped before
these pictures, and now and then one saw women and girls turn away wiping
the tears from their eyes.
In front of the Krantz is an open square; over the way was the church
where the funeral services would be held. It is small and old and severely
plain, plastered outside and whitewashed or painted, and with no ornament
but a statue of a monk in a niche over the door, and above that a small
black flag. But in its crypt lie several of the great dead of the House of
Habsburg, among them Maria Theresa and Napoleon's son, the Duke of
Reichstadt. Hereabouts was a Roman camp, once, and in it the Emperor
Marcus Aurelius died a thousand years before the first Habsburg ruled in
Vienna, which was six hundred years ago and more.
The little church is packed in among great modern stores and houses, and
the windows of them were full of people. Behind the vast plate-glass
windows of the upper floors of a house on the corner one glimpsed terraced
masses of fine-clothed men and women, dim and shimmery, like people under
water. Under us the square was noiseless, but it was full of citizens;
officials in fine uniforms were flitting about on errands, and in a
doorstep sat a figure in the uttermost raggedness of poverty, the feet
bare, the head bent humbly down; a youth of eighteen or twenty, he was,
and through the field-glass one could see that he was tearing apart and
munching riffraff that he had gathered somewhere. Blazing uniforms flashed
by him, making a sparkling contrast with his drooping ruin of moldy rags,
but he took no notice; he was not there to grieve for a nation's disaster;
he had his own cares, and deeper. From two directions two long files of
infantry came plowing through the pack and press in silence; there was a
low, crisp order and the crowd vanished, the square save the sidewalks was
empty, the private mourner was gone. Another order, the soldiers fell
apart and enclosed the square in a double-ranked human fence. It was all
so swift, noiseless, exact—like a beautifully ordered machine.
It was noon, now. Two hours of stillness and waiting followed. Then
carriages began to flow past and deliver the two or three hundred court
personages and high nobilities privileged to enter the church. Then the
square filled up; not with civilians, but with army and navy officers in
showy and beautiful uniforms. They filled it compactly, leaving only a
narrow carriage path in front of the church, but there was no civilian
among them. And it was better so; dull clothes would have marred the
radiant spectacle. In the jam in front of the church, on its steps, and on
the sidewalk was a bunch of uniforms which made a blazing splotch of color—intense
red, gold, and white—which dimmed the brilliancies around them; and
opposite them on the other side of the path was a bunch of cascaded
bright-green plumes above pale-blue shoulders which made another splotch
of splendor emphatic and conspicuous in its glowing surroundings. It was a
sea of flashing color all about, but these two groups were the high notes.
The green plumes were worn by forty or fifty Austrian generals, the group
opposite them were chiefly Knights of Malta and knights of a German order.
The mass of heads in the square were covered by gilt helmets and by
military caps roofed with a mirror-like glaze, and the movements of the
wearers caused these things to catch the sun-rays, and the effect was fine
to see—the square was like a garden of richly colored flowers with a
multitude of blinding and flashing little suns distributed over it.
Think of it—it was by command of that Italian loafer yonder on his
imperial throne in the Geneva prison that this splendid multitude was
assembled there; and the kings and emperors that were entering the church
from a side street were there by his will. It is so strange, so
At three o'clock the carriages were still streaming by in single file. At
three-five a cardinal arrives with his attendants; later some bishops;
then a number of archdeacons—all in striking colors that add to the
show. At three-ten a procession of priests passes along, with crucifix.
Another one, presently; after an interval, two more; at three-fifty
another one—very long, with many crosses, gold-embroidered robes,
and much white lace; also great pictured banners, at intervals, receding
into the distance.
A hum of tolling bells makes itself heard, but not sharply. At
three-fifty-eight a waiting interval. Presently a long procession of
gentlemen in evening dress comes in sight and approaches until it is near
to the square, then falls back against the wall of soldiers at the
sidewalk, and the white shirt-fronts show like snowflakes and are very
conspicuous where so much warm color is all about.
A waiting pause. At four-twelve the head of the funeral procession comes
into view at last. First, a body of cavalry, four abreast, to widen the
path. Next, a great body of lancers, in blue, with gilt helmets. Next,
three six-horse mourning-coaches; outriders and coachmen in black, with
cocked hats and white wigs. Next, troops in splendid uniforms, red, gold,
and white, exceedingly showy.
Now the multitude uncover. The soldiers present arms; there is a low
rumble of drums; the sumptuous great hearse approaches, drawn at a walk by
eight black horses plumed with black bunches of nodding ostrich feathers;
the coffin is borne into the church, the doors are closed.
The multitude cover their heads, and the rest of the procession moves by;
first the Hungarian Guard in their indescribably brilliant and picturesque
and beautiful uniform, inherited from the ages of barbaric splendor, and
after them other mounted forces, a long and showy array.
Then the shining crown in the square crumbled apart, a wrecked rainbow,
and melted away in radiant streams, and in the turn of a wrist the three
dirtiest and raggedest and cheerfulest little slum-girls in Austria were
capering about in the spacious vacancy. It was a day of contrasts.
Twice the Empress entered Vienna in state. The first time was in 1854,
when she was a bride of seventeen, and then she rode in measureless pomp
and with blare of music through a fluttering world of gay flags and
decorations, down streets walled on both hands with a press of shouting
and welcoming subjects; and the second time was last Wednesday, when she
entered the city in her coffin and moved down the same streets in the dead
of the night under swaying black flags, between packed human walls again;
but everywhere was a deep stillness, now—a stillness emphasized,
rather than broken, by the muffled hoofbeats of the long cavalcade over
pavements cushioned with sand, and the low sobbing of gray-headed women
who had witnessed the first entry forty-four years before, when she and
they were young—and unaware!
A character in Baron von Berger's recent fairy drama "Habsburg" tells
about that first coming of the girlish Empress-Queen, and in his history
draws a fine picture: I cannot make a close translation of it, but will
try to convey the spirit of the verses:
I saw the stately pageant pass:
In her high place I saw the Empress-Queen:
I could not take my eyes away
From that fair vision, spirit-like and pure,
That rose serene, sublime, and figured to my sense
A noble Alp far lighted in the blue,
That in the flood of morning rends its veil of cloud
And stands a dream of glory to the gaze
Of them that in the Valley toil and plod.
A SCRAP OF CURIOUS HISTORY
Marion City, on the Mississippi River, in the State of Missouri—a
village; time, 1845. La Bourboule-les-Bains, France—a village; time,
the end of June, 1894. I was in the one village in that early time; I am
in the other now. These times and places are sufficiently wide apart, yet
today I have the strange sense of being thrust back into that Missourian
village and of reliving certain stirring days that I lived there so long
Last Saturday night the life of the President of the French Republic was
taken by an Italian assassin. Last night a mob surrounded our hotel,
shouting, howling, singing the "Marseillaise," and pelting our windows
with sticks and stones; for we have Italian waiters, and the mob demanded
that they be turned out of the house instantly—to be drubbed, and
then driven out of the village. Everybody in the hotel remained up until
far into the night, and experienced the several kinds of terror which one
reads about in books which tell of night attacks by Italians and by French
mobs: the growing roar of the oncoming crowd; the arrival, with rain of
stones and a crash of glass; the withdrawal to rearrange plans—followed
by a silence ominous, threatening, and harder to bear than even the active
siege and the noise. The landlord and the two village policemen stood
their ground, and at last the mob was persuaded to go away and leave our
Italians in peace. Today four of the ringleaders have been sentenced to
heavy punishment of a public sort—and are become local heroes, by
That is the very mistake which was at first made in the Missourian village
half a century ago. The mistake was repeated and repeated—just as
France is doing in these latter months.
In our village we had our Ravochals, our Henrys, our Vaillants; and in a
humble way our Cesario—I hope I have spelled this name wrong. Fifty
years ago we passed through, in all essentials, what France has been
passing through during the past two or three years, in the matter of
periodical frights, horrors, and shudderings.
In several details the parallels are quaintly exact. In that day, for a
man to speak out openly and proclaim himself an enemy of negro slavery was
simply to proclaim himself a madman. For he was blaspheming against the
holiest thing known to a Missourian, and could NOT be in his right mind.
For a man to proclaim himself an anarchist in France, three years ago, was
to proclaim himself a madman—he could not be in his right mind.
Now the original old first blasphemer against any institution profoundly
venerated by a community is quite sure to be in earnest; his followers and
imitators may be humbugs and self-seekers, but he himself is sincere—his
heart is in his protest.
Robert Hardy was our first ABOLITIONIST—awful name! He was a
journeyman cooper, and worked in the big cooper-shop belonging to the
great pork-packing establishment which was Marion City's chief pride and
sole source of prosperity. He was a New-Englander, a stranger. And, being
a stranger, he was of course regarded as an inferior person—for that
has been human nature from Adam down—and of course, also, he was
made to feel unwelcome, for this is the ancient law with man and the other
animals. Hardy was thirty years old, and a bachelor; pale, given to
reverie and reading. He was reserved, and seemed to prefer the isolation
which had fallen to his lot. He was treated to many side remarks by his
fellows, but as he did not resent them it was decided that he was a
All of a sudden he proclaimed himself an abolitionist—straight out
and publicly! He said that negro slavery was a crime, an infamy. For a
moment the town was paralyzed with astonishment; then it broke into a fury
of rage and swarmed toward the cooper-shop to lynch Hardy. But the
Methodist minister made a powerful speech to them and stayed their hands.
He proved to them that Hardy was insane and not responsible for his words;
that no man COULD be sane and utter such words.
So Hardy was saved. Being insane, he was allowed to go on talking. He was
found to be good entertainment. Several nights running he made abolition
speeches in the open air, and all the town flocked to hear and laugh. He
implored them to believe him sane and sincere, and have pity on the poor
slaves, and take measures for the restoration of their stolen rights, or
in no long time blood would flow—blood, blood, rivers of blood!
It was great fun. But all of a sudden the aspect of things changed. A
slave came flying from Palmyra, the county-seat, a few miles back, and was
about to escape in a canoe to Illinois and freedom in the dull twilight of
the approaching dawn, when the town constable seized him. Hardy happened
along and tried to rescue the negro; there was a struggle, and the
constable did not come out of it alive. Hardy crossed the river with the
negro, and then came back to give himself up. All this took time, for the
Mississippi is not a French brook, like the Seine, the Loire, and those
other rivulets, but is a real river nearly a mile wide. The town was on
hand in force by now, but the Methodist preacher and the sheriff had
already made arrangements in the interest of order; so Hardy was
surrounded by a strong guard and safely conveyed to the village calaboose
in spite of all the effort of the mob to get hold of him. The reader will
have begun to perceive that this Methodist minister was a prompt man; a
prompt man, with active hands and a good headpiece. Williams was his name—Damon
Williams; Damon Williams in public, Damnation Williams in private, because
he was so powerful on that theme and so frequent.
The excitement was prodigious. The constable was the first man who had
ever been killed in the town. The event was by long odds the most imposing
in the town's history. It lifted the humble village into sudden
importance; its name was in everybody's mouth for twenty miles around. And
so was the name of Robert Hardy—Robert Hardy, the stranger, the
despised. In a day he was become the person of most consequence in the
region, the only person talked about. As to those other coopers, they
found their position curiously changed—they were important people,
or unimportant, now, in proportion as to how large or how small had been
their intercourse with the new celebrity. The two or three who had really
been on a sort of familiar footing with him found themselves objects of
admiring interest with the public and of envy with their shopmates.
The village weekly journal had lately gone into new hands. The new man was
an enterprising fellow, and he made the most of the tragedy. He issued an
extra. Then he put up posters promising to devote his whole paper to
matters connected with the great event—there would be a full and
intensely interesting biography of the murderer, and even a portrait of
him. He was as good as his word. He carved the portrait himself, on the
back of a wooden type—and a terror it was to look at. It made a
great commotion, for this was the first time the village paper had ever
contained a picture. The village was very proud. The output of the paper
was ten times as great as it had ever been before, yet every copy was
When the trial came on, people came from all the farms around, and from
Hannibal, and Quincy, and even from Keokuk; and the court-house could hold
only a fraction of the crowd that applied for admission. The trial was
published in the village paper, with fresh and still more trying pictures
of the accused.
Hardy was convicted, and hanged—a mistake. People came from miles
around to see the hanging; they brought cakes and cider, also the women
and children, and made a picnic of the matter. It was the largest crowd
the village had ever seen. The rope that hanged Hardy was eagerly bought
up, in inch samples, for everybody wanted a memento of the memorable
Martyrdom gilded with notoriety has its fascinations. Within one week
afterward four young lightweights in the village proclaimed themselves
abolitionists! In life Hardy had not been able to make a convert;
everybody laughed at him; but nobody could laugh at his legacy. The four
swaggered around with their slouch-hats pulled down over their faces, and
hinted darkly at awful possibilities. The people were troubled and afraid,
and showed it. And they were stunned, too; they could not understand it.
"Abolitionist" had always been a term of shame and horror; yet here were
four young men who were not only not ashamed to bear that name, but were
grimly proud of it. Respectable young men they were, too—of good
families, and brought up in the church. Ed Smith, the printer's
apprentice, nineteen, had been the head Sunday-school boy, and had once
recited three thousand Bible verses without making a break. Dick Savage,
twenty, the baker's apprentice; Will Joyce, twenty-two, journeyman
blacksmith; and Henry Taylor, twenty-four, tobacco-stemmer—were the
other three. They were all of a sentimental cast; they were all
romance-readers; they all wrote poetry, such as it was; they were all vain
and foolish; but they had never before been suspected of having anything
bad in them.
They withdrew from society, and grew more and more mysterious and
dreadful. They presently achieved the distinction of being denounced by
names from the pulpit—which made an immense stir! This was grandeur,
this was fame. They were envied by all the other young fellows now. This
was natural. Their company grew—grew alarmingly. They took a name.
It was a secret name, and was divulged to no outsider; publicly they were
simply the abolitionists. They had pass-words, grips, and signs; they had
secret meetings; their initiations were conducted with gloomy pomps and
ceremonies, at midnight.
They always spoke of Hardy as "the Martyr," and every little while they
moved through the principal street in procession—at midnight,
black-robed, masked, to the measured tap of the solemn drum—on
pilgrimage to the Martyr's grave, where they went through with some
majestic fooleries and swore vengeance upon his murderers. They gave
previous notice of the pilgrimage by small posters, and warned everybody
to keep indoors and darken all houses along the route, and leave the road
empty. These warnings were obeyed, for there was a skull and crossbones at
the top of the poster.
When this kind of thing had been going on about eight weeks, a quite
natural thing happened. A few men of character and grit woke up out of the
nightmare of fear which had been stupefying their faculties, and began to
discharge scorn and scoffings at themselves and the community for enduring
this child's-play; and at the same time they proposed to end it
straightway. Everybody felt an uplift; life was breathed into their dead
spirits; their courage rose and they began to feel like men again. This
was on a Saturday. All day the new feeling grew and strengthened; it grew
with a rush; it brought inspiration and cheer with it. Midnight saw a
united community, full of zeal and pluck, and with a clearly defined and
welcome piece of work in front of it. The best organizer and strongest and
bitterest talker on that great Saturday was the Presbyterian clergyman who
had denounced the original four from his pulpit—Rev. Hiram Fletcher—and
he promised to use his pulpit in the public interest again now. On the
morrow he had revelations to make, he said—secrets of the dreadful
But the revelations were never made. At half past two in the morning the
dead silence of the village was broken by a crashing explosion, and the
town patrol saw the preacher's house spring in a wreck of whirling
fragments into the sky. The preacher was killed, together with a negro
woman, his only slave and servant.
The town was paralyzed again, and with reason. To struggle against a
visible enemy is a thing worth while, and there is a plenty of men who
stand always ready to undertake it; but to struggle against an invisible
one—an invisible one who sneaks in and does his awful work in the
dark and leaves no trace—that is another matter. That is a thing to
make the bravest tremble and hold back.
The cowed populace were afraid to go to the funeral. The man who was to
have had a packed church to hear him expose and denounce the common enemy
had but a handful to see him buried. The coroner's jury had brought in a
verdict of "death by the visitation of God," for no witness came forward;
if any existed they prudently kept out of the way. Nobody seemed sorry.
Nobody wanted to see the terrible secret society provoked into the
commission of further outrages. Everybody wanted the tragedy hushed up,
ignored, forgotten, if possible.
And so there was a bitter surprise and an unwelcome one when Will Joyce,
the blacksmith's journeyman, came out and proclaimed himself the assassin!
Plainly he was not minded to be robbed of his glory. He made his
proclamation, and stuck to it. Stuck to it, and insisted upon a trial.
Here was an ominous thing; here was a new and peculiarly formidable
terror, for a motive was revealed here which society could not hope to
deal with successfully—VANITY, thirst for notoriety. If men were
going to kill for notoriety's sake, and to win the glory of newspaper
renown, a big trial, and a showy execution, what possible invention of man
could discourage or deter them? The town was in a sort of panic; it did
not know what to do.
However, the grand jury had to take hold of the matter—it had no
choice. It brought in a true bill, and presently the case went to the
county court. The trial was a fine sensation. The prisoner was the
principal witness for the prosecution. He gave a full account of the
assassination; he furnished even the minutest particulars: how he
deposited his keg of powder and laid his train—from the house to
such-and-such a spot; how George Ronalds and Henry Hart came along just
then, smoking, and he borrowed Hart's cigar and fired the train with it,
shouting, "Down with all slave-tyrants!" and how Hart and Ronalds made no
effort to capture him, but ran away, and had never come forward to testify
But they had to testify now, and they did—and pitiful it was to see
how reluctant they were, and how scared. The crowded house listened to
Joyce's fearful tale with a profound and breathless interest, and in a
deep hush which was not broken till he broke it himself, in concluding,
with a roaring repetition of his "Death to all slave-tyrants!"—which
came so unexpectedly and so startlingly that it made everyone present
catch his breath and gasp.
The trial was put in the paper, with biography and large portrait, with
other slanderous and insane pictures, and the edition sold beyond
The execution of Joyce was a fine and picturesque thing. It drew a vast
crowd. Good places in trees and seats on rail fences sold for half a
dollar apiece; lemonade and gingerbread-stands had great prosperity. Joyce
recited a furious and fantastic and denunciatory speech on the scaffold
which had imposing passages of school-boy eloquence in it, and gave him a
reputation on the spot as an orator, and his name, later, in the society's
records, of the "Martyr Orator." He went to his death breathing slaughter
and charging his society to "avenge his murder." If he knew anything of
human nature he knew that to plenty of young fellows present in that great
crowd he was a grand hero—and enviably situated.
He was hanged. It was a mistake. Within a month from his death the society
which he had honored had twenty new members, some of them earnest,
determined men. They did not court distinction in the same way, but they
celebrated his martyrdom. The crime which had been obscure and despised
had become lofty and glorified.
Such things were happening all over the country. Wild-brained martyrdom
was succeeded by uprising and organization. Then, in natural order,
followed riot, insurrection, and the wrack and restitutions of war. It was
bound to come, and it would naturally come in that way. It has been the
manner of reform since the beginning of the world.
SWITZERLAND, THE CRADLE OF LIBERTY
Interlaken, Switzerland, 1891.
It is a good many years since I was in Switzerland last. In that remote
time there was only one ladder railway in the country. That state of
things is all changed. There isn't a mountain in Switzerland now that
hasn't a ladder railroad or two up its back like suspenders; indeed, some
mountains are latticed with them, and two years hence all will be. In that
day the peasant of the high altitudes will have to carry a lantern when he
goes visiting in the night to keep from stumbling over railroads that have
been built since his last round. And also in that day, if there shall
remain a high-altitude peasant whose potato-patch hasn't a railroad
through it, it will make him as conspicuous as William Tell.
However, there are only two best ways to travel through Switzerland. The
first best is afoot. The second best is by open two-horse carriage. One
can come from Lucerne to Interlaken over the Brunig by ladder railroad in
an hour or so now, but you can glide smoothly in a carriage in ten, and
have two hours for luncheon at noon—for luncheon, not for rest.
There is no fatigue connected with the trip. One arrives fresh in spirit
and in person in the evening—no fret in his heart, no grime on his
face, no grit in his hair, not a cinder in his eye. This is the right
condition of mind and body, the right and due preparation for the solemn
event which closed the day—stepping with metaphorically uncovered
head into the presence of the most impressive mountain mass that the globe
can show—the Jungfrau. The stranger's first feeling, when suddenly
confronted by that towering and awful apparition wrapped in its shroud of
snow, is breath-taking astonishment. It is as if heaven's gates had swung
open and exposed the throne.
It is peaceful here and pleasant at Interlaken. Nothing going on—at
least nothing but brilliant life-giving sunshine. There are floods and
floods of that. One may properly speak of it as "going on," for it is full
of the suggestion of activity; the light pours down with energy, with
visible enthusiasm. This is a good atmosphere to be in, morally as well as
physically. After trying the political atmosphere of the neighboring
monarchies, it is healing and refreshing to breathe in air that has known
no taint of slavery for six hundred years, and to come among a people
whose political history is great and fine, and worthy to be taught in all
schools and studied by all races and peoples. For the struggle here
throughout the centuries has not been in the interest of any private
family, or any church, but in the interest of the whole body of the
nation, and for shelter and protection of all forms of belief. This fact
is colossal. If one would realize how colossal it is, and of what dignity
and majesty, let him contrast it with the purposes and objects of the
Crusades, the siege of York, the War of the Roses, and other historic
comedies of that sort and size.
Last week I was beating around the Lake of Four Cantons, and I saw Rutli
and Altorf. Rutli is a remote little patch of a meadow, but I do not know
how any piece of ground could be holier or better worth crossing oceans
and continents to see, since it was there that the great trinity of
Switzerland joined hands six centuries ago and swore the oath which set
their enslaved and insulted country forever free; and Altorf is also
honorable ground and worshipful, since it was there that William, surnamed
Tell (which interpreted means "The foolish talker"—that is to say,
the too-daring talker), refused to bow to Gessler's hat. Of late years the
prying student of history has been delighting himself beyond measure over
a wonderful find which he has made—to wit, that Tell did not shoot
the apple from his son's head. To hear the students jubilate, one would
suppose that the question of whether Tell shot the apple or didn't was an
important matter; whereas it ranks in importance exactly with the question
of whether Washington chopped down the cherry-tree or didn't. The deeds of
Washington, the patriot, are the essential thing; the cherry-tree incident
is of no consequence. To prove that Tell did shoot the apple from his
son's head would merely prove that he had better nerve than most men and
was as skillful with a bow as a million others who preceded and followed
him, but not one whit more so. But Tell was more and better than a mere
marksman, more and better than a mere cool head; he was a type; he stands
for Swiss patriotism; in his person was represented a whole people; his
spirit was their spirit—the spirit which would bow to none but God,
the spirit which said this in words and confirmed it with deeds. There
have always been Tells in Switzerland—people who would not bow.
There was a sufficiency of them at Rutli; there were plenty of them at
Murten; plenty at Grandson; there are plenty today. And the first of them
all—the very first, earliest banner-bearer of human freedom in this
world—was not a man, but a woman—Stauffacher's wife. There she
looms dim and great, through the haze of the centuries, delivering into
her husband's ear that gospel of revolt which was to bear fruit in the
conspiracy of Rutli and the birth of the first free government the world
had ever seen.
From this Victoria Hotel one looks straight across a flat of trifling
width to a lofty mountain barrier, which has a gateway in it shaped like
an inverted pyramid. Beyond this gateway arises the vast bulk of the
Jungfrau, a spotless mass of gleaming snow, into the sky. The gateway, in
the dark-colored barrier, makes a strong frame for the great picture. The
somber frame and the glowing snow-pile are startlingly contrasted. It is
this frame which concentrates and emphasizes the glory of the Jungfrau and
makes it the most engaging and beguiling and fascinating spectacle that
exists on the earth. There are many mountains of snow that are as lofty as
the Jungfrau and as nobly proportioned, but they lack the frame. They
stand at large; they are intruded upon and elbowed by neighboring domes
and summits, and their grandeur is diminished and fails of effect.
It is a good name, Jungfrau—Virgin. Nothing could be whiter; nothing
could be purer; nothing could be saintlier of aspect. At six yesterday
evening the great intervening barrier seen through a faint bluish haze
seemed made of air and substanceless, so soft and rich it was, so
shimmering where the wandering lights touched it and so dim where the
shadows lay. Apparently it was a dream stuff, a work of the imagination,
nothing real about it. The tint was green, slightly varying shades of it,
but mainly very dark. The sun was down—as far as that barrier was
concerned, but not for the Jungfrau, towering into the heavens beyond the
gateway. She was a roaring conflagration of blinding white.
It is said the Fridolin (the old Fridolin), a new saint, but formerly a
missionary, gave the mountain its gracious name. He was an Irishman, son
of an Irish king—there were thirty thousand kings reigning in County
Cork alone in his time, fifteen hundred years ago. It got so that they
could not make a living, there was so much competition and wages got cut
so. Some of them were out of work months at a time, with wife and little
children to feed, and not a crust in the place. At last a particularly
severe winter fell upon the country, and hundreds of them were reduced to
mendicancy and were to be seen day after day in the bitterest weather,
standing barefoot in the snow, holding out their crowns for alms. Indeed,
they would have been obliged to emigrate or starve but for a fortunate
idea of Prince Fridolin's, who started a labor-union, the first one in
history, and got the great bulk of them to join it. He thus won the
general gratitude, and they wanted to make him emperor—emperor over
them all—emperor of County Cork, but he said, No, walking delegate
was good enough for him. For behold! he was modest beyond his years, and
keen as a whip. To this day in Germany and Switzerland, where St. Fridolin
is revered and honored, the peasantry speak of him affectionately as the
first walking delegate.
The first walk he took was into France and Germany, missionarying—for
missionarying was a better thing in those days than it is in ours. All you
had to do was to cure the head savage's sick daughter by a "miracle"—a
miracle like the miracle of Lourdes in our day, for instance—and
immediately that head savage was your convert, and filled to the eyes with
a new convert's enthusiasm. You could sit down and make yourself easy,
now. He would take an ax and convert the rest of the nation himself.
Charlemagne was that kind of a walking delegate.
Yes, there were great missionaries in those days, for the methods were
sure and the rewards great. We have no such missionaries now, and no such
But to continue the history of the first walking delegate, if you are
interested. I am interested myself because I have seen his relics in
Sackingen, and also the very spot where he worked his great miracle—the
one which won him his sainthood in the papal court a few centuries later.
To have seen these things makes me feel very near to him, almost like a
member of the family, in fact. While wandering about the Continent he
arrived at the spot on the Rhine which is now occupied by Sackingen, and
proposed to settle there, but the people warned him off. He appealed to
the king of the Franks, who made him a present of the whole region, people
and all. He built a great cloister there for women and proceeded to teach
in it and accumulate more land. There were two wealthy brothers in the
neighborhood, Urso and Landulph. Urso died and Fridolin claimed his
estates. Landulph asked for documents and papers. Fridolin had none to
show. He said the bequest had been made to him by word of mouth. Landulph
suggested that he produce a witness and said it in a way which he thought
was very witty, very sarcastic. This shows that he did not know the
walking delegate. Fridolin was not disturbed. He said:
"Appoint your court. I will bring a witness."
The court thus created consisted of fifteen counts and barons. A day was
appointed for the trial of the case. On that day the judges took their
seats in state, and proclamation was made that the court was ready for
business. Five minutes, ten minutes, fifteen minutes passed, and yet no
Fridolin appeared. Landulph rose, and was in the act of claiming judgment
by default when a strange clacking sound was heard coming up the stairs.
In another moment Fridolin entered at the door and came walking in a deep
hush down the middle aisle, with a tall skeleton stalking in his rear.
Amazement and terror sat upon every countenance, for everybody suspected
that the skeleton was Urso's. It stopped before the chief judge and raised
its bony arm aloft and began to speak, while all the assembly shuddered,
for they could see the words leak out between its ribs. It said:
"Brother, why dost thou disturb my blessed rest and withhold by robbery
the gift which I gave thee for the honor of God?"
It seems a strange thing and most irregular, but the verdict was actually
given against Landulph on the testimony of this wandering rack-heap of
unidentified bones. In our day a skeleton would not be allowed to testify
at all, for a skeleton has no moral responsibility, and its word could not
be believed on oath, and this was probably one of them. Most skeletons are
not to be believed on oath, and this was probably one of them. However,
the incident is valuable as preserving to us a curious sample of the
quaint laws of evidence of that remote time--a time so remote, so far back
toward the beginning of original idiocy, that the difference between a
bench of judges and a basket of vegetables was as yet so slight that we
may say with all confidence that it didn't really exist.
During several afternoons I have been engaged in an interesting, maybe
useful, piece of work—that is to say, I have been trying to make the
mighty Jungfrau earn her living—earn it in a most humble sphere, but
on a prodigious scale, on a prodigious scale of necessity, for she
couldn't do anything in a small way with her size and style. I have been
trying to make her do service on a stupendous dial and check off the hours
as they glide along her pallid face up there against the sky, and tell the
time of day to the populations lying within fifty miles of her and to the
people in the moon, if they have a good telescope there.
Until late in the afternoon the Jungfrau's aspect is that of a spotless
desert of snow set upon edge against the sky. But by mid-afternoon some
elevations which rise out of the western border of the desert, whose
presence you perhaps had not detected or suspected up to that time, began
to cast black shadows eastward across the gleaming surface. At first there
is only one shadow; later there are two. Toward 4 P.M. the other day I was
gazing and worshiping as usual when I chanced to notice that shadow No. 1
was beginning to take itself something of the shape of the human profile.
