Split Zephyr by Henry A. Beers


It was the evening of Commencement Day. The old church on the green, which had rung for many consecutive hours with the eloquence of slim young gentlemen in evening dress, exhorting the Scholar in Politics or denouncing the Gross Materialism of the Age, was at last empty and still. As it drew the dewy shadows softly about its eaves and filled its rasped interior with soothing darkness, it bore a whimsical likeness to some aged horse which, having been pestered all day with flies, was now feeding in peace along the dim pasture.

It was Clay who suggested this resemblance, and we all laughed appreciatively, as we used to do in those days at Clay’s clever sayings. There were five of us strolling down the diagonal walk to our farewell supper at “Ambrose’s.” Arrived at that refectory, we found it bare of guests and had things quite to ourselves. After supper, we took our coffee out in the little court-yard, where a fountain dribbled, and the flutter of the grape-leaves on the trellises in the night wind invited to confidences.

“Well, Armstrong,” began Doddridge, “where are you going to spend the vacation?”

“Vacation!” answered Armstrong; “vacations are over for me.”

“You’re not going to work for your living at once?” inquired Berkeley.

“I’m going to work to-morrow,” replied Armstrong, emphatically: “I’m going down to New York to enter a law office.”

“I thought you had some notion of staying here and taking a course of graduate study.”

“No, sir! The sooner a man gets into harness, the better. I’ve wasted enough time in the last four years. The longer a man loafs around in this old place, under pretense of reading and that kind of thing, the harder it is for him to take hold.”

Armstrong was a rosy little man, with yellow hair and light eyes. His expression was one of irresolute good nature. His temper was sanguine and expansive, and he had been noted in college for anything but concentration of pursuit. He was gregarious in his habits, susceptible and subject to sudden enthusiasms. His good nature made him a victim to all the bores and idlers in the class, and his room became a favorite resort for men on their way to recitation, being on the ground floor and near the lecture-rooms. They would drop in about half an hour before the bell rang, and make up a little game of “penny ante” around Armstrong’s center-table. In these diversions he seldom took part, as he had given it out publicly that he was “studying for a stand”; but his abstinence from the game in no wise damped the spirits of his guests. Occasionally his presence would receive the notice of the company somewhat as follows:

No. 1. “Make less noise, fellows: Charley is digging out that Puckle lesson.”

No. 2. “You go into the bedroom, Charley, and shut the door, and then you won’t be bothered by the racket.”

No. 3. “Oh, hang the Puckle! Come and take a hand, Charley. We’ll let you in this pool without an ante.”

No. 4. “Why don’t you get a new pack of cards, Charley? It’s a disgrace to you to keep such a dirty lot of old pasteboards for your friends.”

In face of which abuse, Armstrong was as helpless as Telemachus under the visitation of the suitors. The resolute air with which he now declared his intention of grappling with life had therefore something comic about it, and Berkeley said, rather incredulously:

“I suppose you’ll keep up your reading along with your law?”

“No,” replied the other; “Themis is a jealous mistress. No; I’m going to bone right down to it.”

“Haven’t you changed your ideal of life lately?” asked Clay, a little scornfully.

“Perhaps I have,” said Armstrong, “perhaps I’ve had to.”

“What is your ideal of life?” I inquired.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” he answered, draining his coffee-cup solemnly, and putting it down with the manner of a man who has made up his mind. The rest of us arranged ourselves in attitudes of attention. “My ideal is independence,” began Armstrong. “I want to live my own life; and as the first condition of independence is money, I’m going for money. Culture and taste, and all that, are well enough when a man can afford it, but for a poor man it means just so many additional wants which he can’t gratify. My father is an educated man; a country minister with a small salary and a large family; and his education, instead of being a blessing, has been an actual curse to him. He has pined for all sorts of things which he couldn’t have—books, engravings, foreign travel, leisure for study, nice people and nice things about him. I’ve made up my mind that, whatever else I may be, I won’t be poor, and I won’t be a minister, and I won’t have a wife and brats hanging to me. I tell you that, next to ill health, poverty is the worst thing that can happen to a man. All the sentimental grievances that are represented in novels and poetry as the deepest of human afflictions,—disappointed ambitions, death of friends, loss of faith, estrangements, having your girl go back on you,—they don’t signify very long if a man has sound health and a full purse. The ministers and novel writers and fellows that preach the sentimental view of life don’t believe it themselves. It’s a kind of professional or literary quackery with them. Just let them feel the pinch of poverty, and then offer them a higher salary or a chance to make a little ‘sordid gain’ in some way, and see how quick they’ll accept the call to ‘a higher sphere of usefulness.’ Berk, hand over a match, will you; this cigar has gone out.”

“Loud cries of ‘We will—we will’!” said Berkeley. “But can it be? Has the poick turned cynic, and the sickly sentimentalist become a materialist and a misogynist?”

(Armstrong was our class poet, and had worried the official muse on Presentation Day to the utterance of some four hundred lines filled with allusions to Alma Mater, Friendship’s Altar, the Elms of Yale, etc. His piece on that occasion had been “pronounced, by a well-known literary gentleman who was present, equal to the finest productions of our own Willis.”)

“I’ll bet the cigars,” said Doddridge, “that Armstrong marries the first girl he sees in New York.”

“Yes,” said Clay, “his boarding-house keeper’s daughter.”

“And has a dozen children before he is forty,” added Berkeley; “a dozen kids, and all of them girls. Charley is sure to be a begetter of wenches.”

“And writes birthday odes ‘To My Infant Daughter’ for the ‘Home Journal,’” continued Clay.

“No, no,” said the victim of this banter, shaking his head solemnly. “I shall give no hostages to Fortune. I mean to live snug and carry as little sail as possible: to leave only the narrowest margin out for Fate to tread on. The man who has the fewest exposed points leads, on the whole, the happiest life. How can a man enjoy himself freely when a piece of defective plumbing, the bursting of a toy pistol, the carelessness of a nurse, may plunge him into a life-long sorrow? I don’t say it’s a very noble life that I propose to myself, but it’s a safe one. I’m too nervous and anxious to stand the responsibilities of matrimony.”

“If you can’t stand responsibility,” said Doddridge, “I don’t see why you choose the law for a profession. You don’t seem to me cut out for a lawyer anyway. I always thought you meant to be some kind of a literary chap.”

“Yes,” said Berkeley, “why don’t you go for a snug berth under the government, or study for a tutorship here? That’s the life that would suit you, old man.”

“Not at all,” answered Armstrong; “I have a horror of any salaried position, or of any position where a man is obliged to conform his habits and opinions to other people’s. It is the worst sort of dependence. Now a lawyer in successful practice, and especially if he is a bachelor, is about as independent as a man can be. His relations with his clients are merely professional, and what he does or thinks privately is nobody’s business.”

“If you are going to be a mere lawyer,” asked Clay, “what becomes of your education and your intellectual satisfactions, etc.?”

“A man can get his best intellectual satisfactions out of the work of his profession,” answered Armstrong. “Besides, as to that, there’s time enough. Fifteen years of solid work will enable one to put by a fair competence, if he lives carefully and has no one but himself to support; and then he will be free to take up a hobby. Oh, I shall cultivate a hobby or two after awhile. It keeps the mind healthy to have some interest of the kind outside of one’s business. I may take to book-collecting or numismatics or raising orchids. Perhaps I may become an authority on ancient armor; time enough for that by and by. And then I can cut over to Europe every summer if I like, and no one to interfere with my down-sittings or my up-risings, my goings-out or my comings-in. Do you know,” he went on, after a pause, “how I always look to myself in the glass of the future? I figure myself like old Tulkinghorn, in ‘Bleak House,’—going down into his reverberating vaults for a bottle of choice vintage, after the work of the day, and then sitting quietly in the twilight in his dusky, old-fashioned law chambers, sipping his wine while the room fills with the fragrance of southern grapes. The gay old silver-top!”

