OVER THE TEACUPS
by Oliver W. Holmes
The kind way in which this series of papers has been received has been a
pleasure greater than I dared to anticipate. I felt that I was a late
comer in the midst of a crowd of ardent and eager candidates for public
attention, that I had already had my day, and that if, like the
unfortunate Frenchman we used read about, I had "come again," I ought not
to surprised if I received the welcome of "Monsieur Tonson."
It has not proved so. My old readers have come forward in the
pleasantest possible way and assured me that they were glad to see me
again. There is no need, therefore, of apologies or explanations. I
thought I had something left to say and I have found listeners. In
writing these papers I have had occupation and kept myself in relation
with my fellow-beings. New sympathies, new sources of encouragement, if
not of inspiration, have opened themselves before me and cheated the
least promising season of life of much that seemed to render it dreary
and depressing. What particularly pleased me has been the freedom of
criticisms which I have seen from disadvantageous comparisons of my later
with my earlier writings.
I should like a little rest from literary work before the requiescat
ensures my repose from earthly labors, but I will not be rash enough to
promise that I will not even once again greet my old and new readers if
the impulse becomes irresistible to renew a companionship which has been
to me such a source of happiness.
BEVERLY FARM, Mass., August, 1891.
O. W. H.
OVER THE TEACUPS.
This series of papers was begun in March, 1888. A single number was
printed, when it was interrupted the course of events, and not resumed
until nearly years later, in January, 1890. The plan of the series was
not formed in my mind when I wrote the number. In returning to my task I
found that my original plan had shaped itself in the underground
laboratory of my thought so that some changes had to be made in what I
had written. As I proceeded, the slight story which formed a part of my
programme eloped itself without any need of much contrivance on my, part.
Given certain characters in a writer's conception, if they are real to
him, as they ought to be they will act in such or such a way, according
to the law of their nature. It was pretty safe to assume that intimate
relations would spring up between some members of our mixed company; and
it was not rash conjecture that some of these intimacies might end in
such attachment as would furnish us hints, at least, of a love-story.
As to the course of the conversations which would take place, very little
could be guessed beforehand. Various subjects of interest would be
likely to present themselves, without definite order, oftentimes abruptly
and, as it would seem, capriciously. Conversation in such a mixed company
as that of "The Teacups" is likely to be suggestive rather than
exhaustive. Continuous discourse is better adapted to the lecture-room
than to the tea-table. There is quite enough of it, I fear too much,—in
these pages. But the reader must take the reports of our talks as they
were jotted down. A patchwork quilt is not like a piece of Gobelin
tapestry; but it has its place and its use.
Some will feel a temptation to compare these conversations with those
earlier ones, and remark unamiably upon their difference. This is hardly
fair, and is certainly not wise. They are produced under very different
conditions, and betray that fact in every line. It is better to take
them by themselves; and, if my reader finds anything to please or profit
from, I shall be contented, and he, I feel sure, will not be ungrateful.
The readers who take up this volume may recollect a series of
conversations held many years ago over the breakfast-table, and reported
for their more or less profitable entertainment. Those were not very
early breakfasts at which the talks took place, but at any rate the sun
was rising, and the guests had not as yet tired themselves with the
labors of the day. The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about
it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea
cannot be expected to reproduce. The toils of the forenoon, the heats of
midday, in the warm season, the slanting light of the descending sun, or
the sobered translucency of twilight have subdued the vivacity of the
early day. Yet under the influence of the benign stimulant many trains
of thought which will bear recalling, may suggest themselves to some of
our quiet circle and prove not uninteresting to a certain number of
How early many of my old breakfast companions went off to bed! I am
thinking not merely of those who sat round our table, but of that larger
company of friends who listened to our conversations as reported. Dear
girl with the silken ringlets, dear boy with the down-shadowed cheek,
your grandfather, your grandmother, turned over the freshly printed
leaves that told the story of those earlier meetings around the plain
board where so many things were said and sung, not all of which have
quite faded from memory of this overburdened and forgetful time. Your
father, your mother, found the scattered leaves gathered in a volume, and
smiled upon them as not uncompanionable acquaintances. My tea-table
makes no promises. There is no programme of exercises to studied
beforehand. What if I should content myself with a single report of what
was said and done over our teacups? Perhaps my young reader would be
glad to let me off, for there are talkers enough who have not yet left
their breakfast-tables; and nobody can blame the young people for
preferring the thoughts and the language of their own generation, with
all its future before it, to those of their grandfathers contemporaries.
My reader, young or old, will please to observe that I have left myself
entire freedom as to the sources of what may be said over the teacups. I
have not told how many cups are commonly on the board, but by using the
plural I have implied that there is at least one other talker or listener
beside myself, and for all that appears there may be a dozen. There will
be no regulation length to my reports,—no attempt to make out a certain
number of pages. I have no contract to fill so many columns, no pledge
to contribute so many numbers. I can stop on this first page if I do not
care to say anything more, and let this article stand by itself if so
minded. What a sense of freedom it gives not to write by the yard or the
When one writes for an English review or magazine at so many guineas a
sheet, the temptation is very great to make one's contribution cover as
many sheets as possible. We all know the metallic taste of articles
written under this powerful stimulus. If Bacon's Essays had been
furnished by a modern hand to the "Quarterly Review" at fifty guineas a
sheet, what a great book it would have taken to hold them!
The first thing which suggests itself to me, as I contemplate my slight
project, is the liability of repeating in the evening what I may have
said in the morning in one form or another, and printed in these or other
pages. When it suddenly flashes into the consciousness of a writer who
had been long before the public, "Why, I have said all that once or
oftener in my books or essays, and here it is again; the same old
thought, the same old image, the same old story!" it irritates him, and
is likely to stir up the monosyllables of his unsanctified vocabulary.
He sees in imagination a thousand readers, smiling or yawning as they say
to themselves, "We have had all that before," and turn to another
writer's performance for something not quite so stale and superfluous.
This is what the writer says to himself about the reader.
The idiot! Does the simpleton really think that everybody has read all
he has written? Does he really believe that everybody remembers all of
his, writer's, words he may happen to have read? At one of those famous
dinners of the Phi Beta Kappa Society; where no reporter was ever
admitted, and which nothing ever leaks out about what is said and done,
Mr. Edward Everett, in his after-dinner speech, quoted these lines from
the AEneid, giving a liberal English version of them, which he applied to
the Oration just delivered by Mr. Emerson:
Tres imbris torti radios, tres nubis aquosae
Addiderant, rutili tres ignis, et alitis Austri.
His nephew, the ingenious, inventive, and inexhaustible. Edward Everett
Hale, tells the story of this quotation, and of the various uses to which
it might plied in after-dinner speeches. How often he ventured to repeat
it at the Phi Beta Kappa dinners I am not sure; but as he reproduced it
with his lively embellishments and fresh versions and artful
circumlocutions, not one person in ten remembered that he had listened to
those same words in those same accents only a twelvemonth ago. The poor
deluded creatures who take it for granted that all the world remembers
what they have said, and laugh at them when they say it over again, may
profit by this recollection. But what if one does say the same
things,—of course in a little different form each time,—over her? If
he has anything to say worth saying, that is just what he ought to do.
Whether he ought to or not, it is very certain that this is what all who
write much or speak much necessarily must and will do. Think of the
clergyman who preaches fifty or a hundred or more sermons every year for
fifty years! Think of the stump speaker who shouts before a hundred
audiences during the same political campaign, always using the same
arguments, illustrations, and catchwords! Think of the editor, as
Carlyle has pictured him, threshing the same straw every morning, until
we know what is coming when we see the first line, as we do when we read
the large capitals at the head of a thrilling story, which ends in an
advertisement of an all-cleansing soap or an all-curing remedy!
The latch-key which opens into the inner chambers of my consciousness
fits, as I have sufficient reason to believe, the private apartments of a
good many other people's thoughts. The longer we live, the more we find
we are like other persons. When I meet with any facts in my own mental
experience, I feel almost sure that I shall find them repeated or
anticipated in the writings or the conversation of others. This feeling
gives one a freedom in telling his own personal history he could not have
enjoyed without it. My story belongs to you as much as to me. De te
fabula narratur. Change the personal pronoun,—that is all. It gives
many readers a singular pleasure to find a writer telling them something
they have long known or felt, but which they have never before found any
one to put in words for them. An author does not always know when he is
doing the service of the angel who stirred the waters of the pool of
Bethesda. Many a reader is delighted to find his solitary thought has a
companion, and is grateful to the benefactor who has strengthened him.
This is the advantage of the humble reader over the ambitious and
self-worshipping writer. It is not with him pereant illi, but beati sunt
illi qui pro nobis nostra dixerunt,-Blessed are those who have said our
good things for us.
What I have been saying of repetitions leads me into a train of
reflections like which I think many readers will find something in their
own mental history. The area of consciousness is covered by layers of
habitual thoughts, as a sea-beach is covered with wave-worn, rounded
pebbles, shaped, smoothed, and polished by long attrition against each
other. These thoughts remain very much the same from day to day, from
week to week; and as we grow older, from month to month, and from year to
year. The tides of wakening consciousness roll in upon them daily as we
unclose our eyelids, and keep up the gentle movement and murmur of
ordinary mental respiration until we close them again in slumber. When
we think we are thinking, we are for the most part only listening to
sound of attrition between these inert elements of intelligence. They
shift their places a little, they change their relations to each other,
they roll over and turn up new surfaces. Now and then a new fragment is
cast in among them, to be worn and rounded and takes its place with the
others, but the pebbled floor of consciousness is almost as stationary as
the pavement of a city thoroughfare.
It so happens that at this particular tine I have something to tell which
I am quite sure is not one of rolled pebbles which my reader has seen
before in any of my pages, or, as I feel confident, in those of any other
If my reader asks why I do not send the statement I am going to make to
some one of the special periodicals that deal with such subjects, my
answer is, that I like to tell my own stories at my own time, in own
chosen columns, where they will be read by a class of readers with whom I
like to talk.
All men of letters or of science, all writers well known to the public,
are constantly tampered with, in these days, by a class of predaceous and
hungry fellow-laborers who may be collectively spoken of as the
brain-tappers. They want an author's ideas on the subjects which
interest them, the inquirers, from the gravest religious and moral
questions to the most trivial matters of his habits and his whims and
fancies. Some of their questions he cannot answer; some he does not
choose to answer; some he is not yet ready to answer, and when he is
ready he prefers to select his own organ of publication. I do not find
fault with all the brain-tappers. Some of them are doing excellent
service by accumulating facts which could not otherwise be attained. Rut
one gets tired of the strings of questions sent him, to which he is
expected to return an answer, plucked, ripe or unripe, from his private
tree of knowledge. The brain-tappers are like the owner of the goose that
laid the golden eggs. They would have the embryos and germs of one's
thoughts out of the mental oviducts, and cannot wait for their
spontaneous evolution and extrusion.
The story I have promised is, on the whole, the most remarkable of a
series which I may have told in part at some previous date, but which, if
I have not told, may be worth recalling at a future time.
Some few of my readers may remember that in a former paper I suggested
the possibility of the existence of an idiotic area in the human mind,
corresponding to the blind spot in the human retina. I trust that I
shall not be thought to have let my wits go wandering in that region of
my own intellectual domain, when I relate a singular coincidence which
very lately occurred in my experience, and add a few remarks made by one
of our company on the delicate and difficult but fascinating subject
which it forces upon our attention. I will first copy the memorandum
made at the time:
"Remarkable coincidence. On Monday, April 18th, being at table from 6.30
P. M. to 7.30, with ________and ________ the two ladies of my
household, I told them of the case of 'trial by battel' offered by
Abraham Thornton in 1817. I mentioned his throwing down his glove, which
was not taken up by the brother of his victim, and so he had to be let
off, for the old law was still in force. I mentioned that Abraham
Thornton was said to have come to this country, 'and [I added] he may be
living near us, for aught that I know." I rose from the table, and found
an English letter waiting for me, left while I sat at dinner. A copy the
first portion of this letter:
'20 ALFRED PLACE, West (near Museum) South Kensington, LONDON, S. W.
April 7, 1887.
DR. O. W. HOLMES:
DEAR SIR,—In travelling, the other day, I met with a reprint of the very
interesting case of Thornton for murder, 1817. The prisoner pleaded
successfully the old Wager of Battel. I thought you would like to read
the account, and send it with this….
Mr. Rathbone is a well-known dealer in old Wedgwood and
eighteenth-century art. As a friend of my hospitable entertainer, Mr.
Willett, he had shown me many attentions in England, but I was not
expecting any communication from him; and when, fresh from my
conversation, I found this letter just arrived by mail, and left while I
was at table, and on breaking the seal read what I had a few moments
before been; telling, I was greatly surprised, and immediately made a
note of the occurrence, as given above.
I had long been familiar with all the details of this celebrated case,
but had not referred to it, so far as I can remember, for months or
years. I know of no train of thought which led me to speak of it on that
particular day. I had never alluded to it before in that company, nor
had I ever spoken of it with Mr. Rathbone.
I told this story over our teacups. Among the company at the table is a
young English girl. She seemed to be amused by the story. "Fancy!" she
said,—"how very very odd!" "It was a striking and curious coincidence,"
said the professor who was with us at the table. "As remarkable as two
teaspoons in one saucer," was the comment of a college youth who happened
to be one of the company. But the member of our circle whom the reader
will hereafter know as Number Seven, began stirring his tea in a nervous
sort of way, and I knew that he was getting ready to say something about
the case. An ingenious man he is, with a brain like a tinder-box, its
contents catching at any spark that is flying about. I always like to
hear what he says when his tinder brain has a spark fall into it. It
does not follow that because he is often wrong he may not sometimes be
right, for he is no fool. He treated my narrative very seriously.
The reader need not be startled at the new terms he introduces. Indeed, I
am not quite sure that some thinking people will not adopt his view of
the matter, which seems to have a degree of plausibility as he states and
"The impulse which led you to tell that story passed directly from the
letter, which came charged from the cells of the cerebral battery of your
correspondent. The distance at which the action took place [the letter
was left on a shelf twenty-four feet from the place where I was sitting]
shows this charge to have been of notable intensity.
"Brain action through space without material symbolism, such as speech,
expression, etc., is analogous to electrical induction. Charge the prime
conductor of an electrical machine, and a gold-leaf electrometer, far off
from it, will at once be disturbed. Electricity, as we all know, can be
stored and transported as if it were a measurable fluid.
"Your incident is a typical example of cerebral induction from a source
containing stored cerebricity. I use this word, not to be found in my
dictionaries, as expressing the brain-cell power corresponding to
electricity. Think how long it was before we had attained any real
conception of the laws that govern the wonderful agent, which now works
in harness with the other trained and subdued forces! It is natural that
cerebricity should be the last of the unweighable agencies to be
understood. The human eye had seen heaven and earth and all that in them
is before it saw itself as our instruments enable us to see it. This
fact of yours, which seems so strange to you, belongs to a great series
of similar facts familiarly known now to many persons, and before long to
be recognized as generally as those relating to the electric telegraph
and the slaving `dynamo.'
"What! you cannot conceive of a charge of cerebricity fastening itself on
a letter-sheet and clinging to it for weeks, while it was shuffling about
in mail-bags, rolling over the ocean, and shaken up in railroad cars?
And yet the odor of a grain of musk will hang round a note or a dress for
a lifetime. Do you not remember what Professor Silliman says, in that
pleasant journal of his, about the little ebony cabinet which Mary, Queen
of Scots, brought with her from France,—how 'its drawers still exhale
the sweetest perfumes'? If they could hold their sweetness for more than
two hundred years, why should not a written page retain for a week or a
month the equally mysterious effluence poured over it from the thinking
marrow, and diffuse its vibrations to another excitable nervous centre?"
I have said that although our imaginative friend is given to wild
speculations, he is not always necessarily wrong. We know too little
about the laws of brain-force to be dogmatic with reference to it. I am,
myself, therefore, fully in sympathy with the psychological
investigators. When it comes to the various pretended sciences by which
men and women make large profits, attempts at investigation are very apt
to be used as lucrative advertisements for the charlatans. But a series
of investigations of the significance of certain popular beliefs and
superstitions, a careful study of the relations of certain facts to each
other,—whether that of cause and effect, or merely of coincidence,—is a
task not unworthy of sober-minded and well-trained students of nature.
Such a series of investigations has been recently instituted, and was
reported at a late meeting held in the rooms of the Boston Natural
History Society. The results were, mostly negative, and in one sense a
disappointment. A single case, related by Professor Royce, attracted a
good deal of attention. It was reported in the next morning's
newspapers, and will be given at full length, doubtless, in the next
number of the Psychological Journal. The leading facts were, briefly,
these: A lady in Hamburg, Germany, wrote, on the 22d of June last, that
she had what she supposed to be nightmare on the night of the 17th, five
days before. "It seemed," she wrote, "to belong to you; to be a horrid
pain in your head, as if it were being forcibly jammed into an iron
casque, or some such pleasant instrument of torture." It proved that on
that same 17th of June her sister was undergoing a painful operation at
the hands of a dentist. "No single case," adds Professor Royce, "proves,
or even makes probable, the existence of telepathic toothaches; but if
there are any more cases of this sort, we want to hear of them, and that
all the more because no folk-lore and no supernatural horrors have as yet
mingled with the natural and well-known impressions that people associate
with the dentist's chair."
The case I have given is, I am confident, absolutely free from every
source of error. I do not remember that Mr. Rathbone had communicated
with me since he sent me a plentiful supply of mistletoe a year ago last
Christmas. The account I received from him was cut out of "The Sporting
Times" of March 5, 1887. My own knowledge of the case came from "Kirby's
Wonderful Museum," a work presented to me at least thirty years ago. I
had not looked at the account, spoken of it, nor thought of it for a long
time, when it came to me by a kind of spontaneous generation, as it
seemed, having no connection with any previous train of thought that I
was aware of. I consider the evidence of entire independence, apart from
possible "telepathic" causation, completely water-proof, airtight,
incombustible, and unassailable.
I referred, when first reporting this curious case of coincidence, with
suggestive circumstances, to two others, one of which I said was the most
picturesque and the other the most unlikely, as it would seem, to happen.
This is the first of those two cases:—
Grenville Tudor Phillips was a younger brother of George Phillips, my
college classmate, and of Wendell Phillips, the great orator. He lived
in Europe a large part of his life, but at last returned, and, in the
year 1863, died at the house of his brother George. I read his death in
the paper; but, having seen and heard very little of him during his life,
should not have been much impressed by the fact, but for the following
occurrence: between the time of Grenville Phillips's death and his
burial, I was looking in upon my brother, then living in the house in
which we were both born. Some books which had been my father's were
stored in shelves in the room I used to occupy when at Cambridge.
Passing my eye over them, an old dark quarto attracted my attention. It
must be a Bible, I said to myself, perhaps a rare one,—the "Breeches"
Bible or some other interesting specimen. I took it from the shelves,
and, as I did so, an old slip of paper fell out and fluttered to the
floor. On lifting it I read these words:
The name is Grenville Tudor.
What was the meaning of this slip of paper coming to light at this time,
after reposing undisturbed so long? There was only one way of explaining
its presence in my father's old Bible;—a copy of the Scriptures which I
did not remember ever having handled or looked into before. In
christening a child the minister is liable to forget the name, just at
the moment when he ought to remember it. My father preached occasionally
at the Brattle Street Church. I take this for granted, for I remember
going with him on one occasion when he did so. Nothing was more likely
than that he should be asked to officiate at the baptism of the younger
son of his wife's first cousin, Judge Phillips. This slip was handed him
to remind him of the name: He brought it home, put it in that old Bible,
and there it lay quietly for nearly half a century, when, as if it had
just heard of Mr. Phillips's decease, it flew from its hiding-place and
startled the eyes of those who had just read his name in the daily column
of deaths. It would be hard to find anything more than a mere
coincidence here; but it seems curious enough to be worth telling.
The second of these two last stories must be told in prosaic detail to
show its whole value as a coincidence.
One evening while I was living in Charles Street, I received a call from
Dr. S., a well-known and highly respected Boston physician, a particular
friend of the late Alexander H. Stephens, vice-president of the Southern
Confederacy. It was with reference to a work which Mr. Stephens was
about to publish that Dr. S. called upon me. After talking that matter
over we got conversing on other subjects, among the rest a family
relationship existing between us,—not a very near one, but one which I
think I had seen mentioned in genealogical accounts. Mary S. (the last
name being the same as that of my visitant), it appeared, was the
great-great-grandmother of Mrs. H. and myself. After cordially
recognizing our forgotten relationship, now for the first time called to
mind, we parted, my guest leaving me for his own home. We had been
sitting in my library on the lower floor. On going up-stairs where Mrs.
H. was sitting alone, just as I entered the room she pushed a paper
across the table towards me, saying that perhaps it might interest me.
It was one of a number of old family papers which she had brought from
the house of her mother, recently deceased.
I opened the paper, which was an old-looking document, and found that it
was a copy, perhaps made in this century, of the will of that same Mary
S. about whom we had been talking down-stairs.
If there is such a thing as a purely accidental coincidence this must be
considered an instance of it.
All one can say about it is that it seems very unlikely that such a
coincidence should occur, but it did.
I have not tried to keep my own personality out of these stories. But
after all, how little difference it makes whether or not a writer appears
with a mask on which everybody can take off,—whether he bolts his door
or not, when everybody can look in at his windows, and all his entrances
are at the mercy of the critic's skeleton key and the jimmy of any
The company have been silent listeners for the most part; but the reader
will have a chance to become better acquainted with some cf them by and
TO THE READER.
I know that it is a hazardous experiment to address myself again to a
public which in days long past has given me a generous welcome. But my
readers have been, and are, a very faithful constituency. I think there
are many among them who would rather listen to an old voice they are used
to than to a new one of better quality, even if the "childish treble"
should betray itself now and then in the tones of the overtired organ.
But there must be others,—I am afraid many others,—who will exclaim:
"He has had his day, and why can't he be content? We don't want literary
revenants, superfluous veterans, writers who have worn out their welcome
and still insist on being attended to. Give us something fresh,
something that belongs to our day and generation. Your morning draught
was well enough, but we don't care for your evening slip-slop. You are
not in relation with us, with our time, our ideas, our aims, our
Alas, alas! my friend,—my young friend, for your hair is not yet
whitened,—I am afraid you are too nearly right. No doubt,—no doubt.
Teacups are not coffee-cups. They do not hold so much. Their pallid
infusion is but a feeble stimulant compared with the black decoction
served at the morning board. And so, perhaps, if wisdom like yours were
compatible with years like mine, I should drop my pen and make no further
attempts upon your patience.
But suppose that a writer who has reached and passed the natural limit of
serviceable years feels that he has some things which he would like to
say, and which may have an interest for a limited class of readers,—is
he not right in trying his powers and calmly taking the risk of failure?
Does it not seem rather lazy and cowardly, because he cannot "beat his
record," or even come up to the level of what he has done in his prime,
to shrink from exerting his talent, such as it is, now that he has
outlived the period of his greatest vigor? A singer who is no longer
equal to the trials of opera on the stage may yet please at a chamber
concert or in the drawing-room. There is one gratification an old author
can afford a certain class of critics: that, namely, of comparing him as
he is with what he was. It is a pleasure to mediocrity to have its
superiors brought within range, so to speak; and if the ablest of them
will only live long enough, and keep on writing, there is no pop-gun that
cannot reach him. But I fear that this is an unamiable reflection, and I
am at this time in a very amiable mood.
I confess that there is something agreeable to me in renewing my
relations with the reading public. Were it but a single appearance, it
would give me a pleasant glimpse of the time when I was known as a
frequent literary visitor. Many of my readers—if I can lure any from
the pages of younger writers will prove to be the children, or the
grandchildren, of those whose acquaintance I made something more than a
whole generation ago. I could depend on a kind welcome from my
contemporaries,—my coevals. But where are those contemporaries? Ay de
mi! as Carlyle used to exclaim,—Ah, dear me! as our old women say,—I
look round for them, and see only their vacant places. The old vine
cannot unwind its tendrils. The branch falls with the decay of its
support, and must cling to the new growths around it, if it would not lie
helpless in the dust. This paper is a new tendril, feeling its way, as
it best may, to whatever it can wind around. The thought of finding here
and there an old friend, and making, it may be, once in a while a new
one, is very grateful to me. The chief drawback to the pleasure is the
feeling that I am submitting to that inevitable exposure which is the
penalty of authorship in every form. A writer must make up his mind to
the possible rough treatment of the critics, who swarm like bacteria
whenever there is any literary material on which they can feed. I have
had as little to complain of as most writers, yet I think it is always
with reluctance that one encounters the promiscuous handling which the
products of the mind have to put up with, as much as the fruit and
provisions in the market-stalls. I had rather be criticised, however,
than criticise; that is, express my opinions in the public prints of
other writers' work, if they are living, and can suffer, as I should
often have to make them. There are enough, thank Heaven, without me. We
are literary cannibals, and our writers live on each other and each
other's productions to a fearful extent. What the mulberry leaf is to
the silk-worm, the author's book, treatise, essay, poem, is to the
critical larva; that feed upon it. It furnishes them with food and
clothing. The process may not be agreeable to the mulberry leaf or to
the printed page; but without it the leaf would not have become the silk
that covers the empress's shoulders, and but for the critic the author's
book might never have reached the scholar's table. Scribblers will feed
on each other, and if we insist on being scribblers we must consent to be
fed on. We must try to endure philosophically what we cannot help, and
ought not, I suppose, to wish to help.
It is the custom at our table to vary the usual talk, by the reading of
short papers, in prose or verse, by one or more of The Teacups, as we are
in the habit of calling those who make up our company. Thirty years ago,
one of our present circle—"Teacup Number Two," The Professor,—read a
paper on Old Age, at a certain Breakfast-table, where he was in the habit
of appearing. That paper was published at the time, and has since seen
the light in other forms. He did not know so much about old age then as
he does now, and would doubtless write somewhat differently if he took
the subject up again. But I found that it was the general wish that
another of our company should let us hear what he had to say about it. I
received a polite note, requesting me to discourse about old age,
inasmuch as I was particularly well qualified by my experience to write
in an authoritative way concerning it. The fact is that I,—for it is
myself who am speaking,—have recently arrived at the age of threescore
years and twenty,—fourscore years we may otherwise call it. In the
arrangement of our table, I am Teacup Number One, and I may as well say
that I am often spoken of as The Dictator. There is nothing invidious in
this, as I am the oldest of the company, and no claim is less likely to
excite jealousy than that of priority of birth.
I received congratulations on reaching my eightieth birthday, not only
from our circle of Teacups, but from friends, near and distant, in large
numbers. I tried to acknowledge these kindly missives with the aid of a
most intelligent secretary; but I fear that there were gifts not thanked
for, and tokens of good-will not recognized. Let any neglected
correspondent be assured that it was not intentionally that he or she was
slighted. I was grateful for every such mark of esteem; even for the
telegram from an unknown friend in a distant land, for which I cheerfully
paid the considerable charge which the sender doubtless knew it would
give me pleasure to disburse for such an expression of friendly feeling.
I will not detain the reader any longer from the essay I have promised.
This is the paper read to The Teacups.
It is in A Song of Moses that we find the words, made very familiar to us
by the Episcopal Burial Service, which place the natural limit on life at
threescore years and ten, with an extra ten years for some of a stronger
constitution than the average. Yet we are told that Moses himself lived
to be a hundred and twenty years old, and that his eye was not dim nor
his natural strength abated. This is hard to accept literally, but we
need not doubt that he was very old, and in remarkably good condition for
a man of his age. Among his followers was a stout old captain, Caleb,
the son of Jephunneh. This ancient warrior speaks of himself in these
brave terms: "Lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet, I
am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me; as my
strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out
and to come in." It is not likely that anybody believed his brag about
his being as good a man for active service at eighty-five as he was at
forty, when Moses sent him out to spy the land of Canaan. But he was, no
doubt, lusty and vigorous for his years, and ready to smite the
Canaanites hip and thigh, and drive them out, and take possession of
their land, as he did forthwith, when Moses gave him leave.
Grand old men there were, three thousand years ago! But not all
octogenarians were like Caleb, the son of Jephunneh. Listen to poor old
Barzillai, and hear him piping: "I am this day fourscore years old; and
can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat or
what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men and singing
women? Wherefore, then, should thy servant be yet a burden unto my lord
the king?" And poor King David was worse off than this, as you all
remember, at the early age of seventy.
Thirty centuries do not seem to have made any very great difference in
the extreme limits of life. Without pretending to rival the alleged
cases of life prolonged beyond the middle of its second century, such as
those of Henry Jenkins and Thomas Parr, we can make a good showing of
centenarians and nonagenarians. I myself remember Dr. Holyoke, of Salem,
son of a president of Harvard College, who answered a toast proposed in
his honor at a dinner given to him on his hundredth birthday.
"Father Cleveland," our venerated city missionary, was born June 21,
1772, and died June 5, 1872, within a little more than a fortnight of his
hundredth birthday. Colonel Perkins, of Connecticut, died recently after
celebrating his centennial anniversary.
Among nonagenarians, three whose names are well known to Bostonians, Lord
Lyndhurst, Josiah Quincy, and Sidney Bartlett, were remarkable for
retaining their faculties in their extreme age. That patriarch of our
American literature, the illustrious historian of his country, is still
with us, his birth dating in 1800.
Ranke, the great German historian, died at the age of ninety-one, and
Chevreul, the eminent chemist, at that of a hundred and two.
Some English sporting characters have furnished striking examples of
robust longevity. In Gilpin's "Forest Scenery" there is the story of one
of these horseback heroes. Henry Hastings was the name of this old
gentleman, who lived in the time of Charles the First. It would be hard
to find a better portrait of a hunting squire than that which the Earl of
Shaftesbury has the credit of having drawn of this very peculiar
personage. His description ends by saying, "He lived to be an hundred,
and never lost his eyesight nor used spectacles. He got on horseback
without help, and rode to the death of the stag till he was past
Everything depends on habit. Old people can do, of course, more or less
well, what they have been doing all their lives; but try to teach them
any new tricks, and the truth of the old adage will very soon show
itself. Mr. Henry Hastings had done nothing but hunt all his days, and
his record would seem to have been a good deal like that of Philippus
Zaehdarm in that untranslatable epitaph which may be found in "Sartor
Resartus." Judged by its products, it was a very short life of a hundred
useless twelve months.
It is something to have climbed the white summit, the Mont Blanc of
fourscore. A small number only of mankind ever see their eightieth
anniversary. I might go to the statistical tables of the annuity and
life insurance offices for extended and exact information, but I prefer
to take the facts which have impressed themselves upon me in my own
The class of 1829 at Harvard College, of which I am a member, graduated,
according to the triennial, fifty-nine in number. It is sixty years,
then, since that time; and as they were, on an average, about twenty
years old, those who survive must have reached fourscore years. Of the
fifty-nine graduates ten only are living, or were at the last accounts;
one in six, very nearly. In the first ten years after graduation, our
third decade, when we were between twenty and thirty years old, we lost
three members,—about one in twenty; between the ages of thirty and
forty, eight died,—one in seven of those the decade began with; from
forty to fifty, only two,—or one in twenty-four; from fifty to sixty,
eight,—or one in six; from sixty to seventy, fifteen,—or two out of
every five; from seventy to eighty, twelve,—or one in two. The greatly
increased mortality which began with our seventh decade went on steadily
increasing. At sixty we come "within range of the rifle-pits," to borrow
an expression from my friend Weir Mitchell.
Our eminent classmate, the late Professor Benjamin Peirce, showed by
numerical comparison that the men of superior ability outlasted the
average of their fellow-graduates. He himself lived a little beyond his
threescore and ten years. James Freeman Clarke almost reached the age of
eighty. The eighth decade brought the fatal year for Benjamin Robbins
Curtis, the great lawyer, who was one of the judges of the Supreme Court
of the United States; for the very able chief justice of Massachusetts,
George Tyler Bigelow; and for that famous wit and electric centre of
social life, George T. Davis. At the last annual dinner every effort was
made to bring all the survivors of the class together. Six of the ten
living members were there, six old men in the place of the thirty or
forty classmates who surrounded the long, oval table in 1859, when I
asked, "Has there any old fellow got mixed with the boys?"—11 boys whose
tongues were as the vibrating leaves of the forest; whose talk was like
the voice of many waters; whose laugh was as the breaking of mighty waves
upon the seashore. Among the six at our late dinner was our first
scholar, the thorough-bred and accomplished engineer who held the city of
Lawrence in his brain before it spread itself out along the banks of the
Merrimac. There, too, was the poet whose National Hymn, "My Country, 't
is of thee," is known to more millions, and dearer to many of them, than
all the other songs written since the Psalms of David. Four of our six
were clergymen; the engineer and the present writer completed the list.
Were we melancholy? Did we talk of graveyards and epitaphs? No,—we
remembered our dead tenderly, serenely, feeling deeply what we had lost
in those who but a little while ago were with us. How could we forget
James Freeman Clarke, that man of noble thought and vigorous action, who
pervaded this community with his spirit, and was felt through all its
channels as are the light and the strength that radiate through the wires
which stretch above us? It was a pride and a happiness to have such
classmates as he was to remember. We were not the moping, complaining
graybeards that many might suppose we must have been. We had been
favored with the blessing of long life. We had seen the drama well into
its fifth act. The sun still warmed us, the air was still grateful and
life-giving. But there was another underlying source of our cheerful
equanimity, which we could not conceal from ourselves if we had wished to
do it. Nature's kindly anodyne is telling upon us more and more with
every year. Our old doctors used to give an opiate which they called
"the black drop." It was stronger than laudanum, and, in fact, a
dangerously powerful narcotic. Something like this is that potent drug
in Nature's pharmacopoeia which she reserves for the time of need,—the
later stages of life. She commonly begins administering it at about the
time of the "grand climacteric," the ninth septennial period, the
sixty-third year. More and more freely she gives it, as the years go on,
to her grey-haired children, until, if they last long enough, every
faculty is benumbed, and they drop off quietly into sleep under its
Do you say that old age is unfeeling? It has not vital energy enough to
supply the waste of the more exhausting emotions. Old Men's Tears, which
furnished the mournful title to Joshua Scottow's Lamentations, do not
suggest the deepest grief conceivable. A little breath of wind brings
down the raindrops which have gathered on the leaves of the tremulous
poplars. A very slight suggestion brings the tears from Marlborough's
eyes, but they are soon over, and he is smiling again as an allusion
carries him back to the days of Blenheim and Malplaquet. Envy not the
old man the tranquillity of his existence, nor yet blame him if it
sometimes looks like apathy. Time, the inexorable, does not threaten him
with the scythe so often as with the sand-bag. He does not cut, but he
stuns and stupefies. One's fellow-mortals can afford to be as considerate
and tender with him as Time and Nature.
There was not much boasting among us of our present or our past, as we
sat together in the little room at the great hotel. A certain amount of
self-deception is quite possible at threescore years and ten, but at
three score years and twenty Nature has shown most of those who live to
that age that she is earnest, and means to dismantle and have done with
them in a very little while. As for boasting of our past, the laudator
temporis acti makes but a poor figure in our time. Old people used to
talk of their youth as if there were giants in those days. We knew some
tall men when we were young, but we can see a man taller than any one
among them at the nearest dime museum. We had handsome women among us,
of high local reputation, but nowadays we have professional beauties who
challenge the world to criticise them as boldly as Phryne ever challenged
her Athenian admirers. We had fast horses,—did not "Old Blue" trot a
mile in three minutes? True, but there is a three-year-old colt just put
on the track who has done it in a little more than two thirds of that
time. It seems as if the material world had been made over again since
we were boys. It is but a short time since we were counting up the
miracles we had lived to witness. The list is familiar enough: the
railroad, the ocean steamer, photography, the spectroscope, the
telegraph, telephone, phonograph, anesthetics, electric
illumination,—with such lesser wonders as the friction match, the sewing
machine, and the bicycle. And now, we said, we must have come to the end
of these unparalleled developments of the forces of nature. We must rest
on our achievements. The nineteenth century is not likely to add to
them; we must wait for the twentieth century. Many of us, perhaps most
of us, felt in that way. We had seen our planet furnished by the art of
man with a complete nervous system: a spinal cord beneath the ocean,
secondary centres,—ganglions,—in all the chief places where men are
gathered together, and ramifications extending throughout civilization.
All at once, by the side of this talking and light-giving apparatus, we
see another wire stretched over our heads, carrying force to a vast
metallic muscular system,—a slender cord conveying the strength of a
hundred men, of a score of horses, of a team of elephants. The lightning
is tamed and harnessed, the thunderbolt has become a common carrier. No
more surprises in this century! A voice whispers, What next?
It will not do for us to boast about our young days and what they had to
show. It is a great deal better to boast of what they could not show,
and, strange as it may seem, there is a certain satisfaction in it. In
these days of electric lighting, when you have only to touch a button and
your parlor or bedroom is instantly flooded with light, it is a pleasure
to revert to the era of the tinder-box, the flint and steel, and the
brimstone match. It gives me an almost proud satisfaction to tell how we
used, when those implements were not at hand or not employed, to light
our whale-oil lamp by blowing a live coal held against the wick, often
swelling our cheeks and reddening our faces until we were on the verge of
apoplexy. I love to tell of our stage-coach experiences, of our
sailing-packet voyages, of the semi-barbarous destitution of all modern
comforts and conveniences through which we bravely lived and came out the
estimable personages you find us.
Think of it! All my boyish shooting was done with a flint-lock gun; the
percussion lock came to me as one of those new-fangled notions people had
just got hold of. We ancients can make a grand display of minus
quantities in our reminiscences, and the figures look almost as well as
if they had the plus sign before them.
I am afraid that old people found life rather a dull business in the time
of King David and his rich old subject and friend, Barzillai, who, poor
man, could not have read a wicked novel, nor enjoyed a symphony concert,
if they had had those luxuries in his day. There were no pleasant
firesides, for there were no chimneys. There were no daily newspapers
for the old man to read, and he could not read them if there were, with
his dimmed eyes, nor hear them read, very probably, with his dulled ears.
There was no tobacco, a soothing drug, which in its various forms is a
great solace to many old men and to some old women, Carlyle and his
mother used to smoke their pipes together, you remember.
Old age is infinitely more cheerful, for intelligent people at least,
than it was two or three thousand years ago. It is our duty, so far as
we can, to keep it so. There will always be enough about it that is
solemn, and more than enough, alas! that is saddening. But how much
there is in our times to lighten its burdens! If they that look out at
the windows be darkened, the optician is happy to supply them with
eye-glasses for use before the public, and spectacles for their hours of
privacy. If the grinders cease because they are few, they can be made
many again by a third dentition, which brings no toothache in its train.
By temperance and good Habits of life, proper clothing, well-warmed,
well-drained, and well-ventilated dwellings, and sufficient, not too much
exercise, the old man of our time may keep his muscular strength in very
good condition. I doubt if Mr. Gladstone, who is fast nearing his
eightieth birthday, would boast, in the style of Caleb, that he was as
good a man with his axe as he was when he was forty, but I would back
him,—if the match were possible, for a hundred shekels, against that
over-confident old Israelite, to cut down and chop up a cedar of Lebanon.
I know a most excellent clergyman, not far from my own time of life, whom
I would pit against any old Hebrew rabbi or Greek philosopher of his
years and weight, if they could return to the flesh, to run a quarter of
a mile on a good, level track.
We must not make too much of such exceptional cases of prolonged
activity. I often reproached my dear friend and classmate, Tames Freeman
Clarke, that his ceaseless labors made it impossible for his coevals to
enjoy the luxury of that repose which their years demanded. A wise old
man, the late Dr. James Walker, president of Harvard University, said
that the great privilege of old age was the getting rid of
responsibilities. These hard-working veterans will not let one get rid
of them until he drops in his harness, and so gets rid of them and his
life together. How often has many a tired old man envied the
superannuated family cat, stretched upon the rug before the fire, letting
the genial warmth tranquilly diffuse itself through all her internal
arrangements! No more watching for mice in dark, damp cellars, no more
awaiting the savage gray rat at the mouth of his den, no more scurrying
up trees and lamp-posts to avoid the neighbor's cur who wishes to make
her acquaintance! It is very grand to "die in harness," but it is very
pleasant to have the tight straps unbuckled and the heavy collar lifted
from the neck and shoulders.
It is natural enough to cling to life. We are used to atmospheric
existence, and can hardly conceive of ourselves except as breathing
creatures. We have never tried any other mode of being, or, if we have,
we have forgotten all about it, whatever Wordsworth's grand ode may tell
us we remember. Heaven itself must be an experiment to every human soul
which shall find itself there. It may take time for an earthborn saint
to become acclimated to the celestial ether,—that is, if time can be
said to exist for a disembodied spirit. We are all sentenced to capital
punishment for the crime of living, and though the condemned cell of our
earthly existence is but a narrow and bare dwelling-place, we have
adjusted ourselves to it, and made it tolerably comfortable for the
little while we are to be confined in it. The prisoner of Chillon
"regained [his] freedom with a sigh,"
and a tender-hearted mortal might be pardoned for looking back, like the
poor lady who was driven from her dwelling-place by fire and brimstone,
at the home he was leaving for the "undiscovered country."
On the other hand, a good many persons, not suicidal in their tendencies,
get more of life than they want. One of our wealthy citizens said, on
hearing that a friend had dropped off from apoplexy, that it made his
mouth water to hear of such a case. It was an odd expression, but I have
no doubt that the fine old gentleman to whom it was attributed made use
of it. He had had enough of his gout and other infirmities. Swift's
account of the Struldbrugs is not very amusing reading for old people,
but some may find it a consolation to reflect on the probable miseries
they escape in not being doomed to an undying earthly existence.
There are strange diversities in the way in which different old persons
look upon their prospects. A millionaire whom I well remember confessed
that he should like to live long enough to learn how much a certain
fellow-citizen, a multimillionaire, was worth. One of the, three
nonagenarians before referred to expressed himself as having a great
curiosity about the new sphere of existence to which he was looking
The feeling must of necessity come to many aged persons that they have
outlived their usefulness; that they are no longer wanted, but rather in
the way, drags on the wheels rather than helping them forward. But let
them remember the often-quoted line of Milton,
"They also serve who only stand and wait."
This is peculiarly true of them. They are helping others without always
being aware of it. They are the shields, the breakwaters, of those who
come after them. Every decade is a defence of the one next behind it.
At thirty the youth has sobered into manhood, but the strong men of forty
rise in almost unbroken rank between him and the approaches of old age as
they show in the men of fifty. At forty he looks with a sense of
security at the strong men of fifty, and sees behind them the row of
sturdy sexagenarians. When fifty is reached, somehow sixty does not look
so old as it once used to, and seventy is still afar off. After sixty
the stern sentence of the burial service seems to have a meaning that one
did not notice in former years. There begins to be something personal
about it. But if one lives to seventy he soon gets used to the text with
the threescore years and ten in it, and begins to count himself among
those who by reason of strength are destined to reach fourscore, of whom
he can see a number still in reasonably good condition. The octogenarian
loves to read about people of ninety and over. He peers among the
asterisks of the triennial catalogue of the University for the names of
graduates who have been seventy years out of college and remain still
unstarred. He is curious about the biographies of centenarians. Such
escapades as those of that terrible old sinner and ancestor of great men,
the Reverend Stephen Bachelder, interest him as they never did before.
But he cannot deceive himself much longer. See him walking on a level
surface, and he steps off almost as well as ever; but watch him coming
down a flight of stairs, and the family record could not tell his years
more faithfully. He cut you dead, you say? Did it occur to you that he
could not see you clearly enough to know you from any other son or
daughter of Adam? He said he was very glad to hear it, did he, when you
told him that your beloved grandmother had just deceased? Did you happen
to remember that though he does not allow that he is deaf, he will not
deny that he does not hear quite so well as he used to? No matter about
his failings; the longer he holds on to life, the longer he makes life
seem to all the living who follow him, and thus he is their constant
Every stage of existence has its special trials and its special
consolations. Habits are the crutches of old age; by the aid of these we
manage to hobble along after the mental joints are stiff and the muscles
rheumatic, to speak metaphorically,—that is to say, when every act of
self-determination costs an effort and a pang. We become more and more
automatic as we grow older, and if we lived long enough we should come to
be pieces of creaking machinery like Maelzel's chess player,—or what
that seemed to be.
Emerson was sixty-three years old, the year I have referred to as that of
the grand climacteric, when he read to his son the poem he called
"It is time to be old,
To take in sail.
The God of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds
And said, 'No more!'"
It was early in life to feel that the productive stage was over, but he
had received warning from within, and did not wish to wait for outside
advices. There is all the difference in the world in the mental as in
the bodily constitution of different individuals. Some must "take in
sail" sooner, some later. We can get a useful lesson from the American
and the English elms on our Common. The American elms are quite bare,
and have been so for weeks. They know very well that they are going to
have storms to wrestle with; they have not forgotten the gales of
September and the tempests of the late autumn and early winter. It is a
hard fight they are going to have, and they strip their coats off and
roll up their shirt-sleeves, and show themselves bare-armed and ready for
the contest. The English elms are of a more robust build, and stand
defiant, with all their summer clothing about their sturdy frames. They
may yet have to learn a lesson of their American cousins, for
notwithstanding their compact and solid structure they go to pieces in
the great winds just as ours do. We must drop much of our foliage before
winter is upon us. We must take in sail and throw over cargo, if that is
necessary, to keep us afloat. We have to decide between our duties and
our instinctive demand of rest. I can believe that some have welcomed
the decay of their active powers because it furnished them with
peremptory reasons for sparing themselves during the few years that were
Age brings other obvious changes besides the loss of active power. The
sensibilities are less keen, the intelligence is less lively, as we might
expect under the influence of that narcotic which Nature administers.
But there is another effect of her "black drop" which is not so commonly
recognized. Old age is like an opium-dream. Nothing seems real except
what is unreal. I am sure that the pictures painted by the
imagination,—the faded frescos on the walls of memory,—come out in
clearer and brighter colors than belonged to them many years earlier.
Nature has her special favors for her children of every age, and this is
one which she reserves for our second childhood.
No man can reach an advanced age without thinking of that great change to
which, in the course of nature, he must be so near. It has been remarked
that the sterner beliefs of rigid theologians are apt to soften in their
later years. All reflecting persons, even those whose minds have been
half palsied by the deadly dogmas which have done all they could to
disorganize their thinking powers,—all reflecting persons, I say, must
recognize, in looking back over a long life, how largely their creeds,
their course of life, their wisdom and unwisdom, their whole characters,
were shaped by the conditions which surrounded them. Little children
they came from the hands of the Father of all; little children in their
helplessness, their ignorance, they are going back to Him. They cannot
help feeling that they are to be transferred from the rude embrace of the
boisterous elements to arms that will receive them tenderly. Poor
planetary foundlings, they have known hard treatment at the hands of the
brute forces of nature, from the control of which they are soon to be set
free. There are some old pessimists, it is true, who believe that they
and a few others are on a raft, and that the ship which they have
quitted, holding the rest of mankind, is going down with all on board.
It is no wonder that there should be such when we remember what have been
the teachings of the priesthood through long series of ignorant
centuries. Every age has to shape the Divine image it worships over
again,—the present age and our own country are busily engaged in the
task at this time. We unmake Presidents and make new ones. This is an
apprenticeship for a higher task. Our doctrinal teachers are unmaking
the Deity of the Westminster Catechism and trying to model a new one,
with more of modern humanity and less of ancient barbarism in his
composition. If Jonathan Edwards had lived long enough, I have no doubt
his creed would have softened into a kindly, humanized belief.
Some twenty or thirty years ago, I said to Longfellow that certain
statistical tables I had seen went to show that poets were not a
long-lived race. He doubted whether there was anything to prove they
were particularly short-lived. Soon after this, he handed me a list he
had drawn up. I cannot lay my hand upon it at this moment, but I
remember that Metastasio was the oldest of them all. He died at the age
of eighty-four. I have had some tables made out, which I have every
reason to believe are correct so far as they go. From these, it appears
that twenty English poets lived to the average age of fifty-six years and
a little over. The eight American poets on the list averaged
seventy-three and a half, nearly, and they are not all dead yet. The
list including Greek, Latin, Italian, and German poets, with American and
English, gave an average of a little over sixty-two years. Our young
poets need not be alarmed. They can remember that Bryant lived to be
eighty-three years old, that Longfellow reached seventy-five and Halleck
seventy-seven, while Whittier is living at the age of nearly eighty-two.
Tennyson is still writing at eighty, and Browning reached the age of
Shall a man who in his younger days has written poetry, or what passed
for it, continue to attempt it in his later years? Certainly, if it
amuses or interests him, no one would object to his writing in verse as
much as he likes. Whether he should continue to write for the public is
another question. Poetry is a good deal a matter of heart-beats, and the
circulation is more languid in the later period of life. The joints are
less supple; the arteries are more or less "ossified." Something like
these changes has taken place in the mind. It has lost the flexibility,
the plastic docility, which it had in youth and early manhood, when the
gristle had but just become hardened into bone. It is the nature of
poetry to writhe itself along through the tangled growths of the
vocabulary, as a snake winds through the grass, in sinuous, complex, and
unexpected curves, which crack every joint that is not supple as
I had a poem that I wanted to print just here. But after what I have
this moment said, I hesitated, thinking that I might provoke the obvious
remark that I exemplified the unfitness of which I had been speaking. I
remembered the advice I had given to a poetical aspirant not long since,
which I think deserves a paragraph to itself.