By four the back of the head was good, the military cap was pretty good,
the nose was bold and strong, the upper lip sharp, but not pretty, and
there was a great goatee that shot straight aggressively forward from the
At four-thirty the nose had changed its shape considerably, and the
altered slant of the sun had revealed and made conspicuous a huge buttress
or barrier of naked rock which was so located as to answer very well for a
shoulder or coat-collar to this swarthy and indiscreet sweetheart who had
stolen out there right before everybody to pillow his head on the Virgin's
white breast and whisper soft sentimentalities to her in the sensuous
music of the crashing ice-domes and the boom and thunder of the passing
avalanche—music very familiar to his ear, for he has heard it every
afternoon at this hour since the day he first came courting this child of
the earth, who lives in the sky, and that day is far, yes—for he was
at this pleasant sport before the Middle Ages drifted by him in the
valley; before the Romans marched past, and before the antique and
recordless barbarians fished and hunted here and wondered who he might be,
and were probably afraid of him; and before primeval man himself, just
emerged from his four-footed estate, stepped out upon this plain, first
sample of his race, a thousand centuries ago, and cast a glad eye up
there, judging he had found a brother human being and consequently
something to kill; and before the big saurians wallowed here, still some
eons earlier. Oh yes, a day so far back that the eternal son was present
to see that first visit; a day so far back that neither tradition nor
history was born yet and a whole weary eternity must come and go before
the restless little creature, of whose face this stupendous Shadow Face
was the prophecy, would arrive in the earth and begin his shabby career
and think it a big thing. Oh, indeed yes; when you talk about your poor
Roman and Egyptian day-before-yesterday antiquities, you should choose a
time when the hoary Shadow Face of the Jungfrau is not by. It antedates
all antiquities known or imaginable; for it was here the world itself
created the theater of future antiquities. And it is the only witness with
a human face that was there to see the marvel, and remains to us a
memorial of it.
By 4:40 P.M. the nose of the shadow is perfect and is beautiful. It is
black and is powerfully marked against the upright canvas of glowing snow,
and covers hundreds of acres of that resplendent surface.
Meantime shadow No. 2 has been creeping out well to the rear of the face
west of it—and at five o'clock has assumed a shape that has rather a
poor and rude semblance of a shoe.
Meantime, also, the great Shadow Face has been gradually changing for
twenty minutes, and now, 5 P.M., it is becoming a quite fair portrait of
Roscoe Conkling. The likeness is there, and is unmistakable. The goatee is
shortened, now, and has an end; formerly it hadn't any, but ran off
eastward and arrived nowhere.
By 6 P.M. the face has dissolved and gone, and the goatee has become what
looks like the shadow of a tower with a pointed roof, and the shoe had
turned into what the printers call a "fist" with a finger pointing.
If I were now imprisoned on a mountain summit a hundred miles northward of
this point, and was denied a timepiece, I could get along well enough from
four till six on clear days, for I could keep trace of the time by the
changing shapes of these mighty shadows on the Virgin's front, the most
stupendous dial I am acquainted with, the oldest clock in the world by a
couple of million years.
I suppose I should not have noticed the forms of the shadows if I hadn't
the habit of hunting for faces in the clouds and in mountain crags—a
sort of amusement which is very entertaining even when you don't find any,
and brilliantly satisfying when you do. I have searched through several
bushels of photographs of the Jungfrau here, but found only one with the
Face in it, and in this case it was not strictly recognizable as a face,
which was evidence that the picture was taken before four o'clock in the
afternoon, and also evidence that all the photographers have persistently
overlooked one of the most fascinating features of the Jungfrau show. I
say fascinating, because if you once detect a human face produced on a
great plan by unconscious nature, you never get tired of watching it. At
first you can't make another person see it at all, but after he has made
it out once he can't see anything else afterward.
The King of Greece is a man who goes around quietly enough when off duty.
One day this summer he was traveling in an ordinary first-class
compartment, just in his other suit, the one which he works the realm in
when he is at home, and so he was not looking like anybody in particular,
but a good deal like everybody in general. By and by a hearty and healthy
German-American got in and opened up a frank and interesting and
sympathetic conversation with him, and asked him a couple of thousand
questions about himself, which the king answered good-naturedly, but in a
more or less indefinite way as to private particulars.
"Where do you live when you are at home?"
"Greece! Well, now, that is just astonishing! Born there?"
"Do you speak Greek?"
"Now, ain't that strange! I never expected to live to see that. What is
your trade? I mean how do you get your living? What is your line of
"Well, I hardly know how to answer. I am only a kind of foreman, on a
salary; and the business—well, is a very general kind of business."
"Yes, I understand—general jobbing—little of everything—anything
that there's money in."
"That's about it, yes."
"Are you traveling for the house now?"
"Well, partly; but not entirely. Of course I do a stroke of business if it
falls in the way—"
"Good! I like that in you! That's me every time. Go on."
"I was only going to say I am off on my vacation now."
"Well that's all right. No harm in that. A man works all the better for a
little let-up now and then. Not that I've been used to having it myself;
for I haven't. I reckon this is my first. I was born in Germany, and when
I was a couple of weeks old shipped for America, and I've been there ever
since, and that's sixty-four years by the watch. I'm an American in
principle and a German at heart, and it's the boss combination. Well, how
do you get along, as a rule—pretty fair?"
"I've a rather large family—"
"There, that's it—big family and trying to raise them on a salary.
Now, what did you go to do that for?"
"Well, I thought—"
"Of course you did. You were young and confident and thought you could
branch out and make things go with a whirl, and here you are, you see! But
never mind about that. I'm not trying to discourage you. Dear me! I've
been just where you are myself! You've got good grit; there's good stuff
in you, I can see that. You got a wrong start, that's the whole trouble.
But you hold your grip, and we'll see what can be done. Your case ain't
half as bad as it might be. You are going to come out all right—I'm
bail for that. Boys and girls?"
"My family? Yes, some of them are boys—"
"And the rest girls. It's just as I expected. But that's all right, and
it's better so, anyway. What are the boys doing—learning a trade?"
"Well, no—I thought—"
"It's a great mistake. It's the biggest mistake you ever made. You see
that in your own case. A man ought always to have a trade to fall back on.
Now, I was harness-maker at first. Did that prevent me from becoming one
of the biggest brewers in America? Oh no. I always had the harness trick
to fall back on in rough weather. Now, if you had learned how to make
harness—However, it's too late now; too late. But it's no good plan
to cry over spilt milk. But as to the boys, you see—what's to become
of them if anything happens to you?"
"It has been my idea to let the eldest one succeed me—"
"Oh, come! Suppose the firm don't want him?"
"I hadn't thought of that, but—"
"Now, look here; you want to get right down to business and stop dreaming.
You are capable of immense things—man. You can make a perfect
success in life. All you want is somebody to steady you and boost you
along on the right road. Do you own anything in the business?"
"No—not exactly; but if I continue to give satisfaction, I suppose I
can keep my—"
"Keep your place—yes. Well, don't you depend on anything of the
kind. They'll bounce you the minute you get a little old and worked out;
they'll do it sure. Can't you manage somehow to get into the firm? That's
the great thing, you know."
"I think it is doubtful; very doubtful."
"Um—that's bad—yes, and unfair, too. Do you suppose that if I
should go there and have a talk with your people—Look here—do
you think you could run a brewery?"
"I have never tried, but I think I could do it after I got a little
familiarity with the business."
The German was silent for some time. He did a good deal of thinking, and
the king waited curiousity to see what the result was going to be. Finally
the German said:
"My mind's made up. You leave that crowd—you'll never amount to
anything there. In these old countries they never give a fellow a show.
Yes, you come over to America—come to my place in Rochester; bring
the family along. You shall have a show in the business and the
foremanship, besides. George—you said your name was George?—I'll
make a man of you. I give you my word. You've never had a chance here, but
that's all going to change. By gracious! I'll give you a lift that'll make
your hair curl!"
AT THE SHRINE OF ST. WAGNER
Bayreuth, Aug. 2d, 1891
It was at Nuremberg that we struck the inundation of music-mad strangers
that was rolling down upon Bayreuth. It had been long since we had seen
such multitudes of excited and struggling people. It took a good half-hour
to pack them and pair them into the train—and it was the longest
train we have yet seen in Europe. Nuremberg had been witnessing this sort
of experience a couple of times a day for about two weeks. It gives one an
impressive sense of the magnitude of this biennial pilgrimage. For a
pilgrimage is what it is. The devotees come from the very ends of the
earth to worship their prophet in his own Kaaba in his own Mecca.
If you are living in New York or San Francisco or Chicago or anywhere else
in America, and you conclude, by the middle of May, that you would like to
attend the Bayreuth opera two months and a half later, you must use the
cable and get about it immediately or you will get no seats, and you must
cable for lodgings, too. Then if you are lucky you will get seats in the
last row and lodgings in the fringe of the town. If you stop to write you
will get nothing. There were plenty of people in Nuremberg when we passed
through who had come on pilgrimage without first securing seats and
lodgings. They had found neither in Bayreuth; they had walked Bayreuth
streets a while in sorrow, then had gone to Nuremberg and found neither
beds nor standing room, and had walked those quaint streets all night,
waiting for the hotels to open and empty their guests into the trains, and
so make room for these, their defeated brethren and sisters in the faith.
They had endured from thirty to forty hours' railroading on the continent
of Europe—with all which that implies of worry, fatigue, and
financial impoverishment—and all they had got and all they were to
get for it was handiness and accuracy in kicking themselves, acquired by
practice in the back streets of the two towns when other people were in
bed; for back they must go over that unspeakable journey with their pious
mission unfulfilled. These humiliated outcasts had the frowsy and
unbrushed and apologetic look of wet cats, and their eyes were glazed with
drowsiness, their bodies were adroop from crown to sole, and all
kind-hearted people refrained from asking them if they had been to
Bayreuth and failed to connect, as knowing they would lie.
We reached here (Bayreuth) about mid-afternoon of a rainy Saturday. We
were of the wise, and had secured lodgings and opera seats months in
I am not a musical critic, and did not come here to write essays about the
operas and deliver judgment upon their merits. The little children of
Bayreuth could do that with a finer sympathy and a broader intelligence
than I. I only care to bring four or five pilgrims to the operas, pilgrims
able to appreciate them and enjoy them. What I write about the performance
to put in my odd time would be offered to the public as merely a cat's
view of a king, and not of didactic value.
Next day, which was Sunday, we left for the opera-house—that is to
say, the Wagner temple—a little after the middle of the afternoon.
The great building stands all by itself, grand and lonely, on a high
ground outside the town. We were warned that if we arrived after four
o'clock we should be obliged to pay two dollars and a half apiece extra by
way of fine. We saved that; and it may be remarked here that this is the
only opportunity that Europe offers of saving money. There was a big crowd
in the grounds about the building, and the ladies' dresses took the sun
with fine effect. I do not mean to intimate that the ladies were in full
dress, for that was not so. The dresses were pretty, but neither sex was
in evening dress.
The interior of the building is simple—severely so; but there is no
occasion for color and decoration, since the people sit in the dark. The
auditorium has the shape of a keystone, with the stage at the narrow end.
There is an aisle on each side, but no aisle in the body of the house.
Each row of seats extends in an unbroken curve from one side of the house
to the other. There are seven entrance doors on each side of the theater
and four at the butt, eighteen doors to admit and emit 1,650 persons. The
number of the particular door by which you are to enter the house or leave
it is printed on your ticket, and you can use no door but that one. Thus,
crowding and confusion are impossible. Not so many as a hundred people use
any one door. This is better than having the usual (and useless) elaborate
fireproof arrangements. It is the model theater of the world. It can be
emptied while the second hand of a watch makes its circuit. It would be
entirely safe, even if it were built of lucifer matches.
If your seat is near the center of a row and you enter late you must work
your way along a rank of about twenty-five ladies and gentlemen to get to
it. Yet this causes no trouble, for everybody stands up until all the
seats are full, and the filling is accomplished in a very few minutes.
Then all sit down, and you have a solid mass of fifteen hundred heads,
making a steep cellar-door slant from the rear of the house down to the
All the lights were turned low, so low that the congregation sat in a deep
and solemn gloom. The funereal rustling of dresses and the low buzz of
conversation began to die swiftly down, and presently not the ghost of a
sound was left. This profound and increasingly impressive stillness
endured for some time—the best preparation for music, spectacle, or
speech conceivable. I should think our show people would have invented or
imported that simple and impressive device for securing and solidifying
the attention of an audience long ago; instead of which they continue to
this day to open a performance against a deadly competition in the form of
noise, confusion, and a scattered interest.
Finally, out of darkness and distance and mystery soft rich notes rose
upon the stillness, and from his grave the dead magician began to weave
his spells about his disciples and steep their souls in his enchantments.
There was something strangely impressive in the fancy which kept intruding
itself that the composer was conscious in his grave of what was going on
here, and that these divine sounds were the clothing of thoughts which
were at this moment passing through his brain, and not recognized and
familiar ones which had issued from it at some former time.
The entire overture, long as it was, was played to a dark house with the
curtain down. It was exquisite; it was delicious. But straightway
thereafter, of course, came the singing, and it does seem to me that
nothing can make a Wagner opera absolutely perfect and satisfactory to the
untutored but to leave out the vocal parts. I wish I could see a Wagner
opera done in pantomime once. Then one would have the lovely orchestration
unvexed to listen to and bathe his spirit in, and the bewildering
beautiful scenery to intoxicate his eyes with, and the dumb acting
couldn't mar these pleasures, because there isn't often anything in the
Wagner opera that one would call by such a violent name as acting; as a
rule all you would see would be a couple of silent people, one of them
standing still, the other catching flies. Of course I do not really mean
that he would be catching flies; I only mean that the usual operatic
gestures which consist in reaching first one hand out into the air and
then the other might suggest the sport I speak of if the operator attended
strictly to business and uttered no sound.
This present opera was "Parsifal." Madame Wagner does not permit its
representation anywhere but in Bayreuth. The first act of the three
occupied two hours, and I enjoyed that in spite of the singing.
I trust that I know as well as anybody that singing is one of the most
entrancing and bewitching and moving and eloquent of all the vehicles
invented by man for the conveying of feeling; but it seems to me that the
chief virtue in song is melody, air, tune, rhythm, or what you please to
call it, and that when this feature is absent what remains is a picture
with the color left out. I was not able to detect in the vocal parts of
"Parsifal" anything that might with confidence be called rhythm or tune or
melody; one person performed at a time—and a long time, too—often
in a noble, and always in a high-toned, voice; but he only pulled out long
notes, then some short ones, then another long one, then a sharp, quick,
peremptory bark or two—and so on and so on; and when he was done you
saw that the information which he had conveyed had not compensated for the
disturbance. Not always, but pretty often. If two of them would but put in
a duet occasionally and blend the voices; but no, they don't do that. The
great master, who knew so well how to make a hundred instruments rejoice
in unison and pour out their souls in mingled and melodious tides of
delicious sound, deals only in barren solos when he puts in the vocal
parts. It may be that he was deep, and only added the singing to his
operas for the sake of the contrast it would make with the music. Singing!
It does seem the wrong name to apply to it. Strictly described, it is a
practicing of difficult and unpleasant intervals, mainly. An ignorant
person gets tired of listening to gymnastic intervals in the long run, no
matter how pleasant they may be. In "Parsifal" there is a hermit named
Gurnemanz who stands on the stage in one spot and practices by the hour,
while first one and then another character of the cast endures what he can
of it and then retires to die.
During the evening there was an intermission of three-quarters of an hour
after the first act and one an hour long after the second. In both
instances the theater was totally emptied. People who had previously
engaged tables in the one sole eating-house were able to put in their time
very satisfactorily; the other thousand went hungry. The opera was
concluded at ten in the evening or a little later. When we reached home we
had been gone more than seven hours. Seven hours at five dollars a ticket
is almost too much for the money.
While browsing about the front yard among the crowd between the acts I
encountered twelve or fifteen friends from different parts of America, and
those of them who were most familiar with Wagner said that "Parsifal"
seldom pleased at first, but that after one had heard it several times it
was almost sure to become a favorite. It seemed impossible, but it was
true, for the statement came from people whose word was not to be doubted.
And I gathered some further information. On the ground I found part of a
German musical magazine, and in it a letter written by Uhlic thirty-three
years ago, in which he defends the scorned and abused Wagner against
people like me, who found fault with the comprehensive absence of what our
kind regards as singing. Uhlic says Wagner despised "JENE PLAPPERUDE
MUSIC," and therefore "runs, trills, and SCHNORKEL are discarded by him."
I don't know what a SCHNORKEL is, but now that I know it has been left out
of these operas I never have missed so much in my life. And Uhlic further
says that Wagner's song is true: that it is "simply emphasized intoned
speech." That certainly describes it—in "Parsifal" and some of the
other operas; and if I understand Uhlic's elaborate German he apologizes
for the beautiful airs in "Tannhauser." Very well; now that Wagner and I
understand each other, perhaps we shall get along better, and I shall stop
calling Waggner, on the American plan, and thereafter call him Waggner as
per German custom, for I feel entirely friendly now. The minute we get
reconciled to a person, how willing we are to throw aside little needless
punctilios and pronounce his name right!
Of course I came home wondering why people should come from all corners of
America to hear these operas, when we have lately had a season or two of
them in New York with these same singers in the several parts, and
possibly this same orchestra. I resolved to think that out at all hazards.
TUESDAY.—Yesterday they played the only operatic favorite I have
ever had—an opera which has always driven me mad with ignorant
delight whenever I have heard it—"Tannhauser." I heard it first when
I was a youth; I heard it last in the last German season in New York. I
was busy yesterday and I did not intend to go, knowing I should have
another "Tannhauser" opportunity in a few days; but after five o'clock I
found myself free and walked out to the opera-house and arrived about the
beginning of the second act. My opera ticket admitted me to the grounds in
front, past the policeman and the chain, and I thought I would take a rest
on a bench for an hour and two and wait for the third act.
In a moment or so the first bugles blew, and the multitude began to
crumble apart and melt into the theater. I will explain that this
bugle-call is one of the pretty features here. You see, the theater is
empty, and hundreds of the audience are a good way off in the
feeding-house; the first bugle-call is blown about a quarter of an hour
before time for the curtain to rise. This company of buglers, in uniform,
march out with military step and send out over the landscape a few bars of
the theme of the approaching act, piercing the distances with the gracious
notes; then they march to the other entrance and repeat. Presently they do
this over again. Yesterday only about two hundred people were still left
in front of the house when the second call was blown; in another
half-minute they would have been in the house, but then a thing happened
which delayed them—the only solitary thing in this world which could
be relied on with certainty to accomplish this, I suppose—an
imperial princess appeared in the balcony above them. They stopped dead in
their tracks and began to gaze in a stupor of gratitude and satisfaction.
The lady presently saw that she must disappear or the doors would be
closed upon these worshipers, so she returned to her box. This
daughter-in-law of an emperor was pretty; she had a kind face; she was
without airs; she is known to be full of common human sympathies. There
are many kinds of princesses, but this kind is the most harmful of all,
for wherever they go they reconcile people to monarchy and set back the
clock of progress. The valuable princes, the desirable princes, are the
czars and their sort. By their mere dumb presence in the world they cover
with derision every argument that can be invented in favor of royalty by
the most ingenious casuist. In his time the husband of this princess was
valuable. He led a degraded life, he ended it with his own hand in
circumstances and surroundings of a hideous sort, and was buried like a
In the opera-house there is a long loft back of the audience, a kind of
open gallery, in which princes are displayed. It is sacred to them; it is
the holy of holies. As soon as the filling of the house is about complete
the standing multitude turn and fix their eyes upon the princely layout
and gaze mutely and longingly and adoringly and regretfully like sinners
looking into heaven. They become rapt, unconscious, steeped in worship.
There is no spectacle anywhere that is more pathetic than this. It is
worth crossing many oceans to see. It is somehow not the same gaze that
people rivet upon a Victor Hugo, or Niagara, or the bones of the mastodon,
or the guillotine of the Revolution, or the great pyramid, or distant
Vesuvius smoking in the sky, or any man long celebrated to you by his
genius and achievements, or thing long celebrated to you by the praises of
books and pictures—no, that gaze is only the gaze of intense
curiosity, interest, wonder, engaged in drinking delicious deep draughts
that taste good all the way down and appease and satisfy the thirst of a
lifetime. Satisfy it—that is the word. Hugo and the mastodon will
still have a degree of intense interest thereafter when encountered, but
never anything approaching the ecstasy of that first view. The interest of
a prince is different. It may be envy, it may be worship, doubtless it is
a mixture of both—and it does not satisfy its thirst with one view,
or even noticeably diminish it. Perhaps the essence of the thing is the
value which men attach to a valuable something which has come by luck and
not been earned. A dollar picked up in the road is more satisfaction to
you than the ninety-and-nine which you had to work for, and money won at
faro or in stocks snuggles into your heart in the same way. A prince picks
up grandeur, power, and a permanent holiday and gratis support by a pure
accident, the accident of birth, and he stands always before the grieved
eye of poverty and obscurity a monumental representative of luck. And then—supremest
value of all-his is the only high fortune on the earth which is secure.
The commercial millionaire may become a beggar; the illustrious statesman
can make a vital mistake and be dropped and forgotten; the illustrious
general can lose a decisive battle and with it the consideration of men;
but once a prince always a prince—that is to say, an imitation god,
and neither hard fortune nor an infamous character nor an addled brain nor
the speech of an ass can undeify him. By common consent of all the nations
and all the ages the most valuable thing in this world is the homage of
men, whether deserved or undeserved. It follows without doubt or question,
then, that the most desirable position possible is that of a prince. And I
think it also follows that the so-called usurpations with which history is
littered are the most excusable misdemeanors which men have committed. To
usurp a usurpation—that is all it amounts to, isn't it?
A prince is not to us what he is to a European, of course. We have not
been taught to regard him as a god, and so one good look at him is likely
to so nearly appease our curiosity as to make him an object of no greater
interest the next time. We want a fresh one. But it is not so with the
European. I am quite sure of it. The same old one will answer; he never
stales. Eighteen years ago I was in London and I called at an Englishman's
house on a bleak and foggy and dismal December afternoon to visit his wife
and married daughter by appointment. I waited half an hour and then they
arrived, frozen. They explained that they had been delayed by an
unlooked-for circumstance: while passing in the neighborhood of
Marlborough House they saw a crowd gathering and were told that the Prince
of Wales was about to drive out, so they stopped to get a sight of him.
They had waited half an hour on the sidewalk, freezing with the crowd, but
were disappointed at last—the Prince had changed his mind. I said,
with a good deal of surprise, "Is it possible that you two have lived in
London all your lives and have never seen the Prince of Wales?"
Apparently it was their turn to be surprised, for they exclaimed: "What an
idea! Why, we have seen him hundreds of times."
They had seen him hundreds of times, yet they had waited half an hour in
the gloom and the bitter cold, in the midst of a jam of patients from the
same asylum, on the chance of seeing him again. It was a stupefying
statement, but one is obliged to believe the English, even when they say a
thing like that. I fumbled around for a remark, and got out this one:
"I can't understand it at all. If I had never seen General Grant I doubt
if I would do that even to get a sight of him." With a slight emphasis on
the last word.
Their blank faces showed that they wondered where the parallel came in.
Then they said, blankly: "Of course not. He is only a President."
It is doubtless a fact that a prince is a permanent interest, an interest
not subject to deterioration. The general who was never defeated, the
general who never held a council of war, the only general who ever
commanded a connected battle-front twelve hundred miles long, the smith
who welded together the broken parts of a great republic and
re-established it where it is quite likely to outlast all the monarchies
present and to come, was really a person of no serious consequence to
these people. To them, with their training, my General was only a man,
after all, while their Prince was clearly much more than that—a
being of a wholly unsimilar construction and constitution, and being of no
more blood and kinship with men than are the serene eternal lights of the
firmament with the poor dull tallow candles of commerce that sputter and
die and leave nothing behind but a pinch of ashes and a stink.
I saw the last act of "Tannhauser." I sat in the gloom and the deep
stillness, waiting—one minute, two minutes, I do not know exactly
how long—then the soft music of the hidden orchestra began to
breathe its rich, long sighs out from under the distant stage, and by and
by the drop-curtain parted in the middle and was drawn softly aside,
disclosing the twilighted wood and a wayside shrine, with a white-robed
girl praying and a man standing near. Presently that noble chorus of men's
voices was heard approaching, and from that moment until the closing of
the curtain it was music, just music—music to make one drunk with
pleasure, music to make one take scrip and staff and beg his way round the
globe to hear it.
To such as are intending to come here in the Wagner season next year I
wish to say, bring your dinner-pail with you. If you do, you will never
cease to be thankful. If you do not, you will find it a hard fight to save
yourself from famishing in Bayreuth. Bayreuth is merely a large village,
and has no very large hotels or eating-houses. The principal inns are the
Golden Anchor and the Sun. At either of these places you can get an
excellent meal—no, I mean you can go there and see other people get
it. There is no charge for this. The town is littered with restaurants,
but they are small and bad, and they are overdriven with custom. You must
secure a table hours beforehand, and often when you arrive you will find
somebody occupying it. We have had this experience. We have had a daily
scramble for life; and when I say we, I include shoals of people. I have
the impression that the only people who do not have to scramble are the
veterans—the disciples who have been here before and know the ropes.
I think they arrive about a week before the first opera, and engage all
the tables for the season. My tribe had tried all kinds of places—some
outside of the town, a mile or two—and have captured only nibblings
and odds and ends, never in any instance a complete and satisfying meal.
Digestible? No, the reverse. These odds and ends are going to serve as
souvenirs of Bayreuth, and in that regard their value is not to be
overestimated. Photographs fade, bric-a-brac gets lost, busts of Wagner
get broken, but once you absorb a Bayreuth-restaurant meal it is your
possession and your property until the time comes to embalm the rest of
you. Some of these pilgrims here become, in effect, cabinets; cabinets of
souvenirs of Bayreuth. It is believed among scientists that you could
examine the crop of a dead Bayreuth pilgrim anywhere in the earth and tell
where he came from. But I like this ballast. I think a "Hermitage"
scrap-up at eight in the evening, when all the famine-breeders have been
there and laid in their mementoes and gone, is the quietest thing you can
lay on your keelson except gravel.
THURSDAY.—They keep two teams of singers in stock for the chief
roles, and one of these is composed of the most renowned artists in the
world, with Materna and Alvary in the lead. I suppose a double team is
necessary; doubtless a single team would die of exhaustion in a week, for
all the plays last from four in the afternoon till ten at night. Nearly
all the labor falls upon the half-dozen head singers, and apparently they
are required to furnish all the noise they can for the money. If they feel
a soft, whispery, mysterious feeling they are required to open out and let
the public know it. Operas are given only on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays,
and Thursdays, with three days of ostensible rest per week, and two teams
to do the four operas; but the ostensible rest is devoted largely to
rehearsing. It is said that the off days are devoted to rehearsing from
some time in the morning till ten at night. Are there two orchestras also?
It is quite likely, since there are one hundred and ten names in the
Yesterday the opera was "Tristan and Isolde." I have seen all sorts of
audiences—at theaters, operas, concerts, lectures, sermons, funerals—but
none which was twin to the Wagner audience of Bayreuth for fixed and
reverential attention. Absolute attention and petrified retention to the
end of an act of the attitude assumed at the beginning of it. You detect
no movement in the solid mass of heads and shoulders. You seem to sit with
the dead in the gloom of a tomb. You know that they are being stirred to
their profoundest depths; that there are times when they want to rise and
wave handkerchiefs and shout their approbation, and times when tears are
running down their faces, and it would be a relief to free their pent
emotions in sobs or screams; yet you hear not one utterance till the
curtain swings together and the closing strains have slowly faded out and
died; then the dead rise with one impulse and shake the building with
their applause. Every seat is full in the first act; there is not a vacant
one in the last. If a man would be conspicuous, let him come here and
retire from the house in the midst of an act. It would make him
This audience reminds me of nothing I have ever seen and of nothing I have
read about except the city in the Arabian tale where all the inhabitants
have been turned to brass and the traveler finds them after centuries
mute, motionless, and still retaining the attitudes which they last knew
in life. Here the Wagner audience dress as they please, and sit in the
dark and worship in silence. At the Metropolitan in New York they sit in a
glare, and wear their showiest harness; they hum airs, they squeak fans,
they titter, and they gabble all the time. In some of the boxes the
conversation and laughter are so loud as to divide the attention of the
house with the stage. In large measure the Metropolitan is a show-case for
rich fashionables who are not trained in Wagnerian music and have no
reverence for it, but who like to promote art and show their clothes.
Can that be an agreeable atmosphere to persons in whom this music produces
a sort of divine ecstasy and to whom its creator is a very deity, his
stage a temple, the works of his brain and hands consecrated things, and
the partaking of them with eye and ear a sacred solemnity? Manifestly, no.
Then, perhaps the temporary expatriation, the tedious traversing of seas
and continents, the pilgrimage to Bayreuth stands explained. These
devotees would worship in an atmosphere of devotion. It is only here that
they can find it without fleck or blemish or any worldly pollution. In
this remote village there are no sights to see, there is no newspaper to
intrude the worries of the distant world, there is nothing going on, it is
always Sunday. The pilgrim wends to his temple out of town, sits out his
moving service, returns to his bed with his heart and soul and his body
exhausted by long hours of tremendous emotion, and he is in no fit
condition to do anything but to lie torpid and slowly gather back life and
strength for the next service. This opera of "Tristan and Isolde" last
night broke the hearts of all witnesses who were of the faith, and I know
of some who have heard of many who could not sleep after it, but cried the
night away. I feel strongly out of place here. Sometimes I feel like the
sane person in a community of the mad; sometimes I feel like the one blind
man where all others see; the one groping savage in the college of the
learned, and always, during service, I feel like a heretic in heaven.
But by no means do I ever overlook or minify the fact that this is one of
the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I have never seen anything
like this before. I have never seen anything so great and fine and real as
FRIDAY.—Yesterday's opera was "Parsifal" again. The others went and
they show marked advance in appreciation; but I went hunting for relics
and reminders of the Margravine Wilhelmina, she of the imperishable
"Memoirs." I am properly grateful to her for her (unconscious) satire upon
monarchy and nobility, and therefore nothing which her hand touched or her
eye looked upon is indifferent to me. I am her pilgrim; the rest of this
multitude here are Wagner's.