There was silence for a few minutes after Armstrong had finished his declaration. It was broken by Berkeley, who had risen, and was walking up and down in front of the fountain with his hands thrust into his pockets.

“You couldn’t lead that sort of life if you tried,” he said; “you aren’t built for it.”

“Don’t you make any mistake,” rejoined the other; “it’s the sort of life I’m going to live.”

“It’s a cowardly life,” retorted Berkeley.

“Did I say it wasn’t? I said it was safe. You can call it what you like.”

“Well,” replied Berkeley, seating himself again, “my ideal career is just the opposite of that.”

“Suppose you explain yours, then,” said Armstrong.

Berkeley hesitated a few moments before beginning. He was a lean, tallish fellow, with a Scotch cast of countenance, a small blue eye, high cheek bones, a freckled skin, and whity-brown hair. He had a dry, cautious humor, fed by much out-of-the-way reading. He had been distinguished in college by methodical habits, a want of ambition, a disposition to keep to himself, and a mixture of selfishness and bonhomie which made him a cold friend but an agreeable companion. It was therefore with some surprise that we heard him deliver himself as follows:

“I believe that the greatest mistake a man can make is in not getting enough out of life. I want to lead a full life, to have a wide experience, to develop my whole nature to the utmost, to touch mankind at the largest possible number of points. I want adventure, change, excitement, emotion, suffering even,—I don’t care what, so long as it is not stagnation. Just consider what there is on this planet to be seen, learned, enjoyed, and what a miserably small share of it most people appropriate. Why, there are men in my village who have never been outside the county and seldom out of the township; who have never heard a word of any language but English; never seen a city or a mountain or the ocean—or, indeed, any body of water bigger than Fresh Pond or the Hogganum River; never been in a theatre, steamboat, library, or cathedral. Cathedral! Their conception of a church is limited to the white wooden meeting-house at ‘the center.’ Their art-gallery is the wagon of a travelling photographer. Their metropolitan hotel is the stoop and bar-room of the ‘Uncas House.’ Their university is the unpainted school-house on the hill. Their literature is the weekly newspaper from the county town. But take the majority of educated men even. What a rusty, small kind of existence they lead! They are in a rut, just the same as the others, only the rut is a trifle wider. If I had my way I would never do the same work or talk with the same people—hardly live in the same place for two days running. Life is too short to do a thing twice. When I come to the end of mine I don’t want to say J’ai manqué la vie; but make my brag, with the Wife of Bath,

‘Unto this day it doth myn herte bote
That I have had my world as in my time.’”

“Well, how are you going to do all those fine things?” inquired Armstrong. “For instance, that about not living in one place two days running. I’m afraid you’ll find that inconvenient, not to say expensive.”

“Oh, you mustn’t take me too literally. I may have to travel on foot or take a steerage passage, but I shall keep going all the same. I haven’t made any definite plans yet. I shall probably strike for something in the diplomatic line,—secretary of legation, or some small consulship perhaps. But the principle is the main thing, and the principle is: Don’t do anything because it’s the nearest and easiest and most obvious thing to do, but make up your mind to get the best. Look at the lazy way in which men accept their circumstances. There is the matter of acquaintance, for instance—we let chance determine it. We know the men that we can’t help knowing,—the ones in the next house, cousins and second cousins, business connections, etc. Here at college, now, we get acquainted with the fellows at the eating club or in the same society, or those who happen to sit next us in the class-room, because their names begin with the same letter. That’s it; it’s just a sample of our whole life. Our friendships, like everything else about us, are determined by the alphabet. We go with the Z’s because some arbitrary system of classification has put us among them, instead of fighting our way up to the A’s, where we naturally belong. The consequence is that one’s friends are mostly dreadful bores.”

“I’m sure we are all much obliged to you,” murmured Clay, parenthetically.

“There are about two or three thousand people in the world,” continued Berkeley, “supremely worth knowing. Why shouldn’t I know them?—— I will! Everybody knows two or three thousand people,—mostly very stupid people,—or, rather, he lets them know him. Why shouldn’t he use some choice in the matter? Why not know Thackeray and Carlyle, Lord Palmerston and the Pope, and the Emperor of China and all the great statesmen, authors, African explorers, military commanders, artists, hereditary nobles, actresses, wits and belles of the best society, instead of putting up with Tom, Dick, and Harry?”

“Berkeley, ‘with whom the bell-mouthed flask had wrought!’” exclaimed Clay. “Decidedly, Berk, you should take your coffee without cognac.”

“Let me suggest,” put in Doddridge, “that some of those parties you mentioned are not so easy to get introductions to.”

“Oh, I say again, you mustn’t take me too literally. But even the top swells are easier to know than you think. All that is wanted is a little cheek. But take it in a smaller way; say that we resolve to cultivate the best society within our reach. Doubtless there are numbers of interesting and distinguished people right here in New Haven whose acquaintance it would be worth while to have. But how long would you beggars live here without making the least effort to look them out, and meanwhile put up with the same old every-day bores—like me, or Polisson here? And it’s the same way with marriage. A fellow blunders into matrimony with the first attractive girl that gives him the opportunity. He knows, if he takes the time to think about it, that there are a thousand others better than she, if he will wait and look through the world a little. ‘Juxtaposition in fine,’ as Clough says.”

“Of course, with such a brilliant destiny before you, you’ll never marry,” said I.

“Yes, I think I shall. I fancy that the noblest possibilities of life are never realized without marriage. Yes, I can think of nothing finer than to have a lot of manly boys and sweet girls growing up around one. But when I marry it shall be so as to give completeness and expansion to life, not narrowness and dullness. I shall never marry and settle down. Settle down! What a damnable expression that is! A man ought to settle up. I mean to have my fling first, too. I should like to gamble a bit at Baden-Baden. I should like to go out to Colorado and have a lick at mining speculations. I want to rough it some too, and see how life is lived close to the bone: ship for a voyage before the mast; enlist for a campaign or two somewhere and have joy of battle; join the gypsies or the Mormons or the Shakers for awhile, and taste all the queerness of things. And then I want to float for another while on the very top-most crest of society. I want to fight a duel or two, elope with a marquise, do a little of everything for the experience’s sake, as a man ought to take opium once in his life just to know how it feels.”

Whether it was indeed the cognac, or only the unusual excitement attending this outburst of pent-up fire, Berkeley’s cheek had got a flush upon it. Perhaps, too, it was owing to the influences of the day and the hour, the splash of the fountain, the rustle of the vine-leaves, and the wavering shadows which played about the court-yard as the gas-jets flickered in the breeze of night, that made his boastful words seem less extravagantly out of character than they otherwise would. The silence which followed his speech was broken by Clay, who sat with his foot on the rim of the fountain, balancing on the hind legs of his chair, and looking thoughtfully at the slender jet as it rose and fell. He still wore the dress suit in which he had figured on the Commencement platform in the afternoon, and which set off the aristocratic grace of his slight figure. There was a pale intellectual light in his face, and his black eyes had the glow of genius.

“I think,” he began, “that Berkeley makes a mistake in confounding a full life with a restless one. I believe in a full experience too, but the satisfactions should be inward ones. Take the matter of foreign travel, for one thing, on which you lay so much stress. It is a great stimulus to the imagination, no doubt; but then foreign countries are accessible to the imagination by other means—through books and art, for example. I think it likely that the reality is, quite as often as not, disappointing. Place, after all, is indifferent. ‘The soul is its own place’: you can’t get rid of yourself by going abroad, and it’s himself that a man gets sooner tired of than of anything else. Then as to acquaintances, I don’t know that I should care to know personally such men as Thackeray and Carlyle, and the big composers and artists and other people that you mentioned. It might be equally disenchanting. They put the best of themselves into their books, or pictures, or music. I certainly would not seek their society through a formal introduction, at all events. It is hard for a small man to keep his self-respect in face of a great man when he obtains his acquaintance as a special favor. If I could meet some of those fellows, quite naturally and accidentally, on equal terms, I might like it, but not otherwise. But, leaving that point out of account, I think that the career which Berkeley proposes to himself would turn out very hollow. It would result in the superficial gratification of the curiosity and the senses; and, as soon as the novelty got rubbed off, what is there left?”