My friend, I said, I hope you will not write in verse. When you write in
prose you say what you mean. When you write in rhyme you say what you
Should I send this poem to the publishers, or not?
"Some said, 'John, print it;' others said, 'Not so.'"
I did not ask "some" or "others." Perhaps I should have thought it best
to keep my poem to myself and the few friends for whom it was written.
All at once, my daimon—that other Me over whom I button my waistcoat
when I button it over my own person—put it into my head to look up the
story of Madame Saqui. She was a famous danseuse, who danced Napoleon in
and out, and several other dynasties besides. Her last appearance was at
the age of seventy-six, which is rather late in life for the tight rope,
one of her specialties. Jules Janin mummified her when she died in 1866,
at the age of eighty. He spiced her up in his eulogy as if she had been
the queen of a modern Pharaoh. His foamy and flowery rhetoric put me
into such a state of good-nature that I said, I will print my poem, and
let the critical Gil Blas handle it as he did the archbishop's sermon, or
would have done, if he had been a writer for the "Salamanca Weekly."
It must be premised that a very beautiful loving cup was presented to me
on my recent birthday, by eleven ladies of my acquaintance. This was the
most costly and notable of all the many tributes I received, and for
which in different forms I expressed my gratitude.
TO THE ELEVEN LADIES
WHO PRESENTED ME WITH A SILVER LOVING CUP ON THE
TWENTY-NINTH OF AUGUST, M DCCC LXXXIX.
"Who gave this cup?" The secret thou wouldst steal
Its brimming flood forbids it to reveal:
No mortal's eye shall read it till he first
Cool the red throat of thirst.
If on the golden floor one draught remain,
Trust me, thy careful search will be in vain;
Not till the bowl is emptied shalt thou know
The names enrolled below.
Deeper than Truth lies buried in her well
Those modest names the graven letters spell
Hide from the sight; but, wait, and thou shalt see
Who the good angels be
Whose bounty glistens in the beauteous gift
That friendly hands to loving lips shall lift:
Turn the fair goblet when its floor is dry,
Their names shall meet thine eye.
Count thou their number on the beads of Heaven,
Alas! the clustered Pleiads are but seven;
Nay, the nine sister Muses are too few,
—The Graces must add two.
"For whom this gift?" For one who all too long
Clings to his bough among the groves of song;
Autumn's last leaf, that spreads its faded wing
To greet a second spring.
Dear friends, kind friends, whate'er the cup may hold,
Bathing its burnished depths, will change to gold
Its last bright drop let thirsty Maenads drain,
Its fragrance will remain.
Better love's perfume in the empty bowl
Than wine's nepenthe for the aching soul
Sweeter than song that ever poet sung,
It makes an old heart young!
After the reading of the paper which was reported in the preceding number
of this record, the company fell into talk upon the subject with which it
The Mistress. "I could have wished you had said more about the religious
attitude of old age as such. Surely the thoughts of aged persons must be
very much taken up with the question of what is to become of them. I
should like to have The Dictator explain himself a little more fully on
My dear madam, I said, it is a delicate matter to talk about. You
remember Mr. Calhoun's response to the advances of an over-zealous
young clergyman who wished to examine him as to his outfit for the
long journey. I think the relations between man and his Maker grow
more intimate, more confidential, if I may say so, with advancing
years. The old man is less disposed to argue about special matters
of belief, and more ready to sympathize with spiritually minded
persons without anxious questioning as to the fold to which they
belong. That kindly judgment which he exercises with regard to
others he will, naturally enough, apply to himself. The caressing
tone in which the Emperor Hadrian addresses his soul is very much
like that of an old person talking with a grandchild or some other
"Animula, vagula, blandula,
Hospes comesque corporis."
"Dear little, flitting, pleasing sprite,
The body's comrade and its guest."
How like the language of Catullus to Lesbia's sparrow!
More and more the old man finds his pleasures in memory, as the present
becomes unreal and dreamlike, and the vista of his earthly future narrows
and closes in upon him. At last, if he live long enough, life comes to
be little more than a gentle and peaceful delirium of pleasing
recollections. To say, as Dante says, that there is no greater grief
than to remember past happiness in the hour of misery is not giving the
whole truth. In the midst of the misery, as many would call it, of
extreme old age, there is often a divine consolation in recalling the
happy moments and days and years of times long past. So beautiful are
the visions of bygone delight that one could hardly wish them to become
real, lest they should lose their ineffable charm. I can almost conceive
of a dozing and dreamy centenarian saying to one he loves, "Go, darling,
go! Spread your wings and leave me. So shall you enter that world of
memory where all is lovely. I shall not hear the sound of your footsteps
any more, but you will float before me, an aerial presence. I shall not
hear any word from your lips, but I shall have a deeper sense of your
nearness to me than speech can give. I shall feel, in my still solitude,
as the Ancient Mariner felt when the seraph band gathered before him:
"'No voice did they impart
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.'"
I said that the lenient way in which the old look at the failings of
others naturally leads them to judge themselves more charitably. They
find an apology for their short-comings and wrong-doings in another
consideration. They know very well that they are not the same persons as
the middle-aged individuals, the young men, the boys, the children, that
bore their names, and whose lives were continuous with theirs. Here is
an old man who can remember the first time he was allowed to go shooting.
What a remorseless young destroyer he was, to be sure! Wherever he saw a
feather, wherever a poor little squirrel showed his bushy tail, bang!
went the old "king's arm," and the feathers or the fur were set flying
like so much chaff. Now that same old man,—the mortal that was called
by his name and has passed for the same person for some scores of
years,—is considered absurdly sentimental by kind-hearted women, because
he opens the fly-trap and sets all its captives free,—out-of-doors, of
course, but the dear souls all insisting, meanwhile, that the flies will,
every one of them, be back again in the house before the day is over. Do
you suppose that venerable sinner expects to be rigorously called to
account for the want of feeling he showed in those early years, when the
instinct of destruction, derived from his forest-roaming ancestors, led
him to acts which he now looks upon with pain and aversion?
"Senex" has seen three generations grow up, the son repeating the virtues
and the failings of the father, the grandson showing the same
characteristics as the father and grandfather. He knows that if such or
such a young fellow had lived to the next stage of life he would very
probably have caught up with his mother's virtues, which, like a graft of
a late fruit on an early apple or pear tree, do not ripen in her children
until late in the season. He has seen the successive ripening of one
quality after another on the boughs of his own life, and he finds it hard
to condemn himself for faults which only needed time to fall off and be
succeeded by better fruitage. I cannot help thinking that the recording
angel not only drops a tear upon many a human failing, which blots it out
forever, but that he hands many an old record-book to the imp that does
his bidding, and orders him to throw that into the fire instead of the
sinner for whom the little wretch had kindled it.
"And pitched him in after it, I hope," said Number Seven, who is in some
points as much of an optimist as any one among us, in spite of the squint
in his brain,—or in virtue of it, if you choose to have it so.
"I like Wordsworth's 'Matthew,'" said Number Five, "as well as any
picture of old age I remember."
"Can you repeat it to us?" asked one of The Teacups.
"I can recall two verses of it," said Number Five, and she recited the
two following ones. Number Five has a very sweet voice. The moment she
speaks all the faces turn toward her. I don't know what its secret is,
but it is a voice that makes friends of everybody.
"'The sighs which Matthew heaved were sighs
Of one tired out with fun and madness;
The tears which came to Matthew's eyes
Were tears of light, the dew of gladness.
"'Yet, sometimes, when the secret cup
Of still and serious thought went round,
It seemed as if he drank it up,
He felt with spirit so profound:'
"This was the way in which Wordsworth paid his tribute to a
"'Soul of God's best earthly mould.'"
The sweet voice left a trance-like silence after it, which may have
lasted twenty heart-beats. Then I said, We all thank you for your
charming quotation. How much more wholesome a picture of humanity than
such stuff as the author of the "Night Thoughts" has left us:
"Heaven's Sovereign saves all beings but Himself
That hideous sight, a naked human heart."
Or the author of "Don Juan," telling us to look into
"Man's heart, and view the hell that's there!"
I hope I am quoting correctly, but I am more of a scholar in Wordsworth
than in Byron. Was Parson Young's own heart such a hideous spectacle to
If it was, he had better have stripped off his surplice. No,—it was
nothing but the cant of his calling. In Byron it was a mood, and he
might have said just the opposite thing the next day, as he did in his
two descriptions of the Venus de' Medici. That picture of old Matthew
abides in the memory, and makes one think better of his kind. What nobler
tasks has the poet than to exalt the idea of manhood, and to make the
world we live in more beautiful?
We have two or three young people with us who stand a fair chance of
furnishing us the element without which life and tea-tables alike are
wanting in interest. We are all, of course, watching them, and curious
to know whether we are to have a romance or not. Here is one of them;
others will show themselves presently.
I cannot say just how old the Tutor is, but I do not detect a gray hair
in his head. My sight is not so good as it was, however, and he may have
turned the sharp corner of thirty, and even have left it a year or two
behind him. More probably he is still in the twenties,—say twenty-eight
or twenty-nine. He seems young, at any rate, excitable, enthusiastic,
imaginative, but at the same time reserved. I am afraid that he is a
poet. When I say "I am afraid," you wonder what I mean by the
expression. I may take another opportunity to explain and justify it; I
will only say now that I consider the Muse the most dangerous of sirens
to a young man who has his way to make in the world. Now this young man,
the Tutor, has, I believe, a future before him. He was born for a
philosopher,—so I read his horoscope,—but he has a great liking for
poetry and can write well in verse. We have had a number of poems
offered for our entertainment, which I have commonly been requested to
read. There has been some little mystery about their authorship, but it
is evident that they are not all from the same hand. Poetry is as
contagious as measles, and if a single case of it break out in any social
circle, or in a school, there are certain to be a number of similar
cases, some slight, some serious, and now and then one so malignant that
the subject of it should be put on a spare diet of stationery, say from
two to three penfuls of ink and a half sheet of notepaper per diem. If
any of our poetical contributions are presentable, the reader shall have
a chance to see them.
It must be understood that our company is not invariably made up of the
same persons. The Mistress, as we call her, is expected to be always in
her place. I make it a rule to be present. The Professor is almost as
sure to be at the table as I am. We should hardly know what to do
without Number Five. It takes a good deal of tact to handle such a
little assembly as ours, which is a republic on a small scale, for all
that they give me the title of Dictator, and Number Five is a great help
in every social emergency. She sees when a discussion tends to become
personal, and heads off the threatening antagonists. She knows when a
subject has been knocking about long enough and dexterously shifts the
talk to another track. It is true that I am the one most frequently
appealed to as the highest tribunal in doubtful cases, but I often care
more for Number Five's opinion than I do for my own. Who is this Number
Five, so fascinating, so wise, so full of knowledge, and so ready to
learn? She is suspected of being the anonymous author of a book which
produced a sensation when published, not very long ago, and which those
who read are very apt to read a second time, and to leave on their tables
for frequent reference. But we have never asked her. I do not think she
wants to be famous. How she comes to be unmarried is a mystery to me; it
must be that she has found nobody worth caring enough for. I wish she
would furnish us with the romance which, as I said, our tea-table needs
to make it interesting. Perhaps the new-comer will make love to her,—I
should think it possible she might fancy him.
And who is the new-comer? He is a Counsellor and a Politician. Has a
good war record. Is about forty-five years old, I conjecture. Is
engaged in a great law case just now. Said to be very eloquent. Has an
intellectual head, and the bearing of one who has commanded a regiment or
perhaps a brigade. Altogether an attractive person, scholarly, refined
has some accomplishments not so common as they might be in the class we
call gentlemen, with an accent on the word.
There is also a young Doctor, waiting for his bald spot to come, so that
he may get into practice.
We have two young ladies at the table,—the English girl referred to in a
former number, and an American girl of about her own age. Both of them
are students in one of those institutions—I am not sure whether they
call it an "annex" or not; but at any rate one of those schools where
they teach the incomprehensible sort of mathematics and other bewildering
branches of knowledge above the common level of high-school education.
They seem to be good friends, and form a very pleasing pair when they
walk in arm in arm; nearly enough alike to seem to belong together,
different enough to form an agreeable contrast.
Of course we were bound to have a Musician at our table, and we have one
who sings admirably, and accompanies himself, or one or more of our
ladies, very frequently.
Such is our company when the table is full. But sometimes only half a
dozen, or it may be only three or four, are present. At other times we
have a visitor or two, either in the place of one of our habitual number,
or in addition to it. We have the elements, we think, of a pleasant
social gathering,—different sexes, ages, pursuits, and tastes,—all that
is required for a "symphony concert" of conversation. One of the curious
questions which might well be asked by those who had been with us on
different occasions would be, "How many poets are there among you?"
Nobody can answer this question. It is a point of etiquette with us not
to press our inquiries about these anonymous poems too sharply,
especially if any of them betray sentiments which would not bear rough
I don't doubt that the different personalities at our table will get
mixed up in the reader's mind if he is not particularly clear-headed.
That happens very often, much oftener than all would be willing to
confess, in reading novels and plays. I am afraid we should get a good
deal confused even in reading our Shakespeare if we did not look back now
and then at the dramatis personae. I am sure that I am very apt to
confound the characters in a moderately interesting novel; indeed, I
suspect that the writer is often no better off than the reader in the
dreary middle of the story, when his characters have all made their
appearance, and before they have reached near enough to the denoument to
have fixed their individuality by the position they have arrived at in
the chain of the narrative.
My reader might be a little puzzled when he read that Number Five did or
said such or such a thing, and ask, "Whom do you mean by that title? I
am not quite sure that I remember." Just associate her with that line of
"Why nature loves the number five,"
and that will remind you that she is the favorite of our table.
You cannot forget who Number Seven is if I inform you that he specially
prides himself on being a seventh son of a seventh son. The fact of such
a descent is supposed to carry wonderful endowments with it. Number
Seven passes for a natural healer. He is looked upon as a kind of
wizard, and is lucky in living in the nineteenth century instead of the
sixteenth or earlier. How much confidence he feels in himself as the
possessor of half-supernatural gifts I cannot say. I think his peculiar
birthright gives him a certain confidence in his whims and fancies which
but for that he would hardly feel. After this explanation, when I speak
of Number Five or Number Seven, you will know to whom I refer.
The company are very frank in their criticisms of each other. "I did not
like that expression of yours, planetary foundlings," said the Mistress.
"It seems to me that it is too like atheism for a good Christian like you
Ah, my dear madam, I answered, I was thinking of the elements and the
natural forces to which man was born an almost helpless subject in the
rudimentary stages of his existence, and from which he has only partially
got free after ages upon ages of warfare with their tyranny. Think what
hunger forced the caveman to do! Think of the surly indifference of the
storms that swept the forest and the waters, the earthquake chasms that
engulfed him, the inundations that drowned him out of his miserable
hiding-places, the pestilences that lay in wait for him, the unequal
strife with ferocious animals! I need not sum up all the wretchedness
that goes to constitute the "martyrdom of man." When our forefathers
came to this wilderness as it then was, and found everywhere the bones of
the poor natives who had perished in the great plague (which our Doctor
there thinks was probably the small-pox), they considered this
destructive malady as a special mark of providential favor for them. How
about the miserable Indians? Were they anything but planetary
foundlings? No! Civilization is a great foundling hospital, and
fortunate are all those who get safely into the creche before the frost
or the malaria has killed them, the wild beasts or the venomous reptiles
worked out their deadly appetites and instincts upon them. The very idea
of humanity seems to be that it shall take care of itself and develop its
powers in the "struggle for life." Whether we approve it or not, if we
can judge by the material record, man was born a foundling, and fought
his way as he best might to that kind of existence which we call
civilized,—one which a considerable part of the inhabitants of our
planet have reached.
If you do not like the expression planetary foundlings, I have no
objection to your considering the race as put out to nurse. And what a
nurse Nature is! She gives her charge a hole in the rocks to live in,
ice for his pillow and snow for his blanket, in one part of the world;
the jungle for his bedroom in another, with the tiger for his watch-dog,
and the cobra as his playfellow.
Well, I said, there may be other parts of the universe where there are no
tigers and no cobras. It is not quite certain that such realms of
creation are better off, on the whole, than this earthly residence of
ours, which has fought its way up to the development of such centres of
civilization as Athens and Rome, to such personalities as Socrates, as
"One of our company has been on an excursion among the celestial bodies
of our system, I understand," said the Professor.
Number Five colored. "Nothing but a dream," she said. "The truth is, I
had taken ether in the evening for a touch of neuralgia, and it set my
imagination at work in a way quite unusual with me. I had been reading a
number of books about an ideal condition of society,—Sir Thomas Mores
'Utopia,' Lord Bacon's 'New Atlantis,' and another of more recent date.
I went to bed with my brain a good deal excited, and fell into a deep
slumber, in which I passed through some experiences so singular that, on
awaking, I put them down on paper. I don't know that there is anything
very original about the experiences I have recorded, but I thought them
worth preserving. Perhaps you would not agree with me in that belief."
"If Number Five will give us a chance to form our own judgment about her
dream or vision, I think we shall enjoy it," said the Mistress. "She
knows what will please The Teacups in the way of reading as well as I do
how many lumps of sugar the Professor wants in his tea and how many I
want in mine."
The company was so urgent that Number Five sent up-stairs for her paper.
Number Five reads the story of her dream.
It cost me a great effort to set down the words of the manuscript from
which I am reading. My dreams for the most part fade away so soon after
their occurrence that I cannot recall them at all. But in this case my
ideas held together with remarkable tenacity. By keeping my mind
steadily upon the work, I gradually unfolded the narrative which follows,
as the famous Italian antiquary opened one of those fragile carbonized
manuscripts found in the ruins of Herculaneum or Pompeii.
The first thing I remember about it is that I was floating upward,
without any sense of effort on my part. The feeling was that of flying,
which I have often had in dreams, as have many other persons. It was the
most natural thing in the world,—a semi-materialized volition, if I may
use such an expression.
At the first moment of my new consciousness,—for I seemed to have just
emerged from a deep slumber, I was aware that there was a companion at my
side. Nothing could be more gracious than the way in which this being
accosted me. I will speak of it as she, because there was a delicacy, a
sweetness, a divine purity, about its aspect that recalled my ideal of
the loveliest womanhood.
"I am your companion and your guide," this being made me understand, as
she looked at me. Some faculty of which I had never before been
conscious had awakened in me, and I needed no interpreter to explain the
unspoken language of my celestial attendant.
"You are not yet outside of space and time," she said, "and I am going
with you through some parts of the phenomenal or apparent universe,—what
you call the material world. We have plenty of what you call time before
us, and we will take our voyage leisurely, looking at such objects of
interest as may attract our attention as we pass. The first thing you
will naturally wish to look at will be the earth you have just left.
This is about the right distance," she said, and we paused in our flight.
The great globe we had left was rolling beneath us. No eye of one in the
flesh could see it as I saw or seemed to see it. No ear of any mortal
being could bear the sounds that came from it as I heard or seemed to
hear them. The broad oceans unrolled themselves before me. I could
recognize the calm Pacific and the stormy Atlantic,—the ships that
dotted them, the white lines where the waves broke on the shore,—frills
on the robes of the continents,—so they looked to my woman's perception;
the—vast South American forests; the glittering icebergs about the
poles; the snowy mountain ranges, here and there a summit sending up fire
and smoke; mighty rivers, dividing provinces within sight of each other,
and making neighbors of realms thousands of miles apart; cities;
light-houses to insure the safety of sea-going vessels, and war-ships to
knock them to pieces and sink them. All this, and infinitely more,
showed itself to me during a single revolution of the sphere: twenty-four
hours it would have been, if reckoned by earthly measurements of time. I
have not spoken of the sounds I heard while the earth was revolving under
us. The howl of storms, the roar and clash of waves, the crack and crash
of the falling thunderbolt,—these of course made themselves heard as
they do to mortal ears. But there were other sounds which enchained my
attention more than these voices of nature. As the skilled leader of an
orchestra hears every single sound from each member of the mob of
stringed and wind instruments, and above all the screech of the straining
soprano, so my sharpened perceptions made what would have been for common
mortals a confused murmur audible to me as compounded of innumerable
easily distinguished sounds. Above them all arose one continued,
unbroken, agonizing cry. It was the voice of suffering womanhood, a
sound that goes up day and night, one long chorus of tortured victims.
"Let us get out of reach of this," I said; and we left our planet, with
its blank, desolate moon staring at it, as if it had turned pale at the
sights and sounds it had to witness.
Presently the gilded dome of the State House, which marked our
starting-point, came into view for the second time, and I knew that this
side-show was over. I bade farewell to the Common with its Cogswell
fountain, and the Garden with its last awe-inspiring monument.
"Oh, if I could sometimes revisit these beloved scenes!" I exclaimed.
"There is nothing to hinder that I know of," said my companion. "Memory
and imagination as you know them in the flesh are two winged creatures
with strings tied to their legs, and anchored to a bodily weight of a
hundred and fifty pounds, more or less. When the string is cut you can
be where you wish to be,—not merely a part of you, leaving the rest
behind, but the whole of you. Why shouldn't you want to revisit your old
I was astonished at the human way in which my guide conversed with me.
It was always on the basis of my earthly habits, experiences, and
limitations. "Your solar system," she said, "is a very small part of the
universe, but you naturally feel a curiosity about the bodies which
constitute it and about their inhabitants. There is your moon: a bare
and desolate-looking place it is, and well it may be, for it has no
respirable atmosphere, and no occasion for one. The Lunites do not
breathe; they live without waste and without supply. You look as if you
do not understand this. Yet your people have, as you well know, what
they call incandescent lights everywhere. You would have said there can
be no lamp without oil or gas, or other combustible substance, to feed
it; and yet you see a filament which sheds a light like that of noon all
around it, and does not waste at all. So the Lunites live by influx of
divine energy, just as the incandescent lamp glows,—glows, and is not
consumed; receiving its life, if we may call it so, from the central
power, which wears the unpleasant name of 'dynamo.'"
The Lunites appeared to me as pale phosphorescent figures of ill-defined
outline, lost in their own halos, as it were. I could not help thinking
With white fire laden."
But as the Lunites were after all but provincials, as are the tenants of
all the satellites, I did not care to contemplate them for any great
length of time.
I do not remember much about the two planets that came next to our own,
except the beautiful rosy atmosphere of one and the huge bulk of the
other. Presently, we found ourselves within hailing distance of another
celestial body, which I recognized at once, by the rings which girdled
it, as the planet Saturn. A dingy, dull-looking sphere it was in its
appearance. "We will tie up here for a while," said my attendant. The
easy, familiar way in which she spoke surprised and pleased me.
Why, said I,—The Dictator,—what is there to prevent beings of another
order from being as cheerful, as social, as good companions, as the very
liveliest of God's creatures whom we have known in the flesh? Is it
impossible for an archangel to smile? Is such a phenomenon as a laugh
never heard except in our little sinful corner of the universe? Do you
suppose, that when the disciples heard from the lips of their Master the
play of words on the name of Peter, there was no smile of appreciation on
the bearded faces of those holy men? From any other lips we should have
called this pleasantry a—
Number Five shook her head very slightly, and gave me a look that seemed
to say, "Don't frighten the other Teacups. We don't call things by the
names that belong to them when we deal with celestial subjects."
We tied up, as my attendant playfully called our resting, so near the
planet that I could know—I will not say see and hear, but apprehend—all
that was going on in that remote sphere; remote, as we who live in what
we have been used to consider the centre of the rational universe regard
it. What struck me at once was the deadness of everything I looked upon.
Dead, uniform color of surface and surrounding atmosphere. Dead
complexion of all the inhabitants. Dead-looking trees, dead-looking
grass, no flowers to be seen anywhere.
"What is the meaning of all this?" I said to my guide.
She smiled good-naturedly, and replied, "It is a forlorn home for
anything above a lichen or a toadstool; but that is no wonder, when you
know what the air is which they breathe. It is pure nitrogen."
The Professor spoke up. "That can't be, madam," he said. "The
spectroscope shows the atmosphere of Saturn to be—no matter, I have
forgotten what; but it was not pure nitrogen, at any rate."
Number Five is never disconcerted. "Will you tell me," she said, "where
you have found any account of the bands and lines in the spectrum of
dream-nitrogen? I should be so pleased to become acquainted with them."
The Professor winced a little, and asked Delilah, the handmaiden, to pass
a plate of muffins to him. The dream had carried him away, and he
thought for the moment that he was listening to a scientific paper.
Of course, my companion went on to say, the bodily constitution of the
Saturnians is wholly different from that of air-breathing, that is
oxygen-breathing, human beings. They are the dullest, slowest, most
torpid of mortal creatures.
All this is not to be wondered at when you remember the inert
characteristics of nitrogen. There are in some localities natural
springs which give out slender streams of oxygen. You will learn by and
by what use the Saturnians make of this dangerous gas, which, as you
recollect, constitutes about one fifth of your own atmosphere. Saturn has
large lead mines, but no other metal is found on this planet. The
inhabitants have nothing else to make tools of, except stones and shells.
The mechanical arts have therefore made no great progress among them.
Chopping down a tree with a leaden axe is necessarily a slow process.
So far as the Saturnians can be said to have any pride in anything, it is
in the absolute level which characterizes their political and social
order. They profess to be the only true republicans in the solar system.
The fundamental articles of their Constitution are these:
All Saturnians are born equal, live equal, and die equal.
All Saturnians are born free,—free, that is, to obey the rules laid down
for the regulation of their conduct, pursuits, and opinions, free to be
married to the person selected for them by the physiological section of
the government, and free to die at such proper period of life as may best
suit the convenience and general welfare of the community.
The one great industrial product of Saturn is the bread-root. The
Saturnians find this wholesome and palatable enough; and it is well they
do, as they have no other vegetable. It is what I should call a most
uninteresting kind of eatable, but it serves as food and drink, having
juice enough, so that they get along without water. They have a tough,
dry grass, which, matted together, furnishes them with clothes
sufficiently warm for their cold-blooded constitutions, and more than
A piece of ground large enough to furnish bread-root for ten persons is
allotted to each head of a household, allowance being made for the
possible increase of families. This, however, is not a very important
consideration, as the Saturnians are not a prolific race. The great
object of life being the product of the largest possible quantity of
bread-roots, and women not being so capable in the fields as the stronger
sex, females are considered an undesirable addition to society. The one
thing the Saturnians dread and abhor is inequality. The whole object of
their laws and customs is to maintain the strictest equality in
everything,—social relations, property, so far as they can be said to
have anything which can be so called, mode of living, dress, and all
other matters. It is their boast that nobody ever starved under their
government. Nobody goes in rags, for the coarse-fibred grass from which
they fabricate their clothes is very durable. (I confess I wondered how
a woman could live in Saturn. They have no looking-glasses. There is no
such article as a ribbon known among them. All their clothes are of one
pattern. I noticed that there were no pockets in any of their garments,
and learned that a pocket would be considered prima facie evidence of
theft, as no honest person would have use for such a secret receptacle.)
Before the revolution which established the great law of absolute and
lifelong equality, the inhabitants used to feed at their own private
tables. Since the regeneration of society all meals are taken in common.
The last relic of barbarism was the use of plates,—one or even more to
each individual. This "odious relic of an effete civilization," as they
called it, has long been superseded by oblong hollow receptacles, one of
which is allotted to each twelve persons. A great riot took place when
an attempt was made by some fastidious and exclusive egotists to
introduce partitions which should partially divide one portion of these
receptacles into individual compartments. The Saturnians boast that they
have no paupers, no thieves, none of those fictitious values called
money,—all which things, they hear, are known in that small Saturn
nearer the sun than the great planet which is their dwelling-place.
"I suppose that now they have levelled everything they are quiet and
contented. Have they any of those uneasy people called reformers?"
"Indeed they have," said my attendant. "There are the Orthobrachians,
who declaim against the shameful abuse of the left arm and hand, and
insist on restoring their perfect equality with the right. Then there
are Isopodic societies, which insist on bringing back the original
equality of the upper and lower limbs. If you can believe it, they
actually practise going on all fours,—generally in a private way, a few
of them together, but hoping to bring the world round to them in the near
Here I had to stop and laugh.
"I should think life might be a little dull in Saturn," I said.
"It is liable to that accusation," she answered. "Do you notice how many
people you meet with their mouths stretched wide open?"
"Yes," I said, "and I do not know what to make of it. I should think
every fourth or fifth person had his mouth open in that way."
"They are suffering from the endemic disease of their planet, prolonged
and inveterate gaping or yawning, which has ended in dislocation of the
lower jaw. After a time this becomes fixed, and requires a difficult
surgical operation to restore it to its place."
It struck me that, in spite of their boast that they have no paupers, no
thieves, no money, they were a melancholy-looking set of beings.
"What are their amusements?" I asked.
"Intoxication and suicide are their chief recreations. They have a way
of mixing the oxygen which issues in small jets from certain natural
springs with their atmospheric nitrogen in the proportion of about twenty
per cent, which makes very nearly the same thing as the air of your
planet. But to the Saturnians the mixture is highly intoxicating, and is
therefore a relief to the monotony of their every-day life. This mixture
is greatly sought after, but hard to obtain, as the sources of oxygen are
few and scanty. It shortens the lives of those who have recourse to it;
but if it takes too long, they have other ways of escaping from a life
which cuts and dries everything for its miserable subjects, defeats all
the natural instincts, confounds all individual characteristics, and
makes existence such a colossal bore, as your worldly people say, that
self-destruction becomes a luxury."
Number Five stopped here.
Your imaginary wholesale Shakerdom is all very fine, said I. Your
Utopia, your New Atlantis, and the rest are pretty to look at. But your
philosophers are treating the world of living souls as if they were, each
of them, playing a game of solitaire,—all the pegs and all the holes
alike. Life is a very different sort of game. It is a game of chess,
and not of solitaire, nor even of checkers. The men are not all pawns,
but you have your knights, bishops, rooks,—yes, your king and queen,—to
be provided for. Not with these names, of course, but all looking for
their proper places, and having their own laws and modes of action. You
can play solitaire with the members of your own family for pegs, if you
like, and if none of them rebel. You can play checkers with a little
community of meek, like-minded people. But when it comes to the handling
of a great state, you will find that nature has emptied a box of chessmen
before you, and you must play with them so as to give each its proper
move, or sweep them off the board, and come back to the homely game such
as I used to see played with beans and kernels of corn on squares marked
upon the back of the kitchen bellows.
It was curious to see how differently Number Five's narrative was
received by the different listeners in our circle. Number Five herself
said she supposed she ought to be ashamed of its absurdities, but she did
not know that it was much sillier than dreams often are, and she thought
it might amuse the company. She was herself always interested by these
ideal pictures of society. But it seemed to her that life must be dull
in any of them, and with that idea in her head her dreaming fancy had
drawn these pictures.
The Professor was interested in her conception of the existence of the
Lunites without waste, and the death in life of the nitrogen-breathing
Saturnians. Dream-chemistry was a new subject to him. Perhaps Number
Five would give him some lessons in it.
At this she smiled, and said she was afraid she could not teach him
anything, but if he would answer a few questions in matter-of-fact
chemistry which had puzzled her she would be vastly obliged to him.
"You must come to my laboratory," said the Professor.
"I will come to-morrow," said Number Five.
Oh, yes! Much laboratory work they will do! Play of mutual affinities.
Amalgamates. No freezing mixtures, I'll warrant!
Why shouldn't we get a romance out of all this, hey?
But Number Five looks as innocent as a lamb, and as brave as a lion. She
does not care a copper for the looks that are going round The Teacups.
Our Doctor was curious about those cases of anchylosis, as he called it,
of the lower jaw. He thought it a quite possible occurrence. Both the
young girls thought the dream gave a very hard view of the optimists, who
look forward to a reorganization of society which shall rid mankind of
the terrible evils of over-crowding and competition.
Number Seven was quite excited about the matter. He had himself drawn up
a plan for a new social arrangement. He had shown it to the legal
gentleman who has lately joined us. This gentleman thought it
well-intended, but that it would take one constable to every three
inhabitants to enforce its provisions.
I said the dream could do no harm; it was too outrageously improbable to
come home to anybody's feelings. Dreams were like broken mosaics,—the
separated stones might here and there make parts of pictures. If one
found a caricature of himself made out of the pieces which had
accidentally come together, he would smile at it, knowing that it was an
accidental effect with no malice in it. If any of you really believe in
a working Utopia, why not join the Shakers, and convert the world to this
mode of life? Celibacy alone would cure a great many of the evils you
I thought this suggestion seemed to act rather unfavorably upon the
ladies of our circle. The two Annexes looked inquiringly at each other.
Number Five looked smilingly at them. She evidently thought it was time
to change the subject of conversation, for she turned to me and said,
"You promised to read us the poem you read before your old classmates the
I will fulfill my promise, I said. We felt that this might probably be
our last meeting as a Class. The personal reference is to our greatly
beloved and honored classmate, James Freeman Clarke.
AFTER THE CURFEW.
The Play is over. While the light
Yet lingers in the darkening hall,
I come to say a last Good-night
Before the final Exeunt all.
We gathered once, a joyous throng:
The jovial toasts went gayly round;
With jest, and laugh, and shout, and song
we made the floors and walls resound.
We come with feeble steps and slow,
A little band of four or five,
Left from the wrecks of long ago,
Still pleased to find ourselves alive.
Alive! How living, too, are they
whose memories it is ours to share!
Spread the long table's full array,
There sits a ghost in every chair!
One breathing form no more, alas!
Amid our slender group we see;
With him we still remained "The Class,"
without his presence what are we?
The hand we ever loved to clasp,
That tireless hand which knew no rest,
Loosed from affection's clinging grasp,
Lies nerveless on the peaceful breast.
The beaming eye, the cheering voice,
That lent to life a generous glow,
whose every meaning said "Rejoice,"
we see, we hear, no more below.
The air seems darkened by his loss,
Earth's shadowed features look less fair,
And heavier weighs the daily cross
His willing shoulders helped as bear.
Why mourn that we, the favored few
Whom grasping Time so long has spared
Life's sweet illusions to pursue,
The common lot of age have shared?
In every pulse of Friendship's heart
There breeds unfelt a throb of pain,
One hour must rend its links apart,
Though years on years have forged the chain.
So ends "The Boys,"—a lifelong play.
We too must hear the Prompter's call
To fairer scenes and brighter day
Farewell! I let the curtain fall.
If the reader thinks that all these talking Teacups came together by mere
accident, as people meet at a boarding-house, I may as well tell him at
once that he is mistaken. If he thinks I am going to explain how it is
that he finds them thus brought together, whether they form a secret
association, whether they are the editors of this or that periodical,
whether they are connected with some institution, and so on,—I must
disappoint him. It is enough that he finds them in each other's company,
a very mixed assembly, of different sexes, ages, and pursuits; and if
there is a certain mystery surrounds their meetings, he must not be
surprised. Does he suppose we want to be known and talked about in
public as "Teacups"? No; so far as we give to the community some records
of the talks at our table our thoughts become public property, but the
sacred personality of every Teacup must be properly respected. If any
wonder at the presence of one of our number, whose eccentricities might
seem to render him an undesirable associate of the company, he should
remember that some people may have relatives whom they feel bound to keep
their eye on; besides the cracked Teacup brings out the ring of the sound
ones as nothing else does. Remember also that soundest teacup does not
always hold the best tea, or the cracked teacup the worst.
This is a hint to the reader, who is not expected to be too curious about
the individual Teacups constituting our unorganized association.
The Dictator Discourses.
I have been reading Balzac's Peau de Chagrin. You have all read the
story, I hope, for it is the first of his wonderful romances which fixed
the eyes of the reading world upon him, and is a most fascinating if
somewhat fantastic tale. A young man becomes the possessor of a certain
magic skin, the peculiarity of which is that, while it gratifies every
wish formed by its possessor, it shrinks in all its dimensions each time
that a wish is gratified. The young man makes every effort to ascertain
the cause of its shrinking; invokes the aid of the physicist, the
chemist, the student of natural history, but all in vain. He draws a red
line around it. That same day he indulges a longing for a certain
object. The next morning there is a little interval between the red line
and the skin, close to which it was traced. So always, so inevitably.
As he lives on, satisfying one desire, one passion, after another, the
process of shrinking continues. A mortal disease sets in, which keeps
pace with the shrinking skin, and his life and his talisman come to an
One would say that such a piece of integument was hardly a desirable
possession. And yet, how many of us have at this very moment a peau de
chagrin of our own, diminishing with every costly wish indulged, and
incapable, like the magical one of the story, of being arrested in its
Need I say that I refer to those coupon bonds, issued in the days of
eight and ten per cent interest, and gradually narrowing as they drop
their semiannual slips of paper, which represent wishes to be realized,
as the roses let fall their leaves in July, as the icicles melt away in
the thaw of January?
How beautiful was the coupon bond, arrayed in its golden raiment of
promises to pay at certain stated intervals, for a goodly number of
coming years! What annual the horticulturist can show will bear
comparison with this product of auricultural industry, which has flowered
in midsummer and midwinter for twenty successive seasons? And now the
last of its blossoms is to be plucked, and the bare stem, stripped of its
ever maturing and always welcome appendages, is reduced to the narrowest
conditions of reproductive existence. Such is the fate of the financial
peau de chagrin. Pity the poor fractional capitalist, who has just
managed to live on the eight per cent of his coupon bonds. The shears of
Atropos were not more fatal to human life than the long scissors which
cut the last coupon to the lean proprietor, whose slice of dry toast it
served to flatter with oleomargarine. Do you wonder that my thoughts
took the poetical form, in the contemplation of these changes and their
melancholy consequences? If the entire poem, of several hundred lines,
was "declined with thanks" by an unfeeling editor, that is no reason why
you should not hear a verse or two of it.
THE PEAU DE CHAGRIN OF STATE STREET.
How beauteous is the bond
In the manifold array
Of its promises to pay,
While the eight per cent it gives
And the rate at which one lives
But at last the bough is bare
Where the coupons one by one
Through their ripening days have run,
And the bond, a beggar now,
Seeks investment anyhow,
The Mistress commonly contents herself with the general supervision of
the company, only now and then taking an active part in the conversation.
She started a question the other evening which set some of us thinking.
"Why is it," she said, "that there is so common and so intense a desire
for poetical reputation? It seems to me that, if I were a man, I had
rather have done something worth telling of than make verses about what
other people had done."
"You agree with Alexander the Great," said the Professor. "You would
prefer the fame of Achilles to that of Homer, who told the story of his
wrath and its direful consequences. I am afraid that I should hardly
agree with you. Achilles was little better than a Choctaw brave. I
won't quote Horace's line which characterizes him so admirably, for I
will take it for granted that you all know it. He was a gentleman,—so
is a first-class Indian,—a very noble gentleman in point of courage,
lofty bearing, courtesy, but an unsoaped, ill-clad, turbulent,
high-tempered young fellow, looked up to by his crowd very much as the
champion of the heavy weights is looked up to by his gang of blackguards.
Alexander himself was not much better,—a foolish, fiery young madcap.
How often is he mentioned except as a warning? His best record is that
he served to point a moral as 'Macedonian's madman.' He made a figure,
it is true, in Dryden's great Ode, but what kind of a figure? He got
drunk,—in very bad company, too,—and then turned fire-bug. He had one
redeeming point,—he did value his Homer, and slept with the Iliad under
his pillow. A poet like Homer seems to me worth a dozen such fellows as
Achilles and Alexander."
"Homer is all very well far those that can read him," said Number Seven,
"but the fellows that tag verses together nowadays are mostly fools.
That's my opinion. I wrote some verses once myself, but I had been sick
and was very weak; hadn't strength enough to write in prose, I suppose."
This aggressive remark caused a little stir at our tea-table. For you
must know, if I have not told you already, there are suspicions that we
have more than one "poet" at our table. I have already confessed that I
do myself indulge in verse now and then, and have given my readers a
specimen of my work in that line. But there is so much difference of
character in the verses which are produced at our table, without any
signature, that I feel quite sure there are at least two or three other
contributors besides myself. There is a tall, old-fashioned silver urn,
a sugar-bowl of the period of the Empire, in which the poems sent to be
read are placed by unseen hands. When the proper moment arrives, I lift
the cover of the urn and take out any manuscript it may contain. If
conversation is going on and the company are in a talking mood, I replace
the manuscript or manuscripts, clap on the cover, and wait until there is
a moment's quiet before taking it off again. I might guess the writers
sometimes by the handwriting, but there is more trouble taken to disguise
the chirography than I choose to take to identify it as that of any
particular member of our company.
The turn the conversation took, especially the slashing onslaught of
Number Seven on the writers of verse, set me thinking and talking about
the matter. Number Five turned on the stream of my discourse by a
"You receive a good many volumes of verse, do you not?" she said, with a
look which implied that she knew I did.
I certainly do, I answered. My table aches with them. My shelves groan
with them. Think of what a fuss Pope made about his trials, when he
"All Bedlam or Parnassus is let out"!
What were the numbers of the
"Mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease"
to that great multitude of contributors to our magazines, and authors of
little volumes—sometimes, alas! big ones—of verse, which pour out of
the press, not weekly, but daily, and at such a rate of increase that it
seems as if before long every hour would bring a book, or at least an
article which is to grow into a book by and by?
I thanked Heaven, the other day, that I was not a critic. These
attenuated volumes of poetry in fancy bindings open their covers at one
like so many little unfledged birds, and one does so long to drop a worm
in,—a worm in the shape of a kind word for the poor fledgling! But what
a desperate business it is to deal with this army of candidates for
immortality! I have often had something to say about them, and I may be
saying over the same things; but if I do not remember what I have said,
it is not very likely that my reader will; if he does, he will find, I am
very sure, that I say it a little differently.
What astonishes me is that this enormous mass of commonplace verse, which
burdens the postman who brings it, which it is a serious task only to get
out of its wrappers and open in two or three places, is on the whole of
so good an average quality. The dead level of mediocrity is in these
days a table-land, a good deal above the old sea-level of laboring
incapacity. Sixty years ago verses made a local reputation, which
verses, if offered today to any of our first-class magazines, would go
straight into the waste-basket. To write "poetry" was an art and mystery
in which only a few noted men and a woman or two were experts.
When "Potter the ventriloquist," the predecessor of the well-remembered
Signor Blitz, went round giving his entertainments, there was something
unexplained, uncanny, almost awful, and beyond dispute marvellous, in his
performances. Those watches that disappeared and came back to their
owners, those endless supplies of treasures from empty hats, and
especially those crawling eggs that travelled all over the magician's
person, sent many a child home thinking that Mr. Potter must have ghostly
assistants, and raised grave doubts in the minds of "professors," that is
members of the church, whether they had not compromised their characters
by being seen at such an unhallowed exhibition. Nowadays, a clever boy
who has made a study of parlor magic can do many of those tricks almost
as well as the great sorcerer himself. How simple it all seems when we
have seen the mechanism of the deception!
It is just so with writing in verse. It was not understood that
everybody can learn to make poetry, just as they can learn the more
difficult tricks of juggling. M. Jourdain's discovery that he had been
speaking and writing prose all his life is nothing to that of the man who
finds out in middle life, or even later, that he might have been writing
poetry all his days, if he had only known how perfectly easy and simple
it is. Not everybody, it is true, has a sufficiently good ear, a
sufficient knowledge of rhymes and capacity for handling them, to be what
is called a poet. I doubt whether more than nine out of ten, in the
average, have that combination of gifts required for the writing of
This last expression of opinion created a sensation among The Teacups.
They looked puzzled for a minute. One whispered to the next Teacup,
"More than nine out of ten! I should think that was a pretty liberal
Yes, I continued; perhaps ninety-nine in a hundred would come nearer to
the mark. I have sometimes thought I might consider it worth while to
set up a school for instruction in the art. "Poetry taught in twelve
lessons." Congenital idiocy is no disqualification. Anybody can write
"poetry." It is a most unenviable distinction to leave published a thin
volume of verse, which nobody wanted, nobody buys, nobody reads, nobody
cares for except the author, who cries over its pathos, poor fellow, and
revels in its beauties, which he has all to himself. Come! who will be
my pupils in a Course,—Poetry taught in twelve lessons? That made a
laugh, in which most of The Teacups, myself included, joined heartily.
Through it all I heard the sweet tones of Number Five's caressing voice;
not because it was more penetrating or louder than the others, for it was
low and soft, but it was so different from the others, there was so much
more life,—the life of sweet womanhood,—dissolved in it.
(Of course he will fall in love with her. "He? Who?" Why, the
newcomer, the Counsellor. Did I not see his eyes turn toward her as the
silvery notes rippled from her throat? Did they not follow her in her
movements, as she turned her tread this or that way?
—What nonsense for me to be arranging matters between two people
strangers to each other before to-day!)
"A fellow writes in verse when he has nothing to say, and feels too dull
and silly to say it in prose," said Number Seven.
This made us laugh again, good-naturedly. I was pleased with a kind of
truth which it seemed to me to wrap up in its rather startling
affirmation. I gave a piece of advice the other day which I said I
thought deserved a paragraph to itself. It was from a letter I wrote not
long ago to an unknown young correspondent, who had a longing for seeing
himself in verse but was not hopelessly infatuated with the idea that he
was born a "poet." "When you write in prose," I said, "you say what you
mean. When you write in verse you say what you must." I was thinking
more especially of rhymed verse. Rhythm alone is a tether, and not a
very long one. But rhymes are iron fetters; it is dragging a chain and
ball to march under their incumbrance; it is a clog-dance you are
figuring in, when you execute your metrical pas seul. Consider under
what a disadvantage your thinking powers are laboring when you are
handicapped by the inexorable demands of our scanty English rhyming
vocabulary! You want to say something about the heavenly bodies, and you
have a beautiful line ending with the word stars. Were you writing in
prose, your imagination, your fancy, your rhetoric, your musical ear for
the harmonies of language, would all have full play. But there is your
rhyme fastening you by the leg, and you must either reject the line which
pleases you, or you must whip your hobbling fancy and all your limping
thoughts into the traces which are hitched to one of three or four or
half a dozen serviceable words. You cannot make any use of cars, I will
suppose; you have no occasion to talk about scars; "the red planet Mars"
has been used already; Dibdin has said enough about the gallant tars;
what is there left for you but bars? So you give up your trains of
thought, capitulate to necessity, and manage to lug in some kind of
allusion, in place or out of place, which will allow you to make use of
bars. Can there be imagined a more certain process for breaking up all
continuity of thought, for taking out all the vigor, all the virility,
which belongs to natural prose as the vehicle of strong, graceful,
spontaneous thought, than this miserable subjugation of intellect to
the-clink of well or ill matched syllables? I think you will smile if I
tell you of an idea I have had about teaching the art of writing "poems"
to the half-witted children at the Idiot Asylum. The trick of rhyming
cannot be more usefully employed than in furnishing a pleasant amusement
to the poor feeble-minded children. I should feel that I was well
employed in getting up a Primer for the pupils of the Asylum, and other
young persons who are incapable of serious thought and connected
expression. I would start in the simplest way; thus:—
When darkness veils the evening….
I love to close my weary….
The pupil begins by supplying the missing words, which most children who
are able to keep out of fire and water can accomplish after a certain
number of trials. When the poet that is to be has got so as to perform
this task easily, a skeleton verse, in which two or three words of each
line are omitted, is given the child to fill up. By and by the more
difficult forms of metre are outlined, until at length a feebleminded
child can make out a sonnet, completely equipped with its four pairs of
rhymes in the first section and its three pairs in the second part.
Number Seven interrupted my discourse somewhat abruptly, as is his wont;
for we grant him a license, in virtue of his eccentricity, which we
should hardly expect to be claimed by a perfectly sound Teacup.
"That's the way,—that 's the way!" exclaimed he. "It's just the same
thing as my plan for teaching drawing."
Some curiosity was shown among The Teacups to know what the queer
creature had got into his mind, and Number Five asked him, in her
irresistible tones, if he wouldn't oblige us by telling us all about it.
He looked at her a moment without speaking. I suppose he has often been
made fun of,—slighted in conversation, taken as a butt for people who
thought themselves witty, made to feel as we may suppose a cracked piece
of china-ware feels when it is clinked in the company of sound bits of
porcelain. I never saw him when he was carelessly dealt with in
conversation,—for it would sometimes happen, even at our table,—without
recalling some lines of Emerson which always struck me as of wonderful
force and almost terrible truthfulness:—
"Alas! that one is born in blight,
Victim of perpetual slight
When thou lookest in his face
Thy heart saith, 'Brother, go thy ways
None shall ask thee what thou doest,
Or care a rush for what thou knowest,
Or listen when thou repliest,
Or remember where thou liest,
Or how thy supper is sodden;'
And another is born
To make the sun forgotten."
Poor fellow! Number Seven has to bear a good deal in the way of neglect
and ridicule, I do not doubt. Happily, he is protected by an amount of
belief in himself which shields him from many assailants who would
torture a more sensitive nature. But the sweet voice of Number Five and
her sincere way of addressing him seemed to touch his feelings. That was
the meaning of his momentary silence, in which I saw that his eyes
glistened and a faint flush rose on his cheeks. In a moment, however, as
soon as he was on his hobby, he was all right, and explained his new and
ingenious system as follows:
"A man at a certain distance appears as a dark spot,—nothing more. Good.