TUESDAY.—I have seen my last two operas; my season is ended, and we
cross over into Bohemia this afternoon. I was supposing that my musical
regeneration was accomplished and perfected, because I enjoyed both of
these operas, singing and all, and, moreover, one of them was "Parsifal,"
but the experts have disenchanted me. They say:
"Singing! That wasn't singing; that was the wailing, screeching of
third-rate obscurities, palmed off on us in the interest of economy."
Well, I ought to have recognized the sign—the old, sure sign that
has never failed me in matters of art. Whenever I enjoy anything in art it
means that it is mighty poor. The private knowledge of this fact has saved
me from going to pieces with enthusiasm in front of many and many a
chromo. However, my base instinct does bring me profit sometimes; I was
the only man out of thirty-two hundred who got his money back on those two
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS
Is it true that the sun of a man's mentality touches noon at forty and
then begins to wane toward setting? Doctor Osler is charged with saying
so. Maybe he said it, maybe he didn't; I don't know which it is. But if he
said it, I can point him to a case which proves his rule. Proves it by
being an exception to it. To this place I nominate Mr. Howells.
I read his VENETIAN DAYS about forty years ago. I compare it with his
paper on Machiavelli in a late number of HARPER, and I cannot find that
his English has suffered any impairment. For forty years his English has
been to me a continual delight and astonishment. In the sustained
exhibition of certain great qualities—clearness, compression, verbal
exactness, and unforced and seemingly unconscious felicity of phrasing—he
is, in my belief, without his peer in the English-writing world.
SUSTAINED. I entrench myself behind that protecting word. There are others
who exhibit those great qualities as greatly as he does, but only by
intervaled distributions of rich moonlight, with stretches of veiled and
dimmer landscape between; whereas Howells's moon sails cloudless skies all
night and all the nights.
In the matter of verbal exactness Mr. Howells has no superior, I suppose.
He seems to be almost always able to find that elusive and shifty grain of
gold, the RIGHT WORD. Others have to put up with approximations, more or
less frequently; he has better luck. To me, the others are miners working
with the gold-pan—of necessity some of the gold washes over and
escapes; whereas, in my fancy, he is quicksilver raiding down a riffle—no
grain of the metal stands much chance of eluding him. A powerful agent is
the right word: it lights the reader's way and makes it plain; a close
approximation to it will answer, and much traveling is done in a
well-enough fashion by its help, but we do not welcome it and applaud it
and rejoice in it as we do when THE right one blazes out on us. Whenever
we come upon one of those intensely right words in a book or a newspaper
the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically
prompt: it tingles exquisitely around through the walls of the mouth and
tastes as tart and crisp and good as the autumn-butter that creams the
sumac-berry. One has no time to examine the word and vote upon its rank
and standing, the automatic recognition of its supremacy is so immediate.
There is a plenty of acceptable literature which deals largely in
approximations, but it may be likened to a fine landscape seen through the
rain; the right word would dismiss the rain, then you would see it better.
It doesn't rain when Howells is at work.
And where does he get the easy and effortless flow of his speech? and its
cadenced and undulating rhythm? and its architectural felicities of
construction, its graces of expression, its pemmican quality of
compression, and all that? Born to him, no doubt. All in shining good
order in the beginning, all extraordinary; and all just as shining, just
as extraordinary today, after forty years of diligent wear and tear and
use. He passed his fortieth year long and long ago; but I think his
English of today—his perfect English, I wish to say—can throw
down the glove before his English of that antique time and not be afraid.
I will got back to the paper on Machiavelli now, and ask the reader to
examine this passage from it which I append. I do not mean examine it in a
bird's-eye way; I mean search it, study it. And, of course, read it aloud.
I may be wrong, still it is my conviction that one cannot get out of
finely wrought literature all that is in it by reading it mutely:
Mr. Dyer is rather of the opinion, first luminously suggested by Macaulay,
that Machiavelli was in earnest, but must not be judged as a political
moralist of our time and race would be judged. He thinks that Machiavelli
was in earnest, as none but an idealist can be, and he is the first to
imagine him an idealist immersed in realities, who involuntarily
transmutes the events under his eye into something like the visionary
issues of reverie. The Machiavelli whom he depicts does not cease to be
politically a republican and socially a just man because he holds up an
atrocious despot like Caesar Borgia as a mirror for rulers. What
Machiavelli beheld round him in Italy was a civic disorder in which there
was oppression without statecraft, and revolt without patriotism. When a
miscreant like Borgia appeared upon the scene and reduced both tyrants and
rebels to an apparent quiescence, he might very well seem to such a
dreamer the savior of society whom a certain sort of dreamers are always
looking for. Machiavelli was no less honest when he honored the diabolical
force of Caesar Borgia than Carlyle was when at different times he
extolled the strong man who destroys liberty in creating order. But
Carlyle has only just ceased to be mistaken for a reformer, while it is
still Machiavelli's hard fate to be so trammeled in his material that his
name stands for whatever is most malevolent and perfidious in human
You see how easy and flowing it is; how unvexed by ruggednesses,
clumsinesses, broken meters; how simple and—so far as you or I can
make out—unstudied; how clear, how limpid, how understandable, how
unconfused by cross-currents, eddies, undertows; how seemingly unadorned,
yet is all adornment, like the lily-of-the-valley; and how compressed, how
compact, without a complacency-signal hung out anywhere to call attention
There are twenty-three lines in the quoted passage. After reading it
several times aloud, one perceives that a good deal of matter is crowded
into that small space. I think it is a model of compactness. When I take
its materials apart and work them over and put them together in my way, I
find I cannot crowd the result back into the same hole, there not being
room enough. I find it a case of a woman packing a man's trunk: he can get
the things out, but he can't ever get them back again.
The proffered paragraph is a just and fair sample; the rest of the article
is as compact as it is; there are no waste words. The sample is just in
other ways: limpid, fluent, graceful, and rhythmical as it is, it holds no
superiority in these respects over the rest of the essay. Also, the choice
phrasing noticeable in the sample is not lonely; there is a plenty of its
kin distributed through the other paragraphs. This is claiming much when
that kin must face the challenge of a phrase like the one in the middle
sentence: "an idealist immersed in realities who involuntarily transmutes
the events under his eye into something like the visionary issues of
reverie." With a hundred words to do it with, the literary artisan could
catch that airy thought and tie it down and reduce it to a concrete
condition, visible, substantial, understandable and all right, like a
cabbage; but the artist does it with twenty, and the result is a flower.
The quoted phrase, like a thousand others that have come from the same
source, has the quality of certain scraps of verse which take hold of us
and stay in our memories, we do not understand why, at first: all the
words being the right words, none of them is conspicuous, and so they all
seem inconspicuous, therefore we wonder what it is about them that makes
their message take hold.
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.
It is like a dreamy strain of moving music, with no sharp notes in it. The
words are all "right" words, and all the same size. We do not notice it at
first. We get the effect, it goes straight home to us, but we do not know
why. It is when the right words are conspicuous that they thunder:
The glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome!
When I go back from Howells old to Howells young I find him arranging and
clustering English words well, but not any better than now. He is not more
felicitous in concreting abstractions now than he was in translating,
then, the visions of the eyes of flesh into words that reproduced their
forms and colors:
In Venetian streets they give the fallen snow no rest. It is at once
shoveled into the canals by hundreds of half-naked FACCHINI; and now in
St. Mark's Place the music of innumerable shovels smote upon my ear; and I
saw the shivering legion of poverty as it engaged the elements in a
struggle for the possession of the Piazza. But the snow continued to fall,
and through the twilight of the descending flakes all this toil and
encounter looked like that weary kind of effort in dreams, when the most
determined industry seems only to renew the task. The lofty crest of the
bell-tower was hidden in the folds of falling snow, and I could no longer
see the golden angel upon its summit. But looked at across the Piazza, the
beautiful outline of St. Mark's Church was perfectly penciled in the air,
and the shifting threads of the snowfall were woven into a spell of novel
enchantment around the structure that always seemed to me too exquisite in
its fantastic loveliness to be anything but the creation of magic. The
tender snow had compassionated the beautiful edifice for all the wrongs of
time, and so hid the stains and ugliness of decay that it looked as if
just from the hand of the builder—or, better said, just from the
brain of the architect. There was marvelous freshness in the colors of the
mosaics in the great arches of the facade, and all that gracious harmony
into which the temple rises, of marble scrolls and leafy exuberance airily
supporting the statues of the saints, was a hundred times etherealized by
the purity and whiteness of the drifting flakes. The snow lay lightly on
the golden globes that tremble like peacocks-crests above the vast domes,
and plumed them with softest white; it robed the saints in ermine; and it
danced over all its works, as if exulting in its beauty—beauty which
filled me with subtle, selfish yearning to keep such evanescent loveliness
for the little-while-longer of my whole life, and with despair to think
that even the poor lifeless shadow of it could never be fairly reflected
in picture or poem.
Through the wavering snowfall, the Saint Theodore upon one of the granite
pillars of the Piazzetta did not show so grim as his wont is, and the
winged lion on the other might have been a winged lamb, so gentle and mild
he looked by the tender light of the storm. The towers of the island
churches loomed faint and far away in the dimness; the sailors in the
rigging of the ships that lay in the Basin wrought like phantoms among the
shrouds; the gondolas stole in and out of the opaque distance more
noiselessly and dreamily than ever; and a silence, almost palpable, lay
upon the mutest city in the world.
The spirit of Venice is there: of a city where Age and Decay, fagged with
distributing damage and repulsiveness among the other cities of the planet
in accordance with the policy and business of their profession, come for
rest and play between seasons, and treat themselves to the luxury and
relaxation of sinking the shop and inventing and squandering charms all
about, instead of abolishing such as they find, as is their habit when not
In the working season they do business in Boston sometimes, and a
character in THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY takes accurate note of pathetic
effects wrought by them upon the aspects of a street of once dignified and
elegant homes whose occupants have moved away and left them a prey to
neglect and gradual ruin and progressive degradation; a descent which
reaches bottom at last, when the street becomes a roost for humble
professionals of the faith-cure and fortune-telling sort.
What a queer, melancholy house, what a queer, melancholy street! I don't
think I was ever in a street before where quite so many professional
ladies, with English surnames, preferred Madam to Mrs. on their
door-plates. And the poor old place has such a desperately conscious air
of going to the deuce. Every house seems to wince as you go by, and button
itself up to the chin for fear you should find out it had no shirt on—so
to speak. I don't know what's the reason, but these material tokens of a
social decay afflict me terribly; a tipsy woman isn't dreadfuler than a
haggard old house, that's once been a home, in a street like this.
Mr. Howells's pictures are not mere stiff, hard, accurate photographs;
they are photographs with feeling in them, and sentiment, photographs
taken in a dream, one might say.
As concerns his humor, I will not try to say anything, yet I would try, if
I had the words that might approximately reach up to its high place. I do
not think any one else can play with humorous fancies so gracefully and
delicately and deliciously as he does, nor has so many to play with, nor
can come so near making them look as if they were doing the playing
themselves and he was not aware that they were at it. For they are
unobtrusive, and quiet in their ways, and well conducted. His is a humor
which flows softly all around about and over and through the mesh of the
page, pervasive, refreshing, health-giving, and makes no more show and no
more noise than does the circulation of the blood.
There is another thing which is contentingly noticeable in Mr. Howells's
books. That is his "stage directions"—those artifices which authors
employ to throw a kind of human naturalness around a scene and a
conversation, and help the reader to see the one and get at meanings in
the other which might not be perceived if entrusted unexplained to the
bare words of the talk. Some authors overdo the stage directions, they
elaborate them quite beyond necessity; they spend so much time and take up
so much room in telling us how a person said a thing and how he looked and
acted when he said it that we get tired and vexed and wish he hadn't said
it all. Other authors' directions are brief enough, but it is seldom that
the brevity contains either wit or information. Writers of this school go
in rags, in the matter of stage directions; the majority of them having
nothing in stock but a cigar, a laugh, a blush, and a bursting into tears.
In their poverty they work these sorry things to the bone. They say:
"... replied Alfred, flipping the ash from his cigar." (This explains
nothing; it only wastes space.)
"... responded Richard, with a laugh." (There was nothing to laugh about;
there never is. The writer puts it in from habit—automatically; he
is paying no attention to his work; or he would see that there is nothing
to laugh at; often, when a remark is unusually and poignantly flat and
silly, he tries to deceive the reader by enlarging the stage direction and
making Richard break into "frenzies of uncontrollable laughter." This
makes the reader sad.)
"... murmured Gladys, blushing." (This poor old shop-worn blush is a
tiresome thing. We get so we would rather Gladys would fall out of the
book and break her neck than do it again. She is always doing it, and
usually irrelevantly. Whenever it is her turn to murmur she hangs out her
blush; it is the only thing she's got. In a little while we hate her, just
as we do Richard.)
"... repeated Evelyn, bursting into tears." (This kind keep a book damp
all the time. They can't say a thing without crying. They cry so much
about nothing that by and by when they have something to cry ABOUT they
have gone dry; they sob, and fetch nothing; we are not moved. We are only
They gravel me, these stale and overworked stage directions, these carbon
films that got burnt out long ago and cannot now carry any faintest thread
of light. It would be well if they could be relieved from duty and flung
out in the literary back yard to rot and disappear along with the
discarded and forgotten "steeds" and "halidomes" and similar
stage-properties once so dear to our grandfathers. But I am friendly to
Mr. Howells's stage directions; more friendly to them than to any one
else's, I think. They are done with a competent and discriminating art,
and are faithful to the requirements of a stage direction's proper and
lawful office, which is to inform. Sometimes they convey a scene and its
conditions so well that I believe I could see the scene and get the spirit
and meaning of the accompanying dialogue if some one would read merely the
stage directions to me and leave out the talk. For instance, a scene like
this, from THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY:
"... and she laid her arms with a beseeching gesture on her father's
"... she answered, following his gesture with a glance."
"... she said, laughing nervously."
"... she asked, turning swiftly upon him that strange, searching glance."
"... she answered, vaguely."
"... she reluctantly admitted."
"... but her voice died wearily away, and she stood looking into his face
with puzzled entreaty."
Mr. Howells does not repeat his forms, and does not need to; he can invent
fresh ones without limit. It is mainly the repetition over and over again,
by the third-rates, of worn and commonplace and juiceless forms that makes
their novels such a weariness and vexation to us, I think. We do not mind
one or two deliveries of their wares, but as we turn the pages over and
keep on meeting them we presently get tired of them and wish they would do
other things for a change.
"... replied Alfred, flipping the ash from his cigar."
"... responded Richard, with a laugh."
"... murmured Gladys, blushing."
"... repeated Evelyn, bursting into tears."
"... replied the Earl, flipping the ash from his cigar."
"... responded the undertaker, with a laugh."
"... murmured the chambermaid, blushing."
"... repeated the burglar, bursting into tears."
"... replied the conductor, flipping the ash from his cigar."
"... responded Arkwright, with a laugh."
"... murmured the chief of police, blushing."
"... repeated the house-cat, bursting into tears."
And so on and so on; till at last it ceases to excite. I always notice
stage directions, because they fret me and keep me trying to get out of
their way, just as the automobiles do. At first; then by and by they
become monotonous and I get run over.
Mr. Howells has done much work, and the spirit of it is as beautiful as
the make of it. I have held him in admiration and affection so many years
that I know by the number of those years that he is old now; but his heart
isn't, nor his pen; and years do not count. Let him have plenty of them;
there is profit in them for us.
ENGLISH AS SHE IS TAUGHT
In the appendix to Croker's Boswell's Johnson one finds this anecdote:
CATO'S SOLILOQUY.—One day Mrs. Gastrel set a little girl to repeat
to him (Dr. Samuel Johnson) Cato's Soliloquy, which she went through very
correctly. The Doctor, after a pause, asked the child:
"What was to bring Cato to an end?"
She said it was a knife.
"No, my dear, it was not so."
"My aunt Polly said it was a knife."
"Why, Aunt Polly's knife MAY DO, but it was a DAGGER, my dear."
He then asked her the meaning of "bane and antidote," which she was unable
to give. Mrs. Gastrel said:
"You cannot expect so young a child to know the meaning of such words."
He then said:
"My dear, how many pence are there in SIXPENCE?"
"I cannot tell, sir," was the half-terrified reply.
On this, addressing himself to Mrs. Gastrel, he said:
"Now, my dear lady, can anything be more ridiculous than to teach a child
Cato's Soliloquy, who does not know how many pence there are in sixpence?"
In a lecture before the Royal Geographical Society Professor Ravenstein
quoted the following list of frantic questions, and said that they had
been asked in an examination:
Mention all the names of places in the world derived from Julius Caesar or
Where are the following rivers: Pisuerga, Sakaria, Guadalete, Jalon,
All you know of the following: Machacha, Pilmo, Schebulos, Crivoscia,
Basecs, Mancikert, Taxhem, Citeaux, Meloria, Zutphen.
The highest peaks of the Karakorum range.
The number of universities in Prussia.
Why are the tops of mountains continually covered with snow (sic)?
Name the length and breadth of the streams of lava which issued from the
Skaptar Jokul in the eruption of 1783.
That list would oversize nearly anybody's geographical knowledge. Isn't it
reasonably possible that in our schools many of the questions in all
studies are several miles ahead of where the pupil is?—that he is
set to struggle with things that are ludicrously beyond his present reach,
hopelessly beyond his present strength? This remark in passing, and by way
of text; now I come to what I was going to say.
I have just now fallen upon a darling literary curiosity. It is a little
book, a manuscript compilation, and the compiler sent it to me with the
request that I say whether I think it ought to be published or not. I
said, Yes; but as I slowly grow wise I briskly grow cautious; and so, now
that the publication is imminent, it has seemed to me that I should feel
more comfortable if I could divide up this responsibility with the public
by adding them to the court. Therefore I will print some extracts from the
book, in the hope that they may make converts to my judgment that the
volume has merit which entitles it to publication.
As to its character. Every one has sampled "English as She is Spoke" and
"English as She is Wrote"; this little volume furnishes us an instructive
array of examples of "English as She is Taught"—in the public
schools of—well, this country. The collection is made by a teacher
in those schools, and all the examples in it are genuine; none of them
have been tampered with, or doctored in any way. From time to time, during
several years, whenever a pupil has delivered himself of anything
peculiarly quaint or toothsome in the course of his recitations, this
teacher and her associates have privately set that thing down in a
memorandum-book; strictly following the original, as to grammar,
construction, spelling, and all; and the result is this literary
The contents of the book consist mainly of answers given by the boys and
girls to questions, said answers being given sometimes verbally, sometimes
in writing. The subjects touched upon are fifteen in number: I. Etymology;
II. Grammar; III. Mathematics; IV. Geography; V. "Original"; VI. Analysis;
VII. History; VIII. "Intellectual"; IX. Philosophy; X. Physiology; XI.
Astronomy; XII. Politics; XIII. Music; XIV. Oratory; XV. Metaphysics.
You perceive that the poor little young idea has taken a shot at a good
many kinds of game in the course of the book. Now as to results. Here are
some quaint definitions of words. It will be noticed that in all of these
instances the sound of the word, or the look of it on paper, has misled
ABORIGINES, a system of mountains.
ALIAS, a good man in the Bible.
AMENABLE, anything that is mean.
AMMONIA, the food of the gods.
ASSIDUITY, state of being an acid.
AURIFEROUS, pertaining to an orifice.
CAPILLARY, a little caterpillar.
CORNIFEROUS, rocks in which fossil corn is found.
EMOLUMENT, a headstone to a grave.
EQUESTRIAN, one who asks questions.
EUCHARIST, one who plays euchre.
FRANCHISE, anything belonging to the French.
IDOLATER, a very idle person.
IPECAC, a man who likes a good dinner.
IRRIGATE, to make fun of.
MENDACIOUS, what can be mended.
MERCENARY, one who feels for another.
PARASITE, a kind of umbrella.
PARASITE, the murder of an infant.
PUBLICAN, a man who does his prayers in public.
TENACIOUS, ten acres of land.
Here is one where the phrase "publicans and sinners" has got mixed up in
the child's mind with politics, and the result is a definition which takes
one in a sudden and unexpected way:
REPUBLICAN, a sinner mentioned in the Bible.
Also in Democratic newspapers now and then. Here are two where the mistake
has resulted from sound assisted by remote fact:
PLAGIARIST, a writer of plays.
DEMAGOGUE, a vessel containing beer and other liquids.
I cannot quite make out what it was that misled the pupil in the following
instances; it would not seem to have been the sound of the word, nor the
look of it in print:
ASPHYXIA, a grumbling, fussy temper.
QUARTERNIONS, a bird with a flat beak and no bill, living in New Zealand.
QUARTERNIONS, the name given to a style of art practiced by the
QUARTERNIONS, a religious convention held every hundred years.
SIBILANT, the state of being idiotic.
CROSIER, a staff carried by the Deity.
In the following sentences the pupil's ear has been deceiving him again:
The marriage was illegible.
He was totally dismasted with the whole performance.
He enjoys riding on a philosopher.
She was very quick at repertoire.
He prayed for the waters to subsidize.
The leopard is watching his sheep.
They had a strawberry vestibule.
Here is one which—well, now, how often we do slam right into the
truth without ever suspecting it:
The men employed by the Gas Company go around and speculate the meter.
Indeed they do, dear; and when you grow up, many and many's the time you
will notice it in the gas bill. In the following sentences the little
people have some information to convey, every time; but in my case they
fail to connect: the light always went out on the keystone word:
The coercion of some things is remarkable; as bread and molasses.
Her hat is contiguous because she wears it on one side.
He preached to an egregious congregation.
The captain eliminated a bullet through the man's heart.
You should take caution and be precarious.
The supercilious girl acted with vicissitude when the perennial time came.
The last is a curiously plausible sentence; one seems to know what it
means, and yet he knows all the time that he doesn't. Here is an odd (but
entirely proper) use of a word, and a most sudden descent from a lofty
philosophical altitude to a very practical and homely illustration:
We should endeavor to avoid extremes—like those of wasps and bees.
And here—with "zoological" and "geological" in his mind, but not
ready to his tongue—the small scholar has innocently gone and let
out a couple of secrets which ought never to have been divulged in any
There are a good many donkeys in theological gardens.
Some of the best fossils are found in theological cabinets.
Under the head of "Grammar" the little scholars furnish the following
Gender is the distinguishing nouns without regard to sex.
A verb is something to eat.
Adverbs should always be used as adjectives and adjectives as adverbs.
Every sentence and name of God must begin with a caterpillar.
"Caterpillar" is well enough, but capital letter would have been stricter.
The following is a brave attempt at a solution, but it failed to liquify:
When they are going to say some prose or poetry before they say the poetry
or prose they must put a semicolon just after the introduction of the
prose or poetry.
The chapter on "Mathematics" is full of fruit. From it I take a few
samples—mainly in an unripe state:
A straight line is any distance between two places.
Parallel lines are lines that can never meet until they run together.
A circle is a round straight line with a hole in the middle.
Things which are equal to each other are equal to anything else.
To find the number of square feet in a room you multiply the room by the
number of the feet. The product is the result.
Right you are. In the matter of geography this little book is unspeakably
rich. The questions do not appear to have applied the microscope to the
subject, as did those quoted by Professor Ravenstein; still, they proved
plenty difficult enough without that. These pupils did not hunt with a
microscope, they hunted with a shot-gun; this is shown by the crippled
condition of the game they brought in:
America is divided into the Passiffic slope and the Mississippi valey.
North America is separated by Spain.
America consists from north to south about five hundred miles.
The United States is quite a small country compared with some other
countrys, but is about as industrious.
The capital of the United States is Long Island.
The five seaports of the U.S. are Newfunlan and Sanfrancisco.
The principal products of the U.S. is earthquakes and volcanoes.
The Alaginnies are mountains in Philadelphia.
The Rocky Mountains are on the western side of Philadelphia.
Cape Hateras is a vast body of water surrounded by land and flowing into
the Gulf of Mexico.
Mason and Dixon's line is the Equator.
One of the leading industries of the United States is mollasses,
book-covers, numbers, gas, teaching, lumber, manufacturers, paper-making,
In Austria the principal occupation is gathering Austrich feathers.
Gibraltar is an island built on a rock.
Russia is very cold and tyrannical.
Sicily is one of the Sandwich Islands.
Hindoostan flows through the Ganges and empties into the Mediterranean
Ireland is called the Emigrant Isle because it is so beautiful and green.
The width of the different zones Europe lies in depend upon the
The imports of a country are the things that are paid for, the exports are
the things that are not.
Climate lasts all the time and weather only a few days.
The two most famous volcanoes of Europe are Sodom and Gomorrah.
The chapter headed "Analysis" shows us that the pupils in our public
schools are not merely loaded up with those showy facts about geography,
mathematics, and so on, and left in that incomplete state; no, there's
machinery for clarifying and expanding their minds. They are required to
take poems and analyze them, dig out their common sense, reduce them to
statistics, and reproduce them in a luminous prose translation which shall
tell you at a glance what the poet was trying to get at. One sample will
do. Here is a stanza from "The Lady of the Lake," followed by the pupil's
impressive explanation of it:
Alone, but with unbated zeal, The horseman plied with scourge and steel;
For jaded now and spent with toil, Embossed with foam and dark with soil,
While every gasp with sobs he drew, The laboring stag strained full in
The man who rode on the horse performed the whip and an instrument made of
steel alone with strong ardor not diminishing, for, being tired from the
time passed with hard labor overworked with anger and ignorant with
weariness, while every breath for labor he drew with cries full of sorrow,
the young deer made imperfect who worked hard filtered in sight.
I see, now, that I never understood that poem before. I have had glimpses
of its meaning, in moments when I was not as ignorant with weariness as
usual, but this is the first time the whole spacious idea of it ever
filtered in sight. If I were a public-school pupil I would put those other
studies aside and stick to analysis; for, after all, it is the thing to
spread your mind.
We come now to historical matters, historical remains, one might say. As
one turns the pages he is impressed with the depth to which one date has
been driven into the American child's head—1492. The date is there,
and it is there to stay. And it is always at hand, always deliverable at a
moment's notice. But the Fact that belongs with it? That is quite another
matter. Only the date itself is familiar and sure: its vast Fact has
failed of lodgment. It would appear that whenever you ask a public-school
pupil when a thing—anything, no matter what—happened, and he
is in doubt, he always rips out his 1492. He applies it to everything,
from the landing of the ark to the introduction of the horse-car. Well,
after all, it is our first date, and so it is right enough to honor it,
and pay the public schools to teach our children to honor it:
George Washington was born in 1492.
Washington wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1492.
St. Bartholemew was massacred in 1492.
The Brittains were the Saxons who entered England in 1492 under Julius
The earth is 1492 miles in circumference.
To proceed with "History"
Christopher Columbus was called the Father of his Country.
Queen Isabella of Spain sold her watch and chain and other millinery so
that Columbus could discover America.
The Indian wars were very desecrating to the country.
The Indians pursued their warfare by hiding in the bushes and then
Captain John Smith has been styled the father of his country. His life was
saved by his daughter Pochahantas.
The Puritans found an insane asylum in the wilds of America.
The Stamp Act was to make everybody stamp all materials so they should be
null and void.
Washington died in Spain almost broken-hearted. His remains were taken to
the cathedral in Havana.
Gorilla warfare was where men rode on gorillas.
John Brown was a very good insane man who tried to get fugitives slaves
into Virginia. He captured all the inhabitants, but was finally conquered
and condemned to his death. The confederasy was formed by the fugitive
Alfred the Great reigned 872 years. He was distinguished for letting some
buckwheat cakes burn, and the lady scolded him.
Henry Eight was famous for being a great widower haveing lost several
Lady Jane Grey studied Greek and Latin and was beheaded after a few days.
John Bright is noted for an incurable disease.
Lord James Gordon Bennet instigated the Gordon Riots.
The Middle Ages come in between antiquity and posterity.
Luther introduced Christianity into England a good many thousand years
ago. His birthday was November 1883. He was once a Pope. He lived at the
time of the Rebellion of Worms.
Julius Caesar is noted for his famous telegram dispatch I came I saw I
Julius Caesar was really a very great man. He was a very great soldier and
wrote a book for beginners in the Latin.
Cleopatra was caused by the death of an asp which she dissolved in a wine
The only form of government in Greece was a limited monkey.
The Persian war lasted about 500 years.
Greece had only 7 wise men.
Socrates... destroyed some statues and had to drink Shamrock.
Here is a fact correctly stated; and yet it is phrased with such ingenious
infelicity that it can be depended upon to convey misinformation every
time it is uncarefully read:
By the Salic law no woman or descendant of a woman could occupy the
To show how far a child can travel in history with judicious and diligent
boosting in the public school, we select the following mosaic:
Abraham Lincoln was born in Wales in 1599.
In the chapter headed "Intellectual" I find a great number of most
interesting statements. A sample or two may be found not amiss:
Bracebridge Hall was written by Henry Irving.
Snow Bound was written by Peter Cooper.
The House of the Seven Gables was written by Lord Bryant.
Edgar A. Poe was a very curdling writer.
Cotton Mather was a writer who invented the cotten gin and wrote
Beowulf wrote the Scriptures.
Ben Johnson survived Shakspeare in some respects.
In the Canterbury Tale it gives account of King Alfred on his way to the
shrine of Thomas Bucket.
Chaucer was the father of English pottery.
Chaucer was a bland verse writer of the third century.
Chaucer was succeeded by H. Wads. Longfellow an American Writer. His
writings were chiefly prose and nearly one hundred years elapsed.