“So then,” said Berkeley, “you’ve swung into line with Armstrong, have you? You mean to plod along in some professional rut too. What has got into all our idealists?”

“Not by any means,” answered Clay. “Armstrong talks about independence, and yet destines himself to the worst kind of dependence—slavery to money-getting. Most people, it seems to me, spend the best part of their lives not in living, but in getting the means to live. We’ll give Armstrong, say twenty years, to lay up enough money to retire on and begin to live. What sort of a position will he be in then to enjoy his independence? His nature will have got so subdued to what it works in that the only safety for him will be to keep on at the law.”

“All right! Then I’ll keep on,” interjected Armstrong.

“What the devil do you mean to do then?” asked Berkeley of Clay.

“I don’t quite know yet,” replied the latter. “I shall ‘loaf and invite my soul’ whenever I feel like it. I shall live as I go along, and not postpone it till I am forty. I sha’n’t put myself into any mill that will grind me just so much a day. I need my leisure too badly for that. I presume I shall spend most of my time at first in reading and walking. Then, whenever I think of anything to write I shall write it, and if I can sell what I write to some publisher or other, so much the better. If not, go on as before.”

“Meanwhile, where will your bread and butter come from?” asked Armstrong.

“Oh, I sha’n’t starve. I can get some sort of hack work—something that won’t take much of my time, and which I can do with my left hand. But the great point, after all, is to make your wants simple; to live like an Arab, content with a few dates and a swallow from the gourd. ‘Lessen your denominator.’ It’s easier than raising your numerator, and the quotient is the same.”

“No, it’s not the same,” Berkeley retorted. “Renunciation and enjoyment are not the same. It makes a heap of difference whether you have a thing or simply do without it. The plain living and high thinking philosophy may do for Clay, whose mind to him a kingdom is; but a fellow like me, whose mind is only a small Central American republic, can’t live on the revenues of the spirit. The fact is, Clay, you’ve read too much Emerson. I went into that myself once, but I soon found out that it wouldn’t wear. I want mine thicker. The worst thing about the career of a literary man or an artist is that if he fails there are no compensations; and success is mighty uncertain. Nobody doubts that you are smart enough, Clay, and I am sure we expect great things of you, whatever line you take up. But, for the sake of the argument, suppose you have grubbed along in a small way, living on crusts and water, till you are fifty, without doing any really good work. Then where are you? You haven’t had any fun. You’ve no other string to your bow. You haven’t that practical experience of the world which would enable you to turn your hand to something else. You have no influence or reputation; for, of all poor things, poor art of any kind is the worst—hateful to gods and men and columns. In short, where are you? You’re out of the dance; you don’t count.”

“Yes,” added Armstrong, “and you’ve no professional success or solid standing in the community; and, what’s worse, you’ve no money, which might make up for the want of all the rest.”

“I don’t think you get my meaning. I may fail,” said Clay, proudly; “I may never even try to succeed, in your sense of the word. I decline all mean competitions and all low views of success. The noblest ideal of life—at least, the noblest to me—is self-culture in the high meaning of the word; the harmonious development of one’s whole nature. Armstrong has drawn a picture of his future in the likeness of old Tulkinghorn. I suppose we are all accustomed to put our anticipations into some such concrete shape before our mind’s eye. The typical situation which I am fond of imagining is something like this: I like to fancy myself sitting in a dark old upper room in some remote farm-house, at the close of a winter day, after three or four hours of steady reading or writing. The room is full of books—the best books. There is a little fire on the hearth, there is a dingy curtain at the window. It is solitary and still, and when the light gets too scant to let me read any more, I fill my pipe, and go and stand in the window. Outside, there is a row of leafless elms, and beyond that a dim, wide landscape of lakes and hills, and beyond that a red, windy sunset. I can sit in that window and smoke my pipe and have my own thoughts till the hills grow black. There is no one to say to me ‘Go’ or ‘Come’; no patient to visit; no confounded case on the docket next morning at nine; no distasteful, mean, slavish job of any kind. How can I fail to have thoughts worth the thinking, and to live a rich and free life when I breathe every day the bracing air of nature and the great poets? Isn’t such a life in itself the best kind of success, even if a man accomplishes nothing in particular that you can put your hand on?”

“Yes, I know,” said Armstrong, taking a long breath. “I have felt that way too. But a man has got to put all that sternly behind him and do the world’s work for the world’s wages, if he means to amount to anything. It’s only a finer kind of self-indulgence, after all—egoistic Hedonism and that sort of thing.”

“It won’t be all standing at windows and looking at sunsets,” added Doddridge. “Has it ever occurred to you that, before entering on a life of self-denial and devotion to rather vague ideals, a man ought to be mighty sure of himself? Can you keep up the culture business without growing in on yourself unhealthily, and then getting sick of inaction? Don’t you think there will be times of disappointment and doubt when you look around and see fellows without half your talents getting ahead of you in the world?”

“Of course,” answered Clay, “I shall have to make sacrifices, and I shall have to stick to them when made. But there have always been plenty of people willing to make similar sacrifices for similar compensations. Men have gone out into the wilderness or shut themselves up in the cloister for opportunities of study or self-communion, or for other objects which were perhaps at bottom no more truly devotional than mine. Nowadays such opportunities may be had by any man who will keep himself free from the servitude of a bread-winning profession. It is not necessary now to cry Ecce in deserto or Ecce in penetralibus. Oh, I shall have my dark days; but whenever the blue devils get thick I shall take to the woods and return to sanity.”

“You mean to live in the country, then?” I inquired.

“Yes; most of the time, at any rate. Nature is fully half of life to me.”

Again there was a pause.

“Well, you next, Polisson,” said Armstrong, finally. “Let’s hear what your programme is.”

“Oh, nothing in the least interesting,” I replied. “My future is all cut and dried. I shall spend the next two years in the south of France—mainly at Lyons—to learn the details of the silk manufacture. Then I shall come home to go into my father’s store for a year as a clerk in the importing department. At the close of that year the governor will take me in as junior partner, and I shall marry my second cousin. We shall live with my parents, and I am going to be very domestic, though, as a matter of form, I shall join one or two clubs. I shall go down town every morning at nine, and come up at five.”

“Quite a neat little destiny,” said Armstrong. “I wish I had your backing. Come, Dodd, what’s yours? You’re the only man left.”

“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” said Doddridge, slowly.

He was a large, spare man, with a swarthy skin, a wide mouth, a dark, steady eye, and a long jaw. There was an appearance of power and will about him which was well borne out by his character. He had been a systematic though not a laborious student, and while maintaining a stand comfortably near the head of the class, had taken a course in the Law School during Senior year, doing his double duties with apparent ease. He was a constant speaker in the debates of the Linonian Society, and the few who attended the meetings of that moribund school of eloquence spoke of Doddridge’s speeches as oases in the waste of forensic dispute, being always distinguished by vigor and soundness, though without any literary quality, such as Clay’s occasional performances had. Berkeley, who covered his own lazy and miscellaneous reading with the mask of eclecticism, and proclaimed his disbelief in a prescribed course of study, was wont to say that Doddridge was the only man that he knew who was using the opportunities given by the college for all they were worth, and really getting out of “the old curric” that mental discipline which it professed to impart. Though rather taciturn, he was not unsocial, and was fond of his pipe in the evening. He liked a joke, especially if it was of a definite kind, and at some one’s expense touching a characteristic weakness of the man. There was at bottom something a little hard about him, though every one agreed that he was a good fellow. We all felt sure that he would make a distinguished success in practical life; and we doubtless thought—if we thought about it at all—that with his clear foresight and habits of steady work, he had already decided upon his career. His words were therefore a surprise.