Anybody, man, woman, or child, can make a dot, say a period, such as we
use in writing. Lesson No. 1. Make a dot; that is, draw your man, a
mile off, if that is far enough. Now make him come a little nearer, a
few rods, say. The dot is an oblong figure now. Good. Let your scholar
draw the oblong figure. It is as easy as it is to make a note of
admiration. Your man comes nearer, and now some hint of a bulbous
enlargement at one end, and perhaps of lateral appendages and a
bifurcation, begins to show itself. The pupil sets down with his pencil
just what he sees,—no more. So by degrees the man who serves as model
approaches. A bright pupil will learn to get the outline of a human
figure in ten lessons, the model coming five hundred feet nearer each
time. A dull one may require fifty, the model beginning a mile off, or
more, and coming a hundred feet nearer at each move."
The company were amused by all this, but could not help seeing that there
was a certain practical possibility about the scheme. Our two Annexes,
as we call then, appeared to be interested in the project, or fancy, or
whim, or whatever the older heads might consider it. "I guess I'll try
it," said the American Annex. "Quite so," answered the English Annex.
Why the first girl "guessed" about her own intentions it is hard to say.
What "quite so" referred to it would not be easy to determine. But these
two expressions would decide the nationality of our two young ladies if
we met them on the top of the great Pyramid.
I was very glad that Number Seven had interrupted me. In fact, it is a
good thing once in a while to break in upon the monotony of a steady
talker at a dinner-table, tea-table, or any other place of social
converse. The best talker is liable to become the most formidable of
bores. It is a peculiarity of the bore that he is the last person to
find himself out. Many a terebrant I have known who, in that capacity,
to borrow a line from Coleridge,
"Was great, nor knew how great he was."
A line, by the way, which, as I have remarked, has in it a germ like that
famous "He builded better than he knew" of Emerson.
There was a slight lull in the conversation. The Mistress, who keeps an
eye on the course of things, and feared that one of those panic silences
was impending, in which everybody wants to say something and does not
know just what to say, begged me to go on with my remarks about the
"manufacture" of "poetry."
You use the right term, madam, I said. The manufacture of that article
has become an extensive and therefore an important branch of industry.
One must be an editor, which I am not, or a literary confidant of a wide
circle of correspondents, which I am, to have any idea of the enormous
output of verse which is characteristic of our time. There are many
curious facts connected with this phenomenon. Educated people—yes, and
many who are not educated—have discovered that rhymes are not the
private property of a few noted writers who, having squatted on that part
of the literary domain some twenty or forty or sixty years ago, have, as
it were, fenced it in with their touchy, barbed-wire reputations, and
have come to regard it and cause it to be regarded as their private
property. The discovery having been made that rhyme is not a paddock for
this or that race-horse, but a common, where every colt, pony, and donkey
can range at will; a vast irruption into that once-privileged inclosure
has taken place. The study of the great invasion is interesting.
Poetry is commonly thought to be the language of emotion. On the
contrary, most of what is so called proves the absence of all passionate
excitement. It is a cold-blooded, haggard, anxious, worrying hunt after
rhymes which can be made serviceable, after images which will be
effective, after phrases which are sonorous; all this under limitations
which restrict the natural movements of fancy and imagination. There is
a secondary excitement in overcoming the difficulties of rhythm and
rhyme, no doubt, but this is not the emotional heat excited by the
subject of the "poet's" treatment. True poetry, the best of it, is but
the ashes of a burnt-out passion. The flame was in the eye and in the
cheek, the coals may be still burning in the heart, but when we come to
the words it leaves behind it, a little warmth, a cinder or two just
glimmering under the dead gray ashes,—that is all we can look for. When
it comes to the manufactured article, one is surprised to find how well
the metrical artisans have learned to imitate the real thing. They catch
all the phrases of the true poet. They imitate his metrical forms as a
mimic copies the gait of the person he is representing.
Now I am not going to abuse "these same metre ballad-mongers," for the
obvious reason that, as all The Teacups know, I myself belong to the
fraternity. I don't think that this reason should hinder my having my
say about the ballad-mongering business. For the last thirty years I
have been in the habit of receiving a volume of poems or a poem, printed
or manuscript—I will not say daily, though I sometimes receive more than
one in a day, but at very short intervals. I have been consulted by
hundreds of writers of verse as to the merit of their performances, and
have often advised the writers to the best of my ability. Of late I have
found it impossible to attempt to read critically all the literary
productions, in verse and in prose, which have heaped themselves on every
exposed surface of my library, like snowdrifts along the railroad
tracks,—blocking my literary pathway, so that I can hardly find my daily
What is the meaning of this rush into rhyming of such a multitude of
people, of all ages, from the infant phenomenon to the oldest inhabitant?
Many of my young correspondents have told me in so many words, "I want to
be famous." Now it is true that of all the short cuts to fame, in time
of peace, there is none shorter than the road paved with rhymes. Byron
woke up one morning and found himself famous. Still more notably did
Rouget de l'Isle fill the air of France, nay, the whole atmosphere of
freedom all the world over, with his name wafted on the wings of the
Marseillaise, the work of a single night. But if by fame the aspirant
means having his name brought before and kept before the public, there is
a much cheaper way of acquiring that kind of notoriety. Have your
portrait taken as a "Wonderful Cure of a Desperate Disease given up by
all the Doctors." You will get a fair likeness of yourself and a partial
biographical notice, and have the satisfaction, if not of promoting the
welfare of the community, at least that of advancing the financial
interests of the benefactor whose enterprise has given you your coveted
notoriety. If a man wants to be famous, he had much better try the
advertising doctor than the terrible editor, whose waste-basket is a maw
which is as insatiable as the temporary stomach of Jack the Giant-killer.
"You must not talk so," said Number Five. "I know you don't mean any
wrong to the true poets, but you might be thought to hold them cheap,
whereas you value the gift in others,—in yourself too, I rather think.
There are a great many women,—and some men,—who write in verse from a
natural instinct which leads them to that form of expression. If you
could peep into the portfolio of all the cultivated women among your
acquaintances, you would be surprised, I believe, to see how many of them
trust their thoughts and feelings to verse which they never think of
publishing, and much of which never meets any eyes but their own. Don't
be cruel to the sensitive natures who find a music in the harmonies of
rhythm and rhyme which soothes their own souls, if it reaches no
I was glad that Number Five spoke up as she did. Her generous instinct
came to the rescue of the poor poets just at the right moment. Not that
I meant to deal roughly with them, but the "poets" I have been forced
into relation with have impressed me with certain convictions which are
not flattering to the fraternity, and if my judgments are not accompanied
by my own qualifications, distinctions, and exceptions, they may seem
harsh to many readers.
Let me draw a picture which many a young man and woman, and some no
longer young, will recognize as the story of their own experiences.
—He is sitting alone with his own thoughts and memories. What is that
book he is holding? Something precious, evidently, for it is bound in
"tree calf," and there is gilding enough about it for a birthday present.
The reader seems to be deeply absorbed in its contents, and at times
greatly excited by what he reads; for his face is flushed, his eyes
glitter, and—there rolls a large tear down his cheek. Listen to him; he
is reading aloud in impassioned tones:
And have I coined my soul in words for naught?
And must I, with the dim, forgotten throng
Of silent ghosts that left no earthly trace
To show they once had breathed this vital air,
Die out, of mortal memories?
His voice is choked by his emotion. "How is it possible," he says to
himself, "that any one can read my 'Gaspings for Immortality' without
being impressed by their freshness, their passion, their beauty, their
originality?" Tears come to his relief freely,—so freely that he has
to push the precious volume out of the range of their blistering shower.
Six years ago "Gaspings for Immortality" was published, advertised,
praised by the professionals whose business it is to boost their
publishers' authors. A week and more it was seen on the counters of the
booksellers and at the stalls in the railroad stations. Then it
disappeared from public view. A few copies still kept their place on the
shelves of friends,—presentation copies, of course, as there is no
evidence that any were disposed of by sale; and now, one might as well
ask for the lost books of Livy as inquire at a bookstore for "Gaspings
The authors of these poems are all round us, men and women, and no one
with a fair amount of human sympathy in his disposition would treat them
otherwise than tenderly. Perhaps they do not need tender treatment. How
do you know that posterity may not resuscitate these seemingly dead
poems, and give their author the immortality for which he longed and
labored? It is not every poet who is at once appreciated. Some will
tell you that the best poets never are. Who can say that you, dear
unappreciated brother or sister, are not one of those whom it is left for
after times to discover among the wrecks of the past, and hold up to the
admiration of the world?
I have not thought it necessary to put in all the interpellations, as the
French call them, which broke the course of this somewhat extended series
of remarks; but the comments of some of The Teacups helped me to shape
certain additional observations, and may seem to the reader as of more
significance than what I had been saying.
Number Seven saw nothing but the folly and weakness of the "rhyming
cranks," as he called them. He thought the fellow that I had described
as blubbering over his still-born poems would have been better occupied
in earning his living in some honest way or other. He knew one chap that
published a volume of verses, and let his wife bring up the wood for the
fire by which he was writing. A fellow says, "I am a poet!" and he
thinks himself different from common folks. He ought to be excused from
military service. He might be killed, and the world would lose the
inestimable products of his genius. "I believe some of 'em think," said
Number Seven, "that they ought not to be called upon to pay their taxes
and their bills for household expenses, like the rest of us."
"If they would only study and take to heart Horace's 'Ars Poetica,'" said
the Professor, "it would be a great benefit to them and to the world at
large. I would not advise you to follow him too literally, of course,
for, as you will see, the changes that have taken place since his time
would make some of his precepts useless and some dangerous, but the
spirit of them is always instructive. This is the way, somewhat
modernized and accompanied by my running commentary, in which he counsels
a young poet:
"'Don't try to write poetry, my boy, when you are not in the mood for
doing it,—when it goes against the grain. You are a fellow of
sense,—you understand all that.
"'If you have written anything which you think well of, show it to
Mr.______ , the well-known critic; to "the governor," as you call
him,—your honored father; and to me, your friend.'
"To the critic is well enough, if you like to be overhauled and put out
of conceit with yourself,—it may do you good; but I wouldn't go to 'the
governor' with my verses, if I were you. For either he will think what
you have written is something wonderful, almost as good as he could have
written himself,—in fact, he always did believe in hereditary
genius,—or he will pooh-pooh the whole rhyming nonsense, and tell you
that you had a great deal better stick to your business, and leave all
the word-jingling to Mother Goose and her followers.
"'Show me your verses,' says Horace. Very good it was in him, and mighty
encouraging the first counsel he gives! 'Keep your poem to yourself for
some eight or ten years; you will have time to look it over, to correct
it and make it fit to present to the public.'
"'Much obliged for your advice,' says the poor poet, thirsting for a
draught of fame, and offered a handful of dust. And off he hurries to
the printer, to be sure that his poem comes out in the next number of the
magazine he writes for."
"Is not poetry the natural language of lovers?"
It was the Tutor who asked this question, and I thought he looked in the
direction of Number Five, as if she might answer his question. But Number
Five stirred her tea devotedly; there was a lump of sugar, I suppose,
that acted like a piece of marble. So there was a silence while the lump
was slowly dissolving, and it was anybody's chance who saw fit to take up
The voice that broke the silence was not the sweet, winsome one we were
listening for, but it instantly arrested the attention of the company.
It was the grave, manly voice of one used to speaking, and accustomed to
be listened to with deference. This was the first time that the company
as a whole had heard it, for the speaker was the new-comer who has been
repeatedly alluded to,—the one of whom I spoke as "the Counsellor."
"I think I can tell you something about that," said the Counsellor. "I
suppose you will wonder how a man of my profession can know or interest
himself about a question so remote from his arid pursuits. And yet there
is hardly one man in a thousand who knows from actual experience a
fraction of what I have learned of the lovers' vocabulary in my
professional experience. I have, I am sorry to say, had to take an
important part in a great number of divorce cases. These have brought
before me scores and hundreds of letters, in which every shade of the
great passion has been represented. What has most struck me in these
amatory correspondences has been their remarkable sameness. It seems as
if writing love-letters reduced all sorts of people to the same level. I
don't remember whether Lord Bacon has left us anything in that
line,—unless, indeed, he wrote Romeo and Juliet' and the 'Sonnets;' but
if he has, I don't believe they differ so very much from those of his
valet or his groom to their respective lady-loves. It is always, My
darling! my darling! The words of endearment are the only ones the lover
wants to employ, and he finds the vocabulary too limited for his vast
desires. So his letters are apt to be rather tedious except to the
personage to whom they are addressed. As to poetry, it is very common to
find it in love-letters, especially in those that have no love in them.
The letters of bigamists and polygamists are rich in poetical extracts.
Occasionally, an original spurt in rhyme adds variety to an otherwise
monotonous performance. I don't think there is much passion in men's
poetry addressed to women. I agree with The Dictator that poetry is
little more than the ashes of passion; still it may show that the flame
has had its sweep where you find it, unless, indeed, it is shoveled in
from another man's fireplace."
"What do you say to the love poetry of women?" asked the Professor. "Did
ever passion heat words to incandescence as it did those of Sappho?"
The Counsellor turned,—not to Number Five, as he ought to have done,
according to my programme, but to the Mistress.
"Madam," he said, "your sex is adorable in many ways, but in the abandon
of a genuine love-letter it is incomparable. I have seen a string of
women's love-letters, in which the creature enlaced herself about the
object of her worship as that South American parasite which clasps the
tree to which it has attached itself, begins with a slender succulent
network, feeds on the trunk, spreads its fingers out to hold firmly to
one branch after another, thickens, hardens, stretches in every
direction, following the boughs,—and at length gets strong enough to
hold in its murderous arms, high up in air, the stump and shaft of the
once sturdy growth that was its support and subsistence."
The Counsellor did not say all this quite so formally as I have set it
down here, but in a much easier way. In fact, it is impossible to smooth
out a conversation from memory without stiffening it; you can't have a
dress shirt look quite right without starching the bosom.
Some of us would have liked to hear more about those letters in the
divorce cases, but the Counsellor had to leave the table. He promised to
show us some pictures he has of the South American parasite. I have seen
them, and I can assure you they are very curious.
The following verses were found in the urn, or sugar-bowl.
If all the trees in all the woods were men,
And each and every blade of grass a pen;
If every leaf on every shrub and tree
Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea
Were changed to ink, and all earth's living tribes
Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,
And for ten thousand ages, day and night,
The human race should write, and write, and write,
Till all the pens and paper were used up,
And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,
Still would the scribblers clustered round its brim
Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.
"Dolce, ma non troppo dolce," said the Professor to the Mistress, who was
sweetening his tea. She always sweetens his and mine for us. He has
been attending a series of concerts, and borrowed the form of the
directions to the orchestra. "Sweet, but not too sweet," he said,
translating the Italian for the benefit of any of the company who might
not be linguists or musical experts.
"Do you go to those musical hullabaloos?" called out Number Seven. There
was something very much like rudeness in this question and the tone in
which it was asked. But we are used to the outbursts, and extravagances,
and oddities of Number Seven, and do not take offence at his rough
speeches as we should if any other of the company uttered them.
"If you mean the concerts that have been going on this season, yes, I
do," said the Professor, in a bland, good-humored way.
"And do you take real pleasure in the din of all those screeching and
banging and growling instruments?"
"Yes," he answered, modestly, "I enjoy the brouhaha, if you choose to
consider it such, of all this quarrelsome menagerie of noise-making
machines, brought into order and harmony by the presiding genius, the
leader, who has made a happy family of these snarling stringed
instruments and whining wind instruments, so that although
"Linguae centum sent, oraque centum,
"notwithstanding there are a hundred vibrating tongues and a hundred
bellowing mouths, their one grand blended and harmonized uproar sets all
my fibres tingling with a not unpleasing tremor."
"Do you understand it? Do you take any idea from it? Do you know what
it all means?" said Number Seven.
The Professor was long-suffering under this series of somewhat peremptory
questions. He replied very placidly, "I am afraid I have but a
superficial outside acquaintance with the secrets, the unfathomable
mysteries, of music. I can no more conceive of the working conditions of
the great composer,
"'Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony,'
"than a child of three years can follow the reasonings of Newton's
'Principia.' I do not even pretend that I can appreciate the work of a
great master as a born and trained musician does. Still, I do love a
great crash of harmonies, and the oftener I listen to these musical
tempests the higher my soul seems to ride upon them, as the wild fowl I
see through my window soar more freely and fearlessly the fiercer the
storm with which they battle."
"That's all very well," said Number Seven, "but I wish we could get the
old-time music back again. You ought to have heard,—no, I won't mention
her, dead, poor girl,—dead and singing with the saints in heaven,—but
the S_____ girls. If you could have heard them as I did when I was a
boy, you would have cried, as we all used to. Do you cry at those great
musical smashes? How can you cry when you don't know what it is all
about? We used to think the words meant something,—we fancied that
Burns and Moore said some things very prettily. I suppose you've
outgrown all that."
No one can handle Number Seven in one of his tantrums half so well as
Number Five can do it. She can pick out what threads of sense may be
wound off from the tangle of his ideas when they are crowded and
confused, as they are apt to be at times. She can soften the occasional
expression of half-concealed ridicule with which the poor old fellow's
sallies are liable to be welcomed—or unwelcomed. She knows that the
edge of a broken teacup may be sharper, very possibly, than that of a
philosopher's jackknife. A mind a little off its balance, one which has
a slightly squinting brain as its organ; will often prove fertile in
suggestions. Vulgar, cynical, contemptuous listeners fly at all its
weaknesses, and please themselves with making light of its often futile
ingenuities, when a wiser audience would gladly accept a hint which
perhaps could be developed in some profitable direction, or so interpret
an erratic thought that it should prove good sense in disguise. That is
the way Number Five was in the habit of dealing with the explosions of
Number Seven. Do you think she did not see the ridiculous element in a
silly speech, or the absurdity of an outrageously extravagant assertion?
Then you never heard her laugh when she could give way to her sense of
the ludicrous without wounding the feelings of any other person. But her
kind heart never would forget itself, and so Number Seven had a champion
who was always ready to see that his flashes of intelligence, fitful as
they were, and liable to be streaked with half-crazy fancies, always
found one willing recipient of what light there was in them.
Number Five, I have found, is a true lover of music, and has a right to
claim a real knowledge of its higher and deeper mysteries. But she
accepted very cordially what our light-headed companion said about the
songs he used to listen to.
"There is no doubt," she remarked, "that the tears which used to be shed
over 'Oft in the sully night,' or 'Auld Robin Gray,' or 'A place in thy
memory, dearest,' were honest tears, coming from the true sources of
emotion. There was no affectation about them; those songs came home to
the sensibilities of young people,—of all who had any sensibilities to
be acted upon. And on the other hand, there is a great amount of
affectation in the apparent enthusiasm of many persons in admiring and
applauding music of which they have not the least real appreciation.
They do not know whether it is good or bad, the work of a first-rate or a
fifth-rate composer; whether there are coherent elements in it, or
whether it is nothing more than 'a concourse of sweet sounds' with no
organic connections. One must be educated, no doubt, to understand the
more complex and difficult kinds of musical composition. Go to the great
concerts where you know that the music is good, and that you ought to
like it whether you do or not. Take a music-bath once or twice a week
for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the
water-bath is to the body. I wouldn't trouble myself about the
affectations of people who go to this or that series of concerts chiefly
because it is fashionable. Some of these people whom we think so silly
and hold so cheap will perhaps find, sooner or later, that they have a
dormant faculty which is at last waking up,—and that they who came
because others came, and began by staring at the audience, are listening
with a newly found delight. Every one of us has a harp under bodice or
waistcoat, and if it can only once get properly strung and tuned it will
respond to all outside harmonies."
The Professor has some ideas about music, which I believe he has given to
the world in one form or another; but the world is growing old and
forgetful, and needs to be reminded now and then of what one has formerly
"I have had glimpses," the Professor said, "of the conditions into which
music is capable of bringing a sensitive nature. Glimpses, I say,
because I cannot pretend that I am capable of sounding all the depths or
reaching all the heights to which music may transport our mortal
consciousness. Let me remind you of a curious fact with reference to the
seat of the musical sense. Far down below the great masses of thinking
marrow and its secondary agents, just as the brain is about to merge in
the spinal cord, the roots of the nerve of hearing spread their white
filaments out into the sentient matter, where they report what the
external organs of hearing tell them. This sentient matter is in remote
connection only with the mental organs, far more remote than the centres
of the sense of vision and that of smell. In a word, the musical faculty
might be said to have a little brain of its own. It has a special world
and a private language all to itself. How can one explain its
significance to those whose musical faculties are in a rudimentary state
of development, or who have never had them trained? Can you describe in
intelligible language the smell of a rose as compared with that of a
violet? No,—music can be translated only by music. Just so far as it
suggests worded thought, it falls short of its highest office. Pure
emotional movements of the spiritual nature,—that is what I ask of
music. Music will be the universal language,—the Volapuk of spiritual
"Angels sit down with their harps and play at each other, I suppose,"
said Number Seven. "Must have an atmosphere up there if they have harps,
or they wouldn't get any music. Wonder if angels breathe like mortals?
If they do, they must have lungs and air passages, of course. Think of
an angel with the influenza, and nothing but a cloud for a handkerchief!"
—This is a good instance of the way in which Number Seven's squinting
brain works. You will now and then meet just such brains in heads you
know very well. Their owners are much given to asking unanswerable
questions. A physicist may settle it for us whether there is an
atmosphere about a planet or not, but it takes a brain with an extra
fissure in it to ask these unexpected questions,—questions which the
natural philosopher cannot answer, and which the theologian never thinks
The company at our table do not keep always in the same places. The
first thing I noticed, the other evening, was that the Tutor was sitting
between the two Annexes, and the Counsellor was next to Number Five.
Something ought to come of this arrangement. One of those two young
ladies must certainly captivate and perhaps capture the Tutor. They are
just the age to be falling in love and to be fallen in love with. The
Tutor is good looking, intellectual, suspected of writing poetry, but a
little shy, it appears to me. I am glad to see him between the two girls.
If there were only one, she might be shy too, and then there would be
less chance for a romance such as I am on the lookout for; but these
young persons lend courage to each other, and between them, if he does
not wake up like Cymon at the sight of Iphigenia, I shall be
disappointed. As for the Counsellor and Number Five, they will soon find
each other out. Yes, it is all pretty clear in my mind,—except that
there is always an x in a problem where sentiments are involved. No, not
so clear about the Tutor. Predestined, I venture my guess, to one or the
other, but to which? I will suspend my opinion for the present.
I have found out that the Counsellor is a childless widower. I am told
that the Tutor is unmarried, and so far as known not engaged. There is no
use in denying it,—a company without the possibility of a love-match
between two of its circle is like a champagne bottle with the cork out
for some hours as compared to one with its pop yet in reserve. However,
if there should be any love-making, it need not break up our
conversations. Most of it will be carried on away from our tea-table.
Some of us have been attending certain lectures on Egypt and its
antiquities. I have never been on the Nile. If in any future state
there shall be vacations in which we may have liberty to revisit our old
home, equipped with a complete brand-new set of mortal senses as our
travelling outfit, I think one of the first places I should go to, after
my birthplace, the old gambrel-roofed house,—the place where it stood,
rather,—would be that mighty, awe-inspiring river. I do not suppose we
shall ever know half of what we owe to the wise and wonderful people who
confront us with the overpowering monuments of a past which flows out of
the unfathomable darkness as the great river streams from sources even as
yet but imperfectly explored.
I have thought a good deal about Egypt, lately, with reference to our
historical monuments. How did the great unknown mastery who fixed the
two leading forms of their monumental records arrive at those admirable
and eternal types, the pyramid and the obelisk? How did they get their
model of the pyramid?
Here is an hour-glass, not inappropriately filled with sand from the
great Egyptian desert. I turn it, and watch the sand as it accumulates
in the lower half of the glass. How symmetrically, how beautifully, how
inevitably, the little particles pile up the cone, which is ever building
and unbuilding itself, always aiming at the stability which is found only
at a certain fixed angle! The Egyptian children playing in the sand must
have noticed this as they let the grains fall from their hands, and the
sloping sides of the miniature pyramid must have been among the familiar
sights to the little boys and girls for whom the sand furnished their
earliest playthings. Nature taught her children through the working of
the laws of gravitation how to build so that her forces should act in
harmony with art, to preserve the integrity of a structure meant to reach
a far-off posterity. The pyramid is only the cone in which Nature
arranges her heaped and sliding fragments; the cone with flattened
Surfaces, as it is prefigured in certain well-known crystalline forms.
The obelisk is from another of Nature's patterns; it is only a gigantic
The Egyptians knew what a monument should be, simple, noble, durable. It
seems to me that we Americans might take a lesson from those early
architects. Our cemeteries are crowded with monuments which are very far
from simple, anything but noble, and stand a small chance of being
permanent. The pyramid is rarely seen, perhaps because it takes up so
much room; and when built on a small scale seems insignificant as we
think of it, dwarfed by the vast structures of antiquity. The obelisk is
very common, and when in just proportions and of respectable dimensions
But the gigantic obelisks like that on Bunker Hill, and especially the
Washington monument at the national capital, are open to critical
animadversion. Let us contrast the last mentioned of these great piles
with the obelisk as the Egyptian conceived and executed it. The new
Pharaoh ordered a memorial of some important personage or event. In the
first place, a mighty stone was dislodged from its connections, and
lifted, unbroken, from the quarry. This was a feat from which our modern
stone-workers shrink dismayed. The Egyptians appear to have handled
these huge monoliths as our artisans handle hearthstones and doorsteps,
for the land actually bristled with such giant columns. They were shaped
and finished as nicely as if they were breastpins for the Titans to wear,
and on their polished surfaces were engraved in imperishable characters
the records they were erected to preserve.
Europe and America borrow these noble productions of African art and
power, and find them hard enough to handle after they have succeeded in
transporting them to Rome, or London, or New York. Their simplicity,
grandeur, imperishability, speaking symbolism, shame all the pretentious
and fragile works of human art around them. The obelisk has no joints
for the destructive agencies of nature to attack; the pyramid has no
masses hanging in unstable equilibrium, and threatening to fall by their
own weight in the course of a thousand or two years.
America says the Father of his Country must have a monument worthy of his
exalted place in history. What shall it be? A temple such as Athens
might have been proud to rear upon her Acropolis? An obelisk such as
Thebes might have pointed out with pride to the strangers who found
admission through her hundred gates? After long meditation and the
rejection of the hybrid monstrosities with which the nation was menaced,
an obelisk is at last decided upon. How can it be made grand and
dignified enough to be equal to the office assigned it? We dare not
attempt to carve a single stone from the living rock,—all our modern
appliances fail to make the task as easy to us as it seems to have been
to the early Egyptians. No artistic skill is required in giving a
four-square tapering figure to a stone column. If we cannot shape a
solid obelisk of the proper dimensions, we can build one of separate
blocks. How can we give it the distinction we demand for it? The nation
which can brag that it has "the biggest show on earth" cannot boast a
great deal in the way of architecture, but it can do one thing,—it can
build an obelisk that shall be taller than any structure now standing
which the hand of man has raised. Build an obelisk! How different the
idea of such a structure from that of the unbroken, unjointed prismatic
shaft, one perfect whole, as complete in itself, as fitly shaped and
consolidated to defy the elements, as the towering palm or the tapering
pine! Well, we had the satisfaction for a time of claiming the tallest
structure in the world; and now that the new Tower of Babel which has
sprung up in Paris has killed that pretention, I think we shall feel and
speak more modestly about our stone hyperbole, our materialization of the
American love of the superlative. We have the higher civilization among
us, and we must try to keep down the forth-putting instincts of the
lower. We do not want to see our national monument placarded as "the
greatest show on earth,"—perhaps it is well that it is taken down from
that bad eminence.
I do not think that this speech of mine was very well received. It
appeared to jar somewhat on the nerves of the American Annex. There was
a smile on the lips of the other Annex,—the English girl,—which she
tried to keep quiet, but it was too plain that she enjoyed my diatribe.
It must be remembered that I and the other Teacups, in common with the
rest of our fellow-citizens, have had our sensibilities greatly worked
upon, our patriotism chilled, our local pride outraged, by the
monstrosities which have been allowed to deform our beautiful public
grounds. We have to be very careful in conducting a visitor, say from
his marble-fronted hotel to the City Hall.—Keep pretty straight along
after entering the Garden,—you will not care to inspect the little
figure of the military gentleman to your right.—Yes, the Cochituate
water is drinkable, but I think I would not turn aside to visit that
small fabric which makes believe it is a temple, and is a weak-eyed
fountain feebly weeping over its own insignificance. About that other
stone misfortune, cruelly reminding us of the "Boston Massacre," we will
not discourse; it is not imposing, and is rarely spoken of.
What a mortification to the inhabitants of a city with some hereditary
and contemporary claims to cultivation; which has noble edifices, grand
libraries, educational institutions of the highest grade, an art-gallery
filled with the finest models and rich in paintings and statuary,—a
stately city that stretches both arms across the Charles to clasp the
hands of Harvard, her twin-sister, each lending lustre to the other like
double stars,—what a pity that she should be so disfigured by crude
attempts to adorn her and commemorate her past that her most loving
children blush for her artificial deformities amidst the wealth of her
natural beauties! One hardly knows which to groan over most sadly,—the
tearing down of old monuments, the shelling of the Parthenon, the
overthrow of the pillared temples of Rome, and in a humbler way the
destruction of the old Hancock house, or the erection of monuments which
are to be a perpetual eyesore to ourselves and our descendants.
We got talking on the subject of realism, of which so much has been said
It seems to me, I said, that the great additions which have been made by
realism to the territory of literature consist largely in swampy,
malarious, ill-smelling patches of soil which had previously been left to
reptiles and vermin. It is perfectly easy to be original by violating
the laws of decency and the canons of good taste. The general consent of
civilized people was supposed to have banished certain subjects from the
conversation of well-bred people and the pages of respectable literature.
There is no subject, or hardly any, which may not be treated of at the
proper time, in the proper place, by the fitting person, for the right
kind of listener or reader. But when the poet or the story-teller
invades the province of the man of science, he is on dangerous ground. I
need say nothing of the blunders he is pretty sure to make. The
imaginative writer is after effects. The scientific man is after truth.
Science is decent, modest; does not try to startle, but to instruct. The
same scenes and objects which outrage every sense of delicacy in the
story teller's highly colored paragraphs can be read without giving
offence in the chaste language of the physiologist or the physician.
There is a very celebrated novel, "Madame Bovary," the work of M.
Flaubert, which is noted for having been the subject of prosecution as an
immoral work. That it has a serious lesson there is no doubt, if one
will drink down to the bottom of the cup. But the honey of sensuous
description is spread so deeply over the surface of the goblet that a
large proportion of its readers never think of its holding anything else.
All the phases of unhallowed passion are described in full detail. That
is what the book is bought and read for, by the great majority of its
purchasers, as all but simpletons very well know. That is what makes it
sell and brought it into the courts of justice. This book is famous for
its realism; in fact, it is recognized as one of the earliest and most
brilliant examples of that modern style of novel which, beginning where
Balzac left off, attempted to do for literature what the photograph has
done for art. For those who take the trouble to drink out of the cup
below the rim of honey, there is a scene where realism is carried to its
extreme,—surpassed in horror by no writer, unless it be the one whose
name must be looked for at the bottom of the alphabet, as if its natural
place were as low down in the dregs of realism as it could find itself.
This is the death-bed scene, where Madame Bovary expires in convulsions.
The author must have visited the hospitals for the purpose of watching
the terrible agonies he was to depict, tramping from one bed to another
until he reached the one where the cries and contortions were the most
frightful. Such a scene he has reproduced. No hospital physician would
have pictured the straggle in such colors. In the same way, that other
realist, M. Zola, has painted a patient suffering from delirium tremens,
the disease known to common speech as "the horrors." In describing this
case he does all that language can do to make it more horrible than the
reality. He gives us, not realism, but super-realism, if such a term
does not contradict itself.
In this matter of the literal reproduction of sights and scenes which our
natural instinct and our better informed taste and judgment teach us to
avoid, art has been far in advance of literature. It is three hundred
years since Joseph Ribera, more commonly known as Spagnoletto, was born
in the province Valencia, in Spain. We had the misfortune of seeing a
painting of his in a collection belonging to one of the French princes,
and exhibited at the Art Museum. It was that of a man performing upon
himself the operation known to the Japanese as hararkiri. Many persons
who looked upon this revolting picture will never get rid of its
remembrance, and will regret the day when their eyes fell upon it. I
should share the offence of the painter if I ventured to describe it.
Ribera was fond of depicting just such odious and frightful subjects.
"Saint Lawrence writhing on his gridiron, Saint Sebastian full of arrows,
were equally a source of delight to him. Even in subjects which had no
such elements of horror he finds the materials for the delectation of his
ferocious pencil; he makes up for the defect by rendering with a brutal
realism deformity and ugliness."
The first great mistake made by the ultra-realists; like Flaubert and
Zola, is, as I have said, their ignoring the line of distinction between
imaginative art and science. We can find realism enough in books of
anatomy, surgery, and medicine. In studying the human figure, we want to
see it clothed with its natural integuments. It is well for the artist
to study the ecorche in the dissecting-room, but we do not want the
Apollo or the Venus to leave their skins behind them when they go into
the gallery for exhibition. Lancisi's figures show us how the great
statues look when divested of their natural covering. It is instructive,
but useful chiefly as a means to aid in the true artistic reproduction of
nature. When the, hospitals are invaded by the novelist, he should learn
something from the physician as well as from the patients. Science
delineates in monochrome. She never uses high tints and strontian lights
to astonish lookers-on. Such scenes as Flaubert and Zola describe would
be reproduced in their essential characters, but not dressed up in
picturesque phrases. That is the first stumbling-block in the way of the
reader of such realistic stories as those to which I have referred.
There are subjects which must be investigated by scientific men which
most educated persons would be glad to know nothing about. When a
realistic writer like Zola surprises his reader into a kind of knowledge
he never thought of wishing for, he sometimes harms him more than he has
any idea of doing. He wants to produce a sensation, and he leaves a
permanent disgust not to be got rid of. Who does not remember odious
images that can never be washed out from the consciousness which they
have stained? A man's vocabulary is terribly retentive of evil words,
and the images they present cling to his memory and will not loose their
hold. One who has had the mischance to soil his mind by reading certain
poems of Swift will never cleanse it to its original whiteness.
Expressions and thoughts of a certain character stain the fibre of the
thinking organ, and in some degree affect the hue of every idea that
passes through the discolored tissues.
This is the gravest accusation to bring against realism, old or recent,
whether in the brutal paintings of Spagnoletto or in the unclean
revelations of Zola. Leave the description of the drains and cesspools
to the hygienic specialist, the painful facts of disease to the
physician, the details of the laundry to the washerwoman. If we are to
have realism in its tedious descriptions of unimportant particulars, let
it be of particulars which do not excite disgust. Such is the description
of the vegetables in Zola's "Ventre de Paris," where, if one wishes to
see the apotheosis of turnips, beets, and cabbages, he can find them
glorified as supremely as if they had been symbols of so many deities;
their forms, their colors, their expression, worked upon until they seem
as if they were made to be looked at and worshipped rather than to be
boiled and eaten.
I am pleased to find a French critic of M. Flaubert expressing ideas with
which many of my own entirely coincide. "The great mistake of the
realists," he says, "is that they profess to tell the truth because they
tell everything. This puerile hunting after details, this cold and
cynical inventory of all the wretched conditions in the midst of which
poor humanity vegetates, not only do not help us to understand it better,
but, on the contrary, the effect on the spectators is a kind of dazzled
confusion mingled with fatigue and disgust. The material truthfulness to
which the school of M. Flaubert more especially pretends misses its aim
in going beyond it. Truth is lost in its own excess."
I return to my thoughts on the relations of imaginative art in all its
forms with science. The subject which in the hands of the scientific
student is handled decorously,—reverently, we might almost say,—becomes
repulsive, shameful, and debasing in the unscrupulous manipulations of
the low-bred man of letters.
I confess that I am a little jealous of certain tendencies in our own
American literature, which led one of the severest and most outspoken of
our satirical fellow-countrymen, no longer living to be called to account
for it, to say; in a moment of bitterness, that the mission of America
was to vulgarize mankind. I myself have sometimes wondered at the
pleasure some Old World critics have professed to find in the most
lawless freaks of New World literature. I have questioned whether their
delight was not like that of the Spartans in the drunken antics of their
Helots. But I suppose I belong to another age, and must not attempt to
judge the present by my old-fashioned standards.
The company listened very civilly to these remarks, whether they agreed
with them or not. I am not sure that I want all the young people to
think just as I do in matters of critical judgment. New wine does not go
well into old bottles, but if an old cask has held good wine, it may
improve a crude juice to stand awhile upon the lees of that which once
I thought the company had had about enough of this disquisition. They
listened very decorously, and the Professor, who agrees very well with
me, as I happen to know, in my views on this business of realism, thanked
me for giving them the benefit of my opinion.
The silence that followed was broken by Number Seven's suddenly
"I should like to boss creation for a week!"
This expression was an outbreak suggested by some train of thought which
Number Seven had been following while I was discoursing. I do not think
one of the company looked as if he or she were shocked by it as an
irreligious or even profane speech. It is a better way always, in
dealing with one of those squinting brains, to let it follow out its own
thought. It will keep to it for a while; then it will quit the rail, so
to speak, and run to any side-track which may present itself.
"What is the first thing you would do?" asked Number Five in a pleasant,
"The first thing? Pick out a few thousand of the best specimens of the
best races, and drown the rest like so many blind puppies."
"Why," said she, "that was tried once, and does not seem to have worked
"Very likely. You mean Noah's flood, I suppose. More people nowadays,
and a better lot to pick from than Noah had."
"Do tell us whom you would take with you," said Number Five.
"You, if you would go," he answered, and I thought I saw a slight flush
on his cheek. "But I didn't say that I should go aboard the new ark
myself. I am not sure that I should. No, I am pretty sure that I
shouldn't. I don't believe, on the whole, it would pay me to save
myself. I ain't of much account. But I could pick out some that were."
And just now he was saying that he should like to boss the universe! All
this has nothing very wonderful about it. Every one of us is subject to
alternations of overvaluation and undervaluation of ourselves. Do you
not remember soliloquies something like this? "Was there ever such a
senseless, stupid creature as I am? How have I managed to keep so long
out of the idiot asylum? Undertook to write a poem, and stuck fast at
the first verse. Had a call from a friend who had just been round the
world. Did n't ask him one word about what he had seen or heard, but
gave him full details of my private history, I having never been off my
own hearth-rug for more than an hour or two at a time, while he was
circumnavigating and circumrailroading the globe. Yes, if anybody can
claim the title, I am certainly the prize idiot." I am afraid that we
all say such things as this to ourselves at times. Do we not use more
emphatic words than these in our self-depreciation? I cannot say how it
is with others, but my vocabulary of self-reproach and humiliation is so
rich in energetic expressions that I should be sorry to have an
interviewer present at an outburst of one of its raging geysers, its
savage soliloquies. A man is a kind of inverted thermometer, the bulb
uppermost, and the column of self-valuation is all the time going up and
down. Number Seven is very much like other people in this respect,—very
much like you and me.
This train of reflections must not carry me away from Number Seven.
"If I can't get a chance to boss this planet for a week or so," he began
again, "I think I could write its history,—yes, the history of the
world, in less compass than any one who has tried it so far."
"You know Sir Walter Raleigh's 'History of the World,' of course?" said
"More or less,—more or less," said Number Seven prudently. "But I don't
care who has written it before me. I will agree to write the story of
two worlds, this and the next, in such a compact way that you can commit
them both to memory in less time than you can learn the answer to the
first question in the Catechism."
What he had got into his head we could not guess, but there was no little
curiosity to discover the particular bee which was buzzing in his bonnet.
He evidently enjoyed our curiosity, and meant to keep us waiting awhile
before revealing the great secret.
"How many words do you think I shall want?"
It is a formula, I suppose, I said, and I will grant you a hundred words.
"Twenty," said the Professor. "That was more than the wise men of Greece
wanted for their grand utterances."
The two Annexes whispered together, and the American Annex gave their
joint result. One thousand was the number they had fixed on. They were
used to hearing lectures, and could hardly conceive that any subject
could be treated without taking up a good part of an hour.
"Less than ten," said Number Five. "If there are to be more than ten, I
don't believe that Number Seven would think the surprise would be up to
"Guess as much as you like," said Number Seven.
"The answer will keep. I don't mean to say what it is until we are ready
to leave the table." He took a blank card from his pocket-book, wrote
something on it, or appeared, at any rate, to write, and handed it, face
down, to the Mistress. What was on the card will be found near the end
of this paper. I wonder if anybody will be curious enough to look
further along to find out what it was before she reads the next
In the mean time there is a train of thought suggested by Number Seven
and his whims. If you want to know how to account for yourself, study
the characters of your relations. All of our brains squint more or less.
There is not one in a hundred, certainly, that does not sometimes see
things distorted by double refraction, out of plumb or out of focus, or
with colors which do not belong to it, or in some way betraying that the
two halves of the brain are not acting in harmony with each other. You
wonder at the eccentricities of this or that connection of your own.
Watch yourself, and you will find impulses which, but for the restraints
you put upon them, would make you do the same foolish things which you
laugh at in that cousin of yours. I once lived in the same house with
the near relative of a very distinguished person, whose name is still
honored and revered among us. His brain was an active one, like that of
his famous relative, but it was full of random ideas, unconnected trains
of thought, whims, crotchets, erratic suggestions. Knowing him, I could
interpret the mental characteristics of the whole family connection in
the light of its exaggerated peculiarities as exhibited in my odd
fellow-boarder. Squinting brains are a great deal more common than we
should at first sight believe. Here is a great book, a solid octavo of
five hundred pages, full of the vagaries of this class of organizations.
I hope to refer to this work hereafter, but just now I will only say
that, after reading till one is tired the strange fancies of the squarers
of the circle, the inventors of perpetual motion, and the rest of the
moonstruck dreamers, most persons will confess to themselves that they
have had notions as wild, conceptions as extravagant, theories as
baseless, as the least rational of those which are here recorded.
Some day I want to talk about my library. It is such a curious
collection of old and new books, such a mosaic of learning and fancies
and follies, that a glance over it would interest the company. Perhaps I
may hereafter give you a talk abut books, but while I am saying a few
passing words upon the subject the greatest bibliographical event that
ever happened in the book-market of the New World is taking place under
our eyes. Here is Mr. Bernard Quaritch just come from his well-known
habitat, No. 15 Piccadilly, with such a collection of rare, beautiful,
and somewhat expensive volumes as the Western Continent never saw before
on the shelves of a bibliopole.
We bookworms are all of us now and then betrayed into an extravagance.
The keen tradesmen who tempt us are like the fishermen who dangle a
minnow, a frog, or a worm before the perch or pickerel who may be on the
lookout for his breakfast. But Mr. Quaritch comes among us like that
formidable angler of whom it is said,
His hook he baited with a dragon's tail,
And sat upon a rock and bobbed for whale.
The two catalogues which herald his coming are themselves interesting
literary documents. One can go out with a few shillings in his pocket,
and venture among the books of the first of these catalogues without
being ashamed to show himself with no larger furnishing of the means for
indulging his tastes,—he will find books enough at comparatively modest
prices. But if one feels very rich, so rich that it requires a good deal
to frighten him, let him take the other catalogue and see how many books
he proposes to add to his library at the prices affixed. Here is a Latin
Psalter with the Canticles, from the press of Fust and Schoeffer, the
second book issued from their press, the second book printed with a date,
that date being 1459. There are only eight copies of this work known to
exist; you can have one of them, if so disposed, and if you have change
enough in your pocket. Twenty-six thousand two hundred and fifty dollars
will make you the happy owner of this precious volume. If this is more
than you want to pay, you can have the Gold Gospels of Henry VIII., on
purple vellum, for about half the money. There are pages on pages of
titles of works any one of which would be a snug little property if
turned into money at its catalogue price.
Why will not our multimillionaires look over this catalogue of Mr.
Quaritch, and detain some of its treasures on this side of the Atlantic
for some of our public libraries? We decant the choicest wines of Europe
into our cellars; we ought to be always decanting the precious treasures
of her libraries and galleries into our own, as we have opportunity and
means. As to the means, there are so many rich people who hardly know
what to do with their money that it is well to suggest to them any new
useful end to which their superfluity may contribute. I am not in
alliance with Mr. Quaritch; in fact, I am afraid of him, for if I stayed
a single hour in his library, where I never was but once, and then for
fifteen minutes only, I should leave it so much poorer than I entered it
that I should be reminded of the picture in the titlepage of Fuller's
'Historie of the Holy Warre,' "We went out full. We returned empty."
—After the teacups were all emptied, the card containing Number Seven's
abridged history of two worlds, this and the next, was handed round.
This was all it held:
After all had looked at it, it was passed back to me. "Let The Dictator
interpret it," they all said.
This is what I announced as my interpretation:
Two worlds, the higher and the lower, separated by the thinnest of
partitions. The lower world is that of questions; the upper world is
that of answers. Endless doubt and unrest here below; wondering,
admiring, adoring certainty above.—Am I not right?
"You are right," answered Number Seven solemnly. "That is my
The following poem was found in the sugar-bowl.
I read it to the company. There was much whispering and there were many
conjectures as to its authorship, but every Teacup looked innocent, and
we separated each with his or her private conviction. I had mine, but I
will not mention it.
THE ROSE AND THE FERN.
Lady, life's sweetest lesson wouldst thou learn,
Come thou with me to Love's enchanted bower:
High overhead the trellised roses burn;
Beneath thy feet behold the feathery fern,
A leaf without a flower.
What though the rose leaves fall? They still are sweet,
And have been lovely in their beauteous prime,
While the bare frond seems ever to repeat,
"For us no bud, no blossom, wakes to greet
The joyous flowering time!"
Heed thou the lesson. Life has leaves to tread
And flowers to cherish; summer round thee glows;
Wait not till autumn's fading robes are shed,
But while its petals still are burning red
Gather life's full-blown rose!
Of course the reading of the poem at the end of the last paper has left a
deep impression. I strongly suspect that something very much like
love-making is going on at our table. A peep under the lid of the
sugar-bowl has shown me that there is another poem ready for the company.
That receptacle is looked upon with an almost tremulous excitement by
more than one of The Teacups. The two Annexes turn towards the mystic
urn as if the lots which were to determine their destiny were shut up in
it. Number Five, quieter, and not betraying more curiosity than belongs
to the sex at all ages, glances at the sugarbowl now and then; looking so
like a clairvoyant, that sometimes I cannot help thinking she must be
one. There is a sly look about that young Doctor's eyes, which might
imply that he knows something about what the silver vessel holds, or is
going to hold. The Tutor naturally falls under suspicion, as he is known
to have written and published poems. I suppose the Professor and myself
have hardly been suspected of writing love-poems; but there is no
telling,—there is no telling. Why may not some one of the lady Teacups
have played the part of a masculine lover? George Sand, George Eliot,
Charles Egbert Craddock, made pretty good men in print. The authoress of
"Jane Eyre" was taken for a man by many persons. Can Number Five be
masquerading in verse? Or is one of the two Annexes the make believe
lover? Or did these girls lay their heads together, and send the poem we
had at our last sitting to puzzle the company? It is certain that the
Mistress did not write the poem. It is evident that Number Seven, who is
so severe in his talk about rhymesters, would not, if he could, make such
a fool of himself as to set up for a "poet." Why should not the
Counsellor fall in love and write verses? A good many lawyers have been
Perhaps the next poem, which may be looked for in its proper place, may
help us to form a judgment. We may have several verse-writers among us,
and if so there will be a good opportunity for the exercise of judgment
in distributing their productions among the legitimate claimants. In the
mean time, we must not let the love-making and the song-writing interfere
with the more serious matters which these papers are expected to contain.
Number Seven's compendious and comprehensive symbolism proved suggestive,
as his whimsical notions often do. It always pleases me to take some
hint from anything he says when I can, and carry it out in a direction
not unlike that of his own remark. I reminded the company of his
You can divide mankind in the same way, I said. Two words, each of two
letters, will serve to distinguish two classes of human beings who
constitute the principal divisions of mankind. Can any of you tell what
those two words are?
"Give me five letters," cried Number Seven, "and I can solve your
problem! F-o-o-l-s,—those five letters will give you the first and
largest half. For the other fraction"—
Oh, but, said I, I restrict you absolutely to two letters. If you are
going to take five, you may as well take twenty or a hundred.
After a few attempts, the company gave it up. The nearest approach to
the correct answer was Number Five's guess of Oh and Ah: Oh signifying
eternal striving after an ideal, which belongs to one kind of nature; and
Ah the satisfaction of the other kind of nature, which rests at ease in
what it has attained.
Good! I said to Number Five, but not the answer I am after. The great
division between human beings is into the Ifs and the Ases.
"Is the last word to be spelt with one or two s's?" asked the young
The company laughed feebly at this question. I answered it soberly. With
one s. There are more foolish people among the Ifs than there are among
The company looked puzzled, and asked for an explanation.
This is the meaning of those two words as I interpret them: If it
were,—if it might be,—if it could be,—if it had been. One portion of
mankind go through life always regretting, always whining, always
imagining. These are the people whose backbones remain cartilaginous all
their lives long, as do those of certain other vertebrate animals,—the
sturgeons, for instance. A good many poets must be classed with this
group of vertebrates.