Shakspere translated the Scriptures and it was called St. James because he
In the middle of the chapter I find many pages of information concerning
Shakespeare's plays, Milton's works, and those of Bacon, Addison, Samuel
Johnson, Fielding, Richardson, Sterne, Smollett, De Foe, Locke, Pope,
Swift, Goldsmith, Burns, Cowper, Wordsworth, Gibbon, Byron, Coleridge,
Hood, Scott, Macaulay, George Eliot, Dickens, Bulwer, Thackeray, Browning,
Mrs. Browning, Tennyson, and Disraeli—a fact which shows that into
the restricted stomach of the public-school pupil is shoveled every year
the blood, bone, and viscera of a gigantic literature, and the same is
there digested and disposed of in a most successful and characteristic and
gratifying public-school way. I have space for but a trifling few of the
Lord Byron was the son of an heiress and a drunken man.
Wm. Wordsworth wrote the Barefoot Boy and Imitations on Immortality.
Gibbon wrote a history of his travels in Italy. This was original.
George Eliot left a wife and children who mourned greatly for his genius.
George Eliot Miss Mary Evans Mrs. Cross Mrs. Lewis was the greatest female
poet unless George Sands is made an exception of.
Bulwell is considered a good writer.
Sir Walter Scott Charles Bronte Alfred the Great and Johnson were the
first great novelists.
Thomas Babington Makorlay graduated at Harvard and then studied law, he
was raised to the peerage as baron in 1557 and died in 1776.
Here are two or three miscellaneous facts that may be of value, if taken
Homer's writings are Homer's Essays Virgil the Aenid and Paradise lost
some people say that these poems were not written by Homer but by another
man of the same name.
A sort of sadness kind of shone in Bryant's poems.
Holmes is a very profligate and amusing writer.
When the public-school pupil wrestles with the political features of the
Great Republic, they throw him sometimes:
A bill becomes a law when the President vetoes it.
The three departments of the government is the President rules the world,
the governor rules the State, the mayor rules the city.
The first conscientious Congress met in Philadelphia.
The Constitution of the United States was established to ensure domestic
Truth crushed to earth will rise again. As follows:
The Constitution of the United States is that part of the book at the end
which nobody reads.
And here she rises once more and untimely. There should be a limit to
public-school instruction; it cannot be wise or well to let the young find
Congress is divided into civilized half civilized and savage.
Here are some results of study in music and oratory:
An interval in music is the distance on the keyboard from one piano to the
A rest means you are not to sing it.
Emphasis is putting more distress on one word than another.
The chapter on "Physiology" contains much that ought not to be lost to
Physillogigy is to study about your bones stummick and vertebry.
Occupations which are injurious to health are cabolic acid gas which is
We have an upper and lower skin. The lower skin moves all the time and the
upper skin moves when we do.
The body is mostly composed of water and about one half is avaricious
The stomach is a small pear-shaped bone situated in the body.
The gastric juice keeps the bones from creaking.
The Chyle flows up the middle of the backbone and reaches the heart where
it meets the oxygen and is purified.
The salivary glands are used to salivate the body.
In the stomach starch is changed to cane sugar and cane sugar to sugar
The olfactory nerve enters the cavity of the orbit and is developed into
the special sense of hearing.
The growth of a tooth begins in the back of the mouth and extends to the
If we were on a railroad track and a train was coming the train would
deafen our ears so that we couldn't see to get off the track.
If, up to this point, none of my quotations have added flavor to the
Johnsonian anecdote at the head of this article, let us make another
The theory that intuitive truths are discovered by the light of nature
originated from St. John's interpretation of a passage in the Gospel of
The weight of the earth is found by comparing a mass of known lead with
that of a mass of unknown lead.
To find the weight of the earth take the length of a degree on a meridian
and multiply by 62 1/2 pounds.
The spheres are to each other as the squares of their homologous sides.
A body will go just as far in the first second as the body will go plus
the force of gravity and that's equal to twice what the body will go.
Specific gravity is the weight to be compared weight of an equal volume of
or that is the weight of a body compared with the weight of an equal
The law of fluid pressure divide the different forms of organized bodies
by the form of attraction and the number increased will be the form.
Inertia is that property of bodies by virtue of which it cannot change its
own condition of rest or motion. In other words it is the negative quality
of passiveness either in recoverable latency or insipient latescence.
If a laugh is fair here, not the struggling child, nor the unintelligent
teacher—or rather the unintelligent Boards, Committees, and Trustees—are
the proper target for it. All through this little book one detects the
signs of a certain probable fact—that a large part of the pupil's
"instruction" consists in cramming him with obscure and wordy "rules"
which he does not understand and has no time to understand. It would be as
useful to cram him with brickbats; they would at least stay. In a town in
the interior of New York, a few years ago, a gentleman set forth a
mathematical problem and proposed to give a prize to every public-school
pupil who should furnish the correct solution of it. Twenty-two of the
brightest boys in the public schools entered the contest. The problem was
not a very difficult one for pupils of their mathematical rank and
standing, yet they all failed—by a hair—through one trifling
mistake or another. Some searching questions were asked, when it turned
out that these lads were as glib as parrots with the "rules," but could
not reason out a single rule or explain the principle underlying it. Their
memories had been stocked, but not their understandings. It was a case of
brickbat culture, pure and simple.
There are several curious "compositions" in the little book, and we must
make room for one. It is full of naivete, brutal truth, and unembarrassed
directness, and is the funniest (genuine) boy's composition I think I have
Girls are very stuck up and dignefied in their maner and be have your.
They think more of dress than anything and like to play with dowls and
rags. They cry if they see a cow in a far distance and are afraid of guns.
They stay at home all the time and go to church on Sunday. They are
al-ways sick. They are always funy and making fun of boy's hands and they
say how dirty. They cant play marbels. I pity them poor things. They make
fun of boys and then turn round and love them. I dont beleave they ever
kiled a cat or anything. They look out every nite and say oh ant the moon
lovely. Thir is one thing I have not told and that is they al-ways now
their lessons bettern boys.
From Mr. Edward Channing's recent article in SCIENCE:
The marked difference between the books now being produced by French,
English, and American travelers, on the one hand, and German explorers, on
the other, is too great to escape attention. That difference is due
entirely to the fact that in school and university the German is taught,
in the first place to see, and in the second place to understand what he
A SIMPLIFIED ALPHABET
(This article, written during the autumn of 1899, was about the last
writing done by Mark Twain on any impersonal subject.)
I have had a kindly feeling, a friendly feeling, a cousinly feeling toward
Simplified Spelling, from the beginning of the movement three years ago,
but nothing more inflamed than that. It seemed to me to merely propose to
substitute one inadequacy for another; a sort of patching and plugging
poor old dental relics with cement and gold and porcelain paste; what was
really wanted was a new set of teeth. That is to say, a new ALPHABET.
The heart of our trouble is with our foolish alphabet. It doesn't know how
to spell, and can't be taught. In this it is like all other alphabets
except one—the phonographic. That is the only competent alphabet in
the world. It can spell and correctly pronounce any word in our language.
That admirable alphabet, that brilliant alphabet, that inspired alphabet,
can be learned in an hour or two. In a week the student can learn to write
it with some little facility, and to read it with considerable ease. I
know, for I saw it tried in a public school in Nevada forty-five years
ago, and was so impressed by the incident that it has remained in my
memory ever since.
I wish we could adopt it in place of our present written (and printed)
character. I mean SIMPLY the alphabet; simply the consonants and the
vowels—I don't mean any REDUCTIONS or abbreviations of them, such as
the shorthand writer uses in order to get compression and speed. No, I
would SPELL EVERY WORD OUT.
I will insert the alphabet here as I find it in Burnz's PHONIC SHORTHAND.
(Figure 1) It is arranged on the basis of Isaac Pitman's PHONOGRAPHY.
Isaac Pitman was the originator and father of scientific phonography. It
is used throughout the globe. It was a memorable invention. He made it
public seventy-three years ago. The firm of Isaac Pitman & Sons, New
York, still exists, and they continue the master's work.
What should we gain?
First of all, we could spell DEFINITELY—and correctly—any word
you please, just by the SOUND of it. We can't do that with our present
alphabet. For instance, take a simple, every-day word PHTHISIS. If we
tried to spell it by the sound of it, we should make it TYSIS, and be
laughed at by every educated person.
Secondly, we should gain in REDUCTION OF LABOR in writing.
Simplified Spelling makes valuable reductions in the case of several
hundred words, but the new spelling must be LEARNED. You can't spell them
by the sound; you must get them out of the book.
But even if we knew the simplified form for every word in the language,
the phonographic alphabet would still beat the Simplified Speller "hands
down" in the important matter of economy of labor. I will illustrate:
PRESENT FORM: through, laugh, highland.
SIMPLIFIED FORM: thru, laff, hyland.
PHONOGRAPHIC FORM: (Figure 2)
To write the word "through," the pen has to make twenty-one strokes.
To write the word "thru," the pen has to make twelve strokes—a good
To write that same word with the phonographic alphabet, the pen has to
make only THREE strokes.
To write the word "laugh," the pen has to make FOURTEEN strokes.
To write "laff," the pen has to make the SAME NUMBER of strokes—no
labor is saved to the penman.
To write the same word with the phonographic alphabet, the pen has to make
only THREE strokes.
To write the word "highland," the pen has to make twenty-two strokes.
To write "hyland," the pen has to make eighteen strokes.
To write that word with the phonographic alphabet, the pen has to make
only FIVE strokes. (Figure 3)
To write the words "phonographic alphabet," the pen has to make
To write "fonografic alfabet," the pen has to make fifty strokes. To the
penman, the saving in labor is insignificant.
To write that word (with vowels) with the phonographic alphabet, the pen
has to make only SEVENTEEN strokes.
Without the vowels, only THIRTEEN strokes. (Figure 4) The vowels are
hardly necessary, this time.
We make five pen-strokes in writing an m. Thus: (Figure 5) a stroke down;
a stroke up; a second stroke down; a second stroke up; a final stroke
down. Total, five. The phonographic alphabet accomplishes the m with a
single stroke—a curve, like a parenthesis that has come home drunk
and has fallen face down right at the front door where everybody that goes
along will see him and say, Alas!
When our written m is not the end of a word, but is otherwise located, it
has to be connected with the next letter, and that requires another
pen-stroke, making six in all, before you get rid of that m. But never
mind about the connecting strokes—let them go. Without counting
them, the twenty-six letters of our alphabet consumed about eighty
pen-strokes for their construction—about three pen-strokes per
It is THREE TIMES THE NUMBER required by the phonographic alphabet. It
requires but ONE stroke for each letter.
My writing-gait is—well, I don't know what it is, but I will time
myself and see. Result: it is twenty-four words per minute. I don't mean
composing; I mean COPYING. There isn't any definite composing-gait.
Very well, my copying-gait is 1,440 words per hour—say 1,500. If I
could use the phonographic character with facility I could do the 1,500 in
twenty minutes. I could do nine hours' copying in three hours; I could do
three years' copying in one year. Also, if I had a typewriting machine
with the phonographic alphabet on it—oh, the miracles I could do!
I am not pretending to write that character well. I have never had a
lesson, and I am copying the letters from the book. But I can accomplish
my desire, at any rate, which is, to make the reader get a good and clear
idea of the advantage it would be to us if we could discard our present
alphabet and put this better one in its place—using it in books,
newspapers, with the typewriter, and with the pen.
(Figure 6)—MAN DOG HORSE. I think it is graceful and would look
comely in print. And consider—once more, I beg—what a
labor-saver it is! Ten pen-strokes with the one system to convey those
three words above, and thirty-three by the other! (Figure 7) I mean, in
SOME ways, not in all. I suppose I might go so far as to say in most ways,
and be within the facts, but never mind; let it go at SOME. One of the
ways in which it exercises this birthright is—as I think—continuing
to use our laughable alphabet these seventy-three years while there was a
rational one at hand, to be had for the taking.
It has taken five hundred years to simplify some of Chaucer's rotten
spelling—if I may be allowed to use so frank a term as that—and
it will take five hundred more to get our exasperating new Simplified
Corruptions accepted and running smoothly. And we sha'n't be any better
off then than we are now; for in that day we shall still have the
privilege the Simplifiers are exercising now: ANYBODY can change the
spelling that wants to.
BUT YOU CAN'T CHANGE THE PHONOGRAPHIC SPELLING; THERE ISN'T ANY WAY. It
will always follow the SOUND. If you want to change the spelling, you have
to change the sound first.
Mind, I myself am a Simplified Speller; I belong to that unhappy guild
that is patiently and hopefully trying to reform our drunken old alphabet
by reducing his whiskey. Well, it will improve him. When they get through
and have reformed him all they can by their system he will be only HALF
drunk. Above that condition their system can never lift him. There is no
competent, and lasting, and real reform for him but to take away his
whiskey entirely, and fill up his jug with Pitman's wholesome and
One great drawback to Simplified Spelling is, that in print a simplified
word looks so like the very nation! and when you bunch a whole squadron of
the Simplified together the spectacle is very nearly unendurable.
The da ma ov koars kum when the publik ma be expektd to get rekonsyled to
the bezair asspekt of the Simplified Kombynashuns, but—if I may be
allowed the expression—is it worth the wasted time? (Figure 8)
To see our letters put together in ways to which we are not accustomed
offends the eye, and also takes the EXPRESSION out of the words.
La on, Makduf, and damd be he hoo furst krys hold, enuf!
It doesn't thrill you as it used to do. The simplifications have sucked
the thrill all out of it.
But a written character with which we are NOT ACQUAINTED does not offend
us—Greek, Hebrew, Russian, Arabic, and the others—they have an
interesting look, and we see beauty in them, too. And this is true of
hieroglyphics, as well. There is something pleasant and engaging about the
mathematical signs when we do not understand them. The mystery hidden in
these things has a fascination for us: we can't come across a printed page
of shorthand without being impressed by it and wishing we could read it.
Very well, what I am offering for acceptance and adoption is not
shorthand, but longhand, written with the SHORTHAND ALPHABET UNREDUCED.
You can write three times as many words in a minute with it as you can
write with our alphabet. And so, in a way, it IS properly a shorthand. It
has a pleasant look, too; a beguiling look, an inviting look. I will write
something in it, in my rude and untaught way: (Figure 9)
Even when I do it it comes out prettier than it does in Simplified
Spelling. Yes, and in the Simplified it costs one hundred and twenty-three
pen-strokes to write it, whereas in the phonographic it costs only
(Figure 9) is probably (Figure 10).
Let us hope so, anyway.
AS CONCERNS INTERPRETING THE DEITY
This line of hieroglyphs was for fourteen years the despair of all the
scholars who labored over the mysteries of the Rosetta stone: (Figure 1)
After five years of study Champollion translated it thus:
Therefore let the worship of Epiphanes be maintained in all the temples,
this upon pain of death.
That was the twenty-fourth translation that had been furnished by
scholars. For a time it stood. But only for a time. Then doubts began to
assail it and undermine it, and the scholars resumed their labors. Three
years of patient work produced eleven new translations; among them, this,
by Grunfeldt, was received with considerable favor:
The horse of Epiphanes shall be maintained at the public expense; this
upon pain of death.
But the following rendering, by Gospodin, was received by the learned
world with yet greater favor:
The priest shall explain the wisdom of Epiphanes to all these people, and
these shall listen with reverence, upon pain of death.
Seven years followed, in which twenty-one fresh and widely varying
renderings were scored—none of them quite convincing. But now, at
last, came Rawlinson, the youngest of all the scholars, with a translation
which was immediately and universally recognized as being the correct
version, and his name became famous in a day. So famous, indeed, that even
the children were familiar with it; and such a noise did the achievement
itself make that not even the noise of the monumental political event of
that same year—the flight from Elba—was able to smother it to
silence. Rawlinson's version reads as follows:
Therefore, walk not away from the wisdom of Epiphanes, but turn and follow
it; so shall it conduct thee to the temple's peace, and soften for thee
the sorrows of life and the pains of death.
Here is another difficult text: (Figure 2)
It is demotic—a style of Egyptian writing and a phase of the
language which had perished from the knowledge of all men twenty-five
hundred years before the Christian era.
Our red Indians have left many records, in the form of pictures, upon our
crags and boulders. It has taken our most gifted and painstaking students
two centuries to get at the meanings hidden in these pictures; yet there
are still two little lines of hieroglyphics among the figures grouped upon
the Dighton Rocks which they have not succeeded in interpreting to their
satisfaction. These: (Figure 3)
The suggested solutions of this riddle are practically innumerable; they
would fill a book.
Thus we have infinite trouble in solving man-made mysteries; it is only
when we set out to discover the secret of God that our difficulties
disappear. It was always so. In antique Roman times it was the custom of
the Deity to try to conceal His intentions in the entrails of birds, and
this was patiently and hopefully continued century after century, although
the attempted concealment never succeeded, in a single recorded instance.
The augurs could read entrails as easily as a modern child can read coarse
print. Roman history is full of the marvels of interpretation which these
extraordinary men performed. These strange and wonderful achievements move
our awe and compel our admiration. Those men could pierce to the marrow of
a mystery instantly. If the Rosetta-stone idea had been introduced it
would have defeated them, but entrails had no embarrassments for them.
Entrails have gone out, now—entrails and dreams. It was at last
found out that as hiding-places for the divine intentions they were
A part of the wall of Valletri having in former times been struck with
thunder, the response of the soothsayers was, that a native of that town
would some time or other arrive at supreme power. —BOHN'S SUETONIUS,
"Some time or other." It looks indefinite, but no matter, it happened, all
the same; one needed only to wait, and be patient, and keep watch, then he
would find out that the thunder-stroke had Caesar Augustus in mind, and
had come to give notice.
There were other advance-advertisements. One of them appeared just before
Caesar Augustus was born, and was most poetic and touching and romantic in
its feelings and aspects. It was a dream. It was dreamed by Caesar
Augustus's mother, and interpreted at the usual rates:
Atia, before her delivery, dreamed that her bowels stretched to the stars
and expanded through the whole circuit of heaven and earth.—SUETONIUS,
That was in the augur's line, and furnished him no difficulties, but it
would have taken Rawlinson and Champollion fourteen years to make sure of
what it meant, because they would have been surprised and dizzy. It would
have been too late to be valuable, then, and the bill for service would
have been barred by the statute of limitation.
In those old Roman days a gentleman's education was not complete until he
had taken a theological course at the seminary and learned how to
translate entrails. Caesar Augustus's education received this final
polish. All through his life, whenever he had poultry on the menu he saved
the interiors and kept himself informed of the Deity's plans by exercising
upon those interiors the arts of augury.
In his first consulship, while he was observing the auguries, twelve
vultures presented themselves, as they had done to Romulus. And when he
offered sacrifice, the livers of all the victims were folded inward in the
lower part; a circumstance which was regarded by those present who had
skill in things of that nature, as an indubitable prognostic of great and
wonderful fortune.—SUETONIUS, p. 141.
"Indubitable" is a strong word, but no doubt it was justified, if the
livers were really turned that way. In those days chicken livers were
strangely and delicately sensitive to coming events, no matter how far off
they might be; and they could never keep still, but would curl and squirm
like that, particularly when vultures came and showed interest in that
approaching great event and in breakfast.
We may now skip eleven hundred and thirty or forty years, which brings us
down to enlightened Christian times and the troubled days of King Stephen
of England. The augur has had his day and has been long ago forgotten; the
priest had fallen heir to his trade.
King Henry is dead; Stephen, that bold and outrageous person, comes flying
over from Normandy to steal the throne from Henry's daughter. He
accomplished his crime, and Henry of Huntington, a priest of high degree,
mourns over it in his Chronicle. The Archbishop of Canterbury consecrated
Stephen: "wherefore the Lord visited the Archbishop with the same judgment
which he had inflicted upon him who struck Jeremiah the great priest: he
died within a year."
Stephen's was the greater offense, but Stephen could wait; not so the
The kingdom was a prey to intestine wars; slaughter, fire, and rapine
spread ruin throughout the land; cries of distress, horror, and woe rose
in every quarter.
That was the result of Stephen's crime. These unspeakable conditions
continued during nineteen years. Then Stephen died as comfortably as any
man ever did, and was honorably buried. It makes one pity the poor
Archbishop, and wish that he, too, could have been let off as leniently.
How did Henry of Huntington know that the Archbishop was sent to his grave
by judgment of God for consecrating Stephen? He does not explain. Neither
does he explain why Stephen was awarded a pleasanter death than he was
entitled to, while the aged King Henry, his predecessor, who had ruled
England thirty-five years to the people's strongly worded satisfaction,
was condemned to close his life in circumstances most distinctly
unpleasant, inconvenient, and disagreeable. His was probably the most
uninspiring funeral that is set down in history. There is not a detail
about it that is attractive. It seems to have been just the funeral for
Stephen, and even at this far-distant day it is matter of just regret that
by an indiscretion the wrong man got it.
Whenever God punishes a man, Henry of Huntington knows why it was done,
and tells us; and his pen is eloquent with admiration; but when a man has
earned punishment, and escapes, he does not explain. He is evidently
puzzled, but he does not say anything. I think it is often apparent that
he is pained by these discrepancies, but loyally tries his best not to
show it. When he cannot praise, he delivers himself of a silence so marked
that a suspicious person could mistake it for suppressed criticism.
However, he has plenty of opportunities to feel contented with the way
things go—his book is full of them.
King David of Scotland... under color of religion caused his followers
to deal most barbarously with the English. They ripped open women,
tossed children on the points of spears, butchered priests at the
altars, and, cutting off the heads from the images on crucifixes, placed
them on the bodies of the slain, while in exchange they fixed on the
crucifixes the heads of their victims. Wherever the Scots came, there
was the same scene of horror and cruelty: women shrieking, old men
lamenting, amid the groans of the dying and the despair of the living.
But the English got the victory.
Then the chief of the men of Lothian fell, pierced by an arrow, and all
his followers were put to flight. For the Almighty was offended at them
and their strength was rent like a cobweb.
Offended at them for what? For committing those fearful butcheries? No,
for that was the common custom on both sides, and not open to criticism.
Then was it for doing the butcheries "under cover of religion"? No, that
was not it; religious feeling was often expressed in that fervent way all
through those old centuries. The truth is, He was not offended at "them"
at all; He was only offended at their king, who had been false to an oath.
Then why did not He put the punishment upon the king instead of upon
"them"? It is a difficult question. One can see by the Chronicle that the
"judgments" fell rather customarily upon the wrong person, but Henry of
Huntington does not explain why. Here is one that went true; the
chronicler's satisfaction in it is not hidden:
In the month of August, Providence displayed its justice in a remarkable
manner; for two of the nobles who had converted monasteries into
fortifications, expelling the monks, their sin being the same, met with
a similar punishment. Robert Marmion was one, Godfrey de Mandeville the
other. Robert Marmion, issuing forth against the enemy, was slain under
the walls of the monastery, being the only one who fell, though he was
surrounded by his troops. Dying excommunicated, he became subject to
death everlasting. In like manner Earl Godfrey was singled out among his
followers, and shot with an arrow by a common foot-soldier. He made
light of the wound, but he died of it in a few days, under
excommunication. See here the like judgment of God, memorable through
This exaltation jars upon me; not because of the death of the men, for
they deserved that, but because it is death eternal, in white-hot fire and
flame. It makes my flesh crawl. I have not known more than three men, or
perhaps four, in my whole lifetime, whom I would rejoice to see writhing
in those fires for even a year, let alone forever. I believe I would
relent before the year was up, and get them out if I could. I think that
in the long run, if a man's wife and babies, who had not harmed me, should
come crying and pleading, I couldn't stand it; I know I should forgive him
and let him go, even if he had violated a monastery. Henry of Huntington
has been watching Godfrey and Marmion for nearly seven hundred and fifty
years, now, but I couldn't do it, I know I couldn't. I am soft and gentle
in my nature, and I should have forgiven them seventy-and-seven times,
long ago. And I think God has; but this is only an opinion, and not
authoritative, like Henry of Huntington's interpretations. I could learn
to interpret, but I have never tried; I get so little time.
All through his book Henry exhibits his familiarity with the intentions of
God, and with the reasons for his intentions. Sometimes—very often,
in fact—the act follows the intention after such a wide interval of
time that one wonders how Henry could fit one act out of a hundred to one
intention out of a hundred and get the thing right every time when there
was such abundant choice among acts and intentions. Sometimes a man
offends the Deity with a crime, and is punished for it thirty years later;
meantime he has committed a million other crimes: no matter, Henry can
pick out the one that brought the worms. Worms were generally used in
those days for the slaying of particularly wicked people. This has gone
out, now, but in old times it was a favorite. It always indicated a case
of "wrath." For instance:
... the just God avenging Robert Fitzhilderbrand's perfidy, a worm grew in
his vitals, which gradually gnawing its way through his intestines
fattened on the abandoned man till, tortured with excruciating sufferings
and venting himself in bitter moans, he was by a fitting punishment
brought to his end.—(P. 400.)
It was probably an alligator, but we cannot tell; we only know it was a
particular breed, and only used to convey wrath. Some authorities think it
was an ichthyosaurus, but there is much doubt.
However, one thing we do know; and that is that that worm had been due
years and years. Robert F. had violated a monastery once; he had committed
unprintable crimes since, and they had been permitted—under
disapproval—but the ravishment of the monastery had not been
forgotten nor forgiven, and the worm came at last.
Why were these reforms put off in this strange way? What was to be gained
by it? Did Henry of Huntington really know his facts, or was he only
guessing? Sometimes I am half persuaded that he is only a guesser, and not
a good one. The divine wisdom must surely be of the better quality than he
makes it out to be.
Five hundred years before Henry's time some forecasts of the Lord's
purposes were furnished by a pope, who perceived, by certain perfectly
trustworthy signs furnished by the Deity for the information of His
familiars, that the end of the world was
... about to come. But as this end of the world draws near many things are
at hand which have not before happened, as changes in the air, terrible
signs in the heavens, tempests out of the common order of the seasons,
wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes in various places; all which will
not happen in our days, but after our days all will come to pass.
Still, the end was so near that these signs were "sent before that we may
be careful for our souls and be found prepared to meet the impending
That was thirteen hundred years ago. This is really no improvement on the
work of the Roman augurs.
(Written about 1893; not before published)
As concerns tobacco, there are many superstitions. And the chiefest is
this—that there is a STANDARD governing the matter, whereas there is
nothing of the kind. Each man's own preference is the only standard for
him, the only one which he can accept, the only one which can command him.
A congress of all the tobacco-lovers in the world could not elect a
standard which would be binding upon you or me, or would even much influence
The next superstition is that a man has a standard of his own. He hasn't.
He thinks he has, but he hasn't. He thinks he can tell what he regards as
a good cigar from what he regards as a bad one—but he can't. He goes
by the brand, yet imagines he goes by the flavor. One may palm off the
worst counterfeit upon him; if it bears his brand he will smoke it
contentedly and never suspect.
Children of twenty-five, who have seven years of experience, try to tell
me what is a good cigar and what isn't. Me, who never learned to smoke,
but always smoked; me, who came into the world asking for a light.
No one can tell me what is a good cigar—for me. I am the only judge.
People who claim to know say that I smoke the worst cigars in the world.
They bring their own cigars when they come to my house. They betray an
unmanly terror when I offer them a cigar; they tell lies and hurry away to
meet engagements which they have not made when they are threatened with
the hospitalities of my box. Now then, observe what superstition, assisted
by a man's reputation, can do. I was to have twelve personal friends to
supper one night. One of them was as notorious for costly and elegant
cigars as I was for cheap and devilish ones. I called at his house and
when no one was looking borrowed a double handful of his very choicest;
cigars which cost him forty cents apiece and bore red-and-gold labels in
sign of their nobility. I removed the labels and put the cigars into a box
with my favorite brand on it—a brand which those people all knew,
and which cowed them as men are cowed by an epidemic. They took these
cigars when offered at the end of the supper, and lit them and sternly
struggled with them—in dreary silence, for hilarity died when the
fell brand came into view and started around—but their fortitude
held for a short time only; then they made excuses and filed out, treading
on one another's heels with indecent eagerness; and in the morning when I
went out to observe results the cigars lay all between the front door and
the gate. All except one—that one lay in the plate of the man from
whom I had cabbaged the lot. One or two whiffs was all he could stand. He
told me afterward that some day I would get shot for giving people that
kind of cigars to smoke.
Am I certain of my own standard? Perfectly; yes, absolutely—unless
somebody fools me by putting my brand on some other kind of cigar; for no
doubt I am like the rest, and know my cigar by the brand instead of by the
flavor. However, my standard is a pretty wide one and covers a good deal
of territory. To me, almost any cigar is good that nobody else will smoke,
and to me almost all cigars are bad that other people consider good.
Nearly any cigar will do me, except a Havana. People think they hurt my
feelings when they come to my house with their life preservers on—I
mean, with their own cigars in their pockets. It is an error; I take care
of myself in a similar way. When I go into danger—that is, into rich
people's houses, where, in the nature of things, they will have
high-tariff cigars, red-and-gilt girded and nested in a rosewood box along
with a damp sponge, cigars which develop a dismal black ash and burn down
the side and smell, and will grow hot to the fingers, and will go on
growing hotter and hotter, and go on smelling more and more infamously and
unendurably the deeper the fire tunnels down inside below the thimbleful
of honest tobacco that is in the front end, the furnisher of it praising
it all the time and telling you how much the deadly thing cost—yes,
when I go into that sort of peril I carry my own defense along; I carry my
own brand—twenty-seven cents a barrel—and I live to see my
family again. I may seem to light his red-gartered cigar, but that is only
for courtesy's sake; I smuggle it into my pocket for the poor, of whom I
know many, and light one of my own; and while he praises it I join in, but
when he says it cost forty-five cents I say nothing, for I know better.
However, to say true, my tastes are so catholic that I have never seen any
cigars that I really could not smoke, except those that cost a dollar
apiece. I have examined those and know that they are made of dog-hair, and
not good dog-hair at that.
I have a thoroughly satisfactory time in Europe, for all over the
Continent one finds cigars which not even the most hardened newsboys in
New York would smoke. I brought cigars with me, the last time; I will not
do that any more. In Italy, as in France, the Government is the only
cigar-peddler. Italy has three or four domestic brands: the Minghetti, the
Trabuco, the Virginia, and a very coarse one which is a modification of
the Virginia. The Minghettis are large and comely, and cost three dollars
and sixty cents a hundred; I can smoke a hundred in seven days and enjoy
every one of them. The Trabucos suit me, too; I don't remember the price.