“What! you don’t mean to say that you are going to drift, Dodd?” inquired Armstrong.

“Drift? Well, no; not exactly. I shall keep my steering apparatus well in hand, but I haven’t decided yet what port to run for. There’s no hurry. I have an uncle in the Northwest in the lumber business, who would give me a chance. I may go out there and look about awhile at first. If it doesn’t promise much, there is the law to fall back upon. My father has a fruit farm at Byzantium in western New York,—where I come from, you know,—and he is part owner of the Byzantium weekly ‘Bugle.’ I’ve no doubt I could get on as editor, and go to the Legislature. Or I might do worse than begin on the farm; farming is looking up in that section. I may try several things till I find the right one.”

“That’s queer,” said Armstrong. “I thought you had made up your mind to enter the Columbia Law School.”

“Hardly,” answered Doddridge, “though I may, after all. The main point is to keep yourself in readiness for any work, and take the best thing that turns up—like Berkeley here,” he added, drily.

Armstrong looked at his watch and remarked that it was nearly midnight.

“Boys,” said I, “in fifteen years from to-night let’s have a supper here and see how each man of us has worked out his theory of life, and how he likes it as far as he has got.”

“Oh, give us twenty,” said Doddridge, laughing, as we all arose and prepared to break up. “No one accomplishes anything in this latitude before he is forty.”

It was in effect just fifteen years from the summer of our graduation that I started out to look up systematically my quondam classmates and compare notes with them. The course of my own life had been quite other than I had planned. For one thing, I had lived in New Orleans and not in New York, and my occasions had led me seldom to the North. The first visit I paid was to Berkeley. I had heard that he was still unmarried, and that he had been for years settled, as minister, over a small Episcopal parish on the Hudson. The steamer landed me one summer afternoon at a little dock on the west bank; and after obtaining from the dock-keeper precise directions for finding the parsonage, I set out on foot. After a walk of a mile along a road skirted by handsome country seats, but contrasting strangely in its loneliness with the broad thoroughfare of the river constantly occupied by long tows of barges and rafts, I came to the rectory gate. The house was a stone cottage, covered with trailers, and standing well back from the road. In the same inclosure, surrounded by a grove of firs, was a little stone chapel with high pitched roof and rustic belfry. In front of the house I spied a figure which I recognized as Berkeley. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and was pecking away with a hoe at the gravel walk, whistling meanwhile his old favorite “Bonny Doon.” He turned as I came up the driveway, and regarded me at first without recognition. He, for his part, was little changed by time. There was the same tall, narrow-shouldered, slightly stooping figure; the face, smooth-shaved, with a spot of wintry red in the cheek, and the old humorous cast in the small blue eyes.

“You don’t know me from Adam,” I said, pausing in front of him.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, directly. “Polisson, old man, upon my conscience I’m glad to see you, but I didn’t know you till you spoke. You’ve been having the yellow fever, haven’t you? Come in—come into the house.”

We passed in through the porch, which was covered with sweet-pea vines trained on strings, and entered the library, where Berkeley resumed his coat. The room was lined with book-shelves loaded to the ceiling, while piles of literature had overflowed the cases and stood about on the floor in bachelor freedom. After the first greetings and inquiries, Berkeley carried my valise upstairs, and then returning, said:

“I’m a methodical though not methodistical person, or rather parson (excuse the Fullerism); and as you have got to stay with me till I let you go, that is, several days at the least (don’t interrupt), I’ll keep a little appointment for the next hour, if you will excuse me. A boy comes three times a week to blow the bellows for my organ practice. Perhaps you would like to step into the church and hear me.”

I assented, and we went out into the yard and found the boy already waiting in the church porch. Berkeley and his assistant climbed into the organ loft, while I seated myself in the chancel to listen. The instrument was small but sweet, and Berkeley really played very well. The interior of the little church was plain to bareness; but the sun, which had fallen low, threw red lights on the upper part of the undecorated walls, and rich shadows darkened the lower half. Through the white, pointed windows I saw the trembling branches of the firs. I had been hurrying for a fortnight past over heated railways, treading fiery pavements, and lodging in red-hot city hotels. But now the music and the day’s decline filled me with a sense of religious calm, and for a moment I envied Berkeley. After his practicing was over the organist locked the chapel door, and we paced up and down in the fir-grove on the matting of dark red needles, and watched the river, whose eastern half still shone in the evening light. After supper we sat out on the piazza, which commanded a view of the Hudson. Berkeley opened a bottle of Chablis and produced some very old and dry Manilla cheroots, and, leaning back in our wicker chairs, we proceeded to “talk Cosmos.”

“You are very comfortably fixed here,” I began; “but this is not precisely what I expected to find you doing, after your declaration of principles, fifteen years ago, you may remember, on our Commencement night.”

“Fifteen years! So it is—so it is,” he answered, with a sigh. “Well, l’homme propose, you know. I don’t quite remember what it was that I said on that occasion: dreadful nonsense, no doubt. As Thackeray says, a boy is an ass. Whatever it was, it proceeded, I suppose, from some temporary mood rather than from any permanent conviction; though, to be sure, I slipped into this way of life almost by accident at first. But, being in, I have found it easy to continue. I am rather too apt, perhaps, to stay where I am put. I am a quietist by constitution.” He paused, and I waited for him to enter upon a fuller and more formal apology. Finally, he went on much as follows:

“Just after I left college I made application through some parties at Washington for a foreign consulate. While I was waiting for the application to be passed on (it was finally unsuccessful), I came up here to visit my uncle, who was the rector of this parish. He was a widower, without any children, and the church was his hobby. It is a queer little affair, something like the old field-kirks or chapels of ease in some parts of England. It was built partly by my uncle and partly by a few New York families who have country places here, and who use it in the summer. This is all glebe land,” he said, indicating, with a sweep of his hand, the twilight fields below the house sloping down toward the faintly glimmering river. “My uncle had a sort of prescription or lien by courtesy on the place. There’s not much salary to speak of, but he had a nice plum of his own, and lived inexpensively. Well, that first summer I moped about here, got acquainted with the summer residents, read a good deal of the time, took long walks into the interior,—a rough, aboriginal country, where they still talk Dutch,—and waited for an answer to my application. When it came at last, I fretted about it considerably, and was for starting off in search of something else. I had an idea of getting a place as botanist on Coprolite’s survey of the Nth parallel, and I wrote to New Haven for letters. I thought it would be a good outdoor, horseback sort of life, and might lead to something better. But that fell through, and meanwhile the dominie kept saying: ‘My dear fellow, don’t be in too much of a hurry to begin. Young America goes so fast nowadays that it is like the dog in the hunting story,—a leetle bit ahead of the hare. Why not stay here for awhile and ripen—ripen?’ The dominie had a good library,—all my old college favorites, old Burton, old Fuller, and Browne, etc., and it seemed the wisest course to follow his advice for the present. But in the fall my uncle had a slight stroke of paralysis, and really needed my help for awhile; so that what had been a somewhat aimless life, considered as loafing, became all at once a duty. At first he had a theological student, from somewhere across the river, come to stay in the house and read service for him on Sundays. But he was a ridiculous animal, whose main idea of a minister’s duties was to intone the responses in a sonorous manner. He used to practice this on week days in his surplice, and I remember especially the cadence with which he delivered the sentence: ‘Yea, like a broken wall shall ye be and as a ruined hedge.’