As it is,—this is the way in which the other class of people look at the
conditions in which they find themselves. They may be optimists or
pessimists, they are very largely optimists,—but, taking things just as
they find them, they adjust the facts to their wishes if they can; and if
they cannot, then they adjust themselves to the facts. I venture to say
that if one should count the Ifs and the Ases in the conversation of his
acquaintances, he would find the more able and important persons among
them—statesmen, generals, men of business—among the Ases, and the
majority of the conspicuous failures among the Ifs. I don't know but
this would be as good a test as that of Gideon,—lapping the water or
taking it up in the hand. I have a poetical friend whose conversation is
starred as thick with ifs as a boiled ham is with cloves. But another
friend of mine, a business man, whom I trust in making my investments,
would not let me meddle with a certain stock which I fancied, because, as
he said, "there are too many ifs in it. As it looks now, I would n't
I noticed, the other evening, that some private conversation was going on
between the Counsellor and the two Annexes. There was a mischievous look
about the little group, and I thought they were hatching some plot among
them. I did not hear what the English Annex said, but the American
girl's voice was sharper, and I overheard what sounded to me like, "It is
time to stir up that young Doctor." The Counsellor looked very knowing,
and said that he would find a chance before long. I was rather amused to
see how readily he entered into the project of the young people. The
fact is, the Counsellor is young for his time of life; for he already
betrays some signs of the change referred to in that once familiar street
song, which my friend, the great American surgeon, inquired for at the
music-shops under the title, as he got it from the Italian minstrel,
"Silva tredi mondi goo."
I saw, soon after this, that the Counsellor was watching his chance to
"stir up the young Doctor."
It does not follow, because our young Doctor's bald spot is slower in
coming than he could have wished, that he has not had time to form many
sound conclusions in the calling to which he has devoted himself
Vesalius, the father of modern descriptive anatomy, published his great
work on that subject before he was thirty. Bichat, the great anatomist
and physiologist, who died near the beginning of this century, published
his treatise, which made a revolution in anatomy and pathology, at about
the same age; dying soon after he had reached the age of thirty. So,
possibly the Counsellor may find that he has "stirred up" a young man
who, can take care of his own head, in case of aggressive movements in
"Well, Doctor," the Counsellor began, "how are stocks in the measles
market about these times? Any corner in bronchitis? Any syndicate in
the vaccination business?" All this playfully.
"I can't say how it is with other people's patients; most of my families
are doing very well without my help, at this time."
"Do tell me, Doctor, how many families you own. I have heard it said
that some of our fellow-citizens have two distinct families, but you
speak as if you had a dozen."
"I have, but not so large a number as I should like. I could take care
of fifteen or twenty more without: having to work too hard."
"Why, Doctor, you are as bad as a Mormon. What do you mean by calling
certain families yours?"
"Don't you speak about my client? Don't your clients call you their
lawyer? Does n't your baker, does n't your butcher, speak of the
families he supplies as his families?"
To be sure, yes, of course they do; but I had a notion that a man had as
many doctors as he had organs to be doctored."
"Well, there is some truth in that; but did you think the old-fashioned
family doctor was extinct, a fossil like the megatherium?"
"Why, yes, after the recent experience of a friend of mine, I did begin
to think that there would soon be no such personage left as that same
old-fashioned family doctor. Shall I tell you what that experience was?"
The young Doctor said he should be mightily pleased to hear it. He was
going to be one of those old-fogy practitioners himself.
"I don't know," the Counsellor said, "whether my friend got all the
professional terms of his story correctly, nor whether I have got them
from him without making any mistakes; but if I do make blunders in some
of the queer names, you can correct me. This is my friend's story:
"My family doctor," he said, "was a very sensible man, educated at a
school where they professed to teach all the specialties, but not
confining himself to any one branch of medical practice. Surgical
practice he did not profess to meddle with, and there were some classes
of patients whom he was willing to leave to the female physician. But
throughout the range of diseases not requiring exceptionally skilled
manual interference, his education had authorized him to consider
himself, and he did consider himself, qualified to undertake the
treatment of all ordinary cases—It so happened that my young wife was
one of those uneasy persons who are never long contented with their
habitual comforts and blessings, but always trying to find something a
little better, something newer, at any rate. I was getting to be near
fifty years old, and it happened to me, as it not rarely does to people
at about that time of life, that my hair began to fall out. I spoke of
it to my doctor, who smiled, said it was a part of the process of
reversed evolution, but might be retarded a little, and gave me a
prescription. I did not find any great effect from it, and my wife would
have me go to a noted dermatologist. The distinguished specialist
examined my denuded scalp with great care. He looked at it through a
strong magnifier. He examined the bulb of a fallen hair in a powerful
microscope. He deliberated for a while, and then said, "This is a case
of alopecia. It may perhaps be partially remedied. I will give you a
prescription." Which he did, and told me to call again in a fortnight.
At the end of three months I had called six times, and each time got a
new recipe, and detected no difference in the course of my "alopecia."
After I had got through my treatment, I showed my recipes to my family
physician; and we found that three of them were the same he had used,
familiar, old-fashioned remedies, and the others were taken from a list
of new and little-tried prescriptions mentioned in one of the last
medical journals, which was lying on the old doctor's table. I might as
well have got no better under his charge, and should have got off much
"The next trouble I had was a little redness of the eyes, for which my
doctor gave me a wash; but my wife would have it that I must see an
oculist. So I made four visits to an oculist, and at the last visit the
redness was nearly gone,—as it ought to have been by that time. The
specialist called my complaint conjunctivitis, but that did not make it
feel any better nor get well any quicker. If I had had a cataract or any
grave disease of the eye, requiring a nice operation on that delicate
organ, of course I should have properly sought the aid of an expert,
whose eye, hand, and judgment were trained to that special business; but
in this case I don't doubt that my family doctor would have done just as
well as the expert. However, I had to obey orders, and my wife would have
it that I should entrust my precious person only to the most skilful
specialist in each department of medical practice.
"In the course of the year I experienced a variety of slight
indispositions. For these I was auriscoped by an aurist, laryngoscoped
by a laryngologist, ausculted by a stethoscopist, and so on, until a
complete inventory of my organs was made out, and I found that if I
believed all these searching inquirers professed to have detected in my
unfortunate person, I could repeat with too literal truth the words of
the General Confession, "And there is no health in us." I never heard so
many hard names in all my life. I proved to be the subject of a long
catalogue of diseases, and what maladies I was not manifestly guilty of I
was at least suspected of harboring. I was handed along all the way from
alopecia, which used to be called baldness, to zoster, which used to be
known as shingles. I was the patient of more than a dozen specialists.
Very pleasant persons, many of them, but what a fuss they made about my
trifling incommodities! 'Please look at that photograph. See if there is
a minute elevation under one eye.'
"'On which side?' I asked him, for I could not be sure there was anything
different on one side from what I saw on the other.
"'Under the left eye. I called it a pimple; the specialist called it
acne. Now look at this photograph. It was taken after my acne had been
three months under treatment. It shows a little more distinctly than in
the first photograph, does n't it?'
"'I think it does,' I answered. 'It does n't seem to me that you gained
a great deal by leaving your customary adviser for the specialist.'
"'Well,' my friend continued, 'following my wife's urgent counsel, I kept
on, as I told you, for a whole year with my specialists, going from head
to foot, and tapering off with a chiropodist. I got a deal of amusement
out of their contrivances and experiments. Some of them lighted up my
internal surfaces with electrical or other illuminating apparatus.
Thermometers, dynamometers, exploring-tubes, little mirrors that went
half-way down to my stomach, tuning-forks, ophthalmoscopes,
percussion-hammers, single and double stethoscopes, speculums,
sphygmometers,—such a battery of detective instruments I had never
imagined. All useful, I don't doubt; but at the end of the year I began
to question whether I should n't have done about as well to stick to my
long tried practitioner. When the bills for "professional services" came
in, and the new carpet had to be given up, and the old bonnet trimmed
over again, and the sealskin sack remained a vision, we both agreed, my
wife and I, that we would try to get along without consulting
specialists, except in such cases as our family physician considered to
be beyond his skill.'"
The Counsellor's story of his friend's experiences seemed to please the
young Doctor very much. It "stirred him up," but in an agreeable way;
for, as he said, he meant to devote himself to family practice, and not
to adopt any limited class of cases as a specialty. I liked his views so
well that I should have been ready to adopt them as my own, if they had
The young Doctor discourses.
"I am very glad," he said, "that we have a number of practitioners among
us who confine themselves to the care of single organs and their
functions. I want to be able to consult an oculist who has done nothing
but attend to eyes long enough to know all that is known about their
diseases and their treatment,—skilful enough to be trusted with the
manipulation of that delicate and most precious organ. I want an aurist
who knows all about the ear and what can be done for its disorders. The
maladies of the larynx are very ticklish things to handle, and nobody
should be trusted to go behind the epiglottis who has not the tactus
eruditus. And so of certain other particular classes of complaints. A
great city must have a limited number of experts, each a final authority,
to be appealed to in cases where the family physician finds himself in
doubt. There are operations which no surgeon should be willing to
undertake unless he has paid a particular, if not an exclusive, attention
to the cases demanding such operations. All this I willingly grant.
"But it must not be supposed that we can return to the methods of the old
Egyptians—who, if my memory serves me correctly, had a special physician
for every part of the body—without falling into certain errors and
incurring certain liabilities.
"The specialist is much like other people engaged in lucrative business.
He is apt to magnify his calling, to make much of any symptom which will
bring a patient within range of his battery of remedies. I found a case
in one of our medical journals, a couple of years ago, which illustrates
what I mean. Dr. ___________ of Philadelphia, had a female patient with
a crooked nose,—deviated septum, if our young scholars like that better.
She was suffering from what the doctor called reflex headache. She had
been to an oculist, who found that the trouble was in her eyes. She went
from him to a gynecologist, who considered her headache as owing to
causes for which his specialty had the remedies. How many more
specialists would have appropriated her, if she had gone the rounds of
them all, I dare not guess; but you remember the old story of the siege,
in which each artisan proposed means of defence which he himself was
ready to furnish. Then a shoemaker said, 'Hang your walls with new
"Human nature is the same with medical specialists as it was with ancient
cordwainers, and it is too possible that a hungry practitioner may be
warped by his interest in fastening on a patient who, as he persuades
himself, comes under his medical jurisdiction. The specialist has but one
fang with which to seize and bold his prey, but that fang is a fearfully
long and sharp canine. Being confined to a narrow field of observation
and practice, he is apt to give much of his time to curious study, which
may be magnifique, but is not exactly la guerre against the patient's
malady. He divides and subdivides, and gets many varieties of diseases,
in most respects similar. These he equips with new names, and thus we
have those terrific nomenclatures which are enough to frighten the
medical student, to say nothing of the sufferers staggering under this
long catalogue of local infirmities. The 'old-fogy' doctor, who knows
the family tendencies of his patient, who 'understands his constitution,'
will often treat him better than the famous specialist, who sees him for
the first time, and has to guess at many things 'the old doctor' knows
from his previous experience with the same patient and the family to
which he belongs.
"It is a great luxury to practise as a specialist in almost any class of
diseases. The special practitioner has his own hours, hardly needs a
night-bell, can have his residence out of the town in which he exercises
his calling, in short, lives like a gentleman; while the hard-worked
general practitioner submits to a servitude more exacting than that of
the man who is employed in his stable or in his kitchen. That is the kind
of life I have made up my mind to."
The teaspoons tinkled all round the table. This was the usual sign of
approbation, instead of the clapping of hands.
The young Doctor paused, and looked round among The Teacups. "I beg your
pardon," he said, "for taking up so much of your time with medicine. It
is a subject that a good many persons, especially ladies, take an
interest in and have a curiosity about, but I have no right to turn this
tea-table into a lecture platform."
"We should like to hear you talk longer about it," said the English
Annex. "One of us has thought of devoting herself to the practice of
medicine. Would you lecture to us; if you were a professor in one of the
great medical schools?"
"Lecture to students of your sex? Why not, I should like to know? I
don't think it is the calling for which the average woman is especially
adapted, but my teacher got a part of his medical education from a lady,
Madame Lachapelle; and I don't see why, if one can learn from a woman, he
may not teach a woman, if he knows enough."
"We all like a little medical talk now and then," said Number Five, "and
we are much obliged to you for your discourse. You are specialist enough
to take care of a sprained ankle, I suppose, are you not?"
"I hope I should be equal to that emergency," answered the young Doctor;
"but I trust you are not suffering from any such accident?"
"No," said Number Five, "but there is no telling what may happen. I
might slip, and get a sprain or break a sinew, or something, and I should
like to know that there is a practitioner at hand to take care of my
injury. I think I would risk myself in your bands, although you are not
a specialist. Would you venture to take charge of the case?"
"Ah, my dear lady," he answered gallantly, "the risk would be in the
other direction. I am afraid it would be safer for your doctor if he
were an older man than I am."
This is the first clearly, indisputably sentimental outbreak which has
happened in conversation at our table. I tremble to think what will come
of it; for we have several inflammable elements in our circle, and a
spark like this is liable to light on any one or two of them.
I was not sorry that this medical episode came in to vary the usual
course of talk at our table. I like to have one—of an intelligent
company, who knows anything thoroughly, hold the floor for a time, and
discourse upon the subject which chiefly engages his daily thoughts and
furnishes his habitual occupation. It is a privilege to meet such a
person now and then, and let him have his full swing. But because there
are "professionals" to whom we are willing to listen as oracles, I do not
want to see everybody who is not a "professional" silenced or snubbed, if
he ventures into any field of knowledge which he has not made especially
his own. I like to read Montaigne's remarks about doctors, though he
never took a medical degree. I can even enjoy the truth in the sharp
satire of Voltaire on the medical profession. I frequently prefer the
remarks I hear from the pew after the sermon to those I have just been
hearing from the pulpit. There are a great many things which I never
expect to comprehend, but which I desire very much to apprehend. Suppose
that our circle of Teacups were made up of specialists,—experts in
various departments. I should be very willing that each one should have
his innings at the proper time, when the company were ready for him. But
the time is coming when everybody will know something about every thing.
How can one have the illustrated magazines, the "Popular Science
Monthly," the Psychological journals, the theological periodicals, books
on all subjects, forced on his attention, in their own persons, so to
speak, or in the reviews which analyze and pass judgment upon them,
without getting some ideas which belong to many provinces of human
intelligence? The air we breathe is made up of four elements, at least:
oxygen, nitrogen, carbonic acid gas, and knowledge. There is something
quite delightful to witness in the absorption and devotion of a genuine
specialist. There is a certain sublimity in that picture of the dying
scholar in Browning's "A Grammarian's Funeral:"—
"So with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar;
Still, through the rattle, parts of speech were rife;
While he could stammer
He settled Hoti's business—let it be—
Properly based Oun
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De,
Dead from the waist down."
A genuine enthusiasm, which will never be satisfied until it has pumped
the well dry at the bottom of which truth is lying, always excites our
interest, if not our admiration.
One of the pleasantest of our American writers, whom we all remember as
Ik Marvel, and greet in his more recent appearance as Donald Grant
Mitchell, speaks of the awkwardness which he feels in offering to the
public a "panoramic view of British writers in these days of
specialists,—when students devote half a lifetime to the analysis of the
works of a single author, and to the proper study of a single period."
He need not have feared that his connected sketches of "English Lands,
Letters and Kings" would be any less welcome because they do not pretend
to fill up all the details or cover all the incidents they hint in vivid
outline. How many of us ever read or ever will read Drayton's
"Poly-Olbion?" Twenty thousand long Alexandrines are filled with
admirable descriptions of scenery, natural productions, and historical
events, but how many of us in these days have time to read and inwardly
digest twenty thousand Alexandrine verses? I fear that the specialist is
apt to hold his intelligent reader or hearer too cheap. So far as I have
observed in medical specialties, what he knows in addition to the
knowledge of the well-taught general practitioner is very largely curious
rather than important. Having exhausted all that is practical, the
specialist is naturally tempted to amuse himself with the natural history
of the organ or function he deals with; to feel as a writing-master does
when he sets a copy,—not content to shape the letters properly, but he
must add flourishes and fancy figures, to let off his spare energy.
I am beginning to be frightened. When I began these papers, my idea was
a very simple and innocent one. Here was a mixed company, of various
conditions, as I have already told my readers, who came together
regularly, and before they were aware of it formed something like a club
or association. As I was the patriarch among them, they gave me the name
some of you may need to be reminded of; for as these reports are
published at intervals, you may not remember the fact that I am what The
Teacups have seen fit to call The Dictator.
Now, what did I expect when I began these papers, and what is it that has
begun to frighten me?
I expected to report grave conversations and light colloquial passages of
arms among the members of the circle. I expected to hear, perhaps to
read, a paper now and then. I expected to have, from time to time, a
poem from some one of The Teacups, for I felt sure there must be among
them one or more poets,—Teacups of the finer and rarer translucent kind
of porcelain, to speak metaphorically.
Out of these conversations and written contributions I thought I might
make up a readable series of papers; a not wholly unwelcome string of
recollections, anticipations, suggestions, too often perhaps repetitions,
that would be to the twilight what my earlier series had been to the
I hoped also that I should come into personal relations with my old
constituency, if I may call my nearer friends, and those more distant
ones who belong to my reading parish, by that name. It is time that I
should. I received this blessed morning—I am telling the literal
truth—a highly flattering obituary of myself in the shape of an extract
from "Le National" of the 10th of February last. This is a bi-weekly
newspaper, published in French, in the city of Plattsburg, Clinton
County, New York. I am occasionally reminded by my unknown friends that
I must hurry up their autograph, or make haste to copy that poem they
wish to have in the author's own handwriting, or it will be too late; but
I have never before been huddled out of the world in this way. I take
this rather premature obituary as a hint that, unless I come to some
arrangement with my well-meaning but insatiable correspondents, it would
be as well to leave it in type, for I cannot bear much longer the load
they lay upon me. I will explain myself on this point after I have told
my readers what has frightened me.
I am beginning to think this room where we take our tea is more like a
tinder-box than a quiet and safe place for "a party in a parlor." It is
true that there are at least two or three incombustibles at our table,
but it looks to me as if the company might pair off before the season is
over, like the crew of Her Majesty's ship the Mantelpiece,—three or four
weddings clear our whole table of all but one or two of the impregnables.
The poem we found in the sugar-bowl last week first opened my eyes to the
probable state of things. Now, the idea of having to tell a
love-story,—perhaps two or three love-stories,—when I set out with the
intention of repeating instructive, useful, or entertaining discussions,
naturally alarms me. It is quite true that many things which look to me
suspicious may be simply playful. Young people (and we have several such
among The Teacups) are fond of make-believe courting when they cannot
have the real thing,—"flirting," as it used to be practised in the days
of Arcadian innocence, not the more modern and more questionable
recreation which has reached us from the home of the cicisbeo. Whatever
comes of it, I shall tell what I see, and take the consequences.
But I am at this moment going to talk in my own proper person to my own
particular public, which, as I find by my correspondence, is a very
considerable one, and with which I consider myself in exceptionally
I have read recently that Mr. Gladstone receives six hundred letters a
day. Perhaps he does not receive six hundred letters every day, but if
he gets anything like half that number daily, what can he do with them?
There was a time when he was said to answer all his correspondents. It
is understood, I think, that he has given up doing so in these later
I do not pretend that I receive six hundred or even sixty letters a day,
but I do receive a good many, and have told the public of the fact from
time to time, under the pressure of their constantly increasing
exertions. As it is extremely onerous, and is soon going to be
impossible, for me to keep up the wide range of correspondence which has
become a large part of my occupation, and tends to absorb all the vital
force which is left me, I wish to enter into a final explanation with the
well-meaning but merciless taskmasters who have now for many years been
levying their daily tax upon me. I have preserved thousands of their
letters, and destroyed a very large number, after answering most of them.
A few interesting chapters might be made out of the letters I have
kept,—not only such as are signed by the names of well-known personages,
but many from unknown friends, of whom I had never heard before and have
never heard since. A great deal of the best writing the languages of the
world have ever known has been committed to leaves that withered out of
sight before a second sunlight had fallen upon them. I have had many
letters I should have liked to give the public, had their nature admitted
of their being offered to the world. What straggles of young ambition,
finding no place for its energies, or feeling its incapacity to reach the
ideal towards which it was striving! What longings of disappointed,
defeated fellow-mortals, trying to find a new home for themselves in the
heart of one whom they have amiably idealized! And oh, what hopeless
efforts of mediocrities and inferiorities, believing in themselves as
superiorities, and stumbling on through limping disappointments to
prostrate failure! Poverty comes pleading, not for charity, for the most
part, but imploring us to find a purchaser for its unmarketable wares.
The unreadable author particularly requests us to make a critical
examination of his book, and report to him whatever may be our
verdict,—as if he wanted anything but our praise, and that very often to
be used in his publisher's advertisements.
But what does not one have to submit to who has become the martyr—the
Saint Sebastian—of a literary correspondence! I will not dwell on the
possible impression produced on a sensitive nature by reading one's own
premature obituary, as I have told you has been my recent experience. I
will not stop to think whether the urgent request for an autograph by
return post, in view of the possible contingencies which might render it
the last one was ever to write, is pleasing or not. At threescore and
twenty one must expect such hints of what is like to happen before long.
I suppose, if some near friend were to watch one who was looking over
such a pressing letter, he might possibly see a slight shadow flit over
the reader's features, and some such dialogue might follow as that
between Othello and Iago, after "this honest creature" has been giving
breath to his suspicions about Desdemona:
"I see this hath a little dash'd your spirits.
Not a jot, not a jot.
"My lord, I see you're moved."
And a little later the reader might, like Othello, complain,
"I have a pain upon my forehead here."
Nothing more likely. But, for myself, I have grown callous to all such
allusions. The repetition of the Scriptural phrase for the natural term
of life is so frequent that it wears out one's sensibilities.
But how many charming and refreshing letters I have received! How often
I have felt their encouragement in moments of doubt and depression, such
as the happiest temperaments must sometimes experience!
If the time comes when to answer all my kind unknown friends, even by
dictation, is impossible, or more than I feel equal to, I wish to refer
any of those who may feel disappointed at not receiving an answer to the
following general acknowledgments:
I. I am always grateful for any attention which shows me that I am
kindly remembered.—II. Your pleasant message has been read to me, and
has been thankfully listened to.—III. Your book (your essay) (your
poem) has reached me safely, and has received all the respectful
attention to which it seemed entitled. It would take more than all the
time I have at my disposal to read all the printed matter and all the
manuscripts which are sent to me, and you would not ask me to attempt the
impossible. You will not, therefore, expect me to express a critical
opinion of your work.—IV. I am deeply sensible to your expressions of
personal attachment to me as the author of certain writings which have
brought me very near to you, in virtue of some affinity in our ways of
thought and moods of feeling. Although I cannot keep up correspondences
with many of my readers who seem to be thoroughly congenial with myself,
let them be assured that their letters have been read or heard with
peculiar gratification, and are preserved as precious treasures.
I trust that after this notice no correspondent will be surprised to find
his or her letter thus answered by anticipation; and that if one of the
above formulae is the only answer he receives, the unknown friend will
remember that he or she is one of a great many whose incessant demands
have entirely outrun my power of answering them as fully as the
applicants might wish and perhaps expect.
I could make a very interesting volume of the letters I have received
from correspondents unknown to the world of authorship, but writing from
an instinctive impulse, which many of them say they have long felt and
resisted. One must not allow himself to be flattered into an
overestimate of his powers because he gets many letters expressing a
peculiar attraction towards his books, and a preference of them to those
with which he would not have dared to compare his own. Still, if the
homo unius libri—the man of one book—choose to select one of our own
writing as his favorite volume, it means something,—not much, perhaps;
but if one has unlocked the door to the secret entrance of one heart, it
is not unlikely that his key may fit the locks of others. What if nature
has lent him a master key? He has found the wards and slid back the bolt
of one lock; perhaps he may have learned the secret of others. One
success is an encouragement to try again. Let the writer of a truly
loving letter, such as greets one from time to time, remember that,
though he never hears a word from it, it may prove one of the best
rewards of an anxious and laborious past, and the stimulus of a still
Among the letters I have recently received, none is more interesting than
the following. The story of Helen Keller, who wrote it, is told in the
well-known illustrated magazine called "The Wide Awake," in the number
for July, 1888. For the account of this little girl, now between nine
and ten years old, and other letters of her writing, I must refer to the
article I have mentioned. It is enough to say that she is deaf and dumb
and totally blind. She was seven years old when her teacher, Miss
Sullivan, under the direction of Mr. Anagnos, at the Blind Asylum at
South Boston, began her education. A child fuller of life and happiness
it would be hard to find. It seems as if her soul was flooded with light
and filled with music that had found entrance to it through avenues
closed to other mortals. It is hard to understand how she has learned to
deal with abstract ideas, and so far to supplement the blanks left by the
senses of sight and hearing that one would hardly think of her as wanting
in any human faculty. Remember Milton's pathetic picture of himself,
suffering from only one of poor little Helen's deprivations:
"Not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom, or summer's rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine;
But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of Nature's works, to me expunged and rased,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out."
Surely for this loving and lovely child does
"the celestial Light
Anthropologist, metaphysician, most of all theologian, here is a lesson
which can teach you much that you will not find in your primers and
catechisms. Why should I call her "poor little Helen"? Where can you
find a happier child?
SOUTH BOSTON, MASS., March 1, 1890.
DEAR KIND POET,—I have thought of you many times since that bright
Sunday when I bade you goodbye, and I am going to write you a letter
because I love you. I am sorry that you have no little children to play
with sometimes, but I think you are very happy with your books, and your
many, many friends. On Washington's Birthday a great many people came
here to see the little blind children, and I read for them from your
poems, and showed them some beautiful shells which came from a little
island near Palos. I am reading a very sad story called "Little Jakey."
Jakey was the sweetest little fellow you can imagine, but he was poor and
blind. I used to think, when I was small and before I could read, that
everybody was always happy, and at first it made me very sad to know
about pain and great sorrow; but now I know that we could never learn to
be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world. I am studying
about insects in Zoology, and I have learned many things about
butterflies. They do not make honey for us, like the bees, but many of
them are as beautiful as the flowers they light upon, and they always
delight the hearts of little children. They live a gay life, flitting
from flower to flower, sipping the drops of honey-dew, without a thought
for the morrow. They are just like little boys and girls when they
forget books and studies, and run away to the woods and the fields to
gather wild-flowers, or wade in the ponds for fragrant lilies, happy in
the bright sunshine. If my little sister comes to Boston next June, will
you let me bring her to see you? She is a lovely baby and I am sure you
will love [her]. Now I must tell my gentle poet good-bye, for I have a
letter to write home before I go to bed. From your loving little friend,
HELEN A. KELLER.
The reading of this letter made many eyes glisten, and a dead silence
hushed the whole circle. All at once Delilah, our pretty table-maid,
forgot her place,—what business had she to be listening to our
conversation and reading?—and began sobbing, just as if she had been a
lady. She could n't help it, she explained afterwards,—she had a little
blind sister at the asylum, who had told her about Helen's reading to the
It was very awkward, this breaking-down of our pretty Delilah, for one
girl crying will sometimes set off a whole row of others,—it is as
hazardous as lighting one cracker in a bunch. The two Annexes hurried
out their pocket-handkerchiefs, and I almost expected a semi-hysteric
cataclysm. At this critical moment Number Five called Delilah to her,
looked into her face with those calm eyes of hers, and spoke a few soft
words. Was Number Five forgetful, too? Did she not remember the
difference of their position? I suppose so. But she quieted the poor
handmaiden as simply and easily as a nursing mother quiets her unweaned
baby. Why are we not all in love with Number Five? Perhaps we are. At
any rate, I suspect the Professor. When we all get quiet, I will touch
him up about that visit she promised to make to his laboratory.
I got a chance at last to speak privately with him.
"Did Number Five go to meet you in your laboratory, as she talked of
"Oh, yes, of course she did,—why, she said she would!"
"Oh, to be sure. Do tell me what she wanted in your laboratory."
"She wanted me to burn a diamond for her."
"Burn a diamond! What was that for? Because Cleopatra swallowed a
"No, nothing of that kind. It was a small stone, and had a flaw in it.
Number Five said she did n't want a diamond with a flaw in it, and that
she did want to see how a diamond would burn."
"Was that all that happened?"
"That was all. She brought the two Annexes with her, and I gave my three
visitors a lecture on carbon, which they seemed to enjoy very much."
I looked steadily in the Professor's face during the reading of the
following poem. I saw no questionable look upon it,—but he has a
remarkable command of his features. Number Five read it with a certain
archness of expression, as if she saw all its meaning, which I think some
of the company did not quite take in. They said they must read it slowly
and carefully. Somehow, "I like you" and "I love you" got a little
mixed, as they heard it. It was not Number Five's fault, for she read it
beautifully, as we all agreed, and as I knew she would when I handed it
I LIKE YOU AND I LOVE YOU.
I LIKE YOU met I LOVE YOU, face to face;
The path was narrow, and they could not pass.
I LIKE YOU smiled; I LOVE YOU cried, Alas!
And so they halted for a little space.
"Turn thou and go before," I LOVE YOU said,
"Down the green pathway, bright with many a flower
Deep in the valley, lo! my bridal bower
Awaits thee." But I LIKE YOU shook his head.
Then while they lingered on the span-wide shelf
That shaped a pathway round the rocky ledge,
I LIKE YOU bared his icy dagger's edge,
And first he slew I LOVE YOU,—then himself.
There is no use in burdening my table with those letters of inquiry as to
where our meetings are held, and what are the names of the persons
designated by numbers, or spoken of under the titles of the Professor,
the Tutor, and so forth. It is enough that you are aware who I am, and
that I am known at the tea-table as The Dictator. Theatrical "asides" are
apt to be whispered in a pretty loud voice, and the persons who ought not
to have any idea of what is said are expected to be reasonably hard of
bearing. If I named all The Teacups, some of them might be offended. If
any of my readers happen to be able to identify any one Teacup by some
accidental circumstance,—say, for instance, Number Five, by the incident
of her burning the diamond,—I hope they will keep quiet about it.
Number Five does n't want to be pointed out in the street as the
extravagant person who makes use of such expensive fuel, for the story
would soon grow to a statement that she always uses diamonds, instead of
cheaper forms of carbon, to heat her coffee with. So with other members
of the circle. The "Cracked Teacup," Number Seven, would not, perhaps,
be pleased to recognize himself under that title. I repeat it,
therefore, Do not try to identify the individual Teacups. You will not
get them right; or, if you do, you may too probably make trouble. How is
it possible that I can keep up my freedom of intercourse with you all if
you insist on bellowing my "asides" through a speaking-trumpet? Besides,
you cannot have failed to see that there are strong symptoms of the
springing up of delicate relations between some of our number. I told
you how it would be. It did not require a prophet to foresee that the
saucy intruder who, as Mr. Willis wrote, and the dear dead girls used to
sing, in our young days,
"Taketh every form of air,
And every shape of earth,
And comes unbidden everywhere,
Like thought's mysterious birth,"
would pop his little curly head up between one or more pairs of Teacups.
If you will stop these questions, then, I will go on with my reports of
what was said and done at our meetings over the teacups.
Of all things beautiful in this fair world, there is nothing so
enchanting to look upon, to dream about, as the first opening of the
flower of young love. How closely the calyx has hidden the glowing
leaves in its quiet green mantle! Side by side, two buds have been
tossing jauntily in the breeze, often brought very near to each other,
sometimes touching for a moment, with a secret thrill in their
close-folded heart-leaves, it may be, but still the cool green sepals
shutting tight over the burning secret within. All at once a morning ray
touches one of the two buds, and the point of a blushing petal betrays
the imprisoned and swelling blossom.
—Oh, no, I did not promise a love-story. There may be a little
sentiment now and then, but these papers are devoted chiefly to the
opinions, prejudices, fancies, whims, of myself, The Dictator, and others
of The Teacups who have talked or written for the general benefit of the
Here are some of the remarks I made the other evening on the subject of
Intellectual Over-Feeding and its consequence, Mental Dyspepsia. There is
something positively appalling in the amount of printed matter yearly,
monthly, weekly, daily, secreted by that great gland of the civilized
organism, the press. I need not dilate upon this point, for it is
brought home to every one of you who ever looks into a bookstore or a
public library. So large is the variety of literary products continually
coming forward, forced upon the attention of the reader by stimulating
and suggestive titles, commended to his notice by famous names, recasting
old subjects and developing and illustrating new ones, that the mind is
liable to be urged into a kind of unnatural hunger, leading to a
repletion which is often followed by disgust and disturbed nervous
conditions as its natural consequence.
It has long been a favorite rule with me, a rule which I have never lost
sight of, however imperfectly I have carried it out: Try to know enough
of a wide range of subjects to profit by the conversation of intelligent
persons of different callings and various intellectual gifts and
acquisitions. The cynic will paraphrase this into a shorter formula: Get
a smattering in every sort of knowledge. I must therefore add a second
piece of advice: Learn to hold as of small account the comments of the
cynic. He is often amusing, sometimes really witty, occasionally,
without meaning it, instructive; but his talk is to profitable
conversation what the stone is to the pulp of the peach, what the cob is
to the kernels on an ear of Indian corn. Once more: Do not be bullied out
of your common sense by the specialist; two to one, he is a pedant, with
all his knowledge and valuable qualities, and will "cavil on the ninth
part of a hair," if it will give him a chance to show off his idle
I saw attributed to me, the other day, the saying, "Know something about
everything, and everything about something." I am afraid it does not
belong to me, but I will treat it as I used to treat a stray boat which
came through my meadow, floating down the Housatonic,—get hold of it and
draw it ashore, and hold on to it until the owner turns up. If this
precept is used discreetly, it is very serviceable; but it is as well to
recognize the fact that you cannot know something about everything in
days like these of intellectual activity, of literary and scientific
production. We all feel this. It makes us nervous to see the shelves of
new books, many of which we feel as if we ought to read, and some among
them to study. We must adopt some principle of selection among the books
outside of any particular branch which we may have selected for study. I
have often been asked what books I would recommend for a course of
reading. I have always answered that I had a great deal rather take
advice than give it. Fortunately, a number of scholars have furnished
lists of books to which the inquirer may be directed. But the worst of
it is that each student is in need of a little library specially adapted
to his wants. Here is a young man writing to me from a Western college,
and wants me to send him a list of the books which I think would be most
useful to him. He does not send me his intellectual measurements, and he
might as well have sent to a Boston tailor for a coat, without any hint
of his dimensions in length, breadth, and thickness.
But instead of laying down rules for reading, and furnishing lists of the
books which should be read in order, I will undertake the much humbler
task of giving a little quasi-medical advice to persons, young or old,
suffering from book-hunger, book-surfeit, book-nervousness,
book-indigestion, book-nausea, and all other maladies which, directly or
indirectly, may be traced to books, and to which I could give Greek or
Latin names if I thought it worth while.
I have a picture hanging in my library, a lithograph, of which many of my
readers may have seen copies. It represents a gray-haired old book-lover
at the top of a long flight of steps. He finds himself in clover, so to
speak, among rare old editions, books he has longed to look upon and
never seen before, rarities, precious old volumes, incunabula,
cradle-books, printed while the art was in its infancy,—its glorious
infancy, for it was born a giant. The old bookworm is so intoxicated
with the sight and handling of the priceless treasures that he cannot
bear to put one of the volumes back after he has taken it from the shelf.
So there he stands,—one book open in his hands, a volume under each arm,
and one or more between his legs,—loaded with as many as he can possibly
hold at the same time.
Now, that is just the way in which the extreme form of book-hunger shows
itself in the reader whose appetite has become over-developed. He wants
to read so many books that he over-crams himself with the crude materials
of knowledge, which become knowledge only when the mental digestion has
time to assimilate them. I never can go into that famous "Corner
Bookstore" and look over the new books in the row before me, as I enter
the door, without seeing half a dozen which I want to read, or at least
to know something about. I cannot empty my purse of its contents, and
crowd my bookshelves with all those volumes. The titles of many of them
interest me. I look into one or two, perhaps. I have sometimes picked
up a line or a sentence, in these momentary glances between the uncut
leaves of a new book, which I have never forgotten. As a trivial but
bona fide example, one day I opened a book on duelling. I remember only
these words: "Conservons-la, cette noble institution." I had never
before seen duelling called a noble institution, and I wish I had taken
the name of the book. Book-tasting is not necessarily profitless, but it
is very stimulating, and makes one hungry for more than he needs for the
nourishment of his thinking-marrow. To feed this insatiable hunger, the
abstracts, the reviews, do their best. But these, again, have grown so
numerous and so crowded with matter that it is hard to find time to
master their contents. We are accustomed, therefore, to look for
analyses of these periodicals, and at last we have placed before us a
formidable-looking monthly, "The Review of Reviews." After the analyses
comes the newspaper notice; and there is still room for the epigram,
which sometimes makes short work with all that has gone before on the
It is just as well to recognize the fact that if one should read day and
night, confining himself to his own language, he could not pretend to
keep up with the press. He might as well try to race with a locomotive.
The first discipline, therefore, is that of despair. If you could stick
to your reading day and night for fifty years, what a learned idiot you
would become long before the half-century was over! Well, then, there is
no use in gorging one's self with knowledge, and no need of self-reproach
because one is content to remain more or less ignorant of many things
which interest his fellow-creatures. We gain a good deal of knowledge
through the atmosphere; we learn a great deal by accidental hearsay,
provided we have the mordant in our own consciousness which makes the
wise remark, the significant fact, the instructive incident, take hold
upon it. After the stage of despair comes the period of consolation. We
soon find that we are not so much worse off than most of our neighbors as
we supposed. The fractional value of the wisest shows a small numerator
divided by an infinite denominator of knowledge.
I made some explanations to The Teacups, the other evening, which they
received very intelligently and graciously, as I have no doubt the
readers of these reports of mine will receive them. If the reader will
turn back to the end of the fourth number of these papers, he will find
certain lines entitled, "Cacoethes Scribendi." They were said to have
been taken from the usual receptacle of the verses which are contributed
by The Teacups, and, though the fact was not mentioned, were of my own
composition. I found them in manuscript in my drawer, and as my subject
had naturally suggested the train of thought they carried out into
extravagance, I printed them. At the same time they sounded very
natural, as we say, and I felt as if I had published them somewhere or
other before; but I could find no evidence of it, and so I ventured to
have them put in type.
And here I wish to take breath for a short, separate paragraph. I have
often felt, after writing a line which pleased me more than common, that
it was not new, and perhaps was not my own. I have very rarely, however,
found such a coincidence in ideas or expression as would be enough to
justify an accusation of unconscious plagiarism,—conscious plagiarism is
not my particular failing. I therefore say my say, set down my thought,
print my line, and do not heed the suspicion that I may not be as
original as I supposed, in the passage I have been writing. My
experience may be worth something to a modest young writer, and so I have
interrupted what I was about to say by intercalating this paragraph.
In this instance my telltale suspicion had not been at fault. I had
printed those same lines, years ago, in "The Contributors' Club," to
which I have rarely sent any of my prose or verse. Nobody but the editor
has noticed the fact, so far as I know. This is consoling, or
mortifying, I hardly know which. I suppose one has a right to plagiarize
from himself, but he does not want to present his work as fresh from the
workshop when it has been long standing in his neighbor's shop-window.
But I have just received a letter from a brother of the late Henry Howard
Brownell, the poet of the Bay Fight and the River Fight, in which he
quotes a passage from an old book, "A Heroine, Adventures of Cherubina,"
which might well have suggested my own lines, if I had ever seen it. I
have not the slightest recollection of the book or the passage. I think
its liveliness and "local color" will make it please the reader, as it
pleases me, more than my own more prosaic extravagances:
LINES TO A PRETTY LITTLE MAID OF MAMMA'S.
"If Black Sea, Red Sea, White Sea, ran
One tide of ink to Ispahan,
If all the geese in Lincoln fens
Produced spontaneous well-made pens,
If Holland old and Holland new
One wondrous sheet of paper grew,
And could I sing but half the grace
Of half a freckle in thy face,
Each syllable I wrote would reach
From Inverness to Bognor's beach,
Each hair-stroke be a river Rhine,
Each verse an equinoctial line!"
"The immediate dismissal of the 'little maid' was the consequence."
I may as well say that our Delilah was not in the room when the last
sentence was read.
Readers must be either very good-natured or very careless. I have laid
myself open to criticism by more than one piece of negligence, which has
been passed over without invidious comment by the readers of my papers.
How could I, for instance, have written in my original "copy" for the
printer about the fisherman baiting his hook with a giant's tail instead
of a dragon's? It is the automatic fellow,—Me—Number-Two of our dual
personality,—who does these things, who forgets the message
Me—Number—One sends down to him from the cerebral convolutions, and
substitutes a wrong word for the right one. I suppose Me—Number—Two
will "sass back," and swear that "giant's" was the message which came
down from headquarters. He is always doing the wrong thing and excusing
himself. Who blows out the gas instead of shutting it off? Who puts the
key in the desk and fastens it tight with the spring lock? Do you mean
to say that the upper Me, the Me of the true thinking-marrow, the
convolutions of the brain, does not know better? Of course he does, and
Me-Number-Two is a careless servant, who remembers some old direction,
and follows that instead of the one just given.
Number Seven demurred to this, and I am not sure that he is wrong in so
doing. He maintains that the automatic fellow always does just what he
is told to do. Number Five is disposed to agree with him. We will talk
over the question.
But come, now, why should not a giant have a tail as well as a dragon?
Linnaeus admitted the homo caudatus into his anthropological catalogue.
The human embryo has a very well marked caudal appendage; that is, the
vertebral column appears prolonged, just as it is in a young quadruped.
During the late session of the Medical Congress at Washington, my friend
Dr. Priestley, a distinguished London physician, of the highest character
and standing, showed me the photograph of a small boy, some three or four
years old, who had a very respectable little tail, which would have
passed muster on a pig, and would have made a frog or a toad ashamed of
himself. I have never heard what became of the little boy, nor have I
looked in the books or journals to find out if there are similar cases on
record, but I have no doubt that there are others. And if boys may have
this additional ornament to their vertebral columns, why not men? And if
men, why not giants? So I may not have made a very bad blunder, after
all, and my reader has learned something about the homo caudatus as
spoken of by Linnxus, and as shown me in photograph by Dr. Priestley.
This child is a candidate for the vacant place of Missing Link.
In accounting for the blunders, and even gross blunders, which, sooner or
later, one who writes much is pretty sure to commit, I must not forget
the part played by the blind spot or idiotic area in the brain, which I
have already described.
The most knowing persons we meet with are sometimes at fault. Nova
onania possumus omnes is not a new nor profound axiom, but it is well to
remember it as a counterpoise to that other truly American saying of the
late Mr. Samuel Patch, "Some things can be done as well as others." Yes,
some things, but not all things. We all know men and women who hate to
admit their ignorance of anything. Like Talkative in "Pilgrim's
Progress," they are ready to converse of "things heavenly or things
earthly; things moral or things evangelical; things sacred or things
profane; things past or things to come; things foreign or things at home;
things more essential or things circumstantial."
Talkative is apt to be a shallow fellow, and to say foolish things about
matters he only half understands, and yet he has his place in society.
The specialists would grow to be intolerable, were they not counterpoised
to some degree by the people of general intelligence. The man who knows
too much about one particular subject is liable to become a terrible
social infliction. Some of the worst bores (to use plain language) we
ever meet with are recognized as experts of high grade in their
respective departments. Beware of making so much as a pinhole in the dam
that holds back their knowledge. They ride their hobbies without bit or
bridle. A poet on Pegasus, reciting his own verses, is hardly more to be
dreaded than a mounted specialist.
One of the best offices which women perform for men is that of tasting
books for them. They may or may not be profound students,—some of them
are; but we do not expect to meet women like Mrs. Somerville, or Caroline
Herschel, or Maria Mitchell at every dinner-table or afternoon tea. But
give your elect lady a pile of books to look over for you, and she will
tell you what they have for her and for you in less time than you would
have wasted in stupefying yourself over a single volume.
One of the encouraging signs of the times is the condensed and
abbreviated form in which knowledge is presented to the general reader.
The short biographies of historic personages, of which within the past
few years many have been published, have been a great relief to the large
class of readers who want to know something, but not too much, about
What refuge is there for the victim who is oppressed with the feeling
that there are a thousand new books he ought to read, while life is only
long enough for him to attempt to read a hundred? Many readers remember
what old Rogers, the poet, said:
"When I hear a new book talked about or have it pressed upon me, I read
an old one."
Happy the man who finds his rest in the pages of some favorite classic!
I know no reader more to be envied than that friend of mine who for many
years has given his days and nights to the loving study of Horace. After
a certain period in life, it is always with an effort that we admit a new
author into the inner circle of our intimates. The Parisian omnibuses,
as I remember them half a century ago,—they may still keep to the same
habit, for aught that I know,—used to put up the sign "Complet" as soon
as they were full. Our public conveyances are never full until the
natural atmospheric pressure of sixteen pounds to the square inch is
doubled, in the close packing of the human sardines that fill the
all-accommodating vehicles. A new-comer, however well mannered and well
dressed, is not very welcome under these circumstances. In the same way,
our tables are full of books half-read and books we feel that we must
read. And here come in two thick volumes, with uncut leaves, in small
type, with many pages, and many lines to a page,—a book that must be
read and ought to be read at once. What a relief to hand it over to the
lovely keeper of your literary conscience, who will tell you all that you
will most care to know about it, and leave you free to plunge into your
beloved volume, in which you are ever finding new beauties, and from
which you rise refreshed, as if you had just come from the cool waters of
Hippocrene! The stream of modern literature represented by the books and
periodicals on the crowded counters is a turbulent and clamorous torrent,
dashing along among the rocks of criticism, over the pebbles of the
world's daily events; trying to make itself seen and heard amidst the
hoarse cries of the politicians and the rumbling wheels of traffic. The
classic is a still lakelet, a mountain tarn, fed by springs that never
fail, its surface never ruffled by storms,—always the same, always
smiling a welcome to its visitor. Such is Horace to my friend. To his
eye "Lydia, dic per omnes" is as familiar as "Pater noster qui es in
caelis" to that of a pious Catholic. "Integer vitae," which he has put
into manly English, his Horace opens to as Watt's hymn-book opens to
"From all that dwell below the skies." The more he reads, the more he
studies his author, the richer are the treasures he finds. And what
Horace is to him, Homer, or Virgil, or Dante is to many a quiet reader,
sick to death of the unending train of bookmakers.
I have some curious books in my library, a few of which I should like to
say something about to The Teacups, when they have no more immediately
pressing subjects before them. A library of a few thousand volumes ought
always to have some books in it which the owner almost never opens, yet
with whose backs he is so well acquainted that he feels as if he knew
something of their contents. They are like those persons whom we meet in
our daily walks, with whose faces and figures, whose summer and winter
garments, whose walking-sticks and umbrellas even, we feel acquainted,
and yet whose names, whose business, whose residences, we know nothing
about. Some of these books are so formidable in their dimensions, so
rusty and crabbed in their aspect, that it takes a considerable amount of
courage to attack them.
I will ask Delilah to bring down from my library a very thick, stout
volume, bound in parchment, and standing on the lower shelf, next the
fireplace. The pretty handmaid knows my books almost as if she were my
librarian, and I don't doubt she would have found it if I had given only
the name on the back.
Delilah returned presently, with the heavy quarto in her arms. It was a
pleasing sight,—the old book in the embrace of the fresh young damsel.
I felt, on looking at them, as I did when I followed the slip of a girl
who conducted us in the Temple, that ancient building in the heart of
London. The long-enduring monuments of the dead do so mock the fleeting
presence of the living!
Is n't this book enough to scare any of you? I said, as Delilah dumped
it down upon the table. The teacups jumped from their saucers as it
thumped on the board. Danielis Georgii Morhofii Polyhistor, Literarius,
Philosophicus et Poeticus. Lubecae MDCCXXXIII. Perhaps I should not
have ventured to ask you to look at this old volume, if it had not been
for the fact that Dr. Johnson mentions Morohof as the author to whom he
was specially indebted.—more, I think, than to any other. It is a grand
old encyclopaedic summary of all the author knew about pretty nearly
everything, full of curious interest, but so strangely mediaeval, so
utterly antiquated in most departments of knowledge, that it is hard to
believe the volume came from the press at a time when persons whom I well
remember were living. Is it possible that the books which have been for
me what Morhof was for Dr. Johnson can look like that to the student of
the year 1990?
Morhof was a believer in magic and the transmutation of metals. There was
always something fascinating to me in the old books of alchemy. I have
felt that the poetry of science lost its wings when the last powder of
projection had been cast into the crucible, and the fire of the last
transmutation furnace went out. Perhaps I am wrong in implying that
alchemy is an extinct folly. It existed in New England's early days, as
we learn from the Winthrop papers, and I see no reason why gold-making
should not have its votaries as well as other popular delusions.
Among the essays of Morhof is one on the "Paradoxes of the Senses." That
title brought to mind the recollection of another work I have been
meaning to say something about, at some time when you were in the
listening mood. The book I refer to is "A Budget of Paradoxes," by
Augustus De Morgan. De Morgan is well remembered as a very distinguished
mathematician, whose works have kept his name in high honor to the
present time. The book I am speaking of was published by his widow, and
is largely made up of letters received by him and his comments upon them.