But one has to learn to like the Virginia, nobody is born friendly to it.
It looks like a rat-tail file, but smokes better, some think. It has a
straw through it; you pull this out, and it leaves a flue, otherwise there
would be no draught, not even as much as there is to a nail. Some prefer a
nail at first. However, I like all the French, Swiss, German, and Italian
domestic cigars, and have never cared to inquire what they are made of;
and nobody would know, anyhow, perhaps. There is even a brand of European
smoking-tobacco that I like. It is a brand used by the Italian peasants.
It is loose and dry and black, and looks like tea-grounds. When the fire
is applied it expands, and climbs up and towers above the pipe, and
presently tumbles off inside of one's vest. The tobacco itself is cheap,
but it raises the insurance. It is as I remarked in the beginning—the
taste for tobacco is a matter of superstition. There are no standards—no
real standards. Each man's preference is the only standard for him, the
only one which he can accept, the only one which can command him.
It was Maeterlinck who introduced me to the bee. I mean, in the psychical
and in the poetical way. I had had a business introduction earlier. It was
when I was a boy. It is strange that I should remember a formality like
that so long; it must be nearly sixty years.
Bee scientists always speak of the bee as she. It is because all the
important bees are of that sex. In the hive there is one married bee,
called the queen; she has fifty thousand children; of these, about one
hundred are sons; the rest are daughters. Some of the daughters are young
maids, some are old maids, and all are virgins and remain so.
Every spring the queen comes out of the hive and flies away with one of
her sons and marries him. The honeymoon lasts only an hour or two; then
the queen divorces her husband and returns home competent to lay two
million eggs. This will be enough to last the year, but not more than
enough, because hundreds of bees get drowned every day, and other hundreds
are eaten by birds, and it is the queen's business to keep the population
up to standard—say, fifty thousand. She must always have that many
children on hand and efficient during the busy season, which is summer, or
winter would catch the community short of food. She lays from two thousand
to three thousand eggs a day, according to the demand; and she must
exercise judgment, and not lay more than are needed in a slim
flower-harvest, nor fewer than are required in a prodigal one, or the
board of directors will dethrone her and elect a queen that has more
There are always a few royal heirs in stock and ready to take her place—ready
and more than anxious to do it, although she is their own mother. These
girls are kept by themselves, and are regally fed and tended from birth.
No other bees get such fine food as they get, or live such a high and
luxurious life. By consequence they are larger and longer and sleeker than
their working sisters. And they have a curved sting, shaped like a
scimitar, while the others have a straight one.
A common bee will sting any one or anybody, but a royalty stings royalties
only. A common bee will sting and kill another common bee, for cause, but
when it is necessary to kill the queen other ways are employed. When a
queen has grown old and slack and does not lay eggs enough one of her
royal daughters is allowed to come to attack her, the rest of the bees
looking on at the duel and seeing fair play. It is a duel with the curved
stings. If one of the fighters gets hard pressed and gives it up and runs,
she is brought back and must try again—once, maybe twice; then, if
she runs yet once more for her life, judicial death is her portion; her
children pack themselves into a ball around her person and hold her in
that compact grip two or three days, until she starves to death or is
suffocated. Meantime the victor bee is receiving royal honors and
performing the one royal function—laying eggs.
As regards the ethics of the judicial assassination of the queen, that is
a matter of politics, and will be discussed later, in its proper place.
During substantially the whole of her short life of five or six years the
queen lives in the Egyptian darkness and stately seclusion of the royal
apartments, with none about her but plebeian servants, who give her empty
lip-affection in place of the love which her heart hungers for; who spy
upon her in the interest of her waiting heirs, and report and exaggerate
her defects and deficiencies to them; who fawn upon her and flatter her to
her face and slander her behind her back; who grovel before her in the day
of her power and forsake her in her age and weakness. There she sits,
friendless, upon her throne through the long night of her life, cut off
from the consoling sympathies and sweet companionship and loving
endearments which she craves, by the gilded barriers of her awful rank; a
forlorn exile in her own house and home, weary object of formal ceremonies
and machine-made worship, winged child of the sun, native to the free air
and the blue skies and the flowery fields, doomed by the splendid accident
of her birth to trade this priceless heritage for a black captivity, a
tinsel grandeur, and a loveless life, with shame and insult at the end and
a cruel death—and condemned by the human instinct in her to hold the
Huber, Lubbock, Maeterlinck—in fact, all the great authorities—are
agreed in denying that the bee is a member of the human family. I do not
know why they have done this, but I think it is from dishonest motives.
Why, the innumerable facts brought to light by their own painstaking and
exhaustive experiments prove that if there is a master fool in the world,
it is the bee. That seems to settle it.
But that is the way of the scientist. He will spend thirty years in
building up a mountain range of facts with the intent to prove a certain
theory; then he is so happy in his achievement that as a rule he overlooks
the main chief fact of all—that his accumulation proves an entirely
different thing. When you point out this miscarriage to him he does not
answer your letters; when you call to convince him, the servant
prevaricates and you do not get in. Scientists have odious manners, except
when you prop up their theory; then you can borrow money of them.
To be strictly fair, I will concede that now and then one of them will
answer your letter, but when they do they avoid the issue—you cannot
pin them down. When I discovered that the bee was human I wrote about it
to all those scientists whom I have just mentioned. For evasions, I have
seen nothing to equal the answers I got.
After the queen, the personage next in importance in the hive is the
virgin. The virgins are fifty thousand or one hundred thousand in number,
and they are the workers, the laborers. No work is done, in the hive or
out of it, save by them. The males do not work, the queen does no work,
unless laying eggs is work, but it does not seem so to me. There are only
two million of them, anyway, and all of five months to finish the contract
in. The distribution of work in a hive is as cleverly and elaborately
specialized as it is in a vast American machine-shop or factory. A bee
that has been trained to one of the many and various industries of the
concern doesn't know how to exercise any other, and would be offended if
asked to take a hand in anything outside of her profession. She is as
human as a cook; and if you should ask the cook to wait on the table, you
know what would happen. Cooks will play the piano if you like, but they
draw the line there. In my time I have asked a cook to chop wood, and I
know about these things. Even the hired girl has her frontiers; true, they
are vague, they are ill-defined, even flexible, but they are there. This
is not conjecture; it is founded on the absolute. And then the butler. You
ask the butler to wash the dog. It is just as I say; there is much to be
learned in these ways, without going to books. Books are very well, but
books do not cover the whole domain of esthetic human culture. Pride of
profession is one of the boniest bones in existence, if not the boniest.
Without doubt it is so in the hive.
TAMING THE BICYCLE
(Written about 1893; not before published)
In the early eighties Mark Twain learned to ride one of the old high-wheel
bicycles of that period. He wrote an account of his experience, but did
not offer it for publication. The form of bicycle he rode long ago became
antiquated, but in the humor of his pleasantry is a quality which does not
A. B. P. I
I thought the matter over, and concluded I could do it. So I went down and
bought a barrel of Pond's Extract and a bicycle. The Expert came home with
me to instruct me. We chose the back yard, for the sake of privacy, and
went to work.
Mine was not a full-grown bicycle, but only a colt—a fifty-inch,
with the pedals shortened up to forty-eight—and skittish, like any
other colt. The Expert explained the thing's points briefly, then he got
on its back and rode around a little, to show me how easy it was to do. He
said that the dismounting was perhaps the hardest thing to learn, and so
we would leave that to the last. But he was in error there. He found, to
his surprise and joy, that all that he needed to do was to get me on to
the machine and stand out of the way; I could get off, myself. Although I
was wholly inexperienced, I dismounted in the best time on record. He was
on that side, shoving up the machine; we all came down with a crash, he at
the bottom, I next, and the machine on top.
We examined the machine, but it was not in the least injured. This was
hardly believable. Yet the Expert assured me that it was true; in fact,
the examination proved it. I was partly to realize, then, how admirably
these things are constructed. We applied some Pond's Extract, and resumed.
The Expert got on the OTHER side to shove up this time, but I dismounted
on that side; so the result was as before.
The machine was not hurt. We oiled ourselves up again, and resumed. This
time the Expert took up a sheltered position behind, but somehow or other
we landed on him again.
He was full of surprised admiration; said it was abnormal. She was all
right, not a scratch on her, not a timber started anywhere. I said it was
wonderful, while we were greasing up, but he said that when I came to know
these steel spider-webs I would realize that nothing but dynamite could
cripple them. Then he limped out to position, and we resumed once more.
This time the Expert took up the position of short-stop, and got a man to
shove up behind. We got up a handsome speed, and presently traversed a
brick, and I went out over the top of the tiller and landed, head down, on
the instructor's back, and saw the machine fluttering in the air between
me and the sun. It was well it came down on us, for that broke the fall,
and it was not injured.
Five days later I got out and was carried down to the hospital, and found
the Expert doing pretty fairly. In a few more days I was quite sound. I
attribute this to my prudence in always dismounting on something soft.
Some recommend a feather bed, but I think an Expert is better.
The Expert got out at last, brought four assistants with him. It was a
good idea. These four held the graceful cobweb upright while I climbed
into the saddle; then they formed in column and marched on either side of
me while the Expert pushed behind; all hands assisted at the dismount.
The bicycle had what is called the "wabbles," and had them very badly. In
order to keep my position, a good many things were required of me, and in
every instance the thing required was against nature. Against nature, but
not against the laws of nature. That is to say, that whatever the needed
thing might be, my nature, habit, and breeding moved me to attempt it in
one way, while some immutable and unsuspected law of physics required that
it be done in just the other way. I perceived by this how radically and
grotesquely wrong had been the life-long education of my body and members.
They were steeped in ignorance; they knew nothing—nothing which it
could profit them to know. For instance, if I found myself falling to the
right, I put the tiller hard down the other way, by a quite natural
impulse, and so violated a law, and kept on going down. The law required
the opposite thing—the big wheel must be turned in the direction in
which you are falling. It is hard to believe this, when you are told it.
And not merely hard to believe it, but impossible; it is opposed to all
your notions. And it is just as hard to do it, after you do come to
believe it. Believing it, and knowing by the most convincing proof that it
is true, does not help it: you can't any more DO it than you could before;
you can neither force nor persuade yourself to do it at first. The
intellect has to come to the front, now. It has to teach the limbs to
discard their old education and adopt the new.
The steps of one's progress are distinctly marked. At the end of each
lesson he knows he has acquired something, and he also knows what that
something is, and likewise that it will stay with him. It is not like
studying German, where you mull along, in a groping, uncertain way, for
thirty years; and at last, just as you think you've got it, they spring
the subjunctive on you, and there you are. No—and I see now, plainly
enough, that the great pity about the German language is, that you can't
fall off it and hurt yourself. There is nothing like that feature to make
you attend strictly to business. But I also see, by what I have learned of
bicycling, that the right and only sure way to learn German is by the
bicycling method. That is to say, take a grip on one villainy of it at a
time, and learn it—not ease up and shirk to the next, leaving that
one half learned.
When you have reached the point in bicycling where you can balance the
machine tolerably fairly and propel it and steer it, then comes your next
task—how to mount it. You do it in this way: you hop along behind it
on your right foot, resting the other on the mounting-peg, and grasping
the tiller with your hands. At the word, you rise on the peg, stiffen your
left leg, hang your other one around in the air in a general in indefinite
way, lean your stomach against the rear of the saddle, and then fall off,
maybe on one side, maybe on the other; but you fall off. You get up and do
it again; and once more; and then several times.
By this time you have learned to keep your balance; and also to steer
without wrenching the tiller out by the roots (I say tiller because it IS
a tiller; "handle-bar" is a lamely descriptive phrase). So you steer
along, straight ahead, a little while, then you rise forward, with a
steady strain, bringing your right leg, and then your body, into the
saddle, catch your breath, fetch a violent hitch this way and then that,
and down you go again.
But you have ceased to mind the going down by this time; you are getting
to light on one foot or the other with considerable certainty. Six more
attempts and six more falls make you perfect. You land in the saddle
comfortably, next time, and stay there—that is, if you can be
content to let your legs dangle, and leave the pedals alone a while; but
if you grab at once for the pedals, you are gone again. You soon learn to
wait a little and perfect your balance before reaching for the pedals;
then the mounting-art is acquired, is complete, and a little practice will
make it simple and easy to you, though spectators ought to keep off a rod
or two to one side, along at first, if you have nothing against them.
And now you come to the voluntary dismount; you learned the other kind
first of all. It is quite easy to tell one how to do the voluntary
dismount; the words are few, the requirement simple, and apparently
undifficult; let your left pedal go down till your left leg is nearly
straight, turn your wheel to the left, and get off as you would from a
horse. It certainly does sound exceedingly easy; but it isn't. I don't
know why it isn't but it isn't. Try as you may, you don't get down as you
would from a horse, you get down as you would from a house afire. You make
a spectacle of yourself every time.
During the eight days I took a daily lesson of an hour and a half. At the
end of this twelve working-hours' apprenticeship I was graduated—in
the rough. I was pronounced competent to paddle my own bicycle without
outside help. It seems incredible, this celerity of acquirement. It takes
considerably longer than that to learn horseback-riding in the rough.
Now it is true that I could have learned without a teacher, but it would
have been risky for me, because of my natural clumsiness. The self-taught
man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much
as he could have known if he had worked under teachers; and, besides, he
brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and
doing as he himself has done. There are those who imagine that the unlucky
accidents of life—life's "experiences"—are in some way useful
to us. I wish I could find out how. I never knew one of them to happen
twice. They always change off and swap around and catch you on your
inexperienced side. If personal experience can be worth anything as an
education, it wouldn't seem likely that you could trip Methuselah; and yet
if that old person could come back here it is more that likely that one of
the first things he would do would be to take hold of one of these
electric wires and tie himself all up in a knot. Now the surer thing and
the wiser thing would be for him to ask somebody whether it was a good
thing to take hold of. But that would not suit him; he would be one of the
self-taught kind that go by experience; he would want to examine for
himself. And he would find, for his instruction, that the coiled patriarch
shuns the electric wire; and it would be useful to him, too, and would
leave his education in quite a complete and rounded-out condition, till he
should come again, some day, and go to bouncing a dynamite-can around to
find out what was in it.
But we wander from the point. However, get a teacher; it saves much time
and Pond's Extract.
Before taking final leave of me, my instructor inquired concerning my
physical strength, and I was able to inform him that I hadn't any. He said
that that was a defect which would make up-hill wheeling pretty difficult
for me at first; but he also said the bicycle would soon remove it. The
contrast between his muscles and mine was quite marked. He wanted to test
mine, so I offered my biceps—which was my best. It almost made him
smile. He said, "It is pulpy, and soft, and yielding, and rounded; it
evades pressure, and glides from under the fingers; in the dark a body
might think it was an oyster in a rag." Perhaps this made me look grieved,
for he added, briskly: "Oh, that's all right, you needn't worry about
that; in a little while you can't tell it from a petrified kidney. Just go
right along with your practice; you're all right."
Then he left me, and I started out alone to seek adventures. You don't
really have to seek them—that is nothing but a phrase—they
come to you.
I chose a reposeful Sabbath-day sort of a back street which was about
thirty yards wide between the curbstones. I knew it was not wide enough;
still, I thought that by keeping strict watch and wasting no space
unnecessarily I could crowd through.
Of course I had trouble mounting the machine, entirely on my own
responsibility, with no encouraging moral support from the outside, no
sympathetic instructor to say, "Good! now you're doing well—good
again—don't hurry—there, now, you're all right—brace up,
go ahead." In place of this I had some other support. This was a boy, who
was perched on a gate-post munching a hunk of maple sugar.
He was full of interest and comment. The first time I failed and went down
he said that if he was me he would dress up in pillows, that's what he
would do. The next time I went down he advised me to go and learn to ride
a tricycle first. The third time I collapsed he said he didn't believe I
could stay on a horse-car. But the next time I succeeded, and got clumsily
under way in a weaving, tottering, uncertain fashion, and occupying pretty
much all of the street. My slow and lumbering gait filled the boy to the
chin with scorn, and he sung out, "My, but don't he rip along!" Then he
got down from his post and loafed along the sidewalk, still observing and
occasionally commenting. Presently he dropped into my wake and followed
along behind. A little girl passed by, balancing a wash-board on her head,
and giggled, and seemed about to make a remark, but the boy said,
rebukingly, "Let him alone, he's going to a funeral."
I have been familiar with that street for years, and had always supposed
it was a dead level; but it was not, as the bicycle now informed me, to my
surprise. The bicycle, in the hands of a novice, is as alert and acute as
a spirit-level in the detecting of delicate and vanishing shades of
difference in these matters. It notices a rise where your untrained eye
would not observe that one existed; it notices any decline which water
will run down. I was toiling up a slight rise, but was not aware of it. It
made me tug and pant and perspire; and still, labor as I might, the
machine came almost to a standstill every little while. At such times the
boy would say: "That's it! take a rest—there ain't no hurry. They
can't hold the funeral without YOU."
Stones were a bother to me. Even the smallest ones gave me a panic when I
went over them. I could hit any kind of a stone, no matter how small, if I
tried to miss it; and of course at first I couldn't help trying to do
that. It is but natural. It is part of the ass that is put in us all, for
some inscrutable reason.
I was at the end of my course, at last, and it was necessary for me to
round to. This is not a pleasant thing, when you undertake it for the
first time on your own responsibility, and neither is it likely to
succeed. Your confidence oozes away, you fill steadily up with nameless
apprehensions, every fiber of you is tense with a watchful strain, you
start a cautious and gradual curve, but your squirmy nerves are all full
of electric anxieties, so the curve is quickly demoralized into a jerky
and perilous zigzag; then suddenly the nickel-clad horse takes the bit in
its mouth and goes slanting for the curbstone, defying all prayers and all
your powers to change its mind—your heart stands still, your breath
hangs fire, your legs forget to work, straight on you go, and there are
but a couple of feet between you and the curb now. And now is the
desperate moment, the last chance to save yourself; of course all your
instructions fly out of your head, and you whirl your wheel AWAY from the
curb instead of TOWARD it, and so you go sprawling on that granite-bound
inhospitable shore. That was my luck; that was my experience. I dragged
myself out from under the indestructible bicycle and sat down on the curb
I started on the return trip. It was now that I saw a farmer's wagon
poking along down toward me, loaded with cabbages. If I needed anything to
perfect the precariousness of my steering, it was just that. The farmer
was occupying the middle of the road with his wagon, leaving barely
fourteen or fifteen yards of space on either side. I couldn't shout at him—a
beginner can't shout; if he opens his mouth he is gone; he must keep all
his attention on his business. But in this grisly emergency, the boy came
to the rescue, and for once I had to be grateful to him. He kept a sharp
lookout on the swiftly varying impulses and inspirations of my bicycle,
and shouted to the man accordingly:
"To the left! Turn to the left, or this jackass 'll run over you!" The man
started to do it. "No, to the right, to the right! Hold on! THAT won't do!—to
the left!—to the right!—to the LEFT—right! left—ri—Stay
where you ARE, or you're a goner!"
And just then I caught the off horse in the starboard and went down in a
pile. I said, "Hang it! Couldn't you SEE I was coming?"
"Yes, I see you was coming, but I couldn't tell which WAY you was coming.
Nobody could—now, COULD they? You couldn't yourself—now, COULD
you? So what could I do?"
There was something in that, and so I had the magnanimity to say so. I
said I was no doubt as much to blame as he was.
Within the next five days I achieved so much progress that the boy
couldn't keep up with me. He had to go back to his gate-post, and content
himself with watching me fall at long range.
There was a row of low stepping-stones across one end of the street, a
measured yard apart. Even after I got so I could steer pretty fairly I was
so afraid of those stones that I always hit them. They gave me the worst
falls I ever got in that street, except those which I got from dogs. I
have seen it stated that no expert is quick enough to run over a dog; that
a dog is always able to skip out of his way. I think that that may be
true: but I think that the reason he couldn't run over the dog was because
he was trying to. I did not try to run over any dog. But I ran over every
dog that came along. I think it makes a great deal of difference. If you
try to run over the dog he knows how to calculate, but if you are trying
to miss him he does not know how to calculate, and is liable to jump the
wrong way every time. It was always so in my experience. Even when I could
not hit a wagon I could hit a dog that came to see me practice. They all
liked to see me practice, and they all came, for there was very little
going on in our neighborhood to entertain a dog. It took time to learn to
miss a dog, but I achieved even that.
I can steer as well as I want to, now, and I will catch that boy out one
of these days and run over HIM if he doesn't reform.
Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.
IS SHAKESPEARE DEAD?
(from My Autobiography)
Scattered here and there through the stacks of unpublished manuscript
which constitute this formidable Autobiography and Diary of mine, certain
chapters will in some distant future be found which deal with "Claimants"—claimants
historically notorious: Satan, Claimant; the Golden Calf, Claimant; the
Veiled Prophet of Khorassan, Claimant; Louis XVII., Claimant; William
Shakespeare, Claimant; Arthur Orton, Claimant; Mary Baker G. Eddy,
Claimant—and the rest of them. Eminent Claimants, successful
Claimants, defeated Claimants, royal Claimants, pleb Claimants, showy
Claimants, shabby Claimants, revered Claimants, despised Claimants,
twinkle star-like here and there and yonder through the mists of history
and legend and tradition—and, oh, all the darling tribe are clothed
in mystery and romance, and we read about them with deep interest and
discuss them with loving sympathy or with rancorous resentment, according
to which side we hitch ourselves to. It has always been so with the human
race. There was never a Claimant that couldn't get a hearing, nor one that
couldn't accumulate a rapturous following, no matter how flimsy and
apparently unauthentic his claim might be. Arthur Orton's claim that he
was the lost Tichborne baronet come to life again was as flimsy as Mrs.
Eddy's that she wrote SCIENCE AND HEALTH from the direct dictation of the
Deity; yet in England nearly forty years ago Orton had a huge army of
devotees and incorrigible adherents, many of whom remained stubbornly
unconvinced after their fat god had been proven an impostor and jailed as
a perjurer, and today Mrs. Eddy's following is not only immense, but is
daily augmenting in numbers and enthusiasm. Orton had many fine and
educated minds among his adherents, Mrs. Eddy has had the like among hers
from the beginning. Her Church is as well equipped in those particulars as
is any other Church. Claimants can always count upon a following, it
doesn't matter who they are, nor what they claim, nor whether they come
with documents or without. It was always so. Down out of the long-vanished
past, across the abyss of the ages, if you listen, you can still hear the
believing multitudes shouting for Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel.
A friend has sent me a new book, from England—THE SHAKESPEARE
PROBLEM RESTATED—well restated and closely reasoned; and my fifty
years' interest in that matter—asleep for the last three years—is
excited once more. It is an interest which was born of Delia Bacon's book—away
back in that ancient day—1857, or maybe 1856. About a year later my
pilot-master, Bixby, transferred me from his own steamboat to the
PENNSYLVANIA, and placed me under the orders and instructions of George
Ealer—dead now, these many, many years. I steered for him a good
many months—as was the humble duty of the pilot-apprentice: stood a
daylight watch and spun the wheel under the severe superintendence and
correction of the master. He was a prime chess-player and an idolater of
Shakespeare. He would play chess with anybody; even with me, and it cost
his official dignity something to do that. Also—quite uninvited—he
would read Shakespeare to me; not just casually, but by the hour, when it
was his watch and I was steering. He read well, but not profitably for me,
because he constantly injected commands into the text. That broke it all
up, mixed it all up, tangled it all up—to that degree, in fact, that
if we were in a risky and difficult piece of river an ignorant person
couldn't have told, sometimes, which observations were Shakespeare's and
which were Ealer's. For instance:
What man dare, I dare!
Approach thou WHAT are you laying in the leads for? what a hell of an
idea! like the rugged ease her off a little, ease her off! rugged Russian
bear, the armed rhinoceros or the THERE she goes! meet her, meet her!
didn't you KNOW she'd smell the reef if you crowded it like that? Hyrcan
tiger; take any shape but that and my firm nerves she'll be in the WOODS
the first you know! stop the starboard! come ahead strong on the larboard!
back the starboard!... NOW then, you're all right; come ahead on the
starboard; straighten up and go 'long, never tremble: or be alive again,
and dare me to the desert DAMNATION can't you keep away from that greasy
water? pull her down! snatch her! snatch her baldheaded! with thy sword;
if trembling I inhabit then, lay in the leads!—no, only with the
starboard one, leave the other alone, protest me the baby of a girl. Hence
horrible shadow! eight bells—that watchman's asleep again, I reckon,
go down and call Brown yourself, unreal mockery, hence!
He certainly was a good reader, and splendidly thrilling and stormy and
tragic, but it was a damage to me, because I have never since been able to
read Shakespeare in a calm and sane way. I cannot rid it of his explosive
interlardings, they break in everywhere with their irrelevant, "What in
hell are you up to NOW! pull her down! more! MORE!—there now, steady
as you go," and the other disorganizing interruptions that were always
leaping from his mouth. When I read Shakespeare now I can hear them as
plainly as I did in that long-departed time—fifty-one years ago. I
never regarded Ealer's readings as educational. Indeed, they were a
detriment to me.
His contributions to the text seldom improved it, but barring that detail
he was a good reader; I can say that much for him. He did not use the
book, and did not need to; he knew his Shakespeare as well as Euclid ever
knew his multiplication table.
Did he have something to say—this Shakespeare-adoring Mississippi
pilot—anent Delia Bacon's book?
Yes. And he said it; said it all the time, for months—in the morning
watch, the middle watch, and dog watch; and probably kept it going in his
sleep. He bought the literature of the dispute as fast as it appeared, and
we discussed it all through thirteen hundred miles of river four times
traversed in every thirty-five days—the time required by that swift
boat to achieve two round trips. We discussed, and discussed, and
discussed, and disputed and disputed and disputed; at any rate, HE did,
and I got in a word now and then when he slipped a cog and there was a
vacancy. He did his arguing with heat, with energy, with violence; and I
did mine with the reserve and moderation of a subordinate who does not
like to be flung out of a pilot-house that is perched forty feet above the
water. He was fiercely loyal to Shakespeare and cordially scornful of
Bacon and of all the pretensions of the Baconians. So was I—at
first. And at first he was glad that that was my attitude. There were even
indications that he admired it; indications dimmed, it is true, by the
distance that lay between the lofty boss-pilotical altitude and my lowly
one, yet perceptible to me; perceptible, and translatable into a
compliment—compliment coming down from above the snow-line and not
well thawed in the transit, and not likely to set anything afire, not even
a cub-pilot's self-conceit; still a detectable complement, and precious.
Naturally it flattered me into being more loyal to Shakespeare—if
possible—than I was before, and more prejudiced against Bacon—if
possible—than I was before. And so we discussed and discussed, both
on the same side, and were happy. For a while. Only for a while. Only for
a very little while, a very, very, very little while. Then the atmosphere
began to change; began to cool off.
A brighter person would have seen what the trouble was, earlier than I
did, perhaps, but I saw it early enough for all practical purposes. You
see, he was of an argumentative disposition. Therefore it took him but a
little time to get tired of arguing with a person who agreed with
everything he said and consequently never furnished him a provocative to
flare up and show what he could do when it came to clear, cold, hard,
rose-cut, hundred-faceted, diamond-flashing REASONING. That was his name
for it. It has been applied since, with complacency, as many as several
times, in the Bacon-Shakespeare scuffle. On the Shakespeare side.
Then the thing happened which has happened to more persons than to me when
principle and personal interest found themselves in opposition to each
other and a choice had to be made: I let principle go, and went over to
the other side. Not the entire way, but far enough to answer the
requirements of the case. That is to say, I took this attitude—to
wit, I only BELIEVED Bacon wrote Shakespeare, whereas I KNEW Shakespeare
didn't. Ealer was satisfied with that, and the war broke loose. Study,
practice, experience in handling my end of the matter presently enabled me
to take my new position almost seriously; a little bit later, utterly
seriously; a little later still, lovingly, gratefully, devotedly; finally:
fiercely, rabidly, uncompromisingly. After that I was welded to my faith,
I was theoretically ready to die for it, and I looked down with compassion
not unmixed with scorn upon everybody else's faith that didn't tally with
mine. That faith, imposed upon me by self-interest in that ancient day,
remains my faith today, and in it I find comfort, solace, peace, and
never-failing joy. You see how curiously theological it is. The "rice
Christian" of the Orient goes through the very same steps, when he is
after rice and the missionary is after HIM; he goes for rice, and remains
Ealer did a lot of our "reasoning"—not to say substantially all of
it. The slaves of his cult have a passion for calling it by that large
name. We others do not call our inductions and deductions and reductions
by any name at all. They show for themselves what they are, and we can
with tranquil confidence leave the world to ennoble them with a title of
its own choosing.
Now and then when Ealer had to stop to cough, I pulled my
induction-talents together and hove the controversial lead myself: always
getting eight feet, eight and a half, often nine, sometimes even
quarter-less-twain—as I believed; but always "no bottom," as
I got the best of him only once. I prepared myself. I wrote out a passage
from Shakespeare—it may have been the very one I quoted awhile ago,
I don't remember—and riddled it with his wild steamboatful
interlardings. When an unrisky opportunity offered, one lovely summer day,
when we had sounded and buoyed a tangled patch of crossings known as
Hell's Half Acre, and were aboard again and he had sneaked the
PENNSYLVANIA triumphantly through it without once scraping sand, and the
A. T. LACEY had followed in our wake and got stuck, and he was feeling
good, I showed it to him. It amused him. I asked him to fire it off—READ
it; read it, I diplomatically added, as only HE could read dramatic
poetry. The compliment touched him where he lived. He did read it; read it
with surpassing fire and spirit; read it as it will never be read again;
for HE knew how to put the right music into those thunderous interlardings
and make them seem a part of the text, make them sound as if they were
bursting from Shakespeare's own soul, each one of them a golden
inspiration and not to be left out without damage to the massed and
I waited a week, to let the incident fade; waited longer; waited until he
brought up for reasonings and vituperation my pet position, my pet
argument, the one which I was fondest of, the one which I prized far above
all others in my ammunition-wagon—to wit, that Shakespeare couldn't
have written Shakespeare's works, for the reason that the man who wrote
them was limitlessly familiar with the laws, and the law-courts, and
law-proceedings, and lawyer-talk, and lawyer-ways—and if Shakespeare
was possessed of the infinitely divided star-dust that constituted this
vast wealth, HOW did he get it, and WHERE and WHEN?