“He got the huckleberry, as we used to say in college, on that particular text, and it has stuck by me ever since. The dominie fired him out after a fortnight, and one day said to me: ‘Jack, why don’t you study for orders and take up the succession here? You are a bookworm, and the life seems to be to your liking.’ Of course, I declined very vigorously in the beginning, though offering to stay on so long as the dominie needed my help. I used to do lay reading on Sundays when he was too feeble. Gradually, ‘the idea of the life did sweetly creep into my study of imagination.’ The quaintness of the place appealed to me. And here was a future all cut out for me: no preliminary struggle, no contact with vulgar people, no cut-throat competition, but everything gentlemanly and independent about it. I had strong doubts touching my theology, and used to discuss them with my uncle; but he said,—and said rightly, I now think,—‘You young fellows in college fancy that it’s a mighty fine, bold thing to effect radicalism and atheism, and the Lord knows what all; but it won’t stick to you when you get older. Experience will soften your heart, and you’ll find after awhile that belief and doubt are not matters of the pure reason, but of the will. It is a question of attitude. Besides, the church is broad enough to cover a good many private differences in opinion. It isn’t as if you were going to be a blue-nosed Presbyterian. You can stay here and make your studies with me, instead of going into a seminary, and when you are ready to go before the bishop I’ll see that you get the right send-off.’ In short, here I am! My uncle died two years after, when I was already in orders, and I’ve been here ever since.”

“I should think you would get lonely sometimes, and make a strike for a city parish,” I suggested.

“Why—no, I don’t think I should care for ordinary parish work. The beauty of my position here is its uniqueness. In winter I keep the church open for the Aborigines till they get snowed up and stop coming, and then I put down to New York for a month or two of work at the Astor Library. Last winter I held service for two Sundays running with one boy for congregation. Finally I announced to him that the church would be closed until spring.”

“What in the——: well, what do you find to do all alone up here?”

“Oh, there’s always plenty to do, if you’ll only do it. I’ve been cultivating some virtuosities, among other things. Remind me to show you my etchings when we go in. Did you notice, perhaps, that little head over the table, on the north wall? No? Then I smatter botany some. I’ll let you look over my hortus siccus before you go. It has some very rare ferns; one of them is a new species, and Fungus—who exchanges with me—swore that he was going to have it named after me. I sent the first specimen to have it described in his forthcoming report. But doubtless all this sort of thing is a bore to you. Well, lately I have been going into genealogy, and I find it more and more absorbing. Those piles of blank-books and manuscripts on the floor at the south end are all crammed with genealogical notes and material.”

“I should think you would find it pretty dry fodder,” I said.

“That is because you take an outside, unsympathetic view of it. Now, to an amateur it’s anything but dry. There is as much excitement in hunting down a missing link in a pedigree that you have been on the trail of for a long time, as there is in the chase of any other kind of game.”

“Do you ever get across the water? Travel, if I remember right, played a large part in your scheme of life once.”

“Yes; I’ve been over once, for a few months. But my income, though very comfortable for the statics of existence, is rather short for the dynamics, and so I mostly stay at home.”

“Did you meet any interesting people over there? Any of the crowned heads, famous wits, etc., whom you once proposed to cultivate?”

“No; nobody in particular. I went in a very quiet way. I had some good letters to people in England, but I didn’t present them. The idea of introductions became a bore as I got nearer to it.”

“And, of course, you didn’t elope with the marquise?”

“Was that in my scheme? Well—no, I did not.”

“You might have done worse, old man. You ought to have a wife, to keep you from getting rusty up here. And, besides, a fellow that goes so much into genealogy should take some interest in posterity. You ought to cultivate the science practically.”

“Oh, I’m past all danger of matrimony now,” said Berkeley, with a laugh. “There was a girl that I was rather sweet on a few years ago. I was looking up a pedigree for her papa, and I found that I was related to her myself, in eight different ways, though none of them very near. I explained it to her one evening. It took me an hour to do it, and I fancy she thought it a little slow. At all events, when I afterward hinted that we might make the eight ways nine, she answered that our relationship was so intricate already that she couldn’t think of complicating it any further. No, you may put me down as safe.”

After this, we sat listening in silence to the distant beat of paddle-wheels where a steamer was moving up river.

“The river is a deal of company,” resumed my host. “Thirty-six steamers pass here every twenty-four hours. That now is the Mary Powell.”

“Well,” I said, answering not so much to his last remark as to the whole trend of his autobiography, “I suppose you are happy in this way of life, since you seem to prefer it. But it would be terribly monotonous to me.”

“Happy?” replied Berkeley, doubtfully. “I don’t know. Happiness is a subjective matter. You are happy if you think yourself so. As for me, I cultivate an obsolete mood—the old-fashioned humor of melancholy. I don’t suppose now that a light-hearted, French kind of chap like you can understand, in the least, what those fine, crusty old Elizabethans meant when they wrote,

‘There’s naught in this life sweet,
If man were wise to see’t,
But only melancholy.’

This noisy generation has lost their secret. As for me, I am content with the grays and drabs. I think the brighter colors would disturb my mood. I know it’s not a large life, but it is a safe one.”

I did not at the moment remember that this had been Armstrong’s very saying fifteen years ago, but some unconscious association led me to mention him.

“Armstrong and you have changed places in one respect, I should think,” said I. “He is keeping a boarding-school somewhere in Connecticut. And instead of leading a Tulkinghorny existence in the New York University building, as he firmly intended, he has married and produced a numerous offspring, I hear.”

“Yes, poor fellow!” said Berkeley; “I fancy that he is dreadfully overrun and hard up. There always was something absurdly domestic about Armstrong. They say he has grown red, fat, and bald. Think of a man with Armstrong’s education—and he had some talent, too—keeping a sort of Dotheboys Hall! I haven’t seen him for eight or nine years. The last time was at Jersey City, and I had just time to shake hands with him. He was with a lot of other pedagogues, all going up to a teachers’ convention, or some such dreary thing, at Albany.”

I had an opportunity for verifying Berkeley’s account of Armstrong a few days after my conversation with the former. The Pestalozzian Institute, in the pleasant little village of Thimbleville, was situated, as its prospectus informed the public, on “one of the most elegant residence streets, in one of the healthiest and most beautiful rural towns of Eastern Connecticut.” Over the entrance gate was a Roman arch bearing the inscription “Pestalozzian Institute” in large gilt letters. The temple of learning itself was a big, bare, white house at some distance from the street, with an orchard and kitchen garden on one side, and a roomy play-ground on the other. The latter was in possession of some small boys, who were kicking a broken-winded foot-ball about the field with an amount of noise greatly in excess of its occasion. To my question where I could find Mr. Armstrong, they answered eagerly: “Mr. Armstrong? Yes, sir. You go right into the hall, and knock on the first door to the right, and he’ll come—or some one.”

The door to the large square entry stood wide open, and through another door opposite, which was ajar, I saw long tables, and heard the clatter of dishes being removed, while a strong smell of dinner filled the air. I knocked at the door on the right, but no one appeared. Finally, a chubby girl of about ten summers came running round the corner of the house and into the front door. She was eating an apple, and gazed at me wonderingly.

“Is Mr. Armstrong in?” I asked.

“Yes, sir; he’s about somewhere. Walk into the parlor, please, and sit down, and I’ll find him.”

I entered the room on the right, which was a bleak and official-looking apartment,—apparently the reception-room where parents held interviews with the instructor of youth, or tore themselves from the parting embraces of homesick sons at the beginning of a new term. There is always something depressing about the parlor of an “institution” of any kind, and I could not help feeling sorry for Armstrong, as I waited for him, seated on a sofa covered with faded rep. At length the door of an inner room opened, and the principal of the Pestalozzian Institute waddled across the floor with his hand held out, crying:

“Franky Polisson, how are you?”