Few persons ever read it through. Few intelligent readers ever took it
up and laid it down without taking a long draught of its singular and
interesting contents. The letters are mostly from that class of persons
whom we call "cranks," in our familiar language.
At this point Number Seven interrupted me by calling out, "Give us some
of those cranks' letters. A crank is a man who does his own thinking. I
had a relation who was called a crank. I believe I have been spoken of
as one myself. That is what you have to expect if you invent anything
that puts an old machine out of fashion, or solve a problem that has
puzzled all the world up to your time. There never was a religion
founded but its Messiah was called a crank. There never was an idea
started that woke up men out of their stupid indifference but its
originator was spoken of as a crank. Do you want to know why that name
is given to the men who do most for the world's progress? I will tell
you. It is because cranks make all the wheels in all the machinery of
the world go round. What would a steam-engine be without a crank? I
suppose the first fool that looked on the first crank that was ever made
asked what that crooked, queer-looking thing was good for. When the
wheels got moving he found out. Tell us something about that book which
has so much to say concerning cranks."
Hereupon I requested Delilah to carry back Morhof, and replace him in the
wide gap he had left in the bookshelf. She was then to find and bring
down the volume I had been speaking of.
Delilah took the wisdom of the seventeenth century in her arms, and
departed on her errand. The book she brought down was given me some
years ago by a gentleman who had sagaciously foreseen that it was just
one of those works which I might hesitate about buying, but should be
well pleased to own. He guessed well; the book has been a great source
of instruction and entertainment to me. I wonder that so much time and
cost should have been expended upon a work which might have borne a title
like the Encomium Moriae of Erasmus; and yet it is such a wonderful
museum of the productions of the squinting brains belonging to the class
of persons commonly known as cranks that we could hardly spare one of its
five hundred octavo pages.
Those of us who are in the habit of receiving letters from all sorts of
would-be-literary people—letters of inquiry, many of them with reference
to matters we are supposed to understand—can readily see how it was that
Mr. De Morgan, never too busy to be good-natured with the people who
pestered—or amused-him with their queer fancies, received such a number
of letters from persons who thought they had made great discoveries, from
those who felt that they and their inventions and contrivances had been
overlooked, and who sought in his large charity of disposition and great
receptiveness a balm for their wounded feelings and a ray of hope for
their darkened prospects.
The book before us is made up from papers published in "The Athenaeum,"
with additions by the author. Soon after opening it we come to names
with which we are familiar, the first of these, that of Cornelius
Agrippa, being connected with the occult and mystic doctrines dealt with
by many of De Morgan's correspondents. But the name most likely to
arrest us is that of Giordano Bruno, the same philosopher, heretic, and
martyr whose statue has recently been erected in Rome, to the great
horror of the Pope and his prelates in the Old World and in the New. De
Morgan's pithy account of him will interest the company: "Giordano Bruno
was all paradox. He was, as has been said, a vorticist before Descartes,
an optimist before Leibnitz, a Copernican before Galileo. It would be
easy to collect a hundred strange opinions of his. He was born about
1550, and was roasted alive at Rome, February 17, 1600, for the
maintenance and defence of the Holy Church, and the rights and liberties
of the same."
Number Seven could not contain himself when the reading had reached this
point. He rose from his chair, and tinkled his spoon against the side of
his teacup. It may have been a fancy, but I thought it returned a sound
which Mr. Richard Briggs would have recognized as implying an organic
defect. But Number Seven did not seem to notice it, or, if he did, to
"Why did n't we all have a chance to help erect that statue?" he cried.
"A murdered heretic at the beginning of the seventeenth century, a hero
of knowledge in the nineteenth,—I drink to the memory of the roasted
crank, Giordano Bruno!"
Number Seven lifted his teacup to his lips, and most of us followed his
After this outburst of emotion and eloquence had subsided, and the
teaspoons lay quietly in their saucers, I went on with my extract from
the book I had in hand.
I think, I said, that the passage which follows will be new and
instructive to most of the company. De Morgan's interpretation of the
cabalistic sentence, made up as you will find it, is about as ingenious a
piece of fanciful exposition as you will be likely to meet with anywhere
in any book, new or old. I am the more willing to mention it as it
suggests a puzzle which some of the company may like to work upon.
Observe the character and position of the two distinguished philosophers
who did not think their time thrown away in laboring at this seemingly
"There is a kind of Cabbala Alphabetica which the investigators of the
numerals in words would do well to take up; it is the formation of
sentences which contain all the letters of the alphabet, and each only
once. No one has done it with v and j treated as consonants; but you and
I can do it. Dr. Whewell and I amused ourselves some years ago with
attempts. He could not make sense, though he joined words he gave me
Phiz, styx, wrong, buck, flame, quiz.
"I gave him the following, which he agreed was 'admirable sense,'—I
certainly think the words would never have come together except in this
way: I quartz pyx who fling muck beds. I long thought that no human
being could say this under any circumstances. At last I happened to be
reading a religious writer,—as he thought himself,—who threw aspersions
on his opponents thick and threefold. Heyday came into my head; this
fellow flings muck beds; he must be a quartz pyx. And then I remembered
that a pyx is a sacred vessel, and quartz is a hard stone, as hard as the
heart of a religious foe-curser. So that the line is the motto of the
ferocious sectarian who turns his religious vessels into mud-holders, for
the benefit of those who will not see what he sees."
"There are several other sentences given, in which all the letters
(except v and j as consonants) are employed, of which the following is
the best: Get nymph; quiz sad brow; fix luck,—which in more sober
English would be, Marry; be cheerful; watch your business. There is more
edification, more religion, in this than in all the 666 interpretations
There is something very pleasant in the thought of these two sages
playing at jackstraws with the letters of the alphabet. The task which
De Morgan and Dr. Whewell, "the omniscient," set themselves would not be
unworthy of our own ingenious scholars, and it might be worth while for
some one of our popular periodicals to offer a prize for the best
sentence using up the whole alphabet, under the same conditions as those
submitted to by our two philosophers.
This whole book of De Morgan's seems to me full of instruction. There is
too much of it, no doubt; yet one can put up with the redundancy for the
sake of the multiplicity of shades of credulity and self-deception it
displays in broad daylight. I suspect many of us are conscious of a
second personality in our complex nature, which has many traits
resembling those found in the writers of the letters addressed to Mr. De
I have not ventured very often nor very deeply into the field of
metaphysics, but if I were disposed to make any claim in that direction,
it would be the recognition of the squinting brain, the introduction of
the term "cerebricity" corresponding to electricity, the idiotic area in
the brain or thinking-marrow, and my studies of the second member in the
partnership of I-My-Self & Co. I add the Co. with especial reference to
a very interesting article in a late Scribner, by my friend Mr. William
James. In this article the reader will find a full exposition of the
doctrine of plural personality illustrated by striking cases. I have
long ago noticed and referred to the fact of the stratification of the
currents of thought in three layers, one over the other. I have
recognized that where there are two individuals talking together there
are really six personalities engaged in the conversation. But the
distinct, separable, independent individualities, taking up conscious
life one after the other, are brought out by Mr. James and the
authorities to which he refers as I have not elsewhere seen them
Whether we shall ever find the exact position of the idiotic centre or
area in the brain (if such a spot exists) is uncertain. We know exactly
where the blind spot of the eye is situated, and can demonstrate it
anatomically and physiologically. But we have only analogy to lead us to
infer the possible or even probable existence of an insensible spot in
the thinking-centre. If there is a focal point where consciousness is at
its highest development, it would not be strange if near by there should
prove to be an anaesthetic district or limited space where no report from
the senses was intelligently interpreted. But all this is mere
Notwithstanding the fact that I am nominally the head personage of the
circle of Teacups, I do not pretend or wish to deny that we all look to
Number Five as our chief adviser in all the literary questions that come
before us. She reads more and better than any of us. She is always
ready to welcome the first sign of genius, or of talent which approaches
genius. She makes short work with all the pretenders whose only excuse
for appealing to the public is that they "want to be famous." She is one
of the very few persons to whom I am willing to read any one of my own
productions while it is yet in manuscript, unpublished. I know she is
disposed to make more of it than it deserves; but, on the other hand,
there are degrees in her scale of judgment, and I can distinguish very
easily what delights her from what pleases only, or is, except for her
kindly feeling to the writer, indifferent, or open to severe comment.
What is curious is that she seems to have no literary aspirations, no
desire to be known as a writer. Yet Number Five has more esprit, more
sparkle, more sense in her talk, than many a famous authoress from whom
we should expect brilliant conversation.
There are mysteries about Number Five. I am not going to describe her
personally. Whether she belongs naturally among the bright young people,
or in the company of the maturer persons, who have had a good deal of
experience of the world, and have reached the wisdom of the riper decades
without losing the graces of the earlier ones, it would be hard to say.
The men and women, young and old, who throng about her forget their own
ages. "There is no such thing as time in her presence," said the
Professor, the other day, in speaking of her. Whether the Professor is in
love with her or not is more than I can say, but I am sure that he goes
to her for literary sympathy and counsel, just as I do. The reader may
remember what Number Five said about the possibility of her getting a
sprained ankle, and her asking the young Doctor whether he felt equal to
taking charge of her if she did. I would not for the world insinuate
that he wishes she would slip and twist her foot a little,—just a
little, you know, but so that it would have to be laid on a pillow in a
chair, and inspected, and bandaged, and delicately manipulated. There
was a banana-skin which she might naturally have trodden on, in her way
to the tea-table. Nobody can suppose that it was there except by the
most innocent of accidents. There are people who will suspect everybody.
The idea of the Doctor's putting that banana-skin there! People love to
talk in that silly way about doctors.
Number Five had promised to read us a narrative which she thought would
interest some of the company. Who wrote it she did not tell us, but I
inferred from various circumstances that she had known the writer. She
read the story most effectively in her rich, musical voice. I noticed
that when it came to the sounds of the striking clock, the ringing of the
notes was so like that which reaches us from some far-off cathedral tower
that we wanted to bow our heads, as if we had just heard a summons to the
Angelus. This was the short story that Number Five read to The
I have somewhere read this anecdote. Louis the Fourteenth was looking
out, one day, from, a window of his palace of Saint-Germain. It was a
beautiful landscape which spread out before him, and the monarch,
exulting in health, strength, and the splendors of his exalted position,
felt his bosom swell with emotions of pride and happiness: Presently he
noticed the towers of a church in the distance, above the treetops.
"What building is that?" he asked. "May it please your Majesty, that is
the Church of St. Denis, where your royal ancestors have been buried for
many generations." The answer did not "please his Royal Majesty."
There, then, was the place where he too was to lie and moulder in the
dust. He turned, sick at heart, from the window, and was uneasy until he
had built him another palace, from which he could never be appalled by
that fatal prospect.
Something like the experience of Louis the Fourteenth was that of the
THE TERRIBLE CLOCK.
I give the story as transcribed from the original manuscript:—
The clock was bequeathed to me by an old friend who had recently died.
His mind had been a good deal disordered in the later period of his life.
This clock, I am told; seemed to have a strange fascination for him. His
eyes were fastened on it during the last hours of his life. He died just
at midnight. The clock struck twelve, the nurse told me, as he drew his
last breath, and then, without any known cause, stopped, with both hands
upon the hour.
It is a complex and costly piece of mechanism. The escapement is in
front, so that every tooth is seen as it frees itself. It shows the
phases of the moon, the month of the year, the day of the month, and the
day of the week, as well as the hour and minute of the day.
I had not owned it a week before I began to perceive the same kind of
fascination as that which its former owner had experienced. This
gradually grew upon me, and presently led to trains of thought which
became at first unwelcome, then worrying, and at last unendurable. I
began by taking offence at the moon. I did not like to see that
"something large and smooth and round," so like the skull which little
Peterkin picked up on the field of Blenheim. "How many times," I kept
saying to myself, "is that wicked old moon coming up to stare at me?" I
could not stand it. I stopped a part of the machinery, and the moon went
into permanent eclipse. By and by the sounds of the infernal machine
began to trouble and pursue me. They talked to me; more and more their
language became that of articulately speaking men. They twitted me with
the rapid flight of time. They hurried me, as if I had not a moment to
lose. Quick! Quick! Quick! as each tooth released itself from the
escapement. And as I looked and listened there could not be any mistake
about it. I heard Quick! Quick! Quick! as plainly, at least, as I ever
heard a word from the phonograph. I stood watching the dial one day,—it
was near one o'clock,—and a strange attraction held me fastened to the
spot. Presently something appeared to trip or stumble inside of the
infernal mechanism. I waited for the sound I knew was to follow. How
nervous I got! It seemed to me that it would never strike. At last the
minute-hand reached the highest point of the dial. Then there was a
little stir among the works, as there is in a congregation as it rises to
receive the benediction. It was no form of blessing which rung out those
deep, almost sepulchral tones. But the word they uttered could not be
mistaken. I can hear its prolonged, solemn vibrations as if I were
standing before the clock at this moment.
Gone! Yes, I said to myself, gone,—its record made up to be opened in
I stood still, staring vaguely at the dial as in a trance. And as the
next hour creeps stealthily up, it starts all at once, and cries aloud,
Gone!—Gone! The sun sinks lower, the hour-hand creeps downward with it,
until I hear the thrice-repeated monosyllable, Gone!—Gone!—Gone! Soon
through the darkening hours, until at the dead of night the long roll is
called, and with the last Gone! the latest of the long procession that
filled the day follows its ghostly companions into the stillness and
darkness of the past.
I silenced the striking part of the works. Still, the escapement kept
repeating, Quick! Quick! Quick! Still the long minute-hand, like the
dart in the grasp of Death, as we see it in Roubiliac's monument to Mrs.
Nightingale, among the tombs of Westminster Abbey, stretched itself out,
ready to transfix each hour as it passed, and make it my last. I sat by
the clock to watch the leap from one day of the week to the next. Then
would come, in natural order, the long stride from one month to the
I could endure it no longer. "Take that clock away!" I said. They took
it away. They took me away, too,—they thought I needed country air.
The sounds and motions still pursued me in imagination. I was very
nervous when I came here. The walks are pleasant, but the walls seem to
me unnecessarily high. The boarders are numerous; a little
miscellaneous, I think. But we have the Queen, and the President of the
United States, and several other distinguished persons, if we may trust
what they tell about themselves.
After we had listened to Number Five's story, I was requested to read a
couple of verses written by me when the guest of my friends, whose name
is hinted by the title prefixed to my lines.
LA MAISON D'OR.
From this fair home behold on either side
The restful mountains or the restless sea:
So the warm sheltering walls of life divide
Time and its tides from still eternity.
Look on the waves: their stormy voices teach
That not on earth may toil and struggle cease.
Look on the mountains: better far than speech
Their silent promise of eternal peace.
I had intended to devote this particular report to an account of my
replies to certain questions which have been addressed to me,—questions
which I have a right to suppose interest the public, and which,
therefore, I was justified in bringing before The Teacups, and presenting
to the readers of these articles.
Some may care for one of these questions, and some for another. A good
many young people think nothing about life as it presents itself in the
far horizon, bounded by the snowy ridges of threescore and the dim peaks
beyond that remote barrier. Again, there are numbers of persons who know
nothing at all about the Jews; while, on the other hand, there are those
who can, or think they can, detect the Israelitish blood in many of their
acquaintances who believe themselves of the purest Japhetic origin, and
are full of prejudices about the Semitic race.
I do not mean to be cheated out of my intentions. I propose to answer my
questioners on the two points just referred to, but I find myself so much
interested in the personal affairs of The Teacups that I must deal with
them before attacking those less exciting subjects. There is no use, let
me say here, in addressing to me letters marked "personal," "private,"
"confidential," and so forth, asking me how I came to know what happened
in certain conversations of which I shall give a partial account. If
there is a very sensitive phonograph lying about here and there in
unsuspected corners, that might account for some part of my revelations.
If Delilah, whose hearing is of almost supernatural delicacy, reports to
me what she overhears, it might explain a part of the mystery. I do not
want to accuse Delilah, but a young person who assures me she can hear my
watch ticking in my pocket, when I am in the next room, might undoubtedly
tell many secrets, if so disposed. Number Five is pretty nearly
omniscient, and she and I are on the best terms with each other. These
are all the hints I shall give you at present.
The Teacups of whom the least has been heard at our table are the Tutor
and the Musician. The Tutor is a modest young man, kept down a little, I
think, by the presence of older persons, like the Professor and myself.
I have met him several times, of late, walking with different lady
Teacups: once with the American Annex; twice with the English Annex; once
with the two Annexes together; once with Number Five.
I have mentioned the fact that the Tutor is a poet as among his claims to
our attention. I must add that I do not think any the worse of him for
expressing his emotions and experiences in verse. For though rhyming is
often a bad sign in a young man, especially if he is already out of his
teens, there are those to whom it is as natural, one might almost say as
necessary, as it is to a young bird to fly. One does not care to see
barnyard fowls tumbling about in trying to use their wings. They have a
pair of good, stout drumsticks, and had better keep to them, for the most
part. But that feeling does not apply to young eagles, or even to young
swallows and sparrows. The Tutor is by no means one of those ignorant,
silly, conceited phrase-tinklers, who live on the music of their own
jingling syllables and the flattery of their foolish friends. I think
Number Five must appreciate him. He is sincere, warmhearted,—his poetry
shows that,—not in haste to be famous, and he looks to me as if he only
wanted love to steady him. With one of those two young girls he ought
certainly to be captivated, if he is not already. Twice walking with the
English Annex, I met him, and they were so deeply absorbed in
conversation they hardly noticed me. He has been talking over the matter
with Number Five, who is just the kind of person for a confidante.
"I know I feel very lonely," he was saying, "and I only wish I felt sure
that I could make another person happy. My life would be transfigured if
I could find such a one, whom I could love well enough to give my life to
her,—for her, if that were needful, and who felt an affinity for me, if
any one could."
"And why not your English maiden?" said Number Five.
"What makes you think I care more for her than for her American friend?"
said the Tutor.
"Why, have n't I met you walking with her, and did n't you both seem
greatly interested in the subject you were discussing? I thought, of
course, it was something more or less sentimental that you were talking
"I was explaining that 'enclitic de' in Browning's Grammarian's Funeral.
I don't think there was anything very sentimental about that. She is an
inquisitive creature, that English girl. She is very fond of asking me
questions,—in fact, both of them are. There is one curious difference
between them: the English girl settles down into her answers and is
quiet; the American girl is never satisfied with yesterday's conclusions;
she is always reopening old questions in the light of some new fact or
some novel idea. I suppose that people bred from childhood to lean their
backs against the wall of the Creed and the church catechism find it hard
to sit up straight on the republican stool, which obliges them to stiffen
their own backs. Which of these two girls would be the safest choice for
a young man? I should really like to hear what answer you would make if I
consulted you seriously, with a view to my own choice,—on the
supposition that there was a fair chance that either of them might be
"The one you are in love with," answered Number Five.
"But what if it were a case of 'How happy could I be with either'? Which
offers the best chance of happiness,—a marriage between two persons of
the same country, or a marriage where one of the parties is of foreign
birth? Everything else being equal, which is best for an American to
marry, an American or an English girl? We need not confine the question
to those two young persons, but put it more generally."
"There are reasons on both sides," answered Number Five. "I have often
talked this matter over with The Dictator. This is the way he speaks
about it. English blood is apt to tell well on the stock upon which it
is engrafted. Over and over again he has noticed finely grown specimens
of human beings, and on inquiry has found that one or both of the parents
or grandparents were of British origin. The chances are that the
descendants of the imported stock will be of a richer organization, more
florid, more muscular, with mellower voices, than the native whose blood
has been unmingled with that of new emigrants since the earlier colonial
times.—So talks The Dictator.—I myself think the American will find his
English wife concentrates herself more readily and more exclusively on
her husband,—for the obvious reason that she is obliged to live mainly
in him. I remember hearing an old friend of my early days say, 'A woman
does not bear transplanting.' It does not do to trust these old sayings,
and yet they almost always have some foundation in the experience of
mankind, which has repeated them from generation to generation. Happy is
the married woman of foreign birth who can say to her husband, as
Andromache said to Hector, after enumerating all the dear relatives she
"'Yet while my hector still survives,
I see My father, mother, brethren, all in thee!'
"How many a sorrowing wife, exiled from her native country, dreams of the
mother she shall see no more! How many a widow, in a strange land,
wishes that her poor, worn-out body could be laid among her kinsfolk, in
the little churchyard where she used to gather daisies in her childhood!
It takes a great deal of love to keep down the 'climbing sorrow' that
swells up in a woman's throat when such memories seize upon her, in her
moments of desolation. But if a foreign-born woman does willingly give
up all for a man, and never looks backward, like Lot's wife, she is a
prize that it is worth running a risk to gain,—that is, if she has the
making of a good woman in her; and a few years will go far towards
The Tutor listened to Number Five with much apparent interest. "And
now," he said, "what do you think of her companion?"
"A charming girl for a man of a quiet, easy temperament. The great
trouble is with her voice. It is pitched a full note too high. It is
aggressive, disturbing, and would wear out a nervous man without his ever
knowing what was the matter with him. A good many crazy Northern people
would recover their reason if they could live for a year or two among the
blacks of the Southern States. But the penetrating, perturbing quality
of the voices of many of our Northern women has a great deal to answer
for in the way of determining love and friendship. You remember that
dear friend of ours who left us not long since? If there were more
voices like hers, the world would be a different place to live in. I do
not believe any man or woman ever came within the range of those sweet,
tranquil tones without being hushed, captivated, entranced I might almost
say, by their calming, soothing influence. Can you not imagine the tones
in which those words, 'Peace, be still,' were spoken? Such was the
effect of the voice to which but a few weeks ago we were listening. It
is hard to believe that it has died out of human consciousness. Can such
a voice be spared from that world of happiness to which we fondly look
forward, where we love to dream, if we do not believe with assured
conviction, that whatever is loveliest in this our mortal condition shall
be with us again as an undying possession? Your English friend has a
very agreeable voice, round, mellow, cheery, and her articulation is
charming. Other things being equal, I think you, who are, perhaps,
oversensitive, would live from two to three years longer with her than
with the other. I suppose a man who lived within hearing of a murmuring
brook would find his life shortened if a sawmill were set up within
earshot of his dwelling."
"And so you advise me to make love to the English girl, do you?" asked
Number Five laughed. It was not a loud laugh, she never laughed noisily;
it was not a very hearty laugh; the idea did not seem to amuse her much.
"No," she said, "I won't take the responsibility. Perhaps this is a case
in which the true reading of Gay's line would be—
"How happy could I be with neither.
"There are several young women in the world besides our two Annexes."
I question whether the Tutor had asked those questions very seriously,
and I doubt if Number Five thought he was very much in earnest.
One of The Teacups reminded me that I had promised to say something of my
answers to certain questions. So I began at once:
I have given the name of brain-tappers to the literary operatives who
address persons whose names are well known to the public, asking their
opinions or their experiences on subjects which are at the time of
general interest. They expect a literary man or a scientific expert to
furnish them materials for symposia and similar articles, to be used by
them for their own special purposes. Sometimes they expect to pay for
the information furnished them; at other times, the honor of being
included in a list of noted personages who have received similar requests
is thought sufficient compensation. The object with which the
brain-tapper puts his questions may be a purely benevolent and entirely
disinterested one. Such was the object of some of those questions which
I have received and answered. There are other cases, in which the
brain-tapper is acting much as those persons do who stop a physician in
the street to talk with him about their livers or stomachs, or other
internal arrangements, instead of going to his office and consulting him,
expecting to pay for his advice. Others are more like those busy women
who, having the generous intention of making a handsome present to their
pastor, at as little expense as may be, send to all their neighbors and
acquaintances for scraps of various materials, out of which the imposing
"bedspread" or counterpane is to be elaborated.
That is all very well so long as old pieces of stuff are all they call
for, but it is a different matter to ask for clippings out of new and
uncut rolls of cloth. So it is one thing to ask an author for liberty to
use extracts from his published writings, and it is a very different
thing to expect him to write expressly for the editor's or compiler's
piece of literary patchwork.
I have received many questions within the last year or two, some of which
I am willing to answer, but prefer to answer at my own time, in my own
way, through my customary channel of communication with the public. I
hope I shall not be misunderstood as implying any reproach against the
inquirers who, in order to get at facts which ought to be known, apply to
all whom they can reach for information. Their inquisitiveness is not
always agreeable or welcome, but we ought to be glad that there are
mousing fact-hunters to worry us with queries to which, for the sake of
the public, we are bound to give our attention. Let me begin with my
And first, as the papers have given publicity to the fact that I, The
Dictator of this tea-table, have reached the age of threescore years and
twenty, I am requested to give information as to how I managed to do it,
and to explain just how they can go and do likewise. I think I can lay
down a few rules that will help them to the desired result. There is no
certainty in these biological problems, but there are reasonable
probabilities upon which it is safe to act.
The first thing to be done is, some years before birth, to advertise for
a couple of parents both belonging to long-lived families. Especially let
the mother come of a race in which octogenarians and nonagenarians are
very common phenomena. There are practical difficulties in following out
this suggestion, but possibly the forethought of your progenitors, or
that concurrence of circumstances which we call accident, may have
arranged this for you.
Do not think that a robust organization is any warrant of long life, nor
that a frail and slight bodily constitution necessarily means scanty
length of days. Many a strong-limbed young man and many a blooming young
woman have I seen failing and dropping away in or before middle life, and
many a delicate and slightly constituted person outliving the athletes
and the beauties of their generation. Whether the excessive development
of the muscular system is compatible with the best condition of general
health is, I think, more than doubtful. The muscles are great sponges
that suck up and make use of large quantities of blood, and the other
organs must be liable to suffer for want of their share.
One of the Seven Wise Men of Greece boiled his wisdom down into two
words,—NOTHING TOO MUCH. It is a rule which will apply to food,
exercise, labor, sleep, and, in short, to every part of life. This is
not so very difficult a matter if one begins in good season and forms
regular habits. But what if I should lay down the rule, Be cheerful;
take all the troubles and trials of life with perfect equanimity and a
smiling countenance? Admirable directions! Your friend, the
curly-haired blonde, with florid complexion, round cheeks, the best
possible digestion and respiration, the stomach of an ostrich and the
lungs of a pearl-diver, finds it perfectly easy to carry them into
practice. You, of leaden complexion, with black and lank hair, lean,
hollow-eyed, dyspeptic, nervous, find it not so easy to be always
hilarious and happy. The truth is that the persons of that buoyant
disposition which comes always heralded by a smile, as a yacht driven by
a favoring breeze carries a wreath of sparkling foam before her, are born
with their happiness ready made. They cannot help being cheerful any
more than their saturnine fellow-mortal can help seeing everything
through the cloud he carries with him. I give you the precept, then, Be
cheerful, for just what it is worth, as I would recommend to you to be
six feet, or at least five feet ten, in stature. You cannot settle that
matter for yourself, but you can stand up straight, and give your five
feet five its—full value. You can help along a little by wearing
high-heeled shoes. So you can do something to encourage yourself in
serenity of aspect and demeanor, keeping your infirmities and troubles in
the background instead of making them the staple of your conversation.
This piece of advice, if followed, may be worth from three to five years
of the fourscore which you hope to attain.
If, on the other hand, instead of going about cheerily in society, making
the best of everything and as far as possible forgetting your troubles,
you can make up your mind to economize all your stores of vital energy,
to hoard your life as a miser hoards his money, you will stand a fair
chance of living until you are tired of life,—fortunate if everybody is
not tired of you.
One of my prescriptions for longevity may startle you somewhat. It is
this: Become the subject of a mortal disease. Let half a dozen doctors
thump you, and knead you, and test you in every possible way, and render
their verdict that you have an internal complaint; they don't know
exactly what it is, but it will certainly kill you by and by. Then bid
farewell to the world and shut yourself up for an invalid. If you are
threescore years old when you begin this mode of life, you may very
probably last twenty years, and there you are,—an octogenarian. In the
mean time, your friends outside have been dropping off, one after
another, until you find yourself almost alone, nursing your mortal
complaint as if it were your baby, hugging it and kept alive by it,—if
to exist is to live. Who has not seen cases like this,—a man or a woman
shutting himself or herself up, visited by a doctor or a succession of
doctors (I remember that once, in my earlier experience, I was the
twenty-seventh physician who had been consulted), always taking medicine,
until everybody was reminded of that impatient speech of a relative of
one of these invalid vampires who live on the blood of tired-out
attendants, "I do wish she would get well—or something"? Persons who
are shut up in that way, confined to their chambers, sometimes to their
beds, have a very small amount of vital expenditure, and wear out very
little of their living substance. They are like lamps with half their
wicks picked down, and will continue to burn when other lamps have used
up all their oil. An insurance office might make money by taking no
risks except on lives of persons suffering from mortal disease. It is on
this principle of economizing the powers of life that a very eminent
American physician,—Dr. Weir Mitchell, a man of genius,—has founded his
treatment of certain cases of nervous exhaustion.
What have I got to say about temperance, the use of animal food, and so
forth? These are questions asked me. Nature has proved a wise teacher,
as I think, in my own case. The older I grow, the less use I make of
alcoholic stimulants. In fact, I hardly meddle with them at all, except
a glass or two of champagne occasionally. I find that by far the best
borne of all drinks containing alcohol. I do not suppose my experience
can be the foundation of a universal rule. Dr. Holyoke, who lived to be
a hundred, used habitually, in moderate quantities, a mixture of cider,
water, and rum. I think, as one grows older, less food, especially less
animal food, is required. But old people have a right to be epicures, if
they can afford it. The pleasures of the palate are among the last
gratifications of the senses allowed them. We begin life as little
cannibals,—feeding on the flesh and blood of our mothers. We range
through all the vegetable and animal products, of nature, and I suppose,
if the second childhood could return to the food of the first, it might
prove a wholesome diet.
What do I say to smoking? I cannot grudge an old man his pipe, but I
think tobacco often does a good deal of harm to the health,—to the eyes
especially, to the nervous system generally, producing headache,
palpitation, and trembling. I myself gave it up many years ago.
Philosophically speaking, I think self-narcotization and
self-alcoholization are rather ignoble substitutes for undisturbed
self-consciousness and unfettered self-control.
Here is another of those brain-tapping letters, of similar character,
which I have no objection to answering at my own time and in the place
which best suits me. As the questions must be supposed to be asked with
a purely scientific and philanthropic purpose, it can make little
difference when and where they are answered. For myself, I prefer our
own tea-table to the symposia to which I am often invited. I do not
quarrel with those who invite their friends to a banquet to which many
strangers are expected to contribute. It is a very easy and pleasant way
of giving an entertainment at little cost and with no responsibility.
Somebody has been writing to me about "Oatmeal and Literature," and
somebody else wants to know whether I have found character influenced by
diet; also whether, in my opinion, oatmeal is preferable to pie as an
American national food.
In answer to these questions, I should say that I have my beliefs and
prejudices; but if I were pressed hard for my proofs of their
correctness, I should make but a poor show in the witness-box. Most
assuredly I do believe that body and mind are much influenced by the kind
of food habitually depended upon. I am persuaded that a too exclusively
porcine diet gives a bristly character to the beard and hair, which is
borrowed from the animal whose tissues these stiff-bearded compatriots of
ours have too largely assimilated. I can never stray among the village
people of our windy capes without now and then coming upon a human being
who looks as if he had been split, salted, and dried, like the salt-fish
which has built up his arid organism. If the body is modified by the
food which nourishes it, the mind and character very certainly will be
modified by it also. We know enough of their close connection with each
other to be sure of that, without any statistical observations to prove
Do you really want to know "whether oatmeal is preferable to pie as an
American national food"? I suppose the best answer I can give to your
question is to tell you what is my own practice. Oatmeal in the morning,
as an architect lays a bed of concrete to form a base for his
superstructure. Pie when I can get it; that is, of the genuine sort, for
I am not patriotic enough to think very highly of the article named after
the Father of his Country, who was first in war, first in peace,—not
first in pies, according to my standard.
There is a very odd prejudice against pie as an article of diet. It is
common to hear every form of bodily degeneracy and infirmity attributed
to this particular favorite food. I see no reason or sense in it. Mr.
Emerson believed in pie, and was almost indignant when a fellow-traveller
refused the slice he offered him. "Why, Mr.________," said be, "what is
pie made for!" If every Green Mountain boy has not eaten a thousand
times his weight in apple, pumpkin, squash, and mince pie, call me a
dumpling. And Colonel Ethan Allen was one of them,—Ethan Allen, who, as
they used to say, could wrench off the head of a wrought nail with his
If you mean to keep as well as possible, the less you think about your
health the better. You know enough not to eat or drink what you have
found does not agree with you. You ought to know enough not to expose
yourself needlessly to draughts. If you take a "constitutional," walk
with the wind when you can, and take a closed car against it if you can
get one. Walking against the wind is one of the most dangerous kinds of
exposure, if you are sensitive to cold. But except a few simple rules
such as I have just given, let your health take care of itself so long as
it behaves decently. If you want to be sure not to reach threescore and
twenty, get a little box of homoeopathic pellets and a little book of
homeopathic prescriptions. I had a poor friend who fell into that way,
and became at last a regular Hahnemaniac. He left a box of his little
jokers, which at last came into my hands. The poor fellow had cultivated
symptoms as other people cultivate roses or chrysanthemums. What a
luxury of choice his imagination presented to him! When one watches for
symptoms, every organ in the body is ready to put in its claim. By and
by a real illness attacked him, and the box of little pellets was shut
up, to minister to his fancied evils no longer.
Let me tell you one thing. I think if patients and physicians were in
the habit of recognizing the fact I am going to mention, both would be
gainers. The law I refer to must be familiar to all observing
physicians, and to all intelligent persons who have observed their own
bodily and mental conditions. This is the curve of health. It is a
mistake to suppose that the normal state of health is represented by a
straight horizontal line. Independently of the well-known causes which
raise or depress the standard of vitality, there seems to be,—I think I
may venture to say there is,—a rhythmic undulation in the flow of the
vital force. The "dynamo" which furnishes the working powers of
consciousness and action has its annual, its monthly, its diurnal waves,
even its momentary ripples, in the current it furnishes. There are
greater and lesser curves in the movement of every day's life,—a series
of ascending and descending movements, a periodicity depending on the
very nature of the force at work in the living organism. Thus we have
our good seasons and our bad seasons, our good days and our bad days,
life climbing and descending in long or short undulations, which I have
called the curve of health.
From this fact spring a great proportion of the errors of medical
practice. On it are based the delusions of the various shadowy systems
which impose themselves on the ignorant and half-learned public as
branches or "schools" of science. A remedy taken at the time of the
ascent in the curve of health is found successful. The same remedy taken
while the curve is in its downward movement proves a failure.
So long as this biological law exists, so long the charlatan will keep
his hold on the ignorant public. So long as it exists, the wisest
practitioner will be liable to deceive himself about the effect of what
he calls and loves to think are his remedies. Long-continued and
sagacious observation will to some extent undeceive him; but were it not
for the happy illusion that his useless or even deleterious drugs were
doing good service, many a practitioner would give up his calling for one
in which he could be more certain that he was really being useful to the
subjects of his professional dealings. For myself, I should prefer a
physician of a sanguine temperament, who had a firm belief in himself and
his methods. I do not wonder at all that the public support a whole
community of pretenders who show the portraits of the patients they have
"cured." The best physicians will tell you that, though many patients
get well under their treatment, they rarely cure anybody. If you are
told also that the best physician has many more patients die on his hands
than the worst of his fellow-practitioners, you may add these two
statements to your bundle of paradoxes, and if they puzzle you I will
explain them at some future time.
[I take this opportunity of correcting a statement now going the rounds
of the medical and probably other periodicals. In "The Journal of the
American Medical Association," dated April 26,1890, published at Chicago,
I am reported, in quotation marks, as saying, "Give me opium, wine, and
milk, and I will cure all diseases to which flesh is heir."
In the first place, I never said I will cure, or can cure, or would or
could cure, or had cured any disease. My venerated instructor, Dr. James
Jackson, taught me never to use that expression. Curo means, I take care
of, he used to say, and in that sense, if you mean nothing more, it is
properly employed. So, in the amphitheatre of the Ecole de Medecine, I
used to read the words of Ambroise Pare, "Je le pansay, Dieu le guarist."
(I dressed his wound, and God cured him.) Next, I am not in the habit of
talking about "the diseases to which flesh is heir." The expression has
become rather too familiar for repetition, and belongs to the rhetoric of
other latitudes. And, lastly, I have said some plain things, perhaps
some sharp ones, about the abuse of drugs and the limited number of
vitally important remedies, but I am not so ignorantly presumptuous as to
make the foolish statement falsely attributed to me.]
I paused a minute or two, and as no one spoke out; I put a question to
Are you quite sure that you wish to live to be threescore and twenty
"Most certainly I do. Don't they say that Theophrastus lived to his
hundred and seventh year, and did n't he complain of the shortness of
life? At eighty a man has had just about time to get warmly settled in
his nest. Do you suppose he doesn't enjoy the quiet of that
resting-place? No more haggard responsibility to keep him awake
nights,—unless he prefers to retain his hold on offices and duties from
which he can be excused if he chooses. No more goading ambitions,—he
knows he has done his best. No more jealousies, if he were weak enough
to feel such ignoble stirrings in his more active season. An
octogenarian with a good record, and free from annoying or distressing
infirmities, ought to be the happiest of men. Everybody treats him with
deference. Everybody wants to help him. He is the ward of the
generations that have grown up since he was in the vigor of maturity.
Yes, let me live to be fourscore years, and then I will tell you whether
I should like a few more years or not."
You carry the feelings of middle age, I said, in imagination, over into
the period of senility, and then reason and dream about it as if its
whole mode of being were like that of the earlier period of life. But how
many things there are in old age which you must live into if you would
expect to have any "realizing sense" of their significance! In the first
place, you have no coevals, or next to none. At fifty, your vessel is
stanch, and you are on deck with the rest, in all weathers. At sixty,
the vessel still floats, and you are in the cabin. At seventy, you, with
a few fellow-passengers, are on a raft. At eighty, you are on a spars to
which, possibly, one, or two, or three friends of about your own age are
still clinging. After that, you must expect soon to find yourself alone,
if you are still floating, with only a life-preserver to keep your old
white-bearded chin above the water.
Kindness? Yes, pitying kindness, which is a bitter sweet in which the
amiable ingredient can hardly be said to predominate. How pleasant do
you think it is to have an arm offered to you when you are walking on a
level surface, where there is no chance to trip? How agreeable do you
suppose it is to have your well-meaning friends shout and screech at you,
as if you were deaf as an adder, instead of only being, as you insist,
somewhat hard of hearing? I was a little over twenty years old when I
wrote the lines which some of you may have met with, for they have been
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.
The world was a garden to me then; it is a churchyard now.
"I thought you were one of those who looked upon old age cheerfully, and
welcomed it as a season of peace and contented enjoyment."
I am one of those who so regard it. Those are not bitter or scalding
tears that fall from my eyes upon "the mossy marbles." The young who
left my side early in my life's journey are still with me in the
unchanged freshness and beauty of youth. Those who have long kept
company with me live on after their seeming departure, were it only by
the mere force of habit; their images are all around me, as if every
surface had been a sensitive film that photographed them; their voices
echo about me, as if they had been recorded on those unforgetting
cylinders which bring back to us the tones and accents that have
imprinted them, as the hardened sands show us the tracks of extinct
animals. The melancholy of old age has a divine tenderness in it, which
only the sad experiences of life can lend a human soul. But there is a
lower level,—that of tranquil contentment and easy acquiescence in the
conditions in which we find ourselves; a lower level, in which old age
trudges patiently when it is not using its wings. I say its wings, for
no period of life is so imaginative as that which looks to younger people
the most prosaic. The atmosphere of memory is one in which imagination
flies more easily and feels itself more at home than in the thinner ether
of youthful anticipation. I have told you some of the drawbacks of age;
I would not have you forget its privileges. When it comes down from its
aerial excursions, it has much left to enjoy on the humble plane of
being. And so you think you would like to become an octogenarian? "I
should," said the Counsellor, now a man in the high noon of bodily and
mental vigor. "Four more—yes, five more—decades would not be too much,
I think. And how much I should live to see in that time! I am glad you
have laid down some rules by which a man may reasonably expect to leap
the eight barred gate. I won't promise to obey them all, though."
Among the questions addressed to me, as to a large number of other
persons, are the following. I take them from "The American Hebrew" of
April 4, 1890. I cannot pretend to answer them all, but I can say
something about one or two of them.
"I. Can you, of your own personal experience, find any justification
whatever for the entertainment of prejudice towards individuals solely
because they are Jews?
"II. Is this prejudice not due largely to the religious instruction that
is given by the church acid Sunday-school? For instance, the teachings
that the Jews crucified Jesus; that they rejected him, and can only
secure salvation by belief in him, and similar matters that are
calculated to excite in the impressionable mind of the child an aversion,
if not a loathing, for members of 'the despised race.'
"III. Have you observed in the social or business life of the Jew, so
far as your personal experience has gone, any different standard of
conduct than prevails among Christians of the same social status?
"IV. Can you suggest what should be done to dispel the existing
As to the first question, I have had very slight acquaintance with the
children of Israel. I shared more or less the prevailing prejudices
against the persecuted race. I used to read in my hymn-book,—I hope I
"See what a living stone
The builders did refuse!
Yet God has built his church thereon,
In spite of envious Jews."
I grew up inheriting the traditional idea that they were a race lying
under a curse for their obstinacy in refusing the gospel. Like other
children of New England birth, I walked in the narrow path of Puritan
exclusiveness. The great historical church of Christendom was presented
to me as Bunyan depicted it: one of the two giants sitting at the door of
their caves, with the bones, of pilgrims scattered about them, and
grinning at the travellers whom they could no longer devour. In the
nurseries of old-fashioned Orthodoxy there was one religion in the
world,—one religion, and a multitude of detestable, literally damnable
impositions, believed in by uncounted millions, who were doomed to
perdition for so believing. The Jews were the believers in one of these
false religions. It had been true once, but was now a pernicious and
abominable lie. The principal use of the Jews seemed to be to lend
money, and to fulfil the predictions of the old prophets of their race.
No doubt the individual sons of Abraham whom we found in our ill-favored
and ill-flavored streets were apt to be unpleasing specimens of the race.
It was against the most adverse influences of legislation, of religious
feeling, of social repugnance, that the great names of Jewish origin made
themselves illustrious; that the philosophers, the musicians, the
financiers, the statesmen, of the last centuries forced the world to
recognize and accept them. Benjamin, the son of Isaac, a son of Israel,
as his family name makes obvious, has shown how largely Jewish blood has
been represented in the great men and women of modern days.
There are two virtues which Christians have found it very hard to
exemplify in practice. These are modesty and civility. The Founder of
the Christian religion appeared among a people accustomed to look for a
Messiah, a special ambassador from heaven, with an authoritative message.
They were intimately acquainted with every expression having reference to
this divine messenger. They had a religion of their own, about which
Christianity agrees with Judaism in asserting that it was of divine
origin. It is a serious fact, to which we do not give all the attention
it deserves, that this divinely instructed people were not satisfied with
the evidence that the young Rabbi who came to overthrow their ancient
church and found a new one was a supernatural being. "We think he was a
great Doctor," said a Jewish companion with whom I was conversing. He
meant a great Teacher, I presume, though healing the sick was one of his
special offices. Instead of remembering that they were entitled to form
their own judgment of the new Teacher, as they had judged of Hillel and
other great instructors, Christians, as they called themselves, have
insulted, calumniated, oppressed, abased, outraged, "the chosen race"
during the long succession of centuries since the Jewish contemporaries
of the Founder of Christianity made up their minds that he did not meet
the conditions required by the subject of the predictions of their
Scriptures. The course of the argument against them is very briefly and
effectively stated by Mr. Emerson:
"This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. I will kill you if you say he
was a man."
It seems as if there should be certain laws of etiquette regulating the
relation of different religions to each other. It is not civil for a
follower of Mahomet to call his neighbor of another creed a "Christian
dog." Still more, there should be something like politeness in the
bearing of Christian sects toward each other, and of believers in the new
dispensation toward those who still adhere to the old. We are in the
habit of allowing a certain arrogant assumption to our Roman Catholic
brethren. We have got used to their pretensions. They may call us
"heretics," if they like. They may speak of us as "infidels," if they
choose, especially if they say it in Latin. So long as there is no
inquisition, so long as there is no auto da fe, we do not mind the hard
words much; and we have as good phrases to give them back: the Man of Sin
and the Scarlet Woman will serve for examples. But it is better to be
civil to each other all round. I doubt if a convert to the religion of
Mahomet was ever made by calling a man a Christian dog. I doubt if a
Hebrew ever became a good Christian if the baptismal rite was performed
by spitting on his Jewish gabardine. I have often thought of the advance
in comity and true charity shown in the title of my late honored friend
James Freeman Clarke's book, "The Ten Great Religions." If the creeds of
mankind try to understand each other before attempting mutual
extermination, they will be sure to find a meaning in beliefs which are
different from their own. The old Calvinistic spirit was almost savagely
exclusive. While the author of the "Ten Great Religions" was growing up
in Boston under the benignant, large-minded teachings of the Rev. James
Freeman, the famous Dr. John M. Mason, at New York, was fiercely
attacking the noble humanity of "The Universal Prayer." "In preaching,"
says his biographer, "he once quoted Pope's lines as to God's being
adored alike 'by saint, by savage, and by sage,' and pronounced it (in
his deepest guttural) 'the most damnable lie.'"
What could the Hebrew expect when a Christian preacher could use such
language about a petition breathing the very soul of humanity? Happily,
the true human spirit is encroaching on that arrogant and narrow-minded
form of selfishness which called itself Christianity.
The golden rule should govern us in dealing with those whom we call
unbelievers, with heathen, and with all who do not accept our religious
views. The Jews are with us as a perpetual lesson to teach us modesty
and civility. The religion we profess is not self-evident. It did not
convince the people to whom it was sent. We have no claim to take it for
granted that we are all right, and they are all wrong. And, therefore,
in the midst of all the triumphs of Christianity, it is well that the
stately synagogue should lift its walls by the side of the aspiring
cathedral, a perpetual reminder that there are many mansions in the
Father's earthly house as well as in the heavenly one; that civilized
humanity, longer in time and broader in space than any historical form of
belief, is mightier than any one institution or organization it includes.
Many years ago I argued with myself the proposition which my Hebrew
correspondent has suggested. Recognizing the fact that I was born to a
birthright of national and social prejudices against "the chosen
people,"—chosen as the object of contumely and abuse by the rest of the
world,—I pictured my own inherited feelings of aversion in all their
intensity, and the strain of thought under the influence of which those
prejudices gave way to a more human, a more truly Christian feeling of
brotherhood. I must ask your indulgence while I quote a few verses from
a poem of my own, printed long ago under the title "At the Pantomime."
I was crowded between two children of Israel, and gave free inward
expression to my feelings. All at once I happened to look more closely
at one of my neighbors, and saw that the youth was the very ideal of the
Son of Mary.
A fresh young cheek whose olive hue
The mantling blood shows faintly through;
Locks dark as midnight, that divide
And shade the neck on either side;
Soft, gentle, loving eyes that gleam
Clear as a starlit mountain stream;
So looked that other child of Shem,
The Maiden's Boy of Bethlehem!
—And thou couldst scorn the peerless blood
That flows unmingled from the Flood,
Thy scutcheon spotted with the stains
Of Norman thieves and pirate Danes!
The New World's foundling, in thy pride
Scowl on the Hebrew at thy side,
And lo! the very semblance there
The Lord of Glory deigned to wear!
I see that radiant image rise,
The flowing hair, the pitying eyes,
The faintly crimsoned cheek that shows
The blush of Sharon's opening rose,
Thy hands would clasp his hallowed feet
Whose brethren soil thy Christian seat,
Thy lips would press his garment's hem
That curl in wrathful scorn for them!
A sudden mist, a watery screen,
Dropped like a veil before the scene;
The shadow floated from my soul,
And to my lips a whisper stole:
—Thy prophets caught the Spirit's flame,
From thee the Son of Mary came,
With thee the Father deigned to dwell,
Peace be upon thee, Israel!
It is not to be expected that intimate relations will be established
between Jewish and Christian communities until both become so far
rationalized and humanized that their differences are comparatively
unimportant. But already there is an evident approximation in the
extreme left of what is called liberal Christianity and the
representatives of modern Judaism. The life of a man like the late Sir
Moses Montefiore reads a lesson from the Old Testament which might well
have been inspired by the noblest teachings of the Christian Gospels.
Delilah, and how she got her name.
Est-elle bien gentille, cette petite? I said one day to Number Five, as
our pretty Delilah put her arm between us with a bunch of those tender
early radishes that so recall the rosy-fingered morning of Homer. The
little hand which held the radishes would not have shamed Aurora. That
hand has never known drudgery, I feel sure.
When I spoke those French words our little Delilah gave a slight,
seemingly involuntary start, and her cheeks grew of as bright a red as
her radishes. Ah, said I to myself; does that young girl understand
French? It may be worth while to be careful what one says before her.