From books! That was always the idea. I answered as my readings of the
champions of my side of the great controversy had taught me to answer:
that a man can't handle glibly and easily and comfortably and successfully
the argot of a trade at which he has not personally served. He will make
mistakes; he will not, and cannot, get the trade-phrasings precisely and
exactly right; and the moment he departs, by even a shade, from a common
trade-form, the reader who has served that trade will know the writer
HASN'T. Ealer would not be convinced; he said a man could learn how to
correctly handle the subtleties and mysteries and free-masonries of ANY
trade by careful reading and studying. But when I got him to read again
the passage from Shakespeare with the interlardings, he perceived,
himself, that books couldn't teach a student a bewildering multitude of
pilot-phrases so thoroughly and perfectly that he could talk them off in
book and play or conversation and make no mistake that a pilot would not
immediately discover. It was a triumph for me. He was silent awhile, and I
knew what was happening—he was losing his temper. And I knew he
would presently close the session with the same old argument that was
always his stay and his support in time of need; the same old argument,
the one I couldn't answer, because I dasn't—the argument that I was
an ass, and better shut up. He delivered it, and I obeyed.
O dear, how long ago it was—how pathetically long ago! And here am
I, old, forsaken, forlorn, and alone, arranging to get that argument out
of somebody again.
When a man has a passion for Shakespeare, it goes without saying that he
keeps company with other standard authors. Ealer always had several
high-class books in the pilot-house, and he read the same ones over and
over again, and did not care to change to newer and fresher ones. He
played well on the flute, and greatly enjoyed hearing himself play. So did
I. He had a notion that a flute would keep its health better if you took
it apart when it was not standing a watch; and so, when it was not on duty
it took its rest, disjointed, on the compass-shelf under the breastboard.
When the PENNSYLVANIA blew up and became a drifting rack-heap freighted
with wounded and dying poor souls (my young brother Henry among them),
pilot Brown had the watch below, and was probably asleep and never knew
what killed him; but Ealer escaped unhurt. He and his pilot-house were
shot up into the air; then they fell, and Ealer sank through the ragged
cavern where the hurricane-deck and the boiler-deck had been, and landed
in a nest of ruins on the main deck, on top of one of the unexploded
boilers, where he lay prone in a fog of scald and deadly steam. But not
for long. He did not lose his head—long familiarity with danger had
taught him to keep it, in any and all emergencies. He held his coat-lapels
to his nose with one hand, to keep out the steam, and scrabbled around
with the other till he found the joints of his flute, then he took
measures to save himself alive, and was successful. I was not on board. I
had been put ashore in New Orleans by Captain Klinefelter. The reason—however,
I have told all about it in the book called OLD TIMES ON THE MISSISSIPPI,
and it isn't important, anyway, it is so long ago.
When I was a Sunday-school scholar, something more than sixty years ago, I
became interested in Satan, and wanted to find out all I could about him.
I began to ask questions, but my class-teacher, Mr. Barclay, the
stone-mason, was reluctant about answering them, it seemed to me. I was
anxious to be praised for turning my thoughts to serious subjects when
there wasn't another boy in the village who could be hired to do such a
thing. I was greatly interested in the incident of Eve and the serpent,
and thought Eve's calmness was perfectly noble. I asked Mr. Barclay if he
had ever heard of another woman who, being approached by a serpent, would
not excuse herself and break for the nearest timber. He did not answer my
question, but rebuked me for inquiring into matters above my age and
comprehension. I will say for Mr. Barclay that he was willing to tell me
the facts of Satan's history, but he stopped there: he wouldn't allow any
discussion of them.
In the course of time we exhausted the facts. There were only five or six
of them; you could set them all down on a visiting-card. I was
disappointed. I had been meditating a biography, and was grieved to find
that there were no materials. I said as much, with the tears running down.
Mr. Barclay's sympathy and compassion were aroused, for he was a most kind
and gentle-spirited man, and he patted me on the head and cheered me up by
saying there was a whole vast ocean of materials! I can still feel the
happy thrill which these blessed words shot through me.
Then he began to bail out that ocean's riches for my encouragement and
joy. Like this: it was "conjectured"—though not established—that
Satan was originally an angel in Heaven; that he fell; that he rebelled,
and brought on a war; that he was defeated, and banished to perdition.
Also, "we have reason to believe" that later he did so and so; that "we
are warranted in supposing" that at a subsequent time he traveled
extensively, seeking whom he might devour; that a couple of centuries
afterward, "as tradition instructs us," he took up the cruel trade of
tempting people to their ruin, with vast and fearful results; that by and
by, "as the probabilities seem to indicate," he may have done certain
things, he might have done certain other things, he must have done still
And so on and so on. We set down the five known facts by themselves on a
piece of paper, and numbered it "page 1"; then on fifteen hundred other
pieces of paper we set down the "conjectures," and "suppositions," and
"maybes," and "perhapses," and "doubtlesses," and "rumors," and "guesses,"
and "probabilities," and "likelihoods," and "we are permitted to thinks,"
and "we are warranted in believings," and "might have beens," and "could
have beens," and "must have beens," and "unquestionablys," and "without a
shadow of doubts"—and behold!
MATERIALS? Why, we had enough to build a biography of Shakespeare!
Yet he made me put away my pen; he would not let me write the history of
Satan. Why? Because, as he said, he had suspicions—suspicions that
my attitude in that matter was not reverent, and that a person must be
reverent when writing about the sacred characters. He said any one who
spoke flippantly of Satan would be frowned upon by the religious world and
also be brought to account.
I assured him, in earnest and sincere words, that he had wholly
misconceived my attitude; that I had the highest respect for Satan, and
that my reverence for him equaled, and possibly even exceeded, that of any
member of any church. I said it wounded me deeply to perceive by his words
that he thought I would make fun of Satan, and deride him, laugh at him,
scoff at him; whereas in truth I had never thought of such a thing, but
had only a warm desire to make fun of those others and laugh at THEM.
"What others?" "Why, the Supposers, the Perhapsers, the
Might-Have-Beeners, the Could-Have-Beeners, the Must-Have-Beeners, the
Without-a-Shadow-of-Doubters, the We-Are-Warranted-in-Believingers, and
all that funny crop of solemn architects who have taken a good solid
foundation of five indisputable and unimportant facts and built upon it a
Conjectural Satan thirty miles high."
What did Mr. Barclay do then? Was he disarmed? Was he silenced? No. He was
shocked. He was so shocked that he visibly shuddered. He said the Satanic
Traditioners and Perhapsers and Conjecturers were THEMSELVES sacred! As
sacred as their work. So sacred that whoso ventured to mock them or make
fun of their work, could not afterward enter any respectable house, even
by the back door.
How true were his words, and how wise! How fortunate it would have been
for me if I had heeded them. But I was young, I was but seven years of
age, and vain, foolish, and anxious to attract attention. I wrote the
biography, and have never been in a respectable house since.
How curious and interesting is the parallel—as far as poverty of
biographical details is concerned—between Satan and Shakespeare. It
is wonderful, it is unique, it stands quite alone, there is nothing
resembling it in history, nothing resembling it in romance, nothing
approaching it even in tradition. How sublime is their position, and how
over-topping, how sky-reaching, how supreme—the two Great Unknowns,
the two Illustrious Conjecturabilities! They are the best-known unknown
persons that have ever drawn breath upon the planet.
For the instruction of the ignorant I will make a list, now, of those
details of Shakespeare's history which are FACTS—verified facts,
established facts, undisputed facts.
He was born on the 23d of April, 1564.
Of good farmer-class parents who could not read, could not write, could
not sign their names.
At Stratford, a small back settlement which in that day was shabby and
unclean, and densely illiterate. Of the nineteen important men charged
with the government of the town, thirteen had to "make their mark" in
attesting important documents, because they could not write their names.
Of the first eighteen years of his life NOTHING is known. They are a
On the 27th of November (1582) William Shakespeare took out a license to
marry Anne Whateley.
Next day William Shakespeare took out a license to marry Anne Hathaway.
She was eight years his senior.
William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. In a hurry. By grace of a
reluctantly granted dispensation there was but one publication of the
Within six months the first child was born.
About two (blank) years followed, during which period NOTHING AT ALL
HAPPENED TO SHAKESPEARE, so far as anybody knows.
Then came twins—1585. February.
Two blank years follow.
Then—1587—he makes a ten-year visit to London, leaving the
Five blank years follow. During this period NOTHING HAPPENED TO HIM, as
far as anybody actually knows.
Then—1592—there is mention of him as an actor.
Next year—1593—his name appears in the official list of
Next year—1594—he played before the queen. A detail of no
consequence: other obscurities did it every year of the forty-five of her
reign. And remained obscure.
Three pretty full years follow. Full of play-acting. Then
In 1597 he bought New Place, Stratford.
Thirteen or fourteen busy years follow; years in which he accumulated
money, and also reputation as actor and manager.
Meantime his name, liberally and variously spelt, had become associated
with a number of great plays and poems, as (ostensibly) author of the
Some of these, in these years and later, were pirated, but he made no
Then—1610-11—he returned to Stratford and settled down for
good and all, and busied himself in lending money, trading in tithes,
trading in land and houses; shirking a debt of forty-one shillings,
borrowed by his wife during his long desertion of his family; suing
debtors for shillings and coppers; being sued himself for shillings and
coppers; and acting as confederate to a neighbor who tried to rob the town
of its rights in a certain common, and did not succeed.
He lived five or six years—till 1616—in the joy of these
elevated pursuits. Then he made a will, and signed each of its three pages
with his name.
A thoroughgoing business man's will. It named in minute detail every item
of property he owned in the world—houses, lands, sword, silver-gilt
bowl, and so on—all the way down to his "second-best bed" and its
It carefully and calculatingly distributed his riches among the members of
his family, overlooking no individual of it. Not even his wife: the wife
he had been enabled to marry in a hurry by urgent grace of a special
dispensation before he was nineteen; the wife whom he had left husbandless
so many years; the wife who had had to borrow forty-one shillings in her
need, and which the lender was never able to collect of the prosperous
husband, but died at last with the money still lacking. No, even this wife
was remembered in Shakespeare's will.
He left her that "second-best bed."
And NOT ANOTHER THING; not even a penny to bless her lucky widowhood with.
It was eminently and conspicuously a business man's will, not a poet's.
It mentioned NOT A SINGLE BOOK.
Books were much more precious than swords and silver-gilt bowls and
second-best beds in those days, and when a departing person owned one he
gave it a high place in his will.
The will mentioned NOT A PLAY, NOT A POEM, NOT AN UNFINISHED LITERARY
WORK, NOT A SCRAP OF MANUSCRIPT OF ANY KIND.
Many poets have died poor, but this is the only one in history that has
died THIS poor; the others all left literary remains behind. Also a book.
If Shakespeare had owned a dog—but we need not go into that: we know
he would have mentioned it in his will. If a good dog, Susanna would have
got it; if an inferior one his wife would have got a dower interest in it.
I wish he had had a dog, just so we could see how painstakingly he would
have divided that dog among the family, in his careful business way.
He signed the will in three places.
In earlier years he signed two other official documents.
These five signatures still exist.
There are NO OTHER SPECIMENS OF HIS PENMANSHIP IN EXISTENCE. Not a line.
Was he prejudiced against the art? His granddaughter, whom he loved, was
eight years old when he died, yet she had had no teaching, he left no
provision for her education, although he was rich, and in her mature
womanhood she couldn't write and couldn't tell her husband's manuscript
from anybody else's—she thought it was Shakespeare's.
When Shakespeare died in Stratford, IT WAS NOT AN EVENT. It made no more
stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theater-actor would
have made. Nobody came down from London; there were no lamenting poems, no
eulogies, no national tears—there was merely silence, and nothing
more. A striking contrast with what happened when Ben Jonson, and Francis
Bacon, and Spenser, and Raleigh, and the other distinguished literary folk
of Shakespeare's time passed from life! No praiseful voice was lifted for
the lost Bard of Avon; even Ben Jonson waited seven years before he lifted
SO FAR AS ANYBODY ACTUALLY KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, Shakespeare of
Stratford-on-Avon never wrote a play in his life.
SO FAR AS ANYBODY KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, he never wrote a letter to anybody
in his life.
SO FAR AS ANY ONE KNOWS, HE RECEIVED ONLY ONE LETTER DURING HIS LIFE.
So far as any one KNOWS AND CAN PROVE, Shakespeare of Stratford wrote only
one poem during his life. This one is authentic. He did write that one—a
fact which stands undisputed; he wrote the whole of it; he wrote the whole
of it out of his own head. He commanded that this work of art be engraved
upon his tomb, and he was obeyed. There it abides to this day. This is it:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones And curst be he yt moves my bones.
In the list as above set down will be found EVERY POSITIVELY KNOWN fact of
Shakespeare's life, lean and meager as the invoice is. Beyond these
details we know NOT A THING about him. All the rest of his vast history,
as furnished by the biographers, is built up, course upon course, of
guesses, inferences, theories, conjectures—an Eiffel Tower of
artificialities rising sky-high from a very flat and very thin foundation
of inconsequential facts.
The historians "suppose" that Shakespeare attended the Free School in
Stratford from the time he was seven years old till he was thirteen. There
is no EVIDENCE in existence that he ever went to school at all.
The historians "infer" that he got his Latin in that school—the
school which they "suppose" he attended.
They "suppose" his father's declining fortunes made it necessary for him
to leave the school they supposed he attended, and get to work and help
support his parents and their ten children. But there is no evidence that
he ever entered or returned from the school they suppose he attended.
They "suppose" he assisted his father in the butchering business; and
that, being only a boy, he didn't have to do full-grown butchering, but
only slaughtered calves. Also, that whenever he killed a calf he made a
high-flown speech over it. This supposition rests upon the testimony of a
man who wasn't there at the time; a man who got it from a man who could
have been there, but did not say whether he was nor not; and neither of
them thought to mention it for decades, and decades, and decades, and two
more decades after Shakespeare's death (until old age and mental decay had
refreshed and vivified their memories). They hadn't two facts in stock
about the long-dead distinguished citizen, but only just the one: he
slaughtered calves and broke into oratory while he was at it. Curious.
They had only one fact, yet the distinguished citizen had spent twenty-six
years in that little town—just half his lifetime. However, rightly
viewed, it was the most important fact, indeed almost the only important
fact, of Shakespeare's life in Stratford. Rightly viewed. For experience
is an author's most valuable asset; experience is the thing that puts the
muscle and the breath and the warm blood into the book he writes. Rightly
viewed, calf-butchering accounts for "Titus Andronicus," the only play—ain't
it?—that the Stratford Shakespeare ever wrote; and yet it is the
only one everybody tried to chouse him out of, the Baconians included.
The historians find themselves "justified in believing" that the young
Shakespeare poached upon Sir Thomas Lucy's deer preserves and got haled
before that magistrate for it. But there is no shred of respectworthy
evidence that anything of the kind happened.
The historians, having argued the thing that MIGHT have happened into the
thing that DID happen, found no trouble in turning Sir Thomas Lucy into
Mr. Justice Shallow. They have long ago convinced the world—on
surmise and without trustworthy evidence—that Shallow IS Sir Thomas.
The next addition to the young Shakespeare's Stratford history comes easy.
The historian builds it out of the surmised deer-steeling, and the
surmised trial before the magistrate, and the surmised vengeance-prompted
satire upon the magistrate in the play: result, the young Shakespeare was
a wild, wild, wild, oh, SUCH a wild young scamp, and that gratuitous
slander is established for all time! It is the very way Professor Osborn
and I built the colossal skeleton brontosaur that stands fifty-seven feet
long and sixteen feet high in the Natural History Museum, the awe and
admiration of all the world, the stateliest skeleton that exists on the
planet. We had nine bones, and we built the rest of him out of plaster of
Paris. We ran short of plaster of Paris, or we'd have built a brontosaur
that could sit down beside the Stratford Shakespeare and none but an
expert could tell which was biggest or contained the most plaster.
Shakespeare pronounced "Venus and Adonis" "the first heir of his
invention," apparently implying that it was his first effort at literary
composition. He should not have said it. It has been an embarrassment to
his historians these many, many years. They have to make him write that
graceful and polished and flawless and beautiful poem before he escaped
from Stratford and his family—1586 or '87—age, twenty-two, or
along there; because within the next five years he wrote five great plays,
and could not have found time to write another line.
It is sorely embarrassing. If he began to slaughter calves, and poach
deer, and rollick around, and learn English, at the earliest likely moment—say
at thirteen, when he was supposably wrenched from that school where he was
supposably storing up Latin for future literary use—he had his
youthful hands full, and much more than full. He must have had to put
aside his Warwickshire dialect, which wouldn't be understood in London,
and study English very hard. Very hard indeed; incredibly hard, almost, if
the result of that labor was to be the smooth and rounded and flexible and
letter-perfect English of the "Venus and Adonis" in the space of ten
years; and at the same time learn great and fine and unsurpassable
However, it is "conjectured" that he accomplished all this and more, much
more: learned law and its intricacies; and the complex procedure of the
law-courts; and all about soldiering, and sailoring, and the manners and
customs and ways of royal courts and aristocratic society; and likewise
accumulated in his one head every kind of knowledge the learned then
possessed, and every kind of humble knowledge possessed by the lowly and
the ignorant; and added thereto a wider and more intimate knowledge of the
world's great literatures, ancient and modern, than was possessed by any
other man of his time—for he was going to make brilliant and easy
and admiration-compelling use of these splendid treasures the moment he
got to London. And according to the surmisers, that is what he did. Yes,
although there was no one in Stratford able to teach him these things, and
no library in the little village to dig them out of. His father could not
read, and even the surmisers surmise that he did not keep a library.
It is surmised by the biographers that the young Shakespeare got his vast
knowledge of the law and his familiar and accurate acquaintance with the
manners and customs and shop-talk of lawyers through being for a time the
CLERK OF A STRATFORD COURT; just as a bright lad like me, reared in a
village on the banks of the Mississippi, might become perfect in knowledge
of the Bering Strait whale-fishery and the shop-talk of the veteran
exercises of that adventure-bristling trade through catching catfish with
a "trot-line" Sundays. But the surmise is damaged by the fact that there
is no evidence—and not even tradition—that the young
Shakespeare was ever clerk of a law-court.
It is further surmised that the young Shakespeare accumulated his
law-treasures in the first years of his sojourn in London, through
"amusing himself" by learning book-law in his garret and by picking up
lawyer-talk and the rest of it through loitering about the law-courts and
listening. But it is only surmise; there is no EVIDENCE that he ever did
either of those things. They are merely a couple of chunks of plaster of
There is a legend that he got his bread and butter by holding horses in
front of the London theaters, mornings and afternoons. Maybe he did. If he
did, it seriously shortened his law-study hours and his recreation-time in
the courts. In those very days he was writing great plays, and needed all
the time he could get. The horse-holding legend ought to be strangled; it
too formidably increases the historian's difficulty in accounting for the
young Shakespeare's erudition—an erudition which he was acquiring,
hunk by hunk and chunk by chunk, every day in those strenuous times, and
emptying each day's catch into next day's imperishable drama.
He had to acquire a knowledge of war at the same time; and a knowledge of
soldier-people and sailor-people and their ways and talk; also a knowledge
of some foreign lands and their languages: for he was daily emptying
fluent streams of these various knowledges, too, into his dramas. How did
he acquire these rich assets?
In the usual way: by surmise. It is SURMISED that he traveled in Italy and
Germany and around, and qualified himself to put their scenic and social
aspects upon paper; that he perfected himself in French, Italian, and
Spanish on the road; that he went in Leicester's expedition to the Low
Countries, as soldier or sutler or something, for several months or years—or
whatever length of time a surmiser needs in his business—and thus
became familiar with soldiership and soldier-ways and soldier-talk and
generalship and general-ways and general-talk, and seamanship and
sailor-ways and sailor-talk.
Maybe he did all these things, but I would like to know who held the
horses in the mean time; and who studied the books in the garret; and who
frolicked in the law-courts for recreation. Also, who did the call-boying
and the play-acting.
For he became a call-boy; and as early as '93 he became a "vagabond"—the
law's ungentle term for an unlisted actor; and in '94 a "regular" and
properly and officially listed member of that (in those days) lightly
valued and not much respected profession.
Right soon thereafter he became a stockholder in two theaters, and manager
of them. Thenceforward he was a busy and flourishing business man, and was
raking in money with both hands for twenty years. Then in a noble frenzy
of poetic inspiration he wrote his one poem—his only poem, his
darling—and laid him down and died:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones And curst be he yt moves my bones.
He was probably dead when he wrote it. Still, this is only conjecture. We
have only circumstantial evidence. Internal evidence.
Shall I set down the rest of the Conjectures which constitute the giant
Biography of William Shakespeare? It would strain the Unabridged
Dictionary to hold them. He is a brontosaur: nine bones and six hundred
barrels of plaster of Paris.
"We May Assume"
In the Assuming trade three separate and independent cults are transacting
business. Two of these cults are known as the Shakespearites and the
Baconians, and I am the other one—the Brontosaurian.
The Shakespearite knows that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's Works; the
Baconian knows that Francis Bacon wrote them; the Brontosaurian doesn't
really know which of them did it, but is quite composedly and contentedly
sure that Shakespeare DIDN'T, and strongly suspects that Bacon DID. We all
have to do a good deal of assuming, but I am fairly certain that in every
case I can call to mind the Baconian assumers have come out ahead of the
Shakespearites. Both parties handle the same materials, but the Baconians
seem to me to get much more reasonable and rational and persuasive results
out of them than is the case with the Shakespearites. The Shakespearite
conducts his assuming upon a definite principle, an unchanging and
immutable law: which is: 2 and 8 and 7 and 14, added together, make 165. I
believe this to be an error. No matter, you cannot get a habit-sodden
Shakespearite to cipher-up his materials upon any other basis. With the
Baconian it is different. If you place before him the above figures and
set him to adding them up, he will never in any case get more than 45 out
of them, and in nine cases out of ten he will get just the proper 31.
Let me try to illustrate the two systems in a simple and homely way
calculated to bring the idea within the grasp of the ignorant and
unintelligent. We will suppose a case: take a lap-bred, house-fed,
uneducated, inexperienced kitten; take a rugged old Tom that's scarred
from stem to rudder-post with the memorials of strenuous experience, and
is so cultured, so educated, so limitlessly erudite that one may say of
him "all cat-knowledge is his province"; also, take a mouse. Lock the
three up in a holeless, crackless, exitless prison-cell. Wait half an
hour, then open the cell, introduce a Shakespearite and a Baconian, and
let them cipher and assume. The mouse is missing: the question to be
decided is, where is it? You can guess both verdicts beforehand. One
verdict will say the kitten contains the mouse; the other will as
certainly say the mouse is in the tom-cat.
The Shakespearite will Reason like this—(that is not my word, it is
his). He will say the kitten MAY HAVE BEEN attending school when nobody
was noticing; therefore WE ARE WARRANTED IN ASSUMING that it did so; also,
it COULD HAVE BEEN training in a court-clerk's office when no one was
noticing; since that could have happened, WE ARE JUSTIFIED IN ASSUMING
that it did happen; it COULD HAVE STUDIED CATOLOGY IN A GARRET when no one
was noticing—therefore it DID; it COULD HAVE attended cat-assizes on
the shed-roof nights, for recreation, when no one was noticing, and have
harvested a knowledge of cat court-forms and cat lawyer-talk in that way:
it COULD have done it, therefore without a doubt it DID; it COULD HAVE
gone soldiering with a war-tribe when no one was noticing, and learned
soldier-wiles and soldier-ways, and what to do with a mouse when
opportunity offers; the plain inference, therefore, is that that is what
it DID. Since all these manifold things COULD have occurred, we have EVERY
RIGHT TO BELIEVE they did occur. These patiently and painstakingly
accumulated vast acquirements and competences needed but one thing more—opportunity—to
convert themselves into triumphant action. The opportunity came, we have
the result; BEYOND SHADOW OF QUESTION the mouse is in the kitten.
It is proper to remark that when we of the three cults plant a "WE THINK
WE MAY ASSUME," we expect it, under careful watering and fertilizing and
tending, to grow up into a strong and hardy and weather-defying "THERE
ISN'T A SHADOW OF A DOUBT" at last—and it usually happens.
We know what the Baconian's verdict would be: "THERE IS NOT A RAG OF
EVIDENCE THAT THE KITTEN HAS HAD ANY TRAINING, ANY EDUCATION, ANY
EXPERIENCE QUALIFYING IT FOR THE PRESENT OCCASION, OR IS INDEED EQUIPPED
FOR ANY ACHIEVEMENT ABOVE LIFTING SUCH UNCLAIMED MILK AS COMES ITS WAY;
BUT THERE IS ABUNDANT EVIDENCE—UNASSAILABLE PROOF, IN FACT—THAT
THE OTHER ANIMAL IS EQUIPPED, TO THE LAST DETAIL, WITH EVERY QUALIFICATION
NECESSARY FOR THE EVENT. WITHOUT SHADOW OF DOUBT THE TOM-CAT CONTAINS THE
When Shakespeare died, in 1616, great literary productions attributed to
him as author had been before the London world and in high favor for
twenty-four years. Yet his death was not an event. It made no stir, it
attracted no attention. Apparently his eminent literary contemporaries did
not realize that a celebrated poet had passed from their midst. Perhaps
they knew a play-actor of minor rank had disappeared, but did not regard
him as the author of his Works. "We are justified in assuming" this.
His death was not even an event in the little town of Stratford. Does this
mean that in Stratford he was not regarded as a celebrity of ANY kind?
"We are privileged to assume"—no, we are indeed OBLIGED to assume—that
such was the case. He had spent the first twenty-two or twenty-three years
of his life there, and of course knew everybody and was known by everybody
of that day in the town, including the dogs and the cats and the horses.
He had spent the last five or six years of his life there, diligently
trading in every big and little thing that had money in it; so we are
compelled to assume that many of the folk there in those said latter days
knew him personally, and the rest by sight and hearsay. But not as a
CELEBRITY? Apparently not. For everybody soon forgot to remember any
contact with him or any incident connected with him. The dozens of
townspeople, still alive, who had known of him or known about him in the
first twenty-three years of his life were in the same unremembering
condition: if they knew of any incident connected with that period of his
life they didn't tell about it. Would they if they had been asked? It is
most likely. Were they asked? It is pretty apparent that they were not.
Why weren't they? It is a very plausible guess that nobody there or
elsewhere was interested to know.
For seven years after Shakespeare's death nobody seems to have been
interested in him. Then the quarto was published, and Ben Jonson awoke out
of his long indifference and sang a song of praise and put it in the front
of the book. Then silence fell AGAIN.
For sixty years. Then inquiries into Shakespeare's Stratford life began to
be made, of Stratfordians. Of Stratfordians who had known Shakespeare or
had seen him? No. Then of Stratfordians who had seen people who had known
or seen people who had seen Shakespeare? No. Apparently the inquires were
only made of Stratfordians who were not Stratfordians of Shakespeare's
day, but later comers; and what they had learned had come to them from
persons who had not seen Shakespeare; and what they had learned was not
claimed as FACT, but only as legend—dim and fading and indefinite
legend; legend of the calf-slaughtering rank, and not worth remembering
either as history or fiction.
Has it ever happened before—or since—that a celebrated person
who had spent exactly half of a fairly long life in the village where he
was born and reared, was able to slip out of this world and leave that
village voiceless and gossipless behind him—utterly voiceless.,
utterly gossipless? And permanently so? I don't believe it has happened in
any case except Shakespeare's. And couldn't and wouldn't have happened in
his case if he had been regarded as a celebrity at the time of his death.
When I examine my own case—but let us do that, and see if it will
not be recognizable as exhibiting a condition of things quite likely to
result, most likely to result, indeed substantially SURE to result in the
case of a celebrated person, a benefactor of the human race. Like me.
My parents brought me to the village of Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks
of the Mississippi, when I was two and a half years old. I entered school
at five years of age, and drifted from one school to another in the
village during nine and a half years. Then my father died, leaving his
family in exceedingly straitened circumstances; wherefore my
book-education came to a standstill forever, and I became a printer's
apprentice, on board and clothes, and when the clothes failed I got a
hymn-book in place of them. This for summer wear, probably. I lived in
Hannibal fifteen and a half years, altogether, then ran away, according to
the custom of persons who are intending to become celebrated. I never
lived there afterward. Four years later I became a "cub" on a Mississippi
steamboat in the St. Louis and New Orleans trade, and after a year and a
half of hard study and hard work the U.S. inspectors rigorously examined
me through a couple of long sittings and decided that I knew every inch of
the Mississippi—thirteen hundred miles—in the dark and in the
day—as well as a baby knows the way to its mother's paps day or
night. So they licensed me as a pilot—knighted me, so to speak—and
I rose up clothed with authority, a responsible servant of the United
Now then. Shakespeare died young—he was only fifty-two. He had lived
in his native village twenty-six years, or about that. He died celebrated
(if you believe everything you read in the books). Yet when he died nobody
there or elsewhere took any notice of it; and for sixty years afterward no
townsman remembered to say anything about him or about his life in
Stratford. When the inquirer came at last he got but one fact—no,
LEGEND—and got that one at second hand, from a person who had only
heard it as a rumor and didn't claim copyright in it as a production of
his own. He couldn't, very well, for its date antedated his own
birth-date. But necessarily a number of persons were still alive in
Stratford who, in the days of their youth, had seen Shakespeare nearly
every day in the last five years of his life, and they would have been
able to tell that inquirer some first-hand things about him if he had in
those last days been a celebrity and therefore a person of interest to the
villagers. Why did not the inquirer hunt them up and interview them?