He certainly had grown stout, and his light hair had retreated from the forehead. He wore glasses and was dressed in a suit of rusty black, with a high vest which gave him a ministerial look—a much more ministerial look than Berkeley had. His pantaloons presented that appearance which tailors describe as “kneeing out.” He sat down and we chatted for half an hour. The little girl had followed him into the room, and behind her came another three or four years her junior. The older one stood by his side, and he kept his arm around her, while he held the younger on his knee. They were both pretty, healthy-looking children, and kept their eyes fixed on “the man.”

“Are those your own kids?” I inquired presently.

“Yes, two of them. I have six, you know,” he answered, with a fond sigh: “five girls and one boy. The lasses are rather in the majority.”

“I heard you were quite a paterfamilias,” I said. “Won’t you come and kiss me, little girl?”

To this proposal the elder answered by burying her head bashfully in her father’s shoulder, while the smaller one simply opened her eyes wider and stared with more fixed intensity.

“Oh, by the way,” exclaimed Armstrong, “of course you’ll take tea with us and spend the evening. I wish I could offer to sleep you here; but the fact is, Mrs. Armstrong’s sister is with us for a few days, and the parents of one of my boys, who is sick, are also staying here; so that my guest chambers are full.”

“Don’t mention it,” I said. “I couldn’t stay over night. I’ve got to be in New York in the morning, and must take the nine-o’clock train. But I’ll stay to supper and much obliged, if you are sure I sha’n’t take up too much of your time.”

“Not the least—not the least. This is a half holiday, and nothing in particular to do.” He bustled to the door and called out loudly, “Mother! Mother!”

There was no response.

“Nelly,” he commanded, “run and find your mamma, and tell her that Mr. Polisson—from New Orleans—an old classmate of papa’s, will be here to tea. That’s a good girl. Polisson, put on your hat and let’s go round the place. I want to show you what an establishment I’ve got here.”

We accordingly made the tour of the premises, Armstrong doing the cicerone impressively, and every now and then urging me with emphatic hospitality to come and spend a week—a fortnight—longer, if I chose, during the summer vacation.

“Bring Mrs. Polisson and the kids. Bring ’em all,” he said. “It will do them good; the air here is fine; eleven hundred feet above the sea. No malaria—no typhoid. I laid out four hundred dollars last year on sewerage.”

It being a half holiday, most of the big boys had gone to a pond in the neighborhood for a swim, under the conduct of the classical master,—a Yale graduate, Armstrong explained, who had stood fourth in his class, “and a very able fellow,—very able.”

But while we sat at tea in Armstrong’s family dining-room, which adjoined the school commons, we were made aware of the return of the swimming party by the constant shuffle and tramp of feet through the hall and the noise of feeding in the next room. At our table were present Mrs. Armstrong, her sister (who had a frightened air when addressed and conversed in monosyllables), the parents of the sick pupil, and Armstrong’s two eldest children. I surmised that the younger children had been in the habit of sharing in the social meal, and had been crowded out on this occasion by the number of guests; for I heard them fremunting in carcere behind a door through which the waitress passed out and in, bringing plates of waffles. The remonstrances of the waitress were also audible, and, when the wailing rose high, my hostess’s face had a distrait expression, as of one prepared at any moment for an irruption of infant Goths.

Mrs. Armstrong was a vivacious little woman, who, I conjectured, had once been a village belle, with some pretensions to espièglerie and the fragile prettiness common among New England country girls. But the bearing and rearing of a family of children, and the matronizing of a houseful of hungry school-boys in such a way as to make ends meet, had substituted a faded and worried look for her natural liveliness of expression. She bore up bravely, however, against the embarrassments of the occasion. In particular, it pleased her to take a facetious view of college life.

“Oh, Mr. Polisson,” she cried, “I am afraid that you and my husband were very gay young men when you were at college together. Oh, don’t tell me; I know—I know. I’ve heard of some of your scrapes.”

I protested feebly against this impeachment, but Armstrong winked at me with the air of a sly dog, and said:

“It’s no use, Polisson. You can’t fool Mrs. A. Buckingham and one or two of the fellows have been here to dinner occasionally, and I’m afraid they’ve given us away.”

“Yes,” she affirmed, “Mr. Buckingham was one of you too, I guess, though he is the Rev. Mr. Buckingham now. Oh, he has told me.”

“You remember old Buck?” put in Armstrong. “He is preaching near here—settled over a church at Bobtown.”

“Yes,” I answered, “I remember there was such a man in the class, but really I didn’t know that he was—ah—such a character as you seem to infer, Mrs. Armstrong.”

“Oh, he has quieted down now, I assure you,” said the lady. “He is as prim and proper as a Methodist meeting-house. Why, he has to be, you know.”

This amusing fiction of the wildness of Armstrong’s youth had evidently become a family tradition, and even, by a familiar process, an article of belief in his own mind. It reminded me grotesquely of Justice Shallow’s reminiscences with Sir John Falstaff: “Ha, Cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen that, that this knight and I have seen.... Jesu, Jesu, the mad days that I have spent!”

The resemblance became still stronger when, as we rose from the table, the good fellow beckoned me into a closet which opened off the dining-room, saying, in a hoarse whisper:

“Here, Polisson, come in here.”

He was uncorking a large bottle half-filled with some red liquid, and as he poured a portion of this into two glasses he explained:

“I don’t have this sort of thing on the table, you understand, on account of the children and my—ah—position. It would make talk. But I tell you this is some of the real old stuff. How!” And he held his glass up to the light, regarding it with the one eye of a connoisseur, and then drank down its contents with a smack. I was considerably astonished, on doing the same, to discover that this dark beverage—which, from Armstrong’s manner, I had been prepared to find something at least as wicked as absinthe—was simply and solely Bordeaux of a mild quality. After this Bacchanalian proceeding we went out into the orchard, which was reserved for family use, and sat on a bench under an apple-tree. Armstrong called his little boy who had been at supper with us and gave him a whispered message, together with some small change. The messenger disappeared, and after a short absence returned with two very domestic cigars, transparently bought for the nonce from some neighboring grocer. “Have a smoke,” commanded my host, and we solemnly kindled the rolls of yellow leaf, Armstrong puffing away at his with the air of a man who, though intrusted by destiny with the responsibility of molding the characters of youth, has not forgotten how to be a man of the world on occasion.

“Well, Charley,” I began, after a few preliminary draughts, “you seem to have a good thing of it. Your school is prosperous, I understand; the work suits you; you have a mighty pretty family of children growing up, and your health appears to be perfect.”

“Yes,” he admitted; “I suppose I ought to be thankful. I certainly enjoy great mercies. It’s a warm, crowded kind of life; plenty of affection,—plenty of anxiety too, to be sure. I like to have the boys around me; it keeps one’s heart fresh, though in a way it’s sometimes wearing to the nerves. Yes, I like the young rascals—I like them. But, of course, it has its drawbacks. Most careers have,” he added, in a burst of commonplace.

“It is not exactly the career that you had cut out for yourself,” I suggested, “when we talked our plans over, you remember, that last evening at New Haven.”

“No, it’s not,” he acknowledged; “but perhaps it is a better one. What was it I said then? I really don’t recall it. Something very silly, no doubt.”

“Oh, you said, in a general way, that you were going in for money and celibacy and selfishness,—just as you have not done.”

“Yes, yes; I know, I remember now,” he said, laughing. “Boys are great fools with their brag of what they are going to do and be. Life knocks it out of them fast enough; they learn to do what they must.”

“Do you ever write any poetry nowadays?”