There is a mystery about this girl. She seems to know her place
perfectly,—except, perhaps, when she burst out crying, the other day,
which was against all the rules of table-maiden's etiquette,—and yet she
looks as if she had been born to be waited on, and not to perform that
humble service for others. We know that once in a while girls with
education and well connected take it into their heads to go into service
for a few weeks or months. Sometimes it is from economic motives,—to
procure means for their education, or to help members of their families
who need assistance. At any rate, they undertake the lighter menial
duties of some household where they are not known, and, having
stooped—if stooping it is to be considered—to lowly offices, no born
and bred servants are more faithful to all their obligations. You must
not suppose she was christened Delilah. Any of our ministers would
hesitate to give such a heathen name to a Christian child.
The way she came to get it was this: The Professor was going to give a
lecture before an occasional audience, one evening. When he took his
seat with the other Teacups, the American Annex whispered to the other
Annex, "His hair wants cutting,—it looks like fury." "Quite so," said
the English Annex. "I wish you would tell him so,—I do, awfully."
"I'll fix it," said the American girl. So, after the teacups were
emptied and the company had left the table, she went up to the Professor.
"You read this lecture, don't you, Professor?" she said. "I do," he
answered. "I should think that lock of hair which falls down over your
forehead would trouble you," she said. "It does sometimes," replied the
Professor. "Let our little maid trim it for you. You're equal to that,
aren't you?" turning to the handmaiden. "I always used to cut my father's
hair," she answered. She brought a pair of glittering shears, and before
she would let the Professor go she had trimmed his hair and beard as they
had not been dealt with for many a day. Everybody said the Professor
looked ten years younger. After that our little handmaiden was always
called Delilah, among the talking Teacups.
The Mistress keeps a watchful eye on this young girl. I should not be
surprised to find that she was carrying out some ideal, some fancy or
whim,—possibly nothing more, but springing from some generous, youthful
impulse. Perhaps she is working for that little sister at the Blind
Asylum. Where did she learn French? She did certainly blush, and
betrayed every sign of understanding the words spoken about her in that
language. Sometimes she sings while at her work, and we have all been
struck with the pure, musical character of her voice. It is just such a
voice as ought to come from that round white throat. We made a discovery
about it the other evening.
The Mistress keeps a piano in her room, and we have sometimes had music
in the evening. One of The Teacups, to whom I have slightly referred, is
an accomplished pianist, and the two Annexes sing very sweetly
together,—the American girl having a clear soprano voice, the English
girl a mellow contralto. They had sung several tunes, when the Mistress
rang for Avis,—for that is our Delilah's real name. She whispered to
the young girl, who blushed and trembled. "Don't be frightened," said the
Mistress encouragingly. "I have heard you singing 'Too Young for Love,'
and I will get our pianist to play it. The young ladies both know it,
and you must join in."
The two voices, with the accompaniment, had hardly finished the first
line when a pure, ringing, almost childlike voice joined the vocal duet.
The sound of her own voice seemed to make her forget her fears, and she
warbled as naturally and freely as any young bird of a May morning.
Number Five came in while she was singing, and when she got through
caught her in her arms and kissed her, as if she were her sister, and not
Delilah, our table-maid. Number Five is apt to forget herself and those
social differences to which some of us attach so much importance. This
is the song in which the little maid took part:
TOO YOUNG FOR LOVE.
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Tell reddening rose-buds not to blow!
Wait not for spring to pass away,
—Love's summer months begin with May!
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Too young? Too young?
Ah, no! no! no!
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so,
While daisies bloom and tulips glow!
June soon will come with lengthened day
To practise all love learned in May.
Too young for love?
Ah, say not so!
Too young? Too young?
Ah, no! no! no!
I often wish that our Number Seven could have known and corresponded with
the author of "The Budget of Paradoxes." I think Mr. De Morgan would
have found some of his vagaries and fancies not undeserving of a place in
his wonderful collection of eccentricities, absurdities,
ingenuities,—mental freaks of all sorts. But I think he would have now
and then recognized a sound idea, a just comparison, a suggestive hint, a
practical notion, which redeemed a page of extravagances and crotchety
whims. I confess that I am often pleased with fancies of his, and should
be willing to adopt them as my own. I think he has, in the midst of his
erratic and tangled conceptions, some perfectly clear and consistent
trains of thought.
So when Number Seven spoke of sending us a paper, I welcomed the
suggestion. I asked him whether he had any objection to my looking it
over before he read it. My proposal rather pleased him, I thought, for,
as was observed on a former occasion, he has in connection with a belief
in himself another side,—a curious self-distrust. I have no question
that he has an obscure sense of some mental deficiency. Thus you may
expect from him first a dogma, and presently a doubt. If you fight his
dogma, he will do battle for it stoutly; if you let him alone, he will
very probably explain its extravagances, if it has any, and tame it into
reasonable limits. Sometimes he is in one mood, sometimes in another.
The first portion of what we listened to shows him at his best; in the
latter part I am afraid you will think he gets a little wild.
I proceed to lay before you the paper which Number Seven read to The
Teacups. There was something very pleasing in the deference which was
shown him. We all feel that there is a crack in the teacup, and are
disposed to handle it carefully. I have left out a few things which he
said, feeling that they might give offence to some of the company. There
were sentences so involved and obscure that I was sure they would not be
understood, if indeed he understood them himself. But there are other
passages so entirely sane, and as it seems to me so just, that if any
reader attributes them to me I shall not think myself wronged by the
supposition. You must remember that Number Seven has had a fair
education, that he has been a wide reader in many directions, and that he
belongs to a family of remarkable intellectual gifts. So it was not
surprising that he said some things which pleased the company, as in fact
they did. The reader will not be startled to see a certain abruptness in
the transition from one subject to another,—it is a characteristic of
the squinting brain wherever you find it. Another curious mark rarely
wanting in the subjects of mental strabismus is an irregular and often
sprawling and deformed handwriting. Many and many a time I have said,
after glancing at the back of a letter, "This comes from an insane
asylum, or from an eccentric who might well be a candidate for such an
institution." Number Seven's manuscript, which showed marks of my
corrections here and there, furnished good examples of the chirography of
persons with ill-mated cerebral hemispheres. But the earlier portions of
the manuscript are of perfectly normal appearance.
Conticuere omnes, as Virgil says. We were all silent as Number Seven
began the reading of his paper.
Number Seven reads.
I am the seventh son of a seventh son, as I suppose you all know. It is
commonly believed that some extraordinary gifts belong to the fortunate
individuals born under these exceptional conditions. However this may be,
a peculiar virtue was supposed to dwell in me from my earliest years. My
touch was believed to have the influence formerly attributed to that of
the kings and queens of England. You may remember that the great Dr.
Samuel Johnson, when a child, was carried to be touched by her Majesty
Queen Anne for the "king's evil," as scrofula used to be called. Our
honored friend The Dictator will tell you that the brother of one of his
Andover schoolmates was taken to one of these gifted persons, who touched
him, and hung a small bright silver coin, either a "fourpence ha'penny"
or a "ninepence," about his neck, which, strange to say, after being worn
a certain time, became tarnished, and finally black,—a proof of the
poisonous matters which had become eliminated from the system and
gathered upon the coin. I remember that at one time I used to carry
fourpence ha'pennies with holes bored through them, which I furnished to
children or to their mothers, under pledges of secrecy,—receiving a
piece of silver of larger dimensions in exchange. I never felt quite
sure about any extraordinary endowment being a part of my inheritance in
virtue of my special conditions of birth. A phrenologist, who examined
my head when I was a boy, said the two sides were unlike. My hatter's
measurement told me the same thing; but in looking over more than a
bushel of the small cardboard hat-patterns which give the exact shape of
the head, I have found this is not uncommon. The phrenologist made all
sorts of predictions of what I should be and do, which proved about as
near the truth as those recorded in Miss Edith Thomas's charming little
poem, "Augury," which some of us were reading the other day.
I have never been through college, but I had a relative who was famous as
a teacher of rhetoric in one of our universities, and especially for
taking the nonsense out of sophomorical young fellows who could not say
anything without rigging it up in showy and sounding phrases. I think I
learned from him to express myself in good old-fashioned English, and
without making as much fuss about it as our Fourth of July orators and
political haranguers were in the habit of making.
I read a good many stories during my boyhood, one of which left a lasting
impression upon me, and which I have always commended to young people.
It is too late, generally, to try to teach old people, yet one may profit
by it at any period of life before the sight has become too dim to be of
any use. The story I refer to is in "Evenings at Home," and is called
"Eyes and No Eyes." I ought to have it by me, but it is constantly
happening that the best old things get overlaid by the newest trash; and
though I have never seen anything of the kind half so good, my table and
shelves are cracking with the weight of involuntary accessions to my
This is the story as I remember it: Two children walk out, and are
questioned when they come home. One has found nothing to observe,
nothing to admire, nothing to describe, nothing to ask questions about.
The other has found everywhere objects of curiosity and interest. I
advise you, if you are a child anywhere under forty-five, and do not yet
wear glasses, to send at once for "Evenings at Home" and read that story.
For myself, I am always grateful to the writer of it for calling my
attention to common things. How many people have been waked to a quicker
consciousness of life by Wordsworth's simple lines about the daffodils,
and what he says of the thoughts suggested to him by "the meanest flower
I was driving with a friend, the other day, through a somewhat dreary
stretch of country, where there seemed to be very little to attract
notice or deserve remark. Still, the old spirit infused by "Eyes and No
Eyes" was upon me, and I looked for something to fasten my thought upon,
and treat as an artist treats a study for a picture. The first object to
which my eyes were drawn was an old-fashioned well-sweep. It did not take
much imaginative sensibility to be stirred by the sight of this most
useful, most ancient, most picturesque, of domestic conveniences. I know
something of the shadoof of Egypt,—the same arrangement by which the
sacred waters of the Nile have been lifted, from the days of the Pharaohs
to those of the Khedives. That long forefinger pointing to heaven was a
symbol which spoke to the Puritan exile as it spoke of old to the
enslaved Israelite. Was there ever any such water as that which we used
to draw from the deep, cold well, in "the old oaken bucket"? What
memories gather about the well in all ages! What love-matches have been
made at its margin, from the times of Jacob and, Rachel downward! What
fairy legends hover over it, what fearful mysteries has it hidden! The
beautiful well-sweep! It is too rarely that we see it, and as it dies
out and gives place to the odiously convenient pump, with the last patent
on its cast-iron uninterestingness, does it not seem as if the farmyard
aspect had lost half its attraction? So long as the dairy farm exists,
doubtless there must be every facility for getting water in abundance;
but the loss of the well-sweep cannot be made up to us even if our milk
were diluted to twice its present attenuation.
The well-sweep had served its turn, and my companion and I relapsed into
silence. After a while we passed another farmyard, with nothing which
seemed deserving of remark except the wreck of an old wagon.
"Look," I said, "if you want to see one of the greatest of all the
triumphs of human ingenuity, one of the most beautiful, as it is one of
the most useful, of all the mechanisms which the intelligence of
successive ages has called into being."
"I see nothing," my companion answered, "but an old broken-down wagon.
Why they leave such a piece of lumbering trash about their place, where
people can see it as they pass, is more than I can account for."
"And yet," said I, "there is one of the most extraordinary products of
human genius and skill,—an object which combines the useful and the
beautiful to an extent which hardly any simple form of mechanism can
pretend to rival. Do you notice how, while everything else has gone to
smash, that wheel remains sound and fit for service? Look at it merely
for its beauty.
"See the perfect circles, the outer and the inner. A circle is in itself
a consummate wonder of geometrical symmetry. It is the line in which the
omnipotent energy delights to move. There is no fault in it to be
amended. The first drawn circle and the last both embody the same
complete fulfillment of a perfect design. Then look at the rays which
pass from the inner to the outer circle. How beautifully they bring the
greater and lesser circles into connection with each other! The flowers
know that secret,—the marguerite in the meadow displays it as clearly as
the great sun in heaven. How beautiful is this flower of wood and iron,
which we were ready to pass by without wasting a look upon it! But its
beauty is only the beginning of its wonderful claim upon us for our
admiration. Look at that field of flowering grass, the triticum
vulgare,—see how its waves follow the breeze in satiny alternations of
light and shadow. You admire it for its lovely aspect; but when you
remember that this flowering grass is wheat, the finest food of the
highest human races, it gains a dignity, a glory, that its beauty alone
could not give it.
"Now look at that exquisite structure lying neglected and disgraced, but
essentially unchanged in its perfection, before you. That slight and
delicate-looking fabric has stood such a trial as hardly any slender
contrivance, excepting always the valves of the heart, was ever subjected
to. It has rattled for years over the cobble-stones of a rough city
pavement. It has climbed over all the accidental obstructions it met in
the highway, and dropped into all the holes and deep ruts that made the
heavy farmer sitting over it use his Sunday vocabulary in a week-day form
of speech. At one time or another, almost every part of that old wagon
has given way. It has had two new pairs of shafts. Twice the axle has
broken off close to the hub, or nave. The seat broke when Zekle and
Huldy were having what they called 'a ride' together. The front was
kicked in by a vicious mare. The springs gave way and the floor bumped
on the axle. Every portion of the wagon became a prey of its special
accident, except that most fragile looking of all its parts, the wheel.
Who can help admiring the exact distribution of the power of resistance
at the least possible expenditure of material which is manifested in this
wondrous triumph of human genius and skill? The spokes are planted in
the solid hub as strongly as the jaw-teeth of a lion in their deep-sunken
sockets. Each spoke has its own territory in the circumference, for
which it is responsible. According to the load the vehicle is expected
to carry, they are few or many, stout or slender, but they share their
joint labor with absolute justice,—not one does more, not one does less,
than its just proportion. The outer end of the spokes is received into
the deep mortise of the wooden fellies, and the structure appears to be
complete. But how long would it take to turn that circle into a polygon,
unless some mighty counteracting force should prevent it? See the iron
tire brought hot from the furnace and laid around the smoking
circumference. Once in place, the workman cools the hot iron; and as it
shrinks with a force that seems like a hand-grasp of the Omnipotent, it
clasps the fitted fragments of the structure, and compresses them into a
single inseparable whole.
"Was it not worth our while to stop a moment before passing that old
broken wagon, and see whether we could not find as much in it as Swift
found in his 'Meditations on a Broomstick'? I have been laughed at for
making so much of such a common thing as a wheel. Idiots! Solomon's
court fool would have scoffed at the thought of the young Galilean who
dared compare the lilies of the field to his august master. Nil admirari
is very well for a North American Indian and his degenerate successor,
who has grown too grand to admire anything but himself, and takes a
cynical pride in his stolid indifference to everything worth reverencing
After calling my companion's attention to the wheel, and discoursing upon
it until I thought he was getting sleepy, we jogged along until we came
to a running stream. It was crossed by a stone bridge of a single arch.
There are very few stone arches over the streams in New England country
towns, and I always delighted in this one. It was built in the last
century, amidst the doubting predictions of staring rustics, and stands
to-day as strong as ever, and seemingly good for centuries to come.
"See there!" said I,—"there is another of my 'Eyes and No Eyes' subjects
to meditate upon. Next to the wheel, the arch is the noblest of those
elementary mechanical composites, corresponding to the proximate
principles of chemistry. The beauty of the arch consists first in its
curve, commonly a part of the circle, of the perfection of which I have
spoken. But the mind derives another distinct pleasure from the
admirable manner in which the several parts, each different from all the
others, contribute to a single harmonious effect. It is a typical
example of the piu nel uno. An arch cut out or a single stone would not
be so beautiful as one of which each individual stone was shaped for its
exact position. Its completion by the locking of the keystone is a
delight to witness and to contemplate. And how the arch endures, when
its lateral thrust is met by solid masses of resistance! In one of the
great temples of Baalbec a keystone has slipped, but how rare is that
occurrence! One will hardly find another such example among all the
ruins of antiquity. Yes, I never get tired of arches. They are noble
when shaped of solid marble blocks, each carefully beveled for its
position. They are beautiful when constructed with the large thin tiles
the Romans were so fond of using. I noticed some arches built in this
way in the wall of one of the grand houses just going up on the bank of
the river. They were over the capstones of the windows,—to take off the
pressure from them, no doubt, for now and then a capstone will crack
under the weight of the superincumbent mass. How close they fit, and how
striking the effect of their long radiations!"
The company listened very well up to this point. When he began the
strain of thoughts which follows, a curious look went round The Teacups.
What a strange underground life is that which is led by the organisms we
call trees! These great fluttering masses of leaves, stems, boughs,
trunks, are not the real trees. They live underground, and what we see
are nothing more nor less than their tails.
The Mistress dropped her teaspoon. Number Five looked at the Doctor,
whose face was very still and sober. The two Annexes giggled, or came
very near it.
Yes, a tree is an underground creature, with its tail in the air. All its
intelligence is in its roots. All the senses it has are in its roots.
Think what sagacity it shows in its search after food and drink! Somehow
or other, the rootlets, which are its tentacles, find out that there is a
brook at a moderate distance from the trunk of the tree, and they make
for it with all their might. They find every crack in the rocks where
there are a few grains of the nourishing substance they care for, and
insinuate themselves into its deepest recesses. When spring and summer
come, they let their tails grow, and delight in whisking them about in
the wind, or letting them be whisked about by it; for these tails are
poor passive things, with very little will of their own, and bend in
whatever direction the wind chooses to make them. The leaves make a deal
of noise whispering. I have sometimes thought I could understand them,
as they talk with each other, and that they seemed to think they made the
wind as they wagged forward and back. Remember what I say. The next
time you see a tree waving in the wind, recollect that it is the tail of
a great underground, many-armed, polypus-like creature, which is as proud
of its caudal appendage, especially in summer-time, as a peacock of his
gorgeous expanse of plumage.
Do you think there is anything so very odd about this idea? Once get it
well into your heads, and you will find it renders the landscape
wonderfully interesting. There are as many kinds of tree-tails as there
are of tails to dogs and other quadrupeds. Study them as Daddy Gilpin
studied them in his "Forest Scenery," but don't forget that they are only
the appendage of the underground vegetable polypus, the true organism to
which they belong.
He paused at this point, and we all drew long breaths, wondering what was
coming next. There was no denying it, the "cracked Teacup" was clinking
a little false,—so it seemed to the company. Yet, after all, the fancy
was not delirious,—the mind could follow it well enough; let him go on.
What do you say to this? You have heard all sorts of things said in
prose and verse about Niagara. Ask our young Doctor there what it
reminds him of. Is n't it a giant putting his tongue out? How can you
fail to see the resemblance? The continent is a great giant, and the
northern half holds the head and shoulders. You can count the pulse of
the giant wherever the tide runs up a creek; but if you want to look at
the giant's tongue, you must go to Niagara. If there were such a thing
as a cosmic physician, I believe he could tell the state of the country's
health, and the prospects of the mortality for the coming season, by
careful inspection of the great tongue, which Niagara is putting out for
him, and has been showing to mankind ever since the first flint-shapers
chipped their arrow-heads. You don't think the idea adds to the
sublimity and associations of the cataract? I am sorry for that, but I
can't help the suggestion. It is just as manifestly a tongue put out for
inspection as if it had Nature's own label to that effect hung over it.
I don't know whether you can see these things as clearly as I do. There
are some people that never see anything, if it is as plain as a hole in a
grindstone, until it is pointed out to them; and some that can't see it
then, and won't believe there is any hole till they've poked their finger
through it. I've got a great many things to thank God for, but perhaps
most of all that I can find something to admire, to wonder at, to set my
fancy going, and to wind up my enthusiasm pretty much everywhere.
Look here! There are crowds of people whirled through our streets on
these new-fashioned cars, with their witch-broomsticks overhead,—if they
don't come from Salem, they ought to,—and not more than one in a dozen
of these fish-eyed bipeds thinks or cares a nickel's worth about the
miracle which is wrought for their convenience. They know that without
hands or feet, without horses, without steam, so far as they can see,
they are transported from place to place, and that there is nothing to
account for it except the witch-broomstick and the iron or copper cobweb
which they see stretched above them. What do they know or care about
this last revelation of the omnipresent spirit of the material universe?
We ought to go down on our knees when one of these mighty caravans, car
after car, spins by us, under the mystic impulse which seems to know not
whether its train is loaded or empty. We are used to force in the
muscles of horses, in the expansive potency of steam, but here we have
force stripped stark naked,—nothing but a filament to cover its
nudity,—and yet showing its might in efforts that would task the
working-beam of a ponderous steam-engine. I am thankful that in an age
of cynicism I have not lost my reverence. Perhaps you would wonder to
see how some very common sights impress me. I always take off my hat if
I stop to speak to a stone-cutter at his work. "Why?" do you ask me?
Because I know that his is the only labor that is likely to endure. A
score of centuries has not effaced the marks of the Greek's or the
Roman's chisel on his block of marble. And now, before this new
manifestation of that form of cosmic vitality which we call electricity,
I feel like taking the posture of the peasants listening to the Angelus.
How near the mystic effluence of mechanical energy brings us to the
divine source of all power and motion! In the old mythology, the right
hand of Jove held and sent forth the lightning. So, in the record of the
Hebrew prophets, did the right hand of Jehovah cast forth and direct it.
Was Nahum thinking of our far-off time when he wrote, "The chariots shall
rage in the streets, they shall justle one against another in the broad
ways: they shall seem like torches, they shall run like the lightnings"?
Number Seven had finished reading his paper. Two bright spots in his
cheeks showed that he had felt a good deal in writing it, and the flush
returned as he listened to his own thoughts. Poor old fellow! The
"cracked Teacup" of our younger wits,—not yet come to their full human
sensibilities,—the "crank" of vulgar tongues, the eccentric, the seventh
son of a seventh son, too often made the butt of thoughtless pleasantry,
was, after all, a fellow-creature, with flesh and blood like the rest of
us. The wild freaks of his fancy did not hurt us, nor did they prevent
him from seeing many things justly, and perhaps sometimes more vividly
and acutely than if he were as sound as the dullest of us.
The teaspoons tinkled loudly all round the table, as he finished reading.
The Mistress caught her breath. I was afraid she was going to sob, but
she took it out in vigorous stirring of her tea. Will you believe that I
saw Number Five, with a sweet, approving smile on her face all the time,
brush her cheek with her hand-kerchief? There must have been a tear
stealing from beneath its eyelid. I hope Number Seven saw it. He is one
of the two men at our table who most need the tender looks and tones of a
woman. The Professor and I are hors de combat; the Counsellor is busy
with his cases and his ambitions; the Doctor is probably in love with a
microscope, and flirting with pathological specimens; but Number Seven
and the Tutor are, I fear, both suffering from that worst of all famines,
Do you remember that Number Seven said he never wrote a line of "poetry"
in his life, except once when he was suffering from temporary weakness of
body and mind? That is because he is a poet. If he had not been one, he
would very certainly have taken to tinkling rhymes. What should you
think of the probable musical genius of a young man who was particularly
fond of jingling a set of sleigh-bells? Should you expect him to turn
out a Mozart or a Beethoven? Now, I think I recognize the poetical
instinct in Number Seven, however imperfect may be its expression, and
however he may be run away with at times by fantastic notions that come
into his head. If fate had allotted him a helpful companion in the shape
of a loving and intelligent wife, he might have been half cured of his
eccentricities, and we should not have had to say, in speaking of him,
"Poor fellow!" But since this cannot be, I am pleased that he should
have been so kindly treated on the occasion of the reading of his paper.
If he saw Number Five's tear, he will certainly fall in love with her.
No matter if he does Number Five is a kind of Circe who does not turn the
victims of her enchantment into swine, but into lambs. I want to see
Number Seven one of her little flock. I say "little." I suspect it is
larger than most of us know. Anyhow, she can spare him sympathy and
kindness and encouragement enough to keep him contented with himself and
with her, and never miss the pulses of her loving life she lends him. It
seems to be the errand of some women to give many people as much
happiness as they have any right to in this world. If they concentrated
their affection on one, they would give him more than any mortal could
claim as his share. I saw Number Five watering her flowers, the other
day. The watering-pot had one of those perforated heads, through which
the water runs in many small streams. Every plant got its share: the
proudest lily bent beneath the gentle shower; the lowliest daisy held its
little face up for baptism. All were refreshed, none was flooded.
Presently she took the perforated head, or "rose," from the neck of the
watering-pot, and the full stream poured out in a round, solid column.
It was almost too much for the poor geranium on which it fell, and it
looked at one minute as if the roots would be laid bare, and perhaps the
whole plant be washed out of the soil in which it was planted. What if
Number Five should take off the "rose" that sprinkles her affections on
so many, and pour them all on one? Can that ever be? If it can, life is
worth living for him on whom her love may be lavished.
One of my neighbors, a thorough American, is much concerned about the
growth of what he calls the "hard-handed aristocracy." He tells the
"I was putting up a fence about my yard, and employed a man of whom I
knew something,—that he was industrious, temperate, and that he had a
wife and children to support,—a worthy man, a native New Englander. I
engaged him, I say, to dig some post-holes. My employee bought a new
spade and scoop on purpose, and came to my place at the appointed time,
and began digging. While he was at work, two men came over from a
drinking-saloon, to which my residence is nearer than I could desire.
One of them I had known as Mike Fagan, the other as Hans Schleimer. They
looked at Hiram, my New Hampshire man, in a contemptuous and threatening
way for a minute or so, when Fagan addressed him:
"'And how much does the man pay yez by the hour?'
"'The gentleman does n't pay me by the hour,' said Hiram.
"'How mosh does he bay you by der veeks?' said Hans.
"'I don' know as that's any of your business,' answered Hiram.
"'Faith, we'll make it our business,' said Mike Fagan. 'We're Knoights
of Labor, we'd have yez to know, and ye can't make yer bargains jist as
ye loikes. We manes to know how mony hours ye worrks, and how much ye
gets for it.'
"'Knights of Labor!' said I. 'Why, that is a kind of title of nobility,
is n't it? I thought the laws of our country did n't allow titles of
that kind. But if you have a right to be called knights, I suppose I
ought to address you as such. Sir Michael, I congratulate you on the
dignity you have attained. I hope Lady Fagan is getting on well with my
shirts. Sir Hans, I pay my respects to your title. I trust that Lady
Schleixner has got through that little difficulty between her ladyship
and yourself in which the police court thought it necessary to
"The two men looked at me. I weigh about a hundred and eighty pounds,
and am well put together. Hiram was noted in his village as a
'rahstler.' But my face is rather pallid and peaked, and Hiram had
something of the greenhorn look. The two men, who had been drinking,
hardly knew what ground to take. They rather liked the sound of Sir
Michael and, Sir Hans. They did not know very well what to make of their
wives as 'ladies.' They looked doubtful whether to take what had been
said as a casus belli or not, but they wanted a pretext of some kind or
other. Presently one of them saw a label on the scoop, or longhandled,
spoon-like shovel, with which Hiram had been working.
"'Arrah, be jabers!' exclaimed Mike Fagan, 'but has n't he been a-tradin'
wid Brown, the hardware fellah, that we boycotted! Grab it, Hans, and
we'll carry it off and show it to the brotherhood.'
"The men made a move toward the implement.
"'You let that are scoop-shovel alone,' said Hiram.
"I stepped to his side. The Knights were combative, as their noble
predecessors with the same title always were, and it was necessary to
come to a voie de fait. My straight blow from the shoulder did for Sir
Michael. Hiram treated Sir Hans to what is technically known as a
"'Naow, Dutchman,' said Hiram, 'if you don't want to be planted in that
are post-hole, y'd better take y'rself out o' this here piece of private
property. "Dangerous passin," as the sign-posts say, abaout these
"Sir Michael went down half stunned by my expressive gesture; Sir Hans
did not know whether his hip was out of joint or he had got a bad sprain;
but they were both out of condition for further hostilities. Perhaps it
was hardly fair to take advantage of their misfortunes to inflict a
discourse upon them, but they had brought it on themselves, and we each
of us gave them a piece of our mind.
"'I tell you what it is,' said Hiram, 'I'm a free and independent
American citizen, and I an't a-gon' to hev no man tyrannize over me, if
he doos call himself by one o' them noblemen's titles. Ef I can't work
jes' as I choose, fur folks that wants me to work fur 'em and that I want
to work fur, I might jes' as well go to Sibery and done with it. My
gran'f'ther fit in Bunker Hill battle. I guess if our folks in them days
did n't care no great abaout Lord Percy and Sir William Haowe, we an't
a-gon' to be scart by Sir Michael Fagan and Sir Hans What 's-his-name,
nor no other fellahs that undertakes to be noblemen, and tells us common
folks what we shall dew an' what we sha'n't. No, sir!'
"I took the opportunity to explain to Sir Michael and Sir Hans what it
was our fathers fought for, and what is the meaning of liberty. If these
noblemen did not like the country, they could go elsewhere. If they did
n't like the laws, they had the ballot-box, and could choose new
legislators. But as long as the laws existed they must obey them. I
could not admit that, because they called themselves by the titles the
Old World nobility thought so much of, they had a right to interfere in
the agreements I entered into with my neighbor. I told Sir Michael that
if he would go home and help Lady Fagan to saw and split the wood for her
fire, he would be better employed than in meddling with my domestic
arrangements. I advised Sir Hans to ask Lady Schleimer for her bottle of
spirits to use as an embrocation for his lame hip. And so my two
visitors with the aristocratic titles staggered off, and left us plain,
untitled citizens, Hiram and myself, to set our posts, and consider the
question whether we lived in a free country or under the authority of a
self-constituted order of quasi-nobility."
It is a very curious fact that, with all our boasted "free and equal"
superiority over the communities of the Old World, our people have the
most enormous appetite for Old World titles of distinction. Sir Michael
and Sir Hans belong to one of the most extended of the aristocratic
orders. But we have also "Knights and Ladies of Honor," and, what is
still grander, "Royal Conclave of Knights and Ladies," "Royal Arcanum,"
and "Royal Society of Good Fellows," "Supreme Council," "Imperial
Court," "Grand Protector," and "Grand Dictator," and so on. Nothing
less than "Grand" and "Supreme" is good enough for the dignitaries of our
associations of citizens. Where does all this ambition for names without
realities come from? Because a Knight of the Garter wears a golden star,
why does the worthy cordwainer, who mends the shoes of his
fellow-citizens, want to wear a tin star, and take a name that had a
meaning as used by the representatives of ancient families, or the men
who had made themselves illustrious by their achievements?
It appears to be a peculiarly American weakness. The French republicans
of the earlier period thought the term citizen was good enough for
anybody. At a later period, "Roi Citoyen"—the citizen king was a common
title given to Louis Philippe. But nothing is too grand for the
American, in the way of titles. The proudest of them all signify
absolutely nothing. They do not stand for ability, for public service,
for social importance, for large possessions; but, on the contrary, are
oftenest found in connection with personalities to which they are
supremely inapplicable. We can hardly afford to quarrel with a national
habit which, if lightly handled, may involve us in serious domestic
difficulties. The "Right Worshipful" functionary whose equipage stops at
my back gate, and whose services are indispensable to the health and
comfort of my household, is a dignitary whom I must not offend. I must
speak with proper deference to the lady who is scrubbing my floors, when
I remember that her husband, who saws my wood, carries a string of
high-sounding titles which would satisfy a Spanish nobleman.
After all, every people must have its own forms of ostentation, pretence,
and vulgarity. The ancient Romans had theirs, the English and the French
have theirs as well,—why should not we Americans have ours? Educated
and refined persons must recognize frequent internal conflicts between
the "Homo sum" of Terence and the "Odi profanum vulgus" of Horace. The
nobler sentiment should be that of every true American, and it is in that
direction that our best civilization is constantly tending.
We were waited on by a new girl, the other evening. Our pretty maiden
had left us for a visit to some relative,—so the Mistress said. I do
sincerely hope she will soon come back, for we all like to see her
flitting round the table.
I don't know what to make of it. I had it all laid out in my mind. With
such a company there must be a love-story. Perhaps there will be, but
there may be new combinations of the elements which are to make it up,
and here is a bud among the full-blown flowers to which I must devote a
I must call her by the name we gave her after she had trimmed the Samson
locks of our Professor. Delilah is a puzzle to most of us. A pretty
creature, dangerously pretty to be in a station not guarded by all the
protective arrangements which surround the maidens of a higher social
order. It takes a strong cage to keep in a tiger or a grizzly bear, but
what iron bars, what barbed wires, can keep out the smooth and subtle
enemy that finds out the cage where beauty is imprisoned? Our young
Doctor is evidently attracted by the charming maiden who serves him and
us so modestly and so gracefully. Fortunately, the Mistress never loses
sight of her. If she were her own daughter, she could not be more
watchful of all her movements. And yet I do not believe that Delilah
needs all this overlooking. If I am not mistaken, she knows how to take
care of herself, and could be trusted anywhere, in any company, without a
duenna. She has a history,—I feel sure of it. She has been trained and
taught as young persons of higher position in life are brought up, and
does not belong in the humble station in which we find her. But inasmuch
as the Mistress says nothing about her antecedents, we do not like to be
too inquisitive. The two Annexes are, it is plain, very curious about
her. I cannot wonder. They are both good-looking girls, but Delilah is
prettier than either of them. My sight is not so good as it was, but I
can see the way in which the eyes of the young people follow each other
about plainly enough to set me thinking as to what is going on in the
thinking marrow behind them. The young Doctor's follow Delilah as she
glides round the table,—they look into hers whenever they get a chance;
but the girl's never betray any consciousness of it, so far as I can see.
There is no mistaking the interest with which the two, Annexes watch all
this. Why shouldn't they, I should like to know? The Doctor is a bright
young fellow, and wants nothing but a bald spot and a wife to find
himself in a comfortable family practice. One of the Annexes, as I have
said, has had thoughts of becoming a doctress. I don't think the Doctor
would want his wife to practise medicine, for reasons which I will not
stop to mention. Such a partnership sometimes works wonderfully well, as
in one well-known instance where husband and wife are both eminent in the
profession; but our young Doctor has said to me that he had rather see
his wife,—if he ever should have one,—at the piano than at the
dissecting-table. Of course the Annexes know nothing about this, and
they may think, as he professed himself willing to lecture on medicine to
women, he might like to take one of his pupils as a helpmeet.
If it were not for our Delilah's humble position, I don't see why she
would not be a good match for any young man. But then it is so hard to
take a young woman from so very lowly a condition as that of a "waitress"
that it would require a deal of courage to venture on such a step. If we
could only find out that she is a princess in disguise, so to
speak,—that is, a young person of presentable connections as well as
pleasing looks and manners; that she has had an education of some kind,
as we suspected when she blushed on hearing herself spoken of as a
"gentille petite," why, then everything would be all right, the young
Doctor would have plain sailing,—that is, if he is in love with her, and
if she fancies him,—and I should find my love-story,—the one I
expected, but not between the parties I had thought would be mating with
Dear little Delilah! Lily of the valley, growing in the shade
now,—perhaps better there until her petals drop; and yet if she is all I
often fancy she is, how her youthful presence would illuminate and
sweeten a household! There is not one of us who does not feel interested
in her,—not one of us who would not be delighted at some Cinderella
transformation which would show her in the setting Nature meant for her
The fancy of Number Seven about the witches' broomsticks suggested to one
of us the following poem:
THE BROOMSTICK TRAIN;
OR, THE RETURN OF THE WITCHES.
Lookout! Look out, boys! Clear the track!
The witches are here! They've all come back!
They hanged them high,—No use! No use!
What cares a witch for a hangman's noose?
They buried them deep, but they would n't lie, still,
For cats and witches are hard to kill;
They swore they shouldn't and wouldn't die,
Books said they did, but they lie! they lie!
—A couple of hundred years, or so,
They had knocked about in the world below,
When an Essex Deacon dropped in to call,
And a homesick feeling seized them all;
For he came from a place they knew full well,
And many a tale he had to tell.
They long to visit the haunts of men,
To see the old dwellings they knew again,
And ride on their broomsticks all around
Their wide domain of unhallowed ground.
In Essex county there's many a roof
Well known to him of the cloven hoof;
The small square windows are full in view
Which the midnight hags went sailing through,
On their well-trained broomsticks mounted high,
Seen like shadows against the sky;
Crossing the track of owls and bats,
Hugging before them their coal-black cats.
Well did they know, those gray old wives,
The sights we see in our daily drives
Shimmer of lake and shine of sea,
Brown's bare hill with its lonely tree,
(It wasn't then as we see it now,
With one scant scalp-lock to shade its brow;)
Dusky nooks in the Essex woods,
Dark, dim, Dante-like solitudes,
Where the tree-toad watches the sinuous snake
Glide through his forests of fern and brake;
Ipswich River; its old stone bridge;
Far off Andover's Indian Ridge,
And many a scene where history tells
Some shadow of bygone terror dwells,
Of "Norman's Woe" with its tale of dread,
Of the Screeching Woman of Marblehead,
(The fearful story that turns men pale
Don't bid me tell it,—my speech would fail.)
Who would not, will not, if he can,
Bathe in the breezes of fair Cape Ann,
Rest in the bowers her bays enfold,
Loved by the sachems and squaws of old?
Home where the white magnolias bloom,
Sweet with the bayberry's chaste perfume,
Hugged by the woods and kissed by the seal
Where is the Eden like to thee?
For that "couple of hundred years, or so,"
There had been no peace in the world below;
The witches still grumbling, "It is n't fair;
Come, give us a taste of the upper air!
We've had enough of your sulphur springs,
And the evil odor that round them clings;
We long for a drink that is cool and nice,
Great buckets of water with Wenham ice;
We've served you well up-stairs, you know;
You're a good old-fellow—come, let us go!"
I don't feel sure of his being good,
But he happened to be in a pleasant mood,
As fiends with their skins full sometimes are,
(He'd been drinking with "roughs" at a Boston bar.)
So what does he do but up and shout
To a graybeard turnkey, "Let 'em out!"
To mind his orders was all he knew;
The gates swung open, and out they flew.
"Where are our broomsticks?" the beldams cried.
"Here are your broomsticks," an imp replied.
"They've been in—the place you know—so long
They smell of brimstone uncommon strong;
But they've gained by being left alone,
Just look, and you'll see how tall they've grown."
—And where is my cat? "a vixen squalled.
Yes, where are our cats?" the witches bawled,
And began to call them all by name:
As fast as they called the cats, they came
There was bob-tailed Tommy and long-tailed Tim,
And wall-eyed Jacky and green-eyed Jim,
And splay-foot Benny and slim-legged Beau,
And Skinny and Squally, and Jerry and Joe,
And many another that came at call,
It would take too long to count them all.
All black,—one could hardly tell which was which,
But every cat knew his own old witch;
And she knew hers as hers knew her,
Ah, did n't they curl their tails and purr!
No sooner the withered hags were free
Than out they swarmed for a midnight spree;
I could n't tell all they did in rhymes,
But the Essex people had dreadful times.
The Swampscott fishermen still relate
How a strange sea-monster stole thair bait;
How their nets were tangled in loops and knots,
And they found dead crabs in their lobster-pots.
Poor Danvers grieved for her blasted crops,
And Wilmington mourned over mildewed hops.
A blight played havoc with Beverly beans,
It was all the work of those hateful queans!
A dreadful panic began at "Pride's,"
Where the witches stopped in their midnight rides,
And there rose strange rumors and vague alarms
'Mid the peaceful dwellers at Beverly Farms.
Now when the Boss of the Beldams found
That without his leave they were ramping round,
He called,—they could hear him twenty miles,
From Chelsea beach to the Misery Isles;
The deafest old granny knew his tone
Without the trick of the telephone.
"Come here, you witches! Come here!" says he,
—"At your games of old, without asking me
I'll give you a little job to do
That will keep you stirring, you godless crew!"
They came, of course, at their master's call,
The witches, the broomsticks, the cats, and all;
He led the hags to a railway train
The horses were trying to drag in vain.
"Now, then," says he, "you've had your fun,
And here are the cars you've got to run.
"The driver may just unhitch his team,
We don't want horses, we don't want steam;
You may keep your old black cats to hug,
But the loaded train you've got to lug."
Since then on many a car you'll see
A broomstick plain as plain can be;
On every stick there's a witch astride,
The string you see to her leg is tied.
She will do a mischief if she can,
But the string is held by a careful man,
And whenever the evil-minded witch
Would cut come caper, he gives a twitch.
As for the hag, you can't see her,
But hark! you can hear her black cat's purr,
And now and then, as a car goes by,
You may catch a gleam from her wicked eye.
Often you've looked on a rushing train,
But just what moved it was not so plain.
It couldn't be those wires above,
For they could neither pull nor shove;
Where was the motor that made it go
You couldn't guess, but now you know.
Remember my rhymes when you ride again
On the rattling rail by the broomstick train!
In my last report of our talks over the teacups I had something to say of
the fondness of our people for titles. Where did the anti-republican,
anti-democratic passion for swelling names come from, and how long has it
been naturalized among us?
A striking instance of it occurred at about the end of the last century.
It was at that time there appeared among us one of the most original and
singular personages to whom America has given birth. Many of our
company,—many of my readers,—all well acquainted with his name, and not
wholly ignorant of his history. They will not object to my giving some
particulars relating to him, which, if not new to them, will be new to
others into whose hands these pages may fall.
Timothy Dexter, the first claimant of a title of nobility among the
people of the United States of America, was born in the town of Malden,
near Boston. He served an apprenticeship as a leather-dresser, saved
some money, got some more with his wife, began trading and speculating,
and became at last rich, for those days. His most famous business
enterprise was that of sending an invoice of warming-pans to the West
Indies. A few tons of ice would have seemed to promise a better return;
but in point of fact, he tells us, the warming-pans were found useful in
the manufacture of sugar, and brought him in a handsome profit. His
ambition rose with his fortune. He purchased a large and stately house
in Newburyport, and proceeded to embellish and furnish it according to
the dictates of his taste and fancy. In the grounds about his house, he
caused to be erected between forty and fifty wooden statues of great men
and allegorical figures, together with four lions and one lamb. Among
these images were two statues of Dexter himself, one of which held a
label with a characteristic inscription. His house was ornamented with
minarets, adorned with golden balls, and surmounted by a large gilt
eagle. He equipped it with costly furniture, with paintings, and a
library. He went so far as to procure the services of a poet laureate,
whose business it seems to have been to sing his praises. Surrounded with
splendors like these, the plain title of "Mr." Dexter would have been
infinitely too mean and common. He therefore boldly took the step of
self-ennobling, and gave himself forth—as he said, obeying "the voice of
the people at large"—as "Lord Timothy Dexter," by which appellation he
has ever since been known to the American public.
If to be the pioneer in the introduction of Old World titles into
republican America can confer a claim to be remembered by posterity, Lord
Timothy Dexter has a right to historic immortality. If the true American
spirit shows itself most clearly in boundless self-assertion, Timothy
Dexter is the great original American egotist. If to throw off the
shackles of Old World pedantry, and defy the paltry rules and examples of
grammarians and rhetoricians, is the special province and the chartered
privilege of the American writer, Timothy Dexter is the founder of a new
school, which tramples under foot the conventionalities that hampered and
subjugated the faculties of the poets, the dramatists, the historians,
essayists, story-tellers, orators, of the worn-out races which have
preceded the great American people.
The material traces of the first American nobleman's existence have
nearly disappeared. The house is still standing, but the statues, the
minarets, the arches, and the memory of the great Lord Timothy Dexter
live chiefly in tradition, and in the work which he bequeathed to
posterity, and of which I shall say a few words. It is unquestionably a
thoroughly original production, and I fear that some readers may think I
am trifling with them when I am quoting it literally. I am going to make
a strong claim for Lord Timothy as against other candidates for a certain
Thomas Jefferson is commonly recognized as the first to proclaim before
the world the political independence of America. It is not so generally
agreed upon as to who was the first to announce the literary emancipation
of our country.
One of Mr. Emerson's biographers has claimed that his Phi Beta Kappa
Oration was our Declaration of Literary Independence. But Mr. Emerson
did not cut himself loose from all the traditions of Old World
scholarship. He spelled his words correctly, he constructed his
sentences grammatically. He adhered to the slavish rules of propriety,
and observed the reticences which a traditional delicacy has considered
inviolable in decent society, European and Oriental alike. When he wrote
poetry, he commonly selected subjects which seemed adapted to poetical
treatment,—apparently thinking that all things were not equally
calculated to inspire the true poet's genius. Once, indeed, he ventured
to refer to "the meal in the firkin, the milk in the pan," but he chiefly
restricted himself to subjects such as a fastidious conventionalism would
approve as having a certain fitness for poetical treatment. He was not
always so careful as he might have been in the rhythm and rhyme of his
verse, but in the main he recognized the old established laws which have
been accepted as regulating both. In short, with all his originality, he
worked in Old World harness, and cannot be considered as the creator of a
truly American, self-governed, self-centred, absolutely independent style
of thinking and writing, knowing no law but its own sovereign will and
A stronger claim might be urged for Mr. Whitman. He takes into his
hospitable vocabulary words which no English dictionary recognizes as
belonging to the language,—words which will be looked for in vain
outside of his own pages. He accepts as poetical subjects all things
alike, common and unclean, without discrimination, miscellaneous as the
contents of the great sheet which Peter saw let down from heaven. He
carries the principle of republicanism through the whole world of created
objects. He will "thread a thread through [his] poems," he tells us,
"that no one thing in the universe is inferior to another thing." No man
has ever asserted the surpassing dignity and importance of the American
citizen so boldly and freely as Mr. Whitman. He calls himself "teacher
of the unquenchable creed, namely, egotism." He begins one of his
chants, "I celebrate myself," but he takes us all in as partners in his
self-glorification. He believes in America as the new Eden.
"A world primal again,—vistas of glory incessant and branching, A new
race dominating previous ones and grander far, New politics—new
literature and religions—new inventions and arts."
Of the new literature be himself has furnished specimens which certainly
have all the originality he can claim for them. So far as egotism is
concerned, he was clearly anticipated by the titled personage to whom I
have referred, who says of himself, "I am the first in the East, the
first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western world."
But while Mr. Whitman divests himself of a part of his baptismal name,
the distinguished New Englander thus announces his proud position: "Ime
the first Lord in the younited States of A mercary Now of Newburyport.
it is the voice of the peopel and I cant Help it." This extract is from
his famous little book called "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones." As an
inventor of a new American style he goes far beyond Mr. Whitman, who, to
be sure, cares little for the dictionary, and makes his own rules of
rhythm, so far as there is any rhythm in his sentences. But Lord Timothy
spells to suit himself, and in place of employing punctuation as it is
commonly used, prints a separate page of periods, colons, semicolons,
commas, notes of interrogation and of admiration, with which the reader
is requested to "peper and soolt" the book as he pleases.
I am afraid that Mr. Emerson and Mr. Whitman must yield the claim of
declaring American literary independence to Lord Timothy Dexter, who not
only taught his countrymen that they need not go to the Heralds' College
to authenticate their titles of nobility, but also that they were at
perfect liberty to spell just as they liked, and to write without
troubling themselves about stops of any kind. In writing what I suppose
he intended for poetry, he did not even take the pains to break up his
lines into lengths to make them look like verse, as may be seen by the
WONDER OF WONDERS!
How great the soul is! Do not you all wonder and admire to see and
behold and hear? Can you all believe half the truth, and admire to hear
the wonders how great the soul is—only behold—past finding out! Only
see how large the soul is! that if a man is drowned in the sea what a
great bubble comes up out of the top of the water… The bubble is the
I confess that I am not in sympathy with some of the movements that
accompany the manifestations of American social and literary
independence. I do not like the assumption of titles of Lords and
Knights by plain citizens of a country which prides itself on recognizing
simple manhood and womanhood as sufficiently entitled to respect without
these unnecessary additions. I do not like any better the familiar, and
as it seems to me rude, way of speaking of our fellow-citizens who are
entitled to the common courtesies of civilized society. I never thought
it dignified or even proper for a President of the United States to call
himself, or to be called by others, "Frank" Pierce. In the first place I
had to look in a biographical dictionary to find out whether his
baptismal name was Franklin, or Francis, or simply Frank, for I think
children are sometimes christened with this abbreviated name. But it is
too much in the style of Cowper's unpleasant acquaintance:
"The man who hails you Tom or Jack,
And proves by thumping on your back
How he esteems your merit."
I should not like to hear our past chief magistrates spoken of as Jack
Adams or Jim Madison, and it would have been only as a political partisan
that I should have reconciled myself to "Tom" Jefferson. So, in spite of
"Ben" Jonson, "Tom" Moore, and "Jack" Sheppard, I prefer to speak of a
fellow-citizen already venerable by his years, entitled to respect by
useful services to his country, and recognized by many as the prophet of
a new poetical dispensation, with the customary title of adults rather
than by the free and easy school-boy abbreviation with which he
introduced himself many years ago to the public. As for his rhapsodies,
Number Seven, our "cracked Teacup," says they sound to him like "fugues
played on a big organ which has been struck by lightning." So far as
concerns literary independence, if we understand by that term the getting
rid of our subjection to British criticism, such as it was in the days
when the question was asked, "Who reads an American book?" we may
consider it pretty well established. If it means dispensing with
punctuation, coining words at will, self-revelation unrestrained by a
sense of what is decorous, declamations in which everything is glorified
without being idealized, "poetry" in which the reader must make the
rhythms which the poet has not made for him, then I think we had better
continue literary colonists. I shrink from a lawless independence to
which all the virile energy and trampling audacity of Mr. Whitman fail to
reconcile me. But there is room for everybody and everything in our huge
hemisphere. Young America is like a three-year-old colt with his saddle
and bridle just taken off. The first thing he wants to do is to roll.