Wasn't it worth while? Wasn't the matter of sufficient consequence? Had
the inquirer an engagement to see a dog-fight and couldn't spare the time?
It all seems to mean that he never had any literary celebrity, there or
elsewhere, and no considerable repute as actor and manager.
Now then, I am away along in life—my seventy-third year being
already well behind me—yet SIXTEEN of my Hannibal schoolmates are
still alive today, and can tell—and do tell—inquirers dozens
and dozens of incidents of their young lives and mine together; things
that happened to us in the morning of life, in the blossom of our youth,
in the good days, the dear days, "the days when we went gipsying, a long
time ago." Most of them creditable to me, too. One child to whom I paid
court when she was five years old and I eight still lives in Hannibal, and
she visited me last summer, traversing the necessary ten or twelve hundred
miles of railroad without damage to her patience or to her old-young
vigor. Another little lassie to whom I paid attention in Hannibal when she
was nine years old and I the same, is still alive—in London—and
hale and hearty, just as I am. And on the few surviving steamboats—those
lingering ghosts and remembrancers of great fleets that plied the big
river in the beginning of my water-career—which is exactly as long
ago as the whole invoice of the life-years of Shakespeare numbers—there
are still findable two or three river-pilots who saw me do creditable
things in those ancient days; and several white-headed engineers; and
several roustabouts and mates; and several deck-hands who used to heave
the lead for me and send up on the still night the "Six—feet—SCANT!"
that made me shudder, and the "M-a-r-k—TWAIN!" that took the shudder
away, and presently the darling "By the d-e-e-p—FOUR!" that lifted
me to heaven for joy. (1) They know about me, and can tell. And so do
printers, from St. Louis to New York; and so do newspaper reporters, from
Nevada to San Francisco. And so do the police. If Shakespeare had really
been celebrated, like me, Stratford could have told things about him; and
if my experience goes for anything, they'd have done it.
1. Four fathoms—twenty-four feet.
If I had under my superintendence a controversy appointed to decide
whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare or not, I believe I would place
before the debaters only the one question, WAS SHAKESPEARE EVER A
PRACTICING LAWYER? and leave everything else out.
It is maintained that the man who wrote the plays was not merely
myriad-minded, but also myriad-accomplished: that he not only knew some
thousands of things about human life in all its shades and grades, and
about the hundred arts and trades and crafts and professions which men
busy themselves in, but that he could TALK about the men and their grades
and trades accurately, making no mistakes. Maybe it is so, but have the
experts spoken, or is it only Tom, Dick, and Harry? Does the exhibit stand
upon wide, and loose, and eloquent generalizing—which is not
evidence, and not proof—or upon details, particulars, statistics,
Experts of unchallengeable authority have testified definitely as to only
one of Shakespeare's multifarious craft-equipments, so far as my
recollections of Shakespeare-Bacon talk abide with me—his
law-equipment. I do not remember that Wellington or Napoleon ever examined
Shakespeare's battles and sieges and strategies, and then decided and
established for good and all that they were militarily flawless; I do not
remember that any Nelson, or Drake, or Cook ever examined his seamanship
and said it showed profound and accurate familiarity with that art; I
don't remember that any king or prince or duke has ever testified that
Shakespeare was letter-perfect in his handling of royal court-manners and
the talk and manners of aristocracies; I don't remember that any
illustrious Latinist or Grecian or Frenchman or Spaniard or Italian has
proclaimed him a past-master in those languages; I don't remember—well,
I don't remember that there is TESTIMONY—great testimony—imposing
testimony—unanswerable and unattackable testimony as to any of
Shakespeare's hundred specialties, except one—the law.
Other things change, with time, and the student cannot trace back with
certainty the changes that various trades and their processes and
technicalities have undergone in the long stretch of a century or two and
find out what their processes and technicalities were in those early days,
but with the law it is different: it is mile-stoned and documented all the
way back, and the master of that wonderful trade, that complex and
intricate trade, that awe-compelling trade, has competent ways of knowing
whether Shakespeare-law is good law or not; and whether his law-court
procedure is correct or not, and whether his legal shop-talk is the
shop-talk of a veteran practitioner or only a machine-made counterfeit of
it gathered from books and from occasional loiterings in Westminster.
Richard H. Dana served two years before the mast, and had every experience
that falls to the lot of the sailor before the mast of our day. His
sailor-talk flows from his pen with the sure touch and the ease and
confidence of a person who has LIVED what he is talking about, not
gathered it from books and random listenings. Hear him:
Having hove short, cast off the gaskets, and made the bunt of each sail
fast by the jigger, with a man on each yard, at the word the whole canvas
of the ship was loosed, and with the greatest rapidity possible everything
was sheeted home and hoisted up, the anchor tripped and cat-headed, and
the ship under headway.
The royal yards were all crossed at once, and royals and sky-sails set,
and, as we had the wind free, the booms were run out, and all were aloft,
active as cats, laying out on the yards and booms, reeving the
studding-sail gear; and sail after sail the captain piled upon her, until
she was covered with canvas, her sails looking like a great white cloud
resting upon a black speck.
Once more. A race in the Pacific:
Our antagonist was in her best trim. Being clear of the point, the breeze
became stiff, and the royal-masts bent under our sails, but we would not
take them in until we saw three boys spring into the rigging of the
CALIFORNIA; then they were all furled at once, but with orders to our boys
to stay aloft at the top-gallant mast-heads and loose them again at the
word. It was my duty to furl the fore-royal; and while standing by to
loose it again, I had a fine view of the scene. From where I stood, the
two vessels seemed nothing but spars and sails, while their narrow decks,
far below, slanting over by the force of the wind aloft, appeared hardly
capable of supporting the great fabrics raised upon them. The CALIFORNIA
was to windward of us, and had every advantage; yet, while the breeze was
stiff we held our own. As soon as it began to slacken she ranged a little
ahead, and the order was given to loose the royals. In an instant the
gaskets were off and the bunt dropped. "Sheet home the fore-royal!"—"Weather
sheet's home!"—"Lee sheet's home!"—"Hoist away, sir!" is
bawled from aloft. "Overhaul your clew-lines!" shouts the mate. "Aye-aye,
sir, all clear!"—"Taut leech! belay! Well the lee brace; haul taut
to windward!" and the royals are set.
What would the captain of any sailing-vessel of our time say to that? He
would say, "The man that wrote that didn't learn his trade out of a book,
he has BEEN there!" But would this same captain be competent to sit in
judgment upon Shakespeare's seamanship—considering the changes in
ships and ship-talk that have necessarily taken place, unrecorded,
unremembered, and lost to history in the last three hundred years? It is
my conviction that Shakespeare's sailor-talk would be Choctaw to him. For
instance—from "The Tempest":
BOATSWAIN. Here, master; what cheer?
MASTER. Good, speak to the mariners: fall to 't, yarely, or we run
ourselves to ground; bestir, bestir! (ENTER MARINERS.)
BOATSWAIN. Heigh, my hearts! cheerly, cheerly, my hearts! yare, yare! Take
in the topsail. Tend to the master's whistle.... Down with the topmast!
yare! lower, lower! Bring her to try wi' the main course.... Lay her
a-hold, a-hold! Set her two courses. Off to sea again; lay her off.
That will do, for the present; let us yare a little, now, for a change.
If a man should write a book and in it make one of his characters say,
"Here, devil, empty the quoins into the standing galley and the
imposing-stone into the hell-box; assemble the comps around the frisket
and let them jeff for takes and be quick about it," I should recognize a
mistake or two in the phrasing, and would know that the writer was only a
printer theoretically, not practically.
I have been a quartz miner in the silver regions—a pretty hard life;
I know all the palaver of that business: I know all about discovery claims
and the subordinate claims; I know all about lodes, ledges, outcroppings,
dips, spurs, angles, shafts, drifts, inclines, levels, tunnels,
air-shafts, "horses," clay casings, granite casings; quartz mills and
their batteries; arastras, and how to charge them with quicksilver and
sulphate of copper; and how to clean them up, and how to reduce the
resulting amalgam in the retorts, and how to cast the bullion into pigs;
and finally I know how to screen tailings, and also how to hunt for
something less robust to do, and find it. I know the argot of the
quartz-mining and milling industry familiarly; and so whenever Bret Harte
introduces that industry into a story, the first time one of his miners
opens his mouth I recognize from his phrasing that Harte got the phrasing
by listening—like Shakespeare—I mean the Stratford one—not
by experience. No one can talk the quartz dialect correctly without
learning it with pick and shovel and drill and fuse.
I have been a surface miner—gold—and I know all its mysteries,
and the dialect that belongs with them; and whenever Harte introduces that
industry into a story I know by the phrasing of his characters that
neither he nor they have ever served that trade.
I have been a "pocket" miner—a sort of gold mining not findable in
any but one little spot in the world, so far as I know. I know how, with
horn and water, to find the trail of a pocket and trace it step by step
and stage by stage up the mountain to its source, and find the compact
little nest of yellow metal reposing in its secret home under the ground.
I know the language of that trade, that capricious trade, that fascinating
buried-treasure trade, and can catch any writer who tries to use it
without having learned it by the sweat of his brow and the labor of his
I know several other trades and the argot that goes with them; and
whenever a person tries to talk the talk peculiar to any of them without
having learned it at its source I can trap him always before he gets far
on his road.
And so, as I have already remarked, if I were required to superintend a
Bacon-Shakespeare controversy, I would narrow the matter down to a single
question—the only one, so far as the previous controversies have
informed me, concerning which illustrious experts of unimpeachable
competency have testified: WAS THE AUTHOR OF SHAKESPEARE'S WORKS A LAWYER?—a
lawyer deeply read and of limitless experience? I would put aside the
guesses and surmises, and perhapses, and might-have-beens, and
could-have-beens, and must-have-beens, and,
we-are-justified-in-presumings,and the rest of those vague specters and
shadows and indefintenesses, and stand or fall, win or lose, by the
verdict rendered by the jury upon that single question. If the verdict was
Yes, I should feel quite convinced that the Stratford Shakespeare, the
actor, manager, and trader who died so obscure, so forgotten, so destitute
of even village consequence, that sixty years afterward no fellow-citizen
and friend of his later days remembered to tell anything about him, did
not write the Works.
Chapter XIII of THE SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED bears the heading
"Shakespeare as a Lawyer," and comprises some fifty pages of expert
testimony, with comments thereon, and I will copy the first nine, as being
sufficient all by themselves, as it seems to me, to settle the question
which I have conceived to be the master-key to the Shakespeare-Bacon
Shakespeare as a Lawyer (1)
The Plays and Poems of Shakespeare supply ample evidence that their author
not only had a very extensive and accurate knowledge of law, but that he
was well acquainted with the manners and customs of members of the Inns of
Court and with legal life generally.
"While novelists and dramatists are constantly making mistakes as to the
laws of marriage, of wills, and inheritance, to Shakespeare's law,
lavishly as he expounds it, there can neither be demurrer, nor bill of
exceptions, nor writ of error." Such was the testimony borne by one of the
most distinguished lawyers of the nineteenth century who was raised to the
high office of Lord Chief Justice in 1850, and subsequently became Lord
Chancellor. Its weight will, doubtless, be more appreciated by lawyers
than by laymen, for only lawyers know how impossible it is for those who
have not served an apprenticeship to the law to avoid displaying their
ignorance if they venture to employ legal terms and to discuss legal
doctrines. "There is nothing so dangerous," wrote Lord Campbell, "as for
one not of the craft to tamper with our freemasonry." A layman is certain
to betray himself by using some expression which a lawyer would never
employ. Mr. Sidney Lee himself supplies us with an example of this. He
writes (p. 164): "On February 15, 1609, Shakespeare ... obtained judgment
from a jury against Addenbroke for the payment of No. 6, and No. 1, 5s.
0d. costs." Now a lawyer would never have spoken of obtaining "judgment
from a jury," for it is the function of a jury not to deliver judgment
(which is the prerogative of the court), but to find a verdict on the
facts. The error is, indeed, a venial one, but it is just one of those
little things which at once enable a lawyer to know if the writer is a
layman or "one of the craft."
But when a layman ventures to plunge deeply into legal subjects, he is
naturally apt to make an exhibition of his incompetence. "Let a
non-professional man, however acute," writes Lord Campbell again, "presume
to talk law, or to draw illustrations from legal science in discussing
other subjects, and he will speedily fall into laughable absurdity."
And what does the same high authority say about Shakespeare? He had "a
deep technical knowledge of the law," and an easy familiarity with "some
of the most abstruse proceedings in English jurisprudence." And again:
"Whenever he indulges this propensity he uniformly lays down good law." Of
"Henry IV.," Part 2, he says: "If Lord Eldon could be supposed to have
written the play, I do not see how he could be chargeable with having
forgotten any of his law while writing it." Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke
speak of "the marvelous intimacy which he displays with legal terms, his
frequent adoption of them in illustration, and his curiously technical
knowledge of their form and force." Malone, himself a lawyer, wrote: "His
knowledge of legal terms is not merely such as might be acquired by the
casual observation of even his all-comprehending mind; it has the
appearance of technical skill." Another lawyer and well-known
Shakespearean, Richard Grant White, says: "No dramatist of the time, not
even Beaumont, who was the younger son of a judge of the Common Pleas, and
who after studying in the Inns of Court abandoned law for the drama, used
legal phrases with Shakespeare's readiness and exactness. And the
significance of this fact is heightened by another, that it is only to the
language of the law that he exhibits this inclination. The phrases
peculiar to other occupations serve him on rare occasions by way of
description, comparison, or illustration, generally when something in the
scene suggests them, but legal phrases flow from his pen as part of his
vocabulary and parcel of his thought. Take the word 'purchase' for
instance, which, in ordinary use, means to acquire by giving value, but
applies in law to all legal modes of obtaining property except by
inheritance or descent, and in this peculiar sense the word occurs five
times in Shakespeare's thirty-four plays, and only in one single instance
in the fifty-four plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. It has been suggested
that it was in attendance upon the courts in London that he picked up his
legal vocabulary. But this supposition not only fails to account for
Shakespeare's peculiar freedom and exactness in the use of that
phraseology, it does not even place him in the way of learning those terms
his use of which is most remarkable, which are not such as he would have
heard at ordinary proceedings at NISI PRIUS, but such as refer to the
tenure or transfer of real property, 'fine and recovery,' 'statutes
merchant,' 'purchase,' 'indenture,' 'tenure,' 'double voucher,' 'fee
simple,' 'fee farm,' 'remainder,' 'reversion,' 'forfeiture,' etc. This
conveyancer's jargon could not have been picked up by hanging round the
courts of law in London two hundred and fifty years ago, when suits as to
the title of real property were comparatively rare. And besides,
Shakespeare uses his law just as freely in his first plays, written in his
first London years, as in those produced at a later period. Just as
exactly, too; for the correctness and propriety with which these terms are
introduced have compelled the admiration of a Chief Justice and a Lord
Senator Davis wrote: "We seem to have something more than a sciolist's
temerity of indulgence in the terms of an unfamiliar art. No legal
solecisms will be found. The abstrusest elements of the common law are
impressed into a disciplined service. Over and over again, where such
knowledge is unexampled in writers unlearned in the law, Shakespeare
appears in perfect possession of it. In the law of real property, its
rules of tenure and descents, its entails, its fines and recoveries, their
vouchers and double vouchers, in the procedure of the Courts, the method
of bringing writs and arrests, the nature of actions, the rules of
pleading, the law of escapes and of contempt of court, in the principles
of evidence, both technical and philosophical, in the distinction between
the temporal and spiritual tribunals, in the law of attainder and
forfeiture, in the requisites of a valid marriage, in the presumption of
legitimacy, in the learning of the law of prerogative, in the inalienable
character of the Crown, this mastership appears with surprising
To all this testimony (and there is much more which I have not cited) may
now be added that of a great lawyer of our own times, VIZ.: Sir James
Plaisted Wilde, Q.C. 1855, created a Baron of the Exchequer in 1860,
promoted to the post of Judge-Ordinary and Judge of the Courts of Probate
and Divorce in 1863, and better known to the world as Lord Penzance, to
which dignity he was raised in 1869. Lord Penzance, as all lawyers know,
and as the late Mr. Inderwick, K.C., has testified, was one of the first
legal authorities of his day, famous for his "remarkable grasp of legal
principles," and "endowed by nature with a remarkable facility for
marshaling facts, and for a clear expression of his views."
Lord Penzance speaks of Shakespeare's "perfect familiarity with not only
the principles, axioms, and maxims, but the technicalities of English law,
a knowledge so perfect and intimate that he was never incorrect and never
at fault.... The mode in which this knowledge was pressed into service on
all occasions to express his meaning and illustrate his thoughts was quite
unexampled. He seems to have had a special pleasure in his complete and
ready mastership of it in all its branches. As manifested in the plays,
this legal knowledge and learning had therefore a special character which
places it on a wholly different footing from the rest of the multifarious
knowledge which is exhibited in page after page of the plays. At every
turn and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile, or
illustration, his mind ever turned FIRST to the law. He seems almost to
have THOUGHT in legal phrases, the commonest of legal expressions were
ever at the end of his pen in description or illustration. That he should
have descanted in lawyer language when he had a forensic subject in hand,
such as Shylock's bond, was to be expected, but the knowledge of law in
'Shakespeare' was exhibited in a far different manner: it protruded itself
on all occasions, appropriate or inappropriate, and mingled itself with
strains of thought widely divergent from forensic subjects." Again: "To
acquire a perfect familiarity with legal principles, and an accurate and
ready use of the technical terms and phrases not only of the conveyancer's
office, but of the pleader's chambers and the Courts at Westminster,
nothing short of employment in some career involving constant contact with
legal questions and general legal work would be requisite. But a
continuous employment involves the element of time, and time was just what
the manager of two theaters had not at his disposal. In what portion of
Shakespeare's (i.e., Shakspere's) career would it be possible to point out
that time could be found for the interposition of a legal employment in
the chambers or offices of practicing lawyers?"
Stratfordians, as is well known, casting about for some possible
explanation of Shakespeare's extraordinary knowledge of law, have made the
suggestion that Shakespeare might, conceivably, have been a clerk in an
attorney's office before he came to London. Mr. Collier wrote to Lord
Campbell to ask his opinion as to the probability of this being true. His
answer was as follows: "You require us to believe implicitly a fact, of
which, if true, positive and irrefragable evidence in his own handwriting
might have been forthcoming to establish it. Not having been actually
enrolled as an attorney, neither the records of the local court at
Stratford nor of the superior Courts at Westminster would present his name
as being concerned in any suit as an attorney, but it might reasonably
have been expected that there would be deeds or wills witnessed by him
still extant, and after a very diligent search none such can be
Upon this Lord Penzance comments: "It cannot be doubted that Lord Campbell
was right in this. No young man could have been at work in an attorney's
office without being called upon continually to act as a witness, and in
many other ways leaving traces of his work and name." There is not a
single fact or incident in all that is known of Shakespeare, even by rumor
or tradition, which supports this notion of a clerkship. And after much
argument and surmise which has been indulged in on this subject, we may, I
think, safely put the notion on one side, for no less an authority than
Mr. Grant White says finally that the idea of his having been clerk to an
attorney has been "blown to pieces."
It is altogether characteristic of Mr. Churton Collins that he,
nevertheless, adopts this exploded myth. "That Shakespeare was in early
life employed as a clerk in an attorney's office may be correct. At
Stratford there was by royal charter a Court of Record sitting every
fortnight, with six attorneys, besides the town clerk, belonging to it,
and it is certainly not straining probability to suppose that the young
Shakespeare may have had employment in one of them. There is, it is true,
no tradition to this effect, but such traditions as we have about
Shakespeare's occupation between the time of leaving school and going to
London are so loose and baseless that no confidence can be placed in them.
It is, to say the least, more probable that he was in an attorney's office
than that he was a butcher killing calves 'in a high style,' and making
speeches over them."
This is a charming specimen of Stratfordian argument. There is, as we have
seen, a very old tradition that Shakespeare was a butcher's apprentice.
John Dowdall, who made a tour in Warwickshire in 1693, testifies to it as
coming from the old clerk who showed him over the church, and it is
unhesitatingly accepted as true by Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps. (Vol. I, p.
11, and Vol. II, pp. 71, 72.) Mr. Sidney Lee sees nothing improbable in
it, and it is supported by Aubrey, who must have written his account some
time before 1680, when his manuscript was completed. Of the attorney's
clerk hypothesis, on the other hand, there is not the faintest vestige of
a tradition. It has been evolved out of the fertile imaginations of
embarrassed Stratfordians, seeking for some explanation of the Stratford
rustic's marvelous acquaintance with law and legal terms and legal life.
But Mr. Churton Collins has not the least hesitation in throwing over the
tradition which has the warrant of antiquity and setting up in its stead
this ridiculous invention, for which not only is there no shred of
positive evidence, but which, as Lord Campbell and Lord Penzance point
out, is really put out of court by the negative evidence, since "no young
man could have been at work in an attorney's office without being called
upon continually to act as a witness, and in many other ways leaving
traces of his work and name." And as Mr. Edwards further points out, since
the day when Lord Campbell's book was published (between forty and fifty
years ago), "every old deed or will, to say nothing of other legal papers,
dated during the period of William Shakespeare's youth, has been
scrutinized over half a dozen shires, and not one signature of the young
man has been found."
Moreover, if Shakespeare had served as clerk in an attorney's office it is
clear that he must have so served for a considerable period in order to
have gained (if, indeed, it is credible that he could have so gained) his
remarkable knowledge of the law. Can we then for a moment believe that, if
this had been so, tradition would have been absolutely silent on the
matter? That Dowdall's old clerk, over eighty years of age, should have
never heard of it (though he was sure enough about the butcher's
apprentice) and that all the other ancient witnesses should be in similar
But such are the methods of Stratfordian controversy. Tradition is to be
scouted when it is found inconvenient, but cited as irrefragable truth
when it suits the case. Shakespeare of Stratford was the author of the
Plays and Poems, but the author of the Plays and Poems could not have been
a butcher's apprentice. Away, therefore, with tradition. But the author of
the Plays and Poems MUST have had a very large and a very accurate
knowledge of the law. Therefore, Shakespeare of Stratford must have been
an attorney's clerk! The method is simplicity itself. By similar reasoning
Shakespeare has been made a country schoolmaster, a soldier, a physician,
a printer, and a good many other things besides, according to the
inclination and the exigencies of the commentator. It would not be in the
least surprising to find that he was studying Latin as a schoolmaster and
law in an attorney's office at the same time.
However, we must do Mr. Collins the justice of saying that he has fully
recognized, what is indeed tolerably obvious, that Shakespeare must have
had a sound legal training. "It may, of course, be urged," he writes,
"that Shakespeare's knowledge of medicine, and particularly that branch of
it which related to morbid psychology, is equally remarkable, and that no
one has ever contended that he was a physician. (Here Mr. Collins is
wrong; that contention also has been put forward.) It may be urged that
his acquaintance with the technicalities of other crafts and callings,
notably of marine and military affairs, was also extraordinary, and yet no
one has suspected him of being a sailor or a soldier. (Wrong again. Why,
even Messrs. Garnett and Gosse "suspect" that he was a soldier!) This may
be conceded, but the concession hardly furnishes an analogy. To these and
all other subjects he recurs occasionally, and in season, but with
reminiscences of the law his memory, as is abundantly clear, was simply
saturated. In season and out of season now in manifest, now in recondite
application, he presses it into the service of expression and
illustration. At least a third of his myriad metaphors are derived from
it. It would indeed be difficult to find a single act in any of his
dramas, nay, in some of them, a single scene, the diction and imagery of
which are not colored by it. Much of his law may have been acquired from
three books easily accessible to him—namely, Tottell's PRECEDENTS
(1572), Pulton's STATUTES (1578), and Fraunce's LAWIER'S LOGIKE (1588),
works with which he certainly seems to have been familiar; but much of it
could only have come from one who had an intimate acquaintance with legal
proceedings. We quite agree with Mr. Castle that Shakespeare's legal
knowledge is not what could have been picked up in an attorney's office,
but could only have been learned by an actual attendance at the Courts, at
a Pleader's Chambers, and on circuit, or by associating intimately with
members of the Bench and Bar."
This is excellent. But what is Mr. Collins's explanation? "Perhaps the
simplest solution of the problem is to accept the hypothesis that in early
life he was in an attorney's office (!), that he there contracted a love
for the law which never left him, that as a young man in London he
continued to study or dabble in it for his amusement, to stroll in leisure
hours into the Courts, and to frequent the society of lawyers. On no other
supposition is it possible to explain the attraction which the law
evidently had for him, and his minute and undeviating accuracy in a
subject where no layman who has indulged in such copious and ostentatious
display of legal technicalities has ever yet succeeded in keeping himself
A lame conclusion. "No other supposition" indeed! Yes, there is another,
and a very obvious supposition—namely, that Shakespeare was himself
a lawyer, well versed in his trade, versed in all the ways of the courts,
and living in close intimacy with judges and members of the Inns of Court.
One is, of course, thankful that Mr. Collins has appreciated the fact that
Shakespeare must have had a sound legal training, but I may be forgiven if
I do not attach quite so much importance to his pronouncements on this
branch of the subject as to those of Malone, Lord Campbell, Judge Holmes,
Mr. Castle, K.C., Lord Penzance, Mr. Grant White, and other lawyers, who
have expressed their opinion on the matter of Shakespeare's legal
Here it may, perhaps, be worth while to quote again from Lord Penzance's
book as to the suggestion that Shakespeare had somehow or other managed
"to acquire a perfect familiarity with legal principles, and an accurate
and ready use of the technical terms and phrases, not only of the
conveyancer's office, but of the pleader's chambers and the Courts at
Westminster." This, as Lord Penzance points out, "would require nothing
short of employment in some career involving CONSTANT CONTACT with legal
questions and general legal work." But "in what portion of Shakespeare's
career would it be possible to point out that time could be found for the
interposition of a legal employment in the chambers or offices of
practicing lawyers?... It is beyond doubt that at an early period he was
called upon to abandon his attendance at school and assist his father, and
was soon after, at the age of sixteen, bound apprentice to a trade. While
under the obligation of this bond he could not have pursued any other
employment. Then he leaves Stratford and comes to London. He has to
provide himself with the means of a livelihood, and this he did in some
capacity at the theater. No one doubts that. The holding of horses is
scouted by many, and perhaps with justice, as being unlikely and certainly
unproved; but whatever the nature of his employment was at the theater,
there is hardly room for the belief that it could have been other than
continuous, for his progress there was so rapid. Ere long he had been
taken into the company as an actor, and was soon spoken of as a 'Johannes
Factotum.' His rapid accumulation of wealth speaks volumes for the
constancy and activity of his services. One fails to see when there could
be a break in the current of his life at this period of it, giving room or
opportunity for legal or indeed any other employment. 'In 1589,' says
Knight, 'we have undeniable evidence that he had not only a casual
engagement, was not only a salaried servant, as many players were, but was
a shareholder in the company of the Queen's players with other
shareholders below him on the list.' This (1589) would be within two years
after his arrival in London, which is placed by White and
Halliwell-Phillipps about the year 1587. The difficulty in supposing that,
starting with a state of ignorance in 1587, when he is supposed to have
come to London, he was induced to enter upon a course of most extended
study and mental culture, is almost insuperable. Still it was physically
possible, provided always that he could have had access to the needful
books. But this legal training seems to me to stand on a different
footing. It is not only unaccountable and incredible, but it is actually
negatived by the known facts of his career." Lord Penzance then refers to
the fact that "by 1592 (according to the best authority, Mr. Grant White)
several of the plays had been written. 'The Comedy of Errors' in 1589,
'Love's Labour's Lost' in 1589, 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' in 1589 or
1590," and so forth, and then asks, "with this catalogue of dramatic work
on hand... was it possible that he could have taken a leading part in the
management and conduct of two theaters, and if Mr. Phillipps is to be
relied upon, taken his share in the performances of the provincial tours
of his company—and at the same time devoted himself to the study of
the law in all its branches so efficiently as to make himself complete
master of its principles and practice, and saturate his mind with all its
most technical terms?"
I have cited this passage from Lord Penzance's book, because it lay before
me, and I had already quoted from it on the matter of Shakespeare's legal
knowledge; but other writers have still better set forth the insuperable
difficulties, as they seem to me, which beset the idea that Shakespeare
might have found time in some unknown period of early life, amid
multifarious other occupations, for the study of classics, literature, and
law, to say nothing of languages and a few other matters. Lord Penzance
further asks his readers: "Did you ever meet with or hear of an instance
in which a young man in this country gave himself up to legal studies and
engaged in legal employments, which is the only way of becoming familiar
with the technicalities of practice, unless with the view of practicing in
that profession? I do not believe that it would be easy, or indeed
possible, to produce an instance in which the law has been seriously
studied in all its branches, except as a qualification for practice in the
This testimony is so strong, so direct, so authoritative; and so
uncheapened, unwatered by guesses, and surmises, and maybe-so's, and
might-have-beens, and could-have-beens, and must-have-beens, and the rest
of that ton of plaster of Paris out of which the biographers have built
the colossal brontosaur which goes by the Stratford actor's name, that it
quite convinces me that the man who wrote Shakespeare's Works knew all
about law and lawyers. Also, that that man could not have been the
Stratford Shakespeare—and WASN'T.
Who did write these Works, then?
I wish I knew.
1. From Chapter XIII of THE SHAKESPEARE PROBLEM RESTATED. By
George G. Greenwood, M.P. John Lane Company, publishers.
Did Francis Bacon write Shakespeare's Works? Nobody knows.