“No, no; not I. The muse has given me the go-by completely. Except for some occasional verses for a school festival or something of the kind, which I grind out now and then, I’ve sunk my rhyming dictionary deeper than ever plummet sounded. The chief disadvantage of running a big school like this,” he continued, with a sigh, “is the want of leisure and retirement to enable a man to keep up his studies. Sometimes I actually ache for solitude—for a few weeks or months of absolute loneliness and silence. Mrs. Armstrong has fixed me up a nice little private study,—remind me to take you in there before you go,—where I keep my books, etc. But the children will find their way in, and then I’m seldom undisturbed anywhere for more than an hour at a time; there’s always some call on me,—something wanted that no one else can see to.”

“You ought to swap places with Berkeley for awhile. He’s got more leisure than he knows what to do with.”

“Berkeley! Well, what’s he up to now? Philately? Arboriculture? What’s his last fad? You’ve seen him lately, you said. I met him for a minute in New York, a few years ago, and he told me he was going to an old book auction.”

“He’s got genealogy at present,” I explained.

“Genealogy! What hay! What sawdust! Aren’t there enough live people to take an interest in, without grubbing up dead ones from tombstones and town clerks’ records? Berkeley must be a regular old bachelor antiquary by this time, with all human sympathy dried out of him. No, I wouldn’t change with him. Would we, fatty?” he said, appealing to a small offspring of uncertain sex which had just toddled out the door and across the gangway to kiss its papa good-night.

I took leave of Armstrong and his interesting family with a sense of increased liking. His worldliness, good nature, and simple little enthusiasms and self-satisfactions had somehow kept him young, and he seemed quite the old Armstrong of college days. I afterward learned that the excellent fellow had just finished his law studies, and was preparing to enter upon practice, when his father’s health failed, forcing him to give up his parish, and leaving a number of younger brothers and sisters partly dependent on Armstrong. He had accordingly taken the first situation that promised a fair salary, and, having got started upon the work of teaching, had been unable to let go until it was too late; had, indeed, got deeper and deeper in, by falling in love and impulsively marrying at the first opportunity, and finally setting up for himself at the Pestalozzian Institute. Poor fellow! Good fellow! Amico mio, non della fortuna.

My next call was upon Clay, who had rooms in the Babel building in New York, and was reported to be something of a Bohemian. He received me in a smoking jacket and slippers. He had grown a full beard which hid his finely cut features. His black eyes had the old fire, but his skin was sallower, and I thought that his manner had a touch of listlessness mingled with irritability and defiance. He was glad to see me; but inclined to be at first, not precisely distant, yet by no means confidential. After awhile, however, he thawed out and became more like the Clay whom I remembered—our college genius, the brilliant, the admired, in those days of eager hero-worship. I told him of my visits to Berkeley and Armstrong.

“Berkeley I see now and then in town,” said Clay. “It was rather queer of him to turn parson, but I guess he doesn’t let his theology bother him much. He has a really superior collection of etchings, I am told. Armstrong I haven’t seen for years. I knew he was a pedagogue somewhere in Connecticut.”

“Don’t you ever go to the class reunions?” I asked.

“Class reunions? Well, hardly.”

“I should think you would; you are so near New Haven.”

“How charmingly provincial you are—you Southern chaps! Don’t you know that, to a man who lives in New York, nothing is near? Besides, as to my classmates at old Yale and all that, I would go round a corner to avoid meeting most of them.”

I expressed myself as duly shocked by this sentiment, and presently I inquired:

“Well, Clay, how are you getting on, anyway?”

“That’s a d—— general question. How do you want me to answer it?”

“Oh, not at all, if you don’t like.”

“Well, don’t get miffed. Suppose I answer, ‘Pretty well, I thank you, sir.’ How will that do?”

“Are you writing anything now?”

“I’m always scribbling something or other. At present, I’ve got the position of dramatic critic on the ‘Daily Boreas,’ which is not a very bad bore, and keeps the pot boiling. And I do more or less work of a hack kind for the magazines and cyclopedias, etc.”

“I thought you were on the ‘Weekly Prig.’ Berkeley or somebody told me so.”

“So I was at one time, but I got out of it. The work was drying me up too fast. The concern is run by a lot of cusses who have failed in various branches of literature themselves, and undertake, in consequence, to make it unpleasant for every one else who tries to write anything. I got so that I could sling as cynical a quill as the rest of them. But the trick is an easy one and hardly worth learning. It’s a great fraud, this business of reviewing. Here’s a man of learning, for instance, who has spent years of research on a particular work. He has collected a large library, perhaps, on his subject; knows more about it than any one else living. Then along comes some insolent little whipper-snapper,—like me,—whose sole knowledge of the matter in hand is drawn from the very book that he pretends to criticise, and patronizes the learned author in a book notice. No, I got out of it; I hadn’t the cheek.”

“I bought your book,” said I, “as soon as it came out.”

“That’s more than the public did.”

“Yes, and I read it, too.”

“No! Did you, now? That’s true friendship. Well, how did you like it? Did you get your money’s worth?”

I hesitated a moment and then answered:

“It was clever, of course. Anything that you write would be sure to be that. But it didn’t appear to get down to hard-pan or to take a firm grip on life—did it?”

“Ah, that’s what the critics said,—only they’ve got a set of phrases for expressing it. They said it was amateurish, that it was in a falsetto key, etc.”

“Well, how does it strike you, yourself? You know that it didn’t come out of the deep places of your nature, don’t you? You feel that you’ve got better behind?”

“Oh, I don’t know. A man does what he can. I rather think it’s the best I can do at present.”

“Why don’t you go at some more serious work; some magnum opus that would bring your whole strength into play?”

“A magnum opus, my dear fellow!” replied Clay, with a shade of irritation in his voice. “You talk as if a magnum opus could be done for the wishing. Why don’t you do a magnum opus, then?”

“Why don’t I? Oh, I’m not a literary fellow—never professed to be. What a question!”

“Well, no more am I, perhaps. I don’t think any better of the stuff that I scribble than you do. It’s all an experiment with me. I’m trying my brushes—trying my brushes. Perhaps I may be able to do something stronger some day, and perhaps not. But at all events I sha’n’t force my mood. I shall wait for my inspiration. One thing I’ve noticed, that as a man grows older he loses his spontaneity and gets more critical with himself. I could do more, no doubt, if I would only let myself go. But I’m like this meerschaum here,—a hard piece and slow in coloring.”

“Well, meanwhile you might do something in the line of scholarship, a history or a volume of critical essays—‘Hours with the Poets,’ or something of that kind, that would bring in the results of your reading. Have you seen Brainard’s book? It seemed to me work that was worth doing. But you could do something of the same kind, only much better, without taking your hands out of your pockets.”

Brainard was a painstaking classmate of ours, who had been for some years Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, English Literature, and European History, in a Western university, and had recently published a volume entitled “Theism and Pantheism in the Literature of the English Renaissance,” which was well spoken of, and was already in its third edition.

“Yes, I’ve seen the stuff,” said Clay. “My unhappy country swarms with that sort of thing: books about books, and books about other books about books—like the big fleas and little fleas. It’s not literature; it’s a parasitic growth that infests literature. I always say to myself, with the melancholy Jaques, whenever I have to look over a book by Brainard or any such fellow, ‘I think of as many matters as he; but I give Heaven thanks and make no boast of them.’ No, I don’t care to add anything to that particular rubbish heap. You know Emerson said that the worst poem is better than the best criticism of it. The trouble with me is that what I want to do I can’t do—at present; what I can do I don’t think it worth while to do—worth my while, at least. Some one else may do it and get the credit and welcome.”

“But you do a good deal of work that you don’t care about, as it is,” I objected.

“Of course. A man must live, and so I do the nearest thing and the one that pays quickest. I got eighty dollars, now, for that last screed in ‘The Reservoir.’”

“But,” I persisted, “I thought that money-making had no part in your scheme. You could make more money in a dozen other businesses.”