He is a droll object, sprawling in the grass with his four hoofs in the
air; but he likes it, and it won't harm us. So let him roll,—let him
Of all The Teacups around our table, Number Five is the one who is the
object of the greatest interest. Everybody wants to be her friend, and
she has room enough in her hospitable nature to find a place for every
one who is worthy of the privilege. The difficulty is that it is so hard
to be her friend without becoming her lover. I have said before that she
turns the subjects of her Circe-like enchantment, not into swine, but
into lambs. The Professor and I move round among her lambs, the docile
and amiable flock that come and go at her bidding, that follow her
footsteps, and are content to live in the sunshine of her smile and
within reach of the music of her voice. I like to get her away from
their amiable bleatings; I love to talk with her about life, of which she
has seen a great deal, for she knows what it is to be an idol in society
and the centre of her social circle. It might be a question whether
women or men most admire and love her. With her own sex she is always
helpful, sympathizing, tender, charitable, sharing their griefs as well
as taking part in their pleasures. With men it has seemed to make little
difference whether they were young or old: all have found her the same
sweet, generous, unaffected companion; fresh enough in feeling for the
youngest, deep enough in the wisdom of the heart for the oldest. She
does not pretend to be youthful, nor does she trouble herself that she
has seen the roses of more Junes than many of—the younger women who
gather round her. She has not had to say,
Comme je regrette
Mon bras si dodu,
for her arm has never lost its roundness, and her face is one of those
that cannot be cheated of their charm even if they live long enough to
look upon the grown up grandchildren of their coevals.
It is a wonder how Number Five can find the time to be so much to so many
friends of both sexes, in spite of the fact that she is one of the most
insatiable of readers. She not only reads, but she remembers; she not
only remembers, but she records, for her own use and pleasure, and for
the delight and profit of those who are privileged to look over her
note-books. Number Five, as I think I have said before, has not the
ambition to figure as an authoress. That she could write most agreeably
is certain. I have seen letters of hers to friends which prove that
clearly enough. Whether she would find prose or verse the most natural
mode of expression I cannot say, but I know she is passionately fond of
poetry, and I should not be surprised if, laid away among the pressed
pansies and roses of past summers, there were poems, songs, perhaps, of
her own, which she sings to herself with her fingers touching the piano;
for to that she tells her secrets in tones sweet as the ring-dove's call
to her mate.
I am afraid it may be suggested that I am drawing Number Five's portrait
too nearly after some model who is unconsciously sitting for it; but have
n't I told you that you must not look for flesh and blood personalities
behind or beneath my Teacups? I am not going to make these so lifelike
that you will be saying, This is Mr. or Miss, or Mrs. So-and-So. My
readers must remember that there are very many pretty, sweet, amiable
girls and women sitting at their pianos, and finding chords to the music
of their heart-strings. If I have pictured Number Five as one of her
lambs might do it, I have succeeded in what I wanted to accomplish. Why
don't I describe her person? If I do, some gossip or other will be sure
to say, "Oh, he means her, of course," and find a name to match the
It is strange to see how we are all coming to depend upon the friendly
aid of Number Five in our various perplexities. The Counsellor asked her
opinion in one of those cases where a divorce was too probable, but a
reconciliation was possible. It takes a woman to sound a woman's heart,
and she found there was still love enough under the ruffled waters to
warrant the hope of peace and tranquillity. The young Doctor went to her
for counsel in the case of a hysteric girl possessed with the idea that
she was a born poetess, and covering whole pages of foolscap with
senseless outbursts, which she wrote in paroxysms of wild excitement, and
read with a rapture of self-admiration which there was nothing in her
verses to justify or account for. How sweetly Number Five dealt with
that poor deluded sister in her talk with the Doctor! "Yes," she said to
him, "nothing can be fuller of vanity, self-worship, and self-deception.
But we must be very gentle with her. I knew a young girl tormented with
aspirations, and possessed by a belief that she was meant for a higher
place than that which fate had assigned her, who needed wholesome advice,
just as this poor young thing does. She did not ask for it, and it was
not offered. Alas, alas! 'no man cared for her soul,'—no man nor woman
either. She was in her early teens, and the thought of her earthly
future, as it stretched out before her, was more than she could bear, and
she sought the presence of her Maker to ask the meaning of her abortive
existence.—We will talk it over. I will help you take care of this
The Doctor was thankful to have her assistance in a case with which he
would have found it difficult to deal if he had been left to, his unaided
judgment, and between them the young girl was safely piloted through the
perilous straits in which she came near shipwreck.
I know that it is commonly said of her that every male friend of hers
must become her lover unless he is already lassoed by another. Il fait
passer par l'a. The young Doctor is, I think, safe, for I am convinced
that he is bewitched with Delilah. Since she has left us, he has seemed
rather dejected; I feel sure that he misses her. We all do, but he more
seriously than the rest of us. I have said that I cannot tell whether
the Counsellor is to be counted as one of Number Five's lambs or not, but
he evidently admires her, and if he is not fascinated, looks as if he
were very near that condition.
It was a more delicate matter about which the Tutor talked with her.
Something which she had pleasantly said to him about the two Annexes led
him to ask her, more or less seriously, it may be remembered, about the
fitness of either of them to be the wife of a young man in his position.
She talked so sensibly, as it seemed to him, about it that he continued
the conversation, and, shy as he was, became quite easy and confidential
in her company. The Tutor is not only a poet, but is a great reader of
the poetry of many languages. It so happened that Number Five was
puzzled, one day, in reading a sonnet of Petrarch, and had recourse to
the Tutor to explain the difficult passage. She found him so thoroughly
instructed, so clear, so much interested, so ready to impart knowledge,
and so happy in his way of doing it, that she asked him if he would not
allow her the privilege of reading an Italian author under his guidance,
now and then.
The Tutor found Number Five an apt scholar, and something more than that;
for while, as a linguist, he was, of course, her master, her intelligent
comments brought out the beauties of an author in a way to make the text
seem like a different version. They did not always confine themselves to
the book they were reading. Number Five showed some curiosity about the
Tutor's relations with the two Annexes. She suggested whether it would
not be well to ask one or both of them in to take part in their readings.
The Tutor blushed and hesitated. "Perhaps you would like to ask one of
them," said Number Five. "Which one shall it be?" "It makes no
difference to me which," he answered, "but I do not see that we need
either." Number Five did not press the matter further. So the young
Tutor and Number Five read together pretty regularly, and came to depend
upon their meeting over a book as one of their stated seasons of
enjoyment. He is so many years younger than she is that I do not suppose
he will have to pass par la, as most of her male friends have done. I
tell her sometimes that she reminds me of my Alma Mater, always young,
always fresh in her attractions, with her scholars all round her, many of
them graduates, or to graduate sooner or later.
What do I mean by graduates? Why, that they have made love to her, and
would be entitled to her diploma, if she gave a parchment to each one of
them who had had the courage to face the inevitable. About the
Counsellor I am, as I have said, in doubt. Who wrote that "I Like You
and I Love You," which we found in the sugar-bowl the other day? Was it
a graduate who had felt the "icy dagger," or only a candidate for
graduation who was afraid of it? So completely does she subjugate those
who come under her influence that I believe she looks upon it as a matter
of course that the fateful question will certainly come, often after a
brief acquaintance. She confessed as much to me, who am in her
confidence, and not a candidate for graduation from her academy. Her
graduates—her lambs I called them—are commonly faithful to her, and
though now and then one may have gone off and sulked in solitude, most of
them feel kindly to her, and to those who have shared the common fate of
her suitors. I do really believe that some of them would be glad to see
her captured by any one, if such there can be, who is worthy of her. She
is the best of friends, they say, but can she love anybody, as so many
other women do, or seem to? Why shouldn't our Musician, who is evidently
fond of her company, and sings and plays duets with her, steal her heart
as Piozzi stole that of the pretty and bright Mrs. Thrale, as so many
music-teachers have run away with their pupils' hearts? At present she
seems to be getting along very placidly and contentedly with her young
friend the Tutor. There is something quite charming in their relations
with each other. He knows many things she does not, for he is reckoned
one of the most learned in his literary specialty of all the young men of
his time; and it can be a question of only a few years when some
first-class professorship will be offered him. She, on the other hand,
has so much more experience, so much more practical wisdom, than he has
that he consults her on many every-day questions, as he did, or made
believe do, about that of making love to one of the two Annexes. I had
thought, when we first sat round the tea-table, that she was good for the
bit of romance I wanted; but since she has undertaken to be a kind of
half-maternal friend to the young Tutor, I am afraid I shall have to give
her up as the heroine of a romantic episode. It would be a pity if there
were nothing to commend these papers to those who take up this periodical
but essays, more or less significant, on subjects more or less
interesting to the jaded and impatient readers of the numberless stories
and entertaining articles which crowd the magazines of this prolific
period. A whole year of a tea-table as large as ours without a single
love passage in it would be discreditable to the company. We must find
one, or make one, before the tea-things are taken away and the table is
no longer spread.
The Dictator turns preacher.
We have so many light and playful talks over the teacups that some
readers may be surprised to find us taking up the most serious and solemn
subject which can occupy a human intelligence. The sudden appearance
among our New England Protestants of the doctrine of purgatory as a
possibility, or even probability, has startled the descendants of the
Puritans. It has naturally led to a reconsideration of the doctrine of
eternal punishment. It is on that subject that Number Five and I have
talked together. I love to listen to her, for she talks from the
promptings of a true woman's heart. I love to talk to her, for I learn
my own thoughts better in that way than in any other "L'appetit vient en
mangeant," the French saying has it. "L'esprit vient en causant;" that
is, if one can find the right persons to talk with.
The subject which has specially interested Number Five and myself, of
late, was suggested to me in the following way.
Some two years ago I received a letter from a clergyman who bears by
inheritance one of the most distinguished names which has done honor to
the American "Orthodox" pulpit. This letter requested of me "a
contribution to a proposed work which was to present in their own
language the views of 'many men of many minds' on the subject of future
punishment. It was in my mind to let the public hear not only from
professional theologians, but from other professions, as from jurists on
the alleged but disputed value of the hangman's whip overhanging the
witness-box, and from physicians on the working of beliefs about the
future life in the minds of the dangerously sick. And I could not help
thinking what a good thing it would be to draw out the present writer
upon his favorite borderland between the spiritual and the material."
The communication came to me, as the writer reminds me in a recent
letter, at a "painfully inopportune time," and though it was courteously
answered, was not made the subject of a special reply.
This request confers upon me a certain right to express my opinion on
this weighty subject without fear and without reproach even from those
who might be ready to take offence at one of the laity for meddling with
pulpit questions. It shows also that this is not a dead issue in our
community, as some of the younger generation seem to think. There are
some, there may be many, who would like to hear what impressions one has
received on the subject referred to, after a long life in which he has
heard and read a great deal about the matter. There is a certain gravity
in the position of one who is, in the order of nature very near the
undiscovered country. A man who has passed his eighth decade feels as if
he were already in the antechamber of the apartments which he may be
called to occupy in the house of many mansions. His convictions
regarding the future of our race are likely to be serious, and his
expressions not lightly uttered. The question my correspondent suggests
is a tremendous one. No other interest compares for one moment with that
belonging to it. It is not only ourselves that it concerns, but all whom
we love or ever have loved, all our human brotherhood, as well as our
whole idea of the Being who made us and the relation in which He stands
to his creatures. In attempting to answer my correspondent's question, I
shall no doubt repeat many things I have said before in different forms,
on different occasions. This is no more than every clergyman does
habitually, and it would be hard if I could not have the same license
which the professional preacher enjoys so fully.
Number Five and I have occasionally talked on religious questions, and
discovered many points of agreement in our views. Both of us grew up
under the old "Orthodox" or Calvinistic system of belief. Both of us
accepted it in our early years as a part of our education. Our experience
is a common one. William Cullen Bryant says of himself, "The Calvinistic
system of divinity I adopted of course, as I heard nothing else taught
from the pulpit, and supposed it to be the accepted belief of the
religious world." But it was not the "five points" which remained in the
young poet's memory and shaped his higher life. It was the influence of
his mother that left its permanent impression after the questions and
answers of the Assembly's Catechism had faded out, or remained in memory
only as fossil survivors of an extinct or fast-disappearing theological
formation. The important point for him, as for so many other children of
Puritan descent, was not his father's creed, but his mother's character,
precepts, and example. "She was a person," he says, "of excellent
practical sense, of a quick and sensitive moral judgment, and had no
patience with any form of deceit or duplicity. Her prompt condemnation of
injustice, even in those instances in which it is tolerated by the world,
made a strong impression upon me in early life; and if, in the discussion
of public questions, I have in my riper age endeavored to keep in view
the great rule of right without much regard to persons, it has been owing
in a great degree to the force of her example, which taught me never to
countenance a wrong because others did."
I have quoted this passage because it was an experience not wholly unlike
my own, and in certain respects like that of Number Five. To grow up in
a narrow creed and to grow out of it is a tremendous trial of one's
nature. There is always a bond of fellowship between those who have been
through such an ordeal.
The experiences we have had in common naturally lead us to talk over the
theological questions which at this time are constantly presenting
themselves to the public, not only in the books and papers expressly
devoted to that class of subjects, but in many of the newspapers and
popular periodicals, from the weeklies to the quarterlies. The pulpit
used to lay down the law to the pews; at the present time, it is of more
consequence what the pews think than what the minister does, for the
obvious reason that the pews can change their minister, and often do,
whereas the minister cannot change the pews, or can do so only to a very
limited extent. The preacher's garment is cut according to the pattern
of that of the hearers, for the most part. Thirty years ago, when I was
writing on theological subjects, I came in for a very pretty share of
abuse, such as it was the fashion of that day, at least in certain
quarters, to bestow upon those who were outside of the high-walled
enclosures in which many persons; not naturally unamiable or exclusive,
found themselves imprisoned. Since that time what changes have taken
place! Who will believe that a well-behaved and reputable citizen could
have been denounced as a "moral parricide," because he attacked some of
the doctrines in which he was supposed to have been brought up? A single
thought should have prevented the masked theologian who abused his
incognito from using such libellous language.
Much, and in many families most, of the religious teaching of children is
committed to the mother. The experience of William Cullen Bryant, which
I have related in his own words, is that of many New England children.
Now, the sternest dogmas that ever came from a soul cramped or palsied by
an obsolete creed become wonderfully softened in passing between the lips
of a mother. The cruel doctrine at which all but case-hardened
"professionals" shudder cones out, as she teaches and illustrates it, as
unlike its original as the milk which a peasant mother gives her babe is
unlike the coarse food which furnishes her nourishment. The virus of a
cursing creed is rendered comparatively harmless by the time it reaches
the young sinner in the nursery. Its effects fall as far short of what
might have been expected from its virulence as the pearly vaccine vesicle
falls short of the terrors of the confluent small-pox. Controversialists
should therefore be careful (for their own sakes, for they hurt nobody so
much as themselves) how they use such terms as "parricide" as
characterizing those who do not agree in all points with the fathers whom
or whose memory they honor and venerate. They might with as much
propriety call them matricides, if they did not agree with the milder
teachings of their mothers. I can imagine Jonathan Edwards in the
nursery with his three-year-old child upon his knee. The child looks up
to his face and says to him,—"Papa, nurse tells me that you say God
hates me worse than He hates one of those horrid ugly snakes that crawl
all round. Does God hate me so?"
"Alas! my child, it is but too true. So long as you are out of Christ
you are as a viper, and worse than a viper, in his sight."
By and by, Mrs. Edwards, one of the loveliest of women and sweetest of
mothers, comes into the nursery. The child is crying.
"What is the matter, my darling?"
"Papa has been telling me that God hates me worse than a snake."
Poor, gentle, poetical, sensitive, spiritual, almost celestial Mrs.
Jonathan Edwards! On the one hand the terrible sentence conceived,
written down, given to the press, by the child's father; on the other
side the trusting child looking up at her, and all the mother pleading in
her heart against the frightful dogma of her revered husband. Do you
suppose she left that poison to rankle in the tender soul of her darling?
Would it have been moral parricide for a son of the great divine to have
repudiated the doctrine which degraded his blameless infancy to the
condition and below the condition of the reptile? Was it parricide in
the second or third degree when his descendant struck out that venomous
sentence from the page in which it stood as a monument to what depth
Christian heathenism could sink under the teaching of the great master of
logic and spiritual inhumanity? It is too late to be angry about the
abuse a well—meaning writer received thirty years ago. The whole
atmosphere has changed since then. It is mere childishness to expect men
to believe as their fathers did; that is, if they have any minds of their
own. The world is a whole generation older and wiser than when the father
was of his son's age.
So far as I have observed persons nearing the end of life, the Roman
Catholics understand the business of dying better than Protestants. They
have an expert by them, armed with spiritual specifics, in which they
both, patient and priestly ministrant, place implicit trust. Confession,
the Eucharist, Extreme Unction,—these all inspire a confidence which
without this symbolism is too apt to be wanting in over-sensitive
natures. They have been peopled in earlier years with ghastly spectres
of avenging fiends, moving in a sleepless world of devouring flames and
smothering exhalations; where nothing lives but the sinner, the fiends,
and the reptiles who help to make life an unending torture. It is no
wonder that these images sometimes return to the enfeebled intelligence.
To exorcise them, the old Church of Christendom has her mystic formulae,
of which no rationalistic prescription can take the place. If Cowper had
been a good Roman Catholic, instead of having his conscience handled by a
Protestant like John Newton, he would not have died despairing, looking
upon himself as a castaway. I have seen a good many Roman Catholics on
their dying beds, and it always appeared to me that they accepted the
inevitable with a composure which showed that their belief, whether or
not the best to live by, was a better one to die by than most of the
harder creeds which have replaced it.
In the more intelligent circles of American society one may question
anything and everything, if he will only do it civilly. We may talk
about eschatology, the science of last things,—or, if you will, the
natural history of the undiscovered country, without offence before
anybody except young children and very old women of both sexes. In our
New England the great Andover discussion and the heretical missionary
question have benumbed all sensibility on this subject as entirely, as
completely, as the new local anaesthetic, cocaine, deadens the
sensibility of the part to which it is applied, so that the eye may have
its mote or beam plucked out without feeling it,—as the novels of Zola
and Maupassant have hardened the delicate nerve-centres of the women who
have fed their imaginations on the food they have furnished.
The generally professed belief of the Protestant world as embodied in
their published creeds is that the great mass of mankind are destined to
an eternity of suffering. That this eternity is to be one of bodily
pain—of "torment "—is the literal teaching of Scripture, which has been
literally interpreted by the theologians, the poets, and the artists of
many long ages which followed the acceptance of the recorded legends of
the church as infallible. The doctrine has always been recognized, as it
is now, as a very terrible one. It has found a support in the story of
the fall of man, and the view taken of the relation of man to his Maker
since that event. The hatred of God to mankind in virtue of their "first
disobedience" and inherited depravity is at the bottom of it. The extent
to which that idea was carried is well shown in the expressions I have
borrowed from Jonathan Edwards. According to his teaching,—and he was a
reasoner who knew what he was talking about, what was involved in the
premises of the faith he accepted,—man inherits the curse of God as his
What shall we say to the doctrine of the fall of man as the ground of
inflicting endless misery on the human race? A man to be punished for
what he could not help! He was expected to be called to account for
Adam's sin. It is singular to notice that the reasoning of the wolf with
the lamb should be transferred to the dealings of the Creator with his
creatures. "You stirred the brook up and made my drinking-place muddy."
"But, please your wolfship, I couldn't do that, for I stirred the water
far down the stream,—below your drinking-place." "Well, anyhow, your
father troubled it a year or two ago, and that is the same thing." So
the wolf falls upon the lamb and makes a meal of him. That is wolf
logic,—and theological reasoning.
How shall we characterize the doctrine of endless torture as the destiny
of most of those who have lived, and are living, on this planet? I
prefer to let another writer speak of it. Mr. John Morley uses the
following words: "The horrors of what is perhaps the most frightful idea
that has ever corroded human character,—the idea of eternal punishment."
Sismondi, the great historian, heard a sermon on eternal punishment, and
vowed never again to enter another church holding the same creed.
Romanism he considered a religion of mercy and peace by the side of what
the English call the Reformation.—I mention these protests because I
happen to find them among my notes, but it would be easy to accumulate
examples of the same kind. When Cowper, at about the end of the last
century, said satirically of the minister he was attacking,
"He never mentioned hell to ears polite,"
he was giving unconscious evidence that the sense of the barbarism of the
idea was finding its way into the pulpit. When Burns, in the midst of
the sulphurous orthodoxy of Scotland, dared to say,
"The fear o' hell 's a hangman's whip
To haud the wretch in order,"
he was only appealing to the common sense and common humanity of his
All the reasoning in the world, all the proof-texts in old manuscripts,
cannot reconcile this supposition of a world of sleepless and endless
torment with the declaration that "God is love."
Where did this "frightful idea" come from? We are surprised, as we grow
older, to find that the legendary hell of the church is nothing more nor
less than the Tartarus of the old heathen world. It has every mark of
coming from the cruel heart of a barbarous despot. Some malignant and
vindictive Sheik, some brutal Mezentius, must have sat for many pictures
of the Divinity. It was not enough to kill his captive enemy, after
torturing him as much as ingenuity could contrive to do it. He escaped
at last by death, but his conqueror could not give him up so easily, and
so his vengeance followed him into the unseen and unknown world. How the
doctrine got in among, the legends of the church we are no more bound to
show than we are to account for the intercalation of the "three
witnesses" text, or the false insertion, or false omission, whichever it
may be, of the last twelve verses of the Gospel of St Mark. We do not
hang our grandmothers now, as our ancestors did theirs, on the strength
of the positive command, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
The simple truth is that civilization has outgrown witchcraft, and is
outgrowing the Christian Tartarus. The pulpit no longer troubles itself
about witches and their evil doings. All the legends in the world could
not arrest the decay of that superstition and all the edicts that grew
out of it. All the stories that can be found in old manuscripts will
never prevent the going out of the fires of the legendary Inferno. It is
not much talked about nowadays to ears polite or impolite. Humanity is
shocked and repelled by it. The heart of woman is in unconquerable
rebellion against it. The more humane sects tear it from their "Bodies
of Divinity" as if it were the flaming shirt of Nessus. A few doctrines
with which it was bound up have dropped or are dropping away from it: the
primal curse; consequential damages to give infinite extension to every
transgression of the law of God; inverting the natural order of relative
obligations; stretching the smallest of finite offenses to the
proportions of the infinite; making the babe in arms the responsible
being, and not the parent who gave it birth and determined its conditions
After a doctrine like "the hangman's whip" has served its purpose,—if it
ever had any useful purpose,—after a doctrine like that of witchcraft
has hanged old women enough, civilization contrives to get rid of it.
When we say that civilization crowds out the old superstitious legends,
we recognize two chief causes. The first is the naked individual
protest; the voice of the inspiration which giveth man understanding.
This shows itself conspicuously in the modern poets. Burns in Scotland,
Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, in America, preached a new gospel to the
successors of men like Thomas Boston and Jonathan Edwards. In due
season, the growth of knowledge, chiefly under the form of that part of
knowledge called science, so changes the views of the universe that many
of its long-unchallenged legends become no more than nursery tales. The
text-books of astronomy and geology work their way in between the
questions and answers of the time-honored catechisms. The doctrine of
evolution, so far as it is accepted, changes the whole relations of man
to the creative power. It substitutes infinite hope in the place of
infinite despair for the vast majority of mankind. Instead of a
shipwreck, from which a few cabin passengers and others are to be saved
in the long-boat, it gives mankind a vessel built to endure the tempests,
and at last to reach a port where at the worst the passengers can find
rest, and where they may hope for a home better than any which they ever
had in their old country. It is all very well to say that men and women
had their choice whether they would reach the safe harbor or not.
"Go to it grandam, child;
Give grandam kingdom, and it grandam will
Give it a plum, a cherry and a fig."
We know what the child will take. So which course we shall take depends
very much on the way the choice is presented to us, and on what the
chooser is by nature. What he is by nature is not determined by himself,
but by his parentage. "They know not what they do." In one sense this
is true of every human being. The agent does not know, never can know,
what makes him that which he is. What we most want to ask of our Maker
is an unfolding of the divine purpose in putting human beings into
conditions in which such numbers of them would be sure to go wrong. We
want an advocate of helpless humanity whose task it shall be, in the
words of Milton,
"To justify the ways of God to man."
We have heard Milton's argument, but for the realization of his vision of
"When Hell itself shall pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering day,"
our suffering race must wait in patience.
The greater part of the discourse the reader has had before him was
delivered over the teacups one Sunday afternoon. The Mistress looked
rather grave, as if doubtful whether she ought not to signify her
disapprobation of what seemed to her dangerous doctrine.
However, as she knew that I was a good church-goer and was on the best
terms with her minister, she said nothing to show that she had taken the
alarm. Number Five listened approvingly. We had talked the question
over well, and were perfectly agreed on the main point. How could it be
otherwise? Do you suppose that any intellectual, spiritual woman, with a
heart under her bodice, can for a moment seriously believe that the
greater number of the high-minded men, the noble and lovely women, the
ingenuous and affectionate children, whom she knows and honors or loves,
are to be handed over to the experts in a great torture-chamber, in
company with the vilest creatures that have once worn human shape?
"If there is such a world as used to be talked about from the pulpit, you
may depend upon it," she said to me once, "there will soon be organized a
Humane Society in heaven, and a mission established among 'the spirits in
Number Five is a regular church-goer, as I am. I do not believe either
of us would darken the doors of a church if we were likely to hear any of
the "old-fashioned" sermons, such as I used to listen to in former years
from a noted clergyman, whose specialty was the doctrine of eternal
punishment. But you may go to the churches of almost any of our
Protestant denominations, and hear sermons by which you can profit,
because the ministers are generally good men, whose moral and spiritual
natures are above the average, and who know that the harsh preaching of
two or three generations ago would offend and alienate a large part of
their audience. So neither Number Five nor I are hypocrites in attending
church or "going to meeting." I am afraid it does not make a great deal
of difference to either of us what may be the established creed of the
worshipping assembly. That is a matter of great interest, perhaps of
great importance, to them, but of much less, comparatively, to us.
Companionship in worship, and sitting quiet for an hour while a trained
speaker, presumably somewhat better than we are, stirs up our spiritual
nature,—these are reasons enough to Number Five, as to me, for regular
attendance on divine worship.
Number Seven is of a different way of thinking and feeling. He insists
upon it that the churches keep in their confessions of faith statements
which they do not believe, and that it is notorious that they are afraid
to meddle with them. The Anglo-American church has dropped the
Athanasian Creed from its service; the English mother church is afraid
to. There are plenty of Universalists, Number Seven says, in the
Episcopalian and other Protestant churches, but they do not avow their
belief in any frank and candid fashion. The churches know very well, he
maintains, that the fear of everlasting punishment more than any or all
other motives is the source of their power and the support of their
organizations. Not only are the fears of mankind the whip to scourge and
the bridle to restrain them, but they are the basis of an almost
incalculable material interest. "Talk about giving up the doctrine of
endless punishment by fire!" exclaimed Number Seven; "there is more
capital embarked in the subterranean fire-chambers than in all the
iron-furnaces on the face of the earth. To think what an army of
clerical beggars would be turned loose on the world, if once those raging
flames were allowed to go out or to calm down! Who can wonder that the
old conservatives draw back startled and almost frightened at the thought
that there may be a possible escape for some victims whom the Devil was
thought to have secured? How many more generations will pass before
Milton's alarming prophecy will find itself realized in the belief of
Remember that Number Seven is called a "crank" by many persons, and take
his remarks for just what they are worth, and no more.
Out of the preceding conversation must have originated the following
poem, which was found in the common receptacle of these versified
While in my simple gospel creed
That "God is Love" so plain I read,
Shall dreams of heathen birth affright
My pathway through the coming night?
Ah, Lord of life, though spectres pale
Fill with their threats the shadowy vale,
With Thee my faltering steps to aid,
How can I dare to be afraid?
Shall mouldering page or fading scroll
Outface the charter of the soul?
Shall priesthood's palsied arm protect
The wrong our human hearts reject,
And smite the lips whose shuddering cry
Proclaims a cruel creed a lie?
The wizard's rope we disallow
Was justice once,—is murder now!
Is there a world of blank despair,
And dwells the Omnipresent there?
Does He behold with smile serene
The shows of that unending scene,
Where sleepless, hopeless anguish lies,
And, ever dying, never dies?
Say, does He hear the sufferer's groan,
And is that child of wrath his own?
O mortal, wavering in thy trust,
Lift thy pale forehead from the dust
The mists that cloud thy darkened eyes
Fade ere they reach the o'erarching skies!
When the blind heralds of despair
Would bid thee doubt a Father's care,
Look up from earth, and read above
On heaven's blue tablet, GOD IS LOVE!
The tea is sweetened.
We have been going on very pleasantly of late, each of us pretty well
occupied with his or her special business. The Counsellor has been
pleading in a great case, and several of The Teacups were in the
court-room. I thought, but I will not be certain, that some of his
arguments were addressed to Number Five rather than to the jury,—the
more eloquent passages especially.
Our young Doctor seems to me to be gradually getting known in the
neighborhood and beyond it. A member of one of the more influential
families, whose regular physician has gone to Europe, has sent for him to
come and see her, and as the patient is a nervous lady, who has nothing
in particular the matter with her, he is probably in for a good many
visits and a long bill by and by. He has even had a call at a distance
of some miles from home,—at least he has had to hire a conveyance
frequently of late, for he has not yet set up his own horse and chaise.
We do not like to ask him about who his patient may be, but he or she is
probably a person of some consequence, as he is absent several hours on
these out-of-town visits. He may get a good practice before his bald
spot makes its appearance, for I have looked for it many times without as
yet seeing a sign of it. I am sure he must feel encouraged, for he has
been very bright and cheerful of late; and if he sometimes looks at our
new handmaid as if he wished she were Delilah, I do not think he is
breaking his heart about her absence. Perhaps he finds consolation in
the company of the two Annexes, or one of them,—but which, I cannot make
out. He is in consultations occasionally with Number Five, too, but
whether professionally or not I have no means of knowing. I cannot for
the life of me see what Number Five wants of a doctor for herself, so
perhaps it is another difficult case in which her womanly sagacity is
called upon to help him.
In the mean time she and the Tutor continue their readings. In fact, it
seems as if these readings were growing more frequent, and lasted longer
than they did at first. There is a little arbor in the grounds connected
with our place of meeting, and sometimes they have gone there for their
readings. Some of The Teacups have listened outside once in a while, for
the Tutor reads well, and his clear voice must be heard in the more
emphatic passages, whether one is expressly listening or not. But
besides the reading there is now and then some talking, and persons
talking in an arbor do not always remember that latticework, no matter
how closely the vines cover it, is not impenetrable to the sound of the
human voice. There was a listener one day,—it was not one of The
Teacups, I am happy to say,—who heard and reported some fragments of a
conversation which reached his ear. Nothing but the profound intimacy
which exists between myself and the individual reader whose eyes are on
this page would induce me to reveal what I was told of this conversation.
The first words seem to have been in reply to some question.
"Why, my dear friend, how can you think of such a thing? Do you know—I
am—old enough to be your—[I think she must have been on the point of
saying mother, but that was more than any woman could be expected to
say]—old enough to be your aunt?"
"To be sure you are," answered the Tutor, "and what of it? I have two
aunts, both younger than I am. Your years may be more than mine, but
your life is fuller of youthful vitality than mine is. I never feel so
young as when I have been with you. I don't believe in settling
affinities by the almanac. You know what I have told you more than once;
you have n't 'bared the ice-cold dagger's edge' upon me yet; may I not
What a pity that the listener did not hear the rest of the sentence and
the reply to it, if there was one! The readings went on the same as
before, but I thought that Number Five was rather more silent and more
pensive than she had been.
I was much pleased when the American Annex came to me one day and told me
that she and the English Annex were meditating an expedition, in which
they wanted the other Teacups to join. About a dozen miles from us is an
educational institution of the higher grade, where a large number of
young ladies are trained in literature, art, and science, very much as
their brothers are trained in the colleges. Our two young ladies have
already been through courses of this kind in different schools, and are
now busy with those more advanced studies which are ventured upon by only
a limited number of "graduates." They have heard a good deal about this
institution, but have never visited it.
Every year, as the successive classes finish their course, there is a
grand reunion of the former students, with an "exhibition," as it is
called, in which the graduates of the year have an opportunity of showing
their proficiency in the various branches taught. On that occasion
prizes are awarded for excellence in different departments. It would be
hard to find a more interesting ceremony. These girls, now recognized as
young ladies, are going forth as missionaries of civilization among our
busy people. They are many of them to be teachers, and those who have
seen what opportunities they have to learn will understand their fitness
for that exalted office. Many are to be the wives and mothers of the
generation next coming upon the stage. Young and beautiful, "youth is
always beautiful," said old Samuel Rogers,—their countenances radiant
with developed intelligence, their complexions, their figures, their
movements, all showing that they have had plenty of outdoor as well as
indoor exercise, and have lived well in all respects, one would like to
read on the wall of the hall where they are assembled,—
Si uxorem requiris, circumspice!
This proposed expedition was a great event in our comparatively quiet
circle. The Mistress, who was interested in the school, undertook to be
the matron of the party. The young Doctor, who knew the roads better
than any of us, was to be our pilot. He arranged it so that he should
have the two Annexes under his more immediate charge. We were all on the
lookout to see which of the two was to be the favored one, for it was
pretty well settled among The Teacups that a wife he must have, whether
the bald spot came or not; he was getting into business, and he could not
achieve a complete success as a bachelor.
Number Five and the Tutor seemed to come together as a matter of course.
I confess that I could not help regretting that our pretty Delilah was
not to be one of the party. She always looked so young, so fresh,—she
would have enjoyed the excursion so much, that if she had been still with
us I would have told the Mistress that she must put on her best dress;
and if she had n't one nice enough, I would give her one myself. I
thought, too, that our young Doctor would have liked to have her with us;
but he appeared to be getting along very well with the Annexes, one of
whom it seems likely that he will annex to himself and his fortunes, if
she fancies him, which is not improbable.
The organizing of this expedition was naturally a cause of great
excitement among The Teacups. The party had to be arranged in such a way
as to suit all concerned, which was a delicate matter. It was finally
managed in this way: The Mistress was to go with a bodyguard, consisting
of myself, the Professor, and Number Seven, who was good company, with
all his oddities. The young Doctor was to take the two Annexes in a
wagon, and the Tutor was to drive Number Five in a good old-fashioned
chaise drawn by a well-conducted family horse. As for the Musician, he
had gone over early, by special invitation, to take a part in certain
musical exercises which were to have a place in the exhibition. This
arrangement appeared to be in every respect satisfactory. The Doctor was
in high spirits, apparently delighted, and devoting himself with great
gallantry to his two fair companions. The only question which intruded
itself was, whether he might not have preferred the company of one to
that of two. But both looked very attractive in their best dresses: the
English Annex, the rosier and heartier of the two; the American girl,
more delicate in features, more mobile and excitable, but suggesting the
thought that she would tire out before the other. Which of these did he
most favor? It was hard to say. He seemed to look most at the English
girl, and yet he talked more with the American girl. In short, he
behaved particularly well, and neither of the young ladies could complain
that she was not attended to. As to the Tutor and Number Five, their
going together caused no special comment. Their intimacy was accepted as
an established fact, and nothing but the difference in their ages
prevented the conclusion that it was love, and not mere friendship, which
brought them together. There was, no doubt, a strong feeling among many
people that Number Five's affections were a kind of Gibraltar or
Ehrenbreitstein, say rather a high table-land in the region of perpetual,
unmelting snow. It was hard for these people to believe that any man of
mortal mould could find a foothold in that impregnable fortress,—could
climb to that height and find the flower of love among its glaciers. The
Tutor and Number Five were both quiet, thoughtful: he, evidently
captivated; she, what was the meaning of her manner to him? Say that she
seemed fond of him, as she might be were he her nephew,—one for whom she
had a special liking. If she had a warmer feeling than this, she could
hardly know how to manage it; for she was so used to having love made to
her without returning it that she would naturally be awkward in dealing
with the new experience.
The Doctor drove a lively five-year-old horse, and took the lead. The
Tutor followed with a quiet, steady-going nag; if he had driven the
five-year-old, I would not have answered for the necks of the pair in the
chaise, for he was too much taken up with the subject they were talking
of, to be very careful about his driving. The Mistress and her escort
brought up the rear,—I holding the reins, the Professor at my side, and
Number Seven sitting with the Mistress.
We arrived at the institution a little later than we had expected to, and
the students were flocking into the hall, where the Commencement
exercises were to take place, and the medal-scholars were to receive the
tokens of their excellence in the various departments. From our seats we
could see the greater part of the assembly,—not quite all, however of
the pupils. A pleasing sight it was to look upon, this array of young
ladies dressed in white, with their class badges, and with the ribbon of
the shade of blue affected by the scholars of the institution. If
Solomon in all his glory was not to be compared to a lily, a whole bed of
lilies could not be compared to this garden-bed of youthful womanhood.
The performances were very much the same as most of us have seen at the
academies and collegiate schools. Some of the graduating class read
their "compositions," one of which was a poem,—an echo of the prevailing
American echoes, of course, but prettily worded and intelligently read.
Then there was a song sung by a choir of the pupils, led by their
instructor, who was assisted by the Musician whom we count among The
Teacups.—There was something in one of the voices that reminded me of
one I had heard before. Where could it have been? I am sure I cannot
remember. There are some good voices in our village choir, but none so
pure and bird-like as this. A sudden thought came into my head, but I
kept it to myself. I heard a tremulous catching of the breath, something
like a sob, close by me. It was the Mistress,—she was crying. What was
she crying for? It was impressive, certainly, to listen to these young
voices, many of them blending for the last time,—for the scholars were
soon to be scattered all over the country, and some of them beyond its
boundaries,—but why the Mistress was so carried away, I did not know.
She must be more impressible than most of us; yet I thought Number Five
also looked as if she were having a struggle with herself to keep down
some rebellious signs of emotion.
The exercises went on very pleasingly until they came to the awarding of
the gold medal of the year and the valedictory, which was to be delivered
by the young lady to whom it was to be presented. The name was called;
it was one not unfamiliar to our ears, and the bearer of it—the Delilah
of our tea-table, Avis as she was known in the school and elsewhere—rose
in her place and came forward, so that for the first time on that day, we
looked upon her. It was a sensation for The Teacups. Our modest, quiet
waiting-girl was the best scholar of her year. We had talked French
before her, and we learned that she was the best French scholar the
teacher had ever had in the school. We had never thought of her except as
a pleasing and well-trained handmaiden, and here she was an accomplished
Avis went through her part very naturally and gracefully, and when it was
finished, and she stood before us with the medal glittering on her
breast, we did not know whether to smile or to cry,—some of us did one,
and some the other.—We all had an opportunity to see her and
congratulate her before we left the institution. The mystery of her six
weeks' serving at our table was easily solved. She had been studying too
hard and too long, and required some change of scene and occupation. She
had a fancy for trying to see if she could support herself as so many
young women are obliged to, and found a place with us, the Mistress only
knowing her secret.
"She is to be our young Doctor's wife!" the Mistress whispered to me, and
did some more crying, not for grief, certainly.
Whether our young Doctor's long visits to a neighboring town had anything
to do with the fact that Avis was at that institution, whether she was
the patient he visited or not, may be left in doubt. At all events, he
had always driven off in the direction which would carry him to the place
where she was at school.
I have attended a large number of celebrations, commencements, banquets,
soirees, and so forth, and done my best to help on a good many of them.
In fact, I have become rather too well known in connection with
"occasions," and it has cost me no little trouble. I believe there is no
kind of occurrence for which I have not been requested to contribute
something in prose or verse. It is sometimes very hard to say no to the
requests. If one is in the right mood when he or she writes an
occasional poem, it seems as if nothing could have been easier. "Why,
that piece run off jest like ile. I don't bullieve," the unlettered
applicant says to himself, "I don't bullieve it took him ten minutes to
write them verses." The good people have no suspicion of how much a
single line, a single expression, may cost its author. The wits used to
say that Ropers,—the poet once before referred to, old Samuel Ropers,
author of the Pleasures of Memory and giver of famous breakfasts,—was
accustomed to have straw laid before the house whenever he had just given
birth to a couplet. It is not quite so bad as that with most of us who
are called upon to furnish a poem, a song, a hymn, an ode for some grand
meeting, but it is safe to say that many a trifling performance has had
more good honest work put into it than the minister's sermon of that week
had cost him. If a vessel glides off the ways smoothly and easily at her
launching, it does not mean that no great pains have been taken to secure
the result. Because a poem is an "occasional" one, it does not follow
that it has not taken as much time and skill as if it had been written
without immediate, accidental, temporary motive. Pindar's great odes
were occasional poems, just as much as our Commencement and Phi Beta
Kappa poems are, and yet they have come down among the most precious
bequests of antiquity to modern times.
The mystery of the young Doctor's long visits to the neighboring town was
satisfactorily explained by what we saw and heard of his relations with
our charming "Delilah,"—for Delilah we could hardly help calling her.
Our little handmaid, the Cinderella of the teacups, now the princess, or,
what was better, the pride of the school to which she had belonged, fit
for any position to which she might be called, was to be the wife of our
young Doctor. It would not have been the right thing to proclaim the
fact while she was a pupil, but now that she had finished her course of
instruction there was no need of making a secret of the engagement.
So we have got our romance, our love-story out of our Teacups, as I hoped
and expected that we should, but not exactly in the quarter where it
might have been looked for.
What did our two Annexes say to this unexpected turn of events? They
were good-hearted girls as ever lived, but they were human, like the rest
of us, and women, like some of the rest of us. They behaved perfectly.
They congratulated the Doctor, and hoped he would bring the young lady to
the tea-table where she had played her part so becomingly. It is safe to
say that each of the Annexes world have liked to be asked the lover's
last question by the very nice young man who had been a pleasant
companion at the table and elsewhere to each of them. That same question
is the highest compliment a man can pay a woman, and a woman does not
mind having a dozen or more such compliments to string on the rosary of
her remembrances. Whether either of them was glad, on the whole, that he
had not offered himself to the other in preference to herself would be a
mean, shabby question, and I think altogether too well of you who are
reading this paper to suppose that you would entertain the idea of asking
It was a very pleasant occasion when the Doctor brought Avis over to sit
with us at the table where she used to stand and wait upon us. We
wondered how we could for a moment have questioned that she was one to be
waited upon, and not made for the humble office which nevertheless she
performed so cheerfully and so well.
Commencements and other Celebrations, American and English.
The social habits of our people have undergone an immense change within
the past half century, largely in consequence of the vast development of
the means of intercourse between different neighborhoods.
Commencements, college gatherings of all kinds, church assemblages,
school anniversaries, town centennials,—all possible occasions for
getting crowds together are made the most of. "'T is sixty years
since,"—and a good many years over,—the time to which my memory
extends. The great days of the year were, Election,—General Election on
Wednesday, and Artillery Election on the Monday following, at which time
lilacs were in bloom and 'lection buns were in order; Fourth of July,
when strawberries were just going out; and Commencement, a grand time of
feasting, fiddling, dancing, jollity, not to mention drunkenness and
fighting, on the classic green of Cambridge. This was the season of
melons and peaches. That is the way our boyhood chronicles events. It
was odd that the literary festival should be turned into a Donnybrook
fair, but so it was when I was a boy, and the tents and the shows and the
crowds on the Common were to the promiscuous many the essential parts of
the great occasion. They had been so for generations, and it was only
gradually that the Cambridge Saturnalia were replaced by the decencies
and solemnities of the present sober anniversary.
Nowadays our celebrations smack of the Sunday-school more than of the
dancing-hall. The aroma of the punch-bowl has given way to the milder
flavor of lemonade and the cooling virtues of ice-cream. A strawberry
festival is about as far as the dissipation of our social gatherings
ventures. There was much that was objectionable in those swearing,
drinking, fighting times, but they had a certain excitement for us boys
of the years when the century was in its teens, which comes back to us
not without its fascinations. The days of total abstinence are a great
improvement over those of unlicensed license, but there was a picturesque
element about the rowdyism of our old Commencement days, which had a
charm for the eye of boyhood. My dear old friend,—book-friend, I
mean,—whom I always called Daddy Gilpin (as I find Fitzgerald called
Wordsworth, Daddy Wordsworth),—my old friend Gilpin, I say, considered
the donkey more picturesque in a landscape than the horse. So a village
fete as depicted by Teniers is more picturesque than a teetotal picnic or
a Sabbath-school strawberry festival. Let us be thankful that the
vicious picturesque is only a remembrance, and the virtuous commonplace a
reality of to-day.
What put all this into my head is something which the English Annex has
been showing me. Most of my readers are somewhat acquainted with our own
church and village celebrations. They know how they are organized; the
women always being the chief motors, and the machinery very much the same
in one case as in another. Perhaps they would like to hear how such
things are managed in England; and that is just what they may learn from
the pamphlet which was shown me by the English Annex, and of which I will
give them a brief account.
Some of us remember the Rev. Mr. Haweis, his lectures and his violin,
which interested and amused us here in Boston a few years ago. Now Mr.
Haweis, assisted by his intelligent and spirited wife, has charge of the
parish of St. James, Westmoreland Street, Marylebone, London. On entering
upon the twenty-fifth year of his incumbency in Marylebone, and the
twenty-eighth of his ministry in the diocese of London, it was thought a
good idea to have an "Evening Conversazione and Fete." We can imagine
just how such a meeting would be organized in one of our towns.
Ministers, deacons, perhaps a member of Congress, possibly a Senator, and
even, conceivably, his Excellency the Governor, and a long list of ladies
lend their names to give lustre to the occasion. It is all very
pleasant, unpretending, unceremonious, cheerful, well ordered,
commendable, but not imposing.
Now look at our Marylebone parish celebration, and hold your breath while
the procession of great names passes before you. You learn at the outset
that it is held UNDER ROYAL PATRONAGE, and read the names of two royal
highnesses, one highness, a prince, and a princess. Then comes a list
before which if you do not turn pale, you must certainly be in the habit
of rouging: three earls, seven lords, three bishops, two generals (one of
them Lord Wolseley), one admiral, four baronets, nine knights, a crowd of
right honorable and honorable ladies (many of them peeresses), and a mob
of other personages, among whom I find Mr. Howells, Bret Harte, and
Perhaps we are disposed to smile at seeing so much made of titles; but
after what we have learned of Lord Timothy Dexter and the high-sounding
names appropriated by many of our own compatriots, who have no more claim
to them than we plain Misters and Misseses, we may feel to them something
as our late friend Mr. Appleton felt to the real green turtle soup set
before him, when he said that it was almost as good as mock.
The entertainment on this occasion was of the most varied character. The
programme makes the following announcement:
Friday, 4 July, 18-.
At 8 P. M. the Doors will Open.
Mr. Haweis will receive his Friends.
The Royal Handbell Ringers will Ring.
The Fish-pond will be Fished.
The Stalls will be Visited.
The Phonograph will Utter.
Refreshments will be called for, and they will come,—Tea, Coffee, and
Cooling Drinks. Spirits will not be called for, from the Vasty Deep or
anywhere else,—nor would they come if they were.
At 9.30 Mrs. Haweis will join the assembly.
I am particularly delighted with this last feature in the preliminary
announcement. It is a proof of the high regard in which the estimable
and gifted lady who shares her husband's labors is held by the people of
their congregation, and the friends who share in their feelings. It is
such a master stroke of policy, too, to keep back the principal
attraction until the guests must have grown eager for her appearance: I
can well imagine how great a saving it must have been to the good lady's
nerves, which were probably pretty well tried already by the fatigues and
responsibilities of the busy evening. I have a right to say this, for I
myself had the honor of attending a meeting at Mr. Haweis's house, where
I was a principal guest, as I suppose, from the fact of the great number
of persons who were presented to me. The minister must be very popular,
for the meeting was a regular jam,—not quite so tremendous as that
greater one, where but for the aid of Mr. Smalley, who kept open a
breathing-space round us, my companion and myself thought we should have
The company was interested, as some of my readers maybe, to know what
were the attractions offered to the visitors besides that of meeting the
courteous entertainers and their distinguished guests. I cannot give
these at length, for each part of the show is introduced in the programme
with apt quotations and pleasantries, which enlivened the catalogue.
There were eleven stalls, "conducted on the cooperative principle of
division of profits and interest; they retain the profits, and you take a
good deal of interest, we hope, in their success."
Stall No. 1. Edisoniana, or the Phonograph. Alluded to by the Roman
Poet as Vox, et praeterea nihil.
Stall No. 2. Money-changing.
Stall No. 3. Programmes and General Enquiries.
Stall No. 4. Roses.
A rose by any other name, etc. Get one. You can't expect to smell one
without buying it, but you may buy one without smelling it.
Stall No. 5. Lasenby Liberty Stall. (I cannot explain this. Probably
articles from Liberty's famous establishment.)
Stall No. 6. Historical Costumes and Ceramics.
Stall No. 7. The Fish-pond.
Stall No. 8. Varieties.
Stall No. 9. Bookstall. (Books) "highly recommended for insomnia;
friends we never speak to, and always cut if we want to know them well."