We cannot say we KNOW a thing when that thing has not been proved. KNOW is
too strong a word to use when the evidence is not final and absolutely
conclusive. We can infer, if we want to, like those slaves.... No, I will
not write that word, it is not kind, it is not courteous. The upholders of
the Stratford-Shakespeare superstition call US the hardest names they can
think of, and they keep doing it all the time; very well, if they like to
descend to that level, let them do it, but I will not so undignify myself
as to follow them. I cannot call them harsh names; the most I can do is to
indicate them by terms reflecting my disapproval; and this without malice,
To resume. What I was about to say was, those thugs have built their
entire superstition upon INFERENCES, not upon known and established facts.
It is a weak method, and poor, and I am glad to be able to say our side
never resorts to it while there is anything else to resort to.
But when we must, we must; and we have now arrived at a place of that
sort.... Since the Stratford Shakespeare couldn't have written the Works,
we infer that somebody did. Who was it, then? This requires some more
Ordinarily when an unsigned poem sweeps across the continent like a tidal
wave whose roar and boom and thunder are made up of admiration, delight,
and applause, a dozen obscure people rise up and claim the authorship. Why
a dozen, instead of only one or two? One reason is, because there are a
dozen that are recognizably competent to do that poem. Do you remember
"Beautiful Snow"? Do you remember "Rock Me to Sleep, Mother, Rock Me to
Sleep"? Do you remember "Backward, turn, backward, O Time, in thy flight!
Make me a child again just for tonight"? I remember them very well. Their
authorship was claimed by most of the grown-up people who were alive at
the time, and every claimant had one plausible argument in his favor, at
least—to wit, he could have done the authoring; he was competent.
Have the Works been claimed by a dozen? They haven't. There was good
reason. The world knows there was but one man on the planet at the time
who was competent—not a dozen, and not two. A long time ago the
dwellers in a far country used now and then to find a procession of
prodigious footprints stretching across the plain—footprints that
were three miles apart, each footprint a third of a mile long and a
furlong deep, and with forests and villages mashed to mush in it. Was
there any doubt as to who made that mighty trail? Were there a dozen
claimants? Where there two? No—the people knew who it was that had
been along there: there was only one Hercules.
There has been only one Shakespeare. There couldn't be two; certainly
there couldn't be two at the same time. It takes ages to bring forth a
Shakespeare, and some more ages to match him. This one was not matched
before his time; nor during his time; and hasn't been matched since. The
prospect of matching him in our time is not bright.
The Baconians claim that the Stratford Shakespeare was not qualified to
write the Works, and that Francis Bacon was. They claim that Bacon
possessed the stupendous equipment—both natural and acquired—for
the miracle; and that no other Englishman of his day possessed the like;
or, indeed, anything closely approaching it.
Macaulay, in his Essay, has much to say about the splendor and horizonless
magnitude of that equipment. Also, he has synopsized Bacon's history—a
thing which cannot be done for the Stratford Shakespeare, for he hasn't
any history to synopsize. Bacon's history is open to the world, from his
boyhood to his death in old age—a history consisting of known facts,
displayed in minute and multitudinous detail; FACTS, not guesses and
conjectures and might-have-beens.
Whereby it appears that he was born of a race of statesmen, and had a Lord
Chancellor for his father, and a mother who was "distinguished both as a
linguist and a theologian: she corresponded in Greek with Bishop Jewell,
and translated his APOLOGIA from the Latin so correctly that neither he
nor Archbishop Parker could suggest a single alteration." It is the
atmosphere we are reared in that determines how our inclinations and
aspirations shall tend. The atmosphere furnished by the parents to the son
in this present case was an atmosphere saturated with learning; with
thinkings and ponderings upon deep subjects; and with polite culture. It
had its natural effect. Shakespeare of Stratford was reared in a house
which had no use for books, since its owners, his parents, were without
education. This may have had an effect upon the son, but we do not know,
because we have no history of him of an informing sort. There were but few
books anywhere, in that day, and only the well-to-do and highly educated
possessed them, they being almost confined to the dead languages. "All the
valuable books then extant in all the vernacular dialects of Europe would
hardly have filled a single shelf"—imagine it! The few existing
books were in the Latin tongue mainly. "A person who was ignorant of it
was shut out from all acquaintance—not merely with Cicero and
Virgil, but with the most interesting memoirs, state papers, and pamphlets
of his own time"—a literature necessary to the Stratford lad, for
his fictitious reputation's sake, since the writer of his Works would
begin to use it wholesale and in a most masterly way before the lad was
hardly more than out of his teens and into his twenties.
At fifteen Bacon was sent to the university, and he spent three years
there. Thence he went to Paris in the train of the English Ambassador, and
there he mingled daily with the wise, the cultured, the great, and the
aristocracy of fashion, during another three years. A total of six years
spent at the sources of knowledge; knowledge both of books and of men. The
three spent at the university were coeval with the second and last three
spent by the little Stratford lad at Stratford school supposedly, and
perhapsedly, and maybe, and by inference—with nothing to infer from.
The second three of the Baconian six were "presumably" spent by the
Stratford lad as apprentice to a butcher. That is, the thugs presume it—on
no evidence of any kind. Which is their way, when they want a historical
fact. Fact and presumption are, for business purposes, all the same to
them. They know the difference, but they also know how to blink it. They
know, too, that while in history-building a fact is better than a
presumption, it doesn't take a presumption long to bloom into a fact when
THEY have the handling of it. They know by old experience that when they
get hold of a presumption-tadpole he is not going to STAY tadpole in their
history-tank; no, they know how to develop him into the giant four-legged
bullfrog of FACT, and make him sit up on his hams, and puff out his chin,
and look important and insolent and come-to-stay; and assert his genuine
simon-pure authenticity with a thundering bellow that will convince
everybody because it is so loud. The thug is aware that loudness convinces
sixty persons where reasoning convinces but one. I wouldn't be a thug, not
even if—but never mind about that, it has nothing to do with the
argument, and it is not noble in spirit besides. If I am better than a
thug, is the merit mine? No, it is His. Then to Him be the praise. That is
the right spirit.
They "presume" the lad severed his "presumed" connection with the
Stratford school to become apprentice to a butcher. They also "presume"
that the butcher was his father. They don't know. There is no written
record of it, nor any other actual evidence. If it would have helped their
case any, they would have apprenticed him to thirty butchers, to fifty
butchers, to a wilderness of butchers—all by their patented method
"presumption." If it will help their case they will do it yet; and if it
will further help it, they will "presume" that all those butchers were his
father. And the week after, they will SAY it. Why, it is just like being
the past tense of the compound reflexive adverbial incandescent hypodermic
irregular accusative Noun of Multitude; which is father to the expression
which the grammarians call Verb. It is like a whole ancestry, with only
To resume. Next, the young Bacon took up the study of law, and mastered
that abstruse science. From that day to the end of his life he was daily
in close contact with lawyers and judges; not as a casual onlooker in
intervals between holding horses in front of a theater, but as a
practicing lawyer—a great and successful one, a renowned one, a
Launcelot of the bar, the most formidable lance in the high brotherhood of
the legal Table Round; he lived in the law's atmosphere thenceforth, all
his years, and by sheer ability forced his way up its difficult steeps to
its supremest summit, the Lord-Chancellorship, leaving behind him no
fellow-craftsman qualified to challenge his divine right to that majestic
When we read the praises bestowed by Lord Penzance and the other
illustrious experts upon the legal condition and legal aptnesses,
brilliances, profundities, and felicities so prodigally displayed in the
Plays, and try to fit them to the historyless Stratford stage-manager,
they sound wild, strange, incredible, ludicrous; but when we put them in
the mouth of Bacon they do not sound strange, they seem in their natural
and rightful place, they seem at home there. Please turn back and read
them again. Attributed to Shakespeare of Stratford they are meaningless,
they are inebriate extravagancies—intemperate admirations of the
dark side of the moon, so to speak; attributed to Bacon, they are
admirations of the golden glories of the moon's front side, the moon at
the full—and not intemperate, not overwrought, but sane and right,
and justified. "At every turn and point at which the author required a
metaphor, simile, or illustration, his mind ever turned FIRST to the law;
he seems almost to have THOUGHT in legal phrases; the commonest legal
phrases, the commonest of legal expressions, were ever at the end of his
pen." That could happen to no one but a person whose TRADE was the law; it
could not happen to a dabbler in it. Veteran mariners fill their
conversation with sailor-phrases and draw all their similes from the ship
and the sea and the storm, but no mere PASSENGER ever does it, be he of
Stratford or elsewhere; or could do it with anything resembling accuracy,
if he were hardy enough to try. Please read again what Lord Campbell and
the other great authorities have said about Bacon when they thought they
were saying it about Shakespeare of Stratford.
The Rest of the Equipment
The author of the Plays was equipped, beyond every other man of his time,
with wisdom, erudition, imagination, capaciousness of mind, grace, and
majesty of expression. Every one has said it, no one doubts it. Also, he
had humor, humor in rich abundance, and always wanting to break out. We
have no evidence of any kind that Shakespeare of Stratford possessed any
of these gifts or any of these acquirements. The only lines he ever wrote,
so far as we know, are substantially barren of them—barren of all of
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones And curst be he yt moves my bones.
Ben Jonson says of Bacon, as orator:
His language, WHERE HE COULD SPARE AND PASS BY A JEST, was nobly
censorious. No man ever spoke more neatly, more pressly, more weightily,
or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member
of his speech but consisted of his (its) own graces.... The fear of every
man that heard him was lest he should make an end.
He continued to distinguish himself in Parliament, particularly by his
exertions in favor of one excellent measure on which the King's heart was
set—the union of England and Scotland. It was not difficult for such
an intellect to discover many irresistible arguments in favor of such a
scheme. He conducted the great case of the POST NATI in the Exchequer
Chamber; and the decision of the judges—a decision the legality of
which may be questioned, but the beneficial effect of which must be
acknowledged—was in a great measure attributed to his dexterous
While actively engaged in the House of Commons and in the courts of law,
he still found leisure for letters and philosophy. The noble treatise on
the ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING, which at a later period was expanded into the
DE AUGMENTIS, appeared in 1605.
The WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS, a work which, if it had proceeded from any
other writer, would have been considered as a masterpiece of wit and
learning, was printed in 1609.
In the mean time the NOVUM ORGANUM was slowly proceeding. Several
distinguished men of learning had been permitted to see portions of that
extraordinary book, and they spoke with the greatest admiration of his
Even Sir Thomas Bodley, after perusing the COGITATA ET VISA, one of the
most precious of those scattered leaves out of which the great oracular
volume was afterward made up, acknowledged that "in all proposals and
plots in that book, Bacon showed himself a master workman"; and that "it
could not be gainsaid but all the treatise over did abound with choice
conceits of the present state of learning, and with worthy contemplations
of the means to procure it."
In 1612 a new edition of the ESSAYS appeared, with additions surpassing
the original collection both in bulk and quality.
Nor did these pursuits distract Bacon's attention from a work the most
arduous, the most glorious, and the most useful that even his mighty
powers could have achieved, "the reducing and recompiling," to use his own
phrase, "of the laws of England."
To serve the exacting and laborious offices of Attorney-General and
Solicitor-General would have satisfied the appetite of any other man for
hard work, but Bacon had to add the vast literary industries just
described, to satisfy his. He was a born worker.
The service which he rendered to letters during the last five years of his
life, amid ten thousand distractions and vexations, increase the regret
with which we think on the many years which he had wasted, to use the
words of Sir Thomas Bodley, "on such study as was not worthy such a
He commenced a digest of the laws of England, a History of England under
the Princes of the House of Tudor, a body of National History, a
Philosophical Romance. He made extensive and valuable additions to his
Essays. He published the inestimable TREATISE DE AUGMENTIS SCIENTIARUM.
Did these labors of Hercules fill up his time to his contentment, and
quiet his appetite for work? Not entirely:
The trifles with which he amused himself in hours of pain and languor bore
the mark of his mind. THE BEST JEST-BOOK IN THE WORLD is that which he
dictated from memory, without referring to any book, on a day on which
illness had rendered him incapable of serious study.
Here are some scattered remarks (from Macaulay) which throw light upon
Bacon, and seem to indicate—and maybe demonstrate—that he was
competent to write the Plays and Poems:
With great minuteness of observation he had an amplitude of comprehension
such as has never yet been vouchsafed to any other human being.
The ESSAYS contain abundant proofs that no nice feature of character, no
peculiarity in the ordering of a house, a garden, or a court-masque, could
escape the notice of one whose mind was capable of taking in the whole
world of knowledge.
His understanding resembled the tent which the fairy Paribanou gave to
Prince Ahmed: fold it, and it seemed a toy for the hand of a lady; spread
it, and the armies of the powerful Sultans might repose beneath its shade.
The knowledge in which Bacon excelled all men was a knowledge of the
mutual relations of all departments of knowledge.
In a letter written when he was only thirty-one, to his uncle, Lord
Burleigh, he said, "I have taken all knowledge to be my province."
Though Bacon did not arm his philosophy with the weapons of logic, he
adorned her profusely with all the richest decorations of rhetoric.
The practical faculty was powerful in Bacon; but not, like his wit, so
powerful as occasionally to usurp the place of his reason and to tyrannize
over the whole man.
There are too many places in the Plays where this happens. Poor old dying
John of Gaunt volleying second-rate puns at his own name, is a pathetic
instance of it. "We may assume" that it is Bacon's fault, but the
Stratford Shakespeare has to bear the blame.
No imagination was ever at once so strong and so thoroughly subjugated. It
stopped at the first check from good sense.
In truth, much of Bacon's life was passed in a visionary world—amid
things as strange as any that are described in the ARABIAN TALES... amid
buildings more sumptuous than the palace of Aladdin, fountains more
wonderful than the golden water of Parizade, conveyances more rapid than
the hippogryph of Ruggiero, arms more formidable than the lance of
Astolfo, remedies more efficacious than the balsam of Fierabras. Yet in
his magnificent day-dreams there was nothing wild—nothing but what
sober reason sanctioned.
Bacon's greatest performance is the first book of the NOVUM ORGANUM... .
Every part of it blazes with wit, but with wit which is employed only to
illustrate and decorate truth. No book ever made so great a revolution in
the mode of thinking, overthrew so may prejudices, introduced so many new
But what we most admire is the vast capacity of that intellect which,
without effort, takes in at once all the domains of science—all the
past, the present and the future, all the errors of two thousand years,
all the encouraging signs of the passing times, all the bright hopes of
the coming age.
He had a wonderful talent for packing thought close and rendering it
His eloquence would alone have entitled him to a high rank in literature.
It is evident that he had each and every one of the mental gifts and each
and every one of the acquirements that are so prodigally displayed in the
Plays and Poems, and in much higher and richer degree than any other man
of his time or of any previous time. He was a genius without a mate, a
prodigy not matable. There was only one of him; the planet could not
produce two of him at one birth, nor in one age. He could have written
anything that is in the Plays and Poems. He could have written this:
The cloud-cap'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like an insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Also, he could have written this, but he refrained:
Good friend for Iesus sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare:
Blest be ye man yt spares thes stones
And curst be he yt moves my bones.
When a person reads the noble verses about the cloud-cap'd towers, he
ought not to follow it immediately with Good friend for Iesus sake
forbeare, because he will find the transition from great poetry to poor
prose too violent for comfort. It will give him a shock. You never notice
how commonplace and unpoetic gravel is until you bite into a layer of it
in a pie.
Am I trying to convince anybody that Shakespeare did not write
Shakespeare's Works? Ah, now, what do you take me for? Would I be so soft
as that, after having known the human race familiarly for nearly
seventy-four years? It would grieve me to know that any one could think so
injuriously of me, so uncomplimentarily, so unadmiringly of me. No, no, I
am aware that when even the brightest mind in our world has been trained
up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible
for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and
conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast
a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it
myself. We always get at second hand our notions about systems of
government; and high tariff and low tariff; and prohibition and
anti-prohibition; and the holiness of peace and the glories of war; and
codes of honor and codes of morals; and approval of the duel and
disapproval of it; and our beliefs concerning the nature of cats; and our
ideas as to whether the murder of helpless wild animals is base or is
heroic; and our preferences in the matter of religious and political
parties; and our acceptance or rejection of the Shakespeares and the
Author Ortons and the Mrs. Eddys. We get them all at second hand, we
reason none of them out for ourselves. It is the way we are made. It is
the way we are all made, and we can't help it, we can't change it. And
whenever we have been furnished a fetish, and have been taught to believe
in it, and love it and worship it, and refrain from examining it, there is
no evidence, howsoever clear and strong, that can persuade us to withdraw
from it our loyalty and our devotion. In morals, conduct, and beliefs we
take the color of our environment and associations, and it is a color that
can safely be warranted to wash. Whenever we have been furnished with a
tar baby ostensibly stuffed with jewels, and warned that it will be
dishonorable and irreverent to disembowel it and test the jewels, we keep
our sacrilegious hands off it. We submit, not reluctantly, but rather
gladly, for we are privately afraid we should find, upon examination that
the jewels are of the sort that are manufactured at North Adams, Mass.
I haven't any idea that Shakespeare will have to vacate his pedestal this
side of the year 2209. Disbelief in him cannot come swiftly, disbelief in
a healthy and deeply-loved tar baby has never been known to disintegrate
swiftly; it is a very slow process. It took several thousand years to
convince our fine race—including every splendid intellect in it—that
there is no such thing as a witch; it has taken several thousand years to
convince the same fine race—including every splendid intellect in it—that
there is no such person as Satan; it has taken several centuries to remove
perdition from the Protestant Church's program of post-mortem
entertainments; it has taken a weary long time to persuade American
Presbyterians to give up infant damnation and try to bear it the best they
can; and it looks as if their Scotch brethren will still be burning babies
in the everlasting fires when Shakespeare comes down from his perch.
We are The Reasoning Race. We can't prove it by the above examples, and we
can't prove it by the miraculous "histories" built by those
Stratfordolaters out of a hatful of rags and a barrel of sawdust, but
there is a plenty of other things we can prove it by, if I could think of
them. We are The Reasoning Race, and when we find a vague file of
chipmunk-tracks stringing through the dust of Stratford village, we know
by our reasoning bowers that Hercules has been along there. I feel that
our fetish is safe for three centuries yet. The bust, too—there in
the Stratford Church. The precious bust, the priceless bust, the calm
bust, the serene bust, the emotionless bust, with the dandy mustache, and
the putty face, unseamed of care—that face which has looked
passionlessly down upon the awed pilgrim for a hundred and fifty years and
will still look down upon the awed pilgrim three hundred more, with the
deep, deep, deep, subtle, subtle, subtle expression of a bladder.
One of the most trying defects which I find in these—these—what
shall I call them? for I will not apply injurious epithets to them, the
way they do to us, such violations of courtesy being repugnant to my
nature and my dignity. The farthest I can go in that direction is to call
them by names of limited reverence—names merely descriptive, never
unkind, never offensive, never tainted by harsh feeling. If THEY would do
like this, they would feel better in their hearts. Very well, then—to
proceed. One of the most trying defects which I find in these
Stratfordolaters, these Shakesperiods, these thugs, these bangalores,
these troglodytes, these herumfrodites, these blatherskites, these
buccaneers, these bandoleers, is their spirit of irreverence. It is
detectable in every utterance of theirs when they are talking about us. I
am thankful that in me there is nothing of that spirit. When a thing is
sacred to me it is impossible for me to be irreverent toward it. I cannot
call to mind a single instance where I have ever been irreverent, except
towards the things which were sacred to other people. Am I in the right? I
think so. But I ask no one to take my unsupported word; no, look at the
dictionary; let the dictionary decide. Here is the definition:
IRREVERENCE. The quality or condition of irreverence toward God and sacred
What does the Hindu say? He says it is correct. He says irreverence is
lack of respect for Vishnu, and Brahma, and Chrishna, and his other gods,
and for his sacred cattle, and for his temples and the things within them.
He endorses the definition, you see; and there are 300,000,000 Hindus or
their equivalents back of him.
The dictionary had the acute idea that by using the capital G it could
restrict irreverence to lack of reverence for OUR Deity and our sacred
things, but that ingenious and rather sly idea miscarried: for by the
simple process of spelling HIS deities with capitals the Hindu confiscates
the definition and restricts it to his own sects, thus making it clearly
compulsory upon us to revere HIS gods and HIS sacred things, and nobody's
else. We can't say a word, for he has our own dictionary at his back, and
its decision is final.
This law, reduced to its simplest terms, is this: 1. Whatever is sacred to
the Christian must be held in reverence by everybody else; 2. whatever is
sacred to the Hindu must be held in reverence by everybody else; 3.
therefore, by consequence, logically, and indisputably, whatever is sacred
to ME must be held in reverence by everybody else.
Now then, what aggravates me is that these troglodytes and muscovites and
bandoleers and buccaneers are ALSO trying to crowd in and share the
benefit of the law, and compel everybody to revere their Shakespeare and
hold him sacred. We can't have that: there's enough of us already. If you
go on widening and spreading and inflating the privilege, it will
presently come to be conceded that each man's sacred things are the ONLY
ones, and the rest of the human race will have to be humbly reverent
toward them or suffer for it. That can surely happen, and when it happens,
the word Irreverence will be regarded as the most meaningless, and
foolish, and self-conceited, and insolent, and impudent, and dictatorial
word in the language. And people will say, "Whose business is it what gods
I worship and what things hold sacred? Who has the right to dictate to my
conscience, and where did he get that right?"
We cannot afford to let that calamity come upon us. We must save the word
from this destruction. There is but one way to do it, and that is to stop
the spread of the privilege and strictly confine it to its present limits—that
is, to all the Christian sects, to all the Hindu sects, and me. We do not
need any more, the stock is watered enough, just as it is.
It would be better if the privilege were limited to me alone. I think so
because I am the only sect that knows how to employ it gently, kindly,
charitably, dispassionately. The other sects lack the quality of
self-restraint. The Catholic Church says the most irreverent things about
matters which are sacred to the Protestants, and the Protestant Church
retorts in kind about the confessional and other matters which Catholics
hold sacred; then both of these irreverencers turn upon Thomas Paine and
charge HIM with irreverence. This is all unfortunate, because it makes it
difficult for students equipped with only a low grade of mentality to find
out what Irreverence really IS.
It will surely be much better all around if the privilege of regulating
the irreverent and keeping them in order shall eventually be withdrawn
from all the sects but me. Then there will be no more quarreling, no more
bandying of disrespectful epithets, no more heartburnings.
There will then be nothing sacred involved in this Bacon-Shakespeare
controversy except what is sacred to me. That will simplify the whole
matter, and trouble will cease. There will be irreverence no longer,
because I will not allow it. The first time those criminals charge me with
irreverence for calling their Stratford myth an
-of-Khorassan will be the last. Taught by the methods found effective in
extinguishing earlier offenders by the Inquisition, of holy memory, I
shall know how to quiet them.
Isn't it odd, when you think of it, that you may list all the celebrated
Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen of modern times, clear back to the
first Tudors—a list containing five hundred names, shall we say?—and
you can go to the histories, biographies, and cyclopedias and learn the
particulars of the lives of every one of them. Every one of them except
one—the most famous, the most renowned—by far the most
illustrious of them all—Shakespeare! You can get the details of the
lives of all the celebrated ecclesiastics in the list; all the celebrated
tragedians, comedians, singers, dancers, orators, judges, lawyers, poets,
dramatists, historians, biographers, editors, inventors, reformers,
statesmen, generals, admirals, discoverers, prize-fighters, murderers,
pirates, conspirators, horse-jockeys, bunco-steerers, misers, swindlers,
explorers, adventurers by land and sea, bankers, financiers, astronomers,
naturalists, claimants, impostors, chemists, biologists, geologists,
philologists, college presidents and professors, architects, engineers,
painters, sculptors, politicians, agitators, rebels, revolutionists,
patriots, demagogues, clowns, cooks, freaks, philosophers, burglars,
highwaymen, journalists, physicians, surgeons—you can get the
life-histories of all of them but ONE. Just ONE—the most
extraordinary and the most celebrated of them all—Shakespeare!
You may add to the list the thousand celebrated persons furnished by the
rest of Christendom in the past four centuries, and you can find out the
life-histories of all those people, too. You will then have listed fifteen
hundred celebrities, and you can trace the authentic life-histories of the
whole of them. Save one—far and away the most colossal prodigy of
the entire accumulation—Shakespeare! About him you can find out
NOTHING. Nothing of even the slightest importance. Nothing worth the
trouble of stowing away in your memory. Nothing that even remotely
indicates that he was ever anything more than a distinctly commonplace
person—a manager, an actor of inferior grade, a small trader in a
small village that did not regard him as a person of any consequence, and
had forgotten all about him before he was fairly cold in his grave. We can
go to the records and find out the life-history of every renowned
RACE-HORSE of modern times—but not Shakespeare's! There are many
reasons why, and they have been furnished in cart-loads (of guess and
conjecture) by those troglodytes; but there is one that is worth all the
rest of the reasons put together, and is abundantly sufficient all by
itself—HE HADN'T ANY HISTORY TO RECORD. There is no way of getting
around that deadly fact. And no sane way has yet been discovered of
getting around its formidable significance.
Its quite plain significance—to any but those thugs (I do not use
the term unkindly) is, that Shakespeare had no prominence while he lived,
and none until he had been dead two or three generations. The Plays
enjoyed high fame from the beginning; and if he wrote them it seems a pity
the world did not find it out. He ought to have explained that he was the
author, and not merely a NOM DE PLUME for another man to hide behind. If
he had been less intemperately solicitous about his bones, and more
solicitous about his Works, it would have been better for his good name,
and a kindness to us. The bones were not important. They will moulder
away, they will turn to dust, but the Works will endure until the last sun
P.S. MARCH 25. About two months ago I was illuminating this Autobiography
with some notions of mine concerning the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy,
and I then took occasion to air the opinion that the Stratford Shakespeare
was a person of no public consequence or celebrity during his lifetime,
but was utterly obscure and unimportant. And not only in great London, but
also in the little village where he was born, where he lived a quarter of
a century, and where he died and was buried. I argued that if he had been
a person of any note at all, aged villagers would have had much to tell
about him many and many a year after his death, instead of being unable to
furnish inquirers a single fact connected with him. I believed, and I
still believe, that if he had been famous, his notoriety would have lasted
as long as mine has lasted in my native village out in Missouri. It is a
good argument, a prodigiously strong one, and most formidable one for even
the most gifted and ingenious and plausible Stratfordolator to get around
or explain away. Today a Hannibal COURIER-POST of recent date has reached
me, with an article in it which reinforces my contention that a really
celebrated person cannot be forgotten in his village in the short space of
sixty years. I will make an extract from it:
Hannibal, as a city, may have many sins to answer for, but ingratitude is
not one of them, or reverence for the great men she has produced, and as
the years go by her greatest son, Mark Twain, or S. L. Clemens as a few of
the unlettered call him, grows in the estimation and regard of the
residents of the town he made famous and the town that made him famous.
His name is associated with every old building that is torn down to make
way for the modern structures demanded by a rapidly growing city, and with
every hill or cave over or through which he might by any possibility have
roamed, while the many points of interest which he wove into his stories,
such as Holiday Hill, Jackson's Island, or Mark Twain Cave, are now
monuments to his genius. Hannibal is glad of any opportunity to do him
honor as he had honored her.
So it has happened that the "old timers" who went to school with Mark or
were with him on some of his usual escapades have been honored with large
audiences whenever they were in a reminiscent mood and condescended to
tell of their intimacy with the ordinary boy who came to be a very
extraordinary humorist and whose every boyish act is now seen to have been
indicative of what was to come. Like Aunt Becky and Mrs. Clemens, they can
now see that Mark was hardly appreciated when he lived here and that the
things he did as a boy and was whipped for doing were not all bad, after
all. So they have been in no hesitancy about drawing out the bad things he
did as well as the good in their efforts to get a "Mark Twain" story, all
incidents being viewed in the light of his present fame, until the volume
of "Twainiana" is already considerable and growing in proportion as the
"old timers" drop away and the stories are retold second and third hand by
their descendants. With some seventy-three years young and living in a
villa instead of a house, he is a fair target, and let him incorporate,
copyright, or patent himself as he will, there are some of his "works"
that will go swooping up Hannibal chimneys as long as graybeards gather
about the fires and begin with, "I've heard father tell," or possibly,
"Once when I." The Mrs. Clemens referred to is my mother—WAS my
And here is another extract from a Hannibal paper, of date twenty days
Miss Becca Blankenship died at the home of William Dickason, 408 Rock
Street, at 2.30 o'clock yesterday afternoon, aged 72 years. The deceased
was a sister of "Huckleberry Finn," one of the famous characters in Mark
Twain's TOM SAWYER. She had been a member of the Dickason family—the
housekeeper—for nearly forty-five years, and was a highly respected
lady. For the past eight years she had been an invalid, but was as well
cared for by Mr. Dickason and his family as if she had been a near
relative. She was a member of the Park Methodist Church and a Christian
I remember her well. I have a picture of her in my mind which was graven
there, clear and sharp and vivid, sixty-three years ago. She was at that
time nine years old, and I was about eleven. I remember where she stood,
and how she looked; and I can still see her bare feet, her bare head, her
brown face, and her short tow-linen frock. She was crying. What it was
about I have long ago forgotten. But it was the tears that preserved the
picture for me, no doubt. She was a good child, I can say that for her.
She knew me nearly seventy years ago. Did she forget me, in the course of
time? I think not. If she had lived in Stratford in Shakespeare's time,
would she have forgotten him? Yes. For he was never famous during his
lifetime, he was utterly obscure in Stratford, and there wouldn't be any
occasion to remember him after he had been dead a week.
"Injun Joe," "Jimmy Finn," and "General Gaines" were prominent and very
intemperate ne'er-do-weels in Hannibal two generations ago. Plenty of
grayheads there remember them to this day, and can tell you about them.
Isn't it curious that two "town drunkards" and one half-breed loafer
should leave behind them, in a remote Missourian village, a fame a hundred
times greater and several hundred times more particularized in the matter
of definite facts than Shakespeare left behind him in the village where he
had lived the half of his lifetime?