“So I could,” he answered; “but they all involve some form of slavery. Now, I am my own master. After all, every profession has its drudgery, and literary drudgery is not the worst.”

“Well,” I conceded, “independent of what you accomplish, I suppose your way of life furnishes as many daily satisfactions as any. I sometimes envy you and Berkeley your freedom from business cares and your opportunities for study. What becomes of most men’s college training, for example? By Jove! I picked up a Greek book the other day, and I couldn’t read three words running. Now, I take it, you manage to keep up your classics, among other things.”

“Oh, my way of life has its compensations,” he answered. “But Sydney Smith—wasn’t it?—said that life was a middling affair, anyway. As for the classics, etc., I find that reading and study lose much of their stimulus unless they get an issue in action,—unless one can apply them directly toward his own work. I often think that, if I were fifteen or even ten years younger, I would go into some branch of natural science. A scientific man always seems to me peculiarly happy in the healthy character of his work. He can keep himself apart from it. It is objective, impersonal, makes no demand on his emotions. Now a writing man has to put himself into his work. He has to keep looking out all the time for impressions, material; to keep trying to enlarge and deepen his own experience, and he gets self-conscious and loses his freshness in the process.”

“I am surprised to find you in New York,” said I, by way of changing the subject. “I thought you had laid out to live in the country. Do you remember that pretty little word-picture of a winter afternoon that you drew us—something in the style of an Il Penseroso landscape? I expected to find you domesticated in a Berkshire farm-house.”

“Yes, I remember. I tried it. But I find it necessary, for my work, to be in New York. The newspapers—confound ’em!—won’t move into the woods. But, after all, place is indifferent. See here; this isn’t bad.”

He drew aside the window curtain, and I looked out over a wilderness of roofs to the North River and the Palisades tinged with a purple light. The ferry boats and tugs plying over the water in every direction, the noise of the steam whistles, and the clouds of white vapor floating on the clear air, made an inspiriting scene.

“I’m up among the architects here,” continued Clay; “nothing but the janitor’s family between me and the roof.”

We talked awhile longer, and on taking leave, I said:

“I shall be on the lookout for something big from you one of these days. You know what we always expected of you. So don’t lose your grip, old man.”

“Who knows?” he replied. “It doesn’t rest with me, but with the daimon.”

I was unable to visit Doddridge, the remaining member of our group. He lived in the thriving town of Wahee, Minnesota, and I had heard of him, in a general way, as highly prosperous. He was a prominent lawyer and successful politician, and had lately been appointed United States district judge, after representing his section in the State Senate for a term or two. I wrote to him, congratulating him on his success and asking for details. I mentioned also my visits to Berkeley, Armstrong, and Clay. I got a prompt reply from Doddridge, from which I extract such portions as are material to this narrative:

“The first few months after I left college I traveled pretty extensively through the West, making contracts with the farmers as agent for a nursery and seed-farm in my part of the country, but really with the object of spying out the land and choosing a place to settle in. Finally I lit on Wahee, and made up my mind that it was a town with a future. It was bound to be a railroad center. It had a first-rate agricultural country around it, and a rich timber region a little further back; and it already had an enterprising little pop. growing rapidly. To-day Wahee is as smart a city of its inches as there is in the Northwest. I squatted right down here, got a little raise from the old man, and put it all into building lots. I made a good thing of it, and paid it all back in six years with eight per cent. interest. Meanwhile, I went into Judge Pratt’s law office and made my salt by fitting his boy for college—till I learned enough law to earn a salary. The judge was an old Waheer—belonged to the time-honored aristocracy of the place, having been here at least fifteen years before I came. He got into railroads after awhile (is president now of the Wahee and Heliopolis Bee-line), and left his law practice to me. I married his daughter Alice in 1875. She is a Western girl, but she was educated at Vassar. We have two boys. If you ever come out our way, Polisson, you must put up with us for as long as you can stay. I would like to show you the country about here and have you ride after my team. I’ve got a pair that can do it inside three minutes. Do you remember Liddell of our class? He is an architect, you know. I got him to come to Wahee, and he has all he can do putting up business blocks. We have got some here equal to anything in Chicago....

“Yes, I am United States judge for this district. There is not much money in it, but it will help me professionally by and by. I shall not keep it long. Do I go into politics much, you ask. I used to, but I’ve got through for the present. The folks about here wanted to run me for Congress last term, but I hadn’t any use for it. As to what you are kind enough to say about my ‘success,’ etc., whatever success I have had is owing to nothing but a capacity for hard work, which is the only talent that I lay claim to. They want a man out here who will do the work that comes to hand, and keep on doing it till something better turns up....

“So Berkeley has turned out a dilettante instead of an African explorer. I heard he was a minister. He does not seem to have much ambition even in that line of life. I should think Armstrong had got the right kind of place for him. He was a good fellow, but never had much practical ability. You say very little about Clay. How is old ‘Sweetness and Light,’ any way? I saw some fluff of his in one of the magazines,—a ‘romance’ I think he called it. This is not an age for scribbling romances. The country wants something solider. I never took much stock in philosophers like Berkeley and Clay. There is the same thing the trouble with them both: they don’t want to do any hard work, and they conceal their laziness under fine names,—culture, transcendentalism, and what not? ‘Feeble and restless youths, born to inglorious days.’”

This letter may be supplemented by another,—say Exhibit B,—which I received from Clay not long after:

My Dear Polisson: It occurs to me that your question the other day, as to how I was ‘getting on,’ did not receive as candid an answer as it deserved. I am afraid that you carried away an impression of me as of a man who suspected himself to be a failure, but had not the manliness to acknowledge it. You will say, perhaps, that there are all degrees of half success short of absolute failure. But I say no. In the career which I have chosen, to miss of success—pronounced, unquestionable success—is to fail; and I am not weak enough to hide from myself on which side of the line I fall. The line is a very distinct one, after all. The fact is, I took the wrong turning, and it is too late to go back. I am a case of arrested development—a common enough case. I might give plenty of excellent excuses to my friends for not having accomplished what they expected me to. But the world doesn’t want apologies; it wants performance.

“You will think this letter a most extraordinary outburst of morbid vanity. But while I can afford to have you think me a failure, I couldn’t let you go on thinking me a fraud. That must be my excuse for writing.

“Yours, as ever, E. Clay.

This letter moved me deeply by its characteristic mingling of egotism with elevation of feeling. As I held it open in my hand, and thought over my classmates’ fortunes, I was led to make a few reflections. From the fact that Armstrong and Berkeley were leading lives that squarely contradicted their announced ideas and intentions, it was an obvious but not therefore a true inference that circumstance is usually stronger than will. Say, rather, that the species of necessity which consists in character and inborn tendency is stronger than any resolution to run counter to it.

Both Armstrong and Berkeley, on our Commencement night, had spoken from a sense of their own limitations, and in violent momentary rebellion against them. But, in talking with them fifteen years later, I could not discover that the lack of correspondence between their ideal future and their actual present troubled them much. It is matter of common note that it is impossible to make one man realize another’s experience; but it is often quite as hard to make him recover a past stage of his own consciousness.

These, then, had bent to the force of chance or temperament. But Clay had shaped his life according to his programme, and had the result been happier? He who gets his wish often suffers a sharper disappointment than he who loses it. “So täuscht uns also bald die Hoffnung, bald das Gehoffte,” says the great pessimist, and Fate is never more ironical than when she humors our whim. Doddridge alone, who had thrown himself confidingly into the arms of the Destinies, had obtained their capricious favors.

I cannot say that I drew any counsel, civil or moral, from these comparisons. Life is deeper and wider than any particular lesson to be learned from it; and just when we think that we have at last guessed its best meanings, it laughs in our face with some paradox which turns our solution into a new riddle.