Stall No. 10. Icelandic.
Stall No. 11. Call Office. "Mrs. Magnusson, who is devoted to the North
Pole and all its works, will thaw your sympathies, enlighten your minds,"
All you buy may be left at the stalls, ticketed. A duplicate ticket will
be handed to you on leaving. Present your duplicate at the Call Office.
At 9.45, First Concert.
At 10.45, An Address of Welcome by Rev. H. R. Haweis.
At 11 P. M., Bird-warbling Interlude by Miss Mabel Stephenson, U. S. A.
At 11.20, Second Concert.
Three Great Pictures.
LORD TENNYSON. G. F. Watts, R. A. JOHN STUART MILL G. F. Watts, R. A.
JOSEPH GARIBALDI Sig. Rondi.
A Famous Violin.
A world-famed Stradivarius Violin, for which Mr. Hill, of Bond Street,
gave L 1000, etc., etc.
Tickets for Tea, Coffee, Sandwiches, Iced Drinks, or Ices, Sixpence each,
I hope my American reader is pleased and interested by this glimpse of
the way in which they do these things in London.
There is something very pleasant about all this, but what specially
strikes me is a curious flavor of city provincialism. There are little
centres in the heart of great cities, just as there are small fresh-water
ponds in great islands with the salt sea roaring all round them, and bays
and creeks penetrating them as briny as the ocean itself. Irving has
given a charming picture of such a quasi-provincial centre in one of his
papers in the Sketch-Book,—the one with the title "Little Britain."
London is a nation of itself, and contains provinces, districts, foreign
communities, villages, parishes,—innumerable lesser centres, with their
own distinguishing characteristics, habits, pursuit, languages, social
laws, as much isolated from each other as if "mountains interposed" made
the separation between them. One of these lesser centres is that over
which my friend Mr. Haweis presides as spiritual director. Chelsea has
been made famous as the home of many authors and artists,—above all, as
the residence of Carlyle during the greater part of his life. Its
population, like that of most respectable suburbs, must belong mainly to
the kind of citizens which resembles in many ways the better class,—as
we sometimes dare to call it,—of one of our thriving New England towns.
How many John Gilpins there must be in this population,—citizens of
"famous London town," but living with the simplicity of the inhabitants
of our inland villages! In the mighty metropolis where the wealth of the
world displays itself they practise their snug economies, enjoy their
simple pleasures, and look upon ice-cream as a luxury, just as if they
were living on the banks of the Connecticut or the Housatonic, in regions
where the summer locusts of the great cities have not yet settled on the
verdure of the native inhabitants. It is delightful to realize the fact
that while the West End of London is flaunting its splendors and the East
End in struggling with its miseries, these great middle-class communities
are living as comfortable, unpretending lives as if they were in one of
our thriving townships in the huckleberry-districts. Human beings are
wonderfully alike when they are placed in similar conditions.
We were sitting together in a very quiet way over our teacups. The young
Doctor, who was in the best of spirits, had been laughing and chatting
with the two Annexes. The Tutor, who always sits next to Number Five of
late, had been conversing with her in rather low tones. The rest of us
had been soberly sipping our tea, and when the Doctor and the Annexes
stopped talking there was one of those dead silences which are sometimes
so hard to break in upon, and so awkward while they last. All at once
Number Seven exploded in a loud laugh, which startled everybody at the
What is it that sets you laughing so? said I.
"I was thinking," Number Seven replied, "of what you said the other day
of poetry being only the ashes of emotion. I believe that some people
are disposed to dispute the proposition. I have been putting your
doctrine to the test. In doing it I made some rhymes,—the first and
only ones I ever made. I will suppose a case of very exciting emotion,
and see whether it would probably take the form of poetry or prose. You
are suddenly informed that your house is on fire, and have to scramble
out of it, without stopping to tie your neck-cloth neatly or to put a
flower in your buttonhole. Do you think a poet turning out in his
night-dress, and looking on while the flames were swallowing his home and
all its contents, would express himself in this style?
"My house is on fire!
Bring me my lyre!
Like the flames that rise heavenward my song shall aspire!
"He would n't do any such thing, and you know he wouldn't. He would yell
Fire! Fire! with all his might. Not much rhyming for him just yet!
Wait until the fire is put out, and he has had time to look at the
charred timbers and the ashes of his home, and in the course of a week he
may possibly spin a few rhymes about it. Or suppose he was making an
offer of his hand and heart, do you think he would declaim a versified
proposal to his Amanda, or perhaps write an impromptu on the back of his
hat while he knelt before her?
"My beloved, to you
I will always be true.
Oh, pray make me happy, my love, do! do! do!
"What would Amanda think of a suitor who courted her with a rhyming
dictionary in his pocket to help him make love?"
You are right, said I,—there's nothing in the world like rhymes to cool
off a man's passion. You look at a blacksmith working on a bit of iron
or steel. Bright enough it looked while it was on the hearth, in the
midst of the sea-coal, the great bellows blowing away, and the rod or the
horse-shoe as red or as white as the burning coals. How it fizzes as it
goes into the trough of water, and how suddenly all the glow is gone! It
looks black and cold enough now. Just so with your passionate
incandescence. It is all well while it burns and scintillates in your
emotional centres, without articulate and connected expression; but the
minute you plunge it into the rhyme-trough it cools down, and becomes as
dead and dull as the cold horse-shoe. It is true that if you lay it cold
on the anvil and hammer away on it for a while it warms up somewhat.
Just so with the rhyming fellow,—he pounds away on his verses and they
warm up a little. But don't let him think that this afterglow of
composition is the same thing as the original passion. That found
expression in a few oh, oh's, eheu's, helas, helas's, and when the
passion had burned itself out you got the rhymed verses, which, as I have
said, are its ashes.
I thanked Number Seven for his poetical illustration of my thesis. There
is great good to be got out of a squinting brain, if one only knows how
to profit by it. We see only one side of the moon, you know, but a
fellow with a squinting brain seems now and then to get a peep at the
other side. I speak metaphorically. He takes new and startling views of
things we have always looked at in one particular aspect. There is a
rule invariably to be observed with one of this class of intelligences:
Never contradict a man with a squinting brain. I say a man, because I do
not think that squinting brains are nearly so common in women as they are
in men. The "eccentrics" are, I think, for the most part of the male
That leads me to say that persons with a strong instinctive tendency to
contradiction are apt to become unprofitable companions. Our thoughts
are plants that never flourish in inhospitable soils or chilling
atmospheres. They are all started under glass, so to speak; that is,
sheltered and fostered in our own warm and sunny consciousness. They
must expect some rough treatment when we lift the sash from the frame and
let the outside elements in upon them. They can bear the rain and the
breezes, and be all the better for them; but perpetual contradiction is a
pelting hailstorm, which spoils their growth and tends to kill them out
Now stop and consider a moment. Are not almost all brains a little
wanting in bilateral symmetry? Do you not find in persons whom you love,
whom you esteem, and even admire, some marks of obliquity in mental
vision? Are there not some subjects in looking at which it seems to you
impossible that they should ever see straight? Are there not moods in
which it seems to you that they are disposed to see all things out of
plumb and in false relations with each other? If you answer these
questions in the affirmative, then you will be glad of a hint as to the
method of dealing with your friends who have a touch of cerebral
strabismus, or are liable to occasional paroxysms of perversity. Let
them have their head. Get them talking on subjects that interest them.
As a rule, nothing is more likely to serve this purpose than letting them
talk about themselves; if authors, about their writings; if artists,
about their pictures or statues; and generally on whatever they have most
pride in and think most of their own relations with.
Perhaps you will not at first sight agree with me in thinking that slight
mental obliquity is as common as I suppose. An analogy may have some
influence on your belief in this matter. Will you take the trouble to
ask your tailor how many persons have their two shoulders of the same
height? I think he will tell you that the majority of his customers show
a distinct difference of height on the two sides. Will you ask a
portrait-painter how many of those who sit to hint have both sides of
their faces exactly alike? I believe he will tell you that one side is
always a little better than the other. What will your hatter say about
the two sides of the head? Do you see equally well with both eyes, and
hear equally well with both ears? Few persons past middle age will
pretend that they do. Why should the two halves of a brain not show a
natural difference, leading to confusion of thought, and very possibly to
that instinct of contradiction of which I was speaking? A great deal of
time is lost in profitless conversation, and a good deal of ill temper
frequently caused, by not considering these organic and practically
insuperable conditions. In dealing with them, acquiescence is the best
of palliations and silence the sovereign specific.
I have been the reporter, as you have seen, of my own conversation and
that of the other Teacups. I have told some of the circumstances of
their personal history, and interested, as I hope, here and there a
reader in the fate of different members of our company. Here are our
pretty Delilah and our Doctor provided for. We may take it for granted
that it will not be very long that the young couple will have to wait;
for, as I have told you all, the Doctor is certainly getting into
business, and bids fair to have a thriving practice before he saddles his
nose with an eyeglass and begins to think of a pair of spectacles. So
that part of our little domestic drama is over, and we can only wish the
pair that is to be all manner of blessings consistent with a reasonable
amount of health in the community on whose ailings must depend their
All our thoughts are now concentrated on the relation existing between
Number Five and the Tutor. That there is some profound instinctive
impulse which is drawing them closer together no one who watches them can
for a moment doubt. There are two principles of attraction which bring
different natures together: that in which the two natures closely
resemble each other, and that in which one is complementary of the other.
In the first case, they coalesce, as do two drops of water or of mercury,
and become intimately blended as soon as they touch; in the other, they
rush together as an acid and an alkali unite, predestined from eternity
to find all they most needed in each other. What is the condition of
things in the growing intimacy of Number Five and the Tutor? He is many
years her junior, as we know. Both of them look that fact squarely in the
face. The presumption is against the union of two persons under these
circumstances. Presumptions are strong obstacles against any result we
wish to attain, but half our work in life is to overcome them. A great
many results look in the distance like six-foot walls, and when we get
nearer prove to be only five-foot hurdles, to be leaped over or knocked
down. Twenty years from now she may be a vigorous and active old woman,
and he a middle-aged, half-worn-out invalid, like so many overworked
scholars. Everything depends on the number of drops of the elixir vitae
which Nature mingled in the nourishment she administered to the embryo
before it tasted its mother's milk. Think of Cleopatra, the bewitching
old mischief-maker; think of Ninon de L'Enclos, whose own son fell
desperately in love with her, not knowing the relation in which she stood
to him; think of Dr. Johnson's friend, Mrs. Thrale, afterward Mrs.
Piozzi, who at the age of eighty was full enough of life to be making
love ardently and persistently to Conway, the handsome young actor. I
can readily believe that Number Five will outlive the Tutor, even if he
is fortunate enough rather in winning his way into the fortress through
gates that open to him of their own accord. If he fails in his siege, I
do really believe he will die early; not of a broken heart, exactly, but
of a heart starved, with the food it was craving close to it, but
unattainable. I have, therefore, a deep interest in knowing how Number
Five and the Tutor are getting along together. Is there any danger of
one or the other growing tired of the intimacy, and becoming willing to
get rid of it, like a garment which has shrunk and grown too tight? Is
it likely that some other attraction may come into disturb the existing
relation? The problem is to my mind not only interesting, but
exceptionally curious. You remember the story of Cymon and Iphigenia as
Dryden tells it. The poor youth has the capacity of loving, but it lies
hidden in his undeveloped nature. All at once he comes upon the sleeping
beauty, and is awakened by her charms to a hitherto unfelt consciousness.
With the advent of the new passion all his dormant faculties start into
life, and the seeming simpleton becomes the bright and intelligent lover.
The case of Number Five is as different from that of Cymon as it could
well be. All her faculties are wide awake, but one emotional side of her
nature has never been called into active exercise. Why has she never
been in love with any one of her suitors? Because she liked too many of
them. Do you happen to remember a poem printed among these papers,
entitled "I Like You and I Love You"
No one of the poems which have been placed in the urn,—that is, in the
silver sugar-bowl,—has had any name attached to it; but you could guess
pretty nearly who was the author of some of them, certainly of the one
just, referred to. Number Five was attracted to the Tutor from the first
time he spoke to her. She dreamed about him that night, and nothing
idealizes and renders fascinating one in whom we have already an interest
like dreaming of him or of her. Many a calm suitor has been made
passionate by a dream; many a passionate lover has been made wild and
half beside himself by a dream; and now and then an infatuated but
hapless lover, waking from a dream of bliss to a cold reality of
wretchedness, has helped himself to eternity before he was summoned to
Since Number Five had dreamed about the Tutor, he had been more in her
waking thoughts than she was willing to acknowledge. These thoughts were
vague, it is true,—emotions, perhaps, rather than worded trains of
ideas; but she was conscious of a pleasing excitement as his name or his
image floated across her consciousness; she sometimes sighed as she
looked over the last passage they had read from the same book, and
sometimes when they were together they were silent too long,—too long!
What were they thinking of?
And so it was all as plain sailing for Number Five and the young Tutor as
it had been for Delilah and the young Doctor, was it? Do you think so?
Then you do not understand Number Five. Many a woman has as many
atmospheric rings about her as the planet Saturn. Three are easily to be
recognized. First, there is the wide ring of attraction which draws into
itself all that once cross its outer border. These revolve about her
without ever coming any nearer. Next is the inner ring of attraction.
Those who come within its irresistible influence are drawn so close that
it seems as if they must become one with her sooner or later. But within
this ring is another,—an atmospheric girdle, one of repulsion, which
love, no matter how enterprising, no matter how prevailing or how
insinuating, has never passed, and, if we judge of what is to be by what
has been, never will. Perhaps Nature loved Number Five so well that she
grudged her to any mortal man, and gave her this inner girdle of
repulsion to guard her from all who would know her too nearly and love
her too well. Sometimes two vessels at sea keep each other company for a
long distance, it may be daring a whole voyage. Very pleasant it is to
each to have a companion to exchange signals with from time to time; to
came near enough, when the winds are light, to hold converse in ordinary
tones from deck to deck; to know that, in case of need, there's help at
hand. It is good for them to be near each other, but not good to be too
near. Woe is to them if they touch! The wreck of one or both is likely
to be the consequence. And so two well-equipped and heavily freighted
natures may be the best of companions to each other, and yet must never
attempt to come into closer union. Is this the condition of affairs
between Number Five and the Tutor? I hope not, for I want them to be
joined together in that dearest of intimacies, which, if founded in true
affinity, is the nearest approach to happiness to be looked for in our
mortal, experience. We mast wait. The Teacups will meet once more
before the circle is broken, and we may, perhaps, find the solution of
the question we have raised.
In the mean time, our young Doctor is playing truant oftener than ever.
He has brought Avis,—if we must call her so, and not Delilah,—several
times to take tea with us. It means something, in these days, to
graduate from one of our first-class academies or collegiate schools. I
shall never forget my first visit to one of these institutions. How much
its pupils know, I said, which I was never taught, and have never
learned! I was fairly frightened to see what a teaching apparatus was
provided for them. I should think the first thing to be done with most
of the husbands, they are likely to get would be to put them through a
course of instruction. The young wives must find their lords wofully
ignorant, in a large proportion of cases. When the wife has educated the
husband to such a point that she can invite him to work out a problem in
the higher mathematics or to perform a difficult chemical analysis with
her as his collaborator, as less instructed dames ask their husbands to
play a game of checkers or backgammon, they can have delightful and
instructive evenings together. I hope our young Doctor will take kindly
to his wife's (that is to be) teachings.
When the following verses were taken out of the urn, the Mistress asked
me to hand the manuscript to the young Doctor to read. I noticed that he
did not keep his eyes very closely fixed on the paper. It seemed as if
he could have recited the lines without referring to the manuscript at
AT THE TURN OF THE ROAD.
The glory has passed from the goldenrod's plume,
The purple-hued asters still linger in bloom;
The birch is bright yellow, the sumachs are red,
The maples like torches aflame overhead.
But what if the joy of the summer is past,
And winter's wild herald is blowing his blast?
For me dull November is sweeter than May,
For my love is its sunshine,—she meets me to-day!
Will she come? Will the ring-dove return to her nest?
Will the needle swing back from the east or the west?
At the stroke of the hour she will be at her gate;
A friend may prove laggard,—love never comes late.
Do I see her afar in the distance? Not yet.
Too early! Too early! She could not forget!
When I cross the old bridge where the brook overflowed,
She will flash full in sight at the turn of the road.
I pass the low wall where the ivy entwines;
I tread the brown pathway that leads through the pines;
I haste by the boulder that lies in the field,
Where her promise at parting was lovingly sealed.
Will she come by the hillside or round through the wood?
Will she wear her brown dress or her mantle and hood?
The minute draws near,—but her watch may go wrong;
My heart will be asking, What keeps her so long?
Why doubt for a moment? More shame if I do!
Why question? Why tremble? Are angels more true?
She would come to the lover who calls her his own
Though she trod in the track of a whirling cyclone!
—I crossed the old bridge ere the minute had passed.
I looked: lo! my Love stood before me at last.
Her eyes, how they sparkled, her cheeks, how they glowed,
As we met, face to face, at the turn of the road!
There was a great tinkling of teaspoons the other evening, when I took my
seat at the table, where all The Teacups were gathered before my
entrance. The whole company arose, and the Mistress, speaking for them,
expressed the usual sentiment appropriate to such occasions. "Many happy
returns" is the customary formula. No matter if the object of this kind
wish is a centenarian, it is quite safe to assume that he is ready and
very willing to accept as many more years as the disposing powers may see
fit to allow him.
The meaning of it all was that this was my birthday. My friends, near
and distant, had seen fit to remember it, and to let me know in various
pleasant ways that they had not forgotten it. The tables were adorned
with flowers. Gifts of pretty and pleasing objects were displayed on a
side table. A great green wreath, which must have cost the parent oak a
large fraction of its foliage, was an object of special admiration.
Baskets of flowers which had half unpeopled greenhouses, large bouquets
of roses, fragrant bunches of pinks, and many beautiful blossoms I am not
botanist enough to name had been coming in upon me all day long. Many of
these offerings were brought by the givers in person; many came with
notes as fragrant with good wishes as the flowers they accompanied with
their natural perfumes.
How old was I, The Dictator, once known by another equally audacious
title,—I, the recipient of all these favors and honors? I had cleared
the eight-barred gate, which few come in sight of, and fewer, far fewer,
go over, a year before. I was a trespasser on the domain belonging to
another generation. The children of my coevals were fast getting gray
and bald, and their children beginning to look upon the world as
belonging to them, and not to their sires and grandsires. After that
leap over the tall barrier, it looks like a kind of impropriety to keep
on as if one were still of a reasonable age. Sometimes it seems to me
almost of the nature of a misdemeanor to be wandering about in the
preserve which the fleshless gamekeeper guards so jealously. But, on the
other hand, I remember that men of science have maintained that the
natural life of man is nearer fivescore than threescore years and ten. I
always think of a familiar experience which I bring from the French
cafes, well known to me in my early manhood. One of the illustrated
papers of my Parisian days tells it pleasantly enough.
A guest of the establishment is sitting at his little table. He has just
had his coffee, and the waiter is serving him with his petit verre. Most
of my readers know very well what a petit verre is, but there may be here
and there a virtuous abstainer from alcoholic fluids, living among the
bayberries and the sweet ferns, who is not aware that the words, as
commonly used, signify a small glass—a very small glass—of spirit,
commonly brandy, taken as a chasse-cafe, or coffee-chaser. This drinking
of brandy, "neat," I may remark by the way, is not quite so bad as it
looks. Whiskey or rum taken unmixed from a tumbler is a knock-down blow
to temperance, but the little thimbleful of brandy, or Chartreuse, or
Maraschino, is only, as it were, tweaking the nose of teetotalism.
Well,—to go back behind our brackets,—the guest is calling to the
waiter, "Garcon! et le bain de pieds!" Waiter! and the foot-bath!—The
little glass stands in a small tin saucer or shallow dish, and the custom
is to more than fill the glass, so that some extra brandy rung over into
this tin saucer or cup-plate, to the manifest gain of the consumer.
Life is a petit verre of a very peculiar kind of spirit. At seventy
years it used to be said that the little glass was full. We should be
more apt to put it at eighty in our day, while Gladstone and Tennyson and
our own Whittier are breathing, moving, thinking, writing, speaking, in
the green preserve belonging to their children and grandchildren, and
Bancroft is keeping watch of the gamekeeper in the distance. But,
returning resolutely to the petit verre, I am willing to concede that all
after fourscore is the bain de pieds,—the slopping over, so to speak, of
the full measure of life. I remember that one who was very near and dear
to me, and who lived to a great age, so that the ten-barred gate of the
century did not look very far off, would sometimes apologize in a very
sweet, natural way for lingering so long to be a care and perhaps a
burden to her children, themselves getting well into years. It is not
hard to understand the feeling, never less called for than it was in the
case of that beloved nonagenarian. I have known few persons, young or
old, more sincerely and justly regretted than the gentle lady whose
memory comes up before me as I write.
Oh, if we could all go out of flower as gracefully, as pleasingly, as we
come into blossom! I always think of the morning-glory as the loveliest
example of a graceful yielding to the inevitable. It is beautiful before
its twisted corolla opens; it is comely as it folds its petals inward,
when its brief hours of perfection are over. Women find it easier than
men to grow old in a becoming way. A very old lady who has kept
something, it may be a great deal, of her youthful feelings, who is
daintily cared for, who is grateful for the attentions bestowed upon her,
and enters into the spirit of the young lives that surround her, is as
precious to those who love her as a gem in an antique setting, the
fashion of which has long gone by, but which leaves the jewel the color
and brightness which are its inalienable qualities. With old men it is
too often different. They do not belong so much indoors as women do.
They have no pretty little manual occupations. The old lady knits or
stitches so long as her eyes and fingers will let her. The old man
smokes his pipe, but does not know what to do with his fingers, unless he
plays upon some instrument, or has a mechanical turn which finds business
But the old writer, I said to The Teacups, as I say to you, my readers,
labors under one special difficulty, which I am thinking of and
exemplifying at this moment. He is constantly tending to reflect upon
and discourse about his own particular stage of life. He feels that he
must apologize for his intrusion upon the time and thoughts of a
generation which he naturally supposes must be tired of him, if they ever
had any considerable regard for him. Now, if the world of readers hates
anything it sees in print, it is apology. If what one has to say is
worth saying, he need not beg pardon fur saying it. If it is not worth
saying I will not finish the sentence. But it is so hard to resist the
temptation, notwithstanding that the terrible line beginning "Superfluous
lags the veteran" is always repeating itself in his dull ear!
What kind of audience or reading parish is a man who secured his
constituency in middle life, or before that period, to expect when he has
reached the age of threescore and twenty? His coevals have dropped away
by scores and tens, and he sees only a few units scattered about here and
there, like the few beads above the water after a ship has gone to
pieces. Does he write and publish for those of his own time of life? He
need not print a large edition. Does he hope to secure a hearing from
those who have come into the reading world since his coevals? They have
found fresher fields and greener pastures. Their interests are in the
out-door, active world. Some of them are circumnavigating the planet
while he is hitching his rocking chair about his hearth-rug. Some are
gazing upon the pyramids while he is staring at his andirons. Some are
settling the tariff and fixing the laws of suffrage and taxation while he
is dozing over the weather bulletin, and going to sleep over the
obituaries in his morning or evening paper.
Nature is wiser than we give her credit for being; never wiser than in
her dealings with the old. She has no idea of mortifying them by sudden
and wholly unexpected failure of the chief servants of consciousness.
The sight, for instance, begins to lose something of its perfection long
before its deficiency calls the owner's special attention to it. Very
probably, the first hint we have of the change is that a friend makes the
pleasing remark that we are "playing the trombone," as he calls it; that
is, moving a book we are holding backward and forward, to get the right
focal distance. Or it may be we find fault with the lamp or the
gas-burner for not giving so much light as it used to. At last,
somewhere between forty and fifty, we begin to dangle a jaunty pair of
eye-glasses, half plaything and half necessity. In due time a pair of
sober, business-like spectacles bestrides the nose. Old age leaps upon
it as his saddle, and rides triumphant, unchallenged, until the darkness
comes which no glasses can penetrate. Nature is pitiless in carrying out
the universal sentence, but very pitiful in her mode of dealing with the
condemned on his way to the final scene. The man who is to be hanged
always has a good breakfast provided for him.
Do not think that the old look upon themselves as the helpless, hopeless,
forlorn creatures which they seem to young people. Do these young folks
suppose that all vanity dies out of the natures of old men and old women?
A dentist of olden time told me that a good-looking young man once said
to him, "Keep that incisor presentable, if you can, till I am fifty, and
then I sha'n't care how I look." I venture to say that that gentleman
was as particular about his personal appearance and as proud of his good
looks at fifty, and many years after fifty, as he was in the twenties,
when he made that speech to the dentist.
My dear friends around the teacups, and at that wider board where I am
now entertaining, or trying to entertain, my company, is it not as plain
to you as it is to me that I had better leave such tasks as that which I
am just finishing to those who live in a more interesting period of life
than one which, in the order of nature, is next door to decrepitude?
Ought I not to regret having undertaken to report the doings and sayings
of the members of the circle which you have known as The Teacups?
Dear, faithful reader, whose patient eyes have followed my reports
through these long months, you and I are about parting company. Perhaps
you are one of those who have known me under another name, in those
far-off days separated from these by the red sea of the great national
conflict. When you first heard the tinkle of the teaspoons, as the table
was being made ready for its guests, you trembled for me, in the kindness
of your hearts. I do not wonder that you did,—I trembled for myself.
But I remembered the story of Sir Cloudesley Shovel, who was seen all of
a tremor just as he was going into action. "How is this?" said a brother
officer to him. "Surely you are not afraid?" "No," he answered, "but my
flesh trembles at the thought of the dangers into which my intrepid
spirit will carry me." I knew the risk of undertaking to carry through a
series of connected papers. And yet I thought it was better to run that
risk, more manly, more sensible, than to give way to the fears which made
my flesh tremble as did Sir Cloudesley Shovel's. For myself the labor
has been a distraction, and one which came at a time when it was needed.
Sometimes, as in one of those poems recently published,—the reader will
easily guess which,—the youthful spirit has come over me with such a
rush that it made me feel just as I did when I wrote the history of the
"One-hoss Shay" thirty years ago. To repeat one of my comparisons, it
was as if an early fruit had ripened on a graft upon an old, steady-going
tree, to the astonishment of all its later-maturing products. I should
hardly dare to say so much as this if I had not heard a similar opinion
expressed by others.
Once committed to my undertaking, there was no turning back. It is true
that I had said I might stop at any moment, but after one or two numbers
it seemed as if there were an informal pledge to carry the series on, as
in former cases, until I had completed my dozen instalments.
Writers and speakers have their idiosyncrasies, their habits, their
tricks, if you had rather call them so, as to their ways of writing and
speaking. There is a very old and familiar story, accompanied by a
feeble jest, which most of my readers may probably enough have met with
in Joe Miller or elsewhere. It is that of a lawyer who could never make
an argument without having a piece of thread to work upon with his
fingers while he was pleading. Some one stole it from him one day, and
he could not get on at all with his speech,—he had lost the thread of
his discourse, as the story had it. Now this is what I myself once saw.
It was at a meeting where certain grave matters were debated in an
assembly of professional men. A speaker, whom I never heard before or
since, got up and made a long and forcible argument. I do not think he
was a lawyer, but he spoke as if he had been trained to talk to juries.
He held a long string in one hand, which he drew through the other band
incessantly, as he spoke, just as a shoe maker performs the motion of
waxing his thread. He appeared to be dependent on this motion. The
physiological significance of the fact I suppose to be that the flow of
what we call the nervous current from the thinking centre to the organs
of speech was rendered freer and easier by the establishment of a
simultaneous collateral nervous current to the set of muscles concerned
in the action I have described.
I do not use a string to help me write or speak, but I must have its
equivalent. I must have my paper and pen or pencil before me to set my
thoughts flowing in such form that they can be written continuously.
There have been lawyers who could think out their whole argument in
connected order without a single note. There are authors,—and I think
there are many,—who can compose and finish off a poem or a story without
writing a word of it until, when the proper time comes, they copy what
they carry in their heads. I have been told that Sir Edwin Arnold
thought out his beautiful "Light of Asia" in this way.
I find the great charm of writing consists in its surprises. When one is
in the receptive attitude of mind, the thoughts which are sprung upon
him, the images which flash through his—consciousness, are a delight and
an excitement. I am impatient of every hindrance in setting down my
thoughts,—of a pen that will not write, of ink that will not flow, of
paper that will not receive the ink. And here let me pay the tribute
which I owe to one of the humblest but most serviceable of my assistants,
especially in poetical composition. Nothing seems more prosaic than the
stylographic pen. It deprives the handwriting of its beauty, and to some
extent of its individual character. The brutal communism of the letters
it forms covers the page it fills with the most uniformly uninteresting
characters. But, abuse it as much as you choose, there is nothing like
it for the poet, for the imaginative writer. Many a fine flow of thought
has been checked, perhaps arrested, by the ill behavior of a goose-quill.
Many an idea has escaped while the author was dipping his pen in the
inkstand. But with the stylographic pen, in the hands of one who knows
how to care for it and how to use it, unbroken rhythms and harmonious
cadences are the natural products of the unimpeded flow of the fluid
which is the vehicle of the author's thoughts and fancies. So much for my
debt of gratitude to the humble stylographic pen. It does not furnish
the proper medium for the correspondence of intimates, who wish to see as
much of their friends' personality as their handwriting can hold,—still
less for the impassioned interchange of sentiments between lovers; but in
writing for the press its use is open to no objection. Its movement over
the paper is like the flight of a swallow, while the quill pen and the
steel pen and the gold pen are all taking short, laborious journeys, and
stopping to drink every few minutes.
A chief pleasure which the author of novels and stories experiences is
that of becoming acquainted with the characters be draws. It is
perfectly true that his characters must, in the nature of things, have
more or less of himself in their composition. If I should seek an
exemplification of this in the person of any of my Teacups, I should find
it most readily in the one whom I have called Number Seven, the one with
the squinting brain. I think that not only I, the writer, but many of my
readers, recognize in our own mental constitution an occasional obliquity
of perception, not always detected at the time, but plain enough when
looked back upon. What extravagant fancies you and I have seriously
entertained at one time or another! What superstitious notions have got
into our heads and taken possession of its empty chambers,—or, in the
language of science, seized on the groups of nerve-cells in some of the
idle cerebral convolutions!
The writer, I say, becomes acquainted with his characters as he goes on.
They are at first mere embryos, outlines of distinct personalities. By
and by, if they have any organic cohesion, they begin to assert
themselves. They can say and do such and such things; such and such
other things they cannot and must not say or do. The story-writer's and
play-writer's danger is that they will get their characters mixed, and
make A say what B ought to have said. The stronger his imaginative
faculty, the less liable will the writer be to this fault; but not even
Shakespeare's power of throwing himself into his characters prevents many
of his different personages from talking philosophy in the same strain
and in a style common to them all.
You will often observe that authors fall in love with the imaginary
persons they describe, and that they bestow affectionate epithets upon
them which it may happen the reader does not consider in any way called
for. This is a pleasure to which they have a right. Every author of a
story is surrounded by a little family of ideal children, as dear to him,
it may be, as are flesh-and-blood children to their parents. You may
forget all about the circle of Teacups to which I have introduced
you,—on the supposition that you have followed me with some degree of
interest; but do you suppose that Number Five does not continue as a
presence with me, and that my pretty Delilah has left me forever because
she is going to be married?
No, my dear friend, our circle will break apart, and its different
members will soon be to you as if they had never been. But do you think
that I can forget them? Do you suppose that I shall cease to follow the
love (or the loves; which do you think is the true word, the singular or
the plural?) of Number Five and the young Tutor who is so constantly
found in her company? Do you suppose that I do not continue my relations
with the "Cracked Teacup,"—the poor old fellow with whom I have so much
in common, whose counterpart, perhaps, you may find in your own complex
I take from the top shelf of the hospital department of my library—the
section devoted to literary cripples, imbeciles, failures, foolish
rhymesters, and silly eccentrics—one of the least conspicuous and most
hopelessly feeble of the weak-minded population of that intellectual
almshouse. I open it and look through its pages. It is a story. I have
looked into it once before,—on its first reception as a gift from the
author. I try to recall some of the names I see there: they mean nothing
to me, but I venture to say the author cherishes them all, and cries over
them as he did when he was writing their history. I put the book back
among its dusty companions, and, sitting down in my reflective
rocking-chair, think how others must forget, and how I shall remember,
the company that gathered about this table.
Shall I ever meet any one of them again, in these pages or in any other?
Will the cracked Teacup hold together, or will he go to pieces, and find
himself in that retreat where the owner of the terrible clock which drove
him crazy is walking under the shelter of the high walls? Has the young
Doctor's crown yet received the seal which is Nature's warrant of wisdom
and proof of professional competency? And Number Five and her young
friend the Tutor,—have they kept on in their dangerous intimacy? Did
they get through the tutto tremante passage, reading from the same old
large edition of Dante which the Tutor recommended as the best, and in
reading from which their heads were necessarily brought perilously near
to each other?
It would be very pleasant if I could, consistently with the present state
of affairs, bring these two young people together. I say two young
people, for the one who counts most years seems to me to be really the
younger of the pair. That Number Five foresaw from the first that any
tenderer feeling than that of friendship would intrude itself between
them I do not believe. As for the Tutor, he soon found where he was
drifting. It was his first experience in matters concerning the heart,
and absorbed his whole nature as a thing of course. Did he tell her he
loved her? Perhaps he did, fifty times; perhaps he never had the courage
to say so outright. But sometimes they looked each other straight in the
eyes, and strange messages seemed to pass from one consciousness to the
other. Will the Tutor ask Number Five to be his wife; and if he does,
will she yield to the dictates of nature, and lower the flag of that
fortress so long thought impregnable? Will he go on writing such poems
to her as "The Rose and the Fern" or "I Like You and I Love You," and be
content with the pursuit of that which he never can attain? That is all
very well, on the "Grecian Urn" of Keats,—beautiful, but not love such
as mortals demand. Still, that may be all, for aught that we have yet
"Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never, canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal,—yet do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
"More happy love! more happy, happy love!
Forever warm, and still to be enjoyed,
Forever panting and forever young!"
And so, good-bye, young people, whom we part with here. Shadows you have
been and are to my readers; very real you have been and are to me,—as
real as the memories of many friends whom I shall see no more.
As I am not in the habit of indulging in late suppers, the reader need
not think that I shall spread another board and invite him to listen to
the conversations which take place around it. If, from time to time, he
finds a slight refection awaiting him on the sideboard, I hope he may
welcome it as pleasantly as he has accepted what I have offered him from
the board now just being cleared.
It is a good rule for the actor who manages the popular street drama of
Punch not to let the audience or spectators see his legs. It is very
hard for the writer of papers like these, which are now coming to their
conclusion, to keep his personality from showing itself too conspicuously
through the thin disguises of his various characters. As the show is now
over, as the curtain has fallen, I appear before it in my proper person,
to address a few words to the friends who have assisted, as the French
say, by their presence, and as we use the word, by the kind way in which
they have received my attempts at their entertainment.
This series of papers is the fourth of its kind which I have offered to
my readers. I may be allowed to look back upon the succession of serial
articles which was commenced more than thirty years ago, in 1857. "The
Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table" was the first of the series. It was
begun without the least idea what was to be its course and its outcome.
Its characters shaped themselves gradually as the manuscript grew under
my hand. I jotted down on the sheet of blotting paper before me the
thoughts and fancies which came into my head. A very odd-looking object
was this page of memoranda. Many of the hints were worked up into formal
shape, many were rejected. Sometimes I recorded a story, a jest, or a pun
for consideration, and made use of it or let it alone as my second
thought decided. I remember a curious coincidence, which, if I have ever
told in print,—I am not sure whether I have or not,—I will tell over
again. I mention it, not for the pun, which I rejected as not very
edifying and perhaps not new, though I did not recollect having seen it.
Mulier, Latin for woman; why apply that name to one of the gentle but
occasionally obstinate sex? The answer was that a woman is (sometimes)
more mulish than a mule. Please observe that I did not like the poor pun
very well, and thought it rather rude and inelegant. So I left it on the
blotter, where it was standing when one of the next numbers of "Punch"
came out and contained that very same pun, which must have been hit upon
by some English contributor at just about the same time I fell upon it on
this side of the Atlantic. This fact may be added to the chapter of
coincidences which belongs to the first number of this series of papers.
The "Autocrat" had the attraction of novelty, which of course was wanting
in the succeeding papers of similar character. The criticisms upon the
successive numbers as they came out were various, but generally
encouraging. Some were more than encouraging; very high-colored in their
phrases of commendation. When the papers were brought together in a
volume their success was beyond my expectations. Up to the present time
the "Autocrat" has maintained its position. An immortality of a whole
generation is more than most writers are entitled to expect. I venture
to think, from the letters I receive from the children and grandchildren
of my first set of readers, that for some little time longer, at least,
it will continue to be read, and even to be a favorite with some of its
readers. Non omnis moriar is a pleasant thought to one who has loved his
poor little planet, and will, I trust, retain kindly recollections of it
through whatever wilderness of worlds he may be called to wander in his
future pilgrimages. I say "poor little planet." Ever since I had a ten
cent look at the transit of Venus, a few years ago, through the telescope
in the Mall, the earth has been wholly different to me from what it used
to be. I knew from books what a speck it is in the universe, but nothing
ever brought the fact home like the sight of the sister planet sailing
across the sun's disk, about large enough for a buckshot, not large
enough for a full-sized bullet. Yes, I love the little globule where I
have spent more than fourscore years, and I like to think that some of my
thoughts and some of my emotions may live themselves over again when I am
sleeping. I cannot thank all the kind readers of the "Autocrat" who are
constantly sending me their acknowledgments. If they see this printed
page, let them be assured that a writer is always rendered happier by
being told that he has made a fellow-being wiser or better, or even
contributed to his harmless entertainment. This a correspondent may take
for granted, even if his letter of grateful recognition receives no
reply. It becomes more and more difficult for me to keep up with my
correspondents, and I must soon give it up as impossible.
"The Professor at the Breakfast Table" followed immediately on the heels
of the "Autocrat." The Professor was the alter ego of the first
personage. In the earlier series he had played a secondary part, and in
this second series no great effort was made to create a character wholly
unlike the first. The Professor was more outspoken, however, on
religious subjects, and brought down a good deal of hard language on
himself and the author to whom he owed his existence. I suppose he may
have used some irritating expressions, unconsciously, but not
unconscientiously, I am sure. There is nothing harder to forgive than
the sting of an epigram. Some of the old doctors, I fear, never pardoned
me for saying that if a ship, loaded with an assorted cargo of the drugs
which used to be considered the natural food of sick people, went to the
bottom of the sea, it would be "all the better for mankind and all the
worse for the fishes." If I had not put that snapper on the end of my
whip-lash, I might have got off without the ill temper which my
antithesis provoked. Thirty years set that all right, and the same
thirty years have so changed the theological atmosphere that such abusive
words as "heretic" and "infidel," applied to persons who differ from the
old standards of faith, are chiefly interesting as a test of breeding,
being seldom used by any people above the social half-caste line. I am
speaking of Protestants; how it may be among Roman Catholics I do not
know, but I suspect that with them also it is a good deal a matter of
breeding. There were not wanting some who liked the Professor better
than the Autocrat. I confess that I prefer my champagne in its first
burst of gaseous enthusiasm; but if my guest likes it better after it has
stood awhile, I am pleased to accommodate him. The first of my series
came from my mind almost with an explosion, like the champagne cork; it
startled me a little to see what I had written, and to hear what people
said about it. After that first explosion the flow was more sober, and I
looked upon the product of my wine-press more coolly. Continuations
almost always sag a little. I will not say that of my own second effort,
but if others said it, I should not be disposed to wonder at or to
"The Poet at the Breakfast Table" came some years later. This series of
papers was not so much a continuation as a resurrection. It was a doubly
hazardous attempt, made without any extravagant expectations, and was
received as well as I had any right to anticipate. It differed from the
other two series in containing a poem of considerable length, published
in successive portions. This poem holds a good deal of self-communing,
and gave me the opportunity of expressing some thoughts and feelings not
to be found elsewhere in my writings. I had occasion to read the whole
volume, not long since, in preparation for a new edition, and was rather
more pleased with it than I had expected to be. An old author is
constantly rediscovering himself in the more or less fossilized productions
of his earlier years. It is a long time since I have read the
"Autocrat," but I take it up now and then and read in it for a few
minutes, not always without some degree of edification.
These three series of papers, "Autocrat," "Professor," "Poet," are all
studies of life from somewhat different points of view. They are largely
made up of sober reflections, and appeared to me to require some lively
human interest to save them from wearisome didactic dulness. What could
be more natural than that love should find its way among the young people
who helped to make up the circle gathered around the table? Nothing is
older than the story of young love. Nothing is newer than that same old
story. A bit of gilding here and there has a wonderful effect in
enlivening a landscape or an apartment. Napoleon consoled the Parisians
in their year of defeat by gilding the dome of the Invalides. Boston has
glorified her State House and herself at the expense of a few sheets of
gold leaf laid on the dome, which shines like a sun in the eyes of her
citizens, and like a star in those of the approaching traveller. I think
the gilding of a love-story helped all three of these earlier papers. The
same need I felt in the series of papers just closed. The slight
incident of Delilah's appearance and disappearance served my purpose to
some extent. But what should I do with Number Five? The reader must
follow out her career for himself. For myself, I think that she and the
Tutor have both utterly forgotten the difference of their years in the
fascination of intimate intercourse. I do not believe that a nature so
large, so rich in affection, as Number Five's is going to fall defeated
of its best inheritance of life, like a vine which finds no support for
its tendrils to twine around, and so creeps along the ground from which
nature meant that love should lift it. I feel as if I ought to follow
these two personages of my sermonizing story until they come together or
separate, to fade, to wither,—perhaps to die, at last, of something like
what the doctors call heart-failure, but which might more truly be called
heart-starvation. When I say die, I do not mean necessarily the death
that goes into the obituary column. It may come to that, in one or both;
but I think that, if they are never united, Number Five will outlive the
Tutor, who will fall into melancholy ways, and pine and waste, while she
lives along, feeling all the time that she has cheated herself of
happiness. I hope that is not going to be their fortune, or misfortune.
Vieille fille fait jeune mariee. What a youthful bride Number Five would
be, if she could only make up her mind to matrimony! In the mean time
she must be left with her lambs all around her. May heaven temper the
winds to them, for they have been shorn very close, every one of them, of
their golden fleece of aspirations and anticipations.
I must avail myself of this opportunity to say a few words to my distant
friends who take interest enough in my writings, early or recent, to wish
to enter into communication with me by letter, or to keep up a
communication already begun. I have given notice in print that the
letters, books, and manuscripts which I receive by mail are so numerous
that if I undertook to read and answer them all I should have little time
for anything else. I have for some years depended on the assistance of a
secretary, but our joint efforts have proved unable, of late, to keep
down the accumulations which come in with every mail. So many of the
letters I receive are of a pleasant character that it is hard to let them
go unacknowledged. The extreme friendliness which pervades many of them
gives them a value which I rate very highly. When large numbers of
strangers insist on claiming one as a friend, on the strength of what he
has written, it tends to make him think of himself somewhat indulgently.
It is the most natural thing in the world to want to give expression to
the feeling the loving messages from far-off unknown friends must excite.
Many a day has had its best working hours broken into, spoiled for all
literary work, by the labor of answering correspondents whose good
opinion it is gratifying to have called forth, but who were unconsciously
laying a new burden on shoulders already aching. I know too well that
what I say will not reach the eyes of many who might possibly take a hint
from it. Still I must keep repeating it before breaking off suddenly and
leaving whole piles of letters unanswered. I have been very heavily
handicapped for many years. It is partly my own fault. From what my
correspondents tell me, I must infer that I have established a dangerous
reputation for willingness to answer all sorts of letters. They come
with such insinuating humility,—they cannot bear to intrude upon my
time, they know that I have a great many calls upon it,—and
incontinently proceed to lay their additional weight on the load which is
breaking my back.
The hypocrisy of kind-hearted people is one of the most painful
exhibitions of human weakness. It has occurred to me that it might be
profitable to reproduce some of my unwritten answers to correspondents.
If those which were actually written and sent were to be printed in
parallel columns with those mentally formed but not written out responses
and comments, the reader would get some idea of the internal conflicts an
honest and not unamiable person has to go through, when he finds himself
driven to the wall by a correspondence which is draining his vocabulary
to find expressions that sound as agreeably, and signify as little, as
the phrases used by a diplomatist in closing an official communication.
No. 1. Want my autograph, do you? And don't know how to spell my name.
An a for an e in my middle name. Leave out the l in my last name. Do
you know how people hate to have their names misspelled? What do you
suppose are the sentiments entertained by the Thompsons with a p towards
those who address them in writing as Thomson?
No. 2. Think the lines you mention are by far the best I ever wrote,
hey? Well, I didn't write those lines. What is more, I think they are
as detestable a string of rhymes as I could wish my worst enemy had
written. A very pleasant frame of mind I am in for writing a letter,
after reading yours!
No. 3. I am glad to hear that my namesake, whom I never saw and never
expect to see, has cut another tooth; but why write four pages on the
strength of that domestic occurrence?
No. 4. You wish to correct an error in my Broomstick poem, do you? You
give me to understand that Wilmington is not in Essex County, but in
Middlesex. Very well; but are they separated by running water? Because
if they are not, what could hinder a witch from crossing the line that
separates Wilmington from Andover, I should like to know? I never meant
to imply that the witches made no excursions beyond the district which
was more especially their seat of operations.
As I come towards the end of this task which I had set myself, I wish, of
course, that I could have performed it more to my own satisfaction and
that of my readers. This is a feeling which almost every one must have
at the conclusion of any work he has undertaken. A common and very simple
reason for this disappointment is that most of us overrate our capacity.
We expect more of ourselves than we have any right to, in virtue of our
endowments. The figurative descriptions of the last Grand Assize must no
more be taken literally than the golden crowns, which we do not expect or
want to wear on our heads, or the golden harps, which we do not want or
expect to hold in our hands. Is it not too true that many religious
sectaries think of the last tribunal complacently, as the scene in which
they are to have the satisfaction of saying to the believers of a creed
different from their own, "I told you so"? Are not others oppressed with
the thought of the great returns which will be expected of them as the
product of their great gifts, the very limited amount of which they do
not suspect, and will be very glad to learn, even at the expense of their
self-love, when they are called to their account? If the ways of the
Supreme Being are ever really to be "justified to men," to use Milton's
expression, every human being may expect an exhaustive explanation of
himself. No man is capable of being his own counsel, and I cannot help
hoping that the ablest of the, archangels will be retained for the
defence of the worst of sinners. He himself is unconscious of the
agencies which made him what he is. Self-determining he may be, if you
will, but who determines the self which is the proximate source of the
determination? Why was the A self like his good uncle in bodily aspect
and mental and moral qualities, and the B self like the bad uncle in look
and character? Has not a man a right to ask this question in the here or
in the hereafter,—in this world or in any world in which he may find
himself? If the All-wise wishes to satisfy his reasonable and reasoning
creatures, it will not be by a display of elemental convulsions, but by
the still small voice, which treats with him as a dependent entitled to
know the meaning of his existence, and if there was anything wrong in his
adjustment to the moral and spiritual conditions of the world around him
to have full allowance made for it. No melodramatic display of warring
elements, such as the white-robed Second Adventist imagines, can meet the
need of the human heart. The thunders and lightnings of Sinai terrified
and impressed the more timid souls of the idolatrous and rebellious
caravan which the great leader was conducting, but a far nobler
manifestation of divinity was that when "the Lord spake unto Moses face
to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend."
I find the burden and restrictions of rhyme more and more troublesome as
I grow older. There are times when it seems natural enough to employ
that form of expression, but it is only occasionally; and the use of it
as the vehicle of the commonplace is so prevalent that one is not much
tempted to select it as the medium for his thoughts and emotions. The
art of rhyming has almost become a part of a high-school education, and
its practice is far from being an evidence of intellectual distinction.
Mediocrity is as much forbidden to the poet in our days as it was in
those of Horace, and the immense majority of the verses written are
stamped with hopeless mediocrity.
When one of the ancient poets found he was trying to grind out verses
which came unwillingly, he said he was writing—
Vex not the Muse with idle prayers,
—She will not hear thy call;
She steals upon thee unawares,
Or seeks thee not at all.
Soft as the moonbeams when they sought
Endymion's fragrant bower,
She parts the whispering leaves of thought
To show her full-blown flower.
For thee her wooing hour has passed,
The singing birds have flown,
And winter comes with icy blast
To chill thy buds unblown.
Yet, though the woods no longer thrill
As once their arches rung,
Sweet echoes hover round thee still
Of songs thy summer sung.
Live in thy past; await no more
The rush of heaven-sent wings;
Earth still has music left in store
While Memory sighs and sings.
I hope my special Minerva may not always be unwilling, but she must not
be called upon as she has been in times past. Now that the teacups have
left the table, an occasional evening call is all that my readers must
look for. Thanking them for their kind companionship, and hoping that I
may yet meet them in the now and then in the future, I bid them goodbye
for the immediate present, then in the future, I bid them goodbye for the